Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
It was Juanita, Inez Mendoza's maid, frantic and almost speechless.
"Why, Juanita," encouraged Kennedy, "what's the matter?"
"The Senorita!" she gasped, breaking down now and sobbing over and over again. "The Senorita!"
"Yes, yes," repeated Kennedy, "but what about her? Is there anything wrong?"
"Oh, Mr. Kennedy," sobbed the poor girl, "I don't know. She is gone. I have had no word from her since this afternoon."
"Gone!" we exclaimed together. "Where was Burke--that man that the police sent up to protect her?"
"He is gone, too--now," replied Juanita in her best English, sadly broken by the excitement.
Kennedy and I looked at each other aghast. This was the hardest blow of all. We had thought that, at least, Inez would be safe with a man like Burke, whom we could trust, detailed to watch her.
"Tell me," urged Kennedy, "how did it happen? Did they carry her off--as they tried to do the other time?"
"No, no," sobbed Juanita. "I do not know. I do not know even whether she is gone. She went out this afternoon for a little walk. But she did not come back. After it grew dark, I was frightened. I remembered that you were here and called up, but you were out. Then I saw that policeman. I told him. He has others working with him now. But I could not find you--until now I saw a light here. Oh, my poor, little girl, what has become of her? Where have they taken her? Oh, madre de Dios, it is terrible!"
Had that been the purpose for which we had been sent on wild-goose chases? Was Inez really kidnapped this time? I knew not what to think. It seemed hardly possible that all of them could have joined in it.
If she were kidnapped, it must have been on the street in broad daylight. Such things had happened. It would not be the first disappearance of the kind.
Quickly Kennedy called up Deputy O'Connor. It was only too true. Burke had reported that she had disappeared and the police, especially those at the stations and ferries and in the suburbs had been notified to look for her. All this seemed to have taken place in those hours when the mysterious telephone calls had sent us on the wrong trail.
Kennedy said nothing, but I could see that he was doing some keen thinking.
Just then the telephone rang again. It was from the man whom we had left at the Prince Edward Albert. Senora de Moche had gone out and driven rapidly to the Grand Central. He had not been able to find out what ticket she bought, but the train was just leaving.
Kennedy paced up and down, muttering to himself. "Whitney first-- then Lockwood--and Alfonso. The Senora takes a train. Suppose the first message were true? Gas and oil for a trip."
He seized the telephone book and hastily turned the pages over. At last his finger rested on a name in the suburban section. I read: "Whitney, Stuart. Res. 174-J Rockledge."
Quickly he gave central the number, then shoved the receiver again into the telescribe.
"Hello, is Mr. Whitney there?" I heard later as he placed the record again in the phonograph for repetition.
"No--who is this?"
"His head clerk. Tell him I must see him. Kennedy has been to the office and--"
"Say--get off the line. We had that story once."
"That's it!" exclaimed Craig. "Don't you see--they've all gone up to Whitney's country place. That clerk was faking. He has already telephoned. And listen. Do you see anything peculiar?"
He was running all three records which we had on the telescribe. As he did so, I saw unmistakably that it was the same voice on all three. Whitney must have had a servant do the telephoning for him.
"Don't fret, Juanita," reassured Kennedy. "We shall find your mistress for you. She will be all right. You had better go back to the apartment and wait. Walter look up the next train to Rockledge while I telephone O'Connor."
We had an hour to wait before the next train left and in the meantime we drove Juanita back to the Mendoza apartment.
It was a short run to Rockledge by railroad, but it seemed to me that it took hours. Kennedy sat in silence most of the time, his eyes closed, as if he were trying to place himself in the position of the others and figure out what they would do.
At last we arrived, the only passengers to get off at the little old station. Which way to turn we had not the slightest idea. We looked about. Even the ticket office was closed. It looked as though we might almost as well have stayed in New York.
Down the railroad we could see that a great piece of engineering was in progress, raising the level of the tracks and building a steel viaduct, as well as a new station, and at the same time not interrupting the through traffic, which was heavy.
"Surely there must be some one down there," observed Kennedy, as we picked our way across the steel girders, piles of rails, and around huge machines for mixing concrete.
We came at last to a little construction house, a sort of general machine-and work-shop, in which seemed to be everything from a file to a pneumatic riveter.
"Hello!" shouted Craig.
There came a sound from a far corner of a pile of ties and a moment later a night-watchman advanced suspiciously swinging his lantern.
"Hello yourself," he growled.
"Which way to Stuart Whitney's estate?" asked Craig.
