LEAVES OF KACHUBOONG
THE dazzling sun of an April day peeped into the laboratory windows and found Helen Dupont utterly bored. She sat amid what appeared to be the nucleus of a small glass factory, and enveloped in strange odours that arose from stranger looking liquids. She drew a long sigh. All of her experiments had been— successful. Life had momentarily lost its zest.
“If something doesn't happen soon,” she muttered aloud, “I’ll be forced to try my hand at ‘poppy’ cases.” At that instant, the estimable person who for several years had'“looked after” this youthful girl-chemist whose astounding faculty for unravelling criminal mysteries had placed her in the forefront of detective circles, entered the room with a card.
“Does he look like a criminal?” asked Helen.
“Might, for all I know,” answered the woman. “Gentlemanly appearing person.”
Helen laughed* “Show him in here,” she said, “and if he is not interesting, I’ll make it hot for you, Andrews.” Heber Milloy did not beat about the bush. After making the introduction that prefaced the business of most of Helen Dupont’s callers—“This is not a matter with which I could go to the ordinary detective—”or words to that effect, he stated calmly:
“I have reason to believe that mÿ life is in danger. Can you offer me any sort of protection?”
Naturally, Helen asked several questions in return. From whom was his life in danger? How? Had any attempts been made upon it? By what means? What reason would anyone have for seeking his life?
Mr. Milloy, a middle-aged man of the successful banker type, a man who could lay claim to considerable charm of manner, shook his head.
“You will understand the reason I have come to you,” he*said, “when I refuse to answer any of your questions. Iffy ou don’t care to undertake the case, or whatever you call it”—he shrugged and left the balance of the sentence to her imagination.
Helen stared at him. He looked sane enough, but she c ertainly had doubts.
“Do you mean to say,” she demanded, “that you won’t give me any sort of clue whatever?—that you will tell me nothing about yourself, your connections or facts that may have led up to this—er—”
“It is not a hallucination,” interposed her caller, “nor a nebulous fear caused by the breaking of a mirror, a succession of prophetic dreams, or such like. But to answer your
question—yes, I am dumb. I can say nothing to help you. I thought you might know of some intelligent fellow who could shadow me, more or less. . . ”
Again he broke off as though afraid of saying too much. “Open suspicious-looking mail, taste your food, or oversee its preparation, keep near you in crowds and that sort of thing?” Helen suggested.
“Yes,” the gentleman agreed, it almost seemed dubiously, and rose. “I don’t mind how soon you set him to work,” he said in parting, “and money is no object. Name your own fee.”
HELEN DUPONT sat a long time after he had gone, staring with unseeing eyes at a much-stained porcelain container. “Extraordinary,” she repeated at intervals as her thoughts scuttled busily about. “Why should the man hamper our work in this manner? Most extraordinary. I think McGinnis is the ‘shadow’ for this job.” McGinnis did not accept his .post with radiant enthusiasm. Confessedly, he enjoyed coarser work.
“Give me a little target practice, a butcher case, even gang-pinching an’ I’m not so dusty, Miss Dupont,” he boasted modestly. “But this here—why, it might be a bell-ringin’ affair in the middle of the night, voices from the past. . . .ghosts'. Somehow, I can’t picture myself closin’ with a departed shade. It’s just naturally out of my line.” Helen laughed. “I’m depending on you, Mac,” she returned, “to produce something much more substantial than a departed shade. Mr. Milloy doesn’t appear to be a man who is afraid of ghosts. Now go down to his apartment and try to look like an earnest, hard-working secretary.”
In that capacity the duties of Jerry McGinnis were not arduous. In fact, he found almost nothing to do in any capacity, and he growled quite openly. Heber Milloy was a man of few engagements, either social or business, his sole occupation seeming to be the collection of Oriental curios, especially batik tapestries. His household consisted of a Chinese servant and McGinnis. His friends were limited and his only interest outside of collecting was centred in a young man named John Helmsley.
“He is positively dotty over the chap,” McGinnis reported. “At times, you might say that his affection is
paternal, at others he gazes at him just as a man looks at the woman he adores, and sometimes he shows the jealousy of a wild-
“When is that?” Helen asked.
“Well, for instance, when Helmsley goes out with Mr. Williams. Those two men fight for that boy worse than I ever fought for any girl, let me tell you.”
