Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Chapter VI. Blue Fires
"Cabs for comfort; cars for company," was an apothegm which Average Jones had evolved from experience. A professed student of life, he maintained, must keep in touch with life at every feasible angle. No experience should come amiss to a detective; he should be a pundit of all knowledge. A detective he now frankly considered him- self; and the real drudgery of his unique profession of Ad-Visor was supportable only because of the compensating thrill of the occasional chase, the radiance of the Adventure of Life glinting from time to time across his path.
There were few places, Average Jones held, where human nature in the rough can be studied to better advantage than in the stifling tunnels of the subway or the close-packed sardine boxes of the metropolitan surface lines. It was in pursuance of this theory that he encountered the Westerner, on Third avenue car. By custom, Average Jones picked out the most interesting or unusual human being in any assembly where he found himself, for study and analysis. This man was peculiar in that he alone was not perspiring in the sodden August humidity. The clear-browned skin and the rangy strength of the figure gave him a certain distinction. He held in his sinewy hands a doubly folded newspaper. Presently it slipped from his hold to the seat beside him. He stared at the window opposite with harassed and unseeing eyes. Abruptly he rose and went out on the platform. Average Jones picked up the paper. In the middle of the column to which it was folded was a marked advertisement:
ARE you in an embarrassing position? Anything, anywhere, any time, regardless of nature or location. Everybody's friend. Consultation at all hours. Suite 152, Owl Building, Brooklyn.
The car was nearing Brooklyn Bridge. Average Jones saw his man drop lightly off. He followed and at the bridge entrance caught him up.
"You've left your paper," he said.
The stranger whirled quickly. "Right," he said. "Thanks. Perhaps you can tell me where the Owl Building is."
"Are you going there?"
A slight wrinkle of surprise appeared on the man's tanned forehead.
"Perhaps you wouldn't," he returned coolly.
"In other words, 'mind your business,"' said Average Jones, with a smile.
"Something of that sort," admitted the stranger.
"Nevertheless, I wouldn't consult with Everbody's Friend over in the Owl Building."
"Er--because--er--if I may speak plainly," drawled Average Jones, "I wouldn't risk a woman's name with a gang of blackmailers."
"You've got your nerve," retorted the stranger. The keen eyes, flattening almost to slits, fixed on the impassive face of the other.
"Well, I'll go you," he decided, after a moment. His glance swept the range of vision and settled upon a rathskeller sign. "Come over there where we can talk."
They crossed the grilling roadway, and, being wise in the heat, ordered "soft" drinks.
"Now," said the stranger, "you've declared in on my game. Make good. What's your interest?"
"None, personally. I like your looks, that's all," replied the other frankly. "And I don't like to see you run into that spider's web."
"You know them?"
"Twice in the last year I've made 'em change their place of business."
"But you don't know me. And you spoke of a woman."
"I've been studying you on the car," explained Average Jones. "You're hard as nails; yet your nerves are on edge. It isn't illness, so it must be trouble. On your watch-chain you've got a solitaire diamond ring. Not for ornament; you aren't that sort of a dresser. It's there for, convenience until you can find a place to put it. When a deeply troubled man wears an engagement ring on his watch chain it's a fair inference that there's been an obstruction in the course of true love. Unless I'm mistaken, you, being a stranger newly come to town, were going to take your case to those man-eating sharks?"
"How do you know I've just come to town?"
"When you looked at your watch I noticed it was three hours slow. That must mean the Pacific coast, or near it. Therefore you've just got in from the Far West and haven't thought to rectify your time. At a venture I'd say you were a mining man from down around the Ray-Kelvin copper district in Arizona. That peculiar, translucent copper silicate in your scarf-pin comes from those mines."
"The Blue Fire? I wish it had stayed there, all of it! Anything else?"
"Yes," returned Average Jones, warming to the game. "You're an Eastern college man, I think. Anyway, your father or some older member of your family graduated from one of the older colleges."
"What's the answer?"
"The gold of your Phi Beta Kappa key is a different color from your watch-chain. It's the old metal, antedating the California gold. Did your father graduate some time in the latter forties or early fifties?"
"Hamilton, '51. I'm '89. Name, Kirby."
A gleam of pleasure appeared in Average Jones keen eyes. "That's rather a coincidence," he said. "Two of us from the Old Hill. I'm Jones of '04. Had a cousin in your class, Carl Van Reypen."
