The Pearl of Paharee
A. DEFORD PITNEY
An exciting tale of an eerie midnight robbery and a woman's bid for happiness
IN THIS cabinet I have a few trifles, some of them of a little value.” A woman in the group laughed nervously as Mr. Brightwell opened the glass door. "The curios in this case all have, or are reputed to have, some peculiar effect on human lives. For instance”—he picked up a ring—“this antique intaglio, set in emeralds. It is a signet of the Borgias. The setting is removable and holds a tiny cup to contain a single globule, which is Death. It is worth a few thousand dollars intrinsically. Multiply that a time or two because of its history.” “Aren't you careless with them, Mr. Brightwell?” marvelled a pair of scarlet lips at his shoulder.
"A man should own his baubles, not have them own him.” He replaced the ring negligently.
“Show them the Empress mirror, John,” said his wife, standing in the rear of the group of her friends.
“I shall. This might interest you first.” Mr. Brightwell took out an irregular, iridescent mass, the size of a finger joint. “This is a sport pearl, meaning a freak. The jewel was found hundreds of years ago in the Gulf of Endab and was hung in a Buddhist shrine at Paharee. Its peculiarity is that it has magical properties. It was called ‘The Light of Despair’. If it is stolen by anybody who has come to the end of every possible hope, it will bring a change of fortune.”
"Surely nobody believes in that really?” giggled a girl, who had kept close to Mr. Brightwell’s elbow.
“It never fails. The Buddhist priests gave me instance after instance -Europeans as well as natives. The charm was known to thousands. But,” he reminded, “the thief must be utterly at the last cast, without a chance on earth. This is the hope of the hopeless.” He dropped the jewel back on its velvet pad. “I had it set in platina. It might be worth eight thousand, ten thousand or so.” “I’ll say it would bring a change of fortune,” giggled the girl again.
“Did you steal it, Mr. Brightwell?” enquired a man.
“No; I have never quite come to hopelessness,” the host replied genially. “Here is the Empress mirror that Mrs. Brightwell spoke of. Josephine had this. It is supposed to show a woman the picture of her next sweetheart. Would any of you married ladies care to glance into it?” Mr. Brightwell jestingly held out the small rococo frame. “You might see your Napoleon.” He replaced it in the cabinet. “And now”—he turned to a strip of Vaucelles tapestry hanging in a panel between two tiers of decorative volumes—“I wonder whether I. . .”
“Yes, do, Johnny,” encouraged Mrs. Brightweii.
“I will.” He pulled the tapestry aside, disclosing the round boss of a wall safe, like a ship’s porthole. Mr. Brightwell twirled the dial, swung back the weighty disc, and took from the interior a slim velvet case. Opening it, he slid into his hand a stream of coruscating flashes. He held the string of gems up by one end in his golfer’s sunburned fingers, and swung it jovially.
“Oh-h-h, Mr. Brightwell! Oh-h-h!” Those who had displayed small interest in the antiques now pressed close.
"This is the real thing,” he gloated frankly. “Modern to the moment. I paid five hundred thousand for this to Bergen and Company. Tonight you shall see it on what, with all respect to you other ladies, is the prettiest neck in the world to me.”
“Johnny, aren’t you sweet?” Mrs. Brightwell rewarded him.
“One thing about marrying a lady of the stage, they are beautiful and they know how to stay beautiful.” Mr. Brightwell adjusted the necklace on its velvet bed and carefully closed the safe. “Suppose we now take a look at a little attempt I have made to propagate orchids in my hothouses. If you don’t care for flowers, amuse yourselves some other way; the place is yours.” He gazed about hospitably.
“Try the swimming pool, or play golf or tennis. There’s an archery range. If you want a car, tell a chauffeur. This is Liberty Hall,” urged Mrs. Brightwell. “We’ll all get together at dinner.”
