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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Room with the Tassels By Carolyn Wells Characters: 21491

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Another Confession

Pennington Wise and Zizi sat in the hall talking. It was part of Wise's policy never to hold secret conclaves with his little assistant, for, he said that the people who employed him were entitled to all his suspicions or deductions as they took shape and grew in his mind. Professor Hardwick joined them as Wise was saying, "What first turned your attention to the Room with the Tassels, Ziz? Why did you move into that room to sleep?"

"Because the lock was oiled," Zizi replied, her black eyes glistening. "The first time I got a chance I looked at all the locks in the house, and only two were freshly oiled, and they had been well looked after,-I can tell you."

"What did that prove to you?" Hardwick asked.

"That somebody was haunting the Room with the Tassels who had to open the door to get in. No ghost would need to turn a knob and open the door. They splash right through walls or anything, or they ought to, if they know their business! But this lock, as well as the knob, was oiled, and, as you know, the door was opened though locked on the inside. Clever fingers can turn a key from the other side, if they have a certain implement, used by burglars. Also, if the key was not in the door, clever people could provide a duplicate key. But these things are not necessary for ghosts. They just glide in serenely, not even thinking about keys or doors."

"You're right, child," and Wise nodded approvingly at her. "Now, what other door had its lock oiled?"

"Not only the lock, but the hinges of one of the bedroom doors were carefully oiled. You know which one, Penny."

"I do, Zizi. Have you no suspicion, Professor?"

"I'd rather not say. As a friend of all the people in our party, I simply can't bring myself to mention the name of any one of them, and, yet if one of us is a criminal, it is the duty of the others to see justice done."

"Well, it must soon come out, anyway. It is Mr. Tracy's door, isn't it, Zizi?"

"Yes."

"Bless my soul!" cried the Professor, "Tracy! Why, he's a minister!"

"No," and Penny Wise shook his head, "Mr. Tracy is not a minister and never was. On the contrary, he's about as far removed from piety of any sort, as any man on God's green earth!"

"What are you saying?" cried Eve Carnforth, coming swiftly toward them. "Mr. Tracy not a minister!"

"No;" repeated Wise, "John Tracy is a notorious criminal, known as Smug Johnny by his friends, and also by the police. I have just had returns from some inquiries I sent to Chicago, and I learn that this double-dyed villain is wanted on several counts, but never before has he been accused of murder."

"And did he kill Mr. Bruce and Vernie?" cried Eve, her hands clenched in excitement and her long eyes narrowed with fear.

"He did, I am positive. We have yet to prove it, but I have evidence enough--"

"Where is he?" said Hardwick, abruptly.

"Under strict surveillance," returned Wise. "My men are at his heels day and night. He can't get away."

"He stole me," said Zizi; "you see I had my eye on him, 'cause of his oiled door. Then when he came, I thought he was only going to scare me, but he stuffed that old chloroform in my mouth so quick, I couldn't even yell out. If I hadn't had some experience in swimming pools and movie thrillers, I'd been down at the bottom of that horrid old lake this minute!"

"But I can't understand," and Eve looked puzzled; "why would Mr. Tracy kill those people, and how did he do it? Mr. Wise, you're crazy! It's an impossible theory!"

Others had gathered in the hall, now, and Pennington Wise told them all of his recent advices from Chicago, that proved the supposed clergyman a fraud and a villain.

Milly showed the greatest relief. "Oh," she cried, "I'm glad you've found out who it was, anyway! But it doesn't seem as if Mr. Tracy could be a bad man-are you sure, Mr. Wise?"

"Yes, Mrs. Landon, there is no doubt at all. Now, let us reconstruct the scene of those two deaths. Where was Mr. Tracy sitting?"

"Right here, where I am now," said Norma, thinking back. "Vernie was over there, near the front door. Mr. Bruce was across the hall by Professor Hardwick, and Eve was in the middle of the room by the tea-table."

"Will you be so kind, Miss Carnforth, as to think very carefully," said Wise, "and see if you recollect Mr. Tracy's presence near you as you were fixing the various cups of tea. Did he have the slightest opportunity to add anything to the cup that was afterward handed to Mr. Bruce?"

Excited, almost hysterical, Eve obeyed the detective's command, and said, after a moment's thought, "Yes, he did. I remember he passed near me, and Vernie stood at my side also. They had a bit of good-natured banter as to which should take the cup I had just poured out, and Vernie won, and she laughingly carried it to Mr. Bruce. I remember it distinctly."

"Then, doubtless, at that moment, Tracy dropped the small amount of poison necessary in the cup, sure that it would be given to Mr. Bruce. Had Vernie given it to any one else, he would have intercepted it. He is a man of suave manners, you know."

