IT was Victor's doing entirely, but, needless to say, he had to blame it on his wife. We had set out for an afternoon ride, just the four of us—Graziella and Victor, Sara Carruthers and I—two miles out from camp over a nice, broad trail to where the State highway curved round the Lumsden property. There, instead of turning homeward by the bridle-path along the lake, Victor insisted on going on. He was "hog fat," he protested—he must absolutely have a good work-out. Once across the concrete, he took the first trail at hazard, and almost immediately broke into a trot, the three of us clippety-clopping behind, Sara on "Andy," I on "Jester" and Graziella on "Firefly," Charles Lumsden's own mount, a lovely chestnut mare which he would allow nobody but Graziella to ride.
"Black Prince," Victor's horse, soon drew ahead. Suddenly I saw "Black Prince" go straight up in the air. At the same instant "Andy" shied and Sara sailed over his shoulder. She landed on her knees, but was on her feet at once. "Jester" stood as steady as a police horse, and I grabbed "Andy's" rein. Out of the corner of my eye I could see "Black Prince" plunging: behind me I could hear "Firefly" snorting with fright and Graziella crooning to her, "There, there, old lady!"
Sara declared she was not hurt, and took "Andy's" bridle from me.
There was an angry shout from Victor: "You darned fool, you might have been killed! What the devil do you mean by stepping out from behind a bush like that?"
I put "Jester" about. A rough-looking man stood on the path. A bony face darkened with stubble, tangled hair; he was in shirt and trousers and carried a bucket.
"Aw, baloney!" he growled back. "I got as much right here as you!"
Without replying, Victor wheeled "Black Prince" round and came towards us so swiftly that the man would have been trampled if he had not sprung aside. He jumped back on the path with such a menacing air that I gave "Jester" my heel in the ribs and drew level with him.
"Take it easy, buddy!" I said.
He glared at me out of narrow, black eyes. "What's he think he's at?" he ground out between his teeth. "No one ain't a-goin' to ride me down that-away!"
"Forget it!" I bade him. "He only wanted to look after the young lady. You scared the horses and she was thrown, you know. Go on, beat it!"
He gazed at me fixedly, then, picking up his bucket which he had dropped, he crossed the trail and vanished among the trees without a word.
Haversley had dismounted, and with his arm about Sara, was asking her if she was sure she was all right. I glanced at Graziella. But she was doing something to one of her irons, and affected to notice nothing. I said to him pretty curtly:
"You want to be more careful the way you handle strangers, Vic! That's a tough customer!"
He laughed in that arrogant way of his that always made me mad. "What do you mean, 'tough'?"
"That baby's a gunman!"
He dropped his arm from Sara's neck and spun round to me as though he had been shot. "A gunman?" he repeated, frowning. "Go on, Pete, you're kidding!"
"Like hell I'm kidding! Maybe you didn't notice the way he clawed under his left arm as he came forward. That's where these gents keep their personal ironmongery. I expect he forgot he wasn't wearing a coat!"
Haversley was paying no more attention to Sara. He was staring blankly at his wife. Graziella said, "Don't be a goat, Pete! What would a man like that be doing in the Adirondacks, miles away from everywhere?"
I shrugged. "He's probably one of Jake Harper's summer boarders..."
Victor said nothing. It was his wife who asked, "And who's Jake Harper?"
Hank Wells, the sheriff down in the village, had told me about Jake. He was one of these rundown, hill-billy farmers—a pretty bad hat, by all accounts, who during Prohibition was generally thought to be mixed up with booze-running from the Canadian border. According to Hank, Jake's tumbledown shack in the woods, back of where we were, was the resort of all kinds of mysterious visitors. I explained this, and Haversley, who had gone very red, swung to his wife.
"Why wasn't I told about this?" he demanded angrily. "Why didn't Charles Lumsden warn me?"
Graziella shrugged. "I don't suppose it ever occurred to him. As a matter of fact, I never realised that we were outside camp. After all, there's lots of room to ride at Wolf Lake without going off the property..."
Leaving Sara to mount as best she might, Haversley scrambled into the saddle. "If you were in the habit of giving me and my interests the slightest thought, you'd have known it," he retorted acrimoniously. "You're always at me to take more exercise, and when I do..." He broke off. "How do we know what this man wants here? He's a gunman, isn't he? A hired killer..."
Her gauntleted hand on his sleeve sought to restrain him. "Why, Vic," she said, "you're surely not taking this seriously. The fellow's probably only a tramp. Pete loves to dramatise things: that's why he's a writer—isn't it, Pete?"
As she spoke she threw me, over her husband's shoulder, such a look of appeal that at once I came to her aid.
"Well, maybe I did let the old imagination rip a little," I said, with a laugh. "That's the devil of writing a play—one's apt to dramatise everything. And we don't have to take what Hank says as gospel, either—he regards every outsider as having designs on the morals of the villagers!"
But Haversley refused to be appeased. "It's all very well to talk like that now," he rejoined furiously. "Whether he's exaggerating or not, it never occurred to you that I might be running into danger. You've gone round all day like a woman in a trance, and I know why!"
A touch of colour warmed her brown cheeks. "Vic, please!" she murmured.
But he had touched "Black Prince's" flanks, and now departed at a gallop by the way we had come.
I was on the ground, giving Sara a hand into the saddle. I looked after the vanishing figure curiously. I had a feeling that Victor was scared, that his burst of ill-humour was to cover up his fear. I was puzzled. Of course, he was supposed to be recovering from a nervous breakdown, which in his case I had inferred to be a polite euphemism for drink—he certainly put away a lot of whisky. But why should a chance encounter with a tough disturb him thus? And what did he mean by saying that Graziella had gone around all day like a woman in a trance?
Once Sara was up, there was no holding Andy, and he was off after "Black Prince" like a shot out of a gun. Graziella made no attempt to follow, though "Firefly" was dancing with eagerness. She waited for me to mount, and we set off at a walk together.
I HADN'T much use for Victor Haversley. I was jealous of him, of course. Not merely on account of his money and everything—on account of Graziella, too. He was the same age as I—forty-five; but whereas I was a poor, penniless devil of a writer with a groggy lung, he was rich and hearty, a wealthy Illinois brewer. Ever since the War, the cards had been stacked against me, but he—what sweet luck he'd had! Actually, Charles Lumsden told me, Vic's fortune had come to him through his stepfather. His mother had married, as her second husband, Hermann Kummer, the brewer, who, on dying, had left the business to her, and at her death, Vic, who was president of the corporation, had inherited the Kummer millions.
It was when I thought of Graziella that I envied him his money most—had I ever enjoyed even a hundredth part of his yearly income, I'd tell myself, I might have made someone like her happy. Riding back through the woods that afternoon was actually the first chance I'd had of an intimate chat with her, despite the fact that, for the past fortnight, we had been riding and swimming and playing bridge together. Strictly speaking, I was not one of the house-party. I lived in the one-room cabin the Lumsdens had rented me down beside the lake. I slept and wrote and took my meals there, except when the Lumsdens asked me over to lunch or dinner, which happened several times a week. I worked every morning at the play, and after lunch strolled up to the house to join the others. But I seemed fated never to find Graziella alone—she was the sort of person who is always in demand at a house-party. We seemed to meet for ever in a crowd.
Descriptions of people never mean anything to me. So I'm not going to attempt to paint a picture of Graziella, except to say that, with her pale gold hair and shining skin she had a gleaming, brittle air about her that put me in mind of a piece of Lalique glass. From the standpoint of mere prettiness I suppose that Sara, with her doe eyes and red-brown hair and ravishing figure, was the more effective. Sara could give Graziella, who was twenty-eight, a few years, but she was much more sophisticated, the up-to-the-minute New Yorker, out for a good time. She was of quite good family, but her people had lost a lot of money in the crash, and she was actually helping a friend of hers to run a "little shop" on Madison Avenue.
Graziella, on the other hand, had distinction, a beautiful grace of bearing and carriage. She was distinguished as a cameo is distinguished. When you met her you didn't think of her looks—even now, I can't tell you the colour of those grave eyes of hers—for a certain strange allure she possessed. I don't know what her secret was, but you couldn't help wanting to talk to her. The moment I set eyes on her in the big living-room at the camp, the evening she arrived, I found myself liking her better than any woman I'd ever met.
Once across the highway, I drew level with her. "What's the matter with Vic?" I asked her.
She seemed to start from a reverie. "Vic's a sick man. He's never really got over this nervous breakdown he had in the spring. The doctors at home told me that if I didn't take him right away, they wouldn't be responsible for the consequences. By the way," she added, smiling at me, "thanks for playing up so stoutly just now!"
"Vic was scared to death. Why?"
She shrugged. "Vic has a lot of money, you know, and it makes him jumpy about strangers. There's a good deal of crime where we come from, near Chicago, and Vic's always on his guard..."
"That may be. But there's no reason why he should bawl you out like that!"
She raised her switch and dropped it lightly on "Firefly's" gleaming quarters. A brief shrug was her only response.
"You're young," I went on boldly, "and you're entitled to your share of happiness. Why should you go on putting up with his tantrums?"
The movement of her shoulders was as much as to say, "I'm used to it!"
"It's none of my business," I continued. "But I like you, Graziella, and I hate to see you making a mess of your life. Isn't it perfectly evident that you and he are unsuited to one another?"
She tilted her head sagely. "I wouldn't say that. At any rate, I suit him. He depends on me a lot. You know, he's never had a chance. He was an only child, and his father died when he was a baby. His mother, who married old Kummer, was rolling in money, and she spoiled Vic insanely. I feel dreadfully sorry for him sometimes—he's like a little boy who has to be mothered."
"Yeah, with a slipper," I told her. "One of these days someone's going to hand your little boy a dreadful big poke in the jaw!"
She gave me a startled look. "You're joking?" she said, her eyes searching my face.
"Maybe I am. But Dave Jarvis isn't. He don't like the way Vic runs after Sara—not one little bit. After all, they are engaged..."
I had the impression that she was relieved. "Oh, Dave," she said, rather contemptuously.
"Don't make any mistake about Dave. He has the dickens of a temper—the way those black eyebrows of his come together should tell you that. One of these days he's going to blow the top right off. These moonlight trips on the lake and so forth..."
Meditatively her gloved hand slapped at a horse-fly on the mare's neck. "I know it's stupid the way Vic's behaving," she agreed in a low voice. "But don't imagine that there's anything wrong between him and Sara, because there isn't! I daresay her head's turned a little, that's all!"
"It's tough on Dave, all the same. He's doing quite well in Wall Street, they tell me; but of course he's not in Vic's class when it comes to money. He looks perfectly wretched, poor chap!"
"Why doesn't he speak to Sara?"
"For all I know he has. But don't let's kid ourselves, Graziella. Vic's the one who wants talking to, and you ought to do it!"
She dropped her eyes. "What's the use?" she said softly. "If it isn't Sara, it's someone else. You can't change a man!"
"You could walk out on him!"
She shook her head. "It sounds easy, but I can't face it. Particularly now, when he's ill and needs me. I tremble to think what he'd do if I left him. Besides, I owe everything to Vic. I hadn't a cent when I married him, and he's been very generous..." She made a little break. "I was his secretary, you know..."
No one had told me; but as I glanced at her I had no difficulty in picturing her in some swagger President's office, serene and efficient, managing Vic and his appointments.
"I didn't know that," I said.
She nodded. "Yes." She gave a little laugh. "I sometimes think that's why Miss Ingersoll doesn't like me..."
"Even so," I put in, "if you can't make it a go, you're entitled to call it a day. It's not as though there were any children..."
Her eyes clouded over. "That's been one of the troubles," she answered in an undertone. "If I'd given him an heir..." She fell silent.
There was a sudden dryness in my throat—I felt so sorry for her. "Shall I tell you why I like you, Graziella?" I said.
She smiled wistfully. "It might raise my morale if you did..."
"You're a good sport. And you're brave..."
She shook her head. "Not really. I have awful moments of despair, when I feel like ending it all..."
There was an underlying current of passion in her voice that shocked me, hinting as it did at unplumbed depths of unhappiness in this wretched marriage of hers.
"Is it really as bad as that?" I asked.
She bowed her head, her eyes averted. "If I carry on," she said hesitantly, "it's because I have an anchor, a sheet anchor, to cling to..." Then, as though to forestall any further question, she turned and, laying her hand on my wrist, said, "But don't let's talk about me any more! Let's talk about you! Edith says you were badly gassed in the War. Tell me about it!"
I told her. It isn't a very new or a very cheerful story—in and out of the military hospitals for sixteen years—and I kept it short. Then she wanted to hear about the play. I told her how I'd induced Barrett Mann, the Broadway producer, to pay me $500 advance on the strength of the completed first act, and how Edith Lumsden had come to the rescue by offering to rent me a cabin at ten dollars a month until the play was finished.
"The rent, of course, is to salve my pride," I said. "There's a great lady for you. If the play goes over, I'll have only her to thank!"
"And I'm sure it will go over," Graziella declared. "You must let me read it, will you?"
"I'll do better than that," I promised. "Cynthia"—that was the Lumsden girl—"wants me to try out the first act with our crowd reading parts. Well, you're going to play my heroine. Daphne, her name is—it's a swell role!"
She was all excited. "Oh," she cried, "when's it to be?"
"To-night, after dinner!"
She made no answer, and I saw that she was gazing ahead. From the end of the trail a man was waving his hat. Graziella stood up in her stirrups and flung her hand excitedly aloft. Her eyes were shining—she was a woman transfigured.
"Fritz!" she cried and, putting "Firefly" at a gallop, dashed off helter-skelter towards the approaching figure.
Following in her wake, I witnessed their meeting. He took her hand and pressed it between his two, a tall, bronzed man in grey tweeds. Her back was to me, but her whole attitude, as she leaned towards him from the saddle, was one of joyful eagerness. As I looked, Haversley's parting taunt drifted into my mind: "You've gone around all day like a woman in a trance, and I know why!"
Was this stranger the "why"? Then I remembered, while we were waiting for the horses after lunch, hearing Dickie Lumsden ordering a car to meet some friend of the Haversleys who was arriving by the afternoon train from New York. What if this man was the "sheet anchor" she had spoken of?
Her flushed face, and a certain shyness as she introduced us to one another, gave me my answer. He was a rather ugly, quiet man with a deep voice. His name was Fritz Waters. He walked beside her, one arm across the back of her saddle, the pair of them deep in talk—she was radiant. Perceiving that they were quite unaware of my existence, I shook "Jester" into a trot and made for home.
I HAVE gone back to my diary to establish the date of the arrival of Fritz Waters at Wolf Lake. It was Saturday, August 18th. The date is important, not only because in retrospect I now see how already at that time the pattern of what was to come was forming, but also because it was on that afternoon I first encountered Trevor Dene, who was destined to play a leading role in the terrible events which were impending. It was five o'clock before I got in from our ride, and without stopping to change I took one of the power-boats and went across the lake to the village to do my weekly shopping. A young man in a white sweater and shorts was in Hank Wells's store, examining the two shelves of tattered mystery stories which constitutes the village circulating library and talking to Mrs. Wells. I recognised him for an Englishman by his accent.
"It's a sort of dictionary, don't you know?" he was saying.
Minnie Wells, large and motherly, obviously didn't know. "There ain't nothin' but novels there," she answered. "There wuz a book agent with dictionaries round here last month, but Mr. Wells didn't buy none..." Then, as she recognised me, she added, "But this gentleman's a writer, too. Mebbe he could help you."
The young man swung about, I had an impression of horn-rimmed spectacles under a thatch of tawny hair. "A writer?" he echoed briskly. "Tell me, have you by any chance a copy of Roget's Thesaurus?"
I nodded. "I have..."
"Could I borrow it? I'm writing a—well, a sort of treatise and I'm stuck for a synonym..."
"By all means. Only you'll have to come over to Wolf Lake to fetch it."
He drew a deep breath. "This," he pronounced, "is undoubtedly my lucky day. We must celebrate. The name is Dene, Trevor Dene. And yours?"
We shook hands. "Tell me, Mr. Blakeney," said my new acquaintance, "does the word 'beer' excite any pleasurable commotion in your organs of sensation?"
"Nothing else but," I gave him back, and we adjourned to the lunch-room next door.
Over our beer it came out that he lived in London, was married to an American, and had taken his B.A. at Cambridge—he was spending a month at "The Cedars," the boarding-house in the village, in order to finish the book he was writing, while his wife was down in Long Island with a sick relative. He didn't say what the book was about, and I didn't ask him: something scientific, I surmised—his glasses and untidy hair, together with a certain precision of speech, suggested the professor: one of the younger kind, alert and keen-minded.
He told me he had rented Hank's ancient outboard motor for the duration of his stay, so, as he seemed to know no one outside the villagers, and was obviously a well-behaved young man, I told him he'd better come over the next afternoon, and I'd introduce him to the Lumsdens and he could get some tennis and bridge. But he shied off at once.
"It's most frightfully nice of you," he said, his youthful face reddening, "but Americans terrify me. You're so hospitable and so polite..."
I laughed. "Well, I'm American. And you paid for the beer!"
"You're different. If I don't have to dress up and be social, I'd love to run over for a chat with you some time. For one thing, you're a writer, which means you're a human being, and then, of course, you know something about the British..."
"What makes you think that?" I asked him, puzzled.
"You were with our fellows in the War, weren't you?"
That mystified me—this was a detail of my war service which I was very sure was known to nobody at Wolf Lake, let alone the village.
"That's right," I agreed. "But how do you know? Surely, you're too young to have been out there?"
He laughed. "I was at school..." He shot me a quizzing glance through his spectacles.
"You were gassed, weren't you? And if I might make a shot at where it was, it was on the St. Quentin Canal. Am I right?"
I stared at him. "Perfectly..."
"September—let me see—the 28th, 1918, wasn't it?"
"The 29th, to be exact, the day after the show. But how on earth...?"
He chuckled. "You were obviously in the War—that's an American service shirt you're wearing." He pointed to my faded khaki shirt. "When you lit one of my cigarettes just now it made you cough. That's a gas cough you have—the wheeze is absolutely characteristic. You've no business to smoke at all, and you know it..."
I nodded. "I was gassed all right. But how do you get at the date?"
He grinned. "When I meet a doughboy who's been gassed and wears an Anzac badge on his belt, I'm naturally reminded of that celebrated attack in which the Aussies leapfrogged your 27th Division..."
I clapped my hands to my waist. I'd forgotten I was wearing my old leather belt from the War, decorated with the badge which an Australian subaltern had given me in exchange for mine as a souvenir of that day of carnage on the Hindenburg Line.
"All units—British, Australian and American—were mixed up," said Dene. "There was a lot of fraternisation."
I laughed. "You're pretty observant. And for one who wasn't there you seem to know a lot about the War..."
"My guv'nor was killed on the Somme," was his sober answer. "And I read every book about the War I can lay my hands on. As for being observant, I like to study people. They're much more interesting than books." He broke off to pour out the last of the beer into our glasses. "That reminds me, there's a chap called Haversley stopping over at the camp, isn't there?"
"Millionaire, they tell me..."
"So they say."
He had produced a well-seasoned briar and began to fill it from an oilskin pouch.
"He was in here the other afternoon buying fish-hooks. What's wrong with him?"
I laughed. "Too much money, I guess."
"Of course. And he drinks too much. A man of his age shouldn't have pouches under the eyes. But I wasn't thinking of that. What's he scared of?"
"Scared of?" I repeated the phrase lamely—I was thinking of Victor's exhibition in the woods that afternoon. "He's recovering from a nervous breakdown, but I don't know that..."
Dene was touching a match to his pipe. "That's obvious, too—his reflexes are all wrong. But that's not what I mean, either. Have you ever looked into his eyes?"
"I can't say I have..."
"Take a look some time. They're devilish odd. He's making a great fight not to show it, but he's evidently going in fear of his life. If you'd ever seen a man under sentence of death, as I have, you'd know what I mean. My hat, it gives me the jitters to look at him!" He blew a cloud of smoke.
I shrugged. "If what you say is true, I'm very sure no one at the camp realises it. But I think you're exaggerating..."
One of the Wells boys looking in at that moment to say he had carried my supplies down to the boat, the Englishman stood up. He again refused my invitation to come over next afternoon, but said, if I would be home in the evening around ten he might look in for a late drink and collect my Roget.
THE Lumsdens had invited me to dine that evening in view of the play-reading after. On my return from the village I changed into flannels and a blue coat and around a quarter-past seven went up to the house.
Like all these summer camps, the Lumsden camp consisted of a number of structures. The main house, of varnished timber, like a Swiss chalet, stood high, backed against the woods, looking out across the gardens over the lake. Garage and farm buildings were in rear: in the left foreground a cluster of roofs peeped through the trees—the Bachelor Bungalow, reserved for the unmarried men among the guests; the Yellow Lodge, which a friend of the Lumsdens had rented; the White Bungalow, where Sara Carruthers and another girl of the party were lodged; and, down beside the lake, the boathouse. My shack was in the opposite direction, at the extreme right hand of the camp, on the water.
A path at the back of my shack led to the gate at the top of the gardens. Beside this gate the path branched away to the left to lead through the woods to the trapper's cabin. It was an old Adirondack hunter, Eben Hicks by name, who had first discovered the charms of Wolf Lake. Some time in the fifties or sixties he had built himself a log cabin at a little distance away through the woods from the present site of the camp. On buying the property, Lumsden found the cabin in a ruined state, and restored it as far as possible to its original condition, so that now, both inside and out, it had quite a Currier and Ives air to it. He had even gone so far as to ban electricity, and the place was still lit by oil lamps. He used it as a hunting-lodge in the winter, when the main house was shut up. When Victor Haversley, who had a lot of current business to attend to, wanted a quiet place to work in, away from the young people's noise, Charles offered him the trapper's cabin, as it was always called. Surrounded by the woods on three sides, it struck me as being a creepy, melancholy sort of place. But Victor seemed to revel in it. He spent a lot of time working there, either alone or with Miss Ingersoll, the rather homely secretary he had brought with him to Wolf Lake.
As I approached the fork where the path curved away into the woods, I saw Dave Jarvis emerge rather hastily from under the trees, coming from the direction of the cabin, and pass through the gate into the gardens.
"What's your hurry, Dave?" I called out.
But he did not appear to hear me, striding rapidly away towards the Bachelor Bungalow where he was lodged. The first gong for dinner had already gone—I assumed he was rushing off to change.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times of the day at Wolf Lake. Then the lake, girdled with its solemn woods, is like a sheet of glass, and the cooling air brings out the fragrance of balsam and pine. Those reunions on the verandah before dinner are among my happiest recollections of that peerless summer, with Charles rattling the cocktail shaker, the youngsters ragging and the sunset flaming in the sky. We were all so healthy, so browned by sun and wind, so care-free. The Lumsdens were a grand couple, and the most unexacting of hosts. They adored their children—Dickie, in his second year at Princeton, and Cynthia, home from finishing school—and the happy spirit of their little household seemed to spread to their guests.
They were all gathered on the verandah, all except the Haversleys and young Jarvis, that is. When I first came up to Wolf Lake, each weekend would bring visitors; but as the summer advanced and the holiday season set in, the guests became more permanent. Apart from the Haversleys and Miss Ingersoll, who were there for the summer, there was old Miss Ryder, who had taken the Yellow Lodge for the season, and Dr. Bracegirdle, a fishing crony of Charles Lumsden's, who seemed to be making a more or less indefinite stay. Sara Carruthers, who was Edith Lumsden's niece, was up for a month, and young Jarvis had arrived on the previous Saturday to spend a fortnight of his vacation with his fiancée. The rest of the party consisted of a hefty youth called Buster Leighton, a college chum of Dickie's, his young cousin, Myrtle Fletcher, who was Dickie's girl of the moment, and, of course, the latest arrival, Fritz Waters.
Already, had we but known it, the approaching tragedy was casting its black shadow over our happy little crowd. Looking back, I find myself thinking of an eclipse of the sun I once watched through a telescope in New Jersey, with the inky disc creeping irresistibly forward and the afternoon light slowly paling to a sickly saffron. But Fate, unlike Nature, rarely accompanies its convulsions with premonitory symptoms, and that evening, it seems to me, we were, if anything, more light-hearted than usual. Sara, in a vivid green frock, Myrtle, Dickie and Buster were trying some trick with a chair which involved a lot of squealing and a considerable display of stockingless leg by the young women: old Bracegirdle, his brown, nubbly face wreathed in smiles, was chatting with Waters, while on the swinging couch Miss Ryder, who took her meals with the house-party, although she lived out, was showing Edith Lumsden a knitting stitch.
Old Bracegirdle hailed me, wanting to know what part I'd cast him for in the play.
"Do I play the heroine, Peter darling?" said Sara coaxingly.
I told her the part was already promised to Graziella. "But there's a very good bit for I you, Sara," I added, "a pert manicurist who opens the play. You know, smart and terribly hard-boiled..."
"Swell!" Buster chortled. "Hard-berled Sadie from Greenpernt!" And they all began to rag her in more or less authentic Brooklynese.
"Who's the hero?" Charles inquired, giving me my Martini.
"Well," I said, "he's not exactly a young man. I thought of you or Vic..."
The young Lumsdens whooped derisively. "My goodness, Dad can't act," Cynthia declared. "Is it frightfully pash?"
"Does he have to kiss Graziella?"
"Then Vic's out. You can't have a man making love to his own wife. Why don't you play it yourself?"
I blushed like a schoolboy. "Oh, no. Besides I want to listen..."
"Then why not make him play it?" She jerked her head in the direction of Waters. "Hair slightly greying at the temples, you know—he's just the type!"
The dinner gong boomed out. Miss Ingersoll appeared from the house. Mr. Haversley was signing his letters, she announced—Mrs. Lumsden would please not wait dinner for him.
Edith stood up. "Where's Graziella?" she asked. "And Dave?"
"Dave's not coming to dinner," said Sara rather sulkily.
Edith sighed placidly. "Have you two been squabbling again? You go straight down and fetch him up; do you hear me, Sara?"
"But, Aunt Edith..."
"Go along. Be off with you!"
Cynthia had given me a mischievous idea. In the play my hero, Stephen, had to sweep the heroine, Daphne, a married woman, off her feet, and the curtain descended upon them in one another's arms. If Waters were the "sheet anchor" Graziella had spoken of, wouldn't he betray himself when it came to making love to her? I approached him.
"How about you reading the chief man's part?"
He smiled and shook his head. "I should be terrible..."
Cynthia was dancing about behind us. "Nonsense!" she told him. "We're all amateurs, anyway. Of course, you must play it!"
Waters shrugged. "All right," he said good-humouredly.
I saw his face change suddenly—it was like the lights going up in a darkened room.
Graziella was emerging from the house. I had a feeling that, if my suspicion were correct, she might make an excuse to get out of playing heroine to his hero. But when Cynthia told her, she only smiled at him affectionately and said, "Oh, Fritz, what fun!"
Then Sara reappeared with her young man, rather sullen but submissive, in tow, and Victor arriving a moment later, we all went in to dinner.
I had only myself to blame for the scene which brought our play to an ignoble conclusion. That chance gibe of Victor's in the woods should have warned me that he was insanely jealous of Fritz Waters. But I was intent on my experiment and, anyway, he left us immediately after dinner to return to his dictation, and I never anticipated that he would come back before the rehearsal was over.
But he did. And, as luck would have it, he walked in on us at the very height of the love scene between Waters and Graziella. I had put everything I had into that scene, and I was interested to see how closely it held that small audience. Amateurish though they were and reading from scripts, those two revealed a sincerity in their acting which was gripping, particularly Waters—it was actually the man's scene. He had a good voice, and he read the long speech in which he declares his love for his friend's wife really well. You could have heard a pin drop in the big living-room, and I fancy I was the only one who saw Victor come in—I was sitting close to the door, and I heard the squeak of the wire-mesh screen as he appeared.
He was rather pale, as he always was when he had been drinking—although my attention was focussed on the play, my eye retained that detail. It seemed to me he remained standing up just inside the door; then I forgot him, for I was faintly impatient—the long speech was done, the scene working up to its climax, and they were dragging, as amateurs always do. I had planned the scene to be simple, and they played it, as the stage directions set forth, seated side by side on a chesterfield. Now he had his arms about her and had drawn her to him until her cheek rested against his.
"If you only knew it," he said, "all through these years I've been holding you like this!"
And she gave him back, "Ah, Stephen dear, those wasted years!"
"Not wasted since they've brought you back to me!" he answered, and gently turned her face to his.
On that, according to the stage directions, he kisses her, and with a cry of "Stephen!" she falls into his arms and the curtain comes down.
Graziella's face, serene and lovely in the lamplight, was tilted expectantly for the kiss. But Waters hesitated, and it broke the spell.
Myrtle began to giggle and Dickie, who was perched on the arm of her chair, called out, "Kiss her, why don't you?"
At the same moment Victor whirled forward.
With a shout of "Damn you, Fritz Waters, keep your hands off my wife!" he seized Graziella by the wrist and pulled her out of the other's arms. Then he turned on Waters with a torrent of abuse. I don't remember exactly what he said—in the abject humiliation of such exhibitions one instinctively tries to forget; besides, I was more concerned with the scarlet faces and startled eyes of that bunch of kids who had to stand there and hear him. He didn't get far, for Charles Lumsden stopped him, while Edith hustled Graziella upstairs, and old Bracegirdle and I chased the children out on to the porch. While we were there Waters passed us, with set face and eyes smouldering, and disappeared into the darkness.
I knew I should be blamed for what had happened, but decided I would wait until the morning to make my peace with the Lumsdens. So I bade good-night to old Bracegirdle and went home to my shack.
At least my experiment had succeeded, I reflected. These two were in love with one another, and Victor knew it.
EARLY next morning—it was Sunday—I had a visitor. It was Graziella. She wore a white serge cloak over her swimming-suit with a floppy hat and sandals.
"Are you fearfully mad at being disturbed?" she inquired, her eyes on my typewriter.
I assured her that any excuse for not working was welcome, and gave her a cigarette.
She sat down on the bed and crossed one slim leg over the other. "I came to apologize—for last night," she said rather self-consciously.
"Good Lord! it wasn't your fault," I told her. "If anyone was to blame, it was I!"
She shook her head. "It seemed harmless enough—I never dreamed he could be so petty, so—so vulgar. Still, I should have known better. Fritz Waters is my friend, and Vic never likes my friends. Besides, he's jealous of Fritz, less on account of me, I believe, than of Fritz himself. Fritz is such a fine person, so straight and high-minded, he shows Vic up..." She glanced at me sidelong. "Perhaps I shouldn't have said that."
She dropped her eyes. "I wonder if you do. I went to Charles and Edith last night and wanted to break off our visit. But they were so sweet—they wouldn't hear of it!"
"Why should they? Vic was drunk and looking for trouble..."
Her face was distressed. "Those children—whatever are they thinking of me?"
I laughed. "Listen, Graziella, any kid who's been brought up under Prohibition is apt to take an entirely sensible view of such exhibitions as Vic's last night."
"You must all believe that Fritz and I are lovers..."
I felt her eyes on my face. I shrugged. "My dear," I said, "you don't owe me or anybody else an explanation about that."
She sighed. "I'm terribly fond of him. He spent some months in Chicago in the spring—he used to come out to us for week-ends. I was going through a very difficult time with Vic—Fritz was so kind and understanding. If a woman can't have a platonic friend..."
I couldn't help thinking that there was darn little platonic in the way their faces lighted up when they met. But I only said, "It'll blow over. How long is Waters staying?"
"Just the week-end."
"Vic'll apologize to the Lumsdens, I suppose?"
"He's done that already."
"Will he apologize to Fritz?"
Her eyes clouded over. "That's the trouble. He hates Fritz. And Fritz despises him..."
She sighed and leaned forward to discard her ash in the tray on the table. As she did so her wrap slipped off and I saw the bruise on her shoulder, a great discoloured patch at the top of the arm.
I pointed at it. "Is that why you're going swimming so early before anyone's about?" I asked sternly.
She shook herself unwillingly, and attempted to draw the cloak about her again. "Don't be silly, Pete! That's just where I hit myself on the board, diving yesterday!"
I held the cloak away from her. "Don't lie, Graziella!"
The colour flooded her face. "The key to my room has been lost. He came in last night after everybody had gone to bed—he wanted to apologize. When I wouldn't speak to him..." She broke off, biting her lip.
I let the wrap go, and it fell about her as she sat on my bed. She made no attempt to retrieve it, but remained motionless, staring in front of her. I was aghast.
"It's damnable!" I burst out. "And I'll tell you something else. It's not the first time, is it?"
"Only when he's been drinking," she answered, with an almost apologetic air. "He never used to drink. It's only been during the past three months. He gave it up after his illness, but now he's started again."
"You poor thing!" I cried. "What you must have put up with! By God, I could break the fellow's neck!"
She snatched at her cloak and pulled it about her, even as we heard Miss Ingersoll's voice outside. "Oh, Mr. Blakeney, is Mrs. Haversley there?"
Graziella would have sprung up, but I stayed her—Miss Ingersoll was opening the screen door. "Excuse me," she said in her rather prim way, "but I heard voices..." She turned to Graziella. "Mr. Haversley is stopping in bed this morning. He'd like you to go up to him when you've had your swim!"
I looked at Graziella—she was her old, well-balanced self again. "Very good, Miss Ingersoll," she replied, and the secretary went away. Graziella made no attempt to move—she was tapping out a cigarette on the back of her hand. "I've been meaning to ask you this," I said to her. "What's wrong with Vic? What's he scared of?"
She looked at me gravely. "You noticed him when we were out riding yesterday?"
"Yes, and generally..."
She shook her head. "I don't know..."
"You've asked him?"
"Oh, yes, but he always flies into a passion." She paused. "That's why I try to bear with him, Pete—he has something on his mind. It's what started him drinking, I'm sure. I feel so dreadfully sorry for him. Sometimes, when he thinks he's not being observed, his eyes are terrible..."
"And you've no idea what the reason might be?"
"There was some talk back home about threatening letters—labour trouble, you know; but Vic denies it."
I swung about, for there was a step on the porch. Fritz Waters, very spruce in a Palm Beach suit, was smiling at us from the doorway. "Good morning," he said easily. "Sorry I'm late, Graziella, but that secretary woman was snooping around."
She had sprung up, prettily flustered. "She was here just now," she exclaimed. "She didn't see you, Fritz, I hope?"
He shook his head, smiling at her affectionately. "No, ma'am!"
She turned to me. "Pete, I had to have a word with him in private. I told him to meet me here—I knew you wouldn't mind. No, you needn't go," she added, as I moved towards the door. "Fritz," she said, addressing him again, "you've got to forget about last night. If you'll leave it to me, I can smooth it over..."
His eyes had grown stern—he was regarding her with an implacable air. "Fritz," she cried, with increasing agitation, "you must be reasonable. Don't spoil our week-end together!"
He shook his head like a big bear. "Last night was the finish," he said sternly. "I've stood all I'm going to stand from him, and so have you. I told you I'd come down here to have it out with him, Graziella, and I'm going to. That's flat!"
"And what good will that do?" she almost wailed. "He'll take me away, and I'll never see you again!"
"You can leave him, can't you?" he answered in his deep voice. "You know I'm waiting, sweetheart—I shall always be waiting..."
"I can't do it, when he's ill and miserable and frightened. Oh, Fritz, have a little pity—don't make it so hard for me!"
"He's not worth it," said Waters. "He doesn't appreciate you—he's never appreciated you. Do you think I can exist, away from you, knowing that you're tied to that brute?"
I should have gone away at once and left them to their talk, but the passion in their voices held me, and I seemed rooted to the spot.
She caught him by the lapels of his coat. "I can bear it, Fritz, if only I can see you sometimes..."
He shook his big head. "No, Graziella, you're too good for any underhand business. You've got to realise it—it's the show-down!"
"You're so impatient," she murmured, and the tone of her voice was like a caress. "For God's sake, Fritz, give me a little time!"
And then I broke out. "Why should he, by all that's holy?" I struck in, and before she could stop me, I whipped off her cloak. With a faint cry she shrank back, folding her arms across her chest to conceal the bruise, so that it was as though she were naked under her wrap. I plucked her hand away. "Look at that!" I exclaimed. "He gave her that last night!"
Waters's face flamed. He stuck out his lower lip and ground his teeth. "The hound!" he said. "I'll kill him for this!"
