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The Protector of Finance Teles oi Résilies Marvel, Guaruisn of Bank Treasure By WELDON J. COBB THE VANISHING SIGNATURE"] I Copyright, W. G. Chapman S HORTAGE, SIR," reported our chief dork, and tin- president of the Atlas National bank looked up annoyed, while I, confidential secretary, suspended Ci y pencil in the process of taking notes of Iris instructions regarding the hi new Chinese loan. "IIow much?" challenged the big man of the institution. "Five thousand dollars." "Something to consider," mumbled our official head and censor. "Where tloes it occur?" "Paying tell A. to G.—window ö — Agnew." "H'm !" scowled the president. "That's had. Overpayment, and that stands for little chance of a return." The chief clerk suppressed a slight smile of incredulity. I read his thought and shared his deductions. Bartley Agnew was the "crack" teller of the Atlas, expert authority on good money, and the swiftest counter and oldest payer in the service. "Send Agnew hero," was all the president said, and sat aimless play lng with a letter opener, irritability and impatience manifested in bis face and actions, for he was not a man to brook delay or mistakes. Within five minutes the chief clerk returned, discreetly knocked at the door; ushered in Agnew and reluc tantly withdrew. The latter wore his usual lng, black alpaca coat, shallow skull cap. . j;Jose-fitting silk sleeves and bre.qst-high apron. He came forward, leaned one hand on the top of one of the high easy chairs, and nodded re spectfully. but briefly to the president. I tried to give Agnew a reassuring look. There was nothing of tho cul prit in him, yet be was unnaturally pale. Ills hand shook visibly. Tin aspect was that of a mystified and frightened man. He swept aside all Imputation of suspicion or rebuke with a singular outburst: "My record, sir!" and mingled pride and humiliation brought the actual tears to his eyes. He could not have appealed to our president at a more sensitive spot. If the Atlas was proud of anything. It was its system and the persons ü had in service—picked men. the last one df them, and representing fifty per ent* of the Gibraltar integrity of the institution. "Don't get nervous. Agnew." he said simply—"explain the mistake." "I can't !" cried the perturbed toller in a hard, collapsing gasp. "That's the misery of it. One error might be traced down, but two—three!—" He bowed his head and sat motion less. Ills helplessness was pitiable. I knew what was passing in the man's mind—the been torture of the profes sional expert, broken on the wheel of some hideous combination of circum stances that cast him info the junk heap or "the down and out." "You must he coherent. Agnew," spoke the president, a trifle sharply this time. "My time is valuable and some explanation is due." "Very well, sir." replied the unfor tunate teller, with a powerful effort at bracing up : "there is all T have to pre sent." He had taken three slips of paper from his pocket and placed them consecutively upon the glass slab that covered the president's desk. My curious glauce swept them rapidly— three of the ordinary checks of the bank. "Blank." spoke the president, turn ing them over, inspecting them and then tossing them carelessly aside ns if the presentation wirs too paltry to consider. "As you see them," replied the teller. "I have thought it iril out. sir, and I feel that you will deride me, hut those three checks »»present the shortage of $5,000." fi*lie president dW not speak, It was so clearly a rhldle that only the individual who presented H could give an elucidation, ar.d he waited «or It. "To be as brîef and clear as I can," proceeded Agnew. "Day before yes terday when I gathered up the odd thousand checks I had spindled during the day. I found about the middle of the heap one of those blank checks. I wondered what mishap had placed It there, where it had come from. I tossed it aside. When I came to count up my cash I was $2,300 short. 1 was summing up the checks again to find Ihe error when the vault cart came along, and I had to turn in my (rays. 1 have often run across a false first tally, so'I went home intending to check off again in the morning. But yesterday, us you know, was the first day of the month and pay roll day. Ii was not UDtil la!e in the afternoon that I had a chance to go over my affairs. Again the blank check—two of them, and there are the three. I was fairly sick, sir, when I found that I was short $2,700 additional, in all $5,000. 1 went home, hut. not. to sleep. I've lain awake all night long, figuring, probing, thinking. I've reasoned it out." "How—what do you mean?'' "Invisible ink." "I received the idea with energy, the president with a puzzled stare. He repeated tho two words so positively pen costum.