The Sleuth of St. James Street
Melville Davisson Post
Part 3 out of 6
followed after him.
"You are lost, Zindorf! Satan is insulted, and God is outraged!
You are lost!"
There was a moment's silence; from outside came the sound of men
and horses. The notes of the girl, light, happy, ascended from
the lower chamber, as she sang about her preparations for the
journey. Zindorf continued to step awfully backward. And
Lucian Morrow, shaken and sober, cried out in the extremity of
"In God's name, Pendleton, what do you mean; Zindorf, using a
sign of God in the service of the devil."
And my father answered him:
"The corpse of Ordez lay in the bare cut of the abandoned road,
and beside it, bedded in the damp clay where he had knelt down to
rifle the pockets of the murdered body, were the patch prints of
VII. The Fortune Teller
Sir Henry Marquis continued to read; he made no comment; his
voice clear and even.
It was a big sunny room. The long windows looked out on a formal
garden, great beech trees and the bow of the river. Within it
was a sort of library. There were bookcases built into the wall,
to the height of a man's head, and at intervals between them,
rising from the floor to the cornice of the shelves, were rows of
mahogany drawers with glass knobs. There was also a flat writing
It was the room of a traveler, a man of letters, a dreamer. On
the table were an inkpot of carved jade, a paperknife of ivory
with gold butterflies set in; three bronze storks, with their
backs together, held an exquisite Japanese crystal.
The room was in disorder - the drawers pulled out and the
My father stood leaning against the casement of the window,
looking out. The lawyer, Mr. Lewis, sat in a chair beside the
table, his eyes on the violated room.
"Pendleton," he said, "I don't like this English man Gosford."
The words seemed to arouse my father out of the depths of some
reflection, and he turned to the lawyer, Mr. Lewis.
"Gosford!" he echoed.
"He is behind this business, Pendleton," the lawyer, Mr. Lewis,
went on. "Mark my word! He comes here when Marshall is dying;
he forces his way to the man's bed; he puts the servants out; he
locks the door. Now, what business had this Englishman with
Marshall on his deathbed? What business of a secrecy so close
that Marshall's son is barred out by a locked door?"
He paused and twisted the seal ring on his finger.
"When you and I came to visit the sick man, Gosford was always
here, as though he kept a watch upon us, and when we left, he
went always to this room to write his letters, as he said.
"And more than this, Pendleton; Marshall is hardly in his grave
before Gosford writes me to inquire by what legal process the
dead man's papers may be examined for a will. And it is Gosford
who sends a negro riding, as if the devil were on the crupper, to
summon me in the name of the Commonwealth of Virginia, - to
appear and examine into the circumstances of this burglary.
"I mistrust the man. He used to hang about Marshall in his life,
upon some enterprise of secrecy; and now he takes possession and
leadership in his affairs, and sets the man's son aside. In what
right, Pendleton, does this adventurous Englishman feel himself
My father did not reply to Lewis's discourse. His comment was in
"Here is young Marshall and Gaeki," he said.
The lawyer rose and came over to the window.
Two persons were advancing from the direction of the stables - a
tall, delicate boy, and a strange old man. The old man walked
with a quick, jerky, stride. It was the old country doctor
Gaeki. And, unlike any other man of his profession, he would
work as long and as carefully on the body of a horse as he would
on the body of a man, snapping out his quaint oaths, and in a
stress of effort, as though he struggled with some invisible
creature for its' prey. The negroes used to say that the devil
was afraid of Gaeki, and he might have been, if to disable a man
or his horse were the devil's will. But I think, rather, the
negroes imagined the devil to fear what they feared themselves.
"Now, what could bring Gaeki here?" said Lewes.
"It was the horse that Gosford overheated in his race to you,"
replied my father. "I saw him stop in the road where the negro
boy was leading the horse about, and then call young Marshall."
"It was no fault of young Marshall, Pendleton," said the lawyer.
"But, also, he is no match for Gosford. He is a dilettante. He
paints little pictures after the fashion he learned in Paris, and
he has no force or vigor in him. His father was a dreamer, a
wanderer, one who loved the world and its frivolities, and the
son takes that temperament, softened by his mother. He ought to
have a guardian."
"He has one," replied my father.
"A guardian!" repeated Lewis. "What court has appointed a
guardian for young Marshall?"
"A court," replied my father, "that does not sit under the
authority of Virginia. The helpless, Lewis, in their youth and
inexperience, are not wholly given over to the spoiler."
The boy they talked about was very young - under twenty, one
would say. He was blue-eyed and fair-haired, with thin, delicate
features, which showed good blood long inbred to the loss of
vigor. He had the fine, open, generous face of one who takes the
world as in a fairy story. But now there was care and anxiety in
it, and a furtive shadow, as though the lad's dream of life had
got some rude awakening.
At this moment the door behind my father and Lewis was thrown
violently open, and a man entered. He was a person with the
manner of a barrister, precise and dapper; he had a long, pink
face, pale eyes, and a close-cropped beard that brought out the
hard lines of his mouth. He bustled to the table, put down a
sort of portfolio that held an inkpot, a writing-pad and pens,
and drew up a chair like one about to take the minutes of a
meeting. And all the while he apologized for his delay. He had
important letters to get off in the post, and to make sure, had
carried them to the tavern himself.
"And now, sirs, let us get about this business," he finished,
like one who calls his assistants to a labor:
My father turned about and looked at the man.
"Is your name Gosford?" he said in his cold, level voice.
"It is, sir," replied the Englishman, " - Anthony Gosford."
"Well, Mr. Anthony Gosford," replied my father, "kindly close the
door that you have opened."
Lewis plucked out his snuffbox and trumpeted in his many-colored
handkerchief to hide his laughter.
The Englishman, thrown off his patronizing manner, hesitated,
closed the door as he was bidden - and could not regain his fine
"Now, Mr. Gosford," my father went on, "why was this room
violated as we see it?"
"It was searched for Peyton Marshall's will, sir," replied the
"How did you know that Marshall had a will?" said my father.
"I saw him write it," returned the Englishman, "here in this very
room, on the eighteenth day of October, 1854."
"That was two years ago," said my father. "Was the will here at
"It was. He told me on his deathbed."
"And it is gone now?"
"It is," replied the Englishman.
"And now, Mr. Gosford," said my father, "how do you know this
will is gone unless you also know precisely where it was?"
"I do know precisely where it was, sir," returned the man. "It
was in the row of drawers on the right of the window where you
stand - the second drawer from the top. Mr. Marshall put it
there when he wrote it, and he told me on his deathbed that it
remained there. You can see, sir, that the drawer has been
My father looked casually at the row of mahogany drawers rising
along the end of the bookcase. The second one and the one above
were open; the others below were closed.
"Mr. Gosford," he said, "you would have some interest in this
will, to know about it so precisely."
"And so I have," replied the man, "it left me a sum of money."
"A large sum?"
"A very large sum, sir."
"Mr. Anthony Gosford," said my father, "for what purpose did
Peyton Marshall bequeath you a large sum of money? You are no
kin; nor was he in your debt."
The Englishman sat down and put his fingers together with a
"Sir," he began, "I am not advised that the purpose of a bequest
is relevant, when the bequest is direct and unencumbered by the
testator with any indicatory words of trust or uses. This will
bequeathes me a sum of money. I am not required by any provision
of the law to show the reasons moving the testator. Doubtless,
Mr. Peyton Marshall had reasons which he deemed excellent for
this course, but they are, sir, entombed in the grave with him."
My father looked steadily at the man, but he did not seem to
consider his explanation, nor to go any further on that line.
"Is there another who would know about this will?" he said.
"This effeminate son would know," replied Gosford, a sneer in the
epithet, "but no other. Marshall wrote the testament in his own
hand, without witnesses, as he had the legal right to do under
the laws of Virginia. The lawyer," he added, "Mr. Lewis, will
confirm me in the legality of that."
"It is the law," said Lewis. "One may draw up a holograph will
if he likes, in his own hand, and it is valid without a witness
in this State, although the law does not so run in every
"And now, sir," continued the Englishman, turning to my father,
"we will inquire into the theft of this testament."
But my father did not appear to notice Mr. Gosford. He seemed
perplexed and in some concern.
"Lewis," he said, "what is your definition of a crime?"
"It is a violation of the law," replied the lawyer.
