Part 2 out of 5
"That's all right, then," I said, and turned back into the inner
Vantine had said that he intended examining the cabinet in detail at
the first opportunity; I remembered how his eyes had gleamed as he
looked at it; how his hand had trembled as he caressed the
arabesques. No doubt he was making that examination when he had heard
a woman's cry and had gone out into the hall to see what the matter
Then he and the woman had entered the ante-room together; he had
closed the door; and then....
Like a lightning-flash, a thought leaped into my brain--a reason--an
explanation--wild, improbable, absurd, but still an explanation!
I choked back the cry which rose to my lips; I gripped my hands
behind me, in a desperate attempt to hold myself in check; and,
fascinated as by a deadly serpent, I stood staring at the cabinet.
For there, I felt certain, lay the clue to the mystery!
ROGERS GETS A SHOCK
Grady, Simmonds and Goldberger examined the room minutely, for they
seemed to feel that the secret of the tragedy lay somewhere within
its four walls; but I watched them only absently, for I had lost
interest in the procedure. I was perfectly sure that they would find
nothing in any way bearing upon the mystery. I heard Grady comment
upon the fact that there was no door except the one opening into the
ante-room, and saw them examine the window-catches.
"Nobody could raise these windows without alarming the house," Grady
said, and pointed to a tiny wire running along the woodwork. "There's
a burglar alarm."
Simmonds assented, and finally the trio returned to the ante-room.
"We'd like to look over the rest of the house," Grady said to Rogers,
who was sitting erect again, looking more like himself, and the four
men went out into the hall together. I remained behind with Hughes
and Freylinghuisen. They had lifted the body to the couch and were
making a careful examination of it. Heavy at heart, I sat down near
by and watched them.
That Philip Vantine should have been killed by enthusiasm for the
hobby which had given him so much pleasure seemed the very irony of
fate, yet such I believed to be the case. To be sure, there were
various incidents which seemed to conflict with such a theory, and
the theory itself seemed wild to the point of absurdity; but at least
it was a ray of light in what had been utter darkness. I turned it
over and over in my mind, trying to fit into it the happenings of the
day--I must confess with very poor success. Freylinghuisen's voice
brought me out of my reverie.
"The two cases are precisely alike," he was saying. "The symptoms are
identical. And I'm certain we shall find paralysis of the heart and
spinal cord in this case, just as I did in the other. Both men were
killed by the same poison."
"Can you make a guess as to the nature of the poison?" Hughes
"Some variant of hydrocyanic acid, I fancy--the odour indicates
that; but it must be about fifty times as deadly as hydrocyanic acid
They wandered away into a discussion of possible variants, so
technical and be-sprinkled with abstruse words and formulae that I
could not follow them. Freylinghuisen, of course, had all this sort
of thing at his fingers' ends--post-mortems were his every-day
occupation, and no doubt he had been furbishing himself up, since
this last one, in preparation for the inquest, where he would
naturally wish to shine. I could see that he enjoyed displaying his
knowledge before Hughes, who, although a family practitioner of high
standing, with an income greater than Freylinghuisen's many times
over, had no such expert knowledge of toxicology as a coroner's
physician would naturally possess.
The two detectives and the coroner came back while the discussion was
still in progress and listened in silence to Freylinghuisen's
statement of the case. Grady's mahogany face told absolutely nothing
of what was passing in his brain, but Simmonds was plainly
bewildered. It was evident from his look that nothing had been found
to shed any light on the mystery; and now that his suicide theory had
fallen to pieces, he was completely at sea. So, I suspected, was
Grady, but he was too self-composed to betray it.
The coroner drew the two physicians aside and talked to them for a
few moments in a low tone. Then he turned to Grady.
"Freylinghuisen thinks there is no necessity for a post-mortem," he
said. "The symptoms are in every way identical with those of the
other man who was killed here this afternoon. There can be no
question that both of them died from the same cause. He is ready to
make his return to that effect."
"Very well," assented Grady. "The body can be turned over to the
"There aren't any relatives," I said; "at least, no near ones.
Vantine was the last of this branch of the family. I happen to know
that our firm has been named as his executors in his will, so, if
there is no objection, I'll take charge of things."
"Very well, Mr. Lester," said Grady again; and then he looked at me.
"Do you know the provisions of the will?" he asked.
"In the light of those provisions, do you know of any one who would
have an interest in Vantine's death?"
"I think I may tell you the provisions," I said, after a moment.
"With the exception of a few legacies to his servants, his whole
fortune is left to the Metropolitan Museum of Art"
"You have been his attorney for some time?"
"We have been his legal advisers for many years."
"Have you ever learned that he had an enemy?"
"No," I answered instantly; "so far as I know, he had not an enemy on
"He was never married, I believe?"
"Was he ever, to your knowledge, involved with a woman?" "No," I
said again. "I was astounded when I heard Rogers's story."
"So you can give us no hint as to this woman's identity?"
"I only wish I could!" I said, with fervour.
"Thank you, Mr. Lester," and Grady turned to Simmonds. "I don't see
that there is anything more we can do here," he added. "There's one
thing, though, Mr. Lester, I will have to ask you to do. That is to
keep all the servants here until after the inquest. If you think
there is any doubt of your ability to do that, we can, of course, put
them under arrest--"
"Oh, that isn't necessary," I broke in. "I will be responsible for
their appearance at the inquest"
"I'll have to postpone it a day," said Goldberger. "I want
Freylinghuisen to make some tests to-morrow. Besides, we've got to
identify d'Aurelle, and these gentlemen seem to have their work cut
out for them in finding this woman--"
Grady looked at Goldberger in a way which indicated that he thought
he was talking too much, and the coroner stopped abruptly. A moment
later, all four men left the house.
Dr. Hughes lingered for a last word.
"The undertaker had better be called at once," he said. "It won't do
to delay too long."
I knew what he meant. Already the face of the dead man was showing
certain ugly discolourations.
"I can send him around on my way home," he added, and I thanked him
for assuming this unpleasant duty.
As the door closed behind him, I heard a step on the stair, and
turned to see Godfrey calmly descending.
"I came in a few minutes ago," he explained, in answer to my look,
"and have been glancing around upstairs. Nothing there. How did our
friend Grady get along?"
"Fairly well; but if he guesses anything, his face didn't show it."
"His face never shows anything, because there's nothing to show. He
has cultivated that sibylline look until people think he's a wonder.
But he's simply a stupid ignoramus."
"Oh, come, Godfrey," I protested, "you're prejudiced. He went right
to the point. Do you know Rogers's story?"
"About the woman? Certainly. Rogers told it to me before Grady
"Well," I commented, "you didn't lose any time."
"I never do," he assented blandly. "And now I'm going to prove to you
that Grady is merely a stupid ignoramus. He has heard all the
evidence, but does he know who that woman was?"
"Of course not," I said, and then I looked at him. "Do you mean that
you do? Then I'm an ignoramus, too!"
"My dear Lester," protested Godfrey, "you are not a detective--that's
not your business; but it _is_ Grady's. At least, it is supposed to
be, and the safety of this city as a place of residence depends more
or less upon the truth of that assumption. On the strength of it, he
has been made deputy police commissioner, in charge of the detective
"Then you mean that you _do_ know who she was?"
"I'm pretty sure I do--that is what I came back to prove. Where's
"I'll ring for him," I said, and did so, and presently he appeared.
"Did you ring, sir?" he asked.
He was still miserably nervous, but much more self-controlled than he
had been earlier in the evening.
"Yes," I said. "Mr. Godfrey wishes to speak to you."
It seemed to me that Rogers turned visibly paler; there was certainly
fear in the glance he turned upon my companion. But Godfrey smiled
"We'd better give him his instructions about the reporters, first
thing, hadn't we, Lester?" he inquired.
"Which reporters?" I queried.
"All the others, of course. They will be storming this house, Rogers,
before long. You will meet them at the door, you will refuse to admit
one of them; you will tell them that there is nothing to be learned
here, and that they must go to the police. Tell them that
Commissioner Grady himself is in charge of the case and will no doubt
be glad to talk to them. Is that right, Lester?"
"Yes, Ulysses," I agreed, smiling.
"And now," continued Godfrey, watching Rogers keenly, "I have a
photograph here that I want you to look at. Did you ever see that
person before?" and he handed a print to Rogers.
The latter hesitated an instant, and then took the print with a
trembling hand. Stark fear was in his eyes again; then slowly he
raised the print to the light, glanced at it....
"Catch him, Lester!" Godfrey cried, and sprang forward.
For Rogers, clutching wildly at his collar, spun half around and fell
with a crash. Godfrey's arm broke the fall somewhat, but as for me, I
was too dazed to move.
