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  • 1908
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“Some one screamed down there,” I said. “And–and Louise is not in her room.”

With a jerk Halsey took the light from Liddy and ran down the circular staircase. I followed him, more slowly. My nerves seemed to be in a state of paralysis: I could scarcely step. At the foot of the stairs Halsey gave an exclamation and put down the light.

“Aunt Ray,” he called sharply.

At the foot of the staircase, huddled in a heap, her head on the lower stair, was Louise Armstrong. She lay limp and white, her dressing-gown dragging loose from one sleeve of her night-dress, and the heavy braid of her dark hair stretching its length a couple of steps above her head, as if she had slipped down.

She was not dead: Halsey put her down on the floor, and began to rub her cold hands, while Gertrude and Liddy ran for stimulants. As for me, I sat there at the foot of that ghostly staircase– sat, because my knees wouldn’t hold me–and wondered where it would all end. Louise was still unconscious, but she was breathing better, and I suggested that we get her back to bed before she came to. There was something grisly and horrible to me, seeing her there in almost the same attitude and in the same place where we had found her brother’s body. And to add to the similarity, just then the hall clock, far off, struck faintly three o’clock.

It was four before Louise was able to talk, and the first rays of dawn were coming through her windows, which faced the east, before she could tell us coherently what had occurred. I give it as she told it. She lay propped in bed, and Halsey sat beside her, unrebuffed, and held her hand while she talked.

“I was not sleeping well,” she began, “partly, I think, because I had slept during the afternoon. Liddy brought me some hot milk at ten o’clock and I slept until twelve. Then I wakened and–I got to thinking about things, and worrying, so I could not go to sleep.

“I was wondering why I had not heard from Arnold since the–since I saw him that night at the lodge. I was afraid he was ill, because–he was to have done something for me, and he had not come back. It must have been three when I heard some one rapping. I sat up and listened, to be quite sure, and the rapping kept up. It was cautious, and I was about to call Liddy.

Then suddenly I thought I knew what it was. The east entrance and the circular staircase were always used by Arnold when he was out late, and sometimes, when he forgot his key, he would rap and I would go down and let him in. I thought he had come back to see me–I didn’t think about the time, for his hours were always erratic. But I was afraid I was too weak to get down the stairs.

The knocking kept up, and just as I was about to call Liddy, she ran through the room and out into the hall. I got up then, feeling weak and dizzy, and put on my dressing-gown. If it was Arnold, I knew I must see him.

“It was very dark everywhere, but, of course, I knew my way. I felt along for the stair-rail, and went down as quickly as I could. The knocking had stopped, and I was afraid I was too late. I got to the foot of the staircase and over to the door on to the east veranda. I had never thought of anything but that it was Arnold, until I reached the door. It was unlocked and opened about an inch. Everything was black: it was perfectly dark outside. I felt very queer and shaky. Then I thought perhaps Arnold had used his key; he did–strange things sometimes, and I turned around. Just as I reached the foot of the staircase I thought I heard some one coming. My nerves were going anyhow, there in the dark, and I could scarcely stand. I got up as far as the third or fourth step; then I felt that some one was coming toward me on the staircase. The next instant a hand met mine on the stair-rail. Some one brushed past me, and I screamed. Then I must have fainted.”

That was Louise’s story. There could be no doubt of its truth, and the thing that made it inexpressibly awful to me was that the poor girl had crept down to answer the summons of a brother who would never need her kindly offices again. Twice now, without apparent cause, some one had entered the house by means of the east entrance: had apparently gone his way unhindered through the house, and gone out again as he had entered. Had this unknown visitor been there a third time, the night Arnold Armstrong was murdered? Or a fourth, the time Mr. Jamieson had locked some one in the clothes chute?

Sleep was impossible, I think, for any of us. We dispersed finally to bathe and dress, leaving Louise little the worse for her experience. But I determined that before the day was over she must know the true state of affairs. Another decision I made, and I put it into execution immediately after breakfast. I had one of the unused bedrooms in the east wing, back along the small corridor, prepared for occupancy, and from that time on, Alex, the gardener, slept there. One man in that barn of a house was an absurdity, with things happening all the time, and I must say that Alex was as unobjectionable as any one could possibly have been.

The next morning, also, Halsey and I made an exhaustive examination of the circular staircase, the small entry at its foot, and the card-room opening from it. There was no evidence of anything unusual the night before, and had we not ourselves heard the rapping noises, I should have felt that Louise’s imagination had run away with her. The outer door was closed and locked, and the staircase curved above us, for all the world like any other staircase.

Halsey, who had never taken seriously my account of the night Liddy and I were there alone, was grave enough now. He examined the paneling of the wainscoting above and below the stairs, evidently looking for a secret door, and suddenly there flashed into my mind the recollection of a scrap of paper that Mr. Jamieson had found among Arnold Armstrong’s effects. As nearly as possible I repeated its contents to him, while Halsey took them down in a note-book.

“I wish you had told me that before,” he said, as he put the memorandum carefully away. We found nothing at all in the house, and I expected little from any examination of the porch and grounds. But as we opened the outer door something fell into the entry with a clatter. It was a cue from the billiard-room.

Halsey picked it up with an exclamation.

“That’s careless enough,” he said. “Some of the servants have been amusing themselves.”

I was far from convinced. Not one of the servants would go into that wing at night unless driven by dire necessity. And a billiard cue! As a weapon of either offense or defense it was an absurdity, unless one accepted Liddy’s hypothesis of a ghost, and even then, as Halsey pointed out, a billiard-playing ghost would be a very modern evolution of an ancient institution.

That afternoon we, Gertrude, Halsey and I, attended the coroner’s inquest in town. Doctor Stewart had been summoned also, it transpiring that in that early Sunday morning, when Gertrude and I had gone to our rooms, he had been called to view the body. We went, the four of us, in the machine, preferring the execrable roads to the matinee train, with half of Casanova staring at us. And on the way we decided to say nothing of Louise and her interview with her stepbrother the night he died. The girl was in trouble enough as it was.

