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Average Jones

I. The B-Flat Trombone ................................................................................................................3
II. Red Dot....................................................................................................................................24
III. Open Trail .................................................................................................................................44
IV. The Mercy Sign-One ...............................................................................................................65
V. The Mercy Sign--Two ..............................................................................................................79
VI. Blue Fires ...................................................................................................................................95
VII. Pin-Pricks .................................................................................................................................112
VIII. Big Print...................................................................................................................................129
IX. The Man Who Spoke Latin ....................................................................................................147 X. The Million-Dollar Dog.............................................................................................................180

I. The B-Flat Trombone

Three men sat in the Cosmic Club discussing the question: "What's the matter with Jones?" Waldemar, the oldest of the conferees, was the owner, and at times the operator, of an important and decent newspaper. His heavy face wore the expression of good-humored power, characteristic of the experienced and successful journalist. Beside him sat Robert Bertram, the club idler, slender and languidly elegant. The third member of the conference was Jones himself.

Average Jones had come by his nickname inevitably. His parents had foredoomed him to it when they furnished him with the initials A. V. R. E. as preface to his birthright of J for Jones. His character apparently justified the chance concomitance. He was, so to speak, a composite photograph of any thousand well-conditioned, clean-living Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. Happily, his otherwise commonplace face was relieved by the one unfailing characteristic of composite photographs, large, deep-set and thoughtful eyes. Otherwise he would have passed in any crowd, and nobody would have noticed him pass. Now, at twenty-seven, he looked back over the five years since his graduation from college and wondered what he had done with them; and at the four previous years of undergraduate life and wondered how he had done so well with those and why he had not in some manner justified the parting words of his favorite professor.

"You have one rare faculty, Jones. You can, when you choose, sharpen the pencil of your mind to a very fine point. Specialize, my boy, specialize."

If the recipient of this admonition had specialized in anything, it was in life. Having twenty-five thousand a year of his own he might have continued in that path indefinitely, but for two influences. One was an irruptive craving within him to take some part in the dynamic activities of the surrounding world. The other was the "freak" will of his late and little-lamented uncle, from whom he had his present income, and his future expectations of some ten millions. Adrian Van Reypen Egerton had, as Waldemar once put it, "--one into the mayor's chair with a good name and come out with a block of ice stock." In a will whose cynical humor was the topic of its day, Mr. Egerton jeered posthumously at the public which he had despoiled, and promised restitution, of a sort, through his heir.

"Therefore," he had written, "I give and bequeath to the said Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, the residue of my property, the principal to be taken over by him at such time as he shall have completed five years of continuous residence in New York City. After such time the virus of the metropolis will have worked through his entire being. He will squander his unearned and undeserved fortune, thus completing the vicious circle, and returning the millions acquired by my political activities, in a poisoned shower upon the city, for which, having bossed, bullied and looted it, I feel no sentiment other than contempt."
"And now," remarked Waldemar in his heavy, rumbling voice, "you aspire to disappoint that good old man."

"It's only human nature, you know," said Average Jones. "When a man puts a tenmillion-dollar curse on you and suggests that you haven't the backbone of a shrimp, you--you--"

"--naturally yearn to prove him a liar," supplied Bertram.

 

"Exactly. Anyway, I've no taste for dissipation, either moral or financial. I want action; something to do. I'm bored in this infernal city."

 

"The wail of the unslaked romanticist," commented Bertram.

 

"Romanticist nothing!" protested the other. "My ambitions are practical enough if I could only get 'em stirred up."

"Exactly. Boredom is simply romanticism with a morning-after thirst. You're panting for romance, for something bizarre. Egypt and St. Petersburg and Buenos Ayres and Samoa have all become commonplace to you. You've overdone them. That's why you're back here in New York waiting with stretched nerves for the Adventure of Life to cat-creep up from behind and toss the lariat of rainbow dreams over your shoulders."

Waldemar laughed. "Not a bad diagnosis. Why don't you take up a hobby, Mr. Jones?"

 

"What kind of a hobby?"

"Any kind. The club is full of hobby-riders. Of all people that I know, they have the keenest appetite for life. Look at old Denechaud; he was a misanthrope until he took to gathering scarabs. Fenton, over there, has the finest collection of circus posters in the world. Bellerding's house is a museum of obsolete musical instruments. De Gay collects venomous insects from all over the world; no harmless ones need apply. Terriberry has a mania for old railroad tickets. Some are really very curious. I've often wished I had the time to be a crank. It's a happy life."

"What line would you choose?" asked Bertram languidly.

 

"Nobody has gone in for queer advertisements yet, I believe," replied the older man. "If one could take the time to follow them up---but it would mean all one's leisure."

 

"Would it be so demanding a career?" said Average Jones, smiling.

"Decidedly. I once knew a man who gave away twenty dollars daily on clues from the day's news. He wasn't bored for lack of occupation."
"But the ordinary run of advertising is nothing more than an effort to sell something by yelling in print," objected Average Jones.

"Is it? Well perhaps you don't look in the right place."

 

Waldemar reached for the morning's copy of the Universal and ran his eye down the columns of "classified" matter. "Hark to this," he said, and read:

"Is there any work on God's green earth for a man who has just got to have it?"

"Or this:

"WANTED--A venerable looking man with white beard and medical degree. Good pay to right applicant."

"What's that?" asked Average Jones with awakened interest.

 

"Only a quack medical concern looking for a stall to impress their come-ons," explained Waldemar.

 

Average Jones leaned over to scan the paper in his turn.

 

"Here's one," said he, and read:

WANTED--Performer on B-flat trombone. Can use at once. Apply with instrument, after 1 p. m. 300 East 100th Street.

"That seems ordinary enough," said Waldemar.

 

"What's it doing in a daily paper? There must be--er--technical publications--er--journals, you know, for this sort of demand."

 

"When Average's words come slow, you've got him interested," commented Bertram. "Sure sign."

 

"Nevertheless, he's right," said Waldemar. "It is rather misplaced."

 

"How is this for one that says what it means?" said Bertram.

WANTED--At once, a brass howitzer and a man who isn't afraid to handle it. Mrs. Anne Cullen, Pier 49 1/2 East River. "The woman who is fighting the barge combine," explained Waldemar. "Not so good as it looks. She's bluffing."

"Anyway, I'd like a shy at this business," declared Average Jones with sudden conviction. "It looks to me like something to do."

"Make it a business, then," advised Waldemar. "If you care really to go in for it, my newspaper would be glad to pay for information such as you might collect. We haven't time, for example, to trace down fraudulent advertisers. If you could start an enterprise of that sort, you'd certainly find it amusing, and, at times, perhaps, even adventurous."

"I wouldn't know how to establish it," objected Average Jones.

The newspaper owner drew a rough diagram on a sheet of paper and filled it in with writing, crossing out and revising liberally. Divided, upon his pattern, into lines, the final draft read:

HAVE YOU BEEN STUNG?

 

Thousands have.

 

Thousands will be.

 

They're Laying for You.

 

WHO?

 

The Advertising Crooks.

 

A. JONES

 

Ad-Visor

 

Can Protect You

 

Against Them.

 

Before Spending Your Money Call on Him.

 

Advice on all Subjects

 

Connected with Newspaper,

 

Magazine or Display Advertising.

 

Free Consultation to

 

Persons Unable to Pay.

 

Call or Write, Enclosing

 

Postage. This Is On The Level.

 

"Ad-Visor! Do you expect me to blight my budding career by a poisonous pun like that?" demanded Average Jones with a wry face.

"It may be a poisonous pun, but it's an arresting catch-word," said Waldemar, unmoved. "Single column, about fifty lines will do it in nice, open style. Caps and lower case, and black-faced type for the name and title. Insert twice a week in every New York and Brooklyn paper."

"Isn't it--er--a little blatant?" suggested Bertram, with lifted eyebrows.

 

"Blatant?" repeated its inventor. "It's more than that. It's howlingly vulgar. It's a riot of glaring yellow. How else would you expect to catch the public?"

 

"Suppose, then, I do burst into flame to this effect?" queried the prospective "Ad-Visor." "Et apres? as we proudly say after spending a week in Paris."

"Apres? Oh, plenty of things. You hire an office, a clerk, two stenographers and a clipping export, and prepare to take care of the work that comes in. You'll be flooded," promised Waldemar.

"And between times I'm to go skipping about, chasing long white whiskers and brass howitzers and B-flat trombones, I suppose."

"Until you get your work systematized you'll have no time for skipping. Within six months, if you're not sandbagged or jailed on fake libel suits, you'll have a unique bibliography of swindles. Then I'll begin to come and buy your knowledge to keep my own columns clean."

The speaker looked up to meet the gaze of an iron-gray man with a harsh, sallow face. "Excuse my interrupting," said the new-comer.

 

"Just one question, Waldemar. Who's going to be the nominee?"

 

"Linder."

 

"Linder? Surely not! Why, his name hasn't been heard."

 

"It will be."

 

"His Federal job?"

 

"He resigns in two weeks."

 

"His record will kill him."

 

"What record? You and I know he's a grafter. But can we prove anything? His clerk has always handled all the money."

 

"Wasn't there an old scandal--a woman case?"' asked the questioner vaguely.

"That Washington man's wife? Too old. Linder would deny it flatly, and there would be no witnesses. The woman is dead--killed by his brutal treatment of her, they say. But the whole thing was hushed up at the time by Linder's pull, and when the husband threatened to kill him Linder quietly set a commissioner of insanity on the case and had the man put away. He's never appeared since. No, that wouldn't be politically effective."

The gray man nodded, and walked away, musing.

"Egbert, the traction boss," explained Waldemar. "We're generally on opposite sides, but this time we're both against Linder. Egbert wants a cheaper man for mayor. I want a straighter one. And I could get him this year if Linder wasn't so well fortified. However, to get back to our project, Mr. Jones--"

Get back to it they did with such absorption that when the group broke up, several hours later, Average Jones was committed, by plan and rote, to the new and hopeful adventure of Life.

In the great human hunt which ever has been and ever shall be till "the last bird flies into the last light"--some call it business, some call it art, some call it love, and a very few know it for what it is, the very mainspring of existence--the path of the pursuer and the prey often run obscurely parallel. What time the Honorable William Linder matured his designs on the mayoralty, Average Jones sat in a suite of offices in Astor Court, a location which Waldemar had advised as being central, expensive, and inspirational of confidence, and considered, with a whirling brain, the minor woes of humanity. Other people's troubles had swarmed down upon him in answer to his advertised offer of help, as sparrows flock to scattered bread crumbs. Mostly these were of the lesser order of difficulties; but for what he gave in advice and help the Ad-Visor took payment in experience and knowledge of human nature. Still it was the hard, honest study, and the helpful toil which held him to his task, rather than the romance and adventure which he had hoped for and Waldemar had foretold--until, in a quiet, street in Brooklyn, of which he had never so much as heard, there befell that which, first of many events, justified the prophetic Waldemar and gave Average Jones a part in the greater drama of the metropolis. The party of the second part was the Honorable William Linder.

Mr., Linder sat at five P. m., of an early summer day, behind lock and bolt. The third floor front room of his ornate mansion on Brooklyn's Park Slope was dedicated to peaceful thought. Sprawled in a huge and softly upholstered chair at the window, he took his ease in his house. The chair had been a recent gift from an anonymous admirer whose political necessities, the Honorable Mr. Linder idly surmised, had not yet driven him to reveal his identity. Its occupant stretched his shoeless feet, as was his custom, upon the broad window-sill, flooded by the seasonable warmth of sunshine, the while he considered the ripening mayoralty situation. He found it highly satisfactory. In the language of his inner man, it was a cinch.

Below, in Kennard Street, a solitary musician plodded. His pretzel-shaped brass rested against his shoulder. He appeared to be the "scout" of one of those prevalent and melancholious German bands, which, under Brooklyn's easy ordinances, are privileged to draw echoes of the past writhing from their forgotten recesses. The man looked slowly about him as if apprising potential returns. His gravid glance encountered the prominent feet in the third story window of the Linder mansion, and rested. He moved forward. Opposite the window he paused. He raised the mouthpiece to his lips and embarked on a perilous sea of notes from which the tutored ear might have inferred that once popular ditty, Egypt.

Love of music was not one of the Honorable William Linder's attributes. An irascible temper was. Of all instruments the B-flat trombone possesses the most nerve-jarring tone. The master of the mansion leaped from his restful chair. Where his feet had ornamented the coping his face now appeared. Far out he leaned, and roared at the musician below. The brass throat blared back at him, while the soloist, his eyes closed in the ecstasy of art, brought the "verse" part of his selection to an excruciating conclusion, half a tone below pitch. Before the chorus there was a brief pause for effect. In this pause, from Mr. Linder's open face a voice fell like a falling star. Although it did not cry "Excelsior," its output of vocables might have been mistaken, by a casual ear, for that clarion call. What the Honorable Mr. Linder actually shouted was:

"Getthehelloutofhere!"

 

The performer upturned a mild and vacant face. "What you say?" he inquired in a softly Teutonic accent.

 

The Honorable William Linder made urgent gestures, like a brakeman. "Go away! Move on!"

 

The musician smiled reassuringly.

 

"I got already paid for this," he explained.

Up went the brass to his lips again. The tonal stairway which leads up to the chorus of Egypt rose in rasping wailfulness. It culminated in an excessive, unendurable, brazen shriek--and the Honorable William Linder experienced upon the undefended rear of his person the most violent kick of a lifetime not always devoted to the arts of peace. It projected him clear of the window-sill. His last sensible vision was the face of the musician, the mouth absurdly hollow and pursed above the suddenly removed mouthpiece. Then an awning intercepted the politician's flight. He passed through this, penetrated a second and similar stretch of canvas shading the next window below, and lay placid on his own front steps with three ribs caved in and a variegated fracture of the collar-bone. By the time the descent was ended the German musician had tucked his brass under his arm and was hurrying, in panic, down the street, his ears still ringing with the concussion which had blown the angry householder from his own front window. He was intercepted by a running policeman.

"Where was the explosion?" demanded the officer.

 

"Explosion? I hear a noise in the larch house on the corner," replied the musician dully.

 

The policeman grabbed his arm. "Come along back. You fer a witness! Come on; you an' yer horn."

 

"It iss not a horn," explained the German patiently, "'it iss a B-flat trombone."

Along with several million other readers, Average Jones followed the Linder "bomb outrage" through the scandalized head-lines of the local press. The perpetrator, declared the excited journals, had been skilful. No clue was left. The explosion had taken care of that. The police (with the characteristic stupidity of a corps of former truckdrivers and bartenders, decorated with brass buttons and shields and without further qualification dubbed "detectives") vacillated from theory to theory. Their putty-andpasteboard fantasies did not long survive the Honorable William Linder's return to consciousness and coherence. An "inside job," they had said. The door was locked and bolted, Mr. Linder declared, and there was no possible place for an intruder to conceal himself. Clock-work, then.

"How would any human being guess what time to set it for," demanded the politician in disgust, "when I never know, myself, where I'm going to be at any given hour of any given day?"

"Then that Dutch horn-player threw the bomb," propounded the head of the "Detective

Bureau" ponderously.
"Of course; tossed it right up, three stories, and kept playing his infernal trombone with the other hand all the time. You ought to be carrying a hod!"

Nevertheless, the police hung tenaciously to the theory that the musician was involved, chiefly because they had nothing else to hang to. The explosion had been very localized, the room not generally wrecked; but the chair which seemed to be the center of disturbance, and from which the Honorable William Linder had risen just in time to save his life, was blown to pieces, and a portion of the floor beneath it was much shattered. The force of the explosion had been from above the floor downward; not up through the flooring. As to murderously inclined foes, Mr. Linder disclaimed knowledge of any. The notion that the trombonist had given a signal he derided as an "Old Sleuth pipe-dream."

As time went on and "clues" came to nothing, the police had no greater concern than quietly to forget, according to custom, a problem beyond their limited powers. With the release of the German musician, who was found to be simple-minded to the verge of half-wittedness, public interest waned, and the case faded out of current print.

Average Jones, who was much occupied with a pair of blackmailers operating through faked photographs, about that time, had almost forgotten the Linder case, when, one day, a month after the explosion, Waldemar dropped in at the Astor Court offices. He found a changed Jones; much thinner and "finer" than when, eight weeks before, he had embarked on his new career, at the newspaper owner's instance. The young man's color was less pronounced, and his eyes, though alert and eager, showed rings under them.

"You have found the work interesting, I take it," remarked the visitor.

 

"Ra--ather," drawled Average Jones appreciatively.

 

"That was a good initial effort, running down the opium pill mail-order enterprise."

 

"It was simple enough as soon as I saw the catchword in the 'Wanted' line."

"Anything is easy to a man who sees," returned the older man sententiously. "The open eye of the open mind--that has more to do with real detective work than all the deduction and induction and analysis ever devised."

"It is the detective part that interests me most in the game, but I haven't had much of it, yet. You haven't run across any promising ads lately, have you?"

 

Waldemar's wide, florid brow wrinkled.

 

"I haven't thought or dreamed of anything for a month but this infernal bomb explosion."

"Oh, the Linder case. You're personally interested?" "Politically. It makes Linder's nomination certain. Persecution. Attempted assassination. He becomes a near-martyr. I'm almost ready to believe that he planted a fake bomb himself."

"And fell out of a third-story window to carry out the idea? That's pushing realism rather far, isn't it?"

 

Waldemar laughed. "There's the weakness. Unless we suppose that he under-reckoned the charge of explosive."

 

"They let the musician go, didn't they?"

 

"Yes. There was absolutely no proof against him, except that he was in the street below. Besides, he seemed quite lacking mentally."

 

"Mightn't that have been a sham?"

"Alienists, of good standing examined him. They reported him just a shade better than half-witted. He was like a one-ideaed child, his whole being comprised in his ability, and ambition to play his B-flat trombone."

"Well, if I needed an accomplice," said Average Jones thoughtfully, "I wouldn't want any better one than a half-witted man. Did he play well?"

 

"Atrociously. And if you know what a soul-shattering blare exudes from a B-flat trombone--" Mr. Waldemar lifted expressive hands.

Within Average Jones' overstocked mind something stirred at the repetition of the words "B-flat trombone." Somewhere they had attracted his notice in print; and somehow they were connected with Waldemar. Then from amidst the hundreds of advertisements with which, in the past weeks, he had crowded his brain, one stood out clear. It voiced the desire of an unknown gentleman on the near border of Harlem for the services of a performer upon that semi-exotic instrument. One among several, it had been cut from the columns of the Universal, on the evening which had launched him upon his new enterprise. Average Jones made two steps to a bookcase, took down a huge scrapbook from an alphabetized row, and turned the leaves rapidly.

"Three Hundred East One Hundredth Street," said he, slamming the book shut again. "Three Hundred East One Hundredth. You won't mind, will you," he said to Waldemar, "if I leave you unceremoniously?"

"Recalled a forgotten engagement?" asked the other, rising.

"Yes. No. I mean I'm going to Harlem to hear some music. Thirty-fourth's the nearest station, isn't it? Thanks. So long."
Waldemar rubbed his head thoughtfully as the door slammed behind the speeding AdVisor.

"Now, what kind of a tune is he on the track of, I wonder?" he mused. "I wish it hadn't struck him until I'd had time to go over the Linder business with him."

But while Waldemar rubbed his head in cogitatation and the Honorable William Linder, in his Brooklyn headquarters, breathed charily, out of respect to his creaking rib, Average Jones was following fate northward.

Three Hundred East One Hundredth Street is a house decrepit with a disease of the aged. Its windowed eyes are rheumy. It sags backward on gnarled joints. All its poor old bones creak when the winds shake it. To Average Jones' inquiring gaze on this summer day it opposed the secrecy of a senile indifference. He hesitated to pull at its bell-knob, lest by that act he should exert a disruptive force which might bring all the frail structure rattling down in ruin. When, at length, he forced himself to the summons, the merest ghost of a tinkle complained petulantly from within against his violence.

An old lady came to the door. She was sleek and placid, round and comfortable. She did not seem to belong in that house at all. Average Jones felt as if he had cracked open one of the grisly locust shells which cling lifelessly to tree trunks, and had found within a plump and prosperous beetle.

"Was an advertisement for a trombone player inserted from this house, ma'am?" he inquired.

 

"Long ago," said she.

 

"Am I too late, then?"

 

"Much. It was answered nearly two months since. I have never," said the old lady with conviction, "seen such a frazzled lot of folks as B-flat trombone players."

 

"The person who inserted the advertisement--?"

 

"Has left. A month since."

 

"Could you tell where he went?"

 

"Left no address."

 

"His name was Telford, wasn't it?" said Average Jones strategically.

 

"Might be," said the old lady, who had evidently formed no favorable impression of her ex-lodger. "But he called himself Ransom."

 

"He had a furnished room?"

 

"The whole third floor, furnished."

 

"Is it let now?"

 

"Part of it. The rear."

 

"I'll take the front room."

 

"Without even looking at it?"

 

"Yes."

 

"You're a queer young man. As to price?"

 

"Whatever you choose."

 

"You're a very queer young man. Are you a B-flat trombone player?"

 

"I collect 'em," said Average Jones.

 

"References?" said the old lady abruptly and with suspicion.

 

"All varieties," replied her prospective lodger cheerfully. "I will bring 'em to-morrow with my grip."

For five successive evenings thereafter Average Jones sat in the senile house, awaiting personal response to the following advertisement which he had inserted in the Universal:

WANTED--B-flat trombonist. Must have had experience as street player. Apply between 8 and 10 p. m. R--, 300 East 100th Street.

Between the ebb and flow of applicant musicians he read exhaustively upon the unallied subjects of trombones and high explosives, or talked with his landlady, who proved to be a sociable person, not disinclined to discuss the departed guest. "Ransom," his supplanter learned, had come light and gone light. Two dress suit cases had sufficed to bring in all his belongings. He went out but little, and then, she opined with a disgustful sniff, for purposes strictly alcoholic. Parcels came for him occasionally. These were usually labeled "Glass. Handle with care." Oh! there was one other thing. A huge, easy arm-chair from Carruthers and Company, mighty luxurious for an eight-dollar lodger.

"Did he take that with him?" asked Average Jones. "No. After he had been here a while he had a man come in and box it up. He must have sent it away, but I never saw it go."

"Was this before or after the trombone players came?"

 

"Long after. It was after he had picked out his man and had him up here practicing."

 

"Did--er--you ever--er--see this musician?" drawled Average Jones in the slow tones of his peculiar excitement.

 

"Bless you, yes! Talked with him."

 

"What was he like?"

 

"He was a stupid old German. I always thought he was a sort of a natural."

 

"Yes?" Average Jones peered out of the window. "Is this the man, coming up the street?"

 

"It surely is," said the old lady. "Now, Mister Jones, if he commences his blaring and blatting and--".

 

"There'll be no more music, ma'am," promised the young man, laughing, as she went out to answer the door-bell.

 

The musician, ushered in, looked about him, an expression of bewildered and childish surprise on his rabbit-like face.

 

"I am Schlichting," he murmured; "I come to play the B-flat trombone."

 

"Glad to see you, Mr. Schlichting," said Average Jones, leading the way up-stairs. "Sit down."

 

The visitor put his trombone down and shook his head with conviction.

 

"It iss the same room, yes," he observed. "But it iss not the same gent, no."

 

"You expected to find Mr. Ransom here?"

 

"I don't know Mr. Ransom. I know only to play the B-flat trombone."

 

"Mr. Ransom, the gentleman who employed you to play in the street in Brooklyn."

 

Mr. Schlichting made large and expansive gestures. "It iss a pleasure to play for such a gent," he said warmly. "Two dollars a day."

 

"You have played often in Kennard Street?"

 

"I don't know Kennard Street. I know only to play the B-flat trombone."

 

"Kennard Street. In Brooklyn. Where the fat gentleman told you to stop, and fell out of the window."

