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Title: The silver blade: The true chronicle of a double mystery

Author: Charles Edmonds Walk

Illustrator: A. B. Wenzell

Release date: October 7, 2022 [eBook #69106]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: A. L. Burt Company, 1908

Credits: Al Haines


"Good God, Morbley!  Did You Do This?" Page 92
"Good God, Morbley! Did You Do This?" Page 92







A. C. McCLURG & Co.

Published March 18, 1908
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, Eng.
All Rights Reserved.

The Lakeside Press







I. Exit Señor de Sanchez
II. The First Problem Develops
III. A Search for Clues
IV. Mr. Converse Appears as Chorus
V. A Telegram from Mexico
VI. The Inquest
VII. The Verdict
VIII. Cherchez la Femme
IX. The Second Problem
X. Footprints
XI. A Burnt Fragment
XII. A Door is Opened


I. Miss Charlotte Waits in the Hall
II. Miss Charlotte Entertains a Caller
III. "Paquita—What Do You Spell?"
IV. Miss Charlotte Becomes a Factor
V. A Decision and a Letter
VI. Faint Rays from Strange Sources
VII. A Voice in the Night
VIII. The Coroner's Coup
IX. The Light Brightens—and Dims


I. Opening Ways
II. Fairchild Redivivus
III. "The Thunderbolt Has Fallen"
IV. Some Loose Ends
V. Mr. Slade Resigns
VI. An Arrest
VII. "Slade's Blessing"


I. "That Is Paquita"
II. The Serpent Strikes
III. Which Is the Last


"Good God, Mobley! Did you do this?" ... Frontispiece

Captain Converse was endowed with the impassiveness of an Indian, nor could one imagine him agitated in any circumstances

Joyce was herself a mystery, an enigma, as inscrutable as "Paquita"

Mr. Mountjoy's thin, handsome features were saved from asceticism only by the lines of humor about his eyes

At times Charlotte became beautiful; a warm tide of color mounted to her cheeks; her head became regally erect


GEN. PEYTON WESTBROOK, a gentleman of the Old South.
MRS. WESTBROOK, his wife.
JOYCE, Mobley's sister.
MRS. ELINOR FAIRCHILD, a widow of fallen fortunes.
CLAY, her son.
"MISS CHARLOTTE," Clay's sister.
JOHN CONVERSE, Captain of Detectives.
MR. MOUNTJOY, the District Attorney.
MR. MERKEL, the Coroner.
J. HOWARD LYNDEN, a cotton-broker.
        as Señor Vargas, a Mexican capitalist.
WILLIAM SLADE, an abstracter of titles.
ABRAM FOLLETT, a dealer in worn-out utilities.
SEPTIMUS ADAMS } serving under Capt. Converse.
SAM              }
JOE                } faithful servants.
MELISSA      }

THE PLACE: A City in the South.
TIME: The Present.



Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?






About six o'clock on an evening in the early part of a recent November, the drowsy quiet sometimes pervading police headquarters was rudely broken by the precipitate entrance of a young man, who made his way hurriedly to the door marked, in neat gilt letters, "CHIEF OF POLICE."

In addition to the reserve squad, whose vigil never ends, many other officers were present in the lazy transition stage between going on and going off duty. The attention of them all was immediately attracted to the stranger, and held by his extraordinary manner, from the instant he became visible in the flickering gas-lights until he finally disappeared.

In the first place, he was not such a one as usually comes to the city-hall basement, either voluntarily or when haled hither by one of the law's myrmidons; for he was fashionably, even fastidiously, attired, with a marked preciosity of manner which would have been even more noticeable under ordinary conditions.

But it was not over any idiosyncrasy of apparel or customary detail of personality that the aroused curiosity of the officers lingered. Inured as they were to uncommon and surprising events, they were nevertheless startled by this young man's advent, and greatly interested in his extreme discomposure. It was obvious to the most casual glance that he was the victim of a fright so potent that it possessed him to the complete exclusion of every other feeling, made him oblivious of the scrutiny to which he was subjected, and drove him blindly to the commission of some idea fixed by the terror which mastered him. And there was one other still more powerful emotion depicted in his pallid, twitching countenance: a horror unspeakable.

Looking neither to the right nor the left, the stranger walked directly to the Chief of Police just as that official was in the act of closing and locking his office door for the night. The latter looked up inquiringly, and, struck at once by the young man's appearance, asked with sudden sharpness:

"What's the matter? What has happened?"

The young man, his wild regard fastened on the Chief, tried to answer; but he was incapable of speech, and the effort resulted only in a queer, gasping sound.

With the directness of a man accustomed to prompt action, the Chief of Police opened his door once more, and guided the young man into the smaller room beyond. The visitor, dazed by his emotions and unable to respond to any suggestion less forceful than the actual pressure of the persuasive hand on his arm, probably would have remained indefinitely motionless on the threshold before any customary invitation to enter.

The Chief struck a match and ignited a gas-jet above a big roll-top desk. The action, simple in itself, seemed to loose the young man's faculty of speech; just as the official turned, he darted suddenly forward, grasped the other's arm, and began incontinently:

"Murder! Murder has been done!" The words had the effect of a cry, although uttered in a hoarse whisper.

"Murder, I tell you. Come with me at once; don't delay." He shook the Chief's arm excitedly, and strove to draw him toward the door.

"Hurry! Hurry! For God's sake, hurry!"

The Chief of Police easily disengaged his imprisoned arm.

"There, there .... sit down there," said he, in a tone he might have used to calm a terrified child. "You are upset. Sit there awhile and try to collect yourself. Come; make an effort. Pull yourself together and tell me about it."

"But the murderer!" the young man went on, still with high excitement, but unconsciously sinking back into the chair under the gentle pressure of the Chief's hand. "The murderer will escape! Great Heavens, man! even now he may be assaulting the doctor—Mobley—do you hear me?—he may have killed him! Send officers—go yourself—anything but to sit here idle. Come!" He made as if to rise again; but the other pressed him back.

"Steady," said the Chief quietly. "Mobley? Do you mean Doctor Mobley Westbrook? Has he been murdered?"

"No-no-no," in a burst of exasperation. "It was—it was—I mean—good God, what do I mean? It—it happened in his office."

The Chief regarded him for a moment with eyes that were mere pin-points of light.

"You are Mr. J. Howard Lynden, are you not?" he presently asked. The other nodded a quick affirmative. "I thought so," he continued. "Who is the murderer? Who has been murdered?—or has any murder been done? You don't make yourself clear."

Lynden twisted nervously upon his chair. "Heavens! you do not doubt me?" he cried. "Why, Mobley's office is like a shambles. It's horrible!—horrible! Mobley—Doctor Westbrook, that is—was standing right over the dying man with—with—" He checked himself abruptly, as an expression of horror deepened in his pale countenance.

Since the introduction of Doctor Mobley Westbrook's name, the Chief of Police was paying closer attention to the incoherent recital; he regarded the young man gravely, and evidently concluded that the situation was serious enough to warrant some initiative on his own part. He was accustomed to panic-stricken people who intruded thus unceremoniously upon him, and experience had taught him that, oftener than not, the circumstances were far from warranting the excitement.

Concerning his present visitor, he was aware, in a general way, that the young man was well known about town, the inheritor of a considerable fortune from his father, and that his name figured prominently as a leader of cotillons, on the links of the Country Club, and among the names of the many others who formed the society set of the city.

But all these qualifications did not supply the force so conspicuously absent from Mr. Lynden's personality, lacking which his perturbation was not very impressive. He was not at all bad looking: he was even handsome in a way; but the Chief of Police, as he looked, could not help remarking that a more resolute man would have been less the slave of his emotions in a situation like the present. While the young man sat drumming with nervous fingers on the arms of his chair, the Chief pressed a button beneath his desk, whereupon the door was almost immediately opened by an officer, who, without entering, respectfully awaited his superior's commands.

To him the Chief said, "If Converse is in, tell him to come to my office;" and as the door closed, "I want Captain Converse to hear this," he explained to Lynden; "it seems to be a matter for his department."

The two had not long to wait. A man entered, cast a piercing glance at the visitor, and took his stand at a corner of the roll-top desk, waiting with an air of deferential attention. He was a man of physique so immense—with such a breadth of shoulders and absence of neck—that his more than average height was much disguised. Above all, he was one whose appearance must attract attention in any gathering of his kind; for even as Lynden seemed to lack those desirable traits, so force and resolution flowed from this man's rugged personality, making their influence felt subtly and insistently. His air of quiet composure was evocative of confidence. Endowed with the impassiveness of an Indian, one could hardly imagine him excited or agitated in any circumstances.

The Chief recognized his presence with a brief nod, and at once addressed Lynden:

"Repeat what you have told me; see if you can't make it plainer."

The visitor recounted the bare facts in a more connected manner. "But I was so shocked," he supplemented, "that I am afraid I can't make myself intelligible. The facts explain nothing to my mind further than that an atrocious murder has been committed, that the victim is still lying in Doctor Westbrook's office, and that no one seems to know who is responsible for the deed."

"You say the man was stabbed?" queried the Chief.

"Yes," was the reply; "stabbed in the throat."

"But I fail to understand," the Chief frowned. "Do you mean to say that a man was stabbed in the presence of Doctor Westbrook, and that he knows nothing about it?"

"No—no. It seems to have occurred in the hall just outside Mobley's door; the man fell through the door into the office, Mobley said. I don't know—I am so confused." Which last statement he confirmed by at once becoming involved in a wild incoherency of utterance.

After he had quieted somewhat, he sat trembling for a moment, suddenly bursting forth again:

"Wait!" he cried, his face lighting. "I forgot to say there was another man present in Doctor Westbrook's office—a stranger to me. I never saw him before."

"And he?"

"Just like Mobley and myself, he appeared to be overcome by the shocking occurrence."

The Chief of Police plainly showed his perplexity. "According to your statement—the man who was killed—will you repeat his name?"

"De Sanchez. General Westbrook's friend, Alberto de Sanchez."

"According to your statement he was bleeding profusely. Had the weapon been withdrawn from the wound?"

The young man evinced unaccountable hesitancy. He moved uneasily, and glanced from his questioner to the impassive figure standing at a corner of the desk. This man, called Converse, had taken no part in the talk; he stood silent and motionless, seemingly paying no heed to what was going forward; but now he shot a swift glance at Lynden, whose nervousness measurably increased. That look was remarkable in a way: the eyes, steely gray, were in themselves without expression; they failed, however, to veil an intentness and concentration of mind which disclosed beyond a doubt that their owner was abnormally alive to every detail of speech and manner; they could not hide a power of will lying behind their quick regard, which mocked deception, and Mr. Lynden shuddered. Instantly the brief glance was withdrawn; but the young man, if such had been his intention, attempted no liberties with the truth. The confusion with which he now spoke, however, suggested strongly that the thought had entered his mind, although he may not have entertained it there.

"I—I—I would rather that you, or some officer, accompany me to Mobley's office," he faltered. "I consider it rather unfair, in my condition, to press me further. I wouldn't for the world present anything in a false light. I feel that the situation is not only serious, but extremely delicate."

"It is that," the Chief agreed, emphatically. "For that very reason you must tell all you know. Now, why should you hesitate in regard to the weapon? Come now, what about it?"

"Well, sir, I answer you under protest; remember, I did not see the blow struck."


The young man nearly sprang from his chair. The interruption, a penetrating, sibilant bullet of speech, came from the massive figure of Mr. Converse; again that shrewd regard was fastened on him, and the sweat started from his brow.

"No!" he cried, explosively; "I did not. By George, how nervous I am!—but I think half-truths should not be told. No one is less capable of perpetrating such a deed than Mobley Westbrook. Why, you know the man!" He appealed with feverish eagerness to the two figures now sternly confronting him. "Every one knows Mobley Westbrook's character; would he do such a thing?"

"But come to the point—come to the point, man!" the Chief demanded, rapping sharply upon the desk with his knuckles. "What of the weapon—was it a knife—sword—axe—hatchet? Where was it?"

"Well, Mobley had some kind of a—blade, a—dagger in his hand; but—"

"Ah! And standing over a man whose very life-blood is ebbing away beneath his eyes!" The Chief's manner was politely ironical, and struck the young man cold. "You must admit that you portray an astonishing set of circumstances to surround a man not only innocent but ignorant of an offence," concluded the official, pointedly.

Lynden indeed started from his chair. "I knew it! I knew it!" cried he, wildly. "I knew you would put such a construction upon my words; now, damn it! I'll not say another word. Go—go! Go and see for yourselves how wrong you are!"

The Chief of Police ignored this vehement advice. Instead, he curtly admonished Lynden to remain a few moments where he was; and leaving the wretched news-bearer alone with his own reflections, he and Converse withdrew from the room.

After a minute or two the Chief returned. "I have sent for a carriage," said he. "As soon as it arrives I must request you to accompany Captain Converse to Doctor Westbrook's offices; are you willing to do that?" He awaited the reply with an interest mingled with doubt of what its probable tenor might be; when the young man acquiesced with an alacrity and relief obviously sincere, his doubt merely grew. He contemplated Lynden an instant longer, and with a curt nod, seated himself at his desk again.

Almost at once, however, the large figure of the Captain—or plain Mr. Converse, as he much preferred to be known—appeared in the doorway.

"Come!" he whispered; and the whisper rasped upon Lynden's nerves. Confound the man! was he afraid he would betray some momentous secret, so that he did not talk like other people? Nevertheless, he arose and followed him,—under the heavy stone arches, shrouded with gloom in the flickering gas-light, out into the cool night air and into a waiting hack. Two other men followed close behind, and entered a second hack; immediately the two vehicles, one behind the other, were going at full speed in the direction of Doctor Westbrook's offices.

Under the soothing influence of rubber tires spinning easily over the smooth asphalt, the young man was fast regaining his lost composure. He was so rapt in his own thoughts that for a time he quite forgot his still companion, and presently he laughed—mirthlessly, but a laugh signifying sudden relief. Quite as suddenly it was checked, as he met the inquiring, probing glance of his vis-à-vis.

"It is astonishing that I never thought of it before," he explained, in an embarrassed way. "That other man—the stranger—can set Mobley right in an instant. Do you think Doctor Westbrook could have done it?"

Immediately he regretted the question, for it entailed hearkening to that uncomfortable hissing voice. It was Mr. Converse's misfortune that, properly speaking, he had no voice at all. His entire speech was a series of sibilant utterances, wonderfully distinct and possessed of remarkable carrying power when one considered their quality. It is likely that he was sensitive about his vocal defect, since he was known as a silent, taciturn man among his confrères. On certain rare occasions, however,—under, for example, the spur of an inflexible purpose or the influence of a sympathetic nature,—it was also known that he could wax eloquent; his forceful individuality supplied, in a large measure, the place of a normal, flexible voice.

The head of the detective department might have been anywhere between forty and sixty years of age, so far as one could gather from his huge frame and stolid countenance. His hair was gray, and thinning slightly at the temples; but behind his illegible exterior there reposed a vigor and a reserve of power—revealed now and then, as in the lightning-like glance cast at Lynden in the Chief's office—which could not be reconciled with age. He was, in fact, fifty-two.

His face was full and round, smooth-shaven, expressionless—such a visage as one associates with some old sea-dog; a countenance that has long been subjected to the hardening processes of wind and weather. As the young man waited for a reply, the immovable features underwent a curious change; the mouth gradually assumed a pucker, as though the facial muscles were inelastic and unused to such exercise; his right eyebrow lifted, which, as the other remained motionless, was made all the more noticeable,—the effect being an expression of inquiry and speculation that seemed ludicrously out of place. Lynden became familiar with this queer transformation later on; he learned to associate it with the futility of seeking to penetrate the wall of reserve which ever surrounded this unusual man, and perceived that it came and went as a sort of involuntary warning to place least trust in his frankest confidences. Now it introduced the response to his question, "Do you think Doctor Westbrook could have done it?"

"The Doctor is a strong, vigorous man, isn't he? I don't see why he couldn't."

"My dear sir," Lynden anxiously expostulated, "you don't know Mobley Westbrook, or you never could entertain such a thought."

"Pardon me," said Mr. Converse, carelessly, "the thought seems to be your own; I was simply giving you the first fact that occurred to me, to justify your opinion. I have formed none myself."

"You interpret my words strangely."

"No; your silence."

The young man, with another shudder, drew back to the corner of the vehicle farthest from his companion.

The receding lights outside followed the carriage in squares of diminishing illumination, which, shining through the window, made strange play of light and shadow over that inscrutable visage. All at once it became deeply portentous to Lynden; as if by sudden divination he became possessed of a conviction that it was destined to take a high place in his affairs,—signifying, perhaps, the controlling influence in a strange drama, the first scene of which was now upon the boards.

"It is very remarkable," the Captain mused, presently, as if the episode were too much for him.

Lynden started from his reverie.

"Yes," he murmured, not meeting the other's eye. "Yes; it is very remarkable." Both lapsed into a silence that continued until the end of the ride.

As the vehicle proceeds, a few words about those whose names have been mentioned, together with some others who will figure in this narrative, will give a better idea of the importance of the tragedy, the ill tidings of which Lynden had been the bearer.

Both by reason of recognized ability in his profession and of his high family connections, Doctor Mobley Westbrook was leader of the medical fraternity in the city of his birth and residence. He was still youthful in spite of his thirty-five years; democratic in his tastes, immensely popular in every class of society, and for these reasons considerably at odds with his father.

Notwithstanding his popularity, his single excursion into politics had only shown his unfitness for the national game; a circumstance mentioned here because later on he is to have it brought back to him in a manner both forcible and disagreeable.

Singularly enough,—for from another and altogether different sentiment the General himself was popular,—General Westbrook was known to hold his son in some disfavor because he was so well and universally esteemed. His exclusive nature could not brook the physician's democratic inclinations; it made the latter an alien. The General did not understand it, and what he could not understand he disliked.

The two personalities were remarkably divergent in every way. General Peyton Westbrook was an exaggerated type of the old-school Southern gentleman. Strikingly handsome, elegant in appearance, his erect and rigid bearing, together with a falcon-like glance suggested a stature which one in describing would be likely to pronounce tall when in reality it was not much over five feet. His graceful slenderness added considerably to the illusion. His hair was white, his features cameo-like—aristocratic, and stamped with the overweening family pride, to which, with him, every other human emotion was subservient.

It is probable that his presence and name were better known in every part of the State than those of any other living man. For the class which he represented was that noble body of patricians—handsome and recklessly brave men, and beautiful, high-minded women—who have given the world criterions by which human excellence and human weakness alike may be measured; and his position was a personal hobby, persistently and consistently ridden.

Of his standing he was perhaps pardonably proud. Besides his social position and that of his wife, who had been a Shepardson, and of his lovely daughter, Joyce, he had fought gallantly, if not brilliantly, through the war between the States; but he was just narrow-minded enough to allow his pride and egoism to exclude the rest of humanity.

There was but one uniting link between Mobley and his father and mother—the latter even more distant and unapproachable than her spouse—and that was the daughter and sister, Joyce. Whatever their differences, the family was held together by affection for this beautiful girl.

The love that bound Joyce and Mobley was deep and abiding. It is not surprising, then, when the question of his sister's marriage became gossip, that Mobley should have taken a stand on the subject which brought about a final and complete rupture from his father and mother. The name with which his sister's had been linked was no other than that of this same Alberto de Sanchez, who now lay dead, with a ghastly knife-wound in his throat, in the Doctor's own office.

James Howard Lynden—or "Jim," as Doctor Westbrook called him—had long been on intimate terms with the Westbrook family. And it was he who now accompanied the silent Mr. Converse through a small but curious group gathered about the entrance leading to the Doctor's office; the first stage of an intermingling of interests widely diverse; the bringing together of lives as far asunder as the stars.



Doctor Westbrook's offices were in the Nettleton Building in Court Street. It and its neighbor on the east, the Field Building, were of that solid old style of structure devoted to business, which knew not the elevator nor steam heat, nor any of the many devices that enter into the complexities, and often questionable conveniences, of the modern office edifice. They were not, and never had been, of an imposing appearance, boasting as they did only three stories; but they were nevertheless the blue-bloods among the city's commercial houses, preserving their exclusive position amidst the newer generation of garish sky-scrapers which rudely intercepted the vision on every hand.

The occupants of these monuments of the old regime were in full accord with their habitations,—solid, conservative, and even aristocratic. As often as not a modest sign—if it could be deciphered at all—notified the visitor that behind certain doors could be found "Harvey Nettleton, Estate of," or, "Richard Fairchild, Estate of," or some name equally well known, and associated with a glory that had departed. In most instances, well might the present owners of those family names cry "Ichabod!" for they had long since ceased to have any interest in the estates other than the shadowy interests which lie in memories and vain regrets.

As Mr. Lynden and his taciturn companion passed through the Nettleton Building entrance, where the curious little throng was restrained by the presence of a couple of mute policemen, the Captain's entire manner underwent a complete and sudden transformation; his expressionless countenance remained wooden, but into his eyes there arrived an intentness and brightness entirely absent from them before; his rather lethargic and apparently purposeless movements giving way to a brisk mode of proceeding which one would hardly have expected from his cumbrous frame. His demeanor was become at once alert and wary, and he had little to say to Lynden.

It was now night outside, and the stairs were faintly illuminated by the single incandescent lamp which hung at their head in the hall of the second story. The sole indication that Mr. Converse was striving to allow nothing to escape his observation was the quickness with which he stooped, when near the top, and picked something from the stairs—something too small for Lynden to catch even a glimpse of—which, whatever it was, the Captain scrutinized intently a moment, and, without comment, dropped into the large pocket-book he brought forth from an inside pocket. The two continued on their way until they reached Doctor Westbrook's office.

Everything was as Lynden had left it, save for the fact that Doctor Westbrook, and the stranger mentioned by the young man, had been joined by several other persons.

One was a swarthy, lean man, whose face was pitted by small-pox, and whose rather dull eyes remained expressionless behind a pair of gold-rimmed pince-nez. He was standing aloof from the others, and seemed to be taking only languid interest in what was going forward. Occasionally he coughed in a manner that told much to the physician's trained ear; save for this, he remained silent. Mr. Merkel, the coroner, and a uniformed policeman were also present.

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Merkel to Converse as he and his companion appeared. "So they have sent you, have they? How fortunate! how exceedingly fortunate! This, gentlemen," he continued, addressing the other occupants of the room, "is Captain Converse. He will pardon me, I know, if I add—the great detective. Nothing has been disturbed, Captain, nothing has been disturbed. You will find everything just as I did. It is a bad business, a bad business."

Mr. Merkel was fussy, important, and wholly incompetent; and the Captain was so accustomed to his repetitions of phrases that were not, to say the least, pregnant with meaning, that he ignored them and turned to an inspection of the dead man.

The body lay just as it had fallen. Somebody had placed a handkerchief over the face, a covering that also hid an ugly wound in the throat. Mr. Converse stooped and removed this, and began a minute but rapid examination of the still form. It reposed in the Doctor's reception-room, close to the wall, partially on its back and partially on its right side. The right arm was extended, the fingers of that hand still in a position as though upon the point of grasping something. Curved naturally across the breast, the left arm suggested restful slumber rather than death by violence; but whatever the eyes had last looked upon, before the film dimmed their lustre, it had stamped upon the handsome features an indelible expression of mingled terror and horror, which one could scarcely regard without an inward tremor of something very like fear. It was an expression likely to remain disagreeably in the memory for a long time.

A search of the dead man's pockets revealed nothing unusual, except that, in a petty way, he had been a violator of the law; for the first thing Mr. Converse drew forth was a nickel-plated, pearl-handled revolver of 32-caliber. The remainder consisted of a number of letters, all relating to business matters; two long envelopes, evidently but recently sealed, and addressed simply, "El Señor Juan de Vargas"; a purse containing money; a gold watch; a fountain pen, and pencil; two memorandum books; a silver match-box; a pouch of dark tobacco, and brown cigarette papers; a handkerchief; a penknife; a bunch of keys,—these were all.

When these effects were inventoried, while Mr. Merkel was assorting them at Doctor Westbrook's writing-table, the dark man with the pince-nez stepped forward. All eyes were turned toward him, excepting, apparently, those of Converse, which continued to give the body and the reception-room floor their attention.

"Pardon, señores," said the dark man, bestowing a bow upon the entire group, and ending it at the Coroner; "is there anything addressed to Juan Vargas, or Juan de Vargas? I am he."

Mr. Merkel looked at him sternly, and held up the two long envelopes.

"I see the name of Vargas—er—ah—inscribed on these. Are you Mr. Vargas?"

The other remained unmoved, replying simply, "I am Juan de Vargas."

"What connection have you with the deceased gentleman?" continued the Coroner, without relaxing in the least the sternness of his look. "Can you tell us anything of this affair?"

Señor de Vargas shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing, señores; I lament that I cannot. The contents of the envelopes should tell you about the extent of our connection; they contain but a deed, some shares of stock, no more. Señor de Sanchez would have delivered them to me to-night. Open them by all means."

The man's eyes, dull and unmoving, continued to regard Mr. Merkel. Had he been discussing the weather his tones could have been no more dispassionate.

The Coroner tore open the envelopes, and, as the man had said, one contained a deed, conveying certain land to Juan Sebastian de Vargas y Escolado, the notary's certificate showing it had been signed and acknowledged that very day before Clay Fairchild. Alberto de Sanchez had made the transfer. The other envelope disclosed a certificate for one thousand shares of stock in the Paquita Gold Mining and Milling Company, also made over to Señor Vargas in due form. The papers told no more.

"Good!" exclaimed Señor de Vargas. "We agreed yesterday, and I have made the first payment of ten thousand dollars for myself and associates. I was but awaiting the deed and the stock."

At this juncture Doctor Westbrook interposed:

"I happen to know that this gentleman is Señor de Vargas," said he. "He called here with—with Señor de Sanchez last evening. I have heard something of this deal between the two, and I believe it represents the occasion of this gentleman's presence in the city at this time."

Señor de Vargas acknowledged this speech with a grave "Gracias, señor." Turning to Mr. Merkel again, "I hope there will not be much delay?" he queried, mildly, with a certain precision of enunciation that alone marked him of an un-English-speaking race.

Since he had comprehended the magnitude of the transaction as disclosed by the deed and certificates, and after Doctor Westbrook's interposition, the Coroner's manner toward the Mexican had noticeably altered.

"No more than necessary," he replied deferentially; "no more than necessary, sir. I am sorry, but these papers will have to remain among the deceased's other effects until after the inquest, anyhow. Mr. Mountjoy, our district attorney, is the proper authority for you to see."

"Good!" returned the Mexican. "I desire not for my humble affairs to stand in the path of justice." Bowing once more, he returned to his former position away from the others.

Converse suddenly passed over to the Coroner, and laid a bloody dagger upon the table. Its silver blade, crimsoned in part, was grewsome and startling beneath the bright glare of the shaded incandescent lamp. Mr. Merkel involuntarily drew back his hands, the strange gentleman who had been with the Doctor since the tragedy visibly shuddered, and for an instant—the smallest portion of a second—the dull eyes of Señor Vargas took on a strange light, as though the pupils had all at once distended, allowing a glimpse to the uttermost depths, then became dull again. It was like the abrupt opening and closing of a shutter. Otherwise his features did not change, nor did he move. The more phlegmatic policeman looked upon the little weapon without apparent emotion; the Doctor and Howard Lynden with none at all.

However, as the Captain placed it upon the table his eyes took in every occupant of the room in one rapid sweeping glance, only to drop as he stooped and whispered to the Coroner, who there upon nodded and turned to the waiting group.

"Now, gentlemen," said he, "this is not the inquest, of course; but let us hear what you have to say about this. You first, Doctor Westbrook; you first."

"What I can tell you will seem much less than it should," the Doctor returned. "It was about five o'clock, and I was sitting at my table—there, where you are now. I had just finished a letter to no other than Señor de Sanchez himself."

"Is this it?" the Coroner interrupted, extending a letter to the speaker. Doctor Westbrook replied affirmatively, and proceeded with his recital.

"I had just completed and blotted it, and was preparing to address the envelope, when I heard footsteps in the hall. I paused, with the pen in my hand, and listened, for I was expecting Señor de Sanchez to call at my office this evening, though not so early, and I imagined the footsteps might be his. As I listened, I noted that my door was not quite shut, and the footfalls advanced steadily down the hall, approaching my office. When immediately outside the door, and while I was looking up expectant of the caller's entrance, they ceased abruptly. There was a slight sound of scraping on the floor of the hall, as though the man—whom I could not then see—were endeavoring to rub something from his shoe-sole on the boards, or had slipped slightly; without the slightest warning, his whole weight plunged against the door. It was thrown violently open by the impact, and I was horrified to behold Señor de Sanchez stagger through, his right hand extended in front of him, as if groping for support. As he crossed the threshold he lurched to his right and struck the wall, along which he slid to the floor, just as you now see him."

During his relation of these particulars, the Doctor's manner was perfectly cool and collected. The next incident fairly electrified his intent listeners.

"As he was falling," he continued, "I noticed the dagger handle protruding from the left side of his throat."

"Is this the one?"

It was Converse's sibilant whisper which now rudely broke into the recital. At the same time he thrust the silver blade close to the other's face.

Doctor Westbrook at first merely glanced at the weapon; but something about it evidently caught and held his attention, and an emotion vastly different from mere recognition overspread his countenance; it was astonishment, pure and simple.

"God bless my soul!" he gasped, in extreme amazement; "that is mine—my paper-knife—and I did not recognize it! What does this mean?" He sat with his eyes glued upon it, the centre of a dumfounded group. The Captain continued a moment to hold it forward, his gaze fixed inscrutably upon the physician's puzzled and bewildered countenance.

Presently Converse drew the weapon slowly back again, and replaced it upon the table.

"So that is yours?" the Coroner soberly asked.

"It is," replied the Doctor; "and I did not recognize it until this minute. How did it—why—" he began vaguely; but Merkel interrupted.

"Well," said he, with a wave of the hand that seemed to dispose of all complications, "it will be time enough for questions when you have finished."

"De Sanchez was falling," resumed the Doctor after a moment's reflection, "when I noticed the dagger handle. The body had scarcely touched the floor before I had stooped and wrenched the blade from the wound. It did not come easily; it required a severe tug to loosen it, and the withdrawal of the blade was followed by such a gush of blood that I knew some important artery must be severed. The man's death was practically instantaneous. After I had extracted the blade I had no time to render him any further service; I simply stood dumfounded until Jim—Mr. Lynden—grasped my arm and shook me."

"But, Doctor Westbrook," insisted Mr. Merkel, "was there no one else in the hall? Did you hear no other footsteps? Didn't you see or hear some one else when the door was thrust wide open? Surely the murderer couldn't have left so quickly without attracting the attention of some one of you. It is simply incredible." He grasped the arms of his chair, leaning forward in his eagerness, his heavy countenance overshadowed with perplexity.

As the Doctor started to reply, Converse glanced sharply toward him; when Lynden's name was presently mentioned, shifting his scrutiny to that gentleman.

"I must say no to all those questions," was the Doctor's reply. "I saw nobody but De Sanchez. I heard nothing but his footsteps, and the noise he made in collapsing through this door. Ask Jim Lynden, there; he was in the hall at the time; he followed so closely behind De Sanchez that he arrived here before the man died."

Lynden merely shook his head, hopelessly, as if he had no vocabulary to express himself. The Coroner was impressed by the young man's mien, and after regarding him a moment with a scowl, turned again to Doctor Westbrook.

"Was any one else present, Doctor?" he asked.

The physician's face was suddenly illumined.

"Yes; why, certainly. Howe!" he exclaimed. "Howe, where were you?"

The man, who apparently had been a stranger to everybody in the room, now advanced.

"I was in there—your laboratory—looking into the light-well."

Converse noiselessly disappeared into the room indicated, returning in a few seconds to eye the stranger with increased interest.

"And who are you, if I may ask?" bluntly demanded the Coroner.

"My name is Ferdinand Howe, sir," the stranger replied, with dignity. "My home is in Bruceville, Georgia, and I am in your city on business for the bank of which I happen to be the cashier. Doctor Westbrook and I are old college-mates, and I know about as much of this affair as he has told you; that is to say, I was there—the other side of that partition in the laboratory—when the murdered man fell where you now see him. The first intimation I had that anything was amiss was when the outside door crashed open and the body fell to the floor. I ran into this room, saw the man gasp twice, and then lie motionless. I never saw him, and never heard of him, before this night. That is all."

Mr. Howe appeared to be about the Doctor's age, and was a fair type of the American man of business. He was well groomed, clean, and possessed of a clear, steady eye.

"And you saw and heard no one else?" Mr. Merkel persisted.

Howe shook his head. "No, sir; no one. There was not the slightest thing to indicate—"

He stopped. He shot a swift, startled glance at Doctor Westbrook; but the Doctor remained unconscious of it, evidently absorbed in his own cogitations. Mr. Converse's eyes watched the speaker through mere slits, so nearly closed were they; but a gleam came from between the contracted lids that might have betrayed a quickened interest somewhere in the depths of his big frame.

"No," concluded Howe presently, in tones measurably subdued; "I neither saw nor heard anybody else, but—" With compressed lips he indicated by a nod the form on the floor. "You must remember," he concluded, "I was in the next room, looking out the window into the light-well."

Converse looked quickly from the speaker to Lynden. That young man was staring strangely at Howe, evidently impressed by something unusual in his concluding words.

Suddenly the young man caught Converse's intent look, and his own eyes lowered. Next they shifted to Doctor Westbrook, at whom he continued to look in a moody silence.

The Coroner, apparently more and more at sea, stared first at one and then another of the room's occupants, at the partition which separated the reception-room from the laboratory, and lastly through the open doorway into the hall. The most extreme of the different points were not over six feet apart; and for three men—wide awake and in full possession of their faculties—to be so close to such a crime and know nothing of it until it was all over! How could human ingenuity supply an explanation for so incongruous a circumstance? Had the man committed suicide? The most cursory examination of the wound demonstrated beyond doubt that, however else it might have been inflicted, Alberto de Sanchez was incapable of having administered it himself.

Meanwhile the Captain was moving from one to another of the group, his whisper barely audible, but persistent and pervading the entire room. Occasionally he made a brief memorandum upon an envelope,—cabalistic marks which no one but himself could have deciphered. Then the whisper again for a moment, followed by a deferential lowering of his gray head as he hearkened to the reply. Had one been observing him closely he would have noticed that the circle of inquiry gradually narrowed. The policeman he paid no attention to at all; he was soon through with Señor Vargas; but from Lynden he passed to Howe; next to Doctor Westbrook; and from one to another of the last three, as a word from one suggested a new inquiry to be asked of another. His movements were silent, his manner unobtrusive, distracting no attention from Mr. Merkel and his investigation. Now and then he paused and stared contemplatively into vacancy for a moment, with the odd lifting of his right eyebrow, and with his mouth thoughtfully pursed; but the mask of his countenance told nothing, and only once did he include the whole group with a question. It was after he had been whispering quietly for some minutes with Howe.

"Who can give me young Mr. Fairchild's address? You, Doctor?" he asked.

"Clay?" Dr. Westbrook returned. "Yes. It is close to the terminus of the Washington Heights car line. The conductor can direct you to it; the houses are not numbered out there."

Converse nodded, and chose a slip of paper from the table. After looking at it, first on one side and then on the other, it apparently did not suit his purpose; for he subjected another bit of paper to a similar scrutiny before pencilling a hurried line thereon, although he did not replace the first slip. The note he handed to the policeman with a whispered word, and the policeman instantly quitted the room. Had one still been observing Mr. Converse he would have seen him abstractedly place the first bit of paper in his waistcoat pocket.

Well, it seemed that no one present could throw additional light upon the manner of Señor de Sanchez's death. Mr. Merkel arose from his chair at the Doctor's table, and looked a pointed inquiry at the Captain, who responded by a short negative shake of his head. As if relieved of a distasteful responsibility, the Coroner said:

"Such of you as desire to go may do so. Captain Converse and I will have to look about a bit. He must have an opportunity to apply his wonderful skill, gentlemen; and you will all be notified of the inquest; you will be duly notified..... Doctor Westbrook, I will send a wagon for the body," he concluded. "Good-night, gentlemen." He turned to the table again, and to a contemplation of the dead man's personal effects, as though picking out an answer to this latest riddle propounded by death.

Whatever of restraint had been upon the group, it was released by the Coroner's words, and each member showed it in his own way. Ferdinand Howe instantly advanced to Doctor Westbrook, and, smiling, held out his hand.

"Well, Mobley," said he, as they grasped hands, "this is a regrettable affair. It has been a shocking interruption to my visit; a visit which I now suppose will be indefinitely extended. If I can be of service, don't hesitate to call upon me. I shall be at the hotel any time I am wanted. Good-night." And he quitted the room.

Next, Señor Vargas bowed before the Doctor, saying in a low, conventional tone:

"My sympathies, Señor Doctor, that anything so deplorable should have occurred in your apartments." He turned to the Coroner:

"Don Alberto was a fellow-countryman," he went on; "he had many relatives and friends, by whom he was much beloved. But Mexico is far away, señor, and should there be any delay in communicating with those relatives or those friends, it is I, his countryman, upon whom you should call. Upon my own responsibility I request that every attention be accorded the body, and that no expense be considered. I also will be at—what you call la posado?—the 'otel. I thank you for your courtesy."

His departure left, besides the Captain and Mr. Merkel, only Howard Lynden and the Doctor; as the door closed behind the Mexican, the Doctor said:

"Now, then, we here are all about equally interested; if you have any idea how this dreadful crime was committed, pray enlighten us. Surely even vulgar curiosity is pardonable under the circumstances." He looked inquiringly from the Coroner to Mr. Converse.

The latter made no remark, but watched the Doctor steadily, while Mr. Merkel dubiously shook his head, and replied:

"It seems as though we scarcely had made a beginning yet. We shall be obliged to go much farther, Doctor—much farther."

"I will begin right now, then," Converse whispered. "Mr. Lynden, you can help me if you will."

All four were in the act of emerging from the room, when the Captain, as though an idea had just occurred to him, turned suddenly and touched Doctor Westbrook upon the arm.

"By the way, Doctor," he whispered, close to that gentleman's ear, "I notice you have several penholders on your table; are you particularly partial to any one of them? No, no, don't stop; go on."

The Doctor turned a surprised visage to his questioner.

"Why, yes, since you have mentioned it. I always use the black celluloid holder. Why?"

"It is just an idea of mine; I took a particular fancy to that holder..... And have you had occasion to put a new point in it lately?"

Doctor Westbrook now did stop. He frowned heavily as he pondered a moment, while the Captain watched him steadily.

"Yes," he presently said. "I placed a new pen-point in it this evening. I found the other broken—bent—quite useless."

"Thank you, thank you," Mr. Converse said, hastily. "Good-night, Doctor Westbrook."

While the Doctor and Mr. Merkel continued on out of the building, Converse devoted his attention to the hall window which opened into the light-well. There he stood until the others had disappeared; whereupon he and Lynden reëntered the Doctor's office.



By running a board partition down the centre of the room nearest the hall, Doctor Westbrook had by the simplest means given himself a place of reception; one where his patients could wait while he was engaged in the room overlooking Court Street, there being still another for his drugs and medicines.

There was not much wasted space in the laboratory. Against the walls stood cases filled with bottles of many sizes and colors, and other cases displaying glittering, sinister instruments; in one corner stood a carboy of distilled water, and by the window, opening into the light-well, stood the table where the Doctor compounded such prescriptions as he did not send to a regular apothecary.

The light-well opened like a chasm between the Field and Nettleton buildings; its bottom, on a level with the second-story floors, was of heavy semi-opaque glass, so that such rays of light as were not diverted into the windows on the one hand or the other found a way to the shop space on the ground floor. At present an arc lamp beneath this skylight suffused a soft and mellow radiance throughout the entire light-well.

Mr. Converse let himself down to a narrow ledge bordering the skylight, and with an injunction to the young man to wait, made his way around it to a window diagonally opposite, which the latter recognized as belonging to the offices of Petty & Carlton, attorneys, in the Field Building. Here the Captain drew himself up with remarkable agility, and disappeared through the window. All the windows letting into the light-well were open, the watcher was noticing, when his attention was attracted by Mr. Converse's sharp whisper.

"Stand where you are a few minutes, Mr. Lynden," said he. "I want to experiment a bit, and I shall call on you for a report presently."

He lowered himself to the ledge again, passed over to Nettleton Building side, and to the hall window of the latter. There he stooped and scrutinized the ledge intently, and next the window-sill; after which, with a little spring, he raised himself to the window, and crawled through it into the hall.

A sudden quiet fell,—a quiet unbroken by any sound. Standing there alone in the gloom, one undoubtedly would have been impressed by the blank, staring windows that were like wide and lidless eyes; and as he looked, Lynden seemed to become sensible of a feeling of dread at the awfulness of the crime which had been committed so near at hand, for he shuddered visibly, as if the windows had some purpose in staring,—as if they were in reality eyes that still retained some expression of their horror at a deed witnessed but a moment since.

Noting the alacrity with which Converse let his heavy frame in and out of windows, a spectator might fancy it an easy matter for one lurking in the light-well to do likewise, at the ripe moment strike a swift blow, and then leap back again.

But whatever the current of Lynden's meditations, it was abruptly diverted. He fell to listening intently. The door between the hall and the reception-room was being slowly and cautiously opened; still slowly and with an apparent effort to occasion no betraying noise, some one advanced on tiptoe into the room. The young man faced deliberately about until he could see the door in the partition, and waited. Toward it the almost silent footfalls were moving; presently there appeared at the aperture the expressionless face of Mr. Converse, who, when he perceived Lynden's startled attitude, gave utterance to a low chuckle.

"I was not endeavoring to frighten you, Mr. Lynden," said he; "I was simply trying a little experiment. When did you first hear me?"

"I heard the door open, and next, you tiptoeing across the room. I did not know what to think." He was pale and trembling.

"Not another sound? No footsteps in the hall? Nothing of that kind?"

Lynden shook his head. "No; the first thing I heard was the door opening," he repeated.

"Well," continued the Captain, reflectively, pursing his mouth, and lifting his right eyebrow at the young man, "I don't believe anybody could have made less noise than I did in there"—he nodded his head toward the partition—"nor more than I made in the hall. And you heard nothing until the door began to open—h-m-m!" He looked around the laboratory,—at the shelves of bottles, at the partition not reaching quite to the ceiling; he stepped to the window, and, leaning out, contemplated the hall window. "It's confoundedly queer," he concluded.

"What is?"

"Why, the way noises act here. You know, that man—Mr. Ferdinand Howe—was standing at this window, and heard nothing in the hall. I almost believe, if the deceased had been shot instead of stabbed he would not have heard it..... But let us have a look at the other side of the hall.... Let me see," he went on, in a meditative way, "Room 4; that must be Mr. Nettleton's private office; as my friend Mr. Follett would say,—his 'lair.' He has no use for lawyers." He pushed open the door directly opposite the Doctor's suite.

The room was large and had three windows opening into the light-well. Through these windows sufficient light from the arc lamp beneath the skylight found its way to cause the furnishings to loom shadowy and ghost-like in a sort of feeble twilight, and to make it easy to find an incandescent lamp, which Mr. Converse turned on, illuminating the apartment with a brighter and more cheerful radiance. He surveyed the room, and looked at Lynden.

"I suppose," said he, "the door has not been locked this evening?"

The young man merely shook his head. For some reason since passing to this side of the hall, he had become strangely taciturn, though he watched the Captain's every movement eagerly, and cast many furtive glances toward the denser shadows.

Converse, knelt and examined the floor closely on either side of the door. Lynden's nerves were at such a tension that he actually started at a whispered ejaculation from the Captain as he picked up a tiny hairpin,—the kind a woman would have specified as "invisible."

So, then, there had been some one behind this door—and that one a woman!

Why should this circumstance affect Lynden so strangely? for it would seem that, in the undisturbed stillness of these deserted chambers, there was a potent, disquieting influence which kept him in a qui vive of nervous expectancy,—an invisible something in the atmosphere of the place filling him with an apprehensive dread. It was really remarkable that his observant companion did not notice his agitation; and still it was difficult to imagine how he could, for he was crossing the floor in a crouching attitude, apparently directing his entire attention to the floor with a concentration that permitted no individual thread of the heavy carpet to escape his earnest scrutiny.

Mr. Nettleton was a lawyer, and he occupied two rooms, both of which opened directly into the hall. The two men were now in the one that the lawyer used as his consultation room, and the course being pursued by Mr. Converse would soon take him to the connecting door between the two offices. Arriving at that point, he stood erect and paused a moment, plunged in thought. He said nothing, and seemingly had become oblivious of his companion's attendance.

Just to the left of the connecting door, and in the general office, stood the desk occupied during business hours by Clay Fairchild. Above this desk was another incandescent light, which the Captain lighted, after which he took up whatever trail he had been following so closely, at the exact point where he had left it, continuing, in a stooping posture, to the hall door of the general office. From the point where he had picked up the hairpin, immediately within the entrance to Room 4, he had pursued a course away from the hall, through the connecting door to Room 5, and back again toward the hall to the hall entrance of the latter room,—the whole forming, roughly, an arc, the chord of which was the hall.

At the door of Room 5 he stood upright once more, and the young man became aware all at once that he was being eyed quizzically.

"Look!" the Captain whispered. Stooping again, he pointed to the heavy ply of the moquette carpet.

For a moment Lynden could descry nothing unusual; his heart was thumping in a manner for which he could assign no reason; but when the Captain traced an outline with his thumbnail, he could see quite distinctly the imprint of a small, partial footprint, such as a woman's French heel might make.

"That appears at just two other places," Converse continued; "at the entrance to Room 4, where I found the hairpin, and just inside this room; and there, beyond that desk, near the connecting door. They were made by a woman who stood a while at the first door, and who then, I believe,—though I can't be positive,—tiptoed to the connecting door, where she paused again for a while. She either tiptoed between those points, or stood for a time; the marks wouldn't have remained had she walked directly through the two rooms."

Lynden stared at the tiny impression—so faint that nobody else would ever have remarked it—and seemingly sought to frame a reply that he could voice naturally.

"Wonderful! Wonderful!" was all he said, but in tones so low that they were scarcely louder than Mr. Converse's whisper.

The latter now turned to the rest of the room. Swiftly, but apparently permitting not the least article to escape his observation, he made the circuit of the apartment, and finally paused at Clay Fairchild's desk. Almost instantly his eyes singled out one from among the mass of papers which littered it. This he carefully folded, and placed, with the article he had picked up on the stairway, which Lynden had been unable to see, in the capacious pocketbook. He seemed reluctant to leave this desk; after he had turned away he paused and cast another look at it, sniffing as one striving to locate the source of a faint odor. Lynden paused too; he glanced hurriedly from right to left, his brow lined, his expression troubled and perplexed.

At length they returned to Mr. Nettleton's private office, which was subjected to as close and thorough an examination as had been the room just quitted. Only one thing seemed especially to hold Converse's attention, and that was the space beneath the lawyer's desk. Here he got down to his hands and knees, and struck no less than five matches in an effort to obtain a better light. Whether the dusty space told him anything Lynden could not determine.

They passed back into the hall again. Converse walked directly to the entrance of Suite 2, immediately adjoining Doctor Westbrook's offices, on the side nearest the stairway. A small card pasted on the ground glass of this door bore the words "To Let." Converse ignited another match, in the added light of which he examined the door-knob. His companion observed him touch it with the tip of a finger, and shake his head, as if something incomprehensible had all at once presented itself.

"Does the janitor sleep in the building?" the Captain inquired after a moment; when the young man nodded affirmatively, he added: "Can you get the keys of this floor for me? It will save some time and trouble, and I want to finish before the reporters come."

"Certainly. His room is in the third story."

Converse watched him until he disappeared around the corner toward the stairway, and straightway did something very strange. With the silence and speed of a cat he made his way back to Fairchild's desk. Over this he bent and smelt the papers which lay there. But that would not do. Hastily he tried the top right-hand drawer. It was unlocked—as were all the other drawers—and opened easily. That for which he was searching was not there, either. He turned rapidly to another drawer, and another, and another, until every drawer in the desk had been opened and closed again, its contents having been hastily but thoroughly gone over; and still the object of this hurried search was not found. Quickly he glanced from side to side. To the left of the desk was a waste-paper basket, which had not been recently emptied, and over this he inhaled deeply, as one would drink in the fragrance of a rose. He thrust a hand among the debris of papers, and in a moment drew forth a dainty lace handkerchief, to which clung the unmistakable odor of stephanotis. Again the capacious pocket-book; and when Lynden returned with the keys the Captain was contemplating the door-knob of Suite 2 with unabated interest.

Lynden sniffed as the other ran over the key-tags in a search for No. 2.

"What is that perfume?" he demanded sharply.

"Ah, do you like that, now?" rejoined Converse, with the first display of enthusiasm he had yet shown. "That is an odor I am very partial to, and hope to have more of—if I can find where this came from."

The young man moistened his lips, and his eyes turned away from the other's steady look.

Converse now had the door to No. 2 open, but he did not enter this room. It needed only the match he now struck to disclose layer upon layer of dust, the undisturbed accumulation of months.

"Now, then," said he, as he closed and locked the door again, "back to the light-well for a minute or two, and I am through."

He let himself out of the hall window, and made another circuit of the ledge around the skylight. The light-well was more or less a catch-all for the windows opening into it; it therefore contained many scraps of paper, every one of which he glanced at before casting it aside. Only one thing here seemed to interest him,—something he picked up far out on the skylight and scrutinized. Lynden was afforded another glimpse of the pocket-book.

"What is it?" he asked.

"A cigarette butt," was the reply; "interesting only because it is the second one of the same kind I have found to-night."

Presently, when he announced that he had finished, Lynden said it had fallen to them to turn out the lights and lock the doors, as the negro janitor was too frightened to venture into the second story that night. This was soon accomplished, and the two had turned to depart, when both abruptly stopped. A light had flashed forth through the ground glass of Room 6.

"What room is that?" asked Converse; for the door was bare of significance excepting for the single figure "6," now standing out boldly against the light behind.

"The record and abstract room of the Guaranty Trust Company," was the reply. "He must have come in while you were in the light-well."

"He? Who?" Converse queried bluntly.

Both were standing as they had paused when the light first surprised them, and Lynden turned to his interlocutor with some surprise at the quickening eagerness of his tone, but he answered merely:

"Slade,—William Slade; he prepares the company's abstracts of title, you know."

Converse's manner became completely impersonal again. "Can you find some excuse for knocking?" he asked. "Would you mind doing so? I should like to have a glimpse of him."

"Not at all; if I can make him hear. He's quite deaf."

Lynden, after knocking once perfunctorily, did not wait for a summons to enter. He immediately threw the door wide open, crying, without much show of deference:

"Hello, Mr. Slade! You work late to-night."

A little, dingy, dreary figure of a man, perched on a high stool, and bending over a huge canvas-bound volume, slowly raised his head, and gazed at his unceremonious callers with the vacant look that one sees in the eyes of deaf people who have not heard distinctly. His smooth-shaven face was like leather, shot and crisscrossed with a network of fine wrinkles. Almost on the tip of his nose he was balancing a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, and the eyes which now looked over them were remarkably bright and sparkling, like a mouse's, conveying to the casual glance an alertness which they did not actually possess.

"Howard Lynden, close the door," was the odd creature's greeting, in a voice hoarse and rasping. The sharp little eyes shifted to the Captain, and back to Lynden again. There was no cordiality in either his tone or manner.

The young man took a step forward, laid his hand upon the tall desk at which the little man was seated, raised his voice and asked, "Did you know there had been a murder committed on this floor this evening?"

"Murder?" querulously, and with no show of interest. "Murder?"

"Yes; murder. The man died in Doctor Westbrook's office—stabbed."

Without displaying the least curiosity at so unexpected, so sensational an announcement, Mr. Slade slowly wagged his head, saying only, "I heard nothing of it." He dipped his pen into the ink-well, with an air of dismissing his callers and the subject alike.

"I saw your light, and just dropped in to learn if you knew of it," Lynden concluded, as he followed the Captain toward the hall. Lowering his voice, and addressing the latter, "Is there anything else?" he inquired; at once the wrinkled, meagre visage and twinkling eyes became suspicious and alert.

"What is that?" demanded Slade, with obvious mistrust.

"Nothing," the young man returned shortly. "Good-night."

Mr. Slade's parchment-like countenance again bent over the big volume, and his pen flew industriously. It was startling, when the door had nearly closed, to have the rasping voice come after them with the suddenness of an explosion.

"Howard Lynden!" it cried. That gentleman, surprised, thrust his head back into the room.

With pen poised in hand, with spectacles still balanced near the tip of his thin nose, the ill-favored mask of Slade's countenance was again confronting the detective and his companion.

"What time was that murder?" asked the abstracter.

"At five o'clock," Lynden rejoined, he and the Captain again advancing into the room.

"And the murdered man?"

"General Westbrook's friend, Señor de Sanchez."

The little eyes turned once more quickly to the Captain and back to Lynden as he asked the next question:

"Ah! And who was—the—murderer?" He spoke deliberately, his harsh voice lowering itself strangely.

"That the police would very much like to know."

Again the little eyes shifted to Mr. Converse.

"An officer?" inquired Slade.

The Captain nodded. Slade's brusque manner returned; dropping his eyes to his work once more, he said, with an air of finality:

"I am sorry, gentlemen, I can tell you nothing. This is my first intelligence that a crime had been committed. Good-night. Howard Lynden, close the door tightly after you."

When the two were once more in the hall the Captain said, "Mr. Slade developed a mighty sudden interest."

"Yes," returned his companion; "a queer bird—irascible, and touchy about his deafness. His father was an overseer, you know," as though this fully accounted for Mr. Slade's undesirable qualities. "But his curiosity got the better of him that time; he couldn't let us go without finding out more."

"He and I would have some difficulty in getting along together without a sign language," remarked Mr. Converse, dryly.

The two were near the foot of the stairs, but they were not destined to leave the building without another interruption. A man came precipitately, though noiselessly, in at the entrance, who, when he observed they were descending, stopped short and awaited their approach at the foot of the stairs. He was one of the two men who had followed them from headquarters, and he now, after touching his hat respectfully to Mr. Converse, looked askance at Lynden. The Captain, with a nod of apology to the young man, drew the newcomer to one side.

"Well, Adams?" said he.

"We found Mr. Fairchild's all right," the man whispered; "but Mr. Fairchild was not there. He has not returned from the office, and his sister and mother are very anxious. The mother is something of an invalid—didn't see her at all. Talked with the sister, who seemed, anyhow, to be the head. Pretended to want a notary and quizzed her, but she could tell me nothing. I don't believe horses could draw anything from her if she didn't want to tell. Captain Converse, sir, she had an eye that looked right into me all the time I was talking, and I know she thought I was lying when I said I wanted a notary." The man showed two rows of glistening white teeth in an unpleasant grin. "I did want a notary, but she didn't know I was so particular about which one. But I don't believe she knows where he is. I left Barton to watch the house, and I came on to report."

"Very good."

"And what shall I do now?"

"Keep your eye on this man here with me until I can send you relief; I shall keep Barton watching the house."

The manner of the man called Adams was both stealthy and ingratiating; his visage seemed unable to rid itself of a perpetual smile, which, taken with a pair of crafty, shifting eyes, gave him a sinister appearance. During the entire time he and Mr. Converse were talking, he kept looking past the latter at Lynden; and that this surreptitious espionage was extremely unpleasant was made manifest by the young man's growing uneasiness.

Still smiling, shooting a last rapid glance at Lynden, he departed as abruptly and noiselessly as he had come.

Converse turned to his companion, fixing him with a steely eye; and what he said seemed unaccountably to agitate the young man.

"I wish to remind you that you are a very important witness in this affair. I shall venture a hint and a word of advice: if you are not more circumspect on the witness-stand than you have been to-night, you will have a mighty bad hour; if you are contemplating a trip from the city, why—change your mind." With a curt "Good-night," he left Lynden speechless in the doorway of the Nettleton Building.

Lynden remained motionless many minutes. When he at last produced a cigarette from his pocket, the cupped hands holding the lighted match trembled so he had difficulty in igniting it. Abruptly he started away in a direction opposite that taken by the huge figure of the Captain.

Behind him moved a shadow so stealthily, its outlines so dim, that it was scarcely to be distinguished from the surrounding night.



Early the next morning Mr. Mountjoy, the district attorney, and the Coroner were seated in the former's office with a flat desk between them. Upon this set forth in orderly array, were the letters, papers, and other personal effects gleaned from the pockets of the dead man; dominating the whole was the sinister and grewsome little silver blade,—Doctor Westbrook's paper-knife.

The regard of both officials rested upon it as they meditated and waited for the Captain.

Remove those bloodstains and the weapon became a dainty toy, but withal a dangerous one. The point was like a needle's, and terminated a slender, tapering blade, silver-like in its brightly polished steel, two-edged, and of indubitable fineness. The guard, a solid piece of beautifully engraved gold, was shaped somewhat like a Cupid's bow, while the hilt, of silver, was decorated with an intricate, graceful pattern of chasing, inlaid with gold, and surrounding a scroll upon which was engraved in script the single word:


The chasing, in addition to being an exquisite work of art, possessed also the utility of supplying an excellent purchase for any hand grasping it.

And what hand was upon that pretty hilt when last it was held in anger? Whose fingers had tightened slowly over the dainty feminine name, as the unsuspecting victim approached? Did "Paquita" contain a hidden charm—some invisible potency—to guide the hand to its hideous, self-appointed task?

Alas, if it could but tell! If, instead of the prænomen, redolent as it was of fresh maiden innocence, the scroll had borne some word pointing to the assassin! And yet, after all, could it be possible that the momentous intelligence actually was there, and only human eyes were blind? If such be the case, it will require a vision more than human to seek it out and read what is there written. Surely; for the weapon bore no other mark or testimony.

The District Attorney's voice disturbed the quiet.

"It is an amazing thing," said he, in a speculative tone, "what a nice tangle this case is beginning to promise. Relate the bare facts, as we know them, to any disinterested person, and he would instantly say that Mobley Westbrook committed the deed. To be suddenly come upon, a smoking dagger in your hand—standing over a dying man—the provocation supplying a motive—and all that—h-m-m! pretty bad."

But Mr. Mount joy the next instant laughed in a way that signified it to be the height of absurdity to think of Doctor Westbrook as a murderer.

"There is not a phase or side of the man's character," he continued, "with which the crime can be made to fit. I can more easily imagine Mobley Westbrook—but of course I know him so well that personal bias influences me largely in his favor. It would require evidence quite conclusive, though, to move me to proceed against him. It's queer, anyhow, a family of their quiet, humdrum respectability being mixed with an affair of this nature, even remotely; there is more behind it than we now imagine; and I believe there will be plenty of work for one John Converse."

