“I appreciate your desire to have everything nice for him,” I went on, “but the next time, you might take the Limoges china It’s more easily duplicated and less expensive.”
“I haven’t a young man–not here.” She had got her breath now, as I had guessed she would. “I–I have been chased by a thief, Miss Innes.”
“Did he chase you out of the house and back again?” I asked.
Then Rosie began to cry–not silently, but noisily, hysterically.
I stopped her by giving her a good shake.
“What in the world is the matter with you?” I snapped. “Has the day of good common sense gone by! Sit up and tell me the whole thing.” Rosie sat up then, and sniffled.
“I was coming up the drive–” she began.
“You must start with when you went DOWN the drive, with my dishes and my silver,” I interrupted, but, seeing more signs of hysteria, I gave in. “Very well. You were coming up the drive– “
“I had a basket of–of silver and dishes on my arm and I was carrying the plate, because–because I was afraid I’d break it. Part-way up the road a man stepped out of the bushes, and held his arm like this, spread out, so I couldn’t get past. He said– he said–`Not so fast, young lady; I want you to let me see what’s in that basket.'”
She got up in her excitement and took hold of my arm.
“It was like this, Miss Innes,” she said, “and say you was the man. When he said that, I screamed and ducked under his arm like this. He caught at the basket and I dropped it. I ran as fast as I could, and he came after as far as the trees. Then he stopped. Oh, Miss Innes, it must have been the man that killed that Mr. Armstrong!”
“Don’t be foolish,” I said. “Whoever killed Mr. Armstrong would put as much space between himself and this house as he could. Go up to bed now; and mind, if I hear of this story being repeated to the other maids, I shall deduct from your wages for every broken dish I find in the drive.”
I listened to Rosie as she went up-stairs, running past the shadowy places and slamming her door. Then I sat down and looked at the Coalport plate and the silver spoon. I had brought my own china and silver, and, from all appearances, I would have little enough to take back. But though I might jeer at Rosie as much as I wished, the fact remained that some one had been on the drive that night who had no business there. Although neither had Rosie, for that matter.
I could fancy Liddy’s face when she missed the extra pieces of china–she had opposed Rosie from the start. If Liddy once finds a prophecy fulfilled, especially an unpleasant one, she never allows me to forget it. It seemed to me that it was absurd to leave that china dotted along the road for her to spy the next morning; so with a sudden resolution, I opened the door again and stepped out into the darkness. As the door closed behind me I half regretted my impulse; then I shut my teeth and went on.
I have never been a nervous woman, as I said before. Moreover, a minute or two in the darkness enabled me to see things fairly well. Beulah gave me rather a start by rubbing unexpectedly against my feet; then we two, side by side, went down the drive.
There were no fragments of china, but where the grove began I picked up a silver spoon. So far Rosie’s story was borne out: I began to wonder if it were not indiscreet, to say the least, this midnight prowling in a neighborhood with such a deservedly bad reputation. Then I saw something gleaming, which proved to be the handle of a cup, and a step or two farther on I found a V- shaped bit of a plate. But the most surprising thing of all was to find the basket sitting comfortably beside the road, with the rest of the broken crockery piled neatly within, and a handful of small silver, spoon, forks, and the like, on top! I could only stand and stare. Then Rosie’s story was true. But where had Rosie carried her basket? And why had the thief, if he were a thief, picked up the broken china out of the road and left it, with his booty?
It was with my nearest approach to a nervous collapse that I heard the familiar throbbing of an automobile engine. As it came closer I recognized the outline of the Dragon Fly, and knew that Halsey had come back.
Strange enough it must have seemed to Halsey, too, to come across me in the middle of the night, with the skirt of my gray silk gown over my shoulders to keep off the dew, holding a red and green basket under one arm and a black cat under the other. What with relief and joy, I began to cry, right there, and very nearly wiped my eyes on Beulah in the excitement.
JUST LIKE A GIRL
“Aunt Ray!” Halsey said from the gloom behind the lamps. “What in the world are you doing here?”
“Taking a walk,” I said, trying to be composed. I don’t think the answer struck either of us as being ridiculous at the time. “Oh, Halsey, where have you been?”
“Let me take you up to the house.” He was in the road, and had Beulah and the basket out of my arms in a moment. I could see the car plainly now, and Warner was at the wheel–Warner in an ulster and a pair of slippers, over Heaven knows what. Jack Bailey was not there. I got in, and we went slowly and painfully up to the house.
We did not talk. What we had to say was too important to commence there, and, besides, it took all kinds of coaxing from both men to get the Dragon Fly up the last grade. Only when we had closed the front door and stood facing each other in the hall, did Halsey say anything. He slipped his strong young arm around my shoulders and turned me so I faced the light.
“Poor Aunt Ray!” he said gently. And I nearly wept again. “I–I must see Gertrude, too; we will have a three-cornered talk.”
And then Gertrude herself came down the stairs. She had not been to bed, evidently: she still wore the white negligee she had worn earlier in the evening, and she limped somewhat. During her slow progress down the stairs I had time to notice one thing: Mr. Jamieson had said the woman who escaped from the cellar had worn no shoe on her right foot. Gertrude’s right ankle was the one she had sprained!
The meeting between brother and sister was tense, but without tears. Halsey kissed her tenderly, and I noticed evidences of strain and anxiety in both young faces.
“Is everything–right?” she asked.
“Right as can be,” with forced cheerfulness.
I lighted the living-room and we went in there. Only a half-hour before I had sat with Mr. Jamieson in that very room, listening while he overtly accused both Gertrude and Halsey of at least a knowledge of the death of Arnold Armstrong. Now Halsey was here to speak for himself: I should learn everything that had puzzled me.
“I saw it in the paper to-night for the first time,” he was saying. “It knocked me dumb. When I think of this houseful of women, and a thing like that occurring!”
Gertrude’s face was still set and white. “That isn’t all, Halsey,” she said. “You and–and Jack left almost at the time it happened. The detective here thinks that you–that we–know something about it.”
“The devil he does!” Halsey’s eyes were fairly starting from his head. “I beg your pardon, Aunt Ray, but–the fellow’s a lunatic.”
“Tell me everything, won’t you, Halsey?” I begged. “Tell me where you went that night, or rather morning, and why you went as you did. This has been a terrible forty-eight hours for all of us.”
He stood staring at me, and I could see the horror of the situation dawning in his face.
“I can’t tell you where I went, Aunt Ray,” he said, after a moment. “As to why, you will learn that soon enough. But Gertrude knows that Jack and I left the house before this thing– this horrible murder–occurred.”
“Mr. Jamieson does not believe me,” Gertrude said drearily. “Halsey, if the worst comes, if they should arrest you, you must–tell.”
“I shall tell nothing,” he said with a new sternness in his voice. “Aunt Ray, it was necessary for Jack and me to leave that night. I can not tell you why–just yet. As to where we went, if I have to depend on that as an alibi, I shall not tell. The whole thing is an absurdity, a trumped-up charge that can not possibly be serious.”
“Has Mr. Bailey gone back to the city,” I demanded, “or to the club?”
“Neither,” defiantly; “at the present moment I do not know where he is.”
“Halsey,” I asked gravely, leaning forward, “have you the slightest suspicion who killed Arnold Armstrong? The police think he was admitted from within, and that he was shot down from above, by someone on the circular staircase.”
“I know nothing of it,” he maintained; but I fancied I caught a sudden glance at Gertrude, a flash of something that died as it came.
As quietly, as calmly as I could, I went over the whole story, from the night Liddy and I had been alone up to the strange experience of Rosie and her pursuer. The basket still stood on the table, a mute witness to this last mystifying occurrence.
“There is something else,” I said hesitatingly, at the last. “Halsey, I have never told this even to Gertrude, but the morning after the crime, I found, in a tulip bed, a revolver. It–it was yours, Halsey.”
For an appreciable moment Halsey stared at me. Then he turned to Gertrude.
“My revolver, Trude!” he exclaimed. “Why, Jack took my revolver with him, didn’t he?”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake don’t say that,” I implored. “The detective thinks possibly Jack Bailey came back, and–and the thing happened then.”
“He didn’t come back,” Halsey said sternly. “Gertrude, when you brought down a revolver that night for Jack to take with him, what one did you bring? Mine?”
Gertrude was defiant now.
“No. Yours was loaded, and I was afraid of what Jack might do. I gave him one I have had for a year or two. It was empty.”
Halsey threw up both hands despairingly.
“If that isn’t like a girl!” he said. “Why didn’t you do what I asked you to, Gertrude? You send Bailey off with an empty gun, and throw mine in a tulip bed, of all places on earth! Mine was a thirty-eight caliber. The inquest will show, of course, that the bullet that killed Armstrong was a thirty-eight. Then where shall I be?”
“You forget,” I broke in, “that I have the revolver, and that no one knows about it.”
But Gertrude had risen angrily.
“I can not stand it; it is always with me,” she cried. “Halsey, I did not throw your revolver into the tulip bed. I–think– you–did it–yourself!”
They stared at each other across the big library table, with young eyes all at once hard, suspicious. And then Gertrude held out both hands to him appealingly.
“We must not,” she said brokenly. “Just now, with so much at stake, it–is shameful. I know you are as ignorant as I am. Make me believe it, Halsey.”
