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   Chapter 26 No.26

Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent By John T. McIntyre Characters: 15124

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The Truth

Ashton-Kirk, after Burgess led the prisoners away, turned to a telephone and in a moment had the office.

"A gentleman will probably ask to see me in a little while; if so, send him here."

And as he turned toward Fuller, that young man said, in a dubious sort of way:

"What do you think of that story which the girl just now told? Can there be any truth in it?"

"It is all truth," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly.

"All truth!" Fuller opened his eyes to their widest extent. "Then you have made up your mind Warwick is the murderer."

Ashton-Kirk smiled.

"As to that," said he, "we will allow him to speak for himself. I expect him here at any moment."

"Here!"

"Yes," replied the secret agent. And then as a low knock sounded upon the door, he added, "More than likely that is he now."

In response to his "Come in," Philip Warwick entered. Closing the door behind him, he advanced slowly, and then paused facing Ashton-Kirk.

"I believe," said he, quietly, "that you desire to see me."

He was rather pale and obviously nervous; but for all that he made a good attempt to appear at ease.

"It was very kind of you to come at this hour," said Ashton-Kirk. "Will you sit down?"

The young man did so.

"I did not know just where you were putting up," proceeded Ashton-Kirk, "and so had to call up one hotel after another."

"I was at the Carlton," said Warwick. "I got the call a half-hour ago. And now that I am here," with a squaring of his shoulders, "will you kindly be as brief as possible?"

"Brevity suits me exactly," said Ashton-Kirk. "But before making a beginning, don't you think it advisable to secure the presence of one more person? I think," significantly, "she has returned from Von Stunnenberg's by this."

For an instant Philip Warwick hesitated; then he went to the telephone; and in a very few minutes there came a knock upon the door. Fuller opened it, and Stella Corbin entered swiftly; with a cry she ran to Warwick, and he put his arms about her protectingly, while his eyes seemed to defy the secret agent.

"And now," said the latter, after the girl had gained control of herself, "suppose we make ourselves as comfortable as possible, and then come at once to that which has brought us together."

When all were seated, he resumed:

"There are a great many points in this case which remain to be cleared up. Some of these," and his eyes searched their faces, "are things upon which you two only can throw a light."

But the girl and the young man remained looking at him coldly and in silence. He smiled.

"Your present attitude is not unfamiliar," said he to Miss Corbin. "I think," reflectively, "that I noted it first upon the day after the murder of your uncle when we met you upon the stairs. And," his brows lifting in polite inquiry, "as you had just finished a somewhat earnest conversation with your neighbor Okiu, I've often wondered just how much he had to do with my loss of your confidence."

"You are right," said Stella Corbin, steadily. "It was Mr. Okiu who first told me what many things have since convinced me is the truth. He was passing the window where I stood that morning and stopped to express his sympathy. We entered into a conversation and he told me of the paper-I had never heard of it before-and he told me that you were endeavoring to become possessed of it.

"But I believed in you then, and replied that you had been engaged by Mr. Warwick to clear up a mystery which surrounded my uncle. However, he said he knew your methods. You had no doubt in some insidious way caused yourself to be suggested to Mr. Warwick for the--"

"Stella!" cried Warwick, in astonishment.

"Is it so surprising that this should be true?" she asked turning to him. "Have not much more surprising things happened of late?"

Warwick made no reply to this, but directed a look toward the secret agent.

"One would have thought," said the latter, composedly, "that Okiu's being so manifestly an interested person would have weakened the plausibility of his story. But," and he smiled as he went on, "perhaps he did not divulge the real nature of the paper." He caught the look that came into her face, and added: "I see that he did not. A clever man would not, and Okiu is really very clever."

He paused for a few moments as though expecting either one or the other to speak; but as they did not do so, remaining cold faced and unbelieving, he resumed:

"I see that there is very little that I can say that will tend toward re?stablishing our first friendly relationship. And this being the case, we shall waste no more time upon the attempt." He took a note-book from his pocket and turning over the leaves, said: "Here I have the main points of the affair of Dr. Morse from the time of your visit to me," nodding to Warwick, "until the time Miss Corbin removed the sought-for document from the candlestick in the library of the house on Fordham Road."

