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The Agony Column by Earl Derr Biggers

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o'clock last Thursday evening, at an obscure restaurant in Soho
--Frigacci's--these two people were having tea together !"

I must admit that, as the colonel calmly offered this information,
I suddenly went limp all over at a realization of the endless maze
of mystery in which we were involved. The woman gave a little cry
and Lieutenant Fraser-Freer leaped to his feet.

"How the devil do you know that?" he cried.

"I know it," said Colonel Hughes, "because one of my men happened
to be having tea at a table near by. He happened to be having tea
there for the reason that ever since the arrival of this lady in
London, at the request of--er--friends in India, I have been
keeping track of her every move; just as I kept watch over your
late brother, the captain."

Without a word Lieutenant Fraser-Freer dropped into a chair and
buried his face in his hands.

"I'm sorry, my son," said Hughes. "Really, I am. You made a
heroic effort to keep the facts from coming out--a man's-size
effort it was. But the War Office knew long before you did that
your brother had succumbed to this woman's lure--that he was
serving her and Berlin, and not his own country, England."

Fraser-Freer raised his head. When he spoke there was in his voice
an emotion vastly more sincere than that which had moved him when
he made his absurd confession.

"The game's up," he said. "I have done all I could. This will
kill my father, I am afraid. Ours has been an honorable name,
Colonel; you know that--a long line of military men whose loyalty
to their country has never before been in question. I thought my
confession would and the whole nasty business, that the
investigations would stop, and that I might be able to keep forever
unknown this horrible thing about him--about my brother."

Colonel Hughes laid his hand on the boy's shoulder, and the latter
went on: "They reached me--those frightful insinuations about
Stephen--in a round about way; and when he came home from India I
resolved to watch him. I saw him go often to the house of this
woman. I satisfied myself that she was the same one involved in
the stories coming from Rangoon; then, under another name, I managed
to meet her. I hinted to her that I myself was none too loyal; not
completely, but to a limited extent, I won her confidence. Gradually
I became convinced that my brother was indeed disloyal to his country,
to his name, to us all. It was at that tea time you have mentioned
when I finally made up my mind. I had already bought a revolver; and,
with it in my pocket, I went to the Savoy for dinner."

He rose and paced the floor.

"I left the Savoy early and went to Stephen's rooms. I was resolved
to have it out with him, to put the matter to him bluntly; and if he
had no explanation to give me I intended to kill him then and there.
So, you see, I was guilty in intention if not in reality. I entered
his study. It was filled with strangers. On his sofa I saw my
brother Stephen lying--stabbed above the heart--dead!" There was
a moment's silence. "That is all," said Lieutenant Fraser-Freer.

"I take it," said Hughes kindly, "that we have finished with the
lieutenant. Eh, Inspector?"

"Yes," said Bray shortly. "You may go."

"Thank you," the boy answered. As he went out he said brokenly to
Hughes: "I must find him--my father."

Bray sat in his chair, staring hard ahead, his jaw thrust out
angrily. Suddenly he turned on Hughes.

"You don't play fair," he said. "I wasn't told anything of the
status of the captain at the War Office. This is all news to me."

"Very well," smiled Hughes. "The bet is off if you like."

"No, by heaven!" Bray cried. "It's still on, and I'll win it yet.
A fine morning's work I suppose you think you've done. But are we
any nearer to finding the murderer? Tell me that."

"Only a bit nearer, at any rate," replied Hughes suavely. "This
lady, of course, remains in custody."

"Yes, yes," answered the inspector. "Take her away!" he ordered.

A constable came forward for the countess and Colonel Hughes
gallantly held open the door.

"You will have an opportunity, Sophie," he said, "to think up
another story. You are clever--it will not he hard."

She gave him a black look and went out. Bray got up from his desk.
He and Colonel Hughes stood facing each other across a table, and
to me there was something in the manner of each that suggested
eternal conflict.

"Well?" sneered Bray.

"There is one possibility we have overlooked," Hughes answered.
He turned toward me and I was startled by the coldness in his eyes.
"Do you know, Inspector," he went on, "that this American came to
London with a letter of introduction to the captain--a letter from
the captain's cousin, one Archibald Enwright? And do you know that
Fraser-Freer had no cousin of that name?"

"No!" said Bray.

"It happens to be the truth," said Hughes. "The American has
confessed as much to me."

"Then," said Bray to me, and his little blinking eyes were on me
with a narrow calculating glance that sent the shivers up and down
my spine, "you are under arrest. I have exempted you so far because
of your friend at the United States Consulate. That exemption ends

I was thunderstruck. I turned to the colonel, the man who had
suggested that I seek him out if I needed a friend--the man I had
looked to to save me from just such a contingency as this. But his
eyes were quite fishy and unsympathetic.

"Quite correct, Inspector," he said. "Lock him up!" And as I began
to protest he passed very close to me and spoke in a low voice: "Say
nothing. Wait!"

