The Achievements of Luther Trant/The Empty Cartridges
THE EMPTY CARTRIDGES
Stephen Sheppard, big game shot and all-around sportsman, lay tensely on his side in bed, watching for the sun to rise out of Lake Michigan. When the first crest of that yellow rim would push clear of the grim, gray horizon stretching its great, empty half circle about the Chicago shore, he was going to make a decision—a decision for the life or for the death of a young man; and as he personally had always cared for that man more than for any other man so much younger, and as his, who was the chief person left in the world that Sheppard loved, also cared for the man so much that she would surely marry him if he were left alive, Sheppard was not at all anxious for that day to begin.
The gray on the horizon, which had been becoming alarmingly pale the last few moments as he stared at it, now undeniably was spread with purple and pink from behind the water's edge. Decide he must, he knew, within a very few minutes or the rising sun would find him as faltering in his mind as he was the night before when he had given himself till daybreak to form his decision. The sportsman shut his teeth determinedly. No matter how fruitless the hours of darkness when he had matched mercy with vengeance; no matter how hopeless he had found it during the earlier moments of that slow December dawn to say whether he would recognize that his young friend had merely taken the law into his own hands and done bare justice, and therefore the past could be left buried, or whether he must return retribution upon that young man and bring back all that hidden and forgotten past—all was no matter; he must decide now within five minutes. For it was a sportsman's compact he had made with himself to rise with the sun and act one way or the other, and he kept compacts with himself as obstinately and as unflinchingly as a man must who has lived decently a long life alone, without any employment or outside discipline.
Now the great, crimson aurora shooting up into the sky warned him that day was close upon him; now the semi-circle of gray waters was bisected by a broad and blood red pathway; now white darts at the aurora's center foretold the coming of the sun. He swung his feet out of bed and sat up—a stalwart, rosy, obstinate old man, his thick, white, wiry hair touseled in his indecision—and, reaching over swiftly, snatched up a loose coin which lay with his watch and keys upon the table beside his bed.
"I'll give him equal chances anyway," he satisfied himself as he sat on the edge of the bed with the coin in his hands. "Tails, he goes free, but heads, he—hangs!"
Then waiting for the first direct gleam of the sun to give him his signal, he spun it and put his bare foot upon it as it twirled upon the floor.
"Heads!" He removed his foot and looked at it without stooping. He pushed his feet into the slippers beside his bed, threw his dressing-gown over his shoulders, went directly to the telephone and called up the North Side Police Station.
"I want you to arrest Jim Tyler—James Tyler at the Alden Club at once!" he commanded abruptly. "Yes; that's it. What charge? What do I care what charge you arrest him on—auto speeding—anything you want—only get him!" The old sportsman spoke with even sharper brevity than usual. "Look him up and I'll come with my charges against him soon enough. See here; do you know who this is, speaking? This is Steve Sheppard. Ask your Captain Crowley whether I have to swear to a warrant at this time in the morning to have a man arrested. All right!
"That starts it!" he recognized grimly to himself, as he slammed down the receiver. The opposition at the police station had given the needed drive to his determination. "Now I'll follow it through. Beginning with that fellow—Trant," he recollected, as he found upon his desk the memorandum which he had made the night before, in case he should decide this way.
"Mr. Trant; you got my note of last night?" he said, a little less sharply, after he had called the number noted as Trant's room address at his club. "I am Stephen Sheppard—brother of the late Neal Sheppard. I have a criminal case and—as I wrote you I might—I want your help at once. If you leave your rooms immediately, I will call for you at your office before eight; I want you to meet a train with me at eight-thirty. Very well!"
He rang for his man, then, to order his motor and to tell him to bring coffee and rolls to his room, which he gulped down while he dressed. Fifteen minutes later he jumped onto the front seat of his car, displacing the chauffeur, and himself drove the car rapidly down town.
A crisp, sharp breeze blew in upon them from the lake, scattering dry, rare flakes of snow. It was a clear, perfect day for the first of December in Chicago. But Stephen Sheppard was oblivious to it. In the northern woods beyond the Canada boundary line the breeze would be sharper and cleaner that day and smell less of the streets and—it was the very height of his hunting season for big game in those woods! Up there he would still have been shooting, but as the papers had put it, "the woods had taken their toll" again this year, and his brother's life had been part of that toll.
"Neal Sheppard's Body Found in the Woods!" He read the headlines in the paper which the boy thrust into his face, and he slowed the car at the Rush Street bridge. "Victim of Stray Shot Being Brought to Chicago." Well! That was the way it was known! Stephen Sheppard released his brake, with a jerk; crossed the bridge and, eight minutes later, brought up the car with a sharper shock before the First National Bank Building.
He had never met the man he had come to see—had heard of him only through startling successes in the psychological detection of crime with which this comparative youth, fresh from the laboratory of a university and using methods new to the criminals and their pursuers alike, had startled the public and the wiser heads of the police. But finding the door to Trant's office on the twelfth floor standing open, and the psychologist himself taking off his things, Sheppard first stared over the stocky, red-haired youth, and then clicked his tongue with satisfaction.
"It's lucky you're early, Mr. Trant," he approved bluffly. "There is short enough time as it is, before we meet the train." He had glanced at the clock as he spoke, and pulled off his gloves without ceremony. "You look like what I expected—what I'd heard you were. Now—you know me?"
"By reputation, at least, Mr. Sheppard," Trant replied. "There has been enough in the papers these last two weeks, and as you spoke of yourself over the telephone just now as the brother of the late Neal Sheppard, I suppose this morning's report is correct. That is, your brother has finally been found in the woods—dead?"
"So you've been following it, have you?"
"Only in the papers. I saw, of course, that Mr. Neal Sheppard was missing from your hunting party in Northern Ontario two weeks ago," Trant replied. "I saw that you had been unable to find him and had given him up for drowned in one of the lakes or dead in the woods, and therefore you had come home the first of the week to tell his daughter. Then this morning I saw Mr. Chapin and your guide, whom you had left to keep up the search, had reported they found him—killed, apparently, by a stray shot."
"I see. I told Chapin to give that out till he saw me, no matter how he found him." Sheppard tossed his fur cap upon Trant's flat-topped desk before him and slapped his heavy gloves, one after the other, beside it.
"You mean that you have private information that your brother was not shot accidentally?" Trant leaned over his desk intently.
"Exactly. But I've not come to mince matters with you, Trant. He was murdered, man,—murdered!"
"Murdered? I understand then!" Trant straightened back.
"No, you don't," his client contradicted bluntly, "I haven't come to ask you to find the murderer for me. I named him to the police and ordered his arrest before I called you this morning. He is Jim Tyler; and, as I know he was at his club, they must have him by this time. There's mighty little psychology in this case, Trant. But if I'm going to hang young Jim, I'm going to hang him quick—for it's not a pleasant job; and I have called for you merely to hear the proofs that Chapin and the Indian are bringing—they've sent word only that it is murder, as I suspected—so that when we put those proofs into the hands of the state's attorney, they can finish Jim quick—and be done with it!"
"Tyler?" Trant leaned quickly toward his client again, not trying now to conceal his surprise. "Young Tyler, your shooting-mate and your partner in the new Sheppard-Tyler Gun Company?"
"Yes, Tyler," the other returned brusquely, but rising as he spoke, and turning his back upon the pretext of closing the transom. "My shooting-mate for the last three years and I guess he's rather more than my partner in the gun company; for, to tell the truth, it was for him I put up the money to start the business. And there are more reasons than that for making me want to let him go—though he shot my brother. But those reasons—I decided this morning—are not enough this late in the day! So I decided also to hold back nothing—to keep back nothing of what's behind this crime, whoever it hurts! I said I haven't come to mince matters with you, Trant. Well—I shan't!"
He turned back from the transom, and glanced once more swiftly at the clock.
