The Red Carnation
When Signor Albatrossi, the famous magician, performed the greatest disappearing trick in the history of vaudeville he mystified himself more than his audience, and created a tragic knot that only the genius of Tench Story, the eccentric little cobbler detective, could untangle.
THIS was their last trick of the evening. In a few minutes Signorina Cavelli would bow her acknowledgments to the audience, slip into her dressing room, and walk back to her hotel on the arm of the man she was to marry in the morning. While Signor Albatrossi was explaining the difficulties of his great act she took up her accustomed position on the blue rug and when he came to hide her from view with the screen she smiled at him. She loved him, and was very happy. And then a red carnation came flying from somewhere and softly struck her bare shoulder.
What happened that night is vaudeville history. After Albatrossi fired his pistol and as he walked across the stage and removed the screen there was a breathless silence. The blue rug was still there, but Signorina Cavelli was not. She had vanished.
Vanished, it seemed, into thin air! For she certainly did not appear under tire table where the magician confidently expected to find her.
Perhaps it was the absurdity of his horror-stricken face, suddenly grown ashen in color, the nervous twitching of his mouth, his incoherent muttering, that occasioned someone out front to break the dead silence with a cruel guffaw. Then, as every second added to the drollness of ironic frustration the audience caught the infection of its comical character, commenced to giggle and whisper, and finally broke into open, good-natured rebellion. All this time the magician, a huge man, remained where he stood, one enormous hand on the table, the cover caught and held up in nerveless fingers, his head drooping lower and lower, his eyes filling with tears. Mercifully they brought down the curtain to shield him.
Behind the curtain Albatrossi stood transfixed. For the first time in his long career something had gone wrong with his act. He had been laughed at.
The awful realisation stunned him. He was too dazed to move, too scared to investigate. The stage-hands, striking the set and removing the props and scenery, awoke him to conscious anxiety. What concerned him most was the thought that Katherine had surely hurt herself, perhaps seriously.
There was no sign, of her anywhere. Albatrossi, a dark, swarthy giant of a man with the heart and simplicity of a child, started to run about as if possessed. First into the dressing room, then back stage, then down to the basement under the stage. Her dressing room was empty, her clothes were hanging over the back of a chair as she had left them.
He searched everywhere twice
and three times over, lumbering around like a stunned bull, making himself a nuisance to the stage-hands and interfering with their work. Then hatless, he rushed out and took a taxi to her hotel. He insisted on being taken up to her room. It was empty. Wildness seized him now and he dashed back to the Palace and ran like a madman to the stage door. He was just in time to
prevent the door man from locking up.
“I must make another search,” he cried hysterically. “Turn on the lights, Jackson —for God’s sake please turn on the lights for me.”
“Say! ain’t you found her yet? What’s the big idea?”
The theatre was horribly dark and mysterious. On the stage Albatrossi’s hoarse bass voice called out her name:
“Katherine! Katherine!” The echo came back to him mockingly, like the jeers of the audience half an hour ago. Down to the basement he went once more, falling over the last few steps and hurting his side, and there in that dusty, spectral vault he again called her name. “Katherine! Katherine . . . oh, my darling, my darling . . .”
It was useless! Signorina Cavelli had vanished, vanished as though she had dissolved into ether. Albatrossi dragged his weary, aching body back to her dressing room and flinging himself into her chair buried his face in her clothes and sobbed like a child. There was reason enough for it. He worshipped the very ground she walked upon and had loved her since she first joined him in this engagement, two years ago. He remembered that day as though it were yesterday. Her eyes had attracted him the moment he saw her. They were sad and troubled, a limpid grey in color and lovely to look at and into, under their curving black lashes; they made him think of a lonely lake he had once seen when evening shadows stole softly across its gray surface. He wanted to protect her, to guard and cherish her all his life. He had continually asked her to become his wife, but she always shook her head—a little sadly, he fancied, a little regretfully, but definitely. She had never been on the stage before, and he patiently taught her all he knew. He was not curious about her past. It was enough just to be with her, to see her every day, to work with her in their act. And tomorrow morning ... in the little church they had specially chosen. . . .
FOR the next three or four days the disappearance of Signorina Cavelli provided a sensation, and the newsboys made the most of it. By this time, however, Signor Albatrossi was known as Ezra Hascom who claimed Jersey City and not Milan as his birthplace. The missing signorina was referred to as Miss Katherine Smith, although where she came from —and where she had gone— remained a waning mystery.
That the police were puzzled required no further proof than the fact of Inspector Wright being eventually constrained— a little against his will—to consult Tench Story. He found that remarkable little shoemaker in his shirt sleeves, methodically driving home nails w ith single blows of his hammer. Nothing delighted the little man so much as these occasional visits from Inspector Wright and he loved to make the most of them.
