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Chapter 7 STILL MERE MYSTERY

  • Ceiklejohn pushed his chair back so quickly that it caught the fender an_rought down some fire-irons with a crash.
  • “More nerves!” croaked his grim-visaged relative, but the revolve_isappeared.
  • “Tell me,” said the tortured Meiklejohn; “why have you returned to New York?
  • Above all, why did you straightway commit a crime that cannot fail to stir th_hole country?”
  • “That’s better. You are showing some sort of brotherly interest. I came bac_ecause I was sick of mining camps and boundless sierras. I had a hankerin_fter the old life—the theaters, dinners, race-meetings, wine and women. As to ‘the crime,’ I thought that fool was you. He called for the cops.”
  • “For the police! Why?”
  • “Because my line of talk was a trifle too rough, I suppose.”
  • “Did he know you were there to meet me?”
  • “Can’t say. The whole thing was over like a flash. I am quick on the trigger.”
  • “But if you had killed me what other goose would lay golden eggs?”
  • “You forget that the goose was unwilling to lay any more eggs. I only mean_caring you. To haul you neck and crop into the river was a good scheme. Yo_ee, we haven’t met for some years.”
  • “Then why—why murder Ronald Tower?”
  • “There you go again. Murder! How you chew on the word. I never touched th_an, only to haul him into the boat and go through his pockets. I guess he ha_ weak heart, due to over-eating, and the cold water upset him.”
  • “But you left him in the river?”
  • “Wrong every time. I chucked him into a barge and covered him tenderly with _arpaulin.”
  • Meiklejohn sprang upright. “Good God,” he cried, “he may be alive!”
  • “Sit down, William, sit down,” was the cool response. “If he’s alive, he’l_urn up. In any case, he’ll be found sooner or later. Shout the glad news no_nd you go straight to the Tombs.”
  • This was obviously so true that the Senator collapsed into his chair again, and in so doing disturbed the fire-irons a second time.
  • The incident amused the unbidden guest. “I see you won’t be happy till I leav_ou,” he laughed, “so let’s go on with the knitting. That girl—she is becomin_ woman—what is to be done with her?”
  • “Rachel takes every care—”
  • “Rachel is excellent in her way. But she is growing old. She may die. The gir_s the living image of her mother. It’s a queer world, and a small one a_imes. For instance, who would have expected your double to walk onto th_errace at the landing-stage at nine o’clock precisely last night? Well, som_ne may recognize the likeness. Inquiries might be instituted. That would b_ery awkward for you.”
  • “Far more awkward for you.”
  • “Not a bit of it. I’ve lived with my neck in the loop for eighteen years. I’_etting used to it. But you, William, with your Senatorship and high record i_all Street—really the downfall would be terrible!”
  • “What can we do with her? Murder her, as you—”
  • “The devil take you and your parrotlike repetition of one word!” roare_rother Ralph, bringing his clenched fist down on the table with a bang. “_ever laid violent hands on a woman yet, whatever I may have done to men. Wh_as reaped the reward of my misdeeds, I’d like to know—I, an outcast and _anderer, or you, living here like Lord Tomnoddy? None of your preaching t_e, you smug Pharisee! We’re six of one and half a dozen of the other.”
  • When this self-proclaimed adventurer was really aroused he dropped the roug_rgot of the plains. His diction showed even some measure of culture.
  • Meiklejohn walked unsteadily to the door. He opened it. There was no one i_he passage without.
  • “I’m sorry,” he said in a strangely subdued voice. “What do you want? What d_ou suggest?”
  • “This,” came the instant reply. “It was a piece of folly on Rachel’s part t_ducate the girl the way she did. You stopped the process too late. In a yea_r two Miss Winifred will begin to think and ask questions, if she hasn’t don_o already. She must leave the East—better quit America altogether.”
  • “Very well. When this affair of Tower’s blows over I’ll arrange it.”
  • The other man seemed to be somewhat mollified. He lighted a cigarette. “Tha_ope play was sure a mad trick,” he conceded sullenly, “but I thought you wer_utting the cops on my trail.”
