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“Not just yet,” said he, “but in a few hours at most, I will.”

Her lips formed the good-by as he stood in the doorway; but she made no sound. And Ashton-Kirk as he walked down the hall, smiled quietly to himself.

CHAPTER XVII

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE ROAD

About half an hour after Ashton-Kirk had left the Vale mansion, a Maillard car drew up before the door. As it did so, an Italian laborer arose from the curb not far away where he had been comfortably seated with his back against a tree; then throwing his arms wide in a luxurious yawn, he started leisurely down the street.

Five minutes later, a veiled, dust-coated female figure descended the step; the driver of the Maillard was dismissed, and Miss Vale composedly took his place at the wheel. As the car started forward, the gauntleted hands guided it firmly; the steady eyes were set straight ahead as the lever was pushed first to one speed and then another.

And as the rapid pulse of the motor was borne along the quiet avenue, the Italian laborer calmly appeared from around a corner, pushing a powerful-looking motor cycle before him. Another moment and the machine was sounding its wild fusillade; the Italian sped away in the same direction as the Maillard, his battered soft hat set jauntily upon the back of his head, his gay-colored neckkerchief streaming in the wind.

The car kept to the avenue for a long time; but finally in the far suburbs it made a sharp turn to the left and a few miles further on shot into a broad highway that ran parallel with the railroad.

Bending forward so as to offer the least resistance to the wind, the Italian’s swarthy face relaxed at this; his fine white teeth showed in a smile.

“Cordova, I think,” muttered he, in very good English. “If not, then somewhere very near to it.”

Once upon the highway, which was hard, level and practically deserted, the Maillard increased its speed. Eddies of dust curled in its wake; its hum resembled that of a gigantic top; its shining brass and smooth gloss made it look like a streak of light. But the motor cycle was of the best; its compact, powerful mechanism answered bravely to each call that was made upon it by the dark-faced man in the saddle; its explosions had merged into one long volley.

At a small and not very firm-looking bridge the Maillard slowed down; apparently for the first time Miss Vale heard the cycle in the rear, for she turned and gave it a quick look. But the dust of her own progress hung thickly in the air and she could not see very clearly. Passing the bridge at a low rate of speed, she turned again. The dark face of the rider, his battered hat and flying ‘kerchief seemed to satisfy her; for once more she gave attention to her course, and again the car increased its speed. A mile or two further on there was a rather broken stretch of road and she was forced to slow down. As the sound of her own vehicle diminished, she, as before, caught the volleying of the motor cycle; and as she turned the eyes that looked through the veil were intent and searching.

This time she appeared not so well satisfied, for upon reaching the end of the broken stretch, she drew her car to one side and stopped. As the hammering explosions of the motor cycle grew plainer and plainer she sat rigidly erect upon her seat, her face turned directly ahead. But a close observer would have noted a slow movement of her right hand among the folds of the dust coat; and if he was also an experienced observer he would have immediately understood that Miss Vale did not venture alone and unarmed upon the road.

However, the Italian never even gave her a glance as he came up; his machine flew by with a swirl, amid a crashing crescendo; then it disappeared in the dust of the distance.

But Miss Vale, when she once more resumed her journey, had not gone much more than a mile when she came upon the same swarthy son of the south and his vociferous machine. But the latter was now silent enough; it leaned against a fence, and its rider knelt beside it, a wrench in his hand, testing its parts carefully and intently.

The Maillard was less than a quarter of a mile away when Miss Vale caught the rapid series of explosions once more. With a quick glance ahead, she threw the lever forward and the car tore along at a breathless rate. Fences ran by in a giddy staggering line; trees seemed merged into one tangle of branches; the dust arose in solid towers behind her. However, she held to this but a scant five minutes; her breath was short when she decreased the power; the hands upon the wheel shook a little, but her head was held erect, her face was still purposefully set forward.

Above the decreasing hum of her car, came the swift, brave shocks of the motor cycle. But, if there was a dread that fell to tightening at her heart, she showed it little. The Maillard still bore swiftly on; she did not once turn her head.

A little further on there came into view a post with a series of white, pointing sign-boards, that indicated a cross-roads. When still a hundred yards from this the car stopped once more; again the Italian flew by; again he vanished, this time around a bend beyond the cross-roads. But once hidden by the bend, he stopped and got down; the smile again appeared upon his face, the brilliant teeth shone good-naturedly.

“A simple little ruse,” he said to himself. “And one that I’ve seen used with effect more than once. Evidently Miss Vale has her wits about her.”

Leaning against his machine he waited and listened. From around the bend came the low sound of the Maillard; nearer and nearer it came for a time; then it began to recede. At this the Italian remounted; the explosions of his motor were muffled as he went swiftly along upon the way by which he had come. At the cross-roads he slowed up and examined the ground. Deep in the dust was the broad impress of the tires, showing the car to have taken the turn to the left. Then swiftly the cycle turned into the same road and took up the trail once more.

Some three miles further on, the track veered back toward the highway along a badly cut dirt road.

“Slow going for a heavy car,” said the pursuer calmly. “It will not be long before I sight it again.”

There was a hard, beaten footpath at one side of the road; taking to this, the man on the motor cycle found it easy traveling enough. Shortly after, he caught the laborings of the Maillard as it made its way through the binding ruts; then he slowed down and ran easily along the path, content, apparently, to keep in sound of the chase.

But upon finally reaching the highway, he increased his speed until he sighted the dust of the car; this he hung to like a beagle, but never once allowed the car itself to come into view.

At last the sounds of the Maillard ceased and the pall of dust thinned and dissolved itself in the air. The motor cycle ran swiftly on until the car, now at a standstill, became visible; then the Italian got down, took out a pair of field-glasses and swept the highway before him.

What he saw must have satisfied him that there would be no more use for his machine for a time, at least; for he pushed it to a place where there was a break in a fence and concealed it behind a musty-looking corn shock, left from the fall before. Then placing the glass under his arm he walked guardedly along the road in the direction of Miss Vale’s car.

Some distance further on there was a tall swamp maple growing by the roadside; it was an easy task to mount into its branches from the top fence-rail; then resting snugly in a high fork, he leveled his glass and proceeded to scan the scene before him.

Miss Vale had descended from her car; her veil was raised, and she was gingerly picking at the mechanism with hands sheathed in canvas gloves. With apparent intentness she took out tools; small parts were inspected minutely. And yet, for all that, there was something unusual in her manner; every now and then she would lift her head, casually, so it seemed, and glance away across the fields.

“And always to the right,” murmured the man in the tree-top, after a little.

At once the big glass swept around in that direction.

“A house,” added the watcher, with great satisfaction.

The building was almost buried in a thick growth of trees; its white sides and red roof shone in the sun through branches abud with April.

Suddenly, in the midst of her labor, Miss Vale paused; her manner changed, the tools were dropped, the parts lost interest. Facing the house, she yawned, with arms thrown wide after the manner of one much wearied with a task; then she took off the gloves, unpinned her hat and smoothed her hair. This was gone through with careful elaboration and afterwards there was a pause; the girl then gathered up the things, got into the machine, placed the hat upon the seat beside her, went careening away with never a backward glance.

But the man in the tree seemed in no haste to follow; instead he covered the distant house with his glass and waited patiently. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed, then half an hour and finally an hour. At the end of that time, however, a figure emerged from the trees about the house and walked hastily toward the road; the eyes of the watcher glistened, his fine teeth shone in an appreciative smile.

Reaching the road where the car had stopped, the newcomer, who was young, well-dressed and rather good-looking, suddenly paused, stooped and lifted something from the ground. He held in his hands the work gloves of Miss Vale, which she had dropped after taking them off. For a moment the young man stood looking at them as though hesitating what to do; then he turned, went to the roadside and placed them carefully upon the top rail of the fence. Then trudging along on his way, he unsuspectingly passed beneath the maple which concealed the man with the glass.

When he was out of sight, the Italian slipped down the tree and ran lightly along the road to the place where the gloves lay. He took up one and looked within; but it was empty. However, in the thumb of the next was a slip of paper which bore a single line of writing:

“Tobin Rangnow.”

Studying this for a moment, the Italian made a copy of it. Then he slipped it back into the thumb of the glove and replaced both exactly as they were; after which he made his way back to the motor cycle, and mounting, went flying toward the city.

CHAPTER XVIII

ASHTON-KIRK TELLS WHY

It was about four in the afternoon, and young Pendleton sat in Ashton-Kirk’s big chair, reading the newspapers and waiting. Finally he rang a bell and Stumph gravely appeared.

“Are you sure that he said three?” asked Pendleton.

“_About_ three, sir,” replied the man.

“Oh! I suppose he’s been detained then. That will be all, Stumph!”

When the man disappeared, Pendleton lighted a cigar and resumed his reading. The Hume case was still holding its place as the news feature of the day. Nothing had occurred to equal it in sensation; and the huge headings flared across the front pages, undiminished and undismayed.

“Why,” screamed the _Standard_, in a perfect frenzy of letter press, “did Miss Edyth Vale visit Hume on the night of the murder?”

