By Robert Welles Ritchie
Author of “The Saxons,” “Wings of the Wind," Etc.
SAPPHIRES are the primordial stones. They hold in their depths the glint of a glacier’s heart, a thousand feet from sunlight; theirs the abysmal blue of that first sea which was before a Fabricator said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.” The chill of their birth in the dark laboratories of earth stays with them after they have been fashioned for the eye of woman.
Mrs. Edgerton Miles was a lover of sapphires. They were, in fact, her passion. A cold, aloof woman, who climbed the social ladder with ruthless disregard for fingers stepped on, falterers cast down into the darkness of submerged “impossibles,” she loved the stone for its matching spirit. The lights in the heart of the sapphire were those in the depths of her eyes—bitter cold, and with a rime of arctic frost. Amid the glitter and gold of the horseshoe at the opera there was no gorgeous, disdainful shadow of frozen color to match that which was clasped about her firm white neck. The incomparable Edgerton Miles sapphire collar was known to have been bought for fifty thousand dollars. Its stones had been gathered by an expert in Antwerp—this one representing the sacrifice of a ruined family to pride; that, once the gift of a prince to a beloved dancer.
Now, these mute relics of tragedy were all gathered together in a glittering wonder, strung on gold mesh and platinum, with diamonds tucked in arabesques of precious metal to act as foils for the more precious blue gems. The whole, put together by a New York jeweler to the élite, represented the sacrifice of an American robber baron upon an altar of chilled affections.
On a day in early November, a week before the opening of the opera season, the Miles electric brougham threaded a way through crowded traffic on Nassau Street, turned into Maiden Lane, and drew up at the curb before a jewel house known to connoisseurs above all the flash and pomp of larger establishments on Fifth Avenue. Mrs. Edgerton Miles stepped out, and into a waiting elevator. A few minutes later, she was slipping her ermine stole from her shoulders in the private office of the head of the firm, and that important gentleman was hovering close, in anticipation of her wishes. Mrs. Miles was a good customer. It was the firm of Sutton & Sutton that had secured and mounted the incomparable sapphire collar.
“Mr. Sutton, my husband insists that I bring down the collar to have you examine the settings.” The lady spoke tersely, with proper aloofness. Mr. Sutton bowed admiration for Mr. Miles’ wise precaution.
“Of course. I’ll have to have it for ‘Thais,’ next Monday night. You will have it overhauled by that time, I am sure. Mr. Miles will call for it himself. I’d a great deal rather have him bring it home than one of your men, for in case anything should happen——” She left unsaid the terrible weight of responsibility that would fall upon the head of Edgerton Miles in case of disaster.
“I will insure it in my name while it is with us, Mrs. Miles,” the head of the firm hastened to assure. “A mere precaution; but the firm does not overlook its responsibility.” He put out an eager hand to receive the oblong Russia-leather jewel case, marked in gold, “J. C. M.,” which Mrs. Miles brought out from beneath her stole. With a flick of his thumb, the cover popped up, and the full, chill glory of the fifty graded stones smote his eyes. He had not seen them, except about the neck of their owner, in the horseshoe, since they left his establishment, three years before. just one satisfying peek he allowed himself, then turned toward the vault in the rear of his office.
“Then I will tell Mr. Miles to call for the thing on Monday afternoon next,” the collar’s owner said, in parting.
“Everything will be finished—tightened up and polished by that time, Mrs. Miles."
Before the door of the brougham had closed behind the possessor of the famous sapphire collar, Mr. Sutton was at his desk, with a telephone receiver at his ear. He called for a number.
“Ah—Mr. Miles? This is Mr. Sutton. I wished to tell you that—er—you may come over to the office at any time that suits your convenience, and we can talk over that little matter between us. What’s that? Oh, yes, she brought it down. She has just left, in fact. Right away? Very well, Mr. Miles.”
The senior partner of Sutton & Sutton, jewelers, permitted himself a quiet grin. Mr. Sutton did not object to compounding a felony so long as another man initiated it.
Within fifteen minutes, Edgerton Miles stepped into his office with the live gait of an eager man. Edgerton Miles was the Perfect type of the genteel buccaneer—as sweet a pirate as ever scuttled a railroad or cut a dividend. Pink and rosy, tubbed, manicured, barbered, tailored, with a cocksure eye and a booming voice, Edgerton Miles was a walking denial of the catechism theorem of an outward and visible sign being indicative of an inward and spiritual grace. He had no inward and spiritual grace whatever; that didn’t go with his business or his moral code.
Mr. Sutton greeted him with the dark smile of a conspirator, closed and locked his office door, and brought out from the vault the small Russia—leather jewel case Mrs. Miles had just left; also a jewel tray, with a blue velvet lining, upon which reposed a small tissue-paper bundle. The bundle he unwrapped, and spilled from it a glittering heap of sapphires—fifty of them, large and small. Then he sprung back the top of the case wherein reposed the sapphire collar.
“Uh-huh!” Miles grunted with satisfaction. “I thought I’d never get my wife to give up that collar business for even a day. Now that you’ve got it, why——”
“We can go right ahead,” Mr. Sutton purred. “Mrs. Miles said you would call for the collar next Monday; this is Tuesday, so we have six full working days ahead.”
Miles put out a pink, stubby finger and stirred the loose sapphires gently.
“They’re just the same?” he queried.
“Absolutely,” the senior partner affirmed. “By the greatest good luck, I've been able to get together what is practically a duplicate of the stones in Mrs. Miles’ collar. Now that we have the model to work from, we can turn out a collar that Mrs. Miles herself could not distinguish from her own—and do it in six days, too."
“Well—er—the person who's interested in this business says she won’t be satisfied unless it’s just the same,” Miles mumbled. “You know what women are—what they want they want. But, Sutton, this is way on the low-down, you know. If Mrs. M. should ever get wise—why, good night for E. Miles, esquire!"
“My dear fellow,” Mr. Sutton chided, “you do not credit me with much discretion. This little matter of business will be absolutely confidential.”
“Well, rush it through.” Miles rose, and buttoned his greatcoat about him. “I’ll drop in Monday afternoon and deliver them both—in person.” He gravely lowered one eyelid and made for the door. The senior partner followed to the elevator to renew a pledge of inviolate secrecy.
When the Wall Street buccaneer had departed, the senior partner seated himself at his desk and summoned by house telephone his expert jewel setter. The artisan, whose name was Henri, entered Sutton‘s office. He was a squat, stolid Fleming, with the bowed shoulders and squinting, nearsighted eyes that come from much peering through a jeweler’s glass over close work; his hands were those of an artist—delicate, sensitive, instinct with the genius of creation. Henri stood blinking before his employer, waiting commands.
“Henri, I have a particularly important and delicate piece of work for you to do,” Sutton began, indicating with a sweep of his hand the sapphire collar in its box and the scattered gems on the tray beside it. “Here is a sapphire collar of fifty matched stones; here are fifty loose stones as nearly like the originals in the setting as we can find them. I want you to duplicate this collar—duplicate it down to the last platinum link—and have the job done by next Monday afternoon. Take this collar now for your model. When you are ready for the stones come to me.”
The jewel setter tucked the Russia-leather case under his arm and started for the door.
“And, Henri,” his employer called, in afterthought, “you will be wise if you say nothing about this job to the other men in the factory.” Henri gave a nod of his bullet head and passed out.