At this the girl started up with a little startled cry; but Warwick drew her back with a whispered warning.

The secret agent smiled.

"You seem surprised that I should know just where you found the paper," he said. "Do you forget that I was in the house on the night that it was done?" There was another brief pause; then he went on: "However, in tracing out this matter, I have come upon indications and have arrived at conclusions which may surprise you still more." His turning of the pages of the note-book stopped, and with his finger marking a penciled entry, he said to Warwick: "This woman in New York-have you settled your matters with her?"

It was now the young man's turn to show discomposure. But it was for an instant only.

"A woman?" said he, inquiringly. "I don't think I understand."

"Of course," said Ashton-Kirk, with a gesture, "it is your privilege to assume any attitude you choose; but I must say that I consider this one faulty. There is a woman! And she insists that she has some sort of a legal claim upon you. This you deny; and Miss Corbin believes you."

"Mr. Warwick," exclaimed the girl, warmly, "has my utmost confidence."

"Thank you," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "We will now consider the existence of the woman as having been admitted." He settled back in his chair, and went on: "Some time ago Dr. Morse received a number of letters. They were brought to him by a second woman-one whom you," to Warwick, "did not know."

A quick look of surprise passed between the girl and the young man; but they kept silent.

"From that time," said Ashton-Kirk, easily, "there was a decided feeling between Dr. Morse and his secretary. Quarrels were frequent; he was not careful as to his words and you resented his brutality. On the night of the murder he struck you," looking at Warwick. "He struck you in the face; and you," turning his eyes swiftly upon the girl, "saw the blow and were glad."

"Glad!" the girl echoed the word. "Yes, I was glad. Because I knew that that would mark the end of your hesitancy," to Warwick. "I knew that you would act-that you would not be content with merely denying."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"If you had read my notes," said he, tapping his book approvingly, "you could not have made a statement more in accord with them." He looked at them for a moment, and then went on: "Dr. Morse had made up his mind finally to interview this woman. He had placed the letters in his hand-bag and was preparing for the trip when you," to Stella, "convinced him that he was making a mistake, and succeeded in obtaining his consent

that Warwick make the journey with the letters instead. Am I right?"

"You are," replied Warwick. "I had known this woman," in explanation. "She heard of my intended marriage with Miss Corbin, claimed that she was my wife and forged certain letters to substantiate her claim. The entire matter was absurd, though Dr. Morse chose to regard it seriously. But at last he did consent to giving me the letters, permitting me to seek out the woman and force her to tell the truth."

"I see," said Ashton-Kirk. "It was while upon a landing of the back stairs that you were told that the letters were in the hand-bag in the library, and you at once went to get them, meaning to catch the next New York train. Miss Corbin went as far as the lower hall with you, then returned to her room. You entered the library. It was dark. A sound attracted you in the rear room. You went toward it, and as you gained the doorway you saw a woman with the bag in her hand step out of the low window to the lawn."

"You were there!" cried Warwick.

"No," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "Some of the things which I have told you were seen, or heard. Others I have gathered from signs. I have merely connected all of these by reasoning out what must have occurred to bring about the results that followed."

"I did see a woman step out upon the lawn," said Warwick, "and I followed her."

"Of course," said the secret agent. "You knew it was a woman who had brought the letters to Dr. Morse; and that you had not seen her is shown by the fact that you suspected that the woman with the bag was the same. You fancied that she had somehow learned of Dr. Morse's intention to turn the letters over to you; and in fear of what you might do and knowing that the letters were palpable forgeries, she had effected an entrance to the house and was trying to make off with them. If it occurred to you that she had been exceedingly quick to gain her information, and had suspiciously little trouble getting into the house, you might have suspected the collusion of Dr. Morse. As you had a deep-seated aversion to him, this thought would have been natural enough."

"As a matter of fact," said Warwick, slowly, "what you say is practically the truth. But," and there was a strong curiosity in his voice, "it is not possible that you have reasoned your way to this."

Ashton-Kirk smiled.

