The Achievements of Luther Trant/The Axton Letters
THE AXTON LETTERS
The sounds in her dressing-room had waked her just before five. Ethel Waldron could still see, when she closed her eyes, every single, sharp detail of her room as it was that instant she sprang up in bed, with the cry that had given the alarm, and switched on the electric light. Instantly the man had shut the door; but as she sat, strained, staring at it to reopen, the hands and dial of her clock standing on the mantel beside the door, had fixed themselves upon her retina like the painted dial of a jeweler's dummy. It could have been barely five, therefore, when Howard Axton, after his first swift rush in her defense had found the window which had been forced open; had picked up the queer Turkish dagger which he found broken on the sill, and, crying to the girl not to call the police, as it was surely "the same man"—the same man, he meant, who had so inexplicably followed him around the world—had rushed to his room for extra cartridges for his revolver and run out into the cold sleet of the March morning.
So it was now an hour or more since Howard had run after the man, revolver in hand; and he had not reappeared or telephoned or sent any word at all of his safety. And however much Howard's life in wild lands had accustomed him to seek redress outside the law, hers still held the city-bred impulse to appeal to the police. She turned from her nervous pacing at the window and seized the telephone from its hook; but at the sound of the operator's voice she remembered again Howard's injunction that the man, whenever he appeared, was to be left solely to him, and dropped the receiver without answering. But she resented fiercely the advantage he held over her which must oblige her, she knew, to obey him. He had told her frankly—threatened her, indeed—that if there was the slightest publicity given to his homecoming to marry her, or any further notoriety made of the attending circumstances, he would surely leave her.
At the rehearsal of this threat she straightened and threw the superfluous dressing gown from her shoulders with a proud, defiant gesture. She was a straight, almost tall girl, with the figure of a more youthful Diana and with features as fair and flawless as any younger Hera, and in addition a great depth of blue in very direct eyes and a crowning glory of thick, golden hair. She was barely twenty-two. And she was not used to having any man show a sense of advantage over her, much less threaten her, as Howard had done. So, in that impulse of defiance, she was reaching again for the telephone she had just dropped, when she saw through the fog outside the window the man she was waiting for—a tall, alert figure hastening toward the house.
She ran downstairs rapidly and herself opened the door to him, a fresh flush of defiance flooding over her. Whether she resented it because this man, whom she did not love but must marry, could appear more the assured and perfect gentleman without collar, or scarf, and with his clothes and boots spattered with mud and rain, than any of her other friends could ever appear; or whether it was merely the confident, insolent smile of his full lips behind his small, close-clipped mustache, she could not tell. At any rate she motioned him into the library without speaking; but when they were alone and she had closed the door, she burst upon him.
"Well, Howard? Well? Well, Howard?" breathlessly.
"Then you have not sent any word to the police, Ethel?"
"I was about to—the moment you came. But—I have not—yet," she had to confess.
"Or to that—" he checked the epithet that was on his lips—"your friend Caryl?"
She flushed, and shook her head.
He drew his revolver, "broke" it, ejecting the cartridges carelessly upon the table, and threw himself wearily into a chair. "I'm glad to see you understand that this has not been the sort of affair for anyone else to interfere in!"
"Has been, you mean;" the girl's face went white; "you—you caught him this time and—and killed him, Howard?"
"Killed him, Ethel?" the man laughed, but observed her more carefully. "Of course I haven't killed him—or even caught him. But I've made myself sure, at last, that he's the same fellow that's been trying to make a fool of me all this year—that's been after me, as I wrote you. And if you remember my letters, even you—I mean even a girl brought up in a city ought to see how it's a matter of honor with me now to settle with him alone!"
"If he is merely trying to 'make a fool of you,' as you say—yes, Howard," the girl returned hotly. "But from what you yourself have told me of him, you know he must be keeping after you for some serious reason! Yes; you know it! I can see it! You can't deny it!"
"Ethel—what do you mean by that?"
"I mean that, if you do not think that the man who has been following you from Calcutta to Cape Town, to Chicago, means more than a joke for you to settle for yourself; anyway, I know that the man who has now twice gone through the things in my room, is something for me to go to the police about!"
"And have the papers flaring the family scandal again?" the man returned. "I admit, Ethel," he conceded, carefully calculating the sharpness of his second sting before he delivered it, "that if you or I could call in the police without setting the whole pack of papers upon us again, I'd be glad to do it, if only to please you. But I told you, before I came back, that if there was to be any more airing of the family affairs at all, I could not come; so if you want to press the point now, of course I can leave you," he gave the very slightest but most suggestive glance about the rich, luxurious furnishings of the great room, "in possession."
"You know I can't let you do that!" the girl flushed scarlet. "But neither can you prevent me from making the private inquiry I spoke of for myself!" She went to the side of the room and, in his plain hearing, took down the telephone and called a number without having to look it up.
"Mr. Caryl, please," she said. "Oh, Henry, is it you? You can take me to your—Mr. Trant, wasn't that the name—as soon as you can now. . . . Yes; I want you to come here. I will have my brougham. Immediately!" And still without another word or even a glance at Axton, she brushed by him and ran up the stairs to her room.
He had made no effort to prevent her telephoning; and she wondered at it, even as, in the same impetus of reckless anger, she swept up the scattered letters and papers on her writing desk, and put on her things to go out. But on her way downstairs she stopped suddenly. The curl of his cigarette smoke through the open library door showed that he was waiting just inside it. He meant to speak to her before she went out. Perhaps he was even glad to have Caryl come in order that he might speak his say in the presence of both of them. Suddenly his tobacco's sharp, distinctive odor sickened her. She turned about, ran upstairs again and fled, almost headlong, down the rear stairs and out the servants' door to the alley.