“Glad to see you, Inspector,”
he chirped brightly. “Sit down. I’ll fix you up in a jiffy. What sort of heels d'you like best?’’
Inspector Wright forced a smile. "Now then, Mr. Story, you know 1 haven't come here to get my shoes fixed It’s something far more important than that."
The little shoemaker looked up over his eyeglasses and blinked at his visitor. "Well, sir,” he said, "that sounds very interestin’. Don’t mean to say 1 can help you in any way, do you?”
"Yes, Mr. Story,” conceded the Inspector. "I’ve come to the opinion you’re pretty clever at ferreting out these problems and
"Oh’ tut’ tut’" objected Story. "What little I have done to help» you don’t amount to a squawk. ’ He threw his hammer into the air, caught it with practised dexterity, and drove in a nail with one swift stroke. "Not a squawk.” he repeated.
The Inspector offered the little man a cigar.
• Well, what’s your trouble?” asked Story, shortly. "This Hascom guy’s gone alt to pieces,” responded the Inspector "He’s being sued for breach of contract
"Haven’t you found that girl yet?”
"Were following up one or two clues,” said Wright, diffidently; "but it’s my belief we’ll find her at the
bottom of the Hudson.”
Kind of a damp place to hide,” commented the little shoemaker, nonchalantly. “What’s your other clue ’
Inspector Wright cleared his throat to hide his hesitancy. Although he drew down a fine salary and had, durtng his career, tracked down many a criminal and brought him to justice, he was ill at ease before this strange little man whose ability to solve the most baffling problems was as remarkable as it was usually simple "Well.” he drawled, "we found out she hid down in that basement while he was calling for her— discovered a piece of her dress on a nail in an old property basket behind some disused sets. There’s no doubt she was hiding from Hascom. Didn’t want to go through wtth that marriage I guess, and I don’t blame her, either. He’s a grouchy cuss, clumsy as an elephant and about as dumb. But that sob stuff he pulls don’t get by with me. I’m keeping my eye on Mr. Hascom.” Tench Story looked up and smiled. "Meanin’,” he said, "he’s done away with the girl?”
"Shouldn't be surprised.”
"Well I would.” said the little shoemaker, with characteristic brevity.
" Bout as surprised as if this shoe I’m fixin’ was to up and tell me you were right.” He chuckled and started hammering again.
"Going up to see Hascom this momin'.”
"Better let me come along with you. He's got an ugly temper.”
"Manage by myself, thanks. Tell you more this evening. Maybe you and Sergeant Fera'II be wanted.
Meanwhile, quit fishing in the Hudson. Find out
where the wardrobe lady of the theatre is living—and the other women connected with the Palace—see what you can find there.”
Inspector Wright swallowed his dissatisfaction and departed. Tench Story's cheek bulged for a second, then his tongue was pressed against his teeth as he whistled a lively little air and attacked his shoemaking with that ardor and concentration he gave to problems which defied the ability of the average detective.
Yesterday, Sunday, he had gone down to Proctor’s Palace and obtained permission to watch a rehearsal. His object was to interview the stage hands who had dismantled the set on the night Miss Katherine Smith had vanished. One of them, a man named Pearson, had accidentally supplied him with some valuable information. He said he had been the first man on the stage that night after the curtain had come down and in removing the blue rug on which Miss Smith had stood he picked up a red carnation! It was strongly perfumed and fresh-looking, he continued. as if it had just been bought at a florist’s. Pearson had thought little of it, put it in his button-hole, and
gone on with his work. He knew, he said, that Miss Smith didn’t wear flowers in her act, but the truth was he hadn’t given it another thought until Tench Story’s incisive questioning reminded him of it. He guessed it didn’t amount to much anyway. The little shoemaker was of a different opinion, although he was at a loss to reason out what influence that clue might have had on the girl’s disappearance.
"It sure looks to be much of a puzzle,” he said to himself, struggling out of his working coat. "But now we’ll see what light Ezra Hascom can throw on it.”
"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they have gone And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ ”
\S HE repeated those favorite Kipling lines, Ezra Yx Il ascom ’s eyes were fastened on a revolver in his trembling hand. The promise of victory—for it was a victory as the rest of the poem went on to prove— rebuked him in spite of himself. Twice a day for year after year in his vaudeville act he had recited that poem with all the fervor of his heart and soul, and he now failed to inject the necessary proportion of cant, mockery, into the words that might occasion an upward motion of his right arm and the pressure of a forefinger. It required a physical effort to relax and open his fingers, but all at once, with a disturbing clatter, the revolver fell on a small tray on his 'bureau sending pins and studs flying everywhere.