"I shall be very glad to go over the evidence for you, Mr. Sheppard," Trant acquiesced, following the older man's glance; "and as you have come here half an hour before we need start to meet the train—"
"Just so," the other interrupted bluntly. "I am here to tell you as much as I am able before we meet the others. That's why I asked you if you knew me. So now—exactly how much do you know about me, Trant?"
"I know you are a wealthy man—a large holder of real estate, the papers say, which has advanced greatly in value; and I know—this is from the papers too—that you belong to a coterie of men who have grown up with the city,—old settlers of thirty years' standing."
"Quite right. Neal and I came here broke—without a cent, to pick up what we could in Chicago after the fire. And we made our fortunes then, easy—or easily, as I've learned to say now," he smiled to himself grimly, "by buying up lots about the city when they were cheap and everybody scared and selling them for a song, and we had only to hold them until they made us rich. I am now a rich old bachelor, Trant, hunting in season and trap-shooting out, and setting up Jim Tyler in the gun business between times. The worst that was said about Neal was his drinking and bad temper; for Leigh, his daughter, goes as well as anybody else in her circle; and even young Jim Tyler has the run of a dozen clubs. That's all good, respectable and satisfactory, isn't it? And is that all you know?"
"That's all," replied Trant curtly.
"Never heard of Sheppard's White Palace, did you? Don't know that when you speak to one of those old boys of thirty years ago—the coterie, you called them—about Mr. Stephen Sheppard, the thought that comes into his head is, 'Oh! you mean Steve Sheppard, the gambler!' Thirty years ago, more or less, we were making our money to buy those lots in a liquor palace and gambling hell—Neal and I and Jim Tyler's father—old Jim."
"There were more than just Neal and old Tyler and me, though," he burst on, pacing the length of the rug beside Trant's desk and not looking at his consultant at all. "There were the Findlays besides—Enoch, who was up in the woods with us, he gets his picture in the paper every six months or so for paying a thousand dollars for a thousand-year-old cent piece; and Enoch's brother, and Chapin, whom we're going to meet in a few minutes. We ran a square game—as square as any; understand that! But we had every other devilment that comes even to a square gambling house in a wide open town—fights, suicide, and—murder."
He broke off, meeting Trant's quick and questioning glance for a fraction of an instant with a steely glitter of his gray-green eyes.
"Sure—murder!" he repeated with rougher defiance. "Men shot themselves and, a good deal oftener, shot each other in our house or somewhere else, on account of what went on there. But we got things passed up a deal easier in those days, and we seldom bothered ourselves about a little shooting till—well, the habit spread to us. I mean, one night one of us—Len Findlay it was—was shot under conditions that made it certain that one of us other five—Tyler, or Chapin, or Enoch Findlay, his brother, or Neal, or I, must have shot him. You see, a pleasant thing to drop into our happy family! Made it certain only to us, of course; we got it passed up as a suicide with the police. And that wasn't all; for as soon afterward as it was safe to have another 'suicide,' old Jim Tyler was shot; and this time we knew it was either Enoch Findlay or—I told you I wouldn't mince matters—or Neal. That broke up the game and the partnership—"
"Wait, wait!" Trant interrupted. "Do you mean me to understand that your brother shot Tyler?"
"I mean you to understand just what I said," the old man's straight lips closed tightly under his short white mustache; "for I've seen too much trouble come out of just words to be careless with them. Either Enoch or Neal shot Jim; I don't know which."
"In retaliation, because he thought Tyler had shot Len Findlay?"
"Perhaps; but I never thought so, and I don't think so now," Sheppard returned decisively. "For old Jim Tyler was the least up to that sort of thing of any of us—a tongue-tied, inoffensive old fellow—and he was dealer in our games; but outside of that Jim didn't have nerve enough to handle his own money. But for some reason Neal seemed sure it was old Jim who had shot Len, and he made Enoch Findlay believe it, too. So, no matter who actually fired the bullet, it was Neal. Well, it was up to me to look after old Jim's widow and his boy. That was necessary; for after Jim was dead, I found a funny thing. He had taken his share with the rest of us in the profits of the game; and the rest of us were getting rich by that time—for we weren't any of us gamblers; not in the way of playing it back into the game, that is; but though I had always supposed that Jim was buying his land like the rest—and his widow told me so, too—I found nothing when he was dead!"
"But you implied just now," Trant put in again quickly, "that Tyler might have had someone else investing for him. Did you look into that at the time?"
"Yes; I asked them all, but no one knew anything. But we're coming to that," the old man answered impatiently. "I wanted you to see how it was that I began to look after young Jim and take an interest in him and do things for him till—till he became what he was to me. Neal never liked my looking after the boy from the first; we quarreled about it time and again, and especially after young Jim began growing up and Neal's girl was growing up, too; and a year or so ago, when he began seeing that Leigh was caring for young Jim more than for anyone else, in spite of what he said, Neal hated the boy worse. He forbade him his house; and he did a good many other things against him, and the reason for all of it even I couldn't make out until this last hunt."
The old sportsman stood still now, picked up his fur cap and thoughtfully began drawing on his big gloves.
"We had gone up this year, as of course you know from the papers, into the Ontario reserve, just north of the Temagami region, for deer and moose. The season is good there, but short, closing the middle of November. Then we were going to cross into Quebec where the season stays till January. Young Jim Tyler wasn't with us, for this hunt was a sort of exclusive fixture just for the old ones, Neal and I, Findlay and Chapin. But this time, the second day in camp, young Jim Tyler comes running in upon us—or rather, in on me, for I was the only one in camp that day, laid up with a bad ankle. He had his gun with him, one of our new Sheppard-Tylers which we were all trying out for the first time this year. But he hadn't followed us for moose. He'd come to see Neal. For the people that had bought his father's old house had been tearing it down to make room for a business building, and they'd found some papers between the floors which they'd given to young Jim, and that was what sent him after us, hot after Neal. He showed them to me; and I understood.
"You see, the only real objection that Neal had been able to keep against young Jim was that he was a pauper—penniless but for me. And these papers Jim had were notes and memorandum which showed why Jim was a pauper and who had made him that, and how Neal himself had got the better half of old Jim's best properties. For the papers were private notes and memoranda of money that old Jim Tyler had given Neal to invest in land for him; among them a paper in Neal's writing acknowledging old Jim's half interest in Neal's best lots. Then there were some personal memorandum of Tyler's stuck with these, part of which we couldn't make out, except that it had to do with the shooting of Len Findlay; but the rest was clear—showed clear that, just before he was shot, old Jim Tyler had become afraid of Neal and was trying to make him convert his papers into regular titles and take his things out of Neal's hands.
"I saw, of course, that young Jim must know everything then; so the only thing I could do was to stop him from hunting up Neal that morning and in that mood with a gun in his hand. But he laughed at me; said I ought to know he hadn't come to kill Leigh's father, but only to force a different understanding then and there; and his gun might come in handy—but he would keep his head as well as his gun. But he didn't. For though he didn't find Neal then, he came across Findlay and Chapin and blurted it all out to them, so that they stayed with him till he promised to go home, which he didn't do either; for one of our Indians, coming up the trail early next morning with supplies, met him only half a dozen miles from camp. Jim said he'd laid up over night because of the snowstorm, but didn't come back to camp because he didn't want to see Neal after the promise he'd made. And there had been a big snow that night. Chapin and Findlay didn't get in till all hours because of it; Chapin about eleven, Findlay not till near two, dead beat out from tramping through the new snow; and Neal—he never got in at all.
"I stayed four days after that looking for Neal; but we couldn't find him. Then I left Chapin with the Indians to keep on searching, while I came down, more to see Jim, you understand, than to break the news to Leigh. Jim admitted he'd stayed near camp till the next morning but denied he'd even seen Neal, and denied it so strongly that he fooled me into giving him the benefit of the doubt until last night; and then Chapin wired me they had found Neal's body, and to meet them with a detective, as they have plain evidence against young Jim that he murdered my brother!"