"I do not accept your definition," said my father. "It is,
rather, I think, a violation of justice - a violation of
something behind the law that makes an act a crime. I think," he
went on, "that God must take a broader view than Mr. Blackstone
and Lord Coke. I have seen a murder in the law that was, in
fact, only a kind of awful accident, and I have seen your
catalogue of crimes gone about by feeble men with no intent
except an adjustment of their rights. Their crimes, Lewis, were
merely errors of their impractical judgment."
Then he seemed to remember that the Englishman was present.
"And now, Mr. Gosford," he said, "will you kindly ask young
Marshall to come in here?"
The man would have refused, with some rejoinder, but my father
was looking at him, and he could not find the courage to resist
my father's will. He got up and went out, and presently returned
followed by the lad and Gaeki. The old country doctor sat down
by the door, his leather case of bottles by the chair, his cloak
still fastened under his chin. Gosford went back to the table
and sat down with his writing materials to keep notes. The boy
My father looked a long time at the lad. His face was grave, but
when he spoke, his voice was gentle.
"My boy," he said, "I have had a good deal of experience in the
examination of the devil's work." He paused and indicated the
violated room. "It is often excellently done. His disciples are
extremely clever. One's ingenuity is often taxed to trace out
the evil design in it, and to stamp it as a false piece set into
the natural sequence of events."
He paused again, and his big shoulders blotted out the window.
"Every natural event," he continued, "is intimately connected
with innumerable events that precede and follow. It has so many
serrated points of contact with other events that the human mind
is not able to fit a false event so that no trace of the joinder
will appear. The most skilled workmen in the devil's shop are
only able to give their false piece a blurred joinder."
He stopped and turned to the row of mahogany drawers beside him.
"Now, my boy," he said, "can you tell me why the one who
ransacked this room, in opening and tumbling the contents of all
the drawers, about, did not open the two at the bottom of the row
where' I stand?"
"Because there was nothing in them of value, sir," replied the
"What is in them?" said my father.
"Only old letters, sir, written to my father, when I was in Paris
- nothing else."
"And who would know that?" said my father.
The boy went suddenly white.
"Precisely!" said my father. "You alone knew it, and when you
undertook to give this library the appearance of a pillaged room,
you unconsciously endowed your imaginary robber with the thing
you knew yourself. Why search for loot in drawers that contained
only old letters? So your imaginary robber reasoned, knowing
what you knew. But a real robber, having no such knowledge,
would have ransacked them lest he miss the things of value that
he searched for."
He paused, his eyes on the lad, his voice deep and gentle.
"Where is the will?" he said.
The white in the boy's face changed to scarlet. He looked a
moment about him in a sort of terror; then he lifted his head and
put back his shoulders. He crossed the room to a bookcase, took
down a volume, opened it and brought out a sheet of folded
foolscap. He stood up and faced my father and the men about the
"This man," he said, indicating Gosford, "has no right to take
all my father had. He persuaded my father and was trusted by
him. But I did not trust him. My father saw this plan in a
light that I did not see it, but I did not oppose him. If he
wished to use his fortune to help our country in the thing which
he thought he foresaw, I was willing for him to do it.
"But," he cried, "somebody deceived me, and I will not believe
that it was my father. He told me all about this thing. I had
not the health to fight for our country, when the time came, he
said, and as he had no other son, our fortune must go to that
purpose in our stead. But my father was just. He said that a
portion would be set aside for me, and the remainder turned over
to Mr. Gosford. But this will gives all to Mr. Gosford and
leaves me nothing!"
Then he came forward and put the paper in my father's hand.
There was silence except for the sharp voice of Mr. Gosford.
"I think there will be a criminal proceeding here!"
My father handed the paper to Lewis, who unfolded it and read it
aloud. It directed the estate of Peyton Marshall to be sold, the
sum of fifty thousand dollars paid to Anthony Gosford and the
remainder to the son.
"But there will be no remainder," cried young Marshall. "My
father's estate is worth precisely that sum. He valued it very
carefully, item by item, and that is exactly the amount it came
"Nevertheless," said Lewis, "the will reads that way. It is in
legal form, written in Marshall's hand, and signed with his
signature, and sealed. Will you examine it, gentlemen? There
can be no question of the writing or the signature."
My father took the paper and read it slowly, and old Gaeki nosed
it over my father's arm, his eyes searching the structure of each
word, while Mr. Gosford sat back comfortably in his chair like
one elevated to a victory.
"It is in Marshall's hand and signature," said my father, and old
Gaeki, nodded, wrinkling his face under his shaggy eyebrows. He
went away still wagging his grizzled head, wrote a memorandum on
an envelope from his pocket, and sat down in, his chair.
My father turned now to young Marshall.
"My boy," he said, "why do you say that some one has deceived
"Because, sir," replied the lad, "my father was to leave me
twenty thousand dollars. That was his plan. Thirty thousand
dollars should be set aside for Mr. Gosford, and the remainder
turned over to me."
"That would be thirty thousand dollars to Mr. Gosford, instead of
fifty," said my father.
"Yes, sir," replied the boy; "that is the way my father said he
would write his will. But it was not written that way. It is
fifty thousand dollars to Mr. Gosford, and the remainder to me.
If it were thirty thousand dollars to Mr. Gosford, as my father,
said his will would be, that would have left me twenty thousand
dollars from the estate; but giving Mr. Gosford fifty thousand
dollars leaves me nothing."
"And so you adventured on a little larceny," sneered the
The boy stood very straight and white.
"I do not understand this thing," he said, "but I do not believe
that my father would deceive me. He never did deceive me in his
life. I may have been, a disappointment to him, but my father
was a gentle man." His voice went up strong and clear. "And I
refuse to believe that he would tell me one thing and do
One could not fail to be impressed, or to believe that the boy
spoke the truth.
"We are sorry," said Lewis, "but the will is valid and we cannot
go behind it."
My father walked about the room, his face in reflection. Gosford
sat at his ease, transcribing a note on his portfolio. Old Gaeki
had gone back to his chair and to his little case of bottles; he
got them up on his knees, as though he would be diverted by
fingering the tools of his profession. Lewis was in plain
distress, for he held the law and its disposition to be
inviolable; the boy stood with a find defiance, ennobled by the
trust in his father's honor. One could not take his stratagem
for a criminal act; he was only a child, for all his twenty years
of life. And yet Lewis saw the elements of crime, and he knew
that Gosford was writing down the evidence.
It was my father who broke the silence.
"Gosford," he said, "what scheme were you and Marshall about?"
"You may wonder, sir," replied the Englishman, continuing to
write at his notes; "I shall not tell you."
"But I will tell you," said the boy. "My father thought that the
states in this republic could not hold together very much longer.
He believed that the country would divide, and the South set up a
separate government. He hoped this might come about without a
war. He was in horror of a war. He had traveled; he had seen
nations and read their history, and he knew what civil wars were.
I have heard him say that men did not realize what they were
talking when they urged war."
He paused and looked at Gosford.
"My father was convinced that the South would finally set up an
independent government, but he hoped a war might not follow. He
believed that if this new government were immediately recognized
by Great Britain, the North would accept the inevitable and there
would be no bloodshed. My father went to England with this
scheme. He met Mr. Gosford somewhere - on the ship, I think.
And Mr. Gosford succeeded in convincing my father that if he had
a sum of money he could win over certain powerful persons in the
English Government, and so pave the way to an immediate
recognition of the Southern Republic by Great Britain. He
followed my father home and hung about him, and so finally got
his will. My father was careful; he wrote nothing; Mr. Gosford
wrote nothing; there is no evidence of this plan; but my father
told me, and it is true."
My father stopped by the table and lifted his great shoulders.
"And so," he said, "Peyton Marshall imagined a plan like that,
and left its execution to a Mr. Gosford!"
The Englishman put down his pen and addressed my father.
"I would advise you, sir, to require a little proof for your
conclusions. This is a very pretty story, but it is prefaced by
an admission of no evidence, and it comes as a special pleading
for a criminal act. Now, sir, if I chose, if the bequest
required it, I could give a further explanation, with more
substance; of moneys borrowed by the decedent in his travels and
to be returned to me. But the will, sir, stands for itself, as
Mr. Lewis will assure you."
Young Marshall looked anxiously at the lawyer.
"Is that the law, sir?"
"It is the law of Virginia," said Lewis, "that a will by a
competent testator, drawn in form, requires no collateral
explanation to support it."
My father seemed brought up in a cul-de-sac. His face was tense
and disturbed. He stood by the table; and now, as by accident,
he put out his hand and took up the Japanese crystal supported by
the necks of the three bronze storks. He appeared unconscious of
the act, for he was in deep reflection. Then, as though the
weight in his hand drew his attention, he glanced at the thing.
