The holladay case a tal.., p.15
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       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.15

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
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  CHAPTER XV

  Two Heads are Better than One

  I understood in a flash what had happened, and sprang up the stair tothe upper deck, determined to have it out with our enemy, once forall. I searched it over thoroughly, looking in and under the boats andbehind funnels and ventilators, but could discover no sign of anyone.When I got back to the promenade, a little crowd had gathered,attracted by the noise of the falling spar, which a dozen members ofthe crew were busy hoisting back into place.

  "I do not see how those lashings could have worked loose," said theofficer in charge. "We lashed that extra spar there just before wesailed, and I know it was well fastened."

  I took a look at the lashings. They had not been cut, as I expected tofind them, but had been untied. Martigny had doubtless worked at themwhile we sat there talking--he was too clever an artist in crime to doanything so clumsy as to cut the ropes.

  "Well, luckily, there's no damage done," observed Mr. Royce, withaffected lightness, "though it was a close shave. If Miss Kemballhadn't called to us, the spar would have struck us squarely."

  Mrs. Kemball closed her eyes with a giddy little gesture, at thevision the words called up, and the officer frowned in chagrin andperplexity. Just then the captain came up, and the two stepped asidefor a consultation in voices so low that only an excited word ofFrench was now and then audible. I turned to Miss Kemball, who wasleaning against the rail with white face and eyes large with terror.

  "But it was not an accident, Mr. Lester!" she whispered. "I saw a manleaning over the spar--a mere shadowy figure--but I know I could notbe mistaken."

  I nodded. "I don't doubt it in the least. But don't tell your mother.It will only alarm her needlessly. We'll talk it over in the morning."

  She said good-night, and led her mother away toward their stateroom. Iwent at once in search of the ship's doctor, and met him at the footof the saloon staircase.

  "How is Martigny, doctor?" I asked.

  "Worse, I fear," he answered hurriedly. "He has just sent for me."

  "Which room has he?"

  "He's in 375; an outside room on the upper deck," and he ran on up thestair.

  I went forward to the smoking room, and looked over the colored planof the ship posted there. A moment's inspection of it showed me howeasily Martigny had eluded pursuit--he had only to walk twenty feet,open a door, and get into bed again. But, evidently, even that smallexertion had been too much for him, and I turned away with the grimthought that perhaps our enemy would kill himself yet.

  When I sat down, next morning, beside Miss Kemball, she closed herbook, and turned to me with a very determined air.

  "Of course, Mr. Lester," she began, "if you think any harm can comefrom telling me, I don't want you to say a word; but I really thinkI'm entitled to an explanation."

  "So do I," I agreed. "You've proved yourself a better guard than I.I'd forgotten all about Martigny--I was thinking, well, of somethingvery different--I had no thought of danger."

  "Nor had I," she said quickly. "But I chanced to look up and see thatdark figure bending over them, and I cried out, really, before I hadtime to think--involuntarily."

  "It was just that which saved them. If you'd stopped to think, itwould have been too late."

  "Yes--but, oh, I could think afterwards! I'd only to close my eyes,last night, to see him there yet, peering down at us, waiting hisopportunity. And then, of course, I puzzled more or less, over thewhole thing."

  "You shan't puzzle any more," I said, and looked about to make certainthat there was no one near. Then, beginning with the death of HiramHolladay, I laid the case before her, step by step. She listened withclasped hands and intent face, not speaking till I had finished. Thenshe leaned back in her chair with a long sigh.

  "Why, it's horrible!" she breathed. "Horrible and dreadfully puzzling.You haven't told me your explanation yet, Mr. Lester."

  "I haven't any explanation," I said helplessly. "I've built up half adozen theories, but they've all been knocked to pieces, one after theother. I don't know what to think, unless Miss Holladay is a victim ofhypnotism or dementia of some kind, and that seems absurd."

  "Sometimes she's nice and at other times she's horrid. It recalls'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' doesn't it?"

  "Yes, it does; only, as I say, such an explanation seems absurd."

  She sat for a moment with eyes inwardly intent.

  "There's one theory which might explain it--part of it. Perhaps itwasn't Miss Holladay at all who returned from Washington Square withthe new maid. Perhaps it was the other woman, and the barred windowswere really to keep Miss Holladay a prisoner. Think of her there, inthat place, with Martigny for her jailer!"

  "But she wasn't there!" I protested. "We saw her when we gave her themoney. Royce and I saw her--so did Mr. Graham."

  "Yes--in a darkened room, with a bandage about her forehead; so hoarseshe could scarcely speak. No wonder Mr. Royce hardly knew her!"

