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hand pressed to her heart. Then softly she retraced her steps; they heard the door-catch slip quietly back and were conscious that the door was swung open; the woman then crept inch by inch, so it seemed, down the hall.

It was the bedroom door that had been forced; the two watchers noted the bar of light that slanted from it across the passage. Nearer and nearer the woman approached to it. Pendleton had at first thought that she was making for the stairs; but this died away as she passed them, unheeding. The automatic revolver was in his hand instantly; leaning toward his friend, he breathed in his ear.

“She’s going in there.”

The blanket slipped from him as he arose to his feet; his legs were still cramped and stiffened; he felt clumsy and unsure. Ashton-Kirk evidently agreed that the time had come for action, for he whispered in reply:

“Through the rooms! I will take the hall!”

Pendleton stepped from behind the screen like a shadow. Through the door leading to the storeroom he had an uninterrupted view of a part of the bedroom; and across the floor he saw thrown the shadow of a man. Noiselessly he tip-toed into the kitchen, the revolver held ready; just outside the bedroom he paused, and drawing to one side, waited. Then he noted the shadow move slightly, and heard a deep rumbling voice say in French:

“You were a devil! Even now as I look at you, you laugh and jibe!” The shadow upon the floor here swung its arms threateningly. “But laugh away. I have won, and it is my turn to laugh!”

Here the shadow slid along and up the wall; peering around the edge of the door, Pendleton saw a man with massive, stooped shoulders and a great square head, covered with thick, iron-gray hair; and instantly he recognized him as the man whom they had seen that night in the doorway of Locke’s workshop. The stranger was standing just under the portrait of Hume; he gazed up at it, and his big shoulders shook with laughter.

“What a mistake to make,” he said, still in French. “How was I to know that the old devil once called himself Wayne!”

He reached up and took the picture from its hook; with thick, powerful fingers he tore the backing away, and a flat, compact bundle of papers was disclosed. The picture was thrown upon the bed, and the man stood staring at the papers, a wide smile upon his face.

“So this is the secret, eh? Well, Locke will pay well for it, and it will be worth all the risks I’ve taken.”

He was fumbling with a coat pocket as though to stow them away, when there came a swift, light rush, the packet was torn from his hands, and Edyth Vale was darting toward the hall door and the stairway beyond.

But despite his bulk, the man with the stooped shoulders proved himself singularly swift. In two leaps he had overtaken her; dragging her back to the center of the room, he snatched the packet from her in turn. Regarding her with calm, pitiless eyes, he said in English:

“I am sorry, mees, that you have come, eh? Eet makes eet mooch harder for me. And I am of the kind that would rather be off quietly, is it not? and say no words to no one.”

Edyth Vale, pale of face, but with steady eye, returned his look.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I am sorry to do anything,” spoke the stranger. “I do not know you, and you will onderstan’, will you not, that I can’t leave you behind–to talk?”

As he spoke a flashing something appeared from the girl’s pocket; he lifted one huge paw to beat her down; but a clenched hand, protected by a corded buckskin glove, thudded against his jaw; his knees weakened, and he sprawled upon the floor.

“Jimmie!” gasped Edyth Vale. “Jimmie Pendleton!”

“Oh, Edyth–Edyth!” was all the man could say. He slipped his arm around her, for she was tottering; and as he helped her to a chair, Ashton-Kirk quietly entered at the hall door.

“Miss Vale,” said he, “good-evening.”

Without waiting to note if she even gave him a look, he bent over the fallen man and snapped a pair of handcuffs upon his wrists.

“A very pretty blow, Pen,” said he, admiringly. “Beautifully timed, and your judgment of distance was excellent.”

He slipped the fallen papers into his pocket and continued: “Keep an eye on him, for a moment.”

Then he stepped swiftly through the hall; a moment later they heard him throw up one of the windows overlooking the street, and a whistle shrilled through the night.

“Paulson is on duty,” said the investigator, returning. “He’ll be here in a jiffy.”

Sure enough, they soon heard heavy steps upon the stairs; and then Paulson and a fellow patrolman appeared in the doorway. Astonished, the policeman gazed at Ashton-Kirk, who nodded to them smilingly, then they turned their gaze upon Pendleton, who was speaking soothing words to the white-faced girl, who, now that the danger was over, clung to him tremblingly. But when their eyes centered upon the manacled stranger who was then dazedly struggling to a sitting position, Paulson asked:

“Who is this?”

