Monsieur Jean Saint Rocheville lived by his wits, and, being rather witty, he lived rather well. In the beginning he hadn’t been Monsieur Jean St. Rocheville at all. Born Jones, christened James Aloysius, nicknamed Jimmie, he had been, first, a pickpocket. Sheer ability lifted him above that; and it came to pass that he graduated from all the cruder professions—second-story work, burglary, and what not—until now, when we meet him, he was a social brigand famous under many names.
For instance, in two cities of the West he was being industriously sought as Wilhelm Van Der Wyde, and was described as of the æsthetic, musical type—young, thick-spectacled, clean-shaven, long-haired, and pale blond, speaking English badly and profusely.
In New York, the police knew him as Hubert Montgomery Wade, card sharp and utterer of worthless checks; and described him as taciturn, past middle age, with fluffy, iron-gray hair, full iron-gray beard, and a singularly pallid face. As we see him, he seemed about thirty, slim, elegant, aristocratic of feature, with close-cut brown hair, carefully waxed mustache, and a suggestion of an imperial. Also, he spoke English with a slight accent.
Monsieur St. Rocheville was smiling as he strode through the spacious estate of Idlewild, whipping his light cane in the early-morning air of a balmy June day. On the whole, he had little to complain of in the way the world was wagging. True, he had failed, at his first attempt, to possess himself of the superb diamond necklace of his hostess, Mrs. Wardlaw Browne; but it had not been a discreditable failure; there had been no unpleasant features connected therewith, no exposure; not even a shadow of suspicion. Perhaps, after all, he had been hasty. His invitation had several weeks to run; and meanwhile here were all the luxuries of a splendid country place at his command—motors, horses, tennis, golf, to say nothing of a house full of charming women and several execrable players of auction, who insisted on gambling for high stakes. And auction, Monsieur St. Rocheville might have said, was his middle name.
Idly meditating upon all these pleasant things, St. Rocheville dropped down upon a seat in the shade of a hedge overlooking the rose garden, lighted a cigarette, and fell to watching the curious evolutions of three great velvet-black birds swimming in the air above him. Now they rose in a vast spiral, up, up until they were mere specks against the blue void, only to drop sheerly almost to the earth before their wings stayed them; now with motionless pinions, floating away in immense circles; again darting hither and yon swiftly as an arrow flies, weaving strange patterns in the air. Something here for the Wright brothers to learn, Monsieur St. Rocheville thought lazily.
Came finally an odd whistle from the direction of the house behind him. The three birds swooped down with a rush and vanished beyond the hedge. Curiously St. Rocheville peered through the thick-growing screen. On a second-story balcony stood a girl with one of the birds perched upon each shoulder, and the third at rest on her hand.
“Well, by George!” exclaimed St. Rocheville.
As he looked, the girl flipped something into the air. The birds dived for it simultaneously, immediately returning to their perches. Fascinated, he looked on as the trick was repeated. So this was she, to whom he had heard some one refer as the Jackdaw Girl—the young lady he had caught staring at him so oddly the night before, just after her arrival. He had been introduced to her between rubbers—a charming, piquant wisp of a creature, with big, innocent eyes and cameo features, much given to gay little bursts of laughter. Her name? Oh, yes. Fayerwether—Drusila Fayerwether.
St. Rocheville ventured into the open. Miss Fayerwether smiled, and flung a titbit of some sort directly at his feet. The birds came for it like huge black projectiles. Involuntarily he took a step backward. She laughed.
“They won’t hurt you, really,” she assured him mockingly. “They are quite tame. Let me show you.” She held aloft a slice of toast; the powerful black wings quivered expectantly. “No,” she commanded. The toast fell at St. Rocheville’s feet. Neither of the birds stirred. “Hold it in your left hand,” she directed. Mechanically the astonished young man obeyed. “Extend your right and keep it steady.” He did so. “Now, Blitz!”
It was a command. The bird from her left shoulder, the largest of the three, came hurtling toward St. Rocheville with a shrill scream. For an instant the giant wings beat about his ears, then the talons closed on his right hand in no gentle grip, and man and bird stared at each other. To the young man there was something evil and cruel in the beady, fixed eyes; in the poise of the head on the glistening, snakelike neck; in the merciless claws. And, gad, what a beak! It was a thing to tear with, to mutilate, destroy.
