Mystery

of

the Ralston Bank Burglary

 

 

I

 

With expert fingers Phillip Dunston, receiving teller, verified the last package of one‑hundred‑dollar bills he had made up—ten thousand dollars in all—and tossed it over on the pile beside him, while he checked off a memorandum. It was correct; there were eighteen packages of bills, containing $107,231. Then he took the bundles, one by one, and on each placed his initials, “P. D.” This was a system of checking in the Ralston National Bank.

It was care in such trivial details, perhaps, that had a great deal to do with the fact that the Ralston National had advanced from a small beginning to the first rank of those banks which were financial powers. President Quinton Fraser had inaugurated the system under which the Ralston National had so prospered, and now, despite his seventy-four years, he was still its active head. For fifty years he had been in its employ; for thirty-five years of that time he had been its president.

Publicly the aged banker was credited with the possession of a vast fortune, this public estimate being based on large sums he had given to charity. But as a matter of fact the private fortune of the old man, who had no one to share it save his wife, was not large; it was merely a comfortable living sum for an aged couple of simple tastes.

Dunston gathered up the packages of money and took them into the cashier’s private office, where he dumped them on the great flat-top desk at which that official, Randolph West, sat figuring. The cashier thrust the sheet of paper on which he had been working into his pocket and took the memorandum which Dunston offered.

“All right?” he asked.

“It tallies perfectly,” Dunston replied.

“Thanks. You may go now.”

It was an hour after closing time. Dunston was just pulling on his coat when he saw West come out of his private office with the money to put it away in the big steel safe which stood between depositors and thieves. The cashier paused a moment to allow the janitor, Harris, to sweep the space in front of the safe. It was the late afternoon scrubbing and sweeping.

“Hurry up,” the cashier complained, impatiently.

Harris hurried, and West placed the money in the safe. There were eighteen packages.

“All right, sir?” Dunston inquired.

“Yes.”

West was disposing of the last bundle when Miss Clarke—Louise Clarke—private secretary to President Fraser, came out of his office with a long envelope in her hand. Dunston glanced at her and she smiled at him.

“Please, Mr. West,” she said to the cashier, “Mr. Fraser told me before he went to put these papers in the safe. I had almost forgotten.”

She glanced into the open safe and her pretty blue eyes opened wide. Mr. West took the envelope, stowed it away with the money without a word, the girl looking on interestedly, and then swung the heavy door closed. She turned away with a quick, reassuring smile at Dunston, and disappeared inside the private office.

West had shot the bolts of the safe into place and had taken hold of the combination dial to throw it on, when the street door opened and President Fraser entered hurriedly.

“Just a moment, West,” he called. “Did Miss Clarke give you an envelope to go in there?”

“Yes. I just put it in.”

“One moment,” and the aged president came through a gate which Dunston held open and went to the safe. The cashier pulled the steel door open, unlocked the money compartment where the envelope had been placed, and the president took it out.

West turned and spoke to Dunston, leaving the president looking over the contents of the envelope. When the cashier turned back to the safe the president was just taking his hand away from his inside coat pocket.

“It’s all right, West,” he instructed. “Lock it up.”

Again the heavy door closed, the bolts were shot and the combination dial turned. President Fraser stood looking on curiously; it just happened that he had never witnessed this operation before.

“How much have you got in there to-night?” he asked.

“One hundred and twenty-nine thousand,” replied the cashier. “And all the securities, of course.”

“Hum,” mused the president. “That would be a good haul for some one—if they could get it, eh, West?” and he chuckled dryly.

“Excellent,” returned West, smilingly. “But they can’t.”

Miss Clarke, dressed for the street, her handsome face almost concealed by a veil which was intended to protect her pink cheeks from boisterous winds, was standing in the door of the president’s office.

“Oh, Miss Clarke, before you go, would you write just a short note for me?” asked the president.

“Certainly,” she responded, and she returned to the private office. Mr. Fraser followed her.

West and Dunston stood outside the bank railing, Dunston waiting for Miss Clarke. Every evening he walked over to the subway with her. His opinion of her was an open secret. West was waiting for the janitor to finish sweeping.

“Hurry up, Harris,” he said again.

“Yes, sir,” came the reply, and the janitor applied the broom more vigorously. “Just a little bit more. I’ve finished inside.”

Dunston glanced through the railing. The floor was spick and span and the hardwood glistened cleanly. Various bits of paper came down the corridor before Harris’s broom. The janitor swept it all up into a dustpan just as Miss Clarke came out of the president’s room. With Dunston she walked up the street. As they were going they saw Cashier West come out the front door, with his handkerchief in his hand, and then walk away rapidly.

“Mr. Fraser is doing some figuring,” Miss Clarke explained to Dunston. “He said he might be there for another hour.”

“You are beautiful,” replied Dunston, irrelevantly.

                                                                                         

These, then, were the happenings in detail in the Ralston National Bank from 4:15 o’clock on the afternoon of November 11. That night the bank was robbed. The great steel safe which was considered impregnable was blown and $129,000 was missing.

The night watchman of the bank, William Haney, was found senseless, bound and gagged, inside the bank. His revolver lay beside him with all the cartridges out. He had been beaten into insensibility; at the hospital it was stated that there was only a bare chance of his recovery.

The locks, hinges and bolts of the steel safe had been smashed by some powerful explosive, possibly nitro-glycerine. Thc tiny dial of the time-lock showed that the explosion came at 2:39; the remainder of the lock was blown to pieces.

Thus was fixed definitely the moment at which the robbery occurred. It was shown that the policeman on the beat had been four blocks away. It was perfectly possible that no one heard the explosion, because the bank was situated in a part of the city wholly given over to business and deserted at night.

The burglars had entered the building through a window of the cashier’s private office, in the full glare of an electric light. Thc window sash here had been found unfastened and the protecting steel bars, outside from top to bottom, seemed to have been dragged from their sockets in the solid granite. The granite crumbled away, as if it had been chalk.

