The Blue Lights: A Detective Story
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It would take at least ten minutes, perhaps more, for the man from the Prefecture to reach the house even though he came by automobile, as he no doubt would. What should she do, to keep the man in the reception room from leaving before the police should arrive?
The question was solved for her, quite unexpectedly. In opening the door of the small room, to re-enter the library, she accidentally struck against a chair. The sound aroused both Mr. Stapleton and his visitor. The former, who had, in his excitement, completely forgotten Grace's presence, appeared at once in the doorway between the two rooms. "Come here, Miss Goncourt," he said sternly.
Grace entered the reception room. The man with the black beard eyed her keenly. "Ah – a representative of the police, I believe. Our conversation has been overheard, then, Monsieur Stapleton?"
The banker was violently angry. He turned to Grace. "You have heard?" he demanded.
"Then I insist that you do not interfere in the matter in any way. I intend to get my boy back this time, in spite of you all."
Grace made no reply. She saw the man with the black beard eying her keenly. "I think, Monsieur, that I had better go," he remarked.
Grace regarded him with a level look. "You cannot leave this house," she said. "It is being watched. If you attempt to do so, I will give the alarm."
"And for what reason should I stay?" the man inquired calmly.
"I have telephoned to the Prefecture. A man will be here in a few minutes, to place you under arrest. I advise you to remain here quietly until he arrives."
The kidnapper strolled over to the window which overlooked the Avenue Kleber, drew aside the curtain, and looked out. Grace wondered if he was making a signal of any sort to confederates outside. He gazed into the street intently for a moment, then turned back toward the center of the room. "I shall follow your advice, Mademoiselle, and wait," he remarked, calmly.
Mr. Stapleton was speechless with rage. He dared not do anything; for he knew that he would only lay himself open to a charge of resisting the police, and helping a criminal to escape. He sat in his chair, inwardly cursing Grace and the entire police force of Paris as well.
None of the three spoke for a considerable time. After what seemed to Grace ages, she heard the faint ringing of the doorbell, and presently the frightened servant arrived, with the information that a detective from the Prefecture was in the hall, and desired to see Mr. Stapleton immediately. He had scarcely succeeded in delivering this message, when a heavily built man in citizen's clothes shouldered past him into the room.
He gazed quickly about. Grace did not remember having ever seen him before. "I am from the Prefect of Police," he announced, striding toward the kidnapper. "I am here to arrest this man." In a moment the click of the handcuffs, as he snapped them upon the wrists of the man with the black beard, came to Grace's ears.
The kidnapper smiled pleasantly."I am quite ready to accompany you, my friend," he said.
Mr. Stapleton was regarding the scene in helpless rage. He resented bitterly the way in which the police continually interfered with his plans to get back his child. In one way, he was glad to feel that the guilty man was under arrest; but, if it resulted in the death of the missing boy, it would be a tragedy, indeed. He turned to the man with the black beard who stood, smiling, near the door. "I hope you will understand," he said, "that I have nothing to do with this matter – nothing whatever. The presence of this woman here was a pure accident. I had forgotten that she was in the next room. I'd be glad enough to see you put behind the bars for the rest of your life; but not if it is going to prevent me from getting back my child."
The man with the black beard continued to smile pleasantly. "I believe you, my friend," he said. "However, there is no harm done. When I return tomorrow night – for I shall return, depend upon it, in spite of the efforts of this gentleman," he waved his hand lightly toward the man from the Prefecture, "I trust that you will have persuaded Monsieur Lefevre, and your man Duvall as well, to let me do so in peace. It is the only way in which anything can be accomplished – I assure you of that." He turned to his captor. "I am ready to accompany you, Monsieur."
The officer started toward the door leading into the hall. He had taken but a single step when the servant, with a frightened look upon his face, appeared in the doorway. "Mr. Stapleton," he stammered, "there is a man here from the office of the Prefect of Police."
Stapleton strode toward the door. "Another?" he exclaimed. "What does this mean?"
The man in charge of the kidnapper stepped forward, speaking in a quick, low tone. "Leave the matter to me, Monsieur," he whispered. "This fellow who has just arrived is an impostor, a confederate. He pretends to be an agent of the police, in order to rescue his comrade, who has undoubtedly signaled to him from the window. Be good enough to step into that room," he pointed to the library, "and let me deal with him."
Mr. Stapleton hesitated. "What do you propose to do?" he asked.
"Quick!" said the other, offering no explanations. "He will be here at once." He turned to the astonished servant. "Bring the man in."