Something about it struck him, for his manner changed. He spread
the will out on the table and began to move the crystal over it,
his face close to the glass. Presently his hand stopped, and he
stood stooped over, staring into the Oriental crystal, like those
practicers of black art who predict events from what they pretend
to see in these spheres of glass.
Mr. Gosford, sitting at his ease, in victory, regarded my father
with a supercilious, ironical smile.
"Sir," he said, "are you, by chance, a fortuneteller?"
"A misfortune-teller," replied my father, his face still held
above the crystal. "I see here a misfortune to Mr. Anthony
Gosford. I predict, from what I see, that he will release this
bequest of moneys to Peyton Marshall's son."
"Your prediction, sir," said Gosford, in a harder note, "is not
likely to come true."
"Why, yes," replied my father, "it is certain to come true. I
see it very clearly. Mr. Gosford will write out a release, under
his hand and seal, and go quietly out of Virginia, and Peyton
Marshall's son will take his entire estate."
"Sir," said the Englishman, now provoked into a temper, "do you
enjoy this foolery?"
"You are not interested in crystal-gazing, Mr. Gosford," replied
my father in a tranquil voice. "Well, I find it most diverting.
Permit me to piece out your fortune, or rather your misfortune,
Mr. Gosford! By chance you fell in with this dreamer Marshall,
wormed into his confidence, pretended a relation to great men in
England; followed and persuaded him until, in his ill-health, you
got this will. You saw it written two years ago. When Marshall
fell ill, you hurried here, learned from the dying man that the
will remained and where it was. You made sure by pretending to
write letters in this room, bringing your portfolio with ink and
pen and a pad of paper. Then, at Marshall's death, you inquired
of Lewis for legal measures to discover the dead man's will. And
when you find the room ransacked, you run after the law."
My father paused.
"That is your past, Mr. Gosford. Now let me tell your future. I
see you in joy at the recovered will. I see you pleased at your
foresight in getting a direct bequest, and at the care you urged
on Marshall to leave no evidence of his plan, lest the
authorities discover it. For I see, Mr. Gosford, that it was
your intention all along to keep this sum of money for your own
use and pleasure. But alas, Mr. Gosford, it was not to be! I
see you writing this release; and Mr. Gosford" - my father's
voice went up full and strong, - "I see you writing it in
terror-sweat on your face! "
"The Devil take your nonsense!" cried the Englishman.
My father stood up with a twisted, ironical smile.
"If you doubt my skill, Mr. Gosford, as a fortune, or rather a
misfortune-teller I will ask Mr. Lewis and Herman Gaeki to tell
me what they see."
The two men crossed the room and stooped over the paper, while my
father held the crystal. The manner and the bearing of the men
changed. They grew on the instant tense and fired with interest.
"I see it!" said the old doctor, with a queer foreign expletive.
"And I," cried Lewis, "see something more than Peadleton's
vision. I see the penitentiary in the distance."
The Englishman sprang up with an oath and leaned across the
table. Then he saw the thing.
"My father's hand held the crystal above the (figures of the
bequest written in the body of the will. The focused lens of
glass magnified to a great diameter, and under the vast
enlargement a thing that would escape the eye stood out. The top
curl of a figure 3 had been erased, and the bar of a 5 added.
One could see the broken fibers of the paper on the outline of
the curl, and the bar of the five lay across the top of the three
and the top of the o behind it like a black lath tacked across
The figure 3 had been changed to 5 so cunningly is to deceive the
eye, but not to deceive the vast magnification of the crystal.
The thing stood out big and crude like a carpenter's patch.
Gosford's face became expressionless like wood, his body rigid;
then he stood up and faced the three men across the table.
"Quite so!" he said in his vacuous English voice. "Marshall
wrote a 3 by inadvertence and changed it. He borrowed my
penknife to erase the figure."
My father and Lewis gaped like men who see a penned-in beast slip
out through an unimagined passage. There was silence. Then
suddenly, in the strained stillness of the room, old Doctor Gaeki
Gosford lifted his long pink face, with its cropped beard
bringing out the ugly mouth.
"Why do you laugh, my good man?" he said.
"I laugh," replied Gaeki, "because a figure 5 can have so many
And now my father and Lewis were no less astonished than Mr.
"Colors!" they said, for the changed figure in the will was
"Why, yes," replied the old man, "it is very pretty."
He reached across the table and drew over Mr. Gosford's
memorandum beside the will.
"You are progressive, sir," he went on; "you write in
iron-nutgall ink, just made, commercially, in this year of
fifty-six by Mr. Stephens. But we write here as Marshall wrote
in 'fifty-four, with logwood."
He turned and fumbled in his little case of bottles.
"I carry a bit of acid for my people's indigestions. It has
other uses." He whipped out the stopper of his vial and dabbed
Gosford's notes and Marshall's signature.
"See!" he cried. "Your writing is blue, Mr. Gosford, and
With an oath the trapped man struck at Gaeki's hand. The vial
fell and cracked on the table. The hydrochloric acid spread out
over Marshall's will. And under the chemical reagent the figure
in the bequest of fifty thousand dollars changed beautifully; the
bar of the 5 turned blue, and the remainder of it a deep
purple-red like the body of the will.
"Gaeki," cried my father, "you have trapped a rogue!"
"And I have lost a measure of good acid," replied the old man.
And he began to gather up the bits of his broken bottle from the
VIII. The Hole in the Mahogany Panel
Sir Henry paused a moment, his finger between the pages of the
"It is the inspirational quality in these cases" he said, "that
impresses me. It is very nearly absent in our modern methods of
criminal investigation. We depend now on a certain formal
routine. I rarely find a man in the whole of Scotland Yard with
a trace of intuitive impulse to lead him . . . . Observe how
this old justice in Virginia bridged the gaps between his
"We call it the inspirational instinct, in criminal investigation
. . . genius, is the right word."
He looked up at the clock.
"We have an hour, yet, before the opera will be worth hearing;
listen to this final case."
The narrative of the diary follows:
The girl was walking in the road. Her frock was covered with
dust. Her arms hung limp. Her face with the great eyes and the
exquisite mouth was the chalk face of a ghost. She walked with
the terrible stiffened celerity of a human creature when it is
trapped and ruined.
Night was coming on. Behind the girl sat the great old house at
the end of a long lane of ancient poplars.
This was a strange scene my father came on. He pulled up his big
red-roan horse at the crossroads, where the long lane entered the
turnpike, and looked at the stiff, tragic figure. He rode home
from a sitting of the county justices, alone, at peace, on this
midsummer night, and God sent this tragic thing to meet him.
He got down and stood under the crossroads signboard beside his
The earth was dry; in dust. The dead grass and the dead leaves
made a sere, yellow world. It looked like a land of unending
summer, but a breath of chill came out of the hollows with the
The girl would have gone on, oblivious. But my father went down
into the road and took her by the arm. She stopped when she saw
who it was, and spoke in the dead, uninflected voice of a person
"Is the thing a lie?" she said.
"What thing, child?" replied my father.
"The thing he told me!"
"Dillworth?" said my father. "Do you mean Hambleton Dillworth?"
The girl put out her free arm in a stiff, circling gesture. "In
all the world," she said, "is there any other man who would have
My father's face hardened as if of metal. "What did he tell
The girl spoke plainly, frankly, in her dead voice, without
equivocation, with no choice of words to soften what she said:
"He said that my father was not dead; that I was the daughter of
a thief; that what I believed about my father was all made up to
save the family name; that the truth was my father robbed him,
stole his best horse and left the country when I was a baby. He
said I was a burden on him, a pensioner, a drone; and to go and
seek my father."
And suddenly she broke into a flood of tears. Her face pressed
against my father's shoulder. He took her up in his big arms and
got into his saddle.
"My child," he said, "let us take Hambleton Dillworth at his
And he turned the horse into the lane toward the ancient house.
The girl in my father's arms made no resistance. There was this
dominating quality in the man that one trusted to him and
followed behind him. She lay in his arms, the tars wetting her
white face and the long lashes.
The moon came up, a great golden moon, shouldered over the rim of
the world by the backs of the crooked elves. The horse and the
two persons made a black, distorted shadow that jerked along as
though it were a thing evil and persistent. Far off in the
thickets of the hills an owl cried, eerie and weird like a
creature in some bitter sorrow. The lane was deep with dust. The
horse traveled with no sound, and the distorted black shadow
followed, now blotted out by the heavy tree tops, and now only
partly to be seen, but always there.
