The Achievements of Luther Trant/The Red Dress
THE RED DRESS
"Another morning; and nothing! Three days gone and no word, no sign from her; or any mark of weakening!"
The powerful man at the window clenched his hands. Then he swung about to face his confidential secretary and stared at her uncertainly. It was the tenth time that morning, and the fiftieth time in the three days just gone, that Walter Eldredge, the young president of the great Chicago drygoods house of Eldredge and Company, had paused, incapable of continuing business.
"Never mind that letter, Miss Webster," he commanded. "But tell me again—are you sure that no one has come to see me, and there has been no message, about my wife—I mean about Edward—about Edward?"
"No; no one, I am sure, Mr. Eldredge!"
"Send Mr. Murray to me!" he said.
"Raymond, something more effective must be done!" he cried, as his brother-in-law appeared in the doorway. "It is impossible for matters to remain longer in this condition!" His face grew gray. "I am going to put it into the hands of the police!"
"The police!" cried Murray. "After the way the papers treated you and Isabel when you married? You and Isabel in the papers again, and the police making it a public scandal! Surely there's still some private way! Why not this fellow Trant. You must have followed in the papers the way he got immediate action in the Bronson murder mystery, after the police force was at fault for two weeks. He's our man for this sort of thing, Walter! Where can we get his address?"
"Try the University Club," said Eldredge.
Murray lifted the desk phone. "He's a member; he's there. What shall I tell him," Eldredge himself took up the conversation.
"Yes! Mr. Trant? Mr. Trant, this is Walter Eldredge, of Eldredge and Company. Yes; there is a private matter—something has happened in my family; I cannot tell you over the phone. If you could come to me here. . . . Yes! It is criminal." His voice broke. "For God's sake come and help me!"
Ten minutes later a boy showed Trant into the young president's private room. If the psychologist had never seen Walter Eldredge's portrait in the papers he could have seen at a glance that he was a man trained to concentrate his attention on large matters; and he as quickly recognized that the pale, high-bred, but weak features of Eldredge's companion belonged to a dependent, subordinate to the other.
Eldredge had sprung nervously to his feet and Trant was conscious that he was estimating him with the acuteness of one accustomed to judge another quickly and to act upon his judgment. Yet it was Murray who spoke first.
"Mr. Eldredge wished to apply to the police this morning, Mr. Trant," he explained, patronizingly, "in a matter of the most delicate nature; but I—I am Raymond Murray, Mr. Eldredge's brother-in-law—persuaded him to send for you. I did this, trusting quite as much to your delicacy in guarding Mr. Eldredge from public scandal as to your ability to help us directly. We understand that you are not a regular private detective."
"I am a psychologist, Mr. Eldredge," Trant replied to the older man, stifling his irritation at Murray's manner. "I have merely made some practical applications of simple psychological experiments, which should have been put into police procedure years ago. Whether I am able to assist you or not, you may be sure that I will keep your confidence."
"Then this is the case, Trant." Murray came to the point quickly. "My nephew, Edward Eldredge, Walter's older son, was kidnaped three days ago."
"What?" Trant turned from one to the other in evident astonishment.
"Since the Whitman case in Ohio," continued Murray, "and the Bradley kidnaping in St. Louis last week—where they got the description of the woman but have caught no one yet—the papers predicted an epidemic of child stealing. And it has begun in Chicago with the stealing of Walter's son!"
"That didn't surprise me—that the boy may be missing," Trant rejoined. "But it surprised me, Mr. Eldredge, that no one has heard of it! Why did you not at once give it the greatest publicity? Why have you not called in the police? What made you wait three days before calling in even me?"
"Because the family," Murray replied, "have known from the first that it was Mrs. Eldredge who had the child abducted."
"Mrs. Eldredge?" Trant cried incredulously. "Your wife, sir?" he appealed to the older man.
"Yes, Mr. Trant," Eldredge answered, miserably.
"Then why have you sent for me at all?"
"Because in three days we have gained nothing from her," the brother-in-law replied before Eldredge could answer. "And, from the accounts of your ability, we thought you could, in some way, learn from her where the child is concealed."
The young president of Eldredge and Company was twisting under the torture of these preliminaries. But Trant turned curiously to Murray. "Mrs. Eldredge is not your sister?"
"No; not the present Mrs. Eldredge. My sister, Walter's first wife, died six years ago, when Edward was born. She gave her life for the boy whom the second Mrs. Eldredge—" he remembered himself as Eldredge moved quickly.
"Isabel, my second wife, Mr. Trant," Eldredge burst out in the bitterness of having to explain to a stranger his most intimate emotion, "as I thought all the world knew, was my private secretary—my stenographer—in this office. We were married a little over two years ago. If you remember the way the papers treated her then, you will understand what it would mean if this matter became public! The boy—" he hesitated. "I suppose I must make the circumstances plain to you. Seven years ago I married Edith Murray, Raymond's sister. A year later she died. About the same time my father died, and I had to take up the business. Mrs. Murray, who was in the house at the time of Edith's death, was good enough to stay and take charge of my child and my household."
"And Mr. Murray? He stayed too?"
"Raymond was in college. Afterwards he came to my house, naturally. Two years ago I married my second wife. At Mrs. Eldredge's wish, as much as my own, the Murrays remained with us. My wife appreciated even better than I that her training had scarcely fitted her to take up at once her social duties: the newspapers had prejudiced society against her, so Mrs. Murray remained to introduce her socially."