St. Rocheville shuddered. The whole performance was creepy and uncanny. It chilled his blood. It seemed out of all proportion, this exquisite, dainty, pink-and-white girl, and the sinister, somber, winged things——
He drew a breath of relief when Blitz, having solemnly gobbled up his toast, flew away to his mistress.
“They are my pets,” she said affectionately. “Aren’t they beautiful? Blitz and Jack and Jill I call them.”
“Strange pets they are, mademoiselle,” remarked St. Rocheville gravely. “How did you come to choose them?”
“Why, I’ve known them always,” she replied. “Blitz here is old enough, and I dare say wise enough, to be my grandfather. He is nearly sixty, and was in my family thirty-five years before I was born. He used to stalk solemnly around my cradle like a soldier on guard, and swear dreadfully. He talks a little when he will—half a dozen words or so. Jack and Jill are younger. From their conduct, I should say they haven’t yet reached the age of discretion.”
“Would you mind telling me,” he questioned curiously, “how a person would proceed to tame a—a flock of flying machines like that?”
“Sugar,” replied Miss Fayerwether tersely. “They will do anything for sugar.”
“Sugar!” Blitz screamed harshly, ruffling his silky plumage. “Sugar!”
Monsieur St. Rocheville went away to keep a tennis engagement. Miss Fayerwether disappeared into her room, leaving the three birds perched on the rail of the balcony. On the court, Rex Miller was waiting for St. Rocheville with a question:
“Meet the new girl last night? Miss Fayerwether?”
“They say she’s a bird charmer,” Rex went on. “She charmed me, all right. Gad, I always knew I was a bird!”
In his own apartments again, St. Rocheville, hot from his exertions on the tennis court, was preparing for a cold plunge, when Blitz fluttered in at the window and perched himself familiarly on the back of a chair.
“Hello!” said St. Rocheville.
“Hello!” Blitz replied promptly.
Astonished, the young man burst out laughing—a laugh which died under the steady glare of the beady eyes. Again, for some unaccountable reason, he was possessed of that singular feeling off horror he had felt at first. He shook it off impatiently and entered the bathroom, leaving Blitz in possession.
He returned just in time to see the big bird darting through the window with something bright dangling from the powerful beak. He knew instantly what it was—his watch! He had left it on a table, and the bird had taken advantage of his absence to steal it. He started toward the window on a run; but, struck by a sudden thought, he stopped, and stood staring into the open, the while he permitted an idea to seep in. Finally he dropped into a chair, his agile mind teeming with possibilities.
Suppose—just suppose—Blitz had been taught to steal? Absurd, of course! Blitz was probably an upright, moral enough bird according to his own lights; but couldn’t he be taught to steal? Either Blitz or another bird like him? He had heard somewhere that magpies would filch any glittering thing and secrete it. Why not jackdaws? Weren’t they the same thing, after all? He didn’t know.
A tame bird, properly trained, cunning, wary, with an innate faculty of making acquaintances, and powerful on the wing!
St. Rocheville forgot all about his watch in contemplation of a new idea. By George, it was worth an experiment, anyway!
There was a light tapping at his door.
“Monsieur St. Rocheville!” some one called.
“Yes?” he answered.
“It is I, Miss Fayerwether. I think I have your watch here. One of my birds came in my window with it from this direction. Your window was open, so I imagine he—he stole it.”
St. Rocheville pulled his bath robe about him and peered out. Miss Fayerwether, with disturbed face, held the watch toward him—the great, solemn-looking bird was perched upon one shoulder.
“Hello!” Blitz greeted him socially.
“It is my watch, yes,” said St. Rocheville. “Blitz paid me a visit and took it away with him.”
“Naughty, naughty!” and Miss Fayerwether shook one rosy finger under the bird’s nose. “He embarrasses me awfully sometimes,” she confided. “I can’t keep him confined all the time; and he has a trick of picking up any bright thing and bringing it to me.”
“Please don’t let it disturb you,” St. Rocheville begged. “As for you, Monsieur Blitz, I’ll keep my eye on you.”
Miss Fayerwether vanished down the hall, scolding.
So Blitz had a trick of picking up bright things, eh? Monsieur St. Rocheville was pleased to know it. It was only a question, then, of training the bird to bring the thing he picked up to the right place. Assuredly here was an experiment worth while. In failure or success he was safe. No sane person could blame him for the immoral acts of a bird.