"Get some water, quick!" Godfrey commanded sharply, as Parks came
running up. "Rogers has been taken ill."
And then, as Parks sped down the hall again, I saw Godfrey loosen the
collar of the unconscious man and begin to chafe his temples
"I hope it isn't apoplexy," he muttered. "I oughtn't to have shocked
him like that."
At the words, I remembered; and, stooping, picked up the photograph
which had fluttered from Rogers's nerveless fingers. And then I, too,
uttered a smothered exclamation as I gazed at the dark eyes, the full
lips, the oval face--the face which d'Aurelle had carried in his
But it wasn't apoplexy. It was Parks who reassured us, when he came
hurrying back a minute later with a glass of water in one hand and a
small phial in the other.
"He has these spells," he said. "It's a kind of vertigo. Give him a
whiff of this."
He uncorked the phial and handed it to Godfrey, and I caught the
penetrating fumes of ammonia. A moment later, Rogers gasped
"He'll be all right pretty soon," remarked Parks, with ready
optimism. "Though I never saw him quite so bad."
"We can't leave him lying here on the floor," said Godfrey.
"There's a couch-seat in the music-room," Parks suggested, and the
three of us bore the still unconscious man to it.
Then Godfrey and I sat down and waited, while he gasped his way back
"Though he can't really tell us much," Godfrey observed. "In fact, I
doubt if he'll be willing to tell anything. But his face, when he
looked at the picture, told us all we need to know."
Thus reminded, I took the photograph out of the pocket into which I
had slipped it, and looked at it again.
"Where did you get it?" I asked.
"The police photographer made some copies. This is one of them."
"But what made you suspect that the two women were the same?"
"I don't just know," answered Godfrey, reflectively. "They were both
French--and Rogers spoke of the red lips; somehow it seemed probable.
Mr. Grady will find some things he doesn't know in to-morrow's
_Record_. But then he usually does. This time, I'm going to rub it
in. Hello," he added, "our friend is coming around."
I looked at Rogers and saw that his eyes were open. They were staring
at us as though wondering who we were. Godfrey passed an arm under
his head and held the glass of water to his lips.
"Take a swallow of this," he said, and Rogers obeyed mechanically,
still staring at him over the rim of the glass, "How do you feel?"
"Pretty weak," Rogers answered, almost in a whisper. "Did I have a
"Something like that," said Godfrey, cheerfully; "but don't worry.
You'll soon be all right again."
"What sent me off?" asked Rogers, and stared up at him. Then his face
turned purple, and I thought he was going off again. But after a
moment's heavy breathing, he lay quiet. "I remember now," he said.
"Let me see that picture again."
I passed it to him. His hand was trembling so he could hardly take
it; but I saw he was struggling desperately to control himself, and
he managed to hold the picture up before his eyes and look at it with
"Do you know her?" Godfrey asked.
To my infinite amazement, Rogers shook his head.
"Never saw her before," he muttered. "When I first looked at her, I
thought I knew her; but it ain't the same woman."
"Do you mean to say," Godfrey demanded sternly, "that that is not the
woman who called on Mr. Vantine to-night?"
Again Rogers shook his head.
"Oh, no," he protested; "it's not the same woman at all. This one is
Godfrey made no reply; but he sat down and looked at Rogers, and
Rogers lay and gazed at the picture, and gradually his face softened,
as though at some tender memory.
"Come, Rogers," I urged, at last. "You'd better tell us all you know.
If this is the woman, don't hesitate to say so."
"I've told you all I know, Mr. Lester," said Rogers, but he did not
meet my eyes. "And I'm feeling pretty bad. I think I'd better be
getting to bed."
"Yes, that's best," agreed Godfrey promptly. "Parks will help you,"
and he held out his hand for the photograph.
Rogers relinquished it with evident reluctance. He opened his lips as
though to ask a question; then closed them again, and got slowly to
his feet, Parks aiding him.
"Good-night, gentlemen," he said weakly, and shuffled away, leaning
heavily on Parks's shoulder.
"Well!" said I, looking at Godfrey. "What do you think of that?"
"He's lying, of course. We've got to find out why he's lying and
bring it home to him. But it's getting late--I must get down to the
office. One word, Lester--be sure Rogers doesn't give you the slip."
"I'll have him looked after," I promised. "But I fancy he'll be
afraid to run away. Besides, it is possible he's telling the truth. I
don't believe any woman had anything to do with either death."
Godfrey turned, as he was starting away, and stopped to look at me.
"Who did then?" he asked.
"You mean they both suicided in that abnormal way?"
"No, it wasn't suicide--they were killed--but not by a human being
--at least, not directly." I felt that I was floundering hopelessly,
and stopped. "I can't tell you now, Godfrey," I pleaded. "I haven't
had time to think it out. You've got enough for one day."
"Yes," he smiled; "I've got enough for one day. And now good-bye.
Perhaps I'll look in on you about midnight, on my way home, if I get
through by then."
I sighed. Godfrey's energy became a little wearing sometimes. I was
already longing for bed, and there remained so much to be done. But
he, after a day which I knew had been a hard one, and with a
many-column story still to write, was apparently as fresh and eager
"All right," I agreed. "If you see a light, come up. If there isn't
any light, I'll be in bed, and I'll kill you if you wake me."
"Conditions accepted," he laughed, as I opened the door for him.
Parks joined me as I turned back into the house.
"I got Rogers to bed, sir," he said. "He'll be all right in the
morning. But he's a queer duck."
"How long have you known him, Parks?"
"He's been with Mr. Vantine about five years. I don't know much about
him; he's a silent kind of fellow, keeping to hisself a good deal and
sort of brooding over things. But he did his work all right, except
once in a while when he keeled over like he did to-night."
"Parks," I said, suddenly, "I'm going to ask you a question. You know
that Mr. Vantine was a friend of mine, and I thought a great deal of
him. Now, what with this story Rogers tells, and one or two other
things, there is talk of a woman. Is there any foundation for talk of
"No, sir," said Parks, emphatically. "I've been Mr. Vantine's valet
for eight years and more, and in all that time he has never been
mixed up with a woman in any shape or form. I always fancied he'd
loved a lady who died--I don't know what made me think so; but
anyhow, since I've known him, he never looked at a woman--not in
"Thank you, Parks," I said, with a sigh of relief. "I've been through
so much to-day, that I felt I couldn't endure that; and now--"
"Beg pardon, sir," said a voice at my elbow; "we have everything
I turned with a start to see a little, clean-shaven man standing
there, rubbing his hands softly together and gazing blandly up at me.
"The undertaker's assistant, sir," explained Parks, seeing my look of
astonishment. "He came while you and Mr. Godfrey were in the
music-room. Dr. Hughes sent him."
"Yes, sir," added the little man; "and we have the corpse ready for
the coffin. Very nice it looks, too; though it was a hard job. Was it
poison killed him, sir?"
"Yes," I answered, with a feeling of nausea, "it was poison."
"Very powerful poison, too, I should say, sir; we didn't get here
none too soon. Where shall we put the body, sir?"
"Why not leave it where it is?" I asked, impatiently.
"Very good, sir," said the man, and presently he and his assistant
took themselves off, to my intense relief.
"And now, Parks," I began, "there is something I want to say to you.
Let us go somewhere and sit down."
"Suppose we go up to the study, sir. You're looking regularly done
up, if you'll permit me to say so, sir. Shall I get you something?"
"A brandy-and-soda," I assented; "and bring one for yourself."
"Very good, sir," and a few minutes later we were sitting opposite
each other in the room where Vantine had offered me similar
refreshment not many hours before. I looked at Parks as he sat there,
and turned over in my mind what I had to say to him. I liked the man,
and I felt he could be trusted. At any rate, I had to take the risk.
"Now, Parks," I began again, setting down my glass, "what I have to
say to you is very serious, and I want you to keep it to yourself: I
know that you were devoted to Mr. Vantine--I may as well tell you
that he has remembered you in his will--and I am sure you are willing
to do anything in your power to help solve the mystery of his death."
"That I am, sir," Parks agreed, warmly. "I was very fond of him, sir;
nobody will miss him more than I will."
I realised that the tragedy meant far more to Parks than it did even
to me, for he had lost not only a friend, but a means of livelihood,
and I looked at him with heightened sympathy.
"I know how you feel," I said, "and I am counting on you to help me.
I have a sort of idea how his death came about. Only the vaguest
possible idea," I added hastily, as his eyes widened with interest;
"altogether too vague to be put into words. But I can say this much
--the mystery, whatever it is, is in the ante-room where the bodies
were found, or in the room next to it where the furniture is. Now, I
am going to lock up those rooms, and I want you to see that nobody
enters them without your knowledge."
