A Bolt from the Blue
The atmosphere of the office that morning was a shade less genial than usual. We had all of us fought our way downtown through such a storm of wind, snow, slush, and sleet as is to be found nowhere save in mid-March New York, and our tempers had suffered accordingly. I had found a cab unobtainable, and there was, of course, the inevitable jam on the Elevated, with the trains many minutes behind the schedule. I was some half-hour late, in consequence, and when I entered the inner office, I was surprised to find Mr. Graham, our senior, already at his desk. He nodded good-morning a little curtly.
"I wish you'd look over these papers in the Hurd case, Lester," he said, and pushed them toward me.
I took them and sat down; and just then the outer door slammed with a violence extremely unusual.
I had never seen Mr. Royce, our junior, so deeply shaken, so visibly distracted, as he was when he burst in upon us a moment later, a newspaper in his hand. Mr. Graham, startled by the noise of his entrance, wheeled around from his desk and stared at him in astonishment.
"Why, upon my word, John," he began, "you look all done up. What's the matter?"
"Matter enough, sir!" and Mr. Royce spread out the paper on the desk before him. "You haven't seen the morning papers, of course; well, look at that!" and he indicated with a trembling finger the article which occupied the first column of the first page—the place of honor.
I saw our senior's face change as he read the headlines, and he seemed positively horror-stricken as he ran rapidly through the story which followed.
"Why, this is the most remarkable thing I ever read!" he burst out at last.
"Remarkable!" cried the other. "Why, it's a damnable outrage, sir! The idea that a gentle, cultured girl like Frances Holladay would deliberately murder her own father—strike him down in cold blood—is too monstrous, too absolutely preposterous, too—too——" and he stopped, fairly choked by his emotion.
The words brought me upright in my chair. Frances Holladay accused of—well!—no wonder our junior was upset!
But Mr. Graham was reading through the article again more carefully, and while he nodded sympathetically to show that he fully assented to the other's words, a straight, deep line of perplexity, which I had come to recognize, formed between his eyebrows.
"Plainly," he said at last, "the whole case hinges on the evidence of this man Rogers—Holladay's confidential clerk—and from what I know of Rogers, I should say that he'd be the last man in the world to make a willful misstatement. He says that Miss Holladay entered her father's office late yesterday afternoon, stayed there ten minutes, and then came out hurriedly. A few minutes later Rogers went into the office and found his employer dead. That's the whole case, but it'll be a hard one to break."
"Well, it must be broken!" retorted the other, pulling himself together with a supreme effort. "Of course, I'll take the case."
"Miss Holladay probably sent for me last night, but I was out at Babylon, you know, looking up that witness in the Hurd affair....