THE EVIDENCE IN THE CHAIR
VINCENT L. HUGHES
IT WAS early morning before the party which Peter Chivers gave to celebrate his thirty-fourth birthday came to an end. Clearing his way through the smoke, slightly perfumed,
Peter forced open a window.
Stretched out in a handsome chair in the library was his last remaining guest;
Alwyn Black, the English novelist.
“Jolly evening,” he commented blissfully as Peter came in.
“I’m afraid we made a lot of noise,” returned Peter agreeably, pulling a facsimile chair to the fireplace.
“Everybody should make a noise on his birthday. I cried the moment I was born.”
“I’ve been thinking of Jenks’ face in the morning,” said Peter, smiling that whimsical smile of his which Mrs.
Lesterwell said was so fascinating. “Poor old Jenks.”
“Jenks?” asked Black stupidly.
In defence of his commiseration Peter explained. Jenks, butler and valet, quiet, lovable, somewhat of a nuisance but reliable as a bit of old furniture, was, he said, the household’s alma mater. The house—a very old one on the east side of Fifth Avenue— was orderly and well-conducted because of Jenks; likewise, added Peter, it was dull because of Jenks. “In fact,” he concluded, “it almost belongs to Jenks. Now that mother and father are dead, and Charlie living in Europe, there isn’t anyone here to contradict him.”
Black suggested “as man to man, don’t you know,” that the right girl should be found, to be followed by wedding bells and all that sort of thing. The lady would be an easy matter; Peter was well-to-do and owned a desirable residence; any woman would only be too glad to jump in if he left the door open. From the recesses of his armchair the novelist quizzed him. “Besidesyou’re not such a bad looking old duck,” he said.
“Thanks,” said Peter.
THE CLOCK on the mantelshelf struck the hour of two, and for a while there was silence. Black applied the match to his cigarette, and when it threatened to burn his fingers he unconcernedly permitted it to fall between his long legs on to the chair. Peter, watching him, wondered if it would bum his trousers, but Black gave no sign of discomfort.
“By the way what do you think of those chairs?" “Jolly fine.” Here the cigarette followed the match.
“I bought them at a sale the other day—” began Peter Then he said: “Of course if you are set on burning them, go right ahead.”
Alwyn Black struggled to his feet.
“It’s on the seat,” offered Peter.
Black, however, was none too steady on his legs and in trying to turn he merely subsided into the chair again. The cigarette rolled down and slipped in between the seat and the outer upholstering, and when he regained his feet it was not to be seen.
“It’s gone down there',” said Peter, pointing to the place. “You’ve a smaller hand than mine and it’s up to
you to get it out before it sets the chair on fire.” “Right ho!”
Pulling back his coat sleeves Black forced his hand down the side of the chair and felt around the bottom. A good deal of joking was the immediate result. In Black’s owm words there were “a million hairpins lying round, old boy.”
It was agreed that by this time the cigarette had gone out and Black was about to give up in despair when he Shouted warning of a discovery: “Hullo! what’s this?”
The armchair covering was a thick woolly fabric and the aperture between it and the seat very small. Black had considerable difficulty in getting his hand out. When he did so he brought to light a gold mesh bag.
He winked at Peter: “My word, look at this! How
about it, old fellow?”
Peter did not move. “One of the ladies—”
The novelist cut him short however: “Pretending you
led such a quiet sort of life, eh? Ha! No wonder you don’t w'ant to get married if you—”
“Don’t be an idiot,” snapped Peter. “Let’s have a look at the blamed thing.”
THE BAG was of the most exquisite design and workmanship; Peter opened it and gasped in astonishment. Under the lamp he emptied the contents on the table. Folded together were five one hundred dollar bills and a roll of smaller bills. There was also an enamelled vanity box, a lace handkerchief, a card case, and one or two small hairpins.
Black grinned and prodded him in the ribs. “None of your play-acting for me, old boy. Who’s the lady?” Peter liked Alwyn Black; they had known each other
for a number of years. He knew that if it came to a question of honor he could trust Black “upside down.” But, intuitively, something flashed through his brain and prompted him to equivocate; even to lie. Half-turning his back he deftly unfastened the card case and caught a glimpse of a printed name. It was completely unfamiliar to him. “Well Peter? Pappa is waiting.” Peter remembered the incident clearly now, he said. He was very glad that Black had found it. At first he thought it belonged to one of the ladies who had been at the party; but now he remembered everything. “She’s been hunting the thing for months,” he said. "Advertised in the papers and looked everywhere. To think it was here all the time.” “You’re making all this up,” said Black. “I don’t believe a word of it.”
By this time Peter had the card case in his pocket. “I must phone her the first thing in the morning," he went on blandly. “Yes, that’s the first thing I must do.” “Peter,” said Black, trying to sound paternal, “I’ll forgive you. But these encomiums of your conduct and unimpeachable morals and all that sort of humbug get their death stroke this very minute. You’re a sly old fox, that’s what you are. You’re a man at last, Peter, old boy.”
“Now listen, Black,” said Peter, “you’ve got this all wrong.” Feeling that his face was an open book to his literary friend he worked his brains for the most plausible story to counteract it. “A friend of mine came over to see mé some time ago, and we talked about one or two business matters as he sat in that chair.”
“He?” said Black.
“She,” corrected Peter hurriedly; “in that chair. I recall it quite clearly now. The next day she phoned to say she had lost her mesh bag. Had she left it here? Had I seen it? And so on.”