Halsey soothed her as best he could, and the breach seemed healed. But long after I went to bed he sat down-stairs in the living-room alone, and I knew he was going over the case as he had learned it. Some things were clear to him that were dark to me. He knew, and Gertrude, too, why Jack Bailey and he had gone away that night, as they did. He knew where they had been for the last forty-eight hours, and why Jack Bailey had not returned with him. It seemed to me that without fuller confidence from both the children–they are always children to me–I should never be able to learn anything.
As I was finally getting ready for bed, Halsey came up-stairs and knocked at my door. When I had got into a negligee–I used to say wrapper before Gertrude came back from school–I let him in. He stood in the doorway a moment, and then he went into agonies of silent mirth. I sat down on the side of the bed and waited in severe silence for him to stop, but he only seemed to grow worse.
When he had recovered he took me by the elbow and pulled me in front of the mirror.
“`How to be beautiful,'” he quoted. “`Advice to maids and matrons,’ by Beatrice Fairfax!” And then I saw myself. I had neglected to remove my wrinkle eradicators, and I presume my appearance was odd. I believe that it is a woman’s duty to care for her looks, but it is much like telling a necessary falsehood–one must not be found out. By the time I got them off Halsey was serious again, and I listened to his story.
“Aunt Ray,” he began, extinguishing his cigarette on the back of my ivory hair-brush, “I would give a lot to tell you the whole thing. But–I can’t, for a day or so, anyhow. But one thing I might have told you a long time ago. If you had known it, you would not have suspected me for a moment of–of having anything to do with the attack on Arnold Armstrong. Goodness knows what I might do to a fellow like that, if there was enough provocation, and I had a gun in my hand–under ordinary circumstances. But–I care a great deal about Louise Armstrong, Aunt Ray. I hope to marry her some day. Is it likely I would kill her brother?”
“Her stepbrother,” I corrected. “No, of course, it isn’t likely, or possible. Why didn’t you tell me, Halsey?”
“Well, there were two reasons,” he said slowly.
“One was that you had a girl already picked out for me–“
“Nonsense,” I broke in, and felt myself growing red. I had, indeed, one of the–but no matter.
“And the second reason,” he pursued, “was that the Armstrongs would have none of me.”
I sat bolt upright at that and gasped.
“The Armstrongs!” I repeated. “With old Peter Armstrong driving a stage across the mountains while your grandfather was war governor–“
“Well, of course, the war governor’s dead, and out of the matrimonial market,” Halsey interrupted. “And the present Innes admits himself he isn’t good enough for–for Louise.”
“Exactly,” I said despairingly, “and, of course, you are taken at your own valuation. The Inneses are not always so self- depreciatory.”
“Not always, no,” he said, looking at me with his boyish smile. “Fortunately, Louise doesn’t agree with her family. She’s willing to take me, war governor or no, provided her mother consents. She isn’t overly-fond of her stepfather, but she adores her mother. And now, can’t you see where this thing puts me? Down and out, with all of them.”
“But the whole thing is absurd,” I argued. “And besides, Gertrude’s sworn statement that you left before Arnold Armstrong came would clear you at once.”
Halsey got up and began to pace the room, and the air of cheerfulness dropped like a mask.
“She can’t swear it,” he said finally. “Gertrude’s story was true as far as it went, but she didn’t tell everything. Arnold Armstrong came here at two-thirty–came into the billiard-room and left in five minutes. He came to bring–something.”
“Halsey,” I cried, “you MUST tell me the whole truth. Every time I see a way for you to escape you block it yourself with this wall of mystery. What did he bring?”
“A telegram–for Bailey,” he said. “It came by special messenger from town, and was–most important. Bailey had started for here, and the messenger had gone back to the city. The steward gave it to Arnold, who had been drinking all day and couldn’t sleep, and was going for a stroll in the direction of Sunnyside.”
“And he brought it?”
“What was in the telegram?”
“I can tell you–as soon as certain things are made public. It is only a matter of days now,” gloomily.
“And Gertrude’s story of a telephone message?”
“Poor Trude!” he half whispered. “Poor loyal little girl! Aunt Ray, there was no such message. No doubt your detective already knows that and discredits all Gertrude told him.”
“And when she went back, it was to get–the telegram?”
“Probably,” Halsey said slowly. “When you get to thinking about it, Aunt Ray, it looks bad for all three of us, doesn’t it? And yet–I will take my oath none of us even inadvertently killed that poor devil.”
I looked at the closed door into Gertrude’s dressing-room, and lowered my voice.
“The same horrible thought keeps recurring to me,” I whispered. “Halsey, Gertrude probably had your revolver: she must have examined it, anyhow, that night. After you–and Jack had gone, what if that ruffian came back, and she–and she–“
I couldn’t finish. Halsey stood looking at me with shut lips.
“She might have heard him fumbling at the door he had no key, the police say–and thinking it was you, or Jack, she admitted him. When she saw her mistake she ran up the stairs, a step or two, and turning, like an animal at bay, she fired.”
Halsey had his hand over my lips before I finished, and in that position we stared each at the other, our stricken glances crossing.
“The revolver–my revolver–thrown into the tulip bed!” he muttered to himself. “Thrown perhaps from an upper window: you say it was buried deep. Her prostration ever since, her–Aunt Ray, you don’t think it was Gertrude who fell down the clothes chute?”
I could only nod my head in a hopeless affirmative.
THE TRADERS BANK
The morning after Halsey’s return was Tuesday. Arnold Armstrong had been found dead at the foot of the circular staircase at three o’clock on Sunday morning. The funeral services were to be held on Tuesday, and the interment of the body was to be deferred until the Armstrongs arrived from California. No one, I think, was very sorry that Arnold Armstrong was dead, but the manner of his death aroused some sympathy and an enormous amount of curiosity. Mrs. Ogden Fitzhugh, a cousin, took charge of the arrangements, and everything, I believe, was as quiet as possible. I gave Thomas Johnson and Mrs. Watson permission to go into town to pay their last respects to the dead man, but for some reason they did not care to go.
Halsey spent part of the day with Mr. Jamieson, but he said nothing of what happened. He looked grave and anxious, and he had a long conversation with Gertrude late in the afternoon.
Tuesday evening found us quiet, with the quiet that precedes an explosion. Gertrude and Halsey were both gloomy and distraught, and as Liddy had already discovered that some of the china was broken–it is impossible to have any secrets from an old servant–I was not in a pleasant humor myself. Warner brought up the afternoon mail and the evening papers at seven–I was curious to know what the papers said of the murder. We had turned away at least a dozen reporters. But I read over the head-line that ran half-way across the top of the Gazette twice before I comprehended it. Halsey had opened the Chronicle and was staring at it fixedly.
“The Traders’ Bank closes its doors!” was what I read, and then I put down the paper and looked across the table.
“Did you know of this?” I asked Halsey.
“I expected it. But not so soon,” he replied.
“And you?” to Gertrude.
“Jack–told us–something,” Gertrude said faintly. “Oh, Halsey, what can he do now?”
“Jack!” I said scornfully. “Your Jack’s flight is easy enough to explain now. And you helped him, both of you, to get away! You get that from your mother; it isn’t an Innes trait. Do you know that every dollar you have, both of you, is in that bank?”
Gertrude tried to speak, but Halsey stopped her.
“That isn’t all, Gertrude,” he said quietly; “Jack is–under arrest.”
“Under arrest!” Gertrude screamed, and tore the paper out of his hand. She glanced at the heading, then she crumpled the newspaper into a ball and flung it to the floor. While Halsey, looking stricken and white, was trying to smooth it out and read it, Gertrude had dropped her head on the table and was sobbing stormily.
I have the clipping somewhere, but just now I can remember only the essentials.
On the afternoon before, Monday, while the Traders’ Bank was in the rush of closing hour, between two and three, Mr. Jacob Trautman, President of the Pearl Brewing Company, came into the bank to lift a loan. As security for the loan he had deposited some three hundred International Steamship Company 5’s, in total value three hundred thousand dollars. Mr. Trautman went to the loan clerk and, after certain formalities had been gone through, the loan clerk went to the vault. Mr. Trautman, who was a large and genial German, waited for a time, whistling under his breath. The loan clerk did not come back. After an interval, Mr. Trautman saw the loan clerk emerge from the vault and go to the assistant cashier: the two went hurriedly to the vault. A lapse of another ten minutes, and the assistant cashier came out and approached Mr. Trautman. He was noticeably white and trembling. Mr. Trautman was told that through an oversight the bonds had been misplaced, and was asked to return the following morning, when everything would be made all right.
Mr. Trautman, however, was a shrewd business man, and he did not like the appearance of things. He left the bank apparently satisfied, and within thirty minutes he had called up three different members of the Traders’ Board of Directors. At three- thirty there was a hastily convened board meeting, with some stormy scenes, and late in the afternoon a national bank examiner was in possession of the books. The bank had not opened for business on Tuesday.