“This,” answered Ashton-Kirk, “is M. Sagon, a fellow lodger of Antonio Spatola, formerly a very close friend of the late Mr. Hume, and once a resident of Bayonne, in France.”



Pendleton spent the night at Ashton-Kirk’s; and after breakfast he wandered into the library, a newspaper in his hand and an inquiring look on his face.

The investigator was seated in his usual big chair, buried to the knees in newspapers, and making vigorous inroads upon the Greek tobacco. Fuller was just leaving the room as Pendleton entered, and nodding toward the disappearing form, Ashton-Kirk said:

“There is some rather interesting news. I have had Locke, as you perhaps know, under observation for some time. Last night he took the train at Cordova, and Burgess followed him. When he reached the city, he went directly to Christie Place and was seen lurking about in the shadows.”

“Humph,” said Pendleton, “what time was this?”

“Perhaps about eleven o’clock. Burgess, so Fuller tells me, never lost sight of him. He acted in a queerly hesitating sort of way; finally, however, he seemed to form a resolution and went to the door of the Marx house. He was about to pull the bell, then paused and tried the door instead. It was evidently not locked. He seemed both surprised and pleased at this; he lost no time, however, but went in at once.”

Pendleton sat down.

“What do you suppose all this meant?” he asked.

“Well, we can’t be too sure,” replied Ashton Kirk, “but I think it probable that he, also, saw the news of the withdrawal of the police in the papers. Perhaps he came to Christie Place with the intention of informing Sagon of the opportunity that then presented itself. Or it might be that he had hopes of somehow over-reaching his companion in crime.”

“His lurking about would seem to point rather in that direction,” said Pendleton.

“And his preferring to enter the lodging house without ringing also indicates some such idea. As I see it, he hoped to gain the roof unobserved. He knew the house and the habits of the people quite well. No doubt he had a plan, and a good one. He’s a thinker, is Mr. Locke.”

“If he was noticed, he could indicate that he had called to see M. Sagon.”

“Exactly. But I very much doubt his gaining the roof. Perhaps, after all, he was detected; for a few minutes later Burgess saw him leave the house.”

“Humph!” said Pendleton. Then after some few moments spent in the examination of his paper he threw it down. “It’s full of all sorts of allusions to monoplanes and such like,” grumbled he. “As I had to take Edyth home last night, and you went bravely away with the police and Sagon, I find myself, as usual, trailing some distance in the rear.”

Ashton-Kirk regarded the litter of newspapers ruefully:

“I gave them the heads of the case very plainly,” said he, “but as it was almost the hour for going to press, I suppose they did not get the finer points of my meaning. Some of them have made a sad mess of it. However, the evening papers will have a coherent account, I suppose.”

“If you think I am going to wait until the evening papers are issued to get to the bottom of this thing, you’re much mistaken,” declared Pendleton. “I demand a full and detailed explanation immediately.”

Here a tap came upon the door; Stumph entered and handed Ashton-Kirk a card.

“Let him come up,” said the latter; and, as the man went out, he continued to Pendleton. “We will both probably be much enlightened now. It is Allan Morris.”

“Just as you said,” spoke Pendleton. “It’s really almost like second sight.”

The investigator laughed.

“A small feat of reasoning, nothing more,” said he. “However, an enthusiast might find some of the elements of second sight in our conversation in this room about a week ago.”

Pendleton looked at him questioningly.

“It was on the morning that you called to announce the coming of Miss Vale. We were speaking of how it sometimes happened that very innocent things led to most weighty results; and I remarked, if you will remember, that your visit might lead to my connection with a murder that would dwarf some of those which we had spoken of.”

“So you did,” agreed Pendleton. “That _is_ rather remarkable, Kirk.”

“And further,” smiled the investigator, “I recall that I expressed great admiration for Marryat’s conception of a homicide in the matter of Smallbones and the hag. The weapon used by Smallbones, it turns out, was identical in character to the one used by Sagon.”

“A bayonet,” cried Pendleton. “By George! So it was.”

Just then Stumph announced Allan Morris.

The latter was pale and haggard; his clothes were neglected, and there were some days’ beard upon his chin. He seemed astonished at sight of Pendleton; however, he only nodded. Then he said inquiringly to the investigator:

“You are Mr. Ashton-Kirk?”

“I am. Will you sit down, Mr. Morris?”

Morris sat down dejectedly.

“Tobin advised me to come see you,” he said. “I refused at first; but in view of what the newspapers contain this morning, I reconsidered it.”