As if this colloquy had been a scene on a stage, and the two last words a cue, the door opened, and the Captain of detectives himself entered. He walked to the desk with manner quiet and deferential, gravely returning the salutations of the two officials seated there.

"Here's John to speak for himself," said the Coroner.

"Theseus has come to lead us from this labyrinth of mystery," laughed Mr. Mountjoy. "Silent and enigmatical servant of Destiny, who knows what momentous knowledge is hidden behind that impassive exterior? John, are you ready to point the stern and unrelenting finger of denunciation at the guilty wretch, and say, 'Thou art the man!'?"

But the Captain did not respond to the lawyer's bantering humor. Instead, he seated himself on one side of the table, remarking merely:

"Gentlemen, this is a very serious case."

"Serious!" cried the District Attorney, his mood in no wise changing. "Serious? which is but one method of informing us that there has been a dearth of clues." He suddenly leaned forward, rested his elbows upon the table, and interlocked his slender fingers. "Come, John, what have you discovered?" he concluded more soberly.


For answer Mr. Converse drew forth his large and well-worn pocket-book, from which he took one by one, and laid upon the desk, two slips of paper, a small hairpin, two half-consumed cigarettes—the paper of which was a dark brown, like butcher's wrapping-papers—and lastly, a dainty bit of cambric and lace, to which clung a delicate odor of stephanotis,—a lady's handkerchief.

Mr. Merkel adjusted his spectacles; the District Attorney became wholly serious; and together they bent over the grotesque assortment, staring as though the mystery might be disclosed then and there.

Presently both sat back in their chairs, and turned expectantly to Converse.

"Well, sir," he began gravely, "I believe we must look to a certain lady for a detailed account of her connection with this case."

"A woman!" ejaculated the lawyer. "Well, I am not surprised; it could not promise much without a woman—no more than that affair of the Garden could have been without Eve.... And do you know who she is?"

Mr. Converse raised a protesting hand.

"No," said he; "not yet. But a woman was in Mr. Nettleton's offices so close to the time the crime was committed that her presence is quite the most important factor at present—that, and Clay Fairchild's disappearance."

Both listeners showed their astonishment.

"So that young Fairchild has disappeared, has he?" remarked Mr. Merkel. "I always thought he was a steady sort of chap. But you can never tell about these young fellows, especially when they get tangled with a woman. I wonder who she is?" he added, musingly, and colored when Mr. Mountjoy laughed.

"That is just a puzzling feature of the thing," the Captain resumed. "I have had no trouble in securing a complete record of the young man's private life, and it proves to be unexceptionably clean. No woman figures in it to any great extent. Young Fairchild is very poor; but he is the head of one of these old families here, and is on a footing with people like the Westbrooks, the Nettletons, and their class, that a great many with more money can't boast of. He is one of 'the quality'; and though his poverty prevents him from figuring at all in society, he is nevertheless a frequent visitor in many of the best homes in the city."

"Aye, I know those Fairchilds," said Mr. Mountjoy, nodding his head slowly; "fine old stock, but dropped from sight since Dick, the scamp, went smash. There's a girl, too, isn't there? Mother an invalid? Thought so. Proceed, John."

"It appears that he was always a studious boy," Mr. Converse went on, "and there is only one thing that seems to be in his disfavor. It is this: although he has been acting as Mr. Nettleton's clerk and stenographer, and is a notary public, he entered Mr. Nettleton's office for the purpose of studying law. Now, Mr. Nettleton says that while young Fairchild was diligent in his duties, and possessed of no bad habits, he disappointed his patron by evincing a lack of interest in his studies, which he gradually came to neglect. It seems that he has literary aspirations, and his present vocation is a necessity. His mother and sister, excepting for a little property belonging to the latter, are both dependent on him, and he has always been particularly solicitous of their welfare. I must confess that his lighting out the way he has, and our failure to find the slightest trace of his whereabouts, coupled with the circumstance of the woman, are at present very puzzling. But we will get to this later; we can secure a better grasp of the entire situation by commencing at the beginning.

"Well, when De Sanchez entered the Nettleton Building yesterday evening there were in the east end of the second floor at least five persons,—Doctor Mobley Westbrook, who was in his reception-room; Fairchild, who was in one or the other of Mr. Nettleton's rooms; Mr. Ferdinand Howe, who was in the Doctor's laboratory; William Slade, who was in Room 6; and some woman. Mr. J. Howard Lynden entered the building only a few seconds after De Sanchez, and both were bound for the Doctor's office. It is self-evident that the criminal was present also, and I can account for no one else. Indeed, unless the witnesses were blind or are now resorting to deliberate falsehood, it is absolutely impossible that any person besides those indicated could have been present.

"Of the six individuals named we may at once drop Slade and Howe, leaving us Fairchild, the woman, Doctor Westbrook, and Lynden to be considered as possibilities.

"Beginning with Fairchild, and in connection with the lady, I will preface what I have to say with the statement that his place in the case is very difficult to determine; but that it is at least of great moment, I am convinced.

"For the present there is only a hypothetical motive for his curious behavior; but he was in the neighborhood of the crime at the time of its commission, and did not leave the building until several minutes afterward—and then under very peculiar circumstances. The hypothetical motive by which I shall try to explain his conduct is affection for the woman.

"Now, the hall dividing the rooms in the eastern wing of the Nettleton is just twelve feet wide, and we may take it as an established fact that the blow was delivered between Doctor Westbrook's entrance and the hall door to Mr. Nettleton's private office, the two doors being directly opposite each other. We may even go a bit farther and say that De Sanchez was closer to the Doctor's door, for, owing to the nature of the wound, all volition was immediately removed from the deceased's movements. The act of his falling through the door would indicate that he had already turned to enter the Doctor's office, was close to it, and was projected through the doorway simply by the momentum of the speed at which he had been walking. That gives us four possible routes whereby the murderer could have come into contact with his victim at the spot mentioned, and it is necessary to bear these in mind:

"1. Through the hall from the stairway;

"2. From Doctor Westbrook's office;

"3. Through the window at the end of the hall, which opens into the light-well; and

"4. Through Mr. Nettleton's private office.

"Assuming the truth of all the statements, the story I obtained from Lynden obviates the first; number two we will set aside on the strength of Doctor Westbrook's statement, partially corroborated by Howe. Regarding the third route—that is to say, the hall window opening into the light-well—we have two persons who were looking into the light-well from two different points, from about five minutes before, and during the time the deed was committed, until several seconds thereafter. These two are Mr. Howe and Judge Elihu Petty, of Petty & Carlton, who was looking from his window in the Field Building, diagonally across from where Howe was standing. Both these gentlemen are positive that no one entered or left the Nettleton hall window, and that there was no movement of any kind at any of the other windows during the time they were looking into the light-well. Indeed, it seems impossible that there could have been under the circumstances. Looking from any of the windows mentioned, the entire light-well is within one's range of vision; and while it is true that twilight had set in, it was by no means dark or even nearly so when the deed was committed; and we may assume that it was impossible for anybody to have entered the hall by way of the light-well without attracting the attention of either Howe or Judge Petty.

"Fortunately we have a basis from which to estimate the exact time the blow was struck, and, in fact, all the other known incidents in this affair. That was the five o'clock whistles. We may set it down, then, as another established fact, that the blow was delivered in not to exceed four seconds of that hour. Howe knows the exact time he took up his position at the laboratory window; it was there he was standing when De Sanchez fell through the reception-room door, and at that moment he heard the whistles begin blowing. Judge Petty remembers the circumstance also, and connects it with Howe's sudden disappearance from the laboratory window; and Doctor Westbrook is now able to recall the fact of the whistles blowing being coincident with the deceased's tragic entrance.

"These facts confine us to Mr. Nettleton's private office to seek a solution, and there we find a number of circumstances justifying a closer examination.

"The facts here warrant the following assumptions: That between four-thirty and five o'clock yesterday afternoon, Clay Fairchild and some woman—name unknown—were in Mr. Nettleton's offices; that Mr. Fairchild did not depart until after five o'clock; that the lady was familiar with the arrangement of the second floor; that so far we know no one who either saw her enter the building, or saw her while she was inside it, or saw her leave; that she went into Mr. Nettleton's private office from the hall, where she stood behind the door for a while; that she next tiptoed on through to Mr. Nettleton's general office, where she stopped again at the connecting door, close by Fairchild's desk, at which point, in her agitation, she dropped this handkerchief into the waste-paper basket. She then made her way to the hall door of Mr. Nettleton's general office, where she again stopped behind the door, as though waiting for some one to pass.

"Now, if this woman was the assassin, her actions are easily explained. She stood behind the private office door—whence, with the door ajar, one has a view down the length of the hall to the stairway—and awaited the victim's approach; just as he turned to enter the Doctor's office she sprang out and administered the death wound,—in such haste to get back that she made no effort to recover the weapon, but hurried on through Mr. Nettleton's office to the hall door of the general office. Here warning footsteps announce that there is some one else in the hall, and standing close to the partially opened door, with her hand on the knob, she waits until Lynden passes. It is but a second after that he is standing at the threshold of the Doctor's open door, overcome by the scene it discloses, and both deaf and blind for a moment to all else. She takes advantage of that moment to pass on down the hall to the stairway, and so out of the building, probably unobserved by any one except Fairchild. An agile person would have had just about time before Lynden appeared at the head of the stairs to strike such a blow as killed De Sanchez, and then either spring into the light-well or run into Mr. Nettleton's office.

"Now, all this could not have happened without Fairchild's knowledge, and we are not lacking light on his participation in the murder under the theory I am now unfolding.

"Under the circumstances, knowledge can mean only connivance. The known facts coincide precisely, and explain every hypothesis upon which this theory is based; and to get at his connection with the affair, please observe these two bits of paper."

Mr. Converse unfolded one of them, and flattened it on the desk, and as he did so, asked:

"Is it not singular that two men, apparently unknown to each other, should have betrayed interest in Doctor Westbrook's paper-knife in an identical manner? But such is the fact.

"This one was torn from a sheet of typewriter paper, such as Fairchild uses; I found it on his desk. Here we have a fairly good drawing of the dagger in question, made painstakingly, and as though to illustrate a verbal description. But he drew it from memory, as a close inspection of the sketch will indicate. He has either omitted or distorted several little details which not only appear quite plain on the dagger itself, but are quick to catch the observer's notice. But most convincing of this circumstance are the words alongside the picture blade in Fairchild's handwriting, 'about 6 inches.' The blade is, in reality, exactly five inches long: then why, if he had it before him, together with the office ruler, which lay on the desk, should he have guessed at the blade's length?

"This other came from Doctor Westbrook's desk in the reception-room. It is widely different from Fairchild's drawing, and was made by a person who is something of an artist. Furthermore, he had the weapon before him, for the intricate design on the hilt is copied faithfully; besides, many trifling details, such as the peculiar shape of the little knobs at each end of the guard, the script in which the word 'Paquita' is engraved, are all rendered exactly in the sketch. From it we are even able to form an idea when it was drawn: some time on the evening of November third, or the day before the murder. So we may say that the weapon had not been removed from the Doctor's table prior to that time. Observe this spattered blot and the hole in the paper beneath it. That was caused by the artist bringing the pen down on the paper with such force that the pen broke, the ink was spattered, and the paper perforated as you now see it.

"Doctor Westbrook has four penholders on this table; but he is so partial to a particular one of them that he invariably selects it in preference to the other three when he wishes to write. He used it about four o'clock Tuesday afternoon—the third—and did not have occasion to use it again till yesterday evening, when he started to write the letter to De Sanchez. Then he discovered that the point was bent and broken; and we may infer the sketch to have been made between four o'clock on the afternoon of the third and five o'clock last evening.

"During that time a score or more of people were in and out of the Doctor's office, and we have no handwriting to guide us in this instance, as the word 'Paquita' here is a faithful copy of the script in the scroll—too faithful to betray many individualities. But still, it is easy to infer who sketched this dagger. Observe the blot again: it is located immediately at the end of the word 'Paquita,' and was made just as the artist concluded that word. Now, what emotions would cause one to so maltreat a pen? Anger or impatience,—the two being very near akin. It follows there was some suggestion in the word 'Paquita' which angered the artist; and this immediately suggested to me the man Vargas.

"On the evening of the third he called at Doctor Westbrook's offices in company with Señor de Sanchez. He and the latter were negotiating the deal involving the deed and the shares of stock in the Paquita Gold Mining Company, and, as I have found out, Vargas was having some difficulty in closing the matter. Only that afternoon had they come to an understanding; but De Sanchez had not yet delivered the papers. Vargas was becoming very anxious and impatient over the delay of getting them into his possession. When they called on the Doctor Tuesday evening, the latter and De Sanchez retired to the consultation-room, leaving Vargas in the reception-room, and as he sat idly at the table his eye was caught by the dagger, and he fell to sketching it. The word 'Paquita' on the hilt brings suddenly to mind his anxiety and impatience; and by a natural, involuntary gesture he ruins the Doctor's pen and blots the drawing.

"I will interpolate here, so that we may dismiss him, that this person Vargas attracted my attention owing to the very fact of his presence in the city at this time, his association with deceased, and the coincidence of the name 'Paquita' occurring both on the dagger-hilt and as the name of the mining company. But I have been able to follow the negotiations between the two, and to trace Vargas's movements all yesterday afternoon, and each succeeding fact tends cumulatively to absolve him from any participation in the affair. Warren, a clerk at the La Salle House, knew of the deal; both parties frequently talked about it in his presence; and it evidently was just what it appears to be. We are extremely fortunate in having this unprejudiced witness to save confusion upon this particular point. On the afternoon of Tuesday De Sanchez and Vargas approached him in rather an elated mood, and invited him to join them in a bottle of wine to celebrate the consummation of the negotiations. Right there, you see, this deal is removed from the chance of being a motive. As the party separated, De Sanchez mentioned half-past four on the following afternoon, yesterday, as the hour for delivering the papers. Vargas was on hand promptly at the appointed time, but the other was not; and after waiting, with growing impatience, the former left the hotel and did not return until about six o'clock. But it is not probable that he entered the Nettleton Building near the time of the murder, for it would have been utterly impossible for him to do so without being seen; and he was still awaiting De Sanchez when informed of his death by the clerk, Warren. Then he hastened to Doctor Westbrook's offices.

"Now, let us return to Fairchild. I learned a fact of some importance from the Doctor this morning. Yesterday, as he was leaving his office at about one o'clock, he met Fairchild at the reception-room entrance; the latter, in a hurried manner, asked Doctor Westbrook if he could borrow the dagger for a few minutes, to which the Doctor assented. Doctor Westbrook continued on out, not giving the matter another thought, while Fairchild went into the reception-room. The Doctor don't know whether he got the dagger then; as a paper-knife, the Doctor uses it only to cut magazines or books, or the little papers in which he puts up powders—and often, when it is not right at hand, he resorts to his pocket-knife, rather than hunt for it in the mass of magazines and papers that usually litter his table. It could easily be absent from its place several days without his missing it.

"Mr. Nettleton left his office yesterday afternoon at four-thirty, and he had no lady callers during the entire day; hence the following assumption—for want of a better one—will fit the present theory: During the noon hour, while Mr. Nettleton was at lunch, Fairchild and the woman were together; the crime was contemplated and discussed between them, the man volunteering to secure the weapon; which he did, but was surprised by encountering the Doctor, who generally goes out to make his visits at that time of day.

"However, she was the active spirit; hers was the hand that held the weapon, while the more timid man waited at his desk in the adjoining room. There she paused in her flight, and told him the deed had been committed; and there he waited until about a quarter-past five, when, moved by that irresistible impulse which leads some murderers to gloat over their handiwork, he crossed the hall and looked upon the dead man. This happened while Lynden was on his way to headquarters with the news of the murder. Fairchild's actions were so singular that they attracted both Doctor Westbrook's and Howe's attention. Overcome with horror, he turned and fled without a word. That is the last seen of Clay Fairchild, and that is why I sent a note to Barton and Adams, who were waiting below, to find him.

"Under this theory I can as yet conjecture but a single motive—Fairchild's interest in the woman; and as to what hers is, we must wait until her identity is established."

Converse paused. His eyes narrowed, and he ran the tip of his tongue across his lips with a deliberate lateral movement.

"I'd like very much to lay my hand on that fair lady," said he, presently, in a quiet manner; but an observer might have remarked that a shudder convulsed the corpulent figure of Mr. Merkel, and that Mr. Mountjoy shot at him a quick, keen look, and then nodded his head in silent approval.

The Captain went on at once.

"There is one incongruous element in this theory, however. When the blow was struck the deceased was in the act of turning toward Doctor Westbrook's door, and consequently his back was almost squarely presented to Mr. Nettleton's. The wound, as you know, is not only on the left side of the throat, but tends backward toward the spinal column, which the point of the blade penetrated. Suspended from the centre of the hall, and on a line with the centre of the two doorways, is an electric light. Now, then, the murderer coming from behind the victim could, under the present circumstances, strike the blow in one of two ways: it was either a left-handed person, or, if right-handed, the murderer must have stepped to deceased's left, and a little in front of him, facing in the same direction, and struck to the right and backward. If the latter theory is correct, the murderer would have been between De Sanchez and the hall window opening into the light-well, and so close to the window that he—or she, if it was a woman—would have been not only plainly visible from the windows on the opposite side of the light-well, but would have cast a distinct shadow because of the electric light. If the murderer was left-handed he would not have been obliged to go so far to De Sanchez's left, and consequently would have remained so nearly beneath the electric light that the only shadow would have been on the hall floor.

"Now, from the point where Judge Petty was looking into the light-well, one cannot quite see Doctor Westbrook's door through the Nettleton hall window; but the hall window would be so far within such a person's range of vision that the slightest obscuring of the light would attract notice. Judge Petty recollects that the light was burning at five o'clock yesterday evening, and he is positive that there was no shadow at the hall window, and that no one approached close to it while he was looking into the light-well.

"Now mark this—at least, as a singular coincidence—while Doctor Westbrook is not what you might call left-handed, he can use both hands equally well."

"Ambidextrous," suggested Mr. Mountjoy.

Converse nodded. "Exactly," said he; "ambidextrous." He continued:

"Regarding the woman's identity, now there are one or two little points deserving special attention. Lynden states positively that he neither saw nor passed anybody in the hall nor on the stairway; yet, there was something about Mr. Nettleton's offices and the indications of a woman's recent presence there that disturbed him strangely. While in the very act of asserting that he had neither seen nor passed anybody, he stopped as though struck by a sudden doubt, although he did not alter his statement. A similar incident happened with Howe while we were all gathered in the Doctor's office last night after the murder. He also paused in the midst of a statement that there was nothing to indicate who the assassin might be, and Lynden was impressed by his hesitation, as though it reminded him of his own. Are these gentlemen trying to conceal anything? What possible object could Howe have in doing so? Yet I believe that both of them are perturbed by some misgiving which they hesitate to put into words. Their doubt may contain the key to the whole riddle; but it will be a delicate matter getting at it. Assuming that it points to the lady's identity, we may surprise one or the other of them into betraying it; but it is no easy task to make a man speak of something which he will not admit even to himself."



"Your deductions seem natural," said Mr. Mountjoy, at length. "But this unknown woman? Is there any one in the city to whom you could ascribe a motive? Will you have to go into the past record of Señor de Sanchez? And Fairchild—Heaven knows there can't be anything between him and such a mysterious, blood-thirsty female. How are we to account for his participation in the crime? I think it well to secure such a record; also De Sanchez's association with General Westbrook in Mexico. There is no telling how the darkness may be illuminated from some unexpected quarter. At present, John, to me it is completely baffling."

But Mr. Converse had neglected nothing that his experience suggested as being a likely means of casting light upon the crime.

"Yes, sir," he rejoined, in his steady manner. "Yes, sir; I admit the case offers many puzzling phases, and apparently contradictory circumstances; but you must remember that we have been at work on it less than twenty-four hours; the woman's identity may be shown in a manner we cannot now imagine, and any hour may bring the news of Fairchild's apprehension.

"Besides, I have been beforehand in looking up the deceased's past. I should receive a telegram from Mexico to-day. The net is well spread, I think. A man is watching Fairchild's house—in fact, the whole department are keeping a look-out for him; and the other actors are being shadowed by capable men."

"But from all the facts in your possession," interrupted Mr. Mountjoy, "have you considered the possibility—aside from the statements of the witnesses, I mean, and simply upon what you know to be the facts—of either Doctor Westbrook or Howard Lynden being the assassin?"

"Yes, sir, I have," was the reply. "But for the present we may dismiss them shortly, though I shall not cease to consider every development in this case in the light of its possible application to all the parties.

"Could the Doctor, then, have delivered the fatal thrust? From the present facts we must give him the benefit of the doubt, and abide the results of further investigation. It is very fortunate for him that his friend Howe happened to be present just when he was; and it is strange, his coming all the way from Georgia to be a piece in this puzzling game. But here he is.

"Howe's importance arises from the peculiar acoustics of that portion of the Nettleton Building about Doctor Westbrook's office." Converse then told of his experience with Lynden in the Doctor's laboratory, concluding: "It is not at all surprising that Howe could not hear a struggle in the hall, while, at the same time, he could hear such faint sounds as the scratching of a pen and the rustling of paper while the Doctor was writing in the reception-room.

"As for Lynden, we have to show he so quickened his pace that he overtook De Sanchez at Doctor Westbrook's door. He shared with all the frequenters of the Doctor's office a knowledge of the dagger and where it usually reposed. Under such a theory, however, Lynden's actions would have displayed a carelessness and a reckless disregard for consequences which I don't think the man capable of. He did not know who had or had not gone home from the other offices that line the hall, and the deceased was not surprised by the sudden onrush of a determined murderer. Had such been the case, how about Doctor Westbrook's statement that De Sanchez came on steadily to the reception-room door?—for, singularly enough, in the reception-room one can hear quite distinctly sounds arising in the hall. Besides, the Doctor does not remember having heard Lynden at all until the young man grasped his arm."

"Well, now, tell us of the cigarette stubs." This from the District Attorney.

Converse picked them both up, one in each hand, and contemplated them with uplifted brow and puckered lips.

"Gentlemen," he began at length, "these two snipes have caused me more mental worry—I have had more trouble in fitting them into any place where they could belong—than anything else concerning this case.

"You will observe that both of them are but half consumed, and that when rolled neither was moistened by the tongue to hold it together. Any one who has travelled in Mexico or the extreme Southwest will recognize this as a national and local characteristic. The paper of both is identical—coarse and a dark brown; and the tobacco is from a black Mexican growth. I suppose, outside the Mexican quarter you could not find a man in the city who smokes such a cigarette—excepting Vargas. It is just such a cigarette as nine out of ten of the lower class of Mexicans—men, women, and children—smoke. Yet the tastes of neither De Sanchez nor Vargas were too fastidious for them; the papers and tobacco are identical with those found in the deceased's pocket, and they are just like those Mr. Vargas smokes.

"The first I picked up near the top of the Nettleton Building stairway, while I was accompanying Lynden to Doctor Westbrook's offices; the second I found on the skylight at the bottom of the light-well. The ends that had been held in the mouth were still moist when I found them, so they had not been long discarded. De Sanchez, of course, is responsible for the first; but how about the other? Could he, after throwing one cigarette away at the point where I found the first, roll and light another and smoke it half up as he walked down the hall, then flip the second out the hall window into the light-well just before turning toward the Doctor's door? I believe not.

"The second could have come from any window abutting upon the light-well, of either the Field or the Nettleton Buildings. But who threw it, and why was he there at that particular time? Well, it took two men more than an hour this morning to eliminate all except five windows out of a possible twenty; and those five told nothing. I examined them myself. Yet it might be possible that the second stub came from the unknown woman.

"Did she steady her nerves and beguile the time until her victim's approach, with a cigarette? It may be—"

Here, for the first time, Mr. Merkel interrupted.

"A Mexican woman!" he fairly shouted; "some dark-eyed señorita—" His enthusiasm suddenly cooled as Mr. Mountjoy's look of surprise at his outburst rapidly changed to one of much meaning.

At this juncture the door opened, and a clerk appeared from the outer office, holding a telegram in his hand.

"For you, Captain," said he, handing him the message.

Neither of the other two could conceal his impatience, as, with annoying deliberation, Converse opened the yellow envelope.

"Well," said he, presently, "it is indeed from Mexico—the reply to my inquiry. Here it is." He read aloud:

A. de S. has no police record, but have obtained following facts: Age, 38; family, old, aristocratic, and very wealthy; A. educated in Paris; returned here when twenty-one. Was in banking and broking business several years ago with P. Westbrook, but severed partnership about four years ago. Reason not known. A. always prominent in society; rather wild when young; but nearest approach to woman entanglements are following: Engagement broken with Señorita Aurora de Pacheco. Understood to have been by reason of disagreement in marriage settlements. She has since married into prominent family, and now on best of terms with De S. family. A rumored liaison with a circus performer, supposed to have committed suicide, but unable to ascertain details; liaison with a Mme. Claude Le Tellier, now residing Nice, France, on pension from De S. family. For last twelve years A. de S. known as unusually steady. Rumored he fell in love with Miss Westbrook when she visited here about four years ago, and that he has followed her for purpose of marrying. GRINNELL.

"Well!" said the District Attorney, "this is not promising: Señorita Somebody"—with a sidewise look at Mr. Merkel—"now a matron and probably the mother of other señoritas; a circus performer—"

"It's the madame that interests me," Converse quietly broke in. "Grinnell would not, of course, know whether she is in Nice at the present time. I will go to headquarters, ascertain who our correspondent at that place is, and send him the lady's name. That should bring us what we want to know about her.

"That is about all now," he concluded. "I have gone over these different phases of the case in order that you might formulate a line of inquiry to be followed at the inquest. In the meantime, I will work out one or two little ideas of my own, laying the results before you as soon as they mature. Good morning."

That day Mr. Converse received two more messages, one of them a cable despatch. The first read:

Rumor connecting A. de S. with circus performer very vague. Seems to have occurred in Paris 17 or 18 years ago. No trace of her identity here. GRINNELL.

The cablegram contained the following:

Mme. C. Le T. died Oct. 28. GAILLARD.

He tossed the cable message to one side; but for several minutes he pondered over the second message from Mexico. He then prepared, with much care, a long despatch, which was sent immediately to Paris.

Away from the presence of his superiors and those whose concern it was to be put in possession of everything bearing upon the case, John Converse was the last man to advance any theory to account for Alberto de Sanchez's untoward end.

His seemingly unerring judgment and his uniform success in dissipating the clouds of mystery in which his associates sometimes lost themselves were governed by an extreme caution, and based upon a vast knowledge of humanity. His had been an unusually eventful life. Of New England parentage, he had early run away to sea; and to portray the stirring experiences of this period of his life would require a whole volume for itself.

But those experiences had given him wonderful powers of observation, which were able to grasp and contemplate every detail in its just proportions to the whole, a trait that was simply the complement to his unemotional and methodical temperament.

If he hesitated, however, in advancing theories, the papers did not,—either probable or improbable; and as it was one of his maxims never to ignore a suggestion coming from the outside, he followed these reports with the same intensity of eagerness that characterized all his proceedings.

The murder, owing not only to the prominence of every one concerned therein, but also to the suggestive veil of mystery which surrounded it, had been "featured" every day since the tragedy, and he was impressed by the unanimity with which the press hit upon Robert Nettleton's offices as the probable lurking-place of the murderer.

None of the papers, of course, was in as full possession of all the known facts as the Captain was; but a certain evening sheet, after theorizing at length on Fairchild's unaccountable disappearance, concluded with the assertion that the end would show the controlling factor of the mysterious murder to have been a woman.

"I believe that gentleman is eminently correct," was the Captain's comment, as he laid the paper aside. "If his insight had been only a little clearer, if he had looked only a little farther, and seen who that woman is, it would save a deal of trouble and worry."

He left his private office and walked to the mail repository at the police clerk's desk. He found several letters addressed to himself; but one, the writing of which was very like copper-plate engraving, caught his instant attention by the peculiarity of its address. It read:

For Detective on De Sanchez Case,
Police Headquarters,

After the Captain had returned to his desk he turned his attention to this letter. The mark of the cancelling-machine showed that it had been mailed at the main post-office that morning. What the envelope contained made him suddenly sit upright.

The writer knows that C. Fairchild had no hand in the murder of the man De Sanchez. When you discover the female who was in the second story of the Nettleton on Wed. P.M., Nov. 4, at the hour of 5, you will know why C. F. has vanished.

Again—the unknown woman!

There was no address to this brief epistle, no date, no signature—nothing else; yet there was an added light in Mr. Converse's gray eyes, as he laid the missive on the desk before him, that lent something like an expression of satisfaction to his almost illegible countenance. He scrutinized the single sheet of paper long and attentively before finally folding and returning it to the envelope.

"Who in the city can write such a hand?" he mused.

After he had placed the anonymous missive in his pocket-book, he drew toward himself a number of bound typewritten sheets—the record of the De Sanchez case. Turning until he found the paragraphs he sought, he read the following:

Besides the front entrance, opening into Court Street, the Nettleton has but one other outside doorway or means of exit. Opening into a high-walled court in the rear is a single door, used only for the purpose of admitting fuel in the winter; during the summer it is open not more than once or twice, when the trash-bin accumulations are removed. During the interim it is locked by a bolt, a No. 4 Yale compound spring lock, and a common padlock passed through staples. Inspection of this door revealed beyond doubt that it had not been disturbed for weeks.

The reader turned back to the statements of the different persons in the second story at the fatal moment, and his glance passed them all over until it fell upon the following:

William Slade, 62; bachelor; abstracter of titles for the Guaranty Trust Co. Is very deaf; was engaged in his regular duties in Room 6 on the evening of Nov. 4, at 5 o'clock, yet it cannot be shown that he knew anything of the murder. His statement is to the effect that he first learned of it at about 8:30 o'clock that night.

He closed the volume, placed it in a drawer of his desk, and after securing his hat, left department headquarters, and made his way to Court Street.

Here he consumed the better part of the day by interrogating closely every individual whose place of business had an outlook toward the Nettleton entrance, a quest the results of which were purely negative. He called at all the newspaper offices; and the next morning, again in the evening, and for a week thereafter, every local paper contained the following advertisement:

          │                 $25--REWARD--$25.                   │
          │                                                     │
          │  The above sum will be paid any person who saw      │
          │  a lady leave the Nettleton Building at or about 5  │
          │  o'clock on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 4th.     │
          │  Apply in person at No. 18 Ash Lane.                │

The address given was that of the house where Mr. Converse had his lodgings; and whatever else he might think of the De Sanchez case, it was evident he had become convinced that there was "a woman at the bottom of it"—and one very hard to find.

Late in the afternoon, after he had returned to his private office, he found the reply to the cable message sent his Paris correspondent awaiting him. He opened it and read:

Nothing ascertainable of A. de S. here further than that his name appears on the roster of College of St. Ignatius for three years, inclusive, September, 1883, to September, 1886. Examination of records of women suicides during period fails to connect him with any of them. No one during that time or near it could be circus performer. Might glean something if I had name. NOIZET.

Unfortunately, he had no name to send.



Mr. Merkel was not in readiness for the inquest into the Nettleton Building affair until the Monday following; and at the hour set for the hearing the outer of his two offices, which made a fairly large courtroom, was literally packed by a throng of gaping, perspiring spectators.

In a corner by themselves sat the witnesses who were to testify. General Westbrook is of this group; also J. Howard Lynden, plainly ill at ease. The Doctor and his friend, Ferdinand Howe, are seated behind the General, an expression of concern on their countenances that is noted and commented on by the crowd. Why should Dr. Westbrook be so pale? Why should his face be so drawn? The affair is not of such consequence to him.

Still aloof from the others sits Señor Vargas, lean and swarthy, his eyes still dull behind their gold-rimmed pince-nez, and his pitted countenance not yet quickened to an interest by the sudden tragic death of his compatriot. Occasionally he coughs in a manner that seems to afford Doctor Westbrook some diversion from his own pressing care, for now and then he glances toward the Mexican gentleman with quite a professional air.

At length the door to the Coroner's private office opens, and through it file Mr. Merkel, self-important, Mr. Mountjoy, John Converse, a stenographer, and various clerks and petty officials. Converse, the Coroner, and the District Attorney seat themselves about a separate table away from one occupied by numerous reporters and newspaper artists; and immediately the tedious ordeal of securing a jury is entered upon.


(A) Clay Fairchild's Desk.   (B) Mr. Nettleton's Desk.   (C) Window at which Judge Petty Stood.   (D) Window at which Mr. Howe Stood.   (E) Doctor Westbrook's Desk.   (✠) Marks Spot where De Sanchez Fell

After six freeholders are accepted and sworn in, the captain of detectives is duly put upon his oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A brief delay follows while the District Attorney asks for an application of the rule excluding witnesses. The witnesses are duly excluded.

Captain Converse established the corpus delicti; after which he related at length the results of his investigation, very much as he already had told them to Mr. Mountjoy and the Coroner.

As he returned to his seat by the table, a stir spread throughout the apartment; a rustling as of forest leaves before a tempest sibilated upon one theme: the unknown woman; but the sounds sank at once to anticipatory silence when the clerk arose and made ready to read from a sheet of paper in his hand the name of the next witness. Perhaps the avid curiosity is to be satisfied by the woman's name.

"James Howard Lynden."

On the wall facing the witness-chair was suspended a large map of those portions of the Nettleton and Field buildings which formed the locus operandi of the tragedy, and this Lynden contemplated seriously. The rooms were named and numbered thereon, the points of interest designated by letters or otherwise; and the reader is here referred to the plan (page 88), as occasion may arise, for a clearer understanding of the evidence.

The witness began his testimony in a well-modulated voice, which could be distinctly heard in every part of the room. In reply to interrogatories, he stated that he was a cotton-broker, twenty-eight years of age, and that his office was in Court Street, a few doors west of the Nettleton Building. He had been acquainted with the deceased, having met him frequently in a social way, but between them there had never been more than ordinary civilities exchanged. He next related such facts of the tragedy as he had imparted to Mr. Converse and the Chief of Police. The Coroner asked:

"What time did you leave your office on the evening of November fourth?"

"It was a very few minutes to five o'clock."

"Now, Mr. Lynden, begin at the time you left your office, and describe in detail the events from then onward."

"I merely walked leisurely toward the Nettleton Building for the purpose of stopping at Doctor Westbrook's office, before proceeding to my club for dinner. I have been in the habit of doing this several evenings in the week, and last Wednesday evening was no more eventful than scores of others until I arrived within forty or fifty feet of the Nettleton entrance."

"And what occurred then?"

"I observed Señor de Sanchez turn in at the entrance."

"What direction was he going when you first observed him?"

"West—toward me."

"Very well; proceed, Mr. Lynden."

"I continued on to the doorway, where I turned into the Nettleton Building, going directly upstairs without pausing."

"Did you see Señor de Sanchez?"

"Yes. Just as I began ascending the stairs he was turning to the right—to the east—at the top. There was a lighted incandescent lamp at that point, and I beheld him distinctly."

"Do you know what time that was?"

"It could have been only two or three seconds to five o'clock, for I heard the whistles begin to blow before I reached the top of the stairs."

"You are sure it was before you arrived at the top that you heard the whistles blow?"

"Oh, yes; I haven't a doubt of it. I remember the circumstance perfectly."

"Now, when you reached the head of the stairs—at the second story—did you see Señor de Sanchez?"

"No, sir. I saw him no more until I arrived at Doctor Westbrook's office—until I beheld him dying on the floor of the Doctor's reception-room."

Responding to a number of interrogations, the witness added that not more than thirty seconds elapsed between the time of his seeing De Sanchez turn at the head of the stairs and seeing him lying on the reception-room floor; that there was a lighted incandescent lamp before the entrance to this room; that there had been no one in the hall, and that it was impossible for anybody to have been concealed there. He continued:

"When I arrived at Doctor Westbrook's office the door was wide open. Señor de Sanchez was lying on his right side, his feet toward the door, and not much more than a yard beyond the threshold. Blood was spurting,—in rhythm with the heart-beats, it seemed,—from a wound in his throat, as though some large artery had been severed. This ceased in a second or two.

"I paused just at the threshold, dazed and utterly dumfounded by the sight that met my eyes. Doctor Westbrook, Mr. Howe, and myself held our respective attitudes three or four seconds,—possibly it was longer,—but during that time Señor de Sanchez only breathed two long sighs and became apparently dead.

"I believe, then, I was first to speak. 'Good God, Mobley!' I cried, 'What does this mean?' He still seemed dazed and made no reply. I advanced into the room and seized his arm, and said, 'For God's sake, tell me! Did you do this?' I was very much excited, and could not grasp the full import of what I beheld; but when he felt my touch, he aroused himself, and, recoiling a step or two, cried in tones of amazement, 'Jim! Jim! I do this? My God, Jim! No, no, no!' Then checking himself, he asked me, 'But who did? You must have seen; who was in the hall, man?'

"I next looked at Mr. Howe. He was exceedingly agitated and said nothing. He stood shaking his head like one whose mind could not digest the horror of the deed. I turned again to Doctor Westbrook and looked at the silver-bladed dagger he was holding in his hand. 'But that dagger,' I said, 'what does that mean?' He looked at it in a preoccupied manner, as though he did not see it. Suddenly becoming sensible of the fact that he was holding it in his hand, he exclaimed, 'You don't think I stabbed him, do you? Why, man, I just drew the knife from the wound.' I felt immensely relieved."

A deep exhalation burst from the massed throng, as though they had been holding their breath in an anxiety not to miss a word of this recital. Under the influence of this eagerness and galvanic expectancy, Lynden was growing restless; but he kept his gaze on the coroner, and continued to respond to that official's interrogations without hesitation. In answer to a number of these, witness said:

"I did not identify the dagger at the time. I am thoroughly familiar with the ornamental little weapon which Doctor Westbrook uses as a paper-knife, and have handled it many times. In fact, I was present when it was given the Doctor by his sister. She secured it, I believe, about four years ago, during a visit to Mexico, and at the time of the presentation she told a story—quite a tragic romance—in which it had—"

"We may omit that, Mr. Lynden," interrupted the Coroner. "Where did Doctor Westbrook usually keep this dagger, or paper-knife?"

"When not in use, it always lay on the table in his reception room."

Every eye was turned toward the dagger as Mr. Merkel arose and took it in his hand. And not one of those eyes missed the sombre stains which now dulled the lustre of its silvery blade.

"Is this the dagger?"

"That is the one that lay on Doctor Westbrook's table—his paper-knife. I am unable to identify it with the one he held in his hand; the hilt was then concealed, and the blade was very bloody; but it might be—I had no such thought at the time."

Mr. Merkel returned the dagger to the table and resumed his seat. The District Attorney leaned toward him and whispered a few words; whereupon—evidently on a suggestion—he asked:

"Are you familiar with the arrangement of the second floor of the Nettleton Building, Mr. Lynden,—more particularly, those rooms to the right or east of the stairway?"

"I am."

"Describe them, please."

Once more Lynden fixed his attention upon the plan suspended before him.

"Well, to begin with, the Nettleton Building faces in a southerly direction. From the head of the stairway the hall extends east to the light-well between the Nettleton and Field buildings. Beginning at the head of the stairs, the first room to the right, or on the south side of the hall, is the first office of the Guaranty Trust Company; the next suite is vacant, and then comes Doctor Westbrook's suite. I may add, that the numbers run in the order I am naming the suites: the Guaranty Trust Company's offices are number one, number two is unoccupied, and the Doctor's is number three.

"Now, passing over to the north side of the hall, the entrance to number four is directly opposite Doctor Westbrook's. It is the door to Mr. Nettleton's private office. Next to that, and facing the unoccupied suite, is Room 5, Mr. Nettleton's general office. Adjoining this is number six, a room occupied by the Guaranty Trust Company as a record and abstract room. That brings us back to the stairway again, but on the opposite side of the hall whence we started."

"Then there are six doors—three on each side—opening into the hall?"

"That is correct."

"Now, Mr. Lynden, are not the upper portions of those doors ground or frosted glass?"

At this apparently harmless and irrelevant question, the witness's composure dropped from him like a cloak cast aside; a swift, startled expression came into his light blue eyes, and he answered with obvious hesitation:

"I believe so."

"Don't you know?


"Well, are they?"


"Then, if a light were burning in one of those rooms and a person should be standing close to the door of that room, and on the inside, would there not be a pretty distinct shadow or silhouette of that person on the ground glass of that particular door?"

"I should imagine there would," said Lynden at length, but in a voice both low and unnatural.

"Well, in your frequent visits to Doctor Westbrook's office at such hours as the lamps were lighted, have you not observed that to be a fact?"

Without altering his attitude, the young man shook his head.

"No," said he; "I cannot say that I have."

At the next question an audible murmur of disappointment rippled through the room. It was as though the Coroner were searching for something while blindfolded, and had suddenly taken the wrong turning when about to lay his hand on the object of his quest. But if he was not over-astute, he had at least gathered wisdom from experience—to the extent of knowing that more than one road leads to Rome.

"Now, then, Mr. Lynden," he began once more, "when you arrived at the head of the stairs on the evening of November fourth, did you look down the length of the hall to your right—to the east?"

Witness answered, with visible relief:

"I did."

"How light was it? Was it light enough for you to see distinctly?"

"In addition to the two incandescents, the window at the end of the hall at the light-well was wide open and it was only twilight outdoors."

"Then, if anybody had been in the hall anywhere between the head of the stairs and the light-well window, you would have seen him?"

"I certainly should; there was no one there."

"I must ask you to recollect carefully, Mr. Lynden: Was there a lady—a woman—in the hall? Or did you pass a woman either in the hall or on the stairway?"

"Lady!" the witness exclaimed. "No—no; there was no lady—there was no one in the hall or on the stairs." He cast a furtive, uneasy glance at the expressionless visage of Mr. Converse, concluding, "I neither saw nor passed any one."

"Well, let us return to the head of the stairs. When you arrived there, what did you do?"

"I proceeded directly to Doctor Westbrook's office."

"As you walked down the hall, did you observe the doors on either side—whether they were open or closed?"

Here was a return to those mysterious doors. The young man's grip on the chair-arms tightened, and once again his answer was preceded by obvious hesitancy.

"Some were entirely closed," he said, slowly; "others were more or less open."

"Well, which ones were more or less open?"

"Doctor Westbrook's was—" he began; but the Coroner quickly interrupted:

"Did you notice it first?"

Silence. The young man sat rigid as a statue.

"Please answer, Mr. Lynden."

The insistence was soft, but inexorable. The witness seemed to have lost the power of speech, and was obliged to clear his throat before he could reply.

"Sir," he finally began, "I was not thinking of the doors, nor was I particularly observing whether they were open or closed. I will say this, however, in the hope that you will find the information you desire: that it is customary for the tenants of the Nettleton Building to leave their doors unfastened when departing in the evening, for the benefit of the janitor. As soon as he has cleaned the rooms, he locks the doors for the night. For that reason, I suppose, it would be safe to assume that those rooms whence the occupants had gone for the night were unlocked—in the event, of course, that the janitor had not yet placed them in order."

"The information is valuable, Mr. Lynden; but you stated that some doors were entirely closed, while others were more or less open. I will put my question in another way. Which was the first door you observed to be entirely closed?"

"That to number six."

"Was there a light in that room?"


"Did you observe any shadow on the door?"


"The next door you noticed to be closed—which was it?"

"The regular offices of the Guaranty Trust Company."

"Any light there?"

"They were dark."

"Well, the next door you noticed to be closed entirely?"

With a visibly growing reluctance to answer, each moment his voice becoming more and more strained, the young man replied:

"Number two—the vacant suite."

But the interrogations were relentless.

"The next?"

He moistened his lips, and his voice was barely audible.

"I observed no other doors closed," said he.

"Now, then, we have got this far—note it, please, Mr. Stenographer,—we have got this far: The doors to numbers one, two, and six were closed. That leaves three, four, and five—were they open or closed?"

No one heard the reply.

"Louder, if you please; the jury can't hear you."

"I said that number three was open."

"You have already testified that Doctor Westbrook's door was open," was the dry remark with which his answer was met. "Was number four open?"

"I did not notice."

"Not notice?" in a tone of intense surprise. "Did you not see it?"

"Sir, when I had arrived at that point I was so shocked by the sight in the Doctor's office that I did not observe the condition of doors or windows."

"Well, as you passed the door to Room 5—Mr. Nettleton's general office—you had not yet heard or beheld anything shocking, had you? Did you notice whether it was open or closed?"

There was an enthralling significance in the witness's manner which everybody present felt, and a conviction was natural that the young man knew something that he was resolved at any cost not to reveal. It was exasperating that the Coroner should so play about the mainspring of the witness's discomposure—as he plainly was doing—without being able to light upon a point that must force from him some admission, sufficient at least to serve as a fulcrum whereby the rest might be pried from him.

"Come, Mr. Lynden, the jury awaits your answer."

The witness's reply came hoarsely, as if it were indeed literally dragged forth:

"It was not closed—entirely."

"Ah, one of the 'more or less' doors: which was it, more or less?"

"I do not understand."

"Was the door to Room 5 of Mr. Nettleton's suite open or closed; and if not closed, how far was it open?"

The young man lowered his head a moment in an attitude of reflection.

"I should say it stood ajar about three or four inches," was the reply.

"Was there a light in that room?"


"Is there not a desk against the east wall of that room at which Clay Fairchild ordinarily sits, which is visible from the hall when the door is three or four inches ajar?"


"On the evening of November fourth, as you passed Room 5, did you observe this desk?"

"I did not; I could not see into the room."

Both Mr. Converse and Mr. Mountjoy were watching him through lids narrowed to mere slits, with an intentness of which he was plainly sensible.

"And why not?" came the next question. Lynden faltered:

"Be—because the—the aperture was closed by—by something."

"By what?"

"I cannot say."

"Was it a human form?"

Witness's voice was again becoming inaudible.

"I—I cannot say," said he, nervously,—"yes, it was a human form."

"Was it that of a man or a woman?"

So low that the jury, leaning as far forward as they could, scarcely caught the murmur, came the answer:

"It—it looked like a woman."

"Did you recognize her?"

Witness considered his response a long time. When finally it came, a sigh of disappointment welled from the crowd; it seemed that after all the baiting his examination was to come to naught.

"No," said he.

The Coroner persisted.

"Come, Mr. Lynden," said he, "was there not something about that form that struck you as being familiar?—that suggested the individuality of the person standing there?"

"I tell you I do not know who it was; I do not know," burst from the witness. "Whatever I beheld, if it was any one or anything at all, is but a shadow in my mind,—a nameless shadow, void of substance and form, and a nameless shadow it must remain. I can add no more to that, sir, nor shall I try."

Unless the witness had chosen deliberately to lie, it was evident that he could tell no more of the vague figure—that it was indeed only a shadow—and not pursuing this line of inquiry further, the Coroner took up another.

After Mr. Merkel and the District Attorney had conferred together with heads bowed over the table, the former began.

"Mr. Lynden," said he, "you say you enjoy friendly relations with General Westbrook's family. Have you recently heard any rumors connecting the name of Señor de Sanchez with any member of that family in a matrimonial way?"

"I have heard such rumors—yes; but nothing more. I certainly have heard nothing to that effect from any one in a position to know."

"Did you ever hear Doctor Westbrook deny the possibility of such a marriage?"



"Last Tuesday night."

"The night before Señor de Sanchez's death?"


As the Doctor himself further on relates at length the substance of what occurred between him and De Sanchez the night before the latter's death, it may here be omitted from Lynden's testimony. The only other point touched upon while this witness was upon the stand was shown in the following question:

"On the evening of November fourth, when you saw De Sanchez turn in at the Nettleton Building entrance, did you observe whether he was smoking?"

"I did not."

"That is all, Mr. Lynden; you may step aside."

With what relief he descended from the dais supporting the witness-chair can only be imagined. The examination of the first witness in the De Sanchez case had been a long and tedious affair. And what was there to show for it? Not much more than the public already knew; and there remained the woman—still unknown. And Mr. Lynden's extreme agitation—what did that signify? If he did not know the woman—if what he had beheld behind the nearly closed door was only a shadow—why had he not said so at once? Certainly, at this rate, the mystery which surrounded the case was only becoming deeper as the investigation proceeded.

However, speculation was forgotten in curiosity over whom the next witness might be.

"Mobley Westbrook," read the clerk; and an officer retired to the Coroner's private room to summon him.



Doctor Westbrook walked unhesitatingly and with a firm tread to the witness-chair; but once seated, it was more apparent than ever that his personal appearance had undergone a marked change. It was difficult to define: his head and beard appeared to be more shaggy and unkempt than usual; certain faint lines cast a vague and almost imperceptible shadow over his frank and open countenance; and without abating in the least their steady and unwavering glance, his eyes contained within their depths an added expression, fleeting and indeterminate.

These changes, slight as they were, combined to produce varying effects: they might have been the result of sickness, or they might have been caused by mental perturbation. With the latter thought in his mind, John Converse studied the Doctor attentively. Presently he leaned across the table, and whispered to Mr. Mountjoy. That gentleman nodded with an air of understanding, adding, "Another witness who has something to conceal."

Doctor Westbrook's testimony, however, belied this assertion. He answered promptly all questions, and added many details in an obvious effort to make his statements clear and concise. But he could tell little more than he had related to Mr. Converse and Mr. Merkel on the night of the murder. He repeated the story precisely as he had then narrated it, and almost in the same words. He corroborated Lynden's testimony regarding what had taken place after that gentleman's arrival; and in describing the wound, he made it clear that his surmise on the fatal night was correct.

"In addition to the severing of the carotid artery," said he, "the autopsy demonstrated that the point of the blade passed between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae, also severing the spinal cord."

Concerning the letter addressed to De Sanchez, together with the presence of Howe in his office at the time of the murder, he testified at length. He was expecting the deceased to call upon him some time during the evening of the fourth, and while awaiting his arrival he was most agreeably surprised by the entrance of his old friend Ferdinand Howe.

"It was about half-past four," the witness continued, "when Mr. Howe entered my office. In the pleasant surprise of the meeting I forgot completely about De Sanchez for several minutes. When he again recurred to my mind I suddenly resolved not to see him at all. I explained to Ferdinand that I was expecting a caller whom I did not care to meet, and as it was not necessary that I should, I requested him to wait a few minutes while I wrote and despatched a brief note."

"Did you hear the five-o'clock whistles blow?"

"Yes, they were blowing when De Sanchez burst through the door."

"Now, Doctor Westbrook, returning to the letter you wrote on the evening of November fourth—you say it was directed to Señor de Sanchez?"

"It was."

"I will ask you to look at this letter, and state whether or not this is the one you had just completed when deceased burst in upon you."

The witness merely glanced at the missive before stating positively that it was; whereupon the Coroner read it aloud. After the date and superscription it ran as follows:

It will be useless to renew our conversation of last night. You can make no representations that will influence me to change my mind. So long as the lady herself is only submitting to the wishes of her parents in accepting your attentions, I shall continue to oppose any union between herself and you.

My father's attitude in this matter is incomprehensible to me, and I am confident that I would retain the support of the lady's and my own friends in preventing your project.

Rest assured that I shall not hesitate at adopting any measures to thwart your purpose. Your insistence, knowing as you do that you have neither the lady's love nor respect, is ungentlemanly, and can only lead to consequences, to say the least, disagreeable to yourself.


This letter was then marked "Exhibit B," and became a part of the records of the case.

"Was it your intention to send this letter to Señor de Sanchez?" the examination proceeded.

"Yes. Had events terminated differently, I should have sent the letter to him that same night."

Mr. Merkel here referred to the missive, saying, "In this letter occurs the phrase, 'My father's attitude in this matter is incomprehensible to me.' Now, what did you mean by that?—or rather, why did you make use of that particular phrase in the sense you did? What occasioned it?"

Doctor Westbrook frowned as at a disagreeable memory.

"The favor with which he looked upon De Sanchez's addresses to my sister," he replied.

"De Sanchez was a suitor for your sister's hand?"

"He was."

"What was incomprehensible in the fact that your father favored him?"

"A number of things that should be quite obvious, sir. It is very unpleasant going into this."

"Pardon me, Doctor, but it is none the less necessary."

"Well, to begin with, Señor de Sanchez was not of our nationality, and I never before knew my father to be in any way partial to foreigners—quite the contrary. I am convinced—although it is merely an impression amounting to conviction—that my father did not personally like De Sanchez. Again, other facts, when arrayed together, present a false perspective. Several years ago General Westbrook quite suddenly severed intimate business relations with Señor de Sanchez: concerning this he has never, so far as I know, uttered a word of explanation. All communication between them ceased abruptly, and I don't believe my father ever mentioned the man's name until he appeared here."

"Do you know that General Westbrook did favor Señor de Sanchez as a suitor?"

"I do."

"Please state how."

"From his own lips. When the rumors linking De Sanchez's and my sister's names became persistent, I went to see my father; but he—" The Doctor checked himself, concluding in a different tone: "It is very painful going into this matter. Unless it is absolutely essential—"

"I will touch upon it as lightly as possible, Doctor. That conversation with General Westbrook was characterized by some warmth, was it not?"

"Very bitter words were used—at least, by me."

"And he then gave you to understand that he would continue to support Señor de Sanchez as a suitor to his daughter's hand?"

"That is correct."

Abandoning this line of inquiry, the Coroner again picked up the dagger with its sombre stains, which the witness identified as his paper-knife. A juror interposed with a question.

"Doctor Westbrook," said he, "was it commonly known by your friends and acquaintances that this dagger—'Exhibit A'—usually lay on your writing-table in the room where your patients wait?"

"Oh, yes," the Doctor replied. "There is not one of them who has not, at one time or another, had it in his hands and expressed curiosity concerning it. It was the occasion of innumerable questions, and I suppose I have been reminded a hundred times that such a present carried with it bad luck—that knives cut friendship, and much to the same effect."

The Coroner took up once more the thread of the examination.

"Now, Doctor Westbrook, the dagger was obviously removed from your desk some time before the commission of the crime. Did you miss it from its accustomed place?"

"No, sir. It might have been gone for several days, for all I know. I used it solely as a paper-cutter, and then not always, unless it was right at hand."

"Did you notice it at any time during the day of November fourth?"

"I cannot say; I am so accustomed to and familiar with its presence, that the circumstance scarcely would have impressed me."

The whole of the witness's testimony up to this point was barren enough of excitement or anything in the nature of a surprise; but the next question elicited the particulars of Clay Fairchild's strange request for the dagger on the day of the tragedy. Witness added:

"He stated that he wished to show it to some one. I assented, passed on out, and never thought of it again until it recurred to me during a conversation with the detective after the murder."

"Do you know whether he returned it?"

"No. I do not know that he got it in the first place; I did not wait to see."

"Do you lock the doors when leaving your office, Doctor?"

"Only those opening into the laboratory and the front room. Except at night—after I have finally departed—the reception-room door is never fastened. It is scarcely ever closed."

"On the afternoon of November fourth, then, when you left your office at one o'clock, was the door open as usual?—the door opening from the hall into your reception-room?"


At this point the inquisitive juror again shot forward with a question:

"Did Fairchild ever before ask you to lend him the dagger?"

"Not that I now recall," was the reply.

"But he knew of it, didn't he? and where you commonly kept it?"

"Oh, yes. He frequently came into my office, and I remember once telling him, as I have told some hundreds of others, how the dagger came into my possession, together with its romantic little history."

Mr. Merkel here resumed.

"Now then, Doctor, let us go back to the evening of November third, the night before Señor de Sanchez's death. At what time did he call at your office?"

"At about five-thirty or six o'clock."

"Was he alone?"

"No, sir. He was accompanied by Señor Vargas."

"Please relate just what happened at that time."

"Señor de Sanchez and I went immediately into my consultation-room, while Señor Vargas remained in the reception-room. The former began, in a polite enough manner, to ask me my reasons for objecting to him as a suitor for my sister, and he presently assumed an insinuating attitude that soon angered me and made me refuse to listen further to his representations. Although he was a model of suavity throughout the interview, I presently gathered the idea that his words were hiding a covert threat; that he was holding something back which he considered would be sufficient to cause me to change my mind. I abruptly interrupted his flow of speech, and told him, in words incapable of misconstruction, that my mind was made up, and if he continued to press his attentions where they were not wanted, he should regret it.

"As he was leaving, De Sanchez said, 'You desire to know more of my past relations with your honored father?' To this I replied that I cared nothing about them. He then said, 'I am sure that you would rather have the facts in your own bosom than that they should become known inadvertently to your and his friends.' This was so directly a threat that I immediately closed the interview. He smiled, bowed, and passed out. As he did so he continued, 'I shall take great pleasure in relating these facts to you—you only, Doctor; and I have no doubt that I can surprise you—even to commending my humble person to your charming—' Oh, I fail to remember all the insulting nonsense he unburdened himself of. It was much to the same effect."


"I told him to go to the devil. He merely laughed again and said that he was then on his way to my father's. After remarking that he would return the next evening at about five o'clock, he rejoined Señor Vargas and withdrew.

"When I had thought it over, my anger cooled somewhat, and I resolved to hear what the man had to say—to know if he would really go to the extreme of saying anything that would reflect upon a member of my family. This, I finally concluded, would put such an advantage into my hands that I could bring his attentions to an end for all time."

"You never heard, then, what it was he intended to say?"

"No. When next I saw him he was practically a dead man."

"Recurring once more to the night of the fourth, Doctor, did not Clay Fairchild come into your office shortly after De Sanchez expired?"

"He did."

"Relate the circumstance in full, please."

"About four or five minutes after Jim—Mr. Lynden—had left to notify the police of the tragedy, the door suddenly opened, and Clay entered the room. He stopped, his hand on the knob, and stood staring at De Sanchez with a look of bewilderment. This quickly gave way to an expression of horror, such as I never saw before in a sane human countenance. All at once he looked at me, and apparently tried to speak; but a queer, choking sound in the throat was the only result. Without an instant's warning—before Howe or I could realize it—he darted through the door and ran swiftly down the hall. Before that, however, I called upon him to speak and explain himself. I fail to remember just what I said; but his actions were very strange, and I didn't know what to make of them."

"Did Mr. Fairchild have on his hat when he entered your office?"

"He had on his hat and a light overcoat."

Next there followed a minute description of the young man's dress, together with his personal appearance, such as had been given to the police shortly after his disappearance: Height, about six feet; weight, 168 pounds; eyes and hair, very dark, the latter worn rather long and inclined to curl; form, slender, with a stoop to the shoulders, so slight as to be scarcely noticeable; all of his movements slow and deliberate, a striking feature being an air of interested attention with which he listened to anybody addressing him, together with a low and decisive manner of speech—almost a drawl. The description contained the further information that he was not easily moved from his natural reserve, a circumstance making his conduct after the murder all the more remarkable, suggesting that he was then laboring under an extraordinary emotion.

