IT TURNED out just as the telegram had promised. The tall, thin man with the grey, peaked cap, was waiting at the rear step of the rear coach; and as we reached the platform, his countenance had assumed a trace of apology.
But even apart from any description whatever,
it would not have been difficult to pick him out from the thin cluster of hangers-on as the Inspector Fargus who was awaiting us.
Still, the car was already well in motion and we were being whirled through rural scenes before Fargus made any remarks other than those required for purposes of identification. The machine had just topped a rise and had thrown open before us a broad vista of sweeping country-side, with the bright spectacle of a long, low bungalow sprawling among the pines on the hillside, when the man broke through his seeming mask of reserve.
“I am afraid, Mr. Dawn,” he remarked, with apology in his voice, just as it had already shown upon his face, “that you will find it a perfectly simple case, and that you will feel that your time has been wasted. I could not explain it all to you in th,e telegram, but the evidence, such as we have it, is remarkably clear. It is so clear that I did not wish to send for you; but Mr. Dodson insisted. He is terribly cut up over the whole thing, though he tries not to show it; and you will understand, after you have seen him for a time, why I could not refuse to send for you, even though it might mean a waste of your time.”
I was inclined to agree with Fargus, for such of the details as had poured through to the papers were decidedly clear-cut and free from the circumstantial: though one could not help feeling rather keenly for Miss Dodson in the matter. For the newspaper photographs had shown her to be of the proud, yet reserved, old-family type which would suffer sharply from the notoriety which had been thrust into the calm routine of her life.
“Is young Frawley still under arrest?” Dawn asked. “I am afraid my knowledge of the ease is very fragmentary. All I read of it was one of those warmed-over, follow-up stories in an early morning paper which presumed that I, like everybody else, had been reading the thing from the first. But I did see that they had caught Frawley, strangely enough, on a train coming this way...”
Some of the apology slipped from the manner of Inspector Fargus, and his smile let us know that he was aware of the tricks of the world.
“Strange, perhaps,” he admitted, with a smile some-
what grim at the edges, “but no stranger than young Frawley’s story that he did not know Freeber had been attacked and robbed in the Dodson home until he read it in the newspapers. There is too much child-like innocence in that, particularly when he went on to say it had never occurred to him to imagine that he would be suspected, until the papers pointed out that the police were looking for him because he had fled from the scene of the robbery. So he claims he wa% on his way back to give himself up. Innocent-like, isn’t it? Except that they don’t grow them like that any more. A bit thick, I say
TT DID seem that Fargus was right, for there were one ~ or two things in Bert Frawley’s past—if one could judge by the somewhat sketchy biographies which the papers had furnished—which scarcely seemed to harmonize with a pose of innocence. For one thing, he appeared to know too many of the ponies by their first names; and for another, he had shared in quite too many athletic events during his University career to be left with any of the fledgling garb of youth.
“. . . .He is under arrest, and yet he isn’t,” Fargus went on. “You might call it on parole. Mr. Dodson insisted that he should be released, at least until Freeber has recovered sufficient consciousness to tel! his story. There is just a chance, you know, that Freeber might say that Frawley wasn’t the footpad who laid him out and cleaned him of something like ten thousand dollars, though the evidence is so strong that I cannot imagine such a thing happening. At any rate, Frawley has the freedom of the place. He has promised not to leave it; besides, we have him watched constantly. No, Mr. Dawn, you will f-nd it a perfectly simple case, hardly worth the application of your ta'ents. Still, Mr. Dodson insisted so strongly . ”
Undoubtedly, inspector Fargus "as right. At any rate, the newspaper stories were oírte unswerving, and as the Inspecto:now repeated t'-e tory from his own
knowledge it became quite obvious just where the reportera had struck their well of information. Still, as Fargus had said, the thing was so absolutely clear-cut that it seemed as though the visit of a criminologist like Donegal Dawn must take upon itself the complexion of sheer formality. For the facts were plain enough.
The Dodsons, it appeared, lived a quiet and simple life in this somewhat massive bungalow on the hillside. It was the retreat in which Elise Dodson passed her summers; and it was the sanctuary to which the world-harried Solomon Dodson fled each night the moment the shackles of business routine were freed from about him, and it was there, as well, that he worshipped before the shrine of Elise. From the descriptions of a. life of old-fashioned ease and simplicity which had been sketched by the papers, one might have fancied that the Dodsons would be almost the last people in the world to be thrust into the glare of publicity.