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

“If you had, come to me in the first place,” said he, “you’d probably not have fallen into this mess, and you’d have saved yourself a great deal of suffering.” He regarded the young man for a moment, and then went on. “Miss Vale, I suppose, has told you of her dealings with me.”

“She has,” said Morris. “She’s been very candid with me in everything. If I had been the same with her,” bitterly, “I should have acted more like a natural human being. You see, we were to be married; she was very rich, while I had comparatively nothing. But this in itself would not have been sufficient to have prevented our wedding for so long. The fact was that I had gotten myself into trouble through speculation; I had a fear that my position might even be considered criminal from some points of view. And I allowed myself to get nervous over it.

“However, there was a way by which it was possible for me to extricate myself. To explain this I’ll have to go back some years.”

“Take your own time,” said Ashton-Kirk.

“Well, my father had worked for years perfecting the plans of a heavier-than-air flying machine,” Morris resumed. “At the time of his death he told me that it was all complete but the constructing, and that I had millions within my reach. But Hume had the plans–my father had borrowed money of him–a considerable sum–and had given him the plans as security.

“Hume had always derided the idea of the monoplane. Tobin, who knew them both, tells me that he was forever mocking my father upon the subject. And when the time came when the plans could be redeemed, Hume denied having them. There was no receipt, nothing to show that the transaction had ever occurred. The man declared that the whole thing was a drunken dream. He had never seen any plans; he had never paid out any money; he knew nothing about the matter. Time and again the man reiterated this; and each time, so I’ve heard, he would go off into gales of laughter. I have no doubt but that the entire performance on his part was to afford himself these opportunities; he seemed to love such things.”

“Was it not possible for your father to duplicate the plans?”

“At an earlier time it would have meant but a few weeks’ application at most. But at this period the thing was impossible. The last long debauch seemed to have sapped his intellect; it also was the direct cause of his death.”

“I see,” said Ashton-Kirk.

“I took the matter up with Hume at once,” went on the young man. “But I had no more success than my father. In the man’s eyes, I had but replaced my father; I was another patient subject for his mockery, derision and abuse.

“There were some scattered drawings of the monoplane in father’s office; I began a study of these, thinking to chance upon the principal idea. But I was unsuccessful.

“All this, you understand, was before I had met Miss Vale, and before I was tangled up in the trouble I have just mentioned.

“The fear began to grow on me that Hume meant to use the plans to his own advantage; I knew that he had long been familiar with Locke, who was reputed to be a mechanical genius, and between them, I fancied they’d take action. I began a watch upon the reports of the Patent Office, thinking that that would finally give me something tangible to use against them. However, I never gave up my visits to Hume, or my efforts to make him admit possession of my father’s property.

“It was during one of these visits that I first met Spatola; and I was much struck by the performance of his cockatoos. My father had always held to the idea that the problem of flight would be finally solved by a study of the birds; this gave me an idea, and I took to visiting Spatola in his lodgings in Christie Place. He’d have the cockatoos fly slowly round and round the big attic, and I’d watch them and make notes.

“It was about this time that I met Miss Vale and asked her to be my wife; a very little later, in an effort to raise money, I got into the financial trouble which I have referred to. After a little the question of a time for our marriage came up; I was filled with fear and put it off; this occurred several times, and I was at my wits’ end. I could not marry with that thing hanging over me. Suppose it should turn out as I feared; imagine the shock to a high spirited girl to discover that she had married a defaulter.

“It was then that I turned to the matter of the plans as my only hope; with a perfected idea I could readily secure a large sum of money in advance. So I redoubled my efforts to have a settlement with Hume; but he only derided me as usual. Continued visits to Spatola to study the flight of the birds, showed me that the Italian was a fine fellow, well educated and with much feeling and appreciation. We became fast friends and so, little by little, I told him my story.”

“About the invention?” asked Ashton-Kirk.


The investigator turned to Pendleton.

“I think,” said he, “that I now understand why Spatola grew so uncommunicative and suspicious toward the end of our interview at City Hall. We both thought it was because I spoke of shorthand. But it was perhaps because I mentioned an _invention_ in the way of writing music. He feared that I was trying to incriminate Mr. Morris in some way.”

Pendleton nodded.

“That,” said he, “I think explains it.”

“As you no doubt know,” went on Morris, after the investigator had once more given him his attention, “Spatola liked Hume none too well. And he had reason for his hatred, poor fellow. Well, he became interested in what I told him; and when he learned that I believed my father’s papers were in all probability somewhere in Hume’s apartments, he suggested that I come to live in Christie Place under an assumed name. He thought that in time an opportunity would present itself to cross the roofs some night, enter Hume’s place by the scuttle and so possess myself of the plans.

