In an office building, away downtown, a little old lady stood in the lobb_tudying the great bulletin board of room numbers.
"Can I help you, ma'am? "asked the elevator starter, seeing her perplexity.
"I want Sykes and Barton, Scenic Sign Painters," she said, positively enough;
"but there are so many S's, I can't seem to find them!"
"All right, ma'am; here they are. Sixth floor, Room 614."
"Thank you," the old lady said, and entered the elevator he indicated.
She seemed preoccupied, and made no move to leave the car, until the elevato_an spoke to her twice.
"This is the floor you want, lady," he said. "Room 614\. That way, just roun_hat first corner."
Miss Ames started off in the way he pointed, and stood for a moment in fron_f the door numbered 614.
Then, with a determined shake of her thin shoulders, she opened the door an_alked in.
"I want to see Mr. Hanlon," she said to the girl at the first desk.
"No; but say it is Miss Ames—he'll see me."
"Why, Miss Ames, how do you do?" and the man who had so interested th_eholders of his feat in Newark came forward to greet her. "Come right into m_ffice," and he led her to an inner room. "Now, what's it all about?"
The cheery reception set his visitor at ease, and she drew a long breath o_elief as she settled herself in the chair he offered.
"Oh, Mr. Hanlon, I'm so frightened—or, at least, I was. It's all so noisy an_onfusing down here! Why, I haven't been downtown in New York for twent_ears!"
"That so? Then I must take you up on our roof and show you a few of th_kyscrapers—"
"No, no, I've not time for anything like that. Oh, Mr. Hanlon —you—have yo_ead in the papers of our—our trouble?"
"Yes," and the young man spoke gravely, "I have, Miss Ames. Just a week ag_o-day, wasn't it?"
"Yes; and they're no nearer a solution of the mystery than ever.
And, oh, Mr. Hanlon, they're still suspecting Eunice—Mrs.
Embury—and I must save her! She didn't do it—truly she didn't, and—I think I did."
"Yes, I truly think so. But I wasn't myself, you know—I was —hypnotized—"
"Hypnotized! By whom?"
"I don't know—by some awful person who wanted Sanford dead, I suppose."
"But that's ridiculous, Miss Ames—"
"No, it isn't. I'm a very easy subject—"
"Have you ever been hypnotized?"
"Not very successfully. But no real hypnotizer ever tried it. I'm sure, though, I'd be a perfect subject—I'm so—so psychic, you know—"
"Bosh and nonsense! You know, Miss Ames, what I think of that sort of thing!
You know how I played on people's gullibility when I used to do that fake
"I know, Mr. Hanlon," and Miss Ames was very earnest, "but, and this is wh_'m here—you told me that in all the foolery and hocus-pocus there was, yo_elieved, two per cent of genuine telepathy—two per cent of genuin_ommunication with spirits of the dead"
"But I said that merely in a general way, Miss Ames. I didn't mean to say i_as a proven proposition—"
"That isn't the point—you told me there were a few—a very few real, sincer_ediums—now I'm here to get the address of the best one you know of. I want t_o to him—or her—and have a seance, and I want to get into communication wit_anford—with Mr. Embury's spirit, and learn from him who killed him. It's th_nly way we can ever find out."
Miss Ames' gray eyes took on a strange look; she seemed half hypnotized at th_oment, as she looked at Hanlon. He moved uncomfortably under her gaze.
"Well," he said, at length, "I can give you the address of the best—the onl_eal medium I know. That I will do with pleasure, but I cannot guarantee hi_ringing about a materialization of —of Mr. Embury."
"Never mind about materialization, if he can get in touch and get a messag_or me. You see—I haven't said much about this—but Mr. Embury's spiri_ppeared to me as—as he died."
"Yes; just at the moment his soul passed from earth, his astral body passed b_e and paused at my bedside for a farewell."
"You amaze me! You are indeed psychic. Tell me about it."
"No; I won't tell you the story—I'll tell the medium. But I know I sa_im—why, he was discernible to all my five senses—"
"To your senses! Then it was no spirit!"
"Oh, yes, it was. Sanford's body still lay on his own bed, but his passin_pirit materialized sufficiently for me to see it—to hear it—to feel it"
"Miss Ames, you mustn't go to a medium! You are too imaginative —too easil_wayed—don't go, dear lady, it can do no good."
Young Hanlon looked, as he felt, very solicitous for the aged spinster, and h_ast an anxious glance at her disturbed face.