"Yes," said Norma, "particularly so, and very graceful about any social matters. He always assisted in passing the tea things."

"Go on," said Penny Wise; "what happened as Mr. Bruce took his first sip of tea?"

"He changed countenance at once," said Hardwick. "I was talking to him, and a queer pallor came over his face and then it turned fiery red. He dropped his cup and--"

"One moment," said Wise; "what became of that broken cup?"

"I've no idea," said the Professor, helplessly looking about him.

"I wasn't home," began Milly, "Mr. Braye and I had gone to East Dryden--"

"The tray was taken out as usual," interposed Eve, but Norma said, quietly, "I picked up the broken bits and laid them on the tray."

"Call in the servant who took away that tray," said Wise, shortly.

Old Thorpe was called in, and told his story.

"I came in for the tray," he said, "and seein'-what I did see-I was fair knocked out. I did as usual, and picked up the tray to carry it to the kitchen. Mr. Tracy was by the tray at the time, and he was pourin' hot water into the teacups. I don't think the man knew what he was about,-none of us did, and small wonder!"

Thorpe knew nothing of the recent developments regarding Tracy, and Wise pursued: "Do you remember whether Mr. Tracy poured hot water over the broken cup?"

"That's just what he was doin', sir, that's why I thought he didn't rightly know what he was about."

"You may go, Thorpe," said Wise.

"You see," he continued after the old man had gone, "Tracy poured boiling hot water from the afternoon teakettle over the broken cup, that all evidence of poison might be removed, if the bits of china were examined. I've not heard of that being done, however, but a guilty conscience would naturally fear it. That little incident shows the astuteness of his criminal mind."

"It does!" cried Professor Hardwick. "What a depraved, a demoniacal nature must be his! Where did he come from? Who introduced him to our party?"

"I did," said Rudolph Braye. "I had, of course, no suspicion of his real nature. I met Tracy on the train, travelling from Chicago to New York, about a year ago. He was a pleasant smoking room companion, and I've seen him several times since, in New York. I had no reason to think him other than what he represented himself, a clergyman, with a church in Chicago. He impressed me as a fine, congenial sort, and when Mrs. Landon asked me to suggest another member for our house party, I thought of him at once. His cloth seemed to me to be his adequate credentials and, in fact, I never gave a thought to his possible duplicity! Nor can I reconcile the facts, even yet. How do you know these things, Mr. Wise? Are you not romancing a little?"

"No, Mr. Braye, I am not even surmising. What I have stated is true, because there is no other possible deduction from the facts I have learned. I have identified the man Tracy who was here with you as the notorious Smug Johnny of Chicago. Do you need further knowledge of him to believe that he is the criminal in this case, rather than one of your own immediate circle?"

"No," and Milly shuddered; "it is bad enough that it should have been Mr. Tracy, but far better than to suspect one of us here."

"Furthermore," continued Wise, "let us look into the details of the death of Vernie Reid. Who can give me the exact facts as noticed?"

"I," said Eve Carnforth; "and, now, as I look back, I see it all in a different light! I was looking at Mr. Bruce, as everybody was, startled by the sound of crashing china, and I heard Mr. Tracy say, 'Vernie, child! What is the matter?' or some such words. Then he ran quickly to her side and held her up in his arms, while I ran to them and helped him to lay her on the sofa."

"See?" said Wise; "at the moment Tracy sprang toward the girl she was unharmed, and as he put his arm round her, he scratched her arm with a sharp pointed instrument, which had been dipped in the awful poison that we have learned of. It is said to be similar to that with which the barbarians of South America tip their arrows. But the least scratch is instantly fatal, and proved so in Vernie's case. The instrument he used, we have reason to think, was a steel pen."

"Why do you think that?" asked Professor Hardwick.

"Because Zizi found a few new ones in Tracy's room, that had not been used for writing purposes. There were five in a small paper parcel. We have found that he bought these at a shop in the village, buying six at the time. This is merely a shred of evidence, but the fact that Zizi found the pens became known to Mr. Tracy, in fact he caught her searching his room. It was this that made him try to do away with the child."

"Tracy? Do away with Zizi!" exclaimed Braye. "Why, he was gone away from here, then."

"No. He had left the house, but he was lurking about, and after all had retired that night, he came through the revolving column, and kidnapped Zizi, and threw her into the lake,-as he had previously thrown in the body of Vernie Reid. That, he did, lest the scratch on her arm be discovered by the doctors, and he be suspected."

"Then it was Tracy who discovered the secret of the revolving column," said Braye, thoughtfully. "You take a great deal for granted, Mr. Wise."