CHAPTER XVII

A HINT OF SCANDAL

In giving the gist of what happened at the inquest, I have only one excuse–to recall to the reader the events of the night of Arnold Armstrong’s murder. Many things had occurred which were not brought out at the inquest and some things were told there that were new to me. Altogether, it was a gloomy affair, and the six men in the corner, who constituted the coroner’s jury, were evidently the merest puppets in the hands of that all-powerful gentleman, the coroner.

Gertrude and I sat well back, with our veils down. There were a number of people I knew: Barbara Fitzhugh, in extravagant mourning–she always went into black on the slightest provocation, because it was becoming–and Mr. Jarvis, the man who had come over from the Greenwood Club the night of the murder. Mr. Harton was there, too, looking impatient as the inquest dragged, but alive to every particle of evidence. From a corner Mr. Jamieson was watching the proceedings intently.

Doctor Stewart was called first. His evidence was told briefly, and amounted to this: on the Sunday morning previous, at a quarter before five, he had been called to the telephone. The message was from a Mr. Jarvis, who asked him to come at once to Sunnyside, as there had been an accident there, and Mr. Arnold Armstrong had been shot. He had dressed hastily, gathered up some instruments, and driven to Sunnyside.

He was met by Mr. Jarvis, who took him at once to the east wing. There, just as he had fallen, was the body of Arnold Armstrong. There was no need of the instruments: the man was dead. In answer to the coroner’s question–no, the body had not been moved, save to turn it over. It lay at the foot of the circular staircase. Yes, he believed death had been instantaneous. The body was still somewhat warm and rigor mortis had not set in. It occurred late in cases of sudden death. No, he believed the probability of suicide might be eliminated; the wounds could have been self-inflicted, but with difficulty, and there had been no weapon found.

The doctor’s examination was over, but he hesitated and cleared his throat.

“Mr. Coroner,” he said, “at the risk of taking up valuable time, I would like to speak of an incident that may or may not throw some light on this matter.”

The audience was alert at once.

“Kindly proceed, Doctor,” the coroner said.

“My home is in Englewood, two miles from Casanova,” the doctor began. “In the absence of Doctor Walker, a number of Casanova people have been consulting me. A month ago–five weeks, to be exact–a woman whom I had never seen came to my office. She was in deep mourning and kept her veil down, and she brought for examination a child, a boy of six. The little fellow was ill; it looked like typhoid, and the mother was frantic. She wanted a permit to admit the youngster to the Children’s Hospital in town here, where I am a member of the staff, and I gave her one. The incident would have escaped me, but for a curious thing. Two days before Mr. Armstrong was shot, I was sent for to go to the Country Club: some one had been struck with a golf-ball that had gone wild. It was late when I left–I was on foot, and about a mile from the club, on the Claysburg road, I met two people. They were disputing violently, and I had no difficulty in recognizing Mr. Armstrong. The woman, beyond doubt, was the one who had consulted me about the child.”

At this hint of scandal, Mrs. Ogden Fitzhugh sat up very straight. Jamieson was looking slightly skeptical, and the coroner made a note.

“The Children’s Hospital, you say, Doctor?” he asked.

“Yes. But the child, who was entered as Lucien Wallace, was taken away by his mother two weeks ago. I have tried to trace them and failed.”

All at once I remembered the telegram sent to Louise by some one signed F. L. W.–presumably Doctor Walker. Could this veiled woman be the Nina Carrington of the message? But it was only idle speculation. I had no way of finding out, and the inquest was proceeding.

The report of the coroner’s physician came next. The post-mortem examination showed that the bullet had entered the chest in the fourth left intercostal space and had taken an oblique course downward and backward, piercing both the heart and lungs. The left lung was collapsed, and the exit point of the ball had been found in the muscles of the back to the left of the spinal column. It was improbable that such a wound had been self- inflicted, and its oblique downward course pointed to the fact that the shot had been fired from above. In other words, as the murdered man had been found dead at the foot of a staircase, it was probable that the shot had been fired by some one higher up on the stairs. There were no marks of powder. The bullet, a thirty-eight caliber, had been found in the dead man’s clothing, and was shown to the jury.

Mr. Jarvis was called next, but his testimony amounted to little.

He had been summoned by telephone to Sunnyside, had come over at once with the steward and Mr. Winthrop, at present out of town. They had been admitted by the housekeeper, and had found the body lying at the foot of the staircase. He had made a search for a weapon, but there was none around. The outer entry door in the east wing had been unfastened and was open about an inch.

I had been growing more and more nervous. When the coroner called Mr. John Bailey, the room was filled with suppressed excitement. Mr. Jamieson went forward and spoke a few words to the coroner, who nodded. Then Halsey was called.

“Mr. Innes,” the coroner said, “will you tell under what circumstances you saw Mr. Arnold Armstrong the night he died?”

“I saw him first at the Country Club,” Halsey said quietly. He was rather pale, but very composed. “I stopped there with my automobile for gasolene. Mr. Armstrong had been playing cards. When I saw him there, he was coming out of the card-room, talking to Mr. John Bailey.”

“The nature of the discussion–was it amicable?”

Halsey hesitated.

“They were having a dispute,” he said. “I asked Mr. Bailey to leave the club with me and come to Sunnyside over Sunday.”

“Isn’t it a fact, Mr. Innes, that you took Mr. Bailey away from the club-house because you were afraid there would be blows?”

“The situation was unpleasant,” Halsey said evasively.

“At that time had you any suspicion that the Traders’ Bank had been wrecked?”

“No.”

“What occurred next?”

“Mr. Bailey and I talked in the billiard-room until two-thirty.”

“And Mr. Arnold Armstrong came there, while you were talking?”