“He shows no fear,” Helen enquired, “towards any particular person?”
“Divil a bit,” answered the man. “Sometimes when these Javanese importers come to the apartment, he flings an eye in my direction. . . as though to see that I am on the job. . . but once when I was about to trail after him and the Helmsley fellow, he gave me to understand that he was safe with the boy.”
Through a certain proficiency McGinnis had acquired in opening letters, deciphering codes, discovering “secret” compartments, and unlocking safes, Helen collected quite a little fund of information about the mysterious Heber Milloy. Starting from New York, she travelled many years into his past, and aided by the slender wire that encircles the globe, she tracked him thousands of miles from his present address. She found him in Java—Batavia— mostly, but up the rivers, too; she linked him to many persons there. Previous to that, she trailed across to England and located him in London. In a more remote past, she traced him back to Holland. And then with one of her quick leaps, she pounced upon him, figuratively speaking, once more in New York.
MCGINNIS, who did not accompany her on these mental flights, fidgeted irritably. “How much longer?” he demanded each time they met. “The man’s got a mild bug; that’s all. He’s in no more danger than I am. Why, Miss Dupont, he hasn’t any friends. You can’t have enemies unless you have friends.”
Helen considered this cynicism thoughtfully.
“What do you call these people whose names you have collected during the past few months?” she asked, indicating a list in her hand.
McGinnis raised his shoulders. “Couldn’t lay a name to ’em, just impromptoo, so to speak,” he said, “but nobody could explain ’em as real warm friends. A dinner once a month at Mrs. Dineen’s, tea with Mrs. Murdock, an exhibition of his latest purchase to make Miss Lafontaine jealous, a coldish interview with Mr. Vliet—friends? Good Lord!”
“All right, Mac,” returned Helen. “Stick it out patiently for another week, and give me a chance to get acquainted with some of these connections. Take my word for it, we’ll find the ghost.”
Thus it turned out that, about six months after Heber Milloy’s strange request, Helen Dupont found herself a dinner guest of one of New York’s most charming young hostesses.
A fleeting signal passed between Mr. and Mrs. Dineen, then the latter pushed her chair away from the table.
“Shall we leave the men to their cigars?” she asked.
“One moment, please.” The clear, crisp tones of Helen’s voice rose above the gay, inconsequential chatter of people who had dined lengthily and well. “I must give you a disquieting piece of news.”
Nine pairs of eyes turned towards her, and into each face there sprang polite curiosity mingled with veiled apprehension
“Why, Miss Dupont,” cried Marta Dineen with the natural anxiety of a hostess who objects to having her perfectly successful dinner spoiled, “is anything really the matter?”
A queer little smile twitched the corners of the girl’s mouth.
“That depends upon how seriously one takes these things,” she returned. “It may not disturb you to learn that Heber Milloy is dead, and that his murderer sits at your table'.”
Some of the guests uttered shrill cries oí incredulous horror. Some sat dumb, almost frozen. Each body seemed to recoil from the one nearest to it. A veritable chill swept over the room.
Jack Dineen, the host, was the first to recover himself. “You can’t be serious,” he cried. “Why, the thing is impossible!”
None could deny that the murderer possessed magnificent self-control. Even. Helen, trained physiognomist that she was, looked in vain for the blanched cheek, the distended nostrils, the tight-clenched jaw, or throbbing jugular vein that so often betrayed the criminal.
“There must be some horrible mistake,” cried Marta Dineen, who realized even as she spoke that Helen Dupont was reputed never to hazard an opinion, nor announce one prematurely. What motive could any of us have for —for—” the words stuck—“such a crime?”
INSTEAD of answering, Helen looked eloquently around . table. In her eyes there was an unspoken accusation against each member of the group. Several pairs of ' eyes shifted before her steady gaze.
“I wonder if you realize,” she remarked, “how many antagonistic connections we form on our journey through life; how many whose result might quite conceivably be murder. Ask yourselves the question, ‘How often have I wished I could kill a certain person?’ Well, in our work, we find that an appalling number of these wishes come true.”