"I take nothing for granted, save what the facts prove, Mr. Braye. That Tracy used the revolving column is positive. Do you not all remember the night when Professor Hardwick saw the apparition of the Shawled Woman? On that night Mr. Tracy was supposed to be in Boston. As a matter of fact, he was not, he had left the h

ouse, saying he was going to Boston but he remained in hiding near the house, played ghost, and then went on his way."

"I was in New York that night," said Braye, musingly. "But, look here, Mr. Wise, one afternoon, about dusk, Miss Cameron and I distinctly saw the apparition of the Shawled Woman in the Room with the Tassels when we ourselves were out of doors. We saw it through the window,-don't you remember, Norma?"

"I do,--"

"Then that was Mr. Tracy's doings also," declared Wise. "How simple for him to get the paraphernalia from the column, where it was always in readiness, make his appearance to frighten you two, and then return the shawl and so forth before you could enter and catch him."

"It would have been possible," agreed Braye, and then Hardwick began.

"There were many other strange things to be accounted for, such as moanings and rustlings in the morning at four o'clock, and also occasional odours of prussic acid, without apparent reason."

"Lay them all to Tracy," said Wise, "you won't be far out. Now, who was running that Ouija board the night it said the two people would die at four o'clock?"

"Vernie and Mr. Tracy," said Norma, "but when it said that, Mr. Tracy took his hands off and said he would have no more to do with it. He said he believed Vernie pushed it to those letters."

"He was a good actor," said Wise, looking grave and sighing; "he fooled you all, it would seem."

"He certainly fooled me, good and plenty," said Braye, angrily. "You say you have him in custody, Mr. Wise?"

"I did not say that, but I have him under such surveillance that he cannot get away. There are some other matters to be discussed. Granting Tracy's guilt, what do you ascribe as a motive?"

There was a profound silence. What could have been the motive for a perfect stranger to kill with deliberation two people who had never injured him in any way, and from whose death he could expect no pecuniary advantage?

"Look here," said Wynne Landon, suddenly, "Mr. Tracy went away from here because the spectre appeared to him. How do you account for that?"

"Mr. Tracy said so," returned Wise, "but that story of his ghostly vision was made up out of the whole cloth,-which was all of the 'cloth' with which he ever had to do."

"He made up that yarn, then, as an excuse to get away?" said Hardwick.

"He did just that," replied Wise. "But what has any one to suggest as Mr. Tracy's motive for the crimes he committed?"

"Plain homicidal mania," offered Hardwick, at last, as no one else spoke.

"No," said Wise, "John Tracy is not of that type. Such people are abnormal, they have special physical characteristics, and they are easily recognized, once suspicion is attached to them. Tracy is a quiet, even debonair character, he is even-tempered, gentle-mannered and though deeply clever he hides it under a mask of kindliness and consideration. Victims of what is called homicidal mania are not at all like this. They are difficult to get along with, they do queer, inexplicable things, and most of all, they show in their faces the traits that lead them to their villainous deeds. You all know Tracy is not of this type. Therefore you must look further for his motive."

"Did he receive any bequest from Mr. Bruce's will?" asked Hardwick, wonderingly.

"Certainly not," asserted Landon. "He didn't know Mr. Bruce until we came up here, and that would have been no motive for his killing Vernie. Nor can there be any personal motive, Mr. Wise, for that. Shall we not have to ascribe it to some form of degeneracy, whether that seems plausible or not?"

"No," decreed Wise, looking sternly from one to another. "No; John Tracy's motive for those two inhuman murders was the motive that is oftenest the reason for murder-money lust!"

Eve Carnforth gave a scream and buried her face in her hands.

Milly Landon turned white and swayed as if about to faint, but her husband caught her in his arms and supported her.

"What can he mean?" said Norma, turning to Braye, "how could Mr. Tracy have done it for money? Who would give him money?"

"Hush, Norma," said Braye, in a low voice, and Norma remembered it was the same tone he had used, when she had before asked questions of him. She had thought over his words on that occasion, and had concluded he meant she must not say anything that seemed to throw suspicion toward Wynne Landon. She looked at the sobbing Milly, and the pained, strained face of Wynne, who was trying to soothe her, and then Norma turned to Eve.

Eve was using all her will power to preserve her poise, but Norma saw at once that she was having difficulty to do so. In kindness of heart, Norma went over to the suffering girl.

"Come with me, Eve," she said, softly, "let us go off by ourselves for a while."

"Yes, do," said Penny Wise, looking kindly at the two girls. "Zizi, perhaps you can be of use."

Zizi followed the other two, and they went to Eve's room. With all the deftness of a nurse, Zizi found some aromatic cologne, and a fresh handkerchief, and in a moment was bathing Eve's temples, with a gentle, soothing touch.

"What a funny little piece you are!" said Eve, looking at the small sympathetic face, and speaking in a preoccupied way.