With their heads almost touching, the Coroner and the District Attorney whispered briefly together; after which Mr. Merkel addressed the witness.

"When your office door was thrown open, and De Sanchez staggered through, did you not, in looking up, have that portion of the hall between your room and Mr. Nettleton's private office directly before your eyes?"

"Yes. But while, at the time, I was not looking for any one else but De Sanchez, I am now able to recall that no one was there—that that part of the hall was empty. The occasion was so startling that the association of ideas did not suggest the possibility of the assassin being near by, or even that a murder had been committed. It was some minutes before I came to a realization of the gravity of what had happened."

"Can you recall whether Mr. Nettleton's door was open or closed?"

"Not positively. But I believe if it had been wide open and no light in his office, I should have noticed it—the circumstance would have been unusual."

"Then, his door might have been ajar or closed completely, but not entirely open?"

"Yes; I believe that is correct. I have a strong impression that it was entirely closed, or very nearly so; yet I would not make a positive statement to that effect."

During the entire time Doctor Westbrook occupied the stand Mr. Mountjoy watched him narrowly, and seemed to weigh carefully each word of the witness's replies. They followed the interrogations so promptly, the manner of their utterance was so convincing, that the truth of the Doctor's statements could not be doubted. Still, there was that fleeting shade of apprehension in his eyes, the vague shadow of worry that clouded his face. What caused them?

"We have been groping all about the focal point," Mr. Mountjoy whispered to the Coroner and Converse. "We have not yet laid our finger upon the primum mobile. There is a question that will open up the whole thing, if we can only find it. Think!" And he stopped, staring fixedly at the detective.

The Captain remained silent a few moments—a long time it seemed to those who waited—before he spoke. Then he whispered to Mr. Merkel, who turned immediately to the witness and asked:

"Doctor, do you know, or have you any reason to believe, there was any person other than yourself, Ferdinand Howe, J. Howard Lynden, Clay Fairchild, and William Slade on the second floor of the Nettleton Building at or about the time of Señor de Sanchez's death?"

The answer came unhesitatingly.

"I have not."

But was that an expression of relief that hid the worry in his eyes, that lightened the shadow on his face? or were the worry and the shadow still there? Neither the District Attorney nor Mr. Converse could determine.

"Very well, Doctor, that is all," said the Coroner. "Call General Westbrook."

Stiffly erect, and with an air of obeying only the inevitable mandate of Justice, the General entered the room.

However, little additional light was shed upon the mystery by his testimony; though it cannot be said that it was entirely devoid of interest. He related at length his acquaintance with the deceased, but with a reserve no one could ever attempt or expect to penetrate. He stated that their relations in Mexico,—which had been solely of a business nature,—had been dissolved by mutual agreement; that there had been no subsequent correspondence between them, as their affairs had been entirely wound up; and that his social connection with Señor de Sanchez dated only from that gentleman's arrival in the city. He would not undertake to say that Señor de Sanchez had or had not a living enemy. If there were any such he was in complete ignorance of that person's existence.

"General, did not Señor de Sanchez desire to marry your daughter?"

"He did."

"With your approval, of course?"


"And Mrs. Westbrook's?"

"Certainly," returned the witness, with a mild expression of astonishment.

"But Doctor Westbrook rather emphatically opposed it, did he not?"

The General suddenly glared, and Mr. Merkel stirred uneasily.

"Pardon me," the latter added with a propitiatory tone, "er-ah—General; I shouldn't ask the question were it not necessary." The witness then coldly replied:

"Doctor Westbrook saw fit to obtrude himself into my private affairs in a manner that would have had no effect one way or another on the result."

"You mean?" Mr. Merkel innocently asked.

"Just what I say, sir."

"You—you say he intruded, General," the Coroner persisted. "Is it not a fact that his attitude in this matter has brought about a severance of his relations with the rest of the family?"

"We hold no communication."

"Was Miss Westbrook opposed to the proposed marriage?"

"This is nonsense. What have the vagaries and whims of a young girl to do with this—"

"Again, General, pardon me; I must press the question," interrupted the Coroner. "If it is possible, we will avoid calling upon Miss Westbrook to testify."

General Westbrook stared at his questioner in speechless astonishment, for so long a time that the latter was obliged to speak again.

"We may presume, then, that she was not in complete sympathy with the idea?"

The witness all at once smiled—the kind of smile his opponents had learned to dread.

"I would not take it upon myself to correct any ideas you may have formed upon the subject," he said, pleasantly, while an audible, but quickly suppressed, titter ran round the room, and the heavy countenance of the Coroner became a dull red.

Mr. Mountjoy relieved the situation—and certainly relieved Mr. Merkel—finally eliciting the fact that Miss Westbrook was at first not in sympathy with the idea of accepting Señor de Sanchez's attentions; that she had later asserted a woman's prerogative by changing her mind and agreeing to receive him, although the matter had not arrived at the stage of a definite engagement.

"At the last interview between Doctor Westbrook and yourself," Mr. Merkel then resumed, "was he not very vehement in expressing his opinion on the subject of the proposed marriage?"

"I believe he was not very successful in concealing his feelings."

"Will you repeat what Doctor Westbrook said on that occasion?"

"I would rather not attempt it."

"I assure you, General, it is essential."

"I cannot recall his exact language."

"Well, its purport."

"His statements amounted to this: that the marriage should not take place as long as he was alive to prevent it; that he should certainly find ways and means of preventing its celebration—no more and no less."

Ferdinand Howe followed the General. His testimony, of course, was of prime importance; but as its nature is already familiar it need not be repeated here—with a single exception. After corroborating the Doctor's evidence regarding Fairchild's behavior when the latter encountered the body, the witness added:

"Mobley cried, 'Clay, what do mean? Why do you stare at me so?' But the look of horror only deepened; his jaw dropped, and his eyes became fairly glassy. I believe, then, Mobley half rose from his chair. 'Speak!' he cried. But the young man seemed incapable of doing so. He uttered a peculiar gurgling cry, darted abruptly through the open door, and disappeared."

Judge Elihu Petty, of the firm of Petty & Carlton, attorneys, testified that on the evening of November fourth, at about five o'clock, he was in his office in the Field Building. After confirming the previous testimony regarding the light-well and the impossibility of anybody having entered the Nettleton hall window by that means, the witness continued with a description of the other Nettleton windows. He asserted that in broad daylight, and at other times when there was a light in Mr. Nettleton's private office, he could see the books on the further wall of the room mentioned.

Question by the Coroner: "Could you see the books on the evening of November fourth?"

"No, sir. While there was light enough outside, yet it was so late that the interior shadows were dense enough to prevent me seeing any distance into the room. There was no light in that room."

"Had there been a person in Mr. Nettleton's private room at that time, could you have seen him?"

Witness shook his head doubtfully.

"Not unless such person had approached quite close to the windows," he presently replied. "It is possible that somebody might have been there without my seeing him. But I saw no one."

Judge Petty stated that he remembered the five-o'clock whistles, associating the circumstance with Mr. Howe's abrupt disappearance from the Doctor's window, which ended his testimony.

The calling of Señor Vargas—Juan Sebastian de Vargas y Escolado, as he announced his name after being sworn—occasioned a quick accession of interest; and he surprised even the Coroner by revealing an unexpected acquaintance with his dead compatriot, and an intimate knowledge of his life and affairs. Aside from this, Señor Vargas added nothing to the information regarding the tragedy; but as the only hope, it would seem, of eliciting anything at all lay in the past, witness was questioned closely, the examination covering the whole period of his acquaintance with the deceased. He continued to evince a stolid lack of interest; on the other hand, however, it seemed obvious that he had nothing to reserve, and he answered all questions fully and with an apparent desire to throw whatever light he might upon the mystery. As his examination lengthened considerably, it will here be merely summarized.

The witness had known De Sanchez ever since his (the witness's) residence in Mexico—about seven or eight years. Socially he knew little of the deceased; but early in their acquaintance they had become interested in a number of commercial undertakings, which, proving profitable, led naturally to other enterprises. There never had been anything in the nature of a partnership,—so far as the world knew, at least,—but a mutual confidence had grown up between them, and each frequently intrusted the other with large sums; "an association," added Señor Vargas, "that has more than doubled my fortune." They usually struck a balance twice in the year, when funds were divided and other enterprises planned.

Question: "Did Señor de Sanchez owe you anything at the time of his death?"

Answer: "Neither of us was indebted to the other, except in this way: at the present time there is a joint account approximating one hundred and eighty-two thousand dollars. I have my own figures; but I shall abide by his. He was a careful business man,—so much so, that I can confidently assert that a proper division of this sum can be made, to a centavo, from his private books. Our association was exceptionally pleasant and profitable; there was never the shadow of a dispute or misunderstanding between us."

"Were the relations between you amicable at the time you left Mexico?"

"As much so as they ever were. On the day Señor de Sanchez left Mexico City he executed to me a power of attorney to certain lands of which he was at that time negotiating a sale. I consummated the deal, and deposited to his account the sum of sixty-two thousand dollars."

"Why, then, should you have experienced difficulty in closing with him the Paquita Gold Mine matter, which led you, as you say, to follow him here?"

The witness considered some time, and presently replied:

"I do not want it to appear that I desire to reserve any information; but understand, please, that this is a matter in which I am merely acting as an agent for other parties, and that it is not closed yet. Perhaps you will appreciate my position from the fact that Señor de Sanchez owned the property, and I am making a purchase for a party of English capitalists."

Mr. Merkel smiled knowingly, adding, "And of course you have no interest in the property yourself. I see."

But the knowing look brought no answering light to the dark, impassive features; and neither, apparently, did witness feel called upon to make any response at all.

"Señor Vargas," said the Coroner, "we are seeking to ascertain if the unfortunate gentleman had an enemy; or if any of his affairs or business transactions were of such a nature that they would antagonize anybody to the point of such extreme retaliation as has been meted out to him. Now, from your association with Señor de Sanchez, do you know of any such person, or any such affair?"

Witness slowly shook his head.

"I know of no such affair or enemy—at least, I am sure there is no enemy in Mexico."

For the first time during the entire proceedings the District Attorney ignored the Coroner to put an interrogation himself.

"In Mexico?" he asked, quickly. "Do you know or suspect an enemy in this country—here—or elsewhere?"

"No, no, señor. Perhaps I should not have said that; but in Spain—in Mexico—Don Alberto could not have loved so beautiful a maiden as the Señorita Westbrook without making many enemies, and bitter ones too. I was thinking of that alone." He spread out his hands in true Latin fashion. "Eso se comprende—it is a matter of course—but I know nothing."

The inquiry now turned to the relations between General Westbrook and De Sanchez. It appeared that the witness had never met the General, and knew nothing of their mutual affairs. The two had separated amicably, so far as he knew. He had no reason to think otherwise. "When the Señorita Westbrook departed from Mexico, after her visit with her father, the Señor General accompanied his daughter home, and never returned."

So ended the testimony. The audience rapidly dwindled away as the jury filed out to deliberate; while the few who remained separated into groups and fell to discussing the "De Sanchez Mystery,"—now more of a mystery than ever.

For a reason not made known to the witnesses, they, with the exception of General Westbrook and Judge Petty, are requested to remain until the jury report. The request, regardless of the politeness in which it was couched, might have excited some doubt and apprehension among those who obeyed it, if the officers, in managing to keep near them, had been less adroit in doing so. Nobody can conjecture at whom the jury's verdict will point, and they are quite an hour in making up their own minds.

When they finally file back into the room there are very few remaining to hear what the result of their deliberations may be. The foreman slurred over the verdict with such haste that it was all but unintelligible. It ran:

We, the jury, in the matter of the death of Alberto de Sanchez, find that said De Sanchez came to his death by a dagger wound in the throat, at the hand of some person or persons to this jury unknown.

So ended the first act of the drama of the "De Sanchez Mystery." As for Mr. Converse, "Now I can get to work," he confided to himself, as he walked home to his lodgings in Ash Lane.



The exterior of No. 18 Ash Lane did not present an inviting appearance. It was a dingy, battered, and weather-worn brick structure, marking a remote epoch in the past; and besides Mr. Converse, it contained one other tenant, a little old man whose entire body was so twisted and contorted into deformity by rheumatism, that one wondered what incentive could prevail upon him to move.

A sign above the double door conveyed to the casual wayfarer the information that the busy, cheerful cripple's name was "A. Follett." Long before the remainder of the legend—"Dealer in Scrap Iron, Brass, Copper, Castings, and All Sorts of Junk"—could be deciphered, the stranger was aware of the business conducted here; for as far as the eye could penetrate into the recesses of the lower floor, it was met by a conglomeration of cast-off material which promised insanity to anybody rash enough to attempt its assortment and classification.

Close by the double entrance a gate in a high board fence gave access to the yard. Through this each day passed the peripatetic collectors of such refuse as Mr. Follett dealt in, and their burdens were disposed of by a black Hercules—Mr. Follett's back and legs and arms—who answered to the name of Joe.

The Captain's daily associates would have been quite staggered had they known that the cheerful, grizzled, and battered dealer in junk was his closest friend and his only confidant, and that he discussed all his most perplexing problems with Mr. Follett. Mr. Converse, however, had demonstrated more than once that his confidence was not misplaced; that his friend's judgment, shrewd insight, and discretion were of a value not to be expressed by words. In Mr. Converse's sailor days the two had been companions on many a memorable voyage, and each was as comprehensive of the other's silences as if they had been filling the moments with golden speech.

On the Monday night subsequent to the inquest and one week after that event, the two are sitting in the snug front room upstairs, and it is Mr. Follett who first speaks.

"So, John," he remarks, "the newspapers have something to stir up the interest in your dead Mexican man." He laughed softly and waved his pipe with a feeble gesture toward the Captain. "But I'm thinkin' it won't hurry you up none to crowd the canvas on you."

"You are thinking of the reward?" queried Mr. Converse.

The other nodded and continued: "Twenty thousand dollars is a heap o' money, John; many men would do murder over an' over again for it. Sometimes I can't believe that these ideas o' rewardin' an' punishin' are right. No matter how high the reward, nor how hard the punishment, some people will do wrong in the face o' one an' in spite o' the other.... Twenty thousand American, is it?"

"Yes; and we are to draw on the De Sanchez estate through the Mexican consul for expenses necessary to pursuing the investigation."

Mr. Follett expressed his wonder in a prolonged whistle.

"John, this is what you will have when you run down the murderer. Then you can retire. Then you can get that little cottage an' all them flowers you sometimes talk about: funny idea for an old sailor man." He changed the trend of his talk abruptly, and added, with a more serious note: "We must increase the reward for that woman. Everything centres an' circles about her, an' that's what discourages me. When you get clear o' the harbor on a cruise o' this kind, it's like tryin' to navigate without chart or compass, an' the stars all hid, to have a woman mixed in it to the extent that this one seems to be. Make it a hundred—two hundred—dollars; but find that woman."

"Abram, you are right," Mr. Converse rejoined, with unusual warmth. "I am no nearer to laying my finger upon her than I was the day of the murder. As you say, we must find the woman; everything hinges upon her. But look you, Abram, we, every one of us, missed a very fine point at the inquest that now is as plain as the nose on your face."

Mr. Follett unconsciously and thoughtfully fell to rubbing that member, while he attended to his friend's words.

"What was it Howard Lynden was afraid of betraying?" continued Mr. Converse, warming to his subject. "What was it Mr. Ferdinand Howe was afraid of betraying? What worried Doctor Westbrook?" He stared hard at Mr. Follett, and answered the questions himself. "It's just this: they have reason to suspect that the woman is mixed up some way in the matter; but how? They asserted under oath that no woman was present; did they one and all perjure themselves? I don't believe it."

The listener nodded gravely to signify that he was following the argument, but offered no interruption.

"No; I believe that every man Jack of them told all he knew of the affair. Doctor Westbrook would not lie; I don't think under the circumstances Howe would, and Lynden—well, he just couldn't. Any woman that you might name will not supply an adequate reason for them all to unite in an oath of falsehood."

"Yet," observed Mr. Follett, "it is the woman, and we must look for the one least likely to have been there."

"Exactly. And they are banded together to shield her name. We failed to hit upon the right question, or to put it in the proper way, so leaving them an opportunity for evasion without downright falsehood.

"Again, Abram, would these complications involve the woman or some one else? Are they shielding her for her sake or their own? If you could answer me those questions, Abram, I could tell you the rest. Where is the Mexican woman now, who smokes a cigarette while she waits for her victim? That's Merkel's idea. Poppycock! There's no Mexican woman on the face of the earth that all of those men would be so anxious to shield."

"John, there's one thing about this here female that you haven't considered yet," began Abram Follett. "She may know nothin' about the murder; she may only have showed a common weakness o' the sex by bein' where she had no business; she may be in the same boat with those three men, an' they are simply a-tryin' to save her from fallin' overboard, thinkin' she couldn't throw any light on how Mr. de Sanchez came to be a dead man all of a sudden, but could get herself in a pretty bad fix. They are not the best judges, o' course; but if there's anything in that 'nonymous letter you got about her, why, there's somebody else knows who she is, an' it's some one who could be made to tell.

"Now then, John, listen to me a bit: there's only one other person we know o' havin' been on that floor at the time o' the killin'—Bill Slade; an' I know two or three things about him—though I've never sot eyes on the man that I know of—that might interest you. First, his father, before the war, was the Fairchild overseer; secondly, Bill Slade himself is to-day the owner o' the old Fairchild homestead. What we don't know that might show how they're all tangled up together—if they really are—might be a hull lot.... Truth can't be downed, John, but it sometimes has a mighty hard time a-gettin' up to where it can be seen an' recognized. Oftener than not we don't want to recognize it; we just hand it a rap over the head by way o' conveyin' the information that it mustn't get too conspicuous."

"There's a good deal about Slade that is hard to understand; I'll think it over." The Captain was still looking hard at Mr. Follett.

"Another thing, John: that letter gives me the idea everything ain't a-goin' smooth with them people; there's a conflictin' interest somewhere, you mark my words. They ain't just plain common folks, either, that we have to do with; not the kind that goes about their business peacefully an' ca'mly, day after day, under the heft of a secret o' this kind; especially when so many shares it."

"Speaking of Slade," said Mr. Converse, abruptly breaking the current of the conversation, "reminds me of something odd. I don't know that you have ever heard of it, but there is a peculiarity about Slade and General Westbrook that is the foundation of a joke of long standing at the General's expense, although they are few enough who would have the hardihood to take that liberty with him to his face.

"It seems that always when Slade and the General meet, wherever it may be—on the street, at the bank, in offices or business houses,—the former is possessed of some powerful emotion. He steps to one side, oblivious of everything besides General Westbrook, at whom he stares as though he were quite overcome by his greatness. At the same time Slade is continually mumbling unintelligibly to himself. After a bit he seems to realize his queer actions, and recovers himself all at once with a sheepish look around, as if to see whether anybody has been observing him; and if General Westbrook has not already departed, Slade blurts out a confused apology and hurries away. It's queer enough in that dried-up little man; for he bears the reputation of a miser, is as sour as vinegar, lives to himself in a little cubbyhole of a room, and hasn't, I suppose, one intimate friend in the world. People will say, 'Slade? Why, yes, I know old Slade. Who don't?' Yet the truth is that nobody really does know him. He's simply a machine, and as long as he works smoothly and in good order he's taken for granted, like the Lee monument or the changes of the moon.

"Anyhow, the General accepts it all seriously, as a tribute from an inferior to his own high mightiness, and he unbends to the old codger quite graciously—for him. Whatever it is Slade has in mind, or what he mutters to himself, no one seems to know; but 'Slade's Blessing' has come to be a by-word in the city.

"Now then, on the night of the eleventh—last Wednesday night—the headquarters man, Adams, who is watching Vargas, made a report in which 'Slade's Blessing' figures in rather a curious and incomprehensible manner. It appears that Slade went to the La Salle House, apparently looking for some one; Vargas was sitting in the rotunda, smoking, when all at once who should come in but General Westbrook. Slade was then standing right by Vargas's chair, when he caught sight of the General, and the old scene began. Westbrook came directly up to Vargas and spoke in an absent-minded way to Slade, who made his usual embarrassed exit. Now, Vargas did not show that he had noticed this incident—which should have been strange and novel to him—and there may not be any connection between it and what followed, but the next morning Vargas called on Slade at the Guaranty Trust Company's offices. He remained only a few minutes; but he called again shortly before five o'clock the same evening, and accompanied Slade to the latter's room, where he remained with the abstracter until nearly seven o'clock."

"Belay a moment, John. Did the two know each other before?"

"Oh, no; not at all."

Mr. Follett nodded, and his friend continued:

"Vargas went to Slade's lodging again the next day, and again on Friday—each time at five o'clock,—and remained from an hour and a half to two hours. It's pretty clear that the first visit to Slade at the office was merely to make an appointment, and that the others followed therefrom. But what does it mean? Has Vargas begun a little detective work on his own account? This question is prompted by what followed at the La Salle House between General Westbrook and Vargas on Wednesday night after Slade had left them.

"The General approached and made himself known to Vargas. You know they had met only casually—at the inquest—and the meeting Wednesday night appeared no more than a refreshing of each other's memory. Yet when General Westbrook departed he seemed to be greatly disturbed—so much so that Adams says he had half a mind to follow him. It is true that the two conversed some time, but nothing appeared which would account for the General's agitation; the talk seemed to be merely chatty, pleasant, marked by smiles, and all that. It did not seem to occur to Adams that a man might 'smile, and smile, and be a villain' still; and, after all, it may be that the matter has to do with some property titles. But why enlist the services of Señor Vargas, a stranger? I thought that Vargas himself might be interested in some realty here; but I've had that looked up, and his name does not appear of record anywhere in the county. In this connection I have been having the records carefully gone over to see if any of these people are mixed up by some old deal. The result has been somewhat queer; but we'll pass that up for the present."

"It's no easy matter just a-sortin' out the known facts, is it?" observed Mr. Follett.

The Captain shook his head. "But to sum up, Abram," he added, "we have a number of people connected by a lot of little circumstances, which, at the present moment, have mighty wide gaps between, and seem to point to nothing."

"I tell ye, John, a thing that's standin' stronger in my mind than all else comes from what you've just told me, an' from what I've told you about this man Slade.

"You know, before the war, old Bill Slade, the father, was the Fairchild overseer. I've heard the son's story, an' it appears that he was always little an' mean an' picayunish—not the kind that could do any big dirty thing; just little an' sneakin'. But old Bill was ambitious for his boy, who was just a young feller at the end o' the war, an' he charted out a course for young Bill that pointed from the Fairchild plantation straight to the United States Supreme Court; but he failed to mark off all the rocks an' shoals, an' the set o' the currents; he knew little o' the craft's qualities that was to make the voyage; an' the consequence is, that young Bill landed high an' dry right where he is to-day. He never drank, as I've often heard, nor chewed nor smoked, nor he never fought, nor did anything else to show that he had any good red blood in him—just natcherally unable to do anything good or bad." Mr. Follett abruptly altered his tone. "Has there been anything betwixt him and the Fairchilds since, besides him now ownin' their old home an' lettin' it go to rack an' ruin?" he asked.

"That's being gone into now. Nothing has been turned up so far that sheds any light upon the problem of the murder."

Mr. Converse's reply was thoughtful; his companion's run of talk seemed more to be a harmonious accompaniment to his own reflections than a source either of information or available ideas. Yet he listened patiently, self-contained and reserved, his occasional responses showing that he was following the other's words.

"Another point, John," Mr. Follett went on. "From what you've told me o' this Mr. Vargas, he seems to be a man who looks pretty sharp to his own affairs without botherin' himself about other people's. You know, meddlin' with other folks' business is the surest sign that you can't 'tend to your own. That don't seem to be his style, so you can be pretty sure that him mixin' himself in this matter on another tack has somethin' important behind it."

Here, quite naturally enough, fell one of the familiar, pleasant silences that characterized the friendship between these two men. The Captain's manner soon began to reveal an impatience. He smoked innumerable pipes of tobacco—not in his usual steady way, but alternating between fits of puffing like an engine for a space, and then permitting the fire in the bowl to die out. Several times he rose and walked slowly to and fro the length of the room, his hands clasped behind him, his eyes unseeing—oblivious of everything but the problem upon which his tenacious mind was fastened. Once or twice he paused at the window and looked out into the darkness.

All these evidences of extreme mental effort were to the still, crippled figure in the big chair so many indications that the Captain had seized upon an idea that he was revolving to a definite end. Neither by word nor gesture would Mr. Follett break in upon these cogitations until the other saw fit to enlighten him. The issue would be yielded in good time, and he awaited it in silent, patient eagerness.

Once Mr. Converse threw one of the windows wide open, and the sudden in-rush of cool night air began rapidly to dissipate the smoke which hung in well-defined strata of blue. The stillness of the night was unbroken by any sound, until presently, many blocks away, could be heard the faint clatter of a galloping horse. As with all distant sounds in a sleeping city, it would now and then become completely extinguished behind some intervening wall or building, only to burst forth again with added clamor.

How often are the greatest crises ushered in by the most trivial of incidents! Mr. Converse was only dimly aware of the beating hoofs, and his train of thought was not at all interrupted by any reflection that horse and rider might portend aught for him; then the circumstance was entirely forgotten as the Federal Building clock boomed forth one loud, deep-throated stroke that rang high on the night: one o'clock.

The vibrations were still trembling audibly when he turned of a sudden from the window.

"Abram, I have it," he announced in a tone of finality. "I know how to find Fairchild."

Whatever Mr. Follett might have responded was never uttered; for all at once the thud of hoofs became loud and insistent. The rider was evidently in Ash Lane now, and approaching at a pace that would soon bring him opposite No. 18.

"Listen!" whispered Mr. Converse; and both waited in tense expectation while the wild rider drew nearer and nearer.

The horse was pulled up to a sharp standstill immediately below, just as Converse turned to the window once more. In the light which fell from the lamp behind him he could make out the faint glint of brass buttons and the brighter reflection from a nickel-plated star: the rider was an officer of the mounted force. What errand required such speed, and at such an hour?

"Is it you, Captain Converse?" the rider began, breathlessly. "You are to come to headquarters right away."

"What is it?" demanded the Captain.

"The Old Man told me to say it was a new development in the De Sanchez case; he sent me himself. McCaleb came in off his beat half an hour or so ago, and he looked as though he'd been seeing ghosts. Whatever it is, he brought in the news, and it must be mighty important to rout the Old Man out at this hour." "The Old Man," be it known, was the Chief of Police.

"Very well, Harrison, I'll be along at once." The messenger wheeled his blowing horse and disappeared into the night again.

Converse was not long in following. As he left the room Mr. Follett cried cheerfully after him, "Sail, ho!" The latter was accustomed to these unceremonious interruptions of their post-prandial communions, and he forbore any display of curiosity.

But if Mr. Follett's figurative farewell was a prognostication that the voyage of discovery was no longer to be conducted in unknown seas, or, to drop metaphor altogether, that some fact had come to light which promised explanation of the mystery, he was scarcely a true prophet. This the Captain had presented to him in a startling manner almost as soon as he entered the Chief's private office. He was impressed at once by that official's unusual agitation and the white, excited countenance of the young officer who stood by his desk, nervously and alternately mopping his brow and the inside of his helmet.

The Chief glared at Converse as though the Captain himself had been guilty of some unusual offence.

"Another murder, Converse!" he cried, with unsteady articulation. "Good Lord, what kind of a force have I got under me, anyhow? McCaleb, here, has just brought in a most astounding report. I don't know which way to turn; I feel—"

"May I inquire who has been murdered?" said Converse, quietly.

"General Westbrook!" thundered the Chief, banging his fist down on the desk; "one of our very best citizens is the victim of a dastardly assassination!"



The fact that John Converse was not given to betraying either surprise or astonishment only enhanced the effect of the involuntary step he took backward in the face of the intelligence flung at him by the Chief of Police. For a minute, perhaps, he returned the gaze of the agitated official; then the indomitable tenacity of the man began to manifest itself in a setting and tightening of the solid jaw; and when he presently turned to the excited McCaleb, the stunning effect of the news had been entirely overcome—he was quite himself again, masterful, determined, and inspiring confidence. Both the Chief and the young patrolman began at once to respond to his quieting influence.

Officer Harry McCaleb was of an aptness and intelligence promising rapid advancement. It was no secret that he had aspirations looking to success in the detective service; and it was of him that the Captain demanded particulars of the crime.

"Tell me what you know," said he, his manner advising promptness and despatch.

The young patrolman delivered his account with a glibness and attention to details that betokened forethought on the subject.

"Captain Converse," he began, "this month I am on the night shift, and my beat takes in Vine Street and General Westbrook's neighborhood. Mike Clancy's my partner. You know it's a pretty big beat for two men to cover—especially as we are obliged to remain together,—and we can't pass any one point oftener than once in every two hours, or such a matter.

"Well, sir, to-night we passed the Westbrook place last at about ten-thirty. Everything was perfectly quiet at that time, and we had no occasion to be more than ordinarily vigilant. We continued on our beat, and in the natural run of events should have been back at the Westbrook corner—Tenth and Vine, sir—at about twelve-thirty. At twelve o'clock we were over in the next block—on Live Oak, to the rear of the Westbrook place, and between Tenth and Eleventh. You know it's a part of our duty after dark to watch people getting off cars to see if they belong in our territory, and we can't gauge our time very well when we meet many cars on Live Oak Street.

"It was just at twelve—the Federal Building clock had just struck, sir—when Mike stopped short. 'What's that, McCaleb?' says he. It's one of those perfectly still nights, you know, when sounds carry a long way." Converse had a fleeting memory of a madly galloping horse. 'Was that a shot?' asked Mike. I had heard something, too, but couldn't tell whether it was a shot or not; and anyhow, neither of us could locate it. We waited quite a while, listening; then, hearing nothing more, we went on. In about ten minutes—maybe fifteen—we stopped suddenly again; we heard a woman scream. There was no mistaking the direction this time; it was one of those piercing, long-drawn-out screams that makes a man's blood run cold. We had no trouble following the sounds, for the screams kept up, as fast as the woman could get her breath. 'Help! Murder!' she was yelling; and Mike and I raced down Tenth Street to the Westbrook place, as fast as we could.

"Well, sir, when we got there it was as though bedlam had broke loose; the neighbors were pouring out on all sides; some society affair was going on last night, and most of them had just got home. A woman was running up and down the Westbrook front gallery, wringing her hands in a distracted way, and every now and then stopping to scream 'Murder!'

"Stop a moment, Mac," interposed Converse..... "Chief, call a cab, please; I don't want to waste any time—I can listen to Mac as we ride..... Now, Mac, go on."

"Well, as Mike and I vaulted the front fence, I yelled out that we were officers, and Mike set his whistle going for Hartman and Corrigan in the next beat, in case we should need help; though they never heard it. The lady fell back against one of the big gallery pillars and waited till we came up. Then we saw it was Mrs. Westbrook. She looked as if she were being beaten by some one we couldn't see, and was trying to shrink away from the blows.

"The whole house was a blaze of light, every electric lamp being turned on, it seemed like; and the niggers—well, sir, they were all plum crazy. Mrs. Westbrook had evidently been to whatever was going on, because she was all dressed up in one of those shiny white dresses, and had lots of jewelry on. I could see the diamonds on her fingers sparkling with her heart-beats, for she had her hands locked tight together and pressed against her bosom. When we got close enough to her we could hear her moaning to herself, 'Oh, my God! Peyton! Peyton! Peyton! Oh, my God! Peyton!' over and over again, like a machine, and it was some time before we could get her to notice us.

"Just then two or three of the neighbors came up. One of them, a lady, grabbed Mrs. Westbrook, and asked, 'What is it, Lou?' and Mrs. Westbrook just had time to whisper, 'Peyton—in there—dead!' before slipping down the pillar in a faint.

"Of course we waited for nothing more. Leaving her with the lady, we hurried into the house through the front door, which was standing wide open.

"I never saw anything like it in my life, Captain; back under the stairs a big yellow wench was sitting on the floor, holding Miss Westbrook's head in her lap, and moaning and rocking to and fro. The young lady herself was lying out in such a way that we thought at first she was dead too. The telephone was right above her head—"

Here the recital was once more broken in upon, this time by the arrival of the cab. Mr. Converse and the patrolman hastened into it. "General Westbrook's—hurry!" said the Captain to the driver, who, having had experience in such matters, lashed the horses to a gallop in an effort to obey the injunction.

Once under way, Officer McCaleb resumed his story:

"As I was saying, the telephone was right above where Miss Westbrook was lying. She was still holding the receiver in her hand, a part of the cord attached to it, the whole thing torn loose—evidently while she was trying to use the 'phone. She must have fainted then. It took only a second or two to see that nothing worse was the matter with her; and after stirring the nigger woman up to getting water and bringing her mistress round, we went on hunting for the General. We had to search, too; for every one that hadn't fainted was wild with terror.

"Pretty soon, however, we came upon him in a downstairs room—sure enough dead, Captain Converse, with a knife sticking in him. I left Mike there to keep the crowd out, and after 'phoning to headquarters from a neighbor's, I hurried in myself to make sure."

Not until the young man had finished did Converse vouchsafe a question.

"A knife, you say?" he mused, the words being hardly so much an interrogation as an expression of the importance he seemed to attach to the circumstance. "A knife?"

"Yes, sir. But I neglected to say there was a revolver lying on the floor. I didn't have time to see much; but it was out in pretty plain view, lying close to the General."

"His, likely. But wait till we get there," said Mr. Converse; then, as an afterthought, "Who else was at the house?"

"I saw no one, sir,—that is, before the neighbors arrived."

"Doctor Westbrook?"

"No, sir."

Shortly the conveyance was grinding over the gravelled driveway which led from the street to the porte-cochère.

The house itself was a commodious colonial mansion, possessing the familiar, massive-pillared Greek front. Setting in the midst of a wide expanse of beautiful park, shaded by magnolia, catalpa, and numerous oak and elm trees, it was merely a variation, in details alone, of a uniform style of architecture at once simple and imposing, which lent to the neighborhood an air of distinction and aloofness, and imparted that genuine spirit of the old Southern home which is both impressive and incapable of imitation.

The few neighbors who remained had succeeded in bringing some sort of order out of the chaos that had greeted officers McCaleb and Clancy upon their arrival. The negro servants had been banished to their own quarters, where they were out of the way; all lights had been extinguished excepting the few needed, and the house was shrouded in the unbroken stillness which exists like a vacuum behind the swift turbulence following a sudden and tragic death.

The Captain was received with something of the awe that always greets a man of his profession when he first enters upon such a scene, when those who meet him are as far removed from the law's intricate machinery as were General Westbrook's friends and intimates. Old as it was, the neighborhood had never in the past sustained so rude and violent a shock to its calm respectability. Mr. Converse was now indeed the Captain, the god in the car.

An elderly gentleman, evidently a neighbor, met them at the door. He led the officers straight back through the wide and richly furnished hall, past the carved oaken stairway, which rose like an invitation to a multitude, to a lateral hall extending the width of the house. Here he turned to the left, and presently paused before a curtained door; a door so massive and solid that, together with the voluminous folds of the heavy velvet curtain which hung before it, it promised to afford an effective barrier to sounds arising within the room beyond, causing the sharpest of noises emanating therefrom to strike muffled and dead upon the ear of anybody in the hall.

Mr. Converse placed a restraining hand upon the arm outstretched to open the door.

"Just a moment, sir," said he. "Is Doctor Westbrook here?"

"No, sir; but efforts are being exerted to find him. It appears that he is in attendance upon some suburban patient."

"Who discovered the tragedy?"

"Miss Westbrook. She is completely prostrated, sir."

"Very good; now open the door."

The portal swung open and revealed, obviously, the household library. Save for the door, the windows, and the narrower spaces between the windows, its walls were entirely concealed by book-laden shelves; the apartment was otherwise scantily furnished.

By a large, old-fashioned fireplace in the southwest corner stood a heavy leathern couch; besides this the room contained nothing more in the way of large furniture except a heavy oaken table which stood in the bay of the east window. There was a swivelled desk-chair before the table; a Morris chair, a straight-backed wooden chair, and a light ladder whereby the higher shelves were made accessible. All this at a glance.

Presently, however, a number of details challenged Captain Converse's attention.

First of all, let us, as briefly as possible, dismiss the grewsome, silent figure in the centre of the floor. It lay flat upon its back beside the desk-chair; the arms were wide outstretched, and a dagger handle of ebony, or some other black wood, protruded from the left breast, into which the blade had been driven to the hilt. Surprisingly little blood had found its way through the wound, since the blade must have been reposing in the stilled heart—a well-aimed, deadly blow, signifying a cool and sinister intent. Death could not have ridden more swiftly on a thunderbolt; and plainly it had met its victim here just as he was either in the act of rising hastily from the swivel-chair, or at the moment he had gotten to his feet.

A brief inspection showed that most of the room's windows were closed and fastened, as were also the inside wooden blinds, and that lace curtains hung from the ceiling to the window-seats.

Before the table the swivel-chair was turned so that it faced two pairs of French windows in the front or north wall. These opened on a wide veranda extending across the entire front of the house. One pair of these windows now stood open, and between them stood the room's third chair,—the straight-backed one,—and upon it the Captain's attention seemed to linger.

If General Westbrook had been seated in the desk-chair, who had occupied this one so near the handily opened window? It faced the one before the desk, and their relative positions irresistibly suggested a tête-à-tête, the silent figure on the floor that this tête-à-tête had been brought to an abrupt and violent termination. Both chairs had been forcibly pushed back a foot or more, as if the occupants of each had arisen with precipitation; for the swivel-chair had raked up one end of a magnificent tiger-skin, tearing the felt lining; and the one by the window could be traced back to where it had formerly stood, by the four deep scorings that its legs had made in the polished surface of the floor.

The occupancy of the straight-backed chair seemed to contain the crux of the matter. And here was presented another suggestion: whoever had chosen a seat so close to the open window had done so with an eye to hasty and easy retreat. This spot seemed to have attracted Mr. Converse's attention immediately after his first cursory glimpse; he still stood just inside the doorway, and his eyes, after travelling over various details of the scene before him, returned again and again to the vacant seat.

At last his regard rested upon Officer Mike Clancy, standing respectfully at attention, and he pointed to the object of his interest.

"Clancy," he asked, "who's been sitting in that chair?"

"Sure, an' there's been no wan, sorr, since Oi've been in the room."

"Not yourself?"

Clancy cast an appreciative glance at the comfortable Morris chair, and then one of contempt at the less inviting seat.

"Oi hov not," he replied, with deliberate emphasis. Such innocence of his questioner's intent was not to be doubted: the chairs had not been disturbed.

If the Captain evinced an unusual interest in the straight-backed chair, one other article must be mentioned to which his eye reverted many times,—the nickel-plated desk telephone, overturned upon the blotting-pad, its hooks free of the receiver. It was more than likely that when Miss Westbrook attempted to use the instrument in the hall, she received no response from Central, the line already, doubtless, having been put out of commission.

Close by the nerveless fingers of the General's right hand was a revolver. An inspection of this revealed a weapon of familiar make, of .38 calibre; and the pungent odor of freshly burnt powder, which still clung about it, together with two exploded shells, told its own story of recent and apparently ineffectual use.

It was only natural to turn from the revolver to a partially open drawer on the right side of the desk, and to the desk itself; and here once more the mute witnesses gave their unspoken testimony. Had General Westbrook been seated at his desk writing when some midnight caller interrupted him? Had a conference then followed which crescendoed rapidly through the various stages of a quarrel, a verbis ad verbera, to a sudden resort to violence? Well, here was the cover off the ink-well; a spreading spot of ink on the blotting-pad marked where a pen had been dropped; a tablet was conveniently at hand, but not one scrap of paper that had been written upon, except one or two neat piles of envelopes containing letters addressed to the dead man, and other documents of various kinds, none of which, probably, had engaged his attention during the minutes preceding the abrupt blotting out of his life.

But in these particulars could be read the fact that the unfortunate gentleman had, some time during the night, been actually writing at his desk. Then, the chair forcibly shoved backward; the right hand, overturning the telephone in its precipitancy, flying to the drawer where the revolver reposed, presented a picture to the Captain's mental vision almost as comprehensive as a photograph. The General had not been surprised: an explanation of the interval between the dropping of the pen and the hurried opening of the drawer lay in the occupancy of the two chairs; this hiatus contained the whole story of the crime.

Thoughtfully Converse set the telephone upright again. He hung the receiver upon the hooks, and after a minute or so of waiting endeavored to catch Central. But it was of no use; no response came; the line evidently had been, as he had already thought, "cut out" as being out of order—which naturally would follow upon a continuous signal with no request for a number.

Next, he picked up the writing-tablet, and upon it his scrutiny became almost instantly glued. He seemed to be as absorbed in the unsullied whiteness of its top sheet as if it had been covered with written characters. His stiff lips presently pursed; his right eyebrow lifted in a familiar quizzical manner; and he looked from the tablet in his hand to the fireplace, black and cold. After all, there was evidently a message in those blank pages: the last one used had been hastily and carelessly rent from the binding gum, as the saw-tooth particles of paper yet adhering to the tablet, in this one instance, affirmed.

The elderly gentleman who had admitted the two officers had been watching Mr. Converse with as much interest as that evinced by McCaleb himself, and the young patrolman was taking advantage of his opportunity greedily. The elderly gentleman now stepped forward.

"Pardon me," he began, "but if the question is not premature, are you able to form a theory? Have you any idea as to the identity of the assassin?"

Converse eyed the old man askance, and the latter went on immediately:

"Besides yourselves and Doctor Bane I am the only man in the house. I am a near neighbor; I reside on the opposite corner. Wilson is my name, Slayden Wilson. I was going to say, that perhaps I may be needed else—"

"By all means, don't let us detain you," urged Converse with suspicious haste.

"Thank you. And if you require anything—" his eye wandered until it rested upon the bell-button beside the door—"if you require anything, press the button there."

"Very good," Converse returned. "Try to prepare the ladies for a meeting, as I shall want to question them—the servants too."

The old gentleman withdrew, closing the door noiselessly after him.

Mr. Converse still held the writing-tablet in his hand, and now he laid it upon the table. As he did so, McCaleb—all the time close to his elbow—quietly observed.

"Do you suppose somebody's got away with it, sir?"

"It looks that way," the older man replied, abstractedly; then abruptly breaking off, he fixed a keen look upon the young man. "What do you mean, McCaleb?" he asked.

"Are you not looking for some writing?"

"Aye, aye, Mac," was the quiet reply, the speaker's glance kindling shrewdly, "aye, aye, Mac, you are correct."

He pointed to a blotter lying on the desk.

"See there, Mac; my fingers are just itching to get hold of that writing; but I fear it's gone. Mac, you haven't the first idea of its importance."

The young man slowly shook his head. "I'm afraid not, sir," said he simply.

"Well, it's just this: if we had it, we would know who is—" The speaker dropped suddenly into a reverie, leaving the thought incomplete. He picked up the blotter and stared fixedly at it for a moment; laid it back again on the table, still watching it, and concluded in a preoccupied manner, "What a game! what a game! How near—and how far—to both these deaths!"

McCaleb caught his breath.

"You don't say!" he exclaimed in a whisper. "De Sanchez—"

The Captain merely nodded once.

The blotter all at once became an object of magnetic interest for the young man, and he bent over it and began studying its cryptic markings with puckered brow.

"See what you can make of it," suggested Converse.

After a while McCaleb stood upright again, took a long breath, and shook his head.

"I can make nothing of it," said he; "the lines are too crisscrossed and mixed, the fragments of words too short and indistinct. Maybe—if I had a lens—something more to go on—"

"But is there nothing that particularly attracts your attention?"

Once more McCaleb frowned heavily and concentrated his mind upon the blotter.

"I suppose this is the one General Westbrook was using?" he asked.


In silence he studied it some moments longer.... "No," said he, with an air of finality; "I can make out nothing but a lot of curlicues that look like figure three's with tails to 'em. I can't imagine what they mean."

Converse chuckled in his throat. "My question was hardly fair," said he. "You hadn't the advantages in the first case I had. I'll tell you this much, though: they're letter 'z's.'"

"Oh, I begin to see. I suppose you would like me to confirm your opinion, by coming independently to the same conclusions. Well, I'll try again."

Once more the Captain nodded, and moved over to the open window.

Without touching it, he began carefully to look over the straight-backed chair, at the polished hard-wood floor about it, and at the narrow section of panelled wall behind—one of the room's wall spaces uncovered by books. Presently a barely audible exclamation escaped him—a mere breath of satisfaction, which, nevertheless, instantly brought McCaleb to his side.

"What is it?" the young man asked, breathlessly.

The Captain pointed to a small round hole in the oak panel, somewhat lower than his own shoulder as he stood, from which protruded what appeared to be half an inch of black yarn.

"You'll have to keep yourself better in hand, Mac," was his only verbal recognition of the young man's curiosity, while he extracted the particle of fabric from the tiny aperture.

"Ah, I see," McCaleb continued; "General Westbrook nearly winged him, didn't he? The man must have been standing right up against the wall to have the bullet carry away a piece of his coat like that."

Again Converse looked at the young man appreciatively.

"We'll make a detective of you yet," said he. "But the man wasn't standing so close to the wall, though. And why 'a man'? It is simply one of those rare chances where the thread of cloth clung to the bullet a bit longer than usual. If you'll notice the floor closely, you'll see—from this chair, where he sat for some time, to the desk; from the desk to the window there, and away. What that person took with"—the briefest of pauses before the pronoun—"him I'd give a good deal to have.... Those are about the actions of the General's caller. Do you notice anything peculiar about the footmarks on the floor?"

The Captain's manner was quiet and deliberate; and McCaleb, the pupil, followed the vague markings with the intentness and thoroughness of a born specialist. Slight as they were, the imprints would have been lacking entirely had it not been for the dampness of the night; but they held a meaning.

"The man came on to the desk," McCaleb began, but paused. "I suppose it was a man?" he asked.

The answer was a steady look.

In a moment the young man went on: "Well, the party came up to the desk after stabbing the General. I imagine that's where your missing paper went—what he was after. And right here—just as he got out of his chair—he seems to have slipped. Probably in a hurry; or else the bullet clipped him about that time—eh?—or her."

Converse shook his head dubiously. "I can't say," he returned, meditatively. "There's something about those footmarks that is mighty peculiar, Mac; I can't just make it out." He mused a moment longer, but presently bestirred himself again. "Two shots were fired from that gun, you know," he concluded; "have you located the other bullet?"

McCaleb looked blank for an instant, as if he had been guilty of some vital oversight. However, he turned at once to a search for the missing bullet.

The glass doors before the books simplified the matter somewhat: the radiating lines from a bullet-hole in one of the panes would be so conspicuous that the most cursory glance would scarcely overlook them. Elsewhere there was no indication of the second missile; and with a little laugh McCaleb abruptly stopped and indicated by the wave of a hand the open window.

"If you have eliminated every other possibility, all right," said Converse. "Now, Mac, you may telephone for Merkel." At which last statement McCaleb smiled: the Coroner would not be in the way now.

The young man departed on his errand, and Converse went over and knelt before the fireplace.

To Policeman Clancy, the quiet, self-contained, confident man scanning the bricks and the crevices between them with an eagle-like scrutiny was the embodiment of awful and mysterious possibilities.



Although it is now the morning of November seventeenth, the mild and spring-like Southern autumn has not yet presented any wintry aspects, and the wide, old-fashioned fireplace in the Westbrook library gives no indication that it has been recently used.

If any papers had been removed from the General's desk, they had not been destroyed here—unless, indeed, the fireplace had been cleaned since midnight, which was scarcely likely. Still, the Captain continued to scrutinize the bricks; and when McCaleb returned, he was carefully picking between them with the point of his pencil.

"Find anything?" asked the young man, as Converse stood upright.

"No; and yet, some paper has been burnt here recently. But it could not have been the missing one.... Have you a pocket-lamp?"

From the recesses of his blue coat McCaleb produced a short black tube with a bull's-eye in one end—an electric dark-lantern, operated by the simple means of pressing and releasing a button in its side. This the Captain took and moved toward the open window. He got down on his hands and knees, looked intently at the sill, and, still in a crouching attitude, passed out to the veranda—or, in local parlance, "gallery"—McCaleb following close behind. His course led him directly to the east end, where he cautioned his companion to move carefully.

"I want to examine these marks again by daylight," he explained; "but they are pretty distinct even now. There is just enough moisture to-night to soften the turf and cause smaller bits of gravel from the driveway to cling to one's feet."

While talking, he flashed the light upon various points between the gallery's edge and the open window.

"See, Mac; just like the traces inside. Lucky—there might have been none."

Together they moved silently, swiftly; their eyes kindling with a keen alertness that missed not the least particular. The nature of the occasional brief comments indulged in by one or the other indicated clearly that each took it for granted that their thoughts were running in the same channel.

McCaleb's thin, aquiline features were tense, his black eyes fairly luminous with eager concentration.

"Strange way to make a call," he muttered, peering over the end of the gallery. "Seems to have come openly, too."

The response was an indefinite sound, incapable of interpretation by any written character.

All at once Converse diverted the beam of light to the ground, immediately voicing a feeling of satisfaction, of doubt removed.

"It was a man!" he exclaimed. "Look!"

There in the turf at the end of the gallery was a clearly defined imprint of a masculine shoe heel.

"Careful there, Mac," the Captain went on, as the other started to let himself down to the ground; "go as far to the right as you can."

They moved rapidly over the lawn, one on each side of a very plain trail.

"And look here!" McCaleb presently cried. Both came to a stop. The distinct imprints of two heels lay nearly side by side, the only apparent difference between them being that one pointed toward the house and the other away from it.

"The fellow departed just as he came," was the older man's comment; "straight from the end of the gallery to the drive. Not much to be seen there, though—too hard. But let us try it."

With Converse going in advance and flashing the light from side to side, they started down the driveway. They had advanced but a short distance when the leader came to an abrupt pause.

"Hello!" he ejaculated, softly; "our caller left by a different route after all. Now, why did he turn off here?"

The driveway lay between two parallel rows of cedars, set so closely that they almost formed a hedge. Simultaneously with the exclamation, Converse stepped to one side, directing the light to a spot beneath the low-hanging branches. Here the shadow was so dense, even in daytime, that the soil was quite free from grass or any growth, excepting a few wan, straw-like weeds; it was, besides, quite moist.

"Tiptoeing, too, you see," went on the Captain. "He took alarm at something.... One solitary, isolated heelmark; I wonder if he's left an entire footprint anywhere?"

"You can see where he pressed through the branches," observed McCaleb.

"Yes. If he followed a straight course, he struck the walk at about the front gate. Come a little farther down the drive."

Nearly every step of this sally into the night presented something novel to the two eager searchers. They had proceeded but a few yards, when of a sudden the leader once more came to a halt, at the same time extending a restraining hand.

"Wait a bit, Mac," he admonished. He dropped to one knee and cast the eye of light about over the space in front of him. "There's been some one else here," he presently announced in his whisper; "somebody's been standing here and moving about—quite a while to kick up the hard gravel like this. Explains why the other turned off back there.... A-h-h—"

A quizzical lifting of the eyebrow—a puckering of the lips—absorbed the thought.

A little hollow, worn by the passage of many wheels over the hard road-bed, was filled with the product of attrition—a soft sand, fine and plastic; and to this the Captain pointed. McCaleb could see the outline of a small French heel, and beside it a second, which had been partially obliterated by another foot—the latter unmistakably masculine.

"A woman!" the young man breathed; his astonishment was complete. "Well, well! a woman, after all." He looked at the Captain with open curiosity; but Mr. Converse was grimly silent.

If he had been alive before to overlook no possible detail, the concentration with which he now began an inspection of the driveway seemed to include within his scrutiny each separate grain of sand.

"Don't move," he curtly enjoined; McCaleb instantly froze.

Slowly, inch by inch, he went over a space covering the radius of about a rod from where they had paused. Again and again he returned to the footprints in the little depression, and once he passed swiftly back to the point where the first trail diverged from the driveway so abruptly. He examined the solitary heelmark here with an added interest, in the end producing from his pocket a finely graduated ivory rule, which he applied to the print in a variety of ways.

Returning again to the depression, he made a careful comparison by means of the measure. At last he turned to McCaleb.

"I was afraid you would disturb something," he explained. "Our trail is becoming a little involved; it was too plain to last. This promises to be a wonderful case, Mac,—a wonderful case. I wish I were twenty years younger."

"What do you make of it, sir?"

Mr. Converse considered before replying, and when he did his whisper was no more than audible.

"Mac, keep this to yourself, and do not ask me to go any farther into it just now." He threw the light upon the young man's sharp-featured countenance, and subjected it to a momentary but searching scrutiny. "A woman was here," he went on, "and some man; but I'm afraid her identity will cause a devil of a mess."

It was obvious that he was much impressed by what he had read in the driveway, and he presently concluded, in a vastly altered manner:

"You see, Mac, how carefully one must act in a case of this kind; there is never any telling what might turn up, nor what a lot of needless worry—not to say danger—an innocent person may be made to suffer. The fact that a woman figures so prominently in the De Sanchez case, and yet is kept in the shadowy background, coupled with the fact that we have stumbled upon these impressions here, looks pretty bad for that woman if she happens to be the same in both instances. It may be only a coincidence, but a man and woman were here—here when General Westbrook was done to his death, and here when the assassin departed. Why? Now let us drop this as though it had never come to our knowledge—until we know more.... I believe you said Mrs. Westbrook wore some sort of evening gown when you and Clancy got here."

"Yes, she did; Miss Westbrook, too."

"Did you notice what colors?"

"Mrs. Westbrook's costume was of some light color, but Miss Westbrook's was—"

With a startled exclamation the young man stopped and stared strangely at Converse. For some incomprehensible reason his mind was flooded with the vision of a bit of fabric protruding from a bullet-hole in a carved oak panel.

"Well?" curtly.

"Black," McCaleb said, in a whisper, "dead black."

For a moment the Captain returned the other's regard in silence; then he said in his customary quiet way:

"Very good, Mac. Now, let us get through with the driveway."

They proceeded to the handsome wrought-iron gates, but without observing anything more of moment; and passing through them to the sidewalk, they continued to the front gate. Just inside the latter the Captain paused and indicated with the lamp the bordering bed of flowers.

"Just as I expected," he observed; "here's where the midnight caller made his exit. Still tiptoeing, too—see? The bed was a little too wide for him to jump across, and his toe sank deep into the soft earth—an active, athletic man to make a jump like that. He cut right across the lawn from the driveway."

The attention of the two was now diverted by the sound of a rapidly driven horse being brought to an abrupt standstill, and both paused to listen. Presently the front gate clanged, and an approaching dim figure finally resolved itself into the ponderous form of the Coroner.

"Bless my soul! Captain Converse!" he cried, as soon as he recognized the Captain. "Here we are together again. This is dreadful—dreadful, isn't it?" After he had given expression to his feelings at some length in a similar strain, the Captain saw an opportunity to interrupt.

"Mr. Merkel, you must let me run this thing for a while."

The other looked blank.

"Oh, all I desire is a day or two unhampered—" Converse paused, tentatively.

"Well—er—ah—as to that," returned the Coroner, in his important, official manner,—"as to that, John, I cannot commit myself to act against my better judgment."

"I should say not!" exclaimed Converse, apparently amazed at the implication that he could harbor such a thought.

"It is my desire, of course," the other went on, with a comical, heavy air of patronage that made McCaleb confide a thin-lipped smile to the darkness, "that we work together in perfect harmony; I wish to aid to the extent of my powers; but there are responsibilities attaching to my office; there are responsibilities—"

"To be sure there are," Converse interrupted with prompt acquiescence; "and with your permission, I will assume them entirely. Now, what I want is, that you will not act at all for a while. Of course you will not. Delay the inquest for a day or two, and I will show you some things that will astonish you."

"Very well," responded Mr. Merkel, after a moment of gravid deliberation; "I agree to be guided by you for the present—within certain limits, of course,—unless my better judgment—"

"Good! very good!" was the satisfied interruption. "We'll handle this conscientiousness of yours as if it were cut glass;" and passing his hand beneath Mr. Merkel's arm with an air of irresistible cordiality, the Captain added, "Now, let us go to the house. Come, Mac."

The elderly gentleman, Mr. Slayden Wilson, met the trio in the hall, and to his tender mercies Converse intrusted the Coroner with a request that the latter be conducted to the library. "Then return to me here," he concluded, still addressing the guide.

Mr. Converse watched the two disappear; then seated himself, and soon was in a deep study. McCaleb was not without skill himself, but their discoveries of the night told him no more than what they might baldly signify to any observer, and he watched the Captain, filled with a deep curiosity, but too accustomed to discipline to ask questions.

With a slight shake of the head, like a diver coming to the surface of a pool, Mr. Converse presently came out of his meditations, and immediately brought joy to the heart of McCaleb.

"Mac," said he, "your detective career begins to-night. A word from me to the Commission depends upon the way you accomplish what I want you to do. See every darkey on the place, singly, and find out—first, what time Miss Westbrook returned home last night, and if she returned alone; second, was anybody at all seen skulking about the premises during the night; third, were any shots heard, how many, at what time, and what was thought of the occurrence. Let them talk; impressions are sometimes of value. Now go."

As the young man departed for the servants' quarters, Mr. Slayden Wilson reappeared.

"Now, then," Converse began at once, "I suppose at present the ladies are not in a condition to be seen?"

"Oh, no, sir; I could not disturb them now; Doctor Bane has succeeded in getting them to sleep. They know nothing, however; I can assure you of that. This terrible tragedy has been a prostrating shock to both of them."

"Well, that can wait. I want the servant who attended the door to-night and Miss Westbrook's maid. If they're asleep, wake 'em up."

"Sam and Melissa are quite ready; I took occasion to impress upon them the necessity of remaining cool under the ordeal of a searching examination, and if they are in possession of any facts you will surely learn them. You will find Sam quite intelligent for a darkey; but I am certain that both are ignorant of—'

"We'll see," was the curt interruption; "hurry, please."

And Mr. Wilson disappeared, noiselessly, up the broad stairway.

In a short time he returned, closely followed by a stout, middle-aged negress, whose face, much swollen with weeping, reflected the degree of terror often described as speechless. She approached Mr. Converse with obvious reluctance and trepidation; but upon observing her condition his sternness relaxed, and he sought to reassure her that he was somewhat less formidable than an ogre.

"Sam is in the servants' quarters," Mr. Slayden Wilson explained. "He does not fully realize what the taking away of a kind master and friend means. Ordinarily he is inclined to be jocular, and the shock has not yet had time to exert its sobering influence, so pray overlook any facetiousness or apparent levity."