He paused and sat down rather dismally. “You can see for yourself that except for your drunken clumsiness in dropping the. cigarette the thing would have remained undiscovered,” he argued, surprised to feel that he was getting angry. “She will be delighted to hear that I have found it.”
Black rose to go. For a woment he stood by the table looking down at the glittering jewelry and money.
“There’s over one thousand dollars’ worth of stuff there,” he said soberly enough.
“And your friend has been hunting her bag for quite a time?”
“A long time.”
“And yet,” said Black, “you say you bought that chair at a sale the other day?”
"Twenty-four hours is a long term of anxiety,” flashed Peter, contradicting himself.
"Ha! Ha!” said Black. “Let me get out of this den of infamy.”
T^OR QUITE half an hour after Alwyn Black had gone F Peter remained motionless by the table. He recalled the day when Jenks had bought in the chairs, having got them at an auctioneer’s sale somewhere down town.
“Dirt cheap, Mr. Peter, and the very thing for your
Peter glanced at the little card in his hand. Then at one time, he told himself, the chairs had belonged to this lady, had been her private property.
Reluctantly, and somewhat ashamed of what he was doing, Peter counted the smaller roll of bills and found they amounted to thirty-three dollars. He whistled under his breath as he estimated the total; and simultaneously visualizing the woman’s distress a sudden thrill of excitement took hold of him when he realised it was within the scope of his intelligence to do a certain amount of deduction by the aid of the articles on the table. The handkerchief had a tiny monogram in the corner of it, the initials corresponding to the name on the card. Feeling pleased with himself Peter went to bed.
Jenks, a little white-haired ghost of a man, brought him his coffee and the newspapers at nine o’clock the next morning.
“Jenks,” he said opening his eyes.
“Yes, Mr. Peter,” Jenks had not changed his form of address since the nursery days.
“How much did you pay for those two armchairs in the library?”
“Twenty dollars, Mr. Peter.”
Jenks opened wide his light blue eyes and stared hard out of the window.
“I know,” said Peter watching him. “I suppose I ought to glance into these household affairs now and then. But you see, Jenks, I have so much confidence in you that I—”
“Mr. Peter,“ Jenks interrupted, “that is not the custom of the family.” His eyes, remarkably clear this morning, turned from the window to the bed and for one fleet instant rested there. “They were not worth more than twenty dollars,” he said; then he turned and went out of the room.
Peter dressed more hurriedly than usual, and after scrambling through his mail and his breakfast he went outside and hailed a taxi. To the driver he gave an address in Gramercy Park, and settled back to compose the best way of presenting himself and letting a young lady with brown hair and brown eyes know of her good fortune.
As he walked into the studio apartment the number cf which corresponded with the address on the card in his pocket Peter experienced all the excitement of a schoolboy doing a good turn under the guise of prankishness. He was totally unprepared for the doorman’s, “Yes, Sir?”
• “Miss Morland,” said Peter.
“Miss Edith Morland.”
“Don’t know her,” said the man. “There’s no such person living here.”
“Well,” said Peter, “it’s very evident that she did live here, since she has this address printed on her card.” He handed the pasteboard to the doorkeeper who had to hold it no further than an inch from his eyes to see what was written on it. He read the name slowly once or twice and then shook his head.
“I don’t recall any such lady living here, Sir.”
“Try to find out for me, there’s a good fellow,” said Peter, jingling some coins in his trousers pocket. “It’s a matter of urgent business. If she’s not here now I would be glad if you can find out where she has moved to.”
LATER, as Peter, with a mixture of regret and disappointment in his breast, walked slowly away, he began to feel that he had no small task in front of him. Here, on the very outset of his adventure, he was confronted with absolute failure; it was most annoying to believe that following his satisfactory analysis of last night he should bump right into a stone wall, a cul-de-sac. Only one thing was clear to him, and that was that she no longer lived at the address on her card; and only the liberality of his tip, he remembered, was the assurance of that. It had caused the most discerning change in the doorkeeper who had done all that was possible to trace any news of the lady in question. “They’m most of ’em artists here, Sir. They keep coming and going; never settle down like human beings; that’s the worst of ’em, Sir.” Peter had suggested that there might be one studio whose occupants had been more or less stationary. “Miss Morland,” he said gravely, “was here within the last six months.”
The door-keeper showed signs of enlightenment. “Oh, yes, Sir. There’s Miss Turnbull; she’s been living here for years, I guess; though dang me if she didn’t go out about fifteen minutes ago.”
So it had been arranged that Peter telephone later in the day, ask for Tom, and that Tom would give him what information he could gather from Miss Turnbull.
When this news came it was to the effect that Miss Turnbull distinctly remembered Miss Edith Morland; she, Miss Morland, had occupied the suite on the ground
floor, keeping very much to herself, as it were. Sometimes her sisters came to stay with her. Both of ’em were a little stand-offish, and Miss Turnbull hadn’t a notion where they were now. It was Tom’s last words over the telephone which gave Peter a new lease of hope. “Maybe they’d know at the post office, sir.”
This information Peter accepted as his own and he lost no time in following it up. At the post office he approached the affair with greater delicacy but it availed nothing.
When Peter reached home that evening he was glad to find Alwyn Blaek comfortably settled in the library.
Muttering an introductory greeting Peter sank into a chair. Black, it seemed, had received news from England necessitating his immediate return there, and he was leaving on the Aquitania. He was, Peter soon discovered fully, even aggressively, anxious to resume the discussion of last night’s discovery. “Of course, old boy, it’s rather too bad that you forgot to telephone this morning. The dear lady must be half dead from anxiety and tantrums— and here’s a whole day gone by without administering to her relief. Or have you changed your mind?”