Relieved of the cruel oppression of hard steel, Hascom walked about his room shivering a little until, instinctively, he bent forward to examine his face in the mirror. It was wretchedly cadaverous; his eyes were sunken and glassy; in his black, Italian hair were strands of gray that three weeks ago had not been evident. Hascom reminded himself of his age, thirty-five, and tried to manifest it by tightening the skin at his temples, stretching his eyes until they were horribly elongated.
It was the everlasting ache in his throat that was pulling him down, an ache that was there all day and all night. It had got worse this morning when the Pearce Detective Agency informed him they had been unsuccessful and he had been compelled to tell them to drop the case.
He backed away from the mirror, reached his bed, and sat down. Before his eyes, against the wall,, were
two suitcases and a wardrobe trunk belonging to Miss Smith. They contained her clothes and various belongings which he had salvaged from dressing room and hotel. Her wedding dress he had taken out, carefully folded in tissue paper, and put in a drawer together
with her white satin slippers and gloves. Her other possessions had been worked over by detectives in search of some clue that might lead to her discovery or perhaps tell them something about her past; efforts that had yielded nothing. Now he kept a jealous watch over them, guarding them as the vestments, the little treasures, of the dead, permitting no intruder to touch anything and only dwelling over them himself with infinite love and tenderness, without an atom of curiosity.
His mind was invaded by a quickening palliation. He must brace himself and pick up the broken threads of life, somehow. Not the stage, he told himself; he’d go out West somewhere and work on a farm. Maybe he would find a ray of comfort far away from the city, the hated theatre. And he could wander over the prairie, or in the depth of the forest, and talk with her as though she were still by his side. . . .
COINCIDENT with this impulse came a little knock on the door-panel. Hiding the tell-tale revolver, he went to the door, turned the key, and opened it. Outside he saw a little man of a leathery countenance, whose age he judged to be around forty-seven or so. His eyes were twinkling behind steel-rimmed glasses, his nose was twitching like that of a rabbit, and he introduced himself with an inoffensive abruptness.
“Name’s Tench Story. Busy?”
Hascom was too astonished to equivocate. “No,” he said, not moving an inch.
“Like a chat with you, Mr. Hascom. May I come in?” Hascom moved aside and the visitor stepped through the doorway, crossed the room, put his bowler hat on the bureau, and sat down. “Mr. Hascom,” he commenced, “I’m a shoemaker by trade, but I’ve kind of taken an interest in your case. Been up here long before, ’cept I was pretty strenuously occupied. Don’t know me from Adam, I guess, and all I know about you is what I’ve read in the newspapers and such like. But—”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Hascom, asserting himself; “but is there anything I can do for you, Mr.—Mr.—?-” The little man acknowledged his difficulty with a slight bow. “Name’s Story,” he repeated. “Tench Story, shoemaker.” He smiled. “Well sir—I’ve been wonderin’ if I couldn’t do something for youV’
“Not a thing.”
“Pspt!” Tench Story invariably made that little sound when he was peeved. “Not a detective,” he emphasized; “I’m a shoemaker. Earn my living mendin’ shoes — sort of friendly with police headquarters—help ’em out a bit when they’re stuck.” His thin, nervous face took on a whimsical expression. “Got to have some recreation, and these unsolved mysteries are kind of interestin’ sometimes. Like to nose round in ’em. Been nosing in yours—a little.” Hascom was openly cynical. “What for, Mr. Story?” The shoemaker shot him a sharp, critical reproof. “So’s to get you living right,” he pronounced, severely, “and not thinking of blowing out your brains as you contemplated about two minutes ago!”
The huge magician looked as if he had been poleaxed. “How—how did you see—?”
“Didn’t see. No idea till I noticed the criss-cross indentation of a .32 on your right palm and finger. ’Pears like you gripped your gun pretty tight, eh?” The scorn in his eyes compelled Hascom to look away.
Story rose and reached for his hat. “W’ell, Mr. Hascom; looks like I’ll have to find Miss Smith without your aid. Wish you good mornin’.”
“Just a minute.” Hascom’s low tone was apologetic. “Forgive my unmannerly behavior, Mr. Story. I’m a very miserable man. Please forgive me.
“Readily.” The little shoemaker, mollified, sat down again. “Now s’pose you tell me all you know about Miss Smith?”