St. Rocheville seemed to have conquered his aversion to Blitz and Jack and Jill, for during the next week he spent hours with them; and hours, too, with their charming mistress. Sometimes he would play games with the birds—curious games—always in the absence of Miss Fayerwether. He would toss bright bits of glass, or even a finger ring, into the grass, or into the open window of his room, and the birds would go hurtling off to search. At length they came to know that there would be a lump of sugar for each on their return, with two pieces for the bird who brought the ring. St. Rocheville found it an absorbing game. He played it for hour after hour, for day after day.
All these things immediately preceded the first public knowledge of that series of robberies within a district of which Idlewild was the center. Miss Fayerwether, it seemed, was the first victim. She had either lost, or mislaid, she said, a diamond and ruby bracelet, and asked Mrs. Wardlaw Browne to have her servants look for it. She pooh-poohed the idea of theft. She had been careless, that was all. Yes, the bracelet was quite valuable; but it would doubtless come to light. She wouldn’t have mentioned it at all except for the fact that it was an heirloom.
This politely phrased request opened the floodgates of revelation. Rex Miller had lost a rare scarab stickpin; the elderly Mrs. Scott was minus three valuable rings and an aquamarine hair ornament; Claudia Chanoler had been robbed of a rope of pearls worth thousands—robbed was the word she used; an emerald cameo, the property of Agatha Blalock, was missing. Following closely upon these mysterious happenings came word to Mrs. Wardlaw Browne of similar happening at the near-by estates of friends. A dozen valuable trinkets had vanished from the Willows where the Melville Pages had a house party; and at Sagamore, Mrs. Willets was bewailing the loss of an emerald bracelet which represented a small fortune.
The explosion came the night Mrs. Wardlaw Browne’s diamond necklace was stolen. There had been an unpleasant scene of some sort in the card room. Rex Miller seemed to think that there was more than luck in the cards Monsieur St. Rocheville held; and he intimated as much. All things considered, Monsieur St. Rocheville behaved superbly. Being the only winner at the table, he tore the score into bits, and it fluttered to the floor. The other gentlemen understood that he disdained to accept money so long as a doubt remained. So the game ended abruptly, and they joined the ladies in the drawing-room. Ten minutes later Mrs. Wardlaw Browne’s necklace vanished utterly.
So ultimately it came to pass that The Thinking Machine—more properly, Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph. D., F. R. S., M. D., LL. D., et cetera, et cetera, logician, analyst, and master mind in the sciences—turned his crabbed genius upon the problem. He consented to do so at the request of Hutchinson Hatch, newspaper reporter; and, singularly enough, it was Monsieur Jean St. Rocheville in person who brought the matter to the reporter’s attention. Together they went to The Thinking Machine.
“You know,” St. Rocheville took the trouble to explain, “every time I read of a robbery of this sort, either in a newspaper or in fiction, some foreign nobleman is always the villain in the piece.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It is an honor I do not desire.”
“You are a nobleman, then?” queried The Thinking Machine. The narrowed, pale-blue, squinting eyes were fixed tensely upon the young man’s face.
“No.” St. Rocheville smiled.
“Extraordinary,” murmured the little scientist. “And who are you?”
“My father and my father’s father are bankers in France.” St. Rocheville lied gracefully. “The situation at Idlewild is——”
“Where?” The Thinking Machine interrupted curtly.
“I mean, where is your father a banker?”
“In what capacity? What’s his position?”
The Thinking Machine nodded his satisfaction and dropped his enormous head, with its thick, straw-colored thatch, back against the chair comfortably, his slim fingers coming to rest precisely tip to tip. Monsieur St. Rocheville stared at him curiously. Obviously here was a person who was not to be trifled with. However, he felt he had passed his preliminary examination, unexpected as it was, with great credit. Not once had he forgotten his dialect; not for a fraction of a second had he hesitated in answering the abrupt questions. Ability to lie readily is a great convenience.
“Now,” The Thinking Machine commanded, his squinting eyes turned upward, “what happened at Idlewild?”
Inadvertently or otherwise, St. Rocheville failed to refer, even remotely, to the three great velvet-black birds—Blitz and Jack and Jill—in his narrative of events at Idlewild. It was rather a chronological statement of the thefts as they had been reported, with no suggestion as to the manner in which they might have been committed.
“Now,” and St. Rocheville spoke slowly, as one who wanted to be certain of his words, “I come down to those things which happened immediately before the disappearance of Mrs. Wardlaw Browne’s necklace. Frankly my own statement will place me in rather a compromising position—that is, my real motive may not be understood—but it is better that I should tell you in the beginning things that you will surely find out.”
