One man's knowledge clove like a flashing sword through the tangled skeins of mystery surrounding a midnight smash and a soul plucked from a broken body. But the sword had a double edge.
OUTSIDE, on the lawn, old Simon was yelling his head off. Aroused, Lansing sprang to the window and looked down.
"—jest this side of the bend!" The words came up hoarsely, unintelligibly. "Car all smashed to—! They got him laid out on the road! He's dyin'!"
Thrusting his feet into slippers, covering his pyjamas wich a light coat, Gerald Lansing grabbed his emergency bag. An eighth of a mile run brought him to a fantastic wreckage, a little group of villagers huddled before it. On the pale lean road, under a pageant of brilliant October stars, the whole thing was singularly unreal, weird: an etching. Five sheep-like faces came slowly round as he drew near; five silhouettes edged back, disclosing a sprawled figure, stark, woefully mis-shapen.
The case, he saw, was urgent. The least serious of the man’s injuries was his face, badly cut, mutilated, by the shattered wind-shield. An odor of alcohol enveloped the scene like a shroud. A glance at the debris—the car apparently had struck a tree with terrific force—revealed the cause for that. Broken bottles, everywhere. A Quebec rum-runner!
He emphasized an order. Willing hands wrenched a field-gate from its hinges, bore it and the victim to the cottage. Walking beside that rude catafalque Lansing’s emotions were wholly introspective. He was not a surgeon. He was a specialist who had toiled through New York’s summer humidity and come up here for a necessary two weeks’ rest. But an immediate task lay before him, a task requiring ah his skill, all his nerve.
And in his inadequate surgery, with the negligible help
of Simon and Mrs. Dewey, his housekeeper, he did what he could. The telephone call to Portland, while made, was purposeless. With the sun’s first rays the man died, died under a not altogether inexperienced, though experimental, knife; a young man, perhaps thirty, promising as the dawn that looked in on his last, faint breath . . .
T ANSING, his pyjamas hidden by a white operating ' coat, was pouring himself a cup of coffee when Tom Hascom came in. “I’m the local constable,” he announced, a flare of pride lighting the solemnity of his eagle eye. “Hear tell he’s dead?”
“He is dead,” confirmed Lansing. A week ago this village luminary had been unknown to him, but under the circumstances formalities could be dispensed with. “Sit down, Tom,” he invited.
‘I’ve left that for you. Had to cut most of h>‘s clothes.” His eyes strayed to a pile in the corner. “Purposes of operation—trying to save him. But,”—Lansing spoke wearily—“he met death out there at the bend.” “Rum-runner, wasn’t he?”
“Looks that way.”
“Lit—when he hot the ole tree?”
“His breath was decidedly alcoholic.”
The dead man lay on the improvised table, covered by a sheet. “Guess I’ll need to take him over to the house,” said Tom, lugubriously. “I’ve ’phoned to town. Inquest’ll be held this afternoon. Ole man Ware acts as coroner, round these parts. I’ll need to take his clothes, too, won’t I?”
“I think so.”
Tom undertook the examination somewhat clumsily, folding the scissored underwear and trousers with slow and contemplative deliberation. An empty flask, some loose coins, watch and chain, plain gold cigarette case, pocket-knife, fountain pen, lead-pencil and handkerchief were all he found.
“Where’s his hat?”
Lansing surmised the hat had blown off somewhere along the road. “The speedometer was set at sixty. You’ll get the man’s name, identify him, from the license number of his car.”
“Yes. I’ve taken care of that.” A tremor shadowed his long, bird-like neck. “Kind of sad affair, ain’t it?”
“It is, indeed. Becter class sort of fellow. His clothes— But there it is! The money in this rum-running game draws them from all vocations of life.”
“It sure does.” Tom continued his folding. “Bin a whole lot of liquor-smugglin’ round these parts this summer. It’s agen the law, and sooner or later they all get what’s cornin’ to ’em. How d’you figure it happened, doctor?”
“It’s fairly obvious I think, Tom ” Lansing went to the door. “The common end, unfortunately, of an intoxicated driver. Remove the body as soon as you can. I'll see you at the inquest.”
