An Intangible Clue
"Have you studied the case?"
"Not studied the case which for the last few days has provided
the papers with such conspicuous headlines?"
"I do not read the papers. I have not looked at one in a whole
"Miss Strange, your social engagements must be of a very
pressing nature just now?"
"And your business sense in abeyance?"
"You would not ask if you had read the papers."
To this she made no reply save by a slight toss of her pretty
head. If her employer felt nettled by this show of indifference,
he did not betray it save by the rapidity of his tones as,
without further preamble and possibly without real excuse, he
proceeded to lay before her the case in question. "Last Tuesday
night a woman was murdered in this city; an old woman, in a
lonely house where she has lived for years. Perhaps you remember
this house? It occupies a not inconspicuous site in Seventeenth
Street--a house of the olden time?"
"No, I do not remember."
The extreme carelessness of Miss Strange's tone would have been
fatal to her socially; but then, she would never have used it
socially. This they both knew, yet he smiled with his customary
"Then I will describe it."
She looked around for a chair and sank into it. He did the same.
"It has a fanlight over the front door."
She remained impassive.
"And two old-fashioned strips of parti-coloured glass on either
"And a knocker between its panels which may bring money some
"Oh, you do remember! I thought you would, Miss Strange."
"Yes. Fanlights over doors are becoming very rare in New York."
"Very well, then. That house was the scene of Tuesday's tragedy.
The woman who has lived there in solitude for years was foully
murdered. I have since heard that the people who knew her best
have always anticipated some such violent end for her. She never
allowed maid or friend to remain with her after five in the
afternoon; yet she had money--some think a great deal--always in
"I am interested in the house, not in her."
"Yet, she was a character--as full of whims and crotchets as a
nut is of meat. Her death was horrible. She fought--her dress was
torn from her body in rags. This happened, you see, before her
hour for retiring; some think as early as six in the afternoon.
And"--here he made a rapid gesture to catch Violet's wandering
attention--"in spite of this struggle; in spite of the fact that
she was dragged from room to room--that her person was searched--
and everything in the house searched--that drawers were pulled
out of bureaus--doors wrenched off of cupboards--china smashed
upon the floor--whole shelves denuded and not a spot from cellar
to garret left unransacked, no direct clue to the perpetrator has
been found--nothing that gives any idea of his personality save
his display of strength and great cupidity. The police have even
deigned to consult me,--an unusual procedure--but I could find
nothing, either. Evidences of fiendish purpose abound--of
relentless search--but no clue to the man himself. It's uncommon,
isn't it, not to have any clue?"
"I suppose so." Miss Strange hated murders and it was with
difficulty she could be brought to discuss them. But she was not
going to be let off; not this time.
"You see," he proceeded insistently, "it's not only mortifying
to the police but disappointing to the press, especially as few
reporters believe in the No-thoroughfare business. They say, and
we cannot but agree with them, that no such struggle could take
place and no such repeated goings to and fro through the house
without some vestige being left by which to connect this crime
with its daring perpetrator."
Still she stared down at her hands--those little hands so white
and fluttering, so seemingly helpless under the weight of their
many rings, and yet so slyly capable.
"She must have queer neighbours," came at last, from Miss
Strange's reluctant lips. "Didn't they hear or see anything of
"She has no neighbours--that is, after half-past five o'clock.
There's a printing establishment on one side of her, a deserted
mansion on the other side, and nothing but warehouses back and
front. There was no one to notice what took place in her small
dwelling after the printing house was closed. She was the most
courageous or the most foolish of women to remain there as she
did. But nothing except death could budge her. She was born in
the room where she died; was married in the one where she worked;
saw husband, father, mother, and five sisters carried out in turn
to their graves through the door with the fanlight over the top--
and these memories held her."
"You are trying to interest me in the woman. Don't."
"No, I'm not trying to interest you in her, only trying to
explain her. There was another reason for her remaining where
she did so long after all residents had left the block. She had
"She embroidered monograms for fine ladies."
"She did? But you needn't look at me like that. She never
embroidered any for me."
"No? She did first-class work. I saw some of it. Miss Strange,
if I could get you into that house for ten minutes--not to see
her but to pick up the loose intangible thread which I am sure
is floating around in it somewhere--wouldn't you go?"
