The Blue Lights: A Detective Story
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"What more can you hope to find, Mr. Duvall?" inquired the banker, who had begun to find the proceedings tiresome.
The detective stood in the center of the room, and glanced about in some perplexity. "I had hoped to find one thing more," he said; "but I am afraid it isn't here."
Suddenly he strode over to the mantel, upon which stood a small nickel-plated alarm clock of American make.
"This clock doesn't seem to be going," he remarked, then whipped out his magnifying glass and carefully studied the brass handle which projected from the back, by which it was wound up. "It hasn't been wound for several days, either. The back is covered with dust." He picked up the clock and tried to wind it; but the handle resisted his efforts.
In an instant he took out his knife, and a moment later was removing the screws which held the metal back of the clock in place.
Mr. Stapleton watched him curiously. Duvall's methods savored, to him, of the accepted sleuth of fiction. He took little stock in the tiny clues upon which the whole modern science of criminology is built.
In a few moments the detective had removed the screws and lifted out the rear plate of the clock. As he did so, he gave a grunt of satisfaction. A small pasteboard box fell out upon the mantel.
"What is it?" asked Stapleton.
"The box of cigarettes," remarked Duvall, as he opened it. "There are three missing. I shall take a fourth." He selected one of the paper-covered tubes, placed it within his pocketbook, then thrust the box back into the clock, and rapidly replaced the metal plate.
"I don't think there is anything further to be done here, Mr. Stapleton," he remarked. "I think I'll be getting along to my room. Tomorrow I shall be quite busy."
He stopped for a moment, on his way out, to glance from the window which faced toward the north. Between the buildings and trees ran the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, its course illuminated by many street lamps, and the flashing lights of passing motor cars. Duvall gazed intently at the scene before him for a few moments, then turned to the door, and, accompanied by Mr. Stapleton, descended the stairs.
As he was about to leave the house, the banker, who evidently had something on his mind, stopped him.
"Mr. Duvall," he said, earnestly, "I would like very much to know what you intend to do."
"I'm going to catch these fellows, if I possibly can," the detective replied, earnestly.
"What steps do you propose to take?"
"I cannot exactly say – yet. Why do you ask?"
"I'll tell you. The fellow who was here tonight, the one with the black beard, is coming to see me tomorrow night, at eight o'clock. I cannot tell you more than that. I did not intend to tell you that much – but I am obliged to do so."
"Because I want your promise that you will make no attempt to stop him. If I had said nothing, you might have watched the house, and, upon recognizing the fellow as the one who was here tonight, have placed him under arrest.I want you to do nothing to interfere with either his coming or his going. He will be safe, after he once leaves the Arc de Triomphe in his automobile."
"But the police?"
"They know nothing of the matter. Miss Goncourt has given me her word to remain silent. She has even agreed to have the men on watch about the house withdrawn. Both you and the police may do your best to catch this man, after I have carried out my compact with him; but until then I want you to keep your hands off."
Duvall was silent for a moment. "Very well, Mr. Stapleton, I shall do as you say. In fact, to assure you that I am carrying out your wishes, I will agree to remain here with you, at the house, throughout the evening."
"Good! I shall expect you. Good night."
"Good night." Duvall left the house, and went at once to his hotel.
Here, a few moments later, he seated himself in an easy chair, and taking from his pocket the cigarette which he had secured in the chauffeur's room, regarded it critically.
After some little time, he took a match from a box upon a nearby table, and, placing the gold tip of the cigarette between his lips, carefully lit it.
He drew the smoke into his lungs, inhaling it deeply. Once – twice – three times he repeated the operation, then threw himself back into his chair, and, closing his eyes, sat buried in thought. In his preoccupation, he allowed the end of the cigarette to fall unheeded to the floor.
After many minutes he opened his eyes and started up. "I've got it!" he cried, and, picking up the half-burned cigarette from the floor, threw it carelessly into the fireplace.
Then he sat down at his table, drew out a sheet of paper and a map of the city of Paris, and began to make a series of drawings and calculations that occupied him far into the night.
IT was nearly ten o'clock when the taxicab containing Grace Duvall stopped alongside the road, at a point some four miles beyond the city, in the direction of Versailles. She had been unable to give the driver the exact location at which she desired to be put down, but had directed him to drive on until she told him to stop.
