Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 3 out of 3
"A woman, of course," he said. "The A 31 letter shows it. He
tried to get her back, perhaps, by holding the letters over her
head. And it hasn't worked out. Poor devil! Only - who is the
It was that night, the fifteenth day after the crime, that the
solution came. Came as a matter of fact, to my door.
I was in the library, reading, or trying to read, a rather abstruse
book on psychic phenomena. My wife, I recall, had just asked me
to change a banjo record for "The End of a Pleasant Day," when the
In our modest establishment the maids retire early, and it is my
custom, on those rare occasions when the bell rings after nine
o'clock, to answer the door myself.
To my surprise, it was Sperry, accompanied by two ladies, one of
them heavily veiled. It was not until I had ushered them into the
reception room and lighted the gas that I saw who they were. It
was Elinor Wells, in deep mourning, and Clara, Mrs. Dane's companion
I am afraid I was rather excited, for I took Sperry's hat from him,
and placed it on the head of a marble bust which I had given my
wife on our last anniversary, and Sperry says that I drew a
smoking-stand up beside Elinor Wells with great care. I do not
know. It has, however, passed into history in the Club, where
every now and then for some time Herbert offered one of the ladies
a cigar, with my compliments.
My wife, I believe, was advancing along the corridor when Sperry
closed the door. As she had only had time to see that a woman was
in the room, she was naturally resentful, and retired to the upper
floor, where I found her considerably upset, some time later.
While I am quite sure that I was not thinking clearly at the
opening of the interview, I know that I was puzzled at the presence
of Mrs. Dane's secretary, but I doubtless accepted it as having
some connection with Clara's notes. And Sperry, at the beginning,
made no comment on her at all.
"Mrs. Wells suggested that we come here, Horace," he began. "We
may need a legal mind on this. I'm not sure, or rather I think it
unlikely. But just in case - suppose you tell him, Elinor."
I have no record of the story Elinor Wells told that night in our
little reception-room, with Clara sitting in a corner, grave and
white. It was fragmentary, inco-ordinate. But I got it all at
Charlie Ellingham had killed Arthur Wells, but in a struggle. In
parts the story was sordid enough. She did not spare herself, or
her motives. She had wanted luxury, and Arthur had not succeeded
as he had promised. They were in debt, and living beyond their
means. But even that, she hastened to add, would not have mattered,
had he not been brutal with her. He had made her life very wretched.
But on the subject of Charlie Ellingham she was emphatic. She knew
that there had been talk, but there had been no real basis for it.
She had turned to him for comfort, and he gave her love. She didn't
know where he was now, and didn't greatly care, but she would like
to recover and destroy some letters he had written her.
She was looking crushed and ill, and she told her story
inco-ordinately and nervously. Reduced to its elements, it was
On the night of Arthur Wells's death they were dressing for a ball.
She had made a private arrangement with Ellingham to plead a
headache at the last moment and let Arthur go alone. But he had
been so insistent that she had been forced to go, after all. She
had sent the governess, Suzanne Gautier, out to telephone Ellingham
not to come, but he was not at his house, and the message was left
with his valet. As it turned out, he had already started.
Elinor was dressed, all but her ball-gown, and had put on a
negligee, to wait for the governess to return and help her. Arthur
was in his dressing-room, and she heard him grumbling about having
no blades for his safety razor.
He got out a case of razors and searched for the strop. When she
remembered where the strop was, it was too late. The letters had
been beside it, and he was coming toward her, with them in his hand.
She was terrified. He had read only one, but that was enough. He
muttered something and turned away. She saw his face as he went
toward where the revolver had been hidden from the children, and
Charlie Ellingham heard her. The door had been left unlocked by
the governess, and he was in the lower hall. He ran up and the
two men grappled. The first shot was fired by Arthur. It struck
the ceiling. The second she was doubtful about. She thought the
revolver was still in Arthur's hand. It was all horrible. He went
down like a stone, in the hallway outside the door.
They were nearly mad, the two of them. They had dragged the body
in, and then faced each other. Ellingham was for calling the
police at once and surrendering, but she had kept him away from
the telephone. She maintained, and I think it very possible, that
her whole thought was for the children, and the effect on their
after lives of such a scandal. And, after all, nothing could help
the man on the floor.
It was while they were trying to formulate some concerted plan
that they heard footsteps below, and, thinking it was Mademoiselle
Gautier, she drove Ellingham into the rear of the house, from which
later he managed to escape. But it was Clara who was coming up
"She had been our first governess for the children," Elinor said,
"and she often came in. She had made a birthday smock for Buddy,
and she had it in her hand. She almost fainted. I couldn't tell
her about Charlie Ellingham. I couldn't. I told her we had been
struggling, and that I was afraid I had shot him. She is quick.
