The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood

The Bat, by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood CONTENTS ONE THE SHADOW OF THE BAT TWO THE INDOMITABLE MISS VAN GORDER THREE PISTOL PRACTICE FOUR THE STORM GATHERS FIVE ALOPECIA AND RUBEOLA SIX DETECTIVE ANDERSON TAKES CHARGE SEVEN CROSS-QUESTIONS AND CROOKED ANSWERS EIGHT THE GLEAMING EYE NINE A SHOT IN THE DARK TEN THE
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  • 1920
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The Bat, by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood

CONTENTS

ONE THE SHADOW OF THE BAT
TWO THE INDOMITABLE MISS VAN GORDER THREE PISTOL PRACTICE
FOUR THE STORM GATHERS
FIVE ALOPECIA AND RUBEOLA
SIX DETECTIVE ANDERSON TAKES CHARGE SEVEN CROSS-QUESTIONS AND CROOKED ANSWERS EIGHT THE GLEAMING EYE
NINE A SHOT IN THE DARK
TEN THE PHONE CALL FROM NOWHERE ELEVEN BILLY PRACTICES JIU-JITSU
TWELVE “I DIDN’T KILL HIM.”
THIRTEEN THE BLACKENED BAG
FOURTEEN HANDCUFFS
FIFTEEN THE SIGN OF THE BAT
SIXTEEN THE HIDDEN ROOM
SEVENTEEN ANDERSON MAKES AN ARREST EIGHTEEN THE BAT STILL FLIES
NINETEEN MURDER ON MURDER
TWENTY “HE IS – THE BAT!”
TWENTY-ONE QUITE A COLLECTION

THE BAT

CHAPTER ONE

THE SHADOW OF THE BAT

“You’ve got to get him, boys – get him or bust!” said a tired police chief, pounding a heavy fist on a table. The detectives he bellowed the words at looked at the floor. They had done their best and failed. Failure meant “resignation” for the police chief, return to the hated work of pounding the pavements for them – they knew it, and, knowing it, could summon no gesture of bravado to answer their chief’s. Gunmen, thugs, hi-jackers, loft-robbers, murderers, they could get them all in time – but they could not get the man he wanted.

“Get him – to hell with expense – I’ll give you carte blanche – but get him!” said a haggard millionaire in the sedate inner offices of the best private detective firm in the country. The man on the other side of the desk, man hunter extraordinary, old servant of Government and State, sleuthhound without a peer, threw up his hands in a gesture of odd hopelessness. “It isn’t the money, Mr. De Courcy – I’d give every cent I’ve made to get the man you want – but I can’t promise you results – for the first time in my life.” The conversation was ended.

“Get him? Huh! I’ll get him, watch my smoke!” It was young ambition speaking in a certain set of rooms in Washington. Three days later young ambition lay in a New York gutter with a bullet in his heart and a look of such horror and surprise on his dead face that even the ambulance-Doctor who found him felt shaken. “We’ve lost the most promising man I’ve had in ten years,” said his chief when the news came in. He swore helplessly, “Damn the luck!”

“Get him – get him – get him – get him!” From a thousand sources now the clamor arose – press, police, and public alike crying out for the capture of the master criminal of a century – lost voices hounding a specter down the alleyways of the wind. And still the meshes broke and the quarry slipped away before the hounds were well on the scent – leaving behind a trail of shattered safes and rifled jewel cases – while ever the clamor rose higher to “Get him – get him – get – “

Get whom, in God’s name – get what? Beast, man, or devil? A specter – a flying shadow – the shadow of a Bat.

>From thieves’ hangout to thieves’ hangout the word passed along stirring the underworld like the passage of an electric spark. “There’s a bigger guy than Pete Flynn shooting the works, a guy that could have Jim Gunderson for breakfast and not notice he’d et.” The underworld heard and waited to be shown; after a little while the underworld began to whisper to itself in tones of awed respect. There were bright stars and flashing comets in the sky of the world of crime – but this new planet rose with the portent of an evil moon.

The Bat – they Called him the Bat. Like a bat he chose the night hours for his work of rapine; like a bat he struck and vanished, pouncingly, noiselessly; like a bat he never showed himself to the face of the day. He’d never been in stir, the bulls had never mugged him, he didn’t run with a mob, he played a lone hand, and fenced his stuff so that even the Fence couldn’t swear he knew his face. Most lone wolves had a moll at any rate – women were their ruin – but if the Bat had a moll, not even the grapevine telegraph could locate her.

Rat-faced gunmen in the dingy back rooms of saloons muttered over his exploits with bated breath. In tawdrily gorgeous apartments, where gathered the larger figures, the proconsuls of the world of crime, cold, conscienceless brains dissected the work of a colder and swifter brain than theirs, with suave and bitter envy. Evil’s Four Hundred chattered, discussed, debated – sent out a thousand invisible tentacles to clutch at a shadow – to turn this shadow and its distorted genius to their own ends. The tentacles recoiled, baffled – the Bat worked alone – not even Evil’s Four Hundred could bend him into a willing instrument to execute another’s plan.

The men higher up waited. They had dealt with lone wolves before and broken them. Some day the Bat would slip and falter; then they would have him. But the weeks passed into months and still the Bat flew free, solitary, untamed, and deadly. At 1ast even his own kind turned upon him; the underworld is like the upper in its fear and distrust of genius that flies alone. But when they turned against him, they turned against a spook – a shadow. A cold and bodiless laughter from a pit of darkness answered and mocked at their bungling gestures of hate – and went on, flouting Law and Lawless alike.

Where official trailer and private sleuth had failed, the newspapers might succeed – or so thought the disillusioned young men of the Fourth Estate – the tireless foxes, nose-down on the trail of news – the trackers, who never gave up until that news was run to earth. Star reporter, leg-man, cub, veteran gray in the trade – one and all they tried to pin the Bat like a caught butterfly to the front page of their respective journals – soon or late each gave up, beaten. He was news – bigger news each week – a thousand ticking typewriters clicked his adventures – the brief, staccato recital of his career in the morgues of the great dailies grew longer and more incredible each day. But the big news – the scoop of the century – the yearned-for headline, “Bat Nabbed Red-Handed”, “Bat Slain in Gun Duel with Police” – still eluded the ravenous maw of the Linotypes. And meanwhile, the red-scored list of his felonies lengthened and the rewards offered from various sources for any clue which might lead to his apprehension mounted and mounted till they totaled a small
fortune.

Columnists took him up, played with the name and the terror, used the name and the terror as a starting point from which to exhibit their own particular opinions on everything and anything. Ministers mentioned him in sermons; cranks wrote fanatic letters denouncing him as one of the even-headed beasts of the Apocalypse and a forerunner of the end of the world; a popular revue put on a special Bat number wherein eighteen beautiful chorus girls appeared masked and black-winged in costumes of Brazilian bat fur; there were Bat club sandwiches, Bat cigarettes, and a new shade of hosiery called simply and succinctly Bat. He became a fad – a catchword – a national figure. And yet – he was walking Death – cold – remorseless. But Death itself had become a toy of publicity in these days of limelight and jazz.

A city editor, at lunch with a colleague, pulled at his cigarette and talked. “See that Sunday story we had on the Bat?” he asked. “Pretty tidy – huh – and yet we didn’t have to play it up. It’s an amazing list – the Marshall jewels – the Allison murder – the mail truck thing – two hundred thousand he got out of that, all negotiable, and two men dead. I wonder how many people he’s really killed. We made it six murders and nearly a million in loot – didn’t even have room for the small stuff – but there must be more – “

His companion whistled.

“And when is the Universe’s Finest Newspaper going to burst forth with “Bat Captured by BLADE Reporter?'” he queried sardonically.

“Oh, for – lay off it, will you?” said the city editor peevishly. “The Old Man’s been hopping around about it for two months till everybody’s plumb cuckoo. Even offered a bonus – a big one – and that shows how crazy he is – he doesn’t love a nickel any better than his right eye – for any sort of exclusive story. Bonus – huh!” and he crushed out his cigarette. “It won’t be a Blade reporter that gets that bonus – or any reporter. It’ll be Sherlock Holmes from the spirit world!”

“Well – can’t you dig up a Sherlock?”

The editor spread out his hands. “Now, look here,” he said. “We’ve got the best staff of any paper in the country, if I do say it. We’ve got boys that could get a personal signed story from Delilah on how she barbered Samson – and find out who struck Billy Patterson and who was the Man in the Iron Mask. But the Bat’s something else again. Oh, of course, we’ve panned the police for not getting him; that’s always the game. But, personally, I won’t pan them; they’ve done their damnedest. They’re up against something new. Scotland Yard wouldn’t do any better – or any other bunch of cops that I know about.”

“But look here, Bill, you don’t mean to tell me he’ll keep on getting away with it indefinitely?”

The editor frowned. “Confidentially – I- don’t know,” he said with a chuckle: “The situation’s this: for the first time the super-crook – the super-crook of fiction – the kind that never makes a mistake – has come to life – real life. And it’ll take a cleverer man than any Central Office dick I’ve ever met to catch him!”

“Then you don’t think he’s just an ordinary crook with a lot of luck?”

“I do not.” The editor was emphatic. “He’s much brainier. Got a ghastly sense of humor, too. Look at the way he leaves his calling card after every job – a black paper bat inside the Marshall safe – a bat drawn on the wall with a burnt match where he’d jimmied the Cedarburg Bank – a real bat, dead, tacked to the mantelpiece over poor old Allison’s body. Oh, he’s in a class by himself – and I very much doubt if he was a crook at all for most of his life.”

“You mean?”

“I mean this. The police have been combing the underworld for him; I don’t think he comes from there. I think they’ve got to look higher, up in our world, for a brilliant man with a kink in the brain. He may be a Doctor, a lawyer, a merchant, honored in his community by day – good line that, I’ll use it some time – and at night, a bloodthirsty assassin. – Deacon Brodie – ever hear of him – the Scotch deacon that burgled his parishioners’ houses on the quiet? Well – that’s our man.”