The old man stopped suddenly, and his eyes shifted from Trant to the clock. "That's all," he concluded abruptly. "Not much psychology in that, is there? My car is waiting down stairs."
He pulled the fur cap down upon his ears, and Trant had time only to throw on his coat and catch his client in the hall, as Sheppard walked toward the elevators. The chauffeur, at sight of them, opened the limousine body of the car, and Sheppard got in with Trant, leaving the man this time to guide the car through the streets.
"There's where the Palace stood; Neal owns the lot still, and has made two re-buildings on it," he motioned toward a towering office structure as the car slowed at the Clark Street crossing. Then, as they stopped a moment later at the Polk Street Station, he laid a muscular hand upon the door, drove it open and sprang out, leaving Trant inside. The clock in the tower showed just half past eight, and he hurried into the train shed. Ten minutes later he reappeared, leading a plump, almost roly-poly man, with a round face, fiery red from exposure to the weather, who was buttoned from chin to shoe tops in an ulster and wore a fur cap like his own. Behind them with noiseless, woodland tread glided a full-blooded Indian, in corduroy trousers and coat blotched with many forest stains, carrying carefully a long leather gun-case and cartridge belt.
"This is Chapin, Trant," Sheppard introduced them, having evidently spoken briefly of the psychologist to Chapin in the station; "and McLain," he motioned toward the Indian.
He stepped after them into the limousine, and as the car jerked and halted through the crowded city streets back toward his home, he lifted his eyes to the round-faced man opposite him.
"Where was it, Chapin?" he asked abruptly.
"In Bowton's mining shack, Steve."
"You say the body was found in a miner's cabin, Mr. Chapin," the psychologist broke in, in crisp tones. "Do you mean the miners live in the cabin and carried him in there after he was shot?"
"No, it is an abandoned mine, Mr. Trant. He was in the deserted cabin when shot down—shot like a dog, Steve!"
"For God's sake, let's drop this till we get to the house!" Sheppard burst out suddenly, and Trant fell back, still keenly observant and attentive, while the big car swept swiftly through the less crowded streets. Only twice Sheppard leaned forward, with forced calmness and laconic comment, to point out some sight to the Indian; and once he nodded absently when, passing a meat shop with deer hung beside its doors, the Indian—finding this the first object on which he dared to comment—remarked that the skins were being badly torn. Then the motor stopped before twin, stately, gray-stone houses facing the lake, where a single broad flight of steps led to two entrance doors which bore ornate door plates, one the name of Stephen, the other Neal, Sheppard.
Sheppard led the way through the hall into a wide, high trophy and smoking-room which occupied a bay of the first floor back of the dining-room, and himself shut the door firmly, after Chapin and Trant and the Indian, still carefully carrying the gun-case, had entered.
"Now tell me," he commanded Chapin and the Indian equally, "exactly how you found him."
"Neal had plainly taken refuge in the cabin from the snowstorm, Steve," Chapin replied almost compassionately. "He was in his stocking feet, and his shooting-coat and cartridge-belt still lay on the straw in one of the bunks where he had been sleeping. The man, it seems clear, entered through the outer door of the mess cabin, which opens into the bunk-room through a door at its other end. Neal heard him, we suppose, and picking up his shoes and gun, went to see who it was; and the man, standing near the outer door, shot him down as he came through the other—four shots, Steve; two missed."
"Four shots, and in the cabin!" Sheppard turned to the Indian almost in appeal; but at McLain's nod his square chin set firmly. "You were right in telegraphing me it was murder!"
"Two hit—one here; one here," the Indian touched his right shoulder and then the center of his forehead.
"How do you know the man who shot him stood by the outer door?" Trant interrupted.
"McLain found the shells ejected from his rifle," Chapin answered; and the Indian took from his pocket five cartridges—four empty, one still loaded. "Man shooting kill with four shots and throw last from magazine there beside it," he explained. "Not have need it. I find on floor with empty shells."
"I see." Sheppard took the shells and examined them tensely. He went to his drawer and took out a single fresh cartridge and compared it carefully with the empty shells and the unfired cartridge the Indian had found with them, before he handed them, still more tensely, to Trant. "They are all Sheppard-Tyler's, Trant, which we were just trying out for the first time ourselves. No one else had them, no one else could possibly have them, besides ourselves, but Jim! But the gun-case, Chapin," he turned toward the burden the Indian had carried. "Why have you brought that?"
"It's just Neal's gun that we found in his hand, Steve," Chapin replied sympathetically, "and his cartridge-belt that was in the bunk."
The Indian unstrapped the case and took out the gun. Then he took from another pocket a single empty shell, this time, and four full ones, three of which he put into the magazine of the rifle, and extended it to Chapin.
"Neal had time to try twice for Ji—for the other fellow, Steve," Chapin explained, "for he wasn't killed till the fourth shot. But Neal's first shell," he pointed to the pierced primer of the cartridge he had taken from the Indian, "missed fire, you see; and he was hit so hard before he could shoot the other," he handed over the shell, "that it must have gone wild. Its recoil threw the next cartridge in place all right, as McLain has it now," he handed over the gun, "but Neal couldn't ever pull the trigger on it then."
"I see." Sheppard's teeth clenched tight again, as he examined the faulty cartridge his brother had tried to shoot, the empty shell, and the three cartridges left intact in the rifle. He handed them after the others to Trant. And for an instant more his green-gray eyes, growing steadily colder and more merciless, watched the silent young psychologist as he weighed again and again and sorted over, without comment, the shells that had slain Neal Sheppard; and weighed again in his fingers the one the murderer had not needed to use. Then Trant turned suddenly to the cartridge-belt the Indian held, and taking out one shell compared it with the others.
"They are different?" he said inquiringly.
"Only that these are full metal-patched bullets, like the one I showed you from the drawer, while those in Neal's belt are soft-nosed," Sheppard answered immediately. "We had both kinds in camp, for we were making the first real trial of the new gun; but we used only the soft-nosed in hunting. They are Sheppard-Tyler's, Trant—all of them; and that is the one important thing and enough of itself to settle the murderer!"
"But can you understand, Mr. Sheppard, even if the man who shot the four shells found he didn't need the fifth,"—the young psychologist held up the single, unshot shell which the Indian had found near the door—"why he should throw it there? And more particularly I can't make out why—" He checked himself and swung from his client to the Indian as the perplexity which had filled his face when he first handled the shells gave way to the quick flush of energetic action.
"Suppose this were the mess-room of the cabin, McLain," he gestured to the trophy-room, as he shot out his question; "can you show me how it was arranged and what you found there?"
"Yes, yes;" the Indian turned to the end wall and pointed, "there the door to outside; on floor near it, four empty shells, one full one." He stalked to a corner at the opposite end. "Here door to bunk-room. Here," he stopped and touched his fingers to the floor, "Neal Sheppard's shoes where he drop them. Here," he rose and touched the wall in two spots about the height of a man's head above the floor, "bullet hole, and bullet hole, when he miss."
"What! what!" cried Trant, "two bullet holes above the shoes?"
"And the body—that lay near the shoes?"
"Oh, no; the body here!" the Indian moved along the end wall almost to the other corner. "One shell beside it that miss fire, one empty shell. Neal Sheppard's matchbox—that empty, too—on floor. Around body burned matches."
"Burned matches around the body?" Trant echoed in still greater excitement.
"Yes; and on body."
"Yes; man, after he shot, go to him and burn matches—I think—to see him dead."
"Then they must have shot in the dark!" Trant's excited face flushed red with sudden and complete comprehension. "Of course, dolt that I was! With these shells in my hand, I should have guessed it! That is as plain a reason for this peculiar distribution of the shells as it is for the matches which, as the Indian says, the man must have taken from your brother's match-box to look at him and make sure he was dead." He had whirled to face his client. "It was all shot in the dark."
