THE VANISHING OF
It is, of course, possible, perhaps even probable,
that somewhere on this green earth there may
be finer golf links or a more attractive clubhouse
than those at Headland Harbor, but never hope to
wring such an admission from any one of the summer
colony who spend their mid-year at that particular
portion of the Maine coast.
Far up above the York cliffs are more great crags
and among the steepest and wildest of these localities,
a few venturesome spirits saw fit to pitch their
Others joined them from time to time until now,
the summer population occupied nearly a hundred
cottages and bungalows and there was, moreover,
a fair sized and fairly appointed inn.
Many of the regulars were artists, of one sort or
another, but also came the less talented in search of
good fishing or merely good idling. And they found
it, for the majority of the householders were people
of brains as well as talent and by some mysterious
management the tone of the social side of things
was kept pretty much as it should be.
Wealth counted for what it was worth, and no
more. Genius counted in the same way, and was
never overrated. Good nature and an amusing personality
were perhaps the best assets one could bring
to the conservative little community, and most of the
shining lights possessed those in abundance.
To many, the word harbor connotes a peaceful,
serene bit of blue water, sheltered from rough winds
and basking in the sunlight.
This is far from a description of Headland Harbor,
whose rocky shores and deep black waters were
usually wind-swept and often storm-swept to a wild
picturesqueness beloved of the picture painters.
But there were some midsummer days, as now,
one in late July, when the harbor waters lay serene
and the sunlight dipped and danced on the tiny wavelets
that broke into spray over the nearby rocks.
Because it was about the hour of noon, the clubhouse
verandah was crowded with members and
guests waiting for the mail, which, as always, was
The clubhouse, a big, low building, with lots of
shiny paint and weathering shingles, was at the
nearest spot consistent with safety to the shore.
From it could be had a magnificent view of the
great headland that named the place.
This gigantic cliff jutted out into the sea, and
rising to a height of three hundred feet, the mighty
crag showed a slight overhang which rendered it
unscalable. The wet black rock glistened in the
sunlight, as spray from the dashing breakers broke
half way up its sides.
The top was a long and narrow tableland, not
much more than large enough to accommodate the
house that crowned the summit. There was a strip
of sparse lawn on either side the old mansion, and
a futile attempt at a garden, but vegetation was
mostly confined to the weird, one-sided pine trees
that waved the branches of their lee sides in mournful,
“Can’t see how any one wants to live up there
in that God-forsaken shack,” said John Clark,
settling more comfortably in his porch rocker and
lighting a fresh cigarette.
“Oh, I think it’s great!” Mrs Blackwood disagreed
with him. “So picturesque——”
“You know, if you say ‘picturesque’ up here, you’ll
be excommunicated. The thing is all right, but the
word is taboo.”
“All right, then, chromoesque.”
“But it isn’t that,” Clark objected; “it’s more like
an old steel engraving——”
“Oh, not with all that color,” said Lawrence
North. “It is like an engraving on a gray, cloudy
day,—but today, with the bright water and vivid
sunshine, it’s like a——”
“Speak it right out!” cried Ted Landon, irrepressibly,
“like a picture postcard!”
“It can’t help being like that,” Mrs Blackwood
agreed, “for the postcards for sale in the office of the
club are more like the reality than any picture an
artist has ever made of the Headland House.”
“Of course, photographs are truer than drawings,”
North said, “and that card that shows the
cliff in a storm comes pretty near being a work
“The difficulty would be,” Clark observed, “to get
any kind of a picture of that place that wouldn’t be
a work of art. Why, the architect’s blueprints of
that house would come a good deal nearer art than
lots of watercolors I’ve seen in exhibitions. I’m
keen on the place.”
“Who isn’t?” growled Landon, for most of the
Headlanders resented the faintest disparagement of
their cherished masterpiece, a joint work of nature
The promontory was joined to the mainland by
a mere narrow neck of rocky land, and from that
point a rough road descended, over and between
steep hills, reaching at last the tiny village and scattered
settlement of Headland Harbor.
Headland House itself was a modified type of
old world architecture. Built of rough gray stone,
equipped with a few towers and turrets, pierced by
deep and narrow windows, it had some effects of a
French chateau and others that suggested an old
It was true to no school, it followed no definite
type, yet perched on its lonely height, sharply outlined
against the sky, its majestic rock foundations
sweeping away from beneath it, it showed the
grandeur and sublimity of a well-planned monument.
And, partly because of their real admiration,
partly because of a spirit of ownership, the artist
colony loved and cherished their Headland House
with a jealous sensitiveness to criticism.
“Stunning thing,—from here,” John Clark said,
after a few moments of further smoking and gazing;
“all the same, as I stated, I shouldn’t care to
live up there.”
“Too difficult of access,” Claire Blackwood said,
“but, otherwise all right.”
Mrs Blackwood was a widow, young, attractive,
and of a psychic turn of mind. Not enough of an
occultist to make her a bore, but possessing quick
and sure intuitions and claiming some slight clairvoyant
powers. She dabbled in water colors, and
did an occasional oil. She was long-limbed, with
long fingers and long feet, and usually had a long
scarf of some gauzy texture trailing about her. Of
an evening or even on a dressy afternoon, she had
a long panel or sash-end hanging below her short
skirt, and which was frequently trodden on by blundering,
Good-looking, of course, Claire Blackwood was,—she
took care to be that,—but her utmost care
could not make her beautiful,—much to her own
chagrin. Her scarlet lips were too thin, and the
angle of her jaw too hard. Yet she was handsome,
and by virtue of her personality and her implicit
belief in her own importance, she was the leader
socially, notwithstanding the fact that the colony
disclaimed any society element in its life.
“Tell us about the Headland House people,
Claire. You’ve called, haven’t you?”
This from Ted Landon, who by reason of his
sheer impudence was forgiven any unconventionality.
No other man at the Harbor would have
dreamed of addressing Mrs Blackwood by her first
“Yes; I’ve called. They’re delightful people.”
The words said more than the tone.
“With reservations?” asked North.
“Oh, in a way. They’re quite all right,—it’s only
that they’re not picture mad,—as we all are.”
“Oh, no,—not that. Well, I’ll sketch them for
you. Mr Varian is a Wall Street man,——”
“Yes, I daresay. Wealthy, anyway. He’s big
and Vandyke-bearded. Well mannered,—but a bit
“Yes, we get what you mean,” said the irrepressible
Ted. “Go on,—what about the daughter?”
“I haven’t come to her yet. The mother is due
first. Mrs Varian is the clingingest vine I ever saw.
I only saw her on parade, of course, but I’m positive
that in curl-papers, she can whine and fret and fly
into nervous spasms! Her husband spoils her,—he’s
far too good to her,——”
“What a lot you gathered at one interview,”
murmured Lawrence North.
“That’s what I went for,” Mrs Blackwood returned,
coolly. “Well. Mother Varian is wrapped
up in her blossom-child. Betty is a peach,—as I
know you boys will agree,—but I never saw greater
idolatry in any mother than Mrs Varian shows.”
“Betty worth it?” asked John Clark, idly.
“Rather!” Mrs Blackwood assured him. “She’s
a dear thing. I don’t often enthuse over young
girls, but Betty Varian is unusual.”
“Prettier than most girls, more charm, better
manners, and,—a suspicion of brains. Not enough
to hurt her, but enough to make it a pleasure to talk
to her. Moreover, she’s a wilful, spoiled, petted
darling of two worshipping parents, and it’s greatly
to her credit that she isn’t an arrogant, impossible
“Sounds good to me,” commented Ted; “when
can I meet her?”
“I’ll introduce you soon. They want to meet
some of our best people——”
“Of course. That lets me in at once. When will
you take me?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. They’re having a small
picnic and they asked me to bring two amusing
“May I go?” asked Lawrence North.
“Young men, I said,” and Mrs Blackwood looked
at him calmly. “You are old enough to be Betty
“Well, since I’m not, that needn’t prevent my
“So you shall, some time. But I’m to take two
tomorrow, and,—what do you think? I said I
would bring Rodney Granniss, and Mr Varian said,
‘No, he’d rather I asked some one in his place!’”
“Why, for heaven’s sake?” cried Landon. “Rod’s
our star performer.”
“Well, you see, they know him——”
“All the more reason——”
“Oh, it’s this way. Rod Granniss is already a
beau of Betty’s,—and her father doesn’t approve
of the acquaintance.”
“Not approve of Granniss!” John Clark looked
his amazement. “Mr Varian must be an old fuss!”
“I think that’s just what he is,” assented Claire
Blackwood, and then Ted Landon urged,
“You haven’t described the siren yet. What’s
she like to look at?”
“A little thing, sylphish, rather,—dainty ways,
quick, alert motions, and with the biggest gray eyes
you ever saw,—edged with black.”
“No; very dark brown, I think. But the liveliest
coloring. Red-under-brown cheeks, scarlet lips
“I know,—teeth like pearls.”
“No; good, sound, white teeth, and fluttering
hands that emphasize and illustrate all she says.”
“All right, she’ll do,” and Ted looked satisfied.
“I can cut out old John here, and if Granniss is
barred, I’ll have a cinch!”
“You must behave yourself,—at first, anyway,
because I am responsible for you. Be ready to go
up there with me at four tomorrow afternoon.”
“Leave here at four?”
“Yes, we’ll walk up. A bit of a climb, but motors
can go only to the lodge, you know, and that’s not
The porter’s lodge belonging to Headland House
was partly visible from the clubhouse, and it guarded
the gates that gave ingress to the estate. There was
no other mode of entrance, for a high wall ran completely
across the narrow neck that joined the headland
to the main shore, and all other sides of the
precipitous cliff ran straight down to the sea.
From where they sat the group could discern the
motor road as far as the lodge; and here and there
above that could be glimpsed the narrow, tortuous
path that led on to the house.
“Grim old pile,” Landon said, looking at Headland
House. “Any spook connected with its history?”
“I never heard of any,” said Mrs Blackwood.
“Did you, Mr North?”
“Not definitely, but I’ve heard vague rumors of
old legends or traditions of dark deeds——”
“Oh, pshaw, I don’t believe it!” and Mrs Blackwood
shook her head at him. “You’re making that
up to lend an added interest!”
North grinned. “I’m afraid I was,” he admitted,
“but if there isn’t any legend there surely ought to
be. Let’s make one up.”
“No, I won’t have it. I hate haunted houses, and
I shan’t allow a ghost to be invented. The place is
too beautiful to have a foolish, hackneyed old ghost
yarn attached to it. Just because you were up here
last summer and this is the first year for most of us,
you needn’t think you can rule the roost!”
“Very well,” Lawrence North smiled good-naturedly,
“have it your own way. But, truly, I
heard rumors last year——”
“Keep them to yourself, then, and when you meet
the Varians, as of course you will, don’t say anything
to them about such a thing.”
“Your word is law,” and North bowed, submissively.
“Here comes the mail at last, and also,
here comes Granniss,—the disapproved one!”
A tall outdoorsy-looking young man appeared,
and throwing himself into a piazza swing, asked
breezily, “Who’s disapproving of me, now? Somebody
with absolute lack of fine perception!”
“Nobody here,” began Landon, and then a warning
glance from Claire Blackwood prevented his
further disclosures on the subject.
“Don’t make a secret of it,” went on Granniss,
“own up now, who’s been knocking poor little me?”
“I,” said Mrs Blackwood, coolly.
“Nixy, Madame Claire! You may disapprove of
me, but you’re not the one I mean. Who else?”
“Oh, let’s tell him,” North laughed; “he can stand
the shock. They say, Granniss, you’re persona non
grata up at the house on the headland.”
Rodney Granniss’ eyes darkened and he looked
annoyed. But he only said, “That’s a disapproval
any one may obtain by the simple process of admiring
“Really?” asked Claire Blackwood.
“Very really. To call twice is to incur the displeasure
of one or both parents; to venture a third
time is to be crossed out of the guest book entirely.”
“But, look here, old man,” Landon said, “they’ve
only been in that house about a week. Haven’t you
been rushing things?”
“I knew them before,” said Granniss, simply.
“I’ve met them in New York.”
“Oh, well, then their dislike of you is evidently
But this impudence of Landon’s brought forth no
expression of resentment from its victim. Granniss
only winked at Ted, and proceeded to look over his
It was the first time in the memory of any of the
present habitués of Headland Harbor, that the house
on the rocks had been occupied. Built long ago, it
was so difficult of access and so high priced of rental
that no one had cared to live in it. But, suddenly,
and for no known reason, this summer it had been
rented, late, and now, toward the end of July, the
new tenants were only fairly settled.
That their name was Varian was about all that
was known of them, until Mrs Blackwood’s call had
been hospitably received and she brought back
favorable reports of the family.
It seems Betty was anxious to meet some young
people and Mrs Varian was glad to learn from her
caller that small picnics were among the favored
modes of entertainment, and she decided to begin
Next day, she explained, a few house guests
would arrive, and if Mrs Blackwood would bring
two or three young men and come herself, perhaps
that would be enough for a first attempt at sociability.
This met Mrs Blackwood’s entire approval, and
she proposed Rodney Granniss’ name, all unsuspecting
that he would not be welcomed.
“He’s all right, you understand,” Mrs Varian
had said,—Betty not being then present,—“but he’s
too fond of my daughter. You can tell,—you know,—and
I want the child to have a good time, but I
want her to have a lot of young acquaintances, and
be friendly with all, but not specially interested in
any one. Her father feels the same way,—in fact,
he feels more strongly about it even than I do. So,
this time, please leave Mr Granniss out of it.”
This was all plausible enough, and no real disparagement
to Rodney, so Mrs Blackwood agreed.
“Can I do anything for you?” she asked her
hostess at parting. “Have you everything you
want? Are your servants satisfactory?”
“Not in every respect,”—Mrs Varian frowned.
“But we’re lucky to keep them at all. Only by the
most outrageous concessions, I assure you. If they
get too overbearing, I may have to let some of
“Let me know, in that case, and I may be able
to help you,” and with a few further amenities,
Claire Blackwood went away.
“But if I were one of her servants I shouldn’t
stay with her!” she confided later to a trusted friend.
“I never saw a more foolishly emotional woman.
She almost wept when she told me about her cook’s
ingratitude! As if any one looked for appreciation
of favors in a cook! And when she talked about
Betty, she bubbled over with such enthusiasm that
she was again moved to tears! It seems her first two
little ones died very young, and I think they’ve
always feared they mightn’t raise Betty. Hence the
“And it also explains,” observed the interested
friend, “why the parents discountenance the attentions
of would-be swains.”
“Of course,—but Betty is twenty, and that is
surely old enough to begin to think about such
“For the girl,—yes. And doubtless she does.
But parents never realize that their infants are
growing up. It is not impossible that Rod Granniss
and Miss Betty have progressed much further along
the road to Arcady than her elders may suspect.
Why did the Varians come here,—where Rod is?”
“I don’t suppose they knew it,—though, maybe
Betty did. Young people are pretty sharp. And
you know, Rod was here in June, then he went away
and only returned after the Varians arrived. Yes,
there must have been some sort of collusion on the
part of the youngsters.”
“Maybe not. I daresay Miss Betty has lots of
admirers as devoted as young Granniss. Can’t you
ask me to the picnic?”
“Not this one. It’s very small. And there are to
be some guests at the house, I believe. The family
interests me. They are types, I think. Betty is more
than an ordinary flutterbudget, like most of the
very young girls around here. And the older
Varians are really worth while. Mr Varian is a
brooding, self-contained sort,—I feel sorry for him.”
“There, there, that will do, Claire! When you
feel sorry for a man—I remember you began by
being sorry for Lawrence North!”
“I’m sorry for him still. He’s a big man,—in a
way, a genius,—and yet he——”
“He gets nowhere! That’s because he isn’t a
genius! But he’s a widower, so he’s fair quarry.
Don’t go to feeling sorry for married men.”
“Oh, there’s no sentiment in my sympathy for
Mr Varian. Only he intrigues me because of his
restless air,—his restrained effect, as if he were
using every effort to keep himself from breaking
“Breaking through what?”
“I don’t know! Through some barrier, some
limit that he has fixed for himself—I tell you I don’t
know what it’s all about. That’s why I’m interested.”
“Curious, you mean.”
“Well, curious, then. And how he puts up with
that hand-wringing ready-to-cry wife! Yet, he’s
fawningly devoted to her! He anticipates her
slightest wish,—he is worried sick if she is the least
mite incommoded or disturbed,—and I know he’d
lie down and let her walk on him if she even looked
as if she’d care to!”
“What a lot you read into a man’s natural consideration
for his wife!”
“But it’s there! I’m no fool,—I can read people,—you
know that! I tell you that man is under his
wife’s thumb for some reason far more potent than
his love for her, or her demand for affection from
“What could be the explanation?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m curious. I’m
going to find out, though, and that without the
Varians in the least suspecting my efforts. Wait till
you see her. She’s almost eerie, she’s so emotional.
Not noisy or even verbally expressive, but her face
is a study in nervous excitement. She seems to grab
at the heartstrings of a mere passer-by, and play on
them until she tears them out!”
“Good gracious, you make her out a vampire!”
“I think she is,—not a silly vamp, that the girls
joke about,—but the real thing!”
“Dad, you’re absolutely impossible!”
“Oh, come now, Betty, not as bad as that!
Just because I don’t agree to everything you
“But you never agree with me! You seem to be
opposed on principle to everything I suggest or
want. It’s always been like that! From the time
I was born,—how old was I, Dad, when you first
Mr Varian looked reminiscent.
“About an hour old, I think,” he replied; “maybe
a little less.”
“Well, from that moment until this, you have persistently
taken the opposite side in any discussion
we have had.”
“But if I hadn’t, Betty, there would have been
no discussion! And, usually there hasn’t been.
You’re a spoiled baby,—you always have been and
always will be. Your will is strong and as it has
almost never been thwarted or even curbed, you
have grown up a headstrong, wilful, perverse young
woman, and I’m sure I don’t know what to do with
“Get rid of me, Dad,” Betty’s laugh rang out,
while her looks quite belied the rather terrible character
just ascribed to her.
One foot tucked under her, she sat in a veranda
swing, now and then touching her toe to the floor
to keep swaying. She wore a sand-colored sport
suit whose matching hat lay beside her on the floor.
Her vivid, laughing face, with its big gray eyes
and pink cheeks, its scarlet lips and white teeth was
framed by a mop of dark brown wavy hair, now
tossed by the strong breeze from the sea.
The veranda overlooked the ocean, and the sunlit
waves, stretching far away from the great cliff were
dotted in the foreground with small craft.
Frederick Varian sat on the veranda rail, a big,
rather splendid-looking man, with the early gray of
fifty years showing in his hair and carefully trimmed
His air was naturally confident and self-assured,
but in the face of this chit of a girl he somehow
found himself at a disadvantage.
“Betty, dear,” he took another tack, “can’t you
understand the fatherly love that cannot bear the
idea of parting with a beloved daughter?”
“Oh, yes, but a father’s love ought to think what
is for that daughter’s happiness. Then he ought to
make the gigantic self-sacrifice that may be necessary.”
A dimple came into Betty’s cheek, and she smiled
roguishly, yet with a canny eye toward the effect
she was making.
But Varian looked moodily out over the sea.
“I won’t have it,” he said, sternly. “I suppose I
have some authority in this matter and I forbid you
to encourage any young man to the point of a proposal,
or even to think of becoming engaged.”
“How can I ward off a proposal, Dad?” Betty
inquired, with an innocent air.
“Don’t be foolish. Of course you can do that.
Any girl with your intelligence knows just when
an acquaintance crosses the line of mere friendship——”
“Oh, Daddy, you are too funny! And when you
crossed the line of mere friendship with mother,—what
did she do?”
“That has nothing to do with the subject. Now,
mind, Betty, I am not jesting,—I am not talking
“You sound very much like it!”
“I’m not. I’m very much in earnest. You are
not to encourage the definite attentions of any——”
“All right, let Rod Granniss come up here then,
and I promise not to encourage him.”
“He shall not come up here, because he has already
gone too far, and you have encouraged him too
“But I love him, Daddy,—and—and I think you
“Hush! That’s enough! Don’t let me hear
another word now or ever regarding Granniss! He
is crossed off our acquaintance, and if he persists
in staying here, we will go away!”
“Why, Father, we’ve only just come!”
“I know it, and I came here, thinking to get you
away from that man. He followed us up here,——”
“He was here before we came!”
“But he didn’t come until he knew we were
“All right, he came because he wanted to be
where I am. And I want to be where he is. And
you’d better be careful, Father, or I may take the
bit in my teeth and——”
“And run off with him? That’s why I came
here. You can’t get away. You perfectly well
know that there’s no way down from this house
but by that one narrow path,—I suppose you’ve no
intention of jumping into the sea?”
“Love will find a way!” Betty sang, saucily.
“It isn’t love, Betty. It’s a miserable childish
infatuation that will pass at once, if you lose sight
of the chap for a short time.”
“Nothing of the sort! It’s the love of my life!”
Varian laughed. “That’s a fine-sounding phrase,
but it doesn’t mean anything. Now, child, be reasonable.
Give up Granniss. Be friends with all
the young people up here, boys and girls both, but
don’t let me hear any foolishness about being engaged
“Do you mean for me never to marry, Father?”
“I’d rather you didn’t, my dear. Can’t you be
content to spend your days with your devoted
parents? Think what we’ve done for you? What
we’ve given you,——”
“Dad, you make me tired! What have you given
me, what have you done for me, more than any
parents do for a child? You’ve given me a home,
food and clothing,—and loving care! What else?
And what do I owe you for that, except my own
love and gratitude? But I don’t owe you the sacrifice
of the natural, normal, expectation of a home
and husband of my own! I’m twenty,—that’s quite
old enough to think of such things. Pray remember
how old mother was when she married you. She
was nineteen. Suppose her father had talked to her
as you’re talking to me! What would you have said
to him, I’d like to know!”
By this time Fred Varian was walking with quick
short strides up and down the veranda. Betty rose
and faced him, standing directly in his path.
“Father,” she said, speaking seriously, “you are
all wrong! You don’t know what you’re talking
“That will do, Betty!” When Varian’s temper was
roused he could speak very harshly, and did so now.
“Hush! I will not hear such words from you!
How dare you tell me I don’t know what I’m talking
about! Now you make up your mind to obey me,
or I’ll cut off all your association with the young
people! I’ll shut you up——”
“Hush, yourself, Dad! You’re talking rubbish,
and you know it! Shut me up! In a turret of the
castle, I suppose! On bread and water, I suppose!
What kind of nonsense is that?”
“You’ll see whether it’s nonsense or not! What
do you suppose I took this isolated place for, except
to keep you here if you grow too independent! Do
you know there is no way you can escape if I choose
to make you a prisoner? And if that’s the only way
to break your spirit, I’ll do it!”
“Why, Father Varian!” Betty looked a little
scared, “whatever has come over you?”
“I’ve made up my mind, that’s all. For twenty
years I’ve humored you and indulged you and acceded
to your every wish. You’ve been petted and
spoiled until you think you are the only dictator in
this family! Now a time has come when I have put
my foot down——”
“Well, pick it up again, Daddy, and all will be
Betty smiled and attempted to kiss the belligerent
face looking down at her.
But Frederick Varian repulsed the offered caress
and said, sternly:
“I want no affection from a wilful, disobedient
child! Give me your word, Betty, to respect my
wishes, and I’ll always be glad of your loving ways.”
But Betty was angry now.
“I’ll give you no such promise! I shall conduct
myself as I please with my friends and my acquaintances.
You know me well enough to know
that I never do anything that is in bad form or in
bad taste. If I choose to flirt with the young men,
or even, as you call it, encourage them, I propose to
do so! And I resent your interference, and I deny
your right to forbid me in such matters. And, too,
I’ll go so far as to warn you that if you persist in
this queer attitude you’ve taken,—you’ll be sorry!
Betty’s eyes flashed, but she was quiet rather than
Varian himself was nervous and agitated. His
fingers clenched and his lips trembled with the intensity
of his feelings and as Betty voiced her rebellious
thoughts he stared at her in amazement.
“What are you two quarreling about?” came the
surprised accents of Mrs Varian as she came out
through the French window from the library and
looked curiously at them.
“Oh, Mother,” Betty cried, “Dad’s gone nutty!
He says I never can marry anybody.”
“What nonsense, Fred”; she did not take it at
all seriously. “Of course, Betty will marry some
day, but not yet. Don’t bother about it at present.”
“But Daddy’s bothering very much about it at
present. At least, he’s bothering me,—don’t let
little Betty be bothered, Mummy,—will you?”
“Let her alone, Fred. Why do you tease the
child? I declare you two are always at odds over
“No, Minna, that’s not so. I always indulge
“Oh, yes, after I’ve coaxed you to do so. You’re
an unnatural father, Fred, you seem possessed to
frown on all Betty’s innocent pleasures.”
“I don’t want her getting married and going off
and leaving us——” he growled, still looking angry.
“Well, the baby isn’t even engaged yet,—don’t
begin to worry. And, too, that is in the mother’s
“Not entirely. I rather guess a father has some
“Oh, yes, if it’s exercised with loving care and
discretion. Don’t you bother, Betty, anyway.
Father and mother will settle this little argument
“I’d rather settle it with Dad,” Betty declared
spiritedly. “It’s too ridiculous for him to take the
stand that I shall never marry! I’m willing to
promise not to become engaged without asking you
both first; I’m willing to say I won’t marry a man
you can convince me is unworthy; I’m willing to
promise anything in reason,—but a blind promise
never to marry is too much to ask of any girl!”
“Of course, it is!” agreed Mrs Varian. “Why do
you talk to her like that, Fred?”
“Because I propose to have my own way for
once! I’ve given in to you two in every particular
for twenty years or more. Now, I assert myself.
I say Betty shall not marry, and I shall see to it that
she does not!”
“Oh, my heavens!” and Mrs Varian wrung her
hands, with a wail of nervous pettishness, “sometimes,
Fred, I think you’re crazy! At any rate,
you’ll set me crazy, if you talk like that! Do stop
this quarrel anyhow. Kiss and make up, won’t you?
To think of you two, the only human beings on
earth that I care a rap for, acting like this! My
husband and my child! The only things I live for!
The apple of my eye, the core of my soul, both of
you,—can’t you see how you distress me when you
are at odds! And you’re always at odds! Always
squabbling over some little thing. But, heretofore,
you’ve always laughed and agreed, finally. Now
forget this foolishness,—do!”
“It isn’t foolishness,” and Varian set his lips together,
“No, it isn’t foolishness,” said Betty quietly, but
with a look of indomitable determination.
“Well, stop it, at any rate,” begged Mrs Varian,
“if you don’t I shall go into hysterics,—and it’s time
now for the Herberts to come.”
Now both Fred and Betty knew that a suggestion
of hysterics was no idle threat, for Minna Varian
could achieve the most annoying demonstrations of
that sort at a moment’s notice. And it was quite
true that the expected guests were imminent.
But no truce was put into words, for just then
a party of three people came in sight and neared
the veranda steps.
The three were Frederick Varian’s brother Herbert
and his wife and daughter. This family was
called the Herberts to distinguish them from the
Frederick Varian household.
The daughter, Eleanor, was a year or two younger
than Betty, and the girls were friendly, though of
widely differing tastes; the brothers Varian were
much alike; but the two matrons were as opposite as
it is possible for two women to be. Mrs Herbert
was a strong character, almost strong-minded. She
had no patience with her sister-in-law’s nerves or
hysterical tendencies. It would indeed be awkward
if the Herberts were to arrive in the midst of one of
Mrs Frederick’s exhibitions of temperamental disturbance.
“Wonderful place!” exclaimed Herbert Varian as
they ascended the steps to the verandah. “Great, old
boy! I never saw anything like it.”
“Reminds me of the Prisoner of Chillon or the
Castle of Otranto or——” said Mrs Herbert.
“Climbing that steep path reminded me of the
Solitary Horseman,” Herbert interrupted his wife.
“Whew! let me sit down! I’m too weighty a person
to visit your castled crag of Drachenfels very often!
“Poor Uncle Herbert,” cooed Betty; “it’s an awful
long, steep pull, isn’t it? Get your breath, and I’ll
get you some nice, cool fruit punch. Come on,
Eleanor, help me; the servants are gone to the circus,—every
last one of ’em——”
“Oh, I thought you were having a party here this
afternoon,” Eleanor said, as she went with Betty.
“Not a party, a picnic. They’re the proper caper
up here. And only a little one. The baskets are all
ready, and the men carry them,—then we go to a
lovely picnic place,—not very far,—and we all help
get the supper. You see, up here, if you don’t let
the servants go off skylarking every so often, they
“I should think they would!” exclaimed Eleanor,
earnestly; “I’m ready to leave now! How do you
stand it, Betty? I think it’s fearful!”
“Oh, it isn’t the sort of thing you’d like, I know.
Put those glasses on that tray, will you, Nell? But
I love this wild, craggy place, it’s like an eagle’s
eyrie, and I adore the solitude,—especially as there
are plenty of people, and a golf club and an artist
colony and all sorts of nice things in easy distance.”
“You mean that little village or settlement we
came through on the way from the station?”
“Yes; and a few of their choicest inhabitants are
coming up this afternoon for our picnic.”
“That sounds better,” Eleanor sighed, “but I’d
never want to stay here. Is Rod Grannis here? Is
that why you came?”
“Hush, Nell. Don’t mention Rod’s name, at least,
not before Father. You see, Dad’s down on him.”
“Down on Rod! Why for?”
“Only because he’s too fond of little Betty.”
“Who is? Rod or your father?”
Betty laughed. “Both of ’em! But, I mean, Dad
is down on any young man who’s specially interested
“Oh, I know. So is my father. I don’t let it
bother me. Fathers are all like that. Most of the
girls I know say so.”
“Yes, I know it’s a fatherly failing; but Dad is
especially rabid on the subject. There you take the
basket of cakes and I’ll carry the tray.”
It was nearly five o’clock when the picnic party
was finally ready to start for its junketing.
Mrs Blackwood had arrived, bringing her two
promised young men, Ted Landon and John Clark.
Rearrayed in picnic garb, the house guests were
ready for the fun, and the Frederick Varians were
getting together and looking over the baskets of
“If we could only have kept one helper by us,”
bemoaned Minna Varian, her speech accompanied
by her usual wringing of her distressed hands. “I
begged Kelly to stay but he wouldn’t.”
“The circus is here only one day, you know, Mrs
Varian,” Landon told her, “and I fancy every servant
in Headland Harbor has gone to it. But command
“Indeed, we will,” put in Betty; “carry this, please,
and, Uncle Herbert, you take this coffee paraphernalia.”
Divided among the willing hands, the luggage was
not too burdensome, and the cavalcade prepared to
“No fear of burglars, I take it,” said Herbert, as
his brother closed the front door and shook it to be
sure it was fastened.
“Not a bit,” and Frederick Varian took up his
own baskets. “No one can possibly reach this house,
save through that gate down by the lodge. And that
is locked. Also the windows and doors of the house
are all fastened. So if you people have left jewelry
on your dressing tables, don’t be alarmed, you’ll find
it there on your return.”
“All aboard!” shouted Landon, and they started,
by twos or threes, but in a moment were obliged to
walk single file down the steep and narrow path.
“Oh, my heavens!” cried Betty, suddenly, “I must
go back! I’ve forgotten my camera. Let me take
your key, Father, I’ll run and get it in a minute!”
“I’ll go and get it for you, Betty,” said Varian,
setting down his burden.
“No, Dad, you can’t; it’s in a closet, behind a lot
of other things, and you’d upset the whole lot into a
dreadful mess. I know you!”
“Let me go, Miss Varian,” offered several of the
others, but Betty was insistent.
“No one can get it but myself,—at least, not without
a lot of delay and trouble. Give me the key,
Father, I’ll be right back.”
“Oh, give her the key, Fred!” exclaimed his wife;
“don’t torment the child! I believe you enjoy teasing
her! There, take the key, Betty, and run along.
Hurry, do, for it’s annoying to have to wait for
“Let me go with you,” asked John Clark, but
Betty smiled a refusal and ran off alone.
Most of them watched the lithe, slight figure, as
she bounded up the rugged, irregular steps, sometimes
two of them at a time, and at last they saw
her fitting the key into the front door.
She called back a few words, but the distance was
too great for them to hear her clearly, although they
could see her.
She waved her hand, smilingly, and disappeared
inside the house, leaving the door wide open behind
“Extraordinary place!” Herbert Varian said, taking
in the marvelous crag from this new viewpoint.
“You must see it from the clubhouse,” said Landon;
“can’t you all come here tomorrow afternoon,
on my invite?”
“We’ll see,” Mrs Varian smiled at him, for it was
impossible not to like this frank, good-looking youth.
The conversation was entirely of the wonders and
beauties of Headland House, until at last, Mrs Blackwood
said, “Isn’t that child gone a long while? I
could have found half a dozen cameras by this time!”
“She is a long time,” Frederick Varian said,
frowning; “I was just thinking that myself. I think
I’ll go after her.”
“No, don’t,” said his wife, nervously, “you’ll get
into an argument with her, and never get back! Let
her alone,—she’ll be here in a minute.”
But the minutes went by, and Betty didn’t reappear
in the open doorway.
“I know what she’s up to,” and Frederick Varian
shook his head, in annoyance.
Whereupon Mrs Frederick began to cry.
“Now, Fred, stop,” she said; “Herbert, you go up
to the house and tell Betty to come along. If she
can’t find her camera, tell her to come without it.
I wish we had a megaphone so we could call her.
Go on, Herbert.”
“Stay where you are, Herbert,” said his brother.
“I shall go. It’s all right, Minna, I won’t tease the
child,—I promise you. It’s all right, dear.”
He kissed his wife lightly on the brow, and started
off at a swinging pace up the rocky flight of steps.
“I’ll fetch her,” he called back, as he proceeded
beyond hearing distance. “Chirk up, Minna, Janet;
tell her I shan’t abuse Betty.”
“What does he mean by that?” asked Mrs Herbert
of Mrs Frederick, as she repeated the message.
“Oh, nothing,” and Mrs Frederick clasped her
hands resignedly. “Only you know how Betty and
her father are always more or less at odds. I don’t
know why it is,—they’re devoted to each other, yet
they’re always quarreling.”
“They don’t mean anything,” and her sister-in-law
smiled. “I know them both, and they’re an
ideal father and daughter.”
Doctor Herbert Varian stood slightly
apart from the rest of the group, his observant
eyes taking in all the details of the
peculiar situation of his brother’s house. His eye
traversed back over the short distance they had
already come, and he saw a narrow, winding and
exceedingly steep path. At intervals it was a succession
of broken, irregular steps, rocky and sharp-edged.
Again, it would be a fairly easy, though
stony footway. But it led to the house, and had no
branch or side track in any direction.
“Everything and everybody that comes to this
house has to come by this path?” he demanded.
“Yes,” said Minna Varian, and added, complainingly,
“a most disagreeable arrangement. All the
servants and tradespeople have to use it as well as
ourselves and our guests.”
“That could be remedied,” suggested Varian, “a
“We’ll never do it,” said Minna, sharply. “I
don’t like the place well enough to buy it, though that
is what Fred has in mind——”
“No, don’t buy it,” advised her brother-in-law. “I
see nothing in its favor except its wonderful beauty
and strange, weird charm. That’s a good deal, I
admit, but not enough for a comfortable summer
He turned and gazed out over the open sea. From
the high headland the view was unsurpassable. The
few nearby boats seemed lost in the great expanse
of waters. Some chugging motor boats and a dozen
or so sailing craft ventured not very far from shore.
North, along the Maine coast, he saw only more
rocky promontories and rockbound inlets.
Turning slowly toward the South, he saw the
graceful curve of Headland Harbor, with its
grouped village houses and spreading array of summer
“I never saw anything finer,” he declared. “I
almost think, Minna, after all, you would be wise to
buy the place, and then, arrange to make it more
getatable. A continuous flight of strong wooden
“Would spoil the whole thing!” exclaimed Claire
Blackwood. “Oh, Doctor Varian, don’t propose
anything like that! We Harborers love this place,
just as it is, and we would defend it against any
such innovations. I think there’s a law about defacing
“Don’t bother,” said Minna, carelessly; “we’ll
never do anything of the sort. I won’t agree to it.”
“That’s right,” said her sister-in-law. “This is
no place to bring up Betty. The girl has no real
society here, no advantages, no scope. She’ll become
“Not Betty,” Minna Varian laughed. “She’s outdoor-loving
and all that, but she has nothing of the
barbarian in her. I think she’d like to go to a far
gayer resort. But her father——”
“Where is her father?” asked Doctor Varian, impatiently.
“It will be dark before we get to our
picnic. Why don’t they come?”
He gave a loud view-halloo, but only the echoes
from the rocky heights answered him.
“I knew it!” and Minna Varian began to wring
her hands. “He and Betty are quarreling,—I am
sure of it!”
“What do you mean, Min? What’s this quarreling
“They’ve always done it,—it’s nothing new. They
adore each other, but they’re eternally disagreeing
and fighting it out. They’re quite capable of forgetting
all about us, and arguing out some foolish
subject while we sit here waiting for them!”
“I’ll go and stir them up,” the doctor said, starting
in the direction of the house.
“Oh, no, Herbert. It’s a hard climb, and you’ve
enough walking ahead of you.”
“I’ll go,” and Ted Landon looked inquiringly at
“Oh, what’s the use?” she said; “they’ll surely
appear in a minute.”
So they all waited a few minutes longer and then
Janet Varian spoke up.
“I think it’s a shame to keep us here like this. Go
on up to the house, Mr Landon, do. Tell those two
foolish people that they must come on or the picnic
will proceed without them.”
“All right,” said Ted, and began sprinting over
“I’m going, too,” and Claire Blackwood followed
“We may as well all go, and have our picnic on
our own verandah,” said Minna, complainingly, and
though Doctor Varian would have preferred that to
any further exertions, he did not say so.
“It’s always like this,” Minna’s querulous voice
went on; “whenever we start to go anywhere, somebody
has to go back for something and they’re so
slow and so inconsiderate of other people’s feelings——”
“There they go,” interrupted Doctor Varian as
the two latest emissaries went up over the rocks.
“Now the house will swallow them up!”