“Yes. He came about half-past two. He rapped at the east door, and I admitted him.”

The silence in the room was intense. Mr. Jamieson’s eyes never left Halsey’s face.

“Will you tell us the nature of his errand?”

“He brought a telegram that had come to the club for Mr. Bailey.”

“He was sober?”

“Perfectly, at that time. Not earlier.”

“Was not his apparent friendliness a change from his former attitude?”

“Yes. I did not understand it.”

“How long did he stay?”

“About five minutes. Then he left, by the east entrance.”

“What occurred then?”

“We talked for a few minutes, discussing a plan Mr. Bailey had in mind. Then I went to the stables, where I kept my car, and got it out.”

“Leaving Mr. Bailey alone in the billiard-room?”

Halsey hesitated.

“My sister was there?”

Mrs. Ogden Fitzhugh had the courage to turn and eye Gertrude through her lorgnon.

“And then?”

“I took the car along the lower road, not to disturb the household. Mr. Bailey came down across the lawn, through the hedge, and got into the car on the road.”

“Then you know nothing of Mr. Armstrong’s movements after he left the house?”

“Nothing. I read of his death Monday evening for the first time.”

“Mr. Bailey did not see him on his way across the lawn?”

“I think not. If he had seen him he would have spoken of it.”

“Thank you. That is all. Miss Gertrude Innes.”

Gertrude’s replies were fully as concise as Halsey’s. Mrs. Fitzhugh subjected her to a close inspection, commencing with her hat and ending with her shoes. I flatter myself she found nothing wrong with either her gown or her manner, but poor Gertrude’s testimony was the reverse of comforting. She had been summoned, she said, by her brother, after Mr. Armstrong had gone.

She had waited in the billiard-room with Mr. Bailey, until the automobile had been ready. Then she had locked the door at the foot of the staircase, and, taking a lamp, had accompanied Mr. Bailey to the main entrance of the house, and had watched him cross the lawn. Instead of going at once to her room, she had gone back to the billiard-room for something which had been left there. The card-room and billiard-room were in darkness. She had groped around, found the article she was looking for, and was on the point of returning to her room, when she had heard some one fumbling at the lock at the east outer door. She had thought it was probably her brother, and had been about to go to the door, when she heard it open. Almost immediately there was a shot, and she had run panic-stricken through the drawing-room and had roused the house.

“You heard no other sound?” the coroner asked. “There was no one with Mr. Armstrong when he entered?”

“It was perfectly dark. There were no voices and I heard nothing. There was just the opening of the door, the shot, and the sound of somebody falling.”

“Then, while you went through the drawing-room and up-stairs to alarm the household, the criminal, whoever it was, could have escaped by the east door?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. That will do.”

I flatter myself that the coroner got little enough out of me. I saw Mr. Jamieson smiling to himself, and the coroner gave me up, after a time. I admitted I had found the body, said I had not known who it was until Mr. Jarvis told me, and ended by looking up at Barbara Fitzhugh and saying that in renting the house I had not expected to be involved in any family scandal. At which she turned purple.

The verdict was that Arnold Armstrong had met his death at the hands of a person or persons unknown, and we all prepared to leave. Barbara Fitzhugh flounced out without waiting to speak to me, but Mr. Harton came up, as I knew he would.

“You have decided to give up the house, I hope, Miss Innes,” he said. “Mrs. Armstrong has wired me again.”

“I am not going to give it up,” I maintained, “until I understand some things that are puzzling me. The day that the murderer is discovered, I will leave.”

“Then, judging by what I have heard, you will be back in the city very soon,” he said. And I knew that he suspected the discredited cashier of the Traders’ Bank.

Mr. Jamieson came up to me as I was about to leave the coroner’s office.

“How is your patient?” he asked with his odd little smile.

“I have no patient,” I replied, startled.

“I will put it in a different way, then. How is Miss Armstrong?”

“She–she is doing very well,” I stammered.

“Good,” cheerfully. “And our ghost? Is it laid?”

“Mr. Jamieson,” I said suddenly, “I wish you would do one thing: I wish you would come to Sunnyside and spend a few days there. The ghost is not laid. I want you to spend one night at least watching the circular staircase. The murder of Arnold Armstrong was a beginning, not an end.”

He looked serious.

“Perhaps I can do it,” he said. “I have been doing something else, but–well, I will come out to-night.”

We were very silent during the trip back to Sunnyside. I watched Gertrude closely and somewhat sadly. To me there was one glaring flaw in her story, and it seemed to stand out for every one to see. Arnold Armstrong had had no key, and yet she said she had locked the east door. He must have been admitted from within the house; over and over I repeated it to myself.

That night, as gently as I could, I told Louise the story of her stepbrother’s death. She sat in her big, pillow-filled chair, and heard me through without interruption. It was clear that she was shocked beyond words: if I had hoped to learn anything from her expression, I had failed. She was as much in the dark as we were.

CHAPTER XVIII

A HOLE IN THE WALL

My taking the detective out to Sunnyside raised an unexpected storm of protest from Gertrude and Halsey. I was not prepared for it, and I scarcely knew how to account for it. To me Mr. Jamieson was far less formidable under my eyes where I knew what he was doing, than he was of in the city, twisting circumstances and motives to suit himself and learning what he wished to know, about events at Sunnyside, in some occult way. I was glad enough to have him there, when excitements began to come thick and fast.

A new element was about to enter into affairs: Monday, or Tuesday at the latest, would find Doctor Walker back in his green and white house in the village, and Louise’s attitude to him in the immediate future would signify Halsey’s happiness or wretchedness, as it might turn out. Then, too, the return of her mother would mean, of course, that she would have to leave us, and I had become greatly attached to her.

