Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Chapter VII. Pin-Pricks
"The thing is a fake," declared Bertram. He slumped heavily into a chair, and scowled at Average Jones' well-littered desk, whereon he had just tossed a sheet of paper. His usually impeccable hair was tousled. His trousers evinced a distinct tendency to bag at the knees, and his coat was undeniably wrinkled. That the elegant and flawless dilettante of the Cosmic Club should have come forth, at eleven o'clock of a morning, in such a state of comparative disreputability, argued an upheaval of mind little short of phenomenal.
"A fake," he reiterated. "I've spent a night of pseudo-intellectual riot and ruin over it. You've almost destroyed a young and innocent mind with your infernal palimpsest, Average."
"You would have it," returned Average Jones with a smile. "And I seem to recall a lofty intimation on your part that there never was a cipher so tough but what you could rope, throw, bind, and tie a pink ribbon on its tail in record time."
"Cipher, yes," returned the other bitterly. "That thing isn't a cipher. It's an alphabetical riot. Maybe," he added hopefully, "there was some mistake in my copy?"
"Look for yourself," said Average Jones, handing him the original.
It was a singular document, this problem in letters which had come to light up the gloom of a November day for Average Jones; a stiffish sheet of paper, ornamented on one side with color prints of alluring "spinners," and on the other inscribed with an appeal, in print. Its original vehicle was an envelope, bearing a one-cent stamp, and addressed in typewriting:
Mr. William H. Robinson, The Caronia, Broadway and Evenside Ave., New York City.
The advertisement on the reverse of the sheet ran as follows:
ANGLERS--When you are looking for "Baits That Catch Fish," do you see these spinners in the store where you buy tackle? You will find here twelve baits, every one of which has a record and has literally caught tons of fish. We call them "The 12 Surety Baits." We want you to try them for casting and trolling these next two months, because all varieties of bass are particularly savage in striking these baits late in the season.
DEALERS--You want your customers to have these 12 Shoemaker "Surety Baits" that catch fish. This case will sell itself empty over and over again, for every bait is a record-breaker and they catch fish. We want you to put in one of these cases so that the anglers will not be disappointed and have to wait for baits to be ordered. It will be furnished FREE, charges prepaid, with your order for the dozen bait it contains.
The peculiar feature of the communication was that it was profusely be-pimpled with tiny projections, evidently made by thrusting a pin in from the side which bore the illustrations. The perforations were liberally scattered. Most, though not all of them, transfixed certain letters. Accepting this as indicative, Bertram had copied out all the letters thus distinguished, with the following cryptic result:
b-n-o-k-n-o-a-h-i (doubtful) i (doubtful) d-o-o-u-t-s-e-h-w h-e-w-a-l-e-w-f-i-h-i-e-l-y-a-n-u-t-t-m-a-m (doubtful) g-e-x-c-s (doubtful) s-e M-e-p-c (two punctures) t-y-w-u-s-o-m-e-r-s h-a-s 1 S-k-t-s-a-s-e-l-e-v-a-h (twice) W-y-o-u (doubtful) h-c-s-e-v-t-l-t-f-r (perforated twice) c-a-o-u-c-e-o-c (doubtful) m-t (perforated twice) n-o-h-a-e-f-o-u-w-o-r-i-t-h-i-r-e-d- w-l-l-b (Perforated three times) f-u-h-g-e-p-d-h-o-d- (doubtful) e-f-h-g-b-t-n-t.
"Yes, the copy's all right," growled Bertram. "Tell me again how you came by it."
"Robinson came here twice and missed me. Yesterday I got the note from him which you've seen, with the enclosure which has so threatened your reason. You know the rest. Perhaps you'd have done well to study the note for clues to the other document."
Something in his friend's tone made Bertram glance up suspiciously. "Let me see the note," he demanded.
Average Jones handed it to him. There was no stamp on it; it had been left by the writer. It was addressed, in rather scrawly chirography, to "A. Jones, Ad-Visor," and read:
> THE CARONIA, Nov. 18.
MR. A. JONES, Astor Court Temple:
WILLIAM H. ROBINSON.
"Well, I see nothing out of the ordinary in that," observed Bertram.