At twelve-thirty o’clock the Saturday before, as soon as the business of the day was closed, Mr John Bailey, the cashier of the defunct bank, had taken his hat and departed. During the afternoon he had called up Mr. Aronson, a member of the board, and said he was ill, and might not be at the bank for a day or two. As Bailey was highly thought of, Mr. Aronson merely expressed a regret. From that time until Monday night, when Mr. Bailey had surrendered to the police, little was known of his movements. Some time after one on Saturday he had entered the Western Union office at Cherry and White Streets and had sent two telegrams. He was at the Greenwood Country Club on Saturday night, and appeared unlike himself. It was reported that he would be released under enormous bond, some time that day, Tuesday.
The article closed by saying that while the officers of the bank refused to talk until the examiner had finished his work, it was known that securities aggregating a million and a quarter were missing. Then there was a diatribe on the possibility of such an occurrence; on the folly of a one-man bank, and of a Board of Directors that met only to lunch together and to listen to a brief report from the cashier, and on the poor policy of a government that arranges a three or four-day examination twice a year. The mystery, it insinuated, had not been cleared by the arrest of the cashier. Before now minor officials had been used to cloak the misdeeds of men higher up. Inseparable as the words “speculation” and “peculation” have grown to be, John Bailey was not known to be in the stock market. His only words, after his surrender, had been “Send for Mr. Armstrong at once.” The telegraph message which had finally reached the President of the Traders’ Bank, in an interior town in California, had been responded to by a telegram from Doctor Walker, the young physician who was traveling with the Armstrong family, saying that Paul Armstrong was very ill and unable to travel.
That was how things stood that Tuesday evening. The Traders’ Bank had suspended payment, and John Bailey was under arrest, charged with wrecking it; Paul Armstrong lay very ill in California, and his only son had been murdered two days before. I sat dazed and bewildered. The children’s money was gone: that was bad enough, though I had plenty, if they would let me share. But Gertrude’s grief was beyond any power of mine to comfort; the man she had chosen stood accused of a colossal embezzlement–and even worse. For in the instant that I sat there I seemed to see the coils closing around John Bailey as the murderer of Arnold Armstrong.
Gertrude lifted her head at last and stared across the table at Halsey.
“Why did he do it?” she wailed. “Couldn’t you stop him, Halsey? It was suicidal to go back!”
Halsey was looking steadily through the windows of the breakfast- room, but it was evident he saw nothing.
“It was the only thing he could do, Trude,” he said at last. “Aunt Ray, when I found Jack at the Greenwood Club last Saturday night, he was frantic. I can not talk until Jack tells me I may, but–he is absolutely innocent of all this, believe me. I thought, Trude and I thought, we were helping him, but it was the wrong way. He came back. Isn’t that the act of an innocent man?”
“Then why did he leave at all?” I asked, unconvinced. “What innocent man would run away from here at three o’clock in the morning? Doesn’t it look rather as though he thought it impossible to escape?”
Gertrude rose angrily. “You are not even just!” she flamed. “You don’t know anything about it, and you condemn him !”
“I know that we have all lost a great deal of money,” I said. “I shall believe Mr. Bailey innocent the moment he is shown to be. You profess to know the truth, but you can not tell me! What am I to think?”
Halsey leaned over and patted my hand.
“You must take us on faith,” he said. “Jack Bailey hasn’t a penny that doesn’t belong to him; the guilty man will be known in a day or so.”
“I shall believe that when it is proved,” I said grimly. “In the meantime, I take no one on faith. The Inneses never do.”
Gertrude, who had been standing aloof at a window, turned suddenly. “But when the bonds are offered for sale, Halsey, won’t the thief be detected at once?”
Halsey turned with a superior smile.
“It wouldn’t be done that way,” he said. “They would be taken out of the vault by some one who had access to it, and used as collateral for a loan in another bank. It would be possible to realize eighty per cent. of their face value.”
“But the man who did it–he would be known?”
“Yes. I tell you both, as sure as I stand here, I believe that Paul Armstrong looted his own bank. I believe he has a million at least, as the result, and that he will never come back. I’m worse than a pauper now. I can’t ask Louise to share nothing a year with me and when I think of this disgrace for her, I’m crazy.”
The most ordinary events of life seemed pregnant with possibilities that day, and when Halsey was called to the telephone, I ceased all pretense at eating. When he came back from the telephone his face showed that something had occurred. He waited, however, until Thomas left the dining-room: then he told us.
“Paul Armstrong is dead,” he announced gravely. “He died this morning in California. Whatever he did, he is beyond the law now.”
Gertrude turned pale.
“And the only man who could have cleared Jack can never do it!” she said despairingly.
“Also,” I replied coldly, “Mr. Armstrong is for ever beyond the power of defending himself. When your Jack comes to me, with some two hundred thousand dollars in his hands, which is about what you have lost, I shall believe him innocent.”
Halsey threw his cigarette away and turned on me.
“There you go!” he exclaimed. “If he was the thief, he could return the money, of course. If he is innocent, he probably hasn’t a tenth of that amount in the world. In his hands! That’s like a woman.”
Gertrude, who had been pale and despairing during the early part of the conversation, had flushed an indignant red. She got up and drew herself to her slender height, looking down at me with the scorn of the young and positive.
“You are the only mother I ever had,” she said tensely. “I have given you all I would have given my mother, had she lived–my love, my trust. And now, when I need you most, you fail me. I tell you, John Bailey is a good man, an honest man. If you say he is not, you–you–“
“Gertrude,” Halsey broke in sharply. She dropped beside the table and, burying her face in her arms broke into a storm of tears.
“I love him–love him,” she sobbed, in a surrender that was totally unlike her. “Oh, I never thought it would be like this. I can’t bear it. I can’t.”
Halsey and I stood helpless before the storm. I would have tried to comfort her, but she had put me away, and there was something aloof in her grief, something new and strange. At last, when her sorrow had subsided to the dry shaking sobs of a tired child, without raising her head she put out one groping hand.
“Aunt Ray!” she whispered. In a moment I was on my knees beside her, her arm around my neck, her cheek against my hair.
“Where am I in this?” Halsey said suddenly and tried to put his arms around us both. It was a welcome distraction, and Gertrude was soon herself again. The little storm had cleared the air. Nevertheless, my opinion remained unchanged. There was much to be cleared up before I would consent to any renewal of my acquaintance with John Bailey. And Halsey and Gertrude knew it, knowing me.
HALSEY MAKES A CAPTURE
It was about half-past eight when we left the dining-room and still engrossed with one subject, the failure of the bank and its attendant evils Halsey and I went out into the grounds for a stroll Gertrude followed us shortly. “The light was thickening,” to appropriate Shakespeare’s description of twilight, and once again the tree-toads and the crickets were making night throb with their tiny life. It was almost oppressively lonely, in spite of its beauty, and I felt a sickening pang of homesickness for my city at night–for the clatter of horses’ feet on cemented paving, for the lights, the voices, the sound of children playing. The country after dark oppresses me. The stars, quite eclipsed in the city by the electric lights, here become insistent, assertive. Whether I want to or not, I find myself looking for the few I know by name, and feeling ridiculously new and small by contrast–always an unpleasant sensation.
After Gertrude joined us, we avoided any further mention of the murder. To Halsey, as to me, there was ever present, I am sure, the thought of our conversation of the night before. As we strolled back and forth along the drive, Mr. Jamieson emerged from the shadow of the trees.
“Good evening,” he said, managing to include Gertrude in his bow.
Gertrude had never been even ordinarily courteous to him, and she nodded coldly. Halsey, however, was more cordial, although we were all constrained enough. He and Gertrude went on together, leaving the detective to walk with me. As soon as they were out of earshot, he turned to me.
“Do you know, Miss Innes,” he said, “the deeper I go into this thing, the more strange it seems to me. I am very sorry for Miss Gertrude. It looks as if Bailey, whom she has tried so hard to save, is worse than a rascal; and after her plucky fight for him, it seems hard.”
I looked through the dusk to where Gertrude’s light dinner dress gleamed among the trees. She HAD made a plucky fight, poor child. Whatever she might have been driven to do, I could find nothing but a deep sympathy for her. If she had only come to me with the whole truth then!
“Miss Innes,” Mr. Jamieson was saying, “in the last three days, have you seen a–any suspicious figures around the grounds? Any–woman?”
“No,” I replied. “I have a houseful of maids that will bear watching, one and all. But there has been no strange woman near the house or Liddy would have seen her, you may be sure. She has a telescopic eye.”
Mr. Jamieson looked thoughtful.
“It may not amount to anything,” he said slowly. “It is difficult to get any perspective on things around here, because every one down in the village is sure he saw the murderer, either before or since the crime. And half of them will stretch a point or two as to facts, to be obliging. But the man who drives the hack down there tells a story that may possibly prove to be important.”
“I have heard it, I think. Was it the one the parlor maid brought up yesterday, about a ghost wringing its hands on the roof? Or perhaps it’s the one the milk-boy heard: a tramp washing a dirty shirt, presumably bloody, in the creek below the bridge?”
I could see the gleam of Mr. Jamieson’s teeth, as he smiled.
“Neither,” he said. “But Matthew Geist, which is our friend’s name, claims that on Saturday night, at nine-thirty, a veiled lady–“
“I knew it would be a veiled lady,” I broke in.
“A veiled lady,” he persisted, “who was apparently young and beautiful, engaged his hack and asked to be driven to Sunnyside. Near the gate, however, she made him stop, in spite of his remonstrances, saying she preferred to walk to the house. She paid him, and he left her there. Now, Miss Innes, you had no such visitor, I believe?”