"Shot in the dark!" Sheppard echoed. He seemed to have caught none of the spirit of his young adviser's new comprehension; but, merely echoing his words, had turned from him and stared steadily out of the window to the street; and as he stared, thinking of his brother shot down in darkness by an unseen enemy, his eyes, cold and merciless before, began to glow madly with his slow but—once aroused—obstinate and pitiless anger.
"Mr. Trant;" he turned back suddenly, "I do not deny that when I called for you this morning, instead of getting a detective from the city police as Chapin expected, it was not to hang Jim Tyler, as I pretended, but with a determination to give him every chance that was coming to him after I had to go against him. But he gave Neal none—none!—and it's no matter what Neal did to his father; I'm keeping you here now to help me hang him! And Chapin! when I ordered Tyler's arrest, I told the police I'd prefer charges against him this morning, but he seems impatient. He's coming here with Captain Crowley from the station now," he continued with short, sharp distinctness. "So let him in, Chapin—I don't care to trust myself at the door—Jim's come for it, and—I'll let him have it!"
"You mean you are going to charge him with murder now, before that officer, Mr. Sheppard?" Trant moved quickly before his client, as Chapin obediently went toward the door. "Don't," he warned tersely.
"The first bullet in your brother's gun that failed—the other three—the one which the other fellow did not even try to shoot," Trant enumerated almost breathlessly, as he heard the front door open. "Do they mean nothing to you?"
And putting between his strong even teeth the cartridge with its primer pierced which had failed in Neal Sheppard's gun, he tore out the bullet with a single wrench and held the shell down. "See! it was empty, Mr. Sheppard! That was the first one in your brother's gun! That was why it didn't go off! And this—the last one the other man had, the one he didn't even try to shoot," Trant jerked out the bullet from it too with another wrench of his teeth—"was empty as well. See! And the other man knew it; that was why he didn't even try to shoot it, but ejected it on the floor as it was!"
"How did you guess that? And how did you know that the other cartridge, the one Jim—the other fellow—didn't even try to fire—wasn't loaded, too?" Sheppard now checked short in surprise, stupefied and amazed, gazed, with the other white-haired man and the Indian, at the empty shells.
But Trant went on swiftly: "Are Sheppard-Tyler shells so poorly loaded, Mr. Sheppard, that two out of ten of them are bad? And not only two, but this—and this—and this," at each word he dropped on the table another shell, "the three left in your brother's rifle. For these others are bad—unloaded, too! So that even if he had been able to pull the trigger on them, they would have failed like the first; and I know that for the same reason that I know about the first ones. Five out of ten shells of Sheppard-Tyler loading 'accidentally' with no powder in them. That is too much for you—for anyone—to believe, Mr. Sheppard! And that was why I said to you a moment ago, as I say again, don't charge that young man out there with murder!"
"You mean," Sheppard gasped, "that Jim did not kill Neal?"
"I didn't say that," Trant returned sharply. "But your brother was not shot down in cold blooded murder; I'm sure of that! Whether Jim Tyler, or another, shot him, I can not yet say; but I hope soon to prove. For there were only four men in the woods who had Sheppard-Tyler guns; and he must have been shot either by Tyler, or Findlay, or Chapin, or—to open all the possibilities—by yourself, Mr. Sheppard!" the psychologist continued boldly.
"Who? Me?" roared Chapin in fiery indignation.
"What—what's that you're saying?" The old sportsman stood staring at his young adviser, half in outrage, half in astonishment.
Then, staring at the startling display of the empty shells—whose meaning was as yet as incomprehensible to him as the means by which the psychologist had so suddenly detected them—and dazed by Trant's sudden and equally incomprehensible defense of young Tyler after he had detected them, he weakened. "I—I'm afraid. I don't understand what you mean, Mr. Trant!" he said helplessly; then, irritated by his own weakness, he turned testily toward the door: "I wonder what is keeping them out there?"
"Mr. Trant says," Chapin burst out angrily, "that either you or I is as likely to have shot Neal as young Jim! But Mr. Trant is crazy; we'll have young Jim in here and prove it!" and he threw open the door.
But it was not young Tyler, but a girl, tall and blond, with a lithe, straight figure almost like a boy's, but with her fine, clear-cut features deadly pale, and with her gray eyes—straight and frank, like Sheppard's, but much deeper and softer—full of grief and terror, who stood first in the doorway.
"Leigh! So it was you keeping them out there! Leigh," her uncle's voice trembled as he spoke to the girl, "what are you doing here?"
"No; what are you doing, uncle?" the girl asked in clear, fearless tones. "Or rather, I mean, what have Mr. Chapin and this guide and this—this gentleman," she looked toward Trant and the gun Sheppard had handed him, "come here for this morning? And why have they brought Jim here—this way?" She moved aside a little, as though to let Trant see behind her the set and firm, but also very pale, features of young Tyler and the coarser face of the red-haired police officer. "I know," she continued, as her uncle still stood speechless, "that it must have something to do with my father; for Jim could not deny it. But what—what is it," she appealed again, with the terror gleaming in her eyes which told, even to Trant, that she must half suspect, "that brings you all here this way this morning, and Jim too?"
"Run over home again, my dear," the uncle stooped and kissed her clumsily. "Run back home now, for you can't come in."
"Yes; you'll go back home now, won't you, Leigh?" Tyler touched her hand.
"Perhaps you had better let Miss Sheppard in for a moment first, Mr. Tyler," Trant suggested. "For, in regard to what she seems to fear, I have only encouragement for her."
"You mean you—" Tyler's pale, defiant lips parted impulsively, but he quickly checked himself.
"I am not afraid to ask it, Jim," the girl this time sought his fingers with her own. "Do you mean you—are not here to try to connect Jim with the—disappearance of my father?"
"No, Miss Sheppard," Trant replied steadily, while the eyes of the two older men were fixed upon him scarcely less intently than the girl's; "and I have asked you to come in a moment, because I feel safe in assuring you that Mr. Tyler can not have been connected with the disappearance of your father in the way they have made you fear. And more than that, it is quite possible that within a few moments I will be able to prove that he is clear of any connection with it whatever—quite possible, Miss Sheppard. That was all I wanted to tell you."
"Who are you?" the girl cried. "And can you make my uncle believe that, too? Do you think I haven't known, uncle, what you thought when Jim went up there after you and—father was lost? I know that what you suspect is impossible; but," she turned to Trant again, "can you make my uncle believe that, too?"
"Your uncle, though he seemed to forget the fact a moment ago, has retained me precisely to clear Mr. Tyler from the circumstantial evidence that seemed so conclusive against him," said Trant, with a warning glance at the amazed Sheppard, "and I strongly hope that I will be able to do so."
"Oh, I did not understand! I will wait upstairs, then," the girl turned from Trant to Sheppard in bewilderment, touched Tyler's arm as she brushed by him in the door, and left them.
"Thank you for your intention in making it easier for her—whoever you are—even if you have to take it back later," Tyler said grimly to the psychologist. "But since Crowley has told me," he turned now to Sheppard, "that it was you who ordered him to arrest me at the club this morning, I suppose, now that Leigh is gone, that means that you have found your brother shot as he deserved and as you expected and—you think I did it!"
"Morning, Mr. Sheppard," the red-haired police captain nodded. "Morning, Mr. Trant; giving us some more of the psycho-palmistry? Considerable water's gone past the mill since you put an electric battery on Caylis, the Bronson murderer, and proved him guilty just as we were getting ready to send Kanlan up for the crime. As for this young man," he motioned with his thumb toward Tyler, "I took him in because Mr. Sheppard asked it; but as Mr. Sheppard didn't make any charge against him, and this Tyler wanted to come up here, I brought him on myself, not hearing from Mr. Sheppard. I suppose now it's Mr. Neal Sheppard's death, after seeing the morning papers and hearing the young lady."