“But my Lord, Bill – “

“I know. I’ve been going around the last month, looking at everybody I knew and thinking – are you the Bat? Try it for a while. You’ll want to sleep with a light in your room after a few days of it. Look around the University Club – that white-haired man over there – dignified – respectable – is he the Bat? Your own lawyer – your own Doctor – your own best friend. Can happen you know – look at those Chicago boys – the thrill-killers. Just brilliant students – likeable boys – to the people that taught them – and cold-bloodied murderers all the same.

“Bill! You’re giving me the shivers!”

“Am I?” The edit or laughed grimly. “Think it over. No, it isn’t so pleasant. – But that’s my theory – and I swear I think I’m right.” He rose.

His companion laughed uncertainly.

“How about you, Bill – are you the Bat?”

The editor smiled. “See,” he said, “it’s got you already. No, I can prove an alibi. The Bat’s been laying off the city recently – taking a fling at some of the swell suburbs. Besides I haven’t the brains – I’m free to admit it.” He struggled into his coat. “Well, let’s talk about something else. I’m sick of the Bat and his murders.”

His companion rose as well, but it was evident that the editor’s theory had taken firm hold on his mind. As they went out the door together he recurred to the subject.

“Honestly, though, Bill – were you serious, really serious – when you said you didn’t know of a single detective with brains enough to trap this devil?”

The editor paused in the doorway. “Serious enough,” he said. “And yet there’s one man – I don’t know him myself but from what I’ve heard of him, he might be able – but what’s the use of speculating?”

“I’d like to know all the same,” insisted the other, and laughed nervously. “We’re moving out to the country next week ourselves – right in the Bat’s new territory.”

“We-el,” said the editor, “you won’t let it go any further? Of course it’s just an idea of mine, but if the Bat ever came prowling around our place, the detective I’d try to get in touch with would be – ” He put his lips close to his companion’s ear and whispered a name.

The man whose name he whispered, oddly enough, was at that moment standing before his official superior in a quiet room not very far away. Tall, reticently good-looking and well, if inconspicuously, clothed and groomed, he by no means seemed the typical detective that the editor had spoken of so scornfully. He looked something like a college athlete who had kept up his training, something like a pillar of one of the more sedate financial houses. He could assume and discard a dozen manners in as many minutes, but, to the casual observer, the one thing certain about him would probably seem his utter lack of connection with the seamier side of existence. The key to his real secret of life, however, lay in his eyes. When in repose, as now, they were veiled and without unusual quality – but they were the eyes of a man who can wait and a man who can strike.

He stood perfectly easy before his chief for several moments before the latter looked up from his papers.

“Well, Anderson,” he said at last, looking up, “I got your report on the Wilhenry burglary this morning. I’ll tell you this about it – if you do a neater and quicker job in the next ten years, you can take this desk away from me. I’ll give it to you. As it is, your name’s gone up for promotion today; you deserved it long ago.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the tall man quietly, “but I had luck with that case.”

“Of course you had luck,” said the chief. “Sit down, won’t you, and have a cigar – if you can stand my brand. Of course you had luck, Anderson, but that isn’t the point. It takes a man with brains to use a piece of luck as you used it. I’ve waited a long time here for a man with your sort of brains and, by Judas, for a while I thought they were all as dead as Pinkerton. But now I know there’s one of them alive at any rate – and it’s a hell of a relief.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the tall man, smiling and sitting down. He took a cigar and lit it. “That makes it easier, sir – your telling me that. Because – I’ve come to ask a favor.”

“All right,” responded the chief promptly. “Whatever it is, it’s granted.”

Anderson smiled again. “You’d better hear what it is first, sir. I don’t want to put anything over on you.”

“Try it!” said the chief. “What is it – vacation? Take as long as you like – within reason – you’ve earned it – I’ll put it through today.”

Anderson shook his head, “No sir – I don’t want a vacation.”

“Well,” said the chief impatiently. “Promotion? I’ve told you about that. Expense money for anything – fill out a voucher and I’ll O.K. it – be best man at your wedding – by Judas, I’ll even do that!”

Anderson laughed. “No, sir – I’m not getting married and – I’m pleased about the promotion, of course – but it’s not that. I want to be assigned to a certain case – that’s all.”

The chief’s look grew searching. “H’m,” he said. “Well, as I say, anything within reason. What case do you want to be assigned to?”

The muscles of Anderson’s left hand tensed on the arm of his chair. He looked squarely at the chief. “I want a chance at the Bat!” he replied slowly.

The chief’s face became expressionless. “I said – anything within reason,” he responded softly, regarding Anderson keenly.

“I want a chance at the Bat!” repeated Anderson stubbornly. “If I’ve done good work so far – I want a chance at the Bat!”

The chief drummed on the desk. Annoyance and surprise were in his voice when he spoke.

“But look here, Anderson,” he burst out finally. “Anything else and I’ll – but what’s the use? I said a minute ago, you had brains – but now, by Judas, I doubt it! If anyone else wanted a chance at the Bat, I’d give it to them and gladly – I’m hard-boiled. But you’re too valuable a man to be thrown away!”

“I’m no more valuable than Wentworth would have been.”

“Maybe not – and look what happened to him! A bullet hole in his heart – and thirty years of work that he might have done thrown away! No, Anderson, I’ve found two first-class men since I’ve been at this desk – Wentworth and you. He asked for his chance; I gave it to him – turned him over to the Government – and lost him. Good detectives aren’t so plentiful that I can afford to lose you both.”

“Wentworth was a friend of mine,” said Anderson softly. His knuckles were white dints in the hand that gripped the chair. “Ever since the Bat got him I’ve wanted my chance. Now my other work’s cleaned up – and I still want it.”

“But I tell you – ” began the chief in tones of high exasperation. Then he stopped and looked at his protege. There was a silence for a time.

“Oh, well – ” said the chief finally in a hopeless voice. “Go ahead – commit suicide – I’ll send you a ‘Gates Ajar’ and a card, ‘Here lies a damn fool who would have been a great detective if he hadn’t been so pig-headed.’ Go ahead!”

Anderson rose. “Thank you, sir,” he said in a deep voice. His eyes had light in them now. “I can’t thank you enough, sir.”

“Don’t try,” grumbled the chief. “If I weren’t as much of a damn fool as you are I wouldn’t let you do it. And if I weren’t so damn old, I’d go after the slippery devil myself and let you sit here and watch me get brought in with an infernal paper bat pinned where my shield ought to be. The Bat’s supernatural, Anderson. You haven’t a chance in the world but it does me good all the same to shake hands with a man with brains and nerve,” and he solemnly wrung Anderson’s hand in an iron grip.

Anderson smiled. “The cagiest bat flies once too often,” he said. “I’m not promising anything, chief, but – “

“Maybe,” said the chief. “Now wait a minute, keep your shirt on, you’re not going out bat hunting this minute, you know – “

“Sir? I thought I – “

“Well, you’re not,” said the chief decidedly. “I’ve still some little respect for my own intelligence and it tells me to get all the work out of you I can, before you start wild-goose chasing after this – this bat out of hell. The first time he’s heard of again – and it shouldn’t be long from the fast way he works – you’re assigned to the case. That’s understood. Till then, you do what I tell you – and it’ll be work, believe me!”

“All right, sir,” Anderson laughed and turned to the door. “And – thank you again.”

He went out. The door closed. The chief remained for some minutes looking at the door and shaking his head. “The best man I’ve had in years – except Wentworth,” he murmured to himself. “And throwing himself away – to be killed by a cold-blooded devil that nothing human can catch – you’re getting old, John Grogan – but, by Judas, you can’t blame him, can you? If you were a man in the prime like him, by Judas, you’d be doing it yourself. And yet it’ll go hard – losing him – “

He turned back to his desk and his papers. But for some minutes he could not pay attention to the papers. There was a shadow on them – a shadow that blurred the typed letters – the shadow of bat’s wings.

CHAPTER TWO

THE INDOMITABLE MISS VAN GORDER

Miss Cornelis Van Gorder, indomitable spinster, last bearer of a name which had been great in New York when New York was a red-roofed Nieuw Amsterdam and Peter Stuyvesant a parvenu, sat propped up in bed in the green room of her newly rented country house reading the morning newspaper. Thus seen, with an old soft Paisley shawl tucked in about her thin shoulders and without the stately gray transformation that adorned her on less intimate occasions, – she looked much less formidable and more innocently placid than those could ever have imagined who had only felt the bite of her tart wit at such functions as the state Van Gorder dinners. Patrician to her finger tips, independent to the roots of her hair, she preserved, at sixty-five, a humorous and quenchless curiosity in regard to every side of life, which even the full and crowded years that already lay behind her had not entirely satisfied. She was an Age and an Attitude, but she was more than that; she had grown old without growing dull or losing touch with youth – her face had the delicate strength of a fine cameo and her mild and youthful heart preserved an innocent zest for adventure.

Wide travel, social leadership, the world of art and books, a dozen charities, an existence rich with diverse experience – all these she had enjoyed energetically and to the full – but she felt, with ingenious vanity, that there were still sides to her character which even these had not brought to light. As a little girl she had hesitated between wishing to be a locomotive engineer or a famous bandit – and when she had found, at seven, that the accident of sex would probably debar her from either occupation, she had resolved fiercely that some time before she died she would show the world in general and the Van Gorder clan in particular that a woman was quite as capable of dangerous exploits as a man. So far her life, while exciting enough at moments, had never actually been dangerous and time was slipping away without giving her an opportunity to prove her hardiness of heart. Whenever she thought of this the fact annoyed her extremely – and she thought of it now.

She threw down the morning paper disgustedly. Here she was at 65 – rich, safe, settled for the summer in a delightful country place with a good cook, excellent servants, beautiful gardens and grounds – everything as respectable and comfortable as – as a limousine! And out in the world people were murdering and robbing each other, floating over Niagara Falls in barrels, rescuing children from burning houses, taming tigers, going to Africa to hunt gorillas, doing all sorts of exciting things! She could not float over Niagara Falls in a barrel; Lizzie Allen, her faithful old maid, would never let her! She could not go to Africa to hunt gorillas; Sally Ogden, her sister, would never let her hear the last of it. She could not even, as she certainly would if the were a man, try and track down this terrible creature, the Bat!

