Fifteen minutes later Latimer was mounting
the high steps of the old-fashioned mansion on
C Street where Polly and her mother eked out a
small and steadily shrinking income by taking
" paying guests," a profitable business during the
World War, but one that had grown less so with
the departure of the army of war-workers who
had transformed Washington from a city of
leisure into one of volcanic activity and unpleas-
It was not until Latimer's pa-
tience had grown threadbare with repeated rapping
and long intervals of waiting that a small, neatly
dressed colored girl, seemingly not over fifteen
years of age, opened the door and invited him
to walk inside.
" Magnolia," called a voice from the direction
of the back stairs. " Show the gentleman into
" Yassam," Magnolia's expansive smile dis-
closed a row of perfect teeth. " Dis hyar way,
suh; de madam will be long d'reckly. Who did
you say, stih ? " evidently impressed with his
stylish frock coat and neatly creased trousers.
" Miss Polly done gone away."
" I wish to see Mrs. Davis," and Latimer
handed her a visiting card.
" Yas, suh, sutenly, suh." Magnolia, meeting
his friendly smile, grinned from ear to ear, then
bolted with astonishing rapidity out of the room.
She was totally oblivious of the fact that her
youthful, penetrating voice, raised to a pitch to
reach Mrs. Davis standing on the top stair land-
ing, carried her words to Latimer's ears.
" Dar's a splendiferous lookin' gentle'um in his
Sunday clothes waitin' ter see yo' ; no, ma'am, he
didn't arsk fo' Miss Polly, jes' fo' you' he's
got on great big spectacles and a top hat. What
dat you wish de gentle'um's cyard? Laws,
'scuse me, I done forgot " and with a loud
snicker, Magnolia raced up the steps and pushed
the pasteboard into Mrs. Davis's outstretched
Latimer had met Mrs. Davis a number of times
at Mrs. Hale's and she had chaperoned a number
of parties given in Polly's honor by John Hale.
She looked extremely pretty, with her soft gray
hair becomingly dressed, her cheeks, unwrinkled
in spite of multiplied cares, held a deeper touch
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of color as she entered the parlor and greeted
Latimer. He admired her gentle manner and her
air of breeding which no contact with the rough
workaday world had the power to efface.
" I trust I have not disturbed you by selecting
this unconventional hour to call," he began, seat-
ing himself somewhat gingerly on the edge of a
rickety antique chair which had been the pride of
Polly's great grandfather. " Your maid said
that Miss Polly was out, and as my errand is
somewhat urgent, I asked to see you."
Mrs. Davis's brilliant color receded somewhat
and her left hand played nervously with her chain
of coral from which was suspended a gold locket.
" You are always welcome," she said, " no
matter what your errand."
" Thanks," and Latimer, much touched, smiled
with equal cordiality. " I am in immediate need
of a first class stenographer, and I wondered if I
could persuade Miss Polly to forsake Robert Hale
and come to me. I will double her present
Mrs. Davis drew in her breath. " That is a
handsome offer," she exclaimed. " Of course I
cannot answer for Polly, but, as she has already
resigned her position with Robert Hale "
" She has resigned, then? "
" Yes." Mrs. Davis looked her surprise at the
abruptness of the question. "I I did not ap-
prove of her working so late at night. Mr. Hale
is kind in his way, but he is most exacting. The
idea of keeping her out until long after midnight
on Tuesday, and night before last, and then let-
ting her come home in the street cars ! He might
at least, have sent her home in his limousine."
Mrs. Davis came to an indignant pause and Lati-
mer looked his sympathy.
" Miss Polly will have no night work to do
for me," he said. " And the office hours are not
long the Stock Exchange closes early, you
know, and not much business is transacted after
Mrs. Davis nodded her head wisely. " I real-
ize that," she agreed. " The stock market ap-
pears a bit more lively just now, Mr. Latimer.
Tell me," and she lowered her voice to a confi-
dential pitch " how are the Troy Valve bonds
rated now ? "
" They have picked up five points." Latimer
regarded her in some surprise. " I did not know
you took an interest in the stock market, Mrs.