“I’m trying to forget,” said Hascom dejectedly, crushing the pillow in his hand. I ve had the best
Continued on page 50
Continued from page 6
detectives in New York on the case, told them everything I knew about her. . . .” He came to a sudden stop! A red carnation, its perfume quietly charging the air, lay startlingly crimson and salient on the white bed-cover beside him. For a moment the two men looked at each other in silence.
WHAT—what’s that?” asked the magician, stupidly.
‘‘Where did it come from?”
‘‘My pocket,” said the little shoemaker. “It scared me for a moment.”
“What I intended. Evident, though, j you don’t connect that with the disI appearance of your fiancee. Urn.”
Hascom seemed dumb. Rather gingerly he picked up the flower in his enormous band and looked at it. “What! this—
I this carnation? What has this to do with j Katherine?”
Tench Story smiled faintly. “Looks like it has nothing to do with her,” he said; “but maybe we’ll be able to make sure one way or another.” He reached over for the silver-framed photograph of a lovely, oval face. “When was this taken?” he asked.
“About four weeks ago.”
The little man studied it as Hascom,
urged by a series of rapid questions, told all he knew about Miss Katherine Smith. He had, he said, no reason to suppose she wished to leave him. She loved him.
“Why,” asked Story, still scrutinizing the girl’s photograph, “did she refuse to marry you? You had regularly proposed to her for the past two years?” intimated Story.
“Yes, I asked her to marry me about one month after I engaged her. She attended her church regularly, observed all its demands, and was a devout Catholic. She didn’t give a rap for parties and dancing. She was more of the home girl, if you know what I mean; quiet, gentle, and of a timid nature. Everybody loved her.” “Timid? D’you mean she was nervous?” “A little, I fancy. When she first came to me she was in such a nervous condition I was afraid she wouldn’t do. She soon got over it. But when we returned to New York, I remember, she got nervous again before she went on the stage.”
“How long was that—after you had engaged her?”
“About eight months.”
“What caused you to engage her if she’d had no experience?”
“She was just the type I wanted. Dark hair, Italian looking. I sort of took a liking to her. She looked as if she’d been through a whole heap of trouble. It wasn’t my business to question her. All I [ worried over was wondering if she could ever care for me.”
The little shoemaker shied at this ardent display of sentimentalism.
“Ever see her wearing red carnations?” he asked crisply.
“N-no. Not that I remember. But—!” j Hascom drew in his breath. “Say! it’s funny now I come to think of it! Last September, on her birthday . . he paused, his massive brow clouding.
“Go on, please.”
“Well I thought I’d get her some roses. I left it till the last minute and the only i flowers I could get then were carnations. ! I bought a bunch of them—pink carnations with red ones mixed—and left them in her dressing room. When I went in to explain I wanted to get roses for her I found her staring at them like there was a rattler on her table. She was white to the lips. When I explained, she got as mad as could be, picked up the flowers and flung them out of the room. ‘Never you get me those sort of flowers again,’ she cried, I almost hysterically. T hate them, loathe them, despise them!’ She could hardly go on the stage that night.”
Tench Story nodded. “S’pose she gave j you no explanation?”
“No,” said Hascom, sadly. “I didn’t ask for any. Maybe she didn’t care for the perfume of them or something. Women are like that. Next morning I got her some American beauties and she was as pleased I as could be.” His eyes glistened with dog| like sagacity. “And the night she—she disappeared,” he continued, his voice breaking, “I left a great bunch of roses in I her dressing room, and she told me how much she . . . ” He was on the verge of Í tears.
STORY returned the photograph without comment and glanced rovingly round the room. “Any other thing belonging to her?” he asked.
“I’ve got everything that belonged to her. In those suitcases and trunk.”
The little shoemaker’s eyes sparkled at that. “Mind if I have a look through them?”
“No,” said Hascom, hopelessly. “No, I don’t mind. There’s nothing there except her clothes.” He produced a bunch of keys, opened the trunk, and unfastened the suitcases. Hascom’s heart experienced quivérs of suspense as he watched the delicate manipulation of prehensile fingers as he noted the grave, lean face with its tremulous nostril, the singularly contracted eyes as the little man examined each article under his magnifying glass. He rose at length, absently brushing the dust from his trousers. “Not very promising,” was his verdict. “Any of her letters?” he suggested, again looking about the room.
“We never had any necessity for writing to each other.”
“I don’t think I ever saw her handwriting,” said Hascom, bending his enormous body to rearrange a dainty ribbon in the suitcase. “Except on the contract, and in her bible.”
“Just her name; that’s all.”
“Let me see that bible.”
