I. The Millionaire Racket
II. The Hero of Newport
III. The Dump
IV. Attack from Within
V. We Lose Our Job
VI. The Boycott
VII. A Letter
IX. The Typewriter
X. Mr. Gibbs Cumberland
XI. The Whip Cracks
XII. The Law Moves
XIII. In Jail
XIV. A New Victim
XV. Miss Betsy Again
XVI. Murder in the Air
XVII. At the Chowder Club
XVIII. A Crowded Hour
XIX. In the Balance
XX. A Hitch to Town
XXI. Red Flower in the Night
XXII. The Hide out
XXIII. Party of Four
XXIV. A Voyage
XXV. Our Hostess
XXVI. Lying Low
XXVII. The Trap Is Set
XXVIII. The Trap Is Sprung
CHAPTER ONE - The Millionaire Racket
Mme. Storey drove her own car up to Newport. According to instructions,
we left it standing at the front door of the Van Tassel mansion, and
made our way by a path around to the rear. This was to avoid coming in
contact with the house servants.
In the darkness under the side windows our way was suddenly blocked by
an armed guard. The unexpectedness of his appearance almost fetched a
scream out of me. In a husky whisper he demanded to know our business.
Mme. Storey gave him the password that had been furnished
us--"Redwood"--and he drew back. I had the feeling that other men were
watching us from the shadows of the shrubbery. Who would want to be
rich, I thought, if you had to live in a state of siege like this.
At the back of the mansion, looking over the cliffs toward the sea,
there was a wide outdoors room that would have been called a porch in
any ordinary house, but at the Van Tassels', we learned, it was
dignified with the name of terrace. It was glassed in all around for bad
weather, and though now the June night was warm and sweet smelling, all
the sliding panels were closed. Here Mr. and Mrs. Van Tassel had
arranged to be waiting for us.
I glanced with strong curiosity at the bearers of so famous a name.
Neither was very impressive.
Howard Van Tassel was an old man suffering from some form of heart
trouble that forced him to keep his mouth always hanging open and to
breathe with difficulty. You were always uneasy in his presence because
he seemed likely to have a stroke at any moment. His wife had been a
beauty. Her faded hair was tricked out in the puffs and whorls and kinks
that went out of fashion years ago, and her faded cheeks were bright
with rouge. They showed little of the dignity you would expect from
people of their position.
But nobody appears to advantage, of course; when he is frightened. Both
old people were trembling. Indeed, the whole place seemed to be held in
a spell of fear. It infected me in spite of myself, and I kept glancing
around at the glass sides of the terrace, half expecting to see a
murderous face peering in from the dark.
Of the two, Mrs. Van Tassel had herself better in hand. "You are Madame
Storey, the detective?" she said.
"I prefer to call myself psychologist," said Mme. Storey, with a smile;
"but it doesn't matter."
Mrs. Van Tassel stared rudely. She was a stupid sort of woman in all her
finery. "And who is this person?" she asked, with a nod in my direction.
"My secretary, Miss Brickley."
"Can't she wait in the car?"
"She is my principal assistant," said Mme. Storey, politely and firmly.
"I depend on her for everything."
Nothing further was said about bouncing me.
Mrs. Van Tassel was so frightened and suspicious, it was difficult to
bring her to the point. Several times she seemed about to send us away
without telling us why we had been summoned. Finally she blurted out,
"My husband has been getting letters demanding large sums of money."
"For how long?" asked Mme. Storey, coolly. By her calm air she sought to
put them at their ease.
"The first one came last summer. It asked for twenty five thousand
dollars. During the fall and winter there were two more, each demanding
"These sums were paid?"
Mrs. Van Tassel nodded. "And now a fourth letter has come, demanding
fifty thousand dollars." Her voice scaled up hysterically. "This can't
"Certainly not," said Mme. Storey. "You never should have paid
"I never wanted to pay," said Mrs. Van Tassel, with a glance at her
husband, "but Mr. Van Tassel was afraid."
That shocking old wreck suddenly roused himself. "I have a bad heart
condition," he said, whiningly. "My doctor told me a shock would kill
me. I would rather pay than live in terror of my life!"
"What good does it do you?" snapped his wife. "You live in terror,
anyhow. And the demands are constantly increasing. It's got to stop
somewhere." She turned to Mme. Storey. "We are not as rich as people
suppose. And our expenses are enormous."
"Did these letters come through the mail?" asked Mme. Storey.
A shudder went through Mrs. Van Tassel's frame, causing her earrings to
tinkle. "No," she said, very low. "That is the worst of it. Somehow, a
way was found to introduce them into the house. In each case Mr. Van
Tassel found them on the desk in his study...Oh, it is awful, not to
feel safe even in your own house!"
"Surely," said Mme. Storey, sympathetically. "Have you saved the
"Only the last one."
"May I see it?"
Mrs. Van Tassel glanced around her with haggard eyes. "I...I am
afraid," she stammered. "How do we know who may be spying on us from the
"There are guards stationed in the grounds," muttered the old man.
"Where did you obtain these guards?" asked Mme. Storey.
"From the ---- Detective Agency."
Not wishing to increase their fears, Mme. Storey did not tell them that
this protection was little better than none. Such men are nearly always
to be bought. I knew it, and it did not make me feel any more
comfortable. We were making entirely too good a target sitting there in
the brightly lighted terrace.
"Let us go inside," suggested Mme. Storey.
"The servants..." objected the old man.
"We can go in through the French windows," said his wife, "and lock the
The upshot was that we adjourned to a room opening on the terrace that
they called the breakfast room. After carefully pulling the curtains
shut and locking the door, Mrs. Van Tassel produced a letter from the
little bag she carried. It was a brief typewritten letter on a single
plain white sheet. Mme. Storey read it, and afterward examined it
through the magnifying glass she always carries.
She finally said: "From the style of the type I see that this was
written on an Underwood. It was written by one who was not expert in
using the typewriter, because the keys were struck with varying degrees
of force. The machine has not been used very much, and the ribbon was a
She handed the letter to me to read. It began abruptly, without any form
'Get fifty thousand dollars from the bank in bills: 100s, 50s, 20s, no
higher, and keep it in the house until I send you instructions how to
hand it to me. If my instructions are not followed out to the letter, or
if you try to entrap me in any way, you will suffer the same fate that
lately overtook your old friend Kip Havemeyer. He was said to have died
of heart disease, but nobody saw him die. When I wish to strike, no
locks can keep me out of your house or guards keep me from your side.
Remember, old men are easy to kill!'
This was signed, "The Leveler."
I handed the letter back.
"Written by a man accustomed to the forms of good speech," said Mme.
Storey. Mr. and Mrs. Van Tassel exchanged a startled glance. "How did
Mr. Havemeyer die?"
"He was found dead in his garden," muttered Mr. Van Tassel. "They said
heart disease...but he had a terrible look on his face."
"You are prepared then, to hand over the money when a demand is made for
"I wouldn't," said Mrs. Van Tassel, with an ugly look at her husband.
"Certainly I am!" cried the old man, shrilly. "I'm not going to be
shocked to death like Havemeyer!"
"If you're going to pay, what can I do for you?" asked Mme. Storey.
"We want you to undertake a quiet investigation," said Mrs. Van Tassel.
"Find out where the money goes. It can be marked. Get evidence against
this scoundrel so that we can confront him with it, and make him stop!"
"Confront him with it?" echoed Mme. Storey, struck by this phrase.
Mrs. Van Tassel said nothing.
After a little thought my employer said: "I am willing to take the case.
But I ought to point out to you that if anything happens, I should not
be in as good a position to protect you as the police. The men you have
now are worthless. I advise you to consult the police."
Both became wildly agitated. "No! No! No!" they cried together.
"Why not?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Never mind," said Mrs. Van Tassel sharply. "You have your
Nobody can talk to Mme. Storey like that and get away with it. Her smile
was like polished glassware. "I cannot serve you," she said, "unless you
furnish me with complete information."
"We have no information."
"You suspect somebody."
"No! No!" they muttered, wretchedly. "It is too terrible!"
"Then you had better let me retire," said Mme. Storey, gently. She was
sorry for the old pair, with all their wealth.
Mrs. Van Tassel weakened. "Why not tell her?" she said to her husband.
"It's her business to keep her mouth shut."
"All right," he mumbled, turning away his head.
Mrs. Van Tassel put her handkerchief to her lips.
I wondered what was coming. "We have no evidence," she stammered,
"but...but we suspect that Nicholas Van Tassel, my husband's nephew, is
behind it all."
Mme. Storey was surprised into an exclamation. "Good God! Nicholas Van
Tassel! I thought he was the head of the family and the richest of you
Mrs. Van Tassel shook her head. "He was left a pauper," she murmured.
Some moments passed before we could get a coherent explanation out of
her. She finally said: "It is forgotten now, but my husband's father,
who was the fourth Nicholas Van Tassel, cut off his eldest son,
Nicholas, with six million dollars, and left the bulk of his fortune to
my husband. His eldest son had displeased him by marrying an actress.
This one, the fifth Nicholas, caused the story to be circulated that his
brothers had equalized their shares with him. This was untrue, but it
did not seem worth while to deny it. Later it was reported that he had
made a great fortune in Wall Street, but this was also untrue. As a
matter of fact, he spent every cent he possessed and committed suicide."
"Suicide?" said Mme. Storey. "I never heard of it."
"It was supposed to be an accident. When his money was all spent, he and
his wife drove their car over a cliff in Switzerland. Nobody outside the
family knows it, but the present Nicholas, the sixth of the name, was
left nothing but two big houses that were mortgaged to the limit...Yet
he is reputed to live at the rate of a million a year. It must come from
"Quite! It must come from somewhere!" murmured Mme. Storey.
There was a silence. My employer turned her brilliant eyes on me. Good
God! What a case! her expression said. As for me, I was staggered by the
As we were leaving, Mrs. Van Tassel said, patronizingly--even in her
distress of mind she could not overcome the habit of arrogance: "Of
course expense is no object. We think you should live here in Newport
incognito, and conduct a quiet investigation."
Mme. Storey declined to be patronized. "Sorry," she said, smiling, "but
that would be impossible. I have a hundred acquaintances here in
Newport. I should be recognized the first time I went out...My arrival
must be publicly announced. I can let it be supposed that I am here for
the social season. My friend, Mrs. Lysaght, will sponsor me."
Mrs. Van Tassel ran up her aristocratic eyebrows at the notion of a mere
detective (as she thought) crashing the exclusive gates of Newport. She
had a lot to learn. She was not accustomed to having her wishes opposed,
and for a moment the two pairs of eyes contended; Mrs. Van Tassel's
haughty, Mme. Storey's smiling. It was the haughty eyes that bolted
"Oh, very well," said Mrs. Van Tassel, with assumed indifference. "You
may communicate with me here by telephone at any time. I will see to it
that there can be no listening in at this end."
As Mme. Storey was starting her car, the guard who had stopped us on the
way in showed his brutal face at the window beside her.
"Say, sister," he said, with crude insolence, "if you enjoy life, you
better steer clear of this burg, see? I happen to know it's damned
unhealthy for you."
We drove away with the sound of his ugly chuckle in our ears. Mme.
Storey's answer to the threat was to stop in at the central telephone
office and summon six of her best men to Newport; the two Criders,
Stephens, Morrison, Scarfe, and Benny Abell. We then left a social note
at the office of the local newspaper stating that Madame Rosika Storey
was the guest of Mrs. George Lysaght at her cottage on Catherine Street,
and drove on to that lady's.
My brain was still spinning with what had happened. "It is scarcely
worth a hundred and fifty thousand a year to keep that old hulk alive,"
"Apparently Mrs. Van Tassel agrees with you," replied Mme. Storey,
dryly, "but he does not."
CHAPTER TWO - The Hero of Newport
THERE were half a dozen separate conversations going on around Mrs.
Lysaght's luncheon table--the usual things that women talk
about--clothes, tennis scores, the new play at the Casino, the latest
divorce--when Mrs. Beekman Alston was heard to say:
"Nick Van Tassel told me so himself."
The name seemed to lay a spell on all the women present. They stopped
talking, and every eye was turned toward the speaker. I looked, too, you
may be sure, and pricked up my ears for what might be coming. Mrs.
Alston, a very pretty woman, had to submit to a kind of cross
"Where did you see Nick'?"
"At the Chowder Club."
"Was he alone?"
"He was at that moment."
"Do you mean to say he danced with you?"
"We sat out one of the encores."
This was received with open expressions of disbelief by Mrs. Alston's
"You're only jealous!" she retorted.
The conversation became general and excited, and within a few minutes I
had received more information about the famous Nick than I could
possibly remember without a notebook. He could win the men's singles in
a walk over if he would stop drinking. He had contributed fifty thousand
to the building of the new cup defender. He could always be depended to
put his hand in his pocket for sport.
He had bought a trimotored Sikorski seating six.
He had brought a girl nobody knew to the Goadby dance. Mrs. Goadby was
furious, but what could she do? Nobody dared say anything to Nick.
A good deal of it I didn't get, because the places and the people
referred to were strange to me, but it was clear that their Nick was a
very high flyer indeed. There was a lot of talk about a place called
"the Dump," which I gathered must be Nick's own house. It was evident
that there were gay doings there, and it was equally evident that any
woman present would have given her best earrings for an invitation.
Mme. Storey finally cut in with a smile. "What is there about this young
man that excites you all so much?"
"Don't you know Nick Van Tassel?" they cried.
"Well, of course I know who he is. Nick the son of Nick, the son of
Nick, and so on back almost to the Flood. There has always been a Nick
Van Tassel at Newport. I should think it would be an old story."
"There never was a Nick like this Nick," said Evelyn Suydam. "He's
"How?" asked Mme. Storey. "What is the secret of his fascination for the
"The men are just as bad," retorted Evelyn. "Haven't you noticed how
they're all wearing the collars of their coats turned up, and their hats
bashed in in funny ways? Nick started it because he doesn't give a darn
how he looks, and now they're all doing it. If Nick came down Bellevue
Avenue walking on his hands, they'd all be following suit the next day."
"Is he handsome?" asked Mme. Storey.
They went into a huddle over this. The final verdict was, "No, not
This was received with a laugh which spoke for itself.
"No, not ardent," they admitted with sighs. "Cool as headcheese" one
girl said, raising a laugh. "Hardboiled," said another.
"Then what is it?"
"It isn't anything in particular," said Evelyn helplessly. She was a
little person, blonde, with a smart tongue and over size, wistful blue
eyes. "It's just because he's Nick."
There was a handsome tall girl called Ann Livingston sitting next me,
and she said, with a gleam in her dark eyes: "I'll tell you the secret.
Nick Van Tassel grins and does just what he damn pleases always. And
Newport can take it or leave it."
"And Newport takes it?" said Mme. Storey.
After the ladies had gone, Mrs. Lysaght, Mme. Storey, and I settled
ourselves for a comfortable gossip in our hostess's sitting room on the
second floor. You couldn't possibly find anybody better equipped than
Mrs. Lysaght to give you the lowdown on Newport. So secure was her
position, that when she was left a widow with very little money, she was
able to go into business without losing caste.
She was an interior decorator. She had no shop, but merely "consulted"
with her clients, and collected fees from both sides.
"I must meet Nick Van Tassel," said Mme. Storey.
Mrs. Lysaght threw up her hands. She is an ample woman, clever and good
natured. "My dear, I might as well ask the Prince of Wales to dinner!"
"Surely he would come here."
Mrs. Lysaght, since she has been on her own, has acquired such a
reputation for doing the smart and unusual that invitations to her
little house are greatly prized. Her own circle is considered one of the
most inner in Newport. But she shook her head.
"He wouldn't come," she said. "He won't go anywhere unless the fancy
happens to take him. He will tell you so to your face. He's the rudest
young man of them all...and the most attractive."
"Mercy!" murmured Mme. Storey, lazily. "We must have him over."
"He's a strange person," Mrs. Lysaght went on.
"Nobody can understand how the respectable run-of-the-mine Van Tassels
happened to produce such a one. Van Tassels are noted for their
dullness. That's how they've kept their money so long. But Nick..."
She was interrupted by the entrance of the parlormaid, who said, "Mr.
Nicholas Van Tassel is calling, madam."
"Well!" drawled Mme. Storey. "Here's a miracle!" But she had a good idea
what had brought him, and so had I.
Mrs. Lysaght was stunned for a moment. After thinking it over, she said:
"He must have come to see you, Rosika. You are a famous woman, my dear,
and your arrival was chronicled in the morning paper. Even the young
eagle stoops to give you the once over."
"Let's have him up," said Mme. Storey.
When I heard the heavier tread on the stairs my heart began to beat
fast. If what we had heard was true, this was one of the most remarkable
criminals of modern times.
Well, I saw a tall, energetic young man with miscellaneous American
features, not handsome, it is true, but with an electric quality about
him that instantly made you sit up and take notice. He had a bold nose
and a compelling glance that caused you to feel a little helpless when
it was turned on you. I learned later that he affected most women in the
same way. He subdued them in spite of themselves.
"Hello, Leonie!" he said, offhand, and marched up to my employer without
waiting for an introduction. "You must be Rosika Storey," he said, with
a mixture of boldness and deference that was very flattering. "It's
great to meet you. I have followed all your cases. It isn't often that
anybody like you comes to roost in the Newport hennery."
"Well!" said Mrs. Lysaght.
"Oh, I wasn't including you, Leonie," he said, with his impudent grin.
"You don't fly with these birds; you prey on them!"
Like you! I thought.
As a quite insignificant person he was prepared to overlook me entirely,
but Mme. Storey made him acknowledge an introduction. He made a
perfunctory bow, and immediately turned away. I should have liked to
slap his face, but if I had I should undoubtedly have burst into tears.
That was what he did to you.
Apparently he was completely outspoken. Such a person always creates
havoc in company. I say apparently because I never doubted but that
there were many secrets hidden behind his hard black eyes. He made no
bones of the fact that he had come to see my employer, and he devoted
himself exclusively to her. Mrs. Lysaght and I had to be content with an
occasional half cynical, half flattering remark flung to us like a bone
to a dog. Mrs. Lysaght was no better than the other women; she almost
fawned on him. As for me, I sat silently fuming, but I had a sinking
feeling that if he ever held up a finger to me I should have to go.
"How long are you going to stay?" he asked.
"As long as Leonie will have me."
"Whatever brought you to Newport?"
"Can't I have my little fling?"
"What can a woman like you, who does things, expect to get out of this
one ring circus?"
"I'm on my vacation."
"I don't believe it," he said, with his attractive grin. "I'll bet
you're after some gilt edged crook that's operating among us without our
"Why, of course I am.'" said Mme. Storey, facing him out with a smile.
"Gosh! I wish you'd let me in on it! Don't you need a brisk young
operative with a college education'? I'd like to do something for my
country, but nobody will give me a chance."
"Well, I'll think it over."
"I may not have much brains, but I know Newport like a book. Forward and
backward. If your man is here I'll ferret him out."
This dangerous fencing made me a little breathless. Mrs. Lysaght knew
"When Leonie puts you out, come and stay at my place," he went on.
"It wouldn't be proper."
"I have a house on Ochre Point that you could have to yourself. I don't
"Why don't you rent it?"
"Well, 'Sans Souci' has never been rented, you see. Newport wouldn't
like the idea...Are you fond of flying?"
"I adore it."
"I have a little Moth that can do better than two hundred."
"Half of that would satisfy me."
He stayed for nearly an hour, which I understood as an unprecedented
thing. He made believe to fall hard for Mme. Storey. Or perhaps there
was something in it. I never knew. Mrs. Lysaght said she had never seen
him so struck by anybody.
When he arose to go he said: "Will you and Leonie dine at the Dump
tonight? We'll dance afterward, or what you will."
"The Dump?" said Mme. Storey, elevating her eyebrows.
"My farm on the Sakonnet River. Oh, it's got a perfectly good name;
Omega Farm--because nothing goes any farther. But Dump suits my style
Mme. Storey looked at Mrs. Lysaght. "Of course we'll come," said the
latter, highly gratified.
"If I may bring Miss Brickley," said Mme. Storey.
"Sure!" he said, without looking at me. "Delighted!...Shall I send a
car for you?"
"Thanks, I have my car."
As soon as Mme. Storey and I were alone together my pent up feelings
broke out. "I won't go!" I cried, with the tears springing to my eyes.
"That young man is unbearable! I don't care how many Van Tassels he's
got to his name. Every time he looks at you it's an insult!"
Mme. Storey smiled at me in a way that smoothed my ruffled temper. "Oh,
Bella, what do you care, my dear? He's just an interesting specimen for
"If he's the man we've got to run down, how can we accept his
hospitality?" I objected.
"If he's the man, he knows we're after him," said Mme. Storey, serenely.
"Because we were followed last night. If he dares us to come to
dinner--well, that lets us out, doesn't it?"
"Do I have to go?"
"I may need you tonight, my dear."
CHAPTER THREE - The Dump
DINNER at the Dump was a showy affair. About thirty people sat down at
the table, and many more came in afterward. Mme. Storey had the seat of
honor. It was such a meal as one might dream about. I was soon informed
that Nick Van Tassel employed a twenty five thousand a year chef, and
that he had a cellar of vintage wines and an acre or so of greenhouses
in orchids. All this represented the fastidious and blue blooded side of
It was an astonishing house. We gathered in a royal salon filled with
priceless Louis XIV furnishings, and proceeded down a long corridor
across the front to a superb dining room paneled in English oak and hung
with rare sporting prints. After this, imagine the shock when I was
introduced later to a frontier dance hall of the days of '49. This room
represented Nick the rough neck.
Except for the corridor I have spoken of, it occupied the whole of the
central block of the house, a wide, low room lined with rough logs in
which little crooked windows had been set. There was a bar at one end,
and a rude stage at the other, with a gaudy painted curtain and a row of
footlights behind leaning tin reflectors. It all made a piquant
background for the elegant company of Nick's guests.
Not that all the company was elegant. The best looking and most
attractive of the sporting element mixed with the guests; jockeys,
airplane mechanics, vaudeville performers, and young pugilists. I saw
the aristocratic Mrs. Welch Goadby talking to a horse trainer in a fawn
colored topcoat. The smartest people in Newport angled for invitations
to the Dump because they thought they saw life there.
Nick Van Tassel naturally was the head and front of the show. He looked
princely in evening clothes.
He sat at our table, scornful and good humored. It made me savage every
time I looked at him. I could feel my finger nails growing. I wished
that I were beautiful so that I could put him in his place.
There was a black face jazz band all rigged out like old time minstrels
in striped satin suits and wing collars with points sticking out beyond
their ears. Their music was as smooth as egg nogg. At intervals girls
came out on the stage dressed like soubrettes of the period, and sang
exaggerated sentimental songs. The audience guyed them, but they didn't
mind. It was part of the comedy. A make believe sheriff acted as master
of ceremonies--an immensely tall man with a broad brimmed hat and a pair
of six shooters at his waist.
"Childish, isn't it?" drawled Nick to Mme. Storey; "but it seems to
And makes an effective blind for your real business, I thought.
"A little too realistic," murmured Mme. Storey, glancing at the guns.
"Property guns," said Nick. "Wooden."
Some friends of Mrs. Lysaght's presently joined us, and Nick drifted
away. I watched him moving among the tables with his insolent smile.
Everybody made room for him, but he passed on with a wisecrack. He was
never at a loss. After a somewhat aimless course around, he went through
the door. After a moment or two the tall, handsome Ann Livingston
followed him out, and I wondered if this had any significance. At the
dinner table they had seemed like good pals, ragging each other
At this moment I happened to catch sight of the face of Evelyn Suydam,
the charming little blonde I had met at Mrs. Lysaght's. She was at the
next table but one, and I had picked her out as one of the gayest of the
gay. But now for a second I surprised her big blue eyes fixed on the
door with a desperate look. I pitied her. I could wish no worse fate to
a woman than to fall in love with Nick Van Tassel. Immediately afterward
she was laughing again.
A demon of restlessness seemed to possess the crowd. They milled around,
drifting in and out; nobody did one thing for long. Some danced, some
played faro or shot crap on the dancing floor; some merely made a
In a few minutes Nick was back again, bringing a young man to our table.
Mrs. Lysaght and her friends got up to dance. The newcomer was
introduced as Bill Kip. He was as lean and handsome as a race horse.
Nick left him at our table and went away again. Bill was every inch a
dancer, and I was a little surprised when Mme. Storey pleaded fatigue.
Bill sat down and made amusing conversation.
Presently Colonel Franklin, an old friend of Mme. Storey's, hove in the
offing, and she eagerly summoned him. "Run along. Bill," she said,
offhand. "I'll see you later." I suppose I betrayed my surprise in my
face. She shaped the word "spy" with her lips. Bill went away unabashed,
and sat down at the same table with Evelyn Suydam. He presently had them
all laughing there, but I noticed that he was watching our every move.
Colonel Franklin was a member of the Knickerbocker Club, and a
considerable figure in society.
"Dick, you're the very man I want," said Mme. Storey. "Stand by me, old
fellow. I need one like you to keep me in countenance in this madhouse."
He sat down obediently, but a little mystified. "Yours to a cinder,
"Talk to me," she said.
He was a nice man, but not very quick on the up take. "What about?" he
"Oh, Shakespeare and the musical glasses."
He laughed as if she had made a priceless joke.
Next to Nick Van Tassel, Mme. Storey was the chief attraction for all
the eyes in the room. Whenever new people came in you could see the
whispers go back and forth: "That's Rosika Storey, my dear."
"No!" The servants were no less impressed. This was shortly after the
Jacmer Touchon case, and every newspaper reader had followed that.
During the dancing a page from the front door came to the table, saying
that Mme. Storey was wanted on the phone. Bill Kip was watching us, and
she said, with a careless shrug: "Oh, I can't be bothered now"; adding,
in a lower tone, "Take the number and say that I will call up directly."
When the dancing stopped, two or three minutes later, she took advantage
of the confusion as people returned to their seats, and arose saying,
"Take us out for a breath of air, Dick."
We avoided meeting Mrs. Lysaght and her friends, who were heading back
to the table. I ought to say that Mrs. Lysaght knew we had not come to
Newport for the social season; but she was a wise woman and a good
friend to my employer; she preferred not to be told anything about our
As we left the dance hall a girl came out on the stage and started
singing "The Face on the Barroom Floor" amid hoots and catcalls from the
audience, and the banging of glasses on the tables.
In the corridor Mme. Storey whispered, "Wait for me out in front," and
Outside the front door there was a brick paved terrace with a
balustrade. Below, Nick's landing field stretched with a gentle slope
down to the Sakonnet, which was not a true river here, but a wide arm of
the sea. The riding lights of many little yachts gleamed against the
dark water. After the uproar and the tobacco smoke inside, the starry
night was as peaceful as a benediction.
We were not permitted to enjoy it long. Mme. Storey rejoined us,
sniffing appreciatively. "What good cigars you smoke, Dick! Have you
plenty in your pocket?"
"Yes, my dear, but..."
She urged us toward the steps. "I want you to do something for me, old
fellow. Walk up and down the drive, out of sight of everybody, smoking
your cigars until we come back. It is twenty minutes to eleven. We'll be
back at eleven twenty if all goes well. You need not wait longer than
that. I want you for an alibi, my dear. A man like you is above
"Certainly, Rosika"--the gallant colonel's voice sounded a little
flabbergasted--"but, my dear girl..."
"Can't stop to explain now. Later, perhaps."
We had left the crowd behind us. Taking my arm, she fairly raced me to
the spot where we had left the car parked. Benny Abell, dressed up in a
chauffeur's uniform, was in the driver's seat. Benny was a small man
with an admirable poker face and nerves of steel.
"Back to Newport, Benny," she said. "And step on it!"
It was about ten minutes' drive to town. As we sped along the road she
said, both for Benny's benefit and mine: "The telephone call was from
Mrs. Howard Van Tassel. She said they had just received a command over
the telephone to do up the money in a paper packet, and give it to
Dickerman, Mr. Van Tassel's valet, on the stroke of eleven. Dickerman is
to carry it down the drive to the front gates and hand it in the window
of a car that will pass in the road outside."
"Do you think this Dickerman is in with the gang?" I asked.
"It is unlikely. He has been waiting on Mr. Van Tassel for thirty five
years, and every circumstance of his life is known to the family.
However, we'll see." Switching on the dome light for a moment, she
consulted her watch. "Quarter to. We have lost a precious ten minutes.
Unfortunately, I don't know which way the car will be heading, so I must
lay a trap for it at each side of the house...Did you rent the cars as
I told you, Benny?"
"Yes, madam. Three cars. They are parked in Mount Vernon Street with
Crider, Stephens, and Scarfe at the wheels."
"Two will be enough. But let the men double up on the front seats. Let
Crider take his brother, and Morrison go with Stephens...Are you all
thoroughly familiar with the neighborhood of the Van Tassel place?"
"Yes, madam. I spent the afternoon walking about. Borrowed a dining room
girl from the Perry House to make it look more natural. But there are
plenty of rubber necks in Newport. I didn't attract no notice.
Afterwards, I passed it all on to the boys, and drew them a map."
"The Howard Van Tassel place is called Balmoral and the entrance is on
Ochre Point Avenue, a quiet street," he went on. "The grounds are
extensive, above five acres I should say, and run to the edge of the
cliffs behind the house. Just below the level of the grounds, at the
back, a public walk runs along. They call it the cliff walk. On either
side of the Van Tassel place there's another big house in its own
grounds--the Lawrence mansion to the south, and the Bleeckers' to the
"Are those houses occupied at present?"
"Yes, madam; both occupied for the season."
"I noticed some handsome ornamental gates directly opposite the Van
Tassels'. Who lives there?"
"J. Warner Van Zile."
"Is the family in residence?"
"Is the Van Zile house visible from the street?"
"No, madam; the driveway winds in behind the shrubbery."
"Good!...No streets cross Ochre Point Avenue, but several run into it
from the west. What are the streets to the north and to the south of the
Van Tassel place?"
"Leroy Avenue and Shepard Avenue, madam."
"Let Crider wait in Leroy and Stephens in Shepard, each near the corner
of Ochre Point Avenue with his car heading east. Their instructions are
exactly the same. Let them wait in front of a house, if possible, and
shut off their engines. At three or four minutes past eleven a car will
pass along Ochre Point Avenue toward the Van Tassels'. Whichever man it
passes will follow it. He is to obtain the license number, to find out
where it goes if he can, and he must get a good look at the man who
drives and the man who rides in the rear if it is a sedan. Make sure
that all our men have flashlights."
"Suppose there is a chase, madam, and the police interfere?"
"Let our men call on the police to help them, and continue the chase.
They can trump up some charge against the man ahead, and then make
believe to be mistaken when they overtake him. I don't want anybody
arrested, but my men must be able to identify the racketeers when
confronted with them later."
"Yes, madam; and what's my job?"
"Everything will be over at the Van Tassel place by ten minutes past
eleven. Leave this car parked in Mount Vernon Street, and bring the
third hired car through Ochre Point Avenue to pick up Bella and me."
In the center of Newport we alighted from our car--we made sure we were
not followed into town--and engaged a taxi. Mme. Storey told the driver
to take us to the Warner Van Zile residence. She paid him at the foot of
the steps, and let him drive away before she rang the bell. To the
manservant who opened the door she said:
"Is this Mr. Howard Van Tassel's residence?"
"Why, no, madam. Mr. Van Tassel lives on the other side of the avenue.
The gates are opposite our gates."
Mme. Storey affected great surprise. "The taxi driver brought us here."
"I can't understand it, madam. They all know the Van Tassel place."
"He must have been drunk."
"Shall I call another taxi for you?"
"Oh no, thank you! If it's just across the way it isn't worth while."
We returned down the steps, and the door was closed. It was perfectly
dark in the grounds. We had a minute or two to spare, and we concealed
ourselves in the shadow of the shrubbery until we heard a church clock
strike eleven. Then we proceeded toward the gates.
When they came into view, we separated, Mme. Storey taking one side of
the driveway, and I the other. We walked on the grass and took care not
to expose ourselves to the rays of an electric light hanging in the
avenue between the two pairs of gates. Mme. Storey concealed herself
behind one great stone post at the entrance, and I behind the other. My
particular job would be to watch Dickerman, the valet, when he appeared
opposite. If he did not appear, we would know that he had pocketed the
This was not the kind of task that I enjoyed. The beating of my heart
nearly suffocated me while I stood there waiting. Less than a minute
perhaps. It was as still as if we were buried in a forest. Suddenly I
heard a slight click behind me, and whirling around, was just in time to
see a flashlight thrown across the road on Mme. Storey. She turned
instinctively, and her face was strongly illumined in the light. It was
then thrown on me. Just a flash and darkness. A shrill whistle pierced
Mme. Storey came running across the drive.
"Seize him! Seize him!" she cried, for I was the nearer.
In the actual presence of danger all fear left me. I sprang, and
succeeded in grasping an arm in the dark, but it was wrenched away with
such violence that I was thrown full length on the grass.
And so he got away. He must have been familiar with every bush and tree,
because he made not a sound.
My employer's chagrin was deep and bitter. "No car will come now," she
said. "They have beaten us at our own game. Did you get a glimpse of
"Just a vague shape in the darkness," I said. "A slender figure, fairly
tall. It was a man's rough coat that I grasped, but the arm inside felt
like a woman's."
"Very likely," she said.
Nothing happened, of course. The valet, Dickerman, appeared through the
gates opposite with the packet in his hand, and hung around, waiting. He
was still there when Benny Abell came through the street to pick us up.
Dickerman was prepared to pass the packet through the window of our car,
but Mme. Storey, sticking her head out of the window, told him to take
it back to his master. He was one astonished valet.
"Take us back to our car in Mount Vernon Street," said Mme. Storey to
She was bitterly silent as we rode. Thinking to cheer her, I said,
"Well, anyhow, we saved the Van Tassels fifty thousand dollars."
"Quite," she said, dryly. "But suppose the letter writer carries out his
"Surely he wouldn't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs," I said,
with a sinking heart.
"I don't know. It depends on how many geese he has on his string. He may
be compelled to sacrifice this one to keep the others in line."
I shivered inwardly. This was a possibility I didn't want to face.
Ten minutes later we arrived at the Dump, having been gone just three
quarters of an hour. The smooth syncopation of the jazz band was coming
through the open windows, and the tall figure of Colonel Franklin with
his cigar waited in the drive.
"Thank God!" he said, fervently, as we got out. I'm sure I don't know
what he thought we had been up to. "You are all right, Rosika?"
"Quite," she said dryly. "Please take us back to the dance."
He gave us each an arm. He was a nice man.
As we entered the foggy, noisy dance hall with the black face musicians
cutting capers in their satin suits. Nick Van Tassel hastened to meet us
with his infernal grin. So much self assurance seemed inhuman. "Here you
are!" he said to Mme. Storey. "I've been looking for you everywhere!"
Liar! I thought. You haven't been back here long!
"Won't you dance?" he said.
"Charmed!" said Mme. Storey, with a serene smile.
She floated away on his arm, and I danced with Colonel Franklin.
CHAPTER FOUR - Attack from Within
AT THE earliest possible hour next morning Mme. Storey and I went openly
to the Howard Van Tassels' house. It would have been foolish to go on
making believe we were not working for them after we had been surprised
and identified at the gates.
We found the old couple in a pitiable state of consternation. Mrs. Van
Tassel's social training prevented her from crying and carrying on in
any vulgar fashion, but in spite of the aid of make up she looked like
an old, old woman. Her husband seemed to be nearer than ever to the
point of dissolution. He shook as if palsied and was unable to get his
breath. I thought how much better for all of them if he could only die
and have done with it; but you couldn't suggest that to a man worth a
hundred million dollars.
They received us in the library at Balmoral. The door of the room was
locked, and an armed servant was stationed outside. The Van Tassels had
complete confidence in their servants, and it is only fair to say that
it was never betrayed. Dickerman, the valet, was in the room with us.
They put their chief trust in him, and he did everything for them. A
plain, sober sort of man, he was devoted to his master; but he was too
much softened by years of house service to be of much service in an
Mr. Van Tassel was in such dread of assassination that he kept in the
darkest part of the room, farthest from the windows. His wife, observing
this, said, bitterly: "There is no danger of pistol or knife, because
such crimes can be proved. He will strike invisibly!"
Nevertheless, the old man turned his chair with its back to the windows.
He took little part in the discussion which followed.
Mme. Storey told them bluntly that the detectives they were employing
were little better than crooks, and that one of them at least was in the
pay of the man who signed himself "The Leveler."
It was therefore arranged that Dickerman should pay them off at once
with a bonus, and ship them back to New York, whence they had come. We
had six dependable men in Newport and as many more were to arrive at
noon. These were to report to Dickerman one by one during the day. Some
were to patrol the grounds, and others who could wear evening dress like
gentlemen were to mix among the guests that night. Crider was already in
"Can you handle a gun?" Mme. Storey asked Dickerman.
His pale, meek face turned whiter still. "No, madam," he said,
helplessly. "I've never had any occasion."
"Then you won't mind if we give Mr. Van Tassel an additional body
guard," she said. "It won't be any reflection on you. A young man with a
steady nerve and quick on the draw. I recommend Crider. He won't shame
your guests tonight. He'll be instructed to keep within a yard of Mr.
Van Tassel under all circumstances."
They welcomed this suggestion.
The party they were giving that night complicated matters very much.
Mme. Storey asked if it couldn't be postponed, but neither of them would
hear of it. World famous singers had been engaged and were already on
their way to Newport. For many years this musical party had opened the
season at Newport, and it would create a scandal to cancel it at the
"But on the score of Mr. Van Tassel's health?"
"Everybody knows he's no worse than usual," said his wife.
She agitatedly suggested that they might cause Word to be sent to Nick
Van Tassel that he wasn't wanted in the house. But this roused the old
man to a tremulous passion of protest.
"No! No! No! We can't be sure yet that he's back of it. And he'd come,
anyhow. He'd force a scandal."
It was clear he feared scandal no less than death.
"I don't see that anything is to be gained by forbidding him the house,"
said Mme. Storey, soothingly. "We can watch him as well here as any
place else. I'll detail my keenest man for that purpose."
