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The Ghouls
by [?]

“H-M,” mused Kennedy, weighing the contents of the note carefully, “one of the family, I’ll be bound–unless the whole thing is a hoax. By the way, who else is there in the immediate family?”

“Only a brother, Dana Phelps, younger and somewhat inclined to wildness, I believe. At least, his father did not trust him with a large inheritance, but left most of his money in trust. But before we go any further, read that.”

Andrews pulled from the papers a newspaper cutting on which he had drawn a circle about the following item. As we read, he eyed us sharply.

PHELPS TOMB DESECRATED

Last night, John Shaughnessy, a night watchman employed by the town of Woodbine, while on his rounds, was attracted by noises as of a violent struggle near the back road in the Woodbine Cemetery, on the outskirts of the town. He had varied his regular rounds because of the recent depredations of motor-car yeggmen who had timed him in pulling off several jobs lately. As he hurried toward the large mausoleum of the Phelps family, he saw two figures slink away in opposite directions in the darkness. One of them, he asserts positively, seemed to be a woman in black, the other a man whom he could not see clearly. They readily eluded pursuit in the shadows, and a moment later he heard the whir of a high-powered car, apparently bearing them away.

At the tomb there was every evidence of a struggle. Things had been thrown about; the casket had been broken open, but the body of Montague Phelps, Jr., which had been interred there about ten days ago, was not touched or mutilated.

It was a shocking and extraordinary violation. Shaughnessy believes that some personal jewels may have been buried with Phelps and that the thieves were after them, that they fought over the loot, and in the midst of the fight were scared away.

The vault is of peculiar construction, a costly tomb in which repose the bodies of the late Montague Phelps, Sr., of his wife, and now of his eldest son. The raid had evidently been carefully planned to coincide with a time when Shaughnessy would ordinarily have been on the other side of the town. The entrance to the tomb had been barred, but during the commotion the ghouls were surprised and managed to escape without accomplishing their object and leaving no trace.

Mrs. Phelps, when informed of the vandalism, was shocked, and has been in a very nervous state since the tomb was forced open. The local authorities seem extremely anxious that every precaution should be taken to prevent a repetition of the ghoulish visit to the tomb, but as yet the Phelps family has taken no steps.

“Are you aware of any scandal, any skeleton in the closet in the family?” asked Craig, looking up.

“No–not yet,” considered Andrews. “As soon as I heard of the vandalism, I began to wonder what could have happened in the Phelps tomb, as far as our company’s interests were concerned. You see, that was yesterday. To-day this letter came along,” he added, laying down a second very dirty and wrinkled note beside the first. It was quite patently written by a different person from the first; its purport was different, indeed quite the opposite of the other. “It was sent to Mrs. Phelps,” explained Andrews, “and she gave it out herself to the police.”

Do not show this to the police. Unless you leave $5000 in gold in the old stump in the swamp across from the cemetery, you will have reason to regret it. If you respect the memory of the dead, do this, and do it quietly.

BLACK HAND.

“Well,” I ejaculated, “that’s cool. What threat would be used to back this demand on the Phelpses?”

“Here’s the situation,” resumed Andrews, puffing violently on his inevitable cigar and toying with the letters and clippings. “We have already held up payment of the half-million dollars of insurance to the widow as long as we can consistently do so. But we must pay soon, scandal or not, unless we can get something more than mere conjecture.”