The Blue Lights: A Detective Story
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Her reveries were interrupted by a sudden sound which made her start forward, tense with excitement. The man in the studio had gone for a moment beyond the line of her vision, into a corner of the room to her left. She could not see what he was doing there, and it was while waiting for him to reappear that she had fallen into her day dream.
The sound which startled her was the voice of a child, not crying, this time, but speaking clearly and distinctly. "I want to go home!" it said, in a high nervous voice. "I want to see my mamma!"
The man answered roughly, impatiently. "You can't go now. Be quiet and come and eat your breakfast."
He appeared suddenly in the line of view commanded by the crack in the door, and Grace saw that he held a small boy by one hand, and was leading him to the table. Here he placed him in a chair and set before him a glass of milk and a roll. "Hurry up now!" the man growled. "Eat your breakfast. I've got to go out."
The man's words set Grace's heart to beating with renewed quickness. If the man was going out, she would be able to escape, and take the boy with her.
She did not doubt that he was Mr. Stapleton's child. The girl's dress which he had worn on the former occasion had been removed, and in place of it he wore a suit of dark blue, somewhat dirty and worn. His face still appeared to be very dark, and his hair, which had formerly been long and curly, was cropped close to his head. He appeared to be well, but very nervous. Grace watched him eagerly as he devoured the roll and milk.
When he had finished, the man took him by the hand and again led him to the corner of the room beyond Grace's sight. She strained her face against the opening in the door, striving in vain to see what he was doing; but it was useless.
She heard the boy begin to object, begging the man in a querulous voice to let him go out and play. His captor, however, silenced him with a sharp word, accompanied by a blow. "Get in there, and keep quiet!" Grace heard him say, and after that all was silent. A moment later the man reappeared, put on his hat, and, going out, locked the door carefully behind him. Grace wondered if the maid had told him of her call, and thereby roused his suspicions.
She waited until she heard the front door close, and then, emerging quickly from the closet, went toward the side of the room to which the man had gone with the child.
At first sight, there appeared to be no place where the latter could have been hidden. The two walls were of gray-tinted plaster, cracked and stained with age. There was a rickety chair and a battered plaster figure of a centaur, against which leaned an easel and a mass of sketches, covered with cobwebs and dust.
With extreme care, she examined the walls and floor. It seemed most likely that some trapdoor existed, affording an entrance to a secret closet in which the boy had been placed. A few moments' effort showed no traces whatever of such a hiding place.The floor was of planks, covered with dust, and the cracks between the boards were filled with dirt and showed nowhere evidences of having been recently moved. The walls she sounded gently with the handle of a modeling tool which she snatched up from the table; but they gave forth a uniformly solid sound.
She stood, surveying the place in perplexity. Then a sudden thought occurred to her. The ceiling! It swept low down, at the corner of the room, and above it she knew there must be an attic. She went over and began to examine the dusty plaster surface with minute care.
A sound of footsteps upon the stairs sent her scurrying back into the closet. She wondered why the man had returned so soon. Greatly to her surprise, she saw, as soon as the door opened, that the newcomer was not the one who had left her a short time before, but an older man, more heavily built. As he turned and glanced toward the side of the room where she was hidden, she saw that he wore a heavy black beard. It was the kidnapper himself – the man whom she had seen at Mr. Stapleton's house the night before!
He appeared to be annoyed, at not finding anyone in the studio, and after a moment sat down and lighting a cigar, began to read a newspaper which he drew from his pocket.
Grace watched him intently, hardly daring to breathe for fear he might hear her. An hour passed, and the air in the closet became close and hot. She felt so nervous that she could have screamed, when the door of the room suddenly opened and Durand appeared.
The two greeted each other with a nod. "Where have you been?" the older man demanded, somewhat angrily.
"I had to get a new battery." He took a short black cylinder from his pocket and laid it on the table.
"Is the boy here?"
"Good! Now listen to your instructions." He lowered his voice, glancing swiftly toward the closed door of the room. "At eight o'clock I shall go to the banker's house and get the money. At eight fifteen, or a little before, Fran?ois will get his signal and repeat to you. If he flashes the blue light, you will release the boy, leave the room, lock the door, and go at once to the Place du Trocadero. From the little tobacco shop you will telephone the address of this place – No. 42, isn't it? – to Monsieur Stapleton. That will be about half past eight. Do not telephone before that. Then wait for me in front of the shop. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly. And if I get the red signal?"
