The Portraits Of General Wayne
When Ashton-Kirk returned that evening from the theatre, where he had gone to witness a much heralded new drama, he sat with a cigar, in his library; and stretching out his length in great comfort, he smoked and smiled and thought of what he had seen and heard.
"The drama as a medium of expression is necessarily limited," the young man was saying to himself, "and of course, in fitting human action to its narrow bounds, the dramatist is sometimes tempted to ignore certain human elements. In spots, the people of the play acted like puppets; upon seven different occasions, by actual count, the entire matter would have been cleared up if someone had sharply spoken his mind. But he did not, and the thing was allowed to become hopelessly involved because of it."
He knocked the ashes from his cigar; and a smile came to his lips.
"It would not have served the purpose of the dramatist, I suppose; his play would have ended abruptly, and far short of the prescribed time. He tried to tell a human story and chose an unhuman method."
There was another pause; the smile now disappeared and a thoughtful look came into his face.
"And yet," he mused, "is the playwright really so far wrong? Is his stage story very far removed from actuality after all? In Miss Edyth Vale, we have a girl of most unusual character, of splendid education, apparently. And yet in the building of her own drama she has outstripped the inventor of stage plays in the matter of hesitancy. Her natural inclination urged her to make a firm stand; but other feelings proved the stronger, and she held her tongue much after the fashion of the girl in the play."
He was puffing at a second cigar when there came a knock on the door, and Fuller entered.
"Well?" said Ashton-Kirk.
"I thought you'd perhaps like to look over this data before morning," said the young man, as he laid a number of typed sheets and a photograph at Ashton-Kirk's elbow. "As you required instant action I got Burgess on the Hume end of it before noon; after luncheon I took up Morris myself."
"Thank you," said the other.
"Morris," with a nod toward the photograph, "is rather uneventful, personally. And it was no very difficult matter to get the facts concerning him. But Burgess had a much more interesting time. Hume seems to have lots of color as a character. Not that there was a great deal shown--the time was too short. But the indications are promising."
When Fuller had gone, Ashton-Kirk took up the sheets and began to read them carefully. They were brief, pointed and evidently the work of men who were familiar enough with their business to eliminate all non-essentials. The first one ran:
"Allan Barnett Morris, Consulting Engineer. Specialty, Marine Construction. Lives at the Crompton Apartments. Born October 15, 1879. Graduate of Cornell; class of 1900. Special honors. Brilliant student. Was at once engaged by the New England Ship Building Company. Soon became their right hand man. Resigned in 1905; took offices in the Blake Building. Is much employed by the Government. Has the reputation of a growing man in his line and is admitted by competent persons to be an expert.
"He is unmarried and has no relatives. The last of these to die was his father--a trifle more than three years ago. The father had a reputation for great brilliancy and hard drinking. He was an inventor of some note. See the Morris Smoke Consumer--the Morris Propeller--the Morris Automatic Brake. But he never made much out of any of these. The appetite for liquor forced him to surrender, for very little, interests that made fortunes for other men.
"Young Morris is clear of the drink habit, and is a hard and persistent worker. He is a member of the University and the Brookdale Field Clubs; goes into society, and is reported to be the accepted suitor of Miss Edyth Vale, daughter of the late James Vale, manufacturer of structural steel."
"A clean bill of health, as far as it goes," commented Ashton-Kirk. "However, surface inquiries tell very little, sometimes."
He turned to the remaining pages.
"David Purtell Hume, Numismatist, philatelist, dealer in objects of art and curiosities. Resides at his place of business, second floor of 478 Christie Place.
"Hume located in this city in 1899. Where he came from is not definitely known, but there is some slight cause for supposing that he is an American who had been living abroad. However, an examination of the steamship passenger lists for 1898-99 fail to show his name.
"Is well known in his line and is reputed to be wealthy. Is much disliked by his neighbors and others in the same trade. Even those who patronize him have an aversion to him; but as he is an authority, and his stock always contains rarities, they do not take their custom elsewhere.
