THE GOLF COURSE MYSTERY
by Chester K. Steele
I PUTTING OUT II THE NINETEENTH HOLE III "Why?" IV VIOLA'S DECISION V HARRY'S MISSION VI By A QUIET STREAM VII THE INQUEST VIII ON SUSPICION IX 58 C. H—161* X A WATER HAZARD XI POISONOUS PLANTS XII BLOSSOM'S SUSPICIONS XIII CAPTAIN POLAND CONFESSES XIV THE PRIVATE SAFE XV POOR FISHING XVI SOME LETTERS XVII OVER THE TELEPHONE XVIII A LARGE BLONDE LADY XIX "UNKNOWN" XX A MEETING XXI THE LIBRARY POSTA XXII THE LARGE BLONDE AGAIN XXIII MOROCCO KATE, ALLY XXIV STILL WATERS
CHAPTER I. PUTTING OUT
There was nothing in that clear, calm day, with its blue sky and its flooding sunshine, to suggest in the slightest degree the awful tragedy so close at hand—that tragedy which so puzzled the authorities and which came so close to wrecking the happiness of several innocent people.
The waters of the inlet sparkled like silver, and over those waters poised the osprey, his rapidly moving wings and fan-spread tail suspending him almost stationary in one spot, while, with eager and far-seeing eyes, he peered into the depths below. The bird was a dark blotch against the perfect blue sky for several seconds, and then, suddenly folding his pinions and closing his tail, he darted downward like a bomb dropped from an aeroplane.
There was a splash in the water, a shower of sparkling drops as the osprey arose, a fish vainly struggling in its talons, and from a dusty gray roadster, which had halted along the highway while the occupant watched the hawk, there came an exclamation of satisfaction.
"Did you see that, Harry?" called the occupant of the gray car to a slightly built, bronzed companion in a machine of vivid yellow, christened by some who had ridden in it the "Spanish Omelet." "Did you see that kill? As clean as a hound's tooth, and not a lost motion of a feather. Some sport-that fish-hawk! Gad!"
"Yes, it was a neat bit of work, Gerry. But rather out of keeping with the day."
"Out of keeping? What do you mean?"
"Well, out of tune, if you like that better. It's altogether too perfect a day for a killing of any sort, seems to me."
"Oh, you're getting sentimental all at once, aren't you, Harry?" asked Captain Gerry Poland, with just the trace of a covert sneer in his voice. "I suppose you wouldn't have even a fish-hawk get a much needed meal on a bright, sunshiny day, when, if ever, he must have a whale of an appetite. You'd have him wait until it was dark and gloomy and rainy, with a north-east wind blowing, and all that sort of thing. Now for me, a kill is a kill, no matter what the weather."
"The better the day the worse the deed, I suppose," and Harry Bartlett smiled as he leaned forward preparatory to throwing the switch of his machine's self-starter, for both automobiles had come to a stop to watch the osprey.
"Oh, well, I don't know that the day has anything to do with it," said the captain—a courtesy title, bestowed because he was president of the Maraposa Yacht Club. "I was just interested in the clean way the beggar dived after that fish. Flounder, wasn't it?"
"Yes, though usually the birds are glad enough to get a moss-bunker. Well, the fish will soon be a dead one, I suppose."
"Yes, food for the little ospreys, I imagine. Well, it's a good death to die—serving some useful purpose, even if it's only to be eaten. Gad! I didn't expect to get on such a gruesome subject when we started out. By the way, speaking of killings, I expect to make a neat one to-day on this cup-winners' match."
"How? I didn't know there was much betting."
"Oh, but there is; and I've picked up some tidy odds against our friend Carwell. I'm taking his end, and I think he's going to win."
"Better be careful, Gerry. Golf is an uncertain game, especially when there's a match on among the old boys like Horace Carwell and the crowd of past-performers and cup-winners he trails along with. He's just as likely to pull or slice as the veriest novice, and once he starts to slide he's a goner. No reserve comeback, you know."
"Oh, I've not so sure about that. He'll be all right if he'll let the champagne alone before he starts to play. I'm banking on him. At the same time I haven't bet all my money. I've a ten spot left that says I can beat you to the clubhouse, even if one of my cylinders has been missing the last two miles. How about it?"
"You're on!" said Harry Bartlett shortly.
There was a throb from each machine as the electric motors started the engines, and then they shot down the wide road in clouds of dust—the sinister gray car and the more showy yellow—while above them, driving its talons deeper into the sides of the fish it had caught, the osprey circled off toward its nest of rough sticks in a dead pine tree on the edge of the forest.
And on the white of the flounder appeared bright red spots of blood, some of which dripped to the ground as the cruel talons closed until they met inside.
It was only a little tragedy, such as went on every day in the inlet and adjacent ocean, and yet, somehow, Harry Bartlett, as he drove on with ever-increasing speed in an endeavor to gain a length on his opponent, could not help thinking of it in contrast to the perfect blue of the sky, in which there was not a cloud. Was it prophetic?
Ruddy-faced men, bronze-faced men, pale-faced men; young women, girls, matrons and "flappers"; caddies burdened with bags of golf clubs and pockets bulging with cunningly found balls; skillful waiters hurrying here and there with trays on which glasses of various shapes, sizes, and of diversified contents tinkled musically-such was the scene at the Maraposa Club on this June morning when Captain Gerry Poland and Harry Bartlett were racing their cars toward it.
It was the chief day of the year for the Maraposa Golf Club, for on it were to be played several matches, not the least in importance being that of the cup-winners, open only to such members as had won prizes in hotly contested contests on the home links.
In spite of the fact that on this day there were to be played several matches, in which visiting and local champions were to try their skill against one another, to the delight of a large gallery, interest centered in the cup-winners' battle. For it was rumored, and not without semblance of truth, that large sums of money would change hands on the result.
Not that it was gambling-oh, my no! In fact any laying of wagers was strictly prohibited by the club's constitution. But there are ways and means of getting cattle through a fence without taking down the bars, and there was talk that Horace Carwell had made a pretty stiff bet with Major Turpin Wardell as to the outcome of the match, the major and Mr. Carwell being rivals of long standing in the matter of drives and putts.
"Beastly fine day, eh, what?" exclaimed Bruce Garrigan, as he set down on a tray a waiter held out to him a glass he had just emptied with every indication of delight in its contents. "If it had been made to order couldn't be improved on," and he flicked from the lapel of Tom Sharwell's coat some ashes which had blown there from the cigarette which Garrigan had lighted.
"You're right for once, Bruce, old man," was the laughing response. "Never mind the ashes now, you'll make a spot if you rub any harder."
"Right for once? 'm always right!" cried Garrigan "And it may interest you to know that the total precipitation, including rain and melted snow in Yuma, Arizona, for the calendar year 1917, was three and one tenth inches, being the smallest in the United States."
"It doesn't interest me a bit, Bruce!" laughed Sharwell. "And to prevent you getting any more of those statistics out of your system, come on over and we'll do a little precipitating on our own account. I can stand another Bronx cocktail."
"I'm with you! But, speaking of statistics, did you know that from the national forests of the United States in the last year there was cut 840,612,030 board feet of lumber? What the thirty feet were for I don't know, but—"
"And I don't care to know," interrupted Tom. "If you spring any more of those beastly dry figures—Say, there comes something that does interest me, though!" he broke in with. "Look at those cars take that turn!"
"Some speed," murmured Garrigan. "It's Bartlett and Poland," he went on, as a shift of wind blew the dust to one side and revealed the gray roadster and the Spanish Omelet. "The rivals are at it again."
Bruce Garrigan, who had a name among the golf club members as a human encyclopaedia, and who, at times, would inform his companions on almost any subject that chanced to come uppermost, tossed away his cigarette and, with Tom Sharwell, watched the oncoming automobile racers.
"They're rivals in more ways than one," remarked Sharwell. "And it looks, now, as though the captain rather had the edge on Harry, in spite of the fast color of Harry's car."
"That's right," admitted Garrigan. "Is it true what I've heard about both of them-that each hopes to place the diamond hoop of proprietorship on the fair Viola?"
"I guess if you've heard that they're both trying for her, it's true enough," answered Sharwell. "And it also happens, if that old lady, Mrs. G. 0. 5. Sipp, is to be believed, that there, also, the captain has the advantage."
"How's that? I thought Harry had made a tidy sum on that ship-building project he put through."
"He did, but it seems that he and his family have a penchant for doing that sort of thing, and, some years ago, in one of the big mergers in which his family took a prominent part, they, or some one connected with them, pinched the Honorable Horace Carwell so that he squealed for mercy like a lamb led to the Wall street slaughter house."
"So that's the game, is it?"
"Yes. And ever since then, though Viola Carwell has been just as nice to Harry as she has to Gerry—as far as any one can tell-there has been talk that Harry is persona non grata as far as her father goes. He never forgives any business beat, I understand."
"Was it anything serious?" asked Garrigan, as they watched the racing automobiles swing around the turn of the road that led to the clubhouse.
"I don't know the particulars. It was before my time—I mean before I paid much attention to business."
"Rot! You don't now. You only think you do. But I'm interested. I expect to have some business dealing with Carwell myself, and if I could get a line—"
"Sorry, but I can't help you out, old man. Better see Harry. He knows the whole story, and he insists that it was all straight on his relatives' part. But it's like shaking a mince pie at a Thanksgiving turkey to mention the matter to Carwell. He hasn't gone so far as to forbid Harry the house, but there's a bit of coldness just the same."
"I see. And that's why the captain has the inside edge on the love game. Well, Miss Carwell has a mind of her own, I fancy."
"Indeed she has! She's more like her mother used to be. I remember Mrs. Carwell when I was a boy. She was a dear, somewhat conventional lady. How she ever came to take up with the sporty Horace, or he with her, was a seven-days' wonder. But they lived happily, I believe."
"Then Mrs. Carwell is dead?"