She sniffed disgruntledly. Things came to her much too easily. Take this very house she was living in. Ten days ago she had decided on the spur of the moment – a decision suddenly crystallized by a weariness of charitable committees and the noise and heat of New York – to take a place in the country for the summer. It was late in the renting season – even the ordinary difficulties of finding a suitable spot would have added some spice to the quest – but this ideal place had practically fallen into her lap, with no trouble or search at all. Courtleigh Fleming, president of the Union Bank, who had built the house on a scale of comfortable magnificence – Courtleigh Fleming had died suddenly in the West when Miss Van Gorder was beginning her house hunting. The day after his death her agent had called her up. Richard Fleming, Courtleigh Fleming’s nephew and heir, was anxious to rent the Fleming house at once. If she made a quick decision it was hers for the summer, at a bargain. Miss Van Gorder had decided at once; she took an innocent pleasure in bargains. The next day the keys were hers – the servants engaged to stay on – within a week she had moved. All very pleasant and easy no doubt – adventure – pooh!

And yet she could not really say that her move to the country had brought her no adventures at all. There had been – things. Last night the lights had gone off unexpectedly and Billy, the Japanese butler and handy man, had said that he had seen a face at one of the kitchen windows – a face that vanished when he went to the window. Servants’ nonsense, probably, but the servants seemed unusually nervous for people who were used to the country. And Lizzie, of course, had sworn that she had seen a man trying to get up the stairs but Lizzie could grow hysterical over a creaking door. Still – it was queer! And what had that affable Doctor Wells said to her – “I respect your courage, Miss Van Gorder – moving out into the Bat’s home country, you know!” She picked up the paper again. There was a map of the scene of the Bat’s most recent exploits and, yes, three of his recent crimes had been within a twenty-mile radius of this very spot. She thought it over and gave a little shudder of pleasurable fear. Then she dismissed the thought with a shrug. No chance! She might live in a lonely house, two miles from the railroad station, all summer long – and the Bat would never disturb her. Nothing ever did.

She had skimmed through the paper hurriedly; now a headline caught her eye. Failure of Union Bank – wasn’t that the bank of which Courtleigh Fleming had been president? She settled down to read the article but it was disappointingly brief. The Union Bank had closed its doors; the cashier, a young man named Bailey, was apparently under suspicion; the article mentioned Courtleigh Fleming’s recent and tragic death in the best vein of newspaperese. She laid down the paper and thought – Bailey – Bailey – she seemed to have a vague recollection of hearing about a young man named Bailey who worked in a bank – but she could not remember where or by whom his name had been mentioned.

Well – it didn’t matter. She had other things to think about. She must ring for Lizzie – get up and dress. The bright morning sun, streaming in through the long window, made lying in bed an old woman’s luxury and she refused to be an old woman.

“Though the worst old woman I ever knew was a man!” she thought with a satiric twinkle. She was glad Sally’s daughter – young Dale Ogden – was here in the house with her. The companionship of Dale’s bright youth would keep her from getting old-womanish if anything could.

She smiled, thinking of Dale. Dale was a nice child – her favorite niece. Sally didn’t understand her, of course – but Sally wouldn’t. Sally read magazine articles on the younger generation and its wild ways. “Sally doesn’t remember when she was a younger generation herself,” thought Miss Cornelia. “But I do – and if we didn’t have automobiles, we had buggies – and youth doesn’t change its ways just because it has cut its hair. Before Mr. and Mrs. Ogden left for Europe, Sally had talked to her sister Cornelia … long and weightily, on the problem of Dale. “Problem of Dale, indeed!” thought Miss Cornelia scornfully. “Dale’s the nicest thing I’ve seen in some time. She’d be ten times happier if Sally wasn’t always trying to marry her off to some young snip with more of what fools call ‘eligibility’ than brains! But there, Cornelia Van Gorder – Sally’s given you your innings by rampaging off to Europe and leaving Dale with you all summer and you’ve a lot less sense than I flatter myself you have, if you can’t give your favorite niece a happy vacation from all her immediate family – and maybe find her someone who’ll make her happy for good and all in the bargain.” Miss Cornelia was an incorrigible matchmaker.

Nevertheless, she was more concerned with “the problem of Dale” than she would have admitted. Dale, at her age, with her charm and beauty – why, she ought to behave as if she were walking on air, thought her aunt worriedly. “And instead she acts more as if she were walking on pins and needles. She seems to like being here – I know she likes me – I’m pretty sure she’s just as pleased to get a little holiday from Sally and Harry – she amuses herself – she falls in with any plan I want to make, and yet – ” And yet Dale was not happy – Miss Cornelia felt sure of it. “It isn’t natural for a girl to seem so lackluster and – and quiet – at her age and she’s nervous, too – as if something were preying on her mind – particularly these last few days. If she were in love with somebody – somebody Sally didn’t approve of particularly – well, that would account for it, of course – but Sally didn’t say anything that would make me think that – or Dale either – though I don’t suppose Dale would, yet, even to me. I haven’t seen so much of her in these last two years – “

Then Miss Cornelia’s mind seized upon a sentence in a hurried flow of her sister’s last instructions – a sentence that had passed almost unnoticed at the time – something about Dale and “an unfortunate attachment – but of course, Cornelia, dear, she’s so young – and I’m sure it will come to nothing now her father and I have made our attitude plain!”

“Pshaw – I bet that’s it,” thought Miss Cornelia shrewdly. Dale’s fallen in love, or thinks she has, with some decent young man without a penny or an ‘eligibility’ to his name – and now she’s unhappy because her parents don’t approve – or because she’s trying to give him up and finds she can’t. Well – ” and Miss Cornelia’s tight little gray curls trembled with the vehemence of her decision, if the young thing ever comes to me for advice I’ll give her a piece of my mind that will surprise her and scandalize Sally Van Gorder Ogden out of her seven senses. Sally thinks nobody’s worth looking at if they didn’t come over to America when our family did – she hasn’t gumption enough to realize that if some people hadn’t come over later, we’d all still be living on crullers and Dutch punch!”

She was just stretching out her hand to ring for Lizzie when a knock came at the door. She gathered her Paisley shawl more tightly about her shoulders. “Who is it – oh, it’s only you, Lizzie,” as a pleasant Irish face, crowned by an old-fashioned pompadour of graying hair, peeped in at the door. “Good morning, Lizzie – I was just going to ring for you. Has Miss Dale had breakfast – I know it’s shamefully late.”

“Good morning, Miss Neily,” said Lizzie, “and a lovely morning it is, too – if that was all of it,” she added somewhat tartly as she came into the room with a little silver tray whereupon the morning mail reposed.

We have not yet described Lizzie Allen – and she deserves description. A fixture in the Van Gorder household since her sixteenth year, she had long ere now attained the dignity of a Tradition. The slip of a colleen fresh from Kerry had grown old with her mistress, until the casual bond between mistress and servant had changed into something deeper; more in keeping with a better-mannered age than ours. One could not imagine Miss Cornelia without a Lizzie to grumble at and cherish – or Lizzie without a Miss Cornelia to baby and scold with the privileged frankness of such old family servitors. The two were at once a contrast and a complement. Fifty years of American ways had not shaken Lizzie’s firm belief in banshees and leprechauns or tamed her wild Irish tongue; fifty years of Lizzie had not altered Miss Cornelia’s attitude of fond exasperation with some of Lizzie’s more startling eccentricities. Together they may have been, as one of the younger Van Gorder cousins had, irreverently put it, “a scream,” but apart each would have felt lost without the other.

“Now what do you mean – if that were all of it, Lizzie?” queried Miss Cornelia sharply as she took her letters from the tray.

Lizzie’s face assumed an expression of doleful reticence.

“It’s not my place to speak,” she said with a grim shake of her head, “but I saw my grandmother last night, God rest her – plain as life she was, the way she looked when they waked her – and if it was my doing we’d be leaving this house this hour!”

“Cheese-pudding for supper – of course you saw your grandmother!” said Miss Cornelia crisply, slitting open the first of her letters with a paper knife. “Nonsense, Lizzie, I’m not going to be scared away from an ideal country place because you happen to have a bad dream!”

“Was it a bad dream I saw on the stairs last night when the lights went out and I was looking for the candles?” said Lizzie heatedly. “Was it a bad dream that ran away from me and out the back door, as fast as Paddy’s pig? No, Miss Neily, it was a man – Seven feet tall he was, and eyes that shone in the dark and – “

“Lizzie Allen!”

“Well, it’s true for all that,” insisted Lizzie stubbornly. “And why did the lights go out – tell me that, Miss Neily? They never go out in the city.”

“Well, this isn’t -the city,” said Miss Cornelia decisively. “It’s the country, and very nice it is, and we’re staying here all summer. I suppose I may be thankful,” she went on ironically, “that it was only your grandmother you saw last night. It might have been the Bat – and then where would you be this morning?”

“I’d be stiff and stark with candles at me head and feet,” said Lizzie gloomily. “Oh, Miss Neily, don’t talk of that terrible creature, the Bat!” She came nearer to her mistress. “There’s bats in this house, too – real bats,” she whispered impressively. “I saw one yesterday in the trunk room – the creature! It flew in the window and nearly had the switch off me before I could get away!”

Miss Cornelia chuckled. “Of course there are bats,” she said. “There are always bats in the country. They’re perfectly harmless, – except to switches.”

“And the Bat ye were talking of just then – he’s harmless too, I suppose?” said Lizzie with mournful satire. “Oh, Miss Neily, Miss Neily – do let’s go back to the city before he flies away with u all!”

“Nonsense, Lizzie,” said Miss Cornelia again, but this time less firmly. Her face grew serious. “If I thought for an instant that there was any real possibility of our being in danger here – ” she said slowly. “But – oh, look at the map, Lizzie! The Bat has been flying in this district – that’s true enough – but he hasn’t come within ten miles of us yet!”

“What’s ten miles to the Bat?” the obdurate Lizzie sighed. “And what of the letter ye had when ye first moved in here? ‘The Fleming house is unhealthy for strangers,’ it said. Leave it while ye can.”

“Some silly boy or some crank.” Miss Cornelia’s voice was firm. “I never pay any attention to anonymous letters.”