The dull, gray fog, which was thickening as the morning advanced, veiled her and made her unrecognizable except at a very few feet; but at the end of the alley, she shrank instinctively from the glance of the men passing until she made out a hurrying form of a man taller even than Axton and much broader. She sprang toward it with a shiver of relief as she saw Henry Caryl's light hair and recognized his even, open features.
"Ethel!" he caught her, gasping his surprise. "You here? Why—"
"Don't go to the house!" She led him the opposite way. "There is a cab stand at the corner. Get one there and take me—take me to this Mr. Trant. I will tell you everything. The man came again last night. Auntie is sick in bed from it. Howard still says it is his affair and will do nothing. I had to come to you."
Caryl steadied her against a house-wall an instant; ran to the corner for a cab and, returning with it, half lifted her into it.
Forty minutes later he led her into Trant's reception-room in the First National Bank Building; and recognizing the abrupt, decisive tones of the psychologist in conversation in the inner office, Caryl went to the door and knocked sharply.
"I beg your pardon, but—can you possibly postpone what you are doing, Mr. Trant?" he questioned quickly as the door opened and he faced the sturdy and energetic form of the red-haired young psychologist who, in six months, had made himself admittedly the chief consultant in Chicago on criminal cases. "My name is Caryl. Henry Howell introduced me to you last week at the club. But I am not presuming upon that for this interruption. I and—my friend need your help badly, Mr. Trant, and immediately. I mean, if we can not speak with you now, we may be interrupted—unpleasantly."
Caryl had moved, as he spoke, to hide the girl behind him from the sight of the man in the inner office, who, Caryl had seen, was a police officer. Trant noted this and also that Caryl had carefully refrained from mentioning the girl's name.
"I can postpone this present business, Mr. Caryl," the psychologist replied quietly. He closed the door, but reopened it almost instantly. His official visitor had left through the entrance directly into the hall; the two young clients came into the inner room.
"This is Mr. Trant, Ethel," Caryl spoke to the girl a little nervously as she took a seat. "And, Mr. Trant, this is Miss Waldron. I have brought her to tell you of a mysterious man who has been pursuing Howard Axton about the world, and who, since Axton came home to her house two weeks ago, has been threatening her."
"Axton—Axton!" the psychologist repeated the name which Caryl had spoken, as if assured that Trant must recognize it. "Ah! Of course, Howard Axton is the son!" he frankly admitted his clearing recollection and his comprehension of how the face of the girl had seemed familiar. "Then you," he addressed her directly, "are Miss Waldron, of Drexel Boulevard?"
"Yes; I am that Miss Waldron, Mr. Trant," the girl replied, flushing red to her lips, but raising her head proudly and meeting his eyes directly. "The step-daughter—the daughter of the second wife of Mr. Nimrod Axton. It was my mother, Mr. Trant, who was the cause of Mrs. Anna Axton getting a divorce and the complete custody of her son from Mr. Axton twenty years ago. It was my mother who, just before Mr. Nimrod Axton's death last year, required that, in the will, the son—the first Mrs. Axton was then dead—should be cut off absolutely and entirely, without a cent, and that Mr. Axton's entire estate be put in trust for her—my mother. So, since you doubtless remember the reopening of all this again six months ago when my mother, too, died, I am now the sole heir and legatee of the Axton properties of upwards of sixty millions, they tell me. Yes; I am that Miss Waldron, Mr. Trant!"
"I recall the accounts, but only vaguely—from the death of Mr. Axton and, later, of the second Mrs. Axton, your mother, Miss Waldron," Trant replied, quietly, "though I remember the comment upon the disposition of the estate both times. It was from the pictures published of you and the accompanying comment in the papers only a week or two ago that I recognized you. I mean, of course, the recent comments upon the son, Mr. Howard Axton, whom you have mentioned, who has come home at last to contest the will."
"You do Miss Waldron an injustice—all the papers have been doing her a great injustice, Mr. Trant, Caryl corrected quickly. "Mr. Axton has not come to contest the will."
"No. Miss Waldron has had him come home, at her own several times repeated request, so that she may turn over to him, as completely as possible, the whole of his father's estate! If you can recall, in any detail, the provisions of Mr. Axton's will, you will appreciate, I believe, why we have preferred to let the other impression go uncorrected. For the second Mrs. Axton so carefully and completely cut off all possibility of any of the property being transferred in any form to the son, that Miss Waldron, when she went to a lawyer to see how she could transfer it to Howard Axton, as soon as she had come into the estate, found that her mother's lawyers had provided against every possibility except that of the heir marrying the disinherited son. So she sent for him, offering to establish him into his estate, even at that cost."
"You mean that you offered to marry him?" Trant questioned the girl directly again. "And he has come to gain his estate in that way?"
"Yes, Mr. Trant; but you must be fair to Mr. Axton also," the girl replied. "When I first wrote him, almost a year ago, he refused point blank to consider such an offer. In spite of my repeated letters it was not till six weeks ago, after a shipwreck in which he lost his friend who had been traveling with him for some years, that he would consent even to come home. Even now I—I remain the one urging the marriage."
The psychologist looked at the girl keenly and questioningly.
"I need scarcely say how little urging he would need, entirely apart from the property," Caryl flushed, "if he were not gentleman enough to appreciate—partly, at least—Miss Waldron's position. I—her friends, I mean, Mr. Trant—have admitted that he appeared at first well enough in every way to permit the possibility of her marrying him if she considers that her duty. But now, this mystery has come up about the man who has been following him—the man who appeared again only this morning in Miss Waldron's room and went through her papers—"
"And Mr. Axton cannot account for it?" the psychologist helped him.