"Hume has been under suspicion upon several occasions. But the police could gather no positive evidence against him, at any time. The robbery of the Hailesbury gallery at London, when the famous Whistler portrait of the Duchess of Winterton was cut from its frame, was traced almost to his door. But the scent died out before they could clinch the matter, and he escaped. It was believed that the thing was planned by him and executed by a confederate. Several other occurrences of like nature, but of less importance, have been laid against him. But, if he was concerned in them, he was always cunning enough to hide his tracks.
"He is an habitual drinker, of violent temper, and is reputed to have a positive genius for discovering raw spots in an acquaintance and goading him for the sheer joy of seeing him writhe. It is this trait that causes the general dislike for him in the Christie Place section.
"He is a free liver, spends much money and has a passion for music."
Ashton-Kirk laid down the sheets and threw away his cigar.
"As Fuller remarked, Mr. Hume seems to be a colorful character. And apparently one that would be likely to lead Mr. Allan Morris a very lively dance if he had a hold of any sort upon him."
He arose to his feet, a pleased light in his eye, and began walking up and down the floor.
"It is more than likely that it will prove some trifle that Morris' fears have lifted to the plane of a tragedy. But, somehow, the parts of the case seem to fall in a promising manner. I get a sort of pleasure in anticipating a possible grapple with Mr. David Purtell Hume."
For a full hour, Ashton-Kirk moved up and down the library, his eyes half closed, varying expressions appearing and disappearing upon his face. At length there came a smile of satisfaction and he paused in his pacing.
"That is probably it," said he. "At any rate it is a very favorable coincidence. However, I must have more information than the hurried reports of Burgess and Fuller to be certain. Yes, this promises to be interesting."
With that he went to his room and to bed.
The dull gray of a damp spring morning was peering in at his window when he awoke. By the light he knew that it was hours before his usual time. Something had aroused him; but he could not say what. He sat up in bed, and as he did so there came the long continued and smothered ringing of a bell.
"The telephone," said he.
"R-r-r-r-ring-g!" it persisted. And then again: "R-r-r-r-ring-ing-ing! R-r-r-ring!"
Ashton-Kirk heard a door open and close softly on the floor above; then slippered feet came pat-patting down the stairs. The wild rattle of the bell suddenly stopped; a muffled voice could be heard protesting dismally against the din. But suddenly the vague complaint gave way to a higher note.
"Alarm," said Ashton-Kirk. "Something has happened."
He reached up and turned on the electric bulb that hung above his head; then he drew his feet up under him after the fashion of a Turk and waited, calmly.
The padded steps swiftly approached his door; a sharp knock sounded on the panels.
"Well?" demanded the young man.
"There is an urgent call, sir," came the voice of Stumph--"on the telephone. It's the lady who called yesterday--Miss Vale."
Ashton-Kirk slipped from the bed; a step brought him to the door, which he threw open.
"Very well, Stumph," said he, quietly. "You may go back to bed."
The grave-faced German went stolidly down the hall; the young man pulled on a pair of felt slippers; in the library he put the detached receiver to his ear and spoke evenly:
"Well, Miss Vale?"
There was a small, gasping exclamation from the wire, a sort of breath-catching flutter of sound such as a person might utter who had been running hard. Then Edyth Vale, her voice shaking and filled with fear, said:
"Oh! Is that you! I'm glad--glad!"
"Get a firm grip on yourself," advised Ashton-Kirk. "If anything has happened we can no doubt remedy it."
There came a series of moaning sobs across the wire; the girl had evidently broken down and was crying. Ashton-Kirk said nothing; he waited patiently. Finally she spoke once more.
"What has happened can never
be remedied." Then her voice sank so low that he could scarcely catch the breathless words. "There has been murder done."
