The poisoned pen, p.1
The Poisoned Pen, p.1Arthur B. Reeve / Mystery & Detective
Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE CRAIG KENNEDY SERIES
THE POISONED PEN
ARTHUR. B. REEVE
FRONTISPIECE BY WILL FOSTER
CHAPTER I THE POISONED PEN
II THE YEGGMAN
III THE GERM OF DEATH
IV THE FIREBUG
V THE CONFIDENCE KING
VI THE SAND-HOG
VII THE WHITE SLAVE
VIII THE FORGER
IX THE UNOFFICIAL SPY
X THE SMUGGLER
XI THE INVISIBLE RAY
XII THE CAMPAIGN GRAFTER
THE POISONED PEN
THE POISONED PEN
Kennedy's suit-case was lying open on the bed, and he was literallythrowing things into it from his chiffonier, as I entered after ahurried trip up-town from the Star office in response to an urgentmessage from him.
"Come, Walter," he cried, hastily stuffing in a package of cleanlaundry without taking off the wrapping-paper, "I've got your suit-caseout. Pack up whatever you can in five minutes. We must take the sixo'clock train for Danbridge."
I did not wait to hear any more. The mere mention of the name of thequaint and quiet little Connecticut town was sufficient. For Danbridgewas on everybody's lips at that time. It was the scene of the nowfamous Danbridge poisoning case--a brutal case in which the prettylittle actress, Vera Lytton, had been the victim.
"I've been retained by Senator Adrian Willard," he called from hisroom, as I was busy packing in mine. "The Willard family believe thatthat young Dr. Dixon is the victim of a conspiracy--or at least AlmaWillard does, which comes to the same thing, and--well, the senatorcalled me up on long-distance and offered me anything I would name inreason to take the case. Are you ready? Come on, then. We've simply gotto make that train."
As we settled ourselves in the smoking-compartment of the Pullman,which for some reason or other we had to ourselves, Kennedy spoke againfor the first time since our frantic dash across the city to catch thetrain.
"Now let us see, Walter," he began. "We've both read a good deal aboutthis case in the papers. Let's try to get our knowledge in an orderlyshape before we tackle the actual case itself."
"Ever been in Danbridge?" I asked.
"Never," he replied. "What sort of place is it?"
"Mighty interesting," I answered; "a combination of old New England andnew, of ancestors and factories, of wealth and poverty, and above allit is interesting for its colony of New-Yorkers--what shall I callit?--a literary-artistic-musical combination, I guess."
"Yes," he resumed, "I thought as much. Vera Lytton belonged to thecolony. A very talented girl, too--you remember her in 'The Taming ofthe New Woman' last season? Well, to get back to the facts as we knowthem at present.
"Here is a girl with a brilliant future on the stage discovered by herfriend, Mrs. Boncour, in convulsions--practically insensible--with abottle of headache-powder and a jar of ammonia on her dressing-table.Mrs. Boncour sends the maid for the nearest doctor, who happens to be aDr. Waterworth. Meanwhile she tries to restore Miss Lytton, but with noresult. She smells the ammonia and then just tastes theheadache-powder, a very foolish thing to do, for by the time Dr.Waterworth arrives he has two patients."
"No?" I corrected, "only one, for Miss Lytton was dead when he arrived,according to his latest statement."
"Very well, then--one. He arrives, Mrs. Boncour is ill, the maid knowsnothing at all about it, and Vera Lytton is dead. He, too, smells theammonia, tastes the headache-powder--just the merest trace--and then hehas two patients, one of them himself. We must see him, for hisexperience must have been appalling. How he ever did it I can'timagine, but he saved both himself and Mrs. Boncour frompoisoning--cyanide, the papers say, but of course we can't accept thatuntil we see. It seems to me, Walter, that lately the papers have madethe rule in murder cases: When in doubt, call it cyanide."
Not relishing Kennedy in the humour of expressing his real opinion ofthe newspapers, I hastily turned the conversation back again by asking,"How about the note from Dr. Dixon?"
"Ah, there is the crux of the whole case--that note from Dixon. Let ussee. Dr. Dixon is, if I am informed correctly, of a fine andaristocratic family, though not wealthy. I believe it has beenestablished that while he was an interne in a city hospital he becameacquainted with Vera Lytton, after her divorce from that artistThurston. Then comes his removal to Danbridge and his meeting and laterhis engagement with Miss Willard. On the whole, Walter, judging fromthe newspaper pictures, Alma Willard is quite the equal of Vera Lyttonfor looks, only of a different style of beauty. Oh, well, we shall see.Vera decided to spend the spring and summer at Danbridge in thebungalow of her friend, Mrs. Boncour, the novelist. That's when thingsbegan to happen."
