The holladay case a tal.., p.5
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       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.5

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
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  CHAPTER V

  I Dine with a Fascinating Stranger

  The coroner dismissed the jury, and came down and shook hands with us.

  "I'm going to reward you for your clever work, Mr. Royce," he said."Will you take the good news to Miss Holladay?"

  My chief could not repress the swift flush of pleasure which reddenedhis cheeks, but he managed to speak unconcernedly.

  "Why, yes; certainly. I'll be glad to, if you wish it," he said.

  "I do wish it," Goldberg assured him, with a tact and penetration Ithough admirable. "You may dismiss the policeman who is with her."

  Our junior looked inquiringly at the district attorney.

  "Before I go," he said, "may I ask what you intend doing, sir?"

  "I intend finding the writer of that note," answered Singleton,smiling.

  "But, about Miss Holladay?"

  Singleton tapped his lips thoughtfully with his pencil.

  "Before I answer," he said at last, "I should like to go with you andask her one question."

  "Very well," assented Mr. Royce instantly, and led the way to the roomwhere Miss Holladay awaited us.

  She rose with flushing face as we entered, and stood looking at uswithout speaking; but, despite her admirable composure, I could guesshow she was racked with anxiety.

  "Miss Holladay," began my chief, "this is Mr. Singleton, the districtattorney, who wishes to ask you a few questions."

  "One question only," corrected Singleton, bowing. "Were you at yourfather's office yesterday afternoon, Miss Holladay?"

  "No, sir," she answered, instantly and emphatically. "I have not beennear my father's office for more than a week."

  I saw him studying her for a moment, then he bowed again.

  "That is all," he said. "I don't think the evidence justifies me inholding her, Mr. Royce," and he left the room. I followed him, for Iknew that I had no further part in our junior's errand. I went back toour table and busied myself gathering together our belongings. Theroom had gradually cleared, and at the end of ten minutes only thecoroner and his clerk remained. They had another case, it seemed, toopen in the morning--another case which, perhaps, involved just asgreat heartache and anguish as ours had. Five minutes later my chiefcame hurrying back to me, and a glance at his beaming eyes told me howhe had been welcomed.

  "Miss Holladay has started home with her maid," he said. "She asked meto thank you for her for the great work you did this afternoon,Lester. I told her it was really you who had done everything. Yes, itwas!" he added, answering my gesture of denial. "While I was gropinghelplessly around in the dark, you found the way to the light. Butcome; we must get back to the office."

  We found a cab at the curb, and in a moment were rolling back over theroute we had traversed that morning--ages ago, as it seemed to me! Itwas only a few minutes after three o'clock, and I reflected that Ishould yet have time to complete the papers in the Hurd case beforeleaving for the night.

  Mr. Graham was still at his desk, and he at once demanded an accountof the hearing. I went back to my work, and so caught only a word hereand there--enough, however, to show me that our senior was deeplyinterested in this extraordinary affair. As for me, I put all thoughtof it resolutely from me, and devoted myself to the work in hand. Itwas done at last, and I locked my desk with a sigh of relief. Mr.Graham nodded to me kindly as I passed out, and I left the office withthe comfortable feeling that I had done a good day's work for myself,as well as for my employers.

  A man who had apparently been loitering in the hall followed me intothe elevator.

  "This is Mr. Lester, isn't it?" he asked, as the car started todescend.

  "Yes," I said, looking at him in surprise. He was well dressed, withalert eyes and strong, pleasing face. I had never seen him before.

  "And you're going to dinner, aren't you, Mr. Lester?" he continued.

  "Yes--to dinner," I assented, more and more surprised.

  "Now, don't think me impertinent," he said, smiling at my look ofamazement, "but I want you to dine with me this evening. I can promiseyou as good a meal as you will get at most places in New York."

  "But I'm not dressed," I protested.

  "That doesn't matter in the least--neither am I, you see. We will dinein a _solitude a deux_."

  "Where?" I questioned.

  "Well, how would the Studio suit?"

  The car had reached the ground floor, and we left it together. I wascompletely in the dark as to my companion's purpose, and yet it couldhave but one explanation--it must be connected in some way with theHolladay case. Unless--and I glanced at him again. No, certainly, hewas not a confidence man--even if he was, I would rather welcome theadventure. My curiosity won the battle.

  "Very well," I said. "I'll be glad to accept your invitation, Mr.----"

  He nodded approvingly.

  "There spoke the man of sense. Well, you shall not go unrewarded.Godfrey is my name--no, you don't know me, but I'll soon explainmyself. Here's my cab."

  I mounted into it, he after me. It seemed to me that there was anunusual number of loiterers about the door of the building, but wewere off in a moment, and I did not give them a second thought. Werattled out into Broadway, and turned northward for the three-milestraightaway run to Union Square. I noticed in a moment that we weregoing at a rate of speed rather exceptional for a cab, and it steadilyincreased, as the driver found a clear road before him. My companionthrew up the trap in the roof of the cab as we swung around intoThirteenth Street.