They plunged into the intimate community of interest which is the peculiar heritage and asset of the small, close-knit old college. Presently, however, Kirby's forehead wrinkled again. He sat silent, communing with himself. At length he lifted his head like one who has taken a resolution.
"You made a good guess at a woman in the case," he, said. "And you call this a coincidence? She'd say it was a case of intuition. She's very strong on intuition and superstition generally." There was a mixture of tenderness and bitterness in his tone. "Chance brought that advertisement to her eyes. A hat-pin she'd dropped stuck through it, or something of the sort. Enough for her. Nothing would do but that I should chase over to see the Owl Building bunch. At that, maybe her hunch was right. It's brought me up against you. Perhaps you can help me. What are you? A sort of detective?"
"Only on the side." Average Jones drew a card from his pocket, and tendered it:
A. JONES, AD-VISOR Advice upon all matters connected with Advertising Astor Court Temple 2 to 5 P.M.
"Ad-Visor, eh?" repeated the other. "Well, there's going to be an advertisement in the Evening Truth to-day, by me. Here's a proof of it."
Average Jones took the slip and read it.
LOST--Necklace of curious blue stones from Hotel Denton, night of August 6. Reward greater than value of stones for return to hotel. No questions asked.
"Reward greater than value of stones," commented Average Jones. "There's a sentimental interest, then?"
"Will you take the case?" returned Kirby abruptly.
"At least I'll look into it," replied Average Jones.
"Come to the hotel, then, and lunch with me, and I'll open up the whole thing."
Across a luncheon-table, at the quiet, old-fashioned Hotel Denton, Kirby unburdened himself.
"You know all that's necessary about me. The--the other party in the matter is Mrs. Hale. She's a young widow. We've been engaged for six months; were to be married in a fortnight. Now she insists on a postponement. That's where I want your help."
Average Jones moved uneasily in his chair. "Really, Mr. Kirby, lovers' quarrels aren't in my line."
"There's been no quarrel. We're as much engaged now as ever, in spite of the return of the ring. It's only her infern--her deep-rooted superstition that's caused this trouble. One can't blame her; her father and mother were both killed in an accident after some sort of 'ghostly warning.' The first thing I gave her, after our engagement, was a necklace of these stones"--he tapped his scarf pin--"that I'd selected, one by one, myself. They're beautiful, as you see, but they're not particularly valuable; only semiprecious. The devil of it is that they're the subject of an Indian legend. The Indians and Mexicans call them "blue fires," and say they have the power to bind and loose in love. Edna has been out in that country; she's naturally high strung and responsive to that sort of thing, as I told you, and she fairly soaked in all that nonsense. To make it worse, when I sent them to her I wrote that-- that--" a dull red surged up under the tan skin--"that as long as the fire in the stones burned blue for her my heart would be all hers. Now the necklace is gone. You can imagine the effect on a woman of that temperament. And you can see the result." He pointed with a face of misery to the solitaire on his watch-chain. "She insisted on giving this back. Says that a woman as careless as she proved herself can't be trusted with jewelry. And she's hysterically sure that misfortune will follow us for ever if we're married without recovering the fool necklace. So she's begged a postponement."
"Details," said Average Jones crisply.
"She's here at this hotel. Has a small suite on the third floor. Came down from her home in central New York to meet my mother, whom she had never seen. Mother's here, too, on the same floor. Night before last Mrs. Hale thought she heard a noise in her outer room. She made a look-see, but found nothing. In the morning when she got up, about ten (she's a late riser) the necklace was gone."
"Where had it been left?"
"On a stand in her sitting-room."
"Anything else taken?"
"That's the strange part of it. Her purse, with over a hundred dollars in it, which lay under the necklace, wasn't touched."
"Does she usually leave valuables around in that casual way?"
"Well, you see, she's always stayed at the Denton and she felt perfectly secure here."
"Any other thefts in the hotel?"
"Not that I can discover. But one of the guests on the same floor with Mrs. Hale saw a fellow acting queerly that same night. There he sits, yonder, at that table. I'll ask him to come over."
The guest, an elderly man, already interested in the case, was willing enough to tell all he knew.
