FROM the very manner in which Frank Dunkley slipped through the office doorway, and stood there staring down upon me with restless eyes, one could tell instantly that he had been jolted out of the ordinarily placid tenor of his ways. The mere effort with which he sought to control his nervous hands would have betrayed that fact, even if the haggard lines about his eyes had not spoken for themselves.
The spectacle of the change in Dunkley was so astonishing as to compel instant attention.
“I know you will think I am something of a fool,” he broke out irrelevantly, as he forced himself to occupy the chair which I indicated, “but I don’t see how I can stand the thing much longer; and that is why I came to you, Brad.”
That, of course, was the first I had ever known that there was anything in Frank Dunkley’s life which required toleration. To the casual glance, his had seemed a sort of ideal existence; and when last I had seen him, some six weeks ago, there had been smiles upon his lips instead of haggard hollows about the cheeks; there had been a clean, firm hand-grasp instead of this nervous twittering of the fingers; and he had been able to occupy a chair calmly, without this strange impulse to get up and pace about the room.
Beyond a casual remark, which I attempted to make jocular, I sat quite still, knowing full well that a friend, with something preying upon his mind, must speak in the end.
“I don’t know what you will think of me, Brad,” he broke out again, “but the thing is so confounded impossible that it is getting my nerve. I don’t think I would care quite so much if it was just myself I had to think of ; but it has got to the stage where Mabel is afraid to stay in the house alone.... even in the daytime.”
Something, it became quite evident to me, had happened; for in his old, calm days it had not been Dunkley’s habit to begin at the centre of things and expect others to pick up the raveling threads.
“That’s quite all right, Frank,” I spoke as soothingly as possible, “but it is lunch time, and I am going out to meet Donegal Dawn. You’ve heard of him. So if you’ll just come along, the walk will do you good; and if you should happen to have anything up your sleeve which sounds as mysterious as you act, then I am quite sure that Dawn could help you a dozen times more than I could. And if it isn’t anything out of the ordinary. ...”
“You’ll find it queer enough,” Dunkley interrupted again. “The fact is, I’m almost afraid to enter that house myself at night; and to think of the poor little woman having to stay there all through the daytime!”
/CIRCUMSTANCES, I told myself as we walked along, had played her cards rather judiciously; for the more I looked at Dunkley, and the more I thought of the manner in which he had shuddered there in the open daylight, the more did I become convinced that this really was something for Donegal Dawn to toy with. Of course, there was always the chance that Frank Dunkley had taken a temporary fit of aberration, but even should that be the case, I informed myself, there must be a cause.
The walk in the open air, or the contact with human association, seemed to steady Dunkley considerably, so that by the time we met Dawn at the club, his nervousness was much less apparent. There was still sufficient restlessness in his manner, however, to cause Donegal Dawn to glance at him rather keenly.
With the luncheon begun, I lost no time in directing Dunkley back into the old channels.
“The truth is, I feel something of a fool,” Dunkley spoke more rationally now. “Sitting here between you two fellows, with all kinds of activity about, it seems impossible; but the fact of the matter is that there is something confoundedly strange going on up at my house, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Neither has Mabel; and she is getting afraid to stay in the place. I’ve heard of you, Dawn, a dozen times, from Brad here. Do you think you can do anything for me?”
The anxious note in Dunkley’s question betrayed the depth of his feeling; but Dawn laughed lightly, to put him more at his ease.
“Not unless I hear a whole lot more than you have told me so far,” he encouraged, “and it depends largely upon what you may consider as something strange. Let us have it.”
Dunkley toyed with his bread, almost like a boy afraid of becoming the object of ridicule.
“There has been somebody, or something queer entering that house of mine every time we got out in the evening, for so much as an hour,” he spoke swiftly. “That wouldn’t be so bad in itself; but Gad, Dawn, there’s no
way for them to get either in or out and it is worrying me!” A mere glance at Dunkley’s eager yet nervous pose was enough to convince one that he spoke what he believed to be the truth. When Dawn was satisfied upon that point, he took matters in his own hand.
“You have us out in the vague dark so far,” he suggested. “If there is no way for any person to get either in or out of your house, what makes you think they have been there?”
AGAIN Dunkley shuffled restlessly ; and when he tried to laugh he made a failure of it.