* * * *
\ÆR. MAXIM MARCO, head of the secret service of -*-*1 the great international firm of jewellers, Bergen and Company, did not follow to the greenhouses. He stood on the flagged terrace, a taut, alert, flat-backed figure, with that grace about him that is given by certain backgrounds that have a tradition of manly excellence. Mr. Marco had been an officer in the late Austrian cavalry. His bright grey eyes surveyed the group straggling across the sunny lawn toward the pool and tennis courts. A houseman was putting bags of golf clubs into an open car. Eager voices were calling. Mr. Marco allowed that if he had no duties to perform he could have managed to enjoy himself here. In a terrace chair by herself, apart from the guests, lounged a lithe young woman in a blue and white striped sport dress, yawning over a magazine.
A light step sounded on the stones. Mr. Marco turned and saw coming toward him a tall girl in a long-sleeved dress and a broad hat. Her delicate, charming face was thin, her slender hands were listless. She was looking down so that her lashes covered her eyes. In her absentness she was almost upon him before she looked up and saw him waiting.
“You don’t care for orchids, Miss Carver. How about a swim in the pool?”
“I’m afraid I didn’t bring a swimming suit, Captain Marco,” she replied with little interest.
“Then let’s have some tennis.”
“Nor tennis things either.” She started with him across the grass. “Really, I just accepted at the last moment and threw something for evening into a bag.”
“Lovely here, isn’t it?”
“Wonderful. I’m so glad to have come.” She drew a deep breath as if with difficulty.
Marco arranged a canvas chair for her under an umbrella and sat on the grass. His restless eyes observed that the sole of her pump was worn. The toe was scuffed and the damage covered by a touch of ink or dye. The stocking that covered the slender, ivorysmooth ankle next him was darned at the heel. Her dress had been remade. Her hat had been cleaned. Her pale hands looked the perfection of idleness, but
Marco noted the roughening of the fingertips and the flecks of needle pricks.
“You are not in the theatrical business?” she questioned.
“Not at all. I’m a commercial man. Are you a professional?”
“What I am !” She looked down at him and past him at the turquoise ripples of the pool. She used little color and he could see the faint flush on her wan cheek. “I am a dancer who hurt her ankle in her first year. I am a singer who caught the measles and lost her middle notes. I am an actress who didn't have an engagement last season. I have been trying to write a play. I—I hope to have a good engagement in a new production.” She began to laugh. “Why am I telling you all this? It’s so wonderful to be here. I ought to drink in the sun and repose.”
“You don’t look as if you had enough outdoors,” said Marco candidly. “Do you know the Brightwells intimately?”
“I don’t know them at all. I just was brought into the party by a friend who is very influential in the business.”
She dropped her hat on the grass, put her slim hands behind her head and raised her chin as she looked into the sky.
“I’m just letting this beautiful sun shine on me, and stretching myself as if I were a cat,” she said.
“I live—I mean I have been living—in an apartment with two girls, but they are going away on tour and have given up the flat. So you see, out here I get three days of wonderful rest and wonderful meals, and when I leave here I don’t know where I am going. I am out of work and haven’t a cent, and the old clothes that have been given me are almost worn out. Isn’t life great?”
“You frighten me, if you are serious.”
“Listen,” she said. “You can’t get frightened in this business. You just have to face things and do what’s necessary. A year ago I would have made an awful prosperity bluff with you, but now, you see, I just don’t care. When you don’t care, that’s when you can do anything.”
“Hello, Nan.” A shadow fell across them.
“Why, hello, Al. I thought you were looking at orchids.”
“I got enough of them. Come on, go swimming.”
“I haven’t a suit.”
“I’ll get you one. Come on.”
Obediently she arose and with a parting half smile at Marco walked away.
They disappeared toward the dressing tents. Presently Al came out, his lumpy figure in blue trunks belted around a lowbacked jersey. His freckled arms were hairy to the shoulders and he had tufts of black hair on both shoulder blades. His legs were like an animal’s. He evidently was proud of his hirsuteness, as he lay on the edge of the pool as if he were on a beach and let the sun stream down on him. In a few minutes she came up the slope, her slenderness encased in a scrap of racing suit.
“Good enough,” grunted Al. “Get out there on the board. That's fine. Turn your back.
