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Ashton-Kirk thanked the clerk, and the now beaming Mr. Bernstine, and with Pendleton left the place.

“Well,” said Pendleton, as they climbed into the car, “this about fixes the thing, doesn’t it? The musician, Antonio Spatola, is the guilty man, beyond a doubt.”

The investigator settled back after giving the chauffeur his next stop.

“Beyond a doubt,” said he, “is rather an extreme expression. The fact that the bayonet was purchased by an Italian who gave his address as Christie Place is not enough to convict Spatola. All sorts of people live in that street, and there are perhaps other Italians among them.”

Pendleton called out to the chauffeur to stop.

“We’ll settle that at once,” said he. “Spatola’s picture is in the papers. We’ll ask the clerk if it is that of the man to whom he sold the weapon.”

But Ashton-Kirk restrained him.

“I thought of the published portraits while Sime was speaking,” said he. “And I also thought that it was very fortunate that neither he nor his employer were readers of the newspapers.”

“How do you know that they are not?”

“If they had read to-day’s issues they would have at once connected the Italian who purchased the bayonet with the one who is said to have used it–wouldn’t they; especially as both Italians lived on the same street? Bernstine and Sime said nothing because they suspect nothing. And, as I have said, this is fortunate, because, suspecting nothing, they will continue,” with a smile, “to say nothing. If the police or reporters got this, they’d swoop down on the trail and perhaps spoil everything!”

“But Bernstine or his clerk will hear of the matter sooner or later,” complained Pendleton. “And the police and reporters will then get in on the thing anyhow.”

“But there will be a delay,” said his friend. “And that may be what we need just now. Perhaps a few hours will mean success. You can never tell. The best that we could get by explaining matters to Sime would be a positive identification of Spatola, or the reverse. And we can get that from him at any time. So you see, we lose nothing by waiting.”

“I guess that’s so,” Pendleton acknowledged, and again the car started forward. At the huge entrance to a railroad station they drew up once more.

Within, Ashton-Kirk inquired for the General Passenger Agent and was directed to the ninth floor. The agent was a slim little man with huge whiskers of snowy whiteness, and a most dignified manner.

“Oh, yes,” he said, after glancing at the investigator’s card. “I have heard of you, of course. Who,” with a little bow, “has not? Indeed, if I remember aright, this road had the honor to employ you a few years ago in a matter necessitating some little delicacy of handling. Am I not right?”

“And I think it was you,” said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly, “who provided me with some very clearly cut facts which were of considerable service.”

The little General Passenger Agent looked pleased and smoothed his beautiful whiskers softly.

“I was most happy,” said he.

“Just now,” said Ashton-Kirk, “I am engaged in a matter of some consequence, and once more you can be of assistance to me.”

“Sit down,” invited the other, readily. “Sit down, and command me.”

Both Pendleton and the investigator sat down. The latter said to the passenger agent:

“I understand that every railroad has a system by which it can tell which conductor has punched a ticket.”

“Oh, yes. A very simple one. You see the hole left by each punch is different. One will cut a perfectly round hole, another will be square, still another will be a triangle, and so on, indefinitely.”

From his card case, Ashton-Kirk produced the small red particle which he had found upon the desk of the murdered man.

“Here is a fragment cut from a ticket,” he said. “It is shaped like a keystone. I should like to know, if you can tell me, what train is taken out by the conductor who uses the keystone punch.”

The agent touched a signal and picked up the end of a tube.

“The head ticket counter,” said he. “At once.” Then he laid down the tube and continued to his visitors. “He is the man who can supply that sort of information instantly.”

The ticket counter was a heavy-set young man, in spectacles and with his hair much rumpled. He peered curiously at the strangers.

“Does any conductor on our lines use a punch which cuts out a keystone?” inquired the General Passenger Agent.

“Yes, Purvis,” replied the heavy young man. “Runs the Hammondsville local.”

“I am obliged to you both,” said Ashton-Kirk. “This little hint may be immensely valuable to me. And now,” to the agent, “if I could have a moment with Conductor Purvis, I would be more grateful to you than ever.”

“His train is out in the shed now,” said the ticket counter, looking at his watch. “Leaves in eight minutes.”

“I’m sorry that I can’t have him up here for you,” said the passenger agent. “Just now that is impossible. But,” inquiringly, “couldn’t you speak to him down on the platform?”

“Of course,” replied Ashton-Kirk.

He and Pendleton arose; the little man with the large white whiskers was thanked once more, as was the heavy young man with the rumpled hair.

“You’ll find the Hammondsville train at Gate E,” the latter informed them.

Then the two shot down to the platform level and made their way toward Gate E.



The Hammondsville local was taking on its passengers. It was a sooty train, made up of three coaches and a combination baggage and smoking car. The gateman pointed out its conductor, inside, and the two approached him.

He was a spare, elderly man with a wrinkled, shrewd face, and a short, pointed manner of speech.

“Oh, the General Passenger Agent sent you?” said he, examining them. “All right. What’s wanted?”

“Your train stops at a station called Cordova, does it not?”

“It stops at every station on the run. Cordova’s one of them.”

“There is an institution at Cordova, I believe?”

“For deaf and dumb kids–yes.”

“Of course some of the people from there ride in and out with you at times.”

“I don’t get many of the youngsters. But the folks that run the place often come to the city.”

“You are acquainted with them, of course. I mean in the way that local conductors come to be acquainted with their regular riders.”

Purvis grinned.

“Say,” said he. “It’s hard to get acquainted with some of them asylum people. There’s only a couple of them that can talk!”

“I see.” Pendleton noted Ashton-Kirk’s dark eyes fixed steadfastly upon the man’s face as though he desired to read the remainder from his expression. “There is one of them,” continued the investigator, “whom perhaps you have noticed. He’s rather a small man, and wears thick glasses. He also dresses very carefully, and he wears a silk hat.”

“Oh, yes,” said the conductor, “I know him. He goes in and out quite often. Very polite too. Always says good day with his fingers; if the train is crowded, he’s a great little fellow for getting up and giving his seat to the ladies.”

“Have you ever heard his name?”

“Yes. It’s Locke. He’s some kind of a teacher.”

Ashton-Kirk thanked the man, and with Pendleton walked through the gate. As they were descending the stairs to the street, Pendleton said:

“And now he wears a silk hat, does he? But you have not made sure of the man. You forgot to inquire if Mr. Locke favored the German dramatists.”

For a moment Ashton-Kirk looked puzzled, then he burst into a laugh.

“Ah,” said he, “you remember that.”

“Of course I remember it. How can I forget it? You go prancing about so like a conjurer that there’s not a moment that I don’t expect something. If you finish by dragging the murderer from your sleeve, I’ll not be at all astonished. Your methods lead me to expect some such a finale.”

“To explain each step as I take it,” said the investigator, “would be much more difficult than the work itself. However the time has now arrived for me to enlighten you somewhat upon this point, at least. I am quite convinced that this man Locke played a leading part in the murder of Hume. He is in a manner definitely placed, and I can speak of him without fracturing any of my prejudices.”

They got into the car, and Ashton-Kirk continued to the chauffeur:

“Christie Place.” Then to Pendleton, he added as the machine started, “I want to make some inquiries at the house where Spatola lived; and in order to make the matter clearer, we’ll just drop in at 478.”

As they proceeded along at a bounding pace, the investigator related to Pendleton what had passed between Edyth Vale and himself a few hours before. Pendleton drew a great breath of relief.

“Of course I knew that her part in the matter was something like that,” he said, “but I’m glad to hear it, just the same.” He looked at his friend for a moment and then continued: “But how did you know that Edyth heard a door close immediately after the pistol shot?”

They had just drawn up in front of Hume’s, and as Ashton-Kirk got out, he said:

“If you had only used your eyes as we were going over the place,” said he, “you’d have no occasion to ask that question.”

There was a different policeman at the door; but fortunately he knew the investigator and they were allowed to enter at once. When about half way up the stairs, Ashton-Kirk said:

“This, I think, is about the place where Miss Vale stopped when she saw the light-rays moving across the ceiling and wall of the hall. You get the first glimpse of those from this point. Remain here a moment and I’ll try and reproduce what she heard–with the exception of the cry.”

Pendleton obediently paused upon the stairs; Ashton-Kirk went on up and disappeared. In a few moments there came a sharp, ringing report, and Pendleton, dashing up the stairs, saw his friend standing holding open the showroom door–the one with Hume’s name painted upon it.

“It’s the bell,” said Ashton-Kirk, pointing to the gong at the top of the door frame. “When I examined it this morning I saw that it was screwed up too tight, and knew that it would make a sound much like a pistol shot to ears not accustomed to it.”

Pendleton stared in amazement at the simplicity of the thing.

“I see,” said he. “While Edyth stood listening on the stairs someone opened this door!”

“Yes; someone unacquainted with the place. Otherwise he would have known of the bell.”

