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The Mystery Of The Boule Cabinet by Burton Egbert Stevenson

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_A Detective Story_



With Illustrations by THOMAS FOGARTY













"Hello!" I said, as I took down the receiver of my desk 'phone, in
answer to the call.

"Mr. Vantine wishes to speak to you, sir," said the office-boy.

"All right," and I heard the snap of the connection.

"Is that you, Lester?" asked Philip Vantine's voice.

"Yes. So you're back again?"

"Got in yesterday. Can you come up to the house and lunch with me

"I'll be glad to," I said, and meant it, for I liked Philip Vantine.

"I'll look for you, then, about one-thirty."

And that is how it happened that, an hour later, I was walking over
toward Washington Square, just above which, on the Avenue, the old
Vantine mansion stood. It was almost the last survival of the old
regime; for the tide of business had long since overflowed from the
neighbouring streets into the Avenue and swept its fashionable folk
far uptown. Tall office and loft buildings had replaced the
brownstone houses; only here and there did some old family hold on,
like a sullen and desperate rear-guard defying the advancing enemy.

Philip Vantine was one of these. He had been born in the house where
he still lived, and declared that he would die there. He had no one
but himself to please in the matter, since he was unmarried and lived
alone, and he mitigated the increasing roar and dust of the
neighbourhood by long absences abroad. It was from one of these that
he had just returned.

I may as well complete this pencil-sketch. Vantine was about fifty
years of age, the possessor of a comfortable fortune, something of a
connoisseur in art matters, a collector of old furniture, a little
eccentric--though now that I have written the word, I find that I
must qualify it, for his only eccentricity was that he persisted, in
spite of many temptations, in remaining a bachelor. Marriageable
women had long since ceased to consider him; mothers with maturing
daughters dismissed him with a significant shake of the head. It was
from them that he got the reputation of being an eccentric. But his
reasons for remaining single in no way concerned his lawyers--a
position which our firm had held for many years, and the active work
of which had come gradually into my hands.

It was not very arduous work, consisting for the most part of the
drawing of leases, the collecting of rents, the reinvestment of
funds, and the adjustment of minor differences with tenants--all of
which were left to our discretion. But occasionally it was necessary
to consult our client on some matter of unusual importance, or to get
his signature to some paper, and, at such times, I always enjoyed the
talk which followed the completion of the business; for Vantine was a
good talker, with a knowledge of men and of the world gained by much
travel and by a detached, humourous and penetrating habit of mind.

He came forward to meet me, as I gave his man my hat and stick, and
we shook hands heartily. I was glad to see him, and I think he was
glad to see me. He was looking in excellent health, and brown from
the voyage over.

"It's plain to see that the trip did you good," I said.

"Yes," he agreed; "I never felt more fit. But come along; we can talk
at table. There's a little difficulty I want you to untangle for me."
I followed him upstairs to his study, where a table laid for two had
been placed near a low window.

"I had lunch served up here," Vantine explained, as we sat down,
"because this is the only really pleasant room left in the house. If
I didn't own that plot of ground next door, this place would be
impossible. As it is, I can keep the sky-scrapers far enough away to
get a little sunshine now and then. I've had to put in an air filter,
too; and double windows in the bedrooms to keep out the noise; but I
dare say I can manage to hang on."

"I can understand how you'd hate to move into a new house," I said.

Vantine made a grimace.

"I couldn't endure a new house. I'm used to this one--I can find my
way about in it; I know where things are. I've grown up here, you
know; and, as a man gets older, he values such associations more and
more. Besides, a new house would mean new fittings, new furniture--"

He paused and glanced about the room. Every piece of furniture in it
was the work of a master.

"I suppose you found some new things while you were away?" I said.
"You always do. Your luck's proverbial."

"Yes--and it's that I wanted to talk to you about, I brought back six
or eight pieces; I'll show them to you presently. They are all pretty
good, and one is a thing of beauty. It's more than that--it's an
absolutely unique work of art. Only, unfortunately, it isn't mine."

"It isn't yours?"

"No; and I don't know whose it is. If I did, I'd go buy it. That's
what I want you to do for me. It's a Boule cabinet--the most
exquisite I ever saw."

"Where did it come from?" I questioned, more and more surprised.

"It came from Paris, and it was addressed to me. The only explanation
I can think of is that my shippers at Paris made a mistake, sent me a
cabinet belonging to some one else, and sent mine to the other

"You had bought one, then?"

"Yes; and it hasn't turned up. But beside this one, it's a mere daub.
My man Parks got it through the customs yesterday. As there was a
Boule cabinet on my manifest, the mistake wasn't discovered until the
whole lot was brought up here and uncrated this morning."

"Weren't they uncrated in the customs?"

"No; I've been bringing things in for a good many years, and the
customs people know I'm not a thief."

"That's quite a compliment," I pointed out. "They've been tearing
things wide open lately."

"They've had a tip of some sort, I suppose. Come in," he added,
answering a tap at the door.

The door opened and Vantine's man came in.

"A gentleman to see you, sir," he said, and handed Vantine a card.

Vantine looked at it a little blankly.

"I don't know him," he said. "What does he want?"

"He wants to see you, sir; very bad, I should say."

"What about?"

"Well, I couldn't just make out, sir; but it seems to be important."

"Couldn't make out? What do you mean, Parks?"

"I think he's a Frenchman, sir; anyway, he don't know much English.
He ain't much of a looker, sir--I've seen hundreds like him sitting
out in front of the cafes along the boulevards, taking all afternoon
to drink a bock."

Vantine seemed struck by a sudden idea, and he looked at the card
again. Then he tapped it meditatively on the table.

"Shall I show him out, sir?" asked Parks, at last.

"No," said Vantine, after an instant's hesitation. "Tell him to
wait," and he dropped the card on the table beside his plate.

"I tell you, Lester," he went on, as Parks withdrew, "when I went
downstairs this morning and saw that cabinet, I could hardly believe
my eyes. I thought I knew furniture, but I hadn't any idea such a
cabinet existed. The most beautiful I had ever seen is at the Louvre.
It stands in the Salle Louis Fourteenth, to the left as you enter. It
belonged to Louis himself. Of course I can't be certain without a
careful examination, but I believe that cabinet, beautiful as it is,
is merely the counterpart of this one."

He paused and looked at me, his eyes bright with the enthusiasm of
the connoisseur.

"I'm not sure I understand your jargon," I said. "What do you mean by

"Boule furniture," he explained, "is usually of ebony inlaid with
tortoise-shell, and incrusted with arabesques in metals of various
kinds. The incrustation had to be very exact, and to get it so, the
artist clamped together two plates of equal size and thickness, one
of metal, the other of tortoise-shell, traced his design on the top
one, and then cut them both out together. The result was two
combinations, the original, with a tortoise-shell ground and metal
applications; and the counterpart, applique metal with tortoise-shell
arabesques. The original was really the one which the artist designed
and whose effects he studied; the counterpart was merely a resultant
accident with which he was not especially concerned. Understand?"

"Yes, I think so," I said. "It's a good deal as though Michael
Angelo, when he made one of his sketches, white on black, put a sheet
of carbon under his paper and made a copy at the same time, black on

"Precisely. And it's the original which has the real artistic value.
Of course, the counterpart is often beautiful, too, but in a much
lower degree."

"I can understand that," I said.

"And now, Lester," Vantine went on, his eyes shining more and more,
"if my supposition is correct--if the Grand Louis was content with
the counterpart of this cabinet for the long gallery at Versailles,
who do you suppose owned the original?"

I saw what he was driving at.

"You mean one of his mistresses?"

"Yes, and I think I know which one--it belonged to Madame de

I stared at him in astonishment, as he sat back in his chair, smiling
across at me.

"But," I objected, "you can't be sure--"

"Of course I'm not sure," he agreed quickly. "That is to say, I
couldn't prove it. But there is some--ah--contributory evidence, I
think you lawyers call it Boule and the Montespan were in their glory
at the same time, and I can imagine that flamboyant creature
commissioning the flamboyant artist to build her just such a

"Really, Vantine," I exclaimed, "I didn't know you were so romantic.
You quite take my breath away."