Dickerman hastened to give the shaken old man his drops.
"Wouldn't it be less of an ordeal if you remained in your room tonight?"
suggested Mme. Storey, kindly.
He still shook his head. "It would make too much talk if I didn't
Mrs. Van Tassel nodded approvingly, and I began to see that these people
regarded themselves as equivalent to royalty. They felt that it was up
to them to show themselves to the people, whatever might happen.
"As soon as I have spoken to everybody I will go upstairs," he added.
I need hardly say that the party at Balmoral was completely different
from that at the Dump. For twenty five years the Howard Van Tassels had
given a series of musicales during each season, and it had come to be
regarded as a Newport institution. Dull as ditch water, Mrs. Lysaght
said, but the invitations were prized like bids to the king's levee. To
be seen at Balmoral constituted complete social recognition. In other
words, this was big time stuff as compared with the continuous at the
The immense old fashioned drawing rooms were thrown together, and
lighted with thousands of bulbs sparkling in crystal chandeliers. The
hundred and fifty guests did not make a crush, of course; that would
have been vulgar. Ponselle and Martinelli were to sing, and there was a
It was gossiped around town that the talent was costing ten thousand
dollars. Newport rolled this item over its tongue with as much gusto as
any other small town.
The mellow light was flattering to Mrs. Van Tassel. In a marvelously
draped black velvet gown with her famous diamonds hung all over her, she
looked quite superb. In fact, she had ceased to be a mere woman; she was
a show piece. Her old husband, too, though he could not keep his mouth
closed, looked almost impressive. The aura of a hundred millions
surrounded him. One could never have guessed from their pleasant talk
and laughter what a hell of fear they were living through. They were
game in their way. Crider, bland and good looking in his evening
clothes, was never far from the old man's side. All the family jewels in
Newport were given an airing, it seemed--mostly decorating the bodies of
dowagers that they could do very little for. There were, however, a
number of young people present also; all of the bluest blood. Some
exquisite young creatures. But I heard several people remark that Mme.
Storey was the handsomest woman present.
She was wearing a Fortuny gown of crushed velvet, dyed in such a manner
as to make it appear iridescent. Colonel Franklin was her cavalier.
It was a swell show and one that I was never likely to see again. I
could have enjoyed every minute of it, sitting in a corner, had it not
been for the heavy feeling of anxiety that dragged me down.
Certainly we had taken every precaution that was humanly possible, short
of calling in the police, which Mme. Storey had urged from the first.
Just the same, to us who were in the know there was a sense of
foreboding in the air.
I was aware of Nick's entrance some moments before I saw him. His
arrival anywhere always caused a certain kind of stir that you could not
For me tonight his coming was almost unbearable.
He entered the room with a smile that suggested he was perfectly well
aware of the fear and hatred he inspired in that house--and enjoyed it.
He was very much the fine gentleman tonight, moving through the rooms,
conversing agreeably, and occasionally kissing the hand of a bediamonded
dowager. The silly old fools fairly purred with gratification. Once,
seeing me watch him, he winked at me out of a perfectly grave face, and
I--I grinned back at him in a silly, lallygagging fashion. I couldn't
help it, though I despised myself for it. I hated to look at his high
colored, confident face, but when he was out of sight it was worse,
wondering what he was up to.
A little later I was standing in the hall, waiting for a word with Mme.
Storey, when I heard whispered voices coming through a bank of ferns at
A woman's voice: "I can't stand it, Nick!"
And his voice roughly replying: "What the hell, Evelyn. You know the
"You don't keep it!" she retorted. "With Ann."
They moved away.
While I was talking with Mme. Storey he came up from the other side
alone. He must have guessed now what he had to expect from us, but it
only seemed to stimulate him. "By the Lord, Rosika," he cried, (It had
come to that!) "you are kaleidoscopic tonight! You shimmer like a
"A seedy fruit," she murmured. He was going to kiss her hand, but she
drew it away. "Be American," she said good naturedly. "It suits you
He passed on, laughing. "He knows we are watching him," I whispered.
"Surely he would never dare try anything here!"
"I can't tell how far vanity may carry him," she answered, somberly. "He
has a Jehovah complex."
Benny Abell passed by, looking quite the little gentleman. It was his
job not to let Nick Van Tassel out of his sight as long as he remained
in the house.
When all the guests had arrived, old Mr. Van Tassel and Crider quietly
slipped into the elevator, and a load was lifted from my mind. Surely
nothing could happen to him in his own room, I thought, with both Crider
and Dickerman in attendance. These two were to remain with him until
The concert was opened by the string quartette. From their expressions I
judged that most of the people present were more impressed by the sense
of their own importance than the music of Beethoven.
The seats were not arranged in rows like a concert hall; people sat
about easily and naturally as in any drawing room, only a little more
crowded than usual. I heard an elderly Peter Arno type near me murmur to
her friend, "The Van Tassels do everything so nicely and simply, you
would never suppose that..." She left her sentence in the air.
Simple! at ten thousand dollars a throw!
I had taken a seat near one of the doors into the hall. A highly
finished young man named Reggie Mygatt attached himself to me, but he
was much too ornamental to have fallen naturally to the share of plain
me, and I suspected he was another sleuth of Nick's. However, I made the
most of him. It was flattering to be singled out by such a one.
As the program proceeded I noticed that some of the young people were
slipping out, couple by couple, through the French windows at the rear.
The roofed terrace or porch lay outside these windows. Evelyn Suydam and
Bill Kip; Ann Livingston with a man I did not know; and many others.
Finally Nick Van Tassel strolled out, with his cousin Cornelia hanging
to his arm. She was the Howard Van Tassels' youngest child. Her obvious
fondness for the hardboiled Nick must have been an added drop of
bitterness in her parents' cup.
By and by I noticed that somebody had turned out the lights on the
terrace. This seemed natural enough.
I saw Benny Abell standing by the rear windows, and I suspected he was
in rather a difficulty. As an unattached male he would have been too
conspicuous out on the porch among all the couples. I couldn't help him
out without betraying the fact that he was one of our men. However,
Benny was a person of great resource. He succeeded in picking up one of
the young lady guests--a not very attractive one, and they went out
The concert went on. Madame Rosa Ponselle finished singing a brilliant
aria from one of the operas, and a little storm of well bred applause
swept through the rooms. As the famous prima donna stepped down from the
low dais between the front windows, Mrs. Van Tassel, meeting her,
graciously shook her hand, thanking her as if she were not paying her a
cent. Never will I forget the fatuous pleased smile on all faces,
everybody putting on their best company manners--and how those faces
suddenly went blank with horror.
For as quiet settled on the room, the sound of heavy dull blows echoed
through the house--frantic repeated blows. From upstairs.
For a moment everybody remained as still as if paralyzed. Mrs. Van
Tassel's face became ghastly under her rouge, and her clenched hands
went to her breast. A low cry broke from her, she staggered a step or
two toward the door, and suddenly went down full length on the floor in
her velvet and diamonds. Everybody near was too much stunned to catch
The dull blows went on; there was the sound of splintering wood; and a
panic seized the well dressed crowd. It was all the more dreadful
because they made no loud noise; only breathless gasps, low cries, and
pushing for the door. I was in the back drawing room. When I sprang up
my companion caught hold of me.
"Sit still!" he commanded, in a strained whisper. "It's the only thing
But I wrenched myself free and ran out into the hall. Quick as I was,
many people had already pushed out of the front room and formed a dense
mass, cutting me off from the stairs. It is strange what one takes note
of at such moments. I cannot forget one little man all doubled up who
ran back and forth behind this crowd like a rat seeking a way of escape.
Poor little Cornelia Van Tassel ran in from the back, screaming: "What's
the matter? Oh, mother! ...Mother!" Those awful blows continued.
Several men started up the stairs. In the excitement the elevator was
forgotten. It was right beside me. While I stood there at a loss, my arm
was grasped and I was whisked inside, and the door closed before I knew
what was happening. It was Mme. Storey. She pressed a button, and we
reached the second floor as soon as those on the stairs.
We were thoroughly familiar with the plan of the house. We ran directly
into Mr. Van Tassel's study, and through it into his bedroom. Every
detail of that picture is bitten on my memory--the luxurious old
fashioned room; the heavy carved bedstead, covers neatly turned down,
awaiting its occupant; Dickerman crying and wringing his hands together;
Crider beating on a further door with a small, heavy chair. The legs of
the chair had broken off. Crider's face was crimson with his efforts,
and his dress coat had split right down the back.
As we entered, the door went in. There was a bathroom beyond. I saw
immediately that the window was open and the screen raised. A narrow
window, but wide enough to admit the body of a man.
Howard Van Tassel lay huddled in a dressing gown on the tiled floor. His
eyes were open, his face fixed in ghastly lines of terror. A glance
showed that he was beyond aid.
"Keep everybody out," Mme. Storey murmured over her shoulder to
In obedience to a nod from her I pulled down the window screen.
CHAPTER FIVE - We Lose Our Job
IT WAS given out that Howard Van Tassel had been seized with a heart
attack while locked in his bathroom. This was true, of course, but it
was not the whole truth. The family was desperately anxious to avoid the
least whisper of scandal, and this accorded very well with Mme. Storey's
"They ought to have consulted the police in the beginning," she said to
me. "Publicity might have saved them. But it will not bring the old man
back to life now. And the only chance we have of catching a murderer of
this sort is to let him think he has beaten us to a standstill."
The frightened guests lost no time in getting out of the house. It fell
to Nick Van Tassel's part, as the nearest male relative of the deceased
among those present, to circulate among them, telling them what had
happened and receiving their condolences. I watched him with a kind of
horrible fascination, he did it so well. I noticed, however, that he
never tried to approach his aunt. Very likely he feared she might forget
all discretion in the first frenzy of her grief.
Most of the guests had to walk home, since the cars had been ordered for
one o'clock. It must have been years since Newport had seen such a sight
as that concourse of portly matrons in their gorgeous evening wraps
tottering through the quiet streets in their tight slippers.
In order to avoid exciting comment, Mme. Storey and I had immediately
returned downstairs to mix with the other guests. Nick Van Tassel had a
car outside, and with perfect effrontery he offered to give Mme. Storey,
Mrs. Lysaght, and me a lift home. My employer accepted with a bland
In the car Nick was quiet and grave. He was too good an artist to throw
about any hypocritical expressions of grief. He said: "Poor Uncle
Howard! Of course it was terrible to have it happen at such a moment,
but, after all, he's better off. He had become a burden both to himself
and to his family."
We gave him five minutes to get out of the way, and then Mme. Storey and
I returned to the scene of the murder in her car. No doubt all our
movements were observed, but it scarcely mattered now.
The big house was already dark and quiet. The valet, Dickerman, was
waiting for us in the hall.
Mrs. Van Tassel and Cornelia were in seclusion, and everything depended
on the valet. He led us into the library to wait until the medical
examiner should have completed his task and left the house.
That took only a few minutes. The cause of death was obvious, and there
was no question of an autopsy.
"I won't telephone for the undertaker until you have finished your
examination," murmured Dickerman.
When we got upstairs the body had been laid on the bed. I was thankful
to see that the awful expression of terror had faded from the dead man's
face. The body yielded no evidence--nor did we expect it to; neither was
there anything to be found in the bathroom where he had died. In this
case Mme. Storey was faced by the unique task of solving a murder in
which there was no evidence that murder had been committed.
Crider, naturally, was terribly distressed by what had happened. He
said: "When we came upstairs I locked the door of the study behind us by
Mr. Van Tassel's orders. The door from his bedroom into the hall was
always locked. After Dickerman had got the old gentleman ready for bed
he went into the bathroom, closing the door behind him."
"You were told not to let him out of your sight," Mme. Storey reminded
"I couldn't follow him into the bathroom," protested Crider.
"I suppose not. Go on."
"He had not been in there more than a second or two when I heard a low
cry and a fall. I sprang for the door, but before I could open it I
heard the key turn in the lock. I snatched up a chair to break in the
door, and called to Dickerman to throw up one of the screens and look
out to see if anybody was escaping from the bathroom window."
Mme. Storey turned to the valet. "Did you do that?"
"I tried to, madam, but the screens stuck. Both of them. I had nothing
to cut the wire with."
Mme. Storey went to the window and showed us how each of the screens had
been fastened at the top with tiny wooden wedges. I was struck with
"He thinks of everything!" I murmured.
"Why shouldn't he," she said, coolly, "if he had the run of the house
and all the time he needed."
"Except for the cry and the fall there wasn't a sound from the
bathroom," said Crider. "There couldn't have been any struggle."
"It wasn't necessary," said Mme. Storey. "The murderer had only to show
himself. His victim was already at the point of collapse from fear."
A shiver went through me at the picture called up by her words. That
We next interviewed the various guards stationed about the grounds.
These were our own trusted men. All insisted there could have been no
prowlers outside. George Stephens, who had been specially detailed to
patrol a stretch of walk under the windows of Mr. Van Tassel's suite,
had seen nothing moving.
"Did you ever look up?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Yes, madam, but I couldn't see much because of the branches of an elm
tree on that side."
Immediately under the bathroom window there was a bank of evergreen
shrubbery. A close examination of it revealed no broken branches, and
certainly no ladder had rested in the soft earth between the plants. I
glanced at Stephens, at a loss. If the man had not come from inside the
house, and had not come from outside the house, what was left?
Mme. Storey said, "Let us go up to the third floor."
There was another bathroom immediately above the one used by Mr. Van
Tassel, with a similar window. It opened off a bedroom that had been
allotted to one of the string quartette for the night.
This room would have been empty, of course, at the moment of the old
man's death. Mme. Storey pointed to two marks on the bathroom window
sill that seemed to have been made by hooks caught there.
"Rope ladder," she said. "It can't be far away."
Our man must have worn gloves, for he had left no fingerprints in either
of the bathrooms.
We found the rope ladder concealed behind a pile of towels in a linen
closet on the third floor. It was a thin, light, well made affair about
twelve feet long.
"Knotted by sailors," remarked Mme. Storey, adding that the cordage was
of a superior sort used in rigging racing yachts. It had a red thread
woven in it, evidently to designate the brand.
We next took Benny Abell out on the rear terrace or porch to try to
piece out with his help what had happened there.
"Nick came out on the porch with his cousin, Miss Cornelia," said Benny.
"I lost a couple of minutes before I could pick up a girl and follow him
out. When I came out he was sitting on a little sofa at the extreme left
of the terrace as you faced the sea."
"Still with Cornelia?" asked Mme. Storey.
"No, madam; he was then sitting with Miss Evelyn Suydam. Miss Cornelia
was with another man, across the porch."
"But you are sure it was Nick Van Tassel?"
"Yes, madam. I went up close to him, making out I was looking for a
vacant seat. There were none near, and I had to take my girl to two
chairs about twenty feet away. But I could still make out a vague
outline of Nick."
"Can you swear that he remained sitting there up to the time that all
the excitement arose in the house?"
Benny looked at her, startled. "I never doubted it until you put it to
me that way," he said. "No, I couldn't swear to it. Because he called
some of his friends over--Miss Ann Livingston, Bill Kip, and a girl I
don't know. They made a sort of group together and I couldn't
distinguish which was which. Afterward they went back, and I thought
that Nick and Evelyn Suydam were still sitting there."
"But it is possible that Nick had slipped away and Bill was substituting
for him?" suggested Mme. Storey.
"Yes, madam," said Benny, unhappily. "But if he had left the porch
wouldn't the men in the grounds have spotted him?"
"He didn't enter the grounds. He could have gone through a door under
the porch that leads to a service room in the basement. That way he
would have run the risk of meeting servants. Or he could have stood on
the rail of the porch and hauled himself up to the roof. From the roof
he could enter a window leading to the second floor corridor. There
would be nobody upstairs in the house. It is pretty safe to assume he
went that way. We'll examine the window...What happened when the
uproar arose in the house?"
"Everybody jumped up," said Benny. "It was useless to try to get to
Nick, because I couldn't tell who was who then. So I made for the
electric light switch just inside the hall--I had marked it on the way
out. But I couldn't reach that, either."
"A girl fainted right at my feet. I think it was Evelyn Suydam."
"Evelyn again," murmured Mme. Storey.
"Ann Livingston was trying to help her, and Bill Kip. Others ran up and
I was completely blocked from the door. In the end it was Nick Van
Tassel himself who switched on the lights. I was relieved when I saw him
standing there. It never occurred to me that he...All I thought of was,
he had the only cool head in the crowd."
"He had need of it," said Mme. Storey, very dryly.
Before we left the house we were summoned to Mrs. Van Tassel's boudoir.
We found the old lady, clad in an exquisite lavender negligee of chiffon
and swansdown, reclining in a chaise longue with a bottle of smelling
salts in her hand. She was prostrated, as was quite natural; however, by
this time her mind was working clearly and her face had been freshly
made up. When we entered she dismissed her maid from the room.
"What must I do?" she asked, faintly.
Mme. Storey was, as always, plain and outspoken with her. "Well, Mrs.
Van Tassel," she said, "I feel as if you ought to tell me that. After
what has happened, I don't know if you wish me to go on..."
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" she wailed. "You must protect me!"
"It doesn't appear that you are in any special danger," Mme. Storey
said, honestly. "You appear to be in good health and you certainly are
not a woman who could be shocked to death. That seems to be the
"He will find some other way of torturing me," she said, hysterically.
"We are his special marks because we inherited the money he thinks ought
to have been his. He is an unnatural fiend! He will never leave us
alone!...Get evidence against him," she went on, more quietly. "Spare
no expense! Conclusive evidence that we can hold to protect ourselves.
But no publicity! I must think of my children!"
"Very well" said Mme. Storey, gravely. "I will do my best to get the
evidence you desire. I ought to tell you, though, that I have reason to
believe you are not this man's only victims. It may become necessary for
me to go to the police in order to protect others."
"Oh, I don't care about other people so long as you keep our name out of
it," said Mrs. Van Tassel.
This arrangement lasted only until the day of the funeral.
Mme. Storey and I did not go to the house, of course, but we were in Old
Trinity with the rest of the world. Many consider it the most beautiful
church in America. Like everything connected with the Van Tassels, the
funeral was a big show; banks and banks of flowers; the whole social
register turned out en masse, some of the richest men in America for
honorary pall bearers. The widow was a pathetic figure, drooping on the
arm of her eldest son, swathed in crepe from head to foot. Little
Cornelia walked with the second son.
I was in an aisle seat near the back of the church, and I had the weird
emotional experience of seeing Nick Van Tassel serving as actual pall
bearer. I suppose it was not the first time that a murderer has helped
to carry his victim's body to the grave, but it brought goose flesh out
all over me. He paced down the aisle alongside the casket, a tall, lithe
figure, with his confident head lowered and his bold eyes demurely cast
on the ground. He passed within a foot of me, and I had to turn away my
head, but even so his nearness made the back of my neck prickle.
Mrs. Van Tassel drove home from the church, and it had been arranged
that we should follow her for a further consultation while everybody
else was at the grave. She was still in the hall when we entered the
house. She asked us to excuse her while she removed her veil, and we
were shown into the library. She went up in the elevator.
We had scarcely taken our seats when a piercing scream rang through the
house. After what had already taken place there, it was too much. I lost
control of my muscles and shook as if palsied. Mme. Storey ran out of
the room, and I followed her blindly up the stairs. She could not wait
for the elevator.
Mrs. Van Tassel's boudoir corresponded to her husband's study across the
corridor. When we ran in we saw her huddled face down on the chaise
longue, all tangled in her long crepe veil, beating her head on the
cushions and kicking her feet like any woman rich or poor in the grip of
hysteria. Two distracted maids were bending over her.
My employer and I, looking around the room to discover the cause of her
collapse, simultaneously perceived a torn envelope on her desk between
the windows, and a letter spread open beside it. Even from across the
room we recognized the plain typewritten sheet and the signature of two
words--"The Leveler." Mme. Storey, naturally, started to get it.
Mrs. Van Tassel, all distraught as she was, divined her intention and
sprang to her feet. Forgetting her age, she thrust the maids aside and,
running to the desk, snatched up the letter under my employer's
astonished nose and crumpled it into a ball.
"You shan't read it! You shan't read it!" she cried, wildly.
Mme. Storey stared at her dumfounded.
"Go! Go!" cried Mrs. Van Tassel, shrilly. With her veil all askew and
her dyed hair flying, she looked like a witch. "I don't want to have
anything more to do with you!" she screamed. "Leave the house! You have
only brought more trouble on me.'"
She turned away, sobbing and rocking her arms. "O God! whatever I do, I
can't escape him!...Go! Go!"
"Why, certainly," said Mme. Storey, coldly. "You engaged me and you can
dismiss me. There's no occasion for all this fuss about it."
"You shall be paid for what you have done," cried Mrs. Van Tassel; "but
I never want to see you again! Leave me!"
We turned around without another word, walked downstairs and out of the
house. The car was waiting and we drove away.
Mme. Storey's face was white with anger, but I could see she was
struggling with herself. Presently she shrugged it away, saying, "Poor
soul! one must make allowances for her!"
"If we could only have seen that letter!" I murmured.
"Not difficult to guess what was in it," she said, with a hard smile.
"Mrs. Van Tassel was ordered to get rid of me."
"What do you suppose he threatened her with?" I murmured, turning cold.
"What does it matter? She has obeyed his orders."
She was silent during the rest of the drive, thinking hard, with
compressed lips and drawn brows. When we had almost reached Mrs.
Lysaght's I felt obliged to break in on her thoughts.
"Hadn't you better tell me what line we are going to take before we meet
Mrs. Lysaght? So I'll know how to act?"
"What line we're going to take?" she repeated, with the same smile.
"How much shall we tell her?"
"Tell her nothing. She prefers it."
"Are we going back to New York?"
Mme. Storey began to look more like herself.
"Did you ever know me to take a dare?" she asked.
My heart sank. I should gladly have given up the case then.
"On the whole, it's just as well that Mrs. Van Tassel bounced me," she
added, serenely. "It frees my hands. I can go after my man now without
"Think of the horrible danger," I faltered.
"That lends spice to it."
"Where is the money coming from?"
"Money? When did we ever think of money when our blood was up? If
necessary I am prepared to spend the last dollar I own to bring this man
CHAPTER SIX - The Boycott
WITHIN an hour Mme. Storey had laid down an entirely new plan of
campaign and was putting out her lines.
Then things began to happen which suggested that somebody else was busy,
too. Just before tea we were sitting with Mrs. Lysaght in her living
room, when our hostess was called to the telephone.
We could hear her side of the conversation.
"Hello?...Oh, hello, Amy darling!...Yes?...Why, no, Mme. Storey is
not leaving Newport...I'm sure I don't know who could have started it.
She is staying with me indefinitely..."
Here there followed a lengthy explanation from the other end. When Mrs.
Lysaght spoke again her voice was chilly. "Well, my dear, you must do as
you think best, of course. Mme. Storey compliments you by going to your
luncheon...Yes, that's what I said, pays you a compliment by going to
your house, and if she doesn't have to go, she will no doubt be
relieved. Count me out too, darling. You know that luncheons mean little
in my life...Yes...Good by."
She came from the telephone, fuming. "These women are impossible! Each
one acts as if her stuffy lunch were the season's event!"
"Who was it, Leonie?" asked Mme. Storey, smiling.
"Amy Prentiss. A mere nobody. Said she had heard you were leaving
Newport tonight, and had ventured to fill your place at her table
tomorrow, as the time was so short. You heard what I said to her. Told
her the hell with her luncheon as near as I could without being rude."
Soon afterward Mrs. Goadby called up. This was a much grander lady who
lived on the cliffs. Mrs. Goadby said she was most awfully sorry, but
she was obliged to recall her invitations to Mrs. Lysaght and Mme.
Storey for dinner the next night. Two relatives of Mr. Goadby had
arrived in Newport whom she was obliged to include, and she had only a
certain number of places. She was sure dear Mrs. Lysaght would
understand, etc., etc.
Mrs. Lysaght came away from the telephone, looking rather blank. "This
is very queer," she said.
Mrs. Van Zile's butler called up to say that he had been instructed to
inform Mrs. Lysaght that Mrs. Van Zile's luncheon and bridge on Thursday
had been postponed indefinitely. Mrs. Lysaght, out of curiosity,
immediately called up a mutual friend and learned that the entertainment
was not being postponed, but that additional invitations had been
"There is some underhand work going on!" said Mrs. Lysaght, darkly.
"Obviously," agreed Mme. Storey, smiling; "but it is directed against
me, not you, my dear. Somebody has started the tale that I am engaged in
my nefarious work of snooping in Newport, and naturally nobody wants to
include a detective in company."
"Who could have started such a story?"
"Well, I have quarreled with Mrs. Van Tassel."
"That explains it!" cried Mrs. Lysaght. "All these women follow the lead
of a Van Tassel like sheep...What about, my dear?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"No, not if it concerns your work," said Mrs. Lysaght, hastily. "They
can all go to the devil. Mrs. Van Tassel, too. You and I will see this
Mme. Storey shook her head. "You're a dear loyal friend, Leonie, but
that wouldn't do me any good, and it would seriously harm you. I know
that you don't think any more of these social pranks than I do, but you
make your living out of these people. I will go to a hotel."
"You'll do no such thing!"
They were still quarreling about it when the bell rang. My heart sank
unaccountably. From somewhere out of the blue I received a premonition
of what was coming. The parlormaid appeared in the doorway, saying:
"Mr. Nicholas Van Tassel is calling, madam."
"Show him up," said Mrs. Lysaght. She looked at my employer. "What on
earth brings him here today?"
"Well, I could make a guess," said Mme. Storey, smiling.
"What is it?"
"He has come to offer me his support against the boycott that has been
declared against me."
Mrs. Lysaght stared.
"Don't give him a lead," added Mme. Storey.
"Let us make him open the subject."
Nick breezed in with his usual energy and humor. He had changed from the
funereal blacks into comfortable gray flannels.
"Gosh! what an inviting room!" he said. "So human! I needed this to take
the taste of that ghastly parade out of my mouth. I can't abide
funerals. Only another excuse for showing off."
"You played your part well," remarked Mme. Storey.
"Sure! Even I have to yield to the pressure of the herd at such times."
"We're having tea," said Mrs. Lysaght. "Will you join us?"
"Watch me.'" he said. "I brought along a flask of rum just in case. Real
After a pleasant visit of half an hour or so, during which they
discussed everything under the sun except what had brought him, he arose
to go, and for once I thought Mme. Storey was about to be proved wrong.
But he paused at the door.
"By God.'" he said, "I almost forgot what I came for...Of course I
could have telephoned," he added, with his disarming grin, "but I wanted
an excuse to look at Rosika's lovely face again."
"What was the excuse?" asked Mrs. Lysaght, dryly.
"I came to tell you I couldn't take you to Mrs. Goadby's dinner tomorrow
night. As the nephew of my uncle I'm supposed to go into seclusion for a
while. But Bill Kip is going in my place, and he'll call for you."
"Very kind of you to think of us," said Mme. Storey. "And Bill. But
we're not going to Mrs. Goadby's."
"Why not?" he asked, in seeming surprise.
"Mrs. Goadby needed our places for some relatives of her husband's."
"But that's ridiculous! At least six Van Tassels have sent their
regrets. She has places to fill."
Mme. Storey shrugged.
"Then it must be true!" he cried. "I wouldn't have believed it
"I heard a rumor awhile ago that my aunt had been telephoning to her
dear friends, suggesting that it was disgraceful a detective should have
crashed our gates as you have done, and expressing the hope that all who
had the true interests of Newport at heart would set their faces against
it...I didn't pay any attention. Why, she invited you to her musical
"Nevertheless, it appears to be true," said Mrs. Lysaght. "In addition
to Mrs. Goadby, Mrs. Prentiss and Mrs. Van Zile have already let us
"Oh, this is damnable!" cried Nick, angrily. "I don't know what's the
matter with my aunt. The kindest thing you can say is that the death of
her husband must have unhinged her. As for these other women, Lord! the
way they fawn on her makes me sick! They don't know how the big world
laughs at them. Why, a woman like Rosika puts their silly little town on
the map!" He interrupted his tirade to ask, eagerly, "You're not going
to let them drive you away, are you?"
"No," said Mme. Storey, demurely. "I was thinking of going to a hotel."
"I know a better bet than that," he cried. "Come and stay at the Dump!"
My spirits went down to zero, for I saw dearly enough what the outcome
"I have influence here, too," he went on. "My aunt and her circle of old
women may consider themselves the Supreme Court and the Privy Council;
they don't know it, but they're living in the dark ages. The young
people only tolerate them out of good nature. What the hell! I'm a Van
Tassel, too. In fact, I'm the Van Tassel. Not that I give a damn myself,
but it enables me to meet them on their own ground. I'll give them a
fight if they want it. Come to my place, and I swear I'll have them all
eating out of your hand before I'm through."
"What do you think, Leonie?" asked Mme. Storey, slyly.
Mrs. Lysaght shook her head. "Heaven knows I'm a liberal minded woman,"
she said, "but one must draw the line somewhere. You're too young and
"Oh, fudge! Leonie," he said, impatiently. "Nobody thinks of that
nowadays. And, anyhow, the Dump is like a hotel--a fresh crowd going and
coming every day. I can supply Rosika with half a dozen chaperons, if
necessary, but it would be insulting even to suggest such a thing."
"Thanks, Nick," she murmured.
"What's the matter with the admirable Miss Brickley?" he asked,
sarcastically. "Isn't she dragon enough?"
This remark filled me with a perfect fury of hatred. I expect my green
eyes glittered, for he laughed wickedly and immediately forgot me.
"You'll come?" he asked, eagerly.
"Delighted," said Mme. Storey.
"Okay!" he said, making for the door again. "Come in time for dinner.
Only a small party tonight, thanks to my dear dead nunky. Better fun.
Shall I send a car?"
"Thanks. I have my car."
"So long!" he cried from the stairs. The front door slammed.
"You don't really mind my going there, do you?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Bless your heart, no!" returned Mrs. Lysaght.
"I only made the obvious answer when you asked me...Rosika, you are a
kind of witch!" she went on, with grim affectionateness. "Nobody else
could ever foretell what Nick Van Tassel would do under any given
"Well, I'm a practicing psychologist, my dear," she answered, smiling.
"I must occasionally give a demonstration of my skill."
Later I rebelled against the proposed move. "I can't face it!" I said.
"You don't know what this man does to me! I am helpless in his presence.
I seem to fly to pieces."
"You hide it well, my dear," said Mme. Storey, good naturedly. "I was
"First he tries to drive us out of town, and when he sees that isn't
going to work, he asks us to his house, where he can watch us better."
"Why, of course! But think how well we can watch him there!"
"I'm afraid!" I faltered.
"So am I...But cheer up. He could not afford to allow anything to
happen to us at the Dump. It is really the safest place we could be."
"The idea of going there makes me tremble."
"You will find your courage on the spot...I need you, Bella."
That silenced me, of course.
CHAPTER SEVEN - A Letter
I MUST hold up my story for a moment at this point to introduce Miss
Betsy Pryor, who was later to play such an important part in the case.
As with all celebrities, Mme. Storey's fan mail is a considerable factor
in her life. Whenever we are getting any newspaper publicity it reaches
enormous proportions. Some time or another it all has to be read. When
we came to Newport I was hoping we had escaped it for a while, since
only important letters were to be forwarded; but the mere notice in the
Newport paper of her arrival produced a fresh supply from local sources.
As I was skimming over these letters all so much alike and so tiresome,
I came upon one which forced me to sit up and take notice, because it
struck a fresh note.
'DEAR MADAME STOREY:
'I have just read of your coming to Newport. My principal amusement is
reading the newspapers, because the spectacle of the folly of my fellow
men sets me up in my own opinion. Thus I have followed your career--or
at least as much of it as the newspapers dare to print. I know you
cannot be the marvelous creature that the silly newspapers try to make
you out--at least, I hope you've got more sense; but I confess to a
great curiosity to find out.
'I wonder if, before you leave Newport, you could find half an hour to
come call on an old woman who is neither handsome nor clever, and not at
all good tempered. You may well ask: well, why should you, then, and
there is no answer, except that I have a foolish notion you and I share
something in common in this mad world. If I am mistaken, there's no harm
'I would come and see you, but my appearance on the street would create
such a sensation I fear it would be embarrassing to you. Besides, it
would destroy a fiction that I have been building up for forty years.
"Well!" said Mme. Storey, smiling broadly when I showed her this letter.
"Either the old lady is slightly cracked or she is one of those crusted
characters that are the salt of the earth. There are too few of them in
"Shall you answer the letter?" I asked.
"Most certainly! But wait! Let's try to find out something about her
first. She is no ordinary person. Ask Crider to make inquiries."
Crider's report ran: 'Miss Betsy Pryor is a rich old maid who lives in a
big house on Brenton's Cove. The whole place has a wall around it nine
feet high, with broken bottles on top, and nobody is allowed past the
lodge house at the entrance. The old lady herself has not been seen in
forty years, and I couldn't find anybody who remembered what she looked
like. She's become a regular myth. Some say all her folks are dead and
she's quarreled with all her friends. Some say she was crossed in love,
and still sits in the parlor in her wedding dress, waiting for the
bridegroom. Some say she has warts all over her face and a flowing
beard, and that's why she won't show herself. There's no doubt but what
she's queer. Won't see anybody and won't have a telephone in the house,
but writes to the newspapers, giving everybody hell.'
Mme. Storey laughed out loud when she read this.
"Bully for Betsy!" she said. "Fancy having the courage in these days to
chuck out the telephone. Take a letter to her."
'DEAR MISS PRYOR:
'I like your style. I instantly felt as you say, that we shared
something in common, though I fear you were only flattering me in an
underhand way. Unfortunately, at the moment I am entangled in a
multitude of affairs that seem to become more and more complicated. I
lack the resolution to cut free as you have done, and insist on leading
a free life. However, before I leave Newport I shall certainly come to
see you. I would not miss it on any account.
CHAPTER EIGHT - Evelyn
THE last thing Mme. Storey said to me before we entered Nick Van
Tassel's house was: "Remember always to play a passive part here, Bella.
Don't try to steer the conversation and never ask a leading question.
Keep your eyes, your ears, and your mind open, and let Nick make the
She was right in saying that I would forget my fears when we arrived.
Once inside the house, the sense of danger roused my faculties to such a
state of activity I could not stop to be afraid.
We were shown to a perfectly beautiful suite in the north wing--a corner
sitting room and a large bedroom for Mme. Storey; a smaller bedroom for
me adjoining. Mme. Storey's sitting room was decorated in the Japanese
style. By keeping our eyes open and watching the servants we learned
that a door just beyond my door gave on a service stairway, and that the
servants' entrance to the house was at the foot of this stair. A useful
bit of knowledge.
Apparently we were the only overnight guests; but while we were dressing
several cars rolled up, bringing dinner guests. Eight of us sat down in
the paneled dining room. ("Just my intimate friends," Nick said.) It was
a handsome little company. Other things being equal, Nick seemed to pick
his gang for their good looks.
But say what you like, it was an error of judgment on Nick's part to ask
Mme. Storey and me to dinner on the very night of the funeral. He could
depend on his own iron nerve, but it was too great an ordeal to impose
on his gang; particularly on the three exquisite, delicately bred girls.
The usual rattle of talk and laughter went around the table, but from
the first it had a strained sound.
There were Ann and Evelyn, of course. The third girl was Mary Bourne. I
had seen her at the Van Tassels' fatal party. She was little more than a
child, eighteen, perhaps, and in looks the loveliest of the three, with
flaming red hair, eyes as blue as the tropic sea, and a pearly skin. Red
hair may be either a curse or a crown, as I knew. Hers was of the latter
sort. It was all fluffed out around her small head like a child's.
Ordinarily she was a completely hardboiled young person, but tonight she
was rather quiet and a little sulky. Something was bothering her and she
Of the men, Bill Kip was tall, slim, and hard; a slightly inferior copy
of the dashing Nick. He frankly formed himself on Nick. No doubt he was
a useful tool, but one saw he would have been entirely insignificant
without a Nick to supply the impetus.
Reggie Mygatt, on the other hand, had plenty of character--of the wrong
sort. I suspected he was the brains of the organization. He was the type
of young man who would become fat at thirty, and whose features would
run together at forty; but he was good looking now; smooth all over,
with big brown eyes both languishing and guarded. He had a flat, reedy
voice. He didn't care about girls, and the girls detested him.
Of the girls it was always Evelyn Suydam who interested me most. She was
older, twenty nine or thirty I should have said, but Time had put no
marks on her as yet. Whereas the other two seemed well able to look out
for themselves, there was a softness in Evelyn's big blue, slightly hazy
eyes that made one feel sorry for her. She had a fairy like figure, and
a head that seemed just a little too big for her body. I wondered how
she had been drawn into that cagy crowd. No doubt it was owing to her
infatuation for Nick.
Evelyn was the wittiest of the bunch, and tonight she was at her best.
But while she laughed I could see her face twitch; and once or twice a
truly dreadful expression came into her eyes and was immediately gone
again. I imagine she saw the ghost of a broken old man with his mouth
hanging open. I saw Mme. Storey glance at her speculatively, and I knew
she was thinking the same as I: If we could separate Evelyn from the
others, she was ripe to blow the works!
All through the meal a little unacknowledged duel was going on between
Ann Livingston and Evelyn. In a contest of this sort the one who feels
the most is always at a disadvantage, and Ann was generally able to
plant her little sting and get away unharmed. I noticed, too, that Mary
Bourne was not averse to pushing in the barb when she saw her chance.
Evelyn was no prettier than the others, but they both resented her
sweetness. These were only pin pricks, perhaps, but to one in Evelyn's
overwrought state a pin prick may be the finishing stroke. I doubt if
any of the men noticed what was going on.
Nick said: "How long do you go into mourning for an uncle? I should
think a fortnight would be plenty. We must signalize our coming out by
throwing a bigger and better party. We haven't been talked about enough
lately. This must be unique. Any suggestions?"
"All the possible kinds of parties have been given," said Ann, "from
baby parades to pagan routs."
