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The Master of Mysteries/The Trouble With Tulliver

 
 

THE TROUBLE WITH TULLIVER

 

"I NOTICE that most of the talk about Tulliver's running for governor has stopped," said Astro, dropping his morning paper and looking over to where Valeska, his assistant, was copying horoscopes from the Master's notes.

"I'm disappointed," she replied. "There seemed to be hope for the regeneration of the city government at last. It is strange how Tulliver has let up on the prosecution of those Brooklyn aldermen, though, isn't it?"

"Strange? How?" Astro gazed at her keenly; but it was perfectly evident that he was confident of his own opinion.

"Why, he began so well and so strenuously; and then, just before the case was to be brought for trial he seems to have dropped the whole thing. It doesn't seem to be like what we know of his character, somehow."

"Do you believe that he's been bribed?" Astro bent his dark brows.

"You never can tell nowadays. But he's such a fighter ordinarily that it looks suspicious. Why, I've heard extraordinary tales of his persistence and his energy. He takes no more sleep than Edison,—he works night and day, and can do usually four times as much work as an ordinary man could in similar circumstances."

Astro nodded his picturesque dark head thoughtfully, and took his customary seat on the divan by his water-pipe. With a toss of his hand he threw his red silken robe about his legs. The moonstone aigret in his oriental turban nodded rhythmically as he thought it over. Finally he said:

"The district attorney has not been bribed, Valeska, I'm sure of that. I have seen him and talked with him. I've studied his hand, his face, his gait, his voice, his gesture. Money can't buy that man. He not only has the energy you speak of, Valeska, he has a tremendous moral force besides. There is no graft in Tulliver. But there's something wrong. This lack of power, just when he ought to strike hardest, is suspicious. It's sinister. I tell you!" he added, rising, as the idea caught and held him with a new force. "This gang of boodlers has got him somehow! It's not a square fight!"

Valeska came up to him, more than commonly moved by his emotion. "Oh!" she exclaimed, taking his hand, "why can't you help him, if there is a plot? I'd like to see you try your hand at something more worth while than mere murders and jewel mysteries. You're wasting your talents on such ordinary detective work. Why not offer your services? Why not take up the fight for him, and with him, if it's possible, and help him win? You'll never have a more worthy cause!"

In her excitement her voice had become vibrant, thrilling with a warm personal note not wholly accounted for by her words. Astro perceived it, glanced at her, turned away suddenly. His voice had changed too, when he said:

"Shall I offer my services?"

"Oh, do!"

"You know that it is not my policy nor my custom to do that."

"It's your duty."

He swung round to her and took both her hands in a strong grip. "If you ask me, Valeska, I'll do it." And so Astro undertook to discover what was the trouble with Tulliver.

 

It was a delicate proceeding, at first, and it devolved upon Valeska herself to undertake the initial steps. It was three or four days before she had gone over the ground well enough to select the point of attack; but at the end of that time she had made up her mind that Mrs. Tulliver was in the line of least resistance to her efforts.

It did not take long for Valeska to discover that Mrs. Tulliver had a baby, and that the baby had a nurse, that the two went every fine morning to take the air in Central Park. In two days Valeska was there also with a baby borrowed for the occasion. Valeska waited at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East Sixty-fourth Street, until little Alice Tulliver and her nurse came down the steps of the Tulliver house. After that it was easy to make connections in the park and to happen to sit down on the same bench. To any one who watched Valeska's whimsical charm, and pretty expressive face, a confidential acquaintanceship was inevitable and the most natural thing in the world.

In such wise Valeska soon learned that Tulliver was suffering from what the doctors were pleased to term nervous prostration; that he had been advised to take a rest; and that Mrs. Tulliver was much worried over the situation. Mrs. Tulliver was ambitious and took great interest in her husband's political career. There was an atmosphere of great anxiety in the house on Sixty-fourth Street.

Valeska was a willing and sympathetic listener to the nurse's confidence, and watched her chance for interposition. It came unexpectedly the very next day, when Mrs. Tulliver herself came across the two engaged in conversation on a park bench. There was little need for diplomacy. Valeska's attractive manners produced an immediate effect upon Mrs. Tulliver's emotional, intuitive nature; and seeing with her rare perception that frankness was the quickest and easiest method with her, Valeska boldly told her who she was, and offered her services.

