The Strange Adventure of the Irreproachable Butler
Author of “The Prairie Wife,” “The Hand of Peril,” “The Door of Dread,” “The Silver Poppy,” Etc.
"ARE you waiting for someone, sir?" That question, for all its veneer of respectfulness, was only too patently a message of dismissal. And I resented it, not only because it was an impertinence, but more because it had driven out of my drowsy brain a very beautiful picture of Mary Lockwood as she stooped over an old Italian table-cover embroidered with gold galloon.
“Are you waiting for some one?” repeated that newly arrived all-night waiter, in no way impressed by my silence.
“I am,” I announced as I inspected him with open disapproval. I was dreamily wondering why, in the name of commonsense, waiters always dressed in such ridiculous and undecorative neck-ties.
This particular waiter, however, continued to regard me out of a fishy and cynical eye. Then he looked at the clock. Then he looked at my empty wine-cooler, plainly an advertisement of suspended circulation in the only fluid that seemed vital to him.
“Was it a lady?” he had the effrontery to inquire.
I could see his eye roam about the all but empty room. It was the low-ebb hour when a trolley car is an event along the empty street, the hour when chairs are piled on café tables, the white corpuscles of the milk wagons begin to move through the city’s sleepy arteries, and those steel nerves known as telegraph wires keep languidly awake with the sugary thrills of their night letters.
“Yes, it was a lady,” I answered. That wall-eyed intruder knew nothing of the heavenly supper I had stumbled on in that wicked French restaurant, or of the fine and firm Clos Vougeot that had been unearthed from its shabby cellar, or of my own peace of mind as I sat there studying the empty metal cooler and pondering how the mean and scabby wastes of Champagne could mother an ichor so rich with singing etherealities.
“Eh—just what might she look like, sir?” my tormentor next asked of me, blinking about with a loose and largely condoning matter-of-factness as though in placid search of some plumed and impatient demirep awaiting her chance to cross the bar of acquaintanceship on the cai’eless high tide of inebriacy.
“She moves very, very quietly, and has star in her hair,” I replied to that fisheyed waiter. “Her breath is soft and dewy, and her brow is hooded. And in her hands she carries a spray of poppies.”
THE waiter looked down at me with that impersonal mild pity with which it is man’s wont to view the harmlessly insane.
“Surely,” I said with a smothered yawn, “surely you have met her? Surely you have been conscious of those soft and shadowy eyes gazing into yours as you melted into her arms?”
“Quite so, sir,” uneasily admitted my wall-eyed friend. Then I began to realize that he was waking me up. I grew fearful lest his devastating invasion should frighten away the timorous spirit I had been wooing as assiduously as an angler seeking his first trout. For one long hour, with a full body and an empty head, I had sat there stalking sleep as artfully and as arduously as huntsman ever stalked a deer. And I knew that if I moved from that spot the chase would be over, for that night at least.
“But the odd thing about her,” I languidly explained, “is that she evades only those who seek her. She is coy. She denies herself to those who most passionately demand her. Yet something tells me that she is hovering near me at this moment, that she is about to bend over me with those ineffable eyes if only I await the golden moment. And so, my dear sir, if you will take this as a slight reward for your trouble, and cover that exceedingly soiled-looking divan in that exceedingly disreputablelooking alcove with a clean tablecloth, and then draw that curtain which is apparently designed to convert it into a chambre particuliere, you will be giving me a chance to consort with an angel of graciousness more lovely than any meretricious head that ever soiled its faded plush. And if I am left uninterrupted until you go off in the morning, your reward will then be doubled.”
Copyrighted U.S.A. by Arthur Stringer. Copyrighted, in Great Britain.
His puzzled face showed, as he peered down at the bill in his hand, that if this indeed were madness, there was a not repugnant sort of method in it.
So he set dazedly about draping that none too clean divan with a tablecloth, making it, in fact, look uncomfortably like a bier. Then he carried my hat and gloves and overcoat to a chair at the foot of the divan. Then he took me by the arm, firmly and solicitously.
His face, as I made my way without one stagger or reel into that shabby little quietude screened off from the rest of the world, was a study in astonishment. It was plain that I puzzled him. He even indulged in a second wondering glance back at the divan as he drew the portieres. Then, if I mistake not, he uttered the one explanatory and self-sufficient word—“Needle-pumper.”
T HEARD him tiptoe in, a few minutes A later, and decently cover my legs with the overcoat from the chair. I did not speak, for bending over me was a rarer and sweeter Presence, and I wanted no sound or movement to frighten her away. Just when her hand touched mine I cannot tell. But I fell off into a deep and natural sleep and dreamed I was being carried through Sicilian orange groves by a wall-eyed waiter with wings like a butterfly.