—well-worn, shin j spoken by the teller. lie picked ui , the three checks again. He felt ..i j them, be held them tip against tin j light of day streaming in through th< great plate glass windows. The . bis. ; inspection told nothing. The checks were fair and smooth of surface a? j j j j j ; had just come from the He shook his head slow thoiigh the print shop, ly but irresolutely. "If there is any other explanation," said the teller In a hollow tone, I shall hand in my resignation and refer you to my bondsmen." "Stop right there!" almost shouted our president, pointing a fairly indig nant finger at the wretched Agnew, the real man in him aroused, "if any man In the bank so much as hints that your share in this small incident isn't regular, he's the one that will go with out time to resign. And if you your self try to slide in such an expianaticn I'll—I'll discipline you! Whether in visible ink or an unpenetrable mystery we may never be able to solve you w ill go right back to your post or duty and—look out. for blank checks." "I have provided for that," an nounced Agnew, his face clearing con siderably. "Every check that comes j in today will be listed. I leave these others in your hands. There is such a thing as a sensitive ink that de velops under heat, as we all know. An ink that fades out within a brief space of time may also be a pos j sibility. As firmly as I believe that i am here, so surely do I know that some depositor having a libera! de | posit selected a busy time or when I I was substituted at noon to put over | those three checks. When you recall, ! sir. that the last day of a month and I , the first day of a new one comprise I the fever heat rush in the teller's t j cages, and over 3,500 different checks j paid in six hours, you cannot wonder ! that a man may not retain in his j •memory name, amounts, circum stances." "Took out for more of the checks. ; Agnew,'' directed the president with i a hand wave of dismissal, and report 1 to me tonight." The paying teller left the private office. I ventured to lean over and j speak two words into the president's j car. "And then?" I said si: ply. "Allowing that the disappearing ink game has been played." obs^jved the i official, "the operator may put in an- I other appearance teday.' "And if not?" I pressed. The president shrugged his shoul- j ders and glanced helplessly at the | three bits of paper before him. i "Forget it, and don't let it get oat," 1 he remarked sententious!}'. "I might suggest a better alterna- | tive," 1 submitted modestly. "What is that?" questioned the pres- ! ident, wearied of the subject and nerv- j ously taking up a bundle of docu- ! meats. "Send for Resilius Marvel." "Fine!" projected m> companion, j and the utterance was the vast ex- j pression of unutterable relief and sat- j isfactiou. "Here, take tho blank j checks. That's a positive inspira- i tion—Resilius Marvel, by all means! j Now then, iet us resume—as to the Chinese loan—" I went twice to the office of the United Bankers' Protective associa tion that day, hut did not find its active head, Resilius Marvel, in evi dence. I was the last one to leave the bank that evening. As I started to cross the street homeward bound he stood at my side, as magically ap peared as if he had come up from the earth or landed from an airship. "Something on your mind, I under stand?" he remarked. "On the bank's mind, rather," I ex plained, and sketchily outlined the cir cumstances of the blank checks. "Clever—but old," ho commented. "Then you beliçve tho teller's theory will hold water?" "Decidedly, yes. Come over to the club. We'll have dinner, & room to ourselves, and go over the details at our leisure." That program was carried out. 1 produced the three blank checks after we bad discussed an appetizing meal. Marvel closed his eyes and felt over their surface. He took them close up to the one hundred candle power electric bulb in the reception ante room, with the aid of a magnifying disc he always carried with him he inspected the front and back of each of the three checks in turn. "An expert has done the work," he declared. "There is not a trace of any tampering with the checks. We will submit a test, though, to the one man who ought to know." There was a brief taxicab whirl. I knew where we were headed for w hen we reached a structure located just at the edge of the office building dis trict given over to studios and music rooms. We approached a door bear ing the words: "Aeschuylus Barrin ger.' I recalled him as an analytical chemist of international renown. I had been to the place twice before with my friend, once on a raised efceck case, again where the element of poison had entered into one of the prepositions he was exploring. We were fortunate In finding the professor at home, for he was in great demand as a lecturer before local scientific societies. He rroeted us with his usual pleasant sn. :l'-, a mask to those dcepsel ey.