Her eyes rested on Eberfeld Vliet, a suave and diplomatic young man, employed to reclaim Javanese concessions made in bygone years to private individuals by an extravagant Dutch government. That relations between Milloy and himself were somewhat strained, owing to the former’s refusal to part with his Surabaya concessions, was a fact in the possession of everyone present. Milloy’s death removed a very black cloud from Vliet’s horizon. He changed color and a slight moisture broke out on his
Helen did not speak, however, but looked searchingly at Myra Lafontaine, an artist who made a specialty of batik designing, and frankly coveted Milloy’s collection of that ancient and recentlyexploited Javanese industry. He refused Myra the privilege of copying his pieces, and numerous times she had exclaimed in desperation: “I could cheerfully murder him for an hour with that tapestry.” Indeed, he had promised her that when he was dead she might copy anything that caught her fancy.
Myra gave a horrified gasp as she realized there was a covert suspicion in her friends’ eyes.
Jarrett Conroy, her fiancé, fared
little better. He was an impulsive young man, who did not always show discretion in trying to give Myra her heart’s desire. He half rose from his chair with an indignant, “But—”. Seeing that Benjamin Norton was under this wordless Third Degree, however, he subsided uneasily and turned his thoughts to the bitter competition that existed between the head of a large importing firm and the murdered man. Norton “collected” for the money there was in it; Milloy for the joy of possession. Whatever Norton could acquire he held for a large profit; whatever Milloy could acquire without his assistance deprived him of considerable money.
Obviously one of those most interested in the possible sale of Heber Milloy’s treasures would be Benjamin Norton. His pale, nervous little wife felt as though a golf ball had risen in her throat, as she imagined him already sentenced to the electric chair (on circumstantial evidence.) Mrs. Murdock, whose late husband had been one of Milloy’s closest Batavian friends, and who had been largely responsible for his Eastern success, shuddered visibly when Helen’s eyes rested upon her, for Milloy not only supervised her financial affairs, but he was known to have mentioned her generously in his will. Even the Dineens themselves were not spared Helen Dupont’s penetrating glance. They were both born in Java and Dineen had been a member of many an expedition which Milloy had taken or sent up the rivers. Who knows what hatred may have developed over gutta-percha, coffee, tobacco, gold?
IAF THE nine people present, Peter Williams was the only one who seemed wholly unaffected by the tensity of her gaze. Sitting on Mrs. Dineen’s right, he watched the silent drama with absorbing though detached interest. Williams was a newcomer amongst them, a man whose fifty odd years seemed to have culminated in obvious intellectual and material attainments. He was a widely travelled man, who talked quite freely about his South American interests; he was a princely spender and very popular with “the Javanese colony” as Marta Dineen called the little group. His only link with Milloy seemed to be young John Helmsley.
He bore the scrutiny of nine pairs of eyes well. Indeed, it was he who broke the silence of the room.
“How do you know that Milloy is dead?” he asked, “and why do you connect his death with any of us at the table?”
Helen produced a slip of paper, and turned to her host.
“Your excellent man, Dobson, dropped this into my
lap a few moments ago, as he served my ice. ‘Milloy ' found dead in his library. Looks like a case for you. Please come at once," she read aloud. “This was written by one oí our Inspectors—Harkness. That’s how I know.”
“Well,” cried Dineen, in a tone of mingled relief and triumph, “if he has just died, I fancy all of us here can prove a pretty fair alibi.”
“I hope so,” returned the girl, “but—shall we hear what the Inspector has to say? He probably brought this note
and must be waiting?”
Harkness was too well seasoned in Helen Dupont’s methods to show any surprise at being asked to make a report in the presence of an interrupted dinner party. His answers were crisp and to the point.
“Mr. Milloy came home as usual, went to his library and read. His Chinese boy summoned him to dinner by beating the tom-tom—or whatever you call that affair— and waited quite a little time. Then McGinnis went to see what was up. . .and found him sitting in front of the fire, dead. Warm, but quite dead!”
“No sign of violence or suffering?”
“No one but Mr. Helmsley, who came home with him, but left almost immediately. McGinnis heard him moving about after Mr. Helmsley had gone. I—f—er—took the precaution of bringing Mr. Helmsley, Miss Dupont, in case you might want to question him, at the apartment, you know?”
Helen shot a glance of warm commendation at the Inspector. “Is he here?”
“Under Dobson’s eye,” returned Harkness. “I’ll fetch him.”
The tide of suspicion that had rolled toward John Helmsley during the foregoing dialogue subsided in a measure as the young fellow entered the room. He was manifestly bewildered, and in ignorance of the reason for his summons.