"Yes," I put in, "when you come to know Danbridge as I did after thatsummer when you were abroad, you'll understand, too. Everybody knowseverybody else's business. It is the main occupation of a certain set,and the per-capita output of gossip is a record that would stagger thecensus bureau. Still, you can't get away from the note, Craig. There itis, in Dixon's own handwriting, even if he does deny it: 'This willcure your headache. Dr. Dixon.' That's a damning piece of evidence."
"Quite right," he agreed hastily; "the note was queer, though, wasn'tit? They found it crumpled up in the jar of ammonia. Oh, there are lotsof problems the newspapers have failed to see the significance of, letalone trying to follow up."
Our first visit in Danbridge was to the prosecuting attorney, whoseoffice was not far from the station on the main street. Craig had wiredhim, and he had kindly waited to see us, for it was evident thatDanbridge respected Senator Willard and every one connected with him.
"Would it be too much to ask just to see that note that was found inthe Boncour bungalow?" asked Craig.
The prosecutor, an energetic young man, pulled out of a document-case acrumpled note which had been pressed flat again. On it in clear, deepblack letters were the words, just as reported:
This will cure your headache.
"How about the handwriting?" asked Kennedy.
The lawyer pulled out a number of letters. "I'm afraid they will haveto admit it," he said with reluctance, as if down in his heart he hatedto prosecute Dixon. "We have lots of these, and no handwriting expertcould successfully deny the identity of the writing."
He stowed away the letters without letting Kennedy get a hint as totheir contents. Kennedy was examining the note carefully.
"May I count on having this note for further examination, of coursealways at such times and under such conditions as you agree to?"
The attorney nodded. "I am perfectly willing to do anything not illegalto accommodate the senator," he said. "But, on the other hand, I amhere to do my duty for the state, cost whom it may."
The Willard house was in a virtual state of siege. Newspaper reportersfrom Boston and New York were actually encamped at every gate, terribleas an army, with cameras. It was with some difficulty that we got in,even though we were expected, for some of the more enterprising hadalready fooled the family by posing as officers of the law andmessengers from Dr. Dixon.
The house was a real, old colonial mansion with tall white pillars, adoor with a glittering brass knocker, which gleamed out severely at youas you approached through a hedge of faultlessly trimmed boxwoods.
Senator, or rather former Senator, Willard met us in the library, and amoment later his daughter Alma joined him. She was tall, like herfather, a girl of poise and self-control. Yet even the schooling oftwenty-two years in rigorous New England self-restraint could not hidethe very human pallor of her face after the sleepless nights andnervous days since this trouble had broken on her placid existence. Yetthere was a mark of strength and determination on her face that wasfascinating. The man who would trifle with this girl, I felt, wasplaying fast and loose with her very life. I thought then, and I saidto Kennedy afterward: "If this Dr. Dixon is guilty, you have no rightto hide it from that girl. Anything less than the truth will onlyblacken the hideousness of the crime that has already been committed."
The senator greeted us gravely, and I could not but take it as a goodomen when, in his pride of wealth and family and tradition, he laidbare everything to us, for the sake of Alma Willard. It was clear thatin this family there was one word that stood above all others, "Duty."
As we were about to leave after an interview barren of new facts, ayoung man was announced, Mr. Halsey Post. He bowed politely to us, butit was evident why he had called, as his eye followed Alma about theroom.
"The son of the late Halsey Post, of Post & Vance, silversmiths, whohave the large factory in town, which you perhaps noticed," explainedthe senator. "My daughter has known him all her life. A very fine youngman."
Later, we learned that the senator had bent every effort towardsecuring Halsey Post as a son-in-law, but his daughter had had views ofher own on the subject.
Post waited until Alma had withdrawn before he disclosed the realobject of his visit. In almost a whisper, lest she should still belistening, he said, "There is a story about town that Vera Lytton'sformer husband--an artist named Thurston--was here just before herdeath."
Senator Willard leaned forward as if expecting to hear Dixonimmediately acquitted. None of us was prepared for the next remark.
"And the story goes on to say that he threatened to make a scene over awrong he says he has suffered from Dixon. I don't know anything moreabout it, and I tell you only because I think you ought to know whatDanbridge is saying under its breath."
We shook off the last of the reporters who affixed themselves to us,and for a moment Kennedy dropped in at the little bungalow to see Mrs.Boncour. She was much better, though she had suffered much. She hadtaken only a pinhead of the poison, but it had proved very nearly fatal.
"Had Miss Lytton any enemies whom you think of, people who were jealousof her professionally or personally?" asked Craig.
"I should not even have said Dr. Dixon was an enemy," she repliedevasively.