He flushed a little at the words, and I saw how deeply in earnest he

"The craze of the collector takes him a long way sometimes," he said.
"But I believe I know what I'm talking about. I am going to make a
careful examination of the cabinet as soon as I can. Perhaps I'll
find something--there ought to be a monogram on it somewhere. What I
want you to do is to cable my shippers, Armand et Fils, Rue du
Temple, find out who owns this cabinet, and buy it for me."

"Perhaps the owner won't sell," I suggested.

"Oh yes, he will. Anything can be bought--for a price."

"You mean you're going to have this cabinet, whatever the cost?"

"I mean just that."

"But, surely, there's a limit."

"No, there isn't."

"At least you'll tell me where to begin," I said. "I don't know
anything of the value of such things."

"Well," said Vantine, "suppose you begin at ten thousand francs. We
mustn't seem too eager. It's because I'm so eager, I want you to
carry it through for me. I can't trust myself."

"And the other end?"

"There isn't any other end. Of course, strictly speaking, there is,
because my money isn't unlimited; but I don't believe you will have
to go over five hundred thousand francs."

I gasped.

"You mean you're willing to give a hundred thousand dollars for this

Vantine nodded.

"Maybe a little more. If the owner won't accept that, you must let me
know before you break off negotiations. I'm a little mad about it, I
fancy--all collectors are a little mad. But I want that cabinet, and
I'm going to have it."

I did not reply. I only looked at him. And he laughed as he caught my

"I can see you share that opinion, Lester," he said. "You fear for
me. I don't blame you--but come and see it."

He led the way out of the room and down the stairs; but when we
reached the lower hall, he paused.

"Perhaps I'd better see my visitor first," he said. "You'll find a
new picture or two over there in the music-room--I'll be with you in
a minute."

I started on, and he turned through a doorway at the left.

An instant later, I heard a sharp exclamation; then his voice calling

"Lester! Come here!" he cried.

I ran back along the hall, into the room which he had entered. He was
standing just inside the door.

"Look there," he said, with a queer catch in his voice, and pointed
with a trembling hand to a dark object on the floor.

I moved aside to see it better. Then my heart gave a sickening throb;
for the object on the floor was the body of a man.



It needed but a glance to tell me that the man was dead. There could
be no life in that livid face, in those glassy eyes.

"Don't touch him," I said, for Vantine had started forward. "It's too

I drew him back, and we stood for a moment shaken as one always is by
sudden and unexpected contact with death.

"Who is he?" I asked, at last.

"I don't know," answered Vantine hoarsely. "I never saw him before."
Then he strode to the bell and rang it violently. "Parks," he went on
sternly, as that worthy appeared at the door, "what has been going on
in here?"

"Going on, sir?" repeated Parks, with a look of amazement, not only
at the words, but at the tone in which they were uttered. "I'm sure I
don't know what--"

Then his glance fell upon the huddled body, and he stopped short, his
eyes staring, his mouth open.

"Well," said his master, sharply. "Who is he? What is he doing here?"

"Why--why," stammered Parks, thickly, "that's the man who was waiting
to see you, sir."

"You mean he has been killed in this house?" demanded Vantine.

"He was certainly alive when he came in, sir," said Parks, recovering
something of his self-possession. "Maybe he was just looking for a
quiet place where he could kill himself. He seemed kind of excited."

"Of course," agreed Vantine, with a sigh of relief, "that's the
explanation. Only I wish he had chosen some place else. I suppose we
shall have to call the police, Lester?"

"Yes," I said, "and the coroner. Suppose you leave it to me. We'll
lock up this room, and nobody must leave the house until the police

"Very well," assented Vantine, visibly relieved, "I'll see to that,"
and he hastened away, while I went to the 'phone, called up police
headquarters, and told briefly what had happened.

Twenty minutes later, there was a ring at the bell, and Parks opened
the door and admitted four men.

"Why, hello, Simmonds," I said, recognising in the first one the
detective-sergeant who had assisted in clearing up the Marathon
mystery. And back of him was Coroner Goldberger, whom I had met in
two previous cases; while the third countenance, looking at me with a
quizzical smile, was that of Jim Godfrey, the _Record's_ star
reporter. The fourth man was a policeman in uniform, who, at a word
from Simmonds, took his station at the door.

"Yes," said Godfrey, as we shook hands, "I happened to be talking to
Simmonds when the call came in, and I thought I might as well come
along. What is it?"

"Just a suicide, I think," and I unlocked the door into the room
where the dead man lay.

Simmonds, Goldberger and Godfrey stepped inside. I followed and
closed the door.

"Nothing has been disturbed," I said. "No one has touched the body."

Simmonds nodded, and glanced inquiringly about the room; but
Godfrey's eyes, I noticed, were on the face of the dead man.
Goldberger dropped to his knees beside the body, looked into the eyes
and touched his fingers to the left wrist. Then he stood erect again
and looked down at the body, and as I followed his gaze, I noted its
attitude more accurately than I had done in the first shock of
discovering it.

It was lying on its right side, half on its stomach, with its right
arm doubled under it, and its left hand clutching at the floor above
its head. The knees were drawn up as though in a convulsion, and the
face was horribly contorted, with a sort of purple tinge under the
skin, as though the blood had been suddenly congealed. The eyes were
wide open, and their glassy stare added not a little to the apparent
terror and suffering of the face. It was not a pleasant sight, and
after a moment, I turned my eyes away with a shiver of repugnance.

The coroner glanced at Simmonds.

"Not much question as to the cause," he said. "Poison of course."

"Of course," nodded Simmonds.

"But what kind?" asked Godfrey.

"It will take a post-mortem to tell that," and Goldberger bent for
another close look at the distorted face. "I'm free to admit the
symptoms aren't the usual ones."

Godfrey shrugged his shoulders.

"I should say not," he agreed, and turned away to an inspection of
the room.

"What can you tell us about it, Mr. Lester?" Goldberger questioned.

I told all I knew--how Parks had announced a man's arrival, how
Vantine and I had come downstairs together, how Vantine had called
me, and finally how Parks had identified the body as that of the
strange caller.

"Have you any theory about it?" Goldberger asked.

"Only that the call was merely a pretext--that what the man was
really looking for was a place where he could kill himself

"How long a time elapsed after Parks announced the man before you and
Mr. Vantine came downstairs?"

"Half an hour, perhaps."

Goldberger nodded.

"Let's have Parks in," he said.

I opened the door and called to Parks, who was sitting on the bottom
step of the stair.

Goldberger looked him over carefully as he stepped into the room; but
there could be no two opinions about Parks. He had been with Vantine
for eight or ten years, and the earmarks of the competent and
faithful servant were apparent all over him.

"Do you know this man?" Goldberger asked, with a gesture toward the

"No, sir," said Parks. "I never saw him till about an hour ago, when
Rogers called me downstairs and said there was a man to see Mr.

"Who is Rogers?"

"He's the footman, sir. He answered the door when the man rang."

"Well, and then what happened?"

"I took his card up to Mr. Vantine, sir."

"Did Mr. Vantine know him?"

"No, sir; he wanted to know what he wanted."

"What _did_ he want?"

"I don't know, sir; he couldn't speak English hardly at all--he was
French, I think."

Goldberger looked down at the body again and nodded.

"Go ahead," he said.

"And he was so excited," Parks added, "that he couldn't remember what
little English he did know." "What made you think he was excited?"

"The way he stuttered, and the way his eyes glinted. That's what
makes me think he just come in here to kill hisself quiet like--I
shouldn't be surprised if you found that he'd escaped from
somewhere. I had a notion to put him out without bothering Mr.
Vantine--I wish now I had--but I took his card up, and Mr. Vantine
said for him to wait; so I come downstairs again, and showed the man
in here, and said Mr. Vantine would see him presently, and then
Rogers and me went back to our lunch and we sat there eating till the
bell rang, and I came in and found Mr. Vantine here."

"Do you mean to say that you and Rogers went away and left this
stranger here by himself?"

"The servants' dining-room is right at the end of the hall, sir. We
left the door open so that we could see right along the hall, clear
to the front door. If he'd come out into the hall, we'd have seen

"And he didn't come out into the hall while you were there?"