At three o’clock Eppa Ware left his grocery store to perform the forensic duties required of him. As coroner he first called upon Charlie Doe. the forerunner of five men who reached the smash-up before the arrival of Doctor Lansing. Charlie, speaking through old and toothless turns, told his story so laboriously that after a few chewed and ragged sentences had dribbled from his moustache they deemed his testimony un
Will Simon, than whom no man in the village was more obstinate and la; eame next. He had, he declared, been out visiting his sister, stayed late because of an argument
around midnight started
Lansing's cottage where he was temporarily employed as man of all work.
He had heard Charlie hollering. hurring over to the bend, saw the man lying on the road, bleeding and dying, then ran to fetch Doctor Lansing.
Tom Has com gave his information with a show of importance. He had made prompt inquiries about the car. The owner was not the man over whose dead body they were holding this inquest!
Sensation! The deceased had stolen the car! Further sensation! The owner had missed his car last night in Hull and reported it to the police. His name was Charles Appel. He was present in the room! Great excitement!
Mr. Appel was heard.
He had viewed the body.
N*o idea who the “stiff” was. Anxious to find out, because somebody had to come through with real money! Mr. Appel lived in Kingston. Yes, sir. Engaged in—oh, well, different kinds of jobs. Yes, sir. Wouldn’t say the whisky was bis; wouldn’t say it wasn’t. Left his car outside the Edward Hotel while he was inside talking business with Jimmy Espy. Guess they all knew Jimmy Espy? 1 es, sir, missed his car soon as he came out with Jimmy. He smiled into the strained faces, had the audacity to hand his card over to the coroner, and finished his testimony, ostensibly and arrogantly, a well-to-do bootlegger whom neither Eppa Ware nor Tom Hascom could so much as lay a finger on.
Doctor Lansing gave details of the man’s internal injuries, produced a certificate, and Coroner Ware caused to be properly inscribed that on a certain day, at a certain hour "an unknown man was accidentally killed while driving a stolen car.” The inquest over, the body was removed to a shed pending further investigation to establish his identity.
"TPHAT evening, Mrs. Dewey’s loquacity was notably absent during the serving of dinner. Dwelling upon her silence, Lansing was conscious of his own brooding. There was no plausible reason for that. In the observation of both slow and violent death he was well versed. On the contrary. Mrs. Dewey had excuse enough for her haggard expression. Lansing recalled her hysterical uselessness in the surgery last night.
She removed the dishes, put a match to the logs in the fireplace, then managed to get into the closing of the door sufficient notification that she had departed his presence for the night.
To his surprise she shortly returned, bringing with her a man’s hat. It was a grey Fedora, slightly battered. "Found it,” she explained, “over to the garidge where you got your cars. Alongside”—she glanced, apprehensively, into the kitchen—“Will Simon’s sheepskin.”
He took the hat, directing his examining eyes, not at it, but at Mrs. Dewey.
“ ’Tain’t his hat!” she told him. “Where’d he get it? There’s some initials inside.”
There were, as Lansing discovered: a large, perforated F.L. The hat had been purchased in Montreal. He said, quietly: “Ask him to come in here.”
“I will, doctor.’”
Simon entered a trifle guiltily, standing by the door until he was told to shut it. The hat was prominently placed on a 3mall table beside Lansing’s chair.
“Where did you get this?”
“That? Found it a couple of weeks back.’’ Simon’s
nervous tone was only a scant measure of civility. “Bin bangin' in the garage for days. Dryin’ out a little.” Lansing passed a patient hand over a smooth, firm chin, lie said, very evenly: “Why didn’t you tell Coroner Ware about it at the inquest this afternoon?”
Will Simon was flabbergasted. “Say! you don’t think I'm tellin’ you a lie, do you? Had that hat for days. I was goin' to—”
“You found it last night.—at the bend!”
“Why, doctor, I keep tellin’ you I—” But his vaunted obstinacy deserted him before grave, omniscient eyes. His head drooped forward.
“Do you realize we are doing our best to find out that unfortunate man’s name?” Gerald Lansing felt his annoyance increasing. “Aren’t you aware you can be jailed for withholding important information of this kind?”
“Never reckoned it was of any importance, doctor. If I hadn’t took it someone else would.”
Studying him, Lansing, all at once, suspected the secrecy attending the hat on the table was incidental to something of far greater consequence. He rose, walked over to Simon and faced him solidly.
“Who reached the scene first? Charlie Doe, or—you?” “Charlie—■”
“You’re telling me a lie, Simon!”