"I see—for over two years. But meanwhile Mrs. Eldredge had taken charge of the child?"
"My wife was—not at ease with the boy." Eldredge winced at the direct question. "Edward liked her, but—I found her a hundred times crying over her incompetence with children, and she was contented to let Mrs. Murray continue to look after him. But after her own son was born—"
"Ah!" said Trant, expectantly.
"I shall conceal nothing. After her own son was born, I am obliged to admit that Mrs. Eldredge's attitude changed. She became insistent to have charge of Edward, and his grandmother, Mrs. Murray, still hesitated to trust Isabel. But finally I agreed to give my wife charge of everything and complete control over Edward. If all went well, Mrs. Murray was to reopen her old home and leave us, when—it was Tuesday afternoon, three days ago, Mr. Trant—my wife took Edward, with her maid, out in the motor. It was the boy's sixth birthday. It was almost the first time in his life he had left the house to go any distance without his grandmother. My wife did not bring him back.
"Why she never brought him back—what happened to the boy, Mr. Trant," Eldredge stooped to a private drawer for papers, "I wish you to determine for yourself from the evidence here. As soon as I saw how personal a matter it was, I had my secretary, Miss Webster, take down the evidence of the four people who saw the child taken away: my chauffeur, Mrs. Eldredge's maid, Miss Hendricks and Mrs. Eldredge. The chauffeur, Morris, has been in my employ for five years. I am confident that he is truthful. Moreover, he distinctly prefers Mrs. Eldredge over everyone else. The maid, Lucy Carew, has been also singularly devoted to my wife. She, too, is truthful.
"The testimony of the third person—Miss Hendricks—is far the most damaging against my wife. Miss Hendricks makes a direct and inevasive charge; it is practical proof. For I must tell you truthfully, Mr. Trant, that Miss Hendricks is far the best educated and capable witness of all. She saw the whole affair much nearer than any of the others. She is a person of irreproachable character, a rich old maid, living with her married sister on the street corner where the kidnaping occurred. Moreover, her testimony, though more elaborate, is substantiated in every important particular by both Morris and Lucy Carew."
Eldredge handed over the first pages.
"Against these, Mr. Trant, is this statement of—my wife's. My home faces the park, and is the second house from the street corner. There is, however, no driveway entrance into the park at this intersecting street. There are entrances a long block and a half away in one direction and more than two blocks in the other. But the winding drive inside the park approaches the front of the house within four hundred feet, and is separated from it by the park greensward."
"I understand." Trant took the pages of evidence eagerly. Eldredge went to the window and stood knotting the curtain cord in suspense. But Murray crossed his legs, and, lighting a cigarette, watched Trant attentively. Trant read the testimony of the chauffeur, which was dated by Eldredge as taken Tuesday afternoon at five o'clock. It read thus:
Eldredge swung about and fixed on the young psychologist a look of anxious inquiry. But without comment, Trant picked up the testimony of the maid. It read:
Trant laid the maid's testimony aside and looked up quickly.
"There is one extremely important thing, Mr. Eldredge," he said. "Were the witnesses examined separately?—that is, none of them heard the testimony given by any other?"
"None of them, Mr. Trant."
Then Trant picked up the testimony of Miss Hendricks, which read as follows:
"You say you can have no doubt of Miss Hendricks' veracity?" asked Trant.
Eldredge shook his head, miserably. "I have known Miss Hendricks for a number of years, and I should as soon accuse myself of falsehood. She came running over to the house as soon as this had happened, and it was from her account that I first learned, through Mrs. Murray, that something had occurred."
Trant's glance fell to the remaining sheets in his hand, the testimony of Mrs. Eldredge; and the psychologist's slightly mismated eyes—blue and gray—flashed suddenly as he read the following:
Trant looked up suddenly at Eldredge who had left his position by the window and over Trant's shoulder was reading the testimony. His face was gray.
"I asked Mrs. Eldredge," the husband said, pitifully, "why, if she suspected the woman from the first, and so much time elapsed, she did not try to prevent the kidnaping, and—she would not answer me!"
Trant nodded, and read the final paragraph of Mrs. Eldredge's testimony:
The psychologist laid down the papers and looked from one to the other of his companions reflectively. "What had happened that afternoon before Mrs. Eldredge and the boy went motoring?" he asked abruptly.
"Nothing out of the ordinary, Mr. Trant," said Eldredge. "Why do you ask that?"
Trant's fingertip followed on the table the last words of the evidence. "And what woman does Mrs. Eldredge know that answers that description—'unusually large, not stout, but tall and big, very dark, with black hair?'"
"No one," said Eldredge.
"No one except," young Murray laughed frankly, "my mother. Trant," he said, contemptuously, "don't start any false leads of that sort! My mother was with Walter at the time the kidnaping took place!"
"Mrs. Murray was with me," Eldredge assented, "from four till five o'clock that afternoon. She has nothing to do with the matter. But, Trant, if you see in this mass of accusation one ray of hope that Mrs. Eldredge is not guilty, for God's sake give it to me, for I need it!"