"But this Mr. Thurston," put in Kennedy quickly. "One is not usuallyvisited in perfect friendship by a husband who has been divorced."
She regarded him keenly for a moment. "Halsey Post told you that," shesaid. "No one else knew he was here. But Halsey Post was an old friendof both Vera and Mr. Thurston before they separated. By chance hehappened to drop in the day Mr. Thurston was here, and later in the dayI gave him a letter to forward to Mr. Thurston, which had come afterthe artist left. I'm sure no one else knew the artist. He was here themorning of the day she died, and--and--that's every bit I'm going totell you about him, so there. I don't know why he came or where hewent."
"That's a thing we must follow up later," remarked Kennedy as we madeour adieus. "Just now I want to get the facts in hand. The next thingon my programme is to see this Dr. Waterworth."
We found the doctor still in bed; in fact, a wreck as the result of hisadventure. He had little to correct in the facts of the story which hadbeen published so far. But there were many other details of thepoisoning he was quite willing to discuss frankly.
"It was true about the jar of ammonia?" asked Kennedy.
"Yes," he answered. "It was standing on her dressing-table with thenote crumpled up in it, just as the papers said."
"And you have no idea why it was there?"
"I didn't say that. I can guess. Fumes of ammonia are one of theantidotes for poisoning of this kind."
"But Vera Lytton could hardly have known that," objected Kennedy.
"No, of course not. But she probably did know that ammonia is good forjust that sort of faintness which she must have experienced aftertaking the powder. Perhaps she thought of sal volatile, I don't know.But most people know that ammonia in some form is good for faintness ofthis sort, even if they don't know anything about cyanides and---"
"Then it was cyanide?" interrupted Craig.
"Yes," he replied slowly. It was evident that he was suffering greatphysical and nervous anguish as the result of his too intimateacquaintance with the poisons in question. "I will tell you preciselyhow it was, Professor Kennedy. When I was called in to see Miss LyttonI found her on the bed. I pried open her jaws and smelled the sweetishodour of the cyanogen gas. I knew then what she had taken, and at themoment she was dead. In the next room I heard some one moaning. Themaid said that it was Mrs. Boncour, and that she was deathly sick. Iran into her room, and though she was beside herself with pain Imanaged to control her, though she struggled desperately against me. Iwas rushing her to the bathroom, passing through Miss Lytton's room.'What's wrong?' I asked as I carried her along. 'I took some of that,'she replied, pointing to the bottle on the dressing-table.
"I put a small quantity of its crystal contents on my tongue. Then Irealised the most tragic truth of my life. I had taken one of thedeadliest poisons in the world. The odour of the released gas ofcyanogen was strong. But more than that, the metallic taste and thehorrible burning sensation told of the presence of some form ofmercury, too. In that terrible moment my brain worked with theincredible swiftness of light. In a flash I knew that if I added malicacid to the mercury--perchloride of mercury or corrosive sublimate--Iwould have calomel or subchloride of mercury, the only thing that wouldswitch the poison out of my system and Mrs. Boncour's.
"Seizing her about the waist, I hurried into the dining-room. On asideboard was a dish of fruit. I took two apples. I made her eat one,core and all. I ate the other. The fruit contained the malic acid Ineeded to manufacture the calomel, and I made it right there innature's own laboratory. But there was no time to stop. I had to actjust as quickly to neutralise that cyanide, too. Remembering theammonia, I rushed back with Mrs. Boncour, and we inhaled the fumes.Then I found a bottle of peroxide of hydrogen. I washed out her stomachwith it, and then my own. Then I injected some of the peroxide intovarious parts of her body. The peroxide of hydrogen and hydrocyanicacid, you know, make oxamide, which is a harmless compound.
"The maid put Mrs. Boncour to bed, saved. I went to my house, a wreck.Since then I have not left this bed. With my legs paralysed I lie here,expecting each hour to be my last."
"Would you taste an unknown drug again to discover the nature of aprobable poison?" asked Craig.
"I don't know," he answered slowly, "but I suppose I would. In such acase a conscientious doctor has no thought of self. He is there to dothings, and he does them, according to the best that is in him. Inspite of the fact that I haven't had one hour of unbroken sleep sincethat fatal day, I suppose I would do it again."
When we were leaving, I remarked: "That is a martyr to science. Couldanything be more dramatic than his willing penalty for his devotion tomedicine?"
We walked along in silence. "Walter, did you notice he said not a wordof condemnation of Dixon, though the note was before his eyes? SurelyDixon has some strong supporters in Danbridge, as well as enemies."