Yet it had come, just three days ago, when Levi Freeber, guest of the Dodsons’, had been found in the reading room weltering in his own blood, and so close todeath’s door that it was only within the last fewhoursthat. it had been realized that the man could live. There had been attempts to hush the matter up, Fargus gave us tounderstand; but Mrs. Freeber, it appeared, did not belong to that self-contained type which could suffer in silence, particularly when she came to understand that a wallet containing some ten thousand dollars in bills had' vanished. So the Dodsons had been thrown into theglare of the limelight, and the rays grew all the moreintense when it became known that Bert Frawley, theaffianced of Elise Dodson, was missed from a quiet weekend gathering at the same time.
“Still, it is something in his favor to think that he was. on his way back when he was caught,” I suggested, as wedrew close enough to the pine-encircled bungalow to feel some of its atmosphere of quiet and repose. “I hardly suppose any of the money was found on him?”
Fargus’ eyes became almost pitying.
“No, he would hardly be fool enough to carry it around with him; but I don’t look for any trouble in finding just, what he did with it,” the Inspector replied. “He had3 some debts, we know that much. The case, I say, is* clear-cut. We’ll be in the reading room in five minutes,, and you can see the evidence for yourselves.”
As we circled up the driveway beneath the cool shade of the pines, there were three figures in sight. The nervously-eager, middle-aged man, who was awaiting us at the edge of the verandah, it was evident, could be none other than Solomon Dodson. The young man at the distant end of the verandah, a carefully-dressed and somewhat handsome person, whose back was turned partly towards us and who seemed to be maintaining a pose of indifference, must be Bert Frawley. Yet his indifference, I discovered shortly, was nothing but a thin veneer after all; for he kept glancing at us constantly across his shoulder, and he was smoking much too vigorously at the cigarette hanging from his lips. The third person, who had evidently been calmly reading a newspaper, I took to be one of the guards of whom Fargus had spoken.
Inspector Fargus, it seemed, held the situation in hand; for he paid but little attention to the nervous bustling of Solomon Dodson, and he ushered us directly into the reading-room without asking the owner’s consent.
“I do hope there is something you can do for us, Mr. Dawn,” Dodson burst out at length, “though Mr. Fargus tells me there is nothing that -can be done, ,that the case is so terribly clear against Bert.... ”
“Perhaps we had better let Mr. Dawn judge that for himself,” the Inspector interrupted, with a faint suggestion of superiority in his manner. “This, Mr. Dawn, is the room where the assault and robbery took place, and things have been disturbed as little as possible. Y ou see the writing table by the wall, with the electric light over it. Well, Mr. Freeber was sitting there; he had just started to write a note, when some person entered the doorway at his back, crossed the room, struck him on the head with the loaded end of a billiard cue, took his money and left Freeber stretched out on the floor. As nearly as we can estimate, he was lying there two or three hours; for it was not until Mrs. Freeber wakened at three in the morning and became alarmed at his absence that a search was made. The billiard-room, you can see, is directly across the hallway from the entrance to this reading-room and that is important, for the last Mrs. Freeber heard of her husband was shortly before midnight when she and Miss Dodson were playing billiards. Frawley and Freeber had been playing with them, but they stopped shortly after eleven, came into this room together and were perfectly quiet for a time; then later, from the sound of their voices, they seemed to be quarrelling. Mrs. Freeber says she and Miss Dodson stopped playing because of that, though when they passed up the hallway to their rooms the quarrelling seemed to bave ended. .
“Three hours later, Freeber was found lying upon the floor, unconscious, his wallet was gone, the ink was spilled over the writingdesk, the floor and his clothing, as though there had been some slight struggle; and, here is the clinching piece of evidence.....”
There was a dramatic touch in the Inspector’s attitude as he •stepped across the room to what seemed to be a closet, unlocked a •door and drew an object from •within.
“......The thing is extremely
valuable, as evidence,” Fargus .added. “We are looking after it with the utmost care.”
The object was a billiard cue which he tendered to Donegal Dawn with the greatest of punctiliousness; and I noted instantly that it was a point to the man’s credit to see that he was not handling the stick with his own fingers, but that a string had been looped about the chalked end, and that it was merely the string which was •extended to Dawn.