The investigator felt the blood prickle beneath his skin. However, his voice was steady as he replied; his calmly working mind shook off the fear which she so strongly suggested.
"Who has been murdered?" he asked.
"The man whom I told you about yesterday--the numismatist, Hume."
"Ah!" Ashton-Kirk drew in a long breath and his eyes began to glow. There was an instant's pause, then he said: "The hour is rather unconventional; but if you will receive me, I'll have you tell me about this matter privately and at once."
"By all means," she answered, eagerly. "I was about to beg of you to come."
"In a half hour," said he, briefly. "Good-by."
He hung up the receiver and touched one of the buttons. When Stumph came, he said:
"Turn the cold water into my bath. Then order the car in haste."
"Yes, sir." "Afterwards you can lay out a rough suit, heavy shoes and a soft hat."
Within twenty minutes Ashton-Kirk ran down the steps and sprang into the powerful looking car that awaited him; and well within the half hour he rang the bell at the marble palace built by the steel magnate during the last years of his life. A heavy-eyed man servant admitted him with astonished resentment. Miss Vale, looking very tall and very pale, met him in the hall. But for all her pallor she seemed quite collected, even smiling.
"Oh, I'm so sorry to have brought you out so early and on such a dismal morning," she said, lightly, leading him into a room at one side. "I'm sure it is very damp."
She sat down and motioned him to a chair; he studied her with some surprise; the transition from wild terror to her present calm was most notable.
"There has been a recovery of poise, evidently," Ashton-Kirk told himself. "She is still frightened, but for some reason is anxious to hide it."
"This morning," said Miss Vale, with a laugh that rang perfectly, "I found that I was only a woman after all. This--this dreadful thing so startled me that for a time I did not know what to do. My first impulse was to call you, and I acted upon it. But," with a pretty gesture of apology, "when I had recovered myself somewhat, I saw that I had disturbed you unnecessarily."
"You don't mean that, after all, Hume is not--"
She held up her hand for him to stop. A strong shudder seemed to run through her; she bent her head so that the light would not fall too strongly upon her face. In a moment, however, she recovered.
"Yes, yes," she said, her voice perfectly under control. "He is dead--shockingly murdered. What I mean is, that while the event is very dreadful--still, it does not really concern me more than any other crime of the same nature which we see staring at us from the columns of the newspapers every day. This man's being in my mind so much of late caused me to become unnerved when I heard the news."
"When did it occur?"
"Sometime since midnight."
There was a silence. Miss Vale arose and began to pace the room. The long white cloak that had draped her fell away; she wore a ball dress and her arms and shoulders shone splendidly under the lights.
"How did you hear of it?" asked Ashton-Kirk.
There was a scarcely perceptible hesitancy; then she answered:
"Through the newspapers. We were returning from Mrs. Barron's about three o'clock. The papers had just come out, and I felt a curiosity to see them wet from the press. When I reached home the first thing that caught my eye was the account of Hume's death."
"Did you call me up at once?"
"Yes. As I have said, it was the first thing that occurred to me. And again I beg your pardon for having disturbed you uselessly."
Ashton-Kirk gestured this aside.
"It may be that the affair will turn out to have some interesting features," said he. "And with that possibility in view, I am rather pleased than not in having an opportunity of getting so early upon the ground."
She paused in her pacing, and turned upon him a startled look.
"You do not mean to go there--to Christie Place," she said.
"YOU DO NOT MEAN TO GO THERE"
"I may as well. I may be of use." He looked at her for a moment steadily, then asked: "Do you know of any reason why I should not go?"
Instantly the startled look vanished; a smile lit up the pale face, wanly.
"Of course not," she cried. "You are interested in dreadful happenings--I had forgotten that. I suppose you are
really quite delighted; and instead of my craving pardon I should be expecting praise, for putting you in the way of this one."
She laughed lightly; a smile flitted across his keen face, as he rose and said:
"What has happened may make a change in the affairs of Allan Morris."