The next morning we continued our investigation. We found Dixon'slawyer, Leland, in consultation with his client in the bare cell of thecounty jail. Dixon proved to be a clear-eyed, clean-cut young man. Thething that impressed me most about him, aside from the prepossession inhis favour due to the faith of Alma Willard, was the nerve hedisplayed, whether guilty or innocent. Even an innocent man might wellhave been staggered by the circumstantial evidence against him and thehigh tide of public feeling, in spite of the support that he wasreceiving. Leland, we learned, had been very active. By prompt work atthe time of the young doctor's arrest he had managed to secure thegreater part of Dr. Dixon's personal letters, though the prosecutorsecured some, the contents of which had not been disclosed.
Kennedy spent most of the day in tracing out the movements of Thurston.Nothing that proved important was turned up, and even visits to near-bytowns failed to show any sales of cyanide or sublimate to any one notentitled to buy them. Meanwhile, in turning over the gossip of thetown, one of the newspapermen ran across the fact that the Boncourbungalow was owned by the Posts, and that Halsey Post, as the executorof the estate, was a more frequent visitor than the mere collection ofthe rent would warrant. Mrs. Boncour maintained a stolid silence thatcovered a seething internal fury when the newspaperman in questionhinted that the landlord and tenant were on exceptionally good terms.
It was after a fruitless day of such search that we were sitting in thereading-room of the Fairfield Hotel. Leland entered. His face waspositively white. Without a word he took us by the arm and led usacross Main Street and up a flight of stairs to his office. Then helocked the door.
"What's the matter?" asked Kennedy.
"When I took this case," he said, "I believed down in my heart thatDixon was innocent. I still believe it, but my faith has been rudelyshaken. I feel that you should know about what I have just found. As Itold you, we secured nearly all of Dr. Dixon's letters. I had not readthem all then. But I have been going through them to-night. Here is aletter from Vera Lytton herself. You will notice it is dated the day ofher death."
He laid the letter before us. It was written in a curious greyish-blackink in a woman's hand, and read:
Since we agreed to disagree we have at least been good friends, if nolonger lovers. I am not writing in anger to reproach you with your newlove, so soon after the old. I suppose Alma Willard is far bettersuited to be your wife than is a poor little actress--rather lookeddown on in this Puritan society here. But there is something I wish towarn you about, for it concerns us all intimately.
We are in danger of an awful mix-up if we don't look out. Mr.Thurston--I had almost said my husband, though I don't know whetherthat is the truth or not--who has just come over from New York, tellsme that there is some doubt about the validity of our divorce. Yourecall he was in the South at the time I sued him, and the papers wereserved on him in Georgia, He now says the proof of service wasfraudulent and that he can set aside the divorce. In that case youmight figure in a suit for alienating my affections.
I do not write this with ill will, but simply to let you know howthings stand. If we had married, I suppose I would be guilty of bigamy.At any rate, if he were disposed he could make a terrible scandal.
Oh, Harris, can't you settle with him if he asks anything? Don't forgetso soon that we once thought we were going to be the happiest ofmortals--at least I did. Don't desert me, or the very earth will cryout against you. I am frantic and hardly know what I am writing. Myhead aches, but it is my heart that is breaking. Harris, I am yoursstill, down in my heart, but not to be cast off like an old suit for anew one. You know the old saying about a woman scorned. I beg you notto go back on
Your poor little deserted
As we finished reading, Leland exclaimed, "That never must come beforethe jury."
Kennedy was examining the letter carefully. "Strange," he muttered."See how it was folded. It was written on the wrong side of the sheet,or rather folded up with the writing outside. Where have these lettersbeen?"
"Part of the time in my safe, part of the time this afternoon on mydesk by the window."
"The office was locked, I suppose?" asked Kennedy. "There was no way toslip this letter in among the others since you obtained them?"
"None. The office has been locked, and there is no evidence of any onehaving entered or disturbed a thing."
He was hastily running over the pile of letters as if looking to seewhether they were all there. Suddenly he stopped.
"Yes," he exclaimed excitedly, "one of them is gone." Nervously hefumbled through them again. "One is gone," he repeated, looking at us,startled.
"What was it about?" asked Craig.
"It was a note from an artist, Thurston, who gave the address of Mrs.Boncour's bungalow--ah, I see you have heard of him. He asked Dixon'srecommendation of a certain patent headache medicine. I thought itpossibly evidential, and I asked Dixon about it. He explained it bysaying that he did not have a copy of his reply, but as near as hecould recall, he wrote that the compound would not cure a headacheexcept at the expense of reducing heart action dangerously. He says hesent no prescription. Indeed, he thought it a scheme to extract advicewithout incurring the charge for an office call and answered it onlybecause he thought Vera had become reconciled to Thurston again. Ican't find that letter of Thurston's. It is gone."
