The Blue Lights: A Detective Story
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Just as he staggered to his feet, with the announcement that he would accompany the party to Passy, two of the servants rushed into the library, and with scared faces announced that Fran?ois lay, bound and unconscious, on the floor of his room. Mr. Stapleton looked quickly at Duvall.
"It's all right, Mr. Stapleton," exclaimed the detective. "The fellow is one of the gang." He turned to Monsieur Lefevre. "You'd better have him placed under arrest at once. And if your car is here, we'll use that, instead of Mr. Stapleton's. There's not a moment to be lost."
"By all means. My automobile is at the door. Vernet," he turned to his assistant, "have one of your men take charge of this fellow Fran?ois at once. We must set out immediately."
Mr. Stapleton took his wife in his arms, and embraced her tenderly. "Don't worry, dear," he said. "I'll be back with the boy, inside of half an hour. Come along!" he shouted to the others, as he made for the door. "No time to waste now."
In a few moments the entire party, consisting of Mr. Stapleton, Duvall, Monsieur Lefevre, Vernet, and the Prefect's chauffeur, were driving toward Passy at a rate which set at naught all speed regulations and sent the few pedestrians who happened to cross their path scampering to the sidewalk for safety.
Duvall explained, as they went along, the mysterious messages which he had received by flashlight. No one understood them but Monsieur Lefevre. He gave a great sigh of relief. The continued and unexplained absence of Grace had alarmed him greatly. Now he began to understand the reasons for it. That part of Duvall's story which spoke of haste, the appeal for prompt assistance, made him look grave. He leaned over to his chauffeur and urged him to even greater speed.
The trees and houses along the Avenue Kleber, and later the Rue Franklin, swept by the speeding machine in a whirl of dust. In what seemed an incredibly short time the automobile dashed into the Rue Nicolo, and thundered up to No. 42.
Vernet was the first to ascend the steps of the house, closely followed by Duvall and the others of the party. As they reached the front door, and rapped loudly, they all heard a sudden commotion within, followed by cries and shouts and a fall. Instantly all four threw their combined weight against the door, shattering the lock and bursting it in.
The semidarkness showed a terrifying spectacle. On the floor lay a woman, unconscious, clutching in her arms a child, trapped in a long gray coat. Down the dark hallway leading to the rear of the house dashed the figures of two men. One of them turned, as the attacking party entered, and hurled the lighted candle which he bore full into their faces. The entire scene was instantly plunged into darkness.
The momentary light of the candle, however, had been sufficient to send a thrill of joy through at least one of the entering party. Mr. Stapleton recognized, in the white and tearful face of the child, his kidnapped boy, and, stooping, raised him tenderly in his arms.
Duvall, not knowing whether the unconscious woman was the supposed agent of the police, Mademoiselle Goncourt, or Grace, his wife, lifted her in his arms and carried her out into the air.
Vernet, followed by the Prefect, and the chauffeur, who had at once joined them, dashed fearlessly along the dark passage by which the two men were attempting to escape.
There was a crash, as the rear door was burst out, followed by a volley of shots as Vernet opened upon the fleeing men with his automatic revolver.
In a moment the affair was over.The foremost of the two men crumpled up before he had taken half a dozen strides through the garden, and his companion raised his hands and surrendered, begging for mercy. Within a few moments he was handcuffed, and Vernet, bending over his wounded companion, was directing the chauffeur to summon an ambulance at once.
Monsieur Lefevre returned hastily to the street. His sole concern now was for Grace. He prayed fervently that no serious harm had befallen her, and realized that Duvall was likely to resent bitterly the deception which has been practised upon him.
The latter, however, was in no mood for recriminations. No sooner had he carried his unconscious burden to the street, when Grace opened her eyes, threw her arms about his neck, and kissed him.
"Richard – Richard!" she cried, happily. "I'm so glad – so glad!" then rested content in his arms.
The detective's brain was in a whirl. In no possible way could he account for the presence here, in Paris, under such tragic and inexplicable circumstances, of the wife whom he had left, so short a time before, peacefully sitting on the rosecovered porch of their home in Maryland. The thing seemed incredible, unbelievable; yet here was Grace, with her soft arms about his neck, her kisses on his lips, to prove its reality.
He looked at Monsieur Lefevre dully as the latter joined them upon the sidewalk, but could say nothing.
"It seems," remarked the Prefect, with a grave smile, "that not only has Mr. Stapleton found his boy, but you have found your wife."
Duvall frowned. "What is she doing here?" he asked.
