[Transcriber's note: frontispiece missing from book]
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
I BRING JIM HERE II TWO MEN AND A WOMAN III I COULD KILL HIM IV THE WORST HAPPENS V ACCIDENT OR MURDER VI A CLUE AND A VERDICT VII I TURN DETECTIVE VIII IT LOOKS BAD FOR HELEN IX LOOK OUT, JIM X I ACCUSE ZALNITCH XI A DOUBLE INDICTMENT XII WHO AM I XIII WE PLAN THE DEFENSE XIV BULLET PROOF XV THE ANSWER XVI THE MECHANICIAN XVII RED CAPITULATES XVIII I LISTEN TO MY FOREBEARS
BRING JIM HERE
I was in the locker-room of the country-club, getting dressed after the best afternoon of golf I had ever had. I had just beaten Paisley "one-up" in eighteen holes of the hardest kind of sledding.
If you knew Paisley you'd understand just why I was so glad to beat him. He is a most insufferably conceited ass about his golf, for a man who plays as badly as he does; in addition to which he usually beats me. It's not that Paisley plays a better game, but he has a way of making me pull my drive or over-approach just by his confounded manner of looking at me when I am getting ready to play.
We usually trot along about even until we come to the seventh hole—in fact, I'm usually ahead at the seventh—and then conversation does me in. You see, the seventh hole can be played two ways. There's a small clay bank that abuts the green and you can either play around or over it to the hole, which lies directly behind. The real golfers play over with a good mashie shot that lands them dead on the green, but dubs, like Paisley, play around with two easy mid-iron shots. When we get to the place where the choice must be made, Paisley suggests that I go around, which makes me grip my mashie firmly, recall all the things I have read in the little book about how to play a mashie shot, and let drive with all my force, which usually lands me somewhere near the top of the clay bank, where it would take a mountain goat to play the next shot. After that, Paisley and I exchange a few hectic observations and my temperature and score mount to the highest known altitude.
Of course, every now and then, I forget my stance and Paisley long enough to send the ball in a beautiful parabola right on to the green, and when I do—oh, brother!—the things I say to Paisley put him in such a frame of mind that I could play the rest of the course with a paddle and a basket-ball and still beat him. This particular afternoon he had tried to play the seventh hole as it should be played, and though we had both foozled, I had won the hole and romped triumphantly home with the side of pig.
I was gaily humming to myself as I put on my clothes when James Felderson came in. His face was drawn and his mouth was set in a way that was utterly foreign to Jim, whose smile has done more to keep peace in committee meetings and to placate irate members than all other harmonizing agencies in the club put together. There was something unnatural, too, about his eyes, as though he had been drinking.
"Have you seen Helen?" he demanded in a thick voice.
"No. Not to-day," I answered. "What's the matter, Jim? Anything wrong?"
Felderson has been my law partner ever since he married my sister Helen. I had left him at the office just before lunch and he had seemed then as cheerful and unperturbed as usual.
"Helen has gone with Frank Woods!" he burst out, his voice breaking as he spoke.
It took a second for me to grasp the meaning of what he said, then I grabbed him by the shoulder.
"Jim, Jim, what are you saying?"
My sister—left her husband—run off with another man! I had read of such things in stories, but never had I believed that real people, in real life and of real social position, ever so disgraced themselves. Every one knew that Frank Woods had been seeing a lot of Helen, and several close friends had asked me if Jim knew the man's reputation. I had even spoken to Helen, only to be laughed at, and assured that it was the idle gossip of scandal-mongers. That she should have left Jim, darling old Jim, for Frank Woods, or any other man, was unthinkable. Jim sank on a bench and turned a face to me that had grown utterly haggard.
"It's true, Bupps! I found this on the table when I went home to lunch."
He held out a crumpled note written in Helen's rather mannish back-hand.
"It is now ten-thirty. Frank is coming for me at eleven. He has made me realize that, loving him the way I do, I would be doing you a horrible injustice to keep up the wretched pretense of being your wife.
"Had you left any other way open, I would have taken it, but you refused a divorce. I hate to hurt you the way I must, but try to understand and forgive me.
I turned toward Jim. His chin was sunk in his hands. Two men came in from the tennis-courts and nodded as they went by.
"What have you done?" I asked.
He raised his head, and on his face was written incalculable misery.
"Nothing!" he answered, dropping his hands hopelessly. "What can I do, except let them go and get a divorce as soon as possible? It's my fault. After we—quarreled the other night, she asked me to divorce her, and I refused. God, Bupps! If you only knew how much I love her and how hard I've tried to make her love me. And she did love me till Woods came along."
I hurried up my dressing, turning over in my mind the details of Jim's married life. In the light of the latest developments, I realized the painful fact that I was partly to blame myself. Helen hadn't really loved Jim when she married him. Oh, she'd loved him in the same way she'd loved a lot of other men whom she'd been more or less engaged to at one time or another. She had married Jim, because it had been the thing to do that year, to get married; and she realized that Jim loved her more and could give her more than any of the others. Where I came in was that I had urged her to marry Jim because he was the best man in the world and because I wanted him for my brother-in-law.
I remembered now how cold Helen had been, even during their engagement, trumping up almost any excuse to keep from spending an evening alone with the man who was to be her husband. It had made me so hot that I had reproached her even in Jim's presence. My words didn't seem to affect Helen any, but they did affect Jim a lot. He had taken me for a long ride in his car and filled me full of moonshine about how he was unworthy of her and how he would win her love after they were married. I was in such sympathy with him that I tried to believe it true, although I knew Helen as only a younger brother can know a sister. I knew that she had been pampered and petted ever since she was a child; that she had never shown much affection for father and mother, who were her slaves, while toward me, who had insulted and made fun of her, she was almost effusive. With this in mind, I had urged Jim to neglect her, to "treat her rough," but when a man is head-over-heels in love with a girl, what's the good of advice? To tell him to mistreat her was like telling a Mohammedan to spit in the face of the prophet.
They had been married a little over a year when Frank Woods came to Eastbrook on war business for the French Government. He had been in Papa Joffre's Army during part of the melee, wore the Croix de Guerre with several palms, and could hold a company of people enthralled with stories of his experiences. Whether he had a right to the decorations, or even the uniform, no one was quite sure, but it set off every good point of his massive, well-built frame. He would stand in front of the fire and tell of air-scraps in such a way that, while he never mentioned the hero by name, it was easy to guess that "hero" and Frank Woods were synonymous. He could dance, ride, play any game and shoot better than the best of us, and when he sat at the piano and sang, every man looked at his wife or his fiancee and wondered where the lightning was going to strike. For although he was a very proper young bachelor for months, showing no unseemly interest in women, we all of us, I think, secretly felt that he was setting the stage for a "grand coup."
If he had singled out Helen from the first, he couldn't have played his game better, for his seeming indifference to her loveliness piqued her almost to madness. During the early months of our entrance in the war he was called back to France, and every man in Eastbrook breathed a sigh of relief. There wasn't one of us who could say why we thought him a cad, but just the same, I doubt if there was a father in Eastbrook who would willingly have given his daughter to him. He was too much of the ideal lover to make a good husband. There was something about him, too, that made no man want to claim him as a particular friend, but perhaps it was because we were all jealous.
While most of the younger men of the town were in France, or, like Jim and myself, in a training-camp, Frank Woods came back, and this time there was no mistaking whom he had picked out for his attentions. Until the war was over and Jim home, it was not noticeable, for he was most meticulous in his behavior, but with Jim busy trying to straighten out our tangled practise, Woods lost no time in taking advantage of his opportunities. And there had been opportunities enough, heaven knows, with Jim surrounded by clients, yet trying in his clumsy, lovable way to remonstrate with Helen for seeing so much of Woods. My interference had only increased his opportunities, for the evening I told her what people were saying, she quarreled with Jim, and as a result he threw himself into his work with an energy in which enthusiasm had no part.
All the time these thoughts were running through my head—and they ran much faster than I can set them down—I had been throwing my clothes on, knowing something had to be done, yet what that something was I couldn't for the life of me figure out.
"Come on, Jim!" I said, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him from his dejected position.
"Where to?" he responded wearily.
"First of all, we're going to shut this thing up. The Sun would like nothing better than to spread it thick all over the front page of their filthy sheet."
"You're right, old boy! I'd forgotten about the newspapers. It would be horrible for Helen to have her name dragged through the mud."
"I wasn't thinking of Helen," I responded testily, "but a lot of cheap notoriety won't help our law practise any."
All the spirit seemed to have seeped out of his system, so I pushed him into my car, preferring to take the wheel rather than have him drive. I can always think better when I have a steering wheel in my hands, and knowing with what speed Jim drove ordinarily, I didn't care to trust my precious body to him in his overwrought condition.
We were just backing into the drive when one of the servants came running from the club.
"Oh, Mr. Thompson!" he called.
I stopped the car and waited for him to come up.
"What is it?"
"You're wanted on the telephone."
I jumped from the car and started for the club. There were the usual groups of tea-drinkers and bridge-players scattered about on the broad veranda, and it seemed to me, as I ran up the steps, that they all stopped talking and looked at me, I thought, with curiosity, if not with pity. There would be no use shutting up the newspapers if that bunch of gossips were in possession of the scandal.
I hurried to the telephone and slammed the door to the booth, expecting to hear the voice of some reporter demand if there was any truth to the rumor that Mrs. James Felderson had run off with Frank Woods. To my buzzing brain it seemed that the whole world must have heard the news.
"Hello," I called.
"Is that you, Warren?" It was Helen's voice.
"Helen!" I yelled. "For God's sake, where are you?"
"I am at the house. Listen, Warren! Have you seen Jim?"
Her voice sounded faint and strangely uncontrolled.
"Yes—yes," I shouted. "He's here with me now."
"Then bring him here quickly, Warren! Please hurry."
"Don't ask me any questions, please." There was a catch in the voice on the other end of the wire. "I c-can't answer any questions now, but bring Jim, and hurry!"
