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  • 1908
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“And you are still going to stay?”

“Until I am burned out,” I responded. And then on my way down the steps, I turned around suddenly.

“Doctor,” I asked at a venture, “have you ever heard of a child named Lucien Wallace?”

Clever as he was, his face changed and stiffened. He was on his guard again in a moment.

“Lucien Wallace?” he repeated. “No, I think not. There are plenty of Wallaces around, but I don’t know any Lucien.”

I was as certain as possible that he did. People do not lie readily to me, and this man lied beyond a doubt. But there was nothing to be gained now; his defenses were up, and I left, half irritated and wholly baffled.

Our reception was entirely different at Doctor Stewart’s. Taken into the bosom of the family at once, Flinders tied outside and nibbling the grass at the roadside, Gertrude and I drank some home-made elderberry wine and told briefly of the fire. Of the more serious part of the night’s experience, of course, we said nothing. But when at last we had left the family on the porch and the good doctor was untying our steed, I asked him the same question I had put to Doctor Walker.

“Shot!” he said. “Bless my soul, no. Why, what have you been doing up at the big house, Miss Innes?”

“Some one tried to enter the house during the fire, and was shot and slightly injured,” I said hastily. “Please don’t mention it; we wish to make as little of it as possible.”

There was one other possibility, and we tried that. At Casanova station I saw the station master, and asked him if any trains left Casanova between one o’clock and daylight. There was none until six A.M. The next question required more diplomacy.

“Did you notice on the six-o’clock train any person–any man–who limped a little?” I asked. “Please try to remember: we are trying to trace a man who was seen loitering around Sunnyside last night before the fire.”

He was all attention in a moment.

“I was up there myself at the fire,” he said volubly. “I’m a member of the volunteer company. First big fire we’ve had since the summer house burned over to the club golf links. My wife was sayin’ the other day, `Dave, you might as well ‘a’ saved the money in that there helmet and shirt.’ And here last night they came in handy. Rang that bell so hard I hadn’t time scarcely to get ’em on.”

“And–did you see a man who limped?” Gertrude put in, as he stopped for breath.

“Not at the train, ma’m,” he said. “No such person got on here to-day. But I’ll tell you where I did see a man that limped. I didn’t wait till the fire company left; there’s a fast freight goes through at four forty-five, and I had to get down to the station. I seen there wasn’t much more to do anyhow at the fire–we’d got the flames under control”–Gertrude looked at me and smiled–“so I started down the hill. There was folks here and there goin’ home, and along by the path to the Country Club I seen two men. One was a short fellow. He was sitting on a big rock, his back to me, and he had something white in his hand, as if he was tying up his foot. After I’d gone on a piece I looked back, and he was hobbling on and–excuse me, miss–he was swearing something sickening.”

“Did they go toward the club?” Gertrude asked suddenly, leaning forward.

“No, miss. I think they came into the village. I didn’t get a look at their faces, but I know every chick and child in the place, and everybody knows me. When they didn’t shout at me–in my uniform, you know–I took it they were strangers.”

So all we had for our afternoon’s work was this: some one had been shot by the bullet that went through the door; he had not left the village, and he had not called in a physician. Also, Doctor Walker knew who Lucien Wallace was, and his very denial made me confident that, in that one direction at least, we were on the right track.

The thought that the detective would be there that night was the most cheering thing of all, and I think even Gertrude was glad of it. Driving home that afternoon, I saw her in the clear sunlight for the first time in several days, and I was startled to see how ill she looked. She was thin and colorless, and all her bright animation was gone.

“Gertrude,” I said, “I have been a very selfish old woman. You are going to leave this miserable house to-night. Annie Morton is going to Scotland next week, and you shall go right with her.”

To my surprise, she flushed painfully.

“I don’t want to go, Aunt Ray,” she said. “Don’t make me leave now.”

“You are losing your health and your good looks,” I said decidedly. “You should have a change.”

“I shan’t stir a foot.” She was equally decided. Then, more lightly: “Why, you and Liddy need me to arbitrate between you every day in the week.”

Perhaps I was growing suspicious of every one, but it seemed to me that Gertrude’s gaiety was forced and artificial. I watched her covertly during the rest of the drive, and I did not like the two spots of crimson in her pale cheeks. But I said nothing more about sending her to Scotland: I knew she would not go.

CHAPTER XXV

A VISIT FROM LOUISE

That day was destined to be an eventful one, for when I entered the house and found Eliza ensconced in the upper hall on a chair, with Mary Anne doing her best to stifle her with household ammonia, and Liddy rubbing her wrists–whatever good that is supposed to do–I knew that the ghost had been walking again, and this time in daylight.

Eliza was in a frenzy of fear. She clutched at my sleeve when I went close to her, and refused to let go until she had told her story. Coming just after the fire, the household was demoralized, and it was no surprise to me to find Alex and the under-gardener struggling down-stairs with a heavy trunk between them.

“I didn’t want to do it, Miss Innes,” Alex said. “But she was so excited, I was afraid she would do as she said–drag it down herself, and scratch the staircase.”

I was trying to get my bonnet off and to keep the maids quiet at the same time. “Now, Eliza, when you have washed your face and stopped bawling,” I said, “come into my sitting-room and tell me what has happened.”

Liddy put away my things without speaking. The very set of her shoulders expressed disapproval.

“Well,” I said, when the silence became uncomfortable, “things seem to be warming up.”

Silence from Liddy, and a long sigh.

“If Eliza goes, I don’t know where to look for another cook.” More silence.

“Rosie is probably a good cook.” Sniff.

“Liddy,” I said at last, “don’t dare to deny that you are having the time of your life. You positively gloat in this excitement. You never looked better. It’s my opinion all this running around, and getting jolted out of a rut, has stirred up that torpid liver of yours.”

“It’s not myself I’m thinking about,” she said, goaded into speech. “Maybe my liver was torpid, and maybe it wasn’t; but I know this: I’ve got some feelings left, and to see you standing at the foot of that staircase shootin’ through the door–I’ll never be the same woman again.”

“Well, I’m glad of that–anything for a change,” I said. And in came Eliza, flanked by Rosie and Mary Anne.

Her story, broken with sobs and corrections from the other two, was this: At two o’clock (two-fifteen, Rosie insisted) she had gone up-stairs to get a picture from her room to show Mary Anne. (A picture of a LADY, Mary Anne interposed.) She went up the servants’ staircase and along the corridor to her room, which lay between the trunk-room and the unfinished ball-room. She heard a sound as she went down the corridor, like some one moving furniture, but she was not nervous. She thought it might be men examining the house after the fire the night before, but she looked in the trunk-room and saw nobody.

She went into her room quietly. The noise had ceased, and everything was quiet. Then she sat down on the side of her bed, and, feeling faint–she was subject to spells–(“I told you that when I came, didn’t I, Rosie?” “Yes’m, indeed she did!”)–she put her head down on her pillow and–

“Took a nap. All right!” I said. “Go on.”

“When I came to, Miss Innes, sure as I’m sittin’ here, I thought I’d die. Somethin’ hit me on the face, and I set up, sudden. And then I seen the plaster drop, droppin’ from a little hole in the wall. And the first thing I knew, an iron bar that long” (fully two yards by her measure) “shot through that hole and tumbled on the bed. If I’d been still sleeping” (“Fainting,” corrected Rosie) “I’d ‘a’ been hit on the head and killed!”

“I wisht you’d heard her scream,” put in Mary Anne. “And her face as white as a pillow-slip when she tumbled down the stairs.”

“No doubt there is some natural explanation for it, Eliza,” I said. “You may have dreamed it, in your `fainting’ attack. But if it is true, the metal rod and the hole in the wall will show it.”

Eliza looked a little bit sheepish.

“The hole’s there all right, Miss Innes,” she said. “But the bar was gone when Mary Anne and Rosie went up to pack my trunk.”

“That wasn’t all,” Liddy’s voice came funereally from a corner. “Eliza said that from the hole in the wall a burning eye looked down at her!”

“The wall must be at least six inches thick,” I said with asperity. “Unless the person who drilled the hole carried his eyes on the ends of a stick, Eliza couldn’t possibly have seen them.”

But the fact remained, and a visit to Eliza’s room proved it. I might jeer all I wished: some one had drilled a hole in the unfinished wall of the ball-room, passing between the bricks of the partition, and shooting through the unresisting plaster of Eliza’s room with such force as to send the rod flying on to her bed. I had gone up-stairs alone, and I confess the thing puzzled me: in two or three places in the wall small apertures had been made, none of them of any depth. Not the least mysterious thing was the disappearance of the iron implement that had been used.

I remembered a story I read once about an impish dwarf that lived in the spaces between the double walls of an ancient castle. I wondered vaguely if my original idea of a secret entrance to a hidden chamber could be right, after all, and if we were housing some erratic guest, who played pranks on us in the dark, and destroyed the walls that he might listen, hidden safely away, to our amazed investigations.

Mary Anne and Eliza left that afternoon, but Rosie decided to stay. It was about five o’clock when the hack came from the station to get them, and, to my amazement, it had an occupant. Matthew Geist, the driver, asked for me, and explained his errand with pride.

“I’ve brought you a cook, Miss Innes,” he said. “When the message came to come up for two girls and their trunks, I supposed there was something doing, and as this here woman had been looking for work in the village, I thought I’d bring her along.”