From the day Mr. Jamieson came to Sunnyside there was a subtle change in Gertrude’s manner to me. It was elusive, difficult to analyze, but it was there. She was no longer frank with me, although I think her affection never wavered. At the time I laid the change to the fact that I had forbidden all communication with John Bailey, and had refused to acknowledge any engagement between the two. Gertrude spent much of her time wandering through the grounds, or taking long cross-country walks. Halsey played golf at the Country Club day after day, and after Louise left, as she did the following week, Mr. Jamieson and I were much together. He played a fair game of cribbage, but he cheated at solitaire.

The night the detective arrived, Saturday, I had a talk with him.

I told him of the experience Louise Armstrong had had the night before, on the circular staircase, and about the man who had so frightened Rosie on the drive. I saw that he thought the information was important, and to my suggestion that we put an additional lock on the east wing door he opposed a strong negative.

“I think it probable,” he said, “that our visitor will be back again, and the thing to do is to leave things exactly as they are, to avoid rousing suspicion. Then I can watch for at least a part of each night and probably Mr. Innes will help us out. I would say as little to Thomas as possible. The old man knows more than he is willing to admit.”

I suggested that Alex, the gardener, would probably be willing to help, and Mr. Jamieson undertook to make the arrangement. For one night, however, Mr. Jamieson preferred to watch alone. Apparently nothing occurred. The detective sat in absolute darkness on the lower step of the stairs, dozing, he said afterwards, now and then. Nothing could pass him in either direction, and the door in the morning remained as securely fastened as it had been the night before. And yet one of the most inexplicable occurrences of the whole affair took place that very night.

Liddy came to my room on Sunday morning with a face as long as the moral law. She laid out my, things as usual, but I missed her customary garrulousness. I was not regaled with the new cook’s extravagance as to eggs, and she even forbore to mention “that Jamieson,” on whose arrival she had looked with silent disfavor.

“What’s the matter, Liddy?” I asked at last. “Didn’t you sleep last night?”

“No, ma’m,” she said stiffly.

“Did you have two cups of coffee at your dinner?” I inquired.

“No, ma’m,” indignantly.

I sat up and almost upset my hot water–I always take a cup of hot water with a pinch of salt, before I get up. It tones the stomach.

“Liddy Allen,” I said, “stop combing that switch and tell me what is wrong with you.”

Liddy heaved a sigh.

“Girl and woman,” she said, “I’ve been with you twenty-five years, Miss Rachel, through good temper and bad–“the idea! and what I have taken from her in the way of sulks!–“but I guess I can’t stand it any longer. My trunk’s packed.”

“Who packed it?” I asked, expecting from her tone to be told she had wakened to find it done by some ghostly hand.

“I did; Miss Rachel, you won’t believe me when I tell you this house is haunted. Who was it fell down the clothes chute? Who was it scared Miss Louise almost into her grave?”

“I’m doing my best to find out,” I said. “What in the world are you driving at?” She drew a long breath.

“There is a hole in the trunk-room wall, dug out since last night. It’s big enough to put your head in, and the plaster’s all over the place.”

“Nonsense!” I said. “Plaster is always falling.”

But Liddy clenched that.

“Just ask Alex,” she said. “When he put the new cook’s trunk there last night the wall was as smooth as this. This morning it’s dug out, and there’s plaster on the cook’s trunk. Miss Rachel, you can get a dozen detectives and put one on every stair in the house, and you’ll never catch anything. There’s some things you can’t handcuff.”

Liddy was right. As soon as I could, I went up to the trunk- room, which was directly over my bedroom. The plan of the upper story of the house was like that of the second floor, in the main. One end, however, over the east wing, had been left only roughly finished, the intention having been to convert it into a ball-room at some future time. The maids’ rooms, trunk-room, and various store-rooms, including a large airy linen-room, opened from a long corridor, like that on the second floor. And in the trunk-room, as Liddy had said, was a fresh break in the plaster.

Not only in the plaster, but through the lathing, the aperture extended. I reached into the opening, and three feet away, perhaps, I could touch the bricks of the partition wall. For some reason, the architect, in building the house, had left a space there that struck me, even in the surprise of the discovery, as an excellent place for a conflagration to gain headway.

“You are sure the hole was not here yesterday?” I asked Liddy, whose expression was a mixture of satisfaction and alarm. In answer she pointed to the new cook’s trunk–that necessary adjunct of the migratory domestic. The top was covered with fine white plaster, as was the floor. But there were no large pieces of mortar lying around–no bits of lathing. When I mentioned this to Liddy she merely raised her eyebrows. Being quite confident that the gap was of unholy origin, she did not concern herself with such trifles as a bit of mortar and lath. No doubt they were even then heaped neatly on a gravestone in the Casanova churchyard!

I brought Mr. Jamieson up to see the hole in the wall, directly after breakfast. His expression was very odd when he looked at it, and the first thing he did was to try to discover what object, if any, such a hole could have. He got a piece of candle, and by enlarging the aperture a little was able to examine what lay beyond. The result was nil. The trunk-room, although heated by steam heat, like the rest of the house, boasted of a fireplace and mantel as well. The opening had been made between the flue and the outer wall of the house. There was revealed, however, on inspection, only the brick of the chimney on one side and the outer wall of the house on the other; in depth the space extended only to the flooring. The breach had been made about four feet from the floor, and inside were all the missing bits of plaster. It had been a methodical ghost.

It was very much of a disappointment. I had expected a secret room, at the very least, and I think even Mr. Jamieson had fancied he might at last have a clue to the mystery. There was evidently nothing more to be discovered: Liddy reported that everything was serene among the servants, and that none of them had been disturbed by the noise. The maddening thing, however, was that the nightly visitor had evidently more than one way of gaining access to the house, and we made arrangements to redouble our vigilance as to windows and doors that night.