Her face buried in her hands, she had fallen against his chest and now, with infinite tenderness, his arms enfolded her and I—well, I crept away. I should like to claim it was from a sense of delicacy—actually, it was the realisation, sharp as a stab, that I meant, and should always mean, nothing to her, which sent me groping blindly into the sunshine.
Miss Ingersoll was just outside. She stood at the top of the steps facing the door. I felt certain she'd been spying—her flat-heeled shoes had rubber soles, I noticed. To draw her out of earshot of the shack I brushed past her and went across the grass patch to the water's edge.
"Oh, Mr. Blakeney," she said, trailing after me, "have you seen anything of Mr. Lumsden?"
I glanced back at the shack—Graziella and Waters did not appear—and shook my head.
"He may have gone to church. What is it?"
"The sheriff rang up."
"Hank Wells? What did he want?"
"It's about that man you met in the woods yesterday afternoon."
"I pricked up my ears. So Vic had got Charles to put the sheriff on to the beggar.
"The State police have been up to Jake Harper's place," the secretary went on, "but Jake denies all knowledge of him. The police think he's moved on..."
"Do they know who the fellow is?"
"By Mr. Haversley's description the Utica police are pretty sure it's a man called Ed Wharton. He's a New York gunman. They say he's hiding in Utica. They raided his lodgings on Thursday, but he escaped."
"A New York gunman, eh? Well, this should ease Haversley's mind. He seemed to think it was some gangster from way back home..."
Miss Ingersoll made no comment, but only said in her rather prim way, "If you see Mr. Lumsden, you might tell him. I must go back to Mr. Haversley now—he's not getting up this morning."
I watched her go, then strolled as far as the dock. I lounged there until I saw Graziella and Waters crossing the garden, then returned to my typewriter.
I WAS bidden to bridge at the house after dinner that night. What with summer-time it was still broad daylight when, around half-past eight, I entered the big living-room. The party had risen from dinner and were scattered in groups, taking their coffee. Everything seemed amicable: I began to think that Graziella had been as good as her word and smoothed things out.
My first glance was for her. Very graceful in a plain black dinner frock she was stooping over an enormous picture puzzle which Edith Lumsden and old Miss Ryder were doing. Victor, looking singularly affable, and Charles Lumsden, both with big cigars, hovered in the background. Vic was chaffing Sara and pointing out pieces to her as, looking very sweet in blue, she rested her dimpled arms on the table. The other children were having one of their usual vociferous arguments. It turned, as we were to have good cause to remember, on a string of blue mummy beads which Sara was wearing and which Buster Leighton proclaimed were unlucky. I looked about for Waters, and saw him, standing alone before the big fireplace, smoking a pipe with an abstracted air.
On perceiving me, Vic came over. I had the instant feeling that he wanted to extend the olive branch. He asked me jovially where I'd been all day, and I explained I'd been working. He nodded approvingly.
"So have I. I stayed in bed until dinner, but Miss Ingersoll was with me all afternoon taking dictation. She's hard at work still..." He lifted his eyes to the ceiling, and I heard, on the floor above, the distant rattle of typewriter keys. "We have a big report to get out," he vouchsafed. "I'm off to the cabin now to work on it. A tough job—we've been at it all week. It's taken a good deal out of me..." He broke off and contemplated the end of his cigar. "And that reminds me, old man," he went on, "I owe you an apology for breaking up your reading last night. There's nothing very much I can say, I guess, except that—well, I was a bit tight."
I felt very embarrassed. "That's all right, Vic," I said.
"I made a thundering ass of myself, and I'm sorry," he went on. "A man can't say more than that, can he?" He put his hand on my arm. "No hard feelings, Pete?"
He was in his most charming mood: butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. But I couldn't help thinking of that bruise.
"Say no more about it," I told him pretty stiffly, and went to where Charles and Graziella were waiting for me to play bridge.
Vic noticed nothing—the most violent emotions appeared to run off him like water off a duck's back. The next thing I saw of him was at the puzzle table, with his arm round Sara's waist, leaning over her shoulder. Fortunately, Dave had been called out of the room to speak to the chauffeur about some bait he was expecting by rail. Vic did not linger. Presently, he waved us a general good-night, and, telling Graziella he would be late, went off to his work.
Vic or Edith usually played with us. Edith declining to quit her puzzle, Graziella got Fritz Waters—rather against his will, it seemed to me—to make a fourth. The youngsters, who were going on the lake, trooped off. Sara, who said she had to write to her mother, remained behind and went on with the puzzle. Presently, old Bracegirdle appeared from the verandah rubbing his hands.
"Well, my doughty adversary," he said to Miss Ryder, "all set for the evening's encounter?"
This was the doctor's invariable preliminary to chess, which he and Miss Ryder played together every night after dinner—usually on the verandah, unless it was raining.
Miss Ryder, a merry, active little body with a wrinkled face, sniffed. "How does the score stand now, Oscar Bracegirdle?" she demanded in her rather squeaky voice.
"Twenty-eight games to seventeen, my pet!"
"Come on," she said, rising. "To-night, I warn you, I'm going to knock the stuffing out of you!"
"And what more exquisite fate at such dainty hands!"
They were a funny pair, these two, always chipping one another—we got a lot of amusement out of it.
"Go along with you, you ruffian!" exclaimed Miss Ryder, delighted, and they trotted off to their game together.
I partnered Graziella against Charles and Waters. Waters was distrait, and Charles, who took his bridge seriously, didn't like it. Even Graziella was annoyed with her young man, and there were inquests after every hand. Edith went to bed.
"Dave drifted in. Where's Sara?" he wanted to know.
I hadn't noticed her go out. But Waters said, "She went out about five minutes ago..."
"She's probably down at the White Bungalow, Dave," Graziella put in. "She spoke of writing letters..."
Dave drifted out again.
At last we had the big room to ourselves. Our bridge was uninteresting. Charles and Waters were sparring, and when, at the end of a hand, Miss Ryder came in for ice-water, I was glad to escape and carry it out for her. As the night was warm, they had set out their chessboard round the turn of the verandah, where there was a little breeze. A lamp above the table shone down upon the doctor's bald pate as, with chin on fist, in the attitude of Rodin's 'Penseur', he stared abstractedly at the board.
"Would you believe it?" said Miss Ryder resignedly. "He's been a good twenty minutes by the clock over a single move..." She chuckled. "I'm going to beat him to-night, and he knows it!"
It was five to eleven by the clock over the fireplace when the kids came back. We were just finishing a rubber and Waters wanted to quit.
"I'm all in to-night," he said. "I guess this mountain air's too much for me. I believe I'll go to bed!" With that, refusing a drink, he bade us all good-night and went out.
Charles and I split a bottle of beer. Someone had turned on the radio, and the young people were dancing. Sara was back, whirling round in Buster's stalwart arms—the room was full of bustle and noise. Presently I saw that the chess players had come in from the verandah. Miss Ryder had beaten the doctor in two straight games, and was crowing over him while he mixed her a weak whisky-and-water. The radio was running full blast: the children were making such a row that Charles called out to his son, "Be quieter, can't you? Your mother's gone to bed!" But no one paid any attention to him.
I drank up my beer and decided to turn in. I thought I'd have a word with Graziella before I left; but when I looked for her she was gone. At that moment I suddenly remembered Trevor Dene. Heavens, he'd said he'd come over for a drink around ten, and it was now ten minutes past eleven—I dashed off.
There was no moon. It was as dark as Hades outside. A light in my shack and the sight of the outboard motor tied to the mooring-post told me that my visitor was still there. I found Dene reclining full length on my couch, deep in the study of my Thesaurus. He brushed my apologies aside. "You didn't mind my making myself at home?"
"I should have been very hurt if you hadn't!"
I got out the whisky, and we talked. I said no more about Wade, and he did not revert to the subject—we discussed books. It was exactly 12.40—I remember Dene looking at his watch and saying it was time he was going—when a series of bloodcurdling yells intermingled with distant splashes interrupted us. Dene sat up in mock alarm.
"It wouldn't be an Indian rising, would it? Or would it?"
"It's only the kids going for a moonlight bathe," I said, and glanced out of the window. "Look, the moon's coming up!"
With a slight shiver, my companion settled himself back among his cushions again. "I could never be very crazy about moon-burn," he remarked whimsically. "The sun's good enough for me!"
It might have been five minutes later when, as we sat yarning there in a cloud of tobacco smoke, I heard Dickie Lumsden call me: "Pete! Pete!"
There was a note of alarm in his voice that brought me in a hurry to the door. Dickie and Buster, naked to the waist, in dripping shorts, were there. The moon was flooding the horizon with light, and every shadow was hard and sharp.
Dickie's face was screwed up as though he were about to burst into tears. He said huskily, "Pete, Vic's up there in the trapper's cabin. He's shot himself!"
A CHILL breeze had sprung up: the boys were shivering in their thin swimming-trunks. Teeth chattering, as he ran along at my side, Dickie panted out, "He's slumped in his chair at the desk. Myrtle found him. We'd been in for a moonlight bathe, and the girls were cold coming out. We thought we'd see if Vic was still up and cadge a drink off him. He usually has a bottle of Scotch there, and Dad had gone to bed—he always locks the drinks away, the last thing at night. Oh, Pete, it's awful! He's sitting there beside the lamp and he doesn't move..."
I had an icy sensation at the heart. This was horrible.
"Myrtle had the most frightful shock," said Buster on my other side. "We were all racing for the cabin, and she was ahead. She walked bung in on him. At first she thought he was asleep; but then she saw the gun in his hand..."
"I touched his hand," Dickie put in, "and the gun dropped on the floor. Dad and Dr. Bracegirdle are with him. Dad sent me to fetch you."
The path emerged upon the cabin at the side. A window was flung back there with drawn curtains that stirred in the breeze, so that we could see the light within. The clearing was as bright as day from the moon that hung like a great yellow lamp in the aisles of trees, and the sky blazed with stars. On its patch of rough turf the cabin, low of roof and fashioned of logs, had a forsaken air. The passing hoot of an owl stressed the stillness: at the foot of the boulder-strewn slope the lake was a tongue of molten silver in the moonlight.
We went round to the front. The two windows that flanked the door, one on either side, and the door itself were wide open. I had discarded my coat at the shack, and my shirt was sticking to my back—I realised that I was literally sweating with the fear of the sight that awaited me—God, it was too ghastly!
Without moving from the threshold, I knew he was dead—there's a limpness about a corpse that never deceives. The table which he used as a desk had its chair backing towards the door because, he used to say, the view of the lake distracted him. He was humped in the chair, with his head fallen forward among his papers and his right hand dangling down along the chair-leg. An old-fashioned paraffin lamp with a white glass shade furnished the only light. It stood on the desk a bare foot from the dead man's head, its rays bringing into relief every strand of his yellowish hair, which he wore rather long and combed back to cover up his incipient baldness. Something winked and sparkled in the lamplight on the bearskin beneath the table. It was an automatic, a heavy model, of oxydised metal.
His bald head thrust forward at a questing angle, his mouth, almost grotesquely wide and full-lipped, pursed forbiddingly, Dr. Bracegirdle fussed about the body under Lumsden's sorrowful glance. Both men were in dressing-gowns. I was shocked to see Graziella there. In a white négligé edged with white fur she stood with Edith Lumsden, who was in a kimono, against the dresser silently looking on. She had creamed her face for the night, so that it was absolutely bloodless, and her gleaming hair was coiled in a loose knot on her neck. The way her hair was looped back, the white, flowing robe, gave her an air of classic tragedy—she looked like Phèdre. She did not move when, presently, Dr. Bracegirdle beckoned to Charles. Raising the dead man's head, he pointed to a small round hole in the middle of the right temple. It was blackened at the edges.
Charles gave a sort of groan. "Poor, poor fellow!" he murmured and averted his gaze.
A clock in a glass case painted in the naive manner of the pioneer days ticked ponderously on the wall. His eyes upon it, Bracegirdle said, "It's now five minutes to one. In my opinion he's been dead for two hours: in other words, death took place somewhere around eleven o'clock..." He pulled down the cuffs of his dressing-gown and brushed his hands together. "We won't touch anything more until the sheriff arrives. You sent for him, I think?"
Charles nodded. "I sent the chauffeur in the fastest boat. They should be here any minute now..."
I pointed my foot at the pistol on the floor. "Where did he get the gun?"
"He kept it in the table drawer. I blame myself—I should never have let him have it. But I couldn't foresee—this!"
Feet drummed, and Miss Ingersoll was in the midst of us. In a faded print wrapper, her hair scraped back off her face, I scarcely recognised her.
"There's some mistake," she cried passionately, "it isn't true—it can't be true..." She swung to Lumsden. "He wasn't the man to take his own life, Mr. Lumsden. I knew him so well..."
"I'm afraid there's no doubt about it, Miss Ingersoll," was the somewhat testy answer. "Tell me, did you see him after dinner to-night?"
She shook her head. "He asked particularly not to be disturbed, as he had this report to get out—I had a mass of notes to transcribe, anyway. I didn't come down to dinner, if you remember, but had a tray in my room. When I'd finished my typing I went to bed..."
While speaking she had stepped up to the table. "Look!" she cried. "He was working on his report!"
Two sheets of typewriting paper, covered with pencilled handwriting, with many erasures and insertions, were draped over the inkstand. The sheet of paper under the dead man's head caught my attention. It was numbered "3," and halfway down the writing ended abruptly. Through a long, reddish smear I read, "In attempting to evaluate the probable action of the Federal Reserve Bank..." There the writing stopped.
I pointed at the paper. "It looks as though he'd broken off in the middle of a sentence to shoot himself."
"By Jove, you're right!" Charles exclaimed excitedly. He turned to the doctor. "Oscar, what do you make of that?"
Bracegirdle shrugged. "Most suicides are the result of a sudden, uncontrollable impulse, you know..."
Lumsden blew his nose loudly. "He was in such good spirits at dinner to-night, do you remember, Oscar? That unpleasantness of last evening seemed to have quite blown over. He'd apologised very handsomely to Edith and me, and he told me," he added, looking at me, "that he was going to apologise to you, Pete..."
"He did. He came up to me before dinner..."
"I mention it," Charles observed gravely, "because I don't want anybody to imagine that the scene we were compelled to witness last night has any bearing on this shocking tragedy. You see, there was another reason which none of you knows about. Vic, poor chap, swore me to secrecy, because he was determined to keep the truth from you, Graziella..." Out of respect for the dead man, to whom the glance of every one of us kept returning, as though by instinct, he had lowered his voice to a hushed undertone.
Graziella spoke for the first time—it was like a statue coming to life. "The truth," she repeated uncertainly. "The truth about what?"
Lumsden's eyes rested sombrely on the limp figure in the chair. "If ever a man was hounded to his death, it was Victor Haversley," he declared, frowning. "Do you know why he came East, Graziella? It was because his life was threatened—yours, too, if it comes to that..."
She stared at him in consternation. "It's the first I've heard of it."
"Ever since Repeal, the Kummer Brewery has had trouble with gangsters. Chicago hoodlums, formerly in the alky-cooking racket, have been trying to levy blackmail on the brewers, hijacking their trucks, beating up and even killing the drivers. Vic was instrumental in sending up five of the ringleaders for long sentences. Since then the gang's been after him!"
My glance sought out the flaccid form at the table. Of course, this explained his outburst in the woods. No wonder the poor devil looked haunted!—Dene had been right. By the way, what had become of Dene? I realised I'd forgotten all about him—he must have remained in my shack.
Charles went on, "Threats rained in on him—anonymous 'phone calls, notes pushed under the door. His constant fear was that you, Graziella, should find out. Two attempts to dynamite the house were foiled by the police. After the second Vic decided to quit. His nerve went back on him, and no wonder..."
How little one ever learns about the human heart, I mused. Odd to come upon this unexpected streak of chivalry in Vic Haversley. He didn't mind getting drunk and brutalising his wife; yet, to spare her anxiety, he'd been willing to carry the burden of his secret alone. Graziella was moved, too—at any rate, she continued to gaze at Charles with a forlorn and bewildered air.
"If I'd known of this, maybe I could have done something about it," rumbled the doctor, wiping his glasses. "The persistent repression of any violent emotion is fundamentally unsound, and leads to all kinds of mental disturbances. The War taught us that. What you've told us explains a great deal, Charles. The poor fellow put up a good fight, but his mind gave way at last..."
Graziella said passionately, "Why wasn't I told? Why wasn't I told?"
"It was to spare you, my dear," Charles replied. "Vic had his faults, but he was truly attached to you. Myself, I thought you should be informed, and said as much to your husband. But he wouldn't have it..." He slipped his arm about her. "But come, there's nothing further we can do here for the moment. I'm going to ask Edith to see you to bed..." With that he hustled us all outside and closed the door behind him.
The coarse grass before the cabin gleamed like silk under the moon. A figure burst into the clearing. At first I thought it was Dene, but then saw it was Waters. He was fully dressed, and his shoes were dusty. At the sight of us all grouped before the hut he stopped short. Graziella was speaking to Miss Ingersoll.
"Did you know about theses threats?" I heard her say.
The secretary nodded, tight-lipped. "Mr. Haversley had no secrets from me," she answered.
It was not tactfully put, and Graziella flushed. "Have they been coming since we've been here?" she asked coldly.
Miss Ingersoll shook her head. "No, Mrs. Haversley!"
Graziella said no more. Lumsden was arguing with the Doctor. "But if he did it around eleven o'clock, as you suggest, Oscar," he was saying, "why did none of us hear the shot? After all, we were all up and about..." He glanced round the circle for Dickie and said, "Some of you were out on the lake to-night—did none of you hear anything?"
"Not that I remember, Dad," the boy replied. "But I don't know that we'd have noticed particularly. We often hear shots after dark—it's some of the fellows in the village out after the rabbits..."
"And in any case we were all in by eleven," Buster put in.
I spoke up. "That's right, and it probably explains the mystery—as to why we heard nothing, I mean. From eleven o'clock on the youngsters were all in the living-room, kicking up the devil of a noise with the radio, don't you remember? They could have let off Big Bertha, and we wouldn't have heard it..."
"By Jove, I believe you've hit it, Pete," Charles exclaimed. "But what about the rest of us—those who weren't in the room, I mean?"
A rather gruff voice said unexpectedly, "I heard a shot!"
Miss Ryder confronted us in the moonlight, leaning on the crutch-handled cane she always carried. She was wearing a tweed coat over a lavender dressing-gown, and a boudoir cap concealed her short, grey hair. "You did?" Charles cried. "When? Where?"
"It was at five minutes past eleven precisely," was the prompt rejoinder. "I'd glanced at my watch, thinking it was long past my bed time. It was just before Oscar and I came in off the verandah..."
"And did the sound appear to come from the direction of the cabin?" Lumsden questioned.
"It came from somewhere in the woods, at any rate. I remember thinking it seemed pretty close to the house..."
Charles turned to Dr. Bracegirdle. "There's your confirmation, Oscar. But wait a minute. You were out on the verandah with Miss Ryder—how did it happen that you didn't hear the shot?"
With a short, scathing laugh Miss Ryder answered for the doctor. "You could ha' fired a gun right off in his ear and he wouldn't ha' been any the wiser!" she declared. "You were checkmate at the time," she said to Bracegirdle, "but you're always so darned obstinate, you wouldn't admit it..." She wagged her head at Charles. "When that man's absorbed in a move, the San Francisco earthquake wouldn't shake him out of it!"
Old Bracegirdle gave a rueful laugh. "I guess you're right at that, Janet," he admitted.
Lumsden extended his wrist-watch to the moon. "Hank's taking his time," he murmured fretfully. "I suppose we ought to notify the coroner, eh, Oscar?"
"Undoubtedly," said Bracegirdle.
Charles turned to me. "Will you see to it, Pete? It's Dr. Gavan, over at Newton's Corners. Central in the village'll put you through..."
At that time of night it took me a good quarter of an hour to get on to the coroner's house. The doctor was out at a confinement, Mrs. Gavan told me, but she promised to have him over at the camp first thing in the morning. The telephone at the main house was in a booth off the living-room. I emerged to find Dickie and Buster there, swathed in blankets. They had lit the fire and were drinking toddy. The sheriff had arrived, they said, and was down at the cabin with Lumsden and Bracegirdle. Graziella was also with them.
I refused a drink and went out into the moonlight again. I came upon Waters on the edge of the clearing. There were voices within the cabin. Graziella was inside, Waters told me. At the same instant she appeared. Her face was stricken. Waters sprang forward. "Graziella! What's the matter?"
She seemed to catch her breath. "Something very odd," she answered. "They're saying it isn't suicide!"
SHE had run to Waters—instinctively, as I thought—and looked from him to me as she spoke.
He frowned, his features inscrutable. "Who says this?" he demanded abruptly.
"Some man the sheriff brought with him. It's nonsense, of course..." She appealed to me. "You were there before, Pete, you heard what Dr. Bracegirdle said..."
"Of course it's suicide," I reassured her.
At that moment a rather high-pitched voice came to us through the open door of the cabin. "I'm not concerned at present with the motive, Doctor," it pronounced, clear and precise. "I'm dealing now only with the ocular evidence..."
I started. The English accent was unmistakable. It was my friend Trevor Dene. How on earth had he got there? Then I remembered that he knew Hank Wells—hadn't he hired his boat? Damn the fellow! To try out his detective stunts on me was one thing: to bluff Hank into letting him make a painful domestic tragedy the subject of his experiments was a different matter. I felt rather indignant—after all, I was responsible for introducing him to the Lumsden camp.
I turned to Waters. "I have to see Lumsden about the coroner," I explained. "For heaven's sake, take Graziella back to the house and see that she gets some sleep!" And to Graziella I said, "Don't worry, honey! It's only some crazy amateur detective Hank's got hold of. Run along home now, and I'll talk to you in the morning!"
I waited only long enough to see her depart on Waters's arm, then entered the cabin. It was Dene all right. He stood up at the table, the lamp light glinting on his glasses as he moved his head this way and that in speaking. The small hut seemed crowded. Hank Wells, the sheriff, was a prominent figure, all six foot of him. He was in his old blue sweater, patched knee-breeches and shooting-boots reaching halfway up grey, woollen stockings—we never saw him in any other rig. With him were the two State troopers who lodged at "The Cedars" in the village, very smart in their slouch hats, grey blouses and black-leather leggings. One of them, Fred Good, who had been in the Marines, I knew—he had the automatic wrapped in a handkerchief. Dene had raised the body up in its chair and, disregarding Charles and old Bracegirdle across the table from him, appeared to be addressing himself exclusively to the sheriff. The dead man's face was livid in the lamplight—he looked grotesque and horrible, sprawling there.
"It's been established in a number of cases," Dene was saying as I came in, "that it's virtually impossible to shoot oneself effectively through the temple with an automatic pistol unless you hold the weapon upside down. I'm speaking of an automatic, remember—a revolver's different. It's a question of the recoil, which, in the automatic, as you know, is utilised for the purpose of sliding the next cartridge into the firing position in the broach. The recoil throws the gun up, and the chances are that you inflict merely a scalp wound. In any event, the bullet would come out through the top of the head. But look at him! The top of his head's untouched. The bullet's probably lodged somewhere inside the skull..."
So saying he laid the dead man's head gently back upon the table and, with his jaunty, listless air, seemed to turn his attention to the room. The lamp cast its light upon a typical early American interior. With its log walls, moss-packed, its truckle bed spread with a buffalo robe, its stone fireplace with andirons and roasting spit, its old colonial dresser, the place always put me in mind of a certain coloured print of a pioneer's hut in a cherished copy of Leather Stocking I possessed as a kid. A wall telephone was the only incongruous touch. It hung beside the door in the corner leading to the washroom and kitchen which Charles had built on to the original structure.
The sheriff gave his nose a wipe on the back of a bony wrist and observed in a slow drawl, looking at Charles, "He worn't holdin' the gun upside down when they found him, as I heared of!"
"He was holding the gun the right way up, there's no doubt about that," Lumsden put in sharply. "I made my son show me how he was grasping it, with a finger curled round the trigger..."
Raspingly old Bracegirdle cleared his throat. "We needn't waste our time discussing theories," he remarked dispassionately. "If there are really any doubts as to how our poor friend met his death I am very sure that the autopsy will set them at rest. You, Mr. Sheriff, have heard of the threats the deceased received. I wasn't his medical attendant, but I've had him under constant observation for the past fortnight, and he was in a highly unbalanced state. Moreover, it's quite possible that his chance encounter with this gunman yesterday, which I heard about only this evening, may have affected him more than we'd any idea of..."
"Ef it wuz chance," the sheriff commented nasally.
Charles drew down his white eyebrows in a frown. "You're not seriously suggesting that this fellow Wharton might have killed him?" he faltered.
"Ain't seggestin' nothin'—jes' wonderin'," was the imperturbable reply.
"If there should be the remotest grounds for such a preposterous conjecture," the doctor began.
But the sheriff cut him off. "How long's he bin dead?" he demanded.
Dene felt the dead man's pendent hand. "Rigor hasn't set in yet," he remarked. "But then, what with the lamp and so forth, it's fairly close in here. The temperature always makes a difference..."
"It's Dr. Bracegirdle's opinion," Charles struck in rather stiffly, "that death must have taken place around eleven o'clock."
Dene glanced at Bracegirdle. "You're more positive than many doctors would care to be. These things are hard to judge, although, in my experience, some doctors are much better at it than others..."
Old Bracegirdle seemed to bristle. "As it happens, my estimate was not far out. Actually, the poor fellow killed himself precisely at eleven-five. Miss Ryder, one of the guests at the camp, heard the shot..." Adjusting his eyeglasses, he confronted the Englishman with an air of challenge.
The young man cocked his head approvingly. "Pretty good. I congratulate you, doctor. At eleven-five, eh? I wonder I didn't hear the shot myself..."
"You weren't here as early as that, surely?" said Charles.
"Oh, but I was," was the cheerful answer. "I was waiting for Mr. Blakeney here in his shack. Wasn't I, old man?"
Charles looked at me rather coldly. "I see!" he remarked.
"These automatics make the devil of a row," Dene went on, "and that shack of Blakeney's isn't so far from this, is it? I ought to have heard the report. However, sound's a freakish thing the way it travels—they had some interesting experiences in the War with zones of silence, as they call them. And up here in the mountains..."
But now old Bracegirdle, who was growing visibly impatient, broke in. "I see no object in prolonging this discussion," he said to Charles. "For me and for all of us, with the exception of this gentleman, I believe the facts are clear. In any case, let's await the result of the post-mortem. The coroner'll perform it, I suppose?" he went on, turning to the sheriff.
Hank nodded. "That reminds me," he observed to Charles, and pointed at the telephone. "'Twouldn't hurt none to give Doc Gavan a ring rightaway!"
I spoke up and said that the matter had been attended to—the coroner would be at the camp first thing in the morning.
"He ain't in such a tearin' hurry es a rule," remarked the sheriff impassively.
"Do we have to wait for the coroner?" Charles wanted to know. "Otherwise, I should very much like to move the body up to the house at once, if it's all the same to you, Hank."
"Go ahead an' shift him, ef you want to," was the tranquil rejoinder. "The boys here brung a stretcher along—it's still layin' in the boat, I reckon. How 'bout it, Fred?"
Trooper Good having clattered out, Hank, with the extreme deliberation characterising his every movement, jerked his head in the direction of the dead man. "Jes' when wuz he last seen alive?" he said to Charles.
"That was one of the first questions I asked myself," Lumsden answered, "and from inquiries I made while waiting for you it seems clear that no one saw him from the time when, around nine o'clock, he left the house to come down here..."
"An' no one didn't drop in on him between whiles?"
A clear voice struck in. "I suppose there's no doubt about that?" Dene had spoken. He stood at the writing-table, staring moodily at the litter of papers that strewed it.
"None, so far as I know," Charles replied rather stiffly. "Not counting poor Haversley, we're thirteen here at the camp. Last night four of us—Blakeney here, Mrs. Haversley, Mr. Waters and I—were playing bridge; my two youngsters with Miss Fletcher and young Leighton were out on the lake; Dr. Bracegirdle and Miss Ryder were on the verandah; and Miss Ingersoll, Mr. Haversley's secretary, was in her bedroom typing."
"That don't make only eleven," Hank pointed out cautiously.
"Let's see, who else is there?" said Charles, scratching his head. "Oh yes, Mrs. Lumsden's niece, Miss Carruthers—she was down at her bungalow writing letters—and then there's Dave Jarvis. Dave took a row-boat out on the lake and went to bed early. In any case," he went on, "either I or my wife made a point of questioning every member of our party whose movements weren't otherwise accounted for, and I'm satisfied that no one was anywhere near the cabin throughout the evening..."
Then Trooper Good appeared with the stretcher. He and his comrades set the dead man upon it and silently bore him out into the moonlight.
"I'll be up at the house if you want me, Hank," Charles said to the sheriff. "And you, Pete," he added to me, "you'd better go to bed!"
"The same goes fer you, Mr. Lumsden," Hank observed. "There ain't nothin' more you kin do ter-night. I'll jes' have a word with Trev here,"—he jerked a thumb in Dene's direction—"an' be over first thing. The finger-print man from the State police at Springsville's stopping by fer me in the morning. I'll lock up here an' bring the key with me when I come..."
"Very good, Hank. Come, Oscar..." With a harassed air Charles nodded and, followed by the doctor, went out after the troopers with their burden.
THE sheriff of Springsville County was famous for miles around for his shrewdness and sturdy independence of character. A woodsman from his early youth, he left the management of the store entirely to his wife, and spent most of his time escorting parties on hunting and fishing excursions into the woods. With his lanky figure, straight as a larch for all his sixty-three years, his silvering hair cut in a lick à la Will Rogers, and his deliberate, faintly cynical drawl, he was a type right out of the pages of Mark Twain. His small, fearless eyes sparkled with not unkindly malice, the clean-shaven mouth, with its long upper lip, was firm and framed by two long creases like a comedian's. A rounded, bulbous nose, streaked with little veins, gave the face quite a Bardolphian air.
That he had not joined Charles and the doctor in dismissing Dene's suggestion as preposterous intrigued me considerably. It likewise filled me with a curious misgiving. Who was this vague Englishman who was permitted to air his fantastic theories in this way, and why did Charles stand for it? I looked for Dene. He was still rooted before the writing-table, gazing down at the papers where the dead man's head had rested.
"What's on your mind, son?" the sheriff drawled.
The young man made no answer. Seeing Hank approach the table, I followed. As far as I could determine, the table displayed nothing beyond the usual desk appointments—on the extreme left the lighted lamp, then a glass vase with some roses, beside it the bronze inkstand half-hidden by the sheets of Vic's manuscript, a wire letter-basket, a porcelain ash-tray and, on the extreme right, a box of cigars. The edges of a leather-bound blotter protruded from under the papers.
Dene spoke suddenly. "Haversley smoked, didn't he?"
Hank looked towards me, and I said, "Sure."
Dene pointed at the cigar box. "Cigars, eh?"
"Nothing but. The doctor had cut him down to four a day, but I don't believe he kept to it..."
There was no reply—Dene was glancing about on the floor. It was the waste-paper basket he was in search of. He dragged it, a gilt wire affair, to the light. It contained nothing but some crumpled sheets of typewriting paper. He smoothed them out, glanced over them and dropped them back in the basket. I noticed that he scrutinised the bearskin rug, where the basket had stood, before replacing it in its old position on the right of the desk.
"Take a look at this!" he said at last.
He was pointing at the ash-tray. It was not only empty, but also spotless. The young man shook his head. "Even a fellow whose cigars are rationed to four a day will keep one to smoke in the evening after dinner," he suggested. "Particularly when he has a report to write..."
I had a curious sense of foreboding. "I remember now," I put in. "He was smoking a cigar when I joined the party up at the house after dinner to-night..."
"What sort of cigar? Big? Little? Havana? Domestic?"
"One of the big Coronas he always smoked. He used to import them specially from Cuba, I believe. Those are they in that box..."
Muffling his hand in his handkerchief, Dene raised the lid of the cigar box, then pursed his lips in a noiseless whistle. "They look disgustingly expensive. One of these big fellows would take him at least an hour to smoke. What time was it when you saw him with a cigar?"
"Soon after half-past eight."
"And he came down here about nine? Yet he left no ash either in the ash-tray or the waste-paper basket!" He closed the box. "You'll want to look it over for finger-prints, Hank," he suggested nonchalantly. Then he pointed at the vase of roses. "That vase, too! Notice anything about it?"
The sheriff stepped forward. "'Tain't only a quarter full o' water!"
"Look at the table, man!"
Dark red leather was let into the table-top. A faint circular depression was visible in front of the spot where the vase now stood. Hank peered at the mark, then, extending a gnarled finger, gingerly felt the leather. "That vayze got tipped over—the leather's damp yit!" he exclaimed. "Struck it with his head as he fell forward, I guess!"
"So I should imagine. But who set the vase up again? Didn't Lumsden assure us that nothing on the table had been touched? In that case the vase must have been standing upright as we see it now when the body was first discovered!"
Dubiously the sheriff fingered his long jaw. "You mean, someone come in after he wuz killed an' emptied the ash-tray an' mopped up the spilt water an' kinda tidied up gen'rally?"
"Well, I was wondering," was the quiet reply. His modest air, his allusive manner, didn't deceive me. I was feeling pretty well fed up with Master Dene. This amateur sleuthing was all right in detective stories—in real life I was finding it highly objectionable. I could see that Charles resented the stranger's presence, not only because the latter had gravely offended Dr. Bracegirdle, who was a harmless old thing, but also because he was filling up Hank Wells, who was an arrant gossip, with these crazy theories of his. And really what evidence had Dene adduced in support of his monstrous suggestion that Haversley had been murdered? Apart from some highly technical rigmarole about the position of the gun, nothing more convincing than an empty ash-tray, and a flower vase overset and replaced—incidents for which the dead man, as easily as anyone else, could be responsible!
Considerably exasperated by this, I looked around the room without detecting the smallest scrap of evidence in corroboration of Dene's insinuation. There was no trace of a struggle—the cabin was in apple-pie order. On the dresser, with its array of crockery, before which the young man had come to a halt, not a dish or a plate was out of place: even the three tumblers which stood on a glass tray placed there, flanking a bottle of whisky, an ice bowl and a siphon, were unused and turned down. Nevertheless, Dene lifted each glass in his handkerchief, examined it and put it back.
The hearth was spotless; but our inquisitive companion stooped to scrutinise the pine logs laid ready for lighting and the bare flags beneath, and even to take a look up the chimney. And, though the camp-bed was unruffled, he must spend quite a time poring over the three or four leather cushions piled there before turning his attention to the buffalo robe that covered it. I glanced at Hank to see what he made of this performance. But the sheriff's battered countenance might have been carved out of wood, as he stolidly regarded the young man. For anything his features revealed, he might have been playing poker down at Al Green's, the village barber, where there was usually a game on Sunday nights.
Dene had finished up on his knees, groping under the bed. At last he rose, and perceiving, as though for the first time, the door that led to the kitchen, promptly disappeared through it.
I turned to Hank impatiently. "What's the big idea? And just who's this nut you've turned loose on us? Hawkshaw the detective or what?"
The sheriff gurgled. "You ain't tellin' me as how you don't know?"
"If I did, should I be asking you?"
He bubbled with silent mirth. "Durn et, ef that don't beat all! An' he visitin' with you just afore I run into him on the dock! Bust my galluses, ef he ain't the durnedest, cagiest, peskiest li'l cuss!"
"Damn it, Hank, answer my question! Who is he?"
The sheriff's rubicund countenance suddenly became secretive. "Wal, ef you don't let it go no further, Pete, he's from Scotland Yard!"
I stared at him in amazement. "From Scotland Yard? You mean, he's in the London police?"
"Yes, sirree. From Scotland Yard, London, England, that you read about in these yar detective stories!"
I laughed. "Oh, nuts! That kid a Scotland Yard man! He's just stringing you along!"
"It's like I'm tellin' you, Pete," said Hank, with invincible sangfroid. "Phemie Miller up at th' post-office seen his passport—there wuz a registered packet fer him. An' me an' him fishin' an' trampin' the woods tergether, it must be ten days now, by crikey! an' him never breathin' a word! He shown me his card after. Detective-Sergeant Dene, it sez—from the Finger-print Branch, or somep'n. So when I steps out of the boat ter-night an' catches sight o' the li'l runt settin' on the dock, quieter'n a lamb, I jes' naturally brung him along!"
