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.
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It was along about noon on the second day after that the series of events his logic demanded began to shape themselves. A tattered boy emerged from a lodging house leading an almost burly figure in beard and blue goggles, who tapped ahead of him with a long cane. About his neck were suspended the regulation tin cup and placard reading, “Please Help the Blind.” With almost a lump in his throat, Porter followed the pair across to one of the busy business streets, where the boy left his charge against the iron railing of a graveyard and darted away. Porter took up his stand nearby to await developments.
These were not long in coming. Coins for the cup were few. The figure was a trifle too burly and the expression a trifle too belligerent to awaken pity in many hearts among the hurrying throng, but finally a man appeared who deliberately halted and searched his pockets for a coin. Porter observed him carefully. He had noticed him as he crossed the street. The normal man jumps when an automobile horn honks just behind him. This man had not even started. He was a tall man, slightly stooped, smooth-shaven, with a long, pointed jaw, and when he spoke to the blind beggar it was in a low monotone which Porter could not catch, even though he edged closer in the effort.
Neither could he hear the beggar’s reply—but he could read it, for the blind man answered with his fingers, with his hand held high, almost under the other’s nose—answered emphatically and with warmth which swept beyond the limits of the silent code and required spoken oaths to express his feelings.
Porter’s hands gripped the railing behind him as he stood tense a few yards away from the strangely quarreling pair.
“Where’d I go?” shouted the fingers. “What’d you care where I went? You left me with that damn Dummy, didn’t you? You left me with him so he could ditch me. Didn’t have the heart to throw down an old pal like that yourself. Where’d you go? That’s what I want to know. Where’d you go and where’s my share of them pearls?”
The deaf man apparently replied at some length, but without changing his tone or position. He stood as though interested in some charitable quest, but his explanation fell upon ears as deaf as his own. It was discarded with a gesture of angry scorn.
“To hell with that tale,” the fingers declaimed. “I may be blind, but I can hear and I can feel. Didn’t I hear and feel you and Dummy picking them pearls up off the floor when the string broke just before the blow-off. What chance had I to find any? And you try to tell me Dummy got ’em all. Tell that to any old con and see if he’ll believe you. You crossed me—the pair of you —that’s what you did, Deafy. I didn’t expect much different from Dummy. He’s a gaycat, anyway, but you—why didn’t I forgive you when you put my lamps out getting funny with that soup. I forgave you that because you was a pal and because you lost your hearing at the same time. And now you cross a blind man.”
They kept it up for two or three minutes more, but there was too much at stake for Porter to risk observance by the alert deaf man, and he lost himself in the crowd until they should finish. Over his shoulder he read the blind man’s parting shot.
“Don’t forget it, neither,” the fingers spelled. “You have Dummy here tomorrow or I’ll snitch on you as sure—”
The fingers were still working as the deaf man darted away unseen and Porter turned in his tracks to follow.
He knew where the blind man lived and did not need to worry about him. Blind men usually travel neither far nor fast. So he trailed the deaf man to a small hotel half-way uptown and watched long enough to make sure he lived there before he returned to his neglected clinic and a pipe to aid him in piecing together his new information.
Two old crooks, eh, he ruminated, when his work was done. Two old pals injured in a premature explosion while cracking a safe. Remarkable, most remarkable! And the dumb man—who is he? Where does he enter the combination ? It was quite a while before the answer occurred to him, and when it did he almost chuckled at the picture presented.
“Ideal,” he muttered aloud. “Ideal. An ideal combination among men so vicious they cannot even trust each other. One man can’t see, another can’t hear and the third can’t speak. No one of them competent to act alone. The combination is ideal, but I wonder how the dumb man talks to the blind man,” and puzzling over this he cast a queer glance at one of his bronzes and went to bed to wait for the promised meeting on the morrow.
It was a long, dreary wait as he paced back and forth about the blind man’s post, first on one side of the street and then on the other, but finally he made out the tall form of the deaf crook crossing the street in the same careless fashion as before, to the evident distress of a slighter, shorter man, who tugged at his arm in efforts to transmit the warnings of traffic peril. The watching physician had identified Dummy even before he was close enough to show that his right-hand coat pocket was missing.
Deafy and Dummy halted before Goggles, and again the pretense of searching pockets for coins was gone through with. Apparently there was some brief word from the taller of the pair, because the blind man stiffened in anger and began to speak rapidly. Deafy lingered for a moment and then, with an impatient toss of his head, stepped away from a conversation he could not hear and glared suspiciously at the pair from a position on the curb.