The psychologist ran his fingers through his red hair and arose, strongly affected by the appeal of the white-lipped man who faced him. "I can give you more than a ray of hope, Mr. Eldredge," he said. "I am almost certain that Mrs. Eldredge not only did not cause your son's disappearance, but that she knows absolutely nothing about the matter. And I am nearly, though not quite, so sure that this is not a case of kidnaping at all!"
"What, Trant? Man, you can't tell me that from that evidence?"
"I do, Mr. Eldredge!" Trant returned a little defiantly. "Just from this evidence!"
"But, Trant," the husband cried, trying to grasp the hope this stranger gave him against all his better reason, "if you can think that, why did she describe everything—the time, the circumstance, the size and appearance of the woman and even the color of her dress—so differently from all the rest? Why did she lie when she told me this, Mr. Trant?"
"I do not think she lied, Mr. Eldredge."
"Then the rest lied and it is a conspiracy of the witnesses against her?"
"No; no one lied, I think. And there was no conspiracy. That is my inference from the testimony and the one other fact we have—that there had been no demand for ransom."
Eldredge stared at him almost wildly. His brother-in-law moved up beside him.
"Then where is my son, and who has taken him?"
"I cannot say yet," Trant answered. There was a knock on the door.
"You asked to have everything personal brought to you at once, Mr. Eldredge," said Miss Webster, holding out a note. "This just came in the ten o'clock delivery." Eldredge snatched it from her—a soiled, creased envelope bearing a postmark of the Lake View substation just west of his home. It was addressed in a scrawling, illiterate hand, and conspicuously marked personal. He tore it open, caught the import of it almost at a glance; then with a smothered cry threw it on the desk in front of Murray, who read it aloud.
N. B.—If you try to make any investigation about this case our above promiss will not be kept.
"Well, Trant, what do you say now?" asked Murray.
"That it was the only thing needed," Trant answered, triumphantly, "to complete my case. Now, I am sure I need only go to your house to make a short examination of Mrs. Eldredge and the case against her!"
He swung about suddenly at a stifled exclamation behind him, and found himself looking into the white face of the private secretary; but she turned at once and left the office. Trant swung back to Murray. "No, thank you," he said, refusing the proffer of the paper. "I read from the marks made upon minds by a crime, not from scrawls and thumbprints upon paper. And my means of reading those marks are fortunately in my possession this morning. No, I do not mean that I have other evidence upon this case than that you have just given me, Mr. Eldredge," Trant explained. "I refer to my psychological apparatus which, the express company notified me, arrived from New York this morning. If you will let me have my appliance delivered direct to your house it will save much time."
"I will order it myself!" Eldredge took up the telephone and quickly arranged the delivery.
"Thank you," Trant acknowledged. "And if you will also see that I have a photograph, a souvenir postal, or some sort of a picture of every possible locality within a few blocks of your house you will probably help in my examination greatly. Also," he checked himself and stood thoughtfully a moment, "will you have these words"—he wrote "Armenia, invitation, inviolate, sedate" and "pioseer." upon a paper—"carefully lettered for me and brought to your house?"
"What?" Eldredge stared at the list in astonishment. He looked up at Trant's direct, intelligent features and checked himself. "Is there not some mistake in that last word, Mr. Trant? 'Pioseer' is not a word at all."
"I don't wish it to be," Trant replied. His glance fell suddenly on a gaudily lithographed card—an advertisement showing the interior of a room. He took it from the desk.
"This will be very helpful, Mr. Eldredge," he said. "If you will have this brought with the other cards I think that will be all. At three o'clock, then, at your house?"
He left them, looking at each other in perplexity. He stopped a moment at a newspaper office, and then returned to the University Club thoughtfully. By the authority of all precedent procedure of the world, he recognized how hopelessly the case stood against the stepmother of the missing child. But by the authority of the new science—the new knowledge of humanity—which he was laboring to establish, he felt certain he could save her.
Yet he fully appreciated that he could accomplish nothing until his experimental instruments were delivered. He must be content to wait until he could test his belief in Mrs. Eldredge's innocence for himself, and at the same time convince Eldredge conclusively. So he played billiards, and lunched, and was waiting for the hour he had set with Eldredge, when he was summoned to the telephone. A man who said he was Mrs. Eldredge's chauffeur, informed him that Mrs. Eldredge was in the motor before the club and she wished to speak with him at once.
Trant immediately went down to the motor.
The single woman in the curtained limousine had drawn back into the farthest corner to avoid the glances of passersby. But as Trant came toward the car she leaned forward and searched his face anxiously.
She was a wonderfully beautiful woman, though her frail face bore evidences of long continued anxiety and of present excitement. Her hair was unusually rich in color; the dilated, defiant eyes were deep and flawless; the pale cheeks were clear and soft, and the trembling lips were curved and perfect. Trant, before a word had been exchanged between them, recognized the ineffable appeal of her personality.
"I must speak with you, Mr. Trant," she said, as the chauffeur at her nod, opened the door of the car. "I cannot leave the motor. You must get in."
Trant stepped quietly into the limousine, filled with the soft perfume of her presence. The chauffeur closed the door behind him, and at once started the car.
"My husband has consulted you, Mr. Trant, regarding the—the trouble that has come upon us, the—the disappearance of his son, Edward," she asked.
"Why do you not say at once, Mrs. Eldredge, that you know he has consulted me and asked me to come and examine you this afternoon? You must have learned it through his secretary."