“None,” I said decidedly.
“Geist thought it might be a maid, as you had got a supply that day. But he said her getting out near the gate puzzled him. Anyhow, we have now one veiled lady, who, with the ghostly intruder of Friday night, makes two assets that I hardly know what to do with.”
“It is mystifying,” I admitted, “although I can think of one possible explanation. The path from the Greenwood Club to the village enters the road near the lodge gate. A woman who wished to reach the Country Club, unperceived, might choose such a method. There are plenty of women there.”
I think this gave him something to ponder, for in a short time he said good night and left. But I myself was far from satisfied. I was determined, however, on one thing. If my suspicions–for I had suspicions–were true, I would make my own investigations, and Mr. Jamieson should learn only what was good for him to know.
We went back to the house, and Gertrude, who was more like herself since her talk with Halsey, sat down at the mahogany desk in the living-room to write a letter. Halsey prowled up and down the entire east wing, now in the card-room, now in the billiard- room, and now and then blowing his clouds of tobacco smoke among the pink and gold hangings of the drawing-room. After a little I joined him in the billiard-room, and together we went over the details of the discovery of the body.
The card-room was quite dark. Where we sat, in the billiard- room, only one of the side brackets was lighted, and we spoke in subdued tones, as the hour and the subject seemed to demand. When I spoke of the figure Liddy and I had seen on the porch through the card-room window Friday night, Halsey sauntered into the darkened room, and together we stood there, much as Liddy and I had done that other night.
The window was the same grayish rectangle in the blackness as before. A few feet away in the hall was the spot where the body of Arnold Armstrong had been found. I was a bit nervous, and I put my hand on Halsey’s sleeve. Suddenly, from the top of the staircase above us came the sound of a cautious footstep. At first I was not sure, but Halsey’s attitude told me he had heard and was listening. The step, slow, measured, infinitely cautious, was nearer now. Halsey tried to loosen my fingers, but I was in a paralysis of fright.
The swish of a body against the curving rail, as if for guidance, was plain enough, and now whoever it was had reached the foot of the staircase and had caught a glimpse of our rigid silhouettes against the billiard-room doorway. Halsey threw me off then and strode forward.
“Who is it?” he called imperiously, and took a half dozen rapid strides toward the foot of the staircase. Then I heard him mutter something; there was the crash of a falling body, the slam of the outer door, and, for an instant, quiet. I screamed, I think. Then I remember turning on the lights and finding Halsey, white with fury, trying to untangle himself from something warm and fleecy. He had cut his forehead a little on the lowest step of the stairs, and he was rather a ghastly sight.
He flung the white object at me, and, jerking open the outer door, raced into the darkness.
Gertrude had come on hearing the noise, and now we stood, staring at each other over–of all things on earth–a white silk and wool blanket, exquisitely fine! It was the most unghostly thing in the world, with its lavender border and its faint scent. Gertrude was the first to speak.
“Somebody–had it?” she asked.
“Yes. Halsey tried to stop whoever it was and fell. Gertrude, that blanket is not mine. I have never seen before.”
She held it up and looked at it: then she went to the door on to the veranda and threw it open. Perhaps a hundred feet from the house were two figures, that moved slowly toward us as we looked.
When they came within range of the light, I recognized Halsey, and with him Mrs. Watson, the housekeeper.
ONE MYSTERY FOR ANOTHER
The most commonplace incident takes on a new appearance if the attendant circumstances are unusual. There was no reason on earth why Mrs. Watson should not have carried a blanket down the east wing staircase, if she so desired. But to take a blanket down at eleven o’clock at night, with every precaution as to noise, and, when discovered, to fling it at Halsey and bolt– Halsey’s word, and a good one–into the grounds,–this made the incident more than significant.
They moved slowly across the lawn and up the steps. Halsey was talking quietly, and Mrs. Watson was looking down and listening. She was a woman of a certain amount of dignity, most efficient, so far as I could see, although Liddy would have found fault if she dared. But just now Mrs. Watson’s face was an enigma. She was defiant, I think, under her mask of submission, and she still showed the effect of nervous shock.
“Mrs. Watson,” I said severely, “will you be so good as to explain this rather unusual occurrence?”
“I don’t think it so unusual, Miss Innes.” Her voice was deep and very clear: just now it was somewhat tremulous. “I was taking a blanket down to Thomas, who is–not well to-night, and I used this staircase, as being nearer the path to the lodge When– Mr. Innes called and then rushed at me, I–I was alarmed, and flung the blanket at him.”
Halsey was examining the cut on his forehead in a small mirror on the wall. It was not much of an injury, but it had bled freely, and his appearance was rather terrifying.
“Thomas ill?” he said, over his shoulder. “Why, _I_ thought I saw Thomas out there as you made that cyclonic break out of the door and over the porch.”
I could see that under pretense of examining his injury he was watching her through the mirror.
“Is this one of the servants’ blankets, Mrs. Watson?” I asked, holding up its luxurious folds to the light.
“Everything else is locked away,” she replied. Which was true enough, no doubt. I had rented the house without bed furnishings.
“If Thomas is ill,” Halsey said, “some member of the family ought to go down to see him. You needn’t bother, Mrs. Watson. I will take the blanket.”
She drew herself up quickly, as if in protest, but she found nothing to say. She stood smoothing the folds of her dead black dress, her face as white as chalk above it. Then she seemed to make up her mind.
“Very well, Mr. Innes,” she said. “Perhaps you would better go. I have done all I could.”
And then she turned and went up the circular staircase, moving slowly and with a certain dignity. Below, the three of us stared at one another across the intervening white blanket.
“Upon my word,” Halsey broke out, “this place is a walking nightmare. I have the feeling that we three outsiders who have paid our money for the privilege of staying in this spook- factory, are living on the very top of things. We’re on the lid, so to speak. Now and then we get a sight of the things inside, but we are not a part of them.”
“Do you suppose,” Gertrude asked doubtfully, “that she really meant that blanket for Thomas?”
“Thomas was standing beside that magnolia tree,” Halsey replied, “when I ran after Mrs. Watson. It’s down to this, Aunt Ray. Rosie’s basket and Mrs Watson’s blanket can only mean one thing: there is somebody hiding or being hidden in the lodge. It wouldn’t surprise me if we hold the key to the whole situation now. Anyhow, I’m going to the lodge to investigate.”
Gertrude wanted to go, too, but she looked so shaken that I insisted she should not. I sent for Liddy to help her to bed, and then Halsey and I started for the lodge. The grass was heavy with dew, and, man-like, Halsey chose the shortest way across the lawn. Half-way, however, he stopped.
“We’d better go by the drive,” he said. “This isn’t a lawn; it’s a field. Where’s the gardener these days?”
“There isn’t any,” I said meekly. “We have been thankful enough, so far, to have our meals prepared and served and the beds aired.
The gardener who belongs here is working at the club.”
“Remind me to-morrow to send out a man from town,” he said. “I know the very fellow.”
I record this scrap of conversation, just as I have tried to put down anything and everything that had a bearing on what followed, because the gardener Halsey sent the next day played an important part in the events of the next few weeks–events that culminated, as you know, by stirring the country profoundly. At that time, however, I was busy trying to keep my skirts dry, and paid little or no attention to what seemed then a most trivial remark.
Along the drive I showed Halsey where I had found Rosie’s basket with the bits of broken china piled inside. He was rather skeptical.
“Warner probably,” he said when I had finished. “Began it as a joke on Rosie, and ended by picking up the broken china out of the road, knowing it would play hob with the tires of the car.” Which shows how near one can come to the truth, and yet miss it altogether.
At the lodge everything was quiet. There was a light in the sitting-room down-stairs, and a faint gleam, as if from a shaded lamp, in one of the upper rooms. Halsey stopped and examined the lodge with calculating eyes.
“I don’t know, Aunt Ray,” he said dubiously; “this is hardly a woman’s affair. If there’s a scrap of any kind, you hike for the timber.” Which was Halsey’s solicitous care for me, put into vernacular.
“I shall stay right here,” I said, and crossing the small veranda, now shaded and fragrant with honeysuckle, I hammered the knocker on the door.
Thomas opened the door himself–Thomas, fully dressed and in his customary health. I had the blanket over my arm.
“I brought the blanket, Thomas,” I said; “I am sorry you are so ill.”
The old man stood staring at me and then at the blanket. His confusion under other circumstances would have been ludicrous.
“What! Not ill?” Halsey said from the step. “Thomas, I’m afraid you’ve been malingering.”
Thomas seemed to have been debating something with himself. Now he stepped out on the porch and closed the door gently behind him.
“I reckon you bettah come in, Mis’ Innes,” he said, speaking cautiously. “It’s got so I dunno what to do, and it’s boun’ to come out some time er ruther.”
He threw the door open then, and I stepped inside, Halsey close behind. In the sitting-room the old negro turned with quiet dignity to Halsey.
“You bettah sit down, sah,” he said. “It’s a place for a woman, sah.”
Things were not turning out the way Halsey expected. He sat down on the center-table, with his hands thrust in his pockets, and watched me as I followed Thomas up the narrow stairs. At the top a woman was standing, and a second glance showed me it was Rosie.