'“'TpHE evidencethere is convinc-
*■ ing,” Fargus resumed, seemingly indifferent to the nervous suffering of Solomon Dodson, and careless likewise of the fact that Bert Frawley was now pacing up •and down the hallway, with an occasional glance cast into the room. “You will notice that the person who used this cue to strike down Freeber must have used it as a club. The nature of Freeber’s wound corroborates that. The would-be assassin gripped this club rather better than half way
back from the leaded end, where the cue is about threequarters of an inch thick; but. . . you will notice, Mr. Dawn, that the fingers of both his hands were still wet with ink. There must have been some slight struggle before; but however that may be, the finger prints of the man who attacked Freeber were left behind him, in ink, on the billiard cue. You will observe, Mr. Dawn, that one hand must have been much wetter with ink than was the other, for that Hand gives a clear print of the first three fingers and the thumb, while the other hand-grip is blurred so that it shows only the forefinger and the thumb clearly......”
Fargus paused, with a definite amount of professional pride showing through the mask of his austerity, and as Dawn held the cue suspended before his face I noticed that young Frawley came and stood in the doorway with an assumption of indifference which was but poorly done.
“You see,” Fargus resumed, “the finger prints are quite plain, though naturally there is a blur where the palm or the ball of the hands gripped. So it was not difficult to identify the prints, particularly as our suspicion was already aroused.”
“So you have identified them?” Dawn asked curiously, as he leaned the cue against the wall, took a tapeline from his pocket and began to make a few careful measurements. “It might help me to know to whom they belong.”
Fargus, it became evident, was definitely satisfied with the results of his own work, a fact which became apparent from his tones rather than from his words.
“I regret to say that they correspond with the finger and thumb prints of Bert Frawley,” he said with a certain unction. “One"of the first things I did after Frawley was brought back was to take his prints, having already seen this billiard cue.....”
“It’s a lie. They are not mine.”
THE impetuous interruption was keen and highpitched; and Frawley made two or three steps within the room, just as though he had been shocked out of his pose of indifference by the sudden realization that the case against him was stronger than he had ever imagined. Then he stopped and pulled himself together again with something of the courage of the stoic, and in that instant I began to feel a secret, though but half-conscious admiration, for Bert Frawley. Doubtless he was a young scapegrace, still in spite of that he commanded a definite amount of respect, even after this short observation. ,
“You will excuse him, Mr. Dawn,” Fargus suggested. “I did not explain to him why I took his fingerprints, and this doubtless is the first he knew about those prints being left behind on the cue. You would oblige me if you would compare them for yourself.”
Dawn, it appeared, was already working in that direction, and I noticed that while he was making his observations through a high-powered glass, there was a faint flush which stole through the grey of Frawley’s cheeks. There were some minutes through which to watch the youth, for Donegal Dawn was working with care, and it almost seemed to me that as the flush grew upon Frawley’s cheeks there was a return of real confidence.
At last Dawn glanced up, and he held in his fingers the prints which Fargus had taken.
“There can be no doubt of the fact,” he announced, “that the prints on the cue and on this piece of paper were made by the fingers of the same man.”
Frawley did not make a sound; though I noticed that his eyes blinked sharply, as though there were something which he really found hard to understand.
“They must be Frawley’s finger prints, of course,” Donegal Dawn went on, “but you will excuse me for verifying that point myself, Mr. Fargus. I always make it a point never to accept second-hand evidence where the first-hand is to be obtained. Mr. Frawley, if you please.”
Bert Frawley’s fingers trembled slightly while his prints were being re-taken; and this time Dawn contented himself with a much more casual study.
“Yes, they are the same,” he said quietly.
The youth left the room with the air of a man who struggles for poise, and Dawn, I noticed, was watching the retreating figure.
“Luckily we have him watched,” Fargus remarked. “He hasn’t a chance of getting away. You see, it is all' so perfectly clear. Frawley and Freeber quarrelled, doubtless over money; for Freeber has the reputation of doing a bit of note-shaving. Frawley is the kind which is mostly in debt, and we have found out that he has been pressed of late. Besides, there is this further little bit of clinching evidence.”
As he spoke, Fargus extended a folded sheet of stationery upon which a few words had been written.
“That,” he declared, “was the top sheet of this pad which is now lying on the table. It was still attached to the pad, and from the way in which the pen has fallen and blotted the last word, you can see plainly enough that this is a note which Freeber was actually writing when he was struck from behind.....”