She colored painfully. " In former years we
were large stockholders," she said ; " now, alas,
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our securities have shrunk to these of Valve
bonds. I must tell Polly what you say. It is
always \vell to sell on a rising market, isn't it ? "
"If you wish to sell, yes," dryly. Latimer,
conscious of the passing time, was having diffi-
culty concealing his uneasiness as he thought of
John Hale waiting a block away in his car. In
his impatience he might forget the role he had cast
for Latimer and, instead of awaiting the latter's
return, walk in at any moment and, by incautious
questions, betray his own plot to discover Polly's
whereabouts. " How soon will Miss Polly be
" Oh, she is at Markham, Virginia, with my
cousin, Mrs. Paul Davis," she responded easily.
" You had best write to her there or, if you pre-
fer, I will write and tell her of your offer."
" That is kind of you." Latimer had some
difficulty schooling his voice to the proper pitch
of enthusiasm for his role. " But I must have
Miss Polly's answer to-day. Can we not call her
up on the long distance ? I see your telephone is
in that corner " and he stepped toward it.
Mrs. Davis stopped him with a gesture. " No
use, Mrs. Paul Davis has no telephone," she
stated calmly. " I can send my letter special de-
livery and she will get it to-day and wire to-
morrow morning when the telegraph office is
' That would perhaps be best." Latimer made
no effort, however, to conceal his disappointment.
" Is there any chance of Miss Polly's returning
this afternoon? "
" Hardly," Mrs. Davis smiled in open amuse-
ment. " She left for Markham only this morn-
" In that case it looks as if I shall have to
wait until to-morrow," Latimer's voice was rue-
ful. " I wish that I had asked John Hale to tell
Miss Polly last night that I wished to engage
her as my secretary."
" John did not see Polly last night." A faint
hardness crept into Mrs. Davis's softly modulated
tone. " She worked very late at the Hales' "
she hesitated, looked up, and caught his sympa-
thetic expression. " Oh, Mr. Latimer, I cannot
help feeling that Polly sees too much of the Hales
thinks too much of them and their interests
they are so cold-blooded so calculating. I
wish " and her voice choked with feeling " I
wish that she had been dead before she ever saw
Latimer regarded Mrs. Davis steadily. " John
is a good fellow," he protested, " a loyal friend
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and a devoted admirer of your daughter." He
studied her covertly. " Much more so than
" Ah, there you are wrong " Mrs. Davis
stopped and cast a frightened look about the
room. " Poor Austin, I cannot realize that he
has gone from us. He was so full of life, so
anxious to succeed his death is a tragedy."
" And a mystery," supplemented Latimer
" A mystery indeed." Mrs. Davis raised a
small perfumed handkerchief to her dry eyes.
" My heart goes out to the Hales, they have much
to endure." Latimer stared she was express-
ing somewhat contradictory views about the Hale
family almost in one breath. She moved closer
to him. " Have the police discovered any fresh
" Not to my knowledge." Latimer edged to-
ward the hall door. He dared not linger, every
extra moment might bring John Hale in search
of him. " Suppose you write to your daughter,
Mrs. Davis, and I will also send her a note within
the hour. If you have word from her will you
promise to let me know at once?"
" Certainly." Mrs. Davis accompanied him to
the front door. " I feel sure Polly will gladly
accept 3'our offer. How soon would you wish
her to commence work ? "
" Oh ! " Mrs. Davis looked taken aback. " She
really needs rest and recreation, Mr. Latimer.
Remember, she has just started on her vacation."
Latimer thought a moment. " She might come
to me for a few weeks, just over this month, then
go on another vacation, or rather, continue this
one, with pay."
" I will write that to Polly." She shook his
hand warmly. " I appreciate your kindness and
I am confident that Polly will come to you if
she is physically able."
" Then I am fortunate," laughed Latimer.
Mrs. Davis's smile was infectious.
" Just a moment." Mrs. Davis detained him
as he was about to run down the steps. Her
pretty coaxing manner reminded him of Polly
mother and daughter were much alike in appear-
ance; only to Latimer's fastidious taste, Mrs.
Davis was the more attractive. There was a cer-
tain aggressiveness about Polly, in spite of her
good looks, which always repelled him. " Please
treat what I said just now about John Hale as
" Certainly, madam," and Latimer returned
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the pressure of her hand, then he continued down
the steps, her parting hail ringing in his ears:
" Remember, not a word ! "
When Latimer rounded the corner into Penn-
sylvania Avenue where John Hale had agreed
to wait for him, his face was grave. He said
nothing as he climbed into the car and dropped
down beside his friend, but as the car continued
up the avenue, he broke his silence.
" I failed," he admitted honestly, and a groan
of disappointment broke from John Hale.