 

A look of fear overspread the worn and innocent face.

 

"I don't go there no more. The po-lice, they take there."

 

"But you had gone there before?"

 

"Not to play; no."

 

"Not to play? Are you sure?"

 

The German considered painfully. "There vass no feet in the window," he explained, brightening.

 

Upon that surprising phrase Average Jones pondered. "You were not to play unless there were feet the window," he said at length. "Was that it?"

 

The musician assented.

 

"It does look like a signal to show that Linder was in," mused the interrogator. "Do you know Linder?"

 

"I don't know nothing only to play the B-flat trombone," repeated the other patiently.

 

"Now, Schlichting," said Average Jones, "here is a dollar. Every evening you must come here. Whether I am here or not, there will be a dollar for you. Do you understand?"

 

By way of answer the German reached down and listed his instrument to his lips.

 

"No, not that," forbade Average Jones. "Put it down."

 

"Not to play my B-flat trombone?" asked the other, innocently hurt. "The other gent he make play here always."

 

"Did he?" drawled Average Jones. "And he--er--listened?"

 

"He listened from out there." The musician pointed to the other room.

 

"How long?" "Different times," was the placid reply.

 

"But he was always in the other room."

 

"Always. And I play Egypt. Like this."

 

"No!" said Average Jones, as the other stretched out a hopeful hand.

 

"He liked it--Egypt," said the German wistfully. "He said: 'Bravo! Encore! Bis!' Sometimes nine, sometimes ten times over I play it, the chorus."

 

"And then he sent you home?"

 

"Then sometimes something goes 'sping-g-g-g-g!' like that in the back room. Then he comes out and I may go home."

 

"Um--m," muttered Average Jones discontentedly. "When did you begin to play in the street?"

 

"After a long time. He take me away to Brooklyn and tell me, 'When you see the feet iss in the window you play hard!"'

 

There was a long pause. Then Average Jones asked casually:

 

"Did you ever notice a big easy chair here?"

 

"I do not notice nothing. I play my B-flat trombone."

 

And there his limitations were established. But the old lady had something to add.

"It's all true that he said," she confirmed. "I could hear his racket in the front room and Mr. Ransom working in the back and then, after the old man was gone, Mr. Ransom sweeping up something by himself."

"Sweeping? What--er--was he--er--sweeping?"

 

"Glass, I think. The girl used to find little slivers of it first in one part of the room, then in another. I raised the rent for that and for the racket."

 

"The next thing," said Average Jones, "is to find out where that big easy chair went from here. Can you help me there?"

 

The old lady shook her head. "All I can do is to tell you the near-by truck men."

Canvass of the local trucking industry brought to light the conveyor of that elegant article of furniture. It had gone, Average Jones learned, not to the mansion of the Honorable William Linder, as he had fondly hoped, but to an obscure address not far from the Navy Yard in Brooklyn. To this address, having looked up and gathered in the B-flat trombonist, Average Jones led the way. The pair lurked in the neighborhood of the ramshackle house watching the entrance, until toward evening, as the door opened to let out a tremulous wreck of a man, palsied with debauch, Schlichting observed:

"That iss him. He hass been drinking again once."

 

Average Jones hurried the musician around the corner into concealment. "You have been here before to meet Mr. Ransom?"

 

"No."

 

"Where did he meet you to pay you your wages?"

 

"On some corner," said the other vaguely.

 

"Then he took you to the big house and left you there," urged Jones.

 

"No; he left me on the street corner. 'When the feet iss in the window,' he says, 'you play.'"

"It comes to this," drawled Average Jones intently, looking the employee between his vacuous eyes. "Ransom shipped the chair to Plymouth Street and from there to Linder's house. He figured out that Linder would put it in his study and do his sitting at the window in it. And you were to know when he was there by seeing his feet in the window, and give the signal when you saw him. It must have been a signal to somebody pretty far off, or he wouldn't have chosen so loud an instrument as a B-flat trombone."

"I can play the B-flat trombone louder as any man in the business," asserted Schlichting with proud conviction.

 

"But what gets me," pursued Average Jones, "is the purpose of the signal. Whom was it for?"

 

"I don't know nothing," said the other complacently. "I only know to play the B-flat trombone louder as any man in the world."

Average Jones paid him a lump sum, dismissed him and returned to the Cosmic Club, there to ponder the problem. What next? To accuse Ransom, the mysterious hirer of a B-flat trombone virtuosity, without sufficient proof upon which to base even a claim of cross-examination, would be to block his own game then and there, for Ransom could, and very likely would, go away, leaving no trace. Who was Ransom, anyway? And what relation, if any, did he bear to Linder?
Absorbed in these considerations, be failed to notice that the club was filling up beyond its wont. A hand fell on his shoulder.

"Hello, Average. Haven't seen you at a Saturday special night since you started your hobby."

 

It was Bertram. "What's on?" Average Jones asked him, shaking hands.

"Freak concert. Bellerding has trotted out part of his collection of mediaeval musical instruments, and some professionals are going to play them. Waldemar is at our table. Come and join us."

Conversation at the round-table was general and lively that evening, and not until the port came on--the prideful club port, served only on special occasions and in wonderful, delicate glasses--did Average Jones get an opportunity to speak to Waldemar aside.

"I've been looking into that Linder matter a little."

 

"Indeed. I've about given up hope."

 

"You spoke of an old scandal in Linder's career. What was the husband's name?"

 

"Arbuthnot, I believe."

 

"Do you know what sort of looking man he was?"

 

"No. I could find out from Washington."

 

"What was his business?"

 

"Government employment, I think."

 

"In the--er--scientific line, perhaps?" drawled Jones.

 

"Why, yes, I believe it was."

 

"Um-m. Suppose, now, Linder should drop out of the combination. Who would be the most likely nominee?"

 

"Marsden--the man I've been grooming for the place. A first-class, honorable, fearless man."

 

"Well, it's only a chance; but if I can get one dark point cleared up--"

 

He paused as a curious, tingling note came from the platform where the musicians were tuning tip.

 

"One of Bellerding's sweet dulcets," observed Bertram.

The Performer nearest them was running a slow bass scale on a sort of two-stringed horse-fiddle of a strange shape. Average Jones' still untouched glass, almost full of the precious port, trembled and sang a little tentative response. Up-up-up mounted the thrilling notes, in crescendo force.

"What a racking sort of tone, for all its sweetness!" said Average Jones. His delicate and fragile port glass evidently shared the opinion, for, without further warning, it split and shivered.

"They used to show that experiment in the laboratory," said Bertram. "You must have had just the accurate amount of liquid in the glass, Average. Move back, you lunatic, it's dripping all over you."

But Average Jones sat unheeding. The liquor dribbled down into his lap. He kept his fascinated gaze fixed on the shattered glass. Bertram dabbed him with a napkin.

 

"Tha--a--anks, Bertram," drawled the beneficiary of this attention. "Doesn't matter. Excuse me. Good night."

Leaving his surprised companions, he took hat and cane and caught a Third Avenue car. By the time he had reached Brooklyn Bridge he had his campaign mapped out. It all depended upon the opening question. Average Jones decided to hit out and hit quick.

At the house near the Navy Yard he learned that his man was out. So he sat upon the front steps while one of the highest-priced wines in New York dried into his knees. Shortly before eleven a shuffling figure paused at the steps, feeling for a key.

"Mr. Arbuthnot, otherwise Ransom?" said Average Jones blandly.

 

The man's chin jerked back. His jaw dropped.

 

"Would you like to hire another B-flat trombonist?" pursued the young man.

 

"Who are you?" gasped the other. "What do you want?"

"I want to know," drawled Average Jones, "how--er-you planted the glass bulb--er--the sulphuric acid bulb, you know--in the chair that you sent--er--to the Honorable William Linder, so that--er--it wouldn't be shattered by anything but the middle C note of a B-flat trombone?"

The man sat down weakly and bowed his face in his hands. Presently he looked up.

"I don't care," he said. "Come inside." At the end of an hour's talk Arbuthnot, alias Ransom, agreed to everything that Average Jones proposed.

"Mind you," he said, "I don't promise I won't kill him later. But meantime it'll be some satisfaction to put him down and out politically. You can find me here any time you want me. You say you'll see Linder to-morrow?"

"To-morrow," said Average Jones. "'Look in the next day's papers for the result."

Setting his telephone receiver down the Honorable William Linder lost himself in conjecture. He had just given an appointment to his tried and true, but quite impersonal enemy, Mr. Horace Waldemar.

"What can Waldemar want of me?" ran his thoughts. "And who is this friend, Jones, that he's bringing? Jones? Jones! Jones?!" He tried it in three different accents, without extracting any particular meaning therefrom. "Nothing much in the political game," he decided.

It was with a mingling of gruffness and dignity that he greeted Mr. Waldemar an hour later. The introduction to Average Jones he acknowledged with a curt nod.

 

"Want a job for this young man, Waldemar?" he grunted.

 

"Not at present, thank you," returned the newspaper owner. "Mr. Jones has a few arguments to present to you."

 

"Arguments," repeated the Honorable William Lender contemptuously. "What kind of arguments?"

 

"Political arguments. Mayoralty, to be specific. To be more specific still, arguments showing why you should drop out of the race."

 

"A pin-feather reformer, eh?"

 

The politician turned to meet Average Jones' steady gaze and mildly inquiring smile.

 

"Do you--er--know anything of submarine mines, Mr. Linder?" drawled the visitor.

 

"Huh?" returned the Honorable William Linder, startled.

 

"Submarine mines," explained the other., "Mines in the sea, if you wish words of one syllable."

 

The lids of the Honorable Linder contracted.

"You're in the wrong joint," he said, "this ain't the Naval College." "Thank you. A submarine mine is a very ingenious affair. I've recently been reading somewhat extensively on the subject. The main charge is some high explosive, usually of the dynamite type. Above it is a small jar of sulphuric acid. Teeth, working on levers, surround this jar. The levers project outside the mine. When a ship strikes the mine, one or more of the levers are pressed in. The teeth crush the jar. The sulphuric acid drops upon the main charge and explodes it. Do you follow me."

"I'll follow you as far as the front door," said the politician balefully. He rose.

 

"If the charge were in a chair, in the cushion of an easy chair, we'll say, on the third floor of a house in Brooklyn--"

 

The Honorable William Linder sat down again. He sat heavily.

"--the problem would be somewhat different. Of course, it would be easy to arrange that the first person to sit down in the chair would, by his own weight, blow himself up. But the first person might not be the right person, you know. Do you still follow me?"

The Honorable William Linder made a remark like a fish.

"Now, we have, if you will forgive my professorial method," continued Average Jones, "a chair sent to a gentleman of prominence from an anonymous source. In this chair is a charge of high explosive and above it a glass bulb containing sulphuric acid. The bulb, we will assume, is so safe-guarded as to resist any ordinary shock of moving. But when this gentleman, sitting at ease in his chair, is noticed by a trombonist, placed for that purpose In the street, below--"

"The Dutch horn-player!" cried the politician. "Then it was him; and I'll--"

"Only an innocent tool," interrupted Average Jones, in his turn. "He had no comprehension of what he was doing. He didn't understand that the vibration from his trombone on one particular note by the slide up the scale--as in the chorus of Egypt-would shiver that glass and set off the charge. All that he knew was to play the B-flat trombone and take his pay."

"His pay?" The question leaped to the politician's lips. "Who paid him?"

 

"A man--named--er--Arbuthnot," drawled Average Jones.

 

Linder's eyes did not drop, but a film seemed to be drawn over them.

 

"You once knew--er--a Mrs. Arbuthnot?"

The thick shoulders quivered a little. "Her husband--her widower--is in Brooklyn. Shall I push the argument any further to convince you that you'd better drop out of the mayoralty race?"

Linder recovered himself a little. "What kind of a game are you ringing in on me?" he demanded.

 

"Don't you think," suggested Average Jones sweetly, "that considered as news, this--"

Linder caught the word out of his mouth. "News!" he roared. "A fake story ten years old, news? That ain't news! It's spite work. Even your dirty paper, Waldemar, wouldn't rake that kind of muck up after ten years. It'd be a boomerang. You'll have to put up a stronger line of blackmail and bluff than that."

"Blackmail is perhaps the correct word technically," admitted the newspaper owner, "but bluff--there you go wrong. You've forgotten one thing; that Arbuthnot's arrest and confession would make the whole story news. We stand ready to arrest Arbuthnot, and he stands ready to confess."

There was a long, tense minute of silence. Then--

 

"What do you want?" The straight-to-the-point question was an admission of defeat.

 

"Your announcement of withdrawal. I'd rather print that than the Arbuthnot story."

There was a long silence. Finally the Honorable Linder dropped his hand on the table. "You win," he declared curtly. "But you'll give me the benefit, in the announcement, of bad health caused by the shock of the explosion, to explain my quitting, Waldemar?"

"It will certainly make it more plausible," assented the newspaper owner with a smile.

 

Linder turned on Average Jones.

 

"Did you dope this out, young fellow?" he demanded.

 

"Yes."

 

"Well, you've put me in the Down-and-Out-Club, all right. And I'm just curious enough to want to know how you did it."

 

"By abstaining," returned Average Jones cryptically, "from the best wine that ever came out of the Cosmic Club cellar."

 

II. Red Dot

 

From his inner sanctum, Average Jones stared obliquely out upon the whirl of Fifth Avenue, warming itself under a late March sun.

In the outer offices a line of anxious applicants was being disposed of by his trained assistants. To the advertising expert's offices had come that day but three cases difficult enough to be referred to the Ad-Visor himself. Two were rather intricate financial lures which Average Jones was able to dispose of by a mere "Don't." The third was a Spiritualist announcement behind which lurked a shrewd plot to entrap a senile millionaire into a marriage with the medium. These having been settled, the expert was free to muse upon a paragraph which had appeared in all the important New York morning papers of the day before.

REWARD-$1,000 reward for information as to slayer of Brindle Bulldog "Rags" killed in office of Malcolm Dorr, Stengel Building, Union Square, March 29.

"That's too much money for a dog," decided Average Jones. "Particularly one that hasn't any bench record. I'll just have a glance into the thing."

Slipping on his coat he walked briskly down the avenue, and crossing over to Union Square, entered the gloomy old building which is the sole survival of the days when the Stengel estate foresaw the upward trend of business toward Fourteenth Street. Stepping from the elevator at the seventh floor, he paused underneath this sign:

MALCOLM DORR
ANALYTICAL AND CONSULTING CHEMIST
Hours 10 to 4

Entering, Average Jones found a fat young man, with mild blue eyes, sitting at a desk.

 

"Mr. Dorr?" he asked.

 

"Yes," replied the fat young man nervously, "but if you are a reporter, I must--"

 

"I am not," interrupted the other. "I am an expert on advertising, and I want that one thousand dollars reward."

 

The chemist pushed his chair back and rubbed his forehead.

 

"You mean you have--have found out something?"

 

"Not yet. But I intend to." Dorr stared at him in silence.

 

"You are very fond of dogs, Mr. Dorr?"

 

"Eh? Oh, yes. Yes, certainly," said the other mechanically.

 

Average Jones shot a sudden glance of surprise at him, then looked dreamily at his own finger-nails.

 

"I can sympathize with you. I have exhibited for some years. Your dog was perhaps a green ribboner?"

 

"Er--oh--yes; I believe so."

"Ah! Several of mine have been. One in particular, took medal after medal; a beautiful glossy brown bulldog, with long silky ears, and the slender splayed-out legs that are so highly prized but so seldom seen nowadays. His tail, too, had the truly Willoughby curve, from his dam, who was a famous courser."

Mr. Dorr looked puzzled. "I didn't know they used that kind of dog for coursing," he said vaguely.

Average Jones smiled with almost affectionate admiration at the crease along the knee of his carefully pressed trousers. His tone, when next he spoke, was that of a youth bored with life. Any of his intimates would have recognized in it, however, the characteristic evidence that his mind was ranging swift and far to a conclusion.

"Mr. Dorr," he drawled, "who--er--owned your--er--dog?"

 

"Why, I--I did," said the startled chemist.

 

"Who gave him to you?"

 

"A friend."

 

"Quite so. Was it that--er--friend who--er--offered the reward?"

 

"What makes you think that?"

"This, to be frank. A man who doesn't know a bulldog from a bed-spring isn't likely to be offering a thousand dollars to avenge the death of one. And the minute you answered my question as to whether you cared for dogs, I knew you didn't. When you fell for a green ribbon, and a splay-legged, curly-tailed medal-winner in the brindle bull class (there's no such class, by the way), I knew you were bluffing. Mr. Dorr, who--er--has been--er--threatening your life?"
The chemist swung around in his chair.

"What do you know?" he demanded.

"Nothing. I'm guessing. It's a fair guess that a reasonably valuable brindle bull isn't presented to a man who cares nothing for dogs without some reason. The most likely reason is protection. Is it in your case?"

"Yes, it is," replied the other, after some hesitation.

 

"And now the protection is gone. Don't you think you'd better let me in on this?"

 

"Let me speak to my--my legal adviser first."

He called up a down-town number on the telephone and asked to be connected with Judge Elverson. "I may have to ask you to leave the office for a moment," he said to his caller.

"Very well. But if that is United States District Attorney Roger Elverson, tell him that it is A. V. R. Jones who wants to know, and remind him of the missing letter opium advertisement."

Almost immediately Average Jones was called back from the hallway, whither he had gone.

 

"Elverson says to tell you the whole thing," said the chemist, "in confidence, of course."

 

"Understood. Now, who is it that wants to get rid of you?"

 

"The Paragon Pressed Meat Company."

Average Jones became vitally concerned in removing an infinitesimal speck from his left cuff. "Ah," he commented, "the Canned Meat Trust. What have you been doing to them?"

"Sold them a preparation of my invention for deodorizing certain by-products used for manufacturing purposes. Several months ago I found they were using it on canned meats that had gone bad, and then selling the stuff."

"Would the meat so treated be poisonous?"

 

"Well--dangerous to any one eating it habitually. I wrote, warning them that they must stop."

"Did they reply?" "A man came to see me and told me I was mistaken. He hinted that if I thought my invention was worth more than I'd received, his principals, would be glad to take the matter up with me. Shortly after I heard that the Federal authorities were going after the Trust, so I called on Mr. Elverson."

"Mistake Number One. Elverson is straight, but his office is fuller of leaks than a sieve."

"That's probably why I found my private laboratory reeking of cyanide fumes a fortnight later," remarked Dorr dryly. "I got to the outer air alive, but not much more. A week later there was an explosion in the laboratory. I didn't happen to be there at the time. The odd feature of the explosion was that I hadn't any explosive drugs in the place."

"Where is this laboratory?"

"Over in Flatbush, where I live--or did live. Within a month after that, a friendly neighbor took a pot-shot at a man who was sneaking up behind me as I was going home late one night. The man shot, too, but missed me. I reported it to the police, and they told me to be sure and not let the newspapers know. Then they forgot it."

Average Jones laughed. "Of course they did. Some day New York will find out that 'the finest police force in the world' is the biggest sham outside the dime museum. Except in the case of crimes by the regular, advertised criminals, they're as helpless as babies. Didn't you take any other precautions?"

"Oh, yes. I reported the attempt to Judge Elverson. He sent a secret service man over to live with me. Then I got a commission out in Denver. When I came back, about a month ago, Judge Elverson gave me the two dogs."

"Two?"

 

"Yes. Rags and Tatters."

 

"Where's Tatters?"

 

"Dead. By the same road as Rags."

 

"Killed at your place in Flatbush?"

 

"No. Right here in this room."

 

Average Jones became suddenly very much worried about the second button of his coat. Having satisfied himself of its stability, he drawled, "Er--both of--er--them?"

 

"Yes. Ten days apart."

"Where were you?" "On the spot. That is, I was here when Tatters got his death. I had gone to the washroom at the farther end of the hall when Rags was poisoned."

"Why do you say poisoned?"

 

"What else could it have been? There was no wound on either of the dogs."

 

"Was there evidence of poison?"

"Pathological only. In Tatters case it was very marked. He was dozing in a corner near the radiator when I heard him yelp and saw him snapping at his belly. He ran across the room, lay down and began licking himself. Within fifteen minutes he began to whine. Then he stiffened out in a sort of a spasm. It was like strychnine poisoning. Before could get a veterinary here he was dead."

"Did you make any examination?"

 

"I analyzed the contents of his stomach, but did not obtain positive results."

 

"What about the other dog?"

 

"Rags? That was the day before yesterday. We had just come over from Flatbush and Razs was nosing around in the corner--"

 

"Was it the same corner where Tatters was attacked?"

 

"Yes, near the radiator. He seemed to be interested in something there when I left the room. I was gone not more than two minutes."

 

"Lock the door after you?"

 

"It has a special spring lock which I had put on it."

 

Average Jones crossed over and looked at the contrivance. Then his glance fell to a huge, old-fashioned keyhole below the new fastening. "You didn't use that larger lock?"

 

"No. I haven't for months. The key is lost, I think."

 

Retracing his steps the investigator sighted the hole from the radiator, and shook his head.

 

"It's not in range," he said. "Go on."

"As I reached the door on my return, I heard Rags yelp. You may believe I got to him quickly. He was pawing wildly at his nose. I called up the nearest veterinary. Within ten minutes the convulsions came on. The veterinary was here when Rags died, which was within fifteen minutes of the first spasm. He didn't believe it was strychnine. Said the attacks were different. Whatever it was, I couldn't find any trace of it in the stomach. The veterinary took the body away and made a complete autopsy."

"Did he discover anything?"

"Yes. The blood was coagulated and on the upper lip he found a circle of small pustules. He agreed that both dogs probably swallowed something that was left in my office, though I don't see how it could have got there."

"That won't do," returned Average Jones positively. "A dog doesn't cry out when he swallows poison, unless it's some corrosive."

 

"It was no corrosive. I examined the mouth."

 

"What about the radiator?" asked Average Jones, getting down on his knees beside that antiquated contrivance. "It seems to have been the center of disturbance."

 

"If you're thinking of fumes," replied the chemist. "I tested for that. It isn't possible."

"No; I suppose not. And yet, there's the curious feature that the fatal influence seems to have emanated from the corner which is the most remote from both windows and door. Are your windows left open at night?"

"The windows, sometimes. The transom is kept double-bolted."

 

"Do they face any other windows near by?"

 

"You can see for yourself that they don't."

"There's no fire-escape and it's too far up for anything to come in from the street." Average examined the walls with attention and returned to the big keyhole, through which he peeped.

"Do you ever chew gum?" he asked suddenly.

 

The Chemist stared at him. "It isn't a habit of mine to," he said.

 

"But you wouldn't have any objection to my sending for some, in satisfaction of a sudden irresistible craving?"

 

"Any particular brand? I'll phone the corner drug store."

"Any sort will suit, thank you." When the gum arrived, Average Jones, after politely offering some to his host, chewed up a single stick thoroughly. This he rolled out to an extremely tenuous consistency and spread it deftly across the unused keyhole, which it completely though thinly, veiled.

"Now, what's that for?" inquired the chemist, eying the improvised closure with some contempt.

"Don't know, exactly, yet," replied the deviser, cheerfully. "But when queer and fatal things happen in a room and there's only one opening, it's just as well to keep your eye on that, no matter how small it is. Better still, perhaps, if you'd shift your office."

The fat young chemist pushed his hair back, looked out of the window, and then turned to Average Jones. The rather flabby lines of his face had abruptly hardened over the firm contour below.

"No. I'm hanged if I will," he said simply.

 

An amiable grin overspread Average Jones' face.

"You've got more nerve than prudence," he observed. "But I don't say you aren't right. Since you're going to stick to the ship, keep your eye on that gum. If it lets go its hold, wire me."

"All right," agreed young Mr. Dorr. "Whatever your little game is, I'll play it. Give me your address in case you leave town."

