by Johnston McCulley
CHAPTER I. A QUEER DEATH.
SWEAT seemed to cover the buildings, the air was stagnant, the
gathering darkness had a peculiar quality, somehow suggesting coming
tragedy. So thought Mrs. Burke as she opened the front door and stood
at the top of the small flight of steps, wiping her hands on her apron,
and looking up and down the street, and then at the threatening sky.
The street was not unlike scores of similar side streets in the city.
Old houses, that once had been mansions owned by persons of refinement
and wealth, now were converted into stores on the ground floor and
rooming houses above. Here and there between the stores was a short
flight of steps that led to a heavy door with a plate glass upper half.
These doors invariably opened into boarding houses.
Mrs. Burke operated one of these houses, and had for some years. She
admitted to fifty summers, and was a woman of ample bosom, wide hips,
stringy red hair, and kind smile. Mrs. Burke could smile even while
ejecting an undesirable boarder.
As she opened the door and stood on the top step this particular
evening she sighed—which was unusual—and could not explain why she
did so. It had been sultry all day, and now rain threatened. It was an
oppressive evening, one to cause uneasiness to human beings, the sort
of evening when a man seems to feel a premonition, grows nervous,
dislikes to retire and yet does not want to remain up, and, in short,
has a feeling that there is “something in the air.”
Mrs. Burke catered to young women who were employees in shops and
offices. She called them “my girls.” Many a young wife, happy in a flat
of her own, could look back at her days at Mrs. Burke's place and give
thanks that she had met that sort of landlady.
For Mrs. Burke had the happy faculty of reading persons aright. If a
girl was deserving but in momentary hard luck, Mrs. Burke knew it and
gave what help she could. If a girl spent money unwisely for clothes
she did not need, and then attempted to put off paying her board, Mrs.
Burke knew exactly what sort of sermon to deliver.
“There'll be a storm,” Mrs. Burke said to herself now, as she glanced
down the street. It was her habit to do this each evening just before
“her girls” came home from their work. It was her little moment. She
knew that every boarder would be wondering what would be the foundation
of the evening meal. Mrs. Burke never allowed her table to grow
monotonous, but she did not go to great expense to give variety. “She
can take five cents' worth of meat and an onion and make a dish that a
French chef would strive hopelessly to equal,” one of her girls had
said not long before.
The landlady's face grew brighter now, for a young woman hurried
around the corner and approached the flight of steps, walking briskly
and without a hint of fatigue, though she had been standing behind a
counter the greater part of the day, battling bargain hunters. Mrs.
Burke welcomed her with a smile.
“On time, as usual, dearie,” she purred. “Always come straight home,
don't you? And how is pretty Miss Alice Patton this evening?”
“Hungry!” Alice Patton replied, laughing and flushing a bit. She knew
that she was pretty. Even other women told her that. “Is Mabel home
“She came home at noon.” the landlady answered. “She has one of her
“Oh! I'm sorry!”
“Too much embroidery,” declared Mrs. Burke, shaking her head. “It
“I know that it's bad for our eyes—and heads,” Alice Patton replied.
“But this is a special occasion, and we haven't much time. Jessie
Simpson used to work with us, you know. The three of us were pals. And
when she let us know that she was going to be married, you can bet that
we wanted to make her a present.”
“Naturally,” said Mrs. Burke.
“And we didn't want to buy her something that anybody can buy in any
cheap shop. So we decided that we'd make her a centerpiece—and it's
going to be a beauty! We have to do most of the work at night, of
“You've been working on the thing for more than a month.”
“Well, it is almost done. Mabel and I both knew a little about
embroidery, and Mrs. Roberts showed us a lot more. You know about Mrs.
Gordon Roberts, don't you? She's rich—class!—and president of the
working girls' club. She's always at the club at the noon hour, during
luncheon. Oh, she's great!”
“I know all about her,” said Mrs. Burke. “She's a widow, same as I
am, only she's rich, and about twenty-eight, and moves in the highest
society. She's the first society woman I ever knew about who went into
such a thing sincerely. It isn't just a plaything with her. She has
helped the girls a lot.”
“I suppose I'd better run in and see how Mabel is before I get ready
for dinner,” Alice Patton said.
“She's got a headache, that's all,” Mrs. Burke persisted. “This is
going to be an awful night; I can feel it in my bones. The air is so
heavy and depressing.”
“That's due to the decaying vegetables in the Italian grocery across
the street,” Alice Patton responded.
She hurried into the house, ran quickly up the stairs, tossed her hat
on the bed in her own little room, and then hurried to the room of her
particular chum, Mabel Higgins.
Miss Higgins was stretched across the foot of her bed, with a wet
towel wrapped around her head.
“It's the same old thing, Alice,” she complained. “I endured it all
morning, and went to the girls' club for lunch, and then decided that
I'd come home. Mrs. Roberts was there, and she said it would be foolish
for me to go back to work.”
“You've been using your eyes too much.”
“We've got to get that centerpiece done, Alice. We haven't much more
“Don't you worry about that,” Alice Patton told her. “I'll come in
here after dinner and work on it as late as I can; or I'll take it to
my own room, if you want to keep the lights out here.”
“Please come in,” Mabel decided. “I'll be all right if I just stay
still for a time.”
“Want some dinner?”
“No. I told Mrs. Burke that she might bring me some tea and toast;
that's all I can eat. I'll be all right in an hour or so if I keep
quiet. I feel so—so creepy!”
“It's the weather, Mabel. It makes me feel shivery, too. I think
there is going to be a storm.”
Alice Patton went to her own room again, and ten minutes later was in
the big dining room eating with the others. The meal at an end, she
hurried back to her chum's room. Mabel Higgins had consumed her tea and
“Where's that centerpiece?” Alice demanded.
“In the top drawer of the bureau.”
“Sure you don't want me to go to my own room to work?”
“No, dear. I'm much better now. And we can talk if you work at it in
here. My head doesn't ache so bad if I keep my eyes closed and don't
Alice Patton took the big centerpiece from the drawer, sat down
beside the table, adjusted the light, and began the work.
“To think that Jessie Simpson will be a bride before the end of
another week!” she said.
“She's getting a good man, too,” Mabel added. “He's steady and
“They make tremendous wages, dear. Jessie is a lucky girl. She'll
have a dandy flat.”
“And she'll have some centerpiece to put on her table!” Alice Patton
“I showed it to Mrs. Roberts at noon, and she said that we had done
fine. She told me about a new stitch, too.”
“This needle is about as dull as it could be.”
“You'll find a couple of new ones in that little envelope on the
dresser. Mrs. Roberts gave them to me. They are a better kind for this
sort of work, she said. She had a package of them—just got them at the
“She's a funny rich woman,” Alice Patton commented; “always wanting
to be at work.”
“She was working on a scarf to-day—and it was some scarf!” Mabel
Higgins said. “She just loves to do fancy work, even if she is rich.
I'll bet she almost pays the rent of that little shop where she buys
her stuff. I went there with her once. A queer little fellow runs it.
He's some sort of foreigner. Mrs. Roberts told me that he knows more
about embroidery and silks and needles and patterns than any woman on
earth. He's really an expert.”
“Deliver me from being an expert on embroidery!” Alice Patton
exclaimed. “When we get this centerpiece finished I am done with
embroidery for life! If you ever decide to get married, Mabel, I'll buy
you a cut-glass pickle dish.”
She got the package of needles, selected one and threaded it, and sat
down to resume her work. There was silence for a time. And then Mabel
Higgins started to get up from the bed.
“Better lie still,” Alice advised.
“I just want a drink of water.”
“Stay on the bed, and I'll get it for you. I want one myself. Oh,
“What's the trouble?”
“I stuck my finger with the needle, if you want to know. That is the
'steenth time this week. I'm not very handy with the thing, it seems to
me. Jessie Simpson never will know what I've suffered to help make her
a wedding present.”
She put the centerpiece upon the table and went into the bathroom
adjoining. Mabel Higgins heard her start the water, fill a glass, and
guessed that she was drinking.
