Part 2 out of 2
Stratton quickly glanced up the page of his notebook, and marked a
little cross before the name of Stephen Roland.
"You had another disagreement with him before, if I might term it so,
had you not?"
Mrs. Brenton looked at him surprised.
"What makes you think so?" she said.
"Because you hesitated when I spoke of it."
"Well, we had what you might call a disagreement once at Lucerne,
"Will you tell me what it was about?"
"I would rather not."
"Will you tell me this--was it about a gentleman?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Brenton.
"Was your husband of a jealous disposition?"
"Ordinarily I do not think he was. It seemed to me at the time that he
was a little unjust--that's all."
"Was the gentleman in Lucerne?"
"Was his name Stephen Roland?"
Mrs. Brenton again glanced quickly at the newspaper man, and seemed
about to say something, but, checking herself, she simply answered--
Then she leaned back in the armchair and sighed.
"I am very tired," she said. "If it is not absolutely necessary, I
prefer not to continue this conversation."
Stratton immediately rose.
"Madam," he said, "I am very much obliged to you for the trouble you
have taken to answer my questions, which I am afraid must have seemed
impertinent to you, but I assure you that I did not intend them to be
so. Now, madam, I would like very much to get a promise from you. I wish
that you would promise to see me if I call again, and I, on my part,
assure you that unless I have something particularly important to tell
you, or to ask, I shall not intrude upon you."
"I shall be pleased to see you at any time, sir."
When the sheriff and the newspaper man reached the other room, the
"Well, what do you think?"
"I think it is an interesting case," was the answer.
"Or, to put it in other words, you think Mrs. Brenton a very interesting
"Officially, sir, you have exactly stated my opinion."
"And I suppose, poor woman, she will furnish an interesting article for
"Hang the paper!" said Stratton, with more than his usual vim.
The sheriff laughed. Then he said--
"I confess that to me it seems a very perplexing affair all through.
Have you got any light on the subject?"
"My dear sir, I will tell you three important things. First, Mrs.
Brenton is innocent. Second, her lawyers are taking the wrong line of
defence. Third," tapping his breast-pocket, "I have the name of the
murderer in my note-book."
"Now," said John Speed to William Brenton, "we have got Stratton fairly
started on the track, and I believe that he will ferret out the truth
in this matter. But, meanwhile, we must not be idle. You must remember
that, with all our facilities for discovery, we really know nothing
of the murderer ourselves. I propose we set about this thing just as
systematically as Stratton will. The chances are that we shall penetrate
the mystery of the whole affair very much quicker than he. As I told
you before, I am something of a newspaper man myself; and if, with the
facilities of getting into any room in any house, in any city and in any
country, and being with a suspected criminal night and day when he never
imagines any one is near him--if with all those advantages I cannot
discover the real author of that crime before George Stratton does, then
I'll never admit that I came from Chicago, or belonged to a newspaper."
"Whom do you think Stratton suspects of the crime? He told the sheriff,"
said Brenton, "that he had the name in his pocket-book."
"I don't know," said Speed, "but I have my suspicions. You see, he has
the names of all the guests at your banquet in that pocket-book of his;
but the name of Stephen Roland he has marked with two crosses. The name
of the servant he has marked with one cross. Now, I suspect that he
believes Stephen Roland committed the crime. You know Roland; what do
you think of him?"
"I think he is quite capable of it," answered Brenton, with a frown.
"Still, you are prejudiced against the man," put in Speed, "so your
evidence is hardly impartial."
"I am not prejudiced against any one," answered Brenton; "I merely know
that man. He is a thoroughly despicable, cowardly character. The only
thing that makes me think he would not commit a murder, is that he is
too craven to stand the consequences if he were caught. He is a cool
villain, but he is a coward. I do not believe he has the courage to
commit a crime, even if he thought he would benefit by it."
"Well, there is one thing, Brenton, you can't be accused of flattering
a man, and if it is any consolation for you to know, you may be pretty
certain that George Stratton is on his track."
"I am sure I wish him success," answered Brenton, gloomily; "if he
brings Roland to the gallows I shall not mourn over it."
"That's all right," said Speed; "but now we must be up and doing
ourselves. Have you anything to propose?"
"No, I have not, except that we might play the detective on Roland."
"Well, the trouble with that is we would merely be duplicating what
Stratton is doing himself. Now, I'll tell you my proposal. Supposing
that we consult with Lecocq."
"Who is that? The novelist?"
"Novelist? I don't think he has ever written any novels--not that I
"Ah, I didn't know. It seemed to me that I remembered his name in
connection with some novel."
"Oh, very likely you did. He is the hero of more detective stories than
any other man I know of. He was the great French detective."
"What, is he dead, then?"
"Dead? Not a bit of it; he's here with us. Oh, I understand what you
mean. Yes, from your point of view, he is dead."
"Where can we find him?"
"Well, I presume, in Paris. He's a first-rate fellow to know, anyhow,
and he spends most of his time around his old haunts. In fact, if you
want to be certain to find Lecocq, you will generally get him during
office hours in the room he used to frequent while in Paris."
"Let us go and see him, then."
* * * * *
"Monsieur Lecocq," said Speed, a moment afterwards, "I wish to introduce
to you a new-comer, Mr. Brenton, recently of Cincinnati."
"Ah, my dear Speed," said the Frenchman, "I am very pleased indeed to
meet any friend of yours. How is the great Chicago, the second Paris,
and how is your circulation?--the greatest in the world, I suppose."
"Well, it is in pretty good order," said Speed; "we circulated from
Chicago to Paris here in a very much shorter time than the journey
usually occupies down below. Now, can you give us a little of your time?
Are you busy just now?"
"My dear Speed, I am always busy. I am like the people of the second
Paris. I lose no time, but I have always time to speak with my friends."
"All right," said Speed. "I am like the people of the second Chicago,
generally more intent on pleasure than business; but, nevertheless, I
have, a piece of business for you."
"The second Chicago?" asked Lecocq. "And where is that, pray?"
"Why, Paris, of course," said Speed.
"You are incorrigible, you Chicagoans. And what is the piece of
"It is the old thing, monsieur. A mystery to be unravelled. Mr. Brenton
here wishes to retain you in his case."
"And what is his case?" was the answer.
Lecocq was evidently pleased to have a bit of real work given him.
[Illustration: _The detective_] Speed briefly recited the facts, Brenton
correcting him now and then on little points where he was wrong. Speed
seemed to think these points immaterial, but Lecocq said that attention
to trivialities was the whole secret of the detective business.
"Ah," said Lecocq, sorrowfully, "there is no real trouble in elucidating
that mystery. I hoped it would be something difficult; but, you see,
with my experience of the old world, and with the privileges one enjoys
in this world, things which might be difficult to one below are very
easy for us. Now, I shall show you how simple it is."
"Good gracious!" cried Speed, "you don't mean to say you are going to
read it right off the reel, like that, when we have been bothering
ourselves with it so long, and without success?"
"At the moment," replied the French detective, "I am not prepared to say
who committed the deed. That is a matter of detail. Now, let us see what
we know, and arrive, from that, at what we do not know. The one fact, of
which we are assured on the statement of two physicians from Cincinnati,
is that Mr. Brenton was poisoned."
"Well," said Speed, "there are several other facts, too. Another fact is
that Mrs. Brenton is accused of the crime."
"Ah! my dear sir," said Lecocq, "that is not pertinent."
"No," said Speed, "I agree with you. I call it very impertinent."
Brenton frowned, at this, and his old dislike to the flippant Chicago
man rose to the surface again. The Frenchman continued marking the
points on his long forefinger."
"Now, there are two ways by which that result may have been attained.
First, Mr. Brenton may have administered to himself the poison;
secondly, the poison may have been administered by some one else."
