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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Filigree Ball - Book 3. The House Of Doom - Chapter 24. Tantalizing Tactics
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The Filigree Ball - Book 3. The House Of Doom - Chapter 24. Tantalizing Tactics Post by :Wayne_A. Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :2135

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The Filigree Ball - Book 3. The House Of Doom - Chapter 24. Tantalizing Tactics

BOOK III. THE HOUSE OF DOOM
CHAPTER XXIV. TANTALIZING TACTICS

I made my way to the front door, but returned almost immediately. Drawing the major aside, I whispered a request, which led to a certain small article being passed over to me, after which I sauntered out on the stoop just in time to encounter the spruce but irate figure of Mr. Moore, who had crossed from the opposite side.

"Ah!" said I. "Good morning!" and made him my most deferential bow.

He glared and Rudge glared from his place on the farther curb. Evidently the police were not in favor with the occupants of the cottage that morning.

"When is this to cease?" he curtly demanded. "When are these early-morning trespasses upon an honest citizen's property coming to an end? I wake with a light heart, expecting that my house, which is certainly as much mine as is any man's in Washington, would be handed over this very day for my habitation, when what do I see--one police officer leaving the front door and another sunning himself in the vestibule. How many more of you are within I do not presume to ask. Some half-dozen, no doubt, and not one of you smart enough to wind up this matter and have done with it."

"Ah! I don't know about that," I drawled, and looked very wise.

His curiosity was aroused.

"Anything new?" he snapped.

"Possibly," I returned, in a way to exasperate a saint.

He stepped on to the porch beside me. I was too abstracted to notice; I was engaged in eying Rudge.

"Do you know," said I, after an instant of what I meant should be one of uncomfortable suspense on his part, "that I have a greater respect than ever for that animal of yours since learning the very good reason he has for refusing to cross the street?"

"Ha! what's that?" he asked, with a quick look behind him at the watchful brute straining toward him with nose over the gutter.

"He sees farther than we can. His eyes penetrate walls and partitions," I remarked. Then, carelessly and with the calm drawing forth of a folded bit of paper which I held out toward him, I added: "By the way, here is something of yours."

His hand rose instinctively to take it; then dropped.

"I don't know what you mean," he remarked. "You have nothing of mine."

"No? Then John Judson Moore had another brother." And I thrust the paper back into my pocket.

He followed it with his eye. It was the memorandum I had found in the old book of memoirs plucked from the library shelf within, and he recognized it for his and saw that I did also. But he failed to show the white feather.

"You are good at ransacking," he observed; "pity that it can not be done to more purpose."

I smiled and made a fresh start. With my hand thrust again into my pocket, I remarked, without even so much as a glance at him:

"I fear that you do some injustice to the police. We are not such bad fellows; neither do we waste as much time as you seem to think." And drawing out my hand, with the little filigree ball in it, I whirled the latter innocently round and round on my finger. As it flashed under his eye, I cast him a penetrating look.

He tried to carry the moment off successfully; I will give him so much credit. But it was asking too much of his curiosity, and there was no mistaking the eager glitter which lighted his glance as he saw within his reach this article which a moment before he had probably regarded as lost forever.

"For instance," I went on, watching him furtively, though quite sure from his very first look that he knew no more now of the secret of this little ball than he knew when he jotted down the memorandum I had just pocketed before his eyes, "a little thing--such a little thing as this," I repeated, giving the bauble another twist--"may lead to discoveries such as no common search would yield in years. I do not say that it has; but such a thing is possible, you know: who better?"

My nonchalance was too much for him. He surveyed me with covert dislike, and dryly observed "Your opportunities have exceeded mine, even with my own effects. That petty trinket which you have presumed to flaunt in my face--and of whose value I am the worst judge in the world since I have never had it in my hand--descended to me with the rest of Mrs. Jeffrey's property. Your conduct, therefore, strikes me in the light of an impertinence, especially as no one could be supposed to have more interest than myself in what has been for many years recognized as a family talisman."

"Ah," I remarked. "You own to the memorandum then. It was made on the spot, but without the benefit of the talisman."