She shrank back a little, but I said nothing. And then Thomas motioned to a partly open door, and I went in.
The lodge boasted three bedrooms up-stairs, all comfortably furnished. In this one, the largest and airiest, a night lamp was burning, and by its light I could make out a plain white metal bed. A girl was asleep there–or in a half stupor, for she muttered something now and then. Rosie had taken her courage in her hands, and coming in had turned up the light. It was only then that I knew. Fever-flushed, ill as she was, I recognized Louise Armstrong.
I stood gazing down at her in a stupor of amazement. Louise here, hiding at the lodge, ill and alone! Rosie came up to the bed and smoothed the white counterpane.
“I am afraid she is worse to-night,” she ventured at last. I put my hand on the sick girl’s forehead. It was burning with fever, and I turned to where Thomas lingered in the hallway.
“Will you tell me what you mean, Thomas Johnson, by not telling me this before?” I demanded indignantly.
“Mis’ Louise wouldn’ let me,” he said earnestly. “I wanted to. She ought to ‘a’ had a doctor the night she came, but she wouldn’ hear to it. Is she–is she very bad, Mis’ Innes?”
“Bad enough,” I said coldly. “Send Mr. Innes up.”
Halsey came up the stairs slowly, looking rather interested and inclined to be amused. For a moment he could not see anything distinctly in the darkened room; he stopped, glanced at Rosie and at me, and then his eyes fell on the restless head on the pillow.
I think he felt who it was before he really saw her; he crossed the room in a couple of strides and bent over the bed.
“Louise!” he said softly; but she did not reply, and her eyes showed no recognition. Halsey was young, and illness was new to him. He straightened himself slowly, still watching her, and caught my arm.
“She’s dying, Aunt Ray!” he said huskily. “Dying! Why, she doesn’t know me!”
“Fudge!” I snapped, being apt to grow irritable when my sympathies are aroused. “She’s doing nothing of the sort,–and don’t pinch my arm. If you want something to do, go and choke Thomas.”
But at that moment Louise roused from her stupor to cough, and at the end of the paroxysm, as Rosie laid her back, exhausted, she knew us. That was all Halsey wanted; to him consciousness was recovery. He dropped on his knees beside the bed, and tried to tell her she was all right, and we would bring her around in a hurry, and how beautiful she looked–only to break down utterly and have to stop. And at that I came to my senses, and put him out.
“This instant!” I ordered, as he hesitated. “And send Rosie here.”
He did not go far. He sat on the top step of the stairs, only leaving to telephone for a doctor, and getting in everybody’s way in his eagerness to fetch and carry. I got him away finally, by sending him to fix up the car as a sort of ambulance, in case the doctor would allow the sick girl to be moved. He sent Gertrude down to the lodge loaded with all manner of impossible things, including an armful of Turkish towels and a box of mustard plasters, and as the two girls had known each other somewhat before, Louise brightened perceptibly when she saw her.
When the doctor from Englewood–the Casanova doctor, Doctor Walker, being away–had started for Sunnyside, and I had got Thomas to stop trying to explain what he did not understand himself, I had a long talk with the old man, and this is what I learned.
On Saturday evening before, about ten o’clock, he had been reading in the sitting-room down-stairs, when some one rapped at the door. The old man was alone, Warner not having arrived, and at first he was uncertain about opening the door. He did so finally, and was amazed at being confronted by Louise Armstrong. Thomas was an old family servant, having been with the present Mrs. Armstrong since she was a child, and he was overwhelmed at seeing Louise. He saw that she was excited and tired, and he drew her into the sitting-room and made her sit down. After a while he went to the house and brought Mrs. Watson, and they talked until late. The old man said Louise was in trouble, and seemed frightened. Mrs. Watson made some tea and took it to the lodge, but Louise made them both promise to keep her presence a secret. She had not known that Sunnyside was rented, and whatever her trouble was, this complicated things. She seemed puzzled. Her stepfather and her mother were still in California–that was all she would say about them. Why she had run away no one could imagine. Mr. Arnold Armstrong was at the Greenwood Club, and at last Thomas, not knowing what else to do, went over there along the path. It was almost midnight. Part- way over he met Armstrong himself and brought him to the lodge. Mrs. Watson had gone to the house for some bed-linen, it having been arranged that under the circumstances Louise would be better at the lodge until morning. Arnold Armstrong and Louise had a long conference, during which he was heard to storm and become very violent. When he left it was after two. He had gone up to the house–Thomas did not know why–and at three o’clock he was shot at the foot of the circular staircase.
The following morning Louise had been ill. She had asked for Arnold, and was told he had left town. Thomas had not the moral courage to tell her of the crime. She refused a doctor, and shrank morbidly from having her presence known. Mrs. Watson and Thomas had had their hands full, and at last Rosie had been enlisted to help them. She carried necessary provisions–little enough–to the lodge, and helped to keep the secret.
Thomas told me quite frankly that he had been anxious to keep Louise’s presence hidden for this reason: they had all seen Arnold Armstrong that night, and he, himself, for one, was known to have had no very friendly feeling for the dead man. As to the reason for Louise’s flight from California, or why she had not gone to the Fitzhughs’, or to some of her people in town, he had no more information than I had. With the death of her stepfather and the prospect of the immediate return of the family, things had become more and more impossible. I gathered that Thomas was as relieved as I at the turn events had taken. No, she did not know of either of the deaths in the family.
Taken all around, I had only substituted one mystery for another.
If I knew now why Rosie had taken the basket of dishes, I did not know who had spoken to her and followed her along the drive. If I knew that Louise was in the lodge, I did not know why she was there. If I knew that Arnold Armstrong had spent some time in the lodge the night before he was murdered, I was no nearer the solution of the crime. Who was the midnight intruder who had so alarmed Liddy and myself? Who had fallen down the clothes chute? Was Gertrude’s lover a villain or a victim? Time was to answer all these things.
The doctor from Englewood came very soon, and I went up to see the sick girl with him. Halsey had gone to supervise the fitting of the car with blankets and pillows, and Gertrude was opening and airing Louise’s own rooms at the house. Her private sitting- room, bedroom and dressing-room were as they had been when we came. They occupied the end of the east wing, beyond the circular staircase, and we had not even opened them.
The girl herself was too ill to notice what was being done. When, with the help of the doctor, who was a fatherly man with a family of girls at home, we got her to the house and up the stairs into bed, she dropped into a feverish sleep, which lasted until morning. Doctor Stewart–that was the Englewood doctor– stayed almost all night, giving the medicine himself, and watching her closely. Afterward he told me that she had had a narrow escape from pneumonia, and that the cerebral symptoms had been rather alarming. I said I was glad it wasn’t an “itis” of some kind, anyhow, and he smiled solemnly.
He left after breakfast, saying that he thought the worst of the danger was over, and that she must be kept very quiet.
“The shock of two deaths, I suppose, has done this,” he remarked, picking up his case. “It has been very deplorable.”
I hastened to set him right.
“She does not know of either, Doctor,” I said. “Please do not mention them to her.”
He looked as surprised as a medical man ever does.
“I do not know the family,” he said, preparing to get into his top buggy. “Young Walker, down in Casanova, has been attending them. I understand he is going to marry this young lady.”
“You have been misinformed,” I said stiffly. “Miss Armstrong is going to marry my nephew.”
The doctor smiled as he picked up the reins.
“Young ladies are changeable these days,” he said. “We thought the wedding was to occur soon. Well, I will stop in this afternoon to see how my patient is getting along.”
He drove away then, and I stood looking after him. He was a doctor of the old school, of the class of family practitioner that is fast dying out; a loyal and honorable gentleman who was at once physician and confidential adviser to his patients. When I was a girl we called in the doctor alike when we had measles, or when mother’s sister died in the far West. He cut out redundant tonsils and brought the babies with the same air of inspiring self-confidence. Nowadays it requires a different specialist for each of these occurrences. When the babies cried, old Doctor Wainwright gave them peppermint and dropped warm sweet oil in their ears with sublime faith that if it was not colic it was earache. When, at the end of a year, father met him driving in his high side-bar buggy with the white mare ambling along, and asked for a bill, the doctor used to go home, estimate what his services were worth for that period, divide it in half–I don’t think he kept any books–and send father a statement, in a cramped hand, on a sheet of ruled white paper. He was an honored guest at all the weddings, christenings, and funerals–yes, funerals–for every one knew he had done his best, and there was no gainsaying the ways of Providence.
Ah, well, Doctor Wainwright is gone, and I am an elderly woman with an increasing tendency to live in the past. The contrast between my old doctor at home and the Casanova doctor, Frank Walker, always rouses me to wrath and digression.
Some time about noon of that day, Wednesday, Mrs. Ogden Fitzhugh telephoned me. I have the barest acquaintance with her–she managed to be put on the governing board of the Old Ladies’ Home and ruins their digestions by sending them ice-cream and cake on every holiday. Beyond that, and her reputation at bridge, which is insufferably bad–she is the worst player at the bridge club– I know little of her. It was she who had taken charge of Arnold Armstrong’s funeral, however, and I went at once to the telephone.
“Yes,” I said, “this is Miss Innes.”
“Miss Innes,” she said volubly, “I have just received a very strange telegram from my cousin, Mrs. Armstrong. Her husband died yesterday, in California and–wait, I will read you the message.”