"Yes," said Speed; "and, thirdly, the poison may have been administered
accidentally--you do not seem to take that into account."
"I do not take that into account," calmly replied the Frenchman,
"because of its improbability. If there were an accident; if, for
instance, the poison was in the sugar, or in some of the viands served,
then others than Mr. Brenton would have been poisoned. The fact that one
man out of twenty-six was poisoned, and the fact that several people are
to benefit by his death, point, it seems to me, to murder; but to be
sure of that, I will ask Mr. Brenton one question. My dear sir, did you
administer this poison to yourself?"
"Certainly not," answered Brenton.
"Then we have two facts. First, Mr. Brenton was poisoned; secondly, he
was poisoned by some person who had an interest in his death. Now we
will proceed. When Mr. Brenton sat down to that dinner he was perfectly
well. When he arose from that dinner he was feeling ill. He goes to bed.
He sees no one but his wife after he has left the dinner-table, and he
takes nothing between the time he leaves the dinner-table and the moment
he become unconscious. Now, that poison must have been administered to
Mr. Brenton at the dinner-table. Am I not right?"
"Well, you seem to be," answered Speed.
"Seem? Why, it is as plain as day. There cannot be any mistake."
"All right," said Speed; "go ahead. What next?"
"What next? There were twenty-six people around that table, with two
servants to wait on them, making twenty-eight in all. There were
twenty-six, I think you said, including Mr. Brenton."
"That is correct."
"Very-well. One of those twenty-seven persons has poisoned Mr. Brenton.
Do you follow me?"
"We do," answered Speed; "we follow you as closely as you have ever
followed a criminal! Go on."
"Very well, so much is clear. These are all facts, not theories. Now,
what is the thing that I should do if I were in Cincinnati? I would find
out whether one or more of those guests had anything to gain by the
death of their host. That done, I would follow the suspected persons. I
would have my men find out what each of them had done for a month before
the time of the crime. Whoever committed it made some preparation. He
did something, too, as you say, in America, to cover up his tracks. Very
well. By the keen detective these actions are easily traced. I shall at
once place twenty-seven of the best men I know on the track of those
"I call that shadowing with a vengeance," remarked the Chicago man.
"It will be very easy. The one who has committed the crime is pertain,
when he is alone in his own room, to say something, or to do something,
that will show my detective that he is the criminal. So, gentlemen, if
you can tell me who those twenty-seven persons are, in three days or a
week from this time I will tell you who gave the poison to Mr. Brenton."
"You seem very sure of that," said Speed.
"Sure of it? It is simply child's play. It is mere waiting. If, for
instance, at the trial Mrs. Brenton is found guilty, and sentenced, the
one who is the guilty party is certain to betray himself or herself
as soon as he or she is alone. If it be a man who hopes to marry Mrs.
Brenton, he will be overcome with grief at what has happened. He will
wring his hands and try to think what can be done to prevent the
sentence being carried out. He will argue with himself whether it is
better to give himself up and tell the truth, and if he is a coward he
will conclude not to do that, but will try to get a pardon, or at least
have the capital sentence commuted into life imprisonment. He will
possibly be cool and calm in public, but when he enters his own room,
when his door is locked, when he believes no one can see him, when he
thinks he is alone, then will come his trial. Then his passions and
his emotions will betray him. It is mere child's play, as I tell you,
and-long before there is a verdict I will give you the name of the
"Very well, then," said Speed, "that is agreed; we will look you up in a
week from now."
"I should be pained," said Lecocq, "to put you to that trouble. As soon
as I get the report from my men I will communicate with you and let
you know the result. In a few days I shall give you the name of the
"Good-bye, then, until I see you again," answered Speed; and with this
he and Brenton took their departure.
"He seems to be very sure of himself," said Brenton.
[Illustration: _Jane Morton_.]
"He will do what he says, you may depend on that."
The week was not yet up when Monsieur Lecocq met John Speed in Chicago.
"By the look of satisfaction on your face," said Mr. Speed, "I imagine
you have succeeded in unravelling the mystery."
"Ah," replied the Frenchman; "if I have the appearance of satisfaction,
it is indeed misplaced."
"Then you have not made any discovery?"
"On the contrary, it is all as plain as your big buildings here. It
is not for that reason, but because it is so simple that I should be
foolish to feel satisfaction regarding it."
"Then who is the person?"
"The assassin," replied the Frenchman, "is one whom no one has seemed to
think of, and yet one on whom suspicion should have been the first to
fall. The person who did Monsieur Brenton the honour to poison him is
none other than the servant girl, Jane Morton."
"JANE MORTON!" cried Speed; "who is she?"
"She is, as you may remember, the girl who carried the coffee from Mrs.
Brenton to monsieur."
"And are you sure she is the criminal?"
The great detective did not answer; he merely gave an expressive little
French gesture, as though the question was not worth commenting upon.
"Why, what was her motive?" asked Speed.
For the first time in their acquaintance a shade of perplexity seemed to
come over the enthusiastic face of the volatile Frenchman.
"You are what you call smart, you Chicago people," he said, "and you
have in a moment struck the only point on which we are at a loss."
"My dear sir," returned Speed, "that is _the_ point in the case. Motive
is the first thing to look for; it seems to me. You said as much
yourself. If you haven't succeeded in finding what motive Jane Morton
had for poisoning her employer, it appears to me that very little has
"Ah, you say that before you know the particulars. I am certain we shall
find the motive. What I know now is that Jane Morton is the one who put
the poison in his cup of coffee."
"It would take a good deal of nerve to do that with twenty-six people
around the table. You forget, my dear sir, that she had to pass the
whole length of the table, after taking the cup, before giving it to Mr.
"Half of the people had their backs to her, and the other half, I can
assure you, were not looking at her. If the poison was ready, it was a
very easy thing to slip it into a cup of coffee. There was ample time to
do it, and that is how it was done."
"May I ask how you arrived at that conclusion?"
"Certainly, certainly, my dear sir. My detectives report that each one
of the twenty-seven people they had to follow were shadowed night and
day. But only two of them acted suspiciously. These two were Jane Morton
and Stephen Roland. Stephen Roland's anxiety is accounted for by the
fact that he is evidently in love with Mrs. Brenton. But the change
in Jane Morton has been something terrible. She is suffering from the
severest pangs of ineffectual remorse. She has not gone out again to
service, but occupies a room in one of the poorer quarters of the
city--a room that she never leaves except at night. Her whole actions
show that she is afraid of the police--afraid of being tracked for her
crime. She buys a newspaper every night, locks and bars the door on
entering her room, and, with tears streaming from her eyes, reads every
word of the criminal news. One night, when she went out to buy her
paper, and what food she needed for the next day, she came unexpectedly
upon a policeman at the corner. The man was not looking at her at all,
nor for her, but she fled, running like a deer, doubling and turning
through alleys and back streets until by a very roundabout road she
reached her own room. There she locked herself in, and remained
without food all next day rather than go out again. She flung herself.
terror-stricken on the bed, after her room door was bolted, and cried,
'Oh, why did I do it? why did
[Illustration: _"Oh, why did I do it?"_]
I do it? I shall certainly be found out. If Mrs. Brenton is acquitted,
they will be after me next day. I did it to make up to John what he had
suffered, and yet if John knew it, he would never speak to me again.'
"Who is John?" asked Speed.
"Ah, that," said the detective, "I do not know. When we find out who
John is, then we shall find the motive for the crime."
"In that case, if I were you, I should try to find John as quickly as
"Yes, my dear sir, that is exactly what should be done, and my detective
is now endeavouring to discover the identity of John. He will possibly
succeed in a few days. But there is another way of finding out who John
is, and perhaps in that you can help me."