"In that event, do not release the boy, but lock the door and come to the tobacco shop, as before. I will communicate with you there. Old Martelle is perfectly safe. But I do not think there will be any trouble. You will get the blue light."
"You seem sure."
"I am. This man Stapleton is not going to take any more chances. Once I am in the automobile, I am safe."
"They could arrest you while you are walking to the Arc de Triomphe, after leaving the house."
"That is true; but what would they gain. They would not get the boy, would they? And they have no evidence to show that I stole him. Further, Fran?ois reports this morning that he overheard Stapleton and his wife talking. There is to be no interference – at least not until I get away in the machine. They will follow me, of course. I fully expect it. But you know the steps I have taken to take care of that game." He laughed grimly. "No – no – the thing is absolutely safe. We will get away without the least trouble."
"Nevertheless, if anything goes wrong, and I do not get the red signal, what shall we do then?"
"We'll talk that over, when the time comes. You meet me at Martelle's."
"But suppose you can't be there? They might get you, you know."
The man with the beard frowned darkly, and an evil expression came over his face. "If you get the red signal, and I do not meet you at Martelle's at half past eight, come back here, get the boy, and take him to Lavillac. And before you do so, cut off his left hand, and send it to Stapleton with a letter telling him that if I am not set free at once, you will send his head. That will bring them to terms."
Grace shuddered as she heard the man's words.
His companion nodded. "I understand," he said. "But I hope it won't be necessary."
"It won't. They can't get me. I've planned too carefully. That American detective, Duvall, is a joke. He was out on the Boulevard du Bois de Boulogne this morning with one of the Prefect's men. They are figuring to have an automobile at the Avenue Malakoff and follow me." He laughed loudly. "Much good that will do them!"
"How about Fran?ois?"
"Oh – in a week or two, after we are safely away, Fran?ois will sprain his wrist, and be forced to give up his position as Monsieur Stapleton's chauffeur. He will join us in New York."
The younger man puffed meditatively at his cigarette. "What's become of that woman Lefevre had snooping around? Seen anything of her, since last night?"
"No. She hasn't been about. Not much danger of her finding out anything."
The other rubbed his chin, in deep thought. "She nearly got you, last night," he presently remarked.
"Oh, no. Not a chance. I knew she was in the house, and I figured she would telephone to headquarters as soon as she learned who I was. All I had to do was to signal you, through the window, and the thing was done. Of course I didn't expect the Prefect's man to get there quite as soon as he did; but you handled him all right." As he spoke, the man rose, went to a small mirror that hung on the wall, and carefully removed the black beard which was so distinguishing a feature of his appearance.
"Pretty hot, this thing," he announced, as he threw it on the table. "Got anything to drink about? I'm thirsty."
Grace saw, as he turned toward her, that he bore a striking resemblance to the masked man who had given her the first message to Mr. Stapleton, in the room of the house on the road to Versailles. She trembled as she heard him ask for the drink. Suppose the bottle should be in the closet? She shrunk back in terror as the younger man rose and started toward her.
Her alarm was needless, however. The fellow drew open one of the drawers of a small dresser that stood on the opposite side of the room, and took out a light green bottle. "Absinthe?" he inquired.
"All right. One won't do any harm. Don't take any more, though." He began to pour out the drink into a glass which stood upon the table. "When you get the signal from Fran?ois," he went on, "you are to answer it, as usual, so he'll know you've seen him. He doesn't want to stay in his room very long – for fear he might be missed."
"They suspect him, of course."
"Yes. He's being watched right along; when he's out of the house, that is. They've searched his room, and all that; but they haven't found anything." He chuckled, and began to sip his drink. "Nothing to find."
The other man sat down at the table, and the two began talking over their plans of escape. Grace could not hear all they said; but, as nearly as she could gather, they intended, as soon as the younger man had joined the other, to run for Brussels in the automobile. Near the frontier they would leave the machine, change their disguises, and cross the frontier on foot. Once in Belgium, they seemed to think they would be quite safe.
It was along toward noon when the older man readjusted his disguise and left the house. "I'm going to get something to eat," he announced. "I won't be back. You'd better not leave the place again. I'll send you in something, if you like." He glanced at the rolls and milk on the table.
"It won't be necessary. I've got all I need. Guess I'll take a nap this afternoon. Well, good luck," he concluded, as the other started toward the door. "See you later."