"Just so, Captain Crowley," said Trant brusquely, "but we'll let Mr. Sheppard make his charge or not make it, just as he sees fit, after we get through with the little test we're going to carry out. And I am greatly mistaken, if, after we are through, he will bring any such charge as you have suggested. But come in, Captain; I am glad that you are here. The test I am going to make may seem so trivial to these gentlemen that I am glad to have a practical man like yourself here who has seen more in such a test as the one I am going to make now, than can appear on the surface."
"'More than appears on the surface' is the word, Mr. Trant," the captain cried impulsively. "Mr. Sheppard, it's myself has told you about Mr. Trant before; and I'll back anything he does to the limit, since I see him catch the Bronson murderer, as I just told you, by a one-cell battery that would not ring a door bell."
"I shall ask you to bear that in mind, if you will, Mr. Sheppard and Mr. Chapin," the psychologist smiled slightly as he looked about the room, and then crossed over to the mantel and took from it five of the six small stone steins with silver tops which stood there. "Particularly as I have not here even the regular apparatus for the test, but must rather improvise. If I had you in my offices or in the psychological laboratory fitted with that regular apparatus I could prove in an instant which of you, if any, was the one who shot these four cartridges to kill Neal Sheppard, and discarded this fifth," he touched again the shells on the table. "But, as I said, I hope we can manage here."
"Which of us?" Chapin echoed. "So you're going to try me, too?" He raised a plump fist and shook it angrily under Trant's nose. "You think I did it?"
"I didn't say so, Mr. Chapin," Trant replied pacificatingly. "I said there were excellent chances that Mr. Tyler was not the one who did the shooting; so if that is so, it must have been done by one of the other men who carried Sheppard-Tyler rifles. I thought of you merely as one of those; and as the test I am about to try upon Mr. Tyler would be as simple and efficient a test to determine your connection—or lack of connection—with this shooting, I shall ask you to take it after Mr. Tyler, if necessary."
He raised the tops of the steins, as he spoke, peered into them to see they were empty; then put into his pocket the good shell which he had taken from the belt the Indian had given him, and picked up the five little covered cups again.
"As I have a stop second hand to my watch, Mr. Sheppard," he continuedI need now is some shot—ordinary bird shot, or small shot of any size."
"Shot?" Sheppard stared at the steins crazily, but catching Captain Crowley's equally uncomprehending but admiringly confident eyes, he nodded, "of course. You will find all the shot you can want in the gun cabinet in the corner."
Trant crossed to the cabinet and opened the drawer. He returned in less than a minute, as they stood exchanging curious glances, and placed five steins in a row on the table before him.
"Please take up the middle one now, Mr. Tyler," he requested, as he took out his watch. "Thank you. Now the one to the right of it; and tell me, is it the same weight as the other, or heavier, or lighter?"
"The same weight or lighter—perhaps a little lighter," Tyler answered readily. "But what of it? What is this?" he asked curiously.
"Take up the middle stein again." Trant, disregarding his question, glanced at the time interval on his watch; "the first stein you picked up, Mr. Tyler; and then take up the remaining three in any order, and tell me, as quickly as you can, whether they seem the same weight, lighter or heavier to you. Thank you," he acknowledged noncommittally again, as Tyler acquiesced, his wonder at so extraordinary a test increasing.
The psychologist glanced over the list of answers he had noted on a slip of paper with the time taken for each. Then he gathered up the five steins without comment and redistributed them on the table.
"It looks bright for you, Mr. Tyler," he commented calmly; "but I will ask you to go over the steins again;" and a second, and then a third time, he made Tyler take up all five steins in turn and tell him whether each seemed the same weight, lighter or heavier than the first he handled.
"What's all this tomfoolery with steins got to do with who shot Neal Sheppard?" Chapin blurted out contemptuously. But when he turned for concurrence to Stephen Sheppard, he found the old sportsman's anxious gaze again fixed on the intent face of the police captain who once before, by his own admission, had seen Trant pick a murderer by incomprehensible work, and his own contempt as well gave place to apprehensive wonder at what might lurk behind this apparently childish experiment."You ask what this means, Mr. Chapin?" Trant looked up as he finished his notes. "It has made me certain that Mr. Tyler, at least, is guiltless of the crime of which he has been suspected. As to who shot Neal
"What's all this tomfoolery with steins got to do with who shot Neal Sheppard?" Chapin blurted out contemptuously
Sheppard, if you will kindly take up those steins just as you have seen him do, perhaps I can tell you."
For the fraction of an instant Chapin halted; then, as under direct gaze of the psychologist, he reached out to pick up the first stein in the test, whose very seeming triviality made it the more incomprehensible to him, the sweat broke out on the backs of his hands; but he answered stoutly:
"That's heavier; the same; this lighter; and this the same again."
And again: "The same; heavier; lighter; the same! Now, what's the answer?"
"That my feeling which you forced upon me to make me choose you—I admit it—for the rôle you were so willing to assign to Tyler, Mr. Chapin, would probably have made me waste valuable time, if I had not been able to correct it, scientifically, as easily as I confirmed my other feeling in Tyler's favor. For there can be no question now that you had no more to do with the shooting of Neal Sheppard than he had. I must make still another test to determine the man who fired these shots."
"You mean you want to try me?" Sheppard demanded, uneasy and astounded.
"I would rather test the other man first, Mr. Sheppard; the fourth man who was in the woods with you," Trant corrected calmly.
The psychologist, as he looked around, saw in the faces of Sheppard, Chapin, and young Tyler alike, indignant astonishment.
"You don't know Findlay, Mr. Trant," Sheppard said roughly, losing confidence again in spite of Crowley; "or you would understand that he is the last man among us who could be suspected. Enoch is a regular hermit—what they call a 'recluse'! Only once a year are we able to get him to tear himself away from his musty old house and his collections of coins, and then only for old sake's sake, to go to the north woods with us. Your crazy test with the steins has led you a long way off the track if you think it's Findlay."
"It has led me inevitably to the conclusion that, if it was one of you four men, it was either Findlay or yourself, Mr. Sheppard," Trant asserted firmly. "You yourself know best whether it is necessary to test him."
Sheppard stared at the obstinate young psychologist for a full minute. "At least," he said finally with the same roughness, "we can keep young Jim still in custody." He looked at the police officer, who nodded. Then he went to the house telephone on the wall, spoke shortly into it, and turned:
"I'll take you to Findlay, Trant. I've called the motor."
Five minutes later the little party in the trophy-room broke up—Tyler, under the watch of Captain Crowley, going to the police station, but as yet without charge against him; Chapin going about his own business; Trant and his client speeding swiftly down the boulevard in the big motor.
"You want to stop at your office, I suppose," Sheppard asked, "for you haven't brought the steins you used in your test with us?"
"Yes—but no," Trant suddenly recollected; "you have mentioned once or twice that Findlay is a collector of coins—a numismatist."
"The craziest in Chicago."
"Then if you'll drop me for a minute at Swift and Walton's curio shop in Randolph Street that will be enough."
Sheppard glanced at his young adviser wonderingly; and looked more wonderingly still when Trant came out from the curio shop jingling a handful of silver coins, which he showed quietly.
"They're silver florins of one of the early Swiss states," he exclaimed; "borrowed of Swift and Walton, by means of a deposit, and guaranteed to make a collector sit up and take notice. They'll get me an interview with Mr. Findlay, I hope, without the need of an introduction. So if you will point out the house to me and let me out a block or so from it, I will go in first."
"And what do you want me to do?" asked Sheppard, startled.
