THE WINNING CLUE
JAMES HAY, Jr.
Author of The Man Who Forgot, Etc.
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York Copyright, 1919 By Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.
TO GRAHAM B. NICHOL AS A LITTLE TOKEN OF MY ADMIRATION AND AFFECTION
II. "Something Big in It"
III. The Ruby Ring
IV. Two Trails
V. The Husband's Story
VI. Morley Is in a Hurry
VII. Miss Fulton Is Hysterical
VIII. The Breath of Scandal
IX. Women's Nerves
X. Eyes of Accusation
XI. The $1,000 Check
XII. The Man with the Gold Tooth
XIII. Lucy Thomas Talks
XIV. The Pawn Broker Takes the Trail
XV. Braceway Sees a Light
XVI. A Message from Miss Fulton
XVII. Miss Fulton's Revelation
XVIII. What's Braceway's Game?
XIX. At the Anderson National Bank
XX. The Discovery of the Jewels
XXI. Bristow Solves a Problem
XXII. A Confession
XXIII. On the Rack
XXIV. Miss Fulton Writes a Letter
XXV. A Mystifying Telegram
XXVI. Wanted: Vengeance
XXVII. The Revelation
XXVIII. Confession Voluntary
XXIX. The Last Card
THE WINNING CLUE
When a woman's voice, pitched to the high note of utter terror, rang out on the late morning quiet of Manniston Road, Lawrence Bristow looked up from his newspaper quickly but vaguely, as if he doubted his own ears. He was reading an account of a murder committed in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and the shrieks he had just heard fitted in so well with the paragraph then before his eyes that his imagination might have been playing him tricks. He was allowed, however, little time for speculation or doubt.
"Murder! Help!" cried the woman in a staccato sharpness that carried the length of many blocks.
Bristow sprang to his feet and started down the short flight of stairs leading from his porch to the street. Before he had taken three steps, he saw the frightened girl standing on the porch of No. 5, two doors to his left. Although he was lame, he displayed surprising agility. His left leg, two inches shorter than the right and supported by a steel brace from foot to thigh, did not prevent his being the first to reach the young woman's side.
Late as it was, half-past ten, she was not fully dressed. She wore a kimono of light, sheer material which, clutched spasmodically about her, revealed the slightness and grace of her figure. Her fair hair hung down her back in a long, thick braid.
Neighbours across the street and further up Manniston Road were out on their porches now or starting toward No. 5. All of them were women.
The girl—she was barely past twenty, he thought—stopped screaming, and, her hands pressed to her throat and cheeks, stared wildly from him toward the front door, which was standing open. He entered the living room of the one-story bungalow. A foot within the doorway, he stood stock still. On the sofa against the opposite wall he saw another woman. He knew at first glance that she was dead.
The body was in a curious position. Apparently, before death had come, the victim had been sitting on the sofa, and, in dying, her body had crumpled over from the waist toward the right, so that now the lower part of her occupied the attitude of sitting while the upper half reclined as if in the posture of natural sleep. One thing which, perhaps, added to the gruesomeness of the sight was that she had on evening dress, a gown of pale blue satin embellished in unerring taste with real old Irish lace.
Although the face had been beautiful under its crown of luxuriant black hair, it now was distorted. While the eyes were closed, the mouth was open, very wide—an ugly, repulsive gape.
He was aware that the woman in the kimono was just behind him—he could feel her hot breath against the back of his neck—and that behind her pressed the neighbours, their number augmented by the arrival of two men. He turned and faced them.
"Call a doctor—and the police, somebody, will you?" he said sharply.
"They have a telephone back there in the dining room," volunteered one of the women on the porch.
Another, a Mrs. Allen who lived in No. 6, had put her arms around the terrified girl and was forcing her into an armchair on the porch.
The others started into the living room.
"Wait a moment," cautioned Bristow. "Don't come in here yet. The police will want to find things undisturbed. It looks like murder."
They obeyed him without question. He was about forty years old, of medium height and with good shoulders, but his chest was too flat, and his face showed an unnatural flush. His mere physique was not one to force obedience from others. It was in his eyes, dark-brown and lit with a peculiar flaming intensity, that they read his right to command.
"Please go through this room to the telephone and call a doctor," he said, singling out the woman who had spoken.
His voice, a deep barytone with a pleasant note, was perfectly steady. He seemed to hold their excitement easily within bounds.
The woman he had addressed complied with his suggestion. While she was doing so, he crossed over to the sofa and put his hand to the wrist of the murdered woman. In order to do that, he had to move a fold of the gown which partially concealed it. The flesh was cold, and he shivered slightly, readjusting the satin to exactly the fold in which he had found it.
"Too late for a doctor to help now," he threw back over his shoulder.
They watched him silently. Low moans were coming constantly from the woman in the chair on the porch.
Bristow took the telephone in his turn and called up police headquarters.
The chief of police, whom he knew, answered the call.
"Hello! Captain Greenleaf?" asked the lame man.
"There's been a murder at Number Five, Manniston Road. This is Lawrence Bristow, of Number Nine."
"Aw, quit your kiddin'," laughed Greenleaf. "What do you want to do, get me up there to hear another of your theories about——"
"This is no joke," snapped Bristow. "I tell you one of the women in Number Five has been murdered. Come——"
But the chief, recognizing the urgency in the summons, had left the telephone and was on his way.
As Bristow turned toward the living room, Mrs. Allen and another woman were carrying the hysterical, moaning girl from the front porch to one of the two bedrooms in the bungalow. Some of the others again started into the living room.
"Let's wait," he cautioned once more. "If we get to moving around in here we may destroy any clues that could be used later."
When they fell back a little, he joined them on the porch, standing always so that he could watch the body and see that no one changed its attitude or even approached it. His eyes studied keenly all the furniture in the room. Save for one overturned stiff-backed chair, it apparently had not been disturbed.
The doctor arrived and, waiting for no information, approached the murdered woman. As Bristow had done, he touched her wrist, and then slipped his hand beneath her corsage so that it rested above her heart. He straightened up almost immediately.
"Dead," he said to Bristow; "dead for hours."
The physician became conscious of the hysterical girl's moans, took a step toward the bedrooms and paused.
"That's right, doctor," Bristow told him. "They need you back there."
The doctor hurried out.
"That is—that was Mrs. Withers, wasn't it?" Bristow, looking at the dead body, asked of the group.
"Yes; and the other is her sister, Miss Fulton," one of them answered.
Bristow had seemed to all of them a peculiar man—too quiet and reserved—ever since he had come to No. 9 four months before. They remembered this now, when he seemed scarcely conscious of the identity of the two girls who had lived almost next door to him during all that time.
Different members of the crowd gave him information: Miss Maria Fulton, like nearly everybody else on Manniston Road, had tuberculosis, and Mrs. Withers had been living with her. They had plenty of money—not rich, perhaps, but able to have all the comforts and most of the luxuries of life. They were here in the hope that Furmville's climate would restore Miss Fulton's health.
Their coloured cook-and-maid had not come to work that morning, it seemed, and Miss Fulton, who was the younger of the two sisters, was on the "rest" cure, ordered by the doctor to stay in bed day and night. Perhaps that was why she had not discovered Mrs. Withers' body earlier in the day.
They gossiped on.
It was like a lesson in immortality—the dead body, with distorted face and twisted limbs, just inside the room; and outside, in the low-toned phrases of the awed women, swift and vivid pictures of what she; when alive, had said and done and seemed.
"Everybody liked her. If somebody had come and told me a woman living on Manniston Road had been killed, she would have been the last one I'd have thought of as the victim." "All the other beautiful women I ever knew were stupid; she wasn't." "Her husband couldn't come to Furmville very often." "Loveliest black hair I ever saw." "She used to be——"
Then followed quick glimpses of her life as they had seen or heard it: a dance at Maplewood Inn where she had been the undisputed belle; a novel she had liked; a big reception at the White House in Washington when, during the year of her debut, the French ambassador had called her "the most beautiful American," and the newspapers had made much of it; an emerald ring she had worn; the unfailing good humour she had always shown in the tedious routine of nursing her sister—and so on, a mass of facts and impressions which were, simultaneously, a little biography of her and an unaffected appreciation of the way she had touched and coloured their lives.
Captain Greenleaf, with one of the plain-clothes men of his force, came hurrying up the steps. The crowd fell back, gave them passage, and closed in again.
"Nothing's been disturbed, captain," said Bristow.
"Where is she?" asked Greenleaf anxiously. He was not accustomed to murder cases.
He caught sight of the body on the sofa.
"God!" he said in a low tone, and turned toward the plain-clothes man:
"Come on in, Jenkins—you, too, Mr. Bristow."
The three entered the living room, and Greenleaf, with a muttered word of apology to the on-lookers, closed the door in their faces.