" Don't worry, I'll get Polly's address to-morrow.
Mrs. Davis thinks I called to engage Polly as
Had either Latimer or John Hale turned his
head and looked backward he could not have
failed to see a woman standing under a tree at
the corner of John Marshall Place. Their car
was lost in the traffic before Mrs. Davis, recover-
ing from a feeling of breathlessness produced by
the unusual exertion of running, turned slowly
THE PUSH BUTTON
MRS. HALE contemplated Anna, the
waitress, with marked disapproval.
" You should not attempt to exert
yourself until Dr. McLane gives you permission,"
she announced, with severity.
" Dr. McLane told me to walk about as much
as possible, madam." Anna's manner was re-
spectful almost to the point of servility. " He
promised to be here this afternoon. Indeed, Mrs.
Hale, I'll be careful. Don't worry, madam."
" I suppose the doctor knows what he is about "
Mrs. Hale, however, looked extremely doubt-
ful as she spoke. Her own attacks of illness were
distinct trials to every member of her family,
as her chronic objection to following the doctor's
orders or taking his medicines generally retarded
her recovery and produced a wish that " the Old
Scratch " would get her, that opinion having been
voiced by a long-suffering trained nurse, whose
training had not included a course in insults.
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" Dr. McLane is sometimes inclined to error,"
Mrs. Hale continued after a slight pause.
" Don't take his directions too literally, Anna.
Modify them. If he said walk about for an hour,
cut it to one half. And never take a full dose of
anything prescribed, reduce it by one half."
" Yes, madam ; thank you," and Anna executed
a bob of a courtesy in spite of her injured ankle.
" Is there anything I can do for you? "
" No, I think not. Now, mind what I say,
don't overexert yourself."
" Yes, madam," and Anna started for the door
only to be called back by Mrs. Hale.
" As you go downstairs please tell Maud that
Mr. Latimer will lunch with us that is, I think
he will, but he hasn't answered my telephone
message." Mrs. Hale thought a minute.
" Maud can put a place for him."
" Very well, madam."
" Wait, there's one thing more." Mrs. Hale
laid aside her knitting bag, preparatory to rising.
" See that the table is properly set, Anna, please.
Maud is eh not particular, and I am."
" I will set the table myself, madam."
" No, no, that is too much exertion for you,
" But, madam, I am strong again, see " and
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Anna stepped across the room. Her limp was
slight. Mrs. Hale heaved a sigh of relief.
'* You have had a remarkable recovery," she
exclaimed. " My remedies can be relied on to
effect a quick cure. By the way," the thought
of luncheon uppermost for the moment " if
there is time enough, please make an apple salad."
" Certainly, madam. Is there anything else?"
" No, I can think of nothing." Mrs. Hale
wrinkled her brow, but no new ideas came to her
active brain. "Where is Miss Judith?"
" In her boudoir, madam." Anna, who had
taken several steps toward the door, paused.
" Maud told me just now that Miss Judith and
Detective Ferguson have been holding a long "
Anna hesitated "conference."
"Conference!" Mrs. Hale's tone expressed
astonishment. " Oh ! " and she stared at the
waiting servant. " That is all, Anna," and the
waitress made her escape.
Mrs. Hale crossed the drawing-room and stood
before the large gilt-framed wall mirror which
gave her a full length view of her figure. It took
several minutes to rearrange a bow of ribbon and
several pieces of jewelry, after which Mrs. Hale
proceeded leisurely to the third floor. She did
not often climb to that height, and, on reaching
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the head of the stairs, she paused to take breath,
then, passing down the broad hall, she turned the
knob of a closed door and entered a semidarkened
It took her several seconds to pull up the
Holland shades of the dormer windows and flood
the bedroom with sunlight. When she turned
around she saw a man sitting on the edge of the
bed watching her. A slight scream broke from
her and she swayed dizzily. With a bound the
man gained her side.
" Don't be frightened, Mrs. Hale. It is only
I, Detective Ferguson," he explained. " I
thought you saw me when you first entered the
Mrs. Hale shook her head as she sank into the
chair he placed for her.
" Dear me," she exclaimed, " I declare you gave
me quite a turn. I had no idea I should find any
one in Austin's bedroom." Resentment against
its cause conquered her fright in some measure
and she whirled on him. " What are you doing
" I might ask the question of you," he retorted
coolly seating himself opposite her.
