E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE MANSION OF MYSTERY
Being a Certain Case of Importance, Taken from the Note-book of Adam Adams, Investigator and Detective
CHESTER K. STEELE
Author of "The Disappearance of John Darr"
International Fiction Library Cleveland New York Press of the Commercial Bookbinding Co., Cleveland
THE STORY OF A DOUBLE TRAGEDY
The young man was evidently in a tremendous hurry, and as soon as the ferryboat bumped into the slip he was at the gate and was the first one ashore. He beckoned to one of the alert taxicabmen, and without waiting to have the vehicle brought to him, ran to it and leaped inside.
"Do you know where the Vanderslip Building is?" he questioned abruptly.
"Then take me there with all possible speed."
The door slammed, the taxi driver mounted to his seat, and off the taxi started at the best rate of speed the driver could attain. The young man sank down among the cushions and buried his chin in his hands.
His face, normally a handsome one, was now wrinkled with care, his hair was disheveled, and he looked as if he had lost much sleep. At times his mouth twitched nervously and he clenched his fists in a passion which availed him nothing.
"To think that she is guilty!" he muttered. "It is horrible! Horrible!" And then his whole frame shook as if with the ague. Twice he started up, to see if he had not yet arrived at his destination. But the drive was a long one, and to him, in his keen anxiety, it appeared an age.
"If he is away—out of town—in Europe, or on some case which he cannot leave, what am I to do?" he murmured. "I've pinned my whole faith on him."
Presently there was a jar, and the taxicab came to a halt in front of a large office building. The young man gave one look, and, before the driver could get down, had the door open and was on the pavement. "Here you are," he said and thrust a dollar bill into the fellow's hand. Then he crossed the broad pavement and was lost to sight in the corridor beyond.
"In a hurry and no mistake, and looks a heap worried, too," was the chauffeur's comment. "Well, I'm a quarter ahead on that fare."
For a moment the young man studied the directory on the corridor wall. Then he entered an elevator and alighted at the eighth floor. He, walked down a side hall until he came to a door upon the glass of which was inscribed the name:
"This must be the place," he murmured, and opening the door he entered the office, to find himself in a plain but neatly furnished apartment, containing several chairs, and a flat-top desk, at which a young lady was writing.
"Is Mr. Adams in?" he asked, as the young lady arose to meet him.
"What name, please?" was the counter question, and the young lady gave the visitor a keen glance.
"Raymond Case." The young man brought forth his card. "Tell Mr. Adams I am the son of the late Wilbur Case, and wish to see him on important business."
The young lady disappeared through a door leading to an inner apartment. From this she entered another apartment, much larger, and overlooking the little city park far below. The room was filled with books and pictures, and some wall brackets contained several bits of finely-carved statuary. There was one large roller-top desk and three comfortable leather chairs.
At the desk sat a man of uncertain age, with a strong face, a somewhat bald head, and eyes that were neither light nor dark. The man was of ordinary height, but muscular to a surprising degree. His face showed a high order of intelligence and his mouth a determination not easily thrust aside.
"A gentleman to see you," said the young lady. She placed the card before him. "He told me to tell you that he is the son of the late Wilbur Case, and wishes to see you on important business."
The man at the desk drew a long breath and looked up from a slip of paper which he had been studying through a microscope. "Raymond Case, eh? All right, Letty, show him in."
In another moment the visitor was in the private office. Adam Adams arose and gave him a warm handshake.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Case," he said cordially. "I knew your late father quite well—a fine man—a very fine man, indeed. Have a chair and make yourself at home." He noted that his visitor was much agitated and flushed. "Sit down by the window; there is a nice breeze there from across the park."
"Mr. Adams, I would like to see you in private," returned the young man, as he took a seat and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief.
"Very well," and the office door was carefully closed. Then came a brief pause, during which Raymond Case cleared his throat several times.
"Mr. Adams, you do not know much about me, but I know a great deal about you," he commenced. "Three or four years ago you recovered some stolen mining shares for my father, and last year you cleared up the Sandford mystery, after the police and the other detectives had failed completely."
Adam Adams bowed. He rarely spoke unless there was occasion for it.
"May I ask if you are now at liberty?" pursued the young man.
"At liberty? Bless you, no! I have half a dozen cases on hand. Two here in the city—one over in New Jersey—one in Yonkers, and—"
"But you will undertake a case for me, if I pay you well for it, won't you?" interrupted the young man eagerly. "Don't say no—please don't!" And there was a ring of agony in his speech. "I am depending upon you!"
The detective paused before replying, and looked the young man over with care. The clean-cut features showed not a sign of dissipation, and the expression was honesty itself. Certainly the young man had not gotten into trouble on his own account.
"I should want to know something about the case before I promised to do anything."
"Certainly—of course—" The young man cleared his throat again.
"You can tell me what the trouble is and if I decline to take the case I will give you my promise not to say a word to any outsider of what has passed between us."
"Oh, I know I can trust you, Mr. Adams, otherwise I should not have called here. My father said you were the squarest man he had ever dealt with. I came to see you about the Langmore affair."
"You mean the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Barry Langmore at Beechwood Hill?"
Adam Adams was surprised, although he did not show it. What had this rich young man, who lived in Orange, New Jersey, and did business in Wall Street, to do with that double tragedy which had so shocked the community?
"I presume you know some of the particulars of the sad affair," resumed Raymond Case. "The newspapers have been full of it."
"I know that the pair were found murdered. I have not looked into details, being so busy with other matters."
"It was an outrageous deed, Mr. Adams!" cried the young man, jumping up and beginning to pace the floor. "One of the foulest of which I have ever heard."
"A murder is always foul, no matter under what circumstances it is committed. What do you wish me to do?"
"Find the murderer."
"That may not be easy. Are not other detectives already working on the case?"
"Yes, but they are only local men and not worth their salt."
"They may be doing all that can be done. It is a mistake to presume that every mystery of this sort can be solved. Here in New York men go to their death every year and nobody ever finds out how, or by what hand."
"But the local men simply jump at conclusions. They are a set of blind fools, and—" The young man stopped short.
Adam Adams smiled faintly. He knew something of the bungling work done by detectives of small caliber. Had he not himself once saved a poor Jew from hanging after several country detectives had apparently proved the fellow guilty? And had not those same sleuths of the law been angry at him ever since?
"Excuse me, Mr. Case, but how is it that you take an interest in this affair?" he asked. "Are you related to the Langmores in any way?"
"I am not." The young man began to blush. "Is it necessary that I tell you why?" he stammered.
"It is not necessary for you to tell me anything," responded the detective dryly.
"I didn't mean to say—"
"Let me give you a word of advice. Never try to get a detective to do anything for you unless you are willing to tell him all you know and all you suspect. It is generally hard enough to solve an enigma without having other mysteries attached to it."
The young man lowered his face and looked confused for a moment.
"Then I will tell you everything," he said. "You may take notes if you wish."
"It is not necessary, since I have a good memory."
"The Langmores lived just on the outskirts of the town, on the road leading to Sidham, which is several miles distance."
"I have a general idea of the location."
"The house is a fine, old-fashioned stone mansion, setting well back from the road, and surrounded by a well-kept lawn and numerous trees and bushes. At the rear of the garden is a small stream, which flows into the river a mile and a half below."
"Is the place surrounded by a fence?"
"On two sides only. In the front there is a hedge and in the rear the little stream forms the boundary of the property."
"At the time of the tragedy there were four persons in the house, so far as known—Mr. and Mrs. Langmore, Mr. Langmore's daughter, Margaret, and a servant, Mary Billings."
"Wait a moment. You said Mr. Langmore's daughter. Was she not Mrs. Langmore's daughter also?"
"No. You see Mr. Langmore was a widower when he married the present Mrs. Langmore, who was a widow. There are two sets of children."
"I understand. When did the tragedy occur?"
"At some time between eleven and twelve in the morning. During that time Margaret Langmore was in her room writing several letters, and was practicing on the piano in the parlor. The house is a large one, with sixteen rooms and several hallways and stairs."
"Where was the servant?"
"In the kitchen and out to the barn. There are two other girls, but one is in the hospital sick and the other was to town on an errand."
"Where were Mr. and Mrs. Langmore?"
"The daughter thought her stepmother had gone out to visit a neighbor, as she had said something about doing so earlier in the morning. Mr. Langmore had gone to the bank in town at nine o'clock and Margaret saw him come home about half-past ten or eleven."
"What was she doing at the time?"
"Practicing on the piano. She heard her father go directly to his library, which is situated across the hallway from the parlor. She heard the door shut, and then went on with her practicing."
"Did she hear anything in the library?"
"She thinks she heard something, but is not sure. She was practicing a very difficult piece by Wagner—"
"And it was loud enough to drown out every other sound."
"That's it. When the clock struck twelve she stopped practicing to learn if lunch was ready. She also wanted to speak to her father, and so crossed the hallway and opened the library door." The young man's voice began to tremble a little. "She found her father stretched lifeless in an armchair."
"How had he been killed?"
"That is a part of the mystery. He was either choked or smothered to death, or else he was poisoned. The doctors don't seem to be able to get at the bottom of it."
For the first time since Raymond Case had begun his recital Adam Adams began to show an interest.
"If the man was strangled his throat should show the marks," he observed.
"There are no marks, and the doctors have found no trace of poison."