“But how did you know that Edyth heard a door close?”

“Whoever rang the bell closed the door after him. It has a spring lock like the street door; and was locked when Miss Vale tried it a few moments later.”

“You say that the ringing of the bell shows the person who rang the bell to have been unacquainted with the place. I think you must be wrong here. Spatola is acquainted with the place; he was here at the time. This is proven by the scream of the frightened cockatoo which followed the ringing of the bell.”

“It was not a cockatoo that made the sound,” said Ashton-Kirk. “Give me a moment and I think I can convince you of that.”

The gas in the hall was lighted; the investigator stopped at the foot of the stairs leading to the fourth floor.

“Persons,” he continued, “who secretly enter buildings, as a rule never trust to the lighting apparatus of the buildings. One reason for this is that it is not under their control–another that they cannot carry their light about with them.”

He pointed to the lowermost step of the flight; there, as before, were the stump of candle, the burnt matches, the traces of tallow upon the wood.

“There were two or more men concerned in this crime,” proceeded Ashton-Kirk, “and that is the method of lighting that they chose–a candle.”

“Two men! How do you know that?” asked Pendleton.

“You shall see in a moment,” replied the investigator. Then he continued: “And the candle was used not only for illumination–it served another purpose, and so supplied me with the first definite information that my searching had given me up to that time.”

Pendleton looked at the discouraged little candle end, with its long black wick, the two charred splinters of pine wood and the eccentric trail of tallow droppings. Then he shook his head.

“How you could get enlightenment from those things is beyond me,” he said. “But tell me what they indicated.”

“The candle and the match-sticks count for little,” said Ashton-Kirk. “It is the tracings of melted tallow that possess the secret. Look closely at them. At first glance they may seem the random drippings of a carelessly held light. But a little study will show you a clearly defined system contained in them.”

“Well, you might say there were three lines of it,” said Pendleton, after a moment’s inspection.

“Right,” said Ashton-Kirk. “Three lines there are, and each follows a row of tack heads. These latter were, apparently, once driven in to hold down a step-protector of some sort which has since become worn out and been removed.”

The speaker took a pad of paper and a pencil from his pocket. Across the pad he drew three lines one under the other. Then with another glance at the candle droppings upon the step, he made a copy of them that looked like this:

[Illustration: sketch of clue]

Pendleton bent over the result under the flare of the gas light; and as he looked his eyes widened.

“Why,” cried he, “they look like a stenographer’s word-signs.”

“Good!” said Ashton-Kirk. “And that, my dear fellow, is exactly what they are. There, scrawled erratically in dripping tallow, is a three word sentence in Benn Pitman’s phonetic characters. It is roughly done, and may have occupied some minutes; but it is well done, and in excellent German. I’ll write it out for you.”

Then he wrote on the pad in big, plain Roman letters:


“There it is,” said the investigator, “done into the German language, line for line. Brush up your knowledge now; let me see you turn it into English.”

Pendleton, whose German was rusty from long disuse, pondered over the three words. Suddenly a light shot across his face; then his eyes were in a blaze.

“_Behind Wayne’s Portrait!_”

He fairly shouted the words. Astonishment filled him; he was trembling with excitement.

“By Heaven,” he gasped, “you have it, Kirk. Now I understand the smashing of the portraits of General Wayne. There was something of value hidden behind one of them–between the picture and the back! But what?”

“It was nothing of any great bulk; the hiding place indicated points that out, surely,” said Ashton-Kirk, composedly. “A document of some sort, perhaps.”

Pendleton stood for a moment, lost in the wonder of the revelation; then his mind began to work once more.

“But I can’t understand the writing of the thing upon the step,” said he.

“It was the fact that it was written that proved to me that there were at least two men concerned. One knew the hiding place of the coveted object; and this is how he conveyed the information to his companion,” pointing to the step.

“But,” protested Pendleton, “why did he not put it into words? Surely it would have been much easier?”

“Not for this particular person. As it happens, he was a mute.”

Again Pendleton’s eyes opened widely; then recollection came to him and he said:

“It was Locke–the man concerning whom you were making inquiries of the railroad conductor!”

Ashton-Kirk nodded, and replied.

“And it was he who shrieked when the door of the showroom opened. The out-cry of a deaf-mute, if you have ever heard one, has the same squawking, senseless sound as that of a psittaceous bird like the parrot or cockatoo.”

“But,” said Pendleton, “the fact that the man who scrawled these signs upon the step _was_ a deaf-mute, scarcely justifies the eccentricity of the thing. Why did he not use a pencil, as you have done?”

“I can’t say exactly, of course. But did it never happen that you were without a pencil at a time when you needed one rather urgently?”

“This thing has sort of knocked me off my balance, I suppose,” said Pendleton, rather bewildered. “Don’t expect too much of me, Kirk.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets dejectedly and continued: “You now tell me that this man was a mute. Yesterday you said he was small, that he was near-sighted, that he was well dressed and knew something of the modern German dramatists. You also told the conductor that he wore thick glasses and a silk hat. Now, I suppose I’m all kinds of an idiot for not understanding how you know these things about a man you never saw. But I confess it candidly; I _don’t_ understand.”

“It all belongs to my method of work,” said Ashton-Kirk. “It’s simple enough when you go about it the right way. I have already given you my reasons for thinking the man who did this,” pointing to the step, “to be a mute. I judged that he was of small stature because he chose the bottom step upon which to trace his word signs. Even an ordinary sized man would have selected one higher up.”

“All right,” said Pendleton. “That looks good to me, so far.”

“The deductions that he was well dressed and also near-sighted were from the one source. His hat fell off while he was tracing the signs; that showed me that he was forced to stoop very close to his work in order to see what he was about. You see that, don’t you?”

“How did you know his hat fell off?” asked Pendleton, incredulously.

“Mrs. Dwyer is evidently paid to clean only the hall and lower stairway,” replied Ashton-Kirk, composedly. “And that she sticks closely to that arrangement is shown by the condition of this upper flight. The dust upon the step is rather thick. If you will notice,” and he indicated a place on the second step, “here is a spot where a round, flat object rested. That this object was a silk hat is positive. You can see the sharp impress of the nap in the dust; here is the curl in the exact center of the crown as seen in silk hats only. And men who wear silk hats are usually well-dressed men.”

“But how can you be at all sure that the hat fell off? Isn’t it possible that he took it off and laid it there?”

“Possible–yes–but scarcely probable. A well-dressed man is so from instinct. And his instinctive neatness would hardly permit him to put his well-kept hat down in the dust.”

“Go on,” said Pendleton.

“The stairs have been used since the hat fell there; but the dust has not been disturbed. There is a hand-rail on the other side of the flight, and consequently, all went up and down on that side.”

“I can understand the thick glasses,” said Pendleton, “his being near-sighted suggested those. But what made you think he cared for the modern German dramatists?”

“That was a hazard, merely,” and the investigator laughed.

“He knew German and was apparently a man of intelligence. No man who combines these two things can fail of admiration of Hauptmann, Sudermann and their brothers of the pen. And then a mute who knew shorthand well enough to have such ready recourse to it, struck me as being unusual. They all know the digital sign language; but German and phonography classed him as one above the ordinary. This knowledge brought the suggestion of an institution. Then came the suggestion that he might be an instructor in such an institution. The fragment from the railroad ticket hinted that the institution might be out of town. Fuller’s research placed two such institutions. The ticket counter at the railroad office narrowed it down to one. The conductor of the train all but put his hand on the man.”

There was a short silence. Then Pendleton drew a long breath.

“Well, Kirk,” said he. “I don’t mind admitting that you have me winging. I’ll tell you now it’s clever; but if I can think of a stronger word later, I’ll work it in instead.”

“We have a pretty positive line on one of the criminals, and we will now turn to the other,” said the investigator, briskly. “It was this other who committed the murder. The infirmities of Locke, the mute, made it impossible for him to venture into the rooms. The risks for a deaf and short-sighted man would be too great. Danger might creep upon him and he neither hear nor see it. For some reason which I have not yet discovered, but it may have been distrust, he had not informed his confederate as to the whereabouts of the object of their entrance. When they got as far as this hall, he concluded to do so; but as neither man had a pencil, he conveyed the information as shown; then the confederate entered Hume’s apartments by the door which Mrs. Dwyer found open. This, by an oversight, may have been left unlocked, or the criminals may have had a key. However, that does not affect the case one way or another.

“It is my opinion that Hume was seated at his desk at this time and heard the intruder enter the storage room; then pushing back his chair as we saw it, he arose. The criminal, however, sprang upon and struck him so expertly that he collapsed without a sound. Then the bayonet came into play.

“A search followed for the thing desired–a search, short, sharp and savage. The murderer either found what he sought, or the footsteps of Miss Vale upon the stairs frightened him. At any rate he pulled open the showroom door–the one with the gong; Locke, still in the hall, screamed and both fled up these stairs to the roof and away.”