"Does Mr. Lumsden know?"
Hank looked rather guilty. "Wal, not yet he don't, on account of Trev allowed he didn't oughter appear in this officially, see? I jes' said it wuz a detective friend of mine from England!"
To say I was staggered, is to put it mildly. This placed an entirely different complexion on Dene's attitude, I realised in a flash. These were not the windy vapourings of an amateur, but the considered opinion of an expert—his doubts as to the true circumstances of Victor Haversley's death were almost certainly based on something much stronger than mere surmise. I gazed at him blankly as he now emerged from the kitchen—this lackadaisical stripling, with the pink-and-white complexion and untidy hair, was nobody's idea of a Scotland Yard man, I told myself. But as I considered him I was aware of a subtle change which had come over him. His eyes brooded behind their spectacles; his expression was grave; he had shed his debonair manner—he suddenly appeared to be older.
Without taking any notice of us, he went to the writing-table and, after a glance at his wrist-watch, began to do something to the lamp with a pencil and a piece of paper—I had the impression that he was marking off the height of the oil in the reservoir.
I watched him in silence for a spell, then said, "Are you really a Scotland Yard man?"
He nodded moodily.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
He shrugged, fussing with his pencil and paper. "Why should I? I'm over here merely on holiday, you know. As a matter of fact, I've no business butting in on this case at all. It was that darned Hank who dragged me into it—I'm ready to fade out at any instant..."
The sheriff had opened the door. The first greyness of dawn streamed into the cabin. "All through here, Trev?" he inquired.
Dene nodded, and stowed paper and pencil in his pocket. "Shall I put out the lamp?" he asked.
"Sure. But don't make no finger-marks!"
The Scotland Yard man laughed. "You're telling me!" he retorted, rather proud of the idiom. Catching my eye, he wagged his head dubiously and said under his breath, "A damned queer business, Blakeney!" glanced at his watch again and stooping over, blew out the light with a mighty puff.
We went out together, Hank, who had fastened the windows, locking the door and pouching the key. Dawn was at hand: the first birds were stirring in the trees, and at the foot of the gardens the lake smoked mysteriously with the melting mists of night. I watched the little outboard motor go snorting into the greyness with them and, cold and depressed, crawled off to my slumbers.
I opened my eyes to find the shack full of sunshine and Graziella standing by my bed. I struggled on to an elbow. "Graziella! What time is it?"
"Past ten. Get some clothes on, Pete. I want to talk to you!"
SHE wore a blue-sprigged muslin I'd seen her in before—I suppose she had no black day clothes with her—and one of the shady hats she used against the sun. It was a gay and charming frock, and the contrast it made with the desperate gravity of her expression went to my heart. She was calm, but there were shadows beneath her eyes and a pinched look about the nostrils I'd seen all too often in the shell-shock hospitals. It was evident to me that she was straining every nerve to keep her feelings under control.
I waited only long enough to dash water on my face and hands, run a comb through my hair, and slip on a singlet and white ducks before joining her on the porch. She was smoking a cigarette out of one of the long holders she affected and gazing over the blue waters of the lake.
"Oh, Pete," she said, trying to speak casually, "if they should question you, you won't feel obliged to say anything about what Fritz Waters and I were discussing in your room yesterday morning, will you?"
"I should hope not," I answered.
"Or about that scene at your rehearsal? Poor Vic had been drinking, of course; and anyway, Charles and Edith know that his suspicions were absolutely unfounded. Charles has promised to caution the others against mentioning the incident..."
"I'll do anything you want, my dear," I assured her. "But, as a matter of fact, none of these questions is likely to arise." I paused, my eyes on her face. "I don't know if you realise it, but there seems considerable doubt whether Vic really committed suicide."
Remembering her attitude on the previous night, I expected her to protest. To my surprise she only said gravely, "You've heard about the coroner, then?"
"What about him? Is he here already?"
"He arrived about half an hour ago. They're going to take poor Vic down to the hospital at Springsville for the autopsy." She hesitated. "Dr. Gavan told Charles that, from his preliminary examination, he'd judge suicide to be out of the question."
"He said that, did he? Well, I can identify this guy Wharton, I guess. And I can testify that he threatened Vic, that he reached for his gun..."
"Of course," she broke in, "of course. But, Pete, promise me you won't let them pump you about—about Fritz Waters and me!"
"Why on earth should they?"
Her eyes became secretive. "The sheriff—Hank, or whatever his name is—was questioning Charles just now as to whether there was bad blood between Vic and anybody at the camp. Charles poohpoohed the whole thing, but I have the feeling that the sheriff's not entirely satisfied." She broke off, twisting at the guard ring she wore. "I don't want any scandal, Pete. I've nothing to hide, but Fritz has a good position in New York, and any gossip of this kind... But what are you staring at me like that for? Why don't you say something? You look at me the way this sheriff of theirs does, as though you thought it was I who'd killed poor Vic..."
Her charge curled round me like a whip-lash and I started. With no more substance to it than a fragment of thistledown blown by the wind, a suspicion—an appalling suspicion—had come floating into my mind. I found myself thinking of the icy fury in Fritz Waters's eyes when I'd shown him the bruise on her arm, of his muttered ejaculation, "The hound! I'll kill him for this!" It shook me so that, for a moment, I could scarcely speak.
She faced me with a sort of forlorn defiance that made my heart ache for her. I should have liked best to have taken her in my arms and told her the sheriff might believe what he liked, I should love her none the less. Seeing how agitated she had become, I tried to pacify her.
"You know very well I don't think anything of the kind," I said. "And Hank doesn't either, take it from me. Only this is probably the first case of the kind he's ever had to handle, and he's naturally feeling his weight a bit. There's just one point about your friend Waters, however. I suppose he can account for his movements after he left us last night?"
She shot a frightened glance at me through thick lashes. "Why do you ask that?" she demanded in a strained voice.
"You remember this fellow whom the sheriff brought along with him last night? Well, he's from Scotland Yard!"
"From Scotland Yard?" she repeated in a dazed sort of way. "What does he want here?"
"He's staying in the village—Trevor Dene, his name is. I met him at the store and asked him over for a drink. He happened to be with me last night when Dickie fetched me out. I'd no idea he was a professional when you spoke to me, but now, of course, it's more serious. You see, he's apparently discovered traces of someone having been in the cabin besides Vic..."
"Traces?" she echoed sharply. "What traces?"
I shrugged. "The ash-tray had been emptied, there were indications that a vase had been knocked over and replaced..."
"But it's nonsense! Charles questioned everybody, and no one went near the cabin last night until Dickie and the others found Vic dead."
She spoke peremptorily in a passionate voice, her eyes flashing. Her eagerness to rush into denial had the effect upon me of a cold douche. "He doesn't allege that it was anybody at the camp," I pointed out.
A flood of colour stained her face. "What does he mean, butting in like this?"
I shrugged. "He's not butting in, Graziella. Hank brought him into it, really—he's a friend of Hank's..." I paused. "My only point is that if he's going to take over the investigation, we're all likely to be asked to account for our movements last evening..."
The stutter of a propeller resounded. I recognised the asthmatic grunt of Hank's outboard motor. Banging and bouncing over the wavelets, the boat came speeding up the lake, headed straight for where we were sitting. A figure at the tiller hoisted an arm in salutation.
"Here's Dene now," I told her.
She jumped to her feet. "I don't want to meet him..."
"He's a nice guy. And very tactful..."
"I don't care what he is—I won't have him here!"
"I guess that rests with Hank..."
"At any rate, you don't have to see him! I don't see quite how I can send him away!"
"You can. You can tell him his visits are inconvenient just now..."
"Would that be wise? I mean, he might think we had something to hide..."
"I don't care what he thinks. It's monstrous to have strangers prying into our private affairs like this. I'm going to speak to Charles about it." Her face flaming with anger, she ran down the porch steps and disappeared in the direction of the house.
The boat, engine shut off, was gliding to shore. "Who was that?" Dene asked, as he came up the path.
He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Didn't want to meet me, eh?"
"You're not going to pretend you could hear what we were saying against the foul row that propeller of yours makes?"
He chuckled. "An angry woman's silhouette is pretty eloquent. Every picture tells its story and deeds speak louder than words. Ah, well! What's her colouring?"
"Her hair and that sort of thing. I couldn't make it out under that big hat of hers."
I was pretty short with him, although I was telling myself that, whatever Graziella might say, it would be fatal to antagonize him. He was swift to divine my mood for he stopped and looked at me.
"Am I welcome?" he asked, in his rather flippant way. "Is the red carpet spread and the lintel garnished with bay? I'm not figuring in this officially, mind you, notwithstanding the fact that our friend the sheriff suggested I should lend a hand. Only say the word and I'll clear out!"
"Forget it!" I said. "Come on inside—I'm going to get some breakfast!"
He'd had breakfast, he said, but he came in. "No sign of Hank yet?" he wanted to know as I put on the coffee.
"Isn't he up at the house?"
"He was here first thing with the finger-print expert—he was to let me know at what time I was to meet him here. But Trooper Good rang me up a while back to say Hank had been called away—if I cared to come over he'd meet me here at your shack. Where's a place called Red Falls?"
"It's a small town about twenty miles north of here. Why?"
"That's where Hank's gone—the Lord knows why. So the coroner agrees with me, Good told me..."
"That seems to have been a pretty shrewd guess of yours last night," I remarked, setting the table.
He held up a hand in protest—he had the hands of a surgeon, long-fingered and beautifully shaped. "A guess? My dear fellow! Criminology's an exact science!"
"A shocking business," I observed, squeezing out an orange. "This sort of thing takes us straight back to the Borgias. I wonder how much they paid him."
"Why, Wharton, of course—for killing Haversley!"
"Oh!" He was tapping out a cigarette. "Are you sure Wharton killed him?"
"I don't know who else it could be. Is there any doubt about it?"
He had found himself a seat on my bed, and was leaning back against the wall, one leg dangling over the other, as he puffed airily at his cigarette. "I'd say there's every doubt," he rejoined in his precise way.
Strainer in hand, I contemplated him. "Go on," I encouraged him. "The gentleman from Scotland Yard has the floor!"
He smiled rather diffidently. "I haven't much first-hand experience of these gangster killings. But one characteristic common to all of them is that the assassin rarely makes any serious attempt to cover up the crime: also, the victim is almost invariably shot from behind. Consider the following points. The hired killer's sole object is to do the job and earn his fee as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. Wharton's a paid assassin—what you call a trigger man or torpedo, I believe. Well, why did he have to use Haversley's gun when, with his own, he could have shot the poor devil down from the door in comparative safety? And why no silencer, but a report loud enough to be heard up at the house? Is that logic, or is it?"
"It's logic, all right."
"Man alive, it's common sense. One of the best practical criminologists on the other side, old Boulot, former head of the Paris Sûreté, once said to me that crime detection is nothing more than an infinite capacity for clear thinking. If Wharton's our man, why this dawdling about to fake a semblance of suicide? The woods were at the door—why didn't he scuttle off as fast as his legs would carry him? One thing more: Haversley had already seen this bird, hadn't he? Well, if Wharton's the murderer, they must have met face to face—the wound in the temple proves that. Are we to believe that Haversley—on his guard for months against an attempt on his life, mark you!—let him walk in, grab that gun and shoot him and never a cry for help? It don't rhyme, old boy—it really don't!"
My throat was dry with apprehension—I was thinking of Graziella and her visit to me. "But if it wasn't Wharton...?"
With a speculative air my companion tilted his tawny head to one side. "The gun's the crux. Haversley had it handy, no doubt—probably it was lying on the table. One thing puzzles me, and that's why, jumpy as he was and knowing that this gunman was roaming the neighbourhood, he should have been willing to spend the evening in the cabin alone..." He paused and added, as though to himself, "If he were alone! But, leaving that aside," he went on, flaking the ash from his cigarette, "don't you see, my Blakeney, that whoever came into the cabin and secured possession of that gun was almost certainly someone Haversley knew? From my observation of the poor blighter, the slightest untoward sound, the creak of a plank, would have brought him round, gun in hand, to face the door. Yet was there any sign of a struggle, a rough-and-tumble? There was not..."
Someone Haversley knew! Was it Waters? I had a sudden vision of him pushing back his chair and leaving the three of us there at the bridge table. It must have been within a minute or two of eleven o'clock when he went off—he'd have had ample time to reach the trapper's cabin and fire the shot heard by Miss Ryder at eleven-five.
I knew very well what Dene was leading up to. But I had to dot the "i." "Someone Haversley knew?" I faltered. "Someone at the camp, you mean?"
He did not meet my glance. His expression gave no clue to his thoughts. "That faked suicide," he said, not without a certain grimness, "reveals a knowledge of the poor beggar's mental state which can scarcely have been common property outside the camp..." He shook his head and gravely crushed out his cigarette end on the sole of his shoe.
The door opened suddenly. Like a jack-in-the-box Miss Ingersoll appeared. The secretary was one of those red-haired girls with the chalky complexion and pale blue eyes that go with that colouring. Ignoring me, she marched straight up to Dene. "You're the Scotland Yard man, aren't you?" she said abruptly. "I'm Barbara Ingersoll—I was Mr. Haversley's secretary. I heard Mrs. Haversley telling Mrs. Lumsden about you. She wants Mrs. Lumsden to get rid of you..."
This barefaced attempt at mischief-making was too much for me, and I broke in pretty stiffly, "I'm very certain you misunderstood Mrs. Haversley—she wouldn't dream of saying such a thing. In any case, the matter's one for Mr. Lumsden to decide...
"Mr. Lumsden went to Springsville with the coroner," she answered tartly, and turned to Dene again. "Don't let them send you away, Mr. Dene. There's work here for you to do. Have you heard about Wharton?"
A presentiment of evil seized me, and I said huskily, "What about him?"
"He was arrested at Red Falls at eight o'clock last night!"
Very deliberately Dene took off his spectacles, folded them and stuck them in his pocket. "And Haversley was alive an hour later," he observed tranquilly. "Very interesting!"
MISS INGERSOLL'S announcement brought my fool's paradise clattering about my ears. "Where did you get this?" I asked her incredulously.
"The sheriff rang through from the village—he was just back from Red Falls. Wharton was arrested getting off a freight train there around eight o'clock yesterday evening—one of the railroad police recognised him from the description circulated, and he was jailed on the spot. He admits he's the man Mr. Haversley met in the woods. And that's not all. Mr. Haversley knew about the arrest last night."
"Oh?" Dene broke in. "How was that?"
"Red Falls reported the arrest to Utica. The Utica police told the sheriff that Mr. Haversley called them around nine o'clock last night for news of Wharton, and they then informed him of the arrest."
"There's a telephone at the cabin, isn't there?" the Scotland Yard man said. "Did he speak from there, or from the house?"
"From the cabin. I checked it with central in the village. The call was put in at nine-eleven..."
Dene's eye lighted on me whimsically. "So much for the suicide motive!" he remarked.
"There was never any question of suicide," Miss Ingersoll interrupted passionately. "I saw him almost every day for the past three years, and I knew him better than anyone—his wife, even. He disapproved of suicide—he thought it cowardly, despicable—I've heard him say so a hundred times. And he loved life and beauty, the open air—he wanted to live. He wasn't a very strong character—things had always been made too easy for him. He was scared, and he'd drink to forget it. But he wasn't a quitter. He'd often talk to me about it. 'Bing,' he'd say—that was a name he had for me—'Bing, that chap Waters'—this was when Mr. Waters was staying with them—'doesn't know what fear is. I'm rattled, and I don't care who knows it. But they're not going to get me down!'"
The Scotland Yard man nodded. "It's a form of courage, like any other..."
Her pale face lit up—her rather homely features were suffused with a glow of ecstasy which made her almost good-looking. "That's what I say," she declared warmly. "If he'd had any sympathy, any understanding, in his home life to support him..."
"That's sheer nonsense," I struck in sharply. "Haversley told his wife nothing of these threats," I said to Dene. "They were kept from her by his express instructions, as Miss Ingersoll very well knows..."
She bit her lip and looked away—I had the impression that the tears were dangerously near the surface. Human nature is the constant study of writers, and the thought came to me that, in our modern scheme of things, a man may possess two quite separate entities—the one he presents at home, and that in which his private secretary sees him at the office. I realised that Miss Ingersoll was showing an entirely new portrait of Victor Haversley. Evidently, the weakness of the man had appealed to the mothering instinct of both these women, to Miss Ingersoll as to her predecessor whom he had married. In her office days Graziella, too, must have seen this side of him—odd to think how the possessiveness of marriage had blurred the picture so that I now had the sensation of contemplating the presentments of two different men! And then it dawned upon me that Miss Ingersoll had been in love with Vic.
If there were tears about, she kept them under. The face she turned to us was dry-eyed. Leaving my protest unanswered, she said to Dene, "You knew from the first it wasn't suicide, didn't you?"
Our companion shrugged. "I merely took the liberty of questioning Dr. Bracegirdle's findings..."
"Dr. Bracegirdle!" she echoed impatiently. "Why, he hasn't practised for twenty years. He admits it himself."
"All the same, I'm not a doctor," was the quiet reply. "We must await the result of the autopsy..."
"If he really took his life," she said darkly, "he was driven to it."
"By these threats, do you mean?"
She shook her head.
She shrugged, her pale face stony. "You'd better ask Mrs. Haversley that!"
"Really, Miss Ingersoll," I exclaimed, "that's an outrageous thing to say!"
"It's no more than the truth," she retorted with sudden passion. "She isn't afraid to have her lover here, hugging and kissing him in front of you all!"
An icy shiver ran down my spine as I suddenly realised that she'd been present at that ill-starred rehearsal of mine. I was about to make an angry rejoinder when it further flashed across my mind that I'd come upon her outside my shack while Graziella and Fritz Waters were engaged in that passionate altercation inside. How much had she overheard? I laughed and said to Dene, "Miss Ingersoll's alluding to something that happened up at the house the other night. We were trying out the first act of my play. Mrs. Haversley and Mr. Waters, who's staying at the camp, were reading the parts of the lovers. Haversley arrived drunk in the middle of it and made a fuss. He apologised next day. Why Miss Ingersoll should want to drag up this stupid business now..."
"That's not all, as Mr. Blakeney knows," the secretary interposed. She pointed an accusing finger at me. "Ask him what took place in this very room no later than yesterday morning!" she said to Dene.
The Scotland Yard man spoke no word. With eyes mildly attentive behind his large glasses, he listened to us, turning his head from side to side, like the spectators at a lawn-tennis match. She stared at me defiantly, her face triumphant—I could have brained her where she stood. I took myself in hand—it was up to me to get Graziella out of this. If only I knew how much the damned woman had overheard!
I said to Dene, "It's very simple. Mr. Waters was naturally embarrassed by what had occurred, and he and Mrs. Haversley met here in my presence to talk over what they should do about it."
"Didn't he tell her he was waiting for her, that he'd always be waiting?" the secretary challenged hotly. "Didn't he speak of her being 'tied to that brute'? Didn't he—didn't he say he'd like to kill him?"
On that I lost my temper. "Damn it," I shouted, "will you shut up?"
"Do you deny it?" she cried. "You don't deny it, because you can't deny it!"
I swung to Dene. "What I can and do deny," I told him emphatically, "is a malicious misrepresentation put upon a perfectly harmless discussion by a spiteful and jealous person who's not ashamed to eavesdrop on a private conversation..."
"He's her lover," the secretary declared passionately. "He's been her lover for months!"
"You'll understand," I said, addressing myself pointedly to Dene, "why Miss Ingersoll is bound to misinterpret an entirely innocent friendship between Mrs. Haversley and this gentleman when I tell you she's insanely jealous of Mrs. Haversley, that she's always been jealous of her..."
The pallid face flamed. "That's a lie!" she gasped. "How dare you say such a thing!"
"You see," I went on, still ignoring her, "Mrs. Haversley was formerly Mr. Haversley's secretary. And Miss Ingersoll's never got over it!"
She gave me such a look of fury that for the moment I made certain she was about to strike me. A knock at the door interrupted us. Martha, the elderly parlour-maid, was there. She said the sheriff was asking for Mr. Dene: Mr. Lumsden would be glad if I'd bring Mr. Dene up to the house. Mr. Wells was with Mr. Lumsden in the living-room, she told us.
With the sensation that a crisis was at hand, I led the way out of the shack.
THE gardens swam in the noonday heat: agreeably the stocks perfumed the still air. The camp was very quiet. With the exception of our host, the entire party was assembled on the verandah—Graziella, Waters, everybody. No one spoke: they sat about and seemed to be waiting—my spirits sank as I saw how repressed they all appeared to be. It struck me that Graziella's expression changed as she perceived Miss Ingersoll mounting the verandah steps with us, and I had the impression that she exchanged a rapid glance with Waters, who stood beside her chair. I believe that the secretary would have liked to have accompanied us into the living-room. But at the last moment her resolution appeared to fail her, and she remained behind with the others.
In the big, cool living-room Charles was pacing restlessly up and down, his normally untroubled features stamped with worry. Hank straddled a chair at the end of the room, stolidly regarding a State trooper—not one of the two from the village—as he pored over a tray laden with small bottles and saucers—the fingerprint expert, evidently. On our entry the sheriff rose and stalked forward, loose-limbed, to meet us.
At the sight of him my sense of disquietude deepened. It seemed to me that he had lost his easy-going air—there was a disconcerting grimness about him as he addressed my companion. In a sort of daze I heard him. The autopsy was over. Dr. Gavan and the house surgeon at Springsville were unanimous in their findings—Hank kept us in suspense while he dwelt upon the coroner's exceptional qualifications, explaining that at one time Dr. Gavan had done a lot of post-mortem work at Bellevue. Both doctors declared that suicide was out of the question—the dead man had been shot down from a distance of at least four feet. The bullet had taken a downward course, lodging itself in the neck muscles—the empty shell, which Hank, it appeared, had found on the floor of the cabin on the previous night, the ballistic expert of the State police unhesitatingly pronounced to have been fired by the .38 automatic found in Haversley's hand. The pistol took seven shots: the fact that the magazine was full and the barrel revealed fresh powder marks was evidence that there had been one cartridge in the chamber ready for firing.
"They allow the murderer must a' stood facin' Haversley as he sat in his cheer," said Hank. "'Pears to me like the poor beggar didn't have a Chinaman's chance..." His eye dwelt sombrely on Dene.
The Scotland Yard man glanced towards where the trooper fiddled with his paraphernalia. "How about finger-prints?" he demanded.
"Nothin' but Haversley's. Trooper Gray tested everything like you said—chair, cigar box, the whole bag o' tricks!"
"What about the gun?"
"It goes for the gun, too. You heared about Wharton?"
Dene nodded briefly.
"Seein' as he's out," said the sheriff, "I've asked Mr. Lumsden to round up the whole party so's me an' you can git each an' everyone to account for his'n or her movements last night."
Charles thrust out his chin obstinately. "I've told you already, Hank, none of us has anything to hide. But I must say I resent the suggestion that anyone at the camp knows anything about this shocking business." He glanced at Dene. "You're from Scotland Yard, I understand?"
"Thar!" declared the sheriff ruefully. "It's out. I never told him, Trev!"
I knew then that Graziella had made her protest and failed. "That's quite all right, Hank," the Scotland Yard man replied, "as long as Mr. Lumsden realises that I'm in this unofficially, and merely as a friend of yours. If the Department ever heard," he added confidentially to Charles, "that I'd gone poking my nose without authority into a case of this kind—whew, I'd be out on my ear quicker than you could say 'Jack the Ripper'!" He smiled engagingly.
"I welcome the fullest cooperation from you, Mr. Dene," Charles answered rather stiffly, "but I admit I'm curious to hear on what grounds you or Hank imagine that I or any of my guests are implicated in this dreadful business!"
"There ain't no kind o' hurry about that, Mr. Lumsden," Hank broke in. "We'll proceed with method, sir, if you please. An' seein' as friend Dene's here, I'd like to ask you a couple o' questions..." He pulled down his bushy eyebrows importantly. "You didn't stir from this room all evenin' playin' bridge, you wuz tellin' me. There wuz you, an' Pete Blakeney here, an' Mrs. Haversley, an' Mr. Waters. Now what time wuz it when the four of ye knocked off?"
"Just before eleven..."
"Right. Miss Ryder, out on the verandy, heared the shot at eleven-five, eh? Now whar wuz you an' Pete Blakeney at eleven-five?"
"I was right here in this room until I went to bed at eleven-thirty."
"You, Mr. Blakeney?"
"I stopped to have a glass of beer with Mr. Lumsden, then suddenly remembered that Mr. Dene would be waiting at my shack and hurried off there. That was at about ten past eleven."
"Agreed," said Dene. "You blew in to your place just before the quarter."
"At eleven-five, when the shot was fired, jes' how many, outside o' you two, wuz here in the room?" was Hank's next question.
He glanced at me as he spoke, but I pretended to think he was addressing Charles. I didn't want to answer, for I remembered very well looking for Graziella as I was leaving and not seeing her.
Charles replied guilelessly, "That shouldn't be hard to answer, eh, Pete? Let's see, the young people were all there—that's to say," he explained to Dene, "my two youngsters, Miss Fletcher, young Leighton, my wife's niece, Sara Carruthers and her fiancé, Dave Jarvis—no, wait a minute, I don't believe Dave was there..."
"What about Miss Ingersoll?" said Dene. The question was abrupt: I looked at him, but his face was as impassive as ever.
"She was in her room typing. She didn't appear all evening," Charles replied.
"How about Mrs. Haversley? Wuz she there too?" Hank inquired.
Charles paused to reflect. "I don't remember seeing her—I think she must have been outside on the verandah. At any rate, I recall her coming in as I was going up to bed."
The sheriff tugged at his ear. "There worn't nobody only Miss Ryder heared the shot, you told us?"
"That's so. Why?"
"If Mrs. Haversley wuz on the verandy she'd have heared it the same as the old lady, wouldn't she?"
Charles looked vague. "I suppose so—you'll have to ask her. She didn't say anything to me about it when she came in—she only asked me if I'd seen Waters..."
The Scotland Yard man struck in sharply. "He wasn't in the room, then?" Once more I had a short stab of fear.
"No. He went off as soon as we'd finished our rubber—to bed, I understood him to say..."
After that I lost the thread of their conversation. It was clear that Waters had left the house almost ten minutes before the shot was heard, and that Graziella had lost no time in going after him. The established fact that both were missing at the crucial moment buzzed in my head like a fly on the window-pane, so that I discovered presently, with a sense of surprise, that Hank and the Scotland Yard man had come to the end of their questions, and that the members of the house-party were filing into the room.
HANK opened the proceedings with a little speech. "Wal, folks, I guess you've heard what Doc Gavan sez. It ain't suicide, it's murder, an' consekently it dee-volves on me, as sheriff of thisyar county, to investigate the crime, with the help an' assistance of my friend, Trev Dene here, who's a very cellybrated an' famous dee-tective from London, England. Now, folks, in cases like this there ain't but the one way ter git at the truth, and that's to 'stablish, first off, who's got a alibi and who hasn't. What I partikerly aims to discover is whar you all wuz at eleven-five last evenin' when the shot wuz fired. So fer we're able to 'liminate Mr. Lumsden an' Pete Blakeney, who at eleven-five were here in the room; Mrs. Lumsden, who'd gone to bed; Miss Ingersoll, who wuz typin' upstairs, an' Dr. Bracegirdle an' Miss Ryder, playin' chess on the verandy. But we ain't right clear 'bout the rest of ye. You, Dickie, yer Paw allows some of ye wuz out on the lake last night. S'pose you tell us 'bout et?"
Hank and the Lumsden children were old cronies—it was Hank who had given Dickie his first shooting lesson. There were four of them out in the launch, Dickie said—Myrtle and Buster and Cynthia besides himself. They came in about half-past ten, as Myrtle felt cold. Myrtle fetched a sweater, and she and Dickie went out again, Buster and Cynthia remaining behind this time. Shortly before eleven Myrtle and Dickie returned, and, meeting Cynthia and Buster on the dock, the four went up to the house together.
"And what became of you an' him, Cynthie?" the sheriff asked, jerking his head at young Leighton.
Cynthia coloured slightly. "We went for a walk."
"Only as far as the birches behind the Bachelor Bungalow."
"Didn't go nigh the trapper's cabin, did ye, Cynthie?"
"None of us did," Dickie chimed in.
The three young girls sat in a row on the chesterfield, with Dickie and Buster perched on the arms and Dave Jarvis on the floor at Sara's feet.
Hank's gaze, shifting along the line, dropped to Dave. "You took a row-boat out on the lake, Mr. Lumsden sez," he remarked. "What time was that?"
The young man shrugged. "Nine o'clock, half-past—I don't know."
"You were in here looking for Sara round half-past nine, Dave," Charles pointed out. "Did you go out on the lake after that?"
"Alone, was it?" asked Hank, looking at Sara.
"And what time did you come in?"
"I can't say exactly. But it was after the launch went out for the second time..."
"I went into his room at the Bachelor Bungalow on the way up to the house," Buster put in, "and he was in bed reading."
"And you didn't go out again?" Hank asked Jarvis.
The young man shook his head. "Buster came back later and wanted me to go swimming with them, and I was still in bed. Remember, Buster?"
"Sure. You were reading Anthony Adverse!"
"And you didn't drop in on Mr. Haversley, neether?" the sheriff questioned.
"No," was the rather sullen answer.
Hank made no comment. His rugged features as expressionless as a cigar-store Indian's, he turned to Sara. "What about you, Miss?"
"Me?" said Sara in her cooing voice. "I was in my bedroom writing letters."
"Here in the house, is it?"
"No. Myrtle—Miss Fletcher—and I sleep down at the White Bungalow."
"Spent all evenin' thar, did ye?"
"But you went up to the house with the others when they come off the water. Is that right?"
"Yes. Miss Fletcher fetched me out. When the others went in swimming, I went to bed."
"What time was it when you first went down to your bedroom?" Dene asked unexpectedly.
She glanced rather condescendingly to where he stood leaning up against the fireplace. "After dinner, do you mean? Oh, about ten past nine, I suppose."
"Did you go straight to your room?"
As she did not reply immediately, Hank said, "He means, did you drop in on Mr. Haversley for a little visit on the way?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Then from nine-ten, say, until a few minutes before eleven, you were in your room at the White Bungalow?" said Dene.
"Thank you, Miss Carruthers."
"Mrs. Haversley!" The sheriff's keen eye picked out Graziella where she sat on a low stool beside Edith Lumsden. "Sorry to bother ye at a time like this, ma'am, but there wuz a question or two..." He paused, gazing stolidly down at his large, hairy hands. "I understand you wuz not in the room here at the time the shot wuz heard?"
"I'm afraid I don't know," she answered in a low voice. "In any case, I didn't hear any shot."
"Where did you go after you all wuz through with your bridge?"
"Mr. Waters and I had spoken of riding before breakfast, but we hadn't fixed any time. I wanted to leave word for Earl"—Earl was the groom—"about the horses before going to bed. So I went to find Mr. Waters."
Waters's sonorous baritone cut across her words. "Mrs. Haversley went down to the Bachelor Bungalow to find me, but my room was dark, as I'd gone for a bit of a stroll before turning in."
"Jest a minute!" Hank told him. "I'm comin' ter you presently. When you found he worn't at the bungalow," he said to Graziella, "what did you do?"
She hesitated. "I—well, I looked around for him a little, and then I came back here."
"Jes' whar did you look for him, ma'am?"
"Down by the lake—in the gardens..."
"Didn't go as fer as the trapper's cabin, did ye?"
She shook her head. "No." Firmly.
"You were away quite a time," the Scotland Yard man now pointed out mildly. "Nearly half an hour..."
"Was I?" Her tone was rather haughty.
"You weren't back until half-past eleven, Mr. Lumsden says..."
"If Mr. Lumsden says so, I suppose that's right."
"You were out of doors, away from the noise in the living-room, yet you didn't hear the shot. Rather odd, isn't it?"
"I may have heard it without paying attention. The villagers go out shooting rabbits at night sometimes..."
"Not in the dark, they don't," the sheriff commented. "There worn't no moon last night—leastwise not till going on fer midnight, there worn't!"
The Scotland Yard man looked up sharply. "Thanks, Hank. That's a good point!" With a thoughtful air he began to fill his pipe.
The sheriff was addressing Waters. "You told Mr. Lumsden an' the others you wuz goin' ter bed, but you went fer a stroll. Is that right? Where did you go?"
"Out along the lake, by the road that leads to the village..." Waters's manner was brisk and self-assured. "It was such a glorious night I felt disinclined for bed, and I went farther than I intended. I got back to camp just in time to walk into all the excitement..."
"That's the road that starts back o' the boathouse, ain't it? Then you must a' met the young folks comin' up from the lake?"
An awkward silence fell. "Wal, didn't you?" Hank persisted.
With a dogged air Waters stuck his pipe in his mouth. "No," he replied, "I can't say I did."
"I guess I can explain it," Buster Leighton struck in. "Mr. Waters didn't meet us because he didn't come down the path. He went through the gardens—I saw him as I was coming out of the Bachelor Bungalow, where I'd been talking to Dave. I thought he was going down to Pete's shack when I heard the gate squeak..."
I had a thrill of fear. That squeaky gate opened on the path that descended to the back of my shack; but it was also the only access from the house to the road through the woods that led to the trapper's cabin.
Waters was speaking. "Now I come to think of it," he remarked impassively, "I remember I did go through the gardens."
"Why?" said Hank abruptly. "That ain't the nearest way to the road along the lake."
Waters shrugged. "I may as well be frank with you. I thought of looking in on Haversley. But I changed my mind."
The sheriff grunted. "It'd surprise you, I guess, to hear that Mr. Haversley had a visitor at the cabin last night?"
Charles started up. "Who says so?" he demanded indignantly.
Hank pointed at Dene. "Ask him!"
"There's not much doubt about it, Mr. Lumsden," the Scotland Yard man said quietly. "A vase on the desk has been knocked over and replaced, the ash-tray emptied and two of the glasses on the dresser show signs of having been used—they appear to have been washed in a hurry and not properly dried. Besides, the soda siphon's only half full, and a good third of the whisky has been drunk. I shall want to see the maid who looks after these things to find out whether the siphon and the whisky bottle were full at the start of the evening. That's not all. In the ash-can in the kitchen I found a cigar butt and about two-thirds of a cigar partially smoked, as well as various cigarette and match ends."
"Couldn't they have been there from earlier in the day?" Charles struck in.
"They could—it depends on when the ash-can is cleared. Actually, it was empty except for these things lying in the bottom, the cigars still damp, their ends chewed to ribbons. You must have noticed the way Haversley smoked a cigar? I did—one day I saw him at the store. He champed them to rags."
"Mightn't he have tidied the place up himself?"
Very positively the other shook his head. "The man's drafting an important report—are we to believe he left it midway through a sentence to go and empty the ash-tray, throw away a cigar half smoked and wash out his glass and his visitor's? No, Mr. Lumsden"—his tone grew sterner—"all the evidence goes to show that whoever did the tidying up intended to remove every trace of the fact that Haversley had had a caller, with the definite object of bolstering up the semblance of suicide..." His regard, impersonal and coldly analytical, shifted to Waters. "Am I right in supposing that there was no love lost between you and the deceased?" he demanded.
Waters was unmoved. "Perfectly. I didn't like Haversley and he didn't like me."
"He resented your attentions to his wife, didn't he?"
"If he did, it was without any justification."
The Scotland Yard man turned to the sheriff. "It seems that Mr. Haversley made a scene with his wife about Mr. Waters the other night. I'm going to ask Mr. Lumsden to tell you about it..."
Charles did his best, but, in the light of what had gone before, the episode sounded damning, and I saw Hank's mouth harden to a tight, uncompromising hair line as the story proceeded.
Hardly was it done when a voice cried shrilly, "But that's not all!" We all swung about to find that Miss Ingersoll had sprung up from the chair where she had sat bolt upright, her hands clasped tensely before her, throughout the cross-examination. "He threatened him"—she pointed a denunciatory finger at Waters. "He said, 'The hound, I'll kill him for this!' It was at Mr. Blakeney's shack yesterday morning. I heard him—I was just outside—and so did Mr. Blakeney. Ask him!" Her voice rang hysterical in the profound hush.
