“Very noticeably,” I agreed soberly.
I had produced the notes by that time, and replacing the picture Mr. Gilmore gathered his spectacles from beside it. He went over the four notes methodically, examining each carefully and putting it down before he picked up the next. Then he leaned back and took off his glasses.
“They’re not so bad,” he said thoughtfully. “Not so bad. But I never saw them before. That’s my unofficial signature. I am inclined to think—” he was speaking partly to himself—“to think that he has got hold of a letter of mine, probably to Alison. Bronson was a friend of her rapscallion of a father.”
I took Mr. Gilmore’s deposition and put it into my traveling-bag with the forged notes. When I saw them again, almost three weeks later, they were unrecognizable, a mass of charred paper on a copper ashtray. In the interval other and bigger things had happened: the Bronson forgery case had shrunk beside the greater and more imminent mystery of the man in lower ten. And Alison West had come into the story and into my life.
A TORN TELEGRAM
I lunched alone at the Gilmore house, and went back to the city at once. The sun had lifted the mists, and a fresh summer wind had cleared away the smoke pall. The boulevard was full of cars flying countryward for the Saturday half-holiday, toward golf and tennis, green fields and babbling girls. I gritted my teeth and thought of McKnight at Richmond, visiting the lady with the geographical name. And then, for the first time, I associated John Gilmore’s granddaughter with the “West” that McKnight had irritably flung at me.
I still carried my traveling-bag, for McKnight’s vision at the window of the empty house had not been without effect. I did not transfer the notes to my pocket, and, if I had, it would not have altered the situation later. Only the other day McKnight put this very thing up to me.
“I warned you,” he reminded me. “I told you there were queer things coming, and to be on your guard. You ought to have taken your revolver.”
“It would have been of exactly as much use as a bucket of snow in Africa,” I retorted. “If I had never closed my eyes, or if I had kept my finger on the trigger of a six-shooter (which is novelesque for revolver), the result would have been the same. And the next time you want a little excitement with every variety of thrill thrown in, I can put you by way of it. You begin by getting the wrong berth in a Pullman car, and end—”
“Oh, I know how it ends,” he finished shortly. “Don’t you suppose the whole thing’s written on my spinal marrow?”
But I am wandering again. That is the difficulty with the unprofessional story-teller: he yaws back and forth and can’t keep in the wind; he drops his characters overboard when he hasn’t any further use for them and drowns them; he forgets the coffee-pot and the frying-pan and all the other small essentials, and, if he carries a love affair, he mutters a fervent “Allah be praised” when he lands them, drenched with adventures, at the matrimonial dock at the end of the final chapter.