“I’ve had a strenuous day,” said Peter. “I’d be extremely obliged if you would not question my integrity.” ‘T don’t,” laughed Black.
“In that case what are you driving at?”
“The mesh bag,” said Black. “It’s in your pocket, old fellow. Pappa can see it from here.”
Peter Chivers’ peace of mind' was invaded by angry resentment. He sat up rigidly, almost losing his balance, and coming dangerously near asking Black to mind his own damned business.
“The truth is,” continued the novelist carelessly, “you’ve no more idea about the beastly bag than I have. You’ve not the faintest notion whom it belongs to. You may as well say so, old boy, and be done with it; I knew it last night.”
Peter was dramatically silent.
“T ET ME do a little deducting of my own,” Black ■L/ went on. “You bought the chairs at a sale and then, accidentally,you found that one of them contained a charmingly intriguing and romantic article worth—not that that is important—at least a thousand dollars. I am willing to admit, dear boy, that such an incident strikes deeply into the romantic heart of any man.
“Now you’ve been flitting about all day long trying to find where the chairs originally came from, in the hope you might play Sir Galahad to a fair damsel in distress. So far you’ve not been successful; daddy knows you haven’t.”
Peter admitted that most of his theory was true. He had been unsuccessful, but that was no proof that he might not be successful tomorrow. “It begins to look fairly difficult,” he conceded after he had recited his day’s adventures. “And I’ve thought that an equally good method would be to write a letter to the Gramercy Park address.” Black nodded. “It might reach her; and if I don’t hear from the post office people by tomorrow that’s just what I’ll do.”
Suddenly Black sat more upright in his chair. “Then,” he said, “you at least know this lady’s name! How did you find that out?”
Peter was on the verge of telling him when something again warned him to further taciturnity. He threw off— almost with a physical gesture—his desire to be confidential, and walking over to the sidetable he said: “I don’t
intend that you shall know.”
Black was unable to accept the invitation to dinner, and Peter dined alone.
It was late when Jenks entered to announce that someone had called with an important message, and was waiting in the hall. Peter went out and found the visitor to be his friend of Gramercy Park; Tom the doorkeeper, minus his livery and gilt cap.
“I’ve got the address, Sir,” said Tom at once.
“Come in here,” shouted Peter, leading him into a room. Tom plunged into his story without wasting breath. He was a man, he said, who owed his success in life to a “followin’ things up, and gettin’ to the bottom of ’em.” So that when he got home that evening he mentioned the affair to the missus; who, now and then, mostly to be obliging to some of the young ladies, did a little washing for ’em. She had no trouble in remembering Miss Morland, said Tom, a pretty young woman who had gone away quite suddenly leaving a bundle of expensive clothes in his wife’s wash-tub. Some time later a letter came asking that the laundry be sent to an address on West Eighty-third street.
“Have you that address with you?” asked Peter excitedly.
“I have,” said Tom. And from his coat pocket he produced a letter. “This is the very note she sent to the missus, Sir.”
The handwriting was clear and legible and shaped in that singularly round, common style peculiar, thought Peter—he knew not why, but it was—to the American college girl. There was no signature; it merely asked that the laundry should be sent to Miss Morland, care of 5 West 83rd. street. Peter returned the letter, rewarded Tom for his service, and in half an hour was mounting
the steps of the good-looking jhouse near Central Park West. A neat maid answered his ring.
C^OOD EVENING,” said Peter. The girl anticipated ' him. “Sorry,” she said, urging a smile into her tired features, “but we’re full up.”
“I haven’t come for a room,” returned Peter. “I want to see Miss Morland.”
“Left for the country about four weeks ago. Wait a minute and maybe I can find out where she is.”
Perer dwelt upon her return with deep interest. He w as now he felt happily, at least fully in the swing of the adventure, and it was precisely its quality of alternate hope and despair, its promise of success and element of uncertainty that held and fascinated him. Such a day of exhilarating action had been horribly absent from his past years, and he was, he thought pleasurably, commencing to feel younger and immensely more important in the curriculum of his cosmos; only beginning to discover the world—and then his thoughts were interrupted by the return of the maid.
“She’s at Douglaston, Long Island,” she said. “Stopping with a Mrs. Mallen—or Ballen—or something.”
Douglaston, Peter found, on his arrival there the next morning, was a delightful country hamlet within a stone’s throw, almost, from the Pennsylvania Station. He was the only passenger to alight.
It was a bright, seductive morning in Spring; a few clouds—compact little puffs of a cotton wool texture startlingly distinct and tranquil—suspended over the horizon; the sky was an almost virgin expanse of early April blue; and the gray earth on each side of the plank boardwalk was moist and elastic and thoroughly delightful to walk upon.
As luck would have it the first man Peter saw was the postman. “There’s a Mrs. Mallen who lives in that large white house yonder,” he said, answering Peter’s question and directing him to a house visible just round the bend. “Maybe that’s who you’re looking for.”
“Thank you,” said Peter.
An abundance of spring flowers bloomed in the garden. Peter, unlatching the gate, caught sight of two young ladies on the porch, one lying on a lounge chair, and the other sitting beside her; but on his appearance the latter instantly rose to her feet and went inside the house. Peter discreetly observed the other to be an invalid, asleep, at least her eyes were closed, and that her profile was extremely delicate and refined; the sun’s rays, catching her hair, causing it to shine like new bronze. A sweet, middle-aged matron—whom Peter readily took to be Mrs. Mallen—answered his touch of the door bell.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” began Peter, already feeling guilty of his intrusion, “but can you tell me if Miss Morland lives here?” Her eyes questioned him for a second, then with a frightened glance at the girl sleeping on the porch, Mrs. Mallen put her finger to her lips and beckoned Peter into the house.
