WHERE the light slants down softly into one corner of a noted art museum in Boston there hangs a large picture. Its title is “Fulfillment.” Discriminating art critics have alternately raved at it and praised it; from the day it appeared there it has been a fruitful source of acrimonious discussion. As for the public, it accepts the picture as a startling, amazing thing of beauty, and there is always a crowd around it.
“Fulfillment” is typified by a woman. She stands boldly forth against a languorous background of deep tones. Flesh tints are daringly laid on the semi-nude figure, diaphanous draperies hide, yet, reveal, the exquisite lines of the body. Her arms are outstretched straight toward the spectator, the black hair ripples down over her shoulders, the red lips are slightly parted. The mysteries of complete achievement and perfect life lie in her eyes.
Into this picture the artist wove the spiritual and the worldly; here he placed on canvas an elusive portrayal of success in its fullest and widest meaning. One’s first impression of the picture is that it is sensual; another glance shows the underlying typification of success, and love and life are there. One by one the qualities stand forth.
The artist was Constans St. George. After the first flurry of excitement which the picture caused there came a whirlwind of criticism. Then the artist, who had labored for months on the work which he had intended and which proved to be his masterpiece, collapsed. Some said it was overwork—they were partly right; others that it was grief at the attacks of critics who did not see beyond the surface of the painting. Perhaps they, too, were partly right.
However that may be, it is a fact that for several months after the picture was exhibited St. George was in a sanitarium. The physicians said it was nervous collapse—a total breaking-down, and there were fears for his sanity. At length there came an improvement in his condition, and he returned to the world. Since then he had lived quietly in his studio, one of many in a large office building. From time to time he had been approached with offers for the picture, but always he refused to sell. A New York millionaire made a flat proposition of fifty thousand dollars, which was as flatly refused.
The artist loved the picture as a child of his own brain; every day he visited the museum where it was exhibited and stood looking at it with something almost like adoration in his eyes. Then he went away quietly, tugging at his straggling beard and with the dim blindness of tears in his eyes. He never spoke to anyone; and always avoided that moment when a crowd was about.
Whatever the verdict of the critics or of the public on “Fulfillment,” it was an admitted fact that the artist had placed on canvas a representation of a wonderfully beautiful woman. Therefore, after awhile the question of who had been the model for “Fulfillment” was aroused. No one knew, apparently. Artists who knew St. George could give no idea—they only knew that the woman who had posed was not a professional model.
This led to speculation, in which the names of some of the most beautiful women in the United States were mentioned. Then a romance was woven. This was that the artist was in love with the original and that his collapse was partly due to her refusal to wed him. This story, as it went, was elaborated until the artist was said to be pining away for love of one whom he had immortalized in oils.
As the story grew it gained credence, and a search was still made occasionally for the model. Half a dozen times Hutchinson Hatch, a newspaper reporter of more than usual astuteness, had been on the story without success; he had seen and studied the picture until every line of it was firmly in his mind. He had seen and talked to St. George twice. The artist would answer no questions as to the identity of the model.
This, then, was the situation on the morning of Friday, November 27, when Hatch entered the reportorial rooms of his newspaper. At sight of him the City Editor removed his cigar, placed it carefully on the “official block” which adorned his flat‑topped desk, and called to the reporter.
“Girl reported missing,” he said, brusquely. “Name is Grace Field, and she lived at No. 195 —— Street, Dorchester. Employed in the photographic department of the Star, a big department store. Report of her disappearance made to the police early to-day by Ellen Stanford, her roommate, also employed at the Star. Jump out on it and get all you can. Here is the official police description.”
Hatch took a slip of paper and read:
“Grace Field, twenty-one years, five feet seven inches tall, weight 151 pounds, profuse black hair, dark-brown eyes, superb figure, oval face, said to be beautiful.”
Then the description went into details of her dress and other things which the police note in their minute records for a search. Hatch absorbed all these things and left his office. He went first to the department store, where he was told Miss Stanford had not appeared that day, sending a note that she was ill.
From the store Hatch went at once to the address given in Dorchester. Miss Stanford was in. Would she see a reporter? Yes. So Hatch was ushered into the modest little parlor of a boarding-house, and after awhile Miss Stanford entered. She was as a petite blonde, with pink cheeks and blue eyes, now reddened by weeping.
Briefly Hatch explained the purpose of his visit—an effort to find Grace Field, and Miss Stanford eagerly and tearfully expressed herself as willing to tell him all she knew.
“I have known Grace for five months,” she explained; “that is, from the time she came to work at the Star. Her counter is next to mine. A friendship grew up between us, and we began rooming together. Each of us is alone in the East. She comes from the West, somewhere in Nevada, and I come from Quebec.
“Grace has never said much about herself, but I know that she had been in Boston a year or so before I met her. She lived somewhere in Brookline, I believe, but it seems that she had some funds and did not go to work until she came to the Star. This is as I understand it.
“Three days ago, on Tuesday it was, there was a letter for Grace when we came in from work. It seemed to agitate her, although she said nothing to me about what was in it, and I did not ask. She did not sleep well that night, but next morning, when we started to work, she seemed all right. That is, she was all right until we got to the subway station, and then she told me to go on to the store, saying she would be there after awhile.
“I left her, and at her request explained to the manager of our floor that she would be late. From that time to this no one has seen her or heard of her. I don’t know where she could have gone,” and the girl burst into tears. “I’m sure something dreadful has happened to her.”
“Possibly an elopement?” Hatch suggested.
“No,” said the girl, quickly. “No. She was in love, but the man she was in love with has not heard of her either. I saw him the night after she disappeared. He called here and asked for her, and seemed surprised that she had not returned home, or had not been at work.”