The woman hesitated. "It is true," she said nervously. "Miss Webster telephoned me. I see that you have not forgotten that I was once my husband's stenographer, and—I still have friends in his office."
"Then there is something you want to tell me that you cannot tell in the presence of the others?"
The woman turned, her large eyes meeting his with an almost frightened expression, but she recovered herself immediately. "No, Mr. Trant; it is because I know that he—my husband—that no one is making any search, or trying to recover Edward—except through watching me."
"That is true, Mrs. Eldredge," the psychologist helped her.
"You must not do that too, Mr. Trant!" she leaned toward him appealingly. "You must search for the boy—my husband's boy! You must not waste time in questioning me, or in trying me with your new methods! That is why I came to see you—to tell you, on my word of honor, that I know nothing of it!"
"I should feel more certain if you would be frank with me," Trant returned, "and tell me what happened on that afternoon before the child disappeared."
"We went motoring," the woman replied.
"Before you went motoring, Mrs. Eldredge," the psychologist pressed, "what happened?"
She shrank suddenly, and turned upon him eyes filled with unconquerable terror. He waited, but she did not answer.
"Did not some one tell you," the psychologist took a shot half in the dark, "or accuse you that you were taking the child out in order to get rid of him?"
The woman fell back upon the cushions, chalk-white and shuddering.
"You have answered me," Trant said quietly. He glanced at her pityingly, and as she shrank from him, he tingled with an unbidden sympathy for this beautiful woman. "But in spite of the fact that you never brought the boy back," Trant cried impetuously, "and in spite of—or rather because of all that is so dark against you, believe me that I expect to clear you before them all!" He glanced at his watch. "I am glad that you have been taking me toward your home, for it is almost time for my appointment with your husband."
The car was running on the street bounding the park on the west. It stopped suddenly before a great stone house, the second from the intersecting street.
Eldredge was running down the steps, and in a moment young Murray came after him. The husband opened the door of the limousine and helped his wife tenderly up the steps. Murray and Trant followed him together. Eldredge's second wife—though she could comprehend nothing of what lay behind Trant's assurance of help for her—met her husband's look with eyes that had suddenly grown bright. Murray stared from the woman to Trant with disapproval. He nodded to the psychologist to follow him into Eldredge's study on one side; but there he waited for his brother-in-law to return to voice his reproach.
"What have you been saying to her, Trant?" Eldredge demanded sternly as he entered and shut the door.
"Only what I told you this morning," the psychologist answered—"that I believe her innocent. And after seeing what relief it brought her, I can not be sorry!"
"You can't?" Eldredge rebuked. "I can! When I called you in you had the right to tell me whatever you thought, however wild and without ground it was. It could not hurt me much. But now you have encouraged my wife still to hold out against us—still to defy us and to deny that she knows anything when—when, since we saw you, the case has become only more conclusive against her. We have just discovered a most startling confirmation of Miss Hendrick's evidence. Raymond, show him!" he gestured in sorry triumph.
Young Murray opened the library desk and pulled out a piece of newspaper, which he put in Trant's hand. He pointed to the heading. "You see, Trant, it is the account of the kidnaping in St. Louis which occurred just before Edward was stolen."
All witnesses describe the kidnaper as a short, dark woman, marked with smallpox. She wore a gray coat and black skirt, a hat with white feathers, and appeared to be an Italian.
"I knew that. It exactly corresponds with the woman described by Miss Hendricks," Trant rejoined. "I was aware of it this morning. But I can only repeat that the case has turned more and more conclusively in favor of Mrs. Eldredge."
"Why, even before we recognized the woman described by Miss Hendricks the evidence was conclusive against Isabel!" Murray shot back. "Listen! She was nervously excited all that day; when the woman snatched Edward, Isabel did nothing. She denies she signaled the woman, but Miss Hendricks saw the signal. Isabel says the automobile took fifteen minutes making the circuit in the park, which is ridiculous! But she wants to give an idea in every case exactly contrary to what really occurred, and the other witnesses are agreed that the run was very quick. And most of all, she tried to throw us off in her description of the woman. The other three are agreed that she was short and slight. Isabel declares she was large and tall. The testimony of the chauffeur and the maid agrees with Miss Hendricks' in every particular—except that the maid says the woman was dressed in violet. In that one particular she is probably mistaken, for Miss Hendricks' description is most minute. Certainly the woman was not, as Isabel has again and again repeated in her efforts to throw us off the track, and in the face of all other evidence, clothed in a red dress!"
"Very well summarized!" said Trant. "Analyzed and summarized just as evidence has been ten million times in a hundred thousand law courts since the taking of evidence began. You could convict Mrs. Eldredge on that evidence. Juries have convicted thousands of other innocent people on evidence less trustworthy. The numerous convictions of innocent persons are as black a shame to-day as burnings and torturings were in the Middle Ages; as tests by fire and water, or as executions for witchcraft. Courts take evidence to-day exactly as it was taken when Joseph was a prisoner in Egypt. They hang and imprison on grounds of 'precedent' and 'common sense.' They accept the word of a witness where its truth seems likely, and refuse it where it seems otherwise. And, having determined the preponderance of evidence, they sometimes say, as you have just said of Lucy Carew, 'though correct in everything else, in this one particular fact our truthful witness is mistaken.' There is no room for mistakes, Mr. Eldredge, in scientific psychology. Instead of analyzing evidence by the haphazard methods of the courts, we can analyze it scientifically, exactly, incontrovertibly—we can select infallibly the true from the false. And that is what I mean to do now," he added, "if my apparatus, for which you telephoned this morning, has come."