The receiver clicked and I dashed out of the booth, a thousand questions pounding in my brain. Why was Helen at the house? Had Frank Woods failed to keep his appointment, thinking better of eloping with another man's wife; or, had Helen come to her senses, seen through the thin veneer that covered the cad and the libertine in Frank Woods and returned to her husband for good? Over and above these questions and conjectures and hopes, there was thanksgiving in my heart that the irremediable step had not been taken; that something had intervened to keep scandal and disgrace away from Jim.
There must have been something in my face that told Jim I had been talking to Helen, for he moved into the driver's seat and greeted me with the single question: "Where is she?"
"Home!" I panted, "and drive like the devil!"
I might have saved myself the trouble of the last, for even before I got into the car there was a roar of exhaust and the crunch of grinding gears and we were off down the smooth drive with a speed that quickly brought tears to my eyes and put the fear of God in my heart.
How we ever escaped a smash-up after we got into the city I can't tell to this day, for Jim never once slackened speed. He sat there with jaws set, pumping gas and still more gas into the little car. Thrice I saw death loom up ahead of us, as vehicles approached from side-streets, but with a swerve and a sickening skid, we missed them somehow. Once a street-car and a wagon seemed completely to block the road ahead, but Jim steered for the slender opening and when I opened my eyes we had skinned through, leaving a corpulent and cursing driver far behind. After that I forgot my wretched fear and the blood surged through my veins at the delicious feel of the air as it whipped my cheeks. We turned at last into the long approach to Jim's house and it was then that my heart sank.
Frank Woods' car was standing before the door.
TWO MEN AND A WOMAN
Had Helen been alone, I would have dropped Jim and gone on, knowing that what they had to say to each other was not for outside ears, but when I saw Frank Woods' car there, I felt that a cool head might be needed. There was an ominous set to Jim's shoulders as he walked toward the steps, a sort of drawing in of the head, as though all the muscles in his big frame were tensed. He hesitated a fraction of a second at the door, either to let me catch up with him or because of distaste for the prospective meeting, and we entered the cool dark hall together.
Helen was standing at the entrance to the big living-room, her tall figure erect, her head proudly poised, one graceful arm upraised, with the hand buried in the velvet hangings. She had on a gray traveling-suit, the coat of which lay tossed over the back of a near-by chair. A large patent-leather traveling-case lay beside it. I had expected, from the urgency of the message and the sound of her voice over the telephone, to find Helen agitated, but, except for slight traces of recent tears and a high color, she looked as cool and collected as though she had invited us to tea. Jim, on the other hand, was trembling, his face a pasty white, with great beads of perspiration standing on his forehead.
She motioned us to enter, and I led the way, gripping Jim's hand in passing. Woods was standing by the window, his back to us, and his whole pose so artificial, so expressive of disdain, that I felt the short hair rising along the back of my neck in antagonism. When he heard us, Woods turned with contemptuous deliberation, but when he caught sight of the dumb misery on Jim's face, his own turned a dull crimson. Helen crossed the room and seated herself on the divan, back of which Woods was standing. The whole performance—the place she chose near him, the look she flashed at him as she sat down, showed so completely which of the men she loved, that my heart sank and I lost hope of ever bringing her back to Jim. It was Helen who first spoke.
"You received the note I left this morning?"
Jim moistened his lips once and said, "Yes." The word was barely audible.
"Then there is no need to tell you I have made up my mind to go with Frank."
Her tone was coldly final. Woods had turned and was again gazing out of the window. Jim looked at Helen with the eyes of a hound-dog. My heart ached for him, but there was nothing I could do.
"Why did you come back?" Jim almost whispered, keeping his eyes directly on her face.
"Because I didn't want a scandal." She glanced down at her lap where she was opening and closing a beaded vanity bag. Evidently she was finding the interview harder than she had expected.
"I felt—I hoped that if I could show you definitely and finally that I don't love you, that I am devoted to Frank, your pride, if nothing else, would induce you to give me the divorce for which I asked. That is the reason we decided to come back—so you might make it possible for us to marry without a scandal."
The gross selfishness of the woman—I could hardly think of her as my sister—her cold cruelty, yes, even her damnable beauty, seemed to go to my head and something snapped inside. I couldn't bear the sight of Jim standing there helpless, while these two turned the knife.
"That was very considerate of you," I sneered.
"You keep out of this, Warren!"
"I'm damned if I do," I retorted. "I at least have a brother's right to tell you that a man who will sneak into another's home to make love to his wife, behind his back, and then——"
Woods turned quickly. "That's a lie, and you know it."
Jim put his hand on my shoulder. He knew I was ready to fight.
Suddenly he seemed to straighten into life. From the way he set his jaw, I knew that the old courage, which had won so many cases in the court-room, was back on the job.
"You were quite right, Helen. While I imagine your reason for not wanting a scandal was largely selfish, yet I think that consideration for my position was partly responsible for your return, and for that I thank you. When you asked for a divorce the other night, I didn't realize that your love for me was so entirely dead, or that you had fallen so completely under this man's influence. Under the circumstances, I shall give you a divorce, if only to keep you from taking matters into your own hands. But I shall not do it until I have satisfied myself that your new love is real, that the man is worthy of it. If there is anything in Woods' life that does not bear looking into, I'll find it out; if he has done anything in the past that is likely to hurt you in the future, I shall know it, and you shall know it, too, before you take this irrevocable step."
Woods flushed for a moment when Jim spoke of digging into his past, but he laughed easily and said:
"You're getting a bit melodramatic, aren't you?"
"Better melodrama than tragedy," Jim responded bitterly.
"Helen has told you she doesn't love you, and that she does love me. This morning she was ready to face the scandal of leaving her husband; to go to live with me, to live openly with me, unmarried, until you could get a divorce. That rather answers your first point, doesn't it?"
"It makes me think no better of you, that you should have agreed to such a sacrifice."
"I never expected to win the husband's love at the same time I won his wife's," Woods responded evenly.
Never have I seen murder shine out of a man's eyes as it did out of Jim's at that moment. Each man measured the other across the narrow space, and I longed that the laws of civilization might be swept aside so that the two might tear at each other's throats, for the woman they loved. Both men were powerful, and neither feared the other.
"As to looking up my past," Woods continued, "one might think you were the father of the lady and I a youthful suitor. While I recognize no right of yours to meddle in my affairs, the fact that I was sent to America as the duly accredited agent of the French Government should have some weight. They are not accustomed over there to hiring thugs and cutthroats to carry on their business."
"This is all beside the point," Helen broke in. "May I ask, Jim, where I am going to stay and what I am going to do while you are investigating Frank's past?"
"You are going to stay here."
"Here? But where will you stay?"
"I am going to stay here with you."
Woods came around the divan. "Look here, Felderson! Can't you see Helen doesn't love you, that you've lost—?"
"Keep back!" warned Jim huskily.
"She can't stay here with you. She's no more your wife than if she had never married you. Do you think I'll allow her to stay in this house, forced to endure your attentions—?"
"Who are you to say what you will or won't allow?" Jim roared, his eyes blazing. "You came into my house as my guest and stole my most precious possession. Get out before I kill you!"
Woods' face was white. For one minute I felt sure the two men would settle matters then and there. Suddenly he turned and said: "Come, Helen!"
"She stays here!" Jim cried.
Helen had arisen from the divan when the two men came together. Now she stepped forward.
"I'm going with Frank. We came back here more for your sake than our own. We tried to give you a chance to do the decent thing, but I might have known you wouldn't. With all your protestations of love for me, when I ask you to do the one thing that would show that love, the one thing that would make me happy, you not only refuse, but you insult the man who means everything in the world to me. If I had ever loved you in my life, what you have just said would have made me hate you. As I never loved you, I despise and loathe you now."
She started to pass him, but he grabbed her by the shoulders. His face was white and drawn and his eyes were the eyes of a madman. He lifted her up bodily and almost threw her on the divan, crying, "By God! You stay here!"
Jim turned just as Woods rushed and with a mighty swing to the side of the head, sent him crashing into the corner. Dazed as he was, he half struggled to his feet, and when I saw him reach beneath his coat, I sprang on him and wrenched the revolver from his hand.
Disheveled and half-stupefied, he rose and glared at us like an angry bull. Slowly he straightened his tie and brushed back his hair. He glanced over at Helen, who was sobbing on the sofa.
"Two of you—eh? A frame-up." All the hatred in the world gleamed in his eyes, as he looked at Jim. "If you don't let Helen come to me, Felderson, I'll kill you; so help me God, I'll kill you!" Then he picked up his coat and hat and walked out of the room.
Jim went slowly to the door and into the hall. He looked tired and old. I heard the outer door slam behind Frank Woods and a motor start. Then I went out to Jim.
I COULD KILL HIM
I was on my way back to Jim's after having gone home to change my clothes. Jim had asked me to stay with him that evening and, to tell the truth, I was glad to do it, partly because of the threat Woods had made and partly because of the way Helen looked at Jim when she passed us in the hall on the way to her bedroom. Being a lawyer, I have naturally made a pretty close study of character, and if I ever saw vindictiveness on the face of any human, it was on Helen's at that moment.
I said nothing about the affair to mother while I was home, for she has been very frail ever since my father's death and I thought there was no use in needlessly upsetting her. There would be plenty of time to discuss the matter after Helen left Jim.
Again and again I recalled the struggle of the afternoon and again and again, Helen's face, distorted with anger, reappeared. Finally I decided to drive the car over to Mary Pendleton's and ask her to come spend the night with Helen. In her overwrought, hysterical condition, Helen was capable of doing almost anything.