"Axton won't tell her or anybody else who the man is or why he follows him. On the contrary, he has opposed in every possible way every inquiry or search made for the man, except such as he chooses to make for himself. Only this morning he made a threat against Miss Waldron if she attempted to summon the police and 'take the man out of his hands'; and it is because I am sure that he will follow us here to prevent her consulting you—when he finds that she has come here—that I asked you to see us at once."
"Leave the details of his appearance this morning to the last then," Trant requested abruptly, "and tell me where you first heard of this man following Mr. Axton, and how? How, for instance, do you know he was following him, if Mr. Axton is so reticent about the affair?"
"That is one of the strange things about it, Mr. Trant"—the girl took from her bosom the bundle of letters she had taken from her room—"he used to write to amuse me with him, as you can see here. I told you I wrote Mr. Axton about a year ago to come home and he refused to consider it. But afterwards he always wrote in reply to my letters in the half-serious, friendly way you shall see. These four letters I brought you are almost entirely taken up with his adventures with the mysterous man. He wrote on typewriter, as you see"—she handed them over—"because on his travels he used to correspond regularly for some of the London syndicates."
"Yes; the first Mrs. Axton took Howard to England with her when he was scarcely seven, immediately after she got her divorce. He grew up there and abroad. This is his first return to America. I have arranged those letters, Mr. Trant," she added as the psychologist was opening them for examination now, "in the order they came."
"I will read them that way then," Trant said, and he glanced over the contents of the first hastily; it was postmarked at Cairo, Egypt, some ten months before. He then re-read more carefully this part of it:
"Who is this Lawler who was with Mr. Axton then?" Trant looked up interestedly from the last page of the letter.
"I only know he was a friend Howard made in London—an interesting man who had traveled a great deal, particularly in America. Howard was lonely after his mother's death; and as Mr. Lawler was about his age, they struck up a friendship and traveled together."
"An English younger son, perhaps?"
"I don't know anything else except that he had been in the English army—in the Royal Sussex regiment—but was forced to give up his commission on account of charges that he had cheated at cards. Howard always held that the charges were false; but that was why he wanted to travel."
"You know of no other trouble which this Lawler had?"
"Then where is he now?"
"Dead?" Trant's face fell.
"Yes; he was the friend I spoke of that was lost—drowned in the wreck of the Gladstone just before Howard started home."
Trant picked up the next letter, which was dated and postmarked at Calcutta.
Trant, as he finished the last words, looked up suddenly at Miss Waldron, as though about to ask a question or make some comment, but checked himself, and hastily laying aside this letter he picked up the next one, which bore a Cape Town date line:
"This is the first time I have heard of another man in their party who might possibly be the masquerader, Miss Waldron;" Trant swung suddenly in his revolving chair to face the girl again. "Mr. Axton speaks of him as his English servant—I suppose, from that, he left England with Mr. Axton."
"Yes, Mr. Trant."
"And therefore was present, though not mentioned, at Cairo, Calcutta and Cape Town?"
"Yes, Mr. Trant; but he was dismissed at that time by Mr. Axton and is now, and also was, at the mysterious man's next appearance, in the Charing Cross Hospital in London. He had his leg broken by a cab; and one of the doctors there wrote Mr. Axton two days ago telling him of Beasley's need of assistance. It could not have been Beasley."
"And there was no one else with Mr. Axton, except his friend Lawler who, you say, was drowned in a wreck?"
"No one else but Mr. Lawler, Mr. Trant; and Howard himself saw him dead and identified him, as you will see in that last letter."
Trant opened the envelope and took out the enclosure interestedly; but as he unfolded the first page, a printed sheet dropped out. He spread it upon his desk—a page from the London Illustrated News showing four portraits with the caption, "Sole survivors of the ill-fated British steamer Gladstone, wrecked off Cape Blanco, January 24," the first portrait bearing the name of Howard Axton and showing the determined, distinctly handsome features and the full lips and deep-set eyes of the man whom the girl had defied that morning.
"This is a good portrait?" Trant asked abruptly.
"Very good, indeed," the girl answered, "though it was taken almost immediately after the wreck for the News. I have the photograph from which it was made at home. I had asked him for a picture of himself in my last previous letter, as my mother had destroyed every picture, even the early pictures, of him and his mother."
Trant turned to the last letter.
"What! What!" Trant clutched the letter from the desk in excitement and stared at it with eyes flashing with interest.
"It is a horrible picture, Mr. Trant," the girl shuddered.
"Horrible—yes, certainly," the psychologist assented tensely; "but I was not thinking of the horror," he checked himself.
"Of what, then?" asked Caryl pointedly.
