Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 2 out of 3
In a way, I daresay I charged the upper floor of the house.
Recalling the situation from this safe lapse of time, I think
that I was in a condition close to frenzy. I know that it did not
occur to me to leap down the staircase and escape, and I believe
now this was due to a conviction that I was dealing with the
supernatural, and that on no account did I dare to turn my back
on it. All children and some adults, I am sure, have known this
Whatever drove me, I know that, candle in hand, and hardly sane,
I ran up the staircase, and into the room overhead. It was empty.
As suddenly as my sanity had gone, it returned to me. The sight
of two small beds, side by side, a tiny dressing-table, a row of
toys on the mantelpiece, was calming. Here was the children's
night nursery, a white and placid room which could house nothing
I was humiliated and ashamed. I, Horace Johnson, a man of dignity
and reputation, even in a small way, a successful after-dinner
speaker, numbering fifty-odd years of logical living to my credit,
had been running half-maddened toward a mythical danger from which
I had been afraid to run away!
I sat down and mopped my face with my pocket handkerchief.
After a time I got up, and going to a window looked down at the
quiet world below. The fog was lifting. Automobiles were making
cautious progress along the slippery street. A woman with a
basket had stopped under the street light and was rearranging her
parcels. The clock of the city hall, visible over the opposite
roofs, marked only twenty minutes to nine. It was still early
evening - not even midnight, the magic hour of the night.
Somehow that fact reassured me, and I was able to take stock of
my surroundings. I realized, for instance, that I stood in the
room over Arthur's dressing room, and that it was into the
ceiling under me that the second - or probably the first - bullet
had penetrated. I know, as it happens, very little of firearms,
but I did realize that a shot from a .45 Colt automatic would have
considerable penetrative power. To be exact, that the bullet had
probably either lodged itself in a joist, or had penetrated
through the flooring and might be somewhere over my head.
But my candle was inadequate for more than the most superficial
examination of the ceiling, which presented so far as I could
see an unbroken surface. I turned my attention, therefore, to the
floor. It was when I was turning the rug back that I recognized
the natural and not supernatural origin of the sound which had so
startled me. It had been the soft movement of the carpet across
the floor boards.
Some one, then, had been there before me - some one who knew what
I knew, had reasoned as I reasoned. Some one who, in all
probability, still lurked on the upper floor.
Obeying an impulse, I stood erect and called out sharply, "Sperry!"
I said. "Sperry!"
There was no answer. I tried again, calling Herbert. But only
my own voice came back to me, and the whistling of the wind through
the window I had opened.
My fears, never long in abeyance that night, roused again. I had
instantly a conviction that some human figure, sinister and
dangerous, was lurking in the shadows of that empty floor, and
I remember backing away from the door and standing in the center
of the room, prepared for some stealthy, murderous assault. When
none came I looked about for a weapon, and finally took the only
thing in sight, a coal-tongs from the fireplace. Armed with that,
I made a cursory round of the near-by rooms but there was no one
hiding in them.
I went back to the rug and examined the floor beneath it. I was
right. Some one had been there before me. Bits of splintered wood
lay about. The second bullet had been fired, had buried itself in
the flooring, and had, some five minutes before, been dug out.
The extraordinary thing about the Arthur Wells story was not his
killing. For killing it was. It was the way it was solved.
Here was a young woman, Miss Jeremy, who had not known young Wells,
had not known his wife, had, until that first meeting at Mrs. Dane's,
never met any member of the Neighborhood Club. Yet, but for her,
Arthur Wells would have gone to his grave bearing the stigma of
moral cowardice, of suicide.
The solution, when it came, was amazing, but remarkably simple.
Like most mysteries. I have in my own house, for instance, an
example of a great mystery, founded on mere absentmindedness.
This is what my wife terms the mystery of the fire-tongs.
I had left the Wells house as soon as I had made the discovery in
the night nursery. I carried the candle and the fire-tongs
downstairs. I was, apparently, calm but watchful. I would have
said that I had never been more calm in my life. I knew quite well
that I had the fire-tongs in my hand. Just when I ceased to be
cognizant of them was probably when, on entering the library, I
found that my overcoat had disappeared, and that my stiff hat,
badly broken, lay on the floor. However, as I say, I was still
extraordinarily composed. I picked up my hat, and moving to the
rear door, went out and closed it. When I reached the street,
however, I had only gone a few yards when I discovered that I
was still carrying the lighted candle, and that a man, passing by,
had stopped and was staring after me.
My composure is shown by the fact that I dropped the candle down
the next sewer opening, but the fact remains that I carried the
fire-tongs home. I do not recall doing so. In fact, I knew
nothing of the matter until morning. On the way to my house I was
elaborating a story to the effect that my overcoat had been stolen
from a restaurant where I and my client had dined. The hat offered
more serious difficulties. I fancied that, by kissing my wife
good-by at the breakfast table, I might be able to get out without
her following me to the front door, which is her custom.
But, as a matter of fact, I need not have concerned myself about
the hat. When I descended to breakfast the next morning I found
her surveying the umbrella-stand in the hall. The fire-tongs were
standing there, gleaming, among my sticks and umbrellas.
I lied. I lied shamelessly. She is a nervous woman, and, as we
have no children, her attitude toward me is one of watchful waiting.
Through long years she has expected me to commit some indiscretion
- innocent, of course, such as going out without my overcoat on a
cool day - and she intends to be on hand for every emergency. I
dared not confess, therefore, that on the previous evening I had
burglariously entered a closed house, had there surprised another
intruder at work, had fallen and bumped my head severely, and had,
finally, had my overcoat taken.
"Horace," she said coldly, "where did you get those fire-tongs?"
"Fire-tongs?" I repeated. "Why, that's so. They are fire-tongs."
"Where did you get them?"
"My dear," I expostulated, "I get them?"
"What I would like to ask," she said, with an icy calmness that I
have learned to dread, "is whether you carried them home over your
head, under the impression that you had your umbrella."
"Certainly not," I said with dignity. "I assure you, my dear - "
"I am not a curious woman," she put in incisively, "but when my
husband spends an evening out, and returns minus his overcoat, with
his hat mashed, a lump the size of an egg over his ear, and puts a
pair of fire-tongs in the umbrella stand under the impression that
it is an umbrella, I have a right to ask at least if he intends to
continue his life of debauchery."
I made a mistake then. I should have told her. Instead, I took my
broken hat and jammed it on my head with a force that made the lump
she had noticed jump like a toothache, and went out.
When, at noon and luncheon, I tried to tell her the truth, she
listened to the end: Then: "I should think you could have done better
than that," she said. "You have had all morning to think it out."
However, if things were in a state of armed neutrality at home, I
had a certain compensation for them when I told my story to Sperry
"You see how it is," I finished. "You can stay out of this, or come
in, Sperry, but I cannot stop now. He was murdered beyond a doubt,
and there is an intelligent effort being made to eliminate every
particle of evidence."
"It looks like it. And this man who was there last night - "
"Why a man?"
"He took your overcoat, instead of his own, didn't he? It may have
been - it's curious, isn't it, that we've had no suggestion of
Ellingham in all the rest of the material."
Like the other members of the Neighborhood Club, he had a copy of
the proceedings at the two seances, and now he brought them out
and fell to studying them.
"She was right about the bullet in the ceiling," he reflected. "I
suppose you didn't look for the box of shells for the revolver?"
"I meant to, but it slipped my mind."
He shuffled the loose pages of the record. "Cane - washed away by
the water - a knee that is hurt - the curtain would have been safer
- Hawkins - the drawing-room furniture is all over the house. That
last., Horace, isn't pertinent. It refers clearly to the room we
were in. Of course, the point is, how much of the rest is also
extraneous matter?" He re-read one of the sheets. "Of course that
belongs, about Hawkins. And probably this: 'It will be terrible if
the letters are found.' They were in the pocketbook, presumably."
He folded up the papers and replaced them in a drawer.
"We'd better go back to the house," he said. "Whoever took your
overcoat by mistake probably left one. The difficulty is, of course,
that he probably discovered his error and went back again last night.
Confound it, man, if you had thought of that at the time, we would
have something to go on today."
"If I had thought of a number of things I'd have stayed out of the
place altogether," I retorted tartly. "I wish you could help me
about the fire-tongs, Sperry. I don't seem able to think of any
explanation that Mrs. Johnson would be willing to accept."
"Tell her the truth."
"I don't think you understand," I explained. "She simply wouldn't
believe it. And if she did I should have to agree to drop the
investigation. As a matter of fact, Sperry, I had resorted to
subterfuge in order to remain out last evening, and I am bitterly
regretting my mendacity."
But Sperry has, I am afraid, rather loose ideas.
"Every man," he said, "would rather tell the truth, but every woman
makes it necessary to lie to her. Forget the fire-tongs, Horace,
and forget Mrs. Johnson to-night. He may not have dared to go back
in day-light for his overcoat."