The spot was quite familiar to her, owing to the hours she had spent in the vicinity with the searching party the day before.
The taxicab driver seemed rather surprised to see her alight at this somewhat lonely spot; but he shrugged his shoulders with true Parisian indifference, pocketed the tip she gave him, and drove rapidly off in the darkness.
Left to herself by the roadside, Grace began to fear that she had, after all, done a rather foolish thing. Now that she was here, she hardly knew how to begin.
All about her she saw the dark outlines of cottages among the trees, with here and there a straggling light which betokened some household late in getting to bed. The country people in this vicinity – growers of flowers and vegetables or dairymen for the most part – were asleep with their cows about the time that Paris began to dine.
Occasionally the silence about her was broken by the mournful howling of a dog; but otherwise all was still.
The night was cloudless, and the lightening of the sky toward the east told her that before long a moon would rise above the trees.
Near the road she found a little rustic bench, and upon this she sat down to think.
The howling of the dog had suggested to her mind a possible clue to the house within which Mr. Stapleton's boy had been, for a time at least, confined. She could remember nothing of the garden, and but little of the room in which she had been confined; but the dog, playing upon the grass with the child, had fixed itself in her memory. She recollected distinctly that he was a poodle, mostly black, with fine curling hair, like astrakhan fur, and a pointed nose.
There were many dogs of this sort, she well knew, and yet there was one peculiarity which had impressed itself upon her memory, which would inevitably serve to identify this particular dog, should she ever see him again. His long and bushy tail, black for the most part like the rest of his body, terminated in a plume of white hair.
It was a most unusual marking in a French poodle. She had never seen it before, and she was a great lover of dogs, and knew them thoroughly. It was this fact, no doubt, which had caused her to notice the animal, at a time when her mind was filled with matters of vastly greater importance.
She had sought carefully for such a dog, on the occasion of the previous search, but had not found him. The tale about the escaped cobra had caused the country folk to lock up their pets without loss of time.
Now she hoped to find this dog, and through him discover the location of the house in which she had been confined. After that – well, she would do the best she could.
It occurred to her that she was not at all likely to discover the whereabouts of the black poodle by sitting here on a bench; yet she dared not start out until the moon had risen sufficiently high to light up her way.
In about an hour, the rim of the golden disk showed itself above the treetops, and a little later the black shadows about her began to grow luminous, and resolve themselves into white-walled cottages, hedges, and outbuildings of various sorts.
A narrow lane ran off from the main road, bordered on each side by lindens and poplars.
Along this lane the houses of the little hamlet were set, some near the road, others quite a distance back. She rose, and began to walk slowly along the lane.
As she had expected, dogs of various sorts and sizes, to judge by their voices, began barking as soon as she came opposite the first house. A small fox terrier ran through the gateway of a garden, yelping sharply. The deep-toned baying of a hound sounded farther up the street. A small white poodle, and a black one of the same size, ran after her, as she went along, making friendly attempts to play. The one she sought, however, seemed nowhere in evidence.
The lane ascended a gently sloping hill, at the top of which stood a house, somewhat larger than the others, whose outbuildings and pastures proclaimed it to be a dairy farm. There was a hedge of roses along the roadside, and a little wooden gate.
Grace heard a sharp bark on the other side of the gate as she passed it, and, stopping, glanced over. In the shadow stood a black poodle; but whether his tail showed the markings for which she sought she was unable to tell on account of the darkness. She gave the gate a gentle push, and it slowly opened. The dog ran out into the road. As he crossed a patch of moonlight, she saw that her search was ended. This, she was convinced, was the dog – and the house!
Her next problem was how to get inside. Try as she would, she could think of no excuse which would adequately account for her presence in this little frequented locality at such a time of night. That the occupants of the house had long ago retired was evidenced by the blackness of the windows, the silence which brooded over the whole place.
She looked about her. Just across the lane from the little gate a building loomed formless against a shadowy clump of trees. She went over to it, and found that it was a small shed. The door stood open. Inside stood a tumbledown old wagon, dust covered, and quite evidently unused for a long time. The shelter of the shed seemed grateful – as though she had arrived somewhere, instead of being a wanderer in the night.
