Part 3 out of 5
complete unpremeditation has an immense advantage.
"Mr. Lester," he began, "I understand that you are the administrator
of the estate of the late Philip Vantine?"
"Our firm is," I corrected.
"But you, personally, have been attending to his business?"
"He was a collector of old furniture, I believe?"
"And on his last trip to Europe, from which he returned only a few
days ago, he purchased of Armand & Son, of Paris, a Boule cabinet?"
I could not repress a start of astonishment.
"Are you acting for Armand & Son?" I queried.
"Not at all. I am acting for a lady whom, for the present, we will
call Madame X."
The thought flashed through my mind that Madame X. and the mysterious
Frenchwoman might be one and the same person. Then I put aside the
idea as absurd. Sereno Hornblower would never accept such a client.
"Mr. Vantine did buy such a cabinet," I said.
"And it is in your possession?"
"There is at his residence a Boule cabinet which was shipped him from
Paris, but, only a few hours before his death, Mr. Vantine assured me
that it was not the one he had purchased."
"You mean that a mistake had been made in the shipment?"
"That is what we supposed, and a cablegram from Armand & Son has
since confirmed it."
Mr. Hornblower pondered this for a moment.
"Where is the cabinet which Mr. Vantine did buy?" he asked at last.
"I have no idea. Perhaps it is still in Paris. But I am expecting a
representative of the Armands to call very soon to straighten things
Again my companion fell silent, and sat rubbing his chin absently.
"It is very strange," he said, finally. "If the cabinet was still at
Paris, one would think it would have been discovered before my client
made inquiry about it."
"There are a good many things which are strange about this whole
matter," I supplemented.
"Would you have any objection to my client seeing this cabinet, Mr.
It was my turn to hesitate.
"Mr. Hornblower," I said, finally, "I will be frank with you. There
is a certain mystery surrounding this cabinet which we have not been
able to solve. I suppose you have read of the mysterious deaths of
Mr. Vantine and of an unknown Frenchman, both in the same room at the
Vantine house, and both apparently from the same cause?"
"Do you mean that this cabinet is connected with them in any way?" he
"We believe so; though as yet we have been able to prove absolutely
nothing. But we are guarding the cabinet very closely. I should not
object to your client seeing it, but I could not permit her to touch
it--not, at least, without knowing why she wished to do so. You will
remember that you have told me nothing of why she is interested in
"I am quite ready to tell you the story, Mr. Lester," he said. "It is
only fair that I should do so. After you have heard it, if you agree,
we will take Madame X. to see the cabinet."
"Very well," I assented.
He settled back in his chair, and his face became more grave.
"My client," he began, "is a member of a prominent American family--a
most prominent family. Three years ago, she married a French
nobleman. You can, perhaps, guess her name, but I should prefer that
neither of us utter it."
I nodded my agreement.
"This nobleman has been both prodigal and unfaithful. He has
scattered my client's fortune with both hands. He has flaunted his
mistresses in her face. He has even tried to compel her to receive
one of them. I am free to confess that I consider her a fool not to
have left him long ago. At last her trustees interfered, for her
father had been wise enough to place a portion of her fortune in
trust. They paid her husband's debts, placed him on an allowance, and
notified his creditors that his debts would not be paid again."
I had by this time, of course, guessed the name of his client, since
these details had long been a matter of public notoriety, and, I need
hardly say, listened to the story with a heightened interest.
"The allowance is a princely one," Mr. Hornblower continued, "but it
does not suffice Monsieur X. No allowance would suffice him--the more
money he had, the more ways he would find of spending it. So he has
become a thief. He has taken to selling the objects of art with which
his residences are filled, and which are really the property of my
client, since they were purchased with her money. About two weeks
ago, my client returned to Paris from a stay at her chateau in
Normandy to find that he had almost denuded the town house.
Tapestries, pictures, sculptures--everything had been sold. Among
other things which he had taken was a Boule cabinet, which had been
used by my client as her private writing-desk. The cabinet was a most
valuable one; but it is not its monetary value which makes my client
so anxious to recover it."
He paused an instant and cleared his throat, and I realised that he
was coming to the really delicate part of the story.
"Monsieur X. had had the decency," he went on, more slowly, "to, as
he thought, retain his wife's private papers. He had caused the
contents of the various drawers to be dumped out upon a chair. But
there was one drawer of which he knew nothing--a secret drawer, known
only to my client. That drawer contained a packet of letters which my
client is most anxious to regain. Of their nature, I will say
nothing--indeed, I know very little about them, for, after all, that
is none of my business. But she has given me to understand that their
recovery is essential to her peace of mind."
I nodded again; there was really no need that he should say more.
Only, I reflected, a faithless husband has no reason to complain if
his wife repays him in the same coin!
"My client went to work at once to regain the cabinet," continued Mr.
Hornblower, plainly relieved that the thinnest ice had been crossed.
"She found that it had been sold to Armand & Son. Hastening to their
offices, she learned that it had been resold by them to Mr. Vantine
and sent forward to him here. So she came over on the first boat,
ostensibly to visit her family, but really to ask Mr. Vantine's
permission to open the drawer and take out the letters. His death
interfered with this, and, in despair, she came to me. I need hardly
add, that no member of her family knows anything about this matter,
and it is especially important that her husband should never even
suspect it. On her behalf, I apply to you, as Mr. Vantine's executor,
to restore these letters to their owner."
I sat for a moment turning this extraordinary story over in my mind,
and trying to make it fit in with the occurrences of the past two
days. But it would not fit--at least, it would not fit with my theory
as to the cause of those occurrences. For, surely, Madame X. would
scarcely guard the secret of that drawer with poison!
"Does any one besides your client know of the existence of these
letters?" I asked, at last.
"I think not," answered Mr. Hornblower, smiling drily. "They are not
of a nature which my client would care to communicate to any one. In
fact, Mr. Lester, as you have doubtless suspected, they are
compromising letters. We must get them back at any cost."
"As a matter of fact," I pointed out, "there are always at least two
people who know of the existence of every letter--the person who
writes it and the person who receives it."
"I had thought of that, but the person who wrote these letters is
"Dead?" I repeated.
"He was killed in a duel some months ago," explained Mr. Hornblower,
"By Monsieur X.?" I asked quickly.
"By Monsieur X.," said Mr. Hornblower, and sat regarding me, his lips
pursed, as an indication, perhaps, that he would say no more.
But there was no necessity that he should. I knew enough of French
law and of French habits of thought to realise that if those letters
ever came into possession of Monsieur X., the game would be entirely
in his hands. His wife would be absolutely at his mercy. And the
thought flashed through my mind that perhaps in some way he had
learned of the existence of the letters, and was trying desperately
to get them. That thought was enough to swing the balance in his
"I am sure," I said, "that Mr. Vantine would instantly have consented
to your client opening the drawer and taking out the letters. And, as
his executor, I also consent, for, whoever may own the cabinet, the
letters are the property of Madame X. All this providing, of course,
that this should prove to be the right cabinet. But I must warn you,
Mr. Hornblower, that I believe two men have already been killed
trying to open that drawer," and I told him, while he sat there
staring in profound amazement, of my theory in regard to the death of
Philip Vantine and of the unknown Frenchman. "I am inclined to
think," I concluded, "that Vantine blundered upon the drawer while
examining the cabinet; but there is no doubt that the other man knew
of the drawer, and also, presumably, of its contents."
"Well!" exclaimed my companion. "I have listened to many astonishing
stories in my life, but never one to equal this. And you know nothing
of this Frenchman?"
"Nothing except that he came from Havre on _La Touraine_ last
Thursday, and drove from the dock direct to Vantine's house."
"My client also came on _La Touraine_--but that, no doubt, was a mere
"That may be," I agreed, "but it is scarcely a coincidence that both
he and your client were after the contents of that drawer."
"I mean that the mysterious Frenchman may very possibly have been an
emissary of Monsieur X. Madame may have betrayed the secret to him in
an unguarded moment."
Mr. Hornblower rose abruptly. He was evidently much disturbed.
"You may be right," he agreed. "I will communicate with my client at
once. I take it that she has your permission to see the cabinet; and,
if it proves to be the right one, that she may open the drawer and
remove the letters."
"If she cares to take the risk," I assented.
"Very well; I will call you as soon as I have seen her," he said. "In
any event, I thank you for your courtesy," and he left the office.
He must have driven straight to her family residence on the Avenue;
or perhaps she was awaiting him at his office; at any rate, he called
me up inside the half hour.
"My client would like to see the cabinet at once," he said. "She is
in a very nervous condition; especially since she learned that some
one else has tried to open the drawer. When will it be convenient for
you to go with us?"
"I can go at once," I said.
"Then we will drive around for you. We should be there in fifteen or
"Very well," I said, "I'll be ready. I shall, of course, want to take
a witness with me."