It was dangerous for Porter to attempt to overhear what the blind man was saying. Anyway, he knew from the conversation of the day before just about what it would be, but curiosity held him for a minute’s risk. He wanted to see how the dumb man would reply. The finger code would be useless before sightless eyes, and he was sure the man really could not speak.
The passers-by undoubtedly noticed nothing unusual, but the expert in human disabilities saw it in a glance and scolded himself for having even puzzled over the method. It was no miracle, but most unusual, except among those long in intimate association. It was remarkable, because these men were apparently comparative strangers.
Dummy merely placed his hand over that of Goggles, who held it out for him, and pressed, tapped and squeezed in the code such as is used by Miss Helen Keller and her mentor. The physician understood at once, but was amazed at what he saw. How could these two men become adept at this intricate system with but apparently a very short opportunity for practice? Undoubtedly, the usual method of communication among the trio was by words from the deaf man to either the blind or the dumb, by words from the blind man to the dumb man and by fingers from the blind man to the deaf man, by fingers from the dumb man to the deaf man and through him to the blind man by words. Their whole association seemed built up on the necessity of the three being together when they conferred with any ease, and hence he wondered at this apparent proficiency in an unusual code.
At length, while he waited at a safe distance for the conversation to end, he recalled something in his experience which solved the problem. These men were, undoubtedly, all ex-convicts. Among the long-term men in some prisons, he remembered, this very system had been developed among some of the most desperate as a means of secret communication where speech was forbidden and the finger code would have been instantly detected. Along the eating tables, in the workshops, or in the marching lines of prisoners a hand could grasp a hand and a brief message be exchanged among the initiated. He had heard vaguely that “outside” there was a regular school where the system was taught those who feared that some day they might have need for it, either to send or receive a message. He understood.
It was a dangerous place for a lengthy conversation between two men such as these, even under the best of circumstances, but the anger in the hearts of these two made it doubly dangerous. The deaf man watched uneasily and hovered near with one eye on his quarreling companions, and the other searching the crowd for detectives. Porter saw the dumb man throw the other’s hand from him with a violent gesture, and, as the blind man raised his cane to strike, the deaf man darted forward, caught Dummy by the arm and whirled him away in the crowd with a low-voiced curse at the man in goggles.
Porter followed the pair and made sure of locating the lair of the third of his despoilers. It was in a hotel of shabby appearance and unsavory reputation far uptown that the dumb man lived. A few hours of cautious inquiries and guarded listening served to reveal something of his character. Dummy, he found, was also a professional beggar—at times, at least. He was one of those furtive individuals who seeks alms with printed cards, or with pad and pencil. Usually he pretended to be deaf as well as dumb, but his hearing was most acute when his own character was under discussion, and his vengeful, vicious nature showed itself strongly, especially when he was in his cups, which was as often as possible. At such times he turned upon gossipers with strange, guttural noises and cries, which showed that he had well-developed vocal cords, even if they were out of control.
Dr. Porter had found his pearl thieves. But that was not the object of his quest. He wanted his pearls.
His next step had already been mapped out. The rape of his wife’s necklace had hurt him far more than the threatened monetary loss. He could buy other pearls without reckoning the cost, but money would not replace these particular pearls. The mere turning over of these men to the police and seeing them sent to prison would not satisfy him. Therefore, he did not seek the police and trust to arrests and third-degree methods. Instead, he called a taxi and drove to the office of young Dr. Henry B. Robertson, who had been one of his assistants until he had hung out his own shingle a few months before and was still his devoted slave.
To Robertson, Porter quickly outlined the story. Upon two prescription blanks he wrote two names, addresses and descriptions.
“Harry,” he said, “one of these men is deaf and the other dumb. Both of them are dangerous criminals, suspicious of everyone and remarkably cunning. I must have each one of them in my hands, alone, as speedily as possible. I am trusting to your wits. You must manage in some way to become acquainted with these men, introduce yourself as the specialist you are and then call me in. Don’t use my name, of course. If properly approached both of these men would jump at a chance to be cured. Promise them you can do it, Harry, and I’ll do the rest. I’ll allow you about a week on each case, but hurry.”
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Porter left his eager young ex-assistant already changing to a street coat and drove to the office of a private detective agency noted for its faithfulness to its clients and its utter lack of curiosity. Here he quietly arranged to have the two men shadowed day and night, with immediate reports to him of anything unusual.
His trap was ready to be baited.
Robertson, he felt sure, would bring the deaf and dumb man to him. He had decided to handle the blind man himself, because here, he felt sure, was the weakest side of the triangle. The blind man, more helpless than either of the others, was burning with desire to avenge what he believed to have been a deliberate attempt to abandon him and cheat him out of the proceeds of the joint enterprise.