Hank bent his glittering eye on me. "Is that right what she sez?"
"How should I know?" I lied desperately. "It was a private conversation—I purposely didn't listen."
"That's all right, Blakeney," Water's deep tones interposed. "I don't just recall what I did say," he informed the sheriff, "but I was pretty excited, I guess. You see"—his voice was not very steady—"he'd been ill-treating her." He broke off and added, "But I didn't kill him."
Hank's mouth snapped to like one of his own steel traps. "You'd best tell that to the district attorney," he said grimly. "I'm takin' you along with me ter Springsville now." And, raising his voice for the benefit of the company at large, he added, "Okay. The rest of you don't need to stop any longer."
Graziella was on her feet, staring with a blank and stricken expression at Waters. Unresisting, she let me lead her away. Not until we were seated in one of the rose arbours in the gardens, out of earshot of everyone, did she speak. "They mean to arrest him, don't they?" she said in a low voice.
I shrugged. "It's no use our deceiving ourselves, my dear. They're on to a good, strong motive, and he has no alibi, I can understand his doing it: what puzzles me is that he should have tried to fake this appearance of suicide by tidying up the room and so on. He doesn't look to me that kind of a fellow..."
"He isn't," she said, "and he didn't tidy up the room. I did!"
"YOU?" I echoed. Once again suspicion assailed me. Was it the old story of the wife and lover conspiring to rid themselves of the inconvenient husband? But her next words disarmed me.
"Oh, I know what you're thinking," she murmured bitterly. "It was because I realised what everybody would think that I kept silent, and just now I could have said nothing that wouldn't have made things worse for poor Fritz. God," she burst out, "I could almost wish it were true. Then at least I'd be sure. Anything's better than this ghastly uncertainty. Oh, Pete, I must have someone to talk to, someone I can trust, or I shall go mad..."
I put my hand on hers. "You can trust me, Graziella—you know that..."
"Yet you'd believe that I'd plot with my lover to kill my husband?"
I shook my head. "No. Besides, you told me he wasn't your lover—that's enough for me. I think you know that he killed Vic. That's all."
She gave a forlorn headshake. "I don't know it—that's what's driving me crazy. You're right when you say he's not the man to descend to a subterfuge like this faked suicide. At least, I used to think so. And yet, if you knew what I knew, you'd feel you couldn't reject the evidence of your senses, but must believe him guilty. Oh, I know that Vic was my husband, and that it must horrify you to find me ready to make allowances for the man suspected of killing him. But I can't help that. God knows, I tried to keep them apart, pleading with Fritz to have patience—you heard me yourself. No later than yesterday afternoon, out there on the lake, I implored him, if he had any feeling for me, not to precipitate a crisis, and I thought I'd persuaded him to leave things where they were. Now, if it seems they met after all and quarrelled and Fritz killed Vic, I can't find it in my heart to condemn him as I know I should. Because, you see, Pete"—tears filled her eyes and voice—"I love him, I can't help loving him, and if anything were to happen to him through my fault, I think I should die!"
"My dear," I told her gently, "I can't see why you should blame yourself in all this."
"But I do," she answered brokenly. "I was weak—I couldn't bear to let him go. I should either have surrendered to him—or sent him away."
I put my arm about her. "Suppose you tell me about it!"
She dabbed at her Eyes with her handkerchief. "You brought this Scotland Yard detective here. How do I know you won't take everything back to him?"
"It might be the best plan," I said firmly. "He's a very human person. I don't want to frighten you, but it's a question now of finding extenuating circumstances, you know!"
She strained away from me. "Then you think Fritz killed him?"
"I don't see who else it could have been. Don't you think so yourself?"
"I don't know," she replied in a scared voice.
"Didn't you ask him the question direct?"
She shook her head. "I only saw him alone for a minute last night when you asked him to take me up to the house. He was tender and soothing with me, as you might be with a child, but I thought he looked at me strangely—I don't know, it was as though there were a barrier between us. I wanted to ask him if he'd been down to the cabin that night to see Vic, but somehow I couldn't bring the question out. Then Edith met us and took me off to bed, and to-day he seems to be avoiding me."
"What made you think he'd been down at the cabin?" She was silent and I went on, "You saw him leave the bridge table, and thought he was going to Vic, didn't you? And you followed him!"
She drew a deep sigh and nodded. "He was so distrait at our bridge, do you remember? I had an uneasy feeling that he was planning to 'have it out' with Vic, as he called it, in spite of what I'd said that afternoon—you know, he came to Wolf Lake fully intending to tell Vic he'd have to give me a divorce..." She broke off.
"I looked for him first at the Bachelor Bungalow, but his room was dark, so I went on to the cabin. It was very dark, but I had one of those torches we keep on the verandah for people going down to the bungalows at night. I came across a cigarette someone had thrown away on the path under the trees—it was still smouldering and I made sure then that I should find Fritz with Vic..." She checked again.
She gave a little shudder. "Vic was alone. He was dead in his chair with the gun in his hand, just as the children found him..."
"Of course, I thought he'd killed himself," she said sombrely. "Ever since our marriage and before, when I worked for him, he was so utterly dependent on me. That was why I tried to prevent Fritz from tackling him about us—at any rate, until he was more like his old self: I was haunted by the fear he'd do something desperate if he believed I wanted to leave him—you remember, I told you. When I saw that vase knocked over, I felt certain that he and Fritz had had a scene, and that Vic, in a fit of despondency after Fritz went away, had shot himself. I could picture the scandal if these facts came out; I could see Fritz's name linked with mine on the front pages of all the newspapers, and it seemed to me, since I was to blame for Fritz being in this mess, that I'd have to do something to keep his name out of it..."
"And so you thought you'd remove all traces of Vic having had a visitor. Isn't that it?"
She nodded. "I was in a panic. I did remember about finger-prints, and handled everything with my handkerchief, but that was about all. Besides Vic's drink on the desk, there was a used glass on the dresser. I wasn't taking any chances as to which was Fritz's, so I washed both out. Vic never smoked cigarettes, but there were cigarette ends in the ash-tray, so I emptied it, oh, and I mopped up the water spilt on the desk..."
"Dene says Vic knocked that vase over with his head in falling forward..."
"I see," she said slowly. "Of course, that would be it. It never occurred to me..."
"And you saw no sign of Waters while you were at the cabin?"
She shook her head. "No."
"He denies being anywhere near the cabin, of course. He says he went for a walk."
"That was to protect me, Pete!"
She heaved a deep sigh. "As long as I thought it was suicide, my duty seemed plain. Vic was dead, and nothing I could do would bring him back to life. But I could help Fritz. When I discovered it wasn't suicide, but murder, I was aghast—I felt as though I'd aided and abetted my husband's murderer. Ever since hearing the coroner's report I've asked myself the one question, how I should have acted if I'd known from the first that Fritz had killed Vic?"
"And what's the answer?"
She seemed to shiver. "I haven't found it. But of this I'm certain, and nothing you can say will shake me in my belief, that if Fritz found it necessary to stage this appearance of suicide, it was to save my good name."
"It's a pity he didn't think of that sooner," I couldn't help saying. "In the meantime, Graziella, you're coming straight with me to Dene with this statement of yours."
She shook her head firmly. "No, Pete—at least, not until I've had a talk with Fritz..."
"Do you realise that he's probably in the county jail by this?"
"Then I'll see him in jail."
"Be reasonable," I begged her. "Thanks to Miss Ingersoll, Dene suspects you already. If he discovers independently that you were at the cabin last night, don't you see he's bound to believe that you and Fritz Waters were in on this killing together?"
"I don't care what he thinks, I'll tell him nothing until I've spoken to Fritz. And that goes for you, too, Pete. You said I could trust you—I have your word, haven't I?"
"You have my word all right. But I think you're making a terrible mistake."
"I've made so many," she answered wistfully, and stood up, "that one more can't make much difference."
With that she left me, and I went down to my shack.
After her performance that day I should have thought Miss Ingersoll would have steered clear of me. But when I reached my shack, there she was, restlessly rocking herself on the porch.
"Well," I said, "I hope you're satisfied."
She shrugged her shoulders. "I saw you and Mrs. Haversley hob-nobbing in the gardens just now. I'd like to know what she was saying to you..."
"Couldn't you get near enough to hear?"
My thrust went home. She blushed scarlet. "I wonder you waste your time on these people," she said severely.
"I don't know whom you mean by 'these people.' Mrs. Haversley happens to a friend of mine."
"She's a parasite, like her friend Waters. Working folk like you and me are too good for them."
"Speak for yourself!" I said, and turned to go into the house.
"You don't like me, do you?" she struck in. "Well, you're wrong. You and I should stick together. I think it's a scandal that a man who's sacrificed his health and his career to his country should slave and toil for a bare living in the midst of this vulgar display of wealth. I know you never complain, but don't you rebel inwardly? I do. How do you suppose I like sticking indoors all day typing on thirty-five a week and making out on a couple of cheap frocks when I see empty-headed chits like this Sara Carruthers and this Myrtle of theirs, with trunkloads of lovely clothes, amusing themselves in the fresh air? I know I'm not as young or as pretty as they are, but I've twice their brains. Is it fair?"
Almost for the first time since she had come to Wolf Lake, I found myself considering Miss Ingersoll with more than a passing glance. Now that she had laid aside the hideous octagonal rimmed glasses she invariably wore, she was really not bad-looking. She had nice skin, and her auburn hair, gleaming like copper in the sun where it was brushed back from the forehead, was scrupulously neat. Her hands, large but very slender, were well kept, and I observed that she disdained the blood-red nails affected by Sara and Myrtle. In the plain black frock she wore with white muslin at neck and wrists she looked to have quite a good figure.
"It's nothing you and I can correct," I told her. "Moreover, two wrongs never made a right, and if you think you're going to reform social injustice by venting your spite on individuals..."
"That's not true," she said quickly.
"You were jealous of Graziella Haversley, you know that as well as I do, and you pursued her with your rancour. Well, what have you achieved? You've managed to have Fritz Waters arrested, but what good does that do you?"
"You believe I was in love with Victor Haversley, don't you?" she answered, flushing again. "Well, it's not true. But he was kind to me, thoughtful and understanding, almost the only person who's been kind to me in my life. His wife never cared a rap about him: she married him for the position he could give her. And now that he's dead I seem to be the only one to give a thought to his memory. I've avenged him, at least. Isn't that something?"
"Certainly, if you're sure you're not making a mistake. I'd rather the responsibility were yours than mine."
She laughed contemptuously. "Of course, your friend Mrs. Haversley proclaims this man's innocence!"
That nettled me, and I found myself, rather paradoxically, rallying to Waters's defence. "At present," I said, "the case against him mainly rests on the fact that he can't produce an alibi. That goes for other people in this camp. Yourself, for instance!"
Her face was blank with dismay. "Me?" She paused. "Was that why this Scotland Yard man was questioning me just now?"
"What did he want to know?"
"He asked me if I ever wore jewellery. I told him I had no jewellery except this watch"—she lifted her wrist—"that Mr. Haversley gave me at Christmas. What did he mean by that, do you suppose?"
"I haven't the least idea. But it shows, at least, that he keeps an open mind. Did he question young Jarvis, too?"
"Not that I know of. Why?"
"He was absent from the house when the shot was fired. He says he was in bed."
She stared at me fixedly. "Jarvis?" she echoed.
I laughed. "Unlike you, I don't regard it as part of my duty to make charges against anyone. But young Jarvis greatly resented Mr. Haversley's attentions to Miss Carruthers. I can't say whether it ever came to a set-to between them, but at any rate Fritz Waters was not the only person at the camp to bear Haversley ill-will."
She had risen from her rocking-chair, her face perplexed. Now, without speaking, she walked down the porch steps and left me there.
With unseeing eyes, I watched her go. My mind was groping back. Out of the recesses of my memory Dave Jarvis's darkly handsome face seemed to peer in one of those resentful, grudging looks I'd seen him turn on Vic when Vic was fussing about Sara. Step by step, something was building up. I remembered, on the afternoon of our ride, the day that Waters arrived, coming out to where the horses were waiting behind the house.
Vic and Sara were there and Sara was saying, as Vic adjusted her stirrup leathers, "Dave'll be mad as hell: I promised to play tennis with him!"
And Vic replied, "That'll be all right, sweetness. You can have a set with him before dinner!"
Dave, eh? Had he blown the top off after all, as I'd predicted to Graziella he would? The question rose in my thoughts as I recalled the glimpse I had of him emerging from the path that led to the trapper's cabin, when, later on that same afternoon, I went up to the house to dine. I had hailed him, but he paid no attention. And he failed to appear at cocktail time because he and Sara—Sara had admitted as much to Edith Lumsden—had had a quarrel: Edith had insisted on Sara going in search of him.
Here was a line of reasoning, tenuous, perhaps, as the spider's web trembling from the trumpet vine that clambered up the porch, but logical, to submit to Trevor Dene. What if Waters's story were true? Supposing he had kept faith with Graziella, and not gone to the trapper's cabin after all? I remembered the honest bluntness, the dignity, with which he told us all, "I never killed this man!"
Young Jarvis—the name had touched some responsive chord in the secretary's mind, I felt certain. I recalled the doubt in her eyes as she had silently fled from me, her self-assurance evaporated. I glanced out from the porch, at the little dock shimmering white in the blinding sunshine, the sparkling waters of the lake, the girdle of trees shading in hue from the sickly blue of the spruce to the blacker verdure of hemlock and pine, and was suddenly revolted. Somewhere, amid all that loveliness, a murderer lurked, I told myself.
I turned my back on the scene and went in to my typewriter.
IT was Miss Ryder who brought me the news of Waters's arrest.
The long, hot afternoon was on the wane when the smart rapping of her cane on the screen door of my shack jarred upon my subconsciousness. Since Miss Ingersoll's abrupt departure I had not stirred from my machine. Murder or no murder, I had contracted to deliver the completed manuscript of my play by the last day of the month: here we were at the 20th already, and I had no more than blocked out my third act. In the confused and anxious condition of my mind work was a sedative, and I had written steadily through the lunch hour, quite oblivious of the lapse of time, when Miss Ryder appeared.
I welcomed the break. Besides, I rather liked Janet Ryder. She was an old maid without being the least skittish or vinegary. Her small face, wrinkled and intelligent as a monkey's, was full of character. I knew nothing about her save that she was a friend of Edith Lumsden's in New York, where she lived, like thousands of other lonely women, in one of the innumerable small hotels to be found on the west side of the park. I often speculated upon her early history—her brusque mode of address, her pungent comments on life, suggested a wide knowledge of the world.
She said she would sit on the porch, and lowered herself into my rocking-chair, her large, brogued feet thrust out in front of her. Bracegirdle, who had accompanied the party to Springsville, had telephoned, she told me—the district attorney had decided to hold Waters on the homicide charge.
"And I ain't surprised," she added drily in her queer, rusty voice.
I gazed at her in consternation. "Does this mean he's confessed?"
She sported a gay bunch of cornflowers on the dingy straw hat she wore, and she shook her head until they danced. "Not he. He still protests his innocence, Oscar says, though they've been grilling him for hours. But don't let that fool you. All he's out for now is to cover up the woman." Her eyes, round and black like boot buttons, darted me a piercing glance. "Who set the cabin to rights, is what I'd like to know!" she remarked severely.
I felt my colour changing as I faced her, leaning against the balustrade. "Wasn't it Waters—to make it look like suicide?"
She sniffed. "A man wouldn't have made the mistake of throwing out Haversley's cigar. Besides, she was out of the house a good half-hour. What was she up to all that time. Will you tell me that?"
Her persistence irked me. I was scared, too, she stared at me so intently. It wasn't going to be so easy to fool this hard, sharp old woman, I reflected. Attack was my best weapon, I decided.
"I know no more than you do," I retorted incisively. "But I know Graziella, and I'm not going to stand here and let you practically accuse her of complicity in her husband's murder."
She nodded complacently. "Quite right, young man! Always stick up for your friends. But if she didn't tidy up that room, who did?" Once more her auger glance bored into my face. "What's this Scotland Yard man got on his mind?" she asked abruptly.
I laughed. "I'm sorry, but he hasn't taken me into his confidence, Miss Ryder."
Her air of disbelief was evident. "What's he got against Miss What's-her-name—the secretary gal?" she rapped out.
"Miss Ingersoll? I don't know. She told me he'd been questioning her..."
"He wanted to know whether she wore any jewellery."
"In other words, whether Vic Haversley had been making her presents. Is that it?"
"She has a wrist-watch he gave her, that's all! And she wears that..."
"Humph! Then what did the fellow want in her room?"
"Who? Dene? When?"
"After he'd had us all up this morning. It was just before they left for Springsville. I'd gone upstairs with Edith. Miss Ingersoll sleeps on that floor, at the end of the landing. I was just coming out of Edith's room when I saw this chap Dene suddenly appear from the staircase. I kept out of sight, and watched him slip into Cynthia's room, which comes first, and then Miss Ingersoll's at the end. What do you suppose he was after?"
I shook my head. "I haven't the faintest idea!"
She laughed and tapped me with the palm leaf fan she carried. "Discreet, aren't you?"
"I assure you..." I began.
"Never mind," she said. "Here's Oscar!"
Dr. Bracegirdle looked hot, and his loose suit of black alpaca was powdered with dust. "You're well out of that mob up at the house," he growled, plodding up the steps.
"What mob?" I inquired.
"Newspaper men, photographers," Miss Ryder answered for him. "I went for a walk," she told the doctor craftily.
Bracegirdle nodded approvingly. "Good for you. We can't have you figuring in the tabloids at your time of life, eh, Janet? Wilson"—Wilson was the Lumsdens' agent and head factotum—"has rounded them all up at his house, and Charles has gone there to issue a statement." He had doffed his panama, and was wiping the back of his neck with a red bandanna handkerchief.
"What about Waters?" I asked.
"In jail," he replied laconically, still mopping.
"She shut herself up in her room when the Press arrived, Edith says." He sighed. "I'm sorry for that girl..."
"Did Dene come back with you, Doc?"
The old boy seemed to stiffen—I had the impression that his clash with Dene at the cabin on the previous night still rankled. "Yes. Edith's giving him tea." He paused. "I'm not aware that I ever watched one of these modern scientific criminologists at work before," he remarked somewhat acidly, "but if this young man's a representative specimen, by heck! they certainly take precious little for granted. I'd have said that the case against Waters was pretty well established, but your friend Dene, now, he don't seem to accept anything he hasn't established himself."
Miss Ryder gave me a look as much as to say, "What did I tell you?"
"As, for instance——?" I asked the doctor.
Bracegirdle shrugged broad shoulders. "Don't think I'm sore because he proved me wrong—obviously, he's had experience of forensic medicine which I can't pretend to possess," he remarked with a touch of pompousness. "But I was one of the first to reach the scene of the crime, and my statement as to the hour of death was a considered one. Yet it wasn't good enough for your friend Dene, apparently, Pete!"
"How do you mean 'not good enough'?"
The doctor bristled. "Dr. Gavan, the coroner, confided to me that Dene had been to him, wanting him to express an opinion as to the approximate hour of death. Gavan pointed out that Haversley had been dead for nearly twelve hours before he examined the body, and very properly referred him to me. And that's not all! He's been pestering everybody—the D. A., the sheriff, the State police, with questions..."
"What sort of questions?"
"I don't know—about the prevailing conditions last night, the temperature of the air, what time it was dark, when the moon rose, a whole string." He clapped on his hat and gazed benignly at Miss Ryder. "Well, my pretty, what do you say to a cup of tea?"
"Not a thing," was the gruff response. "What I need is a good stiff highball, and a drink wouldn't do Pete here any harm, by the looks of him!"
"That's a good idea," I told her, and the three of us trudged up to the house together.
OLD Bracegirdle cocked his big, bald head up at the sky as, fanning himself with his hat, he stumped ahead through the gardens. "There's a storm coming up!" he observed sagely.
"I shouldn't wonder if you're right," said Miss Ryder. "The glass has been falling ever since lunch. Well, let's hope it'll break up the heat!"
I knew those Adirondack thunderstorms—we had had a succession of them through the summer. Long to threaten, slow to arrive, when they burst they are terrifying in their duration and intensity. The afternoon was clammy with damp heat, the flowers drooped before the spasmodic gusts of a fiery wind that rattled among the pergolas, and from time to time a ragged mass of lemon-tipped cloud, obscuring the sun, stressed the curiously leaden quality of the light. The lake was like one of those Chinese pictures painted on glass. Small sounds rang with exaggerated clearness in the oppressive hush—the yapping of Miss Ryder's elderly Peke imprisoned in her bungalow, the rhythmic clank of the Bowser pump at the garage.
The atmosphere of suspense, the breathlessness with which lake and woods seemed to wait, unsettled me. The parallel with our own situation was too close. Like the menace of the storm, I felt the shadow of the tragedy of Victor Haversley resting over us, darkening our horizon, keeping us waiting with bated breath for the next development.
I found myself desperately anxious for a private word with Dene. My confidence in the young man was growing. His pertinacity, the way he went after his goal regardless of people's feelings, impressed me. From what Bracegirdle had said it was evident that, Waters's arrest notwithstanding, the Scotland Yard man still guarded an open mind. I was on fire to discover in which direction his inquiries were leading him. If only they led away from Waters, then Graziella's fatal intrusion might yet be safely explained away.
Were his suspicions focussing on Miss Ingersoll? It looked like it. The idea was not so far-fetched. She had no alibi, to begin with, and, for all her denials, I still believed she had been in love with Vic. What about him? Had there been anything between these two he wouldn't have been the first employer to have an affair with his typist. If he had wanted to break with her and she had shot him, that notion of the fake suicide would have occurred to her more naturally than to anyone else.
Tea-time at Wolf Lake was usually a bustling occasion. The principal mail of the day arrived around five, and people would drift in to grab a cup of tea and a cookie and talk over their letters and the New York newspapers. But this afternoon an air of depression reigned. At the tea-table Edith was making polite conversation with Trevor Dene, who, cup in hand, stood back to the fireplace as in a London drawing-room. Such of the house-party as were present were scattered—Cynthia on a couch deep in a magazine; Buster Leighton and Dickie reading a letter together; young Jarvis at the far end of the room behind the sports section of The Times. There was no sign of Graziella.
I caught Dene while Edith was getting the doctor his tea. "Break away as soon as you can and come down to my shack. I've something to tell you," I whispered.
"Okay," he returned in his sprightly way, and I went to the sideboard to mix Miss Ryder her highball.
I brought her her drink and poured out one for myself. When I looked round again, Dene was nowhere to be seen.
I found him on the verandah, filling his blackened briar from his pouch. I drained my glass at a gulp and put it away. "Come along!" I told him. "We've got to have a talk!"
"Just a minute!" he stayed me.
Myrtle and Sara were mounting the path from the lake. In type they were strikingly contrasted, Myrtle a dark brunette, Sara much fairer, with her red-bronze ringlets and snowy skin. Her backless green swimming-suit showed off her shapely figure to the best advantage, and she trailed a vivid orange bath-gown. Myrtle looked no less fetching in bell-bottom pyjamas of the brightest blue with braces over her bare, brown shoulders and a gob's hat.
"Oh, for pity's sake, old man," I groaned. "Once those two get going, we shall never break away!"
But he didn't budge. Even in those tragic circumstances, I suppose, a new young man at the camp, particularly one with Dene's romantic background, was an event in the eyes of those girls. I could almost see them preening themselves as they tripped up the steps. And the Englishman, I perceived with exasperation, was young enough to fall for a pretty face—at any rate, he seemed unable to take his eyes off Sara.
"Tea's ready inside," I told them. "Coming?" I asked Dene.
Myrtle had flung herself down on the swinging couch.
"It's much too hot for tea," she gasped. "Be a love, Pete darling, and bring me a long drink here outside, something with oceans of ice. How about you, Sara?"
"A Tom Collins, I think," said Sara.
"An excellent suggestion," Dene chimed in coolly. "Make that three, will you, Pete, old boy?"
I gave him a look, but I went inside. As I opened the screen door I heard Myrtle say, "Is it true about Mr. Waters?" and Sara strike in quickly, "Oh, my goodness, Myrtle, can't we speak of something else for once in this house?"
Her voice was tart—unconsciously young Jarvis came into my mind. I looked for him as I entered the living-room. He still had his newspaper, but he wasn't reading it. It had dropped on his knees, and with a dour, scowling mien he was staring in front of him.
I fixed the drinks and took them outside. The girls had apparently been pumping Dene about himself—at any rate, I heard Sara's soft laugh as Myrtle gurgled, "The only cops I ever met were either Irish or Jewish. I never heard of one who'd been to Cambridge!"
Dene chuckled, puffing at his pipe. To see him there, comfortably installed in one of the low wicker chairs, you'd have said he was prepared to yarn with those two for the rest of the afternoon—I could have strangled him.
There was the tinkle of ice and straws made sucking noises. Presently Dene said to Sara in his languid way, "Is Professor Carruthers a relation of yours?"
Sara shook her head and released carmined lips from about her straw. "I'm afraid we don't run to professors in our family. Who is he?"
"The Egyptologist. Remember Tut's tomb—well, he was one of the experts helping on the excavation. I heard him lecture about it in London."
Myrtle spoke up from where she lay on her back on the couch. "Do you believe that things taken from tombs are unlucky, Mr. Dene?" she questioned lazily.
Sara broke in promptly. "Shut up, will you please, Myrtle!"
The Scotland Yard man shrugged. "I've heard stories. Personally, I think they're rather rot."
Myrtle bounced up to a sitting posture. With a glance at Sara, she said impressively, "Sara has a string of mummy beads. They're supposed to have belonged to a lady-in-waiting of Queen—Queen—oh, dear, you tell him the name, Sara!"
As Sara did not answer, I stepped into the breach. "Queen Hatshepsut. She was a kind of Middle Dynasty Queen Victoria, you know," I added to Dene.
"Sara was wearing them last night," Myrtle went on with an air of mystery. "Buster told her they were frightfully unlucky. And then this terrible thing happened. It's pretty odd, don't you think, Mr. Dene?"
"It's a lot of nonsense," Sara struck in. "Just an old necklace someone gave me for Christmas. It's probably fake, anyway!" Her pretty face glowed with indignation—she was quite annoyed. "I wish you'd mind your own business, Myrtle!" She jumped to her feet and picked up her wrap.
Dene seemed unconscious of her ill humour—I was beginning to feel that he wasn't always so tactful as I'd thought. "I could probably tell you whether they're genuine or not," he said gravely, standing up in his turn. "I know a bit about Egyptian antikas. Why not let me see them?"
"Sure," she answered carelessly, "any time you say. Unfortunately, the string's broken at present. I'll have to get them re-strung... Well, we'd better be getting some clothes on, I suppose. Thanks for the drink, Pete. Coming, Myrtle?"
Reluctantly Myrtle gathered herself up from her couch. "Okay!" She fluttered her hand at us and ran down the steps after Sara.
Dene gave me a semi-comic look. "I didn't realise you were an Egyptologist, old man," he remarked.
I laughed. "I'm not. Only I once ghosted a magazine series on 'The Curse of the Pharaohs,' and I read everything I could lay my hands on about Tut's tomb. I remember Breasted and Winlock and some of your British men like Newberry and Alan Gardiner helping Howard Carter, but I'm blessed if I can place your Professor Carruthers. Is he very well-known?"
"As well known as the celebrated Mrs. 'arris, shall we say?" he replied, gazing at me hard.
I returned his stare—he didn't bat an eyelid. "Sairey Gamp's imaginary friend, is it?"
He nodded briefly, and glanced casually over his shoulder. "Would you know those beads again if you saw them?" His hand dipped into his waistcoat pocket.
"I guess so. It's the only string of its kind at the camp."
He opened his palm. Two cylindrical beads of blue glaze reposed there. Then his palm closed and the beads disappeared in his pocket. "Okay?"
I nodded. "Okay! Where did you find 'em?"
"At the cabin!"
I stared at him aghast. "Ye gods!"
"One was under the couch, the other lay on the grass just outside the door."
I laughed. "You drew her out skilfully enough. But how did you know they were hers?"
His fingers went to another pocket and produced an envelope. Another backward glance and a single coppery hair lay on his hand.
"I picked it off one of the cushions on the couch," he said, and restored it to its envelope. "It was hers or the secretary woman's," he explained. "They have much the same colouring."
"How do you know it isn't Miss Ingersoll's?"
"Not carrotty enough. I checked it by a hair I picked off her dressing-table."
So that was what he had been after in Miss Ingersoll's room! "Talking of Miss Ingersoll..." I began. But suddenly his fingers closed on my wrist like a clamp.
The living-room door had opened. Miss Ingersoll stood there looking out. "He's here!" she said over her shoulder into the room and disappeared.
Then Hank's stalwart figure filled the doorway. "All set?" he cried to Dene.
"I'm ready," said Dene, and knocked out his pipe. "Newspaper men gone?"
"And you kept my name out of it?"
"Yeah." The sheriff sighed. "You're making a mistake, son. They'd sure of given you a great build-up!"
Dene turned to me. "The coroner's expecting me at half-past six. I can't wait now. I'll try to come over after dinner. In the meantime"—he patted his pocket—"not a word!"
"And what about Waters?"
"Waters?" He laughed. "You needn't worry about him!"
"He's in jail, isn't he?"
"True. But he won't be there long!"
"You mean, the D.A.'s decided not to hold him?"
His finger prodded my chest. "Yes. But the D. A. don't know it yet. So keep it under your hat!"
With which he touched his hand to his head in a grave salute and made off after the sheriff.
I SIDE-STEPPED Edith's kind but rather half-hearted invitation that I should stop on for dinner on the plea that I wanted to work. I returned to my lonely shack in a state of indescribable restlessness—the threatening storm, the gloom that hung over the camp, this secret which Graziella had confided to me, combined to lower my spirits to the nadir of depression. Dene's discovery that Sara had been at the cabin, I reflected, was bound to convince him that it was she who had tidied up the place: he would have to be told the truth if the whole investigation were not to run on the rocks. But I had given Graziella my word, and I knew she would never release me until she was sure that Fritz Waters was exculpated. Could Dene clear him without his vital disclosure? He seemed to think he could: nevertheless I felt I could scarcely wait until he should appear and I might learn from him the exact extent of his suspicions against Sara and Miss Ingersoll.
I couldn't eat, I couldn't write. The storm held off, and I sat on the porch in the breathless evening, smoking one cigarette after the other and coughing my lungs out, my ears strained for the sound of the outboard motor. Night came down like ink, with a capricious wind that clacked the rushes along the bank. It was midnight and Dene didn't arrive. I went to bed. I awoke with a long peal of thunder ringing in my ears. The rain was hissing and splashing, and through the open door of the shack I could see the jagged outline of the woods beyond the lake as the lightning flamed on the horizon. The noise was tremendous, and every lightning flash seemed to split the livid sky. I thought of Victor Haversley lying there in his bedroom up at the house, and I was awed—it was like a stupendous requiem.
I got up and went to the door. The very air seemed to crackle with electricity: the whole world was fragrant of wet earth and leaves. I stood awhile looking out, and presently I was aware of the trapper's cabin irresistibly forcing itself to the forefront of my thoughts. My life has been much too full of the hardest reality to make me in the least superstitious, but as I lingered there watching the lightning I became conscious of a compelling impulse to go to the cabin. I told myself that to leave the house in such weather was folly: I should be drowned out in that torrential downpour—besides, the danger of being struck by lightning among the trees was considerable. Nevertheless, the sensation persisted: it was like a magnet drawing me. In the light of what happened, I cannot explain it, unless it be that the discharge of great quantities of electric fluid into the atmosphere in some way galvanises our subconscious powers. So strong was the impulse that at last I walked along to the end of the porch and, leaning out, gazed backward across the gardens to where, above the iron gate, the lamp which burned all night marked the opening of the path leading to the cabin.
To my astonishment a tiny point of light moved through the gardens. My eye caught the glitter of wet leaves—it was a torch. A brilliant lightning flash showed me a dark figure running. Now it had reached the fence, and the dim bulb above the gate disclosed a fleeting glimpse of a form in sou'-wester and oilskins passing through. Then flash-light and figure were swallowed up by the trees.
It was the work of an instant to pull oilskins over my pyjamas, thrust my feet into gumboots and snatch up my torch. The rain, warm and lush on my bare head, was descending in a solid curtain; the path behind my shack was a flowing rivulet; the thunder clanged and echoed through the hills. The lightning was terrifying, slashing down into the woods and lighting up the whole, swaying horizon. Once, with a sickening slam like a six-inch letting off, startling war-shocked nerves to instant, agonised revolt, it struck close by, and I heard the rending crash of the falling tree.
As I plunged and splashed my way through the dark, in the lightning's glare the hut was suddenly revealed, desolate and rain-washed in its tiny clearing, at the end of the path. A flash as I broke into the open showed windows close-shuttered. But the door was ajar, and there was a glimmer of light inside.
Rubber boots and grass deadened my footsteps as I tiptoed forward. The thought nagged at my brain that the place was kept locked and that the sheriff had the key. But what should Hank want there at that hour and on such a night? Noiselessly I swung back the door—and had the greatest fright of my life.
Victor Haversley stood at the writing-table. At least, that was my first, annihilating impression. It was the sou'-wester, the oilskins that did it. They were not of the usual black or mustard-coloured variety, but dark green, of that diaphanous rubber that looks like cellophane. Vic's green oilskins were the only set of their kind at the camp.
Common sense told me at once that it was not Vic, but somebody wearing his hat and coat. All the same, I received a shock—it was creepy to see him, apparently, there, stooped over the table, torch in hand, hunting through a drawer. I did not switch on my light but, holding it in readiness, stood stock still and waited. Who was it? Man or woman? I couldn't tell. The figure, muffled in the shapeless coat, with the shield of the sou'-wester down on to the shoulders, was a blur against the carefully shaded light.
One drawer was softly closed, another opened. The search went on. Pitilessly the rain drummed on the roof. The thunder rolled incessantly, but in the warm and shuttered darkness of the cabin the lightning was no more than a flicker, like a light-sign in New York rising and falling far away among the houses. I scarcely dared breathe. Now the second drawer was shut and that amorphous shape was bending over the third. Then I heard a sigh and the figure swung slowly about. At the same instant I switched on my torch.
It was Miss Ingersoll. In the flashlight's beam her pale eyes were wide with terror. She made as though to spring back, but the table was in her way. She held a paper in her hand. I was on her and had wrested it away before she could speak.
"And what are you doing here, I'd like to know?" I demanded.
"Give me back that bill!" she whispered hoarsely.
"Bill?" I said, and stooped to the table to examine it.
She made a grab at my hand, but I pulled it away. "It's nothing to do with you," she cried, struggling to reach the paper. "I won't have you read it. Give it back to me!"
"Not till I see what it is," I told her, holding it out of her grasp.
"Please—I entreat you," she pleaded with tears in her voice. "Already this Scotland Yard man suspects me. If he sees that bill..."
But I had put the table between us. Laying the paper down, I turned my light on it. With a little, wailing cry she buried her face in her hands.
It was a bill from Cartier for a diamond bangle—price $1650—made out to Victor Haversley, Esq., Wolf Lake, N.Y.
I glanced up at her. She had left her torch alight on the table, and by its broken radiance I could see the teardrops glisten on her lashes—she looked utterly crestfallen.
"A little souvenir for the girl friend, eh?" I commented. "So that was why you were so eager to denounce Mrs. Haversley?"
She said nothing, but continued to gaze at me with the same, dismayed expression.
"And so you've no jewellery except a wristwatch, eh?" I taunted her. "And he gave you that, too!"
She shook her head wistfully. "That bangle wasn't for me. I know nothing about it except that it arrived two days ago and I signed for it, and afterwards Mr. Haversley showed it to me. I thought he meant it as a surprise for his wife. But I've been through her jewellery box, and she hasn't got it. It's not among his things, either. And it's not here—I've hunted for it every place. He put it in that drawer." She pointed to the centre drawer of the table.
"Come, my dear," I said, "you'll have to think up a better one than that!"
She drew a shuddering breath. "Why do you hate me so?" she questioned forlornly.
"Because you've pursued an innocent woman with your spite," I told her bluntly, "and because you're responsible for having an innocent man arrested on what now seems to be a totally false charge, to save your own skin."
"Do you believe that I killed Mr. Haversley?" she asked gravely.
