CHAPTER XVII

HIS SECOND WIFE

When the cabman had gone, I sat down and tried to think things out. As I have said many times in the course of this narrative, I lack imagination: moreover, a long experience of witnesses in court had taught me the unreliability of average observation. The very fact that two men swore to having taken solitary women away from Bellwood that night, made me doubt if either one had really seen the missing woman.

Of the two stories, the taxicab driver's was the more probable, as far as Miss Jane was concerned. Knowing her child-like nature, her timidity, her shrinking and shamefaced fear of the dark, it was almost incredible that she would walk the three miles to Wynton, voluntarily, and from there lose herself in the city. Besides, such an explanation would not fit the blood-stains, or the fact that she had gone, as far as we could find out, in her night-clothes.

Still—she had left the village that night, either by cab or on foot. If the driver had been correct in his time, however, the taxicab was almost eliminated; he said the woman got into the cab at one-thirty. It was between one-thirty and one-forty-five when Margery heard the footsteps in the attic.

I think for the first time it came to me, that day, that there was at least a possibility that Miss Jane had not been attacked, robbed or injured: that she had left home voluntarily, under stress of great excitement. But if she had, why? The mystery was hardly less for being stripped of its gruesome details. Nothing in my knowledge of the missing woman gave me a clue. I had a vague hope that, if she had gone voluntarily, she would see the newspapers and let us know where she was.

To my list of exhibits I added the purse with its inclosure. The secret drawer of my desk now contained, besides the purse, the slip marked eleven twenty-two that had been pinned to Fleming's pillow; the similar scrap found over Miss Jane's mantel; the pearl I had found on the floor of the closet, and the cyanide, which, as well as the bullet, Burton had given me. Add to these the still tender place on my head where Wardrop had almost brained me with a chair, and a blue ankle, now becoming spotted with yellow, where I had fallen down the dumb-waiter, and my list of visible reminders of the double mystery grew to eight.

I was not proud of the part I had played. So far, I had blundered, it seemed to me, at every point where a blunder was possible. I had fallen over folding chairs and down a shaft; I had been a half-hour too late to save Allan Fleming; I had been up and awake, and Miss Jane had got out of the house under my very nose. Last, and by no means least, I had waited thirty-five years to find the right woman, and when I found her, some one else had won her. I was in the depths that day when Burton came in.

He walked into the office jauntily and presented Miss Grant with a club sandwich neatly done up in waxed paper. Then he came into my private room and closed the door behind him.

"Avaunt, dull care!" he exclaimed, taking in my dejected attitude and exhibits on the desk at a glance. "Look up and grin, my friend." He had his hands behind him.

"Don't be a fool," I snapped. "I'll not grin unless I feel like it."

"Grin, darn you," he said, and put something on the desk in front of me. It was a Russia leather bag.

"The leather bag!" he pointed proudly.

"Where did you get it?" I exclaimed, incredulous. Burton fumbled with the lock while he explained.

"It was found in Boston," he said. "How do you open the thing, anyhow?"

It was not locked, and I got it open in a minute. As I had expected, it was empty.

"Then—perhaps Wardrop was telling the truth," I exclaimed. "By Jove, Burton, he was robbed by the woman in the cab, and he can't tell about her on account of Miss Fleming! She made a haul, for certain."

I told him then of the two women who had left Bellwood on the night of Miss Jane's disappearance, and showed him the purse and its inclosure. The C puzzled him as it had me. "It might be anything," he said as he gave it back, "from a book, chapter and verse in the Bible to a prescription for rheumatism at a drug-store. As to the lady in the cab, I think perhaps you are right," he said, examining the interior of the bag, where Wardrop's name in ink told its story. "Of course, we have only Wardrop's word that he brought the bag to Bellwood; if we grant that we can grant the rest—that he was robbed, that the thief emptied the bag, and either took it or shipped it to Boston."

"How on earth did you get it?"

"It was a coincidence. There have been a shrewd lot of baggage thieves in two or three eastern cities lately, mostly Boston. The method, the police say, was something like this—one of them, the chief of the gang, would get a wagon, dress like an expressman and go round the depots looking at baggage. He would make a mental note of the numbers, go away and forge a check to match, and secure the pieces he had taken a fancy to. Then he merely drove around to headquarters, and the trunk was rifled. The police got on, raided the place, and found, among others, our Russia leather bag. It was shipped back, empty, to the address inside, at Bellwood."

"At Bellwood? Then how—"

"It came while I was lunching with Miss Letitia," he said easily. "We're very chummy—thick as thieves. What I want to know is"—disregarding my astonishment—"where is the hundred thousand?"

"Find the woman."

"Did you ever hear of Anderson, the nerve specialist?" he asked, without apparent relevancy.

"I have been thinking of him," I answered. "If we could get Wardrop there, on some plausible excuse, it would take Anderson about ten minutes with his instruments and experimental psychology, to know everything Wardrop ever forgot."

"I'll go on one condition," Burton said, preparing to leave. "I'll promise to get Wardrop and have him on the spot at two o'clock to-morrow, if you'll promise me one thing: if Anderson fixes me with his eye, and I begin to look dotty and tell about my past life, I want you to take me by the flap of my ear and lead me gently home."

"I promise," I said, and Burton left.

The recovery of the bag was only one of the many astonishing things that happened that day and the following night. Hawes, who knew little of what it all meant, and disapproved a great deal, ended that afternoon by locking himself, blinking furiously, in his private office. To Hawes any practice that was not lucrative was bad practice. About four o'clock, when I had shut myself away from the crowd in the outer office, and was letting Miss Grant take their depositions as to when and where they had seen a little old lady, probably demented, wandering around the streets, a woman came who refused to be turned away.