Only one possible clew was found. This was a white linen handkerchief, picked up in front of the blown safe. It must have been dropped there at the time of the burglary, because Dunston distinctly recalled it was not there before he left the bank. He would have noticed it while the janitor was sweeping.

This handkerchief was the property of Cashier West. The cashier did not deny it, but could offer no explanation of how it came there. Miss Clarke and Dunston both said that they had seen him leave the bank with a handkerchief in his hand.

 

 

II

 

President Fraser reached the bank at ten o’clock and was informed of the robbery. He retired to his office, and there he sat, apparently stunned into inactivity by the blow, his head bowed on his arms. Miss Clarke, at her typewriter, frequently glanced at the aged figure with an expression of pity on her face. Her eyes seemed weary, too. Outside, through the closed door, they could hear the detectives.

From time to time employees of the bank and detectives entered the office to ask questions. The banker answered as if dazed; then the board of directors met and voted to personally make good the loss sustained. There was no uneasiness among depositors, because they knew the resources of the bank were practically unlimited.

Cashier West was not arrested. The directors wouldn’t listen to such a thing; he had been cashier for eighteen years, and they trusted him implicitly. Yet he could offer no possible explanation of how his handkerchief had come there. He asserted stoutly that he had not been in the bank from the moment Miss Clarke and Dunston saw him leave it.

After investigation the police placed the burglary to the credit of certain expert cracksmen, identity unknown. A general alarm, which meant a rounding up of all suspicious persons, was sent out, and this drag-net was expected to bring important facts to light. Detective Mallory said so, and the bank officials placed great reliance on his word.

Thus the situation at the luncheon hour. Then Miss Clarke, who, wholly unnoticed, had been waiting all morning at her typewriter, arose and went over to Fraser.

“If you don’t need me now,” she said, “I’ll run out to luncheon.”

“Certainly, certainly,” he responded, with a slight start. He had apparently forgotten her existence.

She stood silently looking at him for a moment.

“I’m awfully sorry,” she said, at last, and her lips trembled slightly.

“Thanks,” said the banker, and he smiled faintly. “It’s a shock, the worst I ever had.”

Miss Clarke passed out with quiet tread, pausing for a moment in the outer office to stare curiously at the shattered steel safe. The banker arose with sudden determination and called to West, who entered immediately.

“I know a man who can throw some light on this thing,” said Fraser, positively. “I think I’ll ask him to come over and take a look. It might aid the police, anyway. You may know him? Professor Van Dusen.”

“Never heard of him,” said West, tersely, “but I’ll welcome anybody who can solve it. My position is uncomfortable.”

President Fraser called Professor Van Dusen—The Thinking Machine—and talked for a moment through the ’phone. Then he turned back to West.

“He’ll come,” he said, with an air of relief. “I was able to do him a favor once by putting an invention on the market.”

Within an hour The Thinking Machine, accompanied by Hutchinson Hatch, reporter, appeared. President Fraser knew the scientist well, but on West the strange figure made a startling, almost uncanny, impression. Every known fact was placed before The Thinking Machine. He listened without comment, then arose and wandered aimlessly about the offices. The employees were amused by his manner; Hatch was a silent looker-on.

“Where was the handkerchief found?” demanded The Thinking Machine, at last.

“Here,” replied West, and he indicated the exact spot.

“Any draught through the office—ever?”

“None. We have a patent ventilating system which prevents that.”

The Thinking Machine squinted for several minutes at the window which had been unfastened—the window in the cashier’s private room—with the steel bars guarding it, now torn out of their sockets, and at the chalklike softness of the granite about the sockets. After awhile he turned to the president and cashier.

“Where is the handkerchief?”

“In my desk,” Fraser replied. “The police thought it of no consequence, save, perhaps—perhaps——,” and he looked at West.

“Except that it might implicate me,” said West, hotly.

“Tut, tut, tut,” said Fraser, reprovingly. “No one thinks for a——”

“Well, well, the handkerchief?” interrupted The Thinking Machine, in annoyance.

“Come into my office,” suggested the president.

The Thinking Machine started in, saw a woman—Miss Clarke, who had returned from luncheon—and stopped. There was one thing on earth he was afraid of—a woman.

“Bring it out here,” he requested.

President Fraser brought it and placed it in the slender hands of the scientist, who examined it closely by a window, turning it over and over. At last he sniffed at it. There was the faint, clinging odor of violet perfume. Then abruptly, irrelevantly, he turned to Fraser.

“How many women employed in the bank?” he asked.

“Three,” was the reply; “Miss Clarke, who is my secretary, and two general stenographers in the outer office.”

“How many men?”

“Fourteen, including myself.”

If the president and Cashier West had been surprised at the actions of The Thinking Machine up to this point, now they were amazed. He thrust the handkerchief at Hatch, took his own handkerchief, briskly scrubbed his hands with it, and also passed that to Hatch.

“Keep those,” he commanded.

He sniffed at his hands, then walked into the outer office, straight toward the desk of one of the young women stenographers. He leaned over her, and asked one question:

“What system of shorthand do you write?”

“Pitman,” was the astonished reply.

The scientist sniffed. Yes, it was unmistakably a sniff. He left her suddenly and went to the other stenographer. Precisely the same thing happened; standing close to her he asked one question, and at her answer sniffed. Miss Clarke passed through the outer office to mail a letter. She, too, had to answer the question as the scientist squinted into her eyes, and sniffed.

“Ah,” he said, at her answer.

Then from one to another of the employees of the bank he went, asking each a few questions. By this time a murmur of amusement was running through the office. Finally The Thinking Machine approached the cage in which sat Dunston, the receiving teller. The young man was bent over his work, absorbed.

“How long have e you been employed here?” asked the scientist, suddenly.

Dunston started and glanced around quickly.

“Five years,” he responded.

“It must be hot work,” said The Thinking Machine. “You’re perspiring.”

“Am I?” inquired the young man, smilingly.

He drew a crumpled handkerchief from his hip pocket, shook it out, and wiped his forehead.

“Ah!” exclaimed The Thinking Machine, suddenly.