"Let's give a marine fete," said Evelyn. "We could hire the Constitution
and tow her around into the river. Throw searchlights on her and set off
fire works. And Nick walking the deck in a cocked hat with his spyglass
under his arm, like Sir Joseph Porter. 'And now I am the ruler of the
"Splendid.'" cried Mme. Storey, who was always ready to exchange wise
cracks with a Nick Van Tassel or to discuss philosophy with a Bertrand
Russell. "And we are his sisters and his cousins and his aunts; his
sisters and his cousins and his aunts!"
"No.'" cried Nick. "Rosika must be a siren sitting on the rocks with a
special searchlight to herself."
"I don't mind," said Mme. Storey, "if there's plenty of seaweed."
"Evelyn can be Little Buttercup," said Ann, with a slight smile.
"I don't know what you're all talking about," said Mary Bourne, who was
as ignorant as a coalheaver's child. "Who was Little Buttercup?"
"The bumboat woman," said Ann.
I didn't think it was very funny, but a great laugh went round, Nick
making himself heard above the rest. Evelyn was stung by the sound. She
didn't mind the others.
"And what's a bumboat woman?" persisted Mary.
"Oh, a sort of female short change artist," said Ann. "Wheedles the
sailors out of their pay."
There was another laugh in which Evelyn joined gayly. She waited a
moment, and then asked, offhand: "Nick, did I ever short change you?"
He could not resist the temptation to raise another laugh. "Oh, not to
say short, exactly," he drawled; "but I have to keep my eye peeled for
lead nickels and plugged dimes."
She laughed with the others, but her eyelids fluttered like a wounded
bird's and fell. Slight as the gesture was, it seemed to me to have a
quality of desperation in it. As if Nick's silly joke was the last
straw. The talk passed to other things.
When we arose from the table, Ann slipped her hand familiarly under
Nick's arm, and he pressed it instinctively. Evelyn did not miss the
act. That lost look appeared in her eyes and fled again. I suppose she
felt like one who had sold herself to the devil and been cheated of her
We adjourned to the 'Forty nine saloon next door. The jazz band and the
vaudeville performers had been given a night off, but the bartender was
on duty, yawning in front of his bottles. Nick, it seems, had passed the
word along that he couldn't give a regular party, but that the house
would be open as usual. However, nobody came. His friends had more
feeling for the occasion than Nick had.
The pioneer bar needed a big crowd and a deafening racket to get away
with it. When it was quiet it was like the morning after; horrible! Our
eight little selves were lost in the place. There were ghosts in the
corners. Or rather, one ghost that came between us and whatever we
looked at. I saw Mary, the adorable little red head, shiver, and
wondered how much she knew.
"This is fierce!" cried Nick. "Let's take up the big Sikorsky for a try
"Count me out," said Mme. Storey. "I can't imagine anything stupider
than riding in a cabin plane at night."
"Well, let's go out aboard the Cynara then." (His steam yacht.) "I've
got a man who can play the concertina like a whole brass band. We can
dance on deck."
"It would start a scandal," said Ann.
"Nonsense! Nobody will know we're aboard. If they hear anything they'll
think it's the crew making merry."
There was a general move toward the door.
"I'll slide home," said Evelyn. "Don't feel like dancing. There are too
many girls, anyhow."
As soon as she spoke, others began to make objections.
"Concertina music, I ask you!" said Mary, scornfully.
"The hell with dancing," grumbled Reggie.
Nick turned on Evelyn with an ugly scowl. "Must you always be a wet
smack?" he said.
She raised her eyes to his in unfathomable reproach and quickly lowered
them again. I think he was a little ashamed of himself, for he said,
cajolingly: "Aw, come on, Eve! You're always full of ideas. Propose
She turned away.
"Let's drive up to Providence and go to a public dance hall," said Mary.
"Nobody would know us there."
"Oh, wouldn't they!"
While they were discussing what to do, Bill and Reggie dropped to their
knees on the dance floor, and started shooting crap. Mme. Storey joined
them, and presently greenbacks were flying through the air like
snowflakes. One after another was drawn into the game until only Evelyn
and I were left. I didn't know how to play, and she didn't care to. She
was very still and kept her eyes hidden.
The stakes were doubled and redoubled, and the game became fast and
furious. The players' eyes were glued to the dice. It was exciting even
to look on. But Mme. Storey never loses herself, however she may appear
to do so. It was a look from her that recalled me to myself. I saw that
Evelyn was no longer at my side. I slipped out into the corridor to look
She was not in sight, and I went on out to the terrace. If she was going
home I intended to intercept her when she came out with her wrap. There
were several cars standing in the drive, but no chauffeurs about. And
then I saw her light dress just before it was swallowed in the darkness,
and started after her. She had not waited to fetch her wrap.
Beyond the necessity of keeping her in sight, I scarcely knew what I had
better do. She was crossing the landing field in the direction of the
river, and, remembering the desperate look in her eyes, I was filled
with apprehension. But she was walking slowly and aimlessly. I didn't
know what to think. I would not cry out nor run after her, thinking I
might bring about the very thing I feared. I just kept her in sight.
Sometimes she stopped in the middle of the field, and stood there with
her head hanging. Then she'd start slowly forward, or perhaps run a few
steps and come to a stand again. This piteous uncertainty told me more
of the torment she was suffering than any cry could have done. True, the
evidence suggested she was an accessory to the murder, and one might say
she deserved no sympathy. But she was so pretty and sweet, and so
desperately in love with Nick, I couldn't help myself. And I was in a
position to understand her feelings. One part of me hated and despised
the man, but he could break me up at any moment with a look.
At the same time I was paralyzed with embarrassment because I was a
stranger to the girl. If she had been my friend, easy enough to throw my
arms around her and try to comfort her; but coming from a stranger she
would naturally resent it. It made me feel guilty even to be a witness
to her distress. Yet it was my duty to keep her in sight.
On the river side the flying field was bounded by a macadam road. Across
the road a concrete pier ran out into the water, with a landing float at
the end of it. At the shore end of the pier rose a little pavilion
containing bathhouses and showers. Further upstream were the airplane
hangars and the yacht rigging sheds. The whole shore was deserted at
this hour. A single electric light hung over the gangway leading from
the pier to the float.
Evelyn passed through the open pavilion and out on the pier. There she
stood outlined against the hanging light, staring down at the water with
her hands pressed to her breast. I remained under the shadow of the
roof, not knowing what to do.
She began to walk uncertainly up and down the pier, and I realized that
she was crying softly and murmuring to herself. When she came near me I
could hear a word or two: "I can't! I can't! I can't!...I must do it!
There is nothing else!"
I couldn't stand any more. I stepped out into view, speaking her name:
She caught her breath sharply, and turning, ran like a deer down the
pier. I sprang after her, and caught her before she reached the end. How
pitifully small and slender she was within my arms.
"Let me go! Let me go!" she gasped, twisting her body around and beating
me with her childish fists.
"Oh, think what you're doing!" I said. "This wouldn't settle anything!"
"What do you know about it!" she cried.
She was no match for me, of course. She suddenly went slack in my arms
and burst into a tempest of weeping. I made haste to guide her back to
"Oh, what did you stop me for?" she mourned. "I'm nothing to you!"
"You would have done the same if it had been me," I said.
"No! No! No! Nobody can do anything for anybody!...How can I face
tomorrow? And all the tomorrows of my life?"
I just pressed her closer to me and urged her on. There was nothing you
could say to one in such a state. To have tried to comfort her would
only have sounded insincere.
When we were halfway across the field, to my unbounded relief we met
Mme. Storey coming toward us. Taking in the situation at a glance, she
said in a quite ordinary voice: "Here you are! We couldn't imagine what
had become of you."
"Where are they?" murmured Evelyn.
"Scattered around, looking for you. We thought you'd gone home until we
found your cloak in the coatroom and your car outside. Then we didn't
know what to think."
"Just wanted a breath of air," muttered Evelyn.
Mme. Storey took one of her arms and I the other, and we went across the
dark field. On the other side of it the big house was lighted up like a
hotel. In a moment or two the little thing said like a frightened child,
"What are you going to do with me?"
"Take you home," said Mme. Storey, cheerfully.
"I don't want to see the others."
"You don't have to. I moved my car down the drive a piece, so we could
get into it without going to the house."
"Why are you kind to me?" she whimpered. "I'm afraid of you!"
"That's only because you're in wrong," said Mme. Storey, in a
comfortable, friendly voice. "You're in terribly wrong, my dear. You're
too good for this outfit. You can't keep it up. Why not come across with
the whole thing and get square with yourself?"
I could feel the slender frame shaken through and through. "No!" she
stammered, "There's nothing to tell!"
"You'll find friends everywhere, then."
The girl's voice ran up hysterically. "Leave me alone, can't you? It's
not fair! Oh, it tempts me like a drug!"
"It's not a drug you want, but a good night's sleep," said Mme. Storey.
"That's what tempts you. Sleep and peace.'"
Evelyn began to cry again. "If I only had somebody...!"
"I will be your friend," said Mme. Storey, gravely.
The girl was unable to stand out against the friendly voice. "Oh, take
me away from here.'" she sobbed. "Take me away, and I'll tell you
We hurried her on across the grass.
Mme. Storey had left her car parked in the drive about a furlong from
the house, with the lights turned off. It was very dark under the trees.
We had almost reached it when suddenly out of the stillness came the
sound of a human whistle. It was a certain call twice repeated, like a
bird call, the meadowlark perhaps.
At the sound Evelyn stopped dead. An instant later she jerked free of
us. I instinctively reached for her, but Mme. Storey, with surer wisdom,
held me back. She said, gravely:
"This is up to you, Evelyn. If you answer it you're a goner!"
There was a moment's silence. We could hear the girl breathing fast, but
we could not see her face. One could imagine the painful struggle there.
Then the wistful lilting call was repeated. She instantly threw up her
head and answered it, whistling as crisply as a boy. A moment later Nick
ran up in the drive.
"Here you are!" he cried.
Reaching inside the car, he turned on the headlights, and in the
reflected glow we were all revealed to one another. Nick bareheaded in
his evening clothes, his confident smile unchanged. "What on earth did
you leave the car here for?"
"I was looking for Evelyn in the drive," said Mme. Storey, coolly. "I
heard voices and I got out. I found the girls walking in the field."
"Oh, Eve, what a scare you gave me!" he said, in a warm and softened
voice. He was so sure of his power! "Is anything wrong, baby?"
She tried to save a little self respect by speaking scornfully, but her
face became irradiated with happiness at his changed tone. "A fat lot
"Care!" he said, affectionate and teasing. "Come here, infant child!"
She went to him. I turned away my head because I could not bear to see
another woman so fooled. And before us, too. The worst of it was I knew
in my heart he could have made just as big a fool of me.
When I looked at them again they were standing happily by the car, arm
linked in arm, Mme. Storey looking at them with a bland smile. At any
rate, Nick wasn't getting any change out of her. Evelyn was saying: "It
was nothing, only the heat and the tobacco smoke made me feel a little
ill. I just wanted air."
"I'll take you right home," said Nick, fondly. "Maybe Rosika will lend
us her car. We can drive them back to the house first."
Mme. Storey knows her own sex thoroughly. Also she instantly recognizes
when she is checked, and never risks further reverses by disputing lost
"What nonsense!" she said, gayly. "Bella and I can walk a couple of
hundred yards without falling dead. Take the car and welcome."
CHAPTER NINE - The Typewriter
WHILE I was lying only half awake in my charming bedroom next morning,
suddenly the thought came to me like a cold hand laid on my breast: Here
I am in Nick Van Tassel's house, completely at his mercy! I am lucky to
wake up at all!
I sprang out of bed to drive it away, and went to the window. It was my
first sight of the place by daylight. I had a view to the west over the
polo field and race track, with the uplands beyond. Nick's "farm," of
course, was only a farm by courtesy; sporting headquarters would have
been a better name for it. It was a lovely day, and the whole scene was
gilded with sunshine.
I breakfasted with Mme. Storey in her Japanese sitting room while it was
still early--that is to say, early for the Dump, where breakfast
frequently merged into lunch. Afterward we strolled out of the house and
around to the edge of the track, where we sat down to watch the slender
legged thoroughbreds being exercised; there is no prettier sight. To the
north of the track stretched a long row of stables, and I was amused to
see that each of Nick's horses had his own glassed in porch where he
could move around and enjoy the sun in winter weather.
"We have a good chance to look around while our host sleeps," I
"Quite," said my employer; "but, unfortunately, we must not betray any
By and by a car spun around the house and Nick himself leaped out of it
behind us. Like most sportsmen he hated to walk a yard. In white
flannels and blazer, shirt collar open to reveal his shapely throat, he
looked his best at ten o'clock in the morning. Everything about him was
instinct with vigor and energy--ruddy skin, crisp thick hair, and bright
eyes. Just to look at him made me sore.
"Well, you are around early!" he cried. "How in thunder shall I keep
such energetic guests amused all day?"
"We don't have to be amused," said Mme. Storey.
"I reckon you think I'm just a waster," he went on, "and so I am. But on
the level, I have a hundred things to see to around the place this
morning. I was saving this afternoon to show you everything."
"We can wait."
"Not at all! Mosey around and look at everything for yourselves. I'll
furnish a guide if you want."
"No guides, thanks," said Mme. Storey.
"All right! I've already passed the word that you're the star guests
here. Every man on the place is yours to command...Meet me in the den
at quarter to one for a cocktail." He jumped in the car and was gone
"Our getting up early seems to have upset his plans a little," I
"Not a bit of it," said Mme. Storey, smiling. "That scene was staged.
What he meant to say was, 'Poke your nose into everything as far as you
like; I'm not afraid of you.'...You can't help admiring such a bold
player," she added.
Yes, damn him! I thought.
When we had done justice to the horses we strolled on and, since we had
been given full leave, we looked into everything. There was a garage
which held actually dozens of cars. "Mr. Nick" (that was their name for
him) "never trades in a car," the foreman explained, proudly. "He lets
everybody around the place use them or he gives them away."
These cars were of every make, style and year, from a brand new Rolls
shining with chromium steel to a disreputable model T Ford, but every
one of them, we suspected, in first class mechanical order. Mme. Storey
strolled through the garage once, and remembered every car there. She
did not bother about the license numbers, because those could always be
changed when the cars were sent out on business.
Next came the machine shop where the cars and the planes were serviced.
The principal activity here centered about a new type of helicopter that
was being constructed under the direction of its inventor, a wild haired
youth with eyes that saw visions. Nick, we were informed, had told him
to go ahead and build his machine regardless of the cost.
"What he takes with one hand he gives away with the other," Mme. Storey
murmured after we had passed on; "like another famous crook who lived in
Sherwood Forest years ago."
In these various departments at the Dump, Nick, I suppose, employed
upward of two hundred men, nearly all of them young, all keen, and all
absolutely devoted to him. "What does he care what scraps of evidence we
may pick up," said Mme. Storey, "with the whole weight of popular
opinion like this to set off against it?"
Nick had employed first class architects, and all the work buildings
fitted into the early American picture. The last we visited was the
yacht rigging shed on the river shore. Among the craft moored outside I
saw a beautiful ninety footer sloop, and a whole row of star boats
exactly alike, that Nick and his friends raced against one another. This
is not to mention the Cynara which was almost as big as an ocean liner,
and the Bonito, an express cruiser, said to be capable of forty miles an
Inside the shed we came upon a weatherbeaten sailor (the oldest man we
had seen) who was engaged in splicing rope rings with incredible
neatness. I noticed that the cordage he was using contained a scarlet
thread like that in the rope ladder we had found in Howard Van Tassel's
house. This was interesting, but hardly conclusive, since it was
possible every yacht rigger in Newport used the same.
Mme. Storey got into talk with the old tar, and it was not long before
she had him illustrating for her all the beautiful and intricate knots
that sailors use. I could not follow the convolutions of the rope, but
my employer's eye was unerring. She recognized a knot that she had seen
in the rope ladder, and said, casually: "That would be a good way to
knot a rope ladder, wouldn't it, because the crosspiece couldn't slip,
no matter what weight was put upon it."
"Aye, miss, you've got a sharp eye for a lady," he replied. "It ain't a
week since I made a ladder for Mr. Nick, using them very knots."
My heart skipped a beat upon hearing this, and when we got outside I
said, "Anyhow, there is one convincing piece of evidence."
"Convincing to us," said Mme. Storey, serenely; "but do you suppose for
a moment that we could ever get him into court with it?"
"I suppose not," I said, gloomily.
"Every little bit helps," she went on, cheerfully, "as the old woman
said when she beat up a dead fly in her currant cake; but we will need a
lot more than that to make a case."
We returned to the house a few minutes before the time set, hoping that
we might get a look at the "den" before the master returned. This was a
long room on the second floor in the front of the house, that served
Nick as office library living room. It was empty when we entered; a most
attractive room that, unlike most of the rooms of the very rich, really
looked well used and lived in. In the middle was a beautiful Colonial
window with a balcony outside overlooking the flying field; at one end
was an immense fireplace, and at the other Nick's wide, flat topped
Mme. Storey, giving a single glance at the desk, said: "There's a
typewriter in that. I must have a look at it. You stand near the door,
Bella, and if you hear anybody coming make a remark about the pictures."
I took up my stand with a fast beating heart, and she glided to the
desk. There was but the one door, which we had left open behind us, so
we could not be taken by surprise. Moving aside an elaborate desk
blotter, she lifted up the center panel of the desk top, and a
typewriter rose into view.
"Just as I expected," she murmured, "a new Underwood of the latest
model, with a black ribbon. It's a fair guess that The Leveler wrote his
letters on this machine."
"How can you prove it?" I whispered.
"I can't--yet," she answered, calmly. "There are thousands of such
machines in use."
Just at this moment I heard a quick, firm step below, and I said,
hastily, "This is a remarkable picture."
Without making a sound, Mme. Storey lowered the machine into the desk
and replaced the blotter.
She strolled toward me, opening her cigarette case as she came. Nick
breezed in. I was completely breathless; fortunately I was not required
to say anything.
"Hello!" said Nick. "Am I late?"
"No," said Mme. Storey, "but we're thirsty."
He pressed a button, laughing, and cocktails appeared as if by magic.
While we were sipping them the telephone rang. He went to the desk to
answer it, and Mme. Storey sauntered to the other end of the room, as if
moved by a polite desire to avoid hearing the conversation. Taking down
a book from the shelves, she presently said: "Look at this, Bella."
When I joined her I saw that she was holding a pair of small steel
pliers against the page of the open book. She must have picked them up
in the machine shop as we passed through.
"Take them and hide them," she whispered.
I did so. They were small enough to be concealed within my hand. Our
backs were turned toward Nick.
"If I can get him out of the room," she whispered, "I want you to raise
up the typewriter and change the alignment of some of the type bars.
Take the letters of my name--s t o r e y. You must be careful to twist
them only the tiniest bit, or he will discover it the next time he uses
Nick finished his talk and put down the phone.
"What have you found?" he asked.
"Jorrocks with the Cruikshank illustrations," she instantly answered. It
was the book she held in her hand. "Most amusing."
"Cruikshank, is he good?" he asked, coming toward us.
They looked at the pictures together, laughing, while I fell a little
behind them, trying to get together all my forces for what was before
me. Would I ever be able to do it? I thought, and my tongue stuck to the
roof of my mouth. I've got to do it, I told myself, and set about
planning every move in advance, so I would be ready when the moment
They moved on around the shelves together, talking about his books, and
especially the illustrations.
I heard Nick say: "All I want to do is to get together a first class
sporting library. Of course I know nothing about art, and I have to take
what the booksellers tell me."
"You've done very well as far as the library goes," said Mme. Storey.
"But in my sitting room I noticed something they had put over on you."
"Among the beautiful old Japanese prints there's one that is only a
This touched his pride. "Show it to me," he said at once, "and I'll fire
it out of the house!"
They went down the corridor.
I set about my job. Of course I had fooled enough with the insides of a
typewriter to know exactly what I had to do. I could not allow myself to
be afraid. I knew Mme. Storey would keep Nick out of the way, but I had
no protection against the entrance of somebody else, a servant perhaps.
However, the raised lid of the desk concealed what my hands were doing
from anyone who might look in the door.
With my pliers I twisted the e bar a hair's breadth, no more; the r, the
t, the y, the o. Then I heard Mme. Storey's musical laugh down the
corridor. This was a signal to me, of course, and I had to leave the s.
I had planned every move in advance, and my hands worked like
automatons; down with the cover; over with the blotter; tuck the pliers
in the top of my stocking, catching the handle around my garter so they
could not slip down.
When they came in I was sitting in a chair, reading. The worst time came
after the danger was over. I rested the book on my knees to keep it from
shaking. Nick never noticed me at all.
"I'm going to make you pass on every picture I own," he said to Mme.
In a moment or two a manservant came to the door to announce luncheon.
CHAPTER TEN - Mr. Gibbs Cumberland
EVERY hour the lines of our case were spreading out wider, and it was no
easy task for Mme. Storey to direct them all and at the same time play
the part of a lady with nothing in the world to do but be amused. I
began to appreciate Nick's cleverness in installing us in his own house.
It had about as much privacy as a railway station. My employer
transacted her business over the phone in Mrs. Lysaght's house. Her
friend, who was busy with an estimate at the time, good naturedly
allowed it to be given out that she was indisposed. This supplied a
sufficient excuse for our frequent calls.
On the night of our first day as guests at Omega Farm, alias the Dump, I
remember there was to be a dance at the smart Chowder Club. Nick himself
was prevented from going by the exigencies of mourning, but he was bent
on having the rest of the gang attend. Bill Kip and Reggie Mygatt were
to be our escorts.
"I'm sorry," said Mme. Storey when she first heard of this arrangement,
"but I must drive in to town tonight to see Leonie."
"You saw her this afternoon," grumbled Nick.
"I know, and the poor soul was so low in her mind I promised to come
back after dinner. She is my oldest friend, you know."
"Well, let Bill and Reggie go with you and wait outside in the car until
you have finished your visit."
My employer shook her head with smiling firmness. "Leonie would see them
from her window, and it would make her feel badly...No, Bella and I
can go see her, and join the others later at the club."
He was obliged to be content with this.
As a matter of fact we had very different plans.
We drove into Newport in Mme. Storey's car, and left it parked in front
of Mrs. Lysaght's. We walked straight through Mrs. Lysaght's house, out
of her back door, across her back yard, and across the back yard of the
house fronting on the next street. All the back fences in that block had
been removed in carrying out a garden project. In the next street Crider
was waiting with one of the hired cars. The ruse was so simple and easy
it didn't seem possible that we could be followed.
We were on our way to call on the famous Mr. Gibbs Cumberland.
Immediately following the murder, Mme. Storey through her banking
connections had caused inquiries to be made with a view to discovering
other victims of the millionaire racket. She wanted to know what
individuals had drawn large sums in cash lately. Among the names turned
up was that of Gibbs Cumberland. He was very rich and very old; in other
words, a perfect subject for the exercise of the Leveler's talents. On
June 6th he had ordered forty thousand dollars in currency sent up from
New York by special messenger.
"Gibbs Cumberland!" laughed Mrs. Lysaght, when she was appealed to for
information. "He's one of the museum pieces of Newport! Our most
precious antique, my dear. Surely you know all about him."
"I've heard a good deal," said Mme. Storey, "but give me the latest
"When I was a girl he was sixty years old," said Mrs. Lysaght; "now he
confesses to a coy fifty nine. All his contemporaries have died off, you
see, and he thinks there's no check on him. He forgets the collateral
sources of evidence. He's eighty one, my dear, and his motto is 'no
"Absolutely! He dandled my mother on his knee when she was a little
girl. He started his career as a cotillion leader, and from that he rose
to be the grand vizier of society. He is the one who decides whether you
belong or not. If your name is not down in his little book there is no
appeal. I understand there are about a hundred and fifty of the chosen
"And do people still stand for that sort of thing?"
"Oh, everybody laughs at old Gibbsy, but they still kowtow to him. He's
immensely powerful simply because he's so old. He remembers everything
that ever happened."
"And does he still go about?"
"Rather! Dines out every night of his life during the season, except
when he is giving a dinner himself. They say it takes his servants all
day long to jazz him up sufficiently to appear. Nights when there is
dancing at the Chowder Club he remains in seclusion until eleven, and
then makes a triumphant appearance for an hour."
"Does he dance?"
"You can bet your life he does! And how! It's an experience never to be
Mr. Cumberland lived in an immense old fashioned house standing in
extensive grounds on Bellevue Avenue. Inside, it was as crowded with
expensive furniture and knickknacks as an auction room. It was about
10:36 when we got there. Mme. Storey was counting on finding him dressed
and ready for the dance. The butler looked dubious when we inquired for
"Is Mr. Cumberland expecting you?" he asked.
"No," said Mme. Storey, sweetly. "My card."
"Mr. Cumberland sees nobody without an appointment. But I will ask,
There proved to be no difficulty. We had not been seated in the drawing
room for more than five minutes when a little aged manikin in a
swallowtail coat came skipping into the room. Yes, skipping is the word.
He had been steamed and kneaded and vibrated up to the nines, and he
felt great. Conscious of the support of an excellent pair of corsets, he
curveted like a two year old. He was a comic figure, if you like, but so
unique and extraordinary there was a quality of greatness about him. It
was difficult not to burst out laughing at the sight.
"So good of you to receive me," murmured Mme. Storey.
"Good of me, not at all!" he cried, roguishly. "I heard that you were
one of the beauties of the day, and I am just being good to myself. And
it's true, dear lady! You are lovely!" He kissed her hand.
"My secretary, Miss Brickley."
Mr. Cumberland snapped his little heels together and bowed from the
waist--but made no move toward my hand.
"But I heard you had left Newport," he said to my employer. "Where are
you staying?" His dim eyes sharpened with curiosity.
"At Omega Farm."
"Aha! Trust Nick Van Tassel to garner the fairest flowers! Confound his
"I expect you have heard that I am under a cloud socially," said Mme.
"Ah, one pays little attention to such things," he said, shrugging.
"Alida Van Tassel is a dear creature and one of my oldest friends, but,
there! she is frequently prejudiced." His face became comically
lugubrious. "One must bear with her in the great loss she has suffered."
The sharp look of curiosity returned--like a monkey. "What did you
Mme. Storey did not answer him directly. "May I have quarter of an
hour's serious conversation with you?" she asked.
His face fell. "Oh, don't tell me you've come for a subscription to
something. That's not fair."
She shook her head, smiling. "On the contrary, I want to save you a
great deal of money."
"Oh dear! That's how they all begin!"
"This is not quite the same," said Mme. Storey.
"My real business in Newport is to catch the man who is collecting great
sums of money from rich men under threat of personal injury--or worse."
No muscle of his face moved, because he was conscious we were both
looking at him, but a ghastly change took place in it from within. He
looked sick with fear and incredibly old; yet his lips remained fixed in
the artificial smile.
"Bless me, this is like something you read in the newspapers!" he said.
"Why do you come to me about it?"
It was obvious that he would have to be handled with gloves. "For your
help," said Mme. Storey, simply.
"Why me?" he persisted.
"Well, you have the reputation of being a courageous man," she said,
slyly, "and you arc powerful here in Newport."
He looked anything but the character she had given him. "Is it money you
want?" he demanded.
"No. I am paying all the expenses of this investigation out of my own
"It is a point of pride with me to catch this man because he has defied
Mr. Cumberland took a turn across the room and back. All the steam had
gone out of him. His old body sagged in spite of the corsets. "Perhaps
you think I am one of the victims," he said, with a cunning look.
Mme. Storey made no answer.
"Maybe you have stumbled on the fact that I drew forty thousand in cash
a few weeks ago."
Still she said nothing. He tried to laugh in his usual manner, but it
was a sad cackle that came out. "A very natural mistake," he said. "That
money was wanted for my private benefactions. When one gives a check it
lets the cat out of the bag, you see; so one keeps a fund of cash on
Mme. Storey disregarded all this. "Won't you help me?" she asked,
A fit of peevish irritation seized him. "What can I do? What can I do?"
he snarled. "I never paid any tribute." And then in the same breath he
asked, "If I had, what could I do?"
"Refuse his next demand," she said, promptly.
A strong shudder went through him; I thought he would never have done
shaking. "Yes, and follow Howard Van Tassel to the cemetery," he
"I would take every measure to protect you."
"You couldn't save him," he fired back at her.
"True," she said, calmly, "but Mr. and Mrs. Van Tassel refused to follow
"What did you advise?"
There was a silence. He stood looking at the ground, pressing his lips
together to hide their trembling.
"But what I am hoping," Mme. Storey went on, persuasively, "is to find a
man brave enough to take a certain chance; so that working together we
can lead the scoundrel on and entrap him."
Mr. Cumberland's dim eyes looked at her pathetically. It was as if they
were asking, How can a man as old as I be brave? Finally he began to
speak: "I can't..."
"If his victims gained any peace of mind by paying, it would be another
thing," interrupted Mme. Storey. "But it does them no good. Their lives
are poisoned with fear just as before. The demands are always
increasing. They dare not think of the future."
He shivered. "I can't..." he began again.
"Don't answer me now," said Mme. Storey, quickly. "Sleep on it tonight,
and I'll come to see you again. It is possible I may be able to get
others to go in with you. If three or four of you combined to resist
this fellow, he would be helpless."
"Don't you dare to suggest to anybody that I have been paying
tribute..." Mr. Cumberland began, excitedly.
"Don't worry," she said, with a soothing smile. "I shall proceed most
prudently...May I come to see you tomorrow just before dinner--say at
half past seven?"
He tried to recover his gallant air, but it was only pathetic. "Always
happy to see you, dear lady, but..."
"We're going on to the Chowder Club," she said as we started for the
door. "Shall we see you there?"
"Surely, surely!" he said, with his cackling laugh. "I never miss an
opportunity to dance.'" If he could have seen himself! Then he turned
partly aside from us, and I saw him anxiously regarding his outstretched
hand. It was trembling violently, and a feeling of pity came over me.
What strange people there are in the world! "No, I think I won't go to
the dance tonight," he said, dejectedly. "I'll go to bed."
CHAPTER ELEVEN - The Whip Cracks
THAT night Benny Abell was posted in the flying field to watch Nick's
movements while everybody was at the dance. He reported next day that
Nick had taken off in his Moth plane at 10:45, and had flown southwest
as well as he could judge. He had returned at 4 A.M. just as it was
"Out of town collections," said Mme. Storey, dryly.
When we came downstairs at ten o'clock next morning, nobody was
stirring. Mme. Storey ordered her car, and we drove into Mrs. Lysaght's,
where there was a pile of letters, telegrams, and phone messages
awaiting attention. A girl named Madge Caswell, who had worked for us
before, had been secretly brought up from New York and installed as
secretary. Mrs. Lysaght's whole establishment vas at our disposal, yet
she never knew, she preferred not to know, the nature of our business in
The names of three more men turned up who were undoubtedly victims of
the racket; all old men, nationally known for their wealth, and all
having a foot and a half in the grave. "Not necessary for the banks to
furnish any more names," said Mme. Storey; "we could pick out the
victims now with our eyes shut."
She spent an hour trying to get in touch with these men on the
telephone. It was useless. Each one of them, through his secretaries and
servants, politely declined to receive Mme. Storey. Since the story of
her quarrel with Mrs. Van Tassel was generally known, they must have
guessed what she wanted of them. She was angry.
"Too much money takes all the sand out of a man," she said. "They are
infatuated with their own cowardice. Won't lift a hand to free
Back at the Dump again, some of the gang came in for lunch, and the rest
dropped around afterward. Evelyn Suydam was at the table as sweetly
pretty and as cheerful as a spring morning. She and Ann Livingston were
like sisters today. Impossible to guess what lay behind all this. With
unceasing jokes and laughter Evelyn worked to charm away all
recollection from Mme. Storey's mind of the painful scene two nights
before. Just to see what she would say, I asked, sympathetically: "Do
you feel all right again?"
Her blue eyes met mine apparently as candid and guileless as a child's.
"Oh, quite!" she said. "I had a rare fit of the vapors, didn't I?"
It was just as if she were incased all over in glass. Whenever you tried
to come close to her, you merely slipped over the hard, smooth surface.
After lunch we all got into riding togs and played an impromptu game of
polo on the field behind the house. I couldn't hit the ball, of course;
it was all I could do to stick on the pony. But it was madly
exhilarating just to gallop up and down the field. And how delicious,
after bathing and putting on one's prettiest dress, to loll in the big
chairs on the terrace, sipping tea with rum and lemon, and eating
caviare sandwiches. I felt like pinching myself to see if I were really
awake. How very strange to be mixing elegance and murder like that! The
light talk, the smiles, the warm glances, all perfect yet a little
unreal. Everybody was incased in glass. It was like playing at ladies
and gentlemen on the hot crust of a volcano.
The tall, slender Ann Livingston was patrician to her finger tips. The
blood of patroons and Colonial governors mingled in her veins. Yet there
was something in her cold glance that scared me. Ladies did not use to
be hard boiled. She was possessed of a devil that had to be tormenting
somebody. Today it was I she picked on; however, I found I could hold my
own pretty well.
"Do you ride in New York, Miss Brickley?"
"At Coney Island," I replied.
She arched her delicate eyebrows. "Coney Island?"
"Have you never ridden the wooden horses in Steeplechase Park?"
"Wooden horses! How perfectly delicious!"
After tea Mme. Storey and I drove in to town again; and once more we
left the car standing in front of Mrs. Lysaght's house while we passed
through and crossed the yards behind to where Crider was waiting. At
this hour it was full daylight, but we had to take that chance. Crider
had a landaulet without any windows in the back; thus we were fairly
well screened from observation while driving through the streets.
At Mr. Cumberland's the butler presented a face like a mask. "I'm sorry,
madam, but Mr. Cumberland is out."
My heart sunk. Another check! That, it seemed, was to be our fate in
Newport whichever way we turned.
"We had an appointment today," said Mme. Storey, blandly. "We'll wait."
"It would be useless, madam. He has gone out to dinner."
"Did he leave any message for Madame Storey?"
As we stood at the threshold, looking obliquely across the hall toward
the left we saw a door partly opened. The room within was lighted. It
came to Mme. Storey and me simultaneously that Mr. Cumberland was behind
that door, listening. With her to think of a thing is to act on it. She
said, blandly: "Thank you very much." But instead of turning away from
the door she marched in. I scurried at her heels.
The butler's face was a study in dismay. "But, madam...but, madam, I
told you he wasn't in."
Crossing the hall, Mme. Storey pushed the half opened door and entered
the room beyond. The little old man was there, all rigged out for his
brief hour of glory, but with an utterly terrified face like a child
caught in the pantry. The room was a library; there was a big flat
topped desk in front of the fireplace.
"I'm not in! I'm not in!" he cried, waving his hands, unconscious of any
humor in his words. "I don't want to see you! Get out!" It was like Mrs.
Van Tassel's frenzy the last time we had seen her. Not difficult to
guess that The Leveler had cracked his whip here, too.
Mme. Storey merely smiled good humoredly.
Mr. Cumberland turned on his butler. "I told you not to let the woman
in! What do you mean by this? You shall be discharged!"
"I couldn't put my hands to her," protested the unhappy servant. "Not a
lady like her!"
"There's no occasion for all this excitement," said Mme. Storey, in a
quiet voice that silenced them both. "I'm not going to hurt anybody, and
I'm not going to stay long." She looked directly at Mr. Cumberland. "Do
you wish your servant to hear what I have to say?"
"Yes!" he cried. "I want him for a witness!"
"All I want," said Mme. Storey, coolly, "is to hear from your own lips
that you refuse to act with me in the matter I proposed to you last
"Well, I do refuse!" he cried. "Now you've got your answer. Go!"
Indignation seemed to add an inch or so to my employer's height. She
took a step forward, and the little man retreated precipitately toward
the windows as if he thought she was going to attack him.
I remained standing just within the door of the room. A scene like this
in somebody else's house made me horribly uncomfortable. I couldn't
guess what Mme. Storey hoped to gain by prolonging it.
"Have you considered all that this implies?" she demanded. "Do you mean
to tell me you would rather go on living as a slave to fear than make a
stroke for your freedom?"
"You've had your answer," he cried, waving his arms. "Get out!"
Instead, she took a step nearer him and he retreated again. She was now
beside the desk. She seemed to be filled with a passion of indignation.
I suspected it was acting, but I could not perceive what her game was.
"I am disappointed in you, Mr. Cumberland. You had been described to me
as a man of courage and resolution. I thought I could depend on you..."
"How dare you...how dare you hector me in my own house?" he stammered.
He looked as if he were about to have a fit of some sort.
"Shall I call the police, sir?" put in the butler.
"Why, yes," said Mme. Storey, turning around, "call the police."
"No!" screamed his master. "Fetch the other servants and put these women
The butler ran out of the room. Instantly his master was seized with a
panic. "Don't leave me!" he cried. He ran all around the far side of the
room, keeping his terrified, mowing face fixed on Mme. Storey, a tragic
and absurd figure. He disappeared through the door.
I saw Mme. Storey back up to the desk with her hands behind her, but did
not appreciate what she was doing. She smiled suddenly. "No need to
fetch up the servants," she said, loud enough for those outside to hear.
When we got out into the hall the incredible figure of Cumberland was
halfway up the stairs. He hung over the banisters, grimacing with senile
anger like an ape. What a contrast with his elegant evening clothes!
"Get out! Get out!" he continued to cry. Several menservants appeared in
the back of the hall, but they made no demonstration against us, since
we were already on the way out. The front door stood open.
"Home, James.'" said Mme. Storey, gayly, as we got into the car.
"You seem to be in a grand humor," I said, bitterly.
"Didn't you enjoy the scene?" she asked, teasingly.
"No! I can't understand why you kept it up."
"I was just throwing out a smoke screen, my dear."
"Didn't you see what I got?"
"Then the screen was effective...I knew a letter must have been
received, but I scarcely hoped to get possession of it. I saw it lying
on the desk the instant we entered the door."
She showed me a sheet of paper folded up small in her palm. When it was
opened I recognized with a start the neat typewritten lines without any
form of address; the signature of two words. This was a short one.
'Mme. Storey came to see you last night. Nothing can be hidden from me.