The girl’s name had crept into the paper on the day before; with each edition it appeared in larger type; and that afternoon the _Standard_ was printing it in red ink. Allan Morris was not neglected; on the contrary, he figured a very close second to his betrothed in the types.

“_Where is Allan Morris?_”

One paper asked this question perhaps fifty times on each page. It peered at one in square, heavy-faced type from the bottoms of columns and between articles. There were interviews with his clerks; the opinions of his stenographer were given in full, together with her portrait; and what his man servant had to say was treated as being of great consequence.

Another sheet, which made a point of appealing to the tastes of the vast foreign element of the city, grew very indignant as to the arrest of Antonio Spatola.

“Why,” it inquired, “is this man detained and no attempt made to take those higher up into custody? If the Police Department is so ready to incarcerate a poor musician, why should it hesitate upon the threshold of the rich man’s mansion?–or the rich woman’s, for the matter of that?”

This item incensed Pendleton beyond measure; he threw the paper aside and stormed up and down the room.

“Of all the blatant wretched twaddle I ever did read,” he exclaimed, “this is positively the worst. Why, the rag would have the police arrest Edyth–arrest her for–“

“Well,” demanded a sharp, aggressively pitched voice, “what for you make-a da blame, eh? Da cops pinch-a Spatola, and for why, eh? Because he’s da wop, da Ginney, da Dago and got-a no friends.”

At the first word Pendleton had whirled about in astonishment, and faced the speaker, who stood in the doorway, pointing with one hand in the attitude of melodrama.

“Well,” asked the young man, “who the deuce are you?”

By way of an answer the other burst into a laugh that showed his brilliant teeth; then he threw off his battered soft hat and gayly colored handkerchief, after which he sank into the chair which Pendleton had lately vacated.

“Pen,” said he, in an altered voice, “if you appreciate my friendship at all, give me one of the blackest cigars in the case over there.”

Pendleton stared for a moment; then a grin crept over his face and he said:

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” He went to the cabinet and took out a box. “Here’s a brand that looks like black Havana,” he said. “And now, what the dickens are you doing in that rig?”

“I’ve been taking a long ride in the country–on a motor cycle,” answered Ashton-Kirk, crossing his shabbily clothed legs and striking a match. “Any time you feel disinclined to face your meals, Pen, I recommend you heartily to do the same. It is a greater bracer. At this moment I really believe I could do complete justice to even the very best culinary thoughts of our friend, Dr. Mercer.”

Pendleton sat down and regarded his friend with questioning eyes.

“It wasn’t to acquire an appetite that you made up this way. You’ve been working.”

Ashton-Kirk comfortably blew one smoke-ring through another before he answered.

“Will you be surprised to hear that I have been following Miss Edyth Vale on a little voyage to the neighborhood of Cordova?”

“Again!”

“But this time she did not pay a visit to Professor Locke. To-day the favored one was Allan Morris.”

“Morris! Then she knows where he is?”

“So it would seem.”

“But she told you the other day that she did not.”

Ashton-Kirk shrugged his shoulders.

“Things happen swiftly and unexpectedly,” said he. “Perhaps she did _not_ know it then.”

“And perhaps she did not know Locke or his whereabouts, either,” said Pendleton, with bitter irony.

“Who knows?” replied Ashton-Kirk, composedly. “At any rate, it was just a supposition that led to my labors of to-day.”

“I don’t think I understand,” said Pendleton, after a moment.

“Last night,” said the investigator, “you asked me if I had learned anything from Professor Locke. And I replied to the effect that I thought I had. Now,” after a pause, devoted to the grateful smoke, “when one sees a girl circumstanced as Miss Vale assuredly is in this case, paying a secret visit to a man who is rather more than suspected of the murder, what does one suppose?”

“That she is leagued with him, somehow,” replied Pendleton, reluctantly.

“Exactly. But on the other hand, when the same girl, upon sight of us, rushes off and leaves the man to face us without giving him a hint as to who we are, what does one suppose?”

But Pendleton rose gloomily and strode over to the window.

“I don’t know,” said he.

“One supposes,” proceeded Ashton-Kirk, “that she has not much interest in him.” Here Pendleton faced about again. “If she had been leagued with him, as you put it, you may be sure that she would have managed to warn him in some way as to our identity. But that she had not done so, the mute’s manner told me as plainly as words could have done. Seeing this, I began figuring what it meant. If she was not associated with Locke in the crime, why was she there? Immediately came the answer–through Morris. But, when I saw her last, she denied any knowledge of Morris’s whereabouts. Then I reasoned, she had seen him in the interim.”

“That’s it,” cried Pendleton, as he stepped forward and slapped the table with his palm; “that’s it, beyond a doubt! He’s managed to get word to her; she’s seen him; he’s told her all or part of the truth; and once more she’s trying to help him. Why, Kirk, I’ll venture to say,” hot with indignation, “that she was led to visit this little scoundrel Locke, last night, much as she was led to visit Hume’s place on the night of the murder–completely in the dark, and merely with some sort of a vague notion of protecting Morris.”

“Perhaps you are right, but I can’t exactly say. But that she has seen Morris I have made quite sure.”

“How?”

“Last night when I appeared at Locke’s window, I established a reason for calling upon her this morning, also I laid a foundation for what followed. Before the call I made certain preparations for a quick change of front,” with a gesture that called attention to his costume; “in our conversation, I managed to tell her that Morris’s hiding place was discovered. Then I left. As I expected, she at once called her car and set off to warn him; and I followed close behind upon the motor cycle.”

“I see, I see. And did you get sight of him?”

Ashton-Kirk nodded. Then he proceeded to relate the story of the noon-day run to the country house which Morris had selected as a hiding place. When he had finished, Pendleton sat frowning blackly.

“Secret signals,” said he. “He fears discovery so much that he has forbidden her approaching the house. A regular code has been arranged, eh? And the gloves were dropped in the road purposely; he slipped his answer into one of them; on her way back she discovers her supposed loss, looks for the gloves, and finds them. It is quite ornate,” with a bitter sneer.

Then he took from the investigator’s hand the card upon which he had copied the message of Allan Morris.

“Tobin Rangnow,” he read. Then looking up he inquired with a wan smile. “More secret writing, eh? Or is it a man’s name?”

“There is a decided Irish flavor to Tobin,” answered Ashton-Kirk. “But Rangnow is unfamiliar to me; and if it is a name at all, it is of Eastern European origin. In that case,” laughing, “it could scarcely be expected to share the honors with Tobin.”

He took the card from Pendleton and looked at it thoughtfully. Then he glanced up in a satisfied sort of way:

“As you suggested, Miss Vale no doubt returned, recovered her gloves and read the message,” said he. “As she had just warned him that his hiding place was discovered, it is only natural to suppose that his answer would have something to do with his future movements.”

“That seems likely enough,” said Pendleton.

“Look here; if we put a comma between the two words,” went on the investigator, taking out a pencil and doing so, “the thing takes on the appearance of a name and address.”

Once more he gave the card to Pendleton; then rising he went to the telephone stand and took up the directory. Skimming rapidly through this he paused at a page and went down its columns carefully. Then with a laugh he slapped it shut.

“We have it,” declared he. “When we so desire, we can call at an apartment house known as the ‘Rangnow’ and inquire for Mr. Tobin. And when we see that gentleman we shall be looking upon one in the confidence of Allan Morris.”

There was a long pause on the part of Pendleton. Ashton-Kirk rang for Stumph and directed him to turn the water into his bath, and get him out some fresh linen. It was after the man had gone that Pendleton spoke.

“When you came in, Kirk,” he said, “you said something which conveyed the notion that you would not be much astonished if the police took up the Hume matter with Edyth Vale.”

“It is only the fact that the newspapers were first in discovering her apparent connection with it, that has kept Osborne and his fellows from visiting her before this. Jealousy, you know, does many strange things.”

Pendleton did not reply; he bent his head and covered his face with his hands. Ashton-Kirk went on:

“The reasonable thing for her to do would be to come forward and tell the plain truth.”

Pendleton roused himself.

“But don’t you see that that is the very thing that her brave nature will not do? She’s protecting Morris; and she’ll go on protecting him, no matter what the consequence to herself.”

“In that event,” said the investigator slowly, “we can not be in too great a hurry in removing the cause that keeps Morris in hiding.”

“You’ll have a task in that,” said Pendleton. “As far as I can see, the man is up to his eyes in the crime; and that’s why he is lying low.”

“I have warned you before now against jumping at conclusions,” said the other, quietly. “Allan Morris may be a confederate of Locke’s, or he may not. We have yet to establish the fact either way. And now, pardon me while I take a plunge and get into something presentable.”

CHAPTER XIX

THE TWO REPORTS

After dinner the two young men settled themselves in the library: Stumph served their coffee and they renewed their acquaintance with the Greek tobacco. After a little time there came a knock upon the door.

“Come,” called Ashton-Kirk.

A short man with remarkable breadth of shoulder and depth of chest entered; he was smooth shaven and salient of jaw and wore the air of one who was not easily balked in anything that he undertook.

“How are you, Burgess?” said the investigator.

“Good-evening,” returned Burgess. He advanced and laid some neatly folded sheets at the elbow of his employer. “Fuller was busy and I thought I’d bring these in myself. It’s my report on Hume.”

