Problem of the Ghost Woman
by Jacques Futrelle
Ruby Reagan, expert cracksman, was busily, albeit quietly, engaged
in the practice of his profession. His rubber soles fell silently upon
the deep carpet as he stepped into the utter gloom of the study and
closed the door noiselessly behind him. For a long time he stood
perfectly still, listening, feeling with that vague single sense for
the presence of some one else; then he flashed his electric light. A
flat topped library table was directly in front of him, littered over
with books, and to his left were the bulky outlines of a roll top desk.
There were some chairs, a cabinet or so, and rows of bookcases.
His scrutiny, brief but comprehensive, seemed to satisfy Reagan; for
the light went out suddenly, and, turning in his tracks, he slid the
bolt of the door into its socket slowly, to avoid even a click. Next he
released the grips on one of the windows, for it might be necessary to
leave the room that way in the event of some one entering by the single
door. Then he settled down to work. First was the desk, and after a
long, minute inspection of the lock he dropped on his knees before it
and began trying his skeleton keys. The electric flash, with the light
fixed, was on the left leaf of the desk, brightly illuminating the lock
and lending a deeper glow of ruby red to his hair. On the right leaf of
the desk, within instant reach, was his revolver.
It was nearly half an hour before the lock yielded, and then, with a
sigh of relief, Reagan carefully pushed up the roll top. Inside he
found a metal box. From a score of pigeonholes he dragged forth papers
of all descriptions, ruthlessly scattering them about him after a quick
examination of each in turn. Then he went through drawer after drawer,
carefully scrutinizing each article before he laid it down.
“Guess it's in the box,” he mused at length.
Sitting flat upon the floor, with the box between his knees, he
lavished his talents upon it. After a few minutes the lock clicked, and
the metal lid lifted. Again Reagan smiled, for here were packages and
packages of banknotes. But after a moment they too were spilled out on
the floor. It was something else he sought.
“Now, that's funny,” he told himself finally. “It isn't here.” He
paused thoughtfully, while his eyes rested lovingly upon the packages
of money. “Of course, if I can't get what I want I'll take what I can
get,” he went on at last. And he proceeded to stuff the money away in
Several times he ran his fingers slowly through his red hair. It was
plain that he was deeply puzzled. He was on the point of rising to
continue his investigations in other directions, when he heard
something. It was a voice-a quiet, soothing, pleasant voice-about
fourteen inches behind his right ear.
“Don't try to get your revolver, please!” the voice advised. “If you
do, I'll shoot!”
Involuntarily Reagan's hand darted out toward the weapon on the leaf
of the desk; but it was drawn back as suddenly when he heard a sharp
click behind him. Nonplussed for the moment, he sat down again on the
floor, half expecting a shot. It didn't come, and he screwed his head
around to see why.
What he saw astounded him. It was a diaphanous, floating, lacy,
white something-the figure of a girl. Or was it a girl? The head was
sheathed in white, the features covered by a misty, hazy, veily thing,
and in the dim reflected light the whole figure seemed ridiculously
unsubstantial. It was a girl's voice, though.
“Sit perfectly still, please, and don't make any noise!” the voice
advised again. Yes, it was a girl's voice.
Reagan noted the small, gold mounted revolver in her right hand,
with the barrel, at just that moment, on a direct line with his head
and only a foot or so away; and he noted that it remained steadily
where it was without one tremor or quiver.
“Yes'm,” he said at last.
The white figure walked around him-or did it float?-and picked up
his revolver from the desk.
“This is Mr. Reagan, isn't it?” she inquired.
“Yes'm,” responded Reagan. The admission was surprised out of him.
“Did you find it?”
Was this thing real? Reagan rubbed his eyes doubtfully. He was
dreaming, of course. He would wake up in a minute. He opened his eyes
again. Yes, there she was. But she wasn't real,-she couldn't be
real,-she was a ghost. She was certainly not in the room when he
entered, and she could not have come in since, because he had bolted
the door on the inside.
“I shall trouble you now, Mr. Reagan,” the ghost woman went on, “to
take all that money from your pocket and put it back in the box.”
Reagan stared at the end of the revolver a moment, and the ghost
woman wriggled it. That was real enough, anyway. Promptly and without a
word he began to disgorge packages of banknotes. Then at last looked up
“You put back only eight packages,” said the ghost woman calmly.