“This water seems to taste queer tonight!” she said.
Mabel Higgins heard the water running again, and knew that the glass
was being filled once more. Then the water was shut off, and Alice
Patton came back into the room, carrying the glass.
“At the store to-day——” she began.
She seemed to choke on the sentence. Mabel Higgins turned slowly on
the bed to regard her.
“What—what is it, Alice?” she gasped.
For her friend's face had turned white and her eyes had closed. She
dropped the glass of water to the floor and clutched at her breast with
both hands, gasping, seeming to struggle to speak. Then she tottered
and fell with a crash.
Mabel Higgins' cry rang through the house. Other girls heard it and
ran into the hallways from their rooms, and Mrs. Burke hurried up the
narrow stairs as rapidly as her bulk would permit, to ascertain the
cause of the trouble.
“Alice! Alice!” Mabel Higgins was crying.
Mrs. Burke burst into the room with half a dozen girls at her heels.
They saw Alice Patton stretched upon the floor, one arm bent beneath
her body. Her face was ashen, and her eyes were open and fixed.
Mrs. Burke was a woman of broad experience; she needed but the one
“Dead!” she said. “Telephone for a doctor, one of you girls—but
BEFORE the physician arrived Mrs. Burke drove the panic-stricken
girls to the lower floor, led the frantic Mabel Higgins to another
room, and tried her best to restore silence and order.
Mrs. Burke was used to emergencies, and she found herself confronted
by one now. She did not pretend to know what had caused this sudden
death of a girl in excellent health and spirits, apparently; that was
for the doctor to determine. Her present duty was to quiet the other
boarders and preserve the reputation of her boarding house. She did not
want a tragedy to drive away her only means of livelihood.
The physician arrived, and Mrs. Burke conducted him to the room where
the dead girl was stretched on the floor. At the first glance the
doctor pronounced life extinct and then he began his careful
examination. Mrs. Burke stood near one of the windows and said nothing.
It would be time for her to talk when there were questions asked.
After an interval the physician got to his feet and stepped across to
the landlady, whom he had known for years.
“Mrs. Burke,” he asked, “what have you to tell me?”
“Very little, doctor. Alice Patton has boarded with me for more than
a year, and so has Mabel Higgins, her particular chum, who has this
room. Alice came from work as usual this evening and seemed to be in
good spirits. Mabel was home with a headache, and after dinner Alice
came up here to work on some embroidery and talk to Mabel. A little
later we heard Mabel scream. I hurried upstairs and found Alice on the
floor, as you see her now.”
“Um!” the doctor grunted. “What sort of girl was she? Rather nice
“One of the very best!” Mrs. Burke replied, without a trace of
hesitation. “And I'm not saying that just because she is dead now,
either; I mean it. I'd have been proud of a daughter like Alice Patton.
She was a kind, lovable girl, and everbody liked her.”
“She hasn't been having the blues lately, has she, or anything like
“She always seemed to be in good spirits. Just what are you driving
“You don't think she'd commit suicide?”
“Good heavens, no!”
“Mrs. Burke,” the doctor said, “I regret it very much, because it
happened in your house, but I shall have to notify the coroner, of
course—and the police.”
“Miss Patton died as the result of poison.”
“And from an unusual poison, which is very difficult to obtain. It
may have been an accident—or suicide—or foul play.”
“Why, Alice Patton didn't have an enemy in the world!” Mrs. Burke
“We never know, Mrs. Burke,” the physician said, out of the wisdom
acquired through years of practice among all sorts of persons. “I'll
remain here until the officers come, of course, and do what I can to
save you annoyance. Please leave everything in the room exactly as it
is. Get the other young ladies into your back parlor and keep all of
them there for the present. Perhaps I can let the police in and get
them upstairs without the other boarders knowing.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Mrs. Burke said.
She went down the stairs to collect the other frightened boarders,
and the doctor closed the door of the room and followed her. He
telephoned the coroner, and to police headquarters, and then waited
outside on the steps to the house.
The police detective who answered the call was a man of wide
metropolitan experience. His name was Darter. He was acquainted with
the doctor, who told him all that he knew in a few words.
“Sorry if it bothers Mrs. Burke, but we've got to get to the bottom
of this,” the detective said.
The coroner's assistant arrived and made his superficial examination,
and the body was removed. Then the detective and the doctor went to the
back parlor, where Mrs. Burke was speaking in low tones to her
boarders, girls with horror written in their faces. They could not
believe that Alice Patton, the favorite of the house, who had been
eating dinner with them so short a time before, was dead.
The detective whispered to the landlady, and she, in turn, took Mabel
Higgins into another room, the detective and the doctor going along.
“Miss Higgins,” the detective said, “I want you to tell me, please,
just what happened. Try to be as calm as possible, and tell me
everything. Do not omit a thing, no matter how insignificant it may
seem to you.”
Mabel Higgins strove to be calm, but her recital was interrupted by
frequent fits of sobbing. Alice had come into her room to work on the
piece of embroidery, she said. The girl had appeared as cheerful as
usual. She insisted on getting the water, when Mabel wanted a drink,
saying that she wanted one herself.
“Did she take it?” the detective asked.
“I think she did,” Mabel replied. “It sounded like it. I couldn't see
her, of course. And then she drew a glass of water for me and came back
into the room. She began to say something, and then seemed to choke. I
turned over to look at her. She dropped the glass and clutched at her
breast—and dropped on the floor.”
Mabel Higgins began sobbing again, and the detective waited until
Mrs. Burke comforted her and she was calm once more.
“Please come up to the room with us, Miss Higgins,” he said then.
The girl went, with Mrs. Burke's arm around her waist. She stood near
the door, white, shaking, looking at the place on the floor where her
dead chum's body had been.
“Is this the water glass?” the detective asked, picking it up from
He went into the bathroom with the doctor, and they looked at the
toilet preparations and investigated the tiny medicine chest. There was
no poison of any description, no empty vial.
“How would that stuff have to be carried?” the detective asked the
“It could be carried in almost any way. It might be in liquid form,
or merely a bit of paste, or a powder.”
“And how soon does it cause death?”
“That depends upon conditions, of course. The poison is virulent. I
should say that, taken into the stomach, or introduced directly into
the blood, it would cause death in from two to ten minutes, depending
upon the constitution and general condition of the victim.”
“Then the girl could have swallowed it in here when she took a drink
and have reached the other room before she dropped dead?”
“Yes. But it would have had to have been in a bit of paper or a small
bottle. However, if it was in paste form, a piece one-quarter the size
of a pea would have done the work, and it could have been carried in a
corner of a handkerchief. A speck of the stuff would cause death in
“Possibly, then, she committed suicide.”
“But this poison cannot be obtained readily, even by chemists or
members of the medical profession,” the doctor protested. “And that
girl was not the sort to commit suicide.”
“You never can tell.”
“That's true, of course,” replied the doctor.
They went back into the room.
“Miss Higgins,” the detective asked, “do you think it impossible that
Miss Patton killed herself?”
“Oh, she wouldn't have done such a thing!” Mabel Higgins cried. “She
was happy—glad to be alive—healthy—had no sorrows or trouble at all.
She was joking with me just before——”
“Sure she didn't have any trouble?”
“I would have known it if she had been in trouble. We have been chums
for about three years. She always told me everything—and I always told
her everything. I'm sure that she wasn't in trouble, or anything like
“No man in the case?”
“Oh, no! She did not care much for men. Neither of us had a
sweetheart, if that is what you want to know. We seldom went out
evenings, except together, and no men called on us here. It wasn't
anything like that.”
“Did you ever know of her having an enemy?”
“Never! She wasn't the kind to have enemies!” Mabel Higgins declared.
“You are sure that you have told me everything?”
“Why, yes! She was sitting there working on the centerpiece and
talking in an ordinary way about ordinary things. She just went into
the bathroom to get a drink and bring me one. She said something about
the water tasting queer——”
“You didn't tell me that before,” the detective interrupted. He
stopped her further talk with a gesture and whirled toward the
“Mrs. Burke,” he said, “let nobody use water from any of the faucets
in the house. Make sure of it! We don't want another tragedy here! I'll
take a bottle of that water along and have it examined immediately. And
I'll take that glass, too. Keep everybody out of that bathroom until we
have an expert investigate the plumbing and fixtures.”