But the psychologist had already returned to the letter in his hand, the remainder of which he read with intent and ever-increasing interest:
"I suppose the story of the wreck is already all known to you, for our one telegraph wire that binds this isolated town to the outside world has been laboring for three days under a load of messages. You know then that eighteen hours out of St. Vincent fire was discovered among the cargo, that the captain, confident at first that the fire would be got under control, kept on his course, only drawing in somewhat toward the African shore in case of emergency. But a very heavy sea rising, prevented the fire-fighters from doing efficient work among the cargo and in the storm and darkness the Gladstone struck several miles to the north of Cape Blanco on a hidden reef at a distance of over a mile from the shore."On the night it occurred I awakened with so strong a sense of something being wrong that I rose, partly dressed myself, and went out into the cabin, where I found a white-faced steward going from door to door arousing the passengers. Heavy smoke was billowing up the main companionway in the light of the cabin lamps, and the pitching and reeling of the vessel showed that the sea had greatly increased. I returned and awoke Lawler, and we went out on deck. The sea was a smother of startling whiteness through which the Gladstone was staggering at the full power of her engines. No flame as yet was anywhere visible, but huge volumes of smoke were bursting from every opening in the fore part of the vessel. The passengers, in a pale and terrified group, were kept together on the after deck as far as possible from the fire. Now and then some pallid, staring man or woman would break through the guard and rush back to the cabin in search of a missing loved one or valuables. Lawler and I determined that one of us must return to the stateroom for our money, and Lawler successfully made the attempt. He returned in ten minutes with my money and papers and two life preservers. But when I tried to put on my life preserver I found it to be old and in such a condition as made it useless. Lawler then took off the preserver that he himself had on, declaring himself to be a much better swimmer than I—which I knew to be the case—and forced me to wear it. This life preserver was all that brought me safely ashore, and the lack of it was, I believe, the reason for Lawler's death. Within ten minutes afterward the flames burst through the forward deck—a red and awful banner which the fierce wind flattened into a fan-shaped sheet of fire against the night—and the Gladstone struck with terrific force, throwing everything and everybody flat upon the deck. The bow was raised high upon the reef, while the stern with its maddened living freight began to sink rapidly into the swirl of foaming waters. The first two boats were overfilled at once in a wild rush, and one was stove immediately against the steamer's side and sank, while the other was badly damaged and made only about fifty yards' progress before it went down also. The remaining boats all were lowered from the starboard davits, and got away in safety; but only to capsize or be stove upon the reef. Lawler and I found places in the last boat—the captain's. At the last moment, just as we were putting off, the fiery maw of the Gladstone vomited out the scorched and half-blinded second engineer and a single stoker, whom we took in with difficulty. There was but one woman in our boat—a fragile, illiterate Dutchwoman from the neighborhood of Johannesburg—who had in her arms a baby. How strange that of our boatload those who alone survived should be the Dutchwoman, but without her baby; the engineer and stoker, whom the fire had already partly disabled, and myself, a very indifferent swimmer—while the strongest among us all perished! Of what happened after leaving the ship I have only the most indistinct recollection. I recall the swamping of our boat, and cruel white waters that rushed out of the night to engulf us; I recall a blind and painful struggle against a power infinitely greater than my own—a struggle which seemed interminable; for, as a matter of fact, I must have been in the water fully four hours and the impact of the waves alone beat my flesh almost to a jelly; and I recall the coming of daylight, and occasional glimpses of a shore which seemed to project itself suddenly above the sea and then at once to sink away and be swallowed by it. I was found unconscious on the sands—I have not the faintest idea how I got there—and I was identified before coming to myself (it may please you to know this) by several of your letters which were found in my pocket. At present, with my three rescued companions—whose names even I probably never should have known if the Gladstone had reached England safely—I am a most enthralling center of interest to the white, black and parti-colored inhabitants of this region; and I am writing this letter on an antiquated typewriter belonging to the smallest, thinnest, baldest little American that ever left his own dooryard to become a missionary."
Trant tossed aside the last page and, with eyes flashing with a deep, glowing fire, he glanced across intensely to the girl watching him; and his hands clenched on the table, in the constraint of his eagerness.
"Why—what is it, Mr. Trant?" the girl cried.
"This is so taken up with the wreck and the death of Lawler," the psychologist touched the last letter, "that there is hardly any more mention of the mysterious man. But you said, since Mr. Axton has come home, he has twice appeared and in your room, Miss Waldron. Please give me the details."
"Of his first appearance—or visit, I should say, since no one really saw him, Mr. Trant," the girl replied, still watching the psychologist with wonder, "I can't tell you much, I'm afraid. When Mr. Axton first came home, I asked him about this mysterious friend; and he put me off with a laugh and merely said he hadn't seen much of him since he last wrote. But even then I could see he wasn't so easy as he seemed. And it was only two days after that—or nights, for it was about one o'clock in the morning—that I was wakened by some sound which seemed to come from my dressing-room. I turned on the light in my room and rang the servant's bell. The butler came almost at once and, as he is not a courageous man, roused Mr. Axton before opening the door to my dressing-room. They found no one there and nothing taken or even disturbed except my letters in my writing desk, Mr. Trant. My aunt, who has been taking care of me since my mother died, was aroused and came with the servants. She thought I must have imagined everything; but I discovered and showed Mr. Axton that it was his letters to me that had appeared to be the ones the man was searching for. I found that two of them had been taken and every other typewritten letter in my desk—and only those—had been opened in an apparent search for more of his letters. I could see that this excited him exceedingly, though he tried to conceal it from me; and immediately afterwards he found that a window on the first floor had been forced, so some man had come in, as I said."
"Then last night."
"It was early this morning, Mr. Trant, but still very dark—a little before five o'clock. It was so damp, you know, that I had not opened the window in my bedroom, which is close to the bed; but had opened the windows of my dressing-room, and so left the door between open. It had been closed and locked before. So when I awoke, I could see directly into my dressing-room."
"Of course not at all clearly. But my writing-desk is directly opposite my bedroom door; and in a sort of silhouette against my shaded desk light, which he was using, I could see his figure—a very vague, monstrous looking figure, Mr. Trant. Its lower part seemed plain enough; but the upper part was a formless blotch. I confess at first that enough of my girl's fear for ghosts came to me to make me see him as a headless man, until I remembered how Howard had seen and described him—with a coat wrapped round his head. As soon as I was sure of this, I pressed the bell-button again and this time screamed, too, and switched on my light. But he slammed the door between us and escaped. He went through another window he had forced on the lower floor with a queer sort of dagger-knife which he had broken and left on the sill. And as soon as Howard saw this, he knew it was the same man, for it was then he ordered me not to interfere. He made off after him, and when he came back, he told me he was sure it was the same man."