My father got down at the door and carried the girl up the steps
and between the plaster pillars into the house. There was a hall
paneled in white wood and with mahogany doors. He opened one of
these doors and went in. The room he entered had been splendid
in some ancient time. It was big; the pieces in it were
exquisite; great mirrors and old portraits were on the wall.
A man sitting behind a table got up when my father entered. Four
tallow candles, in ancient silver sticks, were on the table, and
some sheets with figured accounts.
The man who got up was like some strange old child. He wore a
number of little capes to hide his humped back, and his body, one
thought, under his clothes was strapped together. He got on his
feet nimbly like a spider, and they heard the click of a pistol
lock as he whipped the weapon out of an open drawer, as though it
were a habit thus always to keep a weapon at his hand to make him
equal in stature with other men. Then he saw who it was and the
double-barreled pistol slipped out of sight. He was startled and
apprehensive, but he was not in fear.
He stood motionless behind the table, his head up, his eyes hard,
his thin mouth closed like a trap and his long, dead black hair
hanging on each side of his lank face over the huge, malformed
ears. The man stood thus, unmoving, silent, with his twisted
ironical smile, while my father put the girl into a chair and
stood up behind it.
"Dillworth," said my father, "what do you mean by turning this
child out of the house?"
The man looked steadily at the two persons before him.
"Pendleton," he said, and he spoke precisely, "I do not recognize
the right of you, or any other man, to call my acts into account;
however" - and he made a curious gesture with his extended hands
"not at your command, but at my pleasure, I will tell you.
"This young woman had some estate from her mother at that lady's
death. As her guardian I invested it by permission of the
court's decree." He paused. "When the Maxwell lands were sold
before the courthouse I bid them in for my ward. The judge
confirmed this use of the guardian funds. It was done upon
advice of counsel and within the letter of the law. Now it
appears that Maxwell had only a life interest in these lands;
Maxwell is dead, and one who has purchased the interest of his
heirs sues in the courts for this estate.
"This new claimant will recover; since one who buys at a judicial
sale, I find, buys under the doctrine of caveat emptor - that is
to say, at his peril. He takes his chance upon the title. The
court does not insure it. If it is defective he loses both the
money and the lands. And so," he added, "my ward will have no
income to support her, and I decline to assume that burden."
My father looked the hunchback in the face. "Who is the man
bringing this suit at law?"
"A Mr. Henderson, I believe," replied Dillworth, "from Maryland."
"Do you know him?" said my father.
"I never heard of him," replied the hunchback.
The girl, huddled in the chair, interrupted. "I have seen
letters," she said, "come in here with this man's return address
at Baltimore written on the envelope."
The hunchback made an irrelevant gesture. "The man wrote - to
inquire if I would buy his title. I declined." Then he turned
to my father. "Pendleton," he said, "you know about this matter.
You know that every step I took was legal. And with pains and
care how I got an order out of chancery to make this purchase,
and how careful I was to have this guardianship investment
confirmed by the court. No affair was ever done so exactly
within the law."
"Why were you so extremely careful?" said my father.
"Because I wanted the safeguard of the law about me at every
step," replied the man.
"You ask me that, Pendleton?"' cried the man. "Is not the wisdom
of my precautions evident? I took them to prevent this very
thing; to protect myself when this thing should happen!"
"Then," said my father, "you knew it was going to happen."
The man's eyes slipped about a moment in his head. "I knew it
was going to happen that I would be charged with all sorts of
crimes and misdemeanors if there should be any hooks on which to
hang them. Because a man locks his door is it proof that he
knows a robber is on the way? Human foresight and the experience
of men move prudent persons to a reasonable precaution in the
conduct of affairs."
"And what is it," said my father, "that moves them to an
The hunchback snapped his fingers with an exasperated gesture.
"I will not be annoyed by your big, dominating manner!" he cried.
My father was not concerned by this defiance. "Dillworth," he
said, "you sent this child out to seek her father. Well, she
took the right road to find him."
The hunchback stepped back quickly, his face changed. He sat
down in his chair and looked up at my father. There was here
suddenly uncovered something that he had not looked for. And he
talked to gain time.
"I have cast up the accounts in proper form," he said while he
studied my father, his hand moving the figured sheets. "They are
correct and settled before two commissioners in chancery. Taking
out my commission as guardian, the amounts allowed me for the
maintenance and education of the ward, and no dollar of this
personal estate remains."
His long, thin hand with the nimble fingers turned the sheets
over on the table as though to conclude that phase of the affair.
"The real property," he continued, "will return nothing; the
purchase money was applied on Maxwell's debts and cannot be
followed. This new claimant, Henderson, who has bought up the
outstanding title, will take the land."
"For some trifling sum," said my father.
The hunchback nodded slowly, his eyes in a study of my father's
"Doubtless," he said, "it was not known that Maxwell had only a
life estate in the lands, and the remainder to the heirs was
likely purchased for some slight amount. The language of the
deeds that Henderson exhibits in his suit shows a transfer of all
claim or title, as though he bought a thing which the grantees
thought lay with the uncertainties of a decree in chancery."
"I have seen the deeds," said my father.
"Then," sand the hunchback, "you know they are valid, and
transfer the title." He paused. "I have no doubt that Mr.
Henderson assembled these outstanding interests at no great cost,
but his conveyances are in form and legal."
"Everything connected with this affair," said my father, "is
The hunchback considered my father through his narrow eyelids.
"It is a strange world;" he said.
"It is," replied my father. "It is profoundly, inconceivably
There was a moment of silence. The two men regarded each other
across the half-length of the room. The girl sat in the chair.
She had got back her courage. The big, forceful presence of my
father, like the shadow of a great rock, was there behind her.
She had the fine courage of her blood, and, after the first cruel
shock of this affair, she faced the tragedies that might lie
within it calmly.
Shadows lay along the walls of the great room, along the gilt
frames of the portraits, the empty fireplace, the rosewood
furniture of ancient make and the oak floor. Only the hunchback
was in the light, behind the four candles on the table.
"It was strange," continued my father over the long pause, "that
your father's will discovered at his death left his lands to you,
and no acre to your brother David."
"Not strange," replied the hunchback, "when you consider what my
brother David proved to be. My father knew him. What was hidden
from us, what the world got no hint of, what the man was in the
deep and secret places of his heart, my father knew. Was it
strange, then, that he should leave the lands to me?"
"It was a will drawn by an old man in his senility, and under
"Under my care," cried the hunchback. "I will plead guilty, if
you like, to that. I honored my father. I was beside his bed
with loving-kindness, while my brother went about the pleasures
of his life."
"But the testament," said my father, "was in strange terms. It
bequeathed the lands to you, with no mention of the personal
property, as though these lands were all the estate your father
"And so they were," replied the hunchback calmly. "The lands had
been stripped of horse and steer, and every personal item, and
every dollar in hand or debt owing to my father before his
death." The, man paused and put the tips of his fingers
together. "My father had given to my brother so much money from
these sources, from time to time, that he justly left me the
lands to make us even."
"Your father was senile and for five years in his bed. It was
you, Dillworth, who cleaned the estate of everything but land."
"I conducted my father's business," said the hunchback, "for him,
since he was ill. But I put the moneys from these sales into his
hand and he gave them to my brother."
"I have never heard that your brother David got a dollar of this
The hunchback was undisturbed.
"It was a family matter and not likely to be known."
"I see it," said my father. "It was managed in your legal manner
and with cunning foresight. You took the lands only in the will,
leaving the impression to go out that your brother had already
received his share in the personal estate by advancement. It was
shrewdly done. But there remained one peril in it: If any
personal property should appear under the law you would be
required to share it equally with your brother David."
"Or rather," replied the hunchback calmly, "to state the thing
correctly, my brother David would be required to share any
discovered personal property with me." Then he added: "I gave my
brother David a hundred dollars for his share in the folderol
about the premises, and took possession of the house and lands."
"And after that," said my father, "what happened?"
The hunchback uttered a queerly inflected expletive, like a
"After that," he answered, "we saw the real man in my brother
David, as my father, old and dying, had so clearly seen it.
After that he turned thief and fugitive."
At the words the girl in the chair before my father rose. She
stood beside him, her lithe figure firm, her chin up, her hair
spun darkness. The courage, the fine, open, defiant courage of
the first women of the world, coming with the patriarchs out of
Asia, was in her lifted face. My father moved as though he would
stop the hunchback's cruel speech. But she put her fingers
firmly on his arm.
"He has gone so far," she said, "let him go on to the end. Let
him omit no word, let us hear every ugly thing the creature has
Dillworth sat back in his chair at ease, with a supercilious
smile. He passed the girl and addressed my father.