Already I had acquired the true suburbanite ability to take servants on faith; I no longer demanded written and unimpeachable references. I, Rachel Innes, have learned not to mind if the cook sits down comfortably in my sitting-room when she is taking the orders for the day, and I am grateful if the silver is not cleaned with scouring soap. And so that day I merely told Liddy to send the new applicant in. When she came, however, I could hardly restrain a gasp of surprise. It was the woman with the pitted face.

She stood somewhat awkwardly just inside the door, and she had an air of self-confidence that was inspiring. Yes, she could cook; was not a fancy cook, but could make good soups and desserts if there was any one to take charge of the salads. And so, in the end, I took her. As Halsey said, when we told him, it didn’t matter much about the cook’s face, if it was clean.

I have spoken of Halsey’s restlessness. On that day it seemed to be more than ever a resistless impulse that kept him out until after luncheon. I think he hoped constantly that he might meet Louise driving over the hills in her runabout: possibly he did meet her occasionally, but from his continued gloom I felt sure the situation between them was unchanged.

Part of the afternoon I believe he read–Gertrude and I were out, as I have said, and at dinner we both noticed that something had occurred to distract him. He was disagreeable, which is unlike him, nervous, looking at his watch every few minutes, and he ate almost nothing. He asked twice during the meal on what train Mr. Jamieson and the other detective were coming, and had long periods of abstraction during which he dug his fork into my damask cloth and did not hear when he was spoken to. He refused dessert, and left the table early, excusing himself on the ground that he wanted to see Alex.

Alex, however, was not to be found. It was after eight when Halsey ordered the car, and started down the hill at a pace that, even for him, was unusually reckless. Shortly after, Alex reported that he was ready to go over the house, preparatory to closing it for the night. Sam Bohannon came at a quarter before nine, and began his patrol of the grounds, and with the arrival of the two detectives to look forward to, I was not especially apprehensive.

At half-past nine I heard the sound of a horse driven furiously up the drive. It came to a stop in front of the house, and immediately after there were hurried steps on the veranda. Our nerves were not what they should have been, and Gertrude, always apprehensive lately, was at the door almost instantly. A moment later Louise had burst into the room and stood there bareheaded and breathing hard!

“Where is Halsey?” she demanded. Above her plain black gown her eyes looked big and somber, and the rapid drive had brought no color to her face. I got up and drew forward a chair.

“He has not come back,” I said quietly. “Sit down, child; you are not strong enough for this kind of thing.”

I don’t think she even heard me.

“He has not come back?” she asked, looking from me to Gertrude. “Do you know where he went? Where can I find him?”

“For Heaven’s sake, Louise,” Gertrude burst out, “tell us what is wrong. Halsey is not here. He has gone to the station for Mr. Jamieson. What has happened?”

“To the station, Gertrude? You are sure?”

“Yes,” I said. “Listen. There is the whistle of the train now.”

She relaxed a little at our matter-of-fact tone, and allowed herself to sink into a chair.

“Perhaps I was wrong,” she said heavily. “He–will be here in a few moments if–everything is right.”

We sat there, the three of us, without attempt at conversation. Both Gertrude and I recognized the futility of asking Louise any questions: her reticence was a part of a role she had assumed. Our ears were strained for the first throb of the motor as it turned into the drive and commenced the climb to the house. Ten minutes passed, fifteen, twenty. I saw Louise’s hands grow rigid as they clutched the arms of her chair. I watched Gertrude’s bright color slowly ebbing away, and around my own heart I seemed to feel the grasp of a giant hand.

Twenty-five minutes, and then a sound. But it was not the chug of the motor: it was the unmistakable rumble of the Casanova hack. Gertrude drew aside the curtain and peered into the darkness.

“It’s the hack, I am sure,” she said, evidently relieved. “Something has gone wrong with the car, and no wonder–the way Halsey went down the hill.”

It seemed a long time before the creaking vehicle came to a stop at the door. Louise rose and stood watching, her hand to her throat. And then Gertrude opened the door, admitting Mr. Jamieson and a stocky, middle-aged man. Halsey was not with them. When the door had closed and Louise realized that Halsey had not come, her expression changed. From tense watchfulness to relief, and now again to absolute despair, her face was an open page.

“Halsey?” I asked unceremoniously, ignoring the stranger. “Did he not meet you?”

“No.” Mr. Jamieson looked slightly surprised. “I rather expected the car, but we got up all right.”

“You didn’t see him at all?” Louise demanded breathlessly.

Mr. Jamieson knew her at once, although he had not seen her before. She had kept to her rooms until the morning she left.

“No, Miss Armstrong,” he said. “I saw nothing of him. What is wrong?”

“Then we shall have to find him,” she asserted. “Every instant is precious. Mr. Jamieson, I have reason for believing that he is in danger, but I don’t know what it is. Only–he must be found.”

The stocky man had said nothing. Now, however, he went quickly toward the door.

“I’ll catch the hack down the road and hold it,” he said. “Is the gentleman down in the town?”

“Mr. Jamieson,” Louise said impulsively, “I can use the hack. Take my horse and trap outside and drive like mad. Try to find the Dragon Fly–it ought to be easy to trace. I can think of no other way. Only, don’t lose a moment.”

The new detective had gone, and a moment later Jamieson went rapidly down the drive, the cob’s feet striking fire at every step. Louise stood looking after them. When she turned around she faced Gertrude, who stood indignant, almost tragic, in the hall.

“You KNOW what threatens Halsey, Louise,” she said accusingly. “I believe you know this whole horrible thing, this mystery that we are struggling with. If anything happens to Halsey, I shall never forgive you.”

Louise only raised her hands despairingly and dropped them again.

“He is as dear to me as he is to you,” she said sadly. “I tried to warn him.”

“Nonsense!” I said, as briskly as I could. “We are making a lot of trouble out of something perhaps very small. Halsey was probably late–he is always late. Any moment we may hear the car coming up the road.”

But it did not come. After a half-hour of suspense, Louise went out quietly, and did not come back. I hardly knew she was gone until I heard the station hack moving off. At eleven o’clock the telephone rang. It was Mr. Jamieson.

“I have found the Dragon Fly, Miss Innes,” he said. “It has collided with a freight car on the siding above the station. No, Mr. Innes was not there, but we shall probably find him. Send Warner for the car.”

But they did not find him. At four o’clock the next morning we were still waiting for news, while Alex watched the house and Sam the grounds. At daylight I dropped into exhausted sleep. Halsey had not come back, and there was no word from the detective.

CHAPTER XXVI

HALSEY’S DISAPPEARANCE

Nothing that had gone before had been as bad as this. The murder and Thomas’ sudden death we had been able to view in a detached sort of way. But with Halsey’s disappearance everything was altered. Our little circle, intact until now, was broken. We were no longer onlookers who saw a battle passing around them. We were the center of action. Of course, there was no time then to voice such an idea. My mind seemed able to hold only one thought: that Halsey had been foully dealt with, and that every minute lost might be fatal.

Mr. Jamieson came back about eight o’clock the next morning: he was covered with mud, and his hat was gone. Altogether, we were a sad-looking trio that gathered around a breakfast that no one could eat. Over a cup of black coffee the detective told us what he had learned of Halsey’s movements the night before. Up to a certain point the car had made it easy enough to follow him. And I gathered that Mr. Burns, the other detective, had followed a similar car for miles at dawn, only to find it was a touring car on an endurance run.

“He left here about ten minutes after eight,” Mr Jamieson said. “He went alone, and at eight twenty he stopped at Doctor Walker’s. I went to the doctor’s about midnight, but he had been called out on a case, and had not come back at four o’clock. From the doctor’s it seems Mr. Innes walked across the lawn to the cottage Mrs. Armstrong and her daughter have taken. Mrs. Armstrong had retired, and he said perhaps a dozen words to Miss Louise. She will not say what they were, but the girl evidently suspects what has occurred. That is, she suspects foul play, but she doesn’t know of what nature. Then, apparently, he started directly for the station. He was going very fast–the flagman at the Carol Street crossing says he saw the car pass. He knew the siren. Along somewhere in the dark stretch between Carol Street and the depot he evidently swerved suddenly–perhaps some one in the road–and went full into the side of a freight. We found it there last night.”

“He might have been thrown under the train by the force of the shock,” I said tremulously.

Gertrude shuddered.

“We examined every inch of track. There was–no sign.”

“But surely–he can’t be–gone!” I cried. “Aren’t there traces in the mud–anything?”

“There is no mud–only dust. There has been no rain. And the footpath there is of cinders. Miss Innes, I am inclined to think that he has met with bad treatment, in the light of what has gone before. I do not think he has been murdered.” I shrank from the word. “Burns is back in the country, on a clue we got from the night clerk at the drug-store. There will be two more men here by noon, and the city office is on the lookout.”

“The creek?” Gertrude asked.

“The creek is shallow now. If it were swollen with rain, it would be different. There is hardly any water in it. Now, Miss Innes,” he said, turning to me, “I must ask you some questions. Had Mr. Halsey any possible reason for going away like this, without warning?”

“None whatever.”

“He went away once before,” he persisted. “And you were as sure then.”

“He did not leave the Dragon Fly jammed into the side of a freight car before.”

“No, but he left it for repairs in a blacksmith shop, a long distance from here. Do you know if he had any enemies? Any one who might wish him out of the way?”

“Not that I know of, unless–no, I can not think of any.”

“Was he in the habit of carrying money?”