"We will speak of that later, my friend," observed Lefevre, quietly. "Just at present I propose that we return to Mr. Stapleton's without a moment's delay. Her heart is breaking with anxiety." He took Grace's arm and assisted her to enter the automobile, where Mr. Stapleton had already preceded them with his son. "It is to you, my dear child," he said to Grace, as she sunk weakly back upon the cushioned seat, "that Mrs. Stapleton will owe all her happiness."
It was a cheerful party that broke in upon the banker's wife a short time later. Duvall, under the stimulus of Grace's presence, had completely forgotten his wound; while Grace, who had been but momentarily stunned by the blow which the kidnapper had given her, was radiant with joy at once more feeling her husband's arms about her.
Monsieur Lefevre carried them both off to his house, as soon as the boy had been restored to his mother. The happiness of the banker's reunited family was too great to permit them to be even mildly interested in the affairs of Richard Duvall and his wife, and they, too, wished to be alone. It seemed to them both as though ages had passed since they had seen each other; they could scarcely realize that it had been but a little over two weeks. Richard especially seemed unable to grasp the truth of the situation. He plied Grace with numberless questions, and could scarcely believe that he had actually been within arm's length of her on at least four different occasions during the past week without knowing it.
Monsieur Lefevre advised him to leave the whole matter until the next day. "You should be proud of your wife, Monsieur," he said, gravely. "But for her, I doubt if Monsieur Stapleton would ever have seen his boy again. And that reminds me," he smiled mischievously, "that I have won that little bet. It was Mademoiselle Goncourt, of my office, that recovered the lost child."
"I think the honors are pretty evenly divided, Monsieur," laughed Grace, happily, as she pressed her husband's hand. "Don't forget that if Richard hadn't gotten my message, all my work would have gone for nothing."
"Suppose we call it a draw, then," said the Prefect. "All in the family, as you Americans say. And to show that I am not prejudiced, one way or the other, I suggest that you both, with Mr. and Mrs. Stapleton, dine with me tomorrow evening. There are many points connected with this case which are by no means cleared up, and we should talk them over. Although we have secured the missing child, and three of the kidnappers, we do not yet know how the child was stolen, or whether the nurse, Mary Lanahan, is innocent or guilty of any part in his mysterious disappearance in the Bois de Boulogne. I confess that I have all along considered her guilty, and am inclined to order her arrest at once."
"It will be useless, Monsieur," remarked Duvall, quietly. "She is entirely innocent."
"You mean that she knows nothing of how the boy was spirited away?"
"Mon Dieu! Then the thing may forever remain a mystery."
"Not at all. It is simple enough."
Monsieur Lefevre turned to him with a look of inquiry. "You mean, then, that you have solved it?"
"Then may I ask that you will be good enough to explain it at once?"
Duvall laughed. "Monsieur Lefevre," he said, "I have a splitting headache, a bad wound in my cheek, and a burning desire to spend the next two hours talking to my wife." He drew Grace toward him, and put his arm through hers. "I am very much afraid that the explanation of the disappearance of Mr. Stapleton's boy will have to be put off until tomorrow."
Monsieur Lefevre watched the two as they went, arm in arm, up the stairs.
"Mon Dieu!" he said softly to himself. "They are just as much in love with each other as ever."
I MUST confess," remarked Monsieur Lefevre, as he sat with Mr. Stapleton and Duvall over their after dinner cigars the following evening, "that while the case as a whole appears simple enough to me, there are one or two points that I fail to understand."
"There are a great many that I fail to understand," exclaimed the banker, chewing reflectively on his cigar. "However, now that the boy is safe at home, it really makes very little difference."
"On the contrary, Mr. Stapleton," remarked Duvall, "it makes a great deal of difference. For instance, I understand that you have discharged the nurse, Mary Lanahan."
"Yes. You say that she is quite innocent of any part in the kidnapping of my boy; but the fact remains that I don't trust her. I am informed that she was married to that fellow, Valentin, this afternoon."
Duvall smiled. "That was quite to be expected."
"At one time," said Mr. Stapleton, "you believed this fellow Valentin to have been concerned in the plot."
"Yes. That is true. My early investigations of the matter showed me at once that there was some understanding between these two, something which they were endeavoring to conceal. I did not at first understand the motive which actuated them. I thought it was guilt. In reality, it was love. Therefore I am not surprised to learn of their marriage." He gazed critically at his cigar for a time, in silence.
