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"My God--PERLEY!" With a wild cry, Burton was on his feet, straining forward like a man crazed.
"Yes," said Jimmie Dale, "Perley! Sort of an ironic justice in his end as far as you are concerned, isn't there? I think we'll leave him like that--as Perley. It will provide the police with an interesting little problem--which they will never solve, and-- STEADY!"
Burton was rocking on his feet, the tears were streaming down his face. He lurched heavily--and Jimmie Dale caught him, and pushed him back into the chair again.
I thought--I thought there was blood on my hands," said Burton brokenly; "that--that I had taken a man's life. It was horrible, horrible! I've lived through three days that I thought would drive me mad, while I--I tried to do my work, and--and talk to people, just as if nothing had happened. And every one that spoke to me seemed so carefree and happy, and I would have sold my soul to have changed places with them." He stared at the form on the floor, and shivered suddenly. "It--it was like that I saw him last!" he whispered. "But--but I do not understand."
Jimmie Dale smiled a little wearily.
"It was simple enough," he said. "Old Isaac had had his eyes on those rubies for a long time. The easiest way of getting them was through you. The revolver he gave you before you entered Sagosto's was loaded with blank cartridges, the blood you saw was the old, old trick--a punctured bladder of red pigment concealed under the vest."
"Let us get out of here!" Burton shuddered again. "Let us get out of here--at once--now. If we're found here, we'll be accused of-- THAT!"
"There is no hurry," Jimmie Dale answered quietly. "I have told you that no one is liable to come here to-night--and whoever did this certainly will not raise an alarm. And besides, there is still the matter of the rubies--Burton."
"Yes," said Burton, with a quick intake of his breath.
"Yes--the rubies--what are you going to do with them? I--I had forgotten them. You'll--" He stopped, stared at Jimmie Dale, and burst into a miserable laugh. "I'm a fool, a blind fool!" he moaned. "It does not matter what you do with them. I forgot Sagosto. When they find Isaac here, Sagosto will either tell his story, which will be enough to convict me of this night's work, the REAL murder, even though I'm innocent; or else he'll blackmail me just as Isaac did."
Jimmie Dale shook his head.
"You are doing Isaac's cunning an injustice," he said grimly. "Sagosto was only a tool, one of many that old Isaac had in his power--and, for that matter, as likely as any one else to have had a hand in Isaac's murder to-night. Sagosto saw you once when Isaac brought you into his place--not because Isaac wanted Sagosto to see you, but because he wanted YOU to see Sagosto. Do you understand? It would make the story that Sagosto came to him with the tale of the murder the next day ring true. Sagosto, however, did not go to old Isaac the next day to tell about any fake murder--naturally. Sagosto would not know you again from Adam--neither does he know anything about the rubies, nor what old Isaac's ulterior motives were. He was paid for his share in the game in old Isaac's usual manner of payment probably--by a threat of exposure for some old- time offence, that Isaac held over him, if he didn't keep his mouth shut."
Burton's hand brushed his eyes.
"Yes," he muttered. "Yes--I see it now."
Jimmie Dale stooped down, picked up the paper from the floor in which the wig and beard had been wrapped, walked back with it, and replaced it in the cupboard. And then, with his back to Burton again, he took the case of gems from his pocket, opened it, and laid it on the cupboard shelf. Also from his pocket came that thin metal case, and from the case, with a pair of tweezers that obviated the possibility of telltale finger prints, a gray, diamond-shaped piece of paper, adhesive on one side that, cursed by the distracted authorities in every police headquarters on both sides of the Atlantic, and raved at by a virulent press whose printed reproductions had made it familiar in every household in the land-- was the insignia of the Gray Seal. He moistened the adhesive side, dropped it from the tweezers to his handkerchief, and pressed it down firmly on the inside of the cover of the jewel case. He put both cases back in his pockets, and returned to Burton.
"Burton," he said a little sharply, "while I was outside that doorway there, I heard you beg old Isaac to let you keep the rubies, and three times already you have asked the same of me. What would you do with them if I gave them back to you?"
Burton did not reply for a moment--he was gazing at the masked face in a half-eager, half-doubtful way.
"You--you mean you will give them back!" he burst out finally.
"Answer my question," prompted Jimmie Dale.
"Do with them?" Burton repeated slowly. "Why, I've told you. They'd go back to Mr. Maddon--I'd take them back."
"Would you?" Jimmie Dale's voice was quizzical.
A puzzled expression came to Burton's face.
"I don't know what you mean by that," he said. "Of course, I would!"
"How?" asked Jimmie Dale. "Do you know the combination of Mr. Maddon's safe?"
"No," said Burton
"And the safe would be locked, wouldn't it?"
"Quite so," said Jimmie Dale musingly. "Then, granted that Mr. Maddon has not already discovered the theft, how would you replace the stones before he does discover it? And if he already knows that they are gone, how would you get them back into his hands?"
"Yes, I know," Burton answered a little listlessly. "I've thought of that. There's only one way--to take them back to him myself, and make a clean breast of it, and--" He hesitated.
"And tell him you stole them," supplied Jimmie Dale.
Burton nodded his head. "Yes," he said.
"And then?" prodded Jimmie Dale. What will Maddon do? From what I've heard of him, he's not a man to trifle with, nor a man to take an overly complacent view of things--not the man whose philosophy is 'all's well that ends well.'"
"What does it matter?" Burton's voice was low. "It isn't that so much. I'm ready for that. It's the fact that he trusted me implicitly, and I--well, I played the fool, or I'd never have got into a mess like this."
For an instant Jimmie Dale looked at the other searchingly, and then, smiling strangely, he shook his head.
"There's a better way than that, Burton," he said quietly.
"I think, as I said before, you've had a lesson to-night that will last you all your life. I'm going to give you another chance--with Maddon. Here are the stones." He reached into his pocket and laid the case on the table.
But now Burton made no effort to take the case--his eyes, in that puzzled way again, were on Jimmie Dale.
"A better way?" he repeated tensely. "What do you mean? What way?"
"Well, say at the expense of another man's reputation--of mine," suggested Jimmie Dale, with his whimsical smile. You need only say that a man came to you this evening, told you that he stole these rubies from Mr. Maddon during the afternoon, and asked you, as Mr. Maddon's private secretary, to restore them with his compliments to their owner."
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