We looked at each other in amazement.
"Why, if Dixon contemplated anything against Miss Lytton, should hepreserve this letter from her?" mused Kennedy. "Why didn't he destroyit?"
"That's what puzzles me," remarked Leland. "Do you suppose some one hasbroken in and substituted this Lytton letter for the Thurston letter?"
Kennedy was scrutinising the letter, saying nothing. "I may keep it?"he asked at length. Leland was quite willing and even undertook toobtain some specimens of the writing of Vera Lytton. With these and theletter Kennedy was working far into the night and long after I hadpassed into a land troubled with many wild dreams of deadly poisons andsecret intrigues of artists.
The next morning a message from our old friend First Deputy O'Connor inNew York told briefly of locating the rooms of an artist named Thurstonin one of the co-operative studio apartments. Thurston himself had notbeen there for several days and was reported to have gone to Maine tosketch. He had had a number of debts, but before he left they had allbeen paid--strange to say, by a notorious firm of shyster lawyers, Kerr& Kimmel. Kennedy wired back to find out the facts from Kerr & Kimmeland to locate Thurston at any cost.
Even the discovery of the new letter did not shake the wonderfulself-possession of Dr. Dixon. He denied ever having received it andrepeated his story of a letter from Thurston to which he had replied bysending an answer, care of Mrs. Boncour, as requested. He insisted thatthe engagement between Miss Lytton and himself had been broken beforethe announcement of his engagement with Miss Willard. As for Thurston,he said the man was little more than a name to him. He had knownperfectly all the circumstances of the divorce, but had had no dealingswith Thurston and no fear of him. Again and again he denied everreceiving the letter from Vera Lytton.
Kennedy did not tell the Willards of the new letter. The strain hadbegun to tell on Alma, and her father had had her quietly taken to afarm of his up in the country. To escape the curious eyes of reporters,Halsey Post had driven up one night in his closed car. She had enteredit quickly with her father, and the journey had been made in the car,while Halsey Post had quietly dropped off on the outskirts of the town,where another car was waiting to take him back. It was evident that theWillard family relied implicitly on Halsey, and his assistance to themwas most considerate. While he never forced himself forward, he kept inclose touch with the progress of the case, and now that Alma was awayhis watchfulness increased proportionately, and twice a day he wrote along report which was sent to her.
Kennedy was now bending every effort to locate the missing artist. Whenhe left Danbridge, he seemed to have dropped out of sight completely.However, with O'Connor's aid, the police of all New England were on thelookout.
The Thurstons had been friends of Halsey's before Vera Lytton had evermet Dr. Dixon, we discovered from the Danbridge gossips, and I, atleast, jumped to the conclusion that Halsey was shielding the artist,perhaps through a sense of friendship when he found that Kennedy wasinterested in Thurston's movement. I must say I rather liked Halsey,for he seemed very thoughtful of the Willards, and was never too busyto give an hour or so to any commission they wished carried out withoutpublicity.
Two days passed with not a word from Thurston. Kennedy was obviouslygetting impatient. One day a rumour was received that he was in BarHarbour; the next it was a report from Nova Scotia. At last, however,came the welcome news that he had been located in New Hampshire,arrested, and might be expected the next day.
At once Kennedy became all energy. He arranged for a secret conferencein Senator Willard's house, the moment the artist was to arrive. Thesenator and his daughter made a flying trip back to town. Nothing wassaid to any one about Thurston, but Kennedy quietly arranged with thedistrict attorney to be present with the note and the jar of ammoniaproperly safeguarded. Leland of course came, although his client couldnot. Halsey Post seemed only too glad to be with Miss Willard, thoughhe seemed to have lost interest in the case as soon as the Willardsreturned to look after it themselves. Mrs. Boncour was well enough toattend, and even Dr. Waterworth insisted on coming in a privateambulance which drove over from a near-by city especially for him. Thetime was fixed just before the arrival of the train that was to bringThurston.
It was an anxious gathering of friends and foes of Dr. Dixon who satimpatiently waiting for Kennedy to begin this momentous exposition thatwas to establish the guilt or innocence of the calm young physician whosat impassively in the jail not half a mile from the room where hislife and death were being debated.
"In many respects this is the most remarkable case that it has everbeen my lot to handle," began Kennedy. "Never before have I felt sokeenly my sense of responsibility. Therefore, though this is a somewhatirregular proceeding, let me begin by setting forth the facts as I seethem.