"Very good—if you will only fetch him."

It was not difficult to calm Melissa when it became evident to her understanding that this burly, unassuming man desired nothing more momentous of her than the shoes worn the preceding night by her mistress.

Miss Joyce's shoes—the idea!

But astonishment and awakened curiosity made her pliable, and the articles of apparel were not long in forthcoming.

Converse placed one on the palm of his right hand; but whatever of softness and femininity it might have imparted, such influences were apparently lost upon the impassive figure who scrutinized it so closely. His cold eyes took in the fact that the heel and sole were stained with yellow sand, and that innumerable bits of fine gravel yet clung to it.

To any person beneath that roof—save himself and McCaleb, of course,—the circumstance would have appeared ridiculously trifling, yet it made him terribly, dangerously silent and absorbed.

"Fo' de lan' sake, seh," said Melissa, unable longer to restrain her wonder, "what you see in Miss Joyce's shoe to stare at hit dat erway?"

What, indeed? But the Captain did not reply directly; he handed the little shoe back to Melissa, saying:

"I hear Sam coming; but I haven't heard yet where the ladies were last night—at a ball, perhaps?"

"Oh, no, seh; dey wuz at Miz Farquier's 'ception."

"To be sure. And Miss Westbrook was feeling badly and came home before her mother.... Wait there, Sam; I'll be ready for you in two seconds.... That's how she happened to find her father, isn't it?"

"Yes, seh," was the reply; and Melissa proceeded to tell all she knew of the circumstance.

Further than that the hour was late, she did not know when Miss Westbrook returned from the Farquier reception. The young lady had come up the stairs alone, roused her maid, and inquired for her father, who had been feeling ill for a week or more, and upon being informed that he was still in the library, she went at once downstairs again. The rest was confusion in the darkey's mind.

"So Miss Westbrook came upstairs before entering the library?" asked the Captain.

"Oh, yes, seh; she suttenly did."

"How do you know that?"

"I don' know; I des knows hit," was the rather enigmatic reply. "What fo' she ax me 'bout her pa, if she done been in de lib'ry?"

Obviously, it was useless to answer this reasoning.

Sam, the butler, had somewhat more to tell. It was his duty to make everything fast after the family were all in of a night, and he had been dozing in his waiting-room off the rear hall. About midnight he had been startled into wakefulness by a sound which he took to be a shot; but failing to locate its source, and hearing nothing more, he settled himself for another nap, when Miss Westbrook arrived and he was obliged to admit her. She was a trifle flushed and out of breath, as if she had been running.

"I ax her ef she seen somebody in de yahd," added Sam. "When I ax dat, she look at me mighty queer; den she laugh an' say: 'Why, de idea, Sam! You must have been dreaming.'" She then laughed again softly, and ran lightly up the stairs.

About when there had last been a fire in the library, Sam spoke at some length.

"Lemme see, seh," he beat his memory. "On Sunday Marse Peyton went to Bellefontaine, de plantation, an' de nex' night Marse Howa'd Lynden an' Clay Fai'chile was heah to see Miss Joyce. I minds dat, seh, kase dey both sot an' sot dere eyin' one an'er lak dey wanter see which can stay de longes', wiv Miss Joyce pokin' fun at 'em all de time. Bimeby Marse Peyton come in, an' de young gen'lmen dey goes home. Miss Joyce see dat Marse Peyton is cold an' wo'n out. She tole me to make a fiah in de lib'ry, while she mix him a toddy. Dat was a Monday night—de second Monday befoah Marse de Sanchez got kilt."

"That would be in October."

"Yes, seh. I minds it was de fust night Miss Joyce been right peart sence Marse de Sanchez been comin' to de house, an' Marse Peyton was mighty glad to see her dat way."

There had been no fire since until the morning before the General's death, when Sam discovered that some papers had evidently been destroyed in the library fireplace, the ashes of which had blown out over the floor. He had procured a broom and dustpan and removed them.

"What do you do with the ashes, Sam?" asked Converse.

"Dere's a ash-hopper in de stable-yahd; de niggers leaches 'em for lye, seh."

"Have they made any lye recently?"

They had not, and the subject of ashes was temporarily dropped.

Responding to further questions, Sam could not say whether the General had received any disquieting message by mail or otherwise; but he had been "po'ly" for about a week, and against his rather vigorous objections Doctor Bane had been called by Miss Joyce.

"Well, Sam, I guess that is all for the present," Mr. Converse was concluding, when a startling period was put to his words. Hasty footsteps on the gallery, a ringing of the bell, accompanied by a wild beating upon the door, announced somebody's frantic haste and impatience to enter. "Quick Sam! Open the door," he commanded, shortly.

At once Doctor Westbrook strode across the threshold, breathless and quivering with agitation. His eyes lighted instantly upon Converse, and with a quick intake of breath he stopped short.

"It's true, then!" burst incontinently from him. "My God, it's true! Is my father dead? Where is he?"

But before there was time for any reply, an inarticulate, half-repressed cry sounded from the stairway, and the next instant Captain Converse beheld a figure in a loose, flowing, white dishabille rush swiftly, lightly down the steps, and precipitate itself into the open arms of the physician.


The word was wrung from the figure in a sobbing, despairing cry.

But why should Mr. Converse's aspect abruptly become so grim and portentous? Did the odor of stephanotis blind him utterly to the brother's and sister's grief?

At any rate, he certainly sniffed once more, and, with a dubious shake of the head, walked away and left them alone together.



When Mr. Converse so abruptly left the brother and sister in the hall, he proceeded directly to the library, whence the body had already been removed. Merkel had left the room, so he found himself quite alone with his own thoughts, which, for a time, turned sombrely upon what was to him entirely an unknown quantity:—Joyce. After a while he seated himself in the swivel-chair, and fell to contemplating the cryptic blotter.

Under his methodical examination the tangled lines finally resolved themselves into portions of written words,—all backwards, of course,—and of more or less length according to the extent the ink of the original writing had dried before the application of the blotter.

In the first place, if the blotter had been a new one or nearly so when it was last used, then the writing upon which General Westbrook had been engaged the preceding night was lengthy. Again, the longest line was one which had been heavily underscored; it contained three words fairly easy to decipher, and a portion of a fourth. When reversed they read: "......ndum of Castillo Estate." As Converse perused it he felt a strange thrill, a feeling of exultation, run through his big frame, as if something tangible to work upon were at last before his eyes; he read in it a hope that he would not have to do with a Herodias or a Semiramis.

"Memorandum of Castillo Estate"—evidently, from the heaviness with which it had been written and underlined, was the caption of the lost document.

There was one letter which, in connection with others and fragments of other letters, was repeated no less than twelve times—the letter "z," McCaleb's curlicue. What could the absorbed reader conclude otherwise than that he had an even dozen terminations of the name De Sanchez? Clearly, then, the missing document had primarily to do with the estate of one Castillo,—a name with which Converse was not entirely unfamiliar, as shall later on be seen,—and Alberto de Sanchez had been intimately connected therewith. So much for the blotter.

His cogitations were interrupted by the simultaneous entrance of McCaleb and Doctor Westbrook. The latter sank heavily into the Morris chair and into a brooding reverie that ignored the others, while the Captain drew McCaleb into the embrasure of the bay-window behind the desk.

"Well?" he queried.

"Well, sir, to begin with, I've learned some queer things from the darkies, especially Stonewall Jackson, the coachman. Trust the servants, sir, to know what their masters are about. I'll make what I got from Stonewall as brief as possible."

It appeared that Miss Westbrook, on a plea of headache, had slipped away, unnoticed by the company, from the Farquier residence, at about ten o'clock, the coachman driving her directly home. She had dismissed him at the gate, with instructions to go at once and wait for her mother. Mrs. Westbrook did not depart from the reception till near midnight, at which time she appeared in much haste, commanding Stonewall to hurry. McCaleb continued:

"Mrs. Westbrook seemed to be anxious and impatient to get home. Stonewall noticed that all the way she continued to lean forward and peer into the shadows beneath the trees which line the sidewalk on either side of the street. I fancy her servants do not venture to take any liberties with Mrs. Westbrook, but Stonewall could not refrain from asking if she was looking for some one; she paid no attention to him, and he commenced watching the sidewalk on his own account. Isn't it pretty plain she had some reason to be suspicious of the young lady's manoeuvres last night?"

The response was merely a nod.

"Now then, when the carriage was about midway between Tenth and Eleventh streets, and nearing this corner, Stonewall suddenly caught sight of a man in the act of turning from Vine Street to Tenth. He was coming from the direction of the house, and he disappeared in the shadows beneath the shade trees so quickly that he couldn't have told who it was even if he had known him. Before the carriage got to the corner another man showed up, who seemed to be following the first; for he stepped right into the glare of the electric light at the corner, and stood looking down Tenth Street after the other fellow. The carriage was rapidly nearing the corner, and all at once Mrs. Westbrook spotted Number Two. As soon as she saw him, Stonewall says, she laughed in a quiet way, and leaned back in the seat as though she had either found what she was looking for, or was satisfied that any suspicions she might have had were unfounded."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Of course Stonewall didn't put it in just the way I have. I had some difficulty in getting his meaning, and I am using my own choice of words in repeating what he said. The point is, that just as soon as Mrs. Westbrook saw this man she was relieved of some anxiety or fear."

"Ah! And who was this mysterious stranger?—for I see you know him."

"Yes, sir. I'll get to that immediately."

"Go on."

"Well, suddenly Number Two became aware of the approaching carriage, and it's plain he didn't want to be seen after all; he was so bent on watching Number One, when he stepped so briskly into the light, that he was heedless of his own actions. He wheeled around, gave one glance toward the carriage, and disappeared down Tenth Street as quickly as the other man had. But during that brief look Stonewall had an opportunity to recognize him."

"And it was—"


If Mr. Converse was surprised he showed it not at all; he said nothing, and McCaleb, after eyeing him a moment, continued:

"The darkies all had a lot to say; but there was only one thing more that struck me as being important, and I got it out of a little yellow wench—a sort of housemaid. She says General Westbrook was hoodooed last Monday night—the night of the De Sanchez inquest, Captain,—and her yarn has made quite an impression on the other darkies."

The speaker suddenly felt that his hearer's interest had quickened, and he paused an instant to marshal his thoughts. But Converse interposed with a quickness that indicated impatience to hear all there was to be related.

"You didn't let it go at that, I suppose?" he asked.

"Oh, no. Sally's story amounts to this. General Westbrook has not been sick at all; he was hoodooed by a black man that wasn't a nigger."

"'A black man not a nigger'?" Converse repeated, vaguely. "What the deuce!" He clapped McCaleb upon the shoulder with such suddenness that it startled him. "Mac, you're a jewel!" he ejaculated, with a very noticeable moderation of his sibilant voice. "Go on."

"I'm glad the matter is intelligible to you, Captain; I confess—"

"Never mind now; get ahead with your yarn.... Monday night—the night of the inquest—after he had gotten home—on Tuesday they called in Doctor Bane—Sam missed that messenger. I see. Good! Good! What next?"

"Well, this black man brought the General a letter. Sally was sweeping the front gallery and she saw all that happened. When the man called, General Westbrook went out on the gallery through one of the big windows; he seemed much surprised when the man handed him the envelope, and asked, 'Who is this from?' But the man shook his head and smiled, and went away immediately without a word. The General, after watching him out of sight, went back into the library, holding the letter away from him by one corner, as if he were half afraid of it. Sally says she knew the messenger was a 'conjure man' the moment she laid eyes on him, and her suspicions seem to have been confirmed almost at once. It wasn't more than a minute after General Westbrook returned to the library that Sally heard him call out as if he were in pain. She peeped in, and what she saw seems to have scared her pretty bad. The General was sitting at his desk with the 'conjure paper' in his hand; his face was the color of ashes, his jaw open, his eyes staring; and he didn't pay the least bit of attention to Sally. She watched him a moment, dropped her broom, and went flying to notify Mrs. Westbrook. That's all, sir."

"Day is breaking," said the Captain, after a moment, "and I want you to get an hour or two of sleep before reporting to me for further duty. I'll have my hands full to-day. Clancy can report off for you, and I'll fix it with the Chief. Wear plain clothes."

He left the window and advanced into the room. "Clancy," he continued, "you may go. Have the Sergeant detail a man for special duty here to-day, and notify him that I am using McCaleb."

There are times when a man's grief is, to a limited extent, its own antidote. And it was so with Doctor Westbrook as he sat brooding; for when Mr. Converse dismissed the two policemen he noted that the physician was still sitting precisely in the attitude assumed by him when he had first dropped into the Morris chair. He was patently oblivious to what was going on about him; and observing this also, Mr. Converse went in search of Merkel.

He found the Coroner in the hall, conversing with the undertaker's man, and drew him aside.

"Mr. Merkel," began the Captain, bluntly, "the moment has arrived when you must let me run things alone."

That Merkel's dignity was ruffled and his official pride affronted was quite plain; nevertheless, after a wordy exposition of the irregularity of the proceeding, the "responsibilities of his office," and the duties incumbent upon him, he departed. Secretly, he cherished the idea of some time overwhelming John Converse with a brilliant tour de force; but the opportunity had never been perceptible to his obtuseness, and the Captain, of course, knew nothing of the other's ambition. If he had, perhaps he would have smiled.

Mr. Converse returned to the library with a distinct feeling of satisfaction. Apparently the Doctor had not stirred. After a brief contemplation of the dejected figure, the detective advanced and laid his hand upon one bowed shoulder.

"Come, Doctor," said he; "I must have a little talk with you."

The Doctor looked up dully, uncomprehending.

"Rouse yourself," continued Converse, "for there is a more desperate crisis in your affairs than the death of your father. Do you hear me? Do you understand?" Then, as Doctor Westbrook continued to stare at him wonderingly, he added, "You must pull yourself together—for your sister's sake."

The final appeal penetrated the stunned intelligence; on a sudden the Doctor straightened up, the light of understanding once more in his eyes.

"My sister?" he repeated; "Joyce? What do you mean? What of her?"

"Can you attend to what I say now?" returned Converse. He was now masterful, compelling the other's attention. "Then listen to me before I ask or you answer my questions." He paused for a moment, his keen eyes fixed squarely upon the physician's.

"Doctor Westbrook," he continued, presently, "you know whether, in the death of Alberto de Sanchez, there is any circumstance which may affect your sister nearly; you may not know that, in the death of your father, the circumstances involve her quite as clos—"


The Doctor sprang from his chair; the emotions beneath which he had so lately been crushed were suddenly submerged and swept away in a wave of anger.

"You will leave my sister out of this wretched affair, sir," he commanded, white with indignation.

Converse, however, was far from faltering before this stern, not to say menacing, attitude; his own huge frame was the embodiment of resolution, the cold light of his eye the reflection of an inflexible, constraining personality, intent with a fixed determination; and the look with which he met Dr. Westbrook's infuriated glance did more to calm the latter than any speech could have done. The Doctor all at once sat down again, signifying by a slight gesture that the other might proceed.

"Doctor," the Captain went on immediately, "you will do well if you try to curb your impatience, for at the very best what I have to say to you will not be pleasant. Perhaps you will see it in the light of necessity when I tell you I have taken pains to secure this conference against interruption." And he concluded, grimly, "It is necessary—or something worse."

"Well, what is it?" was the response, uttered with a touch of testiness. "I hope the result will justify your assurance. I'm in no humor to trifle."

"And you will find it no trifling matter." The speaker paused; concluding with a deliberateness of manner that made the words vastly portentous: "Doctor Westbrook, if the Coroner and the District Attorney had in their possession the facts—not theories, mind, but facts which can now be proved,—if they had laid before them all that I know, they would order your sister placed under immediate arrest."

If the Captain's intention was to impress the gravity of the situation upon the physician, he must have been eminently satisfied. Doctor Westbrook collapsed as if he had received a powerful physical blow; his face was haggard already, and now his eyes became fixed upon his interlocutor, intent, fascinated.

"So, you see, Doctor," Converse went on, "I am going outside my duty in giving you this opportunity to clear up some particulars, which it has been in your power to do since—well, I will fix the time by the death of De Sanchez."

After a silence which seemed to grow interminable, Doctor Westbrook cleared his throat, and hoarsely asked: "What do you wish? Dispense with preliminaries; what do you want of me?"

"Very good. I want you to summon Miss Westbrook here, and in your presence I shall put to her a number of questions. Of course she may answer them or not as she sees fit; but you must understand now and clearly, Doctor, that whatever the next immediate action taken by me may be, it will depend largely upon the outcome of this interview. If I am inconsiderate in any particular, pray say so, and I shall try to accommodate myself to your own and your sister's feelings in the matter. Now go; consult Miss Westbrook's wishes, but please be expeditious. Meet me here"—with a glance at his watch—"say, in thirty minutes." And without another word or a look back he quitted the room.

In the hall he encountered Sam, who, since the tragedy, seemed to have no more weighty occupation than to wander aimlessly about in a feeble effort to adjust himself to a novel and incomprehensible condition. His face lighted at sight of the Captain.

"Sam," said Mr. Converse, "I should like to have a look at that ash-hopper now."

"Sho', seh!" exclaimed the darkey in the lowest note of his mellow voice; "you isn't really in ea'nest about dem ashes, is you?"

Mr. Converse was much in earnest.

"Well, seh," and Sam scratched his bald spot in perplexity, "you all p'leece officehs is sho' a mighty queer lot." Then, with a sudden assumption of his stateliest manner, "Howsomeveh, seh, if you'll please to follow me, I'll be 'bleeged to show you de ash-hopper."

The ashes were of the soft, fluffy white kind that remain after a complete combustion of wood; in this case kept clear of other refuse, and sheltered from the weather, in anticipation of future lye.

"Have the ashes from the kitchen been dumped here since you cleaned the library grate last?" Converse inquired.

"Yes, seh; twicet."

"Very good, Sam. You may go back to the house."

Once alone, Converse picked up a stick and began carefully to rake off the top layer of ashes, penetrating into the heap not more than a quarter of an inch at a time. He repeated this operation no more than four or five times, when he stopped, and with his fingers extracted a conspicuous bit of black—unmistakably the ash of incinerated paper. It was too small to possess any advantage in itself; but it was the counterpart of many minute particles such as he had picked with the point of his pencil from between the bricks of the library fireplace.

After a brief examination he cast the flake of ash aside, and proceeded more carefully to rake over the pile.

"If there is only a larger piece, only one that will show the writing," the delver muttered to himself, "if there is only one that has not been entirely burnt, my search will not have been in vain. But these flakes are all too small and fragile.... No such luck.... Ah-h-h!"

The final ejaculation was merely a breath, but pregnant with satisfaction. The point of the stick had revealed a small piece of paper, one edge charred, but containing a number of written words—one a name which sent a thrill through the searcher.

The fragment had once been the lower left-hand corner of a sheet of the commonest kind of note-paper, and inside the charred edge could be read the commencement of two lines—evidently the last two—and a portion of the signature, all written in Spanish, and by a feminine hand:

Eso es
¿ Acabo V? No
          Paquita y

At this moment Mr. Converse—for the first time in his life, perhaps,—had reason to bless certain years spent with Abram Follett in Latin America; for to his understanding, and without any great knowledge of the Spanish language, the words signified:

It is ... (or, is not?)
Are you ready? No ...
        Paquita and ...

Was this a portion of the "conjure paper"? Was this the message that had hoodooed the unfortunate General—containing, beyond the scope of the physician's skill, a potent cause for mental distress? Was it the herald of his wretched end?

And Paquita—again the pretty feminine prænomen! Disclosing no identity, it flaunted itself at every stage of the investigation with a vagueness of allusion tantalizing and vexing to an extreme; ever presenting to the mind's eye no more than a faint, nebulous image of maiden loveliness, at once precocious and ingenuous. "Paquita and—" whom? What other name had completed the signature to the destroyed missive?

Mr. Converse produced the familiar and well-worn pocket-book; and therein, with extraordinary care, he deposited the precious fragment of paper.

Further search disclosed nothing more of value, and in a few minutes he went back to the house to confront Doctor Westbrook and Joyce.



As Mr. Converse entered the library he stopped short almost on the threshold, conscious of a sudden shock. Could that nonchalant, self-possessed girl be the innocent—

Before the thought was complete his feelings took a pendulum sweep backward: from extreme surprise and acute disappointment that his sympathies had been wasted, to admiration and pity, and a satisfying conviction that, after all, his sympathies were greatly needed. He bent upon her a keener, more discerning look, and all at once comprehended that a wealth of profound and conflicting emotions were possible behind the marble exterior presented to him.

Joyce cast at him a look of such dumb terror that for once he was at a complete loss how to proceed. He realized the many and varied potentialities for evil with which her imagination must have invested him—what a terrible monster he must appear to her—and felt keenly the disadvantage of his vocal infirmity, anticipating that it would further prejudice him in her estimation. Yet he must speak, and she must be made to hear him.

With the revulsion of feeling he advanced into the room. And as he did so he perceived a tremor pass over the slight frame; she groped an instant, blindly, with her left hand until it found and interlocked with her brother's.

The Doctor was seated in the Morris chair, while his sister stood close by his right side. Now that she required its support, his stronger masculine nature had asserted itself, and, save for the haggard visage, Doctor Westbrook was quite his natural self again. Whatever had passed between them during the last half-hour, they had undoubtedly arrived at an agreement to brave out the present interview together.

She was robed in a simple morning-gown of a dead and dull black. The hint of fragrance, which seemed an aura of her presence, had apparently lost its interest for Mr. Converse.

"Miss Westbrook," he began, and beheld his fears justified by another shudder at the first sound of his sibilant voice. But he went on as evenly and as gently as his vocal defect would permit. "Miss Westbrook, I have asked for this interview out of a consideration for you and your family, which the Doctor understands, I believe, and which you will understand also, no doubt before we are through. As a detective I am often called upon to do things that are distasteful to myself, and this is not the least disagreeable task I have ever found before me. But I can't shirk a plain duty, Miss Westbrook; so if I attempt to perform that plain duty in a manner that will be the least distressing to yourself, may I count upon your coöperation and approval?"

Without altering her attitude, or the slightest change in her pale countenance, she slowly and silently inclined her head the merest trifle in acquiescence.

"Very good, Miss Westbrook; thank you. You make it lighter for all of us. Now, may I suggest that you be seated? At best we shall be engaged for some time."

Her left hand was still clasped in her brother's; but further than to indicate with her free hand a chair in which Mr. Converse was at liberty to seat himself if he chose, she made no response. He took advantage of the opportunity to the extent of resting one knee on the chair-seat and his elbows on the back—the straight-backed chair which had stood by the veranda window.

"Now then, Miss Westbrook, let us go back to the evening of November fourth," Converse proceeded. He found no encouragement in her frozen attitude; but his own manner could have been no more cheerful, yet tempered by a sense of his surroundings and the occasion, nor have betrayed more of an easy confidence, had he known that the locked lips were to open, and by a word exorcise the spell of mystery which held them all. "During the evening of November fourth—Wednesday—were you not in the Nettleton Building?"

So promptly that it would have staggered a man less used to surprises, came the reply:

"I refuse to answer."

Even the Captain was taken aback, although it was not in his immobile features to yield a hint of the fact. As he put the question, he noted a convulsive tightening of the hand that still clasped the Doctor's; but the soft eyes did not waver nor the beautiful face alter its expression. The words were faintly spoken; nevertheless they were vibrant with a determined and set purpose, and Converse was overwhelmed with that sense of helpless impatience which is apt to assail one in the face of mistaken obstinacy.

"This is very unfortunate," he observed with deepened gravity. "Miss Westbrook, I would not presume to advise you, but you are wrong, wrong—and how can I convince you?" He regarded the still figure, as unresponsive as a waxen image. No assistance there. He glanced at Doctor Westbrook, only to meet another pair of eyes showing an unalterable purpose.

"This conversation might as well end here and now," he at length concluded, addressing the Doctor; and added with pointed deliberation, "You know what that means."

Doctor Westbrook glanced at the silent, motionless figure beside him, and moved uneasily. Was is possible that the uncompromising attitude of this mere girl, and it alone, was responsible for the deadlock? To a certain extent she was herself a mystery, an enigma, and what with her immobility and silence, her dimness of outline in the darkened library, she was as intangible and inscrutable as Paquita. Out of the shadow that marked where she stood the violet eyes glowed like two stars, the beautiful features, surrounded by their halo of ebon hair, now only a denser shadow, loomed as pallid as death, and the Captain was irritatingly aware of his inability so far to grasp at anything definite by which to frame his speech. At any rate, whether or no she was the controlling spirit, it would seem the Doctor endeavored to temporize.

"Mr. Converse," he began presently, "you have called our attention to the fact that you are simply performing a duty,—that you are doing so with a delicate consideration for our feelings which perhaps we don't deserve,—but I assure you, sir, we do appreciate your tact and thoughtfulness, and it must appear that we are making a poor return for such kindness. But consider this: there are possible issues to this crisis that may prove disastrous to persons entirely unblameworthy. Can you not imagine the possibility of a situation in which we should be compelled to move with the utmost caution, wherein we must rely solely upon our own judgment? Good God!" he suddenly exploded, "think of Joyce—my sister—think of a fair young girl being entangled in anything so damnable!"

Joyce Was Herself a Mystery, an Enigma, as Inscrutable as "Paquita."
Joyce Was Herself a Mystery, an Enigma,
as Inscrutable as "Paquita."

Converse cast a covert glance at the girl, to note the effect of this outburst; but her manner revealed not the slightest alteration. It was plain that such determination would betray nothing by either a word or sign. But why? Speculation upon this question led swiftly and surely to the darkest possibilities—nay, probabilities—that might elucidate her conduct.

He made another effort.

"If you would but dismiss the idea that I am an enemy—"

"Ah," interrupted the Doctor, quickly; "I understand your impersonal attitude exactly, Mr. Converse. You are not an enemy. If the way were clear before you to do so, I think we could count on you as a trustworthy friend to extricate us from our difficulties. On the other hand—well, to be brief, it is this impersonal attitude which may prove inimical to us. I—I—pardon me, I can't be more explicit."

"I might construe such a statement to mean that, were I to perform my duty in the light of actual facts, the operation would be—well, disagreeable to you."

The response was a lifting of the brows and a shrug of the shoulders, which said quite plainly—perhaps more plainly than the Doctor intended,—"I cannot prevent your placing any construction upon my words you may see fit."

"If you will permit the observation, Doctor," Converse remarked, dryly, "your words are contradictory to come from a man entirely innocent."

A flash from the physician's eyes gave warning of an angry rejoinder; but another unconscious movement of the hand which held his so tightly brought his sister sharply to mind, it would seem, and the words, when uttered, betrayed a note of helplessness.

"My God!" he exclaimed, "don't I know it? But what do mere denials amount to in the face of this suspicion?"

"Yet there is something within your knowledge, and arising out of these crimes, which you unequivocally refuse to tell me."

"I have nothing to say, Mr. Converse."

"Not even in the face of evidence seriously compromising Miss Westbrook?"

Of a sudden the alert Captain became aware of a change in the statue-like girl. It was slight, indefinable—telepathic rather than openly perceptible,—but he fancied the fixed look with which she regarded him assumed an added intentness at this stage. He even felt for one brief instant that she meant to speak; but if such had been her purpose, a second thought prevailed, and she remained motionless and silent. He turned abruptly to her.

"Miss Westbrook," said he, "is it of any use for me to make another appeal to you?"

Although he waited for an answer, she made no sign that would indicate she had heard. With an air of finality, he presently pushed back the chair and stood upright.

"Well," he went on, "after the course this talk has taken there remains but one thing for me to do. I regret that you feel you would be conferring a favor instead of accepting an opportunity—which happens to be the situation; but I—"

Doctor Westbrook raised a protesting hand.

"Just a moment," he interposed with anxious haste. "You assert that my sister's situation is critical." Again the Captain had the feeling that Miss Westbrook's impassivity cloaked a strained attention; but, as before, if the emotion existed, her frozen attitude yielded no token of it. Was she anxious for an expression of his views upon this point? "Suppose," the Doctor continued, "the least admission on our part would lead to complications which would hopelessly involve her, is it our place to speak? If the situation is such that a full explanation cannot be given,—tell me, is not our position onerous—unbearable? ... Now then, Mr. Converse, be candid," he concluded, with an abrupt, confidential dropping of his voice, "is it not the truth that you would not have asked her if she was present that evening, if you could prove that she was? And tell me, what has all this to do with last night's crime?"

For a moment Converse felt a tide of anger rising within him; he all at once realized that, as an officer of the law—as a mere machine operating in a fixed routine—he had made a mistake; he had allowed a generous impulse to interpose and thwart an end of great importance; and now, when it was too late, he must make an effort to remedy his error. Without the least warning, he fastened his compelling, probing regard full upon Joyce. It was a look that had made hardened criminals tremble, and at last the girl's impassiveness gave way. With an involuntary clutching of the clasped hand she shrank closer to her brother. For a moment she returned the look; then her glance wavered—fell; the sooty lashes swept her cheeks, where two spots of color began slowly to appear, and the statue was quickened into life.

"And would you really care to know, Miss Westbrook, what I think of it?" he asked, with a significant quietness that startled her into speech.

"Yes—I—I—" she faltered and stopped. She looked wildly from the Doctor to the terrible figure confronting her; then with a mighty effort she regained control of herself, and concluded in a voice firmer, but very low, "It is of no interest to me."

Mr. Converse acknowledged the reply with a bow of exaggerated deference.

"You overlook Mr. Clay Fairchild," he remarked, dryly.

Another tightening of the clasped hands, and another tremor through the girl's slight frame, were the sole responses to this final chance shot, until Doctor Westbrook's voice broke in.

"Pardon me, I have not," said he. "But I wasn't aware that he was under consideration."

"Perhaps not," was the crisp retort, "openly. He is an important factor, however." His glance swerved to Joyce with a light that asked quite plainly, "Is he not?"

But only the Doctor replied. "Indeed?" with ingenuous surprise. "But he seems quite effectually to have effaced himself."

Converse shot another glance at Joyce.

"Well, as for that," he said, slowly, "I have reason to believe that I might have laid hands upon him, if I had been in this neighborhood last night between—h-m-m-m—between ten and twelve o'clock." If he expected this avowal of what he imagined the circumstances to be to make any impression upon the girl he was disappointed; for she was again the frozen image, not to be swayed by any influence under his control.

But not so the Doctor. He looked at the detective, with knitted brow, for a moment; then, after a hasty side-glance at his sister, "I see," he said; "I am merely a peg upon which to hang references to things of which I am entirely ignorant. Come, Mr. Converse, you expect frankness from us; be open yourself."

The Captain shrugged his shoulders. "My attempt at frankness met with rather a cool reception"—with some sarcasm—"but I will adopt your suggestion, and have done.... Miss Westbrook, at what time last night did you leave Mrs. Farquier's?" The abruptness of the address startled her again momentarily; but somewhat to Mr. Converse's surprise, she answered almost at once.

Her recital agreed in all essentials with what Mr. Converse already knew of her movements. She had heard the shots, but had been unable to locate them; and it was but a minute or two thereafter that she had come upon her father's stark body in the library.

At this juncture a knock sounded upon the library door.

"Allow me," the Captain interposed, quickly, addressing the Doctor; "I think it is one of my men."

He opened the door, disclosing McCaleb, who appeared much less ornate in the more sober garments of the ordinary citizen.

"Wait just outside the door until I call you, Mac," said Converse, in an aside clearly audible to the Doctor and Joyce; "I think I shall need you in a minute." He unceremoniously closed the door in the young man's face.

"Now then, Miss Westbrook," he resumed, turning again to her, "will you tell me what you were doing on the premises—in the yard—between ten and twelve o'clock at night?"

"See here, Mr. Converse," the Doctor broke in, rather sharply; "I don't know what this is all about, but I protest against the personal nature of this question. My sister is neither on the witness-stand nor accused—"

With a single imperative gesture, the speaker was silenced.

"Tell me, Miss Westbrook, were you alone?"

The lovely, subdued eyes flashed forth a startled look; but Joyce made no reply.

"Miss Westbrook, I will go further in offering you this opportunity: I will say that I know you were not alone. Come, now, who was with you?"

Still silence. The mention of Fairchild's name had produced no effect; it might be well to try another.

"Was it Mr. Lynden?"

The girl responded precisely as she had to the first question, the same words uttered in the same tone:

"I refuse to answer."

Another shrug of the shoulders signalized the end of Mr. Converse's forbearance. He strode hastily to the door, but turned and paused with his hand upon the handle.

Was it a stifled cry that had reached his ears? The girl was now standing with the back of her free hand pressed tightly to her lips, and in her eyes was a look of despair that smote him to the heart. Great heavens, what did she mean? Was man ever confronted by such perverseness, or beset by a more irritating perplexity! Why did she not speak?

"I make one more appeal to you," he said, after regarding her a moment. "Do not misconstrue this. If you do not speak, my alternative is to arrest you. Do you comprehend that? When I open this door, it will be to introduce an officer who will become your custodian. Will you not believe that my motives in thus appealing to you are prompted solely by a desire to spare you the distress that will be inflicted if you do not open your lips? Consider before you answer; will you give me your confidence? Shall the door remain closed—or shall I open it?"

For one brief moment Joyce had all the appearance of some hunted thing hopelessly cornered. She looked wildly from the officer to her brother, who sat with set and rigid features, and back to the officer again. All at once, it seemed, her resolution was made; or, if she had hesitated, strength was given her to maintain her purpose. Her agitation vanished, and she returned Mr. Converse's look fearlessly and half defiantly.

"I have nothing to confide," was the response, uttered with firmness and the quiet of a determination not to be swayed.

With a bow, Converse threw open the door.

"Come in, McCaleb," he said, his manner now brisk and business-like; then, turning to the Doctor: "This man is an officer who, for the present, will be responsible for Miss Westbrook's movements. Now then, Doctor, hear my final word. I have made one mistake in allowing consideration for your sister—young and inexperienced as she is—to come between me and my duty. I am going to assume the risk again by offering you another opportunity. I see that you feel the matter keenly, but this issue of our conference is the fault of you two. Still, it is terrible thus to thrust the stigma of such a crime upon a mere girl—little short of the crime itself,—and in the hope that I can soon clear up this fog of mystery, I am going to be guilty of a dereliction. Give me your word that Miss Westbrook will neither attempt to leave the house nor communicate with anybody outside, without first reporting to McCaleb, and for the present—until it becomes unavoidable to act otherwise—she may remain here."

With a sudden movement, Doctor Westbrook released Joyce's hand, and pressed his own hand to his brow.

"Good God!" he groaned, "this is intolerable. Joyce—dear sister—tell—"

But he got no further. The final word acted like the touch that releases a taut spring, and she fairly precipitated herself upon him, sending one look of such utter terror and desperation at Mr. Converse that his perplexity deepened into blank amazement, and at the same time she clapped a hand over her brother's mouth.

"You swore you would not," she whispered, almost fiercely. "Mobley, you swore. If they were to tear me limb from limb before your eyes I would not consent to have you tell."

The Doctor's head dropped, and with a gentle movement he took the small hand from out his beard, kissed it tenderly, and sat abstractedly caressing it.

Joyce's lovely countenance grew beatific in its exultation.

"Converse," despairingly, "I give you my word."

"Unless you or the young lady cause it to be otherwise," said the Captain, softly, "the matter may remain private among us four—unless, of course," he supplemented, "the next day or two fails to reveal something substantial to lay before the District Attorney. I do not extend any false hopes. The seriousness of Miss Westbrook's position can scarcely be magnified.... McCaleb, you have heard; act accordingly until you receive other instructions."

"May my sister retire?" asked Doctor Westbrook.

"Certainly. Her movements are not to be restricted or spied upon, or interfered with in any manner or degree—within the house, of course. You understand this, Mac."

The young man nodded. His manner was extremely sober; it was quite patent that he was not insusceptible to the beauty of his charge.

Joyce started slowly toward the door, close by which McCaleb yet stood. She was probably half-way between the group of two—her brother, old and haggard in the chair, the other as menacing and inexorable as Fate,—and the younger man who looked at her with frank pity, when she paused and turned to her brother. There was a faint smile upon her lips; her eyes were soft, and it appeared as if she were about to speak. But before any one of the three could offer her the least assistance, she sank quietly to the floor, unconscious.



She walks in beauty, like the night
    Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
    Meets in her aspect and her eyes,
Thus mellowed to that tender light
    Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
    Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
    Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
    How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
    So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
    But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
    A heart whose love is innocent.


This is as strange a maze as e'er men trod;
                                        . . . . . . some oracle
Must rectify our knowledge.

                                                                —THE TEMPEST.



Somewhat more than a score of years before the opening of this story, Richard Fairchild, after quietly contemplating the parcelling of his once fair estate among a horde of clamoring, quarrelling creditors, chief of whom was his erstwhile overseer, William Slade, the elder,—strolled leisurely into the country, as quietly placed a pistol to his head and blew out his brains. He did not leave behind property of sufficient value to defray his modest burial expenses.

This succession of disasters at one stroke transformed the wife from a famous and envied beauty into a broken invalid, petulant, querulous, and exacting, living only in the memory of her days of happiness, and made of her daughter Charlotte a strangely quiet and sedate woman, bound to her helpless mother's side as with hoops of steel. Clay was then but a babe.

The tiny cottage that received the invalid mother, the dark-eyed daughter, and the infant son was part of a slender legacy bequeathed Charlotte by a maiden aunt; and with the passing years the old homestead became merely a melancholy ruin, half hidden by weeds and underbrush, infested by owls and bats, and an occasion for wonder at the probable motives which prompted the present Slade so to neglect it. Nothing stirred now beneath the crumbling roof-tree but rats and mice—and shadows.

If those persons who marvelled at Slade's parsimony or queer ideas of economy could have been present at a scene which occurred at the cottage on the evening of the night General Westbrook was assassinated, they might have found an answer to their mental queries. Yet we may only know what Miss Charlotte herself saw and heard.

To begin with, she was startled by a sound of unfamiliar footsteps on the front porch, an uncertain movement toward the door, and finally by a knocking upon the door itself.

She took up a lamp and advanced down the narrow hall to the small reception-hall. Without any hesitation she unlocked the door and opened it wide at once; and it is probable that no apparition of any person, dead or living, could have affected her so profoundly as what she then beheld in the light of the lamp. She was so astonished at sight of the crusty abstracter that she stood quite speechless. On the other hand, it is noteworthy in estimating Mr. Slade's character that he snatched off his hat and ducked his head, much as he might have done in the old days when he stepped aside from the road to allow the family coach to roll by. Plainly, he was uneasy, out of his element, and the shallow, jet-like eyes at once became shifty before the unfathomable ones which regarded him with such frank surprise and displeasure.

But her expression rapidly altered: her eyes darkened, their light hardened—if the expression is permissible—and her lips compressed; never before had a Slade stood in the doorway of the cottage. The brightly glowing flame of hospitality was extinguished before this unexpected blast.

This silence was something more than Slade could endure. Nervously, he emitted a dry, deprecatory cough behind his knuckly fingers.

"Miss Charlotte, is it not?" he finally ventured.

"What do you want?" was the blunt reply.

Propitiation was difficult for Slade, especially in the face of such obvious, uncompromising antipathy. His nervousness measurably increased, and he replied, rather incoherently

"Pardon me, Miss Charlotte, I know it seems strange—why I am here, I mean; but I must see—dear me, I can't explain.... Can't you hold the light a little more out of my eyes? Oh, very well.... Your mother—Mrs. Fairchild—I must see her on business—very important, Miss Charlotte."

Her amazement only deepened.

"Business with mamma!" she cried, incredulously. "Why, that is ridiculous—absurd; mamma has transacted no business for years. What in the world do you mean?"

He seemed to be painfully aware of his awkward, ungainly, and untidy appearance, and of the harshness of his voice; he was overcome by a sense that this woman, who looked him through and through as if he were transparent, would regard any misfortune that might befall him with precisely the same expression. He made a strenuous effort at composure, with the result that his naturally sour and churlish disposition was given an opportunity to assert itself.

"My business goes behind those years," he said; "and if you please, it is none of yours."

"Indeed?" The rising inflection soared to glacial heights. "If you will excuse me I will close the door. When my brother returns—"

A sudden look of cunning in the little jet eyes checked her.

"Hear me a moment," he presently said. "My errand affects—" He paused briefly and looked at her with a slightly different expression, as if determining how far to trust her; but he uttered no confidence. "Come, Miss," he at last finished, "if you don't admit me you—your mother—your brother—your brother, eh?—will suffer for it."

Still inflexibly barring the entrance: "Do you mean that your errand concerns Clay?" she asked. Unconsciously, a note of anxiety had crept into her voice, which, in spite of his deafness, Slade caught, and he was quick to take advantage of it.

Doubtfully, still a little bewildered, but her hostility for this man not in the least abated, she stepped aside at last, and coldly bade him to enter. She placed the lamp upon a table in the tiny hall. "Wait here," she enjoined, briefly, without offering him a seat, and so left him.

Charlotte Fairchild was one of those very tall women, with whom we rarely meet, who are not awkward. Instead, when she walked every movement seemed to flow in graceful ripples from feet to shoulders, beginning without abruptness and dying gradually away like the wavelets on the surface of a disturbed pond. A couplet of Herrick's pictures her:

"Then, then (methinks), how sweetly flows
The liquefaction of her clothes."

And yet her step was firm and swift, giving her a bearing exquisitely impressive.

Her hands and feet were beautifully formed, long, slender, and tapering, as becomes a tall woman; and her voice was one of those rich, liquid contraltos, always effective because always subdued. It was in accord with her habitual repose; but it hinted at unlimited possibilities of elemental strength, and the presence of many and varied forces behind her calm exterior.

Her command to Mr. Slade was imperative, and he stood uncertainly watching her as she walked down the hall. At its end she opened a door, and even the man's faulty hearing could catch the high, impatient voice in the room beyond; a voice which had an odd effect upon him, too, for the lean, irascible visage actually brightened, and a light very like eagerness shot from the jetty eyes.

"Child, who was it?" the voice was saying. "What kept you so long? Is there any news of—" And the door closed again.

Mr. Slade was obliged to stand there many minutes, fingering his rusty felt hat, before Charlotte reappeared and, with a single queenly gesture, beckoned him to approach. But when he finally advanced into the room, Mrs. Fairchild, paralyzed from the waist down, might have been a chatelaine, and he the overseer, the steward, seeking audience on affairs concerning the estate. So did the inherent and ineradicable traits of relative breeding naturally and unconsciously manifest themselves. Although he had secured the coveted admission, the manner of his reception was undoubtedly discouraging to his purpose. Mrs. Fairchild's first words and her mien were a further check to approaching his object.

"Well, Slade," she began, with unconscious but none the less galling patronage, "what can I do for you? Dear me! You do not favor your father in the least.... Daughter, hand me my glasses.... Thank you.... He was such a large, florid man. But probably your health—"

"Mamma," Charlotte gently interrupted, "Mr. Slade has come on business. Perhaps he cannot be detained." She had taken a position behind her mother's chair, and had leant down until her lips were close to the lace cap. As she stood upright again, Mrs. Fairchild protested petulantly:

"Yes, yes, child; I know. I do not mean to detain him..... What were you saying, Slade?"

That individual presented a spectacle of overwhelming embarrassment. He had not opened his mouth since entering the room, and now, when he did, it was to appeal to the daughter.

"For God's sake, Miss Charlotte," he whispered hoarsely, as if he did not intend the mother to hear, "for God's sake, leave us. What I have to say is very private; indeed it is. I will have done as soon as possible."

Charlotte remained motionless behind her mother's chair, returning to this astonishing outburst a look of wonder. The older woman also regarded the man with an expression of surprise.

On rare occasions—especially under any sudden mental shock or access of feeling—Mrs. Fairchild's intellect assumed something of its old-time activity and brightness. Slade was sensible of such a change now, though unable to define it; he felt the personality manifesting itself in her look, and he turned from Charlotte to her with whom lay his first interest.

"I cannot imagine the occasion for such an extraordinary demand, Slade," the afflicted lady said at length; "but if it may be of any advantage to you my daughter shall retire."

"No, no, mamma," Charlotte protested, quickly. "I fear to leave you with this—this man. I shall be deaf and blind, but I cannot leave you."

Never before had such a request been made of her, and a growing dread had awakened in her bosom that Slade's errand boded ill for her mother. Whence come these premonitions of impending evil? To what mysterious depths of our being do they owe their source, and why is it customary to deride them? Experience certainly justifies that we bestow upon these inward promptings a serious consideration, yet we almost invariably ignore and ridicule them. And now the silent warning cries, "Stay!"

With a design quite patent, Charlotte again addressed her mother.

"Do not forget Clay," she remarked; and the vagrant memory instantly fastened upon the name.

"I remember perfectly that we were discussing Clay," was the petulant retort, "when I was directed away from the topic. Pray do not intimate that I am forgetful, Charlotte. I hope you do not so far forget the duty and respect you owe me that you can entertain such a ridiculous idea, to say nothing of uttering it. Proceed, Slade, with what you were saying about my son."

He fixed his beady eyes upon Charlotte, and coughed dryly behind his knuckly hand.

"When the girl goes," said he, recovering in a measure his composure. "Remember, I asked for and you granted an audience—private."

"An audience?"—the word caught—"a conference? Why, certainly, Slade." The request was granted with a sudden assumption of dignity—a fleeting, simple remnant of other times—that caused the daughter much concern. Charlotte feared the result of a refusal to withdraw quite as much as she feared to leave her mother alone with Slade; but with many misgivings she reluctantly turned away and departed from the room, closing the door behind her.

No earthly interest was powerful enough to allow her to remain where she might overhear one word not intended for her ears; still, the feeling of dread, in spite of Mr. Slade's assurances, was real and insistent; above all things she wanted to linger within sound of her mother's voice.

What powerful motive had dictated to-night's intrusion? For, earnestly as she despised the man, she could not imagine him pushing his way into the house upon a mere whim, or for any trifling matter. She cast back over the past as far as her memory could penetrate, but no circumstance appeared to afford the slightest explanation of the mysterious visit, unless—unless it had, indeed, to do with her brother. And here her thoughts faltered, for there were many reasons why the idea should increase her anxiety.

She glided noiselessly to the front door, and throwing it open, looked out into the night. An overwhelming sense of her loneliness and isolation fell upon her. The feeling was but momentary, however, since she attacked such encroachments of depression with as much ardor as she could muster forth from her dauntless spirit. Occasionally the black humor mastered her, but it would not do to give way to-night. What did William Slade, son of a treacherous steward, want of her mother—the poor wreck of womanhood who could bestow nothing? But Atropos, in severing the past from the present, was cutting with her shears a strange pattern, the outlines of which neither Charlotte's nor any eye could perceive.

The faint murmur of voices came to her where she stood, and although she strove not to permit her interest to acquire listening ears, it was unavoidable that she should hear and note certain things: that the caller was doing most of the talking; that, while the words were wholly unintelligible, he seemed to be speaking with vehemence, and that her mother's share in the conversation was apparently limited to occasional ejaculations of surprise. This continued for many minutes, during which Charlotte stood motionless, her tall, willowy form drawn into a rigid erectness. Under the tensity of her anxious expectation, her sensitive nostrils distended and contracted, and her eyes glowed, in the dimly lighted hall, with an unnatural brightness.

Of a sudden the voices ceased, and she heard Slade take a step or two. Next, the faint crackling of paper, the inadvertent snapping of a rubber band, were barely distinguishable—and silence.

Her stretched imagination insensibly portrayed a vivid picture of the scene: the man probably had handed her mother some document, and was awaiting her perusal of it; he stood awkwardly fumbling that ridiculous hat, while her mother searched vainly—no, she had her glasses. Possibly, under stress of the excitement, her faculties were quite normal. If so, she was reading the document—and what was its effect?

But if Mrs. Fairchild was indeed reading, she did not read far. A sudden horrified exclamation almost caused Charlotte to hasten into the room; but it was followed so quickly by the voices again that she paused. Now her mother was talking volubly. Charlotte even fancied she could detect contempt and scorn in the tones. Such being the case, the usually clouded faculties must now be abnormally active. Slade was by turns protesting, pleading, and giving way to his peevish temper. The spirited colloquy came to an abrupt end in a single piercing cry:


For an instant her heart ceased beating; a benumbing chill paralyzed her power of volition; then she rushed to the door and threw it open with a crash.

What she beheld explained but little to her alarmed senses. Her own appearance must have been awe-inspiring, for simultaneously with her advent, Slade recoiled in obvious alarm. She could see that her mother had been powerfully moved by some recent agitation, the exciting influence of which had by no means subsided; and whatever the different phases of that emotion might have been, they had undoubtedly crystallized into a violently active antipathy for Mr. William Slade. Her right hand was extended toward Slade, palm outward, as if to ward off an expected attack; or was it to guard the papers crushed so convulsively in her left hand and pressed so fiercely against her laboring bosom?

As for the man, it was patent that the situation was an unexpected and deeply disappointing outcome of his visit. More than that, he appeared overwhelmed, stunned, crushed, as if the issue involved an essential to his being. Nevertheless, however, whether his conduct had been intentional or not, an anger, terrible in its quietness, gushed from the deep well of Charlotte's passionate nature, stirring the man from his despondency by its very intensity.

"Go!" she commanded, her flexible voice striking its deepest note; and Slade stepped back as though he had been slapped in the face.

With a swift, lithe movement, Charlotte stooped and gathered her mother's head to her own heaving breast. Slade opened his mouth, as if to speak, but the words were stopped by a repetition of the inexorable, compelling, low-voiced command:


He retreated nearer the door, and all at once his malignant nature was reflected in his face. He regarded Charlotte with a look of mingled malevolence and fear, and had his been the stronger personality he might have done her violence. But as it was, his bloodless lips were drawn back in a snarl of hate and baffled purpose, although he was plainly cowed by the wrath blazing in the eloquent eyes. He made an effort, nevertheless.

"My papers," he hissed. One hand was extended, the bony fingers crooked like a vulture's claw. "My papers—Elinor, you have no right—"


Slade was not an Ajax to defy the lightning of that glance; without another word, with but one more glance of malice and fruitless hate, he slunk from the room—from the house—beaten and confounded.

The busy little clock on the mantel—with which time was indeed fleeting—at once became the most conspicuous object in the room; falling embers on the hearth told of a dying fire, but to unheeding ears; a gust of cool, moist air swept in through the unclosed front door, and the two women maintained unaltered positions—ten minutes—fifteen—until Charlotte felt a tremor pass through her mother. Her expression softened rapidly, and her look and tones were all gentleness and solicitude as she bowed her head to the invalid's face.

"It's all right, mamma," she said, coaxingly. "He's gone. He could not have hurt you, dear; he is too contemptible a coward." In spite of the soothing voice, her expressive upper lip involuntarily curled. "Think of something else," she went on; "think of being here—in my arms—safe." But she was distressed to see that her words and calm manner made not the least impression; that her mother was utterly deaf to them. The invalid was plainly laboring under a fixed idea which neutralized every other influence; and suddenly she thrust Charlotte away from her. It did not relieve the daughter to know that the action was involuntary; that the mother was oblivious of her presence; instead, her fears were rapidly intensified by a biting doubt of the probable result of this extraordinary excitement. The expression of fear and horror had not faded from the distended eyes, and the papers were yet clutched to her breast with a grip that left the knuckles white and bloodless.

"Mother! Don't—don't look like that!" Charlotte cried in sudden alarm. "What is it? What has that horrible man done to frighten you so? Come, dear; lay your head here, and tell me all about it. There, there; nothing can harm you, mamma dear."

Quite as abruptly as she had pushed Charlotte from herself, Mrs. Fairchild now suddenly extended toward her daughter the papers still clutched so closely by a trembling hand. Even in her nervous anxiety Charlotte remarked that there were quite a number of them, and that they were typewritten and bound, after the manner of legal documents.

"Here—child—take these!" The words came convulsively, in quick, nervous gasps. "The fire—hold them down—until the last vestige is destroyed." Her utterance rose to such a mad vehemence that the words became almost incoherent. "Don't look! Don't look at them! Burn them!—burn them!—burn them!"

Charlotte's heart was throbbing with a maddening terror, her thoughts whirling aimlessly, like a flock of frightened birds. Without warning, Mrs. Fairchild reached out and clutched both her daughter's hand and the papers together.

"Swear, child," she went on, in the same frenzied manner; "swear to your helpless mother that you will not look at them; swear that you will burn them here before my eyes—now. Swear!"

"Mamma!" Charlotte protested, with a fleeting idea of possible future consequences,—again, the inward prompting,—"Mamma, have I the right? What may happen if I obey you? Oh, mother dear, wait! Wait until you are calmer; you are overwrought now; you do not know what you are exacting. Dear—dear mamma, I shall not look at them; but let me place—"

But this earnest though gentle opposition so fanned the fire of excitement that Charlotte instantly regretted her words.

"Child, obey me!" the mother commanded, with almost savage fierceness. "Hesitate one instant longer, and I shall hurl my worthless body to the floor and drag myself to the fireplace with my two hands." Then, in a quick transition, "O, God!—Charlotte!—my daughter!" she moaned; "to think I am helpless in this awful hour!"

"Hush, hush, dear; I will do as you say, instantly. I will hold them down to the coals until nothing remains but ashes. See—"

But stay your hand, Charlotte! What if you now hold the only existing evidence—the only barrier that stands between dear ones and disaster! Is it some premonition of the truth that causes you to hesitate?

Alas, the papers flutter to the coals!

"See, mamma; they burn."

When the last flame had expired, when nothing but flakes of black ashes were arising on the draught and vanishing up the chimney, Mrs. Fairchild began to laugh—violently, dreadfully.

It was a night of horror for Charlotte. Quite ignorant of the cause of her mother's fearful condition, she was obliged to tend the frail body through alternating fits of hysterical laughter and weeping, and to hearken to wild, disordered monologues, in which the names of Peyton Westbrook, William Slade, and her own dead father were repeated over and over again, incoherently, in a grotesque, unintelligible association.

However, out of the incomprehensible jumble of words and scraps of sentences, Charlotte began at last to construct a meaning—very vague and unsatisfying, to be sure, and exciting an almost unbearable curiosity to know more; but still a meaning. The three names seemed to be mingled in her mother's distraught mind, intimately interwoven with some nameless horror; and the poor shattered intellect was struggling beneath an obsession that a dire calamity threatened General Westbrook.

And also, as she listened, there came presently to her a most peculiar fancy—woven of such stuff as dreams are made of, but sufficiently tangible to cause her to wonder; a fancy that caused her to murmur incredulously, "Mamma and General Westbrook!" and to contrast the woman as she now was with a certain portrait of Elinor Clay which graced the daughter's chamber; to picture the General as he appeared when a young man. A great feeling of newly born pity for her helpless mother stirred in her bosom. How incredible that this querulous, and in many ways childish, invalid could have retained such a secret so many years. Indeed, what a strange coupling of names! What tragedy of starved romance lay hidden here!

But what threatened General Westbrook?

Charlotte was destined never to hear from her mother. When the clamorous little clock told her that dawn was near, Mrs. Fairchild began to grow quieter, and at last to doze; and from that sleep she can scarcely be said to have awakened, unless to be deprived of the least volition of every member, to be unable to utter an articulate sound, to be more helpless and dependent than a babe newly born, is to be counted among the quick instead of the dead.



It will be remembered that when Mr. Converse's last tête-à-tête with Mr. Follett was interrupted by the summons to appear at headquarters, he had just terminated a long period of reflection with the announcement that he at last knew the means of finding young Mr. Fairchild. Despite the night's turbulent events, when he left the Westbrook home in charge of McCaleb and another plain-clothes man detailed from headquarters, it was in pursuance of a plan that had been incubating in his mind during the hours when other matters were apparently occupying his exclusive attention. Immediately after his unsatisfactory interview with Joyce and her brother, he went as directly to the Fairchild cottage as the street cars would carry him.

The humble abode of the Fairchilds nestled snugly in a covering of climbing roses, honeysuckle, and feathery-fronded cypress. Flowers bloomed everywhere; for upon her garden Charlotte lavished a love otherwise denied expression, and Mr. Converse's eyes kindled when they caught this riot of blossom. Should a human analyst attempt a dissection of this man's character, he would be very much astonished to find an inborn love for beautiful flowers among its other unusual traits.

A certain aged fragment of the old family ménage, known familiarly as Polly Ann, ushered the Captain into the tiny entrance-hall; and when Miss Charlotte appeared he seemed somewhat startled. He had never seen her, that he knew of, and from the account the man Adams had given of his experience on the night of the De Sanchez affair, while trying to find Clay, he had come prepared to deal with a sour, crabbed female of uncertain age and an uncompromising manner. The quiet entrance of this handsome, graceful woman left him disconcerted for an instant. A woman with such an air, with such remarkable eyes, was no ordinary woman, and she could not be dealt with in an ordinary way. One might as well try to move a mountain as to intimidate a person who regarded one so fearlessly; who met the sharp, compelling glance with a look of polite inquiry which clearly indicated that it knew not how to falter.

Converse's plans to find the young man suddenly evaporated; but another idea, vastly farther reaching, arose in his mind instead.

"Converse?" Charlotte repeated when he had announced his identity; and after a slight hesitation she asked, "The detective engaged in the De Sanchez case, are you not?" Her dark eyes continued to regard him steadily; there was not the faintest play of expression in her face, which seemed merely sad and worn and white; but during the brief hesitation he noticed that she laid one hand above her heart.

"I am either going to have plain sailing here," the caller mentally observed, "or in about two minutes there begins the devil's own time for John Converse." To her question he answered:

"Yes, Miss Fairchild; and I hope my unceremonious call does not startle you. While you must grant me your indulgence, let me assure you at the outset that there is not the slightest occasion for alarm." The keen gray eyes became all at once fixed and compelling, giving a forceful meaning to the concluding words. "I have come here to give you an opportunity to help a friend out of a very serious trouble."

For an instant she regarded him blankly; then quickly her countenance, her glance, became fairly electrified.

"A friend?—trouble?—whom?" she demanded, briefly and directly.

As we know, it was not Mr. Converse's custom to take strangers into his confidence, to express theories, nor to yield up motives; but if he was certain of anything at this moment, it was a conviction that whatever success was to come from this meeting depended entirely upon his sincerity and absolute frankness. If such eyes and such a manner did not mean constancy and unshakable loyalty to friends, then these virtues did not exist. If he concealed anything at all, it would be to spare her feelings.

There was a pause after her question. The cold, masterful gray eyes returned the look of the fearless, lovely dark eyes during a silence wherein each sought to read the other's purpose. Then he replied:

"Miss Fairchild, it will take some time to answer your question; it involves so much, and I shall have to tell you so much before you can understand, that I fear your patience will—"

"But a friend," she interrupted; "you said a friend was in trouble. Who? I do not understand."