-s < if his • the : eyes of a man always in .:m> rsed in thought. Professor Barr gi-r took in the brief details spoken P ; Marvel. He nodded intelligent!} ai. d dvfir.it ly and led us into his labor; >r> All that he did was what any person might do with an X-ray o> :ttit, but in his expert hands il was a mere pla* thing. He set screen and power and beckoned Marvel to the p!ate ' Not a liber of the paper broken," he reported—"do you see?" "Yes, i see," rejoined my friend, j Just a blur, like the traces of a brush wash." "That is it. The ink employed did not penetrate the surface. There was a super-surface, a glane, oirt-r the portions of the check where writing was to be done. When tile ink be gan to fade it simply absorbed all of the glaze, leaving tho entire face of the check clean as a whistle." j "Wait a moment." directed Marvel I -—"let the light continue," and he drew ! from his pocket a minute metal meas- | uring rule and proceeded to measure J the blurs on the screen Then he i measured the signature line, thanked j the professor and we left the place, "I think 1 havo my start," an nounced Marvel as he directed the j chauffeur to drop me at my rooms, j For the next, section of the case we ! must depend upon this teller. Agnew. j Gan you call him up and have him at the bank early enough in the morning to give mo an hour of his time exclu sively ? "It shall be done," 1 pledged. "You will be there, too, of course,' continued Marvel, and then as the ; manipulated those three checks, and that she had not less than twenty let rnachine halted he leaned closer to- j wards me, and added in a low toue; "Dream over the fact that a woman j tors to her signature." I detected a tremor of pleased hope fulness in the tones of Bartley Agnew as I called him up over the phone at ! his home somewhat later, and in formed him that Resilius Marvel had taken up the case and wished to see him at the bank in the morning, and that circumstances emphasized my previous good opinion of the poor I t j ! j ; i 1 j j i I j | i 1 | ! j ! j j j j i j r 4* ii! •\ V* É iv'l j j ; : j : > 1 I ! 1 1 1 j ! ! ! ; \\m "watch that man,keep him here' "ordered marvel sternly, ANT) DISAPPEARED AFTER THE VANISHED REPTILE worried fellow and his prompt faith in the famous protector of finance. When 1 entered the bank a little earlier than usual in the morning, I found Marvel and Agnew poring over the signature books. With a card filled with notations and several other i slips of paper in his hand. Marvel' finally came out from the teller's ! pen. He looked brisk and steam- ! ed up for work in his character j istic way. That was a favorable sign, j A8 to Agnew, I heard him laugh with | his old goodly cheer at some pleasant remark Marvel made, and I felt cer tain that a great load had been lifted from his shoulders. Marvel followed mo into my office and selected a tissue slip from among his handful of docu ments. It boro a transfer of a name, and read: "Neva Orette Brantingham.' "That is the forger, If you can call her such," observed my friend. "Ac cording to measurements the signa ture space occupied on those faded out checks occupied a long but narrow space. If narrow, why not the dainty and circumscribed writing of a femi nine hand? If long, then a name also of some length." "Twenty-one letters," I remarked. "I said not less than twenty," re minded Marvel; "a pretty close guess. I had an advantage in my search through the signature book—A. to G. —only six letters, you observe. I nar rowed it down to the name on that slip. Then the confirmation." "The confirmation?" I repeated vaguely. "Yes. At two o'clock yesterday af ternoon the teller finds that Neva Orette Brintinghain withdrew her en tire balance in the bank, amounting to $2,000. Under the circumstances, as j you ill comprehend, that is signifi- i cant." J I was enough of a logician to realize ; that, having played her perilous game to the safety limit, the clever de positor had no further use for the j bank and probably had for all her available cash. i "The teller has a dim memory that | he had cashi i'.rnn'i; diatn few davs," *o ••vents i fee locate 'it v.. ! "Th v h-> iinroduc address. "It doesn't Marvel blunti into tbe ban! 