“Ah, thank you.”

Ashton-Kirk took up the sheets and began running his eye through them. “As you get deeper into this record, did Hume keep his promise?”

Burgess smiled.

“As to possibilities, do you mean? Why, yes. Indeed, I rather think he exceeded them.” The man lit the cigar which the investigator handed him and drew at it appreciatively. “I went it alone on the first day; but after that I took O’Neill and Purvis on. Between us, we managed to get at something pretty definite.”

“Has Fuller finished with Morris?”

“He is typing his report at this moment. It will be ready in a half hour, I should think.”

“Please tell him to bring it in as soon as it is finished.”

Burgess nodded and went out. Ashton-Kirk continued to dip into the report here and there.

“Among three of them,” said Pendleton, “they should have sifted the man’s life and adventures pretty well.”

As Ashton-Kirk continued to scan the pages, a peculiar expression slowly came into his eyes.

“They seem to have done so, indeed. And rather cleverly, too, I think. Would you care to hear the report?”

“By all means,” eagerly.

The sheets were shifted into their proper order once more. Then Ashton-Kirk read:

“‘_A Further Investigation into the Affairs of David Purtell Hume_.

“‘No record was to be had of Hume, beyond his settlement in the city in 1899. People in the same line of business were questioned closely; and those who knew anything of him at all clung to the idea that he was an American who had lived for many years abroad.

“‘So we had another look at the old passenger lists of the steamships; but this time we went further back. We knew that the simple ruse of a fictitious name would cover Hume completely; but it seemed the only thing to do, and we set at it systematically. In the records of the steamer _Baltic_ of the Netherlands Steamship Company for the year 1897, we came upon the name of “D. Purtell.” Without much hope of learning anything definite after such a lapse of time, I inquired after this passenger.

“‘Luck was with us in the shape of an old clerk with a long memory. He faintly recalled something of the man, and after some talk got out still another book. And there it was! D. Purtell, so it seemed, had been involved in an attempt to smuggle a quantity of diamonds.

“‘Our next step was to visit the customs people. Their records were very complete. They even had a portrait of Purtell, which proved him to have been Hume beyond a doubt. Only a trifle of evidence had been secured against him–not enough to convict–and they were forced to release him. This seems to have been Hume’s specialty.

“‘However, through the customs services of other countries, they had learned quite a lot about him. The authorities of Holland, Spain and France knew him as one of the leading spirits in a system of smuggling that had been going on for years. Once Hume had been located in Antwerp, once at Hamburg, and for a long time at Bayonne. This system of contraband had been broken up just before he had been arrested by the United States service. A number of the criminals had been convicted; but Hume, with his usual luck, had escaped once more, because of lack of evidence against him.

“‘Nothing could be learned of the movements of Hume between his arrest on the _Baltic_ and his location here as a dealer in the curiosities of art. And after his going into business here, he kept to himself a great deal.

“‘But the drink habit caused him to frequent certain resorts, and it was at one of these that he first met Richard Morris, father to Allan Morris!'”

“Ah!” said Pendleton. “So Hume knew Morris’s father.”

“I asked Fuller, in giving him his instructions, to have this fact established, if he could,” said Ashton-Kirk. “That both Hume and the elder Morris were heavy drinkers caused me to think it possible.”

“Is that all there is to the report?”

“Almost.” The investigator turned to the pages once more, and proceeded: “‘Hume and the elder Morris became quite intimate and were often seen together. But what it was that formed the bond between them, no one knows, unless it be a deaf mute named Locke, who was frequently seen in their society and who seemed upon close terms with both. But within a year after their first meeting, Hume broke with Morris. This must have been serious, for it caused a marked enmity to spring up between them. A number of people recall that Richard Morris frequently made threats against the other–threats of personal violence and also of the law. But before anything could come of these, if he really meant them, he died.

“‘Thinking that Locke might be able to throw some light on this phase of the case, we have endeavored to locate him. Up to this time we have met with no success; but we hope to learn something of him at an early date.'”

Ashton-Kirk laid the sheets down upon the table.

“There follows a list of the names of the people who have supplied this information and their addresses,” said he. “Burgess is very thorough in his work.”

“Outside the fact that Hume was a scoundrel–which we knew before–and that he was acquainted with Locke and Allan Morris’s father, what does this report tell you?”

There was discontent in Pendleton’s voice as he asked this question, and the investigator smiled as he made answer:

“That Hume knew the elder Morris supplies us with a theory as to the possible part which the younger Morris has taken in this drama. Whatever passed between Hume and the father has probably been taken up by the son.”

“Why, yes,” said Pendleton. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Another thing,” added Ashton-Kirk: “The report has swung like the needle of a compass, and indicated a fact that my imagination suggested days ago.”

“And that is–“

“That Hume once lived in the French town of Bayonne.”

Pendleton frowned impatiently.

“I don’t know what ever made you imagine that,” he said. “But now that you find that it is so, of what service is it?”

“We will speak of that later,” answered Ashton-Kirk.

Pendleton was about to say something more, but just then Fuller knocked and entered.

“The report on Allan Morris,” said he.

“Ah, thanks.” The investigator took the compactly typed sheets, and then he continued: “Tell Burgess that he need not bother about the man Locke whom he mentions. Say that I have already located him.”

“Very well,” and Fuller left the room.

For a space there was no sound save that which came from the street and the rustle of the pages as Ashton-Kirk went through them.

“Well,” asked Pendleton, finally. “What now?”

“Morris,” replied his friend, “does not develop like Hume. Fuller suspected that he’d prove colorless, and so it has turned out. However, I’ll read what he says. It’s headed:

“‘_A Second Report on Allan Morris_

“‘A very careful inquiry failed to uncover anything in connection with this young man’s personal affairs that was not mentioned in my first report on the same subject. He has led a very even, uneventful life, attending strictly to business and making every movement count in the direction of distinction as a marine engineer.

“‘However, there has been something in his manner for the last few years that has attracted the attention of those who knew him best or came in contact with him. This took the various forms of eagerness of manner, irritability, long fits of reveries, a feverish desire for work. At his place of business I learned that he has for some time had a deep interest in the reports of the patent office. His clerks say that he’d read these for hours at a time; one of them told me of how he (the clerk) once forgot to call Morris’s attention to the report until the day after its arrival. Morris has always been very tolerant with his employees, but that day he burst out in a fury and threatened to discharge them all.

“‘Richard Morris, father to Allan, was a most erratic genius, as my first report indicated. His propeller, his smoke-consumer, and his automatic brake were valuable commercial properties, but had all slipped from his control. Toward the end of his life he engaged in the perfection of an invention of which he talked a great deal and of which he declared that he alone would reap the benefit.

“‘As Burgess will already have told you, Richard Morris knew Hume. The latter was a frequent visitor to a shop which the inventor maintained in the outskirts, as was the mute Locke. I have talked with an old mechanic who worked for Morris at the time; he told me that the inventor had made a stubborn fight against the drink habit and seemed likely to conquer it up to the time that he became acquainted with Hume. After this, however, he became as much a slave to it as ever. The invention, or whatever it was, never got beyond the paper stage; for thereafter Richard Morris spent his days in sleep and his nights at the once famous Coffin Club.'”

Ashton-Kirk arose eagerly.

“There is more,” said he, “but it is scarcely of interest.” Placing the report upon the table, he added: “You have heard of the Coffin Club, Pen?”

“Of course. It met in an underground place somewhere, didn’t it? And if I remember right, it was fitted up like the Cafe Au Mort in Paris.”

“Something of the sort.” The investigator went to a huge card system and pulled out a drawer labeled “TO.” “But I recall it best by the steward whose philosophy and Irish turns of speech were so frequently quoted by the newspapers during the heydey of the establishment. Can you recall his name?”

“I know whom you mean,” answered Pendleton, “but the name has slipped me.”

Ashton-Kirk paused in the fingering of the cards.

“It was Tobin,” said he. “It came to me that it was, but I wanted to be sure.” He pushed the drawer into place, looked at his friend inquiringly, and added: “Suppose we go around to the ‘Rangnow’ and see him?”

CHAPTER XX

ONE OF THE OLD SORT

Pendleton looked at his friend in bewilderment.

“You don’t mean to say that the philosopher of the Coffin Club and this Tobin of young Morris’s are the same,” cried he.

“I only _think_ they are,” said Ashton-Kirk quietly. “But we can make sure by paying a short visit to the apartment house.”

“Now?”

“There is no time like the present.”

And so the end of a half hour found them stepping out of a cab at the extreme west end of the city. It was only a little after nine o’clock, but the streets were almost deserted; the arc-lamps clicked and hissed lonesomely; rows of darkened windows and shadowy doorways ran away on both sides.

“There is the place we want,” said the investigator, pointing at an illuminated sign which hung out over the sidewalk some little distance away.

When they reached the place, they found it was rather a large building of the modern type; pushing open the swinging doors and making their way through a brilliantly lighted passage, they found themselves in an equally brilliant office.