"As I may do. I am going to hire a press-clipping bureau on special order to dig through the files of the local and neighboring city newspapers for recent items concerning dogpoisoning cases. If our unknown has devised a new method of canicide, it's quite possible he may have worked it somewhere else, too. Good-by, and if you can't be wise, be careful."

Dog-poisoning seemed to Average Jones to have become a popular pastime in and around New York, judging from the succession of news items which poured in upon him from the clipping bureau. Several days were exhausted by false clues. Then one morning there arrived, among other data, an article from the Bridgeport Morning Delineator which caused the Ad-Visor to sit up with a jerk. It detailed the poisoning of several dogs under peculiar circumstances. Three hours later he was in the bustling Connecticut city. There he took carriage for the house of Mr. Curtis Fleming, whose valuable Great Dane dog had been the last victim.

Mr. Curtis Fleming revealed himself as an elderly, gentleman all grown to a point: pointed white nose, eyes that were pin-points of irascible gleam, and a most pointed manner of speech.

"Who are you?" he demanded rancidly, as his visitor was ushered in. Average Jones recognized the type. He knew of but one way to deal with it.

 

"Jones!" he retorted with such astounding emphasis that the monosyllable fairly exploded in the other's face.

 

"Well, well, well," said the elder man, his aspect suddenly mollified. "Don't bite me. What kind of a Jones are you, and what do you want of me?"

 

"Ordinary variety of Jones. I want to now about your dog."

 

"Reporter?"

 

"No."

 

"Glad of it. They're no good. Had my reporters on this case. Found nothing."

 

"Your reporters?"

 

"I own the Bridgeport Delineator."

 

"What about the dog?"

"Good boy!" approved the old martinet. "Sticks to his point. Dog was out walking with me day before yesterday. Crossing a vacant lot on next square. Chased a rat. Rat ran into a heap of old timber. Dog nosed around. Gave a yelp and came back to me. Had spasm. Died in fifteen minutes. And hang me, sir," cried the old man, bringing his fist down on Average Jones' knee, "if I see how the poison got him, for he was muzzled to the snout, sir!"

"Muzzled? Then--er--why do, you--er--suggest poison?" drawled the young man.

 

"Fourth dog to go the same way in the last week."

 

"All in this locality?"

 

"Yes, all on Golden Hill."

 

"Any suspicions?"

 

"Suspicions? Certainly, young man, certainly. Look at this."

 

Average Jones took the smutted newspaper proof which his host extended, and read:

"WARNING-Residents of the Golden Hill neighborhood are earnestly cautioned against unguarded handling of timber about woodpiles or outbuildings until further notice. Danger!"
"When was this published?"

"Wasn't published. Delineator refused it. Thought it was a case of insanity."

 

"Who offered it?"

 

"Professor Moseley. Tenant of mine. Frame house on the next corner with old-fashioned conservatory."

 

"How long ago?"

 

"About a week."

 

"All the dogs you speak of died since then?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Did he give any explanation of the advertisement?"

"No. Acted half-crazy when he brought it to the office, the business manager said. Wouldn't sign his name to the thing. Wouldn't say anything about it. Begged the manager to let him have the weather reports in advance, every day. The manager put the advertisement in type, decided not to it, and returned the money."

"'Weather reports, eh?" Average Jones mused a moment. "How long was the ad to run?"

 

"Until the first hard frost."

 

"Has there--er--been a--er--frost since?" drawled Average Jones.

 

"No."

 

"Who is this Moseley?"

"Don't know much about him. Scientific experimenter of some kind, I believe. Very exclusive," added Mr. Curtis Fleming, with a grin. "Never sociated with any of us neighbors. Rent on the nail, though. Insane, too, I think. Writes letters to himself with nothing in them."

"How's that?" inquired Average Jones.

The other took an envelope from his pocket and handed it over. "It got enclosed by mistake with the copy for the advertisement. The handwriting on the envelope is his own. Look inside."
A glance had shown Average Jones that the letter, had been mailed in New York on March twenty-fifth. He took out the enclosure. It was a small slip of paper. The date was stamped on with a rubber stamp. There was no writing of any kind. Near the center of the sheet were three dots. They seemed to have been made with red ink.

"You're sure the address is in Professor Moseley's writing?"

 

"I'd swear to it."

"It doesn't follow that he mailed it to himself. In fact, I should judge that it was sent by someone who was particularly anxious not to have any specimen of his handwriting lying about for identification.

"Perhaps. What's your interest in all this, anyway my mysterious young friend?"

 

"Two dogs in New York poisoned in something the same way as yours."

 

"Well, I've got my man. He confessed."

 

"Confessed?" echoed Average Jones.

 

"Practically. I've kept the point of the story to the last. Professor Moseley committed suicide this morning."

If Mr. Curtis Fleming had designed to make an impression on his visitor, his ambition was fulfilled. Average Jones got to his feet slowly, walked over to the window, returned, picked up the strange proof with its message of suggested peril, studied it, returned to the window, and stared out into the day.

"Cut his throat about nine o'clock this morning," pursued the other. "Dead when they found him."

 

"Do you mind not talking to me for a minute?" said Average Jones curtly.

 

"Told to hold my tongue in my own house by uninvited stripling," cackled the other. "You' re a singular young man. Have it your own way."

After a five minutes' silence the visitor turned from the window and spoke. "There has been a deadly danger loose about here for which Professor Moseley felt himself responsible. He has killed himself. Why?"

"Because I was on his trail," declared Mr. Curtis Fleming. "Afraid to face me."

 

"Nonsense. I believe some human being has been killed by this thing, whatever it may be, and that the horror of it drove Moseley to suicide."

 

"Prove it."

 

"Give me a morning paper."

 

His host handed him the current issue of the Delineator.

 

Average Jones studied the local page.

 

"Where's Galvin's Alley?" he asked presently.

 

"Two short blocks from here."

 

"In the Golden Hill section?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Read that."

 

Mr. Curtis Fleming took the paper. His eyes were directed to a paragraph telling of the death of an Italian child living in Galvin's Alley. Cause, convulsions.

 

"By Jove!" said he, somewhat awed. "You can reason, young man."

 

"I've got to, reason a lot further, if I'm to get anywhere in this affair," said Average Jones with conviction. "Do you care, to come to Galvin's Alley with me?"

Together they went down the hill to a poor little house, marked by white crepe. The occupants were Italians who spoke some English. They said that four-year-old Pietro had been playing around a woodpile the afternoon before, when he was taken sick and came home, staggering. The doctor could do nothing. The little one passed from spasm into spasm, and died in an hour.

"Was there a mark like a ring anywhere on the hand or face?" asked Average Jones.

The dead child's father looked surprised. That, he said, was what the strange gentleman who had come that very morning asked, a queer, bent little gentlemen, very bald and with big eye-glasses, who was kind, and wept with them and gave them money to bury the "bambino."

"Moseley, by the Lord Harry!" exclaimed Mr. Curtis Fleming. "But what was the deathagent?"

Average Jones shook his head. "Too early to do more than guess. Will you take me to Professor Moseley's place?"
The old house stood four-square, with a patched-up conservatory on one wing. In the front room they found the recluse's body decently disposed, with an undertaker's assistant in charge. From the greenhouse came a subdued hissing.

"What's that?" asked Jones.

 

"Fumigating the conservatory. There was a note found near the body insisting on its being done. 'For safety,' it said, so I ordered it looked to."

 

"You're in charge, then?"

 

"It's my house. And there are no relatives so far as I know. Come and look at his papers. You won't find much."

In the old-fashioned desk was a heap of undecipherable matter, interspersed with dates, apparently bearing upon scientific experiments; a package of letters from the Denny Research Laboratories of St. Louis, mentioning enclosure of checks; and three self-addressed envelopes bearing New York postmarks, of dates respectively, March 12, March 14 and March 20. Each contained a date-stamped sheet of paper, similar to that which Mr. Curtis Fleming had shown to Average Jones. The one of earliest date bore two red dots; the second, three red dots, and the third, two. All the envelopes were endorsed in Professor Moseley's handwriting; the first with the one word "Filled." The second writing was "Held for warmer weather." The last was inscribed "One in poor condition."

Of these Average Jones made careful note, as well as of the laboratory address. By this time the hissing of the fumigating apparatus had ceased. The two men went to the conservatory and gazed in upon a ruin of limp leaves and flaccid petals, killed by the powerful gases. Suddenly, with an exclamation of astonishment, the investigator stooped and lifted from the floor a marvel of ermine body and pale green wings. The moth, spreading nearly a foot, was quite dead.

"Here's the mate, sir," said the fumigating expert, handing him another specimen, a trifle smaller. "The place was crowded with all kinds of pretty ones. All gone where the good bugs go now."

Average Jones took the pair of moths to the desk, measured them and laid them carefully away in a drawer.

 

"The rest must wait," he said. "I have to send a telegram."

 

With the interested Mr. Curtis Fleming in attendance, he went to the telegraph office, where he wrote out a dispatch.

 

"Mr. A. V. R. Jones?" said the operator. "There's a message here for you." Average Jones took the leaflet and read:

 

"Found gum on floor this morning when I arrived. MALCOLM DORR."

 

Then he recalled his own blank, tore it up, and substituted the following, which he ordered "rushed":

 

MALCOLM DORR, STENGEL BUILDING, NEW YORY CITY:

 

"Leave office immediately. Do not return until it has been fumigated thoroughly. Imperative. A. V. R. JONES."

"And now," said Average Jones to Mr. Fleming, "I'm going back to New York. If any collectors come chasing to you for luna moths, don't deal with them. Refer them to me, please. Here is my card."

"Your orders shall be obeyed," said the older man, his beady eyes twinkling. "But why, in the name of all that's unheard of, should collectors come bothering me about luna moths?"

"Because of an announcement to this effect which will appear in the next number of the National Science Weekly, and in coming issues of the New York Evening Register."

 

He handed out a rough draft of this advertisement:

"For Sale--Two largest known specimens of Tropaea luna, unmounted; respectively 10 and 11 inches spread. Also various other specimens from collection of late Gerald Moseley, of Conn. Write for particulars. Jones, Room 222 Astor Court Temple, New York."

"What about further danger here?" inquired Mr. Fleming, as Average Jones bade him good-by. "Would we better run that warning of poor Moseley's, after all?"

 

For reply Jones pointed out the window. A late season whirl of snow enveloped the streets.

 

"I see," said the old man. "The frost. Well Mr. Mysterious Jones, I don't know what you're up to, but you've given me an interesting day. Let me know what comes of it."

On the train back to New York, Average Jones Wrote two letters. One was to the Denny Research Laboratories in St. Louis, the other to the Department of Agriculture at Washington. On the following morning be went to Dorr's office. That young chemist was in a recalcitrant frame of mind.

"I've done about ten dollars' worth of fumigating and a hundred dollars' worth of damage," he said, "and now, I'd like to have a Missouri sign. In other words, I want to be shown. What did some skunk want to kill my dogs for?"

"He didn't."

 

"But they're dead, aren't they?"

 

"Accident."

 

"What kind of an accident?"

 

"The kind in which the innocent bystander gets the worst of it. You're the one it was meant for."

 

"Me?"

 

"Certainly. You'd probably have got it if the dog hadn't."

The speaker examined the keyhole, then walked over to the radiator and looked over, under and through it minutely. "Nothing there," he observed; and, after extending his examination to the windows, book-shelf and desk, added:

"I guess we might have spared the fumigation. However, the safest side is the best."

 

"What is it? Some new game in projective germs?" demanded the chemist.

"Oh, disinfectants will kill other things besides germs," returned Average Jones. "Luna moths, for instance. Wait a few days and I'll have some mail to show you on that subject. In the meantime, have a plumber solder up that keyhole so tight that nothing short of dynamite can get through it."

Collectors of lepidoptera rose in shoals to the printed offer of luna moths measuring ten and eleven inches across the wings. Letters came in by, every mail, responding variously with fervor, suspicion, yearning eagerness, and bitter skepticism to Average Jones' advertisement. All of these he put aside, except such as bore a New York postmark. And each day he compared the new names signed to the New York letters with the directory of occupants of the Stengel Building. Less than a week after the luna moth advertisement appeared, Average Jones walked into Malcolm Dorr's office with a twinkle in his eye.

"Do you know a man named Marcus L. Ross?" he asked the chemist. "Never heard of him."

"Marcus L. Ross is interested, not only in luna moths, but in the rest of the Moseley collection. He writes from the Delamater Apartments, where he lives, to tell me so. Also he has an office in this building. Likewise he works frequently at night. Finally, he is one of the confidential lobbyists of the Paragon Pressed Meat Company. Do you see?"

"I begin," replied young Mr. Dorr.

"It would be very easy for Mr. Ross, whose office is on the floor above, to stop at this door on his way, down-stairs after quitting work late at night when the elevator had stopped running and--let us say--peep through the keyhole."

Malcolm Dorr got up and stretched himself slowly. The sharp, clean lines of his face suddenly stood out again under the creasy flesh.

 

"I don't know what you're going to do to Mr. Ross," he said, "but I want to see him first."

"I'm not going to do anything to him," returned Average Jones, "because, in the first place, I suspect that he is far, far away, having noted, doubtless, the plugged keyhole and suffered a crisis of the nerves. It's strange how nervous your scientific murderer is. Anyway, Ross is only an agent. I'm going to aim higher."

"As how?"

"Well, I expect to do three things. First, I expect to scare a peaceful but murderous trust multimillionaire almost out of his senses; second, I expect to dispatch a costly yacht to unknown seas; and third, I expect to raise the street selling price of the evening "yellow" journals, temporarily, about one thousand per cent. What's the answer? The answer is 'Buy to-night's papers.'"

New York, that afternoon, saw something new in advertising. That it really was advertising was shown by the "Adv." sign, large and plain, in both the papers which carried it. The favored journals were the only two which indulged in "fudge" editions; that is, editions with glaring red-typed inserts of "special" news. On the front page of each, stretching narrowly across three columns, was a device showing a tiny mapped outline in black marked Bridgeport, Conn., and a large skeleton draft of Manhattan Island showing the principal streets. From the Connecticut city downward ran a line of dots in red. The dots entered New York from the north, passed down Fourth Avenue to the south side of Union Square, turned west and terminated. Beneath this map was the legend, also in red:

WATCH THE LINE ADVANCE IN LATER EDITIONS

It was the first time in the records of journalism that the "fudge" device had been used in advertising.
Great was the rejoicing of the "newsies" when public curiosity made a "run" upon these papers. Greater it grew when the "afternoon edition" appeared, and with their keen business instinct, the urchins saw that they could run the price upward, which they promptly did, in some cases even to a nickel. This edition carried the same "fudge" advertisement, but now the red dots crossed over to Fifth Avenue and turned northward as far as Twenty-third Street. The inscription was:

UPWARD AND ONWARD SEE NEXT EXTRA

For the "Night Extra" people paid five, ten, even fifteen cents. Rumor ran wild. Other papers, even, look the matter up as news, and commented upon the meaning of the extraordinary advertisement. This time, the red-dotted line went as far up Fifth Ave title as Fiftieth Street. And the legend was ominous:

WHEN I TURN, I STRIKE

 

That was all that evening. The dotted line did not turn.

Keen as newspaper conjecture is, it failed to connect the "red-line maps," with the fame of which the city was raging, with an item of shipping news printed in the evening papers of the following day:

CLEARED--For South American Ports, steam yacht Electra, New York. Owner John M. Colwell.

And not until the following morning did the papers announce that President Colwell, of the Canned Meat Trust, having been ordered by his physician on a long sea voyage to refurbish his depleted nerves, after closing his house on West Fifty-first Street, had sailed in his own yacht. The same issue carried a few lines about the "freak ads." which had so sensationally blazed and so suddenly waned from the "yellows." The opinion was offered that they represented the exploitation of some new brand of whisky which would announce itself later. But that announcement never came, and President Colwell sailed to far seas, and Mr. Curtis Fleming came to New York, keen for explanations, for he, too, had seen the "fudge" and marveled. Hence, Average Jones had him, together with young Mr. Dorr, at a private room luncheon at the Cosmic Club, where he offered an explanation and elucidation.

"The whole affair," he said, "was a problem in the connecting up of loose ends. At the New York terminus we had two deaths in the office of a man with powerful and subtle enemies, that office being practically sealed against intrusion except for a very large keyhole. Some deadly thing is introduced through that keyhole; so much is practically proven by the breaking out of the chewing gum with which I coated it. Probably the scheme was carried out in the evening when the building was nearly deserted. The killing influence reaches a corner far out of the direct line of the keyhole. Being near the radiator, that corner represents the attraction of warmth. Therefore, the invading force was some sentient creature."

Dorr shuddered. "Some kind of venomous snake," he surmised.

"Not a bad guess. But a snake, however small, would have been instantly noticed by the dogs. Now, let's look at the Bridgeport end. Here, again, we have a deadly influence loosed; this time by accident. A scientific experimentalist is the innocent cause of the disaster. Here, too, the peril is somewhat dependent upon warmth, since we know, from Professor Moseley's agonized eagerness for a frost, that cold weather would have put an end to it. The cold weather fails to come. Dogs are killed. Finally a child falls victim, and on that child is found a circular mark, similar to the mark on Mr. Dorr's dog's lip. You see the striking points of analogy?"

"Do you mean us to believe poor old Moseley a cold-blooded murderer?" demanded Mr. Curtis Fleming.

"Far from it. At worst an unhappy victim of his own carelessness in loosing a peril upon his neighborhood. You're forgetting a connecting link; the secretive red-dot communications from New York City addressed by Moseley to himself on behalf of some customer who ordered simply by a code of ink dots. He was the man I had to find. The giant luna moths helped to do it."

"I don't see where they come in at all," declared Dorr bluntly. "A moth a foot wide couldn't crawl through a keyhole."

"No; nor do any damage if it did. The luna is as harmless as it is lovely. In this case the moths weren't active agents. They were important only as clues--and bait. Their enormous size showed Professor Moseley's line of work; the selective breeding of certain forms of life to two or three times the normal proportions. Very well; I had to ascertain some creature which, if magnified several times, would be deadly, and which would still be capable of entering a large keyhole. Having determined that--" "You found what it was?" cried Dorr.

"One moment. Having determined that, I had still to get in touch with Professor Moseley's mysterious New York correspondent. I figured that he must be interested in Professor Moseley's particular branch of research or he never could have devised his murderous scheme. So I constructed the luna moth advertisement to draw him, and when I got a reply from Mr. Ross, who is a fellow-tenant of Mr. Dorr's, the chain was complete. Now, you see where the luna moths were useful. If I had advertised, instead of them, the lathrodectus, he might have suspected and refrained from answering."

"What's the lathrodectus?" demanded both the hearers at once.

 

For answer Average Jones took a letter from his pocket and read:

 

BUREAU OF ENTOMOLOGY, U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, WASHINGTON, D. C., April 7

 

MR. A. V. R. JONES,

 

Astor Court Temple, New York City.

 

DEAR Sir,

Replying to your letter of inquiry, the only insect answering your specifications is a small spider Lathrodectus mactans, sometimes popularly called the Red Dot, from a bright red mark upon the back. Rare cases are known where death has been caused by the bite of this insect. Fortunately its fangs are so weak that they can penetrate only very tender skin, otherwise death from its bite would be more common, as the venom, drop for drop, is perhaps the most virulent known to science.

This Bureau knows nothing of any experiments in breeding the Lathrodectus for size. Your surmise that specimens of two or three times the normal size would be dangerous to life is undoubtedly correct, and selected breeding to that end should be conducted only under adequate scientific safeguards. A Lathrodectus mactans with fangs large enough to penetrate the skin of the hand, and a double or triple supply of venom, would be, perhaps, more deadly than a cobra.

The symptoms of poisoning by this species are spasms, similar to those of trismus, and agonizing general pains. There are no local symptoms, except, in some cases, a circle of small pustules about the bitten spot.

Commercially, the Lathrodectus has value, in that the poison is used in certain affections of the heart. For details, I would refer you to the Denny Laboratories of St. Louis, Mo., which are purchasers of the venom.
The species is very susceptible to cold, and would hardly survive a severe frost. It frequents woodpiles and outhouses. Yours truly,

L. O. HOWARD, Chief of Bureau.

"Then Ross was sneaking down here at night and putting the spiders which he had got from Professor Moseley through my keyhole, in the hope that sooner or later one of them would get me," said Dorr.

"A very reasonable expectation, too. Vide, the dogs," returned Average Jones.

 

"And now," said Mr. Curtis Fleming, "will some one kindly explain to me what this Ross fiend had against our friend, Mr. Dorr?"

 

"Nothing," replied Average Jones.

 

"Nothing? Was he coursing with spiders merely for sport?"

"Oh, no. You see Mr. Dorr was interfering with the machinery of one of our ruling institutions, the Canned Meat Trust. He possessed information which would have indicted all the officials. Therefore it was desirable--even essential--that he should be removed from the pathway of progress."

"Nonsense! Socialistic nonsense!" snapped Mr. Curtis Fleming. "Trusts may be unprincipled, but they don't commit individual crimes."

"Don't they?" returned Average Jones, smiling amiably at his own boot-tip. "Did you ever hear of Mr. Adel Meyer's little corset steel which he invented to stick in the customs scales and rob the government for the profit of his Syrup Trust? Or of the individual oil refineries which mysteriously disappeared in fire and smoke at a time when they became annoying to the Combination Oil Trust? Or of the Traction Trust's two plots to murder Prosecutor Henry in San Francisco? I'm just mentioning a few cases from memory. Why, when a criminal trust faces only loss it will commit forgery, theft or arson. When it faces jail, it will commit murder just as determinedly. Self-defense, you know. As for the case of Mr. Dorr--" and he proceeded to detail the various attempts on the young chemist's life.

"But why so roundabout a method?" asked Dorr skeptically.

"Well, they tried the ordinary methods of murder on you through agents. That didn't work. It was up to the Trust to put one of its own confidential men on it. Ross is an amateur entomologist. He devised a means that looked to be pretty safe and, in the long run, sure."

"And would have been but for your skill, young Jones," declared Mr. Curtis Fleming, with emphasis.
"Don't forget the fortunate coincidences," replied Average Jones modestly. "They're about half of it. In fact, detective work, for all that is said on the other side, is mostly the ability to recognize and connect coincidences. The coincidence of the escape of the Red Dots from Professor Moseley's breeding cages; the coincidence of the death of the dogs on Golden Hill, followed by the death of the child; the coincidence of poor Moseley's having left the red dot letters on the desk instead of destroying them; the coincidence of Dorr's dogs being bitten, when it might easily have been himself had he gone to turn on the radiator and disturbed the savage little spider--"'

"And the chief coincidence of your having become interested in the advertisement which Judge Elverson had me insert, really more to scare off further attempts than anything else," put in Dorr. "What became of the spiders that were slipped through my keyhole, anyway?"

"Two of them, as you know, were probably killed by the dogs. The others may well have died of cold. At night when the heat was off and the windows open. The cleaning woman wouldn't have been likely to notice them when she swept the bodies out. And, sooner or later, if Ross had continued to insert Red Dots through the keyhole one of them would have bitten you, Dorr, and the Canned Meat Trust would have gone on its way rejoicing."

"Well, you've certainly saved my life," declared Dorr, "and it's a case of sheer force of reasoning."

Average Jones shook his head. "You might give some of the credit to Providence," he said. "Just one little event would have meant the saving of the Italian child, and of Professor Moseley, and the death of yourself, instead of the other way around."

"And that event?" asked Mr. Curtis Fleming.

 

"Five degrees of frost in Bridgeport," replied Average Jones.

 

III. Open Trail

 

"Not good enough," said Average Jones, laying aside a sheet of paper upon which was pasted a newspaper clipping. "We can't afford luxuries, Simpson."

 

The confidential clerk rubbed his high, pale forehead indeterminately. "But five thousand dollars, Mr. Jones," he protested.

