The Blue Lights: A Detective Story
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"Madame Duvall," he said, earnestly, "Monsieur Lefevre has cabled to his representatives in Washington a message. That message is contained in this envelope. I have instructions to deliver it to your husband immediately. In case I could not find him, I am to hand it to you. Permit, me, Madame." With a bow, he placed the message in her hand.
Grace took the envelope, broke the heavy seal which it bore, and drawing out a slip of paper, hastily read the contents. The message was from Monsieur Lefevre. It said:
Grace looked up at the man before her, the letter crumpled in her hand. Here was a message the urgency of which could not be denied. She knew that, had Richard been at home, he would have gone to Paris at once in response to it; for it was to Monsieur Lefevre that they in reality owed all their happiness. She recalled vividly their wedding, with the lovable old Frenchman, acting as her father for the occasion, giving away the bride. She remembered the farewell dinner at the Prefect's house, and the beautiful gift he had given her on that occasion. Evidently Monsieur Lefevre desired Richard's presence very greatly, and her own as well. The thought suddenly came to her – why not go to him?
True, Richard had left her in charge of things at home; but she knew that, for a reasonable time, at least, they would go on smoothly enough without her. Hendricks, the overseer, was a capable and honest man, devoted to her and to her husband.
She could safely leave matters in his charge. Then, too, the thought of surprising Richard on the steamer sailing the next day appealed to her sense of mischief. How astounded he would be, to find her strolling along the deck! And how delighted, too! She wondered that the thought of accompanying him had not occurred to her more strongly before. She turned to the man, who stood watching her narrowly.
"You know the contents of this message?"
"Yes, Madame," he bowed. "It came to us by cable – in cipher."
"There is a train for New York at midnight, and a steamer tomorrow morning."
"Can you drive me to Washington in your car?"
"I shall be delighted, Madame." The fellow's eyes sparkled with satisfaction.
"Very well. Mr. Duvall is in New York. I will take the message to him. Wait here, please, until I get some clothes together and give some orders to my servants."
In half an hour, the thing was done. Hendricks, the overseer, had been given full instructions regarding taking charge of the place, with provision for his needs in the way of money, etc., and by ten o'clock, at which time the New York sleeper was open, Grace was at the station, purchasing her ticket.
The obliging Frenchman gave her every assistance, and bade her bon voyage smilingly as he helped her aboard the train.She retired at once, and lay in her berth, reading a magazine, and picturing to herself Richard's mingled astonishment and joy at their meeting in the morning. This time, she was determined that their honeymoon should not be interrupted.
After a time, she fell asleep, and dreamed that she and Richard were sailing gaily toward Paris, in a large red touring car.
In the morning, she ate a hasty breakfast in the railway station, and took a taxicab for the steamship offices. By great good fortune, she was able to secure a cabin. Then she hastily visited a banking house where she was well known, provided herself with funds, and drove to the dock.
It wanted but half an hour till sailing time. Grace hastened to her stateroom, and busied herself in effacing the stains of her night of travel. She was determined to meet Richard looking her best.
It was not until the big steamer was passing through the Narrows that she came on deck, and began looking about for her husband. In all that crowd, she knew it would take time to find him. After searching for an hour, she felt somewhat surprised at not seeing him. After another hour had passed, her surprise turned to alarm. A hasty visit to the purser, and an examination of the sailing list, showed her the astonishing truth. Richard was not on board!
RICHARD DUVALL arrived in New York at half past one o'clock Thursday morning. Hodgman, Mr. Stapleton's secretary, had wired ahead the news of their coming, and the banker's limousine awaited them at the railway station. Fifteen minutes later they were ascending the steps of Mr. Stapleton's residence on Fifth Avenue.
Duvall had not been to the house before. His previous interviews with the banker had taken place at the latter's office, in Broad Street. He had no time now, however, to observe the luxury of his surroundings. Mr. Hodgman hurried him at once to the library, and in a few moments Mr. Stapleton had joined them.
He greeted Duvall with a nervous handshake, and thanked him for his prompt coming. He was clearly laboring under an intense mental strain.
"Mr. Hodgman has explained my reasons for sending for you, Mr. Duvall?" he inquired, sinking into a great leather-covered chair.
"Yes." Duvall nodded.
"Then you can appreciate my feelings." He sat in silence for several moments, looking gloomily at the floor.
"The devils! I wouldn't care if they were to steal my property – money, securities, anything like that. I can fight them – on that basis. But my child! Don't you see why your coming was of the utmost importance to me? I don't dare move against these rascals openly. If I do, they will threaten to retaliate by injuring my boy, and I am powerless. Whatever I do, must be done secretly. No one must know that you are in my employ. No one must know your object in going to Paris. You see that?"
