THE HOLLADAY CASE
BURTON E. STEVENSON
AUTHOR OF "AT ODDS WITH THE REGENT," "A SOLDIER OF VIRGINIA," ETC.
NEW YORK HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1903
COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
Published November, 1903
THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS, RAHWAY, N. J.
I. A BOLT FROM THE BLUE, 1
II. IN THE GRIP OF CIRCUMSTANCE, 15
III. THE COIL TIGHTENS, 37
IV. I HAVE AN INSPIRATION, 56
V. I DINE WITH A FASCINATING STRANGER, 70
VI. GODFREY'S PANEGYRIC, 90
VII. MISS HOLLADAY BECOMES CAPRICIOUS, 101
VIII. THE MYSTERIOUS MAID, 114
IX. I MEET MONSIEUR MARTIGNY, 131
X. AN ASTONISHING DISAPPEARANCE, 146
XI. I UNMASK MY ENEMY, 165
XII. AT THE CAFE JOURDAIN, 183
XIII. EN VOYAGE, 197
XIV. I PROVE A BAD SENTINEL, 213
XV. TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE, 229
XVI. I BEARD THE LION, 247
XVII. ETRETAT, 270
XVIII. THE VEIL IS LIFTED, 280
XIX. THE END OF THE STORY, 293
THE HOLLADAY CASE
A Bolt from the Blue
The atmosphere of the office that morning was a shade less genial than usual. We had all of us fought our way downtown through such a storm of wind, snow, slush, and sleet as is to be found nowhere save in mid-March New York, and our tempers had suffered accordingly. I had found a cab unobtainable, and there was, of course, the inevitable jam on the Elevated, with the trains many minutes behind the schedule. I was some half-hour late, in consequence, and when I entered the inner office, I was surprised to find Mr. Graham, our senior, already at his desk. He nodded good-morning a little curtly.
"I wish you'd look over these papers in the Hurd case, Lester," he said, and pushed them toward me.
I took them and sat down; and just then the outer door slammed with a violence extremely unusual.
I had never seen Mr. Royce, our junior, so deeply shaken, so visibly distracted, as he was when he burst in upon us a moment later, a newspaper in his hand. Mr. Graham, startled by the noise of his entrance, wheeled around from his desk and stared at him in astonishment.
"Why, upon my word, John," he began, "you look all done up. What's the matter?"
"Matter enough, sir!" and Mr. Royce spread out the paper on the desk before him. "You haven't seen the morning papers, of course; well, look at that!" and he indicated with a trembling finger the article which occupied the first column of the first page—the place of honor.
I saw our senior's face change as he read the headlines, and he seemed positively horror-stricken as he ran rapidly through the story which followed.
"Why, this is the most remarkable thing I ever read!" he burst out at last.
"Remarkable!" cried the other. "Why, it's a damnable outrage, sir! The idea that a gentle, cultured girl like Frances Holladay would deliberately murder her own father—strike him down in cold blood—is too monstrous, too absolutely preposterous, too—too——" and he stopped, fairly choked by his emotion.
The words brought me upright in my chair. Frances Holladay accused of—well!—no wonder our junior was upset!
But Mr. Graham was reading through the article again more carefully, and while he nodded sympathetically to show that he fully assented to the other's words, a straight, deep line of perplexity, which I had come to recognize, formed between his eyebrows.
"Plainly," he said at last, "the whole case hinges on the evidence of this man Rogers—Holladay's confidential clerk—and from what I know of Rogers, I should say that he'd be the last man in the world to make a willful misstatement. He says that Miss Holladay entered her father's office late yesterday afternoon, stayed there ten minutes, and then came out hurriedly. A few minutes later Rogers went into the office and found his employer dead. That's the whole case, but it'll be a hard one to break."
"Well, it must be broken!" retorted the other, pulling himself together with a supreme effort. "Of course, I'll take the case."
"Miss Holladay probably sent for me last night, but I was out at Babylon, you know, looking up that witness in the Hurd affair. He'll be all right, and his evidence will give us the case. Our answer in the Brown injunction can wait till to-morrow. That's all, I think."
The chief nodded.
"Yes—I see the inquest is to begin at ten o'clock. You haven't much time."
"No—I'd like to have a good man with me," and he glanced in my direction. "Can you spare me Lester?"
My heart gave a jump. It was just the question I was hoping he would ask.
"Why, yes, of course," answered the chief readily. "In a case like this, certainly. Let me hear from you in the course of the day."
Mr. Royce nodded as he started for the door.
"I will; we'll find some flaw in that fellow's story, depend upon it. Come on, Lester."
I snatched up pen and paper and followed him to the elevator. In a moment we were in the street; there were cabs in plenty now, disgorging their loads and starting back uptown again; we hailed one, and in another moment were rattling along toward our destination with such speed as the storm permitted. There were many questions surging through my brain to which I should have welcomed an answer. The storm had cut off my paper that morning, and I regretted now that I had not made a more determined effort to get another. A glance at my companion showed me the folly of attempting to secure any information from his, so I contented myself with reviewing what I already knew of the history of the principals.
I knew Hiram W. Holladay, the murdered man, quite well; not only as every New Yorker knew that multi-millionaire as one of the most successful operators in Wall Street, but personally as well, since he had been a client of Graham & Royce for twenty years and more. He was at that time well on toward seventy years of age, I should say, though he carried his years remarkably well; his wife had been long dead, and he had only one child, his daughter, Frances, who must have been about twenty-five. She had been born abroad, and had spent the first years of her life there with her mother, who had lingered on the Riviera and among the hills of Italy and Switzerland in the hope of regaining a health, which had been failing, so I understood, ever since her daughter's birth. She had come home at last, bringing the black-eyed child with her, and within the year was dead.
Holladay's affections from that moment seemed to grow and center about his daughter, who developed into a tall and beautiful girl—too beautiful, as was soon apparent, for our junior partner's peace of mind. He had met her first in a business way, and afterwards socially, and all of us who had eyes could see how he was eating his heart out at the knowledge that she was far beyond his reach; for it was evident that her father deemed her worthy of a brilliant marriage—as, indeed, she was. I sometimes thought that she held herself at a like value, for though there was about her a constant crowd of suitors, none of them, seemingly, could win an atom of encouragement. She was waiting, I told myself, waiting; and I had even pictured to myself the grim irony of a situation in which our junior might be called upon to arrange her marriage settlements.
The cab stopped with a jolt, and I looked up to see that we had reached the Criminal Courts building. Mr. Royce sprang out, paid the driver, and ran up the steps to the door, I after him. He turned down the corridor to the right, and entered the room at the end of it, which I recognized as the office of Coroner Goldberg. A considerable crowd had already collected there.
"Has the coroner arrived yet?" my companion asked one of the clerks.
"Yes, sir; he's in his private office."
"Will you take him this card and say that I'd like to see him at once, if possible?"
The clerk hurried away with the card. He was back again in a moment.
"This way, sir," he called.
We followed him across the room and through a door at the farther side.
"Ah, Mr. Royce, glad to see you," cried the coroner, as we entered. "We tried to find you last night, but learned that you were out of town, and I was just calling up your office again."
"Miss Holladay asked for me, then?"
"Yes, at once. When we found we couldn't get you, we suggested your senior, but she said she'd wait till you returned."
I could see our junior's face crimson with pleasure.
"You didn't think it necessary to confine her, I trust?" he asked.
"Oh, no; she wasn't disturbed. She spent the night at home—under surveillance."
"That was right. Of course, it's simply absurd to suspect her."
Goldberg looked at him curiously.
"I don't know, Mr. Royce," he said slowly. "If the evidence turns out as I think it will, I shall have to hold her—the district attorney expects it."
Mr. Royce's hands were clutching a chair-back, and they trembled a little at the coroner's words.
"He'll be present at the examination, then?" he asked.
"Yes, we're waiting for him. You see, it's rather an extraordinary case."
"We think so, anyway!" said the coroner, just a trifle impatiently.
I could see the retort which sprang to our junior's lips, but he choked it back. There was no use offending Goldberg.
"I should like to see Miss Holladay before the examination begins," he said. "Is she present?"
"She's in the next room, yes. You shall see her, certainly, at once. Julius, take Mr. Royce to Miss Holladay," he added to the clerk.
I can see her yet, rising from her chair with face alight, as we entered, and I saw instantly how I had misjudged her. She came a step toward us, holding out her hands impulsively; then, with an effort, controlled herself and clasped them before her.
"Oh, but I'm glad to see you!" she cried in a voice so low I could scarcely hear it. "I've wanted you so much!"
"It was my great misfortune that I could come no sooner," said my chief, his voice trembling a little despite himself. "I—I scarcely expected to see you here with no one——"
"Oh," she interrupted, "there was no one I cared to have. My friends have been very kind—have offered to do anything—but I felt that I wanted to be just alone and think. I should have liked to have my maid, but——"
"She's one of the witnesses, I suppose," explained Mr. Royce. "Well, now that I'm here, I shall stay until I've proved how utterly ridiculous this charge against you is."
She sank back into her chair and looked up at him with dark, appealing eyes.
"You think you can?" she asked.
"Can! Certainly I can! Why, it's too preposterous to stand for a moment! We've only to prove an alibi—to show that you were somewhere else, you know, at the time the crime was committed—and the whole business falls to pieces in an instant. You can do that easily, can't you?"
The color had gone from her cheeks again, and she buried her face in her hands.
"I don't know," she murmured indistinctly. "I must think. Oh, don't let it come to that!"
I was puzzled—confounded. With her good name, her life, perhaps, in the balance, she wanted time to think! I could see that my chief was astonished, too.
"I'll try to keep it from coming to that, since you wish it," he said slowly. "I'll not be able to call you, then, to testify in your own behalf—and that always hurts. But I hope the case will break down at once—I believe it will. At any rate, don't worry. I want you to rely on me."
She looked up at him again, smiling.
"I shall," she murmured softly. "I'm sure I could desire no better champion!"
Well, plainly, if he won this case he would win something else besides. I think even the policeman in the corner saw it, for he turned away with a discretion rare in policemen, and pretended to stare out of the window.