Violet slowly rose--a movement which he followed to the letter.
"Must I express in words the limit I have set for myself in our
affair?" she asked. "When, for reasons I have never thought
myself called upon to explain, I consented to help you a little
now and then with some matter where a woman's tact and knowledge
of the social world might tell without offence to herself or
others, I never thought it would be necessary for me to state
that temptation must stop with such cases, or that I should not
be asked to touch the sordid or the bloody. But it seems I was
mistaken, and that I must stoop to be explicit. The woman who was
killed on Tuesday might have interested me greatly as an
embroiderer, but as a victim, not at all. What do you see in me,
or miss in me, that you should drag me into an atmosphere of low-
"Nothing, Miss Strange. You are by nature, as well as by
breeding, very far removed from everything of the kind. But you
will allow me to suggest that no crime is low-down which makes
imperative demand upon the intellect and intuitive sense of its
investigator. Only the most delicate touch can feel and hold the
thread I've just spoken of, and you have the most delicate touch
"Do not attempt to flatter me. I have no fancy for handling
befouled spider webs. Besides, if I had--if such elusive
filaments fascinated me--how could I, well-known in person and
name, enter upon such a scene without prejudice to our mutual
"Miss Strange"--she had reseated herself, but so far he had
failed to follow her example (an ignoring of the subtle hint
that her interest might yet be caught, which seemed to annoy her
a trifle), "I should not even have suggested such a possibility
had I not seen a way of introducing you there without risk to
your position or mine. Among the boxes piled upon Mrs.
Doolittle's table--boxes of finished work, most of them
addressed and ready for delivery--was one on which could be seen
the name of--shall I mention it?"
"Not mine? You don't mean mine? That would be too odd--too
ridiculously odd. I should not understand a coincidence of that
kind; no, I should not, notwithstanding the fact that I have
lately sent out such work to be done."
"Yet it was your name, very clearly and precisely written--your
whole name, Miss Strange. I saw and read it myself."
"But I gave the order to Madame Pirot on Fifth Avenue. How came
my things to be found in the house of this woman of whose
horrible death we have been talking?"
"Did you suppose that Madame Pirot did such work with her own
hands?--or even had it done in her own establishment? Mrs.
Doolittle was universally employed. She worked for a dozen firms.
You will find the biggest names on most of her packages. But on
this one--I allude to the one addressed to you--there was more to
be seen than the name. These words were written on it in another
hand. Send without opening. This struck the police as suspicious;
sufficiently so, at least, for them to desire your presence at
the house as soon as you can make it convenient."
"To open the box?"
The curl of Miss Strange's disdainful lip was a sight to see.
"You wrote those words yourself," she coolly observed. "While
someone's back was turned, you whipped out your pencil and--"
"Resorted to a very pardonable subterfuge highly conducive to
the public's good. But never mind that. Will you go?"
Miss Strange became suddenly demure.
"I suppose I must," she grudgingly conceded. "However obtained,
a summons from the police cannot be ignored even by Peter
Another man might have displayed his triumph by smile or gesture;
but this one had learned his role too well. He simply said:
"Very good. Shall it be at once? I have a taxi at the door."
But she failed to see the necessity of any such hurry. With
sudden dignity she replied:
"That won't do. If I go to this house it must be under suitable
conditions. I shall have to ask my brother to accompany me."
"Oh, he's safe. He--he knows."
"Your brother knows?" Her visitor, with less control than usual,
betrayed very openly his uneasiness.
"He does and--approves. But that's not what interests us now,
only so far as it makes it possible for me to go with propriety
to that dreadful house."
A formal bow from the other and the words:
"They may expect you, then. Can you say when?"
"Within the next hour. But it will be a useless concession on my
part," she pettishly complained. "A place that has been gone
over by a dozen detectives is apt to be brushed clean of its
cobwebs, even if such ever existed."
"That's the difficulty," he acknowledged; and did not dare to add
another word; she was at that particular moment so very much the
great lady, and so little his confidential agent.
He might have been less impressed, however, by this sudden
assumption of manner, had he been so fortunate as to have seen
how she employed the three quarters of an hour's delay for which
she had asked.