I pleaded to be allowed to go back to my rooms, to communicate with
my friends, and pay a visit to our consulate and to the Embassy; and
at the colonel's suggestion Bray agreed to this somewhat irregular
course. So this afternoon I have been abroad with a constable, and
while I wrote this long letter to you he has been fidgeting in my
easy chair. Now he informs me that his patience is exhausted and
that I must go at once. So there is no time to wonder; no time to
speculate as to the future, as to the colonel's sudden turn against
me or the promise of his whisper in my ear. I shall, no doubt,
spend the night behind those hideous, forbidding walls that your
guide has pointed out to you as New Scotland Yard. And when I
shall write again, when I shall end this series of letters so
filled with--

The constable will not wait. He is as impatient as a child.
Surely he is lying when he says I have kept him here an hour.

Wherever I am, dear lady, whatever be the end of this amazing
tangle, you may be sure the thought of you--Confound the man!


This fifth letter from the young man of the Agony Column arrived
at the Carlton Hotel, as the reader may recall, on Monday morning,
August the third. And it represented to the girl from Texas the
climax of the excitement she had experienced in the matter of the
murder in Adelphi Terrace. The news that her pleasant young
friend--whom she did not know--had been arrested as a suspect in
the case, inevitable as it had seemed for days, came none the less
as an unhappy shock. She wondered whether there was anything she
could do to help. She even considered going to Scotland Yard and,
on the ground that her father was a Congressman from Texas,
demanding the immediate release of her strawberry man. Sensibly,
however, she decided that Congressmen from Texas meant little in
the life of the London police. Besides, she night have difficulty
in explaining to that same Congressman how she happened to know
all about a crime that was as yet unmentioned in the newspapers.

So she reread the latter portion of the fifth letter, which pictured
her hero marched off ingloriously to Scotland Yard and with a
worried little sigh, went below to join her father.


In the course of the morning she made several mysterious inquiries
of her parent regarding nice points of international law as it
concerned murder, and it is probable that he would have been struck
by the odd nature of these questions had he not been unduly excited
about another matter.

"I tell you, we've got to get home!" he announced gloomily. "The
German troops are ready at Aix-la-Chapelle for an assault on Liege.
Yes, sir--they're going to strike through Belgium! Know what that
means? England in the war! Labor troubles; suffragette troubles;
civil war in Ireland--these things will melt winter in Texas.
They'll go in. It would be national suicide if they didn't."

His daughter stared at him. She was unaware that it was the
bootblack at the Canton he was now quoting. She began to think he
knew more about foreign affairs than she had given him credit for.

"Yes, sir," he went on; "we've got to travel--fast. This won't be
a healthy neighborhood for non-combatants when the ruction starts.
I'm going if I have to buy a liner!"

"Nonsense!" said the girl. "This is the chance of a lifetime. I
won't be cheated out of it by a silly old dad. Why, here we are,
face to face with history!"

"American history is good enough for me," he spread-eagled. "What
are you looking at?"

"Provincial to the death!" she said thoughtfully. "You old dear
--I love you so! Some of our statesmen over home are going to
look pretty foolish now in the face of things they can't understand
I hope you're not going to be one of them."

"Twaddle!" he cried. "I'm going to the steamship offices to-day
and argue as I never argued for a vote."

His daughter saw that he was determined; and, wise from long
experience, she did not try to dissuade him.

London that hot Monday was a city on the alert, a city of hearts
heavy with dread. The rumors in one special edition of the papers
were denied in the next and reaffirmed in the next. Men who could
look into the future walked the streets with faces far from happy.
Unrest ruled the town. And it found its echo in the heart of the
girl from Texas as she thought of her young friend of the Agony
Column "in durance vile" behind the frowning walls of Scotland Yard.

That afternoon her father appeared, with the beaming mien of the
victor, and announced that for a stupendous sum he had bought the
tickets of a man who was to have sailed on the steamship Saronia
three days hence.

"The boat train leaves at ten Thursday morning," he said. "Take
your last look at Europe and be ready."

Three days! His daughter listened with sinking heart. Could she
in three days' time learn the end of that strange mystery, know
the final fate of the man who had first addressed her so
unconventionally in a public print? Why, at the end of three days
he might still be in Scotland Yard, a prisoner! She could not
leave if that were true--she simply could not. Almost she was
on the point of telling her father the story of the whole affair,
confident that she could soothe his anger and enlist his aid. She
decided to wait until the next morning; and, if no letter came

But on Tuesday morning a letter did come and the beginning of it
brought pleasant news. The beginning--yes. But the end! This
was the letter:

DEAR ANXIOUS LADY: Is it too much for me to assume that you have
been just that, knowing as you did that I was locked up for the
murder of a captain in the Indian Army, with the evidence all
against me and hope a very still small voice indeed?

Well, dear lady, be anxious no longer. I have just lived through
the most astounding day of all the astounding days that have been
my portion since last Thursday. And now, in the dusk, I sit again
in my rooms, a free man, and write to you in what peace and quiet
I can command after the startling adventure through which I have
recently passed.

Suspicion no longer points to me; constables no longer eye me;
Scotland Yard is not even slightly interested in me. For the
murderer of Captain Fraser-Freer has been caught at last!