Pendleton had waited patiently until his friend finished. Then he said, with a twinkle in his eye:

“You say the murderer opened the show room door, the gong rang and then Locke screamed. Now, old chap, that’s not possible. If Locke is deaf, he couldn’t hear the gong; and so there would be no occasion for him to cry out.”

“I think if you’ll go back over what I’ve really said,” spoke Ashton-Kirk, “you will find that I have made no mention of Locke crying out because of the gong. I said the murderer opened the door that has the gong. Then Locke screamed, not because he heard anything, but because of the sight he saw.”


“He caught a glimpse of Hume upon the floor–as we saw him.”

“You think, then, that Locke’s intentions were not murder?”

“At the present time I am led to think so. The confederate either was forced to kill to save himself, or he had nursed a private scheme of revenge. And the ferocity of the blow with the bayonet inclines me to prefer the latter as a theory.”

“That brings us back to both Morris and Spatola,” said Pendleton, gravely. “By all accounts both bore Hume a bitter grudge. But the fact that both criminals escaped by the roof shows familiarity with the neighborhood, as Miss Vale pointed out to you. This seems to point to Spatola.”

“So does the purchase of the bayonet, and in the same indefinite fashion,” said Ashton-Kirk. “But come, we motored to Christie Place more to inquire about this same Italian than anything else. So let’s set about it.”

They thanked the policeman in charge and left the building. As they proceeded down the street toward the house in which the newspapers had informed them Spatola lived, the investigator paused suddenly.

“I think,” said he, “it would be best for us to first see Spatola himself, and ask a few questions. This might give us the proper point of view for the remainder.”

And so they once more got into the car; and away they sped toward the place where the violinist was confined.



Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton were admitted to the cell room at the City Hall without question; but a distinct surprise awaited them there. Through a private door leading from the detectives’ quarters they saw the bulky form of Osborne emerge; and at his heels were Bernstine and his sandy-haired clerk.

When Osborne caught sight of Ashton-Kirk he expanded into a wide smile of satisfaction.

“Hello!” greeted he. “Glad to see you. You’re just in time to see me turn a new trick. Here’s the people that Spatola bought the bayonet from. How does that strike you?”

But Bernstine leaned over and said something in a low tone; and the smile instantly departed.

“Oh,” said Osborne, ruefully, “_this_ is the party who called to see you, is it?” Then turning to Ashton-Kirk he asked: “How did you get onto this bayonet business?”

“Just through thinking it over a little, that’s all,” answered the investigator.

Mr. Bernstine now approached the speaker, a hurt look upon his face.

“Mr. Ashton-Kirk,” said he, “why did you not tell us about this piece of business? Why did you not enlighten us? How _could_ you go away and leave us in the dark? We are very much occupied, and have little time to look at the newspapers. It was only by accident that Sime happened to see one.” Lowering his voice, he added: “There’s a smart fellow for you; he saw the whole thing in an instant. And so we came right here to do what we can to help justice.” He squared his shoulders importantly.

“He’s seen the bayonet and is prepared to swear to it,” stated Osborne, elated.

“What of the picture of Spatola in the paper?” asked the investigator. “Does he recognize that?”

Osborne’s face fell once more.

“These half-tones done through coarse screens are never any good,” said he. “They’d make Gladstone look like Pontius Pilate. He’s going to have a look at the man himself, and that’ll settle it.”

With that a turnkey was dispatched; and in a few moments he returned, accompanied by a half dozen prisoners; one was a slim, dark young man with a nervous, expressive look, and a great tangle of curling black hair. The face was haggard and drawn; the eyes were frightened; the whole manner of the man had a piteous appeal.

Osborne turned to Sime.

“Look them over carefully,” directed he. “Take your time.”

“I don’t need to,” answered the freckled shipping clerk. He pointed to the dark young man. “That’s the man of the picture; but I never seen him before, anywhere.”

Osborne put his fingers under his collar and pulled as though to breathe more freely; then he motioned another attendant to take the remaining prisoners away.

“I see,” said he. “He was too foxy to buy the thing himself. He sent someone else.” Then he fixed his eye on the prisoner and continued: “We’ve got the bayonet on you; so you might as well tell us all about it.”

“I don’t understand,” said Spatola, anxiously.

“The easier you make it for us, the easier it will be for you,” Osborne told him. “If you make us sweat, fitting this thing to you, we’ll give you the limit. Don’t forget that.”

“I have done nothing,” said Spatola, earnestly. “I have done nothing. And yet you keep me here. Is there not a law?”

“There is,” said Osborne, grimly. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you about. Now, who bought the bayonet?”

“The bayonet?” Spatola stared.

“The bayonet that Hume was killed with.”

With a truly Latin gesture of despair, the Italian put his hands to his forehead.

“Always Hume,” he said. “Always Hume! I can not be free of him. He was evil!” in a sort of shrill whisper. “Even when he is dead, I am mocked by him. He was all evil! I believe he was a devil!”

“That was no reason why you should kill him,” said Osborne in the positive manner of the third degree.

“I did not kill him,” protested Spatola. “There were many times when it was in my heart to do so. But I did not do it!”

“I’ve heard you say all that before,” stated Osborne, wearily. Then to the turnkey: “Take him away, Curtis.”

“Just a moment,” interposed Ashton-Kirk. “I came here to have a few words with this prisoner, and by your leave, I’ll speak to him now.”

“All right,” replied Osborne. “Help yourself.”

He led Bernstine and Sime out of the cell room; the turnkey, with professional courtesy, moved away to a safe distance, and Ashton-Kirk turned to the Italian.

“You were once first violin with Karlson,” said he. “I remember you well. I always admired your art.”

An eager look came into the prisoner’s face.

“I thank you,” he said. “It is not many who will remember in me a man who once did worthy things. I am young,” with despair, “yet how I have sunken.”

“It is something of a drop,” admitted Ashton-Kirk. “From a position of first violin with Karlson to that of a street musician. How did it happen?”

Sadly the young Italian tapped his forehead with one long finger.

“The fault,” he declared, “is here. I have not the–what do you call it–sense? What happened with Karlson happened a dozen times before–in Italy, in France, in Spain. I have not the good sense!”

But justification came into his eyes, and his hands began to gesticulate eloquently.

“Karlson is a Swede,” with contempt. “The Swedes know the science of music; but they are hard; they are seldom artists; they cannot express. And when one of this nation–a man with the ice of his country in his soul–tried to instruct me how to play the warm music of my own Italy, I called him a fool!”

“I see,” said the investigator.

“I am to blame,” said Spatola, contritely. “But I could not help it. He _was_ a fool, and fools seldom like to hear the truth.”

“The Germans, now,” said Ashton-Kirk, insinuatingly, “are somewhat different from the Swedes. Were you ever employed under a German conductor?”

“Twice,” replied the violinist, with a shrug. “Nobody can deny the art of the Germans. But they have their faults. They say they know the violin. And they do; but the Italian has taught them. The violin belongs to Italy. It was the glory of Cremona, was it not? The tender hands of the Amatis, of Josef Guarnerius, of old Antonio Stradivari, placed a soul within the wooden box; and that soul is the soul of Italy!”

“Haupt, a German, wrote a treatise on the violin,” said Ashton-Kirk. “If you would read that–“

“I have read it,” cried Spatola. “I have read it! It is like that,” and he snapped his fingers impatiently.

“But you’ve probably read a translation in the English or Italian,” insisted the investigator, smoothly. “And all translations lose something of their vitality, you know.”

“I have read it in the German,” declared the Italian; “in his own language, just as he wrote it. It is nothing.”

Pendleton looked at Ashton-Kirk admiringly; the manner in which his friend had established the fact that Spatola knew the German language seemed to him very clever. But Ashton-Kirk made no sign other than that of interest in the subject upon which they talked.

“A race that has given the world such musicians as Wagner, Beethoven and Mozart,” said he, “must possess in a tremendous degree the musical sense. The German knowledge of tone and its combinations is extraordinary; and their music in turn is as complex as their psychology and as simple as the improvisation of a child.”

Spatola seemed surprised at this apparent warmth; he looked at Ashton-Kirk questioningly.

“And, with all their scholarship, the Germans are so practical,” went on the latter. “Only the other day I came upon a booklet published in Leipzig that dealt with the difficulty a composer sometimes encounters in getting the notes on paper when a melody sweeps through his brain. The writer claimed that the world had lost thousands of inspirations because of this, and to prevent further loss, he proffered an invention–a system of–so to speak–musical shorthand.”

A sullen look of suspicion came into Spatola’s face; he regarded the speaker from under lowered brows.

“Perhaps you don’t quite understand the value of such an invention,” proceeded Ashton-Kirk. “But if you had a knowledge of stenography, and the short cuts it–“

But the Italian interrupted him brusquely.

