Two Deaths and a Bank Robbery
It was seven o'clock in the morning and Marshal John McAlpin, of Georgetown, was frenziedly ringing a wall telephone at Herman Matthews' store.
"Gimme Rockland, quick!" he shouted into the transmitter when he at last had the operator on the wire. "I'm in a hurry, Lou; git a move on. I ain't got no time to be wastin' on you. Gimme Rockland at once."
In a few seconds there was a noise in the distance.
"Rockland? 'At you, Rockland? This is Marshal McAlpin at Georgetown. Gimme Prosecutor Thornton or the sheriff right away. Hell's a-pop- pin' down here. They's bin a murder committed, mebbe two. Hurry up, now."
Soon the marshal had the prosecutor on the wire, and hastily, disjointedly chopped out the facts as he knew them.
"I'll be right down," Thornton told him, somewhat excited himself. "I'll bring the sheriff and the coroner with me."
An hour and a half later a machine bearing four men came whirling into Georgetown, a great cloud of August dust eddying behind it. The machine stopped and Thornton alighted before the store and soft drink parlor conducted by Herman Matthews.
"Where's Marshal McAlpin?" he inquired of Herman.
"Over on the commons. A block down and a block toward the right."
The prosecutor, himself a young man; Dr. Carter, the coroner; "Bulldog" Dorgan, a friend of Thornton in years gone by, now a Chicago detective, who was visiting his people at Rockland, and Sheriff Perry continued on till they found a cluster of men.
Marshal McAlpin saw them coming and with his best official decorum ordered the crowd back. The county authorities stepped into the circle and saw the body of a man about thirty lying on the ground.
"Who is he, Marshal?" the prosecutor asked.
"Harley, Mr. Thornton; George Harley," the marshal told him. "Clerk of the Lewis Commercial Bank." The marshal seemed to place emphasis upon "the Lewis Commercial Bank," as though it was an institution of which he and all Georgetown were proud.
"Examine him, please, Dr. Carter," the prosecutor instructed. "Now, Marshal McAlpin, tell what you know about it. And who is the other person that might have been murdered?"
The marshal told them that Harrison J. Lewis, president of the bank, was the other supposed victim. His body was at his home. But Marshal McAlpin could give them little information as to either case. All he knew was that Harley's body had been discovered on the common at dawn, just as they now saw it. No one had seen it placed there, and there had not been a shot or a cry or an unusual sound during the night, so far as he could learn. No one had thought to look for tracks, and the dust was now disturbed. And Mr. Lewis' body had been found in his automobile at his home.
"What do you find, doctor?" Thornton turned to the coroner.
"A slight abrasion at the base of the skull," was the answer. "That's all externally. I think his death was caused by a broken neck. Other than that I can discover nothing wrong."
Thornton ordered the body taken to the village undertaker's, and the party was moving away when a youth came running and announced that the Commercial Bank had been robbed. John Jacobsen, the cashier, had just opened up and found five thousand dollars missing, money which had recently been deposited by farmers who had sold their wheat.
"Things are happening around here," whistled the prosecutor. "Come on; we'll stop at the bank on the way to the Lewis home."
At the bank everything was in order. Mr. Jacobsen told the investigators he had found the doors locked as always, the non-time locking safe closed as it had been every morning, and papers and books undisturbed. But on opening the safe he discovered that five thousand dollars was missing.
A search in the bank revealed nothing; a search outside revealed nothing. There were no fingerprints to be seen on the safe, as Dorgan for one determined; the person who opened it evidently had exercised the greatest precaution. There was not even a track in the road that might have indicated a machine had been near the bank during the night.
"Did Harley have a key to the bank?" Thornton asked Mr. Jacobsen.
"Yes, he did; always had one. But you didn't find the money on his body, did you?"
"No; but we will look again."
"Did you find a pair of gloves of any kind a robber might have worn in opening the safe, Mr. Jacobsen?" Dorgan wanted to know.
"No, sir. Everything was left just as you see it when I found that the money was gone. I can't imagine what's happened."