Because of his position as chief artisan of the Sutton & Sutton staff, Henri enjoyed the dignity of a working office cut off from the rest of the factory by partitions. There were his bench, his lathe, melting pot, and all the delicate tools of his trade. Alone under the strong light of a dazzling incandescent, Henri screwed his glass into his right eye and carefully examined the exquisite collar of-sapphires. The first discovery he made was a triple line of finely engraved script in the gold backing of the three-stone pendant dropping from the front of the collar. Though this was no concern of Henri's—or shouldn't have been—he took a memorandum from his pocket and copied on a page therein what he read on the gold surface:
13 East -9th N. Y.
The second discovery was not long in coming. As he turned the collar slowly, and stone by stone, under the glass, his lips~pursed themselves into a pucker, and he softly whistled. Henri’s brain was one peculiarly receptive to matters beyond the province of his trade. Because of that catholicity of interest, he had duly qualified as one of l’Incomparables—-a very competent member of Raoul Flack’s troupe of expert lawbreakers. Now, with Mrs. Miles’ sapphire collar slowly passing under his sensitive eye and fingers, this quality of being able to see beyond the rim of the cup suggested to him certain entertaining and profitable activities to follow upon the two discoveries he had just made.
But as a conscientious workman for Sutton & Sutton, Henri dismissed these pleasing anticipations from his mind and got down to the work in hand. Plaster of Paris became live clay under his deft fingers; a mold of all the infinite tracery of grape leaf and flower twining about the jewels in the collar was baked in the electric oven; then, with platinum and fine gold, his fashioning fingers were busy. To make a duplicate of Mrs. Miles’ jeweled collar within six days would require all of Henri’s craft and speed.
But Henri did not work at night—not at his bench, that is. After leaving the Maiden Lane jewel establishment, at the close of the day when his arduous task had been set for him, Henri did some telephoning, then took the elevated to Christopher Street. A few minutes’ walk from the elevated stairs brought him to the Grape Arbor. Now, the Grape Arbor is one of the relics of Greenwich Village’s elder day, before all. the world flooded down into that quiet and homy district to disrupt its neighborhood intimacy and fill its quaint streets with alien tongues. Its ancient taproom has not changed a cobweb since the days when sailors—with rings in their ears and barbarous oaths on their tongues—used to swagger up the crooked bypaths of the village from the big clipper ships docked in North River, and pound their pewter mugs on the stained oak of the bar. Faded lithographs of the Flying Cloud, the Star of the East, and those other queens of the tea fleet still hang above the porcelain handles of the ale taps, and the tang of the brown liquor that comes from the casks is as sharp as the tongue of the crusty old Glasgie man who is the Grape Arbor’s present residing genius. In all New York there is no more intimate rendezvous.
Henri was seated before his oysters, in the little back room, when Gaspard Detournelles came in. The exquisite had tempered his toilet to the democratic standards of the village; there was nothing about the man to mark him as one more familiar with the Casino at Newport than a tavern in the backwash of the New York docks. When the red—faced Irish miss who is barmaid, cook, and waitress at the Grape Arbor had served the newcomer, and they were alone in the cubby-hole called a dining room, Henri went right to the core of the matter that had prompted the meeting. He brought his memorandum book from his pocket, opened it to the page whereon he had entered a copy of the inscription on the sapphire collar, and thrust it under the others eyes.
“Know her?” Henri grunted. Detournelles glanced at the name and address.
“Assuredly. I am on her social list,” he answered.
“Do you know the jewels she wears?" Henri put the question as a challenge.
“Of a surety.”
"A collar of sapphires, worth, say, forty or fifty thousand—you know that?” The exquisite’s eyebrows raised ever so slightly.
“No. I have never seen her wear such a gem,” Detournelles denied. “I met her only during the summer season—last summer. She was not wearing her major jewels then, of course. But tell me—does she possess such a treasure?” A predatory flash lighted the tired eyes. Henri, ignoring the other’s question, put one of his own:
“Your acquaintance with this Miles woman—how intimate?”
“Sufficient.” Detournelles gave his shoulders a little shrug, and a wry smile turned down the corners of his mouth—the mouth of a hunting animal. “Last summer she was very gracious. I am listed for the first entertainment she gives chez elle at her town house here.”
“When is that?” Henri inquired, a little strain of eagerness in his voice.
“Next Monday night—the opening of the opera. A dinner at the home of Madame Miles; then her box in the horseshoe.”
Henri almost choked on his ale. He set the mug down, sputtering:
“Next Monday night you will be at the Miles house—of a surety?”
“Come, come, little rabbit! No more mystery between us!" Detournelles attempted to hide his impatience and curiosity under a smile. “What about this sapphire collar of Mrs. Miles?”
“Not a word—not a word!” The little jewel setter’s fine hands were fluttering excitedly. “Take me to the Master at once—to Maitre Raoul, whom you say you have seen, and whose face will be a benison for me. Only the Master can handle so great and so delicate a situation. Come, come! We go!”
Three hours later, near midnight, three heads were gathered under the grudging light of the student lamp in a dark house on one of Staten Island's forgotten thoroughfares. The great white head of the Phantom—head of an ascetic, an anchorite—nodded sagely at each point in little Henri’s narrative of the afternoon’s affair in Sutton & Sutton’s factory. When the fashioner of jewels was finished, the Phantom spoke:
“Very pretty——a very pretty case for us, my children.”
On the Monday set as the time limit for its completion, Henri, the little artificer of jewels, set the finished collar side by side with the model furnished by Mrs; Miles. Studiously he compared the two glittering wonders, detail by detail, then nodded his head. His craftsman’s soul was satisfied.
But not that other sly and predatory instinct which dwelt in the same soul chamber, and which, by its activities,had commended Henri, to membership in the select circle of the Incomparables, back in Paris, five years before. A very irregular detail of artificing had yet to be accomplished before Henri should turn over the completed collar and the model. So irregular it was, in fact, that his squinting eyes peered like a weasel's around the corner of his office workroom and assured him there were no observers before he undertook it. A half hour later, he trotted into Mr. Sutton's office with two jewel cases—the Russia-leather one, marked “J. C. M." and a plain pigskin casket,-such as the firm supplied for outgoing purchases of value.
“A cracking job," was the vehement approval voiced a few hours afterward by Edgerton Miles, when he opened the two cases in Sutton’s office and compared the radiant twin jewels. “Comes high, of course, but got to be done.” The senior partner, privy to the Wall Street pirate’s secret motive for so expensive a deceit, and mildly thrilled in sympathy with his customer’s stratagem, received a check for fifty thousand dollars with the air of a fellow conspirator. Edgerton Miles dropped down in the elevator to his limousine, with the two jewel cases, one in each capacious pocket of his greatcoat.
Before he went to his home to deliver to the official lady of his heart her sapphire collar, Edgerton Miles directed his chauffeur to take him elsewhere. In the discreet privacy of soft lamplight, he opened the pigskin case and revealed to a cooing and platonic Helen the fulfillment of a promise more extravagant than any made by perfidious Paris.