"This time, too, the man at your desk seemed rummaging for your correspondence with Mr. Axton?"
"It seemed so, Mr. Trant."
"But his letters were all merely personal—like these letters you have given me?"
"Amazing!" Trant leaped to his feet, with eyes flashing now with unrestrained fire, and took two or three rapid turns up and down the office. "If I am to believe the obvious inference from these letters, Miss Waldron—coupled with what you have told me—I have not yet come across a case, an attempt at crime more careful, more cold-blooded and, withall, more surprising!"
"A crime—an attempt at crime, Mr. Trant?" cried the white and startled girl. "So there was cause for my belief that something serious underlay these mysterious appearances?"
"Cause?" Trant swung to face her. "Yes, Miss Waldron—criminal cause, a crime so skillfully carried on, so assisted by unexpected circumstance that you—that the very people against whom it is aimed have not so much as suspected its existence."
"Then you think Howard honestly believes the man still means nothing?"
"The man never meant 'nothing,' Miss Waldron; but it was only at first the plot was aimed against Howard Axton," Trant replied. "Now it is aimed solely at you!"
The girl grew paler.
"How can you say that so surely, Mr. Trant?" Caryl demanded, "without investigation?"
"These letters are quite enough evidence for what I say, Mr. Caryl," Trant returned. "Would you have come to me unless you had known that my training in the methods of psychology enabled me to see causes and motives in such a case as this which others, untrained, can not see?
"You have nothing more to tell me which might be of assistance?" he faced the girl again, but turned back at once to Caryl. "Let me tell you then, Mr. Caryl, that I am about to make a very thorough investigation of this for you. Meanwhile, I repeat: a definite, daring crime was planned first, I believe, against Howard Axton and Miss Waldron; but now—I am practically certain—it is aimed against Miss Waldron alone. But there cannot be in it the slightest danger of intentional personal hurt to her. So neither of you need be uneasy while I am taking time to obtain full proof—"
"But, Mr. Trant," the girl interrupted, "are you not going to tell me—you must tell me—what the criminal secret is that these letters have revealed to you?"
"You must wait, Miss Waldron," the psychologist answered kindly, with his hand on the doorknob, as though anxious for the interview to end. "What I could tell you now would only terrify you and leave you perplexed how to act while you were waiting to hear from me. No; leave the letters, if you will, and the page from the Illustrated News," he said suddenly, as the girl began gathering up her papers. "There is only one thing more. You said you expected an interruption here from Howard Axton, Mr. Caryl. Is there still a good chance of his coming here or—must I go to see him?"
"Miss Waldron telephoned to me, in his presence, to take her to see you. Afterwards she left the house without his knowledge. As soon as he finds she has gone, he will look up your address, and I think you may expect him."
"Very good. Then I must set to work at once!" He shook hands with both of them hurriedly and almost forcing them out his door, closed it behind them, and strode back to his desk. He picked up immediately the second of the four letters which the girl had given him, read it through again, and crossed the corridor to the opposite office, which was that of a public stenographer.
"Make a careful copy of that," he directed, "and bring it to me as soon as it is finished."
A quarter of an hour later, when the copy had been brought him, he compared it carefully with the original. He put the copy in a drawer of the desk and was apparently waiting with the four originals before him when he heard a knock on his door and, opening it, found that his visitor was again young Caryl.
"Miss Waldron did not wish to return home at once; she has gone to see a friend. So I came back," he explained, "thinking you might make a fuller statement of your suspicions to me than you would in Miss Waldron's presence."
"Fuller in what respect, Mr. Caryl?"
The young man reddened.
"I must tell you—though you already may have guessed—that before Miss Waldron inherited the estate and came to believe it her duty to do as she has done, there had been an—understanding between us, Mr. Trant. She still has no friend to look to as she looks to me. So, if you mean that you have discovered through those letters—though God knows how you can have done it—anything in Axton which shows him unfit to marry her, you must tell me!"
"As far as Axton's past goes," Trant replied, "his letters show him a man of high type—moral, if I may make a guess, above the average. There is a most pleasing frankness about him. As to making any further explanation than I have done—but good Lord! what's that?"
The door of the office had been dashed loudly open, and its still trembling frame was filled by a tall, very angry young man in automobile costume, whose highly colored, aristocratic looking features Trant recognized immediately from the print in the page of the Illustrated London News.
"Ah, Mr. Caryl here too?—the village busybody!" the newcomer sneered, with a slight accent which showed his English education. "You are insufferably mixing yourself in my affairs," he continued, as Caryl, with an effort, controlled himself and made no answer. "Keep out of them! That is my advice—take it! Does a woman have to order you off the premises before you can understand that you are not wanted? As for you," he swung toward Trant, "you are Trant, I suppose!"
"Yes, that is my name, Mr. Axton," replied the psychologist, leaning against his desk.
The other advanced a step and raised a threatening finger. "Then that advice is meant for you, too. I want no police, no detectives, no outsider of any sort interfering in this matter. Make no mistake; it will be the worse for anyone who pushes himself in! I came here at once to take the case out of your hands, as soon as I found Miss Waldron had come here. This is strictly my affair—keep out of it!"
"You mean, Mr. Axton, that you prefer to investigate it personally?" the psychologist inquired.
"Exactly—investigate and punish!"
"But you cannot blame Miss Waldron for feeling great anxiety even on your account, as your personal risk in making such an investigation will be so immensely greater than anyone's else would be."