“What’s his name?” asked Hatch.
“He’s a clerk in a bank,” said Miss Stanford. “His name is Willis—Victor Willis. If she had eloped with him I would not have been surprised, but I am positive she did not, and if she did not, where is she?”
“Were there any other admirers you know of?” Hatch asked.
“No,” said the girl, stoutly. “There may have been others who admired her, but none she cared for. She has told me too much—I—I know,” she faltered.
“How long have you known Mr. Willis?” asked Hatch.
The girl’s face flamed scarlet instantly.
“Only since I’ve known Grace,” she replied. “She introduced us.”
“Has Mr. Willis ever shown you any attention?”
“Certainly not,” Miss Stanford flashed, angrily. “All his attention was for Grace.”
There was the least trace of bitterness in the tone, and Hatch imagined he read it aright. Willis was a man whom both perhaps loved; it might be in that event that Miss Stanford knew more than she had said of the whereabouts of Grace Field. The next step was to see Willis.
“I suppose you’ll do everything possible to find Miss Field?” he asked.
“Certainly,” said the girl.
“Have you her photograph?”
“I have one, yes, but I don’t think—I don’t believe Grace——”
“Would like to have it published?” asked Hatch. “Possibly not, under ordinary circumstances—but now that she is missing it is the surest way of getting a trace of her. Will you give it to me?”
Miss Stanford was silent for a time. Then apparently she made up her mind, for she arose.
“It might be well, too,” Hatch suggested, “to see if you can find the letter you mentioned.”
The girl nodded and went out. When she returned she had a photograph in her hand; a glimpse of it told Hatch it was a bust picture of a woman in evening dress. The girl was studying a scrap of paper.
“What is it?” asked Hatch, quickly.
“I don’t know,” she responded. “I was searching for the letter when I remembered she frequently tore them up and dropped them into the waste‑basket. It had been emptied every day, but I looked and found this clinging to the bottom, caught between the cane.”
“May I see it?” asked the reporter.
The girl handed it to him. It was evidently a piece of a letter torn from the outer edge just where the paper was folded to put it into the envelope. On it were these words and detached letters, written in a bold hand:
Hatch’s eyes opened wide.
“Do you know the handwriting?” he asked.
The girl faltered an instant.
“No,” she answered, finally.
Hatch studied her face a moment with cold eyes, then turned the scrap of paper over. The other side was blank. Staring down at it he veiled a glitter of anxious interest.
“And the picture?” he asked, quietly.
The girl handed him the photograph. Hatch took it and as he looked it was with difficulty he restrained an exclamation of astonishment—triumphant astonishment. Finally, with his brain teeming with possibilities, he left the house, taking the photograph and the scrap of paper. Ten minutes later he was talking to his City Editor over the ’phone.
“It’s a great story,” he explained, briefly. “The missing girl is the mysterious model of St. George’s picture, ‘Fulfillment.’ ”
“Great,” came the voice of the City Editor.
HAVING laid his story before his City Editor, Hatch sat down to consider the fragmentary writing. Obviously “sday” represented a day of the week—either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, these being the only days where the letter “s” preceded the “day.” This seemed to be a definite fact, but still it meant nothing. True, Miss Field had last been seen on Wednesday, but then?—nothing.
To the next part of the fragment Hatch attached the greatest importance. It was the possibility of a threat, —“ill you.” Did it mean “kill you” or “will you” or “till you” or—or what? There might be dozens of other words ending in “ill” which he did not recall at the moment. His imagination hammered the phrase into his brain as “kill you.” The “to the”—the next words—were clear, but meant nothing at all. The last letters were distinctly “ho,” possibly “hope.”
Then Hatch began real work on the story. First he saw the bank clerk, Victor Willis, who Miss Stanford had said loved Grace Field, and whom Hatch suspected Miss Stanford loved. He found Willis a grim, sullen‑faced young man of twenty-eight years, who would say nothing.
From that point Hatch worked vigorously for several hours. At the end of that time he had found out that on Wednesday, the day of Miss Field’s disappearance, a veiled woman—probably Grace Field—had called at the bank and inquired for Willis. Later, Willis, urging necessity, had asked to be allowed the day off and left the bank. He did not appear again until next morning. His actions did not impress any of his associates with the idea that he was a bridegroom; in fact, Hatch himself had given up the idea that Miss Field had eloped. There seemed no reason for an elopement.
When Hatch called at the studio, and home, of Constans St. George, to inform him of the disappearance of the model whose identity had been so long guarded, he was told that Mr. St. George was not in; that is, St. George refused to answer knocks at the door, and had not been seen for a day or so. He frequently disappeared this way, his informant said.
With these facts—and lack of facts—in his possession on Friday evening, Hatch called on Professor S. F. X. Van Dusen. The Thinking Machine received him as cordially as he ever received anybody.
“Well, what is it?” he asked.
“I don’t believe this is really worth your while Professor,” Hatch said, finally. “It’s just a case of a girl who disappeared. There are some things about it which are puzzling, but I’m afraid it’s only an elopement.”
The Thinking Machine dragged up a footstool, planted his small feet on it comfortably and leaned back in his chair.
“Go on,” he directed.
Then Hatch told the story, beginning at the time when the picture was placed in the art museum, and continuing up to the point where he had seen Willis after finding the photograph and the scrap of paper. He had always found that it saved time to begin at the beginning with The Thinking Machine; he did it now as a matter of course.
“And the scrap of paper?” asked The Thinking Machine.