She came to him and laid a hand upon his arm. Her coolness won his admiration.
"I beg of you to forget all that I told you yesterday," she said. "I had been brooding so long that I had begun to fancy all sorts of impossible things. I see very clearly now that this man Hume could have had nothing of any consequence to do with Mr. Morris. It was a romance--a rather foolish fancy, and a very wild one."
There was sweet seriousness in her manner; and the lurking smile still hovered about her lips. It was as though a return to reason had driven away the fears of the day before--the alarmed girl had given place to a sensible woman.
But behind all this, Ashton-Kirk could detect something else. The almost swooning terror of the girl who had spoken to him over the telephone was still there--held rigidly in check to be sure, but unquestionably there. While her lips smiled, the eyes sometimes betrayed her; and there was a tenseness about her that almost screamed. Her good-by was soft and kindly spoken; she held out her hand, frankly, and thanked him for his interest. There was nothing hurried in her manner; it was all smoothly and leisurely done. And yet he felt that if she had followed the impulse that filled her, she would have taken him, by the shoulder and bundled him from the room in order that she might be alone.
"Alone--to think," he said, as he got into his car at the curb. "But to think about what?" Aloud he said to the driver: "Christie Place."
By this time the early workers were beginning to thicken in the street; street cars were more frequent; the dull night hum of the city was growing in volume. The spark had set the car's engine throbbing heavily, and the driver was about to start when a second vehicle drew up and Ashton-Kirk found himself looking into the alarmed face of young Pendleton.
"Heavens, Kirk!" cried the newcomer, as he leaped out, "has anything serious happened?"
"To whom?" asked the investigator, quietly, his eyes fixed upon the young man's face.
"To Edyth, of course. Has any thing been seen of her?"
"I have just left her; she seemed a bit agitated, but perfectly well."
A look of relief crossed Pendleton's face.
"Oh!" said he. "All right. I was beginning to think that something was up. You see," and here he lowered his voice, "I danced with her about midnight at Mrs. Barron's; about two o'clock her aunt, Mrs. Page, came to me in great distress and said she was strangely missing. She had slipped away somewhere without a word."
Ashton-Kirk looked at him keenly.
"Of course it was up to me to find her," said Pendleton; "but my efforts were without result. Her car was gone, and the man said Miss Vale had called it about one o'clock; also that she had driven away in it alone.
"At this news Mrs. Page grew quite ill, and I brought her home here in my car. Then I departed upon a vague sort of search. As the matter was to be kept perfectly quiet and I was to ask no questions of anybody, you can imagine how much chance I had of doing anything. But if she's at home, it's all right. At sight of you I thought it had proved to be something alarming and that they had sent for you."
sent for," said Ashton-Kirk, dryly, "but not to hunt for Miss Vale. Now jump in here and come along; I've got a little matter that may be of interest."
"I haven't had breakfast," said Pendleton; "but there's always something piquant to your little affairs. I'll go you."
He dismissed his own car and climbed into that of his friend. As they whirled up the street, Ashton-Kirk suddenly directed his driver to stop. Then he called to a man with a great bundle of newspapers who stood calling them monotonously upon a corner.
Again the car started with the investigator deep in the sheaf of papers which he had purchased. Page after page failed to reveal anything to his practised glance; at length he swept them to the floor of the car. A smile was upon his lips--the smile of a man who had received a nod of approval from Circumstances.
"The first edition of the morning dailies lacks interest," he said. "A crime of some moment can be committed between midnight and dawn, and not a line appear in type concerning it until the later issues."
Pendleton looked at him with mock disapproval.
"One would suppose," said he, "that you had expected to find some such criminal narrative in those," and he indicated the discarded newspapers.
"There were reasons why I should," answered Ashton-Kirk. "And very good reasons, too. But," and he laughed a little, "for all that, I had an indefinite sort of feeling that I should not
find it. This may sound a trifle queer; but nevertheless it is true."