"The boxes are in the rear hall," Eldredge replied. "I have obtained over a hundred views of the locality, and the cards you requested me to secure are here too."
"Good! Then you will get together the witnesses? The maid and the chauffeur I need to see only for a moment. I will question them while you are sending for Miss Hendricks."
Eldredge rang for the butler. "Bring in those boxes which have just come for Mr. Trant," he commanded. "Send this note to Miss Hendricks"—he wrote a few lines swiftly—"and tell Lucy and Morris to come here at once."
He watched Trant curiously while he bent to his boxes and began taking out his apparatus. Trant first unpacked a varnished wooden box with a small drop window in one end. Opposite the window was a rack upon which cards or pictures could be placed. They could then be seen only through the drop-window. This window worked like the shutter of a camera, and was so controlled that it could be set to remain open for a fixed time, in seconds or parts of a second, after which it closed automatically. As Trant set this up and tested the shutter, the maid and chauffeur came to the door of the library. Trant admitted the girl and shut the door.
"On Tuesday afternoon," he said to her, kindly, "was Mrs. Eldredge excited—very much excited—before you came to the place where the machine broke down, and before she saw the woman who took Edward away?"
"Yes, sir," the girl answered. "She was more excited than I'd seen her ever before, all the afternoon, from the time we started."
The young psychologist then admitted the chauffeur, and repeated his question.
"She was most nervous, yes, sir; and excited, sir, from the very first," the chauffeur answered.
"That is all," said Trant, suddenly dismissing both, then turning without expression to Eldredge. "If Miss Hendricks is here I will examine her at once."
Eldredge went out, and returned with the little old maid. Miss Hendricks had a high-bred, refined and delicate face; and a sweet, though rather loquacious, manner. She acknowledged the introduction to Trant with old-fashioned formality.
"Please sit down, Miss Hendricks," said Trant, motioning her to a chair facing the drop-window of the exposure box. "This little window will open and stand open an instant. I want you to look in and read the word that you will see." He dropped a card quickly into the rack.
"Do not be surprised," he begged, as she looked at the drop-window curiously, "if this examination seems puerile to you. It is not really so; but only unfamiliar in this country, yet. The Germans have carried psychological work further than any one in this nation, though the United States is now awakening to its importance." While speaking, he had lifted the shutter and kept it raised a moment.
"It must be very interesting," Miss Hendricks commented. "That word was 'America,' Mr. Trant."
Trant changed the card quickly. "And I'm glad to say, Miss Hendricks," he continued, while the maiden lady watched for the next word, interested, "that Americans are taking it up intelligently, not servilely copying the Germans!"
"That word was 'imitation,' Mr. Trant!" said Miss Hendricks.
"So now much is being done," Trant continued, again shifting the card, "in the fifty psychological laboratories of this country through painstaking experiments and researches."
"And that word was 'investigate!'" said Miss Hendricks, as the shutter lifted and dropped again.
"That was quite satisfactory, Miss Hendricks," Trant acknowledged. "Now look at this please." Trant swiftly substituted the lithograph he had picked up at Eldredge's office. "What was that, Miss Hendricks?"
"It was a colored picture of a room with several people in it."
"Did you see the boy in the picture, Miss Hendricks?"
"Why—yes, of course, Mr. Trant," the woman answered, after a little hesitation.
"Good. Did you also see his book?"
"Yes; I saw that he was reading."
"Can you describe him?"
"Yes; he was about fifteen years old, in a dark suit with a brown tie, black-haired, slender, and he sat in a corner with a book on his knee."
"That was indeed most satisfactory! Thank you, Miss Hendricks." Trant congratulated and dismissed her. "Now your wife, if you please, Mr. Eldredge."
Eldredge was curiously turning over the cards which Trant had been exhibiting, and stared at the young psychologist in bewilderment. But at Trant's words he went for his wife. She came down at once with Mrs. Murray. Though she had been described to him, it was the first time Trant had seen the grandmother of the missing boy; and, as she entered, a movement of admiration escaped him. She was taller even than her son—who was the tallest man in the room—and she had retained surprisingly much of the grace and beauty of youth. She was a majestic and commanding figure. After settling her charge in a chair, she turned solicitously to Trant.
"Mr. Eldredge tells me that you consider it necessary to question poor Isabel again," she said. "But, Mr. Trant, you must be careful not to subject her to any greater strain than is necessary. We all have told her that if she would be entirely frank with us we would make allowance for one whose girlhood has been passed in poverty which obliged her to work for a living."
Mrs. Eldredge shrank nervously and Trant turned to Murray. "Mr. Murray," he said, "I want as little distraction as possible during my examination of Mrs. Eldredge, so if you will be good enough to bring in to me from the study the automatograph—the other apparatus which I took from the box—and then wait outside till I have completed the test, it will assist me greatly. Mrs. Murray, you can help me if you remain."
Young Murray glanced at his mother and complied. The automatograph, which Trant set upon another table, was that designed by Prof. Jastrow, of the University of Wisconsin, for the study of involuntary movements. It consisted of a plate of glass in a light frame mounted on adjustable brass legs, so that it could be set exactly level. Three polished glass balls, three-quarters of an inch in diameter, rested on this plate; and on these again there rested a very light plate of glass. To the upper plate was connected a simple system of levers, which carried a needle point at their end, so holding the needle as to travel over a sheet of smoked paper.