She knew just what to do. We worked fast. She said a suicide
would not have fired one shot into the ceiling, and she fixed that.
It was terrible. And all the time he lay there, with his eyes
half open - "
The letters, it seems, were all over the place. Elinor thought
of the curtain, cut a receptacle for them, but she was afraid of
the police. Finally she gave them to Clara, who was to take them
away and burn them.
They did everything they could think of, all the time listening
for Suzanne Gautier's return; filled the second empty chamber of
the revolver, dragged the body out of the hall and washed the
carpet, and called Doctor Sperry, knowing that he was at Mrs.
Dane's and could not come.
Clara had only a little time, and with the letters in her handbag
she started down the stairs. There she heard some one, possibly
Ellingham, on the back stairs, and in her haste, she fell, hurting
her knee, and she must have dropped the handbag at that time. They
knew now that Hawkins had found it later on. But for a few days
they didn't' know, and hence the advertisement.
"I think we would better explain Hawkins," Sperry said. "Hawkins
was married to Miss Clara here, some years ago, while she was with
Mrs. Wells. They had kept it a secret, and recently she has broken
"He was infatuated with another woman," Clara said briefly. "That's
a personal matter. It has nothing to do with this case."
"It explains Hawkins's letter."
"It doesn't explain how that medium knew everything that happened,"
Clara put in, excitedly. "She knew it all, even the library paste!
I can tell you, Mr. Johnson, I was close to fainting a dozen times
before I finally did it."
"Did you know of our seances?" I asked Mrs. Wells.
"Yes. I may as well tell you that I haven't been in Florida. How
could I? The children are there, but I -"
"Did you tell Charlie Ellingham about them?"
"After the second one I warned him, and I think he went to the
house. One bullet was somewhere in the ceiling, or in the floor of
the nursery. I thought it ought to be found. I don't know whether
he found it or not. I've been afraid to see him."
She sat, clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap. She was a
proud woman, and surrender had come hard. The struggle was marked
in her face. She looked as though she had not slept for days.
"You think I am frightened," she said slowly. "And I am, terribly
frightened. But not about discovery. That has come, and cannot be
"How does this woman, this medium, know these things?" Her voice
rose, with an unexpected hysterical catch. "It is superhuman. I
am almost mad."
"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Sperry said soothingly.
"Be sure that it is not what you think it is, Elinor. There's a
simple explanation, and I think I've got it. What about the stick
that was taken from my library?"
"Will you tell me how you came to have it, doctor?"
"Yes. I took it from the lower hall the night - the night it
"It was Charlie Ellingham's. He had left it there. We had to
have it, doctor. Alone it might not mean much, but with the other
things you knew - tell them, Clara."
"I stole it from your office," Clara said, looking straight ahead.
"We had to have it. I knew at the second sitting that it was his."
"When did you take it?"
"On Monday morning, I went for Mrs. Dane's medicine, and you had
promised her a book. Do you remember? I told your man, and he
allowed me to go up to the library. It was there, on the table.
I had expected to have to search for it, but it was lying out. I
fastened it to my belt, under my long coat."
"And placed it in the rack at Mrs. Dane's?" Sperry was watching
her intently, with the same sort of grim intentness he wears when
examining a chest.
"I put it in the closet in my room. I meant to get rid of it,
when I had a little time. I don't know how it got downstairs, but
I think - "
"We are house-cleaning. A housemaid was washing closets. I
suppose she found it and, thinking it was one of Mrs. Dane's,
took it downstairs. That is, unless - " It was clear that, like
Elinor, she had a supernatural explanation in her mind. She
looked gaunt and haggard.
"Mr. Ellingham was anxious to get it," she finished. "He had taken
Mr. Johnson's overcoat by mistake one night when you were both in
the house, and the notes were in it. He saw that the stick was
"Clara," Sperry asked, "did you see, the day you advertised for
your bag, another similar advertisement?"
"I saw it. It frightened me.
"You have no idea who inserted it?"
"Did you ever see Miss Jeremy before the first sitting? Or hear
"Or between the seances?"
Elinor rose and drew her veil down. "We must go," she said.
"Surely now you will cease these terrible investigations. I cannot
stand much more. I am going mad."
"There will be no more seances," Sperry said gravely.
"What are you going to do?" She turned to me, I daresay because
I represented what to her was her supreme dread, the law.
"My dear girl," I said, "we are not going to do anything. The
Neighborhood Club has been doing a little amateur research work,
which is now over. That is all."
Sperry took them away in his car, but he turned on the door-step,
"Wait downstairs for me," he said, "I am coming back."