"What other way?"
"There is one man who undoubtedly knows who John is, and that is Mr.
Brenton. Now, I thought that perhaps you, who know Brenton better than I
do, would not mind asking him who John is."
"My dear sir," said Speed, "Brenton is no particular friend of mine,
and I only know him well enough to feel that if there is any
cross-examination to be done, I should prefer somebody else to do it."
"Why, you are not afraid of him, are you?" asked the detective.
"Afraid of him? Certainly not, but I tell you that Brenton is just a
little touchy and apt to take offence. I have found him so on several
occasions. How, as you have practically taken charge of this case, why
don't you go and see him?"
"I suppose I shall have to do that," said the Frenchman, "if you will
not undertake it."
"No, I will not."
"You have no objection, have you, to going with me?"
"It is better for you to see Brenton alone. I do not think he would care
to be cross-examined before witnesses, you know."
"Ah, then, good-bye; I shall find out from Mr. Brenton who John is."
"I am sure I wish you luck," replied Speed, as Lecocq took his
Lecocq found Brenton and Ferris together. The, cynical spirit seemed to
have been rather sceptical about the accounts given him of the influence
that Speed and Brenton, combined, had had upon the Chicago newspaper
man. Yet he was interested in the case, and although he still maintained
that no practical good would result, even if a channel of communication
could be opened between the two states of existence, he had listened
with his customary respect to what Brenton had to say.
"Ah," said Brenton, when he saw the Frenchman, "have you any news for
"Yes, I have. I have news that I will exchange, but meanwhile I want
some news from you."
"I have none to give you," answered Brenton.
"If you have not, will you undertake to answer any questions I shall ask
you, and not take offence if the questions seem to be personal ones?"
"Certainly," said Brenton; "I shall be glad to answer anything as long
as it has a bearing on the case."
"Very well, then, it has a very distinct bearing on the case. Do you
remember the girl Jane Morton?"
"I remember her, of course, as one of the servants in our employ. I know
very little about her, though."
"That is just what I wish to find out. Do you know _anything_ about her?
"No; she had been in our employ but a fortnight, I think, or perhaps it
was a month. My wife attended to these details, of course. I knew the
girl was there, that is all."
The Frenchman looked very dubious as Brenton said this, while the latter
rather bridled up.
"You evidently do not believe me?" he cried.
Once more the detective gave his customary gesture, and said--
"Ah, pardon me, you are entirely mistaken. I have this to acquaint you
with. Jane Morton is the one who murdered you. She did it, she says,
partly for the sake of John, whoever he is, and partly out of revenge.
Now, of course, you are the only man who can give me information as to
the motive. That girl certainly had a motive, and I should like to find
out what the motive was."
Brenton meditated for a few moments, and then suddenly brightened up.
"I remember, now, an incident which happened a week of two before
Christmas, which may have a bearing on the case. One night I heard--or
thought I heard--a movement downstairs, when I supposed everybody had
retired. I took a revolver in my hand, and went cautiously down the
stairs. Of course I had no light, because, if there was a burglar, I did
not wish to make myself too conspicuous a mark. As I went along the hall
leading to the kitchen, I saw there was a light inside; but as soon as
they heard me coming the light was put out. When I reached the kitchen,
I noticed a man trying to escape through the door that led to the
coalshed. I fired at him twice, and he sank to the floor with a groan. I
thought I had bagged a burglar sure, but it turned out to be nothing of
the kind. He was merely a young man who had been rather late visiting
one of the girls. I suspect now the girl he came to see was Jane
Morton. As it was, the noise brought the two girls there, and I never
investigated the matter or tried to find out which one it was that he
had been visiting. They were both terror-stricken, and the young man
himself was in a state of great fear. He thought for a moment that he
had been killed. However, he was only shot in the leg, and I sent him to
the house of a physician who keeps such patients as do not wish to go to
the hospital. I did not care to have him go to the hospital, because I
was afraid the newspapers would get hold of the incident, and make
a sensation of it. The whole thing was accidental; the young fellow
realized that, and so, I thought, did the girls; at least, I never
noticed anything in their behaviour to show the contrary."
"What sort of a looking girl is Jane Morton?" asked Ferris.
"She is a tall brunette, with snapping black eyes."
"Ah, then, I remember her going into the room where you lay," said
Ferris, "on Christmas morning. It struck me when she came out that she
was very cool and self-possessed, and not at all surprised."
"All I can say," said Brenton, "is that I never noticed anything in her
conduct like resentment at what had happened. I intended to give the
young fellow a handsome compensation for his injury, but of course what
occurred on Christmas Eve prevented that: I had really forgotten all
about the circumstance, or I should have told you of it before."
"Then," said Lecocq, "the thing now is perfectly clear. That black-eyed
vixen murdered you out of revenge."
IT was evident to George Stratton that he would have no time before
the trial came off in which to prove Stephen Roland the guilty person.
Besides this, he was in a strange state of mind which he himself could
not understand. The moment he sat down to think out a plan by which
he could run down the man he was confident had committed the crime, a
strange wavering of mind came over him. Something seemed to say to him
that he was on the wrong track. This became so persistent that George
was bewildered, and seriously questioned his own sanity. Whenever he sat
alone in his own room, the doubts arose and a feeling that he was on the
wrong scent took possession of him. This feeling became so strong at
times that he looked up other clues, and at one time tried to find
out the whereabouts of the servant girls who had been employed by the
Brentons. Curiously enough, the moment he began this search, his mind
seemed to become clearer and easier; and when that happened, the old
belief in the guilt of Stephen Roland resumed its sway again. But the
instant he tried to follow up what clues he had in that direction, he
found himself baffled and assailed again by doubts, and so every effort
he put forth appeared to be nullified. This state of mind was so unusual
with him that he had serious thoughts of abandoning the whole case and
going back to Chicago. He said to himself, "I am in love with this woman
and I shall go crazy if I stay here any longer." Then he remembered the
trust she appeared to have in his powers of ferreting out the mystery of
the case, and this in turn encouraged him and urged him on.
All trace of the girls appeared to be lost. He hesitated to employ a
Cincinnati detective, fearing that what he discovered would be given
away to the Cincinnati press. Then he accused himself of disloyalty to
Mrs. Brenton, in putting his newspaper duty before his duty to her.
He was so torn by his conflicting ideas and emotions that at last he
resolved to abandon the case altogether and return to Chicago. He packed
up his valise and resolved to leave that night for big city, trial or no
trial. He had described his symptoms to a prominent physician, and that
physician told him that the case was driving him mad, and the best thing
he could do was to leave at once for other scenes. He could do no good,
and would perhaps end by going insane himself.
As George Stratton was packing his valise in his room, alone, as he
thought, the following conversation was taking place beside him.
"It is no use," said Speed; "we are merely muddling him, and not doing
any good. The only thing is to leave him alone. If he investigates the
Roland part of the case he will soon find out for himself that he is on
the wrong track; then he will take the right one."
"Yes," said Brenton; "but the case comes on in a few days. If anything
is to be done, it must be done now."
"In that I do not agree with you," said Speed. "Perhaps everything will
go all right at the trial, but even if it does not, there is still
a certain amount of time. You see how we have spoiled things by
interfering. Our first success with him has misled us. We thought we
could do anything; we have really done worse than nothing, because all
this valuable time has been lost. If he had been allowed to proceed in
his own way he would have ferreted, out the matter as far as Stephen
Roland is concerned, and would have found that there was no cause for
his suspicion. As it is he has done nothing. He still believes, if left
alone, that Stephen Roland is the criminal. All our efforts to lead him
to the residence of Jane Morton have been unavailing. Now, you see, he
is on the eve of going back to Chicago."
