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Ashton-Kirk, Investigator by John T. McIntyre

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hand pressed to her heart. Then softly she retraced her steps; they
heard the door-catch slip quietly back and were conscious that the
door was swung open; the woman then crept inch by inch, so it seemed,
down the hall.

It was the bedroom door that had been forced; the two watchers noted
the bar of light that slanted from it across the passage. Nearer and
nearer the woman approached to it. Pendleton had at first thought that
she was making for the stairs; but this died away as she passed them,
unheeding. The automatic revolver was in his hand instantly; leaning
toward his friend, he breathed in his ear.

"She's going in there."

The blanket slipped from him as he arose to his feet; his legs were
still cramped and stiffened; he felt clumsy and unsure. Ashton-Kirk
evidently agreed that the time had come for action, for he whispered
in reply:

"Through the rooms! I will take the hall!"

Pendleton stepped from behind the screen like a shadow. Through the
door leading to the storeroom he had an uninterrupted view of a part
of the bedroom; and across the floor he saw thrown the shadow of a
man. Noiselessly he tip-toed into the kitchen, the revolver held
ready; just outside the bedroom he paused, and drawing to one side,
waited. Then he noted the shadow move slightly, and heard a deep
rumbling voice say in French:

"You were a devil! Even now as I look at you, you laugh and jibe!" The
shadow upon the floor here swung its arms threateningly. "But laugh
away. I have won, and it is my turn to laugh!"

Here the shadow slid along and up the wall; peering around the edge of
the door, Pendleton saw a man with massive, stooped shoulders and a
great square head, covered with thick, iron-gray hair; and instantly
he recognized him as the man whom they had seen that night in the
doorway of Locke's workshop. The stranger was standing just under the
portrait of Hume; he gazed up at it, and his big shoulders shook with
laughter.

"What a mistake to make," he said, still in French. "How was I to know
that the old devil once called himself Wayne!"

He reached up and took the picture from its hook; with thick, powerful
fingers he tore the backing away, and a flat, compact bundle of papers
was disclosed. The picture was thrown upon the bed, and the man stood
staring at the papers, a wide smile upon his face.

"So this is the secret, eh? Well, Locke will pay well for it, and it
will be worth all the risks I've taken."

He was fumbling with a coat pocket as though to stow them away, when
there came a swift, light rush, the packet was torn from his hands,
and Edyth Vale was darting toward the hall door and the stairway
beyond.

But despite his bulk, the man with the stooped shoulders proved
himself singularly swift. In two leaps he had overtaken her; dragging
her back to the center of the room, he snatched the packet from her in
turn. Regarding her with calm, pitiless eyes, he said in English:

"I am sorry, mees, that you have come, eh? Eet makes eet mooch harder
for me. And I am of the kind that would rather be off quietly, is it
not? and say no words to no one."

Edyth Vale, pale of face, but with steady eye, returned his look.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I am sorry to do anything," spoke the stranger. "I do not know you,
and you will onderstan', will you not, that I can't leave you
behind--to talk?"

As he spoke a flashing something appeared from the girl's pocket; he
lifted one huge paw to beat her down; but a clenched hand, protected
by a corded buckskin glove, thudded against his jaw; his knees
weakened, and he sprawled upon the floor.

"Jimmie!" gasped Edyth Vale. "Jimmie Pendleton!"

"Oh, Edyth--Edyth!" was all the man could say. He slipped his arm
around her, for she was tottering; and as he helped her to a chair,
Ashton-Kirk quietly entered at the hall door.

"Miss Vale," said he, "good-evening."

Without waiting to note if she even gave him a look, he bent over the
fallen man and snapped a pair of handcuffs upon his wrists.

"A very pretty blow, Pen," said he, admiringly. "Beautifully timed,
and your judgment of distance was excellent."

He slipped the fallen papers into his pocket and continued: "Keep an
eye on him, for a moment."

Then he stepped swiftly through the hall; a moment later they heard
him throw up one of the windows overlooking the street, and a whistle
shrilled through the night.

"Paulson is on duty," said the investigator, returning. "He'll be here
in a jiffy."

Sure enough, they soon heard heavy steps upon the stairs; and then
Paulson and a fellow patrolman appeared in the doorway. Astonished,
the policeman gazed at Ashton-Kirk, who nodded to them smilingly, then
they turned their gaze upon Pendleton, who was speaking soothing words
to the white-faced girl, who, now that the danger was over, clung to
him tremblingly. But when their eyes centered upon the manacled
stranger who was then dazedly struggling to a sitting position,
Paulson asked:

"Who is this?"