“And there’s a funny-lookin’ letter this mornin’, down at the bottom of the pile – ” persisted Lizzie. “It looked like the other one. I’d half a mind to throw it away before you saw it!”

“Now, Lizzie, that’s quite enough!” Miss Cornelia had the Van Gorder manner on now. “I don’t care to discuss your ridiculous fears any further. Where is Miss Dale?”

Lizzie assumed an attitude of prim rebuff, “Miss Dale’s gone into the city, ma’am.”

“Gone into the city?”

“Yes, ma’am. She got a telephone call this morning, early – long distance it was. I don’t know who it was called her.”

“Lizzie! You didn’t listen?”

“Of course not, Miss Neily.” Lizzie’s face was a study in injured virtue. “Miss Dale took the call in her own room and shut the door.”

“And you were outside the door?”

“Where else would I be dustin’ that time in the mornin’?” said Lizzie fiercely. “But it’s yourself knows well enough the doors in this house is thick and not a sound goes past them.”

“I should hope not,” said Miss Cornelia rebukingly. “But – tell me, Lizzie, did Miss Dale seem – well – this morning?”

“That she did not,” said Lizzie promptly. “When she came down to breakfast, after the call, she looked like a ghost. I made her the eggs she likes, too – but she wouldn’t eat ’em.”

“H’m,” Miss Cornelia pondered. “I’m sorry if – well, Lizzie, we mustn’t meddle in Miss Dale’s affairs.”

“No, ma’am.”

“But – did she say when she would be back?”

“Yes, Miss Neily. On the two o’clock train. Oh, and I was almost forgettin’ – she told me to tell you, particular – she said while he was in the city she’d be after engagin’ the gardener you spoke of.”

“The gardener? Oh, yes – I spoke to her about that the other night. The place is beginning to look run down – so many flowers to attend to. Well – that’s very kind of Miss Dale.”

“Yes, Miss Neily.” Lizzie hesitated, obviously with some weighty news on her mind which she wished to impart. Finally she took the plunge. “I might have told Miss Dale she could have been lookin’ for a cook as well – and a housemaid – ” she muttered at last, “but they hadn’t spoken to me then.”

Miss Cornelia sat bolt upright in bed. “A cook – and a housemaid? But we have a cook and a housemaid, Lizzie! You don’t mean to tell me – “

Lizzie nodded her head. “Yes’m. They’re leaving. Both of ’em. Today.”

“But good heav- Lizzie, why on earth didn’t you tell me before?”

Lizzie spoke soothingly, all the blarney of Kerry in her voice. “Now, Miss Neily, as if I’d wake you first thing in the morning with bad news like that! And thinks I, well, maybe ’tis all for the best after all – for when Miss Neily hears they’re leavin’ – and her so particular – maybe she’ll go back to the city for just a little and leave this house to its haunts and its bats and – “

“Go back to the city? I shall do nothing of the sort. I rented this house to live in and live in it I will, with servants or without them. You should have told me at once, Lizzie. I’m really very much annoyed with you because you didn’t. I shall get up immediately – I want to give those two a piece of my mind. Is Billy leaving too?”

“Not that I know of – the heathern Japanese!”” said Lizzie sorrowfully. “And yet he’d be better riddance than cook or housemaid.”

“Now, Lizzie, how many times have I told you that you must conquer your prejudices? Billy is an excellent butler – he’d been with Mr. Fleming ten years and has the very highest recommendations. I am very glad that he is staying, if he is. With you to help him, we shall do very well until I can get other servants.” Miss Cornelia had risen now and Lizzie was helping her with the intricacies of her toilet. “But it’s too annoying,” she went on, in the pauses of Lizzie’s deft ministrations. “What did they say to you, Lizzie – did they give any reason? It isn’t as if they were new to the country like you. They’d been with Mr. Fleming for some time, though not as long as Billy.”

“Oh, yes, Miss Neily – they had reasons you could choke a goat with,” said Lizzie viciously as she arranged Miss Cornelia’s transformation. “Cook was the first of them – she was up late – I think they’d been talking it over together. She comes into the kitchen with her hat on and her bag in her hand. ‘Good morning,’ says I, pleasant enough, ‘you’ve got your hat on,’ says I. ‘I’m leaving,’ says she. ‘Leaving, are you?’ says I. ‘Leaving,’ says she. ‘My sister has twins,’ says she. ‘I just got word – I must go to her right away.’ ‘What?’ says I, all struck in a heap. ‘Twins,’ says she, ‘you’ve heard of such things as twins.’ ‘That I have,’ says I, ‘and I know a lie on a face when I see it, too.'”

“Lizzie!”

“Well, it made me sick at heart, Miss Neily. Her with her hat and her bag and her talk about twins – and no consideration for you. Well, I’ll go on. ‘You’re a clever woman, aren’t you?’ says she – the impudence! ‘I can see through a millstone as far as most,’ says I – I wouldn’t put up with her sauce. ‘Well!’ says she, ‘you can see that Annie the housemaid’s leaving, too.’ ‘Has her sister got twins as well?’ says I and looked at her. ‘No,’ says she as bold as brass, ‘but Annie’s got a pain in her side and she’s feared it’s appendycitis – so she’s leaving to go back to her family.’ ‘Oh,’ says I, ‘and what about Miss Van Gorder?’ ‘I’m sorry for Miss Van Gorder,’ says she – the falseness of her! – ‘But she’ll have to do the best she can for twins and appendycitis is acts of God and not to be put aside for even the best of wages.’ ‘Is that so?’ says I and with that I left her, for I knew if I listened to her a minute longer I’d be giving her bonnet a shake and that wouldn’t be respectable. So there you are, Miss Neily, and that’s the gist of the matter.”

Miss Cornelia laughed. “Lizzie – you’re unique,” she said. “But I’m glad you didn’t give her bonnet a shake – though I’ve no doubt you could.”

“Humph!” said Lizzie snorting, the fire of battle in her eye. “And is it any Black Irish from Ulster would play impudence to a Kerrywoman without getting the flat of a hand in – but that’s neither here nor there. The truth of it is, Miss Neily,” her voice grew solemn, “it’s my belief they’re scared – both of them – by the haunts and the banshees here – and that’s all.”

“If they are they’re very silly,” said Miss Cornelia practically. “No, they may have heard of a better place, though it would seem as if when one pays the present extortionate wages and asks as little as we do here – but it doesn’t matter. If they want to go, they may. Am I ready, Lizzie?”

“You look like an angel, ma’am,” said Lizzie, clasping her hands.

“Well, I feel very little like one,” said Miss Cornelia, rising. “As cook and housemaid may discover before I’m through with them. Send them into the livingroom, Lizzie, when I’ve gone down. I’ll talk to them there.”

An hour or so later, Miss Cornelia sat in a deep chintz chair in the comfortable living-room of the Fleming house going through the pile of letters which Lizzie’s news of domestic revolt had prevented her reading earlier. Cook and housemaid had come and gone – civil enough, but so obviously determined upon leaving the house at once that Miss Cornelia had sighed and let them go, though not without caustic comment. Since then, she had devoted herself to calling up various employment agencies without entirely satisfactory results. A new cook and housemaid were promised for the end of the week – but for the next three days the Japanese butler, Billy, and Lizzie between them would have to bear the brunt of the service. Oh, yes – and then there’s Dale’s gardener, if she gets one, thought Miss, Cornelia. “I wish he could cook – but I don’t suppose gardeners can – and Billy’s a treasure. Still, its inconvenient – now, stop – Cornelia Van Gorder – you were asking for an adventure only this morning and the moment the littlest sort of one comes along, you want to crawl out of it.”

She had reached the bottom of her pile of letters – these to be thrown away, these to be answered – ah, here was one she had overlooked somehow. She took it up. It must be the one Lizzie had wanted to throw away – she smiled at Lizzie’s fears. The address was badly typed, on cheap paper – she tore the envelope open and drew out a single unsigned sheet.

If you stay in this house any longer – DEATH. Go back to the city at once and save your life.

Her fingers trembled a little as she turned the missive over but her face remained calm. She looked at the envelope – at the postmark- while her heart thudded uncomfortably for a moment and then resumed its normal beat. It had come at last – the adventure – and she was not afraid!

CHAPTER THREE

PISTOL PRACTICE

She knew who it was, of course. The Bat! No doubt of it. And yet – did the Bat ever threaten before he struck? She could not remember. But it didn’t matter. The Bat was unprecedented – unique. At any rate, Bat or no Bat, she must think out a course of action. The defection of cook and housemaid left her alone in the house with Lizzie and Billy – and Dale, of course, if Dale returned. Two old women, a young girl, and a Japanese butler to face the most dangerous criminal in America, she thought grimly. And yet – one couldn’t be sure. The threatening letter might be only a joke – a letter from a crank – after all. Still, she must take precautions; look for aid somewhere. But where could she look for aid?

She ran over in her mind the new acquaintances she had made since she moved to the country. There was Doctor Wells, the local physician, who had joked with her about moving into the Bat’s home territory – He seemed an intelligent man – but she knew him only slightly – she couldn’t call a busy Doctor away from his patients to investigate something which might only prove to be a mare’s-nest. The boys Dale had met at the country club – “Humph!” she sniffed, “I’d rather trust my gumption than any of theirs.” The logical person to call on, of course, was Richard Fleming, Courtleigh Fleming’s nephew and heir, who had rented her the house. He lived at the country club – she could probably reach him now. She was just on the point of doing so when she decided against it – partly from delicacy, partly from an indefinable feeling that he would not be of much help. Besides, she thought sturdily, it’s my house now, not his. He didn’t guarantee burglar protection in the lease.

As for the local police – her independence revolted at summoning them. They would bombard her with ponderous questions and undoubtedly think she was merely a nervous old spinster. If it was just me, she thought, I swear I wouldn’t say a word to anybody – and if the Bat flew in he mightn’t find it so easy to fly out again, if I am sixty-five and never shot a burglar in my life! But there’s Dale – and Lizzie. I’ve got to be fair to them.

For a moment she felt very helpless, very much alone. Then her courage returned.

“Pshaw, Cornelia, if you have got to get help – get the help you want and hang the consequences!” she adjured herself. “You’ve always hankered to see a first-class detective do his detecting – well, get one – or decide to do the job yourself. I’ll bet you could at that.”