I remained in the library until he returned, uneasily pacing the
For where were we, after all? We had had the medium's story
elaborated and confirmed, but the fact remained that, step by
step, through her unknown "control" the Neighborhood Club had
followed a tragedy from its beginning, or almost its beginning,
to its end.
Was everything on which I had built my life to go? Its philosophy,
its science, even its theology, before the revelations of a young
woman who knew hardly the rudiments of the very things she was
Was death, then, not peace and an awakening to new things, but a
wretched and dissociated clutching after the old? A wrench which
only loosened but did not break our earthly ties?
It was well that Sperry came back when he did, bringing with him
a breath of fresh night air and stalwart sanity. He found me still
pacing the room.
"The thing I want to know," I said fretfully, "is where this leaves
us? Where are we? For God's sake, where are we?"
"First of all," he said, "have you anything to drink? Not for me.
For yourself. You look sick."
"We do not keep intoxicants in the house."
"Oh, piffie," he said. "Where is it, Horace?"
"I have a little gin."
I drew a chair before the book-shelves, which in our old-fashioned
house reach almost to the ceiling, and, withdrawing a volume of
Josephus, I brought down the bottle.
"Now and then, when I have had a bad day," I explained, "I find
that it makes me sleep."
He poured out some and I drank it, being careful to rinse the
"Well," said Sperry, when he had lighted a cigar. "So you want
to know where we are."
"I would like to save something out of the wreck."
"That's easy. Horace, you should be a heart specialist, and I
should have taken the law. It's as plain as the alphabet." He
took his notes of the sittings from his pocket. "I'm going to
read a few things. Keep what is left of your mind on them. This
is the first sitting.
"'The knee hurts. It is very bad. Arnica will take the pain out.'
"I want to go out. I want air. If I could only go to sleep and
forget it. The drawing-room furniture is scattered all over the
"Now the second sitting:
"'It is writing.' (The stick.) "It is writing, but the water washed
it away. All of it, not a trace.' 'If only the pocketbook were not
lost. Car-tickets and letters. It will be terrible if the letters
are found.' 'Hawkins may have it. The curtain was much safer.'
'That part's safe enough, unless it made a hole in the floor above.'"
"Oh, if you're going to read a lot of irrelevant material - "
"Irrelevant nothing! Wake up, Horace! But remember this. I'm not
explaining the physical phenomena. We'll never do that. It wasn't
extraordinary, as such things go. Our little medium in a trance
condition has read poor Clara's mind. It's all here, all that
Clara knew and nothing that she didn't know. A mind-reader, friend
Horace. And Heaven help me when I marry her!"
As I have said, the Neighborhood Club ended its investigations with
this conclusion, which I believe is properly reached. It is only
fair to state that there are those among us who have accepted that
theory in the Wells case, but who have preferred to consider that
behind both it and the physical phenomena of the seances there was
an intelligence which directed both, an intelligence not of this
world as we know it. Both Herbert and Alice Robinson are now
pronounced spiritualists, although Miss Jeremy, now Mrs. Sperry,
has definitely abandoned all investigative work.
Personally, I have evolved no theory. It seems beyond dispute that
certain individuals can read minds, and that these same, or other
so-called "sensitives," are capable of liberating a form of invisible
energy which, however, they turn to no further account than the
useless ringing of bells, moving of small tables, and flinging about
of divers objects.
To me, I admit, the solution of the Wells case as one of mind-reading
is more satisfactory than explanatory. For mental waves remain a
mystery, acknowledged, as is electricity, but of a nature yet
unrevealed. Thoughts are things. That is all we know.
Mrs. Dane, I believe, had suspected the solution from the start.
The Neighborhood Club has recently disbanded. We tried other things,
but we had been spoiled. Our Kipling winter was a failure. We read
a play or two, with Sperry's wife reading the heroine, and the rest
of us taking other parts. She has a lovely voice, has Mrs. Sperry.
But it was all stale and unprofitable, after the Wells affair. With
Herbert on a lecture tour on spirit realism, and Mrs. Dane at a
sanatorium for the winter, we have now given it up, and my wife and
I spend our Monday evenings at home.
After dinner I read, or, as lately, I have been making this record
of the Wells case from our notes. My wife is still fond of the
phonograph, and even now, as I make this last entry and complete my
narrative, she is waiting for me to change the record. I will be
frank. I hate the phonograph. I hope it will be destroyed, or
stolen. I am thinking very seriously of having it stolen.
"Horace," says my wife, "whatever would we do without the phonograph?
I wish you would put it in the burglar-insurance policy. I am always
afraid it will be stolen."
Even here, you see! Truly thoughts are things.
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