"As matters have turned out, gentlemen," he resumed, after a few moments, "there is no cause for anything but congratulation on all hands. The child is recovered, the criminals are under arrest, the money – the hundred thousand dollars you paid out, Mr. Stapleton – was found on the kidnapper's person and returned to you."
"Exactly. Nothing could be more satisfactory all around."
"And yet," went on the detective, "I have never before taken part in a case in which I have done so little, in which I have been so uniformly unsuccessful."
Mr. Stapleton raised his hand. "My dear Duvall," he began, "but for you, we should have been nowhere."
"You are wrong, my friend. Had I kept out of the case altogether, your son would have been returned to you just the same. It is true that the men who kidnapped him would not have been caught, and your money would not have been returned to you; but the prime object which you sought, the recovery of your child, would have been realized in any event."
"That is true," remarked the Prefect; "but, from the standpoint of the police, it is the detection and capture of the criminal that is desired, not the buying of him off. By insisting on that, Mr. Stapleton, you rendered our work extremely difficult."
"So difficult, indeed," said Duvall, earnestly, "that but for the energy, the courage, the wit of a woman, all our plans would have failed. I refer to my wife. It is to her that all the credit in this affair is due."
"By all means!" said Mr. Stapleton. "I could not fail to realize, when she told her story at dinner tonight, how much Mrs. Stapleton and myself owe her. I shall have something to say on the subject of our debt, as soon as the ladies rejoin us. But tell us, Mr. Duvall, a little more about the case, as you now understand it. I confess that I am becoming more and more interested. What, for instance, was the mystery, if indeed there was any, connected with the box of gold-tipped cigarettes?"
Duvall smiled. "That, my dear sir, is in fact the crux, the starting point, of the whole affair." He settled back in his chair comfortably. "Otherwise the case was simple enough. Certain scoundrels steal a child, hold it for ransom, and frighten the parents into paying over a large sum. Nothing unusual in that. A clever scheme or two for turning the money over, and returning the child – simple, yet perfect enough to defy all attempts to foil them.
"The real mystery lay in the utter absence of any clues which would throw light on the actual stealing of the child. In this respect the case was unique. A trusted nurse swears that the child has disappeared in broad daylight, without the slightest knowledge of how it was accomplished. Here we have a case so simple, so devoid of incident of any sort, that we are baffled at the very start by the impossibility of the thing. Yet the nurse is a woman of good reputation, honest, clearly telling what she believes to be the truth.
"But a single clue existed upon which I could build the least semblance of a case. I refer to the half-smoked cigarette with the gold tip, which I discovered in the grass at the scene of the crime. Without that apparently trivial clue, the criminals would in all probability never have been captured at all."
"But," exclaimed Mr. Stapleton, "I don't see how you make that out."
"Nor I," observed the Prefect.
"No. I suppose not. And yet, it is simple enough. That half-smoked cigarette and nothing else is the basic reason for the arrest of the three men now in your hands."
Monsieur Lefevre smiled. "Be good enough," he said, "to explain."
"Very well, I will. But first, let me indicate to you my course of reasoning. When I originally found the cigarette, I regarded it as of very small value, from the standpoint of evidence. It happened to be lying in the grass at the point where the crime occurred; but during the week or more which had elapsed between the stealing of the boy and my examination of the ground, a hundred people might have walked over the spot. I took it, because I realized that it might have a bearing on the case, and I have learned to discard no clue, however trifling it may appear, until it has been proven valueless.
"Now to go back to the cigarette, I observed at once that it was of American make, yet of such small size as to have been either used by a woman, or by a man of rather effeminate taste.
"Now if the cigarette had been used by a woman, it meant one of two things. Either it was used by Mary Lanahan herself, in which case it apparently proved nothing, or by some other woman who was there with her, and who might have had a hand in the kidnapping.
"On the other hand, if used by a man, it pointed clearly to the chauffeur, Valentin, for several reasons. He was a friend, a former lover, of the nurse. He had been discharged by Mr. Stapleton for dishonesty. He was, I had reason to know, of rather a weak and effeminate type. The cigarette was of American make, and he had but recently come from America. These things pointed to Valentin. The fact that the nurse was in love with him would cause her to shield him. I determined to try the matter out at once.
"As soon as I returned to the house, therefore, I confronted her, and asked her if Valentin smoked gold-tipped cigarettes. I did this, not because I expected to get any reply of value, but because I wished to observe her manner, her face, when I flung the question at her.
"She was greatly startled. She denied that Valentin smoked. Fifteen minutes later, she sent him a message to destroy the cigarettes.