It was plain, from the lights which came into Donegal Dawn’s eyes, that the matter was of extreme importance to him.
“......Besides, Mrs. Freeber
has identified the hand-writing as being that of her husband.”
AS I glanced at the sheet of paper which Dawn handed over to me, the facts did seem convincing enough. For the words which Freeber had written were: “Dear Dodson: Much as it
grieves me to be obliged to draw such a matter to your attention, I feel, for your sake as well as mine, that I must do so; for I have just been threatened by a prospective member of your household, none other than Mr. Bert Frawley. Of course you will understand that while I feel secure from such threats, the motive which prompts them cannot be passed by without.. .. ”
Just there was the blot which drew the veil across the deeds of the past, yet which at the same time added a fresh barb to curiosity. For there was one to whom that note revealed much more than it did to me, a fact which I appreciated only when the sharp voice of Solomon Dodson barked out, just at my back. “Where’d you get that, Fargus, and when?” Dodson's face had gone livid, and the nervousness which before had characterized him had been crystallized into a sudden outcropping of some latent spirit of battle.
Fargus stared for a moment at the swift change which hnd come upon him.
"Why, I told you, sir, just Continued on page 36
Continued from page 23
where I found it,” he hesitated, somewhat in astonishment. “It was the top hheet of this pad.....”
“Then why didn’t you tell me about it before?” he demanded, as he took the paper calmly from my fingers and walked swiftly from the room.
He went straight to Bert Frawhy, perched there so restlessly upon the railing of the verandah, appeared to be staring at him through a period of silence and then led the way for a series of pac ings back and forward across the lawn.
For a moment Fargus watched that scene with widening eyes.
“Gad,” he exclaimed, with the glow of a new idea showing upon his countenance. “And to think it never occurred to me to keep an eye on the old man!”
THE lure of the new idea pulled him away, so that for the first time since our arrival, Dawn and I found ourselves alone. We, too, strolled into the hallway and down towards that new scene, and I recall the queer impression which came to me that the surface of events had barely been scratched. For at this moment Solomon Dodson appeared to be in the midst of a harangue so self-centered that he had totally overlooked the possibility of prying eyes.
Fargus, it was obvious, was craning forward in an effort to catch some stray words; and I was wondering what Donegal Dawn would do, when suddenly some flitting sound from behind us caught his attention. Almost it seemed as though it was something for which he had been waiting, for the thing which drew Dawn had been too faint to register upon any of my senses.
Yet I followed his swift course back to the reading-room, and it was with some astonishment that I saw him step across the room and grip a woman by the wrists. As he did so, the billiard cue loosened from her fingers and fell with a clattering noise upon the floor. In one hand there was a handkerchief slightly darkened with ink, and though at first she made a futile effort to conceal that tell-tale bit of evidence against her, she now stood with whitened features, staring back into the face of Donegal Dawn.
At length he dropped her hands with a gesture almost of wonder.
“Woman, Woman,” he spoke softly. “You don’t know what you are doing.” With that, he stooped and picked up the fallen cue.
“It might easily havebeenmuch worse,” he pronounced, as he lookeduponcemore. “Another thirty seconds would have been almost fatal. As it is, you have managed to remove the most of the finger prints of one hand and have blurred the others considerably. Still, there is enough left for our purposes...”
A S DONEGAL DAWN broke off, I x"A noticed a queer little twitch of a smile about the corners of his lips; and just there, for the first time in our associations, I experienced a slight feeling of antagonism. For that girl standing there before him, proud and .silent in her suffering, calm yet pale in the grip of her emotions, could be none other than Elise Dodson, the reserved, o'd-family type which could suffer so keenly and yet could struggle to conceal it. And this moment, I felt, vas no time to mock her with even the fragment of a smile.
“You, of course, are M'ss Dodson,” Dawn spoke again, «till meamredly. “One could teilt hat fromthe photographs inthe
papers. Would you mind telling me just why you were removing the most valuable piece of evidence, and the most interesting, I might add, which the case has produced?”
Strangely enough, there was no hesitation in the girl’s manner; there seemed to be no thought of evading facts no equivocation or hedging, nor even the faintest suggestion of forced dramaties
“l was rubb’ng out those finger prints because they are not Bert s she spoke it, a ,ow yet firm voice, as thougi. it were a conscious effort. “They could not be
“Why do you say that?” Dawn asked.