"It was either you or Sara Carruthers. He was playing around with the pair of you, presumably."
She gave me a long, questing look. "Sara Carruthers?" she repeated in a strained voice. "Why do you mention her?"
"You known darn well why!"
I spoke heatedly, but once more she passed over the anger in my tone. With a serious air she nodded and replied, "It came to me only just now. Nothing in the desk has been examined yet—the sheriff wanted me to help him go through the papers to-morrow. When I found that bangle missing I realised that Mr. Haversley must have intended it for Sara..."
"Then why did you find it necessary to come out here in the middle of a thunderstorm to get this bill?"
"You don't understand," she said. "I had no suspicion of Sara until I looked for the bangle in the desk and it wasn't there. All I thought of was that your friend Dene was trying to saddle me with this crime. I don't know how he knew about the bangle, but he'd asked me if I wore any jewellery."
Dene's question, I knew now, referred to the mummy beads. But I didn't disillusion her.
"And so you thought you'd get rid of the bill, at any rate?"
She flushed slowly. "Yes, if you want to know, I did. I tell you again I never had this bangle, and I'd nothing to do with the killing of Mr. Haversley—why should I kill a kind and considerate employer? But do you realise what happens to anyone like me who falls into the hands of the police? I'm out of a job as it is—who'd employ me again after my name had been on every front page in America as a suspect in the Haversley murder?"
"You ask pity for yourself," I said bitterly. "But you had none on Graziella Haversley and her friend Waters..."
She dropped her eyes. "Maybe I acted over-hastily. I was attached to Mr. Haversley. It revolted me to find them all against him. I wish you'd tell me why you mentioned Sara's name just now."
I was excited—the storm that still raged outside the cabin, the strangeness of our surroundings, carried me away—and I blurted out the truth. "Because she visited Haversley here in the cabin last night!" I retorted.
She opened her eyes wide. "Are you sure of this?" she asked in an awed whisper.
"Dene is," I told her.
"Then she must have the bangle! Don't you see, Mr. Haversley must have given it to her last night! Oh, they were having a mild flirtation, of course, but I never thought she'd have allowed him to have given her a present as valuable as this..." She checked bewildered. "She's vain and spoilt, but surely you don't think her capable of—of murder?"
"It doesn't matter what I think. You can't get over the facts. At eleven-five, when Miss Ryder heard the shot, Sara was with the rest of us up at the house..."
"And her fiancé, Mr. Jarvis, was in bed at his bungalow, you told me?"
"Yes. Young Leighton was with him in his room a minute or two before eleven o'clock..."
She sighed. "Then, of course, you must suspect me. Nobody saw me last night—I haven't any alibi."
Her directness, the candour of her glance, were not without their effect upon me. She was a woman alone, God knows how many thousands of miles from home—for I supposed she came from the West, like the Haversleys—and I had sneered at her, taunted her. I felt suddenly rather ashamed of myself.
"That's a matter for Dene," I parried, but with a gentler tone. "I'll have to give him this bill and explain to him about the bangle." I looked at her severely. "You were crazy to come out on a night like this. What have you got on under that raincoat?"
She clasped her hands together, drawing her shoulders down like a bashful little girl. "Only my night-dress."
"That's Haversley's coat, isn't it?"
She nodded. "I found it in the hall."
I laughed. "For a moment I thought it was he—you gave me a proper turn." I was surveying her with my flashlight: the beam fell on her feet. Her bedroom slippers were sodden with wet. "Look at your slippers, for goodness' sake! You'll catch your death of cold."
For the first time she smiled at me. Her teeth were white and even in the torch's beam. "I shall be all right. The rain's stopping already." She glanced towards the door.
"How did you get in here?" I demanded.
"Mr. Haversley let me have a key."
"You'd better give it to me, do you mind?"
She dipped into the capacious pocket of her oilskin and produced it. "Now I'll take you home to bed," I said. I gave her her flashlight from the table and, taking her by the arm, led her to the door.
A spell of coughing racked me as we went out. "It's you who should take care of yourself with that lung of yours," she said. "You've been smoking again, haven't you?"
I nodded and turned to lock the door. The storm was over: through a wreath of ragged brown cloud the moon shone down on dripping branches, gleaming wet grass. Shyly she laid her arm in mine. "You want someone to look after you," she said. "Have you no relations? No sister or someone?"
I laughed. "If the entire human race were to be blotted out to-morrow," I told her, "I shouldn't be a penny the better or worse!"
She said nothing, but it seemed to me that the pressure of her hand on my arm tightened. As we crossed the grass the moon shone full in our faces, and I saw a single tear roll down her cheek into the upturned collar of her oilskin. We spoke no more thereafter save for a brief "Good night." But on my way back to my shack I reflected that it was the first time a woman had shed a tear for me since the day they had carried me broken and bloody and fighting for breath into the casualty clearing-station the day I was hit, and the young nurse fresh from home who had given me my first blanket bath had wept silently while she plied her flannel.
THERE was no word from Dene next morning. I felt considerably at a loss. As long as he was apparently satisfied as to Fritz Waters's innocence, my mind was comparatively easy on the score of Graziella's disclosure to me. But the episode of the bangle was a different matter. Here was an important piece of new evidence which clearly should be passed on without delay to the sheriff or the district attorney or whoever was officially in charge of the investigation. Yet I was unwilling to take any steps without consulting Dene. So around ten I strolled over to the house to telephone "The Cedars."
Charles, in a town suit, was on the verandah, moodily smoking an after-breakfast cigar. The inquest, he told me, was fixed for eleven o'clock, at Hartigan's dance saloon in the village. Only he and old Bracegirdle proposed to go over for it, for the proceedings were to be purely formal—beyond the identification of the body no evidence would be offered, and Hank was going to ask for a week's adjournment to complete his inquiries. In the meantime, Waters, late on the previous evening, had been brought before the Justice of the Peace at Springsville and charged with the murder. Beyond denying the accusation, he had made no statement. I asked what had been done about engaging a lawyer to defend him.
"Walter Lauff, the Haversleys' attorney in Chicago, is arriving at Red Falls on the ten-two," Lumsden replied. "At Graziella's request I called him first thing yesterday morning at his home in Chicago, and he said he'd hop on the morning 'plane for New York. Graziella speaks of consulting him about Waters's defence..." His teeth clamped hard down on his cigar. "I tried to suggest to her that, in the circumstances, it might be more fitting if she kept out of it. But women are so damned pig-headed, she won't listen to me. Well, they're in a tough spot, the pair of them, I'm afraid. They can't say we didn't do what we could for them. Especially you, Pete. Although, mind you, I'm not sure I altogether approve of your having kept that threat of Waters's against Vic under your hat."
I shrugged. "Even now the case against him is purely circumstantial, you must admit that!"
Charles reddened irately—like many good-natured people, he was quick to anger. "He's as guilty as hell. He had no use for Vic—he admitted it. And he and Graziella were crazy about one another. Both Oscar and Janet Ryder tumbled to it the very afternoon he arrived."
"Miss Ryder's a catty old woman. To hear her talk, you'd think Graziella put him up to it, like Ruth Snyder or someone."
"Oscar Bracegirdle's one of the shrewdest men I know, and he believes that Waters is guilty."
"That's because he's prejudiced..."
"Why? What's Waters done to him?"
"Not against Waters—against Dene. Because Dene proved him wrong about the suicide. And now, simply because Dene asks for proof, your friend Bracegirdle proclaims Waters's guilt from the house-tops..."
We had both grown heated. Suddenly the folly of it struck me, and I said, "Don't let's quarrel about it, Charles. Our nerves are all to hell, I guess, and I'm not surprised..."
He sighed. "I expect you're right."
"Have you seen anything of Dene this morning?"
He shook his head. "He's gone to Red Falls to meet the lawyer. He rang up to ask me to let the car stop by for him in the village on the way to the depot."
"The Haversley's lawyer, eh? I wonder what he wants with him?"
Charles considered me thoughtfully. "I have an idea, if you'll keep it to yourself..."
"I fancy it's to check up on some information he got from me yesterday. He wanted to know how Vic's death would affect Graziella financially..."
I started. He'd not breathed a word of this to me. How thorough this young man was and how secretive, burrowing away out of sight like a mole!
"My God, Charles," I broke in, "he wasn't suggesting..."
My companion smiled at the horror in my voice. "Fortunately for Graziella I was able to tell him that, save for such gifts of money as Vic may have made her during his lifetime, his death will leave her virtually penniless, as far as Vic's capital is concerned. You know he inherited through his mother from his stepfather, Hermann Kummer, the brewer?"
"Yes. Edith told me."
"It appears that Kummer left his fortune in trust to his widow, Vic's mother, and to Vic after her, with the stipulation, however, that if Vic died childless, the money should return to old Kummer's next-of-kin. As Graziella has no family..."
I nodded. "I see—she loses the lot. I wish you'd tell old Janet this..."
Charles shrugged. "It doesn't matter much, one way or another. From what Vic told me, Waters is very well off." He took out his watch. "Ten-fifteen. I'd better see whether Oscar has finished breakfast..."
"Motive?" snarled Dene impatiently. "If it were only that! But you'll solve no crime by motive alone—motive by itself ain't worth a tinker's cuss. At a murder trial in London the other day the judge told the jury that you can't prove A has murdered B simply by proof that A would be better off by so doing. And he went on to say that the use of motive is merely to make it easier for the jury to accept other evidence tending to incriminate the accused. Motive? Great Scotland Yard, Pete, between what you've just told me and what Hank here and I have deduced, what with Waters and his widow, and the Carruthers girl, and Miss What's-her-name, we seem to have our pick! But what's the good of a motive if you haven't a direct line of evidence to back it up? That's the snag here—the picture's lopsided! It ought to form a symmetrical pattern, all shipshape and Bristol fashion, as neat as a square or an equilateral triangle in geometry. But what do I get, by the Lord Harry? A bloody rhomboid!"
It was early afternoon before at long last he had appeared. Above the click of my portable my ear caught the hiccough of Hank's decrepit craft outside the shack—it brought me in a flurry to the water's edge. Dene was a changed person: unshaven, a soiled shirt, a brusque and scowling mien. Hank, impassive as always, accompanied him: he had only a taciturn nod for me as he hitched the painter to the mooring-post, and I had a prick of uneasiness.
They had had no lunch. Over the cold corned beef and beer I set before them I told of my encounter on the previous night. Hank was all attention, watching me with his gimlet eye, jaws stolidly champing; but Dene, during his meal and after, scarcely seemed to listen, staring absently out at the sun shining on the lake. Even for the Cartier bill he had no more than a distracted glance.
I warmed to my theme as I began to outline my suspicions of young Jarvis. I had had leisure that morning to do some quiet thinking. I wasn't very happy about the way I'd behaved to Miss Ingersoll. I found in retrospect that I'd bullied her abominably, and it occurred to me now that I had the chance to make amends, supposing Dene should still suspect her. Poor thing! After all, she'd been perfectly honest about her reasons for wanting to abstract the bill and, if possible, the bracelet as well—I was beginning to realise how friendless she must have felt, how desperate her fear of unsavoury publicity must have been, for her to have found the courage to make her way down at the height of the storm to that lonely and sinister hut. Step by step, I constructed my case: Vic's attentions to Sara; Dave's growing resentment; his quarrel with Sara the evening before the crime and my surmise that it hinged on a scene between the two men as the glimpse I had had of Jarvis earlier, apparently returning from the trapper's cabin, suggested.
"On the question of motive," I wound up by saying, "supposing Jarvis had discovered that Vic had given Sara this valuable bangle; supposing, for the sake of argument, he had gone to the cabin last night and found them together; you must admit that he'd have had a pretty good grudge against Vic. Perhaps not as strong in one sense, but every bit as effective for starting a first-class fight!"
It was this closing remark of mine which provoked Dene's outburst. His vehemence caught me unprepared, so silent and glum had he sat there, and I could only gaze at him open-mouthed.
"The whole darn picture's cockeyed!" he affirmed violently. "It don't make sense!"
Hank leaned forward and sedately squirted a stream of tobacco through the door. "Wait now, Trev," he remarked pawkily, "I'd say as it's you as don't make sense. What's dancing got ter do with it?"
The Scotland Yard man turned a blistering glance at him. "Dancing?" he snapped. "Who said anything about dancing?"
"You did," was the bland reply. "I know what a rumba is. They play it on the radio!"
On the instant the scowl vanished. Dene shouted with laughter. "Hank, you're unique! Not rumba—rhomboid! An irregular parallelogram!"
The sheriff looked at me doggedly. "Ye can't fool me about rumbas," he declared. "Mrs. Wells is kinda partial to them. Any time this yar Cab Calloway's on the air she's apt ter toon in!"
Dene jumped up, his good humour quite restored. "Come up to the cabin with me, both of you, and I'll try to make you see this thing as I see it. And if you can knock any sense into it, Hank, I'll dance the rumba for you and the missus!"
Hank cocked his wicked old eye at us. "She's powerful spry yit, that gal o' mine. Likely she'd up and dance et with you!"
NOW that he'd let off steam, my young friend seemed to be much more cheerful. He chatted amiably to Hank as we headed for the cabin. They spoke of a jail break which had taken place at Dannemora, the great State prison on our north, in the breakfast hour that morning. A lifer named George Martin had escaped, and a general alarm had been broadcast. Hank, it appeared, had been fetched away from the inquest—he grumbled that it meant detaching Trooper Good from the investigation for the purpose of watching Jake's place.
"Me an' Jake'll be quite social, time we're through!" he commented.
It was past two o'clock. Over at the house the party would be finishing lunch, and we had the woods to ourselves. The little clearing throbbed to the chirp of the crickets. Hank unlocked the cabin, and, going before us, flung open windows and shutters. Dene seated himself at the table in the dead man's chair and spread his hands tentatively on the blotter, flexing his long fingers. Trooper Gray seemed to have done his work without disturbing anything—lamp, flower vase, inkstand draped with the sheets of Vic's report, were exactly as I'd last seen them. The sheriff took the couch and, extracting a sheath knife from the top of his boot, proceeded to slice himself a chew from his wad of plug. I drew up a chair to face Dene across the table.
The Scotland Yard man was busy polishing his spectacles. "I'm going to ask you fellows to accept the figures I give you as correct," he remarked. "You can take it from me that every statement I make has been checked and double-checked. That's one thing they do teach us in the Metropolitan Police—accuracy." So saying, he pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and, laying it on the table, drew the lamp towards him. "You remember," he went on, tapping the glass oil container with his goggles, "that this lamp was burning when Haversley was found. It remained alight until I extinguished it,"—he put on his specs and picked up the paper—"at precisely 1.29 A.M. last night."
After a pause he resumed: "At the beginning of the evening the oil container was full. I've questioned Agnes, the maid who looks after the cabin, and it appears that part of her duties was to take the lamp away in the morning when she swept and aired the place and bring it back in the evening when Haversley was at dinner. Soon after eight o'clock last night she brought the lamp down here as usual cleaned and filled."
He pushed the lamp out of his way and, joining his hands before him on the table, proceeded sedately, "This lamp, as Hank will tell you, was purchased at his store. Mrs. Wells informs me that the advertised burning capacity of this particular model is six hours, and I've since confirmed this figure by a wire to the manufacturers at Kansas City. Trooper Gray was good enough to drain off and measure the contents of the container as it remained after I'd extinguished the lamp last night and, without being too technical about it, I may say that, roughly, five-twelfths of the oil was left over. That's to say, seven-twelfths, or rather more than half the supply, had been consumed. Now, if the full reservoir is good for six hours, by the same reckoning, seven-twelfths is equivalent to three and a half hours. Right? I think we're safe in assuming, in the absence of proof to the contrary, that the lamp was burning continuously once it was lighted—therefore, since it was put out at 1.29 A.M., a simple process of arithmetic shows us that it must have been lighted three and a half hours earlier—that's to say, at 9.59 P.M. or, to make it a round figure, say, ten o'clock. Is that clear?"
Hank, jaws rotating steadily, hoisted his grizzled poll in assent. I remained silent—I was too engrossed for speech.
Dene's glance shifted to Hank. "Old pal," he observed, "yesterday you unconsciously dropped a valuable hint. You reminded me that, on the night of the murder, there was no moon until around midnight—I remembered then that, when I left the village at about ten-fifteen to call on Blakeney, it was as black as Hades on the lake. Actually, as I worked out from a calender of the moon's phases I was able to consult at the Public Library at Springsville yesterday, the exact time of the moon's rising was 12.42 A.M., Eastern Daylight Saving Time..."
Hank nodded. "That'd be et. When I said midnight, I wuz thinkin' of th' old time, like most of us country folks!"
"On the evening of the crime," Dene continued in the same matter-of-fact tone he had employed throughout, "the sun set"—he consulted his memorandum—"at 7.54 P.M., summer time. My calendar shows that twilight ended at ten-twenty-one. Which means that at half-past nine it was dusk."
"That's right," the sheriff agreed. "Nine-thirty past you won't hardly see to read the paper in my store, this time o' year..."
"Ah!" said the Scotland Yard man, a new eagerness in his manner. "And at ten o'clock, Hank, how's it at ten?"
"Indoors, you mean?"
"Of course. I'm thinking of the cabin here."
"Afore the moon come up?" As always, the sheriff was extremely deliberate.
"Yes, man, yes! Aren't we dealing with last night?"
As he sprawled on the couch, Hank pivoted on his elbow to eject a stream of tobacco juice through the open window behind him, then turned a leisurely glance round the cabin. "Hyar? At ten o'clock o' night an' no moon? You won't see as fer as the end of your nose!" he drawled.
The young man drew a deep sigh—his face shone with excitement. "It was daylight when Haversley came down here after dinner, soon after nine. But it must have been getting dusk here in the room. Still, with door and windows open letting in the light from the western sky, he could have seen well enough to write without kindling the lamp. But not much after half-past nine. Agreed?"
Hank grunted. "You kin lay ter that, Trev. Time the sun's gorn, up here in the woods, the daylight don't last. Down at the store, there ain't nothin' 'tween us an' t'other side of Main Street, but in thisyar cabin, among the trees, come half-past nine a feller'd find hisself in the dark, I reckon!"
With a crash that made me jump, Dene slammed the flat of his hand down upon the desk. "Exactly. And what was Haversley doing here by himself in the dark from half-past nine to ten? That's what baffles me."
Eerie to think of Vic sitting there in such Stygian blackness as had descended upon the cabin when Dene had blown out the lamp on the night before! Somehow, the picture wouldn't come into focus. Vic, as I'd known him, was a mass of restless energy, a live wire—impossible to identify him with any such passive role. He could have dozed off, but it seemed scarcely probable. He'd spent the day resting up, and he was cold sober when he'd left us after dinner. Besides, he had his report to draft.
"The experience of all crime investigation," Dene said, speaking more calmly, "teaches us that, failing evidence to the contrary, it's a safe rule to assume that the succession of events followed a normal, rather than an abnormal course. There's nothing to show that Haversley ever left the cabin. We know that the first thing he did on reaching here after dinner was to telephone the police at Utica, and they informed him of Wharton's arrest. His mind at ease, he sits down to his evening's work. It is nine-fifteen or so, as the time of that telephone call to Utica proves, and there's at most a quarter of an hour of daylight left in the cabin. By nine-thirty, as you tell me, it must have been dark in the room. Does he light the lamp? He does not. Why?"
Hank scratched his head. "Wal, ef et's right what you think, mebbe the Carruthers gal dropped by to visit with him, and he sat with her fer a spell..."
"In the dark?"
The sheriff laughed. "That's the way of it when you're coortin', son!"
"She told us she quitted the house around ten past nine," said Dene impatiently. "Actually it was nearer nine-twenty, as I discovered by questioning Lumsden—he informs me that she left shortly before Jarvis came in, and he appeared at half-past nine. If she went to the cabin she can't have arrived here much before nine-twenty-five, when it was growing darker every minute. By a quarter to ten it must have been as black as the pit of Tophet in here. Now, although Haversley wasn't what you'd describe as a romantic youth, I daresay, like the rest of us, he wouldn't have minded lingering for a bit in the gloaming with a pretty wench. I'm even prepared to believe that he gave her that bangle, as Blakeney suggests, and mixed her a drink, without waiting to light the lamp. What I find hard to credit is that those two should have sat for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes in total darkness when, by the simple process of striking a match, they could have had a discreetly modulated light. Besides, Sara's no fool. Anybody could have walked in on them. What could she have said if she, an engaged young woman, had been caught spooning with a married man in the dark?"
"Maybe young Jarvis did walk in on them?" I hazarded.
"And killed him?" Dene snapped.
"That'd be the inference."
"That don't jell, young feller," said Hank. "He worn't killed till eleven-five, and by that Dave Jarvis wuz in his bed."
"Don't I know it?" the Scotland Yard man exclaimed with an exasperated air. "That's why I say the picture's all cock-eyed. But for that darn shot Miss Ryder heard one might make a stab at explaining it..."
"How?" asked the sheriff bluntly.
Dene hesitated. "Suppose Haversley didn't light that lamp because he couldn't light it?" he answered slowly. "Suppose Miss Carruthers left him before darkness in the cabin had fully set in? Suppose"—he checked again—"that he was killed, not at eleven, but before ten?"
"But the shot?" I exclaimed.
The Scotland Yard man frowned. "That's the hell of it!"
"Well," he went on, after a silence, "let's see what young Sara can tell us about it. And this time," he added, his teeth gritting grimly on the stem of his empty pipe, "we'll have the truth, or I get another guess. Do you think you could find her for me, Hank, and bring her here? And we'll have young Jarvis up, too!"
"Sure," said the sheriff, dropping his long legs to the floor, and sauntered out.
Dene was frantically patting his pockets. "Lummy," he groaned, "I believe I've been and left my 'baccy at your place."
"Never mind, I'll get it for you," I told him.
Scarcely had I set foot on my porch when I heard the shot. Its reverberations went rolling through the woods. In a flash I'd turned about and was running back along the path to the cabin whence the sound had reached me.
NOT until that shot resounded did I realise the nervous strain under which we all were labouring. Myself I had a sensation of physical nausea. I pictured Dene alone in that ill-omened hut, at the mercy of any assassin lurking in the woods, and, from sheer fear of the unknown, my stomach seemed to turn over. Violent exercise of any kind plays havoc with my single remaining lung, but, notwithstanding a pain like a red-hot spear being driven through my chest, I bolted up the path, my legs moving like an automaton.
While yet the crash of the report came reverberating back from the hills, the whole camp, plunged in the quiet of the siesta hour, appeared to stir into life. Shouts and excited voices rang from the direction of the main house. Somewhere a whistle shrilled thrice, and as I passed the gate of the gardens, following the path through the woods, I was aware of running figures strung out among the pergolas and heading for the gate.
A volley of barks greeted me as I burst into the clearing. Chang, Miss Ryder's Peke, had planted itself before the cabin door and was yapping for dear life. At the opening of the path on the far side of the clearing Miss Ryder stood, leaning on her stick.
I was past speech. I halted at the sight of her, and on that, my forces seemed to leave me—of a sudden, the pain in my chest was so agonizing that only sheer will-power prevented me from pitching forward on my face.
In a harsh, strained tone she said, "What is it? What's happened?" Her voice was a raucous croak, and as, panting and wheezing and still breathless, I gazed at her, I saw that she was trembling, and that her crinkled, brown face was sallow with fear.
"Who's in there?" she snarled, swinging her ebony stick imperiously towards the closed door of the cabin. "There was a shot—I was walking with Chang in the woods back of this and I heard it. What's happened? God damn it, why don't you answer me?"
I was nigh to suffocation, my lung a ball of fire. I could only shake my head, my hands pressed to my chest, my eyes raised to her imploringly. But they encountered no sympathy in that wizened countenance, the small eyes stony, the mouth ugly, with suspicion and fright. For all the pain I was enduring, my brain was feverishly active—in fact, it was as though my suffering sharpened my susceptibilities—and I perceived that at bottom Miss Ryder was a tough, rough-spoken old lady who could on occasion rip out an oath as to the manner born. Then the cabin door opened and Dene looked casually out. At the same moment Dickie and Hank, the latter with his whistle still between his lips, followed at a short interval by the two State troopers and Charles, came rushing into the clearing.
For the first time I saw the sheriff excited. "Gees, son," he cried to Dene, "are you all right?"
The Scotland Yard man laughed. He had an automatic in his hand, and behind him a little haze of blue smoke curled about a band of sunlight pouring through the cabin window. "No harm done, Hank," he replied breezily. "Just a little accident!"
Miss Ryder sniffed. "Accident?" she repeated in her strident voice. "What do you mean by an accident?"
By this the clearing seemed to be full of people. Edith and Graziella and Miss Ingersoll and old Bracegirdle and one of the maids and Albert, the chauffeur, all very hot and breathless, were there.
"We wuz talkin' on th' verandy, me an' Fred Good an' Mr. Lumsden here," said Hank, "when wham! there's a shot. 'Goldarn et,' I sez..."
Dripping with perspiration, Dr. Bracegirdle thrust himself forward. "An accident?" he echoed querulously, blinking bright eyes at Dene. "How? Explain yourself, young man!"
"Yes," Charles broke in with some acerbity. "Will you kindly explain what's happened? You managed to scare everyone out of their lives!"
Dene was entirely unmoved. With his most nonchalant air he surveyed the circle of alarmed faces. "My gun went off," he remarked, showing his pistol.
"You mean you discharged it accidentally?" Charles demanded.
With an apologetic air the Scotland Yard man nodded. "Sorry. I was examining the charger, and I'm afraid I forgot there was a shot in the chamber."
Old Bracegirdle glared at him. "Well! And for that I was roused up out of my afternoon nap."
Miss Ryder spoke up. "There's nothing to get all worked up about, Oscar," she observed tartly. "An accident's an accident, and that's all there's to it."
The doctor snorted. "You'd think at least they'd teach them how to handle arms in the London police," he growled.
The old lady cackled. "Don't mind him, Mr. Dene," she said to the Englishman. "It's only the heat—it always makes him fractious!"
She tucked her arm in Bracegirdle's. "Come on, you! We'll go for a row on the lake and cool off!" Her equanimity seemed to be quite restored: her face was once again smiling and amiable.
Charles Lumsden shook the perspiration from his forehead with his hand. "Whew!" He mopped his face. "Well, I'm glad it's no worse," he remarked, rather bluntly, to Dene. "For the moment we thought that this escaped prisoner had attacked you!"
"An escaped prisoner, Dad?" Dickie broke in excitedly. "What escaped prisoner?"
"A fellow who broke jail at Dannemora first thing this morning, old man," his father replied. "Trooper Good here"—he turned towards the trooper at his side—"came down to report that he caught a glimpse of him snooping round Jake Harper's place, but he vanished in the woods before he could get a shot at him..."
"Gosh!" exclaimed Dickie impressively, "it's pretty thrilling, isn't it? Dannemora, that's where they put the tough babies away, isn't it? Who is this bird? A murderer, or something?"
Charles shrugged. "He's a lifer, at any rate—a fellow called George Martin. Hank can probably tell us what he's in for..."
Taking careful aim, the sheriff expelled a stream of tobacco juice. "He bumped off a cop; ain't that et, Fred?" he said to the trooper.
"That's right," was the phlegmatic answer. "In a hold-up over on Third Avenya, the boys was telling me..."
Dickie's voice broke in suddenly. "What's the matter with Miss Ryder?" he said.
Miss Ryder and the doctor had got no farther than the edge of the path leading back to the gardens. We saw her leaning against a tree, her eyes closed, her face bloodless. Bracegirdle was slapping her hands briskly and calling her by name, "Janet! Janet!"
There was a general rush to the spot. Miss Ryder had opened her eyes and was smiling feebly, her lips parted. One hand went up in an instinctive feminine gesture to re-settle her hat, which was awry. "She was going to faint," said Bracegirdle, but I managed to stop her. "It's her heart—she's had these attacks before. That shot frightened her, I guess, and no wonder! Stand back, please, everybody, and let her get some air!"
We all fell back. Miss Ryder uttered a little groan and said in a thick voice, "I'm all right. Let me be, can't you?"
Trooper Good produced a flask and the doctor held it to her lips.
"She had a bad shock," I explained to Charles in an undertone. "She was walking in the woods with Chang, and must have been quite close when that gun went off. She was here when I arrived, and it struck me then she was scared to death..."
"Confound your detective friend, Pete," Charles ground out between his teeth. "You'd think he'd know better than to do a damn fool thing like that. To bring old Bracegirdle and the rest of us tearing up here in all this heat! Pete, you're all in, and Oscar don't look too good to me himself!"
In truth, the doctor appeared distressed.
Dene stood aloof talking to Hank. "They tuk the cruiser an' went off ter the village," I heard the sheriff say. "But they'll be along presently—young Leighton an' the girls went after them..."
I turned to find Miss Ingersoll at my elbow. She drew me aside. "You told him about the bracelet?" she whispered, nodding towards Dene.
"I did," I told her.
She sighed. "And now he's sent for Sara! He means to question her, doesn't he?"
I shrugged, my eyes on her face. "It looks like it, doesn't it?"
"And if she denies all knowledge of the bracelet, he'll think that Mr. Haversley gave it to me—he's bound to!" Her voice was harsh with fear.
A spasm of coughing caught me—I couldn't speak. She flung me a reproachful glance, her eyes compassionate. "You ran here like the rest of us, I suppose? Oh, Pete, will you never learn to take care of yourself? Show me that handkerchief!" Before I could stop her she had drawn away the handkerchief I held to my lips. Indignantly she pointed to a scarlet spot on the white cambric and handed the handkerchief back to me. "You're crazy!" she cried unsteadily. "And here am I, talking about myself and my affairs, when you've gone and started up a hemorrhage!"
It wasn't the first time the old lung had played up like that, and I could afford to make light of it. "I'll be all right in a moment." Then I thrust her aside. "It's nothing," I panted.
The rest of the house-party were trooping out of the clearing, Bracegirdle and Charles supporting Miss Ryder between them. Only Hank and the two troopers remained behind. Now Dene called Graziella back. His summons rang peremptory: "Mrs. Haversley, one moment, please!" He held the Cartier bill in his hand—from where I stood I could see the engraved letter-head.
He extended the paper. "Do you know anything of this?" he asked.
In dead silence she took the bill. Hank and the two troopers regarded her stolidly—at my side I was aware of Miss Ingersoll frozen into a sort of taut immobility.
Graziella shook her head—proud and self-possessed, she faced them. "No!" she said.
"Then your husband didn't make you a present of that bangle?"
She shook her head again. "It's the first I've heard of it." The cool, grey eyes were looking past me, and I knew they sought the figure at my side.
"Have you any idea for whom it was intended?"
She reddened proudly and her face hardened. "None whatever," was the firm answer. "But why don't you ask Miss Ingersoll? She knew more about Mr. Haversley's affairs than anybody." Her lip curled, and made it seem as though her allusion were to her husband's love affairs rather than to business matters.
The secretary's pallid face flamed. Women were merciless towards one another, I reflected.
I was sorry for the Ingersoll girl, alone and defenceless as she was and, as I now believed, guiltless; but Graziella didn't think of that. All she saw—it was evident—was, that Miss Ingersoll had been chiefly responsible for Fritz Waters's arrest: she was obviously resolved to carry the war boldly into the enemy's country.
With expressionless features, the Scotland Yard man turned to the girl at my side. "You signed for this bangle, I understand?"
"When did it arrive?"
"On Saturday afternoon. Mr. Haversley was out riding. When he came in I gave him the box."
"He opened it and showed you the bangle, didn't he?"
"Yes. I thought he meant it as a surprise for Mrs. Haversley. He laid it against my arm and said jokingly, 'What do you know about that, Bing, old girl? Wouldn't it knock your eye out?' or something like that. Then he put the bangle away in the drawer of the writing-table..."
"And when you went to look for it last night, it had disappeared?"
"And it wasn't intended as a gift for you, you say?"
She seemed to bristle. "Certainly not. I shouldn't have accepted a valuable present like that from Mr. Haversley, anyway."
Trooper Good spoke up from the edge of the woods. "Here they come, Sheriff," he announced, and we saw Sara and Dave approaching under the trees. Dene turned to Graziella. "Shall we go in out of the sun?"
He pushed open the cabin door. Graziella entered, and Miss Ingersoll and I followed. Dene remained outside for a word with Hank—I saw him whispering earnestly to the sheriff while he filled his disreputable pipe.
My eyes fastened upon the pouch in the Englishman's hand. He had sent me to my shack to fetch it, but he'd had it all the time—it had been clearly a ruse to get rid of me. His story about accidentally discharging his pistol had not convinced me—my young friend, alert, wary, methodical, was emphatically not the sort of idiot who "didn't know the gun was loaded."
A sudden light dawned upon me. It fired a train of thought that coiled itself like a time-fuse in and out of the recesses of my mind. So overwhelmed was I by the implications of my discovery that the cabin door was shut and Dave and Sara were facing Dene and the sheriff at the writing-table before I stirred myself from my musings.
IN a sky-blue polo shirt, white shorts and sandals displaying toes with nails vividly crimsoned, the Carruthers girl was contemplating the sheriff with languid curiosity. Her red-gold hair was blown out from the breezes on the lake, and she was tucking in sundry, errant whisps with her hands, holding meanwhile the cigarette she was smoking between her lips.
She was cool, and glittering, and hard, like a figure on a fashion plate. Young Jarvis was dourer than ever, his mien a blend of suspicion and challenge. There was something faintly insolent about the girl's demeanour: I could see by the hard line Hank's mouth made that he, too, had this impression. Hank had old-fashioned ideas: there was strong disapproval in the glance he levelled at those bare, sun-browned knees, the little, carmined toes. Also, as I knew, he hated to see young girls smoking, especially in that region of forest fires. How often had I heard him, down at Al Green's barber's shop, where the village elders would congregate of an evening, railing at modern young women as "a pack of flibbertigibbets with their faces painted, puffin' at their cigarettes!"
Sara said lightly, flicking her ash on the bearskin rug, while she glanced from the sheriff to Dene, "Has anything fresh happened? I mean, what's the tearing hurry? We were on our way to the village to buy cigarettes, but Buster said we were to come back instantly..."
"Sit down, Miss," Hank bade her. A movement of his head sent the troopers outside.
She dropped into a chair, crossing one bare, brown leg over the other. With arms folded, Dave Jarvis posted himself before the dresser close by. The door was in the act of closing when it was thrust inward again, and Charles, accompanied by Dr. Bracegirdle, poked a red and angry face inside. He marched straight up to the table.
"I think you might have told me you'd sent for Miss Carruthers, Hank," he said peremptorily to the sheriff. "She's a guest in my house, a young, unmarried girl, and my wife's niece. I'm responsible to her parents, and if you've anything to ask her, you can do so in my presence. Is that clear?"
This attack left the sheriff quite unmoved. "Sure, Mr. Lumsden," he drawled. "But don't git us wrong. This ain't nothin' but jes' a friendly meetin' ter clear up a point or two!"
"That's all right," our host replied, somewhat mollified. "But I consider I should have been informed. If it hadn't been for Dr. Bracegirdle here, I wouldn't have known a thing about it."
"I happened to meet them at the landing-stage as I came away from Miss Ryder's bungalow," the doctor explained, taking off his glasses, "and young Leighton mentioned to me that..."
Sara crooned a little laugh. "Don't worry about me, Uncle Charles," she remarked. "I haven't the faintest idea what I can tell the sheriff, but I'm perfectly ready to answer any questions he has to put, and so is Dave; aren't you, Dave?" She stretched out her hand to Jarvis. "Cigarette, please, honey!"
Jarvis gave her a cigarette, and Charles sat down beside Graziella, who made room for him on the couch, while the doctor found a chair by Miss Ingersoll. I remained by the open window—the small room felt stuffy and I wanted air. I could see the two troopers and the young people standing aimlessly about in the clearing outside.
But now Hank was speaking in his wonted, unemotional drawl. He went straight to the point. "Did Mr. Haversley give you a present sence you wuz here, Miss?" he asked Sara.
My glance had shifted to Dene. As usual, I observed, he had contrived to efface himself. Behind the big glasses, his boyish countenance was no more than what vaudeville calls a 'dead pan.' But it was evident to me, though he affected to busy himself drawing circles on the blotter, that he was watching the girl like a hawk. The infinitesimal pause she made while she took the cigarette away and flicked off a fragment of paper clinging to her under lip did not escape him, I could see.