“I have it here,” replied the reporter.
For several minutes the scientist examined the fragment and then handed it back to the reporter.
“If one could establish some clear connection between that and the disappearance of the girl it might be valuable,” he said. “As it is now, it means nothing. Any number of letters might be thrown into the waste-basket in the room the two girls occupied, therefore dismiss this for the moment.”
“But isn’t it possible——” Hatch began.
“Anything is possible. Mr. Hatch,” retorted the other, belligerently. “You might take occasion to see the handwriting of St. George, the artist, and see if that is his—also look at Willis’s. Even if it were Willis’s, however, it may mean nothing in connection with this.”
“But what could have happened to Miss Field?”
“Any of fifty things,” responded the other. “She might have fallen dead in the street and been removed to a hospital or undertaking establishment; she might have been arrested for shoplifting and given a wrong name; she might have gone mad and gone away; she might have eloped with another man; she might have committed suicide; she might have been murdered. The question is not what could have happened, but what did happen.”
“Yes, I thoroughly understand that,” Hatch replied, with a slight smile. “But still I don’t see——”
“Probably you don’t,” snapped the other. “We’ll take it for granted that she did none of these things, with the possible exception of eloping, killing herself, or was murdered. You are convinced that she did not elope. Yet you have only run down one possible end of this—that is, the possibility of her elopement with Willis. You don’t believe she did elope with him. Well, why not with St. George?”
“St George?” gasped Hatch. “A great artist elope with a shop-girl?”
“She was his ideal in a picture which you say is one of the greatest in the world,” replied the other, testily. “That being true, it is perfectly possible that she was his ideal for a wife, isn’t it?”
The matter had not occurred to Hatch in just that light. He nodded his head, with a feeling of having been weighed and found wanting.
“Now, you say, too, that St. George has not been seen around his studio for a couple of days,” said the scientist. “What is more possible than that they are together somewhere?”
“I see,” said the reporter.
“It was understood, too, as I understand it, that St. George was in love with her,” went on The Thinking Machine. “So, I should imagine a solution of the mystery might be reached by taking St. George as the center of the affair. Suicide may be passed by for the moment, because she had no known motive for suicide—rather, if she loved Willis, she had every reason to live. Murder, too, may be passed for the moment—although there is a possibility that we might come back to that. Question St. George. He will listen if you make him, and then he must answer.”
“But his place is all closed up,” said Hatch. “It is supposed he is half crazy.”
“Possibly he might be,” said The Thinking Machine. “Or it is possible that he is keeping to his studio at work—or he might even be married to Miss Field and she might be there with him.”
“Well, I see no way to ascertain definitely that he is there,” said the reporter, and a puzzled wrinkle came into his face. “Of course I might remain on watch night and day to see if he comes out for food, or if anything to eat is sent in.”
“That would take too long, and besides it might not happen at all,” said The Thinking Machine. He arose and went into the adjoining room. He returned after a moment, and glanced at the clock on the mantel. “It is just nine o’clock now,” he commented. “How long would it take you to get to the studio?”
“Half an hour.”
“Well, go there now,” directed the scientist. “If Mr. St. George is in his studio he will come out of it to-night at thirty-two minutes past nine. He will be running, and may not wear either a hat or coat.”
“What?” and Hatch grinned, a weak, puzzled grin.
“You wait where he can’t see you when he comes out,” the scientist went on. “When he goes he may leave the door open. If he does go on see if you find any trace of Miss Field, and then, on his return, meet him at the outer door, ask him what you please, and come to see me to-morrow morning. He will be out of his studio about twenty minutes.”
Vaguely Hatch felt that the scientist was talking rot, but he had seen this strange mind bring so many odd things to pass that he could not doubt this, even if it were absurd on its face.
“At thirty-two minutes past nine to-night,” said the reporter, and he glanced at his watch.
“Come to see me to-morrow after you see the handwriting of Willis and St. George,” directed the scientist. “Then you may also tell me just what happens to-night.”
- • • • • •
Hatch was feeling like a fool. He was waiting in a darkened corner, just a few feet from St. George’s studio. It was precisely half-past nine o’clock. He had been there for seven minutes. What strange power was to bring St. George, who for two days had denied himself to everyone, out of that studio, if, indeed, he were there?
For the twentieth time Hatch glanced at his watch, which he had set with the little clock in The Thinking Machine’s home. Slowly the minute hand crept around, to 9:31, 9:31½, and he heard the door of the studio rattle. Then suddenly it was thrown open and St. George appeared.
Without a glance to right or left, hatless and coatless, he rushed out of the building. Hatch got only a glimpse of his face; his lips were pressed tightly together; there was a glint of madness in his eyes. He jerked at the door once, then ran through the hall and disappeared down the stairs leading to the street. The studio door stood open behind him.
WHEN the clatter of the running footsteps had died away and Hatch heard the outer door slam, he entered the studio, closing the door behind him. It was close here, and there was a breath of Chinese incense which was almost stifling. One quick glance by the light of an incandescent told Hatch that he stood in the reception-room. Typically, from floor to ceiling, the place was the abode of an artist; there was a rich gradation of color and everywhere were scraps of art and half-finished studies.
The reporter had given up the idea of solving the mystery of why St. George had so suddenly left his apartments; now he devoted himself to a quick, minute search of the place. He found nothing to interest him in the reception-room, and went on into the studio where the artist did his work.
Hatch glanced around quickly, his eyes taking in all the details, then went to a little table which stood, half-covered with newspapers. He turned these over, then bent forward suddenly and picked up—a woman’s glove. Beside it lay its mate. He stuffed them into his pocket.