"Nothing?" inquired Average Jones.
Bertram read the message again. "Of course the man is rattled. That's obvious in his handwriting. Also, he has inverted one sentence in his haste and said 'read through it,' instead, of 'read it through.' Otherwise, it's ordinary enough."
"It must be vanity that keeps you from eyeglasses, Bert," Average Jones observed with a sigh. "Well, I'm afraid I set you on the wrong track, myself!"
Bertram lifted an eyebrow with an effort. "Meaning, I suppose, that you're on the tight and have solved the cipher."
"Cipher be jiggered. You were right in your opening remark. There isn't any cipher. If you read Mr. Robinson's note correctly, and if you'd had the advantage of working on the original of the advertisement as I have, you'd undoubtedly have noticed at once--"
"Thank you," murmured Bertram.
"--that fully one-third of the pin-pricks don't touch any letters at all."
"Then we should have taken the letters which lie between the holes?"
"No. The letters don't count. It's the punctures. Force your eyes to consider those alone, and you will see that the holes themselves form letters and words. Read through it carefully, as Robins directed."
He held the paper up to the light. Bertram made out in straggling characters, formed in skeleton the perforations, this legend:
ALL POINTS TO YOU
"Whew! That's a cheery little greeting," remarked Bertram. "But why didn't friend Robinson point it out definitely in his letter?"
"Wanted to test my capacity perhaps. Or, it may have been simply that he was too frightened and rattled to know just what he was writing."
"Know anything of him?"
"Only what the directory tells, and directories don't deal in really intimate details of biography, you know. There's quite an assortment of William H. Robinsons, but the one who lives at the Caronia appears to be a commission merchant on Pearl Street. As the Caronia is one of the most elegant and quite the most enormous of those small cities within themselves which we call apartment houses, I take it that Mr. Robinson is well-to-do, and probably married. You can ask him, yourself, if you like. He's due any moment, now."
Promptly, as befitted a business man, Mr. William H. Robinson arrived on the stroke of twelve. He was a well-made, well-dressed citizen of forty-five, who would have been wholly ordinary save for one peculiarity. In a room more than temperately cool he was sweating profusely, and that, despite the fact that his light overcoat was on his arm. Not polite perspiration, be it noted, such as would have been excusable in a gentleman of his pale and sleek plumpness, but soul-wrung sweat, the globules whereof gathered in the grayish hollows under his eyes and assailed, not without effect, the glistening expanse of his tall white collar. He darted a glance at Bertram, then turned to Average Jones.
"I had hoped for a private interview," he said in a high piping voice.
"Mr. Bertram is my friend and business confidant."
"Very good. You--you have read it?"
"Then--then--then--" The visitor fumble with nerveless fingers, at his tightly buttoned cut-away coat. It resisted his efforts. Suddenly, with a snarl of exasperation, he dragged violently at the lapel, tearing the button outright from the cloth. "Look what I have done," he said, staring stupidly for a moment at the button which had shot across the room. Then, to the amazed consternation of the others, he burst into tears.
Average Jones pushed a chair behind him, while Bertram brought him a glass of water. He gulped out his thanks, and, mastering himself after a moment's effort, drew a paper from his inner pocket which he placed on the desk. It was a certified check for one hundred dollars, made payable to Jones.
"There's the rest of a thousand ready, if you can help me," he said.
"We'll talk of that later," said the prospective beneficiary. "Sit tight until you're able to answer questions."
"Able now," piped the other in his shrill voice. "I'm ashamed of myself, gentlemen, but the strain I've been under-- When you've heard my story--"
"Just a moment, please," interrupted Average Jones, "let me get at this my own way."
"Any way you like," returned the visitor.
"Good! Now what is it that points to you?"
"I don't know any more than you."
"What are the 'some things' that are worse than death?"
Mr. Robinson shook his head. "I haven't the slightest notion in the world."
"Nor of the 'short cut' which you are advised to take?"
"I suppose it means suicide." He paused for a moment. "They can't drive me to that--unless they drive me crazy first." He wiped the sweat from under his eyes, breathing hard.
"Who are they?"'
Mr. Robinson shook his head. In the next question the interrogator's tone altered and became more insistent.