"Well, I can't either," Thornton admitted. He turned to leave the bank, then stopped.
"Let me talk to you in private, Mr. Jacobsen." And with the middle-aged cashier, a man of faultless habits, he went into what had been Mr. Lewis' private office. They were closeted half an hour.
"Don't believe he is guilty or knows anything about the robbery or the deaths," Thornton confided to Dr. Carter, Sheriff Perry and Dorgan as they walked back to the undertaker's. "However, I guess it would be best to question him further later on."
They did not find the money on Harley. Neither did they find a pair of gloves. They found the bank key, but Thornton said that proved nothing.
They went on to the Lewis home, the most pretentious of any in the town of a thousand people? Mrs. Lewis was reclining upon a divan, weeping and hysterical. She told them Mr. Lewis was in his machine in front of the garage. They went to the rear and there saw the corpse of the middle-aged banker and leading business man of the community at the steering wheel of his car, his arms clasped around the wheel and his head resting upon them, as if he had fallen asleep.
Dr. Carter made another examination. There were no marks to indicate the banker had been the victim of foul play. Dr. Carter announced that he believed he died of heart disease.
When the four men returned to the house, Mrs. Lewis, attended by an anxious neighbor woman, disposed them in chairs and returned to the divan.
"Would you tell us, Mrs. Lewis, what you know about this unfortunate occurrence?" the prosecutor began almost diffidently. "I suppose you know that the clerk of the bank also was found dead?"
She nodded her head, lips quivering.
"I realize it is a painful situation, Mrs. Lewis, and I will be brief. Where was Mr. Lewis last night in the car?"
"He left—left yesterday afternoon for Winton," she sobbed. "He told me he had business to look after there, and—and might be gone for the night."
At this Dorgan concentrated his steel blue eyes on Mrs. Lewis. She must have felt the intent scrutiny, for she suddenly looked toward him. As she did he perceived that she was a good-looking woman and could not be the age of her husband. There was a momentary alarm in her manner, which, however, fled as quickly as it had come. She took hold of herself and instead of being frightened and wary soon burst into a fresh fit of weeping. There was such an air of abject misery about her that even Dorgan seemed to be so moved that the glint in his eyes softened.
"He did not tell you what his business was?" Thornton was saying.
"No. Mr. Lewis nev—never told me about his business affairs."
"Try to be calm, Mrs. Lewis," the prosecutor counseled. "We will not bother you long. Did you hear Mr. Lewis return in the night or this morning?"
"No. I slept soundly all night and did not know he was—he was dead until I got up this morning."
"Tell us about the discovery."
"Well, I had arranged for a man to come today to mow the lawn," she went on more concertedly, the opportunity to tell what she knew apparently easing her mind. "Duggan—John Duggan. I had just come down to the kitchen; I do not have steady help and there was no one in the house but me. I was getting a bite for breakfast, making toast and putting the coffee on, when Mr. Duggan came running and told me the machine was standing in the drive and Mr. Lewis was leaning over the wheel. He didn't know he was dead, but he thought there was something strange about it. I—I went out with him and—and tried to arouse Mr. Lewis. But—but I could not. Then I came back to the house and Mr. Duggan went for Marshal McAlpin. I—I—oh, it's awful, awful." She gave way to her grief again.
The prosecutor waited for her to regain control of herself before he pursued his questioning.
"Have you any idea of what might have become of the money, or caused Mr. Harley's death?"
"Was Mr. Lewis afflicted with heart trouble? Did he show any symptoms—grow weak, or faint?"
"Yes, yes, he had one or two attacks. Once in the bank he almost collapsed. Mr. Jacobsen knows about that."
"We'll not bother you much longer, Mrs. Lewis. There's just one thing more. Do you object to the body being held for a few days before burial ? Perhaps a post-mortem may throw a little light on the case."
"No. I have no objections."
"Thank you. I'll do my best to clear this up. Two mysterious deaths here —it is very unusual. Good-day."
The party tiptoed from the house. Prosecutor Thornton said he was glad that was over.