Here they saw a dozen or more men seated in tilted chairs; all wore their hats and for the most part smoked cigars. Behind a polished counter on which rested a nickeled cash register and a huge book, stood a white-haired man with a smooth Irish face and a pair of gold eyeglasses hanging by a black cord. The air was heavy with disputation; long-tailed words boomed sonorously; red-faced and earnest, one of the occupants of the chairs assailed the man behind the counter; with soft, sweeping, eloquent gestures the latter defended himself.

“And what,” demanded he, placing his hands upon the shining top of the counter and shoving his head forward inquiringly, “is all this that we do be hearing about your suffragette? Who is she? What is she? The newspapers are filled to the top with her, but sorra the sight of her did I ever see. If she has any existence outside of the comic supplement, gentlemen, I’d like to have ye show me where. Did ye ever hear a whisper of her till she began to send herself by registered mail and chain herself to lamp posts? Niver the one of ye! Is your wife a suffragette? She’s not. Is your mother? No. Your sister? Again it’s no. Then who is it that composes the great army of female ballot seekers? Is it the cook? The chambermaid? The woman that does the plain sewing? I’ll wager ’tis not. They have too much to do already; it’s not looking for additional burdens they are. Then where does this advanced woman flourish and have her being?” Here one hand went up and descended with a slap. “In the mansions of the rich,” he declaimed positively; “in the lap of luxury. Among the feminine descendants of successful gum shoe men!”

Here the man with the flushed face attempted to speak; but an eloquent sweep of both hands silenced him.

“They have nothing to do,” stated the orator, “but to invent ways of pleasing themselves. Monkey dinner parties, diamonds, automobiles and boxes on the grand tier have no more attraction; private yachts and other women’s husbands have grown _passe_. They want a new toy, and faith, nothing will please them but the destinies of the nation. Their reasoning is simple and direct. If a man who wheels scrap iron at a blast furnace is competent to handle the–“

At this point the speaker was interrupted by Ashton-Kirk advancing to the counter.

“Pardon me,” said the investigator, “but can you tell me where I can find Mr. Tobin? Is he in?”

A look of great dignity came upon the face of the other; and he drew himself up stiffly.

“You are speaking to him, sir,” replied he.

“I thought so,” smiled Ashton-Kirk. “My old friend Dan O’Connor has mentioned you so often that I felt sure that I recognized the manner.”

The dignity vanished from Mr. Tobin’s face, and the stiffness of demeanor fell from him instantly.

“Do you know Dan?” asked he, eagerly. “Ah, there is the lad for you. A credit to his country and to his name. Faith, he is the best judge of whiskey in the city, and has a heart as large and as mellow as a barrel of it.”

“If it would not be putting you about in any way, we’d like a few moments in private with you.”

At once Mr. Tobin touched a button. A young man presented himself, and to him the conducting of the house was transferred for the time being. Then the two friends were led into a small sitting-room, where chairs were placed for them, and Mr. Tobin seated himself opposite them with some expectation.

“Since I became manager here,” explained he, “I seldom hear of any of the old lads. Ye see, it’s so far from the center of the city,” regretfully, “they seldom get along this way, so they do.”

“Yes, I suppose they cling to their old haunts,” said Ashton-Kirk. “Dan sticks to his school of boxing these days, pretty closely. I often drop in for a round or two with him. He’s as clever as ever, but he’s slowing up.”

Tobin shook his white head sadly.

“Tut, tut, tut,” said he. “And do you tell me that! Faith, he’s a young man yet–not much over sixty–and what call have he to be takin’ on the ways and manners of age? Even as late as the last year of the Coffin Club he was as swift as the light.”

“He frequently spoke of that club to me,” observed the other. “A queer place, I understand.”

Tobin nodded.

“Queer enough,” he answered, “and the members was as queer in some ways. Nothing would do them, but they must spend their time underground, sitting at tables shaped like coffins, and drinking their liquor out of mugs shaped like skulls. I was steward there a long time, and got good pay; but I never approved of the notion. It always seemed like divilment to me, did that.”

“Some very well known people frequented it, did they not?”

“Many’s the time I’ve seen the governor of the state himself, sitting there with a mug in his fist. The liquors was of the best, do you see,” with a pleased light in his eyes. “I know that, for it were meself that selected them. And a good sup of drink is a great attraction, so it is.”

“I don’t think that can be successfully denied,” admitted the investigator. “Some very brilliant men have proved it to their sorrow.”

“True for ye,” said Tobin. “Don’t I know it? We had actors and writers and editors–the cream of their professions–and every one of them a devotee, so to speak, of Bacchus. Sure, the finer the intellect, the greater the sup of drink appeals to them, if it does at all. One of the greatest frequenters of the club was a man whose inventions,” with a grandiloquent gesture, “revolutionized the industries of the world. And when he was mellow with it, boys o’ boys, but he could discourse! His name was Morris,” added the speaker, “and he was the father of the young man whose name has been mixed up with this Hume affair which is so occupying the public mind just now.”

“Indeed.”

There was a pause: Tobin’s mobile face looked back upon the past; his eyes had an introspective light in them.

“To think,” said he, “how the natures of men differ. Some are like the gods of old, and others again are like–well, like anything you choose to call them. And yet,” with philosophic speculation, “these two widely diversified types are sometimes friends. To the surprise of everyone they occasionally take up with one another. It’s hard to say why, but it is so.”

“I’ve noticed it myself,” said Ashton-Kirk.

Tobin nodded.

“Never,” said he, “did I see it so exemplified as in the case of Richard Morris and this felly who has just been killed. Never were two men more unlike; but sorra such an intimacy did I ever see afore, as there was between them. Morris when he had the drink in him was a poet. His ideas soared to the starry skies; he flew about upon the wings of the wind; faith I believe he thought the sun was not beyond his reach. But Hume was a divil! God save us, that I should say the like about any human creature; but he had the imp in him, for many’s the time I see it grinning and looking out at his two eyes.”

“I’ve heard it said that he was an unpleasant sort of chap,” agreed the other.

“Unpleasant,” said Tobin, “does not do credit to his capabilities, though ’tis a good word enough. There was never a man came into the Coffin Club, during the five years that I were there, that looked as though the place fitted him, but Hume. The others were like bad little boys who wouldn’t take a dare. But Hume was just right. To see him lift one of the stone skulls to his lips and grin over it at you, would make your blood run cold. And bless us and save us, gentlemen, how he would jeer and snarl and laugh all at the one time. Many’s the time I’ve listened to poor Morris rave and paint his pictures of what he was going to do in times to come; and on the other side of the coffin-table, Hume would urge him on, leerin’ and grinnin’ like Satan himself, and making all manner of game of him. Bedad, me gorge rose at it more than once, and it was all I could do to keep from takin’ him by the scruff of the neck and throwin’ him intil the street.”

“Almost every man has some spark of good in his nature, however faint,” said Ashton-Kirk. “And Hume may have had one, too, though no one seems to have discovered it.”

Tobin smiled and returned:

“An Irishman always has a good deal of respect for the fighting strain, no matter if it be in a man, or a beast, or a bird. Old Nick himself must be a grand, two-handed man, and as such we must give him credit. And ’twas the same way with this felly Hume. He had real fighting blood, so he had; and sorra the man ever undertook to impose on him the second time.”

“And as a true Celt, you held this to be a credit mark,” laughed Ashton-Kirk.

“I did. And, indeed, he seemed to consider it so himself, though he was not one to care a snap what others thought of him. But often he’d boast of the stock he came from. Fighters they were to the core, he said, fighters who never knew when they were whipped, and who’d go on fighting while they had a leg to stand on, an eye to see, and an arm to strike a blow.”

Tobin here paused and stroked his smooth-shaven chin, reflectively.

“He claimed descent from someone who was rated a real man in his day,” he continued. “‘Twas an officer, I think, who fought with–faith, yes,” smiling in recollection, “at the side of sorra the one less than Washington himself.”

Pendleton, listening with dwindling interest, saw Ashton-Kirk’s hand clench, and saw a gleam shoot into his eyes. Then he saw him bend toward Tobin, his elbows on his knees, his clenched hands beneath his chin.

“Ah,” said the investigator, and his voice was calmer than Pendleton remembered ever hearing it before, “he claimed a pedigree, did he? And from a Revolutionary officer. Such things are always interesting. It’s a pity you can’t remember the soldier’s name.”

Tobin pondered.

“I can’t,” confessed he, at length; “but there is one thing that I remember hearing Hume tell about him; it seemed laughable at the time, and I suppose that’s why it’s stuck to me. It seems that the supposed ancestor were a great felly for dress, and expected the like of all the men under him; and though he often had niver a crust of bread to put into their mouths, he always managed to have a pinch of white powder for them to dress their hair.”

Ashton-Kirk laughed suddenly, and leaned back in his chair. The gleam died out of his eyes, and a twinkle of satisfaction replaced it.

“That,” said he, “sounds amusing enough to be true. Mr. Hume’s ancestor was at least consistent. But,” and his tone changed, “we must not keep you from your duties, Mr. Tobin, and so we’ll get to the matter in hand.”

“If it is not hurrying you,” agreed Tobin.