“He never carried it far. No, he never had more than enough for current expenses.”

Mr. Jamieson got up then and began to pace the room. It was an unwonted concession to the occasion.

“Then I think we get at it by elimination. The chances are against flight. If he was hurt, we find no trace of him. It looks almost like an abduction. This young Doctor Walker–have you any idea why Mr. Innes should have gone there last night?”

“I can not understand it,” Gertrude said thoughtfully. “I don’t think he knew Doctor Walker at all, and–their relations could hardly have been cordial, under the circumstances.”

Jamieson pricked up his ears, and little by little he drew from us the unfortunate story of Halsey’s love affair, and the fact that Louise was going to marry Doctor Walker.

Mr. Jamieson listened attentively.

“There are some interesting developments here,” he said thoughtfully. “The woman who claims to be the mother of Lucien Wallace has not come back. Your nephew has apparently been spirited away. There is an organized attempt being made to enter this house; in fact, it has been entered. Witness the incident with the cook yesterday. And I have a new piece of information.”

He looked carefully away from Gertrude. “Mr. John Bailey is not at his Knickerbocker apartments, and I don’t know where he is. It’s a hash, that’s what it is. It’s a Chinese puzzle. They won’t fit together, unless–unless Mr. Bailey and your nephew have again–“

And once again Gertrude surprised me. “They are not together,” she said hotly. “I–know where Mr. Bailey is, and my brother is not with him.”

The detective turned and looked at her keenly.

“Miss Gertrude,” he said, “if you and Miss Louise would only tell me everything you know and surmise about this business, I should be able to do a great many things. I believe I could find your brother, and I might be able to–well, to do some other things.” But Gertrude’s glance did not falter.

“Nothing that I know could help you to find Halsey,” she said stubbornly. “I know absolutely as little of his disappearance as you do, and I can only say this: I do not trust Doctor Walker. I think he hated Halsey, and he would get rid of him if he could.”

“Perhaps you are right. In fact, I had some such theory myself. But Doctor Walker went out late last night to a serious case in Summitville, and is still there. Burns traced him there. We have made guarded inquiry at the Greenwood Club, and through the village. There is absolutely nothing to go on but this. On the embankment above the railroad, at the point where we found the machine, is a small house. An old woman and a daughter, who is very lame, live there. They say that they distinctly heard the shock when the Dragon Fly hit the car, and they went to the bottom of their garden and looked over. The automobile was there; they could see the lights, and they thought someone had been injured. It was very dark, but they could make out two figures, standing together. The women were curious, and, leaving the fence, they went back and by a roundabout path down to the road. When they got there the car was still standing, the headlight broken and the bonnet crushed, but there was no one to be seen.”

The detective went away immediately, and to Gertrude and me was left the woman’s part, to watch and wait. By luncheon nothing had been found, and I was frantic. I went up-stairs to Halsey’s room finally, from sheer inability to sit across from Gertrude any longer, and meet her terror-filled eyes.

Liddy was in my dressing-room, suspiciously red-eyed, and trying to put a right sleeve in a left armhole of a new waist for me. I was too much shaken to scold.

“What name did that woman in the kitchen give?” she demanded, viciously ripping out the offending sleeve.

“Bliss. Mattie Bliss,” I replied.

“Bliss. M. B. Well, that’s not what she has on he suitcase. It is marked N. F. C.”

The new cook and her initials troubled me not at all. I put on my bonnet and sent for what the Casanova liveryman called a “stylish turnout.” Having once made up my mind to a course of action, I am not one to turn back. Warner drove me; he was plainly disgusted, and he steered the livery horse as he would the Dragon Fly, feeling uneasily with his left foot for the clutch, and working his right elbow at an imaginary horn every time a dog got in the way.

Warner had something on his mind, and after we had turned into the road, he voiced it.

“Miss Innes,” he said. “I overheard a part of a conversation yesterday that I didn’t understand. It wasn’t my business to understand it, for that matter. But I’ve been thinking all day that I’d better tell you. Yesterday afternoon, while you and Miss Gertrude were out driving, I had got the car in some sort of shape again after the fire, and I went to the library to call Mr. Innes to see it. I went into the living-room, where Miss Liddy said he was, and half-way across to the library I heard him talking to some one. He seemed to be walking up and down, and he was in a rage, I can tell you.”

“What did he say?”

“The first thing I heard was–excuse me, Miss Innes, but it’s what he said, `The damned rascal,’ he said, `I’ll see him in’– well, in hell was what he said, `in hell first.’ Then somebody else spoke up; it was a woman. She said, `I warned them, but they thought I would be afraid.'”

“A woman! Did you wait to see who it was?”

“I wasn’t spying, Miss Innes,” Warner said with dignity. “But the next thing caught my attention. She said, `I knew there was something wrong from the start. A man isn’t well one day, and dead the next, without some reason.’ I thought she was speaking of Thomas.”

“And you don’t know who it was!” I exclaimed. “Warner, you had the key to this whole occurrence in your hands, and did not use it!”

However, there was nothing to be done. I resolved to make inquiry when I got home, and in the meantime, my present errand absorbed me. This was nothing less than to see Louise Armstrong, and to attempt to drag from her what she knew, or suspected, of Halsey’s disappearance. But here, as in every, direction I turned, I was baffled.

A neat maid answered the bell, but she stood squarely in the doorway, and it was impossible to preserve one’s dignity and pass her.

“Miss Armstrong is very ill, and unable to see any one,” she said. I did not believe her.

“And Mrs. Armstrong–is she also ill?”

“She is with Miss Louise and can not be disturbed.”

“Tell her it is Miss Innes, and that it is a matter of the greatest importance.”

“It would be of no use, Miss Innes. My orders are positive.”

At that moment a heavy step sounded on the stairs. Past the maid’s white-strapped shoulder I could see a familiar thatch of gray hair, and in a moment I was face to face with Doctor Stewart. He was very grave, and his customary geniality was tinged with restraint.

“You are the very woman I want to see,” he said promptly. “Send away your trap, and let me drive you home. What is this about your nephew?”

“He has disappeared, doctor. Not only that, but there is every evidence that he has been either abducted, or–” I could not finish. The doctor helped me into his capacious buggy in silence. Until we had got a little distance he did not speak; then he turned and looked at me.

“Now tell me about it,” he said. He heard me through without speaking.

“And you think Louise knows something?” he said when I had finished. “I don’t–in fact, I am sure of it. The best evidence of it is this: she asked me if he had been heard from, or if anything had been learned. She won’t allow Walker in the room, and she made me promise to see you and tell you this: don’t give up the search for him. Find him, and find him soon. He is living.”

“Well,” I said, “if she knows that, she knows more. She is a very cruel and ungrateful girl.”

“She is a very sick girl,” he said gravely. “Neither you nor I can judge her until we know everything. Both she and her mother are ghosts of their former selves. Under all this, these two sudden deaths, this bank robbery, the invasions at Sunnyside and Halsey’s disappearance, there is some mystery that, mark my words, will come out some day. And when it does, we shall find Louise Armstrong a victim.”

I had not noticed where we were going, but now I saw we were beside the railroad, and from a knot of men standing beside the track I divined that it was here the car had been found. The siding, however, was empty. Except a few bits of splintered wood on the ground, there was no sign of the accident.

“Where is the freight car that was rammed?” the doctor asked a bystander.

“It was taken away at daylight, when the train was moved.”

There was nothing to be gained. He pointed out the house on the embankment where the old lady and her daughter had heard the crash and seen two figures beside the car. Then we drove slowly home. I had the doctor put me down at the gate, and I walked to the house–past the lodge where we had found Louise, and, later, poor Thomas; up the drive where I had seen a man watching the lodge and where, later, Rosie had been frightened; past the east entrance, where so short a time before the most obstinate effort had been made to enter the house, and where, that night two weeks ago, Liddy and I had seen the strange woman. Not far from the west wing lay the blackened ruins of the stables. I felt like a ruin myself, as I paused on the broad veranda before I entered the house.

Two private detectives had arrived in my absence, and it was a relief to turn over to them the responsibility of the house and grounds. Mr. Jamieson, they said, had arranged for more to assist in the search for the missing man, and at that time the country was being scoured in all directions.

The household staff was again depleted that afternoon. Liddy was waiting to tell me that the new cook had gone, bag and baggage, without waiting to be paid. No one had admitted the visitor whom Warner had heard in the library, unless, possibly, the missing cook. Again I was working in a circle.

CHAPTER XXVII

WHO IS NINA CARRINGTON?

The four days, from Saturday to the following Tuesday, we lived, or existed, in a state of the most dreadful suspense. We ate only when Liddy brought in a tray, and then very little. The papers, of course, had got hold of the story, and we were besieged by newspaper men. From all over the country false clues came pouring in and raised hopes that crumbled again to nothing. Every morgue within a hundred miles, every hospital, had been visited, without result.

Mr. Jamieson, personally, took charge of the organized search, and every evening, no matter where he happened to be, he called us by long distance telephone. It was the same formula. “Nothing to-day. A new clue to work on. Better luck to-morrow.”

And heartsick we would put up the receiver and sit down again to our vigil.

The inaction was deadly. Liddy cried all day, and, because she knew I objected to tears, sniffled audibly around the corner.

“For Heaven’s sake, smile!” I snapped at her. And her ghastly attempt at a grin, with her swollen nose and red eyes, made me hysterical. I laughed and cried together, and pretty soon, like the two old fools we were, we were sitting together weeping into the same handkerchief.