"This," answered Ashton-Kirk, "is M. Sagon, a fellow lodger of Antonio
Spatola, formerly a very close friend of the late Mr. Hume, and once a
resident of Bayonne, in France."

CHAPTER XXV

APPROACHING THE FINISH

Pendleton spent the night at Ashton-Kirk's; and after breakfast he
wandered into the library, a newspaper in his hand and an inquiring
look on his face.

The investigator was seated in his usual big chair, buried to the
knees in newspapers, and making vigorous inroads upon the Greek
tobacco. Fuller was just leaving the room as Pendleton entered, and
nodding toward the disappearing form, Ashton-Kirk said:

"There is some rather interesting news. I have had Locke, as you
perhaps know, under observation for some time. Last night he took the
train at Cordova, and Burgess followed him. When he reached the city,
he went directly to Christie Place and was seen lurking about in the
shadows."

"Humph," said Pendleton, "what time was this?"

"Perhaps about eleven o'clock. Burgess, so Fuller tells me, never lost
sight of him. He acted in a queerly hesitating sort of way; finally,
however, he seemed to form a resolution and went to the door of the
Marx house. He was about to pull the bell, then paused and tried the
door instead. It was evidently not locked. He seemed both surprised
and pleased at this; he lost no time, however, but went in at once."

Pendleton sat down.

"What do you suppose all this meant?" he asked.

"Well, we can't be too sure," replied Ashton Kirk, "but I think it
probable that he, also, saw the news of the withdrawal of the police
in the papers. Perhaps he came to Christie Place with the intention of
informing Sagon of the opportunity that then presented itself. Or it
might be that he had hopes of somehow over-reaching his companion in
crime."

"His lurking about would seem to point rather in that direction," said
Pendleton.

"And his preferring to enter the lodging house without ringing also
indicates some such idea. As I see it, he hoped to gain the roof
unobserved. He knew the house and the habits of the people quite well.
No doubt he had a plan, and a good one. He's a thinker, is Mr. Locke."

"If he was noticed, he could indicate that he had called to see M.
Sagon."

"Exactly. But I very much doubt his gaining the roof. Perhaps, after
all, he was detected; for a few minutes later Burgess saw him leave
the house."

"Humph!" said Pendleton. Then after some few moments spent in the
examination of his paper he threw it down. "It's full of all sorts of
allusions to monoplanes and such like," grumbled he. "As I had to take
Edyth home last night, and you went bravely away with the police and
Sagon, I find myself, as usual, trailing some distance in the rear."

Ashton-Kirk regarded the litter of newspapers ruefully:

"I gave them the heads of the case very plainly," said he, "but as it
was almost the hour for going to press, I suppose they did not get the
finer points of my meaning. Some of them have made a sad mess of it.
However, the evening papers will have a coherent account, I suppose."

"If you think I am going to wait until the evening papers are issued
to get to the bottom of this thing, you're much mistaken," declared
Pendleton. "I demand a full and detailed explanation immediately."

Here a tap came upon the door; Stumph entered and handed Ashton-Kirk a
card.

"Let him come up," said the latter; and, as the man went out, he
continued to Pendleton. "We will both probably be much enlightened
now. It is Allan Morris."

"Just as you said," spoke Pendleton. "It's really almost like second
sight."

The investigator laughed.

"A small feat of reasoning, nothing more," said he. "However, an
enthusiast might find some of the elements of second sight in our
conversation in this room about a week ago."

Pendleton looked at him questioningly.

"It was on the morning that you called to announce the coming of Miss
Vale. We were speaking of how it sometimes happened that very innocent
things led to most weighty results; and I remarked, if you will
remember, that your visit might lead to my connection with a murder
that would dwarf some of those which we had spoken of."

"So you did," agreed Pendleton. "That _is_ rather remarkable, Kirk."

"And further," smiled the investigator, "I recall that I expressed
great admiration for Marryat's conception of a homicide in the matter
of Smallbones and the hag. The weapon used by Smallbones, it turns
out, was identical in character to the one used by Sagon."

"A bayonet," cried Pendleton. "By George! So it was."

Just then Stumph announced Allan Morris.

The latter was pale and haggard; his clothes were neglected, and there
were some days' beard upon his chin. He seemed astonished at sight of
Pendleton; however, he only nodded. Then he said inquiringly to the
investigator:

"You are Mr. Ashton-Kirk?"

"I am. Will you sit down, Mr. Morris?"

Morris sat down dejectedly.