“A while ago,” spoke Ashton-Kirk, “you mentioned young Allan Morris; and during your conversation you have led me to think that you were his father’s friend.”

“I were,” said Tobin. “He were a decent man.”

“Then perhaps your friendship extends to the son as well.”

“Perhaps it does,” and a note of perceptible caution crept into Tobin’s voice.

“I am glad to hear it,” said the investigator. “He seems badly in need of friends of the right sort just now; and I am confident, Mr. Tobin, that you are of that sort.”

“A man who has disappeared as completely as this one has done,” stated Tobin, “is out of the reach of even the best of friends.”

“Have you not heard from him since the murder?”

“No,” replied the other with a readiness that carried conviction.

“Then you will, and before long.” Ashton-Kirk arose and stood looking into the old man’s face. “Perhaps it will be to-night; but it will be by to-morrow night at latest. And when you do you can best show your friendship for him by telling him not to be a fool.”

“You mean,” said Tobin, shrewdly, “that I’m to advise him to give over hiding?”

“Exactly.”

“I’ll do that willingly enough, if I hear of him. An innocent man has no call to hide himself like a rat. But,” inquiringly, “after I tell him that, what will I do?”

Ashton-Kirk took out a card; handing it to the other, he said:

“Ask him to come see me.”

Tobin gave the card one glance, then his face lit up and his hand went out.

“Let me shake your hand, sir,” said he. “And I’ll tell the lad what you say with a heart and a half.”

CHAPTER XXI

ASHTON-KIRK BEGINS TO PLAN

As Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton left the “Rangnow,” the latter said:

“You surely do not suppose that Morris will call on you?”

“Why not?”

“It does not sound reasonable.”

“A day or two ago I would have said the same. But things are taking on a different aspect. And with their change, Morris will change. He had no idea of what was to come, or he would not have done what he has done.”

“No criminal would,” said Pendleton.

Ashton-Kirk shrugged his shoulders at this, but made no direct reply.

“And now if these newspapers, with all their pointed references to Edyth Vale, do not make the man come forward,” he went on, “what is about to happen–say within the next forty-eight hours–will be sure to do so.”

Pendleton turned a surprised look upon him.

“You think, then, that something unusual is about to happen?”

“I _know_ there is,” was the quiet reply. “To-night, old chap, has been most prolific in results. It has indicated why the murder was done; it has suggested the identity of the actual murderer; it has even pointed out the spot upon which we shall finally take him.”

“You really mean all that?” cried Pendleton, incredulously.

“I do.”

“Then you must have learned it at some time while I was not–” here Pendleton paused, and then proceeded in another tone. “But you have _not_ been out of my sight since dinner. Everything you have heard, I have heard; all that you have seen, I have seen.”

“Just so,” said Ashton-Kirk.

There was a pause; they walked along toward the place where they were to get a street car. At length Pendleton spoke once more.

“And from the rather bald reports of your two assistants, and the talk of this man, Tobin, you have gathered these most vital facts?”

“We can hardly call them facts as yet,” said the other; “but I have every confidence that we can do so within the time specified.”

A gong sounded sharply and a car crossed the street. Pendleton placed his hand upon his friend’s shoulder.

“Kirk,” said he, “I am not going to ask another question. I’m just going to wait, and if it turns out as you say, I’ll never question a statement of yours as long as I live. I’ll swallow them all as the Mussulman swallows the Koran.”

They boarded the car and Ashton-Kirk settled himself in a corner. His arms were folded across his chest, his head gradually sank forward. To all appearances he was asleep; but Pendleton knew that he was merely turning over some plan of action that would, in a little time, begin to reveal itself.

However, he was not prepared for such quick action as resulted; for suddenly Ashton-Kirk jumped up, glanced out at the car window, then darted to the platform and leaped off. Pendleton followed at once, and came up with him part way down an intersecting street.

“Where to now?” he asked.

“City Hall,” replied Ashton-Kirk, briefly.

It was no great distance to the municipal buildings; they shot up in the elevator and entered the police department.

“I’d like to see Superintendent Weagle,” said the investigator to the officer who came forward to speak to them.

“He’s just getting ready to go home,” answered the man, “but I’ll see what I can do.”

The superintendent of police happened to be in an obliging humor, and they were shown into his office a few moments later. Weagle stood in the middle of the floor, drawing on a light over-coat; the end of a black cigar was clenched between his teeth.

“How are you?” greeted he. “Anything doing in my line?”

“Not just yet,” replied Ashton-Kirk, “but I have some hopes.”

The official laughed.

“We all have them,” said he. “If we didn’t we might as well put up the shutters.” He threw the cigar end away and wiped his stubby moustache with a large handkerchief. “You’ve come for something,” said he. “What is it? My wife and kiddies are expecting me, and I must get home.”

“How long are you going to maintain the police guard at 478 Christie Place?” inquired the investigator.

“I hadn’t thought of it,” replied the superintendent. “However, we are in the habit of keeping such details up for some little time. Another thing, there is a lot of valuable stuff there which must be looked after.”

“Beginning with to-morrow night,” said Ashton-Kirk, “I want you to withdraw your men. And further, I want your permission for my friend Mr. Pendleton and myself to watch in their place.”

The official opened his eyes at this.

“Well,” said he, after a moment’s silence, “I don’t just understand your reasons; and the thing is most unusual. But,” and he nodded his head approvingly, “I’ve always noticed that you have reasons behind everything you do, and if this thing is expected to throw any further light on the Hume case, why, it shall be as you say.”

“Thank you,” said Ashton-Kirk. “Unless I am much mistaken it will close the matter finally as far as your department is concerned, and put the whole thing up to the District Attorney.”

“You mean,” said the superintendent with interest, “that you’ve got something new on Spatola–and perhaps on Morris and the girl!”

“I mean,” answered Ashton-Kirk, “that I hope to place the murderers of the numismatist Hume in your hands in a few days–whoever they may be.”

Weagle waved his hand.

“That’s all we want,” said he with a laugh. “Give us the right ones and we’ll make no complaint. And now, if you have nothing more to say, I’ll say good-night.”

They parted with the superintendent in the corridor; then Ashton-Kirk led the way into a room where some police officials and a number of young men were lounging about.

“Oh, how are you?” greeted a stout sergeant, affably. “And how’s the work?”

While the investigator was speaking to the sergeant, one of the alert-looking young men approached.

“Pardon,” said he. “But is there anything you’d like to say to the _Star?_”

“No,” replied Ashton-Kirk.

“You are working on the Hume case, are you not?” asked the reporter with professional insistence.

“Oh, I have had a little interest in it as an outsider, that is all,” returned the other. “However,” as he was passing through with Pendleton, “I can give you a piece of official police news on the case, which I just got from the superintendent. After to-night the guard will be removed from Hume’s place. Weagle thinks the regular policeman on the beat is all that is needed from now on.”

As they left the building by the main door, Pendleton said:

“A little while ago, I rashly promised to ask no more questions. If you’ll release me from that, I’ll unburden myself of one or two which will otherwise keep me awake to-night.”

“Go ahead,” said Ashton-Kirk with a smile.

“Why,” asked Pendleton, “do you want the police called off at Hume’s? and why should we place ourselves on watch instead?”

“At the very first we made up our minds that the men who murdered Hume were in search of something, didn’t we? Up to this time I have been unable to say whether they had succeeded or not. Now, however, I am convinced that they failed.”

“Ah!”

“To-morrow the newspapers will announce that Hume’s place is to be no longer guarded. It may be that the criminals are desperate enough to venture another visit in order to gain possession of the thing they covet. If they do, we shall be awaiting them.”

“But how do you know that they failed of their object on the night of the murder?”

“You and I,” said Ashton-Kirk, laughingly, “are perhaps going to spend considerable time in Christie Place, beginning with to-morrow evening. And while there we may find it dull enough, old boy; a little amusement of a practical sort might not be found out of place. So I’ll not answer your question now; I’ll allow it to stand until to-morrow night; and then I’ll give it to you, compact and complete, with practical illustrations as I go along.”

CHAPTER XXII

ASHTON-KIRK IS ANNOYED

On the following day, at about noon, Ashton-Kirk’s big French car glided up to the curb before the Vale house. A man with a thick neck and a small head nodded to the investigator; another waved a hand from across the street.

“Plain-clothes men,” he murmured, “and at watch upon the house. That means that this matter can be brought to an end none too soon for Miss Vale’s comfort.”

He was getting out of his car when a brace of eager reporters accosted him.

“The _Standard_ would like to have you say a few words for publication,” said one.

“The _Herald_ will give you what space you require for a statement at any time you see fit to make use of it,” declared the other.

“I’m very sorry,” said Ashton-Kirk, brushing a speck of dust from an immaculate sleeve, “but I have nothing to say that would interest your city editors, or the public. I have no doubt but that the police officials will be glad to acquaint you with anything new that has transpired–if there has been anything new.”

The newspaper men pulled wry faces.

“The police hang onto the Italian musician and profess to think he’s the guilty party,” said one. “If they have taken any steps beyond this, before to-day, we have not known of it.”

“Why have the detectives been placed to watch Miss Vale’s house?” asked the other. “And what has Osborne gone in to talk about?”