It was best, he decided, in this case to strike quickly and directly. But he did not go again to the station by the graveyard railing. Instead he loitered in the vicinity of the lodging-house until, after the evening crowds had deserted the streets, the tattered boy appeared with his charge in tow, leading homeward a bitter, cursing blind man.
“Excuse me,” said Dr. Porter, resisting a temptation to seize the man by the throat and choke a confession out of him, “but I am a physician. I am making a study of blindness. Perhaps I might be able to help you, if you would let me.”
“I ain’t got no money to pay doctors,” Goggles replied, bitterly.
“It isn’t a matter of money,” Porter answered. “I tell you I am studying the various forms of blindness. I have opened a clinic at the dispensary around the corner. We make no charge to those who have no money to pay.”
“Could you give me back my eyes?” the blind man asked eagerly.
“Perhaps. How did you lose your sight?”
“Something like that.”
“How long ago?”
“Two years, come August.”
“That is most interesting. I think I can do something for you. Can you be at my clinic at 10 in the morning? Ask for me. My name is Dr. Moore.”
“You think there’s a chance I could see again?” the blind man asked after a full minute’s study. “I could pay well, if I could get my eyes back.”
“You mean you could work and earn the money then?”
“I wouldn’t have to earn it. It’s coming to me. I mean I could catch the — that gyped me out of my share of the—well, out of my rights.”
“You’ll come, then?” Porter asked, almost too eagerly he feared.
“Yes, I’ll be there.”
One of the quarry had smelled the bait.
Two days later young Dr. Robertson was having a similar conversation with a man to whom he talked on his fingers and who answered in a low monotone. Here, too, was a man who finally admitted a great desire to regain one of his lost senses. This man did not seek vengeance, but expressed a fear that through his disability certain enemies were plotting against him. He was intensely anxious to hear what was going on around him and promised payment for a cure—not in money, but in the form of a handsome present of jewelry.
In the course of the following week another derelict had confessed to Dr. Robertson that he might be able to raise money for a goodly reward in case his speech was restored. He had no money, he confessed, but could realize on some valuable property he owned, if he could only talk about it like other men. Being dumb he was at a great disadvantage, and also, he would like to tell a couple of —— exactly what he thought of them in plain words. This in itself, he declared profanely, would be worth a great deal to him.
Each of the three men had stipulated that there should be no publicity about the cases. No one was to know they were under treatment. They each announced a great desire to “surprise their friends” and insisted upon arrangements for their visits at hours when they would not be seen by other patients. To these stipulations, Drs. Robertson and Porter finally agreed as a special concession, although Dr. Porter knocked what little professional dignity Dr. Robertson had been able to acquire completely out of him as he slapped him on the back in token of great and complete satisfaction.
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On each of the three cases “Dr. Moore” worked patiently and painstakingly. He soon lost all fear of detection as the man whose house had been robbed. If the three crooks remembered the name of their victim, it was apparently only as “some doctor” and there were thousands of doctors. All of his expert training in his profession he applied to the work of really restoring these three men to the full use of their faculties, and all of the skill in reading human character, gleaned from his long years of practice, he devoted to extracting and piecing together their secrets. he worked as physician and psychologist combined.
Both processes were tedious, but combined, required only a couple of weeks altogether after the men had fully surrendered their confidence to him and his energetic young assistant, who in the casual conversational manner of the competent physician did most of the real questioning. That they learned anything like all of the truth neither of them believed for a moment. That all they did learn was true was another premise they rejected. But, trying and testing each statement gleaned, comparing and matching it to others to see if it fitted, and putting the whole “jig-saw puzzle” together, they felt that they had at least the framework of a section of the lives of these three crooks and the clue to their strange association.
As Dr. Porter had originally deduced, the three were ex-convicts. Deafy and Goggles had been friends for years and went to Sing Sing for the same burglary. At that time both men were in full possession of their senses. They had become acquainted with Dummy, sentenced for some petty crime, while in prison—attracted to him by his infirmity, which lent a sort of morbid diversion to a drab existence. Through this association they perfected their knowledge of the silent codes of which they already had a smattering, and formed a friendship with a promise of an offensive and defensive alliance when they should be again “outside.”
The release of Goggles and Deafy came first, and they at once set about making up for lost time, forgetting their silent pal, victim of an attack of scarlet fever, after the manner of their kind. Goggles was a wonder with safes. He could open almost any of them, it seems, by merely listening to the click of the tumblers as he turned the knob of the combination. Deafy was supposed to be the “soup” expert—the man who used a drill and a bottle of nitroglycerine upon such boxes as resisted the skill of his companion.