It was for dickering with this woman that I put Howard Van Tassel in his
wooden overcoat. If you enjoy the sunshine and the taste of wine you
know what you have to do. Get this woman out of Newport or you'll see me
My first feeling was one of complete dismay. No matter how carefully we
set about covering our tracks, our enemy always knew what we were up to;
he always knew! There was something uncanny about it that struck a chill
to my marrow.
"Notice that word 'again,'" said Mme. Storey. "It confirms what I
already suspected. The Leveler does not show himself to his victims
primarily with the object of murdering them. He merely aims to scare
them into coming across. But once in a while the sight of him does kill
them, and then, of course, he immediately turns their deaths to
advantage. Murder is only the by product of his operations."
"Examine it more closely," suggested my employer, smiling; "look at the
letters that are contained in my name."
I did so, and my heart gave a bound. The t, the o, the f, the e, and the
y each was a hair's breadth out of line. All the others were perfect.
This letter, then, had been written on the typewriter in Nick Van
Tassel's den. A revulsion of feeling took place in me. I could have
whooped with joy.
"We have him!" I cried. "Our work is done! We have him!"
"Well, I wouldn't go as far as that," said Mme. Storey dryly, "but we
may say that we have him coming!"
CHAPTER TWELVE - The Law Moves
MY FEELING of triumph was short lived. The following morning registered,
I think, extreme low water mark as far as our case was concerned. We
appeared to be stopped in every direction. Mme. Storey had certain
evidence pointing to the murderer of Howard Van Tassel, and conclusive
evidence as to who had written the "Leveler" letter to Gibbs Cumberland;
but as long as Mrs. Van Tassel and Mr. Cumberland refused to testify,
she could do nothing with it. "The Leveler," it appeared, was able to
force his victims to kiss the rod that chastened them.
The morning's batch of letters, telegrams, and phone messages at Mrs.
Lysaght's provided us with no new leads.
Mme. Storey lit a cigarette and went into a deep study. I was longing to
hear her announce her intention of abandoning this ugly and dangerous
case in which she had everything to lose and nothing to gain, but I saw
no sign of it in her face. Instead, she said, thoughtfully: "We must put
out a decoy."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
She did not answer directly, but said: "Take a memo. to ask Crider to
obtain for me from the tax lists the names of the fifty richest persons
Just as we were preparing to return to Omega Farm, a caller was
announced. Mme. Storey asked to have him brought up to the back room
that Mrs. Lysaght had allotted us for our office, and we presently
beheld a solid gentleman with a hard gaze and large flat feet.
"Detective" was written all over him, and I felt a flutter of anxiety.
To our astonishment, he entered the room wearing his hat.
"Take your hat off," said Mme. Storey, pleasantly.
He obeyed with a ferocious scowl that did not promise well for the
coming interview. "Which of you is Madame Storey?" he asked,
disagreeably, though of course he must have known.
"At your service," she said, smiling.
"I'll trouble you to come along with me, ma'am," he said, officiously.
She laughed outright. "This is so sudden! Where?"
Such a man can't stand being laughed at, of course. He flushed darkly.
"It's no laughing matter, as you'll soon find out," he snarled. "The
district attorney wants to have a talk with you."
"Why doesn't he call?" she said, pleasantly.
"Because he's got the power to send and fetch you."
"Oh, then I am to assume that a charge of, some sort has been laid
"You'll find that out when you get there."
"Am I to take my secretary with me?"
"I have no instructions about her."
"Well, I'll take her, anyhow."
This was almost funny--but not quite. I had had enough experience of the
law to foresee how well a clever rogue might set its ponderous machinery
working to his own advantage. Had we been on our own ground, there would
have been less cause for anxiety; but here in Newport all the reins of
power were in the hands of our adversary. How sure of himself he must
have felt to strike direct at Mme. Storey. I confess it gave me a gone
feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Before we started, Mme. Storey had Madge Caswell make a copy of the
letter she had picked up on Gibbs Cumberland's desk. She put the copy in
her pocketbook, and locked the precious original in Mrs. Lysaght's safe.
On the way to the courthouse my employer conversed pleasantly with our
conductor. That was her way of getting back at him. He glanced at her
sullenly out of the corners of his eyes, and answered in monosyllables.
He could not make her out at all.
This was amusing, but to be led into the courthouse like a pair of petty
lawbreakers was not. I burned with helpless anger. All the loiterers
inside gaped at us. We were taken upstairs to a grubby little anteroom
and bidden to be seated. This, we were given to understand, was not Mr.
Lyle's regular office. He had come down from Providence for the express
purpose of interviewing Mme. Storey.
We were forced to wait in this hole for some minutes. Mme. Storey took
it calmly and jollied Flatfeet in her subtle fashion, but I fumed
inwardly. Better men than a pettifogging Rhode Island district attorney
did not keep my employer waiting. We could hear the murmur of voices on
the other side of a closed door.
Finally the door was opened and we were invited to enter. There sat
Gibbs Cumberland, filling the picture, an ugly smile on his aged face,
half triumphant, half scared. It must have been a powerful emotion that
had induced him to get out of bed before lunch. I was not exactly
surprised to see him there, but I wondered greatly what sort of charge
he could bring against us. His butler was sitting beyond him with a mean
and furtive look that suggested why he had been brought there. It was
not the first time I had been framed.
"Good morning, gentlemen," said Mme. Storey, cheerfully.
Her serene air robbed the ex cotillion leader of some of his triumph.
His eyes bolted and his mouth began to work. He was an astounding figure
in the morning sunshine. Picture a marvelously fitting tweed cutaway of
a type rarely seen nowadays, but designed to lend distinction to his
meager figure; a smart soft hat with narrow rolled brim and red feather
stuck in the band, resting on the table beside him; red carnation in his
buttonhole; fawn colored gloves and spats; malacca stick; a suggestion
of rouge in his withered cheeks, and a hint of mascara about the eyes! A
Tony Sarg marionette!
"Be seated," said the district attorney, in a rasping voice. "I have to
inform you that Mr. Cumberland has brought a serious charge against
"Mercy!" said Mme. Storey, in mock concern. "What have I done"
"No laughing matter," snarled the old man.
"I expect you know what it is," said the district attorney, severely.
"You do not appear to be surprised."
In our business we often have to deal with public prosecutors, and I
have known all sorts in my time. Of Mr. Lyle I need only say that he was
the type second rate playwrights have been putting on the stage for
years. I didn't think they still existed. A pair of bushy eyebrows, a
mouth like a trap under a bristly mustache, and a bark like a dog--such
were his principal assets.
He touched a paper on his desk. "Mr. Cumberland has made affidavit to
the effect that on two separate occasions you forced yourself into his
house and demanded a large sum of money from him under pretext of
protecting him from injury. In other words, a thinly veiled threat."
"That's a lie!" I cried out, quite forgetting myself. "I was present at
both interviews. I heard every word."
"Who is this woman?" asked the district attorney, fixing me with a hard
"My secretary," said Mme. Storey, sweetly.
"You may wait outside, miss, until you are called for."
"I see Mr. Cumberland has his witness with him," she remarked.
Mr. Lyle puffed out his cheeks, and said no more about firing me from
the room. "Have you anything to say?" he asked Mme. Storey.
"Really, Mr. District Attorney, do I have to defend myself against such
an absurd charge? I can't keep my face straight."
"It has been made, madam, and I must take cognizance of it."
"Well, I am not exactly unknown," she said, calmly. "My life is lived in
public. My income from my profession averages about a hundred thousand
dollars a year. What possible incentive could I have for embarking on a
racket in Newport?"
"I know nothing about your earnings or your expenditures," he retorted,
stiffly. "I can only come back with a similar question: What possible
reason could a man like Mr. Cumberland have for bringing such a charge
against you if it was not true?"
Whenever he said "Mr. Cumberland" a peculiar silkiness came into his
voice, and anybody could have appreciated the situation; he was an
officeholder and Cumberland one of the biggest taxpayers in his state.
"I can answer that," returned Mme. Storey, opening her pocketbook. "Mr.
Cumberland was under compulsion. Please read this letter which I picked
up on his desk last evening...Now if Mr. Cumberland was to charge me
with having stolen the letter," she added, wickedly, "I'm afraid I could
only plead guilty."
"What's this?" muttered Lyle, reading.
"She wrote it herself," cried Cumberland, excitedly, "so she could have
it to show you."
"How could she foresee what action you were going to take?" asked the
"I told her!" snarled Cumberland. "I told her last night I was going to
lay information against her."
"That's another lie!" I murmured, under my breath.
"It's not the first threatening letter I've had from her!" cried the old
man. "She writes them, and then comes to me and offers to protect me
from the writer if I pay!"
There was a crazy plausibility about this charge that startled me.
Suppose it was to come before a Newport jury, who could foresee what
they might decide? Once we became involved in its legal machinery,
nobody outside the sovereign state of Rhode Island could aid us.
"Have you other letters that you say you received from her?"
"No. I destroyed them. Nobody ever got a cent out of me by threats."
Lyle handed the old man the letter. "Will you swear that you have never
seen this letter before?"
"Certainly I'll swear it!" cried Cumberland, without so much as a glance
at the letter. He viciously tore it across, and putting the halves
together, tore it again and again, and finally pitched the pieces into
the lawyer's waste basket. "She wrote it herself!"
This was too much even for the subservient officeholder. "You shouldn't
have done that, Mr. Cumberland," he said, reproachfully. "That's
valuable evidence. You're only damaging your case." He began fishing for
the scraps in the basket.
"Don't trouble yourself, Mr. District Attorney," said Mme. Storey,
sweetly. "That was only a copy I had my typist make this morning. I have
the original safely locked up."
The old man gave her a poisonous glance.
Lyle straightened up and cleared his throat threateningly. "Well, what
have you to say for yourself, madam?" he demanded.
"Nothing," she answered, serenely.
"This isn't going to do you any good," he said, angrily. "This is a
serious charge. In the light of Mr. Cumberland's evidence, supported by
that of his butler, there is not a doubt but that you face conviction
and a long prison sentence."
"The butler won't make a very good witness," she murmured. "Look at
"I'm the best judge of that."
"It is because I appreciate the seriousness of my position," she went
on, "that I refuse to speak without advice of counsel."
"You have no defense, then?"
"I shall have plenty to say when the proper time comes. But I decline to
expose my hand in the presence of my accuser."
"She's afraid!" cried Cumberland, looking all around for support. The
butler agreed with him heartily.
The district attorney shot out an accusing forefinger in the best
melodramatic style. "Even if you are acquitted, this case will ruin
"Do you mind if I smoke a cigarette?" she drawled.
"This is a serious matter, madam!" he shouted.
"Do you realize that I'm going to lock you up? How will you like that?
How will you like that?"
"There is no need to bawl at me. My hearing is good."
He became almost purple in the face. "We'll see! We'll see! Twenty four
hours in the lock up works wonders in such cases!"
"Send for the warder," said Mme. Storey.
Lyle looked at Cumberland, and we understood that some sort of a counter
proposal was coming.
The old man grinned disagreeably; evidently he felt he had everything in
his hands, and said: "I have no wish to be too hard on a woman. I shall
be satisfied if I can break up her criminal activities. I am willing to
drop the charge on one condition."
"What is that?" asked the district attorney. We had the feeling that
this whole scene had been rehearsed.
"That she leaves Newport by the first train and agrees never to come
"A fair offer!" said Lyle. "What do you say, madam?"
"I say no."
Their faces fell. Evidently they had not foreseen this possibility.
"You're a foolish woman! A foolish woman!" stammered the old man.
"I like Newport," she said, with a smile.
"This flippancy isn't going to help you!" shouted Lyle.
"Do you really expect me to take this scene seriously?" she asked, with
a straight look.
"You insist on being locked up, then?"
"You'll have to lock me up, too!" I cried, hotly. "I am in this just as
much as she is."
"Happy to oblige," he snarled. His hand hovered over a button on his
desk. Making an effort to control his anger, he began to expostulate
seriously with Mme. Storey. "You are playing with fire, madam. I ask you
to be serious. Once you are committed to jail, nothing can help you. The
case must go through to the bitter end."
"Thanks," she said, with a dry smile. "I assure you I am taking this
matter very seriously, Mr. District Attorney. It is you and Mr.
Cumberland who are being humorous. If I accepted your offer, it would be
equivalent to admitting the truth of his charge. I have never yet
retreated under fire. You have started this thing and you must see it
through. The end will be bitterer than you foresee."
He pressed the button on his desk.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - In Jail
WHEN the cell door clanged to behind us I burst into tears. That sound
was too awful. It is like no other sound on earth. It seems to cut you
off from your kind. When you are locked in a cell you feel that the
final word has been spoken; there is nothing you can do for yourself,
only sit and brood. I don't think anybody is ever quite the same after
I suppose I ought to have been borne up by the sense of our innocence,
but somehow it was not sufficient. A dirty cell in the county jail--I
could not bring myself even to sit down. The sense of personal
humiliation was too awful. I felt that I should bear the stain as long
as I lived.
"Oh, come, Bella," said Mme. Storey, cheerfully, "it's not so bad as all
that! Think of all the poor fellows we've put behind the bars. We're
only getting a little taste of our own. It will make us more sympathetic
"I can't joke about it!" I said.
"It might be worse, my dear. They displayed unusual consideration in
locking us up together." She paused to light a cigarette. "In fact, I
think we may say that things are looking up all along the line."
"Our opponent has made his first serious error in bringing this charge,"
she went on. "He can't get away with it. In fact, the Leveler would
never have made such a mistake. It is that little ass Cumberland who has
exceeded his instructions."
"Why didn't you telephone your attorney to come when they gave you the
chance?" I asked.
"Mercy! I didn't want to bring the poor man all that way on a fool's
errand. You may take it from me we'll be out before he could get here."
"I wish I could be sure of it!" I murmured.
"Let's order in a bang up lunch while we're awaiting developments!" she
As cells go, it was quite a comfortable one, I suppose. There was a full
size window that we could open all the way and get plenty of air. It
looked out on sordid yards and the backs of beautiful old houses now
fallen from their estate and rented out in lodgings to the poor. The
walls were covered with scribblings that I discreetly averted my eyes
from. There was a narrow folding cot along each wall; just a plank with
a thin mattress on it; I shuddered at the idea of sleeping on it. In the
middle there was a table with drop leaves. When the leaf was raised you
could sit on the cot and use it.
Here we ate our meal. Mme. Storey was as jolly as if she had been
lunching at the Ritz. In the next cell there was a woman with a whisky
voice who tried to scrape acquaintance with us.
"Hey, girls! Hey you in the next cell to me!"
"Hey, yourself," said Mme. Storey.
"What you in for?"
"Shoplifting," said Mme. Storey, with a wink in my direction.
"Cheese! What you get?"
"Nothing. Had to drop the stuff in the get away."
"Ain't that tough luck! Send for Abe Harris and he'll get you off."
"Thanks for the tip, sister. We're strangers here."
There was silence for a moment, then a heartfelt groan from next door.
"O God! if I only had a drag!...You ain't got a cigarette, have you?"
"Sure!" said Mme. Storey. "How can I get it to you?"
"Say, you must be new to this!...Stick your hand through the cell door
and pitch it six feet to the left. Just six feet, mind. Light it first
'cause I ain't got no match."
Mme. Storey did as she was instructed. "Did you get it?" she asked.
"Did I get it? Can't you hear me purr? O cheese, that's good! That's a
After the dishes had been cleared away, we heard a slight commotion
downstairs and presently Nick Van Tassel appeared in the corridor with
At the sight of him the skin tightened all over my body. I felt exactly
the way a cat looks when a dog unexpectedly comes around the corner. The
cell door was unlocked, and he ran in with both hands outstretched, his
dark face all screwed up in concern. It is not necessary for me to
repeat that he was an excellent actor. He snatched up both Mme. Storey's
"Good God! Rosika, what has happened?" he cried. "I cannot understand
She gave him a friendly shake, and quietly withdrew her hands. "Haven't
you heard?" she asked.
"I can learn nothing! I went to the district attorney. He told me Gibbs
Cumberland had laid a charge against you, but refused to specify the
nature of it. Then I ran to Cumberland's house. The little ape only
mowed and gibbered and referred me back to the district attorney. For
God's sake! what have they got on you?"
"They've got nothing on me," she said. "As to the charge that has been
made, I can't speak about it until I have seen my lawyer."
I noticed, to my astonishment, that the cell door had been left unlocked
and the keeper had faded out of sight. This seemed very strange.
"Surely you can tell me, Rosika!" Nick protested. "I know this town
inside and out. I have influence here. It will be a funny thing if I
can't straighten out this trouble. If money is needed, every cent I
possess is at your command."
"Thanks, Nick; you're a good pal," said Mme. Storey, with rather a dry
smile. "But nothing can be done until I see my lawyer."
"O God! Rosika, I can't bear it!" he cried. "We can't wait on the law!
It may be days, weeks! The thought of a woman like you being locked up
in this filthy place drives me wild!...Listen! the thing to do is to
get out of here, and then treat with them. They have you at a
disadvantage while you're locked up."
"How can I get out?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Listen! I've got it all fixed!" he said, with his infernal smile. "Cost
me a grand for the head keeper and half as much for his assistant. See!
the door is open and the corridor is empty. Downstairs the main door is
unguarded and unlocked and my car is outside. In an hour we can be in
Connecticut and you can thumb your nose at them!"
"But I don't want to go to Connecticut," said Mme. Storey. "That would
be as much as saying that their charge was true."
"Oh, Rosika, what do you care?" he cried. "A woman like you! Back in New
York, among your own people, respected and admired by all, what do you
care for the Rhode Island bulls. You're a national figure. You're above
all petty charges!"
"I won't run away," she said.
He redoubled his pleadings. One would have thought he was desperately in
love with Mme. Storey--maybe he was! It was hard to withstand the warm
torrent of his words. I should have given in, though I knew he was false
as hell. He even stood out in the corridor, holding the cell door wide
and whispering: "Come on! The coast is clear!"
You can imagine what a pull this exerted on a pair of prisoners. But
Mme. Storey only shook her head.
He saw that he was merely beating like a wave on a rock, and in the end,
crying, "You would drive a man mad!" he slammed the cell door and made
off down the corridor. I expect it was the first time in his life
anybody had ever successfully stood him out.
Mme. Storey and I grinned at each other. We were a good bit shaken.
From the adjoining cell came the sound of the husky voice, "Hey girl,
who in hell was that guy?"
"Nick Van Tassel," said Mme. Storey, grinning.
"Yeah?" came the sarcastic rejoinder. "My boy friend is Herbie Hoover."
In an hour we had another caller, to wit, Mr. District Attorney Lyle,
looking very fierce and self conscious. He locked himself in the cell
with us, and sent the keeper away.
"Come back in half an hour," he said,
He sat down on one of the folding cots, while Mme. Storey and I took the
other, facing him. My employer was regarding him with the smile of the
cat who swallowed the canary, and it seemed to make it difficult for him
to begin. He scowled furiously, looked out of the window, and cleared
his throat twice. Finally he said, in his rasping courtroom voice:
"Well, madam, now that you've had time to think things over, I hope I'm
going to find you more reasonable."
"I can't talk to you if you're going to take that tone," she said, good
humoredly. "Act human!"
He flushed angrily and swelled out his chest, but after a while he let
it down again. In committing us to jail he had played his last trump,
and he was now forced to reveal the weakness of his hand. In the end he
said, almost humbly: "Aren't you going to tell me what lies behind all
"Why, certainly!" said Mme. Storey at once. "You have every right to
She forthwith told him the whole story, beginning at the point where she
had been summoned to Newport by Howard Van Tassel. She had me read from
my notes the account of our first interview with the Van Tassels. Mr.
Lyle interrupted me to ask, indignantly:
"Why didn't they consult the regular authorities? Why didn't they come
"Afraid of scandal," said Mme. Storey.
"They suspected that their persecutor was Nick Van Tassel."
Lyle stared at her witlessly. His jaw dropped and the color faded out of
his face. "This...this is madness!" he stammered.
"Not madness," said Mme. Storey, gravely. "Everything that has happened
since I came to Newport confirms the suspicion."
"Nick Van Tassel is the most prominent man in Newport.'"
"Easy! or the woman in the next cell will hear you!"
"He is the idol of all the people here!"
"Quite. That is how he fortifies his position. It's not a new idea.
Robin Hood got away with it seven hundred years ago."
"He's so rich!"
"There you're mistaken. He was left a pauper. This can be verified."
"Have you any evidence?"
"Very little that would connect him with the murder," she admitted.
"Though I have established the fact that the rope ladder found in the
Howard Van Tassel house after the murder was made at Omega Farm...But
I can prove that the letter received by Gibbs Cumberland yesterday was
written on Nick Van Tassel's typewriter." She described to him how I had
tampered with the alignment of the machine.
Lyle was never the man to rise to a situation like this. He seemed to
become flabby all over. He looked utterly sunk. "I don't believe a word
of it!" he stammered. "It's preposterous!"
Mme. Storey merely shrugged.
"What can I do?" he cried.
"Arrest him," she said, promptly.
"I dare not!" he muttered. "The whole community is for him to a man! You
don't know the power of public opinion!"
"Oh, don't I!" she retorted, with a grim smile. "For years I have been
measuring my strength against it. Once it almost downed me, but not
I knew she was referring to the Jacmer Touchon case.
"The evidence is insufficient," he groaned. "Before proceeding against a
man like Nick Van Tassel you would have to be absolutely sure of your
"Maybe," said Mme. Storey; "but you ought to secure that typewriter
without loss of time. He may discover that it has been tampered with,
and destroy it. Then you would have no evidence."
"I can't! I can't!"
"If you don't," she warned, "there are likely to be more murders here."
"I couldn't convict him on what you have!"
"Perhaps not. But the publicity would break up his racket."
"O God! Why did this have to happen in my term.'" he cried. "It all
comes on me! It's not fair. I never could convict him!"
"You can only try, man!"
"But if I fail it means political death."
Mme. Storey smiled a little at his naive egotism, and said nothing.
It had taken some time to tell him the whole story, and while he was
still bewailing his fate the keeper returned.
"Are you ready to go, sir?" he asked.
"Yes, yes!" cried Lyle, making for the cell door.
"Wait a minute," said Mme. Storey, dryly, "What are you going to do
"Give me time!" he cried, clutching his head. "Let me think things out!"
"Sorry," she said, "but I have no notion of staying locked up while you
put your thoughts in order. I must be released immediately, or..."
"Or I will send the whole story to the newspapers."
"They wouldn't dare print it."
"I don't mean the Newport newspapers, but the New York papers."
He clutched his head again and stood there in horrible indecision.
"If I am released," added Mme. Storey, slyly, "I should be glad to say
nothing for a while, because I hope to obtain further evidence."
"No amount of evidence would do any good," he cried, "unless you caught
him in the act!"
"I might even do that," she said, smiling.
After another period of agonized irresolution he distractedly flung up
his hands. "All right," he said. "Come along!"
Thus suddenly was freedom won. And unconditionally. We left the cell
together. Mme. Storey hung back for a moment, and shoved all her
remaining cigarettes through the bars of the adjoining cell.
I heard a surprised cry of thanks: "Cheese, girl, you certainly are the
The district attorney's car was waiting at the jail door, and we all got
into it. I was not sorry to put that place behind me, a long grim
building of brick plastered all over with what looked like dirty chewing
gum. Just beyond was the railway station, a dingy old wooden shebang,
that I am sure must have a rusty stove in the waiting room in winter.
Smart Newport, I was learning, had its down at heel aspects.
We drove first to the courthouse. Lyle sat moodily chewing an unlighted
cigar, all the bounce and the bluster gone out of him. When he got out
he said: "Where shall I tell my chauffeur to take you?"
"To Omega Farm," said Mme. Storey. His jaw dropped and he stared at her
like a clown. "I'm staying there," she added, smiling.
"But good God, madam!" he said, hoarsely. "Good God...!"
"That's the best place to get evidence, isn't it?"
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - A New Victim
IT WAS about five when we got back to the Dump.
The front door stood open, as usual, and we entered without summoning a
servant. There seemed to be no one about downstairs, and we started up
for our rooms. The door into Nick's den was about a dozen feet from the
head of the stairs, but not in a direct line with it. As we approached
we heard voices inside the room--an indistinguishable murmur from Reggie
Mygatt, and then Nick's exasperated tones:
"You had ten thousand last week. Good God! Do you think I'm made of
Another murmur from Reggie.
"Well, there'll be some in tonight. You can have it then."
Reggie evidently asked a question, and Nick answered: "Ten o'clock."
They came out of the room and saw us on the top step. Nick's sharp black
eyes narrowed, and for a brief instant he was at a loss. Well, his
sensations at the sight of us must have been mixed; still, I think on
the whole he was relieved. He was smart enough to realize that Rosika
Storey was more dangerous to him locked up than at liberty.
He ran toward her with outstretched hands, crying: "Rosika! Thank God!
How did you work it, my dear?"
"Oh, I just smiled at the district attorney and he let me go."
Nick's eyes bored into her for a second before he spoke again. But Mme.
Storey was giving nothing away. "Unconditionally?" he asked.
"Quite. I don't have to fly to Connecticut."
"Can you tell me all about it now?"
"Sorry. I promised."
He didn't press her. "Well, hurry downstairs. The Dump has been
stagnating without you."
When we gained our own rooms she said: "He's going out to make a
collection tonight. Ten o'clock. We must try to follow him."
"It's so dangerous!" I murmured. "And no chance of success!"
"Nevertheless, we must try it." After a moment's thought she went on:
"I'll give you this job, Bella, so that I can remain here as window
dressing. In order to forestall suspicion I'll send you in to town now.
At nine thirty you and Crider can return to the corner of East Maple
Avenue and West Road in a landaulet. Get another landaulet; Nick knows
the first one. He must pass that corner on the way in to town. If you
can find out from whom he collects tribute tonight, we'll have him!"
When we returned downstairs she said to all and general: "Bella's going
in to town to do some typing for me. I improved the heavy hours of our
captivity by dictating a lot of letters."
Nick, lazily stretched out in a basket chair, murmured some perfunctory
words, but his expression clearly indicated that I could go to hell, for
all he cared. I fizzled with helpless anger. I was never able to
accustom myself to his insolence. I would have given everything I
possessed to force him to regard me once as a human creature.
At nine thirty Crider and I were duly parked in front of a house on
Broadway just beyond the corner Mme. Storey had indicated. Nick had to
pass us in order to get in to town. Our car was headed toward Newport,
and I was kneeling on the back seat, carefully examining all the
approaching cars through the little rear window. Behind us was a street
lamp that threw a momentary gleam in the face of each approaching
In the beginning there was no hitch. I recognized one of Nick's men
coming down East Maple Avenue, and Crider started our engine. As they
passed us I had the good fortune to get a glimpse of Nick's bold profile
through the windows of his car; so there was no doubt but that I had
picked up my man.
We started after him in high hopes. I fixed the number of his license in
my mind, so that if we lost him in the traffic it would be easy to pick
him up again. But we never did lose him except for a second or two, when
he turned a corner in advance of us. He never stopped, nor, so far as we
could discover, did he ever trouble himself to look out of the back
window. As always, Nick's superb confidence in himself was his chief
asset. It demoralized his opponents. In spite of myself I began to feel
that I was bound to fail.
He led us down Broadway to the brightly lighted square, and around a
couple of corners into tree lined Bellevue Avenue, the great show street
of Newport. Thence into Narragansett Avenue, another broad thoroughfare
between handsome residences, and then around so many corners right and
left that my sense of direction became confused.
This suggested that he knew he was being followed, and my hopes were
further dashed. Somewhere along here I discovered that we were being
trailed in turn by a dilapidated looking taxicab, and this administered
the final blow. One got the hopeless feeling that Nick Van Tassel was
too smart ever to be caught napping.
Also that trailing taxicab filled me with an active terror. I could not
figure out why Nick should trouble to have me followed unless it was
with the purpose of attacking me in some lonely spot while he made his
get away. How I regretted that I had not armed myself!
"For God's sake, do not let that taxi overtake you!" I said to Crider.
"How's the engine of this car?"
"Only fair," he said. "I wasn't looking for any speed tests."
"Nick Van Tassel is always ready for a test," I said, bitterly.
To my great relief, we presently struck back into the broad and well
frequented Bellevue Avenue, and I discovered that we had lost the taxi
somewhere in that maze of side streets. My hopes revived again.
After all, his men were not infallible. Nick was traveling north
now--that is, back toward the center of the town. He presently circled
the square and, to my dismay, struck out Broadway as if he were bound
home. When we had passed Two Mile Corner and were upon East Maple Avenue
again, I could no longer doubt it.
"He has fooled us somehow," I said to Crider. "Pass the car ahead so I
can make sure."
True enough, when I looked through the windows I saw that it was empty.
I was sick. It was not difficult to figure what had happened. On turning
a dark corner Nick had dropped off without stopping the car. No doubt he
had been grinning at us from behind the shelter of a hedge as we drove
by, and the taxicab had picked him up. How simple and neat!
I was full of bitterness. Apparently he played with us as contemptuously
as a cat with mice. Still, I did not see how I could be blamed for what
had happened. I have often heard Mme. Storey remark that it is
impossible to follow a car in another car without being discovered.
Since I had lost him, it was useless to return to town. I told Crider to
keep on to the Dump.
There was a fair sized party tonight. The frontier saloon had not been
opened, and the guests were all gathered in the Den upstairs. Here a
roulette table had been set up, with a couple of croupiers in attendance
in the continental style. A row of lamps under opaque shades cast down a
dazzling light on the green cloth and the circle of strained faces
Mme. Storey was not playing. Attended by several men, she sat just
within the door in a spot where she commanded the stairway. I expect she
perceived in a glance that I had been unsuccessful.
"Hello, Bella!" she cried, with a gay wave of her hand. "Change your
dress and come on in!"
The Lord knows I had little inclination to mix in the feverish crowd
just then; however, I obeyed. When I got back the play was still going
on. There was no noise tonight. All were too intent on watching the
spinning ball. I disliked to see the fresh faced boys and girls
gambling. One felt that the young should not have needed so strong a
A quarter of an hour later Nick came home. He entered the room with his
usual smile of good natured cynicism, and was hailed with a roar of
welcome that was like gall and wormwood to me.
What kind of a world was it, I asked myself, where Nick Van Tassel was
everybody's hero? But presently it began to steal on me that something
was wrong. Nick could shape his lips in the usual smile, but he could
not keep the glitter of rage out of his hard black eyes. Others noticed
it besides myself. I saw Evelyn, Bill Kip, et al., glancing at him
apprehensively. Obviously something had gone askew with tonight's
expedition. The thought that the high and mighty Nick had met with a
check was deliciously sweet to me.
On the surface the balance of the evening was like any other night at
the Dump; a buffet supper was served, with champagne ad lib. People
drank, talked loud, and otherwise comported themselves foolishly (the
loudest laughter issued from the group of which Nick Van Tassel was the
center), nevertheless, there was a feeling of thunder in the air. People
began leaving early. The charming, feather headed young creatures,
incapable of consecutive thought, were extremely sensitive to changes in
the atmosphere. The moment they found the Dump less amusing than usual,
without asking why, they went some place else.
I was sitting by myself in the corner beyond the fireplace. There was a
small wood fire burning on the hearth, more for the look of the thing, I
reckon, than for warmth, because all the windows were open. Suddenly
Nick Van Tassel, who was standing near, detached himself from his
friends and, turning around, stared into the fire.
Whether it was he didn't see me in my obscure corner, or whether he
didn't care what I saw, at any rate for a moment the mask dropped from
I was appalled by what I read there. A hell of rage and hatred. He hated
life; he hated people; and most of all he hated himself! I wondered how
I ever could have seen him merely as a comely, vigorous, energetic young
fellow. In the firelight his distorted face looked as old as the
He took a letter from his pocket and, tearing it into small pieces,
tossed the fragments on the fire. Then with the usual wisecrack he
turned around to his friends.
It was a long time before my shaken nerves quieted down. In a curious
way that glimpse into the night of Nick's soul comforted me, by
revealing that there was something extraordinary in him and set apart
from all others. Thus my instinctive terror of the man was justified.
The worst of it was, it increased the helpless infatuation I felt for
him. What woman could resist the appeal of a Lucifer?
When we got to our own suite later, Mme. Storey took a tiny piece of
paper from the little bag she carried in the evenings, and smoothed it
on the table.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Nick Van Tassel tore up a letter and threw it on the fire," she said.
"I spotted one little piece that escaped the flames, and a long time
after I secured it."
We bent over it together. All we could make out was the word "to" with
some letters on either side of it, thus: "o to he."
"Looks as if somebody might have told Nick to go to hell," said Mme.
"Oh, I hope so!" I said, involuntarily.
She laughed. "At any rate, he received a setback tonight. That's
"And then--what next?" I murmured, with a shiver.
"Ha! You felt it too!" she cried, with a keen look.
"Felt what?" I asked, turning away my head.
"Murder in the air!"
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Miss Betsy Again
DURING our stay in Newport that queer old Miss Betsy Pryor used to write
to Mme. Storey every day or so. Her letters were so original, so
different from the rest of the fan mail, that my employer always made a
point of answering them immediately. I ought to mention that Crider's
delvings among the tax lists had revealed Miss Betsy as one of the
richest women in Newport, if not in all America. On her last return she
had reported on an income of more than one million dollars. Yet there
she lived behind her nine foot wall, apparently forgotten by the world.
Crider's piece of information made Mme. Storey thoughtful.
One of Miss Betsy's notes that I have kept by me read:
'DEAR MME. STOREY:
'I am wondering if you are still in Newport, since I no longer see your
name included among those present at fashionable entertainments. Reading
the society column is a woman's last weakness. My opinion of you
immediately went up. I never could understand why one like you was ever
attracted to Newport. Society is the final refuge of the empty minded.
Lunches, teas, and dinners! Dinners, teas and lunches! Always the same
old bell wethers sitting beside you, or meek ewes ever bleating in the
'I had enough of it forty years ago, but they tell me they're still
doing it. They tell me Gibbs Cumberland is still dining out every night.
Good God! he's eighty two. If you ever meet him tell him that you have
it on the authority of Betsy Pryor that he's eighty two. It will please
'Conversation is the only proper social exercise for intelligent beings.
I never found anybody worth talking to in Newport, so I retired within
my own grounds and talked to myself. Conversations of unimaginable wit
and brilliancy, I assure you. Myself never let me down. However,
sometimes I grow aweary of Betsy's wit and long to match her against
another, a fresher set. Therefor I am reminding you of your promise to
come see the tiresome old woman, though I must repeat, I don't know why
Until we saw her Mme. Storey and I were never able to decide whether
Betsy was quite cracked or merely waggish. A little of both, Mme. Storey
suggested. She answered:
'DEAR MISS BETSY PRYOR:
'Your letters are always stimulating. You are right in inferring that it
was not the fashionable entertainments which brought me to Newport. I am
engaged in an engrossing and baffling investigation the end of which is
not yet in sight. Several times lately it has occurred to me that you
might help me in this matter, you have such an appreciation of life, and
that you would enjoy doing so. But up to the moment of writing this I
have not been able to think of any expedient by which I might visit you
without advertising the fact to the spies who swarm around me. Of course
if we are to do anything together, no hint of our association must be
allowed to get out. Within the next few days I will find some means of
visiting you secretly or, if I find that it is impracticable for us to
work together, I will come openly.
'In either case you may expect to see me soon. Please tear this up as
soon as you have read it.
'Ever sincerely yours,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - Murder in the Air
ON THE morning following my unsuccessful chase of Nick Van Tassel
through the streets of Newport, Mme. Storey and I decided to go
downstairs to breakfast at Omega Farm. We knew the capacity of our
adversary for striking quickly, and there was much to be done if we were
to get ahead of him.
Nick joined us at the breakfast table. Apparently he was a stranger to
bad dreams, for he looked the embodiment of health and vigor. His
freshly shaven sunburnt cheeks were as smooth and ruddy as an Elberta
peach. Talk about your deceptive appearances! I wondered if the original
Lucifer had the same faculty of assuming a boyish and disarming aspect.
Probably he had. Scrambled eggs, broiled kidneys, bacon, and toast
disappeared between Nick's fine white teeth in a business like manner.
"What a treat to see you at breakfast, Rosika!" he cried. "After all,
it's the breakfast women who hold us."
"Must you be held?" she drawled.
"Ha! you're as heartless as you are beautiful!" he cried.
"I expect we're a pair," she said.
"I wish we were," he said, with a contemptuous side glance at me. "Why
don't you stay here always?"
"It wouldn't work, my dear," she answered, calmly. "You and I are too
much of a character. Solitary birds."
By this time we were beginning to know our host pretty well, and in
spite of his wisecracking we perceived that his thoughts were elsewhere.
Behind the superficial brightness of his eyes brooded a remote thought
which never nickered--the thought of murder. A pale blue eye is supposed
to be typical of the killer; but there is a kind of bright inhuman black
eye that is even more characteristic.
"What's the program for today?" asked Mme. Storey, idly.
"I have to spend the morning conferring with my various overseers and
foremen," he said. "Beastly bore."
"That's all right," she said. "Bella and I are going in to town to sit
"Very mysterious, this illness of Leonie's," he said, dryly. "I suspect
it provides you with an excuse whenever you are bored here."
"Well, that's up to you," she said, calmly.
He laughed. "Never get any change out of you! Will you lunch here?"
"I will if you will."
"I will." He flashed a sharp look at her and said, a little too
carelessly: "By the way, they're going to dance at the Chowder Club
tonight. Will you come with me?"
"Good Lord.'" said Mme. Storey. "It's only five days since your uncle's
funeral. You'll create a scandal!"
"Oh, I've been scandalizing Newport ever since I put on long pants," he
said, offhand. "They expect it of me now."
"Well, it's not my lookout," she said, lightly; "and, anyhow, I'm in as
bad as I can be already. Sure I'll come, if you can find a cavalier for
"We'll all go in a body," he said, without looking at me.
As soon as Nick drove off to make his rounds of the place, Mme. Storey
and I started in to town.