  I stopped a moment to consider.

  "Remember, that would explain something which admits of no otherreasonable explanation," went on my companion; "the barred windows andthe behavior of the prisoner."

  "It would explain that, certainly," I admitted, though, at firstthought, the theory did not appeal to me. "You believe, then that MissHolladay was forcibly abducted?"

  "Undoubtedly. If her mind was going to give way at all, it would havedone so at once, and not two weeks after the tragedy."

  "But if she had brooded over it," I objected.

  "She wasn't brooding--at least, she had ceased to brood. You have Mr.Royce's word and the butler's word that she was getting better,brighter, quite like her old self again. Why should she relapse?"

  "I don't know," I said helplessly. "The more I reason about it, themore unreasonable it all seems. Besides, that affair last night hasupset me so that I can't think clearly. I feel that I wascareless--that I wasn't doing my duty."

  "I shouldn't worry about it; though, of course," she added a littleseverely, "you've realized by this time that you alone are to blamefor Martigny's presence on the boat."

  "But I had to go to the Jourdains'," I protested, "and I couldn't helptheir going to him--to have asked them not to go would have made themsuspect me at once."

  "Oh, yes; but, at least, you needn't have sent them. They might nothave gone at all--certainly they wouldn't have gone so promptly--ifyou hadn't sent them."

  "Sent them?" I repeated, and stared at her in amazement, doubting if Ihad heard aright.

  "Yes, sent them," she said again, emphatically. "Why do you supposethey went to the hospital so early the next morning?"

  "I supposed they had become suspicious of me."

  "Nonsense! What possible reason could they have for becomingsuspicious of you. On the contrary, it was because they were _not_suspicious of you, because they wished to please you, to air your roomfor you; because, in a word, you asked them to go--they went after thekey to those padlocks on the window-shutters. Of course, Martigny hadit."

  For a moment, I was too nonplused to speak; I could only stare at her.Then I found my tongue.

  "Well, I _was_ a fool, wasn't I?" I demanded bitterly. "To think thatI shouldn't have foreseen that! I was so worked up over my discoverythat night that I couldn't think of anything else. Of course, whenthey asked for the key, the whole story came out."

  "I shouldn't blame myself too severely," laughed Miss Kemball, as shelooked at my rueful countenance. "I myself think it's rather fortunatethat he's on the boat."

  "Fortunate? You don't mean that!"

  "Precisely that. Suppose the Jourdains hadn't gone to him; he'd haveleft the hospital anyway in two or three days--he isn't the man to lieinactive when he knew you were searching for the fugitives. He'd havereturned, then, to his apartment next to yours; your landlady wouldhave told him that you had sailed for Europe, and he had only toexamine this boat's passenger-list to discover your name. So you seethere wasn't so much lost, after all."

  "But, at any rate," I poin
ted out, "he would still have been inAmerica. He couldn't have caught us. We'd have had a good start ofhim."

  "He couldn't have caught you, but a cablegram would have passed you inmid-ocean, warning his confederates. If they have time to concealtheir prisoner, you'll never find her--your only hope is in catchingthem unprepared. And there's another reason--since he's on the boat,you've another opportunity--why not go and have a talk with him--thatbattle of wits you were looking forward to?"

  "I'd thought of that," I said; "but I'm afraid I couldn't play thepart."

  "The part?"

  "Of seeming not to suspect him, of being quite frank and open withhim, of appearing to tell him all my plans. I'm afraid he'd seethrough me in the first moment and catch me tripping. It's too great arisk."

  "The advantage would be on your side," she pointed out; "you couldtell him so many things which he already knows, and which he has noreason to suspect you know he knows--it sounds terribly involved,doesn't it? But you understand?"

  "Oh, yes; I understand."

  "And then, it would be the natural thing for you to look him up assoon as you learned he was ill. To avoid him will be to confess thatyou suspect him."

  "But his name isn't on the passenger list. If I hadn't happened to seehim as he came on board, I'd probably not have known it at all."

  "Perhaps he saw you at the same time."

  "Then the fat's in the fire," I said. "If he knows I know he's onboard, then he also knows that I suspect him; if he doesn't know, why,there's no reason for him to think that I'll find it out, unless heappears in the cabin; which doesn't seem probable."

  She sat silent for a moment, looking out across the water.

  "Perhaps you're right," she said at last; "there's no use taking anyunnecessary risks. The thing appealed to me--I think I should enjoy ahalf-hour's talk with him, matching my wits against his."

  "But yours are brighter than mine," I pointed out. "You've proved itpretty effectually in the last few minutes."