“I know nothing of such things,” said he, “and what is more I don’t want to know anything of them.” Then in a sharp, angry tone, he added: “What do you want of me? I am not acquainted with you. Why am I annoyed like this? Is it always to be so–first one and then another?”

At this sudden display of resentment, the turnkey approached.

“I will go back to my cell,” Spatola told him, “and please do not bring me out again. My nerves are bad. I have been worried much of late and I can’t stand it.”

The turnkey looked at Ashton-Kirk, who nodded his head. And, as Spatola was led gesticulating away, Pendleton said in a low tone of conviction:

“I tell you, Kirk, there’s your man. Besides the other things against him, he knows German.”

“But what of the phonographic signs?”

“He knows them also. His manner proved it. As soon as you mentioned shorthand he became suspicious and showed uneasiness and anger. I tell you again,” with an air, of finality, “he’s your man.”



From the City Hall the car headed for Christie Place once more; it halted some half dozen doors from Hume’s and the occupants got out.

The first floor was used by a dealer in second-hand machinery, but at one side was a long, dingy entry with a rickety, twisting flight of stairs at the end. Ashton-Kirk rang the bell here, and while they waited a man who had been seated in the open door of the machine shop got up and approached them.

He wore blue overalls and a jumper liberally discolored by plumbago and other lubricants; a short wooden pipe was held between his teeth, and a cloth cap sat upon the back of his head.

“Looking up the Dago?” asked he with a grin. He jerked a dirty thumb toward the stairs.

Ashton-Kirk nodded; the man took the wooden pipe from his mouth, blew out a jet of strong-smelling smoke and said:

“I knowed he’d put a knife or something into somebody, some day. These people with bad tempers ought to be chained up short.”

“Do you know him well?” inquired the investigator.

“Been acquainted with him ever since he’s been living here–and that’s going on three years.”

“Did he have many visitors, do you know?”

The man in the cloth cap pulled at his pipe reflectively.

“I can’t just say,” he replied. “But I’ve been thinking–” he paused here and examined both young men questioningly. Then he asked: “You’re detectives, ain’t you?”

“Something of that sort,” replied Ashton-Kirk.

The man grinned at this.

“Oh, all right,” said he. “You don’t have to come out flat with it if you don’t want to. I ain’t one of the kind that you’ve got to hit with a mallet to make them catch on to a thing.” Here the wooden pipe seemed to clog; he took a straw from behind his ear and began clearing the stem carefully. At the same time he added: “As I was saying, I’ve been thinking.”

“That,” said Ashton-Kirk, giving another tug at the unanswered bell, “is very commendable.”

“And queer enough, it’s been about visitors–here,” and the man pointed with the straw toward the doorway. “Funny kind of people too, for a house like this.”

“Take a cigar,” said Ashton-Kirk. “That pipe seems out of commission.” Then, as the man put the pipe away in the pocket of his jumper and lighted the proffered cigar, he added: “What do you mean by ‘funny kind of people?'”

The cigar well lighted, the man in the overalls drew at it with gentle relish.

“There’s a good many kinds of funny people,” said he. “Some of them you laugh at, and others you don’t. These that I mean are the kind you don’t. Now, Mrs. Marx, the woman that keeps this place, is all right in her way, but it ain’t no swell place at that. Her lodgers are mostly fellows that canvass for different kinds of things; they wear shiny coats and their shoes are mostly run down at the heels. So when I see swell business looking guys coming here I got to wondering who they were. That’s only natural, ain’t it?”

Ashton-Kirk nodded, but before he could reply in words there came a clatter upon the rickety stairs at the far end of the entry. A thin, slipshod woman with untidy hair and a sharp face paused on the lower step and looked out at them.

“What do you want?” she demanded, shrilly.

Ashton-Kirk, followed by Pendleton, stepped inside and advanced down the entry.

“Are you Mrs. Marx?” he inquired.

“Yes,” snapped the woman. “What do you want?”

“A little information.”

“You’re a reporter!” accused the sharp-faced woman. “And let me tell you that I don’t want nothing more to say to no reporters.”

But Ashton-Kirk soothingly denied the accusation.

“I dare say you’ve been bothered to death by newspaper men,” spoke he. “But we assure you that–“

“It don’t make no difference,” stated the woman, rearing her head until her long chin pointed straight at them. “I ain’t got nothing to say to nobody. I don’t want to get into no trouble.”

“The only way you can possibly get into trouble in this matter,” said the investigator, “is to conceal what you know. An attempt to hide facts is always considered by the police as a sort of admission of complicity.”

The woman at this lifted a corner of a soiled apron and applied it to her eyes.

“Things is come to a nice pass,” she said, vainly endeavoring to squeeze a tear from eyes to which such things had long been strangers, “when a respectable woman can’t mind her own business in her own house.”

At this point, Pendleton, who looked discreetly away, caught the rustle of a crisp bill; and when Mrs. Marx spoke again, her tone had undergone a decided change.

“But of course,” she said, “if the law asks me anything, I must do the best I can. I’ve kept a rooming house for a good many years now, gentlemen, and this is the first time I have had any notoriety. It is, I assure you.”

As Ashton-Kirk had seen at a second glance, Mrs. Marx was a lady fully competent to confront any situation that might arise; so he wasted no time in soothing her injured feelings.

“We desire any information that you can give us regarding your lodger, Antonio Spatola,” said he. “Tell us all you know about him.”

“He wasn’t a bad-hearted young man,” said the landlady, “but for all that I wish I’d never seen him. If I hadn’t then I’d never had this disgrace come on me.”

Here she made another effort with the corner of her apron; but it was even more unsuccessful than the first. She gave it up and went on acidly.

“Mr. Spatola came here almost three years ago. He was engaged in one of the vaudeville theaters near here–in the orchestra–and he rented my second story front at six dollars a week. Except for the fact that he _would_ play awfully shivery music at all hours of the night, I was glad to have him. He was quiet and polite; he paid regularly and,” smoothing back the untidy hair, “he gave a kind of tone to the house.

“But then he lost his position. Had a fight, I understand, with somebody. For a long time he had no work; he moved from the second story-front at six dollars a week into the attic at two. When he could get no place, he went on the street and played; afterwards he got the trained birds. I didn’t like this much. It didn’t do the house no good to have a street fiddler living in it; and then the birds were a regular nuisance with their noise. But he paid regular, and after a while he took to keeping the birds in a box in the loft, so I put up with it.”

“We’ll look at his room, if you please,” said the investigator.

Complainingly, the woman led the way up the infirm staircase. At the fourth floor she pushed open a door and showed them into a long loft-like room with high ceiling and mansard windows. There came a squawking and fluttering from somewhere above as they entered.

“Them’s the cockatoos,” said the landlady. “They miss Mr. Spatola very much. When I go to feed them with the stale bread and seed he has here for them, would you believe it, they’ll hardly eat a thing.”

The room was without a floor covering. Upon some rough shelves, nailed to the wall, were heaps of music. A violin case also lay there. There were a few chairs, a cot-bed, and a neat pile of books upon a table. Ashton-Kirk ran over these quickly; they were mostly upon musical subjects, and in Italian. But some were Spanish, English, German and French.

“He was the greatest hand for talking and reading languages,” said Mrs. Marx, wonderingly. “I don’t think there was any kind of a nationality that he couldn’t converse with. Mr. Sagon that lives on the floor below says that his French was elegant, and Mr. Hertz, my parlor lodger, used to just love to talk German with him. He said his German was so _high_.”

Ashton-Kirk opened the violin case and looked at the instrument within.

“Spatola always carried his violin in this when he went out, I suppose?” he said, inquiringly.

“Oh, yes; _that_ one he did. But the one on the wall there,” pointing to a second instrument hanging from a peg, “he never took much care of that. It’s the one he played on the street, you see.”

Her visitors followed the gesture with interest.

“That was just to clinch a point I made with Fuller this morning,” said the investigator to Pendleton, in explanation. Then to Mrs. Marx he continued: “Mr. Spatola had visitors from time to time, had he not?”

But the woman shook her head.

“Sometimes he had a pupil who came in the evening. But they never came more than once or twice; he generally called them thick-heads after a little, and told them they’d better go back to the grocery or butcher’s shop where they belonged.”

“Are you quite sure that no one else ever called upon him?”

The woman nodded positively.

“I’m certain sure of it,” she said. “I remember saying more than once to my gentlemen on the different floors, that Mr. Spatola must be awfully lonely sometimes. Mr. Crawford would often come up here and smoke with him and play a game or two of Pedro. Mr. Hertz tried it a couple of times; but him and Mr. Spatola couldn’t hit it very well.”

“How many lodgers have you?”