  • A bell rang and the Senator started. Many callers, mostly reporters, had bee_urned away by Phillips already that day, but brother Ralph’s untimely visi_ad made the position peculiarly dangerous. Moreover, the valet’s protests ha_roved unavailing this time. The two heard his approaching footsteps.
  • Meiklejohn’s care-worn face turned almost green with fright, and even hi_ardier companion yielded to a sense of peril. He leaped up, moving catlike o_is toes.
  • “Where does that door lead to?” he hissed, pointing.
  • “A bedroom. But I’ve given orders—”
  • “You dough-faced dub, don’t you see you create suspicion by refusing to mee_eople? And, listen! If this is a cop, bluff hard! I’ll shoot up the whol_ureau before they get me!”
  • He vanished, moving with a silence and celerity that were almost uncanny in s_uge a man. Phillips knocked and thrust his head in. He looked scared ye_rofoundly relieved.
  • “Mr. Tower to see you, sir,” he said breathlessly.
  • “What?” shrieked the Senator in a shrill falsetto.
  • “Yes, sir. It’s Mr. Tower himself, sir.”
  • “H’lo, Bill!” came a familiar voice. “Here I am! No spook yet, than_oodness!”
  • Meiklejohn literally staggered to the door and nearly fell into Ronald Tower’_rms. Of the two men, the Senator seemed nearer death at that moment. H_lubbered something incoherent, and had to be assisted to a chair. Even Towe_as astonished at the evident depth of his friend’s emotion.
  • “Cheer up, old sport!” he cried affectionately. “I had no notion you felt s_adly about my untimely end, as the newspapers call it. I tried to get you o_he phone, but you were closed down, the exchange said, so Helen packed me of_ere when she was able to sit up and take nourishment. Gad! Even my wife seem_o have missed me!”
  • Many minutes elapsed before Senator Meiklejohn’s benumbed brain coul_ssimilate the facts of a truly extraordinary story. Tower, after bein_hisked so unceremoniously into the Hudson, remembered nothing further unti_e opened his eyes in numb semi-consciousness in the cubbyhole of a tu_lodding through the long Atlantic rollers off the New Jersey coast.
  • When able to talk he learned that the captain of the tug _Cygnet_ , havin_eceived orders to tow three loaded barges from a Weehawken pier to Barnega_ity, picked up his “job” at nine-thirty the previous night, and dropped dow_he river with the tide. In the early morning he was amazed by the sight of _an crawling from under the heavy tarpaulin that sheeted one of the barges—_an so dazed and weak that he nearly fell into the sea.
  • “Cap’ Rickards slowed up and took me aboard,” explained Tower volubly. “The_e filled me with rock and rye and packed me in blankets. Gee, how they smelt, but how grateful they were! What between prime old whiskey inside and greas_ool outside I dodged a probable attack of pneumonia. When the _Cygnet_ tie_p at Barnegat at noon to-day I was fit as a fiddle. Cap’ Rickards rigged m_ut in his shore-going suit and lent me twenty dollars, as that pair o_lackguards in the launch had robbed me of every cent. They even took _rooked sixpence I found in London twenty years ago, darn ’em! I phoned Helen, of course, but didn’t realize what a hubbub my sad fate had created until _ead a newspaper in the train. When I reached home poor Helen was so out o_ear that she hadn’t told a soul of my escape. I do believe she hardl_ccepted my own assurance that I was still on the map. However, when I got he_almed down a bit, she remembered you and the rest of the excitement, so _honed the detective bureau and the club, and came straight here.”
  • “That is very good of you, Tower,” murmured Meiklejohn brokenly. He looked i_ar worse plight than the man who had survived such a desperate adventure.
  • “Well, my dear chap, I was naturally anxious to see you, because—but perhap_ou don’t know that those scoundrels meant to attack you, not me?”
  • Meiklejohn smiled wanly. “Oh, yes,” he said. “The police found that out b_ome means. I believe the authorities actually suspected me of being concerne_n the affair.”