The old fellow shook under this warning like a ship before a gale.
“I’ll give you a chance before I turn you—and this evidence—over to the police!” He waited a moment, then said: “I want in connection with last night a truthful account of what you did and saw before Charlie Doe interrupted you!”
For support Will Simon placed a flaccid hand on the table. “Heard him hit the tree,” he confessed, “jest as I was leavin’ my sister’s. We’d bin scrappin’ as usual about what money she reckoned I owed her. Soon as I heard the crash I run up there. Thought he was dead. Wasn’t groanin’ or nothin’. Po I started out to fetch you in a hurry—when I bears Charlie hollerin’—”
“You must have passed Charlie on the way then?” “N-no. I cut across the field.”
“I see. So you”—Lansing put an edge on his words— “climbed a barbed-wire fence, went over a plowed field, climbed the fence again, in order to reach the road. And yet you say you hurried to get me!”
Simon didn’t move.
“Was it then you heard Charlie calling to you?”
“Yes, sir; after I’d gone a little ways down the road. Old Charlie come runnin’ after me. I went back with
“Allowing him to think you had not been up there
This, Simon wouldn’t answer.
“All right,” said Lansing. “Now I’m going to hurry your confession along a little. You went through that man’s pockets!”
“No, sir; no, sir! No, sir, I swear I—”
“Five minutes, Simon,”—Lansing looked at his watch —“to produce all you found!”
Will Simon surrendered. The muscles of his face relaxed. his jowl hung. “For God’s sake, doctor, don’t— don’t tell on me. I didn’t mean nothin’ wrong.” He was sniveling now. “I don’t know what come over me. My sister always rantin’ about money—” Lansing stopped him with: “What was it you stole?”
“A pocketbook — that was all. Jest a pocketbook. I didn’t go anywheres near his body. I swear to God I didn’t. Found the pocketbook lyin’ right beside his hat.”
“Money in it?”
“Yes, sir. But I ain’t touched that, neither. It’s all there, same as it was when I found it.”
This, Lansing judged to be true. He swung the humiliated figure around, opened the door. “Bring it to me,” he directed.
CIMON was back too ^ soon to suggest a visit to a hiding place or some secret cache in the garage, but Lansing accepted the shakily-tendered pocketbook without comment, going to his chair to examine it under the reading lamp.
It was, he surmised, a woman’s gift. The initials, F.L., were too prettily embossed on the soft leather, the corners uselessly embellished with silver. He opened it, saw the edges of some yellow bills in the fold, then, from the side-pocket, drew out a daintily-perfumed envelope!
The man’s name, inscribed thereon by some feminine hand, began to undulate as if alive before Lansing’s gradually dilating eyes! Immediately, in a x^ague, dreamy way, he recalled his inhibition last night when in the intensity of the operation he thrust from him the persistent notion he had, somewhere, seen the man before, known him.
The pocketbook fell from his nerveless fingers, the envelope with its perfumed letter after it. They made two distinct little sounds as they struck his shoe. Gerald Lansing clenched his hands, on the gaping Simon closed his eyes. Slowly, he grew rigid!
It would, his brain told him, have been difficult to recognize Frank Latimer even though his face had not been hopelessly lacerated. How many times, in all, had he seen him. Not half a dozen, surely? The last time, four years ago, from an obscure corner in a fashionable church. . . .
A panorama raced swiftly before him. ... It was beyond beliet, after this interlude of years, that memories should whip back to stab his very heart and soul like this! Outside the pale of simple justice! Yet there it was! For all his charm, his good looks, his fine airs and graces, some twist of Fate had borne Frank Latimer, broken and deathly ugly, into his surgery: a coincidence; a boomerang that had showed no mercy! Or was it, he asked himself, a sop to his wounded feelings? Had the Goddess \ enus flung that wreath in intended consolation? Was it happily acceptable? God forbid! He jumped up, putting the suggestion away from him with distended hands, and glanced again at his watch. Eight o'clock.
Aware of Simon, he said: “Get my car. The limousine."
“Yes, sir. But you won’t—will you, doctor—you won’t turn me over to the police?”
“The car! The car!”