"Oh, yes-some years. Mr. Carwell's sister, Miss Mary, keeps The Haven up to date for him. You've been there?"
"Once, at a reception. I'm not on the regular calling list, though Miss Viola is pretty enough to—"
"Look out!" suddenly cried Sharwell, as though appealing to the two automobilists, far off as they were. For the yellow car made a sudden swerve and seemed about to turn turtle.
But Bartlett skillfully brought the Spanish Omelet back on the road again, and swung up alongside his rival for the home stretch-the broad highway that ran in front of the clubhouse.
The players who were soon to start out on the links; the guests, the gallery, and the servants gathered to see the finish of the impromptu race, murmurs arising as it was seen how close it was likely to be. And close it was, for when the two machines, with doleful whinings of brakes, came to a stop in front of the house, the front wheels were in such perfect alignment that there was scarcely an inch of difference.
"A dead heat!" exclaimed Bartlett, as he leaped out and motioned for one of the servants to take the car around to the garage.
"Yes, you win!" agreed Captain Poland, as he pushed his goggles back on his cap. He held out a bill.
"What's it for?" asked Bartlett, drawing back.
"Why, I put up a ten spot that I'd beat you. I didn't, and you win."
"Buy drinks with your money!" laughed Bartlett. "The race was to be for a finish, not a dead heat. We'll try it again, sometime."
"All right-any time you like!" said the captain crisply, as he sat down at a table after greeting some friends. "But you won't refuse to split a quart with me?"
"No. My throat is as dusty as a vacuum cleaner. Have any of the matches started yet, Bruce?" he asked, turning to the Human Encyclopedia.
"Only some of the novices. And, speaking of novices, do you know that in Scotland there are fourteen thousand, seven hundred—"
"Cut it, Bruce! Cut it!" begged the captain. "Sit in—you and Tom—and we'll make it two bottles. Anything to choke off your flow of useless statistics!" and he laughed good-naturedly.
"When does the cup-winners' match start?" asked Bartlett, as the four young men sat about the table under the veranda. "That's the one I'm interested in."
"In about an hour," announced Sharwell, as he consulted a card. "Hardly any of the veterans are here yet."
"Has Mr. Carwell arrived?" asked Captain Poland, as he raised his glass and seemed to be studying the bubbles that spiraled upward from the hollow stem.
"You'll know when he gets here," answered Bruce Garrigan.
"How so?" asked the captain. "Does he have an official announcer?"
"No, but you'll hear his car before you see it."
"No, new car-new color-new everything!" said Garrigan. "He's just bought a new ten thousand dollar French car, and it's painted red, white and blue, and-"
"Red, white and blue?" chorused the other three men.
"Yes. Very patriotic. His friends don't know whether he's honoring Uncle Sam or the French Republic. However, it's all the same. His car is a wonder."
"I must have a brush with him!" murmured Captain Poland.
"Don't. You'll lose out," advised Garrigan. "It can do eighty on fourth speed, and Carwell is sporty enough to slip it into that gear if he needed to."
"Um! Guess I'll wait until I get my new machine, then," decided the captain.
There was more talk, but Bartlett gradually dropped out of the conversation and went to walk about the club grounds.
Maraposa was a social, as well as a golfing, club, and the scene of many dances and other affairs. It lay a few miles back from the shore near Lakeside, in New Jersey. The clubhouse was large and elaborate, and the grounds around it were spacious and well laid out.
Not far away was Loch Harbor, where the yachts of the club of which Captain Gerry Poland was president anchored, and a mile or so in the opposite direction was Lake Tacoma, on the shore of which was Lakeside. A rather exclusive colony summered there, the hotel numbering many wealthy persons among its patrons.
Harry Bartlett, rather wishing he had gone in for golf more devotedly, was wandering about, casually greeting friends and acquaintances, when he heard his name called from the cool and shady depths of a summer-house on the edge of the golf links.
"Oh, Minnie! How are you?" he cordially greeted a rather tall and dark girl who extended her slim hand to him. "I didn't expect to see you today."
"Oh, I take in all the big matches, though I don't play much myself," answered Minnie Webb. "I'm surprised to find you without a caddy, though, Harry."
"Too lazy, I'm afraid. I'm going to join the gallery to-day. Meanwhile, if you don't mind, I'll sit in here and help you keep cool."
"It isn't very hard to do that to-day," and she moved over to make room for him. "Isn't it just perfect weather!"
At one time Minnie Webb and Harry Bartlett had been very close friends—engaged some rumors had it. But now they were jolly good companions, that was all.
"Seen the Carwells' new machine?" asked Bartlett.
"No, but I've heard about it. I presume they'll drive up in it to-day."
"Does Viola run it?"
"I haven't heard. It's a powerful machine, some one said-more of a racer than a touring car, Mr. Blossom was remarking."
"Well, he ought to know. I understand he's soon to be taken into partnership with Mr. Carwell."
"I don't know," murmured Minnie, and she seemed suddenly very much interested in the vein structure of a leaf she pulled from a vine that covered the summer-house.
Bartlett smiled. Gossip had it that Minnie Webb and Le Grand Blossom, Mr. Carwell's private secretary, were engaged. But there had been no formal announcement, though the two had been seen together more frequently of late than mere friendship would warrant.
There was a stir in front of the clubhouse, followed by a murmur of voices, and Minnie, peering through a space in the vines, announced:
"There's the big car now. Oh, I don't like that color at all! I'm as patriotic as any one, but to daub a perfectly good car up like that—well, it's—"
"Sporty, I suppose Carwell thinks," finished Bartlett. He had risen as though to leave the summerhouse, but as he saw Captain Poland step up and offer his hand to Viola Carwell, he drew back and again sat down beside Minnie.
A group gathered about the big French car, obviously to the delight of Mr. Carwell, who was proud of the furor created by his latest purchase.
Though he kept up his talk with Minnie in the summer-house, Harry Bartlett's attention was very plainly not on his present companion nor the conversation. At any other time Minnie Webb would have noticed it and taxed him with it, but now, she, too, had her attention centered elsewhere. She watched eagerly the group about the big machine, and her eyes followed the figure of a man who descended from the rear seat and made his way out along a path that led to a quiet spot.
"I think I'll go in now," murmured Minnie Webb. "I have to see—" Bartlett was not listening. In fact he was glad of the diversion, for he saw Viola Carwell turn with what he thought was impatience aside from Captain Poland, and that was the very chance the other young man had been waiting for.
He followed Minnie Webb from the little pavilion, paying no attention to where she drifted. But he made his way through the press of persons to where Viola stood, and he saw her eyes light up as he approached. His, too, seemed brighter.
"I was wondering if you would come to see dad win," she murmured to him, as he took her hand, and Captain Poland, with a little bow, stepped back.
"You knew I'd come, didn't you?" Bartlett asked in a low voice.
"I hoped so," she murmured. "Now, Harry," she went on in a low voice, as they moved aside, "this will be a good time for you to smooth things over with father. If he wins, as he feels sure he will, you must congratulate him very heartily—exceptionally so. Make a fuss over him, so to speak. He'll be club champion, and it will seem natural for you to bubble over about it."
"But why should I, Viola? I haven't done anything to merit his displeasure."
"I know. But you remember what a touch-fire he is. He's always held that business matter against you, though I'm sure you had nothing to do with it. Now, if he wins, and I hope he will, you can take advantage of it to get on better terms with him, and—"
"Well, I'm willing to be friends, you know that, Viola. But I can't pretend—I never could!"
"You're stubborn, Harry!" and Viola pouted.
"Well, perhaps I am. When I know I'm right—"
"Couldn't you forget it just once?"
"I don't see how!"
"Oh, you provoke me! But if you won't you won't, I suppose. Only it would be such a good chance—"
"Well, I'll see him after the match, Viola. I'll do my best to be decent."
"You must go a little farther than that, Harry. Dad will be all worked up if he wins, and he'll want a fuss made over him. It will be the very chance for you."
"All right-I'll do my best," murmured Bartlett. And then a servant came up to summon him to the telephone.
Viola was not left long alone, for Captain Poland was watching her from the tail of his eye, and he was at her side before Harry Bartlett was out of sight.
"Perhaps you'd like to come for a little spin with me, Miss Carwell," said the captain. "I just heard that they've postponed the cup-winners' match an hour; and unless you want to sit around here—"
"Come on!" cried Viola, impulsively. "It's too perfect a day to sit around, and I'm only interested in my father's match."
There was another reason why Viola Carwell was glad of the chance to go riding with Captain Poland just then. She really was a little provoked with Bartlett's stubbornness, or what she called that, and she thought it might "wake him up," as she termed it, to see her with the only man who might be classed as his rival.
As for herself, Viola was not sure whether or not she would admit Captain Poland to that class. There was time enough yet.
And so, as Bartlett went in to the telephone, to answer a call that had come most inopportunely for him, Viola Carwell and Captain Poland swept off along the pleasantly shaded country road.
Left to herself, for which just then she was thankful, Minnie Webb drifted around until she met LeGrand Blossom.
"What's the matter, Lee?" she asked him in a low voice, and he smiled with his eyes at her, though his face showed no great amount of jollity. "You're as solemn as though every railroad stock listed had dropped ten points just after you bought it."
"No, it isn't quite as bad as that," he said, as he fell into step beside her, and they strolled off on one of the less-frequented walks.
"I thought everything was going so well with you. Has there been any hitch in the partnership arrangement?" asked Minnie.
"No, not exactly."
"Have you lost money?"
"No, I can't say that I have."
"Then for goodness' sake what is it? Do I have to pump you like a newspaper reporter?" and Minnie Webb laughed, showing a perfect set of teeth that contrasted well against the dark red and tan of her cheeks.
"Oh, I don't know that it's anything much," replied LeGrand Blossom.
"It's something!" insisted Minnie.
"Well, yes, it is. And as it'll come out, sooner or later, I might as well tell you now," he said, with rather an air of desperation, and as though driven to it. "Have you heard any rumors that Mr. Carwell is in financial difficulties?"