“I know you are going to think I have gone insane,” he returned,
“but this is just what is going on. Mabel and I will leave the house early in
the evening to go out to a show or something like that; then, when we come back, one or other of us will find evidence that some other person has been in the house during our absence. It isn’t just things which have been happening of late, or something that we are imagining, or anything that could be left to chance. It has been going on for weeks, and we have tested it out in a dozen ways. At first it didn’t bother us, though it did seem queer; but now we are both of us absolutely convinced that the moment we leave that house, something else enters it. . . . And.... there is no way for them to get either in or out!” Dunkley tried to smile, but it was a broken thing. Dawn, I could see, had become vastly interested.
“You speak of tests,” he suggested. “What were they?” “Let me tell you first how we came to notice that anything was happening.” Dunkley, seeing that his troubles were being taken seriously, was gradually gaining in confidence. “Mabel and I had been out all evening. We came back shortly after midnight, and much to my surprise I found that while my latch-key would turn the lock, the door could not be opened. It was obvious that it was being held by something from the inside. Naturally, I thought burglars had been there and had put on the bolt which operates from the inside only; they might have done that, you know, to avoid being caught at work in the house. So I went all around the house, but it was plain that none of the other doors or windows had been tampered with. Eventually, I had to break into the house through a back window; and then, Mr. Dawn, what do you suppose I found?”
Dawn made a gesture of hopeless incomprehension. “That bolt on the front door had been put on from the inside!”
“And the burglar, of course, had gone out some other door or window?” Dawn prompted; and I could see by the straight lines about his eyes that he was keenly alert.
“The burglar, or whatever it was, did nothing of the kind,” Dunkley said, rather weakly, “for I went over the house from top to bottom, and every door and window in the place was securely fastened, from the inside.”
AFTER that, Dunkley sat there, rolling little pellets of bread and tossing them aside, as though he feared that his bare word would not be strong enough to offset the striking contradiction of his story.
“You mean that every door and window in the house was fastened from the inside, and that no person was in the house?” Dawn asked.
“That is what happened,” Dunkley said, “but it is impossible.”
Impossible or not, Dawn seemed to toss the point aside.
“Your other tests,” he urged. “What were they?”
“That in itself was not a test,” Dunkley corrected. “It was just the happening which first made me wonder, and it was a week later before I noticed anything wrong again. That night, when we returned, one of the front blinds had been drawn down, and I distinctly remembered having seen Mabel put it up just before we left the house. Shortly after that, when we returned one night I chanced to walk directly into the kitchen, and in reaching up to put on the electric light my hand came into contact with the bulb. It was still warm; and we had been out for hours. Another night, the position of the newspapers lying on the kitchen table had been changed; again, one night, in the den, the cushions on two chairs had been reversed. Always it has been trifling things like that; nothing big, but just enough to let us know that somebody had been in the house during our absence.”
For a moment Donegal Dawn pondered.
“In these cases, of course, they might have entered through the front door,” he suggested.
But Dunkley shook his head in absolute confidence.
“That is quite out of the question,” he declared. “Every time we leave the house now we fasten every door and window from the inside, except the front door, of course. That doorway I check up by putting a little piece of adhesive paper over the crack, just opposite the upper hinge, in a dark corner where no person would see it. That paper has never yet been broken or disturbed; none of the fastenings of any of the other openings has ever been touched.... and still that thing, whatever it is, is leaving its little marks about the house.”
The slight shudder which accompanied Dunkley’s words told of the man’s sincerity; and just there Dawn asked a question which even I felt to be superficial.
“And there has been nothing stolen, or you would have told me about it before this?”
Again Dunkley’s eyes grew troubled.
“That is what we cannot understand,” he spoke impulsively. “We have even tested that, by leaving bills lying about the dressers in plain sight; yet on the very nights when we knew the house had been entered, those bills were never touched.”
THAT was about all Dunkley could tell us, except for the recital of a few other minor evidences that the house was being consistently entered in their absence; but in the mere telling of it, the man seemed to have changed. It was as though he had thrust a certain amount of his burden upon the shoulders of another, and in so doing had gained strength and courage.
“Better telephone Mrs. Dunkley this afternoon, and tell her that she is going to have two guests to dinner,” Dawn said, as Dunkley rose to leave us, “and tell her that afterwards she is invited to the theatre.”
Dunkley was in almost a cheerful mood when he left, so great is man s confidence in the wisdom of his fellows; yet 1 could not help but glance at Donegal Dawn, in the hope of surprising on his countenance some reading of his own thoughts. But the man's face was inexpressive.