Sunday night I spent ingloriously in a cell in Scotland Yard. I
could not sleep. I had so much to think of--you, for example,
and at intervals how I might escape from the folds of the net that
had closed so tightly about me. My friend at the consulate,
Watson, called on me late in the evening; and he was very kind.
But there was a note lacking in his voice, and after, he was gone
the terrible certainty came into my mind--he believed that I was
guilty after all.

The night passed, and a goodly portion of to-day went by--as the
poets say--with lagging feet. I thought of London, yellow in the
sun. I thought of the Carlton--I suppose there are no more
strawberries by this time. And my waiter--that stiff-backed
Prussian--is home in Deutschland now, I presume, marching with his
regiment. I thought of you.

At three o'clock this afternoon they came for me and I was led
back to the room belonging to Inspector Bray. When I entered,
however, the inspector was not there--only Colonel Hughes,
immaculate and self-possessed, as usual, gazing out the window
into the cheerless stone court. He turned when I entered. I
suppose I must have had a most woebegone appearance, for a look of
regret crossed his face.

"My dear fellow," he cried, "my most humble apologies! I intended
to have you released last night. But, believe me, I have been
frightfully busy."

I said nothing. What could I say? The fact that he had been busy
struck me as an extremely silly excuse. But the inference that my
escape from the toils of the law was imminent set my heart to

"I fear you can never forgive me for throwing you over as I did
yesterday," he went on. "I can only say that it was absolutely
necessary--as you shall shortly understand."

I thawed a bit. After all, there was an unmistakable sincerity in
his voice and manner.

"We are waiting for Inspector Bray," continued the colonel. "I
take it you wish to see this thing through?"

"To the end," I answered.

"Naturally. The inspector was called away yesterday immediately
after our interview with him. He had business on the Continent,
I understand. But fortunately I managed to reach him at Dover
and he has come back to London. I wanted him, you see, because
I have found the murderer of Captain Fraser-Freer."

I thrilled to hear that, for from my point of view it was certainly
a consummation devoutly to be wished. The colonel did not speak
again. In a few minutes the door opened and Bray came in. His
clothes looked as though he had slept in them; his little eyes were
bloodshot. But in those eyes there was a fire I shall never forget.
Hughes bowed.

"Good afternoon, Inspector," he said. "I'm really sorry I had to
interrupt you as I did; but I most awfully wanted you to know that
you owe me a Homburg hat." He went closer to the detective. "You
see, I have won that wager. I have found the man who murdered
Captain Fraser-Freer."

Curiously enough, Bray said nothing. He sat down at his desk and
idly glanced through the pile of mail that lay upon it. Finally he
looked up and said in a weary tone:

"You're very clever, I'm sure, Colonel Hughes."

"Oh--I wouldn't say that," replied Hughes. "Luck was with me
--from the first. I am really very glad to have been of service
in the matter, for I am convinced that if I had not taken part in
the search it would have gone hard with some innocent man."

Bray's big pudgy hands still played idly with the mail on his desk.
Hughes went on: "Perhaps, as a clever detective, you will be
interested in the series of events which enabled me to win that
Homburg hat? You have heard, no doubt, that the man I have caught
is Von der Herts--ten years ago the best secret-service man in
the employ of the Berlin government, but for the past few years
mysteriously missing from our line of vision. We've been wondering
about him--at the War Office."

The colonel dropped into a chair, facing Bray.

"You know Von der Herts, of course?" he remarked casually.

"Of course," said Bray, still in that dead tired voice.

"He is the head of that crowd in England," went on Hughes. "Rather
a feather in my cap to get him--but I mustn't boast. Poor
Fraser-Freer would have got him if I hadn't--only Von der Herts
had the luck to get the captain first."

Bray raised his eyes.

"You said you were going to tell me--" he began.

"And so I am," said Hughes. "Captain Fraser-Freer got in rather
a mess in India and failed of promotion. It was suspected that he
was discontented, soured on the Service; and the Countess Sophie
de Graf was set to beguile him with her charms, to kill his loyalty
and win him over to her crowd.

"It was thought she had succeeded--the Wilhelmstrasse thought
so--we at the War Office thought so, as long as he stayed in India.

"But when the captain and the woman came on to London we discovered
that we had done him a great injustice. He let us know, when the
first chance offered, that he was trying to redeem himself, to round
up a dangerous band of spies by pretending to be one of them. He
said that it was his mission in London to meet Von der Herts, the
greatest of them all; and that, once he had located this man, we
would hear from him again. In the weeks that followed I continued
to keep a watch on the countess; and I kept track of the captain,
too, in a general way, for I'm ashamed to say I was not quite sure
of him."

