IT IS oft-times difficult to place one’s mind definitely upon the small details of the past and say just where was the beginning of an incident; yet in this instance I can be quite positive that it began for me at the very second when I came to realize that Dunk Freebourne’s nervousness was real and not assumed.
Once I came to appreciate that our host was talking more for the relief of his o^cn mind than for the amusement of his guests, it was no longer difficult to define that quick movement of his hand, from the table to the breast of his coat and back again, as one of sheer, automatic response to the restlessness of his brain.
'T know the thing seems absurd,” he went on hesitatingly, after a brief pause, as though seeking to over-rule the doubts in his own mind. “It is ridiculous to think that any burglar, no matter how clever he may be, or how sure of himself, should always warn his victims in advance that he is orí the way. Yet that is what the police say this latest social menace has been doing . . . It shows the man’s consummate nerve."
I fancy it was just there, in the subdued violence of Freebourne’s outburst, that the suspicion first drifted about the small circle of guests that the man was intensely sincere. Up to that moment, it had been but an interesting tale, to be mingled with the fumes of the coffee, to be believed or disbelieved as the whim of the brain might prompt; but nov, it. had become so real that a restless calm fell upon us.
“Or perhaps you should call it politeness,” Bunker Madden was the first to reply. “You know,:t js the guillotiners of old France used to apolcjgize to their victims and explain that they were only doing the job because the children were hungry. So there is a chance Dunk, that this person you h^e been telling about belongs to the same school of gettlemen.”
But Freebourne swept Aie triviality aside with a gesture.
“I tell you it is pedeetly true,” he went on swiftly. “This new crook hasthe police puzzled, and I expect he is sitting back sonewhere, laughing at them. For he isn’t
satisfied to warn his victims in advance; he tells them the hour of the burglary, and just how he is going to enter the house...”
It was the absurdity of that, coupled with the positive credulity on Dunk Freebourne’s countenance, which caused me to express my viewpoint through laughter.
“Please, oh, please, spare us the rest of it,” I pleaded, with a suggestion of cajolery; for it. had occurred to me in a flash that the man’s business details had been unusually pressing of late, and that perhaps the weight of them had somehow dislocated the fine machinery of the brain. Besides, it was unusual for Freebourne to take to heart thus the problems of others.
That laughter, as I had expected, steadied him.
“No, Brad,” he returned, more calmly, “I haven’t the least thought of sparing you anything. If you don’t believe me/just ask the gentleman at your left.”
The remark was slightly startling, for up to this moment the individual on my left had shown himself to be a somewhat, taciturn and mysterious personage, who had been content to sip his coffee and to allow a markedly cynical countenance to hide itself behind the fumes of cigarette smoke. He had a name, for I had heard it; but somehow or other it had seemed to be swallowed up in tne man’s moody reserve.
So I turned and stared at the gentleman on my left. In a moment , the cynical lips parted, and some words slipped
out, words which made me start.
“ ’S’all true. The gentleman’s got it right.”
'T'HROUGH an amazed instant, it occurred to me to wonder if this silent person might be the new, policepuzzling burglar of whom Dunk Freebourne had been speaking through heated flashes of emotion; and Bunker Madden, I fancied, felt something of the same alarm, for I could see that he was staring at the man with an interest more keen than I had hitherto seen him display through the whole evening.
In the end, it was Freebourne who restored us to the normal trend of thought.
“Toppley comes from headquarters,” he explained, with a jerk of the head towards the
cynical one. “Show them your badge, Toppley.....Now,
tell them if I was right about the Ruxton and the Bruger burglaries? Were they done by the same man, by this newcrook?”
Toppley nodded so sharply that some of the cynicism left his smoke-wreathed countenance. It was not until later that the whole thing occurred to me as being an unusually strange interlude to a quiet little stag-party, an affair which had been planned in Madden’s honor, and which threatened now to honor no man.
“Sure thing,” Toppley agreed, “but if you wanted to make a good yarn of it, you should have told them about the trademarks he leaves behind him. . . .and the ones he sends on ahead of him to break the news.”