“I have rooms for nine. Just now there are seven. But only four are steadies–Mr. Hertz, Mr. Crawford, Mr. Sagon and Mr. Spatola. Mr. Hertz is an inspector of the people who canvass for the city directory; he took the parlor after Mr. Spatola gave it up. He drinks a little, but he’s a perfect gentleman for all that. Mr. Crawford is a traveling man, and is seldom home; but he pays in advance, so I don’t never worry about him. Mr. Sagon is what they call an expert. He can’t speak much English yet, but sometimes even the government,” in an awed tone, “sends for him to come to the customs house to tell them how much diamonds are worth, that people bring in. He works for Baum Brothers and Wright. The others,” bulking them as being of no consequence, “are all gentlemen who are employed on the directory under Mr. Hertz.”

“Have you any Italian lodgers other than Mr. Spatola?”

The woman shook her head.

“No,” she said, “and I don’t want none, if this is the way they carry on.”

“Are there any other rooming houses in the street?”

“No, sir. It’s only a block long, and I know every house in it. I’m the only one as takes lodgers.”

“Are there any Italians in business in the block, or employed in any of the business places?”

Mrs. Marx again shook her head positively.

“Not any.”

“You speak of a Mr. Sagon. Of what nationality is he?”

“Oh, he’s French, but he’s lived a long time in Antwerp. That’s where he learned the diamond business. And he must have lived in other places in Europe; Mr. Spatola says he has spoken of them often.”

Just then there came from below the sound of a heavy voice, singing. The words were French and the intonation here and there was strange to Ashton-Kirk.

“Who is that?” he asked.

“It’s Mr. Sagon,” replied the woman. “He’s the greatest one for singing them little French songs.”

“Ah, I have it,” said Ashton-Kirk, after a moment. “He’s a Basque, of course. I couldn’t place that accent at first.”

A narrow, ladder-like flight of stairs was upon one side. Ashton-Kirk mounted these and found himself in a smaller loft; a number of well-kept cockatoos, in cages, set up a harsh screaming at sight of him. Opening a low door he stepped out upon a tin roof. Mrs. Marx and Pendleton had followed him, and the former said:

“The police was up here looking. They said Mr. Spatola came through the trap-door at Hume’s place that night and walked along the roofs and so down to his own room.”

“That would he very easily done,” answered Ashton-Kirk, as his eye took in the level stretch of roofs.

After a little more questioning to make sure that the landlady had missed nothing, they thanked her and left the house. At his door they saw the man in the cloth cap and overalls. A second and very unwieldy man, with a flushed, unhealthy looking face, had just stopped to speak to him.

He supported himself with one hand on the wall.

“Hello!” called the machinist to Ashton-Kirk; and as the two approached him, he said to the unwieldy man: “I stopped you to tell you these gents had gone in. They’re detectives.”

“Oh,” said the man, with interest in his wavering eye. “That so.” He regarded the two young men uncertainly for a moment; and then asked: “Did Mrs. Marx tell you anything?”

“She didn’t seem to know much,” answered the investigator.

The unwieldy man swayed to and fro, an expression of cunning gathering in his face. The machinist winked and whispered to Pendleton:

“I don’t know his name, but he’s one of the lodgers.”

“Marx,” declared the unwieldy man, “is a fine lady. But,” with an elaborate wink, “she knows more’n she tells sometimes.” The wavering eye tried to fix the investigator, but failed signally. “It don’t do,” he added wisely, “to tell everything you know.”

Ashton-Kirk agreed to this.

“Marx could tell you something, maybe,” said the man. “And then maybe she couldn’t. But, I know _I_ could give you a few hints if I had the mind–and maybe they’d be valuable hints, too.” Here he drew himself up with much dignity and attempted to throw out his chest. “I’m a gentleman,” he declared. “My name’s Hertz. And being a gentleman, I always try and conduct myself like one. But that’s more’n some other people in Marx’s household does.”


“Yes, sir. When a gentleman tries to be friendly, I meets him half-way. But that fellow,” and he shook a remonstrating finger at the door of the lodging-house, “thinks himself better’n other people. And mind you,” with a leer, “maybe he’s not as good.”

“Who do you mean–the Dago?” asked the machinist.

“No; I mean Crawford. A salesman, eh?” The speaker made a gesture as though pushing something from him with contempt. “Fudge! Travels, does he? Rot! He can’t fool me. And then,” with energy, “what did he used to do so much in Spatola’s garret, eh? What did they talk about so much on the quiet? I ain’t saying nothing about nobody, mind you. I’m a gentleman. My name’s Hertz. I don’t want to get nobody into trouble. But if Crawford was such a swell as not to want to speak to a gentleman in public, why did he hold so many pow-wows in private with Spatola? That’s what I want to know.”

Seeing that the man’s befogged intellect would be likely to carry him on in this strain for an indefinite time, Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton were about to move on. But they had not gone more than a few yards when the investigator paused as though struck with an idea. He stepped back once more and drew a photograph from his pocket.

“Do you know who this is?” he asked, abruptly, holding it up.

The unwieldy man swayed gently and waveringly regarded the portrait.

“Sure!” said he surprisedly, “it’s Crawford.”

Ashton-Kirk rejoined his friend; and as they made their way to the waiting automobile, the latter said;

“That is a step ahead of me, Kirk, I think. Where did you get a portrait of this man Crawford?”

By way of an answer the investigator held up the photograph once more. Pendleton gave a gasp of amazement.

“Allan Morris,” said he. “_Allan Morris, by George!_”



Edouard, Ashton-Kirk’s cook, was astonished and somewhat grieved that day to receive orders that dinner was to be served an hour earlier than usual. And Stumph, grave and immobile, was betrayed into an expression of astonishment when his master and guest sat down to the same dinner in their work-a-day attire.

And at best Edouard’s delicate art that day received but scant attention. Stumph could hardly conceive of a more important thing than the proper and gentlemanly eating of one’s dinner. Nevertheless other things engaged the attention of the two young men; they talked earnestly and in incomprehensible terms; mysterious allusions were sprinkled thickly through it all.

“I do not think,” Stumph told the mortified Edouard in the kitchen, “that Mr. Pendleton has tasted the flavor of a single thing he has eaten. He listens to Mr. Ashton-Kirk talk; he is surprised at everything that he is told; there is a trembling in his hands, he is so eager. No, I don’t know what it’s about. But then, I never know what Mr. Ashton-Kirk is about. He is a very remarkable gentleman.”

And no sooner was the dinner completed than Ashton-Kirk’s big French car was brought to the door and both young men got into it.

“You’ve looked up the road to Cordova?” inquired Ashton-Kirk of the chauffeur.

“Yes, sir,” answered the man. “Very good road and almost parallel with the railroad. No trouble getting there by dark.”

“All right. Get there as soon as you can.”

They cut into a broad asphalted avenue, which eventually led them through the north suburbs into the country. The April dusk was settling upon the fields as they raced along; in the isolated houses, lights were beginning to twinkle; there was a swaying among the trees and roadside bush; the hum of the flying car must have been borne long distances; for far away people raised their heads from the finishing tasks of the day to look at it as it flashed by.

Pendleton lay back comfortably digesting his dinner, and ticking off in his mind the case which engrossed him so much.

“It all tapers down to this,” he said to himself. “Hume was murdered by Locke and a confederate in order that they might gain possession of something, the nature of which is unknown. Kirk is confident of Locke; I think he’d even go so far as to give him into custody, if he had the tangible proofs that the police require.

“But he lacks enthusiasm in the matter of the confederate. To my mind, it’s Spatola or Morris, or both. Both bore Hume no good will. Morris has been spending at least part of his time with Spatola under an assumed name; they are known to have been very much engaged in some secret matter. Both visited Hume’s on the night of the murder. An Italian purchased the weapon with which the deed was done. A German sentence was written in shorthand by Locke for his confederate. Spatola admits he knows German; he grows suspicious when shorthand is mentioned. And to wind it up, Morris has not been seen at his apartments, his office, or by his friends, since the murder was committed.”

At a little unpainted railroad station, the investigator broke in on Pendleton’s thoughts by calling on the chauffeur to stop. There were the usual signboards on each side of the structure, announcing that the place was Cordova; and there was the usual knot of loungers that are always to be found about such places watching with interest the incoming trains.

Ashton-Kirk called to one of these. He was a lanky fellow in a wide-brimmed hat and with a sheep-like look of complacency.

“What’s the best way to Dr. Mercer’s place?” asked Ashton-Kirk.

The lanky man reflected.

“There’s three or four ways of getting there,” he stated. “You can go up the pike and turn at Harbison’s store; or you can turn down the lane along there a piece and go along until you come to–“

“Which is the nearest?”

“I ain’t never passed no judgment on that; but I think the clay road down toward Plattville would get you there the quickest–if you didn’t get stuck in the ruts.”

“I think we’d better stick to the pike,” suggested Pendleton.

“The pike’s the best road,” said the lanky man. “All the people from Mercer’s place use it when they drive here to the station.”

