The Master of Mysteries/Why Mrs. Burbank Ran Away

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WHY MRS. BURBANK RAN AWAY

" SURELY," said Astro, "until you have solved a woman's emotional equation, there's little use in trying to discover her motive. A woman will kill a man she hates; but she will as often kill a man she loves. Now look at this letter and tell me whether the writer is in love or not." As he spoke, he selected a sheet from the many spread out on his table and handed it to his assistant. Then, taking up the stem of his narghile, he leaned comfortably back on his velvet couch and watched the girl with amusement and fondness. His oriental eyes narrowed, and his olive-skinned, handsome, oval face under the white turban became a mask.

Valeska took up the writing with a pretty gesture and scanned it studiously. She looked up at last with a quick interrogative smile. "She's in love, I think; isn't she?"

"Decidedly!" The Master of Mysteries bowed slowly. "The crossings of the "t's" are almost all in a double curve; it's a sure sign. But you notice that some of them have only a single curve, like the lower arc of a circle."

"Oh, so they have! Why, then, she has had a previous love-affair, hasn't she?"

"Yes. She is sincerely in love now; though she hasn't yet forgotten her first. You see by the regularity of her terminals, too, that she's a faithful friend. But to return to the crossings: let us compare these with some others."

He looked over the collection and drew forth another specimen. "Here you see a woman that has had but one affair, and has quite outlived it. The arc is that of the top of a circle, you see. Here's one who is beginning to be in love. You will observe the same arc as in the first,—a rising curve, but no compound curves. If you thoroughly understand this principle, we'll go on to a study of terminals and gladiated words." As he spoke his face lighted up with enthusiasm.

A bell, softly tinkling, interrupted him. With a sudden gesture he swept all the letters into a heap and tossed them into a drawer. That done, he became again the calm impassive Seer. He drew his red silken robe about him as Valeska rose to answer the bell. He followed her svelt graceful form with alert eyes till she disappeared in the waiting-room; then they fell abstractedly on the slow, gracefully-rising, blue, perfumed smoke of the censer in a corner of the dim studio and remained there until the curtains again parted.

The visitor was a fine military type of man, with white mustache and iron-gray hair, tall and well-built, but with a face drawn and haggard. He strode up to Astro with a determined air. The Seer awaited the first words calmly.

"My name is Burbank," the man began,—"Major Burbank, retired. I have come to you on an important and delicate piece of business, at the advice of a friend who has told me of your reputation for solving mysteries. I trust, sir, that you will consider what I have to say to you as confidential?"

Astro nodded and made an expressive gesture.

"My wife left our home yesterday afternoon, leaving a very painful letter for me. I wish to know, sir, if you think that you can discover her whereabouts for me without precipitating a scandal. I have the greatest wish that this matter should not be known unless it is absolutely necessary."

Astro bowed and pointed to a chair, seating himself as well. "I am ready, sir," he replied. "If you will acquaint me with the details, I think I can do what you wish."

"There are no details," the visitor broke out; "that is, none but this letter. Everything was all right; we were happily married; my wife and I loved each other. We have two children, whom she has abandoned. It's incredible, sir! There is absolutely no reason for it at all, so far as I can see. But look at this, and imagine what I have to suffer!"

He took a letter in an envelope from his pocket and handed it to the Seer.

Astro looked over the envelope carefully then opened the letter and read the following message:

"My Dear, Dear George—I shall never see you again. Don't try to find me. I'm going to finish a long bitter wretchedness. Forgive me if you can; for I have suffered. Farewell. Ellen."

His eyes ran over the pen strokes carefully. He looked at the back of the envelope again, then held it sensitively in his hands, keeping a serious silence for a few minutes. His gaze became abstracted. For several minutes he did not speak, seemingly falling into a deep reverie. Then he said:

"My dear sir, your wife is still alive, and I think I can find her. But I get from the radiations of this writing a conviction that she is in great mental distress which it is not well for you to break in upon just yet. I should prefer that you permit me to inspect your house and see if I can not discover the reason for this surprising action. By visiting the place where she was last, I shall the more readily be impressed by her magnetism and get the vibrations that have undoubtedly affected her. First of all, I must ask you to send me immediately several photographs of Mrs. Burbank, that I may fix her image in my mind."