He had caught the faint, subtle perfume of violets—an odor identical with that on the handkerchief found in front of the safe.

 

 

III

 

The Thinking Machine led the way back to the private office of the cashier, with President Fraser, Cashier West and Hatch following.

“Is it possible for anyone to overhear us here?” he asked.

“No,” replied the president. “The directors meet here.”

“Could anyone outside hear that, for instance?” and with a sudden sweep of his hand he upset a heavy chair.

“I don’t know,” was the astonished reply. “Why?”

The Thinking Machine went quickly to the door, opened it softly and peered out. Then he closed the door again.

“I suppose I may speak with absolute frankness?” he inquired.

“Certainly,” responded the old banker, almost startled. “Certainly.”

“You have presented an abstract problem,” The Thinking Machine went on, “and I presume you want a solution of it, no matter where it hits?”

“Certainly,” the president again assured him, but his tone expressed a grave, haunting fear.

“In that case,” and The Thinking Machine turned to the reporter, “Mr. Hatch, I want you to ascertain several things for me. First, I want to know if Miss Clarke uses or has ever used violet perfume—if so, when she ceased using it.”

“Yes,” said the reporter. The bank officials exchanged wondering looks.

“Also, Mr. Hatch,” and the scientist squinted with his strange eyes straight into the face of the cashier, “go to the home of Mr. West, here, see for yourself his laundry mark, and ascertain beyond any question if he has ever, or any member of his family has ever, used violet perfume.”

The cashier flushed suddenly.

“I can answer that,” he said, hotly. “No.”

“I knew you would say that,” said The Thinking Machine, curtly. “Please don’t interrupt. Do as I say, Mr. Hatch.”

Accustomed as he was to the peculiar methods of this man, Hatch saw faintly the purpose of the inquiries.

“And the receiving teller?” he asked.

“I know about him,” was the reply.

Hatch left the room, closing the door behind him. He heard the bolt shot in the lock as he started away.

“I think it only fair to say here, Professor Van Dusen,” explained the president, “that we understand thoroughly that it would have been impossible for Mr. West to have had anything to do with or know——”

“Nothing is impossible,” interrupted The Thinking Machine.

“But I won’t——” began West, angrily.

“Just a moment, please,” said The Thinking Machine. “No one has accused you of anything. What I am doing may explain to your satisfaction just how your handkerchief came here and bring about the very thing I suppose you want—exoneration.”

The cashier sank back into a chair; President Fraser looked from one to the other. Where there had been worry on his face there was now only wonderment.

“Your handkerchief was found in this office, apparently having been dropped by the persons who blew the safe,” and the long, slender fingers of The Thinking Machine were placed tip to tip as he talked. “It was not there the night before. The janitor who swept says so; Dunston, who happened to look, says so; Miss Clarke and Dunston both say they saw you with a handkerchief as you left the bank. Therefore, that handkerchief reached that spot after you left and before the robbery was discovered.”

The cashier nodded.

“You say you don’t use perfume; that no one in your family uses it. If Mr. Hatch verifies this, it will help to exonerate you. But some person who handled that handkerchief after it left your possession and before it appeared here did use perfume. Now who was that person? Who would have had an opportunity?

“We may safely dismiss the possibility that you lost the handkerchief, that it fell into the hands of burglars, that those burglars used perfume, that they brought it to your bank—your own bank, mind you!—and left it. The series of coincidences necessary to bring that about would not have occurred once in a million times.”

The Thinking Machine sat silent for several minutes, squinting steadily at the ceiling.

“If it had been lost anywhere, in the laundry, say, the same rule of coincidence I have just applied would almost eliminate it. Therefore, because of an opportunity to get that handkerchief, we will assume—there is—there must be—some one employed in this bank who had some connection with or actually participated in the burglary.”

The Thinking Machine spoke with perfect quiet, but the effect was electrical. The aged president staggered to his feet and stood staring at him dully; again the flush of crimson came into the face of the cashier.

“Some one,” The Thinking Machine went on, evenly, “who either found the handkerchief and unwittingly lost it at the time of the burglary, or else stole it and deliberately left it. As I said, Mr. West seems eliminated. Had he been one of the robbers, he would not wittingly have left his handkerchief; we will still assume that he does not use perfume, therefore personally did not drop the handkerchief where it was found.”

“Impossible! I can’t believe it, and of my employees——” began Mr. Fraser.

“Please don’t keep saying things are impossible,” snapped The Thinking Machine. “It irritates me exceedingly. It all comes to the one vital question: Who in the bank uses perfume?”

“I don’t know,” said the two officials.

“I do,” said The Thinking Machine. “There are two—only two, Dunston, your receiving teller, and Miss Clarke.”

“But they——”

“Dunston uses a violet perfume not like that on the handkerchief, but identical with it,” The Thinking Machine went on. “Miss Clarke uses a strong rose perfume.”

“But those two persons, above all others in the bank, I trust implicitly,” said Mr. Fraser, earnestly. “And, besides, they wouldn’t know how to blow a safe. The police tell me this was the work of experts.”

“Have you, Mr. Fraser, attempted to raise, or have you raised lately, any large sum of money?” asked the scientist, suddenly.

“Well, yes,” said the banker, “I have. For a week past I have tried to raise ninety thousand dollars on my personal account.”

“And you, Mr. West?”

The face of the cashier flushed slightly—it might have been at the tone of the question—and there was the least pause.

“No,” he answered finally.

“Very well,” and the scientist arose, rubbing his hands; “now we’ll search your employees.”

“What?” exclaimed both men. Then Mr. Fraser added: “That would be the height of absurdity; it would never do. Besides, any person who robbed the bank would not carry proofs of the robbery, or even any of the money about with them—to the bank, above all places.”

“The bank would be the safest place for it,” retorted The Thinking Machine. “It is perfectly possible that a thief in your employ would carry some of the money; indeed, it is doubtful if he would dare do anything else with it. He could see you would have no possible reason for suspecting anyone here—unless it is Mr. West.”