"The account was to have been of a murder," accused Pendleton. "I can see it in your face, so don't take the trouble to deny it. I had hoped that your plunge into what you styled the 'literature of assassination' would not last--that a good night's rest would turn your thoughts into another groove."
"Perhaps it would have been so," said Ashton-Kirk. "But things have happened in the meantime."
"And you don't appear at all put out that they have done so. That is possibly the most distressing feature of the business. If anything, you seem rather pleased. Of course, an odd murder or so is to be expected in the ordinary course of events; but one hardly counts upon one's intimates being concerned in them. It is disconcerting."
He crossed his legs and pursed up his lips.
"If you don't mind," added he, "now that I have expressed myself, I'll listen to the details of whatever you have in view."
"There is not a great deal to tell," said Ashton-Kirk. "A man has been murdered in Christie Place. It happens that I have an interest in the matter; otherwise I would not think of dipping into it."
Pendleton looked at him reproachfully.
"After all, then," exclaimed he, "you are but a dilettante! Assassination in the abstract is well enough, but you have a disposition to shirk practical examples. I have been deceived!"
Christie Place was some distance west and ran off from a much frequented street. It was notable for the wilderness of sign boards that flared from each side. The buildings were apparently let out in floors and each lessee endeavored to outdo his neighbor in proclaiming his business to the passing public. The lower floors were, for the most part, occupied by small grocers, dealers in notions, barbers, confectioners and such like.
"What a crowded, narrow little place," commented Pendleton, as the car turned into the street. The air in the street seemed to him heavy.
About midway in the block a small group stood about a doorway; from a window above swung a sign bearing the name of Hume. The car stopped here; Ashton-Kirk and his friend got out; the group at the doorway parted and a big man stepped forward.
"Why, hello," said he, cordially. "You're the last person I was looking for. How did you hear about this?"
"Good morning, Osborne," said Ashton-Kirk, shaking the big man's hand. "I'm glad to find you in charge. I got it in an unusual sort of way, and came down to have a look."
Osborne, though in plain clothes, was emphatically a policeman. His square face, his big frame, his dogged expression, somehow conveyed the impression as plainly as words.
"It must have been unusual," said he, "because even the reporters haven't got it yet; headquarters is keeping it quiet until the chief gets in."
Ashton-Kirk looked vastly pleased.
"Excellent," said he to Pendleton. "We'll have a look at the place before it has lost the atmosphere of the crime." Then to Osborne: "May we go up?"
"Sure," answered the other readily. "Only don't pull things around any. That young fellow that they've elected coroner is awful touchy about such things. He wants to be first always."
"Nothing of importance shall be disturbed," promised Ashton-Kirk. Then motioning Pendleton to follow, he ascended the flight that led to the second floor.
It was narrow and dusty, as Miss Vale had said. The walls were smutted, the hand rail felt greasy, the air was stale. A passage, dim and windowless, ran the depth of the building; from the front there came a patch of daylight through a ground glass door. Upon this latter could be easily read the words:
DAVID P. HUME
A policeman stood at the head of the stairs smoking a cigar in an informal way.
"All right," said he, "if Osborne let you come up I've got nothing to say. He's the boss."
"Have you looked over the place?"
"Just a glance. The floor has been fitted up as an apartment. Hume occupied all the rooms. The body," pointing to the front room, "is in there."
Ashton-Kirk turned the knob of the door nearest, the one with the lettering upon it. The room was without windows; the investigator closed the door and lighted the gas.
"Just a moment," said he.
The door leading to the front room stood wide. He disappeared through this for a moment; when he returned, his face wore a tightened expression; his eyes were swift and eager.
"This is a sort of store room, I should say," spoke Pendleton.
Pictures hung about upon the walls and stood packed in corners; statues of bronze, marble and plaster were on every side; brass bas-reliefs, rugs of Eastern design and great price, antique armor, coin cabinets, ponderous stamp albums, Japanese paintings and carvings and a host of queer and valuable objects fairly crammed every inch of space.