Then the scene changed, as scenes have the habit of doing in dreams. I seemed to
the centre of a sub-cellar conference of highwaymen, presided over bv Latreille himself. Then the voices shifted and changed, receded and advanced. I seemed to be threading that buffer-state which lies between the two kingdoms of Sleep and Wakefulness, the buffer-state that has no clear-cut outlines and twists like a weevil between ever-shifting boundaries.
Where’s Sir ’Enery,” said a voice from a mountain-top. Then an answering murmur of voices buzzed about me like bees, only an intelligible word or two seeming to reinforce the fabric of my imaginings as iron rods reinforce concrete-walls. And I continued to lie there in that pleasant borderland torpor, which is neither wakefulness nor slumber. I seemed to doze on, in no ponderable way disturbed by the broken hum of talk that permeated through mv brain.
“Then why can’t Sir Henrv work on the Belmont job?” one of the voices was asking.
‘I told you before, Sir Henry’s tied up,” another voice answered.
“What doing?” asked the first voice.
“He’s fixing his plant for the Van Tuyl coup,” was the answer.
“What Van Tuyl?”
, “Up in Seventy-third street. He’s got em hog-tied.” “And what's more,” broke in a third voice, “he won’t touch a soup case since he got that safe wedge in the wrist. It kind o’ broke his nerve for nitro work.” “Aw, you couldn’t break that guy’s nerve.”
“Well, he knows he’s marked, anyway.”
THEN came a lull, followed by the scratch of a match and the mumbling voices again.
“How’d he get through the ropes up there?” inquired one of these voices.
“Same old way. Butlering. Turk McMeekin doped him up a half-dozen London recommends. That got him started out in Morristown, with the Whippeny Club. Then he did the Herresford job. But he’s got a peach with this Van Tuyl gang. They let him lock up every night— silver and all— and carry the keys to bed with him!”
“It’s up to Sir ’Enery to make ’em dream he’s the real thing,” murmured another of the voices.
“Sure!” answered still another voice that seemed a great distance away.
Then the mumble became a murmur and the murmur a drone. And the drone became a sighing of birch tops, and I was stalking Big-Horn across mountain peaks of cafe parfait, where a pompous English butler served peches Melba on the edge of every second precipice. When I woke up it was broad daylight, and my wall-eyed waiter was there waiting for his second bill. And I remembered that I ought to phone Benson so he could have the coffee ready by the time I walked home through the mellow November air.
IT was two hours later that the first memory of those murmuring midnight voices came back to me. The words I had overheard seemed to have been buried in my mind like seeds in the ground. Then here and there a green shoot of suspicion emerged. The more I thought it over, the more disturbed I became. Yet I warned myself that I could be sure of nothing. The one tangibility was the repeated word, “Van Tuyl.” And there at least was something on which I could focus my attention.
I went to the telephone and called up Beatrice Van Tuyl. Years before we had played water polo and catboated on the Sound together. I realized, as I heard that cheery young matron’s voice over the wire, that I would have to pick my steps with care.
“I say, Beatrice, are you possibly in need of a butler?” I began as offhandedly as I was able.
“Out of a place, Parley, dear?” was the chuckling inquiry that came to me.
“No, I’m not, but I know of a good man.” was my mendacious reply. “And I rather thought—”
“My dear Parley,” said the voice over the wire, “we’ve a jewel of a man up here. He’s English, you know. And I’m beginning to suspect he’s been with royalty. Jim’s always wanted to stick pins in his legs to see if he really isn’t petrified.”
"What’s his name?”
“Just what it ought to be—the most appropriate name of Wilkins.”
“How long have you had him?”
“Oh, weeks and weeks!” Only a New York householder could understand the tone of triumph in that retort.
“And you’re sure of him in every
“Of course we’re sure of him. He’s been a Gibraltar of dependability.” “Where did you get him from?” “From Morristown. He was at the Whippeny Club out there before he came
“The Whi^^eny Club!” I cried, for the name struck like a bullet on the metal of memory. ¿r‘
“Don’t you -tKiiik,” thë voice over the wire was saying, “that you’d better come up for dinner to-night and inspect the paragon at close range? And you might talk to us a little between whiles.”
“I’d love to,” was my very prompt reply-
“Then do,” said Beatrice Van Tuyl. “A little after seven.”