"I must," she insisted; "it is the only way. I had great trouble to find you, Mr. Hanlon. I had to communicate with Mr. Mortimer, in Newark—and at last w_raced you here. Are you all through with your fake tricks?"
"Yes," Hanlon laughed. "I wore them out. I've gone into a legitimat_usiness."
"Yes, as you see."
"But such big signs!" and the old lady's eyes wandered to photographs an_ketches of enormous scenic signs, such as are painted on high buildings o_uilt on housetops.
"That's the specialty of this firm. I'm only learning, but it strongly appeal_o me. It's really more of an art than a trade. Now, as to this man you wan_o see, Miss Ames, I'll give you his address, but I beg of you to think i_ver before you visit him. Consult with some one—not Mrs. Embury—some man, o_ood judgment and clear mind. Who is advising you?"
"Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Elliott—you saw them both the day you were at ou_ouse—they advise my niece and myself in all matters. Shall I ask them?"
Miss Abby was pathetic in her simple inquiry, and Hanlon spoke gently as h_eplied.
"Yes, if you are determined to try the experiment. But I do not advise you t_ee Mr. Marigny, the medium I spoke of. Here is the address, but you talk i_ver with those two men you mentioned. I know they are both practical, logica_usiness men, and their advice on the subject will be all right. I thank you, Miss Ames, for honoring me with a call. I hope if you do go to see Marigny, i_ill prove a satisfactory seance, but I also hope you will decide not to go.
You are, as I said, too emotional, too easily swayed by the supernatural to g_ery deeply into those mysteries. Shall I take you to the elevator?"
"If you please, Mr. Hanlon," and still in that half oblivious mood, Miss Ame_llowed herself to be led through the halls.
Hanlon went down with her, for he feared to leave her to her own devices. H_as relieved to find she had a taxicab in waiting, and as he put her into it, he cautioned the driver to take his fare straight home.
"But I want to go to Marigny's now," objected Miss Ames, as she heard wha_anlon said.
"Oh, you can't. You must make an appointment with him—by mail or by telephone.
And, too, you promised me you'd put it up to Mr. Hendricks or Mr. Elliot_irst."
"So I did," and the old head nodded submissively, as the taxi drove away.
When Ferdinand admitted Aunt Abby to the Embury home, she heard voices in th_iving-room that were unmistakably raised in anger.
"You know perfectly well, Fifi," Eunice was saying, "that your little bridg_ames are quite big enough to be called a violation of the law—you know tha_uch stakes as you people play for—"
"It isn't the size of the stake that makes gambling!" Fifi Desternay cried, shrilly; "I've had the advice of a lawyer, and he says that as long as it's m_wn home and the players are invited guests, there's no possibility of being—"
"Raided!" said Eunice, scathingly. "Might as well call things by their rea_ame!"
"Hush up! Some of the servants might hear you! How unkind you are to me, Eunice. You used to love your little Fifi!"
"Well, she doesn't now!" said Miss Ames, tartly, as she came in. "You see, Mrs. Desternay, you have been instrumental in bringing our dear Eunice under _readful, and absolutely unfounded suspicion—"
"Dreadful, but far from unfounded!" declared Mrs. Desternay, her little hand_plifted, and her pretty face showing a scornful smile. "You and I, Aunt Abby, know what our dear Eunice's temper is—"
"Don't you 'Aunt Abby' me, you good-for-nothing little piece! I am surprise_unice allows you in this house!"
"Now, now—if Eunice doesn't want me, I'll get out—and jolly well glad to d_o! How about it, Eunice? I came here to help, but if I'm not wanted—out goe_ittle Fifi!"
She rose, shaking her fur stole into place about her dainty person, and, whipping out a tiny mirror from her vanity case, she applied a rouge stick t_er already scarlet lips.
"No—no—" and Eunice wailed despairingly. "Don't go, Fifi, I —oh, I don't kno_ow I feel toward you! You see—I will speak plainly—you see, it was m_cquaintance with you that caused the trouble—mostly—between me and San."
"Thought it was money matters—his stinginess, you know."
"He wasn't stingy! He wouldn't give me an allowance, but he was generous i_very other way. And that's why—"
"Why you came to my 'gambling house' to try to pick up a little ready cash! _now. But now looky here, Eunice, you've got to decide—either you're with m_r agin me! I won't have any blow hot, blow cold! You're friends with Fif_esternay—or—she's your enemy!"
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say! You like me, you've always liked me. Now, stand by me, an_'ll stand by you."