“Decidedly better,” The Thinking Machine agreed dryly. He didn’t alter his position.
“Well, you must know that at Idlewild the men play auction a great deal, and——”
“Auction?” The Thinking Machine repeated. “What is auction, Mr. Hatch?”
“Auction bridge,” the reporter told him. “A game of cards—a variation of whist.”
Monsieur St., Rocheville stared from the wizened little scientist to the reporter incredulously. He would not have believed a person could have lived in a civilized country and not know what auction was. Perhaps he wouldn’t have believed, either, that The Thinking Machine never read a newspaper. So circumscribed is our own viewpoint.
“At Idlewild the men play auction a great deal,” The Thinking Machine prompted. “Go on.”
“Auction, yes,” St. Rocheville resumed. “It happens sometimes that the stakes are rather high. On the night Mrs. Wardlaw Browne’s necklace was stolen, four of us were playing in the card room—a Mr. Gordon and myself as partners against a Mr. Miller and Franklin Chanoler, the financier.” He hesitated slightly. “Mr. Miller had been losing, and in a burst of temper he intimated that—that I—that I—er——”
“Had been cheating,” The Thinking Machine supplied crabbedly. “Go on.”
“As a result of that little unpleasantness,” St. Rocheville continued, “the game ended, and we joined the ladies. Now, please understand that it is not my wish to retaliate upon Mr. Miller. I have explained my motive—I don’t want to be made a scapegoat. I do want the actual facts to come out.” Some subtle change passed across his face. “Mr. Miller,” he said measuredly, “stole Mrs. Wardlaw Browne’s necklace!”
“Miller,” Hatch repeated. “Do you mean Rex Miller?”
“That’s his name, yes—Rex Miller.”
“Rex Miller? The son of John W. Miller, the millionaire?” Hatch came to his feet excitedly.
“Rex Miller is his name, yes,” St. Rocheville shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, that’s impossible!” Hatch declared.
“Nothing is impossible, Mr. Hatch,” interrupted The Thinking Machine tartly. “Sit down. You annoy me.” He shifted his pale-blue eyes, and squinted at Monsieur St. Rocheville through his thick spectacles. “How do you know Mr. Miller stole the necklace?”
“I saw him slip it into the pocket of his dress coat,” St. Rocheville declared flatly. “Naturally, I had an idea that, when he drew Mrs. Wardlaw Browne aside immediately after we came out of the card room, it was his intention to—to denounce me as a card sharp. You may imagine that I was watching them both closely, because my honor was at stake. I wanted to see how she took it. It seems that he said nothing whatever to her about the card game; but he did steal the necklace. I saw him hiding it.”
Fell a long silence. With inscrutable face The Thinking Machine sat staring at the ceiling. Twice St. Rocheville shifted his position uneasily. He was wondering if his story had been convincing. Adroit mixture of truth and falsehood that it was, he failed to see a single defect in it. Hatch, too, was staring curiously at the scientist.
“I understand perfectly your hesitation in going into details,” said The Thinking Machine at last. “Under all the circumstances your motive might be misconstrued; but I think you have made me understand.” He rose suddenly. “That’s all,” he said. “I’ll look into the matter to-morrow.”
Monsieur St. Rocheville was about to take his departure, when The Thinking Machine stopped him for a last question.
“You used a phrase just now,” he said. “I am anxious to get it exactly—something about your father and your father’s father——”
“Oh! I said”—Monsieur St. Rocheville obliged—“that my father and my father’s father were bankers in Paris.”
“That’s it,” said the little scientist. “Thanks. Good day.”
Monsieur St. Rocheville went out. The Thinking Machine scribbled something on a sheet of paper and handed it to the reporter.
“Attend to that when you get to your office,” he directed. Hatch read it, and his eyes opened wide. “Also, do you happen to know a native Frenchman who speaks perfect English?”
“I do; yes.”
“Look him up, and ask him to repeat the phrase, ‘My father and my father’s father.’ ”
“Why?” inquired the reporter blankly.
“When he says it you’ll know why. Immediately this other matter is attended to come back here.”