"Very well," I agreed.
But it was not very well, and I knew it. I felt that, in a way, my
whole domestic happiness was at stake. My wife is a difficult
person to argue with, and as tenacious of an opinion once formed
as are all very amiable people. However, unfortunately for our
investigation, but luckily for me, under the circumstances, Sperry
was called to another city that afternoon and did not return for
It was, it will be recalled, on the Thursday night following the
second sitting that I had gone alone to the Wells house, and my
interview with Sperry was on Friday. It was on Friday afternoon
that I received a telephone message from Mrs. Dane.
It was actually from her secretary, the Clara who had recorded the
seances. It was Mrs. Dane's misfortune to be almost entirely
dependent on the various young women who, one after the other, were
employed to look after her. I say "one after the other" advisedly.
It had long been a matter of good-natured jesting in the Neighborhood
Club that Mrs. Dane conducted a matrimonial bureau, as one young
woman after another was married from her house. It was her kindly
habit, on such occasions, to give the bride a wedding, and only a
month before it had been my privilege to give away in holy wedlock
Miss Clara's predecessor.
"Mrs. Dane would like you to stop in and have a cup of tea with her
this afternoon, Mr. Johnson," said the secretary.
"At what time?"
"At four o'clock."
I hesitated. I felt that my wife was waiting at home for further
explanation of the coal-tongs, and that the sooner we had it out
the better. But, on the other hand, Mrs. Dane's invitations, by
reason of her infirmity, took on something of the nature of commands.
"Please say that I will be there at four," I replied.
I bought a new hat that afternoon, and told the clerk to destroy
the old one. Then I went to Mrs. Dane's.
She was in the drawing-room, now restored to its usual clutter of
furniture and ornaments. I made my way around two tables, stepped
over a hassock and under the leaves of an artificial palm, and
shook her hand.
She was plainly excited. Never have I known a woman who, confined
to a wheel-chair, lived so hard. She did not allow life to pass
her windows, if I may put it that way. She called it in, and set
it moving about her chair, herself the nucleus around which were
enacted all sorts of small neighborhood dramas and romances. Her
secretaries did not marry. She married them.
It is curious to look back and remember how Herbert and Sperry and
myself had ignored this quality in her, in the Wells case. She was
not to be ignored, as I discovered that afternoon.
"Sit down," she said. "You look half sick, Horace."
Nothing escapes her eyes, so I was careful to place myself with the
lump on my head turned away from her. But I fancy she saw it, for
her eyes twinkled.
"Horace! Horace!" she said. "How I have detested you all week!"
"I? You detested me
"Loathed you," she said with unction. "You are cruel and ungrateful.
Herbert has influenza, and does not count. And Sperry is in love
- oh yes, I know it. I know a great many things. But you!"
I could only stare at her.
"The strange thing is," she went on, "that I have known you for
years, and never suspected your sense of humor. You'll forgive me,
I know, if I tell you that your lack of humor was to my mind the
only flaw in an otherwise perfect character."
"I am not aware - " I began stiffly. "I have always believed that
I furnished to the Neighborhood Club its only leaven of humor."
"Don't spoil it," she begged. "Don't. If you could know how I
have enjoyed it. All afternoon I have been chuckling. The
fire-tongs, Horace. The fire-tongs!"
Then I knew that my wife had been to Mrs. Dane and I drew a long
breath. "I assure you," I said gravely, "that while doubtless I
carried the wretched things home and - er - placed them where they
were found, I have not the slightest recollection of it. And it
is hardly amusing, is it?"
"Amusing!" she cried. "It's delicious. It has made me a young
woman again. Horace, if I could have seen your wife's face when
she found them, I would give cheerfully almost anything I possess."
But underneath her mirth I knew there was something else. And,
after all, she could convince my wife if she were convinced herself.
I told the whole story - of the visit Sperry and I had made the
night Arthur Wells was shot, and of what we discovered; of the
clerk at the pharmacy and his statement, and even of the whiskey
and its unfortunate effect - at which, I regret to say, she was
vastly amused; and, last of all, of my experience the previous
night in the deserted
She was very serious when I finished. Tea came, but we forgot
to drink it. Her eyes flashed with excitement, her faded face
flushed. And, with it all, as I look back, there was an air of
suppressed excitement that seemed to have nothing to do with my
narrative. I remembered it, however, when the denouement came
the following week.
She was a remarkable woman. Even then she knew, or strongly
suspected, the thing that the rest of us had missed, the x of the
equation. But I think it only fair to record that she was in
possession of facts which we did not have, and which she did not
divulge until the end.
"You have been so ungenerous with me," she said finally, "that I
am tempted not to tell you why I sent for you. Of course, I know I
am only a helpless old woman, and you men are people of affairs.
But now and then I have a flash of intelligence. I'm going to tell
you, but you don't deserve it."
She went down into the black silk bag at her side which was as much
a part of her attire as the false front she wore with such careless
abandon, and which, brown in color and indifferently waved, was
invariably parting from its mooring. She drew out a newspaper
"On going over Clara's notes," she said, "I came to the conclusion,
last Tuesday, that the matter of the missing handbag and the letters
was important. More important, probably, than the mere record shows.
Do you recall the note of distress in Miss Jeremy's voice? It was
almost a wail."
I had noticed it.
"I have plenty of time to think," she added, not without pathos.
"There is only one Monday night in the week, and - the days are
long. It occurred to me to try to trace that bag."
"In what way?"
"How does any one trace lost articles?" she demanded. "By
advertising, of course. Last Wednesday I advertised for the bag."
I was too astonished to speak.
"I reasoned like this: If there was no such bag, there was no harm
done. As a matter of fact, if there was no such bag, the chances
were that we were all wrong, anyhow. If there was such a bag, I
wanted it. Here is the advertisement as I inserted it."
She gave me a small newspaper cutting
"Lost, a handbag containing private letters, car-tickets, etc.
Liberal reward paid for its return. Please write to A 31, the
I sat with it on my palm. It was so simple, so direct. And I,
a lawyer, and presumably reasonably acute, had not thought of it!
"You are wasted on us, Mrs. Dane," I acknowledged. "Well? I
see something has come of it."
"Yes, but I'm not ready for it."
She dived again into the bag, and brought up another clipping.
"On the day that I had that inserted," she said impressively, "this
also appeared. They were in the same column." She read the second
clipping aloud, slowly, that I might gain all its significance:
"Lost on the night of Monday, November the second, between State
Avenue and Park Avenue, possibly on an Eastern Line street car,
a black handbag containing keys, car-tickets, private letters,
and a small sum of money. Reward and no questions asked if
returned to Daily News office."
She passed the clipping to me and I compared the two. It looked
strange, and I confess to a tingling feeling that coincidence,
that element so much to be feared in any investigation, was not
the solution here. But there was such a chance, and I spoke of it.
"Coincidence rubbish!" she retorted. "I am not through, my friend."
She went down into the bag again, and I expected nothing less than
the pocketbook, letters and all, to appear. But she dragged up,
among a miscellany of handkerchiefs, a bottle of smelling-salts,
and a few almonds, of which she was inordinately fond, an envelope.
"Yesterday," she said, "I took a taxicab ride. You know my chair
gets tiresome, occasionally. I stopped at the newspaper office,
and found the bag had not been turned in, but that there was a
letter for A 31." She held out the envelope to me.
"Read it," she observed. "It is a curious human document. You'll
probably be no wiser for reading it, but it shows one thing: We are
on the track of something."
I have the letter before me now. It is written on glazed paper,
ruled with blue lines. The writing is of the flowing style we
used to call Spencerian, and if it lacks character I am inclined
to believe that its weakness is merely the result of infrequent
use of a pen.
You know who this is from. I have the bag and the letters. In
a safe place. If you would treat me like a human being, you could
have them. I know where the walking-stick is, also. I will tell
you this. I have no wish to do her any harm. She will have to
pay up in the next world, even if she gets off in this. The way
I reason is this: As long as I have the things, I've got the
whiphand. I've got you, too, although you may think I haven't.
About the other matter I was innocent. I swear it again. I
never did it. You are the only one in all the world. I would
rather be dead than go on like this.
It is unsigned.
I stared from the letter to Mrs. Dane. She was watching me, her
face grave and rather sad.
"You and I, Horace," she said, "live our orderly lives. We eat,
and sleep, and talk, and even labor. We think we are living. But
for the last day or two I have been seeing visions - you and I and
the rest of us, living on the surface, and underneath, carefully
kept down so it will not make us uncomfortable, a world of passion
and crime and violence and suffering. That letter is a tragedy."
But if she had any suspicion then as to the writer, and I think she
had not, she said nothing, and soon after I started for home. I
knew that one of two things would have happened there: either my
wife would have put away the fire-tongs, which would indicate a
truce, or they would remain as they had been, which would indicate
that she still waited for the explanation I could not give. It
was with a certain tension, therefore, that I opened my front door.