Simon hurried away. For a time Lansing fought hisconflicting emotions, walking up and down the room. Then, deciding on a course of action, he went back to his cha;r, continued his examination of the pocketbook. A glance at the signature footing the scented note produced an additional shock. There were two others, all of recent date. Frank Latimer's philandering habits hadn’t, then, ceased with his marriage! But Lansing dismissed his feelings along that line. Latimer's penchant for liason, his cursed rottenness, had come to an abrupt end! As for that, thank God, Margaret was rid of him.
Continued on page 28
Continued from page 26
He drove with a good deal of unnecessary recklessness. Halfway, a thin October rain came to meet him. Lansing shot over the greasy roads without slackening speed, but it was late when he entered Montreal.
THE house in Westmount was dark save for a soft light in the hall. She herself answered his ring, stood there looking at him, the color perceptibly leaving her face.
A proportion of her beauty had, he observed, deserted her. He commented inwardly on the change in her from the captivating girl he had known four years ago: a too conspicuous change in that short—and long—time.
“I’m sorry to break in on you like this,” he began. “I’ve just driven in from Maine, with, 1 regret to say, news that will distress you.”
“Prom—?” Margaret Latimer’s agitation became more noticeable.
“From near Ottawa.”
“Ottawa! Is it—is it about—about Frank?”
Lansing looked at her.
In the library he remained a moment with his back to the door, deliberating words that might lessen the blow; but when he spoke he found himself dispensing with all preliminaries. “Your husband, Margaret,” he said very quietly, “is dead!”
Her pallor spread, deepened; her fingers curled round the sides of her chair. In absolute quiet he watched her direct a look at him that swept through his defenses to pain him, grievously. His love for her, suddenly doubled in force, took complete possession of him; he had a frantic desire to comfort her, go on his knees, touch, for one brief instant, her burnished hair, her hand.
“Please tell me—all.”
“An automobile accident.” Lansing found it difficult to speak clearly. “Last night. Just outside Ottawa. I happened to be staying there. Came up from Toronto for two weeks’ rest. Took a cottage. I attended him. But it was quite—quite—”
He nodded. “Driving from Hull. To Kingston, we think. His car struck a tree!”
He told her what facts he knew about the accident, then laid the pocketbook on the table, near her.
Margaret Latimer hadn’t stirred.
“Do you think you can come back with me?” he asked her gently. “I mean now, at once? Mrs. Dewey, my housekeeper, is arranging for you.”
“Was it Mr. Hahn’s car?”
Gerald Lansing hesitated.
“He left here for an appointment in Ottawa and expected to see a Mr. Hahn in Hull on Wednesday evening.” Her voice was breaking now. “Insurance. I had a telegram from Ottawa—his first call wasn’t—wasn’t successful.”
“He represented an insurance company?”
“The Dominion Prudential and Life. Since last year. He was not—as you know—he took his reverses to heart—” He heard her rise, felt her brush by him as she went to the door.
He remained where he sat, graven in a chair which Frank Latimer’s body had lately moulded.
The series of mocking thoughts tumbling acrobatically in his brain were scattered by the hideous alarm of the telephone bell.
Absently, he answered the call.
“I’ve been trying to get you all day, Frank.” A woman’s voice, worried, apprehensive. “She got suspicious at last. Wanted to know who was speaking.” Gerald Lansing realized he was holding an unfair advantage. He had no inclination to pry into Frank Latimer’s affairs. It was necessary that he acquaint this woman of her mistake, tell her, in fact Frank Latimer was dead!
“I was scared,” the voice went on, “you’d gone through with that threat, Frank. Life’s sweet, dear. Duplex can’t help soaring in a day or two. Soames told me so this morning. He said—” With a herculean effort Lansing asserted himself. “I’m sorry,” he broke in, “but you are talking to Doctor Lansing. Mr. Latimer was accidentally killed last night!”
The intake of her breath came unmistakably over the wire. Lansing
waited, then automatically replaced the receiver. What diabolical inference had the girl, the woman, all unwittingly betrayed? Good God! had Frank Latimer intended taking his life? Lansing stared dully at the empty fireplace, until descending footsteps on the stairs brought him to his feet.
“I’ve telephoned to Hilary—his brother,” she said. “He is coming with us.” She was dressed for traveling. A single glance at her face startled him. Whatever his faults, no matter how unhappy he had made her, it was patent that Margaret Latimer loved her husband, was facing the agony of his death with a bravery that compelled admiration.