"Come in a few minutes later; meet him as you would naturally. Your brother's body has been found; tell him about it. You suspect young Tyler; tell him that also. Maybe he can help you. You need not recognize me until I see I want you; but my work, I trust, will be done before you get there."
"Enoch Findlay help me?" queried Sheppard in perplexity. "You mean help me to trace Neal's murderer. But it is you who said because, against all reason, you suspect Enoch, Mr. Trant, that we have come here! For there's the house," he pointed. And Trant, not making any answer, leaped out as the car was slowing, and left him.
The big old Michigan avenue dwelling, Trant saw at a glance, was in disrepair; but from inattention, the psychologist guessed, not from lack of money. The maid who opened the door was a slattern. The hall, with its mingled aroma of dust and cooking, spoke eloquently of the indifference of the house's chief occupant; and the musty front room, with its coin cases and curios, was as unlike the great light and airy "den" where Stephen Sheppard hung his guns and skins and antlers, as the man whom Trant rose to greet was unlike his friend, the hale and ruddy old sportsman.
As Trant looked over this man, whose great height—six feet four or five inches—was reduced at least three inches by the studious stoop of his shoulders; as he took note of his worn and careless clothing and his feet forced into bulging slippers; as he saw the parchment skin, and met the eyes, so light in color that the iris could scarcely be detected from the whites, like the unpainted eyes of a statue, he appreciated the surprise that Findlay's former partners, Sheppard and Chapin, had experienced at the suggestion that this might be the murderer.
"I shall ask only a little of your time, Mr. Findlay," Trant put his hand into his pocket for his coins, as though the proffered hand of the other had been extended for them. "I have come to ask your estimate, as an expert, upon a few coins which I have recently picked up. I have been informed that you can better advise me as to their value than any other collector in Chicago. My coins seem to be of the early Swiss states."
"Early Swiss coins are almost as rare as Swiss ships in the present day, sir." Findlay took the round bits of silver with the collector's intense absorption, which made him forget that he had not even asked his visitor's name. "And these are exceptionally rare and interesting pieces. I have never seen but one other of these which I am fortunate enough to possess. They are all the same, I see," he sifted them swiftly one after the other into his palm. "But—what's this—what's this?" he cried with sudden disappointment as he took the top ones up separately for more individual examination. "I hope you have not paid too great a price for these." He went to one of his cases and, opening it, took out an exact duplicate of Trant's coin. "For see!" he weighed the two accurately in his fingers; "this first one of yours compares most favorably with this specimen of mine, which is unquestionably genuine. But this—this—this and this; ah, yes; and this, too"—he sorted over the others swiftly and picked out five—"are certainly lighter and I'm afraid they are counterfeit. But where are my scales?"
"Lighter?" Trant repeated, in apparent bewilderment.
"The correct coin, you see," the collector replied, tossing his own silver pieces into his scales, "should be over 400 grains—almost an ounce. But these," he placed the ten pieces one after the other on the balance, too absorbed to notice the ringing of the door bell, "the five I feared for, are quite light—twenty grains at least, you see?" He reweighed them once more, carefully.
"That is certainly most interesting." Trant grimly looked up at the expert as though trying to deny a disappointment. "But it is quite worth having the five coins light, to witness the facility with which an expert like yourself can pick them out, unerringly, without fail—barely twenty grains difference in four hundred."
He looked up, still betraying only astonishment. But Findlay's face, after the first flush of his collector's absorption, had suddenly grown less cordial.
"I did not get your name, sir," he started; then turned, at the opening of the door behind him, to face Stephen Sheppard.
"Findlay!" the sportsman cried, scarcely waiting for the servant who had admitted him to vanish, and not appearing to notice Trant at all. "They've found Neal's body! In Bowton's mining shack—murdered, Enoch, murdered! We'll have young Jim Tyler up for it! Unless," he hesitated, and looked at Trant, and added, as though the compelling glance of the psychologist constrained him to it, "unless you know something that will help him, Enoch!"
"Hush, Steve! Hush!" the coin collector fell back upon the chair, beside his desk, with an anxious glance at the psychologist. "I have a man here." He gathered himself together. "And what is it possible that I could tell to save young Jim?"
"You might tell why, Mr. Findlay," Trant said sharply, nerving himself for the coming struggle, "for I know already how you shot Neal Sheppard yourself!"
But no struggle came.
"What—you?" Findlay burst from his pale lips; then caught the recognition of this stranger in Sheppard's face and fell back—trapped.
He clasped his hands convulsively together and stretched them out before him on the desk. In his cheek something beat and beat with ceaseless pulse.
"Murdered, Steve?" the latent fire seemed fanned in Findlay at last. "But first"—he seemed to check something short on his lips—"who are you? And why," he turned to Trant, "why did you come to me with those coins? I mean—how much do you know?"
"I am retained by Mr. Sheppard in this case," Trant replied, "and only turned coin collector to prove how you picked out those shells with which you shot Neal Sheppard. And I know enough more to know that you could not have murdered him in any right sense, and enough to assure you that, if you tell how you shot him to save young Tyler, you can count on me for competent confirmation that it was not murder."
But the tall, gaunt man, bent in his chair, seemed scarcely to hear the psychologist's words or even to be conscious, longer, of his presence. When he lifted his eyes, they gave no sign as they swept by Trant's figure. Findlay saw only his old partner and friend.
"But you shot him, Enoch? How and why?"
"How?" the Adam's apple worked in Findlay's throat, and the words seemed wrenched from his lips as though their weight were a burden too heavy for him longer to bear. "How, Steve? I shot him as he shot Len, my brother, thirty years ago!"
"Then it was Neal that shot Len and—and started the murder among us?" the old sportsman in his turn sought tremblingly for a seat. "For all these years I have known in my heart that it was done by Neal; but, Enoch, you didn't shoot him now because he shot Len—thirty years ago!"
"No, not because he shot Len; but because he made me kill—made me murder old Jim Tyler for it! Now do you understand? Neal shot Len, my brother; and for that, perhaps I should not have shot Neal when, at last, I found it out thirty years later. But for that murder he did himself, he made me murder poor old Jim Tyler, my best friend! So I shot him as he made me shoot Jim Tyler. It was both or none! Neal would be alive to-day, if Jim was!"
"Neal shot Len and made you shoot old Jim Tyler for it?"
"Yes; I shot him, Steve! I shot old Jim—old Jim, who was the truest friend to me of you all! I shot old Jim, whose bed I'd shared—and for these thirty years old Jim has never left me. There are men like that, Steve, who do a thing in haste, and then can't forget. For I'm one of them. I was no kind of a man for a murderer, Steve; I was no man for the business we were in. Len led me—led me where I ought never to have gone, for I hadn't nerve like he and you and Neal had! Then Len was shot, and Neal came to me and told me old Jim had done it. I was wild, Steve—wild, for I'd had a difference with Jim and I knew Jim had had a difference with Len—over me. So I believed it! But I had no gun. I never carried one, you know. Neal gave me one and told me to go and shoot him, or Jim'd shoot me, too. And I shot old Jim—shot him in the back; that's the kind of man I was—no nerve. I couldn't face him when I did it. But I've faced him often enough since, God knows! By night and by day; by foul weather or by fair weather; for old Jim and I have got up and gone to bed together ever since—thirty years. And it's made me what I am—you see, I never had the nerve. I told you!"
"But Neal, Enoch? How did you come to shoot Neal two weeks ago—how did all that make you?" Sheppard urged excitedly.