They had a most prosperous time of it for a month or two, baffling the police, obtaining their fill of adventure and lining their pockets—all three satisfactions at one time.
Dummy was released about this time and speedily hunted up his old friends. He was broke, morose, desperate and vengeful. They did not like him as a pal half so much as they thought they would back there in the big, lonely prison. Perhaps it was because Dummy did not measure up to real yegg standards. But the dumb man had declared himself in on two or three of their jobs, and thereafter it was sort of a game of hide and seek. They dodged him whenever they could and accepted him as a partner when they couldn’t help it.
One night when Deafy and Goggles were working alone something had happened. The safe had resisted the skill of the silent worker and the drill and the soup had been called upon to finish the job. Just what happened neither of them knew, but there had been a roar and a blinding flash and a deaf man had dragged a blind man from a wrecked office to safety.
The pearl robbery had been of a later era—of a time after the two men had recovered as much as they could from the effects of the explosion, broken by their disaster physically and financially. To them in this condition, the dumb man had really seemed a link with the world. To one he provided ears, to the the other he gave eyes. He would help a lot, they thought, at first.
But the days of big jobs seemed to be over. Dummy was still a petty thief at heart, and for a time the two real crooks had no stomach for daring adventure. In the course of their pica- yunish pilfering they also learned that Dummy was not a man to be trusted. Deafy had seen him cheat the blind man and, without knowing the reason, Goggles had heard the deaf man give information which sent Dummy to the workhouse for a brief bit. That was the beginning of the disruption of what little of mutual honor had ever existed among these three thieves. Thereafter the combination conceived as a protection against society contracted into a closer and sullen trinity for protection against each other.
There were holes in the piecemeal story about this period—times when each of the men was strangely silent and grim about what had occurred. Something had happened. What it was neither of the physicians could find out, though they worked as skilfully with their wits as with their scalpels.
The attack upon Dr. Porter’s safe was commonplace enough, save for the personalities of the burglars themselves, when the facts were known. The pearls had been located in the usual way, by a servant girl known to the dumb man, through some queer channel. She had reported the make and location of the safe, the plan of the house and the habits of the household. She had been dismissed a few days before the departure of the doctor’s daughter. All would have been plain sailing but for the delay of old Martha in going to sleep.
As for the location of the stolen pearls themselves, that was not quite so easy. An inept or too direct lead or question along this line might have caused alarm which would have spoiled everything. Hating one another as these three crooks undoubtedly did, they were still subjects of the code enough to have given a warning cry if they detected danger.
So the pearls themselves were still somewhat in the realm of deductive facts, although Porter felt certain of his ground. He felt sure that the blind man had none, the deaf man a few, and the dumb man the bulk of them. So certain was he of his ground that he sprang his trap on that basis.
The two private detectives, a police lieutenant of detectives and a stenographer were concealed in Dr. Robertson’s offices that night. The two physicians had brazenly broken their promise of secrecy to their three patients. Each had been ordered to report at a fixed time, and so firm now was their faith in the wonder-working specialists that they obeyed without doubt or question.
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The deaf man was the first to arrive. As he entered the room, Dr. Porter was seated at a table toying with the remnant of his dead wife’s necklace. The sight of it startled the thief, but he recovered himself and took a seat in front of the doctor. Porter laid aside the pearls and turned to the man with his best professional air.
“How are you feeling, Mason?” he asked.
Deafy cupped one hand at his right ear as the doctor spoke, but answered the question readily.
“Fine, sir,” he answered, with a grin, “but hearing a whole lot better, thanks to you.”
“That’s good, but you needn’t thank me. There’s usually a good reason for anything a physician does. Very often he profits even more than the patient. All you have to do now is to take care of yourself and lead a regular life. I think it would be best for you to keep out of the open air.”
With a queer smile, Porter again picked his pearls.
Deafy hesitated a moment, then coughed apologetically.
“You seem interested in pearls,” he said finally.
“Why, yes, rather,” Porter replied. “This is a small string belonging to a friend of mine who left them with me to see if I could find some others to match them.”
Again the thief hesitated and stammered a bit when he spoke.
“You remember, Doctor,” he said, “I told you I should like to make you a little present of jewelry if I was cured. It’s funny, but it’s some old pearls I’ve had a long time I was going to give you. Here they are, if you will take them. Maybe they’d match those of your friend’s,” and he laid six of the Porter treasures on the table.