"Humph!" The detective rubbed his chin reflectively. "What next?"
"Margaret Langmore was so horrified she ran from the room screaming wildly. Her shrieks brought the servant to the spot, and a minute later two of the neighbors, Mrs. Bardon and her son Alfred, came over from next door."
"Where was Mrs. Langmore at this time?"
"Nobody knew. Alfred Bardon is a physician, and, thinking there might still be a spark of life in Mr. Langmore, did all he possibly could to resuscitate the gentleman. The servant girl ran upstairs to find some drugs for him and in the upper hallway stumbled over the dead body of Mrs. Langmore."
"And how had she died?"
"In the same manner as her husband. This news of a double tragedy was too much for Margaret, and she fainted. The others notified more of the neighbors and the police, and of course, the news spread like wildfire. I was stopping at the Beechwood Hotel at the time and as soon as I heard of the tragedy, I jumped into an automobile that was handy and rode over."
"Then you arrived at the house about as soon as the police?"
"A little before."
"What did you see?"
"Just what I have told you. The doctor had been trying to bring Mr. Langmore around but had suddenly been taken sick and could do nothing."
"Humph, sick, eh? Did he say what made him sick?"
"He did not know. He thought it might be from leaning over the dead man, or from working in that position. I think the sudden sickness frightened him a little."
"When the police arrived what did they find of importance?"
"Had anything been stolen?"
"Nothing, so far as they could learn."
"Of course, you must have known these folks pretty well to take such an interest."
"I knew Mr. Langmore very well and I was acquainted with his wife."
Adam Adams knit his brow for a moment and tapped lightly on his desk with his forefinger.
"Have the police any idea as to how the murderer got into the house and got out again?" he asked.
At this question Raymond Case's face flushed.
"They do not think the murderer left the house," he answered in a low tone.
LOVE UNDER A SHADOW
Raymond Case dropped back into his chair and buried his face in his hands. Adam Adams eyed him curiously and with something of a fatherly glance.
"It is plain to see what his trouble is," thought the detective. "He is in love."
He was right, Raymond Case was furiously, desperately, hopelessly in love. He had met Margaret Langmore at Bar Harbor but a few short weeks before, and it had been a case of love at first sight upon both sides. A few automobile rides and a few dances, and he had proposed and been accepted, and he had counted himself the happiest man in all this wide world. And now—
"Then they suspect the servant girl?" queried Adam Adams, knowing they did nothing of the sort.
"No!" came sharply. "They suspect Margaret—Miss Langmore."
"Yes. It is—is preposterous—absurd, but they insist. And that is what has brought me to you. I want to prove her innocence to the world. Do that, and you can name your own price, Mr. Adams."
"You have a high regard for the young lady—you are close friends?"
"More. I may as well tell you, though so far Margaret and I have kept the matter more or less a secret. I love her and we are engaged to be married."
"Did Mr. Langmore know of his daughter's engagement?"
"He did, and he approved of it."
"And what of Mrs. Langmore, didn't she approve?"
"She did not know of it. Margaret did not tell her."
"Because—well, the young lady and her stepmother did not get along very well together. Margaret wanted to be friendly, but Mrs. Langmore was very dictatorial, and besides she loved her own children better than Mr. Langmore's."
"Let me ask, was the daughter on good terms with her father?"
"Yes, excepting on one point. He wished her to obey her stepmother and that she was not always willing to do. This brought on a run of petty quarrels which fairly made Margaret sick."
"And this is the reason why the police think Miss Langmore the guilty person?"
"It is. Their theory is that she first quarrelled with her stepmother and murdered her, and then struck down her father to cover her guilt, he having discovered what she was doing."
"How old is Miss Langmore?"
"She has just passed her twenty-third birthday."
"Humph! Rather young to commit such a cold-blooded crime as this."
"She never did do it—I'll wager my life on it! Oh, it's absurd—insulting! But what are you going to do with a lot of pig-headed country police—"
"How did they come to suspect her? Was there nothing else?"
"Yes, there was. Mrs. Bardon, the woman who lives next door, is a great gossip and one who is continually poking her nose into other folks' business. She told the police that she was out in the garden cutting a bouquet early in the morning, and she heard a violent quarrel going on at the breakfast table between Mrs. Langmore and Margaret, and that Mr. Langmore took his wife's part. Margaret wished to give a small house party and Mrs. Langmore would not listen to it."
"Did Mrs. Bardon hear all that was said?"
"No, only enough to make her run to the police with the tale."
"Is any other house near by?"
"The Harrison mansion, but it is locked up, as the family is in Europe."
"Did you hear if Mrs. Bardon and her son were home all morning?"
"They were, excepting when the doctor went out to make some calls, between nine and eleven."
"Did they see any suspicious characters around the Langmore mansion?"
"Not a soul."
"Did Mary Billings, the servant, see anybody?"
"She thinks she saw somebody near the river, but she is not sure; in fact, she is so scared that she is all mixed up. She has told the police a thousand times that she had nothing to do with the crime."
"Did Miss Langmore see anybody?"
"She saw a Doctor Bird pass in his buggy and a farmer named Carboy go by on foot."
"When was this?"
"While she was at the piano. She doesn't know the exact time."
There was a pause and the detective gave a faraway look out of the window and down the bustling thoroughfare.
"So far as you are aware, Mr. Case, did Mr. Langmore have any personal enemies?"
"I never heard of any."
"He was rich?"
"What was his business?"
"He was a dealer in patents and a promoter. Some thought he was rather eccentric, but I never found him so. He used to have an office here in New York but gave that up a year ago."
"Well, what is your idea of this crime?"
"I haven't any. But I know Margaret Langmore is not guilty."
"Evidently if they suspect her they have concluded that Mrs. Langmore was killed first."
"That is their idea, but it looks to me as if both were killed at about the same time, although I know that couldn't very well be."
"No, not if one was upstairs and the other down. Do you think it possible that one killed the other and then committed suicide?"
At this Raymond Case started back.
"I had not thought of that!" he cried. "If it is true then that clears Margaret." Evidently he was thinking only of the girl he loved—everything else concerning the mystery was of secondary consideration.
"Such a thing is possible, although not probable, unless the two had a bitter quarrel between themselves. Every crime must have a motive. People do not commit murder unless there is a reason for it or unless they are insane. Motives may be divided into three classes—jealousy, revenge, or gain. In this instance I think we can throw out jealousy—"
"Mrs. Langmore was jealous of Margaret."
"And wasn't the young lady jealous of her stepmother in a way?"
"But she is not guilty—I'll stake my life on her innocence."
"Then let us come down to revenge or gain. You say nothing was stolen. Was there a safe in the house?"
"Yes, and it is closed, and will remain so until the experts open it."
"Nobody knew the combination but Mr. Langmore?"
"That's it. Margaret did know, but her stepmother had her father change the combination and keep it to himself."
"Had he much money in the house?"
"I think not. Margaret says her father was in the habit of depositing cash in the bank as soon as he received it."
"What sort of promoting did he do?"
"He organized companies to manufacture his patents. He also speculated in real estate and in mortgages. He owned two buildings in this city and several in the country."
"Who are the other members of the family?"
"Margaret's married sister, Mrs. Andrew Wetherby, of Sanhope, and Mrs. Langmore's two sons, Tom and Dick Ostrello."
"Where are these people located?"
"Mrs. Wetherby is traveling with her husband in South America. The Ostrello brothers are commercial travelers and somewhere on the road."
"Then the Ostrellos are not rich?"
"No, they are poor, and Mrs. Ostrello was poor, too, before she married Mr. Langmore."
There was another pause.
"Can you tell me anything else?" asked Adam Adams.
"Nothing of much importance. It's a deep mystery, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's very simplicity makes it deep." The detective drew a long breath. "I was thinking of taking a vacation. My doctor says I need it."
"Oh!" There was a world of disappointment in the word. "Don't say that! You must take hold of this. I planned it all out as I came to town. I know you can clear Margaret if you will only try. Think of her position—the disgrace—my position— Oh, you can't refuse me, Mr. Adams!" The young man came closer and caught the detective by the shoulder. "If it's money, set your price."
"If I take hold, I'll charge you only what is fair, Mr. Case. But I never take a case, unless—"
"Any request you have to make is already granted."
"Unless I can first interview the person who stands accused of the crime."
"You can see Miss Langmore at any time. I told her that I was coming to town to interview you, and that I would bring you back with me, if you would come. I told her what a wonderful man you were and what you had done for others. I think it cheered her a little, although she was terribly cast down."
"You must not promise too much on my account, young man. I am no wizard, and I cannot perform the impossible, much as I might wish to do so."
"But you will come?"
"Yes, I will come."
"At once?" cried Raymond Case impatiently.
As Raymond Case had said, the Langmore mansion was a large one, setting in the midst of an extensive lawn, sprinkled here and there with maples and oaks and fine flowering bushes. The hedge in front was well kept and the side fences were also in good repair. In the rear was a stable and also an automobile shed, for the late master of this estate had been fond of a dash in his runabout when time permitted. Down by the brook, back of the stable, was a tiny wharf, where a boat was tied up, a craft which Margaret Langmore had occasionally taken down to the river for a row.
