Another Kent Power Story
SINCE HE WAS a modern, Kent Power was simpatico neither with the mathematical fluency of Bach nor with the sweetness and light of Mozart. It was Ravel he played on the small grand piano that night when Hicks came into the living room and coughed discreetly.
"Well?” Power swung unwillingly from symphonic complexities.
"líeg pardon, sir: a lady to see you.”
“Okay.” The tone was not cordial. That hot August night Power amid have expressed himself with Swinburne:
“I am tired of tears and laughter and men who laugh and weep.” But that ennui passed like the Hick of a wing against the sun when the girl appeared in the dixirway.
Tall and splendidly built, she had a dark beautiful face and large vivid eyes. From the broad forehead the gleaming black hair went back shimmering into the small hat. And suddenly Kent Power got a sense of glamor, of palms and marble against a romantic sky of stars. She had smiled quietly, had said. “Mr. Kent Power?” and her voice was husky and disturbing.
"I'm Chrystal North.” she said when he nodded as they stood facing each other acn«s an interval of oriental rug. "Mr. Craig Hagedorn's secretary.”
Chrystal North ! The name marched wâth her loveliness, with the charm that perfumed her voice, her every movement. Someone had been prescient at her christening. "Won’t you sit down?” he said.
"Thank you.” And then she asked: “You know Mr. Hagedorn?”
Again he nodded. One did know the Hagedorns, for they stretched back in a long line to the conquest of Canada. The first Hagedorn had been a sergeant-major in Murray’s victorious army, who in lieu of taking land had opened a brewing establishment in old Montreal. The sergeant-major
was forgotten now, but his brew remained to greet the traveller in flaming command, “Drink Hagedorns Ale” on boardings far and wide. The last scion of his line, Craig Hagedorn, was a big, thick-thewed, handsome animal who towered over the paddock at Bluebonnets, dominated any group of moneyed moguls from St. James Street, whose kind he was. And this charming creature was his secretary. Well, they said Hagedorn had his way with women, but Power felt a sudden pang of disillusionment, as though suddenly he had come on a brass link in a golden chain.
“I’m very worried about him,” she said.
“Oh?” he said.
“You’ve heard of his illness?"
“Afraid I don’t follow the social column as I should,” Power exclaimed with a rip of irony.
Her smile matched his irony, yet carried moreover an amused tolerance.
“You're not being very helpful, Mr. Power.”
She was clever, too: had pierced behind his remark to a dislike for earth’s Craig Hagedorns.
"Forget my prejudices,” he said with a disarming grin. “What’s wrong with Hagedorn?”
“He became suddenly paralyzed last Friday morning.” “Isn’t it a doctor you need?”
“He has one. You know Dr. Hilary Barnard?”
“Sure!” Barnard was one of the bright young internists at the Montreal Vic.
“Dr. Barnard thinks it’s infantile paralysis.”
There was something in her tone that caused him to say : “And you don’t?”
A cloud ruffled the clear beauty of her eyes. For a moment. And then she said, quite simply, “No.” She smiled, as if to appeal further for his confidence.
“It’s only intuition, Mr. Powrer. A feeble thread to hang a conviction on, I know. But I’m quite sure that this terrible thing wouldn’t have happened to him if he hadn’t had an interview with a certain person last Thursday night. I—I w-amed him not to go. but he—” she left the rest unsaid, except by the appealing gesture of her beautiful hands.
“And the certain person?”
“Tony Sandoza. He’s the Montreal representative of an American group which has been distributing Hagedorn’s Ale down there. A fortnight ago Mr. Hagedorn broke the association.”
“And you think Señor Sandoza had a hand in this mysterious paralysis?”
“Nothing could make me believe that he hadn’t,” she breathed earnestly.
“What makes you so sure?” He shot the question at her sharply.
She parried that, retreating gently from it. She smiled. “Does that matter now?”
“What’s Barnard think—of your idea, I mean?”
Her smile deepened, gently ironic.
“Much the same as you do, I’m afraid. He laughs.”
“Am I laughing?”
“I hope you’re not.”
He turned away, glowered at a piano leg. A man is stricken down with paralysis—infantile paralysis, the doctors say. But a girl says that he is paralyzed because he went to interview Tony Sandoza the night before. Power searched his own wits, and suddenly far down the corridors of memory a tiny door clicked open.