"A present?" she echoed, then shook her head. "Why, no!"
"Not a di'mond bangle, f'r instance?" the sheriff persisted.
She coloured up swiftly. "Certainly not." For the fraction of a second her eyes travelled to Graziella, who was staring on the ground. "I'm not in the habit of accepting presents from married men, anyway," she added disdainfully.
Hank's expression remained unchanged. "Mr. Haversley ordered it from New York," he elucidated. "It come Saturday. It worn't fer his wife: then who wuz it fer? And it ain't nowheres around, neether!"
The girl shrugged nervously. "I'm afraid I can't help you: I know nothing about it, I tell you!"
Thoughtfully Hank fingered a bristly chin. "You an' Haversley wuz kinda friendly, wuzn't you?" he suggested.
Sara laughed indifferently. "It's usual to be friendly with your fellow guests, you know!"
His gaze was level, direct. "Seen you an' him on the water tergether, once or twice, nights, ain't I?"
She looked towards the others, gave her crooning laugh. "It's quite possible!"
"Didn't him an' you climb Wolf Mountain one afternoon last week?"
Once more her cheeks glowed under her pale tan. "Is there any reason why we shouldn't have climbed it?"
"Went up alone, the pair of ye, around two—I seen you," was the imperturbable rejoinder. "Goin' on fer sundown, 'twas, afore ye come down, one of the boys wuz tellin' me..."
She leaned back in her chair, cigarette in mouth. "I don't know what you're getting at," she remarked haughtily. "But I can't help feeling you're being rather offensive."
"Sara, please!" Charles broke in quickly, and turned to the sheriff.
But Hank's even drawl forestalled him. "Ain't gittin' at nothin', Miss, only that you an' him wuz uncommon friendly..." He paused, and his rugged, blue eyes seemed to soften. "You're a young gal, Miss, an' young gals is easily skeered. You told us yesterday morning that Sunday night—the night of the murder—you spent from round nine o'clock till jest afore eleven in your bedroom at the White Bungalow writin' letters. Wal, mebbe you wuz kinda flustered when you said that, mebbe you'd like to change your evidence. It ain't too late..."
"Are you suggesting that I told a lie?" she flamed back.
The honest face hardened. With a slow nod Hank said in his deep voice, "Yes, Miss. Jes' that!"
She sprang up, her face blazing. "Uncle Charles! Dave!"
Charles was greatly distressed. He held up his hand. "Wait a minute, Sara!" he bade the girl, and swung to the sheriff. "We've been friends for many years, Hank," he said, "and I know you wouldn't bring a charge of this kind against a guest of mine unless you honestly believed it to be true. But, really..."
"It's true all right, Mr. Lumsden," the sheriff struck in, and once more bent his glance on the girl. But this time the blue eyes were pitiless. His voice rang loudly through the hush in the room. "What were you doin' here in the cabin on the night of the murder?" he asked Sara.
She faced him defiantly. "I wasn't here. I've told you where I was. I was at the White Bungalow writing letters." She veered round to the sullen figure at her side. "Dave, are you going to stand for this man insulting me? Let's get out of this!"
I saw young Jarvis's brown hand steal out and grip hers. It was a gesture of restraint rather than support. But he said nothing. It seemed to me that his persistent silence was more accusing than anything the sheriff had said.
Hank spoke again. "What's come to that string of beads you wear?"
The question caught her unawares. It seemed to stagger her. "Beads?" she echoed vaguely.
Dene elucidated. "Your mummy beads, Miss Carruthers," he ventured quietly.
Her defiant air came back. "In my room. Why?"
"We'd like to see them," said the sheriff.
"I don't know where they are," was the glib answer. "Besides, the string's broken..."
"We'll see them all the same," Hank replied briskly.
The girl's self-composure was remarkable. She glanced rather quickly round, first at young Jarvis's sombre face at her side, then at the men at the table; but she made no move. Hank rose and crossed to where I stood at the window. "Whar's the Fletcher girl?" he growled.
From the window I called Myrtle over, and Hank and Dene went out to her. Charles broke the awkward pause that ensued.
"Sara," he said sternly, "is there anything in this charge of Hank's? I insist on knowing."
"But it's all nonsense," she retorted and swung to Jarvis. "What's the matter with you?" she demanded crossly. "Have you lost your tongue or something? How can you stand there and let this dumb hick say such things about me?"
It seemed to me that Hank would have his work cut out to extract any admission from this alert and resourceful young woman. Dave still said nothing, staring in front of him as though he hadn't heard her.
"But these beads of yours?" Charles persisted.
"I don't remember when I broke the string," she retorted irritably. "If I'd been down here that night, don't you think I'd tell you?"
Tense with annoyance, she helped herself to a cigarette from Dave's packet on the table, and we all fell silent again.
Graziella's eyes were on me—I wondered whether she was thinking, as I was, that before the interview was over the matter of the tidying up of the cabin was bound to be ventilated. Miss Ingersoll was staring with frank hostility at Sara. As for old Bracegirdle, with his broad nose, narrow eyes and sallow face, he was like an image of Buddha in the background.
It seemed an age before Hank and Dene came back. The Scotland Yard man silently drew from his pocket the two beads he had shown me and laid them on the blotter. Still he resolutely held aloof, and it was Hank who said to Sara, "Recognise those beads, Miss?"
Languidly she leaned forward from her chair—she didn't bat an eyelid. "They look like mine certainly," she agreed.
Then Hank brought from behind his back an envelope and part of the blue necklace and a shower of single beads trickled out upon the blotter. "These two beads," he said, showing the two which Dene had produced, "they belong to this string; there ain't no kind o' doubt, is there?"
Sara laughed rather contemptuously. "I'm not denying it, if that's what you mean..."
"He picked 'em up in this yar room, Sunday night," he explained, with a sideward jerk of the head towards the Scotland Yard man, "an hour or two after we found Haversley. How did they git here; will you tell me that?"
"How should I know?" The girl paused. "I didn't say I'd never been to the cabin. We've all been here, lots of times. I could have lost those two beads here almost any day since I've been at the camp."
"When did the string break?" The sheriff's tone was brusque.
"I haven't the least idea. Several days ago, at any rate!"
Cold as ice Graziella'svoice struck in. "Surely not. You wore your beads at dinner on Sunday evening, and the string wasn't broken then."
"That string's always breaking," Sara declared, and added petulantly, "it's no use your trying to make out I was down here that night, Graziella, because I wasn't!"
Hank shot a questioning glance at Dene from under his lashes and sat down.
Dene came out of his shell at last. Addressing Sara he said composedly, "I believe I know your motive, Miss Carruthers, but you ought to reflect that these persistent denials of yours will do your friend, Mr. Jarvis, no good..."
"Jarvis?" Charles put in, puzzled.
But the Scotland Yard man had turned to Dave. "I think you called on Mr. Haversley here at the cabin shortly after he came in from riding on Saturday afternoon?"
Young Jarvis was scowling. "Quite right," he agreed challengingly.
"What took place at that interview?"
"Don't answer him, Dave," the girl interrupted peremptorily. "I won't be dragged into this, do you hear me? I won't!"
Slowly the young man shrugged. "It was a private matter between Haversley and me," he told the detective. "Anyhow, it had no bearing on the case."
"Nonsense," exclaimed Charles sharply. "I've just remembered my wife mentioning to me on Saturday night that you and Sara had had a quarrel that evening, and that you'd have stayed away from dinner if she hadn't ordered Sara to fetch you in. Your row was the result of your interview with Vic, I suppose—over Sara, of course?"
Dave squared his chin. "I'm sorry, Mr. Lumsden, but I'd rather not talk about it!"
Charles said, flushing angrily, "Don't give me that stuff, Dave. Quit stalling and answer me!"
Young Jarvis shook his head. "No!"
"Damn it," our host exploded, "do you want us to think you've something to hide?"
But, with another shrug, the young man relapsed into his former sulky silence.
"He's got somep'n ter hide all right," growled the sheriff, frowning forbiddingly at Sara. "Now jes' you listen ter me," he told her. "You had that di'mond bangle, an', what's more, you come down here Sunday night an' the dee-ceased give it you..."
"What is the use of repeating something I've told you isn't true?" she retorted hotly.
"Don't tell me no falsehoods! You come here, an' your young man"—he jerked his head at Jarvis—"caught the pair of you tergether an' killed him. Worn't that the way of it?"
Her laugh was mocking. "I can't prevent you saying crazy things if it amuses you." She turned wearily to Jarvis. "For pity's sake, Dave, say something, can't you? Tell him he's all wrong!"
"See here, Sheriff," the young man declared huskily, "neither of us had anything to do with this killing, I give you my solemn word. Good God! man, don't you see that at eleven-five, when Miss Ryder heard the shot, Miss Carruthers was up at the house with the rest of them, while I was in bed at the Bachelor Bungalow?"
"There you are!" said Sara triumphantly, and glanced towards our host. "Uncle Charles, you know it's the truth, don't you?"
"Nobody ain't charged you killed him right off," Hank replied, addressing young Jarvis and ignoring the interruption. "You could a' come down here, though, soon's young Leighton left you, when he went up to the house with the other young folks. It wanted a few minutes to eleven—plenty o' time to nip down as fer as the cabin an' back!"
"I never left my room, I tell you," cried Jarvis.
"You kin tell that to the jedge," was the stern reply.
Charles sprang forward in alarm. "Hank, you're not serious? You're not going to arrest them?"
"I'm goin' ter arrest the pair of 'em," declared the sheriff impassively.
"She wuz down here, an' she had that thar bangle; an' when she's catched out, she can't do nuthin' 'cept tell a pack o' lies. Wal, mebbe the Districk 'turney'll believe her. We'll see! Come on, you two!"
Sara had gone very white. She said nothing, but flashed a scared glance round the circle of attentive faces.
Suddenly Dene spoke, pushing his glasses up on his forehead with his slightly bored air. "Now, look here, my dear," he remarked, "this sort of thing will take you nowhere. Sheriff Wells has quite enough evidence to detain the pair of you on suspicion, and you know very well what that means—publicity, scandal and the Lord knows what!" He gave her his pleasant smile. "You know jolly well you were down here that night, so why not admit it? And you had that bangle, eh?"
Her smooth forehead was furrowed with perplexity and she bit her lip.
Then young Jarvis growled, "Oh, for God's sake, Sara, tell 'em! I've said all along you'd have to own up, sooner or later."
She was quite composed. "Well," she observed delicately, "if you want to know, I did run in here for a minute after dinner on Sunday to see Vic..."
The exclamation came from Hank: he was glaring at her indignantly.
"I'd have spoken before," she explained, "but I wanted to spare poor Graziella's feelings..."
Graziella sat up. "My feelings? What have my feelings got to do with it?" she demanded.
"It was all too stupid," said Sara lightly. "Vic found me asleep one afternoon by the tennis court and kissed me, and you know there's a custom that if a man kisses a girl when she's asleep he has to give her a present. Well, Vic told me at cocktail time on Saturday evening that he had my present, but it was to be a secret between us, and I'd have to come down to the cabin and get it one evening after dinner when no one was about. I couldn't go that evening on account of Pete's play-reading, but I went the next night..."
"The Sunday?" Dene précised.
"Yes. Vic gave me a drink and..."
"One moment," Dene interrupted. "At what time was this?"
She paused to reflect. "I wouldn't know exactly, but it was twenty-five to ten by my travelling clock when I got back to the White Bungalow, and I suppose I was with Vic about ten minutes."
"Was the lamp lit when you went in?"
"The lamp?" She paused. "Now that I come to think of it, it wasn't. I remember because it was getting dark in here before I went away, and I said why didn't we have some light, and he said there was no hurry about it..."
The Scotland Yard man nodded dourly. "All right. Go on!"
She hesitated. "I don't much like to bring all this up," she replied, with a sidelong glance at Graziella, "on account of Graziella. But I suppose I can't help myself. Well, Vic mixed me a highball and made me sit down beside him on the couch. Then I had to shut my eyes, and when I opened them, there was the bangle on my arm..."
There was a sort of shout from Hank. "Hah! Then you did have it?" he boomed.
She shook her head demurely. "No. He, well, he made conditions..." She broke off and, turning to Graziella, said apologetically, "I'm sorry, Graziella, but it was really pretty crude. When I told him there was nothing doing like that, he tried to get his arms round me, and my necklace broke and, well, I just grabbed my beads and bolted..."
"Leaving him there?" The question was from Dene.
"Yes. I guess he didn't dare follow me, in case we met someone."
"And the bangle, Miss?" Hank asked.
"It stayed on the couch where I laid it down."
"It stayed on the couch!" Hank repeated sarcastically.
His air was frankly incredulous, and I must say I shared his point of view. The girl was a hard-boiled baggage, quite clever enough, I felt sure, to have wheedled that bangle out of Victor while holding him at arm's length. For I saw no grounds for disbelieving her statement that she'd resisted his advances—with the Sara Carruthers type it's marriage or nothing.
"And why tell a string o' lies about it?" Hank demanded.
She shot him a questing glance from under her thick lashes. "I've explained that—it was to spare Mrs. Haversley..."
"Poppycock!" exclaimed the sheriff. He pointed a gnarled finger at young Jarvis. "It wuz ter cover him up. You knew that, only twenty-four hours afore, he'd bin raising blue murder with Haversley over you. Ain't that right?" He rounded on the young man.
Dave said unexpectedly, "Yes. I had it out with him on Saturday afternoon. Sara had promised to play tennis with me, but instead he persuaded her to go riding. I told him to lay off or I'd break his neck. Sara was wild with me when I told her about it..."
"Naturally," she exclaimed indignantly. "I didn't want a scandal at the camp. Especially when I'd done nothing wrong!"
Charles snorted audibly. "Nothing wrong, eh? I must say, you take it very lightly, Sara!"
Hank disregarded these interruptions. He turned to Dave again. "Nevertheless, you found 'em tergether the next night; isn't that right?"
The young man shook his head. "No. Let me explain! After dinner, when I didn't find her at her bungalow, I supposed she was out on the lake with the others. I was kind of mad at her, I guess—I thought she might have waited for me, as she knew I'd only gone as far as the garage—so I took a boat out on my own, and when I came in, went straight to bed without looking for her any more. It was only when Buster Leighton turned up in my room, just before eleven, when I was already in bed, that I discovered she hadn't been with them at all. Then I guessed she'd been off somewhere with Vic..."
"So what did you do then?" asked the sheriff.
He shrugged. "Nothing. There was nothing I could do about it. But when Dickie woke me up and told me Vic was dead, I went straight off to find Sara, and she told me what she's just told you..."
"And that was the first you heered 'bout her bein' at the cabin?" Hank's voice was faintly mocking.
"Then why did she have ter go an' clean the place up?"
"I didn't," Sara put in sharply. "It's not true. I never came back here."
The sheriff cocked his head to one side. "A woman done it. The dee-ceased's drink wuz throwed out, his ceegar the same—no man in his senses would a' made a blunder like that!"
"I can't help it," said Sara stubbornly. "I know nothing about it. Besides, I was up at the house when Vic was shot."
"You wuz up at the house, sure," Hank agreed impassively. "But only till the others went in swimmin'. That was around half-past twelve. You worn't to know the kids wuz goin' ter call in here on the way back—you could a' went an' cleared up then!"
I hadn't exchanged a word with Graziella since our talk in the rose arbour on the previous morning. She'd been avoiding me, of course, for fear I'd worry her to let me tell Dene about her visit to the cabin. To give her away now without her consent meant risking our friendship: moreover, the inevitable result, as I saw it, would only be to remove her farther than ever from me by clearing Fritz Waters.
But I couldn't help myself. I knew now that she was not for such as I; I could even laugh at myself for ever indulging the illusion that a woman of her rare quality would have more than a passing glance of pity for a starveling, shabby author. But my liking for her was unchanged; my mind was made up that the time had come to speak out. If I hadn't been virtually certain of young Jarvis's guilt, it might have been different. It seemed to me that the surest way of clearing Fritz Waters was to sift the grain from the chaff by bringing out all the relevant facts. And so, my heart in my mouth, I spoke up.
"Hold on there, Hank," I said. "Sara didn't tidy up the cabin. That was Mrs. Haversley's doing. Wasn't it, Graziella?"
WHEN I saw the look she gave me, I was appalled to think what I'd done. Odd, how a mere flick of a woman's lashes can make a fellow feel like an abject cad, even when he's acting from the best of motives! There was a frightful moment of silence, then Charles, bless him! went boring in. Poor Charles! For a man who adored a quiet life he was receiving a series of rude shocks, one after the other.
"Graziella!" he gasped and, turning, glared at me. "Pete! Do you know what you're saying?"
But Dene's voice rang out above his. "Mr. Lumsden, please! Is this true?" he said sternly to Graziella.
Her lovely face was adamant. "I've nothing to say," she gave him back. "I'll speak when Mr. Waters is released, not before. Why should you lock him away from all his friends, an innocent man?"
The Scotland Yard man shrugged. "You'll no doubt be allowed to visit him in due course," he observed, with a glance at Hank.
"I rang up the District Attorney—he refused me permission," she answered scathingly. "As long as Fritz—Mr. Waters—declines to answer questions, no visitors. I suppose you think that by torturing him, by cross-examining him for hours on end, you'll force him to own up to a crime he didn't commit. It's—it's horrible!" She was breathless, vibrant with hysteria.
Hank was much embarrassed. "Shucks, ma'am," he drawled, "his lawyer was let see him. Mr. Lauff's over ter th' jail now. You saw Mr. Lauff—you could a' given him a message for the gentleman."
"I'm sending no message by any lawyer," she cried vehemently. "I'll speak only to Mr. Waters himself!"
Dene's shoulders rose imperceptibly, then, throwing himself back in his chair, he whispered in the sheriff's ear.
Nodding understandingly, Hank said to Charles, "We want a word with this lady in private, Mr. Lumsden. You an' your friends kin go now, but nobody ain't ter leave the camp without I give 'em permission. Is that clear?" He glanced over to me. "You stop, Pete!"
Charles would have liked to have stayed too and—somewhat officiously, I thought—Bracegirdle, his faithful watch-dog, encouraged him in this idea.
"She's your guest, old man," I heard him mutter. "If there's to be any third degree business, we certainly should be present!"
Without much friendliness his glance rested on Dene—evidently, the memory of their early clashes still rankled. But the Scotland Yard man had a suave word with Charles in a corner, and presently the two cronies followed the others out, old Bracegirdle still palpably dissatisfied.
"Mrs. Haversley," Dene opened, when the four of us were at last alone, "I'm going to put my cards on the table. There's a good chance of my being able to clear your friend Waters. But you must help me..."
Her face lit up. "You mean that?" Her tone was incredulous.
His nod was grave. "Absolutely. But only if I succeed in clearing away this tangle of misstatements some of you have seen fit to make can I hope to drive through to the truth beyond. The way to establish your friend's innocence is to find the real murderer. I think Blakeney realises that. The point is, do you?"
Soberly she bowed her head. "Yes."
"Then tell me the truth!"
She wavered still. "You think that young Jarvis killed him, don't you?"
He had picked up his pipe, ready filled but neglected during the long session, and was busy lighting it. "Never mind what I think," he mumbled over his cupped hands. "Get on with the story, and let's see how it fits in with an idea or two I have in my noddle!" He glanced up and smiled at her.
My young man had a way with him, there was no gainsaying it. He had a laughing nature. Always, even in his graver moments, the faint shadow of that easy smile of his seemed to hover about his mouth. Graziella hesitated; but I could see her rancour and suspicion melting like snow before the sun. Through a blue smoke haze he beamed amiably at her, and at last she succumbed. She was much perturbed.
"It was very wrong of me to deceive you, I know," she faltered. "But that night, when I came here, to look for Waters..." She shuddered.
"I know." The Scotland Yard man's voice was very gentle. "You thought Waters had told your husband you wanted a divorce, and that, as a result, Haversley had shot himself. And afterwards you held your tongue about it for fear of incriminating Waters; isn't that it? Now let's have the whole thing from the beginning!"
She told her story very much as she'd told it to me. With an adroit question or two Dene filled in the gaps. When she had done he said:
"Here's the picture as I see it from your statement—stop me if I go wrong. It's eleven o'clock. You've finished your bridge. The youngsters are trooping in, the place is full of noise. You're worried about Waters. He's been distrait all night. You don't believe he's gone to bed: you think he's made for the cabin to have a show-down with your husband. You go first to the Bachelor Bungalow to see if Waters is really in his room. It's dark, and there's no answer when you throw up some pebbles at his window. So you make your way to the cabin. Right?"
She inclined her head.
"On the path under the trees you come upon a smouldering cigarette. 'Ha, Fritz!' you say to yourself, and you go on. But though a light burns in the cabin, all is as still as death inside and, peeping through the window, you see your husband collapsed at the table, a pistol in his hand. You touch him—his hands are clammy; you put the mirror of your vanity case to his lips and he doesn't breathe—he's dead..."
"Hold on there, Trev," Hank now put in. "She sez she felt of his hands and they wuz clammy. Now what I want ter ask is..."
"Just a minute, Hank, let me finish!"
"But thisyar's important, son!"
"No doubt, but you're putting me off my stride. A moment's patience and you can ask all the questions you want. Where was I? Oh, yes. There's no sign of a struggle, but plenty of evidence that Haversley has had a visitor—a glass of whisky on the table, another on the floor beside the couch, a dent in one of the pillows as though someone had rested an elbow there. Correct?"
"Absolutely," she agreed.
"Convinced that your husband had committed suicide, your first thought was of Waters. In a panic you straightened up the room, your sole idea being to cover up the fact that Haversley had had a caller—without stopping to think you even threw away your husband's cigar and emptied his drink down the sink in the kitchen. You were perhaps ten minutes in all in the cabin, and throughout that time you heard no sound. And going and coming you saw no one; isn't that so?"
"And you heard no shot—you're perfectly definite about that, aren't you?"
"Where do you suppose you'd have been at eleven-five when the shot was fired?"
"Probably down at the Bachelor Bungalow—I was several minutes there trying to make Fritz Waters hear me."
"And there was no report?"
"No. But the Bachelor Bungalow's quite a way from this." She paused. Then, twisting nervously at her ring, she said, "The sheriff suggested that Dave Jarvis came back here around eleven o'clock and killed Vic. Do you realise that my evidence clears him? I must have met him leaving the Bachelor Bungalow or returning from the cabin. But I saw no one." She paused again. "I've told you everything because you said it would help you to clear Fritz. But I can't see how it does. I wish you'd explain. As far as I know, Dave's speaking the truth when he says that he was in bed at the moment the shot was fired."
Dene shook his tawny head. "There was no shot!" he said.
He was frowning and his mouth was grim.
"NO SHOT?" she echoed blankly.
He had swung to Hank. "Put your question now!" he bade the sheriff.
With a poker face, Hank turned to Graziella. "You told us jes' now, ma'am, you felt of your husband's hands and they wuz cold..."
"Not cold, old man, clammy," Dene corrected.
"Clammy, then—it's all one," the other agreed placidly and addressed Graziella again. "He wuz shot at eleven-five presoombably—d'you reelise he worn't dead more'n five minutes at the most when you come in? His hands ought to of bin as warm as yourn!"
She stared at him in bewilderment. "They were dank to the touch—it was horrible. Do you think I could be mistaken about a thing like that?"
"You're not mistaken, Mrs. Haversley," said Dene gently. "When you found your husband he'd been dead for more than an hour!"
Women possess an extraordinary singleness of purpose. They have one-track minds. While Hank and I were struck aghast by the train of consequences which the Scotland Yard man's announcement unfolded, Graziella cried out excitedly, "Then Fritz has an alibi. Because this would put the time back to ten o'clock, when he was with us at the bridge table."
"To ten or perhaps earlier," said Dene gravely.
Hank was scowling petulantly, as he always did when events moved too swiftly for his comprehension. "Easy there, Trev!" he growled. "What becomes of the old woman's evidence? She heered a shot, didn't she? At eleven-five, it was—very pree-cise she wuz about et, an' never varied, so Mr. Lumsden told me..."
"And what about Dr. Bracegirdle?" I couldn't refrain from putting in. "He stated quite independently of Miss Ryder—in fact, it was before she ever appeared on the scene—that Vic was shot around eleven o'clock. Charles Lumsden and I were both there, and we heard him..."
For the first time the Scotland Yard man seemed to lose patience. Whipping off his glasses, he flung them with a disgusted air upon the blotter. "I don't care a damn what the old girl thinks she heard, and as for that doctor fellow, he's an incompetent, meddling ass. There was no shot, I tell you," and he brought his fist down with a bang on the blotter, "there was no shot, because there couldn't have been any shot..."
"You mean, Miss Ryder got the time wrong?" I questioned.
"I mean there couldn't have been a shot in the circumstances she described then or earlier. And when I say 'shot,' I mean a report loud enough to be heard outside of this room. Tchah!" In exasperation he flicked his spectacles away from him. "When I think that from the very outset the whole investigation has been led right off the track by the delusions of a silly old woman and the pompous self-complacency of our friend Bracegirdle!"
The sheriff scratched his head. "Seems like you wuz tryin' ter tell us the medical ev'dence wuz wrong, ain't that et?"
Dene sighed and retrieved his glasses. "Your perspicacity, my Hank," he observed drily, "floods the scene with light. That's precisely what I'm endeavouring to convey. Look here," he went on, gradually recovering his wonted good humour as though his outbreak had relieved his feelings, "from the moment I came into this case I've been worried by the idea of this shot fired at dead of night in the quiet of the mountains not a mile from a group of houses full of people and heard by a single person only. That was why, simply because I couldn't get the idea to make sense, I let off my gun this afternoon in the cabin here."
Hank grinned and cocked his head at him. "I wuz kinda wonderin' about that accident myself," he drawled.
I laughed. "So was I. I had a notion it was a test of some kind."
"We're not really so careless with fire-arms in the Metropolitan Police as our friend Bracegirdle seems to think," said Dene. "Yes, it was a test, and it worked. You saw what happened: from all parts of the camp people came running in alarm even as far as the Bachelor Bungalow."
"That was old Bracegirdle," I précised. "He said you woke him up from his afternoon nap."
"Quite so!" the Scotland Yard man replied. "Well, Mrs. Haversley was at the Bachelor Bungalow that night about the time Miss Ryder is supposed to have heard the report, and she heard nothing. Moreover, Waters who must have been somewhere in the vicinity at the time heard nothing—we got that much out of him, at least—and I, who was waiting down at Blakeney's place, I heard nothing, either. Nobody heard the darned report, except Miss Ryder!"
"Then what was the shot she heard?" Graziella asked.
Dene spread his hands. "God knows! A poacher, a car backfiring on the main road, one can't say. It must have been pretty far off, anyhow..."
"She said it seemed pretty close to the house," I pointed out.
The Englishman laughed drily. "If you'd been at this game as long as I have, you'd know something about the invincible inaccuracy of witnesses, especially elderly maiden ladies. And, irrespective of sex, it's always fatal when a witness believes that his or her testimony is important. They'll say anything. It's a kind of vanity—I could tell you some stories. Take Bracegirdle. It's the hardest thing, as any police surgeon will tell you, to fix with even approximate precision the exact hour of death in a given case. But old Bracegirdle has no hesitation about it. He sailed in baldheaded and announces that the man was killed at eleven. Flat-footed, just like that. I couldn't correct him. The body was cooling off when we found it and, not being a doctor, it was impossible for me to say, to an hour or two, exactly when death had taken place. The tragedy was that it wasn't until hours later—next morning, in fact—that a competent police surgeon was able to make a proper examination, and then the man at Springsville was clearly over-awed by our friend's resolute cocksureness." He shrugged and knocked out his pipe. "Well, we start again from scratch!"
Hank nodded with an impassive air, as though to say that time was of no account in his normally placid existence as hunter and guide. Then he remarked, "What made you tell the lady he wuz shot at ten or, mebbe, earlier, Trev?"
"The lamp, man," was the swift reply. "It was lighted around ten, and Miss Carruthers, as you heard her say, was back at her bungalow by nine-thirty-five, which means she must have left the cabin at about half-past nine. It was getting dusk inside when she went away. Is there any earthly reason why Haversley should have remained sitting in the dark after her departure?"
"You mean, if young Jarvis had followed her..." the sheriff began, and paused significantly.
The Scotland Yard man nodded. "We've got to find that bangle, Hank," he said rather tensely.
"Sara must have it," Graziella put in.
Dene shook his head. "I searched her room a while back when we went to fetch her beads, and Hank took the opportunity of going through young Jarvis's. There's no sign of the bracelet in either place!"
At that moment the door was rapped. Albert, the Lumsden chauffeur, was disclosed. Albert and I were good friends. A civil, forthright little man with a round face and button nose, he had served overseas in my own Division, the New York, and we often had a yarn together. He had been the Lumsden chauffeur and general handy man at the camp for years.
"'Scuse me, Mr. Blakeney," he said when I opened to him, "but I want to speak to Hank." He came in and, catching sight of Graziella sitting there, touched his cap.
"You ain't come ter tell me that thar battery of mine's down agin, Albert?" remarked the sheriff.
The chauffeur smiled briefly—this was evidently an old joke between them. "No, it ain't the battery this time, Hank. There's something in the lake I guess you'll want to look at. Mr. Lumsden went to Springsville to see Mr. Lauff, the lawyer, so I thought I'd better tell you..."
"Something in the lake?" repeated Hank. "There ain't nothing happened to one of them kids, Albert, is there?"
Albert shook his head impassively. "Nothing like that. But it's kinda odd, all the same..."
"What's odd?" the sheriff demanded.
Speech with Albert was a deliberate affair. "Well," he answered ponderously, "it was like this, see? Miss Cynthie and her friend, Miss Fletcher, thought they'd like to fish this afternoon. I tells Miss Cynthie no trout'll take the fly with the sun blazing on the water, and they'd best wait till sundown, but it wasn't no good my talking, they had to go at once. So I fetches down a coupla rods and takes the young ladies in the punt across to that rock on the far side of the lake—you know, where the boss and Mr. Bracegirdle mostly fish..."
"You don't have ter tell me whar to catch trout in Wolf Lake, Albert Hunt," Hank broke in impatiently. "Git on with the story, why don't you?"
"I'm getting on with it all right," was the imperturbable rejoinder. "There's a mooring, 'tother side of that rock, where they tie up when they goes fishing, jes' a side of a crate fastened by a wire rope to a weight on the bottom. Remember?"
"Fer land's sakes," rasped the sheriff, "didn't I fix it fer your boss afore you all come up? Do you think we got all arternoon to set here an' listen ter you? I know that thar moorin', a' coorse. What about et?"
But Albert was not to be hurried. "I didn't notice it when I went to tie up the punt," he said, "but when I goes to cast off—the young ladies soon got tired of setting there without a bite and wanted to go back—I sees there's a length of fish line lashed round the mooring. I pulls on it, and up comes a sorta package done up in oil silk."
Dene glanced up quickly. "A package?" He held out his hand. "Let's have a look!"
The chauffeur shook his bullet head warily.
"I let it be, sir." His air became slightly mysterious. "Fred Good, the trooper, let fall something to me about a valuable bangle being missing, and I thought, mebbe..." He left his meaning unfinished. "What I was going to say, it warn't there Sat'day afternoon when I was out at the rock with the boss and I was jes' wondering..."
He broke off.
"How big is this package?" Dene asked.
The man curved his fingers to a square. "Quite small. But kinda heavy. It hangs down out of sight under water."
Hank's blue eyes rested moodily on Dene. "I believe he's right, Trev. It's the bangle, fer a clinch!"
The other nodded. "It'd explain what young Jarvis was doing out in a boat on Sunday night," he remarked tentatively.
Triumphantly the sheriff pounded a horny palm with his fist. "By crikey, I didn't think o' that!" He swung to the chauffeur. "Come on, Albert, let's go peek at this package o' yourn!"
"I'll run you across in the power-boat," said Albert, and in silence the four of us followed him out.
THE clearing was deserted, but as we exchanged its bright sunlight for the dappling under the trees we perceived George Wilson, the Lumsden's bailiff, a grizzled man in plus fours, running along the path towards us. With him was a youth whose appearance was vaguely familiar to me—it was one of the lads I had noticed working on the place. Both looked very hot.
"Oh, Hank," puffed the bailiff, wiping his face, "when I was down in the village just now a trooper from headquarters was asking for you. I told him you were over at our place, and he gave me this for you." So saying he handed the sheriff a large buff envelope. "It's the photo of this guy who broke out of Dannemora this morning," he explained confidentially.
"Thanks, George!" Hank was about to thrust the envelope unopened in his pocket when the bailiff stopped him. "Hold on there! If it's all one to you, I'd like Harry here"—he pulled the youth forward—"to take a look at that picture. He thinks he saw this escaped con on the road near the Greens' place, not an hour back."
"Presently, George, presently," said Hank brusquely. "I'm busy now!" And he made to pass him. Dene, too, I could see, was jigging with impatience. But the bailiff's bulky form barred the way.
"Gosh, Hank," he exclaimed, "if Harry's right, d'you know what this means? This bird has only to cross the road to be on the property. And, what's more, he knows it. Here"—he gave the youth a push—"you tell him, Harry!"
"Goldarn et," cried the sheriff crossly, "why's everything got ter happen at once? Here am I, as busy as a wet hen, an' the warden over ter Dannemora can't even keep his vermin in their cages. All right, son, it ain't your fault," he added to the boy. "Let's have it!"
The boy told his story intelligently enough. He had been over to Mrs. Green's to fetch some eggs for the chef, and was walking back along the highway that skirted the camp when, without warning, a man stepped out of the woods and confronted him. He was wearing a jacket over a suit of jeans, but what struck Harry particularly was the fact that he had no hat, and that bits of straw were sticking to his hair, as though he had been lying in a barn. He had a cigarette in his mouth, and asked Harry for a match, which the lad produced. Then the man had wanted to know how far he was from the Lumsden camp, and on Harry pointing out that the estate began on the other side of the road the stranger had waved his hand and disappeared back into the woods from which he had come.
"A kinda thin guy with grey hair who looked at you funny," was Harry's description.
Without comment, Hank broke the seal of the envelope. The card he drew forth showed the regular police photograph in three positions—the front face and the two profiles. As is usual with such pictures, the photos were flat and characterless; but the hollowness of the cheeks and a curious, birdlike brightness of the eye were features that came out strongly.
The boy didn't hesitate. With a grubby finger he pointed to a sort of dent visible in the man's right temple in the front face photograph.
"It's him!" he declared excitedly to the sheriff. "Gees, Mr. Wells, I'd know him anywheres by that mark on his forehead. And that's just how he looks at you, see? with his eyes kinda burning a hole right through you!"
Silently Dene underlined with his finger a passage in the description of the wanted man appended to the photographs—a deep mark or depression faintly purplish in colour, in the right temple.
Hank grunted. "Whar's them boys o' mine?" he asked the chauffeur.
"They was up at the kitchen for a cup o' corfee the last I see of them," said Albert.
"Start up the boat. I'll be right back!"
With that he hurried off with Wilson and Harry. Only then did I perceive that Graziella was no longer with us. Dene had strode ahead by himself: I went along with Harry to the boathouse.
Graziella was already in the cruiser under the high, dim roof of the boathouse. I stepped in beside her, while Albert went forward to the engine. Hank was not long appearing and, dropping without a word into the seat on the other side of Graziella, took the tiller. A moment later we were gliding out into the sunshine.
It was a divine afternoon, the lake's surface unruffled, the light warmly golden, the air saturated with the scent of the forest. Nobody paid any attention to Graziella and me, for Albert was busy with the engine, Hank had his steering to look after, while as for Dene, he had posted himself forward, and was staring out across the lake, apparently sunk in thought. I lifted Graziella's hand.
"Forgiven?" I asked her.
She coloured, then nodded, her cool fingers resting in mine. "It was the wisest thing to do, though I didn't think so at first. I felt as though you'd wantonly betrayed me, but then I began to see that you were right after all. The time had come to speak."
"You see," I explained, "I knew something you didn't know. Yesterday afternoon Dene confided to me that he hoped to have your friend Waters out of jail before very long."
She sighed. "I've been almost frantic with anxiety—I can scarcely believe it's true, that I'm to see him again, a free man." She raised up my hand caressingly. "Oh, Pete, what a good friend you've been! You've helped me all through. Why did you do it?"
