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   Chapter 27 No.27

Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent By John T. McIntyre Characters: 13820

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


At an early hour next day, Ashton-Kirk paid a visit to the secretary; what passed between them can only be guessed, but that the scarlet scapular and its accompanying document was one of them, is a certainty. Then the secret agent, accompanied by Fuller, boarded a train leaving Washington and went speeding homeward. Fuller, though sorely troubled, managed to contain himself until they had almost finished the journey. Then, as one unable to combat his curiosity any longer, he said:

"I wonder how many of those things which old Nanon suspected regarding the Corbin girl are true?"

Without turning his eyes from the flat country which whirled by the car window, Ashton-Kirk said:

"There are a great many well-meaning people whose views or statements cannot be accepted without great risk. Nanon is one of these."

"Then you do not believe what she told you upon the various occasions when you talked to her?"

Ashton-Kirk proceeded as though he had not heard the question.

"As we saw at almost the first glance, the woman is a fanatic; she hated 'pagans,' as she termed the Japanese; she feared Morse because of his views; to her mind he was possessed by a spirit of evil. This feeling grew so strong in the course of time that she began to feel that even his surroundings must necessarily be evil, that those who possessed the same blood, or for whom he cared, must be filled with demonic impulses."

"That is probably so," said Fuller. "Something of the sort occurred to me once or twice after you told me of the things she said on the day she visited you." He was silent for some little time; his mind seemed to have turned to a fresh matter for bewilderment, for he finally said: "I heard all you said to Miss Corbin at the Tillinghast and a great deal of it was plain enough. But what I can't understand is the affair of Okiu, Miss Corbin and the taxi-cab. She was seen to enter the cab with the Jap at a time when she had in her possession the thing which he desired most in the world. And, instead of taking it then, he preferred to wait and lay a rather ornate plan which was not at all sure to succeed."

"The story of the old watchman, whom we talked to at the drug store that night, gave me some hours of hard work," said Ashton-Kirk. "And I burned up quite a bit of tobacco before I finally worked the truth out of it." He turned toward his aide lazily and asked: "Suppose there had been two taxi-cabs instead of one that night?"

"Two?" Fuller did not seem to grasp the suggestion.

"Okiu got into one; it turned, and vanished around the corner. Then a second appeared, coming from the direction in which the first had gone. As taxis are unusual in Eastbury at night the watchman never dreamed but that it was the same one returning."

"But," protested Fuller, "he saw the Jap open the taxi door."

"He said so, yes. But after I had considered the matter I went to him and asked a few questions. It was as I thought. He had taken the cab for granted in the first place, and he took the Jap for granted in the second."

"But Okiu bought two tickets for Washington."

"One was for his confederate, Humadi, who joined him at the station."

"The second cab, then--" Fuller paused, expectantly.

"I hunted it up. It had been engaged by young Warwick. He and Miss Corbin had agreed over the telephone to meet at a certain hour upon the corner where the policeman noticed the girl waiting. Warwick went to secure the cab to take them to the station, and was delayed in some way. As he did not appear, she evidently became nervous, fancied that she had made a mistake and that he had really named the corner above as the place of meeting. She had started for this, when his cab turned the corner, halted and took her up."

"Yes, yes," said Fuller. "I see now that that could very readily have happened. But," with a lift of his brows, "if the Japanese were not in on the finding of the scapular, why did they take it into their heads to bolt so suddenly for Washington?"

"The attempt upon me had failed," returned Ashton-Kirk. "They feared to remain without instructions, and so hurried to Washington to lay the facts before their superiors. Burgess noted them upon the train, and was a witness to the amazement they showed at sight of Karkowsky and his friends.

"However, none of the latter saw the Japanese. Okiu, as I think I have said before, is a clever man. He saw that something was ripe, or considered to be so by the Poles, and so he clung to them secretly after they had reached the capital. And within an hour he had learned that Miss Corbin was at the Tillinghast! The observation of all this was a deft piece of observation upon the part of Culberson's fellows. They are much more deserving than I ever gave them credit for."

There was quiet a long period in which nothing more passed between the two men. Indeed the train was slowing up to stop when Fuller asked:

"You have given up all thought of the girl or Warwick having had any hand in the death of Dr. Morse?"

"I never had any such thought," said Ashton-Kirk. "To be sure," smilingly, "they puzzled me more than a little from time to time. The girl's fear of the police, from the very first, was a thing that interested me. But that may be safely attributed to a natural uncertainty. There was bad blood between her lover and her uncle; perhaps the former in a fit of rage had killed the latter. She feared this possibility, and in consequence dreaded the police."

"And the shoes with the caked soil upon the soles?"

"As I remarked at the time you discovered them, our own shoes were in like condition."

"Okiu is a resourceful, secretive man," said Fuller. "And, being so, why did he tell Miss Corbin of the paper? Her knowledge of its existence could not benefit him in any way, and her possible discovery of it could only have hurt him."

Ashton-Kirk laughed.

"By telling her what he did, he gained a valued aide. He had planted an unwearying searcher in the house which he could in no other way enter. If the girl found the paper, so he figured, she would at once acquaint him with the fact. And I have no doubt but that this is the very thing that would have happened had not Warwick arrived with his newly created suspicions of the Japanese."

They took a taxi at the station and were speeding toward the house of Ashton-Kirk, when Fuller spoke again.

"Several times," said he, "I have heard you say that you know who killed Dr. Morse. I suppose that to-day will see the arrest of the murderer."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"Yes," said he, "I suppose so."

The driver of the cab was paid and dismissed and the two entered the house.

"Any one here, Stumph?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Purvis," replied the man.