My heart sank as he gave the directions. It seemed miles away.
Just then the blinding lights of a car flashed on us as it came down the road parallel to the tracks. He waved his light and the car stopped. It was empty, except for a chauffeur evidently returning from a joy ride.
"Take these gentlemen as far as Smith's corner, will you?" asked the watchman. "Then show 'em the turn up to Whitney's."
The chauffeur was an obliging chap, especially as it cost him nothing to earn a substantial tip with his master's car. However, we were glad enough to ride in anything on wheels, and not over- particular at that hour about the ownership.
"Mr. Whitney hasn't been out here much lately," he volunteered as he sped along the beautiful oiled road, and the lights cast shadows on the trees that made driving as easy as in daylight.
"No, he has been very busy," returned Craig glad to turn to account the opportunity to talk with a chauffeur, for it is the chauffeur in the country who is the purveyor of all knowledge and gossip.
"His car passed us when I was driving up from the city. My boss won't let me speed or I wouldn't have taken his dust. Gee, but he does wear out the engines in his cars, Whitney."
"Was he alone?" asked Craig.
"Yes--and then I saw him driving back again when I went down, to the station for some new shoes we had expressed up. Just a flying trip, I guess--or does he expect you?"
"I don't think he does," returned Craig truthfully.
"I saw a couple of other cars go up there. House party?"
"Maybe you'd call it that," returned Craig with a twinkle of the eye. "Did you see any ladies?"
"No," returned the chauffeur. "Just a man driving his own car and another with a driver."
"There wasn't a lady with Mr. Whitney?" asked Craig, now rather anxious.
I saw what he was driving at. The Senora might have got up there in any fashion without being noticed. But for Inez not to be with Whitney, nor with the two who must evidently have been Lockwood and Alfonso, was indeed strange. Could it be that we were only half right--that they had gathered here but that Inez had really disappeared?
The young man set us down at Smith's Corner and it proved to be only about an eighth of a mile up the road and up-hill when Whitney's house burst in sight, silhouetted against the sky.
There were lights there and it was evident that several people had gathered for some purpose.
We made our way up the path and paused a moment to look through the window before springing the little surprise. There we could see Lockwood, Alfonso, and Senora de Moche, who had arrived, after all and probably been met at the station by her son. They seemed like anything but a happy party. Never on the best of terms, they could not be expected to be happy. But now, if ever, one would have thought they might do more than tolerate each other, assuming that some common purpose had brought them here.
Kennedy rang the bell and we could see that all looked surprised, for they had heard no car approach. A servant opened the door and before he knew it, Kennedy had pushed past him, taking no chances at a rebuff after the experience over the wire.
"Kennedy!" exclaimed Lockwood and Alfonso together.
"Where is Inez Mendoza?" demanded Craig, without returning the greeting.
"Inez?" they repeated blankly.
Kennedy faced them squarely.
"Come, now. Where is she? This is a show-down. You may as well lay your cards on the table. Where is she--what have you done with her?"
The de Moches looked at Lockwood and he looked at them, but neither spoke for a moment.
"Walter," ordered Kennedy, "there's the telephone. Get the managing editor of the Star and tell him where we are. Every newspaper in the United States, every police officer in every city will have the story, in twelve hours, if you precious rascals don't come across. There--I give you until central gets die Star."
"Why--what has happened?" asked Lockwood, who was the first to recover his tongue.
"Don't stand there asking me what has happened," cried Kennedy impatiently. "Tickle that hook again, Walter. You know as well as I do that you have planned to get Inez Mendoza away from my influence--to kidnap her, in other words--"
"We kidnap her?" gasped Lockwood. "What do you mean, man? I know nothing of this. Is she gone?" He wheeled on the de Moches. "This is some of your work. If anything happens to that girl--there isn't an Indian feud can equal the vengeance I will take!"
Alfonso was absolutely speechless. Senora de Moche started to speak, but Kennedy interrupted her. "That will do from you," he cut short. "You have passed beyond the bounds of politeness when you deliberately went out of your way to throw me on a wrong trail while some one was making off with a young and innocent girl. You are a woman of the world. You will take your medicine like a man, too."
I don't think I have ever seen Kennedy in a more towering rage than he was at that moment.
"When it was only a matter of a paltry poisoned dagger at stake and a fortune that may be mythical or may be like that of Croesus, for all I care, we could play the game according to rules," he exclaimed. "But when you begin to tamper with a life like that of Inez de Mendoza--you have passed the bounds of all consideration. You have the Star? Telephone the story anyhow. We'll arbitrate afterward."