"No, sir." "Did anybody come in?"

"Oh, no, sir; the front door has a snap-lock. It can't be opened from
the outside without a key."

"So you are perfectly sure that no one either entered or left the
house by the front door while you and Rogers were sitting there?"

"Nor by the back door either, sir; to get out the back way, you have
to pass through the room where we were."

"Where were the other servants?"

"The cook was in the kitchen, sir. This is the housemaid's afternoon

The coroner paused. Godfrey and Simmonds had both listened to this
interrogation, but neither had been idle. They had walked softly
about the room, had looked through a door opening into another room
beyond, had examined the fastenings of the windows, and had ended by
looking minutely over the carpet.

"What is the room yonder used for?" asked Godfrey, pointing to the
connecting door.

"It's a sort of store-room just now, sir," said Parks. "Mr. Vantine
is just back from Europe, and we've been unpacking in there some of
the things he bought while abroad."

"I guess that's all," said Goldberger, after a moment. "Send in Mr.
Vantine, please."

Parks went out, and Vantine came in a moment later. He corroborated
exactly the story told by Parks and myself, but he added one detail.

"Here is the man's card," he said, and held out a square of

Goldberger took the card, glanced at it, and passed it on to

"That don't tell us much," said the latter, and gave the card to
Godfrey. I looked over his shoulder and saw that it contained a
single engraved line:


"Except that he's French, as Parks suggested," said Godfrey. "That's
evident, too, from the cut of his clothes."

"Yes, and from the cut of his hair," added Goldberger. "You say you
didn't know him, Mr. Vantine?"

"I never before saw him, to my knowledge," answered Vantine. "The
name is wholly unknown to me."

"Well," said Goldberger, taking possession of the card again and
slipping it into his pocket, "suppose we lift him onto that couch by
the window and take a look through his clothes."

The man was slightly built, so that Simmonds and Goldberger raised
the body between them without difficulty and placed it on the couch.
I saw Godfrey's eyes searching the carpet.

"What I should like to know," he said, after a moment, "is this: if
this fellow took poison, what did he take it out of? Where's the
paper, or bottle, or whatever it was?"

"Maybe it's in his hand," suggested Simmonds, and lifted the right
hand, which hung trailing over the side of the couch.

Then, as he raised it into the light, a sharp cry burst from him.

"Look here," he said, and held the hand so that we all could see.

It was swollen and darkly discoloured.

"See there," said Simmonds, "something bit him," and he pointed to
two deep incisions on the back of the hand, just above the knuckles,
from which a few drops of blood had oozed and dried.

With a little exclamation of surprise and excitement, Godfrey bent
for an instant above the injured hand. Then he turned and looked at

"This man didn't take poison," he said, in a low voice. "He was



"He was killed!" repeated Godfrey, with conviction; and, at the
words, we drew together a little, with a shiver of repulsion. Death
is awesome enough at any time; suicide adds to its horror; murder
gives it the final touch.

So we all stood silent, staring as though fascinated at the hand
which Simmonds held up to us; at those tiny wounds, encircled by
discoloured flesh and with a sinister dash of clotted blood running
away from them. Then Goldberger, taking a deep breath, voiced the
thought which had sprung into my own brain.

"Why, it looks like a snake-bite!" he said, his voice sharp with

And, indeed, it did. Those two tiny incisions, scarcely half an inch
apart, might well have been made by a serpent's fangs.

The quick glance which all of us cast about the room was, of course,
as involuntary as the chill which ran up our spines; yet Godfrey and
I--yes, and Simmonds--had the excuse that, once upon a time, we had
had an encounter with a deadly snake which none of us was likely ever
to forget. We all smiled a little sheepishly as we caught each
other's eyes.

"No, I don't think it was a snake," said Godfrey, and again bent
close above the hand. "Smell it, Mr. Goldberger," he added.

The coroner put his nose close to the hand and sniffed.

"Bitter almonds!" he said.

"Which means prussic acid," said Godfrey, "and not snake poison." He
fell silent a moment, his eyes on the swollen hand. The rest of us
stared at it too; and I suppose all the others were labouring as I
was with the effort to find some thread of theory amid this chaos.
"It might, of course, have been self-inflicted," Godfrey added, quite
to himself.

Goldberger sneered a little. No doubt he found the
incomprehensibility of the problem rather trying to his temper.

"A man doesn't usually commit suicide by sticking himself in the hand
with a fork," he said.

"No," agreed Godfrey, blandly; "but I would point out that we don't
know as yet that it _is_ a case of suicide; and I'm quite sure that,
whatever it may be, it isn't usual."

Goldberger's sneer deepened.

"Did any reporter for the _Record_ ever find a case that _was_
usual?" he queried.

It was a shrewd thrust, and one that Godfrey might well have winced
under. For the _Record_ theory was that nothing was news unless it
was strange and startling, and the inevitable result was that the
_Record_ reporters endeavoured to make everything strange and
startling, to play up the outre details at the expense of the rest of
the story, and even, I fear, to invent such details when none

Godfrey himself had been accused more than once of a too-luxuriant
imagination. It was, perhaps, a realisation of this which had
persuaded him, years before, to quit the detective force and take
service with the _Record_. What might have been a weakness in the
first position, was a mighty asset in the latter one, and he had won
an immense success.

Please understand that I set this down in no spirit of criticism. I
had known Godfrey rather intimately ever since the days when we were
thrown together in solving the Holladay case, and I admired sincerely
his ready wit, his quick insight, and his unshakable aplomb. He used
his imagination in a way which often caused me to reflect that the
police would be far more efficient if they possessed a dash of the
same quality; and I had noticed that they were usually glad of his
assistance, while his former connection with the force and his
careful maintenance of the friendships formed at that time gave him
an entree to places denied to less-fortunate reporters. I had never
known him to do a dishonourable thing--to fight for a cause he
thought unjust, to print a fact given to him in confidence, or to
make a statement which he knew to be untrue. Moreover, a lively sense
of humour made him an admirable companion, and it was this quality,
perhaps, which enabled him to receive Goldberger's thrust with a
good-natured smile.

"We've got our living to make, you know," he said. "We make it as
honestly as we can. What do _you_ think, Simmonds?"

"I think," said Simmonds, who, if he possessed an imagination, never
permitted it to be suspected, "that those little cuts on the hand are
merely an accident. They might have been caused in half a dozen ways.
Maybe he hit his hand on something when he fell; maybe he jabbed it
on a buckle; maybe he had a boil on his hand and lanced it with his

"What killed him, then?" Godfrey demanded.

"Poison--and it's in his stomach. We'll find it there."

"How about the odour?" Godfrey persisted.

"He spilled some of the poison on his hand as he lifted it to his
mouth. Maybe he had those cuts on his hand and the poison inflamed
them. Or maybe he's got some kind of blood disease."

Goldberger nodded his approval, and Godfrey smiled as he looked at

"It's easy to find explanations, isn't it?" he queried.

"It's a blamed sight easier to find a natural and simple
explanation," retorted Goldberger hotly, "than it is to find an
unnatural and far-fetched one--such as how one man could kill another
by scratching him on the hand. I suppose you think this fellow was
murdered? That's what you said a minute ago."

"Perhaps I was a little hasty," Godfrey admitted, and I suspected
that, whatever his thoughts, he had made up his mind to keep them to
himself. "I'm not going to theorise until I've got something to start
with. The facts seem to point to suicide; but if he swallowed prussic
acid, where's the bottle? He didn't swallow that too, did he?"

"Maybe we'll find it in his clothes," suggested Simmonds.

Thus reminded, Goldberger fell to work looking through the dead man's
pockets. The clothes were of a cheap material and not very new, so
that, in life, he must have presented an appearance somewhat shabby.
There was a purse in the inside coat pocket containing two bills, one
for ten dollars and one for five, and there were two or three dollars
in silver and four five-centime pieces in a small coin purse which he
carried in his trousers' pocket. The larger purse had four or five
calling cards in one of its compartments, each bearing a different
name, none of them his. On the back of one of them, Vantine's address
was written in pencil.