She led the way into a pretty drawing-room, very inviting and cozy, and after closing the door she went over to the windows and quietly pulling them together fastened them on the inside.
“Will you sit down?” Her soft voice, thought Peter, was slightly tremulous, the suspicion of nervousness in it finding favor through the growing paleness of her complexion.
After verifying that he was talking to Mrs. Mallen, and that Miss Morland was staying with her, Peter began to explain the object of his visit. “My name is Chivers,” he said ; “and I should be glad of an opportunity to speak to Miss Morland if only for a few minutes. I have been all over New York trying to find her.” The acknowledgment of this particular bit of news did not seem to please Mrs. Mallen. She made an effort to hide it but Peter could see that she was ill at ease.
“Is it Miss Margaret you wish to see?” she asked apprehensively.
“No,” said Peter. “I want to see Miss Edith Mor-
IT MAY have been the expression of deep anxiety which slowly spread itself across Mrs. Mallen’s face that instantly gave Peter the inference that Miss Edith Morland was dangerously ill; in any case he assumed that to be the situation and at once begged a forgiveness for his blundering stupidity. “I’m extremely sorry to have pained you so carelessly,” he said very meekly.
Mrs. Mallen went to the door. “I’ll send her sister in to you,” she whispered.
It was quite ten minutes before Miss Morland came in; when she did so she entered quickly and closed the door behind her. She w'as dressed in a light dress of some soft material, and her dark brown hair was caught together in loose coils on top of her head. Her face, thought Peter, had an unmistakable stamp of gentility and nobleness; her whole attitude slightly disdainful, supercilious; but— to Peter—very attractive.
“What do you want?” she said, speaking in a charmingly cultivated tone, somewhat less imperturbable than he had expected, less haughty.
“I really came to see your sister,” Peter managed to reply. “Miss Edith Morland.”
“I am Edith Morland.”
The quiet inclemency of her correction urged an apology to Peter’s lips, and he waited until she had given him permission to sit down, by first doing so herself, before he began on the purpose of his visit. “My object is entirely courteous,” he said humbly, “and I hope you won’t think I am merely inquisitive if I ask yo u a few questions before I' explain why Pm here.”
“To begin with may I ask if you remember allowing some of your chairs to be sold at an auction sale about— say about a month ago?”
“I have no recollection of it whatsoever,” replied Miss Morland quietly.
“Two chairs.” Then he added. “Two upholstered armchairs.”
“They don’t belong to me,” she said truthfully. “We have sold nothing.”
Peter succeeded in returning her stare. “That’s a complication which rather knocks things on the nose,” he confessed plainly. “You are, I take it, the Miss Edith Morland who, at one time, resided in a studio apartment on Gramercy Park?”
Her face gave no sign of affirmation; neither, observed Peter, did it portray anything to the contrary. But her monosyllable, after a moment’s suspense, absolutely dismayed him, and he produced her card from his vest pocket and passed it across to her. “That, then, is not your card?”
She shook her head, but made no direct reply. Peter had no thought of doubting her and he rose to his feet.
“I am very sorry to have caused you all this trouble for nothing, Miss Morland.” She, too was now standing, and her eyes, a liquid brown, interrogated him ever so timidly. “It is astonishing that there are two Miss Edith Morlands, and yet—I must be mistaken.”
“There’s no way I can help you, I suppose?”
Miss Morland offered. -
Peter thanked her. “It concerns a gold mesh bag which I found, a purely accidental discovery, in one of two chairs my valet bought for me at a sale.
The bag and its contents have considerable value; this card was inside the bag in a little card case.”
Peter stopped and gazed at her, his attention captured by something unusual and baffling in her features. “Of course,” he continued, “you would instantly remember losing such a thing as that, wouldn’t you?”
SHE returned his gaze quite frankly; her eyes—the pupils of which were expanded—steady and undeniably truthful.
She was, he decided, almost lovely in her diaphanous apparel; a delightful, feminine creature!
The mouth was a little large, but sensitive and warm, the lips definite and healthily red. Yet there were traces of suffering in the pallor of her face— particularly about her eyes and in the faint hollows—little more than dimples—on either cheek.
Peter, in that quick scrutiny, felt the infinitesimal response of some hidden chord within him; and he was about to leave when Miss Morland spoke :
“The bag is mine.”
“It belongs to me.”
“You mean you are the Miss Morland who lived at Gramercy Park?”
“And the armchairs—”
“I know nothing about them.” She accented the latter word, but kept her
voice low all the time: Peter needed no assurance to
tell him that she was in a high state lt; ' suppressed emotion. “Yes I am Miss Edith Morlmd; that card you showed me is my card; and I have lost my gold mesh bag. I can tell you everything that was inside it.”
Her claim brought Peter a distinct happiness; also, her extreme nervousness and anxiety effected in him a totally unsuspected force of sympathy for her.
“Will you be so kind as to tell me?” he asked gently. She dropped back into a chair, her hands restless, her face alarmingly white. Peter drew a chair opposite her and sat down; then he produced the gold mesh bag from inside his pocket and held it towards her.
“Is this it?”
Her gasp of surprise was not one of pleasure in the recovery of her property, he surmised, but rather an expression of fear, terror. And now that he thought further of the strangeness of her behavior it struck him that the whole incident of his coming here had been fraught wdth confusion and a good deal of mystery. What, he asked himself, could possibly be the matter?