“Oh, Herbert, don’t say such awful things,”
wailed Minna; “you sound positively creepy! I have
a feeling of fear of that house anyway,—I believe
it would like to swallow people up!”
“Ought we to intrude?” Claire Blackwood laughingly
asked of Landon, as they neared the house;
“if Betty and her father want to quarrel, they ought
to be allowed to do so in peace.”
“Oh, well, if they insist, we’ll go away again, and
let them have it out comfortably. Queer thing, for
Daughter and Dad to make a habit of scrapping!”
“I take Mrs Varian’s statements with a grain of
salt,” said Claire, sagely. “She’s not awfully well
balanced, that woman, and I doubt if Betty and her
father are half as black as they’re painted. Shall
we ring the bell or walk right in?”
But this question needed no answer, for as they
mounted the steps of the verandah and neared the
open front door, they were confronted by the sight
of Mr Frederick Varian sprawled at full length on
the floor of the hall.
“Oh, heavens, what is the matter?” cried Claire;
“the man has had a stroke or something!”
Landon went nearer, and with a grave face,
stooped down to the prostrate figure.
“Claire,” he whispered, looking up at her with a
white face, “Claire, this man is dead.”
“What? No,—no! it can’t be——”
“Yes, he is,—I’m almost certain,—I don’t think
I’d better touch him,—or, should I? It can do no
harm to feel for his heart,—no, it is not beating,—what
does it mean? Where’s Miss Varian?”
“Think quickly, Mr Landon, what we ought to
do.” Claire Blackwood spoke earnestly, and tried
to pull herself together. “We must be careful to do
the right thing. I should say, before we even think
of Miss Betty we should call Doctor Varian up
“The very thing! Will you call him, or shall I?”
Considerately, Landon gave her her choice.
With a shuddering glance at the still figure, Claire
said, “You call him, but let me go with you.”
They stepped out on the veranda, and Landon
waved his hand at the group of waiting people below
Then he beckoned, but no one definitely responded.
“I’ll have to shout,” Ted said, with a regretful
look. “Somehow I hate to,——” the presence of
death seemed to restrain him.
But of necessity, he called out, “Doctor Varian,—come
The distance was almost too far for his voice to
carry, but because of his imperative gestures, Herbert
Varian said: “Guess I’ll have to go. Lord!
What can be the trick they’re trying to cut up? I
vow I won’t come back here! I’ll eat my picnic in
your dining-room, Minna.”
“As you like,” she returned, indifferently. “I
hate picnics, anyway. But for goodness’ sake, Herbert,
do one thing or the other. If you’d really
rather not go to the woods, take your baskets, and
we’ll all go back to the house. It’s getting late, anyway.”
“Wait a bit,” counseled the doctor. “You people
stay here, till I go up to the house, and see what’s
doing. Then if I beckon you, come along back, all
of you. If I don’t break my neck getting up there!”
“Don’t go, Father,” begged Eleanor; “let me go.
What in the world can they want of you?”
“No,—I’ll go. I suppose there’s a leak in the
pipes or something.”
Herbert Varian went off at a gait that belied his
recalcitrant attitude, and as he neared the house,
he could see the white faces and grave air of the
two that awaited him.
“What’s the great idea?” he called out, cheerily.
“A serious matter, Doctor Varian,” replied Landon.
“An accident, or sudden illness——”
“No!” the doctor took the remaining steps at a
For answer, Landon conducted him inside the hall,
and in an instant Varian was on his knees beside the
“My God!” he said, in a hoarse whisper, “Frederick’s
“A stroke?” asked Landon, while Claire Blackwood
stood by, unable to speak at all.
“No, man, no! Shot! See the blood,—shot
through the heart. What does it—what can it
mean? Where’s Betty?”
“We don’t know,” Claire spoke now. “Doctor
Varian, are you sure he’s dead? Can nothing be
done to save him?”
“Nothing. He died almost instantly, from internal
hemorrhage. But how unbelievable! How impossible!”
“Who shot him?” Landon burst out, impetuously;
“or,—is it suicide?”
“Where’s the pistol?” said the doctor, looking
Both men searched, Landon trying to overcome
his repugnance to such close association with the
dead, but no weapon of any sort could be found.
“I—I can’t see it,——” Varian wiped his perspiring
brow. “I can’t see any solution. But, this
won’t do. We must get the others up here. Oh,
heavens, what shall we do with Minna?”
“Let me go down, and take her home with me,”
suggested Claire Blackwood, eager to do anything
that might help or ease the coming disclosure of the
“Oh, I don’t know,——” demurred Varian. “You
see, she’s got to know,—of course, she must be told
at once,—and then,—she’ll have to look after Betty,—where
is the child? Anyway, my wife is a tower
of strength,—she’ll be able to manage Mrs Varian,—even
if she has violent hysterics,—which, of
course, she will!”
“Command me, Doctor Varian,” said Landon. “I
will do whatever you advise.”
“All right; I’ll be glad of your assistance. Suppose
you go back to the people down there on the
rocks, and then,—let me see,—suppose you tell my
wife first what has happened; then, ask her to break
the news to Mrs Varian,—she’ll know how best to
do it. Then,—oh, Lord,—I don’t know what then!
They’ll have to come back here,—I suppose,—what
else can they do? I don’t know, Mrs Blackwood,
but your idea of taking Mrs Varian away with you
is a good one. If she’ll go.”
“She won’t go,” said Claire, decidedly, “if she
knows the truth. If I take her, it’ll have to be on
some false pretense,——”
“Won’t do,” said Varian, briefly. “We’ve got
no right to keep her in ignorance of her husband’s
death. No; she must be told. That girl of mine,
too,—Eleanor, she hasn’t her mother’s poise,—she’s
likely to go to pieces,—always does, in the presence
of death. Oh, what a moil!”
“Here’s another thing,” said Landon, a little hesitantly.
“What about the authorities?”
“Yes,—yes,——” the doctor spoke impatiently,
“I thought of that,—who are they, in this God-forsaken
place? Town Constable, I suppose.”
“I don’t know myself,” said Landon. “County
Sheriff, more likely. But Clark’s a good, sensible
sort. Say we send him down to the village——”
“Oh, must it be known down there right away?”
cried Claire. “Before even Mrs Varian is told! Or
Betty. Where is Betty?”
“Betty is somewhere in the house,” said Doctor
Varian in a low voice. “We know that. Now, let
that question rest, till we decide on our first move.
I think, Landon, you’d better do as I said. Go and
tell my wife, and, while she’s telling Mrs Varian and
my daughter, Eleanor, you can take Mr Clark aside
and tell him. Then,—then, I think, you’d all better
come back here to the house. We’ll send Clark on
that errand later,—or, we can telephone.”
Landon started on his difficult descent and on his
even more difficult errand.
“Can’t you,—can’t you put Mr Varian
“I’m not supposed to move a body until the authorities
give permission,” said Doctor Varian,
slowly. “It would seem to me, that in this very
peculiar and unusual case, that I might,—but, that’s
just it. I’ve been thinking,—and the very mysteriousness
of this thing, makes it most necessary for
me to be unusually circumspect. Why, Mrs Blackwood,
have you any idea what we have ahead of us?
I can’t think this mystery will be simple or easily
explained. I don’t——”
“What do you think——”
“I don’t dare think! Isn’t there a phrase, ‘that
way madness lies’? Well, it recurs to me when I
let myself think! No,—I won’t think,—and I beg
of you, don’t question me! I’m not a hysterical
woman,—but there are times when a man feels as
if hysterics might be a relief!”
“Then let’s not think,——” said Claire, tactfully,
“but let me try to be helpful. If Mrs Varian is
coming here,—do you advise that we—cover—Mr
“With a sheet, I suppose,—do you know where
to find one?”
“No, I’ve never been upstairs,—and then, after
all, isn’t a sheet even more gruesome than the sight
as it is at present? How about a dark cover?”
“Very well,—find one.” The Doctor spoke absorbedly,
Glancing about, Claire noticed a folded steamer
rug, on the end of the big davenport in the hall, and
fetching that, she laid it lightly over the still form.
“Now, about Betty,——” said the doctor, coming
out of his brown study. “She is in the house,—probably
“Oh, do you think that? Then let us find her!”
“We can’t both go. Will you remain here and
meet the others or shall I stay here while you go to
look for the girl?”
Claire Blackwood pondered. Either suggestion
was too hard for her to accept.
“I can’t,——” she said, at last. “I’m a coward,
I suppose,—but I can’t search this great, empty
house,—for Betty. And, if she were in it, she
would surely come here to us,——”
Doctor Varian looked at her.
“Then I’ll go,” he said, simply. “You stay here.”
“No!” Claire grasped his arm. “I can’t do that
either. Oh, Doctor Varian, stay here with me!
Think,—these are not my people,—I’m sympathetic,
of course, but, I’m terrified,—I’m afraid——”
“There’s nothing to fear.”
“I can’t help that,—I won’t stay here alone. If
you leave me, I shall run down the path to meet
“Then I’ll have to stay here. Very well, Mrs
Blackwood, they’ll arrive in a few moments,—we’ll
wait for them together.”
And then Varian again fell to ruminating, and
Claire Blackwood, sick with her own thoughts, said
At last they heard footsteps, and looked out to
see the little procession headed by the two sisters-in-law.
Janet Varian was half supporting Minna, but her
help was not greatly needed, for the very violence
of Minna’s grief and fright gave her a sort of supernormal
strength and she walked uprightly and
“Where’s Frederick?” she demanded, in a shrill
voice as she came up the steps,—“and where’s
Betty? Where’s my child?”
Her voice rose to a shriek on the last words, and
Doctor Varian took her by the arm, giving her his
“Be careful now, Minna,” he said, kindly but decidedly;
“don’t lose your grip. You’ve a big trouble
to face,—and do try, dear, to meet it bravely.”
“I’m brave enough, Herbert, don’t worry about
that. Where’s Fred, I say?”
“Here,” was the brief reply, and Varian led her
to her husband’s body.
As he had fully expected, she went into violent
hysterics. She cried, she screamed, then her voice
subsided to a sort of low, dismal wailing, only to
break out afresh with renewed shrieks.
“Perhaps it’s better that she should do this, than
to control herself,” the Doctor said; “she’ll soon
exhaust herself at this rate, and may in that way become
more tractable. I wish we could get her to
“We can,” responded his wife, promptly. “I’ll
look after that. Give a look at Eleanor, Herbert.”
The harassed doctor turned his attention to his
daughter, who was controlling herself, but who was
“Good girl,” said her father, taking her in his
arms. “Buck up, Nell, dear. Dad’s got a whole
lot on his shoulders, and my, how it will help if
you don’t keel over!”
“I won’t,” and Eleanor tried to smile.
Claire Blackwood approached the pair.
“Doctor Varian,” she said, “suppose I take your
daughter home with me for the night,—or longer,
if she’ll stay. It might relieve you and your wife
of a little care, and I’ll be good to her, I promise
you. And, if I may, I’d like to go now. I can’t be
of any service here, can I? And as Miss Eleanor
can’t either, what do you think of our going now?”
“A very good idea, Mrs Blackwood,” and the doctor’s
face showed grateful appreciation. “Take one
of the young men with you, and leave the other here
to help me.”
“We’ll take John Clark,” Claire decided, “and
Ted Landon will, I know, be glad to stand by you.”
The three departed, and then the sisters-in-law left
the room and went upstairs, Minna making no resistance
to Janet’s suggestions.
Left alone with the dead, Doctor Varian and
young Landon looked at each other.
“What does it all mean?” asked the younger man,
a look of absolute bewilderment on his face.
“I can’t make it out,” returned the other, slowly.
“But it’s a pretty awful situation. Now the women
are gone, I’ll speak out the thing that troubles me
most. Where’s Betty?”
“Who? Miss Varian? Why, yes, where is she?
She came for her camera, you know. She—why,
she must be in the house.”
“She must be,—that is,—I can’t see any alternative.
I understand there’s no way out of this house,
save down the path we took.”
“No other, sir.”
“Then if the girl’s in the house,—she must be
“Yes,——” and Landon saw the terrible fear in
the other’s eyes, and his own glance responded.
“Shall we search the rooms?”
“That must be done. Now, I’m not willing to
leave the body of my brother unattended. Will you
watch by it, while I run over the house, or the other
“I’ll do as you prefer I should, Doctor Varian,—but
if you give me a choice, I’ll stay here. I’ve
never been in the house before, and I don’t know the
rooms. However, I want to be frank,—and, the
truth is, I’d rather not make that search,—even if I
did know the rooms.”
“I understand, Mr Landon, and I don’t blame you.
I’ve never been in the house before either,—and I
don’t at all like the idea of the search, but it must
be made,—and made at once, and it’s my place to do
it. So, then, if you’ll remain here, I’ll go the
Ted Landon nodded silently, and sat down to begin
the vigil he had been asked to keep.
Herbert Varian went first upstairs to Minna’s
room, and opening the door softly, discovered the
widow was lying quietly on her bed. Janet, sitting
by, placed a warning forefinger against her lip, and
seeing that the patient was quiet, Varian noiselessly
closed the door and tiptoed away.
He stood a moment in the second story hall, looking
upward at a closed door, to which a narrow and
winding staircase would take him.
Should he go up there,—or search the two lower
stories first? He looked out of a window at the foot
of the little stair.
It gave West, and afforded no view of the sea.
But the wild and inaccessible rocks which he saw,
proved to him finally that there was no way of approach
to this lonely house, save by that one and
only path he had already climbed. He sighed, for
this dashed his last hope that Betty might have left
the house on some errand or some escapade before
her father had reached it.
With vague forebodings and a horrible sinking at
his heart, he began to ascend the turret stair.
Doctor Herbert Varian was a man
accustomed to responsibilities; more, he was
accustomed to the responsibilities of other
people as well as his own. Yet it seemed to him that
the position in which he now found himself was
more appalling than anything he had ever before
experienced, and that it was liable to grow worse
rather than better with successive developments.
Varian had what has been called “the leaping
mind,” and without being unduly apprehensive, he
saw trouble ahead, such as he shuddered to think
about. His brother dead, there was the hysterical
widow to be cared for. And Betty in hiding——
He paused, his hand on the latch of the door at
the top of the stair.
Then, squaring his shoulders, he shook off his
hesitation and opened the door.
He found himself in a small turret room, from
which he went on to other rooms on that floor.
They were, for the most part, quite evidently unoccupied
bedrooms, but two gave signs of being in use
Varian paid little heed to his surroundings, but
went rapidly about hunting for the missing girl.
“Betty,——” he called, softly; “Betty, dear,
where are you? Don’t be afraid,—Uncle Herbert
will take care of you. Come, Betty, come out of
But there was no answer to his calls. He flung
open cupboard doors, he peered into dark corners
and alcoves, but he saw no trace of any one, nor
heard any sound.
Two other tiny staircases led up to higher turrets,
but these were empty, and search as he would he
found no Betty, nor any trace of her.
Unwilling to waste what might be valuable time,
Doctor Varian went downstairs again.
Then, one after another, he visited all the rooms
on the second floor but found no sign of his niece.
He went again to the room where the women were
and beckoned his wife outside.
“Minna is asleep?” he asked, in a whisper.
“Yes,” Janet replied, “but, of course, only as an
effect of that strong opiate you gave her. She tosses
and moans,—but, yes, she is asleep.”
“I dread her waking. What are we to do with
her? And, Janet, where is Betty? I’ve been all
over these upper floors,—and now I’ll tackle the
rooms downstairs, and the cellar. The girl must be
“Herbert! Did you ever know such a fearful situation?
And—as to—Frederick—don’t you have
“Yes, yes, of course; the authorities must be
called in. Don’t think I haven’t realized that. But
first of all we must find Betty—dead or alive!”
“Don’t say that!” Janet clutched at his arm. “I
can’t bear any more horrors.”
“Poor girl,—you may have to. Brace up, dear,
I’ve all I can do to——”
“Of course you have,” his wife kissed him tenderly.
“Don’t be afraid. I won’t add to your burdens,
and I will help all I can. Thank heaven that
kind woman took Eleanor away with her.”
“Yes; but I daresay we ought to have kept them
all here. There’s crime to be considered, and——”
“Never mind, they’re gone,—and I’m glad of it.
You can get them back when necessary.”
“But it’s a mystery,—oh, what shall I do first? I
never felt so absolutely unable to cope with a situation.
But the first thing is to hunt further for
Pursuant of his clearest duty, Doctor Varian went
on through the yet unsearched rooms, on to the
kitchen, and on down to the cellar. He made a hasty
but careful search, flinging open closets, cupboards
and storerooms, and returned at last to the hall
where Ted Landon sat with folded arms, keeping his
“I can’t imagine where Betty can be,” and Varian
sank wearily into a chair.
“She must be in the house,” said Landon, wonderingly,
“for there’s no way out, except down the
path where we all were.”
“There’s a back door, I suppose.”
“I mean no way off the premises. Yes, there
must be a back door—you know I’ve never been in
this house before.”
“No; well, look here, Landon; the authorities
must be notified; the local doctor ought to be called
in,—and all that. But first, I want to find Betty.
Suppose I stay here,—I’m—I admit I’m pretty tired,—and
you take a look out around the back door, and
kitchen porch. By the way, the servants will be
coming home soon——”
“No, they were to stay out for the evening, I
think Mrs Varian said.”
“But those people who went back to the village
will, of course, tell of the matter, and soon we’ll
have all kinds of curious visitors.”
“All right, Doctor Varian, I’ll do just what you
The younger man went on his errand, and going
through the kitchen, found the back porch. To
reach it he had to unlock the outside door, thus proving
to his own satisfaction that Betty had not gone
out that way.
But he went out and looked about. He saw nothing
indicative. The porch was pleasant and in neat
order. A knitting-bag and a much be-thumbed novel
were evidently the property of the cook or waitress,
and an old cap on a nail was, doubtless, the butler’s.
He took pains to ascertain that there was no path
or road that led down to the gate but the path that
also went from the front door, and which he had
been on when Betty returned to the house.
He had seen her enter the house, had seen her
father go in a few moments later, now where was
Back to the kitchen Landon went, and in the middle
of the floor, he noticed a yellow cushion. It was
a satin covered, embroidered affair, probably, he
thought, a sofa cushion, or hammock pillow, but it
seemed too elaborate for a servant’s cushion. Surely
it belonged to the family.
The kitchen was in tidy order, save for a tray of
used glasses and empty plates which was on a table.
Landon picked up the pillow,—and then, on second
thoughts, laid it back where he had found it. It
might be evidence.
An open door showed the cellar stairs. Conquering
a strong disinclination, Landon went down. The
cellar was large, and seemed to have various rooms
and bins, and some locked cupboards. But there
was nothing sinister, the rooms were for the most
part fairly light, and the air was good.
Remembering that Doctor Varian had already
searched down there for Betty, Landon merely went
over the same ground, and returned with the news
of his unsuccessful search.
“No way out?” queried the doctor, briefly.
“None, except by passing the very spot where we
all were when Betty ran back to the house.”
“Where is she, Landon?”
The two men stared at each other, both absolutely
at a loss to answer the question.
“Well,” and Varian pulled himself together, “this
won’t do. It’s a case for the police,—how shall we
get at them?”
“I don’t know anything about the police, but if
you telephone the inn or the clubhouse they’ll tell
you. The local doctor is Merritt,—I know him.
But he couldn’t do anything. Why call him when
“It’s customary, I think. You call Merritt, will
you, and then I’ll speak to the innkeeper.”
The telephoning was just about completed, when a
fearful scream from upstairs announced the fact
that Minna Varian had awakened from her opiate
sleep and had returned to a realization of her troubles.
Slowly Doctor Varian rose and went up the stairs.
He entered the bedroom to find Minna sitting up
in bed, wild-eyed and struggling to get up, while
Janet urged her to lie still.
“Lie still!” she screamed, “I will not. Come here,
Herbert. Tell me,—where is my child? Why is
Betty not here? Is she dead, too? Tell me, I say!”
“Yes, Minna,” Varian returned, quietly, “I will
tell you all I can. I do not know where Betty is,
but we’ve no reason to think she is dead——”
“Then why doesn’t she come to me? Why doesn’t
Fred come? Oh,—Fred is dead,—isn’t he?”
And then the poor woman went into violent hysterics,
now shrieking like a maniac and now moaning
piteously, like some hurt animal.
“The first thing to do,” said Doctor Varian, decidedly,
“is to get a nurse for Minna.”
“No,” demurred his wife, “not tonight, anyway.
I’ll take care of her, and there will be some maid
servant who can help me. There was a nice looking
waitress among those who went off this afternoon.”
“The servants will surely return as soon as they
hear the news,” Varian said, and then he gave all
his attention to calming his patient.
Again he placed her under the influence of a powerful
opiate, and by the time she was unconscious,
the local doctor had come.
Varian went down to find Doctor Merritt examining
the body of his brother.
The two medical men met courteously, the local
doctor assuming an important air, principally because
he considered the other his superior.
“Terrible thing, Doctor Varian,” Merritt said;
“death practically instantaneous.”
“Practically,” returned the other. “May have
lived a few moments, but unconscious at once. You
know the sheriff?”
“Yes; Potter. He’ll be along soon. He’s a
shrewd one,—but,—my heavens! Who did this
Doctor Merritt’s formality gave way before his
irrepressible curiosity. He looked from Doctor
Varian to Ted Landon and back again, with an exasperated
air of resentment at being told so little.
“We don’t know, Doctor Merritt,” Landon said,
as the other doctor said nothing. “We’ve no idea.”
“No idea! A man shot and killed in this lonely,
isolated house and you don’t know who did it? What
do you mean?”
In a few words Varian detailed the circumstances,
and added, “We don’t know where Miss Varian
“Disappeared! Then she must have shot her
“Oh, no!” interrupted Landon, “don’t say such
an absurd thing!”
“What else is there to say?” demanded Merritt.
“You say there was nobody in the house but those
two people. Now, one is here dead, and the other is
missing. What else can be said?”
“Don’t accuse a defenseless girl,——” advised
Varian. “Betty must be found, of course. But I
don’t for a minute believe she shot her father.”
“Where’s the gun?” asked Doctor Merritt.
“Hasn’t been found,” returned Varian, briefly.
“Mrs Varian, my brother’s wife, is hysterical. I’ve
been obliged to quiet her by opiates. Doctor Merritt,
this is by no means a simple case. I hope your
sheriff is a man of brains and experience. It’s going
to call for wise and competent handling.”
“Potter is experienced enough. Been sheriff for
years. But as to brains, he isn’t overburdened with
them. Still, he’s got good horse sense.”
“One of the best things to have,” commented
Varian. “Now, I don’t know that we need keep
Mr Landon here any longer. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Merritt, thoughtfully. “He
was here at the time of the—crime?”
“Yes; but so were several others, and they’ve gone
away. As you like, Mr Landon, but I don’t think
you need stay unless you wish.”
“I do wish,” Ted Landon said. “I may be of
use, somehow, and, too, I’m deeply interested. I
want to see what the sheriff thinks about it, and, too,
I want to try to find or help to find Miss Betty.”
“Betty must be found,” said Varian, as if suddenly
reminded of the fact. “I am so distracted
between the shock of my brother’s death and the
anxiety regarding his wife’s condition, that for the
moment I almost forgot Betty. That child must be
hiding somewhere. She must have been frightened
in some fearful way, and either fainted or run away
and hid out in the grounds somewhere. I’m positive
she isn’t in the house.”
“She couldn’t have gone out the back door,” said
Landon. “It was locked when I went to it.”
“She couldn’t have gone out at the front door
or we should have seen her,” Varian added, “She
stepped out of a window, then.”
“Are you assuming some intruder?” asked Merritt,
“I’m not assuming anything,” returned Varian,
a little crisply, for his nerves were on edge. “But
Betty Varian must be found,—my duty is to the
living as well as to the dead.”
He glanced at his brother’s body, and his face
expressed a mute promise to care for that brother’s
“But how are you going to find her?” asked
Landon. “We saw Miss Varian enter this
“Therefore, she is still in it,—or in the grounds,”
said Varian, positively. “It can’t be otherwise. I
shall hunt out of doors first, before it grows dusk.
Then we can hunt the house afterward.”
“You have hunted the house.”
“Yes; but it must be hunted more thoroughly.
Why, Betty, or—Betty’s body must be somewhere.
And must be found.”
Doctor Merritt listened, dumfounded. Here was
mystery indeed. Mr Varian dead,—shot,—no
weapon found, and his daughter missing.
What could be the explanation?
The hunt out of doors for Betty resulted in nothing
at all. There was no kitchen garden, merely a
drying plot and a small patch of back yard, mostly
stones and hard ground. This was surrounded by
dwarfed and stunted pine trees, which not only
afforded no hiding place, but shut off no possible
nook or cranny where Betty could be hidden. The
whole tableland was exposed to view from all parts
of it, and it was clear to be seen that Betty Varian
could not be hiding out of doors.
And since she could not have left the premises,
save by the road where the picnic party was congregated,
there was no supposition but that she was
still in the house.
“Can you form any theory, Doctor Varian?”
Landon asked him.
“No, I can’t. Can you?”
“Only the obvious one,—that Miss Varian killed
her father and then hid somewhere.”
“But where? Mind you, I don’t for a moment
admit she killed her father, that’s too ridiculous!
But whoever killed him, may also have killed her.
It is her body I think we are more likely to find.”
“How, then, did the assassin get away?”
“I don’t know. I’m not prepared to say there’s
no way out of this place——”
“But I know that to be the fact. There comes
the sheriff, Doctor Varian. That’s Potter.”
They went into the house again, and found the
sheriff and another man with him.
Merritt made the necessary introductions, and
Doctor Varian looked at Potter.
“The strangest case you’ve ever had,” he informed
him, “and the most important. How do
you propose to handle it?”
“Like I do all the others, by using my head.”
“Yes, I know, but I mean what help do you expect
“Dunno’s I’ll need any yet. Haven’t got the
principal facts. Dead man’s your brother, ain’t he?”
“Shot dead and no weapon around. Criminal
unknown. Now, about this young lady,—the daughter.
Where is she?”
“I don’t know,—but I hope you can find her.”
And then Doctor Varian told, in his straightforward
way, of his search for the girl.
“Mighty curious,” vouchsafed the sheriff, with
an air of one stating a new idea. “The girl and her
father on good terms?”
“Yes, of course,” Varian answered, but his slight
hesitation made the sheriff eye him keenly.
“We want the truth, you know,” he said, thoughtfully.
“If them two wasn’t on good terms, you
might as well say so,—’cause it’ll come out sooner
“But they were,—so far as I know.”
“Oh, well, all right. I can’t think yet, the girl
shot her father. I won’t think that,—lessen I have
to. But, good land, man, you say you’ve looked
all over the house,—where’s the murderer, then?”
“Suicide?” laconically said the man who had come
with the sheriff.
It was the first time he had spoken. He was a
quiet, insignificant chap, but his eyes were keen and
his whole face alert.
“Couldn’t be, Bill,” said the sheriff, “with no
“Might ’a’ been removed,” the other said, in his
“By whom?” asked Doctor Varian.
“By whoever came here first,” Bill returned, looking
“I came here first,” Varian stated. “Do you
mean I removed the weapon?”
“Have to look at all sides, you know.”
“Well, I didn’t. But I won’t take time, now, to
enlarge on that plain statement. I’ll be here, you
can question me, when and as often as you like.
Now, Mr Potter, what are you going to do first?”
“Well, seems to me there’s no more to be done
with Mr Varian’s body. You two doctors have
examined it, you know all about the wound that
killed him. Bill, here, has jotted down all the details
of its position and all that. Now, I think you
can call in the undertakers and have the body taken
away or kept here till the funeral,—whichever you
“The funeral!” exclaimed Doctor Varian, realizing
a further responsibility for his laden shoulders.
“I suppose I’d better arrange about that, for my
sister-in-law will not be able to do so.”
“Jest’s you like,” said Potter. “Next, I’ll investigate
for myself the absence of this girl. A
mysterious disappearance is as serious a matter as
a mysterious death,—maybe, more so.”
“That’s true,” agreed Varian. “I hope you’ll be
able to find my niece, for she must be found.”
“Easy enough to say she must be found,—the
trick is to find her.”
“Have you any theory of the crime, Mr Potter?”
“Theory? No, I don’t deal in theories. I may say
it looks to me like the girl may have shot her
father, but it only looks that way because there’s no
other way, so far, for it to look. You can’t suspect
a criminal that you ain’t had any hint of, can you?
If anybody, now, turns up who’s seen a man prowling
round—or seen any mysterious person, or if any
servant is found who, say, didn’t go to the circus,
but hung behind, or——”
“But if there’s any such, they or he must be in
the house now,” Bill said, quietly. “Let’s go and
The two started from the room and Landon, after
a glance at Doctor Varian, followed them.
“I don’t see,” Landon said to Potter as they went
to the kitchen, “why you folks in authority always
seem to think it necessary to take an antagonistic
attitude toward the people who are representing the
dead man! You act toward Doctor Varian as if you
more than half suspected he had a hand in the crime
“Not that, my boy,” and Potter looked at him
gravely; “but that doctor brother knows more than
“That’s not so! I know. I came up here to the
house with him. I was with him when he found his
“Oh, you were! Why didn’t you say so?”
“You didn’t ask me. No, I don’t know anything
more. I’ve nothing to tell that can throw any
possible light, but I do know that Doctor Varian had
no hand in it and knows no more about it than
“Good land, I don’t mean that he killed his brother,—I
know better than that. But he wasn’t frank
about the relations between the girl and her father.
Do you know that they were all right? Friendly,
“So far as I know, they were. But I never met
them until today. I can only say that they acted
like any normal, usual father and daughter.”
“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. It’ll all come out,—that
sort of thing. Now to find the girl.”
The Yellow Pillow
“What’s this pillow doing here?” the sheriff
asked, as he picked up the yellow satin
cushion. “This looks to me like a parlor
“I thought it was strange, too,” returned Landon.
“But I can’t see any clue in it, can you?”
“Anything unusual may prove a clue,” said Potter,
sententiously. “You never saw this pillow before,
“No; but I’m not familiar with the house at all.
Maybe it’s a discarded one, handed down to the
“Doesn’t look so; it’s fresh and new, and very
“Lay it aside and come on,” growled Bill Dunn,
who was alertly looking about the kitchen. “You
can ask the family about that later. Let’s go down
To the cellar they went, Landon following. He
had a notion that he might help the family’s interests
by keeping at the heels of these detectives.
But the most careful search revealed nothing of
importance to their quest.
Until Potter said, suddenly, “What’s this? A
“It sure is,” and Bill Dunn peered over an old
well curb and looked down.
“A well in a cellar! How queer!” exclaimed
Landon. “I never heard of such a thing.”
“Uncommon, but I’ve known of ’em,” said Bill
“Looks promising, eh?”
Potter considered. “It may mean something,”
he said, thoughtfully. “We’ll have to sound it,
“Sound it, nothin’!” said the executive Bill; “I’ll
“How?” Potter asked him. “There’s no bucket.
It’s probably a dried up well.”
“Prob’ly,” and Bill nodded. He already had one
foot over the broken old well curb.
“Wait, for heaven’s sake!” cried Landon. “Don’t
jump down! You must have a light.”
“Got one,” and Bill drew a small flashlight from
With the agility of a monkey he clambered down
the side of the old well. The stones were large and
not smoothly fitted, so that he had little trouble in
gaining and keeping his foothold.
The others watched him as he descended and at
last reached the bottom.
“Nothing at all,” he called up. “I’m coming
“Just an old dried up well,” he reported, as he
reached them again. “Must ’a’ dried up long ago.
No water in it for years, most likely. But there’s
nothin’ else down there, neither. No body, nor no
clues of any sort. Whatever became of that girl,
she ain’t down that well.”
All parts of the cellar were subjected to the same
Landon was amazed at the quickness and efficiency
shown by these men whom he had thought rather
stupid at first.
Cupboards were poked into to their furthest corners;
bins were raked; boxes opened, and Bill even
climbed up to scan a swinging shelf that hung above
“How about secret passages?” Potter asked,
when they had exhausted all obvious hiding places.
“I been thinkin’ about that,” Bill returned, musingly;
“but, so far, I can’t see where there could be
any. This isn’t the sort of house that has ’em,
either. It’s straightforward architecture,—that’s
what it is,—straightforward.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Landon,
interested in this strange man who looked so ignorant,
yet was in some ways so well informed.
“Well, you see, there’s no unexpected juts or
jambs. Everything’s four-square, mostly. You
can see where the rooms above are,—you can see
where the closets and stairs fit in and all that.
There’s no concealed territory like,—no real chance
for a secret passage,—at least not so far’s I see.”
“That’s right,” agreed Potter. “Bill’s the man
when it comes to architecture and building plans.
Well,—let’s get along upstairs, then.”
Going through the kitchen again, Potter picked up
the yellow pillow and took it along with him. Quite
evidently it belonged to a sofa in the large, square
front hall. The upholstery fabric was the same,
and there was a corresponding pillow already at one
end of the sofa.
“Queer thing,” Potter said; “how’d that fine
cushion get on the kitchen floor?”
“It is queer,” Landon assented, “but I can’t see
any meaning in it, can you?”
“Not yet,” returned Potter. “Now, Doctor
Varian,” and he turned to the physician who sat
with bowed head beside his brother’s body, “I
dessay the undertakers’ll be coming along soon. You
see them and make plans for the funeral; while Bill
and I go on over this house. Then, we’ll have to
see the rest of the people who were around at the
time of the—the tragedy.”
“Not Mrs Frederick Varian,” said Herbert, “you
can’t see her. I forbid that, as her physician.”
“Well, we’ll see your wife first, and then, we’ll
have to see the folks that went back to the village.
And there’s the servants to be questioned.”
But the careful and exhaustive search of the two
inquiry agents failed to disclose any sign of the
missing Betty Varian or any clue to her whereabouts.
They went over the whole house, even into
the bedroom of the newly-made widow,—whose
deep artificial sleep made this possible.
This was the last room they visited, and as they
tiptoed out, Bill said,
“Never saw such a case! No clue anywhere; not
even mysterious circumstances. Everything just as
natural and commonplace as it can be.”
“There’s the yellow pillow,——” suggested Potter.
“I know,—but that may have some simple explanation,—housemaid
took it out to clean it,—or
“Then, Bill, there’s got to be a secret passage;
there’s just got to.”
“Well, there ain’t. Tomorrow, I’ll sound the
walls and all that sort of thing, but I’ve measured
and estimated, and I vow there ain’t no space unaccounted
for in this whole house. But there’s a lot
of questionin’ yet to be done. I’ll say there is!”
By this time some of the servants had heard of
the affair and had returned.
Potter and Bill Dunn went to the kitchen to see
them, and found Kelly the butler and Hannah the
cook in a scared, nervous state.
“Do tell us, sir, all about it,” Kelly begged, his
hard face drawn with sympathy. “The master——”
“It’s true, Kelly, your master is dead. He was
killed, and we are investigating. What can you
tell us? Do you know of anybody who had it in
for Mr Varian?”
“Oh, no, sir! I’m sure he hadn’t an enemy in the
“Oh, no, you can’t be sure of that, my man. But
tell me of the circumstances. When you all went
away, this afternoon, there was no sign of disturbance,—of
“Oh, no, sir. Everything was pleasant and
proper. I had packed the luncheon for the picnic,
Hannah here made the sandwiches, and I filled the
coffee Thermos, and all such things. The baskets
were all ready, and the family expected to start on
the picnic almost as soon as we went off. I offered
to stay behind and help Mrs Varian, but she was
so kind as to say I needn’t do that. So we all went.”
“All at once?”
“You went down the path that leads from the
“There’s no other way. It branches around to
the kitchen entrance, up here, but there’s no other
way off the premises.”
“Not even for a burglar or robber?”
“No, sir. I don’t believe even a monkey could
scramble up the cliff, and I know a man couldn’t.
You see it overhangs, and it’s impossible.”
“But coming from the other direction,—the village?”
“From that way, everybody has to pass through
the lodge gate. The lodge, you know,—that’s the
garage, as well. There’s a gate here——”
“Yes, I know.”
“Well, through that gate is the only way to get
to this house.”
“But all the picnic party were waiting, in full
view of that gate, and in full view of the house.
“You needn’t say somebody got in,—for nobody
could do that.”
“I don’t say it. But I’m looking out for some
such person. If not, we must conclude——”
“That Miss Varian shot her father, and then,—in
some yet undiscovered place, killed herself, or still
alive,—is in hiding.”
“Miss Betty kill her father!” exclaimed Hannah,
the cook, speaking to the sheriff for the first time.
“No, she never did that!”
“Yet there was ill feeling between them,” Potter
“That there was not! A more loving father and
child I never met up with! Bless her pretty face!
To dare accuse darlin’ Miss Betty of such a thing!
I say, now, Mister Man, you better be careful how
you say such lies around here! You know you’ve
nothin’ to go on, but your own black thoughts! You
know you don’t know who killed the master, and
you’re too dumb to find out, and so you pick on that
poor dear angel child, who ain’t here to speak up for
“Where is she, then? Where’s Miss Betty?”
“Where is she? Belike in some hidin’ place,
scared into fits because of seein’ her father shot!
Or maybe, stunned and unconscious herself,—the
deed bein’ done by the same villyun what did for
the master! Oh, sakes! it’s bad enough without
your makin’ it worse callin’ my darlin’ girl a murderer!
Where’s Mrs Varian? What does she say?”
“She’s asleep. The doctor had to quiet her, she
was in raving hysterics.”
“Ay, she would be. Poor lady. She’ll be no help
in this awful thing. And, sir, another thing: The
waitress and the chambermaid, they’re sisters, Agnes
and Lena, they say they’re not coming back here.
Nothing would induce them to step foot in this
house again, they say. They bid me send ’em their
“Nonsense, they’ll have to come back.” This
from Bill. “Tell me where they are. I’ll bring
“No, they won’t come. They’re going down to
“They mustn’t be allowed to do that!”
“They’ve gone by now,” and Hannah looked unconcerned.
“But never you mind, they know nothin’
of this matter. They’re two young scared girls, and
they’d be no good to you nor anyone else. They
know nothin’ to tell, and they’d have worse hysterics
than Mrs Varian if you tried to bring ’em back to
“You won’t desert Mrs Varian, will you, Hannah?”