“In the first place, because he would be totally incapable of making such an assault upon any person as was made upon Mr. Freeber. He isn’t that kind; so he couldn’t, that’s all.”
Dawn nodded slowly. “Woman’s intuition,” he suggested. “But I must inform you, Miss Dodson, that you at entirely wrong about those finger prints I speak modestly when I say that ; a regarded as being something of an authority on the point. At any rate, my word is accepted in high places, and I am quite prepared to stake my reputation upon the statement that the prints upon thq billiard cue correspond line for line with Bert Frawley’s. That, Miss Dodson, should tell you the same that it tells me.”
“But it is impossible,” the girl .spoke more swiftly, “I am satisfied of that. Listen, Mr. Dawn. I know the story which Mrs. Freeber has told, about the way we were playing that night. She has said that we stopped because of the quarreling in this room. It was not that: for the voices were so faint that we could barely hear them
“Then there was quarreling?” Dawn interrupted.
“Has Bert ever denied it?” the flash in the girl’s eyes was almost scornful, and it gave us some faint glimpse of the esteem in which she held Bert Frawley.
“Scored there,” Dawn admitted, with a little laugh, “for I must admit that I haven't asked him. But please go on, Miss Dodson.”
“We stopped when I saw Bert crossing the lawn. He was leaving that night, and I was watching from the billiardroom windows. Mrs. Freeber will tell you that... . ”
Dawn’s movements were methodical, almost studied, as he placed the billiard cue in the closet, locked the door and dropped the key in his pocket. When he faced about again, I was conscious of a strange elation.
“Would you mind showing me just where you were standing, and where you saw Mr. Frawley,” he suggested, as he led the way to the adjoining room.
Miss Dodson indicated the window unhesitatingly; and she likewise pointed to a distant pathway leading across the rear lawn to the garage.
“He had come out from the city in his own car,” the girl continued. “I saw him across the lawn; and when I heard him drive away, we stopped playing. So it is impossible that Bert could have attacked Mr. Freeber in that manner; for when he drove away, all the billiard cues were in this room, and if any of them had been ink-stained in that way, we must surely have seen it. Bert drove straight to the city. He has told me so. So how could his finger prints get on that cue when he was miles away? It is impossible. There is a mistake somewhere......”
“.....Besides,” she continued, “I
remember that ink-stained cue distinctly.
There is a small section chipped off the chalked end, and it is the one which Mrs. Freeber was using when Bert Frawley drove away. You see, the whole thing is Impossible. Bert could not have done it.” "Was the moonlight particularly bright that night?” Dawn asked.
“It was only fairly bright,” Miss Dodson replied. “Why do you ask?”
"Because of a peculiar fact which has been established by science. It may seem unfair to you, Miss Dodson, but all things must be measured upon the cold basis of possibility. The pathway which you have indicated, as the place where you saw Mr. Frawley, is forty yards at the very least from this window. Science, you know, has proved definitely that it is impossible for the human eye to identify another person at night, even with the brightest of moonlight, at a distance greater than from twenty to twenty-five yards. So no matter how firmly you may believe what you have just stated, its effects could be nullified in court by any careful lawyer.”
L'OR the first time since we had seen her, ■l the girl’s lips quivered, and from the quick, hopeless gleam which came to her eyes for an instant, it was plain that the foundation of confidence had been suddenly swept from her.
“You have also made me wonder,” Dawn went on firmly, “just why you should have been watching at this window for Bert Frawley to leave, and why you kept Mrs. Freeber playing billiards with you until he had gone. There are links. Miss Dodson, in every chain of circumstance. Possibly, if you would tell me that it ■ ’ould make matters much simpler.”
For a long time it seemed to me, the girl stood there, with wide eyes and pale cheeks, staring at Donegal Dawn as though she had foune1 in the man some occult gift of prescience and when she spoke again, it seemed that h? had conceded much in that perú d through which she had stared :nto ti.e man s eyes'
“I do not propose to tell you that, Mr Dawn,” she returned calmly enough ir the end. “You seem be c ecer, terriblj so, to one with mA limited experiences but if you are as gifted as you appear tc be, you will find ' ut how Bert Frawley'; finger prints could get on a billiard cut when he was miles away at the time.”