Halsey was inclined to pooh-pooh the whole affair. He said a break in the plaster might have occurred months ago and gone unnoticed, and that the dust had probably been stirred up the day before. After all, we had to let it go at that, but we put in an uncomfortable Sunday. Gertrude went to church, and Halsey took a long walk in the morning. Louise was able to sit up, and she allowed Halsey and Liddy to assist her down-stairs late in the afternoon. The east veranda was shady, green with vines and palms, cheerful with cushions and lounging chairs. We put Louise in a steamer chair, and she sat there passively enough, her hands clasped in her lap.

We were very silent. Halsey sat on the rail with a pipe, openly watching Louise, as she looked broodingly across the valley to the hills. There was something baffling in the girl’s eyes; and gradually Halsey’s boyish features lost their glow at seeing her about again, and settled into grim lines. He was like his father just then.

We sat until late afternoon, Halsey growing more and more moody. Shortly before six, he got up and went into the house, and in a few minutes he came out and called me to the telephone. It was Anna Whitcomb, in town, and she kept me for twenty minutes, telling me the children had had the measles, and how Madame Sweeny had botched her new gown.

When I finished, Liddy was behind me, her mouth a thin line.

“I wish you would try to look cheerful, Liddy,” I groaned, “your face would sour milk.” But Liddy seldom replied to my gibes. She folded her lips a little tighter.

“He called her up,” she said oracularly, “he called her up, and asked her to keep you at the telephone, so he could talk to Miss Louise. A THANKLESS CHILD IS SHARPER THAN A SERPENT’S TOOTH.”

“Nonsense!” I said bruskly. “I might have known enough to leave them. It’s a long time since you and I were in love, Liddy, and–we forget.”

Liddy sniffed.

“No man ever ,made a fool of me,” she replied virtuously.

“Well, something did,” I retorted.

CHAPTER XIX

CONCERNING THOMAS

Mr. Jamieson,” I said, when we found ourselves alone after dinner that night, “the inquest yesterday seemed to me the merest recapitulation of things that were already known. It developed nothing new beyond the story of Doctor Stewart’s, and that was volunteered.”

“An inquest is only a necessary formality, Miss Innes,” he replied. “Unless a crime is committed in the open, the inquest does nothing beyond getting evidence from witnesses while events are still in their minds. The police step in later. You and I both know how many important things never transpired. For instance: the dead man had no key, and yet Miss Gertrude testified to a fumbling at the lock, and then the opening of the door. The piece of evidence you mention, Doctor Stewart’s story, is one of those things we have to take cautiously: the doctor has a patient who wears black and does not raise her veil. Why, it is the typical mysterious lady! Then the good doctor comes across Arnold Armstrong, who was a graceless scamp–de mortuis–what’s the rest of it?–and he is quarreling with a lady in black. Behold, says the doctor, they are one and the same.”

“Why was Mr. Bailey not present at the inquest?”

The detective’s expression was peculiar.

“Because his physician testified that he is ill, and unable to leave his bed.”

“Ill!” I exclaimed. “Why, neither Halsey nor Gertrude has told me that.”

“There are more things than that, Miss Innes, that are puzzling. Bailey gives the impression that he knew nothing of the crash at the bank until he read it in the paper Monday night, and that he went back and surrendered himself immediately. I do not believe it. Jonas, the watchman at the Traders’ Bank, tells a different story. He says that on the Thursday night before, about eight- thirty, Bailey went back to the bank. Jonas admitted him, and he says the cashier was in a state almost of collapse. Bailey worked until midnight, then he closed the vault and went away. The occurrence was so unusual that the watchman pondered over it an the rest of the night. What did Bailey do when he went back to the Knickerbocker apartments that night? He packed a suit-case ready for instant departure. But he held off too long; he waited for something. My personal opinion is that he waited to see Miss Gertrude before flying from the country. Then, when he had shot down Arnold Armstrong that night, he had to choose between two evils. He did the thing that would immediately turn public opinion in his favor, and surrendered himself, as an innocent man. The strongest thing against him is his preparation for flight, and his deciding to come back after the murder of Arnold Armstrong. He was shrewd enough to disarm suspicion as to the graver charge?”

The evening dragged along slowly. Mrs. Watson came to my bedroom before I went to bed and asked if I had any arnica. She showed me a badly swollen hand, with reddish streaks running toward the elbow; she said it was the hand she had hurt the night of the murder a week before, and that she had not slept well since. It looked to me as if it might be serious, and I told her to let Doctor Stewart see it.

The next morning Mrs. Watson went up to town on the eleven train, and was admitted to the Charity Hospital. She was suffering from blood-poisoning. I fully meant to go up and see her there, but other things drove her entirely from my mind. I telephoned to the hospital that day, however, and ordered a private room for her, and whatever comforts she might be allowed.

Mrs. Armstrong arrived Monday evening with her husband’s body, and the services were set for the next day. The house on Chestnut Street, in town, had been opened, and Tuesday morning Louise left us to go home. She sent for me before she went, and I saw she had been crying.

“How can I thank you, Miss Innes?” she said. “You have taken me on faith, and–you have not asked me any questions. Some time, perhaps, I can tell you; and when that time comes, you will all despise me,–Halsey, too.”

I tried to tell her how glad I was to have had her but there was something else she wanted to say. She said it finally, when she had bade a constrained good-by to Halsey and the car was waiting at the door.

“Miss Innes,” she said in a low tone, “if they–if there is any attempt made to–to have you give up the house, do it, if you possibly can. I am afraid–to have you stay.”

That was all. Gertrude went into town with her and saw her safely home. She reported a decided coolness in the greeting between Louise and her mother, and that Doctor Walker was there, apparently in charge of the arrangements for the funeral. Halsey disappeared shortly after Louise left and came home about nine that night, muddy and tired. As for Thomas, he went around dejected and sad, and I saw the detective watching him closely at dinner. Even now I wonder–what did Thomas know? What did he suspect?

At ten o’clock the household had settled down for the night. Liddy, who was taking Mrs. Watson’s place, had finished examining the tea-towels and the corners of the shelves in the cooling- room, and had gone to bed. Alex, the gardener, had gone heavily up the circular staircase to his room, and Mr. Jamieson was examining the locks of the windows. Halsey dropped into a chair in the living-room, and stared moodily ahead. Once he roused.

“What sort of a looking chap is that Walker, Gertrude?” he asked!

“Rather tall, very dark, smooth-shaven. Not bad looking,” Gertrude said, putting down the book she had been pretending to read. Halsey kicked a taboret viciously.

“Lovely place this village must be in the winter,” he said irrelevantly. “A girl would be buried alive here.”

It was then some one rapped at the knocker on the heavy front door. Halsey got up leisurely and opened it, admitting Warner. He was out of breath from running, and he looked half abashed.

“I am sorry to disturb you,” he said. “But I didn’t know what else to do. It’s about Thomas.”

“What about Thomas?” I asked. Mr. Jamieson had come into the hall and we all stared at Warner.

“He’s acting queer,” Warner explained. “He’s sitting down there on the edge of the porch, and he says he has seen a ghost. The old man looks bad, too; he can scarcely speak.”

“He’s as full of superstition as an egg is of meat,” I said. “Halsey, bring some whisky and we will all go down.”

No one moved to get the whisky, from which I judged there were three pocket flasks ready for emergency. Gertrude threw a shawl around my shoulders, and we all started down over the hill: I had made so many nocturnal excursions around the place that I knew my way perfectly. But Thomas was not on the veranda, nor was he inside the house. The men exchanged significant glances, and Warner got a lantern.

“He can’t have gone far,” he said. “He was trembling so that he couldn’t stand, when I left.”

Jamieson and Halsey together made the round of the lodge, occasionally calling the old man by name. But there was no response. No Thomas came, bowing and showing his white teeth through the darkness. I began to be vaguely uneasy, for the first time. Gertrude, who was never nervous in the dark, went alone down the drive to the gate, and stood there, looking along the yellowish line of the road, while I waited on the tiny veranda.

Warner was puzzled. He came around to the edge of the veranda and stood looking at it as if it ought to know and explain.

“He might have stumbled into the house,” he said, “but he could not have climbed the stairs. Anyhow, he’s not inside or outside, that I can see.” The other members of the party had come back now, and no one had found any trace of the old man. His pipe, still warm, rested on the edge of the rail, and inside on the table his old gray hat showed that its owner had not gone far.

He was not far, after all. From the table my eyes traveled around the room, and stopped at the door of a closet. I hardly know what impulse moved me, but I went in and turned the knob. It burst open with the impetus of a weight behind it, and something fell partly forward in a heap on the floor. It was Thomas–Thomas without a mark of injury on him, and dead.

CHAPTER XX

DOCTOR WALKER’S WARNING

Warner was on his knees in a moment, fumbling at the old man’s collar to loosen it, but Halsey caught his hand.

“Let him alone?” he said. “You can’t help him; he is dead.”

We stood there, each avoiding the other’s eyes; we spoke low and reverently in the presence of death, and we tacitly avoided any mention of the suspicion that was in every mind. When Mr. Jamieson had finished his cursory examination, he got up and dusted the knees of his trousers.

“There is no sign of injury,” he said, and I know I, for one, drew a long breath of relief. “From what Warner says and from his hiding in the closet, I should say he was scared to death. Fright and a weak heart, together.”

“But what could have done it?” Gertrude asked. “He was all right this evening at dinner. Warner, what did he say when you found him on the porch?”
Warner looked shaken: his honest, boyish face was colorless. “Just what I told you, Miss Innes. He’d been reading the paper down-stairs; I had put up the car, and, feeling sleepy, I came down to the lodge to go to bed. As I went up-stairs, Thomas put down the paper and, taking his pipe, went out on the porch. Then I heard an exclamation from him.”

“What did he say?” demanded Jamieson. “I couldn’t hear, but his voice was strange; it sounded startled. I waited for him to call out again, but he did not, so I went down-stairs. He was sitting on the porch step, looking straight ahead, as if he saw something among the trees across the road. And he kept mumbling about having seen a ghost. He looked queer, and I tried to get him inside, but he wouldn’t move. Then I thought I’d better go up to the house.” “Didn’t he say anything else you could understand?” I asked. “He said something about the grave giving up its dead.”

Mr. Jamieson was going through the old man’s pockets, and Gertrude was composing his arms, folding them across his white shirt-bosom, always so spotless.

Mr. Jamieson looked up at me.
“What was that you said to me, Miss Innes, about the murder at the house being a beginning and not an end? By jove, I believe you were right!”
In the course of his investigations the detective had come to the inner pocket of the dead butler’s black coat. Here he found some things that interested him. One was a small flat key, with a red cord tied to it, and the other was a bit of white paper, on which was written something in Thomas’ cramped hand. Mr. Jamieson read it: then he gave it to me. It was an address in fresh ink–

LUCIEN WALLACE, 14 Elm Street, Richfield.

As the card went around, I think both the detective and I watched for any possible effect it might have, but, beyond perplexity, there seemed to be none.
“Richfield!” Gertrude exclaimed. “Why, Elm Street is the main street; don’t you remember, Halsey?”

“Lucien Wallace!” Halsey said. “That is the child Stewart spoke of at the inquest.”

Warner, with his mechanic’s instinct, had reached for the key. What he said was not a surprise.

“Yale lock,” he said. “Probably a key to the east entry.”

There was no reason why Thomas, an old and trusted servant, should not have had a key to that particular door, although the servants’ entry was in the west wing. But I had not known of this key, and it opened up a new field of conjecture. Just now, however, there were many things to be attended to, and, leaving Warner with the body, we all went back to the house. Mr. Jamieson walked with me, while Halsey and Gertrude followed.