He bowed. "That is what I wish to tell you. Am I to take it that you will hear me; that I may tell it in my own way?"

Charlotte contemplated him a moment longer, while he returned the look earnestly and gravely; then, apparently satisfied, she indicated by a gesture the front room.

And suddenly he fell to scratching his head with an air of comical embarrassment.

"If you will pardon me, Miss Fairchild," said he, "allow me to suggest the porch this pleasant morning. I want to enjoy those lovely flowers while I may. I declare, I never saw anything like them in my life. I noticed a variegated chrysanthemum—very large bloom—remarkable! Some time—that is, if the occasion ever presents itself—I should like to ask—to ask you—" He stopped, as if overcome by the smile which all at once illumined her features. He had struck a responsive chord; for Charlotte was undisguisedly, girlishly pleased at any honest admiration of her cherished possession. To the porch, by all means.

The Captain filled his prodigious chest with the sweet air. "It is like wine, Miss Fairchild," he said, quietly; "you can't imagine what this means to a city man like me. It's hard to think of evil at such a time."

"Oh—don't!" she protested, still smiling; "think of the flowers instead. I am glad you like them. Any one who loves flowers sincerely can think of evil only to hate it."

"Very true," he returned, looking gravely at her; "very true. But hating the evil does not affect it.... Ah! a mocking-bird!"

If this one touch of nature did not quite make the whole world kin, it at least brought the spirits of these two into so much closer harmony that it was comparatively easy to plunge into confidences.

"Hating evil does not affect it," Converse went on, after a bit. "When it encompasses and threatens our friends, we must even step forward and tackle it—that is, of course, if we wish to aid them."

"Ah, to be sure," she said, in her tranquil way, which nevertheless had become serious. "You said that a friend was in trouble. I suppose you mean to tell it, as you say, in your own way; that it has to do with this dreadful murder—or with my brother. Very well, I will hear you; go on."

Covertly, he studied the stately woman who sat so few paces from him. She was beautiful this morning; a tinge of color had crept into her cheeks since his coming; the expressive eyes, now half veiled by abundant curling lashes, glowed with a look of tenderness in their depths as they turned again and again toward the vista of roadway which led to the city. If she was expecting somebody, it behooved him to hasten.

"Miss Fairchild," he began, with a concentration of purpose, the unexpectedness of which made her turn to him with a little start, "I have endeavored to reassure you regarding my call here this morning, and I wish to repeat that there is no reason why you should feel any alarm. But what I have to say will distress you; it will fill you with anxiety, for I know you are quick to feel for your friends and those dear to you, and that you feel strongly. Yet, if you will hear me out—if you will lend me your aid—if we put our two heads together, I am confident we can evolve some sort of plan that will work for the good of more than one person in whom you are interested." He looked at her intently while speaking, and before he had done her cheeks went white again; her eyes dropped, and the slim fingers began plucking at a spray of honeysuckle. But her voice was steady when she rejoined:

"I suppose your coming here has to do with my brother," she said without looking up,—"with Clay?"

"Primarily, yes. But my errand involves a deal more.... However, before I begin I want to make a confession. When I started here it was with a determination to resort to every method known to my calling to secure the information I am seeking; to bully you if necessary; to frighten you if I could—in short, to use every art and device that expediency might justify. Those methods are often cruel; they are not always honest—but in my calling you have to meet craft with craft, Miss Fairchild; cunning with cunning—and they are not such as you would associate with the word 'gentleman.'"

"And now?" She looked at him inquiringly.

"Well, now—I have considerably revised that determination."

"Thank you." Once more her face was illumined by the winning smile.

"No, no; don't thank me; thank yourself. If more of the people who are tangled up in this business considered it less a game the object of which is to conceal as much as possible, and, instead, exercised a grain or two of common sense, we might have been out of the woods before this. As it is—" He paused and frowned at the denuded spray of honeysuckle.

"Well?" queried Charlotte, looking up once more and casting the spray from her. He faced her abruptly.

"Well," he went on, "as it is, there are one or two individuals who are well on the way to losing themselves entirely—that is, if some well-intentioned person doesn't step in and show them the road out." Again he paused.

"And so you have come to me?" she asked.

He nodded. "But before we can show them the way out we have to be pretty sure of it ourselves. As a game of hide-and-seek, you would be surprised at the ingenuity displayed in keeping things hid from me.... Miss Fairchild, I am going to be blunt. Your brother has acted very foolishly. The different factors in this game have been suddenly thrown into a panic; like a crowd at a theatre when the cry of fire is raised, they impede each other, and do not help themselves. Mr. Fairchild's move was as silly and uncalled for as any I have yet encountered."

"You do indeed make me anxious," said Charlotte; "but I am very ignorant of this wretched affair."

"Yes; I do not doubt that now," he quietly interposed. "But I also know that you can be a very powerful factor in clearing up the mystery."

She regarded him incredulously. "Oh, no," she protested; "what can I do?" Then, after waiting a moment, she faltered: "But tell me, Mr. Converse, do—do you believe him—my brother—"

He laughed. "Do you?"

"Mr. Converse," her dignity was impressive, "I have his word."

Again he laughed. "Miss Fairchild," said he with an abrupt transition to seriousness, "at this moment the idea of bullying or frightening you would strike me as being absurd were I not humbly contrite for ever having entertained such a thought; but the emergency is so urgent—a certain person is threatened by so lively a peril—that it is really imperative that something be done for that person immediately. If you and I should get at cross-purposes—why, I believe now that I could only step to one side and let events take their own way. To prove that I am contrite, I am going to warn you against myself."

Charlotte said nothing.

"You have been in communication with your brother since he disappeared. No," he went on hastily, as she seemed about to speak, "I am not going to take any unfair advantage of you. Instead, with your permission, I intend taking you into my confidence; go over the ground from my knowledge of the facts; and then lay before you my deductions therefrom, together with the immediate motives for my intrusion. Afterward I shall ask you what I wish to know."

He waited with his gaze fixed sharply upon her. She sat for some time thoughtful.

"As I have told you, I am very anxious. From your manner I know the occasion to be serious, and that you are striving to temper its seriousness. You say that a friend is in trouble, Mr. Converse; well, that is enough to spur my interest, were any such spur needed. But I can only repeat that I am very ignorant of this matter. Still, I will say this, in the hope that it will cause you to speak freely. You have somehow inspired my confidence; I feel sure you have come, led by a tender consideration for somebody's feelings, and that now you are governed by a consideration for my own feelings. It would be a poor return, indeed, if I withheld any aid that might lie within my power. I will pledge myself to lend you every assistance I can; but it cannot be much. From what I have heard of you, I consider it quite a compliment that you should thus tender me your confidence."

In scornful deprecation he exclaimed against the attributes with which her words invested him. "I never sincerely complimented anybody in my life,—unless, perhaps, I was after something; so you had better take care. Seriously, though, the things I have told you are merely necessary statements of fact. I am not secretive by nature, Miss Fairchild, though you could find a good many people whom it would be hard to make believe that. That I am at all is far from complimentary to those with whom I daily mingle. The bright spots in my life are when I meet with somebody with whom I can be as open as the day.

"But I haven't answered your question yet: Do I believe your brother guilty of any participation in De Sanchez's death? No. Nor of any participation in last night's affair."

Charlotte stared. "Last night's affair!" she cried. "Do you refer to—to Mr. Slade?"

"Slade?" he repeated,—and reflected. Here was a consideration which, the instant it flashed into his mind, caused him to wonder why it had not occurred to him before; but that everybody who could read or was not stone-deaf knew of the Westbrook tragedy was to be taken as a matter of course. Yet it was impossible that this woman could be so at ease—her manner so tranquil—and at the same time have knowledge of the recent assassination. But Slade—what is this of Slade?

"Miss Fairchild," he asked at length, "don't you get a morning paper here?"

"No. We have never taken one at the house; Clay usually brought the papers home from the office."

"And your relations with the Westbrook family are very close, are they not?"

At first she blushed slightly; then suddenly the last vestige of color ebbed from her cheeks, and for the second time the slender hand rested upon her bosom.

"Yes," she whispered with bated breath. "Why?"

"Then, Miss Fairchild, I am afraid I am the bearer of very sad—"

As a leopardess might have sprung, she stood quivering above him, her eyes tragic, her slim fingers interlocked in a convulsive clasp before her.

"Quick!" she demanded in a tense whisper, "has anything happened to Mobley?"

"No, no; be assured. It was—"

"Oh, not Joyce?"

"General Westbrook."

She caught her breath sharply, and seemed unable to speak; and like a blind person, returned to her seat. But in a moment she was more tranquil and very earnest.

"Tell me plainly, Mr. Converse—is this the—the trouble?"

"It is bad enough, Miss Fairchild; the General is—dead."

"Dead! General Westbrook dead! Oh—" she checked herself, the back of one hand upon her lips, and waited.

"Yes. It looks very much as though he had been—" he hesitated, doubtful whether to tell her; but the plain truth being unavoidable, he concluded, "assassinated."

With an exclamation of horror, she clasped her hands. There was a moment of tense silence, during which she regarded him with wide, startled eyes—a look which told piteously that this abrupt announcement had penetrated her susceptible heart, searching out, with callous cruelty, each tender spot that could be lacerated and hurt.

At last she cried aloud, in blank, utter dismay: "Mr. Converse! Oh, this is awful! Joyce! poor child!—and Mobley!" She buried her face in her hands, and, rising, rushed precipitately into the house.

The Captain sat motionless, in a dilemma whether to depart or to wait; wondering what Charlotte herself wished him to do; deeply moved by her distress, which was so much greater than he could possibly have expected.

But Polly Ann immediately set his doubts at rest. The face she presented to him was both troubled and wrathful.

"Miss Cha'lotte she say fo' you ter wait," she said with unaccountable severity. The announcement had much the nature of a peremptory command.

"All right, Aunty," responded the Captain, absently.

"Don' yer 'aunty' me." Her voice rose rapidly. "I hain't no aunty er yo'n. All yer has ter do is ter des wait—heah." She designated the porch with a stern and accusing finger. "Mon, whut yer do ter Miss Cha'lotte?"

At last the reason for this anger became plain. "I brought her some very sad news," he replied.

"La! is dat whut's de matteh?" Then, in a hoarse whisper, "Anything happen ter Docteh Mobley Wes'brook?" she asked.

"His father was killed last night."

Incredulity and astonishment overspread the black face, and Polly Ann threw aloft her hands. Mr. Converse was obliged, briefly, to detail the particulars. Polly Ann inquired, anxiously:

"Is you a docteh?"

"No, Aunty. Why?"

She advanced nearer and lowered her voice. "Kase I'se worried 'bout Miss Elinor, seh. Miss Cha'lotte done send fo' Docteh Mobley already dis mawnin'; but I don' spec' he come now wid he pa daid."

Polly Ann shook her head dubiously as she moved slowly back into the house. "Hit don' look right," she muttered, "'bout Miss Elinor, an' I'se nowise satisfied in my min'.... An' de General daid! Lawd! Lawd! Hit sho' do look lak er jedgment; hit sho' do!"



Presently Charlotte reappeared, composed and listless, her pale countenance subdued with sorrow.

"You must pardon my having left you so unceremoniously," she began, her quiet voice even quieter than usual; "but your news was so shocking—my rest has been so broken—that I was not strong to bear it. It is appalling, Mr. Converse; I don't fully realize it yet. It troubles me greatly to be so situated that I cannot go to Joyce."

"I, too, regret that you cannot," he returned, with a meaning hidden from Charlotte.

She wanted to hear the particulars, and after he had complied, briefly, she turned to him and asked:

"What do you make of it?"

Before replying, he ran a hand thoughtfully through his gray hair.

"There are two or three questions I should like to ask you before going into that," he returned, "if you please." After a slight pause, taking her silence for consent, he proceeded:

"In my investigation of the two cases I have encountered several coincidences so striking and suggestive that they require the fullest elucidation. Whenever I set my mind to working upon any phase of the duplex problem, one mystic word immediately becomes the pivot about which everything else begins to circle; whatever reasonable theory I may begin to develop, it sooner or later encounters 'Paquita,' and I am unable to get beyond her, or to see anything very clearly for the shadow she casts. And now, in the face of evidence all pointing quite another way, I have become possessed of a conviction that 'Paquita' embodies the crux of the entire problem. Paquita—what do you spell? Silence is the only answer." Suddenly he caught the intent look with which she was following him, and he laughed in a deprecating way.

"Heaven knows, I am prosaic enough myself, Miss Fairchild," he continued, "but I overlook no possibilities, however slender they may be; and it is particularly aggravating to have a circumstance like this remain so completely inexplicable—so insusceptible to the most determined efforts. It is as if the minx were mocking me. I have spent a number of years in Latin America, and am tolerably familiar with their customs; but everything I have endeavored to ascertain of the shadowy Paquita has been as barren of results as my father's old Connecticut farm. That mysterious name suggests an element of romance which appeals to the average individual; but the romance is not forthcoming."

"Does the name appear elsewhere besides on Doctor Westbrook's paper-knife?"

For answer he drew forth his pocket-book, and producing therefrom the bit of paper he had found in the Westbrook ash-hopper, handed it to her.

"This is all that remains of a letter received by General Westbrook day before yesterday, and burnt by him some time during the same night. I was searching for something altogether different—a writing upon which he was engaged shortly before his death—and was led to this.

"The newspapers, as you know, made the most of the 'Paquita' on the dagger-handle; you are familiar with the unknown and mysterious señorita of the press, betrayed and revengeful, striking from the grave through the medium of Doctor Westbrook's paper-knife; but in reality she is not only unknown, but there is not the slightest evidence that any such person ever existed. I could imagine a secret enemy of the General's choosing that name behind which to mask his identity, especially at a time when it is fresh in everybody's mind; yet the fact that the letter itself is written in Spanish is strongly against this idea. That letter was concluded in such a manner that the signature was an important part of the context."

"You have heard the story of the dagger, have you not?"

"Yes. But the truth is far from being so romantic; it is quite sordid, in fact."

"The truth? I fail to understand."

"Yes. You know that we police in the different cities all over the civilized world work together to a certain extent, and assist each other whenever we can; complete and systematic records are kept of each detail—no matter how unimportant or trivial it may seem—of every matter coming to us in an official way, and those records are always at the disposal of the police in any city.

"I dislike spoiling the pretty romance of the dagger," with an apologetic smile; "but the facts are these: A Mexican girl, of the peon class, went to Mexico City some six or seven years ago from the United States. She was accompanied by her brother, also an ignorant and extremely dirty peon—what we call a 'greaser' here. They had no money, apparently were animated by no greater desire to acquire any than usually inspires the average peon, and they lived in a hovel in the poorest quarter of the capital. Now, if it hadn't been for that rather remarkable dagger they would have been forgotten long ago. They were both dead within a month after their arrival,—smallpox. She killed herself during delirium; he died a few days later in a pest-camp. It is sordid enough, you see. It is that very unusual weapon alone that has saved them from oblivion. How did they come by it? It is impossible to say—stole it, probably; but if so, it has been advertised enough of late, in all conscience, to attract its owner if he be alive anywhere on the face of the earth. But there are enterprising newspapers also in the City of Mexico, and enterprising dealers in curios; so there you have the genesis of the story of the Doctor's paper-knife. So much for it.... Now then, question one: Did you ever hear of any other Paquita?"

Charlotte's answer was a decided negative. "If you are trying to establish such a person as ever having been a living reality, and as ever having had interests involved with the past of the Westbrook family, I believe it will lead to nothing; unless—unless—"


"Well, unless it can be found in General Westbrook's life in Mexico. But think of his character, his integrity, his extraordinary family pride—are they not incompatible with the existence of such a secret?"

Converse nodded. "And I might add," he said, "that here again the pretty complete facts do not warrant the slightest ground for such a theory."

"But—" Charlotte hesitated, "what has all this to do with a friend in trouble?"

"Patience, please; I shall get to that in good time. I want you to know certain facts first, for without this preamble the name will occasion a shock that all the after-assurance and reasoning may not remove. You must be prepared for the name before I blurt it out."

"Very well, I am resigned," she returned with a faint smile. Since her return to the porch all the brightness had left her face and eyes; the caller noted that she looked no more down the roadway toward the city, and even her smile was colorless and without the least spark of animation. "May I ask you a question?" she concluded.

"Certainly, Miss Fairchild; certainly."

"How about that man—the Mexican—Vargas? Even though I know but little of these dreadful affairs, I have thought a great deal. And that man: what do you know of him?"

"I am glad you asked this question, because it touches upon a point about which I wish to speak fully."

The Captain then recounted Vargas's testimony at the first inquest, adding that it had since been fully corroborated and amplified by exhaustive inquiries in Mexico.

"But still," continued the speaker, "there is a point where Señor Vargas comes into our mystery. He is shrewd and aggressive, and has more than doubled his wealth since taking up his residence in Mexico. He has only one relative—a niece. She is merely a child who has spent all her life in a convent; as commonplace, as ignorant of the world, and as innocent as only such a child—and especially a Spanish child—could possibly be. Bear in mind, Miss Fairchild, that these are established facts. I am relating them as briefly as possible; but they are necessary in leading up to my next question. Here is a point I wish you also to remember; you will see why as I proceed. A year or two ago Vargas purchased a hacienda from the administrators of the estate of one Don Juan del Castillo, which he so lavishly remodelled that it is now a veritable palace. Don Juan had been a very wealthy man at one time, having a vast estate; but his decease disclosed the fact that his affairs were in a chaotic condition, and that he was practically bankrupt. This man had never married, and all the formalities, besides a diligent search, failed to bring forward any authentic heirs. In short, none have ever appeared.

"These facts concerning Don Juan are interesting for four reasons: first, the banking house of De Sanchez and De Sanchez—of which General Westbrook was at that time a partner—was administrator of the Castillo estate; second, last night and shortly before his death, the General was engaged in the compilation of a document headed 'Memorandum of Castillo Estate,' which document was taken from his desk before the officers arrived; third, that while the county records have been carefully searched for the purpose of ascertaining if any of these foreigners had ever held any property interests here, it was not until a day or two ago that a single thing was found to justify the trouble. What that was is queer enough.

"In November, eighteen fifty-nine, a mortgage was filed for record by one John S. Castle."

"Castle!" Charlotte became suddenly alert.

"Ah, I see the name is not unfamiliar to you; but let me finish. The property mortgaged, among other parcels of realty, included your old family homestead. Of course the mortgager was your father. Now, with the name of John S. Castle to guide us through the index to the mortgage records, we find the next item of interest just three years later—namely, in November, eighteen sixty-two—when the mortgage was renewed. In another three years—that is, in November sixty-five—it was again renewed; then, in November, eighteen sixty-eight, an assignment of mortgage was filed, transferring this particular one to William Slade, senior, your old overseer. Here John S. Castle disappears for good and all; what followed concerning the mortgage is irrelevant; but the point I wish to make is, that the name John S. Castle is the English equivalent of Juan S. Castillo. This is the fourth reason why Vargas interests me. I have been unable to find any other trace of Castle. And now, can all this be mere coincidence?

"My next question to you is: Have you any knowledge of Castle, or Slade, or is there any event in your family history that may by any chance throw light into these dark places? Or could either your mother or Mr. Clay do so?"

"Mr. Converse, this is all so marvellous that I am a little bewildered. I never should have imagined that these dreadful tragedies could involve so much. How ever in the world did you discover so many details? But I am unable to tell you much. As to mamma, I cannot say. Her memory, of course—such as it is, Mr. Converse—goes back farther than mine. But Clay—I am certain he could be of no assistance; he is always impatient of dwelling upon our more prosperous days; mamma, at times, is rather inclined to—to—well, to contrast our present circumstances with what they were before papa died, and Clay invariably leaves the room on such occasions. John S. Castle was always considered a fiction in our family, behind which the elder Slade masked his treachery; or, perhaps, it is more exact to say that he came to be regarded as a fiction. It is very certain that he never appeared at all. Slade, senior, in his younger days was of a roving disposition. During the Mexican War he enlisted in the army, I believe, and was with General Scott in Mexico. He learned to speak the Spanish language, I know; and that might explain John S. Castle; they actually may have met in Mexico."

"That is true; it may be merely one more of the coincidences, signifying nothing at all. But I am not of a disposition to dismiss them thus." He fell into a thoughtful silence, from which he roused himself presently to say:

"It has occurred to me, Miss Fairchild,—to digress a moment,—that all these details of the man Castle, and the manner in which his name was utilized by the elder Slade, might hide some sort of chicanery. Everything about that old mortgage may not have been perfectly straight and aboveboard; and if that is the case—why, there is no telling what interest may be due you out of the property. Some of it is very valuable now, and the matter is worth looking into."

"Indeed?" returned Charlotte, without interest. "To find a fortune for us would be a strange ending of a search for the assassin of a man so completely a stranger."

"Oh, I merely mentioned it as a result of my delving into musty records. I do not wish to inspire any hopes that may be disappointed."

"Truly," with more warmth, "I thank you. My lack of enthusiasm arose from the impossibility of inspiring any such hope at all. I shall tell Clay, though, what you have just told me. Should we be entitled to any such interest, he would assuredly exert an effort to regain it."

He bowed a dismissal of the topic.

"But now, Miss Fairchild, does it not occur to you as a bit remarkable that out of all the developments not one circumstance has appeared tending to throw any light on the mysterious Paquita?"

Of a sudden she threw the back of one slender hand to her lips—obviously a characteristic gesture; her look assumed an expression of startled surprise. Charlotte's customary repose of manner was so placid that the involuntary movement was doubly impressive and significant.

"Ah," said Converse, quietly, "something has recurred to you."

"That is true," she at last returned, "and perhaps I should not have mentioned it. But you certainly have enlisted my sympathies, even though I might have no personal interest in these tragedies; and God knows I am anxious enough to see Clay, Mobley, all my friends freed of this wretched nightmare. What struck me so abruptly was this: ever since Joyce's trip to Mexico, and the presentation of the dagger paper-knife to Mobley, he has playfully addressed his sister as 'Paquita.' I had forgotten it; but the nickname spread among her intimates, and she subscribed her letters to them usually in that way. The name appealed to her, and I suppose I have notes now from Joyce signed 'Paquita.'"

"This is certainly very interesting," said he with marked gravity; and Charlotte continued with increased animation:

"It just occurred to me that the circumstance may have become known to some one who has used it with a special significance, at present unknown to you."

"Possibly. But I was not thinking of it in that way."

Although she waited, he vouchsafed no further explanation. Instead, he remained, for possibly a minute, in quiet reflection; then turning to Charlotte, he asked in a matter-of-fact way:

"Do you think you could lay your hand upon any of those notes? I should like to have a glimpse of Miss Joyce's penmanship."

She brightened as at a sudden pleasant thought. "If so, they are in my escritoire. Just a moment, please." She glided into the house and returned in a few moments with a half-dozen or so heavy, cream-tinted envelopes. Without comment she handed them to Converse, eyeing him expectantly as he took up one at random.

It was inscribed, "Miss Susan Sunshine,"—evidently a playful sobriquet designating Charlotte,—and a bit of violet-hued wax bore the Westbrook crest. He merely glanced at the legible and flowing characters; noted that, as it bore no stamp, it had obviously been delivered by private messenger, and then shook his head. "I have never seen that handwriting before," was his only spoken observation as he handed the parcel back to Charlotte. It is impossible that she could have imagined the feeling of anticipation, almost if not quite anxious in its intensity, that stirred within him in the face of the rapidly forming pattern into which immediate events were patently shaping themselves.

But the curiosity now animating her had not yet been satisfied. "Look at this," she persisted, hastily selecting another envelope from the lot. "I have read of marvellous feats of a detective reading a person's entire life from a scrap of that person's chirography. I have a curiosity to know what you make of this."

"I have read of such things, too," with a little laugh; "but I am afraid they are mostly confined to fiction. Still a fragment of one's handwriting is often a great aid in—" He stopped, and his brow shot into a pucker as his glance fell upon the envelope now in his hand. "This is by another hand," he concluded, sharply.

"You are correct; yet—yet—"

He glanced up quickly, giving Charlotte a rapier-like look. "Miss Westbrook wrote it?" he completed her sentence.

She nodded brightly.

"Then she is—" He searched his memory for a word which the District Attorney had suggested to him on a similar occasion; and as Mr. Mountjoy supplied it then, so did Charlotte now.

"Ambidextrous," said she. "Her left hand is reserved for the 'Susan Sunshine' letters and all such whimsical correspondence, while this last is her individual handwriting. Equal facility in the use of either hand is a hereditary Westbrook trait."

He remained still so long that she began to manifest some impatience. "You attach no importance to it, do you?" she asked with some misgiving.

He did not respond immediately. Now was an occasion when his ability absolutely to conceal all feeling could serve him admirably. Looking at Charlotte he had not the heart to tell her that she was innocently supplying such serious connecting links to the chain of evidence tightening about her beloved friend. While the handwriting on the second envelope in no wise resembled the writing on the charred fragment of the "Paquita" letter, further than that both were feminine, yet that circumstance of Joyce's ambidexterity—how portentous it was!

So, when he finally responded, he plunged into another phase of the subject, as if he had not heard her question.

"Miss Fairchild," briskly, "I must progress toward the final and most important matter which I came here to present to you, and again I take occasion to warn you that this part of my recital will require a great deal of your fortitude. You must believe, now, that I have worked untiringly—unceasingly—in this matter?"

"I believe that, Mr. Converse."

"Very good. Now, endeavor not only to keep before you what I have already told you, but please follow me as closely as you can.... First, however, assure me upon one point, though it may seem inconsequential and even presuming in me to speak of it; but before I am done you will understand. Is there any attachment between your brother and Miss Westbrook?"

She regarded him with serious eyes.

"Mr. Converse," she began, with a sudden assumption of reserve and restraint, "that is a very delicate and, to me, sacred matter; but I—" She checked herself, and once more regarded him gravely; her manner quickly changed, and again she became frank and open. "I do not believe you would ask it were it not important that I answer you frankly. Never have Clay and I exchanged a word upon the subject; but I am a woman—his sister—and I love him dearly; I see a great deal more than he would ever suspect. Mr. Converse, please respect this confidence: I believe there has never been a time when Clay did not love Joyce, dear, darling, beautiful girl that she is. As for her, I do not know. She has a warm attachment for Clay; she admires him; still, she is so young—her life has been so gay and light-hearted, so entirely free from any care and responsibility—that it is pleasant to think no strong emotion has yet laid its touch upon her heart. To her, Clay has been a playmate, a loved comrade, a friend; whether he is destined ever to be more, I cannot say. But I believe I have told you the exact status of their intimacy, for it has occupied my thoughts often, often, often."

"This confidence has not injured your brother; and you have my word of honor that it is as sacred with me as with yourself."

"That will do; I can now hear anything you have to tell me."

He paused a moment. He knew he must hurt her, however carefully he might unfold the intelligence he had come to convey, and so why prolong the anxiety by trying to temper it? So he said, slowly, deliberately:

"Miss Fairchild, the one person that we have so far been unable to account for, to whom we must look for the explanation of these crimes is—a woman."

A slight gasp from his hearer caused him to pause again. Briefly he gauged her strength.

"That woman was alone with your brother about the time of De Sanchez's death. In short, the assassin could have been no place but in Mr. Nettleton's office; and no one was there besides those two."

"Merciful God! Clay!"

"Wait!" hastily. "Your brother is innocent—I am sure of that—but the woman—"

Charlotte sat quivering as if with an ague, deadly white.

"Who?—who?" she gasped, huskily, when he paused.

"The facts all say—Joyce Westbrook."

"Oh, don't—don't!" She arose and stood unsteadily confronting him. "I can't—I will not listen to this. It is abominable. You have stumbled into some terrible error that may be explained. Why, Mr. Converse, this will kill Joyce. Oh, how horrible! how horrible!"

"Error?" said he, with extraordinary gentleness. "Ah, Miss Fairchild, I hate to pain you so, but somebody must be stirred to action. I cannot reach to the Doctor's or his sister's sensibilities in their morbid state of mind; and if she will not unlock her lips, I cannot speak of the result. Error? I admit its possibility. I spent an exceedingly bad half-hour this morning trying to persuade Doctor Westbrook and Miss Joyce that I was more than willing to meet them on this ground. But no. If I have, as you say, stumbled into a bog of error, they left me to get back to terra firma again as best I could. If we can agree upon this point, we have an excellent position from which to operate; and for the young lady's sake I would so agree."

"Mr. Converse, Mr. Converse," moaned Charlotte, as if a mortal physical wound had been dealt her. "Wait! I can't bear it! The idea is so hideous—so monstrous—"

"With all respect, dear lady, I sincerely hope that she is the victim of an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances—and no more. But her position is even far more desperate and dangerous than you could possibly imagine."

Charlotte sat down again, and quietly—very quietly—watched her interlocutor. She appeared stunned. Presently she asked with bated breath:

"What will happen? My God! do you wish to lead me to answering your unanswered question? Do you wish me to say that Paquita—oh, that wretched name!—spells disaster for those that are dearest to me?" She uttered a laugh of bitterest scorn. "If my loyalty amounted to no more than that," with a slight emphatic gesture of one clenched hand, "I would be the most despicable creature on the face of the earth. Now—"

"I am not responsible for the existing condition, Miss Fairchild; I only want to convince you of the extreme urgency of the situation. I have told you a friend was in trouble, and that you would have an opportunity to succor that friend; but it is more than a trouble; that friend is menaced by the gravest peril imaginable."

Rapidly he laid before her, one by one, his reasons for suspecting Joyce Westbrook; and as his hearer saw how deadly serious the cumulative facts were, she gradually grew outwardly composed, yielding no hint of how his words were impressing her.

Next he told of Joyce's movements the preceding night, concluding:

"And now, Miss Fairchild, the most damaging feature against her is her refusal to deny or admit anything at all. I need only an eye-witness who saw her in or about the Nettleton Building, and—" A grim tightening of his hard-featured face put a sufficiently obvious period to the thought.

"Mobley must tell me what he knows," she said presently, her voice trembling. "I do not promise to repeat it, for I am ignorant of its nature; but if I can see in this secret the way to finding light upon the deed of which it is a child, you shall know." She fairly startled the Captain by springing from her seat and grasping his arm. Some sudden joyous thought had evidently flooded her intelligence, and her manner imparted its quickening impulse to him.

"Mr. Converse—where you are wrong—your error—" she cried, in disjointed phrases. "Why did you never think of it? Joyce was not in the Nettleton Building that day. The—"

"But, my dear lady—" he sought to interrupt; but her new-born enthusiasm bore him down.

"The fact that no one can be found who saw her—why, she was not there. She is involved in something else of a very personal nature, and she shrinks from explaining. That must be it."

Converse's attitude was very dubious.

"You say you have no eye-witness—no one who actually saw her?" she persisted.

"Yes—that is true; but—" He stopped. "Wait, please," he concluded in an altered tone, as he suddenly recognized Mr. Follett's servant, Joe, approaching from the trolley-line. "If I am not mistaken, here comes a messenger for me."



That Joe's errand had carried him to the Westbrook home in search of the Captain, and thence to the cottage, could signify only a matter of the utmost emergency; so Converse watched his approach with some curiosity, wondering why his friend, Mr. Follett, should be in such haste to find him. He thought of the advertisement seeking information concerning the unknown woman.

The negro approached and handed him a much-soiled envelope; and this is what he read:

Slade was here this A.M. Claims to have seen and recognized woman in Nettleton Bldg. at time of De S. murder. Holds out for more money, so be careful. He is up to some game; but I think he really knows.

It was indeed from Abram, and had been hurriedly penned at No. 18 Ash Lane.

After the message was delivered, and while it was being read, Charlotte noted that it had the effect of producing a peculiar change in the countenance of the reader: his mouth puckered, as if for a whistle, though none was emitted; while his right eyebrow lifted in a manner that left a queer, quizzical expression on his weather-beaten visage.

He pocketed the missive without comment; scratched a word of acknowledgment on the envelope, which he handed to Joe—temporarily an ebon-hued Mercury—with an injunction to return at once to Mr. Follett.

For a time he sat in a silence that was pensive, even though his inflexible frame and countenance were not. How strange that the message should come to hand just at this juncture!—at the moment when he was obliged to admit the absence of a witness that had seen the woman. And that witness Slade! Was Joyce Westbrook the woman? There was that in the bare fact of Slade's being the person who was possessed of this knowledge which made the Captain feel that the coil was tightening irresistibly about the girl, for he was beginning to acquire his own idea as to what "Slade's Blessing" might signify; an idea utterly different from the more universal one. But he would say nothing further to harrow this much troubled lady beside him. After a while he turned to Charlotte with some abruptness.

"Now then, Miss Fairchild, you pretty well understand the status of both the cases. The main thing is, now, do you"—he emphasized the pronoun—"appreciate the seriousness of Miss Westbrook's position? If you do not, if this hour spent with you is barren of results, I shall be obliged openly to take her into custody, put Mr. Mountjoy in possession of the case, and let the law take its course. If I do not, some one else will. I dislike being so blunt, but these issues must be met squarely."

"I cannot be further shocked, Mr. Converse. I will do all that lies in my humble power. If Joyce was in the Nettleton Building that afternoon, it had been far better for Mobley to have announced it at once, whatever the result might have been."

Her hearer considerately refrained from again mentioning the possible reason for silence. Instead he said:

"You are now prepared to hear the main object of my call. The early part of last night I spent in going carefully over all that I have set before you, but more particularly as it concerns your brother's disappearance. It has become plain that, whatever our attempts to locate him may have failed in, they have at least proved one thing—that he never left the city. Who should know better where he is than his sister?"

"Believe me, Mr. Converse," she began quickly; but he held up a restraining hand.

"Wait," said he. "Let me finish. This is when I resolved to bully and frighten you—to get the information from you willy-nilly,—and behold to what that resolution has come! Now, I am not going to embarrass you at this time by asking you where Mr. Clay is, or even if you know where he is; but I do expect that by to-morrow night," he gave her a look full of meaning, and repeated, "that by to-morrow night, Miss Fairchild, some result will come from this interview; either that I shall hear from your brother, Doctor Westbrook, Miss Joyce, or all of them."

"What I started to say when you interrupted me is, that I do not know where Clay is. There is where I have been kept in ignorance."

"The reason being," he added, "that something very like this interview was foreseen—not because you couldn't be trusted—no, no: it was to spare you from ever being obliged to refuse divulging your knowledge. Knowing of his whereabouts, you could never have met an examination, such as you might have been subjected to, with a plea of ignorance."

"I can only act as you have suggested," she returned; "and I will make my arrangements accordingly as soon as I possibly can. While Clay is absent it is very inconvenient communicating with the city."

"I shall be glad to convey any message you wish to send."

"Thank you. It is Doctor Westbrook that I wish to see. I sent him word this morning regarding mamma's illness; but I expect now that he will not come—soon."

"Well, Miss Fairchild," the Captain arose briskly, "I have accomplished my errand, and if nothing else ever comes of it, I shall always retain a delightful remembrance of these flowers. I shall call here again Thursday morning early—that is, if I have to come to you for results. That will be day after to-morrow, and I shall make no open move until after I have seen you. Now write your note, and I will see that the Doctor gets it. I shall wait in the garden."

When, after a few minutes, she reappeared and handed him the envelope, he said, as if the matter had just occurred to him:

"By the way, Miss Fairchild, when I first mentioned last night's affair a while back, you spoke of William Slade: why?"

Immediately she became grave and thoughtful.

"Because," after an appreciable pause, "he called here last night to see my mother, and his visit had to do with General Westbrook." She stopped in sudden alarm at an abrupt change in the Captain's manner. "What is it?" she asked.

The response was a string of ejaculations.

"Slade!—Here!—General Westbrook!" he cried in utter astonishment.

Charlotte was startled at this surprising manifestation of interest.

"It is very remarkable," she presently resumed, "and I cannot in the least understand what it means. That it was extraordinarily serious, mamma's condition this morning testifies to. Does the circumstance tell you anything?"

The detective was regarding her in a most peculiar manner. His expression seemed to say that nothing in the whole gamut of possible disclosures touching upon the two mysteries could take him more unawares than this simple statement of Charlotte's; but she had by no means told him all, and his face at once became impassive again.

"Please finish," said he, quite calmly; "I don't know—yet."

She obeyed, narrating at length her experience of the preceding night. He listened with attentive silence until the burning of the papers was mentioned. The look of the gray eyes brought something like consternation to Charlotte.

"Miss Fairchild!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, I knew it was very, very wrong," she cried, sorely troubled at his obvious dismay; "but what could I do? Mamma was not herself; she wanted me to swear that I would not even look at them—to burn them instantly. She was so excited—'

"Never mind—never mind," he broke in with a reassurance he did not in the least feel; "don't distress yourself. I see—I will take it for granted that you could not have done otherwise than you did; that your excellent common sense bade you pause—"

"Indeed, indeed, that is true," fervently.

"You had no alternative, and I will not blame you; but—" and his mouth closed grimly.

"'It is unfortunate, nevertheless,' you would say. Is the loss irreparable?"

"How can I tell now? But you must appreciate the importance of those papers in the light of what occurred after Slade's call.... By the way, what time did he depart?"

"About half-past nine or ten o'clock.... And to think, had I disobeyed mamma, I might have averted—" She shuddered and did not finish.

The Captain made no response. The subject afforded too wide a field for speculation to indulge idly in probabilities. The papers being irretrievably gone, the salient facts upon which his mind fastened were, that Slade had some knowledge that the General's life was threatened, and for some reason—another mystery in a veritable network of mysteries—he had imparted the intelligence to Mrs. Fairchild. But why?—why, of all persons, to her? Mr. Slade had at last assumed a position that was susceptible of scrutiny.

After a number of questions, to which Charlotte could return no satisfactory replies, Converse said:

"If it is possible, I must see your mother as soon as she is able to bear the strain of an unpleasant interview. Try to prepare her against my next coming, Miss Fairchild."

Charlotte promised to do her best.

The talk was broken in upon by an abrupt change in her countenance. All at once she became beautiful; a warm tide of color mounted to her cheeks; her head became regally erect; and she shot a look down the pergola of locusts and elms that lined the roadway, such as an eagle might flash from one mountain-peak to her mate upon another. Instinctively Mr. Converse turned and descried in the distance an approaching horse and buggy. So the Doctor was obeying her first summons, after all. The Captain handed the note back to Charlotte, and at once took his departure.

At Times Charlotte Became Beautiful; a Warm Tide of Color Mounted to Her Cheeks; Her Head Became Regally Erect.
At Times Charlotte Became Beautiful; a Warm Tide of Color
Mounted to Her Cheeks; Her Head Became Regally Erect.

When the Doctor drove up to the gate, Mr. Converse, moving with long, rapid strides, was well on his way across the common to the car, and feeling (if his unemotional nature would admit the charge) more than a little depressed.

Before Doctor Westbrook arrived at the porch steps, he noted the look of tenderness with which he was being regarded, and halted abruptly.

"You have heard, then?" said he.

"Yes," Charlotte softly replied, holding forth both her hands.

With pleased eagerness he took them into his own and gazed hungrily into the beautiful eyes. Her demonstrations were unusual, and he found therein more relief from his grief and anxiety than could have been contained in any spoken homily. But he drank from those liquid pools of truth and steadfastness as one who drinks for the last time.

For a moment they stood so; then—

"Your note said that your mother was suffering," he remarked, walking toward the open door. But Charlotte checked his movement.

"Wait, Mobley. I was not very exact. Mamma sustained a severe shock last night; but she has been sleeping all the morning.... Before you go in I wish to ask you a question."

He evinced some surprise at her constraint.

"Mobley, have you any reason to believe that a particular person was instrumental in the death of Alberto de Sanchez?"

Amazement grew in his countenance.

"Have I any reason—" he repeated, blankly. "I don't understand; who has been talking to you?" But light suddenly broke, and he concluded: "So that was that confounded detective fellow who just left here."

"Mobley, you are unjust." It was quite plain to her why he should think with irritation of Mr. Converse. "Although a stranger, he has treated me fairer than you have: he has given me his confidence."

The Doctor's eyes, yielding a sudden light of apprehension, became glued to Charlotte's; but he remained silent.

"I know you have been terribly troubled," she went on, evenly; "but have you been afraid of me, Mobley?"

"My God, Charlotte, no! I have simply wanted to spare you. There has been no reason why you should be drawn into this damnable mess, nor is there any more reason now. That man will have to answer to me for this."

"No, no, he will not, Mobley. I believe he has told the truth. I think that Joyce—oh, poor, darling girl, how my heart bleeds for her!—I think that innocent dear is the victim of the most diabolical set of circumstances I ever heard of. They will inevitably ruin her if she is not freed from them; and if it lies within our power to do so—do you hear me, Mobley?—if it lies within our power to do so, we must find a way."

"Dear, dear girl," he groaned. "If I had told him this morn—"

But she calmly interrupted him.

"You must drive down to Mrs. Florian's and bring her here in your buggy; I am going home with you. Your entire course in this matter has been wrong,"—firmly. "Joyce is innocent, of course, and the truth can't hurt."

"But you don't know," he still persisted.

"No; that is very true," she returned, looking steadily at him; "but I will shortly.... Come—let us go in now." And together they entered the house.

At once the condition of the sorely stricken mother drove everything else temporarily from their minds. John Converse nor any other person would ever again hear a sound issue from those moveless lips.

So another door was closed.



If Mr. Converse departed from the cottage with a feeling of depression, it was based, as we know, upon a formidable number of reasons. If the sensation was incompatible with his profession, it at least proved that, as a human being, he was not so utterly devoid of feeling as his grim exterior continually indicated; and when the irresistible logic of the present investigation singled out again and again a beautiful girl as the author of a monstrous assassination; when the amorphous figure of Paquita—that featureless, shadowy phantom—presented itself between his mental vision and Joyce Westbrook—it was with a sense of relief that he asked, "Paquita, what do you spell?" There was always the hope that sooner or later an answer would be returned clearing Joyce beyond peradventure.

That he did not consider Fairchild accessory to either crime was a belief resting upon a very sound foundation of reasoning, although such a conviction must needs be an additional point adverse to Joyce. The testimony delivered by Doctor Westbrook and Mr. Howe of Georgia at the inquest, relating to Fairchild's strange behavior when he beheld the body of De Sanchez lying on the Doctor's reception room floor, and a careful analysis of this evidence—although it certainly left the young man's conduct something to be explained—would not admit the idea of a guilty knowledge on his part, or of an active participation in the crime itself. Before he entered the reception-room he must have known that the Doctor or some other person was there, for a light was burning brightly therein; that the deed had been discovered; and it was certain that even then the police were on their way thither, if they had not already arrived. Yet he entered the office unhesitatingly. Again, no powerful emotions were betrayed by him until after he had seen the body, and then his first change of expression betokened surprise and bewilderment. The rapidly succeeding horror and terror were present while he was looking at Doctor Westbrook, and not at the body. "I was quite as much astonished by his behavior," was Mr. Howe's testimony hereof, "as by anything that had happened before.... The mere sight of the body did not, to my mind, account for the extremity of emotion depicted on his countenance, which seemed completely to overwhelm him." There was a quality about the look with which he regarded Doctor Westbrook so dreadful that it spurred the Doctor from his own preoccupying excitement and agitation to demand an explanation.

Did Clay Fairchild, puzzled over Miss Joyce's excited and unexpected appearance, go to Doctor Westbrook's office seeking enlightenment, and were his unspoken questions there answered by the dead body of Alberto de Sanchez?

And now there was a witness who could establish the identity of the unknown woman.

Possibly the last consideration had as much weight in influencing Mr. Converse to a decision which he made while riding back to the city, as the reasons therefor which he gave in his own mind; but, trifling as that decision may appear to be, it was destined to entail consequences of the utmost moment—it was the thread-like fissure in the dam. He shrank from hearing Joyce Westbrook's name on the lips of Slade; but yet, if that individual was possessed of such important evidence, it was clearly the Captain's duty to secure it as early as possible. However, he was beginning to feel acutely the need of both rest and nourishment; he realized, what with his own infirmity of speech and the other's deafness, the difficulties that would arise in the course of an interview with the abstracter; therefore he would defer his call until he had snatched a few hours' sleep, and could secure the aid of McCaleb to act as his mouthpiece.

He was ignorant alike of Merkel's ambition to engineer a coup, and the motives controlling the crusty Mr. Slade. Otherwise it is more than likely, after he received Mr. Follett's message, that he would have repaired with all haste to the offices of the Guaranty Abstract Company, instead of first eating a substantial breakfast, and afterward of composing his immense frame upon a certain leathern couch which formed a part of his office furniture at headquarters.

But such was the nature of his decision; and when he awoke late in the afternoon no earthly power could have changed the result of his procrastination.

At five o'clock Mr. Converse arose from his leathern couch, mentally decided to glimpse at the late afternoon mail, and then look up Mr. Slade.

But the mail brought one letter which, even before he opened it, banished all thought of the sour abstracter from his mind. The envelope bore in its upper left-hand corner the return address of "The Guadalupe Transportation and Construction Co.," and had been postmarked at Monterey, Mexico.

The missive was very long, and as it entered into a number of matters quite foreign to this narrative, it will be condensed. It purported to be written by one Morris A. King, now a civil engineer in the employ of a Mexican construction concern, and the author asserted that he and Clay Fairchild had been schoolmates, and that a warm friendship yet existed between them. The letter ran:

"My parents reside in New York and on the first of last October I had leave of absence to pay them a visit. On my return I shortened that visit by a day in order to surprise Clay, and I stopped with him two or three hours on November fourth." Here the reader's interest suddenly quickened. "The mysterious sketch of the dagger mentioned by the papers was made on that day solely for my benefit."

The writer went on to say that Clay had confided his literary ambitions to his friend, and that the latter had urged him to come with him to Mexico, "the land of romance, love, fighting, tinkling guitars, and sloe-eyed señoritas." He held out many inducements to Fairchild in the way of material for stories; but the young man persisted in his inability to accept the invitation.

One of the plots suggested was indeed extraordinary. The letter went on:

"The heroine of my yarn was a certain Paquita. Does that strain your credulity? Well, it's a fact which you may easily verify when you come up with Clay. In my veracious legend Paquita stabbed herself with a magnificent jewelled dagger, the same having been the gift of a false lover. Could it have been your 'Silver Blade,' I wonder? .... I had this story from a certain Ignacio Monterde, who related it as a fact. He was once under me in a construction gang; but his wife came into some money,—according to his account, as a reward for her kind offices to Paquita during a time of stress and vicissitude."

Then followed Monterde's address, and the assertion that the story had held Fairchild "spellbound."

Which was not surprising, considering his knowledge of Doctor Westbrook's paper-knife. Indeed, Fairchild seems to have mentioned it immediately to his friend, volunteering to secure it for the purpose of confirming his statements concerning its existence. The weapon could not be found in its customary place, hence the sketch as an effort to convey some idea of its appearance.

The writer concluded by offering to appear in his friend's behalf, at any time, should the exigencies of the case demand it of him.

Mr. Converse laid the letter to one side, with a long-drawn "Ah-h-h!" expressive of extreme satisfaction. He carefully made a note of Ignacio Monterde's address.

After the unexpected intelligence had been properly digested it was time for dinner; Mr. Slade and the woman he had seen could very well wait until the following morning. Besides, Mr. Converse's other business had become much in arrears during the past few days, and there were a number of matters demanding immediate attention. He smiled grimly as he turned to the accumulation of letters and papers on his desk, and mentally contrasted his recent anxiety to run this same mysterious woman down, with his present dilatoriness—his admitted reluctance to hear her name from the lips of a witness whose testimony would be irrefutable.

The manner in which the name of Slade wound in and out of this maze, indefinitely and apparently without cause or purpose, had excited Mr. Converse's attention to such an extent that even now two subordinates were burrowing into the abstracter's past in an effort to unearth something that might clear up this distracting and irritating side-issue; but their efforts had been abortive in so far as the results aimed at were concerned, although—as he had informed Miss Charlotte—a number of seemingly irrelevant facts had been brought to light, which only made this phase more perplexing than ever. And now, Mr. Slade's remarkable visit to the Fairchild cottage, and what had happened there, were only added knots in an already badly tangled skein.

He next rang for the departmental stenographer, and for two hours was busy dictating letters and going over reports, with an energy that made his pale young amanuensis marvel. But as the Federal Building clock began to toll off eight strokes, he noted the impatience with which the young man consulted his watch.

"Julius, you are tired," he said, in a matter-of-fact way. "This is the last letter."

It was not to be written that night, however. His statement was punctuated by the telephone bell, and, shoving the desk instrument toward the stenographer, he said:

"Talk for me." Without such aid, he was shorn of this device's convenience in long-distance communication.

The stenographer presently announced that Mr. McCaleb desired to talk with Captain Converse.

"What does he want?" sharply demanded the latter.

It required a minute's maltreatment of the telephone to elicit the further information that Captain Converse's presence at the Westbrook home was urgently desired.

Wondering much what this summons might portend, he donned his hat and overcoat, and strode forth to intercept a street-car.

At the same time Mr. William Slade, wrapped in a dingy and much frayed dressing-gown, with a ghoulish light of exultation smouldering in his mouse-like eyes, sat in his dingy hole of a room, and went over again in his mind a recent conversation between himself and Mr. Merkel. What he had told the Coroner that evening had caused the worthy official to stare in speechless amazement—a feeling which rapidly grew into one of eminent satisfaction after Mr. Slade, with much precision and circumstantiality, had embodied his statements in a written affidavit.

So Mr. Slade now reviews this colloquy.

"What's twenty-five dollars!" he mutters, laughing noiselessly and without mirth, and cracking his knuckly fingers. "What is any money to this! You may have defeated one purpose, my dear; but, to a man of talent and resource, there exist an infinite variety of ways. To be sure, what's twenty-five dollars to this!" And he glances at an open paper displayed conspicuously on the table.


By the feeble illumination of the candle could yet be read, in letters an inch high, this "scare head" extending across the entire front page.



Meanwhile the Captain narrowly escaped missing a car, and as he ran for it he fancied he heard a newsboy crying an extra edition of some evening paper. Idly wondering what could call forth an additional issue so soon after the regular evening edition, he took his seat, and straightway forgot the incident.

His cogitations in a little while assumed the form of a resolution to avail himself of the present opportunity to ask Mrs. Westbrook several questions which had been restrained only by the circumstances of her bereavement. He disliked obtruding himself upon her privacy at such a time; but he felt that, since the morning, she had had occasion within which to compose herself and to become expectant of the entrance of the police into the tragedy of her husband's death.

Upon arriving at the Westbrook home, he was met at the wide veranda steps by McCaleb himself.

"Sorry to have troubled you," whispered the latter, hurriedly. "I will tell you why I sent as soon as I get a chance. But wait; if my reason is not good, Miss Westbrook gave me one that is."

McCaleb paused. He seemed with only indifferent success to be curbing an inward excitement, and his manner lent a special significance to his next words.

"She has been inquiring for you," he added.

Converse did not appear at all surprised; but knowing his chief as he did, neither did McCaleb seem surprised at the reception of his pregnant announcement.

"Come with me; I have something mighty queer to show you." And after word of the Captain's arrival had been sent to the ladies, McCaleb led the way around to one side of the house, coming to a halt in the dense darkness beneath the porte-cochère.

"After I 'phoned, Miss Westbrook came to me and asked if there was any likelihood of your coming to the house soon. She was a good deal confused and embarrassed; but the question so stumped me—after what happened this morning, you know,—that I forgot my good manners, and asked her 'Why?' But she replied that she had something to tell you alone, which she thought you would be glad to hear—that it was of such importance that you would doubtless pardon a summons to come at once. Then I told her you were probably on your way here now; and with that she turned away, apparently satisfied."

McCaleb caught the other's arm and drew him onto the lawn, away from the house and from beneath the porte-cochère. Again lowering his voice to a whisper, he said:

"Look up at those two windows, there, right over the roof of the carriage-entrance."

Converse did so, and noted that the carriage-entrance roof formed a balcony upon which the two windows gave, and that the room beyond was evidently brightly illuminated, for faint rays of light found their way through minute interstices in the curtains:

"Well?" he queried at length.

"That is Miss Westbrook's bedroom."

"Yes? And what's queer about that?"

McCaleb considered a minute.

"Well, sir, I saw her at that window to-night, waving a lighted candle about, as though signalling some one."

"Ha! Which way was she looking—up—down?"

"Straight ahead, sir,—west. She seemed to be looking at or trying to see something about on a level with her head."

"On a level with her head, eh? That would be somewhat above our own." And the Captain involuntarily faced about to the west. Raising his eyes to an approximate level with those of a person standing at the window, they encountered nothing but the night sky, against which were silhouetted in dense blackness the blended outlines of trees and a gable of the house across Tenth Street. All sense of perspective was lost. And surely nothing there that a candle might aid one in seeing: its tiny light would be as insignificant—if the contrast is not already plain—as a dewdrop in the crater of Vesuvius. Finally he brought back a questioning eye to the young man's sober countenance.

"It was queer," McCaleb at once continued. "But I haven't told you the queerest part. I looked around, trying to see what she could be after—only I walked about quite a bit; but I saw nothing more than usual. Everything was perfectly quiet; no one even passed in the street all the time I was waiting here, and look as I might, I saw no one to whom she could have been making signals—not an answering light anywhere."

The speaker stopped with a start. A sudden accession of light caused both to look up, and Converse perceived the slight, graceful figure of Joyce Westbrook standing by one of the windows. The blind was now raised, and all the lights in an electrolier behind the girl threw a flood of reflected radiance upon the beautiful countenance. The light cast an aureole about her wealth of hair—ebon tresses which, if unbound, would dissolve into the fluent blackness of night, like water into water. Either by a trick of the light, or in reality, her loveliness was so etherealized as to make this motionless apparition positively weird.

At last she turned slowly away and disappeared, without drawing down the shade. A disheartening sense of depression, such as he had experienced after leaving Miss Charlotte, came over Converse again, while the detective instinct was uncompromisingly alert to McCaleb's words. Whether the vision of Joyce evoked any such feelings in the younger man, it would be impossible to say; his hawk-like gaze remained riveted upon her while she stood at the window—as if she were merely an enigma hard to solve—and as soon as she was gone, he resumed speaking in unaltered tones.

"The incident was mighty puzzling, and I began a quiet, systematic quizzing of the servants, with an idea of clearing up this side-mystery. First, I got from Miss Westbrook's woman the fact that her mistress had for a week or two left a light at that window every night. Upon being pressed closer, Melissa told me the light was first placed there on the night of Saturday, the seventh; that it was always at that particular window, and that it was allowed to burn all night."

"Do you mean, Mac, that of those two windows so close together the light is never by any chance left at the other?"

"That's it, sir; it's always the southernmost window."

"And you say these windows can't be seen from the street?"

"No, sir; they cannot."

"Very good. I fancy if a person were on a level with that window when the candle-play is going on, he could see something off there to the west that can't be seen from any other point. We'll have to know what it means, Mac, before the night is many hours older."

As he entered the house Converse was somewhat surprised at being notified by Sam that Mrs. Westbrook would receive him at his convenience, in the morning-room. "The mother instead of the daughter; now, what does that mean?" he observed, mentally. He reflected that, in the whirl of events, he had taken but small account of this lady. What little he knew of her—merely such vague reports as may come to one of any individual's personality—pictured for him a cold, selfish, distant woman, indifferent to most matters that did not affect her directly; and so far there had been no occasion for giving her any unusual attention.

Mrs. Westbrook was a tall, stately woman of a superb figure. Her mere physical appearance, the unconscious ease of her carriage, the uncompromising uplift of her head, were all remarkably impressive; but there was much beyond this. To begin with, she had been wonderfully neglected by Time. One might fancy that the hauteur of this grande dame was as discouraging to the harbinger of immortality as it was chilling to individuals who failed in any of the many qualities necessary to meet her full approval. Like the General, there was a repellent frigidity in her customary glance, and her clear, almost faultless features were marred by the aptness with which they could emphasize scorn or disdain at the expense of an ability to reflect any of the softer feelings. If she had ever possessed any of the illusions common to girlhood, they had been dispelled—forgotten—long, long since: a woman temperamentally beyond the influence of the smaller courtesies and amenities of life, it was quite patent that she could not have lived that life more alone had it been cast in the midst of a desert isle; and it was difficult to imagine her so shaken from her aplomb as McCaleb and Clancy had beheld her the night before. Perhaps Time had indeed passed her by as needing none of his attentions.

Years ago Louise Shepardson had been much sought after by the bachelor gentry of her circle. There existed a strange allurement for the masculine nature in her statuesque beauty, an enticing incentive to kindle it into flame; but the Pygmalion for whom this lovely Galatea might have quickened into life never appeared, and one by one her suitors retired to direct their ardor along paths of less resistance.

The lady was standing facing the door when Sam ushered in Mr. Converse. It was plain from her attitude that she intended to remain standing throughout the coming interview; that she expected her guest to do likewise; and that the interview itself was to be very short. It cannot be said that the Captain's susceptibilities were particularly sensitive; yet he felt the condescension with which Mrs. Westbrook received him, and all at once his scruples for the intrusion vanished. He bowed low.

"Madam," he began, his impassive features as free from any emotion as her own, "I apologize for disturbing you; I have postponed the matter as long as I could; but there are some ques—"

She interrupted him without the slightest consideration, her enunciation deliberate and incisive.

"You will please dispense with any preamble," she said, coldly. "Ask your questions as briefly and concisely as possible."

He did not hurry. It was too patent that, if she did not choose to answer, she would ignore any interrogation he might frame. Abruptly his look became as hard as flint, and all of his moving personality seemed to be concentrated in one steady, piercing glance. But her pale eyes continued to meet the steely gray ones, boldly, and as inscrutable as the granite orbs of a sphinx. Nobody had ever seen behind those eyes.

"Mrs. Westbrook," he presently retorted, his manner calculating and unsympathetic, "I regret that you meet me in this spirit of antagonism. You are making a difficult situation infinitely more diffi—"

She started to interrupt.

"Wait, please!" he peremptorily commanded. He remained silent a moment with his gaze fixed squarely upon her; then, with a sternness that would brook no trifling, continued: "Out of a common courtesy I requested this interview; but do you know, Mrs. Westbrook, if need be I could enforce it? I want to be as gentle and considerate as it is possible for me to be, but my patience has its limits. I will choose my own time and my own questions, and you will refuse to answer them at your peril."

She shrank from him as if he had struck her in the face.

"Allow me to pass," she demanded; but he neither moved nor spoke. In a moment her lip curled witheringly. "Am I to suppose that I am under arrest also?"