The magician rifled clumsily in his trunk, found a small testament, and handed it to Story. In the fly leaf, written in ink, was the name Katherine Smith. The little man was alert on the instant; his eyes began their dancing, and he almost purred over the discovery. Under his powerful lens he immediately discerned that the signature had originally.been written with a lead pencil, then traced over in ink, later. But what thrilled and delighted him was the obvious tampering with the surname. To the casual eye, the name Smith was innocent enough, but Story wasn’t satisfied with the tracing of the final letter—nor yet the one before it. Originally, the last two letters had certainly not been t and h, and he thought the TO had also been changed. He commenced a merry little whistle. There was an erased address underneath, faint pencil grooves remaining on the paper. He made out the indentations of three figures, the last two of which he decided were 3 and 7. The abbreviation ave was almost perceptible to the naked eye, and just before it had been a word with eight letters, ll-n (or v) -n still discernible. Below that had been the name of a city in which there had been seven letters, ending with lyn. That, the latter word, required little concentration. He looked up at last into the gaunt, dark face directly above him.
“Shown this to anyone?”
Hascom slowly shook his head. “I never thought about it,” he confessed. “She gave it to me almost two years ago. You see, I wasn’t much of a church-goer till Katherine came along and—” His expression was appealing. “You haven’t found anything, have you?”
“Not much,” said the little shoemaker, excusing the withholding of the information in extenuation of a growing theory that Hascom was well rid of his former assistant.
Hascom’s tremendous shoulders drooped. “Then, there’s nothing you can tell me?”
“Yes, Mr. Hascom.” The little shoemaker cocked his head to one side. “Advice has one thing in common with chewing gum; it’s cheap. If it was only chewed as much, seems like a good many of our diificulties would be smoothed out. Now I want you to chew on this. Forget Miss Smith, if you can, and go ahead and give your act with somebody else.”
“Then,” said Hascom, “you think Katherine is . . . ?” He couldn’t bring himself to pronounce the word.
Tench Story didn’t commit himself in words. He made a motion with his hand, through which he managed to convey a definite meaning. “The chances are,” he equivocated, “you may not see her again.”
Hascom slumped down on bis bed. “But why, Mr. Story—why?”
“Because,” said the little shoemaker, purposely alleviating the severity of his deduction, “she loves you too well to hurt you, disappoint you, by what she may feel compelled to confess.”
There was an agonized devotion in Hascom’s eyes. “Why she needn’t tell me
a thing,” he said. “I love her so much, Mr. Story, I’d never dream of questioning her. If she came back this very minute I’d only take her in my arms and protect her. If she has enemies, or—or anything, I ... I only want to protect her, that’s all. She needs protection, I know she does. Sometimes I swear I can hear her calling for me. Oh, my God! why can’t I find her why can’t I find her?”
He threw himself face-downward on the pillow.
Story was touched by this big man’s profound grief. He went over to the bed and laid his hand on Hascom’s heaving shoulders. “Come, come,” he said gentry. “Maybe I’ll have some news for you in a day or so.” He paused a moment. “In the meantime I’m going to borrow this bible.”
Hascom said nothing. Story went to his trunk, opened it, and took out the revolver his quick eye had observed there during the magician’s search for the bible. Slipping it into his hip pocket, he bent down, whispered a more cheerful message in Hascom’s ear, and quietly left the room.
BETWEEN Central Park West and Broadway on Ninety-eighth Street there is a shoemaker’s shop set in the basement of one of the houses, and at the back of this shop is an apartment containing several rooms lined from top to bottom with second-hand books. The majority of them are books that not one shoemaker in a million would read, much less understand.
About half past six in the evening of the same day he had visited Ezra Hascom, Tench Story was seated in his study reading a well-worn volume entitled, The Psychological Phenomena and Influence of Aromatics, written by one of the foremost French savants of the past decade. His sharp nose was adorned with the usual eyeglasses; the corn-cob between his teeth was serving no particular purpose since the tobacco in it had been smoked out. It was evident that the little man didn’t wish to be disturbed, for, by way of proclaiming his arrival, a young man in the doorway, had coughed a number of times without the slightest response.
After waiting several minutes more, the young man, a reporter on the Courier, named Alan Goring, crossed in front of the little shoemaker, and sat down facing him. He was a good-looking chap of tall and athletic build, and perhaps more than any other individual he enjoyed Tench Story’s confidence. His sensitive mouth curved into a smile as he studied the absorbed expression on Story’s face. Then, all at once, the little man put down his book and looking at Goring, said :
“Remarkable! Svengali had nothing on ‘Carnation’ Crawford!”
Goring blinked pleasantly and tried to look wise.
