The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart - HTML preview
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At ten minutes before two the following day, Monday, I arrived at my office. I had spent the morning putting my affairs in shape, and in a trip to the stable. The afternoon would see me either a free man or a prisoner for an indefinite length of time, and, in spite of Johnson's promise to produce Sullivan, I was more prepared for the latter than the former.
Blobs was watching for me outside the door, and it was clear that he was in a state of excitement bordering on delirium. He did nothing, however, save to tip me a wink that meant "As man to man, I'm for you." I was too much engrossed either to reprove him or return the courtesy, but I heard him follow me down the hall to the small room where we keep outgrown lawbooks, typewriter supplies and, incidentally, our wraps. I was wondering vaguely if I would ever hang my hat on its nail again, when the door closed behind me. It shut firmly, without any particular amount of sound, and I was left in the dark. I groped my way to it, irritably, to find it locked on the outside. I shook it frantically, and was rewarded by a sibilant whisper through the keyhole.
"Keep quiet," Blobs was saying huskily. "You're in deadly peril. The police are waiting in your office, three of 'em. I'm goin' to lock the whole bunch in and throw the key out of the window."
"Come back here, you imp of Satan!" I called furiously, but I could hear him speeding down the corridor, and the slam of the outer office door by which he always announced his presence. And so I stood there in that ridiculous cupboard, hot with the heat of a steaming September day, musty with the smell of old leather bindings, littered with broken overshoes and handleless umbrellas. I was apoplectic with rage one minute, and choked with laughter the next. It seemed an hour before Blobs came back.
He came without haste, strutting with new dignity, and paused outside my prison door.
"Well, I guess that will hold them for a while," he remarked comfortably, and proceeded to turn the key. "I've got 'em fastened up like sardines in a can!" he explained, working with the lock. "Gee whiz! you'd ought to hear 'em!" When he got his breath after the shaking I gave him, he began to splutter. "How'd I know?" he demanded sulkily. "You nearly broke your neck gettin' away the other time. And I haven't got the old key. It's lost."
"Where's it lost?" I demanded, with another gesture toward his coat collar.
"Down the elevator shaft." There was a gleam of indignant satisfaction through his tears of rage and humiliation.
And so, while he hunted the key in the debris at the bottom of the shaft, I quieted his prisoners with the assurance that the lock had slipped, and that they would be free as lords as soon as we could find the janitor with a pass-key. Stuart went down finally and discovered Blobs, with the key in his pocket, telling the engineer how he had tried to save me from arrest and failed. When Stuart came up he was almost cheerful, but Blobs did not appear again that day.
Simultaneous with the finding of the key came Hotchkiss, and we went in together. I shook hands with two men who, with Hotchkiss, made a not very animated group. The taller one, an oldish man, lean and hard, announced his errand at once.
"A Pittsburg warrant?" I inquired, unlocking my cigar drawer.
"Yes. Allegheny County has assumed jurisdiction, the exact locality where the crime was committed being in doubt." He seemed to be the spokesman. The other, shorter and rotund, kept an amiable silence. "We hope you will see the wisdom of waiving extradition," he went on. "It will save time."
"I'll come, of course," I agreed. "The sooner the better. But I want you to give me an hour here, gentlemen. I think we can interest you. Have a cigar?"
The lean man took a cigar; the rotund man took three, putting two in his pocket.
"How about the catch of that door?" he inquired jovially. "Any danger of it going off again?" Really, considering the circumstances, they were remarkably cheerful. Hotchkiss, however, was not. He paced the floor uneasily, his hands under his coat-tails. The arrival of McKnight created a diversion; he carried a long package and a corkscrew, and shook hands with the police and opened the bottle with a single gesture.
"I always want something to cheer on these occasions," he said. "Where's the water, Blakeley? Everybody ready?" Then in French he toasted the two detectives.
"To your eternal discomfiture," he said, bowing ceremoniously. "May you go home and never come back! If you take Monsieur Blakeley with you, I hope you choke."
The lean man nodded gravely. "Prosit," he said. But the fat one leaned back and laughed consumedly.
Hotchkiss finished a mental synopsis of his position, and put down his glass. "Gentlemen," he said pompously, "within five minutes the man you want will be here, a murderer caught in a net of evidence so fine that a mosquito could not get through."