Once more the big French car, now with its lamps lighted, sped along the road; about a mile further on they came to the store referred to by the man as Harbison’s. Here they received instructions as to how to proceed, by the store-keeper; and after running about four miles along an indifferent wagon road, they caught the twinkle of many lights off in the middle of a wide clearing.

“That must be it,” said the investigator. “We’ll leave the car here; to flash up to the door in the quiet of the evening would attract more attention than would be good for us, perhaps.”

It was now quite dark, but they found a gate a trifle farther on which opened readily; and so they proceeded along a walk toward a building which lay blinking at them with its yellow eyes. A deep-throated dog scented them from off in the distance and gave tongue. As they drew near to the institution they heard a man calling to the brute to be still. A little further on the man himself suddenly appeared from around the corner of a building with a lantern; he flashed this in their faces as he said:

“Well, sirs, this is against the rules. We have no visitors except on Saturdays; and then only within reasonable hours.”

“We would like to speak to Dr. Mercer,” said Ashton-Kirk.

“Dr. Mercer is at dinner,” explained the man with the lantern. “He don’t like it much if he’s disturbed at such times.”

“We will wait until he has finished; we are in no great hurry.”

The man seemed puzzled as to how to act. With the light held aloft so that not a feature escaped him, he examined them closely. Apparently he could see nothing with which to find fault; and so he sighed in a perplexed fashion.

“He does not care to have people wait for him,” complained the man. “He gets very angry if he is worried by such things while dining.”

“You need not announce us until he is through,” said Ashton-Kirk, composedly.

The man hesitated; but finally resolved upon a course and led them up a flight of stone steps and into a wide hall. The night was raw and a brisk fire of pine knots burning in an old-fashioned hall fireplace, made the place very comfortable.

“If you will be seated, gentlemen,” requested their guide, “I will tell Dr. Mercer of your presence as soon as he has finished.”

They seated themselves obligingly in a couple of low, heavy chairs near the fire; and then the man left them. The hall was high and rather bare: the hardwood floor shone brilliantly under the lights; save for the faint murmur of voices from a near-by room, everything was still.

“I should imagine that a place of this sort wouldn’t be at all noisy,” observed Pendleton, in a heavy attempt at jocularity.

Except for a word now and then, they waited in silence for a half hour; then a door opened and steps were heard in the hall. Both turned and saw a remarkably small man, perhaps well under five feet, dressed with great care and walking with a quick nervous step. His head was very large and partly bald, rearing above his small frame like a great, bare dome; he carried a silk hat in his hand, and peered abstractedly through spectacles of remarkable thickness.

“Locke,” breathed Pendleton, as his heart paused for a moment and then went on with a leap.

The little man apparently did not see them until he was almost beside them; then he paused with a start, and his eyes grew owlish behind the magnifying lenses as he strove to make them out. That he did not recognize them seemed to worry him; his thin, gray face seemed to grow grayer and thinner; with a diffident little bow he passed on and out at the front door.

“Not a very formidable looking criminal,” commented Ashton-Kirk, quietly. “However, you can seldom judge by appearances. The most astonishing crime that ever came to my notice was perpetrated by the meekest and most conventional man I had ever seen.”

They waited for still another space, and then the man who had shown them in presented himself. He was now without the lantern, but wore a melancholy look.

“Dr. Mercer will see you,” said he in a low voice. “He is very much vexed at being disturbed. He’ll remember it against me for weeks.” He appeared very much disturbed.

Ashton-Kirk placed a coin in the speaker’s hand; this seemed to have a bracing effect, for he led them into his employer’s presence in a brighter frame of mind. Dr. Mercer was seated at the table in his dining-room. A napkin was tucked in his collar, his fat hands were folded across his stomach, and he was breathing heavily.

“Gentlemen,” spoke he, rolling his eyes around to them, “I trust you will pardon my not rising. But to exert myself after dining has a most injurious result sometimes. My digestion is painfully impaired; the slightest excitement causes me the utmost suffering.”

“I appreciate the fact that we are intruding at a most inconvenient time,” said Ashton-Kirk. “And I beg of you to accept our apologies.”

The eyes of Dr. Mercer, which had the appearance of swimming in fat, were removed from his visitors, and fixed themselves longingly upon a great dish filled with a steaming, heavy-looking pudding. His breath labored in his chest as he replied:

“The hour _is_ somewhat unusual; but as it happens I have about finished my dinner, and if your errand is not of a stirring nature, I should be pleased to have you state it.”

The man placed chairs in such a position that the doctor would not have to stir to fully observe his visitors. This done he was about to withdraw; but his employer stopped him at the door.

“Haines,” complained he, “you have not taken my order for breakfast.”

The man paused and seemed much abashed at his neglect.

“I really beg your pardon, sir,” said he. And with that he produced a pencil and a small book and stood ready.

“I will have one of those trout that I purchased to-day,” directed the doctor. “Let it be that large, fine one that I was so pleased with,” his swimming eyes ready to float out of his head with anticipation. “Then I would like some new-laid eggs, some hot cakes, and perhaps a small piece of steak, if there is any that is tender and tasty. And mind you,” in an nervous afterthought, “tell Mrs. Crane to have it but rarely done. I will not tolerate it dry and without flavor.” He pondered awhile, apparently much moved by this painful possibility; then he added: “I may as well have a cereal to begin with, I suppose. And that will be all with the exception of a few slices from the cold roast and some white rolls.”

Carefully Haines had taken this down; and after he had read it over at his employer’s order and noted a few alterations and additions, he departed. For a few moments the doctor’s eyes were closed in expectant rapture; his breathing grew so stertorous that his callers were becoming alarmed; but he spoke at last, reluctantly, resentfully.

“I am now ready to hear you, gentlemen, if you please. And kindly remember that I prohibit anything of an exciting nature at this time.”

“We have heard your school highly spoken of,” said Ashton-Kirk. “And have come to make some inquiries before making up our minds.”

“Ah,” breathed Dr. Mercer, solemnly, “you have an afflicted one. Too bad! Tut, tut, tut, too bad!”

“There are many institutions of the sort,” proceeded the investigator. “But for the most part they stop at the threshold, so to speak, of knowledge.”

Dr. Mercer roused himself so far as to unclasp his hands and point with one finger at the speaker.

“Sir,” said he, in a voice full of grave significance, “they seldom reach the threshold. A large majority of them are conducted by dishonest persons. Afflicted youth left in their charge are rarely properly directed–they rarely acquire that digital dexterity so necessary to success in their limited lives. The isolated brain, so to call it, is seldom more than half awakened. Unless it is intelligently approached, the shadows are never thoroughly dispelled.”

Here he paused, panting distressedly; his eyes were filled with reproach as he relapsed into his first attitude; and his manner was that of one who mutely begged that no further tasks be thrust upon him.

“The difference in institutions of this type lies mainly in the methods employed, I believe,” said Ashton-Kirk.

“In the methods–and in the persons who apply them,” replied Dr. Mercer in a smothered tone.

“To be sure. I have heard something of your teaching staff. It is a very excellent one, is it not?”

“The best in the world.” The soft, fat, white hands of the doctor again unclasped themselves; and this time both of them were employed in a faintly traced gesture. “We employ scientists. We do not stop at what you have correctly called the threshold. We explore the entire structure of the intellect. Our Professor Locke, himself an afflicted one, is a man of vast erudition–a scholar of an advanced type, a philosopher whose adventures into the field of psychology and natural science is widely known. He has charge of the practical work of the Mercer Institute, and under him its results are positive and unique.”

“We have heard of Professor Locke,” and, drily, “have seen some of his work.”

“If you had stated your business before–ah–coming in to me,” spoke the doctor, “you might have had an opportunity of consulting him. He left for his cottage immediately after dining.”

“He does not live here, then?”

“Not in this building–no. There is a detached cottage at the far end of the grounds which he occupies. If you’d like to see him,” and the heavy jowls of the speaker trembled with eagerness, “Haines will show you there at once.”

“If it is no trouble,” said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly.

“Not in the least.” The doctor rang for his man, and when he entered, said: “These gentlemen would like to speak to Professor Locke. Show them the way to his house. And, gentlemen,” to the callers, with anxiety, “the professor can arrange everything with you. It is my habit to nod for a half hour after dinner. My system has grown to expect it, and if I am deprived of it, I suffer considerably in consequence.”

“We will not trouble you again, doctor,” Ashton-Kirk assured him. “Thank you, and good-night.”

Once more outside, the man led them along a foot-path that seemed to cut the institution grounds in two. The rays of his lantern danced along the carefully kept lawn; the shadowy trees seemed to move backward and forward, as the thin beams wavered among them.

“The professor lives a good piece away,” the man informed them. “Away over on the county road.”

“Prefers to be alone, eh?”

“I suppose so, sir. And then he has his laboratory and work-shop there, well away from interruption. He don’t like to be much disturbed while he is engaged in his studies.”

“Few of us do,” said Pendleton.

“Quite right, sir.”