After a brief call at Mrs. Lysaght's to see if there was anything
important in the mail (there was not) we drove to each of the banks in
turn. My employer's object was to show her scrap of paper to the tellers
of each institution to see if they could identify the writing. Her
introductions from New York banks smoothed the way for us.
Nothing came of it. The written characters were too few. Though we
limited our inquiry to a few of each bank's richest customers, none of
the tellers were able to identify our scrap of writing.
Back at the Dump, we found Nick's whole crowd, with the exception of
Mary Bourne, gathered in the den. Their light talk and laughter broke
out with suspicious suddenness as we mounted the stairs.
Suggestions that a more serious conference had been in progress lingered
in their imperfectly smoothed out faces; the somber thought still
dwelling behind Nick's eyes; little Evelyn hastily rouging her cheeks to
hide their pallor. In her eyes the haunted look we had not seen in
several days came and went again. Clearly she had no stomach for the
business in hand. Ann, on the other hand, seemed uplifted. She was a fit
partner for Nick.
Luncheon was an uneasy meal. Everybody talked and laughed a little too
much. The tension slowly increased until I felt I could bear no more. It
was too terrible to be in the presence of that grisly secret without
being able to drag it into the light.
Nick said: "How about a sail this afternoon? There's an A1 breeze."
"Count me out," said Mme. Storey. "When I was at Mrs. Lysaght's this
morning I got a telegram from an old friend who is passing through
Providence this afternoon. I must run over there for a couple of hours."
There were expressions of regret around the table, but I could see they
were relieved. Very likely they still had preparations to make for the
evening, and it seemed like a stroke of luck to get Mme. Storey out of
At 3:30 we were in the office of District Attorney Lyle in Providence.
He received us with an injured air. The sight of us reminded him of his
Mme. Storey wasted no time in beating around the bush. "I have come,"
she said, "to urge you to have Nick Van Tassel arrested immediately."
He looked a little sick. "Have you any fresh evidence?" he asked.
"Then why?" he demanded, spreading out his hands helplessly and wagging
them from side to side. "Why?...Why?" He could get no further.
"I have reason to believe that another murder is planned for tonight."
"Well, it's a simple matter to warn the victim, isn't it?"
"That's just the trouble," she said, gravely. "I have not been able to
discover who it is."
"Another mare's nest!" he cried, ill temperedly. "What do you know?"
She described to him the events of the past twenty four hours.
"Mere supposition!" he snarled, stamping up and down his office. "I
can't act on supposition. You've got to bring me evidence!"
"There's no occasion to lose your temper," my employer suggested mildly.
"My interest in this matter is identical with yours--to protect the
"I'm a busy man, a busy man, madam, and it puts me out of temper to be
interrupted by frivolous pretexts like this!"
"Frivolous pretexts?" echoed Mme. Storey, running up her eyebrows. "To
solve the murder of one millionaire and to prevent the murder of
another? I'm offering you the greatest case of your career."
It does no good to tell the truth to an unreasonable man, of course.
"There's nothing in it!" he yelled. Then immediately afterward he asked,
"Because of the dance at the Chowder Club," she patiently explained.
"Nick Van Tassel always uses a gathering of some sort to cover his
operations. He had no intention of going to this dance until he needed
it for a pretext. He will use the dance to establish an alibi."
"This is all poppycock!" cried Lyle. "You're just looking for personal
She smiled. "Well, let's not get into an argument about that. Just give
me a plain answer--will you or will you not arrest Nick Van Tassel this
"There isn't a man on the force who would carry out such an order!"
"Try it and see."
"Arrest Nick Van Tassel on such flimsy evidence as you have presented! I
would only cover myself with ridicule! I would be laughed out of office.
I could never show my face in Rhode Island again!"
"You have not answered my question," she pointed out.
"No, I will not!" he shouted. "It's plumb ridiculous!"
Mme. Storey quickly rose. "All right," she said cheerfully. "Then I must
take my own measures."
"What are you going to do?" he demanded, sharply curious.
"I don't know. I shall be guided by the circumstances."
He shot out the courtroom forefinger. "Mind you," he rasped, "if you
take the law into your own hands you need expect no special
consideration from me."
She laughed. "I shall expect nothing from you."
We hastened out.
She had carried the interview off bravely, as she always does, but for
all that I could not see but that we were completely blocked. Going home
in the car I felt very blue. It was then nearly five o'clock.
It was too awful to think that murder was striding toward us moment by
moment, and we powerless to prevent it. It was like one of these
nightmares where you seem to be tied hand and foot. At last I asked,
diffidently: "What did you mean by taking your own measures?"
"I mean taking Nick into custody ourselves," she said, coolly, "and
keeping him until the danger is past."
"What!" I cried.
"That would be an effective way to prevent the murder, wouldn't it?"
My spirits rebounded. "Oh yes!" I cried. "It's the only answer! After
all, he's a man like any other!" And then another thought chilled me.
"But afterward," I faltered, "what then?"
"Afterward must take care of itself," she said, coolly.
Before returning to the Dump, we went on to Newport to confer with
Crider and lay out a plan for the evening.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - At the Chowder Club
WE WERE all sitting around in the Den, sipping coffee and liqueurs
before going on to the dance. Nick and his set always liked to make a
late and effective entrance anywhere.
Ann Livingston, sitting at Nick's desk, suddenly said: "Why, Nick,
there's a secret compartment in the middle of this desk. How do you get
"Nothing secret about it," said Nick, lazily.
She moved the blotter to one side and lifted the center flap, bringing
the typewriter into view. "Oh, a typewriter!" she cried. "How cunning! I
didn't know you could typewrite."
"Useful accomplishment," said Nick.
"I've always been dying to learn how to typewrite!" she exclaimed. "Do
give me a lesson."
Nick arose with a good natured air and, inserting a sheet of paper in
the machine, told her to go ahead and do her worst. "All you have to do
is strike the letters," he said.
"If she knows her letters," put in Bill.
Ann made a face at him. "What shall I write?" she asked at large.
"Such a concatenation of events is inconceivable," chanted Reggie.
"Go on!" she said. "Tell me another!"
"Oh, where and oh, where has my little dog gone?" sang Bill.
Ann commenced to spell out the words laboriously.
The whole scene rang a little false in my ears. It did not seem possible
that Ann could have been ignorant of the existence of the machine.
Moreover, the kittenish air she was displaying was not natural to her. I
wondered with a sinking heart if the scene was being staged for our
benefit. If Nick had discovered the trap we had set for him, it would be
just like him to let us know it in this manner. I waited anxiously for
Presently Ann said, "Nick, some of the letters print crookedly."
"That can't be," he answered, carelessly. "I've had the thing only a few
"Come and look," she said. "The e, the r, the t, the y, the o."
He went and looked over her shoulder. It seemed to me that the room grew
very still, and my breath failed me a little. But their voices had
sounded so casual I could not be sure yet.
Then Reggie Mygatt drawled in his unpleasant voice: "Funny! If you
transpose those letters they make Mme. Storey's name, lacking only the s."
By that I knew that they knew. My skin prickled all over. I wondered if
a general show down was coming. There we were, Mme. Storey and I
helpless in Nick Van Tassel's house, surrounded by his gang and his
servants. I had a moment of perfect fear. I dared not look at my
She laughed lightly. "What an odd coincidence!"
"Oh, what the hell!" said Nick. "It can easily be fixed...Come on,
let's go to the dance."
So he was at his old game of playing with us like a cat with mice! I
ventured to breathe again. At any rate, we would be safe at a crowded
Just before we set out, two extra young men came to balance the sexes.
We went in two of Nick's limousines, Ann, Evelyn, Mary Bourne, Bill, and
Reggie in the first; Mme. Storey, Nick, the two new young men (whose
names I have forgotten, but it doesn't matter) and I in the second.
Nick, Mme. Storey, and I were occupying the back seat in that order. The
two young men, I remember, were impressed with Nick's greatness, and
Nick was showing off a little. One of them had asked him how many cars
he had, and he answered: "Don't ask me. The Dump is all cluttered up
with cars. I've been meaning for a long time to weed them out and have
As we turned into the club grounds Nick said, in his warm, persuasive
voice, "Give me the two first dances, Rosika."
"Charmed," she said, and at the same time pressed my hand twice. This
was to convey to me that I should warn our men she would lead Nick out
of the clubhouse during the second dance.
Notwithstanding its plebeian name the Chowder Club is one of the
smartest institutions in Newport. It occupies a rocky promontory
sticking out into the bay and is almost completely surrounded by water.
The clubhouse is a wide spreading one story building with deep verandas.
The whole summit of the promontory is surrounded by a stout rustic fence
of cedar logs to keep the members from rolling down the smooth rock
slopes into the water.
We were late arrivals and there must have been upward of a hundred cars
parked all around the open space in front of the clubhouse, and along
both sides of the wide approach, each car with its rear bumper against
the cedar fence, ready to start without interference. Mme. Storey
pressed my hand again, and following the direction of her glance, I
understood that she was calling my attention to a convertible coupe,
painted maroon and bearing a Maryland license. It was one of the first
cars in line, that is to say farthest from the clubhouse. With her
unerring eye she had recognized it.
In getting out, my employer and I were left alone for a moment, and I
asked, "What about the coupe with the Maryland license?"
She said, "That's the car that Nick means to conduct his operations in
"How can you be sure?"
"I looked into the machine shop after lunch and saw them overhauling
As we mounted the steps I saw George Stephens lolling against a post. He
was our liaison officer for the evening. He was a handsome young fellow,
and looked perfectly at home in that crowd. He had been given the job
because both Crider and Benny Abell had been working inside the Van
Tassel house on the night of the murder, and it was conceivable that
Nick Van Tassel might have spotted them. But he could not have known
I hung back a little, and Stephens slipped up beside me. I whispered
Mme. Storey's message to him, and he went off to pass it to Crider,
Abell, and Scarfe, who were concealed among the cars below. Their job,
of course, would be to seize Nick when Mme. Storey led him away from the
Crider had hired a big Cadillac sedan for the evening. It was an old
model and the bloom was off it, but mechanically it was in perfect
Nick and Mme. Storey danced. Amid that smart and well dressed crowd Nick
stood out with a peculiar distinction. He was not the handsomest man
present, but there was a certain air of arrogance about him none could
match. There was that in his smile which forced men and women alike to
yield him a kind of slavish admiration. His whole crowd shared in his
reflected glory--Ann, Evelyn, Mary, and the men; among the young people,
anyhow, this little circle was looked upon as the most desirable in
I presently noticed that Ann and Reggie had disappeared from view,
though I did not see them go. They never returned. Sent on outpost duty,
I assumed. On such occasions I had good reason to believe that the
aristocratic Ann donned boy's clothes. She had the figure of a graceful
At the beginning of the second dance I pleaded heat to the nameless
young man who was squiring me, as an excuse to get him out on the
veranda. We took up our stand at the head of the steps, and pretty soon
Nick and Mme. Storey came strolling along. I heard her say: "Oh, for a
breath of fresh air and a glimpse of the stars!"
"Sure!" said Nick. "Let's stroll down the drive."
My heart began to beat fast. If all went well, Nick was presently due to
see some stars that were not in the firmament.
Before he went down the steps he turned around to speak to one of the
club servants. He pressed something into the man's hand. It looked as if
he were tipping him, but I kept my eye on the fellow and presently I saw
him unfold a note. Nick had his spies and accomplices everywhere, and
they served him with the sort of devotion money couldn't buy.
But this one was careless. He threw away the note, and I marked where it
fell. On the pretext that I wanted to watch the dancers through the
window, I moved over and put my foot on it, and presently I picked it
up. Spreading it out unseen by my partner, I read:
'When I have gone a hundred yards, come after me and tell me I am wanted
on the telephone.'
My hopes collapsed. The uncanny feeling returned to me that Nick bore a
charmed existence. Apparently he was able to foresee every move we made.
We could not touch him.
The servant had gone after him. Soon they were to be seen returning.
Mme. Storey paused at my side, while Nick went inside to answer his
imaginary telephone call. I got rid of my partner by sending him for a
glass of punch, and I told my employer what had happened.
She laughed. "Well, we must try something else," she said.
After a moment's thought she went on: "Tell Stephens to tell Crider to
find the convertible coupe with the Maryland license. He is to cut the
wires leading to the main switch. If the doors are locked, let him raise
the hood and cut the wires leading from the distributor. Crider and the
other two are then to conceal themselves in the vicinity of that car and
wait for Nick. Let them move their own car as near as possible to the
coupe, so they won't have so far to carry him."
Nick returned, saying: "The call wasn't of the slightest importance.
What a sell! Let's finish this dance."
Later Nick danced with Mary Bourne and with Evelyn, but he did not ask
me. Wherever his tall figure moved he was followed by those curious
glances, half admiring, half resentful, that he alone had the power of
evoking. Apparently he made all the other young men feel inferior.
Evelyn, while she was dancing with him, in spite of her training, could
not keep the rapt look out of her eyes.
Upon finishing their dance these two went out on the veranda, where they
ensconced themselves in the darkest corner on the bay side. This looked
as if they might be intending to repeat the trick that had been played
at the Van Tassel house, and Mme. Storey and I watched them as closely
as we were able without calling attention to ourselves.
At her suggestion we fetched Stephens, and the three of us strolled as
near as we could. She whispered to Stephens to strike a match and light
a cigarette. In its brief flare we perceived that the substitution had
already been effected. It was Bill Kip who sat beside Evelyn. Nick
apparently had gone over the rail.
Making our way around the veranda as quickly as possible, we descended
the steps. Couples were strolling back and forth across the open space
in front of the clubhouse, but the driveway beyond was deserted. It was
a warm night, with a haze rising from the cold water; no moon. We
quickened our steps. When we came within sight of the maroon coupe we
saw that it was still empty. Nick had to creep around over the rocks
below the fence, and that was how we had beat him to it. We slipped
behind another car, where we could watch the coupe through the windows,
In a moment we saw Nick creep under the fence and unlock his car. He
softly closed the door and stepped on the starter. We could hear it
whir, but of course nothing happened. Then three more figures seemed to
rise from the ground without a sound. At sight of them Nick pressed the
catch that locked his door on the inside, and ran up the glass. For the
moment both sides were helpless. Our men could not reach Nick, and Nick
could not make his engine go.
It was the resourceful Benny Abell who broke the deadlock. I saw him
scramble up over the rear compartment of the coupe. I could not guess
what he was after until I saw his arm make wide, slashing movements; he
must have had a knife as sharp as a razor. He cut out three sides of the
back of the khaki top, and the piece dropped down.
Crider joined Benny; they reached inside the car and started hauling
Nick out by main strength. Nick struggled furiously but made no outcry.
There was surprisingly little noise. Neither party to this fight could
afford to call attention to it. Scarfe got his hands on Nick also, and
the tall figure was drawn clear of the car in spite of his struggles.
All four of them rolled down over the back of the car and hit the ground
with a thud. Nick broke free, and vaulted over the fence like a flash.
The others ducked after him.
We ran to the fence between two cars and looked over. Stephens slipped
under the rail to go to the aid of his comrades. There was a confused
struggle on the flat rock below. Apparently Nick was giving a good
account of himself against such heavy odds. I heard the impact of fists
on bare flesh. They moved closer to us, and I could distinguish the one
figure so much taller than the others, swinging his long arms, and hear
him cursing softly.
An extraordinary emotion seized me. Whatever he was, Nick was game. To
see him at bay like that, a stag attacked by terriers, almost tore the
heart out of my breast. A hair's breadth more and I should have leaped
down there, screaming, to help him. I clung desperately to the fence to
There was one moment when he actually had them all down, and leaped for
the fence directly where we were standing. But some one caught him by a
foot and he crashed down on the rock. Even so, it was not yet over. He
wrenched himself free and rolled away to one side. He got to his feet
and stood with his back to the fence. I could hear his hoarse panting. A
voice seemed to be crying inside me: I don't care what you've done! I
love you! I love you! It was a kind of madness.
His assailants divided, and two of them came at him from each side. That
was the end. Like dogs they pulled him down. There was something most
horrible in the way all four of them silently dropped on his prostrate
body. Even then Nick never uttered a sound. There was a sort of fumbling
struggle on the rock, then the four men arose, leaving Nick lying
motionless. I thought they had killed him, and a low cry was forced from
"Blindfolded, gagged, and tied up," Mme. Storey murmured, reassuringly.
We heard the sound of running feet, and she whispered, quickly, "Carry
him down out of sight!"
Snatching up the helpless body, they disappeared as quietly as shadows
into the mist.
Several chauffeurs ran up to us. "What's the matter lady?" one asked.
"There were some men fighting down there," said Mme. Storey. "They went
that way." She pointed to the right.
They ducked under the fence and followed her direction, while we quietly
turned the other way.
Our Cadillac was now the last car parked on that side of the drive. We
stood beside it, waiting, until the four men appeared with their burden.
They passed him under the rail and swung him into the back of the car.
Mme. Storey, Stephens, and I climbed over him, while the other three
squeezed into the front seat, and we started.
As the car began to move, somebody from up the line hailed us. Crider
merely stepped on the gas. A pair of headlights flashed on and a car
turned out to follow us. But it was only a half hearted pursuit. We soon
lost it in the streets of the town.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - A Crowded Hour
"WHERE shall I take him?" asked Crider, who was driving.
Mme. Storey leaned forward to keep her voice from carrying to the
prisoner's ears. "It doesn't matter," she whispered. "Drive around for
We rolled at a quiet pace through the deserted streets of the town and
out by what they call the West Road, one of the two highways that
connect the island of Rhode Island with the mainland. This route carried
us past the public airport, a golf course, and the ancient windmill with
its long arms that is one of the sights of the neighborhood.
Benny Abell unbuttoned his coat and produced a pair of curious objects
that he had thrust inside.
"Found these in his car," he said. "Thought they might be useful as
It was a pair of heavy wooden sandals that strapped on over the ordinary
shoes. There was a row of short steel spikes projecting from the square
toe, and a row of longer spikes from under the ball of the foot,
inclining forward and forming a sort of fulcrum.
"With these," murmured Mme. Storey, "he could go straight up the side of
a wooden house if he had a rain leader or any other projection to steady
himself...Search him," she added to Stephens.
This was not altogether easy while Nick was lying huddled on the bottom
of the car, but Stephens went about it systematically.
"Take his money, too," said Mme. Storey. "It can be returned to him."
Stephens produced in turn a wallet, a handful of change, a pocket flash,
a gun, and a curious furry object that at first we could not identify.
Storey handed the gun to me to keep. It was an old fashioned six shooter
of thirty eight caliber, a formidable weapon. I shoved it in my
She turned on the dome light, and we saw that the furry object was an
ingeniously made wig, mask, and beard all in one. The wig part
represented a completely bald pate, and when Nick drew it on and
fastened it he must have been a truly horrible object and, of course,
Meanwhile Nick was groaning protestingly under his gag, and since we had
left the town far behind, Mme. Storey whispered to Stephens to tell him
we would take the gag off, but that if he made any outcry it would have
to go back again. The gag was removed, and Nick rubbed his sore mouth
gratefully against his shoulder.
"Why do I have to lie here under your feet?" he said, sullenly. "Can't
you stick me in the corner of the seat?"
Mme. Storey could not deny a defeated enemy this small favor, and
between them she and Stephens yanked him up and propped him in the
Smiling, she stuck a cigarette in his mouth and lighted it, but after a
puff or two he said: "Throw it away. It's no good when you can't see the
After a while he said, with restored good humor:
"What's to be gained by keeping me in blinders, anyhow? I know perfectly
well that I am riding with the adorable Rosika. I smelled her perfume
when she lifted me up. What is its seductive name--Adieu Sagesse!"
Mme. Storey laughed and told Stephens to take off the blind. It was
done, their eyes met, and both laughed. There was an extraordinary
relation between those two. Each admired the other immensely, and
neither would give an inch. Nick would have shot her down just as gladly
as she would have sent him to the chair.
"All right, lady," said Nick, perfectly good humored. "My turn will
After a while he said, ironically: "If it's a fair question, darling,
why are you taking me for this delightful drive with all your gentlemen
"I don't mind telling you," she said, "if you will tell me where you
were going tonight in the convertible coupe."
"That's easy," he said. "I've got a girl in the town. She's not in
society, so I call on her secretly. You're a woman of the world; you
understand these things."
"Is it necessary to take a pair of climbers, a gun, and a false face
when you call on her?" she asked.
He ignored the question. "You have not answered me yet."
"I shall answer you more truthfully than you answered me," she returned.
"I am taking you for this ride to keep you out of mischief."
"Good of you," he said.
We crossed the great Mount Hope suspension bridge, high above the water,
and passed through the quiet streets of Bristol. Mme. Storey soon gave
the word to return. In taking Nick's climbers, gun, and mask, she
considered that she had rendered him harmless at least for the balance
of the night. She told Stephens to untie his wrists and ankles.
"There are six of us, and all armed," she said, suggestively.
"You wouldn't dare shoot me, darling," he said, grinning. "At any rate,
not in Newport county."
"Don't try me too far," she retorted, smiling back. "It has occurred to
me more than once it would be the best way out."
After a while he asked, "Well, now you have me, what are you going to do
"It's quite a problem," said Mme. Storey, dryly.
"Yes. The district attorney won't entertain charges against me," (so he
already knew that!), "and if you tried to turn me over to the police
they'd set me free and arrest you for lese majeste or something."
"Perhaps they would," she said, equably. "At any rate, I'm not going to
"Then what are you going to do with me?"
"When we come within five miles of the Dump I shall put you out and let
you walk home."
Oddly enough, this angered him as no threat of danger could have done.
To the arrogant Nick, who hated setting foot to the ground, the idea of
being forced to foot it along the highway like a common tramp was
intolerable. "Damn it! that's not sporting!" he cried. "That's a mean
and petty advantage to take of me. It's humiliating! Look at the state
It was true his white shirt front was all slimed from having been rubbed
against the wet rocks; his collar was torn, his coat ripped, his face
He had lost his hat, of course, and his black hair was wildly touseled.
He looked like anything but the darling of Newport then.
"One of my boys will lend you a hat and coat," said Mme. Storey.
"For God's sake take me somewhere where I can hire a car!" he cried.
"It would not suit my plans," she answered, calmly.
Sure enough, soon after we had returned over the suspension bridge she
forced him to get out in the road. In Benny Abell's hat, which was too
big for him, and Benny Abell's topcoat, which was too short, he was an
exquisitely comic figure. We had a good laugh at his expense. We left
him grinding his teeth and savagely cursing. He had no money to hire a
conveyance, and it was hardly likely anybody would stop and pick him up
at that time of night.
"Where next?" asked Crider, when we drove on.
"To the Dump."
"It's dangerous," he said, scowling.
"I left jewels there and other things I want to secure," she said. "I
also want the typewriter if it has not been made away with. It is my
only evidence. Afterward you can drive us to a hotel."
In ten minutes we were there. The big house was dark except for lights
in the corridors, and no cars were parked in the drive. When Mme. Storey
and I got out, the Cadillac turned around and drove off as if to return
to town, but it had been instructed to wait just out of sight of the
front door. It was about one o'clock, and the watchman was on duty in
the lower hall. This was an able looking ex pugilist known as Jack
"Has Mr. Van Tassel come home?" asked Mme. Storey, affably.
"Any of his friends here?"
"No ma'am. I understand they're all at the Chowder Club. Nobody in the
house but the servants, ma'am."
"We're going to bed," she said, smothering a yawn.
"How will we get past him, going out?" I whispered on the stairs.
"We'll go down by the back stairs and the service entry."
In our bedrooms we secured the most valuable of our belongings, and we
also got long coats to replace the wraps left in the Chowder Club
cloakroom. Also we put on hats which somehow render women less
conspicuous at night. Then we stole noiselessly back along the corridor
to the den. The corridor was lighted, but the big room was dark.
"Do you know how the typewriter is fastened to the desk?" whispered Mme.
"Sure," I said; "a couple of hooks over the frame that are fastened by
thumbscrews below. I can release it in the dark."
"Good!" she said.
However, as soon as I raised the flap of the desk I realized that our
errand was in vain. "It's gone!"
"Well, that was only to be expected," she said, serenely. "Come on!"
At that moment the electric light switch clicked and the lights flooded
on. Between us and the way out stood Nick's five friends. Bill Kip had a
gun in his hand. They must have been pressed back into the recesses on
either side the fireplace when we entered. Reggie Mygatt was in rough
clothes like a gardener and Ann Livingston was wearing a boy's suit.
Even at that moment of terror I took note of what a handsome lad she
"What are you trying on?" asked Reggie, with a hateful sneer. "A little
Mme. Storey made no answer. I saw her measuring the distance to the
central window out of the corner of her eye. There was a small balcony
outside. Unfortunately, the window was closed.
"Where's Nick?" demanded Evelyn, in a strained, high pitched voice.
"How should I know?" said Mme. Storey.
"You do know! You carried him away from the club! What have you done
"He is unhurt," said Mme. Storey, coolly.
"He had better be!"
Mme. Storey sprang for the window. Reggie, instantly after her, caught
her by the shoulders, but not before she had succeeded in kicking out a
pane of glass. "Crider! Benny!" she cried. "Come!"
At the same instant Bill shouted downstairs, "Bolt the door!"
I ran to my employer's assistance. Before I could reach her a heavy
velvet portiere was thrown over my head, blinding and almost suffocating
me. I was pulled down to the ground; a cord of some sort was thrown
around and around my body and I found myself entirely helpless. As I
heard no sounds of struggle, I judged that Mme. Storey had been treated
in the same manner.
A voice said: "Quick! Down the back stairs with them!"
As we were carried out of the room, I heard a crash of glass downstairs,
from which I gathered that our friends were coming in through the
windows. Several shots followed, filling me with a sickening anxiety.
Meanwhile we were being carried rapidly down the corridor, past our
rooms and on down the service stairs.
There must have been a car standing outside the service entrance, for we
were instantly thrown in the back, our captors piled in, and we started.
This car was equipped with a cut out which was open, and we sped around
the house and struck into the main drive beyond, making a tremendous
roar. I could not understand why they were thus attracting attention to
themselves, until I heard one of them say with satisfaction, "Here they
come!" Then I knew they were trying to draw our friends away from the
Somebody said, "Put out the lights!" Immediately afterward, judging from
the motion of the car, we made a complete circle and, I suppose, stole
back through the gates and, turning out of the drive, bumped slowly over
the field. Behind us I heard the sound of another car driven rapidly,
and somebody said with a laugh, "There they go into Newport, looking for
us." Our car stopped, and they held a consultation over us.
"What shall we do with them?"
"Throw them in the river," snarled Reggie.
"No!" cried Evelyn. "We can't do that without Nick's say so."
"Take them back to the house."
"No! They may have left a man on watch there. They may come back."
"Carry them up to the sail loft," said Reggie's voice. "If that is
threatened, we can run them aboard the Bonito and carry them out to sea.
Let Evelyn, Bill, and Mary watch over them while Ann and I go look for
CHAPTER NINETEEN - In the Balance
I HAD been carried up an outside stairway, through a door, and laid down
on a board floor. Mme. Storey I knew was near, because I had heard her
body dropped beside me. There was a long wait.
Finding it useless to struggle against the cords that bound me, I
submitted to my fate. I had fallen into a kind of lethargy in which one
felt neither hope nor fear.
Finally I heard Ann and Reggie come back, bringing Nick. The sound of
Nick's voice brought me cruelly back to life. I was plunged into a hell
of feelings that I could not analyze--terror, regret, longing! I felt as
if I were about to die without having really lived. Nick and his friends
whispered together, and I could not hear a word.
Beside me, Mme. Storey began to moan feebly and to cry for water.
Knowing her as well as I did, I suspected she was not as badly off as
Evelyn's voice answered her: "There's no water up here."
"Take this thing off my head or I'll suffocate!" moaned Mme. Storey.
Evelyn approached us, and I heard the rip of goods alongside me.
Presently she cut away the heavy velvet that swathed my head and I came
out into the blessed air once more. I saw that Evelyn had one of the
specially shaped knives that sail makers use. She returned to her
friends without speaking to us.
Nick said: "Well, Rosika, I told you my turn would come." He grinned
evilly. He had not forgiven her his enforced walk along the highway.
"One good turn deserves another," she answered. "Cut me loose."
He turned his back on us.
Finding that I could see and hear again, could even whisper to my
employer lying beside me, a measure of courage returned to me. I hastily
took stock of our surroundings. We were lying on the floor of the sail
loft over the yacht rigging shop. It was a polished hardwood floor so
that the canvas would slip over it easily. Great piles of snowy half
finished sails were lying about.
As I have remarked before, this building was a barnlike structure in
early American style. The roof ran up into a sharp peak over our heads.
I remembered how it swept down almost to the ground in the rear, over a
lean to addition to the shop below.
There was a row of dormer windows down each side of the loft. They were
covered with pieces of canvas at present to keep the light from showing
through. The loft was lighted by a line of naked electric bulbs
suspended down the center.
Mme. Storey and I were lying near the door. Nick and his five friends
moved to the other side of the loft to consult together. They lowered
their voices as they thought, but as the talk went on they became
excited, and in the stillness under the high roof I could hear almost
every word. It gave me a sickening turn when I realized that our lives
depended on it.
I heard Reggie say, "We've got to put them out or they'll certainly do
"No!" said Evelyn. "Our best hope of safety lies in turning them loose.
They've got nothing on us. The typewriter's in the river. They've got
nothing on us, and they can't get anything."
"Don't listen to Evelyn," put in Ann. "She's chicken hearted. She'd
argue anything to keep from stepping on these women."
"How do you know they've got nothing on us?" Reggie demanded of Evelyn.
"This woman works in the dark and strikes when she's damn good and
ready. We know she's been tampering with Gibbs Cumberland. Maybe she's
approached all our people. She'll never rest until she undermines the
whole racket. We've got to step on her!"
"Reggie is right!" put in Ann again. Under her slim and elegant exterior
that girl harbored the spirit of a fiend.
"Listen to what I say!" warned Evelyn, earnestly. "If Madame Storey is
put out of the way it will raise a storm throughout the country that
will destroy us, evidence or no evidence!"
"Aah! talk sense!" snarled Reggie. "You can't convict without evidence!
Listen! Her men can swear that she entered Nick's house and was never
seen again. What of it"? None of us five was seen. They can't testify
that we had anything to do with it. And Nick can prove he wasn't on the
"Jack White," suggested Evelyn.
"Jack can't rat on us," said Reggie. "We've got too much on him. If he
should try it, we'll put him where he can't testify. He'd never be
"Where is this going to end?" cried Evelyn, hysterically.
"I told you so!" cried Ann. "Her nerve is gone."
"Be quiet," growled Nick. "Let Reggie finish."
"You can't prove a murder without a body," Reggie went on, "and we'll
take damn good care they are never found. Sure it will raise a storm.
But it can't touch us. It will blow over in the end and we'll be in a
stronger position than ever. Look! this woman has been to Gibbs
Cumberland. Maybe she's been to Eversley and that's why he didn't come
across last night. Maybe she's been to all of them. Well, if she
disappears now, that will put the fear of God into them, won't it?
They'll be glad enough then to pay on the nail. I say we've got to put
these women out or go out of business ourselves."
A voice put in, "How could we dispose of the bodies?"
"That's easy. There's plenty of sheet lead downstairs. Roll them up in
that and carry them out to sea."
"Cheese it!" said Nick. "They're listening."
They moved farther away and I could hear no more. God knows it was awful
to lie there helpless, listening to the gang discussing whether or not
we should be murdered, but it was worse not to hear what was said for
and against. I felt as if I should go out of my mind. I heard somebody
say, "Well, put it to the vote." There could be little doubt as to how
the vote would go. Among the six there was only one voice raised in our
Then Mme. Storey dropped a bombshell in my ear by whispering: "She left
the knife with me. I have cut myself free. Turn partly on your side away
from me and I will cut the ropes at your back. Be careful not to
disarrange them until we're ready to make a break."
I obeyed in a dazed fashion, and presently she said: "You're free. Lie
on your back to conceal the cut ends of the rope. They took my gun. Have
you still got yours?"
"Yes," I whispered. It's in my stocking."
"Can you pass it to me?"
The velvet portiere still covered me to my feet, and under it I was able
to pull up my dress a fraction of an inch at a time, and finally work my
hand down into my stocking. I had to proceed with the greatest care to
avoid pulling out the loose ends of the rope from under me. I got my
hand on the gun and edged it out little by little. Still under cover of
the portiere I passed it over to Mme. Storey's side, and she secured it.
She whispered: "Lie perfectly still until the lights go out, then jump
for the window immediately over your head. I know the windows are open,
because I saw the canvas move. I'll take the next one. Remember the roof
of the lean to is almost flat and comes down to within seven feet of the
ground. Won't hurt you to drop off. If we become separated, meet me
behind the first hangar."
A quarrel broke out among the gang--perhaps it was over the best method
of giving us our quietus.
They disputed in angry whispers and forgot to watch us as closely as
before. Glancing at Mme. Storey, I saw that she had turned partly on her
side and had drawn up her right hand with the pistol to take aim. Her
body still hid the pistol from any of the gang who might glance in our
Apparently she was going to fire at the door, which seemed senseless to
me; then I saw the electric light switch beside it.
The shot roared under the roof and was echoed by another report and a
flash of blue flame from the switch. The loft was plunged in blackness.
A yell broke simultaneously from the six throats of the gang, and they
made for us as one.
"Quick! Roll back under the eaves until they pass," whispered Mme.
They fumbled for us in the darkness, continually falling over one
"Reggie and Bill!" roared Nick. "Hold the door! There's no other way
"I'm here.'" answered Reggie, grimly.
"Try the switch.'"
"It's burned out!"
The search moved away from me a little, and I sprang for the window, and
somehow precipitated myself out on the roof. I went down the steep part
like a projectile, but slowed myself on the flatter part by spreading
out arms and legs. Some one was above me at the window. Fearing a shot,
I rolled off to one side. In my confusion I rolled the wrong way. There
was no shot, but another body came hurtling down the roof and passed me.
When I dropped to the ground it was between me and Mme. Storey.
Somebody clutched hold of me in the dark, and a shrill voice cried out:
"Nick, I've got one of them! I've got one of them!"
This was little Mary Bourne. She had nerve to follow, us like that. I
wasn't afraid of her. I picked her up in my arms and flung her with all
my might on the ground. She squeaked like a mechanical doll when she
struck. I jumped over her body and collided with Mme. Storey. Taking
hands, we ran with all our might. We could hear the men pounding down
the outside stairway, and Nick shouting orders: "Reggie; get a car and
cut them off at the gate! ...Bill! watch the dock and don't let them
get a boat!...Ann! turn on the lights!"
When we came to the end of the building, instead of striking across the
flying field direct for the gate, we turned to the right, and ran for
the hangars bounding the field on the north side. They would never
expect us to go that way. What we chiefly feared was the lights. The
whole field was surrounded by tall poles bearing floodlights. We didn't
know where the switch was. We strained every nerve to make the shelter
of the hangars before the lights could be turned on.
It was a long run, and the lights came on when we had still a couple of
hundred yards to go. We dropped in the grass and lay perfectly still,
then crawled on our stomachs a foot at a time for the river bank.
Rolling over the edge, we found partial shelter from the light on the
stones below. Bent almost double, we ran over the stones, slipping and
stumbling, until we had passed the hangars and were out of radius of the
A short distance behind the hangars was a strip of woods that marked the
boundary of Nick's property. We did not stop running until we had gained
the shelter of the trees. There we flung ourselves down to give our
pounding hearts a little ease. We could hear no sounds of pursuit.
CHAPTER TWENTY - A Hitch to Town
As SOON as we got our breath we resumed our way around the edge of
Nick's outermost fields, passing behind the stables, and finally gaining
the highway. We figured we were about five miles from town. Not exactly
a pleasant prospect for a couple of lone women at two o'clock in the
morning. The coats and hats we had secured in our rooms covered our
conspicuous evening dresses, but our satin slippers were fouled with
mud. We had lost the little valises we had taken, but Mme. Storey still
had all her jewelry hanging about her under the coat. I figured she was
worth between two and three hundred thousand as she stood. It made me
When we turned our faces toward town, Nick's polo field was on our left.
"They'll be watching the main gate," I said, nervously.
"We'll make a detour," said Mme. Storey.
We had not gone far before we heard a car coming from the north. "Let's
flag it," said Mme. Storey. "We can't come walking into town like this."
"Oh no!" I said, in terror. "Let's hide till it passes. You don't know
who it might be at this time of night."
"It can't be Nick or his friends," she said, "and that's all I'm
worrying about. I'm going to risk it."
When the headlights swung around a bend behind us, she raised an arm,
and the car stopped with squeaking brakes beside us. It was a shabby
little sedan. Two surprised young men looked out of the front window.
"Will you give us a lift to town?" asked Mme. Storey.
"What the hell are you doing out here?" asked the one at the wheel.
She instantly took his measure, and altered her style to suit. "Aah! we
didn't like the fellas we was with, and we got out and walked."
"Gee!" they said, sympathetically.
Their appearance was not reassuring. Well dressed, comely little fellows
scarcely out of their teens, with smooth hard faces, they were of a type
that we were familiar with in New York. Probably of Italian extraction.
Their anxiety to butter their harsh voices and to ingratiate themselves
made me more than ever uneasy. However, when they invited us to hop in,
I had no choice but to follow my employer.
They were in no haste to proceed, but hung there at the side of the
road, with the engine running, making friendly conversation. One
produced a packet of cigarettes, and we lit up all around. I was
uncomfortably aware that they were studying us sharply.
"Meet my friend Joe Mora," said the one at the wheel. "Me, I'm Pete
"Pleased to meet ya," said Mme. Storey. "I'm Rosy Wilson, and my friend
here is Bella Smith."
"Do you mean to say," asked Pete, incredulously, "that any fellas would
put out a coupla swell looking girls like you in the road?"
"Take it any way you like," said Mme. Storey, carelessly. "We wouldn't
stay with them."
"Wasn't you scared?"
"Scared as hell."
"Well, you're all right with us," said Joe. "We'll treat you good."
I didn't fancy the look in his eye when he said it.