"I've told you before. Because I like you. I like you tremendously, Graziella, more than anyone I've ever met. If things had been different for me, if I'd met you earlier..."
She stopped me there. The tone of my voice, I suppose, something in my eyes, must have given me away. Very softly she murmured, while her fingers twined themselves in mine, "Oh, Pete, my dear, I'm so very sorry."
"I wish that meant you were sorry we didn't meet sooner," I had to blurt out. "Unfortunately, I know what you mean. You're reminding me that you're in love with Waters. You're going to marry him, aren't you?"
She nodded. "If he still wants me. But, Pete, dear, I should never make anyone like you happy. Money has spoilt me, but you—you've suffered, you've been through the fire. The woman who gets you for a husband will be lucky!"
It was nonsense, of course, and she knew it. I told her so. I set it down here only to show how sweetly she tried to spare my feelings.
"I'm not three days a widow," she went on, "yet I feel like a bride. I wouldn't say this to anyone but you, for they wouldn't understand me; but I think you will. Shall I tell you that I'm counting the hours until I see Fritz again, hear the sound of his voice, feel his arms around me? Yet I can grieve for Vic. I never loved him, yet I'm grateful to him—I shall always be grateful—and it's horrible to think of his dying in that way. But I try to be honest with myself, and I realise that I can think kindly and even regretfully of my dead husband now merely because my anxiety about Fritz is relieved." She gave a little, fluttering sigh. "There! I'm pretty worthless, really, Pete. Not nearly good enough for you, or Fritz, either!"
I laughed—it's always easier to laugh, when you're used to it. "As far as I'm concerned, I'd always take a chance on that," I told her.
For a long moment her eyes looked affectionately into mine. "Dear Pete!" she murmured and gave my hand a little squeeze. Then she released it. I didn't know it then, but that was destined to be the last word to pass between us on the subject.
"Isn't life a puzzle? Murder has been done, and the murderer's still at large; yet we glide along here and talk as if nothing had happened."
She touched my sleeve. "Look at those two there!"
Idly my eye followed her pointing finger. Close inshore under the trees lining the bank we were rapidly approaching, a boat moved away from us at a leisurely pace. Old Bracegirdle in his shirt sleeves, his bald head glistening in the sunshine, was at the oars: in the stern, her knitting in her lap, Miss Ryder trailed her hand in the water. After the alarums and excursions of the day, and oppressed as I was by the weight of this fresh enigma hanging over us, I found this placid domestic scene a charming spectacle—the old people looked so relaxed and happy, keeping one another company in their boat.
"Funny pair!" I commented. "Well, I'm glad to see that Miss Ryder's got over her fainting fit. You know, I like the old girl—she's full of character!"
Graziella's smile was faintly mischievous. "Poor Miss Ryder! Your friend Dene was pretty hard on her, wasn't he? And he hasn't much use for the doctor, either!" Dene's name seemed to bring her thoughts to Jarvis. "Oh, Pete," she said with a little shudder, "what about Dave? They mean to arrest him, don't they?"
"I guess so," I answered.
Again she shivered. "It's horrible to think that all this time we've been rubbing shoulders, sitting down to our meals with a murderer. I hope they act quickly—I don't believe I could bring myself to meet him again. And Sara? Are they going to arrest her, too?"
I shrugged. "I don't know, I'm sure. I can't quite make Dene out. You'd think the case against young Jarvis was clear enough, yet I have the feeling that Dene's still keeping an open mind. Well, if this really is the bangle, this should clinch it, I imagine!"
The Scotland Yard man called suddenly from the bows, "Easy there!"
At the same time, in a flurry of water, the engine went into reverse, stopped, and we drifted along under our own momentum. I was tingling with excitement. We had reached the float—on the port bow the rock thrust its grey and pointed head out of the lake.
In a thrilling silence the four of us crowded about Dene. With one hand he grasped the float, with the other he hauled on the length of line made fast to it. Hank brandished a knife, but Dene said quietly, "No, don't cut it! We'll pull it in, float and all. Ah, here she comes!"
A small, square packet, wrapped in yellow oil silk and bound tightly round with fish-line, was in his hands. Albert caught up the line, scrutinised it.
"That's some of the new line Mr. Lumsden brought up from New York when he come," he pronounced, then, with a mighty heave, he swung the float and the iron weight to which it was attached into the boat.
"Good man, Albert," said Dene. "And now let's make for the shore!"
"What, ain't we goin' ter open it?" the sheriff asked, pointing at the packet.
"Not here," Dene replied, balancing it with his fingers. "Where can we be undisturbed? Your place, I think, Pete!"
"Okay," I told him.
The engine roared: Hank swung the boat round and we started back. Save for the skiff with the old couple, now heading sluggishly for the landing-stage, we had the lake to ourselves.
"Did the girls see you find this packet?" Dene asked the chauffeur.
"No, sir," said Albert promptly. "Did you say anything to them about it?"
"Not me, Mr. Dene!"
"Then listen, all of you"—the Scotland Yard man addressed us collectively. "Not a word about this to anyone at the camp, understand?"
We murmured our assent, then Dene, Hank and Albert put their heads together aft—I gathered they were scrutinising the knot with which the line carrying the packet was lashed to the float.
No one was about when we went ashore at the little landing-stage before my shack. The whole camp seemed to slumber in the warmth of the late afternoon. With Dene grasping the package and Albert shouldering weight and float, we went up to the shack.
Albert dumped his burden on the verandah. Hank produced his knife, but the Scotland Yard man insisted on loosing the knot that held the line about the parcel with his fingers. I could scarcely contain my impatience as I watched him fiddling with the sopping line, picking and tugging at the tough knot, as though he had the entire day before him.
At last he was done, and the line dropped to the ground. Carrying the package, he led the way into the shack. There was a slight rending sound as he tore the edges of the oil silk apart, disclosing a small cardboard box.
It was inscribed, "Cartier, Fifth Avenue, New York."
"Ha!" cried the sheriff triumphantly and, seizing the box, prised open the lid. A layer of tissue paper came into view. Hank discarded the paper, then I saw his face change. He plunged his fingers into the box and drew out, not the leather case we had expected to see, or even the diamond bangle itself, but a small cylinder, of dark, oxidised metal.
With a fierce exclamation like a snarl, the Scotland Yard man snatched it from him. "By Gad," he ground out between his teeth, "I was looking for one of these, but I never expected to find it!" And he slammed it down on the table.
"But what is it?" I asked.
Dene, however, was in no mood to be questioned. He was bubbling with excitement. "I knew the old girl was wrong," he vociferated. "I said she heard no shot from the cabin at the hour she spoke of, but this tells us that no report can have been heard at any time. By the Lord Harry, now I can go to work at last!"
Hank had grabbed him by the coat and was vainly trying to attract his attention. "What in the hell are you talkin' about?" he demanded sourly. "Trev, will you shet up an' listen ter me? Jes' what is thisyar contraption?"
On that the young man seemed to come to his senses. "Sorry, Hank. It's a silencer! Do you mean to tell me you never saw a silencer before?"
A voice spoke from the doorway. "Is this a council of war, or may the general public come in?"
IT was Dr. Bracegirdle. I don't know that there was anybody I was less willing to see at that particular moment—I was beginning to find him dull and prolix and inquisitive. Dene felt as I did, I knew: I told myself he'd keep his own counsel as long as the doctor was present, and I was on fire to hear from my young friend's lips his explanation of our surprising discovery.
"I was out in a boat with Miss Ryder," Bracegirdle, quite impervious to the sudden silence which greeted his appearance, explained and came into the room. "We saw you all rushing out to the rock, so I thought I'd drop in and find out what it's all about. Why did you pull the float up, and what's this package that seemed to be attached to it?"
"What do you know about any package?" Hank demanded gruffly. "You ain't tellin' me you wuz near enough to see what we wuz at?"
The old gentleman smiled and half drew a pair of binoculars from the side pocket of his alpaca jacket. "I had my glasses with me. I always take them when I go out on the lake. I like to study the birds. I hope I wasn't indiscreet..." He broke off as his eye fell upon the metal cylinder resting in a pool of water on the table. "Why, good gracious me," he exclaimed, "if it isn't a silencer!" His hand strayed to the oil silk trailing on a chair. "Wrapped in oil silk and attached to the buoy. My word, that's an ingenious hiding-place!" He glanced at Dene. "May one look at it?"
"Help yourself!" said Dene, civilly enough. "Any finger prints have long since been wiped clean, you may lay to that!"
The doctor had picked up the silencer and was examining it with interest.
"It's most bewildering!" he remarked at last. "From the circumstances in which it was discovered we're bound to infer, of course, that the murderer used it. Then what becomes of the shot Miss Ryder heard?"
"She heard no shot, Doctor—at least, not the shot that killed Haversley," was Dene's quiet reply. "You see, he was shot a good hour earlier than you led us to believe..."
The old man was up in arms at once. "Who says so?" he demanded, scowling.
"Mrs. Haversley has definitely established that point."
He stared at the speaker, drawing down his bushy eyebrows. "Mrs. Haversley?"
"It was she who tidied up the room under the impression that her husband had committed suicide as the result of a scene with Waters. When she found Haversley around eleven o'clock the body was already cooling off."
Dr. Bracegirdle looked conscience-stricken. "You astonish me! How is it possible I could have been so greatly at fault? I'd have staked my professional reputation."
I was surprised to see Dene smile quite amiably. "We all make mistakes, sir..."
"Yes, but, dear me, when I think that I've led you all astray! It seems I owe you an apology, young man. And you, too, Sheriff!" He sighed wistfully. "Friends, I'm getting on for seventy, and with the advancing years, you know, the faculties become gradually blunted. We doctors know that a man is endowed with only a certain amount of vitality, and that when it's exhausted..." He shook his head. "I'm confused—I don't know what to say!" Out of his small, shrewd eyes he shot a piercing glance at Dene. "But this puts a wholly different aspect on the matter. To be quite frank, friend Hank," he went on prosily, turning to the sheriff, "I wasn't much impressed by your suggestion that young Jarvis would have had time to leave his bed, sneak down to the trapper's cabin and commit the crime, all within the five minutes between eleven o'clock and five past. But now that the time of the murder's set back to ten, his alibi's blown to smithereens. For at that hour, by his own admission, he was off by himself—out on the lake, as he claims. That's clear, isn't it?" He gazed about him in triumph.
"As clear as ditch water!" rumbled the sheriff disgustedly. "The young feller's no gangster, for all he's in Wall Street as they tell me. Wal, whar in mischeef does he git one o' them things?" He pointed sternly at the silencer. "Their sale's agin the law—that's a' coorse, why gangsters an' gunmen have 'em. That's why, me bein' sheriff of a decent, lawabidin' county, if you don't reckon in game offences, I never seed one afore." He paused to administer a passing wipe to his nose with the back of his hand and with a loud sniff went on, "Then thar's this!" Impressively he tapped the silencer. "This means dee-liberate murder, this means planning, see? Are you goin' ter tell me this young' man's the sort as'd tote one o' theseyar contraptions round in his baggage? He looks kinda short in the temper ter me, an' I wouldn't put it past him, if he catched them two tergether, he mightn't a' let Haversley have it out of a gun. You kin say I'm all wet, that he was layin' fer him with the silencer ready an' all, but what about this? He told us he never stirred out of his bed once he come in off'n the water 'bout half-past ten. Right?"
"That's his statement, I believe, yes," said the doctor loftily.
Hank's nubbly index finger smartly rapped the table. "If he's the murderer, he wuz the only one ter know Haversley worn't shot at eleven, ain't that so?"
"I suppose so."
"Then why wuz he so sat on fixin' hisself a alibi fer eleven?"
"Naturally, because he knew we all believed Haversley to have been killed at eleven!" The doctor's tone was testy.
"Jes' ter be on the safe side, wouldn't he have fixed hisself a alibi fer the real time? 'Stead o' that, he admits he ain't got one. Whar's the sense?"
Dene had taken no part in the argument. He had flung himself down on my bed, and sprawled there, propped on one elbow, staring at the roof and meditatively smoking his pipe. But he had evidently been listening, for he remarked sotto voce, "Well reasoned, Hank!"
Old Bracegirdle grunted. "Well," he observed stubbornly, "in the light of this afternoon's discovery, all I can say is that it's strange he should have found it necessary to take a boat out on that particular night. And if Dave Jarvis isn't the murderer, perhaps you'll tell me who is?"
Hank wriggled his shoulders. "I've been thinkin'. Thar's one party as comes inter this whose movements Sunday night'd bear investigatin'!"
The doctor tittered. "It's not Pete here, I hope?"
But the sheriff was in no mood for joking. "No, it ain't Pete," he returned morosely, "nor you, neether, Doc. It's that Miss Ingersoll!"
I had a shock. With a pang I realised that I was responsible for steering the sheriff's thoughts to this quarter—the story I'd told him and Dene of my midnight encounter with the secretary must have sounded most compromising for her. But I said nothing for the moment. The fact that she'd made me her confidant—claimed me, indeed, as an ally—sealed my lips. I waited impatiently for what was to come.
But Bracegirdle, the old bore, gave Hank no chance to develop his line of thought. "Miss Ingersoll, eh?" he broke in. "Now that's most interesting. A capable, even a masterful, young woman. Red-haired—the possessive, jealous type, if I know anything of the traits that go with that colouring. Of course, she was devoted to poor Haversley, but equally I fancy she'd have been quick to resent any encroachment upon her influence over him..."
"She wasn't in love with him, if that's what you mean," I said.
He laughed. "My dear fellow, all women fall for philanderers of his description!"
"I dunno nothin' 'bout her type," Hank now declared. "All I knows is that she comes from Chicago or near by, and that by all accounts them gangsters in Illinois have regl'ar arsenals of tommy guns an' silencers an' such things. An' that bangle points ter her, too. She knew about it, 'cos she signed fer it when it come, let alone Haversley showin' it ter her. An' the Carruthers girl ain't got it, nor yit Jarvis!"
"It's odd your bringing her name up," the doctor struck in, "because, you know, it was she who first accused Waters."
The sheriff seemed impressed. "That's right, too. And it wuz she as first put us wise ter the bangle. Pete catched her at the trapper's cabin in the middle of the night. She said she wuz lookin' fer the bangle, but what she wuz arter, I guess, wuz the bill, ter get rid of it."
"Good gracious me!" exclaimed the old gentleman all of a flutter, "I'd no idea of this. And, of course, she has no alibi—she told us she was upstairs that night, in her room typing. Have you searched her room—for the bangle, I mean?"
"Not yit we ain't," said Hank, "but I reckon we ought. How 'bout et, Trev?"
"We'll speak of this again," Dene answered, glancing through the open door. "Here's Lumsden and the lawyer chap—I fancy they're looking for you, Hank!"
I remembered that Lauff, the lawyer from Chicago, and Dene had already met at the depot. The lawyer nodded affably to Dene and stood to one side, a dapper, plump man in rimless glasses and a grey suit, while Charles spoke to the sheriff.
"What's this I hear from Wilson about this escaped convict being seen on the highway?" Charles demanded rather excitedly. "It seems to be raining desperadoes round here just now—this is the second case we've had in three days. What are we going to do about it?"
Hank began to detail the measures he had ordered—patrols on the road and so forth. I didn't listen to him particularly—I was thinking about Miss Ingersoll. Bracegirdle was right as far as it went. It was she—none knew it better than I—who by her violent attacks on Graziella had started up the inquiry into Waters's movements on the night of the murder, she again who, when the case against Waters showed signs of crumbling, had used me—I was unpleasantly conscious of it now—to throw suspicion on Sara in the matter of the bangle. I put my mind back. Why, she might have overheard Dene telling me that Waters was likely to be released—only an instant before she'd come out on the verandah where we were talking! She could not have foreseen that I would surprise her ransacking the cabin, but when she was caught she had been quick to turn the situation to her advantage. I felt more and more disturbed.
Hank had taken out the police photograph of the fugitive and was showing it to Charles. Lauff strolled across to look at it. Suddenly he uttered a loud exclamation.
"But, good God," he cried in a bewildered voice, "it's Henry Kummer!"
DENE seemed to leap a foot in the air. "What?" he trumpeted. "Not the fellow you were telling me about—the chap who comes into all Haversley's money?"
"Old Hermann Kummer's next of kin?" This was from Charles. "But this man's a convict, a lifer. There must be some mistake!"
"I know what I'm talking about," said the lawyer firmly. "It's twenty years since I last set eyes on him, and he's thinner and older-looking. But it's Henry Kummer all right, old Hermann's cousin, and the only Kummer left. I'd know him anywhere by that dinge on the side of his head. It's where his pony kicked him when he was a kid—I always thought it affected his brain by the way he cut up afterwards. I haven't heard of him for years—I imagined he was dead, killed in the War, or something." He gazed at the photograph again. "So he ended up in jail. For life, eh? and in an assumed name. I'm not surprised—he was always a wild fellow. Lucky for Henry old Kummer's mind went back on him three or four years before he died, or he'd surely have altered his will. The old boy must be spinning in his grave at the thought of this jail-bird coming into all the money. Well, I always told Vic he ought to have a child!"
"But what brings the fellow here?" Charles wanted to know. "He's obviously heard of Haversley's death, although I'm sure I don't know how."
"They git the noospapers in jail, that's how!" the sheriff elucidated.
"Even so, why risk a jail break? He doesn't think he can walk in here and collect a few million dollars before the will's proved, surely?"
"As far as I'm aware," Lauff observed, "he doesn't even know that he's old Kummer's heir. He was abroad somewhere—in Australia, I believe—when the old man died, and our letters were returned unopened."
"He knew all right," Hank declared sombrely. "This ain't the first crime that's been planned in jail, you know that, Mr. Lauff!"
"I don't see how he could have killed poor Haversley, if that's what you mean," the lawyer replied, "since he broke out only this morning."
"I don't mean nothin' of the sort," was the dogged rejoinder. "There wuz only Haversley between this jail-bird an' the Kummer millions, you told us. Henry's in Dannemora doin' a stretch, but he kin have a 'complice here at the camp, can't he?"
"An accomplice here at the camp?" Charles repeated in a shocked voice. "Good heavens, Hank! What are you saying?"
After his initial outburst Dene had fallen silent, standing like a statue, and staring with brows knit across the lake. Now he struck in.
"The sheriff," he said, "has made the valuable suggestion that Miss Ingersoll's movements on the night of the murder are worth examining more closely."
Charles seemed to shrink away from him. "Miss Ingersoll? Oh, my God!" he murmured.
"We've every reason to believe that the crime was committed with the aid of that silencer," Dene went on, pointing at the table, "which we discovered hidden in the lake this afternoon. As Hank rightly remarks, only professional criminals seem to be able to get hold of these devilish devices, the sale of which is prohibited by law, and therefore this silencer furnishes a strong presumptive link, if not directly with Kummer in jail, at least with his criminal associates outside. From the fact that Kummer's been seen in the neighbourhood of the camp, we're entitled to infer that he has an accomplice here, as the sheriff suggests. From the very outset Miss Ingersoll has been at pains to incriminate one person after the other, and actually she's given no satisfactory account of her own movements on the night of the murder. We've yet to discover what connection exists between her and Kummer, but it may well be that it was she, in her capacity as private secretary to Haversley, who discovered that Kummer was the next-of-kin. They may be old acquaintances, or she may have made it her business to ascertain his whereabouts and convey the information to him in prison. I can't tell you, but I'm virtually certain, and I'm sure that Dr. Bracegirdle agrees with me"—here his eye sought out the old doctor who was looking very grave—"that we're on the right track at last!"
I held no brief for Barbara Ingersoll, but I had to speak out. She was alone and defenceless, and they were all against her—the sternly condemning expression stamped on every countenance told me that. Her face rose in my mind, so calm and resolute. It was the face of a woman who had had her own way to make in the world, longing for security, eager for happiness, masterful, perhaps, as Bracegirdle had said, jealous, even, but not a liar.
"It all sounds very plausible as you tell it, Dene," I declared, "but, believe me, you're making a terrible mistake. Miss Ingersoll's lost a good job, and anything she's done or said to hamper this investigation has been governed by her terror of falling into the hands of the police and never finding another. She's a high-minded girl, a respectable girl, and not in a thousand years would she associate with criminals!"
With unexpected ferocity the Scotland Yard man rounded on me—the suddenness of his attack fairly took my breath away.
"You keep out of this, Blakeney!" he said waspishly. "You've interfered enough. You encourage your friend Mrs. Haversley to withhold vitally important evidence, and I've yet to discover what's really at the back of your nocturnal meeting with the Ingersoll girl at the trapper's cabin. You may as well understand that it's a serious business to hamper a police investigation, as the sheriff will tell you, and my advice to you is to watch your step. And see here, one word to the Ingersoll girl about what you've heard here this afternoon, and you'll find yourself where you can do no more harm!" With that he turned his back on me.
The blood rushed into my face. The fellow had a nerve, taking that tone with me! Before I could reply, however, I felt my arm gripped. It was Charles.
"Not now, old man!" he whispered.
"But he can't talk like that to me!"
"To oblige me, Pete—you can have it out with him later!"
I noticed that Hank said nothing. He did not even look at me—I had the feeling he was anxious I shouldn't think he associated himself with Dene's attack. So I shrugged and fell silent.
Bracegirdle was speaking. "That bangle would give us a valuable clue," he said to Dene. "If we could only find the bangle. She must have it somewhere, unless she's sent it away!"
"I bin on to the post-mistress about that," Hank put in. "There ain't bin no packet despatched from the village from anyone at the camp for more'n a week."
"Then it's still here," affirmed the doctor. "You'll search her room?" he said to Dene.
Charles, with his fine sense of a host's responsibilities, looked miserable. "It's inevitable, I suppose?" he remarked.
The Scotland Yard man nodded. "Yes, but it's essential she shouldn't suspect anything until I've been able to make some inquiries into her background. I'm going to the village now, and in the meantime I'd suggest that you should get her out of the way, somehow, and that perhaps you and the doctor here should then make a thorough search!"
"I guess I'd better go along, too," said Hank.
"My dear fellow," Dene cried excitedly, "you're coming with me. Is your car still there?"
"Then let's go!" He turned to Charles. "You'll make a good job of it, won't you? And above all don't let her smell a rat! I'll be along later!"
Grabbing Hank by the arm and, stopping only to pick up the silencer and its box, he stormed out.
MURDER, the criminologists tell us, springs from one of three passions—love, revenge or greed; and of these three causes the last-named is the most frequent. I had to admit to myself that the props had been knocked from under every theory I had formed about the case. With the appearance on the scene of the mysterious George Martin and his identification as Henry Kummer, the murdered man's heir, an entirely fresh motive, and one much stronger than any we had examined, was disclosed. Fritz Waters and young Jarvis were automatically discarded, for, with every step we advanced, it became increasingly clear that this was no crime passionel, no murder committed in hot blood, but a frigidly calculated, deep-laid conspiracy to slaughter the wretched Haversley in order to inherit from him.
The poet who wrote of meeting murder on the way didn't know what he was talking about. He wouldn't have recognised a murderer if he'd seen one. The murderer, I knew now, has no especial face. One of the house-party at Wolf Lake had shed blood; yet as we ate and drank and slept and went about the daily round there was no telling which was the criminal. With a sickening sense of doubt, I realised that I might be wholly mistaken in Miss Ingersoll. Every murder case has its record of dupes to show, and I wouldn't be the first man whose suspicions were lulled or even nipped in the bud by the nimble wits of a ruthless and unscrupulous woman. As the realisation came to me I wished from the bottom of my heart, play or no play, I'd never seen the camp or any of its inhabitants—yes, even Graziella.
With the appearance of Charles and the doctor, Albert had slipped away, and we now had the shack to ourselves. Seeing that the other two were busy talking, I went to the sideboard and poured myself a stiff shot of rye. Bracegirdle was telling Charles about the finding of the silencer and the deductions Dene had based upon this clue as to the hour at which the murder was committed. I must say the old boy was quite candid about the mistake he had made. Rather gruffly Charles wanted to know about the shot Miss Ryder was supposed to have heard. Either there was a shot or there wasn't—she couldn't have imagined it. Bracegirdle was vague. They must question her. To-morrow, not tonight. She hadn't recovered from her attack at the cabin, although she'd insisted on going out on the lake for a breath of air. Her heart wasn't strong—all this business had upset her very much.
Charles came across to me. "You mustn't mind what Dene said," he told me. "He's a bit rattled, and no wonder..."
"Graziella told me her story in confidence," I said. "I couldn't give her away."
"I know..." Charles was a good friend, altogether a grand person. "But, Pete, old man, you must help us now. I'm going to tell Miss Ingersoll you want to speak to her down here—you can find some pretext—and while she's with you, we'll search her room..."
"And then, when the bangle isn't forthcoming, have Dene accuse me of tipping her off? Thank you!"
"Dene's a reasonable chap—he must know, the same as we all do, that whoever had that bangle has long since got rid of it."
"I'm sorry, Charles, but I'd rather not have anything to do with it!"
"I'll make it all right with Dene, I tell you!"
"I'm not thinking of Dene now, it's the girl. Supposing Vic did give her that bracelet, does it prove that she killed him?"
"It'll go the hell of a way towards proving it. What about that box?"
"The box the silencer was packed in. It's a Cartier box, isn't it? Man, don't you see it's a direct link between the bangle and the killing?"
It was true—I'd overlooked the point.
Charles said firmly, "I'm going to search her room, and if the bangle isn't there, I'll search the house. If I had my way, I'd like to have her up and tax her point-blank with the crime, but I suppose we'll have to leave that to Dene. Come on, Pete, you'll help us, I know." His eye fell on my portable. "You can tell her you've some typing to give her!"
Old Bracegirdle struck in. "It's a social duty, my boy. Don't you think poor Haversley deserves a thought? The least we can do is to put all personal considerations aside and try to find his murderer!"
"This girl's nothing to me..." I was beginning pretty irately when the door was rapped.
Trooper Good, stalwart and trim, stood there. "Oh, Mr. Blakeney," he announced, "the sheriff sent me back for the float." As he spoke, his left eyelid quivered at me in an unmistakable wink.
"It's on the verandah, Fred—I'll bring the line so you won't get snarled up," I said, and went out to him, taking the length of fish-line with me.
The trooper glanced over my shoulder, as I faced him, into the room beyond, then, rapidly opening and shutting his hand, gave me a glimpse of a twist of paper lying there. "He don't want the weight," he explained and bent to free the float from its cable. As he stooped he whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "From Mr. Dene. I wasn't to let no one see me hand it over. Walk a piece along the lake with me and I'll slip it to you!"
Greatly wondering, I obeyed. Where the trees, spreading their branches over the path beside the water, hid us from prying eyes, Fred gave me the note and, carrying the float, went on his way to the dock, where the tall figure of the sheriff was visible addressing a group of troopers. It was a sheet of thin paper torn from a notebook, folded lengthwise and twisted once across, like the notes one passed in class at school. I unfolded the paper and read:
Quite right to stick up for her, but I lay you an even ten to one in dollars or pounds, just as you say, that they'll find that bangle in her room. Keep this to yourself, but see if I'm not right.
P.S. Does she fish?
I had a sense of relief on perusing this curious communication. I guessed it was the Scotland Yard man's fashion of letting me know that he'd definitely traced the bangle to Miss Ingersoll's possession. Remembering his cautious nature, I was sure he wouldn't have committed himself to any such statement without good grounds, and I felt the last vestiges of my faith in the secretary slowly draining away. Also, I was not displeased at finding myself thus apparently reinstated in Dene's favour, although I was considerably puzzled by the abrupt transition from the hectoring tone he'd used to me before and the almost genial tenor of his note. I read the letter through twice, then tore it into small pieces, which I thrust down a rabbit-hole.
Charles and the doctor awaited me with evident impatience.
"She'll be going up to dress in another half an hour," said Charles, "and I want to get the job over with before dinner. What about it, Pete? Are you in on this or not?"
"Okay," I told him. "You can send her along!"
And I poured myself another drink of whisky.
I needed stimulating. I hated the role they had wished on me. Sitting there, I felt like Judas must have felt when he waited in the garden for the Master. I was the only friend this girl had in the house: she had given me her sympathy and her confidence, and in return I was to betray her—to lull her into a false sense of security, while Charles and that old pantaloon, Bracegirdle, went snuffling about among her possessions. Well, it was too late to draw back now. No half measures—I should have to make a thorough job of it. After all, she had the bangle—Dene seemed convinced of it, and he ought to know; it meant she had been lying throughout. In that case, she deserved no mercy. I took another drink.
I was at the sideboard when I heard her step outside.
"Mr. Lumsden said you wanted to see me about some typing," she announced from the door.
"That's right," I told her. "Come in and sit down. It's the first half of the Third Act. Drink?"
"No, thanks." She had seated herself at the table and was eyeing my portable. "Is this your typing?" she demanded, looking at a sheet in the machine.
Severely she ran her finger along the type. "Has this machine ever been cleaned?"
"I guess not!"
She shook her head. "The typewriter companies pay dividends out of people like you. Have you a brush?"
I handed over the tool-box and, tucking back her cuffs, she started to clean the machine.
"What are they going to do about Dave Jarvis?" she asked me, brushing away.
I shrugged. "I've no idea. Hank and Dene have gone off somewhere..."
"Does that mean they've discovered something fresh?"
"I can't tell you!"
"Did they get anything out of your friend, Mrs. Haversley?"
"I haven't the remotest notion! Can't we talk about something else for a change? I'm sick and tired of the whole subject!"
I guess my tone was pretty irritable. Without looking up from her task, she remarked quietly, "I'm sure whisky isn't good for that chest of yours..."
I laughed. "First, it's my cigarettes, then it's whisky! You'll have your work cut out if you start trying to reform me, my dear!"
A little, secretive smile hovered round her lips as she tested the roller. "It's time someone took you in hand!" For a spell she went on with her cleaning in silence. "I think you'll find that better," she said at last. "Now where's the stuff you want me to type?"
I handed her my MS. in a folder.
"May I read it?" she asked.
"Why not? You'll have to, anyway, if you're going to copy it!"
My tone was harsher than I'd meant it to be, but the situation was getting on my nerves. She turned her level gaze on me.
"May I have a cigarette, please?"
I pushed the packet over to her. "Do you think they're good for you?" I said drily.
She smiled. "Ah, but I haven't got a groggy lung, you see!"
She stooped to the match I held and, putting on her hideous spectacles, started to read.
I was in a fever of impatience. I could picture Charles and the doctor opening closets, rooting in bureaux—at any moment I expected to see one of them appear and silently beckon me out. At last, unable to stand the suspense any longer, I began to pace up and down.
At once the girl looked up. "Oh, please!" she murmured. "Can't you sit still? I've nearly finished..."
"Put it aside!" I bade her. "You'll be reading it by and by. I want to talk..."
Then Dene's postscript crept into my mind and I added, "Tell me about yourself! What are you interested in particularly?"
She shrugged. "Work. Holding down my job. Why?"
"I meant as recreation. There's fishing, for example, I haven't seen you doing any fishing up here, have I?"
"I'm not a guest like the rest of you," she answered with a laugh. "I'm a bee, not a drone!"
"But do you fish?"
She laughed incredulously. "Me? The only fishing I've ever done is for jobs." She laid her hand down on my MS. "Why didn't you tell me you could write like this?"
My flippancy left her unmoved. "That love scene at the opening of the act—my dear, it's charming! It's so tender, so—so intuitive. And the speech in which Stephen tells Daphne his reasons for loving her—my dear, it has a sort of flaming sincerity about it that—that scorches. Just reading it gave me a lump in the throat. I'd no idea you had it in you!"
"Maybe it's a case of vicarious satisfaction, like the old maids who write sex books!"
She sighed. "I wish you wouldn't always be so cynical. I think it's splendid that a man who's been through what you have should have kept his ideals..."
"The ideals of one's youth are the false gods of one's middle years!"
She gave me a scathing look. "That's a good epigram for a play, but it's not true..." And before I knew it we were deep in an argument about love.
She had praised me, praised my writing. And she was easy to talk to, restful, quick to grasp a point, a good listener. I won't say I forgot the shadow that hung over her, but I found myself encouraging her to talk because it prevented me from watching the hands of my alarum clock inexorably advancing towards the hour of the dressing-bell and straining my ears for the summons I expected. It was with a sense of shock that at last, on the stroke of seven, I heard Charles's step on the verandah. At the same moment the first gong for dinner boomed from the house.
Charles came in. He was alone. His face told me nothing—he had himself well in hand. At the sound of the gong Miss Ingersoll had gathered up my MS., and on seeing Charles she made hastily for the door.
"I just looked in to see if I could persuade Pete to dine with us," he remarked easily as she passed him.
But when she was gone he dropped the mask. Silently he spread his fingers—something flashed and scintillated in the evening light.
"We had a rare hunt," he said, "but we found it at last. It was hidden at the bottom of her laundry bag hanging in the bathroom."
AS long as I live I shall remember that interminable evening. Every detail seems to have burnt itself into my memory. I believe I can still recite the menu at dinner—I know there was lake trout, and chicken en casserole, and one of the chef's most delicious concoctions, in which peaches and ice cream and hot raspberry sauce figured. By Dr. Bracegirdle's orders old Miss Ryder had kept her bed, and Fritz Waters was, of course, still absent; but with these exceptions the whole of our party appeared—Graziella, Sara and Dave, Miss Ingersoll, everybody, including the lawyer, who was staying the night. This was Edith's doing, I surmised. Lauff was a stranger—it was like her to insist on everyone putting up a good front before him: she took her duties as a hostess very seriously.
Dinner was a ghastly ordeal—not alone for me, for all of us. By merely closing my eyes I can revisualise the scene—the oval table at the end of the long living-room with its shaded candles and lace mats—and hear in spirit the rattle of knives and forks, the occasional nervous cough, which would break in upon the inevitable silence falling upon every conversational opening. As chance would have it, Miss Ingersoll was seated immediately opposite me: after what had taken place between us when we met on the verandah, immediately before going into dinner, she must have found the position as intolerable as I did.
I'd accepted Charles's invitation, not because I relished the prospect of spending the evening in the girl's company, but because, in the mood in which I found myself, any company was preferable to my own. Furthermore, I meant to be on hand when Hank and Dene should return. Charles had despatched Albert across the lake with a note to the sheriff reporting the discovery of the bangle: meanwhile, we had only to wait.
When I reached the house, the cocktails were over and the party was just moving in from the verandah to dinner. I'd had another whisky at the shack with Charles and, feeling that I'd had all that was good for me, I was content to forgo a cocktail and follow the rest in—when the screen door from the living-room opened and Miss Ingersoll came out.
She said to me in a distressed sort of voice, "Don't go in for a minute! I want to speak to you!"
On that, glancing behind her at the lights on the dinner-table shining through the open windows, she drew me a little way along the verandah.
"They've been searching my room," she exclaimed tremulously and reiterated: "They've been searching my room! Oh, Pete, whatever am I going to do?"
She had missed the bangle, of course! Maybe the whisky I'd been drinking had something to do with it, but I could only stare blankly at her, at a loss for words. Dusk was creeping along the verandah, and the black evening frock into which she'd changed seemed to merge with the shadows, so that only her face was visible, a pale oval with beseeching eyes. Consternation dawned in their depths as for a long moment her glance held mine.
"So that was why you sent for me?" she murmured at last and, turning quickly, went inside.
I thought that, knowing herself to be suspected, she'd have made some excuse for not dining. But no! When I entered the living-room, there she was, seated at table with the rest. Evidently she was running away from nothing—whatever was in store for her, she meant to stay and face it out. I couldn't help admiring her pluck.
Never once throughout dinner, though every time I raised my eyes from my plate they rested on her face, did she glance my way. Once more doubt assailed me—surely no woman who had planned and carried out a cold-blooded murder could look like that! Freed from their disfiguring lenses, her eyes were cool and reflective, and her dark frock gave her quite a distinguished air, the candle-light stressing the creamy whiteness of her skin. Her hair, I mused, toying with my sherry glass, was exactly the shade of Charles's Amontillado. But as I studied her I seemed to see that band of diamonds clasped about her wrist, and I groaned within me. How could I shut my eyes to the evidence of the bangle?