Things were happening, of course, all the time, but they made little or no impression. The Charity Hospital called up Doctor Stewart and reported that Mrs. Watson was in a critical condition. I understood also that legal steps were being taken to terminate my lease at Sunnyside. Louise was out of danger, but very ill, and a trained nurse guarded her like a gorgon. There was a rumor in the village, brought up by Liddy from the butcher’s, that a wedding had already taken place between Louise and Doctor Walkers and this roused me for the first time to action.

On Tuesday, then, I sent for the car, and prepared to go out. As I waited at the porte-cochere I saw the under-gardener, an inoffensive, grayish-haired man, trimming borders near the house.

The day detective was watching him, sitting on the carriage block. When he saw me, he got up.

“Miss Innes,” he said, taking of his hat, “do you know where Alex, the gardener, is?”

“Why, no. Isn’t he here?” I asked.

“He has been gone since yesterday afternoon. Have you employed him long?”

“Only a couple of weeks.”

“Is he efficient? A capable man?”

“I hardly know,” I said vaguely. “The place looks all right, and I know very little about such things. I know much more about boxes of roses than bushes of them.”

“This man,” pointing to the assistant, “says Alex isn’t a gardener. That he doesn’t know anything about plants.”

“That’s very strange,” I said, thinking hard. “Why, he came to me from the Brays, who are in Europe.”

“Exactly.” The detective smiled. “Every man who cuts grass isn’t a gardener, Miss Innes, and just now it is our policy to believe every person around here a rascal until he proves to be the other thing.”

Warner came up with the car then, and the conversation stopped. As he helped me in, however, the detective said something further.

“Not a word or sign to Alex, if he comes back,” he said cautiously.

I went first to Doctor Walker’s. I was tired of beating about the bush, and I felt that the key to Halsey’s disappearance was here at Casanova, in spite of Mr. Jamieson’s theories.

The doctor was in. He came at once to the door of his consulting-room, and there was no mask of cordiality in his manner.

“Please come in,” he said curtly.

“I shall stay here, I think, doctor.” I did not like his face or his manner; there was a subtle change in both. He had thrown of the air of friendliness, and I thought, too, that he looked anxious and haggard.

“Doctor Walker,” I said, “I have come to you to ask some questions. I hope you will answer them. As you know, my nephew has not yet been found.”

“So I understand,” stiffly.

“I believe, if you would, you could help us, and that leads to one of my questions. Will you tell me what was the nature of the conversation you held with him the night he was attacked and carried off?”

“Attacked! Carried off!” he said, with pretended surprise. “Really, Miss Innes, don’t you think you exaggerate? I understand it is not the first time Mr. Innes has–disappeared.”

“You are quibbling, doctor. This is a matter of life and death. Will you answer my question?”

“Certainly. He said his nerves were bad, and I gave him a prescription for them. I am violating professional ethics when I tell you even as much as that.”

I could not tell him he lied. I think I looked it. But I hazarded a random shot.

“I thought perhaps,” I said, watching him narrowly, “that it might be about–Nina Carrington.”

For a moment I thought he was going to strike me. He grew livid, and a small crooked blood-vessel in his temple swelled and throbbed curiously. Then he forced a short laugh.

“Who is Nina Carrington?” he asked.

“I am about to discover that,” I replied, and he was quiet at once. It was not difficult to divine that he feared Nina Carrington a good deal more than he did the devil. Our leave- taking was brief; in fact, we merely stared at each other over the waiting-room table, with its litter of year-old magazines. Then I turned and went out.

“To Richfield,” I told Warner, and on the way I thought, and thought hard.

“Nina Carrington, Nina Carrington,” the roar and rush of the wheels seemed to sing the words. “Nina Carrington, N. C.” And I then knew, knew as surely as if I had seen the whole thing. There had been an N. C. on the suit-case belonging to the woman with the pitted face. How simple it all seemed. Mattie Bliss had been Nina Carrington. It was she Warner had heard in the library. It was something she had told Halsey that had taken him frantically to Doctor Walker’s office, and from there perhaps to his death. If we could find the woman, we might find what had become of Halsey.

We were almost at Richfield now, so I kept on. My mind was not on my errand there now. It was back with Halsey on that memorable night. What was it he had said to Louise, that had sent her up to Sunnyside, half wild with fear for him? I made up my mind, as the car drew up before the Tate cottage, that I would see Louise if I had to break into the house at night.

Almost exactly the same scene as before greeted my eyes at the cottage. Mrs. Tate, the baby-carriage in the path, the children at the swing–all were the same.

She came forward to meet me, and I noticed that some of the anxious lines had gone out of her face. She looked young, almost pretty.

“I am glad you have come back,” she said. “I think I will have to be honest and give you back your money.”

“Why?” I asked. “Has the mother come?”

“No, but some one came and paid the boy’s board for a month. She talked to him for a long time, but when I asked him afterward he didn’t know her name.”

“A young woman?”

“Not very young. About forty, I suppose. She was small and fair-haired, just a little bit gray, and very sad. She was in deep mourning, and, I think, when she came, she expected to go at once. But the child, Lucien, interested her. She talked to him for a long time, and, indeed, she looked much happier when she left.”

“You are sure this was not the real mother?”

“O mercy, no! Why, she didn’t know which of the three was Lucien. I thought perhaps she was a friend of yours, but, of course, I didn’t ask.”

“She was not–pock-marked?” I asked at a venture. “No, indeed. A skin like a baby’s. But perhaps you will know the initials. She gave Lucien a handkerchief and forgot it. It was very fine, black-bordered, and it had three hand-worked letters in the corner–F. B. A.”

“No,” I said with truth enough, “she is not a friend of mine.” F. B. A. was Fanny Armstrong, without a chance of doubt!

With another warning to Mrs. Tate as to silence, we started back to Sunnyside. So Fanny Armstrong knew of Lucien Wallace, and was sufficiently interested to visit him and pay for his support. Who was the child’s mother and where was she? Who was Nina Carrington? Did either of them know where Halsey was or what had happened to him?

On the way home we passed the little cemetery where Thomas had been laid to rest. I wondered if Thomas could have helped us to find Halsey, had he lived. Farther along was the more imposing burial-ground, where Arnold Armstrong and his father lay in the shadow of a tall granite shaft. Of the three, I think Thomas was the only one sincerely mourned.

CHAPTER XXVIII

A TRAMP AND THE TOOTHACHE

The bitterness toward the dead president of the Traders’ Bank seemed to grow with time. Never popular, his memory was execrated by people who had lost nothing, but who were filled with disgust by constantly hearing new stories of the man’s grasping avarice. The Traders’ had been a favorite bank for small tradespeople, and in its savings department it had solicited the smallest deposits. People who had thought to be self-supporting to the last found themselves confronting the poorhouse, their two or three hundred dollar savings wiped away. All bank failures have this element, however, and the directors were trying to promise twenty per cent. on deposits.

But, like everything else those days, the bank failure was almost forgotten by Gertrude and myself. We did not mention Jack Bailey: I had found nothing to change my impression of his guilt, and Gertrude knew how I felt. As for the murder of the bank president’s son, I was of two minds. One day I thought Gertrude knew or at least suspected that Jack had done it; the next I feared that it had been Gertrude herself, that night alone on the circular staircase. And then the mother of Lucien Wallace would obtrude herself, and an almost equally good case might be made against her. There were times, of course, when I was disposed to throw all those suspicions aside, and fix definitely on the unknown, whoever that might be.

I had my greatest disappointment when it came to tracing Nina Carrington. The woman had gone without leaving a trace. Marked as she was, it should have been easy to follow her, but she was not to be found. A description to one of the detectives, on my arrival at home, had started the ball rolling. But by night she had not been found. I told Gertrude, then, about the telegram to Louise when she had been ill before; about my visit to Doctor Walker, and my suspicions that Mattie Bliss and Nina Carrington were the same. She thought, as I did, that there was little doubt of it.

I said nothing to her, however, of the detective’s suspicions about Alex. Little things that I had not noticed at the time now came back to me. I had an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps Alex was a spy, and that by taking him into the house I had played into the enemy’s hand. But at eight o’clock that night Alex himself appeared, and with him a strange and repulsive individual. They made a queer pair, for Alex was almost as disreputable as the tramp, and he had a badly swollen eye.

Gertrude had been sitting listlessly waiting for the evening message from Mr. Jamieson, but when the singular pair came in, as they did, without ceremony, she jumped up and stood staring. Winters, the detective who watched the house at night, followed them, and kept his eyes sharply on Alex’s prisoner. For that was the situation as it developed.

He was a tall lanky individual, ragged and dirty, and just now he looked both terrified and embarrassed. Alex was too much engrossed to be either, and to this day I don’t think I ever asked him why he went off without permission the day before.

“Miss Innes,” Alex began abruptly, “this man can tell us something very important about the disappearance of Mr. Innes. I found him trying to sell this watch.”

He took a watch from his pocket and put it on the table. It was Halsey’s watch. I had given it to him on his twenty-first birthday: I was dumb with apprehension.

“He says he had a pair of cuff-links also, but he sold them–“

“Fer a dollar’n half,” put in the disreputable individual hoarsely, with an eye on the detective.

“He is not–dead?” I implored. The tramp cleared his throat.