"Certainly; you may be simply playing into the hand of your strange visitor, by pursuing him unaided. Any other's risk,—mine, for instance, if I were to take up the matter—would be comparatively slight, beginning perhaps by questioning the nightwatchmen and stableboys in the neighborhood with a view to learning what became of the man after he left the house; and besides, such risks are a part of my business."
Axton halted. "I had not thought of it in that light," he said reflectively.
"You are too courageous—foolishly courageous, Mr. Axton."
"Do you mind if I sit down? Thank you. You think, Mr. Trant, that an investigation such as you suggest, would satisfy Miss Waldron—make her easier in her mind, I mean?"
"I think so, certainly."
"And it would not necessarily entail calling in the police? You must appreciate how I shrink from publicity—another story concerning the Axton family exploited in the daily papers!"
"I had no intention of consulting the police, or of calling them in, at least until I was ready to make the arrest."
"I must confess, Mr. Trant," said Axton easily, "that I find you a very different man from what I had expected. I imagined an uneducated, somewhat brutal, perhaps talkative fellow; but I find you, if I may say so, a gentleman. Yes, I am tempted to let you continue your investigation—on the lines you have suggested."
"I shall ask your help."
"I will help you as much as is in my power."
"Then let me begin, Mr. Axton, with a question—pardon me if I open a window, for the room is rather warm—I want to know whether you can supplement these letters, which so far are the only real evidence against the man, by any further description of him," and Trant, who had thrown open the window beside him, undisturbed by the roar that filled the office from the traffic-laden street below, took the letters from his pocket and opened them one by one, clumsily, upon the desk.
"I am afraid I cannot add anything to them, Mr. Trant."
"We must get on then with what we have here," the psychologist hitched his chair near to the window to get a better light on the paper in his hand, and his cuff knocked one of the other letters off the desk onto the windowsill. He turned, hastily but clumsily, and touched, but could not grasp it before it slipped from the sill out into the air. He sprang to his feet with an exclamation of dismay, and dashed from the room. Axton and Caryl, rushing to the window, watched the paper, driven by a strong breeze, flutter down the street until lost to sight among wagons; and a minute later saw Trant appear below them, bareheaded and excited, darting in and out among vehicles at the spot where the paper had disappeared; but it had been carried away upon some muddy wagon-wheel or reduced to tatters, for he returned after fifteen minutes' search disheartened, vexed and empty handed.
"It was the letter describing the second visit," he exclaimed disgustedly as he opened the door. "It was most essential, for it contained the most minute description of the man of all. I do not see how I can manage well, now, without it."
"Why should you?" Caryl said in surprise at the evident stupidity of the psychologist. "Surely, Mr. Axton, if he can not add any other details, can at least repeat those he had already given."
"Of course!" Trant recollected. "If you would be so good, Mr. Axton, I will have a stenographer take down the statement to give you the least trouble."
"I will gladly do that," Axton agreed; and, when the psychologist had summoned the stenographer, he dictated without hesitation the following letter:
"That is very satisfactory indeed;" Trant's gratification was evident in his tone, as Axton finished. "It will quite take the place of the letter that was lost. There is only one thing more—so far as I know now—in which you may be of present help to me, Mr. Axton. Besides your friend Lawler, who was drowned in the wreck of the Gladstone, and the man Beasley—who, Miss Waldron tells me, is in a London hospital—there were only two men in Cape Town with you who had been in Cairo and Calcutta at the same time you were. You do not happen to know what has become of that German freight agent, Schultz?"
"I have not the least idea, Mr. Trant."
"Or Walcott, the American patent medicine man?"
"I know no more of him than of the other. Whether either of them is in Chicago now, is precisely what I would like to know myself, Mr. Trant; and I hope you will be able to find out for me."
"I will do my best to locate them. By the way, Mr. Axton, you have no objection to my setting a watch over your family home, provided I employ a man who has no connection with the police?"
"With that condition I think it would be a very good idea," Axton assented. He waited to see whether Trant had anything more to ask him; then, with a look of partially veiled hostility at Caryl, he went out.
The other followed, but stopped at the door.
"We—that is, Miss Waldron—will hear from you, Mr. Trant?" he asked with sudden distrust—"I mean, you will report to her, as well as to Mr. Axton?"
"Certainly; but I hardly expect to have anything for you for two or three days."
The psychologist smiled, as he shut the door behind Caryl. He dropped into the chair at his desk and wrote rapidly a series of telegrams, which he addressed to the chiefs of police of a dozen foreign and American cities. Then, more slowly, he wrote a message to the Seric Medicine Company, of New York, and another to the Nord Deutscher Lloyd.
The first two days, of the three Trant had specified to Caryl, passed with no other event than the installing of a burly watchman at the Axton home. On the third night this watchman reported to Miss Waldron that he had seen and driven off, without being able to catch, a man who was trying to force a lower window; and the next morning—within half an hour of the arrival of the Overland Limited from San Francisco—Trant called up the Axton home on the telephone with the news that he thought he had at last positive proof of the mysterious man's identity. At least, he had with him a man whom he wanted Mr. Axton to see. Axton replied that he would be very glad to see the man, if Trant would make an appointment. In three quarters of an hour at the Axton home, Trant answered; and forty minutes later, having first telephoned young Caryl, Trant with his watchman, escorting a stranger who was broad-shouldered, weasel-eyed, of peculiarly alert and guarded manner, reached the Axton doorstep. Caryl had so perfectly timed his arrival, under Trant's instructions, that he joined them before the bell was answered.
Trant and Caryl, leaving the stranger under guard of the watchman in the hall, found Miss Waldron and Axton in the morning-room.
"Ah! Mr. Caryl again?" said Axton sneeringly. "Caryl was certainly not the man you wanted me to see, Trant!"