He, too, did what Bristow had done—put his fingers on the dead woman's wrist. He was breathing rapidly, and his hand shook. Jenkins stood motionless. He also was overwhelmed by the tragedy. Besides, he was not cut out for work of this kind. In looking for illicit distillers and boot-leggers, or negroes charged with theft, he was in his element, but this sort of thing was new to him. He had no idea of where to turn or what to do.
"She's dead," Bristow said to the captain. "The doctor says she has been dead a long time—hours."
"Where's the doctor?"
"Back there. Miss Fulton, the sister, is hysterical with fright."
"Who sent for the doctor?"
"I did. I asked one of the women here to telephone."
"Then I'll call the coroner."
He stepped through the open folding doors into the dining room and took down the receiver, looking, as he did so, at the body and its surroundings.
Bristow stooped down, picked up something from the floor near the sofa and dropped it into his vest pocket.
The doctor—Dr. Braley—returned as the captain hung up the telephone receiver.
"Miss Fulton is quieter now," he announced.
"Doctor," requested Greenleaf, "look at this body, will you? What caused death?"
Braley, a thin, quick-moving little man of thirty-five, bent over the dead woman, lifted one of her eyelids, and examined her throat as far as was possible without moving the head.
"She was choked to death," he gave his opinion. "Although the eyes are closed, you see the effect they produce of almost starting from their sockets. And the tongue protrudes. Besides, there are the marks on her throat. You can see them there on the left side."
"How long has she been dead?"
"I can't say definitely. I should guess about eight or ten hours anyway."
That staggered Greenleaf, the idea of this woman dead here in the front room of a bungalow on Manniston Road for eight or ten hours—and nobody knew anything about it! His agitation grew. He felt the need of doing something, starting something.
"How about Miss Fulton?" he asked. "Can I get a statement from her?"
"Not just yet. Give her a little more time to get herself together. Besides, she told me something about the—er—affair. Most remarkable statement—most remarkable."
"What was it?"
"She says," related Braley, "that she only discovered the dead body of her sister a few minutes before she was heard crying for help. Her sister, Mrs. Withers, went to a dance, one of the regular Monday night dances at the inn—Maplewood Inn. She went with Mr. Campbell, Douglas Campbell, the real estate man here. You know him. They left the house at nine o'clock last night. That was the last time Miss Fulton saw Mrs. Withers alive.
"In the meantime, Miss Fulton herself, who is under my orders to stay in bed all the time, was up and dressed so that she might spend the evening with a friend of hers from Washington. His name is Henry Morley. He left this house a little after eleven o'clock, and he left Furmville on the midnight train for Washington.
"Miss Fulton, thoroughly tired out, went to bed and was asleep by half-past eleven. As she has something which she uses when she wants a good sleep, she took some of it last night and did not wake up until after ten this morning. She didn't even hear her sister come in last night.
"When she awoke this morning, she called her sister. Amazed by receiving no answer, she got up to investigate. Mrs. Withers' bed had not been occupied. She then came in here and found the body."
"You mean to say," put in Bristow, "that this sick girl was here all night and heard nothing?"
"That's what she says," confirmed the physician.
"Did she give any idea who the murderer might be?" queried Greenleaf.
"No; she's not sufficiently clear in her mind to advance any theories yet—naturally."
"Let me look around," suggested the captain.
He did so, followed by Bristow and the doctor. Save for the overturned chair, between the sofa and the dining room door, the furniture, for the most part the mission stuff generally found in the furnished-for-rent cottages in Furmville, had not been knocked about in a struggle. That was evident. The two rugs on the floor had not been disturbed. None of the three men touched the overturned chair.
All the windows of the living room and the dining room were closed but not locked, as there was on the outside of each the usual covering of mosquito wiring. The shades were down. The front door did not have the inside "catch" thrown on.
Greenleaf examined the kitchen, the unoccupied bedroom, the bathroom, and the sleeping porch at the back of the house. This last, like the windows, was inclosed in stout wire screens, and nowhere, on either the windows or the sleeping porch, had this screening been broken. The kitchen door was locked. There was no sign of a struggle anywhere. These negative facts were gathered quickly.
Mrs. Allen, summoned from the sister's side, reported that there were no signs of an entrance having been made through any of the three windows in the bedroom in which Miss Fulton now lay quiet.
They made their way back to the living room. In spite of the most painstaking examination of the floor, walls, and furniture of the entire bungalow, they were, so far, without a clue. The murderer had left not the slightest trace of his identity or his manner of entrance to the death chamber.
"As I see it," said the captain when they rejoined Jenkins, "nobody broke into this house last night. But two men had admission to it. They were Mr. Douglas Campbell, the real estate man, and Mr. Henry Morley, who was calling on Miss Fulton. It's up to those two to tell what they know."
"But," objected the doctor, "Miss Fulton says Morley left town last night."
"Humph! Maybe that makes it look all the worse for Morley."
"But," suggested Bristow, "if we find that the front door was unlocked all night, the possibilities broaden."
"How will we find that out?"
"Miss Fulton might remember about it."
"She did mention that," put in Braley; "it was unlocked."
"All the same," insisted Greenleaf, "Morley's got to come back here. Wouldn't you say so?" This question was addressed to Bristow.
The telephone bell rang in the dining room. The chief went to answer it.
"What's that?" Those in the living room heard him. "You? I'm the chief of police. Where are you now? Oh, I see. Come up here, will you? There's been a murder here. Mrs. Withers. Right away? All right; I'll wait for you."
He came back to the living room.
"That was Mr. Henry Morley," he said, "Didn't leave town last night. What do you think of that?"
"SOMETHING BIG IN IT"
Before the question was answered the coroner arrived. While Chief Greenleaf told him the circumstances confronting them, Dr. Braley telephoned for a trained nurse for Miss Fulton. In the absence of anybody else to perform the unpleasant task, the doctor went back to take up with the bereaved girl the matter of telegraphing to her family and the details of preparing the murdered woman's body for burial as soon as would be compatible with the plans of the coroner.
"I wonder, Mr. Bristow," suggested Greenleaf, "if I couldn't walk up to your place with you and talk this thing over."
"Glad to have you," agreed Bristow.
The crowd on the porch and in the street began to disperse slowly after the chief had told them none of them could be admitted. In small groups, they made their way to porches or into houses where they lingered, speculating, wondering, advancing impossible theories.
Why had death singled her out? Who would ever have suspected that there had been in her life any foothold for tragedy? The secrecy with which she had been struck down, the ease of the murderer's coming and going safely, roused their resentment. They sympathized with themselves as well as with the dead woman.
Confusedly, but at the same time with striking unanimity, they felt that this was not merely a mystery, but a mystery made ugly and shocking by base motives and despicable agents. In common with all mankind, they resented mystery. It emphasized their own dependence on chance. They began to guess at the best method for capturing the guilty.
The chief of police and the lame man had reached the porch of No. 9. There Bristow picked up from a table a scrapbook and a bundle of newspaper clippings. Following him into the living room, Greenleaf brought a paste pot and a pair of shears which the other evidently had been using in placing the clippings in the big book. He put them down on a table in one corner near Bristow's typewriter.
"Still figuring 'em out, I see," he said grimly.
He referred to Bristow's habit of reading murder mysteries in the newspapers and working them out to satisfactory solutions. That was Bristow's way of amusing himself while set down in Furmville for the long struggle to overcome the tuberculosis with which he was afflicted. In fact, as a result of this recreation, he had become known to Greenleaf, who had visited him several times.
He had rendered the captain considerable assistance in a minor case shortly after his arrival in the town, and Greenleaf was really amazed by the correctness of the lame man's solutions of most of the murder cases chronicled. He knew that Bristow had been right on an average of nine times out of ten, often clearing up the affairs on paper many days or even weeks ahead of the authorities in various parts of the country.
Bristow had his records in his scrapbooks to prove his contentions. Under each clipping descriptive of a baffling murder he had written a brief outline of his solving of the case and dated it, following this with the date of the correct or incorrect solutions by the authorities.
"But now," the chief added, as they sat down before the open fire, which earlier had fought against the chill of the cool May morning, "you can work one out right on the ground. And I'll be mighty glad to have your help—if you will help."
"Of course," said Bristow. "I'll be more than glad to make any suggestions I can."
The chief went out on the porch and called across the yard of No. 7 to one of his men on guard at No. 5:
"Simpson, when a young man—name's Morley—gets there and asks for me, tell him to come up here to Number Nine."
He came back and referred to Bristow's offer of help:
"Well," Bristow answered, "as we see it now, there are three possibilities: Campbell, or Morley, or some unknown man or woman, coloured or white, bent on robbery."
"So far, though, we haven't found any signs of robbery."
"What were they?"
"The middle, third and little fingers of Mrs. Withers' left hand were scratched, badly scratched, as if rings had been pulled from them by force. And there was a deep line on the back of her neck. It looked black just now, but it was red when it was inflicted. It was too thin to have been made by a finger, but it might have been caused by somebody's having tugged at a chain about her neck until it broke."
"The thunder you say! I didn't notice any of that."