“Ah,” said Ashton-Kirk, with interest, “Osborne is within, is he?”

“Yes; and why are you going in? What has been learned regarding Miss Vale’s connection with the case that has not already been made public?”

“I would hardly undertake to answer that last,” laughed Ashton-Kirk. “So much has been made public in one way and another that I haven’t been able to keep track of it all. My own visit is merely a friendly call. Why Mr. Osborne is here I, of course, cannot say.”

Leaving the newspaper men disappointed and dissatisfied, the investigator rang the bell and was admitted. In the hall, pulling on his gloves, was Osborne.

“Hello!” exclaimed the latter. “So you thought you’d have a try, too, eh?”

The big man’s tone showed that he was none too well pleased with his own visit; he jerked at his gloves viciously, and his brow was creased with vexation. And seeing that the other was disposed to do nothing more than nod, he went on:

“Well, you’ll have to have a lot better luck than I’ve had, to have any at all. Miss Vale, it seems, is a young lady who knows very well how to say nothing. I’ve been here something like an hour and have put her through a regular third degree; but I’ve had my labor for my pains, as the saying is. She has told me nothing except her opinion of the newspapers and the police.”

“Miss Vale will see you, sir,” said the man servant, returning.

“And so you’ve given it up?” queried the investigator of Osborne.

The big headquarters man shrugged his shoulders.

“Hardly,” said he. “I’ve set a time on the thing. We scarcely like to go to extremes, as you perhaps know; but unless a clean breast of the matter is made, as far as the party knows,” modifying his language because of the listening servant, “the same party will know what the inside of a cell is like by this time to-morrow.”

“You really mean to make an arrest?”

“If we are forced to–yes.”

Ashton-Kirk followed him to the door:

“Extend the time limit,” suggested he. “Make it the day after to-morrow, and,” elevating his brows, “I don’t think that you’ll need to do anything unpleasant.”

“Ah,” said Osborne, “you’re onto something!” He regarded the other questioningly for a moment, then broke into a grin. “No use to ask what it is, I suppose? I thought not. Well,” reflectively, and in a lowered tone, “it won’t do any harm to oblige you, if the front office is willing. The party can’t make a move that we won’t know about; and the fact is, I’ve just advised that no going out of any kind be ventured on. So long, and good luck.”

The door closed behind Osborne, and then Ashton-Kirk followed the soft-footed servant down the hall, up the stairs and into the presence of Edyth Vale.

The girl received him smilingly.

“I’m getting to be a regular occurrence,” said he, as he sat down.

“But a welcome one, nevertheless,” she returned. “Indeed, if it were not for certain other depressing circumstances, I’d find your visits dreadfully exciting.”

“I suppose Osborne is one of the circumstances referred to. I just met him in the hall, and he seemed to be quite in a state of mind. What have you been saying to him?–or rather,” smiling, “what have you _not_ been saying to him?”

“He came on what he calls ‘police business,'” smiled Miss Vale. “I considered it quite an alarming expression, and said so; but that made no impression on him, for he proceeded with a string of wonderfully conceived questions that must have covered my life from birth to the present time.”

“The police have about the same method for each case–a sort of bullying insistence that breaks down denial by sheer weight.”

“I have read of it, frequently, in complaining articles in both magazines and newspapers. I think I have even seen it very earnestly compared to the Inquisition.” The smile was still upon the girl’s lip, but as she continued, her voice shook a little. “However, I never thought to go through even a part of it myself.”

“What the police _say_ may be embarrassing and mortifying,” said Ashton-Kirk gravely, “but it is nothing at all, compared with what they might _do_.”

Miss Vale drew in her breath in a little gasp of terror; but she made an effort to conceal it with a laugh.

“I know what you mean,” she said, lightly. “You think that they might go so far as to take me into custody as an accessory to the crime, or even as the actual criminal.”

“Mr. Osborne told me that such was their intention, if you do not explain clearly your connection with the case. I don’t think that the Department is at all anxious to draw you into the matter; but some of the newspapers, as you no doubt have noted, have grown very insistent. They say that a poor musician is jailed instantly, while the woman of fashion, who is perhaps equally guilty, is allowed to go free. Such ways of putting things have a great effect upon public opinion; the politicians who conduct the municipal departments know this, and always move to protect themselves, no matter in what direction the movement takes them.”

“Then,” said Miss Vale, “you really think they will do as Mr. Osborne said?”

“I have no doubt of it–if the matter is not cleared up before the time arrives for them to act.”

The girl arose and went to a window as though to look out; the investigator saw her hand pressed to her heart, and noted the trembling that had seized her. Yet, when she faced him once more, a moment or two later, she made a brave attempt to smile as before.

“I think this is too bad of you,” she said. “Your point of view is almost as pessimistic as the detectives’, or the newspapers’. I had expected comfort and encouragement.”

“And I came to give it–if you’ll allow me,” said Ashton-Kirk, quietly.

She looked at him for a moment, then both hands went out in a mock despairing gesture, and she laughed. But the laugh was unmistakably forced, and a keen ear for such things would have detected a pathetic little catch in it.

“Now,” she said, “you are becoming mysterious. However, I suppose I must not complain, for it is entirely in character with your profession, isn’t it?”

He disregarded both the observation and the tone; there was a slight pucker between his keen eyes that spoke of impatience and resentment.

“Mr. Osborne has been very plain with you, Miss Vale,” said he, “you have perhaps become accustomed to it in a measure. So I shall not hesitate to follow in his footsteps. I am going to make you face some very plain facts.”

“Mercy!” She laughed. “Mercy, Mr. Ashton-Kirk. I had not thought that you could be so deliberately cruel!”

“In the first place, Miss Vale,” he began, paying not the slightest attention to her laughter or the mocking light in her eyes, “if you had continued as you began, this matter would have been cleared up before this, the newspapers would never have printed your name in connection with it, and you would have been spared the mortification of a detective at your doorstep.”

“Is there one–outside?”

“There are several. If you venture out you will be followed wherever you go.”

The girl sank into a chair in a limp, rumpled sort of way; somehow the idea of surveillance affected her more than anything else. Her face became ashen; her hands shook distressfully as she clasped them tightly together.

“When you allowed the fears and desires of Allan Morris to cloud your reason, you made a mistake. You admitted as much when you came to me after the murder; but instantly, upon seeing him again, you were as before. He was struck with fear, and he communicated his terror to you; as before you dreaded to trust anyone–even myself.”

“I think you are inclined to take a great deal for granted,” said Miss Vale. But in spite of the words, her eyes were wide with alarm.

“He told you of the deaf-mute, Locke,” said Ashton-Kirk; “and also other things, which seem to have induced you to visit Locke at the Institute near Cordova on the night before last.”

Miss Vale elevated her brows in surprise; her attitude was one of wonderment.

“I don’t think I understand.”

“And you did not seem to understand yesterday when I called upon you. You fancied that I was not sure that I had seen you, and had come expecting you to admit the visit to Locke. And as I went away, you also fancied that you had thrown me off the scent.” He smiled at the recollection, in spite of his evident resentment of her position. “But the fact of the matter was that I knew your fiance had been the cause of your visit to the mute. You had seen Morris, you knew where he was, and I thought it would be a useful thing for me to be also acquainted with his whereabouts.”

“But,” protested Miss Vale in a faint voice, but still acting her chosen role to the best of her gifts, “if I had known and desired to conceal his whereabouts, surely you did not expect me to tell you of it.”

“Not directly. But, if you remember, I dropped a hint that his hiding-place was about to be discovered. This was true; you were about to disclose it. I had only to wait and follow as you rushed off to warn him.”

She leaned back in her chair and regarded him strangely, but he proceeded with evenness:

“Your work upon the road was very clever; I congratulate you upon it. But it was scarcely sufficiently inspired to deceive an old hand.”

Here he waited, apparently expecting her to speak. But as she did not take advantage of the pause, he went on:

“I called this morning to acquaint you with these things and to advise you on your future course. I must admit that I rather admire your steadfastness in following out what Allan Morris has desired of you; however, it is a great mistake for a strong nature to submit to the clamorings of a weaker one.”

She sat suddenly erect; protest was in her eyes, and one hand went up in denial. But, though her lips opened as though she were about to speak, no words came; once more she sank back in the chair with the air of one compelled to admit a bitter truth.

“I am not so sure as to how deep Morris is in this murder,” continued the investigator, “but I have some ideas on the subject. On the other hand I am quite sure that you are promised to aid him, and that you feel duty bound to do so to the end, according to his not very wise instructions.”

He arose and stood looking down at her kindly.

“My advice to you,” he went on–“and I speak with a fair knowledge of the facts–is that you do nothing more. Be content with what you have attempted; allow me to act for you in anything further which you have in mind. Or, if you cannot give me your confidence, let me carry the thing on in my own way, as you proposed at the first.”

There was a pause of some length; then the girl spoke.

“I am just a trifle bewildered at all this,” she said; “and I really cannot say, Mr. Ashton-Kirk, that I altogether follow you.”

He smiled, but the disapproving wrinkle still showed between his eyes.