"Well, then, let him go," said Brenton, despondently.
"With all my heart, say I," answered Speed; "but in any case let us
leave him alone."
Before the train started that night Stratton said to himself that he was
a new man. Richard was himself again. He was thoroughly convinced of the
guilt of Stephen Roland, and wondered why he had allowed his mind to
wander off the topic and waste time with other suspicions, for which
he now saw there was no real excuse. He had not the time, he felt, to
investigate the subject personally, but he flattered himself he knew,
exactly the man to put on Roland's track, and, instead of going himself
to Chicago, he sent off the following despatch:--
"Meet me to-morrow morning, without fail, at the Gibson House. Answer."
Before midnight he had his answer, and next morning he met a man in whom
he had the most implicit confidence, and who had, as he said, the rare
and valuable gift of keeping his mouth shut.
"You see this portrait?" Stratton said, handing to the other a
photograph of Stephen Roland. "Now, I do not know how many hundred
chemist shops there are in Cincinnati, but I want you to get a list of
them, and you must not omit the most obscure shop in town. I want you to
visit every drug store there is in the city, show this photograph to the
proprietor and the clerks, and find out if that man bought any chemicals
during the week or two preceding Christmas. Find out what drags he
bought, and where he bought them, then bring the information to me."
"How much time do you give me on this, Mr. Stratton?" was the question.
"Whatever time you want. I wish the thing done thoroughly and
completely, and, as you know, silence is golden in a case like this."
[Illustration: "_How much time do you give me?"_]
"Enough said," replied the other, and, buttoning the photograph in his
inside pocket, he left the room.
* * * * *
There is no necessity of giving an elaborate report of the trial. Any
one who has curiosity in the matter can find the full particulars from
the files of any paper in the country. Mrs. Brenton was very pale as she
sat in the prisoner's dock, but George Stratton thought he never saw any
one look so beautiful. It seemed to him that any man in that crowded
courtroom could tell in a moment that she was not guilty of the crime
with which she was charged, and he looked at the jury of twelve
supposedly good men, and wondered what they thought of it.
[Illustration: _In the prisoner's dock_.]
The defence claimed that it was not their place to show who committed
the murder. That rested with the prosecution. The prosecution, Mr.
Benham maintained, had signally failed to do this. However, in order to
aid the prosecution, he was quite willing to show how Mr. Brenton came
to his death. Then witnesses were called, who, to the astonishment of
Mrs. Brenton, testified that her husband had all along had a tendency to
insanity. It was proved conclusively that some of his ancestors had died
in a lunatic asylum, and one was stated to have committed suicide. The
defence produced certain books from Mr. Brenton's library, among them
Forbes Winslow's volume on "The Mind and the Brain," to show that
Brenton had studied the subject of suicide.
The judge's charge was very colourless. It amounted simply to this:
If the jury thought the prosecution had shown Mrs. Brenton to have
committed the crime, they were to bring in a verdict of guilty, and if
they thought otherwise they were to acquit her; and so the jury retired.
As they left the court-room a certain gloom fell upon all those who were
friendly to the fair prisoner.
Despite the great reputation of Benham and Brown, it was the thought
of every one present that they had made a very poor defence. The
prosecution, on the other hand, had been most ably conducted. It had
been shown that Mrs. Brenton was chiefly to profit by her husband's
death. The insurance fund alone would add seventy-five thousand dollars
to the money she would control. A number of little points that Stratton
had given no heed to had been magnified, and appeared then to have a
great bearing on the case. For the first time, Stratton admitted
to himself that the prosecution had made out a very strong case of
circumstantial evidence. The defence, too, had been so deplorably weak
that it added really to the strength of the prosecution. A great speech
had been expected of Benham, but he did not rise to the occasion, and,
as one who knew him said, Benham evidently believed his client guilty.
As the jury retired, every one in the court-room felt that there was
little hope for the prisoner; and this feeling was intensified when, a
few moments after, the announcement was made in court, just as the
judge was preparing to leave the bench, that the jury had agreed on the
Stratton, in the stillness of the court-room, heard one lawyer whisper
to another, "She's doomed."
There was intense silence as the jury slowly filed into their places,
and the foreman stood up.
"Gentlemen of the jury," was the question, "have you agreed, upon a
"We have," answered the foreman.
"Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?"
"Not guilty," was the clear answer.
At this there was first a moment of silence, and then a ripple of
applause, promptly checked.
Mrs. Brenton was free.
George Stratton sat in the court-room for a moment dazed, before he
thought of the principal figure in the trial; then he rose to go to her
side, but he found that Roland was there before him. He heard her say,
"Get me a carriage quickly, and take me away from here."
So Stratton went back to his hotel to meet his Chicago detective. The
latter had nothing to report. He told him the number of drug stores he
had visited, but all without avail. No one had recognized the portrait.
"All right," said Stratton; "then you will just have to go ahead until
you find somebody who does. It is, I believe, only a question of time
Next morning he arose late. He looked over the report of the trial in
the morning paper, and then, turning to the leader page, read with
rising indignation following editorial:--
"THE BRENTON CASE.
"The decision of yesterday shows the glorious uncertainty that attends
the finding of the average American jury. If such verdicts are to be
rendered, we may as well blot out from the statute-book all punishment
for all crimes in which the evidence is largely circumstantial. If ever
a strong case was made out against a human being it was the case of the
prosecution in the recent trial. If ever there was a case in which the
defence was deplorably weak, although ably conducted, it was the case
that was concluded yesterday. Should we, then, be prepared to say that
circumstantial evidence will not be taken by an American jury as ground
for the conviction of a murderer? The chances are that, if we draw this
conclusion, we shall be entirely wrong. If a man stood in the dock, in
the place of the handsome young woman who occupied it yesterday, he
would to-day have been undoubtedly convicted of murder. The conclusion,
then, to be arrived at seems to be that, unless there is the direct
proof of murder against a pretty woman, if is absolutely impossible
to get the average jury of men to convict her. It would seem that the
sooner we get women on juries, especially where a woman is on trial, the
better it will be for the cause of justice." Then in other parts of the
paper there were little items similar to this--
"If Mrs. Brenton did not poison her husband, then who did?"
That afternoon George Stratton paid a visit to Mrs. Brenton. He had
hoped she had not seen the paper in question, but he hoped in vain. He
found Mrs. Brenton far from elated with her acquittal.
"I would give everything I possess," she said, "to bring the culprit to
After a talk on that momentous question, and when George Stratton held
her hand and said good-bye, she asked him--
"When do you go to Chicago?"
"Madam," he said, "I leave for Chicago the moment I find out who
poisoned William Brenton."
She answered sadly--
"You may remain a long time in Cincinnati."
"In some respects," said Stratton, "I like Cincinnati better than
"You are the first Chicago man I ever heard say that," she replied.
"Ah, that was because they did not know Cincinnati as I do."
"I suppose you must have seen a great deal of the town, but I must
confess that from now on I should be very glad if I never saw Cincinnati
again. I would like to consult with you," she continued, "about the best
way of solving this mystery. I have been thinking of engaging some of
the best detectives I can get. I suppose New York would be the place."
"No; Chicago," answered the young man.
"Well, then, that is what I wanted to see you about. I would like to get
the very best detectives that can be had. Don't you think that, if they
were promised ample reward, and paid well during the time they were
working on the case, we might discover the key to this mystery?"
"I do not think much of our detective system," answered Stratton,
"although I suppose there is something in it, and sometimes they manage
in spite of themselves to stumble on the solution of a crime. Still, I
shall be very glad indeed to give you what advice I can on the subject.
I may say I have constituted myself a special detective in this case,
and that I hope to have the honour of solving the problem."
"You are very good, indeed," she answered, "and I must ask you to let me
bear the expense."