Now the other way. Now raise your arms and let’s see you take a dive.” He rolled on his side and lay watching her. “All right. Do it again.”
"pROM the direction of the house came Mr. Brightwell alone. He caught Marco’s eye and raised a finger. Marco arose and strolled down to him.
“We can have a few minutes now,” said Mr. Brightwell.
He led the way back to the lofty book-room where were the curio cabinets and the safe. Inside he closed and locked the door.
When he turned around Mr. Brightwell’s expression was changed. Gone were the genial smile and the benevolent beam. His ruddy jowls were set in rigid lines. His eyes were hard and masterful.
“Mr. Bergen said nothing to you?” he asked.
“No, sir. He said I would get my instructions here.” "I saw you mingling with the guests and making friends with them. That was good. Take a seat.” Mr. Brightwell drew up a chair for himself. “You are aware that Mrs. Brightwell formerly was an artist on the stage?”
Mr. Marco was so aware. Polly Love of the revues had been very well known in her day.
“Very good. She still has a tendency to surround herself with people of her former class—I mean profession. I find some of our gatherings, to say the least,
promiscuous.” Mr. Brightwell tapped sternly on the table with his eyeglass case. “I think it would be easy for a jewel thief to insinuate himself among them. What is your opinion?”
“Artists among themselves are clannish. As to outsiders, not very discriminating,” replied Marco.
“You have the idea. When I requested your employer, Mr. Bergen, to send you down with that necklace today, I had a purpose beyond asking you merely to look over the guests. You may have noticed the way I worked up to the exhibition of the necklace, just now. I did that for a reason. I was displaying that fivehundred-thousand string of gems to a thief. I was baiting a trap.” Mr. Brightwell’s voice dropped to an ugly whisper.
“Do you think there is a thief among your guests?”
“I think it is extremely likely. It was known the diamonds were to be here today. There are people in
the house of whom I am sure we know practically nothing, either of themselves or of their circumstances. I’ll tell you that I am acting on the advice of a friend of wide experience.”
“Acting, sir. How?”
“I’ll show you.” Mr. Brightwell lowered his voice cautiously. “I have made my preparations. I have a surprise ready for the scoundrels. That safe-—now this will surprise you—that safe is easy to get into.” “What, sir?”
“Look here. I will open the door. Now then, help yourself to that jewel case.”
Marco reached in through the narrow opening. As soon as he touched the case there was a click. Two steel plates inside the hole snapped around his wrist and
locked him as solidly as if his hand had grown in the wall.
“Do you get the idea?” Mr. Brightwell’s eyes glittered with satisfaction. He took out a key, unlocked the plates and reset them. “No one but I has a key to that apparatus," he declared grimly. “I’ll have the thief hanging there like a trapped skunk. He can’t get away unless he cuts his hand off.”
“I suppose you have let the combination leak out?” said Marco, rubbing his wrist.
“I have, and I have done it deftly.” Mr. Brightwell pricked an ear at a discreet tap at the door. “This must be Mr. Wiltone, the friend of whom I spoke. I asked him to join us.”
Mr. Brightwell’s chum was a well-preserved gentleman in his late forties. He had dark hair and keen eyes. His lean shanks were clad for country life in rough wool stockings below baggy knickers and he carried a Malacca cane. He gripped Marco’s hand cordially.
“Glad to meet you. Glad you are here. As this thing gets closer, I begin to get stage fright. What do you think of the idea?” he asked with the eagerness of an inventor.
“It’s a good one.”
“I think it is. It’s so good that I don’t mind telling you I feel a lot better with you here.”
Mr. Brightwell opened a humidor and all three selected cigars.
“I think we’d better not tell Polly until we have to,” he suggested. “What do you say, Jack?” “By all means don’t scare her now, John.” “Are you generally known to high-class jewel thieves?” his host asked Marco.
“Probably only to those who have scouted Bergen and Company.”
“That probably lets this class of thief out,” said Wiltone. “I don’t think you could possibly keep Captain Marco out of sight here and I would certainly hate to see him leave. We ought to have him here, John.”