With that, she turned and left us, ant as she retreated down the long hallway I could not quite analyze the jumble o emotions which she had left behind her Was it admiration for her innate pridi and her unswerving faith in Bert Fraw ley? Was it sympathy for her hiddei suffering? Was it fear that the light heartedness of youth may have toyet with her sentiments? Yet whatever i was, Dawn was smiling upon me.
“What a shock it must be for her!” exclaimed, on the impulse of the moment “It is always a shock, Brad, when th' net closes about a person,” he replied, i seemed with cold indifference, “particu larly when there seems some reason to be lieve that the net is unjust.”
“Then you think she may be right?” asked, astonished at the tone of hope ii my voice.
Dawn waved a hand negligently.
“You have seen as much as I. Y O' have all the facts before you which
That was the fatality of it; for if Daw possessed no more facts than I, then th case was all too clear, though the motiv behind it did appear somewhat confusini For it was difficult to understand jus how Elise Dodson, whose life eventhroug moments of strain had reflected th pride of ancestry, could conspire wit Bert Frawley to even the limited exter of keeping Mrs. Freeber engaged in th billiard room while some other act w£ being worked out with her husband in th room beyond. Yet it was clear now th£ she had aided to that extent; and one again, as I pondered that point, I foun myself wondering if Bert Frawley were i some manner or other playing with her double rôle.
DONEGAL DAWN, however, appea ed to be paying but little attentie to that phase of the case, for now he ii timated that he wanted an opportunit to roam about the house alone and t make some chemical analyses, and ; that was quite consistent with his habi on such occasions, I was about to lea^ him. when at this moment we saw tl
figure of a Chinese servant coming from one of the remote wings. The man passed us without a glance, like a welltrained piece of human machinery; and 1 noticed, as he went, that there was dangling over one arm a neatly-pressed grey suit which nevertheless was spotted here and there with dark stains.
Then Dawn overtook him, with the manner of a man with whom ink stains are a passion.
“Who are you, and where are you going with that suit?” he asked, as the Chinaman came to a pause.
“Me? Whong Ho. Find him sluit under bed. Ask Mr. Dlodson vyhat do with him.”
"Whose bed?” Dawn demanded.
“Noblody,” Whong informed calmly, and made as though to move on.
Yet it developed through the process of questioning, that Whong had found the grey suit in a room now unoccupied, but which was generally used by Bert Frawley during his many visits to the Dodson’s. It further appeared that this was the suit worn by young Frawley on the night of Freeber’s assault; and though it was Frawley himself who admitted the fact instantly when Whong Ho carried the suit across the lawn to where he was standing, he showed considerable impatience with the fact that there were ink-stains upon it. So he followed Whong back across the lawn to where Dawn and I were standing. Fargus strolled up at the same moment.
I AM not asking for sympathy, Mr* Dawn,” Bert Frawley spoke in a wellcontrolled voice, “but things are happening here which I cannot understand.. ..” “They are perfectly plain,” Inspector Fargus put in. “A person with half an eye could see them.”
Frawley went on, as though he had not heard the interruption.
“That is my suit. I never denied it; for it has been here for months, and Whong must have known it. It is an old knock-about which I use in strolling about the country; but. . . .when I took it off two nights ago, there were none of those ink-stains upon it... ”
Fargus started to laugh, then Droke off suddenly like a school-boy caught in an improper act.
“You mean you didn’t see any,” the Inspector corrected. “A person in a hurry probably would not, for you notice the spots are pretty much on the inner sides of the sleeves, and on the outer sides of the pant legs where a person would be apt to rub his hands if he was a bit excited.”
“I tell you I didn’t doit,” he exclaimed, with sudden anger, as he turned his back upon Inspector Fargus. “I can’t talk to that person', for every move I make he’s hounding me down. For Heaven’s sake, Dawn, give me a minute away from him.”
TOGETHER we three made our way back to the reading-room, and it was with a sigh almost of relief that Frawley sank into a chair and allowed some of the mask of calmness to slip from him.
“Confess!” His laugh was slightly hysterical. “Confess! Yes. I am going to confess. My God, Dawn! I know nothing about the robbery. And that is my confession. I did threaten Freeber that night, just as that note of his to Mr. Dodson says. But I did not run away. Dawn, I want you to believe that. I went away because I felt that I could not stay in the same house with the man a day longer without assaulting him, perhaps something worse. We were quarrelling, fearfully, I am afraid. I did even put my hands upon him; I think I choked him just a little. And it was then that the ink was upset; but it spilled over the writing-table, and there was none of it upon my hands or my clothes. I left then, and I have never seen him since. I tell you, Dawn, that is the God’s truth of it; and the rest of it I cannot understand.” “You are, of course, shielding the Dodsons in something.” The suddenness of Dawn’s charge seemed to strike Frawley like the flip of a lash upon the face. For his features went gray, and he appeared to shrink involuntarily.