Mary has been like a second sister to me. She really cares nothing for me, except in a sisterly way, but we have been together, so much so and so long that Eastbrook gossips have given up speculating whether we are engaged. I'd marry her in a minute, or even less, if she would have me, but Mary insists on treating me like a kid; calls my crude attempts at love-making "silly tosh and flub-dub," which makes the going rather difficult. She was bridesmaid to Helen and is the one person, besides myself, who can influence her in the least, so I felt that her presence would add ballast to our wildly tossing domestic craft. Needless to say, my own lack of self-control during the afternoon had been as unexpected as it was disappointing, but when it comes to anything that concerns Jim, I'm not responsible.
I rang the bell and Mary, herself, came to the door, looking radiant as usual.
"Hello, Buppkins!" She greeted me with that detestable nick-name she has used since I wore rompers. "Aren't you trying for a record or something? This is twice you've called on me this month."
"Mary, I'm in trouble."
"Is the poor 'ittle boy in trouble and come to Auntie Mary to tell her all about it?" she sing-songed, making a little moue, as though she was talking to her pet cat.
"Cut it, Mary!" I said. "I'm really in trouble."
"What is it, Bupps?"
"Helen ran off with Frank Woods to-day."
"Heavens, Bupps!"—she was serious enough now.—"Where did they go?"
"They went, but they came back. Helen's home with Jim. They tried to force him to give Helen a divorce. There was an awful fight and Woods swore that he would kill Jim unless he let Helen go. But put on your hat and coat and get your things. Helen needs you with her. I'll tell you the rest on the way over."
"I'll be with you in a second," she called, running up-stairs.
When Mary was snuggled down beside me in the car—and she does snuggle the best of any girl I ever knew—I told her everything, not forgetting the part where I wrenched the gun away from Woods.
"Goodness, Bupps! I bet you were scared," she commented, her eyes twinkling.
"Frankly, I didn't know what I was doing, or I would never have had the nerve," I laughed. "But, lord! I feel sorry for Jim."
Mary's face clouded over.
"So do I, Bupps, but any one could have seen it coming. Jim was too good to her. As much as I like Helen, I will say that the only kind of husband she deserves is a brute who would beat her. That's the only kind she can love. I was with her the night before her wedding, and she confessed then that if Jim were only cruel or indifferent to her, just once, she thought she could love him to death. The only reason Helen cares for you and me, was because we never paid any particular attention to her when she acted up and pouted. That is why she is mad about Frank Woods. When he came to Eastbrook, he treated her as though she didn't exist."
"And if Jim were cruel to her now, do you think she would go back to him?" I asked.
Mary shook her head. "No, it's different now. If Jim were cruel to her, she would probably hate him all the more for it."
"Proving the incomprehensibility of woman," I jeered.
"Proving the flumdability of flapdoodle," Mary responded. "If you men only put one little thought into giving a woman what she wants, instead of giving her what you think she ought to want; if you kept as up-to-date in your love-making as you do in your law practise, women wouldn't be the incomprehensible riddle you always make them out to be."
"Well, why don't you tell us what you want?" I asked.
"Silly! That would spoil it all, don't you see? Besides we aren't sure just what we want ourselves."
My spirits, which had risen considerably during our conversation, dropped with a slump when Jim's big house loomed up ahead. Already, something of the unhappiness within seemed to have added a more somber touch to the outside. Have you noticed how you can tell from the face of a house what kind of life the inhabitants lead? Happiness or misery, health or sickness, riches or poverty all show as though the walls were saturated from the admixture of life within.
I sent Mary up-stairs to see Helen, while I went into the drawing-room in search of Jim, but there was no one there except Wicks, the butler, who was lighting a fire, for, though it was only the last of September, the nights were chilly. I snatched up the evening paper to see if by any chance a hint of the scandal had crept into print. I felt sure that, as matters stood, they would not dare to put in anything definite, but The Sun has a nasty way of writing all around a scandal, so that, while the persons involved are readily recognized, they are quite helpless as far as redress is concerned.
I noticed that Wicks had taken an infernally long time to start the fire. Although it was burning merrily, he still puttered about, brushing up the chips and rearranging the blower and tongs. When Wicks hangs about he usually has a question on his mind that he wants answered, and he takes that means of letting you know it. I decided not to notice him but to force him to come out in the open and ask, for once, a straightforward question. From the fire, he moved to the table and straightened the magazines and books, glancing now and then in my direction, trying to catch my eye, but I buried myself more deeply than ever in the paper. When he finally stepped back of my chair, human nature could stand his puttering no longer, so I laid down The Sun, and turned to him.
"Well, Wicks, what do you want?" I snapped.
Wicks looked at me with the expression of a small boy caught sticky-handed in the jam-closet.
"Nothing, sir!—that is—er—nothing." He turned and started from the room.
"Come here, Wicks!" I called. "I know when you hang around a room unnecessarily, as you have been doing for the last ten minutes, that you have something on your mind. Now, out with it."
"I was merely going to arsk, sir, hif I 'ad better begin lookin' arfter another place, sir?"
That was an extraordinary question. Wicks had been with the Feldersons ever since they were married.
"What put that idea into your head, Wicks?"
He was far more confused than I had ever seen him.
"Meanin' no disrespect, sir, and I don't mean to be hinquisitive about what doesn't concern me, but I couldn't 'elp 'earin' a bit of what took place this arfternoon, sir."
Good lord! I'd forgotten there might have been other witnesses to the scene of the afternoon besides myself.
"Do the other servants know about this, Wicks?"
"Hi think they do, sir, seein' as 'ow Mrs. Felderson 'as been actin' and talkin' so queer."
"What do you mean?" I demanded.
Wicks struggled for composure. The subject was evidently most distasteful to his conservative and conventional British nature.
"Hit was Annie, Mrs. Felderson's maid, sir, that hupset the servants. W'en she came down from hup-stairs, she said as 'ow Mrs. Felderson was a ragin' and a rampagin' around 'er room, sayin' that if Mr. Felderson didn't give 'er a divorce, she would do violence to 'im, sir."
"Did Annie hear her say that?" I questioned.
"She says so, sir."
The whole thing was so monstrous that I gasped. For this awful dime-novel muck to be tumbled into the middle of my family was too sickening. My sister, running away from her husband with another man and now threatening, in the hearing of the servants, to kill him, unless he gave her a divorce, disgusted me with its cheap vulgarity. I hid, as best I could, the tempest that was brewing inside me.
"Wicks, Mrs. Felderson is not well. Tell the servants that she is greatly depressed over an accident that happened to a friend. At the present time, she is so upset over that, she really doesn't know what she is saying. Quiet them in some way, Wicks! And tell Annie to stay with Mrs. Felderson!"
"Very good, sir." He started to leave.
"There is no need of your looking for another place."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!"
Wicks departed and I was left to my gloomy thoughts. Helen must be brought to her senses. Mary and I must work, either to bring her back to Jim, or, if that prove hopeless, to see that the divorce was hurried as much as possible. The very thought of having Mary along with me, with her inexhaustible fund of God-given humor and common sense, gave me a vast amount of comfort and confidence.
At this point, Jim came in. He had had a bath and a shave and had put on a dinner-coat, looking a lot more fit to grapple with his troubles than he had the last time I had seen him. Only in his eyes did he show the shock he'd received that day.
"Communing with yourself in the dark, Bupps?"—his voice was natural and easy.
"Yes," I sighed, "I've been trying to see a way out of this mess."
Jim lit a cigarette and threw himself into a chair. For a few moments he puffed in silence, taking deep inhalations and blowing the smoke against the lighted tip, so that it showed all the rugged, strength of his superb head.
"What would you say, Bupps, if I told you everything would come out all right?"
"And Helen stay with you?" I asked incredulously.
"And Helen stay with me," he repeated calmly.
"Of her own free will?"
"Of her own free will," he answered.
"I should say that the events of the day had addled your brain and that you are a damned inconsiderate brother-in-law to try to make a fool of me."
"I mean it, Bupps," he said quietly.
"What do you mean?" I demanded.
"That everything will come out all right," he smiled.
"But how, man?" His complacency almost drove me wild.
"Bupps, have you noticed how much money Woods has been spending around here—his extravagant way of living? Where do you think that money comes from?"
"His contracts with the French Government," I replied.
"But I happen to know he didn't land those contracts. That's the reason he beat it so suddenly when we got into the war." He tossed his cigarette into the fire.
"His salary from the French, then. They must have paid him some kind of salary."
"Have you never heard what ridiculously small salaries the French Government pays its officers?"
It was true that Woods could never have lived as he did on ten times the salary of a French captain.
"His own private fortune then," I suggested.
"Ah! There's the point! If he has a private fortune, then my whole case falls to pieces. That's what I've got to find out. Woods has been playing for a big stake, and I think he has been playing with other people's money. Did you notice how he flushed this afternoon when I suggested looking into his private affairs? It was the veriest accident—I was stalling for time—but when I saw him color up I knew I'd touched a sore spot. No, Bupps, I don't think Woods has a private fortune."
"But even if you show him up as worthless, will Helen come back to you, Jim?"
The color came to his face and he laughed with a queer twist to his mouth.
"Am I as horrible as all that, Bupps?"
His words brought a lump to my throat. I went over to him and almost hugged him.
"Jim, you're such a peach—dammit all—"
I heard a light step behind me.
"Oh, Bupps!" laughed Mary, "if you'd only make love to me in that ardent fashion, I'd drag you to the altar by your few remaining hairs."
I stood up, blushing in spite of myself. She can always make me feel that whatever I am doing is either stupid or foolish.
"Dinner is served, and I'm starving. Come on, people!" she announced, leading the way to the dining-room.
"Where's Helen?" I asked.
"She's not coming down. She has a slight headache," Mary answered, giving me a warning look. "I am delegated to be lady of the manor this evening." She looked so adorable as she curtsied to us that I felt an almost uncontrollable impulse to grab her in my arms and smother her with kisses, but remembering what she had done to me once when I yielded to impulse, I refrained.
When we sat down to the table, Helen's empty place threatened to cast a gloom over the party, so Mary told Wicks to remove it.
"It's too much like Banquo's ghost," she whispered, laughing merrily at Jim.