Mrs. Tulliver was too full of her own forebodings not to grasp immediately at this unlooked-for hope in her trouble. She confessed that her suspicions had been aroused, and, though they were not shared by her husband, she was convinced that the gang of boodling aldermen, desperate at the prospect of conviction, were making underhanded attacks upon their chief enemy, the district attorney. They were not of a sort to stop at any crime that would rid them of his strenuous prosecution.

Of Astro's fame as Master of Mysteries, Mrs. Tulliver had heard, and she willingly consented to lay the matter before him. His name was already known at the district attorney's office through the many crimes that, in unofficial cooperation with the police, he had pursued and solved.

 

Her story, after reaching the studio, amply confirmed Astro's suspicions. Tulliver had, the week before the date set for the opening of the trial, worked hard night and day over the data. His material was complex and voluminous; it required all his energy to select the proper points of testimony, to arrange his plan of prosecution, and to divide the work to be done by his assistants. All had gone well till Saturday. He had worked at his office till noon, and then had gone to a barber shop in the vicinity of City Hall Square and been shaved and manicured. That night he had intended going to the house of a friend for an evening's entertainment and relaxation, before beginning on the arduous final preparations for the trial. These last important investigations he had put off till Sunday, thinking that the recreation on Saturday night would help him to devote his whole energy to the case.

On Saturday night he showed extreme lassitude and manifested an unwillingness to go out with his wife. She had induced him to attend the entertainment, however; but, his fatigue increasing, they had both returned early and retired. On Sunday he slept late. He was worried about the case; but felt almost unable to rise and go to work. He had, after breakfast, dragged himself to his study and shut himself up with his papers. There Mrs. Tulliver had found him fast asleep at dinner-time. He made a second attempt to go about his work in the afternoon, and fell asleep a second time, showing extreme exhaustion. At nine o'clock he roused himself sufficiently to ask his wife to telephone to the judge of the court to postpone the case, and to notify his assistants of the necessary delay.

A doctor called on Monday against Tulliver's wishes and diagnosed his lassitude as nervous prostration. He had prescribed a remedy, and after taking it Tulliver had gradually recovered his customary state of health and energy. This attack of exhaustion, however, coming just before an important phase of the case was reached, and the rumors of bribery in connection with the district attorney, which had already been voiced in some of the city papers, had affected him as deeply as they had disturbed Mrs. Tulliver. He showed no disinclination whatever to drop the case; in fact he was more ardent than ever in wishing to bring the boodlers to justice. But already his delays and apparent lack of interest had seriously damaged his political career in the minds of the people.

Astro listened to all this attentively, with only an occasional question. A pretty woman at all times, with a proud, spiritedly-poised head and soft dark eyes, Mrs. Tulliver's distress made her beauty pathetic. It was plainly evident that, much as she was moved by the fear of her husband's illness and the sacrifice of his political future, what affected her still more strongly was the fear of some stain on his reputation; and, perhaps, in the dim shadows of her mind, unacknowledged, but sinisterly insistent, was the specter of a doubt of his probity. She knew well enough the cunning and the ingratiating methods of political corruption, and though she would not admit even to herself that her husband was venal, the horror of this potent secret force prostrated her.

It was Astro himself who gave her back her courage and her faith. She regained her strength at his offers of assistance. As he spoke, slowly, gently, commandingly, as she watched his handsome, mysteriously sentient face, some of his secret power went from him to her. The very strangeness of that face, with its oriental calm, with its oriental wisdom, with its beatific sympathy, gave her trust. She sat, so, watching him, one hand in Valeska's hand, till he had finished.

One question, however, before she left, he put in a way to renew her alarm. "Who is your cook?" he asked.

"Why, we've had her only about nine months; but she came recommended highly. Do you think—"

"Can you see to it that all his food is prepared under your personal supervision, or that he takes his lunches only at large, well-known restaurants?"

She thought she could do both.

"Be careful, then," he said. "And, for the last thing, find out all his movements in what detail you can, both in the past and in the future. Telephone me every day what he intends to do. And, by the way, what is the date set for the opening of the trial?"

"Next Monday."

"Then we haven't much time. But we'll win!"

As she left the great studio Valeska accompanied her to the outer door. Here she paused and clutched the girl's hand. "What did he mean about the cook?" she demanded. "Does he think it can be as bad as that,—that they would try poison?"