"If you insist on leaving the room, yes," was the blunt answer. She threw a hand to her throat and recoiled another step, overcome with a blank, horrified amazement.

"Me!" she gasped. "Arrest me!"

All at once she broke into a little laugh of biting contempt. "Why, I believe you are insane—irresponsible—that must be it. That is the only way to explain such extraordinary conduct. Now you will please step aside, and allow me to pass." She confronted him with a sudden flash of indignation before which any less masterful personality surely would have quailed. But Converse remained quite undaunted. His response was to produce his watch, with some ostentation, and stand holding it in his hand.

"As it happens," said he, easily, "I am in a hurry myself. I shall give you just two minutes to decide whether you will remain here and answer a few questions, or answer them at the police station; it is all one to me."

It is not likely that he was exacting about the time, for more than two minutes elapsed before Mrs. Westbrook gave any indication that she was not turned to stone; then slowly her rigidity relaxed, her pale eyes fell before his, a spot of color glowed on either cheek, and the man knew he had conquered. He was far from relishing the necessity for his conduct; he did not exult; but on the contrary, he responded to her capitulation with an air of deference and gentleness.

"Now then, Mrs. Westbrook," he resumed, in tones vastly altered, "I trust you have chosen the wiser course. I am asking little of you."

Her back was now turned to him, and she did not meet his regard.

"What is it you want?" she asked over one shoulder, and almost in a whisper.

"Well, first," becoming abruptly business-like and impersonal, "did you ever hear General Westbrook mention a certain Don Juan del Castillo?"

He paused, for the back turned to him betrayed a start.

"Because," he continued at once, "I believe it is through Don Juan that this mystery may be cleared." He hesitated again, curious to see her face.

Mrs. Westbrook astonished him. Quite without warning she wheeled about and took one or two rapid steps toward him. Her eyes were wide with a terror the existence of which nothing within his knowledge would account for; but it was plain that he had at last penetrated her reserve.

"What—what do you know of him?" she demanded in a hoarse, distressed whisper. "Who—who— Good God, what are you? What do you know?" As she awaited his reply her bosom rose and fell tumultuously.

"Mrs. Westbrook—calm yourself—there is no occasion for this excitement," he returned, sorely perplexed at this unexpected turn. He hesitated to press this woman whose agitation was so profound, yet incomprehensible; but she offered him an opportunity which duty sternly bade him take advantage of. "If you will be seated for a few minutes—" he added; but she again interrupted:

"Tell me—at once—what wrong has my husband done? My God! my God! Is his name to be smirched—to be dragged in the mire—now—now that he is dead?"

He considered his reply.

"Mrs. Westbrook, I have not come here to inquire into General Westbrook's conduct while he was alive, further than is necessary to aid me in finding who is responsible for his death. Of still greater importance than this is the necessity of freeing your daughter from the cloud of suspicion which now rests upon her—if it be possible."

Something very like a sob escaped from the woman's tightly compressed lips.

"Can—can—you—you—can you save Joyce," she faltered, "without dishonoring my—without dishonoring the dead?"

Could he? He weighed his answer carefully, and when he finally spoke it was to make an attempt at reassuring this agitated woman.

"You know, I suppose, that General Westbrook was a joint administrator of the Castillo estate?"


"Well, then," he spoke with much earnestness, "so far as my investigations have been carried into the mutual affairs of your husband and Alberto de Sanchez, not a circumstance has appeared that is not strictly honorable. The matter has been gone into fully; the records are correct in every particular—full and complete—and nothing whatever points to anything not strictly honest and fair."

Again Converse was surprised. Mrs. Westbrook suddenly sank into a chair and burst into tears.



The woman who presently turned to Mr. Converse was a very different woman from the one who had met him but a few minutes previously. As soon as the brief emotional outburst had exhausted itself her admirable poise and self-possession returned, and with it all the frigid reserve, the air of aloofness and apparent unconcern. But there was this immense difference:—where her attitude had been condescending and inflexibly hostile, it now conveyed a subtle suggestion of surrender, by recognizing some tremendous advantage which this man seemed to possess; she was no longer hard and unyielding, but ready to comply with any demands he might make; and he knew that every obstacle which served to seal her lips had been swept away as by a breath. Such was the potency of a name.

"Please be seated, Mr.—Mr. Converse," she finally said, her voice tense with controlled passion. There was no attempt at explanation, no apology,—unless this concession could be counted such,—and she faced him placidly, wholly at her ease.

"Was it of this," she continued, "that you talked to Charlotte Fairchild this morning?"

No doubt now why Joyce had inquired for him. So this leaven was at work.

"Yes, to a limited extent," was the cautious reply.

"You insinuated nothing—nothing—" she hesitated and still further lowered her voice, in which there was now a dominant note of anxiety, "you did not allow her to gather the idea that there was anything discreditable in General Westbrook's—"

"Pardon me," he broke in quietly. "I could hardly insinuate anything derogatory of the General's character, when I am ignorant that any such circumstance exists."

She looked at him doubtfully, narrowly, as if she would probe his thoughts, and presently sighed.

"If I only knew—" she breathed, vaguely.

"What, Mrs. Westbrook? I will tell you if I can."

"Well—" she still hesitated, "if I only knew what your knowledge amounts to. You say General Westbrook was innocent of any wrong-doing; how should you know? What reason have you had to consider the possibility at all, if some suspicion has not been engendered in your mind? Then, what occasioned that suspicion? You see, I am torn by doubts and anxieties."

"Yes, Mrs. Westbrook, so I perceive. But it would require half the night to go fully into this matter; and still, to free you from your doubts and anxieties, I may tell you this: that the tragedies of which Señor de Sanchez and your husband were the victims are very closely connected, and I have many reasons for believing that whatever light may be thrown upon one will correspondingly tend to clear the other. The name Castillo—or Del Castillo—bears a close relation to both; therefore it is essential that every circumstance bearing upon that relation should be known and understood. It is evident that you know something of Don Juan of which I am ignorant; it is also evident that whatever you know troubles you. Now, I may be able to remove the cause of that trouble, and you to give me some valuable information."

She pondered quite a while.

"Mr. Converse, I am a proud woman," she announced, simply; "to go into such intimate family matters—thus openly to discuss topics which I hesitate to contemplate even in the privacy of my own thoughts—is to me a very real torture; but for the sake of my dead husband, I owe you some sort of explanation. When you mentioned that name it frightened me; it made me suspect that you had the power of divining what is forbidden my own mind, and I naturally wondered to what extent that divination was capable of penetrating.

"But, after all, my fears have been based on a mere phantom—a name spoken in the dark—and in hearkening to it and pondering upon it, I have allowed myself greatly to wrong my husband. God forgive me! ... Has not the entire matter become irrelevant?" she abruptly finished, with obvious reluctance to proceed.

"Far from it—far from it," was the reply, uttered emphatically; "you must let me be the judge of that. There are so many ramifications to these two tragedies, that you cannot even remotely realize how significant and important the most trifling particular may be."

"But it does not affect Joyce—in any way you imagine.... Please be seated, Mr. Converse."

He obeyed this second injunction, drawing the chair around so that he directly faced her. He waited quietly for her to proceed.

"Do you still wish to hear?" she asked presently; and when he bowed a courteous intimation that he was waiting, she continued:

"Well, it is very difficult—it is so like a confession,"—she arose abruptly, and, walking to the door, bolted it; after which she resumed her seat and the recital simultaneously,—"that I hope my husband may hear and know it for an act of penance.

"General Westbrook was never a man to discuss his business affairs with any one, and there existed many reasons why he should not make a confidante of me; so I must tell you at the outset that what I heard of the name Del Castillo came to my ears in more or less of a surreptitious manner and without General Westbrook's knowledge. Whether the words themselves or the circumstances under which I heard them justify my anxiety, you may judge.

"When he finally wound up his affairs in Mexico and returned home, I noticed immediately that some trouble was weighing heavily upon his mind. I never showed him by word or sign that I remarked his mental state; but it was plain, nevertheless, and so unusual as to worry me not a little. As the days passed this secret trouble deepened rather than grew lighter, and developed in my poor husband an irascibility quite foreign to his uniformly courteous manner. Naturally, when I beheld that this trouble was not diminishing, my worry increased; but I never questioned him.

"Well, this condition continued for several months without abatement or apparent change, until one night I was awakened suddenly by hearing him cry aloud. I was very much startled,—frightened, indeed,—and I waited to see if I was the victim of my sleeping senses, or if he had indeed called out." She paused, and her thin lips momentarily tightened. "Then I experienced the most dreadful sensation of my life.

"Our apartments, you must know, adjoin and are divided only by portieres. We had both retired long since; I was dimly conscious of the lateness of the hour; and I had no reason to believe otherwise than that the General had been many hours asleep. But as I waited, I found that I had not been dreaming. I heard him say distinctly, 'I had rather see her dead at my feet than wife to such as you.'

"Now thoroughly alarmed, I switched on the light and hastened into his room. My husband was standing in the middle of the floor, and I perceived instantly that he was asleep. This merely increased my fright, for in all the years of our married life he had been a healthy sleeper, though retiring late and rising early.

"I caught his arm and called him by name. He awoke at once and looked at me in a dazed way; then he became unaccountably angry, and demanded to know if he had spoken. And when I told him, he explained his words as the vagaries of a bad dream. Far from satisfied, I accepted this explanation, scorning to question him concerning any matter which he did not choose to tell me voluntarily; and I returned to my own apartment in some chagrin, for his manner had offended me. I believe neither of us slept much the remainder of that night.

"Well, Mr. Converse, that was merely a beginning—four years ago. It may be difficult for you to understand my conduct under such trying circumstances—why I never questioned my husband; why I permitted my doubts and fears to continue without an effort to remove them; but General Westbrook and I to a certain extent lived our lives apart," the listener fancied he detected a note of bitterness in this statement,—"and we were not in entire accord upon all matters. Don't get the idea that any ground for trouble existed between us," she hastily added; "no, no,—but there was a certain restraint, a lack of sympathy, characterizing our entire married life, which led naturally to a repression of those confidences without which such a condition cannot be perfect. God help me, perhaps I was to blame; but so it was. And besides, I did try to remove my doubts—to quiet my fears, as you shall presently see.

"Two nights passed before I heard other dream vagaries, as he was pleased to call them, and I first heard the name Del Castillo upon this second occasion. I failed to catch the sense in which it was used, but after a long silence he began to say, over and over again, 'Paquita is not dead—Paquita is not dead.'"

Paquita again! Verily, she was not dead,—if her influence over the destinies of so many of the living signified anything at all.

"I listened until it nearly drove me mad, and again I awoke him. When I repeated his words he was angry, as he had been before, and at the same time confused. But he tried to laugh it off, and demanded that I think no more of the episode. In short, his manner was so strange and unnatural that I was worried nearly to distraction. How could I refrain from thinking of it? Of what use was it to bid my thoughts occupy themselves with other matters when they continued to circle about this dreadful secret which preyed so heavily upon his mind? Mr. Converse, you can't imagine the expedients I adopted to dissipate my fears, the casuistry I employed to banish my doubts. I would argue that his sense of honor was so exalted, his standard so high, that a very little thing might grievously trouble him, which might appear trivial to another man. But how could this idea be reconciled with his wild words of death?

"The next morning he announced to me that he would thenceforward sleep in another room. I made no comment, but superintended the removal of his things.

"I lay awake all that night and most of the next; then—then—"

Once more she paused. She plucked nervously at a fold of her skirt, manifesting the greatest reluctance to go on. But her nature was not to be swayed by trifles; if a painful confidence were once undertaken, it was quite plain she would press it to the end, sparing neither herself nor whomsoever else it might affect. All at once she folded her hands with an easy, natural movement and continued:

"Mr. Converse, where I would not openly seek light, I was not above listening in secret: in dressing-gown and slippers I stole to his door during the early morning hours, and knelt with my ear to the keyhole.

"Many times I was rewarded with no spoken words—only the evidences of a troubled and broken slumber. At other times I heard him say things that made my blood run cold: 'Man, before you do this thing I will kill you with my own hands'; again, 'Why did you not tell me this man is living?' At times he cursed some one in a terrible voice, and once—once—" She leant suddenly forward and fixed upon him a gaze moving in its intensity. "Mr. Converse, is this confidence buried within your own bosom?"

"It is," he replied, with convincing gravity.

"Once," she went on, leaning back again, "I heard him groan, 'Elinor, I may never look upon your face again; mea culpa! mea culpa!'" Of a sudden she clenched one hand convulsively and struck smartly an arm of the chair. "Good God! what could that mean?" she cried with a startling fierceness; then, one quick intake of breath, and she was again her usual tranquil, collected self. She attempted a little smile. "You see," she said, in a deprecating way, "that those confidences to the night have not yet lost their power to disturb me—and I am not easily moved." She remained silent for a time, as if collecting her thoughts; presently she resumed the narrative.

"There were certain names mentioned by him times innumerable. I have heard Castillo, Alberto de Sanchez, Paquita, my daughter's name, and Fernando—"

"Fernando?" Converse interpellated, sharply.

"Yes. Do you recognize it? I know no more of it than that."

He shook his head. "It is new to me.... But proceed, please."

"Well, at best the names were so confused and uttered in such a way that I could gather no connection, and oftener than not his words would trail off into incomplete sentences and unintelligible mutterings.

"But so it went on. Night after night I would hearken to the incoherencies of my sleeping husband, overcome with a nameless terror in the cold dark hall; in the broad glare of day my anxieties and fears would shrink almost to insignificance—but oh, the night!

"However, as time passed, whatever was preying on General Westbrook's mind began gradually to abate its evil influence; his sleep became once more healthy, and abruptly he returned to his regular apartment.

"Naturally, my own fears subsided somewhat; but a suspicion of unknown wrongdoing had been awakened in my mind, casting a continual shadow over my thoughts. Oh, that terrible worm of doubt that gnawed forever at my brain! After this, I believe, my poor husband could have made no explanation that would have destroyed it utterly.

"Of course, Mr. Converse, slight as was my knowledge of General Westbrook's affairs, I knew about his association with Señor de Sanchez. I also knew that Señor de Sanchez was a distinguished gentleman, of great wealth and excellent family; and when the question of his eligibility as a husband for my daughter was broached, I—I—I— Well, it was an honor of which any mother might have been proud."

"Mrs. Westbrook, I cannot believe that you are expressing your true feelings in this regard." The look that accompanied this announcement was sharp and meaning. "Were you satisfied with such an arrangement?"

She returned his scrutiny a little doubtfully; but at last asked:

"Can this be of any benefit to Joyce?"

"If you did not sanction Señor de Sanchez's proposal, I could scarcely overestimate its importance as an aid to clearing up some matters as they concern the young lady."

"Well, then I shall be frank. At first I did not give my approval; I had other ideas for Joyce's future; but one morning General Westbrook sent a request that I come to him in the library. The instant I entered I comprehended that he was struggling with some recent trouble. In the course of the conversation which followed he informed me that a very grave reason existed why we should consider carefully before definitely rejecting Señor de Sanchez's offer; and while he did not tell me what that reason was, I was given to understand that it involved some scandal threatening my husband, and that De Sanchez had the power to remove it.

"'Otherwise?' I inquired. He turned to a drawer of his desk and produced a pistol.

"'Otherwise,' he said with a smile, 'I might still escape it.'

"'Do you contemplate murder?' I asked.

"'Louise!' he cried in a hurt tone, as though pained that I could entertain such a thought; 'is it possible you can so misconstrue my words?'

"'I do not know how else to interpret them—nor your actions,' said I.

"'Then I shall be more explicit,' he rejoined; 'I would place the muzzle of this pistol—'

"'You need not continue,' I interrupted. 'Is it so serious?'

"'It is,' said he, very soberly.

"'And do you think now that I could see Joyce go to such a man?' I asked.

"'You do not fully understand,' he persisted. 'The situation is this,'—and he repeated that Señor de Sanchez would have the power to do away with the impending scandal. We concluded by agreeing to leave the matter with Joyce.

"Her manner of taking it greatly relieved the situation. 'Give me six months,' was her response. 'If at the end of that time you still consider it necessary, I will marry him.' She looked at her father with open scorn. Then she went on, 'You may inform him; but this promise rests on three conditions: that it be kept a secret; that it is never referred to in my presence, directly or indirectly; and that he make no attempt to see me till the six months have expired.'

"The General said, 'I am afraid he will receive the message with a sour smile, my dear.' But Joyce's manner showed a complete indifference. 'Moreover,' went on my husband, 'your word once passed, there must be no backing down—no retreat.' She flashed another scornful look at him, but merely said, 'Do not forget to emphasize the three conditions when you see Señor de Sanchez.'

"And such was the arrangement at the time of Señor de Sanchez's death."

The Captain fixed his regard upon the cold and handsome woman before him, and strove to harmonize her appearance with the remarkable marital condition revealed by her most amazing disclosure. Was it possible she sat as tranquilly as she now was sitting, and discussed in those arctic tones the chances of her husband committing suicide, with this same air of easy indifference? It was impossible not to believe her; yet such utter sang-froid was almost inconceivable.

In a moment Converse pulled himself together.

"With your permission, I will ask you a few questions concerning Miss Joyce. First, do you know why she remained silent before my questions this morning?"

She lowered her head, and sat for a time in deep reflection. When she again turned to him, it was not to reply directly to his question.

"I am not fully in my daughter's confidence in this matter, although I believe I do know what motives—or impulses, rather—are controlling her. I may add that they have my reprobation; but the interests involved are quite serious; Joyce has unexpectedly developed a phase of character astonishing to me, and for the first time in my life I hesitate to interfere in her affairs. The matter does not affect her own welfare alone, and I must refuse to go further into it with you. She has assumed a terrible responsibility, and however severely I may condemn her conduct, she has commanded my admiration. I feel that I must at least coöperate to the extent of respecting her silence. She wishes to see you, I believe. Hear from her what she has to say."

"Does your reticence include the interchange of messages between Miss Joyce and Mr. Fairchild?"

She looked at him with a quick accession of interest. "No," was her reply. "Why should you ask that?"

He waved the question to one side. "It's immaterial. Possibly there has been no such interchange.... There is but one more question, Mrs. Westbrook. While you were returning from Mrs. Farquier's last night, why did you peer so closely into the darkness? Whom were you expecting to see?"

A faint flicker of wonder penetrated the mask of her countenance, but quickly disappeared.

"I suppose all this is necessary?"

"It is, indeed."

"Well, I expected to see one of two young men."

"Ah! Then the one you did see—the fact of its being Mr. Lynden—removed a cause of worry?"

"You are correct. I could not consider him seriously in any light."

That was all. As she arose, she inclined her head slightly. "Joyce will see you here," she said.

Had every incident of the past half-hour been a dream? Here was the identical woman who had given him such a glacial welcome, now leaving him with the same air of reserve and aloofness. No, not quite. She was nearly to the door, when of a sudden she faced about and advanced close to him; and for the third time during this extraordinary interview he was so taken aback that he was at a loss for words.

She stood motionless for a time, her pale, cold eyes fixed intently on his serious gray ones. Then she spoke.

"Look closely, Mr. Converse."

He was disconcerted, and made no response. Presently she went on.

"You think I am a strange woman, do you not?—cold, callous, indifferent, incapable of any feeling?"

Still he was at a loss for words.

"You, who read me so well,—who seemed to divine all of Joyce's thoughts and actions,—look deep into my eyes. Am I such a woman?"

Then, to him who gazed so earnestly, it was as if a miracle had happened; as if the icy shell which encased this handsome woman had all at once melted—vanished from before his eyes—and it was given him to read the naked soul beneath. It was as swift in passing, but as vivid, as a flash of lightning.

He retreated a step and bowed low to her.

"Mrs. Westbrook, forgive me; I have misjudged you. I see that your daughter's welfare is as indissolubly a part of your own as if your two lives were one." He paused a moment, then concluded earnestly, "I'll do what I can for her—to free her from this coil. You have my word."

She moved to the door before making any response. With her hand on the knob she turned and faced him again.

"God aid you," she whispered, and was gone.



Possibly ten minutes elapsed before Miss Westbrook entered the room; had she been a witness of her mother's departure, she would have known that Mr. Converse had not stirred during that time. His attention was evidently drawn forcibly back from distant spaces and fixed upon her with an effort. In seeking this meeting she had prepared for an ordeal, but now she became sensible of the fact that other concerns besides her own might occupy his mind, and that those unwavering, piercing eyes, the scrutiny of which was so disconcerting, were able to look at and through her without being aware of her presence. She was reluctant to break in upon a concentration which so candidly ignored her.

Her appearance was unaltered from what it had presented that morning, save, perhaps, for a faint tinge of color in the pale cheeks and the added light of some purpose in the depths of her violet eyes. Notwithstanding the high spirit revealed in the unconscious flash of her glance, she was, after all, very slight, very fragile, and very feminine; and she was soon to have dire need of all the support that could be rendered her.

Quite suddenly she became aware of recognition in his regard. She moved impulsively toward him, her hand for a moment tentatively outstretched; as she spoke, her color deepened.

"Mr. Converse," she began with shy hesitancy, "I—I have come here to beg your forgiveness." Her voice was low and soft, her manner winning.

"Well, Miss Westbrook," he retorted, a note of raillery in his speech, designed to place her completely at her ease, "I am a sorely wronged person; however, I am not—" But, still impulsively, she interrupted him.

"Mr. Converse, I was unpardonably rude this morning; I must have appeared wretchedly mean and ill-bred; but you have no idea what doubts and anxieties—" But now he stopped her.

"Tut, tut, Miss Westbrook; I do know. I understand perfectly, and sympathize with you."

"Still," she persisted, "if I had only known this morning! If—"

The talk was becoming a series of interruptions.

"Ah, 'if,'" he took her up. "You are familiar with the saying about one convinced against his will, eh? This morning I recognized the necessity of a—er—a softening influence—the ineptness of a mere man. If you had been in the same mood then that you are now, I should have missed one of the pleasantest hours of my life. So you see, that even a young lady's whims and caprices are not without their compensations. What have you learned that has moved you to kindlier feelings?" He spoke lightly; but there was an intelligible purpose in his concluding question.

"About Clay—about Mr. Fairchild," she murmured, shyly. Another wave of color, deeper than before, dyed her cheeks. "Is it true you do not suspect him of—of—"

Converse sobered before her earnest, searching inspection.

"My dear young lady," he returned, gravely, "it is entirely owing to Mr. Fairchild himself and to you, that any suspicion was ever drawn to him. Between the two of you, each has done about all that could be done to make me suspect the other. Then the Doctor—well, among you all, you've succeeded in getting things badly tangled up."

"That would make me very happy were there not so much else to distress me."

He regarded her with the utmost seriousness. What peculiar conception did she have of her position? She seemed utterly blind to its peril—or else was recklessly disregardful. But it was an easy matter to adapt himself to her present compliant humor.

"Still, Miss Westbrook," said he, "there is much yet that needs clearing up. After all this delay the situation has become serious and will require extraordinary deftness in its handling—especially as concerns yourself. If you and Mr. Fairchild cannot lend me a very considerable aid, my task will be prodigious. The additional distress which you may be obliged to endure I hesitate to point out."

She waited while he took a turn up and down the room.

"In the first place," he resumed, coming to an abrupt pause before her, "I must have absolute frankness from you, from the Doctor, and Mr. Fairchild. Nothing must be kept back. The older heads are the wiser, Miss Westbrook. Your mother sees this thing as I do."

"Do you know," she interposed, her voice betraying a sudden awe and wonder, "that mamma advised me to be perfectly open and candid with you?" She gazed at him as if trying to fathom what other mysterious forces lay behind his blank, rough visage. "She came from you to me with such an admonition."

"I am not at all surprised. Mrs. Westbrook is a very sensible woman, profoundly interested in what affects her daughter."

She shook her head doubtfully, as if the matter remained an insoluble riddle.

"However," he continued, "she was right, and I believe her opinion is in harmony with your own."

"Yes; I shall keep nothing back." The color all at once ebbed from her cheeks, leaving them white and cold. Her sensitive lips trembled, yet her voice remained steady and even, and she looked at him without a sign of confusion, as she made the simple statement: "I love Clay, Mr. Converse. Does that explain anything?"

He regarded her with undisguised admiration.

"It explains a great deal," he replied, "but not all—not all."

"Well, I hardly know how to begin," she said, slowly and thoughtfully; "my thoughts seem anchored to that great fact; it is so sufficient to my own mind—" She paused.

"You are sure you can trust me now, Miss Westbrook?"

"I intend to—freely, fully."

"Then begin at the beginning. Tell me about the afternoon of the fourth—at what time you went to the Nettleton Building, and what took place there; just what you saw and heard."

As he spoke, her face clouded.

"Well," was the response, "I—I was—"

But there came an unlooked for interruption. A sudden sound of hurrying footsteps and excited voices, somewhere in the house below, broke upon their hearing, expropriating the attention of both. The girl stood rigid, startled, while the Captain turned hastily toward the door as the clamor resolved itself into a rapid approach to the room in which they were.

Before he could lay his hand upon the knob, a loud rap sounded on the panel, and a shaking voice called aloud Miss Westbrook's name. She paled, and it forced a little cry from her; the door burst open, and a strange group poured in upon them.

First came Lynden clutching a crumpled newspaper, his face bloodless and twitching with intense agitation. He surged forward as though forcing his way through a mass of obstacles; his usually fastidious attire was dishevelled. Close behind him followed McCaleb, much calmer, but plainly showing signs of excitement; and beyond McCaleb stood Mrs. Westbrook, the placidity of her handsome features unruffled, her equanimity not at all disturbed by the tumult.

Before Lynden's unceremonious entrance Joyce recoiled, with an involuntary look of scorn and indignation which engaged Mr. Converse's interest. Lynden hastened directly toward her, without the least notice of any one else. He extended the paper, and, in tones hoarse and tense, cried,

"Joyce! Good God! what does this mean?"

She glanced indifferently at the sheet—shaking in Lynden's hands so that it rattled—to start next instant and utter a little gasp.

"Tell me," Lynden insisted with furious vehemence, "what does this mean? Who has betrayed you?"

She quickly recovered herself.

"I can't imagine," she replied coolly, "unless some spy has done so." There was an inflexion of indignant contempt upon the word, glaring to every one but Lynden.

"Spy? Spy?" he repeated blankly. "I don't understand." But of a sudden he did, and in turn recoiled from Joyce. For the first time he became aware of the presence of others besides himself and the girl, and he shot over the assembled group a glance at once accusing, fearful, suspicious, and revealing a sense of shame and embarrassment too deep for the insinuation alone to account for its existence. Shame-facedly and abashed, he looked from Converse to McCaleb, and muttered an unintelligible apology to Mrs. Westbrook.

But Joyce, who had not removed her steady gaze from him, followed his glance, and in tones that must have penetrated him like knife-thrusts, said:

"Pray, Howard Lynden, do not attempt to place a misconstruction upon my words. When I said 'spy,' I did not refer to either of these gentlemen. Although they are officers of the law and I seem to be in a miserably compromising position, they have not dogged my every movement; they have not stood off at a distance and looked suspicion at me every time I met their eyes; they have not made my condition more wretched by all sorts of innuendoes and vile insinuations, and yet—and yet—" for a moment she was almost in tears; her throat filled, and she had to pause; but the weakness was conquered almost at once, and she continued, with flashing eyes, her voice quivering with indignation,—"yet, Howard Lynden, you—you have pretended to be my friend. As for that"—she advanced a step toward him, and pointing an accusing finger at the paper in his hand, concentrated all her feelings in her next words. So scathing were they that Lynden winced visibly at each syllable, as if it had been the lash of a whip,—-"as for that, I think of it as I do of you—you spy; you sneak! Go, go! never let my eyes rest upon you again!"

Completely discomfited—overwhelmed by the sting of her words,—he offered not the shadow of a defence. Abruptly, the girl's mood changed. It was like the snapping of a string drawn too taut. One convulsive sob escaped her, she seemed of a sudden to droop, and the next instant Mrs. Westbrook, moving noiselessly, was at her side. Calmly and without a word she passed an arm about her daughter's waist and drew the girl close to her side.

"Mamma, mamma," Joyce faltered, her voice breaking as though she had reached the limit of endurance, "don't read it! Don't look at it! Oh!—Oh!—help me!" Shuddering she hid her face upon her mother's shoulder, her slender form quivering with sobs that could not be restrained.

With features sternly set, Converse advanced and snatched the paper from Lynden's passive fingers. It required no search to find the one important item that it contained. In letters which any who ran might read, appeared the following headlines:

Startling and Suggestive Discovery
Made by Coroner Merkel
Saw Lady Running from Scene of Crime at
Time It Happened
She is Prominent in Society and May Also Account
for the Westbrook Tragedy

As might be expected after this scare head, what followed was sensational enough. The name of neither Joyce nor Slade was mentioned; but for one familiar with the case it was easy to comprehend that the abstractor was the witness and Joyce the woman.

For the moment the Captain was overwhelmed with this unforeseen result of his delay in calling upon the abstractor; and what next occurred in the Westbrook morning-room is especially worthy of preservation as constituting the one and only time that John Converse is known ever to have given a free and untrammelled expression to his inmost feelings.

"The damned ass!" he ejaculated vehemently; at the same time rending the paper in halves and tossing the fragments from him with a violence that caused every one in the room to jump.



Added to the tumultuous occurrences of that day, Lynden's advent with the published evidence of the Coroner's fatuity produced a condition in the Westbrook household amounting to consternation. For a time Joyce managed to infuse a semblance of calmness into her mien; but as the brutality of the narrative impressed itself upon her, as realization grew in her dazed mind of the callous indifference with which her own feelings were ignored in the light of the mere sensation, she seemed gradually to sink as if beneath a crushing weight; her lips became bloodless and drawn, and the lovely eyes took on a wistful, helpless expression pitiful to see. She became strangely quiet, and it was noticeable that no one seemed inclined to disturb her where she sat, still encircled by the arm of her silent mother.

Lynden, obviously, was overcome by an intense shame and mortification; by degrees he managed to arrive close to the open door, and in the stress of the moment to slip away without eliciting a farewell of any nature, unless the disconcerting look with which the eyes of both the officers followed him and somewhat hastened his exit may be so regarded.

As for the Captain himself, he was angry clear through, and for a while not a little dismayed. His thoughts flew rapidly during the few minutes which followed his hurried reading of the article; presently, when he turned to McCaleb, that young man missed a flint-like gleam which had been flashing the admonition that it was not an opportune time for engaging his chief's attention; but now, in the face of a familiar pucker, and an elevation of the eyebrow, he did not hesitate to advance toward the older man, who stood with his hands thrust deeply into his trousers pockets, a massive figure of grim determination.

"Mac," said Converse, "go at once to Mr. Mountjoy's residence and ask him to come here immediately—bring him with you. Hurry! ... Miss Joyce," he continued, wheeling to the two drooping figures in the corner, "tell me, please, where Mr. Fairchild is."

She looked wildly at him, and all at once her look became vacant. She made no response. His eyes narrowed as he noted that glance, and he addressed the two women no more. But as he was on the point of leaving the room, he was arrested by the elder lady's voice.

"Don't—don't leave us," she whispered, with an appeal that might have made him smile at another time. Quite without warning, she clasped the girl to her. "Good God!" she cried despairingly, "they will be here presently to carry Joyce to—to jail!" She sat panting, as if she had been running.

"Oh, no, they will not," he rejoined quietly, his inflexion satisfyingly convincing. "Officers will be here by and by I have no doubt; but Miss Joyce shall remain beneath this roof to-night. Don't worry, Mrs. Westbrook; matters are not so bad as they appear just now."

"How can you prevent it?" she demanded anxiously.

"Leave that to me. Stay here with your daughter until I return. If I encounter Melissa, I will send her to you."

In the hall he reflected an instant, then made his way directly to Joyce's bedroom. As he unceremoniously threw the door open, he was met by a startled cry from the young lady's maid.

"Go to your mistress—in the morning-room," he commanded; and the woman, meeting his glance, obeyed without a word.

Before the southernmost of the two windows facing the west stood the small table of which McCaleb had spoken, upon it an unlighted lamp and a wax taper in a brass candle-stick. A tablet of letter paper lay beside these.

After first closing and making fast the door, he picked up the tablet and tossed back the cover, and there, in young Fairchild's hand, was the code of signals. After studying it at some length, he presently replaced the tablet on the table, and, leaving the window, switched off the lights.

But the blackness did not remain long unbroken. He was moving with an agility which was none the less swift by reason of its being noiseless, and as soon as the incandescent lights were extinguished, he struck a match, lighted the candle, and waited, looking intently through the window into the night.

Almost instantly he uttered a satisfied ejaculation. Straight ahead, but seemingly as distant as a star, the darkness was penetrated by a single tiny spark of light. It was so small and feeble that it certainly would have been swallowed up and lost had there been any other intervening illumination; but there it glowed, a single coruscation against the velvet pall of night.

Upon moving slightly to one side, the light at once vanished; but it again appeared when he resumed his former position. A movement to the other side had the same result: evidently, through the trees and buildings of various kinds which stood between the Westbrook house and the source of the mysterious point of light, there was but one straight passage free from obstructions and leading directly to the centre of this window.

He consulted the tablet, and moved his own taper slowly up once and then down again, to the table. Immediately the distant spark appeared to rise an inch or so and settle once more to its former position. Thus was a familiar greeting flashed through the night, and answered: "Hello!" The manipulator of the distant light, of course, had no idea that another than Joyce was engaging his attention by means of this novel wireless telegraphy; and Mr. Converse resolved to try the effect of the most startling announcement he could find—not without a clearly defined purpose.

The code contained nothing that could convey an adequate idea of the close surveillance under which Joyce had been all day, nor of the events of the past twelve hours; it was impossible to say what intelligence she had imparted when McCaleb observed her with the candle earlier in the evening; but after a brief consideration, he selected the announcement:

"All is discovered."

The effect was instantaneous. The little spark waved frantically, and at times so vehement were its movements that it disappeared altogether: it darted about so erratically—stuttered, one might say—that it was impossible to catch an inkling of what it intended to convey; and then it abruptly vanished, not to reappear.

After waiting several minutes, he presently chuckled grimly and muttered: "The old Fairchild homestead! Now, that young man displays a resourcefulness and cleverness that I admire. I'll wager he and I are face to face before morning."

He switched on the lights again, extinguished the candle, and quitted the room.

In the morning-room he was again confronted by the cold light of Mrs. Westbrook's pale eyes. Her expression of indifference had taken on a new meaning for him since he had first come face to face with her there to-night; it hid a history of which the world indubitably would never scan a page. To him it now afforded an illumination into hitherto hidden phases of the dead husband's character rather than an index to her own repressed nature; and his manner toward her remained gently deferential. Joyce still sat with her head pillowed on her mother's shoulder, her appearance betraying complete physical relaxation.

"Now, Mrs. Westbrook," he began, "when to-morrow dawns, matters are going to be in a far different condition than they are just now. In spite of my efforts, the cat seems to be out of the bag; but I believe the worst has happened."

Joyce sat suddenly upright.

"The worst!" she exclaimed, laughing bitterly. "Pray, sir, how long is this suspense to continue? Why do you delay?" She thrust forward two little white hands, two slender wrists. "Here! why do you not place the handcuffs upon me, and drag me to prison? You began your work this morning—tell me, why do you torture me with this delay? Is a prolongation of it a part of what I have to endure? O my God! my God! let my humiliation be complete!" She was quite hysterical, her manner so wild and unnatural that he felt the futility of attempting to reason with her.

"The worst!" she repeated. "God knows how bad it is when I am conscious of a feeling of gladness that papa—cruelly as he died—is not here to witness it."

"Hush, Joyce!" commanded the mother.

"I will say it," Joyce cried; "it is but the truth. Were poor papa not dead, this would kill him! What was it he dreaded? What was it he feared? Mamma, you know! Oh, God help me! God help me!" Throwing her arms about her mother's neck, she once more hid her face on the other's shoulder, and burst into a storm of weeping.

"The first time," whispered Mrs. Westbrook, unmoved—meaning, doubtless, that it was the first time Joyce had found the relief of tears. She strove to soothe the distressed girl; but her nature, clearly, had forgotten how to spend itself through the gentler and more gracious feminine channels, and for the moment she appeared stiff and awkward.

With manner subdued, as if he were in a sick-chamber, Mr. Converse addressed the mother, striving through her to reassure the almost frenzied girl.

"I shall presently know a number of things which have been kept from me until now,—which I should have known days ago. I hope your daughter's and Mr. Fairchild's reasons for silence will have been removed. With the facts known as they should be, Miss Joyce's causes for anxiety and worry will disappear in a large measure, and she need no longer fear that I shall misunderstand her or place a false interpretation upon circumstances over which she has had no control. There has been too much that is false: her position has been false, as has been the Doctor's and Mr. Clay's. She had come to a realization of all this for herself."

"It was Charlotte," Mrs. Westbrook interpellated in a strange, hard voice. "It was Charlotte Fairchild who influenced Joyce to speak."

Converse eyed her curiously.

"Well, at any rate, she was about to take me into her confidence, when Lynden appeared. Try to impress upon her that I will do in her behalf everything consistent with my duty. As soon as she is able to continue what she started to relate, why, the quicker can we get things shipshape again. The whole mystery hinges upon what happened in the Nettleton Building that day. Retire, if you desire; but I expect the District Attorney here presently, and you will be interested in what takes place."

On the instant Sam announced that Mr. Mountjoy was waiting below. Converse cast an inquiring look at Mrs. Westbrook, who inclined her head.

"Conduct Mr. Mountjoy here, Sam," was the result of the look.

Joyce disengaged herself from her mother's embrace, and sat upright once more, looking to her disordered tresses with certain deft and subtle touches. She turned to the Captain with a calmness which showed that his recent words had not been lost upon her: the deep violet eyes yielded a faint light of hope; the sweet face became rapidly more composed.

Mr. Mountjoy paused a moment in the doorway; catching sight of the two ladies, he hastened toward them.

"My dear Mrs. Westbrook—Joyce," said he, taking a hand of each in turn. "It is distressing to see you thus." His voice was full of sympathy and condolence, but he made no further effort to frame his feelings with words.

Mr. Mountjoy was well past middle age, but not far above middle height. He was slender and gray, and his thin, handsome features were saved from asceticism only by the innumerable fine lines of humor about his eyes. However, he was serious enough now, as he looked to the Captain for an explanation.

Mr. Mountjoy's Thin, Handsome Features were Saved from Asceticism Only by the Lines of Humor about His Eyes.
Mr. Mountjoy's Thin, Handsome Features were Saved from Asceticism
Only by the Lines of Humor about His Eyes.

"I suppose you have seen the extra edition of the Herald?" the latter asked.

Mountjoy nodded affirmatively.

"Did it occur to you that the unnamed lady was none other than Miss Westbrook?"

The lawyer looked his astonishment, but said nothing.

"Well, it's a fact, Mr. Mountjoy; and I wish to say, first of all, that that ass—that Merkel—never did a worse bit of blundering in his life."

"It seems beyond belief," was Mountjoy's commentary, "that he would give a matter of this nature to the newspapers."

Converse grunted, and cold type cannot express the amount of scorn he managed to inject into it. "It's done—all that he could do to tie my hands."

Mountjoy noted that the inscrutable gray eyes were resting upon Miss Westbrook, as if their owner's thoughts had taken a sudden flight beyond their present environment; and he in turn looked at her, too, and considered.

The idea of associating this girl with such a crime was preposterous; yet the District Attorney had an unbounded confidence in the chief of detectives, and at the same time he was sensible of a feeling of dismay and alarm. He knew her for an intrepid, high-spirited girl, governed largely by capricious impulses, but sane, and at heart pure and generous; he felt that she was more likely to act upon the spur of the moment, and cope with consequences afterward, than regard the consequences first; but all such traits, while they might account for an ordinary offence, were alone very far from being adequate reasons for connecting her with a charge of so grave a nature.

"Let us get at it ab initio," said he quietly, seating himself. "Sit down, John."

Converse availed himself of the opportunity, but slowly and with an unaccountable hesitancy of manner. His brow was knotted, and he sat pondering.

"After all," he began at length, "it's going to be a hard matter for me to tell you just what you ought to know."

"Why?" asked the lawyer, surprised at this reluctant confidence.

Converse eyed him narrowly a moment; and then, evidently, his mind changed.

"No, I am not going to tell you anything—now," he said, grimly. "I didn't send for you to hear me talk, but to hear what Miss Westbrook has to say. I can't anticipate how her words will affect you, Mr. Mountjoy; but whatever their tenor, pray do not forget that I still have charge of this case, and until I am ready—"

During his last words Joyce had arisen and approached the speaker. Now she interrupted by laying a hand upon his arm.

"Then let me speak," she said, "while I can. Let me tell what I started to when I was interrupted." She turned and faced Mountjoy.

"It is true that Mr. Howe and my brother have been keeping something back, but when you hear what it is, see if you can blame them. When Mobley testified at the inquest that he had no reason to believe any other person was in the Nettleton Building besides those known to be present, he uttered merely the truth; he was assailed by a great fear; but at that moment he did not know that I had not yet departed. Oh, dear me!" she suddenly exclaimed; "the truth sometimes is so hard to tell—so hard! What I have to say seems, even to myself, so wild and impossible, that I sometimes wonder if I am not the victim of a wretched nightmare. But, Mr. Mountjoy—Mr. Converse—I trust you will believe me." She clasped her hands and looked an earnest appeal from one to the other.

The lawyer now was grave, his thin features yielding no decipherable expression; Converse's mien was wholly encouraging and sympathetic.

"Pshaw, Miss Westbrook," said the latter, heartily, "don't let such a doubt worry you for an instant. You have no idea what my credulity will stand."

Again she glanced from one to the other, and thenceforth, after returning her hand timidly to the Captain's brawny arm, addressed herself directly to him.

"I stepped from Mobley's office into the hall that afternoon, leaving him and Mr. Howe together; and within two seconds thereafter Señor de Sanchez was killed. Although I saw it done—"

"My God! Miss Joyce!" burst suddenly from Mountjoy. He started violently at her last words and stared wide-eyed at her. "And you have kept that back all this time!"

"Wait," she returned. There was a strange ring in her voice, which was firm and even, although she was visibly trembling. "Although I saw that man done to his death, I did not realize at the moment what was happening before my eyes. Please do not interrupt. It is hard enough to make myself understood when I tell you just what happened and in the way it happened, and I hesitate to go on. Dear me! dear me! I know—I know you can't believe my story of that dreadful, dreadful afternoon."

The lawyer withdrew his concentrated gaze from her white face and glanced at the expressionless detective. He said easily and with obvious sincerity:

"Your sensitiveness makes you forget, Miss Joyce, that we could not doubt a statement made by you. You may be wrong in your conclusions, but never in intent."

Unconsciously, her hand was yet lying on Converse's arm, and again she turned and searched his rough countenance earnestly. What she found there was evidently satisfactory, for she proceeded at once:

"From the moment I crossed the threshold of Mobley's door, every circumstance seems to have incriminated me. I knew that the poor man was expected by my brother, for Mobley and I together framed the letter which you found on his desk."

"You were there—with Howe and the Doctor, eh?" asked Mountjoy. "But pardon me; please go on."

"We excused ourselves to Mr. Howe, and Mobley wrote it. Next, glancing at my watch, I saw that it was five o'clock, and I left right away, for I wished to avoid a meeting with Señor de Sanchez. But I had no sooner stepped out of the office into the hall than I heard footsteps on the stairway. I paused one instant. They were coming steadily up, and the person—whoever he might be—and I would be face to face in the hall."

Converse felt the little hand tremble on his arm. The girl's eyelids all at once drooped wearily, but she pressed her other hand lightly across them, as if to brush away an obstructing veil.

"At that instant," she went on immediately, "I noticed that Mr. Nettleton's door was ajar. It was but a step to its shelter, and without thinking twice, I ran to it and—and—"

She faltered with an air of having forgotten what she would say. The others were hanging upon her words in a silence that was almost painful: Mountjoy intensely eager; the officer once more impassive; while Mrs. Westbrook had risen and approached a step or two nearer her daughter, whom she stood watching strangely, as if puzzled by something beyond and behind her words.

"You ran to the door—" suggested Converse; again the girl tried to brush away the persistent intervening veil.

"I feel so queerly," she said; "everything is whirling around so."

"You have been tried beyond your strength," interposed the lawyer; "perhaps we had better postpone—"

"No, no, no!" She checked him with sudden vehemence. "I must go on—I must. If I don't tell now, I never may. Where was I?" The lovely eyes glowed unnaturally bright; unconsciously she lifted her hand and struck the officer's arm with feverish impatience.

"You hurried to Mr. Nettleton's—"

"Yes—I pushed open the door and got behind it. My sole idea then was to escape a meeting with that man. I didn't close it entirely. I wheeled about and peeped down the hall, realizing that I was none too soon; for, sure enough, Señor de Sanchez was coming toward my brother's office.

"I watched him with a sort of fascination, and for the first time I experienced a strange, shrinking dread of the man—a fear I had never known before. For the first time I seemed to be looking at the man himself,—not at a handsome animated mask,—and what I saw made me shudder."

And so did the bare recollection. Once more the persistent veil had to be swept aside—this time with a nervous, agitated hand—and the recital was taken up again, precipitately, in a veritable rush of words. As the crisis was gradually approached, the suspense became almost unendurable; the effect of what the actuality had been upon the tender, thoughtless witness thereof became more and more manifest—undoubtedly a shock and a horror too deep and far-reaching for expression. The gravity of the situation could scarcely be overestimated. The issue now hanging in the balance was so vital, so momentous, that at least two of the auditors were in a state of anxious, doubtful eagerness which blinded them to the girl's true condition.

"As Señor de Sanchez came nearer between the two doors—Mr. Nettleton's and Mobley's—I was obliged to widen the crack somewhat, or else the man would have passed from my view. So great was the spell in which his undisguised self held me, that I did so without being aware of the act until too late. But I need not have feared that the movement would attract his attention—" The little hand clutched the unyielding arm convulsively, another shudder swept over the slight form, and her voice all at once lowered and became hoarse.

"I had no thought at all," she continued, receding from the one point for which they were all so eager, yet feared to interrupt the recital of to hear. "I was aware of nothing but a blind, unreasoning instinct to escape. I ran wildly toward the door opening into the next office, where I almost ran into Clay. But I did not pause; his speechless astonishment made no impression upon me; I thought nothing of it when he hastened by me into the room I had just quitted, as if to learn the cause of my agitation and unceremonious intrusion upon his privacy—I was simply wild to escape, and I ran on to the other hall door, where I stopped again. Other footsteps! I thought that terrible man would be for ever in passing, and I crouched there, clinging to the door-knob and whimpering like a terrified child. Then, quite suddenly, through the crack of the door, I caught a glimpse of Howard Lynden; he too was going towards my brother's—"

She paused and placed a hand to her throat, and all at once Converse became sensible of the fact that the pressure of the hand on his arm was increasing; that now, instead of lying there to hold his attention, it was in reality supporting the speaker. It seemed as if her will were putting forth its last effort to bear her up until she had finished.

"But what you saw—" he demanded. "Hurry, Miss Westbrook; what was it you saw before you fled?"

"As—as Señor de Sanchez got between me and—and Mobley's door, Howard—"

"Lynden?" sharply, from the detective.

"No, no. What was I saying? Howard was not there. Why do you draw so far away from me?"

The veil was becoming more persistent, the effort to remove it weaker and more unavailing. Unnoticed by Joyce, Mrs. Westbrook glided to her side, and for the second time that night passed a supporting arm about her daughter's waist. At the same time Converse clasped the trembling hand on his arm; he felt its hold loosening.

"Just one word more, and this thing must end," he said, with abrupt authority. "De Sanchez got between you and the Doctor's door," he prompted. "What then?"

"Why—why—he all at once became terrified at something in front of him. Oh, the dreadful expression of his face! He—he—"

"Which way was he facing?"

"Straight ahead—toward the end of the hall. At that moment his face became frozen with a nameless terror; he threw up a hand to ward off the blow; but—but—"

"Yes, yes—then?"

"Then I—I—saw— Mamma, what ails the lights?—they are becoming so dim."

"Good God, Miss Joyce, hasten! You saw—"

She turned a hazy look toward him.

"I—I—saw—" one more futile effort to brush away the veil—"I—I saw—" and the girl, her face like wax, hung limp and silent between the Captain and her mother.

It had indeed ended.

With a movement that disengaged the motionless figure from Mrs. Westbrook's encircling arm, Converse lifted Joyce lightly and deposited her upon a couch. The look which he bestowed upon the white, pinched face was one of concern, and for an instant he laid one hand lightly upon her marble-like brow, then felt her pulse.

"I was afraid of this," said Mountjoy. "How insensibly a man can be a brute. Poor child, she has fainted; the strain—" He paused suddenly, catching a peculiar look from the Captain.

The latter shook his head.

"Telephone for her brother," said he to the motionless mother, his manner free from any quality that might alarm; "send for Doctor Bane. Don't be frightened," he added, hastily, noting the startled attitudes of the other two; "it is simply a matter of not assuming any unnecessary responsibility. What this poor child has experienced deserves the best medical care at command."

As he had some knowledge of all things under the sun, he was also something of a physician, and knew that this coma was more than a simple lapsing into unconsciousness.

In silence the detective and the lawyer descended the stairs, and that silence was not broken until they arrived at the sidewalk.

"What do you think?" asked Mountjoy.

"Brain fever," was the laconic reply.



The evil spirit of a bitter love
And a revengeful heart.




Before Converse and the District Attorney separated that night they had come to an agreement that considerably mystified Mr. Mountjoy. It was no less than the assertion of a determination by the former to disappear for a time, and an assurance by the District Attorney that he would keep the Captain informed about affairs local during the latter's absence.

"Ah, and I am to provide the red fire?" inquired the lawyer, mildly, in his precise way, "to see to the braying of the trumpets and the clashing of the cymbals?"

"There is to be no red fire. I wish to vanish as inconspicuously as possible, my absence to remain unnoted; but while I am gone I should like to feel sure that matters here will remain just as they are."

"How long is this absence to continue?"

Converse shook his head. "That I can't say: a month, possibly—maybe two; at any rate, until I get what I'm going after," he ended grimly.

This determination was noted with silent approval; but the lawyer at once said:

"Since it is not your custom to furnish material for that pavement which is made up of good intentions, I will refrain from touching upon your objective. I suppose I must take you as heretofore, on faith. All right.... And how am I to keep you informed on the march of events?"

"Communicate with No. 18 Ash Lane, care of Abram Follett, junk dealer."

For a moment Mr. Mountjoy's astonishment was quite frank and decidedly patent.

"Abram Follett!" he cried, "junk dealer! Who the devil is Abram Follett, junk dealer! John, I must admit that behind your adamantine front there exist depths which I despair of ever sounding, and—and—" he finally stammered, "confound it! do you suppose me absolutely devoid of curiosity?"

But the reply was given imperturbably.

"Well, sir, Abram Follett is—Abram Follett; his address is No. 18 Ash Lane."

The attorney looked up at the whimsically elevated brow, the pursed lips, and, with a hopeless shrug of the shoulders, wrote the name and address in his memorandum-book. In a few minutes they parted.

Converse went directly to a large and imposing structure which stood close by the City Hall,—the headquarters of the local telephone system.

The lower story, given over to the offices of various departments, was at this hour of the night dark and apparently untenanted; but the soft glow of many shaded incandescent lights from the upper floors indicated the nucleus of an endless activity.

Without hesitation, Mr. Converse entered the dimly lighted lower hall, passed the ornamental iron cage of the elevator, now bearing a card which announced with direct brevity, "Not running," and ascended a wide marble stairway. He arrived presently before a glass swinging door and into an atmosphere so quiet that it made a conversation which was then in progress somewhere farther on to his left come to him with unusual distinctness.

His attention was held by the voices, emanating, apparently, from a lighted room farther along the hall. The subject of the colloquy was so singularly in harmony with the object of his present visit, that he came to an involuntary pause.

"But about Miss Carter, Henty," said one of the voices; "sure she didn't dream it after reading the papers this morning?"

"Oh, no. She called me over some time after midnight and said the line had been open a long time—told me then."

"Well, I sure would tell the police, Henty,—or Captain Converse. He's the fellow to see."

"You may tell me now, gentlemen, if it is your pleasure," said a quiet, peculiar whisper from the doorway; and the two occupants of the room sat petrified with astonishment.

The two young men had been seated comfortably with their feet on the flat-topped desk between them; one, it appeared, had been pursuing the somewhat exacting undertaking of coloring a meerschaum pipe, upon which he bestowed many a solicitous glance. The other puffed nervously at a cigarette.

"I believe you and your friend were discussing the very matter that brought me here," Converse began pleasantly, advancing into the room. "I couldn't help overhearing something of what you were saying, and I should like to talk with that young lady—Miss Carter, didn't I hear you say?"

One young man now arose abruptly, and after proffering the Captain his chair, departed.

Converse sat down. His stolid composure was not without a suggestion of affability, which was perhaps the more effective by reason of its being reserved rather than brought into play.

"First of all, Mr. Henty, when a receiver is taken down from its hook, Central pretty soon asks what number is wanted, don't she?"


"And whatever's going on at the other end of the line—whether some one asks for a number or not—is pretty likely to be heard, isn't it?"

Henty nodded.

"And Miss Carter, I take it, heard something unusual last night—must have, to hold her attention, eh? Now, I want to see the young lady that answers night calls coming in on Main two-one-two-four."

"Operator Twenty-two," said Henty. "That's Miss Carter, all right. I'm night manager, Captain, and—" he hesitated, "er—our strictest rule—"

"You need not fear that I will divulge any matter that may be repeated to me," suggested Converse, seeing the young man's quandary. "But if you anticipate any ill results from what you or the young lady may say, I can assure you it will be all right with your general manager. Mr. Patterson and I have a little unwritten agreement covering contingencies of this kind."

In the end the young man departed from the room, returning presently with a young woman.

"This is Miss Carter," said he by way of introduction. "Miss Carter, Captain Converse."

She proved to be very fragile appearing, very blonde, very small and slender, and, moreover, very tired and uninterested.

"Captain Converse has called in regard to what you heard last night—you know, Miss Carter. It will be proper—perfectly—to repeat it."

She directed her faded blue eyes to the officer and began at once to speak in a quiet, colorless little voice, as if the matter were of the commonest every-day occurrence—a familiar part of her regular routine.

"About midnight last night, the signal-lamp of Main two-one-two-four—"

"Signal-lamp?" Converse queried, vaguely; "you mean the signal indicating that some one had taken down the receiver?"

"That's it," the night manager interpellated; "a small incandescent lamp lights up, you know—that's the signal to Central."

"Very good. Proceed, Miss Carter."

"Well, before I had time to ask what number was wanted, I heard something that made me forget to ask at all; or at any rate, for a minute or so. I heard some one saying in a loud voice—" She hesitated and looked at Henty, uneasy under the piercing gaze with which the caller was insensibly regarding her.

Converse was leaning forward, an elbow upon one knee, the clenched fist of one hand supporting his chin. He was absolutely motionless, impassive, save for that wonderful look of the eyes, which played and scintillated like live fire.

Quite suddenly Mr. Henty realized the tenseness of the situation, the magnetism of the silent force which dominated them both.

"Go on, go on," he said, a trifle nervously. Dropping her glance to her thin clasped hands, Miss Carter did so.

"The voice said, 'You miserable hound! How dared you make this thing known to that—' then came a word that I failed to catch. Next the voice, still very loud and angry, said, 'Take that!' and two pistol shots followed in rapid succession. The whole thing happened in a second."

The ensuing silence was presently broken by Mr. Converse's sibilant voice, and it was obvious that the others were measurably relieved thereby.

"Did you then ask what number was wanted?" he inquired.

"No, sir," came the reply, in the same colorless, even tones. "It was so remarkable—I was so overcome—that I simply sat there listening."

"Did you hear anything more?"

"Well—yes, sir." The words came haltingly. "But I can't tell what it was."

"Try to describe the nature of the sounds. Take your time, Miss Carter; think hard."

She pondered.

"Well," she began after a moment, "I should say that what I next heard was made by some one pounding the transmitter with a hammer, and at the same time rubbing it with sandpaper; that is the best way I can describe it."

"You know," the night manager again interposed, "a very loud sound close to the transmitter sometimes becomes indistinguishable; it produces simply an ear-piercing noise that is mighty trying upon the operators."

"It was nothing like that," the young woman added, confidently. Converse asked:

"If you had been familiar with the sound, could you have identified it?"

"Yes, sir. But I never heard anything like it before."

Converse considered, regarding Miss Carter thoughtfully. Presently he stirred and sat upright.

"Like being rubbed with sandpaper, and pounded with a hammer," he mused aloud; then became attentive.

"Are you familiar with many of the voices—of the old patrons, that is?" he inquired.

"Yes, a good many of them. Some voices I recognize immediately; but, of course, to me the great majority are merely voices, and no more."

"I see.... Could you recognize General Westbrook's voice?"

She smiled slightly, as though the question were amusingly reminiscent. "Yes, sir," she said; and again the gray eyes kindled.

"That's good—very good. And was the voice you heard last night General Westbrook's?"

"I don't know."

"Don't know? ... How's that?"

Miss Carter bestowed a hasty side-glance upon the night floor-walker.

"Well, you see, sir," she replied, with some hesitation, but also with a certain air of gratification, as though she were glad of the opportunity for making the confidence, "that while his voice and manner were well-known to most of the girls—very cranky and supercilious he was, and they all detested him—he was not very close to the transmitter last night."

Mr. Henty coughed, deprecatingly, behind his hand.

"Undoubtedly," he again supplemented, "the unfortunate gentleman—I understood you to say so, Miss Carter?—spoke in a very loud voice—

"That is correct," Miss Carter broke in. "It was only because he spoke so loudly that I was able to catch such words as I did."

Mr. Converse rewarded the girl with a nod of comprehension and approval. "Your graphic description will be of incalculable benefit," said he in a tone of quiet cordiality that brought the faintest of pink flushes to her pale cheek. And then he turned to the night manager.

"Mr. Henty, I should like to try an experiment; I believe I can duplicate the sounds which Miss Carter described so vividly. May she go to a 'phone in an adjoining room while I make the effort with this desk instrument, here?"

"Sure—if you don't intend to pound it with a hammer or rub it down with sandpaper," he added lightly..... "Miss Carter, go into Mr. Bascom's office, and answer over his 'phone. The light is burning."

"Give me half a dozen or so sheets of paper," Converse now said; "then get the young lady for me, and I'll do the rest."

Henty complied with an alacrity born of curiosity.

"All right, Captain; she answers."

"Tell her to listen carefully, so she may compare what she will presently hear with the sounds she heard last night."