Hilary Latimer arrived: a huge fellow, flabby of face and stomach, the tears rolling down his nose. His high-pitched voice at once predominated in rapid fire questioning and utterance.
“Good Lord! Margaret—it’s—it’s unbelievable!”
Introduced, he turned pathetically to Lansing.
“Was there no way to save him? Couldn’t you possibly—?”
Lansing shook his head. “He died without regaining consciousness. I tried to save him. He might have lingered a few hours—”
“Please,” said Margaret, “let us go.”
The ride to Ottawa seemed interminable. In front, Lansing’s thoughts revolved round the awful deduction he had drawn from that woman’s telephone message.
He drove through the black, drizzling night more by instinct than attention to what he was doing. Behind him, Margaret and Hilary Latimer sat in silence.
CONSTABLE HASCOM, awakened, insisted upon getting Eppa Ware. In the shed, rudely illuminated by two storm-lamps, the identification was duly corroborated. Hascom, irritated by the lateness of the hour, presuming that Mrs. Latimer had been told, didn’t waste words. Lansing watched her start under a series of blunt truths, her breast rising and falling noticeably. Perhaps it was just as well she should get the unpleasant details at once. He was glad, however, of the presence of Hilary Latimer. The support of his arm about his sister-in-law's waist was needed.
At the cottage Margaret preceded Mrs. Dewey upstairs, went erectly to her room. Latimer followed Lansing into the drawing room, appropriated, without invitation, a decanter and syphon, and poured a liberal portion of the spirit into a tall glass. He drank deeply.
“I wish we could have bridled that fool Hascom,” he said. “Margaret trembled every time the fellow opened his mouth.”
Lansing realized what he meant. “Was he,” he asked, “addicted to alcohol?”
“She”—Latimer looked up at the ceiling—“didn’t know it, apparently. Or, if she did, she didn’t want you to know it.”
The expression of surprise manifesting itself on Lansing’s face demanded an explanation of the remark, but Hilary Latimer ignored it. “Frank,” he went on, “had grown morbid, lately—how would you say it?—low-spirited. He drank to get rid of his melancholia. Wanted the moon and stars. That was Frank's trouble.” He lifted his glass. “Still, granting he was intoxicated, why on earth should he have stolen a car?" He pondered for a minute.
“Margaret said he had money with him. Why didn’t Frank hire a car?” Latimer considered his own question, whimsically.
Absorbed in helping himself to the right amount of soda-water, Latimer gave no sign of concluding his postmortem. “I feel sorry for Margaret,” he said, then looked up, jerkily. “You knew her rather intimately, I understand - some years ago?”
Lansing met his gaze with resenting eyes.
' “A matter, no doubt, you won't care to talk about. But I’ll say this. Lansing. It had been far better for Margaret if she—”
“If what you are going to say concerns me, I shall be obliged to you—”
“No. Lansing. I think you ought to know that Margaret — according to Frank, at least—long realised her mistake."
Continued on page 30
Continued from page 28
“This, sir, is damnably tactless of you!” Lansing’s attitude and voice were equally
The significance failed to pierce Latimer’s stolidity. “Mind you, I’m not deserting my brother, exactly,” he said hurriedly. “He was just a boy; a boy who never grew up. Many a time I begged him to realise his responsibilities toward Margaret, told him his indiscretions would kill her love, her respect. He tried, but”—for the third time he refilled his glass—“Poor Frank. Always wanted what he didn’t have. Full of get-rich-quick schemes. Only a week ago—the last time I saw him—he told me he expected to clean up a fortune very shortly. Poor, dear Frank.”
Lansing said: “A fortune? In what way?”
“Some manipulation of the market. Buying on margin, probably.”
“Had he money?”
“Frank? Not a penny. He had Margaret’s money, of course. She transfered her fifty thousand to him soon after their marriage.”
That, Lansing wanted to tell him vindictively, was what Frank Latimer had courted four years ago! He curbed his anger. “Was that investment in Duplex shares?” he asked.
“I’ve no idea, Lansing. Frank wasn’t, as I’ve said, very fortunate in his ventures. He dropped about twenty thousand two years ago.”
The frown on Lansing’s forehead deepened. “Did—did she know of his investments?”