“Is Hagedorn conscious?” he asked. “Oh, yes. He knows—” "Can you persuade Barnard to take me in to see him?” “I’ve already done that, Mr. Power. He’s quite willing to—” “Good!” He rose brusquely, his grey eyes set in a concentration of close thought. “Let’s go.” And as they swept down in the elevator and moved westward in a taxi he kept saying to himself: “I’ll get down to crossed passions here. She can do things to the Craig Hagedorns of this sinning world -or the Tony Sandozas." A SARDONIC GRIN creased the gay cavalierish face of Craig Hagedorn as he lay propped on his pillows. “What’s this? Another consultation?” “Just brought my friend, Power, in to see you,” Barnard replied, in that manner of a priest at the altar that so many medical men take to themselves on their occasions. “Two heads are better than one.”
“Do your stuff.” Hagedorn grinned. “You birds have got to have me up and kicking before the racing season opens.” There was something indomitable about this big stricken brute, who seemed not yet to have yielded to the disaster that had overtaken him.
Power seated himself on the edge of the bed. Chrystal North stood over by the window staring out into the night. Barnard, tugging nervously at the faint line of mustache on his youngish face, had his stance by the small dressing table.
“Wonder if you can recall what you did last Thursday night, Mr. Hagedorn?” Power began in his easy way.
“Sure. Nothing wrong with my memory. It’s my arms and legs. Let’s see. I had dinner . . . business interview downtown . . . dance at the Ritz . . . bed by two o’clock.” "Felt all right?”
“Fit as a fiddle.” “Much to drink?” “The usual. I can take it or leave it.” “You had a business interview downtown?” Hagedorn ’s glance went swiftly toward the w’indow and back. “Yes.” There was a growl in his voice now. “Any drinks there?”
“Better not excite yourself, Mr. Hagedorn,” Barnard cautioned. “Not good for you.”
“Don’t be an old woman,” the sick man growled. Then, as the girl turned quickly from the window and their glances met, he grinned at her as much as to promise that he’d be good.
"What the devil has all this got to do with my paralysis?” Hagedorn asked the question impatiently, and a heavy, unhealthy duskiness flushed his face.
“You had a drink with—” Power suggested gently. “Have to drink with all sorts of filthy swine in my business!” Hagedorn growled, the dusky flush rising slowly again. “But it was the last with that—” He never finished that tragic prophecy. For suddenly a startled look widened his eyes, an incredulous shock of pained surprise. He tried to lift himself forward from the pillows, strained for a frantic instant. Then his jaw' sagged, hate died out of his dilating eyes, his barrel-like chest became still. The girl started across the room with a startled cry, her hands fluttering out. “Craig! Crai—”
But suddenly, halfway to the bed, she caught hold of herself. The cry died on her lips. Her hands fell to her side and she stared dazedly at Barnard listening over a silent chest. But Kent Power’s shrewd eye had read the swift enlightening truth. Crossed liassions ! IN THE DRAWING-ROOM downstairs Power was I questioning the dead man’s butler. “You saw Mr. Hagedorn when he came in last Thursday night?” “Yes, sir. I seldom retire before ’e returns ’ome.” Henry Swopes was a little man, but what he lacked in size was compensated for by a withdrawn benignity. A Pickwickian little man, with a merry sort of eye that belied the thin, ironic line of his lips; and he had a little round tub of a stomach. . “You noticed nothing unusual about him?” “No, sir. Nothing at all. Mr. Craig was quite as usual." Nothing here. And yet Power felt there might be. Was it mere illusion or had the whimsical glint of the tubby little butler’s eye an unusual fixity? “Mrs. Hagedorn’s not at home?”
“Not yet, sir. She went to Banff a week before Mr. Hagedorn was taken down. She’s on ’er way back (lying, sir. I exi>ect ’er any time. Might I ask, sir. if there’s anything er unusual in the master’s passing?” “Why?”
The little man smiled whimsically.
“If I might be so bold. sir. this ’as something of the nature of an er inquisition.” Power laughed.