“Here’s a book, Goring, written by a brilliant man. Fleaven be praised its title has kept it out of the hands of many of us who might have used the information in it to gain some criminal end.” He pitched the volume at his visitor in lieu of the customary greeting. “Believe I could go to work on that theory—” he pointed at the book in Goring’s hands—“and so mesmerize you with the odor of frying garlic that you’d commit murder.”
Goring couldn’t let the opportunity pass. “I certainly would,” he said, drily. “Murder would be a detail to what else I’d do.”
The little shoemaker laughed, jumped to his feet, and replaced the volume on the shelf. “Glad you came, Goring. Message told you it was urgent, eh?”
The reporter nodded.
“Ever heard of ‘Carnation’ Crawford?” “No, sir.”
Story looked at his watch. “Well, you’re goin’ to hear a whole lot about him from me, and after that you’d better skip back over your newspaper files to the date of January 16th, 1921, and read up some more.” His tone was peremptory. “Put that down in your note book.” Goring promptly did so. “What time do you go to press?”
Goring told him.
“All right. Want you to run a front page story about ‘Carnation’ Crawford and his Machiavelian activities. Big headlines. What say?”
“All depends, sir.”
“Pspt! All depends—nothing! Want you to do it, expressly,” said Story, his tone and manner conveying finality. “It’s news. You chaps reckon to be smart Alecs and yet to allow weeks to go by without making use of a sensational story
like this.” The little shoemaker’s eyes twinkled maliciously.
“Who in thunder is ‘Carnation’ Crawford?” asked Goring, tantalized into a flare of annoyance.
Tench Story protracted the situation. ‘Tf 1 was managing editor of the Courier,” he replied, “I’d tire you flat for asking that question. But since your salary doesn’t come out of my humble pocket I revive that somniferous memory of yours.” He sniffed. “S’pose you’ll tell me you’ve forgotten about the disappearance of Miss Katherine Smith next?” Goring denied this, mildly, feeling foolish before this queer little man of whose sharp, incisive questioning and subtlety of analysis he stood in considerable awe.
“Well, I’m glad you remember that,” he said; “ ’cause I’ve been trying to find her for friend Hascom, and if you only do as 1 tell you the lady should return to him sometime to-morrow!”
“What!” gasped the astonished reporter. ‘‘Do you mean that vaudeville actress who has eluded all discovery?” “That’s the one I mean,” returned Story, blandly. “Had a little chat with Hascom this morning. ’Pears life don’t mean much to him now she’s gone. So I started to hunt round for her. Went over to Brooklyn, got in touch with police headquarters, and then sent a telegram to Hascom telling him to renew his contract immediately and that I’d be round to see him in the morning.” He grinned. “To fix everythin’ up right I sent for you.”
“For me? What have I to do with it?”
asked Goring innocently.
Briefly, Story acquainted him with the history of the case and the changed name in the bible. “A minute examination revealed the fact that she had changed her name from Snill to Smith,” he said. “A neat and more or less easy change to make. Made out her address as 37, in the hundreds, in Sullivan Avenue, Brooklyn. “Went down there—tried all the houses with numbers ending in 37—present occupants bad never heard of Miss Snill— looked kind of hopeless. Then I tried the grocery stores, emporiums, and such like.
In the six hundreds I struck oil—in a bakery store. Well, sir, that old German pretzel maker handed me more dope about Katherine Snill than you could I shake a stick at. It provided a sensational story.”
THREE years ago, he recounted, on January 16th, that German baker had served on the jury during a famous j murder trial in Brooklyn. The cashier j of a construction company had been shot and killed on his way from the bank, j The murderer would have escaped except that his former sweetheart tipped off the police. He was arrested, sentenced to life, and sent up the river. His name was “Carnation” Crawford.
A lan Goring drew in his breath as the remembrance of that trial came back to him. “I recall it, now,” he said. “Didn’t he try to get his hands on the girl as he was being taken to his cell?”
Story nodded. “But let me go back a I little.” The girl had told a pathetic story j in her defense which was not generally accepted. Nothing was proved against her, however, and she was allowed to go free. She had met Crawford when she was nineteen and had fallen in love with him, not knowing he was a bad egg. Pie was a dapper individual and wore those natty suits that are the sartorial habiliments of the present generation of safe-crackers and gunmen. Pie had a penchant for red carnations and was never seen without one flashing in his coat lapel.
It was not long before he involved the j girl in some of his comparatively smaller I crimes. One was card-sharping. Kather; ine Snill was attractive and Crawford pro[ vided her with smart clothes so that she ! could land some rich man visiting the city and invite him to her apartment, where, sooner or later, Crawford would fleece him white at poker. When she discovered what was going on she begged Crawford to reform, for she loved him and expected to become his wife. But it was too profitable a game for him to quit.