“Well, I’ll be leavin’ in the mornin’,” and the
cook shrugged her shoulders. “I couldn’t be expected
to stay in such a moil.”
“No; of course you couldn’t!” exclaimed Potter,
angrily. “You don’t care that poor Mrs Varian is
in deep trouble and sorrow! You don’t care that
there’ll be nobody to cook for her and her brother’s
family! You’ve no sense of common humanity,—no
sympathy for grief, no heart in your stupid old
“I might stay on for a time, sir,—if—if they
made it worth my while.”
“Oh, greed might keep you here! Kelly, what
about you? Are you going to desert this stricken
“I’ll—I’ll stay for a time, sir,” the butler said,
quite evidently ill at ease. “Now, you mustn’t blame
us, Mr Potter for——”
“I do blame you! I know how you feel about a
house where there’s a mystery, but also, you ought
to be glad to do whatever you can to help. And
nothing could help poor Mrs Varian so much as to
have some of her servants faithful to her. Also,
I’m pretty sure I may promise you extra pay,—as
I know that will hold you, when nothing else will.”
“And now,” Bill Dunn put in, “you’d better fix up
a meal for those who want it. They had no picnic
supper, you see, and there are the guests to be considered
as well as your Mrs Varian.”
“Speakin’ one word for them and two for yourself,
I’m thinkin’,” Hannah sniffed, as she began
to tie on her apron. “Well, Mr Potter, you’ll be
welcome to a good meal, I’m sure.”
“One moment, Hannah,” said Bill, “when you left
here today, was there a sofa pillow out here in the
“A sofy pillow? There was not. Why should
such a thing be?”
“A yellow satin one,—embroidered.”
“Off the hall sofy? No, sir, it never was in my
kitchen at all.”
“What do you know about it?” Dunn turned to
the butler. “When did you last see the sofa pillows
on the hall sofa?”
“I saw them this morning, sir,—yes, and I saw
them this afternoon,—when I set the picnic baskets
out. I didn’t——”
“How did you happen to notice the pillows,
Kelly?” Bill watched him closely.
“Why, I didn’t exactly notice them,—but,—well,
if they hadn’t been in place I should have noticed it.”
“That’s right,” Dunn gave a satisfied nod. The
pillow episode seemed important to him, though he
could get no meaning to it as yet. “Now Kelly, tell
me the truth. When you’ve been around, in the
dining room, or the living rooms, haven’t you heard
conversations between Miss Varian and her father
that showed some friction between the two?”
“Oh, now, sir, Miss Betty’s a saucy piece——”
“I don’t mean gay chaff,—I mean real, downright
quarreling. Did you ever hear any of that? Tell
me the truth, Kelly, you’ll serve no good purpose by
trying to shield either of them.”
“Well, then, yes, sir, I did,—and often. But not
to say exactly quarreling,—more like argufying——”
“Why do you say that, Kelly? They do quarrel,—all
the time they quarrel,—and you know it.”
This astonishing speech was from the lips of
Minna Varian, who suddenly appeared in the kitchen
She was smiling a little, she looked tired and wan,
but she was in no way excited or hysterical. She
wore a trailing blue wrapper, and her hair was
falling from its combs and hairpins.
“Mrs Varian!” exclaimed Potter, springing to her
side. “Why are you here?”
“I heard voices and I wondered who was down
here. Where are my people? Who are you two
“There, there,” said Hannah, advancing and
putting an arm round her mistress, “let me take you
back to your room. Come now.”
“Just a minute,” and Potter looked keenly at the
lady. “Say that again, Mrs Varian. Your daughter
quarrels with her father often?”
“All the time,” Minna Varian laughed. “I have
to make peace between them morning, noon and
night. Oh, why do they do it? Fred is so dear and
sweet to me,—then he will scold Betty for the least
trifle! And Betty never differs from me in her
opinions, but she is antagonistic to her father, always.
Can you explain it?”
Mrs Varian’s large gray eyes stared at Potter,
and then turned to Bill Dunn. It was clear to be
seen that she was still partly under the influence of
the opiate effects, and that her memory of the recent
tragedy was utterly obliterated.
“Take her to her room,” Potter said quickly, to
Hannah. “If she comes to down here there’ll be a
fearful scene. How did she get away?”
“There was nobody in my room,” Minna said,
overhearing. “Who should be there? I’m not ill.
I woke up from a nap, and I heard talking,—my
room is right above this, so I came down. Where’s
Miss Betty, Hannah? Kelly, what are you doing?”
“I’m about to get supper, madam,” Kelly’s
glance rested kindly on the pathetic figure.
Minna Varian looked small and frail, and her
white face and vacant, staring eyes seemed to add
to the mystery of the whole affair.
“Come, now, Mrs Varian, come along of Hannah.”
“Minna, where are you?” Janet’s frightened voice
broke in upon them. “Merciful powers, however
did she get down here? Help me get her back,
Hannah. No, wait, I’ll call Doctor Varian.”
But Herbert Varian was already entering the
kitchen, and between them, Minna was safely convoyed
back to her room.
“Well, we’re getting at the truth,” said Potter,
with an air of satisfaction as he glanced at Dunn.
“Lord knows I’m sorry for that poor woman, but
they say children and fools speak the truth, and so,
though she isn’t herself, mentally, she told the truth
about Miss Varian and her father being enemies.”
“Oh, she didn’t,” Hannah moaned, wiping her
eyes on her apron. “I tell you it wasn’t as bad as
Mrs Varian makes out.”
“Yes, it was,” said Kelly, slowly. “You’ve no
way of knowing, Hannah, you’re always in the
kitchen. But I’m about the house all the time, and
I hear lots of talk. And it’s just as Mrs Varian
said: Miss Betty and her father never agree. They
scrap at the least hint of a chance; and though sometimes
they’re terribly affectionate and loving, yet at
other times, they quarrel like everything.”
“That’s enough, Kelly; now keep quiet about this.
Even if Miss Varian and her father were not always
friendly, it may not mean anything serious and it
may make trouble for the young lady if such reports
“You expect to find Miss Betty, then?”
“Find her? Of course. You say yourself there’s
only one way out of these premises. We know she
didn’t go out that way, so, she must be here. There
must be places we haven’t yet discovered, where she
is hiding,—or—or has been concealed.”
“It’s a fearful situation!” broke out Dunn. “That
girl may be gagged and bound—in some secret
“You say there are none, Bill.”
“I do say I don’t see how there can be any, but,
good lord, Potter, the girl must be somewhere,—dead
An attractive supper, largely consisting of the
delicacies intended for the picnic, and supplemented
by some hot viands, was soon in readiness.
Hannah was deputed to sit beside Mrs Varian,
now sleeping again, and the others, including the
detectives, gathered round the table.
“I’d like the sum of your findings, so far,” Doctor
Varian said, raising weary eyes to Potter’s face.
“Pretty slim, Doctor,” the sheriff responded.
“But, I want to say, right now, that I’ve got to do
my duty as I see it. Much as I’d like to spare the
feelings of you people and all that, I’ve got to forge
ahead and discover anything I may.”
“Of course you have, Mr Potter. Don’t think
I’d put a straw in the way of truth or justice. But,
granting that you may speak with all plainness,
where do you come out?”
“Only to the inevitable conclusion that Miss
Varian killed her father and then killed herself, and
her body will yet be found.”
“Now, Potter,” Dunn said, slowly, “don’t go too
fast. That is one theory, to be sure, but it’s only a
theory. You’ve nothing to back it up,—there’s no
“There’s negative evidence, Bill. Nobody else
could get up here to do that shooting, or, if he did,
he couldn’t get away again. Say, for a minute, that
some intruder might have been concealed in the
house, say he shot Mr Varian, how’d he get out of
here without being seen, and how did he do for the
“That’s all so,” Bill said, doggedly, “but it ain’t
enough to prove,—or, even to indicate that Miss
Varian did the shooting. Where’d she get a pistol?”
“Pshaw, that’s a foolish question! If she had
nerve and ingenuity enough to shoot, she had enough
to provide the gun.”
“Betty never did such things,” said Janet Varian
with spirit. “That girl did sometimes have words
with her father,—that’s a mere nothing,—my own
daughter does that,—but Betty Varian is a loving,
affectionate daughter, and she no more killed her
father than I did!”
“Small use in asserting things you can’t prove,”
said Potter, devoting himself to his supper. “Next
thing for me to do’s to see those other people,—the
ones that were here this afternoon.”
“All right,” said Doctor Varian, “but what do
you hope to learn from them? They don’t know as
much as we do. I was first on the spot, young
Landon, who’s gone home, was here with me, and
those others stayed down on the path waiting for us.
See them, by all means, but I doubt their helpfulness.
Now, aside from that, and granting you get
no new evidence, what’s to be done?”
“I think,” Potter said thoughtfully, “you’d better
offer a reward for any news of Miss Varian. It’s
not likely to bring results,—but it ought to be done,
The Varian Pearls
When Bill Dunn went up on the porch of
Mrs Blackwood’s bungalow that evening,
he found a group of neighbors there, and
was not at all surprised that they were discussing
the dreadful affair of Headland House.
Claire Blackwood greeted the caller courteously
and asked him to go inside the house with her.
“Let us all go,” said Rodney Granniss. “I want
to learn all about this case, and we’re entitled to
“Come on, everybody,” Dunn invited, “I want to
ask a lot of questions and who knows where I may
get the best and most unexpected answers.”
Granniss and Lawrence North, with Ted Landon
and John Clark, who had been up on the Headland
in the afternoon, were the men, and Mrs Blackwood
and her young guest, Eleanor Varian were the only
Yet Dunn seemed well satisfied as he looked over
“Fine,” he said, “all the witnesses I wanted, and
all here together.”
“We didn’t witness anything,” offered John Clark,
who was apparently by no means desirous of taking
part in the colloquy. “And, as I’ve an engagement,
can’t you question me first, and let me go?”
“Sure I can,” returned Dunn, whose easy manners
were not at all curbed by the more formal attitude
of those about him. “Just tell the story in your own
Clark resented the familiar speech, but said nothing
to that effect.
“There’s little to tell,” he began; “I’d never been
up to Headland House before, and of course I’d
never before met the Varians,—any of them. I went
on Mrs Blackwood’s invitation, and after meeting
the family and their guests on the veranda, we all
started for a picnic. We had reached a point half
way down the steep path from the house, when Miss
Betty Varian said she had forgotten her camera.
She returned to the house for it, and we waited.
She was gone so long, that we wondered,—and then,
her father went to hurry her up. He, too, was
gone a long time, and then, Doctor Varian and Ted
Landon went after him. That’s my story. Landon
can tell you the rest.”
“I know the rest,” said Dunn, shortly; “I don’t
see, Mr Clark, that you need remain. Your evidence
is merely that of all the party who stayed behind
while the others went up to the house.”
“Yes,” said Clark, with a sigh of relief, and
making his adieux, he went away.
“Have you formed any theory of the crime, Mr
Dunn?” asked Lawrence North, who was consumed
with impatient curiosity, during the already known
testimony of Clark.
“Not a definite one,” Dunn replied, seeming by
his manner to invite advice or discussion. “It is too
mysterious to theorize about.”
“By Jove, it is!” North agreed; “I never heard
of a case so absolutely strange. I’d like to get into
that house and see for myself.”
“See what for yourself Mr North?”
“Whether there’s any secret passage—but, of
course you’ve looked for that?”
“Yes; thoroughly. I’m of an architectural
“So is Mr North,” said Mrs Blackwood. “He
designed this bungalow we’re in now.”
“Are you an architect, Mr North?”
“Not by profession, but I’m fond of it. And I
flatter myself I could discover a secret passage if
“I flatter myself I could, too,” said Dunn, but not
boastfully. “Yet, I may have overlooked it. I’d be
obliged, Mr North, if you’d come up to the house,
and give it the once over. You might spot what I
failed to see.”
“But I don’t know the people at all——”
“No matter; I ask you as a matter of assistance.
Come up there tomorrow, will you?”
North promised to do so, and Dunn turned to
“Sorry to trouble you, Miss Varian, but I have to
ask you some very definite questions. First, do you
know your relatives up there pretty well?”
“Why, yes,” said Eleanor, with a surprised look.
“They live in New York and we live in Boston, but
we visit each other now and then and we often spend
our summers at the same place. Of course, I know
“Then, tell me exactly the relations between Miss
Varian and her father. Don’t quibble or gloss over
the facts,—if they were not entirely in accord it
will be found out, and you may as well tell the
Eleanor Varian looked thoughtful.
“I will tell the truth,” she said, “because I can
see it’s better to do so. Betty and her mother are
much more in sympathy with one another than
Betty and her father. I don’t know what makes
the difference, but Aunt Minna always seems to
want everything the way Betty wants it, while
Uncle Fred always wants just the opposite.”
“Yet Miss Betty was fond of her father?”
“Oh, yes; they were devoted, really,—I think.
Only, their natures were different.”
“Was there any special subject on which they
“There has been of late,” Eleanor admitted,
though with evident reluctance. “Of course Betty
is a great belle. Of course, she has and has had
many admirers. Now, Uncle Fred seems always to
be willing for Betty to have beaux and young man
friends, but as soon as they become serious in their
attentions, and want to marry Betty, then Uncle
Fred shoos them off.”
It was, as yet, impossible for Eleanor to speak of
her uncle in the past tense. The girl had not at all
realized this sudden death, and couldn’t help thinking
and speaking of him as still alive. Nor could
she realize Betty’s disappearance. She was somewhat
in a daze, and also over-excited by the awfulness
of the situation. She talked rapidly, yet coherently,
and Dunn secretly rejoiced at her agitation,
knowing he would learn more than if she had
been cool and collected.
“But that’s not at all an unusual thing,” put in
North, who felt sorry for Eleanor and wanted to
relieve her all he could from the grilling fire of
Dunn’s questions. “I find that the majority of
fathers resent the advances of their daughters’
suitors. Now, mothers are different,—they encourage
a match that seems to them desirable. But a
father can’t realize his little girl is growing up.”
“Well, Lawrence,” exclaimed Claire Blackwood,
“for a bachelor, you seem to know a lot about family
“I’ve lots of friends, and I can’t help noticing
these things. Isn’t it true, Miss Varian?”
“Yes,” Eleanor said, “to a degree, it is. I mean,
in some instances. Any way, it’s quite true of
Uncle Fred and Betty. Aunt Minna would be delighted
to have Betty engaged to some nice young
man, but Uncle Fred flies in a fury at mere mention
of such a thing.”
“I can swear to that,” said Rodney Granniss.
“I’ve known the Varians for two years, and it’s
quite true. Mrs Varian smiled on the attachment
between Betty and myself, but Mr Varian most
certainly did not!”
“What!” exclaimed Dunn, “you one of Miss
Betty Varian’s suitors?”
“Even so,” said Granniss, calmly. “I knew them
in New York. I came up here to be near Betty.
And now, Mr Dunn, I want to say that I’m going
to do all I can to solve the mystery of Mr Varian’s
death, but even more especially am I going to try
to find Betty herself. I haven’t been up to Headland
House yet, for it—well, it seems awful to go
there now that Mr Varian can’t put me out!”
“Look here, young man,” Dunn gazed at him
curiously, “it doesn’t seem to occur to you that you
yourself may be said to have an interest in Mr
“Meaning that I shot him!” Grannis looked
amused. “Well,—if you can tell me how I accomplished
“But, my dear sir, somebody accomplished it——”
“And it might as well be me! The only trouble
with your theory Mr Dunn is, that I didn’t do it.
Investigate all you like, you can’t pin the crime,
“And, I suppose you didn’t abduct Miss Betty
“I did not!” Granniss looked solemn. “I only
wish I had. But I’m going to find her, and I want
to start out by being friendly with you, Mr Dunn,—not
“Easy enough to check up your alibi, Mr Granniss,”
Dunn said; “no, don’t tell me where you were
at the time,—I’ll find out for myself.”
“I’ll tell you,” said North, casually. “Mr Granniss
was out in his motor boat all the afternoon. I
know, because I was out in mine, and I saw him
frequently. We were both fishing.”
“That’s right,” said Granniss, carelessly, as if his
alibi were of small moment to him, as indeed it was.
“Now, Mr Dunn, you must have some theory,—or
if not a theory, some possible explanation of what
occurred. Do give it to us.”
“Yes, do,” said North. “I’m fond of detective
stories, but I never read one that started out so
mysteriously as this.”
“I haven’t any theory,” Dunn looked at each in
turn, his eyes roving round the room as he talked,
“I can’t say as I can even dope out how it could have
happened. But here’s what I work on,—motive.
That’s the thing to seek first,—motive. We know
Mr Varian is dead, we know Miss Varian is missing.
That’s all we really know. Now, you can’t deduce
anything from those facts alone. So, I say, hunt
for a motive. It isn’t likely that Mr Varian had
any enemies up here. And if he had, they never’d
chosen such an opportunity to shoot him,—for, just
think how sudden, how unexpected that opportunity
was! Who could have foreseen that Miss Varian
would go back to the house for her camera? Who
could have foreseen that her father would go back
after her? If those goings back were unpremeditated,
then no enemy could have been there ready to
utilize his chance. If, on the other hand, those
goings back were premeditated, then they were arranged
by either Miss Betty or her father——”
“Impossible!” cried North. “Mr Varian couldn’t
foresee that his daughter would forget her camera,
and Miss Betty couldn’t foresee that it would be her
father who would come back for her!”
“I know it seems that way,” Dunn looked deeply
perplexed, “but I can’t get away from the idea of
there being some premeditation about the two goings
back to that empty house that resulted in a double
“Suppose a burglar——” began Claire Blackwood;
“suppose he had been concealed in the house
before we left to go to the picnic. Suppose when
Betty came back unexpectedly, he attacked her, and
then, when Mr Varian came——”
“But what became of the burglar,—and of Miss
Betty?” asked Dunn. “I’ve mulled over the burglar
proposition, I’ve imagined him to be one of the
servants, but it all comes back to the fact that such
an intruder just simply couldn’t get away, and
couldn’t get Betty away, dead or alive.”
“That’s perfectly true,” Claire agreed. “There’s
no way to dispose of an imaginary intruder. But
neither is there any way to dispose of Betty. Nothing
in this world will make me believe that girl
shot her father, but just assuming, for a moment,
that she did,—what happened next?”
Claire demanded this with the air of an accusing
“Why, that’s the only possible theory,” said Dunn.
“Say the young lady did shoot her father, then she
went some place,—where, we haven’t yet discovered,—and
shot herself,—or, is there, alive yet.”
“If that’s the case, I’ll find her!” Rodney Granniss
burst forth, his strong young face alight with
zeal; “I’m going up there at once. Mr Varian
didn’t like me, but Mrs Varian does, and maybe I
can help her.”
“She can’t see you,” Dunn told him. “She’s
under the influence of opiates all the time. Doctor
Varian keeps her that way.”
“She’ll have to come to her senses some time,”
said Rod. “I’m going up there any way.”
“I’m going with you,” declared Eleanor Varian.
“I don’t want to stay here,—forgive me, Mrs
Blackwood, you’re kindness itself,—but I want to be
where father and mother are. I want to help find
Betty, too. I know a lot of places to look——”
“You do!” exclaimed Dunn. “Where are they,
But all that Eleanor mentioned, Dunn had already
searched, and his hopes of the girl’s assistance fell.
Still, she might be familiar with Betty’s ways, and
might be of some slight use.
“Well, Miss Varian, you must do as you think
best,” he said; “but I advise you to bide here till
the morning, anyway.”
“Yes, do, dear,” urged Claire, and Eleanor, remembering
the unavoidable climb up the steep rocks,
“Tell me one thing, Miss Varian,” said Dunn,
suddenly; “were you in the kitchen of the Varian
house this afternoon at all?”
“Yes, I was; I went out there with Betty to get
some cakes and things. Why?”
“When you were there, did you notice a yellow
sofa pillow out there?”
“In the kitchen? No, I did not!”
“You know the two yellow cushions that belong
on the hall sofa?”
“Yes,—I think I know the ones you mean. What
“We found one of them in the middle of the
kitchen floor. Do you think anybody could have
put it there purposely?”
“I can’t imagine why any one should!”
“What do you deduce from that?” Lawrence
North asked, interestedly, and Claire said:
“Why, that’s what you call a clue, isn’t it? What
does it show?”
“It doesn’t show a thing to me,” declared Dunn;
“leastways, nothing sensible. Look here, folks,—either
there was somebody else in that house at that
time besides Betty and her father,—or else there
wasn’t. Now if there was, he surely wouldn’t be
moving sofa pillows about. And if there wasn’t,
then one of those two people moved it. Now, why?
I can’t think of any reason, sensible or not, that
would make anybody lug a fine handsome sofa
cushion out to the kitchen.”
“Was it valuable enough to be worth stealing?”
“No; a good looking affair, but nothing to tempt
“Looks like the servants’ work, I think,” suggested
Claire. “Suppose one of them had stayed behind,
and not with any criminal intent, either; and
suppose, merely to be luxurious, she had taken a
fine pillow out to her kitchen quarters.”
“But even so, and even if she were caught by the
returning Betty she couldn’t have shot Mr Varian
and concealed both herself and Betty——”
“You run up against a stone fence whatever you
surmise,” exclaimed Landon. He had been a quiet
listener, but had done some deep thinking. “There’s
only one plausible solution,—and that’s a secret
“Look here, Mr Landon,” Dunn said, sharply,
“that speech gets on my nerves. Anybody who
thinks there’s a secret passage in that house up
there on the cliff is welcome to go up there and find
it. But I’m no fool and sheriff Potter isn’t either;
nor is Doctor Herbert Varian. And none of us can
find a secret passage, and what’s more, we’re positive
there isn’t any. So, either show where there
could be one,—or let up on that solution.”
“Good lord, Dunn, don’t get so wrathy!” Landon
said, good-humoredly. “And I will go and look for
one,—since you invite me. Go with me, North?”
“Yes,” was the willing reply, and Rodney
“Well you fellows won’t want to make that search
till tomorrow. But I’m going up to the house now.
You’ll stay here, won’t you, Miss Varian?”
Reluctantly, Eleanor agreed to stay, and Granniss
went off alone.
Rodney Granniss was a determined man, and
when he made his mind to hunt for Betty Varian
he also made up his mind to find her. To his mind
the very fact that the whole case was so inexplicable
made it likely to develop some sudden clue or key
that would unlock the situation.
He still felt averse to visiting a house where his
presence had been forbidden by one who was now
unable to resent his coming, but this was offset by
his desire to help Mrs Varian and to help in finding
He pondered over the idea of a secret passage
in the house, but it was of small comfort to him.
If those other indefatigable workers had not been
able to find it, he had no reason to think he could
do so. And, besides, it was anything but an attractive
picture to imagine Betty, either hidden voluntarily or
concealed against her will in some such place.
He trudged along up the rocky steps and presented
himself at the door of Headland House.
Sheriff Potter admitted him, and listened to his
Then he took him to the library and introduced
him to Doctor Varian and his wife.
“I am glad to see you,” cried Janet. “Tell me
“She’s all right,” returned Granniss, cheerfully.
“She rather wanted to come up here with me, but they
persuaded her to stay over night with Mrs
“Better so,” said Doctor Varian. “Did Dunn
learn anything from anybody that you know of?”
“No,” said Rodney, “and I fear there’s little to
learn from anybody.”
“Meaning that whatever there is to be learned
must be found out here in this house,—not from any
of those onlookers.”
“Sensible talk,” said Doctor Varian, “but how
shall we set about it?”
“I don’t know. I’m not possessed of what is
called detective instinct, nor am I especially clever
at solving puzzles. But I have determination, and
I’m going to devote my whole time and energy to
finding Betty Varian!”
“Well said, young man,” put in Potter, who was
listening, “but untrained sleuthing is not often productive
of great results.”
“I don’t mean sleuthing, exactly,” and Granniss
looked at him squarely, “I am untrained. But I’m
willing to be advised, I’m willing to be dictated to;
I only ask to help.”
“You’re a brick!” said Janet; “I shouldn’t be
surprised if you succeed better than the detectives.”
“If so, it will be because of my more personal
interest in the case. I ought to tell you, Mrs Varian,
that Betty and I are practically engaged. It depended,
of course, on her father’s consent——”
“And that he refused to give?” asked Potter.
“Yes, he did. Which immediately ticketed me
as his murderer in the eyes of Mr Dunn. But I’m
not a criminal, and I didn’t shoot Mr Varian. I
shan’t insist on this point, because you can prove
my words true for yourself. Now, I’d like a talk
with Mrs Varian,—Betty’s mother,—when such a
thing is possible—and convenient.”
“I’m not sure but it would be a good thing,” said
Doctor Varian, thoughtfully; “when she wakes,
Mr Granniss, she will either be hysterical still, and
in need of further opiate treatment, or,—and which
I think more likely,—she will be calm, composed
and alert minded. In the latter case, she might be
glad to talk to the man who cares so much for her
“I hope so; and, in the mean time, what can we
do in the matter of finding Betty?”
“There’s nothing to be done in that line that
hasn’t been done,” said the sheriff, despairingly.
“All evening Doctor and Mrs Varian as well as
the butler and cook have been going over the house
and the grounds, calling, and hunting for the girl,
with no success of any sort.”
“Had she a dog?”
“No, there is none about. Now, just before you
came, we were thinking of looking over some of
Mr Frederick Varian’s papers——”
“And there’s no reason to change our plans,” said
Doctor Varian; “Mr Granniss’ presence will not
So Rodney sat by, awaiting the possible awakening
of Mrs Varian, and trying hard to think of some
new way to look for Betty.
With keys obtained from the pockets of the dead
man, his brother opened the drawers of the desk.
“It must be done,” he said, as his hand slightly
hesitated, “and, too, we may come across some clue
to his death.”
Among the first of the important papers found
was Frederick Varian’s will. The contents of this
were a surprise to no one present, for the entire
estate was left to the wife, with instructions that
she make due and proper provisions for the daughter.
But a final clause caused Herbert Varian to stare
incredulously at the paper.
“What is it, dear?” Janet asked, seeing his astonishment.
“Why,—why, Janet! the Varian pearls are left
“To Eleanor? No!”
“But they are! See, it’s plain as day!”
There was no doubt as to his statement. The
final clause of Frederick Varian’s last will and
testament, bequeathed the string of pearls, known
as ‘the Varian pearls,’ to his niece, Eleanor, the
daughter of his brother Herbert.
“Just what is so startling in that?” asked Potter,
curiously, and Doctor Varian replied:
“The Varian pearls are an heirloom, and are valued
at two hundred thousand dollars. It is the custom
for the oldest of the family to inherit them, and he
is expected to bequeath them to his oldest child.
Why did my brother leave them to my daughter
instead of to Betty?”
“Herbert, it’s dreadful! Eleanor shall not take
them!” Janet cried.
“That makes no difference, ma’am,” Potter said;
“it’s the fact that Mr Varian left them away from
his own child, that proves the attitude of the father
to the daughter!”
It was not until after the funeral of her husband
that Minna Varian really came to herself. The
three intervening days, she had been free from
hysterics but had been in a state of physical exhaustion
and incapable of any exertion.
But on the day after the funeral, she seemed to
take on a new vitality.
“I have come to life,” she said, speaking very
seriously. “I have at last realized what has happened
to me. I was dazed at first, and couldn’t
seem to get my senses. Now, we will have no more
hysterics, no more emotional scenes, but we go
to work to find my child,—to save what I can from
my wrecked life. It is a wonder that I didn’t lose
my mind utterly. Think of it, Herbert, to lose
my husband by death and my child by a mystery far
worse than death——”
Minna showed signs of breaking down again, but
forced herself to control her voice.
“I have made up my mind,” she went on, “to go
about the search for Betty systematically and immediately.
The detectives can do nothing,—they
have proved that. The sheriff and that Mr Dunn
are at the end of their rope. I don’t blame them,—it
is a baffling case. And I know they think Betty’s
dead body is hidden somewhere on the premises.
Though how they can think that, I don’t see, after
the search that has been made.”
“They think it,” Janet said, “because there’s no
other possible conclusion. You know, yourself,
Minna, if Betty were alive we would know of it
by this time.”
“Never mind theories or conclusions,” Minna
said, determinedly, “action is what I want. I know
my Betty never killed her father! I know that as
well as I know that I’m alive. And Betty may be
dead or alive,—but I’m going to find her in any
case. Now, first of all, I suppose you people want
to get away from here. Herbert, your practice is
calling you, of course. I’m not going to keep you.
But I’m going to stay here, on these premises, where
my child disappeared, until I get some knowledge
of what happened to her.”
“But, Minna,” Varian objected, “you can’t stay
“Then I’ll get some one to stay with me. I can
get a companion or a nurse or a secretary,—you
see, Herbert, there’s a lot of business to be attended
to in connection with Fred’s papers and
affairs. He left me very well off, but the financial
settling up will call for the trained work of a good
lawyer or accountant.”
“Young Granniss spoke to me about that,” Doctor
Varian said; “he’s a bright young lawyer, you
know, and he thought perhaps you’d employ him, and
then he thought he’d help you in the search for
“I’d like that. Rod’s a nice chap, and truly,
Fred had nothing against him, except that he wanted
to take Betty away from us. It would be no slighting
of Fred’s wishes if I should have to do with
Mr Granniss,—and nobody could be better help to
me in my search.”
“I can’t see, Minna,” said Janet, “what you hope
from that search. Every nook and cranny of this
whole place has been thoroughly examined, and as
nothing has been found——”
“That’s just it, Janet,” Minna spoke patiently,
“because nothing has been found is the very reason
I must search more and further. I shall, first of all,
offer a large reward. The size of the reward may
bring information when no other means would.”
“Make the offer as large as you like, Minna,”
Varian said, but not unkindly, “for you’ll never be
called upon to pay it. Why, child, there’s no hope.
I don’t want to be brutal, but really, Minna, dear,
you oughtn’t to buoy yourself up with these false
hopes, that never can be realized.”
“Look here, Herbert, what do you think happened
to my child? Who do you think killed
“Since you ask me, Minna, I must say, in all
honesty, that I can’t see any possible theory or
any imaginable explanation except that Betty shot
her father, and then shot herself.”
“Where is she, then?”
“Hidden in some secret cupboard in this house,
that she knew of, but that we haven’t yet found.”
“I can see, Herbert,” Minna spoke slowly, “how
you can believe that, because, as you say, you can’t
think of any other case. But I know,—I know
Betty never shot her father. I know that,—and I
shall yet prove it.”
“But, Minna, there must have been more enmity
between Fred and Betty than you know of, to make
him leave the Varian pearls to Eleanor.”
“That is incredible,” Minna mused. “I can’t understand
that and I shouldn’t believe it, if it were
not right there in Fred’s own handwriting. I
haven’t seen the pearls for some years. I’ve been
too much of an invalid to wear them often, and
they’ve stayed in the safe deposit for the last five
or six years. But I meant Betty should wear them
next winter. Of course, I was sure Fred would
leave them to her in his will. I can’t understand it!
It isn’t so much the loss of the value that affects
me, as the appalling fact that he wanted to leave
them away from Betty. As you say, there must
have been something between those two,—something
desperate that I don’t know about.”
“But what could there be?” Janet said, a blank
wonder on her face.
“That’s the very point,” said Minna. “I know
there has never been any special or particular ground
for disagreement between those two except as to
the matter of Betty’s getting married,—or engaged.
Fred never would consent to that. But of course he
would have done so, later. He didn’t approve of
very early marriages,—but more, I think, he
dreaded the idea of Betty’s going away from us.”
“Yet that only proves a special and even selfish
fatherly love,” Varian said, “and in that case, why
take the pearls away from her?”
“I can’t understand it,” said Minna again; “it is
too amazing! He adored Betty, and what ever
possessed him to give the pearls to Eleanor,—he
liked Eleanor, as we all do, but he never seemed
especially attached to her. Not to put her ahead of
“Of course she shall never take the pearls,” said
Janet, decidedly. “I think Fred was temporarily
out of his mind when he made that will, or he was
temporarily angry at Betty. When is it dated?”
“That’s the strange part,” said Minna. “He made
that will ten years ago.”
“When Betty was only about ten years old! He
couldn’t have been angry at the child then!”
“I think that is the only explanation,” Doctor
Varian said. “I can’t think of any other explanation
except that Fred was foolishly angry at the
child, and in a fit of silly temper made the will
giving the pearls to Eleanor, and then forgot all
“Forgot the Varian pearls!” cried Janet; “not
likely. But I never shall let Eleanor accept them.”
“Don’t say that, my dear,” remonstrated her
husband. “If Betty never is found, of course it’s
right Eleanor should have the pearls. I am the
next Varian to Fred, and my daughter is the rightful
“That’s true,” said Minna. “But let that matter
rest for the present. If Betty is never found,
Eleanor ought to have the pearls. If Betty is found,
I shall be so happy, I don’t care what becomes of
“You’re right, Minna,” Doctor Varian said, “in
thinking I ought to get back to the city. But Janet
or Nell or both will stay here with you as long as
you need or want them.”
“Only till I can get somebody else. I’ve about
concluded to take Rodney Granniss as secretary
and have him settle up Fred’s estate. With the co-operation
of Fred’s own lawyers. Then, I’ll have
a sort of nurse companion who can look after me,
and then, I shall devote my life and, if need be, all
my money to solving my mysteries. I shall get the
best detectives in the country. I shall follow out
also some ideas of my own, and if success is possible,
I shall attain it.”
Minna sat upright, her eyes shining with a clear,
steady determined light. She seemed another
being from the one who had screamed in hysterics
at first knowledge of her sorrows.
“I’ve found myself,” she said, in explanation.
“I’ve risen above my dead self of grief and sorrow.
Why, my desolation is so great, so unspeakable,
that I must do something or go mad! I’m not
going mad,—I have too much to do. Now, Janet,
if you and Eleanor,—or one of you, will stay a
day or two longer, I’ll get a nurse up from the
city, and as soon as she arrives you can go. I know
you’ll be glad to get away from this place of horrors——”
“Not that, Minna, dear, but we have several engagements——”
“Yes, of course, I know. Well, plan for two
days more,—I’ll be settled by that time.”
And she was. Inside of forty-eight hours, the
now energetic woman had Rodney Granniss installed
as her secretary and man of business, and had
secured the services of a capable and kindly woman
as nurse and companion. Her new household made
up, she let her relatives go back to their own summer
home, and devoted herself to her life work.
“Of course,” she said to Granniss, “we must go
ahead on the supposition that Betty is alive.”
“And she is, Mrs Varian,” the young man said,
earnestly. “For, North and I have been all over
this place, and North is a sort of an architect, you
know, and I’m sort of a detective, and we can’t find
any place where any one could be concealed. Now,
it doesn’t do any good, as some do, to say there
must be a secret passage, or secret cupboard. If
there were, we must have found it. And it’s too
ridiculous, even to think for a minute that Betty
killed her father! I know Betty, even better, perhaps
than you or her father ever knew her. We
have been sweethearts for nearly a year, and I
tried many a time to persuade Betty to defy her
father, and announce her engagement to me. She
would have done so soon, I’m sure, but it was her
love and respect for him that made her hold off so
long. As to their little squabbles, they meant nothing
at all. To imagine that girl shooting anybody
is too absurd! I could rather imagine——”
Granniss paused, and Minna took up his thought.
“You could rather imagine her father shooting
her! I’ve thought that over, but you see, it’s impossible,
because there was no weapon found.”
“It’s the strangest case I ever heard of! Now,
about the reward. It’s time that was attended to.”
“Yes; and I think we’ll make it as high as ten
“For Betty’s return?”
“Yes, that is, for any information that may lead
to knowledge of what happened to Betty and where
she is now.”
“Nothing about apprehending the criminal?”
“You know, Mr Granniss, they make fun of me
for imagining this ‘criminal.’ How could there be
one? How did he get in the house? How did he
disappear again? You say yourself there’s no
secret passage,—we know nobody came in through
the regular way,—how, then, even suggest a ‘criminal’?”
“Yes, but why offer a reward, if there’s no one
who could by any chance appear to claim it?”
“That’s the point Doctor Varian makes. He
says it doesn’t matter how large we make the offer,
for it never will be claimed.”
“Then we’ll just assume that criminal, and go
ahead with the reward plan,” said Granniss, cheerfully.
“I’ll attend to it, and we won’t speculate on
its result at present. It surely can’t do any harm.
But, Mrs Varian, we must do more than that.”
“What, for instance?”
“Detectives. I think you should get the best one
you can and get him up here at once.”
“Please do that, Mr Granniss. What do you do?
Apply to a city agency?”
“Yes; or get a private detective. I know of one,—the
best there is in the country, but we might not
be able to get him.”
“Try, anyway. Offer any price,—any bonus.
Only get him.”
“Very well,—I’ll try. I have to go down to New
York soon, for there are many important matters
to see to with Mr Varian’s lawyers. I’ll see about
this detective then.”
Minna had replaced the servants who had left
her with maids from the village. There were some
who were glad to go to a house suddenly made
famous by such an astounding mystery. Others declared
the house was haunted, and wouldn’t go
Among those who inclined to the haunted house
idea was the new nurse. A Mrs Fletcher: she was
of a psychic turn of mind, and while she didn’t
exactly believe Betty was carried off by spooks, yet
she thought the girl might have taken her own life,
and perhaps her father’s, because of supernatural
influences or directions.
“Rubbish!” Minna Varian told her. “My Betty
was,—is,—a healthy, normal girl. She has none
of those foolish notions of the occult or supernatural.”
“It’s the only explanation,” said Mrs Fletcher,
doggedly. “And I do think the house is haunted,—I
heard mysterious sounds last night,—like rustling
Minna Varian only looked amused at this, but
Granniss, who was present, said, “That’s interesting,
Mrs Fletcher. Tell me about it.”
The account, however, was merely a vague idea
of sounds, that might have been mysterious, but were
more likely made by the servants going about at
Sheriff Potter and his colleague, Bill Dunn, had
practically given up the matter. They pretended to
be working on it, but as they themselves put it,
“What can you do when you can’t do nothin’?”
There was room for much discussion, but when
it came to action, what was there to be done?
You can’t hunt a criminal when you’ve no reason
to assume any criminal intent. You can’t hunt for
a missing girl after you’ve scoured all the places
where she could by any possibility be found. You
can’t hunt for the murderer of a man when there
was no way for a murderer to be on the scene.