I don't know what my chief would have said—his lips were trembling so he could not speak for the moment—and just then there came a tap at the door, and the coroner's clerk looked in.
"We're ready to begin, sir," he said.
"Very well," cried Mr. Royce. "I'll come at once. Good-by for the moment, Miss Holladay. I repeat, you may rely on me," and he hastened from the room as confidently as though she had girded him for the battle. Instead, I told myself, she had bound him hand and foot before casting him down into the arena.
In the Grip of Circumstance
The outer room was crowded from end to end, and the atmosphere reeked with unpleasant dampness. Only behind the little railing before the coroner's desk was there breathing space, and we sank into our seats at the table there with a sigh of relief.
One never realizes how many newspapers there are in New York until one attends an important criminal case—that brings their people out in droves and swarms. The reporters took up most of the space in this small room, paper and pencils were everywhere in evidence, and in one corner there was a man with a camera stationed, determined, I suppose, to get a photograph of our client, should she be called to the stand, since none could be obtained in any other way.
I saw Singleton, the district attorney, come in and sit down near the coroner, and then the jury filed in from their room and took their seats. I examined them, man by man, with some little anxiety, but they all seemed intelligent and fairly well-to-do. Mr. Royce was looking over their names, and he checked them off carefully as the clerk called the roll. Then he handed the list up to the coroner with a little nod.
"Go ahead," he said. "They're all right, I guess—they look all right."
"It's a good jury," replied the coroner, as he took the paper. "Better than usual. Are you ready, Mr. Singleton?"
"Yes," said the district attorney. "Oh, wait a minute," he added, and he got up and came down to our table. "You're going to put Miss Holladay on the stand, I suppose——"
"And expose her to all this?" and our junior looked around the room. "Not if I can help it!"
"I don't see how you can help it. An alibi's the only thing that can save her from being bound over."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," retorted Mr. Royce. "I think the case against her will soon die of inanition."
"Oh, very well," and Singleton abruptly went back to his desk, biting his mustache thoughtfully. He had made something of a reputation, since his election a year before, as a solver of abstruse criminal problems, and had secured a conviction in two or three capital cases which had threatened for a time to baffle the police. He evidently scented something of the same kind here, or he would have entrusted the case to one of his assistants. It might be added that, while his successes had made him immensely popular with the multitude, there had been, about one or two of them, a hint of unprofessional conduct, which had made his brethren of the bar look rather askance at him.
He nodded to the coroner after a moment, the room was called to order, and the first witness summoned.
It was Rogers, the confidential clerk. I knew Rogers, of course, had talked with him often in a business way, and had the highest respect for him. He had been with Mr. Holladay much longer than I had been with Graham & Royce, and had, as Mr. Graham had pointed out, an unimpeachable reputation.
There were the usual preliminaries, name, age, residence, and so on, Coroner Goldberg asking the questions. He was a really good cross-examiner, and soon came to the core of the matter.
"What is the position of your desk in Mr. Holladay's office?" he asked.
"There is an outer office for the clerks; opening from that, a smaller room where my desk is placed. Opening from my room was Mr. Holladay's private office.
"Had Mr. Holladay's office any other door?"
"Could entrance be had by the windows?"
"The windows open on the street side of the building. We occupy a part of the eighth floor."
"Are at the back of the building—there are none on the street side—nothing but a sheer wall."
"So that anyone entering or leaving the private office must necessarily pass by your desk?"
"Necessarily; yes, sir."
"Could anyone pass without your seeing him?"
"No, sir; that would be quite impossible."
The coroner leaned back in his chair. There was one point settled.
"Now, Mr. Rogers," he said, "will you kindly tell us, in your own way and with as much detail as possible, exactly what happened at your office shortly before five o'clock yesterday afternoon?"
I could see that Rogers was deeply moved. His face was very white, he moistened his lips nervously from time to time, and his hands grasped convulsively the arms of his chair. Plainly, the task before him was far from an agreeable one.
"Well, sir," he began, "we had a very busy day yesterday, and were at the office considerably later than usual; but by five o'clock we had closed up work for the day, and all the other clerks, with the exception of the office-boy, had gone home. I had made some notes from Mr. Holladay's dictation, and had returned to my desk to arrange them, when the outer door opened and Mr. Holladay's daughter came in. She asked me whether her father was engaged, and upon my saying no, opened the inner door and entered his office. She remained, I should think, about ten minutes; then she came out again, walked rapidly past without looking at me, and, I suppose, left the building. I finished arranging my notes, and then entered Mr. Holladay's office to ask if he had any further instructions for me, and I found him lying forward on his desk, with a knife sticking in his neck and the blood spurting out. I summoned aid, but he died without regaining consciousness—I should say he was practically dead when I found him."
I felt, rather than heard, the little stir which ran through the room. There was an indefinable horror in the story and in the conclusion to which it inevitably led.
"Now, let us go back a moment," said the coroner, as Rogers stopped and mopped his forehead feverishly. "I want the jury to understand your story thoroughly. Mr. Holladay had been dictating to you?"
"And was quite well?"
"Yes—as well as usual. He'd been suffering with indigestion for some time past."
"Still he was able to attend to business?"
"Oh, yes, sir. There was nothing at all serious in his illness."
"You then left his office and returned to your own. How long had you been there before the outer door opened?"
"Not over five minutes."
"And who was it entered?"
"Miss Frances Holladay—the daughter of my employer."
"You're quite sure? You know her well?"
"Very well. I've known her for many years. She often drove to the office in the evening to take her father home. I supposed that was what she came for yesterday."
"You looked at her attentively?"
Rogers hitched impatiently in his chair.
"I glanced at her, as I always do," he said. "I didn't stare."
"But you're quite sure it was Miss Holladay?"
"Absolutely sure, sir. Good God!" he cried, his nerves giving way for an instant, "do you suppose I'd make an assertion like that if I wasn't absolutely sure?"
"No," said the coroner soothingly; "no, I don't suppose any such thing, not for a moment, Mr. Rogers; only I want the jury to see how certain the identification is. Shall I proceed?"
"Go ahead, sir," said Rogers. "I'll try to hold myself together a little better, sir."
"I can see what a strain this is for you," said the coroner kindly; "and I'll spare you as much as I can. Now, after Miss Holladay entered the inner office, how long did she remain there?"
"About ten minutes, I should say; not longer than that, certainly."
"Did you hear any sound of conversation, or any unusual noise of any kind?"
"No, sir. It would have been a very unusual noise to be audible. Mr. Holladay's office has heavy walls and a double door which completely shut off all sounds from within."
"Miss Holladay then came out?"
"And walked past you?"
"Yes, sir; walked past me rapidly."
"Did you not think that peculiar?"
"Why, sir, she didn't often stop to speak to me. I was busy and so thought nothing particularly about it."
"Did you notice her face? Did she seem perturbed?"
"No, sir; I didn't notice. I just glanced up and bowed. In fact, I didn't see her face at all, for she had lowered her veil."
"Her veil!" repeated the coroner. "You hadn't mentioned that she wore a veil."
"No, sir; when she came into the office she had lifted it up over her hat-brim—you know how women do."
"Yes—so you saw her face distinctly when she entered?"
"But when she went out, she had lowered her veil. Was it a heavy one?"
"Why, sir," the witness hesitated, "just an ordinary veil, I should say."
"But still heavy enough to conceal her face?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
The coroner nodded. "Now, Mr. Rogers, how long a time elapsed after the departure of the woman before you went back into the inner office?"
"Not more than three or four minutes. I thought perhaps Mr. Holladay was getting ready to accompany his daughter, and I didn't wish to detain him."
"And you found him, as you say, lying forward across his desk with a knife in his throat and the blood spurting out. Did you recognize the knife?"
"Yes, sir. It was his knife—a knife he kept lying on his desk to sharpen pencils with and erase and so on."
"Sharp, was it?"
"It had one long blade, very sharp, sir."
The coroner picked up a knife that was lying on the desk before him.
"Is this the knife?" he asked.
Rogers looked at it carefully.
"That's the knife, sir," he said, and it was passed to the jury. When they had finished with it, Mr. Royce and I examined it. It was an ordinary one-bladed erasing knife with ivory handle. It was open, the blade being about two inches and a half in length, and, as I soon convinced myself, very sharp indeed.
"Will you describe Mr. Holladay's position?" continued the coroner.
"He was lying forward on the desk, with his arms outstretched and his head to one side."
"And there was a great deal of blood?"
"Oh, a great deal! Someone, apparently, had attempted to check it, for a little distance away there was a handkerchief soaked in blood."
The coroner picked up a handkerchief and handed it to the witness.
"Is that the handkerchief?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said Rogers, after a moment.
"Is it a man's or a woman's handkerchief?"
"Oh, a woman's undoubtedly."
The jury examined it and so did we. It was a small square of fine cambric with no mark that I could see, soaked through and through with blood—unquestionably a woman's handkerchief. Then Rogers told the rest of the story—how he had summoned aid and informed the police.
"Now, Mr. Rogers," said the coroner, when he had finished, "there is one point more. Has there been anything in your knowledge of Mr. Holladay or his business to suggest the idea of suicide?"
The witness shook his head decidedly.
"Nothing whatever, sir," he said positively. "His business was prospering; he was happy and contented—why, he was planning for a trip abroad with his daughter."
"Let us suppose for a moment," continued Goldberg, "that he did actually stab himself in his daughter's presence; what would you naturally expect her to do?"
"I should expect her to give the alarm—to summon aid," replied Rogers.
"Certainly—unquestionably," and Goldberg nodded to my chief. "I turn the witness over to you, Mr. Royce," he said.
"Now, Mr. Rogers," began our junior impressively, "you know, of course, that this whole case hinges, at present, on your identification of the woman who, presumably, was in Mr. Holladay's office when he was stabbed. I want to be very sure of that identification. Will you tell me how she was dressed?"
The witness paused for a moment's thought.
"She wore a dress of very dark red," he said at last, "with some sort of narrow dark trimming—black, possibly. That's all I can tell you about it."