“You took out nine.”
“Yes'm,” said Reagan.
He fished through his pockets again, in a semi-hypnotic condition,
produced more money, and deposited it with the other. He closed the
metal lid and snapped the lock.
“That will do very nicely,” she said approvingly. “Now I shall
trouble you, please, to go on about your business.”
Reagan started to rise, awkwardly enough, on hands and knees. The
ghost woman stepped back a little; but still she was not far enough
away, for when Reagan suddenly came to his feet his outstretched arms
struck her violently beneath the wrists and sent the two revolvers
flying upward. With another quick movement he swept the electric light
from the desk, extinguishing it. There was a sound of scuffling feet in
the darkness, as of persons struggling, a little despairing cry, then
finally a pistol shot.
Reagan stumbled blindly about the room, seeking the door. He found
it at last, still bolted on the inside, and tugged at it frantically.
Then came the sound of heavy feet running along the hall outside toward
the study, and Reagan stopped. The window! It was the only way now! The
shot had aroused the household. He rushed toward the window; but it
refused to move.
The clamor was at the door. Desperately Reagan sought for the side
grips on the window; but they seemed to have disappeared. The door
trembled as some heavy body was hurled against it. The bolt would
yield-it was yielding-Reagan heard the woodwork crack. Then
deliberately he drove his clenched fist through the glass, took one
step on a chair and hurled himself straight through. The door crashed
under the onslaught and swung inward.
On the following morning Chester Mills, a wealthy merchant, called
on Detective Mallory, chief of the bureau of criminal investigation.
“I own a large country estate forty miles out of town,” Mills began
abruptly. “Yesterday was the last day of the month. I went to the bank
and drew nine hundred dollars, and placed it in a metal box in my desk
at home and locked both the box and desk.
“I went to bed at eleven o'clock. About two o'clock this morning I
heard a pistol shot in the study. I jumped out of bed and rushed into
the hall toward the study, meeting on the way one of my servants,
O'Brien. We found the study locked, and started to smash the door in.
As we did so we heard a great crash of glass inside.
“Then we did smash the door, and O'Brien turned on the electric
lights. One of the two windows was smashed out as if somebody had
jumped or been thrown through it; my desk had been ransacked, and my
papers scattered all over the floor. The desk was standing open, and I
picked up the box. It had a bullet hole in it. The ball went in the top
and came out the side. I found it sticking in the desk. It was
thirty-two caliber. Here it is.”
Mills tossed the misshapen leaden missile on the table, and
Detective Mallory examined it.
“Then I found the first real puzzle,” Mills went on. “I opened the
box and counted the money. Instead of any of it being missing, there
was more there than there was when I put the box in the desk. Where
there had been only nine hundred dollars, verified by the paying teller
and myself, there was now nine hundred and ten dollars-an extra
Detective Mallory chewed his cigar frantically.
“O'Brien found a soft black hat in the room, near the door,”
continued Mills, “a revolver, thirty-eight caliber, with every chamber
loaded, an overcoat, an electric flashlight which had been thrown to
the floor and broken, and a very complete kit of burglar's tools. I
straightened the women folk all out, had the house searched, and went
back to bed. So far as I have been able to find out, nothing was
stolen-nothing is missing.”
“Well, in that case—” began the detective.
“I haven't started yet,” interrupted Mills tersely. “The window was
out, as I said; so when we went to bed again we left O'Brien in the
study on watch. About half-past three o'clock I was awakened again by a
scream-a woman. Again I jumped out and ran along toward the study. The
lights were going, but there was no sign of O'Brien. I presumed then
that his attention had been attracted by the scream and he had gone to
investigate. But— Well, O'Brien has disappeared. No one has seen or
heard of him since-there's not a trace.”
Detective Mallory sat for a long time silently smoking, and staring
into the eyes of his caller.
At this point the problem came under the observation of that eminent
logician, Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen-The Thinking Machine.
As Hutchinson Hatch, reporter, related the known facts, the
distinguished man of science permitted his eyes to narrow down to mere
slits of watery blue, and the tall, dome-like forehead was deeply
“Why was any shot fired?” Hatch demanded of the scientist in
perplexity. “And who fired it? Were there two burglars? Did they fight?