"All right." The black-bearded man passed noiselessly into the hall. "Don't sleep too long. Eight o'clock, remember." In a moment he was gone.
Grace watched the other as he finished drinking his absinthe and lit a cigarette. Presently he went over to the cot and, throwing himself upon it, was soon snoring loudly.
The long hot afternoon wore itself on. Grace leaned back against the wall of the closet, weak from the nervous tension of the situation. The place was hot and close. She felt faint from lack of air, from hunger. At times she dozed off, then recovered herself with a start, and stood trembling, fearful lest she had made some noise which might attract the attention of the sleeping man.
After a time, the low complaining of the child began again, at first faint and seemingly far off, then growing in volume, until the tearful cries of "Let me out – let me out!" seemed to come from a point scarcely beyond the reach of her hand.
The child's complaints at last awoke the sleeping man. With a muttered curse he rose, crossed the room, and disappeared from sight. Grace heard a low scraping sound, as of a panel being drawn back, and presently the man again appeared with the child, and again supplied him with bread and milk.
After he had eaten, the man gave him a magazine with bright-colored pictures in it, to amuse him, and lay on the bed, smoking. The boy sat on the floor, looking at the book.
Once or twice he tried to speak, but the man sharply bade him be quiet. About sundown, a step was heard on the stairs, and once again the boy was hastily placed in his hiding place, with threats of punishment if he cried.
The new arrival was only a model, in search of work. The man spoke to her gruffly, and informed her that he had all the models he needed. After she left, he did not again release the child, but sat, reading, for a long time.
At last he rose, took up the short black cylinder, which Grace saw was an electric searchlight, from the table, and went over and sat in the sill of the large double window which faced to the north. The window was open, and the room in darkness.
Grace pushed the door of her closet open slightly, so as to get a better view. The window was directly opposite the closet, at the other end of the room. She could see the silent figure of the watcher, silhouetted blackly against the night sky without. Off to the north were many lights – the lights of the houses toward the Champs ?lys?es, and the Arc de Triomphe.
For many minutes she watched, over the man's shoulder, waiting for the signal which would set both herself and Mr. Stapleton's boy free from their long confinement.
Presently she heard the man utter a quick oath, and saw him peer out of the window, his figure tense and rigid, a pair of field glasses held to his eyes. In another moment he had dropped the glasses, picked up his electric searchlight, and flashed a signal into the darkness.
It took him but a moment. In another he had rushed to the door, and Grace heard him turn the key in the lock and clatter down the stairs.
She crept swiftly to the window and looked out. At first she could see nothing, but a confused maze of lights. In a moment she had seized the field glasses and was nervously sweeping the horizon. Suddenly she held them still for a moment, then drew back with a cry of dismay. Far off toward the Avenue Kleber there gleamed a light, high in the upper room of a house. It shone for a few moments, steady, baleful, full of unknown terror, then winked suddenly out and was gone. She dropped the field glasses upon the floor and staggered back against the table. The light was red! She was locked in. The two men would undoubtedly be back in fifteen or twenty minutes. And then – she shuddered as she thought of what they intended to do to the kidnapped child. To herself she gave scarcely a thought. Then Richard's face came before her eyes, and she fell upon the window seat, sobbing bitterly.
WHEN Monsieur Lefevre touched Richard Duvall on the shoulder, in the restaurant in the Boulevard des Italiens, he was filled with a very great feeling of anxiety, although he concealed it behind a mask of pleased surprise at the unexpected meeting.
Since early the evening before he had had no word from Grace. He knew from Mr. Stapleton that she had left his house a short while after nine; but since then she had completely disappeared.
The Prefect at first thought that she had been unable to keep her identity from her husband any longer, and had joined him. He later learned from Vernet that this was not the case. Now the old gentleman began to feel seriously alarmed at her continued absence.
"How goes everything, my friend?" he asked, with an elaborate show of carelessness. "Have you found the kidnappers yet?"
Duvall smiled. "Not yet. But I expect to have them, before the evening is over."
"Indeed! I congratulate you. Have you seen anything of Mademoiselle Goncourt?"
"I thought perhaps you might have met her. You two are after the same game, you know."
Duvall smiled grimly. "I don't believe she's following the same trail that I am," he said. "I expect to win that bet, Monsieur."
The Prefect seemed a trifle uneasy. "The evening is not yet over, Monsieur," he replied. "But, in any event, I hope that Monsieur Stapleton's son will be returned to him without further delay, whoever brings about the result."
