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The Finger of Suspicion

This 1912 film was adapted into a short story for the People's Popular Monthly in January 1916

People's Popular Monthly, Vol. XXI, no. 1, January 1916

Header for Alice Joyce series in People's Popular Monthly
Appears to People's Popular Monthly Readers in a story of Baffling Suspense

The Finger of Suspicion

by E.M. Wickes

Kathleen dismissed her maid, Muriel, and then took a seat opposite the detective, Barton, who had called at her own request.

"Now I understand," Barton said, "that your sister, Miss Adele, has been mysteriously poisoned, and that you wish to get at the bottom of the affair without having to call in the regular police."

Kathleen nodded.

"Then the best thing to do is to give me all the details bearing on the case. In a word, begin at the beginning."

She studied the polished surface of the table at her elbow for a moment, and after selecting what she felt was the beginning, she said:

"Just before my mother died I promised her I would not marry until Adele became a bride."

Scenes (supposedly) from the Alice Joyce film The Finger of Suspicion

Caption left: Kathleen had no desire for gaiety and she was always uneasy. Caption center: One afternoon after a game of tennis he proposed to me. Caption right: Kathleen started for Texas leaving the house in care of her aunt and uncle.

Kathleen waited until Barton had made some notes in his book, then she resumed:

"During the latter part of May, Adele meet a Mr. Brown at a gold tournament, and the pair fell in love with each other. I naturally assumed that it would lead to a happy wedding, and leave me free to listen to my own heart promptings.

"In June I met Robert Waring and became very much interested in him, and he was devoted to me. One afternoon in July, shortly after we had finished with a game of tennis, he proposed to me. I told him that I cared for him, but that I was unable to give him a definite answer just then. You see I had to wait until I knew what Adele intended to do. Mr. Waring would not press for an answer just then, being willing to let me take my own time."

"Did your sister know of your interest in Waring, and his proposal?" Barton queried.

"She knew of the friendship, but not of the proposal. I thought it best to say nothing, or she might quiz me about my refusal to give Mr. Waring an answer; and were she to learn the truth she might feel as if she were standing in my way."

"About a month ago Adele told me that she and Brown had planed to marry on the tenth of November. The following night Mr. Waring called and told me that he was to leave town for several weeks on business, and wished to know if I could give him a definite answer. I felt free to talk, and told him why I had held off before. He suggested that we wed shortly after Adele, and I agreed, but made him promise that if anything occurred to prevent her marriage he would be willing to postpone our wedding."

"Did he agree?"

"Yes. Now about this time I engaged my present maid, the young woman who was here when you came in."

The detective raised his hand for her to stop. Kathleen gazed at him in a surprised manner.

"Why do you bring the maid's name into the affair?"

"I don't know. Perhaps there was no necessity; but I thought I would tell you all that took place."

"Perhaps it is just as well. We never know where a clew will bob up."

"When the maid had been here a week, Adele and Brown had some disagreement, for the engagement was suddenly broken. As Adele would tell me nothing, I was left in the dark. And when Waring heard of the broken engagement he was quite upset, as he had already begun to make plans for our own marriage."

"Did he urge you to marry regardless of your sister's broken engagement?"

Kathleen slowly shook her head in the negative.

"He deplored the fact that our own happiness was contingent upon the temperament of others, and asked me if I thought there was any possibility of a reconciliation between the pair."

"Did Waring become reconciled to the turn of affairs?" the detective asked.

"Judging from his actions I should say he did."

"And what happened after that?"

"Matters remained practically the same, with the exception that Waring cancelled his trip. He said he wanted to be near me, and be ready to assist in any possible reconciliation. Three nights ago Adele was mysteriously poisoned by taking bichloride of mercury tablets. Some one put them in a bottle where she kept headache tablets, and she took the poison by mistake. Fortunately she had not taken enough to kill her."

"You would not consider the possibility that she had taken them intentionally, as a result of her broken engagement?"

Adele is not the kind of a girl that would think of suicide."

"Evidently then, some one who would benefit by her death placed them within her reach--some one who knew that she used headache tablets. And from what you have told me, the only ones I see who would benefit any would be--" The detective stopped and studied her face.

Kathleen flushed under his penetrating gaze.

"I don't wish to pain you, Miss Graham," he said, "but I have to be frank. I was about to say that the only ones to benefit by your sister's death would be yourself and Mr. Waring."

"No, no!" she cried out in alarm. "Robert would never dream of hurting Adele! He loved her as a sister." And Kathleen put her hand to her eyes."

"I'm perfectly willing to accept your view, but that would narrow the case down to you."

"Me?" she asked in a frightened tone. "You can't be serious!"

The detective drew a long breath and rested his elbows on his knees.

"I'm simply following a process of elimination. Personally I can't see why you would try to poison your sister and then send for a detective. But this has to be threshed out regardless of fear or sentiment. By the way, what line of business is Mr. Waring engaged in?"

"He is a chemist."

"Oh!" the detective muttered to himself, tilting back his head.

"But please don't use that as a basis for suspicion."

"Why not let this case develop itself?" Barton remarked. "A moment ago, from a detective's point of view, the suspicion pointed towards you. Now, bear in mind, we are not trying any one--just looking for clews. Did you ever see Waring with any mercury tablets?"

Kathleen reluctantly admitted that she had, as a strange fear gripped her heart.

The detective gazed at Kathleen with pity.

"I'm sorry for you, Miss Graham, really sorry," he said, "and I wish I could discover clews that would lead me miles away from every one connected with you. I know how you feel, but you must bear up until the end, and not try to blind yourself to the truth. Perhaps it won't turn out as bad as you think. The next thing I'd like to do is to have an interview with your sister. Is it possible?"