Major Burbank had stood looking at him with a tense anxious look. "Is that necessary?" he said, "I had hoped that, if you had the occult power you claim, you could do it more simply."

"If you wish to help her—" Astro shrugged his shoulders.

"Help her! It's just that!" he exclaimed. "I want to save her, even more than I want to find her."

"That goes without saying. Very well. Only a few more questions, so that I may be prepared for whatever influences I may find. Who lives in your house?" He added, "Including servants, of course."

"Besides my wife and myself, only the cook, a second girl, and a nurse."

"Who are your most frequent visitors?"

"Why, let's see. Ellen has a lot of women friends who run in occasionally, of course."

"No, the men."

The major looked at him sternly. "See here, sir! If you attempt for a moment to hint that—"

"My dear Major Burbank," Astro replied amiably, "I hint at nothing. All I wish is to be able to distinguish between the astral emanations of those who frequent your place. It is possible that Mrs. Burbank was most affected by a woman; but it is not likely."

The major, still frowning, replied: "We lead a very quiet life. My friend Colonel Trevellian is the only close friend of the family. But I must tell you, sir, that my wife has of late confessed to me that she did not like him. It has made it very uncomfortable for me, I assure you. But I saw him only to-day. He can have nothing to do with this disappearance, I'm sure. I have known him for several years quite intimately, and he's the last person—"

"I understand," said Astro dryly; "but has he heard of Mrs. Burbank's disappearance?"

"No, I haven't had the heart to tell him."

"Very good. I should advise you not to. Well, I will call this afternoon. I think we shall be able to satisfy you."

As soon as the visitor had gone, Valeska appeared. Astro handed her Mrs. Burbank's letter, with a curious look. She examined it under the drop-light at the table.

"She is in love; but has had a previous affair, just like that other woman. How curious! And she's suffering from a severe mental strain, too. I heard the major's conversation while I was in the secret closet. It's interesting, isn't it? Do you suppose she has outgrown her feeling for her husband and is in love with his friend now?"

"Or is she in love with her husband and has outgrown her affection for Colonel Trevellian—that's what we have to find out." Astro shook his head.

"You said you knew she was alive, though. How can you be sure that is true?"

"You haven't half examined that envelope," Astro replied abstractedly, as he walked up and down, his chin in his hand, supporting the elbow with his other arm, absorbed in thought.

"It's postmarked New York, though— Oh, I see!" Valeska smiled at him. She had turned back the top flap, which adhered, loosely gummed, and looked at the imprint of the stationer. "Hodge & Durland, Poughkeepsie, N. Y." she read. "She may be there, perhaps. But how did she mail it here in New York?"

"No doubt she gave a porter a dollar at the station to post it when his train got into the city. Perfectly simple. You'll notice that the envelope is badly crumpled and soiled. It has evidently been carried some time in a man's pocket.

"Now," he continued, taking off his robe and turban, "I wish to lose no time; so I'll go right over to the Burbanks', while you wait for the photographs. As soon as they come, take the first train for Poughkeepsie, and see if you can locate Mrs. Burbank. It's unlikely she is still there; yet she may be."

"And if I find her?"

"Keep her in sight, wire me, and await instructions."

"I see." Valeska bent her brows in thought. "If she's gone, of course I'll try to trace her, if I can get it out of the hotel clerks."

"If you can?" Astro, struggling into a long gray overcoat, paused long enough to smile at his assistant. In return she made a mischievous face at him. He blew a kiss to her, and taking his stick and silk hat, left the studio.

His green limousine took him in ten minutes to a brownstone house on West Fifty-second Street, one of a row of gloomily respectable fronts. A butler, impressively solemn, ushered him into the parlor.