"First, let us consider the dead woman. The question that arises hereis, Was she murdered or did she commit suicide? I think you willdiscover the answer as I proceed. Miss Lytton, as you know, was, twoyears ago, Mrs. Burgess Thurston. The Thurstons had temperament, andtemperament is quite often the highway to the divorce court. It was soin this case. Mrs. Thurston discovered that her husband was paying muchattention to other women. She sued for divorce in New York, and heaccepted service in the South, where he happened to be. At least it wasso testified by Mrs. Thurston's lawyer.
"Now here comes the remarkable feature of the case. The law firm ofKerr & Kimmel, I find, not long ago began to investigate the legalityof this divorce. Before a notary Thurston made an affidavit that he hadnever been served by the lawyer for Miss Lytton, as she was now known.Her lawyer is dead, but his representative in the South who served thepapers is alive. He was brought to New York and asserted squarely thathe had served the papers properly.
"Here is where the shrewdness of Mose Kimmel, the shyster lawyer, camein. He arranged to have the Southern attorney identify the man he hadserved the papers on. For this purpose he was engaged in conversationwith one of his own clerks when the lawyer was due to appear. Kimmelappeared to act confused, as if he had been caught napping. TheSouthern lawyer, who had seen Thurston only once, fell squarely intothe trap and identified the clerk as Thurston. There were plenty ofwitnesses to it, and it was point number two for the great Mose Kimmel.Papers were drawn up to set aside the divorce decree.
"In the meantime, Miss Lytton, or Mrs. Thurston, had become acquaintedwith a young doctor in a New York hospital, and had become engaged tohim. It matters not that the engagement was later broken. The factremains that if the divorce were set aside an action would lie againstDr. Dixon for alienating Mrs. Thurston's affections, and a gravescandal would result. I need not add that in this quiet little town ofDanbridge the most could be made of such a suit."
Kennedy was unfolding a piece of paper. As he laid it down, Leland, whowas sitting next to me, exclaimed under his breath:
"My God, he's going to let the prosecutor know about that letter. Can'tyou stop him?"
It was too late. Kennedy had already begun to read Vera's letter. Itwas damning to Dixon, added to the other note found in the ammonia-jar.
When he had finished reading, you could almost hear the heartsthrobbing in the room. A scowl overspread Senator Willard's features.Alma Willard was pale and staring wildly at Kennedy. Halsey Post, eversolicitous for her, handed her a glass of water from the table. Dr.Waterworth had forgotten his pain in his intense attention, and Mrs.Boncour seemed stunned with astonishment. The prosecuting attorney waseagerly taking notes.
"In some way," pursued Kennedy in an even voice, "this letter waseither overlooked in the original correspondence of Dr. Dixon or it wasadded to it later. I shall come back to that presently. My next pointis that Dr. Dixon says he received a letter from Thurston on the daythe artist visited the Boncour bungalow. It asked about a certainheadache compound, and his reply was brief and, as nearly as I can findout, read, 'This compound will not cure your headache except at theexpense of reducing heart action dangerously.'
"Next comes the tragedy. On the evening of the day that Thurston left,after presumably telling Miss Lytton about what Kerr & Kimmel haddiscovered, Miss Lytton is found dying with a bottle containing cyanideand sublimate beside her. You are all familiar with the circumstancesand with the note discovered in the jar of ammonia. Now, if theprosecutor will be so kind as to let me see that note--thank you, sir.This is the identical note. You have all heard the various theories ofthe jar and have read the note. Here it is in plain, cold black andwhite--in Dr. Dixon's own handwriting, as you know, and reads: 'Thiswill cure your headache. Dr. Dixon.'"
Alma Willard seemed as one paralysed. Was Kennedy, who had been engagedby her father to defend her fiance, about to convict him?
"Before we draw the final conclusion," continued Kennedy gravely,"there are one or two points I wish to elaborate. Walter, will you openthat door into the main hall?"
I did so, and two policemen stepped in with a prisoner. It wasThurston, but changed almost beyond recognition. His clothes were worn,his beard shaved off, and he had a generally hunted appearance.
Thurston was visibly nervous. Apparently he had heard all that Kennedyhad said and intended he should hear, for as he entered he almost brokeaway from the police officers in his eagerness to speak.
"Before God," he cried dramatically, "I am as innocent as you are ofthis crime, Professor Kennedy."
"Are you prepared to swear before ME," almost shouted Kennedy, his eyesblazing, "that you were never served properly by your wife's lawyers inthat suit?"
The man cringed back as if a stinging blow had been delivered betweenhis eyes. As he met Craig's fixed glare he knew there was no hope.Slowly, as if the words were being wrung from him syllable by syllable,he said in a muffled voice:
"No, I perjured myself. I was served in that suit. But--"
"And you swore falsely before Kimmel that you were not?" persistedKennedy.