“Then are you going to give up the quest?” Granniss
asked of the sheriff.
“No, not that,” Potter said, uneasily. “We’re
open to suggestion,—we’re keen for any new clue
or testimony,—but where can we look for such?
You must see, Mr Granniss, that it’s a mighty unusual
case,—a most mysterious and unsolvable
“I do see that, and that’s why I’m going to get
“Go ahead,” said Potter, agreeably. “I’ll be glad
to see any man who can handle the thing. Why,
there’s no handle to it. No place to catch hold.
Here’s a man killed, and a girl missing. Now, we’ve
no more idea what happened to those two people
than we had at the moment of the discovery of the
“That’s perfectly true.”
“And what’s more, we never will have. That
mystery will never be solved.”
“You’re saying that, Mr Potter, doesn’t necessarily
make it true.”
“No; but it’s true all the same. If Miss Betty was
in any way to blame,—which, I can’t believe,—you’ll
never find out anything. Because, if she’s
alive she’d have shown up by this time.”
“Go on,—and if Miss Betty was not to blame——”
“Then, whoever was to blame made a blame good
job of it,—and you’ll never catch him!”
“That’s the principle I’m going to work on,—the
idea that somebody did do it,—that he did
make a good job of it,—and that I am going to
“Fine talk, but there’s the same old stumbling
block. You can’t argue an outsider,—an intruder,
without allowing a secret entrance to that house,—and
you say there isn’t any.”
“There sure isn’t.”
“Well, suppose your criminal didn’t arrive and
depart in an aeroplane?”
“I’ve thought of that,—but it isn’t possible. You
see there were half a dozen people looking on all the
time. I wish I’d been there!”
“’Twouldn’t have done any good. You couldn’t
’a’ seen more’n anybody else did. There was nothing
“No,” agreed Granniss, “there was nothing to be
Lawrence North came up to the house again at
Rod’s request, and once more they looked for a
secret room or cupboard.
Armed with a yardstick and measuring tape, they
went through the house from roof to cellar. They
paced floors and measured walls and tapped ceilings,
and proved to their own conviction that there
was no foot of space in the whole structure unaccounted
“It isn’t,” said North, “as if it were an old
English manor house or a medieval castle. It’s
modern, it isn’t built with any sinister plan or any
desire for secret maneuvers. There never was any
smuggling going on up as far as this, and, anyway,
this is a simple pleasure house, built for a pleasant
simple family life. I’ve looked up the builders,
and they say it was built by a commonplace man
with a commonplace family. They moved out of
the state long ago, but there never was anything
secretive or mysterious about them.”
They spent a long time in the cellar, but here,
too, there was no uncertain space. Everything was
built four-square. Every room, bin or cupboard
was as plainly defined as those above, and there
was no hiding place possible.
Granniss looked down the old dried up well.
“Dunn went down that,” Lawrence said; “nothing
“I’ve got to go down myself,” returned Rodney,
shortly, as he took off his coat.
“Be careful, then,” North admonished him. “I’ll
hold the light.”
A good, strong flashlight illumined the old well,
and Rod Granniss clambered down its stone sides.
But he returned with the same message Dunn had
“All dried up; nothing down there but a muddy
bottom and moss-grown stones.”
“No stones missing?”
“No; all solid and complete. I gave it a most
careful scrutiny, for I don’t want to have to go
“Well, that finishes the cellar, then.”
“Yes; and finishes the house. You must admit,
Lawrence, there’s no possible chance of Betty Varian
being in this house, dead or alive.”
“Of course, I admit that,—but, what, then?”
“I can’t even suggest! Can you?”
“There’s nothing left but that she went away,—managed
somehow to elude the watchers,—perhaps
they were not noticing the house.”
“You talk as if she could get down from this
headland by any other route than right past where
the crowd were waiting.”
“Maybe she hid here in the house, until after
“Oh, don’t suggest such awful things! Betty kill
her father, and then, hiding until dark, make her
way out and down to the village and away from
the Harbor—oh, impossible!”
“I don’t know! The more I think it over the
less I can see any solution!”
“What about the haunted house idea?”
“That doesn’t mean a thing to me,” Granniss
scorned it. “In fact, I usually come back to the idea
that Mr Varian in some way killed himself.”
“I know, but I mean, maybe he shot himself, and
Betty, who might have been trying to prevent it,
took the pistol and ran away.”
“Oh, I don’t know! You are too exasperating,
Lawrence! You just stand there and say ‘why’?
“Keep your temper, Rod. I’m only trying, as
you are, to find some way to look. It is indeed
“And then that matter of the pearls.”
“To me that is the strangest revelation yet. No
matter how much the father and daughter had
little disagreements, even quarrels, how could he
leave that great treasure away from his child and
give it to his niece!”
“I think that very thing is a key to the mystery.”
“How do you mean?”
“I don’t know. You know I don’t know, Lawrence;
if I did I’d have told long ago! But I believe
when the worthwhile detective that I’m going to get
for Mrs Varian takes hold of the case, he’ll work
from that strange bequest of the Varian pearls.”
“Maybe he will,—but to me,—while it’s passing
strange, it doesn’t seem to indicate anything definite.”
“No, nor to me. But we haven’t the trained
mind of the real detective.”
“Who’s the man you’re going to get?”
“Pennington Wise, the best in the country.”
“I’ve heard of him. Well, it will be interesting
to see how he goes about it.”
The Herbert Varians went back to their summer
home, and Minna, left alone with her
companion and her secretary, began what she
called her campaign to find Betty.
Some people thought Mrs Varian a little
affected mentally by her awful griefs, but those who
knew her best read in her determination and persistence
a steady aim and felt a slight hope of her
“Anything in the world I can do, dear,” Claire
Blackwood said to her, “command me. I’ll go to
the city for you or do errands or anything I can.”
“No,” said Minna, “there’s nothing you can do.
Nothing anybody can do. I’m only afraid that
if I get no encouragement in my efforts, I will
lose my mind,—and that’s what I’m trying to guard
against. I follow my nurse’s directions as to exercise,
diet and all that, but I feel as if I could only
keep my brain from flying to pieces by hanging onto
my hope of eventually finding my child.”
“And you will,” Claire said, earnestly, though
she voiced a belief that she was far from feeling,
“Oh, Mrs Varian, you will!”
“You see,” Minna went on, “I’ve a new theory
now. I think that maybe Betty killed her father
“That is a new idea.”
“Yes; I know it’s almost incredible,—but what
idea isn’t? Say Mr Varian went suddenly insane,—and
I can’t think of any other way,—and attacked
Betty with a revolver. Say, trying to protect herself,
it went off and killed him,—perhaps the
weapon was in his hands, perhaps in hers,—and
then, the child, in an agony of fear or remorse, ran
away,—I don’t know how she got away,—but, don’t
you see, Mrs Blackwood, she must have left the
“Or they would have found her by this time,—yes,
“Now, I’ve offered ten thousand dollars reward
for any information that will lead to finding Betty,—dead
or alive. Mr Granniss thinks it will bring
no results, but I can’t help hoping. And if it doesn’t,—what
can I do?”
“You’re going to employ a detective, aren’t you?
These local authorities are not capable of managing
a case like this.”
“Yes; Mr Granniss advises a Mr Wise,—but I
can’t see what any detective can do. There’s nothing
to detect, as I can see.”
“That’s just it. We can’t see,—but the trained
“Here is your mail, Mrs Varian,” said Granniss,
coming into the room, “will you run it over?”
Minna glanced at the letters, mostly notes of
sympathy, or letters of advice from would-be helpful
friends, but there was one that caused her to
exclaim in amazement.
“Oh, Rodney,” she cried, “will you look at this!”
So great was her agitation that Claire Blackwood
went in search of the nurse, for she feared some
emotional outburst beyond her power to control.
The disturbing letter was a plain looking affair,
on ordinary letter paper, and it read:
We have your daughter safe. We are holding
her for ransom. Your reward does not tempt us at
all but if you are ready to pay one hundred thousand
dollars, you may have your child back. If not, you
will never see her again. There must be no dickering,
no fooling, and, above all, no police interference. I
will not go into details now, but if you want to take
up with this offer put a personal in any of the large
Boston papers, saying, “I agree,” and all directions
will be sent to you as to how to proceed. But if you
tell the police or allow any detective to know anything
about this deal, it is all off. Don’t think you can fool
us, we have eyes in the back of our heads and any
insincerity or breach of faith on your part will result
in sad results to your daughter. To carry this thing
through you must trust and obey us implicitly and any
lapse will mean far deeper trouble than you are in
The letter was not signed, nor was it dated. The
postmark was Boston, and it had been mailed the
“It’s a fake,” Granniss declared, at once.
“I don’t think so,” said Claire Blackwood, “it
sounds real to me——”
“I don’t care whether it’s real or not,” Minna
interrupted, excitedly. “I mean I don’t care whether
anybody believes it’s real or not. I’m going to answer
it at once, and I’m going to agree to everything
they say, and I’m not going to tell the police
or a detective or anybody,—and I’m going to get
Her face was radiant with joy, her eyes shone and
she was smiling for the first time since that awful
day of the double tragedy.
“Now, look here, Mrs Varian,” began Granniss,
who was convinced the whole letter was a mere
attempt to get money under false pretenses, “you
mustn’t throw away a hundred thousand dollars in
“Why not? It is a lot of money, but I have the
sum and it means getting Betty back! What is any
sum of money,—even my whole fortune, against
“But it doesn’t surely mean getting her back. If
I thought it did I’d feel just as you do about it——”
“Oh, it does,—it does!” Minna cried, her face
still transfigured with happiness. “I know it,—I
feel it—something in my heart tells me that it is
true,—and, you see, it explains everything. These
people kidnapped Betty,—abducted her, and now
they’re holding her for ransom,—and they’ll get it,—and
I’ll get Betty! They don’t want her, you see,
but they do want the money. And they’ll get it!”
“I agree with Mrs Varian,” Claire said, quite convinced
by Minna’s confidence in the good faith of the
“But it’s too absurd!” insisted Rodney. “You
know,—Mrs Varian, you must know, that I want to
find Betty quite as much as you do,—no, I won’t
qualify that statement. I love her as much as you
can. But I don’t believe for one minute that that
letter is genuine. I mean, I don’t believe the man
who wrote it has Betty, or ever saw her! Why,
think a minute. Of all the theories regarding
Betty’s disappearance, abduction is the least believable.
How could any one abduct Betty that day,—how
could the kidnapper get into this house, and
out again,—with Betty,—when so many people were
“I don’t know how it was done,” Minna said, doggedly,
“but it’s a chance, and I’m going to take it.
You can’t stop me, Rodney. You’ve no authority
to say what I shall do with my own money. I’ve a
right to try this thing——”
“But, oh,” said Claire, “suppose it should be a
fake! Not only you’d lose all that money,—but
think of your disappointment!”
“The disappointment would be no worse than
things are at present.”
“Oh, yes, it would. If you follow up that letter
and pay all that sum, and then get nothing in return,
it would just about kill you.”
“It would just about kill me not to take the
chance,” returned Minna. “Now, I suppose I still
have the right to order my own movements. I shall
at once send the personal to the Boston paper,—I’ll
put it in several, so he’ll be sure to see it,—and
then, I’ll await his further advice. Will you send
the messages, Rodney, or must I do it myself?”
“Of course, I am at your orders, Mrs Varian.”
Rod gave her his winning smile, “But, at least, let’s
think it over a bit.”
“No; send the word at once. We can talk it over
There seemed to be no way out, so Granniss went
off to do her bidding.
Even then, he had half a mind to pretend to
send the word but really to withhold it. On reflection,
he concluded he had no right to do this. But
he remembered that Minna had not bound him to
secrecy, though, of course, it was implied.
So with the letters to the Boston papers went
also one to Pennington Wise begging him to come
at once to investigate the remarkable case of Betty
Varian, and telling him frankly of the strange letter
That same afternoon a telegram came for Mrs
Granniss opened it, as was his custom, and its contents
so surprised him that he nearly succumbed to
the temptation to keep it from Mrs Varian.
But, he reconsidered, he had no right to presume
on his position as confidential secretary, so with
grave fears of its effects he handed it to her.
“Dear Mother,” it ran; “I am all right, and if you
do just as you agree, I will soon be with you again.
Please obey implicitly.
“From her!” Minna cried, and fainted.
Nurse Fletcher soon revived her, but she was in a
shaken, nervous state, and could stand no contradiction
“Now you see, Rodney,” she cried triumphantly,
“it is all right! Here is word from Betty herself—oh,
my darling!” and she fell to kissing the yellow
paper, as if it were the face of her child.
“But, Mrs Varian,” Granniss hesitated to correct
her but felt he must, “that may not be from Betty,
you know. Anybody could send a telegram signed
with Betty’s name.”
“Rodney!” Minna’s eyes blazed with anger, “why
do you try every way to make me miserable? Why
dash every cup of joy from my lips? You seem to
hope that we never find Betty! I can’t understand
your attitude, but unless you are more helpful,—yes,
and more hopeful,—I don’t think we can get
But Granniss knew that he must stand by this
distracted woman. Another secretary might have
more leniency and less judgment, which would be
a bad thing for Minna’s interests. No, even at risk
of letting her be imprudent, he must stand by her,
and protect her all he could against her own wrong
“Oh, yes, we’ll get along all right, Mrs Varian,”
he said, trying to treat the matter lightly. “You
can’t get rid of me so easily,—and, too, you know
that I want to believe all this quite as much as you
do. But you must admit that a telegram is not like a
letter. It might be faked.”
“Well, this isn’t,” said Minna, contentedly, still
caressing the paper missive.
“Let’s consider it,” said Rod. “It doesn’t sound
to me like Betty’s diction. Would she use the word
“Why not?” Minna stared at him. “And, too,
she wrote it under compulsion, most likely. Oh, my
darling child,—at the mercy of those ruffians! Yet,
I make no doubt they’re good to her. Why should
they harm my baby? They only want the ransom
money, and that they shall have. I’m glad it’s a
large sum, it makes me more sure I’ll get Betty.”
Granniss was in despair. He felt the awful responsibility
of Mrs Varian’s wild determination,
but he couldn’t see anything to do about it.
To report to Doctor Varian was not his duty, and
though he thought it was his duty to tell the story
to the police, Minna had exacted his promise not
to do so, and he had given it. After all, it was her
money,—if she chose to give it up so easily, it
was not his affair. And, too, he couldn’t help a
lurking hope that it might be all true and might
result in Betty’s restoration to her sorrowing
mother,—and, to himself. For he knew, now that
the opposing influence of her father was removed, if
Betty should ever be found, she would some day be
his wife. He trusted in her faith and loyalty to
himself as he believed in his own to her.
And yet, he couldn’t approve of Minna’s wholesale
compliance with the exorbitant demands of
people who might be and probably were mere
swindlers. He was thinking these things over when
Mrs Varian came to him.
“I want you to go right down to New York,” she
told him, “and get me a hundred thousand dollars
in cash. Now, don’t raise objections, for I should
only combat them, and it takes my strength so to
argue with you. My husband’s fortune is mine.
There is no one to dictate to me how I shall use it.
I want,—I insist upon this sum in cash, or some
sort of bonds or securities that may be cashed by
anybody, without identification. Oh, you know
what I mean,—I want the money in such shape that
these kidnappers will take it willingly. Of course,
they won’t accept checks or notes. Go on, now,
Rodney, get off at once, and get back as soon as you
can. And I want some man to stay in this house
while you’re away. I’m not exactly timid, but I’ve
never stayed nights in a house without a man in it,—beside
the butler, I mean,—and I’m sure you can
invite some friend who would be willing to come.
Perhaps Mr Landon. He’s so nice, and I’d try to
make it pleasant for him in any way I could. There
are plenty of books, and with good cigars, he might
“Oh, he’d be contented, all right; but Landon’s
gone off on a little trip. He won’t be back for
several days. How’d you like to have North?
Probably he’d come.”
“Very well,—if he’s perfectly willing. I’d hate
to bore him. You’ll be back,—when?”
“I’ll have to be away two nights,—if North can’t
come, there’s young Clark,—he’s a good sort.”
“I hate to ask it of any of them, but I hate worse
to stay alone. I’d get nervous and I shouldn’t
sleep at all.”
“That’s all right, Mrs Varian, I know how you
feel about it, and I’ll get somebody.”
Granniss was as good as his word, and, finding
that Lawrence North was glad to do anything in
his power to help Mrs Varian, it was arranged that
he should visit at Headland House until Rodney
could get back from New York.
“But promise me,” Granniss said, “that if you
get further letters from the kidnappers you won’t
do anything definite until I return.”
“I can’t,” said Minna, thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t
promise, anyway, but, as you must see for yourself,
I can’t do anything till I get that money.”
“I suppose not,” Granniss agreed, and went off.
During a sociable and chatty evening, Minna told
North about the letter from the abductors.
“Oh Mrs Varian,” he exclaimed, “you don’t believe
it, do you? I only wonder you haven’t had
several. It’s a common way of crooks to attempt
to get money.”
“But this rings so true,” Minna defended herself,
and showed him the letter.
North studied it.
“It sounds plausible enough,” he said, “but how
is it possible? How could anyone have kidnapped
“Now, look here, Mr North, don’t say over and
over again, ‘how could he?’ You know somebody
or something is responsible for Betty’s disappearance
as well as for Mr Varian’s death. Don’t think
for a minute that my anxiety about my daughter in
any way obliterates or lessens my grief at my husband’s
death. But, as you must see, nothing can
bring Mr Varian back. While,—something may
bring Betty back! Can you wonder, then, that I
catch at any straw,—believe in any hope,—take up
with any suggestion on the mere chance of getting
my child back? If they had asked for my whole
fortune, I should pay it—on the chance!”
“Yes,” North spoke slowly,—“I see how you
feel about it,—but you ought to have some proof
that they really have your Betty.”
“I’ve thought about that,” Minna shuddered,
“but, I’ve read of these cases, and—when they send
a proof—sometimes, it’s a—a finger—you know——”
“Oh, now, now, don’t be morbid! I don’t mean
anything of that sort. But if they would give you
a bit of her hair, or a scrap of her own handwriting——”
“But how can I demand that? How can I ask
“You just wait for their next instruction. If
they are sincere in this offer, if they really have
Miss Betty and are really ready to negotiate, they
must tell you what to do next. And, Mrs Varian,
I advise you to do it. It may be a wrong principle,
but your case is exceptional,—and, since you’ve
showed me this letter, I can’t help feeling it’s the
real thing. For one thing, you can see it’s written
by at least a fairly well educated man. I mean, not
by the common, ignorant class. Moreover, the very
audacity of demanding such enormous ransom, indicates
to my mind that the writer can perform his
part of the bargain. A mere crook, writing a
fake letter, would never dream of asking such a
sum. How are you going to manage the payment?”
“If you mean the method of handing it over, I
don’t know. I shall do as I’m directed. If you mean
how shall I obtain the cash, I’ve asked Mr Granniss
to bring it up from New York for me.”
“Is he going to travel home with that sum on
“Yes, he said he had no fear in that direction.”
“Oh, no; since no one knows of it, he runs little
Meantime, Rodney Granniss, in New York, was
putting through his errands in record time.
He attended to the money matter, and by the aid
of some influential friends of the Varian family, he
obtained the desired sum in cash and unregistered
Then he went to see Pennington Wise.
That astute detective declared himself too busy to
accept any new commission. But after Granniss
had personally told the astonishing details of the
case, Wise was unable to resist the temptation to
undertake its investigation.
“The way you put it, Mr Granniss,” he said, “it
sounds like an impossible condition. I can’t see any
explanation at all, but, as we know, there must be
one. The obvious solution is a secret passage, but
since you tell me there is none, I feel I must go up
there and see for myself what could have happened.”
“Then you’ll come?”
“Yes,—I’ll drop all else, and go straight off. We
won’t travel together, though. You go ahead, right
now, and I’ll follow soon. And, by the way,—you’re
carrying that money with you?”
“Let me take it. It’s far safer so.”
Rod Granniss opened his eyes wide. Was this
strange man asking him to transfer his trusted
errand to him?
Wise laughed. “I can’t say I blame you for not
wanting to hand it over. But, this I do tell you,—it
will be safe with me,—and it may not be with
“Why, nobody knows I have it!”
“Even so. I strongly advise your letting me take
it,—but you must do as you choose.”
“You’ll get it safely up to Mrs Varian?” Granniss
said, reluctantly producing the rather bulky
“Yes, I will,—and if I don’t,—I’ll make the loss
He looked meaningly at the younger man, and,
flushing a little, Rodney said, “That’s right,—Mr
Wise. I couldn’t make it good if I lost it. Take it.”
And with no further security than the detective’s
word, Granniss handed over the money.
He went to his train in a most perturbed spirit.
Had he done right or not? It all depended on the
fidelity of the detective. To be sure, Granniss had
every confidence in him, but the sum of money was
so large that it might well prove a temptation to
hitherto impeccable honesty.
He boarded his train, still uncertain of the wisdom
of his course, and more uncertain as to what Mrs
Varian would say.
But, he reasoned, if they were to employ the
services of one of the best and best known detectives
in the country, it was surely right to obey his
first bit of advice.
This thought comforted Granniss somewhat, and
he was further comforted by an event which took
place that night, and which proved the wisdom of
the detective’s advice.
Granniss was asleep in his lower berth when the
merest feeling of a cautious movement above
He could hear no sound, but through half-dosed
eyes, he saw the occupant of the berth above crawl
silently down and stealthily reach for Rodney’s
clothes, which were folded at the foot of the berth.
Interested rather than afraid, Granniss watched
the performance, keeping his own eyes nearly closed.
It was too dark for him to see the marauder, who
worked entirely by feeling, and who swiftly examined
the clothing of his victim and then turned
his attention to his bag.
Still Granniss made no sign, for he preferred to
see the chagrin of the robber rather than to interrupt
him at his work.
The bag yielded nothing of interest, and then the
upper berth man came along and slipped his hand
under Granniss’ pillow.
Deftly done as it was, Rodney shot out his own
hand and grabbed the wrist of the other. But it
was twisted away from him, and in an instant the
man was back in his own berth.
Rod thought it over, and concluded to raise no
outcry. In the morning he would see who his
visitor was, and then take such steps as he thought
best. He fell asleep, and when he awoke the sun
was up and his would-be robber had disappeared.
Chagrined at his own stupidity in over-sleeping,
but rejoiced at the safety of Mrs Varian’s money,
Granniss went on with his journey home.
But, when he found on the floor of the car a handkerchief
that had been under his pillow, he realized
that a still further search for treasure had been
made beneath his sleeping head.
When Granniss stepped off the train at
Headland Harbor, there were but few
other passengers who alighted at the same
time. But one of these, a mild young man, came
nearer Rodney and said, quietly:
“Mr Granniss, may I speak to you a moment?”
“Certainly,” Rod answered, after a quick glance
“I am a messenger from Mr Wise. I have with
me the money for Mrs Varian. Shall I give it to
you here, or go up to the house with you and carry
it? No one seems to be observing us; take it if you
Rodney stared at him. Wise, then, had sent his
messenger with the money along on the same train.
By this means he had outwitted the man in the
upper berth, who, without question, knew of Granniss’
errand, and who had thus been foiled in his
attempt to rob him.
“Good for you!” Granniss exclaimed, heartily.
“I think it will be all right for me to take it now,—here
is the Varian car. But would you prefer to
go up to the house?”
“No; I’d rather not. I’m sure the way is clear
now. I saw that performance in the train last
night. But don’t talk any more about it. Just take
the box, and I’ll go right back on the next train.
Mr Wise will arrive tomorrow.”
Marveling at the detective’s way of managing,
Granniss took the unimportant looking parcel the
young man offered, and with a brief good-by, got
into the Varian car.
The car could go only to the lodge gate, and from
there Rodney trudged up the steep path to the house,
half afraid that some bandit would even yet appear
to rob him of the treasure.
But nothing untoward happened, and he reached
Headland House in safety.
It was nearly noon when he arrived, and Lawrence
North, still there, was as eager as Minna to
hear the results of Granniss’ errands in New York.
But not until after luncheon, when the three were
alone in the library, did he tell the whole story.
He then gave a frank account of the detective’s
asking to take charge of the package of money,
and of the lucky stroke it was that he did so.
“But I never imagined,” Rodney said, “that he
would send it along by a messenger on the same
“Clever work!” said North. “Now, Mrs Varian,
have you a really good safe?”
“Yes, I have. My husband had it sent up here
with our trunks. It looks like a wardrobe trunk,
but it is a modern and secure safe.”
The safe was in a closet in the library, and as the
men examined it, they agreed that it was a good
safe and proof against even a most skilful burglar.
“Unless he carries it off,” suggested North. “It’s
not very large.”
“But it’s very heavy,” Minna said, “and besides,
it’s clamped to the floor.”
They put the parcel of money in the safe, tucked
it well back behind less important matters, and
Minna herself closed the door.
“I’ll use the same combination Fred used,” she
said, “nobody on earth knows it but myself.”
“Keep it to yourself, Mrs Varian,” North
counseled her, “a secret shared is no secret.”
“I’m not afraid to trust you two,” Minna returned,
“but I won’t tell any one else.”
“You’ve had no further communication from the
kidnappers?” asked Granniss.
“I have,” she said, “a letter came in this morning’s
mail. I don’t know what to do about it. It’s
so strange,—and yet,—I feel a positive conviction
that I ought to do as they tell me.”
“Whatever they ask, I beg of you not to decide
until Mr Wise gets here,” Rodney said, earnestly.
“Since I have seen him, I know he will help us, and
I feel sure that he would disapprove of your going
ahead with this until he can advise you.”
“What do they ask you to do?” North inquired;
“that is, if you care to tell us.”
“Oh, I’m glad to tell you, and see what you think.
I know it might be a better plan to wait for Mr
Wise’s arrival, but that may scare off these people
and lose me my one and only chance to meet their
demands,—and—get my Betty!”
“Where’s the letter?” asked Granniss, looking
Minna handed him a paper, and the two men
read it at the same time.
“This is your one and only chance to get back
your daughter. Unless you obey these directions exactly
and secretly you have no chance at all. At midnight,
tonight, take the packet of money, if you have
it, and drop it over the cliff into the sea. First you
must place it in a light pasteboard box that is too
large for it. This will insure its floating until we
can pick it up. Now if you have told any one of this
and if there is any boat on the sea at that time, we
will not carry out our plans, the money will be lost
and your daughter will be killed. So, take your
choice of acting in good faith or losing your child
forever. We are desperately in earnest and this is
your one and only chance. If you fear to go to the
cliff’s edge alone, you may take a companion but only
one who is in your faith and confidence. If you
breathe a word to the police we shall know of it, and
we will call off all our arrangements. It is up to
There was no signature. The paper and typing
were like those of the previous letter from the same
source, and the tenor of the letter seemed to be
“Don’t think of it for a minute,” urged Granniss.
“You are simply throwing away a large sum of
money and you cannot possibly get any return. If
the thing were genuine, if it were from real kidnappers
who really had Betty, they would have given
you a sign, a proof that they have her. They would
have enclosed a scrap of her handwriting or some
such thing. That telegram is of course a fake!
This letter proves it!”
North looked dubious.
“You may be right, Granniss,” he said, “perhaps
you are. But,—I can’t help thinking there may be
some way to foil these people. Suppose Mrs Varian
throws a faked packet over the cliff——”
“No,” Granniss declared, “that would do no
“Wait a minute,” North went on; “then we could
have a swift motor boat hidden in the shadows, and
follow the boat that picks it up,—for I have no
doubt that they will come for the money in a motor
“Of course they’ll do that,” Rod agreed, “but it
will be a boat more powerful than any we have
“Anyway,” broke in Minna, “I won’t play them
false. I shall either follow their instructions in good
faith, or not do it at all. I’m sure if I try to fool
them, they’ll take it out on Betty.” She began to
cry, and North said, hastily:
“Don’t let me influence you, Mrs Varian. You
must do just as you please in the matter. If you
feel that the mere chance of getting Betty by such
means is sufficient to justify your equal chance of
losing all that money,—you must follow your own
Minna Varian sat for several moments in deep
thought. Then she said, quietly: “I’ve made up my
mind. I shall not do this thing tonight. I am
more influenced by Rodney’s remark about the telegram
than anything else. As he says, if these people
really had Betty, they would send a note in her
writing and not a telegram.”
“That’s the way to look at it, Mrs Varian,” cried
Granniss, much pleased at her logical decision. “The
telegram was a mistake on their part. To begin
with, if Betty is closely confined, which she must
be, if there’s any truth at all in this matter, how
could she get out to send a telegram? And if they
sent it for her,—why not a note?”
“That’s all true,” said North, thoughtfully; “and
when Mr Wise gets here, he can doubtless discern
the real truth of it all. The money will be all
right in the safe over night, and tomorrow the
detective can look after it. Then you’re decided,
“I’m decided for the present,——” she smiled a
little; “but I don’t say I won’t change my mind.
It’s a terrible temptation to do as they bid me, even
if it proves a false hope.”
North went away, and poor Minna spent the
rest of that day in alternate decisions for and
against the directions of the kidnappers.
Granniss tried his best to dissuade her from what
he deemed a foolish deed.
“To begin with,” he argued, “I can’t believe in
kidnappers. How could they have abducted Betty,
in broad daylight, with half a dozen people looking
for her to come out of the house?”
“I don’t know,” said poor Minna, dejectedly, “but
oh, Rodney, it doesn’t mean anything to ask such
questions as that! For how could any other thing
happen? I mean, how do you explain Betty’s disappearance
without being kidnapped, any more
easily than by such means? How explain Fred’s
death? How explain anything? Now, the only
chance,—as the letter says,—is this plan of theirs.
Shall I try it?”
“Look at it this way, Mrs Varian,” Granniss said
at last. “Suppose you throw that money over the
cliff. It’s by no means certain that they will retrieve
“But that’s their business. It’s full moon now,
and at twelve o’clock the sea will be bright as day.
There’ll be no spying boat around at that hour, and
they will watch the box fall, get it quickly, and go
away. Then they will send Betty back!”
Minna’s face always lighted up with a happy
radiance when she spoke of the return of Betty.
“But think a minute. Suppose by some chance
they don’t get the money,—suppose there is some
stray boat out at that hour. Suppose the parcel
gets caught on the way down——”
“It can’t if I drop it right down from the overhang.
And I’d have you to protect and watch
over my own safety,—oh, Rodney, I must do it!”
And so, despite Granniss’ dissuasion, in defiance
of her own misgivings as to the genuineness of
the anonymous bargainers, the poor distracted
mother made up her mind to take the slim chance
of recovering her lost child by the desperate method
But an unforeseen difficulty prevented her.
Shortly before midnight the sky clouded over and
became entirely black. A terrific thunderstorm followed,
and when that was over the whole heavens
remained darkened and a drizzling rain kept up.
“It’s out of the question,” Granniss said, as the
clock struck twelve. “It’s still raining, it’s pitch
dark, nobody could see a parcel dropped over the
cliffs, and you might lose your own life in the
process. But, let this comfort you, if these people
are really the kidnappers, they will give you another
chance. They won’t lose their chance of a fortune
for a rainstorm, and they’ll communicate with you
“That’s probably true, Rod,” and Minna gave
a sigh of relief as she gazed out of the window
at the rain. “And so, let’s go to rest and try to
hope for a future opportunity.”
Mrs Fletcher was waiting to put her patient to
bed, and was much displeased at her late hour of
So, little was said by either of the women, and
at last with a curt good night, the nurse went away
to her own room, and Minna closed the door between.
But she could not sleep, she was restless and
At last she began to worry over the safety of the
money in the safe. She imagined the thwarted kidnappers,
disappointed at the collapse of their plans,
coming up to the house to rob her of the money
they had reason to suppose she had in her possession.
To her anxious and worried mind, it seemed the
money would be safer up in her own room than
down in the library safe.
On a sudden impulse she determined to go down
stairs and get it. She donned dressing gown and
slippers and stealthily, not to awake Fletcher, she
crept down the stairs.
Into the library she went and, opening the closet
door, began to work the combination that unlocked
Absorbed in her occupation, she did not hear a
slight noise behind her. But suddenly a voice said;
softly, “Oh, it’s you, ma’am! I thought it was a
Minna turned quickly to see Martha, the waitress,
staring at her.
As she already had the safe door open and was
about to take out the parcel she was after, she was
annoyed at any interruption.
“Martha!” she exclaimed, though in a low
whisper, “what are you doing here? Go back to
“Yes, ma’am. I thought I heard robbers, ma’am.”
“No; it’s only I. I have to see about some important
papers, and I can’t sleep, so I’m attending
to it now. Go back to your room at once, Martha.”
“Yes, ma’am,” and the girl obeyed.
Drawing a sigh of relief, Minna took her
precious parcel, shut the safe, and went softly back
to her own room. She put the package beneath her
mattress, locked her bedroom door, and soon fell
asleep, worn out with weariness and exhaustion.
“Great doin’s,” grumbled the cook, as Martha,
who shared her room, returned to it, “where you
“Hush up,” said Martha. “I heard a noise and
I thought it was burglars.”
“And you went downstairs!” exclaimed Hannah.
“Why, what foolishness! They might ’a’ shot you!”
“There wasn’t any,” Martha explained. “It was
Mrs Varian, poking about in her safe.”
“The pore leddy,” said Hannah, sympathetically;
“she can’t sleep at all, at all. The nurse tells me
she lies awake nearly all night and only gets forty
winks in the morning after sun-up.”
“Well, she was a bit upset at my coming in,” said
Martha. “I wouldn’t ’a’ gone, only I thought it was
“Oh, you and your duty!” growled the cook. “I’m
thinkin’ your duty is to keep quiet and let me get
a bit of sleep myself. I can’t do without it as you
and the missus can!”
Hannah grunted as she turned over and promptly
went to sleep again, while Martha, who was both
imaginative and curious of mind, lay awake, wondering
what fearful things had happened or would
happen to this strange house.
The girl was of a fearless nature, but deeply interested
in the mysterious, and had more than once
made investigations herself in an effort to find some
secret passage such as the family were continually
But she had found nothing, and now, still unable
to sleep, she occupied her mind in trying to form
some new theory of the tragedies of Headland
Hannah awakened in the morning by reason of the
alarm sounding from her bedroom clock.
“My goodness,” she growled, to herself, “seems
like I’d only just dropped to sleep. Well,—I’ve
got to get up. Hey, Martha, come along, my girl.”
But no response came from the other bed, and
Hannah stepped across the room to give the girl
an arousing shake.
“Why, heaven bless us, she ain’t here!” exclaimed
the startled cook. “Now, don’t that beat all! Not
content with rampoosin’ round the house in the
night, she must be up and off early in the mornin’!
She thinks she’s able to help them as has the detective
work in charge! That Martha!”
Hannah proceeded to make her toilet and then
descended the back stairs to the kitchen.
But on reaching the kitchen she gave voice to such
a scream as could be heard by all the servants in
the house, and even penetrated to the rooms occupied
by Minna and her nurse.
“Whatever is the matter?” cried Fletcher, running
out to the hall in her night clothes.
“Matter enough,” Hannah called back. “Will
you get Mr Granniss, and tell him to come quick!”
Stunned by the cook’s voice and manner, the
nurse hurriedly knocked at Rodney’s door, and he
responded at once.
He was partly dressed, and finishing a hasty toilet,
he ran down stairs.
He found Hannah, and Kelly, the butler, gazing
at a huddled heap on the kitchen floor, which he saw
at once, was the dead body of Martha, the waitress.
“What does it mean?” he asked, in an awed voice.
“Who did it?”
“Who, indeed, sir?” Hannah said, whimpering
like a child. “Oh, Mr Granniss, sir, do get Mrs
Varian to go away from this accursed house! Nobody
is safe here! I’m leaving as soon’s I can pack
up. Kelly, here, is going, too,—and I hope the
missus will go this very day. It’s curst indeed, is
this place! Oh, Martha, me little girl,—who could
’a’ done this to ye?”
Going nearer, Rodney looked at the body,
touched it and felt for the girl’s heart.
There was no heartbeat and the cold flesh proved
her death took place some hours since.
“What do you know about it?” he asked the
“Not a thing, sir. Martha was down stairs late
last night, and she came up again, saying Mrs Varian
was down in the library.”
“Mrs Varian down stairs! At what time was
“’Long about one o’clock, sir. Then me and
Martha both went to sleep,—leastways, I did, and
that’s all I knew till morning. Then I went to call
the girl to get up, and her bed was empty. I came
down—and here I saw—this!”
Throwing her apron over her face, Hannah
rocked back and forth in her chair.
Rodney forced himself to think,—to give orders.
“Hannah,” he said, “I’m sorry, but we mustn’t
touch Martha,—and you’ll have to get breakfast,—just
“I can’t, sir—I can’t get the breakfast, with that
poor dead girl,—why, I loved that young one like she
was my own.”
“But, Hannah, remember your duty to Mrs
Varian. Now, we’ll lay a coverlet over Martha, and
you and Kelly between you must prepare the coffee,
and such things as Mrs Varian wants. Be brave
now, for there’s enough sorrow for Mrs Varian to
bear. You and Kelly must do whatever you can to
Then Rodney looked hastily at all the doors and
windows, finding them all securely fastened, as they
always were at night.
“Thank goodness, Wise is coming today,” he
thought, as he went to telephone for Sheriff Potter
Potter summoned, he turned his mind to the
question of how best to tell the news to Minna, and
concluded to tell Nurse Fletcher first.
She came down then, greatly excited, to learn
what had happened.
Granniss told her, and then said, “Now Mrs
Fletcher, I beg of you, don’t threaten to leave. Mrs
Varian needs you now more than ever, and as Mr
Wise, the great detective, is coming today, I’m sure
you need not be afraid to stay on.”
“Very well,” Fletcher returned, primly, “I know
my duty, and I propose to do it. I will stay with
Mrs Varian until she can get some one else,—or
until I can get some one else for her,—but not
an hour longer. How did the maid die?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” Rodney looked puzzled.
“I didn’t think it best to touch the body, except to
convince myself that she is really dead. Now, will
you tell Mrs Varian, or shall I?”
“I’ll tell her,—but I’d like you to stand by.”
So, taking Minna’s breakfast tray, quite as usual,
the nurse went back to her patient.