As they walked away he asked Dorgan what he thought of the situation. Jim merely replied he didn't know what to think. It was obvious he did not wish to express an opinion so publicly.
Back at the bank, Thornton inquired of Mr. Jacobsen concerning Harley's antecedents and was informed by the cashier that he knew little of Harley's history. In fact, almost nothing. Mr. Lewis had engaged him in Cleveland, he believed, although he could not be certain. Harley had talked of many places he had been, without attaching himself to any one particularly. He had come to Georgetown a little more than a year ago, and had always been on good terms with his employer. Mr. Jacobsen declared he was a very likable and upright young man, and resented any inference from the prosecutor that he might have been responsible for the disappearance of the five thousand dollars.
"Do you suppose he might have had friends in another city—Cleveland, for instance—who helped him rob the bank?" Dorgan pressed.
"Ah, no," Mr. Jacobsen replied, dismissing the thought. "He could not have done it. No, certainly not."
"Well, boys," Thornton said when they left the bank the second time, "the case resolves itself into this: Was Harley murdered, and who got the money? Evidently, as Dr. Carter says, Lewis died of heart disease in his car. He was getting well beyond fifty, and that's very probable. But something very unusual must have happened to Harley to break his neck, and the money of course did not walk away from the bank unassisted. What caused Harley's death and who took the money?—that's for us to find out. What's the answer, Dorgan?"
Jim flung up his hands in meaningless gesture.
After visiting the house where Harley had roomed and where they found the landlady in sincere mourning at Harley's death, the party returned to Rockland.
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"Well, Mr. Sphinx, what do you make of it?" Thornton wanted to know when he was alone with Dorgan that evening in his office. "Has there been a murder committed? Or two murders ? What in your opinion should be the course of the commonwealth ?"
The "Bulldog" did not answer at once, but stood looking out over the public square of Rockland where the autos were massed.
"We have cars nowadays where we used to have horses and buggies and hitchracks," he said irrelevantly.
"Yes," Bill answered.
"But we have people down here as always, the same people, with pretty much the same habits and beliefs and prejudices and loves and longings."
"Yes, I guess so."
"Human nature does not change a great deal regardless of the advance of civilization, does it?"
"No. But what's that got to do with Georgetown?"
"I don't know, Bill. Perhaps nothing. What do you think?"
Thornton sat staring at him and seemed to interpret his thoughts.
"You're wrong, Jim," he declared suddenly; "you're wrong."
"Well, perhaps I am. But that ancient situation—an old husband, a young wife and a young man. Why, the man who would overlook that angle of this case would be a fool. An absolute fool, Bill; an absolute fool."
"How old do you say she is, Jim?"
"A little over thirty. Do I miss it far?"
"No, I guess not. I recall that she married him five or six years ago, and she could not have been very old then. She's just two or three years younger than you and I."
"What were the circumstances—the reason, if I might put it that way?"
"No particular reason, to my knowledge. Probably because she had no other offer of marriage, Jim. Such things do happen, you know."
"That's probably true. Plain sort of woman, isn't she?"
"Yes, plain. Too plain, Jim, to bear out what you're hinting at. That's my idea. Why, I know her as I know every one else in the county, perhaps a little better than some, and I know she has been very dutiful. Her nature to be so. It's rather ridiculous, Dorgan, to jump at conclusions like that. Preposterous! A church worker, the Associated Charities of the village, the personification of kindness. No, Jim, it could not be."
"But you do not intend to take it for granted, do you, Bill? You're surely going to investigate her thoroughly. If I may offer a suggestion, I'd keep the coroner's verdict open for a while, and —and put her through a severe examination."
Thornton thrummed his desk with a letter opener. His face flushed.
"Look here, Jim," he said, shaking the instrument at Dorgan with the manner he might use in addressing a jury. "I've a little sense of human nature as well as you. You have worked among people where that sort of thing exists. It does not exist in this county. It does not, I tell you!"
"Well, that's the chivalrous way of looking at it."