I think, as I related the facts to my editor, it sobered us all a great deal.
"Kennedy," appealed Lockwood at last, as I hung up the receiver, "will you listen to my story?"
"It is what I am here for," replied Craig grimly.
"Believe it or not, as far as I am concerned," asserted Lockwood, "this is all news to me. My God--where is she?"
"Then how came you here?" demanded Craig.
"I can speak only for myself," hastened Lockwood. "If you had asked where Whitney was, I could have understood, but--"
"Well, where is he?"
"We don't know. Early this afternoon I received a hurried message from him--at least I suppose it was from him--that he had the dagger and was up here. He said--I'll be perfectly frank--he said that he was arranging a conference at which all of us were to be present to decide what to do."
"Meanwhile I was to be kept away at any cost," supplied Kennedy sarcastically. "Where did he get it?"
"He didn't say."
"And you didn't care, as long as he had it," added Craig, then, turning to the de Moches, "And what is your tale?"
Senora de Moche did not lose her self-possession for an instant. "We received the same message. When you called, I thought it would be best for Alfonso to go alone, so I telephoned and caught him at the garage and when my train arrived here, he was waiting."
"None of you have seen Whitney here?" asked Kennedy, to which all nodded in the negative. "Well, you seem to agree pretty well in your stories, anyhow. Let me take a chance with the servants."
It is no easy matter to go into another's household and without any official position quiz and expect to get the truth out of the servants. But Kennedy's very wrath seemed to awe them. They answered in spite of themselves.
It seemed clear that as far as they went both guests and servants were telling the truth. Whitney had made the run up from the city earlier in the afternoon, had stayed only a short time, then had gone back, leaving word that he would be there again before his guests arrived.
They all professed to be as mystified as ourselves now over the outcome of the whole affair. He had not come back and there had been no word from him.
"One thing is certain," remarked Craig, watching the faces before him as he spoke. "Inez is gone. She has been spirited away without even leaving a trace. Her maid Juanita told me that. Now if Whitney is gone, too, it looks as if he had planned to double- cross the whole crowd of you and leave you safely marooned up here with nothing left but your common hatred of me. Much good may it do you."
Lockwood clenched his fists savagely, not at Kennedy but at the thought that Craig had suggested. His face set itself in tense lines as he swore vengeance on all jointly and severally if any harm came to Inez. I almost forgot my suspicions of him in admiration.
"Nothing like this would ever have happened if she had stayed in Peru," exclaimed Alfonso bitterly. "Oh, why did her father ever bring her here to this land of danger?"
The idea seemed novel to me to look on America as a lawless, uncultured country, until I reflected on the usual Latin-American opinion of us as barbarians.
Lockwood frowned but said nothing, for a time. Then he turned suddenly to the Senora, "You were intimate enough with him," he said. "Did he tell you any more than he told us?"
It was clear that Lockwood felt now that every man's hand was against him.
I thought I could discover a suppressed gleam of satisfaction in her wonderful eyes as she answered, "Nothing more. It was only that I carried out what he asked me."
Could it be that she was taking a subtle delight in the turn of events--the working out of a curse on the treasure-secret which the fatal dagger bore? I could not say. But it would not have needed much superstition to convince any one that the curse on the Gold of the Gods was as genuine as any that had ever been uttered, as it heaped up crime on crime.
We waited in silence, the more hopeless as the singing of the night insects italicized our isolation from the organized instruments of man for the righting of wrong. Here we were, each suspecting the other, in the home of a man whom all mistrusted.
"There's no use sitting here doing nothing," exclaimed Lockwood in whose mind was evidently the same thought, "not so long as we have the telephone and the automobiles."
These, at least, were our last bonds with the great world that had wrapped a dark night about a darker mystery.
"There are many miles of wire--many miles of road. Which way shall we turn?"
Senora de Moche seemed to take a fiendish delight in the words as she said them. It was as though she challenged our helplessness in the face of a power that was greater than us all.
Lockwood flashed a look of suspicion in her direction. As for myself, I had never been able to make the woman out. To-night she seemed like a sort of dea ex machina, who sat apart, playing on the passions of a group of puppet men whom she set against each other until all should be involved in a common ruin.
It was impossible, in the silence of this far-off lonely place in the country, not to feel the weirdness of it all.
Once I closed my eyes and was startled by the uncanny vividness of a mind-picture that came unbidden. It was of a scrap of paper on which, in rough capitals was printed:
BEWARE THE CURSE OF MANSICHE ON THE GOLD OF THE GODS.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.