"Oh, the paper will do that. I won't be out of pocket at all," said
"Well, I hardly know how to put it; but, whether you are successful or
not, I feel very grateful to you, and I hope you will not be offended at
what I am going to say. Now, promise me that you won't!"
"I shall not be offended," he answered. "It is a little difficult to
offend a Chicago newspaper man, you know."
"Now, you mustn't say anything against the newspaper men, for, in spite
of the hard things that some of them have said about me, I like them."
"Individually or collectively?"
"I am afraid I must say individually. You said you wouldn't be offended,
so after your search is over you must let me--. The labourer is worthy
of his [Illustration: I feel very grateful to you."] hire, or I should
say, his reward--you know what I mean. I presume that a young man who
earns his living on the daily press is not necessarily wealthy."
"Why, Mrs. Brenton, what strange ideas you have of the world! We
newspaper men work at the business merely because we like it. It isn't
at all for the money that's in it."
"Then you are not offended at what I have said?"
"Oh, not in the least. I may say, however, that I look for a higher
reward than money if I am successful in this search."
"Yes, I am sure you do," answered the lady, innocently. "If you
succeed in this, you will be very famous."
"Exactly; it's fame I'm after," said Stratton, shaking her hand once
more, and taking his leave.
When he reached his hotel, he found the Chicago detective waiting for
"Well, old man," he said, "anything new?"
"Yes, sir. Something very new."
"What have you. found out?"
"Very well, let me have it."
"I found out that this man bought, on December 10th, thirty grains of
morphia. He had this morphia put up in five-grain capsules. He bought
this at the drug store on the corner of Blank Street and Nemo Avenue."
"Good gracious!" answered Stratton. "Then to get morphia he must have
had a physician's certificate. Did you find who the physician was that
signed the certificate?"
"My dear sir," said the Chicago man, "this person is himself a
physician, unless I am very much mistaken. I was told that this was the
portrait of Stephen Roland. Am I right?"
"That is the name."
"Well, then, he is a doctor himself. Not doing a very large practice, it
is true, but he is a physician. Did you not know that?"
[Illustration: "_Here's the detailed report_."]
"No," said Stratton; "how stupid I am! I never thought of asking the
"Very well, if that is what you wanted to know, here's the detailed
report of my investigation."
When the man left, Stratton rubbed his, hands."
"Now, Mr. Stephen Roland, I have you," he said.
After receiving this information Stratton sat alone in his room and
thought deeply over his plans. He did not wish to make a false step, yet
there was hardly enough in the evidence he had secured to warrant his
giving Stephen Roland up to the police. Besides this, it would put the
suspected man at once on his guard, and there was no question but
that gentleman had taken every precaution to prevent discovery. After
deliberating for a long while, he thought that perhaps the best thing he
could do was to endeavour to take Roland by surprise. Meanwhile, before
the meditating man stood Brenton and Speed, and between them there was a
serious disagreement of opinion.
* * * * *
"I tell you what it is," said Speed, "there is no use in our interfering
with Stratton. He is on the wrong track, but, nevertheless, all the
influence we can use on him in his present frame of mind will merely do
what it did before--it will muddle the man up. Now, I propose that we
leave him severely alone. Let him find out his mistake. He will find it
out in some way or other, and then he will be in a condition of mind to
turn to the case of Jane Morton."
"But don't you see," argued Brenton, "that all the time spent on his
present investigation is so much time lost? I will agree to leave him
alone, as you say, but let us get somebody else on the Morton case."
"I don't want to do that," said Speed; "because George Stratton has
taken a great deal of interest in this search. He has done a great deal
now, and I think we should he grateful to him for it."
"Grateful!" growled Brenton; "he has done it from the most purely
selfish motives that a man can act upon. He has done it entirely for his
paper--for newspaper fame. He has done it for money."
"Now," said Speed, hotly, "you must not talk like that of Stratton to
me. I won't say what I think of that kind of language coming from you,
but you can see how seriously we interfered with his work before, and
how it nearly resulted in his departure for Chicago. I propose now that
we leave him alone."
"Leave him alone, then, for any sake," replied Brenton; "I am sure I
build nothing on what he can do anyway."
"All right, then," returned Speed, recovering his good nature. "Now,
although I am not willing to put any one else on the track of Miss Jane
Morton, yet I will tell you what I am willing to do. If you like, we
will go to her residence, and influence her to confess her crime. I
believe that can be done."
"Very well; I want you to understand that I am perfectly reasonable
about the matter. All I want is not to lose any more time."
"Time?" cried Speed; "why, we have got all the time there is. Mrs.
Brenton is acquitted. There is no more danger."
"That is perfectly true, I admit; but still you can see the grief under
which she labours, because her name is not yet cleared from the odium
of the crime. You will excuse me, Speed, if I say that you seem to be
working more in the interests of Stratton's journalistic success than in
the interests of Mrs. Brenton's good name."
"Well, we won't talk about that," said Speed; "Stratton is amply able to
take care of himself, as you will doubtless see. Now, what do you say,
to our trying whether or not we can influence Jane Morton to do what she
ought to do, and confess her crime?"
"It is not a very promising task," replied Brenton; "it is hard to get a
person to say words that may lead to the gallows."
"I'm not so sure about that," said Speed; "you know the trouble of mind
she is in. I think it more than probable that, after the terror of the
last few weeks, it will be a relief for her to give herself up."
"Very well; let us go."
The two men shortly afterwards found themselves in the scantily
furnished room occupied by Jane Morton. That poor woman was rocking
herself to and fro and moaning over her trouble. Then she suddenly
stopped rocking, and looked around the room with vague apprehension
in her eyes. She rose and examined the bolts of the door, and, seeing
everything was secure, sat down again.
"I shall never have any peace in this world again," she cried to
She rocked back and forth silently for a few moments.
"I wish," she said, "the police would find out all about it, and then
this agony of mind would end."
Again she rocked back and forth, with her hands helplessly in her lap.
"Oh, I cannot do it, _I cannot do it_!" she sobbed, still rocking to and
fro. Finally she started to her feet.
"I _will_ do it," she cried; "I will confess to Mrs. Brenton herself. I
will tell her everything. She has gone through trouble herself, and may
have mercy on me."
"There, you see," said Speed to Brenton, "we have overcome the
difficulty, after all."
"It certainly looks like it," replied Brenton. "Don't you think,
however, that we had better stay with her until she _does_ confess? May
she not change her mind?"
"Don't let us overdo the thing," suggested Speed; "if she doesn't, come
to time, we can easily have another interview with her. The woman's
mind is made up. She is in torment, and will be until she confesses her
crime. Let us go and leave her alone."
* * * * *
George Stratton was not slow to act when he had once made up his mind.
He pinned to the breast of his vest a little shield, on which was the
word "detective." This he had often found useful, in a way that is not
at all sanctioned by the law, in ferreting out crime in Chicago. As soon
as it was evening he paced up and down in front of Roland's house, and
on the opposite side of the road. There was a light in the doctor's
study, and he thought that perhaps the best way to proceed was to go
boldly into the house and put his scheme into operation. However, as he
meditated on this, the light was turned low, and in a few moments the
door opened. The doctor came down the steps, and out on the pavement,
walking briskly along the street. The reporter followed him on the other
side of the thoroughfare. Whether to do it in the dark or in the light,
was the question that troubled Stratton. If he did it in the dark, he
would miss the expression on the face of the surprised man. If he did it
in the light, the doctor might recognize him as the Chicago reporter,
and would know at once that he was no detective. Still, he felt that
if there was anything in his scheme at all, it was surprise; and he
remembered the quick gasp of the lawyer Brown when he told him he knew
what his defence was. He must be able to note the expression of the man
who was guilty of the terrible crime.