Monsieur St. Rocheville’s troubled meditations were disturbed by the appearance of Miss Fayerwether around a bend in the walk. Fluttering about her were her pets, Blitz and Jack and Jill. One after another they would swoop down, gobble up a beakful of sugar from her open hand, then sail off in a circle. There was something in the sight of Miss Fayerwether to dispel troubled meditations. She was gowned in a filmy white, clinging stuff, with a wide, flapping sun hat, her cheeks glowing with the sun’s reflection, her big, innocent eyes repeating the marvelous blue of the sky.
Monsieur St. Rocheville, at sight of her, arose, bowed formally, and made way for her beside him. She sat down, to be instantly submerged in a fluttering cloud of black wings.
“Go away,” she ordered. “I have no more sugar. See?” and she extended her empty hands.
The giant birds wandered off seeking what they might find; and for a time the girl and the young man sat silent. Twice Miss Fayerwether’s eyes sought St. Rocheville’s; twice she caught him staring straight into her face.
“Detectives were here to-day,” she remarked at last.
“Yes, I know,” said St. Rocheville.
“They had a long talk with Mrs. Wardlaw Browne, and insisted on searching the house—that is, the rooms of the guests—but she would not permit it.”
“She made a mistake.”
“You mean that some one of the guests——”
“I mean there is a thief here somewhere,” said St. Rocheville; “and he should be unmasked.” (And this from Jimmie Jones, erstwhile pickpocket, burglar, and what not—Jimmie Jones, alias Wilhelm Van Der Wyde, alias Hubert Montgomery Wade, alias Jean St. Rocheville.) “I am willing for them to search my room; you are willing for them to search your room—the others should be.”
The young man’s lips were tightly set; there was an uncompromising glint in his eyes. His simulation had been so perfect that even he was feeling the righteous indignation of the hopelessly moral. Whatever else he felt didn’t appear at the moment. Miss Fayerwether was gazing dreamily into the void.
“Have you ever been to Chicago?” she queried irrelevantly at last.
“No,” said Monsieur St. Rocheville. As a matter of fact, Chicago was one of the cities in which there was being made even then an industrious search for Wilhelm Van Der Wyde.
“Or Denver?” the girl continued dreamily.
That was another city in which Wilhelm Van Der Wyde was badly wanted. Monsieur St. Rocheville turned upon Miss Fayerwether suspiciously.
“No,” he declared. “Why?”
“No reason—I was merely curious,” she replied carelessly. And then again irrelevantly: “Nothing has been stolen from you?”
For answer, St. Rocheville held out his left hand. A heavy diamond solitaire which he usually wore on his little finger was missing. The print of the ring on the flesh was still visible.
“Oh!” exclaimed Miss Fayerwether; and again: “Oh!” She looked startled. St. Rocheville didn’t recall that he had ever seen just such an expression before. “When was your ring stolen? How?”
“I removed it when I got into my bath,” St. Rocheville explained. “My window was closed, but my door was unlocked. When I came out of the bath the ring had disappeared—that’s all.”
“Well”—and there was a flash of indignation in the girl’s eyes—“you can’t blame that on Blitz, anyway.”
“I’m not trying to,” said St. Rocheville. “I said my window was closed. My door was closed but unlocked. I don’t think Blitz can open a door, can he?”
Miss Fayerwether didn’t answer. Once she was almost on the point of saying something further; and, for an instant, there was mute appeal in the innocent eyes as her slim white hand lay on the young man’s arm. Then she changed her mind and went on to her room, the birds fluttering along after.
Strange thoughts came to Monsieur St. Rocheville. The light touch on his arm had thrilled him curiously. He found himself staring off moodily in the direction of her window. Also he caught himself remembering the marvelous blue of her eyes! He didn’t recall at the moment that he had ever noticed the color of any one’s eyes before.
’Twas an hour after dinner when The Thinking Machine, accompanied by Detective Mallory, the bright light of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and one of his satellites, Blanton by name, with Hutchinson Hatch trailing, appeared at Idlewild. It may have been mere accident that St. Rocheville met them as they stepped out of the automobile.
“I neglected to tell you,” he remarked to the scientist, “that young Miller has been losing heavily at auction of late; and I hear that he has had some sort of a row with his father about his allowance.”
“I understand,” The Thinking Machine nodded.
“Also,” St. Rocheville ran on, “there has been at least one other theft here since I saw you. A diamond ring of mine was stolen from my room while I was in the bath. I wouldn’t venture to say who took it.”
“I know,” The Thinking Machine assured him curtly. “I will have it in my hand in ten minutes.”