She read those neglected newspapers, especially the one
containing the following highly coloured narration of this
"A door ajar--an empty hall--a line of sinister looking blotches
marking a guilty step diagonally across the flagging--silence--
and an unmistakable odour repugnant to all humanity,--such were
the indications which met the eyes of Officer O'Leary on his
first round last night, and led to the discovery of a murder
which will long thrill the city by its mystery and horror.
"Both the house and the victim are well known." Here followed a
description of the same and of Mrs. Doolittle's manner of life in
her ancient home, which Violet hurriedly passed over to come to
"As far as one can judge from appearances, the crime happened in
this wise: Mrs. Doolittle had been in her kitchen, as the tea-
kettle found singing on the stove goes to prove, and was coming
back through her bedroom, when the wretch, who had stolen in by
the front door which, to save steps, she was unfortunately in the
habit of leaving on the latch till all possibility of customers
for the day was over, sprang upon her from behind and dealt her a
swinging blow with the poker he had caught up from the
"Whether the struggle which ensued followed immediately upon this
first attack or came later, it will take medical experts to
determine. But, whenever it did occur, the fierceness of its
character is shown by the grip taken upon her throat and the
traces of blood which are to be seen all over the house. If the
wretch had lugged her into her workroom and thence to the
kitchen, and thence back to the spot of first assault, the
evidences could not have been more ghastly. Bits of her clothing
torn off by a ruthless hand, lay scattered over all these floors.
In her bedroom, where she finally breathed her last, there could
be seen mingled with these a number of large but worthless glass
beads; and close against one of the base-boards, the string which
had held them, as shown by the few remaining beads still clinging
to it. If in pulling the string from her neck he had hoped to
light upon some valuable booty, his fury at his disappointment is
evident. You can almost see the frenzy with which he flung the
would-be necklace at the wall, and kicked about and stamped upon
its rapidly rolling beads.
"Booty! That was what he was after; to find and carry away the
poor needlewoman's supposed hoardings. If the scene baffles
description--if, as some believe, he dragged her yet living from
spot to spot, demanding information as to her places of
concealment under threat of repeated blows, and, finally baffled,
dealt the finishing stroke and proceeded on the search alone, no
greater devastation could have taken place in this poor woman's
house or effects. Yet such was his precaution and care for
himself that he left no finger-print behind him nor any other
token which could lead to personal identification. Even though
his footsteps could be traced in much the order I have mentioned,
they were of so indeterminate and shapeless a character as to
convey little to the intelligence of the investigator.
"That these smears (they could not be called footprints) not only
crossed the hall but appeared in more than one place on the
staircase proves that he did not confine his search to the lower
storey; and perhaps one of the most interesting features of the
case lies in the indications given by these marks of the raging
course he took through these upper rooms. As the accompanying
diagram will show [we omit the diagram] he went first into the
large front chamber, thence to the rear where we find two rooms,
one unfinished and filled with accumulated stuff most of which he
left lying loose upon the floor, and the other plastered, and
containing a window opening upon an alley-way at the side, but
empty of all furniture and without even a carpet on the bare
"Why he should have entered the latter place, and why, having
entered he should have crossed to the window, will be plain to
those who have studied the conditions. The front chamber windows
were tightly shuttered, the attic ones cumbered with boxes and
shielded from approach by old bureaus and discarded chairs. This
one only was free and, although darkened by the proximity of the
house neighbouring it across the alley, was the only spot on the
storey where sufficient light could be had at this late hour for
the examination of any object of whose value he was doubtful.
That he had come across such an object and had brought it to this
window for some such purpose is very satisfactorily demonstrated
by the discovery of a worn out wallet of ancient make lying on
the floor directly in front of this window--a proof of his
cupidity but also proof of his ill-luck. For this wallet, when
lifted and opened, was found to contain two hundred or more
dollars in old bills, which, if not the full hoard of their
industrious owner, was certainly worth the taking by one who had
risked his neck for the sole purpose of theft.
"This wallet, and the flight of the murderer without it, give to
this affair, otherwise simply brutal, a dramatic interest which
will be appreciated not only by the very able detectives already
hot upon the chase, but by all other inquiring minds anxious to
solve a mystery of which so estimable a woman has been the
unfortunate victim. A problem is presented to the police--"
There Violet stopped.
