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"Yes," said Jimmie Dale coldly, "and that's precisely where you're going--to the chair."
The man was beside himself now--racked to the soul by a paroxysm of fear.
"I'm innocent--innocent!" he screamed out. "Oh, for God's sake, don't send an innocent man to his death. It WAS Stace Morse. Listen! Listen! I'll tell the truth." He was clawing with his hands, piteously, over the desk at Jimmie Dale. "When the big rewards came out last week I stole one of the gray seals from the bunch at headquarters to--to use it the first time any crime was committed when I was sure I could lay my hands on the man who did it. Don't you see? Of course he'd deny he was the Gray Seal, just as he'd deny that he was guilty--but I'd have the proof both ways and--and I'd collect the rewards, and--and--" The man collapsed into the chair.
Carruthers was up from his seat, his hands gripping tight on the edge of the desk as he leaned over it.
"Jimmie--Jimmie--what does this mean?" he gasped out.
Jimmie Dale smiled--pleasantly now.
"That he has told the truth," said Jimmie Dale quietly. "It is quite true that Stace Morse committed the murder. Shows up the value of circumstantial evidence though, doesn't it? This would certainly have got him off, and convicted Clayton here before any jury in the land. But the point is, Carruthers, that Stace Morse ISN'T the Gray Seal--and that the Gray Seal is NOT a murderer."
Clayton looked up. "You--you believe me?" he stammered eagerly.
Jimmie Dale whirled on him in a sudden sweep of passion.
"NO, you cur!" he flashed. "It's not you I believe. I simply wanted your confession before witnesses." He whipped the three written sheets from his pocket. "Here, substantially, is that confession written out." He passed it to Carruthers. "Read it to him, Carruthers."
Carruthers read it aloud.
"Now," said Jimmie Dale grimly, "this spells ruin for you, Clayton. You don't deserve a chance to escape prison bars, but I'm going to give you one, for you're going to get it pretty stiff, anyhow. If you refuse to sign this, I'll hand you over to the district attorney in half an hour, and Carruthers and I will swear to your confession; on the other hand, if you sign it, Carruthers will not be able to print it until to-morrow morning, and that gives you something like fourteen hours to put distance between yourself and New York. Here is a pen--if you are quick enough to take us by surprise once you have signed, you might succeed in making a dash for that door and effecting your escape--without forcing us to compound a felony-- understand?"
Clayton's hand trembled violently as he seized the pen. He scrawled his name--looked from one to the other--wet his lips--and then, taking Jimmie Dale at his word, rushed for the door--and the door slammed behind him.
Carruthers' face was hard. "What did you let him go for, Jimmie?" he said uncompromisingly.
"Selfishness. Pure selfishness," said Jimmie Dale softly. "They'd guy me unmercifully if they ever heard of it at the St. James Club. The honour is all yours, Carruthers. I don't appear on the stage. That's understood? Yes? Well, then"--he handed over the signed confession--"is the 'scoop' big enough?"
Carruthers fingered the sheets, but his eyes in a bewildered way searched Jimmie Dale's face.
"Big enough!" he echoed, as though invoking the universe. "It's the biggest thing the newspaper game has ever known. But how did you come to do it? What started you? Where did you get your lead?"
"Why, from you, I guess, Carruthers," Jimmie Dale answered thoughtfully, with artfully puckered brow. "I remembered that you had said last week that the Gray Seal never left finger marks on his work--and I saw one on the seal on Metzer's forehead. Then, you know, I lifted one corner where the seal overlapped a thread of blood, and, underneath, the thread of blood wasn't in the slightest disturbed; so, of course, I knew the seal had been put on quite a long time after the man was dead--not until the blood had dried thoroughly, to a crust, you know, so that even the damp surface of the sticky side of the seal hadn't affected it. And then, I took a dislike to Clayton somehow--and put two and two together, and took a flyer in getting him to handle the notebook. I guess that's all-- no other reason on earth. Jolly lucky, don't you think?"
Carruthers didn't say anything for a moment. When he spoke, it was irrelevantly.
"You saved me twenty-five thousand dollars on that reward, Jimmie."
"That's the only thing I regret," said Jimmie Dale brightly. "It wasn't nice of you, Carruthers, to turn on the Gray Seal that way. And it strikes me you owe the chap, whoever he is, a pretty emphatic exoneration after what you said in this morning's edition."
"Jimmie," said Carruthers earnestly. "You know what I thought of him before. It's like a new lease of life to get back one's faith in him. You leave it to me. I'll put the Gray Seal on a pedestal to-morrow that will be worthy of the immortals--you leave it to me."
And Carruthers kept his word. Also, before the paper had been an hour off the press, Carruthers received a letter. It thanked Carruthers quite genuinely, even if couched in somewhat facetious terms, for his "sweeping vindication," twitted him gently for his "backsliding," begged to remain "his gratefully," and in lieu of signature there was a gray-coloured piece of paper shaped like this:
Only there were no fingerprints on it.
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