“No’m,” he said huskily. “He was used up pretty bad, but he weren’t dead. He was comin’ to hisself when I”–he stopped and looked at the detective. “I didn’t steal it, Mr. Winters,” he whined. “I found it in the road, honest to God, I did.”

Mr. Winters paid no attention to him. He was watching Alex.

“I’d better tell what he told me,” Alex broke in. “It will be quicker. When Jamieson–when Mr Jamieson calls up we can start him right. Mr. Winters, I found this man trying to sell that watch on Fifth Street. He offered it to me for three dollars.”

“How did you know the watch?” Winters snapped at him.

“I had seen it before, many times. I used it at night when I was watching at the foot of the staircase.” The detective was satisfied. “When he offered the watch to me, I knew it, and I pretended I was going to buy it. We went into an alley and I got the watch.” The tramp shivered. It was plain how Alex had secured the watch. “Then–I got the story from this fellow. He claims to have seen the whole affair. He says he was in an empty car–in the car the automobile struck.”

The tramp broke in here, and told his story, with frequent interpretations by Alex and Mr. Winters. He used a strange medley, in which familiar words took unfamiliar meanings, but it was gradually made clear to us.

On the night in question the tramp had been “pounding his ear”– this stuck to me as being graphic–in an empty box-car along the siding at Casanova. The train was going west, and due to leave at dawn. The tramp and the “brakey” were friendly, and things going well. About ten o’clock, perhaps earlier, a terrific crash against the side of the car roused him. He tried to open the door, but could not move it. He got out of the other side, and just as he did so, he heard some one groan.

The habits of a lifetime made him cautious. He slipped on to the bumper of a car and peered through. An automobile had struck the car, and stood there on two wheels. The tail lights were burning, but the headlights were out. Two men were stooping over some one who lay on the ground. Then the taller of the two started on a dog-trot along the train looking for an empty. He found one four cars away and ran back again. The two lifted the unconscious man into the empty box-car, and, getting in themselves, stayed for three or four minutes. When they came out, after closing the sliding door, they cut up over the railroad embankment toward the town. One, the short one, seemed to limp.

The tramp was wary. He waited for ten minutes or so. Some women came down a path to the road and inspected the automobile. When they had gone, he crawled into the box-car and closed the door again. Then he lighted a match. The figure of a man, unconscious, gagged, and with his hands tied, lay far at the end.

The tramp lost no time; he went through his pockets, found a little money and the cuff-links, and took them. Then he loosened the gag–it had been cruelly tight–and went his way, again closing the door of the box-car. Outside on the road he found the watch. He got on the fast freight east, some time after, and rode into the city. He had sold the cuff-links, but on offering the watch to Alex he had been “copped.”

The story, with its cold recital of villainy, was done. I hardly knew if I were more anxious, or less. That it was Halsey, there could be no doubt. How badly he was hurt, how far he had been carried, were the questions that demanded immediate answer. But it was the first real information we had had; my boy had not been murdered outright. But instead of vague terrors there was now the real fear that he might be lying in some strange hospital receiving the casual attention commonly given to the charity cases. Even this, had we known it, would have been paradise to the terrible truth. I wake yet and feel myself cold and trembling with the horror of Halsey’s situation for three days after his disappearance.

Mr. Winters and Alex disposed of the tramp with a warning. It was evident he had told us all he knew. We had occasion, within a day or two, to be doubly thankful that we had given him his freedom. When Mr. Jamieson telephoned that night we had news for him; he told me what I had not realized before–that it would not be possible to find Halsey at once, even with this clue. The cars by this time, three days, might be scattered over the Union.

But he said to keep on hoping, that it was the best news we had had. And in the meantime, consumed with anxiety as we were, things were happening at the house in rapid succession.

We had one peaceful day–then Liddy took sick in the night. I went in when I heard her groaning, and found her with a hot-water bottle to her face, and her right cheek swollen until it was glassy.

“Toothache?” I asked, not too gently. “You deserve it. A woman of your age, who would rather go around with an exposed nerve in her head than have the tooth pulled! It would be over in a moment.”

“So would hanging,” Liddy protested, from behind the hot-water bottle.

I was hunting around for cotton and laudanum.

“You have a tooth just like it yourself, Miss Rachel,” she whimpered. “And I’m sure Doctor Boyle’s been trying to take it out for years.”

There was no laudanum, and Liddy made a terrible fuss when I proposed carbolic acid, just because I had put too much on the cotton once and burned her mouth. I’m sure it never did her any permanent harm; indeed, the doctor said afterward that living on liquid diet had been a splendid rest for her stomach. But she would have none of the acid, and she kept me awake groaning, so at last I got up and went to Gertrude’s door. To my surprise, it was locked.

I went around by the hall and into her bedroom that way. The bed was turned down, and her dressing-gown and night-dress lay ready in the little room next, but Gertrude was not there. She had not undressed.

I don’t know what terrible thoughts came to me in the minute I stood there. Through the door I could hear Liddy grumbling, with a squeal now and then when the pain stabbed harder. Then, automatically, I got the laudanum and went back to her.

It was fully a half-hour before Liddy’s groans subsided. At intervals I went to the door into the hall and looked out, but I saw and heard nothing suspicious. Finally, when Liddy had dropped into a doze, I even ventured as far as the head of the circular staircase, but there floated up to me only the even breathing of Winters, the night detective, sleeping just inside the entry. And then, far off, I heard the rapping noise that had lured Louise down the staircase that other night, two weeks before. It was over my head, and very faint–three or four short muffled taps, a pause, and then again, stealthily repeated.

The sound of Mr. Winters’ breathing was comforting; with the thought that there was help within call, something kept me from waking him. I did not move for a moment; ridiculous things Liddy had said about a ghost–I am not at all superstitious, except, perhaps, in the middle of the night, with everything dark–things like that came back to me. Almost beside me was the clothes chute. I could feel it, but I could see nothing. As I stood, listening intently, I heard a sound near me. It was vague, indefinite. Then it ceased; there was an uneasy movement and a grunt from the foot of the circular staircase, and silence again.

I stood perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe.

Then I knew I had been right. Some one was stealthily-passing the head of the staircase and coming toward me in the dark. I leaned against the wall for support–my knees were giving way. The steps were close now, and suddenly I thought of Gertrude. Of course it was Gertrude. I put out one hand in front of me, but I touched nothing. My voice almost refused me, but I managed to gasp out, “Gertrude!”

“Good Lord!” a man’s voice exclaimed, just beside me. And then I collapsed. I felt myself going, felt some one catch me, a horrible nausea–that was all I remembered.

When I came to it was dawn. I was lying on the bed in Louise’s room, with the cherub on the ceiling staring down at me, and there was a blanket from my own bed thrown over me. I felt weak and dizzy, but I managed to get up and totter to the door. At the foot of the circular staircase Mr. Winters was still asleep. Hardly able to stand, I crept back to my room. The door into Gertrude’s room was no longer locked: she was sleeping like a tired child. And in my dressing-room Liddy hugged a cold hot- water bottle, and mumbled in her sleep.

“There’s some things you can’t hold with hand cuffs, she was muttering thickly.

CHAPTER XXIX

A SCRAP OF PAPER

For the first time in twenty years, I kept my bed that day. Liddy was alarmed to the point of hysteria, and sent for Doctor Stewart just after breakfast. Gertrude spent the morning with me, reading something–I forget what. I was too busy with my thoughts to listen. I had said nothing to the two detectives. If Mr. Jamieson had been there, I should have told him everything, but I could not go to these strange men and tell them my niece had been missing in the middle of the night; that she had not gone to bed at all; that while I was searching for her through the house, I had met a stranger who, when I fainted, had carried me into a room and left me there, to get better or not, as it might happen.

The whole situation was terrible: had the issues been less vital, it would have been absurd. Here we were, guarded day and night by private detectives, with an extra man to watch the grounds, and yet we might as well have lived in a Japanese paper house, for all the protection we had.

And there was something else: the man I had met in the darkness had been even more startled than I, and about his voice, when he muttered his muffled exclamation, there was something vaguely familiar. All that morning, while Gertrude read aloud, and Liddy watched for the doctor, I was puzzling over that voice, without result.

And there were other things, too. I wondered what Gertrude’s absence from her room had to do with it all, or if it had any connection. I tried to think that she had heard the rapping noises before I did and gone to investigate, but I’m afraid I was a moral coward that day. I could not ask her.

Perhaps the diversion was good for me. It took my mind from Halsey, and the story we had heard the night before. The day, however, was a long vigil, with every ring of the telephone full of possibilities. Doctor Walker came up, some time just after luncheon, and asked for me.

“Go down and see him,” I instructed Gertrude. “Tell him I am out–for mercy’s sake don’t say I’m sick. Find out what he wants, and from this time on, instruct the servants that he is not to be admitted. I loathe that man.”

Gertrude came back very soon, her face rather flushed.

“He came to ask us to get out,” she said, picking up her book with a jerk. “He says Louise Armstrong wants to come here, now that she is recovering”

“And what did you say?”

“I said we were very sorry we could not leave, but we would be delighted to have Louise come up here with us. He looked daggers at me. And he wanted to know if we would recommend Eliza as a cook. He has brought a patient, a man, out from town, and is increasing his establishment–that’s the way he put it.”

“I wish him joy of Eliza,” I said tartly. “Did he ask for Halsey?”