Was one wounded? There were bloodstains on the ground outside the
window; but we can see that whoever jumped out might have cut himself
on the glass. And why was the hole shot in the tin box? Not to break
the lock, obviously; for it could have been taken along. Where does the
odd ten-dollar bill in the box figure? Where is O'Brien? Who was the
woman who screamed that second time? Why did she scream? Why wasn't
Having relieved himself of this torrent of questions, Hatch dropped
back into his chair expectantly and lighted a cigarette. The Thinking
Machine permitted two disapproving eyes to settle on the young man for
“And still you haven't asked the one vital question,” he remarked
tartly. “That is, What particular object in that study, or supposed to
be in that study, is of such great importance to some one unknown that
two bold, daring I might say, attempts were made to get it in the same
“It seems to me it would be impossible to learn that, until—”
“Nothing is impossible, Mr. Hatch. It is merely a little sum in
arithmetic. Two and two make four; not sometimes but all the time. This
problem, at the moment, seems remarkably disjointed, particularly when
we consider the disappearance of O'Brien. First, then, is Mr. Mills
positive nothing was stolen?”
“Absolutely so,” replied Hatch. “He has checked off every paper, and
accounted for every article.”
The furrows in the tall brow deepened perceptibly, and for a long
time the crabbed little scientist sat silent. “How much blood was found
outside?” he asked suddenly.
“Quite a good deal of it,” Hatch responded. “It looks as if some
one, whoever jumped or was thrown out, received some nasty cuts. The
edges of the glass are stained.”
The Thinking Machine nodded. “It is established beyond all question
that the woman who screamed that second time was not one of those in
the house?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” returned Hatch confidently. “They had all retired after
the first fright, and the second didn't even arouse them. They didn't
know of O'Brien's disappearance until morning.”
“The police have found nothing yet?”
“Not yet. The articles left in the room, of course,-the hat and coat
and burglar's tools,-are clues that they are working on. They might
establish identity by their aid.”
“Well, we'll have to find the man who jumped,” remarked the
scientist placidly. “When we do that, we can go somewhere with this
“Yes, when we do that,” Hatch agreed, with a grin.
“Of course we can do it!” snapped The Thinking Machine. “Here we
seek a man with neither hat nor overcoat, who is cut up with glass,
possibly badly wounded.”
“But he's the sort of man who would scuttle to cover like a scared
rabbit,” Hatch protested. “Wouldn't matter how badly hurt he was, if he
could walk he would hide.”
“You seem to think, Mr. Hatch, that leaping through a window, taking
all the glass with you, and falling twenty feet to a hard pavement, is
a trivial affair,” declared the scientist crabbedly. “If this man
wasn't badly hurt, it's a miracle; therefore—” He stopped abruptly and
squinted at the newspaper man. “I'm going to state a case and ask you a
question,” he went on suddenly. “Before I do it I'll write the answer
you will give on this bit of paper. You are an intelligent man; so I'll
demonstrate to you how intelligent minds run in the same channel.”
He scribbled a few words hurriedly, folded the paper twice, and
handed it to the reporter.
“Now you are the burglar,” he resumed, “a man perhaps well known to
the police. You jumped from that window and hurt yourself seriously.
You need medical attention; yet you can't afford to run the slightest
risk of capture. You have no hat or coat. You go to physician, not too
near the scene of the affair, and you tell a story to account for your
condition. What could you say to do away with all suspicion, and make
yourself perfectly safe, at least for the moment?”
Hatch smiled whimsically as he turned and twisted the scrap of paper
in his fingers, then lighted a cigarette and got down to the matter in
“I think,” he said at last slowly, and feeling unaccountably
sheepish about it, “that the safest story to tell the physician would
be that I had been thrown from an automobile, lost my hat, say, cut
myself going head foremost through the glass front when the car ran
away, badly bruised by the violence with which I hit the ground; and
all that sort of thing.”
The Thinking Machine glared at him aggressively for an instant, then
arose and left the room. Hatch drew a long breath, then opened the
folded paper reluctantly. He found only these words:
“Runaway automobile-cut by diving through glass front-hat
lost-bruises and other lacerations by fall to ground.”
When the scientist returned, he wore his hat and overcoat.
“Mr. Hatch, go at once to Mr. Mills, and inquire if he has yet
learned of anything being missing from the study-a paper of some sort,
in all probability,” he instructed. “Then, without mentioning the
matter to him, take other steps to learn the nature of any litigation
which might be pending in which he is concerned-I imagine something is
either now going on or will be going on in a few days. Run by this
evening to see me.”