There were no letters, no papers, no written documents of any kind in
the pockets, the remainder of whose contents consisted of such odds
and ends as any man might carry about with him--a cheap watch, a
pen-knife, a half-empty packet of French tobacco, a sheaf of
cigarette paper, four or five keys on a ring, a silk handkerchief,
and perhaps some other articles which I have forgotten--but not a
thing to assist in establishing his identity.

"We'll have to cable over to Paris," remarked Simmonds. "He's French,
all right--that silk handkerchief proves it."

"Yes--and his best girl proves it, too," put in Godfrey.

"His best girl?"

For answer, Godfrey held up the watch, which he had been examining.
He had opened the case, and inside it was a photograph--the
photograph of a woman with bold, dark eyes and full lips and oval
face--a face so typically French that it was not to be mistaken.

"A lady's-maid, I should say," added Godfrey, looking at it again.
"Rather good-looking at one time, but past her first youth, and so
compelled perhaps to bestow her affections on a man a little beneath
her--no doubt compelled also to contribute to his support in order to
retain him. A woman with many pasts and no future--"

"Oh, come," broke in Goldberger impatiently, "keep your second-hand
epigrams for the _Record_. What we want are facts."

Godfrey flushed a little at the words and laid down the watch.

"There is one fact which you have apparently overlooked," he said
quietly, "but it proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that this fellow
didn't drift in here by accident. He came here of intention, and the
intention wasn't to kill himself, either."

"How do you know that?" demanded Goldberger, incredulously.

Godfrey picked up the purse, opened it, and took out one of the

"By this," he said, and held it up. "You have already seen what is
written on the back of it--Mr. Vantine's name and the number of this
house. That proves, doesn't it, that this fellow came to New York
expressly to see Mr. Vantine?"

"Perhaps you think Mr. Vantine killed him," suggested Goldberger,

"No," said Godfrey; "he didn't have time. You understand, Mr.
Vantine," he added, smiling at that gentleman, who was listening to
all this with perplexed countenance, "we are simply talking now about
possibilities. You couldn't possibly have killed this fellow because
Lester has testified that he was with you constantly from the moment
this man entered the house until his body was found, with the
exception of the few seconds which elapsed between the time you
entered this room and the time he joined you here, summoned by your
cry. So you are out of the running."

"Thanks," said Vantine, drily.

"I suppose, then, you think it was Parks," said Goldberger.

"It may quite possibly have been Parks," agreed Godfrey, gravely.

"Nonsense!" broke in Vantine, impatiently. "Parks is as straight as a
string--he's been with me for eight years."

"Of course it's nonsense," assented Goldberger. "It's nonsense to say
that he was killed by anybody. He killed himself. We'll learn the
cause when we identify him--jealousy maybe, or maybe just hard luck
--he doesn't look affluent."

"I'll cable to Paris," said Simmonds. "If he belongs there, well soon
find out who he is."

"You'd better call an ambulance and have him taken to the morgue,"
went on Goldberger. "Somebody may identify him there. There'll be a
crowd to-morrow, for, of course, the papers will be full of this

"The _Record_, at least, will have a very full account," Godfrey
assured him.

"And I'll call the inquest for the day after," Goldberger continued.
"I'll send my physician down to make a post-mortem right away. If
there's any poison in this fellow's stomach, we'll find it."

Godfrey did not speak; but I knew what was in his mind. He was
thinking that, if such poison existed, the vessel which had contained
it had not yet been found. The same thought, no doubt, occurred to
Simmonds, for, after ordering the policeman in the hall to call the
ambulance, he returned and began a careful search of the room, using
his electric torch to illumine every shadowed corner. Godfrey devoted
himself to a similar search; but both were without result. Then
Godfrey made a minute inspection of the injured hand, while
Goldberger looked on with ill-concealed impatience; and finally he
moved toward the door.

"I think I'll be going," he said. "But I'm interested in what your
physician will find, Mr. Coroner."

"He'll find poison, all right," asserted Goldberger, with decision.

"Perhaps he will," admitted Godfrey. "Strange things happen in this
world. Will you be at home to-night, Lester?"

"Yes, I expect to be," I answered.

"You're still at the Marathon?"

"Yes," I said; "suite fourteen."

"Perhaps I'll drop around to see you," he said, and a moment later we
heard the door close behind him as Parks let him out.

"Godfrey's a good man," said Goldberger, "but he's too romantic. He
looks for a mystery in every crime, whereas most crimes are merely
plain, downright brutalities. Take this case. Here's a man kills
himself, and Godfrey wants us to believe that death resulted from a
scratch on the hand. Why, there's no poison on earth would kill a man
as quick as that--for he must have dropped dead before he could get
out of the room to summon help. If it was prussic acid, he swallowed
it. Remember, he wasn't in this room more than fifteen or twenty
minutes, and he was quite dead when Mr. Vantine found him. Men don't
die as easily as all that--not from a scratch on the hand. They don't
die easily at all. It's astonishing how much it takes to kill a man
--how the spirit, or whatever you choose to call it, clings to

"How do you explain the address on the card, Mr. Goldberger?" I

"My theory is that this fellow really had some business with Mr.
Vantine; probably he wanted to borrow some money, or ask for help;
and then, while he was waiting, he suddenly gave the thing up and
killed himself. The address has no bearing whatever, that I can see,
on the question of suicide. And I'll say this, Mr. Lester, if this
isn't suicide, it's the strangest case I ever had anything to do

"Yes," I agreed, "if it isn't suicide, we come to a blank wall right

"That's it," and Goldberger nodded emphatically. "Here's the
ambulance," he added, as the bell rang.

The bearers entered with the stretcher, placed the body on it, and
carried it away. Goldberger paused to gather up the articles he had
taken from the dead man's pockets.

"You gentlemen will have to give your testimony at the inquest," he
said. "So will Parks and Rogers. It will be day after to-morrow,
probably at ten o'clock, but I'll notify you of the hour."

"Very well," I said; "we'll be there," and Goldberger bade us
good-bye, and left the house. "And now," I added, to Vantine, "I must
be getting back to the office. They'll be asking the police to look
for me next. Man alive!" and I glanced at my watch, "it's after four

"Too late for the office," said Vantine. "Better come upstairs and
have a drink. Besides, I want to talk with you."

"At least, I'll let them know I'm still alive," I said, and I called
up the office and allayed any anxiety that may have been felt there
concerning me. I must admit that it did not seem acute.

"I feel the need of a bracer after all this excitement," Vantine
remarked, as he opened the cellarette. "Help yourself. I dare say
you're used to this sort of thing--"

"Finding dead men lying around?" I queried, with a smile. "No--it's
not so common as you seem to think."

"Tell me, Lester," and he looked at me earnestly, "do you think that
poor devil came in here just to get a chance to kill himself

"No, I don't," I said.

"Then what did he come in for?"

"I think Goldberger's theory a pretty good one--that he had heard of
you as a generous fellow and came in here to ask help; and while he
was waiting, suddenly gave it up--"

"And killed himself?" Vantine completed.

I hesitated. I was astonished to find, at the back of my mind, a
growing doubt.

"See here, Lester," Vantine demanded, "if he didn't kill himself,
what happened to him?"

"Heaven only knows," I answered, in despair. "I've been asking myself
the same question, without finding a reasonable answer to it. As I
said to Goldberger, it's a blank wall. But if anybody can see through
it, Jim Godfrey can."

Vantine seemed deeply perturbed. He took a turn or two up and down
the room, then stopped in front of me and looked me earnestly in the

"Tell me, Lester," he said, "do you believe that theory of Godfrey's
--that that insignificant wound on the hand caused death?"

"It seems absurd, doesn't it? But Godfrey is a sort of genius at
divining such things."

"Then you _do_ believe it?"

I asked myself the same question before I answered.

"Yes, I do," I said, finally.

Vantine walked up and down the room again, his eyes on the floor, his
brows contracted.

"Lester," he said, at last, "I have a queer feeling that the business
which brought this man here in some way concerned the Boule cabinet I
was telling you about. Perhaps it belonged to him."

"Hardly," I protested, recalling his shabby appearance.

"At any rate, I remember, as I was looking at his card, that some
such thought occurred to me. It was for that reason I told Parks to
ask him to wait."