The fire-tongs still stood in the stand.
In one way, however, Mrs. Johnson's refusal to speak to me that
evening had a certain value, for it enabled me to leave the
house without explanation, and thus to discover that, if an
overcoat had been left in place of my own, it had been taken away.
It also gave me an opportunity to return the fire-tongs, a
proceeding which I had considered would assist in a return of the
entente cordiale at home, but which most unjustly appeared to have
exactly the opposite effect. It has been my experience that the
most innocent action may, under certain circumstances, assume an
appearance of extreme guilt.
By Saturday the condition of affairs between my wife and myself
remained in statu quo, and I had decided on a bold step. This
was to call a special meeting of the Neighborhood Club, without
Miss Jeremy, and put before them the situation as it stood at
that time, with a view to formulating a future course of action,
and also of publicly vindicating myself before my wife.
In deference to Herbert Robinson's recent attack of influenza,
we met at the Robinson house. Sperry himself wheeled Mrs. Dane
over, and made a speech.
"We have called this meeting," he said, "because a rather singular
situation has developed. What was commenced purely as an
interesting experiment has gone beyond that stage. We find
ourselves in the curious position of taking what comes very close
to being a part in a domestic tragedy. The affair is made more
delicate by the fact that this tragedy involves people who, if not
our friends, at least are very well known to us. The purpose of
this meeting, to be brief, is to determine whether the Neighborhood
Club, as a body, wishes to go on with the investigation, or to stop
where we are."
He paused, but, as no one spoke, he went on again. "It is really
not as simple as that," he said. "To stop now, in view of the
evidence we intend to place before the Club, is to leave in all
our minds certain suspicions that may be entirely unjust. On the
other hand, to go on is very possible to place us all in a position
where to keep silent is to be an accessory after a crime."
He then proceeded, in orderly fashion, to review the first sitting
and its results. He read from notes, elaborating them as he went
along, for the benefit of the women, who had not been fully informed.
As all the data of the Club is now in my possession, I copy these
"I shall review briefly the first sitting, and what followed it."
He read the notes of the sitting first. "You will notice that I
have made no comment on the physical phenomena which occurred early
in the seance. This is for two reasons: first, it has no bearing
on the question at issue. Second, it has no quality of novelty.
Certain people, under certain conditions, are able to exert powers
that we can not explain. I have no belief whatever in their
spiritistic quality. They are purely physical, the exercise of
powers we have either not yet risen high enough in our scale of
development to recognize generally, or which have survived from
some early period when our natural gifts had not been smothered
And, to make our position clear, that is today the attitude of the
Neighborhood Club. The supernormal, as I said at the beginning,
not the supernatural, is our explanation.
Sperry's notes were alphabetical.
(a) At 9:15, or somewhat earlier, on Monday night a week ago Arthur
Wells killed himself, or was killed. At 9:30 on that same evening
by Mr. Johnson's watch, consulted at the time, Miss Jeremy had
described such a crime. (Here he elaborated, repeating the medium's
(b) At midnight, Sperry, reaching home, had found a message
summoning him to the Wells house. The message had been left at
9:35. He had telephoned me, and we had gone together, arriving at
(c) We had been unable to enter, and, recalling the medium's
description of a key on a nail among the vines, had searched for
and found such a key, and had admitted ourselves. Mrs. Wells, a
governess, a doctor, and two policemen were in the house. The
dead man lay in the room in which he had died. (Here he went at
length into the condition of the room, the revolver with one
chamber empty, and the blood-stained sponge and razorstrop behind
the bathtub. We had made a hasty examination of the ceiling, but
had found no trace of a second shot.
(d) The governess had come in at just after the death. Mr. Horace
Johnson had had a talk with her. She had left the front door
unfastened when she went out at eight o'clock. She said she had
gone out to telephone about another position, as she was
dissatisfied. She had phoned from, Elliott's pharmacy on State
Avenue. Later that night Mr. Johnson had gone to Elliott's. She
had lied about the message. She had really telephoned to a number
which the pharmacy clerk had already discovered was that of the
Ellingham house. The message was that Mr. Ellingham was not to
come, as Mr. and Mrs. Wells were going out. It was not the first
time she had telephoned to that number.
There was a stir in the room. Something which we had tacitly
avoided had come suddenly into the open. Sperry raised his hand.
"It is necessary to be explicit," he said, "that the Club may see
where it stands. It is, of course, not necessary to remind
ourselves that this evening's disclosures are of the most secret
nature. I urge that the Club jump to no hasty conclusions, and
that there shall be no interruptions until we have finished with
(e)At a private seance, which Mr. Johnson and I decided was
excusable under the circumstances, the medium was unable to give
us anything. This in spite of the fact that we had taken with
us a walking-stick belonging to the dead man.
(f) The second sitting of the Club. I need only refresh your minds
as to one or two things; the medium spoke of a lost pocketbook, and
of letters. While the point is at least capable of doubt,
apparently the letters were in the pocketbook. Also, she said that
a curtain would have been better, that Hawkins was a nuisance, and
that everything was all right unless the bullet had made a hole in
the floor above. You will also recall the mention of a box of
cartridges in a table drawer in Arthur Wells's room.
"I will now ask Mr. Horace Johnson to tell what occurred on the
night before last, Thursday evening."
"I do not think Horace has a very clear recollection of last
Thursday night," my wife said, coldly. "And I wish to go on record
at once that if he claims that spirits broke his hat, stole his
overcoat, bumped his head and sent him home with a pair of
fire-tongs for a walking-stick, I don't believe him."
Which attitude Herbert, I regret to say, did not help when he said:
"Don't worry, Horace will soon be too old for the gay life.
Remember your arteries, Horace."
I have quoted this interruption to show how little, outside of
Sperry, Mrs. Dane and myself, the Neighborhood Club appreciated
the seriousness of the situation. Herbert, for instance, had been
greatly amused when Sperry spoke of my finding the razorstrop and
had almost chuckled over our investigation of the ceiling.
But they were very serious when I had finished my statement.
"Great Scott!" Herbert said. "Then she was right, after all! I
say, I guess I've been no end of an ass."
I was inclined to agree with him. But the real effect of my brief
speech was on my wife.
It was a real compensation for that night of terror and for the
uncomfortable time since to find her gaze no longer cold, but
sympathetic, and - if I may be allowed to say so - admiring. When
at last I sat down beside her, she put her hand on my arm in a way
that I had missed since the unfortunate affair of the pharmacy
Mrs. Dane then read and explained the two clippings and the letter,
and the situation, so far as it had developed, was before the Club.
Were we to go on, or to stop?
Put to a vote, the women were for going on. The men were more
doubtful, and Herbert voiced what I think we all felt.
"We're getting in pretty deep," he said. "We have no right to step
in where the law has stepped out - no legal right, that is. As to
moral right, it depends on what we are holding these sittings for.
If we are making what we started out to make, an investigation into
psychic matters, then we can go on. But with this proviso, I think:
Whatever may come of it, the result is of psychic interest only. We
are not trailing a criminal."
"Crime is the affair of every decent-minded citizen," his sister
put in concisely.
But the general view was that Herbert was right. I am not
defending our course. I am recording it. It is, I admit, open to
Having decided on what to do, or not to do, we broke into animated
discussion. The letter to A 31 was the rock on which all our
theories foundered, that and the message the governess had sent to
Charlie Ellingham not to come to the Wells house that night. By
no stretch of rather excited imaginations could we imagine Ellingham
writing such a letter. Who had written the letter, then, and for
whom was it meant?
As to the telephone message, it seemed to preclude the possibility
of Ellingham's having gone to the house that night. But the fact
remained that a man, as yet unidentified, was undoubtedly concerned
in the case, had written the letter, and had probably been in the
Wells house the night I went there alone.
In the end, we decided to hold one more seance, and then, unless
the further developments were such that we must go on, to let the
It is typical of the strained nervous tension which had developed
in all of us during the past twelve days, that that night when,
having forgotten to let the dog in, my wife and I were roused from
a sound sleep by his howling, she would not allow me to go down and
On Sunday I went to church. I felt, after the strange phenomena
in Mrs. Dane's drawing-room, and after the contact with tragedy to
which they had led, that I must hold with a sort of desperation to
the traditions and beliefs by which I had hitherto regulated my
conduct. And the church did me good. Between the immortality
it taught and the theory of spiritualism as we had seen it in action
there was a great gulf, and I concluded that this gulf was the soul.
The conclusion that mind and certain properties of mind survived was
not enough. The thought of a disembodied intelligence was pathetic,
depressing. But the thought of a glorified soul was the hope of the
My wife, too, was in a penitent and rather exalted mood. During the
sermon she sat with her hand in mine, and I was conscious of peace
and a deep thankfulness. We had been married for many years, and
we had grown very close. Of what importance was the Wells case, or
what mattered it that there were strange new-old laws in the
universe, so long as we kept together?