"Yes," acquiesced Zizi, while Norma sat by, lost in her own thoughts.

"Tell me," said Eve, suddenly roused to energy. "Tell me, Zizi,-you know as much as Mr. Wise does,-tell me, who paid Tracy money?"

"What!" cried Norma, "Eve, hush! don't say such things. If anybody did, we don't want to know it!"

"We'll have to know it," said Eve, simply, "and, Norma,--"

But Norma interrupted her; "No, Eve, we don't have to, at least, we don't have to ask about it, or inquire into it. The detective will do that."

"You'll soon have to know," said Zizi, quietly; "indeed you know now, don't you, Miss Carnforth?"

"I asked you!" cried Eve, hysterical again. "Tell me, tell me at once, girl!"

But Zizi shook her head, and continued to bathe Eve's brow. "Try to be calm," she whispered, "there will be much for you to bear, and you must be brave to bear it."

Eve looked at her wonderingly, and seeing deep compassion in the black eyes, she ceased questioning and closed her own eyes.

After a few moments, she opened her eyes and rose from her couch. "Thank you, Zizi," she said, "I am all right now. I am going back to join the others. Will you come, Norma?"

Dazedly, as one in a dream, Norma rose, and the three went down stairs. Apparently little had been said of importance since they left. There was a tense silence, and Pennington Wise said, "I find I must speak out and tell you the truth. I had hoped for a confession but I see no signs of it.

"I was not, strictly speaking, employed by any one of you. I asked to be allowed to investigate this case because it seemed to me the most remarkable one I had ever heard of. I wrote to Professor Hardwick for information concerning it, and finally I arranged to come up here. I brought Zizi, because she is invaluable to me in collecting evidence. Her quick wit, and her dainty personality can compass effects that I can not. I feel, therefore, that it is to Professor Hardwick that I should make my direct report. But as you are all interested, I will ask any of you who choose to do so, to remain and listen. The others may be excused."

"Of course, we'll all stay!" exclaimed Landon. "We're all quite as much interested as Professor Hardwick can possibly be. More so, indeed, for the victims of the crime are not relatives of his."

"Very well," returned Wise, "stay, then, all of you. The story is not a long one, though it is a deeply sad one. John Tracy was hired,-basely hired, to commit those two murders. The man who hired him is, of course, the greater criminal, though his hands are unstained with actual blood. The man who hired the assassin, is, naturally, the man who desired the large fortune of Gifford Bruce, and who realized that unless two people were removed from earth he could not inherit. Need I say more?"

"You need not," said Rudolph Braye. "I confess. The plan was Tracy's, the suggestion was his. He tempted me, by telling me that he had read of a plan by which people could be put to death and leave no possible trace. He said that I would eventually inherit the fortune, and that I ought to have it while I was young enough to enjoy it. He said he would do the deed and I need know nothing about it, nor be present at the time. I am not shifting the blame, I am merely telling you the facts."

Braye spoke in a monotone, his eyes on the floor, his hands nervously twitching.

"A hundred times I regretted our plans, a hundred times I begged Tracy to give up the project, but he held me to it, and said if I petered out he would tell the whole story.

"When the plan for coming up here was started, Tracy made me get him invited saying it was an ideal opportunity. I didn't think he would really carry out his intentions, and as the ghost seemed really to appear, I watched to discover the means. I did see Stebbins enter through the revolving column and had no difficulty in discovering how it worked. I showed this to Tracy,-he made me do so,-and when I went to New York, he played ghost and appeared to little Vernie.

"Again and again I plead with him to give up the fearful scheme but he refused to do so. The day I went to East Dryden with Milly I had no idea that he intended to do the deed, but-he did. I had promised him half the fortune, and he had declared that there could be no suspicion of either of us,-he said, if there were any suspicion it would be directed toward Wynne. I make no excuses, I voice no cry for forgiveness or for leniency, but I hereby pay the penalty."

Braye swallowed what was evidently a portion of the same poison that had killed Gifford Bruce, and in less than a minute he was a dead man.

John Tracy was arrested and received his just deserts.

Wynne Landon inherited the fortune, and though it had painful associations, he and Milly went away from Black Aspens never to return and in time lived down the sad and awful memories.

"You see, Penny," Zizi summed up, "a criminal always slips up on some minor count. If the Tracy person hadn't oiled his door and the door of that haunted room so carefully, or if he'd had the wit to oil some other doors too, we might have overlooked him as a possible suspect, eh?"

"I don't think so, Ziz."

"Neither do I, Penny Wise."

Transcriber's Note

Obvious typographical errors were corrected without note.

Non-standard spellings and dialect were left unchanged.

The transcriber has provided an original book cover image, which is placed in the public domain.

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