While Trant was setting up this instrument Mrs. Eldredge's nervousness had greatly increased. And the few words which she spoke to her husband and Mrs. Murray—who alone remained in the room—showed that her mind was filled with thoughts of the missing child. Trant, observing her, seemed to change his plan suddenly and, instead of taking Mrs. Eldredge to the new instrument, he seated her in the chair in front of the drop-window. He explained gently to the trembling woman that he wanted her to read to him the words he exposed; and, as in the case of Miss Hendricks, he tried to put her at ease by speaking of the test itself.
"These word tests, Mrs. Eldredge, will probably seem rather pointless. For that matter all proceedings with which one is not familiar must seem pointless; even the proceedings of the national legislature in Washington seem pointless to the spectators in the gallery." At this point the shutter lifted and exposed a word. "What was the word, please, Mrs. Eldredge?"
"'Sedate,'" the woman faltered.
"But though the tests seem pointless, Mrs. Eldredge, they are not really so. To the trained investigator each test word is as full of meaning as each mark upon the trail is to the backwoodsman on the edge of civilization. Now what word was that?" he questioned quickly, as the shutter raised and lowered again.
The woman turned her dilated eyes on Trant. "That—that," she hesitated—"I could make it out only as 'p-i-o-s-e-e-r,'" she spelled, uneasily. "I do not know any such word."
"I shall not try you on words any longer, Mrs. Eldredge," Trant decided. He took his stop-watch in his hand. "But I shall ask you to tell me how much time elapses between two taps with my lead pencil on the table. Now!"
"Two minutes," the woman stammered.
Eldredge, who, observing what Trant was doing, had taken his own watch from his pocket and timed the brief interval, stared at Trant in astonishment. But without giving the wife time to compose herself, Trant went on quickly:
"Look again at the little window, Mrs. Eldredge. I shall expose to you a photograph; and if you are to help me recover your husband's son, I hope you can recognize it. Who was it?" the psychologist demanded as the shutter dropped.
"That was a photograph of Edward!" the woman cried. "But I never saw that picture before!" She sat back, palpitating with uneasiness.
Mrs. Murray quickly took up the picture which had just been recognized as her grandson. "That is not Edward, Mr. Trant," she said.
Trant laid a finger on his lips to silence her.
"Mrs. Murray," he said in quick appeal, "I wished, as you probably noted, to use this instrument, the automatograph, a moment ago: I will try it now. Will you be good enough to test it for me? Merely rest your fingers lightly—as lightly as you please—upon this upper glass plate." Mrs. Murray complied, willingly. "Now please hold your hand there while I lay out these about you." He swiftly distributed the photographic views of the surrounding blocks which Eldredge had collected for him.
Mrs. Murray watched him curiously as he placed about a dozen in a circle upon the table; and, almost as swiftly, swept them away and distributed others in their place. Again, after glancing at her hand to see that it was held in position, he set out a third lot, his eyes fixed, as before, on the smoked paper under the needle at the end of the levers. Suddenly he halted, looked keenly at the third set of cards and, without a word, left the room. In an instant he returned and after a quick, sympathetic glance at Mrs. Eldredge, turned to her husband.
"I need not examine Mrs. Eldredge further," he said. "You had better take her to her room. But before you go, he grasped the woman's cold hand encouragingly, "I want to tell you, Mrs. Eldredge, that I have every assurance of having the boy back within a very few minutes, and I have proof of your complete innocence. No, Mrs. Murray," he forbade, as the older woman started to follow the others. "Remain here." He closed the door after the other and faced her. "I have just sent your son to get Edward Eldredge from the place on Clark Street just south of Webster Avenue where you have been keeping him these three days."
"Are you a madman?" the powerful woman cried, as she tried to push by him, staring at him stonily.
"Really it is no use, madam." Trant prevented her. "Your son has been a most unworthy confederate from the first; and when I had excluded him from the room for a few moments and spoke to him of the place which you pointed out to me so definitely, it frightened him into acquiescence. I expect him back with the boy within a few minutes: and meanwhile—"
"What is that?" Eldredge had stepped inside the door."I was just telling Mrs. Murray," said Trant, "that
After glancing at her hand to see that it was held in position, he set out a third lot. See page 101
I had sent Raymond Murray after your son in the place where she has had him concealed."
"What—what?" the father cried, incredulously, staring into the woman's cold face.
"Oh, she has most enviable control of herself," Trant commented. "She will not believe that her son has gone for Edward until he brings him back. And I might say that Mrs. Murray probably did not make away with the boy, but merely had him kept away, after he had been taken."
Mrs. Murray had reseated herself, after her short struggle with Trant; and her face was absolutely devoid of expression. "He is a madman!" she said, calmly.
"Perhaps it will hasten matters," suggested Trant, "if I explain to you the road by which I reached this conclusion. As a number of startling cases of kidnaping have occurred recently, the very prevalent fear they have aroused has made it likely that kidnaping will be the first theory in any case even remotely resembling it. In view of this I could accept your statement of kidnaping only if the circumstances made it conclusive, which they did not. With the absence of any demand for a real ransom they made it impossible even for you to hold the idea of kidnaping, except by presuming it a plot of Mrs. Eldredge's.