"Tobin advised me to come see you," he said. "I refused at first; but
in view of what the newspapers contain this morning, I reconsidered
it."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"If you had, come to me in the first place," said he, "you'd probably
not have fallen into this mess, and you'd have saved yourself a great
deal of suffering." He regarded the young man for a moment, and then
went on. "Miss Vale, I suppose, has told you of her dealings with me."

"She has," said Morris. "She's been very candid with me in everything.
If I had been the same with her," bitterly, "I should have acted more
like a natural human being. You see, we were to be married; she was
very rich, while I had comparatively nothing. But this in itself
would not have been sufficient to have prevented our wedding for so
long. The fact was that I had gotten myself into trouble through
speculation; I had a fear that my position might even be considered
criminal from some points of view. And I allowed myself to get nervous
over it.

"However, there was a way by which it was possible for me to
extricate myself. To explain this I'll have to go back some years."

"Take your own time," said Ashton-Kirk.

"Well, my father had worked for years perfecting the plans of a
heavier-than-air flying machine," Morris resumed. "At the time of his
death he told me that it was all complete but the constructing, and
that I had millions within my reach. But Hume had the plans--my father
had borrowed money of him--a considerable sum--and had given him the
plans as security.

"Hume had always derided the idea of the monoplane. Tobin, who knew
them both, tells me that he was forever mocking my father upon the
subject. And when the time came when the plans could be redeemed, Hume
denied having them. There was no receipt, nothing to show that the
transaction had ever occurred. The man declared that the whole thing
was a drunken dream. He had never seen any plans; he had never paid
out any money; he knew nothing about the matter. Time and again the
man reiterated this; and each time, so I've heard, he would go
off into gales of laughter. I have no doubt but that the entire
performance on his part was to afford himself these opportunities; he
seemed to love such things."

"Was it not possible for your father to duplicate the plans?"

"At an earlier time it would have meant but a few weeks' application
at most. But at this period the thing was impossible. The last long
debauch seemed to have sapped his intellect; it also was the direct
cause of his death."

"I see," said Ashton-Kirk.

"I took the matter up with Hume at once," went on the young man. "But
I had no more success than my father. In the man's eyes, I had but
replaced my father; I was another patient subject for his mockery,
derision and abuse.

"There were some scattered drawings of the monoplane in father's
office; I began a study of these, thinking to chance upon the
principal idea. But I was unsuccessful.

"All this, you understand, was before I had met Miss Vale, and before
I was tangled up in the trouble I have just mentioned.

"The fear began to grow on me that Hume meant to use the plans to his
own advantage; I knew that he had long been familiar with Locke, who
was reputed to be a mechanical genius, and between them, I fancied
they'd take action. I began a watch upon the reports of the Patent
Office, thinking that that would finally give me something tangible to
use against them. However, I never gave up my visits to Hume, or my
efforts to make him admit possession of my father's property.

"It was during one of these visits that I first met Spatola; and I
was much struck by the performance of his cockatoos. My father had
always held to the idea that the problem of flight would be finally
solved by a study of the birds; this gave me an idea, and I took to
visiting Spatola in his lodgings in Christie Place. He'd have the
cockatoos fly slowly round and round the big attic, and I'd watch them
and make notes.

"It was about this time that I met Miss Vale and asked her to be my
wife; a very little later, in an effort to raise money, I got into the
financial trouble which I have referred to. After a little the
question of a time for our marriage came up; I was filled with fear
and put it off; this occurred several times, and I was at my wits'
end. I could not marry with that thing hanging over me. Suppose it
should turn out as I feared; imagine the shock to a high spirited girl
to discover that she had married a defaulter.

"It was then that I turned to the matter of the plans as my only hope;
with a perfected idea I could readily secure a large sum of money in
advance. So I redoubled my efforts to have a settlement with Hume; but
he only derided me as usual. Continued visits to Spatola to study the
flight of the birds, showed me that the Italian was a fine fellow,
well educated and with much feeling and appreciation. We became fast
friends and so, little by little, I told him my story."

"About the invention?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"Yes."

The investigator turned to Pendleton.

"I think," said he, "that I now understand why Spatola grew so
uncommunicative and suspicious toward the end of our interview at City
Hall. We both thought it was because I spoke of shorthand. But it was
perhaps because I mentioned an _invention_ in the way of writing
music. He feared that I was trying to incriminate Mr. Morris in some
way."

Pendleton nodded.

"That," said he, "I think explains it."