AND a little after seven I duly rang the Van Tuyls’ door bell and was duly admitted to that orderly and wellappointed Seventy-third Street house, so like a thousand other orderly and wellappointed New York houses hidden behind their unchanging masks of brown and gray.
Yet I could not help feeling the vulnerability of that apparently well-guarded home. For all its wall of stone and brick, for all the steel grills that covered its windows and the heavy scroll work that protected its glass door, it remained a place munificently ripe for -dunder. Its solidity, I felt, was only a mockery. It made me think of a fortress that had been secretly mined. Its occupants seemed basking in a false security. The very instruments which went to insure that security were actually a menace. The very machinery of service which made possible its cloistral tranquility held the factor for its disruption.
As I surrendered my hat and coat and ascended to that second floor where I had known so many sedately happy hours, I for once found myself disquieted by its flower-laden atmosphere. I began to be oppressed by a new and disturbing sense of responsibility. It would be no light matter, I began to see, to explode a bomb of dissension in that principality of almost arrogant aloofness. It would be no joke to confound that smoothly flowing routine with which urban wealth so jealously surrounds itself.
I suddenly remembered there was nothing in which I could be positive, nothing on which I could with certainty rely. And my inward disquiet was increased, if anything, by the calm and blithely contented glance that Beatrice Van Tuyl leveled at me.
“And what’s all this mystery about our man Wilkins?” she asked me, With the immediacy of her sex.
“Won’t you let me answer that question a little later in the evening?”
“But, my dear Parley, that’s hardly fair!” she protested, as she held a lighted match for her husband’s cigarette. “Do you know, I actually believe you’ve spotted some one you want to supplant Wilkins with.”
“Or did he spill soup on you some time when we didn’t see it?”
“I imagine he’s spilt a bit of soup in his day,” I answered, remembering what I had overheard as to the safe wedge. And as I spoke I realized that my one hope lay in the possibility of getting a glimpse of the mark which that wedge had left—if, indeed, my whole sand chain of coincidences did not slip back into the inconsequentialities of dreamland.
“You can’t shake my faith in Wilkins,” said the blue-eyed woman in the blue silk dinner gown, as she leaned back in a protecting armed and softly padded library chair which suddenly became symbolic of her whole guarded and upholstered life. “Jim, tell Parley what a jewel Wilkins really is.”
JIM, whose thought was heavy ordnance beside his wife’s flying column of humor, turned the matter solemnly over in his mind.
“He’s a remarkably good man,” admitted the stolid and levitical Jim, “remarkably good.”
“And you’ve seen him yourself, time and time again,” concurred his wife.
“But I’ve never been particularly interested in servants, you know,” was my self-defensive retort.
“Then why, in the face of the immortal ironies, are you putting mbutler under the miscroscope?” was the return shot that came from the flying column. The acidulated sweetness of that attack even nettled me into a right-about-face.
“Look here,” I suddenly demanded, “have either of you missed anything valuable about here lately?”
The two gazed at each other in perplexed wonder.
“Of course not,” retorted the woman in the dinner gown. “Not a thing!” “And you know you have everything intact, all your jewelry, your plate, your pocketbooks, the trinkets a sneak thief might call it worth while to round up?” “Of course we have. And I can’t even resent your bracketing my pocketbook in with the trinkets.”
“But are you certain of this? Could you verify it at a moment’s notice?” “My dear Parley, we wouldn’t need to. I mean we’re doing it every day of our lives. It’s instinctive; it’s as much a habit as keeping moths out of the closets and cobwebs out of the corners.” “What’s making you ask all this?” demanded the heavy artillery.
“Yes; what’s suddenly making you into a Holmes’s watchman?” echoed the flying brigade.
Still again I saw it was going to be no easy thing to intimate to persons you cared for the possibility of their sleeping on a volcano. Such an intimation has both its dangers and its responsibilities. My earlier sense of delight in a knowledge unparticipated in by others was gradually merging into a consciousness of a disagreeable task that would prove unsavory in both its features and its finale.
“I’m asking all this,” I replied, “because I have good reason to believe this paragon you call Wilkins is not only a criminal, but has come into this house for criminal purposes.”
“For what criminal purposes?”
“For the sake of robbing it.”
DEATRICE Van Tuyl looked at me w'th her wide-open azure eyes. Then she suddenly hubbied over with golden and liquid-noted laughter. “Oh, Parley, you’re lovely.”
“What proof have you got of that?” demanded Jim.
“Of my loveliness?” I inquired, for Jim Van Tuyl’s solidity was as provocative as that of the smithy anvil which the idler cannot pass without at least a hammer-tap or two. Yet it was this same solidity, I knew, that made him the safest of financiers and the shrewdest of investors.