Dunk Freebourne nodded eagerly.
“That’s the strangest part of it all,” he exclaimed, “the part the police don’t understand. Ten days ago, Ruxton got a queer letter through the mail. All there was in it were the words ‘To-morrow morning. Three o’clock. Via the garage.’ And at the end of the words there was something like a bar of music. Ruxton laughed at it all; but in the morning his private safe had been robbed by some person who had entered through the garage, which is connected with the house, and on the knob of the safe there was pasted a small slip of paper bearing what he thinks was the same bar of music. He hadn’t saved the first; for it had seemed to him too absurd.”
Through à period of silence, there wás upon the faces of the half score of men clustered about, a mingling of incredulity and belief, a spirit of admixed mockery and respect, as though credit were due somewhere, but to whom they could not say.
Bunker Madden laughed sharply.
“I would like to see that bar of music,” he declared. “I might make something of it.”
That appeared obvious, for Madden was something of the virtuoso, just as he was a variety of other things, and even at this moment his violin was resting in the library above, awaiting the period of entertainment.
“Toppley didn’t bring it,” Freebourne cut in, somewhat peremptorily, “and he didn’t bring Bruger’s either; but....”
Just there, Freebourne paused sharply, and his eyes wandered over to meet the cynical gaze of the man Toppley. Strangely enough, it had not occurred to me before to ponder the submerged portent of the taciturn one’s presence; but now, in the swift significance of our host’s glance, it became an important thing. Madden, too it seemed, w'as conscious of that.
“Sure thing,” Toppley nodded. "It can’t do any harm to tell them.” . there is another one you can work on. Bunker,” Freebourne rounded out his sentence more calmly, “for I got one myself, this morning.”
Through the period of silence an electric keenness seemed to sweep through the gathering, as though they scented the unusual at the same time they feared for its
"But the thing is ridiculous,” Picton protested; and though up to this moment he had quite properly held himself apart from the circle, the man was now manifestly alert. For Picton could scarcely be termed a part of the gathering. He was one of those stray musicians whom Madden had picked up in some manner or other to play second fiddle to his amateur offerings; the discussion had so appealed to his imagination that the natural reserve incident to this situation had broken
“I mean it seems ridiculous,” he added, more guardedly. “If there is any real meaning to a message of that nature, I am certain that I could read it.”
FREEBOURNE nodded sharply, as the eyes of the gathering focussed upon him; and as he reached towards his pocket he laughed quickly, with that harsh little note which betrays a man’s lack of case.
“I am fortunate in being so well guarded,” he attempted to make light of the matter, “and now that we have two musical detectives on the job, as well as Toppley, I don’t mind giving you a little something to exercise your wits upon. The message came, and here it is. Bunker, what do you make of it?”
When the open paper passed through my hands on its way to Madden, I glanced at it quickly, and found that it was simple, direct, and yet confusing. At the moment I read it swiftly; yet later, w-hen the situation had growm more calm and I could study itl carefully, I could find no variation or added significance to the thing which flashed up before my eyes. It was boldly simple in wording, and yet those simple words called no familiar thought to the mind.
This is all there was to it, on an otherwise blank piece of paper :
For a long time Bunker Madden pondered the thing in his hands; he turned the paper over and studied every inch of its surface; he held it up to the light: and when he had finished, the message lay limp in his fingers, while a worried smile flitted to his lips, then vanished.
“To-night. Midnight. Front doorway. G-Sharp four-times. . . four-times G-Sharp." he repeated, in a meditative w'ay, “I’m stumped, so far. What does it mean, Picton?”
Again that strange slip of paper went through a scrutinizing study, and when Picton in his turn glanced up, the same baffled smile was there upon his lips. Slowly he shook his head, and yet he clung to the paper, as though reluctant to admit defeat.
“It is in my mind, somehow,” he ruminated "At least it seems to me that there is, somewhere, in music I have played, a bar just like that. Yet it is unusual ...”