Converse laid the several sheets of paper on the table, and after overturning the desk telephone—but gently, in this instance—he placed the instrument just as he had found the one on General Westbrook's desk and so that it reposed on the sheets of paper. Holding it with his left hand, he hastily drew the papers from beneath it with his right. The action produced a slight hissing sound when the sheets of paper rubbed together and as they slipped from between the telephone and the desk surface. At the same time the instrument itself rattled somewhat on the desk.

"Those are the sounds, precisely," answered Miss Carter.

It was only a step to headquarters; but before turning his face in that direction, Mr. Converse paused on the sidewalk and stood for a time in deep meditation. Rousing himself at last, he muttered, "Now for you, Mr. Clay Fairchild," and set off briskly for the City Hall.

Did he expect to encounter the young man there? Was this the meaning of his muttered confidence, when he had signalled from Joyce's window some hours earlier?

It would seem that he now had sufficient insight into the motives and impulses governing the puppets in this double tragedy, to feel rather secure in determining his own movements according to their probable future conduct.

He entered the building in his customary silent manner, and at once occurred one of the many incidents that caused his colleagues to regard him with a sort of awe. He walked directly to the Sergeant's desk.

"Send Fairchild to my office," said he, quietly, and possibly he smiled somewhere within the cryptic chambers of his mind at the picture of blank astonishment confronting him. How should any faculty short of clairvoyance divine that Clay Fairchild had appeared less than an hour previously and asked to be locked up?

The Captain of detectives was tilted back in his swivel-chair when the young man was ushered in a minute or two later; he proceeded candidly and leisurely to take an inventory of Mr. Clay Fairchild, who, considering that he had been an object of diligent search by the police, bore an attitude of admirable unconcern.

Tall and spare, his features somewhat sharp in outline, he was far from imparting an unfavorable impression. The dark, intense eyes, the determined, lean jaw, all suggested Charlotte in many striking details. Although he was slender, an observer could not miss the strength and virility of his individuality. He was undoubtedly a strong, resolute young man, who thoroughly knew his own mind, and was determined not to be awed or moved by Captain John Converse or any one else.

Fairchild contemplated the Captain's huge figure with some show of interest—as if at a loss to surmise what might come forth from a source so doubtful and uncertain. He noted suddenly that the gray eyes were remarkably keen, that they possessed a glint like the surface of polished steel, and that they seemed to be searching out the inner-most recesses of his mind. But after he had detected it, he returned their scrutiny steadily until the enigmatic figure spoke.

"Sit down," said Converse, pleasantly, shoving a chair toward the young man. "I am glad to see you, Mr. Clay Fairchild."

"I don't doubt it," was the dry, drawling response. Nevertheless he accepted the tendered chair, and waited.

"Yes; I'm glad to see you, young man; perhaps, after all, you'll do." The Captain was not displeased at Fairchild's self-possession and apparent determination to remain non-committal.

"Thanks. Is it permissible to inquire what particular purpose you think I may serve?"

The inquiry was ignored. Converse sat quietly appraising the young man; and at last he abruptly said:

"Would you like to go home?"

"I! Go home!" his amazement was extreme. "Do you mean that I'm not wanted?"

"Not here, at any rate. But I'll have to lock you up, whether or no, if I can't count on your keeping yourself out of view a while longer. I'm half inclined to think I did wrong in stirring you from your hiding-place."

Fairchild gasped.

"Some explanation is due you, however," the other went on calmly; "but I have neither time nor inclination to go into it. Your sister—"

"Charlotte? What have you to do with Charlotte?"

"A good deal, young man. You will learn a lot before you are many hours older. Miss Joyce and I have come to a pretty good understanding, and it was I who signalled you to-night. Oh, you don't need to look so astonished; the sooner you realize that I am sole boss of this affair, the less trouble you will cause yourself. You go and talk with your sister. You will be glad enough to talk to me afterwards."

"Do you—do you—mean that Joyce—that Miss Westbrook has voluntarily told you—"

"Exactly. She has voluntarily taken me into her confidence. But it chanced she suddenly became ill, and some things which she fully intended to tell—well, she will not be able to tell them for a while. Otherwise you could still be roosting undisturbed in your old garret. Clever idea, that."

Fairchild was dazed. He looked at the Captain blankly, as if his mind was seething. Talk to Charlotte?—go home?—this extraordinary man had signalled to him with his and Joyce's secret code? From out the whirl of ideas but one presented itself in the shape of a clearly distinguishable fact: somehow his carefully laid plan—his ultimate resource for turning the tide away from Joyce and her beloved brother—had evaporated; this unusual individual, moving silently and invisibly behind the scenes, had discovered the wires, and now he seemed to have them well in his own hand. Then, how was it with Joyce? At the thought he became suddenly icy—frozen with a terror that put his manhood, for the moment, utterly to rout. But abruptly he became sensible again of the sibilant voice, of a note of kindness in it, and he managed to direct his attention once more to what the man was saying.

"But the result of your and Miss Westbrook's conduct," Converse was proceeding quietly, "has been to make her position one of the utmost peril. Heaven knows, it's bad enough. Now, you've got to help her."

"Good God! anything, anything!" The reply was a groan.

"Very good. Do as I say, then, and go home. There will be no charge against you here; nothing to show that you've been here at all. Stay at home till I arrive—some time to-morrow forenoon—when I wish to see you and Miss Charlotte together; and, above all, keep yourself out of sight for a time."

Still laboring with his emotional storm, Fairchild followed the Captain docilely enough; yet he had himself pretty well in hand. A hundred questions surged to his lips; questions of such vital importance to his peace of mind that it was an acute distress to keep them back unasked and unanswered; but the manner in which the big, impassive man had terminated the colloquy was so decisive that he could only manage to blurt out one of them.

"Stay a moment!" he cried. "I'll go crazy if you leave me in this way. You tell me to talk to Charlotte: do you mean that she—that Charlotte—can explain the turn affairs seem to have taken?"

The gray eyes, expressionless, met his for a moment.


Fairchild departed from headquarters like a man walking in his sleep.



On the morning of the day on which the Captain of detectives chose to efface himself from the stage of the "Westbrook-De Sanchez Drama" to a position behind the scenes, two things came to his notice that had for him more than a passing interest. The first we may present as it appeared, set in modest and inconspicuous agate type, among the court notes of a certain newspaper.

No. 26004. In re Estate of Peyton Westbrook, deceased. Report of appraisers approved and filed. The report shows that there are no assets under the will except the homestead, which is reserved to the widow.

The other matter was embodied in a communication which lay on his desk at headquarters. It was the resignation of one of his subordinates—the man Adams, him of the shifty eyes and stealthy ways, whose manner the night of the De Sanchez affair had made Lynden so uncomfortable.

The fact that General Peyton Westbrook was actually penniless came like a bombshell to a community that had so long looked up to him as a leading citizen, a man of affairs and affluence, whose very name was a synonyme for business acumen and success; but the fact became only more certain with the passing days, though the public learned little more of it than was contained in the notice quoted.

Converse sat musing for a time, then he tossed Adams's letter into a pigeonhole. "Going to start a private agency, eh? Very good; I wish you luck. Now there's a place for McCaleb." He dismissed the matter from his mind, and at once remembered the morning's chief engagement. It was time to keep tryst with Miss Charlotte and her brother.

When he arrived at the cottage Charlotte welcomed him cordially, while Clay turned to him with a new interest, acquired overnight, and frankly extended a hand.

"We nearly made a mess of it, didn't we?" were Clay's first words after greeting. He laughed at the whimsical look with which he was being regarded.

"But I am afraid I am going to disappoint you," he continued. "I fear things will appear more puzzling and perplexing than ever. After hearing what Charlotte had to say, it seems marvellous—I am more at sea than ever."

The other nodded a brisk comprehension. "We are all at sea, more or less," said he. "But being at sea in a rudderless craft, without a navigator, and off the usual routes of traffic, is one thing; to have a stanch bottom beneath you, a stiff breeze off the quarter, and your course well marked off, is quite another.

"I take it, then, that after you and Miss Joyce passed each other in Mr. Nettleton's office,—after you went into the private office to see what had occasioned her bursting in upon you so unceremoniously,—you were more puzzled than ever; that you saw nothing whatever to explain the occurrence?"

Was it prescience that prompted this conclusion? for hear the answer:

"That is correct."

And again:

"There was no one there?"

"No one; no evidence that anybody besides Joyce had been in the private office."

Where, then, had the assassin been?

But Converse, though his mien became a little grimmer, did not pause.

"After you had ascertained that Miss Westbrook was indeed gone, you seated yourself once more at your desk—but not to resume your work. Your mind was engrossed by the recent episode; presently you noted that a very familiar perfume was still conspicuous, as if in passing she had left a pleasant evidence of herself loitering about your desk, and you fell to searching for it. You scattered the papers on your desk; you looked to the floor—all about you—but did not locate the source of that delicate fragrance."

Noting the young man's frank amazement, he chuckled silently.

"No; I was not there," he went on,—"not until later. But I found it. In her agitation, she had dropped her handkerchief into your waste-paper basket."

"And that," gasped Charlotte, "was what directed you to Joyce!"

"Miss Fairchild," said the Captain, soberly, "it was a clue that could not be ignored. You have seen the Countess Zicka in 'Diplomacy.'

"Go on," urged Fairchild, while his sister nodded her comprehension.

"Very well. You remained at your desk ten or fifteen minutes longer, but never got your mind fixed upon your work again. At last you donned your overcoat and hat and passed over to the Doctor's office, with a vague idea of finding an explanation there. As you opened his door, you were still trying to account for Miss Westbrook's transit through Mr. Nettleton's offices, and when your eye fell upon the form of De Sanchez, no idea was at first conveyed to your brain; it was so far beyond anything that you possibly could have imagined. Next instant a concept of what had happened burst upon you; a false one, to be sure, but quite natural under the circumstances. I can see that it was a tremendous shock to you; for the moment you were dumb, paralyzed with terror; then like a flash your faculties were startled into an abnormal activity, and you realized that you had become an important factor in a deed of blood. There sat Doctor Westbrook, and Howe—a stranger to you—in an ominous silence, their own faces reflecting something of the deed's horror; Alberto de Sanchez lay dead at their feet and at yours, and with electric swiftness you reviewed the facts as you knew them,—the ground of contention between the Doctor and the dead man, the still bleeding body, the familiar weapon lying conspicuously on the floor,—all told an awful story. You did not try to reason it out or give a name to what you beheld; you were simply dismayed, overwhelmed by a consciousness that in some way the situation was fraught with the gravest peril for some one very dear to you,—some one whose well-being and happiness were of far more importance than your own,—and you acted upon the blindest of impulses. No one but yourself knew that Miss Joyce had been there; no one would ever ascertain it from you, and you fled madly, with no definite aim but to get away—to hide yourself safe from all pursuit."

Clay sat watching the speaker, rapt by the recital.

"This is truly remarkable," he now said, with a quietness born of deep feeling. "You relate the conditions as if you had experienced them yourself. Could I have imagined for a moment that the investigation was to be conducted with such insight and comprehension, why, I should never have fled. What slaves we are to impulse!'

"Aye, to the young it is the refinement of wisdom, as my friend Mr. Follett would say."

"There was yet another element augmenting my feelings at that moment," Clay went on; "do you care to hear?"

"Assuredly. I should like to hear any conclusions you may have formed."

"Well, that very morning Miss Westbrook and I had had a conversation concerning Señor de Sanchez, to which his sudden taking off and the manner of it were an awful climax. Never, never again will I lightly consider the chances of a person's living or dying; the dénouement was like an answer to an unexpressed wish."

"But now, then, Mr. Fairchild," interpellated Converse, but stopped to ask, "You know, of course, about Miss Joyce's illness?"

"I do; but I am miserably in doubt regarding its seriousness."

"The conditions are all in her favor: youth, health, splendid constitution; so you need not worry about that. What I started to say is, that I wish to direct your attention to the mainspring of the whole matter. To-night I must leave the city for a time, and before I go I want to know what it was she saw in the hall. It was while striving to tell this that she collapsed. Poor girl; I hope that some time she may find it in her heart to forgive my persistence."

For a bit the natural seriousness of the young man's countenance was deepened by the evident care with which he was framing a reply. The visitor awaited that reply with his customary impassiveness; but Charlotte, who had been following the conversation with rapt interest, now suddenly leant forward and watched her brother with some anxiety.

"Captain," Clay began at length, "if Joyce—if Miss Westbrook and I had had better opportunities of discussing the matter since the death of De Sanchez, we might have come to a better understanding; but I was haunted with an abnormal fear of discovery, and I shrank from exposing myself unnecessarily, because I didn't know what dire disaster it would mean for her and the Doctor." Of a sudden his eyes kindled. "I saw her but three times," he concluded, "and then only briefly."

"Three times?"


But Charlotte's gentle voice interrupted. "Let me explain," said she, directing a glance of sympathy toward her brother; "it will give you an added insight into Joyce's character, which will not injure her in your estimation, I am sure. Dear, brave, impulsive girl! Mr. Converse, can you imagine Joyce going alone at night to Clay's hiding-place, that dismal, forsaken house that was once our home?"

"I can believe anything of her courage, Miss Fairchild."

"Well, she did—so soon as she learned where Clay was and why he was there. I have it from Mobley, Mr. Converse; the transformation which this intelligence worked in her amazed him and Mrs. Westbrook. That night, unknown to any one, she went through the darkness, through those wretched, creepy halls and silent, deserted rooms, to tell Clay—But I shall not relate what she said or what occurred."

Indeed, it was not necessary that she should; a glance at the young man's glowing countenance was sufficient.

Converse laughed knowingly.

"That was on—let me see, what night was it?" he inquired.

"The next night after De San—Thursday night," Charlotte replied.

The Captain nodded appreciatively.

"That clears up the code," said he.

"The code went to Joyce in a returning lunch-basket," observed Fairchild.

"By way of the Doctor?" the Captain added.

"Doctor Westbrook, do you mean?" said Clay, surprised. "Oh, no; Mr. Nettleton's negro, President, was the happy medium, the manna-bearing raven in my wilderness, always."

"Did Mr. Nettleton know of this arrangement?" asked Converse.

"Why, yes," was the perplexed reply. "I don't know what idea you have, but this is the way of it. When I first left the Nettleton Building, I went rushing through the streets like one distracted. I was, I suppose. But presently I came to myself and realized, if I wished to expunge myself quietly, that I must get my wits together and think out a plan. So I walked on more composedly, penetrated the depths of the East Side to a small hotel conducted by a Mexican of whom I know. Oh, I was terribly upset—clean knocked out; for while I was in the dingy office a most remarkably beautiful girl entered. I uttered a cry that frightened her, and sat staring at her with open mouth. She was the living image of De Sanchez—or so my distraught brain fancied.

"Well, there I managed to frame a note to Mr. Nettleton, in which I explained the circumstances as best I could, dwelling upon the imperativeness of my resolution, and trusting to his honor for secrecy. I pointed out how useless it would be to involve Joyce; that if I was not called upon to testify, the matter would be cleared up without her ever being brought into it at all—in short that if my absence would spare her any scandal, why, I would remain absent as long as it might be necessary. I don't believe the Doctor at any time knew where I was; for at the very start we all agreed to keep our own counsels, on the theory that a secret is best kept when shared by the fewest people. The searching inquiry that was to follow was anticipated, and the fact was pressed home to Joyce by both Mr. Nettleton and myself, that it would prove far more expedient for the Doctor honestly to plead ignorance than to attempt evasion; so he was told nothing, and not even Charlotte was given a hint of my whereabouts. Joyce was to be saved at all hazards."

"Dear boy!" softly interposed Charlotte.

"Lottie, don't distract me that way, please," protested her brother; "you make me forget where I am."

"And Mr. Nettleton entered into this mad scheme, did he?" asked the Captain, much interested.

"He agreed with me that,—for the time being, at any rate, or until something developed to give an idea which way the cat was likely to jump,—it was just as well that I exile myself; offering the one objection, that I was likely to direct suspicion to myself. That was a contingency encouraging rather than deterring, and he promised, finally, to lend me every aid.

"Next day he confided the plan to Joyce, who immediately elected herself the guiding spirit of the enterprise: President might be the intermediary, but no other hands than hers could prepare the food. God bless her!"

"But we have wandered far from the point," the Captain remarked tersely. "What did Miss Joyce see in the hall?"

"To be brief, Mr. Converse," returned Clay, "I don't know. I was trusting, before you came, that you yourself would know. The little time we were together she would not speak of it. Whatever it was, it had affected her profoundly, filling her with a horror she could not banish. But I do know that she did not see the assassin: she said as much."

"Ah-h-h! Did she say directly that she had not?" The gray eyes suddenly narrowed.

"Yes. I asked her if she had."

"And her answer?"

"Was no."

A gleam shot between the contracted lids, which obviously was irrepressible.

"I am glad the situation yields you something, at any rate," said Clay; and Charlotte added anxiously, "What is it, Mr. Converse?"

He made a grimace of deprecation.

"Have I permitted my feelings to show themselves?" he asked, and shook his head mournfully. "I told Mr. Mountjoy last night that I was aging; I reckon it is only too true. I have a trifle laid by, and when it amounts to enough to purchase a little home—like this—say—where I can have plenty of flowers, you'll never hear of me interfering with any more such cases; no, indeed. You may laugh, my boy, but it is a fact.... I should say now, as a guess, that one of the three times when you saw Miss Joyce was night before last, eh?"

"Yes, sir," was the reply.

And so it may be seen that, however old the Captain might be, he had not forgotten the wisdom of Polonius's admonition to "give every man thine ear, but few thy voice." Their eager questions remained unanswered, and they failed to note.

"I wish you would tell me what you were doing in the Westbrook yard," Converse continued; "what you saw and heard while there."

"Did Joyce speak of that?" was the unnecessarily cautious response.

"In a way, yes; but I want impressions at first hand."

The young man considered a while before proceeding.

"Well, you know about our code of signals," he said at length, "mine and Joyce's. I arranged that code, and was very proud of it until we attempted to use it; then a difficulty arose: Joyce's inability to read half the signals, and mine to read the other half. Still, the chief object was attained: nightly we assured each other of our well-being, and I was enabled to glean pretty well how affairs were progressing.

"But there were one or two occasions when I was left in a perplexing doubt. I became intolerably anxious and impatient, and throwing caution to the winds, I met Joyce in her yard. Our signals of meeting, fortunately, were never difficult of interpretation.

"So it was on Monday night. Of course I was anxious to be with her at all times, but then the whim seized me all at once, and—well, I went. I heard the shots—just as I was leaving—but had no idea they came from the house, and neither had Joyce. We differed about their exact location, but that was all; we heard no more nor saw anything. I did not approach close to the house at any time."

"Shortly after hearing the shots—just before you left—did you hear no sound, as of some one approaching from the house?"

Clay shook his head. "Not a thing," he said.

The next question, "Did you see Howard Lynden Monday night?" caused his face to darken.

"Howard?" he asked, uncomprehendingly. "No. What of him?"

"You did not know that he was near you Monday night—" The speaker stopped in the face of the other's expression. Clay's brow knotted, his lips compressed, and he watched Converse intently through half-closed lids. He glanced swiftly at his sister. It was quite plain that Lynden, as a topic, was extremely distasteful.

But Clay merely said:

"So Mr. Howard Lynden followed her from Mrs. Farquier's, did he? What have you to say to that, Lottie?"

"Maybe not, Clay, maybe not. Don't be—"

"No; he did not," interposed the Captain; "but started out to look for her as soon as he missed her from the company."

"It's the same," said the young man; and again he fixed an intent, half-veiled scrutiny upon the visitor.

"I believe you understand," he abruptly resumed. "Charlotte is inclined to stand up for him,—she would for anybody, for that matter,—but he is a little— Well, I regret that I can't express myself to him. If you only knew how he has watched her, how he has made her life a weariness—"

"I do know something of it." Converse laughed dryly. "If her word carries any weight with him, he knows it too."

As his auditor's look became inquiring, the Captain narrated what had occurred at the Westbrooks'.

Clay put a period to the recital with a satisfied "Good!"

"Does Lynden regard Miss Joyce with any unusual warmth of affection?"

"Does he!" with an indignant stare. "Why, he's head over heels in love with her. Did you ever hear of such presumptuous conceit?"

Very soberly, Converse replied that he had not.

"That's what makes his conduct all the more annoying," this confidence went on; "it is as if he suspected her of something. Why, he might even think she had something to do with the De Sanchez business."

"Sure enough." The idea was illuminating. Presently Converse inquired how much the young man knew of De Sanchez's determination to marry Joyce.

"I knew that De Sanchez came here for the express purpose of marrying her," was the reply. "That could mean only a resolution formed when Joyce was a mere child." He abruptly paused. "What is it?" he asked.

Converse had suddenly become electrified into a tense alertness. He grasped the chair-arms, as if imminently upon the point of springing up. Quite suddenly, again, his normal impassiveness reasserted itself.

"Go on, go on," said he, with a haste not altogether free from eagerness.

"Do my words suggest anything?"

"They do. But go on."

"Well," resumed Clay, "when Joyce took that trip to Mexico, she was too young and inexperienced to appreciate a fact that later became susceptible of interpretation. Looking back to that time, she could not fail to see that his conduct was then directed toward herself; that it greatly annoyed her father, although General Westbrook seemed to handle the situation easily; and that the subsequent severance of all relations between the two men, which presently followed, was not entirely without an explanation. Joyce was blind to the man's attentions, except now and then when some incident of unusual ardor instinctively struck a note of warning, causing her to wonder dimly, then it passed and was forgotten. The fact is, that De Sanchez must have been struck all of a heap, for he seems to have inaugurated a campaign of wooing of characteristic Latin warmth, ready to override all other considerations. Joyce is of the impression that her father discouraged this design of the other man's in no uncertain manner."

The speaker paused. It was obvious that he was arranging his thoughts, and Converse waited without moving.

"Next, De Sanchez appears here, and soon events begin to shape themselves in a way that, seemingly, can't be explained. For instance, when you consider what happened in Mexico, and the hiatus between that time and De Sanchez's appearance, how can you account for the endeavors in his behalf which gave him an immediate social prestige locally? How can you account for the fact that his suit was not only favored, but that pressure was brought to bear upon Joyce to gain her consent? Knowing that she regarded the man with especial dislike, how can you explain her hovering on the very verge of giving in?"

"Did she never enlighten you?" The Captain was regarding the young man curiously.

"No." A tinge of bitterness crept into his reply. "She merely said her father had convinced her that it was her duty to marry De Sanchez."

"You did not know, of course, that Slade witnessed her departure from the Nettleton Building?"

"Did he? It is he, then, who has caused all this recent trouble?"

"In a way, yes. He furnished the material. I want to ask you something about that. Shortly after you disappeared he addressed an unsigned note to me, saying, in effect, that, if I found the woman—then much of a mystery—I should know who killed De Sanchez. He also said that you were innocent. Why should he make so obvious an attempt to divert suspicion from you?"

"I can't imagine. While I do not share with mother and Lottie the bitterness which the name of Slade arouses, yet I know very little of him; merely enough to nod in passing. The father was, doubtless, an unconscionable scoundrel; but William, in spite of his repulsive qualities, is in no wise to blame for that. I've always felt a sort of sneaking pity for him. The old fellow eyes me often in a peculiar, ruminative way—somewhat as he did when bestowing his 'blessing' upon General Westbrook. But he's a harmless crank."

"'Slade's Blessing,'" mused the Captain.

Clay nodded and went on: "You've heard of it, I see. He's a little touched, I believe. He sometimes mumbles when he looks at me,—a way he has; but pshaw! I never paid any attention to it; his incantations are harmless. In the early eighties, when the elder Slade closed in on dad, and dad died, William was still struggling with the law. Lord knows, I have reason to sympathize with him. Next, his father died, and he gave it up."

The young man asked how Slade came to see Joyce.

"In the most natural manner in the world," replied Converse. "Five o'clock is his customary hour for quitting work, as you probably know; he was just in the act of emerging from Room 6 when Miss Joyce ran past him. In fact, he had to step back to avoid a collision. This was immediately after she had surprised you, and she was so intent on getting away that she did not observe him at all, it would seem. She was running on tiptoe from the direction of the upper end of the hall and toward the stairs. That is the substance of an affidavit made by him before the Coroner."

Though the two talked some time longer, the discussion yielded nothing more until Converse was in the act of departing. He was standing on the veranda, when he said:

"By the way, it would be a good idea if you could make yourself inconspicuous for a while longer—until you hear from me, at any rate. If the reporters get a line upon what you happen to know, there will be the devil to pay."

"I can remain in the house indefinitely," Clay suggested.

The Captain shook his head. "That will merely add stimulus to their efforts. I wager that somebody who knows you saw you last night. Isn't there some friend upon whom you can impose temporarily?"

The young man pondered a moment, and presently his face brightened.

"Yes," said he. "I know of the very place—Mr. Nettleton's plantation. It is only about seven miles beyond here, and I can walk it easily."

"Very good." Then, as if the matter had for the first time occurred to him, Converse added:

"By the way, who is the proprietor of the East Side hotel where you wrote your letter to Mr. Nettleton?"

The question seemed of trifling importance.

"Ramon Velasquez. Mr. Nettleton has done some legal work for him."

"Very good. Whatever you do, keep yourself out of sight. You seem to know how, so I'll not offer any suggestions. Good-bye."

But Mr. Converse was still to be much in evidence that night. He found a number of things to detain him, and it was not until the afternoon of the next day, the nineteenth, that he quietly disappeared from his customary haunts.



The next Sunday morning was bright and frosty. Mr. Mountjoy was early abroad; his footsteps rang out, sharp and metallic, as he passed briskly down the artificial stone walk of the Mountjoy residence; ignoring clanging trolley cars, he set his face toward the city, striding along with the firmness and ease of one whose vitality is in entire accord with the crystalline day.

As he walked, he meditated.

What would Mrs. Westbrook and Joyce do, now that they were impoverished? Would this news prove of any value to John? Would Mobley, as head of the family, continue on at the mansion which had for years been the Westbrook home? Mobley himself did not know. It was true that he could afford to maintain the establishment; it had seemed natural for him to step in upon his father's demise; but it would mean a complete readjustment of his mode of life, and he was too old to change readily, to adapt himself to new and unfamiliar conditions.

And what had become of General Westbrook's fortune, anyhow? The circumstance presented a condition so extraordinary, that experience strove in vain for a solution.

And so on until, quite unexpectedly, a familiar name caught his eye: Abram Follett.

Glancing from the faded, dust-encrusted sign, he took in the details of the dingy, square, two-storied building that seemed to be sleeping in the Sunday calm of Ash Lane. It was very quiet, and he advanced doubtfully to the closed double door and rapped loudly upon its begrimed panels.

He was not entirely devoid of curiosity as he awaited the issue; so when the door opened to reveal a negro of gigantic proportions, his countenance reflected something of the surprise which the encounter afforded.

"Mr. Follett?" he queried vaguely.

The huge darkey grinned.

"No, seh," was the reply. "De boss's in de yahd."

Joe regarded Mr. Mountjoy's Sunday attire with uncertainty. "If you'll step to de otheh doah," with tones respectfully lowered, "I'll fetch him; dis yere's de stoah-room."

As he was bidden, Mr. Mountjoy stepped to the other door, a single one at a corner of the structure, and after some minutes of waiting, footsteps within told that it concealed a stairway; then it was opened by the negro, who invited the visitor to ascend.

Mr. Mountjoy had no sooner entered the front apartment than he mentally ejaculated: "Why, of course! An ancient mariner like John would live just so, with some battered and weather-beaten shipmate, comrade of many an adventurous cruise; nothing more natural." He experienced a sudden admiration for the feeling which prompted the big, taciturn detective to keep his vocation from intruding upon his private life. The lawyer's glance was scrutinizing when it rested upon the twisted, limping figure which presently entered. He had deposited his hat and coat upon a locker-like box, noting as he did so that its surface was scrupulously clean, and he now stood expectant, with his back to one of the white-curtained front windows.

The visitor's inspection was only momentary.

"I am Mr. Mountjoy," said he, advancing and holding out his hand, "the District Attorney; no doubt you have heard of me."

A light of recognition and welcome, together with an underlying expression of more than usual interest, instantly broke over the shrewd, kindly countenance.

"Mr. Mountjoy!" repeated Mr. Follett, extending a gnarled and distorted hand, with which he grasped the other's. "Well, lawyer, I am real glad to meet you. Set right down there—that's Captain John's chair—an' make yourself comf'table."

The Morris chair was comfortable, as Mr. Mountjoy instantly discovered.

"A bright, clear, frosty morning," Mr. Follett went on with cheerful garrulity, as he slowly seated himself in his own chair. "Yes, John's spoke o' you often—often. We're old shipmates, him an' me," he concluded, with an explanatory wave about the room.

"So I understand," said Mountjoy, easily; "and bound by many enduring ties, I have no doubt."

Presently he assumed an attitude extremely business-like. Arising and going to the chest where lay his overcoat, he produced from one of the pockets a long, legal-looking envelope.

"Here I have some very important items of news, gleaned, since John's departure, from the columns of the local press. There is also a letter from myself setting forth a good deal of matter concerning a case which now occupies his exclusive attention and endeavors; having the requisite postage attached, all that is now necessary to forward this envelope upon its way, is—the address." He tossed it upon the table. "There, I leave it to your care."

"It shall go to John to-day," quietly remarked Mr. Follett. His face assumed a thoughtful expression as he slowly filled and lighted a pipe.

"Lawyer," he went on after a puff or two, "I'm glad you come just when you did. There's a matter I want to talk to you about; John would want that you know it."

"Very well," the guest acquiesced; and with much difficulty Mr. Follett arose and made his way to the mantel, where he extracted a letter from a mother-of-pearl box standing there.

"Look at that," handing the missive to the lawyer and resuming his seat. "Read that an' tell me what you make of it."

The envelope, very much soiled and crumpled, bore the simple superscription, in pencil, "La Señorita Dolores," and nothing else. One end had been torn open, and there appeared a portion of a sheet of note-paper upon which was written, also in pencil, four words, "El rayo ha cáido."

"Well," said Mr. Mountjoy, presently, "I make very little of it. Spanish, I suppose?"

"That means," was the impressive reply, "that means, 'The thunderbolt has fallen.'"

Mountjoy made no effort to hide his curiosity and wonder.

"Tell me about it," said he, settling himself more comfortably.

For a time Mr. Follett smoked in silence; then, ignoring his pipe further, he confronted his caller with the suddenness of one who sees his way clear before him, and began:

"There's a machinist, Hunter by name, who works nights at the compress. Him an' his wife an' a half-dozen or so o' children live in one o' them little cottages near by, just off Ash Lane. Well, last night Hunter an' a dago friend o' his 'n stopped one o' the night men on this beat, sayin' they had a matter that was a-puzzlin' them mightily, an' they wanted to have a talk about it—not that the dago could make himself understood to any great extent, but Hunter had him along to kind o' back 'im up. Hunter said what he had to say, an' the policeman, knowin' that John lived near by, brought the two o' them here. O' course he didn't know about John bein' away; but enough was said for me to ask a question or two, an' I finally got the hull story.

"Hunter has a boy nine years old, who sells papers mornin's an' evenin's, an' when he sells out he never has more 'n thirty or forty cents, or thereabouts, to show for it. Every night the boy brings this money home an' turns it over to his mother. A good lad, you see.

"Well, two or three days ago the mother found a silver dollar tucked away under a little vase that stands on a shelf in one o' their rooms. She knew that none o' the family had lost a dollar; she knew she hadn't put it there herself—they're not so plentiful in the Hunter home—so it worried her a hull lot. She took all the children to task, one by one, an' to make a long story short, she finally got it out o' the nine-year-old that he'd put the dollar under the vase. He was so back'ard in ownin' up an' in talkin' about it, that she just natcher'lly kep' at him until she drew out a bit at a time the boy's story o' the dollar."

The speaker paused and seemed to be much interested in the nodding head of his auditor. Mountjoy sat with the tips of his fingers pressed lightly together and his thin lips tightly closed.

"I follow you," he now said; "pray continue."

"Not very excitin' so far, but necessary," said Mr. Follett. "Now, hear the rest. This here's the way the boy's yarn went.

"One evenin', a week or so before the findin' o' the money, he saw a man step from the Palace Drug Store—"

Mountjoy's eyebrows suddenly shot upwards, and he sat up straighter in his chair.

"—which, as you know," the other went on at once, "is catty-cornered across from the Nettleton Buildin' on Court Street. He ran up to this man to sell him a paper an' the man stepped up in the shadow of a doorway an' asked the boy would he deliver a letter if he—the man—bought all the papers. The boy hung back; then the man pulled out a dollar, sayin' he'd give that too if the boy'd only hurry. The little lad then agreed to take the letter which the man handed him, together with the dollar, an' twenty cents for the four Expresses he still had. The man then told the boy to listen sharp while he learned where the letter was to be delivered. After bein' satisfied that the boy understood, the man hurried away.

"It seems that the more the boy thought about it, the less he liked the job. The address told him was in a part o' town the boy didn't know much of, an' it begun to loom pretty prominent in his mind that he was scairt to go there after night. So it ended in him a-goin' home an' hidin' the letter an' money, gettin' rid o' the hull thing easy, like a boy can, you know.

"But when Hunter himself heard about it, he went into the matter further an' found out a bit more.

"What did the man look like? The boy couldn't tell, as he had not only been in the shadow, but his coat collar was turned up an' a soft hat was pulled down over his eyes; but he had been mighty polite an' soft spoken, an' the lad knew that his clothes were extra fine—a 'swell dresser,' as Hunter put it.

"Next, what night was it? This soundin' by an' by struck deep water an' a clear way ahead: the night o' the murder in the Nettleton Building.

"What time that night? The boy couldn't say exactly, but it was about half an hour before he got home. A little figgerin' fixed this time at somewheres 'round five o'clock. Do you see?"

Mountjoy, very grave now, merely nodded.

"Hunter thought right off he'd found a clue. He opened the letter, an' o' course couldn't make head nor tail of it. He puzzled over it days when he'd ought to been asleep, an' nights when he'd ought to been attendin' to his work; an' at last he calls in his dago friend for a conference. Funny, warn't it?

"The friend thought it looked like dago writin' all right, but he couldn't read this particular kind. Queer how them furriners can talk an' read some outlandish lingo an' not know good plain English, ain't it?

"Well, the dago thinks the thing to do is to take it to the policeman on this beat, though how he ever made Hunter understand is beyond me. They does it, as I have told you."

The interest with which Mr. Mountjoy followed this recital mounted rapidly to absorption. After the speaker had quite finished, he sat for a time still regarding him, evidently considering the possibilities of the incident.

"Well!" he exclaimed, finally. "This is a remarkable development. Undoubtedly it is of importance. It is a pity that John was not cognisant of it before leaving the city. He must have this brief note and the story of it as soon as possible. I should like to question that boy myself. Do you think you could get him and Hunter here this afternoon—say, at three o'clock? If so, I will be on hand with a stenographer, and the matter may go forward to-night."

"I will try," rejoined Mr. Follett. "Yes, I think I can. I will go after 'em right away."

Mr. Follett did succeed in securing the attendance of Hunter and the boy at No. 18 Ash Lane; and while the statement prepared by the lawyer, added to the newspaper clippings and sent that night to the captain of detectives, differed considerably in form from Mr. Follett's narrative, it contained but one particular which the latter himself had not related: the cryptic note had been destined for the hotel of one Ramon Velasquez.



As may be imagined, Captain John Converse, in the steady, unostentatious performance of his duty, was not the only one to whom success signified a reward as large as the twenty thousand dollars offered by the De Sanchez estate. About the time of his quiet leave taking there was a great gathering of soi-disant specialists, investigators, and detectives, like corbies to a feast. But they only created, for a time, a distracting tumult, and were soon forgotten—with a single exception. The man Adams, also working quietly and unostentatiously, is still to be heard from.

In the early part of January three incidents happened, bearing more or less directly upon the two tragedies, each of them attended by circumstances that caused more than one individual to regard a probable clearing up of the mysteries with the gloomiest doubt. We may not know how they impressed Mr. Converse, for he had not yet returned, but Mr. Mountjoy, and Miss Charlotte especially, viewed the outlook with dark forebodings.

First of all, after hovering between life and death for many weeks, Joyce one morning quite suddenly looked again upon the world with eyes in which shone the light of intelligence. Doctor Westbrook chanced to be present, and the mother heard them whisper a while together; and presently the Doctor came to her, his face pinched with worry.

It was characteristic that she did not question him; but as he left the room, she immediately followed him into the hall, closed the door noiselessly behind her, and placing her back to it, waited.

"We must be extremely careful," said he. "Any sudden shock may kill her.... Mother, she has forgotten—all."

The woman seemed to shrink; but she said nothing.

"It may be only temporary," the Doctor hastily added. So far he had talked quite as if he were discussing the condition of some chance patient with a member of that patient's family; but now a groan burst from him. "God grant it!" he cried tensely, under his breath. "God grant that the past may come to her gradually as she grows strong to bear it. But up to the moment of her waking her memory is a complete blank; it is like a slate sponged clean."

The mother tried to whisper a question: 'You—you don't think her mind—' The Doctor showed that he had been thinking of it, by the quickness with which he read his mother's thoughts, and hastened to deny.

"No, no," he insisted vigorously. "The condition is common enough in such debilitating diseases. Were I not so upset myself—were I free of any personal interest—I should say it was a benefit for the time being. But I can't bear any abnormal conditions in Joyce. Merely be careful not to shock her. Please speak to the servants."

Mrs. Westbrook simply bowed her head, and did not raise it again until her son had departed.

But if the Doctor's words were reassuring, he was by no means so sanguine himself: it was also not uncommon that memories so lost were never recovered.

During a black night of tempest and pounding sleet without, of high-leaping fires assaulted by gelid gusts within, Mrs. Elinor Fairchild's spirit winged its flight from the poor earthly frame that had enchained it. So imperceptible was the transition, that Charlotte, star-eyed and sibylline, brooding by the glowing hearth, marked it not.

Some hours later, when bestirring herself to retire, she laid her slim fingers for a moment upon her mother's forehead, withdrawing her hand with a suddenness that marked the swift quickening of questioning dread. But after all, if the Spectre be really confronting us, how certain is his presence! Instantly her intelligence was submerged by conviction.

With a thought of Mr. Converse flitting incongruously through her mind, it occurred to her that the closed door was locked for ever.



The third incident has to do with Mr. William Slade. With the cold days of January, there came over him a noticeable change; quite suddenly—in a day—he seemed to have aged, to have shrunk and become doddering. It was an effort for him to climb the one flight of stairs to Room 6, and when once there, a still greater effort to go about his business. He began to be late of mornings and to commit trifling irregularities which, it was obvious, were due to a failing memory; the beady eyes—though with a waning brightness—regarded impartially and with open suspicion and hostility all who approached him—eyes unmistakably like a mouse's when that diminutive animal debates the chances of getting safely from one cover to another under the supervision of an alert cat.

The change was observed and commented upon in the main office across the hall. After much idle speculation one morning on the part of a clerk and the book-keeper as to the extent of Slade's wealth and its probable disposition in the event of his death, the book-keeper said:

"And there's another thing. Have you ever noticed him—" he cast a hasty, covert glance toward the entry door, and leaning suddenly forward, lowered his voice to a whisper,—"have you ever noticed him when he comes in or goes out of the abstract room—lately, I mean?"

The clerk shook his head.

"Well," impressively, "it makes me wonder if he didn't know something about that murder. You know, he was here that night. He never passes through his door now that he don't stop and look down the hall toward Doctor Westbrook's office. I bet nobody else has noticed it. That shows what it is to be observant; it's just little things like that that Sherlock Holmes worked out his wonderful cases by. I've seen Slade do it—look down the hall, I mean—many a time. He stands there just as if he heard or saw something. Queer, isn't it? And if any one comes up on him suddenly, he acts as though he had been caught doing something crooked, and hurries away."

If there's any virtue in old wives' saws, Mr. Slade's ears should have burned. Beyond, in the front office, overlooking Court Street, the abstracter was again a topic of discussion; but this time between personages no less important than the president, the secretary, and the treasurer of the Guaranty Abstract Company. At this conference it was decided that the company could thenceforth dispense with Slade's services, and it fell to the secretary so to inform him.

A few minutes later, when Slade comprehended the intelligence, he got unsteadily to his feet. He tugged aimlessly at his untidy collar a time or two, as if it were too tight, and when he again spoke a whine crept into his harsh utterance.

"You won't hurry me, will you? Say you won't hurry me. Give me another month; time to—to adjust myself to the new conditions. You are right: I am old; I—I sha'n't last much longer. I've received a mortal blow,—not this, though, not this."

But the secretary hardened. "We're not hurrying you," said he. "You have till February first—practically a month—and in the meantime you can do pretty much as you please. Understand?"

During the rest of that day Slade conducted himself like a man dazed. There was a forward droop to his knees, to his shoulders, and to his head; and altogether he presented a most unlovely spectacle of irresolution and helplessness.

From long force of habit he did not leave Room 6 until five o'clock; but at that hour he got slowly into his overcoat—once black, but now plum-colored where the light struck upon it—and donned his hat, preparatory to departing for the night. The clerks across the hall, the occupants of the other offices, passed out one by one or in couples, their brisk homeward-bound footsteps clattering cheerfully in the hall; and when he finally turned off the light the building was deserted save for himself and one other. As he slowly descended the stairs, clinging tenaciously to the railing, Doctor Westbrook passed him—also descending,—and as he did so, bent a keen look toward the meagre, tottering form and the parchment-like countenance, drawn by acute physical pain and overcast by an unhealthy pallor. He nodded as he went by, but Slade did not observe it; neither did he see that the physician paused at the foot of the stairs and looked back at him.

Somehow Slade arrived at his single cheerless, disordered apartment. It was dirty, damp, and fireless. He lighted a candle—so primitive were his conveniences—which with some difficulty he stood upright on a corner of the table, where it was held steady by its congealed drippings.

And all that night, and until well into the next forenoon, Slade left the bare table only once or twice: once to get from a shelf a bit of bread and a tin box of sardines. The latter, after several vain attempts to open, he cast aside and contented himself with the crust. The rest of the night he wrote sedulously, though slowly and with much labor; and when he had finished, a considerable pile of numbered pages reposed by his hand. About ten o'clock in the morning the cold enveloped him like an icy mantle; the pen slipped from his nerveless fingers, and he allowed it to remain where it fell; he dropped upon a cot which stood against the wall, pulled the covering closely about him, and slept immediately. In the afternoon he was awakened by a vivid dream and sat suddenly upright, his eyes once more jet-like with the light of a newly formed purpose.

The drifting shadows of the old Fairchild homestead were destined to behold strange sights and to hear strange sounds before being finally banished from beneath the crumbling roof.

Within the roomy dining-hall a heavy table has lost its identity beneath a thick coat of dust and a heap of plaster, sometime fallen from the ceiling; yet it is of solid mahogany, with legs richly carved, and hides a warm, brilliant lustre under its coat of dirt and neglect.

The shadows deepen. The chilly mist without becomes a rain, dripping mournfully from the decaying, moss-covered eaves, and filling the old house with strange, hollow echoes, weird and fantastic.

Without warning, these quiet, melancholy sounds are disturbed by another, loud and startling. It is like a groan, dominating all other sounds and awakening its counterpart in every portion of the building.

Immediately uncertain footsteps, marked by many shufflings, as of some person laboring beneath a burden, approach the dining-room door; a load of some nature is eased to the floor without; next, the door itself turns on screaming hinges to reveal a dim form. The form enters, drags a prodigious bundle after it, upon which it collapses as if its endurance were quite spent, and discloses the sallow, marasmic countenance of Mr. William Slade.

He presents a spectacle of utter physical exhaustion as he sits all huddled together on his recent burden. But after a while he gets unsteadily to his feet and busies himself about the apartment.

Strange is this final scene upon which the shadows, marshalled in wonder in the farthest corners, are destined to look to-night; stranger still and more weird are the sounds that echo and re-echo through the empty, dark rooms. In all its history of comedy and tragedy the mouldering roof has never sheltered an act so incongruous as this.

Behold the heavy table spread for a feast and lighted with the soft glow of many wax candles; behold the flames on the cluttered, mossy hearth struggling for access up the choked chimney; and above all, behold the solitary figure seated at the board, fingering a wine-glass and seeking with rheumy eyes to penetrate the darker limits of the vast room—indeed, a spectre at the board. Mad, mad, clearly mad!

Yet, look closer still and this madness reveals a certain method: a ghastly significance may be traced in the details, in the man's actions and the words he mutters ceaselessly; and although the spectacle remains incongruous, it ceases to be ludicrous. The fire on the hearth and the wan light of the tapers only accentuate the cheerlessness and squalid ruin of the place—of Slade himself, and of that spread table which is a thing to shrink from.

There are two covers laid—even a bouquet of hothouse roses, somewhat wilted and crushed from having been too tightly packed in the bundle. But where is the guest of this eerie banquet? Has one of the shadows been summoned forth from the dismal chambers to share it?

The second chair is oddly decked with fabrics of faded hue and ancient design, inasmuch as they are plainly articles of feminine apparel marking a mode dead these twoscore years. Most conspicuous of these decorations is a faded lavender skirt of silk with many flounces, cut long, long ago, not to fit any woman's shape, but with the prodigality demanded by the wide hoop of the period. The garments were arranged on the chair with an obvious attempt to suggest a human occupant; but the effect is ghostly and repulsive, the semblance pitiful.

It is unlikely that Mr. Slade could have found anything with which he was less familiar than champagne, unless indeed it were the art of presiding at such a feast as this one pretended to be; for, witness!—merely two spoons and forks and glasses served all requirements. Mere ghost of a dinner—a shadow among the innumerable other shadows of the place Slade's gaucherie was not even relieved by a hint that he had ever been present at an actuality of the kind. The wine mounted quickly to his head and infused a temporary vitality into his dry frame; the lack-lustre eyes became jet-like once more; even a tinge of color glowed feverishly in his sallow cheek; more wonderful still, his tongue was loosened to an unwonted loquacity. But his voice remained harsh and rasping, his movements stiff and awkward, and no slumbering trace of amiability was quickened into life.

Clumsily he opened the bottles, losing half their contents as he dodged to escape the flying corks.

"Drink, my dear," he said, nodding to the draped chair with a sorry attempt at joviality. "That's right. Great thing, champagne; sorry I didn't know it before." He leaned across the table and tried to fill the second glass, already full many times over, and gave the sopping cloth, which had been spread regardless of the dust, another libation. "Drink. Drink and be merry, as the old saying is—Epicurus, eh? Wonderful how it warms your heart.... And to think I never knew how champagne could fire one!" He tossed off the contents of his own glass and clacked his tongue.

"But I have been working," he went on with sudden cunning; "working for you, Elinor. This is our homecoming; all my life, my dear, I've pictured you and me sitting here and facing each other, and the niggers waiting on us. Niggers 'fraid to come, damn 'em! But's all yours—within bounds, of course—within bounds. I'm rich, I am—moderately so—perhaps not rich, but enough; with economy, enough for comfort." He waved the glass about at arm's length, noticed that it was empty, and refilled it. "All yours—and mine. And here we are! I forget the past—'s all wiped out—your children shall be my God, and my children your— You know; 's in the Bible. Wherever I goest you goest—"

There was a phonetic allusion in the repeated verb that cast a sudden damper over his exuberant spirits.

"Ghost!" he muttered, bending a dark look upon the lavender skirt, the time-stained cashmere shawl, the yellow bit of lace that adorned the chair facing him. Sitting so, he fell into a long, brooding silence.

The fire slowly sank upon the hearth, and the candles guttered unheeded down on the table. Without, the rain had settled into a steady downpour, its unbroken roar being intensified, in a muffled way, by the vast, empty house; a cold, penetrating wintry rain, such as drives the belated wayfarer to shelter however scant, and early empties the drenched streets of every living thing. And with a frequency growing more insistent as the minutes pass, the chill and the damp strike to Slade's very heart. Often now he fumbles with bottles and fills his glass—never forgetting the one opposite him, though it is never emptied—and at length the black mood is driven forth, only to stand once more at his elbow. Of a sudden he laughs harshly—a laugh that certainly would have startled any occupant of the room, had one been present to hear, for the laugh was both bitter and malignant.

"Come, drink up, m' dear. You're no ghos'—not you! Ha!" The glass rattled upon his teeth. "That damn' Peyton Wes'brook; he's a ghos', hey? Well, he is. Here's to the ghos'. Thought he'd get you, Elinor; but you're no ghos'—'s lie, tha's what 't is—lie. You're mine. All mine—house—money—you—all mine, at las'. We'll show 'em, curse 'em!" His unsteady hand overturned the brimming glass, but he poured on just the same; and when presently he noticed that the bottle was drained, he threw it with a wild laugh to a far dark corner, where it splintered against the panelling with a crash of sound that awed and frightened even him. But the vapors of the wine had too firm a hold on his brain for the feeling to remain. He laughed again, and went on with his mad monologue.

"Happy at las', too, El'nor. Been savin' all for you, m' dear. Ever hear me sing, hey? Remember this? Listen."

And, mirabile dictu, in a voice cracked, quavering, and harsh, William Slade burst into song.

It is needless to linger over this horrid banquet. It ended abruptly, with a jar of breaking glass. In the midst of a wild, discordant song something like intelligence flashed for a moment in the beady eyes; the singer paused, as if his drugged sensibilities had suddenly awakened to a distant call; then came that dreadful laugh again.

"It's a farce!" he muttered, bitterly, his eyes roving wildly about, as if he felt and feared another Presence. "You're dead! dead! and as far from me as everything I ever wanted in my life.... God!"

He was standing then, and attempted to hurl the glass at the empty chair.

"Curse you!" he shrieked in a frenzied outburst, and again, "Curse you! Curse you all!"

He dropped, his face striking upon the table with a thud; his arms were stretched straight in front of him, across the board, and he remained so, breathing stertorously. After some minutes he began to hiccough with such violence that his shoulders heaved spasmodically and his foot scraped on the floor. But these convulsions, by and by, came to be marked with longer intervals between them, and finally his shoulders lifted once and subsided in a single, long, slow exhalation.

The rain still reverberated from the roof; the candles flickered out one by one; occasionally the dull embers in the fireplace crackled faintly until they too became cold—nothing but gray, sodden ashes.

Then it was that the wan light of day began to show through the boarded windows; the shadows once more to flit through the chambers and the echoing halls; then it was that a venturesome mouse advanced to the centre of the floor, where, in the untouched comestibles of last night's feast, he discovered enough to maintain himself and his colony royally for many weeks.

And encountering nothing to alarm him, he remained.



It is in life's supreme moments that destiny calls the loudest.

Miss Charlotte stands in the Westbrook morning-room, her demeanor plainly indicating nervousness and irresolution. From time to time she looks in a hesitating way at Doctor Westbrook's broad back, as he stares out of the window. Presently she speaks, as if with an effort; but her deliciously soft and gentle voice in its free and expressive play falls upon the listener's ears so like a harmony struck from silver strings, that to say it breaks the silence is to use a phrase too harsh.

"I don't consider our age—that is, seriously," she is saying; "but, Mobley, there are other things."

She paused and contemplated his back a moment.

"If what you see from that window is of more consequence than what I am saying," she observed, "I will—"

The Doctor wheeled about instantly, before she had done.

"Believe me, Charlotte," he made haste to protest, "you had my undivided attention. I saw nothing out of the window—or elsewhere; I was conscious only of your words."

His obvious sincerity satisfied her. She smiled and proceeded, the man watching her with sober, thoughtful eyes.

"I will confess something to you, Mobley, and perhaps you will understand better—why—why I hesitate." She paused again, and the Doctor could see that she was trying to overcome a nervousness and embarrassment quite foreign to her nature. But she conquered this feeling at once, and went on.

"Mobley," with added earnestness, her lustrous eyes bravely meeting his, "I am possessed of a pride so strong that I am afraid it is greater than my love. What a poor, miserable, wretched affection my love for you must be! I am ashamed of it."

"Oh, dear girl," he commenced with abrupt impetuosity; but she stopped him.

"No, no; let me finish. All my life, Mobley, I have lived more or less in the past. In my fancies we have not been poor; to me the poor little cottage we have called home has indeed been a home; and the dear old home that is sinking so rapidly into irremediable ruin only a phantasm of what might have been. But when I think of home, Mobley, the old place rises in my mind. It has been my constant yearning that it may be rehabilitated; that mamma, Clay, and I might once more foregather beneath its roof in the circumstances which I cannot help feeling are ours by right; and for this consummation I have looked to Clay with an unfaltering faith. Perhaps it is wicked, Mobley, but I cannot help it. If you take me, I want it to be from such a station; not like a mendicant creeping to shelter. Oh, I could not bear that!"

The man was profoundly affected, shaken to the very depths of his nature; but he felt that he understood her; and so great was his respect for this unexpected confidence, that, chaotic and fanciful as its tenor might be, he exerted a mighty effort to restrain a swelling tide that threatened to sweep him from his feet and leave him pouring out his passion in fervid incoherences, kneeling there before her.

"Charlotte, I can only repeat that I love you. I have waited. But, dearest, now—now," he came quickly close up to her, "now can you make this confession and still hesitate? Can you look at me and still say that any obstacle stands between us? Oh! Charlotte, Charlotte! My love can no longer be denied!"

Her eyes were downcast, her bosom rose and fell tumultuously; but when he would have taken her in his arms, she stopped him.

"Oh, don't—don't, Mobley," in a whisper. "There are—there are other things." Although he obeyed her, he stood with arms outstretched, his attitude an impassioned appeal from which the woman turned away her eyes.

"Since you have been here with Joyce," he resumed, after a moment, "it has been a delight to watch you go about the house; for it made it so easy to fancy that you would come and go thus always. Charlotte, dear heart, look at me."

Slowly the beautiful eyes, suffused with wonderful softness and light, rose to the appealing hands, to his own eager orbs, and straightway dropped again.

"Charlotte, will you not stay? Dear?"

"Mobley, I—I can't."

Quite suddenly she clenched her slim fingers together in a little gesture of helplessness. Her next words were inconsequential.

"Oh, why does not Mr. Converse return? Where can he be? Has he abandoned us?"

The Doctor, being ignorant of the connecting links of thought, may be pardoned if, at this momentous juncture, he mentally consigned the Captain to the limbo of eternal darkness. His arms dropped, and he asked, wonderingly,

"What has he got to do with it?"

"Mobley, can't you understand?" She laid a hand lightly upon his broad chest, regarding him now with a look of anxious seriousness.

"I said there were other things," she went on; "that there was something else we must consider before we think of—of our own happiness. This awful cloud still hangs over us, and until it is cleared away, I am afraid. It is selfish—wrong—for us to consider our own happiness at such a time. He is the only one who can clear that cloud away, Mobley. Oh, why doesn't he come? It is time! It is time!"

Doctor Westbrook's impatience evinced itself only by a shrug of the shoulders.

"I have no such hope," said he. "He's like all the rest of them; unless a thing's as plain as a pikestaff, he can't do any more than an ordinary mortal,—unless, again, it's further to complicate matters and cause more trouble. Why doesn't he come, indeed! He will, perhaps, when the whole affair has had time to die of inanition."

Now, neither of them had heard footsteps in the hall, so deeply were they engrossed, and when a sudden knock was struck upon the door, both started. Charlotte sat down in some confusion, and, after a second's hesitation, the Doctor called, "Come in," his tone betraying his vexation at the interruption.

The door opened barely wide enough to admit a tall, slender man, a stranger to Charlotte, but one whose features were somehow familiar. The movement was silent and stealthy. His look shot about the entire apartment, apparently without noting its two human occupants. He noiselessly closed the door again, and placed his back against it. Charlotte glanced at the physician and perceived that he was regarding the intruder with frank disfavor and an annoyance he did not attempt to conceal.

"Your name's Adams, is it not?" the Doctor sharply asked.

The man ducked his head in a swift bow of acknowledgment. When he stood upright again he held a card in his hand. The action was like a sleight-of-hand performance, so quickly was it done; for Charlotte was entirely unable to see where that card came from.

The Doctor ignored it; while Adams, in nowise abashed, said:

"Yes, sir, Doctor Westbrook,—Adams. Septimus Adams; Magnolia Investigating Agency." He discomfited Charlotte by turning abruptly and thrusting the card at her.

"Here, never mind that," said Doctor Westbrook, with a brusqueness that caused Charlotte to wonder. "How did you get in here? What do you want?"

Adams ran a finger around the inside of his collar, an action which betrayed an astonishing limberness of neck.

"Well, Doctor," he began, casting rapid side-glances at Charlotte, and not looking at his interlocutor at all, "you see, what I have to say had best be said in priv—"

"Say it here and now or not at all," the Doctor demanded. "Had I known who was knocking, you would not have intruded, I tell you candidly; but since you are here, state your business as briefly as possible."

Adams made a peculiar sound with his tongue and accompanied it with an expression of protestation.

"Don't take that way with me, Doctor," said he; "you'll regret it presently, I'm sure. If you don't care about the lady being present I'm sure I don't. It was only out of a consideration for her feelings—and yours, too, Doctor—that I threw out the suggestion."

"And once more, I tell you there is nothing privy between you and me, Adams. Be brief."

"Very well."

With a movement that was again almost like prestidigitation, Adams had the door open, and there appeared the familiar, now puzzled, countenance of McCaleb.

"That's the man," Adams went on, pointing to Doctor Westbrook,—assuredly, direct enough now. "I charge Mobley Westbrook with the murder of Señor Alberto de Sanchez." With extraordinary adroitness, he placed McCaleb between himself and the physician.

For a moment the silence could almost be felt, tense and breathless as it was. McCaleb was the only one present who evinced any embarrassment; he had every air of a man suddenly and unwillingly thrust into a ridiculous position. Charlotte was too dazed to comprehend at once what was going forward, and she simply sat motionless and stared at Adams with a blank look. That individual, by his recent manoeuvre, had placed himself near the open door, and he was, moreover, again smiling and flashing his teeth. As for the Doctor, he seemed for the time being overcome with astonishment; then he laughed harshly and unnaturally; and what he said was quite unaccountable:

"So it has come at last. Well, I have been expecting it."

He sat down suddenly and fell to stroking his beard. His glance seemed to pass casually to Adams, who, when his shifting eyes caught it, swallowed hastily and edged still nearer the door.

A sudden anger burst from the Doctor.

"Close that door!" he thundered. "Don't let that rascal slip away till we see how far he means to push this thing."

With the Doctor's first enigmatic words McCaleb seemed to recover his sang-froid. Briefly he regarded the other with a startled look, as if the words were unexpected and surprising; now he turned to Adams, his surprise very manifest.

He closed the door.