"Most certainly. These fellows cannot hold you responsible for any moves the police authorities of Paris may make; over them you of course have no control. But if you make any efforts on your own account, any independent efforts, to recover your boy, they must by all means be made in secret."
"Exactly. You understand, then, what you are to do?"
"Yes. But first I must ask you, Mr. Stapleton, to give me some account of the affair. Mr. Hodgman has told me only that your son has been kidnapped. No doubt you have learned by this time how the thing was done."
"What I have learned, Mr. Duvall, convinces me of the importance of being on the ground at once. The affair, as cabled to me by my wife, is preposterous – absurd!" He again gazed at the floor in gloomy preoccupation.
"How so?" the detective inquired.
"I will tell you. My boy, who, as you know, is six years old, has been in the habit of driving, each morning, accompanied by his nurse, from my house in the Avenue Kleber, to the Bois de Boulogne. On arriving in the Bois, it has been their habit to leave the automobile in which they came, and spend an hour or more walking and playing on the grass. I have insisted on this, because the boy needs exercise, and he cannot get it driving about in a motor car."
"During this hour what becomes of the car?" asked Duvall.
"Our orders have been, of course, for the chauffeur to wait, within sight and call. I believe he has done so."
"Thank you. Go ahead."
"On Wednesday the nurse took Jack – the boy's name is Jack – to the Bois as usual. She played about with him on the grass for probably an hour. Then she sat down to rest. Jack was standing near her, playing with a rubber ball. She says – and, gentlemen, my wife cables me that she solemnly swears to the truth of her statements – that she turned away for a moment to observe passing vehicles in the road – turned back again to the child – and found that he was gone."
"Gone – but how?"
"How? That's the question. Here is this woman, sitting on the grass, with the child, a hundred yards from the road, in the middle of a large field of grass – a lawn. No one is within sight. The nearest person, it appears from her testimony, is the chauffeur, three hundred feet away, in the road. The woman turns her head for a moment, looks about – and the boy is gone. That is the story she tells, and which my wife has cabled to me. Do you wonder that I call it preposterous?"
"Hardly," remarked Duvall, with a grim smile. "The boy could not have vanished into thin air. The woman must be lying."
"That, Mr. Duvall, is what I cannot understand. I cannot believe that the woman is lying. My wife cannot believe it. She has been in our employ ever since the boy was born, and is devoted to him. Mrs. Stapleton cables that she is completely prostrated."
"But, Mr. Stapleton, you can hardly believe such a story! How could the child have been stolen, if her story is true? It is, as you say, preposterous."
"I do not say that the story is true, Mr. Duvall. I say that I do not think that Mary is lying. She is telling what she believes to be the truth. She turned her head for a moment – the boy was gone. That is what she says, and I believe her. The question is – how is it possible?"
"It isn't," Hodgman grunted.
"Everything is possible, Hodgman," said the banker, reprovingly. "The best proof of that, in this case, is that it has happened. What means were used, I cannot imagine; but the apparently impossible has happened. The boy is gone!"
"Is the nurse a young woman?" the detective inquired.
"About thirty, I should say."
"Yes. Of Irish parentage. Her name is Lanahan – Mary Lanahan."
"A New Yorker?"
"She comes from Paterson, New Jersey. Her people live there."
"Are there any other details – any other points of interest?"
"None, so far as I know. What I have told you, is what has been cabled to me by Mrs. Stapleton. She is naturally in a more or less hysterical condition. Nothing can be accomplished here. I want you to leave by today's steamer. I myself, I regret to say, cannot go until Saturday." He passed his hand nervously across his forehead. "Only matters of the most vital importance could keep me here at such a time, Mr. Duvall; but, unfortunately, such matters confront me now."
"Have you any reason to believe, Mr. Stapleton," Duvall inquired, "that the kidnapping is the act of persons from this side of the water? Have any such attempts been made in the past?"
Mr. Stapleton remained silent for sometime, buried in thought. Presently he spoke. "I am a rich man, Mr. Duvall – a very rich man. Men in my position are constantly in receipt of letters of a threatening nature. I have received many such letters, in the past."
"Was the matter of the child mentioned in any of them? Were threats made involving him?"
"There was one such letter."
"When did you receive it?"
"Last fall – perhaps six months ago."
"Have you the letter now?"
"May I see it?"