"Upon my word!" Mrs. Hale continued to
stare at him. Then, as he evinced no desire to
The Push Button
address her, her manner changed. " I heard you
were in the house," she began, ignoring his ques-
tion as he had hers ; " and I intended to ask you
not to leave until I had seen you."
" Yes." Mrs. Hale's manner was graciousness
itself. " And I am glad to have this opportunity
for a private interview."
" Yes ? " Ferguson resorted to brevity while
striving to divine a reason for her sudden change
" I have wanted so much to question you," she
announced. " Have you made any progress in
solving the mystery of Austin's death? "
" It depends on what you term ' progress/ " he
" Have you discovered any clew to his his
murderer ? " she hesitated over the last word.
" Now, don't put me off with stupid evasions,"
she added. " How do you know, if we talk over
details together," with marked emphasis, " that I
may not be able to detect some point of vital im-
portance which you may have overlooked ? "
Ferguson gazed at her reflectively. There was
something in what she said. Was she really the
fool he had taken her for all along? If she was,
and she held some knowledge which would aid
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him in elucidating the Hale mystery, it would be
to his advantage to win her confidence if
necessary, with a show of confidence on his part.
" That is not a bad idea," he acknowledged.
" I've handled many puzzling cases, but this one,"
he paused " this one has taken the lead " ;
then, as she started to interrupt him, he added,
" Here are the facts so far known," he smiled
" publicly. Young Austin Hale by the way,
what was his exact relationship to you? "
" A nephew by adoption, at which time Austin
assumed the name of Hale," was her concise
reply, so unlike her usual flowery style of con-
versation that it drew a smile from the detective.
" His proper name was Payne Austin Payne."
" I see." Ferguson was watching her as a cat
watches a mouse. He had maneuvered his chair
so that his back was to the light while she faced
the sun's merciless rays. " Austin returns to this
house unexpectedly on Tuesday night, is found
by your son-in-law, Major Richards, stabbed to
death, and not a soul in your house knows any-
thing about the tragedy." Ferguson's gesture
was expressive. " No weapon to be found but a
pair of shears, no motive for the crime but the
theft of a more or less valuable antique watch
a watch whose very ownership would lead to an
The Push Button
arrest on suspicion. There was no trace of a
burglar's having broken into the house. There-
fore the crime must have been committed by an
inmate of your house, Mrs. Hale."
" No, no ! " she protested vehemently, and he
detected the whitening of her cheeks under the
delicately applied rouge.
" And every member of your household has
an excellent alibi," he went on, not heeding her
interruption. " There must be a flaw some-
where ; there has to be one." And he lent empha-
sis to his words by striking his clenched fist in
the palm of his left hand. " Now, where is the
Mrs. Hale looked away from him, then back
again. " I wish I knew," she wailed, and two
large tears rolled down her cheeks. " I've racked
my brain trying to find a solution to the mystery,
and at last I came up here "
"To see if Austin dropped any paper any
note paper, so big " and she demonstrated an
approximate size while Ferguson listened eagerly.
" Austin must have had some reason for return-
ing so unexpectedly."
" Of course he did," agreed Ferguson. " And
you think there may be a clew tucked away in this
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bedroom. Well, we think alike in that. It is
the same line of reasoning which brought me up
here." Mrs. Hale winked away her tears and
brightened visibly; she was easily influenced by
flattery and Ferguson's tone of comradeship
tinged with admiration completely won her.
" This room has been thoroughly searched."
" But something may have been overlooked,"
she interrupted eagerly.
" Exactly suppose we look," and, rising,
Ferguson aided her in her rapid investigation of
the bureau drawers. They were rewarded by
finding only a few articles of wearing apparel.
Her ardor somewhat dampened, Mrs. Hale ac-
companied the detective to the closet and stepped
inside its commodious depths.
" This is evidently the overcoat and hat Austin
was wearing on Tuesday night," Ferguson
pointed out, holding them up for her inspection.
"And here is the coat of his suit," removing it
from the hook as he spoke.
Mrs. Hale shrank back, then shaking off her
slight feeling of repugnance she deliberately
searched every pocket to find a silk handker-
chief and a gold card case in which were Austin's
" Austin must have come direct to his bedroom
The Push Button
on reaching here Tuesday night," Ferguson re-
marked as he replaced the coat. " Why he went
downstairs in his vest and shirt sleeves, I cannot
" Perhaps he was in the midst of dressing and
was called downstairs," suggested Mrs. Hale and
her voice indicated pleased surprise at her own
"Who called him?"