The colonel got up and walked to the window; then turned and
continued: "Captain Fraser-Freer and Von der Herts were completely
unknown to each other. The mails were barred as a means of
communication; but Fraser-Freer knew that in some way word from the
master would reach him, and he had had a tip to watch the personal
column of the Daily Mail. Now we have the explanation of those four
odd messages. From that column the man from Rangoon learned that
he was to wear a white aster in his button-hole, a scarab pin in
his tie, a Homburg hat on his head, and meet Von der Herts at Ye
Old Gambrinus Restaurant in Regent Street, last Thursday night at
ten o'clock. As we know, he made all arrangements to comply with
those directions. He made other arrangements as well. Since it
was out of the question for him to come to Scotland Yard, by
skillful maneuvering he managed to interview an inspector of police
at the Hotel Cecil. It was agreed that on Thursday night Von der
Herts would be placed under arrest the moment he made himself known
to the captain."

Hughes paused. Bray still idled with his pile of letters, while
the colonel regarded him gravely.

"Poor Fraser-Freer!" Hughes went on. "Unfortunately for him, Von
der Herts knew almost as soon as did the inspector that a plan was
afoot to trap him. There was but one course open to him: He located
the captain's lodgings, went there at seven that night, and killed
a loyal and brave Englishman where he stood."

A tense silence filled the room. I sat on the edge of my chair,
wondering just where all this unwinding of the tangle was leading us.

"I had little, indeed, to work on," went on Hughes. "But I had
this advantage: the spy thought the police, and the police alone,
were seeking the murderer. He was at no pains to throw me off his
track, because he did not suspect that I was on it. For weeks my
men had been watching the countess. I had them continue to do so.
I figured that sooner or later Von der Herts would get in touch
with her. I was right. And when at last I saw with my own eyes
the man who must, beyond all question, be Von der Herts, I was
astounded, my dear Inspector, I was overwhelmed."

"Yes?" said Bray.

"I set to work then in earnest to connect him with that night in
Adelphi Terrace. All the finger marks in the captain's study
were for some reason destroyed, but I found others outside, in the
dust on that seldom-used gate which leads from the garden. Without
his knowing, I secured from the man I suspected the imprint of his
right thumb. A comparison was startling. Next I went down into
Fleet Street and luckily managed to get hold of the typewritten
copy sent to the Mail bearing those four messages. I noticed that
in these the letter a was out of alignment. I maneuvered to get a
letter written on a typewriter belonging to my man. The a was out
of alignment. Then Archibald Enwright, a renegade and waster well
known to us as serving other countries, came to England. My man
and he met--at Ye Old Gambrinus, in Regent Street. And finally,
on a visit to the lodgings of this man who, I was now certain, was
Von der Herts, under the mattress of his bed I found this knife."

And Colonel Hughes threw down upon the inspector's desk the knife
from India that I had last seen in the study of Captain Fraser-Freer.

"All these points of evidence were in my hands yesterday morning
in this room," Hughes went on. "Still, the answer they gave me was
so unbelievable, so astounding, I was not satisfied; I wanted even
stronger proof. That is why I directed suspicion to my American
friend here. I was waiting. I knew that at last Von der Herts
realized the danger he was in. I felt that if opportunity were
offered he would attempt to escape from England; and then our proofs
of his guilt would be unanswerable, despite his cleverness. True
enough, in the afternoon he secured the release of the countess,
and together they started for the Continent. I was lucky enough to
get him at Dover--and glad to let the lady go on."

And now, for the first time, the startling truth struck me full in
the face as Hughes smiled down at his victim.

"Inspector Bray," he said, "or Von der Herts, as you choose, I
arrest you on two counts: First, as the head of the Wilhelmstrasse
spy system in England; second, as the murderer of Captain
Fraser-Freer. And, if you will allow me, I wish to compliment you
on your efficiency."

Bray did not reply for a moment. I sat numb in my chair. Finally
the inspector looked up. He actually tried to smile.

"You win the hat," he said, "but you must go to Homburg for it. I
will gladly pay all expenses."

"Thank you," answered Hughes. "I hope to visit your country before
long; but I shall not be occupied with hats. Again I congratulate
you. You were a bit careless, but your position justified that. As
head of the department at Scotland Yard given over to the hunt for
spies, precaution doubtless struck you as unnecessary. How unlucky
for poor Fraser-Freer that it was to you he went to arrange or your
own arrest! I got that information from a clerk at the Cecil. You
were quite right, from your point of view, to kill him. And, as I
say, you could afford to be rather reckless. You had arranged that
when the news of his murder came to Scotland Yard you yourself would
be on hand to conduct the search for the guilty man. A happy
situation, was it not?"

"It seemed so at the time," admitted Bray; and at last I thought I
detected a note of bitterness in his voice.

"I'm very sorry--really," said Hughes. "To-day, or to-morrow at
the latest, England will enter the war. You know what that means,
Von der Herts. The Tower of London--and a firing squad!"

Deliberately he walked away from the inspector, and stood facing
the window. Von der Herts was fingering idly that Indian knife
which lay on his desk. With a quick hunted look about the room, he
raised his hand; and before I could leap forward to stop him he had
plunged the knife into his heart.

Colonel Hughes turned round at my cry, but even at what met his
eyes now that Englishman was imperturbable.