Astro was about to sit down when the man said:

"I'm sorry to say that Major Burbank has been unexpectedly called away, sir, and left instructions that you should see anything you wished." His voice dropped in tone as he added somberly, "The fact is, sir, the major had just heard a piece of shocking news. His brother has just committed suicide, sir, and he has gone up to Kingsbridge to see about it, sir. He was very much upset, of course, sir; but he told me to do what was necessary for you. So if you are ready I'll show you everything."

"Is Mrs. Burbank in?" Astro asked.

"No, sir, she is not, I understand an aunt was taken ill and she has gone out of town to attend to her. She left yesterday afternoon, sir, directly after lunch, in a great hurry, sir."

"In a hurry?" Astro repeated, watching the impassive countenance of the servant.

"Yes, sir; so much so that she never stopped to hang up the telephone receiver, sir. I expect the call was from her aunt's people, though she got a letter in the morning that did seem to upset her, too."

"Ah!" The Master of Mysteries knitted his brow, and sat for a few moments without speaking, while the butler stood erect, waiting like a lay figure. Astro looked up at him suddenly, with a keen searching gaze, and for a moment a startled expression passed over the man's face.

"So Mrs. Burbank has gone to her aunt's?" he said deliberately.

"That's what she said, sir."

"Do you believe it?"

The butler shifted his feet uneasily. "It's hardly for me to say, sir."

"See here!" Astro rose and took the fellow by the lapel of his coat. "You're quite right, my man. It isn't for you to suspect anything, of course. But if I know anything about human nature, you are devoted to the major, and you're to be trusted. Now see here! I'm here to help him in this matter; but anything I find out from you shall go no further. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," the butler replied uneasily. "The major said I was to obey your instructions to the letter, sir."

"There is one thing that I want to know, my man, and that is, did Mrs. Burbank write to Colonel Trevellian before or since she went away?"

"I can't say, sir, as to that."

The Seer still looked at the man searchingly, as if sending his will and thought through his eyes to fascinate and charm. The man's attitude, as he watched Astro, changed subtly from suspicion to confidence. Gradually he lost the conventional stolidity of the servant and became more human.

"All I want to see is the envelope of that letter," Astro said, watching his man.

The butler hesitated. "I might possibly find out from the colonel's man, sir. I'm well acquainted with him, and I've done him favors in times past."

"See if you can get it; and meanwhile I'll go up into Mrs. Burbank's room."

The butler showed the way up-stairs and left the Master of Mysteries alone. Once the door was shut, Astro gave a swift look about the chamber, then walked to a writing-desk. Everything was in order, and not a letter was visible. From here he turned to the open grate. The fire was out, and only a few ashes remained. These he examined carefully. On the top were a few flakes of carbonized paper, crumpled like black poppy petals. With a deft finger he drew these from the grate and carried them to the desk, placing them on a white blotter. On the wrinkled surface, almost invisible, were some traces of writing, appearing as if slightly embossed on the surface. He could make out only one word, or part of a word: "Kellem." The closest scrutiny revealed no more writing; but on one charred fragment he discovered the remains of a postage-stamp. It was curiously shrunk to half-size, and appeared as a negative, in which all that had been white was black, and the red ink changed to gray.

By the time he had accomplished this delicate manipulation, the butler had returned.

"I found the letter, sir; but it hasn't been opened at all. It seems that the colonel didn't come home last night, and hasn't returned yet. I got it out of William; but he's in a mortal terror, sir, and he wants me to bring it back at once. Do you think it will take you long, sir?"

"About ten minutes; but I shall have to be alone."

"You're not going to open it, sir! It's as much as William's place is worth to be caught at this game."

"No, I won't open it. I only wish to see the writing. Come back in ten minutes, and I'll let you have it back."

As soon as the butler had gone Astro drew from his pocket a bottle of alcohol and a velvet sponge. With this he moistened the envelope, and it became as transparent as tracing-paper. The letter inside was so folded, however, that he could read only one line, in a nervous, hurried handwriting which he recognized as Mrs. Burbank's:

"I can not bear it any longer. If you don't—"

He opened the window, set the envelope in a draft, and waited. In ten minutes he took it up, smelled of it, and went out of the room. The butler was anxiously waiting, and received it with relief.