Poor old Dunkley,” 1 mumbled, in the hope of drawing Dawn out, “it’s too bad to see him go that way. What a time that poor little woman must be having with him; and to think they have been married only a little over a year. But 1 suppose it is the chance any woman takes.. ” Dawn interrupted with a quick smile, which told me quite well that he had read my motive, but refused to gratify it.
“If you'll drop around at six-thirty,” he said, “I will motor you up to Dunkley’s. Now, we had better be moving, for 1 have a busy afternoon ahead of me.”
AS W E drove along the quiet, well-populated avenue towards Frank Dunkley’s home, it seemed difficult to credit that there could be any real mystery amid such peaceful surroundings. The mere atmosphere of the dignified houses and the attitude of the sedate children at play, seemed a complete reversal of the essential background for mystery. It must surely be more nearly the case, as I had told myself all through the afternoon, that Frank Dunkley was suffering fromsomestrange hallucination.
Nor did the bright-eyed and open-handed manner in which Mabel Dunkley met us at the door hint even remotely at anything other than the placid dignity of human existence. Her fears, if she really had ever experienced anything of the sort, as Dunkley had said, were admirably under control for the meantime.
While I had met Mabel Dunkley a number of times before. I had never previously seen her so completely the mistress of herself and of her home as she was on this occasion. There was even the faintest suggestion that she was on trial, or rather on the defensive, and that she was proud of the defence which she could show; and I learned very early after our arrival that she was one of those capable housewives who insist upon doing their own work and managing their own household.
Our visit passed pleasantly enough. There was not even a vague reference to our purpose at first, though it was ob nous to me that Mabel Dunkley knew.
"^ou have those tickets for the show, Brad?” Dawn asked, while we were still dallying over the coffee. “If you men don't mind helping the lady with the dishes, I would like to saunter over the house. No objections, Mrs. Dunkley? I m something of a nosey person, you see.”
That was Dawn's only reference to the mystery, and it was so delicately done that there was not even the 'aguest suggestion of any' pillage of the domestic shrine. He was so casual about it that we became quite merry as we hurried through the household ritual, and our presence,
I could see, was doing the Dunkley's a world of good.
To me, who knew something of his methods, it was plain that Dawn had not missed a single room, from basement to garret; and when we finally left the house for the show, I kept the Dunkleys chattering upon the verandah for a moment at Dawn’s behest while he did something of his own improvising to the posts of the front door.
It was not until we dropped the Dunkley's in front of the theatre, and while I was accompanying Dawn to the carchecking station, that the opportunity came to speak to him alone.
“Dunkley seemed all right to-night,” I suggested, “and as for that little woman, she appears to have the courage of two. I wonder where Frank got that queer idea of his?”
"That precisely' is what I would like to know,” Dawn replied, with a little laugh.
I_T IS words seemed to clear things in my own brain, and to make the case one of compassion rather than of mystery.
“You agree, then, that it is some kind of an imaginary story which he has been telling us?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” was Dawn’s unexpected reply, “but I do say that he is
right in that part of his story which says there is no way for any person to get either in or out of the house... . apart from the doors and windows, of course; and they have been checked up.”
After that, there could be but the one answer.
“Then the whole thing is imagination,” I decided; and as we were already drawing near the foyer, Dawn had but brief space in which to reply.
"We will see, perhaps, before midnight,” he said.
It was the inflection rather than the bare words themselves which kept me on the qui Wee all through that evening's performance and rather dulled its effectiveness. I was much more eager for the Dunkley home than for the flash of the footlights; and when we finally drove up in front of the residence, I must confess that we all glanced swiftly at the house in search for some betraying gleam of occupancy. To me, the house was as sombre and lifeless as when we left it.
"If you don’t mind finding some excuse to remain at the car for a half minute,” Dawn whispered, as he slipped quietly up the walk.
As we followed leisurely, it was obvious to me that Donegal Dawn was making quick little stabs about the front door with his flashlight, and finally he reached up and seemed to be examining something intently. At length he pulled some object from about the upper corner, and then he met us with a smile.
Mabel Dunkley chatted in a lively manner; but once inside the doorway, it became evident that she was suffering beneath some sharp strain.
“What was that you took from the door, Mr. Dawn?” She tried to speak casually, but failed; and in that failure she lowered every last barrier of pretence.