"I was awakened by some one fumbling at my door and making a clinking noise," he explained. "I called out. Nobody answered. Almost immediately I heard a noise across the hall. I opened my door. A man was fussing at the keyhole of the room opposite. He was very clumsy. I said, 'is that your room?' He didn't even look at me. In a moment he started down the hallway. He walked very fast, and I could hear him muttering to himself. He seemed to be carrying something in front of him with both hands. It was his keys, I suppose. Anyway I could hear it clink. At the end of the hall he stopped, turned to the door at the left and fumbled at the keyhole for quite a while. I could bear his keys clink again. This time, I suppose, he had the right room, for be unlocked it and went in. I listened for fifteen or twenty minutes. There was nothing further."
Average Jones looked at Kirby with lifted brows of inquiry. Kirby nodded, indicating that the end room was Mrs. Hales'.
"How was the man dressed?" asked Average Jones.
"Grayish dressing-gown and bed-slippers. He was tall and had gray hair."
"Many thanks. Now, Mr. Kirby, will you take me to see Mrs. Hale?"
The young widow received them in her sitting-room. She was of the slender, big-eyed, sensitive type of womanhood; her piquant face marred by the evidences of sleeplessness and tears. To Average Jones she gave her confidence at once. People usually did.
"I felt sure the advertisement would bring us help," she said wistfully. "Now, I feel surer than ever."
"Faith helps the worst case," said the young man, smiling. "Mr. Kirby tells me that the intruder awakened you."
"Yes; and I'm a very heavy sleeper. Still I can't say positively that anything definite roused me; it was rather an impression of some one's being about. I came out of my bedroom and looked around the outer room, but there was nobody there."
"You didn't think to look for the necklace?"
"No," she said with a little gasp; "if I only had!"
"And--er--you didn't happen to hear a clinking noise, did you?"
"After he'd got into the room he'd put the key up, wouldn't he?" suggested Kirby.
"You're assuming that he had a key."
"Of course he had a key. The guest across the ball saw him trying it on the other doors and heard it clink against the lock."
"If he had a key to this room why did he try it on several other doors first?" propounded Average Jones. "As for the clinking noise, in which I'm a good deal interested--may I look at your key, Mrs. Hale?"
She handed it to him. He tried it on the lock, outside, jabbing at the metal setting. The resultant sound was dull and wooden. "Not much of the clink which our friend describes as having heard, is it?" he remarked.
"Then how could he get into my room?" cried Mrs. Hale.
"Are you sure your door was locked?"
"Certain. As soon as I missed the necklace I looked at the catch."
"That was in the morning. But the night before?"
"I always slip the spring. And I know I did this time because it had been left unsprung so that Mr. Kirby's mother could come in and out of my sitting-room, and I remember springing it when she left for bed."
"Sometimes these locks don't work." Slipping the catch back, Average Jones pressed the lever down. There was a click, but the ward failed to slip. At the second attempt the lock worked. But repeated trials proved that more than half the time the door did not lock.
"So," observed Average Jones, "I think we may dismiss the key theory."
"But the locked door this morning?" cried Mrs. Hale.
"The intruder may have done that as he left."
"I don't see why," protested Kirby, in a tone which indicated a waning faith in Jones.
"By way of confusing the trail. Possibly he hoped to suggest that he'd escaped by the fire-escape. Presumably he was on the balcony when Mrs. Hale came out into this room."
As he spoke Average Jones laid a hand on the heavy net curtains which hung before the balcony window. Instead of parting them, however, he stood with upturned eyes.
"Was that curtain torn before yesterday?" he asked Mrs. Hale.
"I hardly think so. The hotel people are very, careful in the up-keep of the rooms."
Jones mounted a chair with scant respect for the upholstery, and examined the damaged drapery. Descending, he tugged tentatively at the other curtain, first with his right hand, then with his left; then with both. The fabric gave a little at the last test. Jones disappeared through the window.
When he returned, after five minutes, he held in his hand some scrapings of the rusted iron which formed the balcony railing.
"You're a mining man, Mr. Kirby," he said. "Would you say that assayed anything?"
Kirby examined the glinting particles. "Gold," he said decisively.
"Ah, then the necklace rubbed with some violence against the railing. Now, Mrs. Hale, how long were you awake?"
"Ten or fifteen minutes. I remember that a continuous rattling of wagons below kept up for a little while. And I heard one of the drivers call out something about taking the air."
"Er--really!" Average Jones became suddenly absorbed in his seal ring. He turned it around five accurate times and turned it back an equal number of revolutions. "Did he--er--get any answer?"
"Not that I heard."