They walked along in silence for a time; then they caught a clear humming noise from some distance ahead.

“A motor car,” said Pendleton.

“It’s on the county road,” said the man with the light. “We always hear them when the wind blows from that direction.”

After some fifteen minutes’ steady walking they saw a long twinkling shaft of light coming from among the trees.

“That’s the house,” said Haines. “I hope the professor ain’t busy; you wouldn’t believe what a blowing up he can give a body with his fingers when he’s vexed. I’d almost rather have the doctor himself; though, as a rule, the professor is a very nice gentleman.”

The house was a brick structure of two stories and dimly lighted on the lower floor. Near by was a long, shed-like building, the windows of which were brilliantly lighted.

“He’s at work,” said Haines, in a troubled tone. “And in the shop too! If it was even the laboratory, it wouldn’t be so bad. But he _does_ get so interested in the shop. That machine means more to him, whatever it is, than anything else about the place.”

There came a harsh burring sound from within both the shop and the house. Haines seemed surprised.

“Visitors,” he said. “He seldom has one; and I never knew any to come at night before.”

They saw the figure of Locke cross one of the shed windows toward a door. And just then Ashton-Kirk stumbled rather heavily against Haines; the lantern dropped to the ground and was extinguished.

“I beg your pardon,” said the investigator in a rueful tone; then he began to rub his shins. “That was rather hard, whatever it was.”

The door of the building opened and Locke appeared; his great bald head shone in the light that streamed after him; and it was thrust forward as he strove to penetrate the darkness ahead.

“He feels the vibrations of those buzzers,” Haines told them, “and knows right away when anyone wants to get in.”

He began fumbling with the lantern as Locke disappeared; but Ashton-Kirk said to him:

“You need not light that. We can see very well. And, on second thought, you need not wait, either. We can introduce ourselves to Professor Locke without troubling you further.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the man, vastly relieved. “They all have queer dispositions, you see, and I don’t like to trouble them.”

At once Haines made his way back along the path by which they had approached; some distance away they saw him kindle his lantern, and then watched the yellow spark as it glanced fitfully away across the grounds.

The cottage and work-shop of Professor Locke appeared to be set back some little distance from what Haines had called the county road; a grove of tall trees thickened the shadows all about, and it was into these trees that the professor had gone.

“The buzzer must have the button that sounds it attached to a gate opening upon the road,” said Pendleton.

They stood for a short time in silence; then Pendleton nudged his friend with an elbow.

“Look,” he whispered. “There at the door of the shed.”

Ashton-Kirk did so. And he was just in time to see a large, iron-gray head, a craggy, powerful face, and a pair of thick shoulders; the expression and attitude were those of a man listening intently. Almost instantly, as Ashton-Kirk’s gaze fell upon him, the man withdrew.

“Humph,” exclaimed Pendleton under his breath. “Who’s that, I wonder?”

They waited for some time longer in silence. But the little man did not return, nor did the head appear again at the shop door. Ashton-Kirk appeared puzzled.

“Locke intended returning at once,” he said to Pendleton. “Otherwise he would have closed his work-shop door.” Then his eyes wandered toward the house, and his grip closed tightly upon his companion’s arm. “Look,” whispered he, in his turn.

Pendleton’s gaze flew toward the house. The lower windows had been dimly lighted when they approached; but now the glow from them was high and brilliant. In one of the rooms they saw Locke; he was striding up and down, his hands clinched and gesturing, his face upturned, writhing hideously. Seated at a table, calmly engaged in examining something traced upon a sheet of paper, and apparently not paying the slightest attention to the gesticulating man, was a young woman. And Pendleton felt himself grow suddenly faint and sick as he recognized Edyth Vale.



For a moment there was a silence between the two men; then Ashton-Kirk said, dryly:

“Miss Vale has, apparently, not been altogether frank with us in this matter.”

“You think then–” began Pendleton in a voice of terror. But Ashton-Kirk stopped him.

“I think many things,” said he. “But they are neither here nor there. Facts are what count. Put the circumstances together for yourself and see where they lead you. Miss Vale has been from the first mixed up more or less in this crime. She explained. As far as I knew the explanation was made in good faith. Now we find her here in this lonely place, quietly engaged with a man whom I have convinced myself is one of Hume’s murderers.”

There was another pause; this time it was Pendleton who broke the silence.

“As you say,” spoke he, in a strange, throaty sort of tone, “she has not been quite frank. Take all the circumstances together and they seem to point–“

He paused as though quite unable to finish. Ashton-Kirk laid a hand upon his shoulder.

“Imagination is a thing that is vitally necessary in this sort of work,” said he. “But it must be held in check by reason. The great trouble with an amateur is that he reasons up to a certain point; then he allows his imagination to take a long leap toward a result. The upshot is that his results have seldom anything to support them. The correct method, I think, is to allow the imagination to scurry ahead in the way that is natural to it; but reason must follow close behind, proving each step of the way. To be sure, you may have theories, hypotheses, ideas without end, but you must never take them for granted. Select each in its turn, place it in a tube as the chemist does, add a few drops of reason, and you may produce a fact. It is the only way to go about it. Once a man becomes fixed in a belief, be there ever so little foundation for it, his mind stops revolving the subject; further procedure is hopeless.”

“I understand all that well enough,” said Pendleton. “But,” and he waved his hand toward the house, “what does _this_ mean?”

“I don’t know,” said Ashton-Kirk. “And neither do you. So–that being the case–there is but one thing to do–find out.”

They gazed toward the window once more, Miss Vale had apparently mastered the contents of the paper, and was now engaged in writing rapidly. As the young men watched, she stopped, read carefully what she had written, and then handed it to Locke. The mute carried the paper to the light, and holding it very near to his eyes read it with much attention; then he tore it into strips, placed it upon the red coals of a stove which stood near him and watched it burn. Facing Miss Vale, his fingers began to fly rapidly in intricate signs. This only lasted a moment, however; for he stopped, gestured passionately, seized a pad of paper and began to write.

While he was thus engaged, Ashton-Kirk said to Pendleton in a low tone:

“Remain here for a moment.”

Then slowly, carefully, the investigator made his way toward the window through which Miss Vale and Locke were to be seen.

Heavy beams of light shot across the ground from the windows; but here and there were trails of shadow. He clung to these until he had reached the shelter of the walls; then to Pendleton’s amazement he stepped directly in front of the window through which the two were to be seen, rapped smartly upon the glass, and remained standing in full view, of the two in the room.


Pendleton saw the pad drop from Locke’s hands; he saw the mute wheel as he felt the vibrations and stare at the window, his eyes puckered and straining. He also saw Miss Vale rise, saw her hands thrown out in a gesture much like despair; and also he heard the cry that she uttered, muffled by the confines of the room, but full of fear. Then the room was plunged into darkness; an instant later a door was heard to open; the sound of quick-moving feet came to him; there followed the pulsations of a motor and the racing of a car away into the night.

“She’s off,” breathed the young man, and there was undoubted relief in the knowledge. “She’s off, and I really believe that’s what Kirk was after.”

He walked toward the house and found his friend standing in the shadows.

“Well,” chuckled the investigator, “it did not take her long to make up her mind, eh?”

“You had some motive in doing that,” accused Pendleton. “What was it?”

Ashton-Kirk was about to reply; but just then the small figure of Locke made its appearance. He carried a lantern and was approaching with stumbling steps, his eyes peering and blinking in their efforts to pierce the gloom. Not until he was well upon the two did he make them out; then he halted, lifted the light above his head and surveyed them intently.

In the rays of the lantern Ashton-Kirk smiled urbanely, and bowed. The supple fingers of the mute writhed inquiringly.

“Each of them forms itself into a wild note of interrogation,” said Pendleton. “They are fairly screaming questions at you.”

Ashton-Kirk smiled even more agreeably at Locke and shook his head. Then he went through the pantomime of one writing, and finished by pointing to the house.

Carefully, eagerly, fearfully, the mute examined them; his near-sighted eyes and the wavering light must have made it all but impossible for him to make them out. However, he at length motioned for them to follow him, and started back by the way which he had come. But after a few steps he halted. He indicated that they were to remain where they were; then he went to the shed-like building, closed the door and locked it, placing the key in his pocket.

“It would seem,” observed Ashton-Kirk, “that we are not to be trusted implicitly.”

“Also,” replied Pendleton, “that there is something of value in the shed.”

Returning, Locke led the way to a door upon the other side of the house. Showing them into a small room furnished with books and scientific apparatus and evidently a study, he set down the lantern and with a sign bade them be seated. Upon their doing so he produced a small pad of paper and a pencil; handing these to Ashton-Kirk he stood peering at them expectantly. With the swift, accurate touch of an expert, the investigator wrote in the Pitman shorthand:

“We ask pardon if we have startled you.”

Then he tore off the sheet and handed it to Professor Locke. The man seemed surprised at the medium selected by his visitor; nevertheless he quickly traced the following in the same characters.