“On the day preceding the murder, I had made up my mind to have one more try with Hume; and if that failed I intended to follow Spatola’s advice, break in and take the plans by force. I was so full of this resolution that I could not contain myself; I hinted at it to Miss Vale; and the result of that hint, you know.”

He leaned his face forward in his hands and seemed to give way to a bitter train of thought. He was evidently despondent.

“It was also some such hint upon your part that induced her to visit Locke at Dr. Mercer’s place, wasn’t it?”

Morris raised his head and nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “After the murder I suspected Locke at once of having something to do with it. I told Miss Vale; she went there without my knowledge–seeing that I had not the courage to go myself,” he added bitterly–“and demanded the plans.”

“And she learned that they were still at Hume’s–behind the portrait?”

“Yes. Locke told her–he was overcome with horror at the murder. He had merely desired to secure the plans,–having somehow learned their hiding place. He had no intention of killing Hume.”

“But why did Sagon do it?–he must have had it in mind when he bought the bayonet at Bernstine’s,” said Pendleton, looking at Ashton-Kirk.

“He had. Do you recall how Burgess’ report spoke of a league of smugglers in Europe of which Hume was a leading spirit, and also of how they had been captured and nearly all but Hume were tried and convicted?”


“Sagon was one of those convicted. The diamonds which Hume tried to smuggle into this country were to have been turned into money at the time of the gang’s arrest and the proceeds spent in their defense. But instead of doing this, Hume left his comrades to their fate and absconded. When Sagon gained his freedom he began a search for Hume, meaning to have revenge. This search finally led him to Locke as a person who had known Hume, and who would be likely to be able to tell where he could be found.”

“Sagon has told you this?” queried Pendleton.

“Yes; he talked freely, after he saw that his case was hopeless; and he, too, insisted that Locke did not intend to commit murder. Locke, even at the time of his meeting Sagon, was looking for someone to aid him in gaining possession of the Morris plans. The work-shop which we saw beside Locke’s house contained a monoplane in course of construction; but there was something lacking which he felt Morris’s plans could supply; and so he was anxious to get hold of it by hook or crook.

“Sagon, whose purpose from the first was murder, was not at all averse to combining it with something else. He took the room at Mrs. Marx’s place, after he had perceived that an entrance could probably be made at Hume’s by way of the scuttle. The well dressed ‘business guys’ that the machinist on the first floor spoke about to us, were no doubt Locke, who frequently called upon Sagon, and Mr. Morris here, whom the man did not suspect of being a lodger.

“To prove a theory that I had formed, and which I have mentioned in a vague sort of way,” went on Ashton-Kirk, “I asked Sagon why he had used a bayonet. And it turned out as I had thought. Sagon and Hume had first met at Bayonne; the greater part of their operations had been carried on there; the band had been finally rounded up and convicted there. The bayonet, so legend has it, was first made in Bayonne, and Sagon conceived that it would be a sort of poetic justice if the traitor were to die by a weapon so closely connected with the scene of his treachery.”

There was a pause after this, and then young Morris got up slowly and painfully.

“I don’t want it to be thought,” said he “that I was directly responsible for Miss Vale’s adventure of last night–or for any of the others, for the matter of that. If I had known at the time that she proposed visiting Locke’s, or Hume’s, either upon the night of the murder, or last night, I would have prevented it.”

Ashton-Kirk nodded kindly; the young man’s position evidently appealed to him. But Pendleton sat rather stiffly in his chair and his expression never changed.

“I will now come into possession of whatever value there is in my father’s invention,” went on Morris, “and added to that, it turns out that the–the other thing, of which I stood so much in fear, has turned out favorably. But,” in a disheartened sort of way, “I don’t care much, now that my engagement with Miss Vale is broken.”

“Broken!” exclaimed Pendleton.

“I saw her this morning,” said Morris. “During the past week,” he continued, “it gradually came to me that I was not the sort of man to make her a fitting husband. I hid like a squirrel while she faced the dangers that should have been mine. I knew that she realized the situation as well as I, and I did what I could by making it easy for her.”

He paused at the door.

“If there is anything that I can do, or say in the final settlement of this case,” he added, to Ashton-Kirk, “I will gladly place myself at your services, sir. Good-bye.”