"I've got some sense of human nature, as I said," Thornton continued, his eyes narrowing, "and I insist that I know an honest and decent woman when I see one. I did not indicate it today, but I have known Helen Lewis for a great many years. We once went to school together down in the country before I met you. That girl was wholesome, a romping, open-souled sort of person; that woman is wholesome, and decent, today."
"But, Bill, it is the wholesome woman that often turns out to be the most unwholesome. She's forced to it. The lack of attention drives her to seek attention. Haven't I seen it proven scores of times? I wasn't born yesterday."
There was a recalcitrant note in his voice.
"Yes, that's the fine professional way of looking at it. But it's the brutal, cold way, too. Why, Dorgan, I'd as soon cut off that little finger as to consider such a thing seriously. What do we know to indicate such an amour as you insinuate, getting down to brass tacks? What evidence have we got that such an affair ever existed? None, absolutely none. They were never seen together, and Harley very, very seldom was at the Lewis home. Jacobsen told me privately he knew that neither had been farther away from Georgetown than Rockland within the year. Why, man, there's not a scintilla of fact to back you up!"
Dorgan laughed softly.
"Very well, my dear sir," Thornton flung at him. "But perhaps you can explain the disappearance of the money on your hypothesis? Possibly the five thousand had an affinity."
"Oh, I won't quarrel about it, Bill. Of course I cannot explain at this stage how the money disappeared. But somebody who had a key to the bank and knew the safe combination must have got it. That's almost a foregone conclusion."
"Yes. But where did it go? Three persons had keys to the bank—Harley, Jacobsen and Lewis. I think you will agree with me that Jacobsen may almost be eliminated from suspicion. However, I intend to have accountants go over the books and affairs of the bank generally. Just before you came in tonight I had the bank at Winton on the phone to see if I could find any clew to Lewis' taking the money there. But there was none. It was some real estate business that took him to Winton, I learned, and there was no money passed. That brings us down to Harley. If he stole the money, what did he do with it? It was not at the house where he roomed, as you know our investigation proved. If he took it, would he hide it, knowing that the theft of so large an amount would be discovered immediately? And he mailed nothing, nor telegraphed. There is the possibility that he had outside help. Jacobsen spoke of his having come from Cleveland; at least he thought so. He might have engineered the haul and had a gang from Cleveland to aid him. We'll get in touch with the police there and in other cities and have them on the lookout. There are several possibilities—plausibilities, Jim, you might say—but nothing definite. I think you will agree wth me, that it is a very deep mystery to which the key is not visible. So what's the answer, Jim?"
"The woman, Bill."
Prosecutor Thornton threw up his hands in disgust.
"Bah! Two bahs! You're crazy. There's nothing to proceed on, man!"
"There's what the reporters call the third degree."
"Nothing doing, nothing doing!" Bill expostulated. "Whenever I have to become a bulldozer to accomplish my ends, particularly with a woman like Helen Lewis, why, somebody else can be prosecutor!"
"Then you don't intend to do it?"
"No, I do not."
"I'm afraid I can't be of any more help to you, Bill."
"Jim, it's said that whenever a man offers a wager to support his position, he has nothing more worthy to offer. But I'd stake my life on Helen Lewis' fidelity, and I'm not going to besmirch her name."
"I admire your chivalry, Bill, but not your professional acumen. I think I'll be going."
"All right, Jim. Time will tell. It usually does in such vital matters."
"Bulldog" Dorgan departed, cursing under his breath such stupidity.
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A Threatening Letter
Next morning Jacobsen sent in to the prosecutor a letter he had found among Mr. Lewis' papers. Thornton called Dorgan at the home of his parents and asked if he would like to take a trip into the country. Dorgan accepted the invitation and they drove fifteen miles beyond Georgetown into the hills bordering the Ohio River.
The letter, written in a scrawling and illiterate style, and signed by George Morris, had been posted seven days before. It was very short and to the point, being, in fact, a threat that if Mr. Lewis did not restore five thousand dollars which Morris claimed he was entitled to, he, Morris, would take steps to get it back.