 

"Would pay a year's office rent, you're thinking. True. Nevertheless I can't see the missing Mr. Hoff as a sound professional proposition."

 

"So you think it would be impossible to find him?"

 

"Now, why should I think any such absurd thing? I think, if you choose, that he wouldn't be worth the amount, when found, to lose."

 

"The ad says different, Sir." Simpson raised the paper and read:

"FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS--The aforesaid sum will be paid without question to anyone
furnishing information which leads to the
discovery of Roderick Hoff, twenty-four years old, who left his home in Toledo, 0., on
April 12. Communicate with Dr. Conrad Hoff, Toledo.

"Surely Doctor Hoff is good for the amount."

"Oh, he's good for millions, thanks to his much advertised quack 'Catarrh-Killer.' The point is, from what I can discover, Mr. Roderick Hoff isn't worth retrieving at any price above one dime."

"Was the information about him that you wished, in the telegram?" asked the confidential clerk.

"Yes; all I wanted. Thanks for looking after it. Have the Toledo reporter, who sent it, forward his bill. And if the old inventor who's been haunted by disembodied voices comes again, bring him to me."

"Yes, sir," said Simpson, going out.

Left to himself, Average Jones again ran over the dispatches, conveying the information as to the lost Toledo youth. They had given a fairly complete sketch of young Hoff's life and character. At twenty-four, it appeared, Roderick Hoff had achieved a career. Emerging, by the propulsive method, from college, in the first term of his freshman year, he had taken a post-graduate course in the cigarette ward of a polite retreat for nervous wrecks. He had subsequently endured two breach-of-promise suits, had broken the state automobile record for number of speed violation arrests, had been buncoed, badgered, paneled, blackmailed and short-carded out of sums varying between one hundred and ten thousand dollars; and now, in the year of grace, 19--, was the horror of the pulpit and the delight of the press of the city which he called his home. For the rest, he was a large, mild, good-humored, pulpy individual, with a fixed delusion that the human organism can absorb a quart of alcoholic miscellany per day and be none the worse for it. The major premise of his proposition was perfectly correct. He proved it daily. The minor premise was an error. Bets were even in the Toledo clubs as to whether delirium tremens or paresis would win the event around young Mr. Hoff's kiteshaped race-track of a brain.

With his tastes the income of twenty-five thousand dollars per annum which his father allowed him from the profits of "Dr. Hoff's Catarrh-Killer," proved sadly insufficient to his needs. He mentioned this fact to his father, so Average Jones' information ran, early in April, and suggested an increase, only to be refused with some acerbity.

"Oh, very well," said he, "I'll go and make it myself."

The amazement inspired in Doctor Hoff's mind by this pronouncement was augmented in the next few days by the fact that Roderick was very busy about town in his motorcar, and was changed to vivid alarm immediately thereafter by the young man's disappearance. To all intents and appearances, Roderick Hoff had dropped off the earth on or about April twelfth. By April fifteenth New York, Pittsburg, Chicago, Washington and other clearing-houses for the distribution of the unspent increment were apprised of the elder Hoff's five thousand-dollar anxiety through the medium of the daily press. This advertisement it was, upon the practical merits of which Average Jones and his confidential clerk had differed.

"If there were any chance of sport in it," mused Average Jones, "I'd go in. But to follow the trail of a spurious young sport from bar-room to brothel and from brothel to gambling hell--" He shook his head. "Not good enough," he repeated.

Simpson's face appeared at the door. His blond forehead was wrinkled with excitement.

 

"Doctor Hoff is here, Mr. Jones. I told him you couldn't see him, but he wouldn't take no. Says he was recommended to you by a former client."

Following the word, there burst into Average Jones' private sanctum a gross old man, silk-hatted and bediamonded, whose side-whiskers bristled whitely with perturbed selfimportance. In his hand was a patchy bundle.

"They tried to stop me!" he sputtered. "Me! I'm worth ten million dollars, an' a ten-dollara-week office toad tries to hold me up when I come here myself person'ly, from Toledo to see you."
Analysis of advertising in all its forms had inspired Average Jones with a profound contempt and dislike for the cruelest of all forms of swindling medical quackery. And this swollen, smug-faced intruder looked a particularly offensive specimen of his kind. Therefore the Ad-Visor said curtly:

"I can't take your case. Good day--"

 

"Not take it! Did you read the reward?"

"Yes. It is interesting as showing the patent medicine faker's touching confidence in the power of advertising. Otherwise it doesn't, interest me. Get some one else to find your young hopeful."

"It ain't no case of findin' now. The boy's dead." His strident voice quavered and broke, but rose again to a snarl. "And, by God, I'll spend a million to get the dogs that murdered him."

At the word "murdered" Average Jones' clean cut, agreeable, but rather stolidly neutral face underwent a subtle transformation. Another personality looked out from the deepset, somnolent, gray eyes; a personality resolute, forceful and quietly alert. It was apparently belied by the hesitant drawl, which, as all who had ever seen the Ad-Visor at his chosen pursuits well knew, signified awakened or intensified interest in the matter in hand.

"Where--er--is--the--er--body"

 

"I don't know. It ain't been found."

 

"Then how do you know he's dead?"

 

The other tore open the bundle he carried, and spread before Average Jones a white stained shirt with ominous brown splotches.

 

"It's his shirt. There's the initials. Mailed to my house and got there just after I left. My secretary brought it on, with the note that come pinned to it. Here it is."

 

He produced a bit of coarse wrapping-paper upon which was this message in rough capital letters:

TWO DAGOES SHOT HIM DASSENT SAY NO MORE FROM A FRIEND IN CINCINNATI
Average Jones examined the wrapper. It was postmarked Cincinnati. He next smoothed out the creased silk and studied minutely the blotches, which were heaviest about the left breast and shoulder.

To the surprise of Doctor Hoff, the young man's glance roved the big desk before him, settling with satisfaction upon a sponge-cup for moistening stamps. Applying this to one of the spots on the shirt, he rubbed the wetted portion vigorously on a sheet of paper which lay near at hand. His lips pursed. He whistled very softly and meditatively. He scratched his chin with a slow movement.

"Is that all?" he shot out suddenly at the older man.

 

"All! Ain't it enough? He's been murdered; murdered, I tell you, an' you set there an' whistle!"

 

Average Jones directed a dreamy smile toward a far comer of the room.

 

"I don't see anything so far," he observed, "to indicate that your son is not alive and well at this moment."

 

Doctor Hoff struck his fist down heavily on the desk. "What's this you're givin' me? Can't you read? Look at that note there, an' the blood on the shirt."

 

"Would you mind moderating your voice? My outside office is full of more or less excitable clients," said the Ad-Visor mildly. "Moreover, it's not blood anyway."

 

"What is it, then?"

"That's beside the question. Dried blood rubs off a faint buff color." He picked up the sheet of paper from his desk. A deep brownish streak showed where he had applied the moistened cloth. "It's the rawest kind of a blind. Why, the idiot who sent the shirt didn't even have the sense to fake bullet holes. Enough to make one lose all interest in the case," he added disgustedly.

Doctor Hoff began tugging at his side-whiskers. "Don't do nothing like that," he pleaded. "Come with me to Cincinnati. If he ain't dead they've kidnapped him for a ransom."

"Then Cincinnati is the last place on the map to look, because there's where they want you to think he is. But it doesn't look like a case of ransom to me. Let's see. Was he particularly drunk the day before he disappeared?"

"No. He was sober."

 

"Unusually sober, maybe?" suggested the other.

 

"Yes, he was. Been sober for a week. An' he was studyin', too." "Ah! Studying what?"

 

"Spanish."

 

"Spanish, eh? Ever exhibit any interest in foreign tongues before?"

 

"Not enough to get him through one term in college," returned the other grimly.

 

"How did you know about his studying?"

 

"Seen the perfessor in the house."

 

"Some one you knew?"

 

"No. I asked him. Roddy was sore because I found out what he was up to."

 

Upon that point Average Jones meditated a moment.

 

"Did you see this Spanish professor again?" he inquired presently.

 

"Now that you speak of it, I didn't see him but the once."

 

"Can you leave for Toledo on to-night's train?"

 

"You're goin' to take the case, then?" the quack clawed nervously at his professional white whiskers. "What's your terms?" he demanded.

 

"That I'm to have full control and that you're to take orders and not give them."

 

Doctor Hoff swallowed that with a gulp. "You're on," he said finally.

On the train Doctor Hoff regaled his companion with a strictly paternal view of his son's character and pursuits as he knew them. This served, at least, to enlarge his auditor's ideas as to the average American father's vast and profound ignorance of the life, habits, manners and customs of that common but variable species, the Offspring. Beyond this it had little value. Average Jones gave its author a few specific instructions as to minor lines of home investigation, and retired to map out a tentative campaign.

His first call, on arriving at Toledo, was at the business office of the Daily Saw, in which he inserted the following paragraph on a repeat-until-stopped order:

WANTED--Instructor in Spanish. One with recent Experience preferred. Apply between 9 and 10 A.M. Doctor Hoff, 360 Fairfield Avenue. Thence he climbed the stairs to the den of the city editor, to whom he stated his errand openly, being too wise in his day and generation to attempt concealment or evasion with a newspaper man from whom he wanted information. The city editor obligingly furnished further details regarding "Rickey" Hoff, as he called the young man, which, while differing in important respects from Doctor Hoff's, bore the ear-marks of superior accuracy.

"The worst of it is," said the newspaper man, "that there are elements of decency about the young cub, if he'd keep sober. He won't go into the old boy's business, because he hates it. Says it's all rot and lies. He's dead right, of course. But there's nothing else for him to do, so he just fights booze. Better make a few inquiries at Silent Charley's."

"What's that?"

 

"Quiet little bar kept by a talkative Swede. 'Rickey' Hoff hung out there a lot. Charley even had a room fixed up for him to lay off in when he was too pickled to go home."

 

"Would--er--young Hoff--er--perhaps keep a few--er--extra clothes there?" asked Average Jones, seemingly struggling with a yawn.

 

The city editor stared. "Oh, I dare say. He used to end his sprees pretty much mussed up."

 

"That would perhaps explain where the shirt came from," murmured the Ad-Visor. "Much obliged for the suggestion. I'll just step around."

"Silent Charley" he found ready, even eager to talk. Yes; "Rickey" Hoff had been in his place right along. Drunk? No; not even drinking much lately. Two other gentlemen had met him there quite often. They sat in the back room and talked. No, neither of them was Spanish. One was big and clean-shaven and wore a silk hat. They called him "Colonel." A swell dresser. The other man drank gin, and a lot of it. His name was Fred. He was very tanned. One day there had been a hot discussion over a sheet of paper that lay on the table in front of the three men in the back room. "Rickey" had called a messenger boy and sent him out for a geography. "I told you there wasn't any such thing there," the saloon-keeper heard him say triumphantly, when the geography arrived. Then Fred replied: "To h-ll with you and your schoolbook! I tell you I've waded across it." The colonel smoothed things over and it ended in a magnum of champagne being ordered.

"For which the colonel paid?" asked Average Jones.

 

"Why, yes, he did," assented the saloon man. "He said, 'Well, it's a go, then. Here's luck to us!' He was a good spender, the colonel."

 

"And you haven't seen any of them since, I suppose?" "Nary a one."

 

On his return to the Hoff mansion the investigator found the head thereof in a state of great excitement.

 

"Say, I've found out something," he cried. "Roddy's gone to Yurrup."

 

"Where did you find that out?" asked Average Jones with a smile.

"I been going through his papers like you told me. He's been outfitting for a trip. Bought lots of truck the last few days and I found the duplicate sale-checks that come in the packages. There's stubs for a steamer rug and for a dope for seasickness and for a compass," he concluded triumphantly.

"Compass, eh?" observed Average Jones thoughtfully. "Ship's compass is good enough for most of us going to Europe. Anything else?"

 

"Lot of clothes."

 

"What kind of clothes?"

 

"Cheap stuff mostly. Khaki riding-pants, neglyjee shirts and such-like."

 

"Not much suggestion of Europe there. What more?"

 

Doctor Hoff consulted a list. "Colored glasses."

 

"That looks like desert travel."

 

"Aneroid barometer."

 

"Mountain climbing."

 

"Permanganate of potash outfit."

 

"Snake country," commented the other.

 

"Patent water-still."

 

Average Jones leaned forward. "How big?"

 

"Don't know. Cost twenty dollars."

"Little one, then. That means about three people. Taken with the compass, it means a small-boat trip on salt water."
"Small boat nothin'!" retorted the other. "His doctor met me this morning an' told me Roddy had sent for him and ast him a lot of questions about eatin' aboard ship and which way to have his berth made up, and all that."

"A small-boat trip following a sea trip, then. What else have you found?"

 

"Nothin' much. Mosquito nettin', pills, surgeon's plaster and odds and ends of drugs."

 

"Let me see the drug list."

 

He ran his eye down the paper. Then he looked at Doctor Hoff with a half smile.

 

"You didn't notice anything peculiar about this list?"

 

"Don't know as I did."

 

"Not the--er--nitric acid, for instance?"

 

"Nope. What of it?"

"Mr. Hoff, your son has been caught by one of the oldest tricks in the whole bunco list-the lost Spanish mine swindle. That acid, together with the rest of the outfit, means a gold-hunt as plain as if it were spelled out. And the Spanish professor was sent for, not to give lessons, but to translate the fake letter. Where does your son bank?"

"Fifth National."

 

"Telephone there and find out how much he drew."

 

Doctor Hoff sat down at the 'phone. "Five hundred dollars," he said presently.

 

"Is that all?" asked the other, disappointed.

 

"Yes. Wait. He had six checks certified aggregating ten thousand dollars."

"Then it isn't South America or the West Indies. He'd want, a letter of credit there. Must be some part of the United States, or just across the border. Well, we've done a good day's work, and I've got a hard evening's thinking before me. We might be able to head off the colonel's personally conducted expedition yet, if we could locate it."

The evening's thinking formulated itself into a telegram to Average Jones' club, the Cosmic. It was one among the many distinctions of the modest little club in Gramercy Park, that its membership pretty well comprised the range of available information on any topic. Under the "favored applications clause," a person whose knowledge of any particular subject was unique and authoritative, whether the topic were Esperanto or fistiana, went to the head of the waiting--list automatically and had his initiation fee remitted. Hence, Average Jones was confident of a helpful reply to his message of inquiry, which summed up his conclusions and surmises thus far:

"Cosmic CLUB, NEW YORK CITY:

Refer following to geographical expert: Where is large, shallow, unmapped body of salt water in United States, or near border, surrounded by hot, snake-infested desert and mountainous country, reputed to contain gold? Spanish associations indicated. Wire details and name of best guide, if obtainable.

A. JONES."

 

The reply was disappointing:

 

"Cyrus C. Allen absent from town. Will forward your wire.

 

"COSMIC CLUB."

Well poised as Average Jones normally was, he chafed over the ensuing delay of four days, each of which gave the colonel's expedition just so much start upon its unknown course. The only relief was a call from the Spanish instructor who answered Jones' advertisement. He was the same who had served young Hoff. As the Ad-Visor surmised, his former employment had been merely the translation of a letter. The letter was in base Spanish, he said. He didn't remember much of it, but there was something about a lost gold mine. Yes; there was reference to a map. No; no geographical names were mentioned, but in several places the capital letters B. C. seemed to indicate a locality. He hadn't noted the date or the signature. That was all he could tell.

Doctor Hoff, who had been ramping with impatience over the man's lack of definite memory, now rushed to the atlas and began to study the maps.

 

"You needn't trouble," said Average Jones coolly. "You won't find it there."

 

"I'll find that B. C. if I have to go over every map in the geography."

 

"Then you'll have to get a Spanish edition. For a guess, B. C. is Baja California, the Mexican peninsula of California."

Jones sent a supplementary wire to this effect to Cyrus C. Allen, of the Cosmic Club, and within a few hours received a reply from that eminent cartographer, who had been located in a remote part of Connecticut:

"Probably Laguna Salada, not on map. Seventy miles long; four to eight wide. Between Cocopah and Sierra Gigantica ranges. Country very wild and arid. Can be reached by water from Yuma, or pack train from Calexico. White, who has hunted there, says Captain Funcke, Calexico, best guide.
"ALLEN."

Average Jones tossed this over to the father.

"As I figure it," he said, "your son's two friends had this all mapped out beforehand for him. One went west direct. He was the imbecile who stopped in Cincinnati and mailed you the bloody shirt to throw you off the scent. Meantime the colonel took Roderick around by a sea route, probably New York and New Orleans."

"That'd explain the steamer rug and the seasickness," admitted Doctor Hoff; "but I don't know what he'd want to go that long way for."

"Simple enough, when you reckon with this colonel person as having brains in his head. He would foresee a hue and cry as soon as the young man disappeared. So he cooks up this trip to keep his prey out of touch with the newspapers for the few days when the news of the disappearance would be fresh enough to be spread abroad in the Associated Press dispatches. From New Orleans they'd go on west by train."

"What I don't see is how they caught Roddy on such an old game. He's easy, but I didn't s'pose he was that easy."

"To do him justice, he isn't--quite. They put it up on him rather cleverly. In the period of waiting to hear from the geographical expert I've put in some fairly hard work, going over your son's effects. And, in the room over Silent Charley's bar, I found a newspaper with this in it."

He handed to Doctor Hoff a thin clipping, marked "Daily Saw, March 29":

LOST--Spanish letter and map. Of no value except to owner, Return to No. 16, this office, and receive heartfelt thanks.

"Well," said Doctor Hoff, after reading it over twice, "that don't tell me nothing."

"No? Yet it's pretty plain. The two crooks 'planted' the letter and map on your son. Probably slipped them into a pocket of his coat while he was drunk. Then they inserted their little ad, waited until he had time to find the letter, and casually called the advertisement to his attention. The rest would be easy. But I'll have something to say to my clerk, who failed to clip that ad."

"You're workin' for me, now," half blustered, half whined the old quack. "Whatche goin' to do next?"

 

"Pack for the night train." "Where to?"

 

"Yuma or Calexico. Don't know which till I get a reply to two telegrams. I'll need five hundred dollars expense money."

"Say, you don't want much, do ye?" snarled the quack, his avaricious soul in revolt at the prospect of immediate outlay. "When I hire a man I expect him to pay his own expenses and send me the bill."

"Quite so," agreed the other blandly. "But, you see, you aren't hiring me. I'm doing this on spec. And I don't propose to invest anything in a dubious proposition, myself. It isn't too late to call it off, you know."

"No, I do' wanta do that," said the other with contorted face. "I'll get the five hundred here for' you in an hour."

 

"And about the five thousand dollars reward? I think I'd better have a word of writing on that."

 

"You mean you don't trust me?" snapped the other. "I'm good for five million dollars tomorrow in this town."

"I know you are--in writing," agreed the other equably. "That's why I want your valued signature. You see, to be quite frank, I haven't the fullest confidence in gentlemen in your line of business."

"I'll have my lawyer draw up a form of contract and mail it after you to-morrow," promised the quack with a crafty look.

"No, you wo--" began Average Jones; but he broke off with a smile. "Very well," he amended. "If things work out as I figure them, that will do. And," he added, dropping into his significant drawl and looking the quack flatly in the eye, "don't you--er--bank on my-er--not understanding your offer--and--er--you."

Uncomfortably pondering this reply, Doctor Hoff set about the matter of the expense money. Mean time a telegram came which settled the matter of immediate destination. It apprised Average Jones that, a fortnight previous, this paragraph had appeared in the paid columns of the Yuma Yucca:

WANTED-Small, flat-bottomed sailboat. Centerboard type preferred. Hasty, care this office.

Average Jones bought a ticket for Yuma. Disembarking at the Yuma station three days later, Average Jones blinked in the harsh sunlight at a small, compactly built, keen-eyed man, roughly dressed for the trail.

"I'm Captain Funcke," said the stranger. His speech was gentle, slow, even hesitant; but there was something competent and reliable in his bearing which satisfied the shrewd young reader of men's characters from the outset. "Your wire got me two days since and I came right up."

"Any trace?"

 

"Left here two days ago."

 

"Three of them?"

 

"Yes. Flat-bottomed, narrow-beamed boat, sloop-rigged pretty light."

 

"Know anything of the men?"

 

"Only the big one. Calls himself Colonel Richford. Had a fake copper outfit in the mountains east of Alamo."

 

"Where do you think they're headed for?"

"Probably the wildest country they can find, if they want to get rid of young Hoff," said the other, who had been apprised of the main points of the situation. "That would likely be the Pinto range, to the southwest of the Laguna. Richford knows that country a little. He was in there two years ago."

"They would probably want to get rid of him without obvious murder;" said Average Jones. "You see, his money is in certified checks which they'd have to get cashed. If some one should find his body with a bullet-hole in it, they'd have some explaining to do."

"Nobody'd be likely to find it. Only about two parties a year get' down there. Still, somebody might trail him. And I guess old Richford is too foxy to do any killing when he turns the trick just as well without it."

"Suppose it's the Pintos, then. How do we get there?"

 

"Hard-ash breeze," returned the other succinctly. "Our rowboat is outfitted and waiting."

 

"Good work!" said Jones heartily. "How far is it?"

"Sixty miles to the turn of the Laguna. There's a four-mile current to help. They've a scant two days' start, and we'll catch up some, for their boat is heavier and their sail is no good with the wind in this direction. If we don't catch up some," he added grimly, "I wouldn't want to insure our young friend's life. So it's all aboard, if you're ready."

For the first time since embarking upon the strange seas of advertising in his quest of the Adventure of Life, Average Jones now met the experience of grilling physical toil. All that day and all the night the two men swung at the oars; swung until every muscle in the young Easterner's back had turned to live nerve-fiber, and the flesh had begun to strip from the palms of his hands. Even so, the hardy captain had done most of the work. Aided by the current, they turned the shoulder of the Cocopah range as the dawn shone lurid in the east, and the captain swung the boat's head to the southern shore of the lake. Meantime, between spells at the oars, Average Jones had outlined the case in full to Funcke. He could have found no better coadjutor:

By nature and equipment every really expert hunter and tracker is a detective. The subtleties of the trail sharpen both physical and mental sensibility. Captain Funcke was, by instinct, a student of that continuous logic which constitutes the science of the chase, whether the prize of pursuit be a mountain sheep's horns or the scholar's need of praise for the interpreting of some half-obliterated inscription on a pre-Hittite tomb. After long and silent consideration the captain gave his views.

"It isn't bunco. It's a hold-up. If Richford had wanted to stick young Hoff, he'd never have brought him here. There isn't 'color' enough within eighty miles to gild a cigar band. It looks to me like the scheme is this: They get him off in the mountains, out of sight of the lake, so he'll have no landmark to go by. Then they scare him into signing copartnership papers, and make him turn over those certified checks to them. With the papers to show for it, they go out by Calexico and cash the checks in Los Angeles. They could put up the bluff that their partner was guarding the mine while they bought machinery and outfitted. That'd be good enough to cash certified checks by."

"Yes; that's about the way I figure it out. You spoke of Richford's being able to get rid of young Hoff effectually, without actual murder."

 

"All he'd have to do would be to quit the boy while he was asleep. A tenderfoot would die of thirst over there in a short time."

 

"Is there no water?"

 

"There's a tenaja they're depending on. But I doubt if they find any water there now. It's been an extra dry season."

 

"A tenaja?" queried the Ad-Visor.

"Rock-basin holding rainwater," explained the hunter. "There's been no rainfall since August. If they find the tenaja empty they'll, have barely enough in the canteens they pack to get them to the next water, the Tenaja Poquita, around behind the mountains and across the desert into the next range."
"What's the next water to that?"

"The Stream of Palms. That's a day and a half on foot."

 

For the space of a hundred oar-strokes Average Jones ruminated.

 

"Suppose--er--they didn't--er--find any water in the Tenaja Poquita, either?" he drawled.

 

"Then they would be up against it."