“No,” he retorted; “proofs of the fact that Wilkins is here for other than honest purposes.”
“I’ve no proof,” I had to confess. “Then what evidence have you?”
( “I’ve not even any evidence as yet. But I’m not stirring up this sort of thing without good reason.”
“Let’s hope not!” retorted Jim.
“My dear Parley, you’re actually getting fussy in your old age,” said the laughing woman. It was only the solemnity of her husband’s face that seemed to sober her. “Can’t you see it’s absurd? We’re all here, safe and sound, and we haven’t been robbed.”
“But what I want to know,” went on the heavier artillery, “is what your reasons are. It seems only right we should inquire what you’ve got in the shape of evidence.”
“It wouldn’t be admitted as evidence,” I confessed.
He threw down his cigarette. It meant as much as throwing up his hands.
“Then what do you expect us to do?”
“I don’t expect you to do anything. All I ask is that you let me try to justify this course I’ve taken, that the three of us dine quietly together. And unless I’m greatly mistaken, before that dinner is over I think I can show you that this man—”
I saw Beatrice Van Tuyl suddenly lift a forefinger to her lip. The motion for silence brought me up short. A moment later I heard the snap of a light switch in the hallway outside and then the click of jade curtain-rings on their pole. Into the doorway stepped a figure in black, a calm and slow-moving and altogether self-assured figure.
“Dinner is served,” intoned this sober personage, with a curate-like solemnity all his own.
T HAD no wish to gape at the man, but that first glimpse of mine was a sharp one, for I knew that it was Wilkins himself that I was confronting. And as I beheld him there in all the glory of his magisterial assurance I felt an involuntary and ridiculous sinking in the diaphragm. I asked myself, in the name of all the Lares and Penates of Manhattan why I had suddenly gone off on a wildgoose chase to bag an inoffensive butler about whom I had had a midnight nightmare?
Then I looked at the man more closely. He wore the conventional dress livery of twilled worsted, with an extremely high-winged collar and an extremely small lawn tie. He seemed a remarkably solid figure of a man, and his height was not insignificant. Any impression of fragility, of sedentary bloodlessness, which might have been given out by his quite pallid face was sharply contradicted by the muscular heaviness of his limbs. His hair, a Kyrle-Bellewish gray over the temples, was cut short. The well-powdered and close-shaven face was bluish white along the jowls, like a priest’s. The poise of the figure, whether natural or simulated, was one marked for servitude.
Yet I had to admit to myself, as we filed out and down to the dining room, that the man was not without his pretended sense of dignity. He seemed neither arrogant nor obsequious. He hovered midway between the Scylla of hauteur and the Charybdis of considerate patience. About the immobile and maslike face hung that veil of impersonality which marked him as a butler—as a butler to the finger tips. When not actually in movement he was as aloofly detached as a totem pole. He stood as unobtrusive as a newel post, as impassive as some shielding piece of furniture, beside which youth might whisper its weightiest secret or conspiracy weave its darkest
I had to confess, as I watched his deft movements about that china-strewn oblong of damask which seemed his fit and rightful domain, that he was in no way wanting in the part—the only thing that puzzled me was the futility of that part. There was authority, too, in his merest finger movement and eye shift, as from time to time he signaled to the footman who helped him in his duties. There was grave solicitude on his face as he waited the minutest semaphoric nod of the woman in the blue silk dinner gown. And this was the man, with his stolid air of exactitude, with his quick-handed--movements and his alert and yet unparticipating eyes, whom I had come into that quiet household to proclaim a thief! >
I WATCHED for his hands every course as I sat there talking against time— and Heaven knows what I talked of! But about those hands there was nothing to discover. In the first thing of importance I had met with disappointment. For the cuffs that projected from the edges of the livery sleeves covered each large-boned wrist. In the actual deportment of the man there was nothing on which to base a decent suspicion. And in the meanwhile the dinner progressed, as all such dinners do, smoothly and quietly, and, to outward appearances, harmoniously and happily.
But as it progressed I grew more and more perplexed. There was another nauseating moment or two when the thought flashed over me that the whole thing was indeed a mistake, and what I had seemed to hear in my restless moments of the night before was only a dream projected into a period of wakefulness. Equipped with nothing more than an echo from this dream, I had started off on this mad chase, to run down a man who had proved and was proving himself the acme of decorous respectability.