"Not very likely that anybody will want to enter them, sir," and
Parks laughed a grim little laugh.
"I am not so sure of that," I dissented, speaking very seriously. "In
fact, I am of the opinion that there _is_ somebody who wants to enter
those rooms very badly. I don't know who he is, and I don't know what
he is after; but I am going to make it your business to keep him out,
and to capture him if you catch him trying to get in."
"Trust me for that, sir," said Parks promptly. "What is it you want
me to do?"
"I want you to put a cot in the hallway outside the door of the
ante-room and sleep there to-night. To-morrow I will decide what further
precautions are necessary."
"Very good, sir," said Parks. "I'll get the cot up at once."
"There is one thing more," I went on. "I have given the coroner my
personal assurance that none of the servants will leave the house
until after the inquest. I suppose I can rely on them?"
"Oh, yes, sir. I'll see they understand how important it is."
"Rogers, especially," I added, looking at him.
"I understand, sir," said Parks, quietly.
"Very well. And now let us go down and lock up those rooms."
They were still ablaze with light; but both of us faltered a little,
I think, on the threshold of the ante-room. For in the middle of the
floor stood a stretcher, and on it was an object covered with a
sheet, its outlines horribly suggestive. But I took myself in hand
and entered. Parks followed me and closed the door.
The ante-room had two windows, and the room beyond, which was a
corner one, had three. All of them were locked, but a pane of glass
seemed to me an absurdly fragile barrier against any one who really
wished to enter.
"Aren't there some wooden shutters for these windows?" I asked.
"Yes, sir; they were taken down yesterday and put in the basement.
Shall I get them?"
"I think you'd better," I said. "Will you need any help?"
"No, sir; they're not heavy. If you'll wait here, you can snap the
bolts into place when I lift them up from the outside."
"Very well," I agreed, and Parks hurried away.
I entered the inner room and stopped before the Boule cabinet. There
was a certain air of arrogance about it, as it stood there in that
blaze of light, its inlay aglow with a thousand subtle reflections; a
flaunting air, the air of a courtesan conscious of her beauty and
pleased to attract attention--just the air with which Madame de
Montespan must have sauntered down the mirror gallery at Versailles,
ablaze with jewels, her skirts rustling, her figure swaying
suggestively. Something threatening, too; something sinister and
There was a rattle at the window, and I saw Parks lifting one of the
shutters into place. I threw up the sash, and pressed the heavy bolts
carefully into their sockets, then closed the sash and locked it. The
two other windows were secured in their turn, and with a last look
about the room, I turned out the lights. The ante-room windows were
soon shuttered in the same way, and with a sigh of relief I told
myself that no entrance to the house could be had from that
direction. With Parks outside the only door, the rooms ought to be
safe from invasion.
Then, before extinguishing the lights, I approached that silent
figure on the stretcher, lifted the sheet and looked for the last
time upon the face of my dead friend. It was no longer staring and
terrible, but calm and peaceful as in sleep--almost smiling. With
wet eyes and contracted throat, I covered the face again, turned out
the lights, and left the room. Parks met me in the hall, carrying a
cot, which he placed close across the doorway.
"There," he said; "nobody will get into that room without my knowing
"No," I agreed; and then a sudden thought occurred to me. "Parks," I
said, "is it true that there is a burglar-alarm on all the windows?"
"Yes, sir. It rings a bell in Mr. Vantine's bedroom, and another in
mine, and sends in a call to the police."
"Is it working?"
"Yes, sir; Mr. Vantine himself tested it this evening just before
"Then why didn't it work when I opened those windows just now?" I
"Because I threw off the switch, sir," he explained, "when I came out
to get the shutters. The switch is in a little iron box on the wall
just back of the stairs, sir. It's one of my duties to turn it on
every night before I go to bed."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Is it on again, now?"
"It certainly is, sir. After what you told me, I'd not be likely to
"You'd better have a weapon handy, too," I suggested.
"I have a revolver, sir."
"That's good. And don't hesitate to use it. I'm going home--I'm dead
"Shall I call a cab, sir?"
"No, the walk will do me good. I'll see you to-morrow."
Parks helped me into my coat and opened the door for me. Glancing
back, after a moment, I saw that he was standing on the steps gazing
after me. I could understand his reluctance to go back into that
death-haunted house; and I found myself breathing deeply with the
relief of getting out of it.
GUESSES AT THE RIDDLE
The walk uptown did me good. The rain had ceased, and the air felt
clean and fresh as though it had been washed. I took deep breaths of
it, and the feeling of fatigue and depression which had weighed upon
me gradually vanished. I was in no hurry--went out of my way a
little, indeed, to walk out into Madison Square and look back at the
towering mass of the Flatiron building, creamy and delicate as carved
ivory under the rays of the moon--and it was long past midnight when
I finally turned in at the Marathon. Higgins, the janitor, was just
closing the outer doors, and he joined me in the elevator a moment
"There's a gentleman waiting to see you, sir," he said, as the car
started upward. "Mr. Godfrey, sir. He came in about ten minutes ago.
He said you were expecting him, so I let him into your rooms."
"That was right," I said, and reflected again upon Godfrey's
I found him lolling in an easy chair, and he looked up with a smile
at my entrance. "Higgins said you hadn't come in yet," he explained,
"so I thought I'd wait a few minutes on the off chance that you
mightn't be too tired to talk. If you are, say so, and I'll be moving
"I'm not too tired," I said, hanging up my coat. "I feel a good deal
better than I did an hour ago."
"I saw that you were about all in."
"How do you keep it up, Godfrey?" I asked, sitting down opposite him.
"You don't seem tired at all."
"I _am_ tired, though," he said, "a little. But I've got a fool brain
that won't let my body go to sleep so long as there is work to be
done. Then, as soon as everything is finished, the brain lets go and
the body sleeps like a log. Now I knew I couldn't go to sleep
properly to-night until I had heard the very interesting theory you
are going to confide to me. Besides, I have a thing or two to tell
"Go ahead," I said.
"We had a cable from our Paris office just before I left. It seems
that M. Theophile d'Aurelle plays the fiddle in the orchestra of the
Cafe de Paris. He played as usual to-night, so that it is manifestly
impossible that he should also be lying in the New York morgue.
Moreover, none of his friends, so far as he knows, is in America. No
doubt he may be able to identify the photograph of the dead man, and
we've already started one on the way, but we can't hear from it for
six or eight days. But my guess was right--the fellow's name isn't
"You say you have a photograph?"
"Yes, I had some taken of the body this afternoon. Here's one of
them. Keep it; you may have a use for it."
I took the card, and, as I gazed at the face depicted upon it, I
realised that the distorted countenance I had seen in the afternoon
had given me no idea of the man's appearance. Now the eyes were
closed and the features composed and peaceful, but even death failed
to give them any dignity. It was a weak and dissipated face, the face
of a hanger-on of cafes, as Parks had said--of a loiterer along the
boulevards, of a man without ambition, and capable of any depth of
meanness and deceit. At least, that is how I read it.
"He's evidently low-class," said Godfrey, watching me. "One of those
parasites, without work and without income, so common in Paris.
Shop-girls and ladies' maids have a weakness for them."
"I think you are right," I agreed; "but, at the same time, if he was
of that type, I don't see what business he could have had with Philip
"Neither do I; but there are a lot of other things I don't see,
either. We're all in the dark, Lester; have you thought of that?
Absolutely in the dark."
"Yes, I have thought of it," I said, slowly.
"No doubt we can establish this fellow's identity in time--sooner
than we think, perhaps, for most of the morning papers will run his
picture, and if he is known here in New York at all, it will be
recognised by some one. When we find out who he is, we can probably
guess at the nature of his business with Vantine. We can find out who
the woman was who called to see Vantine to-night--that is just a case
of grilling Rogers; then we can run her down and get her secret out
of her. We can find why Rogers is trying to shield her. All that is
comparatively simple. But when we have done it all, when we have all
these facts in hand, I am afraid we shall find that they are utterly
"Unimportant?" I echoed. "But surely--"
"Unimportant because we don't want to know these things. What we want
to know is how Philip Vantine and this unknown Frenchman were killed.
And that is just the one thing which, I am convinced, neither the man
nor the woman nor Rogers nor anybody else we have come across in this
case can tell us. There's a personality behind all this that we
haven't even suspected yet, and which, I am free to confess, I don't
know how to get at. It puzzles me; it rather frightens me; it's like
a threatening shadow which one can't get hold of."
There was a moment's silence; then, I decided, the time had come for
me to speak.
"Godfrey," I said, "what I am about to tell you is told in
confidence, and must be held in confidence until I give you
permission to use it. Do you agree?"
"Go on," he said, his eyes on my face.
