The Blue Lights: A Detective Story
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"G-R-A-C-E D-U-V-A-L-L" came back the flashes, quick, clear cut, unmistakable.
Duvall dropped the searchlight to the floor with a harsh laugh. His brain was reeling – the whole thing became a foolish, senseless nightmare. He wondered if he was delirious, and had dreamed it all. Again he flashed a signal into the darkness. "Who are you?" he spelled out again. He did not believe that he had read the former answer aright. Evidently his imagination was playing him tricks – Grace had been on his mind so constantly, throughout the day. He wiped the blood from his eyes and stared eagerly out into the darkness. There was no response.
Then he remembered the words of the message, "Come quick." There was no time for idle speculations as to the identity of the person who had sent him the message.
He rushed to the stairs, and with tottering footsteps descended to the library below. Fran?ois, the chauffeur, still lay, bound and unconscious, upon the floor.
FOR a few moments after being left alone in the studio at Passy, Grace almost lost her courage. She knew that the man who had remained on guard in the room had received the danger signal – the red light – which told him that the plans of his confederates had miscarried. She remembered the instructions which the black-bearded man had given him. "If I do not meet you at Martelle's, take the boy to Lavillac. And before you do so, cut off his left hand and send it to Mr. Stapleton."
The very thought of the thing made her sick. She rushed to the door, and tore frantically at the knob; but it resisted all her efforts. She glanced at the windows, knowing that to escape by means of them from her position on the top floor of the house was impossible. And then – should she escape, she would be obliged to leave the child, and this she by no means wanted to do.
Suddenly she heard again the faint moaning. The sound almost drove her frantic. She rushed to the window and looked out, praying for guidance, for some ray of hope in the frightful situation in which she found herself.
Already several minutes had passed since the departure of the man. It would not be long, she felt, before he returned, and, for all she knew, the black-bearded man with him. Would they attack her, if they found her there? She could hide again, of course; but that would not accomplish anything, except perhaps, to save herself. And she had set out to rescue the child.
In a whirl of indecision, she glanced out of the window, toward the point in the north where she had seen the red light. She wondered where it was, from what place it had been sent. Then suddenly, as she swept the horizon with eager eyes, she saw, where a few moments before the red light had flashed, a gleam of blue. Unlike the red signal, however, which had been steady, as though fixed in place, this one moved about restlessly, now pointing full at her, now almost disappearing to the right or left.
She seized the field glasses and gazed at the light in wonder.Did this mean that the kidnappers had been successful, after all, and that the former signal had been a mistake, or did it indicate that the person giving the first signal had been overpowered, and that the light was in the hands of friends?
She had no means of knowing; but here was someone who was trying to send her word that all was well. She determined to reply.
Her one thought was to get to Mr. Stapleton her present address. She knew that the man who had been intrusted with the task of telephoning it to the banker, would not now do so. She would try to send the address herself.
Then came to her a great feeling of joy, that she was familiar with the Morse code. Richard had taught it to her, during their trip from Paris to New York the year before. She remembered how she had been interested in the wireless, and Richard had offered to teach her the alphabet.
She picked up the searchlight and examined it. It was an ordinary pocket lamp, with a dry battery, such as are sold at stores dealing in electrical goods, and she saw, from its size, that it was an unusually powerful one.
Midway along one side was a tiny button, by pressing which the circuit was completed, and the light made to flash. By pressing this button momentarily, she could get a quick flash, comparable to a dot. By holding it down longer, she could produce a dash.
She did not stop to remove the red glass which was fixed over the front of the light; in fact, she concluded that it would be better to let it remain. There were many white lights all about – among them, her own would have but a small chance of being seen. But red was significant, conspicuous, indicative of danger, and that she was in grave danger she very well knew.
She decided to first send the word "help." She knew that if the person receiving the message was a friend, he would at once ask where she was, since that would be to Mr. Stapleton and his party the most essential and important news she could give.
On the other hand, were it to be received by one of the kidnappers, he would ask her, not where she was, but what was the matter.
Painfully, fearful of mistakes, she deciphered the message which slowly flashed across the mile of night. "Where are you."
