"Jane Morton!" cried Speed; "who is she?"
"She is, as you may remember, the girl who carried the coffee from Mrs. Brenton to monsieur."
"And are you sure she is the criminal?"
The great detective did not answer; he merely gave an expressive little French gesture, as though the question was not worth commenting upon.
"Why, what was her motive?" asked Speed.
For the first time in their acquaintance a shade of perplexity seemed to come over the enthusiastic face of the volatile Frenchman.
"You are what you call smart, you Chicago people," he said, "and you have in a moment struck the only point on which we are at a loss."
"My dear sir," returned Speed, "that is the point in the case. Motive is the first thing to look for, it seems to me. You said as much yourself. If you haven't succeeded in finding what motive Jane Morton had for poisoning her employer, it appears to me that very little has been accomplished."
"Ah, you say that before you know the particulars. I am certain we shall find the motive. What I know now is that Jane Morton is the one who put the poison in his cup of coffee."
"It would take a good deal of nerve to do that with twenty-six people around the table. You forget, my dear sir, that she had to pass the whole length of the table, after taking the cup, before giving it to Mr. Brenton."
"Half of the people had their backs to her, and the other half, I can assure you, were not looking at her. If the poison was ready, it was a very easy thing to slip it into a cup of coffee. There was ample time to do it, and that is how it was done."
"May I ask how you arrived at that conclusion?"
"Certainly, certainly, my dear sir. My detectives report that each one of the twenty-seven people they had to follow were shadowed night and day. But only two of them acted suspiciously. These two were Jane Morton and Stephen Roland. Stephen Roland's anxiety is accounted for by the fact that he is evidently in love with Mrs. Brenton. But the change in Jane Morton has been something terrible. She is suffering from the severest pangs of ineffectual remorse. She has not gone out again to service, but occupies a room in one of the poorer quarters of the city--a room that she never leaves except at night. Her whole actions show that she is afraid of the police--afraid of being tracked for her crime. She buys a newspaper every night, locks and bars the door on entering her room, and, with tears streaming from her eyes, reads every word of the criminal news. One night, when she went out to buy her paper, and what food she needed for the next day, she came unexpectedly upon a policeman at the corner. The man was not looking at her at all, nor for her, but she fled, running like a deer, doubling and turning through alleys and back streets until by a very roundabout road she reached her own room. There she locked herself in, and remained without food all next day rather than go out again. She flung herself terror-stricken on the bed, after her room door was bolted, and cried, 'Oh, why did I do it? why did I do it? I shall certainly be found out. If Mrs. Brenton is acquitted, they will be after me next day. I did it to make up to John what he had suffered, and yet if John knew it, he would never speak to me again.'"
"Who is John?" asked Speed.
"Ah, that," said the detective, "I do not know. When we find out who John is, then we shall find the motive for the crime."
"In that case, if I were you, I should try to find John as quickly as possible."
"Yes, my dear sir, that is exactly what should be done, and my detective is now endeavouring to discover the identity of John. He will possibly succeed in a few days. But there is another way of finding out who John is, and perhaps in that you can help me."
"What other way?"
"There is one man who undoubtedly knows who John is, and that is Mr. Brenton. Now, I thought that perhaps you, who know Brenton better than I do, would not mind asking him who John is."
"My dear sir," said Speed, "Brenton is no particular friend of mine, and I only know him well enough to feel that if there is any cross-examination to be done, I should prefer somebody else to do it."
"Why, you are not afraid of him, are you?" asked the detective.
"Afraid of him? Certainly not, but I tell you that Brenton is just a little touchy and apt to take offence. I have found him so on several occasions. Now, as you have practically taken charge of this case, why don't you go and see him?"
"I suppose I shall have to do that," said the Frenchman, "if you will not undertake it."
"No, I will not."
"You have no objection, have you, to going with me?"
"It is better for you to see Brenton alone. I do not think he would care to be cross-examined before witnesses, you know."
"Ah, then, good-bye; I shall find out from Mr. Brenton who John is."
"I am sure I wish you luck," replied Speed, as Lecocq took his departure.
Lecocq found Brenton and Ferris together. The cynical spirit seemed to have been rather sceptical about the accounts given him of the influence that Speed and Brenton, combined, had had upon the Chicago newspaper man. Yet he was interested in the case, and although he still maintained that no practical good would result, even if a channel of communication could be opened between the two states of existence, he had listened with his customary respect to what Brenton had to say.
"Ah," said Brenton, when he saw the Frenchman, "have you any news for me?"
"Yes, I have. I have news that I will exchange, but meanwhile I want some news from you."
"I have none to give you," answered Brenton.
"If you have not, will you undertake to answer any questions I shall ask you, and not take offence if the questions seem to be personal ones?"
"Certainly," said Brenton; "I shall be glad to answer anything as long as it has a bearing on the case."
"Very well, then, it has a very distinct bearing on the case. Do you remember the girl Jane Morton?"
"I remember her, of course, as one of the servants in our employ. I know very little about her, though."
"That is just what I wish to find out. Do you know anything about her?"
"No; she had been in our employ but a fortnight, I think, or perhaps it was a month. My wife attended to these details, of course. I knew the girl was there, that is all."
The Frenchman looked very dubious as Brenton said this, while the latter rather bridled up.
"You evidently do not believe me?" he cried.
Once more the detective gave his customary gesture, and said--
"Ah, pardon me, you are entirely mistaken. I have this to acquaint you with. Jane Morton is the one who murdered you. She did it, she says, partly for the sake of John, whoever he is, and partly out of revenge. Now, of course, you are the only man who can give me information as to the motive. That girl certainly had a motive, and I should like to find out what the motive was."
Brenton meditated for a few moments, and then suddenly brightened up.
"I remember, now, an incident which happened a week of two before Christmas, which may have a bearing on the case. One night I heard--or thought I heard--a movement downstairs, when I supposed everybody had retired. I took a revolver in my hand, and went cautiously down the stairs. Of course I had no light, because, if there was a burglar, I did not wish to make myself too conspicuous a mark. As I went along the hall leading to the kitchen, I saw there was a light inside; but as soon as they heard me coming the light was put out. When I reached the kitchen, I noticed a man trying to escape through the door that led to the coalshed. I fired at him twice, and he sank to the floor with a groan. I thought I had bagged a burglar sure, but it turned out to be nothing of the kind. He was merely a young man who had been rather late visiting one of the girls. I suspect now the girl he came to see was Jane Morton. As it was, the noise brought the two girls there, and I never investigated the matter or tried to find out which one it was that he had been visiting. They were both terror-stricken, and the young man himself was in a state of great fear. He thought for a moment that he had been killed. However, he was only shot in the leg, and I sent him to the house of a physician who keeps such patients as do not wish to go to the hospital. I did not care to have him go to the hospital, because I was afraid the newspapers would get hold of the incident, and make a sensation of it. The whole thing was accidental; the young fellow realized that, and so, I thought, did the girls; at least, I never noticed anything in their behaviour to show the contrary."
"What sort of a looking girl is Jane Morton?" asked Ferris.
"She is a tall brunette, with snapping black eyes."
"Ah, then, I remember her going into the room where you lay," said Ferris, "on Christmas morning. It struck me when she came out that she was very cool and self-possessed, and not at all surprised."
"All I can say," said Brenton, "is that I never noticed anything in her conduct like resentment at what had happened. I intended to give the young fellow a handsome compensation for his injury, but of course what occurred on Christmas Eve prevented that: I had really forgotten all about the circumstance, or I should have told you of it before."
"Then," said Lecocq, "the thing now is perfectly clear. That black-eyed vixen murdered you out of revenge."