"I'm telling you! Those two weeks ago—two weeks ago to-day, young Jim came up into the woods red hot; for he had the papers he showed you showing Neal had cheated him out of money. He met Chapin and me, too, and told us and showed us the papers. There was one paper there that didn't mean anything to young Jim or to you or to Chapin, or to anyone else that didn't know old Jim intimately—old Jim had his own way of putting things—but it meant a lot to me. For all these years I've been telling you about—all these years I've been carrying old Jim with me, getting up and lying down with him, and whenever he came to me, I'd been saying to him, "I know, Jim, I killed you; but it was justice; you killed my brother!' But that paper made me know different. It made me know it wasn't old Jim that killed Len, Steve; it was Neal—and Jim knew it; and that was why Neal set me on Jim and made me kill him; because Jim knew it! That was like Neal, wasn't it, Steve? Never do anything straight, Neal wouldn't, when he could do it crooked! He wanted to get rid of old Jim—he owed him money and was afraid of him now, for Jim knew he'd killed Len—and he saw a safe way to make me do it. So then at last I knew why old Jim had never left me, but had been following me all these years—always with me; and I never let on to Chapin. I just went to look for Neal. 'This time,' said I to myself, 'it's justice!' And—I found him sitting on a log, with his gun behind him, a little drunk—for he always carried a flask with him, you know—and whistling. I couldn't face him any more than I could Jim, and I came up behind him. Three times I took a bead on Neal's back, and three times I couldn't pull the trigger—for he never stopped whistling, and I knew if I shot him then I'd hear that whistling all my life—and the third time he turned and saw me. He must have seen the whole thing on my face; I can't keep anything. But he had nerve, Neal did. 'Oh,' he says, 'it's Enoch Findlay, the murderer, shooting in the back as usual.' 'I'm what you made me,' says I, 'but you'll never make any difference to another man!' 'Give me a chance,' says Neal. 'Don't shoot me sitting!' Neal had nerve, I tell you—I never had any; but that time for once in my life, I got it. 'Get up,' says I, 'and take your gun; you'll have as fair a chance as I will. But that wasn't quite true. I never had Neal's nerve—I didn't have it even But I've always been a better shot than him; I've never drunk; and he hasn't been steady for years. So I knew I still had the advantage; and Neal knew it, too; but he doesn't let on.
"'Thank you, Enoch,' he says. 'Now I'll kill you, of course; but while I'm doing it, maybe you'll hit me—no knowing; and I don't care to have a soft-nose bullet mushroom inside of me. Besides, wouldn't you rather have a clean hole—you've seen what the soft-noses do to the deer!' 'It's all we've got,' says I; but I guess he had me on that then. For I had seen the game hit by soft-nose bullets; and if I had to have him around with a bullet hole in him after I'd killed him, I wanted a clean bullet hole anyway—not the other kind. 'Have you got the other kind?' I said. 'I'll go to camp and get some,' he answered. I don't know what was in me; I had my nerve that day—for the first and only time in my life. I guess it was that, Steve, and it was a new feeling and I wanted to enjoy it. I knew there was some devilment in what he said; but I wanted to give him every chance—yes, I enjoyed giving the chance for more crookedness to him before I finished him; for I knew I was going to finish him then.
"'All right,' I said, 'I'll wait for you in the clearing by Bowton's mining shack'; for I saw in his eyes that he was afraid not to come back to me; and I watched him go, and went over to Bowton's and sat down with my back against the shanty, so he couldn't come up and shoot me from behind, and waited. It was dark and cloudy; he was gone four hours, and before he got back it began to snow. It got so that you couldn't see ten feet in that blizzard; but I sat outside in the snow till Neal came back; then we went into the shack together and agreed to wait till it was over—no man on earth could have done any shooting in that storm then, and we knew we couldn't get back to camp till it was over. We sat there in the shack, and looked at each other. Night came, and we were still looking; only now we couldn't see each other any longer, but sat waiting to hear the other moving—only neither of us moved. Then we did—slowly and carefully. Sometimes I sat in one place, sometimes in another, for I didn't want him to know just where I was for fear he'd shoot. But he was afraid to shoot first; for if he missed, I'd see him by the flash and get him, sure. It kept on snowing. Once Neal said, 'We'll settle this thing in the morning.' 'All right,' says I—but moved again, for I thought he would surely shoot then.
"I kept wondering when my nerve would go, but it stayed by me, and I tell you I enjoyed it; he moved more often than I did. For the first time in my life I wasn't afraid of Neal Sheppard; and he was afraid of me. He laid down in one of the bunks and I could hear him turning from side to side; but he didn't dare to sleep any, and I didn't either. Then he said, 'This is hell, ain't it!' 'If it is,' I said, 'it's a taste of what you're going to get after!' After I'd shot him, I meant. Then he said, 'I want to sleep, and I can't sleep while you're living; let's settle this thing now!'
"'In the dark?' I asked. 'Not if I can find a light,' he says, and I promised not to shoot him while he lit a match—I had none. He lit one and looked for a piece of candle, but couldn't find any. Then I said, 'If you want to do it in the dark, I'm agreeable'; for I'd been thinking that maybe it was only because of the dark, now, that I had my nerve, and maybe when daylight came and I could see him, I might be afraid of him. So we agreed to it.
"He felt for me in the dark, and held out five shells. We'd agreed in the afternoon to fight at fifty paces with five shells each—steel-patched bullets and shoot till one killed. So he counted out five in his hand and offered them to me, keeping the other five for himself. I felt the five he gave me. They were full metal-patched, all right; the kind for men to fight with; they'd either kill or make a clean wound. But something about him—and I knew I had to be looking for devilment—made me suspicious of him. 'What are your five,' I said at a venture; 'soft-nose? Are you going to use sporting lead on me?' 'They're the same as yours,' he said; but I got more suspicious. 'Let's trade, then,' I said. 'Feel the steel on them, then,' he handed me one. I felt; and it was metal-patched, all right; but then I knew what was the bottom of his whole objection to the bullets; his shell was heavier than mine. Mine were lighter; they were unloaded; I mean they had no powder. He knew the powder we use was so little compared to the weight of the case and bullet it could easily pass all right; no one could spot the difference—no one, except one trained like me; and I was sure he never thought I could. It all flashed across me ten times quicker than that as soon as I felt his cartridges; but I said nothing. I told you I had my nerve that night. For the same second my plan flashed to me, too; my plan to turn his own trick against him and not let him know! So I gave him back his shell; let him think it was all right; but I knocked all ten, his and mine, on the floor.
"Then we had to get down and look for them on the floor. I knew I could pick out the good from the bad easy; but he—well, whenever I found a light one, I left it; but when I found a heavy one, I kept it. I got four good ones so easy and quick that he never guessed I was picking them; he was fumbling—I could almost feel him sweat—trying to be sure he was getting good shells. He got one, by accident, before I found it; so I had to take one bad one; but I knew he had four bad, though he himself couldn't know anything about that. Then we loaded the guns, and went out into the big room of the cabin, and backed away from each other.
"I backed as quick as I could, but he went slower. I did that so I could hear his footsteps, and I listened and knew just about where he was. We didn't either one of us want to fire first, for the other one would see his flash and fire at it. But after I had waited as long as I could and knew that he hadn't moved because I heard no footsteps, I fired twice—as fast as I could pull the trigger—where I heard him last; and from just the opposite corner from where I last heard him, I heard the click of his rifle—the hammer falling on one of his bad shells, or it might have been the last for me. I didn't see how he could have got there without my knowing it; but I didn't stop to think of that. I just swung and gave it to him quick—two shots again, but not so quick but that—between them—his hammer struck his good shell and the bullet banged through the wall behind me. But then I gave him my fourth shot—straight; for his hammer didn't even click again. Besides, I heard him fall. I waited a long time to see if he moved; but he didn't. I threw the bad cartridge out of my gun, and went over and felt for him. I got the matchbox and lit matches and saw he was dead; and I saw, too, how he had got in that corner without me hearing. He was in his stockings; he had taken off his shoes and sneaked from the corner where I first shot for him, so he would have killed me if I hadn't seen to it that he had the bad shells he fixed for me. It struck a sort of a shiver to me to see that—to see him tricky and fighting foul to the end. But that was like Neal, wasn't it, Steve? That was like him, clear to the last, looking for any unfair advantage he could take? That's how and why I killed Neal, Steve—and this time it was justice, Steve! For Neal had it coming! Steve, Steve! didn't Neal have it coming?"