Mrs. Edgerton Miles’ dinner that evening was the perfection of an astute hostess’ entertainment. Six guests sat down to a wonderland of fern, blossoms, damask, and silver, wherein the succession of courses was but incidental magic and the procession of the vintage a lure to visioning. Color there was on the table, but still more brilliant color made an aura of changing lights above the napery; this from jewels about white necks and on slim fingers. Dazzling the diamond luster, and glowing hot the heart of rubies, but from the head of the table, where sat the hostess, the cold blue flames of sapphires outshone them all. Strand on strand about Mrs. Miles’ round, firm neck, lay the sapphires of the famous collar, diamonds glinting in thin pin points among the interstices of the supporting chains.
Gaspard Detournelles, Viscount Allaire, who had the place at the hostess’ right, and whose attention was frantically bid for by a fluffy-headed near-débutante and title worshiper at the plate beyond, counted that opportunity precious which gave his eyes a feast on the blue glory of the gems just beyond his shoulder. Diplomatically he stood off the débutante with clever verbal fencing, in order the better to bring to bear upon Mrs. Miles the light batteries of his table talk. Detournelles outdid his own clever self in the matter of airy banter and insidious flattery. With consummate grace, he managed to cut out for his own the almost undivided attentions of the lady with the sapphires. Edgerton Miles, from the opposite end of the table, observed with a sardonic eye the success of the graceful Frenchman, and wished him luck.
When it came time to adjourn to the opera, Detournelles was the one to hand Mrs. Miles into her limousine, and was graciously invited to fill the seat beside her. A few minutes later, they were seated, with the rest of the party, in the Miles section of that glittering half circle of puissance, most coveted display space in America—the horseshoe of the Metropolitan. Musky darkness about them and on the great stage; far down in the well of blackness, hot love of Egypt swept to tragedy under nodding palms.
Detournelles had a seat directly behind his hostess. Back of him, the curtains. So close the great stones of the collar that, under fugitive tendrils of hair, he could see their squared surfaces, now blue-black in the dusk of the box.
The opera came to the final intermission before the last act plumbs the depths of tragic dissonances. With Miles and the other gentlemen of the party, Detournelles left the box for the herding place of the Metropolitan’s bored masculine contingent—the lounge. As he was passing the foyer, the Frenchman’s quick eye leaped for an instant to a face in the crowd and then away. A most unusual and striking face it was: Dead white, under a high, white pompadour of hair, and with a thin white goatee, wire-waited, shooting out from the heel of the chin; hollowed below the jaw sockets, and with cavernous shadows marking the position of the eyes. With all the evidences of premature age, and even decrepitude, about the features, there was indomitable spirit in the carriage of head and shoulders and the cold, searching gaze from the sunken eyes. A button of the Legion of Honor in the lapel of the black evening coat confirmed the sharp impression of the man's foreign birth.
His eyes met those of Detournelles, as they passed in the foyer; perhaps there was just an instant’s swift communication in that sharp glance, but none would have been aware of it save the one for whom the glance was meant. A short smoke, and the gentlemen of the Miles party returned to the box.
When the curtain went up, Detournelles was in his chair behind Mrs. Miles, one arm thrown over the back of the hostess’ chair. He had removed the white glove from his right hand.
The sweep of tragedy, with its terrible interpretation by the snarling brasses and wailing flutes, had even the blasé spectators of the horseshoe spellbound—all save Gaspard Detournelles. His eyes were not for the stage, but for the complex trickery of a jeweled collar’s hasp. In the light touch of his trained fingers lay art as high as that of Massenet. The burnished surfaces of jewels, now blue, now black, winked invitation.
The final curtain dropped to the noise of a great sigh over all the house. Lights went up. There was the rustle and silken sweep of wraps gathered from near;by chairs. Detournelles, quick to serve, lifted Mrs. Miles’ cloak of silk and lace from the back of her chair and threw it over her shoulders. He boggled the job, and murmured apology for his clumsiness; for he had the delicate confection of draper’s art turned wrong side out; and, while Mrs. Miles laughed ripplingly at a man's ignorance, the gallant rectified his mistake. Then he stepped out of the box ahead of the others.
The gentleman with the white hair and Legion of Honor button, whom Detournelles had seen in the foyer during the final intermission, stumbled lightly against the latter’s shoulder in missing a step to the level behind the boxes. For the fraction of an instant his weight was on the younger man's shoulder; then the white-haired gentleman begged pardon and passed swiftly down the alley toward the grand staircase. Detournelles turned to take Mrs. Miles’ arm. He was murmuring bits of criticism and commendation of the performance just over.
All the gold and jewels of the horseshoe were flowing in a broad stream down the staircase to the foyer, and the bedlam of the carriage starters on the curb beyond, when Mrs. Miles put a gloved hand to her throat and gave a startled cry, half-strangled gasp. The women of her party crowded close about her, questioning. Mutely she pointed to her throat, white, and unadorned.
A little swirl in the foyer, sharp questions passed over heads, hurried exit from the office of the management, press agent, and head detective. Mrs. Miles tried to hurry on to the sidewalk, shaking her head mutely at the interrogations of women crowding about her. But Edgerton Miles would not let her dodge publicity. He seized her arm and brought her up sharply.
“Look-a-here, Juliana! You can’t duck home this way!” he chided. “If you’ve been robbed, you got to stick around a while, and give the house detectives here a description of the thing.”
“No, no, Edgerton! It's nothing—nothing, I tell you!” Mrs. Miles’ voice shook with nascent hysteria. “I’ll explain to you when we get home. Come! The motors are waiting.”
“Nothing! A fifty-thousand-dollar collar nothing? You’re talking nonsense, Juliana!"
A reporter began to worm his way through the crowd. He put a question, and Mrs. Miles fled for refuge to the dressing room. The feminine contingent of her box party, all at sea, and knowing not what to do in the painful circumstances, followed her into retirement. Miles, his first surprise giving way to hot anger, began, in a loud voice, to give the opera management an appraisement both of the stolen jewels and of the double-riveted son of Sheol who had lifted them. While attendants hurried to search every inch of the Miles box with electric torches, the manager of the house, desirous of soft-pedaling so painful an incident, gently insinuated Miles and his male guests into the office. There they ranged themselves in a fidgety group, each man casting dubious glances at his neighbor, all save Miles suffering acute mortification. As for the evening’s host, he raged without let.
The office door opened, and Mrs. Miles, in full possession_of her chilling calm, stood there.
“Edgerton, if you'll calm yourself, and conduct our guests out to the motors, I think we need stay here no longer. I have something to say to you which will——”
“There’s nothing for you to say at this time, Juliana,” the husband snapped. “Take the women home, if you like, but we stay here for a while.”
Mrs. Edgerton Miles was not one to make a scene to carry a point—not in public, at least. She turned to Detournelles:
“Viscount, will you be so good as to escort me to my motor?" Detournelles bowed, and stepped toward the door.
“No, you don’t!” Miles jumped nimbly between his wife and his guest, facing the man with a nasty snarl on his lips. “No, you don't, Viscount Allaire! Your place is in this room with the rest of us until we clean up this little matter of the robbery.”
Mrs. Miles withered her husband with a glance, and closed the door. Detournelles bowed punctiliously toward his host and stepped back to his place. A sense of strain in the green-lit office gripped every man there. It was increased when the attendants returned to report that there was no trace of the missing collar in the box, nor in the alley leading to the stairs.
“Well,” Miles began, glowering from face to face of his three guests, “well, maybe it's not the proper thing in society, and it may look sort of rough, but there's only one thing to do in a case like this, and that——"
Detournelles was the first to anticipate his meaning. With a quiet smile, he shook himself out of his evening coat, passed it to the head detective, then stood in his waistcoat, arms up, to be searched.
“M’sieur Miles is admirably direct—though quite correct,” he murmured. “In this America, fifty thousand dollars excuses—all.”
The detective, at a nod from Miles, perfunctorily patted Detournelles’ pockets, explored the evening coat and returned it to him. The other two men were similarly treated. When the operation was finished, Miles, vaguely sensing the weight of insult he had forced upon his guests, essayed apology:
“Of course, gentlemen, I may have acted hastily, but you won’t hold it against me, I hope.”
“My dear M'sieur Miles,” Detournelles was quick to take him up, “it is my regret that you did not find the valuable jewel on my person, and so have an end to your very natural distress.”
Falling barometer, with violent winds increasing to tornado velocity, would have been a conservative forecast of Edgerton Miles’ mental weather the day following the theft of the sapphire collar. The clerks of his office staff, the pert stenographer, and even the juvenile buccaneer who held down the post of office Mercury, all sought their cyclone cellars with perfect unanimity of impulse. Miles, teetering in his swivel chair, before an accumulation of business in his letter basket which he could not bring himself to attack, reviewed a gloomy situation.
First, a fifty-thousand-dollar collar was gone—the major gear of the whole Miles machine of social flash missing. Secondly, he was in very bad with Mrs. Miles—a more or less constantly recurring situation, but this time aggravated because he knew he had invited punishment by his boorish conduct in the Metropolitan office. His lady wife had not spoken to him since the incident, and there was every promise of an indefinite taboo on conversation between them. The capstone of woe—to throw a crumb of credit to a discreditable citizen—was the reflection that only the day before he had sent the mate to the stolen sapphire collar to a greedy bit of fluff who had made a monkey of him. The fluff had a sapphire collar and Edgerton Miles’ wife had none.
The office boy tiptoed into Miles’ private growling place and shoved a card under his employer’s eye. Miles read the name, and grunted, “Show him in.” The boy ushered into the presence Roger Boylan, of Boylan’s Confidential Agency.
Now Roger Boylan was known to certain lawyers of high clientele as a detective without any frills. He had no doctor to trail him on cases and ask fool questions, nor did he carry concealed about his person a five-foot instrument for recording the blood pressure of suspects under a “third degree.” He always refused to be all that hero detectives are, possibly because he wanted to succeed in his business, which was detecting. No piercing eye nor gaunt, nervous frame was Boylan’s. He was well upholstered, had an apple-dumpling face, with no strong points to it whatever, dressed and looked the part of, say, the owner of a hardware store in a town of ten thousand. What he did possess unqualifiedly was a reputation for shrewd work, a reputation established with lawyers who had hired him on delicate tasks. One of these, Miles’ own counsel, had recommended Roger Boylan to Miles over the phone and arranged this meeting.
The grouchy stock manipulator acknowledged Boylan’s greeting with scant courtesy and indicated a chair. He plunged to the core of the interview without preliminaries:
“Last night my wife was robbed of a sapphire dewdab worth fifty thousand dollars, between the first act and final curtain, at the Metropolitan. Can you get it back for me?"
“I never make promises,” the detective answered, the wrinkles of a smile clustering about the corners of his blue eyes. “Why not tell me the circumstances, then I may be able to judge of the case.”
“Well, I haven’t told the police, because they'll make a brass-band parade about it,” Miles grunted, “and I don’t want you to raise a hullabaloo, either—no pictures of yourself or of Mrs. Miles in the papers, and all that sort of stuff. Huh?”
“Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Miles,” Boylan cut him off. “I may not take the case at all. It depends upon whether I think I can earn my fee. Now. if you don't mind, describe this valuable jewel. Tell me the circumstances of your visit to the Metropolitan, and just when Mrs. Miles missed her sapphires.”
Miles, his bluster blunted by the other’s hint of indifference, came down to essentials. He gave a description of the collar, glaringly masculine in its inadequacies, enumerated the names and social position of the box guests of the night before, so far as he was able—he knew next to nothing about his wife's friends, as a matter of fact-and recited the incident of the search in the office of the Metropolitan management.
“You saw the collar about Mrs. Miles’ throat after you had taken your seat in the box?" the detective inquired.
“Sure!” Miles assented gustily.
“Did any of your guests leave the box before the end of the opera?”
“Huh? Oh, yes, the men and I went down to the lounge for a smoke before the last act.”
“When you returned to the box, did you notice whether Mrs. Miles still had her collar?"
“I don't know. I guess the curtain was up when we got back, and I couldn't see.”
“Who sat nearest to your wife, if you remember?”
“Why, that French viscount fellow who'd been playing poodle dog to her all evening.” Miles made no attempt to hide his dislike for Detournelles, Viscount Allaire. It was the inherent dislike of a social blunderer for a polished squire of dames.
“Tell me something more about this Detournelles," Boylan was saying, when interruption, violent as it was unexpected, burst upon them. First, confusion sounding from the main office beyond the partition, a woman’s shrill voice crackling with anger; then the door opened with a catapult suddenness, and a woman—a handsome and furious creature, swathed in furs-flounced into Miles’ private office. The evil genius of that office nearly tipped over with his chair at the sight. With a long stride, the invader was at his desk. She slammed down upon it a pigskin jewel case with such violence that the cover jarred open, and indigo lights leaped from a sapphire collar reposing inside.
“I might have known you'd play the cheap skate, Edgerton Miles! I ought to have expected nothing better from a four-flusher like you!” Her voice rasped like a dull saw, and the look in her eyes was deadly.
“Say, look-a-here!" Miles pulled himself back to stability with hands clawing at the edge of his desk. “Who let you in? Didn’t I tell you—never to come down here? What’s all this——"
“Do you want to know what this is?" The flushed vixen swept a scornful finger toward the sheaf of blue lights in the jewel case. “Well, I’ll tell you, because, of course, you don’t know: This is a neat bundle of paste junk—a fancy package of near-sapphires, worth just five hundred and twenty-five dollars in any department store—sign on them, ‘Take me home for five hundred and twenty—five dollars.’ This is Edgerton Miles’ gift to a lady!”
Roger Boylan, who took a vivid interest in this little colloquy, unheeded by both, tried hard to keep his face ironed out to a neutral pattern. Developments in the Miles sapphire robbery were interesting him mightily, however. He saw a purple flush mount to Miles’ neck and heavy cheeks, saw him reach out to the jewel case and lift a blue glory therefrom.
“Who told you these were phony stones?" he snapped.
“Oh, the expert up to Tiffany’s; but, of course, he don’t know anything about sapphires!” This with scorching scorn.
“So you went to get the acid test put on ’em, eh?” Miles’ face was a thundercloud now.
“Considering the giver, who wouldn't?" A pretty nose was uptilted to an outrageous angle; one slim, booted foot tapped the floor in a menacing tattoo.
“Ya-ah, consider the giver!” Miles mocked, his lips trembling with rage. “Consider the duffer who separated himself from fifty thousand bucks to get a smile from a fancy yellow dandelion with a heart about as big as a two-spot in a cold deck. I guess you and I just about separate on this corner, paste sapphires or no paste sapphires! On your way!”
The vivid blond head under the fur toque wavered on a stiff neck, drooped a little. Swiftly the light of battle sped from round blue eyes, and a languishing softness filled them. Red lips trembled.
“Edgerton, I’m sorry. Perhaps you did get stung, and didn’t know it. I was so wrought up——”
“Stung is right!" The man’s voice was bitter. “There’s a sign over that ‘This way out’!”
Now complete surrender came, with precipitation on the side. The invader cried copiously into a tiny square of lace. Miles, unheeding, stepped to the door and held it open. One tear-splashed appeal was shot at him through wet lashes, but he was adamant. Suddenly the drooping head snapped back, and a jeweled hand shot out to the pig-skin jewel box on the desk.
“I’ll take these along, anyway,” the lady said, with decision.
“Mistake number two!” Miles snatched up the sapphire collar before she could reach it, and grinned malevolently. “First mistake, bawling me out; second, thinking you can get away with the goods.”
“Give me my property!” She stamped her foot, and made a futile snatch at the jeweled collar.
“Your property—~huh! You just returned this paste junk to me.”
Again tears—genuine article, and backed by whirlwind rage.
“I’ll have my lawyer file suit for my property! You’ll hear from this! You’l1 have to tell a court why you robbed me of my property! I—I——”
“File away, little Bright Eyes. Remember I’ve got a witness—this gentleman here. And good day!”
She was gone in a flurry of fox heads and trailing silk. Miles shut the door and turned to the detective.
“That brings up another point connected with this robbery business,” he said, with a weak smile. “I guess I didn’t quite explain all the details. We’ll now go over and put the screws on that hound Sutton for selling me a phony sapphire collar.”
Fifteen minutes later, the door of the private office of Sutton & Sutton, jewelers, closed on the senior partner, Miles, and Boylan. Miles wasted no preliminaries.
“I've come to get back that check for fifty thousand dollars I gave you yesterday,” he said, cocking a cigar like a threatening bomb at the jeweler.
“Why—Mr. Miles! Nothing unsatisfactory about the collar, I hope?” Sutton’s thin hands fluttered nervously.
“Nothing ’cept the sapphires are paste. Otherwise, it’s a pretty little toy.”
Sutton fell against the side of his desk, white as the alabastine ceiling.
“Impossible, Mr. Miles! Why, I chose every one of the fifty stones in that collar myself! 1’d take my oath on it they’re genuine!”
“Take another look at ’em,” the broker snorted, tossing the woven chains of gems on the jeweler’s desk. With a trembling hand, Sutton fumbled in a drawer for his glass, screwed it in his eye, and picked up the collar. He stepped to the window, where light was strongest, and began turning the ornament slowly under the glass. Boylan, watching him keenly, saw little beads of sweat start above the eyebrows, noted the increased trepidation of the hands.
“Paste!” The admission came with a groan. “Paris paste, every one of them—even the diamond chips!”
“Case of substitution, then?” Boylan put the question tentatively.
“Why, it must be! No other explanation!” the distraught senior partner retorted.
“Look—a-here, Sutton! Did you sell these stones to me for real, or did you know they were paste? No monkey business, now! Straight talk!” Miles launched the question truculently. Flushing to the eyes, Sutton turned upon him.
“You’re insulting!” he managed to ejaculate. “I do not run a pawnshop here!”
The detective, seeing the snarl Miles’ bullheadedness was likely to entail, took a hand:
“Mr. Miles has not told me when he purchased this jeweled collar, Mr. Sutton.”
“It left the shop yesterday, after it had been constructed in duplicate——” Sutton paused, eying Miles. The latter nodded his head glumly. “After it had been constructed in duplicate of one in the possession of Mrs. Miles.”
“Which was stolen at the Metropolitan last night,” Miles cut in. The senior partner sat down hard, his jaw falling. “Stolen?” he murmured.
“Who did the work on this duplicate collar?” Boylan continued.
“The best workman in my shop—a Flemish diamond setter I know only as Henri.”
“And he had Mrs. Miles’ collar to work from all the time?”
“Yes; except, of course, I kept both in the safe at night.”
“Could he have had time to make fifty paste sapphires—of this Paris paste, as you call it—and set them in the duplicate collar?”
“I don't see how he could,” Sutton answered the detective. “He had only six days in which to do the whole job, and he had to work at top speed to finish in that time.”
“Well, couldn’t he have picked up these paste stones somewhere among the trade in New York?” the detective insisted. “They're common enough.”
“No, he could not have done any such thing," Sutton answered, with a slight touch of asperity. “The stones that went into the duplicate collar were matched, stone for stone, with those in Mrs. Miles’ original, or as near matched as I could get them. Some were of uncommon size. Anyway, French paste is not at all common in the trade on this side of the water. Jewelers here all go in for ‘reconstructed’ stones, which are quite different things.”
“That lets your little lady of the furs out,” Boylan said to the stock juggler. The latter, who had followed with difficulty the trend of the detective’s questioning, started with an inquiring “Huh?”
“Why, if an expert diamond setter, familiar with the trade, could not duplicate the stones in Mrs. Miles’ collar by paste ones in six days, Miss—er—Dandelion couldn’t have taken good stones out of her sapphire collar and substituted false ones overnight.” Miles slowly turned this over in his mind and nodded assent. That possibility had not occurred to him.
“I think we will have a talk with this Henri, if you please, Mr. Sutton,” Boylan addressed the senior partner. The latter quickly stepped to a house telephone and spoke a few words into the transmitter. A knock sounded at the door a few minutes later. Sutton admitted the round-shouldered artisan, who stood in his ticking work apron, squinting curiously from face to face. The detective looked up at him out of his bland little eyes and addressed him softly.
“Henri, Mr. Sutton says you’re a good judge of stones. We want your opinion on the value of some sapphires. Look at these”—he handed Henri the collar—“and give us.your opinion on their value.”
With precise movements, Henri stepped to the window, picked up the jeweler’s glass, and, with it in his eye, passed the collar in review, stone by stone. After five minutes he looked up.
“Well, what is your opinion, Henri?” Boylan asked.
“Paste,” the diamond setter answered succinctly.
“What kind of paste would you say?”
“You recognize this sapphire collar, do you not, Henri?”
“It is one you made just this week, on a rush order.”
just that monosyllable, but it straightened the backs of three men. Boylan, perilously near losing his poise, batted his cherubic eyes and bored in again:
“You tell us you didn’t make this sapphire collar here in Sutton & Sutton’s factory?”
“I said that,” was Henri’s grudging answer.
“Well, who do you suppose made it, then?”
“I don’t suppose. I know!” Henri answered, squinting hard at the detective. “Franchon Fréres, of Paris, made this collar, and the number is 9001.”
“How do you know that?” Boylan wanted to know.
“Here is the name and number, engraved very fine on the back of the clasp,” the jewel fashioner returned. “See for yourself.” He passed glass and collar to the detective, who found the inscription, as Henri directed, after considerable search. Sutton was on his feet now, and must needs read the manufacturers name, too. Miles, too bewildered for words, sat fanning himself with a ruler, looking helplessly from Boylan’s face to Sutton’s. The detective hesitated a minute, then put the question:
“If this isn’t the sapphire collar you made, then?”
“It is the one given me to copy from,” the stolid Henri finished.
“My wife wear paste sapphires! You say my wife wears phony jewels?”
Miles was on his feet with a bound, his face purpling with outrage.
“I don’t know you—I don’t know your wife,” Henri retorted, without heat. “I say this is the paste-jewel collar Mr. Sutton give me to make from it a duplicate of genuine stones.”
For a long minute there was no further word. The sudden twist to the mystery given by Henri’s declaration that the collar given him as a model—Mrs. Miles’ collar—contained paste jewels left the inquisitors temporarily groping. The nimbler wits of the detective were the first to draw significant deduction from the new fact. That Mrs. Miles should be robbed of a sapphire collar on the very night of its return from the jeweler’s was an interesting coincidence; that if substitution of genuine for imitation had not previously been made, the thief would have got paste jewels worth half a thousand dollars instead of real stones valued at fifty thousand, was a still more striking coincidence. Granting as true the jewel setter’s assertion that the collar put into his hands to model from was the false one there on Sutton’s desk, substitution could have been made in no other place than Sutton & Sutton’s factory, unless——
“Mr. Miles”—he turned to the broker, who was still growling to himself over Henri’s revelation—“do I understand that you took both collars away from this office at the same time, and delivered them both the same afternoon—yesterday?"
“And you did not open either or both of the cases—this pigskin one here, or the one in which you thought Mrs. Miles’ collar 1ay—from the time you left this office until both were delivered?”
Miles answered that he did not. Boylan then turned again to Henri:
“When you had finished with the duplicate collar, what did you do with it?”
“Put it in a pigskin case—one like that,” the man answered, indicating the opened casket on the desk, “and took it, along with the original, in here to Mr. Sutton.”
“So you didn’t make a mistake, and put the original collar, the one with the paste jewels, in this pigskin case?” Boylan pressed.
Henri’s eyes blinked owlishly.
“Why should I make a mistake when the collar with the Paris paste sapphires was sitting all the time in a case with the name of the owner marked inside it—the lady's name?”
“The lady’s name, eh?" Boylan seemed interested. “What was that name?"
“Juliana Cope Miles, No. 13 East—9th, New York,’ ” Henri quoted glibly. “That was the inscription.” The detective’s eyes twinkled.
“I think, Mr. Sutton, we are through with Henri,” he said to the senior partner, and the latter nodded the artificer out of the office. Miles and Sutton looked expectantly into Boylan’s bright eyes.
“Well, Henri seems to have cleared himself?” Sutton ventured.
“On the contrary.” the detective took him up, “Henri has proved himself one of the crowd that got away with Mrs. Miles’ collar—that is, the genuine collar, which was sent by design to Mrs. Miles, in place of her paste collection.”
“I don’t make you,” Miles cut in. “First place, I don't believe for a minute my wife would lose a fifty-thousand-dollar sapphire collar and then try to get away with it by wearing phony stuff. She’s not that kind.”
“Mr. Sutton, if you'll give me a little acid and a brush, I’d like to try an experiment,” Boylan commanded, ignoring the broker’s challenge.
The jeweler rummaged for the required articles in a desk drawer. Boylan screwed the jeweler’s glass into his right eye, picked up the sapphire collar, and turned it to bring the gold back of the three-stone pendant between his fingers. Then lightly he began to touch the surface with the brush, wet in testing acid. The others watched him curiously. For several minutes the man's round head was bent to his task. Little clucking noises of satisfaction came from his lips.
“I guess that’s enough," he said finally, and passed the glass and upturned pendant first to Miles, then to Sutton. What they saw, faint as hair lines against the smeared face of the gold was:
13 E 9th N. Y.
"That should answer all doubt you have about the character of Mrs. Miles’ sapphire collar.” Boylan turned his boyish smile on Miles. “This was the collar Mrs. Miles gave you to bring down to Mr. Sutton to have the settings tightened. I thought from the first Henri was telling the truth about that. I was positive when he rattled off so easily the inscription, which, as you see, was on the collar, not the case, and which he was careful to blot out before he delivered the two collars to Mr. Sutton yesterday. The full name and address of a person entirely unknown to our little jewel setter would not have stuck in his memory unless he’d had reason to observe it carefully. He was so eager to prove his case that he overplayed just at that point.”
“Then this Henri fella made the swap in this shop, so’s one of his pals could do the lifting at the Metropolitan,” Miles ruminated heavily. Boylan nodded.
“Put why swap at all?” the broker continued. “So long as the gang knew Mrs. Miles? sapphires were paste, and the others real, why didn’t they let the real ones go—go where took ’em, and pinch the bunch there?”
“For one thing, Mr. Miles,” the detective answered, with a words-in-one-syllable air, “the clever gang of which Henri is a member had a name and address—the name and address of Mrs. Miles. Without question, the man selected to do the trick of lifting was somebody acquainted with your wife—the gang played in luck there. So, instead of a wild-goose chase after—er—Miss Dandelion—allowing they could trace the real gems to her, they played safe by having Henri make the substitution right here.”
“Then the thief was in my box last night, after all!” Miles brought his hand down on his knee with a slap. “By gad, I searched the three men, at least, down to the bone, and didn’t find a trace of that collar. As for the women——”
“I think we can discount the women in this thing,” Boylan interrupted. “And you overlook the certain fact that when the collar was slipped from Mrs. Miles’ neck, the thief passed it to one of his pals, either when you went down to the lounge, at the final intermission, or just as your party was leaving the box. Who was the first man you searched down in the manager’s office?”
“Why, that fella Detournelles, the viscount boy! He offered himself to be searched before I got the words out of my mouth.”
“What is his address?”
“I don’t know, but I could get it over the phone from my wife’s social secretary.” Miles started for the telephone, but afterthought stopped him.
“Say, look-a-here, Boylan,” he began, a sheepish grin slitting his features, “you’re such a clever detective, you’ll get me in a jam before I know it. Going too fast altogether, that’s what you're doing. I don’t want anybody arrested—don’t want some geezer to get on the witness stand in his own defense and tell the wide world there’s two sapphire collars, one phony—which is the wife’s—and one genuine—which wasn’t intended to be the wife’s. Where’d I be if all that came out—me, with one threatened suit likely to bawl me out, as it is?”
Boylan wiped away a smile with a discreet hand.
“I am not undertaking to arrest anybody, Mr. Miles, though Henri would look in his proper place behind bars. But if you’ll get me the address of this Detournelles, I think it will go a long way toward restoring the stolen sapphires.”
Miles turned to the telephone, and, after a brief conversation, was able to give the detective the number of Detournelles’ smart lodgings in a street off Central Park West.
Sutton spoke up:
“Henri—you don’t intend arresting him, then?”
“Not at all,” the detective assured. “Henri thinks he’s cleared himself. I wouldn’t change his opinion right now, for he may come in handy.”
Miles was drawing on his gloves, when his eye fell on the collar lying by the side of the pigskin case. He swept his hand toward the false glitter as he addressed the jeweler:
“Here! Keep this junk until everything’s straightened out. I don’t want it—not now, at least.”
Boylan stayed Sutton’s hand.