"That is quite proper," assented Mr. Hornblower. "We can have no
objection to that. In twenty minutes, then."
I got the _Record_ office as soon as I could, but Godfrey was not
there. He did not come on usually, some one said, until the middle of
the afternoon. I rang his rooms, but there was no reply. Finally I
called up the Vantine house.
"Parks," I said, "I am bringing up some people to look at that
cabinet. It might be just as well to get that cot out of the way and
have all the lights going?"
"The lights are already going, sir," he said.
"Already going? What do you mean?"
"Mr. Godfrey has been here for quite a while, sir, fooling with that
"He has!" and then I reflected that I ought to have guessed his
whereabouts. "Tell him, Parks, that I am bringing some people up to
see the cabinet, and that I should like him to stay there and be a
witness of the proceedings."
"Very well, sir," assented Parks.
"Oh, yes, sir; there was two policemen outside all night, and Rogers
and me inside."
"Mr. Hornblower's carriage is below, sir," announced the office-boy,
opening the door.
"All right," I said. "We are coming right up, Parks. Good-bye," and I
hung up and slipped into my coat.
Then, as I took down my hat, a sudden thought struck me.
If the unknown Frenchman was indeed an emissary of Monsieur X.,
Madame might be acquainted with him. It was a long shot, but worth
trying! I stepped to my desk, took out the photograph which Godfrey
had given me, and slipped it into my pocket. Then I hurried out to
THE VEILED LADY
There were three persons in the carriage. Mr. Hornblower sat with his
back to the horses, and two women were on the opposite seat. Both
were dressed in black and heavily veiled, but there was about them
the indefinable distinction of mistress and maid. It would be
difficult to tell precisely in what the distinction consisted, but it
was there. Mr. Hornblower glanced behind me as I entered.
"You spoke of a witness," he said.
"He is at the Vantine house," I explained, and sat down beside him.
"This is Mr. Lester," he said, and the veiled lady opposite him, whom
I had known at once to be the mistress, inclined her head a little.
Those were the only words spoken. The carriage rolled out to Broadway
and then turned northward, making such progress as was possible along
that crowded thoroughfare. I glanced from time to time at the women
opposite, and was struck by the contrast in their behaviour. One sat
quite still, her hands in her lap, her head bent, admirably
self-contained; the other was restless and uneasy, unable to control
a nervous twitching of the fingers. I wondered why the maid should
seem more upset than her mistress, and decided finally that her
uneasiness was merely lack of breeding. But the contrast interested
At Tenth Street, the carriage turned westward again, skirted
Washington Square, turned into the Avenue, and stopped before the
Vantine house. Mr. Hornblower assisted the women to alight, and I led
the way up the steps. But as we reached the top and came upon the
funeral wreath on the door, the veiled lady stopped with a little
"I did not know," she said, quickly. "Perhaps, after all, we would
better wait. I did not realise...."
"There are no relatives to be hurt, madame," I interrupted. "As for
the dead man, what can it matter to him?" and I rang the bell.
Parks opened the door, and, nodding to him, I led the way along the
hall and into the ante-room. Godfrey was awaiting us there, and I saw
the flame of interest which leaped into his eyes, as Mr. Hornblower
and the two veiled women entered.
"This is my witness," I said to the former. "Mr. Godfrey--Mr.
Godfrey bowed, and Hornblower regarded him with a good-humoured
"If I were not sure of Mr. Godfrey's discretion," he said, "I should
object. But I have tested it before this, and know that it can be
"There is only one person to whom I yield precedence in the matter of
discretion," rejoined Godfrey, smiling back at him, "and that is Mr.
Hornblower. He is in a class quite by himself."
"Thank you," said the lawyer, and bowed gravely.
During this interchange of compliments, the woman I had decided was
the maid had sat down, as though her legs were unable to sustain her,
and was nervously clasping and unclasping her hands; even her
mistress showed signs of impatience.
"The cabinet is in here," I said, and led the way into the inner
room, the two men and the veiled lady at my heels.
It stood in the middle of the floor, just as it had stood since the
night of the tragedy, and all the lights were going. As I entered, I
noticed Godfrey's gauntlet lying on a chair.
"Is it the right one, madame?" I asked.
She gazed at it a moment, her hands pressed against her breast.
"Yes!" she answered, with a gasp that was almost a sob.
I confess I was astonished. I had never thought it could be the right
one; even now I did not see how it could possibly be the right one.
"You are sure?" I queried incredulously.
"Do you think I could be mistaken in such a matter, sir? I assure you
that this cabinet at one time belonged to me. You permit me?" she
added, and took a step toward it.
"One moment, madame," I interposed. "I must warn you that in touching
that cabinet you are running a great risk."
"A great risk?" she echoed, looking at me.
"A very great risk, as I have pointed out to Mr. Hornblower. I have
reason to believe that two men met death while trying to open that
"I believe Mr. Hornblower did tell me something of the sort," she
murmured; "but of course that is all a mistake."
"Then the drawer is not guarded by poison?" I questioned.
"By poison?" she repeated blankly, and carried her handkerchief to
her lips. "I do not understand."
I knew that my theory was collapsing, utterly, hopelessly. I dared
not look at Godfrey.
"Is there not, connected with the drawer," I asked, "a mechanism
which, as the drawer is opened, plunges two poisoned fangs into the
hand which opens it?"
"No, Mr. Lester," she answered, astonishment in her voice, "I assure
you there is no such mechanism."
I clutched at a last straw, and a sorry one it was!
"The mechanism may have been placed there since the cabinet passed
from your possession," I suggested.
"That is, perhaps, possible," she agreed, though I saw that she was
"At any rate, madame," I said, "I would ask that, in opening the
drawer, you wear this gauntlet," and I picked up Godfrey's gauntlet
from the chair on which it lay. "It is needless that you should take
any risk, however slight. Permit me," and I slipped the gauntlet over
her right hand.
As I did so, I glanced at Godfrey. He was staring at the veiled lady
with such a look of stupefaction that I nearly choked with delight.
It had not often been my luck to see Jim Godfrey mystified, but he
was certainly mystified now!
The veiled lady regarded the steel glove with a little laugh.
"I am now free to open the drawer?" she asked.
She moved toward the cabinet, Godfrey and I close behind her. At last
the secret which had defied us was to be revealed. And with its
revelation would come the end of the picturesque and romantic theory
we had been building up so laboriously.
Instinctively, I glanced toward the shuttered window, but the
semi-circle of light was unobscured.
The veiled lady bent above the table and disposed the fingers of her
right hand to fit the metal inlay midway of the left side.
"It is a little awkward," she said. "I have always been accustomed to
using the left hand. You will notice that I am pressing on three
points; but to open the drawer, one must press these points in a
certain order--- first this one, then this one, and then this one."
There was a sharp click, and, at the side of the table, a piece of
the metal inlay fell forward.
"That is the handle," said the veiled lady, and, without an instant's
hesitation, while my heart stood still, she grasped it and drew out a
shallow drawer. "Ah!" and, casting aside the ridiculous gauntlet, she
caught up the packet of papers which lay within. Then, with an
effort, she controlled herself, slipped off the ribbon which held the
packet together, and spread out before my eyes ten or twelve
envelopes. "You will see that they are only letters, Mr. Lester," she
said in a low voice, "and I assure you that they belong to me."
"I believe you, madame," I said, and with a sigh of relief that was
almost a sob, she rebound the packet and slipped it into the bosom of
her gown. "There is one thing," I added, "which madame can, perhaps,
do for me."
"I shall be most happy!" she breathed.
"As I have told Mr. Hornblower," I continued, "two men died in this
room the day before yesterday. Or, rather, it was in the room beyond
that they died; but we believed it was here they received the wounds
which caused death. It seems that we were wrong in this."
"Undoubtedly," she agreed. "There has never been any such weird
mechanism as you described connected with that drawer, Mr. Lester. At
least, not since I have had it. There is a legend, you know, that the
cabinet was made for Madame de Montespan."
She was talking more freely now; evidently a great load had been
lifted from her--perhaps I did not guess how great!
"Mr. Vantine suspected as much," I said. "He was a connoisseur of
furniture, and there was something about this cabinet which told him
it had belonged to the Montespan. He was examining it at the time he
died. What the other man was doing, we do not know, but if we could
identify him, it might help us."
"You have not identified him?"
"We know nothing whatever about him, except that he was presumably a
Frenchman, and that he arrived on _La Touraine_, two days ago."
"That is the boat upon which I came over."
"It has occurred to me, madame, that you may have seen him--that he
may even be known to you."
"What was his name?"
"The card he sent in to Mr. Vantine bore the name of Theophile
She shook her head.
"I have never before heard that name, Mr. Lester."