The banker rose, went to a heavy rosewood desk at one side of the room, drew open one of its drawers, and removed a steel despatch box. He opened it with a slender key and took out a package of letters. From these, after some hesitation, he selected one and silently handed it to Duvall.
The detective examined the letter carefully. It was enclosed in a cheap white envelope, such as are sold at all post offices, having the stamp printed on it. The letter itself was roughly printed in ink on a sheet of ruled paper evidently torn from an ordinary five-cent pad. It said:
There was no signature to the letter. Duvall read it through with great care, then turned to Mr. Stapleton.
"You have observed, I suppose, that the place to which the money was to be sent, Paterson, New Jersey, is the home of your child's nurse, Mary Lanahan."
Mr. Stapleton started. "I confess," he said "that, in the agitated state of mind into which this affair has thrown me, I had completely overlooked the coincidence. What do you infer from it?"
"Only this, Mr. Stapleton, that Mary Lanahan may know more about this matter than she is willing to let on. I must keep this letter for the present."
"Very well." The banker nodded. "It may prove a valuable clue."
"Possibly. And further, Mr. Stapleton, I shall not sail by today's steamer."
"But – why not?" Stapleton sat up in his chair in surprise. "You will lose two days."
"I do not think they will be lost. I must make some investigations in Paterson, before I leave here. Please give me, if you can, the address of Mary Lanahan's parents."
Mr. Stapleton frowned. "I am not sure that I can do so, Mr. Duvall. My wife has charge of these matters. But I recollect having heard that her father, Patrick Lanahan, is a florist in a small way, and no doubt you can readily locate him. But I fear you will be losing valuable time."
Duvall rose. "I feel, as you do, Mr. Stapleton, that I should be in Paris at the earliest possible moment; but I think you will agree with me that some investigations on this side before I go are absolutely necessary, and may prove of inestimable value afterwards."
Mr. Stapleton was silent for several minutes. Presently he raised his head. "Under the circumstances, Mr. Duvall, I am forced to admit the truth of what you say. Conduct your investigations as quickly as possible, however; for we must positively sail by Saturday's boat."
"I shall be ready then." Duvall took up his hat. "Now I think I had better get a few hours' sleep, and in the morning I will make an early start for Paterson." He bowed to the banker and Mr. Hodgman. "Good night, gentlemen. I shall see you both on Saturday morning. The steamer sails shortly after noon, I believe. Suppose I come here at ten o'clock, and let you know what I have learned?"
Mr. Stapleton rose. "If I receive any further news of importance from Paris, Mr. Duvall, I will advise you at your hotel. Where are you stopping?"
Duvall gave the name of a Times Square hotel at which he usually stopped, and with a quick "good night" left the house.
It was shortly after nine o'clock the next morning when he descended from the train at Paterson, and going to a nearby drug store, consulted the directory for the address of Patrick Lanahan. He found it without difficulty, and, by means of an electric car, was soon before the florist's door.
The place was situated on the outskirts of the town, and consisted of a small, rather mean-looking cottage, from which spread out on each side, like the two wings of an a?roplane, the long glass greenhouses.
A little gate opened to a short brick path, leading to the front door of the house.
Duvall went up the path and rang the door bell. A wholesome-looking Irish woman, of perhaps fifty, opened the door, and, in response to his questions, told him that her husband, Patrick, was out in the garden at the rear of the house, busy with his plants.
She directed the detective along a narrow areaway at the side of the house, and in a moment reappeared at the back door.
"Pat," she called. "Oh, Pat! Here's a gentleman to see you."
A short, heavy-set man, with gray hair and mustache and a ruddy and weatherbeaten face, arose from among a litter of flower pots and bulbs.
"What can I do for you, sir?" he asked, coming forward and wiping his hands upon his overalls.
The detective studied the man before him intently. The honest and clear-looking eyes told him nothing that was not favorable.
"I came to ask you a few questions, Mr. Lanahan."
"Questions, is it? About what?" The blue eyes showed a sudden flare of suspicion.
"About yourself, and your family."
"Who may you be, then? Is it the tax man?"
Duvall smiled. "Not the tax man," he said. "I represent a firm of lawyers in Washington. My name is Johnson."
Lanahan, still suspicious, pointed to a couple of kitchen chairs that stood on the brick-paved yard beneath a trellis covered with hop vines. "Sit down, sir. I'll have a smoke, if you don't mind." He began to fill his short clay pipe. "What would lawyers in Washington be wantin' with me?"