"And the hat?"
"I didn't notice the hat, sir. I only glanced at her."
"But in that glance, Mr. Rogers, did you see nothing unusual—nothing which suggested to your mind that possibly it might not be Miss Holladay?"
"Some change of demeanor, perhaps; of expression?"
The witness hesitated.
"I thought she was looking not quite so well as usual," he said slowly. "She seemed a little pale and worried."
"Ah! It was dark in the office, was it not, at five o'clock yesterday afternoon?"
"We had turned on the lights half an hour before, sir."
"Is your office well lighted?"
"I have a light over my desk, sir, and there's another on the wall."
"So you could not see your visitor's face with absolute clearness?"
"No, sir; but quite clearly enough to recognize her," he added doggedly.
"Yet you thought her looking pale and worried."
"Yes, sir; that was my impression."
"And when she asked for Mr. Holladay, did she use the words 'my father,' as your evidence would suggest?"
Again the witness hesitated in the effort at recollection.
"No, sir," he answered finally. "Her words, I think, were, 'Is Mr. Holladay engaged at present?'"
"It was Miss Holladay's voice?"
"I could not say, sir," answered the witness, again mopping the perspiration from his forehead. "I have no wish to incriminate Miss Holladay unnecessarily. I'm not sufficiently well acquainted with her voice to swear to it."
"Well, when you answered her question in the negative, did she hesitate before entering the private office?"
"No, sir; she went straight to it."
"Is there any lettering on the door?"
"Oh, yes, the usual lettering, 'Private Office.'"
"So that, even if she were not acquainted with the place, she might still have seen where to go?"
"Yes, sir; I suppose so."
"And you stated, too, I believe, that you could have heard no sound of an altercation in the private office, had one occurred?"
"No, sir; I could have heard nothing."
"You have been with Mr. Holladay a long time, I believe, Mr. Rogers?"
"Over thirty years, sir."
"And you are intimately acquainted with his affairs?"
"Now, Mr. Rogers, have you ever, in all these years, ran across anything—any item of expenditure, any correspondence, anything whatever—which would lead you to think that Mr. Holladay was a victim of blackmail, or that he had ever had a liaison with a woman?"
"No, sir!" cried the witness. "No, sir! I'm willing to swear that such a thing is not possible. I should inevitably have found it out had it existed."
"That will do for the present," said Mr. Royce. "I shall want to recall the witness, however, sir."
The coroner nodded, and Rogers stepped down, still trembling from the effects of his last outburst. I confess that, for my part, I thought we were very deep in the mire.
The office-boy was called next, but added nothing to the story. He had gone to the chute to mail some letters; the woman must have entered the office while he was away. He saw her come out again, but, of course, did not see her face. He had been employed recently, and did not know Miss Holladay.
Then the physicians who had attended the dead man were called, and testified that the knife-blade had penetrated the left carotid artery, and that he had bled to death—was dead, indeed, before they reached him. It would take, perhaps, ten minutes to produce such an effusion of blood as Rogers had noticed—certainly more than five, so that the blow must have been struck before the woman left the inner office.
The policeman who had responded to the alarm testified that he had examined the windows, and that they were both bolted on the inside, precluding the possibility of anyone swinging down from above or clambering up from below. Nothing in the office had been disturbed. There was other evidence of an immaterial nature, and then Miss Holladay's maid was called.
"Was your mistress away from home yesterday afternoon?" asked the coroner.
"Yes, sir; she had the carriage ordered for three o'clock. She was driven away shortly after that."
"And what time did she return?"
"About six, sir; just in time to dress for dinner."
"Did you notice anything unusual in her demeanor when she returned?"
The maid hesitated, fearing doubtless that she might say too much.
"Miss Holladay had complained of a headache in the morning," she said, after a moment. "She was looking badly when she went out, and the drive made her worse instead of better. She seemed very nervous and ill. I advised her to lie down and not dress for dinner, but she would not listen. She always dined with her father, and did not wish to disappoint him. She was in a great hurry, fearing that he'd get back before she was ready."
"There's no doubt in your mind that she was really expecting him?"
"Oh, no, sir; she even went to the door to look for him when he did not come. She seemed very uneasy about him."
That was one point in our favor certainly.
"And when the news of her father's death reached her, how did she bear it?"
"She didn't bear it at all, sir," answered the maid, catching her breath to choke back a sob. "She fainted dead away. Afterwards, she seemed to be in a kind of daze till the doctor came."
"That is all. Have you any questions to ask the witness, Mr. Royce?"
"Only one," said my chief, leaning forward. I knew what it was, and held my breath, wondering whether it were wise to ask it. "Do you remember the gown your mistress wore yesterday afternoon?" he questioned.
"Oh, yes, sir," and the witness brightened. "It was a dark red broadcloth, made very plain, with only a little narrow black braid for trimming."
The Coil Tightens
From the breathless silence that followed her answer, she saw that she had somehow dealt her mistress a heavy blow, and the sobs burst out beyond control, choking her. I could see how my chief's face turned livid. He had driven another rivet in the chain—just the one it needed to hold it firmly together. My head was whirling. Could it be possible, after all, that this gentle, cultured girl was really such a fiend at heart that she could strike down.... I put the thought from me. It was monstrous, unbelievable!
The coroner and the district attorney were whispering together, and I saw the former glance from the blood-stained handkerchief on the desk before him to the sobbing woman on the stand. It needed only that—her identification of that square of cambric—to complete the evidence. He hesitated a moment, said another word or two to Singleton, then straightened up again in his chair. Perhaps he thought the chain was strong enough; perhaps he saw only that the witness was in no condition to go on.
"Anything further, Mr. Royce?" he asked.
"Not at present, sir," answered our junior hoarsely. I think he was just beginning fully to realize how desperate our case was.
"We will dismiss the witness, then, temporarily," said the coroner. "We shall probably recall her later on."
The maid was led back to the witness room on the verge of hysteria, and Goldberg looked over the papers on his desk.
"We have one more witness," he said at last, "Miss Holladay's coachman, and perhaps a little testimony in rebuttal. If you wish to adjourn for lunch, Mr. Royce, I'm quite ready to do so."
"Thank you, sir," said my chief, welcoming any opportunity to pull himself together and prepare a plan of defense. "I do wish it."
"Very well, then; we'll adjourn till two o'clock," and he pushed back his chair.
"May I have one word with you, sir?" asked Mr. Royce.
"I should like to see Miss Holladay a few moments in private. We wish, of course, to arrange our rebuttal."
The coroner looked at him for a moment with eyes in which just a tinge of curiosity flickered.
"I'll be very glad to allow you to see her in private," he answered readily. "I regret greatly that we couldn't find you last night, so that you could have opportunity to prepare for this hearing. I feel that, in a way, we haven't been quite fair to you, though I don't see how delay could have altered matters, and, in a case of this kind, prompt action is important. I had no intention of placing Miss Holladay on the witness stand, so I thought it best to proceed at once with the inquest. You must admit, sir, that, as the case stands, there's only one course open to me."
"I fear so," assented the other sadly. "It's a most incomprehensible case. The chain of evidence seems absolutely complete, and yet I'm convinced—as every sane man must be—that there is in it some fatal flaw, which, once discovered, will send the whole structure tottering. It must be my business to find that flaw."
"Strange things happen in this world, Mr. Royce," observed Singleton with a philosophy born of experience.
"The impossible never happens, sir!" retorted our junior. "I hope to show you that this belongs in that category."
"Well, I hope you will," said the district attorney. "I'd be glad to find that someone else is guilty."
"I'll do my best," and Mr. Royce turned to me. "Lester, you'd better go and get some lunch. You look quite done up."
"Shall I bring you something?" I asked. "Or, better still, have a meal ready for you in half an hour? Rotin's is just around the corner."
He would have refused, I think, had not the coroner interfered.
"You'd better go, Mr. Royce," he said. "You're looking done up yourself. Perhaps you can persuade Miss Holladay to eat something. I'm sure she needs it."
"Very well, then; have two meals ready in half an hour, Lester," he said, "and a lunch we can bring back with us. I'll go to Miss Holladay now, and then come direct to Rotin's."
He hurried away after the coroner, and I walked slowly over to Rotin's to give the necessary orders. I chose a table in a snug corner, picked up a paper, and tried to read. Its one great item of news was the Holladay case, and I grew hot with anger, as I saw how unquestioningly, how complacently, it accepted the theory of the daughter's guilt. Still, I asked myself, was it to blame? Was anyone to blame for thinking her guilty after hearing the evidence? How could one escape it? Why, even I——
Preposterous! I tried to reason calmly; to find an opening in the net. Yet, how complete it was! The only point we had gained, so far, was that the mysterious visitor had asked for Mr. Holladay, not for her father—and what an infinitesimal point it was! Supposing there had been a quarrel, an estrangement, would not she naturally have used those very words? After all, did not the black eyes, the full lips, the deep-colored cheeks bespeak a strong and virile temperament, depth of emotion, capacity for swift and violent anger? But what cause could there be for a quarrel so bitter, so fierce, that it should lead to such a tragedy? What cause? And then, suddenly, a wave of light broke in upon me. There could be only one—yes, but there could be one! Capacity for emotion meant capacity for passion. If she had a lover, if she had clung to him despite her father! I knew his reputation for severity, for cold and relentless condemnation. Here was an explanation, certainly!
And then I shook myself together angrily. Here was I, reasoning along the theory of her guilt—trying to find a motive for it! I remembered her as I had seen her often, driving with her father; I recalled the many stories I had heard of their devotion; I reflected how her whole life, so far as I knew it, pointed to a nature singularly calm and self-controlled, charitable and loving. As to the lover theory, did not the light in her eyes which had greeted our junior disprove that, at once and forever? Certainly, there was some fatal flaw in the evidence, and it was for us to find it.