The young man pondered, then drew a chair up to, Mrs. Hale's escritoire, and, with an abrupt "excuse me," helped himself to pen, ink and paper.
"There!" he said, after five minutes' work. "That'll do for a starter. You see," he added, handing the product of his toil to Mrs. Hale, "this street happens to be the regular cross-town route for the milk that comes over by one of the minor ferries. If you heard a number of wagons passing in the early morning they were the milk-vans. Hence this."
Mrs. Hale read:
"MILK-DRIVERS, ATTENTION--Delaware Central mid-town route. Who talked to man outside hotel early morning of August 7? Twenty dollars to right man. Apply personally to Jones, Ad-Visor, Astor Court Temple, New York."
"For the coming issue of the Milk-Dealers' Journal," explained its author. "Now, Mr. Kirby, I want you to find out for me--Mrs. Hale can help you, since she has known the hotel people for years--the names of all those who gave up rooms on this floor, or the floors above or below, yesterday morning, and ask whether they are known to the hotel people."
"You think the thief is still in the hotel?" cried Mrs. Hale.
"Hardly. But I think I see smoke from your blue fires. To make out the figure through the smoke is not--" Average Jones broke off, shaking his head. He was still shaking his head when he left the hotel.
It took three days for the milk-journal advertisement to work. On the afternoon of August tenth, a lank, husky-voiced teamster called at the office of the Ad-Visor and was passed in ahead of the waiting line.
"I'm after that twenty," he declared.
"Earn it," said Average Jones with equal brevity.
"Hotel Denton. Guy on the third floor balcony--"
"Right so far."
"Leanin' on the rail as if he was sick. I give him a hello. 'Takin' a nip of night air, Bill?' I says. He didn't say nothin'."
"Did he do anything?"
"Kinder fanned himself an' jerked his head back over his shoulder. Meanin' it was too hot to sleep inside, I reckon. It sure was hot!"
"Fanned himself? How?"
"Like this." The visitor raised his hands awkwardly, cupped them, and drew them toward his face.
"Er--with both hands?"
"Did you see him go in?"
"Here's your twenty," said Average Jones. "You're long on sense and short on words. I wish there were more like you."
"Thanks. Thanks again," said the teamster, and went out.
Meantime Kirby had sent his list of the guests who had given up their rooms on August seventh:
George M. Weaver, Jr., Utica, N. Y., well known to hotel people and vouched for by them.
Walker Parker, New Orleans, ditto.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hull; quiet elderly people; first visit to hotel.
Henry M. Gillespie, Locke, N. Y. Middle-aged man; new guest.
C. F. Willard, Chicago; been going to hotel for ten years; vouched for by hotel people.
Armed with the list, Average Jones went to the Hotel Denton and spent a busy morning.
"I've had a little talk with the hotel servants," said he to Kirby, when the latter called to make inquiries. "Mr. Henry M. Gillespie, of Locke, New York, had room 168. It's on the same floor with Mrs. Hale's suite, at the farther end of the hall. He had only one piece of luggage, a suitcase marked H. M. G. That information I got from the porter. He left his room in perfect order except for one thing: one of the knobs on the headboard of the old fashioned bed was broken off short. He didn't mention the matter to the hotel people."
"What do you make of that?"
"It was a stout knob. Only a considerable effort of strength exerted in a peculiar way would have broken it as it was broken. There was something unusual going on in room 168, all right."
"Then you think Henry M. Gillespie, of Locke, New York, is our man."
"No," said Average Jones.
The Westerner's square jaw fell. "Why not?"
"Because there's no such person as Henry M. Gillespie, of Locke, New York. I've just sent there and found out."
Three stones of the fire-blue necklace returned on the current of advertised appeal. One was brought in by the night bartender of a "sporting" club. He had bought it from a man who had picked it up in a gutter; just where, the finder couldn't remember. For the second a South Brooklyn pawnbroker demanded (and received) an exorbitant reward. A florist in Greenwich, Connecticut, contributed the last. With that patient attention to detail which is the A. B. C. of detective work, Average Jones traced down these apparently incongruous wanderings of the stones and then followed them all, back to Mrs. Hale's fire-escape.