"I'll show you the marks when we go back there."
"But," objected Greenleaf, "I know Mr. Campbell. He's not the sort to steal. And I don't suppose Morley is."
"They say the same thing about bank presidents," Bristow replied with a slight smile, "but some of them get caught at it, nevertheless."
"Yes; but this is different—unless the murdered woman had extremely valuable jewelry."
"That's true. Besides, if the front door was unlocked all night, or, even if somebody knocked at the door and Mrs. Withers answered it, there is your third possibility, any ordinary robbery and murder."
"I believe that's what will come out," Greenleaf said, his troubled face showing his worried consciousness of inability to handle the situation; "but how will we—how will I prove it?"
"Morley and Campbell can make their own statements."
Bristow, going to the dining room door, called toward the kitchen:
Replying to his summons, a middle-aged coloured woman appeared.
"Mattie, didn't I hear Perry tell you yesterday that he was to go to work this morning for Mrs. Withers, 'making' her garden?"
"Yas, suh," answered Mattie, still breathing heavily from her hurried return from No. 5.
"Has he been around this morning?"
"Do you know where Mrs. Withers' servant lives?"
"What's her name?"
"Lucy Thomas, suh."
"Well, I want you to go there right away and find out what's the matter with her, why she didn't show up for work this morning. Take your time. Dinner can wait."
When Mattie had gone, Bristow explained:
"This Perry—Perry Carpenter—is a young negro who does odd jobs in this section. He's about twenty-five, I guess. Each of these bungalows has a garden back of it, you know. There are no houses behind us. I don't like Perry's looks. He did some gardening for me Saturday and yesterday."
"You think he——?"
"He's got a bad face. If neither Campbell nor Morley killed Mrs. Withers, why shouldn't we find out where Perry and the servant woman of Number Five are now, and where they were all last night?"
"I reckon that's right," chimed in Greenleaf. "It looks something like a common darky job at that."
"And this," added Bristow, taking something from his vest pocket and handing it to the chief of police, "looks more like it, doesn't it?"
Greenleaf examined the object the other had put into his hand. It was a metal button of the kind ordinarily worn on overall jumpers, and clinging to it were a few fragments of the dark blue stuff of which overalls are commonly made. On the back of the button were stamped in white the words: "National Overalls Company."
"Where did you get this?" asked the chief.
"I picked it up in the room where the dead girl was; and I'd forgotten it until this minute. It was on the floor a few yards from the body. You saw me when I picked it up. You were at the telephone."
"That's right. I remember now. By cracky! That came off of some darky's working clothes. That's sure!"
"The only trouble is," puzzled Bristow, "your negro doesn't wear overalls at night after he has finished work. He dresses up and loafs down town."
"That's true on Saturday nights. Other nights they don't take the trouble to change. And last night was Monday night. No, sir! That's our first clue, that button; the first sign we've had of the murderer."
"Keep it," Bristow told him. "I'm not as confident as you are, but you might have a look at the blouse of Perry's suit of overalls. We can't over-look anything now."
Deep in thought he gazed at the fire. Greenleaf got up and walked to the window, which gave a magnificent view of the great Carolina mountains in the distance. He was not admiring the mountains, however. He was wondering why Mr. Morley had not arrived.
"By the way," he said, "can't I get a drink of water?"
He was in the dining room on his way to the kitchen before Bristow roused himself from his reverie.
"Wait!" he called to the chief. "Let me get it for you."
Greenleaf, however, had gone into the kitchen. Bristow followed him and took a tumbler from a rack on the wall.
The chief drew the tumbler full twice from the faucet and gulped down the water. His hand shook. He was very nervous.
As they turned to leave the kitchen, he uttered an exclamation and, stooping down swiftly, pulled something from under the stove. When he straightened up, he had in his hand another metal button. He turned it about in his fingers, studying it.
"It looks like the one you found in Number Five," he said.
They compared the two. They were identical. The two men stared at each other.
"What do you make of that?" asked Greenleaf.
"I was wondering," Bristow replied, thinking quickly, "when—how that got there." He paused and added: "Mattie doesn't wear overalls."
They returned to the living room.
"But," he continued, "Perry was working for me yesterday. He was in the kitchen talking to Mattie. I wonder—Well, there's one thing; if Perry's blouse has two buttons missing, he'll be confronted with the job of establishing an alibi for all of last night."
"By cracky!" The captain slapped his hands together in evident relief. "I believe we've got him! I'm going to send a man after him."
He went out to the porch and signalled another of his men.
"Drake," he said, "I want you to find a young negro—name's Perry Carpenter—about twenty-five years old. He does odd jobs around here. Any of these other niggers can tell you where he lives. When you find him, take him to headquarters. Keep him there until I come. Get him. Don't lose him!"
When he stepped back into the house, Bristow was regarding him with a smile.
"I hope you're right," he told the chief, "but I've a hunch you're wrong. I believe this murder is more than an ordinary robbery by a darky. Somehow, I have the impression that there's something big mixed up in it."
"I can't say exactly. Perhaps it's because I've been thinking of the beauty of the victim. Or it may be that I was impressed by what the women said about her when we were waiting for you on the porch."
He thought a while, and decided that he had no explanation of why he had made the remark. He had not meant to say it. It had come from him spontaneously, like an endorsement of what all Manniston Road was saying at that very moment: the "the something big in it" loomed up, intangible but demanding notice.
Greenleaf himself, for all his apparent certainty about the guilt of the negro Perry, sensed vaguely the possibility, the hint, that this crime was even worse than it appeared to be. But he would not admit it. He preferred to keep before his mind the easier answer to the puzzle.
"No," he contradicted Bristow; "I believe Perry's the fellow we want. Here we are dealing with facts, not story-book romances."
Just then a young man sprang up the steps of No. 9 and knocked on the door. It was Henry Morley, come to give weight to Bristow's "hunch."
THE RUBY RING
Although it was Chief Greenleaf who opened the door, it was to Bristow that Morley turned, as if he instinctively recognized the superiority of the lame man's personality. Greenleaf, of average height and weight, had nothing of command or domination about him. With his red, weatherbeaten face and mild, expressionless blue eyes, he looked like a well-to-do farmer. He was suggestive of no acquaintance with Tarde, Lombroso or any other authorities on crime and criminals.
"Won't you sit down?" invited Bristow.
The new-comer was tall and slender. In spite of a straight, high-bridged nose and thin lips, his face indicated weakness. His dark-gray eyes had in them either a great deal of worry or undisguised fear. As he took the chair pointed out to him, he was being catalogued by Bristow as showing too much uncertainty, even a womanish timidity. Bristow noticed also that his thick, soft blond hair was carefully parted and brushed, and that his fingers were much manicured.
He breathed in short, quick gasps.
"What is it? How—how did it happen?" he asked, his gaze still on Bristow.
Greenleaf took a seat so that Morley sat between him and Bristow.
"We don't know how it happened," said the chief. "We wanted to know if you could tell us anything."
"I didn't see Mrs. Withers late last night," Morley replied, a nervous tremor in his voice.
"Nobody said you did," commented Bristow.
"No; I know that," Morley agreed in a queer, high voice.
"But you were in the house, Number Five, last evening, weren't you?" Bristow inquired.
"Well, tell us about it."
"I came down here from Washington Saturday," the young man began. "I didn't come to see Mrs. Withers. I came to see Miss Fulton, her sister. Of course, I've seen Mrs. Withers since I've been here; I saw her early last night. You see, last night she went up to the Maplewood Inn for the dinner dance, and, when I called, she was just leaving with a Mr. Campbell. Miss Fulton and I sat on the front porch and in the parlour talking until a little after eleven."
"We understood," put in Bristow, "that Miss Fulton was confined to her bed."
"She was, that is—er—she was supposed to be; but she got up last evening and dressed to receive me."
"I beg your pardon," again interrupted his questioner, "but everything is important here now, and we need information. We have so little of it as yet. I really apologize, but may I ask what your relations with Miss Fulton are?"
Morley hesitated a full minute before he answered.
"If it is to go no further than you gentlemen," he began.
"Of course," the other two agreed.
"Well, then, Miss Fulton and I are engaged to be married."
"Ah! Go ahead." This from the lame man.
"As I said, we talked until a little after eleven. Then I had to leave to catch the midnight train back to Washington."
"But you didn't catch it."
"No. You see, I was stopping at the Maplewood. That's more than a mile from Manniston Road, and it's fully two miles from the railroad station. Somehow, I didn't allow myself enough time, and I missed the train by a bare two minutes."
"What did you do then?"
"What did I do then?"
"I didn't go back to Maplewood Inn. I took a room for the night at the Brevord Hotel. It's near the station, you know, and I intended to catch the midday train today. Besides, it was late, and I didn't want to take the trouble of walking back or getting a machine to take me back to Maplewood."
He drew out his handkerchief and mopped his forehead, which, as a matter of fact, was perfectly dry. He was tremendously unstrung. Bristow realized this and saw that now, more than at any subsequent time, he would be able to make the young man talk.