Having made up his mind to this, he stepped smartly after the doctor,
and, when the latter came under a lamp-post, placed his hand suddenly on
his shoulder, and exclaimed--
"Doctor Stephen Roland, I arrest you for the murder of William Brenton!"
Stephen Roland turned quietly around and shook the hand from his
shoulder. It was evident that he recognized Stratton instantly.
"Is this a Chicago joke?" asked the doctor.
"If it is, Mr. Roland, I think you will find it a very serious one."
"Aren't you afraid that _you_ may find it a serious one?"
"I don't see why I should have any fears in the premises," answered the
"My dear sir, do you not realize that I could knock you down or shoot
you dead for what you have done, and be perfectly justified in doing
"If you either knock or shoot," replied the other, "you will have to do
it very quickly, for, in the language of the wild and woolly West, I've
got the drop on you. In my coat pocket is a cocked revolver with my
forefinger on the trigger. If you make a hostile move I can let daylight
through you so quickly that you won't know what has struck you."
"Electric light, I think you mean," answered the doctor, quietly. "Even
a Chicago man might find it difficult to let daylight through a person
at this time in the evening. Now, this sort of thing may be Chicago
manners, but I assure you it will not go down here in Cincinnati. You
have rendered yourself liable to the law if I cared to make a point of
it, but I do not. Come back with me to my study. I would like to talk
Stratton began to feel vaguely that he had made a fool of himself. His
scheme had utterly failed. The doctor was a great deal cooler and more
collected than he was. Nevertheless, he had a deep distrust of the
gentleman, and he kept his revolver handy for fear the other would make
a dash to escape him. They walked back without saying a word to each
other until they came to the doctor's office. Into the house they
entered, and the doctor bolted the door behind them. Stratton suspected
that very likely he was walking into a trap, but he thought he would
be equal to any emergency that might arise. The doctor walked into the
study, and again locked the door of that. Pulling down the blinds, he
turned up the gas to its full force and sat down by a table, motioning
the newspaper man to a seat on the other side.
"Now," he said calmly to Stratton, "the reason I did not resent your
unwarrantable insult is this: You are conscientiously trying to get at
the root of this mystery. So am I. Your reason is that you wish to score
a victory for your paper. My motive is entirely different, but our
object is exactly the same. Now, by some strange combination of
circumstances you have come to the conclusion that I committed the
crime. Am I right?"
"You are perfectly correct, doctor," replied Stratton.
"Very well, then. Now, I assure you that I am entirely innocent. Of
course, I appreciate the fact that this assurance will not in the
slightest degree affect your opinion, but I am interested in knowing why
you came to your conclusion, and perhaps by putting our heads together,
even if I dislike you and you hate me, we may see some light on this
matter that has hitherto been hidden. I presume you have no objection at
all to co-operate with me?"
"None in the least," was the reply.
"Very well, then. Now, don't mind my feelings at all, but tell me
exactly why you have suspected me of being a murderer."
"Well," answered Stratton, "in the first place we must look for a
motive. It seems to me that you have a motive for the crime."
"And might I ask what that motive is, or was?"
"You will admit that you disliked Brenton?"
"I will admit that, yes?"
"Very well. You will admit also that you were--well, how shall I put
it?--let us say, interested in his wife before her marriage?"
"I will admit that; yes."
"You, perhaps, will admit that you are interested in her now?"
"I do not see any necessity for admitting that; but still, for the
purpose of getting along with the case, I will admit it. Go on."
"Very good. Here is a motive for the crime, and a very strong one.
First, we will presume that you are in love, with the wife of the man
who is murdered. Secondly, supposing that you are mercenary, quite
a considerable amount of money will come to you in case you marry
Brenton's widow. Next, some one at that table poisoned him. It was not
Mrs. Brenton, who poured out the cup of coffee. The cup of coffee was
placed before Brenton, and my opinion is that, until it was placed
there, there was no poison in that cup. The doomed man was entirely
unsuspicious, and therefore it was very easy for a person to slip enough
poison in that cup unseen by anybody at that table, so that when he
drank his coffee nothing could have saved him. He rose from the table
feeling badly, and he went to his room and died. Now, who could have
placed that poison in his cup of coffee? It must have been one of the
two that sat at his right and left hand. A young lady sat at his right
hand. She certainly did not commit the crime. You, Stephen Roland, sat
at his left hand. Do you deny any of the facts I have recited?" That is
a very ingenious chain, of circumstantial evidence. Of course, you do
not think it strong enough to convict a man of such a serious crime as
"No; I quite realize the weakness of the case up to this point. But
there is more to follow. Fourteen days before that dinner you purchased
at the drug store on the corner of Blank Street and Nemo Avenue thirty
grains of morphia. You had the poison put up in capsules of five
grains each. What do you say to that bit of evidence added to the
circumstantial chain which you say is ingenious?"
The doctor knit his brows and leaned back in his chair.
"By the gods!" he said, "you are right. I did buy that morphia. I
remember it now. I don't mind telling you that I had a number of
experiments on hand, as every doctor has, and I had those capsules put
up at the drug store, but this tragedy coming on made me forget all
about the matter."
"Did you take the morphia with you, doctor?"
"No, I did not. And the box of capsules, I do not think, has been
opened. But that is easily ascertained."
The doctor rose, went to his cabinet, and unlocked it. From a number of
packages he selected a small one, and brought it to the desk, placing it
before the reporter.
"There is the package. That contains, as you say, thirty grains of
morphia in half a dozen five-grain capsules. You see that it is sealed
just as it left the drug store. Now, open it and look for yourself. Here
are scales; if you want to see whether a single grain is missing or not,
find out for yourself.
"Perhaps," said the newspaper man, "we had better leave this
investigation for the proper authorities."
"Then you still believe that I am the murderer, of William Brenton?"
"Yes, I still believe that."
"Very well; you may do as you please. I think, however, in justice
to myself, you should stay right here, and see that this box is not
tampered with until the proper authorities, as you say, come."
Then, placing his hand on the bell, he continued--"Whom shall I send
for? An ordinary policeman, or some one from the central office? But,
now that I think of it, here is a telephone. We can have any one brought
here that you wish. I prefer that neither you nor I leave this room
until that functionary has appeared. Name the authority you want brought
here," said the doctor, going to the telephone, "and I will have him
here if he is in town."
The newspaper man was nonplussed. The Doctor's actions did not seem like
those of a guilty man. If he were guilty he certainly had more nerve
than any person Stratton had ever met. So he hesitated. Then he said--
"Sit down a moment, doctor, and let us talk this thing over."
"Just as you say," remarked Roland, drawing up his chair again.
Stratton took the package, and looked it over carefully. It was
certainly just in the condition in which it had left the drug store; but
still, that could have been easily done by the doctor himself.
"Suppose we open this package?" he said to Roland.
"With all my heart," said the doctor, "go ahead;" and he shoved over to
him a little penknife that was on the table.
The reporter took the package, ran the knife around the edge, and opened
it. There lay six capsules, filled, as the doctor had said. Roland
picked up one of them, and looked at it critically.
"I assure you," he said, "although I am quite aware you do not believe a
word I say, that I have not seen those capsules before."
He drew towards him a piece of paper, opened the capsule, and, let the
white powder fall on the paper. He looked critically at the powder, and
a shade of astonishment came over his face. He picked up the penknife,
took a particle on the tip of it, and touched it with his tongue.
"Don't fool with that thing!" said Stratton.
"Oh, my dear fellow," he said, "morphia is not a poison in small
The moment he had tasted it, however, he suddenly picked up the paper,
put the five grains on his tongue, and swallowed them.