“I suppose I shall have to notify the Armstrongs,” I said. “They will know if Thomas had any people and how to reach them. Of course, I expect to defray the expenses of the funeral, but his relatives must be found. What do you think frightened him, Mr. Jamieson?”

“It is hard to say,” he replied slowly, “but I think we may be certain it was fright, and that he was hiding from something. I am sorry in more than one way: I have always believed that Thomas knew something, or suspected something, that he would not tell. Do you know hour much money there was in that worn-out wallet of his? Nearly a hundred dollars! Almost two months’ wages–and yet those darkies seldom have a penny. Well–what Thomas knew will be buried with him.”

Halsey suggested that the grounds be searched, but Mr. Jamieson vetoed the suggestion.

“You would find nothing,” he said. “A person clever enough to get into Sunnyside and tear a hole in the wall, while I watched down-stairs, is not to be found by going around the shrubbery with a lantern.”

With the death of Thomas, I felt that a climax had come in affairs at Sunnyside. The night that followed was quiet enough. Halsey watched at the foot of the staircase, and a complicated system of bolts on the other doors seemed to be effectual.

Once in the night I wakened and thought I heard the tapping again. But all was quiet, and I had reached the stage where I refused to be disturbed for minor occurrences.

The Armstrongs were notified of Thomas’ death, and I had my first interview with Doctor Walker as a result. He came up early the next morning, just as we finished breakfast, in a professional looking car with a black hood. I found him striding up and down the living-room, and, in spite of my preconceived dislike, I had to admit that the man was presentable. A big fellow he was, tall and dark, as Gertrude had said, smooth-shaven and erect, with prominent features and a square jaw. He was painfully spruce in his appearance, and his manner was almost obtrusively polite.

“I must make a double excuse for this early visit, Miss Innes,” he said as he sat down. The chair was lower than he expected, and his dignity required collecting before he went on. “My professional duties are urgent and long neglected, and”–a fall to the every-day manner–“something must be done about that body.”

“Yes,” I said, sitting on the edge of my chair. “I merely wished the address of Thomas’ people. You might have telephoned, if you were busy.”

He smiled.

“I wished to see you about something else,” he said. “As for Thomas, it is Mrs. Armstrong’s wish that would allow her to attend to the expense. About his relatives, I have already notified his brother, in the village. It was heart disease, I think. Thomas always had a bad heart.”

“Heart disease and fright,” I said, still on the edge of my chair. But the doctor had no intention of leaving.

“I understand you have a ghost up here, and that you have the house filled with detectives to exorcise it,” he said.

For some reason I felt I was being “pumped,” as Halsey says. “You have been misinformed,” I replied.

“What, no ghost, no detectives!” he said, still with his smile. “What a disappointment to the village!”

I resented his attempt at playfulness. It had been anything but a joke to us.

“Doctor Walker,” I said tartly, “I fail to see any humor in the situation. Since I came here, one man has been shot, and another one has died from shock. There have been intruders in the house, and strange noises. If that is funny, there is something wrong with my sense of humor.”

“You miss the point,” he said, still good-naturedly. “The thing that is funny, to me, is that you insist on remaining here, under the circumstances. I should think nothing would keep you.” “You are mistaken. Everything that occurs only confirms my resolution to stay until the mystery is cleared.” “I have a message for you, Miss Innes,” he said, rising at last. “Mrs. Armstrong asked me to thank you for your kindness to Louise, whose whim, occurring at the time it did, put her to great inconvenience. Also–and this is a delicate matter–she asked me to appeal to your natural sympathy for her, at this time, and to ask you if you will not reconsider your decision about the house. Sunnyside is her home; she loves it dearly, and just now she wishes to retire here for quiet and peace.” “She must have had a change of heart,” I said, ungraciously enough. “Louise told me her mother despised the place. Besides, this is no place for quiet and peace just now. Anyhow, doctor, while I don’t care to force an issue, I shall certainly remain here, for a time at least.”

“For how long?” he asked.
“My lease is for six months. I shall stay until some explanation is found for certain things. My own family is implicated now, and I shall do everything to clear the mystery of Arnold Armstrong’s murder.”
The doctor stood looking down, slapping his gloves thoughtfully against the palm of a well-looked-after hand. “You say there have been intruders in the house?” he asked. “You are sure of that, Miss Innes?”

“Certain.”

“In what part?”

“In the east wing.”
“Can you tell me when these intrusions occurred, and what the purpose seemed to be? Was it robbery?”
“No,” I said decidedly. “As to time, once on Friday night a week ago, again the following night, when Arnold Armstrong was murdered, and again last Friday night.”
The doctor looked serious. He seemed to be debating some question in his mind, and to reach a decision. “Miss Innes,” he said, “I am in a peculiar position; I understand your attitude, of course; but–do you think you are wise? Ever since you have come here there have been hostile demonstrations against you and your family. I’m not a croaker, but–take a warning. Leave before anything occurs that will cause you a lifelong regret.”

“I am willing to take the responsibility,” I said coldly.

I think he gave me up then as a poor proposition. He asked to be shown where Arnold Armstrong’s body had been found, and I took him there. He scrutinized the whole place carefully, examining the stairs and the lock. When he had taken a formal farewell I was confident of one thing. Doctor Walker would do anything he could to get me away from Sunnyside.

CHAPTER XXI

FOURTEEN ELM STREET

It was Monday evening when we found the body of poor old Thomas. Monday night had been uneventful; things were quiet at the house and the peculiar circumstances of the old man’s death had been carefully kept from the servants. Rosie took charge of the dining-room and pantry, in the absence of a butler, and, except for the warning of the Casanova doctor, everything breathed of peace.