"Yes," he murmured. "But--"
"And you are prepared now to make another affidavit to that effect?"
"Yes," he replied. "If--"
"No buts or ifs, Thurston," cried Kennedy sarcastically. "What did youmake that affidavit for? What is YOUR story?"
"Kimmel sent for me. I did not go to him. He offered to pay my debts ifI would swear to such a statement. I did not ask why or for whom. Iswore to it and gave him a list of my creditors. I waited until theywere paid. Then my conscience"--I could not help revolting at thethought of conscience in such a wretch, and the word itself seemed tostick in his throat as he went on and saw how feeble an impression hewas making on us--"my conscience began to trouble me. I determined tosee Vera, tell her all, and find out whether it was she who wanted thisstatement. I saw her. When at last I told her, she scorned me. I canconfirm that, for as I left a man entered. I now knew how grossly I hadsinned, in listening to Mose Kimmel. I fled. I disappeared in Maine. Itravelled. Every day my money grew less. At last I was overtaken,captured, and brought back here."
He stopped and sank wretchedly down in a chair and covered his facewith his hands.
"A likely story," muttered Leland in my ear.
Kennedy was working quickly. Motioning the officers to be seated byThurston, he uncovered a jar which he had placed on the table. Thecolour had now appeared in Alma's cheeks, as if hope had again sprungin her heart, and I fancied that Halsey Post saw his claim on herfavour declining correspondingly.
"I want you to examine the letters in this case with me," continuedKennedy. "Take the letter which I read from Miss Lytton, which wasfound following the strange disappearance of the note from Thurston."
He dipped a pen into a little bottle, and wrote on a piece of paper:
What is your opinion about Cross's Headache Cure? Would you recommendit for a nervous headache? BURGESS THURSTON, c/o MRS. S. BONCOUR.
Craig held up the writing so that we could all see that he had writtenwhat Dixon declared Thurston wrote in the note that had disappeared.Then he dipped another pen into a second bottle, and for some time hescrawled on another sheet of paper. He held it up, but it was stillperfectly blank.
"Now," he added, "I am going to give a little demonstration which Iexpect to be successful only in a measure. Here in the open sunshine bythis window I am going to place these two sheets of paper side by side.It will take longer than I care to wait to make my demonstrationcomplete, but I can do enough to convince you."
For a quarter of an hour we sat in silence, wondering what he would donext. At last he beckoned us over to the window. As we approached hesaid, "On sheet number one I have written with quinoline; on sheetnumber two I wrote with a solution of nitrate of silver."
We bent over. The writing signed "Thurston" on sheet number one wasfaint, almost imperceptible, but on paper number two, in black letters,appeared what Kennedy had written: "Dear Harris: Since we agreed todisagree we have at least been good friends."
"It is like the start of the substituted letter, and the other is likethe missing note," gasped Leland in a daze.
"Yes," said Kennedy quickly. "Leland, no one entered your office. Noone stole the Thurston note. No one substituted the Lytton letter.According to your own story, you took them out of the safe and leftthem in the sunlight all day. The process that had been started earlierin ordinary light, slowly, was now quickly completed. In other words,there was writing which would soon fade away on one side of the paperand writing which was invisible but would soon appear on the other.
"For instance, quinoline rapidly disappears in sunlight. Starch with aslight trace of iodine writes a light blue, which disappears in air. Itwas something like that used in the Thurston letter. Then, too, silvernitrate dissolved in ammonia gradually turns black as it is acted on bylight and air. Or magenta treated with a bleaching-agent in justsufficient quantity to decolourise it is invisible when used forwriting. But the original colour reappears as the oxygen of the airacts upon the pigment. I haven't a doubt but that my analyses of theinks are correct and on one side quinoline was used and on the othernitrate of silver. This explains the inexplicable disappearance ofevidence incriminating one person, Thurston, and the sudden appearanceof evidence incriminating another, Dr. Dixon. Sympathetic ink alsoaccounts for the curious circumstance that the Lytton letter was foldedup with the writing apparently outside. It was outside and unseen untilthe sunlight brought it out and destroyed the other, inside, writing--achange, I suspect, that was intended for the police to see after it wascompleted, not for the defence to witness as it was taking place."
We looked at each other aghast. Thurston was nervously opening andshutting his lips and moistening them as if he wanted to say somethingbut could not find the words.
"Lastly," went on Craig, utterly regardless of Thurston's franticefforts to speak, "we come to the note that was discovered so queerlycrumpled up in the jar of ammonia on Vera Lytton's dressing-table. Ihave here a cylindrical glass jar in which I place some sal-ammoniacand quicklime. I will wet it and heat it a little. That produces thepungent gas of ammonia.