She tiptoed to the main door of the living-room and closed it cautiously, smiling as she did so. Lizzie might be about and Lizzie would promptly go into hysterics if she got an inkling of her mistress’s present intentions. Then she went to the city telephone and asked for long distance.

When she had finished her telephoning, she looked at once relieved and a little naughty – like a demure child who has carried out some piece of innocent mischief unobserved. “My stars!” she muttered to herself. “You never can tell what you can do till you try.” Then she sat down again and tried to think of other measures of defense.

Now if I were the Bat, or any criminal, she mused, how would I get into this house? Well, that’s it – I might get in ‘most any way – it’s so big and rambling. All the grounds you want to lurk in, too; it’d take a company of police to shut them off. Then there’s the house itself. Let’s see – third floor – trunk room, servants’ rooms – couldn’t get in there very well except with a pretty long ladder – that’s all right. Second floor – well, I suppose a man could get into my bedroom from the porch if he were an acrobat, but he’d need to be a very good acrobat and there’s no use borrowing trouble. Downstairs is the problem, Cornelia, downstairs is the problem.

“Take this room now.” She rose and examined it carefully. “There’s the door over there on the right that leads into the billiard room. There’s this door over here that leads into the hall. Then there’s that other door by the alcove, and all those French windows – whew!” She shook her head.

It was true. The room in which she stood, while comfortable and charming, seemed unusually accessible to the night prowler. A row of French windows at the rear gave upon a little terrace; below the terrace, the drive curved about and beneath the billiard-room windows in a hairpin loop, drawing up again at the main entrance on the other side of the house. At the left of the French windows (if one faced the terrace as Miss Cornelia was doing) was the alcove door of which she spoke. When open, it disclosed a little alcove, almost entirely devoted to the foot of a flight of stairs that gave direct access to the upper regions of the house. The alcove itself opened on one side upon the terrace and upon the other into a large butler’s pantry. The arrangement was obviously designed so that, if necessary, one could pass directly from the terrace to the downstairs service quarters or the second floor of the house without going through the living-room, and so that trays could be carried up from the pantry by the side stairs- without using the main staircase.

The- middle pair of French windows were open, forming a double door. Miss Cornelia went over to them – shut them – tried the locks. Humph! Flimsy enough! she thought. Then she turned toward the billiard room.

The billiard room, as has been said, was the last room to the right in the main wing of the house. A single door led to it from the living-room. Miss Cornelia passed through this door, glanced about the billiard room, noting that most of its windows were too high from the ground to greatly encourage a marauder. She locked the only one that seemed to her particularly tempting – the billiard-room window on the terrace side of the house. Then she returned to the living-room and again considered her defenses.

Three points of access from the terrace to the house – the door that led into the alcove, the French windows of the living room – the billiard-room window. On the other side of the house there was the main entrance, the porch, the library and dining-room windows. The main entrance led into a hall-living-room, and the main door of the living-room was on the right as one entered, the dining-room and library on the left, main staircase in front. “My mind is starting to go round like a pinwheel, thinking of all those windows and doors,” she murmured to herself. She sat down once more, and taking a pencil and a piece of paper drew a plan of the lower floor of the house.

And now I’ve studied it, she thought after a while, I’m no further than if I hadn’t. As far as I can figure out, there are so many ways for a clever man to get into this house that I’d have to be a couple of Siamese twins to watch it properly. The next house I rent in the country, she decided, just isn’t going to have any windows and doors – or I’ll know the reason why.

But of course she was not entirely shut off from the world, even if the worst developed. She considered the telephone instruments on a table near the wall, one the general phone, the other connecting a house line which also connected with the garage and the greenhouses. The garage would not be helpful, since Slocum, her chauffeur for many years, had gone back to England for a visit. Dale had been driving the car. But with an able-bodied man in the gardener’s house –

She pulled herself together with a jerk.

“Cornelia Van Gorder, you’re going to go crazy before nightfall if you don’t take hold of yourself. What you need is lunch and a nap in the afternoon if you can make yourself take it. You’d better look up that revolver of yours, too, that you bought when you thought you were going to take a trip to China. You’ve never fired it off yet, but you’ve got to sometime today – there’s no other way of telling if it will work. You can shut your eyes when you do it – no, you can’t either – that’s silly.

“Call you a spirited old lady, do they? Well, you never had a better time to show your spirit than now!”

And Miss Van Gorder, sighing, left the living-room to reach the kitchen just in time to calm a heated argument between Lizzie and Billy on the relative merits of Japanese and Irish-American cooking.

Dale Ogden, taxiing up from the two o’clock train some time later, to her surprise discovered the front door locked and rang for some time before she could get an answer. At last, Billy appeared, white-coated, with an inscrutable expression on his face.

“Will you take my bag, Billy – thanks. Where is Miss Van Gorder – taking a nap?”

“No,” said Billy succinctly. “She take no nap. She out in srubbery shotting.”

Dale stared at him incredulously. “Shooting, Billy?”

“Yes, ma’am. At least – she not shoot yet but she say she going to soon.”

“But, good heavens, Billy – shooting what?”

“Shotting pistol,” said Billy, his yellow mask of a face preserving its impish repose. He waved his hand. “You go srubbery. You see.”

The scene that met Dale’s eyes when she finally found the “srubbery” was indeed a singular one. Miss Van Gorder, her back firmly planted against the trunk of a large elm tree and an expression of ineffable distaste on her features, was holding out a blunt, deadly looking revolver at arm’s length. Its muzzle wavered, now pointing at the ground, now at the sky. Behind the tree Lizzie sat in a heap, moaning quietly to herself, and now and then appealing to the saints to avert a visioned calamity.

As Dale approached, unseen, the climax came. The revolver steadied, pointed ferociously at an inoffensive grass-blade some 10 yards from Miss Van Gorder and went off. Lizzie promptly gave vent to a shrill Irish scream. Miss Van Gorder dropped the revolver like a hot potato and opened her mouth to tell Lizzie not to be such a fool. Then she saw Dale – her mouth went into a round 0 of horror and her hand clutched weakly at her heart.

“Good heavens, child!” she gasped. “Didn’t Billy tell you what I was doing? I might have shot you like a rabbit!” and, overcome with emotion, she sat down on the ground and started to fan herself mechanically with a cartridge.

Dale couldn’t help laughing – and the longer she looked at her aunt the more she laughed – until that dignified lady joined in the mirth herself.

“Aunt Cornelia – Aunt Cornelia!” said Dale when she could get her breath. “That I’ve lived to see the day – and they call US the wild generation! Why on earth were you having pistol practice, darling – has Billy turned into a Japanese spy or what?”

Miss Van Gorder rose from the ground with as much stateliness as she could muster under the circumstances.

“No, my dear – but there’s no fool like an old fool – that’s all,” she stated. “I’ve wanted to fire that infernal revolver off ever since I bought it two years ago, and now I have and I’m satisfied. Still,” she went on thoughtfully, picking up the weapon, “it seems a very good revolver – and shooting people must be much easier than I supposed. All you have to do is to point the – the front of it – like this and – “

“Oh, Miss Dale, dear Miss Dale!” came in woebegone accents from the other side of the tree. “For the love of heaven, Miss Dale, say no more but take it away from her – she’ll have herself all riddled through with bullets like a kitchen sieve – and me too – if she’s let to have it again.”

“Lizzie, I’m ashamed of you!” said Lizzie’s mistress. “Come out from behind that tree and stop wailing like a siren. This weapon is perfectly safe in competent hands and – ” She seemed on the verge of another demonstration of its powers.

“MISS DALE, FOR THE DEAR LOVE O’ GOD WILL YOU MAKE HER PUT IT AWAY?”

Dale laughed again. “I really think you’d better, Aunt Cornelia. Or both of us will have to put Lizzie to bed with a case of acute hysteria.”

“Well,” said Miss Van Gorder, “perhaps you’re right, dear.” Her eyes gleamed. “I should have liked to try it just once more though,” she confided. “I feel certain that I could hit that tree over there if my eye wouldn’t wink so when the thing goes off.”

“Now, it’s winking eyes,” said Lizzie on a note of tragic chant, “but next time it’ll be bleeding corpses and – “

Dale added her own protestations to Lizzie’s. “Please, darling, if you really want to practice, Billy can fix up some sort of target range – but I don’t want my favorite aunt assassinated by a ricocheted bullet before my eyes!”

“Well, perhaps it would be best to try again another time,” admitted Miss Van Gorder. But there was a wistful look in her eyes as she gave the revolver to Dale and the three started back to the house.

“I should never have allowed Lizzie to know what I was doing,” she confided in a whisper, on the way. “A woman is perfectly capable of managing firearms – but Lizzie is really too nervous to live, sometimes.”

“I know just how you feel, darling,” Dale agreed, suppressed mirth shaking her as the little procession reached the terrace. “But – oh,” she could keep it no longer, “oh – you did look funny, darling – sitting under that tree, with Lizzie on the other side of it making banshee noises and – “

Miss Van Gorder laughed too, a little shamefacedly.

“I must have,” she said. “But – oh, you needn’t shake your head, Lizzie Allen – I am going to practice with it. There’s no reason I shouldn’t and you never can tell when things like that might be useful,” she ended rather vaguely. She did not wish to alarm Dale with her suspicions yet.

“There, Dale – yes, put it in the drawer of the table – that will reassure Lizzie. Lizzie, you might make us some lemonade, I think – Miss Dale must be thirsty after her long, hot ride.”

“Yes, Miss Cornelia,” said Lizzie, recovering her normal calm as the revolver was shut away in the drawer of the large table in the living-room. But she could not resist one parting shot. “And thank God it’s lemonade I’ll be making – and not bandages for bullet wounds!” she muttered darkly as she went toward the service quarters.

Miss Van Gorder glared after her departing back. “Lizzie is really impossible sometimes!” she said with stately ire. Then her voice softened. “Though of course I couldn’t do without her,” she added.

Dale stretched out on the settee opposite her aunt’s chair. “I know you couldn’t, darling. Thanks for thinking of the lemonade.” She passed her hand over her forehead in a gesture of fatigue. “I AM hot – and tired.”