He stretched out his hands to his old friend, the brother of the man he had killed, in pitiable appeal; and as the other rose, with his face working with indecision and emotion, Trant saw that the question he had asked and the answer that was to be given were for those two alone, and he went out and left them.
The psychologist waited at the top of the high stone entrance steps for several minutes before Sheppard joined him and stood drinking in great breaths of the cold December air as though by its freshness to restore his nervous balance.
"I do not know what your decision is, Mr. Sheppard," said the younger man finally, "as to what will be done in the matter. I may tell you that the case had already given me independent confirmation of Mr. Findlay's remarkable statement in the important last particulars. So it will be no surprise to me, and I shall not mention it, if I am never called on by you to bear witness to the very full confession we have just heard."
"Confession?" Sheppard started. "Findlay does not regard it a confession, Mr. Trant, but as his defense; and I—I rather think that during the last few minutes I have been looking at it in that light."
He led the way toward the automobile, and as they stepped into it, he continued: "You have proved completely, Mr. Trant, all the assertions you made at my house this morning, but I am still guessing how the means you used could have made you think of Findlay as the man who killed Neal—the one whom I would have least suspected."
"You know already," Trant answered, "what led me to the conclusion that your brother was killed in the dark; and that it was certainly not a murder, but a duel, or, at least, some sort of a formal fight between two men, had occurred to me with compelling suggestiveness as soon as the Indian showed to me the intact shells—all with full metal-patched bullets, though these were not carried by you for game and no other such shells were found in your brother's belt. And not only were the intact shells with steel-patched bullets, but the shots fired were also steel-patched bullets, as the Indian noticed from their holes through the logs. So here were two men with five metal-patched shells apiece firing at each other.
"It still more strongly suggested some sort of a duel to me," the psychologist continued, "when they told us the singularly curious fact that two of the bullets had pierced the wall directly above the place where your brother's shoes stood. This could reasonably be explained if I held my suspicion that the men had fought a duel in the dark—shooting by sound; but I could not even guess at any other explanation which was not entirely fantastic. And when I discovered immediately afterwards that, of the ten special shells which these men seemed to have chosen to fire at each other, five had been unloaded, it made the fact final to me; for it was utterly absurd to suppose that of the ten shells to be shot under such circumstances, five—just one half—would have been without powder by accident. But I am free to confess," Trant continued frankly, "that I did not even guess at the true explanation of that—for I have accepted Mr. Findlay's statement as correct. I had accounted for it by supposing that, in this duel, the men more consciously chose their cartridges and that the duel was a sort of repeating rifle adaptation of two men dueling with one loaded and one unloaded pistol. In the essential fact, however, I was correct and that was that the men did choose the shells; so, granting that, it was perfectly plain that one of the men had been able to clearly discriminate between the loaded and the unloaded shells, and the other had not. For not only did the one have four good shells to the other's one—in itself an almost convincing figure—but the man with four did not even try to shoot his bad shell, while it appeared that the other had tried to shoot his bad one first. Now as there was not the slightest difference to the eye between the bad and good shells and—that which made it final—the duel was fought in the dark, the discrimination which one man had and your brother did not, could only have been an ability for fine discrimination in weight."
"I see!" Comprehension dawned curiously upon Sheppard's face.
"For the bullet and the case of those special shells of yours, Mr. Sheppard," the psychologist continued rapidly, "were so heavy—weighing together over three hundred grains, as I weighed them at your gun cabinet—and the smokeless powder you were trying was of such exceptional power that you had barely twenty grains in a cartridge; so the difference in weight between one of those full shells and an empty one was scarcely one-fifteenth—an extremely difficult difference for one without special deftness to detect in such delicate weights. It was entirely indistinguishable to you; and also apparently so to Mr. Chapin, though I was not at first convinced whether it was really so or not. However, as I have trained myself in laboratory work to fine differences—a man may work up to discriminations as fine as one-fortieth—I was able to make out this essential difference at once.
"This reduced my case to a single and extremely elementary consideration: could young Tyler have picked out those shells in the dark and shot Neal Sheppard with them. If he could, then I could take up the circumstantial evidence against him, which certainly seemed strong. But if he could not, then I had merely to test the other men who carried Sheppard-Tyler rifles and were gone from camp the night your brother was shot, as well as young Tyler—though that circumstance seemed to have been forgotten in the case against Tyler."
"I see!" Sheppard cried again. "So that was what you were doing with the steins and shot! But how could you tell that from the steins?"
"I was making a test, as you understand now, Mr. Sheppard," Trant explained, "to determine whether or not Tyler—and after him, Mr. Chapin—could have distinguished easily between a loaded shell weighing something over 320 grains and one without the 20 odd grains of smokeless powder; that is, to find if either could discriminate differences of no more than one-fifteenth in such a small weight. To test for this in the laboratory and with the proper series of experiment weights, I should have a number of rubber blocks of precisely the same size and appearance, but graded in weight from 300 grains to something over 320 grains. If I had the subject take up the 300 grain weight and then the others in succession, asking him to call them heavier or lighter or the same weight, and then made him go over all the weights again in a different order, I could have as accurately proved his sense of weight discrimination as an oculist can prove the power of sight of the eyes, and with as little possibility of anyone fooling me. But I could not arrange a proper series of experiment weights of only 300 grains without a great deal of trouble; and it was not necessary for me to do so. For under the operation of a well-known psychological principle called Weber's Law, I knew that the same ratio of discrimination between weights holds pretty nearly constant for each individual, whether the experiment is made with grains, or ounces, or pounds. In other words, if a person's 'threshold of difference'—as his power of weight discrimination is called—is only one-tenth in grains, it is the same in drams or ounces; and if he can not accurately determine whether one stein weighs one-fifteenth more than another, neither can he pick out the heavier shell if the difference is only one-fifteenth. So I merely had to take five of your steins, fill the one I used as a standard with shot till it weighed about six ounces, or 100 drams. The other steins I weighted to 105, 107, 108, 110 drams respectively; and by mixing them up and timing both Tyler's and Chapin's answers so as to be sure they were answering their honest, first impressions of the weights of the steins and were not trying to trick me, I found that neither could consistently tell whether the steins that weighed one-twentieth, one-fifteenth or even the steins which weighed one-twelfth more were heavier, lighter or the same as the standard stein; and it was only when they got the one which weighed 110 drams and was one-tenth heavier that they were always right. So I knew."
"I see! I see!" Sheppard cried eagerly. "Then the coins you took to Findlay were—"
"Weights to try him in precisely the same sense," Trant continued. "Only they approximated much more closely the weights of the bullets and had, indeed, even finer differences in weight. Five were genuine old florins weighing 400 grains, while the other five were light twenty grains or only one-twentieth; yet Findlay picked them out at once from the others, as soon as he compared them, without a moment's hesitation."
"Simple as you make it out now, young man," Sheppard said to his young adviser admiringly, "it was a wonderful bit of work. And whether or not it would have proved that you were needed to save Tyler's life, you have certainly saved me from making the most serious criminal charge against him; and you have spared him and my niece from starting their lives together under the shame and shadow of the public knowledge of my brother's past. I am going now, of course, to see that Jim is freed and that even the suspicion that my brother was not killed accidentally in the woods, gets no further than Captain Crowley. I can see to that! And you, Mr. Trant—"
"I have retained the privilege, fortunately, Mr. Sheppard," Trant interrupted, "since I am unofficial, of judging for myself when justice has been done. And I told you that the story we have just heard satisfied me as the truth. My office is in the next block. You will leave me there?"