“All right. We want you,” said Brightwell. “Mix with the guests and do whatever you please until tonight.” Marco went to his room and got his bathing suit. Miss Carver still was at the pool, dangling her little feet in the ripples, while Al lolled beside her on his elbow. Several other women had put on swimming suits and were lounging in the shadows that were stretching from the west. When Marco came out of the tent, Al had gone over to them. He was sitting on the end of a wicker chaise longue, the rest of which was occupied by a yellow-haired girl with a long cigarette holder. Two other girls were lying on the grass listening to him. “War plays are nix for a while now,” he was expounding. “That guy cleaned up with ‘Journey’s End’ and along comes this ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, and what I say is the public will react to something entirely different now. I got three new productions organizing, and I tell you there ain’t a shell bursts in any of them.”
“His name’s Al Vennick,” she replied to Marco when he sat beside her. “He’s a speculator. He takes interests in a lot of productions and he can get anybody in and started. So you see—” she smiled gaily into Marco’s eyes —“he’s just the ideal person for a girl to know.” She looked very slim and young in the few ounces of silk.
“I’m sunburned a little anyhow and not all white,” she said. “We took sun baths on the roof. I’m thin, I know. I’ve been dieting.” She laughed.
“Where is your home?” asked Marco.
“I come from Salt Lake City. I’m the little girl who came to the big town and made good. I write to them how well I’m doing.”
“So Mr. Vennick is a very influential man?”
"He has helped lots of people. There are some stars that were launched by him. You’d be surprised.”
“Is he going to launch you?”
“I hope so.”
"That will be big news in Salt Lake City, won’t it?” “Won’t it though! Isn’t it wonderful it’s so far away. I’m so glad. I didn’t properly appreciate that before.” “But you do now?”
“Why, yes. And, just think. I’m going to be a
“That will be great.”
“A little while ago, honestly, I thought it would be perfect happiness simply not to starve to death; and, you see, now I’m going to be a real success. You know you have to be clear down, all the way to the bottom, in order to see it. Then you can do anything. It’s true.
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I know it’s true. You can do anything if you are desperate. If you don’t care what you do, you simply can do anything.”
“And afterward you can go back to Salt Lake City and tell them all about it?” “Oh, no. I probably would be too busy to go there for a long time. I’d have to write to them. You see, it’s so far away. That really is a great advantage, if you know how to look at it.”
“After a long time you’ll drop in and dazzle them.”
“Ye-es.” She drew a deep, tremulous breath and looked up at the sky. “After a long time. A long time.”
“So everything is clear going now?” “Oh, yes. Perfectly. You see, when you have tried everything else, then you know what you must do. You have to be in that position where you have tried absolutely everything. When you come to that you see clearly, and then, you know, if you are at that point, you can do anything, and you’ll do it and you’ll succeed as others have done.”
“Nan.” Vennick got up and called across the pool. “Get dressed now. I’m going for a drive.”
“All right, AÍ.”
“Take a dive first.”
“Yes, AÍ.” She ran out on the board. “Wait. Stand there a minute. Turn around. Now turn this way again. All right. Dive.”
Trembling she shot herself into the water and swam to the end of the pool where he walked to meet her.
'K/fR. BRIGHTWELL was on the flagged terrace as Marco came in from swimming.
' “Ah, Captain Marco,” burbled the genial host. “Enjoying yourself, I hope. Allow me . . .” He led Marco to where the girl in the blue-and-white sleeveless sport dress still was dawdling over her magazine. “Permit me to present Captain Marco, Miss Oslund.”
“Please don’t move.” Marco brought his heels together and bowed over her hand in his exotic way. “I’m sure I’ve met you somewhere else. I couldn’t forget it.”
“Maybe. I go about a good deal professionally.”
“Miss Oslund is a beauty specialist, giving Mrs. Brightwell two weeks of reducing exercises,” explained the host. “We call it silhouette treatment.” Marco smiled down at her, rendering homage to her regular features and aggressive good looks. Her mouth was well cut, but hard. Her grey eyes were cold and shallow. Marco had a vague memory of her in a different dress, among other people.
