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- THE GOLD BAG - 45/45 -

down later. She has said so. It remains there until much later --when Philip Crawford comes, and, after discovering that his brother is dead, sees the will still on the desk and takes it away with him, and also sees the pistol on the desk, and takes that, too. Now, granting that the murderer came between the time Miss Lloyd left the office and the time Philip Crawford came there, then it was while the murderer was present that the drawer which held the pistol was opened, the pistol taken out, and the murder committed, Since Mr. Joseph Crawford showed no sign of fear of violence, the murderer must have been, not a burglar or an unwelcome intruder, but a friend, or an acquaintance, at least. His visit must have been the reason for opening that drawer, and that not to get the pistol, but to look at or discuss the papers contained in that drawer. The pistol, thus disclosed, was temptingly near the hand of the visitor, and, for some reason connected with the papers in that drawer, the pistol was used by the visitor--suddenly, unpremeditatedly, but with deadly intent at the moment."

"But who--" I began.

"Hush," he said, "I see it all now--or almost all. Let us go to Philip Crawford's at once--before it is time to go to Miss Lloyd's."

We did so, and Fleming Stone, in a short business talk with Mr. Crawford, learned all that he wanted to know. Then we three went over to Florence Lloyd's home.

Awaiting us were several people. The district attorney, of course, and Lawyer Randolph. Also Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Porter, who had been asked to be present. Gregory Hall was there, too, and from his crestfallen expression, I couldn't help thinking that he had had an unsatisfactory interview with Florence

As we all sat round the library, Fleming Stone was the principal speaker.

He said: "I have come here at Miss Lloyd's request, to discover, if possible, the murderer of her uncle, Mr. Joseph Crawford. I have learned the identity of the assassin, and, if you all wish me to, I will now divulge it."

"We do wish you to, Mr. Stone," said Mr. Goodrich, and his voice trembled a little, for he knew not where the blow might fall. But after Fleming Stone's wonderful detective work in the case of Gregory Hall, the district attorney felt full confidence in his powers.

Sitting quietly by the library table, with the eyes of all the company upon him, Fleming Stone said, in effect, to them just what he had said to me. He told of the revolver in the drawer with the financial papers. He told how the midnight visitor must have been some friend or neighbor, whose coming would in no way startle or alarm Mr. Crawford, and whose interest in the question of stocks was desperate.

And then Fleming Stone turned suddenly to Lemuel Porter, and said: "Shall I go on, Mr. Porter, or will you confess here and now?"

It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen. Hitherto unsuspected, the guilt of Lemuel Porter was now apparent beyond all doubt. White-faced and shaking, his burning eyes glared at Fleming Stone.

"What are you?" he whispered, in hoarse, hissing tones. "I feared you, and I was right to fear you. I have heard of you before. I tried to prevent your coming here, but I could not. And I knew, when you came, that I was doomed--doomed!

"Yes," he went on, looking around at the startled faces. "Yes, I killed Joseph Crawford. If I had not, he would have ruined me financially. Randolph knows that--and Philip Crawford, too. I had no thought of murder in my heart. I came here late that night to renew the request I had made in my earlier visit that evening--that Joseph Crawford would unload his X.Y. stock gradually, and in that way save me. I had overtraded; I had pyramided my paper profits until my affairs were in such a state that a sudden drop of ten points would wipe me out entirely. But Joseph Crawford was adamant to my entreaties. He said he would see to it that at the opening of the market the next morning X.Y. stock should be hammered down out of sight. Details are unnecessary. You lawyers and financial men understand. It was in his power to ruin or to save me and he chose to ruin me. I know, why, but that concerns no one here. Then, as by chance, he moved a paper in the drawer, and I saw the pistol. In a moment of blind rage I grasped it and shot him. Death was instantaneous. Like one in a dream, I laid down the pistol, and came away. I was saved, but at what a cost! No one, I think, saw me come or go. I was afterward puzzled to know what became of the pistol, and of the will which lay on the desk when I was there. These matters have since been explained. Philip Crawford is as much a criminal as I. I shot a man, but he robbed the dead. He has confessed and made restitution, so he merits no punishment. In the nature of things, I cannot do that, but I can at least cheat the gallows."

With these words, Mr. Porter put something into his mouth and swallowed it.

Several people started toward him in dismay, but he waved them back, saying:

"Too late. Good-by, all. If possible, do not let my wife know the truth. Can't you tell her--I died of heart failure--or-- something like that?"

The poison he had taken was of quick effect. Though a doctor was telephoned for at once, Mr. Porter was dead before he came.

Everything was now made clear, and Fleming Stone's work in West Sedgwick was done.

I was chagrined, for I felt that all he had discovered, I ought to have found out for myself.

But as I glanced at Florence, and saw her lovely eyes fixed on me, I knew that one reason I had failed in my work was because of her distracting influence on it.

"Take me away from here," she said, and I gently led her from the library.

We went into the small drawing-room, and, unable to restrain my eagerness, I said

"Tell me, dear, have you broken with Hall?"

"Yes," she said, looking up shyly into my face. "I learned from his own lips the story of the Brooklyn girl. Then I knew that he really loves her, but wanted to marry me for my fortune. This knowledge was enough for me. I realize now that I never loved Gregory, and I have told him so."

"And you do love somebody else?" I whispered ecstatically. "Oh, Florence! I know this is not the time or the place, but just tell me, dear, if you ever love any one, it will be--"

"You" she murmured softly, and I was content.

THE GOLD BAG - 45/45

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