"Speaking of ghosts," said Jim turning to me, "I hear the labor people are asking the governor to pardon Zalnitch."
"A lot of good it will do them," I responded. "If ever a man deserved hanging, he does."
"I know, but labor is awfully strong now, and with the unsettled social conditions in the state, a bigger man than Governor Fallon might find it expedient to let Zalnitch off."
"Who is Zalnitch? Don't think I've met the gentleman," Mary said.
"He's the Russian who was supposed to be the ring-leader of the gang that blew up the Yellow Funnel steamship piers in 1915," I explained.
"Do you mean to say he hasn't been hanged yet?"
"Yes!" Jim answered. "And what's more, I'm afraid he's going to be pardoned."
"Not really, Jim?" I queried.
"Yes! I'm almost sure of it. Fallon is a machine man before everything else, although he was elected on a pro-American ticket. They are threatening to do all kinds of things to him, just as they threatened me, unless Zalnitch goes free, and I think Fallon is afraid of them, not physically perhaps, but politically. He wants reelection."
Jim had helped the prosecuting attorney convict Zalnitch; in fact it was Jim's work more than anything else that had sent the Russian to prison. At the time, Jim had received a lot of threatening letters, just as every other American who denounced the Germans before we entered the war had received them. Nothing had come of it, of course, and after we went in, the whole matter dropped from public attention. Zalnitch had been sent to prison, but his friends had worked constantly for commutation of his sentence. With labor's new power, due to the fear of Bolshevism, they were again bringing influence to bear on the governor.
Wicks had removed the soup plates and was bringing in the roast, when Annie appeared. The girl was both frightened and angry.
Jim looked up. "What is it, Annie?"
"Will you come up-stairs, please, sir?"
Mary pushed back her chair, "I'll go, Jim."
"It's Mr. Felderson that's wanted," Annie said with just a touch of asperity.
"Yes, you two better stay here and amuse each other," said Jim. "Bupps, you carve!"
"If Bupps carves, I'm sure to be amused," laughed Mary.
Jim left, and I went around to his place. If there is one thing I do more badly than another, it is carving. At home it's done in the kitchen, but Jim takes great pride in the neatness and celerity with which he separates the component parts of a fowl and so insists on having the undissected whole brought to the table.
"What is it to-night?" Mary asked as I eyed my task with disfavor.
"Roast duck." I tried to speak casually.
"Wait, Bupps, while Wicks lays the oilcloth and I get an umbrella."
"Smarty!" I responded, grabbing my tools firmly, "you wait and see! I watched Jim the last time he carved one of these and I know just how it's done."
I speared for the duck's back, but the fork skidded down the slippery side of the bird and spattered a drop of gravy in front of me.
"I'm waiting and seeing," Mary chided.
"Well, you wanted some gravy, didn't you?"
"Yes, but on my plate, please."
This time I placed the tines of the fork carefully on the exact middle of the duck's breast and gently pushed, giving some aid and comfort with my knife. The little beast eased over on the platter an inch or two.
"The thing's still alive," I exclaimed, getting mad.
"If you'll let me have full control, I'll carve it for you," Mary spoke up.
"Come on, then," I responded, gladly relinquishing my place. With a deftness and ease that could only be explained by the fact that the duck was ready and willing to be carved, she removed the legs and then demolished the bird altogether.
There was the sound of voices raised in altercation up-stairs, the slamming of a door and the patter of feet rapidly descending the steps. The next moment Helen burst into the room. She was fully dressed for going out and was pinning on her hat with spiteful little jabs.
"Will you take me home, Warren?"
Mary left me and went over to her.
"What has happened, Helen?"
"Oh, I can't stay here another minute. It is bad enough to have to stay in the same house with a man you loathe, but when a husband bribes his wife's servants to spy on her and watch over her as though she were a dangerous lunatic—"
Her eyes were blazing. Mary put her arm around her and tried to quiet her.
"Helen, dear, you don't know how ridiculous that is. No one is spying on you."
Helen tore herself away.
"That's right, stand up for him! You're all against me, I know. The only reason Warren brought you here, was to try to talk me into staying with him. Well, I won't, you understand? I won't! I hate him! I could kill him! If you won't take me home, Warren, I'll go alone." She was almost hysterical.
"Have you thought what this would do to mother?" I asked. "She doesn't know you've quarreled with Jim. If she found out you were contemplating a divorce, it would kill her. You know how weak she is."
I heard Jim's heavy tread coming downstairs.
"Can I stay with you, Mary?" Big tears stood in Helen's eyes and she seemed on the verge of a complete breakdown.
"Of course, Honey-bunch!" Mary responded, kissing her and leading her into the drawing-room. "Just go in there and lie down while I get my things."
As Helen walked from the room, Jim came in. Mary turned toward us, looked us over for the briefest moment and whispered, "You men are brutes!" As she ran up-stairs, Jim gazed after her. That same gray look had come back into his face.
"I guess we are," he said, shaking his head, "but I don't know how or why."
I patted him on the shoulder and went for my coat. Whether he realized it or not, I knew Helen would never come back to him.
I went out to the car and turned on the lights. A white moon was sailing through a sky cluttered with puffy clouds, its soft radiance bathing the house and grounds in mellow loveliness. It all seemed so remote from the sordid quarrel inside that its beauty was enhanced by the contrast. Here was a night when the whole world should be in love. Nature herself conspired to that end. And yet, there were thousands of men and women who were so forgetful of everything except their own petty differences that they turned their backs to the beauty around them, in order to try to hurt each other.
As Helen and Mary came out of the door, I climbed into the car and said to myself, "Damn men, damn women, damn everything!"
THE WORST HAPPENS
I was late getting down to the office the next morning, for I had gone back to Jim's and talked till all hours. It seemed that my instructions to Wicks, to tell Annie to stay with Helen, had been taken quite literally by that estimable pair, for when Helen had told the girl to leave she had refused, saying that Mr. Felderson had ordered her to stay. That was what had precipitated the quarrel.
Even when I left Jim, to go to bed, I had heard him walking back and forth in his room, and once during the night, I heard him shut his door. Thinking perhaps he might want me with him, I went to his door and knocked. Jim was untying his shoes and explained that, unable to sleep, he had gone out for a walk. The clock on the mantel-piece showed half past four.
In spite of the fact he had practically no sleep the night before, he was down at his usual hour, nine o'clock, and when I went into his office to see him, there was no sign of fatigue on his face.
"Any news?" I inquired.
"This may interest you," and he tossed over the morning paper folded to an article on the first page.
GOVERNOR FALLON PARDONS MAN IMPLICATED IN YELLOW PIER EXPLOSION
Prisoner Upon Release Makes Terrific Indictment Against Those Responsible for His Imprisonment
I glanced hurriedly down the long article. One paragraph in particular caught my eye. It was part of a quotation from Zalnitch's "speech" to the reporters.
"Those who were responsible for my imprisonment may well regret the fact that justice has at last been given me. I shall not rest until I lay before the working classes the extent to which the processes of law can be distorted in this state, and rouse them to overthrow and drive out those who have the power of depriving them of their rights and their liberty. I shall not rest until I see a full meed of punishment brought to those who have punished me and hundreds like me. Their money and their high position will not help them to escape a just retribution."
"It looks as though our friend was going to have a very restless time," I commented, after reading the passage aloud to Jim.
"'Vengeance is mine,' saith Zalnitch." Jim's eyes twinkled.
"You're not afraid of him, are you, Jim?" I asked.
"No more now than ever, Bupps."
His face suddenly clouded over. "Wouldn't it clear the air, though, if they did carry out their funny little threats and put me out of the way? When I think of some of the things Helen has said to me during the last month, I almost wish they would."
"That sounds weak and silly," I scoffed; "not a bit like you, Jim. Cheer up! Give Helen a divorce and let her go! She's not worth all this heartache."
Jim sat for a moment thinking. "You don't know what this has done to me, Bupps. It's not as though divorcing Helen would straighten the whole matter out. Ever since I've known Helen I've—idolized her—foolishly, perhaps. She has been the one big thing worth working for; the thing I've built my whole life around. I've got to fight for her, Bupps. I can't let her smash my ideals all to pieces. I've got to make her live up to what I've always believed her to be."
The tone of the man, the dead seriousness of his words, made me want to disown Helen and then kill Woods. I left the room with my eyes a bit misty and did my best, in the case I was working on, to forget.
For two days I was kept so busy I hardly saw Jim except when I had to go into his office for papers, or to consult an authority. I was trying to win a case against the L. L. & G. railroad, and though I knew my client could never pay me a decent fee, even if I should win, I was pitted against some of the best lawyers in the state, and was anxious for the prestige that a verdict in my favor would give me. The case was going my way, or seemed to be, but the opposition was fighting harder every day, so that I had time for little else than food, sleep and work. Frank Woods had apparently left town, either on business or to give Helen a clear field to influence Jim. Helen was still at Mary's, and her presence on a visit there was so natural that it hid her separation from Jim better than if she had gone home to mother.
I was just leaving for court one morning when Jim called me into his office. There was a gleam of triumph in his eyes and his whole attitude was one of cheerful excitement.
"Have you a minute, Bupps?"
"Only a minute, Jim. This is the day of days for me."
There were several letters and telegrams lying on the table. Jim pointed exultantly to them and cried: "I've got him, Bupps! There is enough evidence there to send Woods up for twenty years. I wouldn't have used such underhand methods against any one else, against anything but a snake, but I had to win, I had to win!"
I rushed to the table and rapidly scanned one of the telegrams.
"You've started at the wrong end, but it doesn't matter. Frank Woods has used the money entrusted him by the French Government to gamble with. He counted on the contracts with the International Biplane people to bring him clean and leave him a comfortable fortune besides. The end of the war and the wholesale cancellation of government contracts killed that. To cover his deficits, he borrowed from the Capitol Loan and Trust, and they are hunting for their money now."