"Too bad!" he said. "Really too bad! The man had courage and,
beyond all doubt, brains. But--this is most considerate of him.
He has saved me such a lot of trouble."

The colonel effected my release at once; and he and I walked down
Whitehall together in the bright sun that seemed so good to me after
the bleak walls of the Yard. Again he apologized for turning
suspicion my way the previous day; but I assured him I held no
grudge for that.

"One or two things I do not understand," I said. "That letter I
brought from Interlaken--"

"Simple enough," he replied. "Enwright--who, by the way, is now
in the Tower--wanted to communicate with Fraser-Freer, who he
supposed was a loyal member of the band. Letters sent by post
seemed dangerous. With your kind assistance he informed the captain
of his whereabouts and the date of his imminent arrival in London.
Fraser-Freer, not wanting you entangled in his plans, eliminated you
by denying the existence of this cousin--the truth, of course."

"Why," I asked, "did the countess call on me to demand that I alter
my testimony?"

"Bray sent her. He had rifled Fraser-Freer's desk and he held that
letter from Enwright. He was most anxious to fix the guilt upon
the young lieutenant's head. You and your testimony as to the
hour of the crime stood in the way. He sought to intimidate you
with threats--"


"I know--you are wondering why the countess confessed to me next
day. I had the woman in rather a funk. In the meshes of my
rapid-fire questioning she became hopelessly involved. This was
because she was suddenly terrified she realized I must have been
watching her for weeks, and that perhaps Von der Herts was not so
immune from suspicion as he supposed. At the proper moment I
suggested that I might have to take her to Inspector Bray. This
gave her an idea. She made her fake confession to reach his side;
once there, she warned him of his danger and they fled together."

We walked along a moment in silence. All about us the lurid special
editions of the afternoon were flaunting their predictions of the
horror to come. The face of the colonel was grave.

"How long had Von der Herts held his position at the Yard?" I asked.

"For nearly five years," Hughes answered.

"It seems incredible," I murmured.

"So it does," he answered; "but it is only the first of many
incredible things that this war will reveal. Two months from now
we shall all have forgotten it in the face of new revelations far
more unbelievable." He sighed. "If these men about us realized the
terrible ordeal that lies ahead! Misgoverned; unprepared--I
shudder at the thought of the sacrifices we must make, many of them
in vain. But I suppose that somehow, some day, we shall muddle

He bade me good-by in Trafalgar Square, saying that he must at once
seek out the father and brother of the late captain, and tell them
the news--that their kinsman was really loyal to his country.

"It will come to them as a ray of light in the dark--my news," he
said. "And now, thank you once again."

We parted and I came back here to my lodgings. The mystery is
finally solved, though in such a way it is difficult to believe
that it was anything but a nightmare at any time. But solved none
the less; and I should be at peace, except for one great black fact
that haunts me, will not let me rest. I must tell you, dear lady
--And yet I fear it means the end of everything. If only I can
make you understand!

I have walked my floor, deep in thought, in puzzlement, in
indecision. Now I have made up my mind. There is no other way
--I must tell you the truth.

Despite the fact that Bray was Von der Herts; despite the fact that
he killed himself at the discovery--despite this and that, and
everything--Bray did not kill Captain Fraser-Freer!

On last Thursday evening, at a little after seven o'clock, I myself
climbed the stairs, entered the captain's rooms, picked up that
knife from his desk, and stabbed him just above the heart!

What provocation I was under, what stern necessity moved me--all
this you must wait until to-morrow to know. I shall spend another
anxious day preparing my defense, hoping that through some miracle
of mercy you may forgive me--understand that there was nothing
else I could do.

Do not judge, dear lady, until you know everything--until all my
evidence is in your lovely hands.

The first few paragraphs of this the sixth and next to the last
letter from the Agony Column man had brought a smile of relief to
the face of the girl who read. She was decidedly glad to learn
that her friend no longer languished back of those gray walls on
Victoria Embankment. With excitement that increased as she went
along, she followed Colonel Hughes as--in the letter--he moved
nearer and nearer his denouement, until finally his finger pointed
to Inspector Bray sitting guilty in his chair. This was an
eminently satisfactory solution, and it served the inspector right
for locking up her friend. Then, with the suddenness of a bomb
from a Zeppelin, came, at the end, her strawberry man's confession
of guilt. He was the murderer, after all! He admitted it! She
could scarcely believe her eyes.

Yet there it was, in ink as violet as those eyes, on the note paper
that had become so familiar to her during the thrilling week just
past. She read it a second time, and yet a third. Her amazement
gave way to anger; her cheeks flamed. Still--he had asked her not
to judge until all his evidence was in. This was a reasonable
request surely, and she could not in fairness refuse to grant it.


So began an anxious day, not only for the girl from Texas but for
all London as well. Her father was bursting with new diplomatic
secrets recently extracted from his bootblack adviser. Later, in
Washington, he was destined to be a marked man because of his
grasp of the situation abroad. No one suspected the bootblack,
the power behind the throne; but the gentleman from Texas was
destined to think of that able diplomat many times, and to wish
that he still had him at his feet to advise him.

