Chapter XXXIV. The Billionaire Baby
 

Coming to us directly as a result of the talk that the Atherton case provoked was another that involved the happiness of a wealthy family to a no less degree.

"I suppose you have heard of the 'billionaire baby,' Morton Hazleton III?" asked Kennedy of me one afternoon shortly afterward.

The mere mention of the name conjured up in my mind a picture of the lusty two-year-old heir of two fortunes, as the feature articles in the Star had described that little scion of wealth-- his luxurious nursery, his magnificent toys, his own motor car, a trained nurse and a detective on guard every hour of the day and night, every possible precaution for his health and safety.

"Gad, what a lucky kid!" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"Oh, I don't know about that," put in Kennedy. "The fortune may be exaggerated. His happiness is, I'm sure."

He had pulled from his pocketbook a card and handed it to me. It read: "Gilbert Butler, American representative, Lloyd's."

"Lloyd's?" I queried. "What has Lloyd's to do with the billion- dollar baby?"

"Very much. The child has been insured with them for some fabulous sum against accident, including kidnaping."

"Yes?" I prompted, "sensing" a story.

"Well, there seem to have been threats of some kind, I understand. Mr. Butler has called on me once already to-day to retain my services and is going to--ah--there he is again now."

Kennedy had answered the door buzzer himself, and Mr. Butler, a tall, sloping-shouldered Englishman, entered.

"Has anything new developed?" asked Kennedy, introducing me.

"I can't say," replied Butler dubiously. "I rather think we have found something that may have a bearing on the case. You know Miss Haversham, Veronica Haversham?"

"The actress and professional beauty? Yes--at least I have seen her. Why?"

"We hear that Morton Hazleton knows her, anyhow," remarked Butler dryly.

"Well?"

"Then you don't know the gossip?" he cut in. "She is said to be in a sanitarium near the city. I'll have to find that out for you. It's a fast set she has been traveling with lately, including not only Hazleton, but Dr. Maudsley, the Hazleton physician, and one or two others, who if they were poorer might be called desperate characters."

"Does Mrs. Hazleton know of--of his reputed intimacy?"

"I can't say that, either. I presume that she is no fool."

Morton Hazleton, Jr., I knew, belonged to a rather smart group of young men. He had been mentioned in several near-scandals, but as far as I knew there had been nothing quite as public and definite as this one.

"Wouldn't that account for her fears?" I asked.

"Hardly," replied Butler, shaking his head. "You see, Mrs. Hazleton is a nervous wreck, but it's about the baby, and caused, she says, by her fears for its safety. It came to us only in a roundabout way, through a servant in the house who keeps us in touch. The curious feature is that we can seem to get nothing definite from her about her fears. They may be groundless."

Butler shrugged his shoulders and proceeded, "And they may be well-founded. But we prefer to run no chances in a case of this kind. The child, you know, is guarded in the house. In his perambulator he is doubly guarded, and when he goes out for his airing in the automobile, two men, the chauffeur and a detective, are always there, besides his nurse, and often his mother or grandmother. Even in the nursery suite they have iron shutters which can be pulled down and padlocked at night and are constructed so as to give plenty of fresh air even to a scientific baby. Master Hazleton was the best sort of risk, we thought. But now--we don't know."

"You can protect yourselves, though," suggested Kennedy.

"Yes, we have, under the policy, the right to take certain measures to protect ourselves in addition to the precautions taken by the Hazletons. We have added our own detective to those already on duty. But we--we don't know what to guard against," he concluded, perplexed. "We'd like to know--that's all. It's too big a risk."

"I may see Mrs. Hazleton?" mused Kennedy.

"Yes. Under the circumstances she can scarcely refuse to see anyone we send. I've arranged already for you to meet her within an hour. Is that all right?"

"Certainly."

The Hazleton home in winter in the city was uptown, facing the river. The large grounds adjoining made the Hazletons quite independent of the daily infant parade which one sees along Riverside Drive.

As we entered the grounds we could almost feel the very atmosphere on guard. We did not see the little subject of so much concern, but I remembered his much heralded advent, when his grandparents had settled a cold million on him, just as a reward for coming into the world. Evidently, Morton, Sr., had hoped that Morton, Jr., would calm down, now that there was a third generation to consider. It seemed that he had not. I wondered if that had really been the occasion of the threats or whatever it was that had caused Mrs. Hazleton's fears, and whether Veronica Haversham or any of the fast set around her had had anything to do with it.

Millicent Hazleton was a very pretty little woman, in whom one saw instinctively the artistic temperament. She had been an actress, too, when young Morton Hazleton married her, and at first, at least, they had seemed very devoted to each other.

We were admitted to see her in her own library, a tastefully furnished room on the second floor of the house, facing a garden at the side.

"Mrs. Hazleton," began Butler, smoothing the way for us, "of course you realize that we are working in your interests. Professor Kennedy, therefore, in a sense, represents both of us."

"I am quite sure I shall be delighted to help you," she said with an absent expression, though not ungraciously.

Butler, having introduced us, courteously withdrew. "I leave this entirely in your hands," he said, as he excused himself. "If you want me to do anything more, call on me."

I must say that I was much surprised at the way she had received us. Was there in it, I wondered, an element of fear lest if she refused to talk suspicion might grow even greater? One could see anxiety plainly enough on her face, as she waited for Kennedy to begin.

A few moments of general conversation then followed.

"Just what is it you fear?" he asked, after having gradually led around to the subject. "Have there been any threatening letters?"