"How did you find all this out, Jim?" I demanded breathlessly.
"From friends, good friends, Bupps. Men who knew that if I asked for this unusual information, I had need of it and that I wouldn't abuse their confidence."
"And now that you've got it, what are you going to do with it?"
"I have sent messages to Woods, to his apartment, to the club and to the International plant, saying that I want to see him. I know he is working like the devil to get the contracts to furnish the government with mail planes for next year. If he gets that contract, he may possibly pull through, for the bank would probably extend his credit, but if knowledge of his illegal use of the money entrusted to him by the French Government ever gets out, he knows it's the stripes without the stars for him."
"Be careful when you meet him, Jim," I warned. "He'll go to the limit, you know, to save himself."
"He's all front, Bupps; just like Zalnitch. I'll give him three days to straighten out his affairs and get away. If he hasn't left by then, I'll put all the evidence I have into the hands of the Capitol Loan and Trust."
"Are you going to tell Helen about this?" I asked.
Jim pondered a moment. "I haven't decided that yet. If I was sure Woods would go away without any trouble, I think I'd leave her in ignorance; but he might use her to save himself."
"How do you mean?"
"I'm not so blind I can't see that Helen's infatuated with the man. If he is blackguard enough to ask her again to go with him, I think she would go, and that would pretty effectively tie my hands."
"You mean that for Helen's sake you wouldn't prosecute Woods?" I demanded. "That's stupid sentimentality."
"It's for Helen's sake that I'm doing all this," Jim insisted. "Don't think for a moment I would stop the prosecution just because she was with him. The reason my hands would be tied is because Helen's money would pay his obligations."
"Helen's money?" I laughed. "Helen hasn't as much as I have."
Jim flushed. "Helen is quite a wealthy woman, Bupps. When I went into the army I wanted to leave Helen perfectly easy in a financial way while I was gone, so I transferred all my railroad stock to her, so that she might draw the interest. I haven't asked her for it since I came home, because, in the light of our recent differences, I was afraid she might think I didn't trust her."
"And do you suppose Woods knows that?"
"Of course he knows it!" Jim burst out. "She must have told him. Why do you suppose he played around so long before deciding to make love to Helen? Oh, it's all so simple and clear to me now that I wonder at my stupidity."
I glanced at my watch.
"Good lord, Jim! You've almost made me lose my case. I have only three minutes to get to the court-house. Hold up the climax until I get back, if you can."
I jumped for the elevator and rushed to my appointment, getting there just in time. The news of the morning had so raised my spirits that I was filled with an immense enthusiasm. Everything went my way. My summing up was a masterpiece of logic, if I do say so myself, and my client received a substantial judgment.
There is no moment sweeter in a young lawyer's life than when another lawyer, of big reputation, congratulates him on his conduct of a case. My cup was filled to overflowing, and I must confess I had little thought for Jim's affairs when I lunched that day with Stevenson and McGuire, councils for the L. L. & G. The prognostications that they made for my future were so exaggerated that a bigger man than I might well have been excused for increased head and chest measurements.
At half past two I went back to the office to announce the good news to Jim. I had made up my mind before luncheon to spend the afternoon on the links in honor of my victory, but the clouds, which had been heavy during the morning, by two o'clock opened up a steady drizzle. Jim was at his desk when I came in bringing the glad tidings. He got up and gripped my hand.
"Good boy, Bupps! I knew you'd do it. Thank the Lord your affairs are going well anyway."
"Has something happened since I've been out?" I asked.
"Yes. The First National telephoned about eleven o'clock saying that Helen wanted to borrow quite a large sum of money on her railroad stock and asking if I knew about it. They thought the money was probably for me and they wanted to ask if I'd be willing to wait a few days."
"How much was it?"
"Fifty thousand dollars."
"Is the stock worth that much, Jim?"
"Yes," said Jim seriously, "the stock is worth twice that. That's why I have to go slow. She could sell that stock for fifty thousand at any broker's in five minutes."
I whistled. "Gee! Fifty thousand. Woods must have asked her for it because he knew you were after him."
"It's open warfare now. I told the bank I knew what the money was for and that it would cause no inconvenience to me to have them hold up the loan for a few days. In fact I asked Sherwood, the cashier, to wait until he saw me before making the loan."
Just then the telephone rang. Jim answered it.
"Hello—Yes—Woods?—Where are you now?" He listened a moment. "I understand—Eight-thirty promptly?—I'll be there—Yes, I understand—I'll be there."
He hung up the receiver and looked at me with twinkling eyes.
"The shoe is beginning to pinch, Bupps. That was Woods. He asks me to meet him alone this evening at the country-club, at eight-thirty promptly. Says he wants to see me urgently on business that concerns us both."
"Did he ask you to come alone?"
"Yes. He distinctly said that I was to come alone and be prompt."
"Jim," I argued, "you can't go out there alone to meet that man. It's too infernally dangerous."
"There's no danger, Bupps; but I'm not going alone. Helen is going with me."
He opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a leather portfolio, into which he put all the letters and telegrams that were scattered about his desk.
"I'm going to prove to Helen, in his presence, what kind of man he is; that he loves her only for the money I gave her, and to save his yellow hide. I'm going to tear out of her heart all the affection she ever had for him. I think, after that, she will not only come back to me, but she will love me all the more for having known Frank Woods. No matter how badly a leg or an arm may be shattered, a quick, clean operation may cause the parts to grow together again, stronger than they were before. I think I win, Bupps."
"Still, I believe you ought to carry a gun, in case he gets nasty."
"I will, if you like," he responded; "but I won't use it, no matter what happens."
I left the office, vaguely disquieted with the thought of Jim going out to the club to face a man as dangerous and desperate as Frank Woods. When a fellow of his standing sees the penitentiary looming up in his foreground he's capable of anything. Helen, herself, in the crazed condition I had seen her the other night, was an added element of danger. I didn't like the looks of the situation any way I turned.
I climbed into my car and drove slowly through the wet slippery streets. The windshield was so covered with rain-drops that I lowered it to see the better, and the autumn rain, beating into my face, soon swept away my gloomy forebodings. After all, no man was going to stick his neck into the hangman's noose, no matter how eager he was for revenge. This was the twentieth century, in which no man could deliberately flout the law. Frank Woods would never have invited Jim to a "rendezvous" so public as the country-club, if he planned mischief. When he found out how much Jim knew, realizing the game was up, he would leave town quietly. Helen certainly would shake Woods when she learned of his dishonesty and trickery. Surely, no woman with Helen's pride could learn how she had been duped without hating the man who duped her.
I stopped at the University Union and found the card room well filled with bridge players. The rainy afternoon had driven the golfers to cards, and as one of the men, Terry O'Connel, was on the point of leaving, I took his place. I played till seven and then started home to dinner. The rain had stopped and a fresh chilly wind was rippling the pools in the streets and rapidly drying the sidewalks. The prospect of a cold blustery evening made me look forward with pleasure to the warm comfort of my study, and a good book.
I had just finished a solitary dinner—mother being confined to her room—and had settled down in dressing gown and slippers before my cheerful fire, when the telephone rang. I put down my book and tried to think of some excuse for staying home, in case it was my bridge-playing friends of the afternoon wanting me to come back to the club. A strange voice called from the other end of the wire.
"There has been an accident to your brother-in-law's car."
"What?—Where?—Who is this talking?" I shouted breathlessly.
"This is Captain Wadsworth of the North District Police Station speaking. Your brother-in-law had a very bad accident with his car at the second bridge on the Blandesville Road. Both Mr. and Mrs. Felderson were pretty badly injured."
"Where are they now?" I gasped, fear clutching at my throat.
"They have been taken to St. Mary's Hospital."
I slammed down the receiver and tore into my clothes. I ran out to the car and drove through the dark wet streets regardless of speed laws. From out the gray gloom, the heavy bulk and lighted windows of St. Mary's loomed just ahead. I ran up the steps and went at once to the office. Three nurses were standing there talking.
"Can you tell me where they have taken Mr. and Mrs. Felderson?"
"Were they the people in the automobile accident?"
I nodded my head.
One of the nurses led me to a large room on the second floor. As we neared the door a young interne, so the nurse told me, came out. He was thoughtfully polishing his glasses.
"I am Warren Thompson, Mr. Felderson's brother-in-law," I explained. "Can you tell me how badly Mr. and Mrs. Felderson were hurt?"
He put his glasses back on his nose and looked at me sympathetically.
"Mr. Felderson is dead, and Mrs. Felderson is dying," he said.
ACCIDENT OR MURDER
Have you ever had the whole world stop for you? Well, that's what happened when that young interne told me that Jim was dead. I must have been half mad for a few moments, at least they said I acted that way.
Sometimes, tragic news deadens the senses, like the brief numbness that follows the sudden cutting off of a limb, the pain not manifesting itself until some time afterward. But with me, the fact of Jim's death clawed and tore at the very foundation of my brain. It stamped itself into my sensibilities with such crushing force that I writhed under the burden of its bitter actuality. I felt as though I, myself, had died and my spirit, snatched from the brilliant, airy sunlight of life, had been plunged into the hammering emptiness of hell. "Jim is dead—big, happy, kind-hearted Jim is dead" ached through my brain.
They gave me something to drink—ammonia, I think—and my whirling head began to clear.
"Can I see Mrs. Felderson?" I asked the interne. It was he who had given me the ammonia.
"I'm afraid not," he replied. "She is being prepared for the operating table."
"There is a chance, then, of her being saved?" I clutched at his arm.
He slowly shook his head. "One chance in a thousand only, I'm afraid. There was severe concussion of the brain and a slight displacement of one of the cranial vertebra. Luckily, Doctor Forbes is here, and if any one can save her, he can." He got up from his seat beside me. "Now, Mr. Thompson, I advise you to go home and get a good night's rest. You can do nothing here, and the next few days are bound to be a great strain."
"You will telephone me at once the result of the operation?" I asked quickly.