The puzzled banker moved toward the adjoining room. "You will accompany him, please," the Prefect's man said to Grace. "There may be danger."
"I am not afraid, Monsieur," replied Grace, who did not entirely like the way things were going.
The man, however, paid no attention to her remonstrances. "Go – at once, I command you, in the name of the law!"
She hesitated no longer, but followed Mr. Stapleton into the library. As she did so, the new arrival entered the reception room.
The man with the black beard stood to one side of the doorway. His captor advanced toward the newcomer. "I have him here," he exclaimed, pointing to the kidnapper, "safely ironed."
"Who are you?" curtly inquired the man who had just entered the room.
"A private detective. Here is your man. Let us get him out of here at once."
The official made no reply, but stepped quickly up to the man with the black beard. "Come along with me," he said, roughly, and placed his hand upon the other's arm.
As he did so, the kidnapper shook his wrists briskly. The handcuffs fell clattering to the floor. Without a word he threw his powerful arms about the neck of the astonished official, and throttled him into instant silence. His companion, no less quick, whipped out a handkerchief, and knotted it about the official's mouth. He was unable to utter a sound.
The whole thing was so quickly done that Grace, who was watching the room through the curtains in the doorway, had barely time to utter a cry, before the newcomer was lying helpless and silent upon the floor, choked into insensibility; while the two men, quite evidently confederates, made ready to go.
The black-bearded fellow quickly replaced the handcuffs upon his own wrists. "Quick, Ramond," he cried. "Let us get out at once."
Grace was by this time in the room. She knew that she must in some way prevent these men from escaping. But how – how? They glared at her ominously. The younger man drew a revolver. Before any of them could speak, the servant appeared in the doorway for the third time. His face was pale as death. His knees knocked together from terror as he beheld the gleaming revolver, the man lying upon the floor.
"Monsieur Duvall is here!" he gasped, and stood silent.
The man on the floor, recovering his senses, began to struggle to his feet. As he did so, Duvall pushed his way past the frightened servant and strode into the room.
"Quick, Monsieur Duvall!" the fellow with the revolver cried. "I am from the Prefecture. I have one of the kidnappers in irons. The other," he pointed to the struggling man on the floor, "is about to escape me. Give me your assistance at once!"
Grace was so astounded by the sudden entrance of her husband, as well as by the kidnapper's words, that for a moment she remained speechless. Duvall bent over the man upon the floor and seized him by the throat.
"Richard! Richard!" Grace screamed, forgetful of Monsieur Lefevre and her own disguise. "Look out!"
Almost before the words had left her lips, the man with the revolver brought it down with a dull thud upon Duvall's head as he bent over the prostrate man; then, grasping his companion by the arm, he rushed from the room.
"Richard! Richard!" screamed Grace, throwing her arms about the senseless body of her husband.
Mr. Stapleton, who had entered the room, regarded her in amazement. "What are you doing?" he exclaimed.
Grace rose, her face white with suffering. "A doctor, quick! He is hurt! My God – don't you see? He is hurt!" As she spoke, she fell back, fainting, to the floor.
WHEN Richard Duvall returned to consciousness, an hour later, he lay upon a couch in Mr. Stapleton's library. A doctor, hastily summoned, was bending over him. Mr. Stapleton sat grimly in an arm chair. There was no one else in the room.
"My wife! Is she here?" the detective cried, as he tried to rise.
The doctor pushed him gently back. "Compose yourself, Monsieur," he said in a soothing voice. "You are not badly hurt. Merely stunned for the moment. A slight cut – that is all. You will be quite yourself again in half an hour."
"But my wife!" He gazed eagerly about the room.
"What do you mean, Duvall?" inquired Mr. Stapleton, calmly. "Why do you think your wife is here?"
"A trace of delirium. He will be all right in a few moments. Very usual in such cases," the doctor whispered.
"I heard her voice. She called to me by name, just as that fellow struck me."
"My dear sir, your mind is wandering. Compose yourself, I beg." The doctor attempted to press his patient back upon the pillows.
Duvall passed his hand over his forehead, completely bewildered. "I could have sworn I heard her voice," he cried.
"It was Miss Goncourt, the young woman from the Prefecture, that you heard, Duvall," remarked Mr. Stapleton quietly. He did not tell the detective that Grace, on recovering from her faint, and learning from the doctor that Richard's wound was a superficial one only, and not at all serious, had sworn them both to secrecy, on the plea that the matter was a purely private one, and likely to cause her great unhappiness if divulged. Mr. Stapleton had agreed, but had done so only upon her agreeing not to acquaint the police with his plans for the following night.