'ii. rks diTjatun* car S will t<-!! i Her and will give her > liiî won't. ii.t( rrupted ' The account drifted uni vas accepted with out investigation, for it represented n respectable amount Agnev. recalls th» Brantingham as a rather hanel j some brunette, seemingly wishing to says lie of hers of her ! attract no attention, but hi would recognize those «y* on sight." "There is no likelihood reappearance at the bank?" "Hardly," was the dry response "Then—what next?" My friend did not appear at all con tho ! •in past ' At all a hen we ; ö 1 oh cerned as to the requisite procedure in the case. I realized that if the remarkable progress primarily made was a pressage of continued forward movement, h.< would soon have the If .000. or the woman. Still I won dt red what his ne* move would be, and how he would start into the in terminable jungle of th * great city practically without a clew, and that too on the trail of a shrewd swindler who had so successfully covered her tracks up to date. Just as Marvel arose to depart. Agnew burst into the room. He was unceremonious and greatly excited. 'Tin just finding my v.-jts," he de clared. "That's good " nodded the great one, with an encouraging smile. "1 remember a very peculiar cir cumstanee regarding tho Brantingham account. H'm! how 1 smiled and stared at th» time," and the face of j the narrator expanded at memory of some apparently comical incident. "Won't you share the amusements with us?" delicately insinuated Mar vel. "That's w hat ! came for," answered Agnew. "How vividly that roan comes back to ice!" "What man?" questioned my friend "The one who was with this Brant ingham woman the da> 1 recall. It was directlv after she had made h»i r I I initial deposit. The man came in with a check signed by her, but could not identify himself. He went away, and Hi about an hour she appeared with him and said he was the rightful payee. Tho amount was $1,000. I re i collect that distinctly. "What was the mans name.'' in ! quired Marvel hopefully. The toller shook his head, and his j eyes seemed looking back through an j arcade formed of thousands and thou | sands of names. "Check returned long since, of course," he said, "and no record made here. I can't remember the name, but the man!—" and again Agnew's risibilities were aroused, and he smiled broadly. "Describe him." directed Marvel a trifle impatiently. "He wore long hair like an actor, and had a curling moustache like a barber. He was very dainty in all his movements. I set him down first as a matinee idol. Then, glanc ing at his hands, I noticed how well formed, white and delicate they were, and fancied he was a piano player. When I told him to endorse the check, ho did something I had never seen done'before. It stumped me!" "What was it?" Marvel asked. "Well, he placed the check before him with a great flourish, extended his hand, dipped his forefinger into my inkstand and whirled off an exquisite signature across the back of the check. Say, it was done so prettily, that long nailed finger of his beat the best ap proved pen so nicely, that I just star»d at him in profound admiration. Then he bowed with the grace of a dancing master and was gone." "What you mean to convey was j that the fellow fine 1 , trained his fir.ger nail into practical pen use?" "Well," explained the teller, "it was nt slit lik» a pen, but it held ir.k and his chirograph}* was like steel plate work." ' "You should almost recognize this human quill as readily as the woman?" submitted Marvel. "More so," asserted Agnew. "You •very ; — "I hr Mai v ! ! don't see such odd exhibition-! day. anil that flashing hand of his is hard to forget." "We wl!! lind the man first. ' n. ; announced Residue Marvel ddibrrato ly and with easy confident will follow." 1 did not meet Résilias again that day nor the next. R ' v;l ' difficult, however, for me to keep my mind off 'ho curious cas< j had been plunged midway and ti le ft to augury and doubt self watching innuinerabh traces of a long curling moustache, and studied every movement of hands well manicured. Without success, of course, for the payee of the $ 1.000 was not onlv an oddity, but a spe cialist. Then about five o'clock in the evening came the welcome call from Marvel to join him at a designated place into which y and then 1 found in.v faces for "Yoti have a couple of hours to spare?" was his first question. "More than that, if your program is of the usual interesting character," I submitted. "We will ta' e the elevated to Won derland. then," announced my com panion. The Wonderland naturally sug ' 1 gested the taker, the minor stage, and such freaks as human quills and like specialties in the curio field. "Your man is there I suppose?" I concluded. "I have reason to believe so. I know a good deal more about manicuring than i did when I last saw you," nar j a weekly client there rated Marvel. "That was the first