“You needn’t tell me,” was the greeting she received.
“I overheard enough to know what has
happened. It’s awful,—but I suppose it’s only the
beginning of a further string of tragedies.”
The utter hopelessness of the white face alarmed
Granniss more than a hysterical outburst would
“Now, Mrs Varian,” he said, consolingly, “it is
an awful occurrence, but in comparison with your
nearer sorrows, it means little to you. Try not to
think about it; leave it to us and trust me to do all
that is necessary or possible.”
Potter arrived then, and Granniss went down to
“Another!” the sheriff exclaimed. “What devil’s
work is going on here, any way?”
He went to the kitchen and knelt beside the dead
“Strangled,” he said, briefly, after an examination.
“Choked to death by a strong pair of man’s
hands. Mr Granniss, I accuse you of the murder
of this girl!”
Granniss looked at the constable blankly.
Then he said, “Oh, well, you may as well
accuse me as anybody, for the present.
“He’s coming,” replied Potter, angry at the
young man’s indifference to his charge. “But you
can’t treat this matter so scornfully, Mr Granniss.
I’ve been thinking a whole lot about you in connection
with all these mysteries up here, and I’m of the
opinion you know more about some things than you
“Quite right, I do,” said Rod, cheerfully. “But
don’t arrest me just yet, for a really worth while
detective is coming this morning and he may disagree
with your conclusions. But this is a bad
thing,—about this poor girl. I can’t understand it.”
“I can,” and Potter looked straight at him. “You
found her in your way and—you put her out of it.”
“Oh, come now, Sheriff,” this from Bill Dunn,
who had come hurrying in, “don’t go off half-primed!
You haven’t any evidence against Mr
Granniss, except that he was in the house.”
“I will have, though!” Potter muttered. “Where’s
“Here I am,” and Kelly put in his appearance.
“Who saw this girl last?” Potter thundered, glaring
round at the assembled members of the household.
They were all present, for Nurse Fletcher
had been unable to resist her aroused curiosity, and
Minna Varian, too, stood in the background, composed
and quiet, but evidently holding herself together
by a strong effort of will-power.
“I did,” said Hannah, who stood, silent and grim,
with folded arms, watching the sheriff.
“Where was she, then?”
“In her bed,—last night after midnight. She had
been down stairs,——”
“Yes. She heard somebody down stairs, and—Martha
was a brave one! She thought it was
robbers in the house and she went down to see.”
“Well, it was Mrs Varian, who had gone down
to the library. So Martha came up again,——”
“Leaving Mrs Varian down there?”
“Yes,” Minna interrupted, “leaving me down
“What were you doing, Mrs Varian?”
“I was wakeful, and I went down to the library
to look over some papers.”
“And this girl came to you there? Tell the story
in your own way.”
“There’s little to tell. I was startled at Martha’s
unexpected appearance, and sent her back to her
room. Shortly afterward, I went back to my own
room. That is all.”
“Then Martha must have come down stairs
“That is quite evident,” said Minna, looking sorrowfully
at the dead girl. “Oh, Mr Potter,—Rodney,—what
does it all mean?”
“It will take a lot of clearing up, ma’am, before
anybody can say what it means. Where were you
at this time, Kelly?”
“In my own room, asleep,” answered the butler.
“You heard nothing of the goings on?”
“No; my room is up in the third story, and I
sleep very soundly.”
“Humph! You do? Well, how about the doors
and windows? I suppose they were locked and
barred as usual?”
“Yes, they were,” asserted Kelly. “I always look
after those,—especially nowadays.”
“Then there was no way for an intruder to get
in this house, last night, between midnight, say, and
“No way, sir,” assented Kelly.
“Then this girl was murdered by either you,
Kelly, or by Mr Granniss. Those marks on her
throat of a strangling hold, were made by a man,—and
by a strong man. Either of you two could
have done it,—now, which one did?”
“Not I, sir,” Kelly denied, as calmly as if he
were merely refuting a slight accusation. “I know
nothing about it.”
“I don’t believe you do,” said Potter, judicially,
“but I do think you’re implicated, Mr Granniss.
Were you in your room all night?”
“Of course I was. I retired about one o’clock,
and I didn’t open my door again until I was summoned
this morning to learn of Martha’s death.”
“You say that glibly enough,—but it will take
“No; your denial of it, or suspicion of my
veracity will take the proof. Can you produce it?”
“You’re not wise to be so cocksure, sir. There
is such a thing as elimination, and I say that only
you could have done this thing. The women are
not capable of such a deed, and I’ve no reason to
“And just what is your reason for suspecting
me?” Rodney’s eyes were beginning to grow stern
and his jaw set firmly. “Also, what evidence have
you for your suspicions?”
“Come off, Potter,” Bill Dunn warned him. “You
ain’t got no real evidence against Mr Granniss, and
you’d better go easy. To my mind, Mr Granniss
ain’t going to kill a servant girl without a good
“He may have a very good reason. Suppose Mr
Granniss was at the safe and suppose Martha surprised
him there as she had startled Mrs Varian.
And suppose Mr Granniss didn’t want it known
that he had been there, so he took the only sure
method of silencing her lips.”
“And what would Mr Granniss be doing at the
safe?” asked Dunn.
“Well, I happen to know that there was considerable
of value in that safe last night.”
Rodney started. How did the sheriff know that?
But he said, “This is aside the mark, Mr Potter.
For Mrs Varian has trusted me with the combination
of the safe. I can open it at any time without
let or hindrance. Why, then, should I sneak down
in the middle of the night to do so?”
“For the very good reason that you wanted to
take the money that was there and make off with it.”
“And did I get it?”
“I should say not,” declared Potter, “since you are
still here!” He looked proud of this triumph of
deduction, and went on:
“You had some valuables in that safe last night,
Mrs Varian, did you not?”
“Yes,” replied Minna, almost smiling at the trend
of the questions.
“Are they there now?”
“No, they are not.”
“Aha! What did I tell you?”
“But they are not there, because when I visited
the library late last night, I took them away to my
room for better protection of them.”
“Oh!” Potter looked deeply chagrined.
“You have them safe, then?”
“Oh, yes, quite safe, thank you.”
“Well, all the same,” went on the sheriff, doggedly,
“Mr Granniss thought they were there, and
went down to steal them.”
“Maybe Martha was there on the same errand,”
said Dunn, thoughtfully.
“Don’t you dare say a word against that pore
dead child,” cried Hannah, resenting at once any
aspersion of her friend. “She would never dream
of such a thing.”
“What did she come down for, then?” asked
Potter. “She had been down and had spoken to Mrs
Varian. Then she returned to her room, you say,
and went back to bed. Now, why did she go down
“That I do not know,” Hannah said, belligerently,
“but it was for no wrong purpose. Maybe
she thought again she heard burglars, and maybe,—this
time she was not mistaken.”
“That would be a fine theory,” Potter observed,
“but for the fact that a burglar couldn’t get in or
out. So if she heard any one prowling about it
must have been some member of the household.
Isn’t she a very daring young person?”
“She was afraid of nothing,” Hannah stated.
“She was great for detective stories, and she was
crazy to investigate and inquire into all the goin’s on
of this terrible house! Martha was a dabster at
puzzles. She was terrible quick-witted, and sensed
out everything—like a ferret! I never saw her beat
at findin’ out things!”
“That would explain why an evil-doer, if there
was one, would put her out of the way rather than
have her live to tell of his depredations.”
“All right, sir,” Hannah conceded, “if so be’s
you put it that way. But don’t you accuse that innocent
girl of any wrongdoings herself, for she
never did! Never.”
“It does look that way,” Rodney said, thoughtfully.
“If Martha had that investigating proclivity,
that would explain her reappearance down stairs,—that
is, if there was a burglar,—yet, how could there
be one? As usual, we’re reasoning round in a circle.
Now, Mr Potter, I think your conclusions are
logical and probable, except in so far as they drag
me into this thing. I didn’t leave my room last
night at all. But I shall be at your disposal any
time you want to question me further on the subject.
Now, I want to go to the library and attend to my
daily routine of business matters. Also, Mr Wise
will arrive before noon, and perhaps his skill may
be helpful to your inquest.”
Shortly before noon Pennington Wise did arrive.
He brought with him a strange, almost weird
little girl creature, who ran up the steps and into the
house before him.
Granniss had opened the door to them, and after
greeting Wise, he turned to the girl.
“My assistant,” Wise said, carelessly. “Name,
Zizi. Give her over to the housekeeper, she’ll take
care of herself. Where’s the library—or living
Quite apparently tired from the steep walk up
the cliff, Wise sank into a chair that Rodney placed
for him. They stayed in the hall, which was large
and square, and was often used as a sitting room.
Zizi, however, dropping her bag in the hall,
darted toward the dining room and thence to the
“Oh,” she cried, to Hannah, “are you the cook?
Do give me some tea and toast or something,—I’m
famished! My heavens! Who’s that?”
Zizi bent over the dead girl, whose body still lay
on the kitchen floor.
Martha was clad only in a kimono, over her nightdress,
and wore bedroom slippers but no stockings.
“Hopped out of bed and ran down suddenly,
didn’t she?” commented the strange girl. “Didn’t
even stop to pin up her hair. Must have heard somebody
that she was pretty sure was burglaring, or
she wouldn’t have run down again on the chance
of its being Mrs Varian the second time.”
“How do you know all about it?” asked Hannah,
aghast, at the remarkable person that had invaded
her kitchen. “But you’re right! Martha was too
cute to be caught in a mistake twice,—she must have
been sure it was not Mrs Varian again!”
“Your chauffeur, who met us at the train, told us
about this poor girl.” Zizi’s black eyes snapped as
she delicately touched the awful bruises on Martha’s
throat. “Small doubt what did for her! Brute!”
Kneeling down, she ran her tiny fingers lightly
over the body, and finally scrutinized the hands.
“Look, Hannah,” she said, quietly, and held open
the left hand.
It showed a dark green streak, of some sort, that
spread entirely across the palm.
“Paint?” asked Hannah, not specially interested.
“Our porch chairs have been painted lately,—but I
don’t see how she got out on the porch. Though o’
course, she could ’a’ done so. That Martha.”
Just then Potter and Bill Dunn returned, and
said they were ready to take the body of the girl
down to the village, where her parents lived.
“And a good job to get it out of this house,”
said Dunn. “I tell you, Potter, poor Martha’s death
has nothin’ to do with those other horrors up here;
and Mrs Varian has all she can stagger under without
the extra sorrow and trouble of a servant girl.”
“Wait!” commanded Zizi, for her ringing tone
was nothing less than commanding, “wait, till Mr
Wise sees this girl.”
She ran for the detective, who came at once.
The sheriff gazed with eager curiosity at the
great city detective, and sniffed to see that he was
a mere human being after all. He saw only a
good-looking, well set up man, with chestnut hair,
brushed back from a broad forehead, and sharp blue
eyes that were kindly of expression but keen of
But the astute Bill Dunn saw more than this.
He recognized the air of efficiency, the subtle hint
of power, the whole effect of generalship which
fairly emanated from this quiet-mannered man.
There was no bustle about Pennington Wise, no
self-assertion, but to those blessed with perceptions
he gave an instant impression of sure reasoning and
He glanced quickly at Zizi, caught the almost
imperceptible motion of her own little bird claw of
a hand, and then, without seeming to notice her at
all, he spoke genially to the two men, and nodded
sympathetically at the cook.
And they all liked him. If asked why, they could
not have told, but his manner and attitude were so
friendly, his mien so inoffensive and his cordial
acceptance of each of them was so pleasant that
he was instantly in their good graces.
Even the sheriff, who had been fully prepared to
dislike and distrust this city wizard, capitulated
gladly, and was ready to subscribe to all his theories,
deductions and decisions.
“Too bad,” Wise said, with real feeling, as he
knelt by Martha’s side. And few could have seen,
unmoved, the bright young face of the strong healthy
girl who had been so brutally done to death.
Gently, he lifted her chin and examined the black
bruises on her throat.
“Finger-prints?” suggested Potter, eager to show
the city man his familiarity with modern methods.
“Hardly,” Wise said. “I doubt much could be
learned that way,—the bruise is so deep. Perhaps
there may be prints of the ruffian’s hands on her
clothing. You might try it out, Mr Potter.”
Then, while the two men were speaking to each
other about the matter, Wise unobtrusively looked at
the inside of the girl’s hands.
On the left palm he saw the long smear of dark
green, and after quick but careful scrutiny, he bent
lower and smelled of it. Then he closed the dead
hand and rose to his feet.
“You may take away the body, Sheriff,” he said,
“so far as I am concerned. She has people?”
“Yes, sir. Parents and sisters. Oh, it’s a sorry
thing for them.”
“It is so,” and then Wise let his perceiving eyes
roam over the kitchen.
“Have you searched the floor well for anything
that may have been dropped?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” the sheriff answered. “That’s all been
done, Mr Wise. We’re plain country folks here,
but we know a thing or two.”
“I’m sure of that,” Wise assented. “Did you
look under the dresser and beneath that corner cupboard?”
“Well, no; we didn’t think it necessary to go so
far as that.”
“Probably not; most likely not. Yet, I wish,
Hannah, you’d get a broom and just run it under
“I’ll do it,” volunteered Kelly, who had come to
He brought a broom, and brushing under the two
dressers, brought out some dust, some threads and
shreds and two yellow beads.
“Martha’s?” asked Wise, quietly, picking up the
“No!” exclaimed Hannah, staring at them. “Miss
“Miss Varian’s!” Wise was himself surprised.
“Yes, sir; the very ones she wore the day—the
day she—was lost.”
“I’ll take charge of them,” he said, simply, and
put them in his pocket.
Kelly and his broom failed to find anything
further, and suddenly realizing the side light it gave
on her housekeeping habits, Hannah began to explain
how everything was going at sixes and sevens
“Of course it would,” Zizi soothed her, as Wise
returned to the hall. “Now, Hannah, tell me, did you
find anywhere, any more of Miss Betty’s beads?”
“I found two, when I was sweepin’ here one day.
But I slipped ’em in this drawer an’ never remembered
them again. Here they be.”
She retrieved the two beads, and Zizi took them.
“Did she wear a long string of them?”
“No, miss, a fairly short string. About like that
you’ve on yourself.”
Zizi’s modest little string of black beads hung
perhaps four inches below her throat. She examined
the yellow beads, saw they were of amber,
and put them away in her little handbag.
“Now, Hannah,” she went on, “you and I are
“An’ that I’m proud to be, miss!”
“And you must help me all you can——”
“Help you what?”
“Find out the truth about Miss Betty,—and perhaps,—find
“Are you,—are you——”
“Yes, I’m a detective,—that is, I’m the assistant
of Mr Wise, and he’s the greatest detective in the
“Is he that, now?” and Kelly, unable to resist the
fascination of this queer visitor, joined the group.
“Yes, he is. And he is going to solve the whole
mystery,—if we all help. And, maybe we’ll help
best by doing nothing. And especially by saying
nothing. So, you two keep quite still about finding
these beads, won’t you, and about matters in general.
You talk over things with the villagers, I
suppose, but don’t say anything about what happens
up here now. Discuss the past, all you like, but not
the present. See?”
They didn’t see clearly, but they were more than
ready to promise whatever this girl asked, and then
between the two, Zizi was served with such a
luncheon as might have befitted a royal guest.
“Goodness, gracious, sakes alive!” she exclaimed,
“don’t bring me anything more, I beg of you. I
shall go to sleep like an anaconda and not wake up
for six months!”
Then, while the detective ate his luncheon at the
table with Minna Varian and her secretary, Zizi
went in search of the nurse.
She found Mrs Fletcher eating her meal from
a tray in her sitting room. It hurt her pride to do
this, but Minna Varian declared that she saw quite
enough of Fletcher between meals and must have
“Nice to eat alone, I think,” was Zizi’s observation
as she entered, uninvited, and perched herself on
the arm of a nearby chair.
“You’re Fletcher, aren’t you? Now, won’t you
please tell me some things confidentially? I see,
you’re a woman of deep perceptions, and are not to
be caught napping. Tell me, do you think Mrs
Varian went down stairs a second time last night?”
“That she did not,” asserted the nurse. She was
flattered at Zizi’s attitude and would have told her
anything she asked.
“How do you know?”
“I can’t go to sleep myself, you see, till Mrs
Varian is asleep. So I always wait until I hear
her steady breathing before I let myself drop off.”
The statement was too surely true to be disbelieved
and Zizi went on.
“Then who was it that Martha heard downstairs,
that she went down a second time?”
“Maybe she didn’t hear anybody. Maybe she went
down to see what she could pick up herself——”
“Steal, do you mean? Oh, for shame! To accuse
a poor, dead girl!”
Mrs Fletcher looked ashamed.
“I oughtn’t to,—I s’pose. But, Miss, what else
is there to think? I well know how this house is
locked up of nights; nobody from outside could get
in. The other servants are as honest as the day, and
though I’ve no real reason to suspect Martha, yet
there doesn’t seem to be any other way to look,—does
“Some way may turn up,” said Zizi. “Tell me
more about Betty,—Miss Varian.”
“I can’t tell you from having known her, for I
never saw the girl, but since I’ve been taking care
of Mrs Varian there’s little I don’t know about the
whole family. She’s nervous, you know, and so she
talks incessantly, when we’re alone.”
“Nothing, though, to cast any light on Miss
“Oh, no; nothing but sort of reminiscences about
her husband and how good he was to her, and how
she grieves for him,—and for her child. Poor
woman,—it’s fearful to hear her.”
“It must be,” said Zizi, sympathetically; “my heart
bleeds for that poor tortured soul.”
It was after luncheon, in the library, that Pennington
Wise began his real business of the
investigation of the Varian mysteries.
First of all, he desired to look over the papers
in Mr Varian’s desk, and with the assistance of
Granniss, he was soon in possession of the principal
facts to be learned that way.
Moreover, he discovered some things not yet
taken into consideration by the local detectives, and
he read with interest a number of letters that were
carefully filed, apparently for preservation.
Rapidly he scanned them and tossed them aside,
retaining a few for further consideration.
“I think, Mrs Varian,” he said, at last, “that a
most important fact in the case is the strange bequest
of the Varian pearls to your husband’s niece instead
of to his daughter. Can you explain this?”
“I cannot,” said Minna, “it seems to me absolutely
unexplainable. For generations those pearls
have descended from parent to child,—sometimes a
mother owned them, sometimes a father, but they
were always given to the oldest daughter, or, if
there were no daughter, then to a son. Only in
case of a childless inheritor did they go to a niece
or nephew. Why my husband should so definitely
bequeath them to his niece,—I cannot imagine. I’ve
thought over that for hours, but I can’t understand
it I will say frankly, that Betty and her father
frequently had differences of opinion, but nothing
more than many families have. They were really
devoted to one another, but both were of decided,
even obstinate nature, and when they disagreed they
were apt to argue the matter out, and as a result of
it, they did sometimes lose their temper and really
quarreled. But it always blew over quickly and they
were good friends again. I never paid any attention
to their little squabbles, for I knew them both
too well to think they were really at enmity. But
this matter of the pearls looks as if my husband
had a positive dislike for the child, and as a mark
of spite or punishment left the pearls away from
her. It makes little difference, if—if——”
“Don’t think about that, Mrs Varian,” said Wise,
kindly; “I’m considering this strange clause of Mr
Varian’s will from the viewpoint of the whole mystery.
It may prove a clue, you see. I want to say,
right now, that the whole affair is the greatest and
most baffling puzzle I have ever known of. The
disappearance of your daughter and the death of
your husband offer no solution that seems to me
possible,—let alone probable. I can set up no theory
that does not include a secret passage of some sort.
And though I am emphatically informed there is
none, yet, as you may imagine, I must investigate
that for myself.”
“I’ve found the house plans,” said a low, thin
little voice, and the strange girl, Zizi, appeared in
the room. That slender little wisp of humanity had
an uncanny way of being present and absent, suddenly,
and without explanation. She was there, and
then she wasn’t there,—but her goings and comings
were so noiseless and unobtrusive that they were
Pennington Wise held out his hand without a
word. Zizi gave over a bulky roll of papers and
Unrolling the time-yellowed sheets, they saw that
they really were the old contractor’s plans of the
With a sigh of satisfaction Wise commenced to
study them,—Granniss looking over his shoulder.
Minna sat quietly, her nervousness lost in her
eager anticipation of the new detective’s successful
The two men studied the plans carefully.
“I wish North could see these,” Rodney said;
“he’s of an architectural bent, Mr Wise, and he
measured the house all over, trying to find an unexplained
bit of space. According to these plans,
North is right, and there isn’t any.”
“I’m of an architectural bent myself,” Wise
smiled, “and I agree, there’s no foot of room left
unaccounted for on these papers. Of course a secret
passage could have been built in, in contradiction
of the plans, but I can’t think there is any such, after
your own search. It might be out-of-doors?”
“But we would have seen anyone going in or out
of the house,” Minna explained. “We were all
“The back doors?”
“There’s only one,” Rodney told him. “And that
was locked on the inside. Locked and bolted. No,
whatever happened, nobody came in through the
“Do you assume an intruder, then, Mr Wise?”
“I am obliged to, Mrs Varian. To begin with the
only fact we can positively affirm, Mr Varian was
shot,—and not by his own hand. This we assume
because of the absence of the weapon. Now, either
Miss Betty shot him or someone else did. I can’t
think the daughter did it, for it’s against the probabilities
in every way,—though, of course, it’s a possibility.
But the difficulties in the way of explaining
what the girl did with herself afterward, seem to me
greater than the objections to assuming an intruder
from outside. I mean from outside the family,—not
from outside the house. The explanation of his
entrance and exit is no more of a puzzle than the
explanation of Miss Varian’s exit. And I think
we must dismiss the idea that the girl concealed herself
in this house,—whether alive or—a suicide.”
“The girl didn’t do it,” came Zizi’s low murmur.
She was sitting on an ottoman, near Minna, and
now and then she caressed the hand of her hostess.
“There’s a big mind at the back of all this. And
you’re overlooking the death of the maid last night
Why, Penny, it’s all of a piece.”
“Yes”; and Wise roused himself from a brown
study. “It is all of a piece, and it hinges on that
bequest of the Varian pearls.”
“Hinges on that?” said Zizi.
“I mean that’s a key to the situation. When we
learn why Mr Varian made that strange arrangement,
we’ll be on our way to a solution of the
mystery. But the first thing is to find Miss Varian.”
“Oh, Mr Wise,” Minna cried out, “you think she
“I very much hope so, and though I don’t want
to give you false encouragement, I can’t help feeling
that she may be,”
“Yes, she is,” came Zizi’s quiet assurance, and
Minna impulsively kissed her.
“What a comfort you are!” she exclaimed; “elf,
pixie,—I don’t know what to call you,—but you
bring me courage and hope.”
Zizi’s great dark eyes gave appreciation, but she
only said, “You’re up against it, Penny.”
“I am, indeed,” Wise said, very gravely; “and my
first work must be a deep investigation of all Mr
Varian’s affairs. You were entirely in his confidence,
“Oh, yes; we had no secrets from one another.
He told me all his financial ventures or business
worries. There were none of those of late, but
years ago, there were some. Yes, I may say I know
everything that ever happened to my husband.”
“Then who has been blackmailing him of late,
and what for?”
“Blackmail!” Minna looked blank. “Never such
a thing as that has happened to my husband!” She
spoke proudly and positively.
“You know of no one who had a hold over Mr
Varian,—or thought he had,—and who wrote him
“Most assuredly not! And I know that nothing
of the sort ever did occur, for he would most certainly
have told me. We were more confidential
than most married people, and we never had secrets
from one another.”
“Well, perhaps I am over-imaginative.”
“What made you think it?” asked Minna, curiously;
“if you have found any letters you can’t
explain, show them to me,—I can doubtless tell you
After a moment’s hesitation, Wise handed her a
It bore neither date nor address, but it read,
“Unless you accede to my demands, I shall expose
you, and the woman you robbed will claim redress or
return of her property.”
This brief message was signed “Step.” and
Minna read it with a look of utter perplexity.
“I don’t know what it means,” she said, handing
it back, “but I’m sure it’s of no importance. Mr
Varian never robbed a woman in his life! The
very idea is too absurd to consider. You are at
liberty to hunt it down, Mr Wise, but you will never
find it has a meaning that will reflect on my husband’s
stainless honor! You may refer to any of his
friends, his relatives or his business associates. All
will tell you that Frederick Varian and dishonesty
are contradictory terms!”
“That may all be true, Mrs Varian, and doubtless
is true, but you know blackmailers are not so scrupulous,
and they sometimes find a peg to hang their
demands on even in the case of the most upright.
This note is undated, but the envelope shows it was
mailed less than six months ago. Therefore the
matter may be still unsettled, and may have a bearing
on the whole case. Could there have been any
family reason that would influence him to leave the
pearls away from his daughter?”
“Oh, no! His brother and sister-in-law were
quite as much surprised as I was to learn of that.
But, Mr Wise, what do you think about this matter
of the kidnappers asking for ransom? Do you
think it is all a fraud?”
“I’m going to look into that as soon as I can. At
first glance, it seems fraudulent, but the wonder is
that you haven’t had similar letters from other
fakers. However, I am going to work backward.
I want, first of all to look about a bit, for evidences
or clues regarding last night’s tragedy. I am sure
the whole string of horrors is a connected one, and
to find out who killed poor Martha, will in my opinion
be a stepping-stone to the solution of the other
“There’s a clue for you, then,” Zizi said, not
moving from her seat, but pointing to a spot on the
rug near the safe.
Wise’s eyes followed her finger’s direction and
saw a slight mark, as of a dusty footprint.
In a moment, he was on his knees near it, and
scrutinized it carefully.
“I’ve heard of footprint clues,” said Granniss,
interested, “but that is so vague and imperfect, I
don’t think you can deduce who made it,—can you?”
“Not from the print,——” Wise said,—thoughtfully,
and then added nothing to his unsatisfactory
He then took a paper-cutter from the desk, and
scraped onto a bit of smooth paper what dust he
could get from the footprint, and carefully folded
it up and put it in his pocketbook.
“What shoes were you wearing when you visited
the safe last night, Mrs Varian?” he asked.
“Bedroom slippers,” she replied.
“Had you walked anywhere except to traverse
the halls and stairs, from your bedroom down
“No, nowhere else.”
“And you took that package of money up to your
room with you?”
“Had you not done so, it would have been stolen,”
Wise said, calmly. “A thief visited this safe after
you were here,—he thought the money was here.
He was surprised by the maid, Martha, coming down
to spy on him,—and in order to get rid of her,—and
save himself, he strangled her.”
All present stared at him, and Rodney Granniss
flushed a deep red.
“To a disinterested observer, Mr Wise,” he said,
“it might easily appear that I was that thief. I
knew the money had been put in the safe. I did not
know Mrs Varian had removed it. I——”
“Look here,” interrupted Zizi, “you talk too
much! If you’re going to be suspected, for the love
of cheese, let somebody else do it! Don’t meet
trouble half way, and sing out, ‘Pleased to meetcha!’
Be careful, Mr Granniss.”
“Hush up, Zizi,” Wise counseled her. “Children
should be seen and not heard.”
“All right, Penny, I’ll be good. Now, here’s a
present for you.”
She gave him the yellow beads given her by the
“Divulge,” he said, briefly, as he stared at the
tiny objects in his palm.
But Minna Varian had caught sight of them and
had recognized them. “Oh!” she cried, “Betty!
Betty! Those are the beads she had on that day!
Where did you get them? Where did they come
And then, before they could answer her, her over-wrought
nerves gave way, her calm broke through
the constraint she had put upon it, and she became
Granniss went at once for Mrs Fletcher, and the
nurse took her patiently away.
“She’ll be all right with Fletcher,” Rodney said,
returning after he had assisted Minna to her room;
“it won’t be a very bad attack, nurse thinks. Really,
I’ve been surprised that Mrs Varian has kept up as
well as she has. Now, Mr Wise, tell me what you
suspect regarding Mr Varian? And also, tell me if
you suspect me—in any way. I plead not guilty,—and
I want to add that Miss Varian and I are sweethearts.
We couldn’t call it an engagement for her
father wouldn’t hear of such a thing. But we hoped
to persuade him in time,—and truly, I thought he
would finally consent. I’m telling you this, so you
can see what a deep interest I have in the recovery
of Betty,—for I am not willing to believe she is
dead. In fact, I believe she has been kidnapped, and
though I’m not sure those letters Mrs Varian has
received are in good faith,—yet I believe she is being
held for ransom.”
“By whom?” asked Wise.
“By the kidnapper——”
“Who also is the——”
“Blackmailer!” said Zizi, in an awestruck voice.
“Oh, Penny Wise, how you do jump at a solution!
You just clear all intervening obstacles, and land
on the truth!”
“I’m far from having landed,” said Wise, ruefully;
“that’s all theory,—with very little fact to
back it up.”
“Well, these beads are facts,” Zizi said. “They’re
two more, Penny, from the same string that you
already have a few from. You see, Mr Granniss,”
she said, turning to Rod, “Mr Wise discovered a
few of these beads in the kitchen this morning, and
a little later, I found that the cook had picked up
two in the kitchen the day after Miss Betty’s disappearance.
The string of them that she wore was not
a long one, but still there were at least a dozen or
so more than we have found. Where are they?”
She had turned again to Wise as she put this
“I know the beads well,” Granniss said, “but how
did they get in the kitchen?”
“It may be a simple matter,” Wise responded.
“Perhaps the string broke when she was out there
getting the lemonade. I understand all the servants
“But, Penny,” Zizi reminded him, “in that case
the other beads would be about, somewhere. She
would have picked them up and put them in a box
“Yes, she would,” Rodney agreed, “for Betty
loved that necklace. She loved anything yellow.
You’ve heard about the yellow pillow?”
“No,” said Wise. “Do try, Mr Granniss, to tell
me everything. I was called to this case altogether
too late. Much could have been done had I been
here sooner. But, now tell me every little thing you
can think of.”
So Granniss told them of the finding of the
yellow satin sofa-pillow in the middle of the kitchen
floor. He obtained the pillow from the hall and
showed it to them.
Zizi scrutinized it with her eager black eyes, and
carefully extracted from its embroidered design a
small fine hairpin.
“An invisible,” she said, holding it up to the light.
“Yes,” and Granniss looked at it. “She wore
dinky little ones like that in her front hair. All girls
do, I guess.”
“It may mean something or nothing,” Wise said,
musingly. “If Miss Varian was in the habit of lying
on the hall sofa, the hairpin may have been caught
in the cushion some time ago.”
“I don’t know,” Granniss said; “I never was here
while—when Betty was here.”
“Well, aside from the hairpin, what about the
yellow pillow, on the kitchen floor, Penny?” Zizi
asked, looking up into the detective’s face as at an
“It’s a clue, all right,” Wise said; “oh, if I’d only
been here that very day! A most astounding case,
and every possible evidence wiped out!”
“Oh, no, not that,” Zizi spoke cheerfully. “And
now, as you say, you must get busy in the matter
of poor Martha. What about the green streak?”
“Yes,” the detective spoke to Rodney. “There
was a dull green smear across the palm of that girl’s
left hand. I see no freshly painted furniture in
“No, there wouldn’t be,” Zizi ruminated. “And
it wasn’t paint,—you know it wasn’t.”
“It looked like paint, and what else would remain
there so indelibly?”
“What could it be anyway?” queried Granniss.
“What do you suggest?”
“I can’t think, myself,” and Wise looked nonplussed.
“I smelled it, but there was no odor of
paint. Nobody around the house uses water colors,
“No,” said Granniss.
“It was such a smear as might have been made
by a paint brush filled with a dull green watercolor
pigment,—but I don’t say it was that.”
“It was more like a vegetable stain,” Zizi suggested.
“A mark like that could have been made,
by grasping a dish or saucepan that had held
“Oh, come now, Zizi, that’s a little far-fetched.”
“Not if we find cold spinach in the refrigerator,”
Zizi persisted. “Martha might have been getting
something to eat.”
“In that case the green smear doesn’t count for
much,” Wise said. “But we have accumulated some
clues. We have the yellow beads, the yellow pillow,
the green streak, and last, but by no means least, the
dust I scraped from the floor in this room.”
“Explain the significance of that, won’t you?”
asked Granniss. “Or are you one of those secretive
“Not at all. That dust is, to my mind, from the
shoe of the man who tried to rob this safe last night,
thinking that money was in it. Now, I admit, Mr
Granniss, that you knew, or thought you did, that
the money was there; you knew the combination;
you are quite strong enough to have strangled a
woman who surprised you at your job; yet I know
you didn’t have anything to do with the attempted
“Because you love Betty!” Zizi said, softly, her
eyes shining with sympathy and understanding.
“Right you are, Wise, go on.”
“Also, because,” Wise went on, “because, I’m sure
that is the footprint of the would-be burglar, and
while the footprint as a print is too indistinct to be
a clue to the man who made it, yet the dust that
forms the print is indicative. It is a fine dust made
up of particles of cement. I mean such dust as
would adhere to a shoe that had traversed a cement
floor, and, more likely an imperfect cement floor.”
“That means the cellar!” Rodney cried; “I’ve been
down there a lot of late, poking around for that
everlasting secret passage, and there’s a lot of loose
Wise gave him a quick glance, but his enthusiasm
was so genuine, that the detective dismissed a sudden
qualm of suspicion.
“Slip down and get me a sample, will you?” he
said, and Granniss went at once.
“Big case, Zizi,” Wise said, as the two were left
But he spoke heavily, almost despairingly, and
with no show of his usual exultant interest in a big
“Yes, but,” the black eyes turned hopefully to his
own, “there are tangible clues. And those of Betty’s
can wait. Do you chase those that have to do with
“I certainly shall. Martha was killed by the
burglar. Did he kidnap Betty?”
“And kill Mr Varian?” Zizi added, and then
He brought a little cellar floor dust in a paper,
and, as Wise had expected, that and the particles
he had scraped from the library rug, were indubitably
“Well, then,” Wise remarked, “the burglar came
up from the cellar.”
“Where he had been hiding, goodness knows how
long!” Rodney exclaimed. “For we locked the
house securely before we went upstairs.”
“I think it’s time I took a look at the cellar,” said
Wise, and all three started down.
A Letter from Nowhere
Pennington Wise himself assisted in the
locking up of the house that night, for he was
determined if any more burglars came, he
would know how they got in. The money that
Minna had in her possession he took charge of, saying
he would be responsible for its safety.
Long the detective lay awake in his pleasant bedroom
that overlooked the sea. He could hear the
great waves tossing and breaking at the foot of the
cliff and he couldn’t free his mind from a queer
obsession to the effect that those waves held the
secret of the mysteries of Headland House.
“It’s too absurd,” he thought to himself in the
darkness, “but I do feel that the whole matter is
dependent in some way or other on the cliff and
Had he been asked to elucidate this more definitely
he could not have done so. It was only a
hunch,—but Wise’s hunches were often worthy of
consideration, and he determined to go out on the
sea in somebody’s boat when the morning came, and
see if he could find any inspiration.
When the morning came it brought a fresh surprise.
The household assembled promptly for an eight
o’clock breakfast. Minna Varian, pale and fragile
looking, clad in a simple black house dress, was a
strong contrast to the young and glowing vitality
of Zizi, whose slim little black frock was touched
here and there with henna, and whose vivid and expressive
face needed no aid of cosmetics to be a
bright, colorful picture in itself.
Wise was very grave and silent,—he was in a
mood which Zizi knew was that of utter bafflement.
It was not often the detective felt this conviction of
helplessness, but it had occurred before, and Zizi
noted it with some alarm. It meant desperate and
wearing effort on Wise’s part, deep thinking and
dogged persistence in forming and proving theories,
that more likely than not would prove false. It
meant a strain of brain and nerves that might result
in a physical breakdown,—for the detective had been
working hard of late, and this impenetrable mystery
seemed the last straw.
Granniss was the most serene of the quartette.
He was young and hopeful. He was innocent of
any crime or knowledge of it, and he cared naught
for the half-voiced suspicions of the local police.
In fact, they had practically given up the case as far
beyond their ken, and now that Wise was in charge,
the sheriff wanted nothing to say in the matter, except
when Wise desired to consult him.
And Granniss was confident that Wise would find
Betty. He had no real reason for his belief in the
detective’s magic, but he had unbounded faith, and
he was a born optimist. He felt sure that, if Betty
had been killed, the fact would have become known
by this time,—and if she were still alive, surely she
would be found. He had come to believe in the
kidnappers, and though he couldn’t understand how
the deed had been done, he cared more to get Betty
back than to learn what had happened to her. Also,
he was kept busy in attending to the daily influx of
business letters and financial matters connected with
the Varian estate. Doctor Varian had promised to
come up to Headland House again as soon as he
could, but he was a busy man and hadn’t yet made
time for the visit.
As breakfast was about to be served, Kelly
brought a letter to Minna saying simply, “This was
on the hall table when I came downstairs this morning,
A glance showed Minna that it was from the
same source as the other “ransom” letter, and she
handed it unopened to Wise.
Staring hard at the envelope, he slit it open, and
read the contents aloud.
“We know all that is going on. We have your
daughter. You have the required sum of money. If
you will bring about an exchange, we will do our part.
Your fancy detective must work with you, or at least
refrain from working against you, or there can be no
deal. You may drop the package over the cliff, exactly
as directed before, at midnight on Friday. Unless
you accomplish this, in strict accordance with our
orders, you will lose both the money and your child.
One divergence from our directions and your daughter
will be done away with. You can see we have no other
way out. This is our last letter, and our final offer.
Take it or leave it. Enclosed is a note from your
daughter to prove that we are telling you the truth.”
And enclosed was a small slip of paper on which
“Mother, do as they tell you. Betty.”
“Is that your daughter’s writing?” Wise asked,
as he passed the little note to Minna.
“Yes,” she whispered, trembling so violently and
turning so white, that Zizi flew to her side, and induced
her to take a sip of coffee.
“Brace up, now, dear,” Zizi said, “you’ll need all
your strength and all your pluck. And cheer up, too.
If that’s from Betty, she’s alive, and if she’s alive,
we’ll get her! Bank on that!”
Zizi’s strong young voice and encouraging smile
did as much as the coffee to invigorate and cheer the
distracted mother, and Rod Granniss, said, “Sure!
that’s Betty’s own writing,—no forgery about that!