"You think I can't! Well, madame, you're greatly mistaken! That big blunderin_ool of a detective person has been to see me—"
"The same. And—he grilled me pretty thoroughly as to our going to see 'Hamlet'
and whether we talked the poison scene over— and so forth and so on. In _ord, Eunice Embury, I hold your life in my hands!"
Fifi held out her pretty little hands, dramatically. She still stood, he_hite fur scarf hanging from one shoulder, her small turban of red breas_eathers cocked at a jaunty angle above her straight brows, and one tin_lippered foot tapping decidedly on the floor.
"Yes, ma'am, in my two hands,—me—Fifi! If I tell all we said about tha_oisoning of the old 'Hamlet' gentleman, through his ear—you know what w_aid, Eunice Embury—you know how we discussed the impossibility of such _urder ever being discovered—you know if I should give Shane a full account o_hat talk of ours—the life of Madame Embury wouldn't be worth that!"
A snap of a dainty thumb and finger gave a sharp click that went straigh_hrough Eunice's brain, and made her gasp out a frightened "Oh!"
"Yes, ma'am, oh! all you like to—you can't deny it! Shane came to see me thre_imes. I almost told him all the last time, for you steadily refused to se_e—until to-day. And now, to-day, I put it to you, Eunice Embury, do you wan_e for friend—or foe?"
Fifi's blue eyes glittered, her red lips closed in a tight line, and he_ittle pointed face was as the face of a wicked sprite. Eunice stood, surveying her. Tall, stately, beautiful, she towered above her guest, an_ooked down on her with a fine disdain.
Eunice's eyes were stormy, not glittering—desperate rather than defiant—sh_eemed almost like a fierce, powerful tiger appraising a small but very wil_erret.
"Is this a bargain?" she cried scathingly. "Are you offering to buy m_riendship? I know you, Fifi Desternay! You are—a snake in the grass!"
Fifi clenched her little fists, drew her lips between her teeth, and fairl_issed, "Serpent, yourself! Murderess! I know all —and I shall tell all!
You'll regret the day you scorned the friendship—the help of Fifi Desternay!"
"I don't want your help, at the price of friendship with you! I know you fo_hat you are! My husband told me—others have told me! I did go to your hous_or the sake of winning money—yes, and I am ashamed of it! And I am ready t_ace any accusation, brave any suspicion, rather than be shielded from it, o_elped out of it by you!"
"Fine words! but they mean nothing! You know you're justly accused! You kno_ou're rightly suspected! But you are clever —you also know that no jury, i_his enlightened age, will ever convict a woman! Especially a beautiful woman!
You know you are safe from even the lightest sentence—and that though you ar_uilty—yes, guilty of the murder of your husband, you will get off scot free, because"—Fifi paused to give her last shot telling effect—"because you_ounsel, Alvord Hendricks, is in love with you! He will manage it, and what h_an't accomplish, Mason Elliott can! With those two influential men, both i_ove with you, you can't be convicted—and probably you won't even b_rrested!"
"Go!" said Eunice, and she folded her arms as she gazed at her angr_ntagonist. "Go! I scorn to refute or even answer your words."
"Because they're true! Because there is no answer!" Fifi fairly screamed. "Yo_hink you're a power! Because you're tall and statuesque and stunning! Yo_now if those men can't keep you out of the court-room at least you are saf_n the hands of any judge or jury, because they are men! You know if you smil_t them—pathetically—if you cast those wonderful eyes of yours at them, they'll grovel at your feet! I know you, Eunice Embury! You're banking on you_emininity to save you from your just fate."
"You judge me by yourself, Fifi. You are a power among men, most women are, but I do not bank on that—"
"Not alone! You bank on the fact that either Hendricks or Elliott would g_hrough hell for you, and count it an easy journey. You rest easy in th_nowledge that those two men can do just about anything they set their mind_o—"
"Will you go?"
"Yes, I will go. And when Mr. Shane comes to see me again, I will tell him th_ruth—all the truth about the' Hamlet' play —and—it will be enough!"
"Tell him!" Eunice's eyes blazed now. "Tell him the truth—and add to i_hatever lies your clever brain can invent! Do your worst Fifi Desternay; I a_ot afraid of you!"
"I am going, Eunice." Fifi moved slowly toward the door. "I shall tell th_ruth, but I shall add no lies—that will not be necessary!"
She disappeared, and Eunice stood, panting with excitement and indignation.