“Yes. I told him that we were on the track last night, and that it was only a question of time. He said he was glad, although he didn’t appear to be, but he said not to be too sanguine.”

“Do you know what I believe?” I asked. “I believe, as firmly as I believe anything, that Doctor Walker knows something about Halsey, and that he could put his finger on him, if he wanted to.”

There were several things that day that bewildered me. About three o’clock Mr. Jamieson telephoned from the Casanova station and Warner went down to meet him. I got up and dressed hastily, and the detective was shown up to my sitting-room.

“No news?” I asked, as he entered. He tried to look encouraging, without success. I noticed that he looked tired and dusty, and, although he was ordinarily impeccable in his appearance, it was clear that he was at least two days from a razor.

“It won’t be long now, Miss Innes,” he said. “I have come out here on a peculiar errand, which I will tell you about later. First, I want to ask some questions. Did any one come out here yesterday to repair the telephone, and examine the wires on the roof?”

“Yes,” I said promptly; “but it was not the telephone. He said the wiring might have caused the fire at the stable. I went up with him myself, but he only looked around.”

Mr. Jamieson smiled.

“Good for you!” he applauded. “Don’t allow any one in the house that you don’t trust, and don’t trust anybody. All are not electricians who wear rubber gloves.”

He refused to explain further, but he got a slip of paper out of his pocketbook and opened it carefully.

“Listen,” he said. “You heard this before and scoffed. In the light of recent developments I want you to read it again. You are a clever woman, Miss Innes. Just as surely as I sit here, there is something in this house that is wanted very anxiously by a number of people. The lines are closing up, Miss Innes.”

The paper was the one he had found among Arnold Armstrong’s effects, and I read it again:

“—-by altering the plans for—-rooms, may be possible. The best way, in my opinion, would be to—-the plan for—-in one of the—-rooms—-chimney.”

“I think I understand,” I said slowly. “Some one is searching for the secret room, and the invaders–“

“And the holes in the plaster–“

“Have been in the progress of his–“

“Or her–investigations.”

“Her?” I asked.

“Miss Innes,” the detective said, getting up, “I believe that somewhere in the walls of this house is hidden some of the money, at least, from the Traders’ Bank. I believe, just as surely, that young Walker brought home from California the knowledge of something of the sort and, failing in his effort to reinstall Mrs. Armstrong and her daughter here, he, or a confederate, has tried to break into the house. On two occasions I think he succeeded.”

“On three, at least,” I corrected. And then I told him about the night before. “I have been thinking hard,” I concluded, “and I do not believe the man at the head of the circular staircase was Doctor Walker. I don’t think he could have got in, and the voice was not his.”

Mr. Jamieson got up and paced the floor, his hands behind him.

“There is something else that puzzles me,” he said, stepping before me. “Who and what is the woman Nina Carrington? If it was she who came here as Mattie Bliss, what did she tell Halsey that sent him racing to Doctor Walker’s, and then to Miss Armstrong? If we could find that woman we would have the whole thing.”

“Mr. Jamieson, did you ever think that Paul Armstrong might not have died a natural death?”

“That is the thing we are going to try to find out,” he replied. And then Gertrude came in, announcing a man below to see Mr. Jamieson.

“I want you present at this interview, Miss Innes,” he said. “May Riggs come up? He has left Doctor Walker and he has something he wants to tell us.”

Riggs came into the room diffidently, but Mr. Jamieson put him at his ease. He kept a careful eye on me, however, and slid into a chair by the door when he was asked to sit down.

“Now, Riggs,” began Mr. Jamieson kindly. “You are to say what you have to say before this lady.”

“You promised you’d keep it quiet, Mr. Jamieson.” Riggs plainly did not trust me. There was nothing friendly in the glance he turned on me.

“Yes, yes. You will be protected. But, first of all, did you bring what you promised?”

Riggs produced a roll of papers from under his coat, and handed them over. Mr. Jamieson examined them with lively satisfaction, and passed them to me. “The blue-prints of Sunnyside,” he said. “What did I tell you? Now, Riggs, we are ready.”

“I’d never have come to you, Mr. Jamieson,” he began, “if it hadn’t been for Miss Armstrong. When Mr. Innes was spirited away, like, and Miss Louise got sick because of it, I thought things had gone far enough. I’d done some things for the doctor before that wouldn’t just bear looking into, but I turned a bit squeamish.”

“Did you help with that?” I asked, leaning forward.

“No, ma’m. I didn’t even know of it until the next day, when it came out in the Casanova Weekly Ledger. But I know who did it, all right. I’d better start at the beginning.

“When Doctor Walker went away to California with the Armstrong family, there was talk in the town that when he came back he would be married to Miss Armstrong, and we all expected it. First thing I knew, I got a letter from him, in the west. He seemed to be excited, and he said Miss Armstrong had taken a sudden notion to go home and he sent me some money. I was to watch for her, to see if she went to Sunnyside, and wherever she was, not to lose sight of her until he got home. I traced her to the lodge, and I guess I scared you on the drive one night, Miss Innes.”

“And Rosie!” I ejaculated.

Riggs grinned sheepishly.

“I only wanted to make sure Miss Louise was there. Rosie started to run, and I tried to stop her and tell her some sort of a story to account for my being there. But she wouldn’t wait.”

“And the broken china–in the basket?”

“Well, broken china’s death to rubber tires,” he said. “I hadn’t any complaint against you people here, and the Dragon Fly was a good car.”

So Rosie’s highwayman was explained.

“Well, I telegraphed the doctor where Miss Louise was and I kept an eye on her. Just a day or so before they came home with the body, I got another letter, telling me to watch for a woman who had been pitted with smallpox. Her name was Carrington, and the doctor made things pretty strong. If I found any such woman loafing around, I was not to lose sight of her for a minute until the doctor got back.

“Well, I would have had my hands full, but the other woman didn’t show up for a good while, and when she did the doctor was home.”

“Riggs,” I asked suddenly, “did you get into this house a day or two after I took it, at night?”

“I did not, Miss Innes. I have never been in the house before. Well, the Carrington woman didn’t show up until the night Mr. Halsey disappeared. She came to the office late, and the doctor was out. She waited around, walking the floor and working herself into a passion. When the doctor didn’t come back, she was in an awful way. She wanted me to hunt him, and when he didn’t appear, she called him names; said he couldn’t fool her. There was murder being done, and she would see him swing for it.

“She struck me as being an ugly customer, and when she left, about eleven o’clock, and went across to the Armstrong place, I was not far behind her. She walked all around the house first, looking up at the windows. Then she rang the bell, and the minute the door was opened she was through it, and into the hall.”

“How long did she stay?”

“That’s the queer part of it,” Riggs said eagerly. “She didn’t come out that night at all. I went to bed at daylight, and that was the last I heard of her until the next day, when I saw her on a truck at the station, covered with a sheet. She’d been struck by the express and you would hardly have known her–dead, of course. I think she stayed all night in the Armstrong house, and the agent said she was crossing the track to take the up-train to town when the express struck her.”

“Another circle!” I exclaimed. “Then we are just where we started.”

“Not so bad as that, Miss Innes,” Riggs said eagerly. “Nina Carrington came from the town in California where Mr. Armstrong died. Why was the doctor so afraid of her? The Carrington woman knew something. I lived with Doctor Walker seven years, and I know him well. There are few things he is afraid of. I think he killed Mr. Armstrong out in the west somewhere, that’s what I think. What else he did I don’t know–but he dismissed me and pretty nearly throttled me–for telling Mr. Jamieson here about Mr. Innes’ having been at his office the night he disappeared, and about my hearing them quarreling.”

“What was it Warner overheard the woman say to Mr. Innes, in the library?” the detective asked me.

“She said `I knew there was something wrong from the start. A man isn’t well one day and dead the next without some reason.'”

How perfectly it all seemed to fit!

CHAPTER XXX

WHEN CHURCHYARDS YAWN

It was on Wednesday Riggs told us the story of his connection with some incidents that had been previously unexplained. Halsey had been gone since the Friday night before, and with the passage of each day I felt that his chances were lessening. I knew well enough that he might be carried thousands of miles in the box- car, locked in, perhaps, without water or food. I had read of cases where bodies had been found locked in cars on isolated sidings in the west, and my spirits went down with every hour.

His recovery was destined to be almost as sudden as his disappearance, and was due directly to the tramp Alex had brought to Sunnyside. It seems the man was grateful for his release, and when he learned some thing of Halsey’s whereabouts from another member of his fraternity–for it is a fraternity–he was prompt in letting us know.

On Wednesday evening Mr. Jamieson, who had been down at the Armstrong house trying to see Louise–and failing–was met near the gate at Sunnyside by an individual precisely as repulsive and unkempt as the one Alex had captured. The man knew the detective, and he gave him a piece of dirty paper, on which was scrawled the words–“He’s at City Hospital, Johnsville.” The tramp who brought the paper pretended to know nothing, except this: the paper had been passed along from a “hobo” in Johnsville, who seemed to know the information would be valuable to us.

Again the long distance telephone came into requisition. Mr. Jamieson called the hospital, while we crowded around him. And when there was no longer any doubt that it was Halsey, and that he would probably recover, we all laughed and cried together. I am sure I kissed Liddy, and I have had terrible moments since when I seem to remember kissing Mr. Jamieson, too, in the excitement.

