THE BLACK BOX
THE POCKET WIRELESS
Mr. Sanford Quest sat in his favourite easy-chair, his cigar inclined towards the left hand corner of his mouth, his attention riveted upon a small instrument which he was supporting upon his knee. So far as his immobile features were capable of expression, they betrayed now, in the slight parting of his lips and the added brightness of his eyes, symptoms of a lively satisfaction. He glanced across the room to where Lenora was bending over her desk.
“We’ve done it this time, young woman,” he declared triumphantly. “It’s all O.K., working like a little peach.”
Lenora rose and came towards him. She glanced at the instrument which Quest was fitting into a small leather case.
“Is that the pocket wireless?”
“I’ve had Morrison out at Harlem all the morning to test it,” he told her. “I’ve sent him at least half-a-dozen messages from this easy-chair, and got the replies. How are you getting on with the code?”
“Not so badly for a stupid person,” Lenora replied. “I’m not nearly so quick as Laura, of course, but I could make a message out if I took time over it.”
Laura, who had been busy with some papers at the further end of the room, came over and joined them.
“Say, it’s a dandy little affair, that, Mr. Quest,” she exclaimed. “I had a try with it, a day or so ago. Jim spoke to me from Fifth Avenue.”
“We’ve got it tuned to a shade now,” Quest declared. “Equipped with this simple little device, you can speak to me from anywhere up to ten or a dozen miles. What are you working on this morning, Laura?”
“Same old stunt,” the girl replied. “I have been reading up the records of the savants of New York. From what I can make out about them, it doesn’t seem to me that there’s one amongst the whole bunch likely to have pluck enough to tamper with the Professor’s skeleton.”
Quest frowned a little gloomily. He rose to his feet and moved restlessly about the room.
“Say, girls,” he confessed, “this is the first time in my life I have been in a fix like this. Two cases on hand and nothing doing with either of them. Criminologist, indeed! I guess I’d better go over to England and take a job at Scotland Yard. That’s about what I’m fit for. Whose box is this?”
Quest had paused suddenly in front of an oak sideboard which stood against the wall. Occupying a position upon it of some prominence was a small black box, whose presence there seemed to him unfamiliar. Laura came over to his side and looked at it also in puzzled fashion.
“Never saw it before in my life,” she answered. “Say, kid, is this yours?” she added, turning to Lenora.
Lenora shook her head. She, too, examined it a little wonderingly.
“It wasn’t there a short time ago. I brought a duster and went over the sideboard myself.”
“H’m! No one else has been in the room, and it hasn’t been empty for more than ten minutes,” he remarked. “Well, let’s see what’s inside, any way.”
“Just be careful, Mr. Quest,” Laura advised. “I don’t get that box at all.”
Quest pushed it with his forefinger.
“No bomb inside, any way,” he remarked. “Here goes!”
He lifted off the lid. There was nothing in the interior but a sheet of paper folded up. Quest smoothed it out with his hand. They all leaned over and read the following words, written in an obviously disguised hand:
The note was unsigned, but in the spot where a signature might have been there was a rough pen drawing of two hands, with fingers extended, talon fashion, menacingly, as though poised to strike at some unseen enemy. Quest, after their first moment of stupefaction, whistled softly.
“The hands!” he muttered.
“What hands?” Lenora asked.
“The hands that gripped Mrs. Rheinholdt by the throat,” he reminded them. “Don’t you remember? Hands without any arms?”
There was another brief, almost stupefied silence. Then Laura broke into speech.
“What I want to know is,” she demanded, “who brought the thing here?”
“A most daring exploit, any way,” Quest declared. “If we could answer your question, Laura, we could solve the whole riddle. We are up against something, and no mistake.”
Lenora shivered a little. The mystery of the thing terrified her, the mystery which only stimulated her two companions.
“The hand which placed that box here,” Quest continued slowly, “is capable of even more wonderful things. We must be cautious. Hello!”
The door had opened. The Professor stood upon the threshold. He carried his soft felt hat in his hand. He bowed to the two young women courteously.