"You don't live here," said Pete, "or I would 'a' seen you before. I
wouldn't forget a face like yours."
"Just stoppin'," said Mme. Storey, vaguely.
"At the Allardyce Bowles Hotel."
"Yes, you are! That's where all the high muckamucks stop."
"Ain't we worth it?"
"You're all right, kid!" he said, laughing. "I'm for you! Change seats
"Nothin' doin'!" she said, coolly. "You're one fast little worker, aint
ya? Drive on, fella!"
"Drive on nottin'," he said. "What we gonna get out of it?"
"We can still walk," she said, making a move as if to open the door.
"Our legs is good."
"Aah, don't be in such a sweat," he said. "I was just funnin'. Will you
eat with us in town"? We live over Mike's restaurant. We'll get him up
and make him cook up a big sirloin. Oh boy! I could eat!"
"Come on!" added Joe, cajolingly. "We had a bit of luck tonight. Turned
a trick up in Boston. We got the jack, girls. You better stick to us."
"Okay," said Mme. Storey.
Pete let in his clutch.
In a moment or two we came within sight of the main gates of Omega Farm.
A big closed car was waiting in the road outside, with two or three men
standing about it. Even at two hundred yards' distance we could
recognize the tall figure of Nick.
"There they are," said Mme. Storey to Pete. "They're layin' for us. Are
"Sure!" said Pete.
"Then give her all she'll take!"
The little car jerked ahead, and Mme. Storey and I crouched down out of
sight in the back. We could not see what was happening, but we gathered
they were signaling Pete to stop, because he muttered, "You can go plumb
to hell.'" When we passed them our engine was making so much noise we
could hear only a confused shouting in the road.
Immediately afterward, it seemed, we were enveloped in the powerful
lights of the pursuing car.
We had no chance against such a car. The lights grew stronger and
stronger. It was like having a fiery beast at your heels. Yet the little
car was bounding down the straight road. Pete and Joe were bent low in
the front seat to keep our range of possible bullets through the rear
window. I expect it was not the first time they had been chased in a
car. We were swaying sickeningly. I expected a crash.
"O God! I wish I had my old Duesenberg under me!" groaned Pete. "This
crate won't make but sixty three!"
"Go it, baby, go it!" Joe was crying to the car.
Presently I saw that the headlights were no longer streaming directly
through the back window, and I realized the big car was drawing abreast
of us. It held the road as solidly as a locomotive. We had no chance at
all. One of Nick's chauffeurs was driving it, and Nick sat beside him.
Reggie Mygatt was in the back. They looked in our car and saw us, but
their faces gave no sign. Mme. Storey planted herself defiantly in the
seat, and I sat beside her.
"You'd better stop," she said to Pete. "They'll force us off the road."
"To hell with them!" shouted Pete.
A moment later the two cars came together--not hard at first, just a
grinding along the running boards.
"They've got me!" cried Pete. "There's a left curve ahead!"
"Oh, the devils!" muttered Mme. Storey.
"Hang on!" yelled Pete. "Here we go!"
We left the road. I cannot clearly describe what happened. We shot down
an embankment at a crazy angle, and crashed through a board fence as
easily as if it had been paper. We waited for the inevitable smash up.
The little car seemed to bounce higher in the air every time it touched
the ground. The successive shocks knocked all the breath out of me.
Finally it crashed over on its side.
I felt it coming and braced myself against the lower side. Mme. Storey
fell heavily against me and we were showered with glass. Then an
"Are you hurt?" she whispered.
"Then come on!"
She already had the uppermost door open, and we had scrambled out almost
before the wheels stopped turning. We saw the limousine backing to the
spot in the road opposite the break in the fence, about a hundred yards
off. We seemed to be in a private park with ornamental trees and
shrubbery. It was completely dark where we stood.
Men jumped out of the limousine, and we did not linger. As we turned to
run we saw our two young friends climbing out of the front of the sedan,
so we knew that they were at least not killed. We ran straight away from
the men who were coming through the fence. The shrubbery soon swallowed
us, and we slowed down to a walk. The sound of a noisy altercation arose
behind us. So much the better if it hindered the search for us.
Turning at right angles, we shaped a course parallel with the road as
far as we could judge. Presently we came to a private driveway, and
followed it back to the public road. Here we sheltered behind an
ornamental gatepost while we debated what to do next. We were, I
suppose, about two hundred yards ahead of the limousine, but out of
sight of it.
Mme. Storey thought that if the house in this park was occupied we had
better frankly apply there for refuge.
Before we could put this into effect, we heard a car coming from the
direction of Newport, and waited to see what it looked like. To our joy,
we recognized the old Cadillac, with Crider at the wheel. We ran out
into the road, signaling wildly. He ground to a stop, and backed his car
into the private road. That was a glorious reunion.
However, we had no time to exchange notes on the evening's performance.
Somebody at the wheel of the limousine had heard the other car stop and
back, and a shout was raised. Mme. Storey and I flung ourselves into the
Cadillac, and we started for Newport hell for leather.
When the road straightened out we saw the limousine flying after us, but
in our big sedan it found its match. It could not overhaul us. When we
struck the town we slowed down, and thereafter the limousine contented
itself with keeping us in view. Five minutes later we drew up in front
of the Allardyce Bowles on Bellevue Avenue.
"Go right on to the garage," Mme. Storey said to Crider. "We don't want
a fracas in the street. Take care of the evidence. Bella and I will be
The Allardyce Bowles, as everybody knows, is one of the standbys of
Newport. A congeries of mismated wooden buildings, hopelessly outmoded,
it is nevertheless still the smart place at which to stop.
The fireproof hotel down the street angles in vain for the fashionable
trade. Well, there's something very cozy about the old Allardyce with
its white painted walls and crimson carpets.
When Mme. Storey asked for the register, the sleepy clerk roused
himself, and peered somewhat dubiously over the counter at our mud
"Have you any baggage, madam?"
"I am Madame Storey," she said, haughtily. "My baggage will arrive in
He smiled disagreeably. "I am sorry, madam..."
At this moment Nick Van Tassel entered the door.
He had procured a well fitting overcoat from somewhere, and his hair was
combed. His face still wore that infernal smile. At the sight of him I
began to tremble violently, though I believed we were safe there. The
clerk greeted Nick effusively.
"Ah, Nick," said Mme. Storey, coolly, "will you identify me to this man,
please. I want a room here."
He hesitated for a second, still smiling evilly, debating, I suppose,
which course would better serve his interests.
Mme. Storey said, quickly: "If they refuse to take me in I will
telephone to the police. They are forbidden to turn travelers away."
Nick made up his mind. "What nonsense, Rosika!" he said, with seeming
good nature. "This lady is Madame Storey," he went on to the clerk.
"Give her the best in the house. I will be responsible for any bills she
may run here."
"Certainly, Mr. Van Tassel; certainly, sir," burbled the clerk, hastily
shoving the register toward us.
"I want one large room not connected with any other," said Mme. Storey.
"Yes, madam. We have the very thing. Number three hundred and seven. One
of the choicest rooms in the house."
"Rosika," said Nick, under his breath, "before you go upstairs come into
the parlor a moment."
She shook her head.
"You will be quite safe," he whispered, smiling wickedly.
"Certainly I should be safe," she said, looking him full in the eye. "I
His good humor failed him momentarily. "You and I ought to talk things
over," he said, scowling. "Best for both of us. All cards on the table."
"I have nothing to say to you now."
The lordly Nick was actually reduced to pleading for what we wanted. It
did my heart good to hear it. "Aw, Rosika, don't be a crab!" he
murmured, with a hangdog air. "You and I are good sports. We play the
"But not the same game," she said, smiling.
She turned to the clerk. "Will you please show us to our room?"
To our great satisfaction, the door of our bedroom was equipped with an
old fashioned bolt. No way of forcing such a bolt has yet been
discovered short of breaking in the door. We shot the bolt and turned
it, and flung ourselves across the big bed with common groans of relief.
"Lord! what a night!"
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE - Red Flower in the Night
OUR excitement died down in the quiet of our own room, Mme. Storey and I
began to realize we had not escaped from the automobile crash so easily
as we had supposed. True, neither of us had any broken bones, and by
some miracle we had escaped being cut by the falling glass; but we felt
as if we had been pounded all over with clubs. To move was torture.
Still there was to be no rest for us. The telephone rang, and Mme.
Storey with a groan raised herself from the bed to answer it.
She said: "No, I won't see you," and I knew it was Nick Van Tassel.
After a moment she said, "Well, tell me over the phone." When he refused
to do so she said: "Well, that's your lookout. I have nothing to
conceal." A long silence followed, broken only by Mme. Storey's muttered
exclamations of impatience. Nick was evidently pleading. Finally she
said, "This is merely absurd, Nick," and hung up abruptly.
"What did he say?" I asked.
"Vague threats," she said, scornfully. "The man is desperate. He has
never been successfully opposed before, and it has shaken his belief in
himself. He is apt to strike at us blindly now."
"Surely we are safe here in the hotel," I said, nervously.
"I don't know," she said, thoughtfully. "He has his spies and friends
everywhere in this town. At any rate, we'll stand watch until morning.
That's why I took only one room. Thank God, we still have the gun. It
will be light in a couple of hours."
"Take a little rest," I urged.
She shook her head. "Got to do some telephoning first." She started
looking for a number in the book.
"I suppose you noticed that Reggie Mygatt let slip the name of the
intended victim tonight."
A light broke on me. "Henry Eversley!" I exclaimed.
She commenced the patient business of trying to get a number in the
small hours of morning. "Keep on ringing, please...Yes, I know,
everybody in the house is probably asleep. Keep on ringing, please. It
Henry Eversley was one of the great railroad builders--or wreckers if
you like--thirty years ago. He accumulated one of the greatest fortunes
in the country. In those days his name was a household word, but since
suffering a stroke some years ago, he has retired into seclusion and is
rarely heard of. But he is just as rich as ever. His was one of the
names that had already been turned up in the case. He had refused to
receive Mme. Storey.
She finally succeeded in getting a servant on the phone, and as a result
of persistent firmness managed to persuade him to connect her with his
master's bedside phone. When she was satisfied that she had the
multimillionaire on the wire, Mme. Storey said:
"This is Madame Storey speaking. I think you know who I am. What you may
not know is that my business in Newport is to run down the letter writer
who signs himself The Leveler and who has been extorting large sums of
money from various wealthy men here. I happen to know that he sent you a
demand last night and that you refused to pay..." Here Mr. Eversley
interrupted her with a dozen questions.
"Please let me finish first...You refused his demand, and in consequence
he planned to attack you in your house tonight. I was able to prevent
that, but I cannot tell what tomorrow may bring up, so I am taking this
means of warning you. Unless he is prevented, he will certainly attack
you tomorrow. You should, therefore, take whatever measures seem best to
you. He is an extremely resourceful and ingenious man, and you should
leave nothing to chance. I advise you to call in the police and publish
the whole matter in the newspapers."
It appeared from the subsequent conversation that Mr. Eversley was
angry. Mme. Storey expostulated with him helplessly. He accused her of
being in the pay of The Leveler, and of using this early morning call as
a means to frighten him into paying up. This was the result of the
whispering campaign that had been instituted against us in Newport. It
was passed from mouth to mouth that Mme. Storey herself was the
racketeer, and we were powerless to combat it.
Mr. Eversley kept shouting that he wouldn't pay a cent, and refused to
listen to what my employer had to say. She told him that the name of his
persecutor was in the hands of the district attorney and advised him to
consult Lyle. But it is doubtful if he heard her.
She finally hung up with a weary air. "Well, at any rate I've done my
duty by him," she said.
Next she called up Lyle at his home in Providence, and once more had to
go through with the weary business of getting a servant to the phone and
persuading her to call her master. Lyle, she told me afterward, was in a
villainous temper when she finally got him, nevertheless she forced him
to listen to the whole story of what had happened that night.
One would have thought the attention of the operators must have been
attracted by those long conversations in the small hours of morning.
Mme. Storey did not name Nick over the phone, just the same, if anybody
listened in, what strange matter he must have heard. But it never came
out afterward. I suppose it was added to all the other strange stories,
the inside dope about things that is passed along in whispers and never
Lyle as we already knew, was as pig headed as he was timid, and made out
to pooh pooh the whole story. Mme. Storey had got no better than she
deserved, he intimated, for trying to take the law into her own hands.
But she beat him down with the deadly particulars. We still had Nick Van
Tassel's gun, mask, and pair of climbers. In the end Lyle promised to
come down to Newport first thing in the morning to consult with her.
"In the meantime," said Mme. Storey, "I think I am entitled to ask for
protection. Will you telephone to the chief of police here and ask him
to have this hotel sufficiently guarded until you get here?"
Lyle, still affecting to make light of the whole business, promised to
do so. Whether or not he carried it out we never knew.
I persuaded Mme. Storey to lie down on the bed and take a sleep while I
kept watch for daylight in the armchair. Neither of us took off any of
our clothes. My employer was asleep as soon as her head touched the
I sat in the chair with the pistol in my lap and all my nerves taut,
listening, watching--for I knew not what. We had a front corner room on
the third floor. It had two windows looking out on Bellevue Avenue, and
a third to the side. No other doors but the one on the corridor with the
stout bolt. An old fashioned wardrobe for clothes.
At first I left the lights burning. A dozen times I got up and peeped
around the window blinds. Nobody could have entered that way without a
Then I would go to the door and listen and reassure myself by trying the
bolt. Not a sound outside. I decided it was the lights that were making
me nervous and turned them out. Then I no longer felt as if I were
making a target for somebody's bullet. When I ran up the window blinds I
was assured nobody could appear outside without giving me warning.
The windows were open and had screens in. Nothing stirred in the street
I never would have believed it possible, in the state I was in, but I
fell asleep, myself. I fell asleep while I imagined I was still sitting
up watching and listening. Well, we had been through a terrific strain.
I must have slept soundly, too, for I did not awaken until the full
alarm was raised. I came back to consciousness with a hideous start,
hearing doors slam, women screaming, running feet through the corridors,
and that most dreadful of all cries in the night: "Fire!"
Mme. Storey sprang up at the same moment. My fears of Nick Van Tassel
paled beside those dreadful sounds. I ran to the door. I switched on the
lights and threw back the bolt. But the door resisted me. Shake it as I
might, it was stoutly held.
"O God!" I screamed. "We're locked in! We're trapped!"
For a moment or two my nerve went utterly. I ran for the windows,
screaming. Mme. Storey caught me round the waist and forced me down on
"Keep your wits about you!" she cried. "This may work to our advantage."
Work to our advantage! Her coolness nearly drove me mad. There was a
dull explosion downstairs, and I could hear the mutter and crackle of
She tried the door attentively. "Something has been wedged between the
handle and the door frame. If we can take off the handle we'll be free."
She examined it more attentively. "All depends on this one little screw.
Think quickly, Bella. What have we that we can use for a screwdriver?"
"We have nothing!" I cried. "Let me call for help from the windows!"
"Nail file, scissors, pocket knife," she murmured.
"We have none of those! We'll burn up!" I screamed.
"Be quiet!" she said, harshly. "Let me think!"
I sat on the bed, gripping my head, almost suffocated by hysteria. A
building all wood, at least seventy five years old! Such a building
springs into flame all of a piece like a torch! Those dreadful sounds;
the busy, busy murmur of flames gradually rising to an unchecked roar,
with spiteful crackling overtones. The screaming had ceased. Everybody,
apparently, had found a way out but us. Where were the firemen, the
firemen? I could hear the flames roaring up the main stairway just
around the corner from our room. Smoke began to seep under the door and
to mount in lazy spirals.
"Garter buckle!" muttered Mme. Storey. In an instant she had torn it off
her stocking. "It fits!"
Still, we were not out of the place. The thin piece of metal bent under
the strain, and she had to hammer it flat on the floor with the heel of
The roaring of the flames increased. The fire engines came, bringing
fresh crowds of shouting people.
After all, it was only two or three minutes since the alarm had been
raised. All over the hotel the window panes were going one by one with a
pleasant, musical tinkle. There was a muffled sound beneath us and the
floor began to get hot. The room was slowly filling with smoke, and the
electric lights gleamed redly through it. I thought my heart would burst
The handle came off in Mme. Storey's hand.
"We're safe!" she cried. When she pulled the door by the knob of the
bolt, it opened and a cloud of smoke rolled in. The shank of the handle
was drawn through, and we heard a clatter of steel outside. "An iron bar
jammed inside the handle and caught on both sides the door frame," she
I was already charging out of the room, but she caught hold of my arm.
"Ten seconds!" she cried.
"There's time!" She dragged me to a front window, pulling the pins out
of her hair as she went and shaking it around her shoulders. "Do as I
do!" she cried. She thrust the screen out of the window and leaned out,
waving her arms in pantomime of despair.
That glimpse out of the window will remain with me until I die. Every
window below us was vomiting flames. It was too late to raise a ladder.
Thousands of people standing in the street, all with their turned up
white faces illuminated. A strange inhuman roar went up from them at the
sight of us.
One might almost have thought they exulted in our fiery end. Individuals
screamed, shouted directions to us, waved us back from the window. I
wondered if Nick Van Tassel was down there somewhere, watching with a
Just for a second we showed ourselves, then ran for it. Mme. Storey
dropped her watch and an antique gold bracelet on the bureau as we
passed. We gained the corridor not a moment too soon, for long tongues
of flame were shooting around the corner from the main stairway. We ran
in the other direction. All the lights in the hotel went out. There was
a crash from below and a great soft burst of flame filled the corridor
behind us, fanning us with its hot breath.
At the end there was a window with a fire escape outside. The platform
was jammed with people waiting a chance to descend. Others were still
coming down the ladder from the top floor. I was making to join them,
but Mme. Storey pulled me into a side corridor.
"Everybody who escapes that way will be checked up," she murmured.
We felt our way along the corridor, turned to the left, always making
toward the rear. We were stopped by a window opening on the flat roof of
an extension. We climbed out and ran over the crackling tin. Looking
over the edge, we saw another flat roof perhaps ten feet below. We made
the drop without hurting ourselves. At the edge of the second extension
there was a porch roof. From under it people were dragging all sorts of
things they had saved from the building.
"We mustn't be seen," whispered Mme. Storey, holding me back.
The whole surrounding scene was lit up like a stage by the red glare of
the flames, but we were in the shadow of the building itself. Peeping
over the side of the roof we saw a shutter hooked back below that
offered a foothold. With that and with the aid of the sill we climbed
down. Nobody saw us.
An immense thankfulness filled me when my foot touched the good earth.
"What fiends!" I murmured. "To risk all those lives just to get at us!"
"I suppose we ought to feel flattered by our importance," said Mme.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO - The Hide out
WE WERE cut off from the side street by the people carrying things out
of the back doors of the hotel, and by firemen dragging their lines of
hose around from the front. So we turned in the other direction, forced
our way through a hedge, crossed a couple of yards, and finally found
ourselves looking out on another quiet little street running down to
People were making their way through it, bound for the scene of the
fire, and we hid behind bushes until a chance came to scurry across
unseen and lose ourselves in the yards of the next block. Thus we made a
detour around the fire. When it seemed as if everybody in that part of
town had gone to the fire, we ventured to cross Bellevue Avenue and
struck into the maze of little streets to the east.
Looking down Bellevue Avenue, the burning hotel was like a gaudy torch
in the night. There was no wind, and the flames mounted straight in the
air. Never have I seen so complete, so obliterating a fire.
"Might as well have saved my watch and bracelet," murmured Mme. Storey.
"Nothing will be found in the ruins." When we had gone on a little way
we heard the interior fall in with a soft crash, and above the trees and
the housetops we saw the pillar of sparks mounting to the sky.
From time to time we met people, of course, but their attention was
riveted on the fire. The burden of Mme. Storey's thought was, "If we can
only escape identification!" I understood what was passing through her
mind, but I did not see how she could possibly get away with it.
We came into a street with a car line. It was lined with shops, lodgings
overhead. Many of the upper windows on the east side were filled with
heads watching the fire off to the west. Already the glare was dying
down, and we realized with sinking hearts that day was at hand. "Too
late!" murmured Mme. Storey.
Over one of the darkened stores across the street we saw a sign that
struck a chord of recollection--"Mike's Restaurant." Mme. Storey
stopped. "The boys' hang out!" she murmured. "If we could only find
them!" There were some heads at an upper window of this building, but
only women. She crossed the street and tried the door alongside the
restaurant. It opened, and she entered, with me following perforce at
"This is madness!" I whispered.
"It's a chance," she coolly retorted. "The only one we have."
We found ourselves in a narrow, fusty smelling passage, as dark as the
inside of your hat. Mme.
Storey stumbled against a stairway and went up. At the top she felt
along the wall until she came to a door, and knocked. There was no
answer. While we were waiting we could hear the voices of the women
"Why not apply to them?" I whispered.
"Women can't trust women," she said.
Feeling her way along the landing, she knocked at a middle door. No
answer. When she knocked at the door of the front room a surly voice
answered, "What do you want?"
"Pete Corioli," said Mme. Storey.
"Back room," said the voice, cursing us heartily for disturbing him.
Mme. Storey chuckled. "This is something new, Bella."
It was on the tip of my tongue to answer peevishly that she was welcome
After knocking again at the door of the back room, we tried the handle.
It was open. We walked in, and Mme. Storey switched on the lights. All
my maidenly instincts (or what was left of them!) were revolted by the
sight that met my eyes. A man's room in an appalling state of disorder;
clothes strewn everywhere; a tumbled bed; a carpet black with soot and
"Well, let's sit down and wait for them," said Mme. Storey, cheerfully.
"Maybe they've just run to the fire."
"This is too dangerous!" I muttered.
"What, Bella," she said, drawing down the corners of her mouth
mockingly, "don't you think I can handle these kids?"
In a moment or two the door banged open and they ran in. Their
astonishment at the sight of us was comical to see. The two hard boiled
faces that prided themselves on giving nothing away, each making a round
of astonishment. Their first reaction was to delight.
"Cheese! Here's the girls! Damned if it ain't Rosy and Bella! Where the
hell did you spring from? Cheese! Didn't we fool them high up guys nice!
Did they look foolish when they found you was gone? I'll say! Where did
you get to, anyhow? We thought the earth had swallered ya!"
And so on. And so on. Joe flung his arms around me and gave me a smack
on the cheek.
"How did you find us here?" Pete kept asking.
"We saw the sign Mike's Restaurant, and we come right up," said Mme.
Storey. "You promised us a meal."
"Yeah?" said Pete. An ugly mask of suspicion drew over his face and his
jaw jutted out. "Say, who the hell are you, anyhow? You're no common
pavement tapper like you tried to make out. That guy that was after you
was Nick Van Tassel. I reco'nized him. He tried to make out it was
accidental, and I laughed in his face. He paid us five hundred for the
old Chevvie. Twice what 'twas worth. Say, what for do you want to run
away from a fella like Nick Van Tassel?"
"I don't like him."
"Yeah?" he said with inimitable scorn. "Tell that to the dickey birds. I
"Well, the truth is, he was trying to kill me."
Pete took this quite as a matter of course. "I wouldn't put it past
him," he said, sagely. "He has the eye of a killer...But what I want
to know is," he went on, stubbornly, "for why does a woman like you come
after a coupla poor boys like Joe and me?"
"That's easy answered," said Mme. Storey, with an enchanting smile.
"Bella and me are in a hole. We ain't got a friend in this burg. Well,
you stood by us once tonight, though you never seen us before that
minute. You were dead game! You were ready to drive that car plumb to
hell for us. Is that answer enough? Such men ain't so easy to come by
when a woman needs a friend."
No man could have resisted this from Mme. Storey. The ring of real
feeling was in it. She meant every word. Pete scowled ferociously to try
to save his face. "Aah!" he growled. "Aaah! That's all banana oil!" But
in spite of himself the suspicious mask began to crack. "What is it you
want of me and Joe?" he demanded.
"A hide out until tomorrow night."
"Ain't got no place we can put you but this room," he said.
"Could we stay here without being seen by anybody?"
"Sure! Nobody would come in here if we told them to keep the hell out!"
"How about the landlady?"
"She ain't particular, if she gets her rent. She keeps her nose in her
face." He looked around the room, and a softened look came in his eyes.
"But this ain't no fit place for a lady like you."
"I've lived in worse," said Mme. Storey. "Cut out the lady stuff, Pete.
I'm just human like yourself."
He grinned at her sidelong. "Suits me," he said.
"Can you and Joe find a place outside to sleep?" she said, coolly.
His face hardened again. Their eyes engaged in an unspoken duel. Then he
shrugged. "So me and Joe goes out," he said, pulling a droll face. "All
right! But what is there in it for us? We may be dead game, but we're
"Sure," she said, matching his tone. "Let's put it on a business basis.
I'm in a hole but I'm not broke yet. I got no money on me but there's
Slipping her hand under her coat, she unfastened a short string of
pearls that she was wearing. Her fine pearls, I learned later, she had
dropped in her pocket.
Pete's eyes glistened at the sight of the necklace.
"Pearls!" he exclaimed, taking them eagerly. "Genuine!"
"How much are they worth to you?" she asked.
"Fella I know would give five hundred for them," said Pete, with an
experienced air. "They're worth more."
"You're right they're worth more," she said. "If I come through this all
right I'll buy them back from you for a grand at any time. If I don't,
you can sell them for what they'll bring."
"Gee!" said Joe, softly. He was a weaker character than Pete.
The latter was looking at Mme. Storey in an extraordinary way. He
sneered, yet there was a sound of hurt in his voice. "Aah! what's to
stop me from keepin' them and puttin' you and Bella to the door,
"There's nothing to stop you," she said, meeting his eye, "but I don't
think you're going to do it."
"Why ain't I?" he demanded, with jutting jaw.
"I don't know. I have a kind of feeling that you and I are friends."
"Aah!" He turned away to the window to avoid her candid gaze. There was
some kind of an obscure struggle going on in him. He faced her from the
other side of the room, scowling. "I'd do it for nottin'," he said,
angrily, "I wouldn't take your beads offen you, if we was friends, if
you was the same as us. But you ain't. You're the same as Nick Van
Tassel. Way up. We're ag'in' the whole push of you!"
Mme. Storey made no answer.
"We don't mean nottin' to you," he went on, sorely. "It's on'y because
you're up against it. We're useful to you. What are we? Coupla mutts!
When you get out of it you won't know us no more. You'll be sending us
round to the back door for a handout."
"That's not so!" she returned, indignantly. "If you had any sense you
could see for yourself I'm not like that! What's the use of gassing?
You've got to take it or leave it."
Her hurt voice won him. He returned to her with a smile pulling at the
corners of his mouth, and a warm glint in his black eyes. Attractive
little wretch! "Aah, I'm a fool!" he drawled, sneering still, but good
humored now. "And that's the troot! I never believe what no woman says,
but I t'ink you're on the level. You're not like a woman, any how, 'cept
in looks. You talk out like a fella. I'm for you...If you're playin'
me, you kin laugh!"
There was an irresistible quality of manliness in him, however depraved
or ignorant he might be. Mme. Storey recognized it with a warm smile. I
could see that he was becoming infected with the same complaint that
many a better man had had before him, and I was a little sorry for him.
"Are we on?" he asked his partner.
"Sure!" cried Joe.
"Well, shake!" said Pete to Mme. Storey. We had to shake hands all
around. Pete's defenses against the sex were melting fast. He could not
keep his eyes off Mme. Storey.
She said: "You can make another stake out of this if you want. The
necklace is for giving us a hide out and for keeping your mouths shut
about us tomorrow, no matter what you might get by telling. If you will
go on keeping your mouths shut until I give you leave, I'll make it
worth your while."
"Aah!" said Pete. "Don't you worry about us keepin' our traps shut. Joe
and me ain't anxious to attrac' the attention of Nick Van Tassel. That
guy carries this burg around in his pants pocket."
After the strain of the past hours a delicious relaxation began to steal
over me, and I had to sit down. Gunmen though they were, I trusted them.
You never know where you are going to find your friends. And in that
deplorable room I felt we had a safer refuge than amid all the luxury of
It was the same with Mme. Storey. She suddenly yawned greatly and
exclaimed, "O God! I'm tired!"
"Shall we bring you something to eat?" asked Joe, solicitously.
By a common impulse we shook our heads. "Only sleep," said Mme. Storey.
"We're all in."
"Well...we'll beat it," said Pete, with a wistful side glance. At that
moment he looked like any nice lad who was falling in love in spite of
"There's a good bolt on the door," he added, with a hangdog air. "Don't
let anybody in till we come back. We'll knock four times. You'll be safe
"Thanks, Pete and Joe," she said, simply.
"When can we come back?"
"Twelve o'clock. Bring food then. Bring newspapers. And see if you can
buy me a good map of Newport in a stationery store. That's important."
"Okay, Rosie...Well...good night." He had his hand on the door.
"Come here, Pete!" she commanded.
He went up to her, swaggering and sheepish. She caught his face between
her hands and kissed him on the mouth.
"There! I wanted to do that!" she said.
He paled. "Aah!" he sneered. "You're only making a fool of me!" But one
could see that he was humming with delight.
They went out. When Mme. Storey turned around her eyes were misty.
"Anyhow, I'm always on their side," she murmured. It sounded quite
irrelevant, but I knew what she meant.
We pulled up the covers and lay down somewhat dubiously on the outside
of that uninviting bed. But we soon forgot our doubts and everything
else in the deepest sleep we had ever known.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE - Party of Four
WHEN the four knocks sounded on the door Mme. Storey and I were still
asleep. We roused ourselves with difficulty.
"Oh, Pete! Give us twenty minutes to wash and tidy up!" Mme. Storey sang
"Okay!" he answered from the other side of the door.
She smiled at the first sound of his voice. "He hasn't identified us
yet," she whispered.
"We'll go get you some grub," Pete went on.
"Eat with us."
"Sure. Here's the newspaper and the map."
These articles were shoved under the door, and the boys ran down stairs.
I need hardly say that we pounced on the newspaper. There are not many
people who are privileged to read their own obituaries.
It gives one a very queer sensation indeed.
It was an extra that must have been brought out about breakfast time.
There was a big two line full page spread:
THE ALLARDYCE BOWLES BURNS TO ASHES
MADAME STOREY AND SECRETARY MISSING
Also there was a striking photograph of the naming torch in the night.
But the story itself, as is so often the case with small town papers,
was flatly uninteresting. One wonders how they do it. They seem to go
out of their way to leave out everything that matters.
This story had been written, in the first place, by an unskilled hand
and had then been heavily edited. There was an obvious desire to make as
little as possible of it in order to save the fair name of the town. We
wondered if Nick Van Tassel had had a hand in the editing. Probably it
was not necessary for him to interfere. A small town paper soon learns
to be prudent in naming the leading citizens.
There was no mention of the fact that we had registered at the hotel at
two thirty, only an hour or so before the fire broke out; or that we had
arrived without baggage; or that Nick Van Tassel had followed close at
our heels. It was not even stated that we had been stopping at his
place, and of course there was no suggestion that the fire might have
been of incendiary origin; merely a brief statement that the fire chief
was investigating the cause.
"Wait till the big metropolitan dailies begin digging into this!" said
Mme. Storey, dryly.
It was both amusing and exasperating to read how the local sheet blamed
us for losing our lives in the fire and so bringing discredit on the
While there was no claim that the hotel was fire proof--ye Gods!
everybody in Newport had known for years that it was a fire trap!--there
was ample provision of fire escapes and all were in good order. The fire
did not immediately spread to the rear of the building where the fire
escapes were situated, and all the other guests had plenty of time to
Apparently Mme. Storey and Miss Brickley must have lost their heads
completely. They appeared for a moment at a window of their room, and
seemed to be about to fling themselves out, but were dissuaded by the
horrified crowd below. The whole front of the hotel below them was then
ablaze, and it was too late to raise a ladder. A myriad voices shouted
to them to go to the back of the building, but they were incapable of
acting upon the advice.
And so on. And so on. One would never have guessed from this story that
Mme. Storey was a figure of national importance. I wondered what
District Attorney Lyle's sensations were upon reading it. Impossible to
figure out the mental processes of such a man. I suppose our deaths
relieved him from an impossible situation, and he was not inclined to
look into the matter too closely. At any rate, he never made a move.
"I'm just as glad the newspaper is so easily satisfied," said Mme.
Storey. "It would be awkward for us if there was a nosy reporter on the
"I don't see what you expect to make out of the situation," I said,
"What!" she exclaimed. "If we can persuade Nick Van Tassel that we are
"Surely, I see that. But how can we hope to stay dead? As well known as
you are? Where could we go? And if we succeed in getting out of Newport,
how could we ever get back again to take up the case?"
"We're not going to leave Newport," she said, smiling.
I stared at her uncomprehendingly.
"That's what the map is for," she went on. "Pete and Joe are on the
level with us, but I dare not trust them far enough to ask them what I
want to know. Let's take a look at the map."
We spread it out on the bed, and with her forefinger she slowly traced
the shore line of Newport.
Her finger came to a pause at a narrow inlet on the bay side of the
town. "Brenton's Cove," she said; "that's our mark."
A light began to break on me. "Miss Betsy Pryor!" I exclaimed.
"Sure! Could anything be better?"
"How will we get beyond her gate?"
"We're going by water."
"How will we know the place?"
"It's got a nine foot wall around it covered with broken bottles."
We fell silent while we considered the possibilities of the plan. "The
chief danger comes from our own men," I suggested. "What will Crider and
Benny Abell do?"
"I'll send them a message."
The boys came in laden like a pair of Santa Clauses with what they
considered adequate to furnish a breakfast for four. It included a dozen
hot ham and egg sandwiches with wienies on the side; a couple of the
largest size pumpkin pies and a cocoanut custard; a bag of oranges and
ditto of apples; a bucket of coffee. We saw at once that our young
friends had dressed for the occasion; each was wearing a new suit, with
gay shirt, tie, handkerchief, and socks to match. Pete's eyes lighted up
like lamps at the sight of Mme. Storey.
"Pete," she said, "while we're spreading the table will you send a phone
message for me?"
His face fell. "Aah! Who to?"
"George Crider at the Viking Hotel...Be sure you give it to nobody but
"How will I know him?"
"Ask him his number. If he answers Number Two," (this was how Crider
signed his confidential reports) "you will know that you have the right
man. Tell him--Here, I'll write it out for you." She hastily scribbled
on a piece of paper, "Wear mourning on your sleeve but not in your
"What does that mean?" demanded Pete, scowling.
"It's a code message, Pete. I can't tell you."
"Aah! Is this guy your sweetheart?"
He hesitated jealously.
"Listen, Pete," she went on, warmly, "I can't tell you anything now. But
if I come through all right I swear I'll give you the whole story."
He went off with the message, half satisfied. He was back in five
minutes. "Yeah, I got him," he said, scornfully, in reply to Mme.
Storey's question. "The guy made out he was all broke up when I give him
your message. 'God, man!' says he, 'that's the best piece of news I ever
heard in my life!' 'Yeah?' says I. He says, 'Is the person what gave you
this message in good health?' And I says, 'I wasn't supposed to tell you
nottin' but what I told you.' And I hung up."
We laughed. "Poor Crider!" said Mme. Storey. "He's Bella's beau, Pete,
I blushed, and this seemed to reassure Pete. "Ah, to hell with him!" he
said, turning to his food.
There was a table in the room which Joe had cleared by the simple
expedient of shoving everything off on the floor with a sweep of his
arm. As there were only two chairs, we pushed the table to the edge of
the bed. Mme. Storey and I sat down, facing the two boys.
You can picture the incongruity of the scene: the elegant Mme. Storey in
a white satin evening gown all creased and stained and torn, and me in
my magenta and silver, likewise the worse for our adventures; the two
flashily dressed youthful gunmen; the heap of coarse food on the table;
the slatternly bedroom. But I have seldom eaten a better meal. I had no
idea that ham and egg sandwiches an inch thick could go down so well.
Mme. Storey knew how to make herself one with our two young friends. "I
reckon you know this town through and through," she said.
"Yeah," said Pete, carelessly, "but we never do no business here. It's
too small a burg, and the rich guys are too well protected. This is our
home town, our hide out. When we want to turn a trick we roll up to
Providence or Boston."
"And New York?"
"Nah! New York's too well organized. No outside boy wouldn't stand a
half hour's show with the police."
"The native sons seem to get by all right," suggested Mme. Storey.
"Nachelly. They've got the inside track."
Under the expanding influences of food and hot coffee Pete and Joe began
to talk somewhat indiscreetly. With two sympathetic female listeners
they could not resist bragging about their exploits.
"Me and Pete specializes in men's shops," said Joe.
"Aah, tie up your mouth!" said Pete, with a lingering impulse of
prudence. "The string's broke!"
"Go to hell!" said Joe, amiably. "We're all pals together."
"Why men's shops?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Aah, the sales guys in them places is 'most always Nancies. I don't
know why. Easier to han'le than women. Don't holler so much. They wilt
right down when you show 'em a gun."
"And you can always pick up something tasty in shirts and ties, I
reckon," she said, smiling at his purple ensemble.
Joe's pride was touched. "Nah! Whatever I wear I pay cash money for!"
"Go on!" put in Pete. "You couldn't leave the stuff alone unless I made
you...No sensible fella ever lifts anything offen the counter," he
explained to us. "Often we run out of the shop and mix in with the crowd
that's gathering to see what's the matter, and they can't hang anything
on us. The clerks is too scared to identify us. But if we had goods out
of the store, they'd have us dead to rights."
Pete had the level gaze and the firm lips of one who would have been
efficient in any line, and I felt that I was learning something.
Joe leaned back, laughing with his mouth full, and slapping his thigh.
"Pete, 'member the time we made 'em take their pants off?" he
Pete echoed his laughter. "Do I remember!"
"What was that?" asked Mme. Storey, laughing in anticipation.
"Well, we read in a New York paper how a gang down there that worked
jewelry stores used to make the clerks take off their pants, so they
couldn't run out in the street and holler. And Pete and me figured on
trying it in Boston."
"Did it work?"
"Swell!" they cried, rolling in their chairs and hugging themselves with
"It worked too good," added Pete.