With the letter in hand Thornton, accompanied by Dorgan, climbed a rock strewn hillside to the Morris house, a place badly in need of repair. It was patently not the home of a prosperous farmer.
George, a doddering old man, was amiable enough to his callers. He had not heard Mr. Lewis was dead, but was frank to say he was glad of it. He calmly admitted he had written to Mr. Lewis, explaining that some months before the bank had foreclosed without notice on an adjoining piece of land and sold it for five thousand dollars to a neighbor. He went on to say that following that his wife had died and now he was alone on his almost worthless patch of twenty acres or so. He said the foreclosure had brought on his wife's death, and if Mr. Lewis had been lenient a little longer he would have been able to pay out.
"He got his just deserts, Lewis did," the old man concluded in frenzied voice. "The ol' skinflint!"
"How did you intend to recover from Lewis—what steps had you planned to take, like you mentioned in your letter?" Thornton questioned.
"Well, now, I don't like to say, for mebbe I will want to do somethin' yit," Morris countered. "But I never had a mind to kill him."
"Where were you night before last?"
"Up t' th' store."
"Can you prove it?"
"Yes, sir; 'deed I can."
And he did. Thornton and Dorgan learned from the proprietor that the old man had been there until nearly ten o'clock. Others corroborated this, and one man said he had ridden home with old George, helped him put up his horse and had walked on to his own home.
"Bum hunch," Dorgan told Thornton. "He had nothing to do with it."
"We'll see, Jim."
But on looking over the two bony animals Morris had in his tumbledown barn, the prosecutor decided that neither was capable of making thirty miles in a night. Besides, it seemed ridiculous, as Dorgan told him, to assume that old George, doddering as he was, had enough ingenuity to encompass such a robbery.
An unavailing search of the house and the barn for the money convinced Thornton that George Morris was guiltless.
The third day an inquest was held and the verdict left open. The fourth day Mr. Lewis and Harley were buried after an analysis of the vital organs of both had been made and developed nothing. Both were placed in the same plot in the Georgetown cemetery.
Police of Cleveland and other cities were unable to find anything to assist Thornton. A search among banking people at Cleveland failed to throw any light on Harley's past. Several times Dorgan sought to convince Thornton that Mrs. Lewis should be grilled, but each time he met with rebuff. Thornton said he would take her word that she knew nothing about how the two men came to their deaths.
Finally, after ten days of useless rummaging, the prosecutor instructed the coroner to return a verdict of death from a broken neck, cause unknown, in the case of Harley, and from heart disease in the case of the banker. He had been unable to develop a lead worthy of consideration. The money was gone; if Harley and Lewis had died from unlawful causes, those causes probably would never be known.
Jim Dorgan returned to Chicago. But he did not forget the Georgetown mystery. He rarely ever forgot anything, and never wilfully cast a criminal subject from his mind. He almost took it as a personal affront that Thornton had disregarded his opinion. Relations had become a little strained between the prosecutor and himself toward the end of his visit, and it rankled in him that such a mystery should go unsolved and that Thornton should adopt what to him seemed a foolish attitude. It hurt his professional pride.
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Limping Lizzie's Operation
Chicago was in the throes of a crime wave. Murders, robberies and petty thieving were rampant. The order went out one night for a roundup. Every person of known criminal proclivities was to be brought in to make an accounting.
The fine-meshed seine caught, among others, "Limping Lizzie," who had a string of aliases as long as a thoroughbred's pedigree. Lizzie, known of old as a clever dip, was dragged from a cozily furnished apartment in the Twenties on the south side. The detectives who brought her in judged she must have been getting in some extremely profitable work recently, and they told Chief Burke so.
"Why, chief, that woman's got swell furniture and rugs and curtains galore in her apartment," Mercer reported. "Limpin' Lizzie certainly has not been loafin'. Now, have you, Elizabeth?" He turned to the girl with mock seriousness.
Elizabeth was indignant. Her respectability was outraged.