The detectives glanced at each other solemnly. Had they not in their possession a sealskin bag containing a wallet and a bit of gold chain, which, by putting the crime on me, would leave a gap big enough for Sullivan himself to crawl through?
"Why don't you say your little speech before Johnson brings the other man, Lawrence?" McKnight inquired. "They won't believe you, but it will help them to understand what is coming."
"You understand, of course," the lean man put in gravely, "that what you say may be used against you."
"I'll take the risk," I answered impatiently.
It took some time to tell the story of my worse than useless trip to Pittsburg, and its sequel. They listened gravely, without interruption.
"Mr. Hotchkiss here," I finished, "believes that the man Sullivan, whom we are momentarily expecting, committed the crime. Mr. McKnight is inclined to implicate Mrs. Conway, who stabbed Bronson and then herself last night. As for myself, I am open to conviction."
"I hope not," said the stout detective quizzically. And then Alison was announced. My impulse to go out and meet her was forestalled by the detectives, who rose when I did. McKnight, therefore, brought her in, and I met her at the door.
"I have put you to a great deal of trouble," I said contritely, when I saw her glance around the room. "I wish I had not - "
"It is only right that I should come," she replied, looking up at me. "I am the unconscious cause of most of it, I am afraid. Mrs. Dallas is going to wait in the outer office."
I presented Hotchkiss and the two detectives, who eyed her with interest. In her poise, her beauty, even in her gown, I fancy she represented a new type to them. They remained standing until she sat down.
"I have brought the necklace," she began, holding out a white-wrapped box, "as you asked me to."
I passed it, unopened, to the detectives. "The necklace from which was broken the fragment you found in the sealskin bag," I explained. "Miss West found it on the floor of the car, near lower ten."
"When did you find it?" asked the lean detective, bending forward.
"In the morning, not long before the wreck."
"Did you ever see it before?"
"I am not certain," she replied. "I have seen one very much like it." Her tone was troubled. She glanced at me as if for help, but I was powerless.
"Where?" The detective was watching her closely. At that moment there came an interruption. The door opened without ceremony, and Johnson ushered in a tall, blond man, a stranger to all of us: I glanced at Alison; she was pale, but composed and scornful. She met the new-coiner's eyes full, and, caught unawares, he took a hasty backward step.
"Sit down, Mr. Sullivan," McKnight beamed cordially. "Have a cigar? I beg your pardon, Alison, do you mind this smoke?"
"Not at all," she said composedly. Sullivan had had a second to sound his bearings.
"No - no, thanks," he mumbled. "If you will be good enough to explain - "
"But that's what you're to do," McKnight said cheerfully, pulling up a chair. "You've got the most attentive audience you could ask. These two gentlemen are detectives from Pittsburg, and we are all curious to know the finer details of what happened on the car Ontario two weeks ago, the night your father-in-law was murdered." Sullivan gripped the arms of his chair. "We are not prejudiced, either. The gentlemen from Pittsburg are betting on Mr. Blakeley, over there. Mr. Hotchkiss, the gentleman by the radiator, is ready to place ten to one odds on you. And some of us have still other theories."
"Gentlemen," Sullivan said slowly, "I give you my word of honor that I did not kill Simon Harrington, and that I do not know who did."
"Fiddlededee!" cried Hotchkiss, bustling forward. "Why, I can tell you - " But McKnight pushed him firmly into a chair and held him there.
"I am ready to plead guilty to the larceny," Sullivan went on. "I took Mr. Blakeley's clothes, I admit. If I can reimburse him in any way for the inconvenience-
The stout detective was listening with his mouth open. "Do you mean to say," he demanded, "that you got into Mr. Blakeley's berth, as he contends, took his clothes and forged notes, and left the train before the wreck?"
"The notes, then?"
"I gave them to Bronson yesterday. Much good they did him!" bitterly. We were all silent for a moment. The two detectives were adjusting themselves with difficulty to a new point of view; Sullivan was looking dejectedly at the floor, his hands hanging loose between his knees. I was watching Alison; from where I stood, behind her, I could almost touch the soft hair behind her ear.
"I have no intention of pressing any charge against you," I said with forced civility, for my hands were itching to get at him, "if you will give us a clear account of what happened on the Ontario that night."