“But what—what does it mean?” Mabel Higgins gasped.
“Your chum was poisoned,” the detective replied. “You didn't have any
poison around, did you?”
“The doctor tells me that this poison causes almost instant death.
She took a drink of water and died. She made the remark that the water
tasted queer. It is just a supposition, of course, but we can't afford
to be taking chances. Mrs. Burke, I'd put this young woman in some
other room, where she will feel more at ease, and have this chamber
closed for the time being. We may want to make another investigation in
“Come downstairs with me, Mabel,” the landlady said in motherly
“I—I can't believe it!” the girl exclaimed. “I can't realize it.
Just a short time ago she was sitting there by the table, working on
the centerpiece. See? There is the needle stuck through the edge of the
cloth, just as she left it.”
She picked up the piece of embroidery, fumbled at the needle, the
tears streaming down her cheeks again.
“Come on with me, dear,” Mrs. Burke said, putting an arm around her
as the doctor motioned to get her out of the room. “Let's go
She led the weeping girl away, Mabel Higgins still clutching to her
breast the piece of embroidery upon which her chum had been working
just before she died.
The physician stepped out into the hall. The detective had filled a
bottle he had found, with water from the faucet in the bathroom, and
took possession of the glass from which Alice Patton had drunk a few
seconds before death claimed her. He turned out the lights and closed
the door, locking it and putting the key into one of his pockets.
“If I need you again before the inquest, doctor, I'll call you by
telephone,” he said.
“Glad if I can be of service in any way.”
“Oh, there may be nothing much to this case; and, again there may be
a great deal. A man never can tell in a case like this, especially at
the first glance. We may have to call in Terry Trimble before we are
done, and Heaven knows it isn't safe to call upon him unless the affair
is highly unusual and puzzling. He has helped the police out of several
bad holes recently. We hate to call upon him, of course—professional
jealousy—but sometimes we find it necessary.”
“I've heard that he is good,” the doctor said.
“Good? He's a wonder!” the detective replied, without any trace of
the professional jealousy he had mentioned.
“He keeps his wits about him when he's on a case. He declares that
there is no such thing as a mystery, and that what people call
mysteries can be read as easily as print, providing that a man knows
how to read.”
“Exactly,” the doctor said; “providing that a man knows how.
But not every man does.”
“Trimble doesn't look at a bit of dirt through a magnifying glass,
and then tell you that a red-headed man with a crooked nose did the
murder with an ax, and that you'll find him eating corned beef and
cabbage at the restaurant on the corner. Trimble just uses common
sense, that's all—common sense. That's why he's great!”
“You seem to admire him,” said the doctor, starting to lead the way
down the stairs......
“I do! He showed me up once; that's why. I thought that I was some
detective before I watched him work. I'll never forget that case as
long as I live. It was a poison case, too.* We were—— Now, what?”
*["Murderer's Mail,” in the June 3, 1919, issue of DETECTIVE STORY
They stopped, astounded. From the floor below there had come a
screech, followed by a chorus of shrieks. A dozen female voices cried
out in sudden alarm, the voice of Mrs. Burke being heard above the
The physician and the detective dashed on down the stairs and ran
through the hallway to the rear of the building. They reached the door
of the back parlor and there stopped.
Mabel Higgins was stretched upon the floor in the middle of the room,
and the other girls were crowding back against one of the walls, badly
frightened, their eyes wide with horror, some of them sobbing. Even
Mrs. Burke, who usually was self-possessed and calm, now seemed to be
stricken with terror as she rushed toward the two men in the doorway,
gasping, her arms outstretched, trying to explain the, thing.
“She just—just toppled over!” Mrs. Burke cried. “I was right there
beside her when——”
The physician hurried into the room and knelt by the girl. The
detective followed him, glancing quickly around the apartment.
“She has fainted, probably too much excitement and the horror of her
chum's death,” the detective said. “You'd better get her into a bed and
give her something to make her sleep, doctor.”
The physician got slowly to his feet and stepped back, turning his
back to the other boarders and whispering to the detective without any
of the others overhearing.
“You are wrong,” he said. “The girl is dead—and from the same cause
as the other. You'd better telephone for help!”
TERRY TRIMBLE looked up from the volume of poetry he was reading and
glanced across the library table at Billings, his secretary and
“Billings,” he said, “this is a terrible storm.”
“Yes, sir,” said Billings.
“Listen to that thunder! And the lightning display is something
unusual. I am glad, Billings, that I have ample funds, a comfortable
suite, an agreeable secretary, cases filled with books, an easy-chair
before the gas grate, slippers and a dressing gown. This would be a
terrible night, Billings, to venture out.”
“And so, naturally, I shall not do so,” Terry Trimble declared. “If
the governor stabs the mayor in some mysterious fashion, and causes the
blame to be put upon an alderman, I shall not interfere. Let the police
settle their own alleged puzzles. I have one of my own, Billings.”
“A puzzle, sir?”
“Exactly. Here is a volume of verse—some critics allege that it is
poetry. I am trying to ascertain what the publisher saw in it to cause
him to risk his money and reputation to bring out the book. It is some
puzzle, Billings; it is, indeed.”
“I suppose so, sir.”
“And, in addition to that——”
Terry Trimble stopped the sentence in the middle, one hand raised in
the air after the manner of a professional lecturer, and grinned at
“Some fool is attempting to use the telephone, Billings,” he said.
“Nobody should use a telephone during a storm like this unless a doctor
is needed. I am of the opinion that the storm has crossed all the
wires, and, if you answer that call, Billings, somebody will probably
want to know if this is Jack, and will he come over to-night,despite
the storm just to show that he truly loves her.”
“I don't doubt it, sir,” Billings said, smiling.
“You are an excellent secretary, Billings, with one exception. You
are deaf on nights such as this. Were the telephone bell to ring, you
would not hear it, would you, Billings? You would not! As I was saying,
Billings, this alleged poet must have hypnotized the publisher, or else
he saw him bury the body. I am of the opinion——Oh, answer the thing,
Billings got up and walked toward the telephone, still smiling.
“If that is one of my alleged friends who wants me to come to the
club, tell him I have been taken down with smallpox. If it is a lady I
am busy on a case. I do not intend to leave the house tonight.”
Billings took down the receiver and answered the call.
“I'm afraid that you cannot speak to Mr. Trimble, sir,” Billings
said. “He is busy and must not be disturbed.” He turned his head, and
Terry Trimble winked at him. “What's that, sir? Urgent, you say?
Nevertheless, I feel quite sure———Oh, I'll tell him, sir.”
He turned to Trimble and grinned again, putting one hand over the
mouth of the transmitter.
“Police headquarters, sir,” he said. “The commissioner speaking. He
says he wouldn't bother you, except that it is urgent.”
“Everything is always urgent with the commissioner,” Terry Trimble
He left the comfortable chair and stepped across to the telephone.
“Hello!” he cried. “Commissioner? What seems to be the trouble now?
One of your patrolmen got lost in the rain, or something like that?
What's that? Don't know whether it's murder, suicide or accident? Why,
in Heaven's name, don't you find out before you bother me? Oh, I see.
You want me to find out, eh? Well, tell me about it.”
Billings, standing a few feet away, watched Terry Trimble's face as
he listened at the telephone. He analyzed the expressions of it with
wisdom. Soon he turned and slipped from the room. When he returned
Trimble was still listening at the telephone. Billings had Trimble's
overshoes, coat, raincoat, hat and gloves.
“Very well. I suppose I'll have to look into it,” Trimble said. “I'll
be over immediately, yes!”
Billings reached out and pressed the button that warned the chauffeur
to have Terry Trimble's big limousine in front immediately. Then, as
Trimble turned around, his secretary advanced with the coat.
“Um!” Terry Trimble said. “All ready for me, are you?” One of these
times, Billings, you'll guess wrong. Some day I'll turn around, see you
with my coat ready, and, just for spite, will refuse to answer the
Billings continued to grin as he helped Trimble on with his things
and handed him his gloves.
“I am to accompany you, sir?” Billings asked.
“No, Billings. I'll telephone if I need you. It is your good fortune,
Billings, to remain before the fire. Take a look at that book and see
if you find merit in it.”
Terry Trimble hurried down in the elevator, gave his chauffeur the
address of Mrs. Burke's boarding house, sprang into the limousine, and
lighted a cigarette. The commissioner had told him a great deal about
the case, but Terry Trimble had forgotten it as soon as he had decided
to answer the call. Trimble always liked to gain his first impressions
on the scene of a crime. Other men might have an incorrect idea, pass
it on to him, and set him off on a wrong trail.
The big machine skidded along the streets. The rain pelted the
windows. Terry Trimble, glancing out, saw that there were few vehicles
and fewer pedestrians abroad.
“I trust this is an easy case, that can be solved indoors,” he told
himself. “This is no night for chasing criminals, interesting or
The limousine stopped at the curb before Mrs. Burke's, and Terry
Trimble got out, shielded his face against the raging storm, and darted
up the steps. He did not even speak to the chauffeur, who had been in
his employ for some time and knew what to do. The chauffeur would get
inside the limousine and remain there, smoking and watching the storm,
until Terry Trimble put in an appearance again and issued orders. From
experience the chauffeur knew that this might be in fifteen minutes or
Trimble was met at the door by the city detective who first had been
sent out on the case.
“Well, Darter, we meet again!” Trimble said.
He removed his coat and hat and gloves, rearranged his cravat, rubbed
his hands, and scowled at the water on his shoes. Instead of reporting
to solve the mystery of a crime Terry Trimble might have been calling
as a guest at a reception, except that he was not in evening clothes.
Then Trimble adjusted his monocle, glared at Darter through it, and
cleared his throat.
“The commissioner told me something of this case, but I have
forgotten it,” he said.
Detective Darter grinned. He knew Trimble's methods, because he had
worked with him before.
“Two girls are dead,” Darter said. “The doctor—he is in the rear
parlor treating half a dozen cases of hysteria—says they both died of
poison, a peculiar poison that is hard to obtain and seems to kill a
person as quick as a shot through the heart.”
“Well, well!” Trimble said. “And why call me?”
Darter scratched his head a moment before he replied. He never knew
quite how to speak to Terry Trimble.
“Well, we don't see how they could get the stuff,” he admitted.
“Neither girl seems to have had an enemy and——”
“That'll do!” Trimble said. “I'm asking for facts, not conjectures,
my dear Darter. Let me attack this problem with an open mind. Where are
the dead girls?”
“Undertaking establishment. The coroner's assistant ordered the
“Let us hope that he has not caused us a lot of unnecessary work,”
“I'll take you up to the room where——”
“I fancy the front parlor at present,” Trimble said, walking into it
and beckoning the detective to follow. “Sit down, Darter, and make
yourself comfortable. Two girls have died of poison, have they? Then we
may safely assume that the case is either suicide, accident, or foul
“Naturally,” said Darter.
Trimble glared at him.
“The workings of a nimble mind,” he said, as if to nobody in
particular. “I have stated the case, however. No doubt that the girls
“Not the slightest. I'll call the doctor.”
“One moment. I want to hear your story first,” Terry Trimble told
him. “Let us consider the suicide theory. Did these girls die at the
“No. The body of the first had been removed before the second died.”
“We'll talk about the first.”
“Her name was Alice Patton. She didn't commit suicide. Mrs. Burke and
the girls here say that would be the last thing she would do.”
“You seem to be certain of it, so we'll pass the suicide theory for
the time being. How about accident?”
“Exactly what I think it was,” Darter declared.
“I think I'll let you talk.”
Detective Darter talked. He told Terry Trimble what Mabel Higgins had
said before she died, how Alice Patton had gone to the bathroom, had
taken a drink of water and remarked that it tasted queerly, and then
had stepped back into the other room and dropped dead.
“Analyzing the water and having the glass examined?” Terry Trimble
“Let us consider the second girl, then. Miss Higgins, I believe you
said her name was. Did she drink of the water?”
“That is the funny part of it—she didn't.”
“So she couldn't have obtained the poison by drinking water, as you
think her chum did. Have you considered a suicide pact?”
“I thought of it,” Darter admitted. “But the landlady and the rest of
the girls declare Alice Patton and Mabel Higgins were not that sort.
They seemed glad to be alive—both healthy and happy and working. A
suicide pact doesn't seem possible.”
“Anything is possible,” Trimble said. “Suppose we assume that Alice
Patton had some secret trouble and Mabel Higgins knew of it. Alice had
threatened to take her life, and her chum coaxed her out of the notion
and told nobody. Finally Miss Patton does the deed. Her chum thinks a
lot of her, the horror of her death grips her, and she takes poison
herself. That might be the case without the world being aware of the
girls' trouble, you know.”
“By Jove, I believe you've hit it already!” Darter exclaimed, with
“Ass!” Trimble commented. “Where would the second girl get the
poison? If it is a poison difficult to obtain, she wouldn't have some
of it around, would she, awaiting the day she might decide to take her
own life? And you told me that the landlady was with her all the time
after her chum's death. Don't jump to conclusions, Darter. Some day
you'll land wrong and snap an ankle.”
Darter expressed his chagrin, but managed to smile at the same time.
“Well?” he asked.
“It may have been an accident, but I doubt it when I remember that
there were two victims and that they died almost a couple of hours
apart, and especially do I doubt it when I remember that Miss Higgins
did not take a drink of water. When we get the report of the analysis
of the water and glass, we may know more about that. And now let us
consider the idea of foul play.”
“Everybody says neither of the girls had an enemy.”
“Everybody doesn't know everything,” Trimble commented. “They may
have had an enemy without knowing it themselves.”
“How could that be?” Darter asked.
“Great heavens! Suppose some foolish fellow saw the girls day after
day and grew infatuated with one or both of them. Suppose they repulsed
him, laughed at him, forgot him. But if he was a man who didn't forget
a thing like that, a man with mind perverted enough to plan murder——”
“I see,” said Darter.
“You're as blind as an owl in daytime,” Trimble told him. “That's
just a supposition. I suppose I shall have to look into this matter,
confound it! And I was reading an excellent book of poetry. Get me
right—rotten poetry, but an excellent book!”
“I am yours to command, Mr, Trimble,” Darter said.
“How soon shall we know about that water and glass?”
“Very soon, sir. I told headquarters to telephone to me as soon as
the chemist got through.”
“Then, while we are waiting for the report of the chemist, I'll have
an interview with Mrs. Burke,” Trimble said.
The doctor came into the room as Trimble spoke. His face was white,
his breath seemed to come in gasps, he acted as if he faced a horror
that he could not understand.
“Pardon me, Mr. Trimble, but you cannot have an interview with Mrs.
Burke,” he said.
“Mrs. Burke is dead.”
“Dead?” cried Terry Trimble and Detective Darter in a breath.
“We were in her little sitting room,” the physician said. “I was
suggesting methods of quieting the young ladies, the boarders, who are
almost panic-stricken. Mrs. Burke gasped as she was speaking to me, and
then collapsed. She died instantly, Mr. Trimble. Her death was caused
by poison—the same sort of poison that killed the two girls!”
WHEN Terry Trimble heard the unexpected intelligence the physician
had to impart he allowed his monocle to drop from his eye and clapsed
his hands behind his back. Those were the only ways in which he
betrayed the surprise he felt.
There was silence for a moment, save for Darter's heavy breathing and
the physician's gasps of horror, and then Trimble spoke in his usual
“Well, well!” he said. “This is unexpected, to say the least. This
case grows interesting. It gives promise of being a thing out of the
“For heaven's sake, sir!” the physician cried. “Can you realize what
has happened? Three women have died mysteriously in this house within
three hours—died of poison. And it does not seem to shock you! Can you
not do something? Are you utterly without a heart, sir?”
“Rubbish!” Trimble exclaimed, screwing his monocle into his eye
again. “Collect your wits, doctor. It would do a lot of good, I
presume, if I exclaimed at the horror of it, cried out that the guilty
person should be apprehended, took off my coat and waistcoat and ran
around in a circle! Let us be calm, doctor! We cannot return the dead
to life, but we may find the murderer, if there is one. Excitement will
not aid us.”
Darter and the physician looked ashamed. The latter gulped as he
glanced at the self-possessed Trimble.
“It must be murder; yet I cannot see how, either,” he said. “This
“What is it?” Trimble asked.
The physician told him.
“I know about it,” Trimble surprised him by saying. “You cannot get
it at one pharmacy in a thousand—which is as it should be. You are
certain that all three women died from this poison? Very well. Our
first task is to find out how they obtained it, how it was introduced
into their systems.”
“The Patton girl said something about the water tasting unusual,” the
“So I understand,” Trimble replied. “But did the Higgins girl drink
water after Miss Patton died? Did Mrs. Burke take a drink of water
afterward from any faucet in the building?”
“I know that Mrs. Burke did not. I was with her all the time after
Detective Darter warned her about the water.”
“And our idea of a suicide pact is gone,” Trimble continued. “Two
girl chums of the romantic age might indulge in a suicide pact, as
often has been the case, but such a woman as Mrs. Burke would not. It
is either accident or murder. Let us go into Mrs. Burke's sitting
The agitated physician led the way, moving quickly along the hall
toward the rear of the house, where Mrs. Burke had used a suite. He had
not informed the boarders of their landlady's death, and he whispered
that fact to Trimble now. Trimble, in turn, asked Detective Darter to
see that a policeman was stationed in front of the house to allow
anybody to enter, but to prevent anybody inside leaving.
“Just keep this quiet for the time being,” Trimble instructed him.
“We'll tell the boarders later.”
They went into the sitting room. The body of Mrs. Burke was on the
floor. Terry Trimble bent over it and regarded it carefully for a time,
and then got up, adjusted his monocle, and looked around the room. His
inspection was slow, painstaking, minute.
Then he asked to be shown to Mabel Higgins' room, where Alice Patton
had died, and he made another investigation there. He ordered the
doctor and Detective Darter to tell their stories again from the
beginning, to relate everything that had happened, that had been said
When they had finished Trimble shook his head in perplexity.
“There seems to be something missing,” he said. “We have overlooked
something vital, probably something small and insignificant on its
face. I find no connection between the facts you have given me and a
solution of these crimes.”
“You mean that you are up against a stone wall?” Darter asked. “If
you are this is a case that will go down in history as an unsolved
Trimble glared at him.
“I admit that I am up against a stone wall at present,” he said. “But
I need not turn back. Why not climb the wall, or find a path round it,
eh? The greater the seeming mystery, the better I like it. The solution
probably will be simple. I have an idea, Darter, that the examination
of the water and the glass will reveal nothing. We know for certain
that neither Mabel Higgins or Mrs. Burke touched the glass after Alice
Patton drank from it. We've got to look for something else. We've
He walked around the room again, looked into the bathroom, and then
went into the hall and started down the stairs, the doctor and the
detective following closely.
“Notify the coroner about Mrs. Burke, proceeding as usual,” Trimble
ordered. “I shall interview the other boarders. Take me in, Darter, and
tell them my name and business here.”
Darter escorted him in and made the proper announcement. The young
women appeared more frightened than before. Trimble adjusted his
monocle and smiled at them.
“Let us all be seated and make ourselves as comfortable as possible,
please,” he said. “No doubt these tragedies have shocked you, but
unless we are calm we cannot explain them, and I feel sure that you
want them explained. We cannot do anything worth while unless we get
back our normal minds and look at things in a sane way. Do any of you
know of anything that may help?”
He waited in vain for an answer. Some of the women shook their heads.
“Now I ask you to try to be calm, when I tell you something that you
do not know,” Trimble continued. “It is your right, I feel, that you
should be acquainted with the facts at once. Your landlady, Mrs. Burke,
has just died—as the others died.”
He spoke the word quietly, but they seemed to strike his hearers as
blows. They were far from being calm. They sprang from their chairs
with exclamations of horror, some sobbing, some screeching, one
declaring she was going to rush out into the storm, go anywhere to get
away from the dreadful house.
“All of you will remain right here!” Terry Trimble declared,
springing before the doorway. “There are policemen around this building
to see that you do so. Remain right in this room for the time being. No
doubt your nerves are on edge, but I'm pretty sure you'll be safe
His brutality did more to bring them to their senses than anything
else would have done. Trimble knew it, and that was why he used harsh
There was a sudden commotion in the hall, and another girl came
running into the room, to stop aghast when she saw the scene. She was
drenched to the skin, as if she had run for blocks through the storm;
she had lost her hat, and her hair was stringing down, and the
expression in her face was one of horror.
“It isn't true! Tell me that it isn't true!” she cried. “They
Trimble took her by the arm and urged her toward the nearest chair.
“I am in charge here,” he announced. “Try to calm yourself, young
woman! Are you one of the boarders here?”
“No, sir. My name is Jessie Simpson. I used to chum with Alice Patton
and Mabel Higgins. Somebody telephoned to me that they both had
died—one of the girls here, I suppose, or else Mrs. Burke. Tell me
that it isn't true!”
“I am very sorry, Miss Simpson, but it is true,” Terry Trimble said,
regarding her intently. “Sit down, Miss Simpson. Perhaps you can help
He waited until the girl had finished her first fit of sobbing and
the others had returned to their chairs.
“How did it happen?” Jessie Simpson asked, after a time. “I can't
believe that it is true!”
“Your two friends were poisoned,” Trimble said as quietly as he
could. “And Mrs. Burke, the landlady, has met a similar fate.”
“I—I don't understand.”
“Do you think that your two friends would have committed suicide?”
“No! No!” Jessie Simpson cried. “They wouldn't do such a thing. They
were both so happy and satisfied with life. They had no troubles. Why,
they were embroidering a centerpiece as a wedding present for me! There
was no reason———”
She broke down again, and Trimble, who wanted to question her more,
was afraid that she would communicate panic to the half-hysterical
girls in the room, and that he would have a group of unmanageable young
women on his hands.
“Let us go into Mrs. Burke's suite and talk,” he suggested. “Darter,
you have telephoned to the coroner? Very well, then. Kindly remain here
and keep these young ladies company for a time. Try to calm them. They
may feel easier with a man in the room. Doctor, you come with Miss
Simpson and me.”
Darter understood, of course, that he was to keep all the girls
there, in case Trimble should have need of them later. Trimble escorted
the weeping Miss Simpson through the hall, and at a nod from him the
doctor went ahead and closed the door between Mrs. Burke's little
sitting room and her parlor, so that the girl would not see the body.
“Sit down, Miss Simpson,” Terry Trimble said. “Try to compose
yourself and answer my questions. You may help me bring the murderer of
your friends to justice—if they were murdered.”
“But who would take their lives?” she asked, fighting back her tears.
“I knew them well. They didn't have an enemy in the world!”
“That is what everybody says, Miss Simpson, but we never can be quite
“But we can in this case!” she persisted. “They never had any trouble
with anybody, and they always were in high spirits. I cannot realize
that they are dead. And to think that they were working on a
centerpiece for my wedding present! See—here it is on the table!”
She picked it up and raised it before her tear-dimmed eyes.
“They showed it to me when they started working on it,” she said.
“Just think—every stitch has been made by them—and now they are dead.
Why, I can't believe it! I'd—I'd” like to have this—to remember them
“Take it, Miss Simpson, by all means,” Trimble said. Anything to calm
her, to get her in a condition where she could think sanely and talk
Jessie Simpson started folding the big centerpiece. She was still
sobbing, and Terry Trimble waited patiently for her to cease. He looked
up at the doctor, and the physician shook his head to signify that he
could do nothing; that, in such a case, the only thing was to wait
until the tears had been shed.
“Did your chums have any particular men friends?” Trimble asked,
after an interval.
“None in particular,” the girl replied, clutching the big piece of
fancy-work; “just the men at the place where they worked. They didn't
seem to care much for men. Neither of them ever had a love affair.
Other girls used to call us 'the old maids.' Finally I became engaged.
But neither Alice nor Mabel was interested in one man more than
another. They would have told me if they had been.”
“Do you know of any man who was interested in either of them, who was
repulsed by them?”
“No, I do not. I've heard the boys at the store say that the girls
were just good pals. Everybody respected them; they didn't seem to want
“I suppose we must eliminate all thoughts of trouble with a man,
then,” Trimble said. “Did you ever know either of the girls to keep
dangerous drugs about?”
“No; they didn't need drugs—except a headache pellet now and then,”
Jessie Simpson replied, putting the centerpiece on the table. “They
were just normal, healthy, darling——”
Darter's voice, calling for the doctor, interrupted her. The
physician hurried into the hall, and Terry Trimble paced the floor and
waited for Jessie Simpson to have done with her fit of weeping and calm
herself again. In a short time the doctor returned.
“Darter has just received a telephone message from headquarters, Mr.
Trimble,” he reported. “The water and the glass were examined, and the
chemist found nothing unusual.”
“That is as I expected,” Terry Trimble said. “And, as I said before,
there seems to be something vital missing in this case. To me that
means that we are on the wrong track.”
“And what do you propose——”
“Think!” Trimble interrupted. “Think!” he repeated. For a moment he
stood quietly, meditating deeply. Then, with a start he exclaimed: “Ah!
I believe I have it now Doctor——”
“If there is anything that I can do, command me, sir,” the doctor
“I'll appreciate it if you'll try to calm those young women in the
back parlor,” Trimble replied. “I'll want to talk to them soon.”
He stepped forward, turning toward Miss Simpson; and, at the same
instant, the doctor looked past him at the chair in which she was
sitting. They were just in time to see her head drop forward and her
body slip from the chair to the floor.
“Great heavens, doctor! I'm afraid we've another death to account
for,” Trimble cried. “See if you can do anything for her.”
They hurried across the room to the girl's side. The doctor bent over
her and an instant later looked up at Terry Trimble.
“Thank God!” he exclaimed. “She has only swooned. The ordeal has been
too much for her. I don't wonder. But I'll soon bring her round.”
AS Terry Trimble glanced at the fainting girl again, he decided to
inform the doctor of his theory about the deaths, and opened his mouth
to speak. But the statement he had decided upon was not voiced. Behind
them they heard a gasp, a sort of gurgle, and then a shrill cry that
was half hysteria and half terror, and could be heard throughout the
They whirled around, startled, to see one of Mrs. Burke's boarders
standing just inside the doorway and staring at the girl on the floor.
They ascertained later that she had managed to slip from the rear
parlor through a passageway, had been trying to dodge Darter and get
out of the house, had heard enough to compel her to step to the door,
and now thought she knew additional cause for fear.
Terry Trimble sprang toward her instantly, in an attempt to prevent
her spreading alarming, though false news, but he was too late. The
terrified girl turned, and, holding her arms high above her head,
rushed shrieking along the hall to the room where the other boarders
were being watched by Detective Darter.
“She's dead! Jessie Simpson is dead!” she shrieked, before she could
be prevented. “We'll all die if we stay here!”
There was instant panic. It was a culmination of the horrors of the
night. Detective Darter found himself hurled suddenly to one side by
terror-stricken girls as they rushed into the halhvay. They brushed
Trimble and the physician aside, also. They did not consider the raging
storm, did not think of waiting to get their wraps, did not stop for
hats or umbrellas. They thought only of getting away from that house of
horror as speedily as possible. They tore open the front door and
charged down the flight of steps to the street level, overwhelming the
two policemen Darter had stationed there on guard. Down the street they
ran, shrieking, sobbing, fleeing they knew not where, from they knew
not what, scattering the news of the tragedies to the four winds.
Terry Trimble stood beside Detective Darter in the doorway, getting
drenched by the storm, watching the two policemen picking themselves up
from the gutter and the girls dashing around the nearest corner.
“Panic!” he said. “It couldn't be helped, I suppose. They'll spread
the news, true and false both, all over the city in an hour. Come in,
Darter, and let the patrolmen step inside and get dry. Send for more
men and scatter them around the block. We'll have a crowd of curious
persons around us soon, for the storm is abating.”
Terry Trimble went into Mrs. Burke's suite again, where the doctor
was standing beside Miss Simpson, who, very pale and frail-looking, was
lying on a sofa. Detective Darter followed Trimble, after he had
telephoned to the coroner and headquarters, and sank into the nearest
“Pardon me, Mr. Trimble, but do you—er—want any help?” Darter
“Think I am going to need it, eh? Just have your men scattered around
to keep the crowd away, that's all. We don't want a lot of curious and
morbid folk about.”
“I have men in the alley already, and I just asked headquarters to
send up a lot more.”
“Very well. Listen to me now, Darter. I want your men to pretend to
watch the block carefully. I want them to nab anybody they see leaving
this building. But, if any person attempts to get in, I want that
person to succeed in doing so, without being annoyed at all. Do you
“I think I do, sir. You are working on the old saw that a murderer
always returns to the scene of his crime.”
“Ass!” Trimble commented. “If we waited for that we'd have to take a
long-term lease on the building, I'm afraid. The solution to the
mystery is right here in this house.”
“It gives a man the creeps,” Detective Darter admitted. “Makes him
almost afraid to touch anything, almost afraid to breathe. If there
should be more of that confounded poison around——It may have been in
“Mabel Higgins was ill and ate no dinner,” Trimble reminded him. “And
not all the girls who did eat dinner died.”
“Three victims within a few hours—and all of them women!” the doctor
“So you think that there may be something significant in that?”
Trimble asked. “And by the same sort of poison, too—don't forget
that—and a poison that is almost unobtainable. One thing is
certain—we have not had an epidemic of suicide.”
“But who on earth would want to kill a kind, motherly old woman like
Mrs. Burke?” Darter asked. “Do you suppose that one of the girl
boarders, angry because of favoritism or something like that, would
have done it? Maybe I'd better have headquarters round up all those
girls and hold them for examination.”
“Good heavens!” Trimble cried. “The poor girls have been frightened
badly enough as it is. Don't bother them. Let them get over their
“It is my idea that they should be taken into custody and given the
third degree,” Darter said.
“Very well,” Terry Trimble replied. “If your regular police methods
are to be used in this case you won't need me. I'll go home and finish
reading that book of alleged poetry. I can see that we are not going to
Detective Darter sprang to his feet.
“Sit down, Trimble!” he cried. “Have everything your own way! You'll
never be able to say that I drove you out of this case. The
commissioner would skin me alive! Sit down! You're in command, so issue
“That is better,” Trimble responded, smiling a bit. “Doctor, you may
go if you wish. I trust that there'll be no more victims in this
“I have other patients,” the doctor began, clearing his throat, and
glancing around anxiously, and Miss Simpson seems to be all right now.
If you have no objection I'll take her to her home and notify her
fiance that she is safe.”
The doctor and Miss Simpson prepared for immediate departure. The
doctor, a physician of years' experience, was glad to be out of the
house. He had seen misery, tragedy, violence, but in Mrs. Burke's
boarding house Death seemed to walk unseen and to strike without the
After the departure of the doctor and Miss Simpson Terry Trimble
picked up the centerpiece very carefully and, with Detective Darter,
returned to the front parlor and sat down. Detective Darter waited for
Trimble to speak.
This Terry Trimble did not hurry to do. Instead, he placed the
centerpiece carefully on the table and then threw himself into a chair,
as if exhausted, and lighted a cigarette. Then he adjusted his monocle
and looked across at Darter silently.
“Anything I can do?” Darter asked finally.
“There are times,” replied Terry Trimble, “when we take a tiny clew
and trace it up to the big climax—which is the crime, of course. And,
once in a great while, we must begin at the crime itself and trace
backward, until we arrive at the little thing that explains it all.
This is one of those times, Darter, I firmly believe.”
“I don't understand you, sir.”
“No matter,” Trimble answered. “Perhaps I was just making talk. I
have tried to reason this matter out, and right now I have a certain
suspicion, Darter. There is a guilty person somewhere in the offing, of
course—a person who intended to commit murder.
In such a case, we generally work from motive, don't we? And we seem
to have no motive here. Does that convey anything to your nimble
“I don't quite see it.”
“My suspicion is that the guilty person had not the slightest idea in
the world of causing the death of Alice Patton, or Mabel Higgins, or
motherly, kind Mrs. Burke.”
“But, Trimble, what on earth are you getting at? You mean we are
facing a series of accidents?”
“They were accidents in a way—but they are murders, of course, since
the intent to kill was there. We have no motive now. We know the
instrument of death, and how, I think, it was applied. But we do not
know the name of the person who really was intended for the victim.”
“I'm getting at it now, sir. That poison was meant for some other
girl in this house, and the murderer, not knowing much about the stuff
except that it was deadly, scattered it around and caught three persons
he did not intend to kill. The one he did intend to kill has escaped.”
“Something like that,” Terry Trimble admitted; “But we are not sure
the intended victim was a boarder in this house. The poison may have
been carried here accidentally from one of the stores or offices where
the girls work. A speck of the stuff would be enough to cause a
tragedy, remember. Touch your tongue to it—and you cease to exist in
this world. Rub it into your eye, get it into a small cut, swallow it
by accident—and you are gone! Can you understand how easy it would
“Great heavens!” Detective Darter cried. “If that is the case, we
have a big job ahead of us. Almost twenty girls live in this house. And
they work all over the city—some in stores, some in office buildings,
many in the financial district. We'd have to investigate every girl and
every man and woman who works where they do—and some of them are
clerks in department stores where thousands of persons are employed.”
“It would be, indeed, a gigantic task; and so we shall not attempt
it,” Terry Trimble declared. “The mere thought of such a job gives me a
“But you aren't going to drop this thing, are you?” Detective Darter
“I am not in the habit of dropping things like this once I have
started,” Trimble rebuked him.
“If you want those girls rounded up——”
“It would only frighten them more—and I am afraid that it would not
do us a bit of good,” Trimble interrupted.
Darter looked at him helplessly.
“Then——” he began, but did, not continue the sentence.
Trimble puffed at his cigarette and regarded the detective through
“It will not hurt us in the slightest to sit around and smoke—and
think,” he declared. “The storm has almost ceased, I notice. We shall
have a lot of curiosity-seekers around here before long. And I hope
that we shall have a visitor or two who has a heartfelt interest too.”
He got up and walked to one of the windows, pulled back the side of
the shade, and glanced out at the street. The wind and rain had ceased,
but the gutters still ran full of water. Trimble's limousine was
waiting opposite the house. Half a score of people were in the little
Italian grocery, looking at the entrance of Mrs. Burke's place, and no
doubt discussing the tragedies of the night.
“A regular tragedy trail!” Trimble mused. “A blind trail, too—in
part. I wonder——”
He bent forward, all attention. Another limousine had turned the
corner, running slowly, and now it pulled toward the curb and finally
stopped in front of the entrance. The chauffeur sprang down and opened
the door and raised an umbrella. A woman got from the car, took the
umbrella and said something to the chauffeur, and then started up the
flight of steps.
Trimble had obtained a good look at the woman. She was well-dressed,
refined in appearance, and the limousine certainly indicated wealth. He
dropped the side of the shade and whirled around.
“A visitor, Darter!” he announced to the detective. “Get to the door
and usher her in yourself. In here, where I can talk to her.”
As he finished speaking, the doorbell rang. Detective Darter hurried
into the hall and toward the entrance. Terry Trimble extinguished his
cigarette, flecked a bit of ash from one sleeve, adjusted his monocle
anew, and stood with his hands behind his back and his back to the
Darter opened the door. Trimble heard him speak and heard the low
voice of the woman making reply. And then they approached the door of
the front parlor.
I AM Mrs. Gordon Roberts,” the woman said. “You are Mr. Terry
Trimble, the detective?”
Trimble seemed to wince.
“Please do not call me a detective,” he said. “It is a designation
that I particularly detest. I call myself a trouble-maker—for
criminals. Allow me to say that I have heard of you, Mrs. Roberts, and
of your excellent work for working girls.”
“That is why I am here, Mr. Trimble,” Mrs. Roberts said, taking the
chair that Trimble placed for her. “One of the girls boarding here
telephoned me a short time ago that there was a series of tragedies.
She said that Miss Alice Patton and also Mabel Higgins, two girls of
whom I was very fond, had died mysteriously.”
“Poisoned, Mrs. Roberts.”
“Oh! That is horrible! The girl who telephoned said that they all had
run away from the house. She appeared to be hysterical. So I thought
I'd drive over and see if I could be of any service.”
“We have had three tragedies,” Terry Trimble told her. “Mrs. Burke,
the landlady, also was a victim.”
“This is terrible!”
“Perhaps you can aid us,” Trimble said. “Let us take Alice Patton
“She was a glorious girl!” Mrs. Roberts said. “Always in good
spirits, always willing to help others. She had a host of friends,
“It is enemies for whom we are seeking.”
“I'm quite sure she didn't have an enemy in the world, Mr. Trimble.”
“Do you know anything about her relations with men?”
“I do not think she had any. In fact, she and her chum, Mabel
Higgins, used to be joked by the other girls about their attitude. They
seemed to think that men were not necessary in their lives.”
“You didn't know Mrs. Burke?”
“No; but I often heard the girls speak of her as a splendid, motherly
woman. I cannot realize it, Mr. Trimble. Are you sure that they were
victims of foul play?”
“Not exactly sure, but everything seems to point to that conclusion,”
Terry Trimble replied.
“I cannot understand it. They were such splendid girls. Alice and
Mabel took a great interest in fancywork, which is one of my hobbies.
They were making a centerpiece to be given to Jessie Simpson as a
wedding present. I saw Mabel at noon; she ate luncheon at the girls'
club and showed me the centerpiece. She had a headache, and I advised
her to go home and rest. I gave her some embroidery needles——”
Mrs. Roberts lost control of herself for a moment and sobbed. And
then she conquered her tears and looked up at Trimble again.
“If there is anything that I can do please inform me,” she said. “I
really expected to find some of the girls here, and comfort them.”
“They grew panic-stricken and ran away in the storm,” Trimble
explained. “No doubt some of them will return to the neighborhood out
of curiosity now that the storm has ceased. It will be a kind act, Mrs.
Roberts, if you would calm them. They will want to find quarters
elsewhere for the time being, of course.”
“I can aid them to do that.”
“The officers will allow them to get the few things they need, but
I'd advise that they remove nothing now from their rooms that they can
leave behind temporarily. It would be better if they took nothing now.
There may be more poison in the house.”
“I'll try to find them and do what I can,” Mrs. Roberts said.
Darter appeared in the doorway.
“Pardon me, Mr. Trimble, but there is a man here you had better see,”
Trimble excused himself, asking Mrs. Roberts to wait a moment, and
hurried into the hall. Near the front door was a small man who looked
like a foreigner. He was stylishly dressed, very much the fop. He
rushed at Trimble like a maniac.
“I have read the news in the extras!” he cried. “I am Giovanna
Ricardo. I run a fancywork shop not far away.”
“What brought you here?” Trimble demanded.
“Is it not enough that she is dead?”
“Whom do you mean?”
“Alice! My Alice!” Ricardo shrieked. “I loved her like life itself.
She was just beginning to love me—had half promised to marry me. The
paper says she is dead—poisoned! Who did it? How did it happen? If
some man has taken her life, I swear to be avenged!”
“Be calm, Ricardo!” Trimble urged.
