The Case of Mrs. Magnus

A Mystery

by Burton E. Stevenson

 

CHAPTER I

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 farther uptown.

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 this story.

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 currency."

"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 bear market."

"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 it—but—"

She ended with a little gesture of helplessness and resignation.

"Perhaps we might borrow the money," I suggested, "until a better market—"

"No," she broke in again, "you know I won't borrow. So don't talk about it."

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 doing that!

"Yes—giving it away! But—I must have peace! Another such night as last night—"

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."

"When?"

"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 it."

"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 away impatiently.

"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. Magnus' family.

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 present to-night."

"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?"

"A fake."

"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?"

"Another wife?"

"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?

CHAPTER II

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 apron shut.

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 it.

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 it.

"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 that form."

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 vulgar.

"It is that which is worrying him now," she added.

"You mean—"

"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 odor."

"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."

"How?"

"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 from it.

"The odor of tobacco grew stronger," went on Mrs. Magnus, "and, even as I watched, a little mass of ashes fell into the tray."

"From nowhere?"

"Apparently from nowhere, but of course it was from the cigar that he was smoking."

"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 the flesh."

"And always the same things happened?"

"Yes, or nearly so, the writing growing more legible all the time."

"And then?"

"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 his shoulder?"

"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.

"In writing?"

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 night—"

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 around.

CHAPTER III

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 her.

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 followed.

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 rest. Good-by.

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 door.

"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.

CHAPTER IV

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.

"I have."

He laughed amusedly.

"Peter Magnus?"

I nodded.

"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."

"Right?"

"If she told you the truth, some one is trying to do her out of fifty thousand dollars."

"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 moment.

"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 me."

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?"

"But how—"

"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 again.

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.
Lester?"

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."

CHAPTER V

I deserved the taunt, of course, but I winced a little at Godfrey's chuckle.

"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 defeat.

"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 Peter Magnus."

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 my bag.

"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 good."

"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 the house."

"How?" demanded Godfrey.

"That's telling."

"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 money."

"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."

Godfrey nodded.

"I remember the signature disappeared from old Murgatroyd's check."

"Backward or forward, it don't make no difference. It all depends on the acid."

"What acid?"

"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 eight-forty-five."

"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.
Anything else?"

"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 paper!

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 for him.

I hope so, anyway.