There seemed nothing to do, now, but wait for daylight. She climbed into the creaking wagon and sat upon the seat. There was a back to it, which, like the seat, was covered with old and torn velveteen. She leaned back in the shadow and closed her eyes. Her walk, the night air, had made her tired. In the distance she heard, after a long time, the faint booming of a bell. She looked at her watch. It was midnight.
The next thing that Grace remembered was the loud barking of a dog. She sat up, feeling stiff and cold. Her neck and left shoulder ached painfully. A glance through the open door of the shed told her that it was still night; but there was a gray radiance in the air, a soft pale light, that betokened the coming of dawn.
She crept stiffly down from the wagon, and again consulted her watch. It marked the hour of four. Through a dusty window in the side of the shed she saw the eastern sky, rose streaked and bright, heralding the sun.
As the light increased, she saw the dog that had disturbed her sleep running about on the grass in front of the house opposite. The house seemed much nearer, in the daylight, than it had appeared at night. She examined the dog closely. The white tip of his tail, waving gaily in the morning light, showed her that it was the one she had sought.
She crouched in the dim shadow of the half-open door and watched the scene before her. There was a man, moving about among the small buildings to the right. She heard him performing some task – she could not at first make out what. Presently the lowing of cattle, the rattle of a bucket, as it was drawn up by a creaking windlass, told her that the man was tending his cows.
Quite half an hour later she saw him going toward the house, a pail, evidently well filled, in each hand.
Then ensued another long silence. The curling wisp of smoke from the chimney of the cottage indicated breakfast, and Grace suddenly realized that she felt cold, and hungry. For the first time in her life she realized how important one's breakfast is, in beginning the day.
Presently the man reappeared and went toward a small building which Grace took to be the barn. She could see him clearly now; for the sun had risen above the trees and lit up the whole scene brilliantly. He was a small, wizened man, with gray hair and a slight stoop. She was quite certain that she had never seen him before.
He went to the barn, and she saw that he was engaged in harnessing a horse, which he presently attached to a farm wagon. She noted the wagon particularly. It was a low two-wheeled affair, with a dingy canvas top. A large patch in the canvas showed yellow-white in the sunlight. The horse was white.
In a little while the man began to put in the cart a variety of objects which he brought from the barn. They appeared to be baskets of vegetables or fruit, and cans of milk. Presently he stopped, and went toward the house. In a few minutes he returned. This time a woman was with him. They carried between them a large wicker basket, which appeared to be quite heavy. There was a top on the basket. Grace wondered if it could be filled with laundry.
The couple placed the basket in the wagon, putting it in from the front, so that it occupied a position close beside the driver. In getting it up over the wheel the woman let her end of it slip, and the man cursed her with such sudden sharpness that Grace was startled and crouched back into the shed. She wondered what the basket could contain, that made the man so careful, and the thought came to her, might it not be Mr. Stapleton's boy?
The idea possessed her completely. As the man drove out into the lane, and rattled down the hill toward the main road, she suddenly realized that she must follow; yet how could she hope to do so, on foot? The woman had gone back into the house. Regardless of consequences, Grace ran out into the lane, and after the wagon at full speed.
When she reached the main road the vehicle had already turned into it and was some distance away, headed for Paris, at a speed which, slow for a horse, was still much faster than she could possibly walk.
She looked up and down the road helplessly. There were several other wagons approaching, all going in the same direction – cityward. She realized that they were country people, farmers, taking their vegetables and flowers to the markets.
The first one to reach her was driven by a buxom-looking young woman, wearing a plaid shawl. Grace hailed her. "Will you be so good, Madame, as to take me to Paris?"
The woman glanced at her shrewdly. "I have a heavy load, Mademoiselle," she replied. Her voice was cold, uninterested.
"I will pay you five francs – "
The words had barely left Grace's lips, before the woman had pulled up her horse. "Five francs, Mademoiselle? That is another matter. Get in."
Grace clambered up beside the woman and glanced down the road ahead. The canvas-covered wagon was still in sight – mounting a hill some three or four hundred yards ahead.
The woman looked at her curiously, noting her dress, her hands, her shoes. "You are not of the country, Mademoiselle," she remarked, pleasantly.
"No. I belong in Paris." She turned to her companion. "I should like to return there as quickly as possible."
"My Susette does not care to go above a walk," the woman remarked, gazing at her horse, plodding along with mechanical steps, as though utterly unconcerned as to whether or not they ever reached Paris. The wagon ahead was now out of sight, over the brow of the hill.