The mansion now looked dark and lonesome, although many folks passed on the highway and whispered to each other that there was the spot where the gruesome tragedy had been committed. "And to think that the man's own daughter did it," they would generally add. "Beats all how bloodthirsty some folks can get. He must have cut her short on money or something and she was too high-strung to stand it."
"No, it ain't that," another would answer. "She's been flirting around with a certain young man, a Wall Street gambler, and her mother wouldn't have it and told her so. That's the real trouble, my way of thinking."
Inside of the house all was as quiet as a tomb save for the ticking of the long clock in the lower hall. Below, a single policeman was on guard, in company with a woman, who had been sent in to help: Upstairs another woman was stationed, to see that Margaret Langmore might not take it upon herself to leave for parts unknown.
Margaret sat in her own room, in the wing on the second floor, a dainty apartment, trimmed in blue and containing all her girlish treasures. On the walls were numerous photographs of her old schoolmates and the flag of the seminary she had attended. And on the mantel rested the picture of Raymond Case, the high polish of the surface marred in one spot where a tear had fallen upon it.
The girl was tall and slender, with a wealth of light-brown hair and eyes of deepest blue. It was more than a pretty face, for it had a certain sadness that was touching.
For several minutes the girl had not moved. Now, as the door opened and the woman who was on guard upstairs came in, she gave a long sigh.
"Can I do anything?" asked the woman, in a voice that was not unkindly.
"Nothing, thank you, Mrs. Morse."
"Would you like a cup of tea, or a bit of toast? Mrs. Jessup can make it easy enough—she has nothing at all to do."
"I do not care to touch a thing."
The answer came in a dreary monotone. The girl's trials were beginning to tell upon her. At first she had tried to bear up bravely, and the words Raymond had spoken had comforted her, but now he was gone and the whole world looked dark once more.
"Has anybody called?" she asked at length.
"Nobody to see you."
"Nobody?" Margaret began to pace the floor. "When did the coroner say the examination was to be continued?" she went on.
"To-morrow morning at eleven o'clock."
"And who is to be put on the stand?"
At this question the woman in charge began to fidget. "Excuse me, miss, but I was ordered not to answer questions. I'm sorry, and I wish you wouldn't worry so much. If I can do anything else—"
"You can do nothing."
At that moment came the sounds of carriage wheels and a cab from the depot drew up to the door. Margaret looked through the slats of a blind and saw that the arrivals were Raymond Case and a stranger, a man wearing a rather ordinary suit of clothing and a rough slouch hat.
"Thank Heaven, Raymond has brought somebody!" murmured the girl.
There was a short consultation at the front door and she heard the young man say: "He has a perfect right here and I demand admittance for us both." Then another murmur followed and the pair came upstairs. They knocked on the door of Margaret's room and were admitted, and Mrs. Morse was told that she might go.
"This gentleman has come to give Miss Langmore some advice," said Raymond Case. "If we want you we will call."
"But I have orders—"
"Miss Langmore will remain in this room, so you have nothing to fear. She has a legal right to receive advice."
"Oh, if the gentleman is a lawyer I have nothing to say," was the retort, and Mrs. Morse swept from the room.
The instant she was gone, the young man closed the door and then rushed up to Margaret Langmore and kissed her.
"I have succeeded!" he cried. "I told you I would. This is Mr. Adam Adams. Mr. Adams, this is Miss Margaret Langmore. Now, I guess we are going to show these country bumpkins a thing or two!" he added earnestly.
The detective advanced and shook hands. Margaret Langmore was a trifle disappointed in his appearance and her face clouded for an instant. Raymond was quick to notice it.
"You mustn't judge a man by his appearance. Mr. Adams makes himself look that way on purpose. He's the smartest, swiftest—"
"That will do," interrupted the detective with a brief smile.
"Will you help me?" The girl eyed the detective squarely. "I—I need help so much."
"I must hear your story first."
"Oh, I thought Raymond would tell you everything."
"He has told me all he knows. But I want to hear the story from your own lips. Something may have slipped him, you know."
"I will tell you everything. Please sit down."
Margaret Langmore began her narrative. It was fully an hour before she finished. Occasionally the detective asked a question, but for the most part he sat back with his eyes closed, as if thinking of something else.
"Now, Miss Langmore," he exclaimed, as he straightened up at the conclusion of her recital, "whom do you suspect of this crime?"
"I suspect no one, sir."
"Have you any idea why this awful deed was committed?" The detective had been on the point of saying "murder" but had checked himself.
"Not the least in the world."
"Some of the windows were, of course, open. What of the doors?"
"The front door and that to the side piazza were locked. The back door was open."
"Then a person might have sneaked in by the back way?"
"I presume so."
"Your father was quite dead when you found him?" asked the detective quickly.
"I—I—thought so." The girl began to choke up and sob. "It—it was such a shock—I—I—" She could not go on.
Adam Adams watched her keenly and noted how she trembled from head to foot.
"Do not take it so hard, Margaret," put in Raymond Case, placing his hand upon her shoulder. "It will all come out right in the end—I am sure of it."
"But it will not bring back my father!" sobbed the girl. "And he was so dear to me! And to think that we should quarrel at all—"
"The quarrel took place at the breakfast table, so you said," came from Adam Adams. "And you rushed out to get away from what your stepmother was saying to you?"
"Yes. I could not bear it any longer."
"Your father took Mrs. Langmore's part?"
"He did, but at the same time he told her not to be so hard on me—that I had been without a mother to guide me so many years, and all that."
"Do you think they quarreled between themselves after you left, or after your father came back from the bank?"
"I cannot say as to that."
"Mr. Adams has an idea that possibly one or the other of them was responsible," put in Raymond. "He thinks one might have killed the other and then committed suicide."
"I do not think so. I said it was possible," corrected the detective. "In taking up an affair of this sort one must look at it from all sides."
"I do not believe my father either killed her or committed suicide," answered Margaret Langmore firmly.
"Do you think Mrs. Langmore would act in such a fashion?"
The girl pondered for a moment.
"Honestly I do not. She may have killed my father, but if so she would have run away."
"The safe was closed at the time of the tragedy?"
"And absolutely nothing was stolen?"
"Nothing, so far as we have been able to ascertain."
"Was anything out of order, as if the assassin had been scared off while hunting around for something to steal?"
"I did not see anything. But I was so upset I noticed scarcely anything."
"That was natural, of course. The safe has not yet been opened?"
"No, we are waiting for a man to come from the safe makers."
"Now, one thing more. After you came back to the house before practicing what did you do?"
"I wrote some letters to girl friends, telling them I could not give a house party."
"And before that?"
"I—I, must I tell? I threw myself on the bed yonder for a good cry. It was silly, I know—but—but—"
"Did you hear anything unusual while you were here? Think carefully."
"I have tried to think it out several times. Sometimes I think I heard some sort of a shriek, but I am not at all certain. Then, again, I think I heard the fall of something heavy on the floor. But it may be all fancy."
"And that is all you can tell me?"
"Yes." Margaret Langmore gave a long sigh. "Oh, Mr. Adams, can you not do something for me? It is horrible to be suspected in this fashion. I cannot make a move without being watched!"
"It is certainly a cruel situation." The detective paused. "I am sure of one thing, Miss Langmore."
"And that is—"
"That you are innocent. Those who think you are guilty are fools, as Mr. Case says."
"Yet more than half the folks around here think that way."
"Let them. We'll set to work to prove their mistake."
"Good!" almost shouted Raymond Case, and his face broke out into a look of relief. "Then you will take the case, Mr. Adams?"
"I know you will succeed."
"If you do succeed, I shall be grateful to you all my life," came from Margaret Langmore warmly.
DETECTIVE AND DOCTOR
As already intimated, Adam Adams, in his career as an investigator and detective, had solved many difficult criminal problems, yet this somewhat remarkable individual realized that the mystery before him was as difficult of solution as any he had yet encountered.
The most tantalizing thing about the whole affair was its simplicity. Two people had been murdered in their own home in broad daylight. No one had been seen around the place, and even the manner in which the foul deed had been committed was a secret.
A score of possibilities presented themselves to his mind when he left Margaret Langmore and Raymond Case to begin the task he had set before himself—to clear the fair name of the beautiful girl who had placed her faith in him and his ability.
"I'll take a look around the house first," he reasoned. "Then I'll find out a little more about these dead folks and their connections."
Thinking that he must be some noted lawyer from New York, Mrs. Morse was very gracious to him, and readily consented to show him around.
"Here is the spot where Mrs. Langmore's body was found," said the woman, leading the way to a bend in the upper hallway. "The servant girl tripped over it in her hurry, and went sprawling. She was about scared out of her wits."
"Naturally enough. Do you know how the body was lying?"
"At full length, they say, face downward, and with the fists clenched."
"Was that window open?"
"Yes, but not the blinds."
"Where does that door lead to?"
"Mrs. Langmore's dressing room. The door was open when they found her—as if she had come out and was trying to get downstairs."
"Humph!" The detective pushed the blinds of the window open and began to examine the carpet on the floor.
"We've looked around, but we couldn't see a thing," pursued the woman.
"The coroner and the police officers."
"Oh! You say the body was lying right here?"
"Yes—the head there, and the feet there. I suppose you are going to try to clear Miss Langmore, aren't you?" went on Mrs. Morse curiously.
"I am—if she is innocent."
"You'll have a task doing it. Everybody around here thinks her guilty."