“When did you lose it?” he enquired.
“I—I don’t exactly remember when it was.”
“But you say you know what is in it?”
“There should be five one hundred dollar bills,” she said faintly, “and some more money—I think about thirty one dollars —my handkerchief, my card case, and a little enamelled vanity box of rouge.”
“The rest,” said Peter, smiling in the endeavour to relieve her feelings, “is a trivial matter of a few hairpins. Although,” he added humorously, “it is quite likely that you will not agree as to their triviality.” He laughed pleasantly. “To a woman a hairpin is an important accessory, I imagine.”
But there was no slackening of the tension on her face and, disappointed not to see her smile, leaning towards
her he gently dropped the mesh bag into her lap. “You will find everything as intact as on the day you lost it,” he said, rising. “And now, Miss Morland, I will trespass in your house no longer.”
“I am sorry,” she said, in an almost inaudible voice, “that I have seemed so contradictory and confusing. My sister, Margaret, is very ill, and we are extremely anxious a bout her. That is why we moved to the country.” She looked up at him, her air of disdain utterly vanished; indeed the vague, wistful, interrogation of her eyes compassionately moved Peter to think of a crushed flower, and he felt a rare tenderness toward her. In the warmth of that feeling the fact t hat she had failed to thank him for his honesty and trouble escaped his notice.
She asked quite sudden!.-. “Tell me your name?”
She hesitated a moment. “Is that your real name?” she asked.
Peter laughed. “Of course.”
“You really mean that all you have said to me this morning—in here—has been true?”
He explained that he did not see why she should doubt him, especially now that he had returned her bag.
“Yes, I know. But. .. but it seems so strange that you found it in the bottom of a chair. What chair?”
“That,” said Peter, “is as great a mystery to me as it is to you.”
She looked controvertibly at him. “In your house?”
Peter nodded. He was now fully convinced that for some reason Miss Morland disbelieved every word he w'as saying. Coming on top of his energetic perseverance of the past thirty-six hours and perceiving no excuse to warrant her distrust, Peter flushed in resentment. In a few words he made his feelings known to her, and after taking the liberty of wishing her sister a speedy recovery he walked towards the door.
SHE SPRANG from her chair and almost before he realised what she was doing she had placed her back against the door and, facing him, present-» ed a pair of flashing eyes to his exit.
“Mr. Chivers,” she said, “what was your true motive in coming here?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“If you have anything to tell me, tell me at once; because I can’t bear this suspense any longer. It’s driving me mad.”
Peter opened his mouth “My dear Miss Mor-
“Don’t equivocate with your smooth tongue. I accepted the bag; it belongs to me.... Edith Morland. Now tell me why you are here?”
Regarding her with incredulous eyes Peter admitted to himself that she was magnificently passionate and beautiful in the intensity of her stand, and it affected in him a deep emotional longing, wholly stimulating. “But I am totally at a loss,” he gulped, “to understand the—”
“Oh, no you’re not,” she replied bitterly. “I know just how your contemptible kind go about such things; mean trickery to gain any advantage. You haven’t deceived me in the least; I suspected what you were the moment I saw you by the gate.” Peter was staggered. “In Heaven’s name then. .. .what am I?” he asked; but before she could enlighten him she crumpled and slid to the floor in a faint.
It was immediately apparent that Mrs. Mallen had been on the other side of the door, listening the whole time; for before Peter could pick Miss Morland up she had opened the door.
Continued on page 37
Continued from page 13
“There seems to be some misapprehension about my desire to do a kindly turn,” said Peter to Mrs. Mallen, after he had placed the girl on a sofa. “What it is all about I haven’t the remotest idea.” Breathing hard he found one of his private cards and laid it on the table. “In case you wish to communicate with me you will find me at this address. So far as I know I am not a scoundrel; but you are quite at liberty to make inquiries. Good morning.”
Peter Chivers now realised that his adventure had led him along a simple enough though circuitous path, romantically promising in the early stages, but that it had led him into unpleasant and unexpected deep water; true the element of mystery remained, but now that he had surrendered the mesh bag his own part in the affair had come to an end. There had been little satisfaction for his pains; not, he argued to himself, that he had looked for any further reward than the appreciation of what he had done. Often late into the night he pondered seriously over the abrupt ending of his efforts and the misunderstandable attitude taken by Miss Morland: a complicated recognition of
his open honesty.
IT WAS several days later before his
conscience was somewhat pacified by a telephone call from Miss Morland herself. She was, she said, in a low, penitent voice, telephoning from a booth near Times Square, and she wished very earnestly and sincerely to apologise for her insane nervousness on the day he visited them at Douglaston. “We are all,” she told him, “terribly sorry that our behavior was so outrageously ill-mannered, and I am phoning to ask you not to think too harshly of us.”
Peter, her voice prompting the remembrance of a precious weight still lingering in the archives of his mind, asked if it were not possible to see her; and her consent being gained he hurried down town and had tea with her in a tiny restaurant on Thirty-ninth street.
“Margaret ought to go abroad,” she said; “preferably to Europe or South America. I don’t think she will get well until we take her away from New York.”
“Has she had the best of medical advice?” Peter asked.
“Oh, yes. But they don’t seem to be able to do anything for her. What she really needs is to go away from here.”
“But is the European and South American air so much better than, say for instance, the Laurentian mountains?” he asked her; and again her answer was confusing. She confessed, however, that Mrs. Mallen had made some inquiries about Mr. Peter Chivers and found out— here she was absolutely charming in her evasive, arch confidentiality—that he was very well known, a much respected gentleman, and one of New York’s eligibles. Peter was vastly amused.
