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- Vicky Van - 10/40 -
Then she apparently forgot them, for without self-consciousness she turned to the detective and began asking questions. Nervously she inquired concerning minutest details, and I surmised that side by side with her grief at the tragedy was a very human and feminine dismay at the thought of her husband, stabbed to death in another woman's house!
"Who is Miss Van Allen?" she asked over and over again, unsatisfied with the scant information Lowney could give.
"And she lives near here? Just down the side street? Who _is_ she?"
"I don't think she is anyone you ever heard of," I said to her. "She is a pleasant young woman, and so far as I know, all that is correct and proper."
"Then why would she have Randolph Schuyler visiting her?" flashed the retort. "Is that correct and proper?"
"It may be so," I said, for I felt a sort of loyalty to Vicky Van. "You see, she was not acquainted with Mr. Schuyler until this evening."
"Why did he go there, then?"
"Steele brought him--Norman Steele."
"I don't know any Mr. Steele."
I began to think that Randolph Schuyler had possessed many acquaintances of whom his wife knew nothing, and I concluded to see Bradbury before I revealed any more of Schuyler's affairs.
And then, Lowney began adroitly to put questions instead of answering them.
He inquired concerning Mr. Schuyler's habits and pursuits, his recreations and his social life.
All three of the women gave responses to these queries, and I learned many things.
First, that Randolph Schuyler was one manner of man at home and another abroad. The household, it was plain to be seen, was one of most conservative customs and rigidly straightbacked in its conventions.
Mrs. Schuyler was not a second wife. She had been married about seven years, and had lived the last five of them in the house we were now in. She was much younger than her husband, and he had, I could see, kept her from all knowledge of or participation in his Bohemian tastes. They were the sort of people who have a box at the opera and are patrons of the best and most exclusive functions of the highest society. Mrs. Schuyler, after the first shock, recovered her poise, and though now and then a tremor shook her slight frame, she bore herself with dignity and calm.
The two maiden ladies also grew quieter, but we all nervously awaited the return of the butler.
At last he came.
"It's the master, Madame," he said, simply, to his mistress as he entered the room. "He is dead."
The deferential gravity of his tone impressed me anew with the man's worth, and I felt that the stricken wife had a tower of strength in the faithful servitor.
"I left Cooper there, Madame," he went on. "They--they will not bring Mr. Schuyler home tonight. In the morning, perhaps. And now, Madame, will you not go to rest? I will be at the service of these gentlemen."
It seemed cruel to torture them further that night, and the three ladies were dismissed by Lowney, and, attended by their maids, they left us.
"Now, Jepson," Lowney began, "tell us all you know about Mr. Schuyler's doings. I daresay you know as much as the valet does. Was Mr. Schuyler as a man of the world, different from his life in this house?"
Jepson looked perturbed. "That's not for me to say, sir."
"Oh, yes, it is, my man. The law asks you, and it is for you to tell all you know."
"Well, then," and the butler weighed his words, "my master was always most strict of habit in his home. The ladies are very reserved, and abide by rules and standards, that are, if I may say so, out of date to-day. But, though Mr. Schuyler was by no means a gay man or a member of any fast set, yet I have reason to think, sir, that at times he might go to places where he would not take Mrs. Schuyler, and where he would not wish Mrs. Schuyler to know he had been himself."
"That's enough," said Lowney. "I've got his number. Now, Jepson, had your master any enemies, that you know of?"
"Not that I know of. But I know nothing of Mr. Schuyler's affairs. I see him go out of an evening, and I may notice that he comes in very late, but as to his friends or enemies, I know nothing at all. I am not one to pry, sir, and my master has always trusted me. I have endeavored not to betray that trust."
This might have sounded pharisaical in a man of less sincerity of speech. But Jepson's clear, straightforward eyes forbade any doubt of his honesty and truth.
Again I was glad that Mrs. Schuyler had this staunch helper at her side, for I foresaw troublous times in store for her.
"And you never heard of this Miss Van Allen? Never was in her house before?"
"Never, sir. I know nothing of the houses on the side blocks." I winced at this. "Of course, I know the people who come to this house, but there is among them no Miss Van Allen."
"Rather not!" I thought to myself. And then I sighed at the memory of Vicky Van. Had she killed this millionaire? And if so, why?
I was sure Vicky had never met Randolph Schuyler before that evening. I had seen their meeting, and it was too surely the glance of stranger to stranger that had passed between them, to make a previous acquaintance possible. Vicky had been charming to him, as she always was to every one, but she showed no special interest, and if she did really kill him, it was some unguessable motive that prompted the deed.
I thought it over. Schuyler, at the club, dined and wined, had perhaps heard Norman Steele extol the charms of Vicky Van. Interested, he had asked to be taken to Vicky's house, but, as it was so near his own, a sense of precaution led him to adopt another name.
Then the inexplicable sequel!
And the mysterious disappearance of Vicky herself.
Though, of course, the girl would return. As Mrs. Reeves had said, doubtless she had witnessed the crime, and, scared out of her wits, had run away. Her return would clear up the matter.
Then the waiter's story?
Well, there was much to be done. And, as I suddenly bethought me, it was time I, myself went home!
As I passed Vicky Van's house, on my way home, I saw lights pretty much all over it, and was strongly tempted to go in. But common sense told me I needed rest, and not only did I have many matters to attend to on the morrow, but I had to tell the story to Aunt Lucy and Winnie!
That, of itself, would require some thought and tactful management, for I was not willing to have them condemn Vicky Van entirely, and yet, I could think of no argument to put forth for the girl's innocence.
Time alone must tell.
"Ches-ter Cal-houn! Get up this minute! There's a reporter downstairs! A reporter!"
My sleepy eyes opened to find Winnie pounding my shoulder as it humped beneath the blanket.
"Hey? What?" I grunted, trying to collect my perceptions.
"A _reporter!_" If Winnie had said a Bengal tiger, she couldn't have looked more terrified.
"Great Scott! Win--I remember! Clear out, I'll be down in a minute."
I dressed in record time and went downstairs in three leaps.
In the library, I found Aunt Lucy, wearing an expression that she might have shown if the garbage man had asked her to a dance.
But Winnie was eagerly drinking in the story poured forth by the said reporter, who was quite evidently enjoying his audience.
"Oh, Chet, this is Mr. Bemis of _The Meteor_. He's telling us all about the--you know--what happened."
Winnie was too timid to say the word _murder,_ and I was sorry she had to hear the awful tale from any one but myself. However, there was no help for it now, and I joined the group and did all I could to bring Aunt Lucy's eyebrows and nose down to their accustomed levels.
But it _was_ an awful story, make the best of it, and the truth had to be told.
"It is appalling," conceded Aunt Lucy, at length, "but the most regrettable circumstance, to my mind, is your connection with it all,
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