"One moment, before you go," said Astro. "I'd like to see the nursery and the children."

The butler led the way and opened a door on the third floor. Two children, one about four and the other two years old, were playing on the floor with building blocks, while a nursemaid was busy at the window with some sewing. The butler retired to return the letter.

Astro went to the children and knelt down beside them, showing by his manner that he was not only fond of children but used to them. He did not speak at first, sitting with them, smiling, and playing with the blocks as if he himself was of their age. The elder, a boy, seeing him arranging a pile of blocks, crawled over to watch and help him. As the two sat there together, the other baby stared at Astro. Then she put out her two arms and cried:

"Kellem! Kellem!"

Astro stared in surprise. It was the same word, evidently, that he had found on the ashes of Mrs. Burbank's letter. He turned to the nurse, who apparently had noticed nothing unusual.

"What does she mean by that?" he asked.

"Oh, that 'Kellem, kellem'? Why, I don't know, I'm sure, sir. I fancy it's one of the games they play with Colonel Trevellian. He often comes in here for a romp with the kiddies, and they seem to be fond of him. I've heard Agatha say that before; but, lord! I never thought to wonder about it. It is funny, isn't it?"

Again the child reached out her arms and repeated the words, "Kellem, kellem!"

"Did she ever play that particular game with her mother, nurse?"

"I don't remember, sir, I'm sure. I expect so, though. Seems to me, now I think of it, I did hear Mrs. Burbank trying to break Agatha of it; but no doubt I've got it mixed up."

Astro watched the children for some time; then, after kissing each of the chubby faces, went thoughtfully down-stairs.

He had no sooner reached the hall than the outer door opened, and Burbank entered with a serious expression on his face. He bowed and shook his head sadly.

"My misfortunes are all coming at once, it seems," he said. "My brother is dead, my wife missing. It's too much for me, and I'm afraid I'll have to call in the police and put them on the case. I can't stand it any longer; unless unless you have discovered some way of helping me," he added.

"When did your brother die?" Astro asked.

"As far as we can learn, early this morning. The gas was turned on in his room, and he was found at eight o'clock, dead from the fumes. They were unable to locate me till four this afternoon, when I went right over and did what was necessary."

"He lived alone, I presume?"

"Yes, not even a servant. The body was discovered by a friend whom he had asked to call, who smelled the gas and had the door broken in. I can't account for it any way."

"Did Mrs. Burbank ever visit his apartment?" Astro asked.

"Yes. Occasionally when he was ill, she went over and took him things necessary." He stopped and stared at the Master. "But you don't suspect that that there's any connection between Mrs. Burbank's disappearance and my brother's death?"

"I should like to investigate your brother's apartments," said Astro evasively. "I may be able to receive some impression there that will lead me on the track. I have succeeded in harmonizing the vibrations in Mrs. Burbank's apartments, and feel already that I understand her mental condition when she left home. But there is a strange discord there, Mr. Burbank, and I must complete the impression."

"Here is my card, then. I'll write a note asking that you be given the fullest opportunity for investigation on the premises. Of course the body has been taken to the morgue, and the police are in charge of the apartment; but I think you will have no trouble with them."

"One more thing, Mr. Burbank. I'd like to know if Mrs. Burbank was ever hypnotized, that you know of."

"Why, only once, possibly twice, at an evening party here. We did have some rather amusing experiments this fall; but it was nothing but fun, of course."

"And who was it that hypnotized her that time?" asked the Seer.

"Why, my friend Colonel Trevellian. He fancied that he had some power, and did succeed in influencing one or two of the company, my wife included. But nothing further ever came of it, and we never tried it again."

"Has the colonel known your wife long?"