“But that doesn’t explain your initial suspicion of me,” he said laughingly. “For the life of me I can’t understand why you thought I was such a villain. You accused me of all sorts of abominable things; taking advantage of you and I don’t know what. If I had been stealing your bag instead of returning it—” He smiled.
“It was disgraceful of me,” she said softly; and Peter feltshe was unhappy in talking of the incident. “You see we are very much alone out there—two defenceless women and an invalid—and we’re absolutely terrified of burglars and hold-up men. You have no idea how we feel at night... .sometimes.”
“I’m sure,” agreed Peter. >(
“But we are going away before long. This he found, very much to his surprise, disturbed him greatly, and he actually had to check the desire to acquaint her of it. “In about two or three weeks,” she added.
IN THE taxi he told her something of his life and mode of existence. “It’s fairly similar from day to day,” he said.
“I keep up the pretence of the Chivers interest in the firm, but I guess my father was a shrewder man. Apart from that there’s little to keep me in New York.” >( “But don’t you do anything at all? she asked disappointedly.
“Oh! yes. When I’m not wanted at ¡ the office I spend a great amount of time j in my library. I am compiling a list of classifications of American portraits, j landscapes, marines,—the whole business.” j “Do you paint?”
“Just a little.”
“You must be very clever,” she said; and Peter blushed. „ ¡
“I’m thinking of going away for a while, ; he said. “To paint from nature.”
“Oh!” . , . I
Later that same night Peter sat in his . library and deliberately set his mind to ; work on the images of Edith Morland. I His eyes were fixed on the silent chair , which, in the first place, had been the genesis of his present deep interest He ! now began to suspect that he was on the j verge of falling in love with this uncomj municative young lady; or was it, lie asked himself, only because she intrigued his curiosity and had conducted herself so strangely? There was no doubt as to her attraction, her personality. The girls Peter knew were as unlike her as possible; less interesting, less engaging. He felt the blood mounting to his face as he impulsively visualised the addition of Edith Morland to his household. He wondered what Jenks might have to say of it. It was exhilarating to picture her sitting opposite him in the very chair which her mesh—his thoughts changed abruptly! The chair, she had said, had not belonged to her, and the question instantly framed itself in his mind. How did her mesh bag find its way there? Peter jumped to his feet and walked about the room, knitting his brow as the startlingness of his question gained full force. Such a major complication appeared like a huge thorn in the side of his future; violently bolting the doors which were ready to be fully opened—the storm in his mind was interrupted by Jenks who appeared suddenly in the room.
“Do you wish anything further, Mr.
“Yes, Jenks; I want to talk to you. Sit down.”
Jenks preferred to stand; it was, he said politely, quite customary in the fam-
“These two armchairs,” commenced Peter. “Tell me all you know about them?”
“I got them at an auction sale. Mr. Peter. They cost you twenty dollars. The receipted bill is among your papers over there.” Jenks pointed to the writing desk.
“Please find it, at once.”
The receipt was quite in order; stating in effect that Messrs. Ammot and Davis had sold, at their auction rooms on Twenty-seventh street, two armchairs for the sum of twenty dollars to Peter Chivers.
“There were no other bidders?” asked Peter.
“No, Mr. Peter.”
“Did the auctioneer give you any clue as to whom the chairs originally belonged to?”
Jenks shook his white head.
“No word of any kind?”
“Not a word, Mr. Peter.”
This information gathered, Peter sank back into the seclusion of his chair, and Jenks after getting no response to his wishes of goodnight silently withdrew.
EARLY IN the morning Peter went down town to the auction rooms on Twenty-Seventh street. He made himself known to the clerk who bobbed up from behind some hanging tapestries, and asked to speak to either Mr. Ammot or Mr. Davis.
“Mr. Davis is out of toud,” said the emaciated superficiary, trying to speak through a cold in the head and throat. “Is there anythig I cad do?”
“Isn’t Mr. Ammot here?”
“Take him my card,” said Peter. Mr. Ammot proved himself to be a breezy, thick-set fellow in shirt sleeves and tight trousers. From continually practising the art of presenting his wares in their brightest color to skeptic purchasers he had acquired a smiling countenance and an irrevocable twinkle in his eye: he rubbed his fat hands together and beamed on Peter as he would on any prospective client. “What can I have the pleasure of doing for you?” was his greeting.
“I have called,” said Peter, “to make some inquiries about a couple of armchairs which my valet bought here some two months ago.”
“Upholstered armchairs. I imagine that you keep a record of your sales, Mr. Ammot?”
“I do. But the sale is always final.” The auctioneer smiled. “There’s no redress in a thing of this sort; my business is simply to sell effects at their face
“It’s not that at all,” said Peter. “I only want to find out something about the original owner of the chairs. I wonder if you would be kind enough to look up the name for me?”
“I’ll see,” said Mr. Ammot, his round face glowing as he made for his office. At the foot of the stairs he turned about on his heels. “Purchase made under what name?” he enquired.
“Mr. Peter Chivers. You have my
“And the date?”
“About two months ago.”
Peter examined some of the various articles in the room, and he was glancing through a dusty edition of Shakespere when Mr. Ammot returned.
“Yes,” he said merrily. “I have the -record. Twenty dollars. The chairs were part of the sale of effects belonging to a Mr. Darnell who died very suddenly.”
"A Mr. Darnell?”
“One of the most remarkable collections of auctioned furniture, books, paintings, household effects, I have ever handled. Remarkable in as much as they went for less than nothing.”