"As you no doubt know," went on Morris, after the investigator had
once more given him his attention, "Spatola liked Hume none too well.
And he had reason for his hatred, poor fellow. Well, he became
interested in what I told him; and when he learned that I believed my
father's papers were in all probability somewhere in Hume's
apartments, he suggested that I come to live in Christie Place under
an assumed name. He thought that in time an opportunity would present
itself to cross the roofs some night, enter Hume's place by the
scuttle and so possess myself of the plans.

"On the day preceding the murder, I had made up my mind to have one
more try with Hume; and if that failed I intended to follow Spatola's
advice, break in and take the plans by force. I was so full of this
resolution that I could not contain myself; I hinted at it to Miss
Vale; and the result of that hint, you know."

He leaned his face forward in his hands and seemed to give way to a
bitter train of thought. He was evidently despondent.

"It was also some such hint upon your part that induced her to visit
Locke at Dr. Mercer's place, wasn't it?"

Morris raised his head and nodded.

"Yes," he said. "After the murder I suspected Locke at once of having
something to do with it. I told Miss Vale; she went there without my
knowledge--seeing that I had not the courage to go myself," he added
bitterly--"and demanded the plans."

"And she learned that they were still at Hume's--behind the portrait?"

"Yes. Locke told her--he was overcome with horror at the murder. He
had merely desired to secure the plans,--having somehow learned their
hiding place. He had no intention of killing Hume."

"But why did Sagon do it?--he must have had it in mind when he bought
the bayonet at Bernstine's," said Pendleton, looking at Ashton-Kirk.

"He had. Do you recall how Burgess' report spoke of a league of
smugglers in Europe of which Hume was a leading spirit, and also of
how they had been captured and nearly all but Hume were tried and
convicted?"

"Yes."

"Sagon was one of those convicted. The diamonds which Hume tried to
smuggle into this country were to have been turned into money at the
time of the gang's arrest and the proceeds spent in their defense. But
instead of doing this, Hume left his comrades to their fate and
absconded. When Sagon gained his freedom he began a search for Hume,
meaning to have revenge. This search finally led him to Locke as a
person who had known Hume, and who would be likely to be able to tell
where he could be found."

"Sagon has told you this?" queried Pendleton.

"Yes; he talked freely, after he saw that his case was hopeless; and
he, too, insisted that Locke did not intend to commit murder. Locke,
even at the time of his meeting Sagon, was looking for someone to aid
him in gaining possession of the Morris plans. The work-shop which
we saw beside Locke's house contained a monoplane in course of
construction; but there was something lacking which he felt Morris's
plans could supply; and so he was anxious to get hold of it by hook or
crook.

"Sagon, whose purpose from the first was murder, was not at all averse
to combining it with something else. He took the room at Mrs. Marx's
place, after he had perceived that an entrance could probably be made
at Hume's by way of the scuttle. The well dressed 'business guys' that
the machinist on the first floor spoke about to us, were no doubt
Locke, who frequently called upon Sagon, and Mr. Morris here, whom the
man did not suspect of being a lodger.

"To prove a theory that I had formed, and which I have mentioned in a
vague sort of way," went on Ashton-Kirk, "I asked Sagon why he had
used a bayonet. And it turned out as I had thought. Sagon and Hume had
first met at Bayonne; the greater part of their operations had been
carried on there; the band had been finally rounded up and convicted
there. The bayonet, so legend has it, was first made in Bayonne, and
Sagon conceived that it would be a sort of poetic justice if the
traitor were to die by a weapon so closely connected with the scene of
his treachery."

There was a pause after this, and then young Morris got up slowly and
painfully.

"I don't want it to be thought," said he "that I was directly
responsible for Miss Vale's adventure of last night--or for any of the
others, for the matter of that. If I had known at the time that she
proposed visiting Locke's, or Hume's, either upon the night of the
murder, or last night, I would have prevented it."

Ashton-Kirk nodded kindly; the young man's position evidently
appealed to him. But Pendleton sat rather stiffly in his chair and his
expression never changed.

"I will now come into possession of whatever value there is in my
father's invention," went on Morris, "and added to that, it turns out
that the--the other thing, of which I stood so much in fear, has
turned out favorably. But," in a disheartened sort of way, "I don't
care much, now that my engagement with Miss Vale is broken."

"Broken!" exclaimed Pendleton.

"I saw her this morning," said Morris. "During the past week," he
continued, "it gradually came to me that I was not the sort of man to
make her a fitting husband. I hid like a squirrel while she faced the
dangers that should have been mine. I knew that she realized the
situation as well as I, and I did what I could by making it easy for
her."

He paused at the door.

"If there is anything that I can do, or say in the final settlement of
this case," he added, to Ashton-Kirk, "I will gladly place myself at
your services, sir. Good-bye."