Instantly the reporter sprang to his feet. He saw at once the reason for
all the assumed coolness. The doctor was merely gaining time in order to
"What have you done?" cried the reporter.
"Done, my dear fellow? nothing very much. This is not morphia; it is
sulphate of quinine."
In the morning Jane Morton prepared to meet Mrs. Brenton, and make her
confession. She called at the Brenton residence, but found it closed,
as it had been ever since the tragedy of Christmas morning. It took her
some time to discover the whereabouts of Mrs. Brenton, who, since the
murder, had resided with a friend except while under arrest.
For a moment Mrs. Brenton did not recognize the thin, and pale woman who
stood before her in a state of such extreme nervous agitation, that it
seemed as if at any moment she might break down and cry.
"I don't suppose you'll remember me, ma'am," began the girl, "but I
worked for you two weeks before--before----"
"Oh yes," said Mrs. Brenton, "I remember you now. Have you been ill? You
look quite worn and pale, and very different from what you did the last
time I saw you."
"Yes," said the girl, "I believe I have been ill.".
"You _believe_; aren't you sure?"
"I have been very ill in mind, and troubled, and that is the reason I
look so badly,--Oh, Mrs. Brenton, I wanted to tell you of something that
has been weighing on my mind ever since that awful day! I know you can
never forgive me, but I must tell it to you, or I shall go crazy."
"Sit down, sit down," said the lady, kindly; "you know what trouble I
have been in myself. I am sure that I am more able to sympathize now
with one who is in trouble than ever I was before."
"Yes, ma'am; but you were innocent, and I am guilty. That makes all the
difference in the world."
"Guilty!" cried Mrs. Brenton, a strange fear coming over her as she
stared at the girl; "guilty of _what?_"
"Oh, madam, let me tell you all about it. There is, of course, no
excuse; but I'll begin at the beginning. You remember a while before
Christmas that John came to see me one night, and we sat up very late in
the kitchen, and your husband came down quietly, and when we heard him
coming we put out the light and just as John was trying to get away,
your husband shot twice at him, and hit him the second time?"
"Oh yes," said Mrs. Brenton, "I remember that very well. I had forgotten
about it in my own trouble; but I know that my husband intended to do
something for the young man. I hope he was not seriously hurt?"
"No, ma'am; he is able to be about again now as well as ever, and is not
even lame, which we expected he would be. But at the time I thought he
was going to be lame all the rest of his life, and perhaps that is the
reason I did what I did. When everything was in confusion in the house,
and it was certain that we would all have to leave, I did a very wicked
thing. I went to your room, and I stole some of your rings, and some
money that was there, as well as a lot of other things that were in the
room. It seemed to me then, although, of course, I know now how wicked
it was, that you owed John some
[Illustration: "Guilty! Guilty of what?"]
thing for what he had gone through, and I thought that he was to be
lame, and that you would never miss the things; but, oh! madam, I have
not slept a night since I took them. I have been afraid of the police
and afraid of being found out. I have pawned nothing, and they are all
just as I took them, and I have brought them back here to you, with
every penny of the money. I know you can never forgive me, but I am
willing now to be given up to the police, and I feel better in my mind
than I have done ever since I took the things."
"My poor child!" said Mrs. Brenton, sympathetically, "was that _all_?"
"All?" cried the girl. "Yes, I have brought everything back."
"Oh, I don't mean that, but I am sorry you have been worried over
anything so trivial. I can see how at such a time, and feeling that you
had been wronged, a temptation to take the things came to you. But I
hope you will not trouble any more about the matter. I will see that
John is compensated for all the injury he received, as far as it is
possible for money to compensate him. I hope you will keep the money.
The other things, of course, I shall take back, and I am glad you came
to tell me of it before telling any one else. I think, perhaps, it is
better never to say anything to anybody about this. People might not
understand just what temptation you were put to, and they would not know
the circumstances of the case, because no body knows, I think, that John
was hurt. Now, my dear girl, do not cry. It is all right. Of course you
never will touch anything again that does not belong to you, and the
suffering you have gone through has more than made up for all the wrong
you have done. I am sure that I forgive you quite freely for it, and I
think it was very noble of you to come and tell me about it."
Mrs. Brenton took the package from the hands of the weeping girl, and
opened it. She found everything there, as the girl had said. She took
the money and offered it to Jane Morton. The girl shook her head.
"No," she cried, "I cannot touch it. I cannot, indeed. It has been
enough misery to me already."
"Very well," said Mrs. Brenton. "I would like very much to see John.
Will you bring him to me?"
The girl looked at her with startled eyes.
"You will not tell him?" she said.
"No indeed, I shall tell him nothing. But I want to do what I can for
him as I said. I suppose you are engaged to be married?"
"Yes," answered the girl; "but if he knew of this he never, never would
"If he did not," said Mrs. Brenton, "he would not be worthy of you. But
he shall know nothing about it. You will promise to come here and see me
with him, will you not?"
"Yes, madam," said the girl.
"Then good-bye, until I see you again."
Mrs. Brenton sat for a long time thinking over this confession. It took
her some time to recover her usual self-possession, because for a moment
she had thought the girl was going to confess that she committed murder.
In comparison with that awful crime, the theft seemed so trivial that
Mrs. Brenton almost smiled when she thought of the girl's distress.
* * * * *
"Well," said John Speed to Mr. Brenton, "if that doesn't beat the Old
Harry. Now I, for one, am very glad of it, if we come to the real truth
of the matter."
"I am glad also," said Brenton, "that the girl is not guilty, although I
must say things looked decidedly against her."
"I will tell you why I am glad," said Speed. "I am glad because it
will take some of the superfluous conceit out of that French detective
Lecocq. He was so awfully sure of himself. He couldn't possibly be
mistaken. Now, think of the mistakes that man must have made while he
was on earth, and had the power which was given into his hands in Paris.
After all, Stratton is on the right track, and he will yet land your
friend Roland in prison. Let us go and find Lecocq. This is too good to
"My dear sir," said Brenton, "you seem to be more elated because of your
friend Stratton than for any other reason. Don't you want the matter
ferreted out at all?"
"Why, certainly I do; but I don't want it ferreted out by bringing an
innocent person into trouble."
"And may not Stephen Roland be an innocent person?"
"Oh, I suppose so; but I do not think he is."
"Why do you not think so?"
"Well, if you want the real reason, simply because George Stratton
thinks he isn't. I pin my faith to Stratton."
"I think you overrate your friend Stratton."
"Overrate him, sir? That is impossible. I love him so well that I hope
he will solve this mystery himself, unaided and alone, and that in going
back to Chicago he will be smashed to pieces in a railway accident, so
that we can have him here to congratulate him."
"I suppose," said Roland, "you thought for a moment I was trying to
commit suicide. I think, Mr. Stratton, you will have a better opinion of
me by-and-by. I shouldn't be at all surprised if you imagined I induced
you to come in here to get you into a trap."
"You are perfectly correct," said Stratton; "and I may say, although
that was my belief, I was not in the least afraid of you, for I had you
covered all the time."
"Well," remarked Roland, carelessly, "I don't want to interfere with
your business at all, but I wish you wouldn't cover me quite so much;
that revolver of yours might go off."
"Do you mean to say," said Stratton, "that there is nothing but quinine
in those capsules?"
"I'll tell you in a moment," as he opened them one by one. "No, there is
nothing but quinine here. Thirty grains put up in five-grain capsules."
George Stratton's eyes began to open. Then he slowly rose, and looked
with horrified face at the doctor.
"My God!" he cried; "who got the thirty grains of morphia?"
"What do you mean?" asked the doctor.
"Mean? Why, don't you see it? It is a chemist's mistake. Thirty grains
of quinine have been sent you. Thirty grains of morphia have been sent
to somebody else. Was it to William Brenton?"