“For the first time,” said Pendleton, as the door closed upon Allan Morris, “I can feel sorry for him. To lose a girl like Edyth Vale is indeed a calamity. Think of the courage she’s shown–of what she was willing to do. Why, Kirk, she’s one in ten thousand.”

But Ashton-Kirk only nodded; he had arisen upon the departure of Morris, and was now drawing on a pair of gloves. The splendid qualities of Miss Vale apparently had little appeal for him at that moment.

“Are you ready?” he asked, in a business-like way.

“Ready?” repeated Pendleton, surprised.

“To be sure. We can scarcely call this case complete until something has been done in the matter of Locke.”

“That’s so. But, somehow, I had the notion that your men had already attended to him.”

“I always prefer to finish my work in my own way,” said the investigator. “Osborne, as soon as he heard of Locke, through Sagon, wanted to take up the trail. But I convinced him that he’d better leave it to me.”

Pendleton clapped on his hat.

“I’m with you,” said he, “but where do you expect to find him?”

Ashton-Kirk rang for Stumph and ordered the car; then he replied:

“We’ll more than likely find him at home. Burgess followed him back to Cordova, last night.”

They went down and climbed into the car, and were soon on the road.

A little distance from the Mercer Institute they came upon a compact looking man seated upon the top rail of a fence, chewing at a straw. He wore heavy, much-splashed boots and a sun-scorched suit of clothes.

“Ah,” said Ashton-Kirk, “I see Burgess is still on the job.”

“Burgess,” echoed Pendleton. He looked at the man upon the fence in surprise; except for the very broad shoulders there was no resemblance.

However, Burgess grinned amiably through a rather neglected growth of beard.

“I expected you along about this time,” said he, to the investigator.

“Is everything all right?” asked Ashton-Kirk.

“He’s still there,” answered Burgess, and he nodded toward a house with a peaked and slated roof which stood some little distance up an intersecting road. It was the same house through the window of which Pendleton had seen Edyth Vale some nights previously, but, somehow, it seemed strange and unfamiliar in daylight.

“I can see three sides of it from here,” went on Burgess. “And if he dropped out of one of the windows on the fourth side I could sight him before he’d gone fifty yards. You may be sure he’s there, all right.”

“You’ve heard of what took place last night, I suppose?”

Burgess tapped a folded newspaper at his breast pocket.

“So has Locke,” said he. “Apparently his orders are to furnish him with the papers as soon as they arrive. A man from the Institute building brought one to him more than an hour ago.”

Just then Ashton-Kirk noted far up the road upon which Locke’s house stood, a very small buggy, drawn by an equally small horse. In the buggy sat a man whose huge bulk seemed to bulge out beyond its sides. Arriving before Locke’s house, the small horse stopped, as though from habit. Then with a mighty effort, the fat man rolled out and waddled to the gate. He pressed and re-pressed the button; but no one answered.

Ashton-Kirk looked at his assistant.

“Are you quite sure that our man is there,” asked he.

Burgess chewed his straw calmly.

“I’m positive of it,” said he.

The fat man now entered at the gate and going to the front door, tried it. But it was evidently fast, and he turned away. Hesitating for a moment, he laboriously approached the work shop, the roof of which could be seen through the trees. Apparently the result was the same here, for in a very few minutes he was seen to waddle back to his buggy and climb in with much effort. Then the small horse ambled forward while the fat man leaned back in great distress.

“You recognize him, do you not?” smiled Ashton-Kirk.

“I do, now,” returned Pendleton. “It’s our friend Dr. Mercer.”

When the buggy arrived at the spot where the motor-car stood, the doctor regarded its occupants with some surprise.

“Good-morning,” greeted Ashton-Kirk.

Painfully, gaspingly the other answered this in kind. The round white face wore an expression of martyrdom.

“I am pleased to see you once more,” said he.

“You like driving in the morning, then?” said the investigator.

The principal’s flesh quivered with repulsion.

“It is an exercise ordered by my physician,” he answered. “I protested against it strongly, but he was obdurate. And I am compelled to do it before I have had my breakfast,” hollowly. “It is scarcely short of barbarous.”

Here the small horse stretched its neck and shook itself until the harness rattled. Pendleton looking from master to beast thought they might exchange places much to the master’s ultimate well-being.

There was a short pause; then Dr. Mercer bent his head toward them.

“When you visited the institute a few nights ago,” said he, “you also, at my request, visited Professor Locke.”