Dawn went on firmly.
“Miss Dodson has practically admitted that she detained Mrs. Freeber in the billiard-room that night while you. . what shall we call it?.. . .worked your will upon Freeber... .Besides, there is another little thing which was sent up to me from the telegraph office a short time ago. It is a copy of the telegram which Miss Dodson sent to you on the morning
of the assault; and it is interesting chiefly because of what it does not say. The one word ‘To-night,’ rather provokes the curiosity, does it not, particularly as it was the same night that Freeber met with his little misfortune? So the thing is perfectly clear up to a certain point. You are shielding the Dodsons—in what?”
FOR a time Bert Frawley met the compelling gaze of Donegal Dawn, just as Elise Dodson had done but a few minutes ago; and with the youth, as with the girl, it seemed that some of the futility of struggle had been stripped aside, for when at length his words came they were a concession, an admission of much.
“I could not tell you that,” he said simply, yet almost with despair.
“Not even with that finger-marked billiard cue staring you in the face?”
“My God, Dawn, are you going to be worse than that fool Fargus?”
Just there Dawn did a surprising thing. He smiled abruptly; and he patted Bert Frawley lightly upon the shoulder.
“I think not,” he replied easily. “Perhaps I have merely gratified a whim of mine to test the strength of human devotion. Now, Frawley, get out of here. And you, Brad, keep people away. I still have to make those analyses.”
WE WERE all waiting, some with strained anxiety, some with mere curiosity, some with confidence, when Donegal Dawn completed his ramblings and his tests, stepped into the readingroom and closed the door behind him.
Inspector Fargus was the first to speak, with a trace of impatience showing in his manner.
“You have satisfied yourself, I hope.” Dawn’s lips suggested a smile. “Absolutely,” he replied. “You have constructed your case, I presume, or do you want to go into that?”
“Want to go into it?” the man retorted, with increasing impatience. “What is there to go into? It is as clear as the nose on your face. Frawley and Freeber quarelled. They had a scuffle. The ink was spilled; some of it got on Frawley’s hands and clothes. The women left the billiard room. Frawley went out and got a cue. While he was gone, Freeber sat down to write that note to Mr. Dodson. He was still writing when Frawley hit him over the head; then the kid grabbed off the money and lit out. That’s all there’s to it.”
“You saw the note which Freeber was writing to Mr. Dodson,” he suggested. “It was all about Frawley’s threat; so I ask you, Fargus, if you had been Frawley, would you have left that note behind you?”
“The billiard cue, of course, is the key to the whole thing,” he remarked, with marked triumph.
“Exactly,” Dawn agreed. “Now let us examine it. I think you will agree that it tells an interesting story You see the position of the finger and thumb prints, for I have sketched in the ones which were rubbed out. Now just grip the cue and cover the prints with your own fingers. . . .You can’t! Why?”
SLOW puzzlement spread over the features of Inspector Fargus; but for the moment I was more interested in watching the flush of excitement that crept into the cheeks of Elise Dodson and Bert Frawley, who had been standing there with a certain suspicion of forced calm about them.
“You can’t cover them because you are right-handed,” Dawn pointed out. “It is simply that the person who made those prints has the left hand lower down the cue, with the finger tips pointing in. . . a left-handed person, that is all.”
A quick exclamation slipped from Frawley’s lips, and his eyes were daz-
“Frawley, by the way, is right-handed, the same as yourself, Inspector,” Dawn went on. “But that isn’t the real thing which counts. Note the position of the thumb tips!”
“I don’t care a rap about the thumb tips,” Fargus retorted angrily. “They’re Frawley’s. I’ll swear to it; and that’s the end of it.”
“Of course they are Frawley’s,” Dawn admitted readily. “But kindly look at them.”
Fargus studied the prints shrewdly, but the inspection seemed to bring no new light to the fog of his anger, for when he looked up again he declared with convic-
tion; “Those thumb prints are Frawley s, and there is enough evidence here to convict him in any court in the country.