The man broke off, to strike the note with his lips, and though he hummed it in a variety of ways, in crescendo, in staccato, and even shifted it an octave up the key, his efforts seemed to bring no light through the darkness, either to himself or to us.
“I must think,” he began, absently; but Toppley broke into the man’s meditations.
“There is nothing to think about,” he declared, with confidence. “This time our foolish friend has made a little mistake. He didn’t count upon Mr. Freebourne coming down to headquarters, so his high-jink stage-play is over. He comes at midnight, and I nab him. That's all there's
to it. Any of you who want to stick around and see the sport are quite welcome.”
Toppley, undoubtedly, represented the obvious and sane procedure; and yet one could tell instantly, from the slight hostility which crept through the ensuing silence, that the imaginations of Freebourne's guests had been keyed to a pitch beyond the normal, and that they, as a body, would have preferred some other way out. It would be tame enough to watch a burglar walk into a trap where all the forces of the law were against him: but it would be quite another thrill to find the answer to his cryptic message.
“Sure thing," agreed Bodley, a stock-broker whose eyes had not been all-dulled by the routine of business battles. “We’ll stay, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be as interesting as stalking mice with a high powered bull-dog. Let me see there are ten of us here, against one poor little burglar And I’ll wager, Tcppley, that you have a couple of your men posted outside. . ..”
“Well, w-hat of it?” Toppley’s challenging voice w as an admission of the charge, “you got to catch these highfly crooks somehow.”
Bodley eyed the man with total lack of admiration.
“Truly a sporting proposition,” he muttered, with an attempt at a yawn; and just there Madden broke in.!
“But isn’t it?” he exclaimed. “Can’t you see this crook must have known that Dunk was having a party here tonight, for the butler knew all about it ten days ago. and everybody else in the house must have know n it too. So it is a sporting job. Bodley, but I am not so certain that you are betting your sympathy the right way across the boards. I stay, for one.”
No one could doubt the fact that the glance with which he favored Toppley was a nagging one; but the latter controlled an evident desire to become personal.
“And I go, for one,” Bodley returned. “There is some sport which is too depressing. Eleven-thirty will see me on my wray."
Picton came out of a harmony of G sharps long enough to remark:
“If you don’t mind, Mr. Bodley, I will go with you. It is so awkw'ard to miss the midnight car. Unless, of course.. ..Goodness, I thought I had it that time
THE man immediately resumed his vocal experimentations with Gsharp, and from the unpleasant pause in the conversation it became apparent that the unknown one had managed in some strange manner to disturb the harmony of a promising evening. Dunk Freebourne seemed to be conscious of that, and immediately he rushed to the rescue.
“I didn’t tell you before that there are twenty thousand dollars in bills in that safe up in the library,” he confided. “I had to bring the money with me to-night for it is wanted before banking hours in the morning. Except for that, I doubt if I would have gone to headquarters
Bodley gave a long, slow
“I see. The money is actually there?” he asked.
Something in the mans voice brought a touch of alarm to Freobourne’s features, for instantly he glanced over his shoulder.
“I nut it there two hours ago.” he declared, with a nervous laugh, "but perhaps we had better sec."
The swift glance which he swept about the room was an invitation, and as we strung our way up the stairs and along the spacious Continuni on page 34
Continued from page 17
hallway to the library, it almost seemed to me that the atmosphere was charged with augury. Freebourne worked hurriedly at the safe, he swung open the doorway, and plunged a hand in eagerly.
“Of course it is here,” Freebourne declared, with relief, “you almost had me frightened, Bodley; there is something so devilish strange in it all. You can see for yourselves. . . .Twenty bills, for a thousand each. Now back they go. Let’s forget about it, until midnight. Some music, Madden.”
AS OUR host twirled the dial of the safe to lock fast the little fortune, it was plain that the spirit of the gathering had revived. Picton alone remained abstracted, while Madden was already fingering over a volume from the library.
“The thing sticks in my mind,” he responded, “I believe Picton is right. How about his trying it on the violin?”