“I see that you are still determined to hold to your attitude,” he said. “I am sorry, of course, but then one is called upon at times to do as one thinks best, and I suppose that is what you are doing.” He turned toward the door, and she arose and touched the bell. “Good-by.”

“Good-by,” she returned.

He stood for a moment in the doorway regarding her with mingled annoyance and admiration. As he caught the steps of the approaching servant in the hall, he said:

“Possibly I can save you some little trouble. You need not call at the Rangnow Apartments. Up to last night, Allan Morris had not notified Mr. Tobin as to his new hiding-place. However, if you feel that you _must_ see him, you can call at my place at this hour on the day after to-morrow. I am not sure, of course, but it occurs to me that he will be there.”

CHAPTER XXIII

THE SECRET OF THE PORTRAIT

The morning papers had all announced the fact that the detail of police would that day be withdrawn from the scene of the murder in Christie Place. With them it had been a mere matter-of-fact news item, but with the evening sheets it was different. They had had time to digest the matter, and their view of the order was one of surprise. Two or three allowed this feeling to expand itself into headlines of some size; a few also commented on the situation editorially.

Superintendent Weagle had been interviewed. He stated that he could not be expected to maintain a detail at 478 indefinitely; even with the police withdrawn from within, so he maintained, the place would be as effectually guarded as were other buildings. What more was required?

Ashton-Kirk read all this with some satisfaction in the late afternoon.

“They have given the thing even more publicity than I had hoped for,” he said, as he helped Pendleton in the details of a rough-looking costume which that worthy was donning. “It must be a bad day for news, and they have plenty of space. At any rate, anyone who is at all interested in the fact, is now aware that after six o’clock this evening, 478 Christie Place will be unguarded, except for the regular patrolman. Of course,” with a glance at Pendleton and another in a mirror at himself, “if a brace of rough-looking characters are hidden away within, there will only be a few who know it.”

He opened a drawer and took out two black shining objects; the short barrels and blocky shapes told Pendleton that they were automatic revolvers.

“They will throw ten slugs as thick as your little finger while you’re winking your eye as many times,” said Ashton-Kirk.

They each slipped one of the squat, formidable weapons into a hip pocket; then they made their way out at the rear of the house. With the collars of their sack coats turned up and their long visored cloth caps pulled down, they hurried along among the dull-eyed throngs that bartered and quarreled and sought their own advantage.

And when, in the uncertain dusk, a wagon drew up at 478 and two sack-coated, cloth-capped men began carrying parcels up the stairs, is it any wonder that Berg, watching from the window of his delicatessen store, said to his clerk:

“Dot furrier that rents der rooms by der third floor is putting some more things in storage over the summer, yet.”

And when the wagon finally drove away, neglectfully leaving the two men behind, it is not surprising that the fancy grocer did not notice it. And, then, when the two policemen who had been on duty during the afternoon, came out, carelessly left the door unlocked, looked up to make sure that they had left none of the windows open, and then strode away with a satisfied air that follows a duty well done, who so keenly watched as to suspect?

The shadows on the second floor lengthened and grew grayer; they thickened in the corners; pieces of furniture grew vague and monstrous as the darkness began to cling to them and their outlines became lost; suits of armor loomed menacingly out of the gloom, the last rays of light striking palely upon helm or gorget; hideous gods of wood and stone smiled evilly at the two watchers.

“There was food in the bundles which we carried up, then,” commented Pendleton, as he lay back on the old claw-footed sofa.

“Yes,” answered his friend. “The person or persons whom we expect will hardly come to-night, though we, of course, don’t know; if they fail to appear we shall be forced to stick close to these rooms during the whole of to-morrow and also to-morrow night. Perhaps it will even be longer.”

“In that case,” said Pendleton, a little disconsolately, “the eatables will be very welcome. But I hope we won’t have to stay long enough to finish them.”

“Perhaps,” said Ashton-Kirk, “I’ve let you in for too hard a task in this, Pen?”

The other rose up instantly.

“You couldn’t give me too much to do in this matter,” declared he, earnestly. “I would do it alone if you were not here, and I had brains enough, Kirk. The thing must _end_. If it goes on much longer and I keep seeing those infernal insinuations in the papers, I’ll go completely off my chump.”

There was a little silence; then Ashton-Kirk said:

“I never knew that you were–ah–this way, old chap, until the other day. How long has it been going on?”

“Why, for years, I think,” answered Pendleton. “Being very distantly related, Edyth and I saw quite a deal of each other when she was a slip of a girl. And she was a stunner, Kirk, even then. Kid-like, I fancied I’d get it all over with when the proper time came; but somehow I never got around to it. She turned out to be a dickens of a strong character, you see; and she expected so much of life that I got the notion that perhaps I wasn’t just the right sort of fellow to realize her ideals.

“You know, old boy, there are times when a man thinks quite a bit of himself. This is more especially so before he’s twenty-five. But then again there are times when he sees his bad points only, and then of all the unutterable dolts in the universe, he gets the notion that he is the worst. When we were at college and I held down that third base position and hit 320 in the first season, I was chesty enough. I suppose you remember it. And when I came into my money and began to make collections of motor cars, yachts and such things, I thought I had taken life by the ears and was making it say ‘uncle.’

“Well, we’re only grown-up boys, after all. I recall that I thought I’d dazzle Edyth with my magnificence, just as Tom Sawyer did the little girl with the two long braids of yellow hair–do you remember? And it was after I discovered that she was not to be dazzled that I sort of gave up. I wasn’t anybody–I never would be anybody; and Edyth would be the sort of woman who would expect her husband to take the front at a jump. And no sensible person could imagine me at the front of anything, unless it was a procession on its way to the bow-wows.”

“I think,” said Ashton-Kirk, “that you began to prostrate yourself before your idol; and when a man takes to that, he always gets to thinking meanly of himself. The attitude has much to do with the state of mind, I imagine. Miss Vale is a courageous, capable girl; but you can never tell what sort of a man a woman will select for a husband. Girls have fancies upon the subject, and give voice to them sometimes; but it is the man they choose and not the one they picture to whom you must give your attention.”

“I suppose that is true enough,” said Pendleton.

“Miss Vale’s evident strength awed you,” went on the other. “And then your timidity began to magnify her qualities. No woman is what she seems to be to the man who loves her. Miss Vale is not so difficult to please as you thought. I fancy that her engagement to young Morris proves that.”

“There you have it,” cried Pendleton. “That’s it, Kirk! I’ve stood aside, considering myself unworthy, and allowed a fellow to slip by me who is as colorless as water. Allan Morris is no more fit to be her husband than–” at loss for a simile he halted for a moment, and then burst out: “Oh, he’s impossible!”

“So far as we have tested him, certainly,” agreed Ashton-Kirk, “he has shown no great strength of character.”

“He’s acted like a frightened child all through this affair. He’s mixed up in it, and through his weakness allowed Edyth to also entangle herself. Again and again he’s run to her, or called to her, to tell her of some fresh complication that he’d gotten his frightened self into; and to protect him, she has dared and done what would have frightened an ordinary woman into fits.”

“I think,” observed Ashton-Kirk, “that she has realized his position, to some extent, at least. The fact that he is weak has, I think, dawned upon her already; she may also see his evident selfishness before long. If she does–why, might there not still be some hope for you, Pen?”

Pendleton shook his head in the gloom.

“I’m afraid not,” said he, hopelessly. “Somehow a weak man makes a great appeal to the woman who has grown to care for him. He arouses her mother instinct. And Edyth is so strong that her pity–“

“May induce her to do her utmost to see him through this trouble,” interrupted Ashton-Kirk. “But it may not carry her much further. When once the thing is over, a reaction may set in. Who knows?”

But Pendleton refused to be comforted. For a long time they talked of Edyth Vale, Morris, and the killing of Hume. Finally Pendleton said:

“I suppose we can’t smoke here to-night, can we?”

“No; the lights might be seen; and we can’t tell what sharp eyes are watching the place.”

Pendleton sighed drearily.

There were many clocks in the rooms; the policemen must have amused themselves by winding and setting them; for at the end of each hour they began to strike, singly and in pairs. The brisk strokes of the nervous little modern clock mingled with the solemn sonorous beat of an old New England timepiece whose wooden works creaked and labored complainingly. Elaborate Swiss chimes pealed from others; through the darkness, a persistent cuckoo could be heard throwing open a small shutter and stridently announcing his version of the time.

It was some time after midnight that Pendleton began to yawn. Then Ashton-Kirk said:

“Open some of those blankets, Pen, and lie down. There is no need of two of us watching to-night; I scarcely expect anything to happen.”

Pendleton did not expect anything, either, but he said:

“All right, I will, if you’ll wake me in a few hours and let me take a turn at it.”

Ashton-Kirk agreed. Pendleton stretched himself upon the sofa, and soon his deep breathing told that he was asleep. As the night drew on, the solitary watcher grew chilled in the unheated rooms and huddled himself into another blanket; but he sat near the door leading to the hall, which was slightly ajar; and though his eyes closed sometimes in weariness, he never lost a sound in the street or a tick of one of the clocks. Through the entire night he watched and waited almost without moving; it was not until the dawn of a gray, dirty day began to somewhat lighten the room that he aroused Pendleton. The latter expostulated sleepily when he noted the time; but with scarcely a word the investigator took his place upon the sofa and dropped off to sleep.