“You’re sharp, Sw’opes.” “One ’as to be. sir. And philosophic.” “Swopes is a philosopher. ” grinned Barnard, wrho all this time had been a somewhat bored listener. “My consolation, sir, in the stress of modem life. It keeps me on my feet, so to speak and my feet on the ground, if you know what I mean." Power laughed again. “1 suppose,” he said, “a man’s lucky to have his feet on the ground these days.” "Yes, sir." The little old man’s eyes twinkled. "If ’is cad isn’t in the clouds.” A bell peak'd distantly. “Pardon me. gentlemen, the door." “Well?” demanded Barnard when he had gone. "I'm still convinced that Hagedorn didn’t die of infantile paralysis.” “What the devil did he die of, then?” Barnard flung up his hands. “I'm committing no diagnosis tonight, old son." Power’s grin deepened maliciously. “I’ll leave that to you doctors for the present. Though surely” and here his expression really rubbed it in —“your profession should know that infantile is always preceded by a l>eriod of malaise and accompanied by a fever, neither of which Hagedorn had.”
"But surely” Barnard was taking this matter seriously and the flush was on his brow—“you don’t entertain the same crazy notion that girl has.” A tall woman had entered the room, dressed in the habiliments of travel. Pit-patting from behind her. little Swopes exclaimed : “Dr. Barnard and Mr. Power, madam.” And then to the two men: “Mrs. Hagedorn." There was no grief in the tall woman’s face, only a strained tautness. Elinor Hagedorn was one of those disillusioned blondes. Because once site had been beautiful, she had now become hard through straining after that lost beauty and for other reasons. Her clothes were too harshly smart, her make-up too overdone. But one could feel sorry for her at this moment. She had suffered much, both men
Continued on page 3O
Continued from page 19 -
! knew, because of the man who lay dead upstairs.
"I’m sure,” she said, "you have done everything you could. If you don’t mind I’ll — go up to him.”
Power watched her go, a brave figure, a rudderless, beaten ship that would not yet strike its colors. She must have been indomitable to have withstood Hagedorns ruth all these years.
Little Swopes was saying:
“Anything more you require of me, gentlemen? A glass of wine, perhaps?”
But Power was suddenly caught by a drama on the stairway outside. Two figures had met there, the widow ascending, the girl, dressed for the street, coming down. Chrystal North stopped, murmured something and put her hand out. But the other woman continued to ascend, her face in fixed profile, bitter, repelling.
Power caught Barnard by the arm.
“Let's go !” he said sharply.
They joined the girl at tike front door.
IN THE SMALL laboratory at the back I of his flat Kent Power deftly inserted the needle of a hypodermic into the soft belly of a guinea pig. It was the fifth animal with whom he had so dealt since Craig Hagedorn ’s death. The other four occupied cages over by the window, which he had labelled facetiously: Cordelia. Rosalind,
Juliet and Portia. Slipping this other into the last empty one with a sardonic, “Okay, Desdemona!” he swung around at a sound behind him.
It was Sergeant Jules Papineau of the Montreal Detective Bureau, who stood, rotund and perspiring, in the doorway, and now grunted :
“Comment ca va, Kent Power? Me, I am hot ! Sacre, what a day !”
“No wonder you’re hot,” Power grunted, “pushing a stomach like that over the pavements all day.”
Pap flung himself into a chair and mopped his forehead.
“What else?” he wailed. “You ’ave say diet and I eat lettuce for t’ree months. And for what? Rien. I am intend’ by le bon Dieu to be this way, me.”
“Find anything at Sandoza’s flat?”
"Rien. My men ’ave search thoroughly. Not’ing! And you, wit’ ze guineas?”
Power leaned far back in the rickety old ; swivel chair in which he had seated himself. Leaning his head against the bench behind, he stared at the ceiling.
"Per ardua ad astra,” he declaimed. “Hagedorn has been dead eight days—and so far, what? A fugitive memory of someI thing glimpsed in a medical journal. The vast search at McGill Medical Library. And then tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate.” "Comment?” Pap demanded blankly.
“Tri—for try, ortho meaning right—and cresyl that’s for remembrance. What we need now is to know if tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate will do the same thing to a guinea pig’s spinal cord as something did to Craig Hagedorn's. I knew it wasn’t infantile paralysis and the post-mortem proved me right. Perhaps I’ve had seven days working with the guineas in vain. So far—rien. At least”—with a squeaking of springs he shot upright, and his long slim legs bore him across to the cages again— "I think nothing.” Suddenly, he let out a sharp ejaculation. “Heck and hoarfrost, look at Cordelia!” Cordelia was now lying limp on the bottom of her cage. Power took a stick and prodded her gently.