I knew what was coming, and I made up my mind at once. If Louise Armstrong had a good and sufficient reason for leaving her people and coming home, a reason, moreover, that kept her from going at once to Mrs. Ogden Fitzhugh, and that brought her to the lodge at Sunnyside instead, it was not my intention to betray her. Louise herself must notify her people. I do not justify myself now, but remember, I was in a peculiar position toward the Armstrong family. I was connected most unpleasantly with a cold- blooded crime, and my niece and nephew were practically beggared, either directly or indirectly, through the head of the family.
Mrs. Fitzhugh had found the message.
“`Paul died yesterday. Heart disease,'” she read. “`Wire at once if Louise is with you.’ You see, Miss Innes, Louise must have started east, and Fanny is alarmed about her.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Louise is not here,” Mrs. Fitzhugh went on, “and none of her friends–the few who are still in town–has seen her. I called you because Sunnyside was not rented when she went away, and Louise might have, gone there.”
“I am sorry, Mrs. Fitzhugh, but I can not help you,” I said, and was immediately filled with compunction. Suppose Louise grew worse? Who was I to play Providence in this case? The anxious mother certainly had a right to know that her daughter was in good hands. So I broke in on Mrs. Fitzhugh’s voluble excuses for disturbing me.
“Mrs. Fitzhugh,” I said. “I was going to let you think I knew nothing about Louise Armstrong, but I have changed my mind. Louise is here, with me.” There was a clatter of ejaculations at the other end of the wire. “She is ill, and not able to be moved. Moreover, she is unable to see any one. I wish you would wire her mother that she is with me, and tell her not to worry. No, I do not know why she came east.”
“But my dear Miss Innes!” Mrs. Fitzhugh began. I cut in ruthlessly.
“I will send for you as soon as she can see you,” I said. “No, she is not in a critical state now, but the doctor says she must have absolute quiet.”
When I had hung up the receiver, I sat down to think. So Louise had fled from her people in California, and had come east alone! It was not a new idea, but why had she done it? It occurred to me that Doctor Walker might be concerned in it, might possibly have bothered her with unwelcome attentions; but it seemed to me that Louise was hardly a girl to take refuge in flight under such circumstances. She had always been high-spirited, with the well-poised head and buoyant step of the outdoors girl. It must have been much more in keeping with Louise’s character, as I knew it, to resent vigorously any unwelcome attentions from Doctor Walker. It was the suitor whom I should have expected to see in headlong flight, not the lady in the case.
The puzzle was no clearer at the end of the half-hour. I picked up the morning papers, which were still full of the looting of the Traders’ Bank, the interest at fever height again, on account of Paul Armstrong’s death. The bank examiners were working on the books, and said nothing for publication: John Bailey had been released on bond. The body of Paul Armstrong would arrive Sunday and would be buried from the Armstrong town house. There were rumors that the dead man’s estate had been a comparatively small one. The last paragraph was the important one.
Walter P. Broadhurst, of the Marine Bank, had produced two hundred American Traction bonds, which had been placed as security with the Marine Bank for a loan of one hundred and sixty thousand dollars, made to Paul Armstrong, just before his California trip. The bonds were a part of the missing traction bonds from the Traders’ Bank! While this involved the late president of the wrecked bank, to my mind it by no means cleared its cashier.
The gardener mentioned by Halsey came out about two o’clock in the afternoon, and walked up from the station. I was favorably impressed by him. His references were good–he had been employed by the Brays’ until they went to Europe, and he looked young and vigorous. He asked for one assistant, and I was glad enough to get off so easily. He was a pleasant-faced young fellow, with black hair and blue eyes, and his name was Alexander Graham. I have been particular about Alex, because, as I said before, he played an important part later.
That afternoon I had a new insight into the character of the dead banker. I had my first conversation with Louise. She sent for me, and against my better judgment I went. There were so many things she could not be told, in her weakened condition, that I dreaded the interview. It was much easier than I espected, however, because she asked no questions.
Gertrude had gone to bed, having been up almost all night, and Halsey was absent on one of those mysterious absences of his that grew more and more frequent as time went on, until it culminated in the event of the night of June the tenth. Liddy was in attendance in the sick-room. There being little or nothing to do, she seemed to spend her time smoothing the wrinkles from the counterpane. Louise lay under a field of virgin white, folded back at an angle of geometrical exactness, and necessitating a readjustment every time the sick girl turned.
Liddy heard my approach and came out to meet me. She seemed to be in a perpetual state of goose-flesh, and she had got in the habit of looking past me when she talked, as if she saw things. It had the effect of making me look over my shoulder to see what she was staring at, and was intensely irritating.
“She’s awake,” Liddy said, looking uneasily down the circular staircase, which was beside me. “She was talkin’ in her sleep something awful–about dead men and coffins.”
“Liddy,” I said sternly, “did you breathe a word about everything not being right here?”
Liddy’s gaze had wandered to the door of the chute, now bolted securely.
“Not a word,” she said, “beyond asking her a question or two, which there was no harm in. She says there never was a ghost known here.”
I glared at her, speechless, and closing the door into Louise’s boudoir, to Liddy’s great disappointment, I went on to the bedroom beyond.
Whatever Paul Armstrong had been, he had been lavish with his stepdaughter. Gertrude’s rooms at home were always beautiful apartments, but the three rooms in the east wing at Sunnyside, set apart for the daughter of the house, were much more splendid.
From the walls to the rugs on the floor, from the furniture to the appointments of the bath, with its pool sunk in the floor instead of the customary unlovely tub, everything was luxurious. In the bedroom Louise was watching for me. It was easy to see that she was much improved; the flush was going, and the peculiar gasping breathing of the night before was now a comfortable and easy respiration.
She held out her hand and I took it between both of mine.
“What can I say to you, Miss Innes?” she said slowly. “To have come like this–“
I thought she was going to break down, but she did not.
“You are not to think of anything but of getting well,” I said, patting her hand. “When you are better, I am going to scold you for not coming here at once. This is your home, my dear, and of all people in the world, Halsey’s old aunt ought to make you welcome.”
She smiled a little, sadly, I thought.
“I ought not to see Halsey,” she said. “Miss Innes, there are a great many things you will never understand, I am afraid. I am an impostor on your sympathy, because I–I stay here and let you lavish care on me, and all the time I know you are going to despise me.”
“Nonsense!” I said briskly. “Why, what would Halsey do to me if I even ventured such a thing? He is so big and masterful that if I dared to be anything but rapturous over you, he would throw me out of a window. Indeed, he would be quite capable of it.”
She seemed scarcely to hear my facetious tone. She had eloquent brown eyes–the Inneses are fair, and are prone to a grayish- green optic that is better for use than appearance–and they seemed now to be clouded with trouble.
“Poor Halsey!” she said softly. “Miss Innes, I can not marry him, and I am afraid to tell him. I am a coward–a coward!”
I sat beside the bed and stared at her. She was too ill to argue with, and, besides, sick people take queer fancies.
“We will talk about that when you are stronger,” I said gently.
“But there are some things I must tell you,” she insisted. “You must wonder how I came here, and why I stayed hidden at the lodge. Dear old Thomas has been almost crazy, Miss Innes. I did not know that Sunnyside was rented. I knew my mother wished to rent it, without telling my–stepfather, but the news must have reached her after I left. When I started east, I had only one idea–to be alone with my thoughts for a time, to bury myself here. Then, I–must have taken a cold on the train.”
“You came east in clothing suitable for California,” I said, “and, like all young girls nowadays, I don’t suppose you wear flannels.” But she was not listening.
“Miss Innes,” she said, “has my stepbrother Arnold gone away?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, startled. But Louise was literal.
“He didn’t come back that night,” she said, “and it was so important that I should see him.”
“I believe he has gone away,” I replied uncertainly. “Isn’t it something that we could attend to instead?”
But she shook her head. “I must do it myself,” she said dully. “My mother must have rented Sunnyside without telling my stepfather, and–Miss Innes, did you ever hear of any one being wretchedly poor in the midst of luxury?
“Did you ever long, and long, for money–money to use without question, money that no one would take you to task about? My mother and I have been surrounded for years with every indulgence everything that would make a display. But we have never had any money, Miss Innes; that must have been why mother rented this house. My stepfather pays out bills. It’s the most maddening, humiliating existence in the world. I would love honest poverty better.”
“Never mind,” I said; “when you and Halsey are married you can be as honest as you like, and you will certainly be poor.”
Halsey came to the door at that moment and I could hear him coaxing Liddy for admission to the sick room.
“Shall I bring him in?” I asked Louise, uncertain what to do. The girl seemed to shrink back among her pillows at the sound of his voice. I was vaguely irritated with her; there are few young fellows like Halsey–straightforward, honest, and willing to sacrifice everything for the one woman. I knew one once, more than thirty years ago, who was like that: he died a long time ago. And sometimes I take out his picture, with its cane and its queer silk hat, and look at it. But of late years it has grown too painful: he is always a boy–and I am an old woman. I would not bring him back if I could.
Perhaps it was some such memory that made me call out sharply.
“Come in, Halsey.” And then I took my sewing and went into the boudoir beyond, to play propriety. I did not try to hear what they said, but every word came through the open door with curious distinctness. Halsey had evidently gone over to the bed and I suppose he kissed her. There was silence for a moment, as if words were superfluous things.
“I have been almost wild, sweetheart,”–Halsey’s voice. “Why didn’t you trust me, and send for me before?”
“It was because I couldn’t trust myself,” she said in a low tone.
“I am too weak to struggle to-day; oh, Halsey, how I have wanted to see you!”
There was something I did not hear, then Halsey again.
“We could go away,” he was saying. “What does it matter about any one in the world but just the two of us? To be always together, like this, hand in hand; Louise–don’t tell me it isn’t going to be. I won’t believe you.”
“You don’t know; you don’t know,” Louise repeated dully. “Halsey, I care–you know that–but–not enough to marry you.”
“That is not true, Louise,” he said sternly. “You can not look at me with your honest eyes and say that.”
“I can not marry you,” she repeated miserably. “It’s bad enough, isn’t it? Don’t make it worse. Some day, before long, you will be glad.”
“Then it is because you have never loved me.” There were depths of hurt pride in his voice. “You saw how much I loved you, and you let me think you cared–for a while. No–that isn’t like you, Louise. There is something you haven’t told me. Is it– because there is some one else?”
“Yes,” almost inaudibly.
“Louise! Oh, I don’t believe it.”
“It is true,” she said sadly. “Halsey, you must not try to see me again. As soon as I can, I am going away from here–where you are all so much kinder than I deserve. And whatever you hear about me, try to think as well of me as you can. I am going to marry–another man. How you must hate me–hate me!”
I could hear Halsey cross the room to the window. Then, after a pause, he went back to her again. I could hardly sit still; I wanted to go in and give her a good shaking.
“Then it’s all over,” he was saying with a long breath. “The plans we made together, the hopes, the–all of it–over! Well, I’ll not be a baby, and I’ll give you up the minute you say `I don’t love you and I do love–some one else’!”
“I can not say that,” she breathed, “but, very soon, I shall marry–the other man.”
I could hear Halsey’s low triumphant laugh.
“I defy him,” he said. “Sweetheart, as long as you care for me, I am not afraid.”
The wind slammed the door between the two rooms just then, and I could hear nothing more, although I moved my chair quite close. After a discreet interval, I went into the other room, and found Louise alone. She was staring with sad eyes at the cherub painted on the ceiling over the bed, and because she looked tired I did not disturb her.
AN EGG-NOG AND A TELEGRAM
We had discovered Louise at the lodge Tuesday night. It was Wednesday I had my interview with her. Thursday and Friday were uneventful, save as they marked improvement in our patient. Gertrude spent almost all the time with her, and the two had grown to be great friends. But certain things hung over me constantly; the coroner’s inquest on the death of Arnold Armstrong, to be held Saturday, and the arrival of Mrs. Armstrong and young Doctor Walker, bringing the body of the dead president of the Traders’ Bank. We had not told Louise of either death.
Then, too, I was anxious about the children. With their mother’s inheritance swept away in the wreck of the bank, and with their love affairs in a disastrous condition, things could scarcely be worse. Added to that, the cook and Liddy had a flare-up over the proper way to make beef-tea for Louise, and, of course, the cook left.
Mrs. Watson had been glad enough, I think, to turn Louise over to our care, and Thomas went upstairs night and morning to greet his young mistress from the doorway. Poor Thomas! He had the faculty–found still in some old negroes, who cling to the traditions of slavery days–of making his employer’s interest his. It was always “we” with Thomas; I miss him sorely; pipe- smoking, obsequious, not over reliable, kindly old man!
On Thursday Mr. Harton, the Armstrongs’ legal adviser, called up from town. He had been advised, he said, that Mrs. Armstrong was coming east with her husband’s body and would arrive Monday. He came with some hesitation, he went on, to the fact that he had been further instructed to ask me to relinquish my lease on Sunnyside, as it was Mrs. Armstrong’s desire to come directly there.
I was aghast.
“Here!” I said. “Surely you are mistaken, Mr. Harton. I should think, after–what happened here only a few days ago, she would never wish to come back.”
“Nevertheless,” he replied, “she is most anxious to come. This is what she says. `Use every possible means to have Sunnyside vacated. Must go there at once.'”
“Mr. Harton,” I said testily, “I am not going to do anything of the kind. I and mine have suffered enough at the hands of this family. I rented the house at an exorbitant figure and I have moved out here for the summer. My city home is dismantled and in the hands of decorators. I have been here one week, during which I have had not a single night of uninterrupted sleep, and I intend to stay until I have recuperated. Moreover, if Mr. Armstrong died insolvent, as I believe was the case, his widow ought to be glad to be rid of so expensive a piece of property.”
The lawyer cleared his throat.
“I am very sorry you have made this decision,” he said. “Miss Innes, Mrs. Fitzhugh tells me Louise Armstrong is with you.”
“Has she been informed of this–double bereavement?”
“Not yet,” I said. “She has been very ill; perhaps to-night she can be told.”
“It is very sad; very sad,” he said. “I have a telegram for her, Mrs. Innes. Shall I send it out?”
“Better open it and read it to me,” I suggested. “If it is important, that will save time.”
There was a pause while Mr. Harton opened the telegram. Then he read it slowly, judicially.
“`Watch for Nina Carrington. Home Monday. Signed F. L. W.'”
“Hum!” I said. “`Watch for Nina Carrington. Home Monday.’ Very well, Mr. Harton, I will tell her, but she is not in condition to watch for any one.”
“Well, Miss Innes, if you decide to–er–relinquish the lease, let me know,” the lawyer said.
“I shall not relinquish it,” I replied, and I imagined his irritation from the way he hung up the receiver.
I wrote the telegram down word for word, afraid to trust my memory, and decided to ask Doctor Stewart how soon Louise might be told the truth. The closing of the Traders’ Bank I considered unnecessary for her to know, but the death of her stepfather and stepbrother must be broken to her soon, or she might hear it in some unexpected and shocking manner.
Doctor Stewart came about four o’clock, bringing his leather satchel into the house with a great deal of care, and opening it at the foot of the stairs to show me a dozen big yellow eggs nesting among the bottles.
“Real eggs,” he said proudly. “None of your anemic store eggs, but the real thing–some of them still warm. Feel them! Egg-nog for Miss Louise.”
He was beaming with satisfaction, and before he left, he insisted on going back to the pantry and making an egg-nog with his own hands. Somehow, all the time he was doing it, I had a vision of Doctor Willoughby, my nerve specialist in the city, trying to make an egg-nog. I wondered if he ever prescribed anything so plebeian–and so delicious. And while Doctor Stewart whisked the eggs he talked.
“I said to Mrs. Stewart,” he confided, a little red in the face from the exertion, “after I went home the other day, that you would think me an old gossip, for saying what I did about Walker and Miss Louise.”
“Nothing of the sort,” I protested.
“The fact is,” he went on, evidently justifying him self, “I got that piece of information just as we get a lot of things, through the kitchen end of the house. Young Walker’s chauffeur–Walker’s more fashionable than I am, and he goes around the country in a Stanhope car–well, his chauffeur comes to see our servant girl, and he told her the whole thing. I thought it was probable, because Walker spent a lot of time up here last summer, when the family was here, and besides, Riggs, that’s Walker’s man, had a very pat little story about the doctor’s building a house on this property, just at the foot of the hill. The sugar, please.”
The egg-nog was finished. Drop by drop the liquor had cooked the egg, and now, with a final whisk, a last toss in the shaker, it was ready, a symphony in gold and white. The doctor sniffed it.
“Real eggs, real milk, and a touch of real Kentucky whisky,” he said.
He insisted on carrying it up himself, but at the foot of the stairs he paused.
“Riggs said the plans were drawn for the house,” he said, harking back to the old subject. “Drawn by Huston in town. So I naturally believed him.”
When the doctor came down, I was ready with a question.
“Doctor,” I asked, “is there any one in the neighborhood named Carrington? Nina Carrington?”
“Carrington?” He wrinkled his forehead. “Carrington? No, I don’t remember any such family. There used to be Covingtons down the creek.”
“The name was Carrington,” I said, and the subject lapsed.
Gertrude and Halsey went for a long walk that afternoon, and Louise slept. Time hung heavy on my hands, and I did as I had fallen into a habit of doing lately–I sat down and thought things over. One result of my meditations was that I got up suddenly and went to the telephone. I had taken the most intense dislike to this Doctor Walker, whom I had never seen, and who was being talked of in the countryside as the fiance of Louise Armstrong.
I knew Sam Huston well. There had been a time, when Sam was a good deal younger than he is now, before he had married Anne Endicott, when I knew him even better. So now I felt no hesitation in calling him over the telephone. But when his office boy had given way to his confidential clerk, and that functionary had condescended to connect his employer’s desk telephone, I was somewhat at a loss as to how to begin.
“Why, how are you, Rachel?” Sam said sonorously. “Going to build that house at Rock View?” It was a twenty-year-old joke of his.
“Sometime, perhaps,” I said. “Just now I want to ask you a question about something which is none of my business.”
“I see you haven’t changed an iota in a quarter of a century, Rachel.” This was intended to be another jest. “Ask ahead: everything but my domestic affairs is at your service.”