"Well, I believe I know how these two men were killed. Listen."
And I told him in detail the story of the Boule cabinet; I repeated
Vantine's theory of its first ownership; I named the price which he
was ready to pay for it; I described the difference between an
original and a counterpart, and dwelt upon Vantine's assertion that
this was an original of unique and unquestionable artistry. Long
before I had finished, Godfrey was out of his chair and pacing up and
down the room, his face flushed, his eyes glowing.
"Beautiful!" he murmured from time to time. "Immense! What a case it
will make, Lester!" he cried, stopping before my chair and beaming
down upon me, as I finished the story. "Unique, too; that's the
beauty of it! As unique as this adorable Boule cabinet!"
"Then you see it, too?" I questioned, a little disappointed that my
theory should seem so evident.
"See it?" and he dropped into his chair again. "A man would be blind
not to see it. But all the same, Lester, I give you credit for
putting the facts together. So many of us--Grady, for instance!
--aren't able to do that, or to see which facts are essential and
which are negligible. Now the fact that Vantine had accidentally come
into possession of a Boule cabinet would probably seem negligible to
Grady, whereas it is the one big essential fact in this whole case.
And it was you who saw it."
"You saw it, too," I pointed out, "as soon as I mentioned it."
"Yes; but you mentioned it in a way which made its importance
manifest. I couldn't help seeing it. And I believe that we have both
arrived at practically the same conclusions. Here they are," and he
checked them off on his fingers. "The cabinet contains a secret
drawer. This is inevitable, if it really belonged to Madame de
Montespan. Any cabinet made for her would be certain to have a secret
drawer--she would require it, just as she would require lace on her
underwear or jewelled buttons on her gloves. That drawer, since it
was, perhaps, to contain such priceless documents as the love letters
of a king--even more so, if the love letters were from another man!
--must be adequately guarded, and therefore a mechanism was devised to
stab the person attempting to open it and to inject into the wound a
poison so powerful as to cause instant death. Am I right so far?"
"Wonderfully right," I nodded. "I had not put it so clearly, even to
myself. Go ahead."
"We come to the conclusion, then," continued Godfrey, "that the
business of this unknown Frenchman with Vantine in some way concerned
"Vantine himself thought so," I broke in. "He told me afterwards that
it was because he thought so he consented to see him."
"Good! That would seem to indicate that we are on the right track.
The Frenchman's business, then, had something to do with this
cabinet, and with this secret drawer. Left to himself, he discovered
the cabinet in the room adjoining the ante-room, attempted to open
the drawer, and was killed."
"Yes," I agreed; "and now how about Vantine?"
"Vantine's death isn't so simply explained. Presumably the unknown
woman also called on business relating to the cabinet. She, also,
wanted to open the secret drawer, in order to secure its contents
--that seems fairly certain from her connection with the first
"You still think it was her photograph he carried in his watch?"
"I am sure of it. But how did it happen that it was Vantine who was
killed? Did the woman, warned by the fate of the man, deliberately
set Vantine to open the drawer in order that she might run no risk?
Or was she also ignorant of the mechanism? Above all, did she succeed
in getting away with the contents of the drawer?"
"What _was_ the contents of the drawer?" I demanded.
"Ah, if we only knew!"
"Perhaps the woman had nothing to do with it. Vantine himself told me
that he was going to make a careful examination of the cabinet. No
doubt that is exactly what he was doing when the woman's arrival
interrupted him. He might have let her out of the house himself, and
then, returning to the cabinet, stumbled upon the secret drawer after
she had gone."
"Yes; that is quite possible, too. At any rate, you agree with me
that both men were killed in some such way as I have described?"
"Absolutely. I think there can be no doubt of it."
"There are objections--and rather weighty ones. The theory explains
the two deaths, it explains the similarity of the wounds, it explains
how both should be on the right hand just above the knuckles, it
explains why both bodies were found in the same place since both men
started to summon help. But, in the first place, if the Frenchman got
the drawer open, who closed it?"
"Perhaps it closed itself when he let go of it."
"And closed again after Vantine opened it?" "Yes."
"It would take a very clever mechanism to do that."
"But at least it's possible."
"Oh, yes; it's possible. And we must remember that the poisoners of
those days were very ingenious. That was the heydey of La Voisin and
the Marquise de Brinvilliers, of Elixi, and heaven knows how many
other experts who had followed Catherine de Medici to France. So
that's all quite possible. But there is one thing that isn't
possible, and that is that a poison which, if it is administered as
we think it is, must be a liquid, could remain in that cabinet fresh
and ready for use for more than three hundred years. It would have
dried up centuries ago. Nor would the mechanism stay in order so
long. It must be both complicated and delicate. Therefore it would
have to be oiled and overhauled from time to time. If it is worked by
a spring--and I don't see how else it can be worked--the spring would
have to be renewed and wound up."
"Well?" I asked, as he paused.
"Well, it is evident that the drawer contains something more recent
than the love letters of Louis Fourteenth. It must have been put in
working order quite recently. But by whom and for what purpose? That
is the mystery we have to solve--and it is a mighty pretty one. And
here's another objection," he added. "That Frenchman knew about the
secret drawer, because, according to our theory, he opened it and got
killed. Why didn't he also know about the poison?"
That was an objection, truly, and the more I thought of it, the more
serious it seemed.
"It may be," said Godfrey, at last, "that d'Aurelle was going it
alone--that he had broken with the gang--"
"Of course there is a gang. This thing has taken careful planning and
concerted effort. And the leader of the gang is a genius! I wonder if
you understand how great a genius? Think: he knows the secret of the
drawer of Madame de Montespan's cabinet; but above all he knows the
secret of the poison--the poison of the Medici! Do you know what that
"What _does_ it mean?" I asked, for Godfrey was getting ahead of me.
"It means he is a great criminal--a really great criminal--one of the
elect from whom crime has no secrets. Observe. He alone knows the
secret of the poison; one of his men breaks away from him, and pays
for his mutiny with his life. He is the brain; the others are merely
"Then you don't believe it was by accident that cabinet was sent to
"By accident? Not for an instant! It was part of a plot--and a
"Can you explain that to me, too?" I queried, a little ironically,
for I confess it seemed to me that Godfrey was permitting his
imagination to run away with him.
He smiled good-naturedly at my tone.
"Of course, this is all mere romancing," he admitted. "I am the first
to acknowledge that. I was merely following out our theory to what
seemed its logical conclusion. But perhaps we are on the wrong track
altogether. Perhaps d'Aurelle, or whatever his name is, just
blundered in, like a moth into a candle-flame. As for the plot--well,
I can only guess at it. But suppose you and I had pulled off some big
He stopped suddenly, and his face went white and then red.
"What is it, Godfrey?" I cried, for his look frightened me.
He lay back in his chair, his hands pressed over his eyes. I could
see how they were trembling--how his whole body was trembling.
"Wait!" he said, hoarsely. "Wait!" Then he sat upright, his face
tense with anxiety. "Lester!" he cried, his voice shrill with fear.
"The cabinet--it isn't guarded!"
"Yes, it is," I said. "At least I thought of that!"
And I told him of the precautions I had taken to keep it safe. He
heard me out with a sigh of relief.
"That's better," he said. "Parks wouldn't stand much show, I'm
afraid, if worst came to worst; but I think the cabinet is safe--for
to-night. And before another night, Lester, we will have a look for
"Yes; for the secret drawer!"
I stared at him fascinated, shrinking.
"And we shall find it!" he added.
"D'Aurelle and Vantine found it," I muttered thickly.
"And they're both dead!"
"It won't kill us. We will go about it armoured, Lester. That
poisoned fang may strike--"
"Don't!" I cried, and cowered back into my chair. "I--I can't do it,
Godfrey. God knows, I'm no coward--but not that!"
"You shall watch me do it!" he said.
"That would be even worse!"
"But I'll be ready, Lester. There will be no danger. Come, man! Why,
it's the chance of a lifetime--to rifle the secret drawer of Madame
de Montespan! Yes!" he added, his eyes glowing, "and to match
ourselves against the greatest criminal of modern times!"
His shrill laugh told how excited he was.
"And do you know what we shall find in that drawer, Lester? But no
--it is only a guess--the wildest sort of a guess--but if it is
right--if it is right!"
He sprang from his chair, biting his lips, his whole frame quivering.
But he was calmer in a moment.
"Anyway, you will help me, Lester? You will come?"
There was a wizardry in his manner not to be resisted. Besides--to
rifle the secret drawer of Madame de Montespan! To match oneself
against the greatest criminal of modern times! What an adventure!
"Yes," I answered, with a quick intaking of the breath; "I'll come!"
He clapped me on the shoulder, his face beaming.