With trembling fingers, she spelled out her reply, giving the address and adding, "Come quick." When she got the answer, "Will come at once," she felt that there was still a chance that the boy might be saved. Then came the request for her name. She gave this impatiently. What difference did it matter, so long as they came quickly.
She hastily lighted a candle which stood upon the table, then cast about her for some means whereby she might prevent the black-bearded man and his companion from entering the room, in case they should return before help arrived. There was one thing, of course, that she could do, barricade the door.
But, with the exception of the table and the light iron bed, there was nothing with which she could hope to secure it. Suddenly her eyes fell upon the great plaster centaur. It was a figure such as one might see in any art gallery or museum. It stood upon a plaster slab some six inches thick, which in turn rested upon a low wooden base. The figure was at least five feet high – a horse with a human torso and head. She knew that if she could jam this in front of the door, securing it in place with the bed and table, she might prevent the kidnappers from entering for some little time; long enough, she hoped, to insure the arrival of the police before they had succeeded in breaking in.
She wondered if she could manage to move the thing. At first sight, it seemed impossible, and yet the base might by chance be fitted with rollers or casters. She rushed over to the figure and began to tug at it with all her strength.
She needed but a moment to discover that she could not possibly move it; but as she bent over it, her head close to its side, she heard something which made her start with sudden joy.
It was the low sobbing of a child – the same moaning sound which she had heard from time to time ever since she had first entered the room.
At times the sound had appeared to come from afar off; at others, it had seemed to be close at hand, as though originating at some point in the very air about her.
All of a sudden the truth came to her like a flash. The child was concealed within the hollow body of the statue. The thing seemed so simple, so apparent, that she wondered that it had not occurred to her before.
She gave up her attempt to barricade the door, and began feverishly to look for the opening in the plaster cast through which the child must have entered.
It took but a few moments to find it. The whole side of the horse's body had been sawed free, by two longitudinal cuts, one along the back, the other along the belly, and two similar cuts, at the shoulder, and the flank. Heavy strips of canvas, glued across the lower cut, on the under side of the horse's belly, served as hinges, and were not visible from above.
She inserted the blade of a modeling tool which she caught up from the table, in the upper longitudinal cut, and pried the plaster side of the horse free. It fell heavily toward her, disclosing a long narrow opening; the interior, in fact, of the statue, where lay, upon a sort of bed made of an old comfort, the missing son of Mr. Stapleton.
The boy, who had evidently until a moment before been asleep, gazed up at her in surprised alarm. For over two weeks, now, he had been kept from his parents, made to move about from place to place, frightened by strange men. He had come to expect the unusual, the terrifying, and it was a scared little face that looked appealingly up at the girl as she bent over him.
For the time being she forgot the dangers which surrounded them, in her joy at the discovery of the boy. It had come so suddenly, so unexpectedly. If she could only escape, now, with the child, nothing else would matter in the least. And between her and freedom there lay but the thickness of a single door, and yet it seemed that she could not pass it.
She lifted the child from his hiding place and stood him upon the floor, then quickly swung the heavy slab of plaster back into position. At least, she reasoned, the kidnappers, when they returned, should not at once learn that their captive had escaped.
She knew that the hiding place had been but a temporary one, a means whereby the child might be kept out of sight during the day in case strangers should happen to enter the room. As soon as the kidnappers returned, they would, she realized, spirit the child away to some more secure retreat.
She went to the door and again shook it frantically, pulling at the knob with all her strength, without producing the slightest result. The lock was evidently a strong one – the door held firm and unyielding, though she threw against it her entire weight.
Evidently there was no hope of escape here. Then she again bethought herself of the window. For a moment she gazed out into the darkness. The pavement was thirty feet below. No one was in sight. How could she ever reach the ground, with the child as well, even if she had possessed a rope? The thing was impossible.
Clearly there was nothing to do but wait. Possibly the assistance she expected from her friends, or the police, would arrive very soon – surely she could in some way keep the kidnappers occupied until then!
And suddenly she realized that the time had come. She heard the door of the house close softly, and upon the stair the sound of mounting footsteps.
Which was it, the police, or the kidnappers? The latter, she felt morally certain, since the former, in their haste to rescue the child, would beyond any question have arrived in an automobile, and at top speed.