"War by midnight, sure!" he proclaimed on the morning of this
fateful Tuesday. "I tell you, Marian, we're lucky to have our
tickets on the Saronia. Five thousand dollars wouldn't buy them
from me to-day! I'll be a happy man when we go aboard that liner
day after to-morrow."

Day after to-morrow! The girl wondered. At any rate, she would
have that last letter then--the letter that was to contain whatever
defense her young friend could offer to explain his dastardly act.
She waited eagerly for that final epistle.

The day dragged on, bringing at its close England's entrance into
the war; and the Carlton bootblack was a prophet not without honor
in a certain Texas heart. And on the following morning there
arrived a letter which was torn open by eager trembling fingers.
The letter spoke:

DEAR LADY JUDGE: This is by far the hardest to write of all the
letters you have had from me. For twenty-four hours I have been
planning it. Last night I walked on the Embankment while the
hansoms jogged by and the lights of the tramcars danced on
Westminster Bridge just as the fireflies used to in the garden
back of our house in Kansas. While I walked I planned. To-day,
shut up in my rooms, I was also planning. And yet now, when I
sit down to write, I am still confused; still at a loss where to
begin and what to say, once I have begun.

At the close of my last letter I confessed to you that it was I
who murdered Captain Fraser-Freer. That is the truth. Soften the
blow as I may, it all comes down to that. The bitter truth!

Not a week ago--last Thursday night at seven--I climbed our
dark stairs and plunged a knife into the heart of that defenseless
gentleman. If only I could point out to you that he had offended
me in some way; if I could prove to you that his death was
necessary to me, as it really was to Inspector Bray--then there
might be some hope of your ultimate pardon. But, alas! he had
been most kind to me--kinder than I have allowed you to guess
from my letters. There was no actual need to do away with him.
Where shall I look for a defense?

At the moment the only defense I can think of is simply this--the
captain knows I killed him!

Even as I write this, I hear his footsteps above me, as I heard
them when I sat here composing my first letter to you. He is
dressing for dinner. We are to dine together at Romano's.

And there, my lady, you have finally the answer to the mystery that
has--I hope--puzzled you. I killed my friend the captain in my
second letter to you, and all the odd developments that followed
lived only in my imagination as I sat here beside the green-shaded
lamp in my study, plotting how I should write seven letters to you
that would, as the novel advertisements say, grip your attention to
the very end. Oh, I am guilty--there is no denying that. And,
though I do not wish to ape old Adam and imply that I was tempted
by a lovely woman, a strict regard for the truth forces me to add
that there is also guilt upon your head. How so? Go back to that
message you inserted in the Daily Mail: "The grapefruit lady's
great fondness for mystery and romance--"

You did not know it, of course; but in those words you passed me a
challenge I could not resist; for making plots is the business of
life--more, the breath of life--to me. I have made many; and
perhaps you have followed some of them, on Broadway. Perhaps you
have seen a play of mine announced for early production in London.
There was mention of it in the program at the Palace. That was the
business which kept me in England. The project has been abandoned
now and I am free to go back home.

Thus you see that when you granted me the privilege of those seven
letters you played into my hands. So, said I, she longs for mystery
and romance. Then, by the Lord Harry, she shall have them!

And it was the tramp of Captain Fraser-Freer's boots above my head
that showed me the way. A fine, stalwart, cordial fellow--the
captain--who has been very kind to me since I presented my letter
of introduction from his cousin, Archibald Enwright. Poor Archie!
A meek, correct little soul, who would be horrified beyond
expression if he knew that of him I had made a spy and a frequenter
of Limehouse!

The dim beginnings of the plot were in my mind when I wrote that
first letter, suggesting that all was not regular in the matter of
Archie's note of introduction. Before I wrote my second, I knew
that nothing but the death of Fraser-Freer would do me. I recalled
that Indian knife I had seen upon his desk, and from that moment he
was doomed. At that time I had no idea how I should solve the
mystery. But I had read and wondered at those four strange messages
in the Mail, and I resolved that they must figure in the scheme of

The fourth letter presented difficulties until I returned from
dinner that night and saw a taxi waiting before our quiet house.
Hence the visit of the woman with the lilac perfume. I am afraid
the Wilhelmstrasse would have little use for a lady spy who
advertised herself in so foolish a manner. Time for writing the
fifth letter arrived. I felt that I should now be placed under
arrest. I had a faint little hope that you would be sorry about
that. Oh, I'm a brute, I know!

Early in the game I had told the captain of the cruel way in which
I had disposed of him. He was much amused; but he insisted,
absolutely, that he must be vindicated before the close of the
series, and I was with him there. He had been so bully about it
all. A chance remark of his gave me my solution. He said he had
it on good authority that the chief of the Czar's bureau for
capturing spies in Russia was himself a spy. And so--why not a
spy in Scotland Yard?

I assure you, I am most contrite as I set all this down here. You
must remember that when I began my story there was no idea of war.
Now all Europe is aflame; and in the face of the great conflict, the
awful suffering to come, I and my little plot begin to look--well,
I fancy you know just how we look.