Sullivan raised his handsome, haggard head and looked around at me. "I've seen you before, haven't I?" he asked. "Weren't you an uninvited guest at the Laurels a few days - or nights - ago? The cat, you remember, and the rug that slipped?"
"I remember," I said shortly. He glanced from me to Alison and quickly away.
"The truth can't hurt me," he said, "but it's devilish unpleasant. Alison, you know all this. You would better go out."
His use of her name crazed me. I stepped in front of her and stood over him. "You will not bring Miss West into the conversation," I threatened, "and she will stay if she wishes."
"Oh, very well," he said with assumed indifference. Hotchkiss just then escaped from Richey's grasp and crossed the room.
"Did you ever wear glasses?" he asked eagerly.
"Never." Sullivan glanced with some contempt at mine.
"I'd better begin by going back a little," he went on sullenly. "I suppose you know I was married to Ida Harrington about five years ago. She was a good girl, and I thought a lot of her. But her father opposed the marriage - he'd never liked me, and he refused to make any sort of settlement.
"I had thought, of course, that there would be money, and it was a bad day when I found out I'd made a mistake. My sister was wild with disappointment. We were pretty hard up, my sister and I."
I was watching Alison. Her hands were tightly clasped in her lap, and she was staring out of the window at the cheerless roof below. She had set her lips a little, but that was all.
"You understand, of course, that I'm not defending myself," went on the sullen voice. "The day came when old Harrington put us both out of the house at the point of a revolver, and I threatened - I suppose you know that, too - I threatened to kill him.
"My sister and I had hard times after that. We lived on the continent for a while. I was at Monte Carlo and she was in Italy. She met a young lady there, the granddaughter of a steel manufacturer and an heiress, and she sent for me. When I got to Rome the girl was gone. Last winter I was all in - social secretary to an Englishman, a wholesale grocer with a new title, but we had a row, and I came home. I went out to the Heaton boys' ranch in Wyoming, and met Bronson there. He lent me money, and I've been doing his dirty work ever since."
Sullivan got up then and walked slowly forward and back as he talked, his eyes on the faded pattern of the office rug.
"If you want to live in hell," he said savagely, "put yourself in another man's power. Bronson got into trouble, forging John Gilmore's name to those notes, and in some way he learned that a man was bringing the papers back to Washington on the Flier. He even learned the number of his berth, and the night before the wreck, just as I was boarding the train, I got a telegram."
Hotchkiss stepped forward once more importantly. "Which read, I think: 'Man with papers in lower ten, car seven. Get them.'"
Sullivan looked at the little man with sulky blue eyes.
"It was something like that, anyhow. But it was a nasty business, and it made matters worse that he didn't care that a telegram which must pass through a half dozen hands was more or less incriminating to me.
"Then, to add to the unpleasantness of my position, just after we boarded the train - I was accompanying my sister and this young lady, Miss West - a woman touched me on the sleeve, and I turned to face - my wife!
"That took away my last bit of nerve. I told my sister, and you can understand she was in a bad way, too. We knew what it meant. Ida had heard that I was going - "
He stopped and glanced uneasily at Alison.
"Go on," she said coldly. "It is too late to shield me. The time to have done that was when I was your guest."
"Well," he went on, his eyes turned carefully away from my face, which must have presented certainly anything but a pleasant sight. "Miss West was going to do me the honor to marry me, and - "
"You scoundrel!" I burst forth, thrusting past Alison West's chair. "You - you infernal cur!"
One of the detectives got up and stood between us. "You must remember, Mr. Blakeley, that you are forcing this story from this man. These details are unpleasant, but important. You were going to marry this young lady," he said, turning to Sullivan, "although you already had a wife living?"
"It was my sister's plan, and I was in a bad way for money. If I could marry, secretly, a wealthy girl and go to Europe, it was unlikely that Ida - that is, Mrs. Sullivan - would hear of it.
"So it was more than a shock to see my wife on the train, and to realize from her face that she knew what was going on. I don't know yet, unless some of the servants - well, never mind that.
"It meant that the whole thing had gone up. Old Harrington had carried a gun for me for years, and the same train wouldn't hold both of us. Of course, I thought that he was in the coach just behind ours."