 

"And there's no other water in the Pintos?"

"Yes, there is," said the captain. "There's a tenaja that's so high up and so hidden that it's only known to one other man besides me, and he's an Indian. It's less than an hour from the tenaja that Richford will take his party to. And we're sure of finding water there. It never dries up this early."

"Get me to young Hoff, then, Captain. You're in command from the moment we land."

It was broad day when the keel pushed softly into the muddy bottom of a long, shallow arm of the lake. Captain Funcke rose, stretched the kinks out of his back, and jumped ashore.

"You say I'm in command?" he inquired.

 

"Absolute."

 

"Then you roll up under that mesquite and fall asleep. I'm going to cast about for their trail."

To the worn-out oarsman, it seemed only a few moments later that an insistent grip on his shoulder aroused him. But the overhead sun, whose direct rays were fairly boiling the sweat out of him, harshly corrected this impression.

"I've found their boat," said Captain Funcke. "The trail heads for the Pintos. They're traveling heavy. I don't believe they're twenty-four hours ahead of us."

 

Average Jones stumbled to his feet. "I'm ready," he said.

"It's a case of travel light." The hunter handed over a small bag of food and a large canteen full of water. He himself packed a much larger load, including two canteens and a powerful field-glass. Taking a shotgun from the boat, he shouldered it, and set out at a long, easy stride.

To Average Jones the memory of that day has never been wholly clear. Sodden with weariness, dazzled and muddled by the savage sun-glare, he followed, with eyes fixed, the rhythmically, monotonously moving feet of his leader, through an interminable desert of soft, clogging sand; a desert which dropped away into parched arroyos, and rose to scorched mesas whereon fierce cacti thrust at him with thorns and spikes; a desert dead and mummified in the dreadful heat; a lifeless Inferno wherein moved neither beast, bird nor insect. He remembers, dimly, lying as he fell, when the indefatigable captain called a halt, and being wakened in the chill breeze of evening, to see a wall of mountains blocking the advance. Food brought him to his normal self again, and in the crisp air of night he set his face to the task of climbing. Severe as this was upon his unaccustomed muscles, the firm rocks were still a welcome relief after the racking looseness of sand that interminably sank away from foothold. At midnight the wearied pursuers dropped down from a high plateau to a narrow arroyo. Here again was sand. Fortunately, this time, for in it footprints stood out clear, illuminated by the white moonlight. They led direct to a side barranca. There the pursuers found the camp. It was deserted.

Like a hound on the trail, Captain Funcke cast about him.

 

"Here's where they came in. No--yes--this is it. Confound the cross-tracks! . . Here one of them cuts across the ridge to the tenaja for water.

"Wait! . . . What's this? Coyote trail? Yes, but . . . Trail brushed over, by thunder! They didn't do it carefully enough . . . Straight for the rocky mesa. . . . That's it! They made their sneak while Hoff was asleep, probably covering trail behind them, and struck out for the inside desert route to the Tenaja Poquita." He took a quick look about the camp and picked up an empty canteen. "Of course, they wouldn't leave him any water."

"Then he's gone to hunt it," suggested Average Jones. "Which way?"

"You can't tell which way a tenderfoot will go," said the hunter philosophically. "If he had any savvy at all he'd follow the old beaten track around by the arroyo to the water-hole. We'll try it."

On the way, Average Jones noticed his companion stop frequently to examine the sand for something which he evidently didn't find.

 

"These are fresh footsteps we're following, aren't they?" he asked.

 

"Yes. It isn't that. He went this way all right. But the tenaja's gone dry."

 

"How can you tell that?"

"No fresh sign of animals going this way. Must have been dry for weeks. Our mining friends have taken what little water there was and left young Hoff to die of thirst," said the other grimly. "Well, that explains the empty canteen all right."
He turned and renewed his quick progress, leaping from boulder to boulder, between narrowing walls of gray-white rock. Just as Average Jones was spent and almost ready to collapse the leader checked.

"Hark!" he whispered.

Above the beating of the blood in his ears, Jones heard an irregular, insistent scuffing sound. He crouched in silence while the captain crept up to a ledge and cautiously peered over, then went forward in response to the other's urgent beckoning. They looked down into a rock-basin of wild and curious beauty. To this day Average Jones remembers the luminous grace and splendor of a Matilija poppy, which, rooted between two boulders, swayed gently in the white moonlight above a figure of dread. The figure, naked from the waist up, huddled upon the hard-baked mud, digging madly at the earth. A sharp exclamation broke from Average Jones. The digger half-rose, turned, collapsed to his knees, and pointed with bleeding fingers to his open mouth, in which the tongue showed black and swollen.

They went down to him.

An hour later, "Rickey" Hoff was sleeping the sleep of utter exhaustion in camp. Average Jones felt amply qualified to join him. But it was not in the Ad-Visor's character to quit an enterprise before it was wholly completed. So long as the two bandits were on their way to cash the young spendthrift's checks--Jones had heard from the victim a brief account of the extortion--success was not fully won.

"We've got to get that money back," he said to Captain Funcke with conviction.

The hunter made no reply in words. He merely leaned his shotgun against his thigh, reached around beneath his coat and produced a forty-five caliber revolver. This he held out toward Jones.

"Good thing to have," conceded the other. "But--well, no; not in this case. They got the booty with a show of legality, since Hoff signed the copartnership agreement and turned over the checks. It was under duress and threats, it's true, but who's to prove that, they being two to one, and this being Mexico? No; they're within the law, and I've a notion that we can get the swag back by straight sale and barter. Provided, always, we can catch them in time."

"They'll want to make pretty good time to the Tenaja Poquita," pointed out the captain. "They're shy on water."

"On wind, too. They've traveled hard, and they can't be in the pink of condition. According to Hoff, they deserted him while he was taking a nap, about four o'clock in the afternoon. It's a fair bet they'd camp for the night, as you say it's an eight hour hike to the tenaja."
"Eight, the way they'd go."

"Then--er--there's a--er--shorter way?" drawled Average Jones, removing some sand from a wrinkle in his scarified and soiled trousers as carefully as if that were the one immediate and important consideration in life.

"Yes. Across the Padre Cliffs. It cuts off about four hours, and it takes us almost to the secret tenaja I spoke of. We can fill up there. But it's not what you'd call safe, even in daylight."

"But to a hunter, wouldn't it be well worth the risk for a record pair of horns--even if they were only tin horns?" queried Average Jones suggestively.

 

Captain Funcke relaxed into a grin. He nodded.

 

"What'll we do with him?" he asked, jerking his head toward the sleeper.

 

"Leave him water, food and a note. Now, about this Tenaja Poquita we're headed for. How much water do you think there is in it?"

 

"If there's a hundred gallons it's doing well, this dry season."

Average Jones got painfully to his feet. Looking carefully over the scattered camp outfit, he selected from it a collapsible pail. Captain Funcke glanced at it with curiosity, but characteristically forebore to ask any questions. He himself shouldered the largest canteen.

"This'll be enough for both until we reach the supply," he said. "Don't need so much water at night."

But the tenderfoot hung upon his own shoulder, not only the smallest of their three canteens, but also the empty one which they had found in the camp. Their own third tin, almost full, they left beside Hoff, with a note.

"I've a notion," said Jones, "that I'll need all these receptacles for water in my own peculiar business."

 

"All right," assented the other patiently. He took one of them and the pail from Jones and skillfully disposed them on his own back. "Ready? Hike, then."

Two hours of the roughest kind of climbing brought them to a landslide. These sudden shiftings of the slopes are a frequent feature of travel in the Lower California mountains, often obliterating trails and costing the wayfarer painful and perilous search for a new path. On the Padre Cliffs, however, had occurred that rare phenomenon, a benevolent avalanche, piling up a safe and feasible embankment around the angle of an impracticable precipice, and thus saving an hour of the most ticklish going of the journey. Thanks to this dispensation, the two men reached the Tenaja Poquita before dawn. Scouting ahead, the captain reported no fresh trail except coyotes and mule deer, and not more than seventy-five gallons of water in the basin. Of this they both drank deeply. Then after they had filled all the canteens, Average Jones unfolded his scheme to the captain.

"If any one caught us at it," commented that experienced hunter, "we'd be shot without warning. However, the water would be evaporated in a few days anyhow, and I'll post notices at the next watercamps. I'm with you."

Taking turn and turn about with the pail, they bailed out the rock-basin, scattering the water upon the greedy sand. What little moisture remained in the sticky mud at the bottom they blotted up with more sand. They then rolled in boulders. Average Jones looked down into the hollow with satisfaction, and moved his full canteens into a grotto.

"This company," he said, "is now open for business."

At eight o'clock there was a clatter of boots upon the rocks and two men came staggering up the defile. Colonel Richford and his partner did not look to be in good repair. The colonel's face was drawn and sun-blotched. His companion, the "Fred" of Silent Charley's bar, was bloated and shaken with liquor. Both panted with the hard, dry, open-lipped breath of the first stage of thirst-exhaustion. The colonel, who was in the lead, checked and started upon discovering astride of a rock a pleasant visaged young man of a familiar American type, whose appearance was in nowise remarkable except as to locality. With a grunt that might have been greeting, but was more probably surprise, the newcomer passed the seated man. Captain Funcke he did not see at all. That astute hunter had dropped behind a boulder.

At the brink of the tenaja the colonel stopped dead. Then with an outburst of flaming language, he leaped in, burrowing among the rocks.

 

"Dry!" he yelled, lifting a furious and appalled face to his companion.

 

Fred stood staring from Average Jones to his three canteens. There was a murderous look on his sinister face.

 

"Got water?" he growled.

 

"Yes," replied the young man.

 

"Here, Colonel," said Fred. "Here's drink for us."

 

"For sale," added Average Jones calmly.

"People don't buy water in this country." "You're not people," returned Average Jones cheerfully. "You're a corporation; a soulless corporation. The North Pinto Gold Mining Company."

"What's that!" cried the colonel thickly.

His hand flew back to his belt. Then it dropped, limp at his side, for he was gazing into the two barrels of a shotgun, which, materializing over a rock, were pointing accurately and disconcertingly at the pit of his stomach. From behind the gun Captain Funcke's quiet voice remarked:

"I wouldn't, Colonel. As for you," he added, turning to the other wayfarer, who carried a rifle, "you want to remember that a shotgun has two barrels, usually both loaded."

 

Stepping forward, Average Jones "lifted" the financier's weapon. Then he deprived Fred of his rifle amid a surprisingly brilliant outburst of verbal pyrotechnics.

 

"Now we can talk business comfortably," he observed.

 

"I can't talk at all pretty quick if I don't git a moistener," said Fred piteously.

Pouring out a scant cupful of water into his hat, Average Jones handed it over. "Drink slowly," he advised. "You've got about a hundred dollars' worth there at present quotations."

Colonel Richford's head went up with a jerk.

 

"Hundred dollars' worth!" he croaked, his eyes fiery with suspicion. "Are you going to hold up two men dying of thirst?"

 

"There's been only one man in danger of that death around here. His name is Hoff."

 

The redoubtable colonel gasped, and leaned back against a rock.

"You'll be relieved to learn that he's safe. Now, to answer your question: No, I don't propose to hold up two men for anything. I propose to deal with the president and treasurer of the North Pinto Gold Mining Company. As a practical mining man you will appreciate the absolute necessity of water in your operations. The nearest available supply is some ten hours distant. Before you could reach it I fear that--er--your company would--er--have gone out of existence. Therefore I am fortunate in being able to offer you a small supply which I will put on the market at the low rate of ten thousand dollars. I may add that--er--certified checks will--er--be accepted."

For two hours the colonel, with the occasional objurgatory assistance of his partner, talked, begged argued, threatened, and even wept. By the end of that time his tongue was making sounds like a muffled castanet, and his resolution was scorched out of him. "You've got us," he croaked. "Here's your checks. Give me the water."

"In proper and legal form, please," said Average Jones.

He produced a contract and a fountain-pen. The contract was duly signed and witnessed. It provided for the transfer of the water, in consideration of one revolver and ten thousand dollars in checks. These checks were endorsed over to A. V. R. E. Jones, whereupon he turned over the pail of water and the largest canteen to the parched miners. Then, sorting out the checks, he pocketed two aggregating five thousand dollars, tore up three, and holding the other in his hand, turned to Captain Funcke.

"Will five hundred dollars pay you for keeping young Hoff down here a couple of months and making the beginning of a man of him?" he asked.

 

"Yes, and more," replied the captain.

 

"It's a go," said Average Jones. "I'd like to make the job complete."

 

Then, courteously bidding the North Pinto Gold Mining Company farewell, the two water-dealers clambered up the rocks and disappeared beyond the abrupt sky-line.

Once again Doctor Conrad Hoff sat in the private office of Average Jones, Ad-Visor. The young man was thinner, browner and harder of fiber than the Jones of two weeks previous. Doctor Hoff looked him over with shrewd eyes.

"Say, your trip ain't done you no harm, has it?" he exclaimed with a boisterous and false good nature. "You look like' a fightin'-cock. Hope the boy comes out as good. You say he's all right?"

"You've got his letter, in which he says so himself. That's enough proof, isn't it?"

"Oh, I've got the letter all right. An' it's enough as far as it goes. But it ain't proof; not the kind of proof a man pays out reward money on," he added, cunningly. "You say you left Roddy down there with that Funcke feller, hey?"

"Yes. It'll make a man of him, if anything will. I threw that in as an extra."

 

"Yes; but what about them two crooks that goldbricked him? What's become of them?"

 

"On their way to Alaska or Bolivia or Corea, or anywhere else, for all I know--or care," said Average Jones indifferently.

"Is that so?" The quack's voice had taken on a sneering intonation. "You come back here with your job not half done, with the guilty fellers loose an' runnin', an' you expect me to pay over, the five thousand dollars to you. Huh!"
"No, I--er--don't expect--er--anything of the sort," said Average Jones slowly.

Doctor Hoff's little, restless eyes puckered at the corners. He was puzzled. What did the young fellow mean?

 

"Don't, eh?" he said, groping in his mind for a solution.

"No. You forgot to send me that promised form of agreement, didn't you? Thought you'd fooled me, perhaps. Well, I wouldn't be so foolish as to expect anything in the way of fair and honorable dealing when I contract to do up a mining swindler for the benefit of the only meaner creature on God's earth--a patent medicine poisoner. So I took precautions."

"Say, be careful of what you say, young man," blustered the quack.

 

"I am--quite particular. And, before you leave, wouldn't you like to hear about the five thousand dollars I got for my little job?"

 

Doctor Hoff blinked rapidly.

 

"What didje say?" he finally inquired.

 

"Five--er--thousand--er--dollars."

 

"You got it?"

 

"In the bank."

 

"Where dje get it?"

 

"From you, through your son's check, duly certified."

 

Doctor Hoff blinked more rapidly and moistened his lips with an effortful tongue.

 

"H-h-how dje work it?" he asked in a die-away voice.

"By a forced sale of water rights to the North Pinto Gold Mining Company, dissolved, in which Mr. Roderick Hoff was vice-president and silent partner," replied Average Jones with an amiable smile, as he opened the door significantly.

IV. The Mercy Sign-One

 

"Want a job, Average?"

Bertram, his elegance undimmed by the first really trying weather of the early summer, drifted to the coolest spot in the Ad-Visor's sanctum and spread his languid length along a wicker settee.

"Give a man breathing space, can't you?" returned Average Jones. "This is hotter than Baja California."

 

"Why, I assumed that your quest of the quack's scion would have trained you down fit for anything."

"Haven't even caught up with the clippings that Simpson floods me with, since I came back," confessed the other. "What have you got up your faultlessly creased sleeve? It's got to be something different to rouse me from a well-earned lethargy."

"Because a man buncoes a loving father out of five thousand dollars," Average Jones snorted gently, "is no reason why he should unanimously elect himself a life member of the Sons of Idleness,"' murmured Bertram.

He cast an eye around the uniquely decorated walls, upon which hung, here, the shrieking prospectus of a mythical gold-mine; there a small but venomous political placard, and on all sides examples of the uncouth or unusual in paid print; exploitations of grotesque quackeries; appeals, business-like, absurd, or even passionate, in the form of "Wants;" threats thinly disguised as "Personals;"' dim suggestions of crime, of fraud, of hope, of tragedy, of mania, all decorated with the stars of "paid matter" or designated by the Adv. sign, and each representing some case brought to A. Jones, Ad-Visor--to quote his hybrid and expressive doorplate--by some one of his numerous and incongruous clients.

"Something different?" repeated the visitor, reverting to Average Jones' last observation. "Well, yes; I think so. Where is Bellair Street?"

 

"Ask a directory. How should I know?" retorted the other lazily. "Sounds like old Greenwich Village."

Bertram reached over with a cane of some pale, translucent green wood, selected to match his pale green tie and the marvelous green opal which held it in place, and prodded his friend severely in the ribs. "Double-up Lucy; the sun is in the sky!" he proclaimed with unwonted energy. "Listen. I cut this out of yesterday's Evening Register. With my own fair hands I did it, to rouse you from your shameless sloth. With your kind attention, ladies and gentlemen--" He read:
"WANTED--A young man, unattached, competent to act as assistant in
outdoor scientific work. Manual
skill as desirable as experience.
Emolument for one month's work generous. Man without family insisted upon.
Apply after 8:30 P. M. in proper person. Smith, 74 Bellair Street."

Slowly whirling in his chair, Average Jones held out a hand, received the clipping, read it through with attention, laid it on the desk, and yawned.

"Is that all?" said the indignant Bertram. "Do you notice that 'unattached' in the opening sentence? And the specification that the applicant must be without family? Doesn't that inspire any notion above a yawn in your palsied processes of mind?"

"It does; several notions. I yawned," explained Average Jones with dignity, "because I perceive with pain that I shall have to go to work. What do you make of the thing, yourself?"

"Well, this man Smith--"

 

"What man Smith?"

 

"Smith, of 74 Bellair Street, who signs the ad."

 

Average Jones laughed, "There isn't any Smith," he said.

 

"What do you know about it?" demanded Bertram, sitting up.

"Only what the advertisement tells me. It was written by a foreigner; that's too obvious for argument. 'Emolument generous.' 'Apply in proper person.' Did a Smith ever write that? No. A Borgrevsky might have, or a Greiffenhauser, or even a Mavronovoupoulos. But never Smith."

"Well, it's nothing to me what his name is. Only I thought you might be the aspiring young scientist he was yearning for."

"Wouldn't wonder if I were, thank you. Let's see. Bellair Street? Where's the directory? Thanks. Yes, it is Greenwich Village. Well, I think I'll just stroll down that way and have a look after dinner."

Thus it was that Mr. Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones found himself on a hot May evening pursuing the Adventure of Life into the vestibule of a rather dingy old house which had once been the abode of solemn prosperity if not actual aristocracy in the olden days of New York City. Almost immediately the telegraphic click of the lock apprised him that he might enter, and as he stepped into the hallway the door of the right-hand ground-floor apartment opened to him.

"You will please come in," said a voice.

The tone was gentle and measured. Also it was, by its accent, alien to any rightful Smith. The visitor stepped into a passageway which was dim until he entered it and the door swung behind him. Then it became pitch black.

"You will pardon this," said the voice. "A severe affection of the eyes compels me."

 

"You are Mr. Smith?" asked Average Jones.

 

"Yes. Your hand if you please."

The visitor, groping, brushed with his fingers the back of a hand which felt strangely hot and pulpy. Immediately the hand turned and closed, and he was led forward to an inner room and seated in a chair. The gentle, hot clasp relaxed and left his wrist free. A door facing him, if his ears could be trusted, opened and shut.

"You will find matches at your elbow," said the voice, coming dulled, from a further apartment. "Doubtless you would be more comfortable with a light."

 

"Thank you," returned Average Jones, enormously entertained by the dime-novel setting which his host had provided for him.

He lighted the gas and looked about a sparsely furnished room without a single distinguishing feature, unless a high and odd-shaped traveling-bag which stood on a chair near by could be so regarded. The voice interrupted his survey.

"You have come in answer to my advertisement?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"You are, then, of scientific pursuit?"

 

"Of scientific ambition, at least. I hope to meet your requirements."

 

"Your name, if you please."

 

"Jones; A. Jones, of New York City."

 

"You live with your family?"

"I have no family or near relatives." "That is well. I will not conceal from, you that there are risks. But the pay is high. Can you endure exposure? Laboring in all weathers? Subsisting on rough fare and sleeping as you may?"

"I have camped in the northern forests."

 

"Yes," mused the voice. "You look hardy."

 

Average Jones arose. "You--er--are spying upon me, then," he drawled quietly. "I might have--er--suspected a peep-hole."

 

He advanced slowly toward the door whence the voice came. A chair blocked his way. Without lowering his gaze he shoved at the obstacle with his foot.

 

"Have a care!" warned the voice.

The chair toppled and overturned. From it fell, with a light shock, the strange valise, which, striking the floor, flew open, disclosing a small cardboard cabinet. Across the front of the cabinet was a strip of white paper labeled in handwriting, each letter being individual, with what looked to the young man like the word "MERCY." He stooped to replace the bag.

"Do not touch it," ordered the voice peremptorily.

 

Average Jones straightened up to face the door again.

 

"I will apologize for my clumsiness," he said slowly, "when you explain why you have tried to trick me."

 

There was a pause. Then:

 

"Presently," said the voice. "Meantime, after what you have accidentally seen, you will perhaps appreciate that the employment is not without its peril!"

 

Average Jones stared from the door to the floored cabinet and back again in stupefaction.

"Perhaps I'm stupid," he said, "but a misshapen valise containing a cabinet with a girl's name on it doesn't seem calculated to scare an able-bodied man to death. It isn't full of dynamite, is it?"

"What is your branch of scientific work?" counter-questioned the other.

 

"Botany," replied the young man, at random.

 

"No other? Physics? Entomology? Astronomy? Chemistry? Biology?" The applicant shook his head in repeated negation. "None that I've specialized on."

 

"Ah! I fear you will not suit my purpose."

 

"All right. But you haven't explained, yet, why you've been studying me through a peephole, when I am not allowed to see you."

 

After a pause of consideration the voice spoke again.

 

"You are right. Since I can not employ you, I owe you every courtesy for having put you to this trouble. You will observe that I am not very presentable."

The side door swung open. In the dimness of the half-disclosed apartment Average Jones saw a man huddled in a chair. He wore a black skull cap. So far as identification went he was safe. His whole face was grotesquely blotched and swollen. So, also, were the hands which rested on his knees.

"You will pardon me," said Average Jones, "but I am by nature cautious. You have touched me. Is it contagious?"

 

A contortion of the features, probably indicating a smile, made the changeling face more hideous than before.

 

"Be at peace," he said. "It is not. You can find your way out? I bid you good evening, sir."

"Now I wonder," mused Average Jones, as he jolted on the rear platform of an Eighth Avenue car, "by what lead I could have landed that job. I rather think I've missed something."

All that night, and recurrently on many nights thereafter, the poisoned and contorted face and the scrawled "MERCY" on the cabinet lurked troublously in his mind. Nor did Bertram cease to scoff him for his maladroitness until both of them temporarily forgot the strange "Smith" and his advertisement in the entrancement of a chase which led them for a time far back through the centuries to a climax that might well have cost Average Jones his life. They had returned from Baltimore and the society of the Man who spoke Latin a few days when Bertram, at the club, called up Average Jones' office.

"I'm sending Professor Paul Gehren to you," was his message. "He'll call to-day or tomorrow."

Average Jones knew Professor Gehren by sight, knew of him further by repute as an impulsive, violent, warm-hearted and learned pundit who, for a typically meager recompense, furnished sundry classes of young gentlemen with amusement, alarm and instruction, in about equal parts, through the medium of lectures at the Metropolitan University. During vacations the professor pursued, with some degree of passion, experiments which added luster and selected portions of the alphabet to his name. Twice a week he walked down-town to the Cosmic Club, where he was wont to dine and express destructive and anarchistic views upon the nature, conduct, motives and personality of the organization's governing committees.