“Paralyzed !” he cried.
“Sacre” gasped Pap, who had followed him across and now stared wide-mouthed at the limp guinea pig. “For sure!”
And then for half an hour Power worked with that rigid concentration and disregard for time and tide that characterized him when conducting one of his more delicate experiments. At the end of that time he was
glancing down a microscope at a section of little Cordelia’s spinal cord.
He swung finally on Pap.
“Take a dekko!” he invited. “Regardez pour vous-même!”
Pap looked. It made nothing, of course, for this was not his allegiance. But if it had he would have seen that the changes produced by tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate in the spinal cord of one paralyzed guinea pig were identical with those found postmortem in Craig Hagedorn’s.
“All of which,” declared Power, “seems to let Tony Sandoza out.”
“Huh?” grunted Pap, turning from the mike.
“It takes seven days for that poison to produce paralysis at least it took that long with poor little Cordelia. In the recorded cases of poisoning with the drug in human beings it has taken the same length of time. So we can be sure that friend Tony didn’t dope Hagedorn’s drink the night before he died.”
“Tchut!” Pap spat his disgust. “Then I have shadow ’im for not’ing this last week !” “And Mrs. Hagedorns alibi is broken wide open. She left for Banff the week before Hagedorn was stricken with paralysis. Then there’s Henry Swopes, the philosophicbutler a quaint little gent whom I should not suspect of murder. And then there’s—” Pap completed the unfinished statement. "La jeune fille!”
Power stared hard at him.
"Yes,” he muttered. “Yes, indeed.” "Cherchez la femme! Always in these cases I tell myself that. And also I ask why she goes every night with Tony Sandoza to the Chat Bleu—that place! You have asked that also, Kent Power?”
“Yes,” Power frowned, “I’ve asked myself that. But the answer doesn’t come. A girl with eyes like hers—”
"Alors," chuckled Pap, “you are romantique!”
“Be your age! Would she have dragged me into this if she’d done it? Would she needlessly pit her wits against mine to that extent? What we need is more light on Mrs.. Hagedorn, Swopes—and Tony Sandoza. Perhaps we need a lot more light on Tony Sandoza. And perhaps Chrystal North will give us that light.”
IN THE EARLIER hours of that evening I Power called at the Hagedorn residence on Pine Avenue. Not Swopes but a maid admitted him, and the widow received him in the drawing-room. But she proved a sea in which he caught no fish. With a brilliance that surprised him, she defied his every cast. She knew nothing, knew no reason why her husband might have died other than a natural death.
“Really, Mr. Power,” she exclaimed in the end, “wasn’t it quite clear that my husband died of infantile paralysis?”
He had not told her of guinea pigs. He felt that a woman of her intelligence should be kept in the dark, as she was keeping him. For he felt certain she was hiding something from him, she was not telling him the whole truth. Why? There were two answers to that query. Either she was guilty, or she refused to lend a hand in raising further scandal about her public life. Somehow he couldn’t blame her for the latter. Heaven knew Hagedorn had caused her scandal enough in life.
Rising, he said:
“I wonder if I could see Swopes, your butler?”
“This is Swopes’ night out,” she said grimly and. as he felt sure, not without satisfaction.
He left the house puzzled, walked toward Sherbrooke Street with bent, thoughtful head. He had got, he was quite sure, everything from her he would get. Only Swopes might help him finally settle her place in this mystery. He must see Swopes—soon. And Chrystal North—tonight.
For Chrystal North was worrying him. lay heavily on his conscience. In this last week she had been seen more than once with Tony Sandoza—and at the Chat Bleu. Drinking. Pap said.
Yes. he must see Chrystal North without fail.
It was nine o’clock when the telephone rang and Pap cried over the wire :
"You are busy now, Kent Power? No? Then, come, I ’ave somet’ing to show you —très intéressant!" Mystery quivered in Pap’s reedy voice.
“Where?” Power shot at him across the wire, and got a slum address down by the waterfront, where, twenty minutes later, a taxi deposited him.
The drab street smelt of decayed fruit. Its filth and sordidness festered the eye.