When, not long after, the superb limousine of Peter Strange
stopped before the little house in Seventeenth Street, it caused
a veritable sensation, not only in the curiosity-mongers
lingering on the sidewalk, but to the two persons within--the
officer on guard and a belated reporter.
Though dressed in her plainest suit, Violet Strange looked much
too fashionable and far too young and thoughtless to be observed,
without emotion, entering a scene of hideous and brutal crime.
Even the young man who accompanied her promised to bring a most
incongruous element into this atmosphere of guilt and horror,
and, as the detective on guard whispered to the man beside him,
might much better have been left behind in the car.
But Violet was great for the proprieties and young Arthur
followed her in.
Her entrance was a coup du theatre. She had lifted her veil in
crossing the sidewalk and her interesting features and general
air of timidity were very fetching. As the man holding open the
door noted the impression made upon his companion, he muttered
with sly facetiousness:
"You think you'll show her nothing; but I'm ready to bet a fiver
that she'll want to see it all and that you'll show it to her."
The detective's grin was expressive, notwithstanding the shrug
with which he tried to carry it off.
And Violet? The hall into which she now stepped from the most
vivid sunlight had never been considered even in its palmiest
days as possessing cheer even of the stately kind. The ghastly
green light infused through it by the coloured glass on either
side of the doorway seemed to promise yet more dismal things
"Must I go in there?" she asked, pointing, with an admirable
simulation of nervous excitement, to a half-shut door at her
left. "Is there where it happened? Arthur, do you suppose that
there is where it happened?"
"No, no, Miss," the officer made haste to assure her. "If you are
Miss Strange" (Violet bowed), "I need hardly say that the woman
was struck in her bedroom. The door beside you leads into the
parlour, or as she would have called it, her work-room. You
needn't be afraid of going in there. You will see nothing but the
disorder of her boxes. They were pretty well pulled about. Not
all of them though," he added, watching her as closely as the dim
light permitted. "There is one which gives no sign of having been
tampered with. It was done up in wrapping paper and is addressed
to you, which in itself would not have seemed worthy of our
attention had not these lines been scribbled on it in a man's
handwriting: 'Send without opening.'"
"How odd!" exclaimed the little minx with widely opened eyes and
an air of guileless innocence. "Whatever can it mean? Nothing
serious I am sure, for the woman did not even know me. She was
employed to do this work by Madame Pirot."
"Didn't you know that it was to be done here?"
"No. I thought Madame Pirot's own girls did her embroidery for
"So that you were surprised--"
"To get our message."
"I didn't know what to make of it."
The earnest, half-injured look with which she uttered this
disclaimer, did its appointed work. The detective accepted her
for what she seemed and, oblivious to the reporter's satirical
gesture, crossed to the work-room door, which he threw wide open
with the remark:
"I should be glad to have you open that box in our presence. It
is undoubtedly all right, but we wish to be sure. You know what
the box should contain?"
"Oh, yes, indeed; pillow-cases and sheets, with a big S
embroidered on them."
"Very well. Shall I undo the string for you?"
"I shall be much obliged," said she, her eye flashing quickly
about the room before settling down upon the knot he was deftly
Her brother, gazing indifferently in from the doorway, hardly
noticed this look; but the reporter at his back did, though he
failed to detect its penetrating quality.
"Your name is on the other side," observed the detective as he
drew away the string and turned the package over.
The smile which just lifted the corner of her lips was not in
answer to this remark, but to her recognition of her employer's
handwriting in the words under her name: Send without opening.
She had not misjudged him.
"The cover you may like to take off yourself," suggested the
officer, as he lifted the box out of its wrapper.
"Oh, I don't mind. There's nothing to be ashamed of in
embroidered linen. Or perhaps that is not what you are looking
No one answered. All were busy watching her whip off the lid and
lift out the pile of sheets and pillow-cases with which the box
was closely packed.
"Shall I unfold them?" she asked.
The detective nodded.
Taking out the topmost sheet, she shook it open. Then the next
and the next till she reached the bottom of the box. Nothing of
a criminating nature came to light. The box as well as its
contents was without mystery of any kind. This was not an
unexpected result of course, but the smile with which she began
to refold the pieces and throw them back into the box, revealed
one of her dimples which was almost as dangerous to the casual
observer as when it revealed both.
