The Axton Letters can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



ents of Luther Trant

VIII

Luther Trant, The Psychological Detective
Determines Identity By Sound


Originally published Hampton's Magazine, January 1910. Also appeared in The Phantom Detective, August 1935.


THE sounds in her dressing-room had waked her just before five. Ethel Waldron could still see, when she closed her eyes, every single, sharp detail of her room as it was that instant she sprang up in bed, with the cry that had given the alarm, and switched on the electric light. Instantly the man had shut the door; but as she sat, strained, staring at it to reopen, the hands and dial of her clock standing on the mantel beside the door, had fixed themselves upon her retina like the painted dial of a jeweler's dummy. It could have been barely five, therefore, when Howard Axton, after his first swift rush in her defense had found the window which had been forced open; had picked up the queer Turkish dagger which he found broken on the sill, and, crying to the girl not to call the police, as it was surely "the same man"—the same man, he meant, who had so inexplicably followed him around the world—had rushed to his room for extra cartridges for his revolver and run out into the cold sleet of the March morning.

So it was now an hour or more since Howard had run after the man, revolver in hand; and he had not reappeared or telephoned or sent any word at all of his safety. And however much Howard's life in wild lands had accustomed him to seek redress outside the law, hers still held the city-bred impulse to appeal to the police. She turned from her nervous pacing at the window and seized the telephone from its hook; but at the sound of the operator's voice she remembered again Howard's injunction that the man, whenever he appeared, was to be left solely to him, and dropped the receiver without answering. But she resented fiercely the advantage he held over her which must oblige her, she knew, to obey him. He had told her frankly—threatened her, indeed—that if there was the slightest publicity given to his homecoming to marry her, or any further notoriety made of the attending circumstances, he would surely leave her.

At the rehearsal of this threat she straightened and threw the superfluous dressing gown from her shoulders with a proud, defiant gesture. She was a straight, almost tall girl, with the figure of a more youthful Diana and with features as fair and flawless as any younger Hera, and in addition a great depth of blue in very direct eyes and a crowning glory of thick, golden hair. She was barely twenty-two. And she was not used to having any man show a sense of advantage over her, much less threaten her, as Howard had done. So, in that impulse of defiance, she was reaching again for the telephone she had just dropped, when she saw through the fog outside the window the man she was waiting for—a tall, alert figure hastening toward the house.

She ran downstairs rapidly and herself opened the door to him, a fresh flush of defiance flooding over her. Whether she resented it because this man, whom she did not love but must marry, could appear more the assured and perfect gentleman without collar, or scarf, and with his clothes and boots spattered with mud and rain, than any of her other friends could ever appear; or whether it was merely the confident, insolent smile of his full lips behind his small, close-clipped mustache, she could not tell. At any rate she motioned him into the library without speaking; but when they were alone and she had closed the door, she burst upon him.

"Well, Howard? Well? Well, Howard?" breathlessly.

"Then you have not sent any word to the police, Ethel?"

"I was about to—the moment you came. But—I have not—yet," she had to confess.

"Or to that—"he checked the epithet that was on his lips—"your friend Caryl?"

She flushed, and shook her head.

He drew his revolver, "broke" it, ejecting the cartridges carelessly upon the table, and threw himself wearily into a chair. "I'm glad to see you understand that this has not been the sort of affair for anyone else to interfere in!"

"Has been, you mean;" the girl's face went white; "you—you caught him this time and—and killed him, Howard?"

"Killed him, Ethel?" the man laughed, but observed her more carefully. "Of course I haven't killed him—or even caught him. But I've made myself sure, at last, that he's the same fellow that's been trying to make a fool of me all this year—that's been after me, as I wrote you. And if you remember my letters, even you—I mean even a girl brought up in a city ought to see how it's a matter of honor with me now to settle with him alone!"

"If he is merely trying to 'make a fool of you,' as you say—yes, Howard," the girl returned hotly. "But from what you yourself have told me of him, you know he must be keeping after you for some serious reason! Yes; you know it! I can see it! You can't deny it!"

"Ethel—what do you mean by that?"

"I mean that, if you do not think that the man who has been following you from Calcutta to Cape Town, to Chicago, means more than a joke for you to settle for yourself; anyway, / know that the man who has now twice gone through the things in my room, is something for me to go to the police about!"