Aunt Abby came toward her. The old lady had been a witness of the whol_cene—had, indeed, tried several times to utter a word of pacification, bu_either of the women had so much as noticed her.
"Go away, Auntie, please," said Eunice. "I can't talk to you. I'm expectin_ason at any time now, and I want to get calmed down a little."
Miss Ames went to her room, and Eunice sat down on the davenport.
She sat upright, tensely quiet, and thought over all Fifi had said—all she ha_hreatened.
"It would have been far better," Eunice told herself, "for my cause if I ha_eld her friendship. And I could have done it, easily—but—Fifi's friendshi_ould be worse than her enmity!"
When Mason Elliott came, Detective Driscoll was with him.
The net of the detectives was closing in around Eunice, and though bot_lliott and Hendricks—as Fifi had truly surmised —were doing all in thei_ower, the denouement was not far off —Eunice was in imminent danger of arres_t any moment.
"We've been talking about the will—Sanford's will," Elliott said, in a drear_one, after the callers were seated, "and, Eunice, Mr. Driscoll chooses t_hink that the fact that San left practically everything to you, without an_estraint in the way of trustees, or restriction of any sort, is another coun_gainst you."
Eunice smiled bravely. "But that isn't news," she said; "we all knew that m_usband made me his sole—or rather principal —beneficiary. I know th_onsensus of opinion is that I murdered my husband that I might have hi_oney—and full control of it. This is no new element."
"No;" said Driscoll, moved by the sight of the now patient, gentle face; "no; but we've added a few more facts—and look here, Mrs. Embury, it's this way.
I've doped it out that there are five persons who could possibly hav_ommitted this—this crime. I'll speak plainly, for you have continuall_ermitted me—even urged me to do so. Well, let us say Sanford Embury coul_ave been killed by anyone of a certain five. And they size up like this: Mr.
Elliott, here, and Mr. Alvord Hendricks may be said to have had motive but n_pportunity."
"Motive?" said Eunice, in a tone of deepest possible scorn.
"Yes, ma'am. Mr. Elliott, now, is an admirer of yours—don't look offended, please; I'm speaking very seriously. It is among the possibilities that h_anted your husband out of his way."
Mason Elliott listened to this without any expression of annoyance. Indeed, h_ad heard this argument of Driscoll's before, and it affected him not at all.
"But, Mrs. Embury, Mr. Elliott had no opportunity. We have learned beyond al_oubt that he was at his club or at his home all that night. Next, Mr.
Hendricks had a motive. The rival candidates were both eager for election, an_e must call that a motive for Mr. Hendricks to be willing to remove hi_pponent. But again, Mr. Hendricks had no opportunity. He was in Boston fro_he afternoon of the day before Mr. Embury's death until noon of the next day.
That lets him out positively. Therefore, there are two with motives but n_pportunity. Next, we must admit there were two who had opportunity, but n_otive. I refer to Ferdinand, your butler, and Miss Ames, your aunt. These tw_ould have managed to commit the deed, had they chosen, but we can find n_otive to attribute to either of them. It has been suggested that Miss Ame_ight have had such a desire to rid you, Mrs. Embury, of a tyrannical husband, that she was guilty. But it is so highly improbable as to be almos_nbelievable.
"Therefore, as I sum it up, the two who had motive without opportunity, an_he two who had opportunity without motive, must all be disregarded, becaus_f the one who had motive and opportunity both. Yourself, Mrs. Embury."
The arraignment was complete. Driscoll's quiet, even tones carried a sort o_alm conviction.
"And so, Eunice," Mason Elliott spoke up, "I'm going to try one more chance.
I've persuaded Mr. Driscoll to wait a day or two before progressing an_urther, and let me get Fleming Stone on this case."
"Very well," said Eunice, listlessly. "Who is he?"
"A celebrated detective. Mr. Driscoll makes no objection—which goes to prov_hat a good detective he is himself. His partner, Mr. Shane, is not s_illing, but has grudgingly consented. In fact, they couldn't help themselves, for they are not quite sure that they have enough evidence to arrest you.
Shane thinks that Stone will find out more, and so strengthen the case agains_ou but Driscoll, bless him! thinks maybe Stone can find another suspect."
"I didn't exactly say I thought that, Mr. Elliott," said Driscoll. "I said I hoped it."
"We all hope it," returned Elliott.
"Hope while you may," and Driscoll sighed. "Fleming Stone has never failed t_ind the criminal yet. And if his findings verify mine, I shall be glad to pu_he responsibility on his shoulders."