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- THE GOLD BAG - 30/45 -

"I wouldn't presume to guess a lady's age," I returned, "and beside, I want you to try your powers on this. You may be better at deductions than I am. I have already confessed to you my inability in that direction."

"Well," she went on, "I think this lady is rather good-looking, and I think she appreciates the fact."

"The first is evident on the face of it, and the second is a universal truth, so you haven't really deduced much as yet."

"No, that's so," and she pouted a little. "But at any rate, I can deduce more about her dress than you can. The picture was taken, or at least that costume was made, about a year ago, for that is the style that was worn then."

"Marvellous, Holmes, marvellous!"

She flashed me a glance of understanding and appreciation, but undaunted, went on: "The gown also was not made by a competent modiste, but was made by a dressmaker in the house, who came in by the day. The lady is of an economical turn of mind, because the lace yoke of the gown is an old one, and has even been darned to make it presentable to use in the new gown."

"Now that is deduction," I said admiringly; "the only trouble is, that it doesn't do us much good. Somehow I can't seem to fancy this good-looking, economical, middle-aged lady, who has her dressmaking done at home, coming here in the middle of the night and killing Mr. Crawford."

"No, I can't, either," said Florence gravely; "but then, I can't imagine any one else doing that, either. It seems like a horrible dream, and I can't realize that it really happened to Uncle Joseph."

"But it did happen, and we must find the guilty person. I think with you, that this photograph is of little value as a clue, and yet it may turn out to be. And yet I do think the gold bag is a clue. You are quite sure it isn't yours?"

Perhaps it was a mean way to put the question, but the look of indignation she gave me helped to convince me that the bag was not hers.

"I told you it was not," she said, "but," and her eyes fell, "since I have confessed to one falsehood, of course you cannot believe my statement."

"But I do believe it," I said, and I did, thoroughly.

"At any rate, it is a sort of proof," she said, smiling sadly, "that any one who knows anything about women's fashions can tell you that it is not customary to carry a bag of that sort when one is in the house and in evening dress. Or rather, in a negligee costume, for I had taken off my evening gown and wore a tea-gown. I should not think of going anywhere in a tea-gown, and carrying a gold bag."

The girl had seemingly grown almost lighthearted. Her speech was punctuated by little smiles, and her half sad, half gay demeanor bewitched me. I felt sure that what little suggestion of lightheartedness had come into her mood had come because she had at last confessed the falsehood she had told, and her freed conscience gave her a little buoyancy of heart.

But there were still important questions to be asked, so, though unwillingly, I returned to the old subject.

"Did you see your uncle's will while you were there?"

"No; he talked about it, but did not show it to me."

"Did he talk about it as if it were still in his possession?"

"Why, yes; I think so. That is, he said he would make a new one unless I gave up Gregory. That implied that the old one was still in existence, though he didn't exactly say so."

"Miss Lloyd, this is important evidence. I must tell you that I shall be obliged to repeat much of it to the district attorney. It seems to me to prove that your uncle did not himself destroy the will."

"He might have done so after I left him."

"I can't think it, for it is not in scraps in the waste-basket, nor are there any paper-ashes in the grate."

"Well, then," she rejoined, "if he didn't destroy it, it may yet be found."

"You wish that very much?" I said, almost involuntarily.

"Oh, I do!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands. "Not so much for myself as--"

She paused, and I finished the sentence for her "For Mr. Hall."

She looked angry again, but said nothing.

"Well, Miss Lloyd," I said, as I rose to go, "I am going to do everything in my power in your behalf and in behalf of Mr. Hall. But I tell you frankly, unless you will both tell me the truth, and the whole truth, you will only defeat my efforts, and work your own undoing."

I had to look away from her as I said this, for I could not look on that sweet face and say anything even seemingly harsh or dictatorial.

Her lip quivered. "I will do my best," she said tremblingly. "I will try to make Mr. Hall tell where he was that night. I will see you again after I have talked with him."

More collusion! I said good-by rather curtly, I fear, and went quickly away from that perilous presence.

Truly, a nice detective, I! Bowled over by a fair face, I was unable to think clearly, to judge logically, or to work honestly!

Well, I would go home and think it out by myself. Away from her influence I surely would regain my cool-headed methods of thought.

When I reached the inn, I found Mr. Lemuel Porter there waiting for me.

"How do you do, Mr. Burroughs?" he said pleasantly. "Have you time for a half-hour's chat?"

It was just what I wanted. A talk with this clear-thinking man would help me, indeed, and I determined to get his opinions, even as I was ready to give him mine.

"Well, what do you think about it all?" I inquired, after we were comfortably settled at a small table on the shaded veranda, which was a popular gathering-place at this hour. But in our corner we were in no danger from listening ears, and I awaited his reply with interest.

His eyes smiled a little, as he said

"You know the old story of the man who said he wouldn't hire a dog and then do his own barking. Well, though I haven't 'hired' you, I would be quite ready to pay your honorarium if you can ferret out our West Sedgwick mystery. And so, as you are the detective in charge of the case, I ask you, what do you think about it all?"

But I was pretty thoroughly on my guard now.

"I think," I began, "that much hinges on the ownership of that gold bag."

"And you do not think it is Miss Lloyd's?"

"I do not."

"It need not incriminate her, if it were hers," said Mr. Porter, meditatively knocking the ash from said his cigar. "She might have left it in the office at any time previous to the day of the crime. Women are always leaving such things about. I confess it does not seem to me important."

"Was it on Mr. Crawford's desk when you were there?" I asked suddenly.

He looked up at me quickly, and again that half-smile came into his eyes.

"Am I to be questioned?" he said. "Well, I've no objections, I'm sure. No, I do not think it was there when I called on Mr. Crawford that evening. But I couldn't swear to this, for I am not an observant man, and the thing might have lain there in front of me and never caught my eye. If I had noticed it, of course I should have thought it was Florence's."

"But you don't think so now, do you?"

"No; I can't say I think so. And yet I can imagine a girl untruthfully denying ownership under such circumstances."

I started at this. For hadn't Miss Lloyd untruthfully denied coming down-stairs to talk to her uncle?

"But," went on Mr. Porter, "if the bag is not Florence's, then I can think of but one explanation for its presence there."

"A lady visitor, late at night," I said slowly.

"Yes," was the grave reply; "and though such an occurrence might have been an innocent one, yet, taken in connection with the crime, there is a dreadful possibility."

"Granting this," I suggested, "we ought to be able to trace the owner of the bag."

"Not likely. If the owner of that bag--a woman, presumably--is the slayer of Joseph Crawford, and made her escape from the scene

THE GOLD BAG - 30/45

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