She had suddenly conceived a violent animosity toward these fellows who had not only baffled both her husband and herself, but had made the former a victim of a dangerous assault. She was determined to go to work in desperate earnest, to capture them, or locate the child, before the following evening. She had promised Mr. Stapleton not to acquaint Monsieur Lefevre with the plan for returning the child which the man with the black beard had proposed. The situation put her on her mettle. She determined to get at the bottom of the whole affair before another twenty-four hours had passed. Upon leaving the house she called a taxicab, and at once ordered the chauffeur to drive her to the point on the Versailles road where, according to Valentin, she had been placed in the automobile after her interview with the kidnappers. Here, she believed, lay the starting point of the whole mysterious affair.
Duvall, his consciousness returning, insisted upon getting up from the couch, and going to work with equal determination. The way in which he had been checkmated, in the whole affair, roused him, as well, to desperation. His professional skill, upon which the banker had set such great store, seemed to have deserted him. He felt humiliated, ashamed. In three days, he had accomplished nothing whatever. It was galling in the extreme.
Mr. Stapleton's explanations of his hallucination regarding his wife he accepted as true. The resemblance which Miss Goncourt bore to Grace, together with his constant thoughts of her, were, he argued, no doubt responsible for it. The blow upon the head made his recollections of the moments immediately preceding and following the assault extremely hazy. He put the matter out of his mind, and set to work with renewed energy.
So far, it seemed, he had met with but a single clue of any importance, – the cigarette with the gold tip which he had found in the Bois de Boulogne. He determined to follow this clue until he arrived at some definite result.
As soon as the doctor had departed after dressing the wound in his head, Duvall took a stiff drink of brandy, and, sitting down with Mr. Stapleton at the latter's desk, began to reconstruct, as far as he could, all the details of the kidnapping. He spoke his thoughts aloud, taking Mr. Stapleton into his confidence, since in this way he could most readily get his ideas into concrete form.
"Mr. Stapleton, I am, I confess, greatly humiliated at the progress, or lack of progress, which I have made in this case so far. I have made up my mind, however, to get these fellows, if it takes me the rest of the summer."
"You will have to work more quickly than that, Mr. Duvall," observed the banker coldly. "I have made arrangements to recover my child by tomorrow night."
"You are going to buy these rascals off, then?"
"I decline to say. I've had enough interference with my plans already. Neither you nor the police have accomplished anything. Miss Goncourt knows what I propose to do; but she has given me her word not to interfere. If you are to accomplish anything, it must be before eight o'clock tomorrow night."
"Very well. I will make my plans accordingly."
"What do you propose to do?"
"That I cannot say, at the moment. I think, however, that I shall first try to find out who it is that smokes these gold-tipped cigarettes." He drew the fragment of cigarette which he had found from his pocket, and placing it on the desk before him regarded it critically.
Mr. Stapleton gave a grunt. "What are they, Exquisites?"
"Yes. How did you know?"
The banker laughed. "Easy enough. My wife smokes them."
The detective looked up quickly. "Indeed! Brings them from America with her, I suppose."
Duvall began mentally to check off, in his mind, the various persons who might have used the cigarette which lay before him. Valentin, he now believed, was out of the question. His presence in the automobile, with Grace, the night before, indicated that he had nothing to do with the kidnappers.
There remained Mrs. Stapleton. Duvall had talked with her – seen her grief. He was too shrewd a judge of human nature to think for a moment that it was assumed.
Who else? Suddenly an idea flashed into his mind. He wondered that he had not thought of it before. The nurse! He recalled vividly the marks he had observed on the dresser in the woman's room in New York.
"Is Mary Lanahan in the house?" he inquired of Stapleton.
"Kindly have her come here."
Mr. Stapleton pressed a button on his desk in silence. In a few moments, the nurse had been brought to the room by one of the other servants. She was haggard with grief and fear.
Duvall requested her to be seated, and began to ask her a number of apparently unimportant questions regarding the kidnapping.
She answered them frankly enough, although it was clear that she was very ill at ease.
Presently Duvall got up, and, calling Mr. Stapleton to one side, asked him, in a low tone, to detain the nurse in the library for a few moments. He wished to search her room.
"But it has already been thoroughly searched by the police."
"I know. But I must search it again. It will require but a few moments."
Stapleton nodded. "I will wait for you here, Mr. Duvall," he said. "Mary, you will wait, as well."
The nurse's room was on the third floor, in a rear building. Duvall found it, after some slight difficulty, with the assistance of one of the other servants.
