Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
In half an hour, Carnegie presented himself. He was a small, old man, with a shrewd face and keen, intelligent eye.
“I’ve got some work for you, Carnegie,” began the Chief, waiving all ceremony. “It’s of the kind you like, too.”
“Ah!” Carnegie dropped his hat upon a chair, rubbed his hands softly together and smiled upon his patron, looking as if at that instant ready and anxious to pounce upon any piece of work that was “of the kind he liked.”
“It’s a forgery on this office,” went on the Chief, as quietly as if he had said, it’s an invitation to tea. “And you’ll have a variety of handwritings to gloat over; Sanford is looking them up.”
“Ah!” said Carnegie, and that was all. Some men could not have said more in a folio.
As Carnegie passed out of the Chief’s office, the boy, George, entered it. He had found Mr. Vernet, and that gentleman would present himself right away.
And he did, almost at the heels of his herald; scrupulously dressed, upright, handsome, and courteous as usual.
Perfectly aware as he was that his Chief had not summoned him there without a motive, and tolerably sure that this motive was out of the regular business routine, his countenance was as serene as if he were entering a ball-room, his manner just as calm and courtly.
“I hope I have not interfered with any man?uvre of yours, Van,” said the Chief, smiling as he proffered his hand.
“Not at all, sir. I was just in and preparing for an hour or two of rest.” And Vernet pressed the outstretched hand. “I am glad of this opportunity, sir.”
“The fact is – ” began the Chief, after Vernet had ensconced himself in the chair opposite his own – “the fact is, I want to talk over this Englishman’s business a little, in a confidential way.”
“Yes?” The change that crossed Vernet’s face was scarcely perceptible.
“You see, just between us, I have no report from Stanhope, and none from you. And I want, very much, to get some new idea on the subject, soon.”
Vernet scanned his face for a moment, then:
“You have heard something,” he said, withdrawing his gaze slowly.
The Chief laughed. This answer, put not as a question, but as a statement of a fact, pleased him.
“Yes,” he said, “I have heard something. The Englishman is coming back. I have a letter from him. It is somewhat mysterious, but it says that he is on his way here, accompanied by one John Ainsworth.”
“Supposed to be the father of the child mentioned in the advertisement from Australia,”
“Yes; I see.”
“Well, I don’t see anything clearly, except this: These two men will come down upon us presently; they will want to hear something new – ”
“Their affair is twenty years old; do they expect us to get to the bottom of it in five weeks?”
“Well, not that exactly, but I think they will expect us to have organized – to have hit upon some theory and plan of action.”
“Oh,” said Vernet, “as to that, I have my theory – but it is for my private benefit as yet.
As to what I have done, it is not much, but it is – ”
“Something? a step?”
“Yes; it is a step. I have found, or I know where to find, one of the ten men who composed that Marais des Cygnes party.”
“Good! I call that more than a step.”
“I may as well tell you that I have worked through a ’tracker.’ You know how much I am interested in that other affair.”
“The Sailor business? yes.”
“It seemed to me,” continued Vernet, “that I might succeed there by doing the hard work myself, and that this other matter, in its present stage, might be worked out by an intelligent ’inquirer.’ So I adopted this plan. I think my murder case is almost closed. I hope to have my hand upon the fellow soon. Then I can give all my time to this other case.”
“So!” gazing admiringly at the handsome face opposite him. “I’m glad of your success, Van. I suppose, at the right time, you will let me into the ‘true inwardness’ of the Sailor business?”
“I should have been under obligation to do that long ago, if you had not been so good as to leave it all to my discretion.”
“True. Well, I find that it’s not unsafe to leave these things to you and Stanhope. You both work best untrammelled. Has this fellow given you much trouble?”
Vernet smiled. “Plenty of it,” he said. “But in playing his last trick, he bungled. He had dodged me beautifully, and had left me under the impression that he had sailed for Europe.”
“Of course I wired to the other side. He had sailed in company with a lady, handsome and young. He was also good-looking and a young man.”
“When the two arrived on the other side, they turned out to be – an old man aged sixty-five, and a child, aged ten.”
“Oh!” said the Chief, as though he enjoyed the situation; “a clever rascal!”
“Well, I know where to look for him now – when I need him. I want to run down an important witness; then I shall make the arrest.”
“Good! We will have the particulars at that time. And now about this Englishman’s case; put what your ‘tracker’ has done into a report – or do you intend to work in the dark, like Stanhope?”
“Ah, what is Stanhope about?”
“I don’t know. He took his time; has not been seen or heard of here for four weeks.”
Vernet tapped the desk beside him, and looked thoughtfully at his vis-a-vis.