"Have you ever called in a doctor, Mr. Robinson?"
"Only once in five years. That was when my nerves broke down--under this."
"When you do call in a doctor, is it your habit to conceal your symptoms from him?"
"Of course not. I see what you mean. Mr. Jones, I give, you my word of honor, as I hope to be saved from this persecution, I don't know any more than yourself what it means."
"Then--er--I am--er--to believe," replied Jones, drawling, as he always did when interest, in his mind, was verging on excitement, "that a simple blind threat like this--er--without any backing from your own conscience--er--could shake you--er--as this has done? Why, Mr. Robinson, the thing--er--may be--er--only a raw practical joke."
"But the others!" cried the visitor. His face changed and fell. "I believe I am going crazy," he groaned. "I didn't tell you about the others."
Diving into his overcoat pocket he drew out a packet of letters which he placed on the desk with a sort of dismal flourish.
"Read those!" he cried.
"Presently." Average Jones ran rapidly over the eight envelopes. With one exception, each bore the imprint of some firm name made familiar by extensive advertising. All the envelopes were of softish Manila paper varying in grade and hue, under one-cent stamps.
"Which is the first of the series?" he asked.
"It isn't among those. Unfortunately it was lost, by a stupid servant's mistake, pin and all."
"Yes. Where I cut open the envelope--"
"Wait a moment. You say you cut it open. All these, being one-cent postage, must have come unsealed. Was the first different?"
"Yes. It had a two-cent stamp. It was a circular announcement of the Swift-Reading Encyclopedia, in a sealed envelope. There was a pin bent over the fold of the letter so you couldn't help but notice it. Its head was stuck through the blank part of the circular. Leading from it were three very small pins arranged as a pointer to the message."
"Do you remember the message?"
"Could I forget it! It was pricked out quite small on the blank fold of the paper. It said: 'Make the most of your freedom. Your time is short. Call at General Delivery, Main P. O., for your warning.' I--"
"You went there?"
"The next day."
"An ordinary sealed envelope, addressed in pinpricks connected by pencil lines. The address was scrawly, but quite plain."
"Well, what did it contain?"
"A commitment blank to an insane asylum."
Average Jones absently drew out his handkerchief, elaborately whisked from his coat sleeve an imaginary speck of dust, and smiled benignantly where the dust was supposed to have been.
"Insane asylum," he murmured. "Was--er--the blank--er--filled in?"
"Only partly. My name was pricked in, and there was a specification of dementia from drug habit, with suicidal tendencies."
With a quick signal, unseen by the visitor, Average Jones opened the way to Bertram, who, in wide range of experience and study had once specialized upon abnormal mental phenomena.
"Pardon me," that gentleman put in gently, "has there ever been any dementia in your family?"
"Not as far as I know."
"Or suicidal mania?"
"All my people have died respectably in their beds," declared the visitor with some vehemence.
"Once more, if I may venture. Have you ever been addicted to any drug?"
"Now," Average Jones took up the examination, "will you tell me of any enemy who would have reason to persecute you?"
"I haven't an enemy in the world."
"You're fortunate," returned the other smiling, "but surely, some time in your career--business rivalry--family alienation--any one of a thousand causes?"
"No," answered the harassed man. "Not for me. My business runs smoothly. My relations are mostly dead. I have no friends and no enemies. My wife and I live alone, and all we ask," he added in a sudden outburst of almost childish resentment, "is to be left alone."
The inquisitor's gaze returned to the packet of letters. "You haven't complained to the post-office authorities?"
"And risk the publicity?" returned Robinson with a shudder.
"Well, give me over night with these. Oh, and I may want to 'phone you presently. You'll be at home? Thank you. Good day."
"Now," said Average Jones to Bertram, as their caller's plump back disappeared, "this looks pretty, queer to me. What did you think of our friend?"
"Scared but straight," was Bertram's verdict.
"Glad to hear it. That's my idea, too. Let's have a look at the material. We've already got the opening threat, and the General Delivery follow-up."
"Which shows, at least, that it isn't a case of somebody in the apartment house tampering with the mail."