  • Tower laughed boisterously. “That’s the limit!” he roared. “Come with me t_he club. We’ll soon spoil that yarn. What a fuss the papers made! I’m quite _elebrity.”
  • “I’ll follow you in half an hour. And, look here, Tower, this matter di_eally affect me. There was a woman in the case. I butted into an old feu_erely as a friend. I think matters will now be settled amicably. Allow me t_ake good your loss in every way. If you can persuade the police that th_hole thing was a hoax—”
  • For the first time Tower looked non-plussed. He was enjoying the notoriet_hrust on him so unexpectedly.
  • “Well, I can hardly do that,” he said. “But if I can get them to drop furthe_nquiries I’ll do it, Meiklejohn, for your sake. Gee! Come to look at you, yo_ust have had a bad time… . Well, good-by, old top! See you later. Suppose w_ine together? That will help dissipate this queer story as to you being mixe_p in an attack on me. Now, I must be off and play ghost in the club smoking- room.”
  • Meiklejohn heard his fluttering man-servant let Tower out. He tottered to _hair, and Ralph Voles came in noiselessly.
  • “Well, what about it?” chuckled the reprobate. “We seem to have struck i_ucky.”
  • “Go away!” snarled the Senator, goaded to a sudden rage by the other man’_ynical humor. “I can stand no more to-day.”
  • “Oh, take a pull at this!” And the decanter was pushed across the table.
  • “Didn’t Dr. Johnson once say that claret is the liquor for boys, port for men, but he who aspires to be a hero should drink brandy? And you must be a her_o-night. Get onto the Bureau and use the soft pedal. Then beat it to th_lub. You and Tower ought to be well soused in an hour. He’s a good sport, al_ight. I’ll mail him that sixpence if it’s still in my pants.”
  • “Do nothing of the sort!” snapped Meiklejohn. “You’re—”
  • “Ah, cut it out! Tower wants plenty to talk about. His crooked sixpence wil_ill many an eye, and the more he spiels the better it is for you. Gee, bu_ou’re yellow for a two-hundred pounder! Now, listen! Make those cops drop al_harges against Rachel. Then, in a week or less, I’ll come along and fi_hings about the girl. She’s the fly in the amber now. Mind she doesn’t ge_ut, or the howl about Mr. Ronald Tower’s trip to Barnegat won’t amount to _ow of beans against the trouble pretty Winifred can give you. _Dios!_ It’s _ity. She’s a real beauty, and that’s more than any one can say for you, Brother William.”
  • “You go to—”
  • “That’s better! You’re reviving. Well, good-by, Senator! _Au revoir san_dieux!_ ”
  • The big man swaggered out. Meiklejohn drank no spirits. He needed a clea_rain that evening. After deep self-communing he rang up police headquarter_nd inquired for Mr. Clancy.
  • “Mr. Clancy is out,” he was told by some one with a strong, resonant voice.
  • “Anything we can do, Senator?”
  • “About that poor woman, Rachel Craik—”
  • “Oh, she’s all right! She gave us a farewell smile two hours ago.”
  • “You mean she is at liberty?”
  • “Certainly, Senator.”
  • “May I ask to whom I am speaking?”
  • “Steingall, Chief of the Bureau.”
  • “This wretched affair—it’s merely a family squabble between Miss Craik and _elative—might well end now, Mr. Steingall.”
  • “That is for Mr. Tower and Mr. Van Hofen to decide.”
  • “Yes, I quite understand. I have seen Mr. Tower, and he shares my opinion.”
  • “Just so, Senator. At any rate, the yacht mystery is almost cleared up.”
  • “I agree with you most heartily.”
  • For the first time in nearly twenty-four hours Senator Meiklejohn looke_ontented with life when he hung up the receiver. Therefore, it was well fo_is peace of mind that he could not hear Steingall’s silent comment as he, i_urn, disconnected the phone.
  • “That old fox agreed with me too heartily,” he thought. “The yacht mystery i_nly just beginning—or I’m a Dutchman!”