“What Mr. Darnell was it? A New Yorker?”
“Ah! that I’m not at liberty to say, Mr. Chivers. No questions asked, you know, at an auction sale.”
“You couldn’t let me have his address,
“And he died very suddenly, you say?” Mr. Ammot nodded his head two or three times.
“I merely wanted to know,” lied Peter, "who it was owned the chairs because I am aware that my valet got them for much less than their real value. I felt—you may think it sentimental of me—that the original owner was entitled to some sort of sympathy.”
The auctioneer laughed loudly. “Can’t sympathize with a dead man, Mr. Chivers.”
“I suppose not.”
Mr. Ammot walked with Peter to the street door and opened it for him; and there Peter decided to make one final
“This Mr. Darnell,” he said; “can you tell me what was the matter with him? I mean, what caused him to die so suddenly?”
The auctioneer took a look over Tiis shoulder and lowered his voice. “Well, it’s almost forgotten now,” he whispered. “The public generally gets over these things." He came a little nearer.
“To tell you the truth, Mr. Chivers, his death wasn’t a natural one. He was murdered!”
Peter drew in his breath.
“Maybe you recall it. For weeks it was a sensation in the newspapers. Darnell; the stock broker!”
DETER returned home like a man in a 1 dream. He distinctly remembered the sensation caused by the murder some six or seven months ago; and the joining of something utterly outside him to something vitally within him reduced his thinking powers to absolute inactivity; a dull morbidity. He spoke to no one and, immersed in his thoughts, he turned over in his mind every possible excuse for the hiding of the mesh bag, centering Edith Morland in the whole of his anxiety. It was only after a feeling of sudden repugnance with regard to his own unconscious participation that he forced himself to visit the public library and looked up the newspaper files with their vivid accounts of the murder. The murderer had never been discovered. The victim, a well known stock broker, had occupied an expensive apartment not far from where Peter lived, and his private life had shown up to be not any too clean. Several theories were advanced as a motive for the crime; he had been shot through the heart, and the revolver, his own it had been proved, was found in the room beside the body. The murder had taken place early in the morning, about two o’clock, and it was not discovered until the next day.
The more Peter thought of it the more he became convinced of the distressing assurance that he alone—out of the city’s millions, out of the scores of police and detectives, who even now would still be OD the hue and cry—knew the truth. “Only I,” thought Peter miserably, “know who shot and killed this man.”
SUNDAY afternoon was delightfully full of the advent of summer. Peter had walked only a little way from the station when, to his surprise and inward excitement, he saw Edith Morland coming to meet him. The effect of the season was perceptible on her, and, though slight, Peter noticed she had more color and seemed easier in her manner.
“I came to meet you,” she said giving him her hand, “because I have to warn you about Margaret. She is worse. Please be as quiet as you can; I think it advisable that you shouldn’t let her see you.”
Peter expressed his sympathies in a few words and promised to fellow her advice. Try how he might he could not find it in his heart to appreciate the aloofness towards her that he thought he ought to feel; the natural disrespect fot someone branded by the addition of an ugly name counteracting in itself, all regard for personalities. Nor ceuld he give utterance to a hint of the thoughts revolving in his mind. They walked in silence to Mrs. Mallen’s house, and it was not until that sweet lady had been obliged to satisfy herself that her apologies for a former reception had been accepted and understood that Peter realised they had noticd his extreme reticence.
PETER turned to the girl. “Miss Morland,” he said, in a low nervous tone, “I have something very important to say to you. Something you ought to know. I wonder if you will walk with me a little way down the road?”
Her eyes mutely questioned him, and she bowed her head. The doctor would not arrive for quite an hour, and Mrs. Mailen said she would be able to attend to Margaret in the meanwhile. Edith put on a light wrap and, together, she and Peter, they left the house. It was growing dusk now and the evening was thickening with subdued color.
Suddenly, Edith said: “You know!” “Yes. . . .”
“Pull yourself together,” he said gently.
“I want you to tell me everything. Please,” he added, “every single thing from start to finish.”
She made no reply, and they walked for a considerable distance, neither saying
“How. . .how did you find out?” she asked suddenly. In the hope that it might loosen her tongue, Peter told her everything, just as it had happened. He then asked her if she did not think that
she owed him at least this: that he should
be the first to judge her story?
“\\7TIEN father died,” she began labVV joredly, “he left us—my sister and me—quite a little money. We were advised to invest it in a certain stock and Mr. Darnell promised to look after it
“Where and how did you meet this man?” Peter interrupted quietly.
“I met him socially. He seemed very kind and gentlemanly at first.”
“The stock failed or something and Mr. Darnell asked us to cover up. We did, and it got worse and worse. Then he advised us to invest in another stock to try and make up our losses. That failed also. It was then—then I began to be suspicious.” “That he was dishonorable?”
“Yes.” She faltered. “One evening I—I made up my mind to go to see him.
I ’phoned him a dozen times, but no one answered the calls. We needed some money to pay a big bill due the next day, and so I decided to go to his apartment.
“I went... .because we needed this money very badly. I wasn’t afraid of him then—except that I felt sure he was robbing us.” She stopped. “I begged and begged him to tell me what he had done with our little fortune, but he gave me no satisfactory answer. When I told him of the necessity of paying this account the next morning he put five hundred dollars in my mesh bag and told m-’ to accept it as a loan from him.”
Peter clenched his fists.