"I knew you would! To-morrow night, then--I'll call for you here at
seven o'clock. We'll have dinner together--and then, hey for the
great secret! Agreed?"
"Agreed!" I said.
He caught up coat and hat and started for the door.
"There are things to do," he said; "that armour to prepare--the plan
of campaign to consider, you know. Good-night, then, till--this
The door closed behind him, and his footsteps died away down the
hall. I looked at my watch--it was nearly two o'clock.
Dizzily I went to bed. But my sleep was broken by a fearful dream--a
dream of a serpent, with blazing eyes and dripping fangs, poised to
My first thought, when I awoke next morning, was for Parks, for
Godfrey's manner had impressed me with the feeling that Parks was in
much more serious danger than either he or I suspected. It was with a
lively sense of relief, therefore, that I heard Parks's voice answer
my call on the 'phone.
"This is Mr. Lester," I said. "Is everything all right?"
"Everything serene, sir," he answered. "It would take a mighty smooth
burglar to get in here now, sir."
"How is that?" I asked.
"Reporters are camped all around the house, sir. They seem to think
somebody else will be killed here to-day."
He laughed as he spoke the words, but I was far from thinking the
idea an amusing one.
"I hope not," I said, quickly. "And don't let any of the reporters
in, nor talk to them. Tell them they must go to the police for their
information. If they get too annoying, let me know, and I'll have an
officer sent around."
"Very good, sir."
"Don't let anybody in the house--no matter what he wants--unless Mr.
Grady or Mr. Simmonds or Mr. Goldberger accompanies him. Don't let
anybody in you don't know. If there is any trouble, call me up. I
want you to be careful about this."
"I understand, sir."
"How is Rogers?" I asked.
"Much better, sir. He wanted to get up, but I told him he might as
well stay in bed, and I'd look after things. I thought that was the
best place for him, sir."
"It is," I agreed. "Keep him there as long as you can. I'll come in
during the day, if possible; in any event, Mr. Godfrey and I will be
there this evening. Call me at the office, if you need me for
"Very good, sir," said Parks again, and I hung up.
I glanced through Godfrey's account of the affair while I ate my
breakfast, and noted with amusement the sly digs taken at
Commissioner Grady. Under the photograph of the unknown woman was the
MR. VANTINE'S MYSTERIOUS CALLER
(Grady Please Notice)
And it was intimated that when Grady wanted any real information
about an especially puzzling case, he had to go to the _Record_ to
This, however, was merely by the way, for the story of the double
tragedy, fully illustrated, was flung across many columns, and was
plainly considered the great news feature of the day.
I glanced at two or three other papers on my way down-town. All of
them featured the tragedy with a riot of pictures--pictures of
d'Aurelle and Vantine, of Grady (very large), of Simmonds, of
Goldberger, of Freylinghuisen, of the Vantine house, diagrams of the
ante-room showing the position in which the bodies were found,
anatomical charts showing the exact nature of the wounds, pictures of
the noted poisoners of history with a highly-coloured list of their
achievements--but, when it came to the story of the tragedy itself,
their accounts were far less detailed and intimate than that in the
_Record_. They were, indeed, for the most part, mere farragos of
theories, guesses, blood-curdling suggestions, and mysterious hints
of important information confided to the reporters but withheld from
the public until the criminal had been run to earth. That this would
soon be accomplished not a single paper doubted, for had not Grady,
the mighty Grady, taken personal charge of the case? (Here followed a
glowing history of Grady's career.)
It was evident enough that all these reporters had been compelled to
go to Grady for their information, and I could fancy them damning him
between their teeth as they penned these panegyrics. I could also
fancy their city editors damning as they compared these incoherent
imaginings with the admirable and closely-written story in the
_Record_, and I suspected that it was the realisation of the
_Record's_ triumph which had caused the descent of the phalanx of
reporters upon the Vantine place.
I went over the whole affair with Mr. Royce, as soon as he reached
the office, and spent the rest of the day arranging the papers
relating to Vantine's affairs and getting them ready to probate.
Parks called me up once or twice for instructions as to various
details, and Vantine's nearest relative, a third or fourth cousin,
wired from somewhere in the west that he was starting for New York at
once. And then, toward the middle of the afternoon, came the
cablegram from Paris which I had almost forgotten to expect:
"Royce & Lester, New York.
"Regret mistake in shipment exceedingly. Our representative will
call to explain.
"Armand et Fils."
So there was an end of the romance Godfrey had woven, and which I had
been almost ready to believe--the romance of design, of a carefully
laid plot, and all that. It had been merely accident, after all. And
I smiled a little sarcastically at myself for my credulity. No doubt
my own romance of a secret drawer and a poisoned mechanism would
prove equally fabulous. In my over-wrought state of the night before,
it had seemed reasonable enough; but here, in the cold light of day,
it seemed preposterous. How Grady and Goldberger would have laughed
I put the whole thing impatiently away from me, and turned to other
work; but I found I could not conquer a certain deep-seated
nervousness; so at last I locked my desk, told the boy I would not be
back, and took a cab for a long drive through the park. The fresh
air, the smell of the trees, the sight of the children playing along
the paths, did me good, and I was able to greet Godfrey with a smile
when he called for me at seven o'clock.
"I've engaged a table at a little place around the corner," he said.
"It is managed by a friend of mine, and I think you'll like it."
I did. Indeed, the dinner was so good that it demanded undivided
attention, and not until the coffee was on the table and the cigars
lighted did we speak of the business which had brought us together.
"Anything new?" I asked, as we pushed back our chairs.
"No, nothing of any importance. The man at the morgue has not been
identified. In the first place, the Paris police have never taken his
"Then he's not a criminal?"
"He has never been arrested," Godfrey qualified. "More peculiar is
the fact that he hasn't been recognised here. Two million people,
probably, saw his photograph in the papers this morning. Some of
them thought they knew him and went around to the morgue to see his
body, but nothing came of it. The police have no report of any such
"That _is_ peculiar, isn't it!" I commented.
"It's very peculiar. It means one of two things--either the fellow's
friends are keeping dark purposely, or he didn't have any friends,
here in New York, at least. But even then, one would think that
whoever rented him a room would wonder what had become of him, and
would make some inquiries."
"Perhaps he hadn't rented a room," I suggested. "Perhaps he had just
reached New York, and went direct to Vantine's."
Godfrey's face lighted up.
"From the steamer, of course! I ought to have guessed as much from
the cut of his hair. He hasn't been out of France more than ten days
or so. Excuse me a moment."
He hurried away, and five minutes passed before he came back.
"I 'phoned the office to send some men around to the boats which came
in yesterday. If he was a passenger, some one of the stewards will
recognise his photograph. There were three boats he might have come
on--the _Adriatic_ and _Cecelie_ from Cherbourg, and _La Touraine_
from Havre. There is nothing else that I know of," he added
thoughtfully, "except that Freylinghuisen thinks he has discovered
the nature of the poison. He says it is some very powerful variant of
"Yes," I said, "I heard him say something of the sort last night."
"I had a talk with him this afternoon about it, and he was quite
learned," Godfrey went on. "This is a great chance for him to get
before the public, and he's making the most of it. I gathered from
what he said that ordinary prussic acid, which is deadly enough,
heaven knows, contains only two per cent. of the poison; while the
strongest solution yet obtained contains only four per cent.
Freylinghuisen says that whoever concocted this particular poison has
evidently discovered a new way of doing it--or rediscovered an old
way--so that it is at least fifty per cent. effective. In other
words, if you can get a fraction of a drop of it in a man's blood,
you kill him by paralysis quicker than if you put a bullet through
"Nothing can save a man, then?" I questioned.
"Nothing on earth. Oh, I don't say that if somebody had an axe handy
and chopped your arm off at the shoulder an instant after you were
struck on the hand, you mightn't have a chance to live; but it would
take mighty quick work, and even then, it would be nip and tuck.
Freylinghuisen thinks it is a new discovery. I don't. I think some
one has dug up one of the old Medici formulae. Maybe it was placed in
the secret drawer, so that there would never be any lack of
ammunition for the mechanism."
"Godfrey," I said, "are you still bent on fooling with that thing?"
"More than ever; I'm going to find that secret drawer. And if the
fangs strike--well, I'm ready for them. See here what I had made
He drew from his pocket something that looked like a steel gauntlet,
such as one sees on suits of old armour. He slipped it over his right
"You see it covers the back of the hand completely," he said, "half
way down the first joint of the fingers. It is made of the toughest
steel and would turn a bullet. And do you see how it is depressed in
the middle, Lester?"
"Yes," I said, "I was wondering why you had it made in that shape."
"I want to get a sample of that poison. My theory is that when the
fangs strike the hand, the shock drives out a drop or two of the
poison. I don't want those drops to get away; I want them to roll
into this depression, and I shall very carefully bottle them. Think
what they are, Lester--the poison of the Medici!"
I sat for a moment looking at him, half in amusement, half in sorrow.
It seemed a pity that his theory must come tumbling down, it was so
picturesque, and he was so interested and enthusiastic over it. And
it would make such a good story! He caught my glance, and put the
gauntlet back into his pocket.
"Well, what is it?" he asked quietly.
For answer, I got out the cablegram and passed it across to him. He
read it with brows contracted.
"That seems to put a puncture in our little romance, doesn't it?" I
asked, at last.
He nodded thoughtfully.
"Yes, it does," and he read the message again, word by word.
"Armand's man hasn't called yet?"
"No, I didn't get the message till about three o'clock. I suppose
he'll be around to-morrow."
"You will have to turn the cabinet over to him, of course?"
"Why, yes, it belongs to him. At least, it doesn't belong to
He slipped the message into its envelope and handed it back to me. I
could see that he was perplexed and upset.
"Well, in spite of this," he said finally, "I am still interested in
that cabinet, Lester, and I wish you would keep possession of it as
long as you can. At least, I wouldn't give it up until he delivered
to you the other cabinet which Vantine really bought."
"Oh, I'll make him do that," I agreed quickly. "That will no doubt
take a few days--longer than that if Vantine's cabinet is in Paris."
Godfrey raised a finger to the waiter, asked for the check, and paid
"And now let us go down and have a look at this one," he said, "as we
intended doing. You will think me foolish, Lester, but even that
cablegram hasn't shaken my belief in the existence of that secret
"And all the rest?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered slowly, "and all the rest." He said nothing more
until we stopped before the Vantine house, but I could see, from his
puckered brows, how desperately he was trying to untangle this quirk
in the mystery.
"The siege seems to have been lifted," I remarked, as we alighted.
"Parks telephoned me that your esteemed contemporaries had the place
surrounded. I told him to hold the fort!"
"Poor boys!" he commented, smiling. "To think that all they know is
what Grady is able to tell them!" Then he stopped before the house
and made a careful survey of it.
"Which room is the cabinet in?" he asked.
"The ante-room is there at the left where those two shuttered windows
are. The cabinet is in the corner room--there is one window on this
side and two on the other."
"Wait till I take a look at them," he said, and, vaulting the low
railing, he walked quickly along the front of the house and around
the corner. He was gone only a minute. "They're all right," he said,
in a tone of relief.
"Of course they're all right. You didn't suppose--"
"If that cabinet contains what I thought it did, Lester--yes," he
added, a little savagely, as he saw my look, "and what I still think
it does--it wouldn't be safe in the strongest vault of the National
City Bank," and he motioned for me to ring the bell.
I did so, in silence.
Parks answered it almost instantly, and I could tell from the way his
face changed how glad he was to see me.
"Well, Parks," I said, as we stepped inside, "everything is all
right, I hope?"
"Yes, sir," he answered. "But--but it gets on the nerves a little,
I heard a movement behind me, as I gave Parks my coat, and turned to
see Rogers sitting on the cot.
"Hello," I said, "so you're able to be up, are you?"
"Yes, sir," he answered, without looking at me. "I thought I'd come
down and keep Parks company."
Parks smiled a little sheepishly.
"I asked him to, Mr. Lester," he said. "I got so lonesome and jumpy
here by myself that I just had to have somebody to talk to.
Especially, after the burglar-alarm rang."
"The burglar-alarm?" repeated Godfrey quickly. "What do you mean?"
"We've got a burglar-alarm on the windows, sir. It's usually turned
off in the day-time, but I thought I'd better leave it on to-day, and
it rang about the middle of the afternoon. I thought at first that
one of the other servants had raised a window, but none of them had.
Something went wrong with it, I guess."
"Did you take a look at the windows?" I asked.
"Yes, sir; a policeman came to see what was the matter and we went
around and examined the windows, but they were all locked. It made me
feel kind of scary for a while."
"Does the alarm work now?"
"No, sir; the policeman said there must be a short circuit somewhere,
and that he'd notify the people who put it in; but nobody has come
around yet to fix it"
"We'd better take a look at the windows, ourselves," said Godfrey.
"You stay here, Parks. We can find them, all right; and I don't want
you to leave that door unguarded for a single instant."
We went from window to window, and Godfrey examined each of them with
a minuteness that astonished me, for I had no idea what he expected
to find. But we completed the circuit of the ground floor without his
apparently discovering anything out of the way.
"Let's take a look at the basement," he said, and led the way
downstairs with a readiness which told me that he had been over the
In the kitchen, we came upon the cook and housemaid sitting close
together and talking in frightened whispers. They watched us
apprehensively, and I stopped to reassure them, while Godfrey
proceeded with his search. Then I heard him calling me.
I found him in a kind of lumber-room, standing before its single
small window, his electric torch in his hand.
"Look there," he said, his voice quivering with excitement, and threw
a circle of light on the jamb of the window at the spot where the
upper and lower sashes met.
"What is it?" I asked, after a moment. "I don't see anything wrong."
"You don't? You don't see that this house was to be entered to-night?
Then what does this mean?"
With his finger-nail, he turned up the end of a small insulated wire.
And then I saw that the wire had been cut.
THE BURNING EYES
For an instant, I did not grasp the full significance of that severed
wire. Then I understood.
"Yes," said Godfrey drily, "that romance of mine is looking up again.
Somebody was preparing for a quiet invasion of the house to-night
--somebody, of course, interested in that cabinet."
"He wasn't losing any time," I ventured.
"He knew he hadn't any to lose. When you put those wooden shutters
up, you warned him that you suspected his game. He knew, if the alarm
was on, it would ring when he cut the wire, but he also knew that the
chances were a hundred to one against the cut being discovered, or
the alarm put in working order, before to-morrow."
"Why can't we ambush him?" I suggested.
"We might try, but it will be a mighty risky undertaking, Lester."
"One risky undertaking is enough for to-night," I said, with a sigh,
for my belief in the existence of the secret drawer and the poison
and all the rest of it had come back with a rush. I felt almost
apologetic toward Godfrey for ever doubting him. "We'd better wait
and see if we survive the first one before we arrange for any more."
"All right," Godfrey laughed. "But I'll fix this break."
He got out his pen-knife, loosened two or three of the staples which
held the wire in place, drew it out, scraped back the insulation, and
twisted the ends tightly together.
"There," he added, "that's done. If the invader tampers with the
window again, he will set off the alarm. But I don't believe he'll
touch it. I fancy he already knows his little game is discovered."
"How would he know it?" I demanded, incredulously.
"If he is keeping an eye on this window, as he naturally would do, he
has seen my light. Perhaps he is watching us now."
I glanced at the dark square of the window with a little shiver. This
business was getting on my nerves again. But Godfrey turned away with
a shrug of the shoulders.
"Now for the cabinet," he said, and led the way back upstairs.
Rogers was still sitting dejectedly on the cot, and, looking at him
more closely, I could see that he was white and shaken. His trouble,
whatever its nature, plainly lay heavy on his mind.
"Have you anything to tell us, this evening, Rogers?" I asked,
kindly, but he only shook his head.
"I've told you everything I know, sir," he answered, in a low voice.
"I'm not going to worry you, Rogers," I went on, "but I want you to
think it over. You can rely upon me to help you, if I can."
He looked up quickly, but caught himself, and turned his eyes away.
"Thank you, sir," was all he said.
"And now," I added, briskly, "I'll have to ask you to get up. Move
the cot away from the door, Parks."
Parks obeyed me with astonished face.
"You're not going in there, sir!" he protested, as I turned the knob.
"Yes, we are," I said, and opened the door. "Is--is...."
"No, sir," broke in Parks, understanding. "The undertakers brought
the coffin and put him in it and moved him over to the drawing-room
this afternoon, sir."
"I'm glad of that. I want all the lights lit, Parks, just as they
were last night."
Parks reached inside the door and switched on the electrics. Then he
went away, came back in a moment with a taper, and proceeded to light
the gas-lights. A moment later, the lights in the inner room were
"There you are, sir," said Parks, and retreated to the door. "Will
you need me?"
"Not now. But wait in the hall outside. We may need you." I had a
notion to tell him to have an axe handy, but I saw Godfrey smiling.
"Very good, sir," said Parks, evidently relieved, and went out and
closed the door.
I led the way into the inner room.
"Well, there it is," I said, and nodded toward the Boule cabinet,
standing in the full glare of the light, every inlay and incrustation
glittering like the eyes of a basilisk. "It isn't too late to give it
"Oh, yes, it is," he said, coolly, removing his coat "It was too late
the moment you told me that story. Why, Lester, if I gave it up, I
should never sleep again!"