"I own to nothing," he snapped. Then, realizing that denial in this regard was fatal, he added more genially: "What do you mean by memorandum? If you mean that recapitulation of old-time mysteries and their accompanying features with which I once whiled away an idle hour, I own to it, of course. Why shouldn't I? It is only a proof of my curiosity in regard to this old mystery which every member of my family must feel. That curiosity has not been appeased. If it would not be indiscreet on your part, may I now ask if you have found out what that little golden ball of mine which you sport so freely before my eyes is to be used in connection with?"

"Read the papers," I said; "read tomorrow's papers, Mr. Moore; or, better still, tonight's. Perhaps they will inform you."

He was as angry as I had expected him to be, but as this ire proved conclusively that his strongest emotion had been curiosity rather than fear, I felt assured of my ground, and turned to reenter the house. Mr. Moore did not accompany me.

The major was standing in the hall. The others had evidently retreated to the parlor.

"The man opposite knows what he knows," said I; "but this does not include the facts concerning the picture in the southwest chamber or the devilish mechanism."

"You are sure?"

"As positive as one of my inexperience can be. But, Major, I am equally positive that he knows more than he should of Mrs. Jeffrey's death. I am even ready to state that in my belief he was in the house when it occurred."

"Has he acknowledged this?"

"Not at all."

"Then what are your reasons for this belief?"

"They are many"

"Will you state them?"

"Gladly, if you will pardon the presumption. Some of my conclusions can not be new to you. The truth is that I have possibly seen more of this old man than my duty warranted, and I feel quite ready to declare that he knows more of what has taken place in this house than he is ready to avow. I am sure that he has often visited it in secret and knows about a certain broken window as well as we do. I am also sure that he was here on the night of Mrs. Jeffrey's suicide. He was too little surprised when I informed him of what had happened not to have had some secret inkling of it beforehand, even if we had not the testimony of the lighted candle and the book he so hurriedly replaced. Besides, he is not the man to drag himself out at night for so simple a cause as the one with which he endeavored to impose upon us. He knew what we should find in this house."

"Very good. If Mr. Jeffrey's present explanations are true, these deductions of yours are probably correct. But Mr. Moore's denial has been positive. I fear that it will turn out a mere question of veracity."

"Not necessarily," I returned. "I think I see a way of forcing this man to acknowledge that he was in or about this house on that fatal night."

"You do?"

"Yes, sir; I do not want to boast, and I should be glad if you did not oblige me to confide to you the means by which I hope to bring this out. Only give me leave to insert an advertisement in both evening and morning papers and in two days I will report failure or success."

The major eyed me with an interest that made my heart thrill. Then he quickly said: "You have earned the privilege; I will give you two days."

At this moment Durbin reappeared. As I heard his knock and turned to open the door for him, I cast the major an entreating if not eloquent look.

He smiled and waved his hand with friendly assurance. The state of feeling between Durbin and myself was evidently well known to him.

My enemy entered with a jaunty air, which changed ever so slightly when he saw me in close conference with the superintendent.

He had the book in his pocket. Taking it out, he handed it to the major, with this remark:

"You won't find anything there; the gent's been fooling you."

The major opened the book, shook it, looked under the cover, found nothing, and crossed hastily to the drawing-room. We as hastily followed him. The district attorney was talking with Miss Tuttle; Mr. Jeffrey was nervously pacing the floor. The latter stopped as we all entered and his eyes flashed to the book.

"Let me take it," said he.

"It is absolutely empty," remarked the major. "The letter has been abstracted, probably without your knowledge."

"I do not think so," was Mr. Jeffrey's unexpected retort. "Do you suppose that I would intrust a secret, for the preservation of which I was ready to risk life and honor, to the open pages of a book? When I found myself threatened with all sorts of visits from the police and realized that at any moment my effects might be ransacked, I sought a hiding place for this letter, which no man without superhuman insight could discover. Look!"

And, pulling off the outside wrapper, he inserted the point of his penknife under the edge of the paper lining the inside cover and ripped it off with a jerk.

"I pasted this here myself," he cried, and showed us where between this paper and the boards, in a place thinned out to hold it, there lay a number of folded sheets, which, with a deep sigh, he handed over to the major's inspection. As he did so he remarked:

"I had rather have died any natural death than have had my miserable wife's secret known. But since the crime has come to light, this story of her sin and her repentance may serve in some slight degree to mitigate public opinion. She was sorely tempted and she succumbed; the crime of her ancestors was in her blood."

He again walked off. The major unfolded the sheets.

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