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II As Seen By Detective Sweetwater Anna Katharine Green

XVII In Which A Book Plays Leading Part

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"Excuse me, comrade," were the words with which he endeavoured to account for his presence at Brotherson's door. "My lamp smells so, and I've made such a mess of my work to-day that I've just stepped in for a chat. If I'm not wanted, say so. I don't want to bother you, but you do look pleasant here. I hope the thing I'm turning over in my head - every man has his schemes for making a fortune, you know - will be a success some day. I'd like a big room like this, and a lot of books, and - and pictures."

Craning his neck, he took a peep at the shelves, with an air of open admiration which effectually concealed his real purpose. What he wanted was to catch one glimpse of that empty space from his present standpoint, and he was both astonished and relieved to note how narrow and inconspicuous it looked. Certainly, he had less to fear than he supposed, and when, upon Mr. Brotherson's invitation, he stepped into the room, it was with a dash of his former audacity, which gave him, unfortunately, perhaps, a quick, strong and unexpected likeness to his old self.

But if Brotherson noticed this, nothing in his manner gave proof of the fact. Though usually averse to visitors, especially when employed as at present on his precious model, he quite warmed towards his unexpected guest, and even led the way to where it stood uncovered on the table.

"You find me at work," he remarked. "I don't suppose you understand any but your own?"

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"If you mean to ask if I understand what you're trying to do there, I'm free to say that I don't. I couldn't tell now, off-hand, whether it's an air-ship you're planning, a hydraulic machine or - or - He stopped, with a laugh and turned towards the book-shelves. "Now here's what I like. These books just take my eye.

"Look at them, then. I like to see a man interested in books. Only, I thought if you knew how to handle wire, I would get you to hold this end while I work with the other."

"I guess I know enough for that," was Sweetwater's gay rejoinder. But when he felt that communicating wire in his hand and experienced for the first time the full influence of the other's eye, it took all his hardihood to hide the hypnotic thrill it gave him. Though he smiled and chatted, he could not help asking himself between whiles, what had killed the poor washerwoman across the court, and what had killed Miss Challoner. Something visible or something invisible? Something which gave warning of attack, or something which struck in silence. He found himself gazing long and earnestly at this man's hand, and wondering if death lay under it. It was a strong hand, a deft, clean-cut member, formed to respond to the slightest hint from the powerful brain controlling it. But was this its whole story. Had he said all when he had said this?

Fascinated by the question, Sweetwater died a hundred deaths in his awakened fancy, as he followed the sharp short instructions which fell with cool precision from the other's lips. A hundred deaths, I say, but with no betrayal of his folly. The anxiety he showed was that of one eager to please, which may explain why on the conclusion of his task, Mr. Brotherson gave him one of his infrequent smiles and remarked, as he buried the model under its cover, "You're handy and you're quiet at your job. Who knows but that I shall want you again. Will you come if I call you?"

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