The doctor’s hands trembled as he picked them up and examined them, but he managed to make some expression of thanks while he quickly strung them into their places with the others. He started to speak, but the doorbell rang, and with an injunction to Deafy to remain where he was he stepped into an adjoining room and closed the door.
It was the dumb man this time who was the opposite figure in a scene much like the one just enacted—a dumb man voluble in his thanks for the miracle of his cure. He, too, spoke for payment.
“Why, yes,” said Dr. Porter finally. “I believe you did say something to Dr. Robertson about paying a fee in case a cure would enable you to realize upon some valuable property you hold. What sort of property is it, if I may ask? Perhaps I might assist you.”
“Well, you see, sir, it’s some pearls,” the dumb man said. “These here pearls. I can’t talk very good yet from being so long out of practice. So if you could take these and get me the money on them I’d be only too glad to divide with you,” and he laid eighteen of the Porter pearls on the table.
“It’s a strange thing,” said the physician, “but I do know just where to place these pearls. We’ll talk about the division of profit later.”
Before the amazed eyes of the Chief, he drew the growing necklace from his pocket and began to replace the missing half of it.
“What—where—how—” spluttered Dummy. Then the door opened and Dr. Robertson ushered Deafy into the room.
For a second the two men glared at each other, too amazed to speak. Then a frown gathered like a storm on the brows of Deafy and he advanced threateningly toward the table upon which lay the pearls.
“You snitch,” he growled, struggling to raise his voice beyond its usual monotone. “Doc, this sneak here stole these pearls. I bought part of them from him and I—”
“You lie,” screamed Dummy. “You stole them yourself out at that doctor’s house!”
“Don’t you believe him. Doc,” growled Deafy, and then the two fell back in amazement, silenced by the discovery that one was talking and the other hearing what was said.
The door opened again. This time the young physician led into the room a bulky man with a beard and bandaged eyes, at whom the other two stared, not so much in surprise as in threatening understanding. Between the two—the once deaf and the once dumb—there passed a look which offered and accepted a new defensive alliance of two against one.
“Mr. Clark,” said Dr. Porter, “there seems to be a difference of opinion here. Do you know these two gentlemen?”
At the question, Goggles lifted the bandage from his eyes, blinked a little at the light, then opened his mouth in consternation at the two men he saw glowering at him. Before he could speak his new-found eyes caught the pearls the physician was still stringing.
“Know them!” he shouted. “Yes, I know the crooks—the double thieves. They stole these pearls and then they stole them from me—stole the share of a poor, helpless blind man. But I can see now and I’ll see you in prison again.” Dummy whipped out a knife and sprang for Goggles, but before he could reach him curtains parted and he was seized by the police lieutenant, while the room seemed to fill with men.
“The game’s up,” growled Deafy. “But he’s in it too. He opened Doc Porter’s safe himself.”
“So you’d snitch on an old pal as well as rob him, would you?” cried Goggles. “And you, Dummy, you little rat that I tried to be a friend to. You’d knife me, would you? Well, I’ll tell, and I’ll tell good. They may send me back to stir, but you’ll go to the chair. Hold him, you fellows. You’ve got the man that killed the grocer in that burglary last winter.”
“Shut up, you fool,” called Deafy.
“No, I won’t shut up. You were in it, too. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t and I’ve got you two where you belong.” The big body sagged at the knees and crumpled on the floor as the man sobbed hysterically.
Dr. Porter had finished stringing his pearls and held the restored necklace up to the light. With a sigh of satisfaction he placed it in the case he took from his pocket and laid it on the table. Turning, he pointed to a piece of bronze that stood on the mantel shelf.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I wish you would all look at this. It has a lesson for thieves, detectives, physicians and everyone else. It is a Japanese piece called the ‘Sacred Monkeys.’ There are three of them. One holds his hands over his ears, a second over his eyes and the third over his mouth. The inscription beneath reads, ‘Hear not, see not, speak not evil.’ I took the restraining hands away from the ears, eyes and mouth of these three men here. You see the result.”
Dr. Porter picked up his jewel case from the table, lighted a cigarette and walked from the room.
~ The End ~
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Mr. Bingler's Murder Maze
By Wilbur S. Peacock
(56 min read)
Crack Detective | Mar. 1943 | Vol. 3 No. 2
Mr. Bingler was on the spot, for here was a case not covered by the situations described in his handy little instruction booklet for Home Detectives. But the little man's courage held out, even when he found himself lying next to a murdered man, with his own sword-umbrella sticking out of the corpse as sure-fire evidence!
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