"That," he said easily, "accounts for you, doesn't it? Now, I'll tell you. Chief Greenleaf and I are anxious to get some information about the Fulton family. As you know, we people here, being invalids, live pretty much to ourselves. We don't have the strength for much social life, and we don't know much about each other. What can you tell us?"
"Miss Fulton and Mrs. Withers are—were sisters," Morley responded. "Their father, William T. Fulton, is a real estate man in Washington. By the way, Mar—Miss Fulton expects him here this afternoon. She told me so yesterday. Last fall, just before Miss Fulton was taken sick with tuberculosis, he failed, failed for a very large amount of money."
"He was wealthy then?"
"Yes; quite. Mrs. Withers was twenty-five. She married Withers, George S. Withers, of Atlanta, Georgia, when she was twenty-one. But, when Miss Fulton had to come here for her health, Mrs. Withers agreed to come, too, and look after her. Withers isn't wealthy. He's a lawyer in Atlanta, but he hasn't a big income."
"How old is Miss Fulton?" asked Bristow.
"Do you know whether Mrs. Withers had any valuable jewelry—rings, stuff of that kind?"
Morley was for a moment visibly disturbed.
"Why, yes," he answered after a little pause. "When Mr. Fulton failed, Miss Fulton gave up all her jewels, everything, to help meet his debts. Mrs. Withers refused to do this—at least, she didn't do it."
Both Bristow and Greenleaf caught the note of criticism in his voice.
"Just what was the feeling between the two sisters?" pursued Bristow.
Again Morley paused.
"Oh, all right, if you don't feel like discussing that," his interrogator said smoothly. "It's of no consequence. We'll find out about it elsewhere."
"I suppose I might as well," said Morley. "It really doesn't amount to anything much. There has been considerable coolness between the two women."
"Even when Mrs. Withers was here nursing Miss Fulton?"
"Yes. You see, Mrs. Withers was and always has been Mr. Fulton's favourite. Miss Maria Fulton felt this, and she knew that Mrs. Withers came here only because Mr. Fulton asked her to do it. Also, Miss Fulton never forgave Mrs. Withers for not coming forward with her jewels, jewels which her father had given her—for not coming forward with them when he failed."
"Did they ever quarrel?"
"Well, yes. Sometimes, I think, they did. You know how it is with two women, particularly sisters, who are on what might be called bad terms. Then, as I was about to say, Mrs. Withers wasn't making any sacrifice by being here with her sister. Mr. Fulton, in spite of his reduced means, paid her expenses, all of them. Besides, Mrs. Withers had quite a good time here, going to the dances, and so on."
"Do you know, Mr. Morley, whether they had a quarrel yesterday?"
"They didn't so far as I know."
"Miss Fulton said nothing to you about a quarrel?"
Bristow was silent a few seconds.
"I think that's all, Mr. Morley. We're much obliged to you. Isn't that all, chief?"
"Yes, for the present," Greenleaf answered with a long breath, thankful the other had been there to do the questioning. "That seems to cover everything."
"I wonder if I could see Miss Fulton," Morley said, rising.
"If the doctor will allow it," Greenleaf told him. "You might go down there and see."
Morley put his hand on the doorknob.
"By the way," interjected Bristow once more, and this time his voice was cold, steely; "Mr. Morley, did you wear rubbers last night?"
"Rubbers?" parroted Morley.
Morley stared a moment, as if calculating something.
"Why, yes; I believe I did," he said finally.
Greenleaf, glancing down at Morley's feet, noticed what Bristow had seen three seconds after Morley had entered the room—his feet were large, abnormally large for a man of his build. He must have worn a number ten or, perhaps, a number eleven shoe.
"I thought so," Bristow observed carelessly. "I sleep out on my sleeping porch at the back of the house here, and I knew it rained hard from early in the night until seven this morning."
Morley, without commenting on this, looked at the two men.
"Is there anything more?" he inquired.
"No, nothing more; thanks," said Bristow.
The young man went out quickly, slamming the door in his haste.
Bristow answered Greenleaf's questioning look:
"There was no use in our looking round the outside of the house for possible footprints this morning. If there had been any, the rain would have cleared them away. But, when I first ran up on the porch—it's roofed, like mine here—I noticed the dried marks made by a wet shoe hours before, a large shoe, by a large shoe with a rubber sole, or by a rubber shoe."
"The devil you did!"
"I did.—But it may turn out that Perry, or somebody else, or several other people, wore rubber shoes, or rubber-soled shoes last night. Negroes always have large feet."
"Well, I hope my man's found this Perry nigger," said the chief. "He's the fellow we want."
"And yet," ruminated Bristow, "what young Morley said is interesting enough—two quarreling sisters living together—one decked in jewels, the other deprived of them—the jewels gone this morning." He smiled and waved his hands comprehensively. "As long as it is a mystery, let's have it a real mystery. Let's look at all sides of it. There's Perry. There's Morley. And—there's Miss Maria Fulton."
"Oh, I don't connect her up with it any." The chief's voice was tinged with ridicule.
Bristow answered a knock on the door and opened to admit a uniformed policeman.
"Beg your pardon, chief," said the officer, "but I had something for a Mr. Morley. The men on guard down there at Number Five wouldn't let me in to see him—said I'd better see you."
"What have you got, Avery?" asked Greenleaf.
"It's a little package. You know, I'm on that beat down there. Takes in the Brevord Hotel. The clerk said this Mr. Morley had sent his grips to the station, but had said he was coming up to Number Five, Manniston Road. He said there had been a murder up here. The clerk said he didn't know what to do with this property but turn it over to the police. As soon as I saw what it was, I hurried up here."
"What is it?"
"It's a ring, sir."
"A ring!" exclaimed Bristow. "Let's see it."
Policeman Avery handed Bristow a tissue paper package.
The lame man unwound the paper and discovered a woman's ring, the setting a tremendous pigeon's-blood ruby flanked on each side by a diamond. It was an exceedingly handsome and very valuable piece of jewelry.
"Where did the clerk get this?" Bristow asked swiftly.
For the first time, he was visibly excited.
"A maid found it under the bed on the floor of Mr. Morley's room at the Brevord," answered Avery.
Greenleaf needed no hint from Bristow this time.
"Avery," he said, "your beat takes in the railroad station. Go down to Number Five and get a good look at this man Morley. After that, if he attempts to leave Furmville, arrest him."
"I'm afraid," said Bristow, after the policeman had hurried out, "we made a mistake in permitting Morley to talk to Miss Fulton just at present."
"I can go down there and interrupt them," Greenleaf volunteered.
The lame man reflected, a forefinger against the right side of his nose, the attitude emphasizing the fact that this feature was perceptibly crooked, bent toward the left.
"No," he concluded. "We'd probably be too late." Then he added, "And we didn't find out Morley's employment or profession in Washington—but we can do that later."
The chief of police prepared to leave, saying he was going to call at Douglas Campbell's office and from there go to headquarters in the hope that Perry had been found.
"Can't you come with me?" he invited.
"It's against the doctor's orders," Bristow replied. "He tells me not to leave this house or its porches. If I started to run around with you, I'd be exhausted in an hour. But I'll tell you what: this afternoon, after you've talked to Campbell and the darky, suppose you come back here, and we'll drop down to interview Miss Fulton ourselves."
This surprised Greenleaf.
"You mean you suspect——"
"Oh," he countered lightly, "we've enough suspecting to do already. There's Perry—and there's Morley. Don't let's complicate it too much. But what Miss Fulton has to say may be valuable. By the way, if I should need to do so, how can I persuade anybody that I have authority to ask questions, or to do anything else in this matter?"
The captain thought a moment.
"I'll appoint you to the plain-clothes squad. I appoint you now, and the city commissioners will confirm it. They meet tonight. You're on the force—at a nominal salary—say ten dollars a week. That suit you?"
"Perfectly," consented Bristow. "What I want is the power to help in case I have the opportunity."
Greenleaf went out to the porch, followed by Bristow, and started down the steps.
"By the way," his new employee said in a cautious tone, "don't forget to stop at Number Five and look for those scratches, on the fingers and the neck."
"By cracky!" exclaimed the chief. "I'd forgotten all about it. I'll do that right away."
Looking toward No. 5, Bristow saw a hearse-like wagon drawing up in front of the door. The coroner had already made arrangements for the removal of the body of Mrs. Withers to an undertaking establishment.
The lame man went slowly into the house and stood at the window, staring at the mountains. In the clear, newly washed air, they looked like the soft, tumbling waves of some magically blue sea.
Like most retiring, secluded men, he had his vanity in pronounced degree. He saw himself now, the dominant figure in this city of thirty thousand people, the man who had been selected by the chief of police as the one able to unravel the web of mystery surrounding this startling murder. The thought pleased him, and he smiled. He began to think about himself and about life as a general proposition.