"It's possible, of course," I admitted. "But that wouldn't explain
his excitement. And that reminds me," I added, "I haven't sent off
that cable."

"Any time to-night will do. It will be delivered in the morning. But
you haven't seen the cabinet yet. Come down and look at it."

He led the way down the stair. Parks met us in the lower hall.

"There's a delegation of reporters outside, sir," he said. "They say
they've got to see you."

Vantine made a movement of impatience.

"Tell them," he said, "that I positively refuse to see them or to
allow my servants to see them. Let them get their information from
the police."

"Very well, sir," said Parks, and turned away grinning.

Vantine passed on through the ante-room in which we had found the
body of the unfortunate Frenchman, and into the room beyond. Five or
six pieces of furniture, evidently just unpacked, stood there, but,
ignorant as I am of such things, he did not have to point out to me
the Boule cabinet. It dominated the room, much as Madame de
Montespan, no doubt, dominated the court at Versailles.

I looked at it for some moments, for it was certainly a beautiful
piece of work, with a wealth of inlay and incrustation little short
of marvellous. But I may as well say here that I never really
appreciated it. The florid style of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth
Louis is not at all to my taste; and I am too little of a connoisseur
to admire a beauty which has no personal appeal for me. So I am
afraid that Vantine found me a little cold.

Certainly there was nothing cold about the way he regarded it. His
eyes gleamed with a strange fire as he looked at it; he ran his
fingers over the inlay with a touch almost reverent; he pulled out
for me the little drawers with much the same air that another friend
of mine takes down his Kilmarnock Burns from his bookshelves; he
pointed out to me the grace of its curves in the same tone that one
uses to discuss the masterpiece of a great artist. And then, finding
no echo to his enthusiasm, he suddenly stopped.

"You don't seem to care for it," he said, looking at me.

"That's my fault and not the fault of the cabinet," I pointed out.
"I'm not educated up to it; I'm too little of an artist, perhaps."

He was flushed, as a man might be should another make a disparaging
remark about his wife, and he led the way from the room at once.

"Remember, Lester," he said, a little sternly, pausing with his hand
on the front door, "there is to be no foolishness about securing that
cabinet for me. Don't you let it get away. I'm in deadly earnest."

"I won't let it get away," I promised. "Perhaps it's just as well I'm
not over-enthusiastic about it."

"Let me know as soon as you have any news," he said, and opened the
door for me.

I had intended walking home, but as I turned up the Avenue, I met
sweeping down it a flood of girls just released from the workshops of
the neighbourhood. I struggled against it for a few moments, then
gave it up, hailed a cab, and settled back against the cushions with
a sigh of relief. I was glad to be out of Vantine's house; something
there oppressed me and left me ill at ease. Was Vantine quite normal,
I wondered? Could any man be normal who was willing to pay a hundred
thousand dollars for a piece of furniture? Especially a man who could
not afford such extravagance? I knew the size of Vantine's fortune;
it was large, but a hundred thousand dollars represented more than a
year's income. And then I smiled to myself. Of course Vantine had
been merely jesting when he named that limit. The cabinet could be
bought for a tenth of it, at the most. And, still smiling, I left the
cab, paid the driver, and mounted to my rooms.



It was about eight o'clock that evening that Godfrey tapped at my
door, and when I let him in, I could tell by the way his eyes were
shining that he had some news.

"I can't stay long," he said. "I've got to get down to the office and
put the finishing touches on that story;" but nevertheless he took
the cigar I proffered him and sank into the chair opposite my own.

I knew Godfrey, so I waited patiently until the cigar was going
nicely, then--

"Well?" I asked.

"It's like old times, isn't it, Lester?" and he smiled across at me.
"How many conferences have we had in this room? How many of your
cigars have I made away with?"

"Not half enough recently," I said. "You haven't been here for

"I'm sure to drift back, sooner or later, because you seem to have a
knack of getting in on the interesting cases. And I want to say this,
Lester, that of all I ever had, not one has promised better than
this one does. If it only keeps up--but one mustn't expect too much!"

"You've been working on it, of course?"

"I haven't been idle, and just now I'm feeling rather pleased with
myself. The coroner's physician finished his post-mortem half an hour
or so ago."

"Well?" I said again.

"The stomach was absolutely normal. It showed no trace of poison of
any kind."

He stretched himself, lay back in his chair, sent a smoke-ring
circling toward the ceiling, and watched it, smiling absently.

"Rather a facer for our friend Goldberger," he added, after a minute.

"What's the matter with Goldberger? He seemed rather peeved with you
this afternoon."

"No wonder. He's Grady's man, and we're after Grady. Grady isn't fit
to head the detective bureau--he got the job through his pull with
Tammany--he's stupid, and I suspect he's crooked. The _Record_ says
he has got to go."

"So, of course, he _will_ go," I commented, smiling.

"He certainly will," assented Godfrey seriously, "and that before
long. But meanwhile it's a little difficult for me, because his
people don't know which way to jump. Once he's out, everything will
be serene again."

I wasn't interested in Grady, so I came back to the case in hand.

"Look here, Godfrey," I said, "if it wasn't poison, what was it?"

"But it _was_ poison."

"Inserted at the hand?"

He nodded.

"Goldberger says there's no poison known which could be used that way
and which would act so quickly."

"Goldberger is right in that," agreed Godfrey; "but there's a poison
unknown that will--because it did."

"It wasn't a snake bite?"

"Oh, no; snake poison wouldn't kill a man that quickly--not even a
fer-de-lance. That fellow practically dropped where he was struck."

"Then what was it?"

Godfrey was sitting erect again. He was not smiling now. His face was
very stern.

"That is what I am going to find out, Lester," he said; "that is the
problem I've set myself to solve--and it's a pretty one. There is one
thing certain--that fellow was killed by some agency outside himself.
In some way, a drop or two of poison was introduced into his blood by
an instrument something like a hypodermic needle; and that poison was
so powerful that almost instantly it caused paralysis of the heart.
After all, that isn't so remarkable as it might seem. The blood in
the veins of the hand would be carried back to the heart in four or
five seconds."

"But you've already said there's no poison so powerful as all that."

"I said we didn't know of any. I wouldn't be so sure that Catherine
de Medici didn't."

"What has Catherine de Medici to do with it?"

"Nothing--except that what has been done may always be done again.
Those old stories are, no doubt, exaggerated; but it seems fairly
certain that the Queen of Navarre was killed with a pair of poisoned
gloves, the Duc d'Anjou with the scent of a poisoned rose, and the
Prince de Porcian with the smoke of a poisoned lamp. This case isn't
as extraordinary as those."

"No," I agreed, and fell silent, shivering a little, for there is
something horrible and revolting about the poisoner.

"After all," went on Godfrey, at last, "there is one thing that
neither you nor I nor any reasonable man can believe, and that is
that this Frenchman came from heaven knows where--from Paris,
perhaps--with Vantine's address in his pocket, and hunted up the
house and made his way into it simply to kill himself there. He had
some other object, and he met his death while trying to accomplish

"Have you found out who he is?"

"No; he's not registered at any of the hotels; the French consul
never heard of him; he belongs to none of the French societies; he's
not known in the French quarter. He seems to have dropped in from the
clouds. We've cabled our Paris office to look him up; we may hear
from there to-night. But even if we discover the identity of
Theophile d'Aurelle, it won't help us any."

"Why not?" I demanded.

"Because it is evident that that isn't his name."

"Go ahead and tell me, Godfrey," I said, as he looked at me, smiling.
"I don't see it."

"Why, it's plain enough. He had five cards in his pocket, no two
alike. The sixth, selected probably at random, he had sent up to

I saw it then, of course; and I felt a good deal as the Spanish
savants must have felt when Columbus stood the egg on end. Godfrey
smiled again at my expression.

"The real d'Aurelle, whoever he may turn out to be, may be able to
help us," he added. "If he can't, we may learn something from the
Paris police. The dead man's Bertillon measurements have been cabled
over to them. Even that won't help, if he has never been arrested.
And, of course, we can't get at motives until we find out something
about him."