CHAPTER XXVI

THE FINISH

"For the first time," said Pendleton, as the door closed upon Allan
Morris, "I can feel sorry for him. To lose a girl like Edyth Vale is
indeed a calamity. Think of the courage she's shown--of what she was
willing to do. Why, Kirk, she's one in ten thousand."

But Ashton-Kirk only nodded; he had arisen upon the departure of
Morris, and was now drawing on a pair of gloves. The splendid
qualities of Miss Vale apparently had little appeal for him at that
moment.

"Are you ready?" he asked, in a business-like way.

"Ready?" repeated Pendleton, surprised.

"To be sure. We can scarcely call this case complete until something
has been done in the matter of Locke."

"That's so. But, somehow, I had the notion that your men had already
attended to him."

"I always prefer to finish my work in my own way," said the
investigator. "Osborne, as soon as he heard of Locke, through Sagon,
wanted to take up the trail. But I convinced him that he'd better
leave it to me."

Pendleton clapped on his hat.

"I'm with you," said he, "but where do you expect to find him?"

Ashton-Kirk rang for Stumph and ordered the car; then he replied:

"We'll more than likely find him at home. Burgess followed him back to
Cordova, last night."

They went down and climbed into the car, and were soon on the road.

A little distance from the Mercer Institute they came upon a compact
looking man seated upon the top rail of a fence, chewing at a straw.
He wore heavy, much-splashed boots and a sun-scorched suit of clothes.

"Ah," said Ashton-Kirk, "I see Burgess is still on the job."

"Burgess," echoed Pendleton. He looked at the man upon the fence in
surprise; except for the very broad shoulders there was no
resemblance.

However, Burgess grinned amiably through a rather neglected growth of
beard.

"I expected you along about this time," said he, to the investigator.

"Is everything all right?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"He's still there," answered Burgess, and he nodded toward a house
with a peaked and slated roof which stood some little distance up an
intersecting road. It was the same house through the window of which
Pendleton had seen Edyth Vale some nights previously, but, somehow, it
seemed strange and unfamiliar in daylight.

"I can see three sides of it from here," went on Burgess. "And if he
dropped out of one of the windows on the fourth side I could sight him
before he'd gone fifty yards. You may be sure he's there, all right."

"You've heard of what took place last night, I suppose?"

Burgess tapped a folded newspaper at his breast pocket.

"So has Locke," said he. "Apparently his orders are to furnish him
with the papers as soon as they arrive. A man from the Institute
building brought one to him more than an hour ago."

Just then Ashton-Kirk noted far up the road upon which Locke's house
stood, a very small buggy, drawn by an equally small horse. In the
buggy sat a man whose huge bulk seemed to bulge out beyond its sides.
Arriving before Locke's house, the small horse stopped, as though from
habit. Then with a mighty effort, the fat man rolled out and waddled
to the gate. He pressed and re-pressed the button; but no one
answered.

Ashton-Kirk looked at his assistant.

"Are you quite sure that our man is there," asked he.

Burgess chewed his straw calmly.

"I'm positive of it," said he.

The fat man now entered at the gate and going to the front door, tried
it. But it was evidently fast, and he turned away. Hesitating for a
moment, he laboriously approached the work shop, the roof of which
could be seen through the trees. Apparently the result was the same
here, for in a very few minutes he was seen to waddle back to his
buggy and climb in with much effort. Then the small horse ambled
forward while the fat man leaned back in great distress.

"You recognize him, do you not?" smiled Ashton-Kirk.

"I do, now," returned Pendleton. "It's our friend Dr. Mercer."

When the buggy arrived at the spot where the motor-car stood, the
doctor regarded its occupants with some surprise.

"Good-morning," greeted Ashton-Kirk.

Painfully, gaspingly the other answered this in kind. The round white
face wore an expression of martyrdom.

"I am pleased to see you once more," said he.

"You like driving in the morning, then?" said the investigator.

The principal's flesh quivered with repulsion.

"It is an exercise ordered by my physician," he answered. "I protested
against it strongly, but he was obdurate. And I am compelled to do it
before I have had my breakfast," hollowly. "It is scarcely short of
barbarous."

Here the small horse stretched its neck and shook itself until the
harness rattled. Pendleton looking from master to beast thought they
might exchange places much to the master's ultimate well-being.

There was a short pause; then Dr. Mercer bent his head toward them.