“Stanhope’s a queer fish,” he said abstractedly; “a queer fish.” Then, rising, he added: “I will send my report to-morrow.”
“And I shall not follow Stanhope’s example. Once I am fairly entered into the case, I shall send my reports regularly.”
“I’m glad of that,” said his Chief, rising and following him to the door. “Under the circumstances, I’m glad of that.”
THE VERDICT OF AN EXPERT
Late in the afternoon of the day following that on which Carnegie the Expert had received his commission from the Chief of the detectives, he appeared again in the presence of that personage.
He carried his “documents” in a small packet, which he laid upon the desk, and he turned upon the Chief a face as cheerful and as full of suppressed activity as usual.
“Well?” queried the Chief, glancing down at the packet, “have you done?”
“Yes;” beginning to open the packet with quick, nervous fingers.
“And you found – ” He paused and looked up at the Expert.
Carnegie took from the packet the letter addressed to Alan Warburton, and written in the scrawling, unreadable hand. This he spread open upon the desk. Then he took another letter, written in an elegant hand, and with various vigorous ornamental flourishes. This he laid beside the first, pushing the remaining letters carelessly aside as if they were of no importance.
“I find – ” he said, looking hard at the Chief, and putting one forefinger upon the elegant bit of penmanship, the other upon the unreadable scrawl; – “I find that these two were written by the same hand.”
The Chief leaned forward; he had not been able to see the writing from the place in which he sat. He leaned closer and fixed his eyes upon the two signatures. The one he had seen before; the other was signed —Vernet.
Slowly he withdrew his eyes from the signature, and turned them upon the face of the Expert.
“Carnegie,” he asked, “do you ever make a mistake?”
“I?” Carnegie’s look said the rest.
“Because,” went on the Chief, scarcely noticing Carnegie’s indignant exclamation, “if you ever made a mistake, I should say, I should wish to believe, that this was one.”
“It’s no mistake,” replied the Expert grimly. “I never saw a clearer case.”
The Chief passed his hand across his brow, and seemed to meditate, while the Expert gathered up the heap of letters and arranged them once more into a neat packet.
“If you are still in doubt,” he said tartly, “you might try – somebody else.”
“No, no, Carnegie,” replied the Chief, rousing himself, “you are right, no doubt. You must be right.”
Carnegie snapped a rubber band about the newly-arranged packet, and tossed it down beside the two letters.
“Then,” he said, taking up his hat, “I suppose you have no further use for me?”
“Not at present, Carnegie.”
The Expert turned sharply, and without further ceremony whisked out of the room.
For some moments the Chief sat wrinkling his brow and gazing upon the two letters outspread before him.
Then he took up the elegantly-written epistle, folded it carefully, and thrust it in among those in the rubber-bound packet. This done he rang his bell, and called for Sanford.
The latter came promptly, and stood mutely before his Chief.
“Sanford,” said that gentleman, pointing to the packet upon the table, “you may try your hand as an Expert.”
“Take those letters, and this,” pushing forward the outspread scrawl, “and see if you can figure out who wrote it.”
Sanford took up the packet, looked earnestly at his superior, and hesitated.
“Carnegie has given his opinion,” said the Chief, in answer to this look. “I want to see how you agree.”
Sanford took up the scrawl, scanned it slowly, folded it and slipped it underneath the rubber of the packet.
“Is that all, sir?” he asked quietly.
“That is all. Take your time, Sanford; take your time.”
Sanford bowed and went slowly from the room.
A few moments longer the Chief sat thinking, a look of annoyance upon his face. Then he slowly arose, unlocked a drawer, and taking from it a small, thick diary, reseated himself.
“I must review this business,” he muttered. “There’s something about it that I don’t – quite – understand.”
He turned the leaves of the diary quickly, running the pages backward, until he reached those containing an account of the events of one or two days five weeks old upon the calendar. Here he singled out the notes concerning the Raid and its results, following which were the outlines of the accounts of that night as given him by Vernet and Stanhope.
Now, in giving his account of that night, Van Vernet had said little of his experience with Alan Warburton, and at the masquerade. And in giving his account of the Raid and its failure, he had omitted the fact that he had accepted and used “Silly Charlie” as a guide, speaking of him only as a spy and rescuer. Hence the Chief had gained anything but a correct idea of the part actually played by this bogus idiot.
On the other hand, Stanhope had described at length the events of the masquerade, as they related to himself, but had said little concerning Leslie and the nature of the service she required of him, referring to her only as Mr. Follingsbee’s client. He had related his misadventures with the Troubadour and the Chinaman, leaving upon their shoulders the entire blame of his failure and non-appearance at the Raid. And he had never once mentioned Vernet’s presence, nor the part the latter had played to gain the precedence with his Chief.