“I trust that I have done right in coming up?” he enquired.
“Quite right, Professor,” Quest assured him. “They know well enough downstairs that I am always at liberty to you. Come in.”
“I am so anxious to learn,” the Professor continued eagerly, “whether there is any news—of my skeleton.”
“Not yet, Professor, I am sorry to say,” Quest replied. “Come in and shut the door.”
The Professor was obviously struggling with his disappointment. He did not, however, at once close the door.
“There is a young lady here,” he said, “who caught me up upon the landing. She, too, I believe, wishes to see you. My manners suffered, I fear, from my eagerness to hear from your own lips if there was anything fresh. I should have allowed her to precede me.”
He threw open the door and stood on one side. A young woman came a little hesitatingly into the room. Her hair was plainly brushed back, and she wore the severe dress of the Salvation Army. Nothing, however, could conceal the fact that she was a remarkably sweet and attractive-looking young person.
“Want to see me, young lady?” Quest asked.
She held out a book.
“My name is Miss Quigg,” she said. “I want to ask you for a subscription to our funds.”
Quest frowned a little.
“I don’t care about this house-to-house visitation,” he remarked.
“It is only once a year that we come,” the girl pleaded, “and we only go to people who we know can afford to help us, and who we believe can appreciate our work. You know so much of the darker side of New York, Mr. Quest. Wherever you go you must find signs of our labours. Even if I put on one side, for a moment, the bare religious question, think how much we do for the good and the welfare of the poor people.”
“That’s all right,” he admitted. “You reach the outcasts all right. There’s many a one you save whom you had better leave to die, but here and there, no doubt, you set one of them on their legs again who’s had bad luck. Very well, Miss Quigg. You shall have a donation. I am busy to-day, but call at the same hour to-morrow and my secretary here shall have a cheque ready for you.”
The girl smiled her gratitude.
“You are very kind indeed, Mr. Quest,” she said simply. “I will be here.”
The Professor laid his hand upon her arm as she passed. He had been watching her with curious intentness.
“Young lady,” he observed, “you seem very much in earnest about your work.”
“It is only the people in earnest, sir,” she answered, “who can do any good in the world. My work is worth being in earnest about.”
“Will you forgive an old man’s question?” the Professor continued. “I am one of the men of the world who are in earnest. My life is dedicated to science. Science is at once my religion and my life. It seems to me that you and I have something in common. You, too, move in the unusual ways. Your life is dedicated to doing good amongst the unworthy of your sex. Whether my brain approves of your efforts or not, you compel my admiration—my most respectful admiration. May I, too, be permitted?”
He drew out a pocket-book and passed over towards her a little wad of notes. She took them without a moment’s hesitation. Her eyes, as she thanked him, were filled with gratitude.
“It is so kind of you,” she murmured. “We never have any hesitation in accepting money. May I know your name?”
“It is not necessary,” the Professor answered. “You can enter me,” he added, as he held open the door for her, “as a friend—or would you prefer a pseudonym?”
“A pseudonym, if you please,” she begged. “We have so many who send us sums of money as friends. Anything will do.”
The Professor glanced around the room.
“What pseudonym shall I adopt?” he ruminated. “Shall I say that an oak sideboard gives you five hundred dollars? Or a Chippendale sofa? Or,” he added, his eyes resting for a moment upon the little box, “a black box?”
The two girls from the other side of the table started. Even Quest swung suddenly around. The Professor, as though pleased with his fancy, nodded as his fingers played with the lid.
“Yes, that will do very nicely,” he decided. “Put me down—‘Black Box,’ five hundred dollars.”
The girl took out her book and began to write. The Professor, with a little farewell bow, crossed the room towards Quest. Lenora moved towards the door.
“Let me see you out,” she said to the girl pleasantly. “Don’t you find this collecting sometimes very hard work?”
“Days like to-day,” the girl replied, “atone for everything. When I think of the good that five hundred dollars will do, I feel perfectly happy.”
Lenora opened the door. Both girls started. Only a few feet away Craig was standing, his head a little thrust forward. For a moment the quiet self-respect of his manner seemed to have deserted him. He seemed at a loss for words.
“What do you want?” Lenora demanded.
Craig hesitated. His eyes were fixed upon the Salvation Army girl. The changes in his face were remarkable. She, however, beyond smiling pleasantly at him, gave no sign of any recognition.
“I was waiting for my master,” Craig explained.
“Why not downstairs?” Lenora asked suspiciously. “You did not come up with him.”
“I am driving the Professor in his automobile,” Craig explained. “It occurred to me that if he were going to be long here, I should have time to go and order another tire. It is of no consequence, though. I will go down and wait in the car.”
Lenora stood at the top of the stairs and watched him disappear. Then she went thoughtfully back to her work. The Professor and Quest were talking at the farther end of the room.
“I was in hopes, in great hopes,” the Professor admitted, “that you might have heard something. I promised to call at Mrs. Rheinholdt’s this afternoon.”
Quest shook his head.
“There is nothing to report at present, Mr. Ashleigh,” he announced.
“Dear me,” the Professor murmured, “this is very disappointing. Is there no clue, Mr. Quest—no clue at all?”
“Not the ghost of one,” Quest acknowledged. “I am as far from solving the mystery of the disappearance of your skeleton and Mrs. Rheinholdt’s necklace, as I have ever been.”
The Professor failed entirely to conceal his disappointment. His tone, in fact, was almost peevish.
“I should have expected this from the regular officials of the law, Mr. Quest,” he admitted, “but I must say that in your hands I had hoped—but there, there! Excuse me! I am an old man, Mr. Quest. I am getting a little irritable. Disappointments affect me quickly. I must be patient. I will be patient.”
“There are certain evidences,” Quest remarked, with his eyes upon the black box, “which seem to point to a new arrival in the criminal world of New York. More than that I cannot tell you. I will simply ask you to believe that I am doing my best.”
“And with that, Mr. Quest, I will be content,” the Professor promised. “I will now pay my promised call upon Mrs. Rheinholdt. I shall convey to her your assurance that everything that is possible is being done. Good morning, young ladies,” he concluded. “Good morning, Mr. Quest.”
He took a courteous leave of them all and departed. Lenora crossed the room to where Quest was seated at the table.
“Mr. Quest,” she asked, “do you believe in inspiration?”
“I attribute a large amount of my success,” Quest replied, “to my profound belief in it.”
“Then let me tell you,” Lenora continued, “that I have one and a very strong one. Do you know that when I went to the door a few minutes ago, the Professor’s servant, Craig, was there, listening?”
“Craig?” Quest repeated. “Let me see, that was the man who was at the Rheinholdts’ house the night of the robbery, and who might have left through the conservatory.”
“He did leave by it,” Lenora declared. “He is in a state of panic at the present moment. What else do you suppose he was out there listening for?”
“The Professor speaks very highly of him,” Quest reminded her.
“The Professor is just one of those amiable old idiots, absorbed in his mouldy old work, who would never notice anything,” Lenora persisted. “He is just the man to be completely hoodwinked by a clever servant.”
“There is some sense in what the kid says,” Laura remarked, strolling up. “The fact remains that Craig was one of the few men who could have got at the necklace that night, and he is also one of the few who knew about the skeleton.”
Quest sighed as he lit a cigar.
“It is a miserably obvious solution,” he said. “To tell you the truth, girls, our friend Inspector French has had his men watching Craig ever since the night of the robbery. What’s that? Answer the telephone, Lenora.”
“It’s Inspector French,” she announced. “He wants to speak to you.”
Quest nodded, and held out his hand for the receiver.
“Hullo, French,” he exclaimed. “Anything fresh?”
“Nothing much!” was the answer. “One of my men, though, who has been up Mayton Avenue way, brought in something I found rather interesting this morning. I want you to come round and see it.”
“Go right ahead and tell me about it,” Quest invited.
“You know we’ve been shadowing Craig,” the Inspector continued. “Not much luck up till now. Fellow seems never to leave his master’s side. We have had a couple of men up there, though, and one of them brought in a curious-looking object he picked up just outside the back of the Professor’s grounds. It’s an untidy sort of neighbourhood, you know—kind of waste ground they commenced to build over, and then the real estate man who had it in hand, went smash.”
“What is the thing?” Quest asked.
“Well, I want to see whether you agree with me,” French went on. “If you can’t come round, I’ll come to you.”
“No necessity,” Quest replied. “We’ve got over little difficulties of that sort. Laura, just tack on the phototelesme,” he added, holding the receiver away for a moment. “One moment, French. There, that’s right,” he added, as Laura, with deft fingers, arranged what seemed to be a sensitised mirror to the instrument. “Now, French, hold up the article just in front of the receiver.”
French’s reply was a little brusque.
“What are you getting at, Quest?” he demanded. “You are not going to pretend that you can see from your room into this, are you?”
“If you’ll hold the object where I told you,” Quest replied, “I can see it. I promise you that. There, that’s right. Hold it steady. I’ve got the focus of it now. Say, French, where did you say that was found?”
“Just outside the Professor’s back gates,” French grunted, “but you’re not kidding me—”
“It’s a finger from the Professor’s skeleton you’ve got there,” Quest interrupted.
“How the blazes did you guess that?” the Inspector demanded.
“I’m not kidding,” Quest assured him. “I’ve got a phototelesme at work here. I’ve seen the bone all right. French, this is interesting. I must think it over.”
Quest hung up the receiver and rang off. Then he turned towards his two assistants.
“Another finger from the Professor’s skeleton,” he announced, “has been found just outside his grounds. What do you suppose that means?”
“Craig,” Lenora declared confidently.
“Craig on your life,” Laura echoed. “Say, Mr. Quest, I’ve got an idea.”
“Get right ahead with it.”
“Didn’t the butler at Mrs. Rheinholdt’s say that Craig belonged to a servants’ club up town? I know the place well. Let me go and see if I can’t join and pick up a little information about the man. He must have a night out sometimes. Let’s find out what he does. How’s that?”
“Capital!” Quest agreed. “Get along, Laura. And you, Lenora,” he added, “put on your hat. We’ll take a ride towards Mayton Avenue.”
The exact spot where the bone of the missing skeleton was discovered, was easily located. It was about twenty yards from a gate which led into the back part of the Professor’s grounds. The neighbourhood was dreary in the extreme. There were half-finished houses, little piles of building materials, heaps of stones, a watchman’s shed, and all the dreary paraphernalia of an abandoned building enterprise. Quest wasted very little time before arriving at a decision.
“The discovery of the bone so near the Professor’s house,” he decided, “cannot be coincidence only. We will waste no time out here, Lenora. We will search the grounds. Come on.”
They advanced towards the gate but found it locked. The wall was unusually high as though to obscure a view of anything that lay on the other side. Quest noticed with interest that, in places where it had shown signs of crumbling away, it had been repaired. He contemplated the lock thoughtfully and drew a little instrument from his pocket, an instrument which had the appearance of a many-sided key.
“Looks like storming the fortress, eh?” he remarked. “Here goes, any way.”
The gate swung open with a single turn of the wrist. Quest glanced for a moment at the lock and replaced the instrument in his pocket.
“The Professor’s not looking for visitors,” he muttered. “Gee! What a wilderness!”
It was hard to know which way to turn. Every path was choked with tangled weeds and bushes. Here and there remained one or two wonderful old trees, but the vegetation for the greater part consisted of laurel and other shrubs, which from lack of attention had grown almost into a jungle. They wandered about almost aimlessly for nearly half-an-hour. Then Quest came to a sudden standstill. Lenora gripped his arm. They had both heard the same sound—a queer, crooning little cry, half plaintive, half angry. Quest looked over his right shoulder along a narrow, overgrown path which seemed to end abruptly in an evergreen hedge.
“What’s that?” he exclaimed.
Lenora still clung to his arm.
“I hate this place,” she whispered. “It terrifies me. What are we looking for, Mr. Quest?”
“Can’t say that I know exactly,” the latter answered, “but I guess we’ll find out where that cry came from. Sounded to me uncommonly like a human effort.”
They made their way up as far as the hedge, which they skirted for a few yards until they found an opening. Then Quest gave vent to a little exclamation. Immediately in front of them was a small hut, built apparently of sticks and bamboos, with a stronger framework behind. The sloping roof was grass-grown and entwined with rushes. The only apology for a window was a queer little hole set quite close to the roof.
“The sort of place where the Professor might keep some of his pets,” Quest observed thoughtfully. “We’ll have a look inside, any way.”
There was a rude-looking door, but Quest, on trying it, found it locked. They walked around the place but found no other opening. All the time from inside they could hear queer, scuffling sounds. Lenora’s cheeks grew paler.
“Must we stay?” she murmured. “I don’t think I want to see what’s inside. Mr. Quest! Mr. Quest!”
She clung to his arm. They were opposite the little aperture which served as a window, and at that moment it suddenly framed the face of a creature, human in features, diabolical in expression. Long hair drooped over one cheek, the close-set eyes were filled with fury, the white teeth gleamed menacingly. Quest felt in his pocket for his revolver.
“Say, that’s some face!” he remarked. “I’d hate to spoil it.”
Even as he spoke, it disappeared. Quest took out the little gate opening apparatus from his pocket.
“We’ve got to get inside there, Lenora,” he announced, stepping forward.
She followed him silently. A few turns of the wrist and the door yielded. Keeping Lenora a little behind him, Quest gazed around eagerly. Exactly in front of him, clad only in a loin cloth, with hunched-up shoulders, a necklace around his neck, with blazing eyes and ugly gleaming teeth, crouched some unrecognisable creature, human yet inhuman, a monkey and yet a man. There were a couple of monkeys swinging by their tails from a bar, and a leopard chained to a staple in the ground, walking round and round in the far corner, snapping and snarling every time he glanced towards the new-comers. The creature in front of him stretched out a hairy hand towards a club, and gripped it. Quest drew a long breath. His eyes were set hard.
“Drop that club,” he ordered.
The creature suddenly sprang up. The club was waved around his head.
“Drop it,” Quest repeated firmly. “You will sit down in your corner. You will take no more notice of us. Do you hear? You will drop the club. You will sit down in your corner. You will sleep.”
The club slipped from the hairy fingers. The tense frame, which had been already crouched for the spring, was suddenly relaxed. The knees trembled.
“Back to that corner,” Quest ordered, pointing.
Slowly and dejectedly, the ape-man crept to where he had been ordered and sat there with dull, non-comprehending stare. It was a new force, this, a note of which he had felt—the superman raising the voice of authority. Quest touched his forehead and found it damp. The strain of those few seconds had been intolerable.
“I don’t think these other animals will hurt,” he said. “Let’s have a look around the place.”
The search took only a few moments. The monkeys ran and jumped around them, gibbering as though with pleasure. The leopard watched them always with a snarl and an evil light in his eye. They found nothing unusual until they came to the distant corner, where a huge piano box lay on its side with the opening turned to the wall.
“This is where the brute sleeps, I suppose,” Quest remarked. “We’ll turn it round, any way.”
They dragged it a few feet away from the wall, so that the opening faced them. Then Lenora gave a little cry and Quest stood suddenly still.
“The skeleton!” Lenora shrieked. “It’s the skeleton!”
Quest stooped down and drew away the matting which concealed some portion of this strange-looking object. It was a skeleton so old that the bones had turned to a dull grey. Yet so far as regards its limbs, it was almost complete. Quest glanced towards the hands.
“Little fingers both missing,” he muttered. “That’s the skeleton all right, Lenora.”
“Remember the message!” she exclaimed. “‘Where the skeleton is, the necklace may be also.’”
Quest nodded shortly.
They turned over everything in the place fruitlessly. There was no sign of the necklace. At last they gave it up.
“You get outside, Lenora,” Quest directed. “I’ll just bring this beast round again and then we’ll tackle the Professor.”
Lenora stepped back into the fresh air with a little murmur of relief. Quest turned towards the creature which crouched still huddled up in its corner, its eyes half-closed, rolling a little from side to side.
“Look at me,” he ordered.
The creature obeyed. Once more its frame seemed to grow more virile and natural.
“You need sleep no longer,” Quest said. “Wake up and be yourself.”
The effect of his words was instantaneous. Almost as he spoke, the creature crouched for a spring. There was wild hatred in its close-set eyes, the snarl of something fiend-like in its contorted mouth. Quest slipped quickly through the door.
“Any one may have that for a pet!” he remarked grimly. “Come, Lenora, there’s a word or two to be said to the Professor. There’s something here will need a little explanation.”
He lit a cigar as they struggled back along the path. Presently they reached the untidy-looking avenue, and a few minutes later arrived at the house. Quest looked around him in something like bewilderment.
“Say, fancy keeping a big place like this, all overgrown and like a wilderness!” he exclaimed. “If the Professor can’t afford a few gardeners, why doesn’t he take a comfortable flat down town.”
“I think it’s a horrible place,” Lenora agreed. “I hope I never come here again.”
“Pretty well obsessed, these scientific men get,” Quest muttered. “I suppose this is the front door.”
They passed under the portico and knocked. There was no reply. Quest searched in vain for a bell. They walked round the piazza. There were no signs of any human life. The windows were curtainless and displayed vistas of rooms practically devoid of furniture. They came back to the front door. Quest tried the handle and found it open. They passed into the hall.
“Hospitable sort of place, any way,” he remarked. “We’ll go in and wait, Lenora.”
They found their way to the study, which seemed to be the only habitable room. Lenora glanced around at its strange contents with an expression almost of awe.
“Fancy a man living in a muddle like this!” she exclaimed. “Not a picture, scarcely a carpet, uncomfortable chairs—nothing but bones and skeletons and mummies and dried-up animals. A man with tastes like this, Mr. Quest, must have a very different outlook upon life from ordinary human beings.”
“He generally has,” he admitted. “Here comes our host, any way.”
A small motor-car passed the window, driven by Craig. The Professor descended. A moment or two later he entered the room. He gazed from Quest to Lenora at first in blank surprise. Then he held out his hands.
“You have good news for me, my friends!” he exclaimed. “I am sure of it. How unfortunate that I was not at home to receive you! Tell me—don’t keep me in suspense, if you please—you have discovered my skeleton?”
“We have found the skeleton,” Quest announced.
For a single moment the new-comer stood as though turned to stone. There was a silence which was not without its curious dramatic significance. Then a light broke across the Professor’s face. He gave a great gulp of relief.
“My skeleton!” he murmured. “Mr. Quest, I knew it. You are the greatest man alive. Now tell me quickly—I want to know everything, but this first of all.—Where did you find the skeleton? Who was the thief?”
“We found the skeleton, Professor,” Quest replied, “within a hundred yards of this house.”
The Professor’s mouth was wide open. He looked like a bewildered child. It was several seconds before he spoke.
“Within a hundred yards of this house? Then it wasn’t stolen by one of my rivals?”
“I should say not,” Quest admitted.
“Where? Where exactly did you find it?” the other insisted.
Quest was standing very still, his manner more reserved even than usual, his eyes studying the Professor, weighing every spoken word.
“I found it in a hut,” he said, “hidden in a piano box. I found there, also, a creature—a human being, I must call him—in a state of captivity.”
“Hidden in a piano box?” the Professor repeated wonderingly. “Why, you mean in Hartoo’s sleeping box, then?”
“If Mr. Hartoo is the gentleman who tried to club me, you are right,” Quest admitted. “Mr. Ashleigh, before we go any further I must ask you for an explanation as to the presence of that person in your grounds!”