"N-no," she hesitated, "at least nothing--definite."

"Gossip?" he hinted.

"No." She said it so positively that I fancied it might be taken for a plain "Yes."

"Then what is it?" he asked, very deferentially, but firmly.

She had been looking out at the garden. "You couldn't understand," she remarked. "No detective--" she stopped.

"You may be sure, Mrs. Hazleton, that I have not come here unnecessarily to intrude," he reassured her. "It is exactly as Mr. Butler put it. We--want to help you."

I fancied there seemed to be something compelling about his manner. It was at once sympathetic and persuasive. Quite evidently he was taking pains to break down the prejudice in her mind which she had already shown toward the ordinary detective.

"You would think me crazy," she remarked slowly. "But it is just a--a dream--just dreams."

I don't think she had intended to say anything, for she stopped short and looked at him quickly as if to make sure whether he could understand. As for myself, I must say I felt a little skeptical. To my surprise, Kennedy seemed to take the statement at its face value.

"Ah," he remarked, "an anxiety dream? You will pardon me, Mrs. Hazleton, but before we go further let me tell you frankly that I am much more than an ordinary detective. If you will permit me, I should rather have you think of me as a psychologist, a specialist, one who has come to set your mind at rest rather than to worm things from you by devious methods against which you have to be on guard. It is just for such an unusual case as yours that Mr. Butler has called me in. By the way, as our interview may last a few minutes, would you mind sitting down? I think you'll find it easier to talk if you can get your mind perfectly at rest, and for the moment trust to the nurse and the detectives who are guarding the garden, I am sure, perfectly."

She had been standing by the window during the interview and was quite evidently growing more and more nervous. With a bow Kennedy placed her at her ease on a chaise lounge.

"Now," he continued, standing near her, but out of sight, "you must try to remain free from all external influences and impressions. Don't move. Avoid every use of a muscle. Don't let anything distract you. Just concentrate your attention on your psychic activities. Don't suppress one idea as unimportant, irrelevant, or nonsensical. Simply tell me what occurs to you in connection with the dreams--everything," emphasized Craig.

I could not help feeling surprised to find that she accepted Kennedy's deferential commands, for after all that was what they amounted to. Almost I felt that she was turning to him for help, that he had broken down some barrier to her confidence. He seemed to exert a sort of hypnotic influence over her.

"I have had cases before which involved dreams," he was saying quietly and reassuringly. "Believe me, I do not share the world's opinion that dreams are nothing. Nor yet do I believe in them superstitiously. I can readily understand how a dream can play a mighty part in shaping the feelings of a high-tensioned woman. Might I ask exactly what it is you fear in your dreams?"

She sank her head back in the cushions, and for a moment closed her eyes, half in weariness, half in tacit obedience to him. "Oh, I have such horrible dreams," she said at length, "full of anxiety and fear for Morton and little Morton. I can't explain it. But they are so horrible."

Kennedy said nothing. She was talking freely at last.

"Only last night," she went on, "I dreamt that Morton was dead. I could see the funeral, all the preparations, and the procession. It seemed that in the crowd there was a woman. I could not see her face, but she had fallen down and the crowd was around her. Then Dr. Maudsley appeared. Then all of a sudden the dream changed. I thought I was on the sand, at the seashore, or perhaps a lake. I was with Junior and it seemed as if he were wading in the water, his head bobbing up and down in the waves. It was like a desert, too--the sand. I turned, and there was a lion behind me. I did not seem to be afraid of him, although I was so close that I could almost feel his shaggy mane. Yet I feared that he might bite Junior. The next I knew I was running with the child in my arms. I escaped--and--oh, the relief!"

She sank back, half exhausted, half terrified still by the recollection.

"In your dream when Dr. Maudsley appeared," asked Kennedy, evidently interested in filling in the gap, "what did he do?"

"Do?" she repeated. "In the dream? Nothing."

"Are you sure?" he asked, shooting a quick glance at her.

"Yes. That part of the dream became indistinct. I'm sure he did nothing, except shoulder through the crowd. I think he had just entered. Then that part of the dream seemed to end and the second part began."

Piece by piece Kennedy went over it, putting it together as if it were a mosaic.

"Now, the woman. You say her face was hidden?"

She hesitated. "N--no. I saw it. But it was no one I knew."

Kennedy did not dwell on the contradiction, but added, "And the crowd?"

"Strangers, too."

"Dr. Maudsley is your family physician?" he questioned.

"Yes."

"Did he call--er--yesterday?"

"He calls every day to supervise the nurse who has Junior in charge."

"Could one always be true to oneself in the face of any temptation?" he asked suddenly.

It was a bold question. Yet such had been the gradual manner of his leading up to it that, before she knew it, she had answered quite frankly, "Yes--if one always thought of home and her child, I cannot see how one could help controlling herself."

She seemed to catch her breath, almost as though the words had escaped her before she knew it.

"Is there anything besides your dream that alarms you," he asked, changing the subject quickly, "any suspicion of--say the servants?"

"No," she said, watching him now. "But some time ago we caught a burglar upstairs here. He managed to escape. That has made me nervous. I didn't think it was possible."

"Anything else?"

"No," she said positively, this time on her guard.

Kennedy saw that she had made up her mind to say no more.

"Mrs. Hazleton," he said, rising. "I can hardly thank you too much for the manner in which you have met my questions. It will make it much easier for me to quiet your fears. And if anything else occurs to you, you may rest assured I shall violate no confidences in your telling me."

I could not help the feeling, however, that there was just a little air of relief on her face as we left.