"Well, tell us about it."
"It was in the Bon Ton Men's Shop on Tremont street..."
"Let me tell it," interrupted Joe. "They had branches all over Boston,
and we used to stick 'em up one after another. We had 'em scared right.
Why, we went back to the same branch four times..."
"Let me tell.'" said Pete. "This was their biggest store, but at two
thirty there was only three clerks in it. They do their biggest trade at
lunchtime, so the clerks has to wait for theirs. So me and Joe fluffs
into this swell store. There was a little elevator in the front to take
you up to the second floor where they sold clothing. But no operator.
The clerks run it when they take you up. And the chief clerk he comes up
and he says in his Nancy voice, 'Can I serve you, boys?' And me and Pete
each pulls a couple of rods--little automatics that lie snug in your
"Cheese! that guy turned green as Gorgonzola!" put in Joe.
"And I says, mockin him," Pete resumed, "'Yes, dearie, back into the
store. And you, Ferdie; and you, Percy'--to the udder two clerks..."
"I'll tell it!" interrupted Joe. "It was me made them take off their
pants...Down in the rear of the store there's a little L, like, and I
backs them in there while Pete is friskin' the cash registers. And I
says, 'Take off your pants, boys!' Cheese! they begins to squeak like
guinea pigs. 'Aw, mister; Aw, mister! Take my money but lea' me my
pants! Don't expose me, mister! I would die with shame!'
"I up with my gun. 'Take 'em off!' I barks. And down comes them three
pair of pants like the skins offen bananas. You would 'a' died laughin'!
All dressed up on top and bare below like a pitcher on the screen. Real
fancy B.V.D.s with colored stripes. And their bony knees shakin'! They
steps out of their pants real quick and hands them over. I rolls 'em up
and tucks 'em under my arm. Pete backs a customer into the rear, and he
takes off his without waitin' to be ast..."
"Let me tell!" cried Pete. "I had cleaned out the cash registers
already, so we backs out to the front real slow. Cheese! It was comical
the way them skinny legged guys comes out to look, and scampers back
when they seen we was still there. I sends the elevator upstairs, and
Joe pitches the four pair of pants down the shaft. It was all greasy
down there. Then we springs the catch on the door so it would lock
behind us, and walks out of the store like gen'lemen. We knew we had a
good five minutes before they could get new pants out of stock. There
wasn't a peep raised behind us."
"O God!" cried Joe, almost helpless with laughter. "If you could of seen
them guys dancin' in their garters!"
We laughed with them.
"What do you mean, it worked too good?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Aah!" said Pete, disgustedly. "Too much publicity. The papiss give it a
front page spread. It was a regular sensation. Every Bon Ton Shop in
Boston hired a dick with a gun to sit all day, and we hadda lay off and
take a new line. We worked luncheonettes for a while."
"How did that pan out?"
"Not so good. We didn't know the ropes, see? And they have hard guys
servin' them luncheonettes. You never know when they got a gun under the
"Tough!" said Mme. Storey.
"But after a time the pants story was forgotten," resumed Joe. "The
dicks were taken out of the Bon Ton stores and we went back. We've
widened our field since. We take in Lowell and Lynn and Worcester and
"It's a nice, steady little business," said Pete, sagely. "We average a
hundred or two every job. The newspapiss don't feature such small jobs,
and so the police don't care. The risk is small."
"I see," said Mme. Storey.
"But me and Joe ain't satisfied," Pete went on. "We got ambition." He
looked at her through his long curled lashes. "If you and Bella was to
come in with us we could do something. With your looks and style and our
nerve we could work up an unbeatable racket. I got ideas...But you
wouldn't do it," he added like a schoolboy, sullen and wistful.
"That would be great," said Mme. Storey. "But I got to stick to my own
line. I'll tell you about it some day."
"Yeah," he said, sorely, "you're so good lookin' you don't have to
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR - A Voyage
THE boys, naturally, were curious to learn what our plans for the future
"We'll pull out of here about ten tonight," said Mme. Storey.
"Where you going?" demanded Pete.
She did not answer directly. "Is there a back way out of this building?"
"Sure. Through the yard, and through the yard of the next house into
"Pete and me wouldn't live in no house without a back way out," added
"Is that the waterfront street?" she asked.
"Can you buy me a rowboat without attracting attention?" she asked.
"No," said Pete, bluntly. "If you don't want to attrac' attention I
gotta swipe it."
"Well, swipe it," she said, "but let me know the owner's name so I can
pay for it later."
Pete and Joe grinned at each other. This seemed like a quaint scruple to
them. "What the hell do you want of a rowboat?" demanded Pete.
"To take a little voyage in."
"Can you row?"
"I can make a stab at it."
"Can Joe and me go?"
"No," she said, firmly. "We've got to say good by in the yard."
"That ain't no stunt for a coupla girls," he said, scowling. "Out in a
rowboat at night, and can't even row!"
"We can take care of ourselves," she said, coolly.
"I won't stand for it!" Pete said, truculently.
"Stand for it?" she said, running up her eyebrows. "Didn't you and me
make a deal this morning and shake hands on it?"
He couldn't stand out against her powerful glance. "Oh, all right!" he
mumbled, his eyes trailing away.
She forgave him because she realized there was a kind of chivalry at the
back of his truculence.
"What the hell, Pete!" she said as man to man. "You ought to know by
this time that I'm no candy girl! I won't melt."
Toward evening they went out to get some more food, to buy the latest
papers, and to scout around before it got dark for a suitable boat that
might be lifted later.
"Get me a New York and a Boston paper," said Mme. Storey, casually.
"There's nothing in this Newport rag."
When they returned, our eyes flew to their faces to see if they had
received any clue to our identities. Apparently not. The bundle of
papers was still under Joe's arm, unfolded. He distributed them among
us, and we sat down to read the news. I drew the afternoon edition of a
The metropolitan newspaper instantly understood how big Mme. Storey
loomed in the imaginations of its readers, and played up the story of
her death accordingly. We occupied almost the entire front page.
I gasped a little when I realized all that was set down here, and
wondered what the outcome would be. There was a full biography of my
employer, with a resume of her more important cases. There was an
excellent photograph of her, and one of those shapeless blobs labeled
with my name, that even the best of newspapers will print when they have
no real picture.
This paper had had a man on the ground in Newport since early morning,
and he knew his business. He had wormed the circumstances of our arrival
at the hotel out of the clerk, and had then set out to obtain an
interview with Nick Van Tassel. Nick was too clever to refuse to be
interviewed. He posed as the approachable millionaire. This is what the
reporter had to say about him:
'In addition to being the most prominent young man in the social colony,
Nicholas Van Tassel is one of America's premier sportsmen. Besides
owning a palace on the cliffs which he never uses and won't rent, he
owns a farm a few miles out of town which is big enough to include a
polo field, a racetrack, and a flying field. In spite of his wealth and
prominence there is nothing exclusive about him. He is said to be the
friend of every taxi driver and newsboy in Newport. His ready smile and
friendly manner endear him to all alike.'
Hm! I thought, as I pictured Nick's infernal smile, and the hard glance
that had forced the reporter to take him at his own valuation. I quote
part of the interview.
"Mr. Van Tassel, I am informed that Mme. Storey and Miss Brickley were
guests at your place before they went to the Allardyce Bowles."
"That is right."
"I am told they registered at the hotel after two o'clock last night;
that they were in evening dress without baggage; that you followed them
there and pleaded with Mme. Storey for an interview which was refused.
Is this true ?"
"Well, this looks as if Mme. Storey had run away from your place in a
hurry, doesn't it? Have you anything to say?"
He hesitated. "I don't see what this has got to do with the awful
catastrophe that followed."
"It has nothing to do with it, but people will talk. I thought maybe
you'd be glad of the opportunity to explain."
"You must understand this is very painful to me," he said, in a low
voice. "It is the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me."
"The clerk said that the ladies' evening slippers were incrusted with
mud when they came."
"That might occur to anybody."
"I know; but I have learned that there was a car smashed up alongside
the road between your place and town early this morning."
"I know nothing about that. Can't you trace it through the license
"They had been removed. Was Mme. Storey in that car?"
"Not so far as I know."
"How did she get from your place in to town."
"I haven't inquired, but I presume it was in her own car that she kept
at my place."
"Where is her car now?"
"I don't know."
"Had you and Mme. Storey quarreled?"
He lowered his head. "Unfortunately, yes. You can understand how that
makes me feel now. It was not a serious quarrel. It was the sort of
quarrel that often arises between two people who are strongly attached
to each other."
"What was it about?"
"That I won't tell you. It concerns nobody but ourselves."
"Do you wish to say anything further? Were you and Mme. Storey engaged
to be married?"
"If we weren't, it was not my fault. She was the finest woman I ever
The clever devil! I boiled inwardly. It drove me wild to see how
ingeniously he could turn everything that happened to his own advantage.
I was recalled to the present by a movement from Pete. Looking up, I
found him staring at Mme. Storey in an ugly fashion. Her head was still
lowered over a newspaper. This was a more immediate danger, and I put
the thought of Nick Van Tassel out of my mind.
"What the hell is this?" cried Pete, rapping the paper he was reading.
Mme. Storey looked up mildly. "Hey?"
"I know who you are!" snarled Pete. "You said you was goin' to the
Allardyce Bowles. And didn't you come here while it was burnin?" He
suddenly snatched the newspaper out of my hands. "Yeah! And here's a
pitcher of you in this one. It's you, all right! You're Madam Storey!"
"Well, I had to be somebody, didn't I?"
"Aah! Don't pull no cracks!" he cried. "That won't do you no good.
You're nottin' but a bull! A dirty bull!" A whole string of curses
Mme. Storey had risen. She was taller than he. She met his blazing eyes
squarely. "Sure I'm what you call a bull," she said, still trying to be
friendly. "What of it? I'm still me, myself. You're cracked on the
subject. Bulls is just like anybody else."
"Not to me.'" he shouted. "I hate 'em!" Another string of foul oaths. "I
fell for you!" he went on, almost weeping in his rage. "God! what a fool
I was. You're the first and the last I'll ever fall for. I thought you
was a swell girl, game like a fella, and on the level! And you're on'y a
bull! You got all our business out of us, didn't ya?"
"I didn't ask you for it. You told me as a friend and I listened as a
"Yeah? Well, I had enough of such a friend. You and she can get the hell
out of here, see? I don't care if you do bring a cop back with you.
You're lucky we don't beat you up first."
"Wait a minute!"
"Aah!" he snarled, sticking out his jaw. "Don't you think I'm man enough
to put you out?"
"Sure," she answered, coolly. "And I wouldn't bring a cop back, neither.
But just answer me one question first."
"What's that?" he demanded.
"Which do you hate the worst, a bull like me, or a high muckamuck like
Nick Van Tassel?"
"I hate you all!" he said, with a violent gesture.
"Sure! But you got to decide, see? Because Nick Van Tassel is my mark.
If you put us out of here I'll fail. If you help me like you agreed to
do, I'll get him."
"Aah! What could you get on a man like Nick Van Tassel?" he sneered.
"I've got enough on him for him to want to kill me. You saw his first
attempt last night. Later he burned the hotel down to try to get Bella
"God!" said Pete, staring. "How do you know that?"
"Because we were fastened in our room by an iron bar across the door
"Why don't you have him arrested?"
"I couldn't prove that he had the bar put across our door. He's a
powerful man. I've got to have a perfect case against him before I open
No answer from Pete.
"That's why I want him to think that Bella and I are dead," she went on.
"So I can work in the dark. So I can strike at him unexpectedly. You see
I am putting myself completely in your hands. You can walk right out
that door and wreck me if you have a mind."
"Aah! you're foolish!" he sneered.
"No, I'm not," she said, confidently. "I can see what you are. You
couldn't go back on anybody that trusted you."
"Aaah!...What's Nick Van Tassel done, anyhow?"
"I can't tell you that. You'll hear all about it if I'm successful."
"Have you got any place to go tonight?"
"Yes, I've got a good place, but I can't tell you where it is. Bella and
I will be dead to the world until I'm ready to strike."
Pete turned away from her. Mme. Storey, who possessed the art of never
saying too much, went to the table and started unwrapping the food for
our evening meal. After a while he gave her an extraordinary look out of
the corners of his eyes--suspicion, wistfulness, sullenness, longing--I
can't describe it.
"Aah!" he sneered. "You know what me and Joe's business is."
"'S nothin' to me," she said, cheerfully. "I'm not after you. I wouldn't
take the case if it was offered to me."
"Wouldja eat wit a coupla stick up men?"
"Don't you think me and Joe is pretty bad fellas?" he insisted.
"You can't draw me into any moral discussions," she said, smiling
broadly. "I don't set up to be anybody's judge...But I will say I'm
sorry for it."
"Why?" he snarled, all ready to lash out again.
"Because I like you so much," she answered, softly. "And the cops always
get you in the end. You've been good friends to Bella and me. I would
hate to think of boys like you and Joe sitting in a cell."
"Well, what are poor boys gonna do?" he snarled. "Feed a goddam machine
all their lives? Might as well be in a cell."
"Don't ask me," she said, sadly. "I didn't make the world."
He flung away to the window. She let him alone. The rest of us sat down
to the table, and presently he joined us with a swaggering, hangdog air,
ready to blow up if anybody looked at him. But we ignored him, and
gradually he smoothed down.
"Aah!" he said out of the corner of his mouth, "I picked up a boat for
you. It's tied down at the foot of Extension Street."
"Thanks," said Mme. Storey.
He did not speak again, but there was a sort of a comfortable feeling in
the room and we knew that the danger had passed. He kept looking at her
in a rather piteous way through his lashes. The poor kid was hard hit.
At ten o'clock we started out. The boys led the way through a rear door
into a dank and evil smelling yard. They opened a gate into an adjoining
yard, whence there was a passage to the street beyond. Here we were to
have said good by to them, but Pete pleaded hard to accompany us to the
"Aah! if any fellas tried to pick you up in the street, and you turned
them down, they'd remember your faces, wouldn't they? Yeah, and if two
girls was seen gettin' in a boat, people would talk about it. But if we
was with you it wouldn't look funny."
So we let them come.
The boat was tied up at a rotting wharf. Pete had taken care to leave it
in a spot remote from any electric light. I never shall forget the smell
of the place--salt water, oil, sewage. I shivered with fear at the
thought of setting forth in the dark in such a flimsy shell.
Fortunately, there was no wind stirring.
There were brief, whispered good bys.
"You'll hear from us as soon as we come back to the world," said Mme.
"Oh, Rosy...!" mumbled Pete. All the hardness had gone out of him then.
"If you want to kiss me you can," she murmured.
We stepped in. "I'll take the first try at the oars," said Mme. Storey.
After a fashion she managed to pull the boat out beyond the end of the
wharf. There she rested on her oars. There was a light fog on the water,
just as on the night before, and the boys were already invisible to us.
But sounds carry far on such a night, and we suspected they were
listening for us.
"Which way is the tide carrying us?" whispered Mme. Storey.
After watching a moment, I said, "Out to sea."
"Good! We'll drift for a while."
I never took kindly to water in large quantities. I had rarely been so
close to it as I was now. Its very stillness scared me. The little patch
I could see overside was as smooth as oil, yet when Mme. Storey lay on
her oars, the boat gently heaved up and down as if we were resting on
the bosom of a breathing creature. There was some water in the bottom of
the boat, and I was sure there was a leak and that it would gradually
fill. I would not speak of it because I was afraid of Mme. Storey's
We drifted so slowly it was only by closely watching the lights on shore
we could be sure we moved at all. While Mme. Storey rested she was
trying to figure out her position. With that remarkable visual memory of
hers, the map she had studied that day was spread before her eyes in the
"That will be Goat Island ahead of us on your right, and that dark
stretch along the shore on the left must be King Park. The bright light
straight ahead is Lime Rock light. We have to pass it. It's a little
less than halfway to Brenton's Cove." I began to be a little less
certain that we were about to be swallowed up and lost in the foggy sea.
After a few minutes she started rowing again. As with everything she
does, she applied her mind seriously to the business. "The theory of
rowing is simple," she remarked; "the only difficulty is to make the
I got a hideous fright hearing the loud put put of a motor boat and
seeing a green light which suddenly appeared from I know not where,
heading straight for us, as I thought. "Oh, they're going to run us
down!" I cried.
"Now keep cool!" said Mme. Storey, a little sharply (she was frightened
herself!) "and let me figure this out...Boats that run at night always
carry a green light on the right side and a red light on the left side,
each in a sort of box with two sides open...Therefore there can be no
danger. That motor boat is going to pass us on your right. If she was
heading straight for us we would see both the green and the red light."
And so it proved.
Mme. Storey's rowing improved as we went on.
We passed through a narrow channel inside Lime Rock, in order not to
lose touch with the shore on my left. We had now left the clustered
lights of the town far behind; all was dark alongshore except for the
scattered lights of big houses standing in extensive grounds. A breeze
came up and little waves began to lap against the sides of the boat in
what seemed to me a very dangerous manner.
"How are you going to know which is Brenton's Cove?" I asked, nervously.
"If we keep close to this shore we'll find ourselves in it," she said.
"When we can't go any further without turning around and rowing back,
we'll know that's it."
What a gift it is to be able to translate the lines of a map into the
actual physical features of a landscape! It turned out just as she said.
We found ourselves in a little cove with a low shore on one side and a
steep rocky shore on the other. From the lights here and there we judged
that we were surrounded by four or five big estates. On the high side we
could faintly make out the shape of a big house that showed no lights.
Paddling around to investigate, we found that each estate had a little
pier and landing stage, except the dark house.
"It's a fair guess that that is Miss Betsy's," said Mme. Storey. "What
would she want with a pier? You stay with the boat and I'll make sure."
It was not any too easy landing from the boat to a steepish slope of
rock. One of my legs went into the water above the knee, and I thought I
was gone, but Mme. Storey grabbed me somehow. I sat on the rock, holding
the rope attached to the boat, while she climbed away into the darkness.
When she came back she whispered: "This is it. I found the wall with the
"What shall we do with the boat?" I asked.
"Set it adrift."
"Ohh!" I protested. That miserable boat that I had detested in the
beginning, now seemed like our only link with the land of the living.
"What if she won't take us in?"
"Then we'll walk back to town."
With a strong thrust of her foot she started the boat on its way. We
watched it until we made sure the tide was carrying it out of the cove,
then turned and scrambled up the sloping face of rock. On the plateau
above there was a lawn that smelled sweet in the night. It was clearer
here, and we could make out the shapes of trees farther back and the
mass of the big house outlined against the night sky. No light showed in
any of the windows.
We went close to the house and circled part way round first one side,
then the other, trying to get the hang of it. It was one of those
fantastic wooden mansions they used to build during the 'eighties and
'nineties, with all the different kinds of gables, dormers, porches,
pinnacles and what not that the architect could think of. There were
scarcely two windows anywhere that matched. As a crowning touch he had
stuck on one side a huge square tower of rough hewn stones.
"How do you propose to get in?" I whispered. My conventional soul didn't
relish the prospect before us.
"Let's see if we can't dope out which is Miss Betsy's room," whispered
Mme. Storey. "The view up the bay is on this side, therefore the best
rooms must be facing us. On the second floor the windows to the right
are closed. Guest rooms, probably. The windows on the other side are
open. That ought to be the mistress's room. At any rate, let's try it.
Wait here a second."
Disappearing, she presently returned with a handful of gravel from the
drive, that she proceeded to throw pebble by pebble at the top sash of
one of the open windows. She was a good shot. I heard the little stones
ring against the glass and drop to the porch roof below.
After about a dozen tries we were rewarded by seeing a large whitish
figure appear at the window.
It spoke in a deep woman's voice: "Who are you? And what do you want?"
Her composure was astonishing.
"Are you Miss Betsy Pryor?" asked Mme. Storey.
My employer was not to be outdone in coolness. "I am Rosika Storey," she
said, pleasantly. "This is my secretary. Miss Brickley. We have come to
see you, as I promised. Please don't disturb your servants."
A sort of cavernous chuckle came down to us. "All right!" said Miss
Betsy in a voice that quaked with laughter. "I'll come down and let you
in myself. Have patience with me, because I move but slowly."
She disappeared from the window. Mme. Storey lit a cigarette. "I was not
mistaken in my woman," she said, with quiet satisfaction.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE - Our Hostess
THE lights in the hall went on, and the front door was opened wide.
Apparently Miss Betsy was an utter stranger to fear. A magnificent old
woman in more ways than one. She must have weighed three hundred pounds,
and she used a stick as thick as my arm to help her along. At present
she was enveloped in a most incongruous dressing gown of purple velvet.
I lost myself in computing how many yards it had taken, with ruffles.
Down her back hung two thick black braids that a girl might have envied.
There was scarcely a wrinkle in her massive face, and her little black
eyes danced with youthful liveliness. I wondered what could have induced
a woman of such force and vigor to shut herself up like this.
Perhaps the joking reason she had given was the true one. She was tired
"So this is what you're like!" she cried, drawing Mme. Storey inside.
Her voice boomed like the deeper notes of an organ. "The photographs did
not lie, then!...Glad to see you too, my dear," she added, turning to
me with complete kindness. "I envy you your job!"
A few minutes before I had been ready to swap my job with anybody; now I
began to feel proud of it again.
"You are not surprised to see us," said Mme. Storey in mock
disappointment. "I was hoping to create a sensation."
"Ah, it was a shock to me to read that you had been lost in the fire!"
said Miss Betsy, gravely. "But then I began to think: surely if all the
fools were able to get out, Madame Storey would not allow herself to be
burned up. And if it happened to suit her plans to disappear, this would
be her opportunity."
"You are a witch," said Mme. Storey.
"I ought to be," retorted Miss Betsy, chuckling--or it would be more
correct to say that she rumbled in her diaphragm. "Come upstairs where
we can be cozy, girls."
It was a slow and painful task for Miss Betsy to mount the stairs.
"First time I have been down in years," she said. On the second floor we
entered a big old fashioned room that was not grand at all, though Miss
Betsy was one of the richest women in the world, but immensely
comfortable. She called it her sittin' room. She had a masculine
carelessness of speech.
"Sit ye down! Sit ye down!" she boomed. "How did you get here?"
"By rowboat," said Mme. Storey. "I set it adrift."
"Are you hungry?"
We were not.
She seemed to understand the situation without the necessity of any
explanation. "You did right to come here. You can lie low here in
absolute security. And direct your campaign from here--I assume that
there is a campaign. You wrote me that I could help you, you know. I
only make one condition."
"What's that?" asked Mme. Storey, smiling.
"You must tell me the whole story."
"I intended to do so."
"Start right in!" boomed Miss Betsy.
"But we got you out of bed!" protested my employer.
"Bed be damned!"
We laughed. "Do you mind if I smoke?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Not at all. I'm a smoker myself."
"Have one of mine?"
"Pah!" cried Miss Betsy. "Pimp sticks! Excuse my bluntness. I like
something stronger." From a box beside her chair she took a little
cigar, clipped the end, and nonchalantly lighted up. It seemed to
complete the picture. She was a swell person. Hardboiled and kind. A
Mme. Storey put my thought into words. "You're too good to be wasted in
Miss Betsy raised her massive shoulders. "I was born fifty years too
soon. You can imagine what a misfit I was among the prim misses of my
generation. Nowadays I might have stood a chance." The history of a
lifetime was expressed in those simple words. "Start in!" she cried. "I
"We are safe from being overheard?" asked Mme. Storey.
"There is no one in this part of the house but my maid Catherine. The
other servants sleep in the kitchen wing. We'll have to take Catherine
into our confidence. She's been with me over thirty years. I'll vouch
Mme. Storey had no more than started her tale when one of the doors
opened and a scared white face looked in--a woman of fifty odd, plain
and sensible looking.
"It's all right, Catherine," said Miss Betsy, offhand. "This is Madame
Storey and her secretary, Miss Brickley. They are going to stay with us
awhile. The servants mustn't know anything about it. It will be quite a
A sigh of blessed relief escaped the woman. "Oh, madam! I heard strange
voices and I thought...I thought..."
"You thought I was being murdered in my bed," said Miss Betsy,
composedly. "Well, I'm not, you see. Go down to the pantry like a good
girl and make sandwiches. Make a lot. And fetch up some beer. We'll be
My employer proceeded to tell Miss Betsy the same story that I have set
down here, but more briefly. The old woman, greedy for details,
continually interrupted her with questions. The tale had a special
interest for her because she was familiar with the scene and many of the
actors. She kept up a sort of rumbling comment throughout.
"Howard Van Tassel...never was anything but a cumberer of the earth...
Alida Van Tassel--she was a Bradley. A candy box beauty. It was her sort
helped drive me into my hole...Ha! Omega Farm! Used to be the old
Standish place. We practiced archery there...Gibbs Cumberland! Good
God! Is that little flea still hopping from tea to tea? He leaves an
itch behind him wherever he goes. He's ten years older than me...
Chowder Club! I used to go there. They let me eat chowder, but nobody
asked me to dance!..."
When Mme. Storey finally came to the end, Miss Betsy thumped her stick
on the floor. "What a story!" she cried. "This is better than I
expected. Good God! what a magnificent scoundrel! I'm half in love with
him just from hearing your description!"
"Bella and I both are," said my employer, dryly.
"I used to know his father, the last Nicholas," Miss Betsy went on. "He
was a stick like all the Van Tassels. This Nicholas must have got his
vital qualities from the policeman."
"His mother was the daughter of a policeman. Her real name was Mary Ann
Finnegan, they tell me, but it became Marian Finucane when she went on
the stage. A comic opera star. 'La Mascotte,' 'The Grand Duchess,' 'The
Bells of Normandy.' They say that Nick Van Tassel was trapped into the
marriage, but I know nothing about that. I am sure she was far too good
for him. However, it killed his father. An effusion of bile, I dare say.
He lived only long enough to cut off his son with a beggarly six
"That Nicholas Van Tassel--I mean the grandfather of the present
Nick--was the last man of ability in the family. Quadrupled his fortune.
But he was a horrible little man; purse proud; arrogant to a degree.
There was always something thin and sour in the Van Tassel blood. Ever
since the first Nicholas Van Tassel, the fur trader, a superb old
"What about our Nick's mother?" asked Mme. Storey.
"Nothing thin about her blood. I never saw her. A handsome wench, I
understand. She and her husband got along well enough. At least there
was no open scandal. He was like putty in her hands. She made the money
fly. She brought color into the humdrum Newport season. Everybody
accepted her and talked about her escapades. Perhaps you've heard about
the monkey dinner or the living statuary ball about fifteen years ago.
They wouldn't create a ripple nowadays."
"I have heard of them."
"Toward the end of her life Mrs. Van Tassel brought back a cheetah from
India for a pet. Do you know what a cheetah is?"
"Well, neither do I. But that's the sort of woman she was. Irish exotic.
Nine years ago she and her husband were killed together in an automobile
accident in Switzerland."
"Maybe," said Miss Betsy, coolly. "It never got around. If it was, it
was certainly her idea. That Nick Van Tassel hadn't the spirit of a
"And for nine years our Nick has been perfecting his racket," murmured
"A new slang word."
"Nothing of the sort!" said Miss Betsy. "It's an old one revived. I get
the meaning perfectly...Well, let's eat!" she cried, with gusto.
"Story telling is hungry work!"
When she had sated her appetite and lighted another little cigar, she
demanded to know what her part was going to be in the forthcoming drama.
"Well," said Mme. Storey, smiling at her with half closed eyes, "I was
counting on using you as a sort of decoy."
"Ha!" cried Miss Betsy, delightedly. "I shall have a taste of life
before I die. ...You mean a decoy to attract Nick Van Tassel?"
"I only hope I set eyes on him!"
"But I must warn you it's dangerous," said Mme. Storey, earnestly. "It's
so dangerous that every man I have put it up to has refused to face it."
Miss Betsy smiled in an amused fashion. "I can't understand how anybody
over seventy fears for their life," she said. "...Why, Death and I have
been keeping company a long time back," laughing until the floor shook.
"I'm expecting him to pop the question any night. That's one follower
every woman can count on, however plain she may be."
"Well, thank God I've found you!" said Mme. Storey, simply.
"But look here; there's a serious obstacle in the way," said Miss Betsy,
with an anxious frown. "How am I going to persuade anybody that I'm a
fit subject to be scared to death?"
We all laughed.
"You can act, can't you?" suggested Mme. Storey.
"I'm not very good at it. Once I played a parlor maid in an amateur
performance, and the audience thought I was a burglar in disguise."
"I'll teach you. We'll take plenty of time to make this thing go right."
"My voice is the healthiest thing about me," said Miss Betsy. "How can I
strip its bark?"
"There are certain pastilles that actors put in their mouths to make
their voices sound old and feeble."
"Bring 'em on!...And look you, here's an idea. Why not put me to bed
and make out I have a dropsy?"
"Splendid! I never should have thought of that!"
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX - Lying Low
Miss BETSY called her house the Priory in a spirit of fun. Mme. Storey
and I were installed on the third floor, which had not been used in many
years. It was never visited by the servants, with the exception of
cleaning women who came in at stated intervals. We had a suite over the
closed guest rooms, consequently nobody could hear our footfalls. Our
doors were always locked, of course.
We were perfectly comfortable. The only drawback was the necessity of
staying in all day. We gradually got in the habit of sleeping the
greater part of the day, and staying up at night. This suited Miss Betsy
to a T. Also at night we could get exercise out on the dark lawn.
Besides Catherine, the household consisted of a cook and three maids.
Miss Betsy considered that butlers were nuisances. These four women
slept in the kitchen wing, which was entirely distinct from our part of
the house. All were elderly. Since Miss Betsy took her meals upstairs,
they rarely saw her.
There was also a man and his wife (Mr. and Mrs. Baxter) who lived in a
lodge by the gates. Baxter was a chauffeur, and his principal task was
to take Catherine in to town every day to do her shopping.
Miss Betsy herself boasted that she had never been in a motor car. There
were two gardeners who came by the day.
We became acquainted by degrees with the customs of that extraordinary
household. The gates were kept locked at all times. When her husband was
out with the car, Mrs. Baxter was forbidden to open the gates for any
reason whatever. There was, however, an ancient telephone from the lodge
to the house, so that she could transmit a message. There was no
connection with the regular exchange. Miss Betsy's only visitor from the
outside world was a certain Dr. Wickham, a very old man who had lost all
his other patients, she said, because he told them the truth.
Catherine waited on us. A pale, subdued, enigmatic kind of woman, I was
ill at ease with her at first. I discovered she was a treasure. She
adored her queer mistress, and what was more, she understood Miss Betsy
and could appreciate her funny side.
Once she learned that Mme. Storey and I also loved the grim old woman,
she would have done anything for us. Catherine had no life apart from
her mistress, and wanted no other.
Her greatest problem was to feed us without the knowledge of the other
servants. She solved it cleverly. Among her other duties she was Miss
Betsy's almoner; that is to say, she always had a dozen or more poor
families on her list that she visited regularly. She carried a big
wicker basket in the car, and had it filled at the grocer's. She carried
it into each house she visited, and of course the chauffeur had no means
of knowing if it was emptied when it came home. That was how our food
entered the house.
She cooked it on an electric stove in our bathroom. Our bill of fare was
somewhat restricted, but everything was delicious. Miss Betsy had a way
of demanding food at all sorts of odd hours, so Catherine had had plenty
of experience. She even smuggled a nursery ice box up to our bathroom,
and kept it stored with ice. Our principal meal was usually eaten in the
middle of the night with Miss Betsy. The old lady was more fun than a
barrel of monkeys. In repose she had one of the saddest faces I ever
saw. Mme. Storey said the two things went together.
"Ah, what will I do after you are gone?" Miss Betsy would say.
"Come with us," said Mme. Storey. "You've been shut up long enough."
But she always shook her head. "I don't like to be stared at."
In addition to the local sheet, Miss Betsy subscribed to a Boston and to
a New York newspaper, so we were kept well advised of what was going on
in the world. The sensation caused by the tragic death of Mme. Storey
rolled up to an immense height, and subsided. I was a little shocked to
see how quickly she was crowded off the front page.
Well, I suppose the President himself, once he was dead, would no longer
The fire chief reported that the Allardyce Bowles fire had been caused
by crossed wires. Same old gag.
There was no official investigation. District Attorney Lyle laid low.
After the first day Nick Van Tassel managed to keep out of the papers.
Henry Eversley left Newport in a hastily chartered yacht, "for a voyage
around the world."
Mme. Storey immediately got in touch with her lawyer in New York by
means of a letter which Miss Betsy addressed in her immense angular
Through him a few people whom she could trust were informed of the real
situation. But everything was allowed to take its course as if she were
really dead. Her will was entered for probate and our offices on
Gramercy Park closed up.
She was somewhat scandalized to learn that some friends who were not in
the secret were getting up a memorial service for her at the Little
Church Around the Corner. There was nothing she could do to stop it. I
wondered if Nick would attend the service. It would be like him.
Crider and the bunch were ordered back to New York, and we were soon in
daily communication with him. He addressed his letters to Miss Betsy
Pryor. We were then ready to start our new campaign.
"We must first get some publicity for you," said Mme. Storey to Miss
Betsy. "I hope you don't mind."
"I can stand it if I don't have to perform in public," she said.
"Only one appearance will be necessary, and that not in public."
My employer prepared some press notices, all much to the same effect,
but differently worded. Like this:
'It is not generally known that since the death of Hetty Green the
richest woman in America is Miss Betsy Pryor of Newport. It is an
established fact that Miss Pryor's income tax runs into the millions
annually. In Newport Miss Betsy is more or less of a myth, because
nobody has seen her for forty years except her servants. A few of the
older residents remember her as a beautiful and brilliant girl who, in
the full flush of her social triumphs, suddenly gave up everything and
retired from the world.
'Miss Betsy lives in a big house standing in extensive grounds on the
shore of Brenton's Cove. Her place is surrounded by a nine foot wall
topped by broken bottles imbedded in concrete. It is said that several
fierce mastiffs are allowed to wander about at will inside. Night and
day the gates are locked and guarded, and all communications must be
made through the bars. There is no telephone.
'Miss Betsy's only link with the world appears to be a faithful woman
servant whom the storekeepers know as Miss Catherine. Miss Catherine has
been holding down her present job as far back as the oldest inhabitant
can remember. Every morning precisely at nine the gates swing open and a
car appears bearing Miss Catherine to do her marketing. Miss Catherine,
a severe, middle aged woman is about as communicative regarding her
mistress' affairs as the proverbial clam. As for the chauffeur, he only
turns his head away with a scowl when he is asked a question.
'Yet Miss Betsy occasionally gives a sign of life from behind her well
guarded walls. It appears that she is a faithful reader of the
newspapers. Every now and then she is displeased by some modern
manifestation in the news, on which occasion she writes a peppery letter
to the local paper. Her phobias include telephones, motor cars,
phonographs, radios, airplanes--and in fact pretty much everything that
has come in since 1890.
'So far as is known, Miss Betsy has not a relative in the world and
there is much speculation as to the disposal of her vast fortune when
she passes on. She is over seventy years old.'
Miss Betsy did not care much for this piece.
"Hum! Ha!" she snorted. "Beautiful! Brilliant! Pah!...Are you making
game of me?"
"That's what they expect you to say," Mme. Storey pointed out. "It must
sound like the usual tripe."
'"Well, you know," she said, with an impatient shrug. "Send it out!"
Three notices were sent to an important press bureau, with instructions
that they be sent to three papers only. To have covered the whole
country simultaneously might have aroused suspicion. Mme. Storey counted
on other papers copying it, one from another.
And so it happened. Within a few days the story, now considerably
garbled, trickled into the columns of a Newport newspaper. The editor
added a little piece pointing out some of the obvious inaccuracies. This
was exactly what we wanted.
"Richest woman in America" of course was news everywhere, and, once
started, there was no stopping the story. It was like an endless chain.
I think every newspaper from Panama to Alaska must have printed it
eventually. As a result Miss Betsy's modest mail grew to such
proportions that it had to be carried up from the lodge in a bushel
basket. All these letters offered her suggestions for getting rid of her
Mme. Storey proposed that Miss Betsy write to the local newspaper about
the matter. The old lady needed no help in composing this letter.
'Some idle minded fool has done me the doubtful honor of writing a piece
about me and sending it to the newspapers. Apparently, since the
original author remains anonymous, I have no recourse. It is outrageous
that a law abiding citizen should be forced to submit to such an
annoyance. I am not the richest woman in America, nor does my annual
income tax run into the millions. Neither are there any fierce mastiffs
at large in my grounds. If I choose to live in seclusion, that is my
'It seems that this story is being copied from paper to paper all over
the country. It is a sad commentary on the quality of the mental pabulum
that is required by our people. As a result I am being annoyed by
hundreds of begging letters daily. I wish to advertise the fact that I
don't propose to read these letters, much less answer them. I hope that
my letter may be copied as widely as the original story, so that a lot
of foolish people may be saved from wasting their time. I might also
say, in case the label "richest woman in America" has attracted the
attention of the light fingered gentry, that I possess no jewelry, and
never keep money in the house.
'Yours very truly,
I do not know how widely this sprightly communication may have been
copied throughout the country, but it had not the slightest effect on
the begging letters. They continued to arrive by the bushel.
We paid very little attention to the letters. What Mme. Storey was
angling for was interviewers.
Night after night the old lady was coached for this ordeal. She entered
into the game with spirit. We had a good deal of fun out of it. But it
was true Miss Betsy was the world's worst actress, and in the end Mme.
Storey had to abandon the idea of exhibiting her to the reporters.
The reporters came, of course, and like good reporters they refused to
take no for an answer. Half a dozen times a day one of the Baxters
telephoned from the lodge to the house to say that a man or a woman was
hanging around the gates. They dogged Catherine's footsteps when she
went in to town.
When they were balked they often went away and wrote spiteful stories
about Miss Betsy. Finally one of the New York tabloids suggested there
was a sinister mystery in the case. The inference was that "the tight
lipped woman" (so they termed poor Catherine) had secretly made away
with Miss Betsy, and was devoting her mistress' home and her income to
her own purposes.