That my wife had felt a certain bitterness toward Miss Jeremy, a
jealousy of her powers, even of her youth, had not dawned on me.
But when, in her new humility, she suggested that we call on the
medium that afternoon. I realized that, in her own way, she was
making a sort of atonement.
Miss Jeremy lived with an elderly spinster cousin, a short distance
out of town. It was a grim house, coldly and rigidly Calvinistic.
It gave an unpleasant impression at the start, and our comfort was
not increased by the discovery, made early in the call, that the
cousin regarded the Neighborhood Club and its members with suspicion.
The cousin - her name was Connell - was small and sharp, and she
entered the room followed by a train of cats. All the time she was
frigidly greeting us, cats were coming in at the door, one after
the other. It fascinated me. I do not like cats. I am, as a matter
of confession, afraid of cats. They affect me as do snakes. They
trailed in in a seemingly endless procession, and one of them took
a fancy to me, and leaped from behind on to my shoulder. The shock
set me stammering.
"My cousin is out," said Miss Connell. "Doctor Sperry has taken her
for a ride. She will be back very soon."
I shook a cat from my trouser leg, and my wife made an unimportant
"I may as well tell you, I disapprove of what Alice is doing," said
Miss Connell. "She doesn't have to. I've offered her a good home.
She was brought up a Presbyterian. I call this sort of thing
playing with the powers of darkness. Only the eternally damned are
doomed to walk the earth. The blessed are at rest."
"But you believe in her powers, don't you?" my wife asked.
"I believe she can do extraordinary things. She saw my father's
spirit in this very room last night, and described him, although
she had never seen him."
As she had said that only the eternally damned were doomed to walk
the earth, I was tempted to comment on this stricture on her
departed parent, but a large cat, much scarred with fighting and
named Violet, insisted at that moment on crawling into my lap, and
my attention was distracted.
"But the whole thing is un-Christian and undignified," Miss Connell
proceeded, in her cold voice. "Come, Violet, don't annoy the
gentleman. I have other visions of the next life than of rapping
on tables and chairs, and throwing small articles about."
It was an extraordinary visit. Even the arrival of Miss Jeremy
herself, flushed with the air and looking singularly normal, was
hardly a relief. Sperry, who followed, was clearly pleased to
see us, however.
It was not hard to see how things were with him. He helped the
girl out of her wraps with a manner that was almost proprietary,
and drew a chair for her close to the small fire which hardly
affected the chill of the room.
With their entrance a spark of hospitality seemed to kindle in the
cat lady's breast. It was evident that she liked Sperry. Perhaps
she saw in him a method of weaning her cousin from traffic with
the powers of darkness. She said something about tea, and went out.
Sperry looked across at the girl and smiled.
"Shall I tell them?" he said.
"I want very much to have them know."
He stood up, and with that unconscious drama which actuates a man
at a crisis in his affairs, he put a hand on her shoulder. "This
young lady is going to marry me," he said. "We are very happy
But I thought he eyed us anxiously. We were very close friends,
and he wanted our approval. I am not sure if we were wise. I do
not yet know. But something of the new understanding between my
wife and myself must have found its way to our voices, for he was
"Then that's all right," he said heartily. And my wife, to my
surprise, kissed the girl.
Except for the cats, sitting around, the whole thing was strangely
normal. And yet, even there, something happened that set me to
thinking afterward. Not that it was strange in itself, but that
it seemed never possible to get very far away from the Wells mystery.
Tea was brought in by Hawkins!
I knew him immediately, but he did not at once see me. He was
evidently accustomed to seeing Sperry there, and he did not
recognize my wife. But when he had put down the tray and turned
to pick up Sperry's overcoat to carry it into the hall, he saw me.
The man actually started. I cannot say that he changed color. He
was always a pale, anemic-looking individual. But it was a
perceptible instant before he stooped and gathered up the coat.
Sperry turned to me when he had gone out. "That was Hawkins,
Horace," he said. "You remember, don't you? The Wellses' butler."
"I knew him at once."
"He wrote to me asking for a position, and I got him this. Looks
sick, poor devil. I intend to have a go at his chest."
"How long has he been here?"
"More than a week, I think."
As I drank my tea, I pondered. After all, the Neighborhood Club
must guard against the possibility of fraud, and I felt that Sperry
had been indiscreet, to say the least. From the time of Hawkins'
service in Miss Jeremy's home there would always be the suspicion
of collusion between them. I did not believe it was so, but Herbert,
for instance, would be inclined to suspect her. Suppose that
Hawkins knew about the crime? Or knew something and surmised the
When we rose to go Sperry drew me aside.
"You think I've made a mistake?"
He flung away with an impatient gesture, then came back to me.
"Now look here," he said, "I know what you mean, and the whole idea
is absurd. Of course I never thought about it, but even allowing
for connivance - which I don't for a moment - the fellow was not
in the house at the time of the murder."
"I know he says he was not."
"Even then," he said, "how about the first sitting? I'll swear she
had never even heard of him then."
"The fact remains that his presence here makes us all absurd."
"Do you want me to throw him out?"
"I don't see what possible good that will do now."
I was uneasy all the way home. The element of doubt always so
imminent in our dealings with psychic phenomena, had me by the
throat. How much did Hawkins know? Was there any way, without
going to the police, to find if he had really been out of the Wells
house that night, now almost two weeks ago, when Arthur Wells had
That evening I went to Sperry's house, after telephoning that I
was coming. On the way I stopped in at Mrs. Dane's and secured
something from her. She was wildly curious, and made me promise
to go in on my way back, and explain. I made a compromise.
"I will come in if I have anything to tell you," I said.
But I knew, by her grim smile, that she would station herself by
her window, and that I would stop, unless I made a detour of three
blocks to avoid her. She is a very determined woman.
Sperry was waiting for me in his library, a pleasant room which I
have often envied him. Even the most happily married man wishes,
now and then, for some quiet, dull room which is essentially his
own. My own library is really the family sitting-room, and a
Christmas or so ago my wife presented me with a very handsome
phonograph instrument. My reading, therefore, is done to music,
and the necessity for putting my book down to change the record at
times interferes somewhat with my train of thought.
So I entered Sperry's library with appreciation. He was standing
by the fire, with the grave face and slightly bent head of his
professional manner. We say, in the neighborhood, that Sperry
uses his professional manner as armor, so I was rather prepared
to do battle; but he forestalled me.
"Horace," he said, "I have been a fool, a driveling idiot. We
were getting something at those sittings. Something real. She's
wonderful. She's going to give it up, but the fact remains that
she has some power we haven't, and now I've discredited her! I
see it plainly enough." He was rather bitter about it, but not
hostile. His fury was at himself. "Of course," he went on,
"I am sure that she got nothing from Hawkins. But the fact remains
- " He was hurt in his pride of her.
"I wonder," I said, "if you kept the letter Hawkins wrote you when
he asked for a position."
He was not sure. He went into his consulting room and was gone
for some time. I took the opportunity to glance over his books
and over the room.
Arthur Wells's stick was standing in a corner, and I took it up
and examined it. It was an English malacca, light and strong, and
had seen service. It was long, too long for me; it occurred to me
that Wells had been about my height, and that it was odd that he
should have carried so long a stick. There was no ease in swinging
>From that to the memory of Hawkins's face when Sperry took it, the
night of the murder, in the hall of the Wells house, was only a
step. I seemed that day to be thinking considerably about Hawkins.
When Sperry returned I laid the stick on the table. There can be
no doubt that I did so, for I had to move a book-rack to place it.
One end, the handle, was near the ink-well, and the ferrule lay on
a copy of Gibson's "Life Beyond the Grave," which Sperry had
evidently been reading.
Sperry had found the letter. As I glanced at it I recognized the
writing at once, thin and rather sexless, Spencerian.
Dear Sir: Since Mr. Wells's death I am out of employment.
Before I took the position of butler with Mr. Wells I was valet
to Mr. Ellingham, and before that, in England, to Lord Condray.
I have a very good letter of recommendation from Lord Condray.
If you need a servant at this time I would do my best to give
(Signed) ARTHUR HAWKINS.
I put down the application, and took the anonymous letter about
the bag from my pocketbook. "Read this, Sperry," I said. "You
know the letter. Mrs. Dane read it to us Saturday night. But
compare the writing."
He compared the two, with a slight lifting of his eyebrows. Then
he put them down. "Hawkins!" he said. "Hawkins has the letters!
And the bag!"
"Exactly," I commented dryly. "In other words, Hawkins was in Miss
Jeremy's house when, at the second sitting, she told of the letters."
I felt rather sorry for Sperry. He paced the room wretchedly, the
two letters in his hand.