“Margaret? Why, yes. Yes, I think so. I understand they were made entirely with her consent.”
“But you don’t speak from actual knowledge?”
Hilary Latimer wouldn’t say that. He had never discussed these matters with Margaret.
Checking all further inclination to talk, Lansing evidenced in his manner, his silence, a growing want of hospitality. Latimer withdrew into a steady contemplation of his glass until the half-hour aroused him. He had, he said, no idea it was so late. Lansing showed him upstairs, then came down again to meditate alone before the embers of a dying fire.
THAT telephone call in Montreal continued to reach him here. “I was scared you’d gone through with that threat!” The grim suggestion required little explanation. Out of pure curiosity he sought and found the Thursday morning newspapers. Duplex shares, he discovered, had fallen fifteen points during the day. If Frank Latimer had been carrying the stuff on margin, that drop must have ruined him! Gerald Lansing permitted his brain to sift a score of impressions and was left with one of singular pertinacity!
And if any further doubt existed it was dissipated the next morning. While Hilary Latimer and Margaret were attending to the removal of the body, Lansing ran over to Hull. There, in Mr. Hahn’s drug-store, he had little difficulty in convincing himself that his certificate of accidental death required correction.
On Wednesday, at an appointed hour, Frank Latimer had come to see Mr. Hahn; the druggist expected, had, in point of truth, promised to take out an additional five thousand dollars. He was, however, unavoidably detained out of town. About ten o’clock Latimer got him on the phone, only to be informed that, owing to unsuspected business difficulties the additional insurance would have to be postponed.
The assistant druggist—to whom Lansing spoke—remembered that Mr. Latimer seemed unusually worried the moment he appeared in the store. He was surprised, also, to see him take Mr. Hahn’s refusal in the way he did: sitting down on the bench and covering his face with his hands.
But the most damaging evidence was this. Mr. Latimer, said the drug-clerk, had wandered out into the night, and a little before eleven reappeared with a strange request for strychnine. “Reckoned he wanted it to ease a pain in his heart,” said the clerk. “I told him I couldn’t sell it without a doctor’s prescription.”
What now continued to puzzle Lansing was Frank Latimer’s peculiar method of departure. Failing to get strychnine there were, of course, other methods more
definitely concerned with death than the one employed! Had he intended to drive over a cliff? Had he chosen the abandoned car as the mechanical means of aiding his cowardly resolution? The act, finally, must have been impulsive, a decision of the moment, otherwise he most certainly would have destroyed those letters in his pocketbook!
ON HIS way back Lansing’s thoughts turned, less confusedly, to Margaret. The knowledge he had gained he was determined to keep from her. As for that, no satisfaction was to be gained by a revised certificate more in keeping with Latimer’s ugly desertion of his responsibilities. Let the world continue to think it was an accident. The man was dead.
He went to Montreal for the funeral and succeeded in bringing Margaret and Hilary Latimer back with him to Ottawa over the week-end. His vacation was coming to an end. On Monday he had arranged to return to Toronto to resume practice. The weather maintained its summer mildness, and Lansing urged Margaret to accept his cottage until she was thoroughly rested. “Mrs. Dewey,” he said, “will look after you.”
Margaret, however, refused. “I can’t remain idle, Jerry,” she told him. “The truth is I simply must find something to do—some secretarial work, possibly— at once.”
It was late on Sunday afternoon. They were on the porch, and a glorious sunset turned to russet the slight hollows of Margaret’s cheeks. “While Frank was away,” she explained, “I didn’t waste all my time. I learned stenography.” Hilary Latimer cleared his throat. It was his opinion that Margaret ought to travel for a while. “A trip to Europe,” he suggested.
“On what, Hilary?”
“Well, there must be a reasonable amount left from your investments.” “They were not,” she corrected him, “my investments.”
“But Frank told me that you—” “Please.”
Her plea for consideration wasn’t respected. Hilary Latimer had to go on. “Do you mean he didn’t tell you about them?”
“Not until after they were made.” Even this failed to subdue him. “Still,” he said, “there must be something left. You ought to be able to do a lot with Frank’s insurance. And I suggest a voyage, Margaret, and a—”
“There is nothing!” Margaret, her head pressed into the cushion behind her, closed her eyes. “I didn’t know for sure until yesterday morning. I found a letter.”