"Would you like to make a louis?" Grace took a gold piece from her purse and held it in the sunlight. It glistened brightly.
The woman drew back, regarding her companion suspiciously. "A louis? Who would not? What do you mean, Mademoiselle?"
"There is a wagon ahead of us, a canvas-covered wagon, with a white horse. I am following it. If you will keep that wagon in sight until we get to Paris, I will give you this louis."
She turned the gold piece about, making it sparkle in the sun. The woman glanced first at her face, then more carefully at the coin, then, reaching over, took it in her fingers, and raised it to her mouth. Grace wondered what she was about to do. In a moment she had sunk her teeth into it, then returned it to her companion. "It shall be as you say, Mademoiselle," she exclaimed as she pulled in the reins. "Allons, Susette!"
The horse, evidently awakened from his morning dreams, started forward with a suddenness which almost precipitated Grace from her seat. The trees along the roadside began to fly past them. In ten minutes they were close behind the canvas-covered wagon, now moving along at a brisk pace.
When they reached the fortifications, the two wagons were separated by not more than a dozen feet. Grace's companion glanced at her sharply. "From here I go to Grennelle, Mademoiselle," she exclaimed.
Grace looked at the wagon ahead. "Follow it, please," she said. "I will give you another five francs."
The woman obeyed in silence. The wagon in front of them headed off toward the northwest, going in the direction of Passy. Before a great while it crossed the Pont de Passy, turned into the Rue Nicolo, and came to a stop before a small brick house, standing in a little garden.
Grace jumped down at the corner, after giving the woman the louis and the additional five francs. "Thank you," she said, and started slowly up the street.
The wagon with the canvas cover stood quietly alongside the curb. The old man who drove it had approached the door of the house, and was ringing the bell.
Presently one of the windows on the top floor was thrown open, and a man's head was thrust out. Grace could not see his face clearly. He looked down at the man at the door, who at the same time looked up. The window was instantly closed, and a few moments later the door of the house opened and the man came out.
He stood talking with the driver in low tones for a few moments. Grace had walked on up the street, fearing to attract attention. Looking back, she saw that the two men were gazing after her. She dared not turn her head again, but at the next corner turned into a cross street. Then she stopped, and cautiously peered around the corner. The two men had gone to the wagon and were lifting out the large basket. A few moments later they disappeared with it into the house.
After a time, the old man returned with the basket in his hands. From the way he carried it Grace could see that it was empty. He tossed it carelessly into the wagon, mounted the seat, and drove off.
Grace looked at her watch. It was half past seven. She felt cold and hungry, and determined to get something to eat at once. A little pastry cook's shop and restaurant on the opposite side of the street attracted her attention, and she crossed over, entered, and ordered rolls and coffee. She could see the windows of the house into which the two men had carried the basket, from where she sat.
She scarcely knew what to do next. It seemed almost certain that Mr. Stapleton's child was in the house across the way, and yet – it was merely an intuition, a guess, which might turn out to be entirely wrong. Yet she feared to go away, not knowing at what moment the child, if he was indeed there, might be taken elsewhere, and the clue hopelessly lost.
She finished her rolls and coffee, taking as much time to consume them as she could. She had just made up her mind to go, when the door of the house across the street opened, and a man came out. He was dark, and heavily built, and dressed in the costume affected by artists. He headed directly for the pastry shop, and Grace realized that he was about to enter it.
She turned her face away, fearing lest he might have noticed her, as she walked up the street. He did not even glance in her direction, however, but went at once to a counter at the rear of the place.
The proprietor came up to him with a smile, rubbing his hands together cheerily. "Ah! Monsieur Durand. Up early this morning, I see. What can I do for you?"
She did not catch the other's reply, nor did she dare to glance at his face. She shrank back into her corner, and, picking up a newspaper which lay in the window sill, began to read.
The new customer remained but a few moments. When he left, Grace saw that he carried a large paper bag with him, which appeared to contain rolls or bread.
He again entered the house, but this time remained inside but a few moments. A little later she left the shop, and watched him as he disappeared down the street.
For half an hour she walked about, wondering whether she should telephone Monsieur Lefevre now, or wait until she had made certain that the whole affair was, after all, not a wild goose chase. Suddenly she was seized with a new determination. She went boldly up to the house, and rang the bell.
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