"Why, no! The idea! I always thought he had plenty of money. Not a multi-millionaire, of course, but better off financially than any one else in Lakeside."
"He was once; but he won't be soon, if he keeps up the pace he's set of late," went on LeGrand Blossom, and his voice was gloomy.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, things don't look so well as they did. He was very foolish to buy that ten-thousand-dollar yacht so soon after spending even more than that on this red, white and blue monstrosity of his!"
"You don't mean to tell me he's bought a yacht, too?"
"Yes, the Osprey that Colonel Blakeson used to sport up and down the coast in. Paid a cool ten thousand for it, though if he had left it to me I could have got it for eight, I'm sure."
"Well, twenty thousand dollars oughtn't to worry Mr. Carwell, I should think," returned Minnie.
"It wouldn't have, a year ago," answered LeGrand. "But he's been on the wrong side of the market for some time. Then, too, something new has cropped up about that old Bartlett deal."
"You mean the one over which Harry's uncle and Mr. Carwell had such a fuss?"
"Yes. Mr. Carwell's never got over that. And there are rumors that he lost quite a sum in a business transaction with Captain Poland."
"Oh, dear!" sighed the girl. "Isn't business horrid! I'm glad I'm not a man. But what is this about Captain Poland?"
"I don't know? haven't heard it all yet, as Mr. Carwell doesn't tell me everything, even if he has planned to take me into partnership with him. But now I'm not so keen on it."
"Keen on what, Lee?" and Minnie Webb leaned just the least bit nearer to his side.
"On going into partnership with a man who spends money so lavishly when he needs all the ready cash he can lay his hands on. But don't mention this to any one, Minnie. If it got out it might precipitate matters, and then the whole business would tumble down like a house of cards. As it is, I may be able to pull him out. But I've put the soft pedal on the partnership talk."
"Has Mr. Carwell mentioned it of late?"
"No. All he seems to be interested in is this golf game that may make him club champion. But keep secret what I have told you."
Minnie Webb nodded assent, and they turned back toward the clubhouse, for they had reached a too secluded part of the grounds.
Meanwhile, Viola Carwell was not enjoying her ride with Captain Poland as much as she had expected she would. As a matter of fact it had been undertaken largely to cause Bartlett a little uneasiness; and as the Seeing this, the latter changed his mind concerning something he had fully expected to speak to Viola about that day, if he got the chance.
Captain Poland was genuinely in love with Viola, and he had reason to feel that she cared for him, though whether enough to warrant a declaration of love on his part was hard to understand.
"But I won't take a chance now," mused the captain, rather moodily; and the talk descended to mere monosyllables on the part of both of them. "I must see Carwell and have it out with him about that insurance deal. Maybe he holds that against me, though the last time I talked with him he gave me to understand that I'd stand a better show than Harry. I must see him after the game. If he wins he'll be in a mellow humor, particularly after a bottle or so. That's what I'll do."
The captain spun his car up in front of the clubhouse and helped Viola out. "I think we are in plenty of time for your father's match," he remarked.
"Yes," she assented. "I don't see any of the veterans on the field yet," and she looked across the perfect course. "I'll go to look for dad and wish him luck. He always wants me to do that before he starts his medal play. See you again, Captain;" and with a friendly nod she left the somewhat chagrined yachtsman.
When Captain Poland had parked his car he took a short cut along a path that led through a little clump of bushes. Midway he heard voices. In an instant he recognized them as those of Horace Carwell and Harry Bartlett. He heard Bartlett say:
"But don't you see how much better it would be to drop it all—to have nothing more to do with her?"
"Look here, young man, you mind your own business!" snapped Mr. Carwell. "I know what I'm doing!"
"I haven't any doubt of it, Mr. Carwell; but I ventured to suggest?" went on Bartlett.
"Keep your suggestions to yourself, if you please. I've had about all I want from you and your family. And if I hear any more of your impudent talk—"
Then Captain Poland moved away, for he did not want to hear any more.
In the meantime Viola hurried back to the clubhouse, and forced herself to be gay. But, somehow, a cloud seemed to have come over her day.
The throng had increased, and she caught sight, among the press, of Jean Forette, their chauffeur.
"Have you seen my father since he arrived, Jean?" asked Viola.
"Oh, he is somewhere about, I suppose," was the answer, and it was given in such a surly tone with such a churlish manner that Viola flushed with anger and bit her lips to keep back a sharp retort.
At that moment Minnie Webb strolled past. She had heard the question and the answer.
"I just saw your father going out with the other contestants, Viola," said Minnie Webb, "for they were friends of some years' standing. I think they are going to start to play. I wonder why they say the French are such a polite race," she went on, speaking lightly to cover Viola's confusion caused by the chauffeur's manner. "He was positively insulting."
"He was," agreed Viola. "But I shouldn't mind him, I suppose. He does not like the new machine, and father has told him to find another place by the end of the month. I suppose that has piqued him."
While there were many matches to be played at the Maraposa Club that day, interest, as far as the older members and their friends were concerned, was centered in that for cup-winners. These constituted the best players—the veterans of the game—and the contest was sure to be interesting and close.
Horace Carwell was a "sport," in every meaning of the term. Though a man well along in his forties, he was as lithe and active as one ten years younger. He motored, fished, played golf, hunted, and of late had added yachting to his amusements. He was wealthy, as his father had been before him, and owned a fine home in New York, but he spent a large part of every year at Lakeside, where he might enjoy the two sports he loved best-golfing and yachting.
Viola was an only child, her mother having died when she was about sixteen, and since then Mr. Carwell's maiden sister had kept watch and ward over the handsome home, The Haven. Viola, though loving her father with the natural affection of a daughter and some of the love she had lavished on her mother, was not altogether in sympathy with the sporting proclivities of Mr. Carwell.
True, she accompanied him to his golf games and sailed with him or rode in his big car almost as often as he asked her. And she thoroughly enjoyed these things. But what she did not enjoy was the rather too jovial comradeship that followed on the part of the men and women her father associated with. He was a good liver and a good spender, and he liked to have about him such persons-men "sleek and fat," who if they did not "sleep o' nights," at least had the happy faculty of turning night into day for their own amusement.
So, in a measure, Viola and her father were out of sympathy, as had been husband and wife before her; though there had never been a whisper of real incompatibility; nor was there now, between father and daughter.
It was the warning cry from the first tee to clear the course for the start of the cup-winners' match. In anticipation of some remarkable playing, an unusually large gallery would follow the contestants around. The best caddies had been selected, clubs had been looked to with care and tested, new balls were got out, and there was much subdued excitement, as befitted the occasion.
Mr. Carwell, his always flushed face perhaps a trifle more like a mild sunset than ever, strolled to the first tee. He swung his driver with freedom and ease to make sure it was the one that best suited him, and then turned to Major Wardell, his chief rival. "Do you want to take any more?" he asked meaningly.
"No, thank you," was the laughing response. "I've got all I can carry. Not that I'm going to let you beat me, but I'm always a stroke or two off in my play when the sun's too bright, as it is now. However, I'm not crawling."
"You'd better not!" declared his rival. "As for me, the brighter the sun the better I like it. Well, are we all ready?"
The officials held a last consultation and announced that play might start. Mr. Carwell was to lead.
The first hole was not the longest in the course, but to place one's ball on fair ground meant driving very surely, and for a longer distance than most players liked to think about. Also a short distance from the tee was a deep ravine, and unless one cleared that it was a handicap hard to overcome.
Mr. Carwell made his little tee of sand with care, and placed the ball on the apex. Then he took his place and glanced back for a moment to where Viola stood between Captain Poland and Harry Bartlett. Something like a little frown gathered on the face of Horace Carwell as he noted the presence of Bartlett, but it passed almost at once.
"Well, here goes, ladies and gentlemen!" exclaimed Mr. Carwell in rather loud tones and with a free and easy manner he did not often assume. "Here's where I bring home the bacon and make my friend, the major, eat humble pie."
Viola flushed. It was not like her father to thus boast. On the contrary he was usually what the Scotch call a "canny" player. He never predicted that he was going to win, except, perhaps, to his close friends. But he was now boasting like the veriest schoolboy.
"Here I go!" he exclaimed again, and then he swung at the ball with his well-known skill.
It was a marvelous drive, and the murmurs of approbation that greeted it seemed to please Mr. Carwell.
"Let's see anybody beat that!" he cried as he stepped off the tee to give place to Major Wardell.
Mr. Carwell's white ball had sailed well up on the putting green of the first hole, a shot seldom made at Maraposa.
"A few more strokes like that and he'll win the match," murmured Bartlett.
"And when he does, don't forget what I told you," whispered Viola to him.
He found her hand, hidden at her side in the folds of her dress, and pressed it. She smiled up at him, and then they watched the major swing at his ball.
"It's going to be a corking match," murmured more than one member of the gallery, as they followed the players down the field.
"If any one asked me, I should say that Carwell had taken just a little too much champagne to make his strokes true toward the last hole," said Tom Sharwell to Bruce Garrigan.
"Perhaps," was the admission. "But I'd like to see him win. And, for the sake of saying something, let me inform you that in Africa last year there were used in nose rings alone for the natives seventeen thousand four hundred and twenty-one pounds of copper wire. While for anklets—"
"I'll buy you a drink if you chop it off short!" offered Sharwell.
"Taken!" exclaimed Garrigan, with a grin.
The cup play went on, the four contestants being well matched, and the shots duly applauded from hole to hole.
The turn was made and the homeward course began, with the excitement increasing as it was seen that there would be the closest possible finish, between the major and Mr. Carwell at least.
"What's the row over there?" asked Bartlett suddenly, as he walked along with Viola and Captain Poland.
"Where?" inquired the captain.
"Among those autos. Looks as if one was on fire."
"It does," agreed Viola. "But I can see our patriotic palfrey, so I guess it's all right. There are enough people over there, anyhow. But it is something!"