natural field of exploitation suggested, A man proud of his handy pen finger would bestow due care and attention upon it. 1 hit a clew at a high-up manicure parlor. Our man, if the ear marks of description do not fail, is I find that fin gcr nail of his is a true professional asset." Professional,' I repeated—"in what w ay?" "Did you ever hear of the Profile Scratcher?" challenged Marvel. I never did," I confessed. "Neither did I. until this afternoon. It seems, however, that this is the specialty designation of the $1,000 I payee. He is a pleasure park appen dix. and at present is playing at Won I dfrland. We will have our first sight i of him together." Wonderland was six miles away '. v elevated, a fenced-in aggrt galion of i tinsel and folly, ami the crowds were ; gathering and the electric blaze in ; fuit play when we arrived. My com j panion made some inquiries. We ! finally arrived at a long row of booths i and tents. The "Mystic Lady," her ; draperied studio guarded by a real ; Afghan, was represented in a robe the color of fire, her neck and arms en twined with the coils of a great sling ing cobra, its eyes fixed upon hers as if imparting some occult intelligence. Next to It. about twenty feet away, j was a small one-story board booth, in j frort was a space about ten feet j square with a door leading into a rear j apartment. A smooth board painted j white stood upon an ease!. A "barker" j was pacing up and down in front of ; the booth announcing the merits of the wonderful "profile scratcher." A young man and a girl companion came along and halted to look at profile specimens arrayed on a counter in front of the booth. They were taking in the sights, "Fifty cents," "barker." briskly perfvci profile of the young lady, some thing out of the common, cheap as dirt and real art. This way, miss," and he led the young lady to a chair I Inside the booth, posed her sideways j in a chair and touched a bell. A man j arrayed in a fantastic flowing garb ! carne out from behind a pair of cheap j curtains I 1 announced tho approaching. "A The moment my eyes rested on this j individual I knew him to be the person j whom Teller Ay,new had described. j There was the flowing moustache, and ! the magic forellngfir It flew *nto there the delicate white hand and ! action now. The man was a natural adept, in an exclusive artistic line. Against the easel he set a piece of bristol board covered with some white material, pliable, but not glutin ous. He took a glance at his fair subject and then his hand swept the sheet on the easel. It was fairly marvelous, his use of his hand. He was in all verity a "profile scratcher." Simply with his finer nails he sketched in a white background, then in long semicircular sweeps he began a pro totype of the head of his sitter. That extraordinary pen finger of his made delicate curves of beauty, the overlay readily responding to his dexterous : manipulation. The profile was perfect. The artist sized the card with some liquid so as to harden the overlay against the background, wiped it off carefully, handed it to the young lady, who was flushed with delight, as was her escort with satisfaction, received his fee, bowed graciously and disap peared behind the curtains. Marvel gave me a slight arm touch and we passed around the side of the place. The human quill was lolling on an old divan, smoking a cigarette and awaiting his next client. Marvel did not hesitate to intrude into this cir cumscribed retiring room. The man sprang to his feet magically quick "Who are you?" he shot out in the ! accents of a man keen to suspicion, I ever on guard. j "Not to interrupt your-professional ; labors, I will be brief and to the I point," was the reply of my friend. come to you for information regarding Neva Orette Brantingham, who gave , ■ a $1.000 check drawn on the Atlas Na lional bank." "What -.vas wrong with it?" Instant ly flashed out the man. "So much was wrong with checks of the iady I have named, ' observed Marvel, "that you can save yourself ^ome trouble by being clear and direct as to her present whereabouts." ' , noted H- man Minch. His usual ready imperturbability was balar;< ,. Then he shut, his lips grimly, am; , ■clianically played with an in - ling upon a I if stand before him small fragment, of paper. I ' "I don t see." he said, 1 1 I ci me to me. 1 had a busintr.,n action with the woman you nam- * ' n was weeks ago, tho deai was sonar, arnl you'll have to look elsevvuere Bn j.