Miss Van Gorder looked at her keenly. The young face seemed curiously worn and haggard in the clear afternoon light.

“You – you don’t really feel very well, do you, Dale?”

“Oh – it’s nothing. I feel all right – really.”

“I could send for Doctor Wells if – “

“Oh, heavens, no, Aunt Cornelia.” She managed a wan smile. “It isn’t as bad as all that. I’m just tired and the city was terribly hot and noisy and – ” She stole a glance at her aunt from between lowered lids. “I got your gardener, by the way,” she said casually.

“Did you, dear? That’s splendid, though – but I’ll tell you about that later. Where did you get him?”

“That good agency, I can’t remember its name.” Dale’s hand moved restlessly over her eyes, as if remembering details were too great an effort. “But I’m sure he’ll be satisfactory. He’ll be out here this evening – he – he couldn’t get away before, I believe. What have you been doing all day, darling?”

Miss Cornelia hesitated. Now that Dale had returned she suddenly wanted very much to talk over the various odd happenings of the day with her – get the support of her youth and her common sense. Then that independence which was so firmly rooted a characteristic of hers restrained her. No use worrying the child unnecessarily; they all might have to worry enough before tomorrow morning.

She compromised. “We have had a domestic upheaval,” she said. “The cook and the housemaid have left – if you’d only waited till the next train you could have had the pleasure of their company into town.”

“Aunt Cornelia – how exciting! I’m so sorry! Why did they leave?”

“Why do servants ever leave a good place?” asked Miss Cornelia grimly. “Because if they had sense enough to know when they were well off, they wouldn’t be servants. Anyhow, they’ve gone – we’ll have to depend on Lizzie and Billy the rest of this week. I telephoned – but they couldn’t promise me any others before Monday.”

“And I was in town and could have seen people for you – if I’d only known!” said Dale remorsefully. “Only,” she hesitated, “I mightn’t have had time – at least I mean there were some other things I had to do, besides getting the gardener and – ” She rose. “I think I will go and lie down for a little if you don’t mind, darling.”

Miss Van Gorder was concerned. “Of course I don’t mind but – won’t you even have your lemonade?”

“Oh, I’ll get some from Lizzie in the pantry before I go up,” Dale managed to laugh. “I think I must have a headache after all,” she said. “Maybe I’ll take an aspirin. Don’t worry, darling.”

“I shan’t. I only wish there were something I could do for you, my dear.”

Dale stopped in the alcove doorway. “There’s nothing anybody can do for me, really,” she said soberly. “At least – oh, I don’t know what I’m saying! But don’t worry. I’m quite all right. I may go over to the country club after dinner – and dance. Won’t you come with me, Aunt Cornelia?”

“Depends on your escort,” said Miss Cornelia tartly. “If our landlord, Mr. Richard Fleming, is taking you I certainly shall – I don’t like his looks and never did!”

Dale laughed. “Oh, he’s all right,” she said. “Drinks a good deal and wastes a lot of money, but harmless enough. No, this is a very sedate party; I’ll be home early.”

“Well, in that case,” said her aunt, “I shall stay here with my Lizzie and my ouija-board. Lizzie deserves some punishment for the very cowardly way she behaved this afternoon – and the ouija-board will furnish it. She’s scared to death to touch the thing. I think she believes it’s alive.”

“Well, maybe I’ll send you a message on it from the country club,” said Dale lightly. She had paused, half-way up the flight of side stairs in the alcove, and her aunt noticed how her shoulders drooped, belying the lightness of her voice. “Oh,” she went on, “by the way – have the afternoon papers come yet? I didn’t have time to get one when I was rushing for the train.”

“I don’t think so, dear, but I’ll ask Lizzie.” Miss Cornelia moved toward a bell push.

“Oh, don’t bother; it doesn’t matter. Only if they have, would you ask Lizzie to bring me one when she brings up the lemonade? I want to read about – about the Bat – he fascinates me.”

“There was something else in the paper this morning,” said Miss Cornelia idly. “Oh, yes – the Union Bank – the bank Mr. Fleming, Senior, was president of has failed. They seem to think the cashier robbed it. Did you see that, Dale?”

The shoulders of the girl on the staircase straightened suddenly. Then they drooped again. “Yes – I saw it,” she said in a queerly colorless voice. “Too bad. It must be terrible to – to have everyone suspect you – and hunt you – as I suppose they’re hunting that poor cashier.”

“Well,” said Miss Cornelia, “a man who wrecks a bank deserves very little sympathy to my way of thinking. But then I’m old-fashioned. Well, dear, I won’t keep you. Run along – and if you want an aspirin, there’s a box in my top bureau-drawer.”

“Thanks, darling. Maybe I’ll take one and maybe I won’t – all I really need is to lie down for a while.”

She moved on up the staircase and disappeared from the range of Miss Cornelia’s vision, leaving Miss Cornelia to ponder many things. Her trip to the city had done Dale no good, of a certainty. If not actually ill, she was obviously under some considerable mental strain. And why this sudden interest, first in the Bat, then in the failure of the Union Bank? Was it possible that Dale, too, had been receiving threatening letters?

I’ll be glad when that gardener comes, she thought to herself. He’ll make a MAN in the house at any rate.

When Lizzie at last came in with the lemonade she found her mistress shaking her head.

“Cornelia, Cornelia,” she was murmuring to herself, “you should have taken to pistol practice when you were younger; it just shows how children waste their opportunities.”

CHAPTER FOUR

THE STORM GATHERS

The long summer afternoon wore away, sunset came, red and angry, a sunset presaging storm. A chill crept into the air with the twilight. When night fell, it was not a night of silver patterns enskied, but a dark and cloudy cloak where a few stars glittered fitfully. Miss Cornelia, at dinner, saw a bat swoop past the window of the dining room in its scurrying flight, and narrowly escaped oversetting her glass of water with a nervous start. The tension of waiting – waiting – for some vague menace which might not materialize after all – had begun to prey on her nerves. She saw Dale off to the country club with relief – the girl looked a little better after her nap but she was still not her normal self. When Dale was gone, she wandered restlessly for some time between living-room and library, now giving an unnecessary dusting to a piece of bric-a-brac with her handkerchief, now taking a book from one of the shelves in the library only to throw it down before she read a page.

This house was queer. She would not have admitted it to Lizzie, for her soul’s salvation – but, for the first time in her sensible life, she listened for creakings of woodwork, rustling of leaves, stealthy steps outside, beyond the safe, bright squares of the windows – for anything that was actual, tangible, not merely formless fear.

“There’s too much ROOM in the country for things to happen to you!” she confided to herself with a shiver. “Even the night – whenever I look out, it seems to me as if the night were ten times bigger and blacker than it ever is in New York!”

To comfort herself she mentally rehearsed her telephone conversation of the morning, the conversation she had not mentioned to her household. At the time it had seemed to her most reassuring – the plans she had based upon it adequate and sensible in the normal light of day. But now the light of day had been blotted out and with it her security. Her plans seemed weapons of paper against the sinister might of the darkness beyond her windows. A little wind wailed somewhere in that darkness like a beaten child – beyond the hills thunder rumbled, drawing near, and with it lightening and the storm.

She made herself sit down in the chair beside her favorite lamp on the center table and take up her knitting with stiff fingers. Knit two – purl two – Her hands fell into the accustomed rhythm mechanically – a spy, peering in through the French windows, would have deemed her the picture of calm. But she had never felt less calm in all the long years of her life.

She wouldn’t ring for Lizzie to come and sit with her, she simply wouldn’t. But she was very glad, nevertheless, when Lizzie appeared at the door.

“Miss Neily.”

“Yes, Lizzie?” Miss Cornelia’s voice was composed but her heart felt a throb of relief.

“Can I – can I sit in here with you, Miss Neily, just a minute?” Lizzie’s voice was plaintive. “I’ve been sitting out in the kitchen watching that Jap read his funny newspaper the wrong way and listening for ghosts till I’m nearly crazy!”

“Why, certainly, Lizzie,” said Miss Cornelia primly. “Though,” she added doubtfully, “I really shouldn’t pamper your absurd fears, I suppose, but – “

“Oh, please, Miss Neily!”

“Very well,” said Miss Cornelia brightly. “You can sit here, Lizzie – and help me work the ouija-board. That will take your mind off listening for things!”

Lizzie groaned. “You know I’d rather be shot than touch that uncanny ouijie!” she said dolefully. “It gives me the creeps every time I put my hands on it!”

“Well, of course, if you’d rather sit in the kitchen, Lizzie – “

“Oh, give me the ouijie!” said Lizzie in tones of heartbreak. “I’d rather be shot and stabbed than stay in the kitchen any more.

“Very well,” said Miss Cornelia, “it’s your own decision, Lizzie – remember that.” Her needles clicked on. “I’ll just finish this row before we start,” she said. “You might call up the light company in the meantime, Lizzie – there seems to be a storm coming up and I want to find out if they intend to turn out the lights tonight as they did last night. Tell them I find it most inconvenient to be left without light that way.

“It’s worse than inconvenient,” muttered Lizzie, “it’s criminal – that’s what it is – turning off all the lights in a haunted house, like this one. As if spooks wasn’t bad enough with the lights on – “

“Lizzie!”

“Yes, Miss Neily – I wasn’t going to say another word.” She went to the telephone. Miss Cornelia knitted on – knit two – purl two – In spite of her experiments with the ouija-board she didn’t believe in ghosts – and yet – there were things one couldn’t explain by logic. Was there something like that in this house – a shadow walking the corridors – a vague shape of evil, drifting like mist from room to room, till its cold breath whispered on one’s back and – there! She had ruined her knitting, the last two rows would have to be ripped out. That came of mooning about ghosts like a ninny.

She put down the knitting with an exasperated little gesture. Lizzie had just finished her telephoning and was hanging up the receiver.

“Well, Lizzie?”

“Yes’m,” said the latter, glaring at the phone. “That’s what he says – they turned off the lights last night because there was a storm threatening. He says it burns out their fuses if they leave ’em on in a storm.”

A louder roll of thunder punctuated her words.

“There!” said Lizzie. “They’ll be going off again to-night.” She took an uncertain step toward the French windows.

