The holladay case a tal.., p.6
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       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.6

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
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  CHAPTER VI

  Godfrey's Panegyric

  I was quite dazed for the moment.

  "A crowd of them in my room!" I repeated. "A crowd of whom, Mrs.Fitch?"

  "A crowd of reporters! They've been worrying my life out. They seemedto think I had you hid somewhere. I hope you're not in trouble, Mr.Lester?"

  "Not the least in the world, my dear madam," I laughed, and I breatheda long sigh of relief, for I had feared I know not what disaster."I'll soon finish with the reporters," and I went on up the stair.

  Long before I reached my rooms, I heard the clatter of voices andcaught the odor of various qualities of tobacco. They were lollingabout over the furniture, telling stories, I suppose, and they greetedme with a cheer when I entered. They were such jovial fellows that itwas quite impossible to feel angry with them--and besides, I knew thatthey were gentlemen, that they labored early and late at meagersalaries, for the pure love of the work; that they were quick to scentfraud or trickery or unworthiness, and inexorable in exposing them;that they loved to do good anonymously, remaining utterly unknown saveto the appreciative few behind the scenes. So I returned theirgreeting smilingly, and sat me down in a chair which one of themobligingly vacated for me.

  "Well?" I began, looking about at them.

  "My dear Mr. Lester," said the one who had given me the chair, "permitme to introduce myself as Rankin, of the _Planet_. These gentlemen,"and he included them in a wide gesture, "are my colleagues of thepress. We've been anxiously awaiting you here in order that we maypropound to you certain questions."

  "All right; fire away," I said.

  "First, we'd like to have your theory of the crime. Your work thisafternoon convinced us that you know how to put two and two together,which is more than can be said for the ordinary mortal. The publicwill want to know your theory--the great public."

  "Oh, but I haven't any theory," I protested. "Besides, I don't thinkthe great public is especially interested in me. You see, gentlemen,I'm quite out of the case. When we cleared Miss Holladay, ourconnection with it ended."

  "But is Miss Holladay cleared?" he persisted. "Is it not quiteconceivable that in those two hours she was absent from her carriage,she may have changed her gown, gone to her father's office, and thenchanged back again? In that case, would she not naturally have chosena green gown, since she never wore green?"

  "Oh, nonsense!" I cried. "That's puerile. Either she would disguiseherself effectually or not at all. I suppose if you were going tocommit a capital crime, you would merely put on a high hat, becauseyou never wear one! I'll tell you this much: I'm morally certain thatMiss Holladay is quite innocent. So, I believe, is the districtattorney."

  "But how about the note, Mr. Lester? What did it contain?"

  "Oh, I can't tell you that, you know. It's none of my business."

  "But you ought to treat us all alike," he protested.

  "I do treat you all alike."

  "But didn't Godfrey get it out of you?"

  "Godfrey?" I repeated. "Get it out of me?"

  He stared at me in astonishment.

  "Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Lester," he questioned, "that you haven'tbeen spending the evening with Jim Godfrey, of the _Record_?"

  Then, in a flash, I understood, and as I looked at the rueful facesof the men gathered about me, I laughed until the tears came.

  "So it was you," I gasped, "who chased us up Broadway?"

  He nodded.

  "Yes; but our horses weren't good enough. Where did he take you?"

  "To the Studio--Sixth Avenue."

  "Of course!" he cried, slapping his leg. "We might have known. Boys,we'd better go back to Podunk."

  "Well, at least, Mr. Lester," spoke up another, "you oughtn't to giveGodfrey a scoop."

  "But I didn't give him a scoop. I didn't even know who he was."

  "Didn't you tell him what was in the note?"

  "Not a word of it--I told him only one thing."

  "And what was that?"

  "That the person who wrote the note didn't know that Rogers wascolor-blind. You are welcome to that statement, too. You see, I'mtreating you all alike."

  They stood about me, staring down at me, silent with astonishment.

  "But," I added, "I think Godfrey suspects what was in the note."

  "Why?"

  "Well, his theory fits it pretty closely."

  "His theory! What is his theory, Mr. Lester?"

  "Oh, come," I laughed. "That's telling. It's a good theory, too."