"I at once concluded that they were working together, and were both guilty, a conclusion in which, however much I was justified by the evidence, I was quite wrong.
"Then came the attempt on the part of someone – the man with the black beard, I am told – to steal the cigarettes from Valentin. I learned that the man was followed to Mr. Stapleton's house.
"This at once threw a new light upon the matter, although I will admit a confusing one. Someone else, besides the nurse, desired the box of cigarettes removed as evidence; someone, in fact, who belonged to, or had friends in, the house. Who could this be? I could think of no one, outside of Mary Lanahan herself, but the chauffeur, Fran?ois."
"Why did you first suspect him?" asked Mr. Stapleton.
"Because he was the only person, besides the nurse, who was present at the time of the kidnapping. I did not abandon my suspicions of either the nurse or Valentin. I fully believed that they knew a great deal more about the affair than they admitted. But I became convinced that Fran?ois, too, was in the thing. He had testified that he was asleep when the affair occurred. I concluded at once that he was lying.
"At the first opportunity, therefore, I made a thorough search of his room, and found the box of cigarettes hidden in a clock on his mantel."
"Ha! I did not know that," exclaimed the Prefect. "What were they doing there?"
"I concluded that the fellow with the black beard who stole them from Valentin, in order to prevent their use as evidence against him, turned them over to Fran?ois for a definite purpose."
"And that purpose was?"
"Their use in subsequent crimes of a similar nature."
Mr. Stapleton and the Prefect gazed at Duvall in bewilderment. "Explain yourself, my friend," exclaimed the latter. "I confess I do not understand what you are talking about. Who, may I ask, really smoked the cigarette, the remains of which you found in the grass?"
"Mary Lanahan," said the detective, with a smile.
"The nurse! Name of a dog! Then I fail to see that the matter is of the slightest importance one way or the other."
"On the contrary, Monsieur, it is of the greatest importance. May I ask whether you are, by any chance, familiar with the properties of an Eastern drug, made from hemp, and generally known as hashish?"
The Prefect sat up suddenly, and clapped his hands to his knees. "Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed. "Now I begin to understand."
"More than I do," said Mr. Stapleton.
"The cigarettes were drugged, that is all," went on Duvall. "The men who planned this thing went to work very carefully. They ascertained, through Fran?ois, that Mary Lanahan was in the habit, no doubt on the sly, of using cigarettes. I discovered the fact, myself, before I left New York. They also learned that she smoked the same brand as Mrs. Stapleton herself used. No doubt she helped herself from Mrs. Stapleton's supply. They therefore secured, also through Fran?ois, a box of these cigarettes, and had them heavily drugged with hashish. The box of drugged cigarettes was substituted, later on, for her own."
"But," exclaimed Mr. Stapleton, "how could Mary Lanahan swear that she turned away but a moment – that no one came near her?"
"When Mary Lanahan testified that, she believed that she was telling the truth. The hashish had simply destroyed her conception of the passage of time."
"Is that its effect?"
"Yes. It produces a delightful languor, a stupor in which all realization of the passage of time ceases. Sometimes, to those who use the drug, it may apparently require hours to walk a few yards. To make a momentary movement of the hand may seem to take many minutes. On the other hand, in the stupor which the drug induces, hours may be spent in the contemplation of a flower, a bit of scenery, the page of a book, without any realization on the part of the user that more than a few seconds have elapsed. That is what happened to Mary Lanahan. She inhaled a few puffs of the cigarette, heavily charged with the drug; without knowing, of course, of its presence. She probably passed at once into a state of stupor which may have extended over fifteen minutes or more. She was not unconscious. She sat upon the grass, looking off toward the distant sky, in a waking dream, not unlike a trance, in which all the world about her – the world of sound, of movement – had simply ceased to exist. She was to all intents and purposes unconscious of what was going on about her. The kidnapper, whom I strongly suspect to be Fran?ois, merely strolled up behind her, picked up the boy, and walked off with him."
The detective's listeners looked at him in astonishment. Presently Mr. Stapleton spoke. "Why do you think it was Fran?ois?" he asked.
"Oh, for many reasons. Had he, on approaching, found the nurse not sufficiently under the influence of the drug, he could have pretended to wish to speak to her, on some trivial matter. Again, the child would go away with him of course without making an outcry, which he would probably not have done, with a stranger. There are other reasons. He no doubt took the boy to the road, and handed him to his confederates, passing in another car. The affair occurred, you will remember, in a little frequented part of the Bois.
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