On the day following Bertram's telephone, Professor Gehren entered Astor Court Temple, took the elevator to the ninth floor, and, following directions, found himself scanning a ground-glass window flaunting the capitalized and gilded legend,

A. JONES, AD-VISOR

 

"Ad-Visor," commented the professor, rancorously. "A vicious verbal monstrosity!" He read on:

 

ADVICE UPON ADVERTISING IN ALL FORMS Consultation Free. Step In

"Consultation free!" repeated the educator with virulence. "A trap! A manifest pitfall! I don't know why Mr. Bertram should have sent me hither. The enterprise is patently quack," he asseverated in a rising voice.

Upon the word a young man opened the door and, emerging, received the accusation full in the face. The young man smiled.

 

"Quack, I said," repeated the exasperated mentor, "and I repeat it. Quack!"

 

"If you're suffering from the delusion that you're a duck," observed the young man mildly, "you'll find a taxidermist on the top floor."

 

The caller turned purple. "If you are Mr. Jones, of the Cosmic Club--"

 

"I am."

 

"--there are certain things which Mr. Bertram must explain."

 

"Yes; Bertram said that you were coming, but I'd almost given you up. Come in."

 

"Into a--a den where free advice is offered? Of all the patent and infernal rascalities, sir, the offer of free advice--"

 

"There, there," soothed the younger man. "I know all about the free swindles. This isn't one of them. It's just a fad of mine."

He led the perturbed scholar inside and got him settled in a chair. "Now, go ahead. Show me the advertisement and tell me how much you lost."
"I've lost my assistant. There is no advertisement about it. What I came for is advice. But upon seeing your tricky door-plate--"

"Oh, that's merely to encourage the timorous. Who is this assistant?"

 

"Harvey Craig, a youth, hardly more than a boy, for whom I feel a certain responsibility, as his deceased parents left him in my care."

 

"Yes," said Jones as the professor paused.

 

"He has disappeared."

 

"When?"

 

"Permanently, since ten days ago."

 

"Permanently?"

 

"Up to that time he had absented himself without reporting to me for only three or four days at a time."

 

"He lived with you?"

 

"No. He had been aiding me in certain investigations at my laboratory."

 

"In what line?"

 

"Metallurgy."

 

"When did he stop?"

 

"About four weeks ago."

 

"Did he give any reason?"

 

"He requested indefinite leave. Work had been offered him, he hinted, at a very high rate of remuneration."

 

"You don't know by whom?"

 

"No, I know nothing whatever about it."

 

"Have you any definite suspicions as to his absence?"

 

"I gravely fear that the boy has made away with himself." "Why so?"

 

"After his first absence I called to see him at his room. He had obviously undergone a violent paroxysm of grief or shame."

 

"He told you this?"

 

"No. But his eyes, and, indeed, his whole face, were abnormally swollen, as with weeping."

 

"Ah, yes." Average Jones' voice had suddenly taken on a bored indifference. "Were--er

 

-his hands, also?"

 

"His hands? Why should they?"

 

"Of course, why, indeed? You noted them?"

 

"I did not, sir."

 

"Did he seem depressed or morose?"

 

"I can not say that be did."

 

"Professor Gehren, what, newspaper do you take?"

 

The scholar stared. "The Citizen in the morning, The Register in the evening."

 

"Are either of them delivered to your laboratory?"

 

"Yes; the Register."

 

"Do you keep it on file?"

 

"No."

 

"Ah! That's a pity. Then you wouldn't know if one were missing?"

 

The professor reflected. "Yes, there was a copy containing a letter upon Von Studeborg's recent experiments--"

 

"Can you recall the date?"

 

"After the middle of June, I think."

 

Average Jones sent for a file and handed it to Professor Gehren. "Is this it?" he asked, indicating the copy of June 18.

 

"That is the letter!" said that gentleman.

 

Average Jones turned the paper and found, upon an inside page, the strange advertisement from 74 Bellair Street.

 

"One more question, Professor," said he. "When did you last see Mr. Craig?"

 

"Nine or ten days ago. I think it was July 2."

 

"How did he impress you?"

 

"As being somewhat preoccupied. Otherwise normal."

 

"Was his face swollen then?"

 

"No."

 

"Where did you see him?"

 

"The first time at my laboratory, about eleven o'clock."

 

"You saw him again that day, then?"

 

"Yes. We met by accident at a little before two P.M. on Twenty-third Street. I was surprised, because he had told me he had to catch a noon train and return to his work."

 

"Then he hadn't done so?"

 

"Yes. He explained that he had, but that he had been sent back to buy some supplies."

 

"You believe he was telling the truth?"

 

"In an extensive experience with young men I have never known a more truthful one than he."

 

"Between the first day of his coming back to New York and the last, had you seen him?"

 

"I had talked with him over the telephone. He called up two or three times to say that he was well and working hard and that he hoped to be back in a few weeks."

 

"Where did he call up from?"

"As he did not volunteer the information, I am unable to say." "Unfortunate again. Well, I think you may drop the notion of suicide. If anything of importance occurs, please notify me at once. Otherwise, I'll send you word when I have made progress."

Having dismissed the anxious pundit, Average Jones, so immersed in thought as to be oblivious to outer things, made his way to the Cosmic Club in a series of caroms from indignant pedestrian to indignant pedestrian. There, as he had foreseen, he found Robert Bertram.

"Can I detach you from your usual bridge game this evening?" he demanded of that languid gentleman.

 

"Very possibly. What's the inducement?"

 

"Chapter Second of the Bellair Street advertisement. I've told you the first chapter. You've been the god-outside-the-machine so far. Now, come on in."

 

Together they went to the Greenwich Village house. The name "Smith" had disappeared from the vestibule.

 

"As I expected," said Jones. "Our hope be in the landlord!"

The landlord turned out to be a German landlady, who knew little concerning her late ground-floor tenant and evinced no interest in the subject. The "perfessor," as she termed "Smith," had taken the flat by the month, was prompt in payment, quiet in habit, given to long and frequent absences; had been there hardly at all in the last few weeks. Where had he moved to? Hummel only knew! He had left no address. Where did his furniture go? Nowhere; he'd left it behind. Was any one in the house acquainted with him? Mrs. Marron in the other ground-floor flat had tried to be. Not much luck, she thought.

Mrs. Marron was voluble, ignorant, and a willing source of information.

"The perfessor? Sure! I knew'm. 'Twas me give'm the name. He was a Mejum. Naw! Not for money. Too swell for that. But a real-thing Mejum. A big one; one of the kind it comes to, nacheral. Spirit-rappin's! Somethin' fierce! My kitchen window is on the airshaft. So's his. Many's the time in the still evenin's I've heard the rap-rap-rappin' on his window an' on the wall, but mostly on the window. Blip! out of the dark. It'd make you just hop! And him sittin' quiet and peaceful in the front room all the time. Yep; my little girl seen him there while I was hearin' the raps."

"Did you ask him about them?" inquired Jones.

 

"Sure! He wouldn't have it at first. Then he kinder smiled and half owned up. And once I seen him with his materializin' wand, sittin' in the room almost dark."

 

"His what?"

"Materializin' wand. Spirit-rod, you know. As tall as himself and all shiny and slick. It was slim and sort o' knobby like this wood-- what's the name of it, now?--they make fish poles out of. Only the real big-bugs in spiritualism use 'em. They're dangerous. You wouldn't caich me touchin' it or goin' in there even now. I says to Mrs. Kraus, I says--"

And so the stream of high-pitched, eager talk flowed until the two men escaped from it into the vacant apartment. This was much as Average Jones had seen on his former visit. Only the strange valise was missing. Going to the kitchen, which he opened through intermediate doors on a straight line with the front room, Average Jones inspected the window. The glass was thickly marked with faint, bluish blurs, being, indeed, almost opaque from them in the middle of the upper pane. There was nothing indicative below the window, unless it were a considerable amount of crumbled putty, which he fingered with puzzled curiosity.

In the front room a mass of papers had been half burned. Some of them were local journals, mostly the Evening Register. A few were publications in the Arabic text.

 

"Oriental newspapers," remarked Bertram.

Average Jones picked them up and began to fold them. From between two sheets fluttered a very small bit of paper, narrow and half curled, as if from the drying of mucilage. He lifted and read it.

"Here we are again, Bert," he remarked in his most casual tone. "The quality of this Mercy is strained, all right."

The two men bent over the slip, studying it. The word was, as Average Jones had said, in a strained, effortful handwriting, and each letter stood distinct. These were the characters:

MERCY

 

"Is it mathematical, do you think, possibly?" asked Average Jones.

 

"All alone by itself like that? Rather not! More like a label, if you ask me."

 

"The little sister of the label on the cabinet, then."

"Cherchez la femme," observed Bertram. "It sounds like perfect foolishness to me; a swollen faced outlander who rules familiar spirits with a wand, and, between investigations in the realms of science, writes a girl's name all over the place like a lovesick school-boy! Is Mercy his spirit-control, do you suppose?"
"Oh, let's get out of here," said Average Jones. "I'm getting dizzy with it all. The next step," he observed, as they walked slowly up the street, "is by train. Want to take a short trip to-morrow, Bert? Or, perhaps, several short trips?"

"Whither away, fair youth?"

 

"To the place where the fake 'Smith' and the lost Craig have been doing their little stunts."

 

"I thought you said Professor Gehren couldn't tell you where Craig had gone."

"No more he could. So I've got to find out for myself. Here's the way I figure it out: The two men have been engaged in some out-of-door work that is extra hazardous. So much we know. Harvey Craig has, I'm afraid, succumbed to it. Otherwise he'd have sent some word to Professor Gehren. He may be dead or he may only be disabled by the dangerous character of the work, whatever it was. In any case our mysterious foreign friend has probably skipped out hastily. Now, I propose to find the railroad station they passed through, coming and going, and interview the ticket agent."

"You've got a fine large contract on your hands to find it."

 

"Not so large, either. All we have to do is to look for a place that is very isolated and yet quite near New York."

 

"How do you know it is quite near New York?"

"Because Harvey Craig went there and back between noon and two o'clock, Professor Gehren says. Now, we've got to find such a place which is near a stretch of deserted, swampy ground, very badly infested with mosquitoes. I'd thought of the Hackensack Meadows, just across the river in Jersey."

"That is all very well," said Bertram; "but why mosquitoes?"

 

"Why, the poisoned and swollen face and hands both of them suffered from," explained Average Jones. "What else could it be?"

 

"I'd thought of poison-ivy or some kind of plant they'd been grubbing at."

"So had I. But I happened to think that anything of that sort, if it had poisoned them once, would keep on poisoning them, while mosquitoes they could protect themselves against, if they didn't become immune, as they most likely would. As there must have been a lot of 'skeeters' to do the kind of job that 'Smith's' face showed, I naturally figured on a swamp."

"Average," said Bertram solemnly, "there are times when I conceive a sort of respect for your commonplace and plodding intellect. Now, let me have my little inning. I used to commute--on the Jersey and Delaware Short Line. There's a station on that line, Pearlington by name, that's a combination of Mosquitoville, Lonesomehurst and Nutting Doon. It's in the mathematical center of the ghastliest marsh anywhere between Here and Somewhere else. I think that's our little summer resort, and I'm yours for the nine A. M. train to-morrow."

Dismounting from that rather casual accommodation on the following day, the two friends found Pearlington to consist of a windowed packing-box inhabited by a hermit in a brass-buttoned blue. This lonely official readily identified the subjects of Average Jones' inquiry.

"I guess I know your friends, all right. The dago was tall and thin and had white hair; almost snow-white. No, he wasn't old, neither. He talked very soft and slow. Used to stay off in the reeds three and four days at a time. No, ain't seen him for near a week; him nor his boat nor the young fellow that was with him. Sort of bugologists, or something, wasn't they."

"Have you any idea where we could find their camp?"

 

The railroad man laughed.

"Fine chance you got of finding anything in that swamp. There's ten square miles of it, every square just like every other square, and a hundred little islands, and a thousand creeks and rivers winding through."

"You're right," agreed Average Jones. "It would take a month to search it. You spoke of a boat."

"It's my notion they must have had a houseboat. They could a-rowed it up on the tide from the Kills--a little one. I never saw no tent with 'em. And they had to have something over their heads. The boat I seen 'em have was a rowboat. I s'pose they used it to go back and forth in."

"Thanks," said Average Jones. "That's a good idea about the houseboat."

 

On the following day this advertisement appeared in the newspapers of several shore towns along the New Jersey and Staten Island coast.

A DRIFT--A small houseboat lost several days ago from the Hackensack Meadows. Fifty dollars reward paid for information leading to recovery. Jones, Ad-Visor, Astor Court Temple, New York.

Two days later came a reply, locating the lost craft at Bayonne. Average Jones went thither and identified it. Within its single room was uttermost confusion, testifying to the simplest kind of housekeeping sharply terminated. Attempt had been made to burn the boat before it was given to wind and current, but certain evidences of charred wood, and the fact of a succession of furious thunder-showers in the week past, suggested the reason for failure. In a heap of rubbish, where the fire had apparently started, Average Jones found, first, a Washington newspaper, which he pocketed; next, with a swelling heart, the wreck of the pasteboard cabinet, but no sign of the strange valise which had held it. The "Mercy" sign was gone from the cabinet, its place being supplied by a placard, larger, in a different handwriting, and startlingly more specific:

"DANGER! IF FOUND DESTROY AT ONCE. Do Not Touch With Bare Hands."

There was nothing else. Gingerly, Average Jones detached the sign. The cabinet proved to be empty. He pushed a rock into it, lifted it on the end of a stick and dropped it overboard. One after another eight little fishes glinted up through the water, turned their white bellies to the sunlight and bobbed, motionless. The investigator hastily threw away the label and cast his gloves after it. But on his return to the city he was able to give a reproduction of the writing to Professor Gehren which convinced that anxious scholar that Harvey Craig had been alive and able to write not long before the time when the houseboat was set adrift.

V. The Mercy Sign--Two

Some days after the recovery of the houseboat, Average Jones sat at breakfast, according to his custom, in the cafe of the Hotel Palatia. Several matters were troubling his normally serene mind. First of these was the loss of the trail which should have led to Harvey Craig. Second, as a minor issue, the Oriental papers found in the deserted Bellair Street apartment had been proved, by translation, to consist mainly of revolutionary sound and fury, signifying, to the person most concerned, nothing. As for the issue of the Washington daily, culled from the houseboat, there was, amidst the usual melange of social, diplomatic, political and city news, no marked passage to show any reason for its having been in the possession of "Smith." Average Jones had studied and restudied the columns, both reading matter and advertising, until he knew them almost by heart. During the period of waiting for his order to be brought he was brooding over the problem, when he felt a hand-pressure on his shoulder and turned to confront Mr. Thomas Colvin McIntyre, solemn of countenance and groomed with a supernal modesty of elegance, as befitted a rising young diplomat, already Fifth Assistant Secretary of State of the United States of America.

"Hello, Tommy," said the breakfaster. "What'll you have to drink? An entente cordialer?"

 

"Don't joke," said the other. "I'm in a pale pink funk. I'm afraid to look into the morning papers."

 

"Hello! What have you been up to that's scandalous?"

 

"It isn't me," replied the diplomat ungrammatically. "It's Telfik Bey."

"Telfik Bey? Wait a minute. Let me think." The name had struck a response from some thought wire within Average Jones' perturbed brain. Presently it came to him as visualized print in small head-lines, reproduced to the mind's eye from the Washington newspaper which he had so exhaustively studied.

THIS TURK A QUICK JUMPER
Telfik Bey, Guest of Turkish Embassy, Barely Escapes a Speeding Motor-Car

No arrest, it appeared, had been made. The "story," indeed, was brief, and of no intrinsic importance other than as a social note. But to Average Jones it began to glow luminously.

"Who is Telfik Bey?" he inquired.

 

"He isn't. Up to yesterday he was a guest of this hotel." "Indeed! Skipped without paying his bill?"

 

"Yes--ah. Skipped--that is, left suddenly without paying his bill, if you choose to put it that way."

 

The tone was significant. Average Jones' good natured face became grave.

 

"Oh, I beg your pardon, Tommy. Was he a friend of yours?"

 

"No. He was, in a sense, a ward of the Department, over here on invitation. This is what has almost driven me crazy."

 

Fumbling nervously in the pocket of his creaseless white waistcoat he brought forth a death notice.

 

"From the Dial," he said, handing it to Average Jones.

 

The clipping looked conventional enough.

DIED--July 21, suddenly at the Hotel Palatia: Telfik Bey of Stamboul, Turkey. Funeral services from the Turkish
Embassy, Washington, on Tues. Ana Alhari.

"If the newspapers ever discover--" The young diplomat stopped short before the enormity of the hypothesis.

 

"It looks straight enough to me as a death notice, except for the tail. What does 'Ana Alhari' mean? Sort of a requiescat?"

 

"Yes; like a mice!" said young Mr. McIntyre bitterly. "It means 'Hurrah!' That's the sort of requiescat it is!"

 

"Ah! Then they got him the second time."

 

"What do you mean by 'second time?"'

 

"The Washington incident, of course, was the first; the attempted murder--that is, the narrow escape of Telfik Bey."

Young Mr. McIntyre looked baffled. "I'm blessed if I know what you're up to, Jones," he said. "But if you do know anything of this case I need your help. In Washington, where they failed, we fooled the newspapers. Here, where they've succeeded--"'

"Who are 'they?'" interrupted Jones. "That's what I'm here to get at. The murderers of Telfik Bey, of course. My instructions are to find out secretly, if at all. For if it does get into the newspapers there'll be the very deuce to pay. It isn't desirable that even Telfik Bey's presence here should have been known for reasons which--ah--(here Average Jones remarked the resumption of his friend's official bearing)--which, not being for the public, I need not detail to you."

"You need not, in point of fact, tell me anything about it at all," observed Average Jones equably.

 

Pomposity fell away from Mr. Thomas Colvin McIntyre, leaving him palpably shivering.

 

"But I need your help. Need it very much. You know something about handling the newspapers, don't you?"

 

"I know how to get things in; not how to keep them out."

 

The other groaned. "It may already be too late. What newspapers have you there?"

 

"All of 'em. Want me to look?"

 

Mr. McIntyre braced himself.

 

"Turk dies at Palatia," read Average Jones. "Mm--heart disease . . . wealthy Stamboul merchant . . . studying American methods . . . Turkish minister notified."

 

"Is that all?"

 

"Practically."

 

"And the other reports?"

 

Average Jones ran them swiftly over. "About the same. Hold on! Here's a little something extra in the Universal."

 

"'Found on the floor . . . bell-boy who discovered the tragedy collapses . . . condition serious . . . Supposedly shock--"

 

"What's that?" interrupted young Mr. McIntyre, half rising. "Shot?"

 

"You're nervous, Tommy. I didn't say 'shot.' Said 'shock."'

 

"Oh, of course. Shock--the bell-boy, it means."

 

"See here; first thing you know you'll be getting me interested. Hadn't you better open up or shut up?"

 

Mr. McIntyre took a long breath and a resolution simultaneously.

"At any rate I can trust you," he said. "Telfik Bey is not a merchant. He is a secret, confidential agent of the Turkish government. He came over to New York from Washington in spite of warnings that he would be killed."

"You're certain he was killed?"

 

"I only wish I could believe anything else."

 

"Shot?"

 

"The coroner and a physician whom I sent can find no trace of a wound."

 

"What do they say?"

 

"Apoplexy."

 

"The refuge of the mystified medico. It doesn't satisfy you?"

 

"It won't satisfy the State Department."

 

"And possibly not the newspapers, eventually."'

 

"Come up with me and look the place over, Average. Let me send for the manager."

That functionary came, a vision of perturbation in a pale-gray coat. Upon assurance that Average Jones was "safe" he led the way to the rooms so hastily vacated by the spirit of the Turkish guest.

"We've succeeded in keeping two recent suicides and a blackmail scheme in this hotel out of the newspapers," observed the manager morosely. "But this would be the worst of all. If I could have known, when the Turkish Embassy reserved the apartment--"

"The Turkish Embassy never reserved any apartment for Telfik Bey," put in the Fifth Assistant Secretary of State.

"Surely you are mistaken, sir," replied the hotel man. "I saw their emissary myself. He specified for rooms on the south side, either the third or fourth floor. Wouldn't have anything else."

"You gave him a definite reservation?" asked Jones.

 

"Yes; 335 and 336."

 

"Has the man been here since?" "Not to my knowledge."

 

"A Turk, you think?"

 

"I suppose so. Foreign, anyway."

 

"Anything about him strike you particularly?"

 

"Well, he was tall and thin and looked sickly. He talked very soft, too, like a sick man."

 

The characterization of the Pearlington station agent recurred to the interrogator's mind. "Had he--er--white hair?" he half yawned.

 

"'No," replied the manager, and, in the same breath, the budding diplomat demanded:

 

"What are you up to, Average? Why should he?"

 

Average Jones turned to him. "To what other hotels would the Turkish Embassy be likely to send its men?"

 

"Sometimes their charge d'affaires goes to the Nederstrom."

 

"Go up there and find out whether a room has been reserved for Telfik Bey, and if so--"

 

"They wouldn't reserve at two hotels, would they?"

 

"By whom," concluded Average Jones, shaking his head at the interruption. "Find out who occupied or reserved the apartments on either side."

 

Mr. Thomas Colvin McIntyre lifted a wrinkling eyebrow. "Really, Jones," he observed, "you seem to be employing me rather in the capacity of a messenger boy."

 

"If you think a messenger boy could do it as well, ring for one," drawled Average Jones, in his mildest voice. "Meantime, I'll be in the Turk's room here."

Numbers 335 and 336, which the manager opened, after the prompt if somewhat sulky departure of Mr. McIntyre, proved to consist of a small sitting room, a bedroom and a bath, each with a large window giving on the cross-street, well back from Fifth Avenue.

"Here's where he was found." The manager indicated a spot near the wall of the sittingroom and opposite the window. "He had just pushed the button when he fell."

 

"How do you know that?"

 

"Bronson, the bell-boy on that call, answered. He knocked several times and got no answer. Then he opened the door and saw Mr. Telfik down, all in a heap." "Where is Bronson?"

 

"At the hospital, unconscious."

 

"What from?"

 

"Shock, the doctors say."

 

"What--er--about the--er--shot?"

 

The manager looked startled. "Well, Bronson says that just as he opened the door he saw a bullet cross the room and strike the wall above the body."

 

"You can't see a bullet in flight."

 

"He saw this one," insisted the manager. "As soon as it struck it exploded. Three other people heard it."

 

"What did Bronson do?"

"Lost his head and ran out. He hadn't got halfway to the elevator when he fell, in a sort of fainting fit. He came to long enough to tell his story. Then he got terribly nauseated and went off again."

"He's sure the man had fallen before the explosion?"

 

"Absolutely."

 

"And he got no answer to his knocking?"

 

"No. That's why he went in. He thought something might be wrong."

 

"Had anybody else been in the room or past it within a few minutes?"

 

"Absolutely no one. The floor girl's desk is just outside. She must have seen anyone going in."

 

"Has she anything to add?"

 

"She heard the shot. And a minute or two before, she had heard and felt a jar from the room."

 

"Corroborative of the man having fallen before the shot," commented Jones.

"When I got here, five minutes later, he was quite dead," continued the manager. Evidence of the explosion was slight to the investigating eye of Average Jones. The wall showed an abrasion, but, as the investigator expected, no bullet hole. Against the leg of a desk he found a small metal shell, which he laid on the table.

"There's your bullet," he observed with a smile.

 

"It's a cartridge, anyway," cried the hotel man. "He must have been shot, after all."