"You will recall the details of that robbery," he said in his
complacent, piping voice. "My brother David had married a wife,
like the guest invited in the Scriptures. A child was born. My
brother lived with his wife's people in their house. One night
he came to me to borrow money."
He paused and pointed his long index finger through the doorway
and across the hall.
"It was in my father's room that I received him. It did not
please me to put money into his hands. But I admonished him with
wise counsel. He did not receive my words with a proper
brotherly regard. He flared up in unmanageable anger. He damned
me with reproaches, said I had stolen his inheritance, poisoned
his father's mind against him and slipped into the house and
lands. `Pretentious and perfidious' is what he called me. I was
firm and gentle. But he grew violent and a thing happened."
The man put up his hand and moved it along in the air above the
"There was a secretary beside the hearth in, my father's room.
It was an old piece with drawers below and glass doors above.
These doors had not been opened for many years, for there was
nothing on the shelves behind them - one could see that - except
some rows of the little wooden boxes that indigo used to be sold
in at the country stores."
The hunchback paused as though to get the details of his story
precisely in relation.
"I sat at my father's table in the middle of the room. My
brother David was a great, tall man, like Saul. In his anger, as
he gesticulated by the hearth, his elbow crashed through the
glass door of this secretary; the indigo boxes fell, burst open
on the floor, and a hidden store of my father's money was
revealed. The wooden boxes were full of gold pieces!"
He stopped and passed his fingers over his projecting chin.
"I was in fear, for I was alone in the house. Every negro was at
a distant frolic. And I was justified in that fear. My brother
leaped on me, struck me a stunning blow on the chest over the
heart, gathered up the gold, took my horse and fled. At daybreak
the negroes found me on the floor, unconscious. Then you came,
Pendleton. The negroes had washed up the litter from the hearth
where the indigo about the coins in the boxes had been shaken
My father interrupted:
"The negroes said the floor had been scrubbed when they found
"They were drunk," continued the hunchback with no concern.
"And, does one hold a drunken negro to his fact? But you saw for
yourself the wooden boxes, round, three inches high, with tin
lids, and of a diameter to hold a stack of golden eagles, and you
saw the indigo still sticking about the sides of these boxes
where the coins had laid."
"I did," replied my father. "I observed it carefully, for I
thought the gold pieces might turn up sometime, and the blue
indigo stain might be on them when they first appeared."
Dillworth leaned far back in his chair, his legs `tangled under
him, his eyes on my father, in reflection. Finally he spoke.
"You are far-sighted," he said.
"Or God is," replied my father, and, stepping over to the table,
he spun a gold piece on the polished surface of the mahogany
The hunchback watched the yellow disk turn and flit and wabble on
its base and flutter down with its tingling reverberations.
"To-day, when I rode into the county seat to a sitting of the
justices," continued my father, "the sheriff showed me some gold
eagles that your man from Maryland, Mr. Henderson, had paid in on
court costs. Look, Dillworth, there is one of them, and with
your thumb nail on the milled edge you can scrape off the
The hunchback looked at the spinning coin, but he did not touch
it. His head, with its long, straight hair, swung a moment
uncertain between his shoulders. Then, swiftly and with a firm
grip, he took his resolution.
"The coins appear," he said. "My brother David must be in
Baltimore behind this suit."
"He is not in Baltimore," said my father.
"Perhaps you know where he is," cried the hunchback, "since you
speak with such authority."
"I do know where he is," said my father in his deep, level voice.
The hunchback got on his feet slowly beside his chair. And the
girl came into the protection of my father's arm, her features
white like plaster; but the fiber in her blood was good and she
stood up to face the thing that might be coming. After the one
long abandonment to tears in my father's saddle she had got
herself in hand. She had gone, like the princes of the blood,
through the fire, and the dross of weakness was burned out.
The hunchback got on his feet, in position like a duelist, his
hard, bitter face turned slantwise toward my father.
"Then," he said, "if you know where David is you will take his
daughter to him, if you please, and rid my house of the burden of
"We shall go to him," said my father slowly, "but he shall not
return to us."
The hunchback's eyes blinked and bated in the candlelight.
"You quote the Scriptures," he said. "Is David in a grave?"
"He is not," replied my father.
The hunchback seemed to advance like a duelist who parries the
first thrust of his opponent. But my father met him with an even
"Dillworth," he said, "it was strange that no man ever saw your
brother or the horse after the night he visited you in this
"It was dark," replied the man. "He rode from this door through
the gap in the mountains into Maryland."
"He rode from this door," said my father slowly, "but not through
the gap in the mountains into Maryland."
The hunchback began to twist his fingers.
"Where did he ride then? A man and a horse could not vanish."
"They did vanish," said my father.
"Now you utter fool talk!" cried Dillworth.
"I speak the living truth," replied my father. "Your brother
David and your horse disappeared out of sound and hearing -
disappeared out of the sight and knowledge of men - after he rode
away from your door on that fatal night."
"Well," said the hunchback, "since my brother David rode away
from my door - and you know that - I am free of obligation for
"It is Cain's speech!" replied my father.
The hunchback put back his long hair with a swift brush of the
fingers across his forehead.
"Dillworth," cried my father, and his voice filled the empty
places of the room, "is the mark there?"
The hunchback began to curse. He walked around my father and the
girl, the hair about his lank jaws, his fingers working, his face
evil. In his front and menace he was like a weasel that would
attack some larger creature. And while he made the great turn of
his circle my father, with his arm about the girl, stepped before
the drawer of the table where the pistol lay.
"Dillworth," he said calmly, "I know where he is. And the mark
you felt for just now ought to be there."
"Fool!" cried the hunchback. "If I killed him how could he ride
away from the door?"
"It was a thing that puzzled me," replied my father, "when I
stood in this house on the morning of your pretended robbery. I
knew what had happened. But I thought it wiser to let the evil
thing remain a mystery, rather than unearth it to foul your
family name and connect this child in gossip for all her days
with a crime."
"With a thief," snarled the man.
"With a greater criminal than a thief," replied My father. "I
was not certain about this gold on that morning when you showed
me the empty boxes. They were too few to hold gold enough for
such a motive. I thought a quarrel and violent hot blood were
behind the thing; and for that reason I have been silent. But
now, when the coins turn up, I see that the thing was all
ruthless, cold-blooded love of money.
"I know what happened in that room. When your brother David
struck the old secretary with his elbow, and the dozen indigo
boxes fell and burst open on the hearth, you thought a great
hidden treasure was uncovered. You thought swiftly. You had got
the land by undue influence on your senile father, and you did
not have to share that with your brother David. But here was a
treasure you must share; you saw it in a flash. You sat at your
father's table in the room. Your brother stood by the wall
looking at the hearth. And you acted then, on the moment, with
the quickness of the Evil One. It was cunning in you to select
the body over the heart as the place to receive the imagined blow
- the head or face would require some evidential mark to affirm
your word. And it was cunning to think of the unconscious, for
in that part one could get up and scrub the hearth and lie down
again to play it."
"But the other thing you did in that room was not so clever. A
picture was newly hung on the wall - I saw the white square on
the opposite wall from which it had been taken. It hung at the
height of a man's shoulders directly behind the spot where your
brother must have stood after he struck the secretary, and it
hung in this new spot to cover the crash of a bullet into the
My father stopped and caught up the hunchback's double-barreled
pistol out of the empty drawer.
The room was now illumined; the moon had got above the tree tops
and its light slanted in through the long windows. The hunchback
saw the thing and he paused; his face worked in the fantastic
"Yes," continued my father, in his deep, quiet voice, "this is
your mistake to-night - to let me get your weapon. Your mistake
that other night was to shoot before you counted the money. It
was only a few hundred dollars. The dozen wooden boxes would
hold no great sum. But the thing was done, and you must cover
"And you did cover it - with fiendish cunning. It would not do
for your brother to vanish from your house, alone and with no
motive. But if he disappeared, with the gold to take him and a
horse to ride, the explanation would have solid feet to go on. I
give you credit here for the ingenuity of Satan. You managed the
thing. You caused your brother David and the horse to vanish. I
saw, on that morning, the tracks of the horse where you led him
from the stable to the door, and his tracks where you led him,
holding the dead man in the saddle, from the door to the ancient
orchard where the grass grows over the fallen-down chimney of
your grandsire's house. And there, at your cunning, they wholly
The mad courage in the hunchback got control, and he began to
advance on my father with no weapon and with no hope to win. His
fingers crooked, his body in a bow, his wizen, cruel face pallid
in the ghostly light.