"Yes, since before we were married. But, my dear sir, you don't—"

"Mr. Burbank, at present I am merely holding myself sensitive to whatever influences I come in contact with, that's all. As soon as I have soaked myself in them, so to speak, I shall go into a trance and be guided by subconscious mind. I don't know about these things at all. I observe, I listen, I smell; but what works these impressions out in me is deeper than mere sense or mere ratiocination. You must wait patiently, and hope for the best."

He left Burbank disconsolate in the library, and jumping into his limousine, the Master of Mysteries drove to the studio. Here a telegram awaited him. It was from Valeska:

"She is in Troy. Shall find her this evening and wire address."

He despatched an answer, and hurrying to the subway, took an express to Kingsbridge.

On the way his face belied the confident patter by which he had imposed upon his client. His eyes were fixed, his mouth set. Occasionally he drew from his pocket a note-book and consulted its contents, staring at the page for minutes at a time. As the train slowed down, he became alert again, and when it stopped he waited only long enough to ask for directions, then walked briskly to Burbank's apartment.

The note insured a grudging admittance, and he was taken up-stairs by an officer into a little flat. The place was meagerly furnished as a bachelor's quarters. A look into the kitchen revealed a few utensils and packages of food strewn about in a disorderly manner. The sitting-room was scantily furnished, but in better order. Astro gave it a glance. The chamber where Burbank had died next engrossed his attention. Here he spent a half-hour in elaborate scrutiny. Still he appeared dissatisfied. Excusing himself to the officer, he opened the back door and inspected the platform. Here he saw an ash barrel and a can for refuse. He opened the cover of each in turn. Lighting a match, he looked eagerly into them.

In a moment he had drawn out a broken, hollow, black-rubber cylinder, and after assuring himself that he had all the fragments, slipped them into his overcoat pocket. He then returned inside.

"You have no doubt that the death was caused by suicide, I suppose, officer?"

"Of course not. There's no evidence to the contrary that I know of."

"No one was known to have visited him the night before he died?"

"The people down-stairs say they heard footsteps late that night; but it may have been anybody. Nobody heard the door shut. Or if they had, how was it possible to turn on the gas? The door was locked on the inside, as they found when they burst it in."

"And the rear entrance was locked, too?"

"That, too. It was a suicide, all right."

"Of course. Very well, then, that's all. I'll report to the major. Good night, Officer."

Astro hurried back to the subway station. As he reached the ticket taker he drew a photograph from his pocket and handed it to the man.

"Did you see a woman like this last night, late?"

He looked at it for some time before he answered. "I wouldn't be sure about that; but I've certainly seen her several times. I can't recall just when was the last time."

"That's all," said Astro, and he handed the man a dollar, ran down-stairs, and boarded the express for down-town.

Another telegram from Valeska was lying under his door when he reached the studio. After reading it, he hastily scribbled two despatches and rang for a messenger. One read:

"Your child Bobby has been taken ill with pneumonia and is at a private hospital, at number 234 West Thirty-fourth Street. Come at once. Important."

This was addressed to Mrs. Belle Grant, Delmar House, Troy, New York. The other was sent to Valeska Wynne.

"Follow B. G. wherever she goes, and get acquainted with her if possible but do not let her know you know her."

Then, yawning, he took off his coat, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and sat down to a table under the electric light. Here he laid out the pieces of the cylinder he had found, and with liquid glue started laboriously to piece them together. One by one he fastened them and warmed them over a Bunsen burner till they were dry. The work was long and arduous, and it was almost daylight before he had finished the job. The cylinder was now complete, except for an irregularly shaped hole at one extremity. With a penknife he trimmed the protruding glue, and then examined the whole through a magnifying-glass. Not till it appeared to satisfy his inspection did he desist. But at last the thing was done, and without undressing he threw himself on the great velvet couch under a trophy of arms and fell sound asleep.

His pet cat Deodar, a handsome black Angora, awakened him at nine o'clock by clawing at his sleeve, and Astro jumped up and went to the telephone. A half-hour later, tubbed, and clad in his flowing red silk robe, his turban and its moonstone clasp on his head, he sipped his thick black coffee and munched his rolls as he read in the morning paper the accounts of the suicide of Edward Burbank. Nothing new to interest him had transpired.