“A letter? From—from whom?” It was Latimer’s question.
“From Frank! It was—delayed. It lay in the library for two days.”
“A letter from Frank. Good Lord! do you mean that he posted—?” He paused. “Nothing? But his insurance, Margaret? Of course you may not get it right away. It takes time. Still, twenty-five thousand dollars—
He shot a glance at Lansing, his eagerness dropping into a sulky expression of frustrated curiosity. Lansing found his animosity toward the dead Frank Latimer straying, quite definitely, to his brother. There was no fundamental excuse for this, but he longed, he knew, to sever Hilary Latimer’s relation to Margaret: end it, preferably, by force of muscle. That accomplishment, duty, he should have seen to four years ago when he stretched Frank Latimer on the ground.
Out of sympathy with her desire for silence, peace, he banished all inquisitive thoughts, deliberately set his mind on nothing. A scraping on the boards, followed by heavy, discontented steps, told him that Hilary Latimer had gone indoors to, he imagined, the whisky.
A pervading sense of contentment came to Lansing, and with it a wholly unsuspected belief that he could make Margaret Latimer happy. Quite suddenly she turned her head and looked at him.
She had, he was certain, no particular message in her eyes, but. Lansing was totally unable to refrain from putting into words, stupidly, blunderingly, a slight suggestion of his feelings.
“There are—I think you must realise it. Margaret—many things I wish to say to you.” He had risen, was standing near her in a state of tension. “Some day, perhaps, you will grant me that liberty.
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Continued from page 30
Just now, however, I only ask you this: the honor of assisting you in whatever way 1 can.”
"There isn’t anything, Jerry. I can’t borrow money from you. I’ve got to fight it out myself.” A quick blush came to her cheeks and she looked away. “You mustn’t misunderstand. He was just a hoy. Impulsive, temperamental. Very companionable, and—and—honorable— ” "I’m sure he was.”
Lansing came instantly to her rescue. Her defense of Frank Latimer stirred him. In crediting her late husband with qualities she knew he lacked she was, he admitted, never more admirable.
Mrs. Dewey’s voice broke the tranquility of evening. Dinner was ready.
"Thank you, Jerry,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much I . . .”
He lowered his head, keeping her fingers against his lips until her hand was softly withdrawn.
The victory of persuading Margaret to stay a few days longer went, ultimately, to Mrs. Dewey. Coached by Lansing, she managed to undermine all her objections. And in the morning the two men drove into Montreal, drove there in comparative silence except for one spasmodic conversation engineered by Lansing for the express purpose of finding out the name of Margaret’s lawyer.
HE LEFT Latimer outside his apartment, then went to the offices of Martin Crosbie.^ Introducing himself, he explained the circumstances occasioning his visit, found the lawyer a courteous listener, and after going over the history of Latimer’s death as generally known, he came unequivocally to his principal concern. “For,” he said, “there is no doubt in my mind, Mr. Crosbie, that Frank Latimer’s death was premeditated!”
The news succeeded in bringing a smile to the lawyer’s rather sullen mouth. “Your certificate,” he pointed out, “tells the contrary.”
I am aware of it. And I have come here in order, to find out whether or not to Jet that erroneous document stand.” “I don’t follow you, Doctor Lansing.” “Permit me to reconstruct Latimer’s movements last Wednesday night in York.”_ Lansing’s solemn voice carried conviction. “Despondent over a sudden turn of the market-—Duplex shares; which, I have reason to believe, he was carrying on margin—and simultaneously failing to put through the insurance of two clients he had apparently counted on—Frank Latimer decided to end his life.”
Crosbie met this statement with lifted, challenging brows.
‘There were additional factors contributing to that decision. To begin with, the money he was gambling away belonged, primarily, to his wife. Also, there was a girl in Quebec who”—Lansing checked himself—“but all this is perhaps unnecessary. To return to Wednesday night. _ I discovered, Mr. Crosbie, that he tried, unsuccessfully, to purchase strychnine. The clerk told me Latimer behaved so queerly that he would not have sold him the poison even though the request for it had been accompanied by a doctor’s prescription.
“Failing to achieve death by strychnine, Frank Latimer suicided by means of getting intoxicated and driving a car to destruction!”
The furrows showed on Martin Crosbie’s forehead. He began an irritated tattoo with his polished finger-nails on his desk. “But all this, I take it, is pure deduction on your part, Doctor Lansing?”