“She has a room like a guest and her meals by herself,” said Mr. Brightwell as they walked away. “I wanted you to see everybody. Have you formed any opinion of any of them?”
“This is a good time to show you the arrangement of the rooms.” Mr. Brightwell had hoped for some progress by Marco but concealed his disappointment. “The ladies are in this wing,” he pointed out in the upper hall. “This room near the service stair was given to Miss Oslund for her convenience. Next it are several more important rooms and in this small
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room”—Mr. Brightwell consulted a memorandum—“yes, this little room is occupied by Miss Carver. What do you think of that girl? I saw you sizing her up.”
“She’s one of the artists, apparently.” “Artists. Artists.” Mr. Brightwell shrugged.
TN HIS room Marco sat for a long time in thought, gazing at his patent leather shoes before he put them on. Nevertheless! he was among the first downstairs. Mr. Wiltone was sitting on the side piazza, reading the financial page of the afternoon paper.
“The market hardened at the close,” he said with satisfaction. “I enjoy this hour of the evening in the country quiet. Between you and me, I dread tonight. I wish we hadn’t started this.”
“Do you feel sure it will be tonight?” asked Marco, lingering as if about to ask Mr. Wiltone for a tip on the stock market.
“Of course I wouldn’t set my opinion against yours on such a matter,” disclaimed Mr. Wiltone. “I almost could wish it would happen at once and get it over with.”
A rattle of laughter came through the French doors. Marco went in. The others were headed for the cocktail table. Miss Carver remained near the archway to the hall. Her dress was peach-colored, ruffled below and with a wisp of upper section that revealed all her youthful lines.
“How do you like my frock?” she smiled. “One of the girls gave it to me before she went away. Otherwise I couldn’t be here. I spent half a day mending it and cleaning off spots.”
“Hush, hush,” he said. “You don’t have to tell everybody.”
“I have wonderful sense of freedom from restraint,” she assured him. “You are that way when you have nothing to lose. I don’t want a cocktail. Let’s walk around. Isn’t everything grand? Now this is the main hall, isn’t it? There’s a suit of armor, and an old English sporting print, and under it a stand of canes, a cane for every hour of the day.”
“Do they have country places like this around Salt Lake City?”
“Rich people do, maybe. My father’s a bookkeeper and my mother’s an invalid. Let’s admire things while we may. Now this is the way to the library. There it is, right around this corner. See the lovely books, all in de luxe bindings? Do you know how many thousands of good-looking girls there are in New York, Captain Marco? Talented and ambitious girls eager for a chance? They can’t even get jobs in stores—there are so many of them. What can a girl do without help? I guess I’ll have a cocktail now.”
They went back to the big room. She had a glass with Marco, then Vennick took her and she had another, several. Marco heard her laughing. A vivacious young woman in pink selected him and he was arranged for the evening.
“AÍ Vennick,” his partner said to him while they were dancing after dinner. “He’s the man that owns Broadway, to hear him whisper it. Just another promiser.”
“Good night, Salt Lake City,” whispered Marco at the foot of the stairs, when the party was quitting to do a little sleeping.
“Why good night.” She put her hot little hand in his for a second. “I haven’t seen much of you this evening, have I?” She laughing excitedly about nothing special. Her eyes were large and brilliant.
r“PHE house was still at last. Marco’s room was next the master’s suite.1 He glided to the door and touched the panel with his finger nail. In the sitting-room Mrs. Brightwell was in a chair between Brightwell and Wiltone, who had changed
his coat for a Norfolk jacket and had his perpetual cane between his knees.
“I’m scared to death,’’ Polly Brightwell was declaring. “But if anyone were to steal my necklace I’d murder him.”
“We’ll know pretty soon now, probably,” said Wiltone. The atmosphere was tense.
“Just the same I’m scared and I hate it. If I’d known beforehand—”
“Don’t, Polly,” interrupted Brightwell. “You are right, old man.” Wiltone was harsh and determined. “It’s a duty to society. You've got to do it.”