Anyhow, by eleven o’clock that night Gertrude was on her way to Johnsville, three hundred and eighty miles away, accompanied by Rosie. The domestic force was now down to Mary Anne and Liddy, with the under-gardener’s wife coming every day to help out. Fortunately, Warner and the detectives were keeping bachelor hall in the lodge. Out of deference to Liddy they washed their dishes once a day, and they concocted queer messes, according to their several abilities. They had one triumph that they ate regularly for breakfast, and that clung to their clothes and their hair the rest of the day. It was bacon, hardtack and onions, fried together. They were almost pathetically grateful, however, I noticed, for an occasional broiled tenderloin.

It was not until Gertrude and Rosie had gone and Sunnyside had settled down for the night, with Winters at the foot of the staircase, that Mr. Jamieson broached a subject he had evidently planned before he came.

“Miss Innes,” he said, stopping me as I was about to go to my room up-stairs, “how are your nerves tonight?”

“I have none,” I said happily. “With Halsey found, my troubles have gone.”

“I mean,” he persisted, “do you feel as though you could go through with something rather unusual?”

“The most unusual thing I can think of would be a peaceful night. But if anything is going to occur, don’t dare to let me miss it.”

“Something is going to occur,” he said. “And you’re the only woman I can think of that I can take along.” He looked at his watch. “Don’t ask me any questions, Miss Innes. Put on heavy shoes, and some old dark clothes, and make up your mind not to be surprised at anything.”

Liddy was sleeping the sleep of the just when I went up-stairs, and I hunted out my things cautiously. The detective was waiting in the hall, and I was astonished to see Doctor Stewart with him.

They were talking confidentially together, but when I came down they ceased. There were a few preparations to be made: the locks to be gone over, Winters to be instructed as to renewed vigilance, and then, after extinguishing the hall light, we crept, in the darkness, through the front door, and into the night.

I asked no questions. I felt that they were doing me honor in making me one of the party, and I would show them I could be as silent as they. We went across the fields, passing through the woods that reached almost to the ruins of the stable, going over stiles now and then, and sometimes stepping over low fences. Once only somebody spoke, and then it was an emphatic bit of profanity from Doctor Stewart when he ran into a wire fence.

We were joined at the end of five minutes by another man, who fell into step with the doctor silently. He carried something over his shoulder which I could not make out. In this way we walked for perhaps twenty minutes. I had lost all sense of direction: I merely stumbled along in silence, allowing Mr. Jamieson to guide me this way or that as the path demanded. I hardly know what I expected. Once, when through a miscalculation I jumped a little short over a ditch and landed above my shoe- tops in the water and ooze, I remember wondering if this were really I, and if I had ever tasted life until that summer. I walked along with the water sloshing in my boots, and I was actually cheerful. I remember whispering to Mr. Jamieson that I had never seen the stars so lovely, and that it was a mistake, when the Lord had made the night so beautiful, to sleep through it!

The doctor was puffing somewhat when we finally came to a halt. I confess that just at that minute even Sunnyside seemed a cheerful spot. We had paused at the edge of a level cleared place, bordered all around with primly trimmed evergreen trees. Between them I caught a glimpse of starlight shining down on rows of white headstones and an occasional more imposing monument, or towering shaft. In spite of myself, I drew my breath in sharply. We were on the edge of the Casanova churchyard.

I saw now both the man who had joined the party and the implements he carried. It was Alex, armed with two long-handled spades. After the first shock of surprise, I flatter myself I was both cool and quiet. We went in single file between the rows of headstones, and although, when I found myself last, I had an instinctive desire to keep looking back over my shoulder, I found that, the first uneasiness past, a cemetery at night is much the same as any other country place, filled with vague shadows and unexpected noises. Once, indeed–but Mr. Jamieson said it was an owl, and I tried to believe him.

In the shadow of the Armstrong granite shaft we stopped. I think the doctor wanted to send me back.

“It’s no place for a woman,” I heard him protesting angrily. But the detective said something about witnesses, and the doctor only came over and felt my pulse.

“Anyhow, I don’t believe you’re any worse off here than you would be in that nightmare of a house,” he said finally, and put his coat on the steps of the shaft for me to sit on.

There is an air of finality about a grave: one watches the earth thrown in, with the feeling that this is the end. Whatever has gone before, whatever is to come in eternity, that particular temple of the soul has been given back to the elements from which it came. Thus, there is a sense of desecration, of a reversal of the everlasting fitness of things, in resurrecting a body from its mother clay. And yet that night, in the Casanova churchyard, I sat quietly by, and watched Alex and Mr. Jamieson steaming over their work, without a single qualm, except the fear of detection.

The doctor kept a keen lookout, but no one appeared. Once in a while he came over to me, and gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

“I never expected to come to this,” he said once. “There’s one thing sure–I’ll not be suspected of complicity. A doctor is generally supposed to be handier at burying folks than at digging them up.”

The uncanny moment came when Alex and Jamieson tossed the spades on the grass, and I confess I hid my face. There was a period of stress, I think, while the heavy coffin was being raised. I felt that my composure was going, and, for fear I would shriek, I tried to think of something else–what time Gertrude would reach Halsey–anything but the grisly reality that lay just beyond me on the grass.

And then I heard a low exclamation from the detective and I felt the pressure of the doctor’s fingers on my arm.

“Now, Miss Innes,” he said gently. “If you will come over–“

I held on to him frantically, and somehow I got there and looked down. The lid of the casket had been raised and a silver plate on it proved we had made no mistake. But the face that showed in the light of the lantern was a face I had never seen before. The man who lay before us was not Paul Armstrong!

CHAPTER XXXI

BETWEEN TWO FIREPLACES

What with the excitement of the discovery, the walk home under the stars in wet shoes and draggled skirts, and getting up-stairs and undressed without rousing Liddy, I was completely used up. What to do with my boots was the greatest puzzle of all, there being no place in the house safe from Liddy, until I decided to slip upstairs the next morning and drop them into the hole the “ghost” had made in the trunk-room wall.

I went asleep as soon as I reached this decision, and in my dreams I lived over again the events of the night. Again I saw the group around the silent figure on the grass, and again, as had happened at the grave, I heard Alex’s voice, tense and triumphant:

“Then we’ve got them,” he said. Only, in my dreams, he said it over and over until he seemed to shriek it in my ears.

I wakened early, in spite of my fatigue, and lay there thinking. Who was Alex? I no longer believed that he was a gardener. Who was the man whose body we had resurrected? And where was Paul Armstrong? Probably living safely in some extraditionless country on the fortune he had stolen. Did Louise and her mother know of the shameful and wicked deception? What had Thomas known, and Mrs. Watson? Who was Nina Carrington?

This last question, it seemed to me, was answered. In some way the woman had learned of the substitution, and had tried to use her knowledge for blackmail. Nina Carrington’s own story died with her, but, however it happened, it was clear that she had carried her knowledge to Halsey the afternoon Gertrude and I were looking for clues to the man I had shot on the east veranda. Halsey had been half crazed by what he heard; it was evident that Louise was marrying Doctor Walker to keep the shameful secret, for her mother’s sake. Halsey, always reckless, had gone at once to Doctor Walker and denounced him. There had been a scene, and he left on his way to the station to meet and notify Mr. Jamieson of what he had learned. The doctor was active mentally and physically. Accompanied perhaps by Riggs, who had shown himself not overscrupulous until he quarreled with his employer, he had gone across to the railroad embankment, and, by jumping in front of the car, had caused Halsey to swerve. The rest of the story we knew.

That was my reconstructed theory of that afternoon and evening: it was almost correct–not quite.

There was a telegram that morning from Gertrude.

“Halsey conscious and improving. Probably home in day or so. GERTRUDE.”

With Halsey found and improving in health, and with at last something to work on, I began that day, Thursday, with fresh courage. As Mr. Jamieson had said, the lines were closing up. That I was to be caught and almost finished in the closing was happily unknown to us all.

It was late when I got up. I lay in my bed, looking around the four walls of the room, and trying to imagine behind what one of them a secret chamber might lie. Certainly, in daylight, Sunnyside deserved its name: never was a house more cheery and open, less sinister in general appearance. There was not a corner apparently that was not open and above-board, and yet, somewhere behind its handsomely papered walls I believed firmly that there lay a hidden room, with all the possibilities it would involve.

I made a mental note to have the house measured during the day, to discover any discrepancy between the outer and inner walls, and I tried to recall again the exact wording of the paper Jamieson had found.

The slip had said “chimney.” It was the only clue, and a house as large as Sunnyside was full of them. There was an open fireplace in my dressing-room, but none in the bedroom, and as I lay there, looking around, I thought of something that made me sit up suddenly. The trunk-room, just over my head, had an open fireplace and a brick chimney, and yet, there was nothing of the kind in my room. I got out of bed and examined the opposite wall closely. There was apparently no flue, and I knew there was none in the hall just beneath. The house was heated by steam, as I have said before. In the living-room was a huge open fireplace, but it was on the other side.

Why did the trunk-room have both a radiator and an open fireplace? Architects were not usually erratic! It was not fifteen minutes before I was up-stairs, armed with a tape-measure in lieu of a foot-rule, eager to justify Mr. Jamieson’s opinion of my intelligence, and firmly resolved not to tell him of my suspicion until I had more than theory to go on. The hole in the trunk-room wall still yawned there, between the chimney and the outer wall. I examined it again, with no new result. The space between the brick wall and the plaster and lath one, however, had a new significance. The hole showed only one side of the chimney, and I determined to investigate what lay in the space on the other side of the mantel.