“It was a small section of parti-colored adhesive silk thread,” he informed calmly. “I blended the strands myself this afternoon. The thread, you see, is unbroken, and from the position in which that thread was placed it would have been impossible to open that door a half inch without breaking it. The only chance is that some person may have replaced my adhesive silk with another kind.”
\ /I ABEL DUNKLEY’S eyes had become wide and frightened, and now she leaned over Dawn’s shoulder anxiously as he separated the strands and arranged them side by side in little piles of color. “That is the thread I prepared this afternoon,” he said, as he glanced about the rooms. “It means that the front door was not opened by so much as a narrow crack while we were away. Now, if you will all go about the house quietly to see if anything has been touched or moved, we may make some progress.”
Frank Dunkley, with the right which was his, led the way, and when he had covered the ground floor and the first floor above, his face gradually took on a brighter light.
“It would seem that they have not favored us tonight,” he said briskly. “If you chaps will sit down, Mabel and I will have another look around.”
“Do,” Dawn spoke succinctly, “but please don’t touch any of the outer doors or windows.”
The moment Dunkley’s back was turned and I stood there alone with Donegal Dawn, I knew that something
had happened. It was Dawn’s manner, and the sharp, darting lights in his eyes which told me that.
“What is it?” I asked, somewhat anxiously, I must admit.
“See that!” Dawn held out something in his extended hand.
At the mere sight of it, I laughed with relief.
“A cigarette butt,” I replied. “What of that? I can get you a dozen of them, if you like.”
“That is just the point. Take a look at it.”
I took the thing in my fingers, and it was some moments before I gained the faintest significance from the sight of it. Then, at the end, I could not keep back a start of surprise.
“It is the butt of a Russian cigarette,” I admitted, “and, if you found the thing in the house, it means a whole lot. For I know we smoked nothing but Virginia cigarettes here. Where did you find that, Dawn?”
“It was in the ash tray, along with the butts of the cigarettes we were smoking. But there cannot possibly be any mistake, for I counted the number of butts in the tray before I left for the theatre. When we came back, there was one extra butt, and a Russian at that!”
It was with an effort only that I repressed an instinct to shudder, particularly when I thought of that front doorway which had not been disturbed. Still, there was one possible explanation which none of us had yet checked up; so I hastened to grasp for the point.
“Come!” I urged, “we will see how that person got out of the house. A door or window somewhere must tell the story.”
Dawn nodded eagerly enough.
“We will go over the house from top to bottom,” he declared; “it is quite impossible that this person should have gotten away without leaving marks to tell me the avenue he used. For when I went over the house tonight, I fixed every door and window in the place with some of that adhesive silk thread. The burglar, or whatever he or it is, must have some strange way of operating a window latch from the outside, and still leave it locked after him when he goes out again. There may be some instrument for doing that, of which I have never heard; but there is one thing he can’t do, and that is to re-stick some of my adhesive silk over a crack after it has once been broken.”
IT WAS accordingly with considerable confidence that A we began the search, and since the Dunkleys were still roaming the upper portion of the house, we began at the basement. The house itself, apart from the basement, was rather a pretentious affair for a person of Dunkley’s means. It was a ten-roomed structure, and the basement was divided into several sections. One of these was given over to a billiard room, adequately fitted up, while the balance was made up of the ordinary fruit, laundry, coal and furnace compartments. The billiard table, I could tell, was but little used; but there was an atmosphere of occupancy about the furnace room, created no doubt by the early frost wave which had swept the city.
Dawn went hurriedly from window to window, but in each case I could see readily enough that the adhesive silk was still connecting sash with frame.
“Which means that he could not have used the basement,” Dawn decided aloud. “Now for the next floor.”
It was during the next few minutes that we had to decide between reason and the unreal. I can still see the growing frowm which crept about Dawn’s forehead as we climbed from floor to floor, even to the unoccupied garret, and found, as we went, that those silk threads were still intact, and of how, when the last thread was found unbroken, he stood there for a time peering out at me with puzzled eyes.
“The thing is impossible!” I exclaimed, a trifle overwrought, I fear. “Something has been here and smoked a cigarette while we were down town, and it has gone away again without using either door orwindow. Continued on page 48
Continued from page 12
Gad, Dawn, it is humanly impossible. There must be some other way to get in and out of the house.”