"When you visited the institute a few nights ago," said he, "you also,
at my request, visited Professor Locke."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"For some time," proceeded the other, "I have fancied that there
was something wrong with him. Not of a physical nature, as is,
unfortunately the case with myself, but more in a mental way. But
since that night I have been _sure_ that some sort of a derangement
had fixed itself upon him, or is in progress. He can scarcely be
called the same person. More than once I have been afraid," and here
the speaker lowered his voice to a husky whisper, "that he is
unbalanced."

"That is very grave," said Ashton-Kirk.

"It has occurred to me," went on the doctor, not without shrewdness,
"that something happened that night which unsettled him." The eyes
seemingly floating in fat, turned themselves first to Pendleton, then
to Ashton-Kirk. "I suppose, though, you know nothing of it?"

"We noticed that he seemed greatly agitated," replied the
investigator. "And we are alarmed to hear that he seems disturbed."

"It is our rule that no one leave the institute grounds after
nightfall," said Dr. Mercer, in a troubled voice. "Last night I had
occasion to send for him, but he was gone. This morning I stopped to
reproach him for his absence; but apparently he has not returned."

"You're mistaken there," put in Burgess. "Look!"

He indicated the house as he spoke. The small figure of Locke was seen
emerging at the front door; he paused for a moment, peering this way
and that in his near-sighted fashion, then hastily made his way toward
the work-shop. Evidently he had not seen them.

With great labor and much catching of breath Dr. Mercer had turned
sufficiently to see these things. He seemed greatly astonished.

"He was there all the time," said he. "It is not possible that he did
not feel the vibrations of the buzzer, for he is very sensitive to
such things."

His indignation appeared to swell him to even greater proportions
than before.

"It is an affront," he stated in a choked tone. "It is a deliberate
affront. He felt the buzzer, and he knew it was I. But he did not
consider me of enough importance to trouble himself about."

Panting he sought to turn the small horse, but in a moment Ashton-Kirk
was out in the road and had the animal by the head.

"I beg your pardon," said the investigator, "but it would probably be
more beneficial to yourself and others, if you continued your drive
and left Professor Locke to us."

Amazed beyond ability to stir, the doctor sat and stared. But finally
he found his tongue.

"Bless my soul and body," exclaimed he with a great wheezing
exhalation. "I scarcely understand this, sir."

"My dear doctor," said Ashton-Kirk soothingly, "it is not at all
necessary that you do so. The fact is, to state it briefly, there is
a trifling matter for adjustment between Professor Locke and the
commonwealth."

"The commonwealth!" cried the doctor, and he shook like a great mass
of gelatine.

"Nothing less. So, you see, it will be as well for you to do as I
suggest." Then turning to Pendleton, Ashton-Kirk continued: "I think
we had better walk the remainder of the way; otherwise we might get
Locke's attention before it is advisable."

Pendleton jumped down, and without another word to Dr. Mercer, they
set off toward the slate-roofed house by the roadside. However, after
they had gone about fifty yards, Pendleton turned and looked back. He
saw the small horse jogging away, while behind it, helplessly fat and
hopelessly befogged, sat Dr. Mercer, swaying dispiritedly from side to
side.

As Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton advanced upon the house, they bore in
mind the possibility of Locke being on the watch; so they kept out of
sight as much as possible.

"It's rather odd, I think, that he hangs on here, knowing that his
part in the murder of Hume must now be known," said Pendleton. "I
rather expected an attempt at escape."

"That may come later," said the investigator, grimly. "The finish of
a thing of this sort is always a matter for speculation. I have seen
desperate criminals who surrendered like lambs; and I've seen the
other sort give a platoon of police a good day's work in their
taking."

"Do you think it possible that Locke is one of this latter type?"

"There is no knowing. But I am inclined to believe that he is."

Pendleton shook his head. It seemed impossible that this dapper
little man with his peering, short-sighted eyes could be capable of
any determined effort to escape the police when once driven into a
corner. However, Pendleton had ample reason to respect Ashton-Kirk's
judgment; and so when the latter deemed it necessary to approach with
caution, he acted accordingly.

They paused in front of the house.

It was now past ten o'clock and the sun was shining brightly; a little
patch of garden, filled with early flowering plants lay between the
house and the wood; all about the work-shop were the tall trees which
they had noticed upon their previous visit.

"We had better not use the gate," suggested the investigator. "There
might be an attachment of some sort that will give him warning."

So under cover of the trees they scaled the fence; then they carefully
made their way toward the shop. The windows and door of this were
closed, nothing was stirring. Near the door was scattered some rubbish
and loose paper. The place had an utterly deserted look.

"Do you think he is there?" asked Pendleton.

"I will know in a few moments," replied the other. "Wait here."