"But, Godfrey," I said, "suppose you knew who he was and what he
wanted with Vantine--suppose you could make a guess at who killed
him and why--how was it done? That is what stumps me. How was it

"Ah!" agreed Godfrey. "That's it! How was it done? I told you it was
a pretty case, Lester. But wait till we hear from Paris."

"That reminds me," I said, sitting up suddenly, "I've got to cable to
Paris myself, on some business for Mr. Vantine."

"Not connected with this affair?"

"Oh, no; his shippers over there sent him a piece of furniture that
doesn't belong to him. He asked me to straighten the matter out."

I rang for the hall-boy, asked for a cable-blank, and sent off a
message to Armand & Son, telling them of the mistake and asking them
to cable the name of the owner of the cabinet now in Mr. Vantine's
possession. Godfrey sat smoking reflectively while I was thus
engaged, staring straight before him with eyes that saw nothing; but
as I sat down again and took up my pipe, ready to continue the
conversation, he gave himself a sort of shake, put on his hat, and
got to his feet.

"I must be moving along," he said. "There's no use sitting here
theorising until we have some sort of foundation to build on."

"Goldberger was right in one thing," I remarked. "He pointed out,
after you left, that most crimes are not romances, but mere
brutalities. Perhaps this one--"

The ringing of my telephone stopped me.

"Hello," I said, taking down the receiver.

"Is that you, Mr. Lester?" asked a voice.


"This is Parks," and I suddenly realised that his voice was
unfamiliar because it was hoarse and quivering with emotion. "Could
you come down to the house right away, sir?"

"Why, yes," I said, wonderingly, "if it's important. Does Mr. Vantine
need me?"

"We all need you!" said the voice, and broke into a dry sob. "For
God's sake, come quick, Mr. Lester!"

"All right," I said without further parley, for evidently he had lost
his self-control. "Something has happened down at Vantine's," I added
to Godfrey, as I hung up the receiver. "Parks seems to be scared to
death. He wants me to come down right away," and I reached for my hat
and coat.

"Shall I come, too?" asked Godfrey.

Even under the stress of the moment, I could not but smile at the
question and at the tone in which it was uttered.

"Perhaps you'd better," I agreed. "It sounded pretty serious."

We went down together in the elevator, and three minutes later we had
hailed a taxi and were speeding eastward toward the Avenue. It had
started to drizzle, and the asphalt shone like a black mirror,
dancing with the lights along either side. The streets were almost
empty, for the theatre-crowd had passed, and as we reached the Avenue
and turned down-town, the driver pushed up his spark, and we hurtled
along toward Fourteenth street at a speed which made me think of the
traffic regulations. But no policeman interfered, and five minutes
later we drew up before the Vantine place.

Parks must have been on the front steps looking for me, for he came
running down them almost before the car had stopped. I caught a
glimpse of his face under the street lights, as I thrust a bill into
the driver's hand, and it fairly startled me.

"Is it you, Mr. Lester?" he gasped. "Good God, but I'm glad you're

I caught him by the arm.

"Steady, man," I said. "Don't let yourself go to pieces. Now--what
has happened?"

He seemed to take a sort of desperate grip of himself.

"I'll show you, sir," he said, and ran up the steps, along the hall,
to the door of the ante-room where we had found the Frenchman's body.
"In there, sir!" he sobbed. "In there!" and clung to the wall as I
opened the door and stepped inside.

The room was ablaze with light, and for an instant my eyes were so
dazzled that I could distinguish nothing. Dimly I saw Godfrey spring
forward and drop to his knees.

Then my eyes cleared, and I saw, on the very spot where d'Aurelle had
died, another body--or was it the same, brought back that the
tragedy of the afternoon might, in some mysterious way, be re-enacted?

I remember bending over and peering into the face--

It was the face of Philip Vantine.

A minute must have passed as I stood there dazed and shaken. I was
conscious, in a way, that Godfrey was examining him. Then I heard his

"He's dead," he said.

Then there was an instant's silence.

"Lester, look here!" cried Godfrey's voice, sharp, insistent. "For
God's sake, look here!"

Godfrey was kneeling there holding something toward me.

"Look here!" he cried again.

It was the dead man's hand he was holding; the right hand; a swollen
and discoloured hand. And on the back of it, just above the knuckles,
were two tiny wounds, from which a few drops of blood had trickled.

And as I stared at this ghastly sight, scarce able to believe my
eyes, I heard a choking voice behind me, saying over and over again:

"It was that woman done it! It was that woman done it! Damn her! It
was that woman done it!"



I have no very clear remembrance of what happened after that. The
shock was so great that I had just strength enough to totter to a
chair and drop into it, and sit there staring vaguely at that dark
splotch on the carpet. I told myself that I was the victim of a
dreadful nightmare; that all this was the result of over-wrought
nerves and that I should wake presently. No doubt I had been working
too hard. I needed a vacation--well, I would take it....

And all the time I knew that it was not a nightmare, but grim
reality; that Philip Vantine was dead--killed by a woman. Who had
told me that? And then I remembered the sobbing voice....

Two or three persons came into the room--Parks and the other
servants, I suppose; I heard Godfrey's voice giving orders; and
finally someone held a glass to my lips and commanded me to drink. I
did so mechanically; coughed, spluttered, was conscious of a grateful
warmth, and drank eagerly again. And then I saw Godfrey standing over

"Feel better?" he asked.

I nodded.

"I don't wonder it knocked you out," he went on. "I'm feeling shaky
myself. I had them call Vantine's physician--but he can't do

"He's dead, then?" I murmured, my eyes on that dark and crumpled
object which had been Philip Vantine.

"Yes--just like the other."

Then I remembered, and I caught his arm and drew him down to me.

"Godfrey," I whispered, "whose voice was it--or did I dream it
--something about a woman?"

"You didn't dream it--it was Rogers--he's almost hysterical. We'll
get the story, as soon as he quiets down."

Someone called him from the door, and he turned away, leaving me
staring blankly at nothing. So there had been a woman in Vantine's
life! Perhaps that was why he had never married. What ugly skeleton
was to be dragged from its closet?

But if a woman killed Vantine, the same woman also killed d'Aurelle.
Where was her hiding-place? From what ambush did she strike?

I glanced about the room, as a tremor of horror seized me. I arose,
shaking, from the chair and groped my way toward the door. Godfrey
heard me coming, swung around, and, with one glance at my face, came
to me and caught me by the arms.

"What is it, Lester?" he asked.

"I can't stand it here," I gasped. "It's too horrible!"

"Don't think about it. Come out here and have another drink."

He led me into the hall, and a second glass of brandy gave me back
something of my self-control. I was ashamed of my weakness, but when
I glanced at Godfrey, I saw how white his face was.

"Better take a drink yourself," I said.

I heard the decanter rattle on the glass.

"I don't know when I have been so shaken," he said, setting the glass
down empty. "It was so gruesome--so unexpected--and then Rogers
carrying on like a madman. Ah, here's the doctor," he added, as the
front door opened and Parks showed a man in.

I knew Dr. Hughes, of course, returned his nod, and followed him and
Godfrey into the ante-room. But I had not yet sufficiently recovered
to do more than sit and stare at him as he knelt beside the body and
assured himself that life had fled. Then I heard Godfrey telling him
all we knew, while Hughes listened with incredulous face.

"But it's absurd, you know!" he protested, when Godfrey had finished.
"Things like this don't happen here in New York. In Florence,
perhaps, in the Middle Ages; but not here in the twentieth century!"

"I can scarcely believe my own senses," Godfrey agreed. "But I saw
the Frenchman lying here this afternoon; and now here's Vantine."

"On the same spot?"

"As nearly as I can tell."

"And killed in the same way?"

"Killed in precisely the same way."

Hughes turned back to the body again, and looked long and earnestly
at the injured hand.

"What sort of instrument made this wound, would you say, Mr.
Godfrey?" he questioned, at last.

"A sharp instrument, with two prongs. My theory is that the prongs
are hollow, like a hypodermic needle, and leave a drop or two of
poison at the bottom of the wound. You see a vein has been cut."

"Yes," Hughes assented. "It would scarcely be possible to pierce the
hand here without striking a vein. One of the prongs would be sure to
do it."

"That's the reason there are two of them, I fancy."

"But you are, of course, aware that no poison exists which would act
so quickly?" Hughes inquired.

Godfrey looked at him strangely.

"You yourself mentioned Florence a moment ago," he said. "You meant,
I suppose, that such a poison did, at one time, exist there?"

"Something of the sort, perhaps," agreed Hughes. "The words were
purely instinctive, but I suppose some such thought was running
through my head."

"Well, the poison that existed in Florence five centuries ago, exists
here to-day. There's the proof of it," and Godfrey pointed to the

Hughes drew a deep breath of wonder and horror.

"But what sort of devilish instrument is it?" he cried, his nerves
giving way for an instant, his voice mounting shrilly. "Above all,
who wields it?"

He stared about the room, as though half-expecting to see some mighty
and remorseless arm poised, ready to strike. Then he shook himself

"I beg pardon," he said, mopping the sweat from his face; "but I'm
not used to this sort of thing; and I'm frightened--yes, I really
believe I'm frightened," and he laughed, a little unsteady laugh.

"So am I," said Godfrey; "so is Lester; so is everybody. You needn't
be ashamed of it."

"What frightens me," went on Hughes, evidently studying his own
symptoms, "is the mystery of it--there is something supernatural
about it--something I can't understand. How does it happen that each
of the victims is struck on the right hand? Why not the left hand?
Why the hand at all?"

Godfrey answered with a despairing shrug.

"That is what we've got to find out," he said.

"We shall have to call in the police," suggested Hughes. "Maybe they
can solve it."

Godfrey smiled, a little sceptical smile, quickly suppressed.

"At least, they will have to be given the chance," he agreed. "Shall
I attend to it?"

"Yes," said Hughes; "and you would better do it right away. The
sooner they get here the better."

"Very well," assented Godfrey, and left the room.

Hughes sat down heavily on the couch near the window, and mopped his
face again, with a shaking hand. Death he was accustomed to--but
death met decently in bed and resulting from some understood cause.
Death in this horrible and mysterious form shook him; he could not
understand it, and his failure to understand appalled him. He was a
physician; it was his business to understand; and yet here was death
in a form as mysterious to him as to the veriest layman. It compelled
him to pause and take stock of himself--always a disconcerting
process to the best of us!

That was a trying half hour. Hughes sat on the couch, breathing
heavily, staring at the floor, perhaps passing his own ignorance in
review, perhaps wondering if he had always been right in prescribing
this or that. As for me, I was thinking of my dead friend. I
remembered Philip Vantine as I had always known him--a kindly, witty,
Christian gentleman. I could see his pleasant eyes looking at me in
friendship, as they had looked a few hours before; I could hear his
voice, could feel the clasp of his hand. That such a man should be
killed like this, struck down by a mysterious assassin, armed with a
poisoned weapon....

A woman! Always my mind came back to that. A woman! Poison was a
woman's weapon. But who was she? How had she escaped? Where had she
concealed herself? How was she able to strike so surely? Above all,
why should she have chosen Philip Vantine, of all men, for her
victim--Philip Vantine, who had never injured any woman--and then I
paused. For I realised that I knew nothing of Vantine, except what he
had chosen to tell me. Parks would know. And then I shrank from the
thought. Must we probe that secret? Must we compel a man to betray
his master?

My face was burning. No, we could not do that--that would be

The door opened and Godfrey came in. This time, he was not alone.
Simmonds and Goldberger followed him, and their faces showed that
they were as shaken and nonplussed as I. There was a third man with
them whom I did not know; but I soon found out that it was
Freylinghuisen, the coroner's physician.

They all looked at the body, and Freylinghuisen knelt beside it and
examined the injured hand; then he sat down by Dr. Hughes, and they
were soon deep in a low-toned conversation, whose subject I could
guess. I could also guess what Simmonds and Godfrey were talking
about in the farther corner; but I could not guess why Goldberger,
instead of getting to work, should be walking up and down, pulling
impatiently at his moustache and glancing at his watch now and then.
He seemed to be waiting for some one, but not until twenty minutes
later did I suspect who it was. Then the door opened again to admit a
short, heavy-set man, with florid face, stubbly black moustache, and
little, close-set eyes, preternaturally bright. He glanced about the
room, nodded to Goldberger, and then looked inquiringly at me.

"This is Mr. Lester, Commissioner Grady," said Goldberger, and I
realised that the chief of the detective bureau had come up from
headquarters to take personal charge of the case.

"Mr. Lester is Mr. Vantine's attorney," the coroner added, in

"Glad to know you, Mr. Lester," said Grady, shortly.

"And now, I guess, we're ready to begin," went on the coroner.

"Not quite," said Grady, grimly. "We'll excuse all reporters, first,"
and he looked across at Godfrey, his face darkening.

I felt my own face flushing, and started to protest, but Godfrey
silenced me with a little gesture.

"It's all right, Lester," he said. "Mr. Grady is quite within his
rights. I'll withdraw--until he sends for me."

"You'll have a long wait, then!" retorted Grady, with a sarcastic

"The longer I wait, the worse it will be for you, Mr. Grady," said
Godfrey quietly, opened the door and closed it behind him.

Grady stared after him for a moment in crimson amazement. Then,
mastering himself with an effort, he turned to the coroner.

"All right, Goldberger," he said, and sat down to watch the

A very few minutes sufficed for Hughes and Freylinghuisen and I to
tell all we knew of this tragedy and of the one which had preceded
it. Grady seemed already acquainted with the details of d'Aurelle's
death, for he listened without interrupting, only nodding from time
to time.

"You've got a list of the servants here, of course, Simmonds," he
said, when we had finished the story.

"Yes, sir," and Simmonds handed it to him. "H-m," said Grady, as he
glanced it over. "Five of 'em. Know anything about 'em?"

"They've all been with Mr. Vantine a long time, sir," replied
Simmonds. "So far as I've been able to judge, they're all right."

"Which one of 'em found Vantine's body?" "Parks, I think," I said.
"It was he who called me."

"Better have him in," said Grady, and doubled up the list and slipped
it into his pocket.

Parks came in looking decidedly shaky; but answered Grady's questions
clearly and concisely. He told first of the events of the afternoon,
and then passed on to the evening.

"Mr. Vantine had dinner at home, sir," he said. "It was served, I
think, at seven o'clock. He must have finished a little after
seven-thirty. I didn't see him, for I was straightening things around
up in his room and putting his clothes away. But he told Rogers--"

"Never mind what he told Rogers," broke in Grady. "Just tell us what
you know."

"Very well, sir," said Parks, submissively. "I had a lot of work to
do--we just got back from Europe yesterday, you know--and I kept on,
putting things in their places and straightening around, and it must
have been half-past eight when I heard Rogers yelling for me. I
thought the house was on fire, and I come down in a hurry. Rogers was
standing out there in the hall, looking like he'd seen a ghost. He
kind of gasped and pointed to this room, and I looked in and saw Mr.
Vantine laying there--"

His voice choked at the words, but he managed to go on, after a

"Then I telephoned for Mr. Lester," he added, "and that's all I

"Very well," said Grady. "That's all for the present. Send Rogers

Rogers's face, as he entered the room, gave me a kind of shock, for
it was that of a man on the verge of hysteria. He was a man of about
fifty, with iron-grey hair, and a smooth-shaven face, ordinarily
ruddy with health. But now his face was livid, his cheeks lined and
shrunken, his eyes blood-shot and staring. He reeled rather than
walked into the room, one hand clutching at his throat, as though he
were choking.

"Get him a chair," said Grady, and Simmonds brought one forward and
remained standing beside it. "Now, my man," Grady continued, "you'll
have to brace up. What's the matter with you, anyhow? Didn't you ever
see a dead man before?"

"It ain't that," gasped Rogers. "It ain't that--though I never saw a
murdered man before."

"What?" demanded Grady, sharply. "Didn't you see that fellow this

"That was different," Rogers moaned. "I didn't know him. Besides, I
thought he'd killed himself. We all thought so."

"And you don't think Vantine did?"

"I know he didn't," and Rogers's voice rose to a shrill scream. "It
was that woman done it! Damn her! She done it! I knowed she was up to
some crooked work when I let her in!"