"I must warn you, Doctor," said he, "that anything you say may be used against you; yet, if you wish to make a statement, you are at liberty to do so. It is true that you have been charged with this—this crime; I have the warrant here, sworn to by Adams."

The Doctor had not moved his look from Investigator Adams, who now betrayed every sign of uneasiness. Once or twice that wonderfully flexible right hand stole toward the region of his hip pocket, but each time it came stealthily back again, to pluck uncertainly at his prognathous chin.

"McCaleb, do your duty!" said he.

"When I get good and ready," McCaleb returned, without looking at him; he was still waiting on Doctor Westbrook. The latter now spoke.

"Oh, I have no statement to make; why should I? The whole wretched business has been such a nightmare that I haven't the heart to attempt a defence."

Once more he turned to Adams.

"So this is your revenge, is it?" he asked. "This is your way of getting back at me for the old Civic Reform League; it's a pity I didn't stay with it until I had smoked you out, you scoundrel."

He looked again to McCaleb. "Well, I suppose I must go with you; I am ready."

But there came an interruption from an unlooked-for source. Before any one was aware of it, Charlotte had arisen and was between the Doctor and the other two men. She faced them magnificently—like a tigress at bay.

"You touch him if you dare!"

The words were uttered with ominous quietness. If a look could convey any physical effect, McCaleb and Adams would have been seared and scorched and blasted by the lightning-like fire of wrath that blazed about them. All of her moving personality showed plainly in that look, dominating the situation as if the other actors therein were no more than wooden marionettes. McCaleb recoiled; Adams cowered behind him.

"Mobley, tell him that he lies—there, that wretched creature hiding behind the other."

She levelled a potent finger at the abject Adams.

"Charlotte," Doctor Westbrook whispered in her ear, "this is only making matters worse; believe me, this is not the place to correct whatever mis—"

Charlotte stamped her foot with fierce impatience.

"Tell him that he lies; make him swallow those vile words before either of you leaves this room."

That terrible, menacing finger was to Adams like an iron spit upon which he, impaled, was being held up to a threatening multitude. McCaleb essayed a diversion.

"This is unfortunate, Miss Fairchild. You know me pretty well; you know that I must serve this warrant; you know I would never do it were it not—" But she was not paying the slightest attention to him. He turned helplessly to the Doctor.

At last the awful look in Charlotte's eyes, the menacing finger, became unbearable. Adams, like the well-known worm, turned. He also squirmed, worm-like, and was heard to mutter something.

"What does the creature say?" demanded Charlotte.

"He says that he has an eye-witness to the murder," McCaleb interpreted.

Two regal strides, and she was standing above Adams, an incarnation of outraged womanhood, of implacable, devastating wrath.

"Who is your witness?"

For once his eyes had ceased to rove; they were held by Charlotte's—hypnotized by their compelling magnetism.

"Who is your witness?" she repeated, sternly—not to be denied.

"Don't—don't touch me," he hissed. "Keep away!"

"Touch you, you filthy thing? Ugh! Who is your witness?"

Of a sudden McCaleb sprang toward them.

"Here, none of that!" he cried through clenched teeth. Something flashed for an instant between the two men, and when he stepped back again he was holding a pistol in his hand and regarding the unfortunate Adams with anger and contempt.

"Who is your witness?" She was apparently oblivious of the little by-play.

There was no escaping it. In the end he stammered something, to Charlotte unintelligible, but McCaleb started and came on a step nearer.

"Who?" asked Charlotte.

"How—How—Howard Lynden."

Now it was her turn to recoil. The sternness of her countenance gave way to a mingled look of amazement and incredulity. She laughed a little wildly.

"How ridiculous! I see now; it is merely a vulgar joke—some spite which this wretched creature is trying to vent upon you, Mobley."

Now that the tension was broken, McCaleb felt that he could again make himself heard.

"Indeed, Miss Fairchild, it is no joke," earnestly. "If Adams, here, should try such a game, he would find it the worse for him, as he knows very well."

"You'll see how much of a joke it is," muttered Adams, with a malignant look at the Doctor. But McCaleb went on, ignoring him.

"However unpleasant it may be, I have the warrant issued in proper form, and, one way or another, I must serve it."

What next occurred banished from the minds of all everything that had preceded it.

The door noiselessly swung open and revealed the large figure and the impassive features of Captain John Converse.

While they stared at him in speechless surprise, he nodded briefly to the Doctor; long afterward, when Charlotte looked back at the scene, she became possessed of a conviction which is with her to this day—that he deliberately winked at her.

He turned to McCaleb, to whom the familiar sibilant voice was inexpressibly welcome.

"I will relieve you of your unpleasant duty, Mac," said he, smoothly. The young man passed over the warrant with an alacrity which demonstrated that the Captain had correctly characterized his task.

"Pardon me for intruding, Doctor," Converse continued, "but it seems you were so absorbed in here that you didn't hear me knock.... Miss Fairchild, you—"

Something in her manner bade him stop. He glanced significantly at Doctor Westbrook; but before either had time to do or say anything further, Charlotte had risen hastily from the chair into which she had sunk upon the Captain's unexpected entrance, her every movement betraying a suppressed excitement, an agitation imminently upon the point of mastering her self-control.

"No, no!" she said, laughing somewhat hysterically, "I am not going to faint; but oh! Mr. Converse, I am so glad you have come!" She sank to her knees, buried her face in her hands, and sat on the floor, laughing and crying together.

The Doctor went over to her, raised her gently, and led her to the couch, where he sat beside her and held her head on his shoulder. There was something exultant in his look, as if he enjoyed being arrested; for the woman now clung to him as though she had never refused the caress of those sheltering arms.

The Captain stood silently watching them with expressionless eyes, turning the warrant over and over in his hands. At last he thrust it carelessly into his pocket and turned away.

Adams and McCaleb slipped unobserved from the room.

Some time later, when Charlotte was again calm, Mr. Converse said to her, "Miss Fairchild, I have an answer to our riddle."

"Then, thank God! the mystery is solved!" she said; and the Doctor burst forth eagerly:

"Is that true?"

Converse ignored both inquiries.

"Come nearer, Miss Fairchild," said he; and when, wondering, she had obeyed, he leaned forward and whispered one word into her ear.... "That's what our riddle has for its answer," he went on in a louder tone. "'Paquita—what do you spell?' is a riddle no longer."

Charlotte started back.

"Revenge—but that tells me nothing," she said, blankly. Converse smiled knowingly and shook his head.

"Perhaps you will not press me with questions which I haven't time to answer; it cannot be told in a word. It's a long story, and a remarkable one too; but we will hear it soon. It is not for me to tell it. I am waiting for Mr. Nettleton, Mr. Mountjoy, Clay, and Howard Lynden—though I don't believe that last gentleman will come now—and one or two others.... Ah, here are Clay and Mr. Nettleton now. You got my message, I see,"—this last to Clay.

"Yes," returned the young man; "but I'm dashed if I understand it. What's it all about, anyhow? Where have you been? When did you—"

"What?—where?—when?" Converse interrupted. "Pray make allowance for my age. Better yet, don't ask any questions at all. You will soon have enough to occupy your mind fully."

Mr. Nettleton merely spoke a word or two of greeting; otherwise he remained silent until Mr. Converse now abruptly addressed him.

"Did you bring it?" he asked.

For answer the lawyer drew a manuscript from his pocket. His manner was sober, and unconsciously it foreshadowed the gravity of what was about to transpire. A spirit of expectancy animated everybody present; a dawning realization that at last the crisis was at hand, that the veil hiding the mystery was about to be rent. So far as this is concerned, they were soon to learn that the rending of one veil was to disclose but a single one of many complexities and yet another concealing veil beyond; that while the enveloping mists were surely dissipating, they passed but slowly, revealing only a little at a time.

"While we are waiting for the others, Mr. Nettleton will read this aloud," said the Captain.

"What is it?" from the Doctor.

"I suppose you might call it the 'Ante-Mortem Statement of William Slade, Deceased,'" Mr. Nettleton replied; and Converse interjected, "'Slade's Blessing.'"

"Good," the lawyer rejoined. "That would not be an inept title. It came to me this morning through the mail, and evidently was only lately written."

Again Converse spoke. "How is Miss Joyce? Could she be present?" He proceeded no further, when he noticed the Doctor shaking his head in a decided negative.

"She is rapidly regaining her strength," the latter added; "but of everything that happened up to the time of returning consciousness, she remembers nothing."

"Dear me!" ejaculated the Captain; "that is unfortunate. Is this blank likely to be permanent?"

"God knows that I hope not. It is too early to hazard a positive opinion."

"Well, well," Converse repeated, thoughtfully; "yet, perhaps—However, Mr. Nettleton, go on; read."

"But, Mr. Converse," Charlotte interposed, "this is all so incomprehensible; we are tossed about in such a turmoil of bewilderment that my mind is incapable of understanding anything, and I am sure that Mobley is no better off. When did you return? Where have you been so long? Have some mercy upon us, for I feel as though I were going mad."

"Dear lady," he returned, "try to have a little patience; you shall know all, quickly."

"But, about Mobley—what did that man mean by accusing him? by saying that Howard had witnessed the—the murder? My God! when will this end?"

The Captain spoke soothingly.

"Let this manuscript be read, and everything else will fall in naturally. I have already said that the story cannot be told in a word. It is a strange tale, and we must take one thing at a time if we hope ever to comprehend it. Now go ahead, Mr. Nettleton."

The lawyer appeared to consider.

"I question the advisability of reading this," he said at length; "but Mr. Converse thinks otherwise. I wish to say first, however, that many things in this manuscript will prove to be exceedingly painful to you, Mobley, and to you, Charlotte and Clay. So much so, that it will be impossible for you to hear them unmoved. I have read it, and I know. It is contemptible. It brings grave charges against your two fathers; yet, if you wish ever to understand the mystery that so entangles you, a perusal of this will be necessary. Each one of you could take it alone and go through with it as you may; but to read it here aloud will be a terrible ordeal. What are your wishes?"

"Bob," the Doctor returned, "we have all borne so much that the fact of this being an additional ordeal weighs but little against the assurance that we are to see this web of mystery and suspicion untangled. I think the three of us most concerned will agree to that?" He looked to Charlotte and Clay, who nodded acquiescence. Converse also nodded his head vigorously, adding: "My idea, exactly. You will hear the dead vilified and yourselves damned roundly; but, dear me, what of that?" he asked, cheerfully. "Slade was as cracked as a brick sidewalk, and he couldn't do anything else."

Mr. Nettleton smiled. "It wouldn't do to go too far into that, Converse; remember the will."

"Well," the other retorted, "that is the most sensible thing he ever did. He was sane enough when that was drawn. You must remember, it is fourteen years old."

Now the lawyer turned to Clay and Charlotte. "It is agreed, then, that I shall read this aloud?" he asked, looking from one to the other.

"Fire away," from Clay; and his sister supplemented, "If we can't bear it, we can stop you."

Although there were times during the reading when she hid her face in her hands and wept softly; when Clay or the Doctor or both sat with white set faces, with clenched hands and rigid jaws, to the credit of their self-control may it here be set down, that there was no interruption until Mr. Nettleton had quite finished.

That which follows is merely a précis of what constituted a remarkable document. Those portions deleted, comprising quite a half of the writing, are nothing more nor less than a manifestation of Slade's arrant egotism, his innate selfishness, an almost fiendish vindictiveness, and a seemingly inborn malevolence that was baffled at every turn. Indeed, the one bright spot in the entire writing—his professed affection, if so tender an emotion can be associated with his nature—is all the more extraordinary because it stands alone among all the man's ungenerous impulses and thwarted ambitions. Those portions may well be dispensed with; they are simply unpleasant reading. Otherwise the document is given as he wrote it.



To begin with, I was unfortunate in being born the son of an overseer. The generation that has come since the war recks little how pregnant this simple statement is. It bestowed upon me an ethic value somewhat lower than that possessed by the meanest nigger on Richard Fairchild's plantation. They had a place; I had none. Besides, my father was a rascal and a thief, possessing not a single leavening trait or characteristic; for he was without any refinement or culture, impenetrable to any noble sentiment—coarse and vulgar to the end. God! Could human effort come to aught in the face of such overwhelming odds? Yet, one helping hand, an occasional encouraging word from those who usurped position and authority, one sympathetic soul to spur my honorable aspirations, and I had been a better man. But, with one exception, that helping hand, the encouraging word, were withheld; the sympathetic spirit did not exist. God bless Elinor Clay, and reward her with a saint's crown of glory; may He everlastingly damn the rest! ...

Most vicious of all—proud, stiff-necked, sick in his self-esteem, overweening, and malicious—was Peyton Westbrook. From the first he stood in my path, thwarting and despising me, looking upon William Slade as something less than the dirt beneath his aristocratic feet. What was Peyton Westbrook that I was not? We were man and man. Had our positions been reversed, his would have been a wretched lot, indeed. Small of soul, narrow of mind, regardless of any interest that did not harmonize with his own, he would have remained the overseer's son, to live unhonored, and, dying, to pass into an oblivion merited by his worth; while I, William Slade, endowed with intellect and fine sensibilities, might have risen to greatness, the limits of which I hesitate to define. But no; he was born to the purple; it was given him to make such futile and petty uses of his father's fortune and position as his little mind and mediocre abilities could devise; while I, not lacking in all those naturally inherent qualities which made me in every way his superior—except the one of position—must stand in the background of obscurity and console myself as best I could for Life's cruel arbitrariness in the selection of her favorites....

Peyton Westbrook loved—nay, I cannot prostitute the word to such base use; he coveted Elinor Clay and her acres. I loved Elinor Clay. So did Richard Fairchild, poor creature that he was....

Peyton Westbrook's nature was so mean that he could applaud his conduct in turning from her to Louise Shepardson. The world marvelled at the time; but the truth, like all puzzles of simple solution, was never hit upon. Louise Shepardson, when the Judge, her father, died, became possessed of more acres than would ever come to Elinor Clay. Good, broad acres constituted the only bait to which so cold-blooded a fish as Westbrook would ever rise. Did gracious Elinor ever suspect this simple explanation? No; her gentle soul never could comprehend such infamy. She wedded Richard Fairchild, believing she had driven Peyton Westbrook from her—blaming her pure self for his heartless baseness. Were I to attempt a writing of the curse which rises to my lips when I think of this soulless, bowelless nature, its scorching fervor would dry the ink on my pen. "Slade's Blessing" it has been called! "Blessing," indeed! Heaven grant that it may land him in the midst of the torment whither it has consigned him again and again, and is at last made eternal by the ineffaceable record which preserves forever the prayers of dying men!

Did I aspire to Elinor Clay's hand? God help me, if I did! I was young and ambitious; I was full of the dreams of youth—the young blood pulsed hotly in my body; and this was sweet—the one incident in my miserable past that I can look back upon and feel a shadow of pleasure's glow mount to my withered cheek. Even now, soured as I am by adversity, that beautiful name stirs a warmth in my heart; and I can pity myself and her in tears, and not by curses for those who wronged us. So does it soften the heart of bitterness. My sentiment was a matter of repression, my adoration silent; Elinor was as far from me as the stars. Because I was son of an overseer I was lonely enough; besides, what had I to do with boys of my own age, their foolish sports and inane pastimes? We had nothing in common.

But Elinor Clay never spoke aught to me but gentle words; and in the end I came to set her up in the shrine of my thoughts as the object of an adoration which, could she but have had a glimpse of it, surely would have melted her tender heart to pity. To have lived for her; to have toiled and laid up year by year, that in the end she might alone benefit; to have done this with a singleness of purpose that never faltered—does this signify selfishness or meanness? Then I am the meanest and most selfish that ever encumbered the earth....

I realized in my love-madness that I must have patience; that I must toil and labor unceasingly to attain to the place merited by my talents and intellect; for naturally I was superior to them all, being possessed of mental gifts of no mean order. I knew that with the advantages I could acquire I could rise above them; then I could take what to ask for then would have brought forth only derision and mockery. But here again the world was against me; I was only the overseer's son. But they feared me, and every hand was extended to keep me down....

Although my father was a rascal, he was a far-seeing one. Long before war's dire besom swept our fair land, he had a sure knowledge of the outcome, and with commendable enterprise laid his plans accordingly. He had put by a little money, and, as opportunity offered (and such opportunities were by no means lacking), he would lend a bit here and a bit there to the planters about our neighborhood, that they might be able to stem the rising tide of misfortune. Richard Fairchild was a poor weakling, and my father kept him from going under. There are those who may term it ingratitude to speak thus of my "benefactor." Bah! Benefactor! Fool! I pen the epithet in scorn and contempt. I can select no better evidence to support my opinion of him than that he should have opened wide the fast-emptying Fairchild purse, to take thence the gold that was exchanged for my education. The act was prompted by no spirit of kindness, but was animated by the same foolish vanity and love of ostentation that marked the wasting of all his substance. How carefully I could have husbanded it! Even at this late day the thought of the small fortune that he wasted upon his niggers alone makes me quiver with indignation. No; such learning as I have was come by through sore labor. His mean gift was thrown to me as a bone is tossed to a vagrant cur.

But no mortal could have saved that man. My father's error lay in taking payment twice, and somewhat over, for the money he had lent him. The highest tribute I can pay to Richard Fairchild's astuteness is that he never suspected this, although, during a period covering many years, he made many payments to my father, and probably had continued doing so had not every resource become exhausted.

My father used to say, in his vulgar way: "I fit for my country against the greasers,"—meaning thereby the Mexicans,—"and while I am too old to fight now, I may save some of these broad acres. But old association cannot be ignored; so long as my poor neighbors have a chance of keeping up their brave show, my small means are at their service. If they go down—well, I shall not." And not to place upon them any sense of obligation to an overseer, they never knew whence the money came. I might observe that, had they known, they would not have touched a penny of it. But thus my father went about his charitable work, with his tongue in his cheek, and one eye knowingly closed.

Also, I may say here that my father was a conscienceless liar. He never fought anything but occasional virtuous impulses, the same being ever put to an inglorious rout; for during the Mexican War he was nothing more nor less than a sutler, although there is much to be commended in providing nourishment, raiment, and refreshment to those who are battling for their country's honor. But he prospered, and in Mexico became connected with a certain young hidalgo of Spain who had moneys to invest. Why this partnership was severed I can only conjecture. My father was wont to accuse him of ingratitude, saying that Don Juan del Castillo was an ungrateful creature, who turned upon those that befriended him; but at the same time my parent would loudly forgive him for certain dim and unspecified wrongs, the which, I shrewdly suspect, were of my father's doing rather than the Spanish gentleman's. However that may be, it was largely the latter's money that went to Richard Fairchild as a loan for such of his acres as remained unincumbered. My father could well be the agent of Don Juan in these transactions, even though the gentry would not tolerate him as a principal. My father was a shrewd rascal.

As I have already stated, the money advanced to Richard Fairchild was repaid more than twice over. (A schedule will be found in the envelope with my will.) Hence, I have been no more than a trustee—a faithful one—of Richard Fairchild's property. Take it, Clay and Charlotte; I ask nothing for my lifetime of toil and care, because I know it will not be granted me. It is yours, freely and joyously bestowed. I have added to it many fold; but that is of no moment. I seek no credit for this generous impulse. I could not have the desire of my heart: Elinor has gone from me for ever. I want nothing else. Heaven give you happiness in the property that I, William Slade, the overseer's despised son, have laid up for you....

Only one single time did fate, or Providence, favor me, and then only to turn in the end and discomfit me. But for Elinor's sake, I may not tell all thereof.

On a night shortly after the Mexican man was overtaken by a most righteous wrath in the Nettleton Building, certain evidences that Peyton Westbrook had for once gone a step too far in his villany came to my hands. I gave thanks to God that I should have been the one chosen as the humble instrument of that man's undoing. The testimony was irrefragable—as we lawyers say, conclusive—and I held him in the hollow of my hand. Here, my lifelong affection led me into error of judgment—something that I am not often guilty of; my tenderness of heart blinded me to my hatred of this man, and instead of stripping him of his smug and gaudy trappings of virtue, and showing him up to be the scoundrel he was, I ended by allowing that evidence to be taken from me—I standing by complaisant—and the opportunity to unmask him to be destroyed. So did gentle Elinor reward him for his base heartlessness of other days! What is the use for me to say that Peyton Westbrook was a scoundrel, if I cannot prove it? Although it is the bare truth, I will refrain from telling it. Besides, sweet Elinor has begged me not to....

For a time I thought of that snip of a girl who bears the Westbrook name with about as much dignity as really invests it—

But enough of her. I was wrong, and I bear her no ill will for being a witless butterfly. Butterflies, I dare say, have their uses in the vast scheme of creation.

To return to my error of judgment. When I had satiated my senses by gloating over this evidence, I was possessed of an idea. Never had I breathed a word to any living soul of my love for Elinor Clay; it was a secret locked safely in the treasure-house of my heart; and now I could overwhelm her with gratitude. I would go to her—now that her foolish girl sentiment for the bowelless Westbrook had long been dead—and at once show her what a hypocrite he was, how basely he had treated her, and then present the immense contrast offered by my lifelong devotion and generosity. Could any mortal—especially a woman—resist such an appeal? I pride myself on my knowledge of the sex; to the intelligent, observant mind they are as open books; and I unhesitatingly answer, No. But alas for human frailty! When I appeared to my beloved Elinor, I had not taken into account her years of enervating illness; I failed to consider that she was not the woman she had been; but I did not hesitate—to me she would ever remain unchanged.

When she comprehended the tenor of my errand, the shock was too much for her gentle nature; she was quite overcome and rendered irresponsible, and all unconsciously she reviled me,—she who had ever been all gentleness and tenderness,—and treated me with a harshness that was very, very painful. What could I do but deliver my testimony over to her? How could I refrain, when her delirium or hallucination was so great that it actually led her to defending Peyton Westbrook! to calling him by many endearing names! And presently, her daughter—who, I make no doubt, had been listening at the door—entered, and I thoughtfully and considerately desisted in my importunities for the testimony's return (for my beloved Elinor had it at the moment); and I decided to leave her until a more propitious time. Alas! that time was destined never to come.

But enough. I reap from my trust no material benefit. The envious call my conduct Miserliness; I spell it differently; Fidelity.

Charlotte, Clay, dear children of my beloved Elinor, take what is yours. I ask for no meed of thanks. My reward is the consciousness of a duty well accomplished, of a trust faithfully guarded. But never forget that William Slade, son of an overseer, despised and spurned by an unfeeling and heartless world, ever had your interests near to his heart. If the reader in his soul does not say that my unselfishness is sublime, then are you inhuman, cold, and bloodless; for I end my trust with the firm conviction that the cestuis que trust are in no wise worthy or deserving of this magnificent gift of fortune.



                The tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony.
Where words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain,
For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.

                                                                                        —RICHARD II.



When Mr. Nettleton came to the end of the extraordinary composition from the hand of William Slade, his listeners were sitting in a tense stillness that was fairly galvanic with many mingled emotions. Doubtless, Converse realized the conflicting feelings animating the three individuals most concerned; he arose immediately, and began speaking with an assumption of brisk determination designed to hold their attention to the programme as he intended it should be carried out.

"I have taken the liberty of ordering two carriages," said he, addressing the Doctor; "and as Miss Fairchild is to accompany us"—he bowed to Charlotte—"let me beg that you hurry. Time is of some moment now."

"I am to go?" she returned, wide-eyed. "Where?"

"To hear the final chapter; to be present at the lifting of the veil."

And at once she gave a satisfying example of how rapidly a woman may make herself presentable under the spur of excitement and irresistible curiosity.

What with the introduction of the man Adams into the enigma, the Doctor's arrest, the assertion that Lynden had been an eye-witness of De Sanchez's murder, Converse's abrupt and unexpected advent after so long an absence, Slade's confession, and—to cap each of these climaxes—an assurance that the mystery was a mystery no longer, it may be believed that Charlotte's tranquil exterior belied the tumult of thought and emotion which presently came to possess her, increasing the more as she pondered. Added to the other agitating influences was a lively apprehension of what form the pending disclosure would take—upon whom it would now fasten its fangs of accusation. But her habit of self-control came admirably to her aid; to a certain extent she was able to busy her tired brain with other matters, although patience had become a virtue forgotten.

Naturally, Converse had assumed the role of master of ceremonies, and the others watched him with curiosity. Into the first of two waiting carriages he ushered Charlotte, her brother, Doctor Westbrook, and Mr. Nettleton; and as soon as the door was banged to, the vehicle started with an assurance and speed signifying foreknowledge on the part of the driver. The two officers entered the other conveyance, which, just as it emerged from the driveway, was met by the Coroner and Mr. Mountjoy in the former's buggy.

Aside from the fact that it was taken without a word being uttered by any of her companions, Charlotte retained but the most nebulous memory of that ride.

In a little while the carriage was penetrating a neighborhood wholly unknown to her, and presently it swerved to one side and drew up at the curb.

Charlotte looked out with some interest. The building before which they had stopped stood on a corner; it was two-storied, of stuccoed brick, and made gloomy by wide galleries resting on brick and stone arches. It exhaled a strong odor of cooking onions and garlic, of wine from the wine-room at the corner, and she insensibly drew back. Almost at once Converse and McCaleb, Mr. Mountjoy and the Coroner appeared before the carriage door.

The first-named shot a quizzical look at her, but still vouchsafed no explanation more than the fact that they were at their journey's end.

After stepping under the balcony which roofed the walk, she was enabled to read on one of the door-panes the words, "La Posada Mejicana, R. Velasquez," which she did with a little start. It was the place whither Clay had fled upon that memorable day, and where he had written to Mr. Nettleton. She glanced at the latter now, but he appeared unwontedly sober. The Doctor's curiosity was frank, though speechless; he doubtless had resigned himself to await the issue.

The door was opened by a short stout man, whose features were broad and dark. His hair was very black and straight and coarse, and to this man Converse spoke a word or two in Spanish. He responded volubly, and smiled a bright welcome upon the remainder of the party.

"Coom een," he said, cordially; "entre Ustedes—ah, Señor Nettletone—como esta Usted? Entre! Entre!" To which the lawyer responded gravely.

"Eet ees a fine day—si?" vociferated the stout little man, cheerfully; and when the last of the party had entered he closed the door once more and placed himself beside Mr. Converse.

"Lead on," said the latter with a gesture; "you know."

"Dees way." He piloted them down a chilly, dark corridor to a flight of stairs.

The party presently arrived at the second floor, Charlotte holding the Doctor's arm tightly, and the way led through another dim corridor to a door, before which the guide paused. His manner had become all at once comically mournful.

"Ah, el póbre señor—he ees un seeck hombre—mucho malo," he whispered hoarsely. "I must go." He departed on tiptoe, and Converse tapped lightly upon the door.

Full of wonder, his companions waited in silence. They heard a soft fall of feet on the other side, a softer swish of feminine skirts, and the door opened.

Both Clay and the Doctor uttered low exclamations of astonishment, for the open portal revealed a vision of dazzling loveliness. But it was not the remarkable, melancholy beauty of the young girl that moved them so powerfully; not the faultless, ivory-tinted features, nor the wealth of silky tresses—black and wavy, like Joyce's; nor yet the liquid black eyes which were almost a counterpart of Charlotte's: they were wonderful eyes, but oh, so sad! Instead, it was the unexpectedness of the apparition, a conviction of having seen that beautiful face before—the unparalleled incongruity of associating it with its present setting—that occasioned such intense surprise. Clay at once identified her with the girl he had seen while in this same building on the day of his flight; to the Doctor the fancied resemblance was fleeting, incapable of being fixed. But he succeeded in doing this later on.

Beyond this lovely girl with the sad, heavy-lidded eyes could be seen a large room with whitewashed walls, lighted by two high, barred windows which overlooked a paved court strewn with bottles and empty wine-casks. The room's furnishings were austere and uninviting: a high wooden bed, a plain table beside it, another on which were a ewer and basin, and a long bench extending around two sides of the apartment constituted all the conveniences. They might have served a monk, but scarcely a sick man.

Still wondering, the party followed Mr. Converse into the room, and as they did so, they received another shock.

A wild, terrifying figure reared up in the bed, and, supporting itself on an elbow, glared at the intruders like some fierce animal of the wild disturbed in its den.

"Good God!" burst from Doctor Westbrook as he recoiled from this spectacle. "How came you here and in this plight?"

It was Señor Vargas. The Doctor's countenance was eloquent with horror and amazement, and he stood petrified—unconscious of Charlotte clinging to his arm, blind to all else except the wretched creature, fever-flushed and emaciated, now staring at him from the bed. Suddenly he read aright; he recalled the significant cough while the man was in his office, and again at the inquest; an unconscious exposure to the rigor of an unfamiliar climate, and a severe cold, had forced the issue of life and death.

Converse drew near to Charlotte and glanced at her with a whimsically lifted brow.

"And this is what you discovered?" said she.

"Here is where I have spent the last few weeks. As soon as Vargas became ill he had himself removed here—to be with the girl."

"Oh, there are so many things I cannot understand," she returned. "What did that creature Adams mean by saying that Howard Lynden—"

A quick alteration in his manner made her pause and regard him anxiously. At once Converse made a little grimace of disgust.

"It was very simple," said he. "Lynden was a poor weakling, without any will of his own. Adams merely bent him to his own purposes. Lynden saw the Doctor standing over the dying De Sanchez; Adams made him think he had seen the rest. It presents a peculiar psychological condition, fortunately rare, but by no means unprecedented. That young fellow has very wisely effaced himself. You will never see him again."

At this moment Charlotte caught the melancholy eyes of the beautiful girl directed toward her.

"How superb!" she murmured. "She is like a breath from the Orient; she fills the mind like Coleridge's 'damsel with a dulcimer.' Who is she?"

"That," whispered Converse, "is Paquita."



As in its last outburst a dying volcano is said to vomit forth its hottest flow of lava, so did the perfervid words pour from the lips of Vargas. But the malevolence and implacable hate revealed in the man's look and tone, in the bitter denunciation of his utterance, were so intense that the scene amounted at times to an almost unendurable ordeal.

The tale he unfolded was one of wrong and betrayal, of a heartlessness unbelievable, and it was plain that years of brooding had made of revenge an obsession, a fixed idea that gave him the cunning to work out his ends, patience to abide his opportunity, ingenuity in concealing his identity and purpose, truly marvellous.

"Years ago," his story began, after an outburst that left him nearly exhausted, "my father, my mother, my sister, and I lived in Seville. There it was that I was born; so you see, señores, I am not of Mexico, but of Spain. There it was that I was happy, though cruelly poor. I was young and strong, and from a small lad up to manhood I was ever working to perfect myself in all the tricks of a juggler's calling. Ah, señores, I made an art of it. At one time I, Fernando del Castillo, was the greatest, the most adept juggler in the whole of Europe. There is none who knew me then that will deny it. But it came natural to me, señores; even before I was twenty I excelled them all, just as my sister, the little Paquita, the sunshine and gladness of my father's house, was more beautiful, more graceful, and lighter of foot—ah, such a tiny foot it was!—than any woman within the length and breadth of Spain.

"Señores, it is her brother who is telling the tale; he loved her with a tenderness beyond the power of words to express. But you should have beheld her in those days: beautiful—beautiful she was, her voice like a bird's for very sweetness; and there was none who could make such a living, breathing poem of a tango or a joto; none who could glance at you with such sparkling eyes, firing the blood and the brain like old wine; none that could flash such pearly teeth between such coaxing lips—lips like the soft petals of a crimson rose. It was her fame that spread beyond Seville to Madrid, and even to Paris.

"In Paris the fame of Paquita and Fernando—for so were we known—was on every tongue. God knows she was innocent enough then, and content with the love and companionship of her brother. God knows that in those days we were sufficient each unto the other, and happy, señores—happy....

"But it ended."

De Sanchez, at that time attending college in Paris, on the strength of his knowledge of Castillo's uncle, Don Juan Sebastian del Castillo, attained an intimacy with Paquita and Fernando that led to disaster for the girl. Don Juan had long been a resident of Mexico, and was a man of wealth and affairs.

"There was a certain dance of my sister's," said Vargas,—or Castillo, to give him his proper name,—"that always held the audience spellbound. It was of her own devising; born of her warm Southern blood and her romantic heart. Ah, señores, it was a thing of beauty—a perfect treasure of art. With the lithe movements of her dainty body, the dropping of her lashes, the flashing of her starlike eyes, the curving of her ripe, crimson lips—either in a smile of witchery or of scorn and disdain,—she told a tale of love and disappointment, of betrayal and revenge. Truly was it inspired of the evil that later was to befall herself.

"When, at the end, she would flash a dagger from her garter with the swiftness of a serpent darting from its coil, the audience would rise to her and cry 'Brava!' until the walls reverberated. Ah, it was marvellous! Is it strange that I adored her?

"Upon the very night, señores, that she innocently revealed her love for De Sanchez, he brought to her a dagger. Many days passed before I knew of this, because, for the first time, I was not remembered with a gift also.

"'Paquita mia!' I cried, holding the pretty toy in my hand, 'Paquita mia, how could you do me, your brother, this cruel wrong?'"

"'He loves me,' she whispered, for the first time in her life not daring to look me in the eyes.

"'Loves you!' I cried. 'Have I not loved you since the day you were born?' And right there, señores, the first great lesson of this life came to me. For the first time there was no response in her bosom to the emotion in my own—to the yearning of my heart—and I became faint, my spirit sick.

"'I love him,' she gasped, faintly, her hand on her heart, and bending her head still lower.

"'O Paquita! Paquita!' was all that I could say in my sorrow. 'Love him? This is madness. Behold, you are unhappy even now, and never before this hour has a shadow of sorrow fallen between you and me.'

"'This is different,' she murmured, her head still bowed, her hand still striving to restrain the wild beating of her heart. 'We are to be wed.'

"As I was turning to leave her, she suddenly burst into tears and threw herself upon my breast. 'Oh, you are wrong! You are wrong!' she cried, looking for the first time into my eyes, but through tears, devouring my doubts in the fire of her passion. Señores, think of a joy drowned in tears! 'O my brother,' she cried, 'you are wrong, for I was never so happy in my life! I love him! I love him! Say that you are not angry; say that you love me, too; tell me that you will never leave me; for I am afraid.' And she clung to me with a wild strength that you will not believe.

"It was not long after that night that I learned the whole story.

"'When next you dance,' said De Sanchez, as he handed her the dagger, 'wear this token of my love for you.'

"'And do you love me?' she replied, seeking to read through his black eyes the blacker soul behind.

"'Here is a symbol of the True Cross,' he said, placing his hand upon the cross of the dagger's hilt, and upon her hand; 'let it be the emblem of our faith, each in the other's love.'

"'And here is the sharpness of a serpent's tooth,' she said, placing a little finger-tip upon the dagger's point; for you see—God help her!—deep in her heart she mistrusted him at that moment, and did not know it.

"'May it sting me to death if I am not forever true to you,' he uttered solemnly, before she could finish.

"Again she strove to search his soul.

"'My ears never weary of it,' she said; 'once more, do you love me?'

"'Once more, my Paquita, life of my life, soul of my soul. Once more, if my heart is ever false to you may this token of our troth still it forever.'"

So a mockery of a ceremony led to five short months of almost delirious happiness, and then—

"Then, hear!" gasped the dying man. "In five short months he tired of her, my beautiful one; he laughed at her and the babe unborn when she called him husband; and there was another woman—a woman of Paris....

"Is it not enough that he had won her heart, then thrown it torn and bleeding into the dirt? Is it not enough that his every word had been false; that he had betrayed her; that he left her without a name for her child? Is it not enough that he had won God's own gift, the love of a pure woman, and that it was to him of such little value that he trampled it beneath his feet; that he made what was priceless a thing of no value—of mockery and derision? Yet all this he did; and can you believe me,—a man pleading with death to wait till he shall finish,—that this was not the worst? As I hope for mercy from the God I am about to face; as I hope for the intercession of the Virgin Mother, it is not!"

After a daughter was born to the luckless dancer, the brother and sister began a wandering that carried them through many lands. Always before them, like an evil star, gleamed the compelling idea, revenge; and after more than a decade it guided them to Mexico, where De Sanchez and General Westbrook were conducting a banking business. They learned that their uncle there had died more than a year previous to their arrival, and that his property had been entirely dissipated in a series of disastrous investments covering a period of several years before his death. The banking concern of De Sanchez & Westbrook were the administrators of the Castillo estate.

"Then, señores, almost without warning came the blackest time of all.

"Of a sudden, a scourge of smallpox fell upon the city, and in a day those who lived in the poorer quarter were dying like flies in a frost. My beloved sister was among the very first upon whom that horrible blight fastened, and she was sorely stricken.

"There is a period during those days that is lost from my recollection; my senses were dulled as by an opiate, and I can remember only a bit here and there, as one remembers parts of a nightmare. The sickness came so suddenly that I had no time to send the little Paquita away; but by the mercy of the Holy Mother did she escape the terrible evil that had laid its hand so sorely upon her mother.

"But my sister, señores! Steadily she grew worse; steadily she sank lower and lower; and one day—the day she was at her lowest—I gave to the doctor the last gold-piece.

"He would come no more.

"So I sat by my sister. In her madness she talked, now of the times when we were happy together; now of the times when Alberto de Sanchez, el mas perfido, came into her life. More often it was of him.

"Asi, as I sat, I was myself stricken; my head suddenly became heavy, and a pain as from a knife thrust seized upon my loins. I was giddy and weak; but at that moment I rose up and passed out of our house.

"Señores, you will not believe it of me—a dying man; but, I swear by the Virgin of Guadalupe, that what I now tell you is true. I forgot everything—everything but my present distress; and I went to seek aid for my sister of los Señores de Sanchez and Westbrook, where they sat at ease in their banking-house. God, but I was desperate!

"I might have known how it would fall out. Had De Sanchez then shown a little tenderness, señores, a little compassion, a little remorse for the past, I might have forgiven him; but he merely stood silent, eyeing me sideways with an odd look.

"Of a sudden it came to an end. He grasped the Señor Westbrook's arm and drew him to the farthest corner of the room.

"'Back!' cried he, 'al instante—immediately; this fellow is in the delirium of smallpox.'

"How I was thrust forth into the street, how a great night of forgetfulness closed down upon me, how I awoke many days later in the pest-camp, is not to be told by me.

"Now, señores, oiga—listen.

"While I lay in my sleep of forgetfulness, Paquita crept to where the gold and silver dagger was kept, and thrust it into her heart.

"So did it end for her.

"Certain poor women of the neighborhood tended my sister and cared for the little Paquita. These had once survived the smallpox, and they feared it not. Heaven give them many days to enjoy the life that I was afterwards able to make easier for them!

"By the hands of one of these the dagger came to me—all that I possessed in the world except the humble clothes upon my back, poor and much worn.

"I looked into a mirror, and I laughed, señores. I laughed the laugh of a man whose heart is dead. Then I threw my serape over my shoulder and strode from the pest-camp.

"In the old days, señores, I was accounted a handsome man; I was vain and much of a dandy. My complexion was lighter than you see it now; there was a curl to my hair that I was proud of; my features were regular, and there was an erectness to my figure, a nimbleness in all my movements, and a suppleness that had followed naturally on the practice of my calling.

"Now, what I beheld in the mirror was a man altogether different, and I had no fear that any one might recognize me. I drew the dagger from my sash; I pressed my lips to the dark stains upon its silver blade.

"At that moment, señores, Fernando del Castillo died to the world; and Juan Sebastian de Vargas was born—bound irrevocably to a vow of vengeance."

After his return to the city Castillo sought out his niece. Let him speak again:

"'Mi Paquita poco,' said I, taking her sweet face between my hands—so—when she had come to know me for her uncle and the tears of her greeting were dry, 'Paquita mia, henceforth, and in memory of the great sorrow that was thy mother's and mine, thou shalt be Dolores. May God and the Blessed Virgin ever fend you from the like!' And, repeating my vow inwardly as a prayer, I kissed her solemnly and departed, leaving her in the care of the women, who had come to love her as their own."

After pawning the dagger to an American dealer in curios, he departed for the mines. Thence onward his progress was marked by success from a worldly point of view, and he was soon able to establish intimate business relations with the object of his hatred. Two incidents marked his return to the city, both of which were destined to exercise a powerful influence over the future. One was the fact that the dealer with whom he had left the dagger as a pledge had departed, no one knew whither, and the dagger was not to be found; the other was the astonishing intelligence, acquired by an infinity of toil and patient waiting, that De Sanchez and General Westbrook were responsible for his uncle's bankruptcy. The General was straightway included in his hatred and scheme of vengeance.

But a controlling strain of fatalism and superstition in the man stayed his hand; he was convinced that his sister's dagger would come to him again; that its return would be the signal to strike; and he bided the time, watching De Sanchez as a cat might watch the mouse marked for its prey. With instinctive caution, though, Castillo had avoided General Westbrook, so the latter never became familiar with his presence and appearance. He continued:

"I gradually won the confidence of Alberto de Sanchez; soon we had immense interests in common—here—there—everywhere; and these, I always took care, should be profitable for him, even though I might lose thereby myself.

"But never, for some reason, could I gain his unreserved friendship, though I strove to that end daily. There was something intangible, unnamable, unseen by either of us, that ever stood between him and me, and this I could not overcome. Nothing could have surprised my mask of a face or my near-sighted eyes into betraying, by so much as would cover a needle's point, the seething fire of hate for this man that burned within; but as I watched him, unceasingly, I caught now and then a puzzled look in his eyes as they regarded Juan de Vargas—an expression in which there was something of fear; and I knew that he was reminded, in a dim way, of the evil he had done. There was something in my presence that made him ponder without understanding, and would not allow him to forget.

"In many ways Alberto de Sanchez, without knowing it, allowed to escape him that upon which his mind was turning when his brooding glance rested upon me. Once, at the organization of a mining company in which I then had some small interest, the question of a name arose. The Señor de Sanchez was regarding me with the wondering look that had become so familiar.

"'Paquita,' he said, half aloud, as one musing, 'The Paquita Gold Mining and Milling Company.' And I, señores—I perforce led the laugh that followed, the while my fingers twitched for his throat.

"What emotions stirred uneasily in that dark bosom, señores? Quien sabe?"

During this time General Westbrook was usually in the United States. On one occasion Joyce accompanied him to Mexico, and De Sanchez fell madly in love with her.

"As you know," said Castillo, "the Señor Westbrook's one virtue was his regard for and pride in his family; for their sake had he resorted to infamy. He knew the Señor de Sanchez to be a rascal; he might do very well as a business associate; but deliver his cherished daughter into that rascal's possession? No. On the other hand, De Sanchez had that which could defeat the very object of the other's villany—knowledge of it. He had but to come forward with the proofs, and the proud General would be humbled to the dust; his name would become an execration on the lips of his friends; his fortune would be taken from him—all that for which he had stolen would be lost. However great as a soldier the Señor Westbrook might have been, he was a coward here; and De Sanchez was too cunning and shrewd a scoundrel to overlook this weak spot in striving for his ends. Fate had started this game of conflicting interests, and I had but to watch and encourage it. Of course, you would say, the Señor de Sanchez would have likewise ruined himself by such an exposure; but to such a madness was he driven, when the señorita was not immediately given to him, that I feared for a time he would destroy all.

"At last it fell out as you might expect; they quarrelled and severed their partnership. De Sanchez, still holding the threat over the other, accepted a compromise because he was made to see he had to. The Señor Westbrook pointed out that his daughter was too young; that while such a marriage might be popular enough in Mexico, it would precipitate nothing short of social disaster in the States. Such matters were regarded and arranged quite differently here: the señorita's wishes had to be considered; were the matter laid before her, she would develop a will of her own; and so, and so, until that son of a devil agreed to wait four years. At the end of that time he was to present himself to claim his bride, and she was to be prepared for the great event during the time of waiting. I believe the Señor Westbrook's life was embittered; I believe he said nothing of all this to his charming daughter; it is my idea that he attempted to put off the evil until the day thereof, hoping that time would deliver him from his trouble; and so he returned with the señorita to his own country, there to face as best he could the day when it should confront him.

"When the time had nearly passed, I cunningly laid my plans so that I could follow naturally the Señor de Sanchez when he went to your country. Dolores I brought with me privately, as you know, and lodged her and the woman who has tended her since her mother's death, here where I knew she would be well cared for. For her I had a particular task. Because of the blood that was in her veins—because she was the pledge of that wretched union—I intended that she should share in the revenge, though, for the sake of her future, innocently.

"I went with Alberto de Sanchez to the office of the Señor Doctor on a certain night, pondering, as I walked along, the progress of my companion's love affair, and knowing from his silence and his scowling brow—for we were alone together—that it was not to his liking.

"We went slowly down the hall leading to the Señor Doctor's apartment, and my heart leaped; something whispered in my brain, 'This is the place!' I must observe the doors, the windows, all the possibilities. This I did. We entered the apartment of the Señor Doctor.

"But where was the dagger?

"I should not have been astonished had it come floating down from the ceiling into my hand. My brain was like a theatre in which was being enacted all that happened seventeen years before, and still I was calm. In the other room, where the Doctor and the Señor de Sanchez were, I heard that which confirmed my suspicions concerning his love affair. Surely Alberto de Sanchez would never have the opportunity of wronging his sister as he had wronged mine. Then, señores, those two—deep in their own concerns—did not hear the cry that burst from my throat.

"There, before me on a table, half covered by a paper, lay something bright and shining; my eyes caught a glint of silver and gold.

"I tore the paper away and beheld—my sister's dagger!

"At last! At last! The blood sang in my veins for very joy. At last, Alberto de Sanchez—now that your time has come, laugh as you laughed in my sister's face! Spurn the blade from your throat as you spurned her helpless pleading! Flee from me, the avenger of many horrid wrongs, as you fled from the stricken girl! Ah, you cannot do it. Alberto de Sanchez, a hundred-fold accursed—son of hell—liar—betrayer of women—look! Your time has come—at last!

"Together, my Paquita and I had a trick with the knives that—even if it be I that say it—was wonderful to behold. It was our grand climax, and oh, the sensation it would create!—the astonishment of our audiences! You have seen it, but it was new in those days. Pouf! 't was easy.

"Well, señores, the next evening after I had awaited Alberto de Sanchez's coming a sufficient time at the 'otel, I took up my stand at the entrance of the Field Building. I rolled a cigarette and lighted it, and as I tossed the match away, I saw him coming confidently as of old. God, how I hated him then!

"I walked leisurely up the Field Building stairway, knowing that I need not hurry, and down the hall to the window overlooking the—what you call the little space?—light-well? Gracias, señor. Not too close, for there might be some one to observe me at the other windows. Looking across the light-well, I could see the whole length of the other hall—that along which he was to approach me. Ah, how beautifully it was all arranged, for I was in darkness, while he would be in the light.

"So I stood there smoking my cigarette, one arm folded across my breast—so—the hand thereof resting on the dagger in my pocket—for I had taken it from the Señor Doctor's desk; and presently I saw a woman flit swiftly across the hall from the Señor Doctor's office and vanish. I had no time to wonder at this, for at the same instant I beheld Alberto de Sanchez appear at the head of the stairs and turn toward the Señor Doctor's office—toward me!

"Was there then a thought of Paquita—of Fernando del Castillo in his mind?

"Listen, and you shall judge.

"As he approached nearer and nearer, the light before the Señor Doctor's office shone with a growing brightness upon his handsome face; and presently I noted there the look of doubt, as though the soul were asking a question of his memory which it could not answer; the look with which he had ever regarded Juan Vargas.

"'When he stands beneath the light,' I whispered—'then!'

"Ah, and then!

"When he arrived beneath the light, I threw my cigarette out of the window, seized the dagger by its silver blade—as in the old days—and raised it above my head. Whether it was one or the other of these movements that caught his eye, I do not know. He was facing me then, and suddenly he looked at me. Ah, señores, it did my heart good to behold his expression change, even as I had often pictured it. His memory, at last, had given the soul its answer, and terror shone from his eyes—he recognized Fernando del Castillo in the avenging figure that confronted him.

"'Taking a step backward, so that my hand might not strike the sash of the window, I prayed, 'Soul of Paquita, strengthen my arm to avenge thee!'

"Then I threw the dagger....

"The hand of Alberto de Sanchez was raised as though to ward off the death now upon him; but the silver blade sped across the light-well like a lightning from the clouds; and even as I aimed it, so did it strike. I saw it sticking there; I saw the horror and the brilliance die suddenly from his eyes, like the turning down of a lamp; I saw his knees give way; he began to fall—and I knew that Alberto de Sanchez was a dead man.

"Truly had the serpent's tooth stung the lying betrayer; the false heart had been stilled forever by the symbol of its faithless love."



As for General Westbrook, Castillo protested that he had meant in the end to spare his life, but that the former had himself precipitated the tragedy. On the night the two met in the lobby of the La Salle House, Castillo overheard Slade cursing the General beneath his breath, and at once the idea dawned in his mind to use the abstracter as a tool. Irrefutable evidence of the one-time banking firm's illegal disposition of Don Juan's estate had been prepared by Castillo, and this evidence was placed in Slade's possession, leading directly to an outcome which neither could have expected.

In the meantime Castillo had put in operation his scheme against the General, by having Dolores write and direct to him letters of such a nature that the recipient would be apprised of the fact that his wrongdoing was known to others, while he remained ignorant of their identity. It was a move calculated to fill him with an extremity of fear and apprehension. In fact, his alarm was so intense that it drove him to seek out Vargas—as he supposed Castillo to be—in the hope of hearing something of "Paquita and Fernando." At this interview Castillo disclosed his identity, and General Westbrook, in a panic of terror, staggered from the hotel. Later he addressed a frantic appeal to the other to come to his study at midnight—the night that proved to be the last for him.

"The Señor General was writing at his table," said Castillo of this occasion, "waiting and watching for me. I crossed the gallery without noise, and beheld him before he could see me, I being in the dark. He had twisted his chair around so that it faced the window, which was like a door.

"How nervous the gallant Señor General was! When I advanced, unannounced, into the square of light before the window, he was so startled that he sprang from his chair, colliding with it as he moved backward, tripping over its legs so that he would have fallen had it not been waiting to receive him again.

"'This is not the ghost of Fernando del Castillo, señor,' I said; 'perhaps it would be pleasanter for you if it were—si?' But he composed himself quickly. He was still white and worn; still nervous and distracted; still a very old, broken man; but he did not forget that he was beneath his own roof, and that a visitor was trusting to his hospitality.... 'Enter, Don Fernando,' said he, in his grandest manner, 'I cannot express in words my appreciation of your courtesy in responding to my request. Enter.' And I advanced into the room.... 'You may show it,' said I, 'by telling me quickly why I am so honored.' With a breaking voice he said: 'Señor, señor, this night I pray God to soften your heart. 'T is not for myself—no, no! God knows it is not; but my wife—my daughter—my son—think of them; think of the humiliation and disgrace more bitter than death. Do not spare me, but pity them.' ... 'Were you so immersed in thought of them,' I asked, 'were you so solicitous of their welfare, that you failed to hear me pleading for my dying sister?' ... 'You do not understand,' he moaned; 'you do not understand. It is of that that I desire to speak. Hear me.' ... 'I shall be happy to hear you,' said I. I was seated close by the open window, and I made myself comfortable to hear his tale.

"I must pass hastily over it, señores. It was much as I expected it would be; and—will you believe me?—as I hearkened my heart began to soften to him; for, after all, señores, he was as far from being so great a knave and villain as Alberto de Sanchez, as Heaven is from Purgatory. He was so willing to take all upon his own head—to harvest the fruit of his own evil sowing; his sole anxiety was for his family, and especially the beautiful señorita, his daughter—that I felt something of pity for that broken, wicked old man.

"'See,' said he, holding up certain writings upon which he had been engaged when I entered, 'even now I am preparing a statement of my share of the administration of Don Juan's estate; every penny that I touched then—and God knows I would have been spared this moment had I known you were alive when the temptation assailed me—has been accounted for; every penny that I touched has been returned, though to do so has left me a poverty-stricken man. Sore necessity and a conviction that no one but the State would profit by Don Juan's death were the means of my undoing. Even as you thought of your sister, so was I overwhelmed by the thought of my own loved ones—and I fell. But to-morrow, or the next day, or the next—'t is only a matter of days—my family must learn that I am penniless, and Heaven only knows what we—what they will do.'

"So spoke the Señor General, pleading with me, Fernando del Castillo; and when he finished by offering me his life in exchange for an assurance that the past would be buried therewith, I resolved to spare him in the end. Yet it was my intention that an abiding sense of his disgrace and degradation should, before I left him, sink deep into his soul.

"With this in my mind, I said: 'This is very entertaining, Señor Westbrook, but you have not yet shown me that you were not a thief and a rogue,'—as you may believe, señores, he winced at this,—'you have not told me how the past can be wiped out, nor how my beloved dead may be restored to me. These are more to me than any considerations of your own. I have not nursed this fire of wrath and revenge in my heart all these years for it now to be quenched in a mere flood of words. No, no, señor; I believe I should enjoy seeing you brought so low, even as was the Fernando del Castillo whom you knew in Mexico.' He groaned and sank forward, his outstretched right arm, which lay along the edge of the table, sustaining the weight of his drooping body.... 'My God!' burst from the gray lips of the brave General; 'what are you? You are not a man!' ... 'Perhaps not,' I replied, smiling.... 'Señor, let me summon my daughter,' he went on; 'let her fresh innocence plead for itself.' ... 'Señor,' I made answer, 'come with me to the grave of my dead sister; let me show you why I should remain unmoved before your daughter's prayers and tears.'

"It seemed as though his clothes had suddenly become too large for his body. He sat huddled forward, his chin resting on his breast; he stared at me from beneath his white brows with the eyes of a dead man; the fire that had once kindled them was no more—he seemed utterly crushed.

"But even as I watched him, señores, something of that fire began to return; a little flash of cunning, a spark of craft, leaped from them; I read a subtle meaning in their depths; and then the arm that had been lying so supinely on the table began to draw slowly back toward the drawer by his side. So slowly did that arm glide, señores, that, had I not been watching for that very thing, it might have passed unobserved, and I should not now be relating how it fell out. But I did remark that stealthy action, señores, and again I smiled.

"'It is of no use, señor,' I said. 'Believe me, I suspected what is now in your mind. Pause before it is too late; do not add murder to your other villanies.' ... 'Suppose I did?' he muttered, still eyeing me with that crafty look; 'suppose, now, that I did?—it would save my daughter.' ... 'You err,' I retorted, pleasantly; 'I have taken great pains to guard against this very contingency.' I recounted for his benefit my plan to utilize the Señor Slade—of the disposition I had made of the carefully prepared testimony.

"Madre de Dios! the change that swept over the man at the mention of the Señor Slade!

"'You miserable hound!' he shouted, leaping to his feet; and quick as a flash his hand was in the drawer beside him, and a pistol was levelled at my breast. 'You miserable hound!' he shouted again; 'how dared you make this thing known to that scum! Take that!' And the room was filled with a crash of sound.

"But, señores, we had risen together. Even before his finger had pressed the trigger, the silent death shot from my hand to his heart; yet, will you believe it, señores? while he was sinking to the floor—while my right arm was still outstretched—he fired again. That time it was a very narrow escape for me: the bullet went up my sleeve, searing my arm like a hot iron. See! that is the scar. Save for the ruined coat, it did no further damage.

"Well, here at last—in the end without any will of my own so far as the Señor General was concerned—my dead sister was avenged; Paquita could now rest in peace in the grave to which these two men between them had brought her."

Castillo paused for a moment, but he went on again at once:

"There was nothing else for me to do but devote so much of this life as remained to me to the little Paquita." Of a sudden he clutched the sheet so madly that it tore. "God!" he cried shrilly, "what will become of her now?—my little Paquita—Dolores—apple of my eye—innocent issue of a monstrous evil. What will be thy fate? O God, hear the prayer of a dying man—"

"Stop him!"

Charlotte had risen, and now stood clasping Converse's arm.

"Don't allow that wretched creature to go on in this way," she commanded, imperatively; "it is unbearable. I—I—can't look at him—I can't address him; but reassure him about that poor, innocent child."

"Heaven bless you, señorita," Castillo cried fervently. But Charlotte shuddered, and with closed eyes recoiled from the bed.

"Tell him—make him believe it, Mr. Converse," she concluded weakly—"that I charge myself with that girl's well-being, if he will only not refer directly to her again."

"Swear it," Castillo demanded, in a voice that was no more than a hoarse whisper, so tense was it with eagerness. "Bethink you, señorita, that she is of no common blood—that she is the possessor of a wealth far beyond anything the Señor Westbrook ever dreamed of. Relieve a dying man's last hour. Swear!"

For a moment she faltered. She stood irresolute, one hand grasping her throat; then she advanced firmly to the bedside, and bestowed upon Castillo the benediction of her serene eyes.

"I swear," she whispered, and left him immediately.

The dying man knew that the girl's future was assured.

"I have nearly finished," he said at length. "What else?"

"What became of that document?" from Converse.

"Ah, yes. When I beheld that the Señor Westbrook was a dead man, I hurried to his desk and gathered the loose sheets from under the overturned telephone. One, the last, had not been detached from the pad. It bore his signature—the name of the Señor Peyton Westbrook—and I tore it loose and thrust it into my pocket along with the rest. Here was a confession of that gallant señor's infamy over his own signature; and what did I with it? You will believe, señores—señorita"—for the first time he recognized Charlotte's presence as an auditor—"that I meant to take pity upon his daughter, when I tell you that I destroyed it. But it was so.

"Next I turned off the light, so that my departure might not be witnessed. And I was none too soon, señores; there were a man and a woman in the driveway, striving to locate the shots; so I dodged into the shrubbery, and made my way from the grounds as noiselessly as I had entered, screened by the black shade of the trees."

* * * * * * *


Dear Mr. Converse:

Among all the honors being showered upon you, signalizing your retirement from the Police Department, I feel that Mobley and I should have some recognition. I remember how you loved my flowers; I remember your oft-repeated determination some time to retire with your friend Mr. Follett and Joe to a cottage like the dear little cottage which was so long a home to mamma, Clay, and myself; and above all things, I remember that to-day we owe our happiness to you. Somehow it seems that you have gone out of our lives, and I don't like it to be that way. Clay and Joyce are happy in the old homestead (your fault again, sir!), and only you—poor man!—now that Headquarters shall know you no more, are homeless.

Now, dear Mr. Converse, the cottage has stood vacant for more than a year. It is too much for me to keep up the garden there and look after my own household too, and I can't bear to see the garden die away in neglect. So to-day we hand you a deed to the place, which must not at all be considered a reward like the twenty thousand dollars you received, but merely as a token of our undying gratitude and esteem.

    Truly your friend,
                Charlotte May Westbrook.

P. S.—Mobley and I reserve the right to come and gather a bouquet whenever we want to!