"From inside the room? Hardly! And certainly not with that. It's a very small fulminate of mercury shell, and never held lead. No. The man was down, if not dead, before that went off."

Average Jones was now at the window. Taking a piece of paper from his pocket he brushed the contents of the window-sill upon it. A dozen dead flies rolled upon the paper. He examined them thoughtfully, cast them aside and turned back to the manager.

"Who occupy the adjoining rooms?"

"Two maiden ladies did, on the east. They've left," said the manager bitterly. "Been coming here for ten years, and now they've quit. If the facts ever get in the newspapers
-"

"What's on the west, adjoining?"

 

"Nothing. The corridor runs down there."

 

"Then it isn't probable that any one got into the room from either side."

 

"Impossible," said the manager.

 

Here Mr. Thomas Colvin McIntyre arrived with a flushed face.

 

"You are right, Average," he said. "The same man had reserved rooms at the Nederstrom for Telfik Bey."

 

"What's the location?"

 

"Tenth floor; north side. He had insisted on both details. Nos. 1015, 1017."

 

"What neighbors?"

 

"Bond salesman on one side, Reverend and Mrs. Salisbury, of Wilmington, on the other."

 

"Um-m-m. What across the street?" "How should I know? You didn't tell me to ask."

 

"It's the Glenargan office building, just opened, Mr. Jones," volunteered the manager.

Average Jones turned again to the window, closed it and fastened his handkerchief in the catch. "Leave that there," he directed the manager. "Don't let any one into this room. I'm off."

Stopping to telephone, Average Jones ascertained that there were no vacant offices on the tenth floor, south side of the Glenargan apartment building, facing the Nederstrom Hotel. The last one had been let two weeks before to--this he ascertained by judicious questioning--a dark, foreign gentleman who was an expert on rugs. Well satisfied, the investigator crossed over to the skyscraper across from the Palatia. There he demanded of the superintendent a single office on the third floor, facing north. He was taken to a clean and vacant room. One glance out of the window showed him his handkerchief, not opposite, but well to the west.

"Too near Fifth Avenue," he said. "I don't like the roar of the traffic."

"There's one other room on this floor, farther along," said the superintendent, "but it isn't in order. Mr. Perkins' time isn't up till day after tomorrow, and his things are there yet. He told the janitor, though, that he was leaving town and wouldn't bother to take away the things. They aren't worth much. Here's the place."

They entered the office. In it were only a desk, two chairs and a scrap basket. The basket was crammed with newspapers. One of them was the Hotel Register. Average Jones found Telfik Bey's name, as he had expected, in its roster.

"I'll give fifty dollars for the furniture as it stands."

 

"Glad to get it," was the prompt response. "Will you want anything else, now?"

 

"Yes. Send the janitor here."

 

That worthy, upon receipt of a considerable benefaction, expressed himself ready to serve the new tenant to the best of his ability.

 

"Do you know when Mr. Perkins left the building?"

 

"Yes, sir. This morning, early."

 

"This morning! Sure it wasn't yesterday?"

"Am I sure? Didn't I help him to the street-car and hand him his little package? That sick he was he couldn't hardly walk alone."
Average Jones pondered a moment. "Do you think he could have passed the night here?"

"I know he did," was the prompt response. "The scrubwoman heard him when she came this morning."

 

"Heard him?"

 

"Yes' sir. Sobbing, like."

The nerves of Average Jones gave a sharp "kickback," like a mis-cranked motor-car. His trend of thought had suddenly been reversed. The devious and scientific slayer of Telfik Bey in tears? It seemed completely out of the picture.

"You may go," said he, and seating himself at the desk, proceeded to an examination of his newly acquired property. The newspapers in the scrap basket, mainly copies of the Evening Register, seemed to contain, upon cursory examination, nothing germane to the issue. But, scattered among them, the searcher found a number of fibrous chips. They were short and thick; such chips as might be made by cutting a bamboo pole into cross lengths, convenient for carrying.

"The 'spirit-wand,"' observed Average Jones with gusto. "That was the 'little package,' of course."

Next, he turned his attention to the desk. It was bare, except for a few scraps of paper and some writing implements. But in a crevice there shone a glimmer of glass. With a careful finger-nail Average Jones pushed out a small phial. It had evidently been sealed with lead. Nothing was in it.

Its discoverer leaned back and contemplated it with stiffened eyelids. For, upon its tiny, improvised label was scrawled the "Mercy sign;" mysterious before, now all but incredible.

For silent minutes Average Jones sat bemused. Then, turning in a messenger call, he drew to him a sheet of paper upon which he slowly and consideringly wrote a few words.

"You get a dollar extra if this reaches the advertising desk of the Register office within half an hour," he advised the uniformed urchin who answered the call. The modern mercury seized the paper and fled forthwith.

Punctuality was a virtue which Average Jones had cultivated to the point of a fad. Hence it was with some discountenance that his clerk was obliged to apologize for his lateness, first, at 4 P. M. Of July 23, to a very dapper and spruce young gentleman in pale mauve spats, who wouldn't give his name; then at 4:05 P. m. of the same day to Professor Gehren, of the Metropolitan University; and finally at 4:30 P. m. to Mr. Robert Bertram. When, only a moment before five, the Ad-Visor entered, the manner of his apology was more absent than fervent.

Bertram held out a newspaper to him.

 

"Cast your eye on that," said he. "The Register fairly reeks with freaks lately."

 

Average Jones read aloud.

SMITH-PERKINS, formerly 74 Bellair-Send map present location H. C. Turkish Triumph about smoked out. MERCY--Box 34, Office.

"Oh, I don't know about its being so freakish," said Average Jones.

 

"Nonsense! Look at it! Turkish Triumph--that's a cigarette, isn't it? H. C.--what's that? And signed Mercy. Why, it's the work of a lunatic!"

 

"It's my work," observed Average Jones blandly.

 

The three visitors stared a him in silence.

 

"Rather a forlorn hope, but sometimes a bluff will go," he continued.

 

"If H. C. indicates Harvey Craig, as I infer," said Professor Gehren impatiently, "are you so infantile as to suppose that his murderer will give information about him?"

 

Average Jones smiled, drew a letter from his pocket, glanced at it and called for a number in Hackensack.

 

"Take the 'phone, Professor Gehren," he said, when the reply came. "It's the Cairnside Hospital. Ask for information about Harvey Craig."

 

With absorbed intentness the other three listened to the one-sided conversation.

"Hello! . . . May I speak to Mr. Harvey Craig's doctor? . . . This is Professor Gehren of the Metropolitan University . . . Thank you, Doctor. How is he? . . . Very grave? . . . Ah, has been very grave . . . . Wholly out of danger? . . . What was the nature of his illness?

"When may I see him? . . . Very well. I will visit the hospital to-morrow morning. Thank you. . . . I should have expected that you would notify me of his, presence." intervened, then "Good-by."

"It is most inexplicable," declared Professor Gehren, turning to the others. "The doctor states that Harvey was brought there at night, by a foreigner who left a large sum of money to pay for his care, and certain suggestions for his treatment. One detail, carefully set down in writing, was that if reddish or purple dots appeared under Harvey's nails, he was to be told that Mr. Smith released him and advised his sending for his friends at once."

"Reddish or purple dots, eh?" repeated Average Jones. "I should like--er--to have talked with--er--that doctor before you cut off."

 

"And I, sir," said the professor, with the grim repression of the thinker stirred to wrath, "should like to interview this stranger."

 

"Perfectly feasible, I think," returned Average Jones.

 

A long silence.

 

"You don't mean that you've located him already!" cried young Mr. McIntyre.

 

"He was so obliging as to save me the trouble."

Average Jones held up the letter from which he had taken the Cairnside Hospital's telephone number. "The advertisement worked to a charm. Mr. Smith gives his address in this, and intimates that I may call upon him."

Young Mr. McIntyre rose.

 

"You're going to see him, then?"

 

"At once."

 

"Did I understand you to imply that I am at liberty to accompany you?" inquired Professor Gehren.

 

"If you care to take the risk."

 

"Think there'll be excitement?" asked Bertram languidly. "I'd like to go along."

 

Average Jones nodded. "One or a dozen; I fancy it will be all the same to Smith."

 

"You think we'll find him dead." Young Mr. McIntyre leaped to this conclusion. "Count me in on it."

 

"N-no; not dead."

"Perhaps his friend 'Mercy' has gone back on him, then," suggested Mr. McIntyre, unabashed.
"Yes; I rather think that's it," said Average Jones, in a curious accent. "'Mercy' has gone back on him, I believe, though I can't quite accurately place her as yet. Here's the taxi," he broke off. "All aboard that's going aboard. But it's likely to be dangerous."

Across town and far up the East Side whizzed the car, over the bridge that leads away from Manhattan Island to the north, and through quiet streets as little known to the average New Yorker as are Hong Kong and Caracas. In front of a frame house it stopped. On a side porch, over which bright roses swarmed like children clambering into a hospitable lap, sat a man with a gray face. He was tall and slender, and his hair, a dingy black, was already showing worn streaks where the color had faded. At Average Jones he gazed with unconcealed surprise.

"Ah; it is you!" he exclaimed. "You," he smiled, "are the 'Mercy' of the advertisement?"

 

"Yes."

 

"And these gentlemen?"

 

"Are my friends."

 

"You will come in?"

 

Average Jones examined a nodding rose with an indulgent, almost a paternal, expression.

 

"If you--er--think it--er--safe," he murmured.

 

"Assuredly."

As if exacting a pledge the young man held out his hand. The older one unhesitatingly grasped it. Average Jones turned the long fingers, which enclosed his, back upward, and glanced at them.

"Ah," he said, and nodded soberly, "so, it is that."

 

"Yes; it is that," assented the other. "I perceive that you have communicated with Mr. Craig. How is he?"

 

"Out of danger."

 

"That is well. A fine and manly youth. I should have sorely regretted it if--"

Professor Gehren broke in upon him. "For the peril in which you have involved him, sir, you have to answer to me, his guardian."
The foreigner raised a hand. "He was without family or ties. I told him the danger. He accepted it. Once he was careless--and one is not careless twice in that work. But he was fortunate, too. I, also, was fortunate in that the task was then so far advanced that I could complete it alone. I got him to the hospital at night; no matter how. For his danger and illness I have indemnified him in the sum of ten thousand dollars. Is it enough?"

Professor Gehren bowed.

 

"And you, Mr. Jones; are you a detective?"

 

"No; merely a follower of strange trails--by taste."

 

"Ah. You have set yourself to a dark one. You wish to know how Telfik Bey"--his eyes narrowed and glinted--"came to his reward. Will you enter, gentlemen?"

"I know this much," replied Average Jones as, followed by his friends, he passed through the door which their host held open. "With young Craig as an assistant, you prepared, in the loneliest part of the Hackensack Meadows, some kind of poison which, I believe, can be made with safety only in the open air."

The foreigner smiled and shook his head.

 

"Not with safety, even then," he said. "But go on."

"You found that your man was coming to New York. Knowing that he would probably put up at the Palatia or the Nederstrom, you reserved rooms for him at both, and took an office across from each. As it was hot weather, you calculated upon his windows being open. You watched for him. When he came you struck him down in his own room with the poison."

"But how?" It was the diplomat who interrupted.

 

"I think with a long blow-gun."

 

"By George!" said Bertram softly. "So the spirit-wand of bamboo was a blow-gun! What led you to that, Average?"

"The spirit rappings, which the talky woman in the Bellair Street apartment used to hear. That and the remnants of putty I found near the window. You see the doors opening through the whole length of the apartment gave a long range, where Mr.--er--Smith could practice. He had a sort of target on the window, and every time he blew a putty ball Mrs. Doubletongue heard the spirit. Am I right, sir?"

The host bowed.

 

"The fumes, whatever they were, killed swiftly?" "They did. Instantly; mercifully. Too mercifully."

 

"How could you know it was fumes?" demanded Mr. Thomas Colvin McIntyre.

 

"By the dead flies, the effect upon the bell-boy, and the fact that no wound was found on the body. Then, too, there was the fulminate of mercury shell."

 

"Of what possible use was that?" asked Professor Gehren.

"A question that I've asked myself, sir, a great many times over in the last twenty-four hours. Perhaps Mr. Smith could answer that best. Though--er--I think the shell was blown through the blowpipe to clear the deadly fumes from the room by its explosion, before any one else should suffer. Smith is, at least, not a wanton slaughterer."

"You are right, sir, and I thank you," said the foreigner. He drew himself up weakly but with pride. "Gentlemen, I am not a murderer. I am an avenger. It would have gone hard with my conscience had any innocent person met death through me. As for that Turkish dog, you shall judge for yourself whether he did not die too easily."

From among the papers in a tiroir against the wall he took a French journal, and read, translating fluently. The article was a bald account of the torture, outrage and massacre of Armenian women and girls, at Adana, by the Turks. The most hideous portion of it was briefly descriptive of the atrocities perpetrated by order of a high Turkish official upon a mother and two young daughters. "An Armenian prisoner, being dragged by in chains, went mad at the sight," the correspondent stated.

"I was that prisoner," said the reader. "The official was Telfik Bey. I saw my naked daughter break from the soldiers and run to him, pleading for pity, as he sat his horse; and I saw him strike his spur into her bare breast. My wife, the mother of my children--"

"Don't!" The protest came from the Fifth Assistant Secretary of State.

He had risen. His smooth-skinned face was contracted, and the sweat stood beaded on his forehead. "I--I can't stand it. I've got my duty to do. This man has made a confession."

"Your pardon," said the foreigner. "I have lived and fed on and slept with that memory, ever since. On my release I left my country. The enterprise of which I had been the head, dye-stuff manufacturing, had interested me in chemistry. I went to England to study further. Thence I came to America to wait."

"You have heard his confession, all of you," said young Mr. McIntyre, rising. "I shall have him put under arrest pending advice from Washington."
"You, may save yourself the trouble, I think, Tommy," drawled Average Jones. "Mr. Smith will never be called to account in this world for the murder--execution of Telfik Bey."

"You saw the marks on my finger-nails," said the foreigner. "That is the sure sign. I may live twenty-four hours; I may live twice or three times that period. The poison does its work, once it gets into the blood, and there is no help. It matters nothing. My ambition is satisfied."

"And it is because of this that you let us find you?" asked Bertram.

 

"I had a curiosity to know who had so strangely traced my actions."

 

"But what was the poison?" asked Professor Gehren.

 

"I think Mr. Jones has more than a suspicion," replied the doomed man, with a smile. "You will find useful references on yonder shelf, Mr. Jones."

 

Moving across to the shelf, Average Jones took down a heavy volume and ran quickly over the leaves.

 

"Ah!" he said presently, and not noticing, in his absorption, that the host had crossed again to the tiroir and was quietly searching in a compartment, he read aloud:

"Little is known of cyanide of cacodyl, in its action the swiftest and most deadly of existing poisons. In the '40's, Bunsen, the German chemist, combined oxide of cacodyl with cyanogen, a radical of prussic acid, producing cyanide of cacodyl, or diniethyl arsine cyanide. As both of its components are of the deadliest description, it is extremely dangerous to make. It can be made only in the open air, and not without the most extreme precaution known to science. Mr. Lacelles Scott, of England, nearly lost his life experimenting with it in 1904. A small fraction of a grain gives off vapor sufficient to kill a human being instantly."

"Had you known about this stuff, Average?" asked Bertram.

 

"No, I'd never beard of it. But from its action and from the lettered cabinet, I judged that

 

-"

"This is all very well," broke in Mr. Assistant Secretary Thomas Colvin McIntyre, "but I want this man arrested. How can we know that he isn't shamming and may not escape us, after all?"

"By this," retorted their host. He held aloft a small glass vial, lead-seated, and staggered weakly to the door.

"Stop him!" said Average Jones sharply. The door closed on the words. There was a heavy fall without, followed by the light tinkle of glass.

Average Jones, who had half crossed the room in a leap, turned to his friends, warning them back.

 

"Too late. We can't go out yet. Wait for the fumes to dissipate."

They stood, the four men, rigid. Presently Average Jones, opening a rear window, leaped to the ground, followed by the others, and came around the corner of the porch. The dead man lay with peaceful face. Professor Gehren uncovered.

"God forgive him," he said. "Who shall say that he was not right?"

"Not I," said the young assistant secretary in awed tones. "I'm glad he escaped. But what am I to do? Here we are with a dead body on our hands, and a state secret to be kept from the prying police."

Average Jones stood thinking for a moment, then he entered the room and called up the coroner's office on the telephone.

"Listen, you men," he said to his companions. Then, to the official who answered: "There's a suicide at 428 Oliver Avenue, the Bronx. Four of us witnessed it. We had come to keep an appointment with the man in connection with a discovery he claimed in metallurgy, and found him dying. Yes; we will wait here. Good-by."

Returning to the porch again, he cleared away the fragments of glass, aided by Bertram. To one of these clung a shred of paper. For all his languid self-control the club dilettante shivered a little as he thrust at it with a stick.

"Look, Average, it's the 'Mercy' sign again. What a hideous travesty!"

 

Average Jones shook his bead.

"It isn't 'Mercy,' Bert. It's the label that he attached, for precaution, to everything that had to do with his deadly stuff. The formula for cyanide of cacodyl is 'Me-2CY.' It was the scrawly handwriting that misled; that's all."

"So I was right when I suggested that his 'Mercy' had gone back on him," said Mr. Thomas Colvin McIntyre, with a semi-hysterical giggle.

 

Average Jones looked from the peaceful face of the dead to the label, fluttering in the light breeze.

 

"No," he said gravely. "You were wrong. It was his friend to the last."

VI. Blue Fires

"Cabs for comfort; cars for company," was an apothegm which Average Jones had evolved from experience. A professed student of life, he maintained, must keep in touch with life at every feasible angle. No experience should come amiss to a detective; he should be a pundit of all knowledge. A detective he now frankly considered himself; and the real drudgery of his unique profession of Ad-Visor was supportable only because of the compensating thrill of the occasional chase, the radiance of the Adventure of Life glinting from time to time across his path.

There were few places, Average Jones held, where human nature in the rough can be studied to better advantage than in the stifling tunnels of the subway or the closepacked sardine boxes of the metropolitan surface lines. It was in pursuance of this theory that he encountered the Westerner, on Third avenue car. By custom, Average Jones picked out the most interesting or unusual human being in any assembly where he found himself, for study and analysis. This man was peculiar in that he alone was not perspiring in the sodden August humidity. The clear-browned skin and the rangy strength of the figure gave him a certain distinction. He held in his sinewy hands a doubly folded newspaper. Presently it slipped from his hold to the seat beside him. He stared at the window opposite with harassed and unseeing eyes. Abruptly he rose and went out on the platform. Average Jones picked up the paper. In the middle of the column to which it was folded was a marked advertisement:

ARE you in an embarrassing position? Anything, anywhere, any time, regardless of nature or location. Everybody's friend. Consultation at all hours. Suite 152, Owl Building, Brooklyn.

The car was nearing Brooklyn Bridge. Average Jones saw his man drop lightly off. He followed and at the bridge entrance caught him up.

 

"You've left your paper," he said.

 

The stranger whirled quickly. "Right," he said. "Thanks. Perhaps you can tell me where the Owl Building is."

 

"Are you going there?"

 

"Yes."

 

"I wouldn't."

 

A slight wrinkle of surprise appeared on the man's tanned forehead. "Perhaps you wouldn't," he returned coolly.

 

"In other words, 'mind your business,"' said Average Jones, with a smile.

 

"Something of that sort," admitted the stranger.

 

"Nevertheless, I wouldn't consult with Everbody's Friend over in the Owl Building."

 

"Er--because--er--if I may speak plainly," drawled Average Jones, "I wouldn't risk a woman's name with a gang of blackmailers."

 

"You've got your nerve," retorted the stranger. The keen eyes, flattening almost to slits, fixed on the impassive face of the other.

 

"Well, I'll go you," he decided, after a moment. His glance swept the range of vision and settled upon a rathskeller sign. "Come over there where we can talk."

 

They crossed the grilling roadway, and, being wise in the heat, ordered "soft" drinks.

 

"Now," said the stranger, "you've declared in on my game. Make good. What's your interest?"

 

"None, personally. I like your looks, that's all," replied the other frankly. "And I don't like to see you run into that spider's web."

 

"You know them?"

 

"Twice in the last year I've made 'em change their place of business."

 

"But you don't know me. And you spoke of a woman."

"I've been studying you on the car," explained Average Jones. "You're hard as nails; yet your nerves are on edge. It isn't illness, so it must be trouble. On your watch-chain you've got a solitaire diamond ring. Not for ornament; you aren't that sort of a dresser. It's there for, convenience until you can find a place to put it. When a deeply troubled man wears an engagement ring on his watch chain it's a fair inference that there's been an obstruction in the course of true love. Unless I'm mistaken, you, being a stranger newly come to town, were going to take your case to those man-eating sharks?"

"How do you know I've just come to town?"

"When you looked at your watch I noticed it was three hours slow. That must mean the Pacific coast, or near it. Therefore you've just got in from the Far West and haven't thought to rectify your time. At a venture I'd say you were a mining man from down around the Ray-Kelvin copper district in Arizona. That peculiar, translucent copper silicate in your scarf-pin comes from those mines."
"The Blue Fire? I wish it had stayed there, all of it! Anything else?"

"Yes," returned Average Jones, warming to the game. "You're an Eastern college man, I think. Anyway, your father or some older member of your family graduated from one of the older colleges."

"What's the answer?"

"The gold of your Phi Beta Kappa key is a different color from your watch-chain. It's the old metal, antedating the California gold. Did your father graduate some time in the latter forties or early fifties?"

"Hamilton, '51. I'm '89. Name, Kirby."

A gleam of pleasure appeared in Average Jones keen eyes. "That's rather a coincidence," he said. "Two of us from the Old Hill. I'm Jones of '04. Had a cousin in your class, Carl Van Reypen."

They plunged into the intimate community of interest which is the peculiar heritage and asset of the small, close-knit old college. Presently, however, Kirby's forehead wrinkled again. He sat silent, communing with himself. At length he lifted his head like one who has taken a resolution.

"You made a good guess at a woman in the case," he, said. "And you call this a coincidence? She'd say it was a case of intuition. She's very strong on intuition and superstition generally." There was a mixture of tenderness and bitterness in his tone. "Chance brought that advertisement to her eyes. A hat-pin she'd dropped stuck through it, or something of the sort. Enough for her. Nothing would do but that I should chase over to see the Owl Building bunch. At that, maybe her hunch was right. It's brought me up against you. Perhaps you can help me. What are you? A sort of detective?"

"Only on the side." Average Jones drew a card from his pocket, and tendered it:

 

A. JONES, AD-VISOR

 

Advice upon all matters connected with

 

Advertising

 

Astor Court Temple 2 to 5 P.M.

 

"Ad-Visor, eh?" repeated the other. "Well, there's going to be an advertisement in the Evening Truth to-day, by me. Here's a proof of it."

 

Average Jones took the slip and read it.

LOST--Necklace of curious blue stones from Hotel Denton, night of August 6. Reward greater than value of stones for return to hotel. No questions asked.

"Reward greater than value of stones," commented Average Jones. "There's a sentimental interest, then?"

 

"Will you take the case?" returned Kirby abruptly.

 

"At least I'll look into it," replied Average Jones.

 

"Come to the hotel, then, and lunch with me, and I'll open up the whole thing."

 

Across a luncheon-table, at the quiet, old-fashioned Hotel Denton, Kirby unburdened himself.

"You know all that's necessary about me. The--the other party in the matter is Mrs. Hale. She's a young widow. We've been engaged for six months; were to be married in a fortnight. Now she insists on a postponement. That's where I want your help."

Average Jones moved uneasily in his chair. "Really, Mr. Kirby, lovers' quarrels aren't in my line."