  "All right, Sam?" he called.

  The driver grinned down at us through the hole.

  "All right, sir," he answered. "They couldn't stand the pace a littlebit. They're distanced."

  The trap snapped down again, we turned into Sixth Avenue, and stoppedin a moment before the Studio--gray and forbidding without, but adream within. My companion led the way upstairs to a private room,where a table stood ready set for us. The oysters appeared before wewere fairly seated.

  "You see," he smiled, "I made bold to believe that you'd come with me,and so had the dinner already ordered."

  I looked at him without replying. I was completely in the dark. Couldthis be the writer of the mysterious note? But what could his objectbe? Above all, why should he so expose himself? He smiled again, as hecaught my glance.

  "Of course you're puzzled," he said. "Well, I'll make a clean breastof the matter at once. I wanted to talk with you about this Holladaycase, and I decided that a dinner at the Studio would be just theticket."

  I nodded. The soup was a thing to marvel at.

  "You were right," I assented. "The idea was a stroke of genius."

  "I knew you'd think so. You see, since this morning, I've been makingrather a study of you. That coup of yours at the coroner's court thisafternoon was admirable--one of the best things I ever saw."

  I bowed my acknowledgments.

  "You were there, then?" I asked.

  "Oh, yes; I couldn't afford to miss it."

  "The color-blind theory was a simple one."

  "So simple that it never occurred to anyone else. I think we're tooapt to overlook the simple explanations, which are, after all, nearlyalways the true ones. It's only in books that we meet the reverse. Youremember it's Gaboriau who advises one always to distrust theprobable?"

  "Yes. I don't agree with him."

  "Nor I. Now take this case, for instance. I think it's safe to statethat murder, where it's not the result of sudden passion, is alwayscommitted for one of two objects--revenge or gain. But Mr. Holladay'spast life has been pretty thoroughly probed by the reporters, andnothing has been found to indicate that he had ever made a deadlyenemy, at least among the class of people who resort to murder--sothat does away with revenge. On the other hand, no one will gain byhis death--many will lose by it--in fact, the whole circle of hisassociates will lose by it. It might seem, at first glance, that hisdaughter would gain; but I think she loses most of all. She alreadyhad all the money she could possibly need; and she's lost her fath
er,whom, it's quite certain, she loved dearly. So what remains?"

  "Only one thing," I said, deeply interested in this exposition."Sudden passion."

  He nodded exultantly.

  "That's it. Now, who was the woman? From the first I was certain itcould not be his daughter--the very thought was preposterous. It seemsalmost equally absurd, however, to suppose that Holladay could bemixed up with any other woman. He certainly has not been for the lastquarter of a century--but before that--well, it's not so certain. Andthere's one striking point which seems to indicate his guilt."

  "Yes--you mean, of course, her resemblance to his daughter."

  "Precisely. Such a resemblance must exist--a resemblance unusual, evenstriking--or it would not for a moment have deceived Rogers. We mustremember, however, that Rogers's office was not brilliantly lighted,and that he merely glanced at her. Still, whatever minor differencesthere may have been, she had the air, the general appearance, the lookof Miss Holladay. Mere facial resemblance may happen in a hundredways, by chance; but the air, the look, the 'altogether' is verydifferent--it indicates a blood relationship. My theory is that she isan illegitimate child, perhaps four or five years older than MissHolladay."

  I paused to consider. The theory was reasonable, and yet it had itsfaults.

  "Now, let's see where this leads us," he continued. "Let us assumethat Holladay has been providing for this illegitimate daughter foryears. At last, for some reason, he is induced to withdraw thissupport; or, perhaps, the girl thinks her allowance insufficient. Atany rate, after, let us suppose, ineffectual appeals by letter, shedoes the desperate thing of calling at his office to protest inperson. She finds him inexorable--we know his reputation for obstinacywhen he had once made up his mind. She reproaches him--she is alreadydesperate, remember--and he answers with that stinging sarcasm forwhich he was noted. In an ecstacy of anger, she snatches up the knifeand stabs him; then, in an agony of remorse, endeavors to check theblood. She sees at last that it is useless, that she cannot save him,and leaves the office. All this is plausible, isn't it?"

  "Very plausible," I assented, looking at him in some astonishment."You forget one thing, however. Rogers testified that he wasintimately acquainted with the affairs of his employer, and that hewould inevitably have known of any intrigue such as you suggest."

  My companion paused for a moment's thought.

  "I don't believe that Rogers would so inevitably have known of it," hesaid, at last. "But, admit that--then there is another theory.Holladay has _not_ been supporting his illegitimate child, who learnsof her parentage, and goes to him to demand her rights. That fits thecase, doesn't it?"

  "Yes," I admitted. "It, also, is plausible."