"And if you don't, you may never wake again," I pointed out.
He laughed lightly.
"What a dismal prophet you are! Draw up a chair and watch me."
He pulled back his shirt-sleeves, and placed his electric torch on
the floor beside the cabinet. Then he paused with folded arms to
contemplate this masterpiece of M. Boule.
"It _is_ a beauty," he said, at last, and then drew out the little
drawers, one after another, looked them over, and placed them
carefully on a chair. "Now," he added, "let us see if there is any
space that isn't accounted for."
He took from his pocket a folding rule of ivory, opened it, and began
a series of measurements so searching and intricate that half an hour
passed without a word being spoken. Then he pulled up another chair,
and sat down beside me.
"I seem to be pretty much up against it," he said, "no doubt just as
the designer of the cabinet would wish me to be. The whole bottom of
the desk is inclosed, and those three little drawers take up only a
small part of the space. Then the back of the cabinet seems to be
double--at least, there's a space of three inches I can't account
for. So there's room for a dozen secret drawers, if the Montespan
required so many. And now to find the combination."
He adjusted the steel gauntlet carefully to his right hand and sat
down on the floor before the cabinet.
"I'll begin at the bottom," he said. "If there is any spot I miss,
tell me of it."
He ran his fingers up and down the graceful legs, carefully feeling
every inequality of the elaborate bronze ornamentation. Particularly
did his fingers linger on every boss and point, striving to push it
in or move it up or down; but they were all immovable. Then he
examined the bottom of the table minutely, using his torch to
illumine every crevice; but again without result.
Another half hour passed so, and when at last he came out from under
the table, his face was dripping with sweat.
"It's trying work," he said, sitting down again and mopping his face.
"But isn't it a beauty, Lester? The more I look at it, the more
wonderful it seems."
"I told Philip Vantine I wasn't up to it, and I'm not," I said.
"Nor I, but I can appreciate it to the extent of my capacity. It's
the Louis Fourteenth ideal of beauty--splendour carried to the nth
degree. Look at the arabesques along the front--can you imagine
anything more graceful? And the engraving--nothing cut-and-dried
about that. It was done by a burin in the hands of a master--perhaps
by Boule himself. I don't wonder Vantine was rather mad about it. But
we haven't found that drawer yet," and he drew his chair close to the
"I'd point out one thing to you, Godfrey," I said: "if you go on
poking about with the fingers of both hands, as you've been doing,
you are just as apt to get struck on the left hand as on the right."
"That's true," he agreed. "Stop me if I forget."
There were three little drawers in the front of the table, and these
Godfrey had removed. He inserted his hand into the space from which
he had taken them, and examined it carefully. Then, inch by inch, he
ran his fingers over the bosses and arabesques with which the sides
and top of the table were incrusted. It seemed to me that, if the
secret drawer were anywhere, it must be somewhere in this part of the
cabinet, and I watched him with breathless interest. Once I thought
he had found the drawer, for a piece of inlay at the side of the
table seemed to give a little under the pressure of his fingers; but
no hidden spring was touched; no drawer sprang open; no poisoned
"Well," said Godfrey, sitting back in his chair at last, and wiping
his face again, "there's so much done. If there is any secret drawer
in the lower part of the cabinet, it is mighty cleverly concealed.
Now we'll try the upper part."
The upper part of the cabinet consisted of a series of drawers,
rising one above the other, and terminated by a triangular pediment,
its tympanum ornamented with some beautiful little bronzes. The
drawers themselves were concealed by two doors, opening in the
centre, and covered with a most intricate design of arabesqued
"If there is a secret drawer here," said Godfrey, "it is somewhere in
the back, where there seems to be a hollow space. But to discover the
He ran his fingers over the inlay, and then, struck by a sudden
thought, tested each of the little figures along the tympanum, but
they were all set solidly in place.
"There's one thing sure," he said, "the combination, whatever it is,
is of such a nature that it could not be discovered accidentally--by
a person leaning on the cabinet, for instance. It isn't a question of
merely touching a spring; it is probably a question of releasing a
series of levers, which must be worked in a certain order, or the
drawer won't open. I'm afraid we are up against it."
"I can't pretend I'm sorry," I said, with a sigh of relief. "As far
as I am concerned, I'm perfectly willing that the drawer should go
"Well, I am not!" retorted Godfrey, curtly, and he sat regarding the
cabinet with puckered brows. Then he rose and began tapping at the
I don't know what it was--for I was conscious of no noise--but some
mysterious attraction drew my eyes to the window at the farther side
of the room. Near the top of the wooden shutter, which Parks and I
had put in place, was a small semi-circular opening, to allow the
passage of a little light, perhaps, and peering through this opening
were two eyes--two burning eyes....
They were fixed upon Godfrey with such feverish intentness that they
did not see my glance, and I lowered my head instantly.
"Godfrey," I said, in a shaking voice, "don't look up; don't move
your head; but there is some one peering through the hole in the
shutter opposite us."
Godfrey did not answer for quite a minute, but kept calmly on with
his examination of the cabinet.
"Did he see you look at him?" he asked, at last.
"No, he was looking at you, with his eyes almost starting out of his
head. I never saw such eyes!"
"Did you see anything of his face?"
"No, the hole is too small. I fancy I saw the fingers of one hand,
which he had thrust through to steady himself."
"How high is the hole?"
"Near the top of the window."
Godfrey came back to his chair a moment later, sat down in it, and
passed his handkerchief slowly over his face. Then he leaned forward,
apparently to examine the legs of the cabinet.
"I saw him," he said. "Or, rather, I saw his eyes. Rather fierce,
"They're a tiger's eyes," I said, with conviction.
"Well, there is no use going ahead with this while he is out there.
Even if we found the drawer, we'd both be dead an instant later."
"You mean he'd kill us?"
"He would shoot us instantly. Imagine what a sensation that would
make, Lester. Parks hears two pistol shots, rushes in and finds us
lying here dead. Grady would have a convulsion--and we should both
be famous for a few days."
"I'll seek fame in some other way," I said drily. "What are you going
to do about it?"
"We've got to try to capture him; and if we do--well, we shall have
the fame all right! But it's a good deal like trying to pick up a
scorpion--we're pretty sure to get hurt. If that fellow out there is
who I think he is, he's about the most dangerous man on earth."
He went on tapping the surface of the cabinet. As for me, I would
have given anything for another look at those gleaming eyes. They
seemed to be burning into me; hot flashes were shooting up and down
"Why can't I go out as though I were going after something," I
suggested. "Then Parks and I could charge around the corner and get
"You wouldn't get him, he'd get you. You wouldn't have a chance on
earth. If there is a window upstairs over that one, you might drop
something out on him, or borrow Parks's pistol and shoot him--"
"That would be pretty cowardly, wouldn't it?" I suggested, mildly.
"My dear Lester," Godfrey protested, "when you attack a poisonous
snake, you don't do it with bare hands, do you?"
I couldn't help it--I glanced again at the window....
"He's gone!" I cried.
Godfrey was at the window in two steps.
"Look at that!" he said, "and then tell me he isn't a genius!"
I followed the direction of his pointing finger and saw that, just
opposite the opening in the shutter, a little hole had been cut in
"That fellow foresees everything," said Godfrey, with enthusiasm. "He
probably cut that hole as soon as it was dark. He must have guessed
we were going to examine the cabinet to-night--and he wanted not only
to see, but to hear. He heard everything we said, Lester!"
"Let's go after him!" I cried, and, without waiting for an answer, I
sprang across the ante-room and snatched open the door which led into
Parks and Rogers were sitting on the couch just outside and I never
saw two men more thoroughly frightened.
"For God's sake, Mr. Lester!" gasped Rogers, and stopped, his hand at
"Is it Mr. Godfrey?" cried Parks.
"There's a man outside. Got your pistol, Parks?"
"Yes, sir," and he took it from his pocket.
I snatched it from him, opened the front door, leaped the railing,
and stole along the house to the corner.
Then, taking my courage in both hands, I charged around it.
There was no one in sight; but from somewhere near at hand came a
burst of mocking laughter.
GODFREY IS FRIGHTENED
I was still staring about me, that mocking laughter in my ears, when
Godfrey joined me.
"He got away, of course," he said coolly.
"Yes, and I heard him laugh!" I cried.
Godfrey looked at me quickly.
"Come, Lester," he said, soothingly, "don't let your nerves run away
"It wasn't my nerves," I protested, a little hotly. "I heard it quite
plainly. He can't be far away."
"Too far for us to catch him," Godfrey retorted, and, torch in hand,
proceeded to examine the window-sill and the ground beneath it.