" I haven't the faintest idea " she did not
lower her eyes before Ferguson's penetrating gaze.
"If it had been a woman," mused Ferguson,
" he surely would have stopped to put on his
" Not if he was urgently needed downstairs."
" But who could have ' urgently needed him ' ? "
questioned Ferguson swiftly. ; ' Your daugh-
" Was unaware of his presence in the house,"
haughtily. " She stood in no need of Austin's
assistance put that idea out of your head in-
" You misunderstood me," he protested. " I
was only going to say that your daughter was the
only woman on the next floor."
" So we suppose."
Ferguson caught her up. " Do you suspect an-
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other woman was here? " he demanded. " If so
who was it one of your servants? "
" No, they were asleep in their rooms." Mrs.
Hale resumed her seat. She was commencing to
feel fatigued. " You have assured yourself of
" Yes," acknowledged Ferguson. " We can
eliminate them. I am, however, considering all
the women who might have been here. You "
" I ? " Although Mrs. Hale laughed heartily in
amusement, there was a false note in her some-
what high-pitched voice. " You surely do not
suspect me? Why, my dear man, I was at the
French Embassy reception; there are plenty of
friends to testify to that besides my brother-in-
law, John Hale, who took me to the reception and
brought me home. You were here when we both
Ferguson laughed with her. " I was just run-
ning over the people who belong in this house,"
he explained. " Your husband was ill "
" And in bed," she interpolated.
" The servants in their quarters ; Mrs. Rich-
ards in her room at least " with a sharp look
at her. " She was in her room, was she not? "
" Certainly. She has a suite of rooms on the
The Push Button
" I was just in there." Ferguson paused, then
went back to what he had been saying. " Major
Richards was at the Metropolitan Club on Tues-
" So he told us." Mrs. Hale raised her hands
and dropped them with a hopeless gesture.
"Every person is accounted for we are just
where we started."
" Not quite." Ferguson hesitated and glanced
about the room. Mrs. Hale, upon entering, had
closed the door behind her, and there seemed no
likelihood of their conversation's being overheard.
" I found on further inquiry at the Metropolitan
Club that Major Richards was last seen there
about midnight. The doorman on duty Tuesday
night declares he did not see him leave the club,
and does not know the hour of his departure for
"Well, what of that?" questioned Mrs. Hale,
as he stopped.
" This : according to Major Richards, he
reached this house about twenty minutes past one
o'clock in the morning and he was last seen in
the club a little before midnight. It leaves an
hour of his time unaccounted for, and it was dur-
ing that hour that Austin Hale was murdered."
Mrs. Hale sat speechless for a minute. " Pre-
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posterous! " she exclaimed hotly, recovering from
her surprise. " Why should Major Richards kill
a man he does not know? "
Ferguson glanced uneasily at her and came to a
" Suppose Major Richards came home and
found Austin talking to his wife and became
Mrs. Hale bounced out of her chair. " How
dare you insinuate that Judith was having an af-
fair with Austin ? " she demanded. " You are
most insulting I shall inform Major Rich-
*" My dear madam, pray, calm yourself,"
Ferguson begged, appalled by the storm he had
provoked. " I thought we agreed to talk over all
aspects of the Hale murder it was your own
" Certainly it was, but I did not expect "
Mrs. Hale sniffed. "If you ask Major Richards
to account for all his time Tuesday night he will
do so, I am convinced. A man of his tempera-
ment and record "
" Where is his record ? " broke in Ferguson.
" What is his record ? I cannot learn anything
" His record is on file in the War Department."
The Push Button
" His army record, yes." Ferguson pulled out
his watch and jumped to his feet. " Pardon me,
Mrs. Hale, but I have a consultation at my office
and must leave at once."
" Tell me before you go," Mrs. Hale de-
tained him with a gesture " did you find any-
where among Austin's belongings either here or
in New York a railroad ticket? "
"A ticket? No." Ferguson eyed her sharply.
" I was wondering if he had just stopped over
a train on his way south/' she explained glibly.
" It was just an idea don't let me detain you
Ferguson halted in indecision ; however, his en-
gagement brooked no further delay if he was to
be on time for it. He could question Mrs. Hale
later in the day.
" I will return," he said. " But if you desire
me at any time, please telephone, Mrs. Hale.