Dawn extinguished the light, and leaned out the darkened window. But there was so little to be seen from the garret, beyond the fact that at the left the neighboring house was almost touching the eaves of the Dunkley home, that at the right there was a clear space of ten feet or more to the next residence, and that somewhere at the rear, some fifty feet or more distant, there was a building which looked like a garage.
“But there is no other way in or out,” Dawn spoke calmly, as he turned on the lights once more. “I went over the house once, thoroughly, every foot of it where such a thing could be possible. But we had better do it again.”
THAT search brought us face to face with the stark fact that there are times when circumstances must threaten to overthrow the throne of reason. For nowhere, in the whole building, from top to bottom, was there the faintest sign of a secret passage. Conditions were such that one could readily understand the fear which must be clinging to the heart of Mabel Dunkley, a fear of the unknown, which, if it preyed long enough, must stalk forth through each day and night. That, of course, must be the terror of it, so far as the woman was concerned. It was something as yet beyond normal explanation, and knowing not its motive, who could say that the time would not come when it would be no longer content with those stealthy visits to the loneliness of a deserted house? Standing there, looking into Dawn’s puzzled eyes, it was not difficult to picture the fear of the woman. . a fear of that thing which at any moment might steal upon them through the silence of the night, or even perchance through the drear hours of the day.
“There is no way,” I declared with conviction. “For if there were, Dunkley would be the first to know about it. The house is scarcely two years old, and he supervised the building of it himself.”
A moment later, while Mabel was preparing some hot drinks, Frank Dunkley confirmed that statement of mine.
“Yes,” he informed Dawn, “I watched this house go up almost foot by foot.
We were slack at the office that season, and I was saving the architect’s fees. It is absolutely impossible. Such a thing as that could not have been put in the house without me knowing it. Besides, what would have been the motive?”
For a time Dawn smoked his cigarette in silence.
“I mean, could there possibly be any place in the house where a man might be lying at this minute?” he asked; and even before Dunkley shook his head, I could see that Dawn was not greatly impressed by the feasibility of his own theory.
' “Was there anything strange that happened during the past few months?” he pressed, “or even during thé building of the house? Any little thing out of the ordinary?”
At first Dunkley failed to recall anything, and it was only when Mabel overheard a few words that she threw out a suggestion.
“There was something,” she declared, “about three months before we noticed anything queer here. But there cannot be any connection between the two. The house was broken into that time at night; a whole window pane was gone, but only a few trinkets were taken. That was done in an entirely different manner.”
THE connection between the two seemed so remote that Dawn diverted the conversation, and for a half-hour or more we spent a social time. The Dunkleys, I could see, were much cheered, and they had shaken off something of that haunted look which had circled about their eyes earlier in the evening.
“There was one other thing,” Dunkley returned to the all-important topic, just as Dawn and I were leaving. “It has no bearing on anything, but I may as well tell you. Shortly before that burglary which Mabel mentioned, a stranger came to the house and wanted to buy us out. He offered a pretty stiff figure.” “But naturally you wouldn’t sell the first nest,” Dawn laughed.
“Mabel wouldn’t,” Frank Dunkley’s returning laugh showed that our evening with them had accomplished much in the way of restoring the family confidence, even if it had done nothing more.
“So she has brought this upon her,” Dawn. muttered, the moment we were beyond earshot.
“What do you mean?” I demanded.
“I wish I knew,” he returned evasively, “but I must find some excuse to go back to that house in the morning. The daylight might reveal things which are hidden by the night.”
For some reason best known to Dawn, the morning trip was made in the guise of a salesman for electric carpet sweepers, and while he bundled the thing up the walk I made as careful a study as possible of the exterior of the Dunkley home. So far. as I could judge, everything was nofmal. The eaves of the house on the left were barely six inches from the eaves of the Dunkley roof, but since the adjoining house had no openings whatever on that side, the fact suggested only the one possibility that it would be a simple matter for a person to step from roof to roof of the houses. On the right, I could see, that ten-foot space between the buildings was completely bridged over by a cement driveway leading to a garage in the rear. This garage, however, was on the neighboring property, so that the rear of the Dunkley lot was open.
Externally, to the best of my judgment, there was not even the suggestion of a secret entrance, and Dawn admitted as much when he finally emerged.
“And the mystery of the whole thing,” he added, “is that there is not the faintest sign of one from the inside, even in the daylight. But Mrs. Dunkley will telephone me the minute she finds anything else unusual. I hope to get a better start the next time.”
