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Mr. Carruthers? Yes. I thought it might interest you to know that Mr. Theodore Markel purchased a very valuable diamond necklace this afternoon. . . . Oh, you knew that, did you? Well, so much the better; you'll be all the more keenly interested to know that it is no longer in his possession. . . . I beg pardon? Oh, yes, I quite forgot--this is the Gray Seal speaking. . . . Yes. . . . The Gray Seal. . . . I have just come from Mr. Markel's country house, and if you hurry a man out there you ought to be able to give the public an exclusive bit of news, a scoop, I believe you call it--you see, Mr. Carruthers, I am not ungrateful for, I might say, the eulogistic manner in which the MORNING NEWS-ARGUS treated me in that last affair, and I trust I shall be able to do you many more favours--I am deeply in your debt. And, oh, yes, tell your reporter not to overlook the detail of Mr. Markel in his pajamas and dressing gown tied to a tree in his park--Mr. Markel might be inclined to be reticent on that point, and it would be a pity to deprive the public of any--er--'atmosphere' in the story, you know. . . . What? . . . No; I am afraid Mr. Markel's 'phone is--er--out of order. . . . Yes. . . . And, by the way, speaking of 'phones, Mr. Carruthers, between gentlemen, I know you will make no effort under the circumstances to discover the number I am calling from. Good-night, Mr. Carruthers." Jimmie Dale hung the receiver abruptly on the hook.
"You see," said Jimmie Dale, turning to Wilbur--and then he stopped. The man was on his feet, swaying there, his face positively gray.
"My God!" Wilbur burst out. "What have you done? A thousand times better if I had shot myself, as I would have done in another moment if you had not come in. I was only ruined then--I am disgraced now. You have robbed Markel's safe--I am the one man in the world who would have a reason above all others for doing that--and Markel knows it. He will accuse me of it. He can prove I had a motive. I have not been home to-night. Nobody knows I am here. I cannot prove an alibi. What have you done!"
"Really," said Jimmie Dale, almost plaintively, swinging himself up on the corner of the desk and taking the cash box on his knee, "really, you are alarming yourself unnecessarily. I--"
But Wilbur stopped him. "You don't know what you are talking about!" Wilbur cried out, in a choked way; then, his voice steadying, he rushed on: "Listen! I am a ruined man, absolutely ruined. And Markel has ruined me--I did not see through his trick until too late. Listen! For years, as a mining engineer, I made a good salary--and I saved it. Two years ago I had nearly seventy thousand dollars--it represented my life work. I bought an abandoned mine in Alaska for next to nothing--I was certain it was rich. A man by the name of Thurl, Jason T. Thurl, another mining engineer, a steamer acquaintance, was out there at the time--he was a partner of Markel's, though I didn't know it then. I started to work the mine. It didn't pan out. I dropped nearly every cent. Then I struck a small vein that temporarily recouped me, and supplied the necessary funds with which to go ahead for a while. Thurl, who had tried to buy the mine out from under my option in the first place, repeatedly then tried to buy it from me at a ridiculous figure. I refused. He persisted. I refused--I was confident, I KNEW I had one of the richest properties in Alaska."
Wilbur paused. A little row of glistening drops had gathered on his forehead. Jimmie Dale, balancing Markel's cash box on one knee, drummed softly with his finger tips on the cover.
"The vein petered out," Wilbur went on. "But I was still confident. I sank all the proceeds of the first strike--and sank them fast, for unaccountable accidents that crippled me both financially and in the progress of the work began to happen." Wilbur flung out his hands impotently. "Oh, it's a long story--too long to tell. Thurl was at the bottom of those accidents. He knew as well as I did that the mine was rich--better than I did, for that matter, for we discovered before we ran him out of Alaska that he had made secret borings on the property. But what I did not know until a few hours ago was that he had actually uncovered what we uncovered only yesterday--the mother lode. He was driving me as fast as he could into the last ditch--for Markel. I didn't know until yesterday that Markel had any thing to do with it. I struggled on out there, hoping every day to open a new vein. I raised money on everything I had, except my insurance and the mine--and sank it in the mine. No one out there would advance me anything on a property that looked like a failure, that had once already been abandoned. I have always kept an office here, and I came back East with the idea of raising something on my insurance. Markel, quite by haphazard as I then thought, was introduced to me just before we left San Francisco on our way to New York. On the run across the continent we became very friendly. Naturally, I told him my story. He played sympathetic good fellow, and offered to lend me fifty thousand dollars on a demand note. I did not want to be involved for a cent more than was necessary, and, as I said, I hoped from day to day to make another strike. I refused to take more than ten thousand. I remember now that he seemed strangely disappointed."
Again Wilbur stopped. He swept the moisture from his forehead--and his fist, clenched, came down upon the desk.
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