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- The Robbery
- The Search
- The Bait
- The Cure
- The Pearls
The opaque light through the drawn shade of the library window alone marked the location of the big house, surrounded by flower-dotted lawns. Half a mile away twinkled the few midnight lamps of the village. An occasional belated motor car flashed as a meteor through the night. A flash and a rumble from over the hill marked the passing of a trolley-car on its way to the city.
At night it was a particularly lonesome spot, but this did not seem to bother in the least Dr. Darius Y. Porter, wealthy and famous specialist in diseases of the eye, ear and throat, as he strolled leisurely homeward after dinner and bridge with a neighbor.
His eyes were turned toward the light he had left burning on his reading table as a bearing in his search for the small side gate, when another light flashed on at an upper window. He immediately located this as the chamber of old Martha, his housekeeper, who had come to him as a sort of charity patient and remained because she had proved invaluable during the progress of her cure of deafness.
“Up rather late,” he mused, as he glanced upward and then halted in his tracks, because there was thrust upward as though from the bottom of a screen in a motion picture the shadow of a hand—a hand with the fingers rapidly working in the code of the deaf and dumb.
“Help! Burglars! Help!” was the message he read from the frantic fingers as they spelled out, in the code he had taught her, a message of appeal plainly destined for his eye in case he should be returning along the road.
Fumbling hurriedly along the high hedge, he found his gate and was unlatching it when, to his amazement, shadows appeared upon the curtain of the library window—and these too showed fingers working in the silent code—fingers attached to rather dim figures—figures of two, or perhaps three men—figures that waved back and forth and fingers upon arms which seemed to gesticulate as though to emphasize a soundless argument.
Porter’s nerves had been steeled by years in hospitals, his muscles tautened by years of semi-retirement upon his country estate. His gate was flung open as he looked and he bounded up the gravel path to the side veranda of his home to attack these intruders with his bare hands.
His surprise attack was balked by the darkness. Running by instinct, he fell sprawling over a chair old Martha had been using for an after-dinner reverie beneath the vines that covered the porch, and chair and physician fell together in a resounding crash. He was up in a second and had his key in the lock of the side door, but already he could hear voices inside and the sound of hurried retreat.
“Quick! Beat it!” shouted one voice.
“Help me, Dan, damn you,” whined another.
“Let go my coat, you — —, “ he heard one say amid the noise of running feet and overturned furniture, while old Martha screamed lustily from her now opened window.
Abandoning this attack, Porter leaped from the veranda and ran to the front of the house. He was beginning to believe he could make out something moving against a sky-line formed by a rise of ground—something that looked like two running men, one almost dragging the other—when he bumped full tilt into what was undoubtedly a man, huddled in a clump of rose bushes, with his back toward him and facing the main entrance to the grounds.
The impact knocked the doctor from his feet and before he could recover, the man was running across the lawn. As Porter staggered up, a shot fanned the hair along the side of his head and, philosophically, he turned back into his open front door with his thoughts about equally divided between the screams of his housekeeper and the safety of a pearl necklace in his safe—a treasure of which he was trustee—a wedding gift for his daughter from her dead mother, when the time should come.
A shouted word up the stairs quieted the screams, but many unprofessional oaths failed to alter the scene as he looked into his library, where the door of the safe stood open, with its contents scattered about on the floor. The case in which his wife’s necklace had rested undisturbed for ten years was upside down on the library table. Empty—a quick glance showed. But something crunched under his foot as he moved and sweat that the thieves had not started broke out on his forehead as he turned on more lights and retrieved the fragments of a pearl.
Standing in his tracks, then cautiously kneeling and creeping, he searched with eyes and fingers until he had found eleven more, waving back and silencing the moaning old woman who wavered in the doorway. Twelve, that accounted for—twelve out of thirty-six. They had got twenty-four of them, then, the scoundrels, he decided. Well, he should have them back—have them if it took all his time and his life besides. He was something of a sentimentalist, this doctor, for all his calm exterior. A sentimentalist, with a touch of the masterful and stubborn.
With a sigh, he arose to his feet, took up his telephone and called the village police. He had not stopped to question Martha until then. As he thought, she knew nothing. She had been suddenly, vaguely disturbed; she had listened and heard sounds downstairs—voices that were those of strangers; then an oath and noise of a quarrel; afraid to shout, she had recalled the code of her days of deafness and acted upon an impulse to try to signal her master in case he should be coming along the road.
There was no help there. Neither was there in the weighty theories offered by the village police sergeant upon his tumultuous arrival upon the scene a few minutes later. Dr. Porter was glad when they were all gone and he was able to light his pipe and sink into his easy chair with his feet resting carefully amid the scattered contents of his safe, which still littered the floor.
Daylight, for which he had waited, came just about the time he was ready for it. He had said nothing to the village sergeant about the talking fingers, but he had spent the night thinking about them and also about the crouching figure into whose heedless back he had crashed. He had reached two conclusions, born of his long observance of defective mankind. One of the men who had robbed him was dumb. There had been an argument and those who could had not hesitated to use their voices. Martha testified to that. Therefore there was one who could not speak, but was still determined to have his say.