"Oh, he's only anxious to take all the precautions possible."

"Then I shall have to tell my husband I have been here."

"As you please," said Valeska. "Only be sure that you have the most powerful defender in New York. Astro has never failed yet."

She returned to the studio, to find Astro already absorbed in a medical book. He had taken down a bound volume of The Lancet, and pointed to it. "Look that over carefully and see if you can find that article on the Pathology of Fatigue. I can't recall what year it came out; but it was the report of the experiments of an Austrian, I think."

She looked at him in surprise. "You have a theory already?"

"No, not quite; but there is a disturbance in my memory,—there's something I can't quite place, or account for; if I don't try too hard, it will float up unconsciously. That's why I want you to look it up. But our line of investigation is plain."

"The barber?"

"Or the manicure. I didn't dare ask about that. I don't want Tulliver to suspect. Of course she'll tell him everything; I can see that, I expected it. But I must get to that particular barber shop to-day and begin to watch."

"Is it poison, then?"

"Undoubtedly poison; but whether physical or moral I don't yet know."

"But you seemed to be so sure of his honesty."

"I knew she would tell him everything. It was the only way. There is always the chance of corruption. Dishonesty is as much a disease as cholera. One can become infected by it as well as by a germ. I said it was my business to know human nature; but no one can know it, except to be sure that it's liable to all sorts of dangers and diseases. No one is immune. We can only fight infection of all sorts. If this man Tulliver is being poisoned, I'll find out how and by whom, and I'll save him. If he is being corrupted morally, is there any less reason why I should help him? It may be the first time in his life and the last. I know only that I like him, I admire his wife, and if I can beat that gang I'll do it! Selah. I have spoken."

 

It was late that afternoon when Astro returned from his investigations. By his look, Valeska knew that he was worried. Mrs. Tulliver had telephoned and said that the district attorney would be at his office all day and would return directly from there. From her tone it was evident that her husband did not take the Seer's assistance so gratefully as she herself did. Astro listened with a frown.

"Well, I'll save him in spite of himself, then. I confess it looks dubious. I saw our old friend, Lieutenant McGraw of the detective force, and he succeeded in finding out for me some of Tulliver's habits. He patronizes a small barber shop on Broadway, opposite the post-office, but doesn't go there regularly. Most often drops in there on Saturdays. I went in and got a shave. There was a tow-headed manicure in a corner, with about ten pounds of bracelets and a Marcel wave of the Eighth-Avenue type, crisp as galvanized iron. I didn't like her, on several counts; I somehow felt wrong with her. I had my nails attended to, and she was too smooth. She never refuses an invitation to dinner, that girl.

"Now," he continued, "we can't possibly investigate this thing from the Brooklyn end. There are too many in that gang of boodlers for us to follow them all. So we have to trace it back from the district attorney, and find some point of contact with the aldermen. If Tulliver was bought up, he wouldn't have worked so hard up to Saturday noon. He would have taken it easy and put his assistants off. Something must have happened on Saturday, and if anything happened, whether he was doped or bribed, the only place for it to have happened was in that barber shop. It's too bad I can't trail her to-night; but I have a positive appointment with Colonel Mixter. You'll have to shadow the manicure. She leaves the shop at six o'clock; so you must hurry."

With that, he threw himself on his divan, spread a pack of cards in front of him, and began "getting Napoleon out of Saint Helena." It was a habit of his when most puzzled with his strange problems to rest his mind occasionally by a game of solitaire. It was a sort of mental bath from which he rose always refreshed and ready for a new attack of the question in hand.

"Did you find that article in The Lancet?" he asked as Valeska was preparing to leave the studio.

"No," was her reply; "but I found a reference to it in an article on the anatomy of the vasomotor nerves. The name was Weichardt, wasn't it?"

"By Jove! that's it!" he cried joyfully. "Weichardt, Weichardt!" he repeated the name to himself. "I'll get it now! I'll just let that boil subconsciously a while."

 

Valeska took the subway down-town, reaching the barber shop just in time to see, through the basement windows, an orange-haired girl putting on her hat behind a screen in the corner. She nodded to the men at the chairs as she passed and came slowly up the steps to the street, still fingering the terrific pompadour that jutted from her forehead. She walked slowly down Broadway, glancing at her watch once, and loitering occasionally at shop-windows. It was evident that she was a bit too early for some appointment. At the corner of Fulton Street she stopped and waited.