Hotchkiss was leaning forward now, his eyes narrowed, his thin lips drawn to a line.
"Are you left-handed, Mr. Sullivan?" he asked.
Sullivan stopped in surprise.
"No," he said gruffly. "Can't do anything with my left hand." Hotchkiss subsided, crestfallen but alert. "I tore up that cursed telegram, but I was afraid to throw the scraps away. Then I looked around for lower ten. It was almost exactly across - my berth was lower seven, and it was, of course, a bit of exceptional luck for me that the car was number seven."
"Did you tell your sister of the telegram from Bronson?" I asked.
"No. It would do no good, and she was in a bad way without that to make her worse."
"Your sister was killed, think." The shorter detective took a small package from his pocket and held it in his hand, snapping the rubber band which held it.
"Yes, she was killed," Sullivan said soberly. "What I say now can do her no harm."
He stopped to push back the heavy hair which dropped over his forehead, and went on more connectedly.
"It was late, after midnight, and we went at once to our berths. I undressed, and then I lay there for an hour, wondering how I was going to get the notes. Some one in lower nine was restless and wide awake, but finally became quiet.
"The man in ten was sleeping heavily. I could hear his breathing, and it seemed to be only a question of getting across and behind the curtains of his berth without being seen. After that, it was a mere matter of quiet searching.
"The car became very still. I was about to try for the other berth, when some one brushed softly past, and I lay back again.
"Finally, however, when things had been quiet for a time, I got up, and after looking along the aisle, I slipped behind the curtains of lower ten. You understand, Mr. Blakeley, that I thought you were in lower ten, with the notes."
I nodded curtly.
"I'm not trying to defend myself," he went on. "I was ready to steal the notes - I had to. But murder!"
He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
"Well, I slipped across and behind the curtains. It was very still. The man in ten didn't move, although my heart was thumping until I thought he would hear it.
"I felt around cautiously. It was perfectly dark, and I came across a bit of chain, about as long as my finger. It seemed a queer thing to find there, and it was sticky, too."
He shuddered, and I could see Alison's hands clenching and unclenching with the strain.
"All at once it struck me that the man was strangely silent, and I think I lost my nerve. Anyhow, I drew the curtains open a little, and let the light fall on my hands. They were red, blood-red."
He leaned one hand on the back of the chair, and was silent for a moment, as though he lived over again the awful events of that more than awful night.
The stout detective had let his cigar go out; he was still drawing at it nervously. Richey had picked up a paper-weight and was tossing it from hand to hand; when it slipped and fell to the floor, a startled shudder passed through the room.
"There was something glittering in there," Sullivan resumed, "and on impulse I picked it up. Then I dropped the curtains and stumbled back to my own berth."
"Where you wiped your hands on the bed-clothing and stuck the dirk into the pillow." Hotchkiss was seeing his carefully built structure crumbling to pieces, and he looked chagrined.
"I suppose I did - I'm not very clear about what happened then. But when I rallied a little I saw a Russia leather wallet lying in the aisle almost at my feet, and, like a fool, I stuck it, with the bit of chain, into my bag.
"I sat there, shivering, for what seemed hours. It was still perfectly quiet, except for some one snoring. I thought that would drive me crazy.
"The more I thought of it the worse things looked. The telegram was the first thing against me - it would put the police on my track at once, when it was discovered that the man in lower ten had been killed.
"Then I remembered the notes, and I took out the wallet and opened it." He stopped for a minute, as if the recalling of the next occurrence was almost beyond him.
"I took out the wallet," he said simply, "and opening it, held it to the light. In gilt letters was the name, Simon Harrington."
The detectives were leaning forward now, their eyes on his face.
"Things seemed to whirl around for a while. I sat there almost paralyzed, wondering what this new development meant for me.
"My wife, I knew, would swear I had killed her father; nobody would be likely to believe the truth.
"Do you believe me now?" He rooked around at us defiantly. "I am telling the absolute truth, and not one of you believes me!
"After a bit the man in lower nine got up and walked along the aisle toward the smoking compartment. I heard him go, and, leaning from my berth, watched him out of sight.
"It was then I got the idea of changing berths with him, getting into his clothes, and leaving the train. I give you my word I had no idea of throwing suspicion on him."
Alison looked scornfully incredulous, but I felt that the man was telling the truth.