There was a pause. “I’ll do the searching, except the three ladies, of course,” he added, blushingly. “With them each combination of two can search the other one.”

Mr. Fraser and Mr. West conversed in low tones for several minutes.

“If the employees will consent I am willing,” Mr. Fraser explained, at last; “although I see no use of it.”

“They will agree,” said The Thinking Machine. “Please call them all into this office.”

Among some confusion and wonderment the three women and fourteen men of the bank were gathered in the cashier’s office, the outer doors being locked. The Thinking Machine addressed them with characteristic terseness.

“In the investigation of the burglary of last night,” he explained, “it has been deemed necessary to search all employees of this bank.” A murmur of surprise ran around the room. “Those who are innocent will agree readily, of course; will all agree?”

There were whispered consultations on all sides. Dunston flushed angrily; Miss Clarke, standing near Mr. Fraser, paled slightly. Dunston looked at her and then spoke.

“And the ladies?” he asked.

“They, too,” explained the scientist. “They may searched one another—in the other room, of course.”

“I for one will not submit to such a proceeding,” Dunston declared, bluntly, “not because I fear it, but because it is an insult.”

Simultaneously it impressed itself on the bank officials and The Thinking Machine that the one person in the bank who used a perfume identical with that on the handkerchief was the first to object to a search. The cashier and president exchanged startled glances.

“Nor will I,” came in the voice of a woman.

The Thinking Machine turned and glanced at her. It was Miss Willis, one of the outside stenographers; Miss Clarke and the other woman were pale, but neither had spoken.

“And the others?” asked The Thinking Machine.

Generally there was acquiescence, and as the men came forward the scientist searched them, perfunctorily, it seemed. Nothing! At last there remained three men, Dunston, West and Fraser. Dunston came forward, compelled to do so by the attitude of his fellows. The three women stood together. The Thinking Machine spoke to them as he searched Dunston.

“If the ladies will retire to the next room they may proceed with their search,” he suggested. “If any money is found, bring it to me—nothing else.”

“I will not, I will not, I will not,” screamed Miss Willis, suddenly. “It’s an outrage.”

Miss Clarke, deathly white and half fainting, threw up her hands and sank without a sound into the arms of President Fraser. There she burst into tears.

“It is an outrage,” she sobbed. She clung to President Fraser, her arms flung upward and her face buried on his bosom. He was soothing her with fatherly words, and stroked her hair awkwardly. The Thinking Machine finished the search of Dunston. Nothing! Then Miss Clarke roused herself and dried her eyes.

“Of course I will have to agree,” she said, with a flash of anger in her eyes.

Miss Willis was weeping, but, like Dunston, she was compelled to yield, and the three women went into an adjoining room. There was a tense silence until they reappeared. Each shook her head. The Thinking Machine nearly looked disappointed.

“Dear me!” he exclaimed. “Now, Mr. Fraser.” He started toward the president, then paused to pick up a scarf pin.

“This is yours,” he said. “I saw it fall,” and he made as if to search the aged man.

“Well, do you really think it necessary in my case?” asked the president, in consternation, as he drew back, nervously. “I—I am the president, you know.”

“The others were searched in your presence, I will search you in their presence,” said The Thinking Machine, tartly.

“But—but——” the president stammered.

“Are you afraid?” the scientist demanded.

“Why, of course not,” was the hurried answer; “but it seems so—so unusual.”

“I think it best,” said The Thinking Machine, and before the banker could draw away his slender fingers were in the inside breast pocket, whence they instantly drew out a bundle of money—one hundred $100 bills—ten thousand dollars—with the initials of the receiving teller, “P. D.”—“o. k.—R. W.”

“Great God!” exclaimed Mr. Fraser, ashen white.

“Dear me, dear me!” said The Thinking Machine again. He sniffed curiously at the bundle of bank notes, as a hound might sniff at a trail.

 

 

IV

 

President Fraser was removed to his home in a dangerous condition. His advanced age did not withstand the shock. Now alternately he raved and muttered incoherently, and the old eyes were wide, staring fearfully always. There was a consultation between The Thinking Machine and West after the removal of President Fraser, and the result was another hurried meeting of the board of directors. At that meeting West was placed, temporarily, in command. The police, of course, had been informed of the matter, but no arrest was probable.

Immediately after The Thinking Machine left the bank Hatch appeared and inquired for him. From the bank he went to the home of the scientist. There Professor Van Dusen was bending over a retort, busy with some problem.

“Well?” he demanded, as he glanced up.

“West told the truth,” began Hatch. “Neither he nor any member of his family uses perfume; he has few outside acquaintances, is regular in his habits, but is a man of considerable wealth, it appears.”

“What is his salary at the bank?” asked The Thinking Machine.

“Fifteen thousand a year,” said the reporter. “But he must have a large fortune. He lives like a millionaire.”

“He couldn’t do that on fifteen thousand dollars a year,” mused the scientist. “Did he inherit any money?”

“No,” was the reply. “He started as a clerk in the bank and has made himself what he is.”

“That means speculation,” said The Thinking Machine. “You can’t save a fortune from a salary, even fifteen thousand dollars a year. Now, Mr. Hatch, find out for me all about his business connections. His source of income particularly I would like to know. Also whether or not he has recently sought to borrow or has received a large sum of money; if he got it and what he did with it. He says he has not sought such a sum. Perhaps he told the truth.”

“Yes, and about Miss Clarke——”

“Yes; what about her?” asked The Thinking Machine.

“She occupies a little room in a boarding-house for women in an excellent district,” the reporter explained. “She has no friends who call there, at any rate. Occasionally, however, she goes out at night and remains late.”

“The perfume?” asked the scientist.

“She uses a perfume, the housekeeper tells me, but she doesn’t recall just what kind it is—so many of the young women in the house use it. So I went to her room and looked. There was no perfume there. Her room was considerably disarranged, which seemed to astonish the housekeeper, who declared that she had carefully arranged it about nine o’clock. It was two when I was there.”

“How was it disarranged?” asked the scientist.