About nine o’clock he awoke and found his friend arranging their breakfast upon a small table.

“I say, Kirk,” said Pendleton, admiringly, “you did this thing rather thoroughly. There’s quite a tasty little snack here; and the thermos bottles have kept the coffee steaming.”

At the water tap in the rear the investigator bathed his hands and face; then he sat down with his friend and did complete justice to the breakfast. Afterwards, with their cigars going nicely and a feeling of comfort stealing over them in spite of the rather uncomfortable night, Pendleton said:

“You promised the other night to tell me what made you think that the murderers had failed to secure the thing they sought. The words that the promise was couched in made me think that you had also something to show me, and as we could not light up last night, I’ve waited patiently until to-day. Now you must ease my curiosity. Come, tell me a few things.”

Ashton-Kirk took his cigar from his mouth.

“I told you,” said he, “that the reports of Burgess and Fuller, together with the conversation we had with Tobin, had enlightened me upon these points.” As he enumerated them, he checked them off with his fingers:

“_Why the murder was done._

“_The identity of the confederate of Locke._

“_That the man would return to the scene of the crime._”

“Yes,” said Pendleton, “those, I think, were the points.”

“The first two,” went on the investigator, “I will allow to stand for a while. But I promised to illustrate for you, and I think I can do so.”

Ashton-Kirk here arose and passed through the storeroom and kitchen into the bedroom.

“The writing upon the step in the hall,” said he, facing his friend, “directed Locke’s confederate to look for something behind Wayne’s portrait. As all the pictures of Wayne in the place were broken or otherwise showed traces of rough handling, it seemed that the thing desired must have been found. However, I was not sure about that, as I have told you.

“If you will recall Tobin’s remarks of the other night, you will note that the only thing he could admire in the man’s character was his fighting spirit. Then it developed that Hume made a boast of having come by this naturally enough. He claimed descent from one of Washington’s officers. Tobin could not recall the officer’s name; but he related an anecdote of him that was unmistakable. The officer was General Wayne!”

“By George!” cried Pendleton.

“The collection of Wayne portraits was in this way explained. It was also suggested to me that Hume might be an assumed name–that the numismatist might have once been known as Wayne, and that Locke had known him by that name. Of course, it’s quite likely that he was not really a descendant of Wayne. But he probably called himself Wayne nevertheless.

“I see,” said Pendleton, his hands waving with excitement. “And in the stress of the moment, Locke wrote the name ‘Wayne’ upon the step in candle grease, forgetting that his confederate only knew their proposed victim as Hume.” His eyes rested upon the walls and upon the sneering, unpleasant portrait of the murdered man. “He meant that the thing he desired was _there_,” indicating the portrait with an exultant sweep of the arm. “And by George, it must be there still.”

He sprang forward with the evident intention of wrenching the picture from the wall; but Ashton-Kirk restrained him.

“Don’t,” said he. “We’ll leave that for our expected visitor.”

“Surely,” protested the excited Pendleton, “you don’t propose to leave the thing there! Think of the risk! You might lose it in the end; for, you know, one never foresees what is to turn up.”

“A fisherman must always risk losing his lure,” answered the investigator composedly.

They spent the long hours of the day in smoking and talking; and at intervals they ate the sandwiches and other things which had been smuggled in in the guise of packages of furs. And finally the shadows gathered and thickened once again in Christie Place.

CHAPTER XXIV

THE SECOND NIGHT

The second night of the vigil in Hume’s rooms wore on. Unlike the preceding one, the two young men were almost entirely silent; when they did speak, it was in tones so low as to be scarcely above a whisper.

There was a taut, indefinable something in the air that kept the desire for sleep from both; in the brooding darkness they were alert, watchful, expectant. The tobacco-loving Pendleton afterwards recalled with surprise that not once did he think of the weed. But when the queer, mysterious night sounds began to come–those creakings of loose planks, strainings of unseen timbers and untraceable snappings in the walls, that are common in old houses–he frequently thought of the automatic revolver; and the chill of the polished metal always felt comforting enough.

The clocks announced the ends of the hours according to their temperaments; coming in the midst of the total silence, the din seemed to Pendleton to be terrific; he pictured appalled criminals on their way through the dark halls, crouching in fear at the sounds. Eleven o’clock struck, and then twelve with its continued uproar. It seemed a long time before one and then two sounded. Pendleton’s limbs were beginning to feel loggy and numb because of the chill and the continued inaction. He had ventured to stir them a little, and was wrapping the heavy blanket more closely about himself, when he felt Ashton-Kirk’s hand upon his shoulder.

“Hush-h-h!” said the investigator in a whisper.

Instantly Pendleton was motionless; he listened intently, but the silence of the place seemed complete.

“What is it?” he finally ventured to breathe.

The hand upon his shoulder tightened warningly; but there came no other reply. Again Pendleton listened. The door of the showroom stood open; Ashton-Kirk had placed it so in order that they might catch any sound that came from the hall. All the other doors leading into the hall from Hume’s apartments were securely locked; anyone who ventured into the suite must first pass through the showroom where the two waited and watched.

After a space Pendleton’s attention was rewarded; a faint, far-off rustling came to him; somehow it gave him the impression of hesitation, non-assurance, timidity; he was speculating upon the queerness of this impression when there came a faint, momentary glow from the hall–mysterious, phosphorescent, unreal; and then it vanished. Both young men were huddled upon the sofa, which was placed facing the open door. A huge Spanish screen was drawn before them; but the black leather was cracked in places; and through these they had a clear view of the hall.

A moment later the glow appeared once more; but this time it was brighter.

“Someone is on the stairs,” reasoned Pendleton, his hand going to his revolver. “It looks as though he were lighting matches to show the way.”

Between the sputters of light were spaces of darkness; these were; filled in by the faint guarded rustling. But as the light upon each appearance grew brighter, so did the sound become more distinct; and at length a light resonance, unmistakably a footstep, came from the hall.

Then steadily, softly the sound came on through the darkness; nearer and nearer it drew until at length it became unmistakable. _The rustling was that of a woman’s skirts!_ Then, so it seemed, the darkness of the doorway grew denser; the soft, quick breathing of the newcomer became audible; her hands were heard moving over the door frame as she blindly searched for the door.

Then, apparently, she learned that the door was open; a deeper breath showed the relief she felt at this; now she carefully entered the room.

Even before Pendleton’s brain realized who it must be, he began to feel a tightening at his heart; and now as he pictured her advancing with outstretched, groping hands into the darkened room–a room horrible with crime and secret dread–it was all that he could do to hold himself in check. He had almost an overmastering desire to spring up, to cry out to her, to tell her not to fear.

He was still struggling with this feeling when he became aware that she had paused; and, also, that Ashton-Kirk was once more gripping his shoulder with a warning hand. Becoming instantly alert, his senses perceived a stoppage of everything; the clocks seemed to tick more faintly, he could no longer hear the woman breathe. There was an instant that roared with silence; then came the soft, steady padding of feet descending the stair.

Then he heard the girl release her breath in a great, trembling exhalation; the rustle of skirts came quick and sharp in the darkness; he heard the door through which she had entered the room squeak upon its hinges and then close with a click that proclaimed it fast.

After this there was a long pause. Pendleton could hear the faint breathing of the girl, and thought it rather odd that she did not catch the sound of his own. He pictured her leaning against the locked door, her heart throbbing with fear as she listened to the descending footsteps; stronger and stronger grew his desire to leap up and assure her that friends were at hand. But at the same time the warning grip of his companion, who seemed to feel what was in his mind, also grew stronger and stronger.

With the closing of the door, the sounds from the stairs had ceased to reach them. There was a long pause; Pendleton, during this, grew sensible of a long, wavering mental antenna which he projected into the shadows; and its delicate sensitiveness told him of the silent approach of a fearful thing. A long, long time, it seemed to him, but in reality it was remarkably brief.

Then the steps were heard, shuffling and secret, in the hall and very near at hand. A soft, uncertain touch fell upon the smooth glass of the door; down its length the inquiring fingers traveled; then the handle was tried, held a moment and quietly released.

The steps then receded lightly down the hall.

For some moments all was quiet, then there came the scratch of a match from the hall, and its accompanying flare, seen through the glass of the door. A little space more, and a rending sound came to their ears, followed by the falling of some metallic objects upon the floor. Pendleton required no explanation of these sounds; it was plain that the second intruder had come prepared and had forced one of the doors.

All the communicating doors of the suite had been left open; through them came the pushing about of furniture and the drawing down of blinds; then another match flared, followed by a stronger and steadier light, which showed that the second visitor had lighted the gas. The light filtered palely through the various rooms into the one in which the two men and the woman were hidden; by means of this the former could make the latter out in a dim, uncertain sort of way. She seemed unusually tall as she moved noiselessly across the floor and peered cautiously through the communicating doorways.

[Illustration: WHAT SHE SAW MUST HAVE STARTLED HER]

What she saw must have startled her, for she drew quickly back, her