"I wouldn't count too much on the operation," he said kindly, "but I will let you know."
He turned and walked back toward Helen's room. Just then the door was opened and there appeared a sort of elongated baby-cab, without a top. On this wheeling table was a still white bundle, from which a stifled moan escaped now and then. Shaken with terror and nausea, I ran for the stairs and did not stop until I got into my car and was racing away.
As I drove, my brain cleared and I remembered that there were others to whom the tragedy was almost as vital as to myself and who ought to be informed. I stopped at a corner drug store and called up Mary. Mother should not be told until a physician could assure me she was strong enough to stand the shock.
Mary was wonderfully sympathetic and tender, not voluble the way some women would have been. She asked me if I had been to the scene of the accident, and when I told her I was just going, she asked me if I wanted her with me. As it was after ten o'clock and the rain had begun again, I told her "No," and added that I'd come to see her in the morning.
When I left the telephone-booth the drug clerk stared at me inquisitively.
"You look all fagged out," he said frankly.
"I'm not feeling very well," I replied, struggling into my rain-coat.
"Better let me give you somethin' to fix you up," he suggested. I acquiesced, and he went to the shelf and shook some white powder into a glass. Then he put some water with it and it phizzed merrily. I drank it at a gulp and, climbing into the car, started for the second bridge on the Blandesville Road.
The drink braced me up and as I drove I began to recall the events of the last few days, and for the first time to wonder if they had any connection with the tragedy. Captain Wadsworth had told me it was an accident. Could Frank Woods have been in any way responsible? No, certainly not, for Helen had been in the car, and he surely would never have done anything to put her life in jeopardy. But Woods didn't know that she was there. He had told Jim to come out alone; had insisted on it, in fact. It was Jim's idea to bring Helen with him.
My heart was doing a hundred revolutions to the minute. Now that I had hit on this idea, every fiber of my being cried out that Frank Woods was in some way responsible. I tried to urge my car to more speed. The wreck would surely tell me something. I determined to hunt every inch of ground around the place for a clue. Woods would have to prove to me that he had nothing to do with the accident before I'd believe him innocent.
I drove up the long hill overlooking the little bridge that had suddenly assumed such a tragic significance in my life. It lies at the bottom of the hill, about half-way between the city and the country-club and on the loneliest stretch of the entire road. There are no houses about; the city not having grown that far out and the soil being entirely unsuitable for farming. In fact, there are only one or two large trees near by, to break the desolate expanse, the vegetation consisting mostly of thorny bushes springing from the rocky soil. There have been several accidents at the bridge, for its narrowness is deceiving and it is impossible for two autos to pass. Motorists, going to the club, usually let their cars out on the long hill and if another car, coming around the bend from the opposite direction, reaches the bridge at the same time, only skilful driving and good brakes can avoid a smash-up. The matter has been brought to the attention of the authorities several times, but nothing has ever been done, either to widen the bridge or to warn automobilists of the danger.
As I reached the top of the hill, I saw that two automobiles had stopped at the bottom, and, noticing that their lights blinked as people passed back and forth in front of them, I was convinced that a small crowd had gathered, probably out of curiosity. I slowed up as I neared the spot and came to a stop at the side of the road. A motorcycle cop walked up to my car.
"Inspector Robinson, sir?"
"No," I answered, "I am Warren Thompson, brother-in-law of Mr. Felderson, who had the accident. How did it happen, do you know, Sergeant?"
"It was the fault of the bridge again, sir. I've told the chief that something ought to be done. This is the third accident in six months. We've been trying to find the other car."
"What other car?" I asked.
"The car that made Mr. Felderson take the ditch," he explained. "He must have been driving fast—he usually did; many's the time I've had to warn him—and must have seen that the other car would meet him at the bridge. He stopped too quick, skidded off the road and turned over into the creek."
I shuddered as I pictured the scene. One of the automobiles turned around and the lights picked out the upturned wheels of Jim's car. It looked like some monster whose back had been broken. It was a large Peckwith-Pierce touring car, and the force of the crash had twisted and smashed the huge chassis. Several men were gathered around the car, examining it with the aid of a barn-lantern.
"Where were the bodies found?" I asked, my voice trembling.
"Mrs. Felderson was over there on the bank. She was thrown out likely when the car left the road. Mr. Felderson's body was under the machine."
While the thought of the heavy weight crushing the life out of Jim sickened me, I thanked God that death must have been instantaneous.
"Do you know who found them, Sergeant?"
He pointed to a man standing by the wreck. "That man over there. He found them and took them to the hospital after sending one of his friends to notify the police."
The man evidently heard our voices, and came over to us.
"Is this the inspector?" he asked.
"No," I replied, "I am Mr. Felderson's brother-in-law."
"Oh, I'm sorry!" he said quickly. "May I express my deep, deep sympathy?"
"Thank you. Will you tell me how you discovered the accident?"
"I had been out to Blandesville on business and was returning with a party of friends. As we neared the bridge, one of them caught sight of the upturned automobile in the creek, and we stopped. We found Mrs. Felderson first, being attracted by her moans. We went at once to the car, and as there were four of us, we were able to lift the automobile sufficiently to get Mr. Felderson from under it. We knew that the woman was still living, but none of us was doctor enough to tell whether Mr. Felderson was alive or not. We carried them quickly to our car and hurried to St. Mary's, dropping one of my friends at the North District Station to inform the police what had occurred. Afterward we drove back here, thinking we might be wanted in case there was an investigation."
"Did you see the lights of any car ahead of you, as you came along the road?" I asked. "Did any car pass you, going in the same direction?"
"A car turned in ahead of us from the Millerstown Road about ten minutes before."
"Do you think that might have been the car that was partly responsible for this accident?" I queried.
"Of course, no one could be sure in a situation of that kind, but I wouldn't doubt it at all. It left us behind as if we were tied."
Another car had driven up while we were talking and our policeman had gone over to it at once. He came back now, accompanied by a short heavy-set man in plain clothes.
"I am Inspector Robinson, detailed to examine into this affair. Were you the man who discovered the accident?" he asked, addressing my companion.
"Yes, Inspector; Pickering is my name. I'm with the Benefit Insurance Company."
He told the circumstances of the discovery to the plain-clothes man, who, all the time Pickering was talking, bustled up and down and around the car. Finally he made Pickering show him just where the bodies lay.
"Distressing, distressing," the inspector chirped, "dreadful accident, dreadful indeed, but quite to be expected with fast driving. If they will risk their lives——"
"Inspector," I broke in, "I am the brother-in-law of the man who drove that car. While he was a fast driver, he was not a careless one. I've never known him to have an accident before." The little man irritated me.
"That's the way it always happens," he came back at me; "they take risks a dozen times and get away with them, and then—Blooey!!"
"But aren't you going to find the other car?" I demanded.
"What other car?" he snapped.
"The one that must have been coming from the opposite direction; that caused this accident."
"Do you know there was any such car?" he bristled.
"There must have been," I answered. "No accident has ever happened here except under such circumstances. Besides, Mr. Pickering saw a car turn into this road ahead of him not ten minutes before the accident."
Robinson looked from me to Pickering as though we were both conspiring to defeat justice.
"Did you see such a car?" he barked at Pickering.
"A car turned out of the Millerstown Road and went toward the city about ten minutes before we discovered the bodies," Pickering replied evenly.
"Why didn't you say so?" the detective asked sharply. "What kind of a car was it?"
"A black limousine with wire wheels. I couldn't see the number."
Robinson's humor seemed to have come back.
"Now we're getting on," he said, rubbing his hands. "That's better. That's much better. If you gentlemen had just told me that in the first place we'd have saved all this time."
He turned to the motorcycle policeman. "Feeney, go over to Millerstown and inquire if a black limousine with wire wheels stopped there to-night between eight and nine o'clock."
A figure, unnoticed in the darkness, approached. It proved to be a lanky farmer, who spoke with a decided drawl.
"I reckon I kin help ye thar. They was a big limozine tourin' car with wire wheels went through Millerstown 'bout ha'f past eight, quat' t' nine. I know, 'cause it durn near run me down."
"Do you live in Millerstown?" the inspector questioned.
"Yep! Come over t' see the accident."
"Did that auto stop in Millerstown?"
The farmer chuckled and expectorated. "It didn't even hesitate."
"Can you tell us anything else about it?" I spoke up.
The inspector glared at me. "I'll conduct this investigation, Mr.—err——"
The farmer scratched his head. "Waal, nothin' much. It went too blamed fast fer me to git mor'n a right good look, but I did gee that it was full o' men an' the tail-light was bu'sted an' they wa'n't no license on it."
"You're sure of that?" the inspector asked.
"Yep!" he said, "I'm sure, 'cause I was goin' to report 'em."
Again the inspector turned to Feeney, who had been listening intently.
"Feeney, go in and tell the chief to issue instructions to all the force to keep an eye out for a black limousine with wire wheels, a broken tail-light and no license tag! My friend," he said, turning to the farmer, "I thank you for your information. By to-morrow night we'll have that car and the parties concerned. By gad! They had their nerve, running away after the accident. The damned rascals—killing people and then running away. I'll grill their toes for them."
The malice of the little detective, his readiness to jump from one conclusion to another, reminded me for all the world of some disagreeable, little, barking dog that chases every passing vehicle.
I bade him good night, shook hands with Pickering and was on my way back to my car, when another automobile drove up. Three men jumped out, and as they passed in front of the lamps, I recognized Lawrence Brown and Fred Paisley, from the club; the third man was Frank Woods. As I caught sight of his well-set-up figure, all the hatred I had for him seemed to rise in my throat and choke me. Try as I would I couldn't separate him from the tragedy. When the farmer said the black limousine was full of men, I realized that Frank Woods couldn't have been one of them, and yet, so great was my distrust of the man, that I felt like accusing him on the spot.
