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   Chapter 4 No.4

Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent By John T. McIntyre Characters: 12668

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The Taking Off of Dr. Morse

As it happened, Ashton-Kirk was too late to get the train which he had mentioned. The next did not leave until 7:30; and even this was delayed on the way, so that it was rather an unusual hour when they stepped into the motor car which the waiting Dixon held ready for them.

The mean street, with its high smells and grimy buildings, was strangely quiet; the venders' carts, along the curb, were empty; the stands were shrouded, and the stores dim-looking. As the automobile stopped before the secret agent's door, a bell in a neighboring tower struck one.

"Hello," cried Fuller, "what's Stumph doing?"

The hall door stood open to the fullest extent; the light was switched on, and beneath it stood Stumph with a roughly-dressed man whom Ashton-Kirk an once recognized as young Drevenoff. Stumph, aroused out of his usual gravity, was gesticulating determinedly. Drevenoff seemed insisting upon something doggedly. As Fuller spoke, the two heard the car for the first time, and turned.

"Thank goodness, here he is now!" cried Stumph. He dashed excitedly down the step. "Here is a man who desires to see you, sir," he said to Ashton-Kirk. "He would not leave, though I told him a dozen times that you were not at home."

The secret agent, followed by Fuller and the man, entered the hall and the door closed behind them.

"Well?" asked the former of Drevenoff.

"You are Mr. Ashton-Kirk?"

"I am."

"I was sent to fetch you at once to Dr. Morse's place on Fordham Road, Eastbury."

"Who sent you?"

"Miss Corbin."

Ashton-Kirk looked at the young man; his face was pale, his eyes were brilliant with excitement.

"Has anything happened?"

"Dr. Morse has been murdered."

Ashton-Kirk turned to Stumph.

"Tell Dixon to wait."

Instantly the man opened the door; the chauffeur was upon the point of starting away, but halted upon hearing Stumph's voice.

"What trains are there?" asked Ashton-Kirk of Drevenoff.

"No more to-night," answered the man. "I had hoped to find you before the last one left."

"No matter-the motor will do."

Followed by the others, he hastily reached the car; Fuller seated himself beside Dixon and Drevenoff entered the tonneau with the secret agent.

"Fordham Road, Eastbury," directed Ashton-Kirk. "The number is 2979."

The car wheeled in its own length under the skilful hand of Dixon; then it went speeding away.

"When did this happen?" asked Ashton-Kirk, of Drevenoff.

"The murder?"

"Of course!" sharply.

"I don't know the hour. Some time to-night."

"How was it done?"

"He was shot through the chest."

"Where?"

"In his library."

It is natural, under such circumstances, for an informant to become very voluble; but not so Drevenoff. His answers were brief; his manner, too, was sullen and unwilling.

"Tell me what you know about it," requested Ashton-Kirk.

"I know very little," said the man. "This evening about dark I ate my dinner and looked at the evening paper; then I went to my room, which is on the third floor. I go to bed early these nights; I am not well, you see. It must have been about half-past ten when I heard a knocking at my door. It was Nanon, and she was crying out that Dr. Morse was dead. I dressed and hurried down-stairs. Dr. Morse was sitting all huddled up in his chair; his face was smeared with blood. Miss Corbin was kneeling beside him; the old woman stood by the door."

"Is that all?"

"Nanon told me to go for the police; but Miss Corbin got up at once and warned me not to. There was a train almost due; she told me to take that and go get you."

"I see."

The big car rushed along at high speed through the silence of the night; in a surprisingly short time Eastbury was reached and they turned into Fordham Road. The residence of Dr. Morse was silent and dark; the blinds were closely drawn; not even a glimmer of light was to be seen around their edges. Ashton-Kirk touched the bell; almost instantly the door opened and through the darkness a voice asked:

"Is that you, Drevenoff?"

"Yes," replied the Pole.

"Have you brought the gentleman?"

"Here he is."

The light was switched on; they saw the seamed face of the old Breton woman, harsh and emotionless. She spoke to Ashton-Kirk.

"Miss Corbin will see you at once, sir, if you please."

The secret agent followed her down the hall; they passed the library door, which was closed; and the old servant paused at the room into which she had shown them the evening before.

"I will tell her that you are here," she said.

Ashton-Kirk entered the room; it was dim, for only one light was burning; the atmosphere was hushed and breathless; a sort of terror seemed to have settled over everything. He had waited but a few moments when he heard a light, hasty step. Then Stella Corbin came in.

Her face was white and the great eyes were dry and dumb with fear; the corners of her mouth twitched. Silently she held out both hands to the secret agent; they were deathly cold and he felt them tremble.

"I came as soon as I could," said he.

"I called and called upon the telephone, but they told me that you were not at home. Then I sent Drevenoff." She spoke in broken, sobbing sentences; and the fear in her eyes crept into her voice as she went on. "You see, it is as I expected. He is dead. They have killed him."

"Are you quite strong enough to tell me what you know?" he asked. "It is important that we act quickly; the police will, of course, be in the house before long, and they are sometimes disposed to stand in the way."

"The police!" He felt the small, cold hands tighten convulsively, and, if possible, her face went still whiter. "The police! Oh! I had forgotten them."

He got her a chair, forced her to sit down, and then took another, directly facing her. The light fell dimly upon the dark, loosely coiled masses of her hair and brought out the clear perfection of the face. Her slight figure seemed almost childish in the long enveloping robe which she wore.

"I have heard the manner of your uncle's death," he said. "When you entered the library did you see any sort of firearms lying about near to his hand?"