I leaned my head back against the wall with a little sigh of relief. What a fool I had been! Of course, we should find it! Mr. Royce had spoken the words, the district attorney had pointed out the way. We had only to prove an alibi! And the next witness would do it. Her coachman had only to tell where he had driven her, at what places she had stopped, and the whole question would be settled. At the hour the crime was committed, she had doubtless been miles away from Wall Street! So the question would be settled—settled, too, without the necessity of Miss Holladay undergoing the unpleasant ordeal of cross-examination.
"It is a most extraor-rdinary affair," said a voice at my elbow, and I turned with a start to see that the chair just behind me had been taken by a man who was also reading an account of the crime. He laid the paper down, and caught my eye. "A most extraor-rdinary affair!" he repeated, appealing to me.
I nodded, merely glancing at him, too preoccupied to notice him closely. I got an impression of a florid face, of a stout, well-dressed body, of an air unmistakably French.
"You will pardon me, sir," he added, leaning a little forward. "As a stranger in this country, I am much inter-rested in your processes of law. This morning I was present at the trial—I per-rceived you there. It seemed to me that the young lady was in—what you call—a tight place."
He spoke English very well, with an accent of the slightest. I glanced at him again, and saw that his eyes were very bright and that they were fixed upon me intently.
"It does seem so," I admitted, loth to talk, yet not wishing to be discourteous.
"The ver' thing I said to myself!" he continued eagerly. "The—what you call—coe-encidence of the dress, now!"
I did not answer; I was in no humor to discuss the case.
"You will pardon me," he repeated persuasively, still leaning forward, "but concer-rning one point I should like much to know. If she is thought guilty what will occur?"
"She will be bound over to the grand jury," I explained.
"That is, she will be placed in prison?"
"But, as I understand your law, she may be released by bondsmen."
"Not in a capital case," I said; "not in a case of this kind, where the penalty may be death."
"Ah, I see," and he nodded slowly. "She would then not be again released until after she shall have been proved innocent. How great a time would that occupy?"
"I can't say—six months—a year, perhaps."
"Ah, I see," he said again, and drained a glass of absinthe he had been toying with. "Thank you, ver' much, sir."
He arose and went slowly out, and I noted the strength of his figure, the short neck——
The waiter came with bread and butter, and I realized suddenly that it was long past the half-hour. Indeed, a glance at my watch showed me that nearly an hour had gone. I waited fifteen minutes longer, ate what I could, and, taking a box-lunch under my arm, hurried back to the coroner's office. As I entered it, I saw a bowed figure sitting at the table, and my heart fell as I recognized our junior. His whole attitude expressed a despair absolute, past redemption.
"I've brought your lunch, Mr. Royce," I said, with what lightness I could muster. "The proceedings will commence in half an hour—you'd better eat something," and I opened the box.
He looked at it for a moment, and then began mechanically to eat.
"You look regularly done up," I ventured. "Wouldn't I better get you a glass of brandy? That'll tone you up."
"All right," he assented listlessly, and I hurried away on the errand.
The brandy brought a little color back to his cheeks, and he began to eat with more interest.
"Must I order lunch for Miss Holladay?" I questioned.
"No," he said. "She said she didn't wish any."
He relapsed again into silence. Plainly, he had received some new blow during my absence.
"After all," I began, "you know we've only to prove an alibi to knock to pieces this whole house of cards."
"Yes, that's all," he agreed. "But suppose we can't do it, Lester?"
"Can't do it?" I faltered. "Do you mean——?"
"I mean that Miss Holladay positively refuses to say where she spent yesterday afternoon."
"Does she understand the—the necessity?" I asked.
"I pointed it out to her as clearly as I could. I'm all at sea, Lester."
Well, if even he were beginning to doubt, matters were indeed serious!
"It's incomprehensible!" I sighed, after a moment's confused thought. "It's——"
"But the coachman——"
"The coachman's evidence, I fear, won't help us much—rather the reverse."
I actually gasped for breath—I felt like a drowning man from whose grasp the saving rope had suddenly, unaccountably, been snatched.
"In that case——" I began, and stopped.
"Well, in that case?"
"We must find some other way out," I concluded lamely.
"Is there another way, Lester?" he demanded, wheeling round upon me fiercely. "Is there another way? If there is, I wish to God you'd show it to me!"
"There must be!" I protested desperately, striving to convince myself. "There must be; only, I fear, it will take some little time to find."
"And meanwhile, Miss Holladay will be remanded! Think what that will mean to her, Lester!"
I had thought. I was desperate as he—but to find the flaw, the weak spot in the chain, required, I felt, a better brain than mine. I was lost in a whirlwind of perplexities.
"Well, we must do our best," he went on more calmly, after a moment. "I haven't lost hope yet—chance often directs these things. Besides, at worst, I think Miss Holladay will change her mind. Whatever her secret, it were better to reveal it than to spend a single hour in the Tombs. She simply must change her mind! And thanks, Lester, for your thoughtfulness. You've put new life into me."
I cleared away the debris of the lunch, and a few moments later the room began to fill again. At last the coroner and district attorney came in together, and the former rapped for order.
"The inquest will continue," he said, "with the examination of John Brooks, Miss Holladay's coachman."
I can give his evidence in two words. His mistress had driven directly down the avenue to Washington Square. There she had left the carriage, bidding him wait for her, and had continued southward into the squalid French quarter. He had lost sight of her in a moment, and had driven slowly about for more than two hours before she reappeared. She had ordered him to drive home as rapidly as he could, and he had not stopped until he reached the house. Her gown? Yes, he had noticed that it was a dark red. He had not seen her face, for it was veiled. No, he had never before driven her to that locality.
Quaking at heart, I realized that only one person could extricate Frances Holladay from the coil woven about her. If she persisted in silence, there was no hope for her. But that she should still refuse to speak was inconceivable, unless——
"That is all," said the coroner. "Will you cross-examine the witness, Mr. Royce?"
My chief shook his head silently, and Brooks left the stand.
Again the coroner and Singleton whispered together.
"We will recall Miss Holladay's maid," said the former at last.
She was on the stand again in a moment, calmer than she had been, but deadly pale.
"Are your mistress's handkerchiefs marked in any way?" Goldberg asked, as she turned to him.
"Some of them are, yes, sir, with her initials, in the form of a monogram. Most of them are plain."
"Do you recognize this one?" and he handed her the ghastly piece of evidence.
I held my breath while the woman looked it over, turning it with trembling fingers.
"No, sir!" she replied emphatically, as she returned it to him.
"Does your mistress possess any handkerchiefs that resemble this one?"
"Oh, yes, sir; it's an ordinary cambric handkerchief of good quality such as most ladies use."
I breathed a long sigh of relief; here, at least, fortune favored us.
"That is all. Have you any questions, Mr. Royce?"
Again our junior shook his head.
"That concludes our case," added the coroner. "Have you any witnesses to summon, sir?"
What witnesses could we have? Only one—and I fancied that the jurymen were looking at us expectantly. If our client were indeed innocent, why should we hesitate to put her on the stand, to give her opportunity to defend herself, to enable her to shatter, in a few words, this chain of circumstance so firmly forged about her? If she were innocent, would she not naturally wish to speak in her own behalf? Did not her very unwillingness to speak argue——
"Ask for a recess," I whispered. "Go to Miss Holladay, and tell her that unless she speaks——"
But before Mr. Royce could answer, a policeman pushed his way forward from the rear of the room and handed a note to the coroner.
"A messenger brought this a moment ago, sir," he explained.
The coroner glanced at the superscription and handed it to my chief.
"It's for you, Mr. Royce," he said.
I saw that the address read,
For Mr. Royce, Attorney for the Defense.
He tore it open, and ran his eyes rapidly over the inclosure. He read it through a second time, then held out the paper to me with an expression of the blankest amazement. The note read:
The man Rogers is lying. The woman who was with Holladay wore a gown of dark green.
I Have an Inspiration
I stared at the lines in dumb bewilderment. "The man Rogers is lying." But what conceivable motive could he have for lying? Besides, as I looked at him on the stand, I would have sworn that he was telling the truth, and very much against his will. I had always rather prided myself upon my judgment of human nature—had I erred so egregiously in this instance? "The woman who was with Holladay wore a gown of dark green." Who was the writer of the note? How did he know the color of her gown? There was only one possible way he could know—he knew the woman. Plainly, too, he must have been present at the morning hearing. But if he knew so much, why did he not himself come forward? To this, too, there was but one answer—he must be an accomplice. But then, again, if he were an accomplice, why should he imperil himself by writing this note, for it could very probably be traced? I found myself deeper in the mire, farther from the light, at every step.
"Do you wish to summon any witnesses, Mr. Royce?" asked the coroner again. "I shall be glad to adjourn the hearing until to-morrow if you do."
Mr. Royce roused himself with an effort.
"Thank you, sir," he said. "I may ask you to do that later on. Just at present, I wish to recall Mr. Rogers."
"Very well," said the coroner, and Rogers was summoned from the witness room.
I looked at him attentively, trying to fathom his thoughts, to read behind his eyes; but look as I might, I could see nothing in his face save concern and grief. He had grown gray in Holladay's office; he had proved himself, a hundred times, a man to be relied on; he had every reason to feel affection and gratitude toward his employer, and I was certain that he felt both; he received a liberal salary, I knew, and was comfortably well-to-do.
That he himself could have committed the crime or been concerned in it in any way was absolutely unthinkable. Yet why should he lie? Above all, why should he seek to implicate his employer's daughter? Even if he wished to implicate her, how could he have known the color of her gown? What dark, intricate problem was this that confronted us?
In the moment that followed, I saw that Mr. Royce was studying him, too, was straining to find a ray of light for guidance. If we failed now——
I read the note through again—"a gown of dark green"—and suddenly, by a kind of clairvoyance, the solution of the mystery leaped forth from it. I leaned over to my chief, trembling with eagerness.
"Mr. Royce," I whispered hoarsely, "I believe I've solved the puzzle. Hold Rogers on the stand a few moments until I get back."
He looked up at me astonished; then nodded, as I seized my hat, and pushed my way through the crowd. Once outside the building, I ran to the nearest dry-goods house—three blocks away it was, and what fearfully long blocks they seemed!—then back again to the courtroom. Rogers was still on the stand, but a glance at Mr. Royce told me that he had elicited nothing new.