“Stumped?” I asked; but Dawn merely slumped back in the seat of the car and gave himself up to thoughts which were entirely his own.
IT WAS two days later when next I heard from Donegal Dawn, and the message took the form of a summons through the telephone to meet him at his office within fifteen minutes. The briskness of his manner betrayed the fact that something had happened; but even when I found him waiting with a
car he had no voluntary information to give, except that we were going to the Dunkley house.
"Any developments since I saw you?” I urged.
“Not a thing,” he declared, “unless this happens to be something. I may have my own theories, but so far they have taken me up against stone walls. But this may be a lead.”
Curiosity, naturally, compelled me to press the point.
“I can’t tell you a thing,” he protésted, “except that it has something to do with the wall-paper in Dunkley’s den. Mrs. Dunkley telephoned, and she was quite incoherent. So I told her not to touch a thing, and that I would be right up.”
The wall-paper in Dunkley’s den, I must confess, did seem a bit remote from the point, but as Dawn chatted upon other topics, he left me but little time to think of that.
Once again Mabel Dunkley met us at the front door, and it was obvious at a glance that the smiles about her lips were struggling with recent hysteria.
“You may think I have been brooding about the thing too much,” she spoke to Dawn, “but when I found those holes in the wall-paper, it rather put me off for a while. I happened to find them when I was dusting the walls, and knocked a little square of the paper out.”
I can scarcely say exactly what I expected to find in that den; yet when we stepped through the doorway there was no ocular demonstration that the mysterious something had been at work again.
“See here,” Mrs. Dunkley spoke with her voice once more under command, “this square of paper fell out, and I could not understand it. So I started looking around the room, and I found this, and this and this!”
As the woman spoke, her fingers darted here and there about the wall, but it was only by pressing close that I could discern the things which she was indicating. The wall-paper was dark, with little square and rectangular patterns running all through it, on the cubist plan, and it was plain enough, owing to the white background of plaster, that one of those little squares, perhaps an inch to a side, had been cut entirely away from the balance of the patterns.
IT WAS that which had fallen to the floor while Mrs. Dunkley was dusting; but perhaps the more astonishing feature was those other squares and rectangles to which she was now pointing. There were a score or more of them, and by looking closely, one could detect that they had been cut away from the wall by some exceedingly sharp instrument and had been pasted back again into position. Mrs. Dunkley had found at least a score before our arrival, but a careful search of the room revealed as many more.
“And no doubt there are others,” Dawn remarked, “but do you notice the peculiar arrangement of the cut squares? The bulk of them are here within a twofoot radius, while the rest are scattered more or less thinly about this one wall. The only exception to that arrangement is that there is a cluster of a half-dozen holes near that upper corner by the window.
With that, Dawn began to browse about the room, while Mrs. Dunkley sat down to study him, almost with hopeful gleams in her eyes. In those moments when one caught the woman off her guard, it was evident that the strain was a tormenting thing; but now, except for odd instants, she watched Donegal Dawn. The latter very cautiously removed a number of those cut squares, just as though he expected to surprise something behind them. Others he examined minutely through the microscope.
“See, Brad!” He spoke across his shoulder.
“Finger prints?” I asked; but I knew instantly that I was wrong.
“No, they did not leave finger prints,” he ’ declared, “but they left something else. What do you make of it, Brad? The substance behind these cut sections of the paper is not plaster at all. It is more like a putty combination. We will remove one and see.”
Dawn worked carefully, with Mrs. Dunkley and myself staring over his shoulders, scarcely knowing what we
expected the man to find; yet in the end it was disappointing enough. A section of the plaster, it was plain, had been removed, much larger than the square of paper which had been cut away, for it had been scraped from above the hole, and this piece of putty had been put back to reinforce the wall.
At the end of an hour we discovered that other squares had been treated in the same way.
“But why? What does it all mean?” Mrs. Dunkley asked, with widening eyes, “how any person could get into the house through those holes is more than 1 can understand.” Then she shuddered slightly, “Or is it some thing?"
Dawn laughed in a pleased way which I could understand.
“I think, Mrs. Dunkley, that you may set it down to humans,” he replied, “and I wouldn’t worry a bit about them trying to get through those holes. They are a bit too material for that; in fact, unless I am badly mistaken, they are decidedly materialistic in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, they haven’t left any very tangible clues behind them as yet, so we must put this wall back exactly as we found it. For it would never do for our friends to think they had rivals.”