There was a dense cloud of smoke hovering over the place where some of the many automobiles were parked at one corner of the course. Still it might be some one starting his machine, with too much oil being burned in the cylinders.
"Now for the last hole!" exulted Mr. Carwell, as they approached the eighteenth. "I've got you two strokes now, Major, and I'll have you fourby the end of the match."
"I'm not so sure of that," was the laughing and good-natured reply.
There was silence in the gallery while the players made ready for the last hole.
There was a sharp impact as Mr. Carwell's driver struck the little white ball and sent it sailing in a graceful curve well toward the last hole.
"A marvelous shot!" exclaimed Captain Poland. "On the green again! Another like that and he'll win the game!"
"And I can do it, too!" boasted Carwell, who overheard what was said.
The others drove off in turn, and the play reached the final stage of putting. Viola turned as though to go over and see what the trouble was among the automobiles. She looked back as she saw her father stoop to send the ball into the little depressed cup. She felt sure that he would win, for she had kept a record of his strokes and those of his opponents. The game was all but over.
"I wonder if there can be anything the matter with our car?" mused Viola, as she saw the smoke growing denser. "Dad's won, so I'm going over to see. Perhaps that chauffeur—"
She did not finish the sentence. She turned to look back at her father once more, and saw him make the putt that won the game at the last hole. Then, to her horror she saw him reel, throw up his hands, and fall heavily in a heap, while startled cries reached her ears.
"Oh! Oh! What has happened?" she exclaimed, and deadly fear clutched at her heart—and not without good cause.
CHAPTER II. THE NINETEENTH HOLE
For several seconds after Mr. Carwell fell so heavily on the putting green, having completed the last stroke that sent the white ball into the cup and made him club champion, there was not a stir among the other players grouped about him; nor did the gallery, grouped some distance back, rush up. The most natural thought, and one that was in the minds of the majority, was that the clubman had overbalanced himself in making his stance for the putt shot, and had fallen. There was even a little thoughtless laughter from some in the gallery. But it was almost instantly hushed, for it needed but a second glance to tell that something more serious than a simple fall had occurred.
Or if it was a fall caused by an unsteady position, taken when he made his last shot, it had been such a heavy one that Mr. Carwell was overlong in recovering from it. He remained in a huddled heap on the short-cropped, velvety turf of the putting green.
Then the murmurs of wonder came, surging from many throats, and the friends of Mr. Carwell closed around to help him to his feet-to render what aid was needed. Among them were Captain Poland and Harry Bartlett, and as the latter stepped forward he glanced up, for an instant, at the blue sky.
Far above the Maraposa golf links circled a lone osprey on its way to the inlet or ocean. Rather idly Bartlett wondered if it was the same one he and Captain Poland had seen dart down and kill the fish just before the beginning of the big match.
"What's the matter, Horace? Sun too much for you?" asked Major Wardell, as he leaned over his friend and rival. "It is a bit hot; I feel it myself. But I didn't think it would knock you out. Or are you done up because you beat me? Come—"
He ceased his rather railing talk, and a look came over his face that told those near him something serious had happened. There was a rush toward the prostrate man.
"Keep back, please!" exclaimed the major. "He seems to have fainted. He needs air. Is Dr. Rowland here? I thought I saw him at the clubhouse a while ago. Some one get him, please. If not—"
"I'll get him!" some one offered
"Here, give him a sip of this—it's brandy!" and an automobilist, who had come across the links from the nearest point to the highway, offered his flask.
The major unscrewed the silver top, which formed a tiny cup, and tried to let some of the potent liquor trickle between the purplish lips of the unconscious victor in the cup-winners' match. But more of the liquid was spilled on his face and neck than went into his mouth. The air reeked with the odor of it.
"What has happened? Is he hurt?" gasped Viola, who made her way through the press of people, which opened for her, till she stood close beside her father. "What is it? Oh, is he—?"
"He fell," some one said.
"Just as he made his winning stroke," added another.
"Oh!" and Viola herself reeled unsteadily.
"It's all right," a voice said in her ear, and though it was in the ordinary tones of Captain Poland, to the alarmed girl it seemed as though it came from the distant peaks of the hills. "He'll be all right presently," went on the captain, as he supported Viola and led her out of the throng.
"It's just a touch of the sun, I fancy. They've gone for a doctor."
"Oh, but, Captain Poland—father was never like this before—he was always so strong and well—I never knew him to complain of the heat. And as for fainting—why I believe I almost did it myself, just now, didn't I?"
"But father never did. Oh, I must go to him!"
She struggled a little and moved away from his half encircling arm, for he had seen that her strength was failing her and had supported her as he led her away. "I must go to him!"
"Better not just now," said Captain Poland gently. "Harry is there with him, the major and other friends. They will look after him. You had better come with me to the clubhouse and lie down. I will get you a cup of tea."
"No! I must be with my father!" she insisted. "He will need me when he—when he revives. Please let me go to him!"
The captain saw that it was of little use to oppose her so he led her back toward the throng that was still about the prostrate player. A clubman was hurrying back with a young man who carried a small black bag.
"They've got a doctor, I think," said Gerry. "Not Dr. Rowland, though. However, I dare say it will be all right."
A fit of trembling seized Viola, and it was so violent that, for a moment, Captain Poland thought she would fall. He had to hold her close, and he wished there was some place near at hand to which he might take her. But the clubhouse was some distance away, and there were no conveyances within call.
However, Viola soon recovered her composure, or at least seemed to, and smiled up at him, though there was no mirth in it.
"I'll be all right now," she said. "Please take me to him. He will ask for me as soon as he recovers."
The young doctor had made his way through the throng and now knelt beside the prostrate man. The examination was brief—a raising of the eyelids, an ear pressed over the heart, supplemented by the use of the stethoscope, and then the young medical man looked up, searching the ring of faces about him as though seeking for some one in authority to whom information might be imparted. Then he announced, generally:
"He is dead."
"Dead!" exclaimed several.
"Hush!" cautioned Harry Bartlett "She'll hear you!"
He looked in the direction whence Viola and Captain Poland were approaching the scene.
"Are you sure, Dr. Baird?" he asked.
"Positive. The heart action has entirely stopped."
"But might that not be from some cause—some temporary cause?"
"Yes, but not in this case. Mr. Carwell is dead. I can do nothing for him."
It sounded brutal, but it was only a medical man's plain statement of the case.
"Some one must tell her," murmured Minnie Webb, who had been attracted to the crowd, though she was not much of a golf enthusiast. "Poor Viola! Some one must tell her."
"I will," offered Bartlett, and he made his way through a living lane that opened for him. Then it closed again, hiding the body from sight. Some one placed a sweater over the face that had been so ruddy, and was now so pale.
Captain Poland, still supporting Viola on his arm, saw Bartlett approaching. Somehow he surmised what his fellow clubman was going to say.
"Oh, Harry!" exclaimed Viola, impulsively holding out her hands to him. "Is he all right? Is he better?"
"I am sorry," began Harry, and then she seemed to sense what he was going to add.
"He isn't—Oh, don't tell me he is—"
"The doctor says he is dead, Viola," answered Bartlett gently. "He passed away without pain or suffering. It must have been heart disease."
But Viola Carwell never heard the last words, for she really fainted this time, and Captain Poland laid her gently down on the soft, green grass.
"Better get the doctor for her," he advised Bartlett. "She'll need him, if her father doesn't." As Harry Bartlett turned aside, waving back the curiosity seekers that were already leaving the former scene of excitement for the latest, LeGrand Blossom came up. He seemed very cool and not at all excited, considering what had happened.
"I will look after Miss Carwell," he said.
"Perhaps you had better see to Mr. Carwell—Mr. Carwell's remains, Blossom," suggested Captain Poland. "Miss Carwell will be herself very soon. She has only fainted. Her father is dead.
"Dead? Are you sure?" asked LeGrand Blossom, and his manner seemed a trifle more naturally excited.
"Dr. Baird says so. You'd better go to him. He may want to ask some questions, and you were more closely associated with Carwell than any of the rest of us."
"Very well, I'll look after the body," said the secretary. "Did the doctor say what killed him?"
"No. That will be gone into later, I dare say. Probably heart disease; though I never knew he had it," said Bartlett.
"Nor I," added Blossom. "I'd be more inclined to suspect apoplexy. But are you sure Miss Carwell will be all right?"
"Yes," answered Captain Poland, who had raised her head after sprinkling in her face some water a caddy brought in his cap. "She is reviving."
Dr. Baird came up just then and gave her some aromatic spirits of ammonia.
Viola opened her eyes. There was no comprehension in them, and she looked about in wonder. Then, as her benumbed brain again took up its work, she exclaimed:
"Oh, it isn't true! It can't be true! Tell me it isn't!"
"I am sorry, but it seems to be but too true," said Captain Poland gently. "Did he ever speak of trouble with his heart, Viola?"
"Never, Gerry. He was always so well and strong."
"You had better come to the clubhouse," suggested Bartlett, and she went with them both.
A little later the body of Horace Carwell was carried to the "nineteenth hole"—that place where all games are played over again in detail as the contestants put away their clubs.
A throng followed the silent figure, borne on the shoulders of some grounds workmen, but only club members were admitted to the house. And among them buzzed talk of the tragedy that had so suddenly ended the day of sports.
"He looked all right when he started to play," said one. "Never saw him in better form, and some of his shots were marvelous."
"He'd been drinking a little too much for a man to play his best, especially on a hot day," ventured another. "He must have been taken ill from that, and the excitement of trying to win over the major, and it affected his heart."
"Never knew him to have heart disease," declared Bruce Garrigan.
"Lots of us have it and don't know it," commented Tom Sharwell. "I suppose it will take an autopsy to decide."
"Rather tough on Miss Carwell," was another comment.
"That's true!" several agreed.
The body of Horace Carwell was placed in one of the small card rooms, and the door locked. Then followed some quick telephoning on the part of Dr. Baird, who had recently joined the golf club, and who had arrived at the clubhouse shortly before Mr. Carwell dropped dead.