The newcomers were mounting the stairs in a leisurely manner, as though free from any anxiety. Grace heard them pause for a moment on the first landing, then start up the second flight of stairs. It seemed to her out of the question, to stand in the middle of the room and await their entrance. At least she could postpone the fatal moment a little while, by hiding, with the boy, in the closet. She stepped into it, the child's hand in hers, and drew the door shut, just as the two men entered the room. On her way, she hastily blew out the candle.
They were the same two men that she had seen before, – the black-bearded man, now without his beard, and the artist, Durand. She saw this, as soon as the latter had relit the candle. She wondered if he would notice that the wick was still warm. Evidently he did not; for they threw themselves into chairs, lit cigarettes, and began to talk.
"Now we can speak freely," said Durand. "How did things go?"
"I got the money – gave the blue signal, and expected to be halfway to Brussels by now. What nonsense is this about a red light?"
"It is no nonsense, I assure you. I saw it with my own eyes, as plain as day."
"Then Fran?ois must have made a mistake, or else he has been placed under arrest – the latter, no doubt. Now the question is, What shall we do? I think we ought to get out of Paris as soon as possible. It isn't safe to stay here." He looked about him nervously.
"Why not? You didn't telephone Monsieur Stapleton this address, did you?"
"No, naturally not."
"Then I don't see but what we are quite safe. No one knows the child is here."
"Then you don't intend to give him up?"
"Not yet. I must first find out whether or not Fran?ois is in trouble."
"Let him look out for himself."
The older man frowned. "Since when, my friend," he asked, "have I been in the habit of deserting my comrades? Fran?ois must go free, or Mr. Stapleton does not get his boy. That's flat. The first thing is to send his father something that will let him see that we mean business."
"We've got to be sure about Fran?ois, first."
"I'll find that out, tonight. My plan is this. We must first get the child away to Lavillac's place. This is too unsafe, here. Anyone might come in."
"They'd have difficulty in finding the hiding place." The younger man grinned.
"That's all very well; but the other place is safer. And then – Lavillac's woman can look after the brat while we are away. What a pity Fran?ois had to get into a mess at the last moment! I hoped to be rid of the boy, by now." The older man rose and began striding up and down the room.
"Well," he said at length, sharply, "we might as well get along. I move that we wrap the boy in a coat, take him down to the car, run quickly out to Lavillac's place, leave him there, and start for Brussels at once. The rest we can do by 'phone. Fran?ois set free – the boy the same. Meanwhile, we've got to show this man Stapleton we mean business; so we'd better arrange to send him one of the kid's hands at once. If we don't, he'll have the whole Paris police force after us."
"All right. I'll get him out." He strode quickly over to the statue, pulled out the side, and gazed blankly into the empty space before him.
"Sacr?! The child's gone!" he exclaimed, excitedly. "Somebody has been here – in this room – since I left it, half an hour ago."
"The door was locked."
"I know; but somebody's been here, nevertheless, for the child is gone."
"He may not be gone, Durand. It is true that he is no longer in the house; but he may be in the room, for all that. Search the closet."
The man named Durand stepped quickly to the closet door. "Not much chance," he grumbled. "And if the police knew that he was here, and have spirited him away, they may even now be waiting to spring a trap of which you and I are the rats. For all we know the place is surrounded at this very moment."
"Then the sooner we get away from it the better. Search the closet. If he's not there, we'd better make tracks for the frontier as quickly as possible. We can do nothing more without the child. Fran?ois will have to look out for himself."
Durand went impatiently up to the closet door and flung it open, then both he and his companion recoiled in surprise as Grace stepped out, holding the child by the hand.
"Mon Dieu!" gasped the two men in unison.
The one who had worn the black beard was the first to recover himself. "Quick!" he cried, motioning toward Grace. "The woman is a detective. Tie her up, and let's get away at once. No doubt she has sent word to her friends. We can't afford to stay here another minute." He seemed greatly excited and, rushing to the window, inspected the silent street below.
Durand, meanwhile, had thrown himself upon the girl, seized her hands, and with a quick motion had secured them with a bit of cord he snatched from within the closet.
She offered no resistance, made no outcry. Both seemed equally useless. The boy stood by, watching the scene in childish wonder. So many queer things had happened to him, however, during the past few days, that he, too, remained silent.