Eagerly he sought now for anything that might come to hand. At last he reached another door, leading into the bedroom. Here on a large table was a chafing dish, many dishes which had not been washed, and all the other evidences of a careless man who did a great deal of his own cooking. There was a dresser here, too, a gorgeous, mahogany affair. Hatch didn’t stop to admire this because his eye was attracted by a woman’s veil which lay on it. He thrust it into his pocket.
“Quite a haul I’m making,” he mused, grimly.
From this room a door, half open, led into a bath-room. Hatch merely glanced in, then looked at his watch. Fifteen minutes had elapsed. He must get out, and he started for the outer door. As he opened it quietly and stepped into the hall he heard the street door open one flight below, and started down the steps. There, half way, he met St. George.
“Mr. St. George?” he asked.
“No,” was the reply.
Hatch knew his man perfectly, because he had seen him half a dozen times and had talked to him twice. The denial of identity therefore was futile.
“I came to tell you that Grace Field, the model for your ‘Fulfillment,’ has disappeared,” Hatch went on, as the other glared at him.
“I don’t care,” snapped the other. He darted up the steps. Hatch listened until he heard the door of the studio close.
It was ten minutes to ten o’clock when Hatch left the building. Now he would see Miss Stanford and have her identify the gloves and the veil. He boarded a car and drew out and closely examined the gloves and veil. The gloves were tan, rather heavy, but small, and the veil was of some light, cobwebby material which he didn’t know by name.
“If these are Grace Field’s,” the reporter argued, to himself, “it means something. If they are not, I’m simply a burglar.”
There was a light in the Dorchester house where Miss Stanford lived, and the reporter rang the bell. A servant appeared.
“Would it be possible for me to see Miss Stanford for just a moment?” he asked.
“If she has not gone to bed.”
He was ushered into the little parlor again. The servant disappeared, and after a moment Miss Stanford came in.
“I hated to trouble you so late,” said the reporter, and she smiled at him frankly, “but I would like to ask if you have ever seen these?”
He laid in her hands the gloves and the veil. Miss Stanford studied them carefully and her hands trembled.
“The gloves, I know, are Grace’s—the veil I am not so positive about,” she replied.
Hatch felt a great wave of exultation sweep over him, and it stopped his tongue for an instant.
“Did you—did you find them in Mr. Willis’s possession?” asked the girl.
“I am not at liberty to tell just where I found them,” Hatch replied. “If they are Miss Field’s—and you can swear to that, I suppose—it may mean that we have a clew.”
“Oh, I was afraid it would be this way,” gasped the girl, and she sank down weeping on a couch.
“Knew what would be which way?” asked Hatch, puzzled.
“I knew it! I knew it!” she sobbed. “Is there anything to connect Mr. Willis directly with the—the murder?”
The reporter started to say something, then paused. He wasn’t quite sure of himself. He had uncovered something, he didn’t know what yet.
“It would be better, Miss Stanford,” he explained, gently, “if you would tell me all you know about this affair. The things which are now in my possession are fragmentary—if you could give me any new detail it would be only serving the ends of justice.”
For a little while the girl was silent, then she arose and faced him.
“Is Mr. Willis yet under arrest?” she asked, calmly now.
“Not yet,” said the reporter.
“Then I will say nothing else,” she declared, and her lips closed in a straight line.
“What was the motive for murder?” Hatch, insisted.
“I will say nothing else,” she replied, firmly.
“And what makes you positive there was murder?”
“Good-night. You need not come again, for I will not see you.”
Miss Stanford turned and left the room. Hatch, sadly puzzled, bewildered, stood staring after her a moment, then went out, his brain alive with possibilities, with intangible ends which would not be connected. He was eager to lay the new facts before The Thinking Machine.
From Dorchester the reporter took a car for his home. In his room, with the tangible threads of the mystery spread out on a table, he thought and surmised far into the night, and when he finally replaced them all in his pocket and turned down the light it was with a hopeless shake of his head.
On the following morning when Hatch arose he picked up a paper and went to breakfast. He spread the paper before him and there—the first thing he saw—was a huge headline, stating that a burglar had entered the room of Constans St. George and had tried to kill Mr. St. George. A shot had been fired at him and had passed through his left arm.
Mr. St. George had been asleep when the door of his apartments was burst in by the thief. The artist arose at the noise, and as he stepped into the reception‑room had been shot. The wound was trivial. The burglar escaped; there was no clew.
IT was a long story of seemingly hopeless complications that Hatch told The Thinking Machine that morning. Nothing connected with anything, and yet here was a series of happenings, all apparently growing out of the disappearance of Miss Field, and which must have some relation one to the other. At the conclusion of the story, Hatch passed over the newspaper containing the account of the burglary in the studio. The artist had been removed to a hospital.
The Thinking Machine read the newspaper account and turned to the reporter with a question:
“Did you see Willis’s handwriting?”
“Not yet,” replied the reporter.
“See it at once,” instructed the other. “If possible, bring me a sample of it. Did you see St. George’s handwriting?”
“No,” the reporter confessed.
“See that and bring me a sample if you can. Find out first if Willis has a revolver now or has ever had. If so, see it and see if it is loaded or empty—its exact condition. Find out also if St. George has a revolver—and if he has one, get possession of it if it is in your power.”
The scientist twisted the two gloves and the veil which Hatch had given to him in his fingers idly, then passed them to the reporter again.
Hatch arose and stood waiting, hat in hand.
“Also find out,” The Thinking Machine went on, “the exact condition of St. George—his mental condition particularly. Find out if Willis is at his office in the bank to-day, and, if possible, where and how he spent last night. That’s all.”