“You wonder why you are here,” Helen began with brutal directness. “Well, the fact is, Mr. Helmsley, that Mr. Milloy is dead—”
“Dead?” echoed the boy. “But I—”
“Exactly. In other words, you have murdered your own father!”
Amazement that stunned every faculty spread slowly across Helmsley’s face. In fact each person at the table looked as though paralysis had overtaken them.
When words forced themselves to the young man’s lipsv they came in disjointed gasps. . . “Murdered?. . . I?. . .
And Mr. Milloy, my father. I can’t understand.” He dropped weakly into a chair.
“I am going to help you,” said Helen, more gently than she had spoken. “But you must help me, too. Try to remember every detail of your visit to his apartment this afternoon. What happened?” “Why—er—nothing. Mr. Milloy took off his coat and gave it to the boy. I kept mine on, only intending to stay a minute, and we went into the library. He began to smoke—”
“What’s that?” the girl’s voice cut in, sharply.
“I say he smoked. . . a cigar.
I had a cigarette. What of it?”
rj ARKNESS was not the only -*• man in the room whose thought turned to “poison weeds,” but, after thefaintest pause, Helen dropped that line of questioning and took another tack.
“It was cold in the room, I believe? Mr. Milloy had a fire.” Helmsley admitted that a fire was burning, but the room was not cold. “Indeed, it was infernally hot,” he said. “I was glad to get out. It made me quite dizzy.”
“That grate, now,” murmured Helen. “It’s a gas grate, isn’t it?”
“Oh, no,” returned the boy promptly. “It’s an honest-togoodness affair, unusually large, and designed to burn both coal and wood.”
“Surely, you are mistaken,” protested Helen, in a positive tone.
“But I am not,” John insisted. “I know. . . because, only this very evening, I burned some letters and papers in the fire.”
“Ah!” No one could miss the
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triumph in her exclamation. “You threw some trash on the fire?”
Helmsley’s harassed eyes leaped around the circle to Peter Williams. There, they rested in an instant’s bewilderment, before they came back to meet Helen’s.
“Was there anything wrong about that?” he demanded.
“Mr. Williams asked you to burn some papers in Mr. Milloy’s apartment?” the girl counter-questioned. “The truth, please?”
Helmsley admitted that such was the case. Williams had explained that his apartment contained nothing but a gas grate, and for sentimental reasons, he wished some letters, photographs and so on destroyed. He had suggested that Helmsley burn them in Heber Milloy’s grate, as inconspicuously as possible.
“I poked them in, while he was getting his cigar,” said the boy.
“Inspector, arrest Peter Williams!” Helen gave her orders crisply and without haste, as she pulled her cloak around her shoulders. “Take him with you. Mr. Helmsley and I will go to Milloy’s apartment, and I will join you later.”
There was very little confusion. Dineen and a few of the guests murmured their regrets and a hope that Williams’ explanation as to his connection with the affair might prove immediately satisfactory. Mrs. Dineen accepted Helen’s somewhat perfunctory apologies rather coolly and the four left the house, Williams preserving throughout an air of well - bred detachment that earned him no little sympathy from the bewildered group.
McGinnis opened the door of Milloy’s apartment with the air of a man who deserves and expects punishment.
“He wouldn’t have me hangin’ round, Miss Dupont, when Mr. Helmsley was with him,” was all the defence Mac could muster.
“Of course the room is exactly as you found it?” Helen asked, ignoring the statement.
“Not a thing touched. Shall I come?”
The girl shook her head, opened the library door, and shut it quickly after her. The instant she had closed it, she drew from her evening cloak a peculiar looking arrangement that looked not unlike a collapsible gas-mask. “Good old Harkness,” she muttered, putting it on, “he thinks of everything.”
THF] FIRE was almost dead. Helen collected a few ashes, amongst which was a bit of charred paper, but her patent disappointment argued that there was nothing to be discovered there. Cautiously she raised the mask and sniffed. She took particular account of Milloy’s loosehanging hands, of his nostrils. She could detect only the faintest odor in the room, and that rather pleasant. It reminded her of burning shrubs—a fragrant variety. Evidently, from the absence of strangulation, Mr. Milloy had been equally unconscious of whatever agent had effected his death. He had the appearance of a peaceful slumberer.