"Dillworth," cried my father, in a great voice, like one who
would startle a creature out of mania, "you will write a deed in
your legal manner granting these lands to your brother's child.
And after that" - his words were like the blows of a hammer on an
anvil - "I will give you until daybreak to vanish out of our
sight and hearing - through the gap in the mountains into
Maryland on your horse, as you say your brother David went, or
into the abandoned cistern in the ancient orchard where he lies
under the horse that you shot and tumbled in on his murdered
The moon was now above the gable of the house. The candles were
burned down. They guttered around the sheet of foolscap wet with
the scrawls and splashes of Dillworth's quill. My father stood
at a window looking out, the girl in a flood of tears, relaxed
and helpless, in the protection of his arm.
And far down the long turnpike, white like an expanded ribbon,
the hunchback rode his great horse in a gallop, perched like a
monkey, his knees doubled, his head bobbing, his lose body
rolling in the saddle - while the black, distorted shadow that
had followed my father into this tragic house went on before him
like some infernal messenger convoying the rider to the Pit.
IX. The End of the Road
The man laughed.
It was a faint cynical murmur of a laugh. Its expression hardly
disturbed the composition of his features.
"I fear, Lady Muriel," he said, "that your profession is ruined.
Our friend - `over the water' - is no longer concerned about the
affairs of England."
The woman fingered at her gloves, turning them back about the
wrists. Her face was anxious and drawn.
"I am rather desperately in need of money," she said.
The cynicism deepened in the man's face.
"Unfortunately," he replied, "a supply of money cannot be
influenced by the intensity of one's necessity for it."
He was a man indefinite in age. His oily black hair was brushed
carefully back. His clothes were excellent, with a precise
detail. Everything about him was conspicuously correct in the
English fashion. But the man was not English. One could not say
from what race he came. Among the races of Southern Europe he
could hardly have been distinguished. There was a chameleon
quality strongly dominant in the creature.
The woman looked up quickly, as in a strong aversion.
"What shall you do?" she said.
The man glanced about the room. There was a certain display
within the sweep of his vision. Some rugs of great value, vases
and bronzes; genuine and of extreme age. He made a careless
gesture with his hands.
"I shall explore some ruins in Syria, and perhaps the aqueduct
which the French think carried a water supply to the Carthage of
Hanno. It will be convenient to be beyond British inquiry for
some years to come; and after all, I am an antiquarian, like
Lady Muriel continued to finger her gloves. They had been
cleaned and the cryptic marks of the shopkeeper were visible
along the inner side of the wrist hem. This was, to the woman,
the first subterfuge of decaying smartness. When a woman began
to send her gloves to the laundry she was on her way down. Other
evidences were not entirely lacking in the woman's dress, but
they were not patent to the casual eye. Lady Muriel was still,
to the observer, of the gay top current in the London world.
The woman followed the man's glance about the room.
"You must be rich, Hecklemeir," she said. "Lend me a hundred
The man laughed again in his queer chuckle.
"Ah, no, my Lady," he replied, "I do not lend." Then he added.
"If you have anything of value, bring it to me . . . . not
information from the ministry, and not war plans; the trade in
such commodities is ended."
It was the woman's turn to laugh.
"The shopkeepers in Oxford Street have been before you, Baron . .
. . I've nothing to sell."
Hecklemeir smiled, kneading his pudgy hands.
"It will be hard to borrow," he said. "Money is very dear to the
Britisher just now - right against his heart . . . . Still. . . .
perhaps one's family could be thumb screwed. . . . . .An elderly
relative with no children would be the most favorable, I think.
Have you got such a relative concealed somewhere in a nook of
London? Think about it. If you could recall one, he would be
like a buried nut."
The man paused; then he added, with the offensive chuckling
"Go to such an one, Lady Muriel. Who shall turn aside from
virtue in distress? Perhaps, in the whole of London, I alone
have the brutality - shall we call it - to resist that
The woman rose. Her face was now flushed and angry.
"I do not know of any form of brutality in which you do not
excel, Hecklemeir," she said. "I have a notion to, go to
Scotland Yard with the whole story of your secret traffic."
The man continued to smile.
"Alas, my Lady," he replied, "we are coupled together. Scotland
Yard would hardly separate us . . . . you could scarcely manage
to drown me and, keep afloat yourself. Dismiss the notion; it is
from the pit."
There was no virtue in her threat as the woman knew. Already her
mind was on the way that Hecklemeir had ironically suggested - an
elderly relative, with no children, from whom one might borrow, -
she valued the ramifications of her family, running out to the
remote, withered branches of that noble tree. She appraised the
individuals and rejected them.
Finally her searching paused.
There was her father's brother who had gone in for science -
deciding against the army and the church - Professor Bramwell
Winton, the biologist. He lived somewhere toward Covent Garden.
She had not thought of him for years. Occasionally his name
appeared in some note issued by the museum, or a college at
For almost four years she had been relieved of this thought about
one's family. The one "over the water" for whom Hecklemeir had
stolen the Scottish toast to designate, had paid lavishly for
what she could find out.
She had been richly, for these four years, in funds.
The habit was established of dipping her hand into the dish. And
now to find the dish empty appalled her. She could not believe
that it was empty. She had come again, and again to this
apartment above the shops in Regent Street, selected for its
safety of ingress; a modiste and a hairdresser on either side of
a narrow flight of steps.
A carriage could stop here; one could be seen here.
Even on the right, above, at the landing of the flight of steps
Nance Coleen altered evening gowns with the skill of one altering
the plumage of the angels. It must have cost the one "over the
water" a pretty penny to keep this whole establishment running
through four years of war.
She spoke finally.
"Have you a directory of London, Hecklemeir?"
The man had been watching her closely.
"If it is Scotland Yard, my Lady," he said, "you will not require
a direction. I can give you the address. It is on the
Embankment, near . . . "
"Don't be a fool, Hecklemeir," she interrupted, and taking the
book from his hands, she whipped through the pages, got the
address she sought, and went out onto the narrow landing and down
the steps into Regent Street:
She took a hansom.
With some concern she examined the contents of her purse. There
was a guinea, a half crown and some shillings in it - the dust of
the bin. And her profession, as Hecklemeir had said, was ended.
She leaned over, like a man, resting her arms on the closed
The future looked troublous. Money was the blood current in the
life she knew. It was the vital element. It must be got.
And thus far she had been lucky.
Even in this necessity Bramwell Winton had emerged, when she
could not think of any one. He would not have much. These
scientific creatures never accumulated money, but he would have a
hundred pounds. He had no wife or children to scatter the
shillings of his income.
True these creatures spent a good deal on the absurd rubbish of
their hobbies. But they got money sometimes, not by thrift but
by a sort of chance. Had not one of them, Sir Isaac Martin,
found the lost mines from which the ancient civilization of Syria
drew its supply of copper. And Hector Bartlett, little more than
a mummy in the Museum, had gone one fine day into Asia and dug up
the gold plates that had roofed a temple of the Sun.
He had been shown in the drawing rooms, on his return, and she
had stopped a moment to look him over - he was a sort of mummy.
She was not hoping to find Bramwell Winton one of these elect.
But he was a hive that had not been plundered.
She reflected, sitting bent forward in the hansom, her face
determined and unchanging. She did not undertake to go forward
beyond the hundred pounds. Something would turn up. She was
lucky . . . others had gone to the tower; gone before the firing
squad for lesser activities in what Hecklemeir called her
profession, but she had floated through . . . carrying what she
gleaned to the paymaster. Was it skill, or was she a "child of
And like every gambler, like every adventurer in a life of
hazard, she determined for the favorite of some immense Fatality.
It was an old house she came to, built in the prehistoric age of
London, with thick, heavy walls, one of a row, deadly in its
monotony. The row was only partly tenanted.
She dismissed the hansom and got out.
It was a moment before she found the number. The houses
adjoining on either side were empty, the windows were shuttered.
One might have considered the middle house with the two, for its
step was unscrubbed, and it presented unwashed windows.
It was a heavy, deep-walled structure like a monument. Even the
street in the vicinity was empty. If the biologist had been
seeking an undisturbed quarter of London, he had, beyond doubt,
found it here.
There was a bridged-over court before the house. Lady Muriel
crossed. She paused before the door. There had been a bell pull
in the wall, but the brass handle was broken and only the wire
She was uncertain whether one was supposed to pull this wire, and
in the hesitation she took hold of the door latch. To her
surprise the door yielded, and following the impulse of her
extended hand, she went in.