Now, Mr Wise, what next?”
“Next, is to find out how that note got into this
house,” said Pennington Wise. “I locked up myself
last night,—I listened but I heard no intruder’s footstep,
and I know no outside door or window was
opened. It was,—it must have been an inside job.
“Where were you all night?”
“In my bed, sir. On the third floor of the house.”
“Oh, pouf! I know it wasn’t you, Kelly, you
could no more have engineered this letter than you
could fly to the moon! And Hannah, I suppose was
in her bed, too. I’ve no wish to question the servants,—they
had nothing to do with it.”
“It was the kidnappers, then?” Zizi asked, softly.
“It was the kidnappers,” Wise said. “They,—or
he,—came into this house by some secret way, which
we have got to find. They, or their agent, came in
night before last to steal that money from the safe.
Foiled in that attempt, they have returned to their
ransom scheme, hoping to get the money that way.
They are desperate, and,—I don’t know, Mrs
Varian but that we’d better——”
“Oh, Penny,” Zizi cried, “don’t throw away all
“What is that sum,—any sum,—in comparison
with getting my child?” cried Minna, so excited as
to be with difficulty warding off a hysterical attack.
“But you wouldn’t get her,” Zizi asserted, positively.
“First, they’d never get the money,—thrown
down in the darkness like that,—it’s too uncertain.
And, if they did, they wouldn’t return Betty,—I
know they wouldn’t.”
“Never mind that now, Zizi,” Wise spoke from
deep preoccupation. “We have till Friday night to
decide about it. Today is only Wednesday. What
I hope to get at from this note is the identity of the
kidnapper. I am sure it is the same man as the one
who wrote that blackmail letter.”
“This is typewritten,” Granniss said, studying the
letter. “And not signed in any way. I’ve heard,
though, that typewriting is as easily distinguished or
recognized as penwriting.”
“That’s true in a sense,” Wise told him. “I mean,
if you suspect a certain person or machine, you can
check up the peculiarities of the script, and prove
the typing. But in this case, the letter was doubtless
written on some public machine,—say in a hotel or
business office, and even if found, would give no
clue to the writer. We have to do with the cleverest
mind I have ever been up against. That is positive.
Now the reason I connect the kidnapper and the
blackmailer is twofold. First, if this man’s blackmailing
scheme proved unsuccessful, he may have
struck at his victim in this more desperate way.
And, second, there is a resemblance in the diction of
the notes from the kidnappers and the note of blackmail
intent, signed ‘Step’.”
“What do you suppose ‘Step’ means?” Granniss
“Short for Stephen, I daresay,” replied Wise.
“There’s no other name that begins,—oh, yes,
there is Stepney,—but it doesn’t matter. ‘Step’ is
our man,—of that I’m sure. But how to find such
an elusive individual is a puzzling problem.”
“Then you believe there’s a secret passage?”
“There simply has to be. It may be a hidden one,—or
it may be a false doorway or window frame,
but there is most certainly a way for that villain to
get in and out of this house at will. Now that way
must be found, and at once or I give up my profession
and make no further claim to detective
“We’ll find it, Penny,” Zizi promised him.
“Find it, if you have to tear down the whole
house,” Minna exclaimed, excitedly. She was
nervously caressing the note from Betty, and was
ready to further any project that was suggested.
“You don’t own the house?” Wise asked.
“No; but I’ll buy it. It’s in the market, and the
price is not so very high. Then you can tear it
down, if you wish, and I can sell the ground afterward.”
“Good business deal!” Granniss said. “I’d like
nothing better than to drive a pick into these old
“But there’s no place to drive, with any expectation
of success,” Wise demurred. “Where’s your
friend North? Isn’t he an architect? Can you get
him up here?”
“Surely,” Rod said, “I’ll telephone him, if you
say so. I’m sure he’ll be glad to come. He isn’t a
professional architect, but he knows more about
building plans than many a firm of contractors does.”
“Call him, then, please, when you’ve finished your
breakfast,” Wise directed, and returned to his study
of the letter.
“I can’t understand it at all,” he groaned to Zizi,
after breakfast was over.
Minna had gone to her room, and Rodney was
reading the mail.
Wise and Zizi were in the hall, sitting on the sofa
with the yellow pillows.
“This figures in it,” Zizi said, patting the yellow
pillow that had held the little hairpin.
“Find that secret entrance first,” she said, drawing
her pretty brows together. “That will explain
’most everything. And, Penny, it isn’t a secret passage,
as they call it. It’s just a concealed entrance.”
“And through the cellar,—for you know, there
was cellar dust on the library floor,—near the safe.”
“That only proved the man had been down cellar,—hiding
probably until the time was ripe. I’ve
scoured that cellar myself.”
“So have I, Zizi, and there’s not a loose stone in
its walls or a trap in its floor,—of that I’m certain.”
“I’m sure of that, too; and Penny, I even went
down the well.”
“You did! You little rascal. They told me Dunn
went down and examined that.”
“Well, I had to go, too. It wasn’t difficult,—the
stone sides are easy to climb up and down. Not
very slippery, either. But dirty! My, I ruined one
of my pet dresses. Yet there was no hole in the old
well sides. No missing stone or anything suspicious.
And that settles the cellar!”
“I don’t think the entrance is through the cellar.
I incline more to the idea of a false door frame,—you
know, the frame and all on hinges. Then, locking
would not affect the opening of the whole
“That’s all right,—but, which door?”
“There are only two. I’ve examined them both.
It may be a window.”
“Get friend North to confab with you. You’re
clever enough, Penny, but you’re not a real architect.
Mr North may have some suggestions to make, that
with your ingenuity may work it out.”
Lawrence North arrived and with him came
Claire Blackwood. The latter was urged to the visit
largely by curiosity to learn how things were going,
and also by a desire to renew her expressions of
sympathy and hope to Mrs Varian.
Zizi managed to get a few words alone with
“Tell me about this Eleanor,” the girl said. “I
feel sure a lot hinges on that peculiar matter of the
pearls. Is Eleanor a scheming sort?”
“Oh, no!” exclaimed Mrs Blackwood. “She is a
dear girl,—very young, and of a simple, charming
nature. She was devoted to her cousin, and had no
thought of the family pearls ever being hers. Don’t
for a moment think of Eleanor Varian as capable of
the slightest thought of disloyalty, much less of envy
“Well, I just wanted to know,” said Zizi, with
her winning, confidential smile. “What about her
parents? Could her mother have influenced Mr
Frederick Varian’s mind against his own daughter?”
“No, indeed! Nor Doctor Varian either! Why,
they’re the best and finest kind of people, all of them.
Whatever the explanation of those pearls being left
away from Betty, it was not due to any maneuvering
on the part of Eleanor or her parents! Of that
you may be sure!”
Meantime, Lawrence North and the detective were
discussing architecture. They were in the library
and the plans of the house were spread out before
“I’m interested,” North said, looking eagerly at
the plans, “for I’m always fond of plans. And, too,
I want to prove my contention that there’s no space
unaccounted for. At first, I thought there might
be a bit of spare room between this wall and this,—you
see. But that jamb is merely the back of a small
cupboard in the hall. Can you find any hint of false
“No; I can’t,” Wise admitted, and then he unfolded
his theory of a double door frame,—or,
rather a hinged door frame or window frame.
“That,” said North, “must be looked for in the
house, not on the plans. But I doubt it. Any such
thing would be apt to show the joints after years
of disuse. You see, this house hasn’t been lived in
before for a long time.”
“Then I’ll have to give up the notion of a double
door,” and Wise sighed. “Now, here’s another
matter. I want to go out in a boat,—a good motor
boat, and have a look round the sea and the cliff
and observe for myself the possibilities of an expert
climber entering the grounds from that side. Will
you take me in your boat? I’m told you have a
“Of course I will,” was the ready response.
“When do you want to go?”
“As soon as you can make it convenient. I want
to work rapidly, as things are coming to a focus,
and I don’t dare delay.”
North stared at him, as if wondering how a trip
in his boat would advance the work definitely, but
the detective had no intention of telling him about
the kidnapper’s letter and, too, Wise wanted to view
the whole headland from the ocean.
The result was that the two started off at once,
and going first to North’s bungalow to get his keys,
and also his man who helped run the boat, inside of
an hour Pennington Wise found himself out on the
ocean with North, and Joe Mills, who, though
taciturn and even grumpy, was a good navigator.
“Remarkable cliff!” Wise exclaimed, amazed at
its effect from below.
“It’s all of that!” North said; “most wonderful
cliff on the whole Maine coast, they say. Notice
the overhang, and then tell me if any one could
“No human being could!” Wise declared. “And
I can think of no animal,—unless a spider. Go
clear round to the other side, will you?”
North gave orders and Mills drove them round
the great headland, and on all sides it was as massive
and forbidding as the first view.
“High tide, isn’t it?” asked Wise, as they went
on beyond the headland, and then turned back again.
“Yes,” said North, glancing at the rocky base.
“Almost top notch.”
“Very. Twenty feet at least.”
“I thought so. Marvelous tides up in this locality.
Well, there’s nothing more to be discovered
by gazing at these rocks and water: let’s go home.”
On the trip homeward, the detective proved himself
so entertaining that North went back to Headland
House with him.
Again they poured over the plans of the house,
and Wise announced his determination of using a
pick on one room in the third story that he surmised
might be a trifle shorter than its adjacent walls
“But it measures up,” North insisted.
“Not quite,” Wise declared. “There may be a
two foot space in there, which would be enough for
a secret passage.”
“You’re a persistent one!” North laughed. “All
right, Mr Wise, go ahead with your investigation.
May I help? I can wield a pick with the best of
The detective glanced at the lithe, sinewy form,
that seemed to be all muscle and no superfluous flesh,
and said, admiringly, “I believe you! But I think
Kelly or the chauffeur can do the really hard work.”
“No, let me do it,” North offered. “I’d really
So, half amused at his own decision, Wise agreed,
and the two went in search of the necessary tools.
But the result of their labor was absolutely nothing,
beyond an incredible amount of dust and dirt,
of lath and plaster, and two very much disheveled
“Now you must stay to dinner, Mr North,” the
detective urged him. “You can put yourself to
right enough for our informal meal, and it is too
late for you to get to your home by dinner time.”
So North stayed, and at dinner they all discussed
freely the whole affair. Mrs Varian did not appear
at the table, the nurse thinking it was better for her
to have no more excitement that day.
So Zizi calmly appropriated the chair at the head
of the table, and acted the part of hostess prettily
Wise changed his mind about confiding to Lawrence
North the matter of the ransom letters, and
concluded that in the absence of Mrs Varian the
subject might be discussed.
“At any rate,” the detective summed up, “we’re
in the possession of positive knowledge. We know
that Betty was kidnapped,——”
“Oh, come now,” North said, thoughtfully, “those
letters may be faked,—it seems to me they must be,—by
some clever villain who expects to get all that
money under false promises. I don’t believe for a
minute there is a kidnapper—why would anyone
kidnap Betty Varian?”
“For the usual kidnapper’s reason,—ransom,”
“Well, how did the kidnapper get in?”
“Oh, Mr North!” Wise threw up his hands.
“This from you! I made up my mind that if one
more person said to me, ‘How did the kidnapper
get in?’ I’d have him arrested! I don’t know how
he got in,—but I’m going to find out!”
“I think I won’t assist in the work personally the
next time you try,” Lawrence said. “I scarcely
could get myself presentable for dinner! But, seriously,
Mr Wise, you asked me up here to consult
with you. Now, I’m sure we must agree, that there is
a way in and out of this house that we don’t know
of. And that explains the entrance of the person
who killed that poor girl in the kitchen.”
“And explains the disappearance of Miss Varian,
and the scattering of her beads.”
“Beads?” said Lawrence North, interrogatively.
“Yes; there were several beads found in the kitchen
that have been identified as hers.”
“Then the way in must be connected with the
kitchen,” North remarked.
“Perhaps, but not necessarily.”
“It’s a dark night, Mr North,” Rodney Granniss
said, hospitably. “Won’t you spend the night here?
We can give you a room.”
After a polite demurrer, North accepted the invitation.
The evening was spent in further and repeated
discussion of the known facts and the surmised possibilities
of the mystery, and then, both the detective
and Granniss went about locking up the house against
further marauders, and they all retired.
And the next morning they found that Lawrence
North had disappeared! His room showed signs of
a struggle. A chair was overturned, a rug awry and
deep scratches on the shining floor proved a scuffle of
“Another kidnapping case!” Granniss exclaimed.
“Must have been a husky chap that got the better
of North! Could there have been two against him?
He’s a powerful fighter!”
“Search the house,” said Wise, briefly, “and keep
everybody out of North’s bedroom. I’ll lock it and
take the key myself. Now look for him. Is he given
to practical joking?”
But no amount of searching disclosed Lawrence
North, or any sign of him, dead or alive. And the
locked doors and windows were undisturbed.
“He certainly didn’t leave of his own accord,”
said Granniss; “he couldn’t have locked the doors
“He was carried off,” cried Minna, “just as Betty
was! Oh, who of us is safe now?”
Where is North?
Pennington Wise was at his wits’ end.
His wits were of the finest type and had always
stood him in good stead; but he had
reached their limit, at least regarding this present
Baffling was too mild a word for it. Uncanny it
was not, for there was no hint or evidence of anything
supernatural in the taking off of Lawrence
North. He was a big, strong personality, and he had
gone out of that house by natural means, whether
voluntarily or not.
That is, of course, if he had gone out of the house.
Wise was inclined to think he had, but Rodney
Granniss still held to the possibility of some concealed
room,—perhaps a dungeon, where the mysterious
disappearances could be compassed.
Wise paid no attention to Granniss’ opinions, not
from any ill-will toward the young man, but because
he had concluded to his own satisfaction that there
was really no space for a concealed room in the
North had come up there for the purpose of helping
him look for such a matter, and North had
agreed that it could not be.
And now North himself was gone,—carried off,—yet
the mere phrase, “carried off” seemed to Wise
Could North have been carried off without making
noise enough to rouse some of the sleeping household?
It was incredible!
Before discussing the matter with Minna, or calling
the local police again, Wise went to the bedroom
North had occupied and locked himself in.
“If I can’t tell,” he said to himself, “whether that
man was kidnapped or whether he sneaked himself
off—yet why would he do such a thing as that? My
desperation over this puzzle is leading my mind
Carefully, without touching a thing, Wise considered
the state of the room.
The bed had been occupied, and, it was quite evident,
had been hastily quitted. The coverings were
tossed back over the footboard, and the pillow still
bore the impress of a head.
On the dresser lay North’s collar and tie, and beneath
the pillow, Wise discovered his watch and a
Clearly, the man had gone, after a hasty and incomplete
On the small table, lay some sheets of paper and a
These papers were some that they had used the
night before drawing plans and making measurements
of the house.
Scanning the papers, Wise was startled to see a
scrawled message on the corner of a sheet. It read:
They’ve got me. L. N.
It had been so hastily jotted down as to be almost
Had North managed to scribble it while his captor
or captors looked another way? It was all too unbelievable!
The thought would creep in that North was implicated
in the mystery himself. Yet that was quite
as unbelievable as the rest of it,—if not more so.
Wise turned his attention to the disordered furniture.
The overturned chair was not broken, but a glass
tumbler was. Evidently it had been knocked off the
night stand. The rug was in wrinkles and one window
curtain had been partly pulled from its rod.
The scratches on the hardwood floor were apparently
made by scuffling feet, but of that Wise
could not be sure.
In fine, the whole disorder of the room could have
been made by struggling men, or could have been
faked by any one desiring to produce that effect.
“Yet I’ve no reason to think North faked it,”
Wise told himself frankly, “except that that would
be an easy way out of it for me! And that message
he left looks genuine,—and his watch is a valuable
one,—oh, Lord, I am up against it!”
He went downstairs, and learned that Lawrence
North’s straw hat still hung on the hall rack. The
man must have been forcibly carried off. He
couldn’t have walked out without collar, tie or hat!
Moreover, the doors were all locked.
It still was necessary to assume a secret exit from
Wise inclined to the hinged door frame, or window
frame, but his most careful search failed to
reveal any such. He determined to get an expert
carpenter to look over the house, feeling that such
would be better than an architect.
Crestfallen, dispirited and utterly nonplussed,
Wise sat down in the library to think it over.
First, the authorities must be told of North’s disappearance,
and all that, but those things he left to
Granniss. The mystery was his province.
Acting on a sudden impulse, Wise started off at
once for North’s home. This was a good-looking
bungalow, of artistic effects and quiet unpretentious
His knock brought the grumpy Joe Mills to the
“Whatcha want?” was his surly greeting.
“As I’m here on an important matter, I’ll come
inside,” Wise said, and entered the little living-room.
“Whatcha doin’ here?” Mills continued. “Where’s
“I don’t know where he is. Isn’t he here?”
“Why no,—he stayed up to Headland House last
night. Ain’t you the detective from there?”
“Yes, I am. And Mr North left Headland House,—er,—before
breakfast this morning. Didn’t he
“No, he didn’t. Leastways, I ain’t seen him. An’
I’ve got work to do,—so you can leave as soon as
“Look here, my man, keep a civil tongue in your
head. Mr North has disappeared,——”
“Well, he’s got a right to disappear if he likes,—ain’t
“But he went off——”
“I don’t care how he went off. It’s nothin’ to me.
An’ I’ve got my work to do. Now you vamoose.”
“Not yet,” said Wise coolly, and began to look
about the house. “There’s no use in taking that attitude,
Mr Mills, the authorities of the village and
of the county will be here shortly,—unless Mr North
turns up, which I don’t think he will. Now, I’m
going to do a little looking about on my own.”
Wise set to work, and went swiftly over the house,
from room to room. He found nothing that gave
him any clue to North’s disappearance nor anything
that gave him much information as to North’s private
Even an examination of the letters and notes in
the small desk showed only some bills, some invitations,
some circulars, that meant nothing to the detective.
He noted some memoranda in Lawrence North’s
handwriting and saw that it corresponded with the
note left for him.
Sheriff Potter came in while he was there, but the
conversation between the two men was of little interest
It was all so hopeless, it seemed to Wise,—and,
so blankly mysterious it seemed to Potter.
Claire Blackwood came over from her home, and
Wise turned to her as to a friend.
“Do tell me something about this man, North, Mrs
Blackwood,” he said. “Have you known him long?”
“Only through this summer,” she replied. “He’s
a New Yorker, but I don’t know much else about
“What’s his business?”
“I’m not sure, but I think he’s a real estate man.
He’s spending two months here, and he rented this
bungalow furnished. You see, Mr Wise, the people
of this colony are a sort of lawless, happy-go-lucky
set. I mean if we like any one, we don’t bother to
inquire into their antecedents or their social standing.”
“Is North married?”
“I don’t think so. At least, I’ve always thought
him a bachelor, though nowadays you never can tell.
He may have a wife, for all I know.”
“At any rate, Mrs Blackwood, he has most mysteriously
disappeared. And I do hope if you know
anything—anything at all, about the man, you will
tell me. For, I don’t mind admitting I am greatly
distressed and disturbed at this new development of
the Varian case.”
“You connect Mr North’s disappearance with
Betty Varian’s, then?”
“How can I help it? Both vanished from the
same house. It proves, of course, that there is a
secret exit, but it is strange that such cannot be
“It is disappointing, Mr Wise, to find that such a
famous detective as you cannot find a concealed entrance
to a country house!”
“You are not more disappointed than I am, at
that fact, Mrs Blackwood. I am chagrined, of
course, but I am more frankly puzzled. The whole
case is so amazing, the evidence so scanty,—clues are
non-existent,—what can I do? I feel like saying I
was called in too late,—yet, I’m not sure I could have
done better had I been here at first. I can’t see where
evidence has been destroyed or clues lost. It is all
“You are delightfully candid and far from bumptious,”
she said, smiling at him. “I feared you were
of the know-it-all variety, and I see you aren’t.”
“Help me to know it all, Mrs Blackwood,” Wise
urged. “I can’t help feeling you know more about
Lawrence North than any one else up here. If so,
can’t you tell me something of his life?”
“No, truly, Mr Wise, I don’t know any more than
I’ve told you. He was up here last year,—this is my
first season. But I don’t know of any one up here
now, that knows him very well. He is a quiet, reserved
sort of man,—and,—as a matter of fact, we
are not a gossipy lot.”
Disheartened and disappointed, Wise went back
to Headland House only to find that Doctor Varian
had arrived during his absence.
The detective was glad to have him to talk to,
for it promised at least a fresh viewpoint to be considered.
“I admit, Doctor Varian,” Wise said frankly, as
the two confabbed in the Varian library, “I have no
theory that will fit this case at all. I have solved
many mysteries, I have found many criminals, but
never before have I struck a case so absolutely devoid
of even an imaginary solution. Granting a
criminal that desired to bring disaster to the Varian
family, why should he want to abduct Lawrence
“Perhaps North knew something incriminating to
him,” suggested the doctor.
“But that’s purely supposition, there’s no fact to
prove it, or anything like it. As a start, suppose we
assume a kidnapper of Betty Varian. Although,
even before that, we have to assume a secret entrance
into this house.”
“That, I think, we must assume,” said Varian.
“It seems so,—yet, if you knew how hard I’ve
hunted for one! Well, then, assume a kidnapper,
who, for the sake of ransom, abducts Betty
“And kills her father?”
“And kills her father, who interrupted the abduction.”
“Good enough, so far, but what about North?”
“I can’t fit North in,—unless he is in league with
“That’s too absurd. He and my brother weren’t
“Oh, I know it’s absurd! But, what isn’t? I
can’t see a ray of light! And, then, there’s that awful
matter of the maid, Martha!”
“I think, Mr Wise, that since you admit failure,
there is nothing for it, but to take Mrs Varian away
and give up the case.”
“Leaving Betty to her fate!”
“We can search for the child just as well from
Boston or New York as from here.”
“I don’t think so, Doctor. Take Mrs Varian
away, if you wish,—and if she will go. I shall stay
here and solve this mystery. Because I have failed
thus far, is no proof I shall continue to be unsuccessful.
Mrs Varian is a rich woman,—I am not a
poor man. I shall use such funds as she provides,
supplementing them, if necessary, with my own, but
I shall find Betty Varian, if she’s alive,—I shall find
Lawrence North,—if he is alive,—and I shall discover
the murderer or murderers of Frederick
Varian and of Martha.”
“You speak confidently, Mr Wise.”
“I do; because I mean to devote my whole soul to
this thing. I can’t fail, ultimately,—I can’t!”
The man was so desperate in his determination, so
sincere in his intent, that Doctor Varian was impressed,
and said heartily, “I believe you will. Now,
here’s something I’ve found out. I’ve talked with
my brother’s lawyer, and I find there was something
in Frederick’s life that he kept secret. I don’t for
one minute believe it was anything disgraceful or
dishonorable, for I knew my brother too well for
that. But it may have been some misfortune,—or
even some youthful error,—but whatever it was,
it had an effect on his later years. And, there’s that
strange matter of the Varian pearls. Those pearls,
Mr Wise, are historic. They have never been bequeathed
to any one save the oldest son or daughter
of a Varian. Now, the fact that Betty and her
father sometimes squabbled, is not enough to make
my brother leave them to my daughter instead of to
his own. Yet I can form no theory to explain the
fact that he did do so. I’ve tried to think he was
temporarily or hypochondriacally insane, but I can’t
reconcile that belief with my knowledge of his physical
health and well-being. Then, I’ve wondered if
he ever did me a wrong in the past, that I never
learned of, and if this was by way of reparation.
But that is too unlikely. Again, I’ve thought that
there might be some error in the family records, and
that I might be the elder son instead of Fred. But
I checked it all up, and he was two years my senior.
Yet, he told the lawyer, who drew up his will, that
justice demanded that the pearls be left to his niece
instead of to his daughter. Now, what could he
have meant by that?”
“I can’t imagine, but I’m glad you have told me
these things. For it makes me feel there must be
something pretty serious back of all this. You don’t
think it could in any way reflect on Mrs Varian?”
“No, I don’t. I’ve talked it over with the lawyer
and also with my wife, and we all agree that Minna
Varian is a true, sincere and good woman. There
is not only no blame or stigma to be attached to her
in any way, but whatever was the secret of my
brother’s life, his wife knows nothing of it.”
“Yet I can imagine no secret, no incident that
would necessitate that strange bequest of the family
“Nor can I, except that he might have thought he
owed me some reparation for some real or fancied
wrong. It must have been to me, for he couldn’t
have wronged my daughter in any way. There was
no question about the division of my father’s fortune.
We were the only children and it was equally
shared. The pearls were Frederick’s as he was the
oldest child. That’s all there is to the matter,—only
it is strange that my brother spoke in the way he did
to his lawyer. He seemed really broken up over the
business, the lawyer said. And he was deeply moved
when he dictated the clause leaving the pearls to
“Betty is really the child of the Frederick Varians?”
“Oh, yes. Mrs Varian lost her first two babies in
infancy, and when the third child was expected, we
were all afraid it would not live. But Betty was a
healthy baby from the first, and I’ve known her all
“Her father was as fond of her as her mother
“Yes,—and no. I can’t explain it, Mr Wise, but
in my medical practice, I’ve not infrequently found a
definite antipathy between a father and a daughter.
For no apparent reason, I mean. Well, that condition
existed between Frederick Varian and his child.
They almost never agreed in their tastes or opinions,
and while they were affectionate at times, yet there
was friction at other times. Now, Minna and Betty
were always congenial, thought alike on all subjects
and never had any little squabbles. I’m telling you
this in hopes it will help you, though I confess I
don’t see how it can.”
“I hope it may,—and at any rate, it is interesting,
in view of the strange occurrences up here. You’ve
found no papers or letters bearing on this matter
among Mr Varian’s effects?”
“No; except a few proofs that he was more or
“And you can’t learn by whom?”
“No; there were one or two veiled threats, that
might have meant blackmail, and yet might not. I
have them safe, but I didn’t bring them up here.”
“It doesn’t matter, such a careful blackmailer as
the one we have to deal with, never would write
letters that could be traced.”
“And what is to be done in this North matter?”
“First of all, I shall offer a large reward for any
word of him. I have faith in offered rewards, if
they are large enough. They often tempt accomplices
to turn state’s evidence. I’ve already ordered
posters and advertisements with portraits of North.
My agents will attend to this, and though it may
bring no results, yet if it doesn’t,—it will be a hint
in another direction.”
“That Lawrence North is implicated in the
“No, I can’t agree to that. Why the man himself
was carried off——”
“I know,—oh, well, Doctor Varian, first of all, we
must find that secret passage. There is one,—we
can’t blink that fact. Now, where is it? Think of
having a given problem like that, and being unable to
solve it! I am so amazed at my own helplessness
that I am too stunned to work!”
“Go to it, man,—you’ll find it. Tear the house
down, if necessary, but get at it somehow.”
“I shall; I’ve already sent for carpenters to demolish
some parts of the house.”
“I wish I could stay up here and see the work
progress. You’ll have to find the secret, you know.
You can’t help it, if you tear down the whole structure.”
“I don’t mean to do that. I want to continue to
live in the house. But some expert carpenters can
dig into certain portions of it without making the
rest uninhabitable, and that’s what I propose doing.”
“What about finger prints? I thought you detectives
set great store by those.”
“Not in a case like this. Suppose we find finger
prints,—they’re not likely to be those of any registered
criminal. And since this talk with you, I shall
turn my investigations in a slightly different channel,
anyhow. I must look up Mr Varian’s past life——”
“Look all you wish, but I tell you now, you’ll find
nothing indicative. Whatever secret my brother
had, it was not a matter of crime,—or even of lighter
wrongdoing. And, if Frederick Varian wanted to
keep the matter secret neither you nor any other detective
will ever find it out!”
“That may have been true during your brother’s
life, Doctor, but now that he can’t longer protect his
secret, it must come out.”
“All right, Mr Wise, I truly hope it will. For
even if it reflects against my brother’s integrity, it
may aid in finding Betty. I don’t believe that girl
is dead,—do you?”
“No; I don’t. I believe these letters from the kidnappers
are true bills. I believe they have her concealed
and confined, and by Heaven, Doctor Varian,
I’m going to find her! I know that sounds like mere
bluster, but I’ve never totally failed on a case yet,—and
this,—the biggest one I’ve ever tackled, shall
not be my first failure! I must succeed!”
“If I can help in any way, command me. I’m
glad to see you don’t think I’m criminally implicated
because of the legacy of the pearls. Eleanor shall
never touch them until we’ve positively concluded
that Betty is dead. But that’s a small matter. Those
pearls have lain undisturbed in safe deposit many
years,—they may lie there many years more,—but
let the search work go on steadily.”
“You know nothing of North, personally?”
“No; I never met him. Has he no relatives?”
“Haven’t found any yet. But you see, the police
don’t hold that it is a criminal case as yet. They say
he may have walked out of his own accord.”
“Half dressed, and leaving his watch behind
“And that note to say what had happened! That
note rings true, Doctor, and either it is sincere, or
North is one of the cleverest scamps I ever met up
“It’s conceivable that he is a scamp, but I can’t see
anything that points to it. Why should a perfect
stranger to the Varian family cut up such a trick as
to come up here and pretend to be kidnapped,—if he
wasn’t? It’s too absurd.”
“Everything is too absurd,” said Wise, bitterly.
A Green Stain
“Tell me more about Betty,” Zizi said, “that is,
if you don’t mind talking about her.”
“Oh, no,” Minna returned, “I love to talk
about her. It’s the only way I can keep my hope
Zizi was sitting with Mrs Varian while the nurse
went out for a walk. There was a mutual attraction
between the two, and the sympathetic dark eyes of
the girl rested kindly on the face of the bereaved and
“Tell me about her when she was little. Was she
born in New York?”
“No; at the time of her birth, we chanced to be
spending a summer up in Vermont,—up in the Green
Mountains. I hoped to get home before Betty arrived,
but I didn’t, and she was born in a tiny little
hospital way up in a Vermont village. However,
she was a strong, healthy baby, and has never been
ill a day in her life.”
“And she is so pretty and sweet,—I know not only
from her picture, but from everything I hear about
her. I’m going to find her, Mrs Varian!”
Zizi’s strange little face glowed with determination
and she smiled hopefully.
“I don’t doubt your wish to do so, Zizi, dear, but
I can’t think you will succeed. I’m so disappointed
in Mr Wise’s failure——”
“He hasn’t failed!” Zizi cried, instantly eager to
defend her master. “Don’t say that,—he is baffled,—it’s
a most extraordinary case, but he hasn’t failed,—and
he won’t fail!”
“But he’s been here a week, and what has he done
“I’ll tell you what he’s done, Mrs Varian.” Zizi
spoke seriously. “We were talking it over this
morning, and he’s done this much. He’s discovered,
at least to his own conviction, that Betty was really
kidnapped. That those letters you have received are
from the abductors and that through them we must
hope to trace Betty’s present whereabouts. This
would not be accomplished by merely following their
instructions as to throwing money over the cliff. As
you know, Doctor Varian advises strongly against
that,—and Mr Wise does, too. But they have
learned of some more letters found among your husband’s
papers, signed ‘Step,’ and we hope to prove
a connection between those and the kidnapper’s letters.”
“What good will that do?” Minna asked, listlessly.
“Oh, Zizi, you’re a dear girl, but you’ve no idea
what I’m suffering. Nights, as I lie awake in the
darkness, I seem to hear my baby Betty calling to
me,—I seem to feel her little arms round my neck—somehow
my mind goes back to her baby days, more
than to her later years.”
“That’s natural, dear, when you’re so anxious and
worried about her. But, truly, I believe we’ll get
her yet. You see, everything points to the theory
that she is alive.”
“I’m so tired of theories,—they don’t help any.”
“Oh, yes, they do, dear. Now, try to get up a
little more hope. Take it from me,—you’ll see Betty
again! She’ll come dancing in, just as she used to
do,—say, Mrs Varian, why did she and her father
“I can’t explain it. I’ve thought over it often, but
it seems to me there was no reason for it. He admired
Betty, he was proud of her beauty and grace
and accomplishments, but there was something in
the child that he didn’t like. I hate to say this, but
he seemed to have a natural dislike toward her that
he honestly tried to overcome, but he utterly failed
in the attempt.”
“How very strange!”
“It surely is. I’ve never mentioned it to any one
before, but you are so sympathetic, I want to ask you
what you think could have been the reason for anything
“Did Betty feel that way toward him?”
“Oh, no! I mean, not naturally so. But when he
would fly at her and scold her for some little, simple
thing, of course she flared up and talked back at him.
It was only petty bickering, but it was so frequent.”
“Wasn’t Mr Varian pleased when he learned that
you expected another child?”
“Yes, he was delighted. He feared it might not
live,—as the others hadn’t, but he was pleased beyond
words at the prospect, and we both hoped for
a healthy baby. He was so careful of me,—so devoted
and loving, and so joyful in the anticipation of
the new baby.”
“He was with you in Vermont?”
“Oh, yes; we had a cottage, and he stayed there
while I was in the hospital during my confinement.
The house was near by, and he could come to see me
at any time.”
“Well, I can’t understand his turning against her
later. Do they look alike?”
“No,—that is, they have similar coloring, but no
“Betty doesn’t look like you, either?”
“Not specially. Though I can’t see resemblances
as some people do. She was——”
“Is, Mrs Varian!”
“Well, then, Betty is a dear, pretty, sweet-faced
girl, healthy and happy, but not remarkable in any
“Did she inherit your disposition or her father’s?”
“Neither particularly. But I don’t think a young
girl often shows definite or strong traits of character.”
“Some do,” Zizi said, thoughtfully. “How about
talents? I want to find out, you see, more of what
Betty is like.”
“She has a little musical talent, a taste for drawing,
and a fondness for outdoor sports,—but none of
these is marked. I can’t describe the child otherwise
than as a natural, normal everyday girl. I adore
her, of course, but I am not blind to the fact that
she is not a genius in any way.”
“Nor do you want her to be! As you’ve told me
of her, she seems to me a darling, and I mean to find
her for you,—and for Mr Granniss.”
“Yes, Rodney loves her, and he is as desolate as I
am at her loss. Oh, Zizi, have you really any hope,
or are you just saying this to comfort me?”
“I really have hope, and more, I have conviction
that we will yet have Betty back here. But it is not
yet a certainty, and I only can offer you my own
opinions. Still, dear, it’s better to hope than to despair,
and any day may bring us good news.”
Zizi recounted this whole conversation to Pennington
Wise, not so much because she deemed it
important, as that he wanted every word she could
get, reported to him.
The man was frankly bewildered.
“It’s too ridiculous,” he exclaimed to Zizi, “that I,
Pennington Wise, should have a great, a unique
mystery, as this one is,—and not be able to make one
step of progress toward its solution!”
“‘Step,’” Zizi said, “makes me think of that
black-mailing person, Stephen, or whatever his name
is. Let’s work from that end.”
“I’ve tried and there’s no place to start from.
You see, the letters signed ‘Step’ are as untraceable
as the kidnappers’ letters. They’re typed, not on
the same machine, but on some equally obscure and
unavailable one. It’s impossible to hunt a typewriter,
with no suspect and no indication where to look!”
“It would be for an ordinary detective, Penny,
but for you——”
“That’s just it, Ziz. An ordinary detective would
say, ‘pooh, of course we can trace that!’ But I’m
not an ordinary detective, and my very knowledge
and experience prove to me how baffling,—how
hopeless—this search is. Sometimes I think Frederick
Varian did away with Betty.”
“That’s rubbish!” Zizi said, calmly. “But I do
think there was some definite reason for Mr Varian’s
attitude toward his daughter.”
“No question of her paternity?”
“Good Lord, no! Minna Varian is the best and
sweetest woman in the world! But I’ve a glimmer
of a notion that I can’t work out yet,——”
“It’s too vague to put into words.” Zizi knit her
heavy eyebrows, and screwed up her red lips.
And then the carpenters came, and the demolition
of Headland House began. It was carefully managed;
no rooms that the family used were put in disorder,
but the kitchen quarters, and the cellar were
desperately dug into.
“The kitchen is indicated,” Wise said to Doctor
Varian. “For it is clear to my mind that Betty was
carried out through it.”
“Through the kitchen?”
“Yes; you see, Doctor, we must reconstruct the
matter like this. Betty came back to the house alone.
She came in the front door with her father’s key.
Now, she must have been attacked or kidnapped then
and there. I mean whoever did it,—and we have to
assume somebody did do it,—was in the house waiting.
Well—say he was,—for the moment. Then,
say Betty put up a fight, which of course she would,
then she was carried off through the kitchen by
means of the secret passage, which we have got to
find! She had the yellow pillow in her hands for
some reason,—can’t say what—and she dropped it
on the kitchen floor,—or maybe the villain used the
pillow to stifle the girl’s screams.”
“Go on,” said Doctor Varian, briefly.
“Then, owing to the girl’s struggles, the string of
beads round her neck broke, and scattered over the
“Only part of them.”
“Yes; the others stayed with her, or were picked
up by the kidnappers.”
“More than one?”
“I think two. For, when Mr Varian arrived upon
the scene, one of them turned on him,—and killed
him,—while there must have been another to hold
Betty. It is possible there was only one, but I doubt
“And you think the concealed entrance is through
“That, or the cellar. Anyway, there is one, and
it must be found! It was used the night Martha
was killed,—it was used the night North disappeared,—why,
man, it must be there,—and I must
“True enough, and I hope you will.”
“Here’s something, Penny,” Zizi said, appearing
suddenly at his elbow. “I’ve found a stain on my
frock that’s exactly like the one we noticed on poor
“Yes, a green stain,—a long swish, as of green
paint,—but it isn’t paint.”
Zizi held up a little linen frock that she sometimes
On the side, down near the hem, was a green
smear, and it was similar in appearance to the strange
mark on the hand of the dead girl.
“Where’d it come from?” asked Wise, shortly.
“I don’t know, but it’s the dress I wore when I
was exploring the cellar, and it got pretty dirty.”
“No, I shook off and brushed off most of the dirt,
but this stain stuck, and wouldn’t brush off. That’s
how I noticed it.”
“Coincidence, I’m afraid. Or maybe Martha
went down cellar that night for something.”
“But what in the cellar would make a mark like
“Dunno, Ziz. There’s no green paint down
“It isn’t paint, Penny,” Zizi persisted. “It doesn’t
smell like paint.”