It was at the suggestion of Harry Bartlett that Dr. Addison Lambert, the Carwell family physician, was sent for, and that rather aged practitioner arrived as soon as possible.
He was taken in to view the body, together with Dr. Baird, who was almost pathetically deferential to his senior colleague. The two medical men were together in the room with the body for some time, and when they came out Viola Carwell was there to meet them. Dr. Lambert put his arms about her. He had known her all her life—since she first ventured into this world, in fact—and his manner was most fatherly.
"Oh, Uncle Add!" she murmured to him—for she had long called him by this endearing title—Oh, Uncle Add! What is it? Is my father—is he really—"
"My dear little girl, your father is dead, I am sorry to say. You must be very brave, and bear up. Be the brave woman he would want you to be."
"I will, Uncle Add. But, oh, it is so hard! He was all I had! Oh, what made him die?"
She questioned almost as a little child might have done.
"That I don't know, my dear," answered Dr. Lambert gently. "We shall have to find that out later by—Well, we'll find out later, Dr. Baird and I. You had better go home now. I'll have your car brought around. Is that—that Frenchman here—your chauffeur?"
"Yes, he was here a little while ago. But I had rather not go home with him—at least, unless some one else comes with me. I don't like—I don't like that big, new car.
"If you will come with me, Viola—" began Bartlett.
"Yes, Harry, I'll go with you. Oh, poor Aunt Mary! This will be a terrible shock to her. I—"
"I'll telephone," offered Dr. Lambert. "She'll know when you arrive. And I'll be over to see you, Viola, as soon as I make some arrangements."
"And will you look after—after poor father?"
"Yes, you may leave it all to me."
And so, while the body of the dead clubman remained at the nineteenth hole, Viola Carwell was taken to 'The Haven' by Harry Bartlett, while Captain Poland, nodding farewell to LeGrand Blossom and some of his other friends, left the grounds in his gray car.
And as he rode down past the inlet where the tide was now running out to the sea, he saw an osprey dart down and strike at an unseen fish.
But the bird rose with dripping pinions, its talons empty.
"You didn't get any one that time!" murmured the captain.
CHAPTER III. "WHY?"
Through the silent house echoed the vibration of the electric bell, sounding unnecessarily loud, it seemed. The maid who answered took the caller's card to Miss Mary Carwell, Viola's aunt.
"He wants to see Miss Viola," the servant reported. "Shall I tell her?"
"You had better, yes. She went to lie down, but she will want to see Captain Poland. Wait, I'll tell her myself. Where is he?"
"In the library, ma am.
"Very well. I'll see him."
Mr. Carwell's sister literally swept down the stairs, her black silk dress rustling somberly and importantly. She was a large woman, and her bearing and air were in keeping.
"It was very good of you to come," she murmured, as she sank, with more rustling and shimmerings, into a chair, while the captain waited for her to be settled, like a boat at anchor, before he again took his place. "Viola will be down presently. I gave her a powder the doctor left for her, and she slept, I hope, since we were both awake nearly all of last night."
"I should imagine so. The strain and shock must have been intense. But please don't disturb her if she is resting. I merely called to see if I could do anything."
"Thank you so much. We are waiting for the doctors' report. It was necessary to have an autopsy, I understand?" she questioned.
"Yes. The law requires it in all cases of sudden and mysterious death."
"Mysterious death, Captain Poland!"
Mary Carwell seemed to swell up like a fretful turkey.
"Well, by that I mean unexplained. Mr. Carwell dropped dead suddenly and from no apparent cause."
"But it was heart disease—or apoplexy—of course! What else could it be?"
"It must have been one or the other of those, Miss Carwell, I am sure," the captain murmured sympathetically. "But the law requires that such a fact be established to the satisfaction of the county physician."
"And who is he?"
"Will there be a coroner's inquest, such as I have read about? I couldn't hear anything like that."
"It is not at all necessary, Miss Carwell," went on the captain. "The law of New Jersey does not demand that in cases of sudden and unexplained death, unless the county physician is not satisfied with his investigation. In that matter New Jersey differs from some of the other states. The county physician will make an autopsy to determine the cause of death. If he is satisfied that it was from natural causes he gives a certificate to that effect, and that ends the matter."
"Oh, then it will be very simple."
"Yes, I imagine so. Dr. Rowland will state that your brother came to his death from heart disease, or from apoplexy, or whatever it was, and then you may proceed with the funeral arrangements. I shall be glad to help you in any way I can."
"It is very kind of you. This has been so terrible—so sudden and unexpected. It has perfectly unnerved both poor Viola and myself, and we are the only ones to look after matters."
"Then, let me help," urged Captain Poland. "I shall only be too glad. The members of the golf club, too, will do all in their power. We had a meeting this morning and passed resolutions of sympathy. I have also called a meeting of our yacht club, of which your brother was a member. We will take suitable action."
"Thank you. And when do you think we may expect the certificate from Dr. Rowland?"
"Very soon. He is performing the autopsy now, at the club. Dr. Lambert and Dr. Baird are with him. It was thought best to have it there, rather than at the undertaking rooms."
"I shall be glad when matters can proceed as they ought to proceed. This publicity is very distasteful to me."
"I can readily believe that, Miss Carwell. And now, if you will ask Miss Viola if I may be of any service to her, I shall—"
"Before I call her, there is one matter I wish to ask you about," said Mr. Carwell's sister. "You are familiar with business, I know. I was going to ask Mr. Bartlett, as this seemed more in his line, but perhaps you can advise me."
"I shall do my best, Miss Carwell. What is it?"
"One of the clerks came from my brother's office this morning with a note from the bank. It seems that Horace borrowed a large sum for some business transaction, and put up as collateral certain bonds. He often does that, as I have heard him mention here time and again to Mr. Blossom, when they sat in consultation in the library.
"But now it appears, according to the note from the bank, that more securities are needed. There has been a depreciation, or something—I am not familiar with the terms. At any rate the bank sends word that it wants more bonds. I was wondering what I had better do. Of course I have securities in my own private box that I might send, but—"
"Why didn't Mr. Blossom attend to this?" asked Captain Poland, a bit sharply, it would have seemed to a casual listener. "That was his place. He knows all about Mr. Carwell's affairs."
"I asked the clerk from the office why Mr. Blossom—did you ever hear such an absurd name as he has?—LeGrand Blossom—I asked the clerk why the matter was not attended to," went on Miss Carwell, "and he said Mr. Blossom must have forgotten it."
"Rather odd," commented the captain. "However, I'll look after it for you. If necessary, I'll loan the bank enough additional securities as collateral to cover the loan. Don't let it disturb you, Miss Carwell. It is merely a small detail of business that often crops up. Securities in these days so often fluctuate that banks are forced to call for more, and different ones, to cover loans secured by them. I'll attend to the matter for you."
"Thank you so much. And now I believe I may safely call Viola. She would not forgive me if she knew you had been here and she had not seen you to thank you for your care of her yesterday."
"Oh, that was nothing. I was very glad—"
Captain Poland was interrupted by a ring at the door.
"Perhaps that is a message from the doctors now," suggested Miss Carwell.
"It is Dr. Lambert himself," announced the captain, looking from a window that gave a view of the front porch. "Dr. Baird is with him. They must have completed the autopsy. Shall I see them for you?"
"Please do. And please tell me at once that everything is all right, and that we may proceed with the funeral arrangements," begged the sister of the dead man.
"I will do so, Miss Carwell."
Captain Poland, anticipating the maid, went into the hall and himself opened the door for the medical men.
"Oh! I'm glad you're here!" exclaimed the rather gruff voice of Dr. Lambert. "Yes, I'm glad you're here."
The captain was on the point of asking why, when Dr. Lambert motioned to him to step into a little reception room off the main hall. Somewhat wonderingly, Captain Poland obeyed, and when the door had closed, shutting him in with the two doctors, he turned to the older physician and asked:
"Is anything the matter?"
"Well, we have completed the autopsy," said Dr. Lambert.
"That's good. Then you are ready to sign a certificate, or at least get Dr. Rowland to, so that we can proceed with the arrangements. Miss Mary Carwell is anxious to have—"
"Well, I suppose the funeral will have to be held," said Dr. Lambert slowly. "That can't be held up very long, even if it was worse than it is."
"Worse than it is! What do you mean?" cried Captain Poland sharply. "Is there any suspicion—"
"There is more than suspicion, my dear sir," went on Dr. Lambert, as he sank into a chair as though very, very tired. "There is, I regret to say, certainty."
"Certainty of what?"
"Certainty that my old friend, Horace Carwell, committed suicide!"
"By poisoning," added Dr. Baird, who had been anxious to get in a word. "We found very plain evidences of it when we examined the stomach and viscera."
"Poison!" cried Captain Poland. "A suicide? I don't believe it! Why should Horace Carwell kill himself? He hadn't a reason in the world for it! There must be some mistake! Why did he do it? Why? Why?"
And then suddenly he became strangely thoughtful.
CHAPTER IV. VIOLA'S DECISION
"That is the very question we have been asking ourselves, my dear Captain," said Dr. Lambert wearily. "And we are no nearer an answer now than, apparently, you are. Why did he do it?"
The three men, two gravely professional, one, the younger, more so than his elder colleague, and the third plainly upset over the surprising news, looked at one another behind the closed door of the little room off the imposing reception hall at The Haven. They were in the house of death, and they had to do with more than death, for there was, in the reputed action of Horace Carwell, the hint of disgrace which suicide always engenders.
"I suppose," began Captain Poland, rather weakly, "that there can be no chance of error He looked from one medical man to the other.
"Not the least in the world!" quickly exclaimed Baird. "We made a most careful examination of the deceased's organs. They plainly show traces of a violent poison, though whether it was irritant or one of the neurotics, we are not yet prepared to say."