"But why should he tell her, if he did?" he demanded. "The writer
of that anonymous letter was writing for only one person. Every
effort is made to conceal his identity."
I felt that he was right. The point was well taken.
"The question now is, to whom was it written?" We pondered that,
to no effect. That Hawkins had certain letters which touched on
the Wells affair, that they were probably in his possession in the
Connell house, was clear enough. But we had no possible authority
for trying to get the letters, although Sperry was anxious to make
"Although I feel," he said, "that it is too late to help her very
much. She is innocent; I know that. I think you know that, too,
deep in that legal mind of yours. It is wrong to discredit her
because I did a foolish thing." He warmed to his argument. "Why,
think, man," he said. "The whole first sitting was practically
coincident with the crime itself."
It was true enough. Whatever suspicion might be cast on the
second seance, the first at least remained inexplicable, by any
laws we recognized. In a way, I felt sorry for Sperry. Here
he was, on the first day of his engagement, protesting her honesty,
her complete ignorance of the revelations she had made and his
intention to keep her in ignorance, and yet betraying his own
anxiety and possible doubt in the same breath.
"She did not even know there was a family named Wells. When I
said that Hawkins had been employed by the Wells, it meant nothing
to her. I was watching."
So even Sperry was watching. He was in love with her, but his
scientific mind, like my legal one, was slow to accept what
during the past two weeks it had been asked to accept.
I left him at ten o'clock. Mrs. Dane was still at her window, and
her far-sighted old eyes caught me as I tried to steal past. She
rapped on the window, and I was obliged to go in. Obliged, too, to
tell her of the discovery and, at last, of Hawkins being in the
"I want those letters, Horace," she said at last.
"So do I. I'm not going to steal them."
"The question is, where has he got them?"
"The question is, dear lady, that they are not ours to take."
"They are not his, either."
Well, that was true enough. But I had done all the private
investigating I cared to. And I told her so. She only smiled
So far as I know, Mrs. Dane was the only one among us who had
entirely escaped certain strange phenomena during that period, and
as I have only so far recorded my own experiences, I shall here
place in order the various manifestations made to the other members
of the Neighborhood Club during that trying period and in their own
words. As none of them have suffered since, a certain allowance
must be made for our nervous strain. As before, I shall offer no
Alice Robinson: On night following second seance saw a light in
room, not referable to any outside influence. Was an amorphous
body which glowed pallidly and moved about wall over fireplace,
gradually coming to stop in a corner, where it faded and disappeared.
Clara -, Mrs. Dane's secretary: Had not slept much since first
seance. Was frequently conscious that she was not alone in room,
but on turning on light room was always empty. Wakened twice
with sense of extreme cold. (I have recorded my own similar
Sperry has consistently maintained that he had no experiences
whatever during that period, but admits that he heard various
knockings in his bedroom at night, which he attributed to the
lighting of his furnace, and the resulting expansion of the
furniture due to heat.
Herbert Robinson: Herbert was the most difficult member of the Club
from whom to secure data, but he has recently confessed that he was
wakened one night by the light falling on to his bed from a picture
which hung on the wall over his mantelpiece, and which stood behind
a clock, two glass vases and a pair of candlesticks. The door of
his room was locked at the time.
Mrs. Johnson: Had a great many minor disturbances, so that on
rousing one night to find me closing a window against a storm she
thought I was a spectre, and to this day insists that I only entered
her room when I heard her scream. For this reason I have made no
record of her various experiences, as I felt that her nervous
condition precluded accurate observation.
As in all records of psychic phenomena, the human element must be
considered, and I do not attempt either to analyze these various
phenomena or to explain them. Herbert, for instance, has been
known to walk in his sleep. But I respectfully offer, as opposed
to this, that my watch has never been known to walk at all, and
that Mrs. Johnson's bracelet could hardly be accused of an attack
The following day was Monday. When I came downstairs I found a
neat bundle lying in the hall, and addressed to me. My wife had
followed me down, and we surveyed it together.
I had a curious feeling about the parcel, and was for cutting the
cord with my knife. But my wife is careful about string. She has
always fancied that the time would come when we would need some
badly, and it would not be around. I have an entire drawer of
my chiffonier, which I really need for other uses, filled with
bundles of twine, pink, white and brown. I recall, on one
occasion, packing a suit-case in the dusk, in great hasty, and
emptying the drawer containing my undergarments into it, to
discover, when I opened it on the train for my pajamas, nothing
but rolls of cord and several packages of Christmas ribbons. So
I was obliged to wait until she had untied the knots by means of
It was my overcoat! My overcoat, apparently uninjured, but with
the collection of keys I had made missing.
The address was printed, not written, in a large, strong hand, with a
stub pen. I did not, at the time, notice the loss of certain papers
which had been in the breast pocket. I am rather absent-minded, and
it was not until the night after the third sitting that they were
recalled to my mind.
At something after eleven Herbert Robinson called me up at my office.
He was at Sperry's house, Sperry having been his physician during
his recent illness.
"I say, Horace, this is Herbert."
"Yes. How are you?"
"Doing well, Sperry says. I'm at his place now. I'm speaking for
him. He's got a patient."
"You were here last night, he says." Herbert has a circumlocutory
manner over the phone which irritates me. He begins slowly and
does not know how to stop. Talk with him drags on endlessly.
"Well, I admit it," I snapped. "It's not a secret."
He lowered his voice. "Do you happen to have noticed a
walking-stick in the library when you were here?"
"You know. The one we - "
"Yes. I saw it."
"You didn't, by any chance, take it home with you?"
"Are you sure?"
"Certainly I'm sure."
"You are an absent-minded beggar, you know," he explained. "You
remember about the fire-tongs. And a stick is like an umbrella.
One is likely to pick it up and - "
"One is not likely to do anything of the sort. At least, I didn't."
"Oh, all right. Every one well?"
"Very well, thanks."
"Suppose we'll see you tonight?"
"Not unless you ring off and let me do some work," I said irritably.
He rang off. I was ruffled, I admit; but I was uneasy, also. To
tell the truth, the affair of the fire-tongs had cost me my
self-confidence. I called up my wife, and she said Herbert was a
fool and Sperry also. But she made an exhaustive search of the
premises, without result. Whoever had taken the stick, I was
cleared. Cleared, at least, for a time. There were strange
developments coming that threatened my peace of mind.
It was that day that I discovered that I was being watched.
Shadowed, I believe is the technical word. I daresay I had been
followed from my house, but I had not noticed. When I went out
to lunch a youngish man in a dark overcoat was waiting for the
elevator, and I saw him again when I came out of my house. We
went downtown again on the same car.
Perhaps I would have thought nothing of it, had I not been summoned
to the suburbs on a piece of business concerning a mortgage. He
was at the far end of the platform as I took the train to return to
the city, with his back to me. I lost him in the crowd at the
downtown station, but he evidently had not lost me, for, stopping
to buy a newspaper, I turned, and, as my pause had evidently been
unexpected, he almost ran into me.
With that tendency of any man who finds himself under suspicion to
search his past for some dereliction, possibly forgotten, I puzzled
over the situation for some time that afternoon. I did not connect
it with the Wells case, for in that matter I was indisputably the
hunter, not the hunted.
Although I found no explanation for the matter, I did not tell my
wife that evening. Women are strange and she would, I feared,
immediately jump to the conclusion that there was something in my
private life that I was keeping from her.
Almost all women, I have found, although not over-conscious
themselves of the charm and attraction of their husbands, are of
the conviction that these husbands exert a dangerous fascination
over other women, and that this charm, which does not reveal itself
in the home circle, is used abroad with occasionally disastrous
My preoccupation, however, did not escape my wife, and she commented
on it at dinner.
"You are generally dull, Horace," she said, "but tonight you are
After dinner I went into our reception room, which is not lighted
unless we are expecting guests, and peered out of the window. The
detective, or whoever he might be, was walking negligently up the
As that was the night of the third seance, I find that my record
covers the fact that Mrs. Dane was housecleaning, for which reason
we had not been asked to dinner, that my wife and I dined early,
at six-thirty, and that it was seven o'clock when Sperry called me
"Can you come to my office at once?" he asked. "I dare say Mrs.
Johnson won't mind going to the Dane house alone."
"Is there anything new?"
"No. But I want to get into the Wells house
again. Bring the keys."
"They were in the overcoat. It came back
today, but the keys are missing."
"Did you lock the back door?"
"I don't remember. No, of course not. I didn't have the keys."
"Then there's a chance," he observed, after a moment's pause.
"Anyhow, it's worth trying. Herbert told you about the stick?"
"Yes. I never had it, Sperry."
Fortunately, during this conversation my wife was upstairs dressing.
I knew quite well that she would violently oppose a second visit on
my part to the deserted house down the street. I therefore left a
message for her that I had gone on, and, finding the street clear,
met Sperry at his door-step.