"Come to his house tonight, Monsieur. I have arranged a little matter with Vernet which may surprise you. And then, too, we shall have to go and get the boy." He rose, and took up his hat. "We shall want you with us."
"By all means. I shall be there, my friend. What hour would you suggest?"
"Half past eight, at the latest."
"Good! I shall be there at that time. Good day, mon ami."
"Au revoir. Give my respects to Mademoiselle Goncourt." He left the restaurant and, going to his room at the hotel, proceeded to write a long letter to Grace. He reproached her for not having written to him. Here he had been in Paris four days, and had not heard a word from her! A letter, he felt, should have come by the very next steamer – several, in fact. He told her how greatly he missed her, how deeply he loved her, and how soon he hoped to return to her arms. And even as he wrote, Grace, half dead from fatigue, stood hidden in the closet at Passy, a mile away, watching with frightened eyes the kidnapper asleep on the pallet bed.
Duvall had arranged to be at Mr. Stapleton's house a little before eight that night, and it still lacked twenty minutes of the hour when he ascended the steps of the banker's residence and was ushered into the library.
Mr. Stapleton sat in grim silence, awaiting the coming of his visitor. He did not seem particularly glad to see Duvall. The latter's apparent failure to make any headway in the matter of recovering his missing boy had caused the banker to lose confidence in his abilities.
"Good evening, Duvall," he remarked, indifferently.
"Good evening, Mr. Stapleton. You are ready for your man, I see." He glanced at the package of banknotes which lay at the banker's elbow.
"Quite. You have done nothing to interfere with his coming or going, I trust."
Stapleton glanced at the clock. "He will be here very soon, now. May I ask you to wait in my study, upstairs? It would never do for you to be here. The man might be afraid to enter."
"No – you are right. I must not be here. But I prefer not to wait in the study. I have another plan."
"What is it?" inquired the banker, uneasily.
"Where is Fran?ois, your chauffeur?"
"At his dinner, I believe. Why?"
"Will you kindly find out for sure? I want to go to his room."
Mr. Stapleton summoned a servant, who told him that the chauffeur was just finishing his dinner. "You will be very careful, Duvall," he said, anxiously. "I don't want anything done which will alarm these fellows."
"Oh, Fran?ois won't see me. I shall keep out of his sight. Perhaps I had better go up now." He nodded to the banker, and at once ascended the stairs which lead to the servants' quarters.
At the door of the chauffeur's room he paused. It was closed. He pushed it gently open, and in a moment was in the room. The place was quite dark; but by means of a pocket light Duvall soon found the closet, and a moment later was safely ensconced within. He left the door ajar, and to his satisfaction found that he could see through the north window without difficulty. Here he waited, until the chauffeur should arrive.
Mr. Stapleton, meanwhile, sat grimly in the library below, waiting for the coming of the kidnapper. Promptly at eight o'clock, his butler announced that the man had arrived.
"Show him in at once," exclaimed the banker, as he rose and began to walk up and down the room.
In a moment the man came into the library. His powerful figure, his black beard, his assured manner, rendered him an easily recognized figure.
"I have come, Monsieur, as I said I would," he remarked, calmly. "I trust you have the money in readiness."
Stapleton stepped over to the desk and picked up the package of banknotes. "Here it is," he growled. "I understand that you will, in return for this money, send me word at once as to where my son is to be found."
"Within half an hour, Monsieur, at the latest; provided, of course, I am not interfered with in my escape."
"There will be no interference, until I get back my boy. After that, I shall spend another hundred thousand dollars, if need be, to bring you to justice."
"That, Monsieur, is quite within the terms of our agreement. The moment you receive the address, you are free from any obligation to me. May I see the money?" He extended his hand.
Mr. Stapleton placed the banknotes in it. "Count them," he growled, "and assure yourself that you have received the amount you demand."
The kidnapper sat down with the utmost coolness and began to count over the notes. They were all of large denomination, and the operation consumed but a few moments. As soon as he had finished, the man placed the bundle of notes carefully in an inside pocket and rose. "The amount is correct, Monsieur," he said. "Permit me to bid you a very good evening." Without further delay, he bowed, took up his hat, and left the room.
At the door he glanced quickly at his watch, then strode off up the street at a rapid pace, toward the Arc de Triomphe.
For some eight or ten minutes he walked, at the expiration of which time he arrived at the Place de l'?toile, and at once crossed to the pavement surrounding the great triumphal arch.
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