As he sat there the bell rang, and soon a boy in buttons entered, carrying a parcel. Astro opened it, and took from a box a phonograph, which he set on the table. He was a bit excited now, as he fitted his mended cylinder to the drum and started the clockwork.

The wheels whirred; a harsh dry voice announced a song by a well-known comedian. After a preliminary orchestral flourish, the solo began. Astro listened eagerly. The melody was constantly interrupted by discordant explosive noises caused by the joining of the broken pieces; but with these interruptions the song ran on for a while fairly intelligibly. Then there was a splitting series of crackling noises. From the silence following these there came a sudden, loud, monotonous exclamation, "Kellem, kellem, kellem, kell—"

Astro, staring, stopped the machine and reseated himself, to fall into a profound reverie. At times he shook his head. Once he rose to take Mrs. Burbank's letter from a pigeonhole, and scrutinized it long and carefully. At last, with a shrug, he took up his narghile and a volume of French memoirs. Smoking and reading, the time passed away till ten o'clock.

The first visitors were sent away by Buttons. Astro would not be disturbed. At eleven, the telephone bell rang. The Master of Mysteries took up the receiver eagerly.

It was Major Burbank. "I have just received a letter," he said, "and I thought it would be well for you to know the contents. It is from my unfortunate brother Edward, and in it he tells me that he is contemplating suicide. The poor fellow was in ill health and financial straits, and the fact that he had been a care to me seemed to worry him. It's dreadful to think of his having been distressed over the little I was able to do for him; but I feel quite sure that he was not sane when he committed his desperate act. The poor fellow is at rest in peace now, I trust. I almost wish I were."

Astro's expression had changed wonderfully as he heard the news. He hastened to offer his sympathy anew to his client, and assured him that it was only a question of a few hours before his wife would return. This promise seemed to quiet the old man's distress. Astro went back into the studio with a new expression, at once determined and jubilant. He sat down, wrote a note, and despatched it by a messenger boy. This done, he set the phonograph carefully at the beginning of the strange exclamation that interrupted the song on the record, and waited.

In a half-hour Buttons opened the heavy portières, announced "Colonel Trevellian!" and a man walked in.

The visitor looked about scornfully. He was a lean, yellow, bony-faced man, with deep-set eyes and a drooping mustache. He spoke with a drawl. "I believe you requested to see me on a matter of importance and of a confidential nature," he observed languidly.

"I did," Astro replied. "I am about to make a request of you."

"Indeed, you do me a great honor." The man's tone was sarcastic.

Astro scarcely looked at him. "I should be infinitely obliged to you, Colonel Trevellian, if you would consent to pack up your things, leave New York and not return for five years."

The colonel scowled, took a step nearer, and clenched his fist. "You infernal charlatan! if you'll take off that nightgown and sweeping-cap, I'll see that you don't decorate this cozy corner any longer! What the deuce do you mean? By Jove! I'll thrash you and pitch you out of your own window!"

Astro yawned. Then he brought his two hands down on his knees, and his dark alert head was outstretched toward the colonel, on whom he turned two blazing eyes. "Colonel Trevellian," he said in a voice like the rattling of paper, "you have persecuted Mrs. Burbank long enough! If you fancy you understand the art of hypnotic suggestion, I can show you that you're a fool as well as a cur. For her sake I consent to permit you to leave town without informing the major exactly what kind of a cad you are, but you'll have to leave quickly."

The colonel had already lost the most of his nerve; but he made a last attempt to bluster. "What do you mean, sir? I've done nothing at all, I assure you. You're quite mistaken. Why, the major is my best friend!"

"And do you not wish to supplant him as husband of your old sweetheart, Mrs. Burbank?"

"Of course not. It's absurd." The colonel's face was ashen now.

"And you did not suggest, after hypnotizing her and getting her somewhat under your influence, that she—"

The man stared hard at Astro, and his jaw had dropped. "That she—what?" He almost whispered it.