The man in the bushes, he decided, was stone deaf. Sensing danger, when the others took to their heels, there had been no sound to warn him of the direction of the danger. Therefore he crouched in the bushes with his eyes to the main gate, waiting for a glimpse of his peril. The sudden start of the thief, which he felt, rather than saw, as he collided with him, showed that the man had not even heard his running pursuit or his shouts calling rather foolishly upon the burglars to halt.
So far, so good, he had decided. But what of the third man—of that figure that seemed to drag behind another at his last glimpse of them. Therefore he welcomed the daylight.
The mode of entrance had been simple—a jimmy applied to one of the windows opening on the front veranda. Apparently the thieves were familiar with the house and the habits of the family, knew that his chauffeur had taken his daughter away in his car to spend the summer with relatives and that the master being out for the evening, old Martha would be alone in the mansion. Naturally, they had unlocked the front door from the inside and their escape had been equally simple.
The well-kept lawns and graveled walks and drives revealed no sign of footprints. Even in the clump of rose bushes where he had fallen there were only a few marks of knees, heels and toes to mark the brief encounter. The deaf man, apparently, had run from there straight across the lawn to the main highway and vaulted the stone wall. But the other two had run at a tangent over the rising ground beyond which lay his vegetable garden. Perhaps there was something to be found there.
A detective might never have read the signs beyond the little hill, but to the physician they were as plain as if he had seen what had happened. Just over the brow, the slighter growth of grass had been torn as one of the men stumbled and fell. More than that, there were signs of a struggle between them and marks as though the rearward of the two was being dragged along with his toes scraping up the soil. Just beyond was a bit of cloth which proved to be the cleanly ripped off patch pocket of a cheap coat.
Beyond that the track divided. One man had run straight and true across the tilled vegetable garden to the board fence beyond and apparently made his way to the trolley line. But the other had blundered about, crashing into trees, fences and shrubbery and then run in a zigzag fashion, tumbled into a cress pond and finally crashed through a board fence and fallen sprawling in a lane.
“Crazed by fright,” a trained detective might have said.
“The third man is blind,” stated the doctor as he turned back to his library.
A careful search of the floor by daylight revealed no more of the pearls. A check of the remnant showed that the string had broken, scattering their matched treasures, and it seemed probable that the thieves in a hasty search had found only the largest, as though they had groped for them by the touch of their hands. Sadly, Dr. Porter placed the rifled case in his pocket, gathered up his scattered papers, locked his expertly opened safe, and started by trolley for the city.
On the way in he heard several things that interested him, but kept his own counsel. He had fully decided upon his plan, which had for its object the recovery of the pearls rather than the punishment of the thieves. That could come later. He had formulated a plan which was based upon medical rather than detective science. He smiled grimly as he heard the gossip in the village, where the news of the robbery was not yet known. Corner loiterers were discussing the strange case of a blind man who had appeared at daybreak, scratched and bruised and with a broken cane, who told a tale of having been separated from his companion and forced to spend the night in the fields. From this rambling and conflicting gossip he managed to gain a sort of description of the man—rather a stout, unkempt kind of fellow, it seemed, wearing blue goggles and a short, heavy beard, sprinkled with gray.
There was other talk of a second stranger who had passed through the village twice on trolley cars, seemingly somewhat bewildered as to his whereabouts, who listened attentively to what was said in his hearing, but refused to answer any questions as to where he was going or wanted to go. Some said he was a foreigner who couldn’t understand English; others that he was merely one of those sullen fellows who never can be sociable.
Of him, too, there were meagre descriptions—slight, about thirty, smooth-shaven, dressed in a cheap suit with one pocket ripped from the side of the coat and the back of one hand scratched as though by thorns or finger-nails.
The trail plainly led to the city, and there Dr. Porter followed it, with his eye cocked for a blind man with blue goggles and a beard. In a crowded city, he fully realized, a deaf man can hide his lack of hearing, a dumb man his inability to speak, but a blind man cannot disguise his lack of sight.
This must be a case of the blind leading the blind. If he could locate the man with the blue goggles he felt sure he could find the others and through one of them his pearls. Determinedly he made his way to the poorer lodging-house section of the city, where his experience told him a blind man of this type, especially one separated from his pals, would be most likely to be found. Of course he might be “holed-up,” but that seemed improbable. No one had seen him in the house and who would suspect a blind man of being a burglar, even though he had been seen in the vicinity of a crime?
Nevertheless the first day’s search was fruitless. There were scores of blind men, but not the blind man—blind men of all sorts, but not one showing signs of the brand of viciousness that would lead him into safe-robbery— many blind men who were not blind, but the man he sought really was blind, he knew.
Toward evening he decided that if it were to be a long hunt he must have headquarters on the spot, and found one ready-made for him. At a free dispensary in the neighborhood he was gladly granted permission to open a private charity clinic for the treatment of those specialties in which he was famous. His explanation that he was looking for material for a series of new experiments was readily accepted and a private office, with sleeping room attached, speedily cleared for the distinguished physician. To it he brought down from his home some personal belongings, bedding and a few decorations, including two or three Chinese and Japanese bronzes that were one of his hobbies.
The story continues … download your copy today!
- The Robbery
- The Search
- The Bait
- The Cure
- The Pearls