But if this thought was a sickening one, it was also a sickly one. Like all sickly things, too, it tended to die young. It went down before the crowding actualities of other circumstances which I could not overlook. Coincidence, repeated often enough, became more than fortuity. The thing was more than a ifightmare. I had heard what I had heard. There was still some method by which I could verify or contradict my suspicion. My problem was to find a
Flan. And the gravity of my dilemma, suppose, was in some way reflected in my face,
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” asked Van Tuyl, with his heavy matter-of-factness, at a moment when the room happened to be empty.
“Don’t you see it’s a mistake?" added his wife, with a self-assuring glance about the rose-shaded table and then a wider glance about the room itself.
“Wait,” I suddenly said. “What were his references?”
“He gave us a splendid one from the Whippeny Club. We verified that. Then he had letters, six of them from some very decent people in London. One of them was a bishop.”
“Did you verify those?”
“Across the Atlantic, Parley? It really didn’t seem worth while!”
“And it’s lucky for him you didn’t!” “Why?”
“Because they’re forgeries, every one of them!”
“What ground have you for thinking that?” asked the solemn Van Tuyl.
“I don’t think it—I know it. And, I imagine I can tell you the name of the man who forged them for him.”
Continued on page 85
Continued from page 36
“Well, what is it?”
“A worthy by the name of Turk McMeekin.”
Van Tuyl sat up with a heavy purpose on his honest and unimaginative face.
“We've had a nice lot of this mystery, Parley, but we’ve got to get to the end of it. Tell me what you know, everything, and I’ll have him in here and face him with it. Now, what is there beside the Turk McMeekin item?”
“Not yet,” murmured Beatrice Van Tuyl warningly, as Wilkins and his masklike face advanced into the room.
1HAD the feeling, as he served us with one of those delectable ices which make even the epicureanism of the Cyrenaics tame in retrospect, that we were deliberately conspiring against our own well-being, that we were dethroning our own peace of mind. We were sitting there scheming to undo the aeency whose sole function was to minister to our delights. And I could not help wondering why, if the man was indeed what I suspected, he chose to follow the most precarious and the most ill-paid of all professions. I found it hard to persuade myself that behind that stolid blue-white mask of a face could flicker an>' wayward spirit of adventure—and yet without that spirit my whole case was a card house of absurdities.
I noticed that for the first time Beatrice Van Tuyl’s own eyes dwelt with a quick and searching look on her servant's immobile face. Then I felt her equally searching gaze directed at me. I knew that my failure to make good would meet with scant forgiveness. She would demand knowledge, even though it led to the discovery of the volcano’s imminence. And after so much smoke it was plainly my duty to show where the fire lay.
I seized the conversation by the tail, as it were, and dragged it back into the avenues of inconsequentiality. We sat there, the three of us, actually making talk for the sake of a putty-faced servant. noticed, though, that as he rounded the table he repeatedly fell under the quickly questioning gaze of both his master and mistress. I began to feel like an lago, who had willfully polluted a dovecote of hitherto unshaken trust. It became harder and harder to keep up my pretence of artless good humor. Time was flying, and nothing had as yet been found out. room was once more empty, “what are you sure of?”
“I’m sure of nothing,” I had to con-
“Then what do you propose doing?” was the somewhat Arctic inquiry.
I glanced up at the wall where Ezekiah Van Tuyl, the worthy founder of the American branch of the family, frowned reprovingly down at me over his swathing black stock.
“I propose,” was my answer, “having your great grandfather up there let us know whether I am right or whether I am wrong.”
AND as Wilkins stepped into the room I rose from the table, walked over to the heavy-framed portrait, and lifted it from its hook. I held it there, with a pretence of studying the face for a moment or two. Then I placed my table napkin on a chair, mounted it, and made an unsuccessful effort to rehang the portrait.
“If you please, Wilkins,” I said, still holding the picture flat against the wall.
“A little higher,” I told him, as I strained to loop the cord back over its hook. I was not especially successful at this, because at the time my eyes were directed toward the hands of the man holding up the picture.
His position was such that the sleeves of his black service coat were drawn away from the white and heavy-boned wrists. And there, before my eyes, across the flexor cords of the right wrist was a wide and ragged scar at least three inches in length.
I returned to my place at the dinner table. Van Tuyl, by this time, was gazing at me with both resentment and wonder.
“Shall we have coffee upstairs?” his wife asked with unruffled composure. I could see her eye meet her husband’s. “Here, please,” I interpolated.
“We’ll have coffee served here,” Beatrice Van Tuyl said to her butler.
“Very good, madam,” he answered.
T WONDERED, as I watched him cross the room, if he suspected anything. I also wondered how harebrained the man and woman seated at the table thought me.