“And Miss Stanford?” asked Hatch.
“Never mind her,” replied The Thinking Machine. “I may see her myself. These other things are of immediate consequence. The minute you satisfy yourself come back to me. Quickness on your part may prevent a tragedy.”
The reporter went away hurriedly. At four o’clock that afternoon he returned. The Thinking Machine greeted him; he held a piece of letter-paper in his hand.
“Well?” he asked.
“The handwriting is Willis’s,” said Hatch, without hesitation. “I saw a sample—it is identical, and the paper on which he writes is identical.”
The scientist grunted.
“I also saw some of St. George’s writing,” the reporter went on, as if he were reciting a lesson. “It is wholly dissimilar.”
The Thinking Machine nodded.
“Willis has no revolver that anyone ever heard of,” Hatch continued. “He was at dinner with several of his fellow employees last night, and left the restaurant at eight o’clock.”
“Might have had a few drinks,” responded the reporter. “He is not a drinking man.”
“Has St. George a revolver?”
“I was unable to find that out or do anything except get a sample of his writing from another artist,” the reporter explained. “He is in a hospital, raving crazy. It seems to be a return of the trouble he had once before, except it is worse. The wound itself is not bad.”
The scientist was studying the sheet of paper.
“Have you that scrap?” he asked.
Hatch produced it, and the scientist placed it on the sheet; Hatch could only conjecture that he was fitting it to something else already there. He was engaged in this work when Martha entered.
“The young lady who was here earlier to-day wants to see you again,” she announced.
“Show her in,” directed The Thinking Machine, without raising his eyes.
Martha disappeared, and after a moment Miss Stanford entered. Hatch, himself unnoticed, stared at her curiously, and arose, as did the scientist. The girl’s face was flushed a little, and there was an eager expression in her eyes.
“I know he didn’t do it,” she began. “I’ve just gotten a letter from Springfield stating that he was there on the day Grace went away—and——”
“Know who didn’t do what?” asked the scientist.
“That Mr. Willis didn’t kill Grace,” replied the girl, her enthusiasm suddenly checked. “See here.”
The scientist read a letter which she offered, and the girl sank into a chair. Then for the first time she saw Hatch and her eyes expressed her surprise. She stared at him a moment, then nodded a greeting, after which she fell to watching The Thinking Machine.
“Miss Stanford,” he said, at length, “you made several mistakes when you were here before in not telling me the truth—all of it. If you will tell me all you know of this case I may be able to see it more clearly.”
The girl reddened and stammered a little, then her lips trembled.
“Do you know—not conjecture, but know—whether or not Miss Field, or Grace, as you call her, was engaged to Willis?” the irritated voice asked.
“I—I know it, yes,” she stammered.
“And you were in love with Mr. Willis—you are in love with him?”
Again the tell-tale blush swept over her face. She glanced at Hatch; it was the nervousness of a girl who is driven to a confession of love.
“I regard Mr. Willis very highly,” she said, finally, her voice low.
“Well,” and the scientist arose and crossed to where the girl sat, “don’t you see that a very grave charge might be brought home to you if you don’t tell all of this? The girl has disappeared. There might be even a hint of murder in which your name would be mentioned. Don’t you see?”
There was a long pause, and the girl stared steadily into the squint eyes above her. Finally her eyes fell.
“I think I understand. Just what is it you want me to answer?”
“Did or did you not ever hear Mr. Willis threaten Miss Field?”
“I did once, yes.”
“Did or did you not know that Miss Field was the original of the painting?”
“I did not.”
“It is a semi-nude picture, isn’t it?”
Again there was a flush in the girl’s face.
“I have heard it was,” she said. “I have never seen it. I suggested to Grace several times that we go to see it, but she never would. I understand why now.”
“Did Willis know she was the original of that painting? That is, knowing it yourself now, do you have any reason to suppose that he previously knew?”
“I don’t know,” she said, frankly. “I know that there was something which was always causing friction between them—something they quarreled about. It might have been that. That was when I heard Mr. Willis threaten her—it was something about shooting her if she ever did something—I don’t know what.”
“Miss Field knew him before you did, I think you said?”
“She introduced me to him.”
The Thinking Machine fingered the sheet of paper he held.
“Did you know what those scraps of paper you brought me contained?”
“Yes, in a way,” said the girl.
“Why did you bring them, then?”
“Because you told me you knew I had them, and I was afraid it might make more trouble for me and for Mr. Willis if I did not.”
The Thinking Machine passed the sheet to Hatch.
“This will interest you, Mr. Hatch,” he explained. “Those words and letters in parentheses are what I have supplied to complete the full text of the note, of which you had a mere scrap. You will notice how the scrap you had fitted into it.”
The reporter read this:
“If you go to th(at stud)io Wednesday to see that artist, (I will k)ill you bec(ause I w)on’t have it known to the world that(t you a)re a model. I hope you will heed this warning. “V. W.”
The reporter stared at the patched-up letter, pasted together with infinite care, and then glanced at The Thinking Machine, who settled himself again comfortably in the chair.
“And now, Miss Stanford,” asked the scientist, in a most matter-of-fact tone, “where is the body of Miss Field?”
THE blunt question aroused the girl, and she arose suddenly, staring at The Thinking Machine. He did not move. She stood as if transfixed, and Hatch saw her bosom rise and fall rapidly with the emotion she was seeking to repress.
“Well?” asked The Thinking Machine.