"This is the last sitting, Horace," he explained, "and I feel we
ought to have the most complete possible knowledge, beforehand. We
will be in a better position to understand what comes. There are
two or three things we haven't checked up on."
He slipped an arm through mine, and we started down the street.
"I'm going to get to the bottom of this, Horace, old dear," he
"Remember, we're pledged to a psychic investigation only."
"Rats!" he said rudely. "We are going to find out who killed Arthur
Wells, and if he deserves hanging we'll hang him."
"It wasn't Elinor Wells," he said positively. "Here's the point:
if he's been afraid to go back for his overcoat it's still there.
I don't expect that, however. But the thing about the curtain
interests me. I've been reading over my copy of the notes on the
sittings. It was said, you remember, that curtains - some curtains
- would have been better places to hide the letters than the bag."
I stopped suddenly. "By Jove, Sperry," I said. "I remember now.
My notes of the sittings were in my overcoat."
"And they are gone?"
"They are gone."
He whistled softly. "That's unfortunate," he said. "Then the
other person, whoever he is, knows what we know!"
He was considerably startled when I told him I had been shadowed,
and insisted that it referred directly to the case in hand. "He's
got your notes," he said, "and he's got to know what your next move
is going to be."
His intention, I found, was to examine the carpet outside of the
dressing-room door, and the floor beneath it, to discover if
possible whether Arthur Wells had fallen there and been moved.
"Because I think you are right," he said. "He wouldn't have been
likely to shoot himself in a hall, and because the very moving of
the body would be in itself suspicious. Then I want to look at
the curtains. 'The curtains would have been safer.' Safer for
what? For the bag with the letters, probably, for she followed
that with the talk about Hawkins. He'd got them, and somebody was
afraid he had."
"Just where does Hawkins come in, Sperry?" I asked.
"I'm damned if I know," he reflected. "We may learn tonight."
The Wells house was dark and forbidding. We walked past it once,
as an officer was making his rounds in leisurely fashion, swinging
his night-stick in circles. But on our return the street was empty,
and we turned in at the side entry.
I led the way with comparative familiarity. It was, you will
remember, my third similar excursion. With Sperry behind me I felt
"In case the door is locked, I have a few skeleton keys," said
We had reached the end of the narrow passage, and emerged into the
square of brick and grass that lay behind the house. While the
night was clear, the place lay in comparative darkness. Sperry
stumbled over something, and muttered to himself.
The rear porch lay in deep shadow. We went up the steps together.
Then Sperry stopped, and I advanced to the doorway. It was locked.
With my hand on the door-knob, I turned to Sperry. He was
struggling violently with a dark figure, and even as I turned they
went over with a crash and rolled together down the steps. Only
one of them rose.
I was terrified. I confess it. It was impossible to see whether
it was Sperry or his assailant. If it was Sperry who lay in a heap
on the ground, I felt that I was lost. I could not escape. The
way was blocked, and behind me the door, to which I now turned
frantically, was a barrier I could not move.
Then, out of the darkness behind me, came Sperry's familiar, booming
bass. "I've knocked him out, I'm afraid. Got a match, Horace?"
Much shaken, I went down the steps and gave Sperry a wooden
toothpick, under the impression that it was a match. That rectified,
we bent over the figure on the bricks.
"Knocked out, for sure," said Sperry, "but I think it's not serious.
A watchman, I suppose. Poor devil, we'll have to get him into the
The lock gave way to manipulation at last, and the door swung open.
There came to us the heavy odor of all closed houses, a combination
of carpets, cooked food, and floor wax. My nerves, now taxed to
their utmost, fairly shrank from it, but Sperry was cool.
He bore the brunt of the weight as we carried the watchman in,
holding him with his arms dangling, helpless and rather pathetic.
Sperry glanced around.
"Into the kitchen," he said. "We can lock him in."
We had hardly laid him on the floor when I heard the slow stride
of the officer of the beat. He had turned into the paved alley-way,
and was advancing with measured, ponderous steps. Fortunately I am
an agile man, and thus I was able to get to the outer door, reverse
the key and turn it from the inside, before I heard him hailing the
"Hello there!" he called. "George, I say! George!"
He listened for a moment, then came up and tried the door. I
crouched inside, as guilty as the veriest house-breaker in the
business. But he had no suspicion, clearly, for he turned and
went away, whistling as he went.
Not until we heard him going down the street again, absently running
his night-stick along the fence palings, did Sperry or I move.
"A narrow squeak, that," I said, mopping my face.
"A miss is as good as a mile," he observed, and there was a sort of
exultation in his voice. He is a born adventurer.
He came out into the passage and quickly locked the door behind him.
"Now, friend Horace," he said, "if you have anything but toothpicks
for matches, we will look for the overcoat, and then we will go
"Suppose he wakens and raises an alarm?"
"We'll be out of luck. That's all."
As we had anticipated, there was no overcoat in the library, and
after listening a moment at the kitchen door, we ascended a rear
staircase to the upper floor. I had, it will be remembered, fallen
from a chair on a table in the dressing room, and had left them
thus overturned when I charged the third floor. The room, however,
was now in perfect order, and when I held my candle to the ceiling,
I perceived that the bullet hole had again been repaired, and this
time with such skill that I could not even locate it.
"We are up against some one cleverer than we are, Sperry," I
"And who has more to lose than we have to gain," he added cheerfully.
"Don't worry about that, Horace. You're a married man and I'm not.
If a woman wanted to hide some letters from her husband, and chose
a curtain for a receptacle, what room would hide them in. Not in
his dressing-room, eh?"
He took the candle and led the way to Elinor Wells's bedroom. Here,
however, the draperies were down, and we would have been at a loss,
had I not remembered my wife's custom of folding draperies when we
close the house, and placing them under the dusting sheets which
cover the various beds.
Our inspection of the curtains was hurried, and broken by various
excursions on my part to listen for the watchman. But he remained
quiet below, and finally we found what we were looking for. In
the lining of one of the curtains, near the bottom, a long, ragged
cut had been made.
"Cut in a hurry, with curved scissors," was Sperry's comment.
"Probably manicure scissors."
The result was a sort of pocket in the curtain, concealed on the
chintz side, which was the side which would hang toward the room.
"Probably," he said, "the curtain would have been better. It would
have stayed anyhow. Whereas the bag - " He was flushed with triumph.
"How in the world would Hawkins know that?" he demanded. "You can
talk all you like. She's told us things that no one ever told her."
Before examining the floor in the hall I went downstairs and listened
outside the kitchen door. The watchman was stirring inside the room,
and groaning occasionally. Sperry, however, when I told him,
remained cool and in his exultant mood, and I saw that he meant to
vindicate Miss Jeremy if he flung me into jail and the newspapers
while doing it.
"We'll have a go at the floors under the carpets now," he said. "If
he gets noisy, you can go down with the fire-tongs. I understand
you are an expert with them."
The dressing-room had a large rug, like the nursery above it, and
turning back the carpet was a simple matter. There had been a stain
beneath where the dead man's head had lain, but it had been scrubbed
and scraped away. The boards were white for an area of a square
foot or so.
Sperry eyed the spot with indifference. "Not essential," he said.
"Shows good housekeeping. That's all. The point is, are there
And, after a time, we found what we were after. The upper hall
was carpeted, and my penknife came into requisition to lift the
tacks. They came up rather easily, as if but recently put in.
That, indeed, proved to be the case.
Just outside the dressing-room door the boards for an area of two
square feet or more beneath the carpet had been scraped and
scrubbed. With the lifting of the carpet came, too, a strong odor,
as of ammonia. But the stain of blood had absolutely disappeared.
Sperry, kneeling on the floor with the candle held close, examined
the wood. "Not only scrubbed," he said, "but scraped down, probably
with a floor-scraper. It's pretty clear, Horace. The poor devil
fell here. There was a struggle, and he went down. He lay there
for a while, too, until some plan was thought out. A man does
not usually kill himself in a hallway. It's a sort of solitary
deed. He fell here, and was dragged into the room. The angle of
the bullet in the ceiling would probably show it came from here,
too, and went through the doorway."
We were startled at that moment by a loud banging below. Sperry
leaped to his feet and caught up his hat.
"The watchman," he said. "We'd better get out. He'll have all the
neighbors in at that rate."
He was still hammering on the door as we went down the rear stairs,
and Sperry stood outside the door and to one side.
"Keep out of range, Horace," he cautioned me. And to the watchman:
"Now, George, we will put the key under the door, and in ten minutes
you may come out. Don't come sooner. I've warned you."
By the faint light from outside I could see him stooping, not in
front of the door, but behind it. And it was well he did, for the
moment the key was on the other side, a shot zipped through one
of the lower panels. I had not expected it and it set me to
"No more of that, George," said Sperry calmly and cheerfully. "This
is a quiet neighborhood, and we don't like shooting. What is more,
my friend here is very expert with his own particular weapon, and at
any moment he may go to the fire-place in the library and - "
I have no idea why Sperry chose to be facetious at that time, and
my resentment rises as I record it. For when we reached the yard
we heard the officer running along the alley-way, calling as he ran.
