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ents of Luther Trant

IX

THE ELEVENTH HOUR


Originally published Hampton's Magazine, February 1910. Also appeared in Scientific Detective Monthly, May 1930, Great Detective, May 1933 and The Armchair Detective, January 1979.


On the third Sunday in March the thermometer dropped suddenly in Chicago a little after ten in the evening. A roaring storm of mingled rain and snow, driven by a riotous wind—wild even for the Great Lakes in winter—changed suddenly to sleet, which lay in liquid slush upon the walks. At twenty minutes past the hour, sleet and slush had both begun to freeze. Mr. Luther Trant, hastening on foot back to his rooms at his club from north of the river where he had been taking tea, observed—casually, as he observed many things—that the soft mess underfoot had coated with tough, rubbery ice, through which the heels of his shoes crunched at every step while his toes left almost no mark.

But he noted this then only as a hindrance to his haste. He had been taking the day "off" away from both his office and his club; but fifteen minutes before, he had called up the club for the first time that day and had learned that a woman—a wildly terrified and anxious woman—had been inquiring for him at intervals during the day over the telephone, and that a special delivery letter from the same source had been awaiting him since six o'clock. The psychologist, suddenly stricken with a sense of guilt and dereliction, had not waited for a cab.

As he hurried down Michigan Avenue now, he was considering how affairs had changed with him in the last six months. Then he had been a callow assistant in a psychological laboratory. The very professor whom he had served had smiled amusedly, almost derisively, when he had declared his belief in his own powers to apply the necromancy of the new psychology to the detection of crime. But the delicate instruments of the laboratory—the chronoscopes, kymographs, plethysmographs, which made visible and recorded unerringly, unfalteringly, the most secret emotions of the heart and the hidden workings of the brain; the experimental investigations of Freud and Jung, of the German and French scientists, of Munsterberg and others in America—had fired him with the belief in them and in himself. In the face of misunderstanding and derision, he had tried to trace the criminal, not by the world-old method of the marks he had left on things, but by the evidences which the crime had left on the mind of the criminal himself. And so well had he succeeded that now he could not leave his club even on a Sunday, without disappointing somewhere, in the great-pulsating city, an appeal to him for help in trouble. But as he turned at the corner into the entrance of the club, he put aside this thought and faced the doorman.

"Has she called again?"

"The last time, sir, was at nine o'clock. She wanted to know if you had received the note, and said you were to have it as soon as you came in."

The man handed it out—a plain, coarse envelope, with the red two-cent and the blue special delivery stamp stuck askew above an uneven line of great, unsteady characters addressing the envelope to Trant at the club. Within it, ten lines spread this wild appeal across the paper:

"If Mr. Trant will do—for some one unknown to him—the greatest possible service—to save perhaps a life—a life! I beg him to come to Ashland Avenue between seven and nine o'clock to-night! Eleven! For God's sake come—between seven and nine! Later will be too late. Eleven! I tell you it may be worse than useless to come after eleven! So for God's sake—if you are human—help me! You will be expected.
"W. Newberry."

The psychologist glanced at his watch swiftly. It was already twenty-five minutes to eleven!

Besides the panic expressed by the writing itself, the broken sentences, the reiterated appeal, most of all the strange and disconnected recurrence three times in the few short lines of the word eleven—which plainly pointed to that hour as the last at which help might avail—the characters themselves, which were the same as those on the envelope, confirmed the psychologist's first impression that the note was written by a man, a young man, too, despite the havoc that fear and nervelessness had played with him.

"You're sure it was a woman's voice on the phone?" he asked quickly.

"Yes, sir; and she seemed a lady."

Trant hastily picked up the telephone on the desk; "Hello! Is this the West End Police Station? This is Mr. Trant. Can you send a plain-clothes man and a patrolman at once to——Ashland Avenue?... No; I don't know what the trouble is, but I understand it is a matter of life and death; that's why I want to have help at hand if I need it. Let me know who you are sending."

He stood impatiently tapping one heel against the other, while he waited for the matter to be adjusted at the police station, then swung back to receive the name of the detective: "Yes.... You are sending Detective Siler? Because he knows the house?... Oh, there has been trouble there before?... I see.... Tell him to hurry. I will try and get there myself before eleven."

He dashed the receiver back on to the hook, caught his coat collar close again and ran swiftly to claim a taxicab which was just bringing another member up to the club.

The streets were all but empty; and into the stiffening ice the chains on the tires of the driving wheels bit sharply; so it still lacked ten minutes of the hour, as Trant assured himself by another quick glance at his watch, when the chauffeur checked the motor short before the given number on Ashland Avenue, and the psychologist jumped out.

The vacant street, and the one dim light on the first floor of the old house, told Trant the police had not yet arrived.

The porticoed front and the battered fountain with cupids, which rose obscurely from the ice-crusted sod of the narrow lawn at its side, showed an attempt at fashion. In the rear, as well as Trant could see it in the indistinct glare of the street lamps, the building seemed to fall away into a single rambling story.

As the psychologist rang the bell and was admitted, he saw at once that he had not been mistaken in believing that the cab which had passed his motor only an instant before had come from the same house; for the mild-eyed, white-haired little man, who opened the door almost before the bell had stopped ringing, had not yet taken off his overcoat. Behind him, in the dim light of a shaded lamp, an equally placid, white-haired little woman was laying off her wraps; and their gentle faces were so completely at variance with the wild terror of the note that Trant now held between his fingers in his pocket, that he hesitated before he asked his question:

"Is W. Newberry here?"

"I am the Reverend Wesley Newberry," the little man answered. "I am no longer in the active service of the Lord; but if it is a case of immediate necessity and I can be of use —"

"No, no!" Trant checked him. "I have not come to ask your service as a minister, Mr. Newberry. I am Luther Trant. But I see I must explain," the psychologist continued, at first nonplused by the little man's stare of perplexity, which showed no recognition of the name, and then flushing with the sudden suspicion that followed. "To-night when I returned to my club at half-past ten, I was informed that a woman—apparently in great anxiety—had been trying to catch me all day; and had finally referred me to this special delivery letter which was delivered for me at six o'clock." Trant extended it to the staring little minister. "Of course, I can see now that both telephone calls and note may have been a hoax; but—in Heaven's name! What is the matter, Mr. Newberry?"

The two old people had taken the note between them. Now the little woman, her wraps only half removed, had dropped, shaking and pale, into the nearest chair. The little man had lost his placidity and was shuddering in uncontrolled fear. He seemed to shrink away; but stiffened bravely.

"A hoax? I fear not, Mr. Trant!" The man gathered himself together. "This note is not from me; but it is, I must not deceive myself, undoubtedly from our son Walter—Walter Newberry. This writing, though broken beyond anything I have seen from him in his worst dissipations is undoubtedly his. Yet Walter is not here, Mr. Trant! I mean—I mean, he should not be here! There have been reasons—we have not seen or heard of Walter for two months. He can not be here now—surely he can not be here now, unless—unless—my wife and I went to a friend's this evening; this is as though the writer had known we were going out! We left at half-past six and have only just returned. Oh, it is impossible that Walter could, have come here! But Martha, we have not seen Adele!" The livid terror grew stronger on his rosy, simple face as he turned to his wife. "We have not seen Adele, Martha, since we came in! And this gentleman tells us that a woman in great trouble was sending for him. If W...

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