"It couldn't have been an irritant," said Dr. Lambert gently. It was as though he had corrected a too zealous student reciting in class. Dr. Baird was painfully young, though much in earnest.
"Perhaps not an irritant," he agreed. "Though I know of no neurotic that would produce such effects as we saw.
"You are right there," said Dr. Lambert. "Whatever poison was used it was one the effects of which I have never seen before. But we have not yet finished our analysis. We have only reached a certain conclusion that may ultimately be changed."
"You mean as to whether or not it was suicide?" asked Captain Poland eagerly.
"No, I don't see how we can get away from that," said Dr. Lambert. "That fact remains. But if we establish the kind of poison used it may lead us to the motive. That is what we must find."
"And we will find the kind of poison!" declared Dr. Baird.
The older medical man shook his head.
"There are some animal and vegetable poisons for which there is no known test," he said gently. "It may turn out to be one of these."
"Then may it not develop that Mr. Carwell, assuming that he did take poison, did it by mistake?" asked the captain.
"I hope so," murmured Dr. Lambert.
"But from the action of the poison, as shown by the condition of the mucous coat of the alimentary canal, I hardly see how Mr. Carwell could not have known that he took poison," declared Dr. Baird.
"Yet he seemed all right except for a little pardonable exhilaration during the game of golf," remarked Captain Poland. "He was feeling 'pretty good' as we say. I don't see how he could have taken poison knowingly or unknowingly."
"There are some poisons which, taken in combination, might mix and form a comparatively harmless mixture," said Dr. Lambert. "Though I confess this is a very remote possibility. Some poisons are neutralized by an alcoholic condition. And some persons, who may have been habitual users of a drug, may take a dose of it that would kill several persons not so addicted."
"Do you mean that Mr. Carwell was a drug user?" demanded the captain.
"I would hesitate very long before saying so," answered Dr. Lambert, "and I have known him many years."
"Then what was it? What in the world does it all mean?" asked Captain Poland. "What's the answers in other words?"
"I wish I knew," replied Dr. Lambert, and he shook his head. Something more than the weight of years seemed bowing him down. Dr. Baird seemed duly impressed by the circumstances that had brought him—a young and as yet unestablished physician—to a connection with such a startling case in the well known and wealthy Carwell family.
As for Captain Gerry Poland, he was clearly startled by the news the physicians had brought. He looked toward the closed door as though seeking to see beyond it—into the room where Viola was waiting. To her, sooner or later, the tragic verdict must be told.
"Can't you say anything?" he asked, a bit sharply, looking from one physician to the other "Is this all you came to tell—that Mr. Carwell was a suicide? Isn't there any mitigating circumstance?"
"I believe he poisoned himself before he began his championship game," said Dr. Baird, with startling frankness—almost brutal it seemed.
"But why should he do such a thing?" demanded the captain, rather petulantly.
"He may have taken some dope, thinking would brace him up," went on the young medical man, "and it had the opposite effect—a depressing action on the heart. Or, he may have taken a overdose of his favorite drug. That is what shall have to find out by making suitable inquiries of members of the family."
"Oh, must we tell-them," exclaimed Captain Poland in startled tones. And it was easy to determine by his voice that by "them" he meant Viola. "Must we tell?" he repeated.
"I must do my duty as a physician both to the public and to the family," said Dr. Lambert, and he straightened up as though ready to assume the burden he knew would fall heavily on his shoulders. "I must also think of Viola. I feel like another father to her now. I have always, more or less, regarded her as my little girl, though she is a young lady now. But the facts must come out. Even if I were disposed to aid in a concealment—which I am far from doing—Dr. Rowland, the county physician, was present at the autopsy. He knows."
"Does he know the poison used?" asked Captain Poland quickly, and then, almost as soon as the words had left his lips, he seemed sorry he had uttered them.
"No, no more than we," said Dr. Baird. "It will require some nice work in medical jurisprudence, and also a very delicate analysis, to determine that. I am inclined to think—"
But what he thought no one heard or cared to hear at that moment, for, even as he spoke, the door of the little room was thrown hastily and somewhat violently open, and Viola Carwell confronted the three men. Her face showed traces of grief, but it had lost little of the beauty for which she was noted.
Tall and dark, with hair of that blue—black sheen so rarely observed, with violet eyes and a poise and grace that made her much observed, Viola Carwell was at the height of her beauty. In a sense she had the gentle grace of her mother and with that the verve and sprightliness of her father mingled perfectly. It was no wonder that Captain Poland and Harry Bartlett and many others, for that matter, were rivals for her favors.
"I thought you were here," she said quietly to Dr. Lambert. "Oh, Uncle Add, what is it? Tell me the truth!" she begged as she placed a hand on his arm, a hand that trembled in spite of her determination to remain calm. "Please tell me the truth!"
"The truth, Viola?" he questioned gently.
"Yes. I'm afraid you are trying to keep something back from me. This looks like it—you men in here talking—consulting as to what is best to do. Tell me. My father is dead. But that, I know, is not the worst that can happen. Tell me! Is there-is there any disgrace? I know—"
Viola stopped as though she herself feared the words she was about to utter. Dr. Lambert quickly spoke.
"There has been no disgrace, my dear Viola," he said, gently. "We have just come from the—from having made an investigation—Dr. Baird and myself and Dr. Rowland. We discovered that your father was poisoned, and—"
"Poisoned?" she gasped, and started back as though struck, while her rapid glances went from face to face, resting longest on the countenance of Captain Poland. It was as though, in this great emergency, she looked to him for comfort more than to the old doctor who had ushered her into the world.
"I am sorry to have to say it, Viola, but such is the case," went on the family physician. "Your father was poisoned. But the kind of poison we have not yet determined."
"But who gave it to him?" she cried. "Oh, it doesn't seem that any one would hate him so, not even his worst enemy. And he had so many friends-too many, perhaps."
"We don't know that any one gave him the poison, Viola," said Dr. Lambert, gently. "In fact, it does not seem that any one did, or your father would have known it. Certainly if any one had tried to make him take poison there would have been a struggle that he would have mentioned. But he died of poison, nevertheless."
"Then there can be but one other explanation," she murmured, and her voice was tense and strained. "He must have—"
"We fear he took it himself," blurted out Dr. Baird, in spite of the warning look cast at him by his colleague.
"Oh, I won't believe that! It can't be true!" cried Viola, and she burst into a storm of sobs. Dr. Lambert placed his arms about her.
"Tell me it isn't true, Uncle Add! Tell me it isn't true!" she sobbed.
The three men, looking at one another—Dr. Lambert's glance coming over the bowed head of Viola—said nothing for a few moments. Then as her sobs died away, and she became calmer, the old physician said:
"You must not take on so, Vi. I know it is hard, but you must meet the issue squarely. At the same time you must realize that even the most suspicious circumstances may be explained away. While it does look as though your father had deliberately taken the poison, it may easily be established by an investigation that it was an accident—an accident of which even your father was ignorant."
"There are so many poisons that do not manifest themselves for a long time—often days—after they are taken, that there is every chance of proving this to have been an accident."
"Then there must be an investigation!" was Viola's quick decision. There were still tears in her eyes, but she looked through them now, as through a veil that must be torn aside. "I can not believe that my father was a—a suicide—" she halted at the awful word. "I will not believe it!" she went on more firmly. "It can not be true!"
Hardly had she uttered the last word than a figure passed through the hall, flitting past the half-opened door of the little room where Viola stood with the three men.
"Who is there?" she called sharply, for she had spoken rather loudly, and she did not want any of the servants to hear. "Who is there?"
"It is I—Minnie," was the answer. "Dear Viola, I have come to see if I could do anything. I rang and rang, but no one answered the bell, and, as the door was open, I walked in."
"I'm afraid I didn't close it when I let you in," said Captain Poland to Dr. Lambert.
"Dear Viola!" said Minnie Webb, as she placed cheek against that of her friend. "Is there anything I can do in your terrible trouble? Please let me do something!"
"Thank you, Minnie. You are very kind. I don't know. We are in such distress. Tell me—" and Viola seemed to nerve herself for some effort. "Tell me! Did you hear what I said just now—as you passed the door?"
"Do you mean about not believing that your father was a suicide?" asked Minnie, in a low voice.
"I—I heard you."
"Then the only thing you can do is to help me prove otherwise," said Viola. "That would be the greatest help. It can't be true, and we want that made plain. Father never killed himself. He was not that kind of man. He did not fear death, but he would not go deliberately to meet it. It is not true that he killed himself!" and Viola's voice seemed to ring out.
A strange look came over the face of Minnie Webb. There was a great pity shining in her eyes as she said:
"I—I am sorry, Viola, but—but I am afraid it may be true."
"What! That my father committed suicide?"
"Yes," whispered Minnie. "I—I'm afraid it may be true!"
CHAPTER V. HARRY'S MISSION
Minnie Webb's announcement affected her four hearers in four different ways. It shocked Viola—shocked her greatly, for she had, naturally, expected kindly sympathy and agreement from her friend.
Dr. Baird, who had involuntarily begun to twist his small mustache at the entrance of Miss Webb, looked at her in admiration of her good looks and because she upheld a theory to which he felt himself committed—a theory that Mr. Carwell was a plain out-and-out suicide.
Dr. Lambert was plainly indignant at the bald manner in which Minnie Webb made her statement, and at the same time he had pity for the ignorance of the lay mind that will pronounce judgment against the more cautious opinions of science. And this was not the first poisoning case with which the aged practitioner had dealt.
As for Captain Poland, he gazed blankly at Miss Webb for a moment following her statement, and then he looked more keenly at the young woman, as though seeking to know whence her information came.
And when Viola had recovered from her first shock this was the thought that came to her:
"What did Minnie know?"
And Viola asked that very question—asked it sharply and with an air which told of her determination to know.
"Oh, please don't ask me!" stammered Minnie Webb. "But I have heard that your father's affairs are involved, Viola."