Forgive me. I am afraid I can never find the words to tell you how
important it seemed to interest you in my letters--to make you feel
that I am an entertaining person worthy of your notice. That
morning when you entered the Canton breakfast room was really the
biggest in my life. I felt as though you had brought with you
through that doorway-- But I have no right to say it. I have the
right to say nothing save that now--it is all left to you. If I
have offended, then I shall never hear from you again.

The captain will be here in a moment. It is near the hour set and
he is never late. He is not to return to India, but expects to
be drafted for the Expeditionary Force that will be sent to the
Continent. I hope the German Army will be kinder to him than I was!

My name is Geoffrey West. I live at nineteen Adelphi Terrace--in
rooms that look down on the most wonderful garden in London. That,
at least, is real. It is very quiet there to-night, with the city
and its continuous hum of war and terror seemingly a million miles

Shall we meet at last? The answer rests entirely with you. But,
believe me, I shall be anxiously waiting to know; and if you decide
to give me a chance to explain--to denounce myself to you in
person--then a happy man will say good-by to this garden and these
dim dusty rooms and follow you to the ends of the earth--aye, to
Texas itself!

Captain Fraser-Freer is coming down the stairs. Is this good-by
forever, my lady? With all my soul, I hope not.



Words are futile things with which to attempt a description of the
feelings of the girl at the Canton as she read this, the last letter
of seven written to her through the medium of her maid, Sadie Haight.
Turning the pages of the dictionary casually, one might enlist a
few--for example, amazement, anger, unbelief, wonder. Perhaps, to
go back to the letter a, even amusement. We may leave her with the
solution to the puzzle in her hand, the Saronia a little more than
a day away, and a weirdly mixed company of emotions struggling in
her soul.

And leaving her thus, let us go back to Adelphi Terrace and a young
man exceedingly worried.

Once he knew that his letter was delivered, Mr. Geoffrey West took
his place most humbly on the anxious seat. There he writhed through
the long hours of Wednesday morning. Not to prolong this painful
picture, let us hasten to add that at three o'clock that same
afternoon came a telegram that was to end suspense. He tore it open
and read:

STRAWBERRY MAN: I shall never, never forgive, you. But we are
sailing tomorrow on the Saronia. Were you thinking of going home soon?

Thus it happened that, a few minutes later, to the crowd of troubled
Americans in a certain steamship booking office there was added a
wild-eyed young man who further upset all who saw him. To weary
clerks he proclaimed in fiery tones that he must sail on the Saronia.
There seemed to be no way of appeasing him. The offer of a private
liner would not have interested him.

He raved and tore his hair. He ranted. All to no avail. There was,
in plain American, "nothing doing!"

Damp but determined, he sought among the crowd for one who had
bookings on the Saronia. He could find, at first, no one so lucky;
but finally he ran across Tommy Gray. Gray, an old friend, admitted
when pressed that he had a passage on that most desirable boat. But
the offer of all the king's horses and all the king's gold left him
unmoved. Much, he said, as he would have liked to oblige, he and his
wife were determined. They would sail.

It was then that Geoffrey West made a compact with his friend. He
secured from him the necessary steamer labels and it was arranged that
his baggage was to go aboard the Saronia as the property of Gray.

"But," protested Gray, "even suppose you do put this through;
suppose you do manage to sail without a ticket--where will you
sleep? In chains somewhere below, I fancy."

"No matter!" bubbled West. "I'll sleep in the dining saloon, in a
lifeboat, on the lee scuppers--whatever they are. I'll sleep in
the air, without any visible support! I'll sleep anywhere--nowhere
--but I'll sail! And as for irons--they don't make 'em strong
enough to hold me."

At five o'clock on Thursday afternoon the Saronia slipped smoothly
away from a Liverpool dock. Twenty-five hundred Americans--about
twice the number the boat could comfortably carry--stood on her
decks and cheered. Some of those in that crowd who had millions of
money were booked for the steerage. All of them were destined to
experience during that crossing hunger, annoyance, discomfort. They
were to be stepped on, sat on, crowded and jostled. They suspected
as much when the boat left the dock. Yet they cheered!

Gayest among them was Geoffrey West, triumphant amid the confusion.
He was safely aboard; the boat was on its way! Little did it
trouble him that he went as a stowaway, since he had no ticket;
nothing but an overwhelming determination to be on the good ship

That night as the Saronia stole along with all deck lights out and
every porthole curtained, West saw on the dim deck the slight figure
of a girl who meant much to him. She was standing staring out over
the black waters; and, with wildly beating heart, he approached her,
not knowing what to say, but feeling that a start must be made

"Please pardon me for addressing--" he began. "But I want to tell

She turned, startled; and then smiled an odd little smile, which he
could not see in the dark.

"I beg your pardon," she said. "I haven't met you, that I recall--"

"I know," he answered. "That's going to be arranged to-morrow.
Mrs. Tommy Gray says you crossed with them--"

"Mere steamer acquaintances," the girl replied coldly.