Indignant at the intrusion of the police in what she was pleased to term her personal affairs—the detectives who had been there before were from a private agency—Mrs. Wardlaw Browne bustled into the room where The Thinking Machine and his party waited. Monsieur St. Rocheville effaced himself.
“Pray what does this mean?” Mrs. Wardlaw Browne demanded.
“It means, madam, that we have a search warrant, and intend to go through your house, if necessary.” The Thinking Machine informed her crustily. Through the half-open door he caught a glimpse of a slender figure—a mere wisp of a girl with big, wonder-stuck eyes. “Mallory, close that door. You, madam,”—this to Mrs. Wardlaw Browne—“can assist us by answering a few questions.”
Mrs. Wardlaw Browne was of the tall, gaunt, haughty type; thin to scrawniness, enormously rich, and possessed of all the arrogance that riches bring. She studied the faces of the four men contemptuously; then, with a little resigned expression, sat down.
“Just how did you lose your necklace?” The Thinking Machine began abruptly. “Did you drop it? Was it taken from your neck? Are you sure you had it on?”
“I know I had it on,” was the reply. “I did not drop it. It was taken from my neck.”
“Did you, by any chance, wear a low-neck gown on the evening it was taken?” The little scientist’s squinting eyes were fixed upon her tensely.
“I never wear décolleté,” came the frigid response.
With his great head pillowed upon the back of his chair, his thin fingers tip to tip, and his eyes turned upward, The Thinking Machine sat in silence for a minute or more, the while tiny, cobwebby lines appeared in his domelike brow.
“Can you,” he inquired finally, “summon a servant without leaving this room?”
“There is a bell, yes.” Mrs. Wardlaw Browne was forgetting to be haughty in a certain fascination which grew upon her as she gazed at this little man.
“Will you ring it, please?”
Mrs. Wardlaw Browne arose, touched a button, and sat down again. A moment later a footman entered.
“Tell Mr. Rex Miller,” The Thinking Machine directed, “that Mrs. Wardlaw Browne would like to see him immediately in this room.”
The footman bowed and withdrew. Followed an interminable wait—interminable, at least, to Detective Mallory, who impatiently clicked his handcuffs together. Mrs. Wardlaw Browne yawned to hide the curiosity that was consuming her.
The door opened, and Rex Miller entered. He stood for a moment staring at the silent party, and finally:
“Did you send for me, Mrs. Browne?”
“I did,” said The Thinking Machine. “Sit down, please.” Rex sank into a chair mechanically. “Mr. Blanton”—the scientist neither raised his voice nor lowered his eyes—“you will undertake to see that Mr. Miller doesn’t leave this room. Mr. Mallory, you will search Mt. Miller’s apartments. Somewhere there you will find Mrs. Wardlaw Browne’s diamond necklace; also a man’s diamond ring.”
Rex came to his feet with writhing hands, a thundercloud in his face. Mrs. Wardlaw Browne burst into inarticulate expostulations. Blanton drew a revolver and laid it across his knee. Mallory bustled out. Hatch merely waited. Silence came; a silence so tense, so strained that Mrs. Wardlaw Browne was tempted to scream. At last there were footsteps, the door from the hall was thrown open, and Mallory, triumphant, appeared.
“I have them,” he announced grimly. The necklace, a radiant, glittering thing, was dangling from one finger. The ring lay in his open palm. “And now, Mr. Rex Miller”—he fished out his handcuffs and started toward the young man—“if you’ll hold out your——”
“Oh, sit down, Mallory!” commanded The Thinking Machine impatiently.
Loitering in a hallway, where he could keep an eye on the stairs leading from the lower part of the house, Monsieur St. Rocheville saw Miss Fayerwether creep stealthily up, silent-footed, chalk-white of face, and come racing toward him across the heavy velvet carpet. For the reason that she would surely see him, he walked toward her, amazed and a little perturbed at something in her manner.
“What’s the matter?” inquired St. Rocheville calmly.
“Oh, it’s you!” Miss Fayerwether’s hand flew to her heart. She was frightened, gasping. “Nothing!”
“But something must be the matter,” he insisted. “You are white as a sheet.”
With an apparent effort the girl regained control of herself, and stood staring at him mutely. ’Twas in that moment that Monsieur St. Rocheville saw for the first time some strange, new expression in the big, innocent eyes—they seemed to grow hard, worldly, all-wise even as he looked.