"There," she exclaimed, "you see! Household linen exactly as I
said. Now may I go home?"
"Certainly, Miss Strange."
The detective stole a sly glance at the reporter. She was not
going in for the horrors then after all.
But the reporter abated nothing of his knowing air, for while she
spoke of going, she made no move towards doing so, but continued
to look about the room till her glances finally settled on a long
dark curtain shutting off an adjoining room.
"There's where she lies, I suppose," she feelingly exclaimed.
"And not one of you knows who killed her. Somehow, I cannot
understand that. Why don't you know when that's what you're
hired for?" The innocence with which she uttered this was
astonishing. The detective began to look sheepish and the
reporter turned aside to hide his smile. Whether in another
moment either would have spoken no one can say, for, with a mock
consciousness of having said something foolish, she caught up her
parasol from the table and made a start for the door.
But of course she looked back.
"I was wondering," she recommenced, with a half wistful, half
speculative air, "whether I should ask to have a peep at the
place where it all happened."
The reporter chuckled behind the pencil-end he was chewing, but
the officer maintained his solemn air, for which act of self-
restraint he was undoubtedly grateful when in another minute she
gave a quick impulsive shudder not altogether assumed, and
vehemently added: "But I couldn't stand the sight; no, I
couldn't! I'm an awful coward when it comes to things like that.
Nothing in all the world would induce me to look at the woman or
her room. But I should like--" here both her dimples came into
play though she could not be said exactly to smile--"just one
little look upstairs, where he went poking about so long without
any fear it seems of being interrupted. Ever since I've read
about it I have seen, in my mind, a picture of his wicked figure
sneaking from room to room, tearing open drawers and flinging out
the contents of closets just to find a little money--a little,
little money! I shall not sleep to-night just for wondering how
those high up attic rooms really look."
Who could dream that back of this display of mingled childishness
and audacity there lay hidden purpose, intellect, and a keen
knowledge of human nature. Not the two men who listened to this
seemingly irresponsible chatter. To them she was a child to be
humoured and humour her they did. The dainty feet which had
already found their way to that gloomy staircase were allowed to
ascend, followed it is true by those of the officer who did not
dare to smile back at the reporter because of the brother's
watchful and none too conciliatory eye.
At the stair head she paused to look back.
"I don't see those horrible marks which the papers describe as
running all along the lower hall and up these stairs."
"No, Miss Strange; they have gradually been rubbed out, but you
will find some still showing on these upper floors."
"Oh! oh! where? You frighten me--frighten me horribly! But--but--
if you don't mind, I should like to see."
Why should not a man on a tedious job amuse himself? Piloting her
over to the small room in the rear, he pointed down at the
boards. She gave one look and then stepped gingerly in.
"Just look!" she cried; "a whole string of marks going straight
from door to window. They have no shape, have they,--just
blotches? I wonder why one of them is so much larger than the
This was no new question. It was one which everybody who went
into the room was sure to ask, there was such a difference in the
size and appearance of the mark nearest the window. The reason--
well, minds were divided about that, and no one had a
satisfactory theory. The detective therefore kept discreetly
This did not seem to offend Miss Strange. On the contrary it gave
her an opportunity to babble away to her heart's content.
"One, two, three, four, five, six," she counted, with a shudder
at every count. "And one of them bigger than the others." She
might have added, "It is the trail of one foot, and strangely,
intermingled at that," but she did not, though we may be quite
sure that she noted the fact. "And where, just where did the old
wallet fall? Here? or here?"
She had moved as she spoke, so that in uttering the last "here,"
she stood directly before the window. The surprise she received
there nearly made her forget the part she was playing. From the
character of the light in the room, she had expected, on looking
out, to confront a near-by wall, but not a window in that wall.
Yet that was what she saw directly facing her from across the old-
fashioned alley separating this house from its neighbour; twelve
unshuttered and uncurtained panes through which she caught a
darkened view of a room almost as forlorn and devoid of furniture
as the one in which she then stood.
When quite sure of herself, she let a certain portion of her
"Why, look!" she cried, "if you can't see right in next door!