  "No I haven't; I've simply shown you that you overlooked one littlething. And I think you're right about the danger of going to Martigny.Our first duty is to Miss Holladay; we must rescue her before he canwarn his confederates to place her out of our reach."

  The unstudied way in which she said "our" filled me with anunreasoning happiness.

  "But why should they bother with a prisoner at all? They didn't shrinkfrom striking down her father?"

  "And they may not shrink from striking her down, at a favorablemoment," she answered calmly. "It will be easier in France than in NewYork--they perhaps have the necessary preparations already made--theymay be only hesitating--a warning from Martigny may turn the scale."

  My hands were trembling at the thought of it. If we should really betoo late!

  "But I don't believe they'll go to such extremes, Mr. Lester,"continued my companion. "I believe you're going to find her and solvethe mystery. My theory doesn't solve it, you know; it only makes itdeeper. The mystery, after all, is--who are these people?--why didthey kill Mr. Holladay?--why have they abducted his daughter?--what istheir plot?"

  "Yes," I assented; and again I had a moment of confused perplexity, asof a man staring down into a black abyss.

  "But after you find her," she asked, "what will you do with her?"

  "Do with her? Why, take her home, of course."

  "But she'll very probably be broken down, perhaps even on the verge ofhysteria. Such an experience would upset any woman, I don't care howrobust she may have been. She'll need rest and care. You must bringher to us at Paris, Mr. Lester."

  I saw the wisdom of her words, and said so.

  "That's very kind of you," I added. "I am sure Mr. Royce willagree--but we have first to find her, Miss Kemball."

  I was glad for my own sake, too; the parting of to-morrow would not,then, be a final one. I should see her again. I tried to say somethingof this, but my tongue faltered and refused to shape the words.

  She left me, presently, and for an hour or more I sat there andlooked, in every aspect, at the theory she had suggested. Certainly,there was nothing to disprove it; and yet, as she had said, it merelyserved to deepen the mystery. Who were these people, I asked myselfagain, who dared to play so bold and desperate a game? Theillegitimate daughter might, of course, impersonate Miss Holladay; butwho was the elder woman? Her mother? Then the liaison must have takenplace in France--her accent was not to be mistaken; but in France Mr.Holladay had been always with his wife. Besides, the younger womanspoke English perfectly. True, she had said only a few words--thehoarseness might have been affected to conceal a difference invoice--but how explain the elder woman's resemblance to HiramHolladay's daughter? Could they both be illegitimate? But that wasnonsense, for Mrs. Holladay had taken her into her life, had lovedher----

  And Martigny? Who was he? What was his connection with these women?That the crime had been carefully planned I could not doubt; and ithad been carried out with surprising skill. There had been no nervoushalting at the supreme moments, no hesitation nor drawing back;instead, a coolness of execution almost fiendish, arguing a hardenedand practiced hand.

  Doubtless it was Martigny who had arranged the plot, who had managedits development. And with what boldness! He had not feared to bepresent at the inquest; nor even to approach me and discuss the casewith me. I tried to recall the details of our talk, impatient that Ihad paid so little heed to it. He had asked, I remembered, what wouldhappen to Frances Holladay if she were found guilty. He had beenanxious, then, to save her. He had--yes, I saw it now!--he hadwritten the note which did save her; he had run the risk of discoveryto get her free!

  But why?

  If I only had a clew; one thread to follow! One ray of light would beenough! Then I could see my way out of this hopeless tangle; I shouldknow how to strike. But to stumble blindly onward in the dark--thatmight do more harm than good.

  Yes, and there was another thing for me to guard against. What was toprevent him, the moment he stepped ashore, wiring to his confederates,warning them, telling them to flee? Or he might wait, watching us,until he saw that they were really in danger. In either event, theymust easily escape; Miss Kemball had been right when she pointed outthat our only hope was in catching them unprepared. If I could throwhim off, deceive him, convince him that there was no danger!

  The impulse was too strong to be resisted. In a moment I was on myfeet--but, no--to surprise him would be to make him suspect! I calleda steward.

  "Take this card up to Monsieur Martigny," I said, "in 375, and ask ifhe is well enough to see me."

  As he hurried away, a sudden doubt seized me; horrified at myhardihood, I opened my mouth to call him back. But I did not call:instead, I sank back into my chair and stared out across the water.Had I done well? Was it wise to tempt Providence? Would I prove amatch for my enemy? The next half hour would tell. Perhaps he wouldnot see me; he could plead illness; he might be really too ill.

  "Monsieur Martigny," said the steward's voice at my elbow, "answersthat he will be most pleased to see Monsieur Lester at once."

 
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