"We believe it to have been an assumed name," I said; "but perhaps
you will recognise this photograph," and I drew it from my pocket and
handed it to her.
She took it, looked at it, and again shook her head. Then she looked
at it again, turning aside and raising her veil in order to see it
"There seems to be something familiar about the face," she said, at
last, "as though I might have seen the man somewhere."
"On the boat, perhaps," I suggested, but I knew very well it was not
on the boat, since the man had crossed in the steerage.
"No; it was not on the boat. I did not leave my stateroom on the
boat. But I am quite sure that I have seen him--and yet I can't say
"Perhaps," I said, in a low voice, "he may have been one of the
friends of your husband."
I saw her hand tremble under the blow, but it had to be struck. And
she was brave.
"The same thought occurred to me, Mr. Lester," she answered; "but I
know very few of my husband's friends; certainly not this one. And
yet.... Perhaps my maid can help us."
Photograph in hand, she stepped through the doorway into the outer
room. The maid was sitting on the chair where we had left her; her
hands clenched tightly together in her lap, as though it was only by
some violent effort she could maintain her self-control.
"Julie," said the veiled lady, in rapid French, "I have here the
photograph of a man who was killed in this room most mysteriously a
few days ago. These gentlemen wish to identify him. The face seems to
me somehow familiar, but I cannot place it. Look at it."
Julie put forth a shaking hand, took the photograph, and glanced at
it; then, with a long sigh, slid limply to the floor, before either
Godfrey or I could catch her.
As she fell, her veil, catching on the chair-back, was torn away;
and, looking down at her, a great emotion burst within me, for I
recognised the mysterious woman whose photograph d'Aurelle had
carried in his watch-case.
THE SECRET OF THE UNKNOWN FRENCHMAN
For a moment, I stood spell-bound, staring down at that jaded and
passion-stained countenance; then Godfrey sprang forward and lifted
the unconscious woman to the couch.
"Bring some water," he said, and as he turned and looked at me, I saw
that his face was glowing with excitement.
I rushed to the door and snatched it open. Rogers was standing in the
hall outside, and I sent him hurrying for the water, and turned back
into the room.
Godfrey was chafing the girl's hands, and the veiled lady was bending
over her, fumbling at the hooks of her bodice. Evidently she could
not see them, for, with a sudden movement, she put back her veil. My
heart warmed to her at that act of sacrifice; and after a single
glance at her, I turned away my eyes.
I saw Godfrey's start of recognition as he looked down at her; then
he, too, looked aside.
"Here's the water, sir," said Rogers, and handed me glass and
The next instant, his eyes fell upon the woman on the couch. He stood
staring, his face turning slowly purple; then, clutching at his
throat, he half-turned and fell, just as I had seen him do once
Hornblower, who was staring at the unconscious woman and mopping his
face feverishly, spun around at the crash.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he said, in a hoarse voice, as he saw Rogers
extended on the floor at his feet. "What's the matter with this
So great was the tension on my nerves that I could scarcely restrain
a shout of laughter. I turned it into a shout for Parks; but his
face, when he appeared on the threshold, was too much for me, and I
sank into a chair, laughing hysterically.
"For God's sake!" Parks began....
"It's all right," Godfrey broke in, sharply, "Rogers has had another
fit. Get the ammonia!"
Parks staggered away, and Mr. Hornblower sat down weakly.
"I don't see the joke!" he growled, glaring at me, his face crimson.
"Get a grip of yourself, Lester," said Godfrey, savagely, seized the
pitcher from my hand, and hurried with it to madame.
I _did_ get a grip of myself, and when Parks came back a moment later
with the ammonia, was able to hold up Rogers's head, while Parks
applied the phial to his nostrils.
"Give me a whiff of it, too, Parks," I said, unsteadily, and in an
instant my eyes were streaming; but I had escaped hysteria.
"Straighten Rogers out and let him lie there," I gasped, and sat
dizzily down upon the floor. But I dared not look at Hornblower. I
felt that another glance at his dazed countenance would send me off
Madame, meanwhile, had dashed some water into the face of the
unconscious Julie--much to the detriment of her complexion!--watched
her a moment, then stood erect and lowered her veil.
"She will soon be all right again," she said; and, truly enough, at
the end of a few seconds, the girl opened her eyes and looked dazedly
about her. Then a violent trembling seized her.
"What is it, Julie?" asked her mistress, taking her hand. "You knew
A hoarse sob was the only answer.
"You must tell me," went on madame, quietly but firmly. "Perhaps a
crime has been committed. You must tell me everything. You may rely
upon the discretion of these gentlemen. You knew this man?"
The girl nodded, and closed her eyes; but the hot tears brimmed from
them and ran down over her cheeks.
The girl nodded again.
"He was your lover?"
A third nod, and a fresh flood of tears.
"I remember, now," said madame, suddenly. "I saw him with her once.
What was he doing in this house?" she went on, more sternly. "Tell
"Madame will never forgive me!" sobbed the girl, and I began to think
that she was more concerned for herself than for her lover. The same
thought occurred to her mistress too, no doubt, for her voice
"Try me," she said. "Understand well, you must tell--if not here,
then before an officer of the police."
"Oh, no, no!" screamed Julie, sitting suddenly erect. "Never that! I
could not bear that! Madame would not be so cruel!"
"Then tell us now!" said the veiled lady, inexorably.
"Very well, madame!" cried the girl, dabbing at her eyes with her
handkerchief, and speaking in a mixture of French and English which I
shall not attempt to transcribe. "I will tell; I will tell
everything. After all, I was not to blame. It was that creature. I
did not love him--but I feared him. He possessed a power over me. He
could make me do anything. He even beat me! And still I went back to
"What was his name?" asked the veiled lady.
"Georges Drouet--he lived in the Rue de la Huchette, just off the Rue
Saint Jacques--on the top floor, under the gutters. He was bad--bad;
--he lived off women. I met him six months ago. He knew how to
fascinate one; I thought he loved me. Then he began to borrow money
from me, until he had taken all that I had saved; then my rings
--every one!" She held up her hands to show their bareness.
She stopped and glanced at her mistress.
"Continue!" said the latter. "Tell what you have to tell"
"I knew that madame also...."
She stopped again. I walked over to the window and stood staring at
the wooden shutter, strangely moved.
"Well, why not?" she demanded fiercely, and I felt that she was
addressing my turned back. "Why not? Shall a woman not be loved?
Shall a woman endure what madame endured...."
"That will do, Julie," broke in the veiled lady, her voice cold as
ice. "Tell your story."
"I knew of the secret drawer; I had seen madame open it; I knew what
it contained. But I was faithful to madame; I loved her; I was glad
that she had found some one.... Madame will remember her despair, her
horror, when she entered her room to find the cabinet gone, taken
away, sold by that.... I, too, was in despair--I desired with my
whole soul to help madame. That night I had a rendezvous with him,"
and she nodded toward the photograph which lay upon the floor. "I
Her mistress stood as though turned to stone. I could guess her
anguish and humiliation.
"He questioned me--he learned everything--the drawer, how it was
opened--all. But I did not suspect what was in his mind--not for an
instant did I suspect. But on the boat I saw him, and then I knew.
Well, he has got what he deserved!"
She shivered and pressed her hands against her eyes.
"I think that is all, madame," she added, hoarsely.
"It is all of that story," said Godfrey, in a crisp voice; "but there
"Another?" echoed the veiled lady, looking at him.
"Ask her, madame, for what purpose she called at this house, night
before last, and saw Philip Vantine in this room."
"I did not!" shrieked the girl, her face ablaze. "It is a lie!"
"She does not need to tell!" went on Godfrey inexorably. "Any fool
could guess. She came for the letters! She had resolved herself to
blackmail you, madame!"
"It is a lie!" shrieked the girl again. "I came hoping to save her
A storm of angry sobbing choked her.
I could see how the veiled lady was trembling. I placed a chair for
her, and she sank into it with a murmur of thanks.
"Besides, we have a witness to her visit," added Godfrey. "Shall I
call the police, madame?"
"No, no!" and the girl sat upright again, her face ghastly. "I will
tell. I will tell all. Give me but a moment!"
She sat there, struggling for self-control, her streaked and
grotesque countenance contorted with emotion. Then I saw her eyes
widen, and, glancing around, I saw that Rogers had dragged himself to
a sitting posture, and was staring at her, his face livid.
The sight of him seemed to madden her.
"It was you!" she shrieked, and shook her clenched fist at him. "It
was you who told! Coward! Coward!"
But Godfrey, his face very grim, laid a heavy hand upon her arm.
"Be still!" he cried. "He told us nothing! He tried to shield you
--though why he should wish to do so...."
Rogers broke in with a hollow and ghastly laugh.
"It was natural enough, sir," he said hoarsely. "She's my wife!"
PHILIP VANTINE'S CALLER
It was a sordid story that Rogers gasped out to us; and, as it
concerns this tale only incidentally, I shall pass over it as briefly
as may be.
Eight or ten years before, the fair Julie--at least, she was fairer
then than now!--had come to New York to enter the employ of a family
whose mistress had decided that life without a French maid was
unendurable. Rogers had met her, had been fascinated by her black
eyes and red lips, had, in the end, proposed honourable marriage
--quite unnecessarily, no doubt!--had been accepted, and for some
months had led an eventful existence as the husband of the siren.
Then, one morning, he awakened to find her gone.
He had, of course, entrusted his savings to her--that had been one
condition of the marriage!--and the savings were gone, also. Julie,
it seems, had been overcome with longing for the Paris asphalt; no
doubt, too, she had found herself ennuied by the lack of romance in
married life with Rogers; and she had flown back to France. Rogers
had thought of following; but, appalled at the difficulty of finding
her in Paris, not knowing what he should do if he did find her, he
had finally given it up, and had settled gloomily down to live upon
his memories. Some sort of affection for her had kept alive within
him, and when he opened the door of Vantine's house and found her
standing on the steps, he was as wax in her hands.
Julie had listened to all this indifferently, even disdainfully,
without denying anything, nor seeking to excuse herself. Perhaps the
idea that she needed excuse did not occur to her. And when the story
was finished, she was quite herself again; even a little proud, I
think, of holding the centre of the stage in the role of siren. It
was almost a rejuvenescence, and there was gratitude in the gaze she
turned on Rogers.
"This is all true, I suppose?" asked the veiled lady.
"All quite true, madame," answered Julie, with a shrug. "I was
younger then and the love of excitement was too strong for me. I am
older now, and have more sense--besides, I am no longer sought after
as I was."
"And so," said madame, with irony, "you are now, no doubt, willing to
return to your husband."
"I have been considering it, madame," replied Julie, with astounding
simplicity, "ever since I saw him here the other evening, and learned
that he still cared for me. One must have a harbour in one's old
I glanced at Rogers and was astonished to see that he was regarding
the woman with affectionate admiration. Evidently the harbour was
waiting, should Julie choose to anchor there.
"I have hesitated," she added, "only because of madame. Where would
madame get another maid such as I? No one but I can arrange her hair
--no one but I can prepare her bath...."
"We will discuss it," said the veiled lady, "when we are alone. And
now, perhaps, you will be so good as to tell us of your previous
"Very well, madame," and Julie settled into a more comfortable
posture. "It was one day on the boat as I was looking down at the
passengers of the third class that I perceived Georges--M. Drouet
--strolling about. I was _bouleversee_--what you call upset with
amazement, and then he looked up and our eyes met, and he came
beneath me and commanded that I meet him that evening. It was then
that I learned his plan. It was to secure those letters for himself
and to dispose of them."
"To whom?" asked Godfrey.
"To the person that would pay the greatest price for them, most
certainly," answered Julie, surprised that it should have been
thought necessary to ask such a question. "They were to be offered
first to madame at ten thousand francs each; should she refuse, they
were then to be offered to M. le Duc--he would surely desire to
The veiled lady shivered a little, and her hand instinctively sought
her bosom to assure herself that the precious packet was safe.
"That night," continued Julie, "in my cabin, I tossed and tossed,
trying to discover a way to prevent this; for I had seen long since
that M. Drouet no longer cared for me--I knew that it was upon some
other woman that money would be spent. I decided that, at the first
moment, I would hasten to this house; I would explain the matter to
M. Vantine, I would persuade him to restore to me the letters, with
which I would fly to madame. I knew, also, that I could rely upon her
gratitude," added the girl. "After all, one must provide for
She paused and glanced around the room, smiling at the interest in
"You have at least one virtue--that of frankness," said the veiled
"It was not until evening that I found an opportunity to leave
madame," Julie went on. "I hastened here; I rang the bell; but I
confess I should have failed, I should not have secured an entrance,
if it had not been that it was my husband who opened the door to me.
Even after I was inside the door, he refused to permit me to see his
master; but as we were debating together, M. Vantine himself came
into the hall, and I ran to him and begged that he hear me. It was
then that he invited me to enter this room."
She paused again, and a little shiver of expectancy ran through me.
At last we were to learn how Philip Vantine had met his death!
"I sat down," continued Julie. "I told him the story from the very
beginning. He listened with much interest; but when I proposed that
he should restore to me the letters, he hesitated. He walked up and
down the room, trying to decide; then he took me through that door
into the room beyond. The cabinet was standing in the centre of the
floor, and all the lights were blazing.
"'Is that the cabinet?' he asked me, and when I said that most
assuredly it was, he seemed surprised.
"'It is an easy thing to prove,' I said, and I went to the cabinet
and pressed on the three springs, as I had seen madame do. The little
handle at the side fell out, but suddenly he stopped me.
"'Yes, it is the cabinet,' he said. 'I see that. And no doubt the
drawer contains the letters, as you say. But those letters do not
belong to you. They belong to your mistress. I cannot permit that you
take them away, for, after all, I do not know you. You may intend to
make some bad use of them.'
"I protested that such a suspicion was most unjust, that my character
was of the best, that I was devoted to my mistress and desired to
protect her. He listened, but he was not convinced. In the end, he
brought me back into this room. I could have cried with rage!
"'Return to your mistress,' he said, 'and inform her that I shall be
most happy to return the letters to her. But it must be in her own
hands that I place them. The letters are here, whenever it pleases
her to claim them."
"I saw that it was of no use to argue further; he was of adamant. So
I left the house, he himself opening the door for me. And that is all
that I know, madame."
There was a moment's silence; then I heard Godfrey draw a deep
breath. I could see that, like myself, he was convinced that the girl
was telling the truth.
"Of course," he suggested gently, "as soon as you reached home you
related to your mistress what had occurred?"
Julie grew a little crimson.
"No, monsieur," she said, "I told her nothing."
"I should have thought you would have wished to prove your devotion,"
went on Godfrey, in his sweetest tone.
"I feared that, without the letters, she would misunderstand my
motives," said Julie, sullenly.
"And then, of course, without the letters, there would be no reward,"
Julie did not reply, but she looked very uncomfortable.
The veiled lady rose.
"Have you any further questions to ask her?" she said.
"No, madame," said Godfrey. "The story is complete."
Julie resumed her veil, shooting at Godfrey a glance anything but
friendly. The veiled lady turned to me and held out her hand.
"I thank you, Mr. Lester, for your kindness," she said. "Come,
Julie," and she moved toward the door, which Rogers hastened to open.
Mr. Hornblower nodded and passed out after them, and Godfrey and I
were left alone together.
We both sat down, and for a moment neither of us spoke.
"Well!" said Godfrey, at last. "Well! what a story it would make! And
I can't use it! It's a bitter reflection, Lester!"
"It would certainly shake the pillars of society," I agreed. "I'm
rather shaken myself."
"So am I! I was all at sea for a while--I was dumb with astonishment
when I heard you and the veiled lady talking about the secret drawer
--I could see you laughing at me! I don't know the whole story yet.
How did she happen to come to you?"
I told him of Hornblower's visit, of the story he told me, and of the
arrangement we had made. Godfrey nodded thoughtfully when I had
"The story is straight, of course," he said. "Hornblower would not be
engaged in anything tricky. Besides, I recognised the lady. I suppose
you did, too."
"Yes, I have seen pictures of her. And I admired her for putting back
"So did I. She has changed since the day of her wedding, Lester--she
was a smooth-faced girl, then! Three years of life with her duke have
left their mark on her!"
He fell silent, staring thoughtfully at the carpet. Then he shook
"And the maid's story was most interesting," he added. "Nevertheless,
there are still a number of things which are not quite clear to me."
"There is one thing I don't understand, myself," I said. "I hadn't
any idea this was the right cabinet. I didn't see how it could be."
"That's it, exactly. How did it happen, when the veiled lady went to
Armand & Son in Paris, that she was directed to Philip Vantine?
According to his own story, he did not purchase this cabinet; he had
never seen it before; it was presumably shipped him by mistake;
Armand & Son cable you that it was a mistake; and yet they cite
Vantine as the purchaser. There is something twisted somewhere,
Lester; just where I'll try to find out."
"Which reminds me that Armand's representative hasn't been around
yet. No doubt he can straighten the matter out."
"It won't do any harm to hear his story, anyway," Godfrey agreed.
"Now let's have a look at that drawer."
It was standing open as we had left it, and Godfrey pushed it back
into place, called my attention to the cunning way in which its
outline was concealed by the inlay about it. Then he worked the
spring, the handle fell into place, and he drew the drawer out again,
as far as it would come, and examined it carefully.
"The fellow who devised that was a genius," he said, admiringly,
pushing it back into place. "I wonder what its contents have been
from the days of Madame de Montespan down to the present? Love
letters, mostly, I suppose, since they are the things which need
concealment most. Don't you wish this drawer could tell its secrets,
"There is one I wish it would tell, if it knows it," I said. "I wish
it would tell who killed Philip Vantine. I suppose you will agree
with me that our pretty theory has got a knock-out blow, this time."
"It looks that way, doesn't it?"
"There is no poisoned mechanism about that drawer--that's sure," I
"No, and never has been," Godfrey agreed.
"And that leaves us all at sea, doesn't it? It leaves the whole
affair more mysterious than ever. I can't understand it," and I sat
down in my bewilderment and rubbed my head. I really felt for an
instant as though I had gone mentally blind. "There is one thing
sure," I added. "The killing, whatever its cause, was done out there
in the ante-room, not in here."
"What makes you think that?"
"We believe that Drouet came here to get Vantine's permission to open
this drawer and get the letters, no doubt representing himself as the
agent of their owner."
"I think it's a pretty good guess," said Godfrey, pensively.
"Our theory was that, after being shown into the ante-room, he
discovered the cabinet, tried to open the drawer, and was killed in
the attempt. But it is evident enough now that there is nothing about
that drawer to hurt any one."
"Yes, that's evident, I think," Godfrey agreed.
"If he had opened the drawer, then, he would have taken the letters,
since there was nothing to prevent him. Since they were not taken, it
follows, doesn't it, that he was killed before he had a chance at the
drawer? Perhaps he never saw the cabinet. He must have been killed
out there in the ante-room, a few minutes after Parks left."
"And how about Vantine?" Godfrey asked.
"I don't know," I said, helplessly. "He didn't want the letters--if
he opened the drawer at all, it was merely out of curiosity to see
how it worked. Only, of course, the same agency that killed Drouet,
killed him. Yes--and now that I think of it, it's certain he didn't
open the drawer, either."
"How do you know it's certain?"
"If he had opened the drawer," I pointed out, "and been killed in the
act of opening it, it would have been found open. I had thought that
perhaps it closed of itself, but you see that it does not. You have
to push it shut, and then snap the handle up into place."
"That's true," Godfrey assented, "and it sounds pretty conclusive. If
it is true of Vantine, it is also true of Drouet. The inference is,
then, that neither of them opened the drawer. Well, what follows?"
"I don't know," I said helplessly. "Nothing seems to follow."
"There is an alternative," Godfrey suggested.
"What is it?" I demanded.
"The hand that killed Drouet and Vantine may also have closed the
drawer," said Godfrey, and looked at me.
"And left the letters in it?" I questioned. "Surely not!"
He glanced at the shuttered window, and I understood to whom he
thought that hand belonged.
"Besides," I protested, "how would he get in? How would he get away?
What was he after, if he left the letters behind?" Then I rose
wearily. "I must be getting back to the office," I said. "This is
Saturday, and we close at two. Are you coming?"
"No," he answered; "if you don't mind, I'll sit here a while longer
and think things over, Lester. Perhaps I'll blunder on to the truth
ENTER M. ARMAND
I got back to the office to find that M. Felix Armand, of Armand et
Fils, had called, and, finding me out, had left his card with the
pencilled memorandum that he would call again Monday morning. There
was another caller, who had awaited my return--a tall, angular man,
with a long moustache, who introduced himself as Simon W. Morgan, of
Osage City, Iowa.
"Poor Philip Vantine's nearest living relative, sir," he added. "I
came as soon as possible."
"It was very good of you," I said. "The funeral will be at ten
o'clock to-morrow morning, from the house."
"You had a telegram from me?"
"Yes," I answered.
He hitched about in his chair uneasily for a moment. I knew what he
wanted to say, but saw no reason to help him.
"He left a will, I suppose?" he asked, at last.
"Oh, yes; we have arranged to probate it Monday. You can examine it
then, if you wish."
"Have you examined it?"
"I am familiar with its provisions. It was drawn here in the office."
He was pulling furiously at his moustache.
"Cousin Philip was a very wealthy man, I understand," he managed to
"Comparatively wealthy. He had securities worth about a million and a
quarter, besides a number of pieces of real property--and, of course,
the house he lived in. He owned a very valuable collection of art
objects--pictures, furniture, tapestries, and such things; but what
they are worth will probably never be known."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because he left them all to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Outside
of a few legacies to old servants, he left his whole fortune to the
I put it rather brutally, no doubt, but I was anxious to end the
Mr. Morgan's face grew very red.
"He did!" he ejaculated. "Ha--well, I have heard he was rather
"He was as sane as any man I ever knew," I retorted drily. And then I
remembered the doubts which had assailed me that last day, when
Vantine was fingering the Boule cabinet. But I kept those doubts to
"Ha--we'll have to see about that!" said my visitor, threateningly.
"By all means, Mr. Morgan," I assented heartily. "If you have any
doubt about it, you should certainly look into it. And now, if you
will pardon me, I have many things to do, and we close early to-day."
He got to his feet and went slowly out; and that was the last I ever
saw of him. I suppose he consulted an attorney, learned the hopeless
nature of his case, and took the first train back to Osage City. He
did not even wait for the funeral.
Few people, indeed, put themselves out for it. There was a sprinkling
of old family friends, representatives of the museum and of various
charities in which Vantine had been interested, a few friends of his
own, and that was all. He had dropped out of the world with scarcely
a ripple; of all who had known him, I dare say Parks felt his
departure most. For Vantine had been, in a sense, a solitary man; not
many men nodded oftener during a walk up the Avenue, and yet not many
dined oftener alone; for there was about him a certain self-detachment
which discouraged intimacy. He was a man, like many another, with
acquaintances in every country on the globe, and friends in none.
All this I thought over a little sadly, as I sat at home that night;
and not without some self-questioning as to my own place in the
world. Most of us, I think, are a little saddened when we realise our
unimportance; most of us, no doubt, would be a little shocked could
we return a day or two after our death and see how merrily the world
wags on! I would be missed, I knew, scarcely more than Vantine. It
was not a pleasant thought, for it seemed to argue some deficiency in
Then, too, the mystery of Vantine's death had a depressing effect
upon me. So long as there seemed some theory to build on, so long as
there was a ray of light ahead, I had hoped that the tragedy would be
explained and expiated; but now my theory had crumbled to pieces; I
was left in utter darkness, from which there seemed no way out. Never
before, in the face of any mystery, had I felt so blind and helpless,
and the feeling took such a grip upon me that it kept me awake for a
long time after I got to bed. It seemed, in some mysterious way, that
I was contending with a power greater than myself, a power
threatening and awful, which could crush me with a turn of the wrist.
Vantine's will was probated next morning. He had directed that his
collection of art objects be removed to the museum, and that the
house and such portion of its contents as the museum did not care for
be sold for the museum's benefit. I had already notified Sir Caspar
Purdon Clarke of the terms of the will, and the museum's attorney was
present when it was read. He stated that he had been requested to ask
me to remain in charge of things for a week or two, until
arrangements for the removal could be made. It would also be
necessary to make an inventory of Vantine's collection, and the
assistant director of the museum was to get this under way at once.
I acquiesced in all these arrangements, but I was feeling decidedly
blue when I started back to the office. Vantine's collection had
always seemed to me somehow a part of himself; more especially a part
of the house in which it had been assembled. It would lose much of
its beauty and significance ticketed and arranged stiffly along the
walls of the museum, and the thought came to me that it would be a
splendid thing for New York if this old house and its contents could
be kept intact as an object lesson to the nervous and hurrying
younger generation of the easier and more finished manner of life of
the older one; something after the fashion that the beautiful old
Plantin-Moretus mansion at Antwerp is a rebuke to those present-day
publishers who reckon literature a commodity, along with soap and
That, of course, it would be impossible to do; the last barrier to
the commercial invasion of the Avenue would be removed; that heroic
rear-guard of the old order of things would be destroyed; in a year
or two, a monster of steel and stone would rise on the spot where
three generations of Vantines had lived their lives; and the
collection, so unified and coherent, to which the last Vantine had
devoted his life, would be merged and lost in the vast collections of
the museum. It was a sad ending.
"Gentleman to see you, sir," said the office-boy, as I sat down at my
desk, and a moment later, M. Felix Armand was shown in to me.
I have only to close my eyes to call again before me that striking
personality, for Felix Armand was one of the most extraordinary men I
ever had the pleasure of meeting. Ruddy-faced, bright-eyed, with dark
full beard and waving hair almost jet black--hair that crinkled about
his ears in a way that I can describe by no other word than
fascinating--he gave the impression of tremendous strength and
virility. There was about him, too, an air of culture not to be
mistaken; the air of a man who had travelled much, seen much, and
mixed with many people, high and low; the air of a man at home
anywhere, in any society. It is impossible for me, by mere words, to
convey any adequate idea of his vivid personality; but I confess
that, from the first moment, I was both impressed and charmed by him.
And I am still impressed; more, perhaps, than at first, now that I
know the whole story--but you shall hear.
"I speak English very badly, sir," he said, as he sat down. "If you
"Not half so well as you speak English," I laughed. "I can tell that
from your first sentence."
"In that event, I will do the best that I can," he said, smiling,
"and you must pardon my blunders. First, Mr. Lester, on behalf of
Armand et Fils, I must ask your pardon for this mistake, so
"It _was_ a mistake, then?" I asked.
"One most embarrassing to us. We can not find for it an explanation.
Believe me, Mr. Lester, it is not our habit to make mistakes; we have
a reputation of which we are very proud; but the cabinet which was
purchased by Mr. Vantine remained in our warehouse, and this other
one was boxed and shipped to him. We are investigating most rigidly."
"Then Mr. Vantine's cabinet is still in Paris?"
"No, Mr. Lester; the error was discovered some days ago and the
cabinet belonging to Mr. Vantine was shipped to me here. It should
arrive next Wednesday on _La Provence_. I shall myself receive it,
and deliver it to Mr. Vantine."
"Mr. Vantine is dead," I said. "You did not know?"
He sat staring at me for a moment, as though unable to comprehend.
"Did I understand that you said Mr. Vantine is dead?" he stammered.
I told him briefly as much as I knew of the tragedy, while he sat
regarding me with an air of stupefaction.
"It is curious you saw nothing of it in the papers," I added. "They
were full of it."
"I have been visiting friends at Quebec," he explained, "It was there
that the message from our house found me, commanding me to hasten
here. I started at once, and reached this city Saturday. I drove here
directly from the station, but was so unfortunate as to miss you."
"I am sorry to have caused you so much trouble," I said.
"But, my dear Mr. Lester," he protested, "it is for us to take
trouble. A blunder of this sort we feel as a disgrace. My father, who
is of the old school, is most upset concerning it. But this death of
Mr. Vantine--it is a great blow to me. I have met him many times. He
was a real connoisseur--we have lost one of our most valued patrons.
You say that he was found dead in a room at his house?"
"Yes, and death resulted from a small wound on the hand, into which
some very powerful poison had been injected."
"That is most curious. In what manner was such a wound made?"
"That we don't know. I had a theory...."
"Yes?" he questioned, his eyes gleaming with interest.
"A few hours previously, another man had been found in the same room,
killed in the same way."
"A stranger who had called to see Mr. Vantine. My theory was that
both this stranger and Mr. Vantine had been killed while trying to
open a secret drawer in the Boule cabinet. Do you know anything of
the history of that cabinet, Monsieur Armand?"
"We believe it to have been made for Madame de Montespan by Monsieur
Boule himself," he answered. "It is the original of one now in the
Louvre which is known to have belonged to the Grand Louis."
"That was Mr. Vantine's belief," I said. "Why he should have arrived
at that conclusion, I don't know--"
"Mr. Vantine was a connoisseur," said M. Armand, quietly. "There are
certain indications which no connoisseur could mistake."
"It was his guess at the history of the cabinet," I explained, "which
gave me the basis for my theory. A cabinet belonging to Madame de
Montespan would, of course, have a secret drawer; and, since it was
made in the days of de Brinvilliers and La Voisin, what more natural
than that it should be guarded by a poisoned mechanism?"
"What more natural, indeed!" breathed my companion, and I fancied
that he looked at me with a new interest in his eyes. "It is good
reasoning, Mr. Lester."
"It seemed to explain a situation for which no other explanation has
been found," I said. "And it had also the merit of picturesqueness."
"It is unique," he agreed eagerly, his eyes burning like two coals of
fire, so intense was his interest. "I have been from boyhood," he
added, noticing my glance, "a lover of tales of mystery. They have
for me a fascination I cannot explain; there is in my blood something
that responds to them. I feel sometimes that I would have made a
great detective--or a great criminal. Instead of which, I am merely a
dealer in curios. You can understand how I am fascinated by a story
so outre as this."
"Perhaps you can assist us," I suggested, "for that theory of mine
has been completely disproved."
"Disproved? In what way?" he demanded.
"The secret drawer has been found...."
"_Comment?_" he cried, his voice sharp with surprise. "Found? The
secret drawer has been found?"
"Yes, and there was no poisoned mechanism guarding it."
He breathed deeply for an instant; then he pulled himself together
with a little laugh.
"Really," he said, "I must not indulge myself in this way. It is a
kind of intoxication. But you say that the drawer was found and that
there was no poison? Was the drawer empty?"
"No, there was a packet of letters in it."
"Delicious! Love letters, of a certainty! _Billets-doux_ from the
great Louis to the Montespan, perhaps?"
"No, unfortunately they were of a much more recent date. They have
been restored to their owner. I hope that you agree with me that that
was the right thing to do?"
He sat for a moment regarding me narrowly, and I had an uneasy
feeling that, since he undoubtedly knew of whom the cabinet had been
purchased, he was reconstructing the story more completely than I
would have wished him to do.
"Since the letters have been returned," he said, at last, a little
drily, "it is useless to discuss the matter. But no doubt I should
approve if all the circumstances were known to me. Especially if it
was to assist a lady."
"It was," I said, and I saw from his face that he understood.
"Then you did well," he said. "Has no other explanation been found
for the death of Mr. Vantine and of this stranger?"
"I think not. The coroner will hold his inquest to-morrow. He has
deferred it in the hope that some new evidence would be discovered."
"And none has been discovered?"
"I have heard of none."
"You do not even know who this stranger was?"
"Oh, yes, we have discovered that. He was a worthless fellow named
"Yes, living in an attic in the Rue de la Huchette, at Paris."
M. Armand had been gazing at me intently, but now his look relaxed,
and I fancied that he drew a deep breath as a man might do when
relieved of a burden. At the back of my brain a vague and shadowy
suspicion began to form--a suspicion that perhaps M. Armand knew more
of this affair than he had as yet acknowledged.
"You did not, by any chance, know him?" I asked carelessly.
"No, I think not. But there is one thing I do not understand, Mr.
Lester, and you will pardon me if I am indiscreet. But I do not
understand what this Drouet, as you call him, was doing in the house
of Mr. Vantine."
"He was trying to get possession of the letters," I said.
"Oh, so it was that!" and my companion nodded. "And in trying to get
those letters, he was killed?"
"Yes, but what none of us understands, M. Armand, is how he was
killed. Who or what killed him? How was that poison administered? Can
you suggest an explanation?"
He sat for a moment staring thoughtfully out of the window.
"It is a nice problem," he said, "a most interesting one. I will
think it over, Mr. Lester. Perhaps I may be able to make a
suggestion. I do not know. But, in any event, I shall see you again
Wednesday. If it is agreeable to you, we can meet at the house of Mr.
Vantine and exchange the cabinets."
"At what time?"
"I do not know with exactness. There may be some delay in getting the
cabinet from the ship. Perhaps it would be better if I called for
"Very well," I assented.
"Permit me to express again my apologies that such a mistake should
have been made by us. Really, we are most careful; but even we
sometimes suffer from careless servants. It desolates me to think
that I cannot offer these apologies to Mr. Vantine in person. Till
Wednesday, then, Mr. Lester."
"Till Wednesday," I echoed, and watched his erect and perfectly-garbed
figure until it vanished through the doorway. A fascinating
man, I told myself as I turned back to my desk, and one whom I
should like to know more intimately; a man with a hobby for the
mysteries of crime, with which I could fully sympathise; and I smiled
as I thought of the burning interest with which he had listened to
the story of the double tragedy. How naively he had confessed his
thought that he would have made a great detective--or a great
criminal; and here he was only a dealer in curios. Well, I had had
the same thought, more than once--and here was I, merely a
not-too-successful lawyer. Decidedly, M. Armand and myself had much
I PART WITH THE BOULE CABINET
The coroner's inquest was held next day, and my surmise proved to be
correct. The police had discovered practically no new evidence; none,
certainly, which shed any light on the way in which Drouet and Philip
Vantine had met death. Each of the witnesses told his story much as I
have told it here, and it was evident that the jury was bewildered by
the seemingly inextricable tangle of circumstances.
To my relief, Drouet's identity was established without any help from
me. The bag which he had left on the pier had been opened at the
request of the police and a card-case found with his address on it.
Why he had sent in to Vantine a card not his own, and what his
business with Vantine had been, were details concerning which the
police could offer no theory, and which I did not feel called upon to
explain, since neither in any way made clearer the mystery of his
An amusing incident of the inquest was the attempt made by
Goldberger to heckle Godfrey, evidently at Grady's suggestion.
"On the morning after the tragedy," Goldberger began sweetly, "you
printed in the _Record_ a photograph which you claimed to be that of
the woman who had called upon Mr. Vantine the night before, and who
was, presumably, the last person to see him alive. Where did you get
"It was a copy of one which Drouet carried in his watch-case,"
"Since then," pursued Goldberger, "you have made no further reference
to that feature of the case. I presume you found out that you were
"On the contrary, I proved that I was correct."
Goldberger's face reddened, and his look was not pleasant.
"'Prove' is rather a strong word, isn't it?" he asked.
"It is the right word."
"What was the woman's connection with the man Drouet?"
"She had been his mistress."
"You say that very confidently," said Goldberger, his lips curling.
"After all, it is merely a guess, isn't it?"
"I have reason to say it confidently," retorted Godfrey quietly,
"since the woman confessed as much in my presence."
Again Goldberger reddened.
"I suppose she also confessed that it was really she who called upon
Mr. Vantine?" he sneered.
"She not only confessed that," said Godfrey, still more quietly, "but
she told in detail what occurred during that visit."
"The confession was made to yourself alone, of course?" queried
Goldberger, in a tone deliberately insulting.
Godfrey flushed a little at the words, but managed to retain his
"Not at all," he said. "It was made in the presence of Mr. Lester and
of another distinguished lawyer whose name I am not at liberty to
Goldberger swallowed hard, as though he had received a slap in the
face. I dare say, he felt as though he had!
"This woman is in New York?" he asked.
"I believe so."
"What is her name and address?"
"I am not at liberty to answer."
Goldberger glared at him.
"You _will_ answer," he thundered, "or I'll commit you for contempt!"
Godfrey was quite himself again.
"Very well," he said, smiling. "I have not the slightest objection.
But I would think it over, if I were you. Mr. Lester will assure you
that the woman was in no way connected with the death either of
Drouet or of Mr. Vantine."
Goldberger did think it over; he realised the danger of trying to
punish a paper so powerful as the _Record_, and he finally decided to
accept Godfrey's statement as a mitigation of his refusal to answer.
"That is only one of the details which Commissioner Grady has
missed," Godfrey added, pleasantly.
"That will do," Goldberger broke in, and Godfrey left the stand.
I was recalled to confirm his story. I, also, of course, refused to
give the woman's name, explaining to Goldberger that I had learned it
professionally, that I was certain she had been guilty of no crime,
and that to reveal it would seriously embarrass an entirely innocent
woman. With that statement, the coroner was compelled to appear
Grady did not go on the stand; he was not even at the inquest. In
fact, since the first day, he had not appeared publicly in connection
with the case at all; and I had surmised that he did not care to be
identified with a mystery which there seemed to be no prospect of
solving, and from which no glory was to be won. The case had been
placed in Simmonds's hands, and it was he who testified on behalf of
the police, admitting candidly that they were all at sea. He had made
a careful examination of the Vantine house, he said, particularly of
the room in which the bodies had been found, and had discovered
absolutely nothing in the shape of a clue to the solution of the
mystery. There was something diabolical about it; something almost
supernatural. He had not abandoned hope, and was still working on the
case; but he was inclined to think that, if the mystery was ever
solved, it would be only by some lucky accident or through the
confession of the guilty man.
Goldberger was annoyed; that was evident enough from the nervous way
in which he gnawed his moustache; but he had no theory any more than
the police; there was not a scintilla of evidence to fasten the crime
upon any one; and the end of the hearing was that the jury brought in
a verdict that Philip Vantine and Georges Drouet had died from the
effects of a poison administered by a person or persons unknown.
Godfrey joined me at the door as I was leaving, and we went down the
"I was glad to hear Simmonds confess that the police are up a tree,"
he said. "Of course, Grady is trying to sneak out of it, and blame
some one else for the failure--but I'll see that he doesn't succeed.
I'll see, anyway, that Simmonds gets a square deal--he's an old
friend of mine, you know."
"Yes," I said, "I know; but we're all up a tree, aren't we?"
"For the present," laughed Godfrey, "we do occupy that undignified
position. But you don't expect to stay there forever, do you,
"Since my theory about the Boule cabinet exploded," I said, "I have
given up hope. By the way, I'm going to turn the cabinet over to its
"To its owner?" he repeated, his eyes narrowing. "Yes, I thought
he'd be around for it, though I hardly thought he'd come so soon. Who
does it happen to be, Lester?"
"Why," I said, a little impatiently, "you know as well as I do that
it belongs to Armand & Son."
"You've seen their representative, then?" he queried, a little flush
of excitement which I could not understand spreading over his face.
"He came to see me yesterday. I'd like you to meet him, Godfrey. He
is Felix Armand, the 'son' of the firm, and one of the most finished
gentlemen I ever met."
"I'd like to meet him," said Godfrey, smiling queerly. "Perhaps I
shall, some day; I hope so, anyway. But how did he explain the
"In some way, they shipped the wrong cabinet to Vantine. The right
one will get here on _La Provence_ to-morrow," and I told him in
detail the story which Felix Armand had told me. "He was quite upset
over it," I added, "His apologies were almost abject."
Godfrey listened intently to all this, and he nodded with
satisfaction when I had finished.
"It is all most interesting," he commented.
"Did M. Armand happen to mention where he is staying?"
"No, but he won't be hard to find, if you want to see him. He's at
one of the big hotels, of course--probably the Plaza or the St.
Regis. He's too great a swell for any minor hostelry."
"What time do you expect him to-morrow?"
"Sometime in the afternoon. He's to call for me as soon as he gets
Vantine's cabinet off the boat. Godfrey," I added, "I felt yesterday
when I was talking with him that perhaps he knew more about this
affair than he would admit. I could see that he guessed in an instant
who the owner of the letters was, and what they contained. Do you
think I ought to hold on to the cabinet a while longer? I could
invent some pretext for delay, easily enough."
"Why, no; let him have his cabinet," said Godfrey, with an alacrity
that surprised me. "If your theory about it has been exploded, what's
the use of hanging on to it?"
"I don't see any use in doing so," I admitted, "but I thought perhaps
you might want more time to examine it."
"I've examined it all I'm going to," Godfrey answered, and I told
myself that this was the first time I had ever known him to admit
"I have a sort of feeling," I explained, "that when we let go of the
cabinet, we give up the only clue we have to this whole affair. It is
like a confession of defeat."
"Oh, no, it isn't," Godfrey objected. "If there is nothing more to be
learned from the cabinet, there is no reason to retain it. I should
certainly let M. Armand have it. Perhaps I'll see you to-morrow," he
added, and we parted at the corner.
But I did not see him on the morrow. I was rather expecting a call
from him during the morning, and when none came, I was certain I
should find him awaiting me when I arrived at the Vantine house, in
company with M. Armand. But he was not there, and when I asked for
him, Parks told me that he had not seen him since the day before.
I confess that Godfrey's indifference to the fate of the cabinet
surprised me greatly; besides, I was hoping that he would wish to
meet the fascinating Frenchman. More fascinating, if possible, than
he had been on Monday, and I soon found myself completely under his
spell. There had been less delay than he had anticipated in getting
the cabinet off the boat and through the customs, and it was not yet
three o'clock when we reached the Vantine house.
"I haven't seen Mr. Godfrey," Parks repeated, "but there's others
here as it fair breaks my heart to see."
He motioned toward the door of the music-room, and, stepping to it, I
saw that the inventory was already in progress. The man in charge of
it nodded to me, but I did not go in, for the sight was anything but
a pleasant one.
"The cabinet is in the room across the hall," I said to M. Armand,
and led the way through the ante-room into the room beyond.
Parks switched on the lights for us, and my companion glanced with
surprise at the heavy shutters covering the windows.
"We put those up for a protection," I explained. "We had an idea that
some one would try to enter. In fact, one evening we _did_ find a
wire connecting with the burglar-alarm cut, and, later on, saw some
one peering in through the hole in that shutter yonder."
"You did?" M. Armand queried quickly.
"Would you recognise the man, if you were to meet him again?"
"Oh, no; you see the hole is quite small. There was nothing visible
except a pair of eyes. Yet I might know them again, for I never
before saw such eyes--so bright, so burning. It was the night that
Godfrey and I were trying to find the secret drawer, and those eyes
gleamed like fire as they watched us."
M. Armand was gazing at the cabinet, apparently only half listening.
"Ah, yes, the secret drawer," he said. "Will you show me how it is
operated, Mr. Lester? I am most curious about it."
I placed my hand upon the table and pressed the three points which
the veiled lady had shown us. The first time, I got the order wrong,
but at the second trial, the little handle fell forward with a click,
and I pulled the drawer open.