“Why didn’t I think of that before,” he exclaimed, “suppose we try it together, Mr. Madden.”
In the way of self-encouragement, Picton immediately plunged into a corner, drew his violin from its case, and dropped into a chair beside the locked safe. As though that were some occult rite, we paused in a body to watch, and while the circle of eyes focussed upon him, Picton toyed with the uninspiring harmony of G-sharp, just as he had hummed it through his lips.
“It’s got me,” he confessed “I thought I recalled it once.”
“You should have tried it this way.” Bunker Madden took up the reply, as he, in his turn, dropped into the chair, with his violin cuddled against his cheek.
As he played, I caught a queer gleam in Bodley’s eyes, as if he were listening,— vaguely, intently. When Bodley found my eyes upon him, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
“You will pardon me, Dunk,” he swung about towards our host, “but if this is the way we are to spend the evening, it will be a truly memorable one. Anybody here want to make up a game of bridge?”
“Bridge, certainly, if you want it,” he returned, “but I thought you wanted some music first, Bodley. It was you who asked particularly that Madden should bring Picton along.”
“Very well, music first,” the man replied, as though making a concession; and shortly we began to stream back to the lower rooms, just as we had climbed the stairs a few minutes before.
“Come, Bunker,” Freebourne called. “Just a minute,” Madden rejoined absently; and I distinctly remember that, being the last of the procession, I glanced back carelessly and saw Bunker Madden sitting there in the room alone, huddled up in a chair beside the safe, and racing through some new and fantastic variation with G-sharp. Yet I had barely reached the head of the stairs before he overtook me, placed a hand on my arm and began chatting freely about the strange habits of criminals. At the foot of the stairway we met Picton returning with a broken bow in his hand.
“Awfully stupid of me,” he apologized, “but I dropped the thing and Mr. Bodley stepped on it. I have another in the library.”
We had been waiting in the living room for a couple of minutes at the most, when Picton returned with a new bow; then he and Madden began to run through their selections. Toppley, with an ostentatious yawn, remarked something about' checking up his assistants on guard outside the house, and Bodley, I observed, followed him from the room.
It was three or four minutes before Bodley returned, and even then there was a suggestion of impatience about his manner.
THE evening’s entertainment, it must be confessed, was a somewhat disjointed one. Madden played remarkably well for an amateur, with Picton furnishing the background; but twice, in the middle of selections, he threw in that bar of G-sharps. Bridge was well under way when Toppley arrived around about eleven-thirty and announced that unless the burglar was to he frightened away, the party should break up, and the house must be in darkness by midnight.
“And there can’t more than three or four of you stay,” he announced.
The wisdom of that prevailed, and when the weeding-out process had been completed the only ones who remained were Madden, Freebourne, Toppley and myself. We crouched behind the curtains.
Those were dragging minutes. They crawled like snails through the darkness and the silence, and yet so filled were they with strange fancies that when finally the distant midnight bells boomed out, I could almost picture to myself the creeping form of some mysterious stranger stealing up to that front doorway to fulfill a promise. The last note of the bells trailed away into silence; nothing daunted, we stuck it out until the first thin streamers of dawn stole their way through the drawn blinds and began to pick out the ghostly silhouettes of the scattered objects about the room.
With that, Freebourne pulled himself up from his cramped position on the floor, and growled out with the impatience of a man who has been cheated:
“A hoax, Toppley; I knew' it.”
“That party of yours scared him away,” Toppley growled back, with equal impatience. “Except for that, I’d have had him locked up long ago.”
“It’s me for headquarters,” Toppley continued, as he left, disgruntled.
MADDEN and I were already at the doorway, with our backs to the library, when abruptly we heard a sharp exclamation of amazement. The sound came from behind us; and as I swung about, with the nervous strain of the sleepless night still upon me, I saw Freebourne standing there, with his hand upon the knob of the open door of the safe. The man’s face was the picture of alarm.
“My God, boys! What does it mean?” he exclaimed.
“What does what mean?” Madden demanded.