-ar information. So—so. Z;b .! '' and bis hand reached down info a box at his side. I drew bac . a trifle, for the head oi a snake a ; *• siai fling suddenness above the box. It had a metal ring around its neck. As the man caressed it. the scrap of paper he had palmed with the adroit ness of a prestidigitator was pressed under the metal band. "So—so," he repeated—"depart! As to youi busi ness here," he began again, as the rep iUp, as if trained to obey a word sig nal. crept from the box and started through the open doorway. "Watch that man, keep him here'" ordered Marvel sternly, and disap peared after the vanishing reptile. The man left in my charge started up with a stormy face and blustering mien. Marvel had instructed me to go i armed always when in his company on a professional case. I was prepared on the present occasion. I made no braggart nor heroic demonstration I simply quietly transferred the weapon from my hip pocket to my coat pocket, keeping my hand in the latter. The man saw the movement and j seemed to accept Its significance. He j settled back on the divan and scowled. j Then he asked sullenly: j "is it the police?" j "You can call it that." I responded with a forced calmness that, abetted by my possession of the weapon. ; i : | i 1 j ! i ! j j j j j j j j ; seemed to enforce wariness and his respect. "About the checks?" "From the bank," 1 nodded. I hoped there would be no irksome wait. 1 was not built to sustain long th»» part of a stern gaoler. Besides that, 1 doubted if my weapon was loaded. The man was thinking furi ously. Everything had happened sc quietly, so rapidly, so respectably I might say. that, his shallow mind could not rouse to the occasion. And then —bang! bang! twice—a third explo sion, not far away a woman's pierc ing. echoing shriek, and then a series of frantic mournful cries ringing out upon the dense night air "I must go—there is trouble!" shouted the man on the divan hoarse ly, liis face grown colorless. "You do not understand, but this may be seri ous!" I construed the situation as indicat ing that the snake had taken a mes sage under its metal collar to some one near by. Could it be the Mystic Lady? and was the Mystic Lady no other than— I was willing to explore myself, and Î let my captive roam at will and fol lowed him. He darted across the twenty foot space separating his own and the adjoining booth, tore down a drapery covering the door of the rear entrance, and there was Marvel. There, too. writhing on the floor, wa3 an immense cobra, and bending over it, fondling it as thougli it were some I cherished, beloved comrade, was a woman set off with ail the gewgaws of cht ap mysticism. "It is not murder, then!" I heard my guide gasp out in a tone of im mense relief. "Neva—Neva!' The woman looked up with an guished eyes. Their depths were fair ly iragic as she glared at Marvel. Ha j " ,00( ' - st ° a dil> at oa >• a ready weapon j . ^ at * us s 'd fe - ! . - la dam oi Miss, he pronounced in j clsi ' f 'P'* J° u guessed my mission and I set y° ur deadly cobra friend hissing 1 and darting at me. Defense was j j j ! natural, although all I want of you is the $5.000 you have swindled the Atlas National bank cut of. It is a quiet ! aac ! s P ee( D return of the funds, or a plain blue prison garb for five yearä —as you choose." "You would risk it'" reviled the Pro file Scratcher. "I warned you that for every shrewd crook there is a cleverer man somewhere along the line. I told you. further, to start our journey last night. Now' it's leave perforce, with a warning record left behind!" The woman burst into tears. She reached within h»r bosom and brought out a bulky package contained in a handkerchief, and flung it towards the speaker. He missed catching it, and the knot coming loose, Us contents spilled out upon the floor—bank notes "Pay him," she said, and flung her : 3elf Prostrate once more beside the dying creature that had but one ha man friend. Beauty, a State of Health. While beauty in itself is u state ot health, it must be borne in mind that the normal equilibrium accompanying this attribute, like that of the balance wheel of a finely constructed watch, is so delicately adjusted that it is* far more vulnerable to disturbances of uu healthful and pernicious influences than one with a coarser grained and less sensitive organization. It was by ignoring this difference in frangibility that there arose the belief that tho ! " f bl * uuty """«erteil an I 7f7'wm ' a Tr < ' t ,llw,a *; und j ." r a forerunner of consump ; ,''7 .m' /T. lllu ® trious ur ' I ' - uus "' (1 hy the I»<*pular , belief, yet depicted the truth when ■ they selected their Elaines and other •Bing heroines from th>* delicate typ» of beauty,—Dr. Thomas Mays. An Incentive. I hey say the girls over there in I* î unce are so pretty and so chic and >»> romantic, and so charming, and so crazy over the American soldiers_ "Here, where's the recruiting sta-' tion? I'm no slacker!"