"You take him, Lester," he said, as I sat down beside him. "I'm worn out."
Quivering with apprehension, I arose. It was the first time I had been given the center of the stage in so important a case. Here was my opportunity! Suppose my theory should break down, after all!
"Mr. Rogers," I began, "you've been having some trouble with your eyes, haven't you?"
He looked at me in surprise.
"Why, yes, a little," he said. "Nothing to amount to anything. How did you know?"
My confidence had come back again. I was on the right track, then!
"I did not know," I said, smiling for the first time since I had entered the room. "But I suspected. I have here a number of pieces of cloth of different colors. I should like you to pick out the one that most nearly approximates the color of the gown your visitor wore yesterday afternoon."
I handed him the bundle of samples, and as I did so, I saw the district attorney lean forward over his desk with attentive face. The witness looked through the samples slowly, while I watched him with feverish eagerness. Mr. Royce had caught an inkling of my meaning and was watching him, too.
"There's nothing here," said Rogers, at last, "which seems quite the shade. But this is very near it."
He held up one of the pieces. With leaping heart, I heard the gasp of astonishment which ran around the room. The jurymen were leaning forward in their chairs.
"And what is the color of that piece?" I asked.
"Why, dark red. I've stated that already."
I glanced triumphantly at the coroner.
"Your honor," I said, as calmly as I could, "I think we've found the flaw in the chain. Mr. Rogers is evidently color-blind. As you see, the piece he has selected is a dark green."
The whole audience seemed to draw a deep breath, and a little clatter of applause ran around the room. I could hear the scratch, scratch of the reporters' pencils—here was a situation after their hearts' desire! Mr. Royce had me by the hand, and was whispering brokenly in my ear.
"My dear fellow; you're the best of us all; I'll never forget it!"
But Rogers was staring in amazement from me to the cloth in his hand, and back again.
"Green!" he stammered. "Color-blind! Why, that's nonsense! I've never suspected it!"
"That's probable enough," I assented. "The failing is no doubt a recent one. Most color-blind persons don't know it until their sight is tested. Of course, we shall have an oculist examine you; but I think this evidence is pretty conclusive."
Coroner Goldberg nodded, and the district attorney settled back in his chair.
"We've no further questions to ask this witness at present," I continued. "Only I'd like you to preserve this piece of cloth, sir," and I handed it to Goldberg. He placed it with the other exhibits on his desk, and I sat down again beside my chief. He had regained all his old-time energy and keenness—he seemed another man.
"I should like to recall Miss Holladay's maid, if you please," he said; and the girl was summoned, while Rogers stumbled dazedly off to the witness room.
"You're quite sure your mistress wore a dark red gown yesterday afternoon?" he asked, when the girl was on the stand again.
"Oh, yes, sir; quite sure."
"It was not dark green? Think carefully, now!"
"I don't have to think!" she retorted sharply, with a toss of her head. "Miss Holladay hasn't any dark green gown—nor light one, either. She never wears green—she doesn't like it—it doesn't suit her."
"That will do," said Mr. Royce, and the girl went back to the witness room without understanding in the least the meaning of the questions. "Now, let us have the office-boy again," he said, and that young worthy was called out.
"You say you didn't see the face of that woman who left your office yesterday afternoon?"
"But you saw her gown?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"And what color was it?"
"Dark green, sir."
"That will do," said our junior, and sank back in his chair with a sigh of relief. The solution had been under our hands in the morning, and we had missed it! Well, we had found it now. "Gentlemen," he added, his voice a-ring, his face alight, as he sprang to his feet and faced the jury, "I'm ready for your verdict. I wish only to point out that with this one point, the whole case against my client falls to the ground! It was preposterous from the very first!"
He sat down again, and glanced at the coroner.
"Gentlemen of the jury," began Goldberg, "I have merely to remind you that your verdict, whatever it may be, will not finally affect this case. The police authorities will continue their investigations in order that the guilty person may not escape. I conceive that it is not within our province to probe this case further—that may be left to abler and more experienced hands; nor do I think we should inculpate anyone so long as there is a reasonable doubt of his guilt. We await your verdict."
The jury filed slowly out, and I watched them anxiously. In face of the coroner's instructions, they could bring in but one verdict; yet I knew from experience that a jury is ever an unknown quantity, often producing the most unexpected results.
The district attorney came down from his seat and shook hands with both of us.
"That was a great stroke!" he said, with frank admiration. "Whatever made you suspect?"
Mr. Royce handed him the note for answer. He read it through, and stared back at us in astonishment.
"Why," he began, "who wrote this?"
"That's the note that was delivered to us a while ago," answered Mr. Royce. "You know as much about it as we do. But it seems to me a pretty important piece of evidence. I turn it over to you."
"Important!" cried Singleton. "I should say so! Why, gentlemen," and his eyes were gleaming, "this was written either by an accomplice or by the woman herself!"
My chief nodded.
"Precisely," he said. "I'd get on the track of the writer without delay."
Singleton turned and whispered a few words to a clerk, who hurried from the room. Then he motioned to two smooth-faced, well-built men who sat near by, spoke a word to the coroner, and retired with them into the latter's private office. The reporters crowded about us with congratulations and questions. They scented a mystery. What was the matter with Singleton? What was the new piece of evidence? Was it the note? What was in the note?
Mr. Royce smiled.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I trust that my connection with this affair will end in a very few minutes. For any further information, I must refer you to the district attorney—the case is in his hands."
But those men he had summoned into his office were Karle and Johnston, the cleverest detectives on the force. What did he want with them? Mr. Royce merely shrugged his shoulders. Whereat the reporters deserted him and massed themselves before the door into the coroner's room. It opened in a moment, and the two detectives came hurrying out. They looked neither to the right nor left, but shouldered their way cruelly through the crowd, paying not the slightest attention to the questions showered upon them. Then the district attorney came out, and took in the situation at a glance.
"Gentlemen," he said, raising his voice, "I can answer no questions. I must request you to resume your seats, or I shall ask the coroner to clear the room."
They knew that he meant what he said, so they went back to their chairs chagrined, disgusted, biting their nails, striving vainly to work out a solution to the puzzle. It was the coroner's clerk who created a diversion.
"The jury is ready to report, sir," he announced.
"Very well; bring them out," and the jurymen filed slowly back to their seats. I gazed at each face, and cursed the inexpressiveness of the human countenance.
"Have you arrived at a verdict, gentlemen?" asked the coroner.
"We have, sir," answered one of them, and handed a paper to the clerk.
"Is this your verdict, gentlemen?" asked the coroner. "Do you all concur in it?"
They answered in the affirmative as their names were called.
"The clerk will read the verdict," said Goldberg.
Julius stood up and cleared his throat.
"We, the jury," he read, "impaneled in the case of Hiram W. Holladay, deceased, do find that he came to his death from a stab wound in the neck, inflicted by a pen-knife in the hands of a person or persons unknown."
I Dine with a Fascinating Stranger
The coroner dismissed the jury, and came down and shook hands with us.
"I'm going to reward you for your clever work, Mr. Royce," he said. "Will you take the good news to Miss Holladay?"
My chief could not repress the swift flush of pleasure which reddened his cheeks, but he managed to speak unconcernedly.
"Why, yes; certainly. I'll be glad to, if you wish it," he said.
"I do wish it," Goldberg assured him, with a tact and penetration I though admirable. "You may dismiss the policeman who is with her."
Our junior looked inquiringly at the district attorney.
"Before I go," he said, "may I ask what you intend doing, sir?"
"I intend finding the writer of that note," answered Singleton, smiling.
"But, about Miss Holladay?"
Singleton tapped his lips thoughtfully with his pencil.
"Before I answer," he said at last, "I should like to go with you and ask her one question."
"Very well," assented Mr. Royce instantly, and led the way to the room where Miss Holladay awaited us.
She rose with flushing face as we entered, and stood looking at us without speaking; but, despite her admirable composure, I could guess how she was racked with anxiety.
"Miss Holladay," began my chief, "this is Mr. Singleton, the district attorney, who wishes to ask you a few questions."
"One question only," corrected Singleton, bowing. "Were you at your father's office yesterday afternoon, Miss Holladay?"
"No, sir," she answered, instantly and emphatically. "I have not been near my father's office for more than a week."
I saw him studying her for a moment, then he bowed again.
"That is all," he said. "I don't think the evidence justifies me in holding her, Mr. Royce," and he left the room. I followed him, for I knew that I had no further part in our junior's errand. I went back to our table and busied myself gathering together our belongings. The room had gradually cleared, and at the end of ten minutes only the coroner and his clerk remained. They had another case, it seemed, to open in the morning—another case which, perhaps, involved just as great heartache and anguish as ours had. Five minutes later my chief came hurrying back to me, and a glance at his beaming eyes told me how he had been welcomed.
"Miss Holladay has started home with her maid," he said. "She asked me to thank you for her for the great work you did this afternoon, Lester. I told her it was really you who had done everything. Yes, it was!" he added, answering my gesture of denial. "While I was groping helplessly around in the dark, you found the way to the light. But come; we must get back to the office."
We found a cab at the curb, and in a moment were rolling back over the route we had traversed that morning—ages ago, as it seemed to me! It was only a few minutes after three o'clock, and I reflected that I should yet have time to complete the papers in the Hurd case before leaving for the night.
Mr. Graham was still at his desk, and he at once demanded an account of the hearing. I went back to my work, and so caught only a word here and there—enough, however, to show me that our senior was deeply interested in this extraordinary affair. As for me, I put all thought of it resolutely from me, and devoted myself to the work in hand. It was done at last, and I locked my desk with a sigh of relief. Mr. Graham nodded to me kindly as I passed out, and I left the office with the comfortable feeling that I had done a good day's work for myself, as well as for my employers.
A man who had apparently been loitering in the hall followed me into the elevator.
"This is Mr. Lester, isn't it?" he asked, as the car started to descend.
"Yes," I said, looking at him in surprise. He was well dressed, with alert eyes and strong, pleasing face. I had never seen him before.