"Most things to which we are unaccustomed seem difficult," replied he. "This particular conclusion was arrived at very simply. It is based upon the fact that you did not give an alarm. Had you thought the woman was a housebreaker, you would not have contented yourself with taking the bag from her and watching her make away." And as young Warwick was staring, deeply struck by this explanation, the secret agent continued: "But, tell me, what made you re?nter by the window after she had gone?"

"To have an understanding with Dr. Morse. But I got no further than the back room when I changed my mind. That would wait, but the railroad wouldn't. If I became involved in a quarrel with him I might miss the train."

"Ah! I saw your tracks upon the window-sill, showing that you had gone in that way as well as come out. But your reasons puzzled me. You will observe," smiling, "there are some things for which I cannot supply the answer."

"I passed around the back of the house, just as the newspapers said," spoke Warwick, "and leaped the fence. I did this to save time. I had no idea what the hour was, and did not wish to be late."

"It was then that the Japanese saw you," said Ashton-Kirk. "Okiu sent one of his men to follow you, thinking something was in the wind. It was this man who was afterward found dead in your room at the New York hotel."

"He got into the room during my momentary absence," stated Warwick, who now seemed not at all backward in rendering help. "I came upon him just as he had slashed the bag open and removed the letters. These I snatched from him, and as he leaped at me I knocked him down. In a rage at his defeat he then killed himself, Japanese fashion, before my eyes. Knowing that I should be held for an explanation of this, and not wishing to become involved in a delay at that time, I managed to slip from the hotel without being seen.

"Later I saw the account of Dr. Morse's death in the newspapers and learned that my sudden and secret departure had caused me to be suspected. But I determined not to make my whereabouts known until I completed the business which took me to New York. This I did very effectually after I found the woman I had sought; then I returned."

"First," said Ashton-Kirk, "you communicated with Miss Corbin, made certain arrangements with her on the telephone and then paid a visit. You had probably recognized the Japanese of the hotel room as one whom you had seen about Okiu's. This had aroused a suspicion in you that possibly Okiu knew more of certain things than any one else."

"What you have said is quite correct," said the young man, composedly. "First I intended making an open visit to the Japanese, and made my way to his house for that purpose. But I saw you entering at the front door and changed my mind. Miss Corbin had spoken of you with some suspicion over the telephone. I thought it best to take no chances and at the same time I wanted to learn more about the Japanese and your apparent intimacy with them. So I entered secretly from the rear of the house. However, I had not gone further than the first floor when I came upon you in the dark."

Ashton-Kirk laughed and touched the patch of plaster with a finger tip.

"You strike a sharp blow," he said. "But tell me, what had Okiu to say when we burst through the door into the lighted apartment?"

Warwick shook his head.

"There was no one there. I saw that it would not do to leave you, so I lifted you and carried you out of the house by the rear door. I meant to call attention to you, and after gaining the lawn behind the house of Dr. Morse, I heard some one opening a door. I placed you upon the ground and stepped back. It was Drevenoff who came out, and he found you almost instantly."

"I thank you," said Ashton-Kirk, "not only for that good service, but for your willingness to speak." He turned to the girl and added: "Perhaps it would help matters greatly if you were equally willing. Believe me, Okiu had his reasons for implanting suspicion in your mind against me. He was quite right if he told you that I was searching for the paper concealed in the scapular; I knew that it was in your uncle's possession after my first visit to Fordham Road, and made up my mind to have it. But murder is not my business. I gain my ends by other means."

"Tell me," said the girl, and she bent a little toward him, "have you gained your end in this case?"

"I have," returned the secret agent.

She gave a little gasp.

"It was you, then, who took the scapular from me at the embassy?"

He laughed and shook his head.

"No," he answered, "it was not. It came to my possession only about a half hour ago." He looked at her for a moment, and then went on: "I will not ask how it came into your possession, or rather how you knew of its being in the candlestick, for I already know."

"You know?" She arose, her face white.

He nodded.

"Yes;" and here his voice sank. "I also know who killed your uncle."

Her hand went out, trembling; her face was so bloodless that Warwick sprang up, alarmed.

"You are sure?" she asked, quaveringly.

Again the secret agent nodded.

"I am quite sure," he said.

* * *

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