“The couch cover was jerked awry and the pillows tumbled down, for one thing,” said the reporter. “I didn’t notice any further.”

The Thinking Machine relapsed into silence.

“What happened at the bank?” inquired Hatch.

Briefly the scientist related the facts leading up to the search, the search itself and its startling result. The reporter whistled.

“Do you think Fraser had anything to do with it?”

“Run out and find out those other things about West,” said The Thinking Machine, evasively. “Come back here to-night. It doesn’t matter what time.”

“But who do you think committed the crime?” insisted the newspaper man.

“I may be able to tell you when you return.”

For the time being The Thinking Machine seemed to forget the bank robbery, being busy in his tiny laboratory. He was aroused from his labors by the ringing of the telephone bell.

“Hello,” he called. “Yes, Van Dusen. No, I can’t come down to the bank now. What is it? Oh, it has disappeared? When? Too bad! How’s Mr. Fraser? Still unconscious? Too bad! I’ll see you to-morrow.”

The scientist was still engrossed in some delicate chemical work just after eight o’clock that evening when Martha, his housekeeper and maid of all work, entered.

“Professor,” she said, “there’s a lady to see you.”

“Name?” he asked, without turning.

“She didn’t give it, sir.”

“There in a moment.”

He finished the test he had under way, then left the little laboratory and went into the hall leading to the sitting-room, where unprivileged callers awaited his pleasure. He sniffed a little as he stepped into the hall. At the door of the sitting-room he paused and peered inside. A woman arose and came toward him. It was Miss Clarke.

“Good-evening,” he said. “I knew you’d come.”

Miss Clarke looked a little surprised, but made no comment.

“I came to give you some information,” she said, and her voice was subdued. “I am heartbroken at the awful things which have come out concerning—concerning Mr. Fraser. I have been closely associated with him for several months, and I won’t believe that he could have had anything to do with this affair, although I know positively that he was as in need of a large sum of money—ninety thousand dollars—because his personal fortune was in danger. Some error in titles to an estate, he told me.”

“Yes, yes,” said The Thinking Machine.

“Whether he was able to raise this money I don’t know,” she went on. “I only hope he did without having to—to do that—to have any——”

“To rob his bank,” said the scientist, tartly. “Miss Clarke, is young Dunston in love with you?”

The girl’s face changed color at the sudden question.

“I don’t see——” she began.

“You may not see,” said The Thinking Machine, “but I can have him arrested for robbery and convict him.”

The girl gazed at him with wide, terror-stricken eyes, and gasped.

“No, no, no,” she said, hurriedly. “He could have had nothing to do with that at all.”

“Is he in love with you?” again came the question.

There was a pause.

“I’ve had reason to believe so,” she said, finally, “though——”

“And you?”

“The girl’s face was flaming now, and, squinting into her eyes, the scientist read the answer.

“I understand,” he commented, tersely. “Are you going to be married?”

“I could—could never marry him,” she gasped suddenly. “No, no,” emphatically. “We are not, ever.”

She slowly recovered from her confusion, while the scientist continued to squint at her curiously.

“I believe you said you had some information for me?” he asked.

“Y—yes,” she faltered. Then more calmly: “Yes. I came to tell you that the package of ten thousand dollars which you took from Mr. Fraser’s pocket has again disappeared.”

“Yes,” said the other, without astonishment.

“It was presumed at the bank that he had taken it home with him, having regained possession of it in some way, but a careful search has failed to reveal it.”

“Yes, and what else?”

The girl took a long breath and gazed steadily into the eyes of the scientist, with determination in her own.

“I have come, too, to tell you,” she said, “the name of the man who robbed the bank.”

 

 

V

 

If Miss Clarke had expected that The Thinking Machine would show either astonishment or enthusiasm, she must have been disappointed, for he neither altered his position nor looked at her. Instead, he was gazing thoughtfully away with lackluster eyes.

“Well?” he asked. “I suppose it’s a story. Begin at the beginning.”

With a certain well-bred air of timidity, the girl began the story; and occasionally as she talked there was a little tremor of the lips.

“I have been a stenographer and typewriter for seven years,” she said, “and in that time I have held only four positions. The first was in a law office in New York, where I was left an orphan to earn my own living; the second was with a manufacturing concern, also in New York. I left there three years ago to accept the position of private secretary to William T. Rankin, president of the —— National Bank, at Hartford, Connecticut. I came from there to Boston and later went to work at the Ralston Bank, as private secretary to Mr. Fraser. I left the bank in Hartford because of the failure of that concern, following a bank robbery.”

The Thinking Machine glanced at her suddenly.

“You may remember from the newspapers——” she began again.

“I never read the newspapers,” he said.

“Well, anyway,” and there was a shade of impatience at the interruption, “there was a bank burglary there similar to this. Only seventy thousand dollars was stolen, but it was a small institution and the theft precipitated a run which caused a collapse after I had been in that position for only six months.”

“How long have you been with the Ralston National?”

“Nine months,” was the reply.

“Had you saved any money while working in your other positions?”

“Well, the salary was small—I couldn’t have saved much.”

“How did you live those two years from the time you left the Hartford Bank until you accepted this position?”

The girl stammered a little.

“I received assistance from friends,” she said, finally.

“Go on.”

“That bank in Hartford,” she continued, with a little gleam of resentment in her eyes, “had a safe similar to the one at the Ralston National, though not so large. It was blown in identically the same way as this one was blown.”

“Oh, I see,” said the scientist. “Some one was arrested for this, and you want to give me the name of that man?”

“Yes,” said the girl. “A professional burglar, William Dineen, was arrested for that robbery and confessed. Later he escaped. After his arrest he boasted of his ability to blow any style of safe. He used an invention of his own for the borings to place the charges. I noticed that safe and I noticed this one. There is a striking similarity in the two.”

The Thinking Machine stared at her.

“Why do you tell me?” he asked.

“Because I understood you were making the investigation for the bank,” she responded, unhesitatingly, “and I dreaded the notoriety of telling the police.”

“If this William Dineen is at large you believe he did this?”