"And you're going to dinner, aren't you, Mr. Lester?" he continued.
"Yes—to dinner," I assented, more and more surprised.
"Now, don't think me impertinent," he said, smiling at my look of amazement, "but I want you to dine with me this evening. I can promise you as good a meal as you will get at most places in New York."
"But I'm not dressed," I protested.
"That doesn't matter in the least—neither am I, you see. We will dine in a solitude a deux."
"Where?" I questioned.
"Well, how would the Studio suit?"
The car had reached the ground floor, and we left it together. I was completely in the dark as to my companion's purpose, and yet it could have but one explanation—it must be connected in some way with the Holladay case. Unless—and I glanced at him again. No, certainly, he was not a confidence man—even if he was, I would rather welcome the adventure. My curiosity won the battle.
"Very well," I said. "I'll be glad to accept your invitation, Mr.——"
He nodded approvingly.
"There spoke the man of sense. Well, you shall not go unrewarded. Godfrey is my name—no, you don't know me, but I'll soon explain myself. Here's my cab."
I mounted into it, he after me. It seemed to me that there was an unusual number of loiterers about the door of the building, but we were off in a moment, and I did not give them a second thought. We rattled out into Broadway, and turned northward for the three-mile straightaway run to Union Square. I noticed in a moment that we were going at a rate of speed rather exceptional for a cab, and it steadily increased, as the driver found a clear road before him. My companion threw up the trap in the roof of the cab as we swung around into Thirteenth Street.
"All right, Sam?" he called.
The driver grinned down at us through the hole.
"All right, sir," he answered. "They couldn't stand the pace a little bit. They're distanced."
The trap snapped down again, we turned into Sixth Avenue, and stopped in a moment before the Studio—gray and forbidding without, but a dream within. My companion led the way upstairs to a private room, where a table stood ready set for us. The oysters appeared before we were fairly seated.
"You see," he smiled, "I made bold to believe that you'd come with me, and so had the dinner already ordered."
I looked at him without replying. I was completely in the dark. Could this be the writer of the mysterious note? But what could his object be? Above all, why should he so expose himself? He smiled again, as he caught my glance.
"Of course you're puzzled," he said. "Well, I'll make a clean breast of the matter at once. I wanted to talk with you about this Holladay case, and I decided that a dinner at the Studio would be just the ticket."
I nodded. The soup was a thing to marvel at.
"You were right," I assented. "The idea was a stroke of genius."
"I knew you'd think so. You see, since this morning, I've been making rather a study of you. That coup of yours at the coroner's court this afternoon was admirable—one of the best things I ever saw."
I bowed my acknowledgments.
"You were there, then?" I asked.
"Oh, yes; I couldn't afford to miss it."
"The color-blind theory was a simple one."
"So simple that it never occurred to anyone else. I think we're too apt to overlook the simple explanations, which are, after all, nearly always the true ones. It's only in books that we meet the reverse. You remember it's Gaboriau who advises one always to distrust the probable?"
"Yes. I don't agree with him."
"Nor I. Now take this case, for instance. I think it's safe to state that murder, where it's not the result of sudden passion, is always committed for one of two objects—revenge or gain. But Mr. Holladay's past life has been pretty thoroughly probed by the reporters, and nothing has been found to indicate that he had ever made a deadly enemy, at least among the class of people who resort to murder—so that does away with revenge. On the other hand, no one will gain by his death—many will lose by it—in fact, the whole circle of his associates will lose by it. It might seem, at first glance, that his daughter would gain; but I think she loses most of all. She already had all the money she could possibly need; and she's lost her father, whom, it's quite certain, she loved dearly. So what remains?"
"Only one thing," I said, deeply interested in this exposition. "Sudden passion."
He nodded exultantly.
"That's it. Now, who was the woman? From the first I was certain it could not be his daughter—the very thought was preposterous. It seems almost equally absurd, however, to suppose that Holladay could be mixed up with any other woman. He certainly has not been for the last quarter of a century—but before that—well, it's not so certain. And there's one striking point which seems to indicate his guilt."
"Yes—you mean, of course, her resemblance to his daughter."
"Precisely. Such a resemblance must exist—a resemblance unusual, even striking—or it would not for a moment have deceived Rogers. We must remember, however, that Rogers's office was not brilliantly lighted, and that he merely glanced at her. Still, whatever minor differences there may have been, she had the air, the general appearance, the look of Miss Holladay. Mere facial resemblance may happen in a hundred ways, by chance; but the air, the look, the 'altogether' is very different—it indicates a blood relationship. My theory is that she is an illegitimate child, perhaps four or five years older than Miss Holladay."
I paused to consider. The theory was reasonable, and yet it had its faults.
"Now, let's see where this leads us," he continued. "Let us assume that Holladay has been providing for this illegitimate daughter for years. At last, for some reason, he is induced to withdraw this support; or, perhaps, the girl thinks her allowance insufficient. At any rate, after, let us suppose, ineffectual appeals by letter, she does the desperate thing of calling at his office to protest in person. She finds him inexorable—we know his reputation for obstinacy when he had once made up his mind. She reproaches him—she is already desperate, remember—and he answers with that stinging sarcasm for which he was noted. In an ecstacy of anger, she snatches up the knife and stabs him; then, in an agony of remorse, endeavors to check the blood. She sees at last that it is useless, that she cannot save him, and leaves the office. All this is plausible, isn't it?"
"Very plausible," I assented, looking at him in some astonishment. "You forget one thing, however. Rogers testified that he was intimately acquainted with the affairs of his employer, and that he would inevitably have known of any intrigue such as you suggest."
My companion paused for a moment's thought.
"I don't believe that Rogers would so inevitably have known of it," he said, at last. "But, admit that—then there is another theory. Holladay has not been supporting his illegitimate child, who learns of her parentage, and goes to him to demand her rights. That fits the case, doesn't it?"
"Yes," I admitted. "It, also, is plausible."
"It is more than plausible," he said quietly. "Whatever the details may be, the body of the theory itself is unimpeachable—it's the only one which fits the facts. I believe it capable of proof. Don't you see how the note helps to prove it?"
I started at the word, and my suspicions sprang into life again. I looked at him quickly, but his eyes were on the cloth, and he was rolling up innumerable little pellets of bread.
"That note," he added, "proved two things. One was that the writer was deeply interested in Miss Holladay's welfare; the other was that he or she knew Rogers, the clerk, intimately—more than intimately—almost as well as a physician knows an old patient."
"I admit the first," I said. "You'll have to explain the second."
"The second is self-evident. How did the writer of the note know of Rogers's infirmity?"
"Certainly—his color-blindness. I confess, I'm puzzled. How could anyone else know it when Rogers himself didn't know it? That's what I should like to have explained. Perhaps there's only one man or woman in the world who could know—well, that's the one who wrote the note. Now, who is it?"
"But," I began, quickly, then stopped; should I set him right? Or was this a trap he had prepared for me?
His eyes were not on the cloth now, but on me. There was a light in them I did not quite understand. I felt that I must be sure of my ground before I went forward.
"It should be very easy to trace the writer of the note," I said.
"The police have not found it so."
"No. It was given to the door-keeper by a boy—just an ordinary boy of from twelve to fourteen years—the man didn't notice him especially. He said there was no answer and went away. How are the police to find that boy? Suppose they do find him? Probably all he could tell them would be that a man stopped him at the corner and gave him a quarter to take the note to the coroner's office."
"He might give a description of the man," I ventured.
"What would a boy's description be worth? It would be, at the best, vague and indefinite. Besides, they've not even found the boy. Now, to return to the note."
We had come to the coffee and cigars, and I felt it time to protest.
"Before we return to the note, Mr. Godfrey," I said, "I'd like to ask you two direct questions. What interest have you in the matter?"
"The interest of every investigator of crime," he answered, smiling.
"You belong to the detective force, then?"
"I have belonged to it. At present, I'm in other employ."
"And what was your object in bringing me here this evening?"
"One portion of my object has been accomplished. The other was to ask you to write out for me a copy of the note."
"But who was it pursued us up Broadway?"
"Oh, I have rivals!" he chuckled. "I flatter myself that was rather neatly done. Will you give me a copy of the note, Mr. Lester?"
"No," I answered squarely. "You'll have to go to the police for that. I'm out of the case."
He bowed across the table to me with a little laugh. As I looked at him, his imperturbable good humor touched me.
"I'll tell you one thing, though," I added. "The writer of the note knew nothing of Rogers's color-blindness—you're off the scent there."
"I am?" he asked amazedly. "Then how did you know it, Mr. Lester?"
"I suppose you detectives would call it deduction—I deduced it."
He took a contemplative puff or two, as he looked at me.
"Well," he exclaimed, at last, "I must say that beats me! Deduced it! That was mighty clever."
Again I bowed my acknowledgments.
"And that's all you can tell me?" he added.
"I'm afraid that's all."
"Very well; thank you for that much," and he flicked the ashes from his cigar. "Now, I fear that I must leave you. I've a good deal of work to do, and you've opened up a very interesting line of speculation. I assure you that I've passed a very pleasant evening. I hope you've not found it tiresome?"
"Quite the contrary," I said heartily. "I've enjoyed myself immensely."
"Then I'll ask one last favor. My cab is at the door. I've no further use for it, and I beg you'll drive home in it."
I saw that he really wished it.
"Why, yes, certainly," I assented.
"Thank you," he said.
He took me down to the door, called the cab, and shook hands with me warmly.
"Good-by, Mr. Lester," he said. "I'm glad of the chance to have met you. I'm not really such a mysterious individual—it's merely a trick of the trade. I hope we'll meet again some time."
"So do I," I said, and meant it.
I saw him stand for a moment on the curb looking after us as we drove away, then he turned and ran rapidly up the steps of the Elevated.
The driver seemed in no hurry to get me home, and I had plenty of time to think over the events of the evening, but I could make nothing of them. What result he had achieved I could not imagine. And yet he had seemed satisfied. As to his theory, I could not but admit that it was an adroit one; even a masterly one—a better one, certainly, than I should have evolved unaided.