From the scene of the crime, Helen proceeded to Williams’ handsome apartment. Her familiarity with its topography and furnishings suggested that this had not been her first visit there.
Much to Helmsley’s surprise, she began to investigate the contents of various bottles in a medicine chest. Dissatisfied with the result, she next proceeded to
rummage—in a tidy manner—amongst the papers in Williams’ desk. Finally, in the bookcase, she pounced upon an album in which various leaves and dried flowers were neatly catalogued. Their names were written in unfamiliar characters: Javanese!
“That is all,” she said, briskly, “now we will go down to Headquarters.”
With the Chief, in his sanctum, sat Harkness and Williams. The latter wore the air of a man who, after a prolonged strain, has succeeded in bringing his affairs to a satisfactory issue. He was the first to rise as Helen entered.
She acknowledged this courtesy with a bow, even while asking:
“Do you care to make any defence, just now, Mr. Williams, or will you wait for matters to take their legal course? You will hardly deny, I suppose, that Heber Milloy met his death by means of the material you gave John Helmsley to burn?” “I have no wish to deny it.”
The reply was made wearily. In a few moments Williams looked his years and fifteen more. It was as though his zest in living had been swept away.
“For years I have planned to kill him, and I have succeeded. My only regret is that I could not cause him supreme agony.” “Why?”
“Because I took a chance of killing John, too. Without arousing his suspicion I could not warn him to leave before the fumes began to work.”
There was silence for a space, and upon Williams’ face Helen saw an expression of cold hate forming. It was truly horrible to witness.
“You and Mr. Milloy were not strangers, then?” she suggested.
“You know that we were not. I met him in London twenty-two years ago. At that time he called himself Reinward.” “And you were Jan Chasteleyn,” Helen interposed.
Williams shrugged his shoulders.
“When I decided to become a British subject,” he said, “I found that a British name simplified so many things.”
“As did Mr. Milloy, doubtless,” observed Helen. “You and your wife had gone to London from Java?”
“Wife?” echoed John Helmsley. “I didn’t know you were married.”
Something in the boy’s friendly surprise seemed to touch a hidden spring in the breast of Peter Williams. He commenced to speak in deliberate tones of cold fury; it was as though he gave vent to thoughts and emotions which had been battened down in the deeps of his being for many years.
“Do you know de Maupassant’s story of the paste jewels?” he demanded harshly of the group.
ALL BUT Helen replied negatively“It might have been taken from my own life,” he proceeded. . . “Listen. We went to London on our honeymoon. We were Java-born, and ambitious. She was rarely beautiful; I was poor. 1 wanted to raise money in London to form a guttapercha company. There was a fortune in it. I met Reinward. He was young, enthusiastic, wealthy. I felt that Heaven had sent him to further my scheme. He promised to help, got a few men interested and raised some of the money. Then matters came to a standstill. . . peculiar . . . very. I was just successful enough to keep optimistic and feel justified in remaining in London. At the same time,
money came in very slowly. It was always promised and ‘on the way.’ Meanwhile I had to find something to do. Reinward got me quite a good berth with an importing firm whose connections on the Continent necessitated my spending much of my time there.”
He paused for a moment to re-light the cigar which had gone out; then went on in a dull voice, which yet had a peculiar ring of venom in it.
“After a time I fancied I noticed a subtle change in my wife. When taxed with it, she gave her loneliness, the confinement of London lodgings, and so on, and so on, as the reason. I suggested that we relinquish our plans and return to the Island. But she would not hear of this. Reinward, too, protested that we were too near our goal to drop things at this juncture. ‘Other fish were nibbling,’ he announced.
“Alternately discouraged, and hopeful, myself, I left for the Continent. Before going, Reinward asked me if I would like to bring my wife a gift that was worthy of her. He happened to know that a certain actress in Paris had been forced to sell her jewels, and felt convinced that I could get something really valuable at a third of its cost. ‘If you choose to present this letter,’ he said, ‘she will show you some especial consideration, I think. . . I was ass enough to give her a lot of the stuff, myself.’ ”
“I presented the letter and was amazed to find quite a handsome ring within my means. I knew nothing about jewels, but was certain that the woman must have been making a criminal sacrifice. However, that was not my affair, and my wife’s delight in its possession drove any lingering regret from my mind. Indeed, I hoped that misfortune would overtake other friends of Reinward.