To this Adam Adams did not reply. He was down on his hands and knees, close to where the head of the murdered woman had rested. He placed his nose to the carpet and drew in a long breath. His olfactory nerves were sensitive, and detected a certain pungent, stinging odor, of a sort not easily forgotten.
"You must be pretty short-sighted," was the woman's comment. The sight of the man on his hands and knees amused her.
"Well, I might have a better pair of eyes, I admit."
From his examination of the carpet, the detective turned to the window. Outside was the roof to the side piazza of the mansion. On the tin roof were some dried-up spots of mud. He looked them over carefully, and came to the conclusion that they were footprints, but how old was a question.
"When did it rain last around here?" he asked.
"We haven't had a real storm for ten days or two weeks. We have had several showers, though."
He took a glance into Mrs. Langmore's dressing room. Everything was in perfect order, even to the powder-box and the cologne bottles on the dresser.
"That is all I wish to see up here," he said, and passed below, where he encountered the policeman in charge. Like the woman, this officer had taken him to be a lawyer, and he readily consented to let the detective inspect the library.
"Mr. Langmore was found in that chair," said he. "He looked as if he had suffered great pain before he died. I think he was strangled, although he didn't show the marks of it."
The library was a richly-furnished apartment. Along two walls were rows of costly volumes, many relating to modern inventions. On the walls hung some rare steel engravings, including one of Fulton and his first steamboat. There was a large library table, with a student's lamp, a mahogany roller-top desk, half a dozen comfortable chairs, and a small, but well-built safe, which, as said before, was closed and locked.
"The coroner locked and sealed the desk, and put all the loose papers in it," said the policeman.
There were two windows to the library, and one was close to the side porch, the roof of which the detective had examined from above. A person dropping from above could easily have entered the library by the window, thus saving himself the trouble of walking through the halls and down the stairs. Adam Adams looked outside, and saw on the ground a number of footprints, some running to a gravel path but a few feet away.
"Where are the bodies?" he asked, as he continued his examination of the room.
"At Camboin's morgue. The doctors have been looking for poison, but they can't find any."
The detective got down in front of the safe and examined it critically. Had it been opened after the murder and then closed again? That was an important question, but he was unable to answer it.
More by instinct than anything else, he got down and peered under the safe. A crumpled-up bit of paper caught his eye, and he picked it up and slipped it into his pocket without the policeman being the wiser.
"Has anybody else been here?" he asked. "I mean any outsiders."
"A good many folks from the village."
"Yes, a detective from Brooklyn. He thought there might be a job for him, but there wasn't, so he went away," and the policeman smiled grimly.
"What was his name?"
"I think he said it was Peterson."
"Is that the Bardon house yonder?" And Adam Adams pointed through the window and across the side lawn.
"Yes. Doctor Bardon was the first to come over—he and his mother."
"So I heard. I think I'll step over and speak to them a moment."
"So you are working for Miss Langmore?"
"Yes, in a way."
"You'll have an uphill job clearing her. The coroner thinks he has a clear case against her."
"Do you know what evidence he possesses?"
"Not exactly. He isn't telling all he knows," returned the officer of the law. "There is the doctor now."
A buggy was coming down the road. It turned in at the next house, and a young man, carrying a small case, leaped out and disappeared into the dwelling.
In a few minutes more, Adam Adams made his way next door. An elderly servant admitted him and ushered him into the doctor's office, where the young physician sat marking down some calls in his notebook.
"This is Doctor Bardon, I believe. I just came over from the Langmore house. I am working on this mystery, and I understand you were the physician who tried to bring Mr. and Mrs. Langmore to life after they were found."
"I worked over Mr. Langmore, yes," was the young physician's answer. "I saw at once that it was impossible to do anything for his wife. She had a weak heart naturally, and was stone dead some time before I got there."
"You thought you saw a spark of life in Mr. Langmore?"
"Not exactly a spark, but I thought there might be hope. But I was mistaken, although I did everything I could."
"I have been told that working over the corpse made you sick."
At these words, the face of the young physician showed his annoyance. He drew himself up.
"Excuse me, but you are—" and he paused inquiringly.
"I am working on this case in the interests of Miss Langmore. My name is Adams."
"What I would like to know is, What made you sick? Was it merely that a crime had been committed—something you were not accustomed to?"
"No, it was not, Mr. Adams. I am young, I know, but I have had a good hospital experience, and such things do not unnerve me. To be sure, Mr. Langmore was a good neighbor, and I thought much of him. But it was not that."
"Then what was it?"
"It was something about the corpse. As I worked I had to sneeze—something seemed to get into my nose and throat, and in a minute more I began to have cramps and grew deathly sick. It was the queerest sensation I ever experienced in my life. I haven't gotten over it yet."
"You had to go out to get some fresh air?"
"I did. If I had not, I think I should have suffered much more."
"And you found no trace of any poison, or anything of that sort?"
"Not the slightest. Another doctor was called in, and then I went back. The peculiar odor, or whatever it was, was gone, and I could find no further trace of it."
"You think it must have evaporated?"
"What else is there to think? The windows and blinds had been thrown wide open, and the sun was shining into the room."
This was all the young doctor could tell, and as he was in a hurry to get away on more business, the detective did not detain him further. He ascertained that Mrs. Bardon was also away, and then left the house.
In his pocket he still carried the bit of paper which he had picked up from under the safe. It had evidently been part of the wrapper around some small object, and bore the following, printed in blue ink:
nder & Co., ley Street, ter, N. Y. ark.
The paper might be valuable, and it might be worthless. It had evidently been around a small box or bottle. The address was evidently that of some firm doing business in some town in New York State. What the "ark" could stand for, he could not surmise.
As the detective left the Bardon house, he saw a middle-aged man entering the Langmore mansion. The man was well dressed and carried a dress-suit case.
"A visitor of some sort," he mused. "Perhaps a relative."
When he stepped up on the piazza Raymond Case came out to meet him. The young man wished to know if he had learned anything from the doctor.
"Not a great deal," answered Adam Adams. "Who was that man who just came in?"
"Thomas Ostrello, one of Mrs. Langmore's sons by her first husband."
"Is he a frequent visitor here?"
"I believe not. He is a commercial traveler, and on the road nearly all the time."
"Has he been here since the tragedy?"
"No. He was here the day before it occurred, but went away in the evening. I suppose his mother's death has shocked him a good deal."
"I believe you said the Ostrellos are not well off?"
"No; they are poor, so Margaret told me. Both of the sons are on the road, one for a paint house and this one for a drug house. By the way, I am going to town, to see the coroner. Do you want to come along?"
"No, I'll see him later. I want to take a walk around this place first. I may pick up a stray clue."
Left to himself, Adam Adams walked slowly around the mansion, noting the several approaches. He looked in at the stable and the automobile shed, and strolled down to the brook. He made no noise, for it was his practice to move about as silently as possible and without attracting attention.
Suddenly he halted and stepped out of sight behind some bushes not far away from the brook. He heard a splashing, which told him that somebody was near.
THE MAN AT THE BROOK
Beside the brook stood a shabbily-dressed man, apparently fifty-five or sixty years old. He wore an old rusty black coat and a soft hat with a hole in it. His face was tanned and partly covered with a beard.
The man was acting in a manner to excite anybody's curiosity. He carried a stick in his hand, and was poking around in the water with it. Every once in a while he looked around, to see if anybody was observing him.
Straining his eyes, Adam Adams saw a strip of white floating on the water. Once or twice it disappeared. Finally the end of the strip caught on an overhanging bush, and then the strange man withdrew his cane from the brook.
As he turned around the detective dodged out of sight. Apparently satisfied that he was not observed, the strange man leaned down at the bank of the brook, took something from his pocket and placed it down on the moist dirt. Then he took another object from his pocket and repeated the operation.
"Can they be shoes he has in his hands?" mused the detective. "And if they are, what is he doing with them?"
Hearing the slamming of a door at the mansion, Adam Adams drew still further back among the bushes. A minute later he saw the man make a long leap, clear the brook, and hurry away among the trees and brushwood on the other side.
"Humph! Perhaps this is worth investigating," mused the detective, and made his way to the spot the strange individual had occupied. On the bank of the brook he saw the marks of the man's broad shoes and also some prints made by smaller shoes. The latter prints were irregular, and at once arrested the detective's attention. He smiled grimly to himself.
"Clue number one!" he muttered.
Adam Adams looked around in the water. Soon he came upon the strip of white, and, pulling on it, brought to light a white silk shirtwaist, torn to ribbons in front and at one sleeve. He wrung the water and mud from the garment and examined it. Inside of the collar band were the initials, "M. A. L."
"Margaret A. Langmore," he murmured. "Those initials are hers. If the shirtwaist was hers, how did that fellow get possession of it? And did he place it here or find it here?"
Drying the garment as much as possible, he placed it in his pocket, and continued his search around the vicinity. He spent fully an hour in the locality, and then walked back the way he had come, and into the mansion. There he found Thomas Ostrello In conversation with the policeman.
"It is a terrible blow to me," the commercial traveler was saying. "And to think I was here just the day before it happened! If I had remained here over night, it might not have occurred at all!"
"Well, that's the way things happen," answered the policeman. "Once I was at one end of my beat when a thief broke into a store at the other end and stole sixteen dollars and two hams."
"And I suppose they blamed you for it."