"By Jove!" said the doctor, "there's something in that. Say, let us go
to the drug store."
The two went out together, and walked to the drug store on the corner of
Blank Street and Nemo Avenue.
"Do you know this writing?" said Doctor Roland to the druggist, pointing
to the label on the box.
"Yes," answered the druggist; "that was written by one of my
"Can we see him for a few moments?"
"I don't know where he is to be found. He is a worthless fellow, and has
gone to the devil this last few weeks with a rapidity that is something
"When did he leave?"
"Well, he got drunk and stayed drunk during the holidays, and I had to
discharge him. He was a very valuable man when he was sober; but he
began to be so erratic in his habits that I was afraid he would make a
ghastly mistake some time, so I discharged him before it was too late."
"Are you sure you discharged him before it was too late."
The druggist looked at the doctor, whom he knew well, and said, "I never
heard of any mistake, if he did make it."
"You keep a book, of course, of all the prescriptions sent out?"
"May we look at that book?"
"I shall be very glad to show it to you. What month or week?"
"I want to see what time you sent this box of morphia to me."
"You don't know about what time it was, do you?
"Yes; it must have been about two weeks before Christmas."
The chemist looked over the pages of the book, and finally said, "Here
"Will you let me look at that page?"
The doctor ran his finger down the column, and came to an entry written
in the same hand.
"Look here," he said to Stratton, "thirty grains of quinine sent to
William Brenton, and next to it thirty grains of morphia sent to Stephen
Roland. I see how it was. Those prescriptions were mixed up. My package
went to poor Brenton."
The druggist turned pale.
"I hope," he said, "nothing public will come of this."
"My dear sir," said Roland, "something public will _have_ to come of
it. You will oblige me by ringing up the central police station, as this
book must be given in charge of the authorities."
"Look here," put in Stratton, his newspaper instinct coming uppermost,
"I want to get this thing exclusively for the _Argus_"
"Oh, I guess there will be no trouble about that. Nothing will be made
public until to-morrow, and you can telegraph to-night if we find the
box of capsules in Brenton's residence. We must take an officer with us
for that purpose, but you can caution or bribe him to keep quiet until
When the three went to William Brenton's residence they began a search
of the room in which Brenton had died, but nothing was found. In the
closet of the room hung the clothes of Brenton, and going through them
Stratton found in the vest pocket of one of the suits a small box
containing what was described as five-grain capsules of sulphate of
quinine. The doctor tore one of these capsules apart, so as to see what
was in it. Without a moment's hesitation he said--
"There you are! That is the morphia. There were six capsules in this
box, and one of them is missing. William Brenton poisoned himself!
Feeling ill, he doubtless took what he thought was a dose of quinine.
Many men indulge in what we call the quinine habit. It is getting to be
a mild form of tippling. Brenton committed unconscious suicide!"
A group of men; who were really alive, but invisible to the searchers,
stood in the room where the discovery was made. Two of the number were
evidently angry, one in one way and one in another. The rest of the
group appeared to be very merry. One angry man was Brenton himself, who
was sullenly enraged. The other was the Frenchman, Lecocq, who was as
deeply angered as Brenton, but, instead of being sullen, was exceedingly
"I tell you," he cried, "it is not a mistake of mine. I went on correct
principles from the first. I was misled by one who should have known
better. You will remember, gentlemen," he continued, turning first to
one and then the other, "that what I said was that we had certain facts
to go on. One of those facts I got from Mr. Brenton. I said to him in
your presence, 'Did you poison yourself?' He answered me, as I can prove
by all of you, 'No, I did not.' I took that for a fact. I thought I was
speaking to a reasonable man who knew what he was talking about."
"Haven't I told you time and again," answered Brenton, indignantly,
"that it was a mistake? You asked me if I poisoned myself. I answered
you that I did not. Your question related to suicide. I did _not_ commit
suicide. I was the victim of a druggist's mistake. If you had asked me
if I had taken medicine before I went to bed, I should have told you
frankly, 'Yes. I took one capsule of quinine.' It has been my habit for
years, when I feel badly. I thought nothing of that."
"My dear sir," said Lecocq, "I warned you, and I warned these gentlemen,
that the very things that seem trivial to a thoughtless person are the
things that sometimes count. You should have told me _everything_. If
you took anything at all, you should have said so. If you had said to
me, 'Monsieur Lecocq, before I retired I took five grains of quinine,'
I should have at once said; 'Find where that quinine is, and see if it
_is_ quinine, and see if there has not been a mistake.' I was entirely
misled; I was stupidly misled."
"Well, if there was stupidity," returned Brenton, "it was your own."
"Come, come, gentlemen," laughed Speed, "all's well that ends well.
Everybody has been mistaken, that's all about it. The best detective
minds of Europe and America, of the world, and of the spirit-land, have
been misled. You are _all_ wrong. Admit it, and let it end."
"My dear sir," said Lecocq, "I shall not admit anything. I was not
wrong; I was misled. It was this, way----"
"Oh, now, for goodness' sake don't go over it all again. We understand
the circumstances well enough."
"I tell you," cried Brenton, in an angry tone, "that----
"Come, come," said Speed, "we have had enough of this discussion. I tell
you that you are all wrong, every one of you. Come with me, Brenton, and
we will leave this amusing crowd."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," answered Brenton, shortly.
"Oh, very well then, do as you please. I am glad the thing is ended, and
I am glad it is ended by my Chicago friend."
"Your Chicago friend!" sneered Brenton, slightingly; "It was discovered
by Doctor Stephen Roland."
"My dear fellow," said Speed, "Stephen Roland had all his time to
discover the thing, and didn't do it, and never would have done it, if
George Stratton hadn't encountered him. Well, good-bye, gentlemen; I am
sorry to say that I have had quite enough of this discussion. But one
thing looms up above it all, and that is that Chicago is ahead of the
world in everything--in detection as well as in fires."
"My dear sir," cried Lecocq, "it is not true. I will show you in a
"You won't show _me_," said Speed, and he straightway disappeared.
"Come, Ferris," said Brenton, "after all, you are the only friend I seem
to have; come with me."
"Where are you going?" asked Ferris, as they left.
"I want to see how my wife takes the news."
"Don't," said Mr. Ferris--"don't do anything of the kind. Leave matters
just where they are. Everything has turned out what you would call all
right. You see that your interference, as far as it went, was perfectly
futile and useless. I want now to draw your attention to other things."
"Very well, I will listen to you," said Brenton, "if you come with me
and see how my wife takes the news. I want to enjoy for even a moment or
two her relief and pleasure at finding that her good name is clear."
"Very well," assented Ferris, "I will go with you."
When they arrived they found the Chicago reporter ahead of them. He had
evidently told Mrs. Brenton all the news, and her face flushed with
eager pleasure as she listened to the recital.
"Now," said the Chicago man, "I am going to leave Cincinnati. Are you
sorry I am going?"
"No," said Mrs. Brenton, looking him in the face, "I am not sorry."
Stratton flushed at this, and then said, taking his hat in his hand,
"Very well, madam, I shall bid you good day."
"I am not sorry," said Mrs. Brenton, holding out her hand, "because I
am going to leave Cincinnati myself, and I hope never to see the city
again. So if you stayed here, you see, I should never meet you again,
"Alice," cried Stratton, impulsively grasping her hand in both of his,
"don't you think you would like Chicago as a place of residence?"
"George," she answered, "I do not know. I am going to Europe, and shall
be there for a year or two."
Then he said eagerly--
"When you return, or if I go over there to see you after a year or two,
may I ask you that question again?"
"Yes," was the whispered answer.
* * * * *
"Come," said Brenton to Ferris, "let us go."