“This,” Freebourne spoke in a highpitched voice. “The door was unlocked. It opened the moment I touched it. And ... In the name of Heaven.... The money is gone!”
Madden and I rushed forward. The thing seemed impossible; yet it was true. There, upon the open shelf where but a few' hours ago we had seen Freebourne place the pile of bills, there was nothing but empty space; nothing at all. . except.
“Gad! What’s that?” Madden exclaimed, as he reached swiftly across Freebourne’s shoulder and snatched up a srrtall oblong of paper.
He thrust the thing before our eyes, but even before vision could function I felt that I knew its identity.
Yes, it was perfectly true, that thing quivering there in Madden’s fingers!
“G-sharp,” he muttered, “four times. Four times G-sharp...”
The confusion of the moment must have reached Toppley’s ears, for at that instant he rushed into the room; and the sight of the open safe, our amazed tableau, and most of all that thin slip of paper clutched in Madden’s fingers, must have told their own story. For his face flushed with anger, and he brushed roughly past us.
“Where is the money?” he demanded. “Heaven knows,” Freebourne burst, out. “It’s gone, and this thing was left.”
A swift search convinced Toppley of the truth of that statement; then some time later when he had partly recovered from the shock, he called the two men who had stood guard outside the house all through the night. Yet they had no light to offer. No man had entered or left. That was their complete story; and one of them had watched at the rear and the other at the front, without so much as a minute’s rest. In that moment Toppley ran his fingers through his hair in perplexity.
“I can’t understand it,” he mumbled, “for we watched here all night, the four of us.” Then he snatched the paper from Madden’s hand, as though in anger. “What can that confounded thing mean?” he asked; but there wras no one w'ho could answer.
“I am going to telephone Donegal Dawn,” I decided aloud; and I left them there, still staring at the puzzle of four times G-sharp.
Fortunately I found Dawm at home, a trifle impatient at being roused so early from his rest; yet the timbre of my voice must bave told him much. He paused
only long enough to take the address and ; to ask a few questions, but the morning I was well advanced before he arrived.
I CAN’T see anything to it, except that Freebourne took It himself,” Toppley I persisted, after we had outlined the in1 cidentsasbest we might to Donegal Dawn. ‘Tie’s tricking us somehow. He didn’t lock the safe when he put the money in it early through the evening; then this I morning, the minute nobody is watching ' him, he pulls open the door, slips the money in his pocket, leaves this fool thing about G-sharp, and raises a hullabaloo. That could be done in twenty seconds, and I tell you, Mr. Dawn, it is the only thing j which could possibly have happened for j I was here all night and evening, from the I time Freebourne put the money in the ! safe.”
For a moment that seemed reasonable; then instantly it became absurd, and I I told him so. For 1 personally, as well as two or three others, had tried that safe I door after Freebourne had locked it; and I there had been no trick abqut it then.
“But there must be,” Toppley insisted, j in a distracted manner. “The four of us I watched all night and nothing happened. I Two plainclothesmen guarded the house, j and no person entered or left after the ; party broke up at eleven-thirty; and I ! was in the room myself all evening, from j the minute I relieved Rankin until I had to go and tell the guests to clear out. Then when I was doing that, Rankin was i again on guard.”
Since Dawn seemed no longer interested I in the man’s remarks, Toppley dragged j himself away towards headquarters, somewhat morose and crestfallen. Bunker J Madden left at the same time, while i Freebourne could be heard at the telephone, makingfrantic attempts to re-adjustsomebusiness confusion which seemed ¡ to be the product of that twenty-thousand-dollar robbery.
“Listen to that.” 1 drew Dawn out of a j period of reflection. “There is no acting ! about that. The man is sincere, and j Toppley is an idiot to suspect him.”
Donegal Dawn smiled in his baffling way:
“Yet Toppley was perfectly right in saying that the thing could be done in I twenty seconds, given favorable conditions,” he replied, “or suppose we go up i to the library and try it. That will at i least take us away from Freebourne’s i shouting.”