"And have the papers flaring the family scandal again?" the man returned. "I admit, Ethel," he conceded, carefully calculating the sharpness of his second sting before he delivered it, "that if you or I could call in the police without setting the whole pack of papers upon us again, I'd be glad to do it, if only to please you. But I told you, before I came back, that if there was to be any more airing of the family affairs at all, I could not come; so if you want to press the point now, of course I can leave you," he gave the very slightest but most suggestive glance about the rich, luxurious furnishings of the great room, "in possession."

"You know I can't let you do that!" the girl flushed scarlet. "But neither can you prevent me from making the private inquiry I spoke of for myself!" She went to the side of the room and, in his plain hearing, took down the telephone and called a number without having to look it up.

"Mr. Caryl, please," she said. "Oh, Henry, is it you? You can take me to your—Mr. Trant, wasn't that the name—as soon as you can now.... Yes; I want you to come here. I will have my brougham. Immediately!" And still without another word or even a glance at Axton, she brushed by him and ran up the stairs to her room.

He had made no effort to prevent her telephoning; and she wondered at it, even as, in the same impetus of reckless anger, she swept up the scattered letters and papers on her writing desk, and put on her things to go out. But on her way downstairs she stopped suddenly. The curl of his cigarette smoke through the open library door showed that he was waiting just inside it. He meant to speak to her before she went out. Perhaps he was even glad to have Caryl come in order that he might speak his say in the presence of both of them. Suddenly his tobacco's sharp, distinctive odor sickened her. She turned about, ran upstairs again and fled, almost headlong, down the rear stairs and out the servants' door to the alley.

The dull, gray fog, which was thickening as the morning advanced, veiled her and made her unrecognizable except at a very few feet; but at the end of the alley, she shrank instinctively from the glance of the men passing until she made out a hurrying form of a man taller even than Axton and much broader. She sprang toward it with a shiver of relief as she saw Henry Caryl's light hair and recognized his even, open features.

"Ethel!" he caught her, gasping his surprise. "You here? Why—"

"Don't go to the house!" She led him the opposite way. "There is a cab stand at the corner. Get one there and take me—take me to this Mr. Trant. I will tell you everything. The man came again last night. Auntie is sick in bed from it. Howard still says it is his affair and will do nothing. I had to come to you."

Caryl steadied her against a house-wall an instant; ran to the corner for a cab and, returning with it, half lifted her into it.

Forty minutes later he led her into Trant's reception-room in the First National Bank Building; and recognizing the abrupt, decisive tones of the psychologist in conversation in the inner office, Caryl went to the door and knocked sharply.

"I beg your pardon, but—can you possibly postpone what you are doing, Mr. Trant?" he questioned quickly as the door opened and he faced the sturdy and energetic form of the red-haired young psychologist who, in six months, had made himself admittedly the chief consultant in Chicago on criminal cases. "My name is Caryl. Henry Howell introduced me to you last week at the club. But I am not presuming upon that for this interruption. I and—my friend need your help badly, Mr. Trant, and immediately. I mean, if we can not speak with you now, we may be interrupted—unpleasantly."

Caryl had moved, as he spoke, to hide the girl behind him from the sight of the man in the inner office, who, Caryl had seen, was a police officer. Trant noted this and also that Caryl had carefully refrained from mentioning the girl's name.

"I can postpone this present business, Mr. Caryl," the psychologist replied quietly. He closed the door, but reopened it almost instantly. His official visitor had left through the entrance directly into the hall; the two young clients came into the inner room.

"This is Mr. Trant, Ethel," Caryl spoke to the girl a little nervously as she took a seat. "And, Mr. Trant, this is Miss Waldron. I have brought her to tell you of a mysterious man who has been pursuing Howard Axton about the world, and who, since Axton came home to her house two weeks ago, has been threatening her."

"Axton—Axton!" the psychologist repeated the name which Caryl had spoken, as if assured that Trant must recognize it. "Ah! Of course, Howard Axton is the son!" he frankly admitted his clearing recollection and his comprehension of how the face of the girl had seemed familiar. "Then you," he addressed her directly, "are Miss Waldron, of Drexel Boulevard?"

"Yes; I am that Miss Waldron, Mr. Trant," the girl replied, flushing red to her lips, but raising her head proudly and meeting his eyes directly. "The step-daughter—the daughter of the second wife of Mr. N...

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