“I felt, then, that all our suspicions were correct, and I’m afraid I became slightly hysterical. I warned him that I would take action against him—and expose his methods in court. That frightened him, and hoping he would confess I taunted him all the more. But it had a more horrible effect—for he whipped out a revolver and actually threatened my life if I said a word. It terrified me.” “Why didn’t you shout for help, or throw something through the window?” “I didn’t think he meant what he said,” she replied, “and I hated to do anything that would be conspicuous.”
“I rushed by him,” she said, “to get to the door. In doing so I accidentally knocked his arm around and the revolver fell to the floor. In some way it fired a bullet into his breast.”
The accident, for it was little more— Peter decided in the quiet which followed —was not the cause for a pricking of his conscience.
IN A LOW7 voice she told him she had missed her gold mesh bag as soon as she arrived home and had been prostrated with anxiety as each day went by without its being found. It must have slid down to the bottom of the armchair, she said, when she fell back into it after he had pointed the revolver at her. She knew that the discovery would lead to her arrest because inside the bag was her card and one or two articles which could easily convict her.
Tenderly, he put his hand on her should: er. “Come,” he said, “let us return.” She made no reply.
"I have thought a great deal about you —probably this is no time for me to speak of it—in fact I’m sure it isn’t.” He sighed deeply. “But I am very glad you’ve told me. I shall be able to sleep tonight, thank God.”
There were no lights on the road and it was now almost dark. “Since I first met you,” Peter said, “I have cherished the remembrance of you; I became childishly happy with the knowledge that you were in the world, alive and known to me; you are the greatest interest in my life.” He paused. “I hesitated to put all that in a phrase a moment ago, but now I’ve done so: I have become very
fond of you, Miss Morland.”
By the gate Peter took off his hat and tried to say goodnight. He caught a glimpse of moist eyes in a white face, and he heard a tiny sob as she left him and vanished into the deep shadows surrounding the path to the door.
It was ten o’clock when Peter was called to the telephone. The voice that came over the wire was Mrs. Mallen’s, and the message was urgent. Miss Morland, the one who had been ill, was dying.
DETER at once ordered the car. “Risk X the motor cops,” he said, jumping i up beside his chauffeur, “and make
Douglaston by the shortest route you know.”
Mrs. Mallen opened the door after he had lightly touched the bell. “This is Doctor Abbott,” she said, introducing Peter to a tall, gray-haired gentleman standing in the drawing-room. He offered his hand to Peter and stared hard at him.
“Mrs. Mallen asked me to stay and meet you, Mr. Chivers,” he said gravely. “I have done so, but now you must excuse me if I hurry away.” He turned to Mrs. Mallen. “I will return in ten minutes.”
“Is there no hope?” Peter asked him.
Doctor Abbott brought his heavy gray brows together, wrinkled his forehead, and slowly shook his head. “We can do nothing more,” he replied quietly, but ina tone of absolute finality. “Miss Morland has made no effort to fight her prostration.”
He again whispered to Mrs. Mallen that he would soon return, and tip-toed his way out of the room. Peter looked around for Edith, but she was not to be seen.
“She wants to see you,” said Mrs. Mallen as soon as they were alone. “That is why I telephoned to you to come before she passed away. She has something on her mind, Mr. Chivers, and she is simply waiting for you. Please follow me upstairs.”
Peter was amazed by the quiet, deathlike serenity of the girl’s features, the pallor of her skin—even the bronze tresses had, he thought, lost their lustre. Then she slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. The expanded pupils had diffused their color, and even as Peter looked at them, they seemed to be turning gray. Mrs. Mallen had lelt the room; and hardly moving her pale lips the girl said:
“I am Edith Morland....”
He did not grasp the full inference of this simple confession at once. It came to him gradually, overwhelming him, until, his eyes still on hers, he sank back into a chair. He was, he realized, shocked into a state of insensibility of thought, and perhaps five minutes went by in absolute silence while Peter remained incapable of utterance. Then she spoke again:
“Margaret didn’t tell me. It was Mrs. Mallen. I wouldn’t have allowed it had I known. But now I am going to die it doesn’t matter, does it? I made Margaret tell me everything She had told you all just as it happened, except—” she closed her eyes—“that she was shielding me.”
“I don’t regret that I caused his death." Her voice was failing. “But I have been unhappy—and this is God’s judgment, maybe.”
In a hollow voice Peter said: “You did no wrong, Miss Morland.”
She smiled peacefully.
He leaned towards her and lightly touched her hair with his fingers. “Rest calmly,” he said reverently, “you did nothing wrong.” A moment later he rose quietly and, opening the door, signalled to Mrs. Mallen. As she stepped by him he put out his hand. “I should like to see Margaret,” he said. “Please tell her.”
MARGARET’S face was pale. There was nothing unusual in that, and the shadows under her eyes had darkened and spread. She looked older, and a perceptible amount of her charm had gone. She was, he thought suddenly, not unlike a wilted flower; and the analogy immediately prompted within him the desire to cherish and protect her—always. He took her hand and held it tenderly between his own.
“I just wanted to see you before I left,” he said nervously.
“Thank you for coming,” she replied. “You have been very kind to us.”
“Can you possibly forgive me?” he asked.
She turned her eyes to his and he saw that she had withdrawn all the opposition to him which hitherto had pervaded her. He felt this irresistibly, and a faint thrill stirred in his heart. There were, he knew, many things he longed to tell her, but he felt he should say nothing until several days had passed.
For a brief moment neither moved. Then obeying a deep impulse Peter slowly put his arms around her and kissed her —ever so gently and the instant he had re-steadied her on her feet, he turned and walked quickly out of the room.