What a lonesome-looking place! From its desolate appearance I
should think the house quite empty."
"And it is. That's the old Shaffer homestead. It's been empty for
"Oh, empty!" And she turned away, with the most inconsequent air
in the world, crying out as her name rang up the stair, "There's
Arthur calling. I suppose he thinks I've been here long enough.
I'm sure I'm very much obliged to you, officer. I really
shouldn't have slept a wink to-night, if I hadn't been given a
peep at these rooms, which I had imagined so different." And with
one additional glance over her shoulder, that seemed to penetrate
both windows and the desolate space beyond, she ran quickly out
and down in response to her brother's reiterated call.
"Drive quickly!--as quickly as the law allows, to Hiram Brown's
office in Duane Street."
Arrived at the address named, she went in alone to see Mr. Brown.
He was her father's lawyer and a family friend.
Hardly waiting for his affectionate greeting, she cried out
quickly. "Tell me how I can learn anything about the old Shaffer
house in Seventeenth Street. Now, don't look so surprised. I
have very good reasons for my request and--and--I'm in an awful
"I know, I know; there's been a dreadful tragedy next door to
it; but it's about the Shaffer house itself I want some
information. Has it an agent, a--"
"Of course it has an agent, and here is his name."
Mr. Brown presented her with a card on which he had hastily
written both name and address.
She thanked him, dropped him a mocking curtsey full of charm,
whispered "Don't tell father," and was gone.
Her manner to the man she next interviewed was very different. As
soon as she saw him she subsided into her usual society manner.
With just a touch of the conceit of the successful debutante, she
announced herself as Miss Strange of Seventy-second Street. Her
business with him was in regard to the possible renting of the
Shaffer house. She had an old lady friend who was desirous of
In passing through Seventeenth Street, she had noticed that the
old Shaffer house was standing empty and had been immediately
struck with the advantages it possessed for her elderly friend's
occupancy. Could it be that the house was for rent? There was no
sign on it to that effect, but--etc.
His answer left her nothing to hope for.
"It is going to be torn down," he said.
"Oh, what a pity!" she exclaimed. "Real colonial, isn't it! I
wish I could see the rooms inside before it is disturbed. Such
doors and such dear old-fashioned mantelpieces as it must have!
I just dote on the Colonial. It brings up such pictures of the
old days; weddings, you know, and parties;--all so different
from ours and so much more interesting."
Is it the chance shot that tells? Sometimes. Violet had no
especial intention in what she said save as a prelude to a
pending request, but nothing could have served her purpose better
than that one word, wedding. The agent laughed and giving her his
first indulgent look, remarked genially:
"Romance is not confined to those ancient times. If you were to
enter that house to-day you would come across evidences of a
wedding as romantic as any which ever took place in all the
seventy odd years of its existence. A man and a woman were
married there day before yesterday who did their first courting
under its roof forty years ago. He has been married twice and she
once in the interval; but the old love held firm and now at the
age of sixty and over they have come together to finish their
days in peace and happiness. Or so we will hope."
"Married! married in that house and on the day that--"
She caught herself up in time. He did not notice the break.
"Yes, in memory of those old days of courtship, I suppose. They
came here about five, got the keys, drove off, went through the
ceremony in that empty house, returned the keys to me in my own
apartment, took the steamer for Naples, and were on the sea
before midnight. Do you not call that quick work as well as
"Very." Miss Strange's cheek had paled. It was apt to when she
was greatly excited. "But I don't understand," she added, the
moment after. "How could they do this and nobody know about it? I
should have thought it would have got into the papers."
"They are quiet people. I don't think they told their best
friends. A simple announcement in the next day's journals
testified to the fact of their marriage, but that was all. I
would not have felt at liberty to mention the circumstances
myself, if the parties were not well on their way to Europe."
"Oh, how glad I am that you did tell me! Such a story of
constancy and the hold which old associations have upon sensitive
"Why, Miss? What's the matter? You look very much disturbed."
"Don't you remember? Haven't you thought? Something else
happened that very day and almost at the same time on that
block. Something very dreadful--"
"Mrs. Doolittle's murder?"
"Yes. It was as near as next door, wasn't it? Oh, if this happy
couple had known--"
"But fortunately they didn't. Nor are they likely to, till they
reach the other side. You needn't fear that their honeymoon will
be spoiled that way."