"What’s doing?” Power grunted.
“This way,” said Pap. striding off. “You shall see.”
He led the way past a dirty white bulb that glowed light on a door marked: “St. Andrew's Mission for Girls.” And then into an alleyway alongside, which drove darkly rearward.
Yet not a blind alley ; for. halting suddenly in his catlike advance, Pap hissed, pointing:
They were beside an open window. Through this, Power found himself gazing into the interior of the mission. On benches in the foreground a drab dozen hard-bitten, fate-battered girls sat listening to a voice. The voice came from the platform beyond where, at a table, sat one of those elderly women of good works. But it was not her voice that yearned over those forgotten women. It came from a little man with a small tub of a stomach— Henry Swopes!
Power stared incredulously. This was no Pickwickian philosopher of a butler. It was a passionate, pleading voice. A voice that called like a shepherd’s. A voice that, like a flame, cajoled these poor lost creatures to a better life. And it came from a Henry Swopes, transfigured by a profound emotional urge.
“Great Pete !” Power gasped.
"Oui! I also have been astonish’.”
They had stepped back, were retracing their way to the street.
“It marches nowhere, of course,” exclaimed Pap, “but I ’ave t’ink you will be interested in that so strange spectacle— no?”
"It certainly is a queer world!” Power ejaculated in an awestruck voice. Yet those words failed to convey just what he felt.
"I 'ave make enquiries,” Pap was saying crisply. “Once every week he comes here. Pour saurer les âmes.”
\ y /HEN THE somewhat garish hangings yy of the Chat Bleu were new, the haul monde had flocked to it. But since the snows of yesteryear it had suffered a change, and now t vo tides mingled there - the last of the élite and the first of the demi-monde.
From a sequestered table Power and Sergeant Papineau watched a scantily decked girl moan raucously from the cleared floor that she was "sighin’, dyin’, cryin’ for her Mississippi Man.”
"Me,'' declared Pap, “I prefer the opera.”
And :hen Tony Sandoza came in with Chrystal North. Tony was a slim young man with a mobile Latin face and the large, soulful eyes of a poet. Power had seen priests in the corridors of St. Peter’s in Rome who looked like him, delicate-souled men with a high calling and the love of God in their hearts. Strange, he mused, that a man could look like this Tony Sandoza and be what Tony Sandoza was.
Then he forgot Tony Sandoza in staring at Ch/ystal North. The girl wore a shimmering green dress that revealed poignantly her splendid figure, and his was not the only eye that followed her to the table front. But she was a different Chrystal from the girl Power had first seen that afternoon nine days ago. She also had suffered a change. You saw it in the subtle hardening of her lovely face, the overbright eyes, the cheeks too highly rouged, and that dress !
But as the obsequious head waiter seated them. Tony Sandoza almost purred over her.
caressing her loveliness with those soulful hungry eyes.
An unbidden thought sneaked its way into Kent Power’s brain. Could she have done that murder? No, no! He thrust it awayimpossible! That alibi of hers —the fact that she had come to him in the first place with her suspicions—stood out like a church tower in a country landscape.
The head waiter had come back to whisper something in Sandoza’s ear. The Spaniard turned to the girl, said something and disappeared.
And then Kent Power’s long slim figure moved across the floor.
The girl gave a start as he spoke her name, for she had been staring into a troubled distance. He sat down in the lately vacated chair and said gently:
“How goes it?”
And then really he saw what was happening to this girl, read in her eyes the inner turmoil, the tragic struggle with which she forced herself along an undeviating path of purpose. She had not come to this Chat Bleu for love of Tony Sandoza, but for hatred of that gentleman. It was another love that drove her here to drag an unwary confession from the Spaniard.
Crossed passions !
And suddenly he realized that he had two labors on his hands. First, to find a murderer, second, to save a girl from the folly of her headstrong will. And so, laying his cards full on the table, he told her a tale of guinea pigs.
“Which seems to make it clear,” he wound up, “that Tony Sandoza put nothing in Hagedorn’s drink that Thursday night.”
For a moment the girl’s expression disintegrated painfully, as though the thought that if all she had done this loathsome week were in vain, it was more than she could bear. But her face tautened again.
“You say it would take a week for the drug to bring ontheparalysis?” she breathed.