"But when I began considering whether this could be her plan, as charged, I noted a singular inconsistency in the attitude of Raymond Murray. He showed obvious eagerness to disgrace Mrs. Eldredge, but for some reason—not on the surface—was most actively opposed to police interference and the publicity which would most thoroughly carry out his object. So I felt from the first that he, and perhaps his mother—who was established over Mrs. Eldredge in her own home, but, by your statement, was to leave if Mrs. Eldredge came into charge of things—knew something which they were concealing. This much I saw before I read a word of the evidence.
"The evidence of the maid and the chauffeur told only two things—that a small woman rushed into the park and ran off with your son; and that your wife was in an extremely agitated condition. The maid said that the woman was blond and dressed in violet; and I knew, when I had read the evidence of other witnesses, that that was undoubtedly the truth."
Eldredge, pacing the rug, stopped short and opened his lips; but checked himself.
"Without Miss Hendricks' testimony there was positively nothing against your wife in the evidence of the chauffeur and the maid. I then took up Miss Hendricks' evidence and had not read two lines before I saw that—as an accusation against your wife, Mr. Eldredge—it was worthless. Miss Hendricks is one of those most dangerous persons, absolutely truthful, and—absolutely unable to tell the truth! She showed a common, but hopeless, state of suggestibility. Her first sentence, in which she said she did not often look out of the window for fear people would think she was watching them, showed her habit of confusing what she saw with ideas that existed only in her own mind. Her testimony was a mass of unwarranted inferences. She saw a woman coming from the direction of the car line, so to Miss Hendricks 'it was evident that she had just descended from a car.' The woman was hurrying, so 'she was late for an appointment.' 'As soon as she caught sight of the woman' Mrs. Eldredge lifted Edward to the ground. And so on through a dozen things which showed the highest susceptibility to suggestion. You told me that before telling her story to you she had told it to Mrs. Murray. Miss Hendricks had rushed to her at once: the bias and suggestions which made her testimony apparently so damning against your wife could only have come from Mrs. Murray."
Eldredge's glance shot to his mother-in-law. But Trant ran on rapidly. "I took up your wife's evidence; and though apparently entirely at variance with the others, I saw at once that it really corroborated the testimony of the nurse and the chauffeur."
"Her evidence confirmed?" Eldredge demanded, brusquely.
"Yes," Trant replied; "to the psychologist, who understood Mrs. Eldredge's mental condition, her evidence was the same as theirs. I had already seen for myself, by the aid of what you had told me, Mrs. Eldredge's position in this household, after leaving your office to become your wife. On entering your house, she was brought face to face with a woman already in control here—a strong and dominant woman, who had immense influence over you. Everything told of a struggle between these women—slights, obstructions, merciless criticisms, of which your wife could not complain, which had brought her close to nervous prostration. You remember that immediately after reading her statement I asked you what particular thing had occurred just before she went motoring to throw her into that noticeably excitable condition described by the maid and the chauffeur. You said nothing had happened. But I was certain even then that there had been something—I know now that Mrs. Murray had put a climax to her persecution of your wife by charging that Mrs. Eldredge was taking the boy out to get rid of him—and my knowledge of psychology told me that, allowing for Mrs. Eldredge's hysterical condition, she had stated in her evidence the same things that the maid and the chauffeur had stated. It is a fact that in her condition of hyperæsthesia—a condition readily brought on not only in weak women, but sometimes in strong men, by excitement and excessive nervous strain—her senses would be highly overstimulated. Barely hearing the sound of the woman's voice, she would honestly describe her as speaking in a loud tone.
"All time intervals would also be greatly prolonged. It truly seemed to her that the child took a long time to cross the grass and that the woman talked with him several minutes, instead of seconds. The sensation of a similarly long time elapsing after the woman took the boy's hand gave her the impression of a long struggle. She would honestly believe that it took the automobile fifteen minutes to make the circuit of the park. When you asked your wife why, if so much time elapsed, she tried to do nothing, she was unable to answer; for no time was wasted at all.
"But most vital of all, I recognized her description of the woman as wearing a red dress as most conclusive confirmation of the maid's testimony and a final proof, not that Mrs. Eldredge was trying to mislead you, but that she was telling the truth as well as she could. For it is a common psychological fact that in a hysterical condition red is the color most commonly seen subjectively; the sensation of red not only persists in hysteria, when other color sensations disappear, but it is common to have it take the place of another color, especially violet. It was discovered and recorded over thirty years ago that, in excessive excitability known psychologically as hyperæsthesia, all colors are lifted in the spectrum scale and, to the overexcited retina, the shorter waves of violet may give the sensation of the longer ones producing red. So what to you seemed an intentional contradiction was to me the most positive and complete assurance of your wife's honesty.
"And finally, to be consistent with this condition, I knew that if her state was due to expectation of harm to herself or the child from any unusually large, dark woman, she would see the woman in her excitement, as large and dark. For it is one of the commonest facts known to the psychologist that our senses in excitement can be so influenced by our expectation of any event that we actually see things, not as they are, but as we expect them to be. So when you told me that Mrs. Murray answered the description given by Mrs. Eldredge, all threads of the skein had led to Mrs. Murray.