“Viewed from your angle, I am afraid there is,” Dawn mused, “and that is the unfortunate part of it. But notice closely. The cue at the point of the finger prints is about three quarters of an inch in thickness. The thumb prints, showing the balls of the thumbs, are both directly in line with the finger prints showing the balls of the finger ends. Which is impossible! There is no living man with a normal hand, who could possibly leave thumb prints in such a position as that. Grip the cue with both hands. Where do the thumbs go? They overlap the first finger; and in no possible manner could a person twist bis thumb in such a position that the print of the ball would rest flat upon the cue beside the print of the first finger. The thing is humanly impossible.....”
FARGUS worked with the cue for a moment in silence, and through the pause a flush of confusion gradually crept up beneath the tan of his cheeks. At length he glanced up reluctantly.
“You’re right,” he admitted; then he tried to laugh. “That means you have kicked over my whole case, Dawn?” “Possibly,” Dawn agreed, “but let us follow things through logically. Those prints were put there by some person who is an expert in his line, but who overlooked the point that he could betray bimself by putting the thumb prints in the wrong position. It was upon that observation, of course, that I worked from the first. That is why it was so simple to discover the guilty party.” Fargus ran a hand slowly through his hair, as though the fogs were still thick about him.
“I don’t follow you,” he declared, with a certain tinge of admiration creeping to the surface.
“As I have said, the rest was simple, with that much to go upon,” Dawn resumed. “Knowing that some person had deliberately placed Bert Frawley’s finger prints upon the cue, following the fine opening which Frawley’s quarrel with Freeber provided, it was perfectly natural that I should examine the ink closely. Ordinarily a person would not notice the clue there, but if you look carefully, Fargus, you will see that the ink upon the billiard cue has a high lustre, and that though it seems to be a jet black, there is a tint of brown running through it. The ink which was spilled upon the writing table is a pure black ink, without the lustre. That, in itself, would mean nothing, except for the analyses which I have made. The answer is that there were two distinct inks.”
“My God!” Fargus exclaimed, as he ruffled his hair still more. “You mean the ink on the cue isn’t the ink Freeber was using?”
“Exactly that,” Dawn informed. “The ink in that bottle, which Freeber was using, and which was partly spilled over the table and his clothing, was merely one of those cheap, old-style inks, containing a combination of tannic acid and ferric
oxide as its foundation........The other
ink, found on Frawley’s grey suit and upon the billiard cue, was entirely different, showing of course that it had been deliberately placed upon the cue and on the suit. It is a peculiar ink, of the sort which is ordinarily bought in sticks, to be mixed with water and used with a brush, and it is the over-dilution which produces that brownish tint showing through the jet black. It contains neither tannic acid nor ferric oxide; but there is in it a high percentage of the soot which comes from the burning of oil of sesamum, and there is as well some mucilage and a trace of
Dawn glanced about indolently, then through the intense silence he added;
“It is, of course, Chinese ink. The rest is obvious.”
Donegal Dawn rose to his feet, as though the case were finished; but the sound of Fargus’ voice cut through the amazed silence.
“Whong Ho?” he exclaimed.
“Precisely,” Dawn agreed. “You will find him in that closet just behind you, Inspector, where I thought it best to lock him up. The money is in a box back in his sleeping room, beside a stick of that Chinese ink and a half dozen sets of gelatine finger prints of every member in the house. Whong, it appears, is something of an artist, and is industrious. He has been prepared for just such an emergency as this for some time, but all big failures, of course, hinge upon some trifling detail.”
DAWN broke off his sentence hurriedly for there, before him, were Elise Dodson and Bert Frawley, and the message which lay in their eyes was far deeper and more devoted than anything which could ever be freed from the human tongue.
“That, of course, was the strange part of it,” Dawn confessed some time later. “I did forget at the time to find out just how young Frawley had been shielding the Dodsons on that unfortunate night; but Solomon Dodson was grateful. He opened up his heart to me. The Freebers it appears, were most unwelcome guests. I will tell you the story some other time,but the long and the short of it is that Freeber was a polite blackmailer who had a grip on Dodson. Miss Dodson knew something of it, and Frawley was trying to help her out by threatening Freeber and by quarrelling with the man. What the end would have been, goodness only knows. .. .Except that Destiny, in the shape of Whong Ho, stepped in. Well, they will all be happy now, for Freeber, I hear, has left the country.”