“I am almost positive.”

“Thank you,” said The Thinking Machine.

Miss Clarke went away, and late that night Hatch appeared. He looked weary and sank into a chair gratefully, but there was satisfaction in his eye. For an hour or more he talked. At last The Thinking Machine was satisfied, nearly.

“One thing more,” he said, in conclusion. “Notify the police to look out for William Dineen, professional bank burglar, and his pals, whose names you can get from the newspapers in connection with a bank robbery in Hartford. They are wanted in connection with this case.”

The reporter nodded.

“When Mr. Fraser recovers I intend to hold a little party here,” the scientist continued. “It will be a surprise party.”

It was two days later, and the police were apparently seeking some tangible point from which they could proceed, when The Thinking Machine received word that there had been a change for the better in Mr. Fraser’s condition. Immediately he sent for Detective Mallory, with whom he held a long conversation. The detective went away tugging at his heavy mustache and smiling. With three other men he disappeared from police haunts that afternoon on a special mission.

That night the little “party” was held in the apartments of The Thinking Machine. President Fraser was first to arrive. He was pale and weak, but there was a fever of impatience in his manner. Then came West, Dunston, Miss Clarke, Miss Willis and Charles Burton, a clerk whose engagement to the pretty Miss Willis had been recently announced.

The party gathered, each staring at the other curiously, with questions in their eyes, until The Thinking Machine entered, rubbing his fingers together briskly. Behind him came Hatch, bearing a shabby gripsack. The reporter’s face showed excitement despite his rigid efforts to repress it. There were some preliminaries, and then the scientist began.

“To come to the matter quickly,” he said, in preface, “we will take it for granted that no employee of the Ralston Bank is a professional burglar. But the person who was responsible for that burglary, who shared the money stolen, who planned it and actually assisted in its execution is in this room—now.”

Instantly there was consternation, but it found no expression in words, only in the faces of those present.

“Further, I may inform you,” went on the scientist, “that no one will be permitted to leave this room until I finish.”

“Permitted?” demanded Dunston. “We are not prisoners.”

“You will be if I give the word,” was the response, and Dunston sat back, dazed. He glanced uneasily at the faces of the others; they glanced uneasily at him.

“The actual facts in the robbery you know,” went on The Thinking Machine. “You know that the safe was blown, that a large sum of money was stolen, that Mr. West’s handkerchief was found near the safe. Now, I’ll tell you what I have learned. We will begin with President Fraser.

“Against Mr. Fraser is more direct evidence than against anyone else, because in his pocket was found one of the stolen bundles of money, containing ten thousand dollars. Mr. Fraser needed ninety thousand dollars previous to the robbery.”

“But——” began the old man, with deathlike face.

“Never mind,” said the scientist. “Next, Miss Willis.” Curious eyes were turned on her, and she, too, grew suddenly white. “Against her is less direct evidence than against anyone else. Miss Willis positively declined to permit a search of her person until she was as compelled to do so by the fact that the other two permitted it. The fact that nothing was found has no bearing on the subject. She did refuse.

“Then Charles Burton,” the inexorable voice went on, calmly, as if in mere discussion of a problem of mathematics. “Burton is engaged to Miss Willis. He is ambitious. He recently lost twenty thousand dollars in stock speculation—all he had. He needed more money in order to give this girl, who refused to be searched, a comfortable home.

“Next Miss Clarke, secretary to Mr. Fraser. Originally she came under consideration through the fact that she used perfume, and that Mr. West’s handkerchief carried a faint odor of perfume. Now it is a fact that for years Miss Clarke used violet perfume, then on the day following the robbery suddenly began to use strong rose perfume, which smothers a violet odor. Miss Clarke, you will remember, fainted at the time of the search. I may add that a short while ago she was employed in a bank which was robbed in the identical manner of this one.”

Miss Clarke sat apparently calm, and even faintly smiling, but her face was white. The Thinking Machine squinted at her a moment, then turned suddenly to Cashier West.

“Here is the man,” he said, “whose handkerchief was found, but he does not use perfume, has never used it. He is the man who would have had best opportunity to leave unfastened the window in his private office by which the thieves entered the bank; he is the man who would have had the best opportunity to apply a certain chemical solution to the granite sockets of the steel bars, weakening the granite so they could be pulled out; he is the man who misrepresented facts to me. He told me he did not have and had not tried to raise any especially large sum of money. Yet on the day following the robbery he deposited one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars in cash in a bank in Chicago. The stolen sum was one hundred and twenty‑nine thousand dollars. That man, there.”

All eyes were now turned on the cashier. He seemed choking, started to speak, then dropped back into his chair.

“And last, Dunston,” resumed The Thinking Machine, and he pointed dramatically at the receiving teller. “He had equal opportunity with Mr. West to know of the amount of money in the bank; he refused first to be searched, and you witnessed his act a moment ago. To this man now there clings the identical odor of violet perfume which was on the handkerchief—not a perfume like it, but the identical odor.”

There was silence, dumfounded silence, for a long time. No one dared to look at his neighbor now; the reporter felt the tension. At last The Thinking Machine spoke again.

“As I have said, the person who planned and participated in the burglary is now in this room. If that person will stand forth and confess it will mean a vast difference in the length of the term in prison.”

Again silence. At last there came a knock at the door, and Martha thrust her head in.

“Two gentlemen and four cops are here,” she announced.

“There are the accomplices of the guilty person, the men who actually blew that safe,” declared the scientist, dramatically. “Again, will the guilty person confess?”

No one stirred.

 

 

VI

 

There was tense silence for a moment. Dunston was the first to speak.

“This is all a bluff,” he said. “I think, Mr. Fraser, there are some explanations and apologies due to all of us, particularly to Miss Clarke and Miss Willis,” he added, as an afterthought. “It is humiliating, and no good has been done. I had intended asking Miss Clarke to be my wife, and now I assert my right to speak for her. I demand an apology.”

Carried away by his own anger and by the pleading face of Miss Clarke and the pain there, the young man turned fiercely on The Thinking Machine. Bewilderment was on the faces of the two banking officials.