It was coming now; the secret, however sordid, however ugly, was to
be unveiled. I saw Grady's face set in hard lines; I could hear the
stir of interest with which the others leaned forward....

Grady took a flask from his pocket and opened it.

"Take a drink of this," he said, and placed it in Rogers's hand.

I could hear the mouth of the flask clattering against his teeth, as
he put it eagerly to his mouth and took three or four long swallows.

"Thank you, sir," he said, more steadily, and handed the flask back
to its owner. A little colour crept into his face; but I fancied
there was a new look in his eyes--for, as the horror faded, fear took
its place.

Grady screwed the cap on the flask with great deliberation, and
returned it to his pocket. And all the time Rogers was watching him
furtively, wiping his mouth mechanically with a trembling hand.

"Now, Rogers," Grady began, "I want you to take your time and tell us
in detail everything that happened here to-night. You say a woman did
it. Well, we want to hear all about that woman. Now go ahead; and
remember there's no hurry."

"Well, sir," began Rogers slowly, as though carefully considering his
words, "Mr. Vantine came out from dinner about half-past seven--maybe
a little later than that--and told me to light all the lights in here
and in the next room. You see there are gas and electrics both, sir,
and I lighted them all. He had gone into the music-room on the other
side of the hall, so I went over there and told him the lights were
all lit. He was looking at a new picture he'd bought, but he left it
right away and come out into the hall.

"'I don't want to be disturbed, Rogers,' he said, and come in here
and shut the door after him.

"It was maybe twenty minutes after that that the door-bell rung, and
when I opened the door, there was a woman standing on the steps."

He stopped and swallowed once or twice, as though his throat was dry,
and I saw that his fingers were twitching nervously.

"Did you know her?" questioned Grady.

Rogers loosened his collar with a convulsive movement.

"No, sir, I'd never seen her before," he answered hoarsely.

"Describe her."

Rogers closed his eyes, as though in an effort of recollection.

"She wore a heavy veil, sir, so that I couldn't see her very well;
but the first thing I noticed was her eyes--they were so bright, they
seemed to burn right through me. Her face looked white behind her
veil, and I could see how red her lips were--I didn't like her looks,
sir, from the first."

"How was she dressed?"

"In a dark gown, sir, cut so skimpy that I knowed she was French
before she spoke."

"Ah!" said Grady. "She was French, was she?"

"Yes, sir; though she could speak some English. She asked for Mr.
Vantine. I told her Mr. Vantine was busy. And then she said something
very fast about how she must see him, and all the time she kept
edging in and in, till the first thing I knowed she was inside the
door, and then she just pulled the door out of my hand and shut it. I
ask you, sir, is that the way a lady would behave?"

"No," said Grady, "I dare say not. But go ahead,--and take your

Rogers had regained his self-confidence, and he went ahead almost

"'See here, madam,' says I, 'we've had enough trouble here to-day
with Frenchies, and if you don't get out quietly, why, I'll have to
put you out.'

"'I must see Mistaire Vangtine,' she says, very fast. 'I must see
Mistaire Vangtine. It is most necessaire that I see Mistaire

"'Then I'll have to put you out,' says I, and took hold of her arm.
And at that she screamed and jerked herself away; and I grabbed her
again, and just then Mr. Vantine opened the door there and came out
into the hall.

"'What's all this, Rogers?' he says. 'Who is this party?'

"But before I could answer, that wild cat had rushed over to him and
begun to reel off a string of French so fast I wondered how she got
her breath. And Mr. Vantine looked at her kind of surprised at first,
and then he got more interested, and finally he asked her in here and
shut the door, and that was the last I saw of them."

"You mean you didn't let the woman out?" demanded Grady.

"Yes, sir, that's just what I mean. I thought if Mr. Vantine wanted
to talk with her, well and good; that was his business, not mine; so
I went back to the pantry to help the cook with the silver, expecting
to hear the bell every minute. But the bell didn't ring, and after
maybe half an hour, I came out into the hall again to see if the
woman had gone; and I walked past the door of this room but didn't
hear nothing; and then I went on to the front door, and was surprised
to find it wasn't latched."

"Maybe you hadn't latched it," suggested Grady.

"It has a snap-lock, sir; when that woman slammed it shut, I heard it

"You're sure of that?"

"Quite sure, sir."

"What did you do then?"

"I closed the door, sir, and then come back along the hall. I felt
uneasy, some way; and I stood outside the door there listening; but I
couldn't hear nothing; and then I tapped, but there wasn't no answer;
so I tapped louder, with my heart somehow working right up into my
mouth. And still there wasn't no answer, so I just opened the door
and looked in--and the first thing I see was him--"

Rogers stopped suddenly, and caught at his throat again.

"I'll be all right in a minute, sir," he gasped. "It takes me this
way sometimes."

"No hurry," Grady assured him, and then, when his breath was coming
easier, "What did you do then?"

"I was so scared I couldn't scarcely stand, sir; but I managed to get
to the foot of the stairs and yell for Parks, and he come running
down--and that's all I remember, sir."

"The woman wasn't here?"

"No, sir."

"Did you look through the rooms?"

"No, sir; when I found the front door open, I knowed she'd gone out.
She hadn't shut the door because she was afraid I'd hear her."

"That sounds probable," agreed Grady. "But what makes you think she
killed Vantine?"

"Well, sir," answered Rogers, slowly, "I guess I oughtn't to have
said that; but finding the door open that way, and then coming on Mr.
Vantine sort of upset me--I didn't know just what I was saying."

"You don't think so now, then?" questioned Grady, sharply.

"I don't know what to think, sir."

"You say you never saw the woman before?"

"Never, sir."

"Had she ever been here before?"

"I don't think so, sir. The first thing she asked was if this was
where Mr. Vantine lived."

Grady nodded.

"Very good, Rogers," he said. "I'll be offering you a place on the
force next. Would you know this woman if you saw her again?"

Rogers hesitated.

"I wouldn't like to say sure, sir," he answered, at last. "I might
and I might not."

"Red lips and a white face and bright eyes aren't much to go on,"
Grady pointed out. "Can't you give us a closer description?"

"I'm afraid not, sir. I just got a general impression, like, of her
face through her veil."

"You say you didn't search these rooms?"

"No, sir, I didn't come inside the door."

"Why not?"

"I was afraid to, sir."

"Afraid to?"

"Yes, sir; I'm afraid to be here now."

"Did Parks come in?"

"No, sir; I guess he felt the same way I did."

"Then how did you know Vantine was dead? Why didn't you try to help

"One look was enough to tell me that wasn't no use," said Rogers, and
glanced, with visible horror, at the crumpled form on the floor.

Grady looked at him keenly for a moment; but there seemed to be no
reason to doubt his story. Then the detective looked about the room.

"There's one thing I don't understand," he said, "and that is why
Vantine should want all these lights. What was he doing in here?"

"I couldn't be sure, sir; but I suppose he was looking at the
furniture he brought over from Europe. He was a collector, you know,
sir. There are five or six pieces in the next room."

Without a word, Grady arose and passed into the room adjoining, we
after him; only Rogers remained seated where he was. I remember
glancing back over my shoulder and noting how he huddled forward in
his chair, as though crushed by a great weight, the instant our backs
were turned.

But I forgot Rogers in contemplation of the scene before me.

The inner room was ablaze with light, and the furniture stood
hap-hazard about it, just as I had seen it earlier in the day. Only
one thing had been moved. That was the Boule cabinet.

It had been carried to the centre of the room, and placed in the full
glare of the light from the chandelier. It stood there blazing with
arrogant beauty, a thing apart.

Who had helped Vantine place it there, I wondered? Neither Rogers nor
Parks had mentioned doing so. I turned back to the outer room.

Rogers was sitting crouched forward in his chair, his hands over his
eyes, and I could feel him jerk with nervousness as I touched him on
the shoulder.

"Oh, is it you, Mr. Lester?" he gasped. "Pardon me, sir; I'm not at
all myself, sir."

"I can see that," I said, soothingly; "and no wonder. I just wanted
to ask you--did you help move any of the furniture in the room

"Help move it, sir?"

"Yes--help change the position of any of it since this afternoon?"

"No, sir; I haven't touched any of it, sir."

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