“Humph!” said Miss Cornelia, “I hope it will be a dry summer.” Her hands tightened on each other. Darkness – darkness inside this house of whispers to match with the darkness outside! She forced herself to speak in a normal voice.

“Ask Billy to bring some candles, Lizzie – and have them ready.”

Lizzie had been staring fixedly at the French windows. At Miss Cornelia’s command she gave a little jump of terror and moved closer to her mistress.

“You’re not going to ask me to go out in that hall alone?” she said in a hurt voice.

It was too much. Miss Cornelia found vent for her feelings in crisp exasperation.

“What’s the matter with you anyhow, Lizzie Allen?”

The nervousness in her own tones infected Lizzie’s. She shivered frankly.

“Oh, Miss Neily – Miss Neily!” she pleaded. “I don’t like it! I want to go back to the city!”

Miss Cornelia braced herself. “I have rented this house for four months and I am going to stay,” she said firmly. Her eyes sought Lizzie’s, striving to pour some of her own inflexible courage into the latter’s quaking form. But Lizzie would not look at her. Suddenly she started and gave a low scream;

“There’s somebody on the terrace!” she breathed in a ghastly whisper, clutching at Miss Cornelia’s arm.

For a second Miss Cornelia sat frozen. Then, “Don’t do that!” she said sharply. “What nonsense!” but she, looked over her shoulder as she said it and Lizzie saw the look. Both waited, in pulsing stillness – one second – two.

“I guess it was the wind,” said Lizzie at last, relieved, her grip on Miss Cornelia relaxing. She began to look a trifle ashamed of herself and Miss Cornelia seized the opportunity.

“You were born on a brick pavement,” she said crushingly. “You get nervous out here at night whenever a cricket begins to sing – or scrape his legs – or whatever it is they do!”

Lizzie bowed before the blast of her mistress’s scorn and began to move gingerly toward the alcove door. But obviously she was not entirely convinced.

“Oh, it’s more than that, Miss Neily,” she mumbled. “I – “

Miss Cornelia turned to her fiercely. If Lizzie was going to behave like this, they might as well have it out now between them – before Dale came home.

“What did you really see last night?” she said in a minatory voice.

The instant relief on Lizzie’s face was ludicrous; she so obviously preferred discussing any subject at any length to braving the dangers of the other part of the house unaccompanied.

“I was standing right there at the top of that there staircase,” she began, gesticulating toward the alcove stairs in the manner of one who embarks upon the narration of an epic. “Standing there with your switch in my hand, Miss Neily – and then I looked down and,” her voice dropped, “I saw a gleaming eye! It looked at me and winked! I tell you this house is haunted!”

“A flirtatious ghost?” queried Miss Cornelia skeptically. She snorted. “Humph! Why didn’t you yell?”

“I was too scared to yell! And I’m not the only one.” She started to back away from the alcove, her eyes still fixed upon its haunted stairs. “Why do you think the servants left so sudden this morning?” she went on. “Do you really believe the housemaid had appendicitis? Or the cook’s sister had twins?”

She turned and gestured at her mistress with a long, pointed forefinger. Her voice had a note of doom.

“I bet a cent the cook never had any sister – and the sister never had any twins,” she said impressively. “No, Miss Neily, they couldn’t put it over on me like that! They were scared away. They saw – It!”

She concluded her epic and stood nodding her head, an Irish Cassandra who had prophesied the evil to come.

“Fiddlesticks!” said Miss Cornelia briskly, more shaken by the recital than she would have admitted. She tried to think of another topic of conversation.

“What time is it?” she asked.

Lizzie glanced at the mantel clock. “Half-past ten, Miss Neily.”

Miss Cornelia yawned, a little dismally. She felt as if the last two hours had not been hours but years.

“Miss Dale won’t be home for half an hour,” she said reflectively. And if I have to spend another thirty minutes listening to Lizzie shiver, she thought, Dale will find me a nervous wreck when she does come home. She rolled up her knitting and put it back in her knitting-bag; it was no use going on, doing work that would have to be ripped out again and yet she must do something to occupy her thoughts. She raised her head and discovered Lizzie returning toward the alcove stairs with the stealthy tread of a panther. The sight exasperated her.

“Now, Lizzie Allen!” she said sharply, “you forget all that superstitious nonsense and stop looking for ghosts! There’s nothing in that sort of thing.” She smiled – she would punish Lizzie for her obdurate timorousness. “Where’s that ouija-board?” she questioned, rising, with determination in her eye.

Lizzie shuddered violently. “It’s up there – with a prayer book on it to keep it quiet!” she groaned, jerking her thumb in the direction of the farther bookcase.

“Bring it here!” said Miss Cornelia implacably; then as Lizzie still hesitated, “Lizzie!”

Shivering, every movement of her body a conscious protest, Lizzie slowly went over to the bookcase, lifted off the prayer book, and took down the ouija-board. Even then she would not carry it normally but bore it over to Miss Cornelia at arms’-length, as if any closer contact would blast her with lightning, her face a comic mask of loathing and repulsion.

She placed the lettered board in Miss Cornelia’s lap with a sigh of relief. “You can do it yourself! I’ll have none of it!” she said firmly.

“It takes two people and you know it, Lizzie Allen!” Miss Cornelia’s voice was stern but – it was also amused.

Lizzie groaned, but she knew her mistress. She obeyed. She carefully chose the farthest chair in the room and took a long time bringing it over to where her mistress sat waiting.

“I’ve been working for you for twenty years,” she muttered. “I’ve been your goat for twenty years and I’ve got a right to speak my mind – “

Miss Cornelia cut her off. “You haven’t got a mind. Sit down,” she commanded.

Lizzie sat – her hands at her sides. With a sigh of tried patience, Miss Cornelia put her unwilling fingers on the little moving table that is used to point to the letters on the board itself. Then she placed her own hands on it, too, the tips of the fingers just touching Lizzie’s.

“Now make your mind a blank!” she commanded her factotum.

“You just said I haven’t got any mind,” complained the latter.

“Well;” said Miss Cornelia magnificently, “make what you haven’t got a blank.”

The repartee silenced Lizzie for the moment, but only for the moment. As soon as Miss Cornelia had settled herself comfortably and tried to make her mind a suitable receiving station for ouija messages, Lizzie began to mumble the sorrows of her heart.

“I’ve stood by you through thick and thin,” she mourned in a low voice. “I stood by you when you were a vegetarian – I stood by you when you were a theosophist – and I seen you through socialism, Fletcherism and rheumatism – but when it comes to carrying on with ghosts – “

“Be still!” ordered Miss Cornelia. “Nothing will come if you keep chattering!”

“That’s why I’m chattering!” said Lizzie, driven to the wall. “My teeth are, too,” she added. “I can hardly keep my upper set in,” and a desolate clicking of artificial molars attested the truth of the remark. Then, to Miss Cornelia’s relief, she was silent for nearly two minutes, only to start so violently at the end of the time that she nearly upset the ouija-board on her mistress’s toes.

“I’ve got a queer feeling in my fingers – all the way up my arms,” she whispered in awed accents, wriggling the arms she spoke of violently.

“Hush!” said Miss Cornelia indignantly. Lizzie always exaggerated, of course – yet now her own fingers felt prickly, uncanny. There was a little pause while both sat tense, staring at the board.

“Now, Ouija,” said Miss Cornelia defiantly, “is Lizzie Allen right about this house or is it all stuff and nonsense?”

For one second – two – the ouija remained anchored to its resting place in the center of the board, Then –

“My Gawd! It’s moving!” said Lizzie in tones of pure horror as the little pointer began to wander among the letters.

“You shoved it!”

“I did not – cross my heart, Miss Neily – I – ” Lizzie’s eyes were round, her fingers glued rigidly and awkwardly to the ouija. As the movements of the pointer grew more rapid her mouth dropped open – wider and wider – prepared for an ear-piercing scream.

“Keep quiet!” said Miss Cornelia tensely. There was a pause of a few seconds while the pointer darted from one letter to another wildly.

“B – M – C – X – P – R – S – K – Z – ” murmured Miss Cornelia trying to follow the spelled letters.

“It’s Russian!” gasped Lizzie breathlessly and Miss Cornelia nearly disgraced herself in the eyes of any spirits that might be present by inappropriate laughter. The ouija continued to move – more letters – what was it spelling? – it couldn’t be – good heavens – “B – A – T – Bat!” said Miss Cornelia with a tiny catch in her voice.

The pointer stopped moving: She took her hands from the board.

“That’s queer,” she said with a forced laugh. She glanced at Lizzie to see how Lizzie was taking it. But the 1atter seemed too relieved to have her hands off the ouija-board to make the mental connection that her mistress had feared.

All she said was, “Bats indeed! That shows it’s spirits. There’s been a bat flying around this house all evening.”

She got up from her chair tentatively, obviously hoping that the seance was over.

“Oh, Miss Neily,” she burst out. “Please let me sleep in your room tonight! It’s only when my jaw drops that I snore – I can tie it up with a handkerchief!”

“I wish you’d tie it up with a handkerchief now,” said her mistress absent-mindedly, still pondering the message that the pointer had spelled. “B – A – T – Bat!” she murmured. Thought-transference – warning – accident? Whatever it was, it was – nerve-shaking. She put the ouija-board aside. Accident or not, she was done with it for the evening. But she could not so easily dispose of the Bat. Sending a protesting Lizzie off for her reading glasses, Miss Cornelia got the evening paper and settled down to what by now had become her obsession. She had not far to search for a long black streamer ran across the front page – “Bat Baffles Police Again.”

She skimmed through the article with eerie fascination, reading bits of it aloud for Lizzie’s benefit.

“‘Unique criminal – long baffled the police – record of his crimes shows him to be endowed with an almost diabolical ingenuity – so far there is no clue to his identity – ‘” Pleasant reading for an old woman who’s just received a threatening letter, she thought ironically – ah, here was something new in a black-bordered box on the front page – a statement by the paper.

She read it aloud. “‘We must cease combing the criminal world for the Bat and look higher. He may be a merchant – a lawyer – a Doctor – honored in his community by day and at night a bloodthirsty assassin – ‘” The print blurred before her eyes, she could read no more for the moment. She thought of the revolver in the drawer of the table close at hand and felt glad that it was there, loaded.