“Then Sandoza gave it to Craig the night Craig turned his contract down. That was just a week before.”
He had hoped she would not have recalled that possibility.
"But would he have carried poison to such an interview?”
"He knew he was going to be turned down,” she said feverishly. “I’ve found that much out in the last week.”
“No.” And then she faced him tautly. “But nothing can convince me he didn’t do it. Every day I’m more sureof it.”
I íe was wasting his time. Pity for her tore at his heart. He said:
“Take it carefully. Sandoza is a dangerous man.”
She looked him fairly in the eyes, her glance burning like a cautery across his pity.
“I’ll find out if he killed Craig if I have to go through—”
Walking westward with Pap five minutes later, he said :
“Put this little bedtime story where it’ll give you a heartache, old dear. The ironic gods put love into the hearts of Beauty and a Beast. And then the hidalgo came homing in—which is an old Spanish custom. The Beast, to rid himself of the interloper, said, ‘No more beer,’ and shortly died. But Beauty, who loved the Beast, felt in her heart of innocence—I said her heart of innocence, Pap, and I ’ll stick to thatthat the hidalgo had killed the Beast. And so she trails the killer—who is more dangerous, I’m thinking, than the Beast was to wring by whatever torment the truth from his lips. I wonder if Henry Swopes is home from saving souls. He seems to be the one last refuge in this time of trouble. Hey ! Taxi !”
And before the astonished Pap could digest or even take to heart this parable, the long nimble legs had disappeared into a cab which was moving gently west.
LITTLE HENRY was at home. He would , have taken Power into the drawing-room but Mrs. Hagedorn had friends calling. : Would Mr. Power mind mounting to his !
rooms above? Mr. Power would not mind in the least.
They mounted, and aloft two flights Swopes led the way to a room under the eaves. An unexpected room. Books lined its
shelves.....strange and unbutlerish books.
Before the empty fireplace two chairs. Swopes motioned his guest to the old Morris chair, himself dropped into the rocker and waited with birdlike, expectant eyes.
“Swopes,” declared Power, “I’m going to take you into my confidence. Your late employer did not die a natural death.” He went on then into details, and finally: “I have a very urgent reason for wanting to clear up this mystery. A good deal of human happiness depends on it. You don’t have to answer my questions, but I’d be infinitely obliged if you could. They concern Mrs. Hagedorn. Can you recall anything that —” “My dear sir!” exclaimed the little man, shocked to incredulity. “This is most distressing! Most terribly distressing ! You’re quite sure of your facts?”
“It’s unbelievable!” In his agitation, the little butler rocked back and forth in his chair. “Of course I know that matters 'ave been, if I may say so, strained between Mr. and Mrs. Hagedorn. But to such lengths— dear me, I could not believe it of ’er!”
“It’s not what we can believe, it’s what we can ferret out, Swopes. You and I—”
A buzzer rang above the door. Swopes jerked to his feet.
“The mistress! You’ll excuse me a moment !” He hurried out, coat tails flapping agitatedly behind his little legs.
Power got to his feet and glanced around. It certainly was an unbutlerish lair, this room. His eyes followed a shelf of books— Wealth of Nations, Sartor Resartus, Kant, Hegel and down below, the serried ranks of pompous Britannica. On the table the current Nation, London Times Weekly, Fortnightly Review. Three books beyond— Guadella's Duke, Garvin’s Joe Chamberlain from a lending library, and the third in a black bordered yellow wrapper that somewhat shrieked—100,000,000 Guinea Pigs. Queer !
100,000,000 Guinea Pigs! Something clicked sharply in his brain. Five guinea pigs ! I íe snatched the book up. It fell open, as if from usage, at a page— a page that had more than once been read. But no! This was not about guinea pigs; only about a hundred million Americans so designated — a hundred million people whom the vendors of foods and mouthwashes were using for experiment as a scientist uses guinea pigs.
But suddenly a single paragraph of that well-read page struck at him vividly:
“A manufacturer seeking cheap adulterant for Jamaica ginger came upon tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate. Jamaica ginger extract containing this chemical, sold in drugstores in many States, has caused terrible deformity and paralysis in from fifteen to twenty thousand victims, many of whom have died.”