"Sure they did. I was laid off for a week, without pay. If anything happens it is always the poor copper who is to blame."
"Well, the family are not blaming you for this."
"They can't—especially as they've got the person who did the deed."
At this Thomas Ostrello shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know about that."
"No. I'd hate to believe any girl could do such a fearful thing as this." The commercial traveler paused. "I'm going to take a look around. I suppose it's all right."
"Certainly, Mr. Ostrello," answered the policeman, and then the commercial man stepped into the library, closing the door after him.
Adam Adams had passed into the dining room, just back of the library, but had heard what was said. Now, looking through the doorway, which had a sliding door and a heavy curtain, the latter partly drawn, he saw the man glance around hurriedly, moving from one object to another in the library. He looked under the table and the chairs, in the corners, and even into the various bookcases. Then he came and knelt down before the safe, and tried the knob of the combination half a dozen times.
"He is more than ordinarily interested," reasoned the detective. "But then it was his own mother who was murdered."
The commercial man continued his search until he had covered every object in the room several times. He even looked behind the pictures, and into the drawer of the table, something which had escaped the coroner's eye when sealing up the desk. Adam Adams saw him shake his head in despair. He took a turn up and down the apartment and clenched his hands nervously.
"Gone!" he muttered to himself. "What could have become of it?"
He drew from his pocket a notebook he carried, and studied several items carefully. A long sigh escaped from his lips as he restored the notebook to his pocket.
As the commercial traveler moved toward the dining room, the detective stepped into a side apartment, used in the winter as a conservatory. He saw Thomas Ostrello make an examination of several places, including a sideboard. Then the woman who had been placed in charge of the downstairs portion of the mansion entered.
"Won't you have a bite to eat, Mr. Ostrello?" she asked.
"Perhaps so, later on. I do not feel like eating now. Can I take a look at my mother's room?"
"Why, yes. I suppose you know where it is?"
"Certainly; I often visited her there when she was not feeling well,"
He passed out without another word, and was soon mounting the heavily-carpeted stairs. Once in the room, he closed the door tightly. Coming up softly after him, Adam Adams tried the door and found it locked. More interested than ever, the detective, just avoiding Mrs. Morse, who was passing through the hallway, slipped Into the adjoining room, and finding, as he had imagined, a door between the two, applied his eye to the keyhole.
This might mean nothing, and it might mean everything. He saw Mrs. Langmore's son moving around the dressing room precisely as he had moved around the library. He heard the bureau drawers opened and shut, and then heard the squeak of a small writing desk that stood in a corner, as the leaf was turned down. Then came a rattle of papers and a sudden subdued exclamation. The desk was closed again, and the man came out of the room, leaving the hall door partly open.
"Whatever he was looking for, he must have found it," reasoned the detective. "Now, what was it?"
He waited in the hallway and heard Thomas Ostrello enter the dining room. A minute later came the rattle of dishes. Then Mrs. Morse confronted him.
"Back again, I see," she said rather sharply.
"Yes; I wish to have another talk with Miss Langmore," he returned, and, brushing her aside, knocked on the girl's door, and was admitted. The woman pursed up her lips.
"How very important some of those city lawyers are," she muttered. "Think they know it all, I guess. Well, he'll have a job clearing her, if what Coroner Busby says is true."
"Oh, I did not know you were coming back!" exclaimed Margaret. "Has anything happened?"
"I want to know something about this, Miss Langmore," and he brought out the torn and wet shirtwaist. "Is it yours?"
"Oh, certainly; but where did it come from? And it is all torn, too! It was almost new when I had it on last!"
"When was that?"
The girl thought for a moment, and then turned pale.
"On the morning that—that—"
"That the tragedy occurred?"
"Yes. I don't know what made me put it on, but I did."
"And when did you take it off?"
"Why, let me see. Some time in the afternoon, I think. I—I fainted, and it got dirty, and so I put on another and threw this in the clothes closet."
"Are you certain you put it in the clothes closet?"
"Positive. Where did you find it?"
"Never mind that just now. Do you keep your shoes in that closet?"
"I do. But why—"
"Will you kindly see if all of your shoes are there?"
The girl ran over, opened the closet door, and began an immediate examination.
"One pair is missing—a pair I use a great deal, too," she said a minute later. "Oh, Mr. Adams, what does this mean?"
"I don't know—yet. While you are at it, you might let me know if anything else is missing."
Margaret began a close examination of everything in the closet, the detective watching her as keenly as he had before.
"She is either innocent, or else the greatest actress I've ever met," was his mental conclusion. "I think her innocent, but the best of us get tripped up at times. If she is innocent, that evidence was manufactured to prove her guilty. If only I had followed that man up! I might have learned something worth knowing."
"Nothing else seems to be missing," announced the girl, at length.
"Very well; then don't waste time by searching further. By the way, did you know Mr. Thomas Ostrello had arrived?"
"Yes; I told Raymond to telegraph for him. He used to call quite often to see his mother."
"What about the other son—Dick?"
"I do not know where he is."
"Didn't he come here?"
"He came once. But he is a dissipated young man, and I do not think my stepmother cared much for him."
"But she did think a good deal of the one who is now downstairs?"
"Yes, although they occasionally had their quarrels, just as we had ours. Tom would plead for his brother Dick, who seemed to be always wanting money. Once my father took a hand and said his wife shouldn't give Dick a cent more, as he only squandered it. That made Tom angry, and he had a quarrel with my father, and after that when Tom came he would ask to see only his mother, although he and I remained on fairly good terms."
"Tom was here the day before the tragedy?"
"Yes. I think he came to see his mother about some private business. They had a long talk in her room, and she seemed to be quite excited when he went away. I don't know what it was all about. But, Mr. Adams, are you not hungry, and won't you have a lunch?"
"Thanks, I'll take a bite."
The lunch was served in Margaret's apartment, and the detective did ample Justice to it, for he never allowed business to interfere with his appetite. As he ate, the girl watched him curiously.
"Mr. Adams," she said presently, "do you know, you do not seem a bit like a detective to me—I mean like the detectives you read about—the men going about in wonderful disguises and the like, and doing marvelous things? And yet, I know you have a wonderful reputation—Raymond told me about it."
At that he smiled broadly. "Wonderful disguises, eh? Well, I use them when I think them necessary, and not otherwise. When I started out, years ago, I used a great many more than I do now. To me a mystery of this sort is a good deal like a cut-up picture that you give a child to put together. First, you want to make sure you have all the pieces, and then you want to sit down, put on your thinking-cap, and match the pieces together. To you this is an awful tragedy," his tone softened greatly, "to me it is another case, nothing more. Work such as I have done is bound to harden a fellow, in spite of all of his finer feelings. But I feel for you and you have my sympathy."
"And you will aid me? You said you would," she pleaded.
"I am going to do what I can—no man can do more."
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
From the Langmore mansion Adam Adams went to town, and at the morgue made a careful inspection of the pair who had been the victims of the tragedy. This critical examination brought nothing new to light, and he turned away from the place with something of disappointment.
"I'll take a look around that brook again, and see if that strange man is anywhere in sight," he told himself, and got back to the vicinity without delay.
Fortune favored him for once, for scarcely had he reached the back of the Langmore mansion when he saw the stranger leap the brook again and come up towards the house.
"Just in time," murmured the detective. "He shall not slip me again in a hurry."
The stranger was very much on his guard, and Adam Adams had all he could do to keep out of his sight. It was now growing dark, especially under the trees which surrounded the mansion.
At length the fellow gained a point almost under one of the library windows. He gazed around sharply, and then appeared to be searching for something on the ground. The detective saw him start to pick something up, but at that moment the side door of the mansion opened and the policeman came out.
"Hullo! What are you doing here?" demanded the officer.
"Oh, that's all right," was the low answer. "Don't mind me."
"But what are you doing here?"
"Just looking around, that's all."
"You haven't any right in this yard."
"I think I have."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Watkins—Jack Watkins," and then some words followed which Adam Adams did not catch.
"Oh, then I suppose that makes a difference," came from the policeman in a more humble tone. "Do you want to come in the house and see Miss Langmore?"
"No, I don't want to see the girl. But I'll come into the house," answered the strange man, and walked up the piazza steps and into the mansion, with the policeman by his side.
As soon as the fellow was ought of sight, Adam Adams drew closer and looked under the bushes where the other had been searching.
At first he saw nothing, but then his keen eye detected a bit of paper, caught at the foot of some shrubbery.
"More documentary evidence, perhaps," he murmured, as he shoved the paper into his pocket. "I wonder if this connects with the piece I found under the safe?"
He approached the window, the blinds of which were closed, and peered through the slats. A light had been lit, and the policeman and the stranger had just entered the room.
"I don't think you'll find much to interest you," said the officer. "All of the others have hunted around, and they didn't find much."
The stranger walked around the apartment slowly, and then sank into an armchair.
"Sit down and have a smoke with me," he said, pulling out his cigar case. "You've got a long night before you."
"I am not going to stay up all night. The women folks and me are going to take turns. They should have sent another man here, but the Chief couldn't spare him, two of the men being sick."
Cigars were lit, and the pair smoked away for several minutes, talking of the case in all of its details. Evidently the stranger agreed with the general public regarding Margaret Langmore's guilt.
"Of course she'll put on a good front," said he, blowing a ring of smoke into the air. "She's that sort—so I've heard. What does her stepbrother say about it?"