IN THE end, when Dawn had finished, it would have taken an eye more detailed and expert than mine to know that the man had ever been there. But he was not content with that. He shifted a small table close to the carved wall; then he asked Mrs. Dunkley if she would get him a fancy china plate and a polishing cloth. When these were produced, he donned gloves and polished every inch of that plate’s surface with devoted care; and finally he balanced the plate from the table up against the wall, as some housewives do when they are particularly proud of such things.
“Things will be quite all right, I am sure,” Dawn remarked cheerfully, “but I must ask, Mrs. Dunkley, that you do not let anybody from the household enter this room until I have been here to-morrow morning. I will send you up tickets for to-night’s show. You and Mr. Dunkley are to go, and forget all about everything else. Above all, don’t enter that den when you come back.”
The woman was so much herself again that she was able to laugh with comparative ease.
“It almost sounds as though you had been setting a trap, Mr. Dawn,” she said, “and that you don’t want me to see what you catch.”
We were in the car before I found a fitting opportunity to speak again.
“Mrs. Dunkley was right, of course, about you setting a trap?” I asked; and when Dawn nodded, I could not help but laugh, “A trap set with a china plate?”
“Precisely,” he said. “If you care, you can return with me in the morning and see what we catch.”
In the morning, Mrs. Dunkley was cheerful and smiling; for it seemed she was quite confident the house had been visited on the evening before, and that left her spirits more buoyant.
Dawn, however, went directly to the den; and though I was still uncertain what to expect, I was not surprised to see the china plate standing against the wall, just as we had left it the night before. But Dawn began a minute examination of its surface through the microscope; and shortly he gave an exclamation of pleasure.
“Of course they handled this plate when they came here last evening,” he declared. “They had to move it; otherwise they could not have worked at the wall. So, Brad, I have a whole lot of finger prints here, and that is the real starting point.”
With this first definite clue at his command, Dawn worked with speed and skill. I left him down-town, warned to be ready at any hour of the day or night for any emergency; so, as may be imagined, business details suffered for that day. It was around six when I next heard from him, and his message was brief, but none too clear.
“Put on some old clothes and run around to the house,” was the tenor of his summons over the telephone, “I want to pack you in an apple barrel.”
THAT packing process, once I arrived at his home, was no matter of the imagination. There were two barrels
on hand, and Dawn himself was already preparing to climb into one of them. Nearby, his smiling chauffeur was waiting with a delivery truck.
“I have reason to suspect that the Dunkley house is being carefully watched,” Dawn explained, “so if we are to arrive at that place unsuspected, and thereby have a chance to watch the strange visitors at work, we must adopt some disguise. An apple barrel may seem to be an unusual disguise; still, Dunkley is expecting us just before dark, and Parsons here has agreed to handle us carefully. It is quite a natural parcel to arrive at any house in the Fall; and once there, we may have the place to ourselves. The Dunkleys are going out.”
AS WE sat there upon the floor, in our stockinged feet, one could peer through the darkness, and just catch the outline of the den doorway beyond. At either hand was a flashlight and a revolver. Dawn was similarly equipped; but just now, in response to my urging, he was talking in a low, murmuring voice.
“The finger prints on the plate, of course, gave me the clue,” he whispered in tones which barely reached my ears. “An hour’s search at police headquarters enabled me to identify them as belonging to an old and clever crook by the name of Gustar. They also furnished me with a photograph of the man, whom I have recognized . . .”
“Who is he?” I demanded.
“The next-door neighbor,” Dawn explained, “that quiet, unassuming person, with the garage in the back yard. He now goes by the name of Flett, and he has a respectable job down town, but . . . The real estate agents inform me that a Mrs. Flett rented that house next door about eight months ago. So you see, they have had plenty of time to sink a tunnel under that cement driveway; and you remember this house was broken into about six months ago, but nothing was stolen. That is easily explained. Gustar merely broke in to get measurements, to let him know where he could cut through the foundation without leaving marks from this side. I think I could find that place now, Brad, except that they will betray it themselves to-night.”
“But what is the sense of it all?” I demanded. “Why should they go to all that trouble, and still not steal anything?”
Dawn paused for a moment, as though listening intently for the faintest ripple of sound.
“The dates also coincide with certain other facts,” he went on calmly, evidently determined to reveal the story in his own way. “Gustar was mixed up in that Crosbie case. He was arrested, was held by the police for six months, and when they failed to get anything on him, they let him go again. The dates fit properly; it was immediately after he got out that he settled down next door as respectable Mr. Flett.”