Pendleton expected Ashton-Kirk to continue his cautious approach. But
to his surprise the investigator with cool assurance stepped out from
behind a tree and advanced toward the outbuilding; when he reached
the door he opened it and calmly stepped inside.

The building was in one great room. It had some windows at the side,
but the greater part of its illumination came from a huge skylight. As
he closed the door behind him, Ashton-Kirk had a vague impression of
something huge, made of steel rods and with far-stretching wing-like
projections at the sides. But he had no time to give the mechanism
even a glance; of greater interest was the small figure which sat at a
wide work-table upon which a litter of drawings was scattered.

It was Locke; and as the slight jar of the closing door reached him he
lifted his eyes and saw the intruder. If Ashton-Kirk expected any
display of fear or other emotion, he was disappointed; upon each of
his previous meetings with Locke the latter had shown great
trepidation; but now he simply nodded quietly and seemed not at all
surprised.

But as Ashton-Kirk made a step toward him, he rose and raised his hand
in a gesture that was peremptory and unmistakable. The investigator
paused; then Locke pointed to a chair directly before his bench, but
some half dozen yards away; and when Ashton-Kirk smilingly seated
himself, Locke did likewise.

Then in heavy characters he scrawled upon the back of one of the
blue-prints.

"I was expecting a visitor, and fancied that it might be you."

This he held up so that the investigator might read it. Ashton-Kirk
nodded. Again the back of a plan came into service and this time the
investigator read.

"What has occurred is most unfortunate. I had no hand in it, though,
of course, I do not expect anyone to believe me."

Here Ashton-Kirk drew a note book from his pocket and was about to
write, but the other stopped him with a gesture. Then the man once
more wrote; carefully, heavily, in order that the other might have no
difficulty in reading it from the distance.

"Pardon me! But it is not necessary for you to go to any trouble.
Moreover--I beg of you not to think me rude--your opinions in the
matter have no interest for me."

Ashton-Kirk acknowledged this with a grave nod. The pencil was
instantly at work again.

"As I have said, I expected a visitor; but I will now add that I did
not expect to be here to receive him."

Ashton-Kirk looked swiftly into Locke's face as he read this; the
expression was unmistakable, and the investigator leaped to his feet.
But the mute uttered a strange parrot-like cry--evidently the same
that Edyth heard that night in Christie Place--and Ashton-Kirk saw his
hand go swiftly to a button at one side of the work-bench. Instantly
the investigator paused; once more a gesture bade him be seated.

Slowly he obeyed; and once more Locke began to trace bold characters
upon the stiff paper. This message read:

"You are a wise man. I had arranged everything before you came in, and
had sat down to make an end of it. This button at my hand once started
an electric apparatus; but now it is connected with a quantity of an
explosive--my own invention, and a terrible one. Believe me, one touch
and everything in this building is in fragments."

Ashton-Kirk, when he had finished reading, nodded quietly. Again the
mute began to write.

"I have no ill will toward you," the words ran, "you have two minutes
to leave here, and get safely away."

When he saw that this had been read, Locke threw down the paper and
took out his watch. Then he pointed toward the door and sat waiting.

It was strange to see the little man sitting there calmly, with only
the pressure of a finger between him and eternity. But Ashton-Kirk
knew stern resolution too well to mistake the look on the mute's
face. There was nothing to do but to obey. He waved his hand in a
farewell. Locke returned the gesture. Then Ashton-Kirk walked to the
door, opened it and stepped out.

Pendleton, patiently watching among the trees, saw him emerge and at
once moved toward him; to his amazement the investigator took him by
the arm and broke into a run.

"What the deuce is the matter now?" asked Pendleton, after they had
passed the gate and were racing down the road.

"You'll know in a few moments," returned Ashton-Kirk grimly.

He permitted no pause until they reached the car, the engine of which
had not been stopped.

"Quick, for your lives!" he ordered, as he leaped in.

Pendleton and Burgess followed instantly. The car had scarcely begun
its plunge forward when a horrible rending shock staggered them. And
as they sped away the debris of the deaf-mute's work-shop was falling
all about them.

The evening papers were glaring with the news from Cordova by the
time the two friends were once more alone in Ashton-Kirk's library.
Pendleton seemed to be pondering.

"I say," said he, at last, "was it Morris or Spatola who remained at
Hume's the night of the murder?"

"I spoke to Spatola about that," answered Ashton-Kirk. "He said it
was Morris who left first and whom Hume pursued by jeers through the
open window. Morris had, according to his resolve, called at the place
to demand the plans; but Hume was mad with liquor and was even worse
in his manner than usual. Unable to bear it, Morris had rushed out.
Spatola later made his way out by way of the scuttle and across the
roof, as he frequently did.