I worked feverishly. Liddy had gone to the village to market, it being her firm belief that the store people sent short measure unless she watched the scales, and that, since the failure of the Traders’ Bank, we must watch the corners; and I knew that what I wanted to do must be done before she came back. I had no tools, but after rummaging around I found a pair of garden scissors and a hatchet, and thus armed, I set to work. The plaster came out easily: the lathing was more obstinate. It gave under the blows, only to spring back into place again, and the necessity for caution made it doubly hard.

I had a blister on my palm when at last the hatchet went through and fell with what sounded like the report of a gun to my overstrained nerves. I sat on a trunk, waiting to hear Liddy fly up the stairs, with the household behind her, like the tail of a comet. But nothing happened, and with a growing feeling of uncanniness I set to work enlarging the opening.

The result was absolutely nil. When I could hold a lighted candle in the opening, I saw precisely what I had seen on the other side of the chimney–a space between the true wall and the false one, possibly seven feet long and about three feet wide. It was in no sense of the word a secret chamber, and it was evident it had not been disturbed since the house was built. It was a supreme disappointment.

It had been Mr. Jamieson’s idea that the hidden room, if there was one, would be found somewhere near the circular staircase. In fact, I knew that he had once investigated the entire length of the clothes chute, hanging to a rope, with this in view. I was reluctantly about to concede that he had been right, when my eyes fell on the mantel and fireplace. The latter had evidently never been used: it was closed with a metal fire front, and only when the front refused to move, and investigation showed that it was not intended to be moved, did my spirits revive.

I hurried into the next room. Yes, sure enough, there was a similar mantel and fireplace there, similarly closed. In both rooms the chimney flue extended well out from the wall. I measured with the tape-line, my hands trembling so that I could scarcely hold it. They extended two feet and a half into each room, which, with the three feet of space between the two partitions, made eight feet to be accounted for. Eight feet in one direction and almost seven in the other–what a chimney it was!

But I had only located the hidden room. I was not in it, and no amount of pressing on the carving of the wooden mantels, no search of the floors for loose boards, none of the customary methods availed at all. That there was a means of entrance, and probably a simple one, I could be certain. But what? What would I find if I did get in? Was the detective right, and were the bonds and money from the Traders’ Bank there? Or was our whole theory wrong? Would not Paul Armstrong have taken his booty with him? If he had not, and if Doctor Walker was in the secret, he would have known how to enter the chimney room. Then–who had dug the other hole in the false partition?

CHAPTER XXXII

ANNE WATSON’S STORY

Liddy discovered the fresh break in the trunk-room wall while we were at luncheon, and ran shrieking down the stairs. She maintained that, as she entered, unseen hands had been digging at the plaster; that they had stopped when she went in, and she had felt a gust of cold damp air. In support of her story she carried in my wet and muddy boots, that I had unluckily forgotten to hide, and held them out to the detective and myself.

“What did I tell you?” she said dramatically. “Look at ’em. They’re yours, Miss Rachel–and covered with mud and soaked to the tops. I tell you, you can scoff all you like; something has been wearing your shoes. As sure as you sit there, there’s the smell of the graveyard on them. How do we know they weren’t tramping through the Casanova churchyard last night, and sitting on the graves!”

Mr. Jamieson almost choked to death. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were doing that very thing, Liddy,” he said, when he got his breath. “They certainly look like it.”

I think the detective had a plan, on which he was working, and which was meant to be a coup. But things went so fast there was no time to carry it into effect. The first thing that occurred was a message from the Charity Hospital that Mrs. Watson was dying, and had asked for me. I did not care much about going. There is a sort of melancholy pleasure to be had out of a funeral, with its pomp and ceremony, but I shrank from a death- bed. However, Liddy got out the black things and the crape veil I keep for such occasions, and I went. I left Mr. Jamieson and the day detective going over every inch of the circular staircase, pounding, probing and measuring. I was inwardly elated to think of the surprise I was going to give them that night; as it turned out, I DID surprise them almost into spasms.

I drove from the train to the Charity Hospital, and was at once taken to a ward. There, in a gray-walled room in a high iron bed, lay Mrs. Watson. She was very weak, and she only opened her eyes and looked at me when I sat down beside her. I was conscience-stricken. We had been so engrossed that I had left this poor creature to die without even a word of sympathy.

The nurse gave her a stimulant, and in a little while she was able to talk. So broken and half-coherent, however, was her story that I shall tell it in my own way. In an hour from the time I entered the Charity Hospital, I had heard a sad and pitiful narrative, and had seen a woman slip into the unconsciousness that is only a step from death.

Briefly, then, the housekeeper’s story was this:

She was almost forty years old, and had been the sister-mother of a large family of children. One by one they had died, and been buried beside their parents in a little town in the Middle West. There was only one sister left, the baby, Lucy. On her the older girl had lavished all the love of an impulsive and emotional nature. When Anne, the elder, was thirty-two and Lucy was nineteen, a young man had come to the town. He was going east, after spending the summer at a celebrated ranch in Wyoming–one of those places where wealthy men send worthless and dissipated sons, for a season of temperance, fresh air and hunting. The sisters, of course, knew nothing of this, and the young man’s ardor rather carried them away. In a word, seven years before, Lucy Haswell had married a young man whose name was given as Aubrey Wallace.

Anne Haswell had married a carpenter in her native town, and was a widow. For three months everything went fairly well. Aubrey took his bride to Chicago, where they lived at a hotel. Perhaps the very unsophistication that had charmed him in Valley Mill jarred on him in the city. He had been far from a model husband, even for the three months, and when he disappeared Anne was almost thankful. It was different with the young wife, however. She drooped and fretted, and on the birth of her baby boy, she had died. Anne took the child, and named him Lucien.

Anne had had no children of her own, and on Lucien she had lavished all her aborted maternal instinct. On one thing she was determined, however: that was that Aubrey Wallace should educate his boy. It was a part of her devotion to the child that she should be ambitious for him: he must have every opportunity. And so she came east. She drifted around, doing plain sewing and keeping a home somewhere always for the boy. Finally, however, she realized that her only training had been domestic, and she put the boy in an Episcopalian home, and secured the position of housekeeper to the Armstrongs. There she found Lucien’s father, this time under his own name. It was Arnold Armstrong.

I gathered that there was no particular enmity at that time in Anne’s mind. She told him of the boy, and threatened exposure if he did not provide for him. Indeed, for a time, he did so. Then he realized that Lucien was the ruling passion in this lonely woman’s life. He found out where the child was hidden, and threatened to take him away. Anne was frantic. The positions became reversed. Where Arnold had given money for Lucien’s support, as the years went on he forced money from Anne Watson instead until she was always penniless. The lower Arnold sank in the scale, the heavier his demands became. With the rupture between him and his family, things were worse. Anne took the child from the home and hid him in a farmhouse near Casanova, on the Claysburg road. There she went sometimes to see the boy, and there he had taken fever. The people were Germans, and he called the farmer’s wife Grossmutter. He had grown into a beautiful boy, and he was all Anne had to live for.

The Armstrongs left for California, and Arnold’s persecutions began anew. He was furious over the child’s disappearance and she was afraid he would do her some hurt. She left the big house and went down to the lodge. When I had rented Sunnyside, however, she had thought the persecutions would stop. She had applied for the position of housekeeper, and secured it.

That had been on Saturday. That night Louise arrived unexpectedly. Thomas sent for Mrs. Watson and then went for Arnold Armstrong at the Greenwood Club. Anne had been fond of Louise–she reminded her of Lucy. She did not know what the trouble was, but Louise had been in a state of terrible excitement. Mrs. Watson tried to hide from Arnold, but he was ugly. He left the lodge and went up to the house about two- thirty, was admitted at the east entrance and came out again very soon. Something had occurred, she didn’t know what; but very soon Mr. Innes and another gentleman left, using the car.

Thomas and she had got Louise quiet, and a little before three, Mrs. Watson started up to the house. Thomas had a key to the east entry, and gave it to her.

On the way across the lawn she was confronted by Arnold, who for some reason was determined to get into the house. He had a golf-stick in his hand, that he had picked up somewhere, and on her refusal he had struck her with it. One hand had been badly cut, and it was that, poisoning having set in, which was killing her. She broke away in a frenzy of rage and fear, and got into the house while Gertrude and Jack Bailey were at the front door. She went up-stairs, hardly knowing what she was doing. Gertrude’s door was open, and Halsey’s revolver lay there on the bed. She picked it up and turning, ran part way down the circular staircase. She could hear Arnold fumbling at the lock outside. She slipped down quietly and opened the door: he was inside before she had got back to the stairs. It was quite dark, but she could see his white shirt-bosom. From the fourth step she fired. As he fell, somebody in the billiard-room screamed and ran. When the alarm was raised, she had had no time to get up-stairs: she hid in the west wing until every one was down on the lower floor. Then she slipped upstairs, and threw the revolver out of an upper window, going down again in time to admit the men from the Greenwood Club.

If Thomas had suspected, he had never told. When she found the hand Arnold had injured was growing worse, she gave the address of Lucien at Richfield to the old man, and almost a hundred dollars. The money was for Lucien’s board until she recovered. She had sent for me to ask me if I would try to interest the Armstrongs in the child. When she found herself growing worse, she had written to Mrs. Armstrong, telling her