“I don’t know,” flamed Miss Stanford, suddenly, almost fiercely. “I don’t even know she is dead. I know that Mr. Willis did not kill her, because, as that letter I gave you shows, he was in Springfield. I won’t be tricked into saying anything further.”
The outburst had no appreciable effect on The Thinking Machine beyond causing him to raise his eyebrows slightly as he looked at the defiant little figure.
“When did you last see Mr. Willis have a revolver?”
“I know nothing of any revolver. I know only that Victor Willis is innocent as you are, and that I love him. Whatever has become of Grace Field I don’t know.”
Tears leaped suddenly to her eyes, and, turning, she left the room. After a moment they heard the outer door slam as she passed out. Hatch turned to the scientist with a question in his eyes.
“Did you smell anything like chloroform or ether when you were in St. George’s apartments?” asked The Thinking Machine as he arose.
“No,” said Hatch. “I only noticed that the place seemed close, and there was an odor of Chinese incense—joss sticks—which was almost stifling.”
The Thinking Machine looked at the reporter quickly, but said nothing. Instead, he passed out of the room, to return a few minutes later with his hat and coat on.
“Where are we going?” asked Hatch.
“To St. George’s studio,” was the answer.
Just then the telephone bell in the next room rang. The scientist answered it in person.
“Your City Editor,” he called to Hatch.
Hatch went to the ’phone and remained there several minutes. When he came back there was a new excitement in his face.
“What is it?” asked the scientist.
“Another queer thing my City Editor told me,” Hatch responded. “Constans St. George, raving mad, has escaped from the hospital and disappeared.”
“Dear me, dear me!” exclaimed the scientist, quickly. It was as near surprise as he ever showed. “Then there is danger.”
With quick steps he went to the telephone and called up Police Headquarters.
“Detective Mallory,” Hatch heard him ask for. “Yes. This is Professor Van Dusen. Please meet me immediately here at my house. Be here in ten minutes? Good. I’ll wait. It’s a matter of great importance. Good-by.”
Then impatiently The Thinking Machine moved about, waiting. The reporter, whose acquaintance with the logician was an extended one, had never seen him in just such a state. It started when he heard St. George had escaped.
At last they left the house and stood waiting on the steps until Detective Mallory appeared in a cab. Into that Hatch and The Thinking Machine climbed, after the latter had given some direction, and the cabby drove rapidly away. It was all a mystery to Hatch, and he was rather glad of it when Detective Mallory asked what it meant.
“Means that there is danger of a tragedy,” said The Thinking Machine, crustily. “We may be in time to avert it. There is just a chance. If I’d only known this an hour ago—even half an hour ago—it might have been stopped.”
The Thinking Machine was the first man out of the cab when it stopped, and Hatch and the detective followed quickly.
“Is Mr. St. George in his apartments?” asked the scientist of the elevator boy.
“No, sir,” said the boy. “He’s in hospital, shot.”
“Is there a key to his place? Quick.”
“I think so, sir, but I can’t give it to you.”
“Here, give it to me, then!” exclaimed the detective. He flashed a badge in the boy’s eyes, and the youth immediately lost a deal of his coolness.
“Gee, a detective! Yes, sir.”
“How many rooms has Mr. St. George?” asked the scientist.
“Three and a bath,” the boy responded.
Two minutes later the three men stood in the reception-room of the apartments. There came to them from somewhere inside a deadly, stifling odor of chloroform. After one glance around The Thinking Machine rushed into the next room, the studio.
“Dear me, dear me!” he exclaimed.
There on the floor lay huddled the figure of a man. Blood had run from several wounds on his head. The Thinking Machine stooped a moment, and his slender fingers fumbled over the heart.
“Unconscious, that’s all,” he said, and he raised the man up.
“Victor Willis!” exclaimed Hatch.
“Victor Willis!” repeated The Thinking Machine, as if puzzled. “Are you sure?”
“Certain,” said Hatch, positively. “It’s the bank clerk.”
“Then we are too late,” declared the scientist.
He arose and looked about the room. A door to his right attracted his attention. He jerked it open and peered in. It was a clothes press. Another small door on the other side of the room was also thrown open. Here was as a kitchenette, with a great quantity of canned stuffs.
The Thinking Machine went on into the little bedroom which Hatch had searched. He flung open the bathroom and peered in, only to shut it immediately. Then he tried the handle of another door, a closet. It was fastened.
“Ah!” he exclaimed.
Then on his hands and knees he sniffed at the crack between the door and the flooring. Suddenly, as if satisfied, he arose and stepped away from the door.
“Smash that door in,” he directed.
Detective Mallory looked at him stupefied. There was a similar expression on Hatch’s face.
“What’s—what’s in there?” the detective asked.
“Smash it,” said the other, tartly. “Smash it, or God knows what you’ll find in there.”
The detective, a powerful man, and Hatch threw their weight against the door; it stood rigid. They pulled at the handle; it refused to yield.
“Lend me your revolver?” asked The Thinking Machine.
The weapon was in his hand almost before the detective was aware of it, and, placing the barrel to the keyhole, The Thinking Machine pulled the trigger. There was a resonant report, the lock was smashed and the detective put out his hand to open the door.
“Look out for a shot,” warned The Thinking Machine, sharply.
THE THINKING MACHINE drew Detective Mallory and Hatch to one side, out of immediate range of any person who might rush out, then pulled the closet door open. A cloud of suffocating fumes—the sweet, sickening odor of chloroform—gushed out, but there was no sound from inside. The detective looked at The Thinking Machine inquiringly.