“What does it smell like?”
“There’s no odor to it, that I can notice. But it’s
“So’s the yellow pillow,—so are the scattered
beads,—so was the footprint of cellar dust on the
library floor,—but they’re all blind clues,—they lead
“Penny Wise! what ails you? I never knew you
so ready to lie down on a job!”
“No, Zizi, not that. It’s only that I can see how
futile and useless all these clues are. We’ve got to
get some bigger evidence. In fact, we can do nothing
till we find the way the criminal got in and out of
this house. Don’t tease me, Zizi, I never was so put
“You must be, when you revert to your old-fashioned
phrases!” the girl laughed at him, but there
was deepest sympathy in her dark eyes, and an affectionate,
brooding glance told of her anxiety for
Yet the carpenters found nothing. They proved
beyond all possible doubt that there was no secret
passage between the interior of Headland House and
the outer world,—that there could be none, for every
inch of space was investigated and accounted for.
“There’s no way to get into that house except
through its two doors or its windows,” the master
carpenter declared, and the men who were watching
knew he spoke the truth.
“It proves,” Granniss said, looking up from the
plans to the actual walls, “it’s all just as this drawing
“It certainly is,” agreed Doctor Varian. “There’s
no missing bit.”
“No,” said Wise, thoughtfully, “there isn’t. And,
at least, the carpenters have proved that there is no
secret passage built into this house. Yet there is
one. I will find it.”
For the first time, his words seemed to be spoken
with his own conviction of their truth. His voice
had a new ring,—his eyes a new brightness, and he
seemed suddenly alert and powerful mentally, where,
before, his hearers had thought him lacking in
“You’ve thought of a new way to go about it?”
“I have! It may not work, but I’ve a new idea,
at least. Zizi, let me see that stained dress of yours
Obediently Zizi brought her frock with the smear
still on its hem. Wise looked at it closely, sniffed it
carefully, and gave it back, saying:
“If you want to remove that stain, dear, just wash
it with soap and water. It’ll come off then. Now,
I’m going down to the village, and I may not be
back for luncheon. Don’t wait for me.”
He went off, and Doctor Varian said to Zizi:
“Do you think he really has a new theory, or is
he just stalling for time?”
“Oh, he’s off on a new tack,” she said, and her
eyes shone. “I know him so well, you see, I’m sure
he has a new idea and a good one. I’ve never seen
him so cast down and so baffled as he has been over
this case,—but now that his whole demeanor is
changed, he has a fresh start, I know, and he’ll win out
yet! I never doubted his success from the beginning,—but
the last two days he has been at the
lowest ebb of his resources.”
“I have to go back to Boston this afternoon,” Doctor
Varian went on, “but I’ll be up again in a few
days. Meantime, keep me informed, Rodney, of
anything new that transpires.”
Down in the little village of Headland Harbor,
Pennington Wise went first to see Claire Blackwood.
She seemed to know more about Lawrence North
than any one else did, yet even she knew next to
“No,” she told the detective, “the police haven’t
found out anything definite about him yet. Why
don’t you take up the search for him, Mr Wise?”
“I’ve all I can do searching for Betty Varian,” he
returned with a rueful smile. “I’m not employed to
hunt up North, and I am to find Miss Varian. But
surely the police can get on the track of him,—a man
like that can’t drop out of existence.”
“That’s just what he’s done, though,” said Claire.
“Do you know, Mr Wise, I believe Lawrence North
is a bigger man than we supposed. I mean a more
important one, than he himself admitted. I think he
was up here incognito.”
“You mean that North is not his real name?”
“I don’t know about that, but I mean that he
wanted a rest or wanted to get away from everybody
who knew him,—and so he came up here to be
by himself. How else explain the fact that they
can’t find out anything about him?”
“Don’t they know his city address?”
“Yes, but only an office,—which is closed up for
“Ridiculous! They ought to find him all the more
easily if he is a man of importance.”
“I don’t mean of public importance, but I think—oh,
I don’t know what! But I’m sure there’s something
mysterious about him.”
“I’m sure of that, too! And you know nothing of
his private life, Mrs Blackwood?”
“No; I’ve heard that he is a widower, but nobody
seems quite certain. As I told you, up here, nobody
questions one’s neighbors.”
“Isn’t it necessary, before members are taken into
“Oh, yes; but Mr North wasn’t a member of the
club. Lots of the summer people aren’t members
but they use the clubhouse and nobody makes much
difference between members and non-members. It
isn’t like the more fashionable beaches or resorts.
We’re a bit primitive up here.”
“Well, tell me of North’s financial standing. He’s
a rich man?”
“Not that I know of. But he always has enough
to do what he likes. Nobody is very rich up here,
yet nobody is really poor. We’re a medium-sized
lot, in every way.”
“Yet North owns a fine motor boat.”
“About the best and fastest up here. But he
doesn’t own it, he rents it by the season. Most people
“I see. And that not very pleasant factotum of
his,—Joe Mills,—is he a native product?”
“No, he came up with Mr North. He’s grumpy,
I admit, but he’s a good sort after all. And devoted
to his master.”
“Ah, then he must be inconsolable at North’s disappearance.”
“No; on the contrary he takes it calmly enough.
He says North knows his own business, and will
come back when he gets ready.”
“Then he knows where North is——”
“He pretends he does,” corrected Claire. “I’m
not sure that he is as easy about the matter as he
pretends. I saw him this morning and I think he is
pretty well disturbed about it all.”
“Guess I’ll go to see him. Thank you, Mrs Blackwood,
for your patience and courtesy in answering
“Then, Mr Wise, if you’re really grateful, do tell
me what you think about the Varian affair. That’s
much more mysterious and much more important
than the matter of Lawrence North’s disappearance.
Are they connected?”
“It looks so,—doesn’t it?”
“Yes,—but that’s no answer. Do you think they
“I do, Mrs Blackwood,—I surely do.”
And Pennington Wise walked briskly over to the
bungalow of Lawrence North.
He found Mills in no kindly mood.
“Whatcha want now?” was his greeting, and his
scowl pointed his words.
“I want you to take me out for a sail in Mr
North’s motor boat.”
“Well, you gotcha nerve with you! What makes
you think I’ll do that?”
“Because it’s for your own best interests to do so.”
Wise looked the man straight in the eye, and had
the satisfaction of seeing Mills’ own gaze waver.
“Whatcha mean by that?” he growled, truculently.
“That if you don’t take me, I’ll think you have
some reason for refusing.”
“I gotta work.”
“Your work will keep. We’ll be gone only a few
hours at most. How is the tide now?”
“Come on, then. We start at once.”
Whether Mills decided it was best for him to
consent to the trip or whether he was cowed by the
detective’s stern manner, Wise didn’t know and
didn’t care, but the trip was made.
Wise directed the course, and Mills obeyed. Few
words were spoken save those necessary for information.
Their course lay out around the headland, and into
the small bay on the other side of it.
As they rounded the cliff, Wise directed the other
to keep as close to the shore as possible.
“Dangerous rocks,” Mills said, briefly.
“Steer clear of them,” said Wise, sternly.
After passing round the headland on all its exposed
sides, Wise declared himself ready to return.
In silence Mills turned his craft about and again
Wise told him to make the trip as close to the rocky
cliff as he could manage.
“You want to get us into trouble?” asked Mills,
as he made a quick turn between two treacherous
looking points of rock. “I nearly struck then!”
“Well, you didn’t,” said Wise, cheerfully.
“You’re a clever sailor, Mills. Get along back home,
Criminal or Victim?
Pennington Wise came to the conclusion
that he had now on hand the hardest job of
his life. This knowledge did not discourage
him, on the contrary it spurred him to continuous
and desperate effort.
Yet, as he told Zizi, his efforts consisted mostly
in making inquiries here and there, in a hope that
he might learn something indicative.
“It isn’t a case for clues, evidence or deduction,”
he told her. “It’s,—I hate the word,—but it’s psychological.”
“If you can’t be logical be psychological,” said
Zizi, flippantly. “Now, you know, Penny, you’re
going to win out——”
“If I do, it’ll be solely and merely because of your
faith in me,” he said, his face beginning to show the
look of discouragement that she had learned to
“That’s all right,” she responded, “but this old
faith of mine, while it will never wear out,—its
effect on you will. Don’t depend on it too long.
Now let’s count up what we’ve really got toward a
“We’ve got a lot,” began Wise hopefully. “We
know enough to assume that Betty Varian was kidnapped
and her father shot by the same hand. Or
rather by orders of the same master brain. I don’t
say the criminal himself committed these crimes.
Then, we know that our master villain got in and
out of this house,—or his subordinates did,—by
means which we haven’t yet discovered, but which
I am on the trail of.”
“Oh, Penny, are you? Tell me where you think
it is? Is it through the kitchen?”
“Wait a couple of days, Ziz. I’ll tell you as soon
as I’m certain. In fact, I may have to wait a week
to find out about it.”
“Getting an expert on it?”
“Nope. Working it out myself,—but it all depends
on the moon.”
“Oh, Penny, I’ve long suspected you of being
luny, but I didn’t think you’d admit it yourself!
Howsumever, as long as you’re jocular, I’m not discouraged.
It’s when you pull a long face and heave
great, deep sighs that my confidence begins to wobble.”
“Don’t wobble yet, then, my dear, for when the
moon gets around to the right quarter, I’ll show you
the secret way in and out of this house.”
“It’s too bad of you, Penny, to spring those
cryptic remarks on me! Save ’em for people you
want to impress with your cleverness. But all right,
wait till the moon gets in apogee or perigee or
wherever you want her.”
“I shall. And meantime, I’m going to track down
Friend North. He is a factor in the case, whether
sinned against or sinning. That upset room was
never upset in a real scuffle.”
“No, ma’am, it wasn’t. I’ve been over it again,
and unless I’m making the mistake of my life, that
upset chair was carefully,—yes, and silently overturned
by a cautious hand.”
“Meaning North’s. Of course, Ziz, I may be
mistaken, so I’m not advertising this yet, but I can’t
see a real scuffle in that room. To begin with, if a
man, or two men, or three men tried to kidnap Lawrence
North and carry him off against his will don’t
you suppose there would be enough noise made to
wake some of us?”
“Maybe they chloroformed him.”
“Maybe they did. But, I’m working on a different
maybe. Say that man wanted to disappear and
make it look like an abduction. Wouldn’t he have
done just what he did do? Leave the room looking
as if he had gone off unwillingly or unconsciously?
The very leaving of his watch behind was a clever
“Oh, come now, Penny, I believe you are luny!
Do you suspect Lawrence North of all the crimes?
Did he abduct Betty, shoot her father,—kill Martha?
and then,—finally abduct himself! And, if so,—why?”
“Zizi, you’re a bright little girl, but you don’t
know everything. Now, you stay here and hold the
fort, while I go off for a few days and stalk North.
I don’t say he did commit all that catalogue of
crimes you string off so glibly, but I do say that he
has to be accounted for,—and I must know whether
he is a criminal or a victim.”
Wise went away and the little family at Headland
House tried to possess their souls in patience against
Zizi devoted herself to the cheer and entertainment
of Minna Varian, while Rodney Granniss found
enough to do in looking after the accounts and
financial matters of the estate.
Doctor Varian came up again, and was both surprised
and pleased to find his brother’s wife in such
a calm, rational state of mind.
“Yet it is not a unique case,” he said; “I’ve
known other instances of hysterical and even unbalanced
minds becoming rational and practical after
a great shock or sorrow.”
And the fearful blows Minna Varian had received
from the hand of Fate, did indeed seem to change
her whole nature, and instead of a pettish, spoiled
woman, she was now quiet, serious, and mentally
She kept herself buoyed up with a hope of Betty’s
return. This hope Zizi fostered, and as the days
went by, it came to be a settled belief in Minna’s
mind, that sooner or later her child would be restored
to her waiting arms.
Nurse Fletcher did not approve of this state of
things at all.
“You know that girl will never be found!” she
would say to Zizi. “You only pretend that you
think she will, and it isn’t right to fill Mrs Varian’s
mind with fairy tales as you do!”
“Now, Nurse,” Zizi would wheedle her, “you let
me alone. I’m sure Mrs Varian would collapse
utterly if the hope of Betty’s return were taken away
from her. You know she would! So, don’t you
dare say a word that will disturb her confidence!”
Doctor Varian agreed with Zizi’s ideas, regarding
Minna, though he said frankly, he had grave doubts
of ever seeing Betty again.
“To my mind,” he said, as he and Zizi had a little
confidential chat, “nothing has been accomplished.
Nearly a month has passed since Betty disappeared.
There is no theory compatible with a hope that she
has been kept safely and comfortably all that time.
The kidnappers,—if there are any——”
“Why doubt their existence?”
“Because I’m not at all sure that those ransom
letters are genuine. Anybody could demand ransom.”
“You’re not at all sure of anything, Doctor
Varian,” Zizi said, “and strictly speaking, Mr Wise
isn’t either. But he is sure enough to go away and
stay all this time,—he’s been gone ten days now, and
I know unless he was on a promising trail he would
have abandoned it before this.”
And Pennington Wise was on a promising trail.
It was proving a long, slow business, but he was
His first start had been from Lawrence North’s
New York office. This he found closed and locked,
and no one in attendance.
Instead of bring disturbed at this, he regarded it
as a step forward.
The owner of the building in which Mr North’s
office was, told the detective that Mr North had
gone away for the summer,—that he had said, his
office would be closed until September, at least, and
that there was nothing doing.
Wise persuaded him that there was a great deal
doing and in the name of justice and a few other
important personages he must hand over a key of
At last this was done, and Wise went eagerly about
the examination of Lawrence North’s books and
The fact that he found nothing indicative, was
to him an important indication. North’s business,
evidently, was of a vague and sketchy character.
He seemed to have an agency for two or three inconspicuous
real estate firms, and he appeared to have
put over a few unimportant deals.
What was important, however, was a small advertisement,
almost cut out from a newspaper and
almost overlooked by the detective.
This was a few lines expressing somebody’s
desire to rent a summer home on the seashore, preferably
on the Maine coast.
It was signed F. V. and Wise thought that it
might have been inserted by Frederick Varian. He
hadn’t heard that the Varians took Headland House
through the agency of or at the suggestion of North,
yet it might be so.
At any rate there was nothing else of interest to
Wise in North’s whole office,—and he left no paper
unread or book unopened.
It took a long time, but when it was accomplished
the detective set out on a definite and determined
search for North.
The man proved most elusive. No one seemed to
know anything about him. If ever a negligible
citizen lived in these United States, it was, the
detective concluded, Lawrence North.
He hunted directories and telephone books. He
visited mercantile agencies and information bureaus.
He had circulars already out with a reward offered
for the missing man, but none of his efforts gave the
Had he been able to think of North as dead,
he could have borne defeat better, but he envisaged
that nonchalant face as laughing at his futile search!
There was, of course, the possibility that North
was an assumed name, and that the true name of
the man might bring about a speedy end to his
quest. But this was mere surmise, and he had no
way of verifying it.
By hunting down various Norths here and there,
he one day came upon a woman who said,
“Why, I once knew a woman named Mrs Lawrence
North. She lived in the same apartment
house I did, and I remember her because she had the
same name. No, her husband was no relation of my
husband,—my husband has been dead for years.”
“Was her husband dead?” Wise inquired.
“No, but he better ’a’ been! He only came to see
her once in a coon’s age. He kept her rent paid, but
he hardly gave her enough money to live on! He
was one of these hifalutin artistic temperament
men, and he just neglected that poor thing somethin’
“What became of her?”
“Dunno. Maybe she’s livin’ there yet.”
To the address given Wise went, scarcely daring
to hope he was on the right track at last.
At the apartment house he was informed that
Mrs Lawrence North had lived there but that she
had also died there, about three months previous.
The superintendent willingly gave him all the details
he asked, and Pennington Wise concluded that
the woman who had died there was without doubt
the wife of the Lawrence North he was hunting
But further information of North’s later history
he could not gain. After the death of his wife he
had given up the apartment, which was a furnished
one and had never been there since.
Wise cogitated deeply over these revelations.
So far, he had learned nothing greatly to North’s
discredit, save that he had not treated his wife very
well, and that he had, directly after her death, gone
to a summer resort and mingled with the society
Yet this latter fact was not damaging. To his
knowledge, North had in no way acted, up at Headland
Harbor, in any way unbecoming a widower.
He had not been called upon to relate his private
or personal history, and if he had sought diversion
among the summer colony of artists and dilettantes,
he had, of course, a right to do so.
Yet, the whole effect of the man was suspicious
He told himself it was prejudice, that there was
no real evidence against him,—that—but, he then
thought, if North was a blameless, undistinguished
private citizen, why, in heaven’s name would anybody
want to kidnap him?
This he answered to himself by saying North might
have learned some secret of the kidnappers
or of the secret entrance that made it imperative
for the criminals to do away with him. This might
also explain the death of the maid, Martha.
Yet, through it all, Wise believed that North was
in wrong. How or to what extent he didn’t know,
but North must be found. So to the various under-takers’
establishments he went until at last he found
the one who had had charge of the obsequies of Mrs
That was a red letter day in the life of Pennington
Wise. For, though he gained no knowledge there
of his elusive quarry, he did learn the name and
former dwelling place of the woman North married.
She had been, he discovered, a widow, and had
been born in Vermont. Her name when she married
North was Mrs Curtis, and they had been married
about ten years ago.
This, while not an astounding revelation was of
interest and, at least promised a further knowledge
of North’s matrimonial affairs.
The town in Vermont was Greenvale, a small
village Wise discovered, up in the northern part of
It was a long trip, but the detective concluded that
this case on which he was engaged was a case of
magnificent distances and he at once made his railroad
reservations and bought his tickets.
Meantime the household at Headland House had
been thrown into a new spasm of excitement by the
receipt of a letter from a stranger.
It was addressed to Mrs Varian, and was of a
totally different character from the frequent missives
she received telling of girls who looked like the
pictures of the advertised lost one.
This was a well written, straightforward message
that carried conviction by its very curtness.
I address you regarding a peculiar experience
I have just had. I am deaf, therefore I never go to
the theatre, as I can’t hear the lines. But I go often
to the Moving Pictures. Of late I have been taking
lessons in Lip Reading, and though I have not yet
progressed very far in it, I can read lips sometimes,
especially if the speaker makes an effort to form
words distinctly. Now last night I went to the
Movies and in a picture there was a girl, who seemed
to be speaking yet there was no occasion in the story
for her to do so. She was merely one of a crowd
standing in a meadow or field. But as practice in
my Lip Reading I watched her and I am sure she
said, “I am Betty Varian,—I am Betty Varian.”
This seemed so strange that I went again this afternoon,
and saw the picture again,—and I am sure
that was what she said,—over and over. I don’t
know that this will interest you, but I feel I ought
to tell you.
Very truly yours,
“It can’t mean anything,” Minna said. “Wherever
Betty is, she isn’t in a moving picture company!”
“But wait a minute,” cried Granniss, “when they
take pictures of crowds, you know,—in a field or
meadow, they pick up any passer-by or any one they
can get to fill in.”
“Even so,” Zizi said, “I can’t see it. I think
somebody was talking about Betty and the girl read
the lips wrong. She’s only a beginner, she says.
I’ve heard it’s a most difficult thing to learn.”
“I don’t care,” Granniss said, “it’s got to be looked
into. I’m going to answer this letter,—no, I’m going
straight down there, it’s from Portland, and I’m
going to see that picture myself.”
“Make sure it’s still being shown,” said the practical
“I’ll telegraph and ask her,” cried Rodney; his
face alight at the thought of doing some real work
“Oh, don’t go, Rod,” Minna said; “I can’t get
along without you,—and what good will it do?
You know a picture isn’t the real people, and—oh,
it’s all too vague and hazy——”
“No, it isn’t,” Granniss insisted. “It’s the first
real clue. Why didn’t that girl notice what the girl in
the picture looked like? Oh, of course I must go! I
can get to Portland and back in three days, and—why,
I’ve got to go!”
And go he did.
The picture was still on at the theater, and with
a beating heart Rodney took his seat to watch it.
He could scarce wait for the preliminary scenes,
he knew no bit of the plot or what happened to the
characters: he sat tense and watchful for the appearance
of the crowd on the meadow.
At last it came,—and, he nearly sprang from his
seat,—it was Betty! Betty Varian herself,—he
could not be mistaken! She wore a simple gingham
frock, a plain straw hat, and had no sign of the
smartness that always characterized Betty’s clothes,
but he could not be deceived in that face, that dear,
lovely face of Betty herself!
And he saw her lips were moving. He could not
read them, as the girl who told of it had done, but
he imagined she said, “I am Betty Varian,—I am
Yet her face was expressionless,—no eager air of
imparting information, no apparent interest in the
scene about her,—the face in the screen seemed like
that of an automaton saying the words as if from a
Rod couldn’t understand it. He feared that it was
merely a chance likeness,—he had heard of exact
doubles,—and as the scene passed, and the crowd
on the meadow returned no more to the story, he
left his seat and went in search of the owner of the
But all his questioning failed to elicit any information
as to the scene or where it was taken. The
theatrical manager arranged for his picture through
an agent and knew nothing of the company that took
it or the author of the play.
The next morning Rodney tried again to locate the
producer, but failing, decided to return home and
put the matter in the hands of Pennington Wise:
He was sure the girl on the screen was Betty, yet
had he been told authoritatively that it was not, he
could believe himself the victim of a case of mistaken
He related his experiences to Minna and Zizi and
they both felt there was little to hope for as a result.
“You see,” Zizi explained it, “when those crowds
are picked up at random that way, they are always
chatting about their own affairs. Now, it may well
be this girl had been reading the circulars about
Betty, also she may have been told how much she
looked like her, and that would explain her speaking
the name. And except for the actual name, I don’t
believe the Ella Sheridan person read it right.”
“I don’t either,” Minna agreed. “I wish I could
see something in it, Rod, but it’s too absurd to think
of Betty in the moving pictures, even by chance,
as you say. And, too, where could she be that she
would saunter out and join in a public picture like
“I know, it seems utterly absurd,—but—it was
Betty,—it was, it was! When will Mr Wise be back,
“I had a letter this morning, and he says not to
expect him before the end of the week at least.
He is on an important trail and has to go to a distant
town, then he will come back here.”
“Oh, I want to consult him about this thing,”
and Rodney looked disconsolate.
“Work at it yourself, Rod,” Zizi advised him.
“Get lists of the picture making companies, write
to them all, and track down that film. It must be
a possible thing to do. Go to it!”
“I will,” Rodney declared, and forthwith set about
“Now, I want to go off on a little trip,” Zizi said
to Minna. “And I don’t want to say where I’m
going, for it may turn out a wild goose chase. The
idea is not a very big one,—yet it might be the means
of finding out a lot of the mystery. Anyway, I
want to go, and I’ll be back in three days or four
“I hate to have you leave me, Zizi,” Mrs Varian
answered, “but if it means a chance, why take it.
Get back as soon as you can, I’ve grown to depend
on you for all my help and cheer.”
So Zizi packed her bag and departed.
With her she took a letter that she had abstracted
from a drawer of Minna Varian’s writing-desk.
She had taken it without leave, indeed without
the owner’s knowledge, but she felt the end justified
“If indeed the end amounts to anything,” Zizi
thought, a little ruefully.
Once started on her journey, it seemed like a
wilder goose chase than it had at first appeared.
The route, the little, ill-appointed New England
railroad, took her inland into the state of Maine,
and then westward, until she was in the green hills
and valleys of Vermont.
It was when the conductor sung out “Greenvale”
that Zizi, her journey ended, alighted from the train.
She found a rickety old conveyance known as a
buckboard and asked the indifferent driver thereof
if she might be conveyed to any inn or hostelry that
Greenvale might boast.
Still taciturn, the lanky youth that held the horse
told her to “get in.”
Zizi got in, and was transported to a small inn that
was not half so bad as she had feared.
She paid her charioteer, and as he set her bag
down for her on the porch, she went into the first
room, which seemed to be the office.
“Can I have a room for a day or two?” she asked.
“Sure,” said the affable clerk, looking at her with
Zizi smiled at him, quite completing his subjugation,
for she wished to be friendly in order to get all
the help she could on her mission.
She registered, and then said,
“Greenvale is a lovely place. How large is it?”
“’Most three thousand,” said the clerk, proudly.
“Gained a lot of late.”
“Do you have many visitors in the summer?”
“Lots; and we’ve got a noted one here right now.”
“Nobody less than—why, here he comes now!”
and Zizi looked toward the door, and just entering,
she saw,—Pennington Wise!
“For the love of Mike, Zizi, what are you doing
here?” exclaimed Pennington Wise, nearly
struck dumb with astonishment at sight of
“I ask you that!” she returned, looking at him
with equal amazement.
“Well, anyway, I’m glad to see you;” he smiled
at her with real pleasure. “I’ve had a long, horrid
and most unsatisfactory quest for the elusive L. N.
and I haven’t found him yet.”
“Any hope of it?”
“Nothing but. I mean no expectation or certainty,—but
always hope. Now, what’s your lay?
Why,—Zizi, tell me why you’re here, or I’ll fly off
“Well, wait till we can sit down somewhere and
talk comfortably. I haven’t had a room assigned
to me yet.”
“But tell me this: you’re here on the Varian
“Yes, of course. Are you?”
“I am. Oh, girl, there must be something doing
when we’re here from different starting points and
for different reasons!”
“I’m here because of some revelations of Mrs
Varian,” Zizi said and Wise stared at her.
“Mrs Varian!” he exclaimed. “I say, Ziz, go to
your room, get your bag unpacked and your things
put away as quick as you can, won’t you? And then
Zizi darted away, she arranged to have a bedroom
and sitting-room that she could call her own for a
few days, and in less than half an hour, she was
receiving Wise in her tiny but pleasant domain.
“Now,” he said, “tell me your story.”
“It isn’t much of a story,” Zizi admitted,—“but I
came here because this is where Betty Varian was born.”
“Up here? In Greenvale, Vermont?”
“Yes,—in a little hospital here.”
“And what has that fact to do with Betty’s disappearance?”
“Oh, Penny, I don’t know! But I hope,—I believe
it has something!”
“Well, my child, I’m up here to investigate the
early life of Mrs Lawrence North.”
“Then we are most certainly brought to the same
place by totally different clues,—if they are clues,
and one or both of them must prove successful!
Who was she, Penny?”
“As near as I can find out, she was a widow when
North married her. Her name was then Mrs Curtis.
Her maiden name I don’t know.”
“Well, what’s the procedure?”
The procedure, as Wise mapped it out, was to go
to the hospital first and see what could be learned
concerning Mrs Varian’s stay there twenty years
They had no difficulty in getting an interview with
the superintendent of the institution, but as Wise
had feared, he was not the man who had been in
charge a score of years previous.
In fact, there had been several changes since, and
the present incumbent, one Doctor Hasbrook,
showed but slight interest in his callers’ questions.
“The hospital is only twenty-two years old,”
Hasbrook said, “so the patient you’re looking up
must have been here soon after it was opened.”
“You have the records, I suppose?” asked Wise.
“Yes,—if you care to hunt them over, they are at
As a result of this permission, Wise and Zizi
spent several hours looking over the old and not
very carefully kept records of the earliest years of
the little country hospital.
“The worst of it is,” said Zizi, “I don’t exactly
know what we’re hoping to find, do you?”
“I have a dim idea, Zizi, and it’s getting clearer,”
Wise replied, speaking as from a deep absorption.
“It’s a list of births for a year,—the year Betty
Varian was born and,—oh, Zizi! the very same night
that Mrs Varian’s baby was born, a Mrs Curtis also
bore a child!”
“Oh, don’t sit there and babble ‘What?’ and
‘Well?’ Can’t you see?”
“No, I can’t.”
“Well, wait a bit,—now, let me see,—yes, Miss
“Pennington Wise, if you’ve lost your mind, I’ll
take you to a modern sanitarium,—I don’t want to
go off and leave you here in this little one-horse
“Hush up, Zizi, don’t chatter! Miss Morton,—h’m——”
Zizi kept silent in utter exasperation. She knew
Wise well enough to be sure he was on the trail of
a real discovery, but her impatience could scarcely
stand his mutterings and his air of suppressed excitement.
However, there was nothing to do but wait for
his further elucidation and when at last he closed
the books and looked up at her, his face was fairly
transfigured with joyous expectancy.
“Come on, girl,” he cried, “come on.”
He rose, and, as Zizi followed, they went back to
the superintendent’s office.
“Can you tell us, Doctor Hasbrook,” Wise asked,
“where we can find two nurses who were here twenty
years ago? One was named Black and one Morton.”
This was a matter of definite record, and Hasbrook
soon informed them that Nurse Black had
died some years ago but that Nurse Morton had
married and was still living in Greenvale.
“Thank Heaven,” murmured Wise as he took the
address of Mrs Briggs, who had been Nurse Morton.
To her house they then went, Zizi now quite content
to trudge along by the detective’s side, without
asking further questions. She knew she would
learn all in due time.
The pretty little cottage which was the home of
Mrs Briggs they found and went through the
wooden picket gate and up to the front door.
“Something tells me she won’t be glad to see us,”
Wise whispered, and then they were admitted by a
middle-aged woman who answered Wise’s courteous
question by stating that she was Mrs Briggs.
She looked amiable enough, Zizi thought, and she
asked her callers to be seated in her homely but
“I am here,” Wise began, watching her face for
any expression of alarm, “to ask you a few questions
about some cases you attended when you were
a nurse in the Greenvale Hospital.”
“Yes, sir,” was the non-committal response, but
Zizi’s quick eye noticed the woman’s fingers grasp
tightly the corner of her apron, which she rolled and
“One case, especially, was that of a Mrs Varian.
You remember it?”
“No,—I do not,” Mrs Briggs replied, but it was
after a moment’s hesitation, and she spoke, in a low,
“Oh, yes, you do,” and Wise looked at her sternly.
“Mrs Frederick Varian,—a lovely lady, who gave
birth to a girl child, and you were her attendant.”
“No; I don’t remember any Mrs Varian.” The
voice was steadier now but the speaker kept her
eyes averted from the detective’s face.
“Your memory is defective,” he said, quietly.
“Do you, then, remember a Mrs Curtis?”
This shot went home, and Mrs Briggs cried out
excitedly, “What do you mean? Who are you?”
“You haven’t been asked anything about these
people for twenty years, have you?” Wise went on.
“You didn’t think you ever would be asked about
them, did you? Your memory is all right,—now
what have you to say——”
“I have nothing to say. I remember a Mrs Curtis,
but she was not my patient.”
“No; Mrs Varian was your patient. But Mrs
Curtis figured in the Varian case pretty largely, I
Mrs Briggs broke down. “I didn’t do any harm,”
she said. “I only did what I was told. I obeyed
the others who were in greater authority than I
was.” She buried her face in her apron and sobbed.
“That’s right, Mrs Briggs,” Wise said kindly;
“tell the truth, and I promise you it will be far
better for you in the long run, than to make up any
“Tell me what happened,” the woman said,
eagerly, as she wiped her eyes. “Oh, sir, tell me?
Did Mrs—Mrs Varian’s little girl live to grow up?”
“Mrs Varian’s little girl!” Wise repeated with a
strange intonation and a shrewd shake of his head.
“Yes, Mrs Varian’s little girl,” the woman insisted
obstinately. “They took the child away when
it was four weeks old, Mrs Varian was quite well
and happy then.”
“Of course she was,—but, were you happy?”
“Why not?” The words were defiant, but Mrs
Briggs’ face showed an involuntary fear.
“Come now, Mrs Briggs, tell me the whole story
and you will get off scot free. Keep back the truth
or any portion of the truth, and you will find yourself
in most serious trouble. Which do you choose?”
“Where are the Varians? Where is Mr Varian?”
“Mr Varian is dead. You have me to reckon
with instead of him. Oh, I begin to see! Was it
Mr Varian’s scheme?”
“Yes, it was. I told you I had no choice in the
“Because he paid you well. Now, are you going
to tell me, or must I drag the story from you, piece-meal?”
“Tell it all, then. Begin at the beginning.”
“The beginning was merely that the Varians were
spending the summer here in a little cottage over
on the next street to this. Mrs Varian was expecting
a confinement but hoped to get back to the city
before it took place. However, she was not well,
and Mr Varian brought her to the hospital for
consultation and treatment. I was her nurse, and I
came to know her well, and—to love her. She was
a dear lady, and as her first babies had died in infancy
she was greatly worried and anxious lest this
new baby should be sickly or, worse, should be born
“Mr Varian was the most devoted husband I
ever saw. He put up with all his wife’s whims and
tantrums,—and she was full of them,—and he indulged
and petted her all the time. He was quite
as anxious as she for a healthy child, and when they
discovered that she must remain here for her confinement,
he sent to town for all sorts of things to
make her comfortable and happy.
“Well,—the baby was born,—and it was born
dead. Mrs Varian did not know it, and when I told
Mr Varian, he was so disappointed I thought he
would go off his head.
“Now there was another case in the hospital that
was a very sad matter. It was Mrs Curtis. She,
poor woman, was confined that same night, and
her baby was born, fine and healthy. But she
didn’t want the child. She was so poor she scarce
could keep soul and body together. She had three
little children already and her husband had died by
accident only a month before. How to care for a
new little one, she didn’t know.
“It was Nurse Black who thought of the plan of
substituting the lovely Curtis child for the dead
Varian baby, and we proposed it to Mr Varian. To
our surprise he fairly jumped at it. He begged us
to ascertain if Mrs Curtis would agree, saying he
would pay her well. Now, Mrs Curtis was only
too grateful to be assured of a good home and care
for her child, and willingly gave it over to the
Varians. But Mrs Varian never knew.
“That was Mr Varian’s idea, and it was an honest
and true desire to please his wife and to provide her
with a healthy child such as she herself could never
“I think Mr Varian was decided at the last by the
piteous cries of Mrs Varian for her baby. When he
heard her, he said quickly, ‘Take the Curtis child to
her,—and see if she accepts it?’”
“And did she?” asked Zizi, her eyes shining at the
“Oh, she did! She cried out in joy that it was
her baby and a beautiful, healthy child, and she was
so pleased and happy and contented that she dropped
off into a fine, natural sleep and began to get well
at once. When she wakened she asked for the child,
and so it went on until there was no question what
to do. The whole matter was considered settled——”
“Who knew of the fraud?” asked Wise.
“No one in the world but Mrs Curtis, Mr Varian
and we two nurses. Mr Varian paid the poor
mother ten thousand dollars, and he gave us a thousand
dollars apiece. The authorities of the hospital
never knew. They assumed the dead child was Mrs
Curtis’ and the living child was Mrs Varian’s.”
“And the doctors?”
“There was but one. I forgot him. Yes, he
knew, but he was a greedy scamp, and Mr Varian
easily bought him over. He died soon after, anyway.”
“So that now,—what living people know of this
“Why—you say Mr Varian is dead?”
“And Mrs Varian never learned the truth?”
“No,” Zizi answered, emphatically, “she never
“And Nurse Black is dead, and the doctor is
dead,—why, then nobody knows it—oh, yes, Mrs
Curtis, of course.”
“She, too, is dead,” Wise said.
“Then nobody knows it but we three here. Unless
of course, Mr Varian or Mrs Curtis told.”
“Mr Varian never did,” Wise said,—“as to Mrs
Curtis I can’t say.”
“Oh, she’d never tell,” Mrs Briggs declared.
“She was honest in the whole matter. She said she
didn’t know how she’d support her three children,
let alone a fourth. And, she was glad and thankful
to have it brought up among rich and kind people.
She never would have let it go unless she had been
sure of their kindness and care, but we told her
what fine people the Varians were and she was satisfied.”
“Were there adoption papers taken out?”
Mrs Briggs stared at Wise’s question.
“Why, no; it wasn’t an adoption, it was a substitution.
How could there be an adoption? Mrs
Varian thought it her own child,—the authorities of
the hospital thought the living child was Mrs
Varian’s. The matter was kept a perfect secret.”
“And I think it was all right,” Zizi defended.
“So long as Mr Varian knew, so long as Mrs Curtis
was satisfied, I don’t see where any harm was done
“I don’t either, miss,” said Mrs Briggs eagerly.
“I’m gratified to hear you say that, and I hope, sir,
you feel the same way about it.”
“Why, I scarcely know what to say,” Wise returned.
“It depends on whether you view the whole
thing from a judicial——”
“Or from a viewpoint of common sense and kind-heartedness!”
Zizi said. “I think it was fine,—and
I’m only sorry for poor Mr Varian who had to bear
the weight of his secret all alone through life.”
“Oh, Zizi, that would explain the pearls!” Wise
“Of course it does! He had to leave them to a
Varian,—and Betty wasn’t a Varian,—oh, Penny,
what a situation! That poor man!”
“And it explains a lot of other things,” Wise said,
thoughtfully. “Well, Mrs Briggs, we’ll be going
now. As to this matter, I think I can say, if you’ll
continue to keep it secret, we will do the same, at
least for the present. Did you never tell anybody?
Not even your husband?”
“I never did. It was the only secret I ever kept
from my husband, he’s dead now this seven year,
poor man,—but I felt I couldn’t tell him. It wasn’t
my secret. When I took Mr Varian’s money, I
promised never to tell about the child. And I kept
my word. Until now,” she added, and Wise said,
“You had to tell now, Mrs Briggs, if you hadn’t
told willingly and frankly, I could have brought the
law to bear on your decision.”
“That’s what I thought, sir. Please tell me of
the child? Is she now a fine girl?”
Wise realized that up in this far away hamlet the
news of Betty Varian’s disappearance had not become
known, so he merely said,
“I’ve never seen her, but I’m told she is a fine
and lovely girl. Her mother is a charming woman.”
“I’m glad you say so, sir, for though I was sorry
for her, she was a terror for peevishness and fretting.
Yet, after she got the little girl she seemed
transformed, she was that happy and content.”
Back to the inn went Pennington Wise and Zizi.
“The most astonishing revelation I ever heard,”
was Wise’s comment, as he closed the door of Zizi’s
sitting room and sat down to talk it over.
“Where do you come out?”
“At all sorts of unexpected places. Now, Zizi,
have you realized yet that Lawrence North married
that Mrs Curtis?”