He seemed, on entering the room, to have but one object in view. He went at once to the mantel, and, taking from it the two small bottle-shaped vases which stood upon it, shook them both vigorously. A faint rattling sound came from the second. He turned it upside down upon the palm of his hand, and there tumbled out a quantity of ashes, and the butts of several partly smoked cigarettes. With a quiet smile he replaced them in the vase, and returned to the library.
"Mary, you may go now," he said.
When the woman had gone, he turned to Mr. Stapleton. "It was Mary Lanahan herself who smoked the cigarette which I found in the grass," he said.
"Well, what of it?" The matter seemed to the banker to be utterly without significance.
"She had, no doubt, stolen them from Mrs. Stapleton."
"Very likely. Not a very serious matter, however."
"No. But the question now arises, Why did she turn the box over to Valentin, and subsequently ask him to destroy it?"
"I cannot imagine."
"And why, later, were these cigarettes stolen from Valentin, as I understand they were?"
"It's too much for me. What do you make of it?"
"I have a theory, Mr. Stapleton; but I cannot say just what it is – yet. By the way, where is your man, Fran?ois, tonight?"
"He is visiting his people, somewhere in the suburbs."
"Ah! Then I would like to search his room, as well."
"Go ahead. You will find nothing, I fear. The police have gone over it with a fine-tooth comb." He rose. "Come along, I'll go with you."
The room occupied by the chauffeur was at the very top of the house, with two windows opening through the slanting mansard roof. One of these, Duvall noted, commanded a view over the houses adjoining toward the north, beyond which could be seen the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne. A second window, toward the south, commanded an extensive view toward Passy.
Mr. Stapleton, puffing because of the unaccustomed stairs, sat down upon the bed. "I cannot imagine what you hope to find here, Duvall," he grumbled.
The detective made no reply, but began a systematic inspection of the room. One of the first objects which attracted his attention was an ordinary electric searchlight, of the pocket variety, lying on the man's dresser. He picked it up, and examined it carefully.
"I got it for Fran?ois," observed Mr. Stapleton, "so that he could examine the car, at night, in case of any accident or repair."
"Of course. Very useful, too. But why, I wonder, does he keep it here in his room, instead of in the garage?"
"Possibly to light himself up the stairs, at night," said Stapleton.
"Then I should think he would have it with him," remarked Duvall, dryly. "Wouldn't be of much use to him tonight, for instance." He was about to put the thing down, when his attention was attracted by two objects, hanging one on each side of the dresser, from its two uprights. They were apparently Christmas tree ornaments, made of thin glass, and they hung from the back of the dresser by means of two bits of ribbon.
They seemed at first glance to be merely souvenirs of some party, some entertainment, which the chauffeur had preserved as mementos of the occasion. They were shaped like little cups, with a paper fringe about the top, to which the gay ribbons were attached. Duvall had seen such ornaments often before, at Christmas time. They were intended to be hung from the tree by their ribbons, and were filled with small candies or bonbons. He had almost passed them by, when something in their colors caused him to pause. One was a deep blue, the other an equally deep red. He examined the wooden uprights of the dresser with great care. All along the top of the dresser at its back was a heavy coating of dust. The top of the uprights, over which the loops of ribbon which supported the little baskets had been passed, contained no dust whatever.
Evidently the baskets had been taken down, and that too quite recently. For what purpose? he wondered. Suddenly he had an inspiration. He took down the little blue basket, and quickly placed it over the end of the searchlight. It fitted perfectly, the paper collar at its top holding the glass hemisphere snugly in place.
Mr. Stapleton was watching Duvall without particular interest. Suddenly the detective pointed the searchlight toward him and pressed the button which threw on the current. Mr. Stapleton started back, as his face was flooded with a beam of brilliant blue light.
Duvall replaced the little basket in the same position in which he had found it, and laid the searchlight upon the dresser. "Rather neat, isn't it?" he exclaimed.
"What do you make of it?" asked the banker.
"Your man Fran?ois evidently is in the habit of making signals," the detective replied, laughing. He was beginning to feel hopeful. The search of the two rooms was bearing fruit.
For the next half-hour, Duvall went over the contents of the chauffeur's room with the utmost care. He removed and replaced, just as he found them, the contents of the dresser drawers. He opened a small wooden trunk which stood at one side of the room, and examined its contents minutely. He explored the closet, looked behind the pictures, sounded the walls. Nothing further of an unusual nature rewarded his efforts. Still he seemed unsatisfied.
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