The bartender's stone offered no difficulties. The setting which the pawnbroker brought in had been found on the city refuse heap by a scavenger. It had fallen through a grating into the hotel cellar, and had been swept out with the rubbish to go to the municipal "dump." The apparent mystery of the florist was lucid when Jones found that the hotel exchanged its shop-worn plants with the Greenwich Floral Company. His roaming eye, keen for every detail, had noticed a row of tubbed azaleas within the ground enclosure of the Denton. Recalling this to mind, it was easy for the Ad-Visor to surmise that the gem had dropped from the fire-escape into a tub, which was, shortly after, shipped to the florist. Thus it was apparent that the three jewels had been stripped from the necklace by forcible contact with the iron rail of the fire-escape at the point where Average Jones had found the "color" of precious metal. The stones were identified by Kirby, from a peculiarity in the setting, as the end three, nearest the clasp at the back; a point which Jones carefully noted. But there the trail ended. No more fire-blue stones came in.
For three weeks Average Jones issued advertisements like commands. The advertisements would, perhaps, have struck the formal-minded Kirby as evidences of a wavering intellect. Indeed, they present a curious and incongruous appearance upon the page of Average Jones' scrapbook, where they now mark a successful conclusion. The first reads as follows:
OH, YOU HOTEL MEN! Come through with the dope on H. M. G. What's he done to your place? Put a stamp on it and we'll swap dates on his past performances. A. Jones, Astor Court Temple, New York City.
This was spread abroad through the medium of Mine Host's Weekly and other organs of the hotel trade.
It was followed by this, of a somewhat later date:
WANTED-Slippery Sams, Human Eels, Fetter Kings etc Liberal reward to artist who sold Second-hand amateur, with instructions for use. Send full details, time and place to A. Jones, Court Temple, New York City.
Variety, the Clipper and the Billboard scattered the appeal broadcast throughout "the profession." Thousands read it, and one answered it. And within a few days after receiving that answer Jones wired to Kirby:
"Probably found. Bring Mrs. Hale to-morrow at 11. Answer. A. JONES."
Kirby answered. He also telegraphed voluminously to his ex-fiancee, who had returned to her home, and who replied that she would leave by the night train. Some minutes before the hour the pair were at Average Jones' office. Kirby fairly pranced with impatience while they were kept waiting in a side room. The only other occupant was a man with a large black dress-suit case, who sat at the window in a slump of dejection. He raised his head for a moment when they were summoned and let it sag down again as they left.
Average Jones greeted his guests cordially. Their first questions to him were significant of the masculine and feminine differences in point of view.
"Have you got the necklace?" cried Mrs. Hale.
"Have you got the thief?" queried Kirby.
"I haven't got the necklace and I haven't got the thief," announced Average Jones; "but I think I've got the man who's got the necklace."
"Did the thief hand it over to him?" demanded Kirby.
"Are you conversant with the Baconian system of thought, which Old Chips used to preach to us at Hamilton?" countered Average Jones.
"Forgotten it if I ever knew it," returned Kirby.
"So I infer from your repeated use of the word 'thief.' Bacon's principle--an admirable principle in detective work--is that we should learn from things and not from the names of things. You are deluding yourself with a name. Because the law, which is always rigid and sometimes stupid, says that a man who takes that which does not belong to him is a thief, you've got your mind fixed on the name 'thief,' and the idea of theft. If I had gone off on that tack I shouldn't have the interesting privilege of introducing to you Mr. Harvey M. Greene, who now sits in the outer room."
"H. M. G.," said Kirby quickly. "Is it possible that that decent-looking old boy out there is the man who stole--"
"It is not," interrupted Average Jones with emphasis, "and I shall ask you, whatever may occur, to guard your speech from offensive expressions of that sort while he is here."
"All right, if you say so," acquiesced the other. "But do you mind telling me how you figure out a man traveling under an alias and helping himself to other people's property on any other basis than that he's a thief?"
"A, B, C," replied Average Jones; "as thus: A--Thieves don't wander about in dressing-gowns. B--Nor take necklaces and leave purses. C--Nor strip gems violently apart and scatter them like largess from fire-escapes. The rest of the alphabet I postpone. Now for Mr. Greene."
The man from the outer room entered and nervously acknowledged his introduction to the others.
"Mr. Greene," explained Jones, "has kindly consented to help clear up the events of the night of August sixth at the Hotel Denton and" --he paused for a moment and shifted his gaze to the newcomer's narrow shoes--"and--er--the loss of--er--Mrs. Hale's jeweled necklace."