“I’m going to,” said Brightwell fiercely. “You don’t have to egg me on. I want to catch the skunk. Look here.” He turned to Marco. “See that red glass lozenge in the wall? When the safe is opened that light goes on. The wires are so buried that a thief couldn’t get at them. Do you think we need help? I have two men always patrolling the grounds at night.” “They ought to be enough.”
“A thunderstorm is coming up. Mr. Wiltone thinks the attempt is likely to take place during the storm, because he believes the thief would try to cut off the lights, and the electric storm would account normally for trouble with the circuit.”
“A clever thief would work that way.” Every door and window of the house was on a burglar-alarm system, Marco knew. It was powered by storage batteries which the lightning would not affect. Mutterings of thunder were getting louder. Tree-tops could be heard thrashing. A nearer flash let go with a startling bang.
“Here it comes.”
“Don’t be afraid, Polly. Nobody would come up here.”
Both Brightwell and Wiltone kept their eyes on the signal panel. “I wonder if the servants left the hall light off?” said Brightwell. “I want the whole house dark.”
“I'll slip out and see,” said Marco.
They turned off the lamps while he went into the hall. Marco folded his coat over his shirt bosom and tiptoed along the corridor in the blackness. At the head of the staircase was a railing above the hall. Marco felt for it. No lights were on. He was about to return when he heard eerily the unmistakable rustle of a garment. Someone was on the stairs. Marco instantly stooped low. Again he heard it and then the tiny tap of a foot. Peering between the balustrades his eyes became adjusted to the darkness and he made out a faint, lighter patch moving down to the hall.
Then came what Marco was waiting for, a white glare outside. For an eyeflash the hall was filled with purple light, and in that eyeflash he saw crouching by the newel post a figure in a light blue silk robe. Another flash followed but the figure was gone. Marco arose to run down the stairs but a hand fell on his shoulder.
“What is it?” a whisper reached his ear. “It’s Wiltone. Have you seen anything? We were wondering what kept you.”
“I was just coming back,” breathed Marco.
They opened the sitting-room door under cover of a thunder crash.
“The storm’s right over us.” Brightwell couldn’t sit down. Marco leaned against the wall out of the lamplight, his arms folded. Thunder reverberations were close together. Then came the awaited one. The roar shook the house and the lamps went out. Mrs. Brightwell screamed and Brightwell yelled, “Look! Look !”
Out of the black a single red eye blazed at them.
“Caught,” shouted Brightwell. “He’s in it. The safe wire is on the burglaralarm circuit.”
“Keep cool, John,” cried Wiltone. “We can’t leave Polly alone in the dark.”
“I’ll have the lights switched on the storage battery.” Brightwell plunged
across the room, knocking chairs over, and got the telephone. "The wire’s dead,” he raged.
“Confound it!" Brightwell rushed for the window, tore down the curtain, knocked the screen out, and emptied his automatic pistol at the clouds. After a wait that seemed eternity, the lamps winked out with amazing suddenness. “Somebody came to life, tried the lights, and turned on the battery circuit,” he said grimly. “Now, come on.”
“Let’s organize,” advised Wiltone coolly. "We don’t want you killed, John. You’re an important man. We wouldn’t be missed but you would.”
“Johnny, you shan’t go!” screamed Mrs. Brightwell, seizing him.
“Of course, I’m going.” It took some time for him to free himself gently.
“Marco and I will go in first, I promise you,” cried Wiltone when they got away at last and ran down the dark hall. They went down the staircase by feeling. “Where’s the hall light switch?” shouted Wiltone.
“Beside the hunting print.”
Wiltone ran across. They heard the canes clattering as he bumped against the stand.
“That’s the place, Jack,” yelled Brightwell. “Right over it.”
Click. The lights were on.
“Now wait a second, John,” urged Wiltone. “Don’t go in first. That fellow may have a gun in his free hand. Let Marco and me see who it is.”
“I can’t allow you to take a chance like that for me,” protested Brightwell.
The house was full of noise. Doors were slamming upstairs. A houseman in a raincoat over his pyjamas ran to open the front door and admit the two watchmen in streaming black raincoats who came in, pistols ready. The butler ran through the rear hall, followed by a chauffeur.