“After'that I got many a tip as tojplaces where jewelry might be picked up inexpensively—at pawn shops, private sales and so on. He seemed to possess a fund of such information. I fed my wife’s cooling ardour with glittering gems, and had the superficial satisfaction of seeing it burst into spasmodic little flames. ...
“Well, we had been married about two years, when she died. The child—a boy— was the price paid for her life. I could not bear the sight of him, and placed him with some people named Helmsley to rear as their own.
“Emerging from a sort of delirium of grief, I found that Reinward, to whom I had looked for companionship, comfort, had left England for the East, and I decided to follow. One of the first steps necessary was the raising of money, so I set out to sell my wife’s jewelry. I took the actress’s ring to a firm I knew by reputation and asked what they would pay for it. They offered ninety pounds'. I had paid ten!
“Everything was valued on a proportionate scale. I possessed quite a little fortune.
“The explanation of this astounding circumstance did not strike me at once. It was my nature to trust people. But eventually I realized that although I had bought those jewels, Reinward had paid for them. He had sent me to men he knew, he had delayed my plans, he had stolen my wife!
“And the child—”
VX^ILLIAMS paused abruptly and a v » great blue vein on his temple filled with blood and throbbed hard.
‘‘Although I was reasonably certain that Remward had gone to Java—during our association he had acquired quite a fair knowledge of the island—I did not follow. I had a good offer to go to Peru and took it. Money? Yes, I made money especially after war contracts began to pour in . . . you can imagine the position of anyone with rubber to sell. . . but for twenty years I have planned revenge upon Reinward, never quite determining how to carry it out.
I came to New York, and—and sent for the boy, in a roundabout way, you understand. He had no idea—. Then one day I met Reinward face to face on the street. . . sort of thing that happens in books, you know. John was with me. I saw in an mstant that Reinward recognized him. His likeness to his mother is unmistakable. You know the rest. I have no regrets. . . He tortured me to the last, sending me scraps of her letters, a bit of her hair, a glove, a ribbon—this photograph. . . ”
“Inspector!” cried Helen Dupont, sharply. “Quick! Don’tlet him. . . ”
Harkness sprang forward, but too late. Williams had already taken a miniature from his pocket and pressed it to his lips. Cunningly arranged in one corner there was a secret spring, and from the aperture it revealed Williams had drawn with his tongue a fine white powder.
“Prussic acid,” cried Helen, as be became almost instantly rigid.
It was some time after and the Chief was trying to dissipate Helen Dupont’s gloom. “Don’t blame yourself,” he urged. “Sooner or later this was bound to happen, in spite of the most efficient protection we could offer. Tell me, rather, what, in your opinion, was the reason for Milloy’s first suspicion.”
“I think,” answered the girl, “that Williams had already tried to poison him ...... probably his food. You are
aware, of course, that Java abounds in plants whose leaves, pollen and seeds are deadly. The Javanese are the most expert poisoners in the world. Arsenic and many other poisons are sold openly in the markets and everyone understands their uses. Fish are stunned, game is stupefied, and the man who is your enemy in Java needs careful watching. The natives can calculate to a nicety the effects
of their subtle drugs, the degree of suffering they will cause, just when a sleeper will awake or death liberate a victim. I think Williams, undoubtedly, made an attempt on Milloy’s life, and Milloy would not openly accuse him—well, perhaps on Helmsley’s account. To accuse Williams meant to give himself away and lose the boy’s affection, you see?”
“Then you think he was Milloy’s son?” “Don’t you? No man would deliberately make his own son a murderer!” “No,” muttered the Chief, “you are right. I suppose that Williams had no difficulty in getting his weeds or flowers from Java?” Helen opened the album which she had taken from his apartment.
“He had some very excellent samples here,” she answered, “proving that botanical collections are not so harmless as they appear. See these leaves of Kaehuboong! What could be simpler than making a dozen into a packet and slipping them into envelopes for an unsuspecting boy to burn? The fumes—almost odorless—are stupefying at first and then fatal. Milloy probably drifted into a heavy sleep from which he never awoke.”
“Leaves of Kachuboong,” murmured the Chief. “That has a sinister sound. . . leaves of. . . ”—steeped in all sorts of criminal lore as he was, yet the man shuddered.