THE test, as applied by Dawn, was simple, and convincing. For the whole : process of opening the unlocked door of the safe, reaching for a roll of bills, j dropping a small piece of paper in its place, and closing the door again, neednot,
J by actual proof, consume more than ten seconds, even by a person compelled to be j noiseless.
Still, Dawn’s tests made me laugh somewhat teasingly.
"That, of course, is presuming that the j safe door was unlocked,” I reminded, “Which it wasn’t. I tried it myself after I Freebourne locked it, as I have told you, and there isn’t the slightest doubt about \ that. No, Donegal, the person who took that money had to unlock the safe door,
! and Freebourne didn’t have the time to do it, even knowing the combination. It took him at least two minutes to open it I early in the evening, and I don’t think he ! had even ten seconds to himself this I morning. The trail is cold. What next?” Again Dawn smiled, in his aggravating manner.
“I never said it was anything but cold,” j he remarked. “How you do persist in taking me up the wrong way. All I said was I that the job could be done in less than twenty seconds”
"Providing the door was not locked,” I insisted.
“Precisely,” Dawn agreed, “but that does not explain the mystery of G-sharp, which, by the way, will have to wait for attention. The theory on which we must ¡ start, of course, is that if Freebourne did 1 not take the money this morning, it must ! have been taken before the four of you went on guard last night to watch an 1 empty safe. Now don’t get excited, Brad,
I for that undoubtedly is what happened.
“Impossible,” I insisted, for the thing ! seemed too ridiculous even to consider.
1 “You forget that there were ten or a dozen ! men in the house all evening, that either ; Toppley or Rankin was on guard in the library all the time, that a safe could not : be unlocked by even the most expert
burglar in less than ten or fifteen minutes; and you forget most of all that time no person did enter or leave the house.”
"Except guests,” Dawn corrected in such a casual manner that instantly my thoughts began to race into new channels. “The person who did it is a clever rogue and he carried his nerve with him. His message, of course, is deliberately misleading. The moment he says midnight, it focuses your attention upon that hour, and naturally leaves him with a comparatively free hand before midnight. Yes Brad, that is when it occurred.”
But I could not see it that way. For even if Dawn’s psychology were correct, there simply had not been the opportunity for any of the guests to open that safe; there had not been the time.... unless....
“I believe I have it,” I exclaimed, “it must have been either Rankin, or Toppley himself. Are you sure Toppley really is from headquarters? Or the men outside? They might have been part of his gang.”
Instantly it became obvious that there was nothing new in the idea to Donegal Dawn, for he smiled in an encouraging way.
“You are coming on, Brad,” he complimented, “still, I have satisfied myself that they all belong to headquarters. The next thing is to find out who, besides Rankin and Toppley, were in the library after the money was locked in the safe in the presence of everybody.”
“They were the only two who could possibly have had the time to do it,” I decided at once. “Rankin had at least fifteen minutes while Toppley was outside talking to his men; and Toppley must have had a couple of hours. The point is. Which did it?”
“How impetuous you are,” Dawn rebuked, “We have decided that the job could have been done in ten seconds. Now, let us trace back, and get at the details, the most minute of them.”
DAWN‘S insistence compelled a somewhat rigid retrospect, and though the process was somewhat labored at first, it appeared that I was able to furnish some trifling facts which immediately began to take upon themselves an undue importance.
“So the list of possible burglars has been greatly widened,” he summed it all up in the end. “We now find that Bunker Madden was the first to have a minute to himself in the library alone, while he sat and played his violin. The next appears to have been that man Picton who broke his bow and had to go back for another. He likewise had a minute at the most. The third, it would seem, was Bodley, who went back for his cigarette ease; and from what you can remember, he must have had three or four minutes. The next was Rankin, with a quarter of an hour; then came Toppley, with two hours at the least; and finally we have Freebourne this morning, with ten or fifteen seconds. Six possibles, Brad. Suppose you take your pick.”
I declined, somewhat in confusion. Dawn made a few observations about the room, jotted down a few numbers from the safe; then shortly we left.