The boots retracted sharply, as under the impulse of some sudden emotion; startled surprise, for example. "What?" cried Greene, in obvious amazement. "I don't know anything about a necklace."
A twinkle of satisfaction appeared at the corners of Average Jones' eyes.
"That also is possible," he admitted. "If you'll permit the form of an examination; when you came to the Hotel Denton on August sixth, did you carry the same suitcase you now have with you, and similarly packed?"
"Ye-es. As nearly as possible."
"Thank you. You were registered under the name of Henry M. Gillespie?"
The other's voice was low and strained as he replied in the affirmative.
"For good reasons of your own?"
"For which same reasons you left the hotel quite early on the following morning?"
"Your business compels you to travel a great deal?"
"Do you often register under an alias?"
"Yes," returned the other, his face twitching.
"But not always?"
"In a large city and a strange hotel, for example, you'd take any name which would correspond to the initials, H. M. G., on your dress-suit case. But in a small town where you were known, you'd be obliged to register under your real name of Harvey M. Greene. It was that necessity which enabled me to find you."
"I'd like to know how you did it," said the other gloomily.
From the left-hand drawer of his desk Jones produced a piece of netting, with hooks along one end.
"Do you recognize the material, Mrs. Hale," he asked.
"Why, it's the same stuff as the Hotel Denton curtains, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yes," said Average Jones, attaching it to the curtain rod at the side door. "Now, will you jerk that violently with one hand?"
"It will tear loose, won't it?" she asked.
"That's just what it will do. Try it."
The fabric ripped from the hooks as she jerked.
"You remember," said Jones, "that your curtain was torn partly across, and not ripped from the hook at all. Now see."
He caught the netting in both hands and tautened it sharply. It began to part.
"Awkward," he said, "yet it's the only way it could have been done. Now, here's a bedpost, exactly like the one in room 168, occupied by Mr. Greene at the Denton. Kirby, you're a powerful man. Can you break that knob off with one hand?"
He wedged the post firmly in a chair for the trial. The bedpost resisted.
"Could you do it with both hands?" he asked.
"Probably, if I could get a hold. But there isn't surface enough for a good hold."
"No, there isn't. But now." Jones coiled a rope around the post and handed the end to Kirby. He pulled sharply. The knob snapped and rolled on the floor.
"Q. E. D.," said Kirby. "But it doesn't mean anything to me."
"Doesn't it? Let me recall some other evidence. The guest who saw Mr. Greene in the hallway thought he was carrying something in both hands. The milk driver who hailed him on the balcony noticed that he gestured awkwardly with both hands. In what circumstances would a man use both hands for action normally performed with one?"
"Too much drink," hazarded Kirby, looking dubiously at Greene, who had been following Jones' discourse with absorbed attention.
"Possibly. But it wouldn't fit this case."
"Physical weakness," suggested Mrs. Hale.
"Rather a shrewd suggestion. But no weakling broke off that bedpost in Henry M. Gillespie's room. I assumed the theory that the phenomena of that night were symptomatic rather than accidental. Therefore, I set out to find in what other places the mysterious H. M. G. had performed."
"How did you know my initials really were H. M. G.?" asked Mr. Greene.
"The porter at the Denton had seen them 'Henry M. Gillespie's' suitcase. So I sent out loudly printed call to all hotel clerks for information about a troublesome H. M. G."
He handed the "OH, YOU HOTEL MEN" advertisement to the little group.
"Plenty of replies came. You have, if I may say it without offense, Mr. Greene, an unfortunate reputation among hotel proprietors. Small wonder that you use an alias. From the Hotel Carpathia in Boston I got a response more valuable than I had dared to hope. An H. M. G. guest--H. Morton Garson, of Pillston, Pennsylvania (Mr. Greene nodded)--had wrecked his room and left behind him this souvenir."
Leaning over, Jones pulled, clinking from the, scrap-basket, a fine steel chain. It was endless and some twelve feet in total length, and had two small loops, about a foot apart. Mrs. Hale and Kirby stared at it in speechless surprise.
"Yes, that is mine," said Mr. Greene with composure. "I left it because it had ceased to be serviceable to me."
"Ah! That's very interesting," said Average Jones with a keen glance. "Of course when I examined it and found no locks, I guessed that it was a trick chain, and that there were invisible springs in the wrist loops."
"But why should any one chain Mr. Greene to his bed with a trick chain?" questioned Mrs. Hale, whose mind had been working swiftly.