“You feel that an explanation is due?” asked The Thinking Machine, meekly.

“Yes,” thundered the young man.

“You shall have it,” was the quiet answer, and the stooped figure of the scientist moved across the room to the door. He said something to some one outside and returned.

“Again I’ll give you a chance for a confession,” he said. “It will shorten your prison term.” He was speaking to no one in particular; yet to them all. “The two men who blew the safe are now about to enter this room. After they appear it will be too late.”

Startled glances were exchanged, but no one stirred. Then came a knock at the door. Silently The Thinking Machine looked about with a question in his eyes. Still silence, and he threw open the door. Three policemen in uniform and Detective Mallory entered, bringing two prisoners.

“These are the men who blew the safe,” The Thinking Machine explained, indicating the prisoners. “Does anyone here recognize them?”

Apparently no one did, for none spoke.

“Do you recognize any person in this room?” he asked of the prisoners.

One of them laughed shortly and said something aside to the other, who smiled. The Thinking Machine was nettled and when he spoke again there was a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“It may enlighten at least one of you in this room,” he said, “to tell you that these two men are Frank Seranno and Gustave Meyer, Mr. Meyer being a pupil and former associate of the notorious bank burglar, William Dineen. You may lock them up now,” he said to Detective Mallory. “They will confess later.”

“Confess!” exclaimed one of them. Both laughed.

The prisoners were led out and Detective Mallory returned to lave in the font of analytical wisdom, although he would not have expressed it in those words. Then The Thinking Machine began at the beginning and told his story.

“I undertook to throw some light on this affair a few hours after its occurrence, at the request of President Fraser, who had once been able to do me a very great favor,” he explained. “I went to the bank—you all saw me there—looked over the premises, saw how the thieves had entered the building, looked at the safe and at the spot where the handkerchief was found. To my mind it was demonstrated clearly that the handkerchief appeared there at the time of the burglary. I inquired if there was any draught through the office, seeking in that way to find if the handkerchief might have been lost at some other place in the bank, overlooked by the sweeper and blown to the spot where it was found. There was no draught.

“Next I asked for the handkerchief. Mr. Fraser asked me into his office to look at it. I saw a woman—Miss Clarke it was—in there and declined to go. Instead, I examined the handkerchief outside. I don’t know that my purpose there can be made clear to you. It was a possibility that there would be perfume on the handkerchief, and the woman in the office might use perfume. I didn’t want to confuse the odors. Miss Clarke was not in the bank when I arrived; she had gone to luncheon.

“Instantly I got the handkerchief I noticed the odor of perfume—violet perfume. Perfume is used by a great many women, by very few men. I asked how many women were employed in the bank. There were three. I handed the scented handkerchief to Mr. Hatch, removed all odor of the clinging perfume from my hands with my own handkerchief and also handed that to Mr. Hatch, so as to completely rid myself of the odor.

“Then I started through the bank and spoke to every person in it, standing close to them so that I might catch the odor if they used it. Miss Clarke was the first person who I found used it—but the perfume she used was a strong rose odor. Then I went on until I came to Mr. Dunston. The identical odor of the handkerchief he revealed to me by drawing out his own handkerchief while I talked to him.”

Dunston looked a little startled, but said nothing; instead he glanced at Miss Clarke, who sat listening, interestedly. He could not read the expression on her face.

“This much done,” continued The Thinking Machine, “we retired to Cashier West’s office. There I knew the burglars had entered; there I saw a powerful chemical solution had been applied to the granite around the sockets of the protecting steel bars to soften the stone. Its direct effect is to make it of chalklike consistency. I was also curious to know if any noise made in that room would attract attention in the outer office, so I upset a heavy chair, then looked outside. No one moved or looked back; therefore no one heard.

“Here I explained to President Fraser and to Mr. West why I connected some one in the bank with the burglary. It was because of the scent on the handkerchief. It would be tedious to repeat the detailed explanation I had to give them. I sent Mr. Hatch to find out, first, if Miss Clarke here had ever used violet perfume instead of rose; also to find out if any members of Mr. West’s family used any perfume, particularly violet. I knew that Mr. Dunston used it.

“Then I asked Mr. Fraser if he had sought to raise any large sum of money. He told me the truth. But Mr. West did not tell me the truth in answer to a question along the same lines. Now I know why. It was because as cashier of the bank he was not supposed to operate in stocks, yet he has made a fortune at it. He didn’t want Fraser to know this, and willfully misrepresented the facts.

“Then came the search. I expected to find just what was found, money, but considerably more of it. Miss Willis objected, Mr. Dunston objected and Miss Clarke fainted in the arms of Mr. Fraser. I read the motives of each aright. Dunston objected because he is an egotistical young man and, being young, is foolish. He considered it an insult. Miss Willis objected also through a feeling of pride.”

The Thinking Machine paused for a moment, locked his fingers behind his head and leaned far back in his chair.

“Shall I tell what happened next?” he asked, “or will you tell it?”

Everyone in the room knew it was a question to the guilty person. Which? Whom? There came no answer, and after a moment The Thinking Machine resumed, quietly, very quietly.

“Miss Clarke fainted in Mr. Fraser’s arms. While leaning against him, and while he stroked her hair and tried to soothe her, she took from the bosom of her loose shirtwaist a bundle of money, ten thousand dollars, and slipped it into the inside pocket of Mr. Fraser’s coat.”

There was deathlike silence.

“It’s a lie!” screamed the girl, and she rose to her feet with anger-distorted face. “It’s a lie!”

Dunston arose suddenly and went to her. With his arm about her he turned defiantly to The Thinking Machine, who had not moved or altered his position in the slightest. Dunston said nothing, because there seemed to be nothing to say.

“Into the inside pocket of Mr. Fraser’s coat,” The Thinking Machine repeated. “When she removed her arms his scarf pin clung to the lace on one of her sleeves. That I saw. That pin could not have caught on her sleeve where it did if her hand had not been to the coat pocket. Having passed this sum of money—her pitiful share of the theft—she agreed to the search.”