At this point Mme. Storey decided to take the doctor into her
confidence. Miss Betsy assured us he was as honest and faithful as the
day. When he next came to the house Catherine brought him up to our
third floor sitting room. A gruff and hairy old man with a spotty
waistcoat and eyes as gentle as a big dog's, if he was astonished to
discover that Miss Betsy had two lodgers, he never showed it.
As a result of his conference with my employer, he sent the following
letter to the tabloid newspaper:
'Miss Betsy Pryor has been a patient of mine ever since I started to
practice, forty three years ago. All the unsought publicity which has
been raging in the press during the last few days is very distasteful to
my patient, and the story which appeared in your columns yesterday seems
to cap the climax. It does a serious wrong to an old and faithful
'Therefore I wish to assert as positively as I can for the benefit of
you and your readers that Miss Pryor is very much alive. While she is
not a well woman--she has been suffering for several years from a
dropsical complaint due to a serious heart condition that confines her
to her room--there is no reason, with the wonderful care she receives,
why she should not live for many years to come. But the nervousness
induced by these stories is very bad for her, and of course anything in
the nature of a shock might terminate fatally.
'I am therefore writing to ask you to give this letter as wide publicity
as possible, so that these ridiculous stories may cease and be
forgotten. All that my patient desires is to be let alone.
'Yours very truly,
'JARED WICKHAM, M.D.'
Miss Betsy enjoyed a good laugh over this letter.
"That's our bait," said Mme. Storey. "We must sit back now and wait for
"In what form do you expect to get a nibble?" asked Miss Betsy.
"The first thing our adversary must do is to inform himself of the real
situation inside this house. He can only get that through Catherine.
Either he or one of his agents will be making up to her shortly."
Catherine was in the room at the time. "Hm! Too bad she isn't a more
promising subject for that sort of thing," said Miss Betsy, looking her
over. "Maybe we ought to have put in somebody in her place."
"Not at all," said Mme. Storey. "Catherine is the best possible subject.
She is known to all Newport. She's above suspicion."
"Let's warn her of what's in store," said Miss Betsy, with a wicked
twinkle. "Catherine, my girl, has any young man been trying to flirt
with you lately? I don't mean reporters."
"No indeed!" answered Catherine, with a toss of her head that suggested
a young man had better not try it on.
"Well, you may expect it any time now."
"At my age!" said Catherine, scandalized.
"You are not too old," put in Mme. Storey, smiling. "Our antagonist is a
good psychologist, and he knows you're not too old. He knows, too, that
when a woman of your age falls for a man she falls very hard indeed. In
fact, she can refuse him nothing. In the beginning you can repulse him
if you choose, but after that you can appear to let yourself go without
"I'll do my best," said Catherine, demurely casting down her eyes.
"Do your best!" said Miss Betsy, with affectionate scorn. "Listen at the
woman! I only wish it was me. I'd give him a run for his money.'"
It is possible that Catherine in her quiet way had the same idea.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN - The Trap Is Set
FOR a few days nothing happened. Meanwhile the storm of publicity
blowing around Miss Betsy's head ceased as suddenly as it had arisen.
When they found it impossible to secure a photograph of her, the
interest of the tabloids quickly waned. The life of a tabloid depends
upon finding something new for its readers every day. Miss Betsy was
forgotten by all the world, apparently--or all but one!
It was on Monday morning, I remember, that Catherine, upon her return
from her daily shopping expedition, came up to the third floor and
aroused us. She was in a state of considerable agitation--for her; a
bright red spot burned in the middle of each pale cheek, and her eyes
showed an unnatural glitter. This was the story she told us:
"This was my day for calling on Si Evans' family. He's the watchman who
broke his hip six weeks ago and hasn't been able to work since. The
eldest daughter has tuberculosis. They live in a poor house on Charles
Street. Every week I take them jelly and soup from Miss Betsy, and make
sure they have enough to go on with.
"Today when I went in, there was a young man in the dining room. Bob
Dewar by name. They were all very friendly to him and grateful because
he had bought a paper route for Johnny, the youngest boy, so Johnny
could go back to school when it opens and still be earning something.
"The young man never said anything to me while I was in the house, but
he kept looking at me funny."
Catherine averted her head. "I suppose it's the way a man does look at a
woman, but I never realized it before. It was very...disturbing. He was
a handsome young man.
"He left when I did, and as soon as we got outside the door he started
speaking, 'When can I see you again?' You could have knocked me down
with a feather! I didn't know what to say. I didn't say anything!"
"He was what they call a fast worker," said Mme. Storey.
"Yes'm. He said: 'Can't you see I'm just crazy about you? I been
following you about. I only made friends with Johnny Evans so I could
get acquainted with you. I must know you,' All this was standing in the
walk in front of the Evans' house, with Baxter at the wheel of the car
not twenty feet away.
"I finally managed to get out: 'What are you trying to do, make a fool
of me? At my age?'
"'No! No!' he said. 'Look at me, and you'll see that I mean every word!
You're not old to me. What do I care how old you are? There's something
about you...I can't explain it. All I know is, you're the only one for
me. When can I see you again?'
"I was so flustered I didn't know what to say.
"'Don't you ever get a night out?' he asked. 'I never go out at night,'
I said, 'but I could go any time I wanted.' 'Then come into town tonight
and go to the movies with me,' he begged. 'It's almost dark in there,
and we can talk low. Meet me inside the Strand picture house at eight
o'clock. I'll be waiting for you inside where it's dark and we can sit
"At first I said I wouldn't. 'Please come! Please come!' he begged. 'I
swear I mean you no harm. Just want to make friends. I must know you!
Please come!' So--" Catherine turned away her head again--"after a while
I said I would...hoping I did right."
"Why, of course!" said Mme. Storey. "Everything is going splendidly!...
What does this young man look like?"
"He's very good looking," said Catherine, self consciously. "I couldn't
quite make out if he was a real gentleman. He talked like one, but his
clothes were too loud. He had big brown eyes--big as a woman's--and full
red lips. His face was smooth all over. His voice was soft..."
Mme. Storey and I looked at each other. Reggie Mygatt!
"Are you sure it's the one you think?" Catherine asked, wistfully. The
poor soul was hoping against hope she had made a genuine conquest.
"Absolutely," said Mme. Storey. "We know him."
"There might be some mistake."
"Listen! Doesn't he talk like this?" In an imitation of Reggie's flat,
reedy voice, she said: "There's something about you!...I can't explain
Catherine's head dropped lower. "That's him," she murmured. "Oh, what
blackguards men are!" she went on, low voiced. "He looked at me in such
a way, and spoke so soft and full of feeling you would have sworn he
"Why, of course!" said Mme. Storey, crisply. "That's what men have been
doing since the beginning...But as long as you know where you stand,
it's all right, isn't it? You can go on with it just as if it was an
amusing game, deceiving the deceiver!"
Catherine jerked her head up. "Sure I can go on with it," she said, with
a hard smile. "I'll dress up for him tonight."
We did not learn in detail all that occurred at the movies, for
Catherine was reticent. But it was evident that they had made a long
stride toward intimacy. "I am learning more about men that I ever knew
in all my life before," she said, with compressed lips.
He begged her to come into town the following night, but she said it
would look too funny, after being such a home body, for her to start
going out every night. He then asked her if it was true that there were
dogs at large in the grounds, and when she said no, he offered to come
in a boat at nine that night, and meet her outside the house.
She waited for him at the edge of the rocks. She told us he came in a
small varnished boat that looked like a yacht dinghy. The name of the
yacht was painted on the back of the stern seat, but something had been
smeared over it and she could not read it.
They spent a couple of hours wandering around the grounds together.
After he had gone Catherine reported to Mme. Storey. Without appearing
to betray any particular curiosity. Bob (or Reggie) had insinuated many
questions about the layout of the house and the routine of the
household, she said. She, of course, had taken pains to fill in the
outline sketched in Dr. Wickham's letter. She represented her mistress
as a sick and nervous old woman, just able to hobble from her bed to a
chair and back. At all costs Miss Betsy must be saved from a shock, she
had told him. And also that she and her mistress were alone in the main
part of the house after nightfall.
"He's coming back tomorrow night," Catherine said, lowering her eyes.
"Bring him into the house," suggested Mme. Storey. "Tell him you're
obliged to remain within hearing of your mistress's bell in case she
On this occasion Catherine showed him all over the main house, excepting
only Miss Betsy's bedroom and the third floor. No doubt he had used his
eyes to good advantage. They entered and left the house by way of the
conservatory, which opened off the rear of the main hall and had a door
into the garden.
After the first meeting Catherine was chary of repeating the details of
her young man's lovemaking, except in so far as it concerned Mme.
Storey's plan. Well, we did not blame her. It was a strange experience
for the elderly lady's maid. It made her cynical, yet I think she
enjoyed it on the whole. We never could be sure how she felt, but there
was no doubt she found it tremendously exciting.
After another visit, the young man began to talk guardedly of the
possibility of marriage. The only thing in the way of it was a lack of
money, it seemed.
From that it was only a step to suggesting ever so delicately that if
they could only find some way of relieving Miss Betsy of a little of her
surplus, she would never miss it and it would set them up for life.
"And what did you say to that?" Mme. Storey asked Catherine.
"I didn't say much," murmured Catherine, "but I let him see that I
didn't mind if some way could be found without mixing me up in it. He
said I needn't have anything to do with it."
"And is he going ahead with it?"
Catherine nodded. "He thinks I'm completely gone on him."
"It's never hard to persuade a man of that," said Mme. Storey.
On the second morning following, the plot came to a head. Upon entering
her sitting room, Miss Betsy found an envelope addressed to herself
propped up on her writing desk.
Without opening it, she sent it up to Mme. Storey by Catherine. The
plain white envelope, the sheet of typewriter paper within, covered with
a few lines of type script--it was only too familiar to us. My heart
pounded in my breast at the sight of it, and my old terrors flowed back.
The only change was, in this letter the signature was typed in red.
Evidently the writer had a new machine.
'MISS BETSY PRYOR:
'My job is to collect from those who have too much money, and put it
where it will do good. I have you down on my list. I want twenty five
thousand dollars from you. I'll give you two days to get the cash in the
house, then I'll send word how to pass it on.
'If you attempt to stall me off, or to communicate with the police, you
will see me in person. I will be the last thing your eyes will see on
earth. No locks or guards can keep me from you. See how easy it is to
put this letter on your table. I have my own way of working. Every
member of your household is watched. Kip Havemeyer and Howard Van Tassel
each received a visit from me. They both had magnificent funerals.
'You are an old woman and a sick one. If you wish to spend your
remaining days with a quiet mind, heed this letter. Remember, old women
are easy to kill!
When my employer read out the curt sentences I seemed to feel the
wicked, grinning presence of Nick Van Tassel there in the room. The
sudden reminder of that overwhelming personality turned me dizzy and
made the palms of my hands sweat. I was unable to speak.
After making sure that the servants would be occupied elsewhere, Mme.
Storey and I went down to Miss Betsy's sitting room to consult with her.
The sturdy old woman chuckled when she heard the contents of the letter.
How I envied her her unconcern!
"Ha!" she cried. "This time he's got a pig nut between his teeth when he
thinks it's an almond!" She brandished the big stick. "I only hope I may
get one good crack at him, that's all.'"
Mme. Storey shook her head gravely. "What good will that do you if he
has a gun? However carefully we plan, there will be a serious danger. A
gun can be fired so quickly.'"
"And I will make a pretty good mark, eh?" Miss Betsy's chair creaked
warningly when she laughed. "Never mind. I'll chance it."
"I'll make it my job to disarm him," said Mme. Storey.
"What must I do about this?" asked Miss Betsy, shaking the letter. "I
suppose I'll have to wait two days before I can hurl my defiance at
"No," said Mme. Storey. "Answer it at once--publicly."
"Write to the newspaper in your usual peppery style."
"To force the issue. Such a letter from you in the newspaper would put
heart into all his other victims. He would have to strike at you
instantly to keep them in line."
"But if he did for me, wouldn't that stop his game, anyhow? I mean if a
letter from me had been published."
"Not if he shocked you to death. There would be no mark on you; no
evidence of murder. Your death would be ascribed to heart disease."
"By God!" said Miss Betsy. "It's almost a shame to stop such a clever
With my employer's help she evolved the following letter to the editor
of a Newport morning paper. Their principal care was not to say too much
'As a result of the unsought and uncalled for attention lately devoted
to my humble self in the columns of your newspaper along with many
others, I am still being pestered by hundreds of letters daily from all
the cranks and fools in Christendom. Today I have a letter signed by
some one who calls himself "The Leveler," demanding twenty five thousand
dollars in cash from me, under threat of death or injury.
'I shall pay no attention to it, of course. It is obviously the work of
either a practical joker or a madman. If his eyes fall on this, let him
learn that his letter already reposes in my waste paper basket. I am
writing this to call your attention, sir, to the endless annoyance (not
to use a stronger word) which may result from the injudicious
advertising you have given my name, and to express a hope that you will
not subject me to any more of it in the future.
'Yours very truly,
The letter was sealed and addressed, and Catherine sent for.
"If this brings him," I said, nervously, "there's only one man on the
place, and all us women."
"I'll provide for that," said Mme. Storey. "I don't mean to take any
chances." She weighed the envelope thoughtfully in her hand. "The
question is, will the publication of this letter stir the district
attorney into taking action. He knows that The Leveler is not making an
idle threat. Surely, if there is a spark of decency in the man he will
warn Miss Betsy of what she's up against."
"He took no action after the fire," I pointed out. "It may be dangerous
for him to let anything come out now."
"You are right," she said. "I must prod him into action."
She addressed the maid. "Catherine, take this letter to the newspaper
office, and make sure that it will be published in tomorrow's issue.
Afterward you are to go to a telephone booth and call up District
Attorney Lyle in Providence. Ask him in Miss Betsy's name to come call
on her tomorrow morning at eleven on a matter of urgent importance.
"When he asks the nature of the business, tell him to read the Newport
paper tomorrow and he will understand. Tell him to bring the Newport
chief of police with him, if he thinks it desirable, and impress upon
him the importance of saying nothing about his errand until after he has
talked with your mistress."
"What! the district attorney, the chief of police! Won't all this
publicity spoil our show?" asked Miss Betsy.
"Wait!" said Mme. Storey, with a smile.
She made Catherine repeat her instructions after her.
The Trap Is Sprung
Miss BETSY'S letter to the newspaper was published on the following
Dr. Wickham made an early call, and through him we got in touch with the
Westervelts, a family who had leased the adjoining place on Brenton's
Cove. Mr. Westervelt had an express cruiser lying at his pier. Mme.
Storey considered that it might come in useful later.
When Catherine returned from her shopping trip she reported that her
young man had approached her outside one of the stores. This instantly
suggested there was something important in the wind.
Well, we already knew our antagonist believed in striking swiftly. Bob
(or Reggie) told Catherine he had been engaged as an entertainer at a
smoking concert that night, and he wouldn't be able to meet her until
eleven thirty. If she would wait for him down at the edge of the rocks,
he said, they could go for a row.
This was obviously a ruse to get Catherine off the place while the chief
paid his visit, and we therefore made all preparations to receive him
that night. He knew, of course, that when Catherine went out of the
house at night she left the conservatory door unlocked behind her.
At eleven Lyle and the chief of police duly presented themselves at Miss
Betsy's gates. Mrs. Baxter had her orders, and they were refused
admittance. One can picture their astonishment and indignation. There
was quite a scene. Finally, as a great concession, Mrs. Baxter admitted
them to the lodge and allowed Lyle to talk to the house over the private
The instrument was in Miss Betsy's sitting room.
We were all there, waiting for the call. Mme. Storey answered it,
speaking in the cracked and querulous voice of age. A wonderful piece of
mimicry. How thunderstruck Mr. Lyle would have been had he suddenly been
gifted with the power to see whom he was talking to! The real Miss Betsy
listened to the conversation with a broad smile.
"Yes, this is Miss Pryor...No, I can't see you. I am too sick and
nervous this morning. My doctor has forbidden it."
He reminded her that she had sent for him, and that he had driven all
the way from Providence in answer to her summons.
"Yes, I know," she said, pettishly, "but I'm too sick to see you. And,
anyway, I've changed my mind. I'm not going to do anything about the
threatening letter I received. It is obviously a hoax."
Lyle said that she was very likely right, but just the same all proper
precautions ought to be taken.
"No!" said the pretended Miss Betsy. "I'm not going to bother about it.
I should feel like a fool."
When she continued to resist him, he was forced to change his tone.
"There may be a real danger in this," he said. "I have heard rumors that
there was something like this going on."
So there was a spark of decency in the man, though it was buried deep!
"What do you want to do?" she asked.
"If there is such a man it is my duty to catch him."
"Well, what do you want me to do?"
"Nothing, except to allow us to furnish you with adequate protection."
"If there is anybody, you'll never catch him that way," she retorted.
"If he's got any sense at all he is certainly having me watched. And
you, too. And if you fill up my place with police and detectives he'll
simply stay away until you take them out again. You can't keep them here
indefinitely. As soon as they're gone he'll strike at me."
Lyle could find no answer to this piece of obvious common sense except
to say, helplessly, "But you must be protected, Miss Pryor."
"Fudge!" she said in Miss Betsy's impatient manner. "If you want to
catch the man you've got to advertise that you're not trying to catch
"How can I do that, madam?" he demanded with asperity.
"Listen. Let you and the chief of police give out interviews to the
press. Make sure they are going to be printed in the afternoon papers.
Say that as soon as you read my letter in this morning's paper you
hastened to my place to devote all the resources of the district
attorney's office and the police force to my protection. That will sound
well. Say that I refused your offers. You can ascribe it to my sickness,
my nervous condition, or anything you like. But make it strong. Say that
I refused to permit a single detective or policeman to enter my grounds,
and that consequently your hands are tied. The chief of police might add
that he intends to have the roads in the vicinity of my place well
"Why put that in?" he asked.
"Well, it sounds good," said the make believe Miss Betsy, winking at the
real one. "And if anybody has the notion of attacking me, it may
persuade him to come by water. It would be easier to catch him, wouldn't
it, if he tried to escape by water? I am told that the result of an
automobile chase is always doubtful."
Lyle admitted this was so.
"After you have talked to the reporters I suggest that you return to
your office in Providence and work there all afternoon as usual. Tonight
I will send up Mr. Westervelt's yacht to fetch you down here. The
captain will telephone your residence when he arrives, say, about eight.
Whenever he comes up from New York to visit his family Mr. Westervelt
uses this boat to carry him from Providence to Brenton's Cove.
Consequently, its appearance will cause no comment, whoever may be
watching. Bring your special officers with you. I suggest that two will
be enough. Land at Mr. Westervelt's pier, and I will have you brought
secretly to my house."
"Tonight?" faltered Lyle.
"Well, I'm not going to guarantee that it isn't a wild goose chase. You
insisted on it. If anybody is going to attack me, he will probably do it
quickly for the sake of the moral effect."
"You are right, Miss Pryor."
It doubtless went very much against the grain with Lyle to accept a plan
of action from an eccentric old woman who was supposed to be almost
bedridden to boot, but as he could suggest nothing better he had no
choice. The fact that Miss Betsy was called the richest woman in the
world probably helped to sugar the pill.
"Very well, Miss Pryor, I will be expecting a call about eight,"
Thus Mme. Storey's simple plan was laid, and there was nothing further
to do but wait for night to come.
We had to take Baxter into our confidence because we needed his
assistance, but none of the women in the house were told what we
expected. This Baxter was an innocent sort of fool who looked very smart
in his chauffeur's uniform, and sported a big turned up mustache in the
hope that people would think he was a foreigner. But he was faithful
enough, poor fellow, and strong as an ox.
He was set to work that afternoon in the privacy of his own workshop,
making a flexible ladder that could be thrown over the wall later for
the district attorney. Afterward Baxter laid a wire from the door of the
conservatory through the house and up to Miss Betsy's bedroom, where it
was furnished with a tiny buzzer. This was to warn us of our man's
I think that was the hardest day I have ever had to put in. Whenever I
thought of the coming night I choked all up with an unbearable surge of
excitement. I didn't see how I could ever go through with it. Most of
the time my heart was right in my boots.
Nick Van Tassel had fooled us so many times; had always displayed such a
devilish resourcefulness in a tight place, that I couldn't persuade
myself we had a chance of catching him. It came back to me that there
was something superhuman in the man. This was one of those feelings you
can't reason with.
Mme. Storey slept calmly for many hours during the day, but I never
closed my eyes.
That remarkable woman, Miss Betsy, looked forward with dancing eyes to
what she termed "the fun." She refused point blank to leave her room
during the time the visitor might be expected.
"But consider," said Mme. Storey, gravely, "when he visits his other
victims it's all one with him whether they pass out with fear or not; he
turns it to advantage either way. With you the case is different; he's
got to kill you because you have publicly defied him. A man as clever as
he is isn't leaving anything to chance. Believe me, in case he fails to
shock you to death, he will have some other expedient in reserve. And we
don't know what it is. It is too dangerous for you to remain in the
"You're going to be here, aren't you?" said Miss Betsy. "I'll take my
chance." And nothing would budge her.
Dr. Wickham acted as go between with the people next door. It proved not
to be necessary to take Mrs. Westervelt into our confidence. The doctor
used the name of another patient, a Mr. Pembroke, who lived in the
neighborhood. He told Mrs. Westervelt Mr. Pembroke's condition had taken
a turn for the worse and that he wished to call other doctors in
consultation. He hired the yacht in Mr. Pembroke's name to bring the
doctors down from Providence, and furnished the captain with the phone
number he was to call when he went for them. He further requested that
captain and engineer sleep aboard that night in case the doctors had to
return. Thus the yacht was available for purposes of pursuit, should we
From an upstairs window in Miss Betsy's house I saw the cruiser nosing
slowly out of the cove shortly before seven. Outside she shot away at
full speed. They said she could do thirty five miles an hour or better.
We expected her back soon after nine.
She did her job on time. Baxter brought Lyle and his two men through the
patch of woods that separated the two estates, and over the formidable
wall. The ladder was rolled up and hidden under a bush.
Mme. Storey and I were not present when Lyle was introduced to Miss
Betsy. She told us about it later. When Lyle saw her planted in her
chair with her big stick beside her, massive and composed, his jaw must
have dropped almost to his chest. All the courtroom swagger went out of
"But I thought...I thought..." he stammered.
She finished his sentence for him. "You thought I was a frail wisp that
was done with everything but the undertaker!" She shook with laughter,
and the chair creaked under the strain.
The sound of the vigorous bass voice completed his demoralization.
"There must be some mistake," he said, feebly. "Over the phone..."
"That was just part of my little game to catch this scoundrel," said
Miss Betsy, airily. "I understand that his specialty lies in shocking
old folks to death. I merely wanted to persuade him that I was a good
"How did you learn so much about his methods?" he asked, staring.
"I will explain that presently."
"Then your pretense that you weren't going to take any action was
"Just a hoax, Mr. District Attorney. Or, as they say nowadays, a stall."
When Mme. Storey and I entered the sitting room, Lyle turned as white as
a sheet and clutched the back of a chair for support.
"I think you are acquainted with Mme. Storey and Miss Brickley," said
the old lady, wickedly.
The eyes of the two detectives bolted wildly. Lyle was unable to get out
a single word.
"I am not a phoenix risen from my ashes," said Mme. Storey, smiling. "I
never was burned up."
Lyle was obliged to sit in the chair and to wipe the cold sweat off his
face. The hardy old lady did not spare him.
"Aren't you glad they escaped?"
"Of course! Of course!" he stammered. "But this is such a shock...I
don't understand it..."
"Perhaps you suspect there is a very ugly story behind the burning of
the Allardyce Bowles."
"No!" he cried, wildly. "I made a private investigation. There was no
evidence! Not a shred! Not a shred!"
"To hell with your evidence!" said Miss Betsy, pounding her stick. "You
know perfectly well that Nick Van Tassel tried to burn them up!"
"What reason have you for saying such a thing?"
"It is very simple," put in Mme. Storey. "He chased us into the hotel.
An hour later the fire broke out. When Miss Brickley and I tried to
escape from our room, we found that the door had been fastened on the
outside with an iron bar."
"O my God!" cried Lyle. "Why didn't you come to me? Why didn't you tell
me? I would instantly have started proceedings."
"I thought we'd stand a better chance of getting him this way," said
Mme. Storey, dryly. "You told me, you remember, that it would be useless
to proceed against him unless we caught him in the act. Perhaps we will
During the rest of the night Mr. District Attorney sang pretty small.
Shortly after eleven Catherine went out to meet Reggie. All the lights
in the house had been out for some time. Our final dispositions were
Baxter was hidden behind the ferns in the conservatory, with an electric
button in his hand. With this he was to signal us when our man entered
the conservatory. The buzzer at the other end of the wire was in Mme.
Since Miss Betsy insisted on remaining in the room, her chair was put in
one of the front corners, and a screen placed around it. She said she
was going to push the screen over with her stick when the fun began. She
swore she could breathe as softly as a bird.
Mme. Storey was to stand just inside the door from the hall by which he
would enter. A projection of the wall concealed her, should he cast a
light inside before entering. She was armed with the same big revolver
we had taken from Nick. Just beyond her was the foot of Miss Betsy's
immense four poster. With pillows we had arranged the semblance of a
human body under the covers, a small pillow covered with a boudoir cap
sticking out at the top.
I was to crouch at the head of the bed in such a position that by
straightening up I could press the light switch when the man was fairly
inside the room. One of the detectives was to stand behind the door from
the hall, ready to seize him, while Lyle and the other man were to wait
just inside the sitting room door. This door was to be left open.
There was a long wait. Each separate nerve of my body seemed to be
stretched like a violin string at the point of breaking. An agonizing
feeling. Nobody was allowed to smoke, of course. Miss Betsy passed the
time in ragging the district attorney in her rumbling whisper. She was a
terrible old woman when she took a dislike to you.
No sound came through the open windows. We supposed that when our man
entered the house he would have his outposts stationed in the grounds.
It was a clear, cool night, with a gentle breeze stirring, a young moon
preparing to set. I smelled honeysuckle somewhere. It filled me with a
kind of wild regret.
Our man seemed to have a superstitious feeling for the hour of midnight.
We heard it striking in a distant church tower, a lovely sound.
Immediately afterward there was a click in Mme. Storey's hand.
She dropped the little buzzer on the rug and kicked it out of her way. I
thought, clenching my hands, if I can live through the next two minutes
I'll be all right. Lyle and the other man retreated silently into the
The door from the hall opened. Peeping under the high bedstead, I saw it
open; I saw his legs. He didn't make even the whisper of a sound. He
used no light. There was still a dim suggestion of moonlight in the
When I understood he was carrying no flash, I ventured to peep over the
top of the bed. O God! what a sight I saw! All the blood in my veins
turned to ice. I understood at that moment what it feels like to die of
Yet it was a mere theatrical trick; some luminous substance like
phosphorus smeared on his mask and on his false beard; on his hands. A
spectral masked face and a pair of pale hands, one holding a gun.
But this was not what frightened me most. Alongside the place where his
body ought to have been floated a large globe or bubble faintly shining
from within. It lazily rose and fell; swayed from side to side. It was
too horrible! My voice froze in my throat.
He kicked the door shut behind him, and turning to the bed, said, in a
voice more awful than anything I ever heard, "Wake up, old woman!"
I went completely daft then. They tell me I shrieked like a madwoman.
However, I automatically pressed the switch.
After that things happened much more quickly than I can tell about them.
When the lights came up Mme. Storey, holding her pistol by the barrel,
cracked him over the wrist, and his gun clattered to the floor. She
kicked it across the room. With her left hand she snatched the mask off;
the beard came with it, and for a second we all saw Nick Van Tassel at
bay, snarling lips rolled back, eyes darting. The thing tied to his
waist was nothing but a child's balloon, only bigger. A child's balloon!
He exploded the balloon and billows of smoke spread out from it.
"Gas!" screamed Mme. Storey. "Don't breathe!"
I instinctively dropped to the floor. Under the smoke I could see legs;
Nick's legs. He ran to the window and dived out head first, carrying the
screen with him. I heard him roll down the porch roof and thud to the
ground. He could not have been hurt, for instantly a shrill whistle
pierced the night.
I saw Mme. Storey making her way toward the corner where Miss Betsy sat.
Our first duty was toward the old woman, of course, and I followed.
The screen was down. Somehow we got the unwieldy body to its feet and
ran her into the next room, holding our breaths. We slammed the door
behind us. The others were in there. As we dropped Miss Betsy into a
chair panting, she actually laughed.
"This is better than I expected!" she said.
Outside on the lawn we heard running feet followed by the sounds of a
struggle. There was a shot and a fall; a long drawn groan. This was from
Baxter. Then two pairs of feet running away on the turf.
"Come on!" cried Mme. Storey.
The gas was confined to the bedroom. We left Miss Betsy by the open
window of the sitting room and, tearing down the main stairway of the
house, banged open the front door. Filled with the madness of pursuit, I
felt no fear then. Only a sickening rage because he had escaped us. We
left Miss Betsy rocking her arms and groaning: "If I only had my legs!
If I only had my legs!"
The two detectives set off pell mell across the lawn toward the rocks,
but Mme. Storey caught hold of Lyle. "The speed boat is our best chance
of catching him," she cried. "Show me where the ladder was left!"
Two or three minutes later we ran out on the Westervelt pier and,
springing aboard the motor yacht, banged on the doors to awaken the
skipper and the engineer. They must have been astonished at our
violence. Mme. Storey briefly explained that Miss Betsy's house had been
entered, and the engineer leaped to his engine. There were only the two
men sleeping aboard.
During the brief moment of silence that elapsed before the engine
started, we heard the sound of frantic oars near by, and could just make
out a dim shape lying outside the cove. When our engine started the
generator started with it, and the searchlight came on. We picked up the
craft outside, a smart motor cruiser not unlike our own. Four or five
people were climbing over her side from a dinghy.
We had to back out from the pier and make a quarter turn. Before this
was completed the other boat was gone. They left the dinghy drifting.
There was a second dinghy floating in the cove. I wondered if Catherine
were all right. When we got outside the cove we picked up the other
cruiser with our searchlight. She was scooting north for the open bay.
Running without lights, of course.
She rounded Fort Adams and disappeared. In a moment or two we followed,
and picked her up again. It was now evident she was heading out to sea.
The three of us were with the captain on a sort of little bridge
amidships, behind a windshield.
Mme. Storey and I had been given slickers. We were boiling along through
the dark sea at express train speed, yet we did not seem to gain a foot
on the flying craft ahead. Below us, the engineer's body stuck out of
his little door. He was likewise watching the boat ahead.
"It must be the Bomto, Nick Van Tassel's cruiser," muttered the captain.
"Nothing else of her build has the speed. I reckon she was stolen."
Mme. Storey said nothing.
A chase at sea is an exasperating experience. There is nothing to do but
sit still. You cannot help any. Your eyes are glued on the boat ahead,
and its position never changes. The two boats are like fixed points with
the sea roaring by. We left the land behind us and began to feel the
long, slow Atlantic surges.
"Where the hell does he think he's going?" muttered the captain.
"There's nothing in front of us short of the West Indies."
In the end it became evident that the Bonito was drawing away from
us--very slowly, to be sure, nevertheless drawing away. We could just
barely keep her in view with our searchlight now. Mme. Storey's face was
stony. With the idea of cheering her, I said: "Just the same, we've got
him hard and fast. When you unmasked him tonight there were six
witnesses. A man like Nick Van Tassel can't escape for long."
"We shall never lay hands on him," she said, with grim certainty.
What happened, happened so swiftly that it stupefied me. The vessel
ahead seemed to waver in her course, and for a second we saw her whole
length dimly. I don't suppose it is given to many people to be actually
looking at such a thing when it happens. She lifted up in the middle and
broke in half as easily as one might break a breadstick between one's
fingers. A vast burst of flame filled the heavens, followed by an
appalling smash. Instantly the sea all round her seemed to be covered
with fire. I was stunned. The cries of my companions seemed to come from
far off. My first sensation was of blinding pain. I understood the
purport of Mme. Storey's grave words then. Of course Nick was not one
who would let himself be taken alive! He must have had the alternative
in view from the beginning. Lucifer gone to death with his lips fixed in
that infernal smile!
I wondered if his companions had been bold enough to face it out, too,
or if he had dragged them with him willy nilly into eternity. One would
never know. My heart bled at the thought of the three exquisite girls.
What good had their beauty been to anyone? Especially the delicious
Evelyn, betrayed by love.
We had to stop our engines until the spreading gasoline on the sea
burned itself out. In the middle of the fiery circle the two halves of
the yacht blazed separately. The long swell from the open sea
indifferently raised and lowered them. The madly leaping, curling,
entangling flames were like fiery hair blown in the wind. At no time did
we see anything human in the fire or in the sea. They must have tied
weights to their bodies so they would sink at once. Very likely they had
jumped overboard before the explosion.
It was all over in a few minutes. Each part of the vessel slowly sank,
disappearing suddenly at the last with an expiring hiss. The last flames
on the sea nickered out and the night seemed darker than before.
We moved up close to the spot, playing our searchlight upon it. The
surface of the sea was calm.
We lowered a small boat and Mme. Storey, Mr. Lyle, and the engineer got
into it. The sea was covered with floating wreckage. Aided by the light
from the yacht, they picked it over piece by piece, but found no
suggestion of anything human. We knew we shouldn't find anything, yet we
lingered for half an hour.
I kept my back turned to the searchers. I was only afraid they might
find something. Leaning over the rail, staring down at the black water,
I tried to argue myself back to sanity. What a fool I was to have
allowed my imagination to become enslaved by a Nick Van Tassel! Shallow,
cruel, and false, he had not a redeeming feature. But, oh! the splendor
of that reckless life and fiery death! I gave it up with a shrug. My
whole scheme of things was tottering.
When Mme. Storey came back up the ladder I stole a glance in her pale
grave face. I was overjoyed to see she felt the same as I did. She was
too big a woman to feel any jealousy because Death had cheated her of a
personal triumph. Putting an arm around my shoulders, she murmured: "How
much better to have it end this way than before a gaping courtroom!"
Mr. Lyle instantly agreed (for reasons of his own) that it would be
better for the world if the truth were never allowed to come out now.
Consequently, when we got under way we made a long detour over toward
Narragansett in order to avoid meeting the boats that we knew must have
put out from Newport to investigate the disaster. Thus we avoided giving
any explanation of our presence on the scene.
We returned to Brenton's Cove, where Mme. Storey and I were put ashore,
and Lyle's two men taken aboard. The yacht then carried them back to
Providence. The owner's family never knew that she had been out on any
other errand. If the shot was heard, it was ascribed to an automobile
The two drifting dinghies were towed out into the bay and sunk.
We found Catherine safe, and in attendance upon her mistress, pale faced
and tight lipped as she had been before it all happened. It seemed that
when the warning whistle had sounded, Reggie Mygatt had unceremoniously
dumped her ashore and rowed off to the Bonito. Catherine was never heard
to speak of the matter afterward.
Mrs. Baxter had fetched Dr. Wickham to attend her husband. Baxter had
been shot through the thigh, not a dangerous wound. From his description
of the man who had run up, we guessed that it was Bill Kip who had shot
him. By reason of Baxter's incapacitation Miss Betsy's car was useless
to her for the time being, so Mme. Storey and I used it to make our get
away. When morning broke we were far across the boundaries of Rhode
Island. We slept all day, and continued our journey the following night.
Thus Newport provided a second sensation close on the heels of the
first. Only about a dozen souls knew of the connection between the two,
and they never told. According to the story in the papers, Nick Van
Tassel had been entertaining a small party of his intimate friends at
dinner at Omega Farm.
His guests were Ann Livingston, Evelyn Suydam, Mary Bourne, William Kip,
and Reginald Mygatt, Jr.
About ten o'clock somebody had suggested they go fort a sail out to sea
in Nick's express cruiser the Bonito. As both the owner and young Kip
were experienced pilots and well used to engines, they had left the crew
of the vessel ashore. They had done this on former occasions. At a point
about ten miles south of Newport the Bonito had blown up from causes
that would never be known, and had no doubt instantly sunk. The fire had
been seen from the Cliffs and word was telephoned to the police, but
rescue boats had been unable to locate the spot until daylight, and then
nothing was to be found but a little floating wreckage. No bodies ever
It was the prominence of the families concerned that made it a unique
sensation. Much space was devoted to the victims' genealogies and to
accounts of their social triumphs. It was staggering to think of so many
gilded scions being wiped out at one time. As for Nick Van Tassel, he
bade fair to be enshrined forever as the premier patron of sport.
The other Van Tassels discreetly kept the amount of his estate out of
the papers, and the public still thinks of him in terms of millions.
It was Miss Betsy Pryor, the seemingly cynical and hard boiled, who put
up the good round sum that was considered necessary to insure the
silence of the two detectives attached to Mr. Lyle's office and the two
men on Mr. Westervelt's yacht. "What the devil!" (I can hear the deep
voice bringing it out.) "All those youngsters have families. Why should
the fathers and mothers have to suffer for the sins of their offspring'?
There are enough scandals to tickle the ears of the mob without airing
Miss Betsy is still our very good friend. Mme. Storey has not been able
to tempt her outside her walls, but we sometimes go to spend a week end
All that remained was for Mme. Storey and I to resuscitate ourselves as
plausibly as possible. We spent a week motoring through the White
Mountains and Canada, to give the affair time to die down a little.
Then, in order to divert attention as far as possible from Newport, we
discovered ourselves to the world in a Minneapolis hotel.
There was a tremendous furore, of course, but, curiously enough, our
coming back to life did not make so big a noise as our leaving it. The
public seemed to feel a little cheated. Mme. Storey told the press the
truth as far as she went. She said she had been engaged on a case that
made it highly desirable for her to disappear for a while, and she had
taken the accident of the fire as an opportunity to do so.
She refused all information about the case in question, and her story
was not very well received. Her great popularity undoubtedly suffered a
considerable diminution for a while. However, everything is forgotten in
time. The brilliant piece of work she did in connection with the murder
of Ram Lal, the so called crystal gazer, fully restored her in the
Labels: good reads