"He chained himself," explained Jones, "for excellent reasons. As there is no regular trade in these things, I figured that he probably bought it from some juggler whose performance had given him the idea. So," continued Jones, producing a specimen of his advertisements in the theatrical publications, "I set out to find what professional had sold a 'prop', to an amateur. I found the sale had been made at Marsfield, Ohio, late in November of last year, by a 'Slippery Sam,' termed 'The Elusive Edwardes.' On November twenty-eighth of last year Mr. Harvey M. Greene, of Richmond, Virginia, was registered at the principal, in fact the only decent hotel, at Barsfield. I wrote to him and here he is."
"Yes; but where is my necklace?" cried Mrs. Hale.
"On my word of honor, madam, I know nothing of your necklace," asserted Greene, with a painful contraction of his features. "If this gentleman can throw any more light--"
"I think I can," said Average Jones. "Do you remember anything of that night's events after you broke off the bedpost and left your room--the meeting with a guest who questioned you in the hall, for example?"
"Nothing. Not a thing until I awoke and found myself on the fire-escape."
"Awoke?" cried Kirby. "Were you asleep all the time?"
"Certainly. I'm a confirmed sleep-walker worst type. That's why I go under an alias. That's why I got the trick handcuff chain and chained myself up with it, until I found it drove me fighting', crazy in my sleep when I couldn't break away. That's why I slept in my dressing-gown that night at the Denton. There was a red light in the hall outside and any light, particularly a colored one, is likely to set me going. I probably dreamed I was escaping from a locomotive--that's a common delusion of mine--and sought refuge in the first door that was open."
"Wait a minute," said Average Jones. "You--er--say that you are--er--peculiarly susceptible to--er--colored light."
"Mrs. Hale, was the table on which the necklace lay in line with any light outside?"
"I think probably with the direct ray of an electric globe shining through the farther window."
"Then, Mr. Greene," said, Average Jones, "the glint of the fire-blue stones undoubtedly caught your eye. You seized on the necklace and carried it out on the fire-escape balcony, where the cool air or the milk-driver's hail awakened you. Have you no recollection of seeing such a thing?"
"Not the faintest, unhappily."
"Then he must have dropped it to the ground below," said Kirby.
"I don't think so," controverted Jones slowly. "Mr. Greene must have been clinging to it tenaciously when it swung and caught against the railing, stripping off the three end stones. If the whole necklace had dropped it would have broken up fine, and more than three stones would have returned to us in reply to the advertisements. And in that case, too, the chances against the end stones alone returning, out of all the thirty-six, are too unlikely to be considered. No, the fire-blue necklace never fell to the ground."
"It certainly didn't remain on the balcony," said Kirby. "It would have been discovered there."
"Quite so," assented Average Jones. "We're getting at it by the process of exclusion. The necklace didn't fall. It didn't stay. Therefore?"--he looked inquiringly at Mrs. Hale.
"It returned," she said quickly.
"With Mr. Greene," added Average Jones.
"I tell you," cried that gentleman vehemently, "I haven't set eyes on the wretched thing."
"Agreed," returned Average Jones; "which doesn't at all affect the point I wish to make. You may recall, Mr. Greene, that in my message I asked you to pack your suitcase exactly as it was when you left the hotel with it on the morning of August seventh."
"I've done so with the exception of the conjurer's chain, of course."
"Including the dressing-gown you had on, that night, I assume. Have you worn it since?"
"No. It hung in my closet until yesterday, when I folded it to pack. You see, I--I've had to give up the road on account of my unhappy failing."
"Then permit me." Average Jones stooped to, the dress-suit case, drew out the garment and thrust his hand into its one pocket. He turned to Mrs. Hale.
"Would you--er--mind--er--leaning over a bit?" he said.
She bent her dainty head, then gave a startled cry of delight as the young man, with a swift motion, looped over her shoulders a chain of living blue fires which gleamed and glinted in the sunlight.
"They were there all the time," she exclaimed; "and you knew it."
"Guessed it," he corrected, "by figuring out that they couldn't well be elsewhere--unless on the untenable hypothesis that our friend, Mr. Greene here, was a thief."
"Which only goes to prove," said Kirby soberly, "that evidence may be a mighty deceptive accuser."
"Which only goes to prove," amended Average Jones, "that there's no fire, even the bluest, without traceable smoke."'