"Now, as it was clear to me that Mrs. Murray herself had used Miss Hendricks' easy suggestibility to prejudice her evidence against Mrs. Eldredge, Mrs. Murray could not herself have believed that Mrs. Eldredge had taken the boy away. So, since the Murrays were making no search, they must have soon found out where the boy was and were satisfied that he was safe and that they could produce him, after they had finished ruining Mrs. Eldredge.
"Therefore I was in a position to appreciate Mrs. Murray's ridiculous letter when it came, with its painfully misspelled demand for an absurdly small ransom that would not be refused for a moment, as the object of the letter was only to make the final move in the case against Mrs. Eldredge and enable them to return the boy. So far, it is clear?" Trant checked his rapid explanation.
Still Eldredge stared at the set, defiant features of his mother-in-law; and made no reply.
"I appreciated thoroughly that I must prove all this," Trant then shot on rapidly. "You, Mr. Eldredge, discovered that Miss Hendricks' description of the woman tallied precisely with the published description of the St. Louis kidnaper, without appreciating that the description was in her mind. With her high suggestibility she substituted it for the woman she actually saw as unconsciously—and as honestly—as she substituted Mrs. Murray's suggestions for her own observations.
"But perhaps you can appreciate it now. You saw how I showed her the word 'Armenia' and spoke of the United States to lead her mind to substitute 'America' to prove how easily her mind substituted acts, motions and everything at Mrs. Murray's suggestion. I had only to speak of 'servilely copying' to have her change 'invitation' into 'imitation.' A mere mention of researches made her think she saw 'investigate,' when the word was 'inviolate.' Finally, after showing her a picture in which there were two women and a man, but no boy, she stated, at my slight suggestion, that she saw a boy, and even described him for me and told me what he was doing. I had proved beyond cavil the utter worthlessness of evidence given by this woman, and dismissed her."
"I followed that!" Eldredge granted.
Trant continued: "So I tested your wife to show that she had not suggestibility, like Miss Hendricks—that is, she could not be made to say that she saw 'senate' instead of 'sedate' by a mere mention of the national legislature at the time the word was shown; nor would she make over 'pioseer' into 'pioneer,' under the suggestion of backwoodsman. But by getting her into an excitable condition with her mind emotionally set to expect a picture of the missing boy, her excited mind at the moment of perception altered the picture of the totally different six-year-old boy I showed her into the picture of Edward, as readily as her highly excited senses—fearing for herself and for the boy through Mrs. Murray—altered the woman she saw taking Edward into an emotional semblance of Mrs. Murray.
"I had understood it as essential to clear your wife as to find the boy—whom I appreciated could be in no danger. So I made the next test with Mrs. Murray. This, I admit, depended largely upon chance. I knew, of course, that she must know where the boy was and that probably her son did too. The place was also probably in the vicinity. The automatograph is a device to register the slightest and most involuntary motions. It is a basic psychological fact that there is an inevitable muscular impulse toward any object which arouses emotion. If one spreads a score of playing cards about a table and the subject has a special one in mind, his hand on the automatograph will quickly show a faint impulse toward the card, although the subject is entirely unaware of it. So I knew that if the place where the boy was kept was shown in any of the pictures, I would get a reaction from Mrs. Murray; which I did—with the result, Mr. Eldredge," Trant went to the window and watched the street, expectantly, "that Mr. Raymond Murray is now bringing your son around the corner and—"
But the father had burst from the room and toward the door. Trant heard a cry of joy and the stumble of an almost hysterical woman as Mrs. Eldredge rushed down the stairs after her husband. He turned as Mrs. Murray, taking advantage of the excitement, endeavored to push past him.
"You are leaving the house?" he asked. "But tell me first," he demanded, "how did the boy come to be taken out of the park? Had the boys whom the chauffeur said stopped around his car anything to do with it?"
"They were a class which a kindergarten teacher—a new teacher—had taken to see the animals," the woman answered, coldly.
"Ah! So one of them was left behind—the one whom they saw running and mistook for Edward—and the teacher, running back, took Edward by mistake. But she must have discovered her mistake when she rejoined the others."
"Only after she got on the car. There one of my former servants recognized him and took him to her home."
"And when the servant came to tell you, and you understood how Miss Hendricks' suggestibility had played into your hands, the temptation was too much for you, and you made this last desperate attempt to discredit Mrs. Eldredge. I see!" He stood back and let her by.
Raymond Murray, after bringing back the boy, had disappeared. In the hall Eldredge and his wife bent over the boy, the woman completely hysterical in the joy of the recovery, laughing and crying alternately. She caught the boy to her frantically as she stared wildly at a woman ascending the steps.
"The woman in red—the woman in red!" she cried suddenly
Trant stepped to her side quickly. "But she doesn't look big and dark to you now, does she?" he asked. "And see, now," he said, trying to calm her, "the dress is violet again. Yes, Mr. Eldredge, this, I believe, is the woman in violet—the small blond woman who took your boy from the park by mistake—as I will explain to you. She is coming, undoubtedly, in response to an advertisement that I put in The Journal this noon. But we do not require her help now, for Mrs. Murray has told me all."
The maid, Lucy Carew, ran suddenly up the hall.
"Mrs. Murray and Mr. Murray are leaving the house, Mr. Eldredge!" she cried, bewilderedly.
"Are they?" the master of the house returned. He put his arm about its mistress and together they took the boy to his room.