"His affairs? You mean anything in his—private life?" and the daughter of Horace Carwell—"Carwell the sport," as he was frequently called—seemed to feel this blow more than the shock of death.
"Oh, no, nothing like that!" exclaimed Minnie, as though abashed at the mere suggestion. "But I did hear—and I can not tell where I heard it—that he was involved financially, and that, perhaps—well, you know some men have a horror of facing the world poor and—"
"That can't be true!" declared Viola stoutly. "While I do not know anything about my father's financial affairs, I know he had no fear of failure—no fear of becoming poor."
"I do not believe he would have feared to face poverty if there was need. But there was not, I'm sure. Minnie, who told you this?"
"I—I can not tell!" said Minnie, with a memory of the insinuating manner in which LeGrand Blossom had spoken. Bearing in mind her promise to him not to mention the matter, she began to wish that she had not spoken.
"But you must tell!" insisted Dr. Lambert. "This amounts to an accusation against a dead man, and you owe it to Viola to give the source of your information."
"No, Doctor, I can not! Please don't ask me, Viola. Oh, I shouldn't have spoken, but I thought only to help you solve the problem."
"You have only made it harder, unless you tell us more," said Dr. Lambert gently. "Why can not you tell us, Miss Webb?"
"Because I—I promised not to. Oh, can't you find out for yourselves—in your own way, about his affairs? Surely an examination—"
"Yes, of course, that would be the proper way," said Dr. Lambert gravely. "And it must be done, I suppose."
"It will lead to nothing—it will prove nothing," insisted Viola. "I am sure my father's affairs were not involved. Wait, I'll call Aunt Mary. She was in close touch with all the money matters of our household. Father trusted her with many business matters. Call Aunt Mary!"
Her eyes red with weeping, but bearing up bravely withal, Miss Mary Carwell joined the conference. She, it seemed, had guessed something when Dr. Lambert and Dr. Baird were closeted so long with Captain Poland.
"We must face the facts, however unpleasant they are," said Dr. Lambert, in a low voice. "We must recognize that this will be public talk in a little while. A man—so well-known a character as was my old friend Horace Carwell—can not die suddenly in the midst of a championship golf game, and let the matter rest there."
"The papers will take it up," said Dr. Baird.
"The papers!" broke in Viola.
"Yes, even now I have been besieged by reporters demanding to know the cause of death. It will have to come out. The report of the county physician, on which only a burial certificate can be obtained, is public property. The bureau of vital statistics is open to the public and the reporters. There is bound to be an inquiry, and, as I have said, Dr. Rowland has already announced it as a suicide. We must face the issue bravely."
"But even if it should prove true, that he took the poison, I am sure it will turn out to be a mistake!" declared Viola. "As for my father's affairs being in danger financially—Aunt Mary, did you ever hear of such a thing?"
"Well, my dear, your father kept his affairs pretty much to himself," was the answer of her aunt. "He did tell me some things, and only to-day something came up that makes me think—Oh, I don't know what to think—now!"
"What is it?" asked Dr. Lambert, quietly but firmly. "It is best to know the worst at once."
"I can't say that it is the 'worst,'" replied Miss Carwell; "but there was something about a loan to the bank, and not enough collateral to cover—Mr. Blossom should have attended to it, but he did not, it seems, and—Won't you tell them?" she appealed to Captain Poland.
"Certainly," he responded. "It is a simple matter," he went on. "Mr. Carwell, as all of us do at times, borrowed money from his bank, giving certain securities as collateral for the loan.
"The bank, as all banks do, kept watch this security, and when it fell in market value below a certain point, where there was no longer sufficient margin to cover the loan safely, demanded more collateral.
"This, for some reason, Mr. Carwell did not put up, nor did his clerk, Mr. Blossom. I know nothing more in this respect than Miss Carwell told me," and he bowed to indicate the dead man's sister. "I offered to see to the matter for her, putting up some collateral of my own until Mr. Carwell's affairs could be straightened out. It is a mere technicality, I imagine, and can have nothing to do with—with the present matter, even though Miss Webb seems to think so."
"Oh, I am so sorry if I have made a mistake!" exclaimed Minnie, now very penitent. "But I only thought it would be helping—"
"It will be—to know the truth," said Dr. Lambert. "Is this all that you heard, Miss Webb?"
"No, it was nothing like that. It had nothing to do with a bank loan. Oh, please don't ask me. I promised not to tell."
"Very well, we won't force you to speak," said the family physician. "But this matter must be gone into. What one person knows others are sure to find out. We must see Blossom. He is the one who would have the most complete knowledge of your father's affairs, Viola. Did I hear something about his going into partnership with your father?"
"Yes, there was some such plan. Father decided that he needed help, and he spoke of taking in Mr. Blossom. I know no more than that," Viola answered.
"Then LeGrand Blossom is the person to throw more light on that subject," said Dr. Lambert.
To himself he added a mental reservation that he did not count much on what information might come from the head clerk. Blossom, in the mind of Dr. Lambert, was a person of not much strength of character. There had been certain episodes in his life, information as to which had come to the physician in a roundabout way, that did not reflect on him very well; though, in truth, he felt that the man was weak rather than bad.
"Then is it to be believed that my father was a suicide?" asked Viola, as though seeking to know the worst, that she might fight to make it better.
"On the bare facts in the case—yes," answered Dr. Lambert. "But that is only a starting point. We will make no hard and fast decision."
"Indeed we will not," declared Viola. "There must be a most rigid investigation."
And when the others had gone, Dr. Lambert to make funeral arrangements for his old friend, Captain Poland to see the bank officials, Dr. Baird to his office, taking Minnie Webb home in his car, and Miss Garwell to her room to lie down, Viola, left alone, gave herself up to grief. She felt utterly downcast and very much in need of a friend.
And perhaps this feeling made her welcome, more cordially than when she had last seen him, Harry Bartlett, who was announced soon after the others left.
"Oh, Harry, have you heard the terrible news?" faltered Viola.
"You mean about your father? Yes," he said gently. "But I do not believe it. I may as well speak plainly, Viola. Your father, for some reason best known to himself, did not care for me. But I respected him, and in spite of a feeling between us I admired him. I feel sure he did not commit suicide."
"But they say it looks very suspicious, Harry! Oh, tell me what to do!" and, impulsively, Viola held out her hands to him. Bartlett pressed them warmly.
"I'll serve you in any way I can," he said, gazing fondly into her eyes. "But I confess I am puzzled. I don't know what to do. Perhaps it would be better, as Dr. Lambert says, to look into your father's affairs."
"Yes. But I want more than that!" declared Viola. "I want his name cleared from any suspicion of suicide. And I want you to undertake it, Harry!"
"You want me?" he exclaimed, drawing back. "Me?"
"Yes. I feel that you will do better than any one else. Oh, you will help me, won't you?" she pleaded.
"Of course, Viola. But I don't know how."
"Then let me tell you," and she seemed to be in better control of herself than at any time that day. "This must be gone into systematically, and we can best do it through a detective."
"A detective!" cried Harry Bartlett, and he started from his chair. "Why, my dear Viola, a detective would be the worst possible person to call in on a case like this! Let me investigate, if you think it wise, but a detective—"
"I am not speaking of an ordinary detective, Harry. I have in mind an elderly man who was a friend of my father. He has an extraordinary reputation for solving mysteries."
"Well, of course, if you know the man it makes a difference." Bartlett eyed the girl curiously. "I didn't know you knew any detectives."
"The man I have in mind was in some business deal with my father once, and they became very well acquainted. I met him several times, and liked him immensely. He is well along in years, but I think sharper than many younger men. But there is one difficulty."
"What is that?"
"More than likely he will shy at having anything to do with the case. He told my father he was going to retire and devote his leisure time to fishing—that being his great pastime."
"Humph! he can't be much of a detective if he wants to spend most of his time fishing," was Bartlett's comment.
"You're mistaken, Harry. My father, and other men too, considered him one of the greatest detectives in the world, even though he sometimes works in a very peculiar and apparently uninterested manner." "All right then, Viola. If you say so, I'll look up this wonderful detective for you and get him to take hold of the case."
CHAPTER VI. BY A QUIET STREAM
Drooping willows dipped their pendant branches in the stream that foamed and rippled over green, mossy stones. In a meadow that stretched fair and wide on either side of the water, innumerable grasshoppers were singing their song of summer. On a verdant bank reclined a man, whose advanced age might be indicated in his whitening locks, but whose bright eyes, and the quick, nervous movements as he leafed the pages of a small, green-covered book, made negative the first analysis. A little distance from him, where the sun beat down warmly, unhindered by any shade, lolled a colored man whose look now and then strayed to the reading figure.
A glance over the shoulder of the reader, were one so impolite as to take that liberty, would have disclosed, among others, this passage on the printed page:
"But yet you are to note, that as you see some willows or palm trees bud and blossom sooner than others do, so some trouts be, in rivers, sooner in season; and as some hollies or oaks are longer before they cast their leaves, so are some trouts in rivers longer before they go out of season."
The gray-haired man closed the book, thereby revealing the title "Walton's Compleat Angler," and looked across the stream. The sunlight flickered over its rippling surface, and now and then there was a splash in the otherwise quiet waters—a splash that to the reader was illuminating indeed.
"Shag!" he suddenly exclaimed, thereby galvanizing into life the somnolent negro.
"Yes, sah, Colonel! Yes, sah!" came the response.
"Hum! Asleep, weren't you?"
"Well, no, sah. Not zactly asleep, Colonel. I were jest takin' the fust of mab forty winks, an'—"
"Well, postpone the rest for this evening. I think I'll make some casts here. I don't expect any trout, my friend Walton to the contrary. Besides they're out of season now. But I may get something. Get me the rod, Shag!"
"Yes, sah, Colonel! Yes, sah!"
And while the fishing paraphernalia was being put in readiness by his colored servant, Colonel Robert Lee Ashley once more opened the little green book, as though to draw inspiration therefrom. And he read:
"Only thus much is necessary for you to know, and to be mindful and careful of, that if the pike or perch do breed in that river, they will be sure to bite first and must first be taken. And for the most part they are very large."