“Try to be serious,” I said. “And tell me this: has your firm made any plans for a house recently, for a Doctor Walker, at Casanova?”
“Yes, we have.”
“Where was it to be built? I have a reason for asking.”
“It was to be, I believe, on the Armstrong place. Mr. Armstrong himself consulted me, and the inference was–in fact, I am quite certain–the house was to be occupied by Mr. Armstrong’s daughter, who was engaged to marry Doctor Walker.”
When the architect had inquired for the different members of my family, and had finally rung off, I was certain of one thing. Louise Armstrong was in love with Halsey, and the man she was going to marry was Doctor Walker. Moreover, this decision was not new; marriage had been contemplated for some time. There must certainly be some explanation–but what was it?
That day I repeated to Louise the telegram Mr. Warton had opened.
She seemed to understand, but an unhappier face I have never seen. She looked like a criminal whose reprieve is over, and the day of execution approaching.
LIDDY GIVES THE ALARM
The next day, Friday, Gertrude broke the news of her stepfather’s death to Louise. She did it as gently as she could, telling her first that he was very ill, and finally that he was dead. Louise received the news in the most unexpected manner, and when Gertrude came out to tell me how she had stood it, I think she was almost shocked.
“She just lay and stared at me, Aunt Ray,” she said. “Do you know, I believe she is glad, glad! And she is too honest to pretend anything else. What sort of man was Mr. Paul Armstrong, anyhow?”
“He was a bully as well as a rascal, Gertrude,” I said. “But I am convinced of one thing; Louise will send for Halsey now, and they will make it all up.”
For Louise had steadily refused to see Halsey all that day, and the boy was frantic.
We had a quiet hour, Halsey and I, that evening, and I told him several things; about the request that we give up the lease to Sunnyside, about the telegram to Louise, about the rumors of an approaching marriage between the girl and Doctor Walker, and, last of all, my own interview with her the day before.
He sat back in a big chair, with his face in the shadow, and my heart fairly ached for him. He was so big and so boyish! When I had finished he drew a long breath.
“Whatever Louise does,” he said, “nothing will convince me, Aunt Ray, that she doesn’t care for me. And up to two months ago, when she and her mother went west, I was the happiest fellow on earth. Then something made a difference: she wrote me that her people were opposed to the marriage; that her feeling for me was what it had always been, but that something had happened which had changed her ideas as to the future. I was not to write until she wrote me, and whatever occurred, I was to think the best I could of her. It sounded like a puzzle. When I saw her yesterday, it was the same thing, only, perhaps, worse.”
“Halsey,” I asked, “have you any idea of the nature of the interview between Louise Armstrong and Arnold the night he was murdered?”
“It was stormy. Thomas says once or twice he almost broke into the room, he was so alarmed for Louise.”
“Another thing, Halsey,” I said, “have you ever heard Louise mention a woman named Carrington, Nina Carrington?”
“Never,” he said positively.
For try as we would, our thoughts always came back to that fatal Saturday night, and the murder. Every conversational path led to it, and we all felt that Jamieson was tightening the threads of evidence around John Bailey. The detective’s absence was hardly reassuring; he must have had something to work on in town, or he would have returned.
The papers reported that the cashier of the Traders’ Bank was ill in his apartments at the Knickerbocker–a condition not surprising, considering everything. The guilt of the defunct president was no longer in doubt; the missing bonds had been advertised and some of them discovered. In every instance they had been used as collateral for large loans, and the belief was current that not less than a million and a half dollars had been realized. Every one connected with the bank had been placed under arrest, and released on heavy bond.
Was he alone in his guilt, or was the cashier his accomplice? Where was the money? The estate of the dead man was comparatively small–a city house on a fashionable street, Sunnyside, a large estate largely mortgaged, an insurance of fifty thousand dollars, and some personal property–this was all.
The rest lost in speculation probably, the papers said. There was one thing which looked uncomfortable for Jack Bailey: he and Paul Armstrong together had promoted a railroad company in New Mexico, and it was rumored that together they had sunk large sums of money there. The business alliance between the two men added to the belief that Bailey knew something of the looting. His unexplained absence from the bank on Monday lent color to the suspicion against him. The strange thing seemed to be his surrendering himself on the point of departure. To me, it seemed the shrewd calculation of a clever rascal. I was not actively antagonistic to Gertrude’s lover, but I meant to be convinced, one way or the other. I took no one on faith.
That night the Sunnyside ghost began to walk again. Liddy had been sleeping in Louise’s dressing-room on a couch, and the approach of dusk was a signal for her to barricade the entire suite. Situated as its was, beyond the circular staircase, nothing but an extremity of excitement would have made her pass it after dark. I confess myself that the place seemed to me to have a sinister appearance, but we kept that wing well lighted, and until the lights went out at midnight it was really cheerful, if one did not know its history.
On Friday night, then, I had gone to bed, resolved to go at once to sleep. Thoughts that insisted on obtruding themselves I pushed resolutely to the back of my mind, and I systematically relaxed every muscle. I fell asleep soon, and was dreaming that Doctor Walker was building his new house immediately in front of my windows: I could hear the thump-thump of the hammers, and then I waked to a knowledge that somebody was pounding on my door.
I was up at once, and with the sound of my footstep on the floor the low knocking ceased, to be followed immediately by sibilant whispering through the keyhole.
“Miss Rachel! Miss Rachel!” somebody was saying, over and over.
“Is that you, Liddy?” I asked, my hand on the knob.
“For the love of mercy, let me in!” she said in a low tone.
She was leaning against the door, for when I opened it, she fell in. She was greenish-white, and she had a red and black barred flannel petticoat over her shoulders.
“Listen,” she said, standing in the middle of the floor and holding on to me. “Oh, Miss Rachel, it’s the ghost of that dead man hammering to get in!”
Sure enough, there was a dull thud–thud–thud from some place near. It was muffled: one rather felt than heard it, and it was impossible to locate. One moment it seemed to come, three taps and a pause, from the floor under us: the next, thud–thud– thud–it came apparently from the wall.
“It’s not a ghost,” I said decidedly. “If it was a ghost it wouldn’t rap: it would come through the keyhole.” Liddy looked at the keyhole. “But it sounds very much as though some one is trying to break into the house.”
Liddy was shivering violently. I told her to get me my slippers and she brought me a pair of kid gloves, so I found my things myself, and prepared to call Halsey. As before, the night alarm had found the electric lights gone: the hall, save for its night lamp, was in darkness, as I went across to Halsey’s room. I hardly know what I feared, but it was a relief to find him there, very sound asleep, and with his door unlocked.
“Wake up, Halsey,” I said, shaking him.
He stirred a little. Liddy was half in and half out of the door, afraid as usual to be left alone, and not quite daring to enter. Her scruples seemed to fade, however, all at once. She gave a suppressed yell, bolted into the room, and stood tightly clutching the foot-board of the bed. Halsey was gradually waking.
“I’ve seen it,” Liddy wailed. “A woman in white down the hall!”
I paid no attention.
“Halsey,” I persevered, “some one is breaking into the house. Get up, won’t you?”
“It isn’t our house,” he said sleepily. And then he roused to the exigency of the occasion. “All right, Aunt Ray,” he said, still yawning. “If you’ll let me get into something–“
It was all I could do to get Liddy out of the room. The demands of the occasion had no influence on her: she had seen the ghost, she persisted, and she wasn’t going into the hall. But I got her over to my room at last, more dead than alive, and made her lie down on the bed.
The tappings, which seemed to have ceased for a while, had commenced again, but they were fainter. Halsey came over in a few minutes, and stood listening and trying to locate the sound.
“Give me my revolver, Aunt Ray,” he said; and I got it–the one I had found in the tulip bed–and gave it to him. He saw Liddy there and divined at once that Louise was alone.
“You let me attend to this fellow, whoever it is, Aunt Ray, and go to Louise, will you? She may be awake and alarmed.”
So in spite of her protests, I left Liddy alone and went back to the east wing. Perhaps I went a little faster past the yawning blackness of the circular staircase; and I could hear Halsey creaking cautiously down the main staircase. The rapping, or pounding, had ceased, and the silence was almost painful. And then suddenly, from apparently under my very feet, there rose a woman’s scream, a cry of terror that broke off as suddenly as it came. I stood frozen and still. Every drop of blood in my body seemed to leave the surface and gather around my heart. In the dead silence that followed it throbbed as if it would burst. More dead than alive, I stumbled into Louise’s bedroom. She was not there!
IN THE EARLY MORNING
I stood looking at the empty bed. The coverings had been thrown back, and Louise’s pink silk dressing-gown was gone from the foot, where it had lain. The night lamp burned dimly, revealing the emptiness of the place. I picked it up, but my hand shook so that I put it down again, and got somehow to the door.
There were voices in the hall and Gertrude came running toward me.
“What is it?” she cried. “What was that sound? Where is Louise?”
“She is not in her room,” I said stupidly. “I think–it was she–who screamed.”
Liddy had joined us now, carrying a light. We stood huddled together at the head of the circular staircase, looking down into its shadows. There was nothing to be seen, and it was absolutely quiet down there. Then we heard Halsey running up the main staircase. He came quickly down the hall to where we were standing.
“There’s no one trying to get in. I thought I heard some one shriek. Who was it?”
Our stricken faces told him the truth.