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

“For some time,” proceeded the other, “I have fancied that there was something wrong with him. Not of a physical nature, as is, unfortunately the case with myself, but more in a mental way. But since that night I have been _sure_ that some sort of a derangement had fixed itself upon him, or is in progress. He can scarcely be called the same person. More than once I have been afraid,” and here the speaker lowered his voice to a husky whisper, “that he is unbalanced.”

“That is very grave,” said Ashton-Kirk.

“It has occurred to me,” went on the doctor, not without shrewdness, “that something happened that night which unsettled him.” The eyes seemingly floating in fat, turned themselves first to Pendleton, then to Ashton-Kirk. “I suppose, though, you know nothing of it?”

“We noticed that he seemed greatly agitated,” replied the investigator. “And we are alarmed to hear that he seems disturbed.”

“It is our rule that no one leave the institute grounds after nightfall,” said Dr. Mercer, in a troubled voice. “Last night I had occasion to send for him, but he was gone. This morning I stopped to reproach him for his absence; but apparently he has not returned.”

“You’re mistaken there,” put in Burgess. “Look!”

He indicated the house as he spoke. The small figure of Locke was seen emerging at the front door; he paused for a moment, peering this way and that in his near-sighted fashion, then hastily made his way toward the work-shop. Evidently he had not seen them.

With great labor and much catching of breath Dr. Mercer had turned sufficiently to see these things. He seemed greatly astonished.

“He was there all the time,” said he. “It is not possible that he did not feel the vibrations of the buzzer, for he is very sensitive to such things.”

His indignation appeared to swell him to even greater proportions than before.

“It is an affront,” he stated in a choked tone. “It is a deliberate affront. He felt the buzzer, and he knew it was I. But he did not consider me of enough importance to trouble himself about.”

Panting he sought to turn the small horse, but in a moment Ashton-Kirk was out in the road and had the animal by the head.

“I beg your pardon,” said the investigator, “but it would probably be more beneficial to yourself and others, if you continued your drive and left Professor Locke to us.”

Amazed beyond ability to stir, the doctor sat and stared. But finally he found his tongue.

“Bless my soul and body,” exclaimed he with a great wheezing exhalation. “I scarcely understand this, sir.”

“My dear doctor,” said Ashton-Kirk soothingly, “it is not at all necessary that you do so. The fact is, to state it briefly, there is a trifling matter for adjustment between Professor Locke and the commonwealth.”

“The commonwealth!” cried the doctor, and he shook like a great mass of gelatine.

“Nothing less. So, you see, it will be as well for you to do as I suggest.” Then turning to Pendleton, Ashton-Kirk continued: “I think we had better walk the remainder of the way; otherwise we might get Locke’s attention before it is advisable.”

Pendleton jumped down, and without another word to Dr. Mercer, they set off toward the slate-roofed house by the roadside. However, after they had gone about fifty yards, Pendleton turned and looked back. He saw the small horse jogging away, while behind it, helplessly fat and hopelessly befogged, sat Dr. Mercer, swaying dispiritedly from side to side.

As Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton advanced upon the house, they bore in mind the possibility of Locke being on the watch; so they kept out of sight as much as possible.

“It’s rather odd, I think, that he hangs on here, knowing that his part in the murder of Hume must now be known,” said Pendleton. “I rather expected an attempt at escape.”

“That may come later,” said the investigator, grimly. “The finish of a thing of this sort is always a matter for speculation. I have seen desperate criminals who surrendered like lambs; and I’ve seen the other sort give a platoon of police a good day’s work in their taking.”

“Do you think it possible that Locke is one of this latter type?”

“There is no knowing. But I am inclined to believe that he is.”

Pendleton shook his head. It seemed impossible that this dapper little man with his peering, short-sighted eyes could be capable of any determined effort to escape the police when once driven into a corner. However, Pendleton had ample reason to respect Ashton-Kirk’s judgment; and so when the latter deemed it necessary to approach with caution, he acted accordingly.

They paused in front of the house.

It was now past ten o’clock and the sun was shining brightly; a little patch of garden, filled with early flowering plants lay between the house and the wood; all about the work-shop were the tall trees which they had noticed upon their previous visit.

“We had better not use the gate,” suggested the investigator. “There might be an attachment of some sort that will give him warning.”

So under cover of the trees they scaled the fence; then they carefully made their way toward the shop. The windows and door of this were closed, nothing was stirring. Near the door was scattered some rubbish and loose paper. The place had an utterly deserted look.

“Do you think he is there?” asked Pendleton.