The hall was empty. There was no servant to be seen. And
immediately the domestic arrangement of the biologist were clear
to her. They would be that of one who had a cleaning woman in on
certain days, and so lived alone. She was not encouraged by this
economy, and yet such a custom in a man like Bramwell Winton
might be habit.
The scientist, in the popular conception, was not concerned with
the luxury of life - they were a rum lot.
But the house was not empty. A smart hat and stick were in the
rack and from what should be a drawing room, above, there
descended faintly the sound of voices.
It seemed ridiculous to Lady Muriel to go out and struggle with
the broken bell wire. She would go up, now that she had entered,
and announce herself, since, in any event, it must come to that.
The heavy oak door closed without a sound, as -it had opened.
Lady Muriel went up the stairway. She had nothing to put down.
The only thing she carried was a purse, and lest it should appear
suggestive - as of one coming with his empty wallet in his hand -
she tucked the gold mesh into the bosom of her jacket.
The door to the drawing room was partly open, and as Lady Muriel
approached the top of the stair she heard the voices of two men
in an eager colloquy; a smart English accent from the world that
she was so desperately endeavoring to remain in, and a voice that
paused and was unhurried. But they were both eager, as I have
written, as though commonly impulsed by an unusual concern.
And now that she was near, Lady Muriel realized that the
conversation was not low or under uttered. The smart voice was,
in fact, loud and incisive. It was the heavy house that reduced
the sounds. In fact, the conversation was keyed up. The two men
were excited about something.
A sentence arrested the woman's advancing feet.
"My word! Bramwell, if some one should go there and bring the
things out, he would make a fortune, and would be famous. Nobody
ever believed these stories."
"There was Le Petit, Sir Godfrey," replied the deliberate voice.
"He declared over his signature that he had seen them."
"But who believed Le Petit," continued the other. "The world
took him to be a French imaginist like Chateaubriand . . . who
the devil, Bramwell, supposed there was any truth in this old
story? But by gad, sir, it's true! The water color shows it,
and if you turn it over you will see that the map on the back of
it gives the exact location of the spot. It's all exact work,
even the fine lines of the map have the bearings indicated. The
man who made that water color, and the drawing on the back of it,
had been on the spot.
"Of course, we don't know conclusively who made it. Tony had
gone in from the West coast after big, game, and he found the
thing put up as a sort of fetish in a devil house. It was one of
the tribes near the Karamajo range. As I told you, we have only
Tony's diary for it. I found the thing among his effects after
he was killed in Flanders. It's pretty certain Tony did not
understand the water color. There was only this single entry in
the diary about how he found it, and a query in pencil.
"My word! if he had understood the water color, he would have
beaten over every foot of Africa to Lake Leopold. And it would
have been the biggest find of his time. Gad! what a splash he'd
have made! But he never had any luck, the beggar . . . stopped a
German bullet in the first week out.
"Now, how the devil, Bramwell, do you suppose that water color
got into a native medicine house?"
The reflective voice replied slowly.
"I've thought about the thing, Sir Godfrey. It must have been
the work of the Holland explorer, Maartin. He was all about in
Africa, and he died in there somewhere, at least he never came
out . . . that was ten years ago. I've looked him up, and I find
that he could do a water color-in fact there's a collection of
his water colors in, the Dutch museum. They're very fine work,
like this one; exquisite, I'd say. The fellow was born an
"How it got into the hands of a native devil doctor is not
difficult to imagine. The sleeping sickness may have wiped
Maartin out, or the natives may have rushed his camp some
morning, or he may have been mauled by a beast. Any article of a
white man is medicine stuff you know. When you first showed me
the thing I was puzzled. I knew what it was because I had read
Le Petit's pretension . . . I can't call it a pretension now; the
things are there whether he saw them or not.
"I think he did not see them. But it is certain from this water
color that some one did; and Maartin is the only explorer that
could have done such a color. As soon as I thought of Maartin I
knew the thing could have been done by no other."
Lady Muriel had remained motionless on the stair. The door to
the drawing room, before her, was partly open. She stepped in to
the angle of the wall and drew the door slowly back until it
covered this angle in which she stood.
She was rich in such experiences, for her success had depended,
not a little, on overhearing what was being said. Through the
crack of the door the whole interior of the room was visible.
Sir Godfrey Halleck, a little dapper man, was sitting across the
table from Bramwell Winton. His elbows were on the table, and he
was looking eagerly at the biologist. Bramwell Winton had in his
hands the thing under discussion.
It seemed to be a piece of cardboard or heavy paper about six
inches in length by, perhaps, four in width. Lady Muriel could
not see what was drawn or painted on this paper. But the heart
in her bosom quickened. She had chanced on the spoor of
something worth while.
The little dapper man flung his head up.
"Oh, it's certain, Bramwell; it's beyond any question now. My
word! If Tony were only alive, or I twenty years younger! It's
no great undertaking, to go in to the Karamajo Mountains. One
could start from the West Coast, unship any place and pick up a
bunch of natives. The map on the back of the water color is
accurate. The man who made that knew how to travel in an unknown
country. He must have had a theodolite and the very best
equipment. Anybody could follow that map."
There was a battered old dispatch box on the table beside Sir
Godfrey's arm - one that had seen rough service.
"Of course," he went on, "we don't know when Tony picked up this
drawing. It was in this box here with his diary, an automatic
pistol and some quinine. The date of the diary entry is the only
clue. That would indicate that he was near the Karamajo range at
the time, not far from the spot."
He snapped his fingers.
"What damned luck!"
He clinched his hands and brought them down on the table.
"I'm nearly seventy, Bramwell, but you're ten years under that.
You could go in. No one need know the object of your expedition.
Hector Bartlett didn't tell the whole of England when he went out
to Syria for the gold plates. A scientist can go anywhere. No
one wonders what he is about. It wouldn't take three months.
And the climate isn't poisonous. I think it's mostly high
ground. Tony didn't complain about it."
The biologist answered without looking up.
"I haven't got the money, Sir Godfrey."
The dapper little man jerked his head as over a triviality.
"I'll stake you. It wouldn't cost above five hundred pounds."
The biologist sat back in his chair, at the words, and looked
over the table at his guest.
"That's awfully decent of you, Godfrey," he said, "and I'd go if
I saw a way to get your money to you if anything happened."
"Damn the money!" cried the other.
The biologist smiled.
"Well," he said, "let me think about it. I could probably fix up
some sort of insurance. Lloyd's will bet nearly any sane man
that he won't die for three months. And besides I should wish to
look things up a little."
Sir Godfrey rose.
"Oh, to be sure," he said, "you want to make certain about the
thing. We might be wrong. I hadn't an idea what it was until I
brought it to you, and of course Tony hadn't an idea. Make
certain of it by all means."
The biologist extended his long legs under the table. He
indicated the water color in his hand.
"This thing's certain," he said. "I know what this thing is."
He rapped the water color with the fingers of his free hand.
"This thing was painted on the spot. Maartin was looking at this
thing when he painted it. You can see the big shadows
underneath. No living creature could have imagined this or
painted it from hearsay. He had to see it. And he did see it.
I wasn't thinking about this, Godfrey. I was thinking the Dutch
government might help a bit in the hope of finding some trace of
Maartin and I should wish to examine any information they might
have about him."
"Damn the Dutch government!" cried the little man. "And damn
Lloyd's. We will go it on our own hook."
The biologist smiled.
"Let me think about it, a little," he said.
The dapper man flipped a big watch out of his waistcoat pocket.
"Surely!" he cried, "I must get the next train up. Have you got
a place to lock the stuff? I had to cut this lid open with a
He indicated the tin dispatch box.
"Better keep it all. You'll want to run through the diary, I
imagine. Tony's got down the things explorer chaps are always
keen about; temperature, water supply, food and all that. . . . .
Now, I'm off.
See you Thursday afternoon at the United Service Club. Better
lunch with me."
Then he pushed the dispatch box across the table. The biologist
rose and turned back the lid of the box. The contents remained
as Sir Godfrey's dead son had left them; a limp leather diary, an
automatic pistol of some American make, a few glass tubes of
quinine, packed in cotton wool.
He put the water color on the bottom of the box and replaced
Then he took the dispatch box over to an old iron safe at the
farther end of the room, opened it, set the box within, locked
the door, and, returning, thrust the key under a pile of journals
on the corner of the table. Then he went out, and down the
stairway with his guest to the door.
They passed within a finger touch of Lady Muriel.