“Practically; he married a widow named Curtis,
who formerly lived in Greenvale, Vermont. I’ve not
struck any other. And besides, it connects North
with this whole Varian case and I’m sure he is mixed
up in it.”
“That’s the question. But here’s a more immediate
question, Zizi. Are we to tell Mrs Varian
what we have learned from the nurse up here?”
“How can we help telling her?”
“But, think, Zizi. Have we a right to divulge
Frederick Varian’s secret? After he spent his life
keeping it quiet, shall we be justified in blurting it
“Oh, Penny, that’s why Mr Varian and Betty
were at odds! She wasn’t his child——”
“She didn’t know that——”
“No; but he did, and it made him irritable and
impatient. Oh, don’t you see? He was everlastingly
thinking that her traits were not Varian traits
nor traits of her mother’s family,—and he couldn’t
help thinking of the child’s real mother,—and oh, I
can see how altogether he was upset over and over
again when Betty would do or say something that
he didn’t approve of.”
“Yes, that’s so,—but Zizi, here’s a more important
revelation. The reason Frederick Varian was
so opposed to Betty’s marrying was because he
found himself in such an equivocal position! He
couldn’t let her marry a decent man without telling
him the story of her birth,—yet, he couldn’t tell it!
He couldn’t tell the young man without telling his
wife,—and to tell Mrs Varian,—at this late date,—oh,
well, no wonder the poor father,—who was no
father,—was nearly distracted. No wonder he was
crusty and snappish at Betty,—yet of course the
poor girl was in no way to blame!”
“Wouldn’t you think Mrs Varian would have
“No; why should she? And, too, her husband
took good care that she shouldn’t. It’s a truly
The Last Letter
When Wise and Zizi returned to Headland
House, they found Doctor Varian there on
one of his brief visits.
Deciding that it was the best course to pursue
the detective took the physician entirely into his confidence.
The two were closeted in the library, and
Wise related his discoveries regarding the Vermont
“It is astounding! Incredible!” exclaimed Varian,
“but if true, and it must be true, it explains a great
many things. As a doctor, I can understand these
things, and looking back, I see that Betty never had
any traits of either parent. Not always are children
like their parents but I’ve never seen a case where
there was not some sign of heredity, some likeness
to father or mother in looks or character.
“But Betty showed none such. She was a dear
girl, and we all loved her,—but she was not in any
way like Fred or Minna. To be sure, I never
thought about this definitely, for I had no reason
to think of such a thing as you’re telling me. But,
recollecting Betty, for I’ve known her all her life,
I can see where she is of a totally different stamp
from my brother or his wife. My, what a case!”
“Do you blame Mr Varian?”
“Not a bit! He did it out of the kindest of motives.
He was not only a devoted husband but a
willing slave to his wife, even in cases where she
was unreasonable or over-exacting. He petted and
humored her in every imaginable way, and when the
third baby was expected, the poor man was nearly
frantic lest it should not live and Minna could not
bear the disappointment. And so, when, as it seems
by a mere chance he had an opportunity to provide
her with a strong, healthy, beautiful child,—I, for
one, am not surprised that he did so, nor do I greatly
blame him. As you represent it, the poor mother
was willing and glad to consent to the arrangement.
An adoption would have been perfectly legitimate
and proper. Fred only chose the substitution plan
to save Minna from trouble and worry. I know
Fred so well, he was impulsive and he stopped at
nothing to please or comfort his wife. So, I can
easily see how he decided, on the impulse of the
moment, to do this thing, and if, as you say, Minna
took to the child at once, and loved it as her own,
of course he felt that the plan must be kept up, the
deception must be maintained.”
“It accounts, I dare say, for the slight friction
that so frequently arose between Betty and her
father,—for we may as well continue to call him her
“It does. I suppose when the child exhibited
traits that annoyed or displeased Fred, he resented
it and he couldn’t help showing it. He had a strong
clannish feeling about the Varians and he was sensitive
to many slight faults in Betty that Minna never
gave any heed to.”
“It’s an interesting study in the relative values
of heredity and environment.”
“Yes, it is; and it proves my own theory which
is that their influences average about fifty-fifty.
Many times heredity is stronger than environment,
and often it’s the other way, but oftenest of all, as
in this case, the one offsets the other. I know nothing
of Betty’s real ancestry, but it must have been
fairly good, or Fred never would have taken her
“And it was, of course, his clannish loyalty to his
family name that would not let him leave the pearls
“Yes, they have always been left to a Varian and
Fred couldn’t leave them to one who was really an
“It also explains Mr Varian’s objections to
“Oh, it does! Poor man, what he must have
suffered. He was a high-strung nature, impulsive
and even impetuous, but of a sound, impeccable
honesty that wouldn’t brook a shadow of wrong to
“I suppose what he had done troubled him more
or less all his life.”
“I suppose so. Not his conscience,—I can see
how he looked on his deed as right,—but he was
bothered by circumstances,—and it was a difficult
situation that he had created. The more I realize it,
the sorrier I feel for my poor brother. To make
his will was a perplexity! His lawyer has told me
that when he left the pearls away from Betty, he
said, ‘I must do it! I have to do it!’ in a voice that
was fairly agonized. The lawyer couldn’t understand
what he meant, but assumed it was some cloud
on Betty’s birth. I daresay Fred was not bothered
about his money, for he knew if he died first, Minna
would provide for Betty. But the pearls he had to
arrange for. Oh, well, Mr Wise, now then, viewed
in the light of these revelations, where do we stand?
Who killed my brother? Who killed the maid,
Martha? Who kidnapped Betty and Mr North?”
“Those are not easy questions, Doctor Varian,”
Wise responded, with a grave face, “but of this I
am confident,—one name will answer them all.”
“You know the name?”
“I am not quite sure enough yet to say that I do,—but
I have a strong suspicion. I think it is the
man who wrote the blackmailing letters to Mr
“The man we call Stephen? It well may be.
They referred to a robbed woman. Now, my
brother never robbed anybody in the commonly accepted
sense of that term, but it may mean the
mother of Betty. Could the doctor in the Greenvale
Hospital, that attended the two women that night,
be trying to make money out of the matter?”
“They tell me he died some years ago.”
“But these letters are not all recent. And, too, he
might have divulged the secret before he died, and
whoever he told used it as a threat against my
“It’s hardly a blackmailing proposition.”
“Oh, yes, it is. Say the doctor,—or the doctor’s
confidant threatened Fred with exposure of the secret
of Betty’s birth, I know my brother well enough
to be certain that he would pay large sums before he
would bring on Minna and Betty the shock and publicity,
even though there was no actual disgrace.”
“Well, then, granting a blackmailer, he’s the one to
look for, but on the other hand, why should he kill
Mr Varian, when he was his hope of financial plunder?
Why should he kidnap Betty? And, above
all, why should he kill Martha and abduct Lawrence
“The only one of those very pertinent questions
that I can answer is the one about Betty. Whoever
kidnapped her, did it for ransom. That is evidenced
by the letters to Minna.”
“If they are genuine.”
“Oh, they are,—I’m sure. She had another while
you were away.”
“She did! To what purport?”
“Further and more desperate insistence of the
“The regular procedure! If it is a fake they
would do the same thing.”
“Yes,—and they would also, if it is a real issue.”
Wise went at once to find Minna and see the new
It was indeed imperative, saying, in part:
“Now we have Betty safe, but this is your last
chance to get her back. We are too smart for your
wise detective and we are in dead earnest. Also
Betty will be dead in earnest unless you do exactly
as we herein direct. Also, this is our last letter.
If you decide against us, we settle Betty’s account
and call the whole deal off. Our instructions are
the same as before. On Friday night, at midnight,
go to the edge of the cliff and throw the package of
money over. Tie to it some float and we will do
the rest. That is, if you act in sincerity. If you
are false-minded in the least detail, we will know
it. We are wiser than Wise. So take your choice
and,—have a care! No one will be more faithful
than we, if you act in good faith. Also, no one can
be worse than we can be, if you betray us!”
The somewhat lengthy letter was written on the
same typewriter as had been used for the others, and
Wise studied it.
“There’s nothing to be deduced from the materials,”
he said. “They’re too smart to use traceable
paper or typing. But there are other indications,
and, I think, Mrs Varian, at last I see a ray of
hope, and I trust it will soon be a bright gleam and
then full sunshine!”
“Good!” Zizi cried, clapping her hands. “When
Penny talks poetry, he’s in high good humor,—and
when he’s in high good humor, it’s ’cause he’s on
the right track,—and when he’s on the right track,—he
Then they told Wise about the strange communication
from the girl who knew lip-reading, and the
detective was even more highly elated.
“Great!” he exclaimed. “Perfectly remarkable!
“Gone to Boston to see a moving picture concern.
He may have to go on to New York. He
hopes to be back by Saturday at latest.”
It was Minna who answered, and her face was
jubilant at the hope renewed in her heart by Wise’s
But she determined in her secret thoughts to
throw the money over the cliff on Friday night,
whether the detective agreed to that plan or not.
What, she argued to Mrs Fletcher, whom she took
into her confidence on this matter, was any amount
of money compared to the mere chance of getting
back her child? She urged and bribed Fletcher
until she consented to help Minna get out of the
house on Friday night without Wise’s knowledge.
It was now Tuesday, and after much questioning
of every one in the house as to what had taken place
in his absence, the detective shut himself alone in
the library, and surrounded by his own written notes,
and with many of Mr Varian’s letters and financial
papers, he thought and brooded over it all for some
At last he opened the door and called Zizi.
“Well, my child,” he said, closing the door behind
her, “I’ve got a line on things.”
“I do hope, Penny, you’ll watch out for Mrs
Varian. She’s going to throw the money over the
cliff on Friday night without your knowledge or
“She can’t do that.”
“She can’t without your knowledge, I admit.
But, she can without your consent. Her money is
her own and you’ve no real authority that will let
you dictate to her how to use it.”
“True, oh, Queen!”
“Oh, Penny, when you smile like that, I know
something’s up! What is it?”
“My luck, I hope. Ziz, do you remember you
said you had a green smear on your frock like the
one on Martha’s hand?”
“Is it there yet, or did you clean it off?”
“It’s there yet, I haven’t worn the dress since.”
“Get it, will you?”
Zizi went, and returned with the little frock, a
mere wisp of light, thin material, and handed it to
He inspected the green streak, which was visible
though not conspicuous, and then he sniffed at it
with such absorption that Zizi laughed outright.
“Pen,” she said, “in detective stories they always
represent the great detective as sniffing like a hound
on a scent. You’re literally doing it.”
“Not astonishing that I should, little one, when
you realize that this green smear is a beacon to light
“What is it?” Zizi’s big Hack eyes grew serious
at Wise’s tone.
“The way out; the exit; the solution of the mystery
of the secret passage.”
“Oh, Penny, tell me! You’ll be the death of me
if you keep the truth from me! I’m crazy with suspense!”
But Zizi’s curiosity could not be gratified just
then, for Fletcher came to say that Minna desired
the girl’s company.
Minna Varian had come to depend much on Zizi’s
charm and entertainment, and often sent for her
when feeling especially blue or nervous.
Zizi had been waiting for an opportunity, and
now as the nurse left her alone with Mrs Varian, she
gradually and deftly led the talk around to Betty
as a baby.
“Tell me what you thought when you first saw
your little daughter,” Zizi said, in her pretty, coaxing
way. “How old was she?”
“About an hour or so, I think,” Minna said,
reminiscently. “And my first thought was, ‘Oh,
thank God for a healthy, beautiful baby!’ She was
so lovely,—and so strong and perfect! I had hoped
she would be all right, but I never looked for such
a marvel as came to me!”
“And Mr Varian was as pleased as you were!”
Zizi said, gently.
“Oh, yes,—but,” Minna’s face clouded a little,
“I don’t know how to express it,—but he never
seemed to love Betty as he did our first children.
He admired her,—nobody could help it,—but he
had a queer little air of restraint about her. It
lasted all through life. I can’t understand it,—unless
he was jealous——”
“Yes, of my love and adoration of the child. Silly
idea, I know, but I’ve racked my brain and I can’t
think of any other explanation.”
“That doesn’t explain the Varian pearls——”
“No; nothing can explain that! Oh, nothing explains
anything! Zizi, you’ve no idea what I suffer!
I wonder I keep my mind! Just think of a woman
who never had to decide a question for herself, if
she didn’t want to,—who never had a care or responsibility
that she didn’t assume of her own accord,—who
had a husband to care for her, a daughter
to love her——”
The poor woman broke down completely, and
Zizi had her hands full to ward off the violent
hysterics that attacked her at times.
Meantime, Pennington Wise, convinced of the
origin of the green smear on Zizi’s frock, was starting
forth to prove his conviction.
Armed only with a powerful flashlight and a
good-sized hammer, he went out to the kitchen and
through that to the cellar.
There, he went straight to the old well, and testing
the rope as he did so, he let the bucket down as far
as it would go. Then, with monkey-like agility he
began to clamber down,—partly supported by clinging
to the rope, partly by getting firm footholds on
the old stones that lined the well.
Scarcely had he started, when he experimentally
drew his hand across the stones, and by his flashlight
perceived a green smear, the counterpart of that on
Zizi’s frock. Also, the counterpart of that on
Yet, the dead girl could scarcely have been in the
well! So,—her assailant must have been.
However, he went on investigating.
He noted carefully the walls as he descended, and
it was not until he almost reached the bottom of the
dried-up old well, that he noticed anything strange.
All of the wall was very rough and uneven but
here was what appeared to be a distinct hole, roughly
filled in with loose stones.
Standing now on the bottom of the well, slippery
with moisture but no water above his shoe soles, he
used his hammer to dislodge these stones, working
carefully and slowly, but with a certainty of success.
“Fool that I was,” he chattered to himself, “not
to come down here the very first thing! To trust to
Zizi was all right,—the kid couldn’t notice this place,—but
I had no business to trust that half-baked
sheriff or his man!”
His work soon disclosed the fact that the loose
stones apparently closed the mouth of a deep hole.
When all that were loose had been either pulled
out or pushed in, he found there was an aperture
large enough to permit a man’s body to pass through,
and without hesitation, he scrambled through it.
His flashlight showed him that almost from the
start the hole widened until it became a fair-sized
tunnel. Crawling along this for a hundred yards or
so, he heard the splash of water, and soon he no
longer needed his flashlight, as daylight streamed
in through a narrow fissure in the rock.
It was fortunate for Wise that it did, for just
ahead the tunnel descended sharply, and at the bottom,
what was evidently the surf was surging in
from the ocean.
It was quite dark below, and being unable to
progress further, Wise backed out of the tunnel, it
wasn’t wide enough to turn around in, and reaching
the well again, he ascended to the surface.
He went to his room, looked with satisfaction on
the numerous smears of green and brown that disfigured
his suit,—which he had taken care should
be an old one.
No one knew what he had done, nor did any one
know his destination when, half an hour later, he
set off for the village.
He went to the inn and inquired where he could
get the best motor boat that could be hired.
A suitable one was found and its owner agreed
to take Wise on an exploring expedition at the next
low tide. This would not be until the following
morning, so the detective went back to Headland
Then, he concentrated all his efforts and attention
on the subject of the moving picture film that had
been said to portray Betty Varian.
“Rod Granniss vows it was really Betty,” Zizi
“He ought to know,” said Wise. “A man in
love with a girl doesn’t mistake her identity. Besides,
it’s quite on the cards, Ziz. Say Betty is confined
somewhere,—say she is let out for a little exercise
in care of a jailer, of course,—say there’s a
M. P. contraption taking a picture of a crowd,—they
often do,—pick up stray passers-by you know,
and say, Betty somehow got into the picture——”
“Oh, the jailer, as you call him, wouldn’t let her!”
“More likely a woman in charge of her. And,
maybe a woman not averse to taking the few dollars
those people pay to actors who just make up a crowd.
Well, say that happened, and then Betty, not daring
to speak aloud, made her lips form the words ‘I am
Betty Varian,’ in the hope that among a few thousands
of lip readers in the country one might strike
“Nobody could be so clever as all that, Pen!”
“She might be on a chance inspiration. Anyway,
how else can you explain it?”
“Why, anybody might have said that, who wasn’t
Betty at all.”
“But why? What would be the sense of it? and
why would such a thing occur to anybody but
“If it’s true,—then you can find her! Surely you
can track down a moving picture company!”
“Oh, it isn’t that! It’s tracking down the place
where Betty is confined,—and—doing it while she
is still alive. You see, Zizi, those ransom letters are
true bills, and the villains have nearly reached the
end of their patience.”
“Then why don’t you approve of Mrs Varian’s
throwing the money over the cliff?”
“I may advise her to do it by Friday night,—if
nothing happens in the meantime.”
“But look here, Penny,” Zizi said, after a thoughtful
moment, “if your theory is the right one, why
didn’t Betty scream out, ‘I am Betty Varian!’ and
take a chance that somebody in the crowd would
“It would seem a natural thing to do, unless the
girl had been so cowed by threats of punishment or
even torture if she made any outcry when allowed
to go for a walk. I’m visualizing that girl as kept
in close confinement, but not in any want or discomfort.
She is most likely treated well as to food,
rooms and all that, but is not allowed to step out of
doors except with a strict guard and under some
terrible penalty if she attempts to make herself
known. With Betty’s love of fresh air and sunshine
she would agree to almost anything to get out of
doors. Then, too, if she merely formed those words
without sound, the chance of their being read by a
lip reader was really greater than the chance of
doing any good by crying out aloud.
“Had she done that, whoever had her in charge
would have whisked her away at once, and no one
would have paid any attention to the slight disturbance.”
“It’s all perfectly logical and, oh, I hope Rodney
gets some clue to the place where the picture was
“I hope so, Ziz, but they’ve probably moved Betty
away from there by now.”
“Did you find out, Penny, what that stain on
my frock was?”
“Yes, my dear, you’ve struck it! You got that
stain while you were down the well.”
“Oh,” Zizi’s eyes lighted up; “of course I did!
Those damp, mossy stones. And, then, oh, Wise
one, just how did the same stain get on Martha’s
“That, Zizi,” Wise spoke almost solemnly, “is
part of the solution of the whole great mystery.”
In a small but powerful motor boat Wise went on
his voyage of exploration. The man who managed
the craft was a stolid, silent person who
obeyed Wise’s orders without comment.
But when the detective directed that he go round
the base of the headland, and skirt close to the rocks
he grumbled at the danger.
“Be careful of the danger,” Wise said, “steer clear
of hidden reefs, but go close to the overhanging cliff,
there where I’m pointing.”
Skirting the cliff, at last Wise discovered what he
was looking for, a small cave, worn in the rock by
the sea. The floor of this cave rose sharply and it
was with difficulty that Wise managed to scramble
from the boat to a secure footing on the slippery
“Look out there,” said the imperturbable boatman,
“you’ll get caught in there when the tide
comes up. I never noticed that hole in the wall before,
it must be out o’ sight ’ceptin’ at low tide.”
“Stay where you are and wait for me,” Wise
directed, “if I’m not out here again in half an hour,
go on home. But I’ll probably be back in less than
“You will, if you’re back at all! The tide will
turn in fifteen minutes and in half an hour it’ll be
all you can do to get out!”
Disappearing, Wise began his climb up the floor
of the cave, and at a point just above high water
there was a fissure in the cliff which admitted air and
some light. At this point the cave ran back for some
distance, though still on a rising level. During the
winter storms the ocean evidently had worn this tunnel
in the rock.
Wise at once realized that this nature-made tunnel
ran on for some distance until it ended in the old
Using his flashlight when necessary, he made his
way, until he reached the pile of stones which he
himself had pushed out from the well and found to
his satisfaction that he had indeed come to the well,
and that his solution of the mystery of a secret
passage into Headland House was accomplished.
But what a solution! The difficulty and danger
of entrance or exit by means of that rock tunnel and
that old well could scarce be exaggerated!
Moreover, all such entrances or exits must be
made at the lowest ebb of the tide. But the cave
was roomy, not uncomfortable, and the tunnel,
though cramped in places, was fairly navigable.
There was plenty of room in the cave quite above
reach of the highest tide, and the whole matter was
clear and simple now that he saw it all, but he marveled
at the energy and enterprise that could conceive,
plan and carry out the various attacks.
Whoever the criminal, or the master criminal,
might be, he had come up through that tunnel and
well on the several occasions of the kidnapping of
Betty, the murder of Martha, the abduction of
North,—yes,—and Wise remembered the letter that
had been mysteriously left on the hall table,—also
the night the library had been entered,—clearly, the
man came and went at will!
A master mind, Wise concluded, he had to deal
with, and he set his own best energies to work on his
The way between Headland House and the outer
world was not easy of negotiation, but it was a way,
and it was passable to a determined human being.
Wise was back inside the prescribed half hour,
and the uninterested boatman took him back to the
Harbor without question or comment as to his
That afternoon, Wise called Minna and Doctor
Varian into the library and closed the door.
Zizi was also present, her black eyes shining with
anticipation, for she knew from Wise’s manner and
expression that he was making progress, and was
about to disclose his discoveries.
“I have learned a great deal,” the detective began,
“but not all. At least, I have found the so-called
secret passage, which we all felt sure must exist.”
He described the cave and the tunnel as he had
found them, and the outlet into the old well, so carefully
piled with loose stones that it would escape the
observance of almost any searcher.
He told briefly but graphically of his exit from the
well for a distance, and of his later entrance from
the cave and his procedure to the well.
Zizi nodded her bird-like little head, with an air
of complete understanding, Doctor Varian was absorbedly
interested and profoundly amazed, while
Minna looked helplessly ignorant of just what Wise
was talking about.
“I can’t understand it,” she said, piteously, “but
never mind that, I don’t care, if you say it’s all so.
Now, where is Betty?”
“That we don’t know yet,” Wise said, gently, “but
we are on the way at last to find out. As I reconstruct
the crime, now, that day that Betty returned
for her camera, she must have done so under one
of two conditions. Either her errand was genuine,
in which case, she surprised the criminal here at
some nefarious work,—or, which I think far more
probable, she came back pretending it was for her
camera, but really because of some message or communication
which she had received purporting some
good to her, but really a ruse of the criminal, who
was here for the purpose of abducting the girl.”
“For ransom?” asked Doctor Varian.
“Yes, for ransom. Now, he would naturally attack
her in the hall. Perhaps she threw herself on
the sofa, clung to it, and was carried off, still holding
that yellow pillow, either unconsciously, or he
may have used it to stifle her cries. There were two
men involved, of that I am sure. For, when they
had partly accomplished their purpose, Mr Varian
appeared at the door and one of the men had to
intercept his entrance.
“I rather fancy the killing of Mr Varian was unintentional,—or
possibly, self-defence, for these ruffians
did not want to kill their blackmail victim.
They may have parleyed with the father to pay them
to release the girl, and when he showed fight, as he
would, they did also, and as a result, Mr Varian met
“However, that is mere surmise. What we know
is, that Betty was carried through the kitchen where
the pillow fell,—still holding one of her hair-pins,
probably caught during the struggle,—and she was
carried down the cellar stairs. During this trip her
string of beads broke, and were scattered about. As
we never found but a few, and those were under
furniture or cupboards, I gather the villains picked
up all they could see, lest they should be found as
“Which they were!” said Zizi.
“Which they were,” Wise assented. “Then, they
carried that girl whether conscious or chloroformed
I can’t say, down to the cellar, down the old well,
through the tunnel to the cave. There they could
wait any number of hours until the tide served, and
take her away in a boat without attracting the notice
“Most likely at night,” Zizi put in.
“Most likely. Anyway, Mrs Varian, that’s my
finding. It’s all very dreadful, but horrifying as it
is, it opens the way to better things. To go on,
there can be no doubt that this same villain, and a
clever one he is, returned here at night for plunder
and on other errands.
“He came and left the letter found so mysteriously
on the hall table. He came to rob the library safe,
thinking the ransom money was in it. And he was
spied upon and discovered by the maid, Martha, so
that he ruthlessly strangled the poor thing to death,
rather than face exposure.”
“And then he abducted North!” Doctor Varian
cried; “and it’s easy to see why! North had doubtless
also spied on him, and somehow he forced North
to go away with him,—perhaps at pistol’s point.”
“Now our question is,——”
“Two questions!” Zizi cried; “first, who is the
criminal,—and second where is he keeping Betty
all this time?”
“Yes, and we know a great deal to start on.”
Wise spoke thoughtfully. “We know, almost to a
certainty, that it is the man whom we call Stephen,
because he wrote threatening letters signed ‘Step.’
We know he is diabolically clever, absolutely fearless,
and willing to commit any crime or series of
crimes to gain his end, which is merely the large
sum of money he has demanded from Mrs Varian,
and which he had previously demanded from Mr
Varian, as blackmail.”
“Why should he blackmail my husband?” Minna
asked, tearfully, and Wise said, “There is not always
a sound reason for blackmail, Mrs Varian. Sometimes
it is an unjust accusation or a mistaken suspicion.
Any way, as you have often declared, Mr
Frederick Varian was a noble and upright man, and
his integrity could not be questioned.”
“Now, then,” said Doctor Varian, “to find this
master hand at crime. I am astounded at your revelations,
Mr Wise, and I confess myself utterly in
the dark as to our next step.”
“An animal that attacks in the open,” Wise returned,
“may be shot or snared. But a wicked,
crafty animal may only be caught by a trap. I propose
to set a trap to catch our foe. It is a wicked
trap, but he is a wicked man. It will harm him
physically, but he deserves to be harmed physically.
It is a sly, underhand method, but so are his own.
Therefore, I conclude that a trap is justified in his
“You mean a real, literal mantrap?” asked the
“I mean just that. I have already procured it and
I propose to set it tonight. This is Thursday. As
matters stand now, our ‘Stephen’ is assuming or at
least hoping that Mrs Varian means to accede to his
last request and throw the money over the cliff tomorrow,
Friday night. Now, I feel pretty positive
that Stephen is not so confident of getting that
money safely as he pretends he is. He must be
more or less fearful of detection. I’m sure that he
will return to this house tonight, by his usual mode
of entrance, and will try to steal the money. Then
he will disappear and he may or may not give up
“You think he’ll come here? Tonight?” Doctor
Varian was astonished.
“Then we’ll be ready for him! I fancy between
us, Mr Wise, we can account for him and his accomplice.”
“Too dangerous, Doctor. He would kill us both
before we knew it. No, I’m going to set my trap.
If he comes he deserves to be trapped. If he doesn’t
come, there is certainly no harm done.”
“Where shall we hide the money?” asked Minna,
“It doesn’t matter,” and Wise’s face set sternly.
“He will never get as far as the money.”
Hating his job, but fully alive to the justice and
necessity of it, Wise set his trap that night.
It was a real trap, and was set up in the kitchen in
such a position that it faced the cellar door. It consisted
of a short-barreled shotgun which was
mounted on an improvised gun carriage, made of a
strong packing box.
This contrivance was fastened carefully to the
kitchen wall about twelve feet in front of the cellar
door, and when the door should be opened, the trap
would be sprung and the shotgun discharged.
A steel spring fastened to the trigger, and a
strong cord running to a pulley in the ceiling, thence
to another, and finally to a pulley in the floor, and
on to the door knob completed the deadly mechanism.
The tension of the spring was so carefully adjusted
that an intruder might open the door a foot or
more before the strain was carried to the trigger.
This insured a sure aim and a clear shot.
Wise tested his trap thoroughly, and finally, with a
grim nod of his head, declared it was all right.
He had sent the servants and the women-folks to
bed, before beginning his work, and now he and
Doctor Varian seated themselves in the library to
“As I said,” Wise remarked, “‘Stephen’ may not
come at all, he may send an accomplice. Yet this I
expect the most surely,—he will come himself.”
“Have you no idea of his identity, Mr Wise?” the
“Yes; I have an idea,—and if he does not come
tonight, I will tell you who I think he is. But we
will wait and see.”
They waited, now silent and now indulging in a
few low toned bits of conversation, when at two
o’clock in the morning the report of the gun brought
them to their feet and they raced to the kitchen.
The roaring detonation was still in their ears as
they strode through the hall, and the smell of powder
greeted them at the kitchen door.
The cellar door was open, and on the floor near it
lay a man breathing with difficulty.
Doctor Varian dropped on his knees beside him,
and his professional instinct was at once in full
working order, even as his astonished voice exclaimed:
“As I expected,” Wise said, “and well he deserves
his fate. Will he live, Doctor?”
“Only a few moments,” was the preoccupied reply.
“I can do nothing for him. He received the
full charge in the abdomen.”
“Tell your story, North,” Wise said, briefly;
“don’t waste time in useless groaning.”
North glared at the detective.
“You fiend!” he gasped, gurgling in rage and
“You’re the fiend!” Varian said; “hush your
vituperation and tell us where Betty is.”
A smile of low cunning came over North’s villainous
face. He used his small remaining strength to
say: “That you’ll never know. You’ve spiked your
own guns. Nobody knows but me,—and I won’t
Alarmed, Wise tried another tone.
“This won’t do, North,” he said; “whatever your
crime, you can’t refuse that last act of expiation.
Tell where she is, and die the better for it.”
“No,” gasped the dying man. “Bad I’ve lived
and bad I’ll die. You’ll never find Betty Varian.
There are standing orders to do away with her if
anything happens to me, and,”—he tried to smile,—“something
“It sure has,” Wise said, and looked at him with
real pity, for the man was suffering tortures. “But,
I command you, North, by the blood you have shed,
by the two human lives you have taken, by the heart
of the wife and mother that you have broken,—I
charge you, give up your secret while you have
strength to do so!”
For a moment, North seemed to hesitate.
A little stimulant administered by the doctor gave
him a trifle more strength, but then his face changed,—he
“Good work,” he said, it seemed, exultingly.
“When I first found the cave a year ago, I began to
plan how I could get the Varians to take this house.
They little thought I brought it about through the
real estate people——”
“Never mind all that,” Wise urged him, “where’s
“Betty? ah, yes,—Betty——” His mind seemed
to wander again and Varian gave him a few drops
“Get it out of him,” he said to the detective, “this
will lose all efficacy in another few moments. He is
“Going, am I?” and North was momentarily alert.
“All right, Doc, I’ll go and my secret will go with
“Where is Betty?” Wise leaned over the miserable
wretch, as if he would drag the secret from him
by sheer will power.
But the other’s will power matched his own.
“Betty,” he said,—“oh, yes, Betty. Really, my
wife’s daughter, you know,—my step-daughter,—I
had a right to her, didn’t I——”
“‘Step’!” Wise cried, “Step, that you signed to
those letters was short for Stepfather!”
“Yes, of course; my wife didn’t mean to tell me
that story,—didn’t know she did,—she babbled in
her sleep, and I got it out of her by various hints and
allusions. Mrs Varian never knew, so I bled the old
man. My, he was in a blue funk whenever I attacked
him about it!”
“Where is she now?” Wise hinted.
“No, sir, you don’t get it out of me. You caught
me,—damn you! now I’ll make you wish you
hadn’t!” and Lawrence North died without another
Baffled, and spent with his exhausting efforts,
Wise left the dead man in the doctor’s care and returned
to the library.
He found Zizi there. She had listened from the
hall and had overheard much that went on, but she
couldn’t bring herself to go where the wounded man
“Oh, Penny,” she sobbed, “he didn’t tell! Maybe
if I had gone in I could have got it out of him! But
I c-couldn’t look at him——”
“Never mind, dear, that’s all right. He wouldn’t
have told you, either. The man is the worst criminal
I have ever known. He has no drop of humanity
in his veins. As to remorse or regret, he never
knew their meaning! Now, what shall we do? Is
Mrs Varian awake?”
“Yes; in mild hysterics. Fletcher is with her.”
“Doctor Varian must go to her, and after that
doubtless you can soothe her better than any one
else. I’ll get Potter and Dunn up here,—and I
fervently hope it’s for the last time!”
“Penny, your work was wonderful! You were
right, a thing like that had to be trapped,—not
caught openly. You’re a wonder!”
“Yet it all failed, when I failed to learn where
Betty is. I shall find her,—but I fear,—oh, Zizi, I
fear that the evil that man has done will live after
him,—and I fear for the fate of Betty Varian.”
Zizi tried to cheer him, but her heart too was
heavy with vague fears, and she left him to his
routine work of calling the police and once again
bringing them up to Headland House on a gruesome
These things done, Wise went at once to North’s
bungalow in Headland Harbor. He had small hope
of finding Joe Mills there, and as he had foreseen,
that worthy had decamped. Nor did they ever see
“I suppose,” Wise said afterward, “he was in the
cellar when North was killed; but I never thought of
him then, nor could I have caught him as he doubtless
fled away in the darkness to safety.”
“Then it was a put up job, that scene of struggle
and confusion in North’s bedroom that day he disappeared?”
Bill Dunn asked of Wise.
“Yes; I felt it was, but I couldn’t see how he got
away. You see, at that time, North began to feel
that my suspicions were beginning to turn in his
direction, and he thought by pretending to be abducted
himself, he would argue a bold and wicked
kidnapper again at work. At any rate, he wanted
to get away, and stay away the better to carry on his
dreadful purposes, and he chose that really clever
way of departing. The touch of leaving his watch
behind was truly artistic,—unless he forgot it. Well,
now to find Betty Varian.”
“Just a minute, Mr Wise. How’d you come to
think of looking for that cave arrangement?”
“After I began to suspect North, I watched him
very closely. I had in my mind some sort of rock
passage, and when I took him out in a boat, or Joe
Mills, either, when we went close to that part of the
rocks where the cave is, I noted their evident efforts
not to look toward a certain spot. It was almost
amusing to see how their eyes strayed that way, and
were quickly averted. They almost told me just
where to look!”
“Wonderful work!” Dunn exclaimed, heartily.
“No,” Wise returned, “only a bit of psychology.
Now to find Betty.”
But though the detective doubtless would have recovered
the missing girl, he had not the opportunity,
for love had found a way.
By the hardest sort of work and with indefatigable
perseverance, Granniss had gone from one to another
of the various officials, mechanicians and even
workmen of the moving picture company he was on
the trail of and after maddening delays caused by
their lack of method, their careless records and their
uncertain memories, he finally found out where the
picture of a crowd, in which Betty had appeared, was
And then by further and unwearying search, he
found an old but strongly built and well guarded
house where he had reason to think Betty was imprisoned.
Finding this, he didn’t wait for proofs of his belief,
but telegraphed for Pennington Wise and
Sheriff Potter to come there at once and gain entrance.
Rod’s inexperience led him to adopt this course,
but it proved a good one, for his telegram reached
Wise the day after North’s death, and he hurried off,
Potter with him.
The house was in Vermont, and while Potter made
the necessary arrangements with the local authorities,
Wise went on to meet Granniss.
“There’s the house,” and Wise saw the rather
pleasant-looking old mansion. “I’m dead sure
Betty’s in there, but I can’t get entrance, though I’ve
tried every possible way.”
But the arrival of the police soon effected an entrance,
and armed with the knowledge of North’s
death as well as more material implements, they all
Pretty Betty, as pretty as ever, though pale and
thin from worry and fear, ran straight into Granniss’
arms and nestled there in such absolute relief
and content, that the other men present turned away
from the scene with a choke in their throats.
If Granniss hadn’t found her!
The news of North’s death brought the jailers to
terms at once. They were a man and wife, big,
strong people, who were carrying out North’s orders
“to be kind and proper to the girl, but not to let her
The moving picture incident had occurred just as
Wise had surmised. On her daily walks for exercise,
Betty was sometimes allowed to get into a
crowd at the studio near by, and frequently she had
tried her clever plan of silent talk. But only once
had that plan succeeded.
Yet once was enough, and Granniss said, “Look
here, you people, clear up all the red tape, won’t
you? Betty and I want to go home!”
“Run along,” said Wise, kindly. “There’s a train
in an hour. Skip,—and God bless you!”
Their arrival at Headland House, heralded by a
telegram to Zizi, had no unduly exciting effects on
Doctor Varian watched her, but as he saw the
radiant joy with which she clasped Betty in her
arms, he had no fear of the shock of joy proving too
much for her.
“Oh, Mother,” Betty cried, “don’t let’s talk about
it now. I’ll tell you anything you want to know
some other time. Now, just let me revel in being
Nor did any one bother the poor child save to ask
a few important questions.
These brought the information that Betty had
been decoyed back to the house that day, by a false
message purporting to be from Granniss, asking
her to return after the rest left the house, and call
him up on the telephone. This Betty tried to do,
using her camera as an excuse.
But she never reached the telephone. Once in the
house, she was grasped and the assailants, there were
two, attempted to chloroform her. But chloroforming
is not such a speedy matter as many believe and
she was still struggling against the fumes when her
North held Betty while the other man, who was
Joe Mills, fought Frederick Varian, and, in the
struggle, shot him.
This angered North so, that he lost his head. He
almost killed Mills in his rage and fury, and seizing
Betty, made for the secret passage.
On the way, her string of beads broke, the pillow
which they used to help make her unconscious was
dropped on the kitchen floor, and then she was carried
down the well, through the tunnel and cave and
away in a swift motor boat.
But in a half conscious state, all these things were
like a dream to her.
“A dream which must not be recalled,” said Granniss,
with an air of authority that sat well upon him.
“My blessing,” Minna said, fondling the girl.
“Never mind about anything, now that I have you
back. I miss your father more than words can say,
but with you restored, I can know happiness again.
Let us both try to forget.”
Later, a council was held as to whether to tell
Minna the true story of Betty’s birth.
The two young people had to be told, and Doctor
Varian was appealed to for a decision regarding
“I don’t know,” he said, uncertainly. “You see it
explains the pearls,——”
“I’ll tell you,” Granniss said. “Don’t let’s tell
Mother Varian now. Betty and I will be married
very soon, and after that we can see about it. Or,
if she has to know at the time of the wedding, we’ll
tell her then. But let her rejoice in her new found
child as her own child as long as she can. Surely
she deserves it.”
“And you don’t care?” Betty asked, looking at
“My darling! I don’t care whether you’re the
daughter of a princess or pauperess,—you’ll soon be
my wife, and Granniss is all the name you’ll ever
want or need!”
“Bless your sweet hearts,” said Zizi, her black eyes
showing a tender gleam for the girl she had so long
known of, and only now known.
“And bless your sweetheart, when you choose
one!” Betty said, her happy heart so full of joy that
her old gayety already began to return.