It was a long time before a man, smoking a cigar, came up to her and stopped without lifting his hat. Then he took the girl's arm familiarly, and the two walked to the subway entrance again, descended, and took a Brooklyn train, and got off at the Borough station.

Valeska had meanwhile not only kept on their track, but had secured a seat where she could watch them at close range. The man looked like a political heeler, a barkeeper, or a sport. He might indeed have been all three. The two seemed very friendly; the girl's strident laugh sounded more than once through the car. In Brooklyn they went to a flashy restaurant that was generally frequented by the sporting element. The man ordered dinner and wine. As the meal proceeded, the manicure's laugh grew louder, and she became more familiar. It was not a pleasant sight.

From here the two came out upon the electric-lighted sidewalk, debated for a while at the curb, then got into a street-car. At Waverley Avenue they got out and walked up to number 1321. Here, rather to Valeska's surprise, the girl left the man abruptly, ran up the steps, took out a key, and entered. The man walked slowly back, boarded a car, and rode downtown.

Valeska followed him. She got out with him at Preston Street, and from here her task was more difficult. Keeping at a safe distance, however, she saw him stop at a two-story wooden house. At that moment a man, approaching from the other direction with two dogs held in leash, met him. The two entered the house together, and Valeska approached and reconnoitered. As she passed, she heard the dogs barking, and mingled with the noise was the sound of whining, as of animals in pain. The lower windows were dark; but the three above, on the second floor, were lighted. Creeping softly up the steps, Valeska laid her ear to the keyhole and listened. There was a low but distinct sound, a rumbling as of wheels turning, wheels with a heavy load, as if some machine were being laboriously worked.

 

Two days passed, and each night Valeska took up the scent, following the manicure girl across to Brooklyn as before. Both times, however, the girl was alone. The first night she dined alone at a little dairy near the Borough station and went to a vaudeville show afterward. The second night she went directly home. The next day was Saturday.

"We seem to have got nothing yet," she said to Astro that morning. "I confess I'm discouraged. If that man I saw is the go-between he covers his tracks well. If he hands her any drug or money it is impossible for us to detect it. If we could only get into that house on Preston Street!"

"That's impossible," said Astro; "it's too well guarded. I've been over there to see it. I was lookingfor a house to rent, you know, and found out enough to arouse my suspicions. The neighbors are gossiping about the place already. Dogs go in; but don't come out. There are moans and howls all night long, and it's getting to be a scandal. But to-day I hope to find out something definite about the relations that exist between Tulliver and that girl. McGraw has agreed to tip me off when Tulliver goes to the shop, and I think I can get a chance to watch the two together." Nothing had been heard from Mrs. Tulliver in the meantime. To Valeska's mind that in itself was suspicious. Astro's story when he returned did not relieve her mind.

"I got in after Tulliver," he said, "and was shaved, just managing to miss my turn with the manicure lady. Tulliver had his nails polished, as usual. She brightened up considerably at sight of him. It seemed to me that she was excited. He talked and laughed a little with her; but not enough to prove any great intimacy. She was undoubtedly nervous, however. Once she went behind the screen and did something, I don't know what. But she had ample opportunity to convey a secret message to him without arousing the least suspicion. I confess I'm worried about him."

With this, Valeska had to be content for the time, and she heard no more till Monday morning. Then, upon her arrival at the studio, Astro met her with a black face.

"Tulliver is down again!" he said immediately. "Mrs. Tulliver telephoned yesterday at ten o'clock in the morning, while her husband was asleep. He abso
The Master of Mysteries (1912) - p.233.jpg

She had ample opportunity to convey a secret message to him.

lutely refused to work, said he was exhausted, and insisted on taking a nap. He said he wasn't ill at all, only felt tired. It was plain enough that she is fearfully worried now, and will help us out with information whether he objects or not. You had better go and see her and get all the details."

Valeska lost no time in obeying him. Astro threw himself on the divan, refused all comers, and gave himself up to a struggle with his problem. Something in his memory balked. He was usually wonderfully in control of it, and the refusal tantalized him.

Valeska returned at eleven o'clock and reported that Tulliver had gone down to the office, though still listless and blue. Mrs. Tulliver's alarm had increased, and she was now willing to tell all she knew.