The cab drew up at my lodging and I sprang out, tipped the driver, and ran up the steps to the door. My landlady met me on the threshold.
"Oh, Mr. Lester!" she cried. "Such a time as I've had this night! Every five minutes there's been somebody here looking for you, and there's a crowd of them up in your room now. I tried to put them out, but they wouldn't go!"
I was quite dazed for the moment.
"A crowd of them in my room!" I repeated. "A crowd of whom, Mrs. Fitch?"
"A crowd of reporters! They've been worrying my life out. They seemed to think I had you hid somewhere. I hope you're not in trouble, Mr. Lester?"
"Not the least in the world, my dear madam," I laughed, and I breathed a long sigh of relief, for I had feared I know not what disaster. "I'll soon finish with the reporters," and I went on up the stair.
Long before I reached my rooms, I heard the clatter of voices and caught the odor of various qualities of tobacco. They were lolling about over the furniture, telling stories, I suppose, and they greeted me with a cheer when I entered. They were such jovial fellows that it was quite impossible to feel angry with them—and besides, I knew that they were gentlemen, that they labored early and late at meager salaries, for the pure love of the work; that they were quick to scent fraud or trickery or unworthiness, and inexorable in exposing them; that they loved to do good anonymously, remaining utterly unknown save to the appreciative few behind the scenes. So I returned their greeting smilingly, and sat me down in a chair which one of them obligingly vacated for me.
"Well?" I began, looking about at them.
"My dear Mr. Lester," said the one who had given me the chair, "permit me to introduce myself as Rankin, of the Planet. These gentlemen," and he included them in a wide gesture, "are my colleagues of the press. We've been anxiously awaiting you here in order that we may propound to you certain questions."
"All right; fire away," I said.
"First, we'd like to have your theory of the crime. Your work this afternoon convinced us that you know how to put two and two together, which is more than can be said for the ordinary mortal. The public will want to know your theory—the great public."
"Oh, but I haven't any theory," I protested. "Besides, I don't think the great public is especially interested in me. You see, gentlemen, I'm quite out of the case. When we cleared Miss Holladay, our connection with it ended."
"But is Miss Holladay cleared?" he persisted. "Is it not quite conceivable that in those two hours she was absent from her carriage, she may have changed her gown, gone to her father's office, and then changed back again? In that case, would she not naturally have chosen a green gown, since she never wore green?"
"Oh, nonsense!" I cried. "That's puerile. Either she would disguise herself effectually or not at all. I suppose if you were going to commit a capital crime, you would merely put on a high hat, because you never wear one! I'll tell you this much: I'm morally certain that Miss Holladay is quite innocent. So, I believe, is the district attorney."
"But how about the note, Mr. Lester? What did it contain?"
"Oh, I can't tell you that, you know. It's none of my business."
"But you ought to treat us all alike," he protested.
"I do treat you all alike."
"But didn't Godfrey get it out of you?"
"Godfrey?" I repeated. "Get it out of me?"
He stared at me in astonishment.
"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Lester," he questioned, "that you haven't been spending the evening with Jim Godfrey, of the Record?"
Then, in a flash, I understood, and as I looked at the rueful faces of the men gathered about me, I laughed until the tears came.
"So it was you," I gasped, "who chased us up Broadway?"
"Yes; but our horses weren't good enough. Where did he take you?"
"To the Studio—Sixth Avenue."
"Of course!" he cried, slapping his leg. "We might have known. Boys, we'd better go back to Podunk."
"Well, at least, Mr. Lester," spoke up another, "you oughtn't to give Godfrey a scoop."
"But I didn't give him a scoop. I didn't even know who he was."
"Didn't you tell him what was in the note?"
"Not a word of it—I told him only one thing."
"And what was that?"
"That the person who wrote the note didn't know that Rogers was color-blind. You are welcome to that statement, too. You see, I'm treating you all alike."
They stood about me, staring down at me, silent with astonishment.
"But," I added, "I think Godfrey suspects what was in the note."
"Well, his theory fits it pretty closely."
"His theory! What is his theory, Mr. Lester?"
"Oh, come," I laughed. "That's telling. It's a good theory, too."
They looked at each other, and, I fancied, gnashed their teeth.
"He seems a pretty clever fellow," I added, just to pile up the agony. "I fancy you'll say so, too, when you see his theory in to-morrow's paper."
"Clever!" cried Rankin. "Why, he's a very fiend of cleverness when it comes to a case of this kind. We're not in the same class with him. He's a fancy fellow—just the Record kind. You're sure you didn't tell him anything else, Mr. Lester?" he added anxiously. "Godfrey's capable of getting a story out of a fence-post."
"No, I'm quite sure I didn't tell him anything else. I only listened to his theory with great interest."
"And assented to it?"
"I said I thought it plausible."
An electric shock seemed to run around the room.
"That's it!" cried Rankin. "That's what he wanted. Now, it isn't his theory any more. It's yours. Oh, I can see his headlines! Won't you tell us what it was?"
I looked up at him.
"Now, frankly, Mr. Rankin," I asked, "if you were in my place, would you tell?"
He hesitated for a moment, and then held out his hand.
"No," he said, as I took it. "I shouldn't. Shake hands, sir; you're all right. Come on, boys, we might as well be going."
They filed out after him, and I heard them go singing up the street. Then I sank back into my chair and thought again of Godfrey's theory; it seemed to fit the case precisely, point by point—even—and I started at the thought—to Miss Holladay's reticence as to her whereabouts the afternoon before. The whole mystery lay plain before me. In some way, she had discovered the existence of her half-sister, had secured her address; she had gone to visit her and had found her away from home—it was probable, even, that the half-sister had written her, asking her to come—though, in that case, why had she not remained at home to receive her? At any rate, Miss Holladay had awaited her return, had noticed her agitation; had, perhaps, even seen certain marks of blood upon her. The news of her father's death had pointed all too clearly to what that agitation and those blood-spots meant. She had remained silent that she might not besmirch her father's name, and also, perhaps, that she might protect the other woman. I felt that I held in my hand the key to the whole problem.
Point by point—but what a snarl it was! That there would be a vigorous search for the other woman I could not doubt, but she had a long start and should easily escape. Yet, perhaps, she had not started—she must have remained in town, else how could that note have been sent to us? She had remained, then—but why? That she should feel any affection for Frances Holladay seemed absurd, and yet, how else explain the note?
I felt that I was getting tangled up in the snarl again—there seemed no limit to its intricacies; so, in very despair, I put the matter from me as completely as I could and went to bed.
* * * * *
The morning's Record attested the truth of Rankin's prophecy. I had grown famous in a night: for Godfrey had, in a measure, made me responsible for his theory, describing me with a wealth of adjectives which I blush to remember, and which I have, even yet, not quite forgiven him. I smiled as I read the first lines:
A Record representative had the pleasure, yesterday evening, of dining with Mr. Warwick Lester, the brilliant young attorney who achieved such a remarkable victory before Coroner Goldberg yesterday afternoon, in the hearing of the Holladay case, and, of course, took occasion to discuss with him the latest developments of this extraordinary crime. Mr. Lester agreed with the Record in a theory which is the only one that fits the facts of the case, and completely and satisfactorily explains all its ramifications.
The theory was then developed at great length and the article concluded with the statement that the Record was assisting the police in a strenuous endeavor to find the guilty woman.
Now that the police knew in which quarter to spread their net, I had little doubt that she would soon be found, since she had tempted providence by remaining in town.
Mr. Graham and Mr. Royce were looking through the Record article when I reached the office, and I explained to them how the alleged interview had been secured. They laughed together in appreciation of Godfrey's audacious enterprise.
"It seems a pretty strong theory," said our senior. "I'm inclined to believe it myself."
I pointed out how it explained Miss Holladay's reticence—her refusal to assist us in proving an alibi. Mr. Royce nodded.
"Precisely. As Godfrey said, the theory touches every point of the case. According to the old police axiom, that proves it's the right one."
Miss Holladay Becomes Capricious
The body of Hiram Holladay was placed beside that of his wife in his granite mausoleum at Woodlawn on the Sunday following his death; two days later, his will, which had been drawn up by Mr. Graham and deposited in the office safe, was read and duly admitted to probate. As was expected, he had left all his property, without condition or reserve, to his daughter Frances. There were a few bequests to old servants, Rogers receiving a handsome legacy; about half a million was given to various charities in which he had been interested during his life, and the remainder was placed at the absolute disposal of his daughter.
We found that his fortune had been over-estimated, as is usually the case with men whose wealth depends upon the fluctuations of the Street, but there still remained something over four millions for the girl—a pretty dowry. She told us at once that she wished to leave her affairs in our hands, and in financial matters would be guided entirely by our advice. Most of this business was conducted by our junior, and while, of course, he told me nothing, it was evident that Miss Holladay's kindly feelings toward him had suffered no diminution. The whole office was more or less conversant with the affair, and wished him success and happiness.
So a week or ten days passed. The utmost endeavor of newspapers and police had shed no new light on the tragedy, and for the great public it had passed into the background of the forgotten. But for me, at least, it remained of undiminished interest, and more than once I carefully reviewed its features to convince myself anew that our theory was the right one. Only one point occurred to me which would tend to prove it untrue. If there was an illegitimate daughter, the blow she had dealt her father had also deprived her of whatever income he had allowed her, or of any hope of income from him. So she had acted in her own despite—still, Godfrey's theory of sudden passion might explain this away. And then, again, Miss Holladay could probably be counted upon, her first grief past, to provide suitably for her sister. Granting this, the theory seemed to me quite impregnable.
One other thing puzzled me. How had this woman eluded the police? I knew that the French quarter had been ransacked for traces of her, wholly without success, and yet I felt that the search must have been misconducted, else some trace of her would surely have been discovered. Miss Holladay, of course, rigidly refused herself to all inquirers, and here, again, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma. Doubtless, she was very far from wishing the discovery of the guilty woman, and yet I felt that she must be discovered, if only for Miss Holladay's sake, in order to clear away the last vestige of the cloud that shadowed her.