In the succeeding ten minutes he work« with a concentrated fury on that room searching through every nook and cranny every drawer and pigeon-hole. He mus have further evidence; that page in a bool would convict no one. Swopes had done tin thing this couldn’t be coincidence. Bu where was the proof—where? And that gir risking her loveliness to wreck Ton; Sandoza’s alibis! Perhaps already in hi arms in some uptown-bound taxi !
He stood there biting his lip. Neve before had the time element in a murde case weighed so heavily against him.
The quick pat-pat of a step outside Swopes returning. He came in bearing ; tray with two glasses on it.
“It seemed to me." he exclaimed, mon Puckish than ever, "that we could discus the matter more philosophically over a glas: of port.”
He held out the tray. Power took nearest glass. Then, Swopes:
“Your very good ’ealth, sir!”
A sardonic grin twisted Power’s mouth. “No tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate in this I hope, Swopes?”
The little man’s jaw dropped, his face went blank.
“I—I don’t understand Tri—what did
“—ortho-cresyl phosphate. Bit of a jawbreaker, eh?”
“But I assure you this is port, sir. The very best.” And then suddenly he caught the glass from Power’s hand and drained it. “Now, sir.” He held out his own. “Take mine.”
Power laughed grimly.
“Which little gesture ties you quite up, my good Swopes. It was the gesture of guilt. No innocent man would have leaped so quickly for vindication. You poisoned Craig Hagedorn, didn’t you?"
SWOPES GAPED at him, his face grey.
his eyes hunted. But suddenly he caught hold on himself, draped around him like a garment a not unimpressive dignity.
“If this is your jest, Mr. Power,” he said, “I’d remind you that it is at the expense of an old man.’’
But in Kent Power’s brain this riddled mystery had come crystal clear. His purpose struck like an eagle to its end.
“I think I know why you fed Hagedorn that stuff, Sw'opes,” he said, not ungently. “To save Chrystal North from Hagedorn. But here’s the irony of that. She knows he died of that poison, but she thinks a gentleman named Tony Sandoza administered it. She’s with Sandoza now', so convinced of his guilt that she’s ready to go to any length to worm the truth from him. Any length, Sw'opes. I left her with him not long ago at a night club called the Chat Bleu not a nice place. She’d been drinking —to steel herself against any alternative with w'hich to put a rope around the Spaniard’s neck. Will you leave her to that peril?”
Agony tore and twisted in the little butler's half-glazed eyes.
“Oh !” he cried. “Oh !” It was a tortured cry. Tears gleamed in the little man’s eyes. “I was too presumptuous.”
He broke down completely, dropped into the Morris chair, buried his face in his hands.
Power watched him, wracked by pity. Never in his life had he felt sorrier for a murderer. But time pressed—and he had other place for pity.
He touched the bent shoulders.
Swopes lifted a haggard face.
“For years, Mr. Power,” he said brokenly, “I have watched Craig Hagedorn ‘ave ’is brutal w'ay with women. Whenever ’e touched them, ’e seemed to destroy all that was beautiful in their lives, ’is w'ife—those ; others. And then Miss North. My ’eart ached when I first saw ’er with ’im. As it ached long ago over my poor daughter—’oo j is dead these many years, God rest her soul. ! Yet I ’oped for ’er. She seemed different from the others. But in the end I could see ’er falling for ’is fatal fascination. What could I do? ’E was strong: I was weak. It came to me less than a month ago—a suggestion caught in me mind -something I ’ad read. It ’ad a subtlety that seemed, if I may say so. ’eaven sent. ’Ere was a drug that would bring on a lasting paralysis. I ’oped it wouldn’t kill—only keep ’im from doing ’arm. It would save ’er, that sweet girl. And it ’asn’t. My sin -my presumption— ’as been for nothing -and my remorse. God, ow I ’avesuffered this last fortnight!”
Power loathed that moment. But he must cling to purpose, to the certainty that the little ascetic of the mission hall that he had glimpsed tonight in this tragic little man. would go to any length to save a soul in peril.
“But it hasn’t been for nothing!” he said quickly, tightening his grip on the old man’s shoulder. “You can go to her now and tell her the truth. Perhaps it isn’t too late.” Swopes swayed to his feet.
"That’s right. Yes! I must ’ave that j consolation, Mr. Power. I must go before ! my Maker with the assurance of ’er innoj cence in my ’eart. Take me to ’er!”