"Of course! But Mrs. Gray is a darling--she'll fix that all right.
I just want to say, before to-morrow comes--"

"Wouldn't it be better to wait?"

"I can't! I'm on this ship without a ticket. I've got to go down
in a minute and tell the purser that. Maybe he'll throw me
overboard; maybe he'll lock me up. I don't know what they do with
people like me. Maybe they'll make a stoker of me. And then I
shall have to stoke, with no chance of seeing you again. So that's
why I want to say now--I'm sorry I have such a keen imagination.
It carried me away--really it did! I didn't mean to deceive you
with those letters; but, once I got started-- You know, don't you,
that I love you with all my heart? From the moment you came into
the Canton that morning I--"


"West--Geoffrey West. I adore you! What can I do to prove it?
I'm going to prove it--before this ship docks in the North River.
Perhaps I'd better talk to your father, and tell him about the
Agony Column and those seven letters--"

"You'd better not! He's in a terribly bad humor. The dinner was
awful, and the steward said we'd be looking back to it and calling
it a banquet before the voyage ends. Then, too, poor dad says he
simply can not sleep in the stateroom they've given him--"

"All the better! I'll see him at once. If he stands for me now
he'll stand for me any time! And, before I go down and beard a
harsh-looking purser in his den, won't you believe me when I say
I'm deeply in love--"

"In love with mystery and romance! In love with your own remarkable
powers of invention! Really, I can't take you seriously--"

"Before this voyage is ended you'll have to. I'll prove to you that
I care. If the purser lets me go free--"

"You have much to prove," the girl smiled. "To-morrow--when Mrs.
Tommy Gray introduces us--I may accept you--as a builder of plots.
I happen to know you are good. But--as-- It's too silly! Better
go and have it out with that purser."

Reluctantly he went. In five minutes he was back. The girl was
still standing by the rail.

"It's all right!" West said. "I thought I was doing something
original, but there were eleven other people in the same fix. One
of them is a billionaire from Wall Street. The purser collected
some money from us and told us to sleep on the deck--if we could
find room."

"I'm sorry," said the girl. "I rather fancied you in the role of
stoker." She glanced about her at the dim deck. "Isn't this
exciting? I'm sure this voyage is going to be filled with mystery
and romance."

"I know it will be full of romance," West answered. "And the
mystery will be--can I convince you--"

"Hush!" broke in the girl. "Here comes father! I shall be very
happy to meet you--to-morrow. Poor dad! he's looking for a place
to sleep."

Five days later poor dad, having slept each night on deck in his
clothes while the ship plowed through a cold drizzle, and having
starved in a sadly depleted dining saloon, was a sight to move the
heart of a political opponent. Immediately after a dinner that
had scarcely satisfied a healthy Texas appetite he lounged gloomily
in the deck chair which was now his stateroom. Jauntily Geoffrey
West came and sat at his side.

"Mr. Larned," he said, "I've got something for you."

And, with a kindly smile, he took from his pocket and handed over
a large, warm baked potato. The Texan eagerly accepted the gift.

"Where'd you get it?" he demanded, breaking open his treasure.

"That's a secret," West answered. "But I can get as many as I want.
Mr. Larned, I can say this--you will not go hungry any longer.
And there's something else I ought to speak of. I am sort of aiming
to marry your daughter."

Deep in his potato the Congressman spoke:

"What does she say about it?"

"Oh, she says there isn't a chance. But--"

"Then look out, my boy! She's made up her mind to have you."

"I'm glad to hear you say that. I really ought to tell you who I
am. Also, I want you to know that, before your daughter and I met,
I wrote her seven letters--"

"One minute," broke in the Texan. "Before you go into all that,
won't you be a good fellow and tell me where you got this potato?"

West nodded.

"Sure!" he said; and, leaning over, he whispered.

For the first time in days a smile appeared on the face of the
older man.

"My boy," he said, "I feel I'm going to like you. Never mind the
rest. I heard all about you from your friend Gray; and as for those
letters--they were the only thing that made the first part of this
trip bearable. Marian gave them to me to read the night we came on

Suddenly from out of the clouds a long-lost moon appeared, and
bathed that over-crowded ocean liner in a flood of silver. West
left the old man to his potato and went to find the daughter.

She was standing in the moonlight by the rail of the forward deck,
her eyes staring dreamily ahead toward the great country that had
sent her forth light-heartedly for to adventure and to see. She
turned as West came up.

"I have just been talking with your father," he said. "He tells me
he thinks you mean to take me, after all." She laughed.

"To-morrow night," she answered, "will be our last on board. I
shall give you my final decision then."

"But that is twenty-four hours away! Must I wait so long as that?"

"A little suspense won't hurt you. I can't forget those long days
when I waited for your letters--"

"I know! But can't you give me--just a little hint--here

"I am without mercy--absolutely without mercy!"

And then, as West's fingers closed over her hand, she added softly:
"Not even the suspicion of a hint, my dear--except to tell you
that--my answer will be--yes."

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