“I think, if you don’t mind, Mr. Miles, I’ll take care of this collar for a while.” His eyes brightened in a shrewd afterthought. “Maybe if I can lay hands on the real stones, you wouldn’t care greatly if I had to sacrifice these to do it.”
"Go the limit!” Miles boomed; and, as Boylan pocketed the case with the collar in it, the broker playfully pushed him out of the door.
Parting with Miles on Maiden Lane, Boylan took his first step toward tracing the collar stolen in the horseshoe to that as yet unknown and unsuspected third person to whom it had been deftly passed» by the actual thief—by Detournelles, as the detective was now reasonably certain. He walked to a telegraph office, the nearest one to the factory of Sutton & Sutton, and consequently the one which the astute Henri would naturally use were he to send a telegram, in emergency, immediately upon finishing his day's work over the bench. There he filed a despatch to “Gaspard Detournelles, No. — West Ninety-first Street,” a dispatch containing only a single word, and unsigned.
“Do not forward that until after five o’clock this afternoon,” Boylan instructed the clerk.
“Two chances,” the round-faced little man assured himself, as he went out into the crowded street. “If our French friend thinks this telegram is from Henri, and acts accordingly, we’ve got him nailed as an accomplice, and the one who lifted the goods. If he thinks the other fellow—the man who’s got the sapphires now—is the sender, why, all we’ve got to do is to stick to him, and he’ll lead us to the pretty blue stones.”
On a hidden road in the heart of unknown Staten Island, where stages still ply and the hoot of owls at night breaks the silence of a desert, stands an ancient dwelling whose architecture is of the early fifties—all scrollwork and jigsaw gables over cathedral-pointed windows. Its tottering chimneys are bound to the perpendicular by heavy cables of vines; trees—which were not saplings when Lord Howe went to treat with Benjamin Franklin at Tottenville—screen the decrepit mansion from the road, wrap it in a mantle of shadow day and night. As far from the knowledge of Broadway as any lamasery in Tibet is this country house of some long-dead Manhattan aristocrat.
This was the temporary abiding place of Raoul Flack, once known to the Paris Sûreté as “The Phantom,” and thought to be enduring a living death in the French penal colony of New Caledonia. How the Phantom escaped from the lime pits of a tropical hell—made a super hell by the ingenuity of guards; what the incidents of his flight from one spice island to another, through all the Dutch archipelago, of his burrowing into oblivion in the broad expanse of America, and his summoning, through the devious channels of the underworld, the remnant of his old band of l’Incomparables—trite Parisian police cognomen—this is a story which some day may be written. This will be the narrative of a man whose body has been well-nigh broken by society, but whose intellect, sharpened by suffering almost to the absolute of mathematical logic, is dedicated to a single object—the compassing of revenge upon society for five years of torture.
The Phantom had but recently come to make his abode—alone, save for the service of a doddering old housekeeper—in the house on the wilderness road. His appearance at the Metropolitan on the night Mrs. Miles’ sapphire collar disappeared had been his first venture abroad; nor would he have dared that had not necessity compelled. A worm of lights, which was the New York train bound to the end of the island, crawled to a stop at the packing-box station that lay a mile below the Phantom’s house on the bayward sweep of the highlands. Detournelles, Viscount Allaire, was the only passenger to step onto the dark platform; but just as the train began to get under way again, a blotch of shadow detached itself from the last car’s rear platform, dropped to the tracks, and there crouched in darkness until the hollow footsteps on boards changed to the noise of feet on a frosted turf. Detournelles paused to light a cigar, cast a cautious look behind him, and, seeing nothing but the shadow block of the station, swung into a sharp stride up the road. The noise of his own boots on the road, flinty, and resounding under the amalgam of frost, drowned that other almost inaudible rustle and whisper of broken weeds that kept pace for pace with his stride, behind him in the pitchy maw of the forested thoroughfare. Had he looked back, Detournelles would have seen nothing but the far-off twin sparks of the Highlands Lights and the two walls of the cloven forest that marched with him up the hill. Impalpable as the breath of fog off the marsh by the sea’s edge was the trailing shadow.
It was nine o'clock, and the Phantom, seated in the grudging circle of light that fell from an inverted green shade of a student lamp, was engaged in an absorbing task. His back to the only two windows through which unlikely spying could be done, before him the blue-and-gold resplendence of the stolen collar, the master of the Incomparables was absorbed in an appraisement of the jewel, stone by stone. Pencil and paper lay to hand on the table; a strong reading glass was brought to bear on each blue blot in the gold filigree, and the column of estimated values grew with every lowering of the glass. The face of the man, white and cold as the face of one dead, was set in lines of complete absorption.
A knock sounded hollowly. The Phantom leaped to his feet and snatched a black automatic from the hollow of his armchair. Three other knocks came, accurately spaced. He dropped the collar in a pocket of his smoking gown, went to the front door, and admitted Detournelles. Their hands clasped.
“You see, I have come,” the younger man said. The other led the way back to the lighted library, without speech. There he turned and challenged with one word:
Surprise registered on the face of the visitor. His eyebrows lifted in puzzled inquiry.
“Your telegram,” he answered.
“I have sent no telegram,” the Phantom denied, with a flash of impatience. “Telegrams for all the world to read? Bah!” Detournelles reached to his breast pocket, brought out a yellow telegraph form, spread it on the table, and pointed to the typewritten message. There was his name and address, and, below, the single word, “Come.” No signature.
“What time did you receive this?” the Phantom demanded.
“It was waiting for me at my rooms, when I returned, at six o'clock this evening,” Detournelles answered. He looked closely at the form, studying the lines of hieroglyphics representing the company’s receiving frank and station number. “See! This says five—fifteen! That would be after Henri’s working hours—when he was able to leave his office. Before five o'clock he could not send a telegram. He would not telegraph, except in necessity. Foolishly, I jumped at the first impulse, and came here, believing you called me.”
“If they suspected Henri——” the Phantom began.
“He would not dare telegraph me if there was danger of the telegram being traced, if he was under suspicion.”
“Yet, why the telegram?”
"Something we must know, Maître Raoul—that he wishes to tell us at once. You he cannot reach by telegraph. Only through me can Henri get word to you. This message, now, would it not include you as well as myself?” The white-headed one honed his hollow cheek in thought.
"If it were a trick—some detective’s work—would he not have signed the name, ‘Henri,’ or appointed some rendezvous? Assuredly. He would set a trap by naming the hour and place of meeting. You were not followed to-night?”
Detournelles laughed shortly.
“If one followed me, he had a hard time of it. Two taxis and the elevated train between my lodgings and the ferry.” The Phantom bent his head in thought for a minute. Then:
“I will accompany you to Henri. It is safe, and may be necessary.”
Before he stripped off his smoking gown, he took the jeweled collar from the pocket and laid it on the table. Detournelles pounced upon it eagerly, held it stretched between his fingers, and lovingly fondled with his gaze each soft spot of royal color.
“Yes, a good haul—a very good haul,” the Phantom commented, as he slipped his arms into jacket sleeves and next buried himself in the lapping folds of a heavy fur coat. “Come! We will put the little beauty away for the night.”
He took the collar, crossed the room to where a heavy bust of Demosthenes looked down with sightless eyes from the high top of a bookcase. The Phantom gripped the bust with one hand while with the other he put torsion on the crown of the head. The plaster skull of the ancient worthy unscrewed just above the fillet binding his brows, and the collar disappeared into a hollow brainpan.