"Not much, now. At first he didn't think her guilty, but after he talked with me and the women folks, he changed his mind, I reckon. It's a blow to him, for he thought a good deal of the old lady."
"Mr. Sudley!" came a call from the hallway. "Mr. Sudley, where are you?"
It was one of the women who was calling, and, laying down his cigar, the policeman left the library to see what she wanted.
The door had scarcely closed on the officer when the demeanor of the other man changed. He arose, looked into the dining room, and listened at the hall doorway for a second. Then he recrossed the apartment and knelt before the safe. Adam Adams heard him mutter something to himself as he twirled around the knob of the combination. Twice he tried the door and failed to open it, but the third effort was successful. But before he could do more than glance into the strong box, there was a noise in the hallway. Instantly he shut the door again, dropped into his chair, and resumed his smoking.
"Women folks are a regular nuisance," was the policeman's comment, on coming back. "Want you to do this and then that—keep you on the go all the time. I'm tired of it."
"Take my advice, and don't marry," was the rejoinder, with a laugh.
"Too late—I've got a wife and five children already. But I've got to go to the barn. Will you come along?"
"Why—er—I suppose so." The stranger hesitated. "I'll have to be going pretty soon. Going to stay in this room all night?"
"No; I'm going to lock up and go upstairs."
"That's right; nothing like resting on a good bed. I don't think the girl will try to run away,"
"She can't—we're watching her too closely."
The pair left the library. Scarcely had they gone when Adam Adams opened one of the blinds, made a quick leap, and came inside.
"That fellow will bear watching, no matter who he claims to be," the detective told himself. "But there is no use of following him now, for he will be back sooner or later. He did not open this safe for nothing."
With the policeman and the stranger gone, the lower portion of the mansion appeared deserted. Adam Adams looked to make sure that he was not observed, and then went to the safe. As he had anticipated, the door now came open with ease.
The detective felt that he was in a ticklish position. Had he a right to examine the contents of this strong box? If discovered by any one, what would be the outcome? Even the fact that he was in a way connected with the law might not clear him.
But he felt he must take some risks. He knew the sentiment against Margaret Langmore, and knew that sentiment in a country place is almost equal to a conviction. The coroner had convinced himself that the girl was guilty, and would go to any extremity to prove the correctness of his theory.
The safe was divided into several compartments, and on one side was a set of three metallic drawers. The open side contained several account books and legal and patent papers. The top drawer contained some old jewelry and a gold watch, the middle drawer some bank bills, not over a hundred dollars, all told.
The bottom drawer was locked, but the key for it lay in the middle drawer, so Adam Adams opened the receptacle with ease. As he did so, a cry of astonishment came to his lips, and he repressed it with difficulty,
The drawer was packed with new and crisp one-hundred-dollar bills, all on the same bank, the Excelsior National, of New York City. There were thirty of the bills, and evidently not one of them had been in circulation. The detective started as he took them up, held them to the somewhat dim light, and started again. He paused for a moment, as if deciding a weighty question. Then he placed the package of bank bills in the inner pocket of his coat.
"These have no right to be here," he muttered. "The only place for them is in the hands of the federal authorities."
Under the bills lay several legal documents. One was labeled:
"Mortgage of Matlock Styles to Barry S. Langmore, $8,000."
There were likewise two other mortgages between the same parties, one for $3,000 and the other for $5,000.
"Whoever Matlock Styles is, he evidently owes the Langmore estate sixteen thousand dollars," the detective told himself; "that is, if the obligations have not been cancelled. I wonder what the mortgages were doing in with those bills?"
A soft call from the window made the detective turn swiftly. To his surprise, he saw Raymond Case peering at him through the blinds. The young man's face showed his perplexity.
"What brought you?" asked the detective. He did not relish being caught off his guard.
"I couldn't think of going to bed at the hotel, I was so upset. I thought, if I came over here, I might discover something of value, or help you in some way. I see you've managed to get that safe open. It was certainly a clever piece of work."
"As it happens opening the safe was not my work," was the answer. "Another man opened it and I took the liberty of looking inside. But I can't talk about that here. Wait a minute and I'll join you outside."
Adam Adams swung the door of the safe open once more. As he surmised, the combination could be set to a new series of numbers with ease. He fixed it to correspond with the numbers of his own office safe, then closed the door, gave the knob a twirl, and hurried from the room by the same opening by which he had entered.
"When I first came up I thought somebody was robbing the safe," said Raymond Case, when the pair were at a distance from the house.
"What did you see me do?"
"Take out a package of bankbills and put them into your pocket. Oh, I know it must be all right, Mr. Adams. But it looked queer."
"I took them for safe keeping. Look at them for a moment. I'll strike a match behind this clump of trees. Count them over, too. It may be as well to have a witness for this."
Raymond Case took the crisp bills and did as requested.
"Three thousand dollars," he said. "All brand new bills and each for a hundred dollars."
"Exactly, and each on the same bank."
"So they are. That's rather odd; isn't it?"
"And all of the same serial number."
"Gracious! Mr. Adams—"
"Wait. Mr. Case, I am going to trust you even as you have trusted me. I want you to keep this a secret."
"The bills are counterfeit."
ONE OF THE PROFESSION
"Counterfeit bank bills!" gasped the young man. "And in Mr. Langmore's possession! Taken from his safe! What does it mean?"
"That remains to be found out."
"This is—is astounding! You don't suspect that he was in the habit—I mean that he—" Raymond Case did not know how to go on.
"It's too early to form a conclusion. But one thing is certain, the counterfeits were in his private safe, and from all accounts that safe had not been opened since his death. Consequently he must have placed them there."
"I don't believe he dealt in counterfeits," returned the young man bluntly.
"Facts are stubborn things to overcome. Down in the town I learned that Mr. Langmore used to be a comparatively poor man. All his wealth has come to him in the past six years."
"He made his money out of his patents and out of various other schemes."
"All of his wealth has come to him in the past six years," pursued the detective. "I happen to know something about these counterfeits, which the federal authorities have been trying to trace to their source. The first of these bogus one hundred dollar bills appeared about six years ago, at a bank in Brooklyn."
The heart of the young man sank within him, and as he spoke his lips began to quiver.
"Mr. Adams, are you going to give this news to the world at large—to the United States authorities—are you going to brand Margaret's father as a counterfeiter, or a passer of queer money? If you do that, even if you clear Margaret, you'll break her heart."
"I am going to do nothing at present but keep on investigating. We have not yet reached the end of this string by any means. Did I not tell you that another opened the safe?—a fellow who has been acting queerly ever since I caught sight of him? He is connected with this complicated affair, although how still remains to be seen."
"Who was the man?"
"He gave his name to the policeman as Jack Watkins."
"I never heard that name before. How does he look?"
Adam Adams described the fellow minutely, but Raymond Case shook his head.
"I can't place him. But that is not strange," he added. "I know very few folks in this neighborhood."
"Do you know a man named Matlock Styles."
"Not very well—I met him once, when he was calling on Mr. Langmore on business. He is an Englishman, fairly well to do, who lives in an old colonial house on the Harper road, a mile and a half, I should say, from here."
"Do you know what business this Styles had with Mr. Langmore?"
"I don't remember very well—but hold up, yes, I do. He owed Mr. Langmore some money. The two put through some sort of real estate deal."
"How much did Styles owe Mr. Langmore?"
"I don't know exactly, but it was a large amount, fifteen or twenty thousand dollars."
"What sort of a man would you take this Styles to he?"
"Oh, he is a big, overbearing Englishman, one of the kind with mutton-chop whiskers and a red nose. He is a great chap for fast horses, and I've heard he has quite a stable of them over to his place. He is also a dog fancier."
"Has he been here lately?"
"I don't know. Perhaps Margaret could tell you. But what has this to do—"
"Nothing at all, perhaps. In the safe with the bankbills were some mortgage papers given to Mr. Langmore by this Matlock Styles. But the two may not have the least connection with each other."
The two had been walking away from the house and now the detective turned back. As he did so he thought of the bit of paper he had picked up in the shrubbery. He struck a match with one hand and held up the slip with the other. It was a memorandum, running as follows:
$8,000 5,000 3,000 $16,000 ———- .03% ———- $480.00
Adam Adams studied the memorandum with interest. The amounts at the top were those of the mortgages given by Matlock Styles to Barry Langmore. Evidently somebody had figured out what the interest would be at three per cent.
"What is that?" asked Raymond Case.
"A bit of paper I picked up around here. It doesn't seem to amount to anything. But I think we had better part now, Mr. Case. If I have anything to report I'll see you to-morrow at the Beechwood Hotel."
The pair separated, and Adam Adams watched the young man disappear down the road, the latter feeling that he ought not to interfere with the work of the man he had engaged to unravel the mystery. In deep thought the detective went back to the neighborhood of the mansion and stationed himself where he could get a look at the library windows.
Adam Adams felt that the case was growing deeper and deeper. The finding of the counterfeit banknotes In Barry Langmore's safe was astonishing. Where this thread of the skein would lead to he could not imagine.
"I seem to be uncovering more than I bargained for," he mused. "If the man was innocent of all wrong-doing why didn't he turn those bills over to the authorities? Were he alive we should certainly say he was caught with the goods. If this comes out it will create as much of a sensation as the murder itself."