The Professor hesitated for a moment. Then he slowly crossed the room, opened the drawer of a small escritoire, and drew out a letter.
“You have heard of Sir William Raysmore, the President of the Royal Society?” he asked.
“This letter is from him,” the Professor continued. “You had better read it.”
The criminologist read it aloud. Lenora looked over his shoulder:—
The Professor nodded deliberately as Quest finished the letter.
“Now, perhaps, you can understand,” he said, “why it was necessary to keep Hartoo absolutely hidden. In a month’s time my papers will be ready. Then I shall electrify the world. I shall write not a new page but a new volume across the history of science. I shall—”
The door was suddenly thrown open. Craig sprang in, no longer the self-contained, perfect man-servant, but with the face of some wild creature. His shout was one almost of agony.
“The hut, Professor! The hut is on fire!” he cried.
His appearance on the threshold was like a flash. They heard his flying feet down the hall, and without a moment’s hesitation they all followed. The Professor led the way down a narrow and concealed path, but when they reached the little clearing in which the hut was situated, they were unable to approach any nearer. The place was a whirlwind of flame. The smell of kerosene was almost overpowering. The wild yell of the leopard rose above the strange, half-human gibbering of the monkeys and the hoarse, bass calling of another voice, at the sound of which Lenora and even Quest shuddered. Then, as they came, breathless, to a standstill, they saw a strange thing. One side of the hut fell in, and almost immediately the leopard with a mighty spring, leapt from the place and ran howling into the undergrowth. The monkeys followed but they came straight for the Professor, wringing their hands. They fawned at his feet as though trying to show him their scorched bodies. Then for a single moment they saw the form of the ape-man as he struggled to follow the others. His strength failed him, however. He fell backwards into the burning chasm.
The Professor bade them farewell, an hour later, on the steps of the house. He seemed suddenly to have aged.
“You have done your best, Mr. Quest,” he said, “but Fate has been too strong. Remember this, though. It is quite true that the cunning of Hartoo may have made it possible for him to have stolen the skeleton and to have brought it back to its hiding-place, but it was jealousy—cruel, brutal, foul jealousy which smeared the walls of that hut with kerosene and set a light to it. The work of a lifetime, my dreams of scientific immortality, have vanished in those flames.”
He turned slowly away from them and re-entered the house. Quest and Lenora made their way down the avenue and entered the automobile which was waiting for them, almost in silence. The latter glanced towards his companion as they drove off.
“Say, this has been a bit tough for you,” he remarked. “I’ll have to call somewhere and get you a glass of wine.”
She tried to smile but her strength was almost gone. They drove to a restaurant and sat there for a some little time. Lenora soon recovered her colour. She even had courage to speak of the events of the afternoon when they re-entered the automobile.
“Mr. Quest,” she murmured, “who do you suppose burned the hut down?”
“If I don’t say Craig, I suppose you will,” he remarked. “I wonder whether Laura’s had any luck.”
They were greeted, as they entered Quest’s room, by a familiar little ticking. Quest smiled with pleasure.
“It’s the pocket wireless,” he declared. “Let me take down the message.”
He spelt it out to Lenora, who stood by his side:
“Good girl, that,” Quest remarked. “She’s a rare sticker, too.”
He turned away from the instrument and was crossing the room towards his cigar cabinet. Suddenly he stopped. He looked intently towards the sideboard.
“What is it?” Lenora asked.
He did not answer. She followed the direction of his gaze. Exactly in the same spot as before reposed another but somewhat larger black box, of the same shape and material as the previous one.
“Say, who put that there?” he demanded.
Lenora shook her head.
“I locked the door when we went out,” she assured him.
Quest took the box into his hands and removed the lid. It seemed half full of cotton-wool. On the top were a few lines of writing and beneath them the signature of the parted hands. He read the form out slowly:
Quest raised the cotton-wool. Beneath lay Mrs. Rheinholdt’s necklace!