“I am on my way to see a scientific professor friend of mind,” he remarked, as we reached the street. “Coming my way?” I was not; and the point was not a difficult one to decide. For what I required most was mental oblivion.
STILL, in the evening, the sound of Dawn’s voice over the telephone was a welcome one. And since the summons was to present myself at Dunk Freebourne’s front door at eight o’clock sharp, you may rest assured that the chiming of the bells found me walking through the vestibule.
Even had I still wished to escape the mystery of G-sharp, the thing would have been impossible, for the first scene which reached my eyes was a vista of the broad stairway, up which at this instant a man was walking. His back was towards me; and tucked under one arm was a violin, while under the other was a bow. Standing in the curtained doorway of the living-room was Freebourne, and it did not require much astuteness to discover that he was puzzled by the spectacle of that figure climbing his stairway. Suddenly he turned to Donegal Dawn.
“I cannot understand why you want that man to have five minutes in the library alone,” he spoke peevedly. “But thank fortune, there is nothing left there that any person could steal.”
Dawn tried to laugh away the other’s nervous ill-humour.
“It is just a whim of mine,” he remarked easily. “Besides, three minutes may be quite enough.” Then, turning to me, he added, “Brad, do you still want to bet on the identity of the offending gentleman? I will give you two to one on any selection you care to make from the six possibles. That strikes me as particularly generous, since you watched the gentleman do it.”
The shock of that held me voiceless for a moment, while I stood there and stared at Dawn through a period of rising won-
"Saw him do it?” I 'exclaimed; but Dawn waved me into silence.
For abruptly, from the flat above, there came that now-haunting echo of G-sharp, muted doubtless by the closed door of the library, but still sounding clear and distinct through the unnatural calm of our surroundings. It was no longer a harmony. It was just a quick succession of frantic notes; and when it ceased, the silence closed about us almost with a sensation of oppression.
Dawn smoked carelessly for a full minute, glancing from one puzzled face to the other; then he tossed his cigarette aside.
"The gentleman appears to have wearied of the harmony of G-sharp,” he remarked. “Perhaps it would be well to follow.”
IN THE library, seated beside the safe, was the man who had climbed the stairway, but it was not until he glanced up that I recognize Picton. He met us with the calm smile of confidence, almost of good fellowship. Dawn likewise was cool and collected.
“Mr. Picton has been kind enough to come here this evening to demonstrate a scientific fact,” he spoke to Freebourne. “Would you kindly try the door of that safe to see if it is locked.”
For some seconds, Freebourne tugged at the knob; then, shortly, he glanced up. “Yes, it’s locked,” he stated decisively.
“Then,” Dawn turned to Picton, "if you wouldn’t mind playing that bar of G-sharps? It is such an efficient thing.” Picton, from his position beside the safe, drew his bow across the string, and so there echoed through the room a longdrawn shrieking succession of G-sharps. When he had finished, he sat there, looking at Dawn with a calm and nerveless
“Would you kindly try the door now, Mr. Freebourne:” Dawn asked.
Freebourne, with nervous hand, reached over, and when he touched the knob of the safe, the door pulled outward with the slightest pressure.
“Good Heavens!” the man exclaimed weakly, as he sat down in the nearest
Dawn rose, glanced at that miracle of science; then he nodded sharply at Picton.
“You may go, if you are in a hurry,” he suggested. “It was very good of you to
Picton crossed the room with the cool, calm poise of a man who feels no fear, and when at length the sound of his retreating footsteps had died in the hallway beyond, Dawn spoke again.
“You see, Mr. Freebourne, the case is really one of the simplest I have been on for years. The moment I heard the circumstances I recalled a scientific fact of which I had read somewhere, and which I will now put in the plainest terms possible. It is simply that the intricate mechanism of a safe can be tuned to any musical note desired; the playing of the note sets the mechanism in vibration and the safe is unlocked. If you want the scientific details, you can go to my professor friend, as I did this morning. In this case, it was the Rattler Safe Works who let the scientists experiment on six house safes; and the only slip they made was that they forgot to un-tune them. The solution was simple, particularly as Professor Elbert had followed the experiments. So there you have the answer to the message of G-sharp. The burglar was something of an artist, but all he had to do was to find out who bought those tuned house-safes. Simple, isn’t it?”