“Are you going with me?” inquired the reporter.
“No, no,” responded the scientist impatiently. “I'm going to see the
man who jumped out of the window.”
When Ruby Reagan, expert cracksman, awoke to consciousness he found
himself gazing straight into two squinting blue eyes, magnified beyond
all proportion by the thick spectacles through which he saw them. The
eyes were set far back in a thin, drawn face, and above them was a
shock of straw yellow hair.
“Be perfectly quiet,” said The Thinking Machine. “You are safe
enough, and in a day or so you will be all right.”
“Who are you?” demanded Reagan suspiciously.
“I am acting for the gentleman who employed you to get that-that
document from Mr. Mills's study,” replied the scientist glibly. “You
are in my home. The doctor fixed you up, and I brought you here as soon
as I found you. He doesn't suspect anything. He thinks you were injured
in an automobile accident, as you said.”
The cracksman closed his eyes to think about it. Weakly, for he had
lost much blood, he gradually pieced together a shattered recollection
of events of the last few hours,-the jump, his hurts, that staggering
run through deserted streets to get away from that place, the final
collapse at the very door of a physician, the muttered story he told to
account for his wounds. Then he looked again into the inscrutable face
of The Thinking Machine. It all seemed regular enough.
“The cops don't know?” he demanded suddenly.
“No,” replied The Thinking Machine emphatically. “Who fired the
“The ghost lady,” replied the cracksman promptly. “Guess she didn't
mean to, though, cause she seemed as anxious to be quiet as I was.”
“And of course you jumped when you heard some one at the door?”
“Betcher neck!” replied Reagan grimly. “The cops ain't never had me
yet, an' I don't intend to break no record.”
“And the ghost lady,” resumed the scientist. “Tell me about her.”
And then the story of the strange happenings in the study that night
as Reagan recalled them was told. “And I didn't get the paper at that,”
“You say the ghost lady was all in white?”
“Sure,” was the reply. “I don't know really whether she was a ghost
or not; but she started the mix-up.” He was silent for a moment. “But
le'me tell you she must have been a ghost. She couldn't have got in
that room any other way. She slid in through the keyhole or something.”
“And she called you by name, you say?”
“Yes. That's another thing that makes me think she's a ghost. How
did she know my name. And why did she ask me if I got it?”
Hutchinson Hatch called an hour later. There was something of
elation, excitement nearly, in his manner. He found The Thinking
Machine stretched out in a huge chair in the laboratory, with unruffled
brow, and idly twiddling fingers.
“The litigation, Mr. Hatch,” said the latter without turning.
“Well, there are a dozen cases in which he is interested one way or
another,” Hatch informed him; “but there is one particularly—”
“Something about property rights, I imagine?” interrupted the
“Yes,” said the reporter. “There's a fortune involved, and a vast
deal of real estate. A business partner of Mills, Martin Pendexter by
name, died three or four years ago and his grandson, now about
twenty-two years old, is suing to recover certain money and property
from Mills, alleging that Mills assumed it as his own when Pendexter
died. Mills has steadfastly refused to go into the matter, or even
discuss it, and finally the boy brought the suit. It has been postponed
several times; but it's to come up for hearing soon.”
“Mr. Mills, then, holds title to this property?” inquired The
“I presume if he hadn't felt safe in his position he would not have
permitted the matter to go into court,” replied Hatch. “I figure that
Mills does hold a release from Pendexter of the property, and intends
to produce it in court. He has advised the boy several times not to
sue; but would never give a reason.”
“Oh!” and for a long time the scientist sat silent. “Of course-of
course,” he mused, half aloud. “Then the ghost woman was one of the—”
“And there's another thing,” Hatch rushed on impatiently. “Detective
Downey told me a little while ago the police have established the
identity of at least one person who was in the study that night, by the
kit of tools left behind. His name is Ruby Reagan.”
“Ruby Reagan,” repeated the scientist thoughtfully. “Oh, yes. He's
asleep in the next room there.”
The Thinking Machine was talking; Mills, Detective Mallory, and
Hutchinson Hatch were listening.
“There is no puzzle about it at all,” declared the scientist.
“Briefly what happened was this: A burglar was employed by a man who is
suing you, Mr. Mills, to go into your study and find, if indeed such a
thing is in existence, the document upon which you must depend to prove
your title to the Pendexter property now in dispute.