In thus omitting important facts, each had his motive; and the omissions had not, at the time, been noted by the Chief. Now, however, as he read and re-read his memoranda – recalling to mind how he had shared with Vernet his chagrin at the failure of the Raid, and laughed with Stanhope over his comical mishaps – he seemed to read something between the lines, and his face grew more and more perplexed as he closed the diary, and sat intently thinking.
“There’s a mystery here that courts investigation,” he muttered, as he arose at last and put away the diary. “I’d give something, now, for twenty minutes’ talk with Dick Stanhope.”
Early on the following morning, Sanford presented himself before his Chief, the bundle of letters in his hand, and a troubled look upon his face.
“Well, Sanford, is it done?”
“I wish,” said Sanford, as he placed the packet upon the table, “I wish it had never been begun – at least by me.”
“Because I don’t want to believe the evidence of my senses.”
“There’s a sentiment for a detective! Out with it man; what have you found?”
Sanford took two papers from his pocket and held them in his hand irresolutely.
“I hope I am wrong,” he said; “if I am – ”
“If you are, it will rest between us two. Out with it, now.”
“There’s only one man among us that I can trace this letter to,” beginning to unfold the troublesome scrawl, “and he – ” He opened the second paper and laid it before his Chief.
The latter dropped his eyes to the vexatious paper and said, mechanically: “Vernet!”
“I’m sorry,” began Sanford, regretfully. “I tried – ”
“You need not be,” interrupted the Chief. “It’s Carnegie’s verdict too.”
Sanford sat down in the nearest seat, and looked earnestly at his Chief, saying nothing.
After a moment of silence, the latter said:
“Sanford, I want Vernet shadowed.”
Sanford started and looked as if he doubted his own ears.
“I don’t want him interfered with,” went on the Chief slowly, “and watching him will be a delicate job; but I wish it done. I want to be informed of every move he makes. You must manage this business. I shall depend upon you.”
JOHN AINSWORTH’S STORY
The Chief of the detectives was now furnished with ample food for thought, but the opportunity for meditation seemed remote.
While he sat pondering over the discovery of Carnegie and Sanford, two visitors were announced: Walter Parks, the English patron of Stanhope and Vernet, and John Ainsworth, the returned Australian.
An accident of travel had thrown these two together, almost at the moment when one was landing from, and the other about to embark for, Australia. And the name of John Ainsworth, boldly displayed upon some baggage just set on shore, had put Walter Parks on the scent of its owner. The two men were not slow in understanding each other.
As they now sat in the presence of the Chief, these two men with faces full of earnestness and strength, he mentally pronounced them fine specimens of bronzed and bearded middle age.
Walter Parks was tall and athletic, without one ounce of flesh to spare: with dark features, habitually stern in their expression; a firm chin, and well-developed upper cranium, that made it easy for one to comprehend how naturally and obstinately the man might cling to an idea, or continue a search, for more than twice twenty years; and how impossible it would be for him to abandon the one or lose his enthusiasm for the other.
John Ainsworth was cast in a different mould. Less tall than the Englishman, and of fuller proportions, his face was not wanting in strength, but it lacked the rugged outlines that distinguished the face of the other; his once fair hair was almost white, and his regular features wore a look of habitual melancholy. It was the face of a man who, having lost some great good out of his life, can never forget what that life might have been, had this good gift remained.
“I received your letter,” the Chief said, after a brief exchange of formalities, “but I failed to understand it, Mr. Parks, and was finally forced to conclude that you may have written a previous one – ”
“I did,” interrupted the Englishman.
“Which I never received,” finished the Chief. “I supposed you voyaging toward Australia, if not already there.”
“I wrote first,” said Walter Parks, “to notify you of our accidental meeting, and that we would set out immediately for this city. And I wrote again to tell you of Mr. Ainsworth’s sudden illness, and our necessary delay.”
“Those two letters I never saw.”
“I shall be sorry for that,” broke in John Ainsworth, “if their loss will cause us delay, or you inconvenience.”
“The non-arrival of those two letters has made the third something of a riddle to me,” said the Chief. “But that being now solved, I think no further mischief has been or will be done.”
Then followed further explanations concerning the meeting of the two, and John Ainsworth’s fever, which, following his ocean voyage, made a delay in San Francisco necessary.
“It was a tedious illness to me;” said the Australian. “Short as it was, it seemed never-ending.”
And then, at the request of the Chief, John Ainsworth told his story: briefly, but with sufficient clearness.