Everything was always so mixed up, so involved. People talked of a divine providence, of the law that virtue is rewarded, of the rule that to do good is to have good done to one. He smiled again. If all that was true, what explanation was there for the murder of this woman, this beauty whose good nature, kindness, and cleverness had endeared her to all with whom she came in contact?
He had heard the women on the porch of No. 5 say that everybody had loved her. Why, then, had some ignorant negro or some white man bent on robbery been permitted to steal up on her in the dead of night and crush out her life? Was there any reason, any logic, any mercy in that?
He drummed on the window-pane with his fingertips and whistled, scarcely audibly, a fragment of tune. His pursed up mouth made it clear that he was not a handsome man—the lower lip was heavy, somewhat protuberant.
Pshaw! There was only one rule of life that held good, so far as he had been able to see. Strength and persistence accomplished things and brought success and security. Weakness and foolish prating about righteousness and virtue were never worth a dollar.
That was it! If you were mighty and clever, you stayed on top. If you were sentimental and looking after other people's interests, you went down. You had no time to bother about the safety and happiness of others. Look out for yourself. Never relent in the fierce battle against the odds of life. That was the only way to conquer and avoid catastrophe.
He was sure of it when he thought about himself. He had a brilliant brain. It was not particularly egotistic for him to think that. It was merely a fact. But he had not used it relentlessly and incessantly. He had relaxed his hold too often when seeking pleasure. Although he had done things which had been applauded by his friends, he had nothing much to show in the way of lasting results.
That was why he was here now, with scarcely enough resources to pay the rent of his bungalow and the expenses of living. A little dabbling in real estate, some third-rate work for the magazines, a passing notoriety as a guesser of crime riddles—it was not a record that promised a bright future.
He sighed. Well, that was the way of life. He might yet accomplish big things although he was under a terrific handicap—and he might not. He would try, and see.
His future was much like the probable outcome of this murder. How would the circumstances shape themselves? What would be the result of circumstantial evidence?
It was all a gamble. Some murderers were lucky and got away. And some innocent men were not lucky. These were like the blundering, illiterate negro Perry. There was an even chance that the guilty man would be caught—and there was an even chance that an innocent man would hang. Life was like that!
He caressed with his forefinger his protruding lip. He wouldn't say the negro was guilty. In spite of the evidence of the buttons, he would advance no such theory yet. And as to Morley—nobody could think that a man with such a weak face would have the nerve to do murder. He knew this. There must be somebody else. It might be that the sister, Maria Fulton, in an excess of rage—But why reason about that before he had talked to her?
It was up to him to fasten the guilt on the guilty man—or woman. That was what was expected of him. And it was a task which——
He turned toward the table and began methodically to paste into their proper places the clippings he had cut from the newspapers concerning other "big" murder cases. He would study them later.
He looked up and saw a very fat man standing just outside the door.
"Hello, Overton," he said, without cordiality, and joined him on the porch.
"I picked out an interesting time to visit you," observed the fat man, still puffing from the exertion of climbing the Manniston Road hill; "what with murder and——"
"And I'm going to be frank with you," Bristow put in. "I'm helping the police a little, and I haven't the time to gossip now. I know you'll understand——"
"Surely, surely!" said Overton. "I'll come some other time. This sort of stuff's right in your line. You used to be an authority on it in Cincinnati, I remember."
He said good-bye and lumbered awkwardly down the steps. He and Bristow had been good friends in Cincinnati, and he seemed now not at all offended by the summary dismissal.
The door leading from the kitchen to the dining room opened. Mattie had returned. Bristow reentered the house.
"Well?" he said in the low, kindly tone he used in speaking to her.
"I foun' Lucy Thomas, Mistuh Bristow," she said, breathless and indignant. "She is sho' one sorry nigger. She wuz drunk—layin' out in de parluh uv dat little house uv her'n. Dead drunk."
"Did you wake her up, Mattie?"
"Yas, suh; but she ain' fit to come do no wuk. Dis ole rotten blockade whisky dese niggers drink jes' knocked her out—knocked her out fuh fair."
"Did she say when she got drunk?"
"Las' night, suh, late, wid dat Perry. You know, Mistuh Bristow; he been doin' some wuk fuh you."
"Was Perry drunk last night? Did she tell you?"
"He wuz a little lit up, she says, but he warn't drunk. She didn't have no idea whar he wuz jes' now."
Bristow made no comment on this, and Mattie, turning slowly away from him, began to mumble something.
"What's that, Mattie?" he asked, only half curious.
"I wuz jes' sayin', Mistuh Bristow, it 'pears to me marveelyus how some uv dese niggers behave. Dey don' look arter de white folks dey wuk fuh. Seems to me marveelyus how a lot uv dem keeps out uv jail."
He was curious enough now.
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply. "What are you talking about?"
"It's jes' dis, suh: when I gits ovuh to Lucy's house, de fus' thing I sees is a key layin' on de flo'. When I ast her 'bout it, she says it mus' be de key to Number Five—she mus' uv drapped it."
"I see," said Bristow thoughtfully. "Yes, you're right, Mattie. There are a lot of careless people in the world."
When she had gone back to the kitchen, the full force of what she had said struck him. How simple it would have been for Perry to have taken the key from the drunken Lucy and gone to No. 5! After the commission of the crime, what would have been easier than for him to throw the key on the floor in Lucy's house, thus apparently proving that he had had no way of gaining entrance to the bungalow?
"I didn't foresee this," he meditated. "There's only one thing more needed to hang that darky. That is the discovery that he has in his possession, or has hidden, the jewelry."
He seemed suddenly reminded of something else by this thought. He went to the telephone and called up the Brevord Hotel.
"A Mr. Morley, Mr. Henry Morley, registered there last night, didn't he?" he inquired of the clerk.
"Yes," the clerk replied.
"I wonder," continued Bristow suavely, "if you'd mind looking at the register and telling me exactly at what time he did register. This is Chief Greenleaf's office talking."
"I see. Yes, sir; very glad to. Just hold the wire a moment while I look."
Bristow waited. The Brevord was scarcely four minutes' walk from the railroad station. Morley, having missed the midnight train by two minutes, should have registered at the hotel certainly not later than ten minutes past midnight.
"I have it," came the clerk's voice. "Mr. Henry Morley, of Washington, D. C., registered here at five minutes past two this morning."
Bristow was astonished, but his voice was uncoloured by surprise when he inquired:
"Are you sure of that?"
"Quite," said the clerk laconically. "We always put down opposite each guest's name the time of arrival and registering."
"Thanks ever so much." Bristow hung up the receiver slowly.
It was now after one o'clock, and, following the routine prescribed by his doctor, he made his way to the sleeping porch to lie down for half an hour before dinner, his midday meal.
"From midnight until two o'clock this morning," he reflected, revolving a dozen different facts in his mind. "Mr. Morley failed to mention how he amused himself during all that time. If he's not a criminal, he's criminally stupid."
THE HUSBAND'S STORY
Mr. Bristow, however, was not allowed to rest half an hour. Instead, he was called upon to consider a phase of the Withers murder more amazing than any of those so far uncovered. Barely ten minutes after his conversation with the clerk of the Brevord, Mattie announced that two gentlemen were waiting to see him, one of them being the chief of police.
When Bristow stepped into the living room, Greenleaf introduced the stranger. He was Mr. Withers—Mr. George S. Withers, husband of the murdered woman. He was of the extreme brunette type, his hair blue-black, his black eyes keen and piercing and always on the move. Bristow got the impression in looking at him that all his features, the aquiline nose, the firm, compressed mouth, the large ears, were remarkably sharp-cut.
The man's excitement was almost beyond his control. He apparently made no attempt to hide the fact that his hands trembled like leaves in the wind and that, every now and then, his legs quivered perceptibly. As soon as he had shaken hands, he sank into a chair.
"Mr. Withers," the chief explained, "caught me at Number Five before I had started down town. I have explained how you are helping me in this—er distressing matter. So we came up here."
"I see," said Bristow, betraying no surprise that Withers had appeared so suddenly.
In fact, he had not thought of the husband previously, except to calculate that, in answer to the telegram Dr. Braley had undoubtedly sent, he could not reach Furmville from Atlanta before far into the night.
"He only heard of the tragedy half an hour ago," Greenleaf added.
"I didn't know you were in town or even expected," Bristow said casually. "I thought you were in Atlanta."
"I—I wasn't expected." Withers hurried his words.
"You mean nobody expected you?"
"That's it, I wasn't expected. But I've been in—in town here since yesterday morning."
"And Mrs. Withers didn't know of it?"
"Nobody knew of it. I didn't want anybody to know of it."
Bristow purposely remained silent, awaiting some explanation. He looked down, studying the pattern of the scratches he made by rubbing his right shoe against the side of the built-up sole, two inches thick, of his left shoe. The shortness of his crippled leg made this heavy sole necessary; and the awkwardness of it worried him. He seemed always conscious of it.
Greenleaf, taking his cue from Bristow, said nothing.
"I came in without notifying anybody," Withers felt himself obliged to continue, "and I registered under an assumed name."
"Where?" the lame man asked swiftly.
"At the Brevord."
"What name—under what name?"
"Waring, Charles B. Waring."
"And you've been in Furmville since yesterday morning? Got here on the eight o'clock train yesterday morning?"
Bristow gave him the benefit of another long pause and studied him more closely. He saw that this bereaved husband was of the high-strung, Southern-gentleman type, hot-tempered, impulsive, one of those apt to believe that "shooting" is the remedy for one's personal ills or injuries. The lines of his mouth betrayed selfishness and peevishness.
The interrogator broke the silence at last:
"Of course, Mr. Withers, there's some good explanation for your secret trip to Furmville?"
"What is it?"
"I—I don't know that I care to say now—to discuss it yet."
Bristow shot Greenleaf a prompting glance.
"You see, it's this way," the chief acted on the silent suggestion; "I'm in charge of this matter, the capture of the murderer, and Mr. Bristow is helping me. In fact, he's the man in command. His abilities fit him for the work. If the man who killed your wife is caught, it will be through the work of Mr. Bristow. I'm confident of that. Moreover, every minute we lose now may be disastrous to us. Consequently, we want to hear your story. You appreciate our position, I know."
Withers licked his dry lips with the tip of his dry tongue.
"How about the newspapers?" he asked.
"You'll be talking only for our information," cut in Bristow crisply. "We won't give it to the papers. We want to use it for our own benefit."
"Ah, I see. Well, then——"
Withers got up and paced the length of the floor several times in silence while they watched him. He gave the impression of framing up in advance in his mind what he would say. He seemed to want to talk without talking too much—to tell a part of a story, not all.
"I tell you, gentlemen," he said, going back to his chair, his voice trembling, "this is a hard thing to get to. I mean I don't like to say what I must say. But I see there's no way out but this. The truth of the matter is, I came up here to satisfy myself as to what my wife was doing in regard to a certain matter."
"You mean you were suspicious of her—jealous of her?" Bristow interpolated.
"No, not that," returned the husband.
"He's lying!" was the thought of both Greenleaf and Bristow.
"No. Let me make that very clear. I never doubted her in that way."
"Well, how did you doubt her?"
"I don't mean I doubted her at all. I mean I thought she was being imposed upon financially. In fact, I was sure of it. I'm sure of it now."
"You mean blackmail?" Bristow narrowed down the inquiry.
"Just that. And I'll tell you about it." He rasped his dry lips again. "This sort of thing, this blackmail, had happened to her twice before this. Once it was when she was at Atlantic City for a month with her sister, Miss Maria Fulton.
"That was a year after our marriage. Then, two years later—just about a year ago now—when she was in Washington visiting her father and sister. Both those times things happened as they had begun to happen here, in fact as they've been happening here for the past two months."
"Well," Bristow urged him on, "what happened?"
"She got away with too much money, more money than she could possibly have used for herself in any legitimate way. First, she got her father to give her all she could get out of him. Her second step would be to write to me for all I could spare, making flimsy excuses for her need of it.
"Her third resource was to pawn all her jewels. She pawned them on these first two occasions I've described. I say she pawned them, but I never had definite proof of it. However, I was sure of it. I don't know that she had come to this in Furmville. If she hadn't she would have."
"What were Mrs. Withers' jewels worth?"
"Originally, I should say, they cost about fifteen thousand dollars. She had no difficulty, I suppose, in raising six or seven thousand dollars on them—even more than that."
"They were worth so much as all that?"
"Yes. Her father had given her most of them before his business failure. He failed last fall, I forgot to mention."
"Now," Bristow said persuasively, "about this blackmailing proposition. What was—what is your idea about that?"
Withers produced and lit a cigarette, handling it with quivering fingers.
"Somebody, some man, had a hold of some sort on her. Whenever he needed money, had to have money, he got it from her. That is, he did this whenever he could find her away from home. So far as I know, he never tried to operate in Atlanta."
"What do you think this hold was?"
"Well," Withers began, and paused.
"Your theories are perfectly safe with us," Bristow reassured him.
"I thought, naturally, that it had something to do with her life previous to the time I met her."
"I didn't know. That's what worried me." All of a sudden, his hearers got a clear idea of what the man had suffered. It was plainly to be detected in his voice. "It might have been a harmless love affair, a flirtation, with letters involved, letters which she thought would distress me if I ever saw them."
"Nothing more than that?"
"I never thought she had been guilty of anything—well, immoral, heinous."
"You say," Bristow changed the course of questioning, "she pawned her jewels twice. How did she do that? Where did she get the money to redeem them after the first pawning?"
"I don't know. I never could find out."
"You had no six or seven thousand dollars to give her for that purpose, as I understand it?"
"Where did she get it, then?" Bristow's questions, despite their directness, were free from offense.
"I—I thought," Withers began again and paused. "I thought that, perhaps, her father helped her out, got the jewels out of pawn both times for her."
"Did you ever ask him?"
"Yes; and he denied having done so. But, you see, my theory is borne out. Before, when she pawned them, her father was wealthy; and she was his favourite child. She knew he would help her. But now his money is gone. He's failed. Consequently, she has not pawned them this time. She knew there would be no chance to redeem them."
Bristow leaned forward in his chair.
"Mr. Withers," he asked, "as a matter of fact, did you ever know that your wife had pawned her jewels?"
"Well," he said, as if making an admission, "she would never confess it to me. I assumed it from the fact that on both occasions the jewels were missing for a good while. They were certainly not in her possession. She couldn't produce them when called upon to do so."
"I see. Now, Mr. Withers, what did you do yesterday, all day yesterday, after reaching here?"
"I went to the Brevord and registered under the name of Waring. After I had had breakfast, I went straight to Abrahamson's pawnshop. It's the only pawnshop in town. I told him I was looking for some stolen jewelry and I expected that an attempt might be made to pawn it with him. He agreed to let me wait there, well concealed by the heavy hangings at the back of his shop. I spent the day there except for a few minutes in the afternoon when I went out for a quick lunch."
"Yes? Did you find out anything?"
Once more Withers found it hard to speak.
"Yes"; he said finally. "A man came in and pawned one of my wife's rings. It had a setting of three diamonds. It was worth about seven hundred and fifty dollars, I should say. Abrahamson let him have only a hundred on it."
"Why only a hundred?"
"I had asked him to do that, so as to prove that the man was a thief—you know, willing to take anything offered to him."
"And he did take the hundred?"
"What happened after that?"
"I followed him from the shop—for half a block. When he had gone that distance, I lost him. He stepped into a store, and I waited for him to come out. He never did. It was the old dodge. The store extended the width of a block. He made his escape through the other entrance."
Greenleaf was more excited even than Withers.
"This man," the chief put in; "what did he look like?"
"He was of average weight, medium height. He had a gold tooth, the upper left bicuspid gold. His nose was aquiline. He wore a long, dark gray raincoat, and he had a cap with its long visor pulled well over his face. Then, too, he wore a beard, chestnut-brown in colour. That's about the best description I can give you of him. You see, this happened late in the afternoon."
"All right," Bristow kept to the main thread of the story. "Now, about last night. What then?"
Withers threw away his cigarette and sighed.
"I came up here and watched Number Five. I had an idea that this fellow might show up."
"Where did you watch from?"
"Most of the time I sat on the steps of Number Four, almost directly across the road from Number Five. You know how it is on this street. Nearly everybody is in the back of the house after dark. The invalids are on the sleeping porches behind the houses. Besides, it was in deep shadow where I was. I was not observed when my—when Mrs. Withers left the house with an escort, a man, early in the evening."
"And you waited until she returned?"
"Yes; I waited."
"Very well." There was for the first time a hint of sharpness in Bristow's voice. "You waited. What did you see?"
For the past few minutes a change had been taking place in the bearing of Withers. It was as if, having recovered slightly from the terrific shock of his wife's death, he was gradually stiffening, gaining the strength necessary to withstand the swift volley of Bristow's questions.
The questioner, sensing this alteration in the other, made his queries all the quicker and more peremptory. He wanted to profit as much as possible from the other's lack of control.
"I saw her return with her escort," Withers answered. "She shook hands with him and went into the house and closed the door. He got into his machine, turned it and went back toward town."
"Was his machine noisy?"
"Did you try to enter Number Five?"
"No. I wasn't ready to disclose my presence. I wanted more time."
He put his hand to his watch pocket and was surprised to find that no watch was there; he had been making nervous little movements like that throughout the interview; but he kept his keen glance on his questioner.
"Then, tell us this, please," Bristow demanded, the sharpness in his tone pronounced: "have you and your wife been on the best of terms lately? And another thing: have you ever had any lasting, distressing disagreements with her?"
The effect of this upon Withers was entirely surprising. He sprang from his chair, his features suddenly working with rage.
"Dammit!" he exclaimed in a tense, vibrant voice, as his glance rested first on Bristow and then on Greenleaf. "What does all this amount to anyway? Here you are, asking me questions as if you thought I had killed my own wife! What I want is results, not a lot of hot air and bluff!"
He snapped his fingers under Bristow's nose.
"Why, dammit!" he shrilled. "Haven't you any idea yet where to look for the murderer? Are you groping around here helplessly after all this time? Dammit! I want a real detective on this job, and I'm going to get one."
He clapped his felt hat to his head and started toward the door.
"You can bet your last dollar on that! I'm going to get one, and he'll be here tomorrow if telegrams can bring him. I'll have Sam Braceway, the cleverest fellow in this business in the South, here tomorrow! I intend to have punishment for the devil who killed my wife. Punishment!—the worst kind!"
His lips were trembling, and he dashed the back of his hand across his face, as if he feared the formation of tears in his eyes.
"You two boneheads can put that in your pipes and smoke it! I mean business!"
He slammed the door, and was gone, taking the steps to the street in two bounds.
"By cracky!" said Greenleaf. "What do you make of that?"
"Nothing," Bristow answered contemptuously; "nothing except that it may be well for us to find out a whole lot more about Mr. Withers and his peculiarities of temper and temperament."
"I should say so," the chief chimed agreement.
"Of course," Bristow added, "that was the easiest way for him to break off our inquiry. I don't think he was on the level with all that storming and raging. It might have been just a great big bluff—that's all. And yet, that Braceway he talked about is good, a wonder. He's done some wonderful work."
"Here's one point," Greenleaf advanced: "why didn't he ask for help from the police yesterday afternoon when he lost track of that fellow with the gold tooth?"
"Yes," the other returned absent-mindedly; "why didn't he?"
MORLEY IS IN A HURRY
Bristow looked at his watch. It was nearly half-past two o'clock.
"Hear anything about Perry?" he asked.
"Yes," Greenleaf informed him. "My man found him. They've got him down at headquarters. I phoned from Number Five and got this. He'd been drinking. I gather that he's about half-drunk now."
"Good! If he'll talk at all, it will be easier for you to get the truth out of him that way than if he were cold sober. Suppose you see him and Douglas Campbell; and later on this afternoon you and I can talk to Miss Fulton and her father."
"Her father won't be here today. He wired that a little while ago. He'll get here early in the morning."
"Very well. It's of no consequence just now. Come back here for me at four, will you?"
When the chief had gone, Bristow sat down to his delayed dinner. As he ate, he went over the facts so far discovered, and catalogued them:
Perry, the negro—incriminated, probably, by the buttons from his overalls jacket; by the ease with which he could have obtained from Lucy Thomas the kitchen key to No. 5; by the possible motive of robbery; and by the brutal means, choking, employed to inflict death.
Morley—incriminated by his unknown whereabouts during the two hours following his missing the midnight train, and by the discovery of the ring (possibly Mrs. Withers') in his room at the Brevord.
Withers—involved by the probable motive of jealousy and rage, and by his secret trip to Furmville.
Maria Fulton—well, he would see.
"Just now," he concluded in his own mind, "it looks worse for the negro than anybody else. There's one thing certain: the man against whom the most evidence rests by the time they have the inquest tomorrow will be the one held for the action of the grand jury. That's the thing to do—get the one who seems most probably guilty."
He thought of Douglas Campbell and immediately dismissed him as a possibility in the list of probable murderers. The young real estate dealer had been completely exonerated by the statement of the dead woman's husband; that, upon bringing her back to the bungalow, he had at once said good night to her and gone home.
Nor did he puzzle his mind about the unknown individual with the gold tooth, he who had appeared in Abrahamson's pawnshop and a few minutes later miraculously disappeared. If the ring pawned had belonged to Mrs. Withers, why should this man return to No. 5 and murder her? If he had obtained nothing from her beforehand, he might have had a real motive for the crime. But, since he had already got the ring, it seemed folly to assume that he would later kill her.
In spite of his growing belief that the onus of proof must fall upon the negro, Bristow could not keep his thoughts away from young Morley. He, more than any of the other suspects, had told an unsatisfactory story. Besides, he had a bad face.
The latest addition to the Furmville plain-clothes squad remembered how carefully Morley's hands had been manicured. He——
With a quick motion, he went to the telephone and called for Greenleaf.
"Chief, are you still holding Perry?"
"Sure, I'm holding him. I'll continue to hold him for some time, I'm thinking. His story don't suit me. He says——"
"All right. Ill get that from you when I see you this afternoon. In the meantime, I wish you'd have his finger nails carefully cleaned. I want——"
But the request had instantly overwhelmed Greenleaf.
"What!" he yelled. "Clean his finger nails!"
"Yes," Bristow continued smoothly, disregarding the other's evident distaste and surprise. "If I were down there, I'd do it myself. In fact, it would be better for you to do it. Don't leave it to some careless subordinate."
The chief laughed his sarcasm.
"You know," this still with laughter, "we Southerners are none too strong on acting as manicures to these coloured folks."
"It's absolutely necessary," was the insistent answer. "And, when you do clean them, save every bit of dirt thus obtained. Now, will you do it?"
"Why, yes," Greenleaf assented with reluctance. "If you say it's absolutely necessary, I'll do it—I'll do it myself."
"Good. I'll depend on you for it. By the way, can't you have somebody, your man Jenkins or some one as good as he is, go out on a real hunt for the fellow with the gold tooth? You remember Withers' description of him?"
"Yes. I'd thought of that."
"That's good. If he can't spot him at any of the hotels, have him make the rounds of the boarding houses. I think you'd like to get your hands on a customer as slippery as Withers says that man is."
"I'll send Jenkins at once," the chief took his directions in good part.
"Good again. By the way, you'll be up here at four?"
"No; five. Dr. Braley told me we'd have to wait until then; said we'd better. He wants her to get that extra hour's sleep."
Bristow started to say something further, hesitated and then hung up the receiver with a word of assent.
Mattie had come in to clear off the table.
"Go down to Number Six," he told her, "and ask Mrs. Allen if she will be so kind as to come up here at her earliest convenience. Explain to her that it's against the doctor's orders for me to leave this house, and that the excitement of this morning has tired me out."
Mrs. Allen appeared in less than a quarter of an hour. He received her in the living room and introduced himself, apologizing for not having been able to call on her. She understood perfectly, she said.
She was a woman about forty years of age, her face a little thin and worn, a good deal of gray in her dark hair. She had been nursing her husband for two years, and the strain had begun to tell. Nevertheless, he soon saw that she was a woman of refinement, possessed of a keen intelligence.
"I wish," he requested, after he had explained his connection with the murder, "you'd tell me all you know about these sisters. I gathered this morning that you were well acquainted with them."
He had always found it easy to gain the confidence of women. They liked his manners, his air of deference, his manifest interest in everything they said.
"I can't say that I've been intimate with them," Mrs. Allen explained in her soft, pleasing voice; "but Mrs. Withers and I knew each other pretty well. She came over to my house quite frequently, and I was in the habit of running in to see her."
"Don't you know the other, Miss Fulton, equally well?"
"No. You see, she was always in, or on, the bed, and she never seemed to want to talk. Besides, she was different from Mrs. Withers—not so bright and attractive, and not so neighbourly."
"Mrs. Withers was always a laughing, sparkling sort of a person, wasn't she?"
"She gave that impression to some people," Mrs. Allen answered thoughtfully, "but not to me. It was her nature to be free and happy. Most of the time she seemed that way. But there were other times when I could see that she had something weighing on her mind, something depressing her."
"Ah!" Bristow said with deeper interest. "That's just what we want to find out about."
Mrs. Allen sat silent for a moment pursing her lips.
Bristow let her reflect.
"I don't think," she said at last, "Mrs. Withers ever was in fear of anybody or any thing. She wasn't that kind."
"Did she ever tell you anything to make you think that she wasn't happy?"
"I was trying to recall just what it was. Once, I remember, when she was sitting out on the sleeping porch—she sometimes came out there to talk to my husband, who is always in bed—we had been discussing the care with which every woman had to live her life.
"'Women are like politicians,' Mr. Allen said. 'They can't afford to have a dark spot in their past. If they do, somebody will drag it out.'
"At that Mrs. Withers cried out:
"'Oh! how awfully true that is! And how unfair! It never seems to matter with men, but with women it means heaven, or the other thing. I wish I knew——' She broke off with a gasp, and I saw her lip tremble.
"It was funny, but at the time I thought she was referring to her sister, not to herself."
"What made you think that?"
"I don't know. I had no real reason for it. Perhaps it was just because unhappiness seemed so foreign to Mrs. Withers herself."
"Was there anything else?"
"Once, when I ran into Number Five, I found her crying. She was in the living room, all doubled up in a rocking chair, crying silently."
"Did she say why?"