“I will know in a few moments,” replied the other. “Wait here.”

Pendleton expected Ashton-Kirk to continue his cautious approach. But to his surprise the investigator with cool assurance stepped out from behind a tree and advanced toward the outbuilding; when he reached the door he opened it and calmly stepped inside.

The building was in one great room. It had some windows at the side, but the greater part of its illumination came from a huge skylight. As he closed the door behind him, Ashton-Kirk had a vague impression of something huge, made of steel rods and with far-stretching wing-like projections at the sides. But he had no time to give the mechanism even a glance; of greater interest was the small figure which sat at a wide work-table upon which a litter of drawings was scattered.

It was Locke; and as the slight jar of the closing door reached him he lifted his eyes and saw the intruder. If Ashton-Kirk expected any display of fear or other emotion, he was disappointed; upon each of his previous meetings with Locke the latter had shown great trepidation; but now he simply nodded quietly and seemed not at all surprised.

But as Ashton-Kirk made a step toward him, he rose and raised his hand in a gesture that was peremptory and unmistakable. The investigator paused; then Locke pointed to a chair directly before his bench, but some half dozen yards away; and when Ashton-Kirk smilingly seated himself, Locke did likewise.

Then in heavy characters he scrawled upon the back of one of the blue-prints.

“I was expecting a visitor, and fancied that it might be you.”

This he held up so that the investigator might read it. Ashton-Kirk nodded. Again the back of a plan came into service and this time the investigator read.

“What has occurred is most unfortunate. I had no hand in it, though, of course, I do not expect anyone to believe me.”

Here Ashton-Kirk drew a note book from his pocket and was about to write, but the other stopped him with a gesture. Then the man once more wrote; carefully, heavily, in order that the other might have no difficulty in reading it from the distance.

“Pardon me! But it is not necessary for you to go to any trouble. Moreover–I beg of you not to think me rude–your opinions in the matter have no interest for me.”

Ashton-Kirk acknowledged this with a grave nod. The pencil was instantly at work again.

“As I have said, I expected a visitor; but I will now add that I did not expect to be here to receive him.”

Ashton-Kirk looked swiftly into Locke’s face as he read this; the expression was unmistakable, and the investigator leaped to his feet. But the mute uttered a strange parrot-like cry–evidently the same that Edyth heard that night in Christie Place–and Ashton-Kirk saw his hand go swiftly to a button at one side of the work-bench. Instantly the investigator paused; once more a gesture bade him be seated.

Slowly he obeyed; and once more Locke began to trace bold characters upon the stiff paper. This message read:

“You are a wise man. I had arranged everything before you came in, and had sat down to make an end of it. This button at my hand once started an electric apparatus; but now it is connected with a quantity of an explosive–my own invention, and a terrible one. Believe me, one touch and everything in this building is in fragments.”

Ashton-Kirk, when he had finished reading, nodded quietly. Again the mute began to write.

“I have no ill will toward you,” the words ran, “you have two minutes to leave here, and get safely away.”

When he saw that this had been read, Locke threw down the paper and took out his watch. Then he pointed toward the door and sat waiting.

It was strange to see the little man sitting there calmly, with only the pressure of a finger between him and eternity. But Ashton-Kirk knew stern resolution too well to mistake the look on the mute’s face. There was nothing to do but to obey. He waved his hand in a farewell. Locke returned the gesture. Then Ashton-Kirk walked to the door, opened it and stepped out.

Pendleton, patiently watching among the trees, saw him emerge and at once moved toward him; to his amazement the investigator took him by the arm and broke into a run.

“What the deuce is the matter now?” asked Pendleton, after they had passed the gate and were racing down the road.

“You’ll know in a few moments,” returned Ashton-Kirk grimly.

He permitted no pause until they reached the car, the engine of which had not been stopped.

“Quick, for your lives!” he ordered, as he leaped in.

Pendleton and Burgess followed instantly. The car had scarcely begun its plunge forward when a horrible rending shock staggered them. And as they sped away the debris of the deaf-mute’s work-shop was falling all about them.

The evening papers were glaring with the news from Cordova by the time the two friends were once more alone in Ashton-Kirk’s library. Pendleton seemed to be pondering.

“I say,” said he, at last, “was it Morris or Spatola who remained at Hume’s the night of the murder?”

“I spoke to Spatola about that,” answered Ashton-Kirk. “He said it was Morris who left first and whom Hume pursued by jeers through the open window. Morris had, according to his resolve, called at the place to demand the plans; but Hume was mad with liquor and was even worse in his manner than usual. Unable to bear it, Morris had rushed out. Spatola later made his way out by way of the scuttle and across the roof, as he frequently did.