The Phantom was screwing back into place the detached headpiece, when his hand hesitated by ever so little. A sound came to his ears, a sound so faint that Detournelles gave no heed to it. It was the faint scratching of a branch against the glass of one of three windows looking out from the room upon the clotted shapes of trees standing in guarding ranks about the ancient mansion. just that thin noise of tender wood against a pane, as if a heavy wind were sweeping a bough tip up against the glass. Yet the Phantom knew the night was quiet. There was no wind.
He did not turn his head toward the windows, nor betray by any gesture the germ of suspicion that the squeaking branch had planted. Instead, he carelessly pocketed the automatic he had left lying in a hollow of the armchair, blew out the lamp, and, hand on Detournelles’ arm, piloted him to the front door. He closed it with a resounding bang, which threw on a spring lock, and walked with his companion through the jungle of small plants to the gate.
“Do not look around,” he cautioned, in a low voice, as they passed out onto the road. “Do not even change your pace. At this first heavy cluster of trees I will leave you and turn back. Continue on to the railroad station alone. No, no! I do not need you! It may be nothing. I will explain later—if need be. Now, au revoir.”
The room so lately quitted by the two suddenly was shot through with a chill rush of night air. There was a faint creak of rusty sash pulleys as one of the three windows slowly lifted. A blocky figure, hardly to be distinguished from the surrounding shadow of leaves, slipped from a stout oak branch—to which it had clung—onto the window sill, and thence noiselessly down to the carpeted floor. A faint click, and a round white eye sprang into being. The eye groped and groped about the walls until it looked straight into the dead eyes of Demosthenes on his high perch. An invisible hand brought the bust down; there was a dry, scraping noise as the attic orator’s head was halved. The white eye rested for an instant on the blue glory of jewels lifted from the plaster well——
Bang! A vivid red stab of flame from the raised window. Clatter of falling shards of plaster, the trash of a shattered Demosthenes.
Out flicked the white eye. A thump of a heavy body dropping to the floor. A second lighter thud over by the opened window, as of some one lightly vaulting from sill to floor. Then silence.
For a full minute, this silence in the black room, menacing, terrible. Then, from nowhere, a voice strongly accented with the French twist, but dry as rustling leaves:
“You—M’sieur Detective, I have you, of course. You cannot leave this house except by the window—through which you came, and I followed. To kill you will be inconvenient; for you to kill me, next to impossible. You follow?”
Roger Boylan, face down on the floor, was too wise to betray his whereabouts by an answer. His eyes roved the darkness, straining, straining——
A chopped laugh sounded.
“It is interesting, yes. But for the noise of the branch against the glass, my dear M’sieur Detective, my folly in leaving curtains up in this so desolate place would have cost me the jewels. Is it not so?”
Boylan’s revolver, slowly creeping out of his pocket, struck a button on his jacket. The click sounded loud as the explosion of a thirty-two-centimeter gun.
Bang! A bullet threw lint from the carpet into Boylan’s eyes. Swift patter of feet followed.
“I said to kill you would be inconvenient.” The disembodied voice was studiously cold. “Do you not accept hints?”
To the detective, glued to the floor, the hopelessness of the situation in this strangling dark was overwhelmingly apparent. To attempt a duel with a man familiar with the big room, its several ambushes and screens of furniture, would be to invite sudden death. Yet to escape with that precious bundle of hard points pressing against his chest was——
“M’sieur, my ultimatum!” Again that dry, crackling voice. “Crawl to the table—vraimemt, you are on your knees—do I not know it? Deposit there your flash light, with the light showing. Deposit in that light the jewels you took from the plaster head, also your weapon; then go out by the window unharmed.”
No move by the detective. A chuckle from the darkness.
“Until you make a light, M’sieur Detective, you cannot see my guarantee of honorable intentions. My weapon, two chambers exploded, as you know, will be on the table. If it is not—mark your course accordingly.”
Boylan began to hitch himself along the floor, groping with his revolver tip in the dark ahead. The barrel struck a wooden table leg with a sharp rap. The groping figure cautiously raised itself, and, holding the flash light at arm’s length, reached up and settled it on the table top. A finger pressed on the light, which went streaming, like some spilled incandescent liquid, across the red cloth cover.
“Now the sapphire collar, dear friend.” came instructions from the dark.
With a crisp rustle and click of gold filaments, a glittering heap of yellow and royal blue color spilled under the light and lay sprawling there—an evil toy to incite covetousness, to inspire murder, even.
“A-ha! Now, perfect guarantee of your good faith—your weapon.”
Very slowly the blue barrel of Boylan’s gun crept into the zone of light. The fingers, reluctantly unclasping from the butt, one by one, seemed alive with caution. Hardly had they loosed the stock when from out of the dark a blunt, ugly automatic clattered down into the plane of radiance, rolled over once, and brought up against the heaped jewels.
“Perfect neutrality, my friend!” The laugh that sounded in Boylan’s ears was stripped of all quality save only vitriolic cynicism. “Now the arm of the law departs via the window, with my hope for future rencontre, which—ah—may we say is mutual?”
“Mutual is right,” grunted Boylan, breaking silence for the first time in ten minutes which were centuries; and he went out of the window.
On the following night, Edgerton Miles returned from the office to his home with a fine glow about his heart and a sapphire collar in his overcoat pocket. He stood not upon the status quo ante of strained relations, but breezed into his wife’s boudoir, surprising her in the midst of her dinner toilet. With all the skipping grace of a trained bear, he stepped behind the chair where she was seated before her dressing table, brushed aside the maid who was arranging her hair, and with both hands drew the gorgeous strands of peacock tints about his wife’s throat.
“Huh! How about it?” he roared, as he essayed a kiss on the chaste brow.
“I hope you haven’t been to any trouble, Edgerton, in getting these paste things back,” came the chilling rejoinder. “If you had only listened to reason at the opera, the other night, I could have told you there was no great loss. The real collar is in. the safe-deposit box.” Miles pursed his lips, and his eyes went wide with surprise. “I haven’t worn it once since I picked up this very creditable imitation in Paris, three years ago.”
Edgerton Miles tiptoed from Mrs. Miles’ boudoir, hastened downstairs to the cellarette, and poured himself four fingers of finest Bourbon.
“Here’s to what some of us didn't know—and what some of us don’t know yet!” he toasted himself in the panel mirror.
Which cryptic remark might have been taken to cover certain facts. Item:
That the sapphire collar he had just clasped about Mrs. Miles’ white throat was the genuine one, worth fifty thousand dollars, which Detective Roger Boylan had brought away from the house of the Phantom, leaving in its stead Mrs. Miles’ own imitation stones of Paris paste.
That, through the intervention of some wonderfully astute criminals, a sapphire collar, worth fifty thousand dollars, and designed for a perfectly unworthy, and now quite discredited, Miss Dandelion, was now in the possession of Edgerton Miles’ lady wife—a duplicate, but genuine, of another such in her safe-deposit box.
That—and this was the most important fact of the three—the aforesaid lady wife would never know she possessed one hundred thousand dollars’ worth of sapphires.
The next story in this series—entitled “His Master’s Voice”—will appear in the November 20th POPULAR.