"I have not been doing anything of the sort," she answered hotly. "And you know I have not. You know you haven't got a thing on me. I've been bothering no one for—oh, well, for a long time."
The chief laughed. So did the two detectives.
"Where'd you get all those swell rags you're wearing?" Burke demanded.
"Why, I got an inheritance about nine months ago," she declared.
"That's good," Mercer roared. "You're there, Lizzie. Who was he and how did you work it ?"
"You nut!" the girl cried, in sincere anger. "You nut! Let me go! I haven't done anything to be hauled in here for." She was talking loudly, in righteous indignation, and not in the suave, sweet way that had been hers when she had had dealings with the police on previous occasions.
Dorgan was attracted by her outburst and came and stood in the doorway of Burke's office. He listened to her appeals.
"What's the matter, Lizzie?" he finally interrupted.
"Your friends here are trying to get me to admit I've been picking pockets lately, and it's not so. They won't believe me when I tell them that I inherited some money recently. I have a letter to prove it." She drew herself up defiantly.
"Well, where's the letter?" the chief wanted to know.
"I have it all right. It's out at the flat."
"Take her out there, Dorgan, and see if she's telling the truth. I guess you will be able to tell. Use your discretion. I have another assignment for Mercer and Kelly."
Dorgan and the girl walked out. On the way to the elevated station Jim noticed that she did not limp as she had the last time he had seen her and got her out of an affair in which he believed she really had been falsely accused.
"What's happened, anyway?" he inquired.
"An operation, Mr. Dorgan," she said, assuming an air of importance. "I'm somebody now. I could afford an operation. Doctor took a bone from my foot." She stopped and held back her skirt so that he might see the result. Whereas the ankle had been enlarged and awkward before, it was now virtually of regular proportions.
"It'll hurt your business, won't it, Lizzie? You won't be able to work on their sympathy any more." Jim spoke with an air of camaraderie which sometimes obtains between hunter and hunted.
Lizzie did not answer.
At the flat she brought out the letter and showed it to Dorgan. As she did so her eyes became misty.
"The money was from my brother, George Harley," she said throatily. "He died last summer."
Dorgan looked at her quickly.
"Where?" he asked crisply.
"Down in Ohio somewhere, I guess. Here, read it."
The letter, dated October 15, was from a Cincinnati bank and addressed to Elizabeth Harley. It merely stated that a client bank in Ohio had requested that a draft payable to her be forwarded by registered mail, the money being the estate that had been left by her brother, George Harley, who had died suddenly. She would be able, it added, to cash it at any bank.
Dorgan read it and his eyes glowed. "Lizzie, you remember you told me last summer that if you could do me a favor, you would?"
"Well, can I have this letter for a while if I agree to return it to you?"
"And let me get run in without any proof of what I tell the bulls?"
"The chief will take my word that you're on the square."
"What do you want with it?"
"I can't tell you that. But I'll promise to return it. You know that I usually keep my promises."
"All right, if you promise. But I want it back sure."
"You'll get it. By the way, what is your real name, Lizzie?"
"That's it—Harley. That's the truth, Jim."
Dorgan that night requested and was granted three days leave without pay.
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The Whole Truth
Jim Dorgan was back in the office of Prosecutor Thornton at Rockland. He presented the letter he brought with him to the prosecutor, who read it over slowly.
"Are you content to let the case rest now, Bill?" Jim asked.
"No, I guess not, Jim. Perhaps you had the right hunch after all. I don't suppose that old Jacobsen would hardly have sent that money without the knowledge of the owner of the bank, who now happens to be Mrs. Lewis. We'll go out and see her at once."
The Dorgan car drove up to the Georgetown home of the widow. The prosecutor and Dorgan alighted and were met at the door by Mrs. Lewis. They were startled by her appearance —a woman aged years in months, her hair graying. She hesitated a moment, then opened the door to them. She asked them to be seated.
Thornton went to his subject at once. He produced the letter, passed it to her and asked if she understood what it meant. Mrs. Lewis paled to her hair and seemed to be on the point of denial. Then her manner changed suddenly and she was at ease.
