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Was it strange, then, after all, that the police, seeking a clew through motive, should have been driven to frenzy on every occasion in finding themselves forever confronted with what, from every angle they were able to view it, was quite a purposeless crime! On one point only they were right, the old dogma, the old, old cry, old as the institution of police, older than that, old since time immemorial--CHERCHEZ LA FEMME! Quite right--but also quite purposeless! Jimmie Dale's eyes grew wistful. He had been "hunting for the woman in the case" himself, now, for months and years indefatigably, using every resource at his command--quite purposelessly.
Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders. Why go over all this to-night-- there were other things to do. She had come to him again--and this time with a matter that entailed more than ordinary difficulty, more than usual danger, that would tax his wits and his skill to the utmost, not only to succeed, but to get out of it himself with a whole skin. Markel--eh? Jimmie Dale leaned back in his seat, clasped his hands behind his head--and his eyes, half closed now, were studying Benson's back again through the plate-glass front.
He was still sitting in that position as the car approached his residence on Riverside Drive--but, as it came to a stop, and Benson opened the door, it was a very alert Jimmie Dale that stepped to the sidewalk.
"Benson," he said crisply, "I am going downtown again later on, but I shall drive myself. Bring the touring car around and leave it in front of the house. I'll run it into the garage when I get back-- you need not wait up."
"Very good, sir," said Benson.
In the hallway, Jason, the butler, who had been butler to Jimmie Dale's father before him, took Jimmie Dale's hat and coat.
"It's a fine evening, Master Jim," said the privileged old man affectionately.
Jimmie Dale took out his silver cigarette case, selected a cigarette, tapped it daintily on the cover of the case--and accepted the match the old man hastily produced.
"Yes, Jason." said Jimmie Dale, pleasantly facetious, "it a fine night, a glorious night, moon and stars and a balmy breeze--quite too fine, indeed, to remain indoors. In fact, you might lay out my gray ulster; I think I will go for a spin presently, when I have changed."
"Yes, sir," said Jason. "Anything else, Master Jim?"
"No; that's all, Jason. Don't sit up for me--you may go to bed now."
"Thank you, sir," said the old man.
Jimmie Dale went upstairs, opened the door of his own particular den on the right of the landing, stepped inside, closed the door, switched on the light--and Jimmie Dale's debonair nonchalance dropped from him as a mask instantly--and it was another Jimmie Dale--the professional Jimmie Dale.
Quick now in every action, he swung aside the portiere that curtained off the squat, barrel-shaped safe in the little alcove, opened the safe, took out that curious leather girdle with its kit of burglar's tools, added to it a flashlight and an automatic revolver, closed the safe--and passed into his dressing room. Here, he proceeded to divest himself rapidly of his evening clothes, selecting in their stead a suit of dark tweed. He heard Jason come up the stairs, pass along the hall, and mount the second flight to his own quarters; and presently came the sound of an automobile without. The dressing room fronted on the Drive--Jimmie Dale looked out. Benson was just getting out of the touring car. Slipping the leather girdle, then, around his waist, Jimmie Dale put on his vest, then his coat--and walked briskly downstairs.
Jason had laid out a gray ulster on the hall stand. Jimmie Dale put it on, selected a leather cap with motor-goggle attachment that pulled down almost to the tip of his nose, tucked a slouch hat into the pocket of the ulster, and, leaving the house, climbed into his car.
He glanced at his watch as he started--it was a quarter of eleven. Jimmie Dale's lips pursed a little.
"I guess it'll make a night of it, and a tight squeeze, at that, to get back under cover before daylight," he muttered. "I'll have to do some tall speeding."
But at first, across the city and through Brooklyn, for all his impatience, it was necessarily slow--after that, Jimmie Dale took chances, and, once on the country roads of Long Island, the big, powerful car tore through the night like a greyhound whose leash is slipped.
A half hour passed--Jimmie Dale's eyes shifting occasionally from the gray thread of road ahead of him under the glare of the dancing lamps, to the road map spread out at his feet, upon which, from time to time, he focused his pocket flashlight. And then, finally, he slowed the car to a snail's pace--he should be very near his destination--that very ultra-exclusive subdivision of Charleton Park Manor.
On either side of the road now was quite a thickly set stretch of wooded land, rising slightly on the right--and this Jimmie Dale scrutinised sharply. In fact, he stopped for an instant as he came opposite to a wagon track--it seemed to be little more than that-- that led in through the trees.
"If it's not too far from the seat of war," commented Jimmie Dale to himself, as he went on again, "it will do admirably."
And then, a hundred yards farther on, Jimmie Dale nodded his head in satisfaction--he was passing the rather ornate stone pillars that marked the entrance to Charleton Park Manor, and on which the initial promoters of the subdivision, the real-estate people, had evidently deemed it good advertising policy to expend a small fortune.
Another hundred yards farther on, Jimmie Dale turned his car around and returned past the gates to the wagon track again. The road was deserted--not a car nor a vehicle of any description was in sight. Jimmie Dale made sure of that--and in another instant Jimmie Dale's own car, every light extinguished, had vanished--he had backed it up the wagon track, just far enough in for the trees to screen it thoroughly from the main road.
Nor did Jimmie Dale himself appear again on the main road--until just as he emerged close to the gates of Charleton Park Manor from a short cut through the woods. Also, he was without his ulster now, and the slouch hat had replaced the motor cap.
Jimmie Dale, in the moonlight, took stock of his surroundings, as he passed in at a businesslike walk through the gates. It was a large park, if that name could properly be applied to it at all, and the houses--he caught sight of one set back from the driveway on the right--were quite far apart, each in its own rather spacious grounds among the trees.
"The second house on the right," her letter had said. Jimmie Dale had already passed the first one--the next would be Markel's then-- and it loomed ahead of him now, black and shadowy and unlighted.
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