"There it is," I said. "You see how cleverly it is constructed. And
how well it is concealed. No one would suspect its existence."
He examined it with much interest; pushed it back into place, and
then opened it himself.
"Very clever indeed," he agreed. "I have never seen another so well
concealed. And the idea of opening it only by a certain combination
is most happy and original. Most secret drawers are secret only in
name; a slight search reveals them; but this one...."
He pushed it shut again, and examined the inlay around it.
"My friend and I went over the cabinet very carefully and could not
find it," I said.
"Your friend--I think you mentioned his name?"
"Yes--his name is Godfrey."
"A man of the law, like yourself?"
"Oh, no, a newspaper man. But he had been a member of the detective
force before that. He is extraordinarily keen, and if anybody could
have found that drawer, he could. But that combination was too much
M. Armand snapped the drawer back into place with a little crash.
"I am glad, at any rate, that it _was_ discovered," he said. "I will
not conceal from you, Mr. Lester, that it adds not a little to the
value of the cabinet."
"What is its value?" I asked. "Mr. Vantine wanted me to buy it for
him, and named a most extravagant figure as the limit he was willing
"Really," M. Armand answered, after an instant's hesitation, "I would
not care to name a figure, Mr. Lester, without further consultation
with my father. The cabinet is quite unique--the most beautiful,
perhaps, that M. Boule ever produced. Did you discover Madame de
"No. Mr. Vantine said he was sure it existed; but Godfrey and I did
not look for it."
M. Armand opened the doors which concealed the central drawers.
"_Voila!_" he said, and traced with his finger the arabesque just
under the pediment. "See how cunningly it has been blended with the
other figures. And here is the emblem of the giver." He pointed to a
tiny golden sun with radiating rays on the base of the pediment, just
above the monogram. "_Le rol soleil!_"
"_ Le rol soleil!_" I repeated. "Of course. We were stupid not to
have discerned it. That tells the whole story, doesn't it? What is
it, Parks?" I added, as that worthy appeared at the door.
"There's a van outside, sir," he said, "and a couple of men are
unloading a piece of furniture. Is it all right, sir?"
"Yes," I answered. "Have them bring it in here. And ask the man in
charge of the inventory to step over here a minute. Mr. Vantine left
his collection of art objects to the Metropolitan Museum," I
explained to M. Armand, "and I should like the representative of the
museum to be present when the exchange is made."
"Certainly," he assented. "That is very just"
Parks was back in a moment, piloting two men who carried between them
an object swathed in burlap, and the Metropolitan man followed them
"I am Mr. Lester," I said to him, "Mr. Vantine's executor; and this
is M. Felix Armand, of Armand & Son, of Paris. We are correcting an
error which was made just before Mr. Vantine died. That cabinet
yonder was shipped him by mistake in place of one which he had
bought. M. Armand has caused the right one to be sent over, and will
take away the one which belongs to him. I have already spoken to the
museum's attorney about the matter, but I wished you to be present
when the exchange was made."
"I have no doubt it is all right, sir," the museum man hastened to
assure me. "You, of course, have personal knowledge of all this?"
"Certainly. Mr. Vantine himself told me the story."
"Very well, sir," but his eyes dwelt lovingly upon the Boule cabinet.
"That is a very handsome piece," he added. "I am sorry the museum is
not to get it."
"Perhaps you can buy it from M. Armand," I suggested, but the curator
laughed and shook his head.
"No," he said, "we couldn't afford it. But Sir Caspar might persuade
Mr. Morgan to buy it for us--I'll mention it to him."
The two men, meanwhile, under M. Armand's direction, had been
stripping the wrappings from the other cabinet, and it finally stood
revealed. It, too, was a beautiful piece of furniture, but even my
untrained eye could see how greatly it fell below the other.
"We shall be very pleased to have Mr. Morgan see it," said M. Armand,
with a smile. "I will not conceal from you that we had already
thought of him--as what dealer does not when he acquires something
rare and beautiful? I shall endeavour to secure an appointment with
"Meanwhile the cabinet is yours," I said.
He made a little deprecating gesture, and then proceeded to have the
cabinet very carefully wrapped in the burlap which had been around
the other one. I watched it disappear under the rough covering with
something like regret, for already my eyes were being opened to its
beauty. Besides, I told myself again, with it would disappear the
last hope of solving the mystery of Philip Vantine's death. However
my reason might protest, some instinct told me that, in some way, the
Boule cabinet was connected with that tragedy.
But at last the packing was done, and M. Armand turned to me and held
out his hand.
"I shall hope to see you again, Mr. Lester," he said, with a
cordiality which flattered me, "and to renew our very pleasant
acquaintance. Whenever you are in Paris, I trust you will not fail to
honour me by letting me know. I shall count it a very great privilege
to display for you some of the beauties of our city not known to
"Thank you," I said. "I shall certainly remember that invitation.
And meanwhile, since you are here in New York...."
"You are most kind," he broke in, "and I was myself hoping that we
might at least dine together. But I am compelled to proceed to Boston
this evening, and from there I shall go on to Quebec. Whether I shall
get back to New York I do not know--it will depend somewhat upon Mr.
Morgan's attitude; we would scarcely entrust a business so delicate
to our dealer. If I do get back, I shall let you know."
"Please do," I urged. "It will be a very great pleasure to me.
Besides, I am still hoping that some solution of this mystery may
occur to you."
He shook his head with a little smile.
"I fear it is too difficult for a novice like myself," he said. "It
is impenetrable to me. If a solution is discovered, I trust you will
inform me. It is certain to be most interesting."
"I will," I promised, and we shook hands again.
Then he signed to the two men to take up the cabinet, and himself
laid a protecting hand upon it as it was carried through the door and
down the steps to the van which was backed up to the curb. It was
lifted carefully inside, the two men clambered in beside it, the
driver spoke to the horses, and the van rolled slowly away up the
M. Armand watched it for a moment, then mounted into the cab which
was waiting, waved a last farewell to me, and followed after the van.
We watched it until it turned westward at the first cross-street.
"Mr. Godfrey's occupation will be gone," said Parks, with a little
laugh. "He has fairly lived with that cabinet for the past three or
four days. He was here last night for quite a while."
"Last night?" I echoed, surprised. "I was sure he would be here
to-day," I added, reflecting that Godfrey might have decided to have
a final look at the cabinet. "He half-promised to be here, but I
suppose something more important detained him."
The next instant, I was jumping down the steps two at a time, for a
cab in which two men were sitting came down the Avenue, and rolled
slowly around the corner in the direction taken by the van.
And just as it disappeared, one of its occupants turned toward me and
waved his hand--and I recognised Jim Godfrey.
That my legs, without conscious effort of my own, should carry me up
the Avenue and around the corner after the cab in which I had seen
Godfrey was a foregone conclusion, and yet it was with a certain
vexation of spirit that I found myself racing along, for I realised
that Godfrey had not been entirely frank with me. Certainly he had
dropped no hint of his intention to follow Armand; but, I told
myself, that might very well have been because he deemed such a hint
unnecessary. I might have guessed, in spite of his seeming unconcern,
that he would not allow the cabinet to pass from his sight; if he had
been willing for me to turn it over to Armand, it was only because he
expected developments of some sort to follow that transfer.
And it suddenly dawned upon me that even I did not know the cabinet's
destination! It had not occurred to me to inquire where M. Armand
proposed to take it, and he had volunteered no information.
So, after a moment, I took up the chase more contentedly, telling
myself that Godfrey would not have waved to me if he had not wanted
me along, and I reached the corner in time to see the van turn
northward into Sixth Avenue. As soon as it and the cabs which
followed it were out of sight, I sprinted along the sidewalk at top
speed, and, on arriving at the corner, had the satisfaction of seeing
them only a little way ahead. Here the congestion of traffic was such
that the van could proceed but slowly, and I had no difficulty in
keeping pace with it, without the necessity of making myself
conspicuous by running. Indeed, I rather hung back, burying myself in
the crowds on the sidewalk, for fear that Armand might chance to
glance around and see me in pursuit.
I saw that Godfrey and Simmonds had the same fear, for the cab in
which they were drew up at the curb and waited there until the van
had got some distance ahead. At Sixteenth Street, it turned westward
again, and then northward into Seventh Avenue.
What could Armand be doing in this part of the town, I asked myself?
Did he propose to leave that priceless cabinet in this dingy quarter?
And then I paused abruptly and slipped into an area-way, for the van
had stopped some distance ahead and was backing up to the curb.
Looking out discreetly, I saw the cab containing Armand stop also,
and that gentleman alighted and paid the driver. The other cab
rattled on at a good pace and disappeared up the Avenue. Then the two
porters lifted out the cabinet, and, with Armand showing them the
way, carried it into the building before which the van had stopped.