“Listen,” I said, the moment we were alone; “have you a servant here you can trust, one you can trust implicitly?”
“Of course,” answered my hostess.
“Who is it?”
“Wilkins,” was the answer.
“Not counting Wilkins?”
“Well, I think I can also trust my maid Felice—unless you know her better than I do.”
I could afford to ignore the thrust.
“Then I’d advise you to send her up to look over your things at once.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because now I know this man Wilkins is a criminal of the worst type!”
“You know it?”
“Yes, I know it as well as I know I’m sitting at this table. And I can prove it.”
“How?” demanded Van Tuyl.
“I’ll show you how in a very few moments. And, on second thoughts, I’d have that maid Felice bring what you regard as valuable right to this diningroom—I mean your jewels and things.”
“But this sounds so silly,” demurred my still reluctant hostess.
“It won’t sound half so silly as a Tiffany advertisement of a reward and no questions asked.”
Beatrice Van Tuyl intercepted a footman and sent him off for the maid Felice.
A moment later Wilkins was at our side quietly serving the cafe noir in tiny goldlined cups.
“This method of mine for identifying the real pearl, as you will see,” I blandly went on, “is a very simple one. You merely take a match end and dip it in clear water. Then you let a drop of the water fall on the pearl. If the stone is an imitation one the water-drop will ! spread and lie close to the surface. If the stone is genuine the drop will stand high and rounded, like a globe of quicksilver, and will shake with the minute vibrations which pass through any body not in perfect equilibrium.”
DEFORE I had completed that speech ■*A the maid Felice had stepped into the room. She was a woman of about thirty, white-skinned, slender of figure, and decidedly foreign-looking. Her face was a clever one, though I promptly disliked an affectation of languor with which she strove to hide a spirit which was only too plainly alert.
“I want you to fetch my jewel case from the boudoir safe,” her mistress told her. “Bring everything in the box.”
I could not see the maid’s face, for at that moment I was busy watching Wilkins. From that worthy, however, came no slightest sign of disturbance or won-
“Here, madam?” the maid was asking.
“Yes, here and at once, please,” answered Beatrice Van Tuyl. Then she turned to me. “And since you’re such a jewel expert you’ll be able to tell me what’s darkening those turquoises of
I dropped a lump of sugar into my coffee and sipped it. Wilkins opened a darkwooded buffet humidor before me, and I picked out a slender-waisted Havana corseted in a band of gold. I suddenly looked up at the man as he stood at my side holding the blue-flamed little alcohol lamp for the contact of my waiting cigar
“Wilkins, how did you get that scar?”
I asked him, out of a clear sky. The wrist was covered by its cuff and sleeve end, but under them, I knew was the telltale mark.
“What scar, sir?” he asked, his politeness touched with an indulgent patience which seemed to imply that he was not altogether unused to facing gentlemen in unaccountably high spirits.
“This one,” I said, catching his hand in mine and running the cuff back along the white forearm. Not one trace of either alarm or resentment could I see on that indecipherable countenance. I almost began to admire the man. In his way he was superb.
“Oh, that, sir!” he exclaimed, with an almost offensively condoning glance at the Van Tuyls, as though inquiring whether or not he should reply to a question so personal and at the same time so out of place.
“Tell him where you got it, Wilkins,” said Beatrice Van Tuyl, so sharply that it amounted to a command.
“I got it stopping Lord Entristle’s brougham, madam, in London, seven years ago,” was the quiet and unhesitating answer.
“How?” sharply asked the woman.
“I was footman for his lordship then, madam,” went on the quiet and patientnoted voice. “I had just taken cards in when the horses were frightened by a tandem bicycle. They threw Siddons, the coachman, off the box as they jumped, and overturned the vehicle. His lordship was inside. I got the reins as one of the horses went down. But he kicked me against the broken glass and I threw out one hand, I fancy, to save myself.”
“And the coach glass cut your wrist?” asked Van Tuyl.
“Yes, sir,” replied the servant, moving with methodic slowness on his way about the table. His figure, in its somber badge of livery, seemed almost a pathetic one. There was no anxiety on his face, no shadow of fear about the mild and unparticipating eyes. I was suddenly conscious of my unjust superiority over him—-a superiority of station, of birth, of momentary knowledge.
'T'HE silence that ensued was not a pleasant one. I felt almost grateful for the timely entrance of the maid Felice. In her hands she carried a japanned tin box, about the size of a theatrical makeup box. This she placed on the table beside her mistress.