“The thing which Spatola had carried under his coat that night was a diploma which he had received from a musical conservatory in Rome. It was in a frame and so made considerable bulk. Hume had denied that afternoon that Spatola had ever studied in this particular conservatory; frantic with rage, but knowing that he was a fool for doing it, the Italian had brought his diploma as proof.

“Morris, under the name of Crawford, occupied a room on the floor below Spatola; and as soon as the musician entered through the scuttle, he descended the stairs and went immediately to his friend’s room to console and encourage him.

“Some time passed, and while they were still talking they heard a step upon the stairs leading to the attic. As no one lived there but himself, Spatola looked and in the semi-darkness saw two men descending. He called and asked who they were, and Sagon’s voice replied that it was he and a friend. They had gone up to have a talk and smoke a cigar with him; but seeing that he was not in, they had come down at once. And now, as he was apparently engaged, they would not trouble him, and with that they disappeared within Sagon’s room.”

“Then,” said Pendleton, “they had gone up through the attic, across the roofs, committed the deed, and returned while Spatola was with Morris?”

“It would seem so.”

“But suppose that on reaching the attic, upon their return they had found Spatola there?”

“Sagon had calculated it all very nicely. One night a week Spatola went to play with two compatriots at their rooms; with piano, harp and violin, they gave vent to the harmony that was in them. That was the night for the trio, and Sagon knew it. But In his rage and his desire to prove his standing to Hume, Spatola had forgotten it. When he descended to Morris’s rooms, the two criminals thought he had gone to make his usual visit to his friends. Sagon says he almost lost his nerve when the Italian confronted them on the stairs.”

“But here’s a thing I’ve not been able to puzzle out. According to your notion–and you may have proved it since, for all I know–Locke was not in the showroom during or after the murder. And yet it should have been he who dropped the little particle from the railroad ticket upon the desk.”

“It would seem that way,” admitted Ashton-Kirk, “but the fact is that Sagon visited Locke at the Institute and rode to the city with him that afternoon. The particle may be accounted for in that way.”

“Yes,” mused the other, “that’s so. But, one thing more. I should have asked this of Morris himself if he had not been in such a confoundedly miserable way. Why did he take to hiding immediately after the murder?”

“He spent the night in his lodgings at Christie Place; next day the papers told him that he was suspected. He knew that if he appeared he’d be arrested; and as he desired to recover the plans before the murderers escaped with them, he felt that this would be fatal to his chances. Of course, I am not sure of this; but I think it more than likely.”

“Speaking of taking chances on the plans,” said Pendleton, “you were willing enough to take pretty long ones on them last night. Why, Sagon actually had them in his hands.”

Ashton-Kirk drew a flat packet from his pocket. Opening it he showed that it contained nothing but blank paper.

“This is what Sagon found behind the portrait,” said he, with a smile. “The real papers I was very careful to remove two days ago. One moment–that’s the telephone.”

Pendleton sat rolling a cigarette and wondering, while Ashton-Kirk took down the receiver.

“Well?” said he. Then in a moment his expression changed. “Oh, is it you? Well, how are you after your exciting experience?”

Here Pendleton dropped the completed cigarette and listened.

“You may consider yourself very fortunate to escape with a slight headache,” said Ashton-Kirk. Then there was a pause, and he said, apparently in answer to a question: “Oh, yes, he’s with me now. Will you speak with him?”

Pendleton arose and took a step toward the stand. But he halted as if shot when his friend continued in the transmitter:

“No?” Pause. “Oh, very well. Good-by.”

Ashton-Kirk hung up the receiver and turned to his friend.

“So,” said Pendleton, in a queer sort of voice, “she doesn’t wish to speak to me.”

“Not over the wire–no. But she wants you to come to her–at once. She desires to hear all about what she calls the wonderful way we have handled this case, and she wants to hear it–from you.” Ashton-Kirk looked at his watch. “It is now 10:45. You can get there by eleven if you rush.”

“Do you call doing that little distance in fifteen minutes rushing?” The young man’s face was radiant and he was making for the door as he spoke. “If I don’t do it in half that time, I’m a duffer.”

Then the door slapped behind him, and Ashton-Kirk heard him bounding down the stairs.

* * * * *

Another story in this series is “ASHTON-KIRK AND THE SCARLET SCAPULAR” (in press)