Instantly she grasped the meaning behind the words.

"No, no," she said hastily. "It was not suicide! Tried as he was, many

would have resorted to that; but my uncle was not of that sort. He was murdered."

"There were no firearms, then?"

"No."

"Who discovered the body?"

"Nanon."

"If I may I should like to ask her a question or two."

The old servant was summoned; she entered, angular, severe and sharp of eye.

"Miss Corbin tells me," said the secret agent, "that it was you who discovered the body of Dr. Morse."

"It was."

"Would you mind telling me how you came to do so?"

"When he worked at night, he always drank coffee to keep himself awake. I always made and took it to him. When I went into the library to-night, I found him sitting in his chair-dead."

"You heard no shot?"

"No."

"When did you last see the doctor alive?"

"About half past nine. I had just finished locking all the windows and doors when he rang for me."

"Is it your custom to lock up every night?"

"Yes. I have always done so at nine o'clock by the doctor's orders."

"He was so urgent about this," said Stella, "that I have thought he feared a repetition of the entrances which occurred at Sharsdale."

"You had seen that everything was fast, then?" said Ashton-Kirk, looking at the old woman.

"Yes; every door and every window upon the lower floor and every window overlooking the porch on the second floor. As there was no way by which the house could be entered by any of the other windows we never bothered with them."

"You say Dr. Morse rang for you as you finished locking up?"

"Yes, sir; and I answered. He was in the library, and I was surprised to see that he was dressed as though he meant to go out-perhaps upon a journey. He had on his hat, an overcoat lay across a chair and he was trying to turn a key in the lock of his traveling bag. The key was bent and he had rung for me that I might bring him something to straighten it with. But as he was speaking to me, the lock turned, and he told me that I need not mind."

"You say he was dressed as though to go out. Did he do so?"

"No, sir. I am sure of that, because I went to the hall door and sat upon the step for some time. It was a fine night. So if he had gone out I should have seen him."

"How long did you sit there?"

"About ten minutes. Then I went to prepare the coffee."

"While you sat upon the step did you see or hear anything?"

"I heard Dr. Morse talking."

"With whom?"

"I don't know. I heard a second voice, but not distinctly. I thought it must be Miss Stella or Mr. Warwick."

Here the girl drew a deep, audible breath, and Ashton-Kirk saw the old woman fix her sharp eyes upon her.

"But," resumed Nanon, "Miss Stella tells me that it was not she."

"You went directly from the library to the hall door after speaking to Dr. Morse, you say?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you close the door while you sat upon the step?"

"No; I left it open, thinking to hear if the doctor rang again."

"No one else was in the library when you spoke to the doctor regarding the key?"

"No one."

"Was there a light in the hallway while you sat at the door?"

"There was."

"Should you have seen any one entering the library?"

"I should. To go into that room he would first have to come through the hall."

"There were no visitors in the house at any time during the evening?"

"No," said Nanon. "I should have heard them ring, even if some one else had admitted them."

Ashton-Kirk turned to the girl.

"It is necessary that I know everything that can be told me as to what took place in the house to-night. So you will pardon a question or two, I know."

She inclined her head in answer to this; but her mouth twitched nervously, and her hands held tightly to the chair upon which she sat.

"Where were you when you learned that Dr. Morse was dead?" proceeded Ashton-Kirk.

"In my sitting-room, where I had gone to read immediately after dinner."

"WHO BROUGHT THE NEWS?"

"Who brought the news?"

"Nanon. She stood at the foot of the back stairs and called to me."

"Where is your sitting-room?"

"On the second floor at the back; the door was open and I heard her at once."

"Did you hear or see anything else, previous to this?"

"Very early in the evening I saw Drevenoff going to his room on the third floor; I sat facing the doorway and had a view of the stairs."

"He did not come down again?"

"Not until Nanon called him."

"You are quite sure of that?"

"Quite. I should have seen him had he come down."

There was a pause of some length; the secret agent looked from one to the other of the two women, and finally he said to Nanon:

"You say that you are not sure that the second voice you heard in the library was Mr. Warwick's?"

Again came the quick, deep drawn breath from the girl; and again the gray eyes of the old woman sought her face. At the same time she replied:

"I heard a voice. Whose it was, I cannot say."

There was another pause; then he turned to Miss Corbin.

"At all events," said he, smoothly, "I should like to speak to him."

She arose a trifle unsteady.

"I am sorry," she said in a low voice, "but I am afraid that is impossible, just now."

"Impossible?"

"He is not here-he has gone away."

"Gone away!" It was old Nanon's voice, and it was pitched a shade higher than usual. She took a step toward the girl, the thick gray brows bent over the sharp-sighted eyes. "Where has he gone? Why did he go?"

The girl did not reply; she put her hands to her face, and the secret agent as he looked at her saw that she shivered as though struck with a chill.

"I do not know," she said.

For a moment the old woman stood looking at her, something like menace in her face; it seemed as though she were about to burst forth into a torrent of words. But Ashton-Kirk rose.

"If you don't mind," said he, calmly, "I should like to go through the house."

Slowly the stern eyes turned from the girl to the speaker.

"You will not see him?" indicating the direction of the library.

"Not until afterward."

Without another word she walked toward the door. Ashton-Kirk followed her; as he was stepping into the hall he looked back. Stella Corbin was standing erect, her hands clasped, her face white and drawn with what seemed suspense; and the great dark eyes, filled with terror, were fixed steadily upon him.

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