"On one side of this third piece of paper I myself write with thismercurous nitrate solution. You see, I leave no mark on the paper as Iwrite. I fold it up and drop it into the jar-and in a few secondswithdraw it. Here is a very quick way of producing something like theslow result of sunlight with silver nitrate. The fumes of ammonia haveformed the precipitate of black mercurous nitrate, a very distinctblack writing which is almost indelible. That is what is technicallycalled invisible rather than sympathetic ink."
We leaned over to read what he had written. It was the same as the noteincriminating Dixon:
This will cure your headache.
A servant entered with a telegram from New York. Scarcely stopping inhis exposure, Kennedy tore it open, read it hastily, stuffed it intohis pocket, and went on.
"Here in this fourth bottle I have an acid solution of iron chloride,diluted until the writing is invisible when dry," he hurried on. "Iwill just make a few scratches on this fourth sheet of paper--so. Itleaves no mark. But it has the remarkable property of becoming red invapour of sulpho-cyanide. Here is a long-necked flask of the gas, madeby sulphuric acid acting on potassium sulpho-cyanide. Keep back, Dr.Waterworth, for it would be very dangerous for you to get even a whiffof this in your condition. Ah! See--the scratches I made on the paperare red."
Then hardly giving us more than a moment to let the fact impress itselfon our minds, he seized the piece of paper and dashed it into the jarof ammonia. When he withdrew it, it was just a plain sheet of whitepaper again. The red marks which the gas in the flask had brought outof nothingness had been effaced by the ammonia. They had gone and leftno trace.
"In this way I can alternately make the marks appear and disappear byusing the sulpho-cyanide and the ammonia. Whoever wrote this note withDr. Dixon's name on it must have had the doctor's reply to the Thurstonletter containing the words, 'This will not cure your headache.' Hecarefully traced the words, holding the genuine note up to the lightwith a piece of paper over it, leaving out the word 'not' and usingonly such words as he needed. This note was then destroyed.
"But he forgot that after he had brought out the red writing by the useof the sulpho-cyanide, and though he could count on Vera Lytton'splacing the note in the jar of ammonia and hence obliterating thewriting, while at the same time the invisible writing in the mercurousnitrate involving Dr. Dixon's name would be brought out by the ammoniaindelibly on the other side of the note--he forgot"--Kennedy was nowspeaking eagerly and loudly--"that the sulpho-cyanide vapours couldalways be made to bring back to accuse him the words that the ammoniahad blotted out."
Before the prosecutor could interfere, Kennedy had picked up the notefound in the ammonia-jar beside the dying girl and had jammed thestate's evidence into the long-necked flask of sulpho-cyanide vapour.
"Don't fear," he said, trying to pacify the now furious prosecutor, "itwill do nothing to the Dixon writing. That is permanent now, even if itis only a tracing."
When he withdrew the note, there was writing on both sides, the blackof the original note and something in red on the other side.
We crowded around, and Craig read it with as much interest as any of us:
"Before taking the headache-powder, be sure to place the contents ofthis paper in a jar with a little warm water."
"Hum," commented Craig, "this was apparently written on the outsidewrapper of a paper folded about some sal-ammoniac and quicklime. Itgoes on:
"'Just drop the whole thing in, PAPER AND ALL. Then if you feel afaintness from the medicine the ammonia will quickly restore you. Onespoonful of the headache-powder swallowed quickly is enough.'"
No name was signed to the directions, but they were plainly written,and "PAPER AND ALL" was underscored heavily.
Craig pulled out some letters. "I have here specimens of writing ofmany persons connected with this case, but I can see at a glance whichone corresponds to the writing on this red death-warrant by an almostinhuman fiend. I shall, however, leave that part of it to thehandwriting experts to determine at the trial. Thurston, who was theman whom you saw enter the Boncour bungalow as you left--the constantvisitor?"
Thurston had not yet regained his self-control, but with tremblingforefinger he turned and pointed to Halsey Post.
"Yes, ladies and gentlemen," cried Kennedy as he slapped the telegramthat had just come from New York down on the table decisively, "yes,the real client of Kerr & Kimmel, who bent Thurston to his purposes,was Halsey Post, once secret lover of Vera Lytton till threatened byscandal in Danbridge--Halsey Post, graduate in technology, student ofsympathetic inks, forger of the Vera Lytton letter and the other notes,and dealer in cyanides in the silver-smithing business, fortune-hunterfor the Willard millions with which to recoup the Post & Vance losses,and hence rival of Dr. Dixon for the love of Alma Willard. That is theman who wielded the poisoned pen. Dr. Dixon is innocent."
The Poisoned Pen by Arthur B. Reeve / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.4 out of 5 / Based on17 votes