“Well, this burglar went to that study and looked for that
document-vainly, I may say here. While looking for that he found the
money in the box. He was tempted then, contrary to orders, perhaps, and
put this money in his pocket. Later he was compelled at the point of a
revolver to put the money back in the box, and in his hurry to obey
orders he put in a ten-dollar bill of his own. The person who compelled
him to replace the money was-was—”
He paused, wrote something on a slip of paper, and passed it to
“What!” exclaimed Mills incredulously.
“No names, please-yet, anyway,” broke in the scientist. “Anyway, it
was a woman, I may say a woman of great courage, even audacity. She had
gained possession of the burglar's revolver, and with two weapons
ordered him to go. The burglar precipitated a struggle, a shot was
fired by accident, perhaps, and that is the shot which went through the
tin box. The burglar jumped through the window and escaped. The woman,
who was in the room, perhaps behind the curtain of the door when the
burglar entered, had come there to get that particular document he was
seeking. At the time he jumped we can imagine how she managed to get
out into the hall when the door flew open, and you and your man O'Brien
“The next we know of that woman she was with the others screaming. A
little logic shows us that after that first fright, when the house was
perfectly still again, the woman, not knowing O'Brien was on watch,
returned to that study again to seek that document. He was sitting in
the dark, heard her, and flashed on the electric lights. She was
surprised, she screamed, was recognized by O'Brien, and then for some
consideration that does not appear-probably a bribe-induced O'Brien to
disappear. Again she avoided discovery, and if an investigation had
been made she would have been found in bed, I dare say.
“Being totally ignorant now, of the incidents leading up to the
pistol shot and the burglar's escape, the first point that the logical
mind can seize upon is the finding of more money in the tin box than
was known to be there. Therefore, we know that that box had been
opened, and we know that the burglar was either an honest man or was
compelled to be honest. We know too from the fact that a thirty-eight
caliber revolver was found, that there was a second revolver-the one
from which the shot was fired. Burglars are not honest. Was this one
compelled to be honest? What honest person could be in that room—lone
with that burglar, remember? You see instantly a thousand
“Without pursuing those possibilities at the moment, it came down to
a question of finding the burglar-the dishonest one, I may say. That
was not difficult, only tedious work on the telephone, seeking a doctor
who had treated a man who was probably-probably, you note-injured in an
automobile accident. I found your Ruby Reagan, Mr. Mallory, and from
him I learned just what happened at first-a woman in white, a ghost
woman, obviously some woman in the house. White lacy gowns are not
popular for street wear at two o'clock in the morning.”
“I wonder if this is absolutely necessary, Mr. Van Dusen?”
interrupted Mills. His face was white. “I think I understand, and I
assure you the matter has taken a personal turn which may mean a great
deal to me and my family.”
The Thinking Machine waved his hand as if the matter was dismissed.
“For your benefit, Mr. Mills,” continued the scientist, “I will
state that the motive for the girl's act was one which reflected her
great courage, and her loyalty to you-perhaps at the same time her
regard for another man. Do you follow me? In some way-perhaps the man
told her-she learned of the plan to engage Reagan for the work, and she
could have learned of that only from the man by a relationship which
partook of love for him. Her loyalty to you and a natural desire to
save this man's name in your eyes, led her to seek in person to recover
the document. It merely happened that they both visited the study the
The Thinking Machine stopped as if that was all.
“But here, go on,” Detective Mallory insisted. “I want to know the
“Suppose, Mr. Mallory, that you find Reagan for yourself?” suggested
The Thinking Machine after a long pause. “I did it. Surely you can.”
“Where is he? Where did you see him?”
“I saw him at my house,” responded the scientist calmly. “I left him
there to come here; but a man who confesses what he confessed to me
doesn't stay at a place like that if he can help it. The matter is as I
have stated it, Mr. Mills. Your reason for refusing to give the young
man any explanation of your holding the property is a good one, I dare
say, so I'll not question it.”
“I'll tell you,” flamed Mills suddenly. “He is not really the
grandson of Pendexter. I will be compelled to show that if he sues
me-that is why I have advised him not to sue.”
“I imagined as much,” said The Thinking Machine.
Ruby Reagan left the home of The Thinking Machine in a cab late that
night. And a few days later the Pendexter suit was withdrawn by the