"She is asleep now," Kathleen replied. "Besides, I could not stand any more of this today. Can't you postpone your torture until morning?"

"Just as you say. But you must keep a silent tongue."

She agreed to follow his instructions, and Barton went out.

For the rest of the day Kathleen kept to herself, and towards evening paid a visit to Adele.

"Dear sis," Adele said, replying to Kathleen's suggestion that Adele would be better off in a sanatorium for the time being. "I don't believe a word of it. You're just trying to get me out of here to save me worry about those horrid tablets. I'm perfectly comfortable here, and I wish you wouldn't ask me to move." And when Adele drew her head down to kiss the troubled cheek of Kathleen, the latter did not have the heart to urge a removal.

"All right," Kathleen said in response to several caresses.

The next evening when she spoke to Waring about his visits and his silence, he colored up and hesitated.

"Kathleen, dear," he said, coming to her side and placing his arm around her neck, "much as I'd like to tell you all, I can't. My tongue is tied in the matter. Perhaps I shouldn't have gone there without your consent."

Kathleen gently but firmly removed his hand. Waring looked at her and bit into his lip.

She rose from her seat and faced him, a quiet dignity creeping to her eyes and lips.

"Then, Robert--" she stopped to moisten her lips-- "then tonight will see the end of all our hopes and plans. After tonight, it's goodby."

"No! no! Kathleen, you can't really mean it!" He reached forward to take her in his arms, but she drew beyond his reach.

"Please, Robert, don't add to my torture. Tonight ends all. Goodby." And she walked to another room leaving him there like one in a daze.

On the following Monday Muriel, the maid announced that she was going to leave that day, saying that the grilling she had received at the hands of the detective had made her ill. Kathleen was too much concerned with her own troubles to offer any objections, and the maid packed up and left.

Day after day Kathleen debated over the advisability of sending for Barton. Obsessed by those doubts and fears she passed most of her time in solitude, and before she was aware of it, a month had slipped by.

One afternoon she was quite surprised when her new maid came in and announced that Miss Manning, her former maid, wished to see her, and the announcement started a train of painful recollections. What could have brought Muriel back?

Muriel was finally ushered into her presence, dressed equally as well as herself. There was nothing about her trim figure and tailor maid suit that suggested the servant.

"Miss Graham," Muriel said, accepting the seat offered by Kathleen, "I have come to beg your forgiveness for a wrong I have done you."

"A year ago I was engaged to a man. We quarreled and parted. I was so broken up that I left home and went out as a maid, hoping that work and strange faces would help me to forget. I secured a position with you and was horrified to find that my former fiance was engaged to your sister. At his suggestion, Mr. Brown I mean, I slipped off with him one night and went for a walk. He said that he regretted the break, and that if he were not engaged to Adele he would go back to me.

"I met Mr. Brown after that, but I found that he still cared for Adele to a certain extent. The devil took a firmer grip on my soul and showed me how to win back Mr. Brown, by getting rid of Adele. She was still in love with Mr. Brown, and in her desperation she sent for Waring for advice. Waring offered to try and bring about a reconciliation, and for this reason visited Adele's apartment on several occasions."

Kathleen sat almost motionless drinking in every word that came from Muriel.

"I knew that Waring carried mercury tablets, and I knew that Adele had a bottle in her room with headache tablets, which she occasionally used. I took some of the mercury tablets from Waring's coat and put them in the bottle in Adele's room, hoping that she would take some by mistake. But thank God, she did not take enough to kill her."

"But didn't you know you were aiming at murder?" Kathleen asked.

"In a way; but I was mad-wild, and didn't care. I felt that suspicion would point to Waring, and I knew he had promised to say nothing of his visits or his attempt to effect a reconciliation."

"You must have been out of your mind," Kathleen said.

"I was. You can't realize what it means to lose the man you love--stand idly by and see your place usurped by another. You don't know the meaning of jealousy--or what it means to look at the future as a barren waste; and not knowing this, you have no idea how quickly a woman can turn into a fiend incarnate. In doing all this I wronged you and the others, and yet, gained nothing--nothing but ceaseless torture. He was not worth it--was no better than I; for he went away and married some cheap actress. Now I've come for forgiveness,; can you forgive me?"

Here Muriel stopped with a sob and threw herself at Kathleen's knees. Scarcely had she done so, when Adele sauntered in with a song on her lips. Her smile and song vanished, however, as she gazed at the spectacle. Kathleen made he acquainted with Muriel's story, and when Adele had recovered from the shock she crossed the room and raised Muriel to a seat.

"Don't cry, dear," Adele said, addressing Muriel. "I have just learned of his marriage, and you have really done me a favor."

The next day Kathleen sent for the detective, but word came back that he was out of town. However, he showed up two days later with the news of Brown's marriage. He was surprised as well as pleased at the way the affair had turned out. That night he started away to hunt up Waring.

For a month they heard nothing from Barton. Then came word that he had found Waring is a hospital in Texas, as the result of a stray Mexican bullet.

"We'll take the first train for Texas," Adele suggested.

Kathleen and Muriel agreed to the plan, and that night Kathleen, smiling for the first time in weeks, started for Texas, leaving the house in care of her aunt and uncle.

The following Wednesday found Kathleen seated beside Waring on the veranda of the hospital.

"Can you ever forgive me, Robert?" she asked, after he had been made acquainted with all the facts of the case.

"Let's forget the past, dear," he said, raising her hand to his lips. "I love you enough to forgive you a thousand times."

And once again Kathleen was happy.

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