"Young woman," I heard her say, speaking to Miss Grant, "he may have important business, but I guess mine's just a little more so."

I interfered then, and let her come in. She was a woman of medium height, quietly dressed, and fairly handsome. My first impression was favorable; she moved with a certain dignity, and she was not laced, crimped or made up. I am more sophisticated now; The Lady Who Tells Me Things says that the respectable women nowadays, out-rouge, out-crimp and out-lace the unrespectable.

However, the illusion was gone the moment she began to speak. Her voice was heavy, throaty, expressionless. She threw it like a weapon: I am perfectly honest in saying that for a moment the surprise of her voice outweighed the remarkable thing she was saying.

"I am Mrs. Allan Fleming," she said, with a certain husky defiance.

"I beg your pardon," I said, after a minute. "You mean—the Allan Fleming who has just died?"

She nodded. I could see she was unable, just then, to speak. She had nerved herself to the interview, but it was evident that there was a real grief. She fumbled for a black-bordered handkerchief, and her throat worked convulsively. I saw now that she was in mourning.

"Do you mean," I asked incredulously, "that Mr. Fleming married a second time?"

"He married me three years ago, in Plattsburg. I came from there last night. I—couldn't leave before."

"Does Miss Fleming know about this second marriage?"

"No. Nobody knew about it. I have had to put up with a great deal, Mr. Knox. It's a hard thing for a woman to know that people are talking about her, and all the time she's married as tight as ring and book can do it."

"I suppose," I hazarded, "if that is the case, you have come about the estate."

"Estate!" Her tone was scornful. "I guess I'll take what's coming to me, as far as that goes—and it won't be much. No, I came to ask what they mean by saying Allan Fleming killed himself."

"Don't you think he did?"

"I know he did not," she said tensely. "Not only that: I know who did it. It was Schwartz—Henry Schwartz."

"Schwartz! But what on earth—"

"You don't know Schwartz," she said grimly. "I was married to him for fifteen years. I took him when he had a saloon in the Fifth Ward, at Plattsburg. The next year he was alderman: I didn't expect in those days to see him riding around in an automobile—not but what he was making money—Henry Schwartz is a money-maker. That's why he's boss of the state now."

"And you divorced him?"

"He was a brute," she said vindictively. "He wanted me to go back to him, and I told him I would rather die. I took a big house, and kept bachelor suites for gentlemen. Mr. Fleming lived there, and—he married me three years ago. He and Schwartz had to stand together, but they hated each other."

"Schwartz?" I meditated. "Do you happen to know if Senator Schwartz was in Plattsburg at the time of the mur—of Mr. Fleming's death?"

"He was here in Manchester."

"He had threatened Mr. Fleming's life?"

"He had already tried to kill him, the day we were married. He stabbed him twice, but not deep enough."

I looked at her in wonder. For this woman, not extraordinarily handsome, two men had fought and one had died—according to her story.

"I can prove everything I say," she went on rapidly. "I have letters from Mr. Fleming telling me what to do in case he was shot down; I have papers—canceled notes—that would put Schwartz in the penitentiary—that is," she said cunningly, "I did have them. Mr. Fleming took them away."

"Aren't you afraid for yourself?" I asked.

"Yes, I'm afraid—afraid he'll get me back yet. It would please him to see me crawl back on my knees."

"But—he can not force you to go back to him."

"Yes, he can," she shivered. From which I knew she had told me only a part of her story.

After all she had nothing more to tell. Fleming had been shot; Schwartz had been in the city about the Borough Bank; he had threatened Fleming before, but a political peace had been patched; Schwartz knew the White Cat. That was all.

Before she left she told me something I had not known.

"I know a lot about inside politics," she said, as she got up. "I have seen the state divided up with the roast at my table, and served around with the dessert, and I can tell you something you don't know about your White Cat. A back staircase leads to one of the up-stairs rooms, and shuts off with a locked door. It opens below, out a side entrance, not supposed to be used. Only a few know of it. Henry Butler was found dead at the foot of that staircase."

"He shot himself, didn't he?"

"The police said so," she replied, with her grim smile. "There is such a thing as murdering a man by driving him to suicide."

She wrote an address on a card and gave it to me.

"Just a minute," I said, as she was about to go. "Have you ever heard Mr. Fleming speak of the Misses Maitland?"

"They were—his first wife's sisters. No, he never talked of them, but I believe, just before he left Plattsburg, he tried to borrow some money from them."

"And failed?"

"The oldest one telegraphed the refusal, collect," she said, smiling faintly.

"There is something else," I said. "Did you ever hear of the number eleven twenty-two?"

"No—or—why, yes—" she said. "It is the number of my house."

It seemed rather ridiculous, when she had gone, and I sat down to think it over. It was anticlimax, to say the least. If the mysterious number meant only the address of this very ordinary woman, then—it was probable her story of Schwartz was true enough. But I could not reconcile myself to it, nor could I imagine Schwartz, with his great bulk, skulking around pinning scraps of paper to pillows.

It would have been more like the fearlessness and passion of the man to have shot Fleming down in the state house corridor, or on the street, and to have trusted to his influence to set him free. For the first time it occurred to me that there was something essentially feminine in the revenge of the figures that had haunted the dead man.

I wondered if Mrs. Fleming had told me all, or only half the truth.

That night, at the most peaceful spot I had ever known, Fred's home, occurred another inexplicable affair, one that left us all with racked nerves and listening, fearful ears.

Last | Next | Contents