"The man is outside," the psychologist replied. "But before bringing him in for identification I thought it best to prepare Miss Waldron, and perhaps even more particularly you, Mr. Axton, for the surprise he is likely to occasion."
"A surprise?" Axton scowled questioningly. "Who is the fellow?—or rather, if that is what you have come to find out from me, where did you get him, Trant?"
"That is the explanation I wish to make," Trant replied, with his hand still upon the knob of the door, which he had pushed shut behind him. "You will recall, Mr. Axton, that there were but four men whom we know to have been in Cairo, Calcutta, and Cape Town at the same time you were. These were Lawler, your servant Beasley, the German Schultz, and the American Walcott. Through the Seric Medicine Company I have positively located Walcott; he is now in Australia. The Nord Deutscher Lloyd has given me equally positive assurance regarding Schultz. Schultz is now in Bremen. Miss Waldron has accounted for Beasley, and the Charing Cross Hospital corroborates her; Beasley is in London. There remains, therefore, the inevitable conclusion that either there was some other man following Mr. Axton—some man whom Mr. Axton did not see—or else that the man who so pried into Mr. Axton's correspondence abroad and into your letters, Miss Waldron, this last week here in Chicago, was—Lawler; and this I believe to have been the case."
"Lawler?" the girl and Caryl echoed in amazement, while Axton stared at the psychologist with increasing surprise and wonder. "Lawler?"
"Oh! I see," Axton all at once smiled contemptuously. "You believe in ghosts, Trant—you think it is Lawler's ghost that Miss Waldron saw!"
"I did not say Lawler's ghost," Trant replied a little testily. "I said Lawler's self, in flesh and blood. I am trying to make it plain to you," Trant took from his pocket the letters the girl had given him four days before and indicated the one describing the wreck, "that I believe the man whose death you so minutely and carefully describe here in this letter as Lawler, was not Lawler at all!"
"You mean to say that I didn't know Lawler?" Axton laughed loudly—"Lawler, who had been my companion in sixteen thousand miles of travel?"
Trant turned as though to reopen the door into the hall; then paused once more and kindly faced the girl.
"I know, Miss Waldron," he said, "that you have believed that Mr. Lawler has been dead these six weeks; and it is only because I am so certain that the man who is to be identified here now will prove to be that same Lawler that I have thought best to let you know in advance."
He threw open the door, and stood back to allow the Irish watchman to enter, preceded by the weasel-faced stranger. Then he closed the door quickly behind him, locked it, put the key in his pocket, and spun swiftly to see the effect of the stranger upon Axton.
That young man's face, despite his effort to control it, flushed and paled, flushed and went white again; but neither to Caryl nor the girl did it look at all like the face of one who saw a dead friend alive again.
"I do not know him!" Axton's eyes glanced quickly, furtively about. "I have never seen him before! Why have you brought him here? This is not Lawler!"
"No; he is not Lawler," Trant agreed; and at his signal the Irishman left his place and went to stand behind Axton. "But you know him, do you not? You have seen him before! Surely I need not recall to you this special officer Burns of the San Francisco detective bureau! That is right; you had better keep hold of him, Sullivan; and now, Burns, who is this man? Do you know him? Can you tell us who he is?"
"Do I know him?" the detective laughed. "Can I tell you who he is? Well, rather! That is Lord George Albany, who got into Claude Shelton's boy in San Francisco for $30,000 in a card game; that is Mr. Arthur Wilmering, who came within a hair of turning the same trick on young Stuyvesant in New York; that—first and last—is Mr. George Lawler himself, who makes a specialty of cards and rich men's sons!"
"Lawler? George Lawler?" Caryl and the girl gasped again.
"But why, in this affair, he used his own name," the detective continued, "is more than I can see; for surely he shouldn't have minded another change."
"He met Mr. Howard Axton in London," Trant suggested, "where there was still a chance that the card cheating in the Sussex guards was not forgotten, and he might at any moment meet someone who recalled his face. It was safer to tell Axton all about it, and protest innocence."
"Howard Axton?" the girl echoed, recovering herself at the name. "Why, Mr Trant; if this is Mr. Lawler, as this man says and you believe, then where is Mr. Axton—oh, where is Howard Axton?"
"I am afraid, Miss Waldron," the psychologist replied, "that Mr. Howard Axton was undoubtedly lost in the wreck of the Gladstone. It may even have been the finding of Howard Axton's body that this man described in that last letter."
"Howard Axton drowned! Then this man—"
"Mr. George Lawler's specialty being rich men's sons," said the psychologist, "I suppose he joined company with Howard Axton because he was the son of Nimrod Axton. Possibly he did not know at first that Howard had been disinherited, and he may not have found it out until the second Mrs. Axton's death, when the estate came to Miss Waldron, and she created a situation which at least promised an opportunity. It was in seeking this opportunity, Miss Waldron, among the intimate family affairs revealed in your letters to Howard Axton that Lawler was three times seen by Axton in his room, as described in the first three letters that you showed to me. That was it, was it not, Lawler?"
The prisoner—for the attitude of Sullivan and Burns left no doubt now that he was a prisoner—made no answer.
"You mean, Mr. Trant," the eyes of the horrified girl turned from Lawler as though even the sight of him shamed her, "that if Howard Axton had not been drowned, this—this man would have come anyway?"