Two hours went by and still the detective kept to his post. He was used to waiting—had he not waited in the bitter cold six hours to clear that poor Jew?—and he knew that sooner or later the man calling himself Jack Watkins would reappear.
A light flared up in the library and then was turned lower. He crept to the window and looked in as before. The strange man was at the safe, working the combination knob backward and forward.
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Adam Adams was forced to smile. The man worked hurriedly and tried the combination a score of times. He muttered something under his breath which may well be omitted from these printed pages. He even got into a heavy perspiration and had to pause to wipe his forehead with his handkerchief.
"Hang the luck!" he went on. "I had it open before. What's got into the confounded combination?"
Again he tried to work the figures. But it was all of no avail, and at last he arose, fists clenched, and with a face full of baffled anger. He stalked around the library, gazed at the strong box several times, and then quit the apartment.
Waiting once more, the detective presently saw the man come from the house and walk toward the road. Following, he saw the fellow hurry past the Bardon home and then into a patch of timber. Here he had a horse, and in a moment more would have been in the saddle had not Adam Adams caught him by the arm.
"Hi! what's this, a hold-up?" cried the man, evidently frightened. "Let go of me!" And he tried to pull away and then attempted to draw a revolver from a hip pocket.
"Stop! I am not going to hurt you," was the calm reply from the detective. "I want to talk to you, that's all."
"Really?" came with a sneer. "A fine time of night to hold a man up. Be quick, for I am in a hurry."
"I want you to explain several things to me," went on Adam Adams calmly.
"Explain? To you?"
"That is what I said. You can take your choice. Either explain or consider yourself under arrest."
"Eh? Say, are you crazy?"
"Not at all."
"An officer of the law, I suppose."
"I am—in a way."
"Working on this Langmore affair?"
"Have you been following me?"
"I've done more than that—I've been watching you."
"What! How long?"
"Quite a long while. I saw you in the library, twice, and down to the brook."
The man started and was evidently much put out. Then he forced a smile to his face.
"Much obliged for playing the spy," he murmured.
"Down at the brook you had a pair of Miss Langmore's shoes. What were you doing with them?"
"Did you see me with the shoes?"
"I did, and I saw you with the silk shirtwaist."
"Ah! Anything else?"
"I saw you at the safe in the library of the mansion."
"Now and some hours ago. You may as well make a clean breast of it."
"I will, If you will tell me who you are."
"I am Adam Adams, of New York City."
The strange man let out a hissing sound between his teeth. Then of a sudden he gave a wild, unnatural laugh.
"Shake hands, Mr. Adams," he said, putting out his hand. "I know you by reputation even if not personally. You see, your reputation is so much larger than my own." He laughed again, a sound which grated on the detective's nerves. "I am John S. Watkins, of Bryport. I am connected with the United States secret service."
WHAT CEPHAS CARBOY SAW
There was a brief pause after the man from Bryport made his announcement. Adam Adams tried hard to see his face clearly, but in the gloom this was impossible.
"Perhaps you do not believe me," said John Watkins. "I can easily prove what I say."
"Why shouldn't I believe you?"
"Because you were on the point of arresting me, which proves that you took me to be—something else."
"How long have you been connected with the secret service?"
"About three years. That is why I know you so well."
"Did your work as a secret service man bring you to this place?"
"Excuse me, but that is my business. If you are working on this case, well and good. But it is not fair to try to steal any of my thunder."
"So far as I am concerned you shall get full credit for what you may do on this case, Mr. Watkins," said Adam Adams stiffly. "But I should like to understand several points."
"About the shoes and the shirtwaist, I suppose. I got the shoes from the house to make certain that some footprints on the bank of the brook had been made by Miss Langmore."
"What about the shirtwaist?"
"It was there when I came, and I left it there, as it did not seem to have much of a connection with the affair."
"Do you think you had a right to tamper with the safe in the library?"
"Considering certain circumstances, which I do not intend just now to disclose to you, I think I had a right."
"Did you take anything from the safe?"
"Not a thing. In fact, I couldn't get the safe open. You must know this, if you saw me a while ago."
"You opened the door the first time."
"I do not deny it. The policeman interrupted me and I shut the box up. When I came back the combination had gotten away from me."
There was a pause.
"Where are you stopping, Mr. Watkins, in case I wish to communicate with you again?"
"At Hager's Hotel, in Sidham. But I am on the jump nearly all the time," and the secret service man laughed again. "Anything else?"
"Then I'll be going. I've got to send a long secret message before I go to bed and it takes time to follow the code, you know that. Good-night," and in a moment more John Watkins was on his horse and riding away at a good rate of speed.
Adam Adams watched his departure with a variety of thoughts chasing each other through his mind. The man must be what he claimed, he had shown his badge on the inside of his coat, and been perfectly willing to prove his words.
"If he is honest, he must be on the trail of those counterfeits, and perhaps it was my duty to tell him of my discovery," mused the detective. "It is curious how these two cases have wound around each other, or is it all one case?"
Concluding that there was nothing more to be done that night, Adam Adams took himself to the Beechwood Hotel, secured a room, and was soon in the land of dreams. He arose early, obtained his breakfast, and without waiting to meet Raymond Case, started off to interview Doctor Bird, one of the two persons Margaret Langmore had seen go past the mansion about the time the tragedy was occurring.
He found the doctor an individual with an exaggerated idea of his own importance. It was hard to bind him down to tell what he actually knew and it took the detective the best part of an hour to learn that the physician knew nothing of real importance.
A short while later Adam Adams learned that the farmer who had been seen going past the mansion was named Cephas Carboy. He was a strange individual, of no education, who lived on a hillside road, running some distance to the rear of the Langmore house. When the detective arrived there he found Carboy sitting under a tree smoking a short clay pipe. The farm was a neglected one, the house about ready to tumble down, and in the dooryard were half a dozen dirty and ragged children, who scampered out of sight on the approach of a stranger.
"Good morning," said Adam Adams cheerfully. He saw at a glance that the fellow before him was a thoroughly shiftless character.
"Mornin' to you," was the short response.
"This is Mr. Cephas Carboy?"
"Cephas Carboy's my name—ain't much of a mister to it," and the man grinned feebly.
"You're the man I want to see, Carboy," and the detective took a seat on a log close by.
"Want to see me? What fer? I don't know you."
"I want to see you about that Langmore murder."
The shiftless man stared and withdrew his pipe from his mouth with trembling fingers.
"I didn't have nuthin' to do with that. They can't pitch it onto me nohow! I came past the house, that's all I did. I didn't go inside the gate, I didn't. It was Miss Langmore did that murder—or else Mary Billings."
"Did you see anybody round the place when you went past?"
"Not a soul."
"What were you doing around there?"
"Are you an—an officer?"
"Perhaps I am. Anyway, you had best answer my questions."
"I went down to Hopgood's place, to sell some fish I had caught—Mr. Hopgood can prove it. Then I came straight home."
"Which way did you go to get to Hopgood's?"
"Took the road yonder, around the hill, and crossed the brook at Peabody's bridge—Peabody can prove that, too. He was out in the hayfield and saw me."
Adam Adams took a look at the road mentioned. At a turn there was a cleared spot through the woods and a fair sight could be caught of the rear of the Langmore mansion and of the automobile shed.
"Come here," he called to Cephas Carboy, and when the shiftless man had shuffled up, he continued: "You say you walked this way. When you got to this spot did you happen to look over to the Langmore house?"
"What did you see? Come now, tell me the exact truth," and Adam Adams put as much of sternness as possible in his tone.
"I saw—See here, I don't want to get in no trouble, I don't. I'm a peaceful man, an' I tend to my own business, I do. You ain't a-goin' to drag me into court."
"I don't want to get you into trouble, Carboy—but I must know the truth of this. I take it that you are poor. Am I right?"
"Humph! Do I look like I was rollin' in wealth?"
"Then a five dollar bill means something to you, eh?"
The shiftless man opened his eyes widely.
"Does it? Say, I ain't had a fiver in my fist fer a month, two months! Farmin' don't pay, an' it ain't easy to git work outside, the season's been that poor. If you—"
"Tell me all you know, and perhaps I'll give you five dollars."
"No. There's a dollar on account," and the detective passed over the bill. The shiftless man clutched it eagerly, looked at it to make certain that it was real money, and rammed it into the pocket of his greasy vest.
"Thanks, sir," he murmured. Then he ran his hand through his somewhat matted hair. "Mind now, I can't give you this fer dead certain," he commenced.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I think it happened, but I can't swear to it. That house is putty far off, remember."
"What do you think you saw?"
"I saw a man run across the garden. He had a satchel in his hand and he was in a hurry. He slipped and fell and his hat rolled off. Then he got up, put on his hat, and I lost sight of him behind the bushes."
"How did the man look?"
"Wait up, that ain't all. I'm certain of that part of it, but I ain't so sure of the rest. I waited here a minit, because my wife was calling to me to git some groceries when I came back. I just started to fill my pipe when I looked over there again and I saw a man run from the automobile shed to the house. The bushes was in the way, but hang me if I don't think he went in by a winder instead of a door."
"You are sure you saw him go toward the house?"
"Yes, that was plain enough, although he seemed to be sneakin' along the bushes."
"Was it the same man?"
"It must have been, but I couldn't see his valise, because he was behind the bushes."
"How did the man look?"