“I was a young man,” he said, “and filled with the spirit of adventure, when I went West, taking my youthful wife with me. It was a hard life for a woman; but it was her wish to go and, indeed, I would have left her behind me very unwillingly. We prospered in the mining country. My wife enjoyed the novelty of our new life, and we began to gather about us the comforts of a home. Then little Lea was born.”
He paused a moment and sighed heavily.
“My wife was never well again. She drooped and faded. When Lea was six months old, she died, and I buried her at the foot of her favorite mountain. I put my baby into the care of one of the women of the settlement – it was the best I could do, – and I lived on as I might. But the place grew hateful to me. There was one man among the rest whose friendship I prized, and after the loss of my wife I clung to him as if he were of my own blood. His name was Arthur Pearson.”
Again the narrator paused, and the eyes of the two listeners instinctively sought each other.
“Pearson was younger than I, and was never rugged like most of the men who lived that wild life. And after a time I saw that he, too, was failing. He grew thin and began to cough dismally. Pearson was very fond of my baby girl; and sometimes we would sit and talk of her future, and wish her away from that place, where she must grow up without the knowledge and graces of refined civilization.
“As Pearson became worse, he began to talk of going back to the States, and much as I would miss him, I strongly advised him to go. At last when he had fully decided to do so, he made me a proposition: If I would trust my baby to him, he would take her back and put her in the care of my sister, who had no children of her own, and who was just the one to make of little Lea all that a woman should be. I knew how gladly she would watch over my daughter, and after I had thought upon the matter, I decided to send Lea to her, under the guardianship of Pearson. As I look back, I can see my selfishness. I should have gone with Arthur and the child. But my grief was too fresh; I could not bear to turn my face homeward alone. I wanted change and absorbing occupation, and I had already decided to dispose of my mining interest, and go to Australia.
“I found a nurse for my baby girl; a woman in our little community, who had lost her husband in a mine explosion a few months before. She was glad of an opportunity to return to her friends, and I felt sure that I could trust her with Lea. So they set out for the East, and I made preparations for my journey, while waiting to hear that Pearson and the train were safely beyond the mountains and most dangerous passes.
“They had been gone some two weeks when a train came in from the East, and among them was Mrs. Marsh, the nurse. The two trains had met just beyond the range, and Mrs. Marsh had found among the emigrants some of her friends and towns-people. The attraction was strong enough to cause her to turn about, and I may as well dispose of her at once by saying that she shortly after married one of her new-found friends.
“She told me that Pearson had joined a train which crossed their trail the morning after the meeting of the first two parties, and before they had broken camp. This train was going through by the shortest route, as fast as possible; and Pearson had found among the women one who would take charge of little Lea. She brought me a letter from him.”
“Did you preserve the letter?” interrupted the Chief.
“I did; it has never been out of my possession, for it was the last I ever heard of Pearson or my little Lea, until – ” He paused and glanced toward the Englishman.
“Until you met Mr. Parks?” supplemented the Chief.
“I should like to see that letter,” said the Chief.
The Australian took from his breast an ample packet, and from its contents extracted a worn and faded paper. As he handed it to the Chief there was a touch of pathos in his voice.
“It is more than twenty years old,” he said.
The writing was in a delicate, scholarly hand, much faded, yet legible.
I suppose Mrs. Marsh has made you acquainted with her reasons for changing her plans. It remains for me to inform you of mine.
Our train, as you know, is not precisely select, and as we advance towards “God’s Country” the roystering ones become a little too reckless for my quiet taste. The train from the North is led by one Walter Parks, an Englishman, of whom I know a little, and that little all in his favor. The others are quiet, sturdy fellows, of the sort I like. The woman who will care for little Lea is a Mrs. Krutzer; a very good woman she seems. She is going East with her husband, who has the rheumatism and, so they tell me, a decided objection to hard labor. She has a little boy, some six years older than Lea, and she seems glad to earn something by watching over our pet.
We are almost out of the “Danger Country.” There is little to dread between this and the Marais des Cygnes, and once we have crossed that, there will be nothing to fear from the Indians. Still, to make little Lea’s safety doubly sure, I shall at once tell Mrs. Krutzer her history, and give her instructions how to find Lea’s relatives should some calamity overtake me before the journey ends.
I will at once put into Mrs. Krutzer’s hands your letter to your sister, together with the packet, and money enough to carry her to her destination. Having done this, I can only watch over the little one as you would, were you here, and trust the rest to a merciful Providence.
May your Australian venture prosper! I will write you there; and may the good God have us all in his keeping!
Yours as ever,
This was the letter that the Chief perused with a face of unusual gravity; and then he asked, as he laid it down:ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî