The Case of Mrs. Magnus
by Burton E. Stevenson
The position of confidential family adviser is not without its
drawbacks, and it was with a certain reluctance that I told the office
boy to show Mrs. Magnus in. For Mrs. Magnus was that bête noire
of the lawyer—a woman recently widowed, utterly without business
experience, and yet with a firm belief in her ability to manage her
husband's estate. If Mrs. Magnus chose to ruin herself there was, of
course, no reason why I should worry, but it is annoying to have a
person constantly asking for advice and as constantly disregarding it.
I never really understood why Mrs. Magnus asked for advice at all.
She was a woman of about fifty, thin and nervous, with a curious habit
of compressing her lips into a tight knot, under the impression, I
suppose, that the result indicated strength of character. Peter
Magnus had married her when he was only an obscure clerk in the great
commission house which he was afterward to own, and she was a school
teacher or governess, or something of that sort. Perhaps she was a
little ahead of him intellectually at the start, but he had broadened
and developed, while she had narrowed and dried up, but she never lost
the illusion of her mental supremacy, nor the idea that she had, in
some dim way, married beneath her.
There were no children, and for the past ten years the old Magnus
house on Twenty-third Street had been for her a kind of hermitage from
which she seldom issued. Great business blocks sprang up on either
side of it, but she would never permit her husband to sell it and move
For Magnus, on the other hand, the house became in time merely a sort
of way station between the busy terminals of his life. I dare say he
grew indifferent to his wife. That however, has nothing to do with
Mrs. Magnus usually entered my office as one intrenched in conscious
strength, but this morning it was evident that something had occurred
to disturb her calm assurance. Her lips seemed more shrunken than
ever; there were little lines of worry about her eyes, and dark
circles under them, and as she dropped into the chair I placed for
her, I saw that her hands were trembling. As I sat down in my own
chair and swung around to face her, the conviction struck through me
that she was badly frightened.
"Mr. Lester," she began, after a moment in which she was visibly
struggling for self-control, "I want fifty thousand dollars in
"Why—why, of course," I stammered, trying to accept the demand as
quite an ordinary one. "When?"
"By eight o'clock to-night."
"Very well," I said. "But I suppose you know that, to secure the money
so quickly, some of your securities will have to be sacrificed. It's a
"I don't care—sacrifice them. Only I must have that sum to-night."
"Very well," I said again. "But I hope you will tell me, if you can,
what the money is for, Mrs. Magnus. Perhaps my advice—"
"No, it won't," she broke in. "This isn't a case for advice. There's
nothing else for me to do. I've been fighting it and fighting
She ended with a little gesture of helplessness and resignation.
"Perhaps we might borrow the money," I suggested, "until a better
"No," she broke in again, "you know I won't borrow. So don't talk
It was one of the fundamental tenets of this woman's financial creed
that on no account was money to be borrowed.
"Very well," I said a third time; "I will get the money. I will look
over the market and decide how it would best be done. Have you any
suggestions to make?"
"No," she answered; "I leave it all to you."
This was almost more astonishing than the demand for the money had
been. Mrs. Magnus was clearly upset.
"I shall probably have to send some papers up to you this afternoon
for your signature," I added.
"I shall be at home. And remember I must have the money without fail."
"I will bring it to you myself. I think you said eight o'clock?"
"Yes—not later than that."
"I will have it there by that time," I assured her.
She started to rise, then sank back in her chair and looked at me.
Yes, she was frightened.
"Mr. Lester," she said, her voice suddenly hoarse and broken, "I think
I will tell you—what I can. I—I have no one else."
For the first time in my life I found myself pitying her. It was
true—she had no one else.
"Don't think that I've been gambling or speculating or anything of
that sort," she went on. "I have hesitated a long time before asking
for this money—I don't enjoy giving away fifty thousand dollars."
"Giving it away?" I repeated. Certainly she was not the woman to enjoy
"Yes—giving it away! But—I must have peace! Another such night as
A sudden pallor spread across her face, and she touched her
handkerchief hastily to lips and eyes.
"My—my husband wishes it," she added, almost in a whisper.
I don't know what there was about that sentence that sent a little
shiver along my spine. Perhaps it was the tense of the verb. Perhaps
it was the voice in which the words were uttered. Perhaps it was the
haggard glance which accompanied them. Whatever the cause, I found
that some of my client's panic was communicating itself to me.
"You mean he indicated his wish before he died?" I asked.
She shook her head.
"Or left a note of it, perhaps?"
"Yes," she said, "he has left a note of it," and she opened the bag
she carried on her arm. "Here it is."
I took the sheet of paper she held out to me. It bore these words,
written in the crabbed and somewhat uncertain hand which had belonged
to Peter Magnus:
MY DEAR WIFE: It is my wish that you leave at once on this desk the
sum of fifty thousand dollars in currency.
"On this desk?" I repeated, reading the words over again.
"On his desk at home," she explained.
"Then what is to become of it?"
"I don't know."
"But surely—" I said, bewildered. "Look here, Mrs. Magnus, you aren't
telling me everything. Where did you find this?"
"On his desk."
"Three nights ago."
"You mean it had been lying there unnoticed ever since his death?"
"No," she answered hoarsely. "It had not been lying there unnoticed.
It was written that night."
I could only stare at her—at her trembling lips, at her bloodshot
eyes, at her livid face.
"Then it's an imposture of some sort," I said at last.
"It is not an imposture," she answered, more hoarsely than ever. "My
husband wrote those words."
"Nonsense!" I retorted impatiently. "Somebody's trying to impose on
you, Mrs. Magnus. Leave this with me, and I'll get to the bottom of
"I tell you," she repeated, rising to her feet in her earnestness, "my
husband wrote those words three nights ago."
"How do you know he did?" I questioned, in some amusement.
"Because I saw him do it!" she answered, and fell back into her chair
again, her hands fumbling feebly at her bag.
She was evidently on the verge of collapse, and I hastened to get her
a glass of water, but when I returned with it, she had her smelling
bottle to her nose and was almost herself again. She waved the glass
"I shall be all right in a moment," she murmured, and I sat down again
and watched her, wondering if there had ever been any insanity in Mrs.
I suppose my thought must have been reflected in my face, for Mrs.
Magnus flushed angrily as she caught my eye.
"No, I'm not mad," she said "though I feared last night that I would
be. What I have told you is perfectly true. I saw my husband write
that note three nights ago—it is not the only one. He can have no
peace until that money is paid—neither can I. You must not fail me."
"I will not," I assured her. "I will bring it to you myself."
"Thank you," she said, and arose to go. "I shall want you to be
"I shall be glad to help you in any way I can."
"Thank you," she said again, and I opened the door for her and watched
her for a moment as she crossed the outer office. Then I closed the
door and went back to my desk.
The note was lying where I had dropped it, and I picked it up and
examined it again. Then I got out some samples of Magnus' writing and
compared them with the note, but so far as I could tell the hands were
the same. Besides, she had said she had seen her husband write it.
This gave me pause. How could she have seen him? How had he appeared
to her? Perhaps she had written it herself, in her sleep, under some
sort of self-hypnosis—but, in that case, would the handwriting have
been her husband's? Or did hypnosis involve that, too? I ended by
turning to the phone and calling for 3100 Spring. That, as you may
know, is for 300 Mulberry Street; and 300 Mulberry Street is the
drab building in which the police system of New York has its
headquarters—or did have until the other day.
"Is Jim Godfrey there?" I asked.
"I'll see; hold the line."
A moment later I heard Godfrey's voice ask: "Hello? What is it?"
"It's Lester, Godfrey," I said. "I wish you would run over to the
office and see me this morning."
"All right," he replied; "I'll be over right away."
I hung up the receiver with a sigh of relief. If anybody could see
through the puzzle, I knew that Godfrey could. I had met him first
in connection with the Holladay case, when he had deserted the force
temporarily to accept a place as star reporter on the yellowest of the
dailies; but he had resigned that position in a moment of pique, and
the department had promptly gobbled him up again.
Fifteen minutes later his card was brought in to me, and I had him
shown in at once.
"How are you, Lester?" he said, and I can't tell you what a tonic
there was in the grip of his hand. "What's wrong this morning?"
"You know Mrs. Magnus?" I asked.
"Widow of Peter? Yes; I've heard of her."
"Somebody's trying to do her out of fifty thousand dollars," I said,
and tossed the note across to him. "What do you make of that?"
"Tell me about it," he said, and studied it carefully, while I
repeated the story Mrs. Magnus had told me.
"And now what do you make of it?" I asked again.
"I think the answer's blackmail," he said quietly.
"But that note?"
"And the story?"
"Also a fake."
"You mean she didn't see him write it?"
"Look here, Lester," demanded Godfrey impatiently, "you don't mean to
say that you believe any such rot?"
"No," I answered; "I don't see how I can believe it—and yet, what did
she tell it for?"
"She had to tell something."
"That's just it," I objected; "she didn't."
"Well, then, she wanted to tell something to throw you off the track.
That was the best thing she could think of."
"Why should she want to throw me off the track?"
"There are some women who would rather have a ghost in the family
than a scandal. I don't suppose you know that Magnus had another wife
living over in Jersey?"
"Oh, of course not a wife really—your Mrs. Magnus has the prior
claim. But I fancy Number Two has asked to be provided for."
I sat silent for a moment, casting this over in my mind.
"It's just like a fool woman," I said at last, "to try to throw dust
in the eyes of the one man who might have helped her. Heaven help
a woman who won't tell the truth to her lawyer! I suppose there's
nothing to do but turn over the money?"
"Of course not. Mrs. Magnus can afford it, and if it will give her
peace of mind, why—"
"All right," I said. "And thank you, Godfrey, for telling me. I was
imagining that either Mrs. Magnus was crazy or that some one was
trying to bunco her. This is different. If she wants to lie to me,
why, let her."
"You'll take it up to her yourself?"
"Yes. I promised to have it at the house at eight o'clock to-night."
I fancied that Godfrey's eyes paused on mine for the merest instant as
though he was about to say something more, but he merely nodded and
said good-by and was off.
And I turned to the task of deciding which of Mrs. Magnus' securities
I should sell in order to get the best out of the market. But more
than once in the course of the afternoon a vague uneasiness seized me.
For, after all, Godfrey's explanation did not account for Mrs. Magnus'
strained and frightened manner. If the story she had told me was a
lie, she was certainly a consummate actress. I had never credited her
with any ability in that direction.
A consummate forger, too!
The thought stung me upright. Of course, if her story was a lie, she
herself had written the note. Had Godfrey thought of that? Or was it
Godfrey who was trying to throw dust in my eyes?
It was raining when I left my apartment at the Marathon that night—a
cold and disagreeable drizzle—and the thought occurred to me as I
turned up my coat collar and stepped into the cab I had summoned, that
it was a somewhat foolhardy thing to be driving about the streets of
New York with fifty thousand dollars in my hand bag. I glanced at the
lights of the Tenderloin police station, just across the street, and
thought for an instant of going over and asking for an escort. Then I
sank back into the seat with a little laugh at my own nervousness.
"One-twenty West Twenty-third," I said, as the cabman slammed the
He nodded, spoke to his horse, and we were off.
The asphalt was gleaming with the rain, and a thin fog was in the air,
which formed a nimbus around the street lamps and drew a veil before
the shop windows. Far away I heard the rattle of the elevated and the
never-ceasing hum of Sixth Avenue and Broadway, but, save for these
reminders of the city's life, the silence of the street was broken
only by the click-clack of our horse's hoofs.
We swung sharply around a corner, and then another. A moment later the
cab drew up at the curb, and the driver sprang from his box.
"Here we are, sir," he said, and as I stepped to the pavement, I saw
the old Magnus house frowning down upon me.
I had never before seen it at night, and for the first time I really
appreciated its gloomy situation. In its day it had been part of
a fashionable residential district, of which it was now the only
survival. It was of brownstone, with a flight of steps mounting
steeply to the door, and stood back from the street at the bottom of a
cañon formed by the towering walls of the adjacent office buildings.
Why any woman who could afford to live where she chose should choose
to live here was a riddle past my solving.
Musing over this, I mounted the steps and rang the bell.
"I am Mr. Lester," I said, to the maid who opened the door. "Mrs.
Magnus is expecting me."
She stood aside for me to enter, and as I passed I happened to glance
at her face. It was that of a woman no longer young, and yet scarcely
middle-aged; not a repulsive face; indeed, rather attractive in a
way, except for a certain hardness of expression which told of lost
illusions. And as she took my coat and hat, I noticed that the little
finger of her left hand was missing.
"This way, sir," she said, and motioned me into a room at the right.
"Mrs. Magnus will be down in a minute."
I heard her step recede along the hall, and then somewhere a clock
struck eight. As the sound died away the rustle of skirts came down
the stair, and Mrs. Magnus appeared in the doorway. Her panic of the
morning had passed, and she was perfectly self-controlled.
"Ah, Mr. Lester," she said, "you are prompt. You have the money?" she
added in a lower tone.
"Yes," I answered, and then stopped, for I fancied I heard a stealthy
footstep at the door.
"Let us go up to the study. We will be more comfortable there," and
she led the way out into the hall.
I was close at her heels, and looked quickly to right and left. But
there was no one in sight.
Mrs. Magnus went before me up the stair, turned toward the front of
the house in the hall above, and ushered me into a small room which
seemed to have been fitted up as an office. Its principal piece of
furniture was a massive, roll-top desk. The top was up at the moment,
and disclosed rows of pigeon-holes, some full of papers and some
empty. Below them were the usual small drawers. The desk was one of
the largest I have ever seen, and I wondered how it had been got into
the room. An office chair of the usual swing type stood in front of
Something told me that this was the desk. It stood in one corner of
the room; not closely in the corner, but at an angle to it, its back
touching the wall on either side and leaving a little triangle of
space behind it. The reason of this was evident enough, for, placed
in this way, the person sitting at the desk got the advantage of
the light from the window at his right, and also the heat from the
fireplace at his left.
The thought flashed through my mind that, before I placed the money on
the desk, I would take occasion to glance over into the space back of
"Sit down, Mr. Lester," said Mrs. Magnus, and herself drew up a chair
to one side of the fireplace, where a wood fire crackled cheerily,
throwing out a warmth just strong enough to be grateful on this damp
evening. "The money is in that bag?"
"Yes," I said. "I have it in hundred-dollar bills—five packets of one
hundred each. I thought perhaps you—your husband would prefer it in
She nodded, and sat for a moment staring absently into the fire.
"This was Mr. Magnus' workroom, I suppose?" I said at last.
"Yes; when he was first really succeeding in business, he used always
to bring some work home with him in the evening. But he outgrew
that"—a shade of bitterness crept into her voice—"and during the
last ten years of his life he used the room hardly at all. But he is
using it again now," she added, in another tone. "Every night."
I stared across at her, wondering if she could be in earnest.
Certainly her countenance gave every impression of earnestness.
"He will be here to-night," she went on. "It is a little early yet. He
usually comes at eight-thirty."
"You mean he is here in the spirit," I said, trying to speak lightly.
"In the spirit, of course."
I breathed a sigh of relief. I fancied that I began to understand.
"Many people believe that their dead watch over them," I said.
"Oh, Mr. Magnus isn't watching over me," said my companion quickly.
"There is a certain thing he desires me to do. Once that is done, I
don't believe he will bother me any more. I left his note with you
this morning. Did you bring it with you?"
"Yes," I said, and got it out of my pocket and handed it to her.
"But really, Mrs. Magnus," I continued, "you don't mean to tell me
seriously that you saw him write this?"
"I certainly did. He wrote it under my eyes, sitting at that desk
three nights ago."
Again I looked at her to see if she was speaking seriously.
"I see you do not believe me," she added.
"Pardon me, Mrs. Magnus," I corrected; "of course I believe you—that
is, I believe that you believe. But I cannot but think you are being
imposed upon in some way."
A flush of anger crept into her cheeks.
"Do you think I am a woman easily imposed upon?" she asked. "Let me
tell you the story, Mr. Lester."
"That is what I have been hoping you would do," I said. "I am very
anxious to hear it."
"After my husband's death," she began, "I decided to use this room as
my office or workroom. I went through his desk and cleared it out.
There were no papers of importance there; but I found one thing
which gave me a shock. That was a letter, pushed back and I suppose
forgotten in one of the drawers, which proved to me that my husband
had been unfaithful."
I was not surprised, of course, after what Godfrey had told me, but I
managed to murmur some polite incredulity.
"Oh, it was true," she went on bitterly. "I knew he had grown away
from me, but I never suspected that—that he could be so vulgar!"
That, of course, was the way in which it would appeal to her—as
"It is that which is worrying him now," she added.
"No matter. He shall have the money to-night, and that will be ended.
Let me go on with my story. As I said, I began to use this room. I
kept my papers in the desk yonder, and worked there regularly every
day. But one morning, when I came in, I noticed something unusual—an
odor of tobacco. You know Mr. Magnus was a great smoker."
"Yes," I said.
"You may have noticed that he always smoked a heavy black cigar which
he had made for him especially in Cuba. It had a quite distinctive
"Yes," I said again. I had noticed more than once the sweet, heavy
aroma of Magnus' cigars.
"I recognized the odor at once," went on Mrs. Magnus. "It was from one
of his cigars. When I opened the desk, I found a little heap of ashes
on his ash tray, which I had been using to keep pins in, and the
remnant of the cigar he had been smoking."
"He?" I repeated. "But why should you think—"
"Wait," she interrupted, "till you hear the rest. I cleaned off the
tray and went through my day's work as usual. The next morning I found
the same thing—and something more. Some one had been trying to write
on the pad of paper on the desk."
"Trying to write?" I echoed.
"Yes, trying—as though some force were holding him back."
She went over to the desk, unlocked a little drawer, and took out
several sheets of paper.
"Here is what I found that morning," she said, and handed me a sheet
from an ordinary writing pad.
I saw scrawled across it an indecipherable jumble of words. She had
expressed it exactly—it seemed as though some one had been trying to
write with a weight clogging his hand. And there was something about
this scrap of paper—something convincing and authentic—which struck
heavily at my skepticism. Here was what a lawyer would call evidence.
"It kept on from day to day," continued Mrs. Magnus, sitting down
again. "Every morning the little heap of ashes and fragment of cigar,
and a scrawl like that—until finally, one morning, I understood what
was happening in this room, for three words were legible."
She handed me another sheet of paper. At the top were the words, "My
dear wife," and under them again an indecipherable scrawl.
"Did you tell any one of all this?" I asked.
"Not a word to any one. But I decided to investigate."
"By staying in this room at night."
I could guess from her tone what the resolution had cost her.
"And you did?"
"Yes. I came up right after dinner, leaving word that I was not to be
disturbed. I went first to the desk to assure myself that the tray was
empty and that there was no writing on the top sheet of paper. Then I
switched off the light and sat down here by the fire and waited."
"That was brave," I said. "What happened?"
"For an hour, nothing. Then I was suddenly conscious of an odor of
tobacco, as though some one smoking a cigar had entered the room, and
an instant later I heard that chair before the desk creak as though
it had been swung around. I switched on the light at once. The chair
had turned. It had been facing away from the desk, and it was now
faced toward it."
She stopped a moment, and I saw that her excitement of the morning was
returning. Indeed, my own heart was beating with a quickened rhythm
as I glanced around at the desk. I saw that the chair was facing away
"The odor of tobacco grew stronger," went on Mrs. Magnus, "and, even
as I watched, a little mass of ashes fell into the tray."
"Apparently from nowhere, but of course it was from the cigar that he
"Did you see the smoke?"
"No; how could I?"
Really, I didn't know. I wished that I had given more study to the
details of spirit manifestation. I didn't remember that I had ever
heard of a ghost smoking a cigar, but doubtless such cases existed.
The point was this: Why, if the ashes from the ghost's cigar became
visible when knocked off, shouldn't the smoke become visible when
expired? Or did the fact that it had been inside an invisible object
render it permanently invisible? I fancied this was what Mrs. Magnus
had meant by her question. Perhaps she had studied the subject. At any
rate, it was too deep for me.
"A moment later," she went on, "another mass of ashes fell; then
perhaps five minutes passed, and I saw the remnant of the cigar placed
on the tray. I confess that my nerves gave way at that point, and I
fled from the room."
"Locking the door after you?"
"No; but I came back and locked it ten or fifteen minutes later."
"Did you enter the room?"
"Yes; I had left the light burning and entered to turn it off. I found
on the desk another note beginning, 'My dear wife.'"
"And then what?"
"I was here the next night and the next. There was something about it
that fascinated me, and I saw that there was no reason for fear. In
the end it came to seem almost natural—almost as if he were here in
"And always the same things happened?"
"Yes, or nearly so, the writing growing more legible all the time."
"Then, three nights ago, I grew brave enough to go and stand by the
desk, and look over his shoulder, as it were, while he wrote the note
which I showed you this morning."
"You mean that he actually did write it while you were looking over
"I mean that the words formed themselves on the sheet of paper under
my eyes, precisely as they flowed off his pen."
"And there wasn't any pen?"
"There wasn't anything. Only the ashes and the odor of tobacco."
I glanced across at Mrs. Magnus sharply. Could it be possible that she
was inventing all of this incredible tale?
"No," she said, answering my thought; "it happened precisely as I tell
it. I am hoping that you will see for yourself before long. It is
almost time for him to come."
I felt the hair crawling up my scalp as I glanced around again at the
desk. Like everybody else, I had always professed a lively interest in
ghosts and a desire to meet one; but now that it seemed about to be
gratified, the desire weakened perceptibly.
"I didn't at first intend to give him the money," she went on. "I
didn't see why I should. He was dead. It was mine. He had never, in
his life, given me fifty thousand dollars. But when, the next night,
the money wasn't there, he expackets over to Mrs. Magnus.
She nodded and held another sheet of paper out to me. On it, in Peter
Magnus' hand, was written:
MY DEAR WIFE: Do not delay. I must right a great wrong before either
of us can rest in peace.
"And from this you judge that he wants the money to—to—"
"Yes," she said, not waiting for me to finish. "Even then I hesitated.
I did not see that I had any concern in his misdeeds. But last
She stopped, and I saw sweep across her face the sudden, pallor I had
noted in the morning.
"Yes," I encouraged, "last night—"
She was clutching the chair arms convulsively, trying to force her
trembling lips to form the words. What horrible thing was it had
happened last night? What—
And at that instant I was conscious of the odor of tobacco in the air,
and distinctly heard the low grating of the office chair as it swung
I suppose the student of the supernatural always has to fight against
the excitement of the unknown—an excitement which clouds the judgment
and confuses reason. Certainly, as I turned my head and sprang to my
feet, I was very far from being a cool and collected observer; yet,
indisputably, the chair had turned. Indeed, I snapped my head around
in time to see the last of its movement toward the desk. And at the
same instant my nostrils caught more strongly the sweet and heavy odor
of Peter Magnus' cigar. For a moment all was still. Then Mrs. Magnus
rose and beckoned me forward.
"Come," she said, and with an effort I compelled my feet to follow
It was a battle between instinct and reason. Instinct was trying to
hurl me out of the room and out of the house. Reason was telling
me—in a very faint voice, it is true—that there was nothing to be
afraid of. I have always been proud of the fact that I did approach
the desk, instead of making for the door.
And I was even brave enough to glance behind it. One glance was
sufficient. The triangular space between the walls and the back of
the desk was empty. I don't know why that should have afforded me any
relief, but it did.
Then, before my eyes, not three feet away from them, a little gob of
ashes dropped from the empty air into the tray.
I am free to confess that that sight swept away any remnant of doubt I
may have had in the reality of the unreal—if I may use such a term.
Peter Magnus was sitting in that chair. There could be, to my mind, no
question of it.
But if any doubt had existed, it would have been ended by what
For my eye was caught by the pad of paper on the desk, and, even as I
watched it, I saw unfold upon it, one after another, these words:
MY DEAR WIFE: Place the money on this desk and leave me. I shall be at
I wish I could describe to you the sensation which shook me as I
witnessed this miracle. For there the words were, and I had seen them
flow smoothly from an invisible pen—from Peter Magnus' pen, for the
writing was his.
"I have the money," I said, and I caught up my bag from the floor,
unlocked it, and took out the five sealed packets. "There are one
hundred hundred-dollar bills in each," I explained, almost as if he
could hear me—indeed, I was quite sure at the moment that he did hear
me; and I passed the packets over to Mrs. Magnus.
Without a word she placed them on the desk, then turned to me.
"Come," she said. "That is all. Good-by, Peter," she added, and there
was a little sob in her voice. "God bless you."
Was it my fancy, or did something like a sigh come from that unseen
presence in the chair? It was in a sort of maze that I followed Mrs.
Magnus from the room. She switched off the light and then closed the
"Thank God that is over," she said.
I suddenly realized that my face was dripping with perspiration, and I
mopped it feverishly with my handkerchief.
"I would never have believed," I began stammeringly; "I never
thought—why, it's a miracle—it's—"
"Yes, a miracle," repeated Mrs. Magnus. "Though there have been many
instances of the dead returning."
"Have there?" I asked. "Well, of course, I have heard of them, but I
never thought them worthy of belief. But now—"
We had reached the foot of the stairs, and I got my coat down from the
rack and struggled into it. I found that I had mechanically picked up
my bag as I left the room overhead.
"I want to thank you, Mr. Lester," said Mrs. Magnus, facing me, "for
coming here to-night. You have been of the greatest help to me."
"Certainly," I agreed. "Very happy—a great privilege."
I felt that I was talking nonsense, but what, in Heaven's name, is a
man to say who has just been through an experience like that? But Mrs.
Magnus seemed to understand.
"Thank you," she said, and gave me her hand. Then she opened the
street door, and a moment later I found myself groping my way down the
steps. Once down, I paused for a deep breath; then I started up the
street. But I had scarcely taken a dozen steps when a hand fell upon
my arm and drew me into the shadow of a doorway.
For an instant, with the thought of spirits still upon me, I tried to
shake away the hand; then, as I started around at my assailant, I saw
that it was Godfrey.
"Well, Lester," he said, "did you leave the fifty thousand?"
I nodded; I was even yet scarcely capable of connected speech.
Godfrey looked at me curiously.
"You look like you'd seen a ghost," he said.
He laughed amusedly.
"How is the old boy?"
"Look here, Godfrey," I said, "this isn't a thing to speak of in that
tone. There's something sacred about it."
His face sobered as he looked at me. It grew serious enough to suit
even my mood.
"So you were imposed on, too," he said at last.
I didn't like the words, nor the tone in which they were uttered.
"No, I wasn't imposed on," I said tartly. "I must be getting along,
Godfrey. I haven't anything to tell you."
"Not just yet," he said. "Come over here across the street, Lester,
where I can have an eye on the Magnus house. Don't you see—if I was
wrong this morning, then you were right."
"If she told you the truth, some one is trying to do her out of fifty
"She's given it to her husband," I said. "She thinks he's going to use
it as you said."
"Given it to her husband?"
"Well, placed it on the desk in front of him."
"Did you see him?"
"I saw him write a note," I said doggedly. "You can't see a spirit,
you know—its impalpable."
By this time we were deep in the shadow of another doorway across
the street, and Godfrey leaned back against a pillar and mused for a
"Of course," he said at last, "I don't want you to do anything
unprofessional, Lester, but I really think you'd better tell me. You
didn't hesitate to call me in this morning."
"I thought then that somebody was trying to bunco Mrs. Magnus."
"And I think so now," said Godfrey. "Surely you know you can trust
I demurred a while longer, but finally told him the whole story. When
I had ended, he gave a little low whistle of amazement.
"Well," he said, "that's what I call clever. There's a certain
artistic touch about it—only one man—"
He fell silent again, absently gnawing his under lip.
"How long are you going to stay here?" I demanded at last.
"Not long," he answered. "Only until that light goes out over yonder."
He nodded toward one of the upper windows of the Magnus house. Even as
I looked at it, the light disappeared.
"Now," he said, "we'd better be moving up a little closer, Lester.
Around this way, so we can't be seen from the door."
"You mean you think somebody is coming out of that house?"
"Certainly. The ghost's coming out. You didn't expect him to stay
there all night, did you? That would be a little—well—indelicate,
don't you think?"
"How am I going to see him? Well, I think I'll see him all right.
Besides, the money would be visible, wouldn't it? Or does it become
invisible when the ghost puts it in his pocket?"
"The cigar was invisible," I said weakly, "and the pen."
Really, out here with Godfrey, it did seem pretty ridiculous.
I was going to say something more—perhaps to try to excuse myself for
my credulity—but Godfrey silenced me with a gesture. We had crept
along in the shadow of the adjoining building until we were beside the
entrance to the Magnus house.
"Maybe he'll go out the back way," I breathed.
"There isn't any back way. All built up. It's this way, or none."
The thought occurred to me that a brick wall would make no difference
to a spirit, but I felt that I was lapsing into a state of imbecility,
and stood silent, shivering a little. For it had started to drizzle
Then from the direction of the house came the sound of a door softly
closing, and I saw a shadow flit down the steps. It certainly looked
like a ghost; but I heard Godfrey chuckle softly; then, with a bound,
he was upon the figure and had it by the throat. I caught the sound
of a sharp struggle, but it was over before I could collect myself
sufficiently to go to Godfrey's assistance.
When I did get there I found him grimly surveying a small and wizened
creature, whose arm he had linked to his own by means of a handcuff.
"Lester," he said, "allow me to introduce you to the ghost of Peter
Magnus—otherwise Mr. Jemmy Blum, the Tom Thumb of con men. Jemmy," he
added, "aren't you ashamed to be playing such tricks on my friend, Mr.
The small creature's eyes twinkled maliciously as he glanced up at me.
"Ho," he said contemptuously, "'twasn't no trick to fool him. But I
didn't know he was your friend. If I had, I'd 'a' let him alone."
I deserved the taunt, of course, but I winced a little at Godfrey's
"You'd fool the devil himself, Jemmy," said his captor. "And now I'll
thank you to pass over to me those five little packets which my friend
here left on that desk up yonder."
Without a word Jemmy unbuttoned his coat and produced the five
packets. I could not but admire the coolness with which he accepted
"Take 'em, Lester," said Godfrey, "and put 'em back in your bag. We'll
leave 'em over at the Tenderloin station, where we'll lodge this
gentleman for the night. No use to disturb Mrs. Magnus till morning,"
he added, with a glance at the gloomy house. "Then we'll have Jemmy
give us a special performance of his impersonation of the ghost of
The prisoner laughed.
"Glad to," he said. "I think you'll find it A one."
"No doubt," assented Godfrey. "As soon as Lester told me the story I
knew you were the only man who could have worked it. And then there
was the desk."
"Of course," agreed the prisoner. "You'd see that."
This was all Greek to me, but I knew the explanation would come in
time. Meanwhile I carefully stowed away the five precious packets in
"Why can't we go over to my rooms at the Marathon and hear the story?"
I suggested. "It's right across the street from the station."
"All right," said Godfrey, and led the way down the street, with Jemmy
keeping step with him as well as his short legs would permit. Five
minutes later we were in my rooms, and I switched on the lights and
got out the cigars.
"If you'll see that the doors are locked, Lester, I'll open this
handcuff temporarily," said Godfrey. "But first," and he ran his hands
over his prisoner's person. "Ah, I thought so," he said, and produced
a small revolver of exquisite workmanship. "You always were a
connoisseur, Jemmy," he added, examining the weapon, and then slipping
it into his own pocket. "All right. Now you sit down over there and be
"Oh, I'll be good," said Jemmy. "I guess I know when I'm crimped.
Thanks," he added, accepting the smoke I offered him.
When the cigars were drawing nicely we were ready to hear the story.
Not until then did I fully realize what a little fellow Jemmy was.
Now I saw that he was almost a dwarf, little if any over four feet in
height, and very slightly built. His face, shrunken and wrinkled, had
that look of prenatural wisdom which dwarfs sometimes have, and his
little black eyes were incredibly bright. He was evidently something
of a dandy, for his clothes were immaculate. I admired again the
aplomb with which he accepted the situation.
"Well," he began, "to make a long story short, I started on this
lay just after old Magnus' death, when a friend of mine in the
fortune-tellin' line told me Mrs. Magnus was a spiritualist."
"A spiritualist?" I queried, in surprise.
"Oh, yes; had been for years. That give me my clue, so I—ah—got into
"How?" demanded Godfrey.
"Bribed a servant, of course," said Godfrey. "We'll look them over in
the morning. Go on."
"I got inside the house, looked over the ground, an' decided on my
line of operation. I wanted something neat an' effective, an' I worked
on it a good while before I had it goin' just right. There were so
many little details. It took a lot of practice—these things do—an'
then I had to remodel the inside of the desk—shorten up the drawers,
an' make room for myself behind them. Luckily I'm little, an' the desk
was one of the biggest I ever saw."
"So you were in the desk?" I asked.
"Sure," he chuckled. "Where else? Lookin' at you out of one of the
pigeon-holes, an' wonderin' if I'd better risk it."
"And you decided you would?"
"Yes," said Jemmy slyly; "I saw you were scart to death, an' I was
afraid if I didn't demonstrate for the old lady, I wouldn't get the
"How did you know she had it?"
"I heard you tell her you'd brought it, down in the parlor."
"Oh," I said; "then it was your step I heard in the hall?"
"I guess so, if you heard one. I just had time to get upstairs an'
make my plant before you came in. The rest was easy."
"But the ashes?" I said.
"Flicked out through a pigeonhole. That's what took practice, to make
'em fall just right. Also the cigar."
"And the odor of tobacco?"
He got a little vial out of his pocket, uncorked it, and again I
caught the sweet and heavy odor of Peter Magnus' cigar.
"An' here's a fine point I'm proud of," said Jemmy. "I had this made
from half a dozen of Magnus' cigars I found in a box in his room. So
the smell was just right. I thought for a while of showin' some smoke,
but didn't dare risk it."
"But the note," I said. "That was the cleverest of all."
Jemmy chuckled and glanced at Godfrey.
"You'll understand that, Jim," he said. "You remember I worked it
backward in that National City Bank case."
"I remember the signature disappeared from old Murgatroyd's check."
"Backward or forward, it don't make no difference. It all depends on
"Ah," chuckled Jemmy, "you'd like to know, wouldn't you? You never
will. But it all depends on it. If I put the acid in before the salt,
the writin' disappears at the end of two hours; if I put the salt in
before the acid, the writin' don't appear for the same length of time.
It took me five years to work it out."
"But the writing didn't all appear at once," I objected.
"Of course not," said Jemmy impatiently. "It wasn't all wrote at once,
was it? It appeared just like it was wrote."
"How could you time it?"
"Why," answered Jemmy still more impatiently, "I began operations
at the same time every night, didn't I? I timed the writin' for
"But the chair?" I persisted.
Jemmy shot a disgusted glance at Godfrey.
"Any faker on Sixth Avenue can do that," he said. "A hook on a thread.
"Yes," I said, "one thing. What horror did you perpetrate last night?"
Jemmy grinned mechanically as he looked at me, and I even fancied he
reddened a little.
"Did she tell you about that?" he asked.
"She tried to, but couldn't. What was it?"
"Well, you know," said Jemmy apologetically, "I had to bring matters
to a head some way, for the old girl certainly did hate to shell out.
I was sorry to have to scare her, but I couldn't help it."
"But what did you do?"
Jemmy blew a ring, and watched it fade away in front of him.
"I don't think I'll tell," he said at last.
Godfrey had been listening with an amused smile.
"We'll get that detail from Mrs. Magnus," he said. "Accept my
compliments, Jemmy. It was cleverly done. I'm almost sorry you didn't
get away with it."
"Oh," answered Jemmy, with studied indifference, "that's all in the
day's work, you know. But thank you all the same, Jim."
He was flicking the ashes from the end of his cigar as he spoke, and I
saw that he didn't meet Godfrey's eyes.
The latter looked at him an instant; then, with a low exclamation,
sprang to his feet, and snapped open the bag in which I had stowed the
packets Jemmy had given me. He ripped one of them open, and disclosed,
not ten thousand dollars in currency, but a neat bundle of blank
Jemmy was looking at him now, and his face was alight with triumph.
"How did you know I was there?" Godfrey demanded.
"I didn't," grinned Jemmy. "But I wasn't takin' any chances."
"Who was your pal?"
"That's tellin'," answered Jemmy easily.
"Did you see any of the servants, Lester?"
"Only one," I said. "I didn't notice anything about her, except that
she was rather good-looking, and—oh, yes—the little finger of her
left hand was missing."
Godfrey grabbed the telephone, and I heard him call headquarters, and
give terse orders to send a detail at once to the Magnus house, to
watch all ferries and trains, and to search all the thieves' haunts
in the city for Kate Travis—"Lady" Kate. Headquarters seemed to know
perfectly whom he meant.
"You won't get her," said Jemmy calmly, as Godfrey hung up the
receiver. "She got away as soon as we turned the corner. She's got a
good half hour's start."
"Come along," said Godfrey roughly, and snapped the handcuffs on
again. I could see that he was deeply chagrined. "Good night, Lester.
I've made a botch of this thing. I've got to catch that woman."
But he hasn't caught her yet, and I suppose, when Jemmy finishes his
term, he will find his share of that fifty thousand dollars waiting
I hope so, anyway.