One night a victim, putting up a fight, got badly beaten by Crawford and his pals. He was left in the apartment more dead than alive. The girl rebelled at this and ran away. Crawford traced her to Boston, went up there and brought her back to New York, and then beat her insensible when she threatened to appeal to the police for protection.
“Now here’s something that may
interest you,” said Story, sharpening his tone. “Having lost her love, Crawford resorted to beating her when she didn’t obey him. The girl had a certain will power, however, and still'refused to have anything to do with his jobs. He knew she hated him, now, but he was puzzled to find a reason why she didn’t leave him.
“Then—in some accidental way or other—he found that the red carnation he wore held some sort of fascination for her! He began to experiment with this influence and he practised it with careful and persistent malignity until the girl was completely dominated. The brilliant color and, mostly, I guess, the trenchant perfume had a neurotic and psychological effect on her that she was incapable of avoiding.
“If Crawford went out anywhere, he’d just leave a bunch of red carnations in a vase in her room. They held her captive as though she had been tied to a chair!” “Good Lord!” said Goring.
“They had to be fresh flowers, I understand, but Crawford soon got on to that. One of his methods by which he completely ruled her was to slowly crush a handful of fresh, red carnations before her staring eyes. A diabolical piece of ingeniousness!” The little man shivered.
“Under those circumstances,” he continued, “the girl could hardly be held accountable for anything she did, and Heaven knows the misdeeds thereby committed. But the police were closing in on Mr. Crawford and New York was getting a trifle too hot for him. He planned a big hold-up before transferring his manoeuvers out West. Result was the killing of Mr. Loeb, the cashier with the Obert Construction Company.”
“Was the girl implicated in that?” “Well—she was mesmerized into driving the car which he used for the crime. It was a stolen car, and somewhere in Long Island while driving at top speed the wheels skidded and they crashed into a ditch. Crawford got away—the wonder is he didn’t kill the girl first—guess he thought she was dead, anyway. She was found beside the wreckage—two or three ribs broken and a fractured leg—they hurried her to a hospital where she was attended and taken care of. On gaining consciousness she up and told ’em the whole story. S’pose the shock of that accident kind of set her to rights again. Crawford’s game was up.”
THE little man was silent for a while.
“After he’d been sentenced he shouted out in court that he’d get even with her if it took him twenty years. ‘But it won’t be that long,’ he told her, significantly, meaning, of course, he’d escape and visit her with some terrible retaliation. ‘And it won’t be two years,’ he added. ‘Look out for yourself!’ ”
Goring, coming to a startling conclusion, gripped the sides of his chair with tense fingers. “My God!” he ejaculated. “The poor kid! I understand now. The moment she saw that red carnation on the stage she knew that ‘Carnation’ Crawford had kept his word!”
“And of course she daren’t appear on the stage—daren’t communicate with Hascom.”
“Not unless she wanted him to know her unfortunate past—and get a bullet through her brain into the bargain!” “When did Crawford escape?”
Without a trace of emotion in his calm voice, the little shoemaker said: “At tenthirty in the evening, the night that carnation was thrown on the stage!”
The reporter looked blank. “Eh? What? Ten-thirty in the—”
“He escaped from Sing Sing,” Story went on very quietly, “but they didn’t sound the alarm for him. Our friend Inspector Wright had the pleasure of correcting me when I appealed to him this afternoon for information about Crawford’s escape. About as near as I can make it to the very minute that red carnation came flying down from the gallery ‘Carnation’ Crawford’s soul passed out of Sing Sing, but his body remained behind. He died of pneumonia in the prison hospital!”
Alan Goring was on his feet, agape^with astonishment. “But how—how—” he stammered; “how did that flower—?” “Perhaps some young fellow smitten by Signorina Cavelli’s dark beauty . . . perhaps some little girl. Who knows?” He closed his eyes for a moment. “It was a destructive floral tribute whoever threw it, and coincidentally the last will and testament of ‘Carnation’ Crawford: a
cruel legacy that brought swift terror in its train.”
It took some time for Goring to assimilate and fully appreciate the awful significance of this staggering coincidence and the horrible misery it must surely have brought to the girl, Katherine. He wondered what had become of her during these weeks, and he asked Story if he had made any effort to find her.
“As matters stand it’s almost impossible to find her. Unless,” he said, looking very earnestly at Goring, “the Courier helps us out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just this,” said the little shoemaker. “I’ve been searching through the newspapers of three weeks ago—columns of stuff about Signorina Cavelli’s mysterious disappearance—not a blamed thing about the death of the man who occasioned it. In only one paper was it reported; a small paragraph of ten lines or so in a back page. If she’d seen it she and Hascom would be married by now.”