"I had heard that Hume was wealthy," commented Ashton-Kirk. "And this seems to prove it. This room contains value enough to satisfy a fairly reasonable person."
The two young men passed through into what appeared to be a kitchen. There was an ill kept range upon one side cluttered with cooking things. A bare oaken table of the Jacobean period held the remains of a meal. A massive Dutch side-board, covered with beautiful carving, stood facing them; every inch of available space upon it was crowded with bottles, decanters and glasses.
"The gentleman was not averse to an occasional nip, at any rate," said Pendleton. "And his taste was rather educated, too," examining the sideboard's contents carefully. "The best was none too good for him."
Beyond this again was a bedroom. The bed was a huge Flemish affair, and also elaborately carved; over it was a spreading Genoese canopy, which through lack of care had grown dusty and tattered. Rich old rugs were spread upon the neglected floor; a beautiful Louis Quinze table had its top covered with discolored rings made by the bottoms of glasses, and the lighted ends of cigars had burned spots on it.
"The bed of a prince and the floor coverings of a duke," said Pendleton with indignation. "And used much as a coal heaver would use them. Now, this table is really a scandal. If its owner has been murdered, I don't wonder at it. Some outraged lover of such things has probably taken the law into his own hands."
But Ashton-Kirk was paying little attention to the things that appalled Pendleton.
"Look," said he.
He indicated the walls. Here and there the plaster was broken as though some fastened object had been violently torn away. At one place an empty picture frame, its glass smashed, hung askew from a hook. As Pendleton caught sight of other empty frames littered about the room, the glass of each broken, their pictures torn out, he exclaimed in astonishment:
"Hello! Someone has torn them down and smashed them. What an extraordinary thing to do!"
The pictures, mostly engravings, but with here and there a painting, were strewn about. Ashton-Kirk carefully gathered them up and spread them upon the table. They were by various hands, but unquestionably represented the same person--a handsome, resolute looking man in the uniform of an officer in the army of Washington.
"General Anthony Wayne," said Ashton-Kirk, softly.
There was something in the tone that made Pendleton look at him swiftly. The splendid head was bent over the portraits; eagerness blazed in the dark eyes; the keen face was rigid with interest.
"Some drunken freak, do you think?" asked Pendleton, more to hear his friend's view than anything else.
But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.
"On the contrary, the thing seems full of a vague meaning," said he. "There were seventeen pictures upon the walls of this room; fourteen have been torn down and destroyed; the other three are undisturbed."
Pendleton gazed at the pictures that remained upon the walls. Two were of fine looking houses of the colonial type; the third was the portrait of a man--a man of repulsive, sneering face, heavy with evil lines and with unusually small eyes.
"If they had destroyed that one it would have had some meaning to me," commented Pendleton. "But, as it is, I hardly think I follow you."
"The meaning that I find," replied Ashton-Kirk, "lies in the fact that the pictures violently used were those of General Wayne only. Mark that fact. That they were deliberately selected for destruction is beyond question."
"How do you make that out?"
"It is simple. If this were a mere random stripping of the room of its pictures, all would have suffered. Look," indicating a spot in the wall, "here is a place where the plaster is broken. A hook had been driven here to hold one of the portraits; and the breaking of the plaster shows that some determination was required to tear the picture down. Yet--next this--is an engraving of an old mansion which remains untouched. The next four again were portraits of the General, and all have been demolished."
"That's true," said he. "Whoever did this was after the Revolutionary hero alone. But why?"
"We'll look into matters a little further," said he. "Perhaps there are facts to be gathered that will shed some light upon the things that we have already seen."
They repassed through the other rooms; with his hand upon the frame of the door leading to the show room, Ashton-Kirk paused.
"Better brace yourself for rather a shocking sight," said he to his friend.
"Go on," said Pendleton, quietly.