Then came new developments with a startling rapidity. It was toward quitting time one afternoon that a clerk brought word into the inner office that there was a woman without who wished to see Mr. Royce at once. She had given no name, but our junior, who happened to be at leisure for the moment, directed that she be shown in. I recognized her in an instant, and so did he—it was Miss Holladay's maid. I saw, too, that her eyes were red with weeping, and as she sat down beside our junior's desk she began to cry afresh.
"Why, what's the matter?" he demanded. "Nothing wrong with your mistress?"
"She aint my mistress any more," sobbed the girl. "She discharged me this afternoon."
"Discharged you!" echoed our junior. "Why, I thought she thought so much of you?"
"And so did I, sir, but she discharged me just the same."
"But what for?" persisted the other.
"That's just what I don't know, sir; I begged and prayed her to tell me, but she wouldn't even see me. So I came down here. I thought maybe you could help me."
"Well, let me hear about it just as it happened," said Mr. Royce soothingly. "Perhaps I can help you."
"Oh, if you could, sir!" she cried. "You know, I thought the world and all of Miss Frances. I've been with her nearly eight years, and for her to go and treat me like this—why, it just breaks my heart, sir! I dressed her this afternoon about two o'clock, and she was as nice to me as ever—gave me a little brooch, sir, that she was tired of. Then she went out for a drive, and about an hour ago came back. I went right up to her room to undress her, and when I knocked, sir, a strange woman came to the door and said that Miss Frances had engaged her for her maid and wouldn't need me any more, and here was a month's wages. And while I stood there, sir, too dazed to move, she shut the door in my face. After I'd got over it a bit, I begged that I might see Miss Frances, if only to say good-by; but she wouldn't see me. She sent word that she wasn't feeling well, and wouldn't be disturbed."
Her sobs mastered her again and she stopped. I could see the look of amazement on our junior's face, and did not wonder at it. What sudden dislike could her mistress have conceived against this inoffensive and devoted creature?
"You say this other maid was a stranger?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; she'd never been in the house before, so far as I know. Miss Frances brought her back with her in the carriage."
"And what sort of looking woman is she?"
The girl hesitated.
"She looked like a foreigner, sir," she said at last. "A Frenchwoman, maybe, by the way she rolls her r's."
I pricked up my ears. The same thought occurred at that instant to both Mr. Royce and myself.
"Does she resemble Miss Holladay?" he asked quickly.
"Miss Holladay? Oh, no, sir. She's much older—her hair's quite gray."
Well, certainly, Miss Holladay had the right to choose any maid she pleased, and to discharge any or all of her servants; and yet it seemed strangely unlike her to show such seeming injustice to anyone.
"You say she sent down word that she was ill?" said Mr. Royce, at last. "Was she ill when you dressed her?"
"Why, sir," she answered slowly, "I wouldn't exactly say she was ill, but she seemed troubled about something. I think she'd been crying. She's been crying a good deal, off and on, since her father died, poor thing," she added.
That would explain it, certainly; and yet grief for her father might not be the only cause of Frances Holladay's tears.
"But she didn't seem vexed with you?"
"Oh, no, sir; she gave me a brooch, as I told you."
"I fear I can't promise you anything," said Mr. Royce slowly, after a moment's thought. "Of course, it's none of my business: for Miss Holladay must arrange her household to suit herself; yet, if you don't get back with your old mistress, I may, perhaps, be able to find you a position somewhere else. Suppose you come back in three or four days, and I'll see what I can do."
"All right, sir; and thank you," she said, and left the office.
I had some work of my own to keep me busy that night, so devoted no thought to Frances Holladay and her affairs, but they were recalled to me with renewed force next morning.
"Did you get Miss Holladay's signature to that conveyance?" Mr. Graham chanced to ask his partner in the course of the morning.
"No, sir," answered Mr. Royce, with just a trace of embarrassment. "I called at the house last night, but she sent down word that she was too ill to see me or to transact any business."
"Nothing serious, I hope?" asked the other quickly.
"No, sir; I think not. Just a trace of nervousness probably."
But when he called again at the house that evening, he received a similar message, supplemented with the news imparted by the butler, a servant of many years' standing in the family, that Miss Holladay had suddenly decided to leave the city and open her country place on Long Island. It was only the end of March, and so a full two months and more ahead of the season; but she was feeling very ill, was not able to leave her room, indeed, and believed the fresh air and quiet of the country would do more than anything else to restore her shattered nerves. So the whole household, with the exception of her maid, a cook, house-girl, and under-butler, were to leave the city next day in order to get the country house ready at once.
"I don't wonder she needs a little toning up," remarked our chief sympathetically. "She has gone through a nerve-trying ordeal, especially for a girl reared as she has been. Two or three months of quiet will do her good. When does she expect to leave?"
"In about a week, I think. The time hasn't been definitely set. It will depend upon how the arrangements go forward. It won't be necessary, will it, to bother her with any details of business? That conveyance, for instance——"
"Can wait till she gets back. No, we won't bother her at all."
But it seemed that she had either improved or changed her mind, for two days later a note, which her maid had written for her, came to Mr. Graham, asking him to call upon her in the course of the next twenty-four hours, as she wished to talk over some matters of business with him. It struck me as singular that she should ask for Mr. Graham, but our senior called a cab, and started off at once without comment. An hour later, the door opened, and he entered the office with a most peculiar expression of countenance.
"Well, that beats me!" he exclaimed, as he dropped into his chair.
Our junior wheeled around toward him without speaking, but his anxiety was plain enough.
"To think that a girl as level-headed as Frances Holladay has always been, should suddenly develop such whimsicalities. Yet, I couldn't but admire her grasp of things. Here have I been thinking she didn't know anything about her business and didn't care, but she seems to have kept her eyes open."
"Well?" asked Mr. Royce, as the other paused.
"Well, she started out by reminding me that her property had been left to her absolutely, to do as she pleased with; a point which I, of course, conceded. She then went on to say that she knew of a number of bequests her father had intended to make before his death, and which he would have made if he had not been cut off so suddenly; that the bequests were of such a nature that he did not wish his name to appear in them, and that she was going to undertake to carry them out anonymously."
"Well?" asked our junior again.
"Well," said Mr. Graham slowly, "she asked me to dispose at once of such of her securities as I thought best, in order that I might place in her hands by to-morrow night one hundred thousand dollars in cash—a cool hundred thousand!"
The Mysterious Maid
"A hundred thousand dollars!" ejaculated Mr. Royce, and sat staring at his chief.
"A hundred thousand dollars! That's a good deal for a girl to give away in a lump, but she can afford it. Of course, we've nothing to do but carry out her instructions. I think both of us can guess what she intends doing with the money."
The other nodded. I believed that I could guess, too. The money, of course, was intended for the other woman—she was not to suffer for her crime, after all. Miss Holladay seemed to me in no little danger of becoming an accessory after the fact.
"She seems really ill," continued our senior. "She looks thinner and quite careworn. I commended her resolution to seek rest and quiet and change of scene."
"When does she go, sir?" asked Mr. Royce, in a subdued voice.
"The day after to-morrow, I think. She did not say definitely. In fact, she could talk very little. She's managed to catch cold—the grip, I suppose—and was very hoarse. It would have been cruelty to make her talk, and I didn't try."
He wheeled around to his desk, and then suddenly back again.
"By the way," he said, "I saw the new maid. I can't say I wholly approve of her."
He paused a minute, weighing his words.
"She seems careful and devoted," he went on, at last, "but I don't like her eyes. They're too intense. I caught her two or three times watching me strangely. I can't imagine where Miss Holladay picked her up, or why she should have picked her up at all. She's French, of course—she speaks with a decided accent. About the money, I suppose we'd better sell a block of U. P. bonds. They're the least productive of her securities."
"Yes, I suppose so," agreed Mr. Royce, and the chief called up a broker and gave the necessary orders. Then he turned to other work, and the day passed without any further reference to Miss Holladay or her affairs.
The proceeds of the sale were brought to the office early the next afternoon, a small packet neatly sealed and docketed—one hundred thousand-dollar bills. Mr. Graham turned it over in his hand thoughtfully.
"You'll take it to the house, of course, John," he said to his partner. "Lester 'd better go with you."
So Mr. Royce placed the package in his pocket, a cab was summoned, and we were off. The trip was made without incident, and at the end of half an hour we drew up before the Holladay mansion.
It was one of the old-styled brownstone fronts which lined both sides of the avenue twenty years ago; it was no longer in the ultra-fashionable quarter, which had moved up toward Central Park, and shops of various kinds were beginning to encroach upon the neighborhood; but it had been Hiram Holladay's home for forty years, and he had never been willing to part with it. At this moment all the blinds were down and the house had a deserted look. We mounted the steps to the door, which was opened at once to our ring by a woman whom I knew instinctively to be the new maid, though she looked much less like a maid than like an elderly working-woman of the middle class.
"We've brought the money Miss Holladay asked Mr. Graham for yesterday," said Mr. Royce. "I'm John Royce, his partner," and without answering the woman motioned us in. "Of course we must have a receipt for it," he added. "I have it ready here, and she need only attach her signature."
"Miss Holladay is too ill to see you, sir," said the maid, with careful enunciation. "I will myself the paper take to her and get her signature."
Mr. Royce hesitated a moment in perplexity. As for me, I was ransacking my memory—where had I heard that voice before? Somewhere, I was certain—a voice low, vibrant, repressed, full of color. Then, with a start, I remembered! It was Miss Holladay's voice, as she had risen to welcome our junior that morning at the coroner's court! I shook myself together—for that was nonsense!
"I fear that won't do," said Mr. Royce at last. "The sum is a considerable one, and must be given to Miss Holladay by me personally in the presence of this witness."
It was the maid's turn to hesitate; I saw her lips tighten ominously.
"Very well, sir," she said. "But I warn you, she is most nervous and it has been forbidden her to talk."
"She will not be called upon to talk," retorted Mr. Royce curtly; and without answering, the woman turned and led the way up the stair and to her mistress's room.