In a moment the older man withdrew his head from the window, rushed to the closet, and drawing out a long gray coat, wrapped it about the child. "You will come along with us, Mademoiselle," he said sternly. "Make no attempt to escape, if you value your life."
"But what do we want with her?" the younger man asked, impatiently.
"You fool! Would you leave her here, to give our description to the police? It would mean certain capture in a few hours. This woman has got to be put where she can do no harm until we are safely over the frontier. It may be wiser to silence her altogether. We'll decide about that when we reach Lavillac's. The first thing is to get out of this house without losing a moment's time. Come!" He started for the door.
As he did so, Grace heard, far off, the steady throbbing of an automobile. She felt a wave of hope sweep over her. It might be her friends, coming to her assistance. If so, they might yet arrive in time.
The two men evidently also heard the sound. "Hurry – hurry!" the older one urged, as they began to descend the stairs. "They may be on us at any moment. Go out the rear way."
Grace heard the sounds of the approaching automobile growing more and more distinct. In another minute it would stop before the door of the house. But in that minute her captors would not only have been able to descend the stairs, but would already be making good their escape through the garden at the rear of the building.
She must do something, she knew, to prevent this; but what – what? Bound as she was, how could she hope to prevent the escape of these men. She looked ahead of her, to where, a step or two in advance, the man of the black beard was hastily descending the stairs, the boy firmly held in his arms. Behind her came his companion, candle in hand, close at her heels.
They were within half a dozen steps of the lower hall. From this she could see a dark passageway, leading to the rear of the house. Already the noise of the automobile without told her that it was stopping at the door. She heard the sound of rapid footsteps on the sidewalk; yet realized that, before her friends could break in, their quarry would have flown.
Without a moment's hesitation she sprang forward, throwing her whole weight upon the man in front of her.
The sudden shock, as she precipitated herself upon his shoulders, threw him off his balance, and he pitched forward headlong into the hallway below. The two of them, together with the child, rolled in a tangled heap to the floor. The second man, candle in hand, stopped on the stairs and gazed helplessly down, not realizing for a moment what had happened.
"Help! Help!" Grace screamed at the top of her voice, as she struggled to regain her feet, and at the same moment there came the sound of heavy blows upon the front door.
The man who had been carrying the child rose to his feet with an oath, just as his companion joined him. He turned on Grace with a howl of fury, and struck her a quick blow in the face. She had a confused vision of fleeing men, the dancing light of a candle, a rush of fresh air, and then all was blotted out in a wave of oblivion.
THE startling and dramatic entrance of Richard Duvall into Mr. Stapleton's library, ending with his announcement of the whereabouts of the kidnapped child, and his subsequent collapse, threw the entire party into confusion.
Mrs. Stapleton started up with a scream, her overwrought nerves no longer able to resist the frightful strain under which she had for so many days been laboring.
Her husband, who had completely forgotten the detective's presence in the house, in his anxious vigil at the telephone, called out instantly to one of the servants, ordering him to tell Fran?ois to bring his automobile to the door.
Monsieur Lefevre, accompanied by Vernet, sprang quickly to Duvall's assistance. The Prefect felt that, if the latter's statement was correct, he had won out in the long duel for the honor of recovering the kidnapped child; but no consideration of this nature could make him any less concerned for the detective's welfare, or any the less thankful that, no matter by whose efforts, the missing child had at last been located. He had hoped that to Grace Duvall would ultimately fall the prize of success; but these things were, after all, of no serious weight, compared with the great fact, that the success had at last come.
Assisted by Vernet, he placed Duvall upon a couch, and called for brandy, and a basin of cold water.
In a few moments, under Vernet's skilful ministrations, the detective's wound had been washed and temporarily bound up, and he had been restored to consciousness. A little of the brandy soon served to dispel his faintness. He declared himself ready to accompany the expedition to Passy.
The Prefect endeavored to dissuade him; but to no purpose. The message which he had received in the chauffeur's room, to the effect that the person calling for help was Grace Duvall, his own wife, seemed so mysterious, so utterly inexplicable to him, that he could conceive no reasonable explanation for it. There was but one thing to do, – to go himself and sift the matter to the bottom. He did not expect to find Grace there, and yet – what else could the message mean?
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