"But they may have heard something or seen something before
leaving the street. Did you notice how the gentleman looked when
he returned you the keys?"
"I did, and there was no cloud on his satisfaction."
"Oh, how you relieve me!" One--two dimples made their appearance
in Miss Strange's fresh, young cheeks. "Well! I wish them joy. Do
you mind telling me their names? I cannot think of them as actual
persons without knowing their names."
"The gentleman was Constantin Amidon; the lady, Marian Shaffer.
You will have to think of them now as Mr. and Mrs. Amidon."
"And I will. Thank you, Mr. Hutton, thank you very much. Next to
the pleasure of getting the house for my friend, is that of
hearing this charming bit of news its connection.
She held out her hand and, as he took it, remarked:
"They must have had a clergyman and witnesses."
"I wish I had been one of the witnesses," she sighed
"They were two old men."
"Oh, no! Don't tell me that."
"Fogies; nothing less."
"But the clergyman? He must have been young. Surely there was
some one there capable of appreciating the situation?"
"I can't say about that; I did not see the clergyman."
"Oh, well! it doesn't matter." Miss Strange's manner was as
nonchalant as it was charming. "We will think of him as being
And with a merry toss of her head she flitted away.
But she sobered very rapidly upon entering her limousine.
"Ah, is that you?"
"Yes, I want a Marconi sent."
"Yes, to the Cretic, which left dock the very night in which we
are so deeply interested."
"Good. Whom to? The Captain?"
"No, to a Mrs. Constantin Amidon. But first be sure there is such
"Mrs.! What idea have you there?"
"Excuse my not stating over the telephone. The message is to be
to this effect. Did she at any time immediately before or after
her marriage to Mr. Amidon get a glimpse of any one in the
adjoining house? No remarks, please. I use the telephone because
I am not ready to explain myself. If she did, let her send a
written description to you of that person as soon as she reaches
"You surprise me. May I not call or hope for a line from you
"I shall be busy till you get your answer."
He hung up the receiver. He recognized the resolute tone.
But the time came when the pending explanation was fully given to
him. An answer had been returned from the steamer, favourable to
Violet's hopes. Mrs. Amidon had seen such a person and would send
a full description of the same at the first opportunity. It was
news to fill Violet's heart with pride; the filament of a clue
which had led to this great result had been so nearly invisible
and had felt so like nothing in her grasp.
To her employer she described it as follows:
"When I hear or read of a case which contains any baffling
features, I am apt to feel some hidden chord in my nature thrill
to one fact in it and not to any of the others. In this case the
single fact which appealed to my imagination was the dropping of
the stolen wallet in that upstairs room. Why did the guilty man
drop it? and why, having dropped it, did he not pick it up again?
but one answer seemed possible. He had heard or seen something at
the spot where it fell which not only alarmed him but sent him in
flight from the house."
"Very good; and did you settle to your own mind the nature of
that sound or that sight?"
"I did." Her manner was strangely businesslike. No show of
dimples now. "Satisfied that if any possibility remained of my
ever doing this, it would have to be on the exact place of this
occurrence or not at all, I embraced your suggestion and visited
"And that room no doubt."
"And that room. Women, somehow, seem to manage such things."
"So I've noticed, Miss Strange. And what was the result of your
visit? What did you discover there?"
"This: that one of the blood spots marking the criminal's steps
through the room was decidedly more pronounced than the rest;
and, what was even more important, that the window out of which I
was looking had its counterpart in the house on the opposite side
of the alley. In gazing through the one I was gazing through the
other; and not only that, but into the darkened area of the room
beyond. Instantly I saw how the latter fact might be made to
explain the former one. But before I say how, let me ask if it is
quite settled among you that the smears on the floor and stairs
mark the passage of the criminal's footsteps!"
"Certainly; and very bloody feet they must have been too. His
shoes--or rather his one shoe--for the proof is plain that only
the right one left its mark--must have become thoroughly
saturated to carry its traces so far."
"Do you think that any amount of saturation would have done this?
Or, if you are not ready to agree to that, that a shoe so covered
with blood could have failed to leave behind it some hint of its
shape, some imprint, however faint, of heel or toe? But nowhere
did it do this. We see a smear--and that is all."