"That is what I wish to find out, Mr. Lanahan. We – my firm – have been advised that a certain Michael Lanahan, of Dublin, recently died, leaving a large estate. We are trying to find his heirs. Tell me something about yourself and your family."
The look of suspicion and reserve which the old man had up to this time shown faded from his face, and was replaced by a smile of incredulity. "Money, is it?" he laughed. "Mary – that's my wife – has been seein' bubbles in her tay for the week past. What is it you would know?"
"Are you from Dublin?"
"Me father was. I was born right here in Jersey, meself."
"What was his name?"
"Patrick, the same as me own. But he had a brother, Mike."
"Ah. It may be the same." Duvall pretended a sudden interest. "His business?"
"Mike's? Faith – I never heard he had any, lest it was drinkin' all the good liquor he could lay his hands on."
Duvall pretended to make a series of entries in his notebook. "Now about yourself, Mr. Lanahan. Have you any children? Of course, should there be any money coming to you, they would share in it."
"Children, is it? I have two."
"One is a boy – a man be now, I should say. He's in the city – workin'. His name is Barney."
"What does he do?"
Lanahan looked up with a quick frown. "The last I heard tell, he was tendin' bar, Mr. Johnson – over at Callahan's saloon, on the Bowery. He's wild – wild – like me uncle Mike, I should say."
"And the other?"
The old man's face took on a contented look. "The other is me daughter Mary, bless her. She's nurse in the family of old man Stapleton, the millionaire."
Duvall closed his book. "I see," he remarked, pleasantly. "She's not married, I suppose?"
"Mary? Divil a bit! For a time, she was sweet on a French chuffer that worked for Mr. Stapleton; but the fellow's gone, now, and she's clane forgot him. That was near a year ago."
"Ah, yes. Do you happen to remember his name?"
"Alphonse, it was – Alphonse Valentin, or some such joke of a name. A comic valentine he was, too, with his dinky little mustache and his cigarettes." He laughed loudly. "Imagine my Mary, married to a gink like that!"
Duvall replaced his notebook in his pocket and rose. "I'm mightily obliged to you, Mr. Lanahan. We will advise you at once, if our investigations show that you are related to the Michael Lanahan whose fortune is in our hands. I'm obliged to you for your courtesy."
The florist nodded. "You're welcome, sir. I guess them Lanahan's must be a different breed. I never heard tell of any of my people makin' any fortune. Good day, sir." He turned to his work, chuckling.
Duvall rode back to the station, and took the first train for New York. It was clear that Mary Lanahan's parents had nothing in common with blackmailers and kidnappers. Their honesty was as evident as the blueness of their eyes, or the redness of their hair. But the information about Alphonse Valentin, the chauffeur, and Barney, Mr. Lanahan's son, seemed more promising.
It was close to one o'clock when Duvall arrived at Callahan's saloon, on the Bowery, near Canal Street. Here a disappointment awaited him. Barney Lanahan had thrown up his job and left two months before. Callahan had no idea where he had gone. He had not been about the place since. A negro porter volunteered the information that he had seen the man entering the Broadway saloon of an ex-prizefighter some weeks before; but, beyond that, Duvall could learn nothing.
After a hasty luncheon he went to his office on Union Square, where his unexpected appearance caused his assistants unlimited surprise. He directed them to locate Barney Lanahan at the earliest possible moment. He then called up Mr. Stapleton's secretary, Mr. Hodgman, and inquired about the chauffeur.
Mr. Hodgman informed him that the banker had employed Valentin in Paris some eighteen months previous, and had brought him to this country, where he had remained in his employ for about six months. He had been discharged, through some dishonesty in the matter of purchasing supplies, and nothing further had been seen or heard of him.
Duvall, on receiving this information, proceeded at once to the office of the French line, and asked permission to inspect their passenger lists for the past year. He concluded that if Valentin had anything to do with the kidnapping of Mr. Stapleton's boy, he was, in all probability, in Paris, and, if so, would almost certainly have crossed by this line. He was therefore not at all surprised to find the name of Alphonse Valentin among those sailing during the preceding March.
There was little more that he could accomplish, now, beyond writing a long letter to Grace, whom he naturally supposed to be patiently awaiting his return in the country. He had a short interview with Mr. Hodgman in the evening, and was lucky enough to secure a photograph of Alphonse Valentin, the chauffeur, taken at the steering wheel of his machine. The car had, it seemed, been photographed, along with a party of guests, by a friend of Mr. Stapleton's with a leaning toward amateur photography. Duvall placed the photograph among his belongings with a smile of satisfaction. He felt that his delay had been by no means unprofitable.
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