Carefully, almost gingerly, the scientist peered around the edge of the door. What he saw did not startle him, because it was what he expected. It was Constans St. George lying prone on the floor as if dead, with a blood-spattered revolver clasped loosely in one hand; the other hand grasped the throat of a woman, a woman of superb physical beauty, who also lay with face upturned, staring glassily.
“Open the windows—all of them, then help me,” commanded the scientist.
As Detective Mallory and Hatch turned to obey the instructions, The Thinking Machine took the revolver from the inert fingers of the artist. Then Hatch and Mallory returned and together they lifted the unconscious forms toward a window.
“It’s Grace Field,” said the reporter.
In silence for half an hour the scientist labored over the unconscious forms of his three patients. The detective and reporter stood by, doing only what they were told to do. The wind, cold and stinging, came pouring through the windows, and it was only a few minutes until the chloroform odor was dissipated. The first of the three unconscious ones to show any sign of returning comprehension was Victor Willis, whose presence at all in the apartments furnished one of the mysteries which Hatch could not fathom.
It was evident that his condition was primarily due to the wounds on his head—two of which bled profusely. The chloroform had merely served to further deaden his mentality. The wounds were made with the butt of the revolver, evidently in the hands of the artist. Willis’s eyes opened finally and he stared at the faces bending over him with uncomprehending eyes.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You’re all right now,” was the scientist’s assuring answer. “This man is your prisoner, Detective Mallory, for breaking and entering and for the attempted murder of Mr. St. George.”
Detective Mallory was delighted. Here was something he could readily understand; a human being given over to his care; a tangible thing to put handcuffs on and hold. He immediately proceeded to put the handcuffs on.
“Any need of an ambulance?” he asked.
“No,” replied The Thinking Machine. “He’ll be all right in half an hour.”
Gradually as reason came back Willis remembered. He turned his head at last and saw the inert bodies of St. George and Grace Field, the girl whom he had loved.
“She was here, then!” he exclaimed suddenly, violently. “I knew it. Is she dead?”
“Shut up that young fool’s mouth, Mr. Mallory,” commanded the scientist, sharply. “Take him in the other room or send him away.”
Obediently Mallory did as directed; there was that in the voice of this cold, calm being, The Thinking Machine, which compelled obedience. Mallory never questioned motives or orders.
Willis was able to walk to the other room with help. Miss Field and St. George lay side by side in the cold wind from the open window. The Thinking Machine had forced a little whiskey down their throats, and after a time St. George opened his eyes.
The artist was instantly alert and tried to rise. He was weak, however, and even a strength given to him by the madness which blazed in his eyes did not avail. At last he lay raving, cursing, shrieking. The Thinking Machine regarded him closely.
“Hopeless,” he said, at last.
Again for many minutes the scientist worked with the girl. Finally he asked that an ambulance be sent for. The detective called up the City Hospital on the telephone in the apartments and made the request. The Thinking Machine stared alternately at the girl and at the artist.
“Hopeless,” he said again. “St. George, I mean.”
“Will the girl recover?” asked Hatch.
“I don’t know,” was the frank reply. “She’s been partly stupefied for days—ever since she disappeared, as a matter of fact. If her physical condition was as good as her appearance indicates she may recover. Now the hospital is the best place for her.”
It was only a few minutes before two ambulances came and the three persons were taken away; Willis a prisoner, and a sullen, defiant prisoner, who refused to speak or answer questions; St. George raving hideously and cursing frightfully; the woman, beautiful as a marble statue, and colorless as death.
When they had all gone, The Thinking Machine went back into the bedroom and examined more carefully the little closet in which he had found the artist and Grace Field. It was practically a padded cell, relatively six feet each way. Heavy cushions of felt two or three inches thick covered the interior of the little room closely. In the top of it there was a small aperture, which had permitted some of the fumes of the chloroform to escape. The place was saturated with the poison.
“Let’s go,” he said, finally.
Detective Mallory and Hatch followed him out and a few minutes later sat opposite him in his little laboratory. Hatch had told a story over the telephone that made his City Editor rejoice madly; it was news, great, big, vital news.
“Now, Mr. Hatch, I suppose you want some details,” said The Thinking Machine, as he relapsed into his accustomed attitude. “And you, too, Mr. Mallory, since you are holding Willis a prisoner on my say-so. Would you like to know why?”
“Sure,” said the detective.
“Let’s go back a little—begin at the beginning, where Mr. Hatch called on me,” said The Thinking Machine. “I can make the matter clearer that way. And I believe the cause of justice, Mr. Mallory, requires absolute accuracy and clarity in all things, does it not?”
“Sure,” said the detective again.
“Well, Mr. Hatch told me at some length of the preliminaries of this case,” explained The Thinking Machine. “He told me the history of the picture; the mystery as to the identity of the model; her great beauty; how he found her to be Grace Field, a shop-girl. He also told me of the mental condition of the artist, St. George, and repeated the rumor as he knew it about the artist being heartbroken because the girl—his model—would not marry him.
“All this brought the artist into the matter of the girl’s disappearance. She represented to him, physically, the highest ideal of which he could conceive—hope, success, life itself. Therefore it was not astonishing that he should fall in love with her; and it is not difficult to imagine that the girl did not fall in love with him. She is a beautiful woman, but not necessarily a woman of mentality; he is a great artist, eccentric, childish even in certain things. They were two natures totally opposed.
“These things I could see instantly. Mr. Hatch showed me the photograph and also the scrap of paper. At the time the scrap of paper meant nothing. As I pointed out, it might have no bearing at all, yet it made it necessary for me to know whose handwriting it was. If Willis’s, it still might mean nothing; if St. George’s, a great deal, because it showed a direct thread to him. There was reason to believe that any friendship between them had ended when the picture was exhibited.