"You are right, Miss Strange; you are always right. And what do
you gather from this?"
She looked to see how much he expected from her, and, meeting an
eye not quite as free from ironic suggestion as his words had
led her to expect, faltered a little as she proceeded to say:
"My opinion is a girl's opinion, but such as it is you have the
right to have it. From the indications mentioned I could draw but
this conclusion: that the blood which accompanied the criminal's
footsteps was not carried through the house by his shoes;--he
wore no shoes; he did not even wear stockings; probably he had
none. For reasons which appealed to his judgment, he went about
his wicked work barefoot; and it was the blood from his own veins
and not from those of his victim which made the trail we have
followed with so much interest. Do you forget those broken beads;--
how he kicked them about and stamped upon them in his fury? One
of them pierced the ball of his foot, and that so sharply that it
not only spurted blood but kept on bleeding with every step he
took. Otherwise, the trail would have been lost after his passage
up the stairs."
"Fine!" There was no irony in the bureau-chief's eye now. "You
are progressing, Miss Strange. Allow me, I pray, to kiss your
hand. It is a liberty I have never taken, but one which would
greatly relieve my present stress of feeling."
She lifted her hand toward him, but it was in gesture, not in
recognition of his homage.
"Thank you," said she, "but I claim no monopoly on deductions so
simple as these. I have not the least doubt that not only
yourself but every member of the force has made the same. But
there is a little matter which may have escaped the police, may
even have escaped you. To that I would now call your attention
since through it I have been enabled, after a little necessary
groping, to reach the open. You remember the one large blotch on
the upper floor where the man dropped the wallet? That blotch,
more or less commingled with a fainter one, possessed great
significance for me from the first moment I saw it. How came his
foot to bleed so much more profusely at that one spot than at any
other? There could be but one answer: because here a surprise met
him--a surprise so startling to him in his present state of mind,
that he gave a quick spring backward, with the result that his
wounded foot came down suddenly and forcibly instead of easily as
in his previous wary tread. And what was the surprise? I made it
my business to find out, and now I can tell you that it was the
sight of a woman's face staring upon him from the neighbouring
house which he had probably been told was empty. The shock
disturbed his judgment. He saw his crime discovered--his guilty
secret read, and fled in unreasoning panic. He might better have
held on to his wits. It was this display of fear which led me to
search after its cause, and consequently to discover that at this
especial hour more than one person had been in the Shaffer house;
that, in fact, a marriage had been celebrated there under
circumstances as romantic as any we read of in books, and that
this marriage, privately carried out, had been followed by an
immediate voyage of the happy couple on one of the White Star
steamers. With the rest you are conversant. I do not need to say
anything about what has followed the sending of that Marconi."
"But I am going to say something about your work in this matter,
Miss Strange. The big detectives about here will have to look
"Don't, please! Not yet." A smile softened the asperity of this
interruption. "The man has yet to be caught and identified. Till
that is done I cannot enjoy any one's congratulations. And you
will see that all this may not be so easy. If no one happened to
meet the desperate wretch before he had an opportunity to retie
his shoe-laces, there will be little for you or even for the
police to go upon but his wounded foot, his undoubtedly carefully
prepared alibi, and later, a woman's confused description of a
face seen but for a moment only and that under a personal
excitement precluding minute attention. I should not be surprised
if the whole thing came to nothing."
But it did not. As soon as the description was received from Mrs.
Amidon (a description, by the way, which was unusually clear and
precise, owing to the peculiar and contradictory features of the
man), the police were able to recognize him among the many
suspects always under their eye. Arrested, he pleaded, just as
Miss Strange had foretold, an alibi of a seemingly unimpeachable
character; but neither it, nor the plausible explanation with
which he endeavoured to account for a freshly healed scar amid
the callouses of his right foot, could stand before Mrs. Amidon's
unequivocal testimony that he was the same man she had seen in
Mrs. Doolittle's upper room on the afternoon of her own happiness
and of that poor woman's murder.
The moment when, at his trial, the two faces again confronted
each other across a space no wider than that which had separated
them on the dread occasion in Seventeenth Street, is said to
have been one of the most dramatic in the annals of that ancient
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