Freebourne was reviving rapidly from the debilitating effects of his astonish-
“Perhaps,” he admitted, “but it doesn’t tell me who took my twenty thousand dollars. Picton was the first man to play
over those G-sharps last night. He pretended to be searching for the words of some air. . .And to think you have let him get away. . . ”
“But it couldn’t have been Picton,” I interjected, as the answer seemed to flash upon me, “don’t you remember that Madden was the first to be left, in the roomalone? He, too, pretended to be searching for some air; but he had the first minute to himself, and all he needed was ten seconds.”
That suggestion brought a flush of anger to Freebourne’s cheeks.
“Bunker is a particular friend of mine,” he spoke more coldly, “appearances may be against him; but if Picton didn’t take the money, then it was Bodley. Gad! I know now it must have been Bodley. For it was Bodley who first insisted that we should have music last night; and it was Bodley who first told Picton to play those G-sharps on his violin. What a clever scoundrel he is! To plan it so that I would have two musicians here, and to work it out so one of them at least. . .and both of them, as it turned out.... would play those G-sharps in the library to open the safe in front of my very eyes! Then all he had to do was to drop a cigarette case.... Good Lord, what a clever scoundrel!”
Freebourne was glowering, half in anger and half in admiration, and his eyes were turned upon Donegal Dawn.
“Yes,” Dawn agreed, “that would have been a trifle too clever. But you forget that we had the answer in G-sharps some ten minutes ago, while we waited down
For a moment on.y Freebourne stared; then he nodded swiftly, as though some quick flash of thought had reached his
“Picton aid play that measure of Gsharps,” he cried, as he sprang to his feet and darted towards the safe. Dropping on his knees he thrust a groping hand inward. When the hand came out again it was trembling so that it could scarcely hold the package of bills gripped between the fingers; and when Freebourne rose to his feet, his eyes were sparkling as though new life had been poured into the soul beyond their depths.
“Dawn, I don’t know how I can thank you,” he muttered, “this saves my business. . . .Without it, I was ruined . . ”
Dawn waved a careless hand.
“It really wasn’t intended that you should keep that whole armful, you know,” he suggested, “Brad, you might help him sort out what is really his.”
It was when a package dropped from Freebourne’s fumbling fingers that 1 came to realize the meaning of Dawn’s last words. For the parcel was neatly wrapped, and upon the face it bore the one word “Ruxton;” while a second parcel, found among Freebourne’s fluttering bills, was addressed in the same simple manner, with the word “Bruger.”
“There were only three of the safes sold,” Dawn explained, “the rest are still out at the Rattler Works, and there does seem to be a disposition on the part of the management to have them un-
“No,” Dawn remarked some time later, when we were once more alone, “There was nothing to be gained by trying to send Picton down for a term of years. As a matter of fact, he is a clever beggar, and he really held the whiphand, until the very last. For when I finally cornered him, he had the money tucked away; so you see he was in a position to dicker. Looking at it from Freebourne’s viewpoint, the return of the money seemed the thing. and, well, that dramatic way of returning it was Pieton’s own idea. Shrewd rogue, that. Hope we meet some other day
Dawn, I could see, was slipping fast into one of his periods of meditation: but by a rapid question or two, I was able to fucus his attention for a moment longer.
“. . . How did I weed the rest out, and find Picton? Comparatively simple,” he informed, somewhat absently. “Professor Elbert confirmed my theories about G-sharp, and he had on his files a list of the safes, and with their numbers and tunings. The facts had been furnished to him at the time of the experiments. S.o you see, the information which Elbert got, would be open to others. . . Clever scoundrel, that Picton. Worked with the Rattler Safe people, up to three months ago . Hope to meet him again."