“How can I be calm—when my Alice is dead? And I have
nothing—nothing by which to remember her. Our love was new;—we had
not exchanged gifts. She was doing some fancywork, she told me. If I
could have that——”
He ceased speaking, seemed to choke, and his eyes bulged. Terry
Trimble whirled around to find that Mrs. Gordon Roberts had come from
the parlor and was looking at Giovanna Ricardo in a peculiar manner.
“So you loved Alice Patton, did you?” she asked coolly.
“Ah! My dear Mrs. Roberts——”
“This is news to me,” Mrs. Roberts said. “What manner of man are you,
“I believe you are half insane. I am quite sure that there was
nothing between you and Alice Patton.”
Terry Trimble interrupted.
“Let us all go into the parlor and talk about it,” he suggested.
He signaled to Darter, who took up a position near the door. He
ushered Mrs. Roberts to a chair, waved Ricardo toward another, sat down
himself and regarded them. He could not quite analyze the expression on
Mrs. Roberts' face.
“Now let us have the truth of the matter,” Trimble said.
“This man Ricardo runs a shop where he sells fancywork and materials
for making it,” Mrs. Roberts said. “I purchased a lot of stuff from
him, for he is excellent in his line. He is—well, temperamental. He
fancied, a few days ago, that he was in love with me.”
“Madame——” Ricardo began; but Trimble motioned for him to remain
“He even dared to speak to me of it,” Mrs. Roberts continued. “When I
laughed at him for his presumption he turned maniac. He declared that
he would kill himself at my front door. When he saw that I did not
believe him, and would not be frightened, he declared on oath that he
would kill me!”
“I was crazed, madame!” Ricardo cried. “I did not mean it.”
“And yet you say now that you were in love with Alice Patton,”
“I worshiped Mrs. Roberts because she was so cultured, so refined,”
Ricardo explained. “I did not really love her, as I knew when I
reflected. One day Miss Patton came to the shop with Mrs. Roberts. One
look—and I knew! She was the one woman for Giovanna Ricardo. She did
not care for men. But I managed to meet her often after that, and
“She never told me anything about it,” Mrs. Roberts said. “On the
contrary, Alice Patton used to say what a funny little man you were.
You were not the type to attract her.”
“Love is peculiar,” Ricardo declared. “Mine for her was so strong
that she responded. She would have married me——”
He flashed a look of hatred at Mrs. Gordon Roberts, and Terry Trimble
adjusted his monocle again.
“Ricardo,” Mrs. Roberts said, “as late as yesterday morning I was in
your shop to purchase embroidery needles. You spoke of your love for me
again, and said it was consuming you, or something like that. I laughed
at you, and you threatened me, and I said that you were silly and I
would not trade with you any more. I got my needles and came away. And
now, according to your story, you admit that you were violently in love
with Alice Patton at that time.”
“At ten o'clock this morning you were so violently in love with me
that you threatened to kill me if I didn't marry you. I am quite sure
that you didn't see Alice Patton after I was in your shop, for she was
working, and she was at the girls' club for luncheon. And yet you had
changed, fallen violently in love with her, and were winning her for
“You are a fast worker, Ricardo,” Trimble said.
Ricardo wept again.
“I—I must explain,” he said, “though it is humiliating. It is true
that I loved Alice Patton from the first day she came into the shop
with Mrs. Roberts. I fought to make her love me. I was between two
fires, as the saying is. I wanted Alice for my wife—but I wanted
money, too. If I could marry Mrs. Roberts, I could get money. But I
really loved Alice.”
“I see,” Trimble commented, while Mrs. Roberts looked at the man with
loathing. “If you could not marry money, then you would wed for love.
Playing both ends, were you?”
“I am ashamed—but it is true,” Ricardo said. “And now I have lost
both. But I have the memory of my Alice. If I only possessed one little
keepsake! The paper says she was working on a centerpiece just before
she died. If I could have that—just as it is—to remember her by——”
Ricardo wept again. Trimble watched him closely and saw how he
regarded Mrs. Gordon Roberts. He got up and stepped to the door, where
Detective Darter was standing.
“Well, Darter,” he whispered, “it is all over. We have the motive and
everything else that we need. Come on into the parlor.”
“I don't see it!” Darter said, stepping forward into the room.
“Watch!” Trimble whispered.
He went back across the room and touched Giovanna Ricardo on the
“A man has the right to a keepsake of a person he loved,” he said.
“You shall have one.”
“Thanks—thanks!” Ricardo gasped. “The fancywork, please, upon which
she was working just before she died. I shall cherish it always.”
“Won't something else do?” Trimble asked.
“I would rather have that. It is my own line of endeavor,” Ricardo
explained. “I showed her many stitches myself.”
“Very well; you shall have it,” Trimble said.
He crossed to the table and carefully picked up the centerpiece. Then
he turned to Mrs. Roberts.
“Mrs. Roberts, shall I give this centerpiece to Mr. Ricardo, or would
you desire it?” Trimble asked.
“I loved Alice so much! But Mrs. Roberts admired her also,” Ricardo
said. “And I have, perhaps, done Mrs. Roberts a wrong. If she wishes
the centerpiece, sir, give it to her—and let me have some other
Trimble whirled upon him.
“Very good!” he said, allowing his monocle to drop. “I wanted to hear
you say something like that, Ricardo. It confirms a little theory I
had. I think you had better have the centerpiece. See, Ricardo! Here is
the needle, just as Alice Patton used it.”
He extracted it cautiously from the edge of the centerpiece, and then
suddenly bent forward and jabbed at Ricardo's arm with it. Ricardo gave
a shriek of fear and plunged from the chair and against the wall.
Terror was in his face.
“As I expected!” Terry Trimble said. “Darter! Handcuffs here!”
“I—I don't understand——” Ricardo began.
Darter thrust him against the wall and snapped the handcuffs into
“What does this mean?” Ricardo gasped. “You arrest me when my heart
already is burdened with——-”
“Quite simple!” Terry Trimble declared, adjusting his monocle again
and glancing across the room at Mrs. Gordon Roberts.
“But I don't——”
“Silence!” Trimble commanded. “We lacked a motive for a while, and
small wonder, for we were indeed on the wrong track. But everything is
clear to me now. As I suspected, there was no intention to kill any of
the three persons who were victims. Mrs. Roberts, you have had a very
“I?” Mrs. Roberts gasped.
“Ricardo did love you in his way, I think. When you laughed at his
presumption his love turned to hate. He threatened to take your life,
and he meant that threat. You purchased some embroidery needles from
him yesterday morning—it is now after midnight—and on the tip of one
of them Ricardo put a fleck of deadly poison. A person who works at
embroidery always wounds the fingers more or less with the needle, I
understand. One prick with the poisoned needle—and then death!”
“Oh!” Mrs. Roberts gasped, her face suddenly white.
“And during the luncheon hour at your girls' club,” Trimble went on,
“you gave some embroidery needles to Mabel Higgins, according to what
you have told me. After dinner here Alice Patton worked on the
centerpiece, because Miss Higgins was ill with a headache. She pricked
her finger with the needle—and died. Just before she died, she took a
drink of water and, made the remark that it tasted queerly. That was
because the deadly poison already had her life in its clutch and had
affected her sense of taste. That remark of hers worried us for a time,
until we had the water examined.
“She died, and Mabel Higgins, hysterical at her chum's death, took
the centerpiece downstairs with her. She fumbled with the needle,
pricked her finger, and died! Mrs. Burke did the same.
“And you, Giovanna Ricardo, came here to-night with your cooked-up
story of loving Alice Patton, in an attempt to gain possession of the
centerpiece— and the needle, of course—so you could destroy the
evidence against you and save your skin. But at the last moment, when I
asked Mrs. Roberts whether she wanted the centerpiece, you were willing
for her to have it, hoping death would reach her as you had intended.
Now you're going to the electric chair!”
Ricardo whimpered. Mrs. Gordon Roberts looked at him in horror.
“Isn't that the truth, Ricardo?” Trimble demanded, darting at him
with the poisoned needle again.
Ricardo shrieked and crouched against the wall.
“It—it is the truth!” he gasped.