"Well, large or small, it doesn't much matter, so I catch some," observed the colonel.
Then he carefully baited the hook, after he had taken the rod and line from Shag, who handled it as though it was a rare object of art; which, indeed, it was to his master.
"I think we shall go back with a fine mess of perch, Shag," observed the fisherman.
"Yes, sah, Colonel, dat's what we will," was the cheerful answer.
"And this time we won't, under any consideration, let anything interfere with our vacation, Shag."
"No, sah, Colonel. No, sah!"
"If you see me buying a paper, Shag, mind, if you ever hear me asking if the last edition is out, stop me at once."
"I will, Colonel."
"And if any one tries to tell me of a murder mystery, of a big robbery, or of anything except where the fish are biting best, Shag, why, you just—"
"I'll jest natchully knock 'em down, Colonel! Dat's what I'll do!" exclaimed the colored man, as cheerfully as though he would relish such "Well, I can't advise that, of course," said the colonel with a smile, "but you may use your own judgment. I came here for a rest, and I don't want to run into another diamond cross mystery, or anything like it."
"No, sah, Colonel. But yo' suah did elucidate dat one most expeditious like. I nevah saw sech—"
"That will do now, Shag. I don't want to be reminded of it. I came here to fish, not to work, nor hold any post-mortems on past cases. Now for it!" and the elderly man cast in where a little eddy, under the grassy bank, indicated deep water, in which the perch or other fish might lurk this sunny day.
And yet, in spite of his determination not to recall the details of the diamond cross mystery to which Shag had alluded, Colonel Ashley could not help dwelling on one or two phases of what, with justifiable pride, he regarded as one of the most successful of his many cases.
Colonel Robert Lee Ashley was a detective by instinct and profession, though of late years he had endeavored, but with scant success, to turn the more routine matters of his profession over to his able assistants.
To those who have read of his masterly solution of the diamond cross mystery the colonel needs no introduction. He was a well known character in police and criminal circles, because of his success in catching many a slippery representative of the latter.
He had served in the secret service during the Spanish-American war, and later had become the head of the police department of a large Eastern city. From that he had built up a private business of his own that assumed large proportions, until advancing age and a desire to fish and reflect caused him virtually to retire from active work. And now, as he had so often done before, he had come to this quiet stream to angle.
And yet, even as he dropped his bait into the water, he could not keep his active mind from passing in rapid review over some of the events of his career—especially the late episode of the Darcy diamond cross.
"Well, I'm glad I helped out in that case," mused the colonel, as he sat up more alertly, for there came a tremor to his line that told much to his practiced and sensitive hands.
A moment later the reel clicked its song of a strike, and the colonel got first to his knees and then to his feet as he prepared to play his fish.
"I've hooked one, Shag!" he called in a low but tense voice. "I've hooked one, and I think it's a beauty!"
"Yes, sah, Colonel! Yes, sah! Dat's fine! I'll be ready as soon as yo' is!"
Shag caught up a landing net, for, though the colonel was not anticipating any gamy fish in this quiet, country stream, yet for such as he caught he used such light tackle that a net was needed to bring even a humble perch to shore.
"I've got him, Shag! I've got him!" the colonel cried, as the fish broke water, a shimmering shower of sparkling drops falling from his sides. "I've got him, and it's a bass, too! I didn't think there were any here! I've got him!"
"Yes, sah, Colonel! Yo' suah has!" exclaimed the delighted George Washington Shag. "You suah has got a beauty!"
And as Shag started forward with the landing net, while the colonel was playing with the skill of long years of practice the fish which had developed unexpected fighting powers, there was a movement among the bushes that lined the stream below the willows, and a young man, showing every evidence of eagerness, advanced toward the fisherman. Shag saw him and called:
"Keep back! Keep back, sah, if yo' please! De Colonel, he's done got a bite, an'—"
"Bite! You mean that something's bitten him?" asked the young man, for he could not see the figure of the colonel, who, just then, in allowing the bass to have a run, had followed him up stream.
"No, he's catchin' a fish—he's got a strike—a big one! Don't isturb him."
"But I must see him. I've come a long distance to—"
"Distance or closeness don't make no mattah of diffunce to de colonel when he's got a bite, sah! I'm sorry, but I can't let yo' go any closer, an' I'se got to go an' land de fish. Aftah dat, if you wants to hab a word wif de colonel, well, maybe he'll see yo', sah," and Shag, with a warning gesture, like that of a traffic policeman halting a line of automobiles, started toward the colonel, who was still playing his fish.
Harry Bartlett, for he it was who had thus somewhat rudely interrupted the detective's fishing, stopped in the shade of the willows, somewhat chagrined. He had come a long way for a talk, and now to be thus held back by a colored man who seemed to have no idea of the importance of the mission was provoking.
But there was something authoritative in Shag's manner, and, being a business man, Harry Bartlett knew better than to make an inauspicious approach. It would be as bad as slicing his golf ball on the drive.
So he waited beside the silent stream, not so silent as it had been, for it was disturbed by the movements, up and down, of Colonel Ashley, who was playing his fish with consummate skill.
Seeing a little green book on the grass where it had fallen, Harry Bartlett picked it up. Idly opening the pages, he read:
"There is also a fish called a sticklebag, a fish without scales, but he hath his body fenced with several prickles. I know not where he dwells in winter, nor what he is good for in summer, but only to make sport for boys and women anglers, and to feed other fish that be fish of prey, as trout in particular, who will bite at him as at a penk, and better, if your hook be rightly baited with him; for he may be so baited, as, his tail turning like a sail of a windmill, will make him turn more quick than any penk or minnow can."
"I guess I've got the right man," said Harry Bartlett with a smile.
CHAPTER VII. THE INQUEST
"Ready, now, Shag! Ready!" called Colonel Ashley, in tense tones. "Ready with the net!"
"Yes, sah! All ready!"
"I've got him about ready for you! And he's better than I thought!"
"Yes, sah, Colonel! I won't miss!"
"If you do you may look for another place!" At this dire threat Shag turned as white as he would ever become, and took a firmer grip on the "Ready now, Shag!" called the colonel, at the same time directing his helper to come down the bank toward a little pool whither he was leading the now well-played fish. "Ready!"
Shag did not speak, but while the colonel slowly reeled in and the tip of the slender pole bent like a bow, he slipped the net into the water, under the fish, and, a moment later, had it out on the grass.
"There!" exclaimed the famous detective, with a sigh of relief. "There he is, and as fine a fish as I've ever landed in these parts! Now, Shag—"
But there came an interruption. Reasoning that now was a most propitious time to make his appeal, Harry Bartlett advanced to where the colonel and Shag were bending over the panting bass. As the detective, with a smart blow back of its head, put his catch out of misery, Bartlett spoke.
"Excuse me," he said, deferentially enough, for he saw the type of man with whom he had to deal, "but are you not Colonel Ashley?"
"I am, sir!" and the colonel looked up as he slipped the fish into his grass-lined creel.
"I am Mr. Bartlett. I followed you here from New York, and I wish to—"
"If it's anything about business, Mr. Bartlett, let me save your time and my own—both valuable, I take it—by stating that I came here to fish, and not to talk business. Excuse me for putting it thus bluntly, but I see no reason for many words. I can not consider any business. That is all attended to at my New York office, and I am surprised that they should even have given you my address. I told them not to."
"It was no easy matter to get it, Colonel, I assure you," and—Bartlett smiled genially. "And please don't blame any one in your office for disclosing your whereabouts. I did not get your address from them, I assure you."
"From whom, then, if I may ask?"
"From Spotty." And again Bartlett smiled.
"What? Spotty Morgan?"
"Are you—do you know him?" and the detective could not keep the interest out of his voice.
"Rather well. I saved him from drowning once some years ago, and he hasn't forgotten it. It was at a summer resort, and Spotty, though he is a good swimmer, didn't estimate the force of the undertow. I pulled him out just in time."
"Strange," murmured the colonel. "A strange coincidence."
"I beg pardon," said Harry politely.
"Oh, nothing," went on the detective. "Only, as it happens, Spotty saved my life some time ago. It's just a coincidence, that's all. So Spotty gave you my address, did he?"
"Yes. I had called at your New York office, and, as you say, your clerks had orders not to disclose your whereabouts. I used every cajolery and device of which I was master, but it was no avail. I urged the importance it was to myself and others to know where you were, but they were obdurate. I was coming out, much disappointed, when I saw Spotty emerging from an inner office. He knew me at once, though it is years since we met, and going down in the elevator I mentioned that I was looking for you. I told him something of the reason for wanting to find you and—Well, he told me you were here."
"And he is about the only person in New York outside of my most confidential man who could have done that," observed the colonel, as he slowly reeled up his line. "One reason why the clerks in my office could not give you my address was because they did not have it. So Spotty, who must just have finished his bit, told."
"But please don't hold that against him," urged Bartlett. "If he violated a confidence—"
"He did, in a way, yes," observed the disciple of Izaak Walton. "But I shall have to forgive him, I suppose. It must have been rather a strong reason that induced him to tell you where I had gone."
"It was, Colonel Ashley, the strongest reason in the world. It is to help clear up the mystery—"
"Stop!" fairly shouted the colonel. "If it's a detective case I don't want to hear it! Not a word! Shag, show this gentleman the door—I beg your pardon, I didn't mean to be rude," went on the colonel with his usual politeness. "But I really can not listen. I came here to rest and fish, not to take up new detective cases. You know where my office is. They will attend to you there. I have given up business for the time being."
"And yet, Colonel Ashley, the person who sent me will have no one but you. She says you are the only one who can get at the bottom of the puzzling case."
In spite of himself the colonel's face lighted up at the words "puzzling case," but as his eyes fell on the creel containing his fish he turned aside. "No," he said, "I am sorry, but I can not listen to you. Shag, kindly—"