These two were seated in a room off the secret agent's study, engaged in conversation.

"How is this?" deman

ded Ashton-Kirk, rather sharply. "I thought that either one or the other of you was to remain at the Fordham Road place until I called you off."

"Well, seeing that the regular police are there," said O'Neill, "we thought we could ease up a bit."

"The regular police!" exclaimed the secret agent.

"Then you didn't get my wire. Yes, the regulars are on the job there now. The old servant is dead-died while sitting muttering over her prayer-book. It was perfectly natural, I feel sure, but the police, in view of what has already happened in the house, are going to take no chances."

The two men had gone, and Ashton-Kirk sat smoking a cigar in his big chair.

"A while ago," said he, "you said that you supposed that to-day would witness the arrest of the assassin of Dr. Morse; and I think I agreed that it would. But now--" he stopped and shook his head.

Fuller regarded him for a moment; then an expression of incredulity came upon his face.

"By George!" cried he. "Surely you can't mean that--"

"I mean that it is too late," interrupted Ashton-Kirk. He drew at the cigar reflectively for a space and then continued: "The thing as far as I could learn happened this way:

"One day while still at Sharsdale, Nanon, in turning over her employer's belongings, came upon the scapular given him by Colonel Drevenoff. She was horrified at the thought of so holy an emblem being in the possession of such a blasphemer, and at once all sorts of reasons for his having it occurred to her. She had perhaps heard of the Black Mass, and fancied no doubt that she had come upon evidence of some such another sacrilege. She quietly took the scapular, therefore, and hid it."

"And she never told him?"

"Not until the night of his death. Then she was called into the library, as she stated, and in some manner the thing came out. I talked with her as to this later before leaving for Washington, but she could give no clear account of it. However, I think he uttered some sort of a taunt, as was his habit, and she replied in kind. The meaning of the drawings sent by Okiu had gradually dawned upon her, it seems, and she had concluded that the suspense which he suffered because of them was a sort of retribution. She must have put this thought into words, and in an instant the truth was out. In a rage he took a revolver from his desk. She did not know whether it was merely an attempt to frighten her or no; however, she feared for her life and snatched at the weapon. It exploded and he fell back into the chair.

"Yes; it was old Nanon who killed Morse. She concealed the revolver upon her person and went to the front door, where she sat for some time, as she told in her first story. She was calm and self-contained-she felt that she had done no wrong."

"And so she concluded it would be best to 'find the body' when she brought in the coffee?"

"Yes; and while she was engaged with this Drevenoff stole down the front stairs, admitted his woman confederate to the room back of the library-and discovered the dead body of Dr. Morse. Then followed the fear-filled search; the approach of Warwick added to their fright. They evidently carried a pocket torch, which accounts for the library being dark when Warwick entered. Then the girl, Julia, made an effort to escape with the bag; and while Warwick was in pursuit of her, Drevenoff crept back to his room."

Fuller nodded slowly.

"Yes," said he, "it could very easily have been that way. But tell me this: The old woman knew all the time that she was responsible for the death of Morse; so why did she manifest so much uneasiness whenever Warwick was mentioned in the matter?"

"She was alarmed at his disappearance because she was shrewd enough to know that this would attract attention toward him. There were two reasons for this. She felt kindly toward Warwick, and so disliked his being falsely accused. Then, if he was arrested, she would be forced to confess the truth to save him. She had these things in mind when she withheld the fact that she had seen Morse strike the young man.

"She claimed to have heard voices in the library while she sat upon the step. Now, Dr. Morse was dead at that time and none of the others had yet gone into the room.

"The voices were a fiction. She thought to mislead the police by the invention. Or perhaps she really thought she heard them; I did not question her very closely upon this point. A woman like that is apt to see and hear things which do not exist. Witness her suspicion of Miss Corbin. She fancied that for some dark reasons the girl was making an effort to have the crime fixed upon Warwick, while professing to love him. That Miss Corbin had been long under the influence of Dr. Morse made this idea, to Nanon's mind, not only possible, but probable.

"This thought grew upon the old woman until it seemed she could scarcely think of anything else. Her constant espionage finally attracted Miss Corbin's attention, as she told me at the Tillinghast after you left the room. In her turn she began to suspect and watch. With the feeling that the scapular should be well hidden, Nanon placed it in one of the candlesticks, cunningly calculating that as the article had once been searched, it would be passed by thereafter."

"And Miss Corbin saw her place it there," suggested Fuller, quickly.

"Exactly-and awaited an opportunity for obtaining possession of it."

"When did you first come to suspect that Nanon might have the paper?" asked the aide, with curiosity.

"At the time we hit upon the fact that the drawings received by Dr. Morse were meant to represent scapulars. What had actually happened at once began to take form in my mind. And feeling sure that the old woman had the paper safe, without, possibly, knowing of its existence, I made no attempt to obtain possession of it. And I did not fear Drevenoff's finding it, because I was convinced that they would never dream of her having it."

The speaker sat for some time smoking in silence; then he added:

"I was about ready to tell her what I knew, secure the paper and hand her over to Osborne on the day she paid me the visit. But the story she told rather gave the matter the air of further entanglement; and so, to learn first how deep was the apparent involvement of Miss Corbin and Warwick, I postponed the arrest."

"I should think, all things considered," said Fuller, "that you'd be rather glad that it happened so."

"I am," replied the secret agent. "She was without real guilt. And," with a nod to his aide, the meaning of which that young man did not fail to catch, "as there are but a few who are possessed of the facts she will, I think, continue to appear so."

Other Stories in this Series:



[1] For the details of the case of the numismatist Hume, see the first book of this series: "Ashton-Kirk, Investigator."

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