"Not only that. It's a dodge to find out whether he got the first message. People don't always read advertisements, even when sealed, as the first message-bearing one was. Therefore, our mysterious persecutor says: 'I'll just have Robinson prove it to me, if he did get the first message, by calling for the second.' Then, after a lapse of time, he himself goes to the General Delivery, asks for a letter for Mr. William H. Robinson, finds it's gone, and is satisfied."
"Yes, and he'd be sure then that Robinson would go through all the mailed ads with a fine-tooth comb, after that. But why the pin-pricks? Just to disguise his hand?"
"Possibly. It's a fairly effectual disguise."
"Why didn't he address the envelope that way, then?"
"The address wouldn't be legible against the white background of the paper inside. On the other hand, if he'd addressed all his envelopes by pinpricks filled in with pencil lines, the post-office people might get curious and look into one. Sending threats through the mail is a serious matter."
Average Jones ran over the letter again. "Good man, Robinson!" he observed. "He's penciled the date of receipt on each one, like a fine young methodical business gent. Here we are: 'Rec'd July 14. Card from Goshorn & Co., Oriental Goods.' Message pricked in through the cardboard: 'You are suspected by your neighbors. Watch them.' Not bad for a follow-up, is it?"
"It would look like insanity, if it weren't that--that through the letters 'one increasing purpose runs,'" parodied Bertram.
"Here's one of July thirty-first; an advertisement of the Croiset Line tours to the Orient. Listen here, Bert: 'Whither can guilt flee that vengeance, may not follow?'"
"I can't quite see Robinson in the part of guilt," mused Bertram. "What's next?"
"More veiled accusation. The medium is a church society announcement of a lecture on Japanese Feudalism. Date, August seventeenth. Inscription: 'If there is no blood on your soul, why do you not face your judges?"'
"Little anti-climactic, don't you think?"
"What about this one of September seventh, then? Direct reference back to the drug habit implied in the commitment blank. It's a testimonial booklet of one of the poisonous headache dopes, Lemona Powders. The message is pricked through the cover. 'Better these than the hell of suspense.'"
"Trying the power of suggestion, eh?"
"Quite so. The second attempt at it is even more open. An advertisement of Shackleton's Safeguard Revolvers. Date, September twenty-second. Advice, by pin: 'As well this as any other way.'"
"Drug or suicide," remarked Bertram. "The man at the other end doesn't seem particular which."
"There's the insane asylum always to fall back on. Under date of October first, comes the Latherton Soap Company's impassioned appeal to self-shaving manhood. Great Caesar! No wonder poor Robinson was upset. Listen to this: 'God himself hates you.' After that there's a three-weeks respite, for there's October twenty-second on this one, Kirkby and Dunn's offering of five percent water bonds. 'The commission has its spies watching you constantly.' Calculated to inspire confidence in the most timid soul! Now we come to the soup course: Smith and Perkins' Potted Chowder. Date of November third. Er--Bert--here's something--er--really worth while, now. Hark to the song of the pin."
He read sonorously:
"Animula, vagula, Bandula, Hospes, comesque corporis; Quaenunc abibis in loca?"
"Hadrian, isn't it?" cried Bertram, in utter amazement. "Of course it is! Hadrian's terrified invocation to his own parting spirit. 'Guest and companion of my body; into what places will you now go?' Average, it's uncanny! Into what place of darkness and dread is the Demon of the Pin trying to drive poor Robinson's spirit?"
Average Jones shook his head. "'Pailidula, nudula, rigida,"' he completed the quatrain. "'Ghostpale, stark, and rigid.' He's got a grisly imagination, that pin-operator. I shouldn't care to have him on my trail."
"But Robinson!" protested Bertram feebly. "What has a plump, commonplace, twentieth-century, cutaway-wearing, flat-inhabiting Robinson to do with a Roman emperor's soul-questionings?"
"Perhaps the last entry of the lot will tell us. Palmerto's Magazine's feature announcement, received November ninth. No; it doesn't give any clue to the Latinity. It isn't bad, though. 'The darkness falls.' That's all there is to it. And enough."
"I should say the darkness did fall," confirmed Bertram. "It falls--and remains."
Average Jones pushed the collection of advertisements aside and returned to the opening phase of the problem, the fish-bait circular which Robinson had mailed him. So long after, that Bertram hardly recognized it as a response to his last remark, the investigator drawled out:
"Not such--er--impenetrable darkness. In fact,--er--Eureka, or words to that effect. Bert, when does the bass season end?"
"November first, hereabouts, I believe."
"The postmark on the envelope that carried this advertisement to our friend advises the use of the baits for 'these next two months.' Queer time to be using bass-lures, after the season is closed. Bert, it's a pity I can't waggle my ears."
"Waggle your ears! For heaven's sake, why?"
"Because then I'd be such a perfect jackass that I could win medals at a show. I ought to have guessed it at first glance, from the fact that the advertisement couldn't well have been mailed to Robinson originally, anyhow."
"Because he's not in the sporting-goods business, and the advertisement is obviously addressed to the retail trade. Don't you remember: it offers a showcase, free. What does a man living in an apartment want of a show-case to keep artificial bait in? What we-- er--need here is--er--steam."
A moment's manipulation of the radiator produced a small jet. In this Average Jones held the envelope. The stamp curled tip and dropped off. Beneath it were the remains of a small portion of a former postmark.
"I thought so," murmured Average Jones.
"Remailed!" exclaimed Bertram.
"Remailed," corroborated his friend. "I expect we'll find the others the same."
One by one he submitted the envelopes to the steam bath. Each of them, as the stamp was peeled off, exhibited more or less fragmentary signs of a previous cancellation.
"Careless work," criticized Average Jones. "Every bit of the mark should have been removed, instead of trusting to the second stamp to cover what little was left, by shifting it a bit toward the center of the envelope. Look; you can see on this one where the original stamp was peeled off. On this the traces of erasure are plain enough. That's why Manila paper was selected: it's easier to erase from."
"Is Robinson faking?" asked Bertram. "Or has some one been rifling his waste-basket?"
"That would mean an accomplice in the house, which would be dangerous. I think it was done at longer range. As for the question of our friend's faking in his claim of complete ignorance of all this, I propose to find that out right now."
Drawing the telephone to him, he called the Caronia apartments. Thus it was that Mr. William H. Robinson, for two unhappy minutes, profoundly feared that at last he had really lost his mind. This is the conversation in which he found himself implicated.
"Hello! Mr. Robinson? This is Mr. A. Jones. You hear me?"
"Yes, Mr. Jones. What is it?"
"Integer vitae, scelerisque-purus."
"I--I--beg your pardon!"
"Non egit Mauris jaculis nec arcu."
"This is Mr. Robinson: Mr. William H. Rob--"
"Nec venenatis grasida sag--Hello! Central, don't cut off! Mr. Robinson, do you understand me?"
"God knows, I don't!"
"If he doesn't recognize the Integer Vitae," said Average Jones in a swift aside to Bertram, "he certainly wouldn't know the more obscure Latin of the late Mr. Hadrian."
"One more question, Mr. Robinson. Is there, in all your acquaintance, any person who never goes out without an attendant? Take time to think, now."
"Why--why--why," stuttered the appalled subject of this examination, and fell into silence. From the depths of the silence he presently exhumed the following: "I did have a paralytic cousin who always went out in a wheeled chair. But she's dead."
"And there's no one else?"
"No. I'm quite sure."
"That's all. Good-by."
"Thank Heaven! Good-by."
"What was that about an attendant?" inquired Bertram, as his friend replaced the receiver.
"Oh, I've just a hunch that the sender of those messages doesn't go out unaccompanied."
"Insane? Or semi-insane? It does rather look like delusional paranoia."
As nearly as imperfect humanity may, Average Jones appeared to be smiling indulgently at the end of his own nose.
"Dare say you're right--er--in part, Bert. But I've also a hunch that our man Robinson is himself the delusion as well as the object."
"I wish you wouldn't be cryptic, Average," said his friend pathetically. "There's been enough of that without your gratuitously adding to the sum of human bewilderment.",
Average Jones scribbled a few words on a pad, considered, amended, and handed the result over to Bertram, who read:
WANTED--Professional envelope eraser to remove marks from used envelopes. Experience essential. Apply at once--A. Jones, Ad-Visor, Astor Court Temple."
"Would it enlighten your gloom to see that in every New York and Brooklyn paper to-morrow?" inquired its inventor.
"Not a glimmer."
"We'll give this ad a week's repetition if necessary, before trying more roundabout measures. As soon as I have heard from it I'll drop in at the club and we'll write--that is to say, compose a letter."
"Oh, that I don't know yet. When I do, you'll see me."
Three days later Average Jones entered the Cosmic Club, with that twinkling up-turn of the mouth corners which, with him, indicated satisfactory accomplishment.
"Really, Bert," he remarked, seeking out his languid friend, in the laziest corner of the large divan.
"You'd be surprised to know how few experienced envelope erasers there are in four millions of population. Only seven people answered that advertisement, and they were mostly tyros."
"Then you didn't get your man?"
"It was a woman. The fifth applicant. Got a pin about you?"
Bertram took a pearl from his scarf.
"That's good. It will make nice, bold, inevitable sort of letters. Come over here to this desk."
For a few moments he worked at a sheet of, paper with the pin, then threw it down in disgust.
"This sort of thing requires practice," he muttered. "Here, Bert, you're cleverer with your fingers than I. You take it, and I'll dictate."
Between them, after several failures, they produced a fair copy of the following:
"Mr. Alden Honeywell will choose between making explanation to the post-office authorities or calling at 3:30 P. m. to-morrow on A. Jones, Ad-Visor, Astor Court Temple."
This Average Jones enclosed in an envelope which he addressed in writing to Alden Honeywell, Esq., 550 West Seventy-fourth Street, City, afterward pin-pricking the letters in outline. "Just for moral effect," he explained. "In part this ought to give him a taste of the trouble he made for poor Robinson. You'll be there to-morrow, Bert?"
"Watch me!" replied that gentleman with unwonted emphasis. "But will Alden Honeywell, Esquire?"
"Surely. Also Mr. William H. Robinson, of the Caronia. Note that 'of the Caronia.' It's significant."
At three-thirty the following afternoon three men were waiting in Average Jones' inner office. Average Jones sat at his desk sedulously polishing his left-hand fore-knuckle with the tennis callous of his right palm. Bertram lounged gracefully in the big chair. Mr. Robinson fidgeted. There was an atmosphere of tension in the room. At three-forty there came a tap-tapping across the floor of the outer room, and a knock at the door brought them all to their feet. Average Jones threw the door open, took the man who stood outside by the arm, and pushing a chair toward him, seated him in it.
The new-comer was an elderly man dressed with sober elegance. In his scarf was a scarab of great value; on his left hand a superb signet ring. He carried a heavy, gold-mounted stick. His face was curiously divided against itself. The fine calm forehead and the deep setting of the widely separate eyes gave an impression of intellectual power and balance. But the lower part of the face was mere wreckage; the chin quivering and fallen, from self-indulgence, the fine lines of the nose coarsened by the spreading nostrils; the mouth showing both the soft contours of sensuality and the hard, fine line of craft and cruelty. The man's eyes were unholy. They stared straight before him, and were dead. With his entrance there was infused in the atmosphere a sense of something venomous. "Mr. Alden Honeywell?" said Average Jones.
"Yes." The voice had refinement and calm.
"I want to introduce you to Mr. William H. Robinson."
The new-comer's head turned slowly to his right shoulder then back. His eyes remained rigid.
"Why, the man's blind!" burst out Mr. Robins in his piping voice.
"Blind!" echoed Bertram. "Did you know this Average?"
"Of course. The pin-pricks showed it. And the letter mailed to Mr. Robinson at the General Delivery, which, if you remember, had the address penciled in from pin-holes."
"When you have quite done discussing my personal misfortune," said Honeywell patiently, "perhaps you will be good enough to tell me which is William Robinson."
"I am," returned the owner of that name. "And do you be good enough to tell me why you hound me with your hellish threats."
"That is not William Robinson's voice!" said the blind man. "Who are you?"
"William H. Robinson."
"Not William Honeywell Robinson!"
"No; William Hunter Robinson."
"Then why am I brought here?"
"To make a statement for publication in to-morrow morning's newspaper," returned Average Jones crisply.
"Statement? Is this a yellow journal trap?"
"As a courtesy to Mr. Robinson, I'll explain. How long have you lived in the Caronia, Mr. Robinson?"
"About eight months."
"Then, some three or four months before you moved in, another William H. Robinson lived there for a short time. His middle name was Honeywell. He is a cousin, and an object of great solicitude to this gentleman here. In fact, he is, or will be, the chief witness against Mr. Honeywell in his effort to break the famous Holden Honeywell will, disposing of some ten million dollars. Am I right, Mr. Honeywell?"
"Thus far," replied the blind man composedly.
"Five years ago William Honeywell Robinson became addicted to a patent headache 'dope.' It ended, as such habits do, in insanity. He was confined two years, suffering from psychasthenia, with suicidal melancholia and delusion of persecution. Then he was released, cured, but with a supersensitive mental balance."
"Then the messages were intended to drive him out of his mind again," said Bertram in sudden enlightenment. "What a devil!"
"Either that, or to impel him, by suggestion, to suicide or to revert to the headache powders, which would have meant the asylum again. Anything to put him out of the way, or to make his testimony incompetent for the will contest. So, when the ex-lunatic returned from Europe a year ago, our friend Honeywell here, in some way located him at the Caronia. He matured his little scheme. Through a letter broker who deals with the rag and refuse collectors, he got all the second-hand mail from the Caronia. Meantime, William Honeywell Robinson had moved away, and as chance would have it, William Hunter Robinson moved in, receiving the pinprick letters which, had they reached their goal, would probably have produced the desired effect."
"If they drove a sane man nearly crazy, what wouldn't they have done to one whose mind wasn't quite right!" cried the wronged Robinson.
"But since Mr. Honeywell is blind," said Bertram, "how could he see to erase the cancellations?"
"Ah! That's what I asked myself. Obviously, he couldn't. He'd have to get that done for him. Presumably he'd get some stranger to do it. That's why I advertised for a professional eraser who was experienced, judging that it would fetch the person who had done Honeywell's work."
"Is there any such thing as a professional envelope eraser?" asked Bertram.
"No. So a person of experience in this line would be almost unique. I was sure to find the right one, if he or she saw my advertisement. As a matter of fact, it turned out to be an unimaginative young woman who has told me all about her former employment with Mr. Honeywell, apparently with no thought that there was anything strange in erasing cancellations from hundreds of envelopes--for Honeywell was cautious enough not to confine her to the Robinson mail alone--and then pasting on stamps to remail them."
"You appear to have followed out my moves with some degree of acumen, Mr.--er--Jones," said the blind schemer suavely.
"Yet I might not have solved your processes easily if you had not made one rather--if you will pardon me, stupid mistake."
For the first time, the man's bloated lips shook. His evil pride of intellectuality was stung.
"You lie!" he said hastily. "I do not make mistakes."
"No? Well, have it as you will. The point that you are to sign here a statement, which I shall read to you before these witnesses, announcing for publication the withdrawal of your contest for the Honeywell millions."
"And if I decline?"
"The painful necessity will be mine of turning over these instructive documents to the United States postal authorities. But not before giving them to the newspapers. How would you look in court, in view of this attempt to murder a fellow man's reason?"
Mr. Honeywell had now gained his composure. "You are right," he assented. "You seem to have a singular faculty for being right. Be careful it does not fail you--sometime."
"Thank you," returned Average Jones. "Now you will listen, please, all of you."
He read the brief document, placed it before the blind man, and set a pin between his finger and thumb. "Sign there," he said.
Honeywell smiled as he pricked in his name.
"For identification, I suppose," he said. "Am I to assign no cause to the newspapers for my sudden action?"
A twinkle of malice appeared in Average Jones' eye.
"I would suggest waning mental acumen," he said.
The blind man winced palpably as he rose to his feet. "That is the second time you have taunted me on that. Kindly tell me my mistake."
Average Jones led him to the door and opened it.
"Your mistake," he drawled as he sped his parting guest into the grasp of a waiting attendant, "was--er--in not remembering that--er--you mustn't fish for bass in November."