Astro touched the phonograph. "Kellem, kellem, kell—" it ground out raucously.

The colonel stared first at the mechanism, then at the palmist. He dropped a step back, undecided, then, turning suddenly, bolted out of the room.

Astro dropped again into his chair, folded his arms, and drew a long breath.

The hansom drew up at number 234. A woman got out, paid the driver, and looked curiously at the front door. Apparently puzzled, she drew a telegram from her purse and read it over. She was a fine-looking woman of thirty-five, dressed all in black, even to her furs, though she wore no mourning veil. Her only luggage was a small traveling bag. Everything about her stamped her as a woman of culture and influence, if not rich, at least comfortably off. Yet her demeanor was timid, almost frightened.

As she started to ascend the steps, a green motorcar, driving furiously, came down Thirty-fourth Street and drew up suddenly before her. A young girl, fresh and pretty, smartly dressed, and with an air of jaunty confidence, jumped out.

The woman who had first arrived stared at her in astonishment. "Why," she said, "how do you happen to be here?" The look of perplexity and timidity in her eyes deepened now into positive alarm. "Oh!" she breathed, "you're not a detective?"

Valeska took her hand affectionately. "No, my dear Mrs. Burbank, only a friend who wants to help you. I knew that if I told you on the train you'd never come here; so I didn't dare to explain that we had really imposed upon you. Bobby is quite well, I assure you. You needn't worry on his account. And I hope on no other account either; for I'm sure that by this time the Master has been able to straighten things out."

"The Master?" Mrs. Burbank gasped.

"Yes, Astro, the Master of Mysteries, my employer and my friend, as I'm sure he is yours. Your husband secured his services, for no one else would have been able to find you and help you without danger of publicity. Come right up and you'll hear from him that everything is all right."

The Master of Mysteries (1912) - p.259.jpg

"Oh," she breathed, "you're not a detective?"

"Oh, if it only were!" The woman followed Valeska hopelessly.

Ten minutes after that Mrs. Burbank sat smiling in the studio. Astro had told her that there would be nothing more to fear from the persecutor who had made the last few weeks hideous. She had herself confessed everything; how, after that first hypnotic sleep, the colonel had given her persistently—so often that it drove her almost distracted—the horrible suggestion that she kill her husband. She had struggled hard against it; but the iteration of the words "Kill him!" so distorted as to be unintelligible to any one else, coming now in letters, now over the telephone, now from the innocent lips of her own child, had finally unstrung her mind; and, for fear lest in her distress she should actually commit the crime, she had run away to get out of the colonel's power.

"When I went away," she concluded, "I thought I had destroyed every evidence that might enable my husband to know how I had been tormented; that is every piece but one, the phonograph cylinder. I was afraid I could not destroy that, and feared to leave it in the house. I took it with me when I went to see Edward, hoping that I should find some place to conceal it. But every one seemed to be watching me, and I was too nervous to risk throwing it away. So when I got to Edward's apartment I left it there in the ash barrel. I had intended to tell him everything and ask his advice, but the poor fellow was so blue that I didn't have the heart to worry him with my own troubles and I left him without saying anything."

She looked curiously at Astro. "I can't imagine how you ever found out. It's wonderful!"

Astro's look was cryptic. "My dear Mrs. Burbank," he replied, "such a nervous force as yours is intensely dynamic; it effects a disturbance of the ether, and to one sensitive to such vibration the message-impression is as plain as the ringing of a bell."

Valeska smiled and folded her hands.

"But now what am I to tell my husband?" Mrs. Burbank exclaimed. "If he knows everything he'll want to kill Colonel Trevellian!"

"The colonel will take himself out of harm's way, I'm sure," said Astro. "He has had his warning. There is only one possible way that I know of plausibly explaining your absence."

Valeska looked up swiftly, as if to anticipate his explanation.

"What can I say?" Mrs. Burbank said doubtfully.

"The truth—a woman's last resort." And Astro favored her with a rather cynical smile.