“Is there anything else, madam?” she asked.
“That is all,” answered Beatrice Van Tuyl as she threw back the lid of the japanned box. I noticed that although the key stood in it, it was unlocked. Then my hostess looked up at the waiting butler. “And, Wilkins, you can leave the cigars and liqueur on the table. I’ll ring if I want anything.”
The carefully coiffured blond head was bent low over the box as the servants stepped out of the room. The delicate fingers probed through the array of leather-covered cases. I could see by her face, even before she spoke, that thebox’s contents were intact.
“You see,” she said, ladling handful after handful of glittering jewelry out on the white tablecloth between her coffee-cup and mine, “everything is here. Those are my rings. There’s the dog collar. There’s angel Jim’s sunburst And here’s the ordinary family junk.”
I sat for a moment studying that Oriental array of feminine adornment. t was plainly an array of evidence to discountenance me. I felt a distinct sense of relief when the woman in blue suddenly dropped her eyes from my face to her jewel box again. It was Van Tuyl’s persistent stare that roweled, me into final activity.
“Then so far, we’re in luck! And as from now on I want to be responsible for what happens,” I said, as I reached over and gathered the glittering mass up in a table napkin, “I think it will simplify things if you, Van Tuyl, take possession of these.”
I tied the napkin securely together and handed it to my wondering host. Then I dropped a silver bonbon dish and a bunch of hothouse grapes into the emptied box, locking it and handing the key back to Beatrice Van Tuyl.
That lady looked neither at me nor at the key. Instead, she sat staring meditatively into space, apparently weighing some question in which the rest of that company could claim no interest. It was only after her husband had spoken her name sharply that she came back to her immediate surroundings.
“And now, what must I do?” she asked, with a new note of seriousness.
“Have the maid take the box back to where it came from,” I told her. “But be so good as to retain the key.” “And then what?” mocked Van Tuyl. “Then,” cut in his wife, with a sudden note of antagonism which I could not account for, “the sooner we send for the police the better.”
An answering note of antagonism showed on Van Tuyl’s face.
“I tell you, Kempton. I can’t do it,” he objected, even as his wife rang the bell. “You’ve got to show me!”
“Please be still, Jim,” she said, as Wilkins stepped into the room. She turned an impassive face to the waiting servant. “Will you ask Felice to come
^ONE of us spoke until Felice entered the room. Wilkins, I noticed, followed her in, but passed across the room’s full length and went out by the door in the rear.
“Felice,” said the woman beside me, very calmly and coolly, “I want you to take this box back to the safe.”
» “Yes, madam.”
“Then go to the telephone in the study and ring up headquarters. Tell them who you are. Then explain that I want them to send an officer here, at once.” “Yes, madam,” answered the attentivefaced maid.
“Felice, you had better ask them to send tw'o men, two—
“Two plainclothes men,” I prompted. “Yes, two plainclothes men. And explain to them that they are to arrest the man-servant who opens the door for them—at once, and without any fuss. Is that quite clear?”
“Yes, madam, quite clear,” answered the maid.
“Then please hurry.”
I looked up at Van Tuyl’s audible splutter of indignation.
’’Excuse me,” he cried, “but isn’t all this getting just a little high-handed? Aren’t we making things into a nice mess for ourselves? Aren’t we moving just a little too fast in this game, calling out the reserves because you happen to spot a scar on my butler’s wrist?”
“I tell you, Jim," I cried, with all the earnestness at my command, “the Ilian’s a thief, a criminal with a criminal’s record!”
“Then prove it!’’ demanded Jim.
“Call him in and I will.”
Van Tuyl made a motion for his wife to touch the bell.
. Her slippered toe was still on the rugcovered button when Wilkins entered, the same austere and self-assured figure.
“Wilkins,” said Van Tuyl, and there was an outspoken and deliberate savagery in his voice even as his wife motioned to him in what seemed a signal for moderation. “Wilkins, I regard you as an exceptionally good servant. Mr. Kempton, on the other hand, says he knows you and says you are not.”
“Yes, sir,” said Wilkins with his totempole abstraction.
There was something especially maddening in that sustained calmness of his.
“And what’s more,” I suddenly cried, exasperated by that play-acting role and rising and confronting him as he stood there, “your name’s not Wilkins, and you never got that wrist scar from a coach
“Why not, sir?” he gently and respectfully inquired.
“Because,” I cried, stepping still nearer and watching the immobile blue-white face, “in the gang you work with you’re known as Sir Henry, and you got that cut on the wrist from a wedge when you tried to blow open a safe door, and the letters of introduction which you brought to the Whippeny Club were forged by an expert named Turk McMeekin; and I know what brought you into this house and what your plans for robbing it are.”