"Yes, I know what it means, Mr. Thornton," she said. "It—it was sent at my instruction. How did you get it?"
Thornton explained how Dorgan had come into possession of it, and recalled that Dorgan had been present last summer.
"Will you tell us what the letter means—how it all happened, Mrs. Lewis?" he added.
"Yes, I will be glad to. Do you know, Will," she said, taking up his name of school days, "I am glad that you came today. Probably you will not believe it, but I am. I have thought very, very seriously of seeing you about it, and I would have in time. You do not know how a terrible secret like I have harbored can burn its way into one's soul. I have been miserable, and yet I have not quite had the courage to make a clean breast of it. So I'm glad you're here. At last I can tell."
"Yes, Mrs. Lewis—Helen—I can understand," Thornton assured her. "Tell us everything and you will feel better."
"I had that money sent to Miss Harley," she went on deliberately, "because her brother had told me she was a cripple; and he had expressed a hope that some time he might be able to supply her with funds for an operation. He had talked to me about her, and—and I thought I should do it. That money, Will, was stolen from the bank."
Dorgan glanced toward Thornton victoriously. The prosecutor's eyes showed plainly that he disliked to believe it.
"I'm going to tell you the whole truth, Will." Mrs. Lewis was saying. "I'm going to start at the beginning and bare my soul. And if I am to blame for anything I am not going to ask for mercy. If I have done anything for which I should atone, I want to atone. I did not tell the whole truth last summer, but there seemed to be no other way out.
"You know, Will, about my marriage, and that Mr. Lewis was so much older. I didn't think I should marry him, but my parents urged me to. And, I'll be frank to say, Will, there did not seem to be another prospect for me. We were not happy; it was impossible for us to be. The difference in our ages was too great.
"Then Mr. Harley came here to work in the bank. From Columbus, it was. Mr. Lewis had inquired of a bank there for a competent man when his business got so heavy. I did not know anything much about Mr. Harley; neither did Mr. Lewis. But he was competent, likable and congenial—and he was young. There's no use of hiding anything now. I think it all must have had its beginning when Mr. Lewis invited him to the house. We became good friends. You can see how it would be so—I had been cooped up so long without proper associates. He was only here a few times. Once at dinner he told Mr. Lewis and myself about his sister. He was very careful in his attentions to me at the house, but when I would go to the bank I saw in his eyes what any woman could not fail to see. I felt sort of guilty, but—but it thrilled me, too.
"Oh, I know it was not right, but I was so lonesome, so lonesome, Will. I was not in love with him, I am sure, or I would not have done what I did later. But I suppose his admiration enthralled me. Perhaps you will understand that—I can't explain it more fully." She paused and showed signs of giving away to her emotions.
Thornton and Dorgan gave her sympathetic attention and she proceeded.
"One day he said to me at the bank, 'You are very unhappy, Helen,' and because it was true and because his voice and eyes were so tender, I began to cry. I was not used to tenderness. I hurried from the bank.
"The next day I had a note from him through the mail. It simply said, 'Will you forgive me?'
"After that I stayed away from the bank, and one evening a week later he called me on the phone.
"'Did you get my note ?' he asked.
"'Yes.' I said.
"'What is the answer?' he wanted to know.
"'What could it be but yes,' I told him.
"'All right,' he said. 'Tonight.'
"That was all. The tenseness of his voice made me uneasy; the 'Tonight' worried me. But I told myself I had misunderstood it for 'Good night.'
"Mr. Lewis had driven over to Winton to attend to some business or other. He said he might not be back until the next day. I suppose Mr. Harley knew it.
"I went to bed early. At eleven o'clock the doorbell rang. I slipped into my dressing gown and went down to answer if. It was—was him!
"Well, he wanted to know why I was not ready as I had promised, and kept saying over and over the train went at twelve and we would miss it if we did not hurry. I was so amazed, so terror-stricken, that I made no remonstrance when he came in and closed the door. I told him I did not understand what he meant by such action, when I finally gathered my senses.