"I cannot say what Lawler's intentions were if the wreck had not occurred," the psychologist replied. "For you remember that I told you that this attempted crime has been most wonderfully assisted by circumstances. Lawler, cast ashore from the wreck of the Gladstone, found himself—if the fourth of these letters is to be believed—identified as Howard Axton, even before he had regained consciousness, by your stolen letters to Howard which he had in his pocket. From that time on he did not have to lift a finger, beyond the mere identification of a body—possibly Howard Axton's—as his own. Howard had left America so young that identification here was impossible unless you had a portrait; and Lawler undoubtedly had learned from your letters that you had no picture of Howard. His own picture, published in the News over Howard's name, when it escaped identification as Lawler, showed him that the game was safe and prepared you to accept him as Howard without question. He had not even the necessity of counterfeiting Howard's writing, as Howard had the correspondent's habit of using a typewriter. Only two possible dangers threatened him. First, was the chance that, if brought in contact with the police, he might be recognized. You can understand, Miss Waldron, by his threats to prevent your consulting them, how anxious he was to avoid this. And second, that there might be something in Howard Axton's letters to you which, if unknown to him, might lead him to compromise and betray himself in his relations with you. His sole mistake was that, when he attempted to search your desk for these letters, he clumsily adopted once more the same disguise that had proved so perplexing to Howard Axton. For he could have done nothing that would have been more terrifying to you. It quite nullified the effect of the window he had fixed to prove by the man's means of exit and entrance that he was not a member of the household. It sent you, in spite of his objections and threats, to consult me; and, most important of all, it connected these visits at once with the former ones described in Howard's letters, so that you brought the letters to me when, of course, the nature of the crime, though not the identity of the criminal, was at once plain to me."
"I see it was plain; but was it merely from these letters—these typewritten letters, Mr. Trant?" cried Caryl incredulously.
"From those alone, Mr. Caryl," the psychologist smiled slightly, "through a most elementary, primer fact of psychology. Perhaps you would like to know, Lawler," Trant turned, still smiling, to the prisoner, "just wherein you failed. And, as you will probably never have another chance such as the one just past for putting the information to practical use—even if you were not, as Mr. Burns tells me, likely to retire for a number of years from active life—I am willing to tell you."
The prisoner turned on Trant his face—now grown livid—with an expression of almost superstitious questioning.
"Did you ever happen to go to a light opera with Howard Axton, Mr. Lawler," asked Trant, "and find after the performance that you remembered all the stage-settings of the piece but could not recall a tune—you know you cannot recall a tune, Lawler—while Axton, perhaps, could whistle all the tunes but could not remember a costume or a scene? Psychologists call that difference between you and Howard Axton a difference in 'memory types.' In an almost masterly manner you imitated the style, the tricks and turns of expression of Howard Axton in your letter to Miss Waldron describing the wreck—not quite so well in the statement you dictated in my office. But you could not imitate the primary difference of Howard Axton's mind from yours. That was where you failed.
"The change in the personality of the letter writer might easily have passed unnoticed, as it passed Miss Waldron, had not the letters fallen into the hands of one who, like myself, is interested in the manifestations of mind. For different minds are so constituted that inevitably their processes run more easily along certain channels than along others. Some minds have a preference, so to speak, for a particular type of impression; they remember a sight that they have seen, they forget the sound that went with it; or they remember the sound and forget the sight. There are minds which are almost wholly ear-minds or eye-minds. In minds of the visual, or eye, type, all thoughts and memories and imaginations will consist of ideas of sight; if of the auditory type, the impressions of sound predominate and obscure the others.
"The first three letters you handed me, Miss Waldron," the psychologist turned again to the girl, "were those really written by Howard Axton. As I read through them I knew that I was dealing with what psychologists call an auditory mind. When, in ordinary memory, he recalled an event he remembered best its sounds. But I had not finished the first page of the fourth letter when I came upon the description of the body lying on the sand—a visual memory so clear and so distinct, so perfect even to the pockets distended with sand, that it startled and amazed me—for it was the first distinct visual memory I had found. As I read on I became certain that the man who had written the first three letters—who described a German as guttural and remembered the American as nasal—could never have written the fourth. Would that first man—the man who recalled even the sound of his midnight visitor's shoulders when they rubbed against the wall—fail to remember in his recollection of the shipwreck the roaring wind and roaring sea, the screams of men and women, the crackling of the fire? They would have been his clearest recollection. But the man who wrote the fourth letter recalled most clearly that the sea was white and frothy, the men were pallid and staring!"
"I see! I see!" Caryl and the girl cried as, at the psychologist's bidding, they scanned together the letters he spread before them.
"The subterfuge by which I destroyed the second letter of the set, after first making a copy of it—"
"You did it on purpose? What an idiot I was!" exclaimed Caryl.
"Was merely to obviate the possibility of mistake," Trant continued, without heeding the interruption. "The statement this man dictated, as it was given in terms of 'sight,' assured me that he was not Axton. When, by means of the telegraph, I had accounted for the present whereabouts of three of the four men he might possibly be, it became plain that he must be Lawler. And finding that Lawler was badly wanted in San Francisco, I asked Mr. Burns to come on and identify him.
"And the stationing of the watchman here was a blind also, as well as his report of the man who last night tried to force the window?" Caryl exclaimed.
Trant nodded. He was watching the complete dissolution of the swindler's effrontery. Trant had appreciated that Lawler had let him speak on uninterrupted as though, after the psychologist had shown his hand, he held in reserve cards to beat it. But his attempt to sneer and scoff and contemn was so weak, when the psychologist was through, that Ethel Waldron—almost as though to spare him—arose and motioned to Trant to tell her, whatever else he wished, in the next room.
Trant followed her a moment obediently; but at the door he seemed to recollect himself.
"I think there is nothing else now, Miss Waldron," he said, "except that I believe I can spare you the reopening of your family affairs here. Burns tells me there is more than enough against him in California to keep Mr. Lawler there for some good time. I will go with him, now," and he stood aside for Caryl to go, in his place, into the next room.