“Who are you? What is your errand?”

“We were sent to you by Dr. Mercer,” replied Ashton-Kirk with flying pencil. “Our business is to secure the admission of a new pupil.”

Locke read this and regarded them for a moment, doubtfully.

“Why did you not press the button at the door?” he demanded in writing.

“I hardly expected you to have such a thing as a bell,” answered Ashton-Kirk, on the pad. “And so, seeing you, I attracted your attention as best I could.”

Professor Locke read this and stood with his pencil poised, when the buzzer sounded harshly; he went at once into the hall; they heard him open the door; and in a few moments he returned, followed by Haines.

The fingers of the two flashed their signals back and forth; then a look of relief came into Locke’s face; he even smiled, and nodded understandingly at the two young men.

“I beg pardon, gentlemen,” said Haines. “But when I got back to the hall, Dr. Mercer made me return and make sure that you had got to see the Professor.”

“Thanks,” replied the investigator. “We had not the slightest difficulty.”

“I’m glad to hear it, sir,” said the man. “Good-night to you.”

He flashed the same wish to the mute, who answered readily; then he went out and through the window they saw his light again go bobbing away in the darkness. Then the professor began to write once more.

“I beg your pardon,” was his message in long-hand. “The man tells me that it was quite as you say. But I must confess I was a trifle startled.”

“The lady,” wrote Ashton-Kirk, “seemed startled, too.”

For the fraction of a moment the mute halted in his reply. Then the pencil with much assurance formed the following:

“It was my niece. She was about to go just as you came; so do not reproach yourself for having driven her away.”

For some time the penciled conversation continued between the two; but as it was all based upon the fanciful pupil whom the investigator stated he desired to place in Dr. Mercer’s care, Pendleton paid little heed to it. At last, however, they bid the Professor good-by, and left him upon the threshold, his massive head nodding his adieus, his frail little body sharply outlined by the glow from the hall.

The two had reached their own car around on the other road before Pendleton spoke. Then he inquired:

“Well, have you learned anything from him?”

“I think I can say ‘yes’ to that,” answered the other. “But I’m not yet sure. I’ll have to put it to the proof first, according to the formula which I gave you a half hour ago. If it succeeds, I’ll tell you what it is; if it does not, I’ll say nothing, and it will go upon the scrap heap devoted to broken fancies. And now, Dixon,” to the chauffeur, “we’ll go home.”



Shortly before noon next day, Ashton-Kirk, in an immaculate morning suit, was ushered into the presence of Miss Edyth Vale. If he expected confusion, embarrassment or anything of that sort, he was disappointed; for she greeted him eagerly and with outstretched hand.

“This is a surprise,” she said.

He held her hand and looked meaningly at her.

“My appearances _are_ sometimes surprising,” he said. “But I usually select the night for them; the effect is better then, you see.”

She smiled into his eyes.

“I have no doubt but that you are dreadfully mysterious,” she said. “But please sit down.”

She seated herself near the window; holding a book in her hand, she fluttered the leaves to and fro.

“The composure,” thought the investigator, as he sat down, “is somewhat overdone.”

“I wonder,” said Miss Vale, looking at the book, “if you are an admirer of Ibsen.” And as he nodded, she proceeded with a slight smile. “I know that he is scarcely the usual thing for a spring morning. But there are times when I simply can’t resist him.”

“He’s a strong draught at any time,” said Ashton-Kirk. “But his tonic quality is undoubted.”

“His disciples claim that for him, at any rate,” she answered. “But sometimes I question its truth. Where is the tonic effect of ‘Rosmersholm?’ I think it full of terrors.” She shuddered and added: “The White Horses will haunt me for weeks.”

“It’s the atmosphere of crime,” said he. “That quiet home on the western fiords reeks with it.”

She made a gesture of repulsion.

“It’s ghastly!” she exclaimed. “And, somehow, one feels it from the very first–before a word is spoken. Imagine Rebecca at the window, watching through the plants to see if Rosmer uses the footbridge from which his wife once leaped to her death.” She paused a moment, her eyes upon the open pages; then lifting her head, she asked: “What do you think of Rebecca?”

“A tremendous character–of wonderful strength. It was just such proud, dark, purposeful souls that Byron delighted to draw; but the only one in literature to whom I can fully liken her is the wife of Macbeth. There was the same ambition–the same ruthless will–the same disregard of everything that stood in her way. And, like Cawdor’s wife, she weakened in the end.”

She regarded him fixedly.

“Would you call it weakness?” she asked.

“She fell in love with Johannes, did she not? That was weakness–for her. She herself recognized it as such.”

The girl looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.

“That is true,” she said.

“Some of the world’s most daring and accomplished criminals have been women,” he went on. “But Nature never intended woman to be the bearer of burdens; there is a weakness in her soul structure somewhere; she usually sinks under the consciousness of guilt.”

“More so than men, do you think?”

“As a rule–yes.”

She put down the book and clasped her hands in her lap.

“There is no need to sympathize with Rebecca,” she said. “She was brave and strong, even in her love for Johannes. But he,” and there was a note in her voice that recalled the night he had listened to it over the telephone, “he was different. There is no more dreadful thing in the play, to me, than the character of Rosmer. To think of him sitting quietly in that charnel house, prospering in soul, growing sleek in thought, becoming stored with high ideas. Perfect peace came to him in spite of the stern-faced portraits which shrieked murder from the walls. He dreamed of freeing and ennobling mankind, and all the time Fate was weaving a net about him that was to drag him from the mill bridge after his dead wife.”

“Kroll knew him,” said the investigator. “And he said Rosmer was easily influenced. It is usually men of that type who are drawn into the vortex which swirls at every door.”

Her face was a little pale; but she now arose with a laugh and began rubbing her finger-tips with a handkerchief.

“I think we’d better remove the dust of the Norwegian,” she said; “and I make a vow never to read him again–in the morning.” She stood looking down at her caller, good-humoredly and continued: “I suppose it is my fault, but you have a dreadfully gloomy expression. Or maybe,” as an afterthought, “you ate an unwholesome dinner last night. Were you at the Perrings, by any chance?”

He shook his head, his keen eyes searching her face.

“No,” said he, “I had much more important matters on hand.”

She held up her hand.

“It was something about this Hume affair,” she said.

“Yes,” he replied.

The smile was now gone; she leaned back against a heavy table, her fingers tightly clasping its edge.

“I have been trying to forget that dreadful thing,” she said. “I’ve stopped looking at the papers, because I would be sure to see it mentioned. And,” with never a faltering in her eyes, “because I might be reminded of it in some other way, I now remain indoors.”

“Last night was an exception, perhaps,” suggested he, smoothly.

“Last night?” There was a questioning look in her beautiful eyes; the finely posed head with its crown of bright hair bent toward him inquiringly.

An expression of chagrin crept into his face.

“You were not out last night, then?” said he.

“What makes you think so?” smilingly. “It was dreadfully dull here, too. But then,” with a shrug, “anything is better than a constant reminder of that Christie Place affair.”

He nodded understandingly.

“I suppose it _is_ very distressing.” He frowned gloomily at the tips of his shoes and she could see that he bit his lip with vexation. After a moment or two, he said: “It’s very strange; but I was quite sure I saw you last night.”

“Yes?” Her tone was one of careless interest.

“However,” he went on, “I had but a glimpse of the lady; and could easily have been mistaken.” He wore a baffled look, but smiled as he got up. “And,” said he, “my visit of this morning was based upon the sight I fancied I had of you last night.”

She laughed amusedly.

“It was something interesting,” she said. “Please tell me about–but, no, no,” hastily. “If it has anything to do with the Hume case, I’d rather not hear it.”

She had pressed the bell call for the footman, when he said:

“Mr. Morris still keeps himself well concealed, I note.”

Like a tigress leaping to defend her young, she met the accusation.

“Mr. Morris has done no wrong,” she declared, spiritedly. “And there is no need of his concealing himself.”

“Of course I will not say as to that.” His voice was soothing and low. “But he makes a mistake in not coming forward. His name, you have noticed, has already appeared in the papers in direct connection with the murder.”

He glanced at her keenly once more.

“It may be that he has gone away upon some urgent business,” she said. “And the chances are that he has not heard anything of the matter.”

“If he had gone away on business, don’t you think he would have mentioned it to someone?”

“Perhaps he did not think it necessary. And again, maybe he did not expect to be gone so long. Such things frequently happen, you know.”

“They do,” admitted Ashton-Kirk. “But in the case of Allan Morris, they somehow fail to fit. I am convinced that he is in hiding.”

She regarded him steadily for a moment; then she said:

“You are convinced, you say?”

“I am.”

“May I ask upon what your conviction is based?”

“Not now–no.”

There was another pause; the man was at the door, ready to show the investigator out.

“Perhaps,” and her tone was very low, “you even fancy that you know his hiding-place.”