"'Aren't you going with me, Helen?' he demanded.
"'Are you mad?' I asked.
"'I guess so, Helen,' he said. 'Mad with love of you. Hurry, Helen, for we are going away to happiness.' That is just the way he put it."
Again she paused, and her eyes fell to the floor. She presented a sad picture, as she struggled to repress her emotion.
"I finally got the straight of it. After the first note he had sent me another, proposing that we go away together. It did not come until the next day—he had taken the precaution to mail it in another town. He pleaded I should go anyway because of his love for me, and—and would not leave. He tried to take me in his arms. I ran upstairs to escape him, and he started to follow.
"Then I heard a car in the drive and—and I knew Mr. Lewis had come home. It was a terrible moment. I stopped on the stairs and begged Mr. Harley to go. Finally he seemed to comprehend the situation and turned to go down the stairs.
"But it was too late. The car stopped outside the garage and it seemed only a second before I heard Mr. Lewis on the rear porch. Mr. Harley had taken only two or three steps when Mr. Lewis opened the kitchen door. He came in quickly, wondering, I suppose, why there was a light in the hall. Maybe he heard us.
"Mr. Harley started to run for the front door. A rug slipped under him and he fell, striking his head on the floor. His neck must have been broken that way. I darted on upstairs. I did not dare stop. I hurried into my room and lay down. Then in a minute I heard a gasp from Mr. Lewis and—and a dull sound. I waited for perhaps thirty minutes, not knowing what to do. At last I crept downstairs.
"The hall light had been jostled out.
I stumbled over something. I found the light and turned it on. Mr. Lewis' body lay over Mr. Harley's. I suppose Mr. Lewis had died from the shock, an act of providence." The tears welled in her eyes.
"That's about all of the story," she sobbed. "Except, that after I had stared at them in dumb agony for what seemed an age, I came to realize they must not be found here. Frantically I paced up and down the hall, not knowing what to do. Then a heaven-sent idea came to me.
"I carried Mr. Lewis out and placed him in his car, just as he was found next morning. Then I half carried, half dragged Mr. Harley to the common, dodging in and out of the shadows. It was a moonlight night, and it seemed to me a thousand pairs of eves were watching from each window. He was heavy, but I did not seem to notice that. My muscles were deadened with fear. Then I stole home to my misery like a hunted animal."
She lay back against the divan, utterly weary and almost limp from her recital.
"But what of the money?" Dorgan managed to ask.
"That's another miserable part of it," she faltered. "Of course he took it— to go away on. I noticed it in his pocket, it made such a bulge. Something told me it was not his, and I felt I owed it to him to protect his name, when it was partly my fault that he did such a wild thing. So I took it. I remembered what he had told me about his sister. He had given me her address so that I might get in touch with her should anything happen to him. So I sent it to her. I went to Cincinnati personally and told the bank there to send it on, saying that it came from a bank in Ohio.
"That is all, Will. What is to become of me? Am I damned forever?" The tears were flowing down her cheeks.
"No, Helen, no. It has been cleared up to my satisfaction, and the state will not prosecute," Thornton freely assured her. "In fact, there is nothing to prosecute on, since it is a private bank, and no one has lost anything but you. And what a terrible story! Perhaps you did not do right in concealing it so long, Helen. But I can understand, and I want to extend my sympathy. And we will go at once, for I do not want to intrude longer upon your sorrow."
He rose, walked over and took her hand. A silent clasp, a homage to a sorrowing woman whom he had known as a romping schoolgirl—and he walked to the door.
Jim Dorgan's face was a puzzle to see as he shook hands with Helen Lewis. There was an admixture of victory and defeat.
Outside, when they were seated and the machine was moving off, Bill turned to his friend. He could not help gloating a little.
"Didn't I tell you, Jim? Didn't I tell you that Helen Lewis would not wittingly be a party to such a thing?"
"We both win—and we both lose,"' Dorgan the "Bulldog" answered evasively. "But I'm satisfied. She's a good woman, Bill, a good woman."
~ The End ~
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By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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