He sat more upright in his armchair, and the characteristic twitching of his sensitive nostrils, the sudden liveliness of his eyes, told Goring that the little man had still another card to play.
“If Katherine Snill is alive,” he said, “the magic wand to make her re-appear as miraculously as she vanished is the press news that Crawford is dead.”
“By Jove!” Goring shouted, “that’s a knock-out of an idea!”
“All right. Now you go ahead and write it up in the Courier. Give it big headlines—the biggest in the shop. ‘Carnation Crawford dies in Sing Sing!’ and all the rest of it. I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar it’ll do the trick. If she really loves friend Hascom,” concluded Story, “she’ll come back to him.”
AT ELEVEN o’clock the next morning ■ Tench Story was playing a game of checkers with Ezra Hascom in the latter’s room. The little shoemaker was extremely adept at the game and had rarely met his master. The magician however was giving him a hard fight and was in a contending position until Story broke through his defense and crowned two of his pieces.
“Ha, ha,” he crowed. “Now I’ve gotyou hog-tied. Guess you quit, don’t you?” “Not on your life,” revelled Hascom in the excitement of a pleasurable battle.
“Then why in thunder,” snapped the little shoemaker, “are you quitting your regular mode of life?”
“You know what I mean.”
The huge man lowered his eyes.
“You were thinkin’ of quitting yesterday morning, just before I came in. You’ve just now told me you won’t renew your contract and go a-conjuring once more. Isn’t that quitting?”
“I guess it is,” replied Hascom, meekly. “My love for the stage is dead, Mr. Story, that’s about it. I’ll find work in some other field, though. I don’t have to return to vaudeville.”
But Tench Story was very contradictory this morning. “Pspt! That’s a lot of humbug,” he snorted. “Return to vaudeville. That’s your profession. That’s what you’ve worked at and developed to a state of excellence. What’s the object of quitting it for a pick and shovel?” Hascom found he couldn’t word an adequate reply to this, so he preserved silence.
“A man’s got to take whatever knocks are coming to him in this life—keep on smiling and stick to an honorable job— not loaf. Avoidin’ an honest day’s work brought this fool Crawford to a bad end, didn’t it?”
The magician looked up. “You mean this gunman they ran a column about in the papers this morning?”
“Yes, sir. And there’s hundreds of others like him. They’re all quitters. They take the easiest way. They wouldn’t carry the responsibility of facing life fairly and squarely if you were to pay them. They haven’t the guts!”
Hascom gave a lurch to his mighty shoulders, sighed heavily, and went to the window. Suddenly, he turned. “All right,” he said, booming it out like a foghorn: “I’ll go back on the stage. I’ll go over and see them this afternoon and try and make peace.”
“That’s talking.” The little shoemaker was secretly very pleased with himself. “Now I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I know a young lady who’d just about suit you for that act. I’ll send her along.”
Ezra Hascom was entirely disinterested.
“I’ll take anyone who knows the business,” he said; “anyone who suits the part.”
They sat down and re-arranged the board. “By the way,” said Story, “maybe 1 didn’t tell you, but I’m something of a magician myself.”
“Yes, sir. Don’t say I can make a person disappear the way you can. But I sure can make ’em appear now and again. What’s more I’m going to produce an assistant you’ll take quite a fancy to— and maybe before we finish this game of checkers.”
Hascom’s heart began to vibrate unusually and all the color left his lips as he tried to fathom his little opponent’s meaning.
“For God’s sake, Story ...”
The little man pretended not to notice. “Your move, I believe,” he said, politely.
FORTY minutes later his kindly heart gave a leap, in response to a timid knock on the door. He rose in such a hurry that a further excitement was preci-
pitated by his accidentally, or deliberately knocking over the checker board set between them.
“Pick up those checkers!” he commanded sharply. The big man went down on his hands and knees. The little shoemaker reached for his hat, went to the door, opened it and disappeared.
Outside was a young lady dressed in a simple tailor-made dark suit with white facings around her open, olive throat, and à little hat with a feathery plume falling over her jet black hair and caressing the pallor of her cheek. Tench Story looked up into two of the most entrancingly sad grey eyes he had ever seen; they compelled the whole of his respect and sympathy, instantly.
“Miss Katherine Smith?” he asked.
She moistened her lips a little before saying: “Y-yes.”
“He’s waiting for you, my dear,” he said, conscious of a sudden dimness in his eyes. “Just open the door and go right in.”
Then he walked away with quick, elastic little steps to return to his shop and the mending of slippers and shoes.