"No; but, while I was trying to soothe her, she said, 'Life's so hard—it's so hard to straighten out a tangle when once you've made it. If one could just go back and do things over again!' When I asked her if I could help her, she said I couldn't. 'Nobody can,' she sobbed out on my shoulder. 'It doesn't concern me alone. I'll have to fight it out the best way I can.'"
Bristow was greatly interested.
"What did you conclude from all that, Mrs. Allen?" he asked.
"My impression was very vague," Mrs. Allen returned frankly. "I don't think it is of much value now. I got, somehow, the idea that there was in her life something which she had to conceal, something which might at any moment be discovered. I thought she was worrying about its effect on her husband. Of course, though, that was just my idea."
"I see. Now, just one other thing: what did you think, what do you think, of Miss Fulton?"
"Oh, merely that she's bad-tempered and impatient, always complaining. She was totally without any appreciation of all that Mrs. Withers did for her. Nobody likes Miss Fulton particularly. I think all of us, as we came to know the two, were amazed that Mrs. Withers could have such a disagreeable sister."
Mrs. Allen's recital, while interesting and valuable as to Mrs. Withers' acknowledgment that she felt compelled to keep secret some part of her life, threw no practical light on the situation.
Bristow was silent, thoughtful, for a few moments.
"I've never seen Miss Fulton, except for the glance I had at her this morning," he said. "Was it possible for anybody to mistake one for the other? I mean this: if a man had known that last night Miss Fulton was up and dressed, could it have been possible for him, in a dim light and under the stress of terrific agitation, to have attacked Mrs. Withers under the impression that he was attacking Miss Fulton?"
"Oh, no!" Mrs. Allen said emphatically, and then added: "Oh, I see what you mean. Well, they were of about the same build, although Mrs. Withers wasn't so thin as Miss Fulton is. Then, their hair is different, Mrs. Withers' black, Miss Fulton's blond. I don't know. I should say it all depended on how dark it was."
When Mrs. Allen had gone, Bristow took from a bookcase one of his scrapbooks and went to work pasting into place the clippings he had been reading that morning when interrupted by the cry of murder.
For nine years he had been studying murder cases and the methods of murderers. People had laughed at his fad, but now he was more pleased with himself as a result of it than ever before. He was still pleasantly aware of the prominence he would enjoy in Furmville because of Greenleaf's having called on him for assistance.
"Every murderer," he had said many times, "makes some mistake, big or little, which will lead to his destruction if the authorities have brains enough to find it."
He thought the rule might apply too widely to this case. In fact, his own trouble now was that too many mistakes had been made, too many clues had been left lying around. In order to determine the guilty person, much chaff would have to be sifted from the wheat of truth.
He was closing his scrapbook when the chief of police arrived a few minutes before five o'clock.
"Henry Morley," Greenleaf announced at once, "is a receiving teller in a bank in Washington—the Anderson National Bank."
"And receiving tellers," put in Bristow quickly, "sometimes need money—need it to make good other money they have 'borrowed' from the bank. How did you find this out?"
"He told me when I met him at Number Five after leaving you this afternoon."
"Was he still there then?"
"Yes. It seems that Miss Fulton refused at first to see him. When she did see him, it was for only a minute or two. He was very much agitated when he came from her room."
"There's another thing," added Bristow. "Morley has two hours of last night to account for. He told us he missed the midnight train and went to the Brevord to spend the night. As a matter of fact, he registered at the Brevord a little after two o'clock this morning."
The chief's jaw dropped.
"How do you know that?"
"I called up the Brevord and got the information from the clerk."
"That settles it, then," Greenleaf said, his jaw set. "That young man will have to remain with us for a while."
"Yes; quite properly."
"I guess it's time for us to move." The chief turned toward the door.
"One moment," said the other. "Somehow, I have the impression that we may get important stuff from Maria Fulton. She may not give it to us directly and willingly, but we may get it all the same. And I was thinking this: you and I have got to keep our heads. We don't want to get rattled with the idea that we're up against an unsolvable mystery.
"As you know, I've lived in New York and Chicago and Cincinnati. For the past eight or nine years I've gotten a lot of fun out of watching and studying these cases. And the thing I've learned above all others is that the best way for a criminal to escape is for the authorities to lose their heads and think they are up against something that's really much bigger than it is.
"You see what I mean? What we want to do is to go ahead with our eyes open, knowing that at any moment we may stumble against the one act that will make everything clear and definite."
"That's good talk, and I'll try to act on it," replied the chief, "but, gee whiz! I'm not used to stuff of this sort. It kinder makes me sick."
They went out to the porch.
"By the way," Bristow asked, "what about the two buttons we found?"
"They belonged to Perry," Greenleaf answered. "There's no getting around that. He had the two middle buttons of his overalls jacket missing. What's more, one of the buttons, the one that had a little piece of the cloth clinging to it, fitted exactly into the hole made in the jacket when the button was pulled out."
"Which button was that?"
"The first one—the one you found in Number Five."
They started down the steps.
"You saw the scratches on Mrs. Withers' hand, didn't you?" said Bristow.
"Well, if Perry did the scratching, we can prove it. Any good laboratory man can tell us whether the stuff that was under his nails contains particles of the human skin, the epidermis. If those particles are found, the case is settled, it seems to me."
"By cracky!" exclaimed Greenleaf, his admiration of his assistant growing. "You've solved the problem—gone to the very bottom of it."
"What did Perry have to say? What was his story?"
"Oh, it amounted to nothing. Said he wasn't near Number Five; said he was drunk last night and thought he was at the house of this Lucy Thomas all the time."
"Then, the proof rests upon what the laboratory analysis of the finger nail stuff shows. When can we get that report?"
Bristow was a little surprised by the embarrassment Greenleaf showed before answering:
"We can get it tomorrow—by wire."
"Why can't we get it tonight—or tomorrow at the latest? The Davis laboratory here can do the work. It does laboratory work for all these doctors here."
"It can't do any work for me," objected Greenleaf stubbornly. "Dr. Davis and I aren't on speaking terms, personally or politically. I'll send the stuff down to a laboratory at Charlotte. It will reach there tomorrow morning if I get it off on the midnight train. We can get the telegraphed report on it late tomorrow or the day after."
"All right; I guess that will do," agreed Bristow.
As they started up the steps to the Fulton bungalow, Morley came out to the porch and charged down toward them. His face was convulsed as if by anger or fear. He did not seem to see the two men. Bristow caught him by the arm and put the query:
"Where are you going, Mr. Morley?"
Morley shook off his hand and answered curtly:
"To Washington. I've barely got time to catch my train."
"Don't hurry," Bristow said with a touch of sarcasm. "You're too good at missing trains anyway. Besides, we want to know what you did between midnight and two-ten this morning, and why you failed to tell us this morning that you didn't register at the Brevord until after two."
Morley's face went white.
"There wasn't anything to that," he explained. "I didn't mean to conceal anything. I didn't go anywhere—anywhere specially."
"Where did you go?" insisted Bristow.
"I took a walk. That was all. I didn't feel like sleeping."
"Did you see anybody while you were walking?"
"Not that I remember. Why?"
"Because, if you did, it might be advisable for you to remember. It may become necessary for you to prove an alibi."
"Oh, that!" the young man said with a nervous laugh.
"Yes. Can't you tell us where you went?"
"I wandered around, up and down the down-town streets. That was all."
"Well, remember," Bristow cautioned him. "If you can produce two or three people who saw you down there, it may help you a whole lot."
"Oh, that's all right, I haven't done anything against the law. The idea's absurd."
"Mr. Bristow's right," Greenleaf put in. "We'll have to know more about how you spent those two hours. Really, we will. If you try to leave town, you'll be arrested. My men have their orders."
Greenleaf had forgotten about the ring found in the young man's hotel room, but Bristow hadn't.
Morley went slowly down Manniston Road. There was a cold moisture upon his forehead.
MISS FULTON IS HYSTERICAL
The chief and his assistant were received by Miss Kelly, the trained nurse. Bristow wasted no time in what he considered to be the crucial search for more evidence. In speaking to her he exercised all his persuasiveness, all the suggestion of power and authority that he could force into his voice and expression. And yet, he gave her, as he had given Mrs. Allen, the impression that he deferred to her and prized her opinions.
"Isn't there something you can tell us?" he asked, holding her glance with his own.
"What do you mean?"
She was a strong, capable-looking woman of twenty-six years or so.
"Like every good citizen," he answered smoothly, "you want exactly what we want, a clearing up of all this muddle. I thought, perhaps, there might be something you'd heard or seen. Isn't there?"
"No; nothing, sir," she returned, true to her professional teaching that a nurse is forbidden to reveal the secrets of the sickroom.
"You'll be called as a witness at the inquest," he hazarded, and was rewarded by a look of uncertainty in her eyes. "Your duty to the law is above everything else," he added.
"I've heard Miss Fulton say only one thing," she admitted reluctantly. "She's said it several times while under the influence of the sedatives she's had."