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The Sybarite
by [?]

“Burke Collins!” exclaimed Kennedy and I together in amazement.

He was one of the leading corporation lawyers in the country, director in a score of the largest companies, officer in half a dozen charities and social or ganisations, patron of art and opera. It seemed impossible, and I at least did not hesitate to say so. For answer O’Connor simply laid the letter and envelope down on the dresser.

It seemed to take some time to convince Kennedy. There it was in black and white, however, in Blanche Blaisdell’s own vertical hand. Try to figure it out as I could, there seemed to be only one conclusion, and that was to accept it. What it was that interested him I did not know, but finally he bent down and sniffed, not at the scented letter, but at the covering on the dresser. When he raised his head I saw that he had not been looking at the letter at all, but at a spot on the cover near it.

“Sn-ff, sn-ff,” he sniffed, thoughtfully closing his eyes as if considering something. “Yes–oil of turpentine.”

Suddenly he opened his eyes, and the blank look of abstraction that had masked his face was broken through by a gleam of comprehension that I knew flashed the truth to him intuitively.

“Turn out that light in the corridor,” he ordered quickly.

Dr. Leslie found and turned the switch. There we were alone, in the now weird little dressing-room, alone with that horribly lovely thing lying there cold and motionless on the little white bed.

Kennedy moved forward in the darkness. Gently, almost as if she were still the living, pulsing, sentient Blanche Blaisdell who had entranced thousands, he opened her mouth.

A cry from O’Connor, who was standing in front of me, followed. “What’s that, those little spots on her tongue and throat? They glow. It is the corpse light!”

Surely enough, there were little luminous spots in her mouth. I had heard somewhere that there is a phosphorescence appearing during decay of organic substances which once gave rise to the ancient superstition of “corpse lights” and the will-o’-the-wisp. It was really due, I knew, to living bacteria. But there surely had been no time for such micro-organisms to develop, even in the almost tropic heat of the Novella. Could she have been poisoned by these phosphorescent bacilli? What was it–a strange new mouth-malady that had attacked this notorious adventuress and woman of luxury?

Leslie had flashed up the light again before Craig spoke. We were all watching him keenly.

“Phosphorus, phosphoric acid, or phosphoric salve,” Craig said slowly, looking eagerly about the room as if in search of something that would explain it. He caught sight of the envelope still lying on the dresser. He picked it up, toyed with it, looked at the top where O’Connor had slit it, then deliberately tore the flap off the back where it had been glued in sealing the letter.

“Put the light out again,” he asked.

Where the thin line of gum was on the back of the flap, in the darkness there glowed the same sort of brightness that we had seen in a speck here and there on Blanche Blaisdell’s lips and in her mouth. The truth flashed over me. Some one had placed the stuff, whatever it was, on the flap of the envelope, knowing that she must touch her lips to it to seal it She had done so, and the deadly poison had entered her mouth.

As the light went up again Kennedy added: “Oil of turpentine removes traces of phosphorus, phosphoric acid, or phosphoric salve, which are insoluble in anything else except ether and absolute alcohol. Some one who knew that tried to eradicate them, but did not wholly succeed. O’Connor, see if you can find either phosphorus, the oil, or the salve anywhere in the shop.”

Then as O’Connor and Leslie hurriedly disappeared he added to me: “Another of those strange coincidences, Walter. You remember the girl at the hospital? ‘Look, don’t you see it? She’s afire. Her lips shine–they shine, they shine!'”