Marco already was in the book-room. He had located the switch in the afternoon. He touched the button and the room leaped into light.
“Well, what the—”
Brightwell and Wiltone had their heads inside the door. Now they came in all the way. Servants, guards and several blinking men guests followed. Brightwell walked ahead of everybody to the tapestry and flung it back.
The safe door was open against the wall. In the opening was a black fourinch circle.
Gripped by the jaws of the trap was a short, sawn-off piece of iron pipe, large enough to admit a hand. Brightwell thrust his inside.
“They’re gone.” His face was white with chagrin as he turned.
“Are you sure, John?”
“By Jove! It must have leaked out through the workmen.”
“There’s one thing,” Brightwell burst out furiously. “It isn’t out of this house. This is where you come in, Marco. By gosh, you’re here ! Do your stuff.”
The end of the library was becoming crowded. Mrs. Brightwell pushed through.
“The whole house and everybody in it will have to be searched,” declared Wiltone decisively. “Fellow guests,” he addressed the knot at the other end of the table. “An unfortunate thing has happened. Mrs. Brightwell’s diamonds have been taken from the safe under circumstances which seem to make it impossible that they have left the house. I think we should all request that ourselves and our rooms be searched. I will begin. I will inform you all that Captain Marco is an expert detective, chief of guards for Bergen and Company. I am going to ask him to search me right now.”
“Go ahead, Marco,” ordered Brightwell.
Marco went over Wiltone with professional thoroughness.
“That’s the way,” Brightwell commended in a low tone. “Nobody can
object to a search now. Thanks, Jack.” “It just makes me sick, the idea of having my guests searched,” said Polly Brightwell. “But a five-hundred-thousand dollar necklace . . . Oh, dear!”
“It’s all right, Polly. We want to help you,” chorused several ladies’ voices. “Who isn’t here?” asked Brightwell. “The masseuse, sir,” replied the butler over his master’s shoulder. “And the guest in the small room, Miss Carver. Shall I send a maid for her?”
“Do that. Bring her down.”
The stately figure of Miss Oslund, in brilliant lounging pyjamas and purple robe, appeared in the door.
“I nearly slept through this,” she said. “Will I be searched? Of course.”
AT THAT moment all heads turned.
The group at the end of the room separated and through it came the trembling figure of Miss Carver. Behind her was the square-shouldered maid.
“I found her on her knees beside her bed like she was sayin’ her prayers,” the maid reported loudly. “She wanted to wait awhile and I said all right, I’d wait right there with her, and then she decided to come now.”
Nan Carver stood shaking at the end of the table. Her face was piteous. Her big eyes stared feverishly at Brightwell, and her lip quivered uncontrollably as she waited for him to speak. Marco remained with his back against the wall and his
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fists in his jacket pockets, His chin was upon his breast and his brows drawn together. Nan was holding around her trembling form with one little hand a robe of light blue silk.
“I think you understand, Miss Carver,” began Brightwell concentratedly, "that we have had a serious loss here.”
Nan nodded, unable to articulate.
"All the other guests have agreed to be searched. Some have insisted on it. I suppose you will allow it voluntarily?”
"No, no!” she burst out. “I will not be searched. Don’t touch me. No, no. I refuse !”
"What! You refuse to be searched?”
“Please, please don’t.” She began to cry. “I won’t be searched. Please don’t touch me.”
"You realize what this refusal means?” demanded Brightwell sternly.
She bowed her head and sobbed.
"You shall be searched before you leave this room,” declared Brightwell. "Willing or not willing.”
"Oh, please no,” she choked. “Please don’t. Oh, please spare me. Oh, AÍ.” She turned desperately to Vennick, who, in peacock pyjamas and Turkish slippers, was standing near her with his mouth open. "AÍ, won’t you stand by me? Help me!”
Vennick turned his back on her and walked away. Brightwell looked savagely toward the maid who had never moved from the girl’s side.