AGAIN Dawn leaned forward, as though some vagrant tendril of sound had reached him. He put one hand upon my arm, and then I too could hear the thin creaking of a door somewhere below.
“But why?” I pressed. “What does Gustar want here?”
Dawn’s fingers closed more firmly upon my arm.
“Diamonds!” he said, with barely a sound, “be still. They are coming now!” Diamonds! Those thin, padding, animal-like feet down below, coming for diamonds? Here, in Dunkley’s house! Perhaps I would have thought more of the wonder of that, except that the immediate cry of the brain was that I should listen to those padding feet. Slowly, one hand crept around the revolver in my pocket.
There were two people. That was plain. And they were so confident that they were taking but few precautions. The woman was ahead, and as she reached the dull hallway there before my eyes, she turned and spoke:
“Another half-dozen nights, Gus, and we’re through with it.”
“Stop your babbling,” the man growled out. “Take your place by the window and watch. You can’t depend ++ ++
on them fool Dunkleys. They’re getting on my nerve. They might shove their noses in here any minute.”
From that time on, there was silence. I could see the occasional flicker of a flashlight as it played upon the wall of the den; then at length it came to rest upon a given point, and from that time on, the only sound was a steady scratching noise.
Dawn’s fingers pressed more firmly upon my arm, in signal.
Without a sound, the man rose to his feet; and as I followed as quietly as possible, he stole across the darkened hallway, and stood there for a moment watching the scene in the den beyond. Across his shoulder I could see the man at work by the flashlight upon the wall; in the recess of the window was the silhoutte of the woman watching the street below.
Suddenly there was a click. Dawn had flashed the room into light.
“Hands up! Both of you!” he spoke in a low, imperious voice.
Gustar never had a chance even to reach for the revolver lying upon the table; and the woman was unarmed.
They were a furtive, animal-like pair, as Dawn snapped the handcuffs about their wrists and stood them side by side in a corner.
Then Dawn stepped to the wall where a fresh square had been cut from Mrs. Dunkley’s wall-paper. The plaster beyond had already been scraped away; and now Dawn picked up some instrument from the table and plunged it into the hole.
For a full minute, there came again that dull, scraping sound which I had heard before, and while Dawn worked, Gustar and the woman were staring at him with the ferocity of some wild beasts of the forest which have at last been trapped.
“Ah! I knew it couldn’t be anything else!” Dawn exclaimed, at length. “See, Brad.”
AS I stepped across the room, Dawn was toying with something in his hand, and shortly he separated a glittering prism of light from its encrusting plaster.
“Diamonds?” I protested feebly. “In the plaster of Dunkley’s wall. I don’t understand, Dawn.”
“No? Perhaps not,” he replied, “but Gustar does. Where are the rest of them, Gustar?”
The man’s eyes narrowed and an obstinate straightness came to his lips, but he did not answer.
“They are the Crosbie diamonds,” Dawn explained. “You remember there were fifty thousand dollars’ worth of unset jewels which disappeared. The police held Gustar here for six months, but learned nothing. They have been keeping an eye on him ever since, and he seems to have lived the life of a reformed gentleman. They overlooked but the one thing . .
“And what was that?” I interrupted. Dawn’s eyes roved over the man and the woman.
“They are a clever pair,” he complimented. “And the police, they forgot that it was in this very house that Gustar was arrested. They caught him here while the house was being built. Gustar was working as a plasterer, and he was carrying in his pockets some fifty thousand dollars’ worth of unset diamonds. When he saw the police coming, he still had time to throw the diamonds into the mortar, and plaster them into the wall . . . So, Gustar, we have found the end of your rope?”
A quick struggling at the steel bonds, and a low angry growl which escaped the man’s lips, were the only answers. But they were enough to tell me that Donegal Dawn was right.
That hole in the wall? It was really the cleverest part of Gustar’s whole idea. Dawn reproaches himself for not having found it at once. “But,” he excuses himself, “it was really smooth work. The idea of making a door out of a section of that brick foundation and having all the joints come behind those upright beams was a new one on me. They went to a great deal of work there, with their fulcrum for opening it; but of course that was done while the Dunkleys were away for the summer. The practice will help Gustar, for with five years ahead of him, he should be able to dig his way out of the pen.”