“I’m going to take the butcher knife to bed with me!” Lizzie was saying.

Miss Cornelia touched the ouija-board. “That thing certainly spelled Bat,” she remarked. “I wish I were a man. I’d like to see any lawyer, Doctor, or merchant of my acquaintance leading a double life without my suspecting it.”

“Every man leads a double life and some more than that,” Lizzie observed. “I guess it rests them, like it does me to take off my corset.

Miss Cornelia opened her mouth to rebuke her but just at that moment there, was a clink of ice from the hall, and Billy, the Japanese, entered carrying a tray with a pitcher of water and some glasses on it. Miss Cornelia watched his impassive progress, wondering if the Oriental races ever felt terror – she could not imagine all Lizzie’s banshees and kelpies producing a single shiver from Billy. He set down the tray and was about to go as silently as he had come when Miss Cornelia spoke to him on impulse.

“Billy, what’s all this about the cook’s sister not having twins?” she said in an offhand voice. She had not really discussed the departure of the other servants with Billy before. “Did you happen to know that this interesting event was anticipated?”

Billy drew in his breath with a polite hiss. “Maybe she have twins,” he admitted. “It happen sometime. Mostly not expected.”

“Do you think there was any other reason for her leaving?”

“Maybe,” said Billy blandly.

“Well, what was the reason?”

“All say the same thing – house haunted.” Billy’s reply was prompt as it was calm.

Miss Cornelia gave a slight laugh. “You know better than that, though, don’t you?”

Billy’s Oriental placidity remained unruffled. He neither admitted nor denied. He shrugged his shoulders.

“Funny house,” he said laconically. “Find window open – nobody there. Door slam – nobody there!”

On the heels of his words came a single, startling bang from the kitchen quarters – the bang of a slammed door!

CHAPTER FIVE

ALOPECIA AND RUBEOLA

Miss Cornelia dropped her newspaper. Lizzie, frankly frightened, gave a little squeal and moved closer to her mistress. Only Billy remained impassive but even he looked sharply in the direction whence the sound had come.

Miss Cornelia was the first of the others to recover her poise.

“Stop that! It was the wind!” she said, a little irritably – the “Stop that!” addressed to Lizzie who seemed on the point of squealing again.

“I think not wind,” said Billy. His very lack of perturbation added weight to the statement. It made Miss Cornelia uneasy. She took out her knitting again.

“How long have you lived in this house, Billy?”

“Since Mr. Fleming built.”

“H’m.” Miss Cornelia pondered. “And this is the first time you have been disturbed?”

“Last two days only.” Billy would have made an ideal witness in a courtroom. He restricted himself so precisely to answering what was asked of him in as few words as possible.

Miss Cornelia ripped out a row in her knitting. She took a deep breath.

“What about that face Lizzie said you saw last night at the window?” she asked in a steady voice.

Billy grinned, as if slightly embarrassed. “Just face – that’s all.”

“A – man’s face?”

He shrugged again.

“Don’t know – maybe. It there! It gone!”

Miss Cornelia did not want to believe him – but she did. “Did you go out after it?” she persisted.

Billy’s yellow grin grew wider. “No thanks,” he said cheerfully with ideal succinctness.

Lizzie, meanwhile, had stood first on one foot and then on the other during the interrogation, terror and morbid interest fighting in her for mastery. Now she could hold herself in no longer.

“Oh, Miss Neily!” she exploded in a graveyard moan, “last night when the lights went out I had a token! My oil lamp was full of oil but, do what I would, it kept going out, too – the minute I shut my eyes out that lamp would go. There ain’t a surer token of death! The Bible says, ‘Let your light shine’ – and when a hand you can’t see puts your lights out – good night!”

She ended in a hushed whisper and even Billy looked a trifle uncomfortable after her climax.

“Well,, now that you’ve cheered us up,” began Miss Cornelia undauntedly, but a long, ominous roll of thunder that rattled the panes in the French windows drowned out the end of her sentence. Nevertheless she welcomed the thunder as a diversion. At least its menace was a physical one – to be guarded against by physical means.

She rose and went over to the French windows. That flimsy bolt! She parted the curtains and looked out – a flicker of lightning stabbed the night – the storm must be almost upon them.

“Bring some candles, Billy,” she said. “The lights may be going out any moment – and Billy,” as he started to leave, “there’s a gentleman arriving on the last train. After he comes you may go to bed. I’ll wait up for Miss Dale – oh, and Billy,” arresting him at the door, “see that all the outer doors on this floor are locked and bring the keys here.”

Billy nodded and departed. Miss Cornelia took a long breath. Now that the moment for waiting had passed – the moment for action come – she felt suddenly indomitable, prepared to face a dozen Bats!

Her feelings were not shared by her maid. “I know what all this means,” moaned Lizzie. “I tell you there’s going to be a death, sure!”

“There certainly will be if you don’t keep quiet,” said her mistress acidly. “Lock the billiard-room windows and go to bed.”

But this was the last straw for Lizzie. A picture of the two long, dark flights of stairs up which she had to pass to reach her bedchamber rose before her – and she spoke her mind.

“I am not going to bed!” she said wildly. “I’m going to pack up tomorrow and leave this house.” That such a threat would never be carried out while she lived made little difference to her – she was beyond the need of Truth’s consolations. “I asked you on my bended knees not to take this place two miles from a railroad,” she went on heatedly. “For mercy’s sake, Miss Neily, let’s go back to the city before it’s too late!”

Miss Cornelia was inflexible.

“I’m not going. You can make up your mind to that. I’m going to find out what’s wrong with this place if it takes all summer. I came out to the country for a rest and I’m going to get it.”

“You’ll get your heavenly rest!” mourned Lizzie, giving it up. She looked pitifully at her mistress’s face for a sign that the latter might be weakening – but no such sign came. Instead, Miss Cornelia seemed to grow more determined.

“Besides,” she said, suddenly deciding to share the secret she had hugged to herself all day, “I might as well tell you, Lizzie. I’m having a detective sent down tonight from police headquarters in the city.”

“A detective?” Lizzie’s face was horrified. “Miss Neily, you’re keeping something from me! You know something I don’t know.”

“I hope so. I daresay he will be stupid enough. Most of them are. But at least we can have one proper night’s sleep.”

“Not I. I trust no man,” said Lizzie. But Miss Cornelia had picked up the paper again.

“‘The Bat’s last crime was a particularly atrocious one,'” she read. “‘The body of the murdered man…'”

But Lizzie could bear no more.

“Why don’t you read the funny page once in a while?” she wailed and hurried to close the windows in the billiard room. The door leading into the billiard room shut behind her.

Miss Cornelia remained reading for a moment. Then – was that a sound from the alcove? She dropped the paper, went into the alcove and stood for a moment at the foot of the stairs, listening. No – it must have been imagination. But, while she was here, she might as well put on the spring lock that bolted the door from the alcove to the terrace. She did so, returned to the living-room and switched off the lights for a moment to look out at the coming storm. It was closer now – the lightning flashes more continuous. She turned on the lights again as Billy re-entered with three candles and a box of matches.

He put them down on a side table.

“New gardener come,” he said briefly to Miss Cornelia’s back.

Miss Cornelia turned. “Nice hour for him to get here. What’s his name?”

“Say his name Brook,” said Billy, a little doubtful. English names still bothered him – he was never quite sure of them at first.

Miss Cornelia thought. “Ask him to come in,” she said. “And Billy – where are the keys?”

Billy silently took two keys from his pocket and laid them on the table. Then he pointed to the terrace door which Miss Cornelia had just bolted.

“Door up there – spring lock,” he said.

“Yes.” She nodded. “And the new bolt you put on today makes it fairly secure. One thing is fairly sure, Billy. If anyone tries to get in tonight, he will have to break a window and make a certain amount of noise.”

But he only smiled his curious enigmatic smile and went out. And no sooner had Miss Cornelia seated herself when the door of the billiard room slammed open suddenly and Lizzie burst into the room as if she had been shot from a gun – her hair wild – her face stricken with fear.

“I heard somebody yell out in the grounds – away down by the gate!” she informed her mistress in a loud stage whisper which had a curious note of pride in it, as if she were not too displeased at seeing her doleful predictions so swiftly coming to pass.

Miss Cornelia took her by the shoulder – half-startled, half-dubious.

“What did they yell?”

“Just yelled a yell!”

“Lizzie!”

“I heard them!”

But she had cried “Wolf!” too often.

“You take a liver pill,” said her mistress disgustedly, “and go to bed.”

Lizzie was about to protest both the verdict on her story and the judgment on herself when the door in the hall was opened by Billy to admit the new gardener. A handsome young fellow, in his late twenties, he came two steps into the room and then stood there respectfully with his cap in his hand, waiting for Miss Cornelia to speak to him.

After a swift glance of observation that gave her food for thought she did so.

“You are Brooks, the new gardener?”

The young man inclined his head.

“Yes, madam. The butler said you wanted to speak to me.

Miss Cornelia regarded him anew. His hands look soft – for a gardener’s, she thought. And his manners seem much too good for one – Still –

“Come in,” she said briskly. The young man advanced another two steps. “You’re the man my niece engaged in the city this afternoon?”

“Yes, madam.” He seemed a little uneasy under her searching scrutiny. She dropped her eyes.

“I could not verify your references as the Brays are in Canada – ” she proceeded.

The young man took an eager step forward. “I am sure if Mrs. Bray were here – ” he began, then flushed and stopped, twisting his cap.

“Were here?” said Miss Cornelia in a curious voice. “Are you a professional gardener?”

“Yes.” The young man’s manner had grown a trifle defiant but Miss Cornelia’s next question followed remorselessly.

“Know anything about hardy perennials?” she said in a soothing voice, while Lizzie regarded the interview with wondering eyes.

“Oh. yes,” but the young man seemed curiously lacking in confidence. “They – they’re the ones that keep their leaves during the winter, aren’t they?”

“Come over here – closer – ” said Miss Cornelia imperiously. Once more she scrutinized him and this time there was no doubt of his discomfort under her stare.