The fruit was being served when Charles was called away to the telephone. I was too far away to hear the message the maid brought, but old Bracegirdle evidently heard it, for he rose at once and followed Charles out. I guessed that Hank or Dene was on the wire. We rose from the table for our coffee, and when Charles and the doctor failed to return, I went in search of them. Charles had a small office or study off the hall—I found them there.
Charles said, "This is a nice business, Pete. Dene rang me just now. They won't be over again to-night, either he or Hank..."
"He knows about the bangle, does he?"
"Of course. But he says his inquiries about the girl aren't yet complete—he proposes to take no steps about questioning her till the morning. I rather gather that Hank's scared of making another false arrest. Well, here we are with a murderess on our hands! I tell you one thing—I'm going on guard outside her room to-night. I bet you what you like she knows by this that she's suspected. She'd guess as much the moment she found the bangle was gone!"
"She knows you searched her room, at any rate—she tackled me about it before dinner. Are you sure you didn't leave the place in a mess?"
Charles flushed. "We had to scramble it a bit—we didn't know how long you'd be able to hold her. But it's all one—she was bound to discover that the bangle was missing, as I told Dene..." His voice became plaintive. "I don't know what's come over those two. Hank left three troopers to patrol round the camp in case this fellow Martin should show up again. Well, Albert just came in to say Hank's withdrawn them on the strength of some cock-and-bull story about this bird having been spotted heading south for the railroad. Hank wasn't there when I spoke to Dene. I remonstrated with Dene, but he says he can't interfere..."
I shrugged. "Then we adjourn till morning?"
"That's about the size of it," Charles grumbled.
The doctor, who had been standing by listening, pulled out his watch. "I promised Janet I'd run in on her at the Yellow Lodge after dinner and see how she is," he remarked. "Then I believe I'll turn in myself—it's been a strenuous day. Good-night, Charles!"
"We'll see you as far as the verandah, Oscar," our host replied, and we returned to the living-room.
A fire of hickory logs that blazed in the great stone fireplace reminded us that the summer was on the wane. The big room was curiously still. Then I perceived that Edith had pressed the whole party into helping her with her picture puzzle—a gigantic affair of 1200 pieces on which she and Miss Ryder, with spasmodic assistance from the rest of us, had been working for days. There was little talking in the group gathered about the puzzle table—they were all intent on the job so that the doctor's cheery "Good-night, everybody!" met with but a half-hearted response.
Outside, the temperature had dropped, and there was a sharp edge to the wind that sent the dead leaves dancing along the verandah. The night was black and blustery, and the light above the entrance to the Bachelor Bungalow below us seemed to rise and fall as the branches of the trees swayed before it. Lower still, where a wider dimness marked the presence of the lake, there was a little square of radiance. It was a lighted window of the Yellow Lodge, crouched at the water's edge. Old Bracegirdle remarked on it.
"Janet hasn't settled down for the night yet, at any rate," he observed. "Good-night, you two! See you in the morning, Charles!" Buttoning up his jacket, he disappeared down the path.
We went back to the living-room. The party was working on the puzzle in teams—one on the margin, one on the sky, a third on the figures and so forth. Miss Ingersoll, I noticed, had teamed up with Lauff and Dickie Lumsden. She was self-possessed, and apparently absorbed in the work—the stir of her eyelids as she dropped her eyes quickly on my approach was the only sign she gave of being aware of my presence.
Standing up at the back, I watched them moodily. From time to time, with a little "Ah!" of elation, someone would fit a piece into position. Presently I found myself thinking of Dene. Somewhere out there in the darkness we had just left he, too, was putting a puzzle together. The wires must be humming to New York and Chicago and Dannemora to the North: at police headquarters in both cities and in the prison registry a great hunting through of records must be in progress; and as the night wore on and the reports began to pour in, Dene's puzzle, even as Edith's, would gradually assume form and shape. I could almost see him, with those finely-modelled hands of his, patiently sorting over the pieces, testing them, trying them out, one after the other, until he found the one that would smoothly drop into place.
But what figure, what face, would the completed picture reveal? For that we must wait until morning.
Seeing that they were all wrapt up in their task, I did not bother to say good-night, but crept silently away to bed.
FROM the depths of the uncharted ocean of sleep I came to the surface of consciousness. A hand was on my mouth, gently shaking me: a whisper rustled, "Pete! Pete, wake up!"
The shack was in darkness, the night outside the windows as black as pitch. I struck the hand aside and grabbed the electric torch I kept under my pillow. But even as I switched it on, it was plucked from my grasp and dark enveloped us again.
"No light, for God's sake!" came a rapid whisper.
It was Dene.
I sat up. I could just make him out, a dim silhouette perched on the side of the bed.
"What time is it?" I asked.
"Half-past twelve. Keep your voice low, will you? What did you want to turn in so early for?"
"You told Lumsden you weren't coming back. What's up?"
"Nothing. If you don't mind, I'd like to sit with you here for a bit—I'm expecting a message."
"Do you want a drink?"
"I could do with one, if you can find the whisky in the dark..."
"Wait!" I groped my way to the sideboard, found the bottle and siphon by touch, and mixed him a highball. "Is Hank with you?" I whispered, handing him his drink.
"He'll be along. Here's cheers!" A gurgle, a sigh of satisfaction, then he said under his breath, "You had my note?"
"Yes. I owe you a dollar, do I? Or is it a pound?"
A repressed chuckle came out of the dark. I felt the warmth of his hand on mine. "You're not mad at me for ticking you off like that?"
"It wasn't necessary!"
He chuckled again. "Believe me, it was!"
"It was the Ingersoll girl, then?"
"We'd better not talk any more now, do you mind?" he whispered. "Go to sleep again if you want to, or if you'd like to see this thing through with me, put on some clothes. It's coolish out of doors! But don't make any more noise than you can help!"
I collected my things and dressed as best I could in the dark, winding a woolly scarf round my neck against the nip in the air. Then I sat down beside him on the bed. Faces to the door we waited.
As silence descended upon the shack, all the nocturnal noises of the woods began to make themselves heard. Above the incessant croaking of the frogs at the water's edge unearthly cries and whoops and chatterings came spasmodically to our ears. Murder and sudden death are the order of the night in the forest, and as we settled down to our vigil in the dark I found myself thinking of stealthy shapes slinking through the undergrowth, of eyes greenly glowing, of snarling lips drawn back over sharp and cruel fangs. Even so, under cover of night, I reflected with a thrill of repulsion, Haversley's murderer had stolen forth to the kill.
Dene's immobility was extraordinary—he did not stir as much as a muscle. As time crept on, however, I realised that, for all his apparent stolidity, his nerves were stretched almost to breaking point—he was like a sprinter crouched in his lane waiting for the starting gun. It may be that the darkness and the quiet rendered me unduly receptive of such influences, but I seemed to be aware of a magnetic fluid emanating from the rock-like figure at my side, setting up vibrations that sent wave upon wave of excitement rolling over me until, for sheer suspense, I could have screamed out. But the Scotland Yard man's calm was inexorable, and with an effort I controlled myself.
We must have sat an hour thus when an owl hooted thrice and then twice immediately outside. Instantly Dene was on his feet: the pressure of his hand on my thigh said, as plainly as if he'd spoken, Stay where you are!
Noiselessly he tiptoed to the door and was gone. A moment later the door grated softly. His "Ps-t!" was no louder than a sigh. As I joined him on the verandah, I was aware of a lanky figure retreating across the grass in the direction of the path that snaked its way along the lake bank. There was no mistaking that angular silhouette—it was Hank. Although he was not a dozen paces away when I caught sight of him, the next instant, moving absolutely without sound, he was gone, swallowed up in that Stygian darkness.
I had never known so dark a night since my days at the front. There should have been a moon, but masses of cloud, felt rather than seen, obscured it, blotting out the stars and lowering the ceiling above our heads. Like a pall of black velvet the night lay over the lake.
Dene put his lips to my ear. "Hank!" he whispered. "He'll show a light through the trees there when he wants us." He pointed in the direction of the dock. "We'd best prop the door open so that we can see his signal from inside. Where's that weight?"
"The weight the float was attached to. It was here. Or did the trooper take it?"
"The trooper didn't take it. And it was here this evening when I went to bed. I saw it!" I groped on the floor: the weight had disappeared.
We heard the owl cry again. It came from the opening of the path. Dene spun round, and was down the steps in a flash, with me at his heels. Round a bend in the path we almost collided with two dim shapes. One was Hank. The clank of a spur revealed the other: it was Trooper Good.
The sheriff said under his breath: "I met Fred: I come back, as we daren't show a light. They've took a boat out, he says!"
"A boat?" Dene's tense whisper echoed. "Who?"
"I couldn't see nothin', it's that all-fired dark," the trooper replied in a hushed voice. "An' I dasen't go too near, case they spotted me—I remembered what you an' the sheriff said. But I heard them talking, quiet like, back o' the Yaller Lodge, an' then the sound of oars..." He raised his hand. "Listen, you can still hear them!" In the deathly silence that ensued the measured thump of rowlocks rose distinctly to our ears.
"A boat?" the Scotland Yard man repeated softly—he seemed bewildered. Then he grabbed my arm. "My God," he rasped under his breath, "the weight!" He seized hold of the sheriff. "Come on, Hank, we've got to follow them!"
"What weight?" demanded Hank bluntly.
"Don't waste time arguing!" Dene snarled. "Cut on ahead, you Fred Good, and start up that big motor launch of Lumsden's!"
"The cruiser?" muttered the sheriff dubiously. "They'll hear us, son: you'll scare 'em off whatever they're at. Better take a canoe—we kin sneak up on 'em in a canoe!"
"And arrive too late?" the Scotland Yard man ground out between his teeth. "Do I have to fetch out that blasted launch myself? Go on, Fred, what the Hades are you waiting for?"
The trooper wanted no further urging: in his wake the three of us went pounding along the path. He soon outstripped us: already his feet rang hollow on the boathouse boards as we reached the dock. The light on the landing-stage had been switched off. The lake was swathed in blackness—like a long ink-blot it spread itself under the lowering sky. In vain we strained our eyes across the water—we could distinguish no movement there. Only out of the stillness the rhythmic thump of oars still faintly resounded.
We fumbled our way into the boathouse. The long, white shape of the cruiser gleamed faintly in its berth. The trooper was at the engine, and as we ran up, with a thunderous roar the motor sprang into life. Fred had already cast off, and in less than a second we were shooting out into the dimness of Wolf Lake.
With his usual impassive air the sheriff had dropped into the stern seat and taken the tiller. Dene and I stood amidships, clutching the bulwarks, for as the cruiser gathered speed she rocked violently. A voice drawled quietly from behind us:
"Thar's a spotlight forrard on the deckhouse, one o' you!"
Simultaneously the Scotland Yard man and I scrambled forward, but Fred's hand was already at the switch. A blinding beam of light clove the darkness, swung this way and that on the dark water, then came to rest on a boat that lay almost in the centre of the lake. I recognised the boat immediately by its vivid primrose hue. It was the skiff that went with the Yellow Lodge—I'd seen Miss Ryder out in it a dozen times.
A man stood erect in the skiff, a short, squat figure in a cap. He was stooping when the light picked up the craft, but as the glare enveloped them, he straightened up and swung about. By this we were no more than a hundred yards apart, and we all saw the sallow, panic-stricken countenance, the broad, Mongol nose.
It was Dr. Bracegirdle. And he was not alone. Beyond him, seated in the stern, clasping the sides of the boat to steady it, was old Miss Ryder.
The water swirled as Hank brusquely put the tiller over to avoid running them down. Dene shouted to Good, "Cut, quick!" He sprang to the light as the trooper relinquished it to obey the order, pivoting the beam until once more it bathed our quarry in its pitiless glare.
What happened then was an affair of split seconds. As the motor died something whined beside my ear, and simultaneously the noise of the report came roaring over the water. A bullet smacked viciously against the woodwork, and three more whizzed by. But, though we were sweeping down on them with the full momentum of that mad rush from the shore, the beam never left them. Dene saw to that. Crouched over the deckhouse in that rain of bullets, he held the beam steady, and in its radiance I had a clear view of Bracegirdle as we raced past. A gun smoked in his hand, and his livid face, every wrinkle and crease distinct in the vivid light, was a mask of fury. The next instant I was almost deafened by an explosion that seemed to be right in my ear, and as we came about, a fraction of a second before the beam momentarily lost the skiff, I saw the doctor pitch forward across the thwarts and vanish from sight.
I glanced behind me. Hank had risen to his feet. He controlled the tiller with his knee, and his right hand grasped a revolver. Its long barrel was pointed skyward, and a little wisp of smoke eddied from it. In the reflected glow of our spotlight his rugged face was like graven stone, and his jaws moved rhythmically.
Another movement of the tiller and as we swung inward, he drawled impassively, "Have your guns ready, fellers! I'm goin' alongside!"
The light swung wide, for Dene had left it, and now, automatic in hand, was waiting to grapple the skiff as we drew up to it.
I went to the light and focussed it downward on the boat. Bracegirdle sprawled in the bottom like a sack. He had lost his cap, and his bald pate shone like ivory in the hard, white radiance. There was blood on the boards.
Prim as a schoolmarm, her hands folded placidly on her lap, Miss Ryder sat bolt upright in the stern. Her features were rigid, her mouth tightly compressed—the flicker of her eyelids as she blinked in the blinding light was her only movement.
"Come on you! Get out of it!" the Scotland Yard man called to her roughly.
She stood up at once and gathering her skirts about her with quiet dignity, put a foot on the seat beside the doctor's prone form and, taking Dene's hand, was hoisted into the cruiser.
Dene spoke over his shoulder: "Handcuffs, Fred!" Then, while I leaned out and steadied it, he let himself down into the skiff. The scene was as bright as day. I saw him stoop over the prostrate figure, raise the head, then check suddenly.
"Wal?" asked the sheriff, who was at my side.
"Plumb through the eyes," said Dene—he had got his arms round the body and was hauling it towards the side of the skiff. "Help me with him, one of you—there's something here I want to see!"
Hank and I leaned out, and between the three of us we hauled the doctor into the launch and laid him on the seat. The face was a mess—he was quite dead.
Dene called quietly: "Hank! Come here a moment!"
We then saw what the doctor's body had concealed. Half covered by a raincoat, a dead man lay on his back in the bottom of the boat, with eyes bulging and tongue protruding. A narrow band of some glossy material that looked like silk was so tightly wound about the neck that it almost disappeared in the flesh, and beside him on the boards, attached to a length of wire that bound his wrists together, was the missing weight.
Bending down, the Scotland Yard man twisted the head so that the right side of the face came into view. "Look!" he said, pointing to the temple.
In the spotlight's glare the purplish mark was clearly visible.
A croaking voice spoke up behind us. Miss Ryder had broken her silence. She stood amidships, her wrists joined together, her monkey face hard as flint.
"Bah!" she sneered, "he had it coming to him, the dirty blackmailer!"
DENE laughed briefly, and tossed the skiff's painter to Good. "Well, you should know, Aggie," he remarked and scrambled on board the cruiser.
"Where d'you get that Aggie stuff?" she retorted gruffly. "My name's Janet!"
I considered her with interest. Clearly, it meant little to her that her friend the doctor had been blasted into eternity—her small, brown face was as impassive, her eyes, like black pinpoints, as alert and untroubled as when we'd seen her stumping up from the Yellow Lodge to meals. But there was a subtle difference in her manner. Behind the mask she was ruthless, defiant and very, very watchful. I divined it for the reason that once already, and that no later than the previous afternoon, she'd lifted the mask for a moment and given me a glimpse of the hard-bitten old harridan she really was. And I knew now, too, what on that occasion had sent her into a faint. It was not Dene's shot, as everybody had surmised, but the revelation, in the shape of Charles's announcement, that the man who had escaped from Dannemora was none other than George Martin, the unfortunate wretch who now lay strangled in the skiff.
Dene shook his head. "It wasn't always Janet. You were born Agnes Bonnett, and you married a fence named Danbury. That's how you first met Bracegirdle, who ran a criminal organisation under cover of a medical practice in the suburbs of Chicago. When Danbury went up for a stretch, you pitched in with the doc, whom you'd known, on and off, for twenty years. This was back in 1930. The slump was on, the medicine racket had crumbled, so the doc shifted East, and went into the moneylending business. It was a smart idea, because no one connected the retired physician living in a quiet villa at Pelham or his elderly lady friend, with the Investors' Mutual Aid and Reinsurance Corporation of Brooklyn, or whatever you called it..."
"The doctor's an old friend of mine, I'm not denying it," she remarked in a surly tone. "But I'd nothing to do with his business affairs, and I certainly had no idea how he made his money..."
"Or that he was still financing criminals? Or that this so-called bank of his was at the back of some of the biggest criminal coups in the East?"
"I knew nothing about it, I tell you!"
"You won't deny that you've done several stretches in jail, will you?"
The wizened face seemed to grow a shade darker. "And if I have, what does it prove? You can't bluff me! You've got nothing on me, and you know it!"
The Scotland Yard man wagged his head dubiously. "You're not so young as you were, Agnes—your memory's failing. 'Janet Ryder' is one of your old aliases—you'd forgotten that, hadn't you? But Ed Danbury hasn't. He's still at Sing Sing, you know, and he's remembered a whole lot!"
On that she fell silent. Dene turned away. Lights were moving on shore—evidently, the shooting had aroused the camp. With Bracegirdle's dead body rolling on the seat and the skiff with its grisly burden bobbing behind us, we headed for the landing-stage.
As I stood by the deckhouse an arm was slipped through mine. "Is it peace between us?" said Dene.
I laughed. "I know now that your onslaught on me was just camouflage, like your message that you wouldn't be back to-night. But why pick on poor Miss Ingersoll?"
"Because she was as likely a suspect as any, and Bracegirdle was strong for her guilt. Besides, I wanted to see whether he'd be rash enough to seize the chance I meant to give him to plant the bangle on her!"
"So that was the meaning of your note? You knew he had the bangle then?"
"If he hadn't, all my theories were at fault!"
"But why tick me off and then confide in me?"
He laughed. "Professional vanity, partly—I couldn't have you think me so incredibly naive as to believe that a nice girl like Miss Ingersoll could have been the brains behind this monstrous conspiracy..."
I felt myself growing crimson, but fortunately Dene didn't perceive it in the dimness.
"Besides," he said, "by writing you a chaffing note, I hoped you'd understand that we were still on friendly terms!" He chuckled. "My sainted aunt, your face when I walked into you! For a moment I made sure you were going to dot me one!"
"Why did you ask me whether she fished?"
"Ah," said Dene, "I wasn't sure she mightn't be the murderer's accomplice. You see, that knot on the float was a fisherman's knot!"
"Bracegirdle was a fisherman—was that how you first got on to him?"
He shook his head. "I'd formed certain theories. But they didn't begin to crystallise until the silencer came to light. Then I realised that we were in the presence of a master mind..."
"How? I wish you'd explain."
He laughed. "Later. No time now."
I glanced towards where Miss Ryder sat beside the trooper. "Do you think she'll talk?"
His face was glum. "She'll talk all right, but it won't be the truth. The old girl was the brains of the outfit, or I miss my guess. Bracegirdle was crude—he blundered. The only slip she made was to use one of her old names. Her sole idea now is to save herself from the scaffold, and with luck, she'll do it—she's nobody's fool. We shall only get at the truth by filling in the gaps!"
THEREAFTER my mind is a confusion of waving lights, and frightened voices, and a great trampling of feet under the high roof of the boathouse where we berthed, with dear old Charles's face, stamped with an expression of incredulous horror, staring out of a blurred and lurid picture. My memory focusses itself with greater sharpness on Charles's bare, little office, and on Dene, his fair face rather flushed, addressing us excitedly. In his hand he held a wire which a trooper had brought the sheriff from the village: Hank, Charles, Lauff the lawyer and I composed his audience.
"The New York police," he said, showing the telegram, "got a statement to-night out of Bracegirdle's confidential clerk, one Manny Benson. It seems that some years back this drunken wastrel, Martin, approached them for a loan, and in the course of his inquiries Bracegirdle, who had connections with Chicago, discovered that Martin was Victor Haversley's heir. Martin didn't know it—half the time he was under the influence of drinks and drugs, they say—and cheerfully signed a document making over to Bracegirdle, in return for a trifling sum, the reversion of his expectations under the Hermann Kummer will. The next thing he knew he found himself railroaded into jail for life, and we don't have to ask who was at the back of it..."
He paused. "If we'd had this information earlier," he went on gravely, "we might have saved this wretched creature's life. I was convinced that his object in coming here was to see Bracegirdle, but I believed that he was the doctor's accomplice, not his victim. By pretending to withdraw the surveillance, we hoped to catch them together. Unfortunately, we didn't know that at eight-thirty when the sheriff called the troopers in, Martin must have already been at the Yellow Lodge—he probably slipped in at dusk. Our plan was, from nightfall on, to keep an eye both on the doctor's quarters and the Yellow Lodge. The Ryder woman may be willing to tell us the exact hour at which Martin was killed; but at one-thirty this morning, when Trooper Good saw Bracegirdle leave his room and enter the Yellow Lodge, Martin was unquestionably dead. We'll have the lady in now, and while Hank's fetching her, perhaps you, sir"—he turned to Charles—"would care to read her criminal record, likewise what the New York and the Chicago police have to say about the doctor?" He drew a sheaf of telegrams from his pocket and laid them before Charles.
They brought her in. She was still handcuffed, but she bore herself with considerable aplomb—she seemed quite unconscious of poor Charles's stricken air. The sheriff gave her the usual warning, but with great composure she declared herself ready to make a statement.
"You've dug up my record," she said in her raucous voice, "and I'm not wasting any breath denying it. But it's going on ten years since I had my last spot of bother, and I've kept myself respectable ever since. And if I did change my name, that's not a crime! I'm an innocent woman, gentlemen, the victim of a blackhearted scoundrel. He's always kept himself out of trouble, but he knew my record, and I was helpless in his hands..." She seemed to take a deep breath. "As God is my judge, this was the doctor's idea from first to last. It was he who strangled that rat Martin, the same as he knocked off that poor sap, Haversley..."
I considered her with interest. Under the influence of the situation she was disintegrating. The cant of the underworld seemed to roll naturally from her tongue. She had shed her pose as a snake sheds its skin. She was no longer Miss Janet Ryder, the prim spinster of Central Park West, but Aggie Danbury, wife of one criminal and mistress, for aught we knew, of another, reverting to type.
DENE was right. By the story she told—precise enough, and probably accurate where it suited her book, as for instance in certain details of the two murders—Bracegirdle was the villain of the piece, she the unwilling instrument of his machinations. She knew nothing of any plot. She had accepted the role he had insisted on her playing at Wolf Lake believing that he was planning a stock swindle or something of the kind—it was actually not until after Haversley was dead that her eyes were opened. At twenty minutes to ten on that Sunday night, while they were at chess on the verandah, Bracegirdle had told her he must leave for a while, but that, if any questions were asked later, she was to swear he'd never quitted her sight. It was only when he returned and told her Haversley had shot himself, and that she must be prepared to help him fix a good, strong alibi, that she guessed the truth. He had everything worked out, and the only share she'd taken in the murder, as God was her judge, was to repeat parrot-like the story Bracegirdle ordered her to tell. She knew nothing about the silencer, and if Bracegirdle had taken the bangle, it was the first she'd heard of it.
She'd met George Martin at Bracegirdle's some years before, and "a rare sot" he was. He and the doctor had quarrelled, and the story was that Bracegirdle had "framed" him—she knew nothing about his being Victor Haversley's heir. On learning that he'd broken jail and been seen near the camp, she was naturally alarmed, because she guessed immediately he intended to have a show-down with the doctor.
"It was about nine o'clock, and getting dusk," she said, "when, as I lay in bed at the Yellow Lodge, I thought I heard a step in the sitting-room. I found George Martin there. He was grayer and thinner, cold sober, too, which made a great difference in his manner; but I knew him at once, and he knew me. He said 'Don't ask questions, Aggie, but get me a bite to eat and let me lie up here for a couple of days. And when you've rustled up the grub, go and find me Oscar Bracegirdle, because he and I have got to have a little business chat.' While we were talking, Dr. Bracegirdle walks straight in on us. When he catches sight of Martin, he stops dead—you could have knocked him down with a feather, as they say. Martin sings out, 'Why, if it ain't my old friend! Step up, doc, and shake hands with a millionaire!' Then the doc sends me away. A little bit later I hear him come out. He tells me he's going to his room to fetch George some whisky—I hadn't a drop of liquor in the house. In a minute he's back, and goes into the sitting-room and shuts the door. The next thing I know he's back in my bedroom. He says that George is asleep and mustn't be disturbed: with that he shows me the key—he's locked George in. I ask him, 'Is there any trouble?' And he says, 'Plenty.' George is trying to blackmail him, and he's a bad man to blackmail. He says he'll come back later, when George has rested up a bit, and see what's to be done about it. With that he clears off and I go to sleep."
Here, almost for the first time, she paused in her narrative, her beady eyes glancing sidelong at us as though she wanted to gauge the impression she was producing. As no one said anything, she resumed at once, "I don't know how long I slept, but I woke up to find Dr. Bracegirdle at my bedside. He told me to dress myself—he was going out on the lake, and I had to help him. It was half-past one—I said he was crazy to expect me to go out with him at any such hour. On that he goes to the sitting-room and unlocking it, calls over his shoulder, 'Look here a minute!' and there's this guy Martin lying dead on the couch with the doc's red-and-blue necktie wound round his throat. That finished me. I told him he'd got himself into this mess and he could get himself out of it again—I was through risking my neck for him. But he said it couldn't be helped—if George talked it was the chair for both of us. I asked him how he'd done it so quietly, and he said he'd given George a little something in his drink, and after that it was easy. He'd brought a chunk of iron with him to weight the body down, and he made me help him lift Martin out to the boat."
The matter-of-fact tone in which she reeled off this grisly tale enhanced the horror of it. Dene had made no mistake—this grim old woman with the basilisk eye was certainly the brains behind the conspiracy. My mind had been travelling backward as she spoke, and I saw how at every stage a hidden hand had been thrust forward to hamper and baffle the investigation. I remembered how on the Sunday night she had come into the living-room where we were playing bridge in search of ice water. The hour, as I recalled very well, was ten, for I'd glanced at the mantelpiece clock—in other words, it was almost immediately after Bracegirdle's return from his ghastly errand to the cabin. She had got me to carry the pitcher outside for her, chafing the doctor in my presence because, as she declared, he'd taken twenty minutes over a single move. Twenty minutes—that went back to nine-forty, the moment when Bracegirdle had left the verandah. Her purpose was plain. It was to establish firmly in my mind that Bracegirdle was playing chess at the actual hour of the murder, should the real hour ever come out.
Months before, clearly, their plans had been laid. How skilfully they'd bided their time! The scene at my rehearsal, I realised with a shock, must have ultimately determined the date of the murder. Waters must have appeared as an obvious suspect in the event of the faked suicide being detected. Actually, Miss Ingersoll had been the first to direct suspicion towards him, but I felt very sure she had only forestalled the two conspirators.
Wherever I looked I now perceived their traces. Bracegirdle's attempt to discredit Dene, when the latter scouted the suicide theory: Miss Ryder's call at my shack, obviously to pump me as to the extent of Dene's discoveries: the doctor's persistent inquisitiveness and his use of his intimacy with Charles to be present at almost every stage of the investigation: his endeavour to incriminate Dave Jarvis and, when that failed, Miss Ingersoll: the planting of the silencer, and almost immediately afterwards of the bangle to bolster up this theory—piece by piece, as in Edith's puzzle, each successive machination clicked smoothly into place.
But in all this I discerned the hand, not of Bracegirdle, but the woman. In the planning, I mean—not the execution. Bracegirdle was her puppet—she remained in the background directing him. As Dene had said—and one glance at her shrewd, determined face confirmed it—she was not the one to make mistakes. It was the doctor's blunders which had proved their undoing—that fisherman's knot, the clumsy way in which he'd swallowed Dene's bait in the matter of the bangle. Somehow I couldn't see Miss Ryder falling into that trap.
The handcuffs chinked as she moved her hands in a vaguely appealing gesture. "That's the whole story, gentlemen, and it's the solemn truth, so help me!"
The door was rapped, and Trooper Good put his head in. "Springsville's on the wire, sheriff," he announced. "The D. A. wants to know if you're bringing her over!"
"Rightaway," said Hank. "You kin take her out to the car, Fred!"
Miss Ryder stood up briskly. "I'd like to telephone my lawyer in New York," she remarked with dignity.
"You'll want a good lawyer ter git you out o' this, sister," the sheriff replied phlegmatically.
"I've told you the truth—what more can I do?" she cried.
"I'd like ter have the doctor's opinion o' that thar statement," was the impassive rejoinder.
For the first time anger flared in the wrinkled face. "It's not my fault he cheated the chair, the big boob! That was your bad luck!"
"All right, Fred!" said the sheriff, jerking a thumb towards the door, and the trooper ushered her out.
"She means her good fortune," Dene remarked as the door closed behind her.
"Or your good shooting, sheriff!" Lauff suggested.
Dene laughed. "If she beats the rap, she'll owe it to Hank!"
"Gees, Trev," said the sheriff mortified, "that guy wuz shootin' at us. I had to let him have it!"
The Scotland Yard man clapped him on the back. "It's not that shot I meant—it's your second shot!"
"But I didn't fire but the one," Hank pointed out.
"Exactly," Dene replied.
"He means you should have made a whole job of it," explained the lawyer in his dry way.
WE broke up after that. The others were going to accompany Hank with the prisoner to Springsville, but I slipped away to my shack. I was worn out, and my chest was hurting. The living-room was ablaze with light—evidently the whole house party was assembled there. I felt I couldn't face them, especially not the Ingersoll girl. So I went to bed.
I had one of my bad nights, racked with coughing, and when at length I dozed off, it was to fall into a nightmare as terrifying as any battle dream I ever had. I thought we were raiding a trench piled high with dead. A machine-gun kept firing at us, and the face under the coalscuttle helmet was Bracegirdle's. I awoke to a distant clatter, and found the room bathed in sunshine. Through the open window I perceived Dene's outboard motor approaching my little landing-stage. I looked at the clock—it was half-past nine.
I felt utterly exhausted, and my lung was worse than ever. When, a minute later, Dene appeared, he wouldn't hear of my getting up, but insisted on preparing breakfast for the two of us. He told me he hadn't been to bed, but he looked fresh as a bridegroom in a blue serge suit with a smart grey hat. Over breakfast he gave me the news. Waters had been released, and was to have met Graziella and the lawyer at Springsville station to travel back to Chicago with them—they had left the camp at eight to take Victor's body home for burial. Miss Ryder had signed her statement, and was lodged in the county jail, awaiting cross-examination at the hands of the district attorney.
"Much good it'll do him," my companion remarked philosophically. "That old girl's a match for any lawyer, and she'll stick to her story until hell freezes!"
"Then we'll never know which of them killed Haversley and the other fellow?" I wheezed.
"Martin was a joint effort, I fancy. That idea of hocussing his drink has a touch of genius which smacks of the old lady. The doctor accounted for Haversley single-handed, I believe, and I'll tell you why I think so. She'd never have allowed Bracegirdle to plant that bangle on Miss Ingersoll the way he did: therefore, I conclude she never knew he had it."
"You mean he stuck to it as a sort of private perquisite?"
"Exactly. She evidently imagined that either Sara or Miss Ingersoll had the bangle. Bracegirdle must have pretended he found only the box. It was an ingenious notion, which again suggests our friend Aggie, to enclose the silencer in the box, because it linked the silencer—that's to say, the murder—with whoever had the bangle..."
"The trouble about this case," he went on, helping himself to coffee, "is that we started out with not one, but two sets of false premises. We assumed that Haversley's murder was an unpremeditated crime, or at least a crime of passion, and we accepted the evidence of an apparently disinterested witness that the murder was committed at a specific hour. I won't say I suspected the doctor from the first, but I was struck by the circumstance that he should have judged the time of death—always a ticklish matter—with such extraordinary accuracy, having regard to Miss Ryder's evidence about the shot..."
"Was that why you made that experiment with the lamp?"
He laughed. "To be honest, it wasn't—that was routine. Even when I became convinced that Bracegirdle and Miss Ryder were at fault, I felt no urgent impulse to look farther into their alibi, I suppose, because I was blinded by the fixed idea that this was a crime of passion. But if, as my examination of the lamp suggested, the murder had taken place earlier, then a shot must have been heard, unless a silencer was used, and I couldn't associate a silencer, this gangster's gadget, with the luxurious surroundings of this camp. That made me wonder whether our initial premises were right. It decided me to look more closely into Haversley's environment, and I went to meet Lauff..."
He had taken out his pipe and was filling it. "What he told me suggested an entirely new motive for the murder," he continued, putting a match to the bowl. "My lurking doubt of Bracegirdle, fostered by the strange synchronization of his evidence with Miss Ryder's, rose to the surface of my mind. My first thought was to test the accuracy of Miss Ryder's story of the shot, and you know what happened. Then there was Mrs. Haversley's evidence, which proved conclusively that I was right and they were wrong. But I was still far from suspicious, because witnesses do make the oddest mistakes. It was the doctor himself, however, who finally convinced me that I was working along the right lines..." He blew a cloud of smoke.
"How?" I questioned eagerly.
"It was yesterday afternoon when he butted in on us here at your place, after we'd found the silencer. First, he'd obviously been spying on us—that might pass: he was a nosey old devil. Secondly, he recognised the silencer right off for what it was, suggesting that he was not unfamiliar with those things. That in itself was not particularly incriminating, because there are silencers about; but I'd spotted that fisherman's knot on the float, and I began to sit up and take notice. For a while he was all for young Jarvis being the murderer, but the moment Hank opened up against the little Ingersoll lady, before you could say 'Knife!' he'd switched, and was reminding us that she'd been the first to accuse Waters. That remark of his—I don't quite know why—made me think back. I began to discern a sort of controlled rhythm about each successive development of the case, if you understand what I mean..."
"Perfectly. The same idea occurred to me last night while Miss Ryder was making her statement. No sooner was one suspect disposed of, than another one appeared—that's what you're driving at, isn't it?"
He nodded. "It was all too pat. Things don't happen like that. Directly the finger of suspicion pointed to young Jarvis, the silencer turned up, with the Cartier box thrown in to link the murder up to Sara. The moment Hank started in about Miss Ingersoll and Bracegirdle backed him up, I felt certain that a fresh discovery was pending. And when the doctor urged us to search the girl's room, I was as certain that he'd plant the bangle there as if I'd caught him in the act. I'd I left him to it, and buzzed straight off to Hank's telephone and called up New York, Chicago, Dannemora, every place Hank and I could think of. I must say they all played up grandly. The rest you know..." He paused and stood up. "Well, Pete, it's good-bye. I'm catching the morning train to New York and sailing for England to-morrow afternoon."
A spasm of coughing robbed me of breath, so that I couldn't speak. "That's a rotten cough you have, old man!" he said.
"Too many cigarettes!" I gasped.
He nodded gravely. "So Miss Ingersoll was saying just now. She was on the dock as I came by, and I stopped for a word. That's a darn nice girl, Pete. You ought to marry her and settle down!"
"She wouldn't have me, after what happened yesterday," I told him.
He laughed. "Rubbish! She knows now that it was entirely my fault. Besides, she regards all men as weak, defenceless creatures, anyway. So long, old boy, I must dash or I shall miss my train!"
We gripped hands. The pain in my chest was suddenly so agonising that I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, Dene had gone, and Miss Ingersoll was standing there.
"I brought that typing—I did it last night," she announced.
"Thanks a lot," I managed to murmur. "Now I'll be able to get on with the play—I'm terribly behind with it!" And I tried to throw back the bed-clothes.
With a firm hand she stayed me. "You stop where you are. When your cough's better you can dictate to me. But first I'm going to straighten the room and make you some lemonade to clear your chest!"
Out of the distance I heard the receding bark of Dene's boat. The morning was still and lovely, and through the open window the blue waters of Wolf Lake sparkled like a hundred thousand bayonets in the sun. As I lay there and watched that trim figure moving noiselessly about my little room, it seemed to me that, for the first time after the horror and strain of the past few days, I knew peace. And as she approached the bed with my drink and I looked into her eyes, I felt that Dene's advice was good.
If the play succeeds, I promised myself as, her cool fingers interlaced in mine, I fell asleep.