"There is where he stood," he added, and the marks on the sill were
evident enough. "Of course he had his line of retreat blocked out,"
and he flashed his torch back and forth across the grass, but the
turf was so close that no trace of footsteps was visible.
We went slowly back to the house, and Godfrey sat down again to a
contemplation of the cabinet.
"It's too much for me," he said, at last. "The only way I can find
that drawer, I'm afraid, is with an axe. But I don't want to smash
the thing to pieces--"
"I should say not! It would be like smashing the Venus de Milo."
"Hardly so bad as that. But we won't smash it yet awhile. I'm going
to look up the subject of secret drawers--perhaps I'll stumble upon
something that will help me."
"And then, of course," I said, disconsolately, "it is quite possible
that there isn't any such drawer at all."
But Godfrey shook his head decidedly.
"I don't agree with you there, Lester. I'll wager that fellow who was
looking in at us could find it in a minute."
"He seemed mighty frightened lest you should."
"He had reason to be," Godfrey rejoined grimly. "I'll have another
try at it to-morrow. One thing we've got to take care of, and that is
that our friend of the burning eyes doesn't get a chance at it
"Those shutters are pretty strong," I pointed out. "And Parks is no
"Yes," agreed Godfrey, "the shutters are pretty strong--they might
keep him out for ten minutes--scarcely longer than that. As for
Parks, he wouldn't last ten seconds. You don't seem to understand the
extraordinary character of this fellow."
"During your period of exaltation last night," I reminded him, "you
referred to him as the greatest criminal of modern times."
"Well," smiled Godfrey, "perhaps that _was_ a little exaggerated.
Suppose we say one of the greatest--great enough, surely, to walk all
around us, if we aren't on guard. I think I would better drop a word
to Simmonds and get him to send down a couple of men to watch the
house. With them outside, and Parks on the inside, it ought to be
"I should think so!" I said. "One would imagine you were getting
ready to repel an army. Who is this fellow, anyway, Godfrey? You seem
to be half afraid of him!"
"I'm wholly afraid of him, if he's who I think he is--but it's a mere
guess as yet, Lester. Wait a day or two. I'll call up Simmonds."
He went to the 'phone, while I sat down again and looked at the
cabinet in a kind of stupefaction. What was the intrigue, of which it
seemed to be the centre? Who was this man, that Godfrey should
consider him so formidable? Why should he have chosen Philip Vantine
for a victim?
Godfrey came back while I was still groping blindly amid this maze of
"It's all right," he said. "Simmonds is sending two of his best men
to watch the house." He stood for a moment gazing down at the
cabinet. "I'm coming back to-morrow to have another try at it," he
added. "I have left the gauntlet there on the chair, so if you feel
like having a try yourself, Lester...."
"Heaven forbid!" I protested. "But perhaps I would better tell Parks
to let you in. I hope I won't find you a corpse here, Godfrey!"
"So do I! But I don't believe you will. Yes, tell Parks to let me in
whenever I come around. And now about Rogers."
"What about him?"
"I rather thought I might want to grill him to-night. But perhaps I
would better wait till I get a little more to go on." He paused for a
moment's thought. "Yes; I'll wait," he said, finally. "I don't want
to run any risk of failing."
We went out into the hall together, and I told Parks to admit
Godfrey, whenever he wished to enter. Rogers was still sitting on the
cot, looking so crushed and sorrowful that I could not help pitying
him. I began to think that, if he were left to himself a day or two
longer, he would tell all we wished to know without any grilling.
I confided this idea to Godfrey as we went down the front steps.
"Perhaps you're right," he agreed. "I don't believe the fellow is
really crooked. Something has happened to him--something in
connection with that woman--and he has never got over it. Well, we
shall have to find out what it was. Hello, here are Simmonds's men,"
he added, as two policemen stopped before the house.
"Is this Mr. Godfrey?" one of them asked.
"Yes," said Godfrey.
"Mr. Simmonds told us to report to you, sir, if you were here."
"What we want you to do," said Godfrey, "is to watch the house--watch
it from all sides--patrol clear around it, and see that no one
"Very well, sir," and the men touched their helmets, and one of them
went around to the back of the house, while the other remained in
"Perhaps if they concealed themselves," I suggested, "the fellow
might venture back and be nabbed."
But Godfrey shook his head.
"I don't want him to venture back," he said. "I want to scare him
off. I want him to see we're thoroughly on guard." He hailed a
passing cab, and paused with one foot on the step. "I've already told
you, Lester," he added, over his shoulder, "that I'm afraid of him.
Perhaps you thought I was joking, but I wasn't. I was never more
serious in my life. The _Record_ office," he added to the cabby, and
jingled away, leaving me staring after him.
As I turned homeward, I could not but ponder over this remarkable and
mysterious being with whom Godfrey was so impressed. Never before had
I known him to hesitate to match himself with any adversary; but now,
it seemed to me, he shunned the contest, or at least feared it
--feared that he might be outwitted and outplayed! How great a
compliment that was to the mysterious unknown only I could guess!
And then I shivered a little as I recalled that mocking and ironic
laughter. And I quickened my step, with a glance over my shoulder;
for if Godfrey was afraid, how much more reason had I to be! It was
with a sense of relief, of which I was a little ashamed, that I
reached my apartment at the Marathon and locked the door.
Just before I turned in for the night, I heard from Godfrey again,
for my telephone rang, and it was his voice that answered.
"I just wanted to tell you, Lester," he said, "that your guess was
right. The mysterious Frenchman came over on _La Touraine_, landing
at noon yesterday. He came in the steerage, and the stewards know
nothing about him. What time was it he got to Vantine's?"
"About two, I should say."
"So he probably went directly there from the boat, as you thought.
That accounts for nobody knowing him. The steamship company is
holding a bag belonging to him. I'll get them to open it to-morrow,
and perhaps we shall find out who he was."
"But, Godfrey," I broke in, "how about this other fellow--the man
with the burning eyes? He's getting on my nerves!"
"Don't let him do that, Lester!" he laughed. "We're in no danger so
long as we are not around that cabinet! That's the storm centre! I
can't tell you more than that. Good-night!" and he hung up without
waiting for me to answer.
A DISTINGUISHED CALLER
It was shortly after I reached the office, next morning, that the
office-boy came in and handed me a card with an awed and reverent air
so at variance with his usual demeanour that I glanced at the square
of pasteboard in some astonishment. Then, I confess, an awed and
reverent feeling crept over me, also, for the card bore the name of
That name is quite unknown outside the legal profession of the three
great cities of the east, New York, Boston and Philadelphia; for
Sereno Hornblower has never held a public office, has never made a
public speech, has never responded to a toast, has never served on a
public committee, has never, so far as I know, conducted a case in
court or addressed a jury--has never, in a word, figured in the
newspapers in any way; and yet his income would make that of any
other lawyer in the country look like thirty cents.
For Sereno Hornblower is the confidential attorney of most of our
"best families." He has held that position for years, and it is said
that no case placed unreservedly in his hands ever resulted in a
public scandal. He accepts clients with great care; he has
steadfastly refused the business of Pittsburgh millionaires,
remunerative as it was certain to be; but he seems to take a sort of
personal pride in keeping intact the reputations of the old families,
even when their scions embark in the most outrageous escapades. If
you are descended from the Pilgrims or the Patroons, Mr. Hornblower
will ask no further recommendation.
His reputation for tact and delicacy is tremendous; and yet those who
have found themselves opposed to him have never been long in
realising that there was a most redoubtable mailed fist under the
velvet glove. Altogether a remarkable man, whose memoirs would make
absorbing reading, could he be persuaded to write them--which is
quite beyond the bounds of possibility. I had never met him either
professionally or personally, and it was with some eagerness that I
told the office-boy to show him in at once.
Sereno Hornblower did not look the part. His reputation led one to
expect a sort of cross between Uriah Heep and Sherlock Holmes, but
there was nothing secretive or insinuating about his appearance. He
was a bluff and hearty man of middle age, rather heavy-set,
fresh-faced and clean-shaven, and with very bright blue eyes--evidently
a man with a good digestion and a comfortable conscience. Had I met him
on Broadway, I should have taken him for a ripe and finished
comedian. There was about him an air which somehow reminded me of
Joseph Jefferson--perhaps it was his bright blue eyes. It may have
been this very appearance of bluff sincerity and honest downrightness
which accounted for his success.
We shook hands, and he sat down and plunged at once, without an
instant's hesitation, into the business which had brought him.
Looking back at it, understanding as I do now the delicate nature of
that business, I admire more and more that bluff readiness; though
the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that he had thought
out definitely beforehand precisely what he was going to say. The man
who can carry through a carefully premeditated scene with an air of