"I changed the numbers of the berths, and it worked well. I got into the other man's berth, and he came back to mine. The rest was easy. I dressed in his clothes - luckily, they fitted - and jumped the train not far from Baltimore, just before the wreck."
"There is something else you must clear up," I said. "Why did you try to telephone me from M-, and why did you change your mind about the message?"
He looked astounded.
"You knew I was at M-?" he stammered.
"Yes, we traced you. What about the message?"
"Well, it was this way: of course, I did not know your name, Mr. Blakeley. The telegram said, 'Man with papers in lower ten, car seven," and after I had made what I considered my escape, I began to think I had left the man in my berth in a bad way.
"He would probably be accused of the crime. So, although when the wreck occurred I supposed every one connected with the affair had been killed, there was a chance that you had survived. I've not been of much account, but I didn't want a man to swing because I'd left him in my place. Besides, I began to have a theory of my own.
"As we entered the car a tall, dark woman passed us, with a glass of water in her hand, and I vaguely remembered her. She was amazingly like Blanche Conway.
"If she, too, thought the man with the notes was in lower ten, it explained a lot, including that piece of a woman's necklace. She was a fury, Blanche Conway, capable of anything."
"Then why did you countermand that message?" I asked curiously.
"When I got to the Carter house, and got to bed - I had sprained my ankle in the jump - I went through the alligator bag I had taken from lower nine. When I found your name, I sent the first message. Then, soon after, I came across the notes. It seemed too good to be true, and I was crazy for fear the message had gone.
"At first I was going to send them to Bronson; then I began to see what the possession of the notes meant to me. It meant power over Bronson, money, influence, everything. He was a devil, that man."
"Well, he's at home now," said McKnight, and we were glad to laugh and relieve the tension.
Alison put her hand over her eyes, as if to shut out the sight of the man she had so nearly married, and I furtively touched one of the soft little curls that nestled at the back of her neck.
"When I was able to walk," went on the sullen voice, "I came at once to Washington. I tried to sell the notes to Bronson, but he was almost at the end of his rope. Not even my threat to send them back to you, Mr. Blakeley, could make him meet my figure. He didn't have the money.
McKnight was triumphant.
"I think you gentlemen will see reason in my theory now," he said. "Mrs. Conway wanted the notes to force a legal marriage, I suppose?"
The detective with the small package carefully rolled off the rubber band, and unwrapped it. I held my breath as he took out, first, the Russia leather wallet.
"These things, Mr. Blakeley, we found in the seal-skin bag Mr. Sullivan says he left you. This wallet, Mr. Sullivan - is this the one you found on the floor of the car?"
Sullivan opened it, and, glancing at the name inside, "Simon Harrington," nodded affirmatively.
"And this," went on the detective - "this is a piece of gold chain?" "It seems to be," said Sullivan, recoiling at the blood-stained end.
"This, I believe, is the dagger." He held it up, and Alison gave a faint cry of astonishment and dismay. Sullivan's face grew ghastly, and he sat down weakly on the nearest chair.
The detective looked at him shrewdly, then at Alison's agitated face.
"Where have you seen this dagger before, young lady?" he asked, kindly enough.
"Oh, don't ask me!" she gasped breathlessly, her eyes turned on Sullivan. "It's - it's too terrible!"
"Tell him," I advised, leaning over to her. "It will be found out later, anyhow."
"Ask him," she said, nodding toward Sullivan. The detective unwrapped the small box Alison had brought, disclosing the trampled necklace and broken chain. With clumsy fingers he spread it on the table and fitted into place the bit of chain. There could be no doubt that it belonged there.
"Where did you find that chain?" Sullivan asked hoarsely, looking for the first time at Alison.
"On the floor, near the murdered man's berth."
"Now, Mr. Sullivan," said the detective civilly, "I believe you can tell us, in the light of these two exhibits, who really did murder Simon Harrington."
Sullivan looked again at the dagger, a sharp little bit of steel with a Florentine handle. Then he picked up the locket and pressed a hidden spring under one of the cameos. Inside, very neatly engraved, was the name and a date.
"Gentlemen," he said, his face ghastly, "it is of no use for me to attempt a denial. The dagger and necklace belonged to my sister, Alice Curtis!"