Larry Brown caught sight of me and wrung my hand. "Dammit, old man, I can't fell you how sorry I am." Paisley patted me on the back. "If there is anything we can do, Thompson——"
I shook my head and tears came to my eyes. They made me realize poignantly how much I had lost. Woods didn't join us. He knew if he tried to sympathize with me, after the affair the other day, that I would throttle him for his hypocrisy.
"Was Jim killed outright?" Brown asked.
"Yes! And there's one chance in a thousand for Helen."
Both men started. "Was Mrs. Felderson there? They telephoned us at the club that Jim had been killed, but we didn't know she was with him."
They glanced at each other and then at Woods, who was standing by the side of the overturned car.
"You'd better tell him, Larry," Paisley muttered.
"Doesn't he know?" I asked.
"Of course not," replied Brown. "He was out there at the club with us. I'm afraid it will hit him awfully hard."
He stepped over to Woods and, taking him by the arm, they disappeared into the darkness. We heard a choking cry, and the next moment Woods came running toward us. His face was distorted with horror and his eyes were almost starting from his head.
"Thompson, for God's sake, tell me he lies! Tell me he lies!" he shrieked. "Helen wasn't in that car?"
The old suspicions came tumbling back an hundredfold and I turned cold all over.
"It is true," I said, "Mrs. Felderson is in the hospital at the point of death."
With a stifled groan, Woods sank to the ground and buried his face in his shaking hands.
A CLUE AND A VERDICT
I drove home with my thoughts in a tumult. The look on Woods' face and the vehemence of his words made me sure he was in some way responsible for Jim's death. I walked the floor for hours trying to build up my case against him. He had sworn to kill Jim, unless he let Helen go, and he must have known that afternoon that not only was Jim going to keep Helen from him, but that he had the proof with which to ruin him forever. He had planned to have it out with Jim at the country-club, knowing it would be a cold damp night and that few people would be out there. He had emphatically stated that Jim should come alone and should be there promptly at half-past eight. All those facts pointed to the man's guilt and I felt sure that in some way I should be able to unearth the proof.
I knew I ought to sleep, but sleep was the last thing I could do. Twice I called up the hospital to inquire after Helen, but they could tell me nothing. Had the operation been successful? Yes, she had come through it. Would she get well? Ah, that they could not say. They would let me know if there was any change. I sent a telegram to Jim's uncle in the West, the only relative Jim ever corresponded with, and told him to notify any others to whom the news would be of vital interest.
Toward five o'clock, when dawn was just graying the windows, I threw myself on my bed. I suddenly realized I was extremely tired, yet my brain was buzzing like a dynamo. Pictures and scenes from the last few days flashed through my mind: the vindictive look in Helen's eyes after the fight with Woods; that table being wheeled out of Helen's room at the hospital, with the moaning white bundle on it; the upturned car pricked out of the darkness by the automobile lamps, and finally, Frank Woods' face when he heard that Helen had been in the car. With the realization that I ought to get up and close the window, where the morning breeze was idly flapping the curtain, I fell asleep.
I awoke with a start, to find the room flooded with golden sunlight. A glance at the clock on the mantel-shelf showed that it was after nine. My body was cramped and stiff and I felt stale and musty from having slept in my clothes. It was only after a cold shower and a complete change that I felt refreshed enough to pick up the threads where I had dropped them the night before.
Again, like the sudden aching of a tooth, came the heart-breaking realization that Jim was dead. With it came also anxiety for Helen's condition, so I called up the hospital at once. They could only say she had not recovered consciousness, but seemed to be resting comfortably.
I went down to the office to tell the stenographers they might have a vacation until after the funeral, and to lock up. The first person I found there was Inspector Robinson, who was calmly reading over the correspondence on Jim's desk. With all the "sang-froid" in the world, he met my infuriated gaze.
"Good morning, Mr. Thompson. Thought there might be something here touching on the case." He waved a hand toward Jim's letter basket.
"Have you found the black limousine?" I asked.
"Certainly, my dear man, certainly! We've not only found the car, but we found the people who were in the car and they know nothing about the accident. My first explanation was the right one, as I knew it would be. Felderson was driving recklessly, saw the bridge, put on the brakes, skidded—was killed."
"But why should he put on his brakes at the bridge?" I queried.
"I've thought of that," he smiled. "Perfectly logical. There's a nasty bump at the bridge and he naturally didn't want to jar Mrs. Felderson."
"So he turned into the ditch and pitched her out on her head instead," I jeered. "That's all poppy-cock. I've taken that bridge at full speed a hundred times without a jar."
"It's immaterial anyway," he snapped, frowning at me. "You can't make any fool mystery out of it. The point is that Mr. Felderson put on his brakes rapidly, perhaps for a dog or a rabbit, and skidded into the ditch."
"It's not immaterial!" I burst out angrily. "There was a real reason for his putting his brakes on rapidly. He was afraid of hitting something, or being hit himself. Who was the driver of that other car?"
"The son of one of the biggest men in the state, Karl Schreiber."
"Karl Schreiber?" I cried. "The son of the German Socialist, who was put in jail for dodging the draft?" I grabbed him by the arm. "Quick, man! Who were the others with him?"
Robinson gazed at me with a stupid frown.
"Two reporters from The Sun, a fellow by the name of Pederson, Otto Metzger and that Russian, Zalnitch, who just got out of prison."
"Zalnitch!" I yelled exultantly.
Zalnitch! The man Jim had sent to prison and who had threatened revenge. Metzger, who had been his accomplice all along. Schreiber, who hated Jim and all the virile Americanism that he stood for. Pederson and the two reporters I didn't know, but they were no doubt of the same vile breed. A fine gang of cutthroats who would have liked nothing better than to get rid of Jim. They probably saw his big search-light, that makes his car easily recognizable, and realized their opportunity had come. They had driven toward him as though to smash into him and made Jim take the ditch to get out of the way. That explained the sudden jamming on of his brakes that had caused him to skid and overturn. All these thoughts passed through my mind as I heard the names of the men in the black limousine.
"Inspector," I said, "I am fully convinced that the men in the black limousine are responsible for my brother-in-law's accident."
"What makes you think that?" he demanded, eying me narrowly.
"Because all of them had reason to hate and fear my brother-in-law. Zalnitch, since his release, has sworn he would get even with Mr. Felderson for putting him in prison. Metzger felt the same way. As for Schreiber, I'm sure if he could have manipulated that car so as to cause an accident to Mr. Felderson, he would have done it."
"You're crazy," Robinson sneered. "This thing's gone to your head. How could they have known it was your brother-in-law's car?"
"By the big search-light in front. It's the only car in the state with such a search-light. Mr. Felderson's car was so fast that the police sometimes used it, and he had their permission to wear that light, as you probably know. Also, it may have been dark enough to use the search-light and yet light enough so that a car could be distinguished at a hundred feet. If there was any light at all, that big Peckwith-Pierce car could be recognized by any one." He was impressed. I could see it by the thoughtful, shrewd look that, came into his eyes. Already, he was making arrests by the wholesale, in his mind.
"But I can't go pulling these men for murder on such slight evidence as that," he exploded.
"No one wants you to," I said sharply. "All I want you to do is to help me find out whether those men were present when the accident happened."
The idea of helping me didn't please him at all. As soon as I had spoken I saw my error in not putting it the other way around.
"Now, Mr. Thompson, you better keep out of this," he advised, getting to his feet. "I know that you are anxious to find out if these men had anything to do with Mr. Felderson's death, but the case is in good hands. We professionals can do a lot better, when there's no amateurs messing about. You leave it to me!"
"Just as you say," I acquiesced. "Get busy, though, and if you find out anything, let me know!"
Robinson stood a minute, turning his derby hat in his hands. I knew what he was after.
"By the way," I added. "I'll pay all expenses."
His face brightened at once. "Well, now, that's good of you, Mr. Thompson. I wasn't going to suggest anything like that, but it'll help a lot."
I handed over several bills, which he pocketed with satisfaction.
"Don't you worry a minute, Mr. Thompson. We'll get those birds yet. I was pretty sure they had something to do with it, all the time. You've got the best man in the department on the job."
He put on his derby hat with a flourish and trotted out the door. I recalled that I had told Mary I would see her, so I dismissed the stenographers and locked up the office. It was a perfect morning, with all the warm spicy perfumes of Indian summer. Overhead, a blue sky was filled with tumbled clouds of snowy whiteness. The rain of the night before was still on the grass and the trees, giving a dewy fragrance to the air that was invigorating.
Now that I had found a possible solution to the tragedy, I was filled with enthusiasm. I felt that if I could bring Jim's murderers to trial, I would conduct such a case for the prosecution as would send them up for life. They had succeeded in carrying out their threats, but I would make them pay for it.
I stopped in front of Mary's house and honked the horn. She opened the door and came quickly to the car. The tragic news of the night before had taken the laughter out of her eyes and the buoyancy from her step.
"I could cry my eyes out, Bupps," she said as she climbed into the car.
"Don't do it, or I'll start, too," I responded, a lump coming in my throat.
"How did it happen?" she asked, as we drove away. "The papers gave a long account, but said it was an accident."
"Zalnitch did it, Mary. At least, I'm almost sure it was he." I told her what I had learned during the morning, and as I talked, I finally touched on Frank Woods' strange words of the night before.
"You don't think he had anything to do with it, do you, Bupps?"
"No," I said. "I did think so, but I have changed my mind since this morning. I suppose it was just his grief that made him act so queerly."
"He does love Helen, Bupps," Mary murmured. "Helen got quite confidential while she was staying with me, and the things she told me about Woods made me see he was really in love with her."
"Yes, I suppose he does love her," I responded, "but he had no right to take her away from Jim."
"It's the man who takes a woman, whether he has the right or not, that wins," responded Mary seriously.
I looked at her and wondered whether she was growing the least bit personal. She was looking straight ahead, with an unsmiling gaze. As I glanced at her, there beside me, with the breeze blowing wisps of golden hair around her temples, I got panic-stricken.