"There's been no quarrel. We're as much engaged now as ever, in spite of the return of the ring. It's only her infern--her deep-rooted superstition that's caused this trouble. One can't blame her; her father and mother were both killed in an accident after some sort of 'ghostly warning.' The first thing I gave her, after our engagement, was a necklace of these stones"--he tapped his scarf pin--"that I'd selected, one by one, myself. They're beautiful, as you see, but they're not particularly valuable; only semiprecious. The devil of it is that they're the subject of an Indian legend. The Indians and Mexicans call them "blue fires," and say they have the power to bind and loose in love. Edna has been out in that country; she's naturally high strung and responsive to that sort of thing, as I told you, and she fairly soaked in all that nonsense. To make it worse, when I sent them to her I wrote that-- that--" a dull red surged up under the tan skin--"that as long as the fire in the stones burned blue for her my heart would be all hers. Now the necklace is gone. You can imagine the effect on a woman of that temperament. And you can see the result." He pointed with a face of misery to the solitaire on his watch-chain. "She insisted on giving this back. Says that a woman as careless as she proved herself can't be trusted with jewelry. And she's hysterically sure that misfortune will follow us for ever if we're married without recovering the fool necklace. So she's begged a postponement."

"Details," said Average Jones crisply. "She's here at this hotel. Has a small suite on the third floor. Came down from her home in central New York to meet my mother, whom she had never seen. Mother's here, too, on the same floor. Night before last Mrs. Hale thought she heard a noise in her outer room. She made a look-see, but found nothing. In the morning when she got up, about ten (she's a late riser) the necklace was gone."

"Where had it been left?"

 

"On a stand in her sitting-room."

 

"Anything else taken?"

 

"That's the strange part of it. Her purse, with over a hundred dollars in it, which lay under the necklace, wasn't touched."

 

"Does she usually leave valuables around in that casual way?"

 

"Well, you see, she's always stayed at the Denton and she felt perfectly secure here."

 

"Any other thefts in the hotel?"

"Not that I can discover. But one of the guests on the same floor with Mrs. Hale saw a fellow acting queerly that same night. There he sits, yonder, at that table. I'll ask him to come over."

The guest, an elderly man, already interested in the case, was willing enough to tell all he knew.

"I was awakened by some one fumbling at my door and making a clinking noise," he explained. "I called out. Nobody answered. Almost immediately I heard a noise across the hall. I opened my door. A man was fussing at the keyhole of the room opposite. He was very clumsy. I said, 'is that your room?' He didn't even look at me. In a moment he started down the hallway. He walked very fast, and I could hear him muttering to himself. He seemed to be carrying something in front of him with both hands. It was his keys, I suppose. Anyway I could hear it clink. At the end of the hall he stopped, turned to the door at the left and fumbled at the keyhole for quite a while. I could bear his keys clink again. This time, I suppose, he had the right room, for be unlocked it and went in. I listened for fifteen or twenty minutes. There was nothing further."

Average Jones looked at Kirby with lifted brows of inquiry. Kirby nodded, indicating that the end room was Mrs. Hales'.

 

"How was the man dressed?" asked Average Jones.

 

"Grayish dressing-gown and bed-slippers. He was tall and had gray hair." "Many thanks. Now, Mr. Kirby, will you take me to see Mrs. Hale?"

The young widow received them in her sitting-room. She was of the slender, big-eyed, sensitive type of womanhood; her piquant face marred by the evidences of sleeplessness and tears. To Average Jones she gave her confidence at once. People usually did.

"I felt sure the advertisement would bring us help," she said wistfully. "Now, I feel surer than ever."

 

"Faith helps the worst case," said the young man, smiling. "Mr. Kirby tells me that the intruder awakened you."

"Yes; and I'm a very heavy sleeper. Still I can't say positively that anything definite roused me; it was rather an impression of some one's being about. I came out of my bedroom and looked around the outer room, but there was nobody there."

"You didn't think to look for the necklace?"

 

"No," she said with a little gasp; "if I only had!"

 

"And--er--you didn't happen to hear a clinking noise, did you?"

 

"No."

 

"After he'd got into the room he'd put the key up, wouldn't he?" suggested Kirby.

 

"You're assuming that he had a key."

 

"Of course he had a key. The guest across the ball saw him trying it on the other doors and heard it clink against the lock."

"If he had a key to this room why did he try it on several other doors first?" propounded Average Jones. "As for the clinking noise, in which I'm a good deal interested--may I look at your key, Mrs. Hale?"

She handed it to him. He tried it on the lock, outside, jabbing at the metal setting. The resultant sound was dull and wooden. "Not much of the clink which our friend describes as having heard, is it?" he remarked.

"Then how could he get into my room?" cried Mrs. Hale.

 

"Are you sure your door was locked?"

 

"Certain. As soon as I missed the necklace I looked at the catch." "That was in the morning. But the night before?"

"I always slip the spring. And I know I did this time because it had been left unsprung so that Mr. Kirby's mother could come in and out of my sitting-room, and I remember springing it when she left for bed."

"Sometimes these locks don't work." Slipping the catch back, Average Jones pressed the lever down. There was a click, but the ward failed to slip. At the second attempt the lock worked. But repeated trials proved that more than half the time the door did not lock.

"So," observed Average Jones, "I think we may dismiss the key theory."

 

"But the locked door this morning?" cried Mrs. Hale.

 

"The intruder may have done that as he left."

 

"I don't see why," protested Kirby, in a tone which indicated a waning faith in Jones.

"By way of confusing the trail. Possibly he hoped to suggest that he'd escaped by the fire-escape. Presumably he was on the balcony when Mrs. Hale came out into this room."

As he spoke Average Jones laid a hand on the heavy net curtains which hung before the balcony window. Instead of parting them, however, he stood with upturned eyes.

 

"Was that curtain torn before yesterday?" he asked Mrs. Hale.

 

"I hardly think so. The hotel people are very, careful in the up-keep of the rooms."

Jones mounted a chair with scant respect for the upholstery, and examined the damaged drapery. Descending, he tugged tentatively at the other curtain, first with his right hand, then with his left; then with both. The fabric gave a little at the last test. Jones disappeared through the window.

When he returned, after five minutes, he held in his hand some scrapings of the rusted iron which formed the balcony railing.

 

"You're a mining man, Mr. Kirby," he said. "Would you say that assayed anything?"

 

Kirby examined the glinting particles. "Gold," he said decisively.

"Ah, then the necklace rubbed with some violence against the railing. Now, Mrs. Hale, how long were you awake?"
"Ten or fifteen minutes. I remember that a continuous rattling of wagons below kept up for a little while. And I heard one of the drivers call out something about taking the air."

"Er--really!" Average Jones became suddenly absorbed in his seal ring. He turned it around five accurate times and turned it back an equal number of revolutions. "Did he-er--get any answer?"

"Not that I heard."

 

The young man pondered, then drew a chair up to, Mrs. Hale's escritoire, and, with an abrupt "excuse me," helped himself to pen, ink and paper.

"There!" he said, after five minutes' work. "That'll do for a starter. You see," he added, handing the product of his toil to Mrs. Hale, "this street happens to be the regular crosstown route for the milk that comes over by one of the minor ferries. If you heard a number of wagons passing in the early morning they were the milk-vans. Hence this."

Mrs. Hale read:

"MILK-DRIVERS, ATTENTION--Delaware Central mid-town route. Who talked to man outside hotel early morning of August 7? Twenty dollars to right man. Apply personally to Jones, Ad-Visor, Astor Court Temple, New York."

"For the coming issue of the Milk-Dealers' Journal," explained its author. "Now, Mr. Kirby, I want you to find out for me--Mrs. Hale can help you, since she has known the hotel people for years--the names of all those who gave up rooms on this floor, or the floors above or below, yesterday morning, and ask whether they are known to the hotel people."

"You think the thief is still in the hotel?" cried Mrs. Hale.

"Hardly. But I think I see smoke from your blue fires. To make out the figure through the smoke is not--" Average Jones broke off, shaking his head. He was still shaking his head when he left the hotel.

It took three days for the milk-journal advertisement to work. On the afternoon of August tenth, a lank, husky-voiced teamster called at the office of the Ad-Visor and was passed in ahead of the waiting line.

"I'm after that twenty," he declared.

 

"Earn it," said Average Jones with equal brevity.

 

"Hotel Denton. Guy on the third floor balcony--" "Right so far."

 

"Leanin' on the rail as if he was sick. I give him a hello. 'Takin' a nip of night air, Bill?' I says. He didn't say nothin'."

 

"Did he do anything?"

 

"Kinder fanned himself an' jerked his head back over his shoulder. Meanin' it was too hot to sleep inside, I reckon. It sure was hot!"

 

"Fanned himself? How?"

 

"Like this." The visitor raised his hands awkwardly, cupped them, and drew them toward his face.

 

"Er--with both hands?"

 

"Did you see him go in?"

 

"Nope."

 

"Here's your twenty," said Average Jones. "You're long on sense and short on words. I wish there were more like you."

 

"Thanks. Thanks again," said the teamster, and went out.

 

Meantime Kirby had sent his list of the guests who had given up their rooms on August seventh:

 

George M. Weaver, Jr., Utica, N. Y., well known to hotel people and vouched for by them.

 

Walker Parker, New Orleans, ditto.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hull; quiet elderly people; first visit to hotel.

 

Henry M. Gillespie, Locke, N. Y. Middle-aged man; new guest.

 

C. F. Willard, Chicago; been going to hotel for ten years; vouched for by hotel people.

 

Armed with the list, Average Jones went to the Hotel Denton and spent a busy morning.

"I've had a little talk with the hotel servants," said he to Kirby, when the latter called to make inquiries. "Mr. Henry M. Gillespie, of Locke, New York, had room 168. It's on the same floor with Mrs. Hale's suite, at the farther end of the hall. He had only one piece of luggage, a suitcase marked H. M. G. That information I got from the porter. He left his room in perfect order except for one thing: one of the knobs on the headboard of the old fashioned bed was broken off short. He didn't mention the matter to the hotel people."

"What do you make of that?"

"It was a stout knob. Only a considerable effort of strength exerted in a peculiar way would have broken it as it was broken. There was something unusual going on in room 168, all right."

"Then you think Henry M. Gillespie, of Locke, New York, is our man."

 

"No," said Average Jones.

 

The Westerner's square jaw fell. "Why not?"

 

"Because there's no such person as Henry M. Gillespie, of Locke, New York. I've just sent there and found out."

Three stones of the fire-blue necklace returned on the current of advertised appeal. One was brought in by the night bartender of a "sporting" club. He had bought it from a man who had picked it up in a gutter; just where, the finder couldn't remember. For the second a South Brooklyn pawnbroker demanded (and received) an exorbitant reward. A florist in Greenwich, Connecticut, contributed the last. With that patient attention to detail which is the A. B. C. of detective work, Average Jones traced down these apparently incongruous wanderings of the stones and then followed them all, back to Mrs. Hale's fire-escape.

The bartender's stone offered no difficulties. The setting which the pawnbroker brought in had been found on the city refuse heap by a scavenger. It had fallen through a grating into the hotel cellar, and had been swept out with the rubbish to go to the municipal "dump." The apparent mystery of the florist was lucid when Jones found that the hotel exchanged its shop-worn plants with the Greenwich Floral Company. His roaming eye, keen for every detail, had noticed a row of tubbed azaleas within the ground enclosure of the Denton. Recalling this to mind, it was easy for the Ad-Visor to surmise that the gem had dropped from the fire-escape into a tub, which was, shortly after, shipped to the florist. Thus it was apparent that the three jewels had been stripped from the necklace by forcible contact with the iron rail of the fire-escape at the point where Average Jones had found the "color" of precious metal. The stones were identified by Kirby, from a peculiarity in the setting, as the end three, nearest the clasp at the back; a point which Jones carefully noted. But there the trail ended. No more fireblue stones came in.

For three weeks Average Jones issued advertisements like commands. The advertisements would, perhaps, have struck the formal-minded Kirby as evidences of a wavering intellect. Indeed, they present a curious and incongruous appearance upon the page of Average Jones' scrapbook, where they now mark a successful conclusion. The first reads as follows:

OH, YOU HOTEL MEN! Come through with the dope on H. M. G. What's he done to your place? Put a stamp on it and we'll swap dates on his past performances.
A. Jones, Astor Court Temple, New York City.

This was spread abroad through the medium of Mine Host's Weekly and other organs of the hotel trade.

 

It was followed by this, of a somewhat later date:

WANTED-Slippery Sams, Human Eels, Fetter Kings etc Liberal reward to artist who sold Second-hand amateur, with instructions for use. Send full details, time and place to A. Jones, Court Temple, New York City.

Variety, the Clipper and the Billboard scattered the appeal broadcast throughout "the profession." Thousands read it, and one answered it. And within a few days after receiving that answer Jones wired to Kirby:

"Probably found. Bring Mrs. Hale to-morrow at 11. Answer. A. JONES."

Kirby answered. He also telegraphed voluminously to his ex-fiancee, who had returned to her home, and who replied that she would leave by the night train. Some minutes before the hour the pair were at Average Jones' office. Kirby fairly pranced with impatience while they were kept waiting in a side room. The only other occupant was a man with a large black dress-suit case, who sat at the window in a slump of dejection. He raised his head for a moment when they were summoned and let it sag down again as they left.

Average Jones greeted his guests cordially. Their first questions to him were significant of the masculine and feminine differences in point of view.

 

"Have you got the necklace?" cried Mrs. Hale.

 

"Have you got the thief?" queried Kirby.

 

"I haven't got the necklace and I haven't got the thief," announced Average Jones; "but I think I've got the man who's got the necklace."

"Did the thief hand it over to him?" demanded Kirby. "Are you conversant with the Baconian system of thought, which Old Chips used to preach to us at Hamilton?" countered Average Jones.

"Forgotten it if I ever knew it," returned Kirby.

"So I infer from your repeated use of the word 'thief.' Bacon's principle--an admirable principle in detective work--is that we should learn from things and not from the names of things. You are deluding yourself with a name. Because the law, which is always rigid and sometimes stupid, says that a man who takes that which does not belong to him is a thief, you've got your mind fixed on the name 'thief,' and the idea of theft. If I had gone off on that tack I shouldn't have the interesting privilege of introducing to you Mr. Harvey M. Greene, who now sits in the outer room."

"H. M. G.," said Kirby quickly. "Is it possible that that decent-looking old boy out there is the man who stole--"

 

"It is not," interrupted Average Jones with emphasis, "and I shall ask you, whatever may occur, to guard your speech from offensive expressions of that sort while he is here."

"All right, if you say so," acquiesced the other. "But do you mind telling me how you figure out a man traveling under an alias and helping himself to other people's property on any other basis than that he's a thief?"

"A, B, C," replied Average Jones; "as thus: A--Thieves don't wander about in dressinggowns. B--Nor take necklaces and leave purses. C--Nor strip gems violently apart and scatter them like largess from fire-escapes. The rest of the alphabet I postpone. Now for Mr. Greene."

The man from the outer room entered and nervously acknowledged his introduction to the others.

"Mr. Greene," explained Jones, "has kindly consented to help clear up the events of the night of August sixth at the Hotel Denton and" --he paused for a moment and shifted his gaze to the newcomer's narrow shoes--"and--er--the loss of--er--Mrs. Hale's jeweled necklace."

The boots retracted sharply, as under the impulse of some sudden emotion; startled surprise, for example. "What?" cried Greene, in obvious amazement. "I don't know anything about a necklace."

A twinkle of satisfaction appeared at the corners of Average Jones' eyes.

"That also is possible," he admitted. "If you'll permit the form of an examination; when you came to the Hotel Denton on August sixth, did you carry the same suitcase you now have with you, and similarly packed?"
"Ye-es. As nearly as possible."

"Thank you. You were registered under the name of Henry M. Gillespie?"

 

The other's voice was low and strained as he replied in the affirmative.

 

"For good reasons of your own?"

 

"Yes."

 

"For which same reasons you left the hotel quite early on the following morning?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Your business compels you to travel a great deal?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Do you often register under an alias?"

 

"Yes," returned the other, his face twitching.

 

"But not always?"

 

"No."

"In a large city and a strange hotel, for example, you'd take any name which would correspond to the initials, H. M. G., on your dress-suit case. But in a small town where you were known, you'd be obliged to register under your real name of Harvey M. Greene. It was that necessity which enabled me to find you."

"I'd like to know how you did it," said the other gloomily.

 

From the left-hand drawer of his desk Jones produced a piece of netting, with hooks along one end.

 

"Do you recognize the material, Mrs. Hale," he asked.

 

"Why, it's the same stuff as the Hotel Denton curtains, isn't it?" she asked.

 

"Yes," said Average Jones, attaching it to the curtain rod at the side door. "Now, will you jerk that violently with one hand?"

 

"It will tear loose, won't it?" she asked.

 

"That's just what it will do. Try it." The fabric ripped from the hooks as she jerked.

 

"You remember," said Jones, "that your curtain was torn partly across, and not ripped from the hook at all. Now see."

 

He caught the netting in both hands and tautened it sharply. It began to part.

"Awkward," he said, "yet it's the only way it could have been done. Now, here's a bedpost, exactly like the one in room 168, occupied by Mr. Greene at the Denton. Kirby, you're a powerful man. Can you break that knob off with one hand?"

He wedged the post firmly in a chair for the trial. The bedpost resisted.

 

"Could you do it with both hands?" he asked.

 

"Probably, if I could get a hold. But there isn't surface enough for a good hold."

 

"No, there isn't. But now." Jones coiled a rope around the post and handed the end to Kirby. He pulled sharply. The knob snapped and rolled on the floor.

 

"Q. E. D.," said Kirby. "But it doesn't mean anything to me."

"Doesn't it? Let me recall some other evidence. The guest who saw Mr. Greene in the hallway thought he was carrying something in both hands. The milk driver who hailed him on the balcony noticed that he gestured awkwardly with both hands. In what circumstances would a man use both hands for action normally performed with one?"

"Too much drink," hazarded Kirby, looking dubiously at Greene, who had been following Jones' discourse with absorbed attention.

 

"Possibly. But it wouldn't fit this case."

 

"Physical weakness," suggested Mrs. Hale.

"Rather a shrewd suggestion. But no weakling broke off that bedpost in Henry M. Gillespie's room. I assumed the theory that the phenomena of that night were symptomatic rather than accidental. Therefore, I set out to find in what other places the mysterious H. M. G. had performed."

"How did you know my initials really were H. M. G.?" asked Mr. Greene.

 

"The porter at the Denton had seen them 'Henry M. Gillespie's' suitcase. So I sent out loudly printed call to all hotel clerks for information about a troublesome H. M. G."

He handed the "OH, YOU HOTEL MEN" advertisement to the little group. "Plenty of replies came. You have, if I may say it without offense, Mr. Greene, an unfortunate reputation among hotel proprietors. Small wonder that you use an alias. From the Hotel Carpathia in Boston I got a response more valuable than I had dared to hope. An H. M. G. guest--H. Morton Garson, of Pillston, Pennsylvania (Mr. Greene nodded)--had wrecked his room and left behind him this souvenir."

Leaning over, Jones pulled, clinking from the scrap-basket, a fine steel chain. It was endless and some twelve feet in total length, and had two small loops, about a foot apart. Mrs. Hale and Kirby stared at it in speechless surprise.

"Yes, that is mine," said Mr. Greene with composure. "I left it because it had ceased to be serviceable to me."

"Ah! That's very interesting," said Average Jones with a keen glance. "Of course when I examined it and found no locks, I guessed that it was a trick chain, and that there were invisible springs in the wrist loops."

"But why should any one chain Mr. Greene to his bed with a trick chain?" questioned Mrs. Hale, whose mind had been working swiftly.

"He chained himself," explained Jones, "for excellent reasons. As there is no regular trade in these things, I figured that he probably bought it from some juggler whose performance had given him the idea. So," continued Jones, producing a specimen of his advertisements in the theatrical publications, "I set out to find what professional had sold a 'prop', to an amateur. I found the sale had been made at Marsfield, Ohio, late in November of last year, by a 'Slippery Sam,' termed 'The Elusive Edwardes.' On November twenty-eighth of last year Mr. Harvey M. Greene, of Richmond, Virginia, was registered at the principal, in fact the only decent hotel, at Barsfield. I wrote to him and here he is."

"Yes; but where is my necklace?" cried Mrs. Hale.

 

"On my word of honor, madam, I know nothing of your necklace," asserted Greene, with a painful contraction of his features. "If this gentleman can throw any more light--"

"I think I can," said Average Jones. "Do you remember anything of that night's events after you broke off the bedpost and left your room--the meeting with a guest who questioned you in the hall, for example?"

"Nothing. Not a thing until I awoke and found myself on the fire-escape."

 

"Awoke?" cried Kirby. "Were you asleep all the time?"

"Certainly. I'm a confirmed sleep-walker worst type. That's why I go under an alias. That's why I got the trick handcuff chain and chained myself up with it, until I found it drove me fighting', crazy in my sleep when I couldn't break away. That's why I slept in my dressing-gown that night at the Denton. There was a red light in the hall outside and any light, particularly a colored one, is likely to set me going. I probably dreamed I was escaping from a locomotive--that's a common delusion of mine--and sought refuge in the first door that was open."

"Wait a minute," said Average Jones. "You--er--say that you are--er--peculiarly susceptible to--er--colored light."

 

"Yes."

 

"Mrs. Hale, was the table on which the necklace lay in line with any light outside?"

 

"I think probably with the direct ray of an electric globe shining through the farther window."

"Then, Mr. Greene," said, Average Jones, "the glint of the fire-blue stones undoubtedly caught your eye. You seized on the necklace and carried it out on the fire-escape balcony, where the cool air or the milk-driver's hail awakened you. Have you no recollection of seeing such a thing?"

"Not the faintest, unhappily."

 

"Then he must have dropped it to the ground below," said Kirby.

"I don't think so," controverted Jones slowly. "Mr. Greene must have been clinging to it tenaciously when it swung and caught against the railing, stripping off the three end stones. If the whole necklace had dropped it would have broken up fine, and more than three stones would have returned to us in reply to the advertisements. And in that case, too, the chances against the end stones alone returning, out of all the thirty-six, are too unlikely to be considered. No, the fire-blue necklace never fell to the ground."

"It certainly didn't remain on the balcony," said Kirby. "It would have been discovered there."

 

"Quite so," assented Average Jones. "We're getting at it by the process of exclusion. The necklace didn't fall. It didn't stay. Therefore?"--he looked inquiringly at Mrs. Hale.

 

"It returned," she said quickly.

 

"With Mr. Greene," added Average Jones.

 

"I tell you," cried that gentleman vehemently, "I haven't set eyes on the wretched thing."

"Agreed," returned Average Jones; "which doesn't at all affect the point I wish to make. You may recall, Mr. Greene, that in my message I asked you to pack your suitcase exactly as it was when you left the hotel with it on the morning of August seventh." "I've done so with the exception of the conjurer's chain, of course."

"Including the dressing-gown you had on, that night, I assume. Have you worn it since?"

 

"No. It hung in my closet until yesterday, when I folded it to pack. You see, I--I've had to give up the road on account of my unhappy failing."

 

"Then permit me." Average Jones stooped to, the dress-suit case, drew out the garment and thrust his hand into its one pocket. He turned to Mrs. Hale.

 

"Would you--er--mind--er--leaning over a bit?" he said.

She bent her dainty head, then gave a startled cry of delight as the young man, with a swift motion, looped over her shoulders a chain of living blue fires which gleamed and glinted in the sunlight.

"They were there all the time," she exclaimed; "and you knew it."

 

"Guessed it," he corrected, "by figuring out that they couldn't well be elsewhere--unless on the untenable hypothesis that our friend, Mr. Greene here, was a thief."

 

"Which only goes to prove," said Kirby soberly, "that evidence may be a mighty deceptive accuser."

 

"Which only goes to prove," amended Average Jones, "that there's no fire, even the bluest, without traceable smoke."'