  They looked at each other, and, I fancied, gnashed their teeth.

  "He seems a pretty clever fellow," I added, just to pile up the agony."I fancy you'll say so, too, when you see his theory in to-morrow'spaper."

  "Clever!" cried Rankin. "Why, he's a very fiend of cleverness when itcomes to a case of this kind. We're not in the same class with him.He's a fancy fellow--just the _Record_ kind. You're sure you didn'ttell him anything else, Mr. Lester?" he added anxiously. "Godfrey'scapable of getting a story out of a fence-post."

  "No, I'm quite sure I didn't tell him anything else. I only listenedto his theory with great interest."

  "And assented to it?"

  "I said I thought it plausible."

  An electric shock seemed to run around the room.

  "That's it!" cried Rankin. "That's what he wanted. Now, it isn't histheory any more. It's yours. Oh, I can see his headlines! Won't youtell us what it was?"

  I looked up at him.

  "Now, frankly, Mr. Rankin," I asked, "if you were in my place, wouldyou tell?"

  He hesitated for a moment, and then held out his hand.

  "No," he said, as I took it. "I shouldn't. Shake hands, sir; you'reall right. Come on, boys, we might as well be going."

  They filed out after him, and I heard them go singing up the street.Then I sank back into my chair and thought again of Godfrey's theory;it seemed to fit the case precisely, point by point--even--and Istarted at the thought--to Miss Holladay's reticence as to herwhereabouts the afternoon before. The whole mystery lay plain beforeme. In some way, she had discovered the existence of her half-sister,had secured her address; she had gone to visit her and had found heraway from home--it was probable, even, that the half-sister hadwritten her, asking her to come--though, in that case, why had she notremained at home to receive her? At any rate, Miss Holladay hadawaited her return, had noticed her agitation; had, perhaps, even seencertain marks of blood upon her. The news of her father's death hadpointed all too clearly to what that agitation and those blood-spotsmeant. She had remained silent that she might not besmirch herfather's name, and also, perhaps, that she might protect the otherwoman. I felt that I held in my hand the key to the whole problem.

  Point by point--but what a snarl it was! That there would be avigorous search for the other woman I could not doubt, but she had along start and should easily escape. Yet, perhaps, she had notstarted--she must have remained in town, else how could that note havebeen sent to us? She had remained, then--but why? That she should feelany affection for Frances Holladay seemed absurd, and yet, how elseexplain the note?

  I felt that I was getting tangled up in the snarl again--there seemedno limit to its intricacies; so, in very despair, I put the matterfrom me as completely as I could and went to bed.

  * * * * *

  The morning's _Record_ attested the truth of Rankin's prophecy. I hadgrown famous in a night: for Godfrey had, in a measure, made meresponsible for his theory, describing me with a wealth of adjectiveswhich I blush to remember, and which I have, even yet, not quiteforgiven him. I smiled as I read the first lines:

  A _Record_ representative had the pleasure, yesterday evening, of dining with Mr. Warwick Lester, the brilliant young attorney who achieved such a remarkable victory before Coroner Goldberg yesterday afternoon, in the hearing of the Holladay case, and, of course, took occasion to discuss with him the latest developments of this extraordinary crime. Mr. Lester agreed w
ith the _Record_ in a theory which is the only one that fits the facts of the case, and completely and satisfactorily explains all its ramifications.

  The theory was then developed at great length and the articleconcluded with the statement that the _Record_ was assisting thepolice in a strenuous endeavor to find the guilty woman.

  Now that the police knew in which quarter to spread their net, I hadlittle doubt that she would soon be found, since she had temptedprovidence by remaining in town.

  Mr. Graham and Mr. Royce were looking through the _Record_ articlewhen I reached the office, and I explained to them how the allegedinterview had been secured. They laughed together in appreciation ofGodfrey's audacious enterprise.

  "It seems a pretty strong theory," said our senior. "I'm inclined tobelieve it myself."

  I pointed out how it explained Miss Holladay's reticence--her refusalto assist us in proving an alibi. Mr. Royce nodded.

  "Precisely. As Godfrey said, the theory touches every point of thecase. According to the old police axiom, that proves it's the rightone."

 
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