"The thing which Spatola had carried under his coat that night was a
diploma which he had received from a musical conservatory in Rome. It
was in a frame and so made considerable bulk. Hume had denied that
afternoon that Spatola had ever studied in this particular
conservatory; frantic with rage, but knowing that he was a fool for
doing it, the Italian had brought his diploma as proof.

"Morris, under the name of Crawford, occupied a room on the floor
below Spatola; and as soon as the musician entered through the
scuttle, he descended the stairs and went immediately to his friend's
room to console and encourage him.

"Some time passed, and while they were still talking they heard a step
upon the stairs leading to the attic. As no one lived there but
himself, Spatola looked and in the semi-darkness saw two men
descending. He called and asked who they were, and Sagon's voice
replied that it was he and a friend. They had gone up to have a talk
and smoke a cigar with him; but seeing that he was not in, they had
come down at once. And now, as he was apparently engaged, they would
not trouble him, and with that they disappeared within Sagon's room."

"Then," said Pendleton, "they had gone up through the attic, across
the roofs, committed the deed, and returned while Spatola was with
Morris?"

"It would seem so."

"But suppose that on reaching the attic, upon their return they had
found Spatola there?"

"Sagon had calculated it all very nicely. One night a week Spatola
went to play with two compatriots at their rooms; with piano, harp and
violin, they gave vent to the harmony that was in them. That was the
night for the trio, and Sagon knew it. But In his rage and his desire
to prove his standing to Hume, Spatola had forgotten it. When he
descended to Morris's rooms, the two criminals thought he had gone to
make his usual visit to his friends. Sagon says he almost lost his
nerve when the Italian confronted them on the stairs."

"But here's a thing I've not been able to puzzle out. According to
your notion--and you may have proved it since, for all I know--Locke
was not in the showroom during or after the murder. And yet it should
have been he who dropped the little particle from the railroad ticket
upon the desk."

"It would seem that way," admitted Ashton-Kirk, "but the fact is that
Sagon visited Locke at the Institute and rode to the city with him
that afternoon. The particle may be accounted for in that way."

"Yes," mused the other, "that's so. But, one thing more. I should have
asked this of Morris himself if he had not been in such a confoundedly
miserable way. Why did he take to hiding immediately after the
murder?"

"He spent the night in his lodgings at Christie Place; next day the
papers told him that he was suspected. He knew that if he appeared
he'd be arrested; and as he desired to recover the plans before the
murderers escaped with them, he felt that this would be fatal to his
chances. Of course, I am not sure of this; but I think it more than
likely."

"Speaking of taking chances on the plans," said Pendleton, "you were
willing enough to take pretty long ones on them last night. Why, Sagon
actually had them in his hands."

Ashton-Kirk drew a flat packet from his pocket. Opening it he showed
that it contained nothing but blank paper.

"This is what Sagon found behind the portrait," said he, with a
smile. "The real papers I was very careful to remove two days ago. One
moment--that's the telephone."

Pendleton sat rolling a cigarette and wondering, while Ashton-Kirk
took down the receiver.

"Well?" said he. Then in a moment his expression changed. "Oh, is it
you? Well, how are you after your exciting experience?"

Here Pendleton dropped the completed cigarette and listened.

"You may consider yourself very fortunate to escape with a slight
headache," said Ashton-Kirk. Then there was a pause, and he said,
apparently in answer to a question: "Oh, yes, he's with me now. Will
you speak with him?"

Pendleton arose and took a step toward the stand. But he halted as if
shot when his friend continued in the transmitter:

"No?" Pause. "Oh, very well. Good-by."

Ashton-Kirk hung up the receiver and turned to his friend.

"So," said Pendleton, in a queer sort of voice, "she doesn't wish to
speak to me."

"Not over the wire--no. But she wants you to come to her--at once. She
desires to hear all about what she calls the wonderful way we have
handled this case, and she wants to hear it--from you." Ashton-Kirk
looked at his watch. "It is now 10:45. You can get there by eleven if
you rush."

"Do you call doing that little distance in fifteen minutes rushing?"
The young man's face was radiant and he was making for the door as he
spoke. "If I don't do it in half that time, I'm a duffer."

Then the door slapped behind him, and Ashton-Kirk heard him bounding
down the stairs.

* * * * *

Another story in this series is "ASHTON-KIRK AND THE SCARLET SCAPULAR"
(in press)

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