“There are detectives in the house,” she said.
“I know it. What about it?”
“They have a warrant, and intend to search every room.”
“Well?” St. Rocheville refused to get excited about it.
“Including, I imagine, yours and mine.”
“I’m willing. I dare say you are.”
For an instant the girl’s self-possession seemed to desert her completely. Her eyes closed as if in pain, and she swayed a little. St. Rocheville thrust out an arm protectingly. When she lifted her face again St. Rocheville read terror therein.
“If—if they search my room,” she faltered, “I—I am lost!”
“How? Why? What do you mean?”
“I don’t know that I could make any one else understand,” she went on swiftly. “The birds, you know—Blitz and Jack and Jill. You saw, and I explained to you, a trick they have of—of thieving; stealing bright things.”
She stopped. In his impatience St. Rocheville seized her by the arm and shook her soundly.
“Well?” he demanded.
“Nearly every jewel that has been stolen is hidden now in my room,” she confessed. “I knew nothing of it until yesterday, when I came across them. Then, after all the excitement about the thefts, I was afraid to return the things, and I could think of no way to proceed. So, you see, if they search my room it will——”
St. Rocheville was possessed of an agile mind; resourceful as it was agile. Suddenly he remembered two questions the girl had asked the day before—questions about Chicago and Denver. His teeth snapped. He thrust out a hand, and, opening the nearest door—he didn’t happen to know whose room it was—he dragged her in, and turned on the electric light. Then their eyes met squarely.
“You are the thief, then?” he demanded. “Don’t lie to me! You are the thief?”
“The things are in my room.” She was sobbing a little. “The birds——”
“You are the thief!” There was a curious note of exultation in his voice. “And you do know something about Chicago and Denver?”
“I know that you are Wilhelm Van Der Wyde,” she flashed defiantly. “I recognized you at once. I saw you in old Charles’ ‘fence’ there once when you were not aware of it. I could never be mistaken in your eyes.”
Monsieur St. Rocheville laughed blithely; came a faint answering smile, and he gathered her into his arms.
“I’ve always needed a partner,” he said.
“Mr. Miller,” The Thinking Machine was saying placidly, “isn’t the thief at all.” He raised his hand to still a clamor of ejaculation. “Monsieur Rocheville, so called, stole the necklace, at least, and concealed it, with a ring from his own finger, in Mr. Miller’s apartment.” Again he raised his hand. “Mr. Miller caught Monsieur St. Rocheville cheating at cards, and practically denounced him. Monsieur St. Rocheville took his revenge by undertaking to fasten the jewel thefts upon Mr. Miller. He imagined, shallowly enough, that if the necklace should be found in Mr. Miller’s room the police would look no farther. It is barely possible that the police wouldn’t have looked farther.”
Mrs. Wardlaw Browne’s aristocratic mouth had dropped open in sheer astonishment. Detective Mallory looked bewildered, dazed. Rex Miller’s face was an animated interrogation mark.
“Then who is the thief?” Mallory found voice to express the burning question.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” The Thinking Machine confessed frankly. “I think, perhaps, it was Monsieur St. Rocheville, so called; but there’s nothing to connect him—— Please sit down, Mallory. You annoy me. It would do no good to search his apartment. If he stole anything, it isn’t here now; besides——”
The door opened suddenly, and the footman appeared.
“Miss Fayerwether is badly hurt, ma’am,” he explained hurriedly. “She seems to have fallen from her window. We found her outside, unconscious.”
Mrs. Wardlaw Browne went out hurriedly. Obeying an almost imperceptible nod of The Thinking Machine’s head, Detective Mallory followed her. The scientist turned to Detective Blanton.
“Get St. Rocheville,” he directed tersely.
Ten minutes later Mallory returned. In one hand he held a small chamois bag. The contents thereof he spilled upon a table. The Thinking Machine glanced around, saw a glittering heap of jewels, then resumed his steady scrutiny of the ceiling.
“The girl had them?”
“Yes,” replied the detective. “She tried to escape from her room by sliding down a rope made of sheets. It broke, and she fell.”
“Only a sprained ankle, and shock.”
Blanton flung himself in.
“St. Rocheville’s gone,” he announced hurriedly. “I imagine he cut for it. Went away in one of the automobiles.”