"Mary—" I began.
"Watch where you are going, Bupps!"
I fastened my eyes on the street ahead, but only for an instant. With Jim gone, I was going to be fearfully lonesome. I glanced at her again.
"Mary, I know this isn't the right time or place, but—"
"Let's go to the hospital and find out about Helen," she interposed quickly. She knew we were going there all the time. The mention of Helen brought me back to earth with a snap, and made me realize I had no business talking about love at such a time. Yet never in my life did I feel more like telling Mary how much I wanted her.
We had no sooner entered the cool hall of St. Mary's than the little interne with glasses, whom I had seen the night before, came hurrying up to me.
"Mr. Thompson, we have been telephoning every place for you."
My heart jumped to my throat. "Is Mrs. Felderson—-?"
"No," he responded, "Mrs. Felderson is still unconscious. It is Mr. Felderson. The coroner has made an important discovery."
I waved for Mary to stay where she was and hurried down-stairs, where Jim's body lay. It had not been moved before the coroner's inquest. The room was dark and several people were gathered around the inquest table. All eyes were turned on me as I entered the room. A portly man detached himself from the group and came toward me.
"I am the coroner. In making my inquest, I find that death was not due to the automobile smash-up. Mr. Felderson was shot through the head, from behind. We have rendered a verdict of murder."
I TURN DETECTIVE
Murdered! For a moment I was stupefied by the doctor's revelation, and then, as he went on to describe the course of the bullet, and certain technical aspects of the case, a sudden rush of thankfulness came over me. Let me explain! The coroner had given a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown. From the first moment I heard of the accident I was certain there was something sinister about it, but had little on which to base my belief. The coroner's verdict substantiated my suspicions and gave me a chance to work in the open; to bring into court, if possible, the people I suspected.
Murder by person or persons unknown? I knew the persons: Zalnitch, Metzger, Schreiber. They must have recognized the car as it came toward them and taken a shot as they went by. My thoughts were recalled from their wanderings by an unexpected sentence of the coroner's. I had been following him vaguely, but now my attention was riveted.
"One could not be sure, because of the varied course that bullets take through the body, but the shot seems to have been fired from above and behind. Unless it were otherwise proved, I'd strongly suspect that the murderer had fired the shot from the back seat of the car."
"Of course that is impossible," I said, "because in that case the murderer would have been in the accident."
"I had the same idea," he said slowly, giving me a searching look.
I felt suddenly sick and faint. I wanted air, sunlight; to get away from that darkened room and those piercing eyes that seemed to read my thoughts. I thanked him for letting me know what he had discovered, and hurriedly excused myself.
Helen! The blood pounded through my temples.
Wilful, spoiled woman, if you will, ready to leave her husband without thought of the consequences, to go with another man; but his premeditated murderer? A thousand times, no!
I felt that with the unworthy suspicion in my mind, I could not face Mary, and I waited a moment at the bottom of the stairs before going up to meet her. There were two questions that had to be answered. Was Helen in the back seat when the car left Mary's the evening before; and had Jim told Helen about the proofs he had of Woods' irregularities? Mary was probably there when Helen and Jim left, and could answer both questions.
I wiped the perspiration from my forehead and assuming as calm an air as possible, went up-stairs. Mary was chatting with the little interne, but as soon as she saw my face, she hurried toward me.
"You look as though you'd seen a ghost. What was it, Bupps?"
"Not here!" I cautioned. "Wait until we get outside!"
We walked down the broad sunlit steps and climbed into the car. I felt like a traitor to let Mary even think that I suspected Helen, but my questions had to be answered.
"Will you have luncheon with me, Mary?"
"Certainly," she answered. "Let's go to Luigi's. We can talk quietly there."
I headed for down-town and kept my eyes on the road, dreading to put my questions into words.
"What was it, Bupps?" Mary asked.
I decided to ask what I had to ask before telling her the coroner's verdict.
"Did you see Helen leave the house with Jim yesterday?"
"Yes. I was looking out the window when they started. Why?"
I could hardly force myself to go on.
"Was Helen—did Helen get into the front seat with Jim?" I faltered.
"No. She climbed into the back," Mary replied. "They had some sort of an argument before they left. I knew Jim was excited and that Helen was angry. Of course I didn't hear all that passed between them, I tried not to hear any, but they talked very loud and were right in the next room."
"What did you hear?" I asked, my heart sinking.
"Once Jim laughed, a hard sort of laugh, and I heard Helen say, 'You lie! You know you are lying! He will disprove everything you say!' Another time I heard Helen exclaim, 'Give me that pistol! You shan't threaten him while I'm there!' I knew, of course, they were speaking of Frank Woods, but I didn't know what it was all about. But why do you ask all this, Bupps?"
"Mary," I said, and I couldn't look at her, "the coroner has given a verdict of murder."
"Murder?" Mary gasped. I nodded.
"Jim was shot from behind, while he was driving Helen out to the country-club to meet Woods, and Helen was in the back seat."
"She didn't do it!" Mary burst out. "She couldn't have done it."
"Of course she didn't do it!" I exploded. We were glaring at each other as though each was defending Helen from the other's accusation. "We know she didn't do it, but there are many who won't take our word for it. I could see by the way the coroner looked at me this morning that he is ready to accuse her of murdering Jim, and it's up to us to save her, by finding out who really is guilty."
We drove up in front of Luigi's, and I was able to get a small table, in the corner by ourselves. Although no one could have overheard us, I sat as near Mary as I could and we talked with our heads close together.
Mrs. Webster Pratt came in the door just then, with a luncheon party, and, noticing how we were engrossed, came bouncing over to the table at once.
"Poor Mr. Thompson, my heart bleeds for you—simply bleeds for you."
I got to my feet and permitted her to squeeze my hand. She squeezes your hand or pats you at the least opportunity, and this one was unequaled.
"Poor, dear Mr. Felderson. It is such a loss. I was shocked to death when I heard it. And Mrs. Felderson, the poor child, is she going to—ah—t-t-t. I was afraid so when I read it in the paper. I'm surprised to find you here. How is your poor dear mother?"
I knew that the woman would gossip all over the place about my heartlessness, unless I explained my presence in a public cafe so soon after Jim's death and my sister's injury.
"My mother doesn't know about it yet," I said quietly. "I didn't think her strong enough to stand the shock. I shouldn't have come here, but I had a very important matter to talk over with Miss Pendleton."
"I could see that from the way you were sitting," she giggled. "I'm afraid that you're going to give Eastbrook something to talk about as soon as this distressing thing is over." She patted my arm, beamed at Mary and swished over to her party.
"We shouldn't have come here, Mary," I said with a sour grimace.
"I forgot that old cat sometimes comes here. She'll spread it all over town that you were down here making love to me before Jim was decently buried. She'll probably say we're engaged."
"Well, I wish we were." I know I must have shown my longing in my eyes.
"Don't, please, Warren!" Mary whispered, putting her hand on my arm. "We've got too much to do. That Pratt woman drove everything out of my mind for a moment. I wish she hadn't seen us here."
I didn't feel as though I could eat a thing and neither did Mary, so I told the waiter to bring us a light salad, and sent him away.
"Mary," I said, after he had gone, "we know Helen didn't do this thing, but if you are called by the grand jury to tell what you just told me, they will bring an indictment against her in a minute."
"They couldn't!" Mary expostulated. "They couldn't believe such a thing."
"Don't you think Mrs. Webster Pratt would believe it, if she knew everything that we know?" I argued. "She'd believe it with only half as much proof, and she has just about the mental equipment of the average juryman. There'll be about four Mrs. Webster Pratts on that jury."
"What can we do, Bupps?" Mary begged with tears in her eyes.
"Well," I said, "you've got to see Helen as soon as they will let you and as often as they'll let you, so that the first time she speaks, you'll be there to hear what she says."
"But suppose she dies, Bupps?"
"Even while she is unconscious," I went on, disregarding her query, "she may say something that will give us a clue. I'm going out to the bridge right after lunch."
"What for?" Mary asked.
"To see if I can find Jim's revolver. If it had been found on Helen, the coroner would have told me this morning, I think. Of course, they may not have taken it at all. In that case it will still be at your house. If Helen took it with her, it must have fallen out when the car turned over, and if it did, I must get it before anybody else does."
The waiter interrupted here with the salad. Mary dabbled with hers a bit and then said:
"Bupps, hadn't I better get out of town?"
"No," I replied. "They'd be sure to find you, and when you gave your testimony, it would hurt Helen just that much more."
"But I can't stand up before them and tell what I heard. I'll lie first." Her lovely little face clouded up as though she were going to cry.
"You'll do nothing of the kind!" I insisted. "We know Helen didn't do it. Don't we?"
"Ye-es." Her tone was not convincing.
"Well, then, whatever we say can't hurt her. And we're bound to find out who the guilty persons are."
"But, Bupps, who could it have been?" she asked anxiously.
"I still think it was Zalnitch and the men who were with him, but it might have been Woods. I'm going to find out everything he did last night. It may throw some light on the case. After all, he is the one who had the most to gain by Jim's death, and his words of last night were mighty queer."
I paid the waiter and we left the cafe. On the way to Mary's I stopped at the undertaker's and made arrangements for Jim's burial. The man in charge was the saddest looking person I have ever seen. He had a woebegone look about him that was infectious—made you want to weep for him or with him. He discussed the funeral arrangements in a hushed voice and finished by whispering, "I sincerely hope what the papers are hinting is not so."
"What's that?" I asked.
"The noon edition of The Sun says, 'The finger of suspicion points very strongly to Mrs. Felderson.'"
I hurried out to the car and jumped in.
"Mary, we've got to work fast."
"Is Helen suspected?" she asked.
"Yes. The Sun is more than hinting."
The news seemed to bring out the fight in Mary.
"Well, we'll prove her innocent."
When we reached the Pendletons' we hurried into the house and went at once to the room where Jim and Helen had their argument. The revolver was not there.