  "It is more than plausible," he said quietly. "Whatever the detailsmay be, the body of the theory itself is unimpeachable--it's the onlyone which fits the facts. I believe it capable of proof. Don't you seehow the note helps to prove it?"

  "The note?"

  I started at the word, and my suspicions sprang into life again. Ilooked at him quickly, but his eyes were on the cloth, and he wasrolling up innumerable little pellets of bread.

  "That note," he added, "proved two things. One was that the writer wasdeeply interested in Miss Holladay's welfare; the other was that he orshe knew Rogers, the clerk, intimately--more than intimately--almostas well as a physician knows an old patient."

  "I admit the first," I said. "You'll have to explain the second."

  "The second is self-evident. How did the writer of the note know ofRogers's infirmity?"

  "His infirmity?"

  "Certainly--his color-blindness. I confess, I'm puzzled. How _could_anyone else know it when Rogers himself didn't know it? That's what Ishould like to have explained. Perhaps there's only one man or womanin the world who could know--well, that's the one who wrote the note.Now, who is it?"

  "But," I began, quickly, then stopped; should I set him right? Or wasthis a trap he had prepared for me?

  His eyes were not on the cloth now, but on me. There was a light inthem I did not quite understand. I felt that I must be sure of myground before I went forward.

  "It should be very easy to trace the writer of the note," I said.

  "The police have not found it so."

  "No?"

  "No. It was given to the door-keeper by a boy--just an ordinary boy offrom twelve to fourteen years--the man didn't notice him especially.He said there was no answer and went away. How are the police to findthat boy? Suppose they do find him? Probably all he could tell themwould be that a man stopped him at the corner and gave him a quarterto take the note to the coroner's office."

  "He might give a description of the man," I ventured.

  "What would a boy's description be worth? It would be, at the best,vague and indefinite. Besides, they've not even found the boy. Now, toreturn to the note."

  We had come to the coffee and cigars, and I felt it time to protest.

  "Before we return to the note, Mr. Godfrey," I said, "I'd like to askyou two direct questions. What interest have you in the matter?"

  "The interest of every investigator of crime," he answered, smiling.

  "You belong to the detective force, then?"

  "I have belonged to it. At present, I'm in other employ."

  "And what was your object in bringing me here this evening?"

  "One portion of my object has been accomplished. The other was to askyou to write out for me a copy of the note."

  "But who was it pursued us up Broadway?"

  "Oh, I have rivals!" he chuckled. "I flatter myself that was ratherneatly done. Will you give me a copy of the note, Mr. Lester?"

  "No," I answered squarely. "You'll have to go to the police for that.I'm out of the case."

  He bowed across the table to me with a little laugh. As I looked athim, his imperturbable good humor touched me.

  "I'll tell you one thing, though," I added. "The writer of the noteknew nothing of Rogers's color-blindness--you're off the scent there."

  "I am?" he asked amazedly. "Then how did _you_ know it, Mr. Lester?"

  "I suppose you detectives would call it deduction--I deduced it."

  He took a contemplative puff or two, as he looked at me.

  "Well," he exclaimed, at last, "I must say that beats me! Deduced it!That was mighty clever."

  Again I bowed my acknowledgments.

  "And that's all you can tell me?" he added.

  "I'm afraid that's all."

  "Very well; thank you for that much," and he flicked the ashes fromhis cigar. "Now, I fear that I must leave you. I've a good deal ofwork to do, and you've opened up a very interesting line ofspeculation. I assure you that I've passed a very pleasant evening. Ihope you've not found it tiresome?"

  "Quite the contrary," I said heartily. "I've enjoyed myselfimmensely."

  "Then I'll ask one last favor. My cab is at the door. I've no furtheruse for it, and I beg you'll drive home in it."

  I saw that he really wished it.

  "Why, yes, certainly," I assented.

  "Thank you," he said.

  He took me down to the door, called the cab, and shook hands with mewarmly.

  "Good-by, Mr. Lester," he said. "I'm glad of the chance to have metyou. I'm not really such a mysterious individual--it's merely a trickof the trade. I hope we'll meet again some time."

  "So do I," I said, and meant it.

  I saw him stand for a moment on the curb looking after us as we droveaway, then he turned and ran rapidly up the steps of the Elevated.

  The driver seemed in no hurry to get me home, and I had plenty of timeto think over the events of the evening, but I could make nothing ofthem. What result he had achieved I could not imagine. And yet he hadseemed satisfied. As to his theory, I could not but admit that it wasan adroit one; even a masterly one--a better one, certainly, than Ishould have evolved unaided.

  The cab drew up at my lodging and I sprang out, tipped the driver, andran up the steps to the door. My landlady met me on the thre
shold.

  "Oh, Mr. Lester!" she cried. "Such a time as I've had this night!Every five minutes there's been somebody here looking for you, andthere's a crowd of them up in your room now. I tried to put them out,but they wouldn't go!"

 
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