When Miss Fayerwether recovered consciousness, and the sharp agony in her ankle had become a mere dull pain, she found herself in some large room, rank with the odor of strange chemical messes. As a matter of fact, it was The Thinking Machine’s laboratory; and the three men present were the little scientist in person, Mallory, and Hatch. Blanton had gone on to police headquarters to send out a general alarm for Monsieur St. Rocheville.
“There was no mystery about it,” she heard The Thinking Machine saying. “That is, no mystery that the simplest rules of logic wouldn’t instantly dissipate. A man, presumably French, but speaking English almost perfectly, comes into this room and betrays himself as an imposter five minutes afterward by using, without a trace of accent, the one phrase in all our language which no Frenchman, unless he is reared from infancy in an English-speaking country, can pronounce as it should be pronounced. This man used the phrase: ‘My father and my father’s father;’ and he pronounced it as either of us would have pronounced it. The French can master our ‘th’ only with difficulty, and then only at the beginning of a word; otherwise their ‘th’ becomes almost like our ‘z.’
“From the beginning, therefore, I imagined our so-called Monsieur St. Rocheville an imposter. Being an imposter, he was a liar. I proved he was a liar when I made him state who his father was. At my suggestion, Mr. Hatch cabled to Paris, demonstrated that there is not, and never has been a Monsieur St. Rocheville connected with the Crédit Lyonnaise; and, this much established, St. Rocheville’s story collapsed utterly. He had been accused of cheating at cards; and in retaliation he tried to shift the thefts upon Mr. Miller. He had seen Mr. Miller, so he said, steal the necklace. His obvious purpose in this was to bring about a search of Mr. Miller’s apartment, where he had carefully planted the necklace, also his own ring. The remainder of the story you all know.”
Miss Fayerwether had listened breathlessly, with closed eyes. The Thinking Machine arose and came over to her. For an instant his slender, cool hand rested on her brow; and in that instant she fought the fight. She was caught. St. Rocheville, alias Van Der Wyde, was free. He had tried to help her. She was to have gathered the jewels together, escaped through her window to avoid attracting attention, and joined him in the waiting automobile. He was free. She would allow him to remain free. Love, be it said, makes martyrs of us all.
“I stole the jewels,” she said quietly. “Monsieur St. Rocheville knew nothing of the thefts. My birds——”
That was all. The door opened and closed. Monsieur St. Rocheville stood before them with a vicious-looking, snub-nosed, automatic pistol in his hand.
“Put up your hands!” he commanded curtly. “You, Mallory, you! Put them up, I say! Put them up!” Mallory put them up. “And you, too! Put them up!” The Thinking Machine and Hutchinson Hatch obeyed unanimously. “Now, Miss Fayerwether, can you walk?”
“I think so.” She struggled to her feet.
“Very well.” There was a deadly calm in his manner. “Take Mallory’s gun, his keys, his handcuffs, and his police whistle. Careful now! Stand on the far side of him. I may have to kill him.” The girl obeyed deftly. “Are the handcuffs unlocked? Good! Snap one end around his right wrist. Now, Mallory, lower your right hand!”
“I’ll be——” the enraged detective began.
“Lower your right hand.” The pistol clicked. “Now, Miss Fayerwether, snap the other end of the handcuff around the leg of his chair, above the rungs.” It was done, neatly and quickly. “And I think that will hold you for a few minutes, Mallory. Now, Miss Fayerwether, there’s an automobile outside. The motor is running. Get in the car. Take your time. Safely in, honk the horn three times.”
The girl hobbled out. Monsieur St. Rocheville took advantage of the pause to sneer a little at the three men—Mallory safely shackled to a heavy chair, which would effectually stop immediate pursuit; Hatch with his hands anxiously stretched into the air, The Thinking Machine placidly meeting his gaze, eye to eye.
“I’ll get you yet!” Mallory bellowed in impotent rage.
“Oh, perhaps.” Outside, the automobile horn sounded thrice. “Until then, au revoir!” and Monsieur St. Rocheville vanished as silently as he had come.
“There’s loyalty for you,” observed The Thinking Machine, as if astonished.
“Love, not loyalty,” Hatch declared. “He’s crazy about her. Nothing on earth would have brought him back but love.”
“Love!” mused the little scientist. “A most interesting phenomena. I shall have to look into it some time.”
As I have said, Monsieur St. Rocheville was a young man of resource and daring. Later that night he burglariously entered the room Miss Fayerwether had occupied at Idlewild, and took Blitz and Jack and Jill away with him, cage and all.