“It was necessary, therefore, even that early in the work of reducing the mystery to logic to center it about St. George. This I explained to Mr. Hatch and pointed out the fact that the girl and the artist might have eloped—were possibly together somewhere. First it was necessary to get to the artist; Mr. Hatch had not been able to do so.
“A childishly simple trick, which seemed to amaze Mr. Hatch considerably, brought the artist out of his rooms after he had been there closely for two days. I told Mr. Hatch that the artist would leave his rooms, if he were there, one night at 9:32, and told him to wait in the hall, then if he left the door open to enter the apartments and search for some trace of the girl. Mr. St. George did leave his apartments at the time I mentioned, and——”
“But why, how?” asked Hatch.
“There was one thing in the world that St. George loved with all his heart,” explained the scientist. “That was his picture. Every act of his life has demonstrated that. I looked at a telephone book; I found he had a ’phone. If he were in his rooms, locked in, it was a bit of common sense that his telephone was the best means of reaching him. He answered the ’phone; I told him, just at 9:30, that the Art Museum was on fire and his picture in danger.
“St. George left his apartments to go and see, just as I knew he would, hatless and coatless, and leaving the door open. Mr. Hatch went inside and found two gloves and a veil, all belonging to Miss Field. Miss Stanford identified them and asked if he had gotten them from Willis, and if Willis had been arrested. Why did she ask these questions? Obviously because she knew, or thought she knew, that Willis had some connection with the affair.
“Mr. Hatch detailed all his discoveries and the conversation with Miss Stanford to me on the day after I ’phoned to St. George, who, of course, had found no fire. It showed that Miss Stanford suspected Willis, whom she loved, of the murder of Miss Field. Why? Because she had heard him threaten. He’s a hare-brained young fool, anyway. What motive? Jealousy. Jealousy of what? He knew in some way that she had posed for a semi‑nude picture, and that the man who painted it loved her. There is your jealousy. It explains Willis’s every act.”
The Thinking Machine paused a moment, then went on:
“This conversation with Mr. Hatch made me believe Miss Stanford knew more than she was willing to tell. In what way? By a letter? Possibly. She had given Mr. Hatch a scrap of a letter; perhaps she had found another letter, or more of this one. I sent her a note, telling her I knew she had these scraps of letters, and she promptly brought them to me. She had found them after Mr. Hatch saw her first somewhere in the house—in a bureau drawer she said, I think.
“Meanwhile, Mr. Hatch had called my attention to the burglary of St. George’s apartments. One reading of that convinced me that it was Willis who did this. Why? Because burglars don’t burst in doors when they think anyone is inside; they pick the lock. Knowing, too, Willis’s insane jealousy, I figured that he would be the type of man who would go there to kill St. George if he could, particularly if he thought the girl was there.
“Thus it happened that I was not the only one to think that St. George knew where the girl was. Willis, the one most interested, thought she was there. I questioned Miss Stanford mercilessly, trying to get more facts about the young man from her which would bear on this, trying to trick her into some statement, but she was loyal to the last.
“All these things indicated several things. First, that Willis didn’t actually know where the girl was, as he would have known had he killed her; second, that if she had disappeared with a man, it was St. George, as there was no other apparent possibility; third, that St. George would be with her or near her, even if he had killed her; fourth, the pistol shot through the arm had brought on again a mental condition which threatened his entire future, and now as it happens has blighted it.
“Thus, Miss Field and St. George were together. She loved Willis devotedly, therefore she was with St. George against her will, or she was dead. Where? In his rooms? Possibly. I determined to search there. I had just reached this determination when I heard St. George, violently insane, had escaped from the hospital. He had only one purpose then—to get to the woman. Then she was in danger.
“I reasoned along these lines, rushed to the artist’s apartments, found Willis there wounded. He had evidently been there searching when St. George returned, and St. George had attacked him, as a madman will, and with the greater strength of a madman. Then I knew the madman’s first step. It would be the end of everything for him; therefore the death of the girl and his own. How? By poison preferably, because he would not shoot her—he loved beauty too much. Where? Possibly in the place where she had been all along, the closet, carefully padded and prepared to withstand noises. It is really a padded cell. I have an idea that the artist, sometimes overcome by his insane fits, and knowing when they would come, prepared this closet and used it himself occasionally. Here the girl could have been kept and her shrieks would never have been heard. You know the rest.”
The Thinking Machine stopped and arose, as if to end the matter. The others arose, too.
“I took you, Mr. Mallory, because you were a detective, and I knew I could force a way into the apartments which I imagined would be locked. I think that’s all.”
“But how did the girl get there?” asked Hatch.
“St. George evidently asked her to come, possibly to pose again. It was a gratification to the girl to do this—a little touch of vanity caused her to pose in the first place. It was this vanity that Willis was fighting so hard, and which led to his threats and his efforts to kill St. George. Of course the artist was insane when she came; his frantic love for her led him to make her a prisoner and hold her against her will. You saw how well he did it.”
There was an awed pause. Hatch was rubbing the nap of his hat against his sleeve, thoughtfully. Detective Mallory had nothing to say; it was all said. Both turned as if to go, but the reporter had two more questions.
“I suppose St. George’s case is hopeless?”
“Absolutely. It will end in a few months with his death.”
“And Miss Field?”
“If she is not dead by this time she will recover. Wait a minute.” He went into the next room and they heard the telephone bell jingle. After a time he came out. “She will recover,” he said. “Good-afternoon.”
Wonderingly, Hutchinson Hatch, reporter, and Detective Mallory passed down the street together.
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