It was admitted.
“Very well, then. Let us suppose your deductions be correct, I still fail to see how the coroner’s verdict is affected. Even if the body was exhumed for reexamination there would be nothing, according to what you have told me, to disprove your initial certificate of accidental death.”
Lansing agreed. “An autopsy would, in all probability, prove nothing. But an examination of the man’s private affairs would warrant suspicion on the part of the insurance company, and, Mr. Crosbie, the evidence of the drug-clerk in Hull would strengthen it.” He paused. “I purpose, however, to leave matters just as they are, unless—” “Unless?”
"Unless there is a suicide clause in his
insurance policy! I understand from his brother, Hilary, that Frank Latimer took out a twenty-five thousand dollar life policy less than a year ago.”
The lawyer stared at him.
“I preferred to come to you,” continued Lansing pointedly, “sooner than go to the Dominion Prudential and Life.” Martin Crosbie gave signs of uneasiness. “Granting there is such a clause?” he evaded.
“Then the mystery associated with Frank Latimer’s form of suicide vanishes. It was a last minute impulse, a piece of diabolical ingeniousness, to defraud the insurance company and pay back into his wife’s depleted purse a little of what he had ingloriously accepted and thrown away.”
“There is,” Crosbie admitted slowly, such a clause in Mr. Latimer’s policy.” “I feared so.” Gerald Lansing didn’t speak for a moment. “It is my duty to make out a revised certificate. I shall do so and send a duplicate to the insurance company.”
Crosbie leaned back in his chair. “You may do as you please, Doctor Lansing. But let me tell you this. The law will unquestionably demand that Mrs. Latimer’s claim upon the insurance company be fully paid. Contested, the suspicion of suicide can’t—in any way I can think of—be maintained.”
Lansing came forward, a little excitedly. “Contesting my evidence will only bring about something I am very anxious to avoid, Mr. Crosbie. The shock of the man’s death was bad enough. The mere suggestion it was premeditated will injure Mrs. Latimer cruelly—injure her far beyond the recuperative powers of twenty-five thousand dollars.”
The consideration of this tended to soften Martin Crosbie’s expression. He surveyed Lansing more keenly. “If you acquaint the insurance company of your suspicion of suicide,” he advanced, “there is no way to avoid the humiliation of it from rea-ching Mrs. Latimer.”
“There is one way,” said Lansing. My father’s death two years ago left me a rich man. I would like to deposit my check for twenty-five thousand with you—”
“ You mean”—Crosbie’s opening mouth registered consternation—“allow Mrs. Latimer to believe her claim on the company had been settled?”
Lansing nodded. “In the ordinary course of events the money would be paid to her through you, wouldn’t it? The claim need not be presented. You might put my check through your bank and send Mrs. Latimer—”
“Isn’t that”—Martin Crosbie’s words left his tongue lingeringly—“almost as fraudulent a procedure as the one you say Frank Latimer perpetrated? And for which you condemn him.”
Gerald Lansing bowed his head. “I am suggesting this method, Mr. Crosbie, for a very personal reason. I wish, if possible, to save Margaret Latimer from further unhappiness. She has, I assure you, suffered deeply during the last four years. I am asking you,” he confessed, “to favor me, to lend me your sympathy on behalf of a lady whom I have loved very dearly for a number of years . . .”
WHEN Lansing appeared at the cottage on Saturday afternoon he found, much to his delight, that the rest had considerably improved Margaret. But she was, it seemed, worried about her future. “I’d really enjoy taking a position somewhere,” she told him. “I’ve always wanted to work for my living. One is much happier. In the past I’ve been a useless sort of creature. Now, necessity forces me out of my supreme idleness.”
They were out walking in the woods, gorgeous with autumn coloring.
“Work,” said Lansing, “won’t harm you. But you are hardly destitute, you know. Latimer’s insurance—”
She interrupted him. “I have written to Mr. Crosbie,” she said, “not to forward that claim.”
“Because Frank’s death was not—not accidental!”
Lansing steadied himself.
“He wrote me a farewell letter. Posted it—that night—in Hull. He told me . . . everything . . .” She looked away. “Jerry, I made a terrible mistake when —four years ago—I ... I sent you away. . . .”