"The fence, quick," Sperry said.
I am not very good at fences, as a rule, but I leaped that one like
a cat, and came down in a barrel of waste-paper on the other side.
Getting me out was a breathless matter, finally accomplished by
turning the barrel over so that I could crawl out. We could hear
the excited voices of the two men beyond the fence, and we ran. I
was better than Sperry at that. I ran like a rabbit. I never even
felt my legs. And Sperry pounded on behind me.
We heard, behind us, one of the men climbing the fence. But in
jumping down he seemed to have struck the side of the overturned
barrel. Probably it rolled and threw him, for that part of my mind
which was not intent on flight heard him fall, and curse loudly.
"Go to it," Sperry panted behind me. "Roll over and break your
This, I need hardly explain, was meant for our pursuer.
We turned a corner and were out on one of the main thoroughfares.
Instantly, so innate is cunning to the human brain, we fell to
It was as well that we did, for we had not gone a half block before
we saw our policeman again, lumbering toward us and blowing a
whistle as he ran.
"Stop and get this street-car," Sperry directed me. "And don't
breathe so hard."
The policeman stared at us fixedly, stopping to do so, but all he
saw was two well-dressed and professional-looking men, one of them
rather elderly who was hailing a street-car. I had the presence of
mind to draw my watch and consult it.
"Just in good time," I said distinctly, and we mounted the car step.
Sperry remained on the platform and lighted a cigar. This gave him
a chance to look back.
"Rather narrow squeak, that," he observed, as he came in and sat
down beside me. "Your gray hairs probably saved us."
I was quite numb from the waist down, from my tumble and from
running, and it was some time before I could breathe quietly.
Suddenly Sperry fell to laughing.
"I wish you could have seen yourself in that barrel, and crawling
out," he said.
We reached Mrs. Dane's, to find that Miss Jeremy had already arrived,
looking rather pale, as I had noticed she always did before a seance.
Her color had faded, and her eyes seemed sunken in her head.
"Not ill, are you?" Sperry asked her, as he took her hand.
"Not at all. But I am anxious. I always am. These things do not
come for the calling."
"This is the last time. You have promised."
"Yes. The last time."
It appeared that Herbert Robinson had been reading, during his
convalescence, a considerable amount of psychic literature, and
that we were to hold this third and final sitting under test
conditions. As before, the room had been stripped of furniture,
and the cloth and rod which formed the low screen behind Miss
Jeremy's chair were not of her own providing, but Herbert's.
He had also provided, for some reason or other, eight small glass
cups, into which he placed the legs of the two tables, and in a
business-like manner he set out on the large stand a piece of white
paper, a pencil, and a spool of black thread. It is characteristic
of Miss Jeremy, and of her own ignorance of the methods employed
in professional seances, that she was as much interested and
puzzled as we were.
When he had completed his preparations, Herbert made a brief speech.
"Members of the Neighborhood Club," he said impressively, "we have
agreed among ourselves that this is to be our last meeting for the
purpose that is before us. I have felt, therefore, that in justice
to the medium this final seance should leave us with every
conviction of its genuineness. Whatever phenomena occur, the medium
must be, as she has been, above suspicion. For the replies of her
'control,' no particular precaution seems necessary, or possible.
But the first seance divided itself into two parts: an early period
when, so far as we could observe, the medium was at least partly
conscious, possibly fully so, when physical demonstrations occurred.
And a second, or trance period, during which we received replies to
questions. It is for the physical phenomena that I am about to take
"Are you going to tie me?" Miss Jeremy asked.
"Do you object?"
"Not at all. But with what?"
"With silk thread," Herbert said, smilingly.
She held out her wrists at once, but Herbert placed her in her chair,
and proceeded to wrap her, chair and all, in a strong network of fine
threads, drawn sufficiently taut to snap with any movement.
He finished by placing her feet on the sheet of paper, and outlining
their position there with a pencil line.
The proceedings were saved from absurdity by what we all felt was
the extreme gravity of the situation. There were present in the
room Mrs. Dane, the Robinsons, Sperry, my wife and myself. Clara,
Mrs. Dane's secretary, had begged off on the plea of nervousness
from the earlier and physical portion of the seance, and was to
remain outside in the hall until the trance commenced.
Sperry objected to this, as movement in the circle during the
trance had, in the first seance, induced fretful uneasiness in the
medium. But Clara, appealed to, begged to be allowed to remain
outside until she was required, and showed such unmistakable
nervousness that we finally agreed.
"Would a slight noise disturb her?" Mrs. Dane asked.
Miss Jeremy thought not, if the circle remained unbroken, and Mrs.
"Bring me my stick from the hall, Horace," she said. "And tell
Clara I'll rap on the floor with it when I want her."
I found a stick in the rack outside and brought it in. The lights
were still on in the chandelier overhead, and as I gave the stick
to Mrs. Dane I heard Sperry speaking sharply behind me.
"Where did you get that stick?" he demanded.
"In the hall. I - "
"I never saw it before," said Mrs. Dane. "Perhaps it is Herbert's."
But I caught Sperry's eye. We had both recognized it. It was
Arthur Wells's, the one which Sperry had taken from his room, and
which, in turn, had been taken from Sperry's library.
Sperry was watching me with a sort of cynical amusement.
"You're an absent-minded beggar, Horace," he said.
"You didn't, by any chance, stop here on your way back from my place
the other night, did you?"
"I did. But I didn't bring that thing."
"Look here, Horace," he said, more gently, "you come in and see me
some day soon. You're not as fit as you ought to be."
I confess to a sort of helpless indignation that was far from the
composure the occasion required. But the others, I believe, were
fully convinced that no human agency had operated to bring the
stick into Mrs. Dane's house, a belief that prepared them for
anything that might
A number of things occurred almost as soon as the lights were out,
interrupting a train of thought in which I saw myself in the first
stages of mental decay, and carrying about the streets not only
fire-tongs and walking-sticks, but other portable property belonging
to my friends.
Perhaps my excitement had a bad effect on the medium. She was uneasy
and complained that the threads that bound her arms were tight. She
was distinctly fretful. But after a time she settled down in her
chair. Her figure, a deeper shadow in the semi-darkness of the room,
seemed sagged - seemed, in some indefinable way, smaller. But there
was none of the stertorous breathing that preceded trance.
Then, suddenly, a bell that Sperry had placed on the stand beyond
the black curtain commenced to ring. It rang at first gently, then
violently. It made a hideous clamor. I had a curious sense that
it was ringing up in the air, near the top of the curtain. It was a
relief to have it thrown to the ground, its racket silenced.
Quite without warning, immediately after, my chair twisted under me.
"I am being turned around," I said, in a low tone. "It as if
something has taken hold of the back of the chair, and is twisting
it. It has stopped now." I had been turned fully a quarter round.
For five minutes, by the luminous dial of my watch on the table
before me, nothing further occurred, except that the black curtain
appeared to swell, as in a wind.
"There is something behind it," Alice Robinson said, in a terrorized
tone. "Something behind it, moving."
"It is not possible," Herbert assured her. "Nothing, that is -
there is only one door, and it is closed. I have examined the walls
and floor carefully."
At the end of five minutes something soft and fragrant fell on to
the table near me. I had not noticed Herbert when he placed the
flowers from Mrs. Dane's table on the stand, and I was more
startled than the others. Then the glass prisms in the chandelier
over our heads clinked together, as if they had been swept by a
finger. More of the flowers came. We were pelted with them. And
into the quiet that followed there came a light, fine but steady
tattoo on the table in our midst. Then at last silence, and the
medium in deep trance, and Mrs. Dane rapping on the floor for
When Clara came in, Mrs. Dane told her to switch on the lights.
Miss Jeremy had dropped in her chair until the silk across her
chest was held taut. But investigation showed that none of the
threads were broken and that her evening slippers still fitted
into the outline on the paper beneath them. Without getting up,
Sperry reached to the stand behind Miss Jeremy, and brought into
view a piece of sculptor's clay he had placed there. The handle
of the bell was now jammed into the mass. He had only time to
show it to us when the medium began to speak.
I find, on re-reading the earlier part of this record, that I have
omitted mention of Miss Jeremy's "control." So suddenly had we
jumped, that first evening, into the trail that led us to the Wells
case, that beyond the rather raucous "good-evening," and possibly
the extraneous matter referring to Mother Goose and so on, we had
been saved the usual preliminary patter of the average control.
On this night, however, we were obliged to sit impatiently through
a rambling discourse, given in a half-belligerent manner, on the
deterioration of moral standards. Re-reading Clara's notes, I find
that the subject matter is without originality and the diction
inferior. But the lecture ceased abruptly, and the time for
questions had come.
"Now," Herbert said, "we want you to go back to the house where you
saw the dead man on the floor. You know his name, don't you?"
There was a pause. "Yes. Of course I do. A. L. Wells."
Arthur had been known to most of us by his Christian name, but the
initials were correct.
"How do you know it is an L.?"
"On letters," was the laconic answer. Then: "Letters, letters,
who has the letters?"
"Do you know whose cane this is?"
"Will you tell us?"
Up to that time the replies had come easily and quickly. But
beginning with the cane question, the medium was in difficulties.
She moved uneasily, and spoke irritably. The replies were slow and
grudging. Foreign subjects were introduced, as now.
"Horace's wife certainly bullies him," said the voice. "He's afraid
of her. And the fire-tongs - the fire-tongs - the fire-tongs!"
"Whose cane is this?" Herbert repeated.
This created a profound sensation.
"How do you know that?"
"He carried it at the seashore. He wrote in the sand with it."
"What did he write?"
"He wrote 'ten o'clock' in the sand, and the waves came and washed
"Horace," said my wife, leaning forward, "why not ask her about that
stock of mine? If it is going down, I ought to sell, oughtn't I?"
Herbert eyed her with some exasperation.
"We are here to make a serious investigation," he said. "If the
members of the club will keep their attention on what we are doing,
we may get somewhere. Now," to the medium, "the man is dead, and
the revolver is beside him. Did he kill himself?"
"No. He attacked her when he found the letters."
"And she shot him?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Try very hard. It is important."
"I don't know," was the fretful reply. "She may have. She hated
him. I don't know. She says she did."
"She says she killed him?"
But there was no reply to this, although Herbert repeated it several
Instead, the voice of the "control" began to recite a verse of
poetry - a cheap, sentimental bit of trash. It was maddening, under
"Do you know where the letters are?"
"Hawkins has them."
"They were not hidden in the curtain?" This was Sperry.
"No. The police might have searched the room."
"Where were these letters?"
There was no direct reply to this, but instead:
"He found them when he was looking for his razorstrop. They were
in the top of a closet. His revolver was there, too. He went
back and got it. It was terrible."
There was a profound silence, followed by a slight exclamation from
Sperry as he leaped to his feet. The screen at the end of the room,
which cut off the light from Clara's candle, was toppling. The next
instant it fell, and we saw Clara sprawled over her table, in a dead
In this, the final chapter of the record of these seances, I shall
give, as briefly as possible, the events of the day following the
third sitting. I shall explain the mystery of Arthur Wells's death,
and I shall give the solution arrived at by the Neighborhood Club
as to the strange communications from the medium, Miss Jeremy, now
But there are some things I cannot explain. Do our spirits live on,
on this earth plane, now and then obedient to the wills of those
yet living? Is death, then, only a gateway into higher space, from
which, through the open door of a "sensitive" mind, we may be
brought back on occasion to commit the inadequate absurdities of the
Or is Sperry right, and do certain individuals manifest powers of
a purely physical nature, but powers which Sperry characterizes as
the survival of some long-lost development by which at one time we
knew how to liberate a forgotten form of energy?
Who can say? We do not know. We have had to accept these things
as they have been accepted through the ages, and give them either a
spiritual or a purely natural explanation, as our minds happen to
be adventurous or analytic in type.
But outside of the purely physical phenomena of those seances, we
are provided with an explanation which satisfies the Neighborhood
Club, even if it fails to satisfy the convinced spiritist. We have
been accused merely of substituting one mystery for another, but I
reply by saying that the mystery we substitute is not a mystery,
but an acknowledged fact.
On Tuesday morning I wakened after an uneasy night. I knew certain
things, knew them definitely in the clear light of morning. Hawkins
had the letters that Arthur Wells had found; that was one thing. I
had not taken Ellingham's stick to Mrs. Dane's house; that was
another. I had not done it. I had placed it on the table and
had not touched it again.
But those were immaterial, compared with one outstanding fact. Any
supernatural solution would imply full knowledge by whatever power
had controlled the medium. And there was not full knowledge. There
was, on the contrary, a definite place beyond which the medium could
She did not know who had killed Arthur Wells.
To my surprise, Sperry and Herbert Robinson came together to see me
that morning at my office. Sperry, like myself, was pale and tired,
but Herbert was restless and talkative, for all the world like a
terrier on the scent of a rat.
They had brought a newspaper account of an attempt by burglars to
rob the Wells house, and the usual police formula that arrests
were expected to be made that day. There was a diagram of the
house, and a picture of the kitchen door, with an arrow indicating
"Hawkins will be here soon," Sperry said, rather casually, after I
had read the clipping.
"Yes. He is bringing a letter from Miss Jeremy. The letter is
merely a blind. We want to see him."
Herbert was examining the door of my office. He set the spring
lock. "He may try to bolt," he explained. "We're in this pretty
deep, you know."
"How about a record of what he says?" Sperry asked.
I pressed a button, and Miss Joyce came in. "Take the testimony
of the man who is coming in, Miss Joyce.," I directed. "Take
everything we say, any of us. Can you tell the different voices
She thought she could, and took up her position in the next room,
with the door partly open.
I can still see Hawkins as Sperry let him in - a tall, cadaverous
man of good manners and an English accent, a superior servant. He
was cool but rather resentful. I judged that he considered carrying
letters as in no way a part of his work, and that he was careful of
his dignity. "Miss Jeremy sent this, sir," he said.
Then his eyes took in Sperry and Herbert, and he drew himself up.
"I see," he said. "It wasn't the letter, then?"
"Not entirely. We want to have a talk with you, Hawkins."
"Very well, sir." But his eyes went from one to the other of us.
"You were in the employ of Mr. Wells. We know that. Also we saw
you there the night he died, but some time after his death. What
time did you get in that night?"
"About midnight. I am not certain."
"Who told you of what had happened?"
"I told you that before. I met the detectives going out."
"Exactly. Now, Hawkins, you had come in, locked the door, and
placed the key outside for the other servants?"
"How do you expect us to believe that?" Sperry demanded irritably.
"There was only one key. Could you lock yourself in and then place
the key outside?"
"Yes, sir," he replied impassively. "By opening the kitchen window,
I could reach out and hang it on the nail."
"You were out of the house, then, at the time Mr. Wells died?"
"I can prove it by as many witnesses as you wish to call."
"Now, about these letters, Hawkins," Sperry said. "The letters in
the bag. Have you still got them?"
He half rose - we had given him a chair facing the light - and then
sat down again. "What letters?"
"Don't beat about the bush. We know you have the letters. And we
"I don't intend to give them up, sir."
"Will you tell us how you got them?" He hesitated. "If you do
not know already, I do not care to say."
I placed the letter to A 31 before him. "You wrote this, I think?"
He was genuinely startled. More than that, indeed, for his face
twitched. "Suppose I did?" he said, "I'm not admitting it."
"Will you tell us for whom it was meant?"
"You know a great deal already, gentlemen. Why not find that out
from where you learned the rest?"
"You know, then, where we learned what we know?"
"That's easy," he said bitterly. "She's told you enough, I daresay.
She doesn't know it all, of course. Any more than I do," he added.
"Will you give us the letters?"
"I haven't said I have them. I haven't admitted I wrote that one
on the desk. Suppose I have them, I'll not give them up except to
the District Attorney."
"By 'she' do you refer to Miss Jeremy?" I asked.
He stared at me, and then smiled faintly.
"You know who I mean."
We tried to assure him that we were not, in a sense, seeking to
involve him in the situation, and I even went so far as to state
our position, briefly:
"I'd better explain, Hawkins. We are not doing police work. But,
owing to a chain of circumstances, we have learned that Mr. Wells
did not kill himself. He was murdered, or at least shot, by some
one else. It may not have been deliberate. Owing to what we have
learned, certain people are under suspicion. We want to clear things
up for our own satisfaction."
"Then why is some one taking down what I say in the next room?"
He could only have guessed it, but he saw that he was right, by
our faces. He smiled bitterly. "Go on," he said. "Take it down.
It can't hurt anybody. I don't know who did it, and that's God's
And, after long wrangling, that was as far as we got.
He suspected who had done it, but he did not know. He absolutely
refused to surrender the letters in his possession, and a sense
of delicacy, I think, kept us all from pressing the question of
the A 31 matter.
"That's a personal affair," he said. "I've had a good bit of
trouble. I'm thinking now of going back to England."
And, as I say, we did not insist.
When he had gone, there seemed to be nothing to say. He had left
the same impression on all of us, I think - of trouble, but not of
crime. Of a man fairly driven; of wretchedness that was almost
despair. He still had the letters. He had, after all, as much
right to them as we had, which was, actually, no right at all. And,
whatever it was, he still had his secret.
Herbert was almost childishly crestfallen. Sperry's attitude was
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