"I spoke to her as delicately as I could about the manicure girl," she said. "Mrs. Tulliver seemed a bit worried at the subject. She said that Tulliver had often spoken of her as an original slangy type, whose conversation refreshed him after his hard work. In fact, that was his chief reason for having his nails done there, so that he could listen to the girl's persiflage, to which he didn't even have to answer. That seemed to be her main talent, in fact; for Mrs. Tulliver said that she had a gift of gab, rather striking looks, and the ability to create a high and showy polish on men's nails. She is clumsy, though. She has managed her scissors so unskilfully that she has cut Mr. Tulliver's fingers twice."

Astro jumped to his feet. "Abracadabra!" he exclaimed, and stood staring at Valeska.

"What's the matter?"

"We're getting on!" He started to walk up and down. "Let me think it over again. I believe I've almost got it. Leave me alone here, and I'll do some deep-sea diving in the abysses of my memory, if you'll pardon the metaphor. You look over the papers while I grope in the recesses."

Valeska left and took up the file of morning papers. She was not gone long, having found something almost immediately that seemed important enough to warrant her interrupting the Master of Mysteries.

"What do you think?" she exclaimed, appearing between the velvet portières that screened the palmist's vast studio from the reception-room. "That house at number 1321 Preston Street has been raided by the police, at the instigation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They entered the place yesterday, and found a sort of treadmill where two dogs were working themselves almost to death, for no apparent reason whatever. There was a bed, a table, and chemical things in one of the rooms of the lower floor; but there was nothing up-stairs but the dogs, the treadmill, and a table that looked as if it had been used for dissection."

Astro had stood listening to every word. As Valeska spoke, his face cleared. A smile appeared on his lips. He threw off his crimson silk robe, tossed his turban into a corner, and on the instant appeared as the virile keen man of activity.

"I have it!" he exclaimed. "It is all over! District Attorney Tulliver will have no more mysterious attacks of fatigue! The boodling Brooklyn aldermen will be prosecuted from now on with all despatch!"

He went up to Valeska, and gently led her to a seat, laughing at the wonder in her eyes.

"Listen," he said. "I had it all deep in my memory; but until this moment I couldn't make connections with it and apply my knowledge to this case. Now I recall everything. Herr Weichardt, a Munich pathologist, some years ago made some experiments which showed that fatigue was an actual pathological condition. In other words, he proved it was a disease, by discovering the germ and inoculating living organisms with it. He took some animals,—pigs, if I recall aright,—made them work till they were almost dead of fatigue, then removed the tired muscles and extracted the serum from them. With this he inoculated other animals. He found that a small dose of his serum culture caused all the characteristic symptoms of fatigue in the patient and that a heavy dose produced even death."

"But how could this gang administer such a poison?"

"Through the manicure, whom they had engaged and paid, of course. All she had to do, after she had received the serum from the man you saw, was to dip her nail scissors into the solution, and then clip the cuticle so as to draw blood. The merest scratch would suffice, and no noticeable sore in the finger would be caused; but the toxic germs would permeate the veins and be distributed all over the body. It was the fact that she had cut Tulliver's finger that aroused my memory; then the story of the treadmill instantly suggested Weichardt's experiments. It was a devilishly subtle plot. You see, they didn't dare actually to poison him, or give him any easily recognized disease. All they needed was to put him out of business for a day or so at critical moments when they needed time to prepare their fight."

"Then you'll tell Tulliver?"

"Certainly. With the police behind him, he can easily run down the plot and do what he wishes about it. Most likely he'll see that the manicure girl leaves town, and let the rest go."

Valeska looked thoughtfully at the huge crystal ball on an ebony table in front of her and spoke as if to herself. "I wish some other symptoms besides fatigue could be transmitted in that way. One might infuse some of the district attorney's own strenuosity and honesty, for instance, into persons who need moral stamina."

"I can think of better things than that to do." Astro gazed dreamily at the pretty flushed face in front of him. His eyes lingered on the fair curling hair, the lovely curve of the neck, the slenderly graceful, girlish hands, the sensitive mouth, the cunningly molded figure, and he sighed.

"What would you try to give me, if you were undertaking the experiment?" Valeska asked without looking up.

Astro did not answer. Instead he took one more long tender look at her. "I think," he said finally, "that first I shall have to treat myself!"