“It’s a lie!” shrieked the girl again. And her every tone and every gesture said it was the truth. Dunston gazed into her eyes with horror in his own and his arm fell limply. Still he said nothing.

“Of course nothing was found,” the quiet voice went on. “When I discovered the bank notes in Mr. Fraser’s pocket I smelled of them—seeking the odor, this time not of violet perfume, but of rose perfume. I found it.”

Suddenly the girl whose face had shown only anger and defiance leaned over with her head in her hands and wept bitterly. It was a confession. Dunston stood beside her, helplessly; finally his hand was slowly extended and he stroked her hair.

“Go on, please,” he said to Professor Van Dusen, meekly. His suffering was no less than hers.

“These facts were important, but not conclusive,” said The Thinking Machine, “so next, with Mr. Hatch’s aid here, I ascertained other things about Miss Clarke. I found out that when she went out to luncheon that day she purchased some powerful rose perfume; that, contrary to custom, she went home; that she used it liberally in her room; and that she destroyed a large bottle of violet perfume which you, Mr. Dunston, had given her. I ascertained also that her room was disarranged, particularly the couch. I assume from this that when she went to the office in the morning she did not have the money about her; that she left it hidden in the couch; that through fear of its discovery she rushed back home to get it; that she put it inside her shirtwaist, and there she had it when the search was made. Am I right, Miss Clarke?”

The girl nodded her head and looked up with piteous, tear-stained face.

“That night Miss Clarke called on me. She came ostensibly to tell me that the package of money, ten thousand dollars, had disappeared again. I knew that previously by telephone, and I knew, too, that she had that money then about her. She has it now. Will you give it up?”

Without a word the girl drew out the bundle of money, ten thousand dollars. Detective Mallory took it, held it, amazed for an instant, then passed it to The Thinking Machine, who sniffed at it.

“An odor of strong rose perfume,” he said. Then: “Miss Clarke also told me that she had worked in a bank which had been robbed under circumstances identical with this by one William Dineen, and expressed the belief that he had something to do with this. Mr. Hatch ascertained that two of Dineen’s pals were living in Cambridge. He found their rooms and searched them, later giving the address to the police.

“Now, why did Miss Clarke tell me that? I considered it in all points. She told me either to aid honestly in the effort to catch the thief, or to divert suspicion in another direction. Knowing as much as I did then, I reasoned it was to divert suspicion from you, Mr. Dunston, and from herself possibly. Dineen is in prison, and was there three months before this robbery; I believed she knew that. His pals are the two men in the other room; they are the men who aided Dineen in the robbery of the Hartford bank, with Miss Clarke’s assistance; they are the men who robbed the Ralston National with her assistance. She herself indicated her profit from the Hartford robbery to me by a remark she made indicating that she had not found it necessary to work for two years from the time she left the Hartford bank until she became Mr. Fraser’s secretary.”

There was a pause. Miss Clarke sat sobbing, while Dunston stood near her studying the toe of his shoe. After awhile the girl became more calm.

“Miss Clarke, would you like to explain anything?” asked The Thinking Machine. His voice was gentle, even deferential.

“Nothing,” she said, “except admit it all—all. I have nothing to conceal. I went to the bank, as I went to the bank in Hartford, for the purpose of robbery, with the assistance of those men in the next room. We have worked together for years. I planned this robbery; I had the opportunity, and availed myself of it, to put a solution on the sockets of the steel bars of the window in Mr. West’s room, which would gradually destroy the granite and make it possible to pull out the bars. This took weeks, but I could reach that room safely from Mr. Fraser’s.

“I had the opportunity to leave the window unfastened and did so. I dressed in men’s clothing and accompanied those two men to the bank. We crept in the window, after pulling the bars out. The men attacked the night watchman and bound him. The handkerchief of Mr. West’s I happened to pick up in the office one afternoon a month ago and took it home. There it got the odor of perfume from being in a bureau with my things. On the night we went to the bank I needed something to put about my neck and used it. In the bank I dropped it. We had arranged all details at night, when I met them.”

She stopped and looked at Dunston, a long, lingering look, that sent the blood to his face. It was not an appeal; it was nothing save the woman love in her, mingled with desperation.

“I intended to leave the bank in a little while,” she went on. “Not immediately, because I was afraid that would attract attention, but after a few weeks. And then, too, I wanted to get forever out of sight of this man,” and she indicated Dunston.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I loved you as no woman ever loved a man before,” she said, “and I was not worthy. There was another reason, too—I am married already. This man, Gustave Meyer, is my husband.”

She paused and fumbled nervously at the veil fastening at her throat. Silence lay over the room; The Thinking Machine reached behind him and picked up the shabby-looking gripsack which had passed unnoticed.

“Are there any more questions?” the girl asked, at last.

“I think not,” said The Thinking Machine.

“And, Mr. Dunston, you will give me credit for some good, won’t you—some good in that I loved you?” she pleaded.

“My God!” he exclaimed in a sudden burst of feeling.

“Look out!” shouted The Thinking Machine.

He had seen the girl’s hand fly to her hat, saw it drawn suddenly away, saw something slender flash at her breast. But it was too late. She had driven a heavy hat pin straight through her breast, piercing the heart. She died in the arms of the man she loved, with his tears on her face.

Detective Mallory appeared before the two prisoners in an adjoining room.

“Miss Clarke has confessed,” he said.

“Well, the little devil!” exclaimed Meyer. “I knew some day she would throw us. I’ll kill her!”

“It isn’t necessary,” remarked Mallory.

                                                                                         

In the room where the girl lay The Thinking Machine pushed with his foot the shabby-looking grip toward President Fraser and West.

“There’s the money,” he said.

“Where—how did you get it?”

“Ask Mr. Hatch.”

“Professor Van Dusen told me to search the rooms of those men in there, find the shabbiest looking bag or receptacle that was securely locked, and bring it to him. I—I did so. I found it under the bed, but I didn’t know what was in it until he opened it.”