The woman was quick to act. There would be no borrowing from
Bramwell Winton. He would now, with this expedition on the way,
have no penny for another. But here before her, as though
arranged by favor of Fatality, was something evidently of
enormous value that she could cash in to Hecklemeir.
There was fame and fortune on the bottom of that dispatch box.
Something that would have been the greatest find of the age to
Tony Halleck . . . something that the biologist, clearly from his
words and manner, valued beyond the gold plates of Sir Hector
It was a thing that Hecklemeir would buy with money . . . the
very thing which he would be at this opportune moment interested
to purchase. She saw it in the very first comprehensive glance.
Her luck was holding Fortune was more than favorable, merely. It
exercised itself actively, with evident concern, in her behalf.
Lady Muriel went swiftly into the room. She slipped the key from
under the pile of journals and crossed to the safe sitting
against the wall.
It was an old safe of some antediluvian manufacture and the lock
was worn. The stem of the key was smooth and it slipped in her
gloved hands. She could not hold it firm enough to turn the
lock. Finally with her bare fingers and with one hand to aid the
other she was able to move the lock and so open the safe.
She heard the door to the street close below, and the faint sound
of Bramwell Winton's footsteps as though he went along the hall
into the service portion of the house. She was nervous and
hurried, but this reassured her.
The battered dispatch box sat within on the empty bottom of the a
She lifted the lid; an automatic pistol lay on a limp
leather-backed journal, stained, discolored and worn. Lady
Muriel slipped her hand under these articles and lifted out the
thing she sought.
Even in the pressing haste of her adventure, the woman could not
forbear to look at the thing upon which these two men set so
great a value. She stopped then a moment on her knees beside the
safe, the prized article in her hands.
A map, evidently drawn with extreme care, was before her. She
glanced at it hastily and turned the thing quickly over. What
she saw amazed and puzzled her. Even in this moment of tense
emotions she was astonished: She saw a pool of water, - not a
pool of water in the ordinary sense - but a segment of water, as
one would take a certain limited area of the surface of the sea
or a lake or river. It was amber-colored and as smooth as glass,
and on the surface of this water, as though they floated, were
what appeared to be three, reddish-purple colored flowers, and
beneath them on the bottom of the water were huge indistinct
The water was not clear to make out the shadows. But the
appearing flowers were delicately painted. They stood out
conspicuously on the glassy surface of the water as though they
were raised above it.
Amazement held the woman longer than she thought, over this
extraordinary thing. Then she thrust it into the bosom of her
jacket, fastening the button securely over it.
The act kept her head down. When she lifted it Bramwell Winton
was standing in the door.
In terror her hand caught up the automatic pistol out of the tin
box. She acted with no clear, no determined intent. It was a
gesture of fear and of indecision; escape through menace was
perhaps the subconscious motive; the most primitive, the most
common motive of all creatures in the corner. It extends
downward from the human mind through all life.
To spring up, to drag the veil over her face with her free hand,
and to thrust the weapon at the figure in the doorway was all
simultaneous and instinctive acts in the expression of this
primordial impulse of escape through menace.
Then a thing happened.
There was a sharp report and the figure standing in the doorway
swayed a moment and fell forward into the room. The unconscious
gripping of the woman's fingers had fired the pistol.
For a moment Lady Muriel stood unmoving, arrested in every muscle
by this accident. But her steady wits - skilled in her
profession - did not wholly desert her. She saw that the man was
dead. There was peril in that - immense, uncalculated peril, but
the prior and immediate peril, the peril of discovery in the very
accomplishment of theft, was by this act averted.
She stooped over, her eyes fixed on the sprawling body and with
her free hand closed the door of the safe. Then she crossed the
room, put the pistol down on the floor near the dead man's hand
and went out.
She went swiftly down the stairway and paused a moment at the
door to look out. The street was empty. She hurried away.
She met no one. A cab in the distance was appearing. She hailed
it as from a cross street and returned to Regent. It was
characteristic of the woman that her mind dwelt upon the spoil
she carried rather than upon the act she had done.
She puzzled at the water color. How could these things be
Bramwell Winton was a biologist; he would not be concerned with
flowers. And Sir Godfrey Halleck and his son Tony, the big game
hunter, were not men to bother themselves with blossoms. Sir
Godfrey, as she now remembered vaguely, had, like his dead son,
been a keen sportsman in his youth; his country house was full of
She carried buttoned in the bosom of her jacket something that
these men valued. But, what was it? Well, at any rate it was
something that would mean fame and fortune to the one who should
bring it out of Africa. That one would now be Hecklemeir, and
she should have her share of the spoil.
Lady Muriel found the drawing-room of her former employer in some
confusion; rugs were rolled up, bronzes were being packed. But
in the disorder of it the proprietor was imperturbable. He
merely elevated his eyebrows at her reappearance. She went
instantly to the point.
"Hecklemeir," she said, "how would you like to have a definite
objective in your explorations?"
The man looked at her keenly.
"What do you mean precisely?" he replied:
"I mean," she continued, "something that would bring one fame and
fortune if one found it." And she added, as a bit of lure, "You
remember the gold plates Hector Bartlett dug up in Syria?"
He came over closer to her; his little eyes narrowed.
"What have you got?" he said.
His facetious manner - a that vulgar persons imagine to be
distinguished - was gone out of him. He was direct and simple.
She replied with no attempt at subterfuge.
"I've got a map of a route to some sort of treasure - I don't
know what - It's in the Karamajo Mountains in the French Congo;
a map to it and a water color of the thing."
Hecklemeir did not ask how Lady Muriel came by the thing she
claimed; his profession always avoided such detail. But he knew
that she had gone to Bramwell Winton; and what she had must have
come from some scientific source. The mention of Hector Bartlett
was not without its virtue.
Lady Muriel marked the man's changed manner, and pushed her
"I want a check for a hundred pounds and a third of the thing
when you bring it out."
Hecklemeir stood for a moment with the tips of his fingers
pressed against his lips; then replied.
"If you have anything like the thing you describe, I'll give you
a hundred pounds . . . let me see it."
She took the water color out of the bosom of her jacket and gave
it to him.
He carried it over to the window and studied it a moment. Then
he turned with a sneering oath.
"The devil take your treasure," he said, "these things are
water-elephants. I don't care a farthing if they stand on the
bottom of every lake in Africa!"
And he flung the water color toward her. Mechanically the
stunned woman picked it up and smoothed it out in her fingers.
With the key to the picture she saw it clearly, the shadowy
bodies of the beasts and the tips of their trunks distended on
the surface like a purple flower. And vaguely, as though it were
a memory from a distant life, she recalled hearing the French
Ambassador and Baron Rudd discussing the report of an explorer
who pretended to have seen these supposed fabulous elephants come
out of an African forest and go down under the waters of Lake
She stood there a moment, breaking the thing into pieces with her
bare hands. Then she went out. At the door on the landing she
very nearly stepped against a little cockney.
"My Lidy," he whined, "I was bringing your, gloves; you dropped
them on your way up."
She took them mechanically and began to draw them on . . . the
cryptic sign of the cleaner on the wrist hem was now to her
indicatory of her submerged estate. The little cockney hung
about a moment as for a gratuity delayed, then he disappeared
down the stair before her.
She went slowly down, fitting the gloves to her fingers.
Midway of the flight she paused. The voice of the little
cockney, but without the accent, speaking to a Bobby standing
beside the entrance reached her.
"It was Sir Henry Marquis who set the Yard to register all
laundry marks in London. Great C. I. D. Chief, Sir Henry!"
And Lady Muriel remembered that she had removed these gloves in
order to turn the slipping key in Bramwell Winton's safe lock.
X.-The Last Adventure
The talk had run on treasure.
I could not sleep and my friends had dropped in. I had the big
South room on the second floor of the Hotel de Paris. It looks
down on the Casino and the Mediterranean. Perhaps you know it.
Queer friends, you'd say. Every man-jack of them a gambler. But
when one begins to sit about all night with his eyes open, the
devil's a friend.
Barclay was standing before the fire. The others had drifted
out. He's a big man pitted with the smallpox. He made a
gesture, flinging out his hand toward the door.
"That bunch thinks there's a curse on treasure, Sir Henry.
That's one of the oldest notions in the world . . . it's
"But I know where there's a treasure that's not unlucky. At
least it was not unlucky for poor Charlie Tavor. He did not get
it, but there was no curse on it that reached to him. It helped
poor Charlie finish in style. He died like a lord in a big
country house, with a formal garden and a line of lackeys."
"Queer chap, Tavor. He was the best all round explorer in the
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