"He was a putty heavy fellow and he was dressed in a light gray suit and wore a soft hat to match."
"Was the valise a light or a dark one?"
"Could you see anything else?"
"Did the man have anything besides the valise?"
"Not that I could see. When he fell and his hat flew off I saw that he had a head of heavy dark hair."
"And you are certain about the suit being a light gray one and the soft hat matched it?"
"Yes, I'm dead sure of that."
"What time was this?"
"About half an hour before I passed the house. I stopped at Peabody's to chat a while before I crossed his bridge."
"Did you ever see the man before?"
"Not that I remember."
"You didn't see him after that?"
Adam Adams drew out a roll of bills and counted out four dollars, which amount he passed over to the fellow he had been interviewing.
"That makes the five I promised you, Carboy. Now then, will you do me a favor?"
"Certainly, sir, anything you want."
"I merely want you to keep what you have told me to yourself for the present."
"Oh, that's easy—unless somebuddy tries to git me into trouble."
"I don't think that will happen—if you keep your mouth shut."
"Then I'll be as mum as an oyster," answered Cephas Carboy decidedly.
"I may be along to see you again soon," continued Adam Adams, and then he drove away in the buggy that had brought him to the vicinity.
He allowed his horse to walk, for he was in a more thoughtful mood than ever. He was thinking of a man he had met the day before, in a suit of gray and with a soft hat of the same color. The man had been Tom Ostrello.
ON THE TRAIN
"This is clearing itself by growing more complicated."
Such was the deduction of the detective after he had reviewed the situation carefully. Was it possible that the son of the woman who had been murdered was guilty of the double tragedy? He remembered what he had been told about Tom Ostrello and his wayward brother Dick, and how mother and son had had an exciting meeting on the day previous to the tragedy.
"I rather think it will pay to investigate a little further along this line," thought Adam Adams. "More than likely he came here for money, either for himself or his brother Dick. If his mother did not have it and wanted it she would have to go to Mr. Langmore for it. That might cause a bitterness all around. Or again, he might have thought that if his step-father were dead his mother would inherit his money and so plotted one murder, which, when he was discovered, ended in a second. It will do no harm to have a talk with this young man."
He reached the Langmore mansion once more to find that Tom Ostrello had departed for the city on necessary business but was coming back before night. Then at the hotel he found a message from his own office calling him to New York.
"You are going away, Mr. Adams?" said Raymond Case, who chanced to see him departing.
"Not for long. I'll be back to-night or to-morrow."
"Nothing worth talking about, yet. I must hurry to catch the train. What are you going to do?"
"I am waiting for the inquest. It will be a terrible trial for Margaret." And the young man's face showed his concern.
"Tell her for me to make the best of it," answered Adam Adams and hurried to the depot. The train was just coming in and he saw Tom Ostrello get on board, and he entered the car directly behind the commercial traveler. The young man passed through to the smoker and the detective did the same. Two seats were vacant, directly across the aisle from each other and each took one. Presently Ostrello looked at Adam Adams and started slightly and then bowed.
"Excuse me, but I think I saw you up to the Langmore house," he began.
"Yes, I called on Miss Langmore. I believe you are Mrs. Langmore's son."
"Yes. Come over, won't you?" Ostrello moved towards the window of the car. "I've got to have a smoke to quiet my nerves, I'm so upset. Will you have one?" And he presented a case full of choice Havana cigars.
"It must have upset you—it's enough to upset anybody," answered Adam Adams, as they lit up. "It's a fearful happening, fearful."
"You are acting for Margaret, I heard."
"Yes—if there is a chance to do anything. Do you know anything of the tragedy?"
"Not a thing, outside of what I have heard. When I got the telegram I was fairly stunned. But let me tell you one thing."
"I don't think Margaret is guilty. A girl like her couldn't do such a cold-blooded deed. Why, it's enough to make a man shiver to think of it. It would take a hardened criminal to do such a thing. It's absurd to even suspect her."
"What is your theory of the murders?"
"I hardly know what to think. If the house had been robbed I would say tramps did it."
"I don't know, excepting the—er—both were smothered. But let us change the subject. It breaks me all up to think about it. I thought a whole lot of my mother."
"Where is your brother?"
"I don't know exactly. He was in Los Angeles the last I heard of him. I have sent messages to half a dozen places, but so far have received no reply."
"He is a commercial traveler like yourself?"
"He was, up to two weeks ago. Traveled for a paint house, but he and the firm had a row and Dick quit. He's a rolling stone, and that is why I can't just locate him."
"Do you represent a paint house, too?" questioned Adam Adams, after a pause, during which he appeared to enjoy the really fragrant Havana Tom Ostrello had tended him.
"No, I'm with a drug house and have been for four years, one of the best in the country, Alexander & Company, of Rochester, New York. I am their salesman for New York and the Eastern States. We make some of the most noted preparations in the trade."
"Alexander & Company, of Rochester," mused Adam Adams, thinking of the bit of paper he had picked up from under the safe. "I believe I have seen their place. Let me see, what street is it on?"
"Wadley street and runs through to Hill—a fine six-story concern, with a laboratory that is second to none."
"Yes, I remember it now. I suppose you must have a pretty good position with them."
"Fair. I think they ought to raise my salary," answered Tom Ostrello. He stretched himself. "I feel sleepy—didn't get a wink last night. When this affair is over I am going to ask for a week's vacation."
"I don't blame you," answered Adam Adams, with a quiet smile.
He settled back to smoke and his companion did the same, and thus the remainder of the trip to the city passed. As he smoked the detective revolved the new revelation in his mind. Tom Ostrello represented the very drug firm whose advertisement had appeared, in part, on the bit of paper picked up from under the library safe.
"And he was there hunting for something," thought the detective. "Was it for that bit of paper or for the something that he secured in his mother's room?"
At the depot the pair separated. Adam Adams lost no time in visiting his office, where his assistant awaited him anxiously. "Well, Letty, how are you this morning?" he said pleasantly, as he dropped into his chair.
He gave the girl a bright smile and she smiled in return. Letty Bernard was an orphan, the daughter of one of his former friends, and he took a fatherly interest in her. She lived with a second cousin, but wished to be independent and so the detective had given her the position, in his office, a place she filled with credit. She was short and plump and had a wealth of curly hair that strayed over her forehead.
"The Chief asked me to give you these papers," said the assistant. "You are to sign all three."
"Um! Then that's the end of the Soper case. Anything else?"
"Glackey was in. He told me he had tracked the German and would report in full by to-morrow. He thinks you were right and the German is the man."
"A Mrs. Caven-Demuth was here. Wished to know if you ever found lost dogs."
"Great Scott! Dogs!"
"She said her pet cocker-spaniel had disappeared and she was willing to spend five hundred dollars on finding him."
"I am no dog detective. Send her to McMommie." McMommie was, as it is easy to guess, a rival.
"I sent her to police headquarters."
"And is that all?"
"Mr. Folett telegraphed that he would be here at ten."
"It's after that now—it's nearly noon. You can go to lunch if you wish. There's the door— Hullo, it's Mr. Folett now. Be back in an hour."
"Yes, Uncle Adam," answered the girl. She always called him uncle, since he had taken such an interest in her. She went out as the caller entered, and left the two men talking over a business matter which has nothing to do with our story.
It was two o'clock before Adam Adams found himself free once more. He procured a lunch and then took a subway train halfway uptown. He walked two blocks westward and ascended the steps of a fine brown-stone residence. He asked for Doctor Calkey and was ushered into a private den, where the doctor, a tall, spare man of sixty, soon joined him.
"My good friend Adams!" cried the doctor, shaking hands warmly. "Where have you kept yourself? Surely you have not been to see me for a year, or is it longer? I have missed you so much—and the comforting smokes we had together? Why did you desert me? You knew I could not come to you—that I never go out. And you do not bring any business to me—"
"I had none to bring, and I have been very busy. But I have missed our meetings, I must confess."
"Ah, I am glad to learn I was not entirely forgotten. And you have been busy, and still nothing for Rudolph Calkey to do, nothing to analyze, nothing to dissect—"
"I've got a knot now for you."
"Good! good! I trust it is a good complication—I love them so—there is such a satisfaction when the end is reached. But not yet—no, not yet. A glass of wine first—something prime—I imported it myself, so that I would know what I am getting."
The wine was soon forthcoming and then a cigar for the detective and a pipe for the doctor. At last the latter threw himself into an old easy chair and gazed at his caller expectantly.
"I am ready to untie the knot," he said. "What is it?"
AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART
There was a moment of silence.
"Briefly put, doctor, the case is this," said Adam Adams. "I want to know if there is anything known to the medical world, a powder or something of that sort, strong enough to kill a person if he should breathe of it."
"A powder strong enough to kill a person?" The brow of the old physician contracted. "It would have to be very powerful to do that. You mean if a person was boxed up with it—like one killed by gas?"
"No, not at all. I mean a powder that could be held to a person's nose and mouth in the open, when it would make that person sick and give him cramps perhaps."
"And kill him?"
The old doctor rubbed his hands in thought. "That is a subject for speculation. Certain cyanide compounds might be powerful enough to do so under certain conditions. Any real dry powder would choke a person if he got a big dose of it. I heard of a boy who came near dying as the result of breathing in a quantity of extra dry licorice powder. But he was smothered and did not have cramps."