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I have already mentioned the man whom I secretly looked upon as standing between me and all preferment. He was a good-looking fellow, but he wore a natural sneer which for some reason I felt to be always directed toward myself. This sneer grew pronounced about this time, and that was the reason, no doubt, why I continued to work as long as I did in secret. I dreaded the open laugh of this man, a laugh which always seemed hovering on his lips and which was only held in restraint by the awe we all felt of the major.
Notwithstanding, I made one slight move. Encountering the deputy-coroner, I ventured to ask if he was quite satisfied with the evidence collected in the Jeffrey case.
His surprise did not prevent him from asking my reasons for this question.
I replied to this effect:
"Because I have a little friend, winsome enough and subtle enough to worm the truth out of the devil. I hear that the girl Loretta is suspected of knowing more about this unfortunate tragedy than she is willing to impart. If you wish this little friend of mine to talk to her, I will see that she does so and does so with effect."
The deputy-coroner looked interested.
"Whom do you mean by `little friend' and what is her name?"
"I will send her to you."
And I did.
The next day I was standing on the corner of Vermont Avenue when I saw Jinny advancing from the house in K Street. She was chipper, and she was smiling in a way which made me say to myself:
"It is fortunate that Durbin is not here."
For Jinny's one weakness is her lack of power to hide the satisfaction she takes in any detective work that comes her way. I had told her of this and had more than once tried to impress upon her that her smile was a complete give-away, but I noticed that if she kept it from her lips, it forced its way out of her eyes, and if she kept it out of her eyes, it beamed like an inner radiance from her whole face. So I gave up the task of making her perfect and let her go on smiling, glad that she had such frequent cause for it.
This morning her smile had a touch of pride in it as well as of delight, and noting this, I remarked:
"You have made Loretta talk."
Her head went up and a demure dimple appeared in her cheek.
"What did she say?" I urged. "What has she been keeping back?"
"You will have to ask the coroner. My orders were strict to bring the results of my interview immediately to him."
"Does that include Durbin?"
"Does it include you?"
"I am afraid not."
"You are right; but why shouldn't it include you?"
"What do you mean, Jinny ?"
"Why do you keep your own counsel so long? You have ideas about this crime, I know. Why not mention them?"
"A word to the wise is sufficient;" she laughed and turned her pretty face toward the coroner's once. But she was a woman and could not help glancing back, and, meeting my dubious look, she broke into an arch smile and naively added this remark: "Loretta is a busybody ashamed of her own curiosity. So much there can be no harm in telling you. When one's knowledge has been gained by lingering behind doors and peeping through cracks, one is not so ready to say what one has seen and heard. Loretta is in that box, and being more than a little scared of the police, was glad to let her anxiety and her fears overflow into a sympathizing ear. Won't she be surprised when she is called up some fine day by the coroner! I wonder if she will blame me for it?"
"She will never think of doing so," I basely assured my little friend, with an appreciative glance at her sparkling eye and dimpled cheek.
The arch little creature started to move off again. As she did so, she cried: "Be good, and don't let Durbin cut in on you;" but stopped for the second time when half across the street, and when, obedient to her look, I hastily rejoined her, she whispered demurely: "Oh, I forgot to tell you something that I heard this morning, and which nobody but yourself has any right to know. I was following your commands and buying groceries at Simpkins', when just as I was coming out with my arms full, I heard old Mr. Simpkins mention Mr. Jeffrey's name and with such interest that I naturally wanted to hear what he had to say. Having no real excuse for staying, I poked my finger into a bag of sugar I was carrying, till the sugar ran out and I had to wait till it was put up again. This did not take long, but it took long enough for me to hear the old grocer say that he knew Mr. Jeffrey, and that that gentleman had come into his shop only a day or two before his wife's death, to buy--candles!"
The archness with which this was said, together with the fact itself, made me her slave forever. As her small figure faded from sight down the avenue, I decided to take her advice and follow up whatever communication she had to make to the coroner by a confession of my own suspicions and what they had led me into. If he laughed--well, I could stand it. It was not the coroner's laugh, nor even the major's, that I feared; it was Durbin's.
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