"Wait, John,” advised Wiltone. "Don’t make a wrong move now. This is a job for the police. The girl can’t get away. Don’t let her leave the room, that’s all. The telephone’s down, but I’ll take a car and run up to the town and bring back some kind of a police matron and an officer. Marco will stay here with you.”
“That’s the right idea,” agreed Marco.
Wiltone hurried out. Marco suddenly followed him.
“I say, send a telegram for me. I’ll give you the address.” They went out of the door together. As Wiltone, gripping his cane, strode across the flags toward the garage, Marco grappled him from behind, his left arm around Wiltone’s neck and his right hand clamped on Wiltone’s wrist with a wrestler’s hold.
In spite of Marco’s strength, Wiltone went forward half to his knees, throwing Marco over his head. In the act of falling Marco gave Wiltone’s wrist such a frightful twist that the man was forced to drop his cane. Marco whirled away like a cat, taking the cane with him and barely escaping a terrific kick aimed at his head. As Marco bounded to his feet Wiltone fired and missed. They both fired then, almost together, but Wiltone missed again as Marco’s shot smashed through Wiltone’s forearm. He dropped his pistol but stooped to pick it up with his left hand. Marco kicked the weapon away and Wiltone leaped behind a bush and ran around the end of the house.
Marco snatched up the cane, which he had been standing over all the time, and ran back across the terrace.
In the library all was as he had left it fifteen seconds before, except that everybody had whirled around at sound of the shots. The girl alone had not raised her head. She stood at the bottom of the table, bowed over and weeping desperately.
Marco walked to the table, the Malacca cane in his hand. He gave the stick a violent wrench and the handle began to unscrew at the band. In a moment it was off and from the hollow lower end Marco deliberately slid out before Brightwell a stream of fiery flashes.
“Where did you meet this man you call Wiltone?” he enquired suavely.
“On the lie de France coming back last year,” answered Polly Brightwell, as her husband did not speak.
“Take charge of that beauty operator,” Marco ordered the watchmen. “I remembered, after I left her this afternoon, where I had seen her. It was at a police show-up, where they bring known crooks in to be looked over. Did Wiltone recommend her, Mrs. Brightwell? I thought so. Thanks.”
“How in the devil did you suspect him?” asked Brightwell, coming out of his stupor.
“He was the one who suggested and planned it all,” explained Marco. “I didn’t see through it at first, but it was evident that he had planned to operate right under our noses. I thought he would betray himself at the end by rushing his getaway, which he did. He delayed us obviously upstairs to give his confederate time to do her work. What this alleged beauty operator did was to open the safe, hide the diamonds in this cane, and put it in the hall rack. Then when we came down, Wiltone rushed over to find the switch and in the darkness changed canes. You’ll find a silver-banded Malacca, the twin of this out in the rack. When he tried to hurry away, taking his cane, it came to me. My men have him by now. I have had the house thoroughly guarded to prevent such a thing as the necklace being thrown out and gathered up by someone outside.”
Everybody was staring from Marco to the gems except the weeping girl at the end of the table. Brightwell coughed in embarrassment.
“Miss Carver,” he began in apology.
“I’ll talk to Miss Carver,” interrupted Marco. “There is something she can tell me. I’ll talk to her alone here. Please all go. Take the necklace upstairs with you, Mr. Brightwell. There will be no more danger tonight. Tomorrow you can change the safe combination.”
When the room was empty Marco closed the door and came back to her.
“I couldn’t help you before,” he said gently. “But I was here and I would not have allowed you to be touched. You had better give it to me now.”
She put her hand to her bosom and from inside her brassière handed it to him, still warm from her skin. He kissed it and kissed her hand.
“What,” she stammered, “you are not going to arrest me?”
“I only took it for one night,” she wept. “I would have put it back in themoming.”
“I know that.” He held her in the bend of his arm and stooped to press his cheek to hers. “You must have narrowly missed encountering that beauty operator. But what a marvellous thing. It worked its miracle. That marvellous charm. It has worked, do you realize it? The world has changed.”
After a long moment they walked together with his arm around her shoulders to the case, and he put back on its velvet pad the Pearl of Paharee.