'T'HERE was not one move of his body as he stood there. There was not one twitch of the mask-like face. But out on that face, point by point, came a slow suffusion of something akin to expression. It was not fear. To call it fear would be doing the man an injustice. It began with the eyes, and spread from feature to feature, very much, I imagine, as sentient life must have spread across the countenance of Pygmalion’s slowly awakening marble.
For one fraction of a moment the almost pitiful eyes looked at me with a quick and imploring glance. Then the mask once more descended over them. He was himself again. And I felt almost sure that in the mellowed light about us the other two figures at the table had not seen that face as I did.
There was, in fact, something almost like the same on Van Tuyl’s heavy face as the calm-voiced servant, utterly ignoring me and my words, turned to him and asked if he should remove the things.
“You haven’t answered the gentleman,” said Beatrice Van Tuyl, in a voice a little shrill with excitement.
“What is there to answer, madam?” he mildly asked. “It’s all the young gentleman’s foolishness, some foolishness which I can’t understand.”
“But the thing can’t stand like this,” protested the ponderous Van Tuyl.
'T'HERE must have been something re-*■ assuring to them both in the methodic calmness with which this calumniated factor in their domestic Eden moved about once more performing his petty domestic duties.
“Then you deny everything he says?” insisted the woman.
The servant stopped and looked up in mild reproof.
“Of course, madam,” he replied, as he slowly removed the liqueur glasses. I saw my hostess look after him with one of her long and abstracted glances. She was still peering into his face as he stepped back to the table. She was, indeed, gazing at him when the muffled shrill of the electric bell announced there was a caller at the street door.
“Wilkins,” she said, almost ruminatively, “I want you to answer the door—the street door.”
“Yes, madam,” he answered, without hesitation.
The three of us sat in silence, as the
slow and methodic steps crossed the room, stepped out into the hall, and advanced to what at least one of us knew to be his doom. It was Van Tuyl himself who spoke up out of the silence.
“What’s up?” he asked. “What’s he gone for?”
“The police are there,” answered his
“Good God!” exclaimed the astounded husband now on his feet. “You don’t mean you’ve sprung that trap on the poor devil? You—”
“Sit down, Jim,” broke in his wife with enforced calmness. “Sit down and wait.”
“But I won’t be made a fool of!” “You’re not being made a fool of!” “But who’s arresting this man? Who’s got the evidence to justify what’s being done here?”
“I have,” was the woman’s answer. “What do you mean?"
She was very calm about it.
“I mean that Parley was right. My Baroda pearls and the emerald pendant 'were not in the safe. They’re gone.” “They’re gone?” echoed the incredulous husband.
“Listen!” I suddenly cried, as Van Tuyl sat digesting his discovery. We heard the sound of steps, the slam of a door, and the departing hum of a motor car. Before I realized what she was doing Beatrice Van Tuyl’s foot was once more on the call bell. A footman answered the summons.
“Go to the street door,” she commanded, “and see who’s there.”
Y\JE waited, listening. The silence ’ ' lengthened. Something about that silence impressed me as ominous. We were still intently listening as the footman stepped back into the room.
“It’s the chauffeur, sir,” he explained. “And what does he want?”
“He said Felice telephoned for the car a quarter of an hour ago.”
“Send Felice to me,” commanded my hostess.
“I don’t think I can, ma’am. She’s gone in the car with Wilkins.”
“Yes, ma’am. Markson says he can’t make it out, ma’am, Wilkins driving off that way without so much as a by-yourleave, ma’am.”
The three of us rose as one from the table. ’ For a second or two we stood staring at each other.
Then Van Tuyl suddenly dived for the) stairs, with the napkin full of jewelry ini his hand. I, in turn, dived for the street door. But before I opened it I knew it; was too late.
I suddenly stepped back into the hall-; way, to confront Beatrice Van Tuyl. j “How long have you had Felice?” 1| asked, groping impotently about the hall, closet for my hat and coat.
“She came two weeks before Wilkins,’* was the answer.
“Then you see what this means?” I asked, still groping about for my over-!
“What can it mean?”
“They were working together—they were confederates.”
Van Tuyl descended the stairs still carrying the table napkin full of jewelry. His eyes were wide with indignant won-
“It’s gone!” he gasped. “He’s taker your box!”
I emerged from the hall closet both s little startled and a little humiliated.
“Yes, and he’s taken my hat and coat,’ I sadly confessed.