Affairs at the Traders’ Bank were progressing slowly. The failure had hit small stock-holders very hard, the minister of the little Methodist chapel in Casanova among them. He had received as a legacy from an uncle a few shares of stock in the Traders’ Bank, and now his joy was turned to bitterness: he had to sacrifice everything he had in the world, and his feeling against Paul Armstrong, dead, as he was, must have been bitter in the extreme. He was asked to officiate at the simple services when the dead banker’s body was interred in Casanova churchyard, but the good man providentially took cold, and a substitute was called in.

A few days after the services he called to see me, a kind-faced little man, in a very bad frock-coat and laundered tie. I think he was uncertain as to my connection with the Armstrong family, and dubious whether I considered Mr. Armstrong’s taking away a matter for condolence or congratulation. He was not long in doubt.

I liked the little man. He had known Thomas well, and had promised to officiate at the services in the rickety African Zion Church. He told me more of himself than he knew, and before he left, I astonished him–and myself, I admit–by promising a new carpet for his church. He was much affected, and I gathered that he had yearned over his ragged chapel as a mother over a half- clothed child.

“You are laying up treasure, Miss Innes,” he said brokenly, “where neither moth nor rust corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.”

“It is certainly a safer place than Sunnyside,” I admitted. And the thought of the carpet permitted him to smile. He stood just inside the doorway, looking from the luxury of the house to the beauty of the view.

“The rich ought to be good,” he said wistfully. “They have so much that is beautiful, and beauty is ennobling. And yet–while I ought to say nothing but good of the dead–Mr. Armstrong saw nothing of this fair prospect. To him these trees and lawns were not the work of God. They were property, at so much an acre. He loved money, Miss Innes. He offered up everything to his golden calf. Not power, not ambition, was his fetish: it was money.” Then he dropped his pulpit manner, and, turning to me with his engaging smile: “In spite of all this luxury,” he said, “the country people here have a saying that Mr. Paul Armstrong could sit on a dollar and see all around it. Unlike the summer people, he gave neither to the poor nor to the church. He loved money for its own sake.”

“And there are no pockets in shrouds!” I said cynically.

I sent him home in the car, with a bunch of hot-house roses for his wife, and he was quite overwhelmed. As for me, I had a generous glow that was cheap at the price of a church carpet. I received less gratification–and less gratitude–when I presented the new silver communion set to St. Barnabas.

I had a great many things to think about in those days. I made out a list of questions and possible answers, but I seemed only to be working around in a circle. I always ended where I began. The list was something like this:

Who had entered the house the night before the murder?

Thomas claimed it was Mr. Bailey, whom he had seen on the foot- path, and who owned the pearl cuff-link.

Why did Arnold Armstrong come back after he had left the house the night he was killed?

No answer. Was it on the mission Louise had mentioned?

Who admitted him?

Gertrude said she had looked the east entry. There was no key on the dead man or in the door. He must have been admitted from within.

Who had been locked in the clothes chute?

Some one unfamiliar with the house, evidently. Only two people missing from the household, Rosie and Gertrude. Rosie had been at the lodge. Therefore–but was it Gertrude? Might it not have been the mysterious intruder again?

Who had accosted Rosie on the drive?

Again–perhaps the nightly visitor. It seemed more likely some one who suspected a secret at the lodge. Was Louise under surveillance?

Who had passed Louise on the circular staircase?

Could it have been Thomas? The key to the east entry made this a possibility. But why was he there, if it were indeed he?

Who had made the hole in the trunk-room wall?

It was not vandalism. It had been done quietly, and with deliberate purpose. If I had only known how to read the purpose of that gaping aperture what I might have saved in anxiety and mental strain!

Why had Louise left her people and come home to hide at the lodge?

There was no answer, as yet, to this, or to the next questions.

Why did both she and Doctor Walker warn us away from the house?

Who was Lucien Wallace?

What did Thomas see in the shadows the night he died?

What was the meaning of the subtle change in Gertrude?

Was Jack Bailey an accomplice or a victim in the looting of the Traders’ Bank?

What all-powerful reason made Louise determine to marry Doctor Walker?

The examiners were still working on the books of the Traders’ Bank, and it was probable that several weeks would elapse before everything was cleared up. The firm of expert accountants who had examined the books some two months before testified that every bond, every piece of valuable paper, was there at that time. It had been shortly after their examination that the president, who had been in bad health, had gone to California. Mr. Bailey was still ill at the Knickerbocker, and in this, as in other ways, Gertrude’s conduct puzzled me. She seemed indifferent, refused to discuss matters pertaining to the bank, and never, to my knowledge, either wrote to him or went to see him.

Gradually I came to the conclusion that Gertrude, with the rest of the world, believed her lover guilty, and–although I believed it myself, for that matter–I was irritated by her indifference. Girls in my day did not meekly accept the public’s verdict as to the man they loved.

But presently something occurred that made me think that under Gertrude’s surface calm there was a seething flood of emotions.

Tuesday morning the detective made a careful search of the grounds, but he found nothing. In the afternoon he disappeared, and it was late that night when he came home. He said he would have to go back to the city the following day, and arranged with Halsey and Alex to guard the house.

Liddy came to me on Wednesday morning with her black silk apron held up like a bag, and her eyes big with virtuous wrath. It was the day of Thomas’ funeral in the village, and Alex and I were in the conservatory cutting flowers for the old man’s casket. Liddy is never so happy as when she is making herself wretched, and now her mouth drooped while her eyes were triumphant.

“I always said there were plenty of things going on here, right under our noses, that we couldn’t see,” she said, holding out her apron.

“I don’t see with my nose,” I remarked. “What have you got there?”

Liddy pushed aside a half-dozen geranium pots, and in the space thus cleared she dumped the contents of her apron–a handful of tiny bits of paper. Alex had stepped back, but I saw him watching her curiously.

“Wait a moment, Liddy,” I said. “You have been going through the library paper-basket again!”

Liddy was arranging her bits of paper with the skill of long practice and paid no attention.

“Did it ever occur to you,” I went on, putting my hand over the scraps, “that when people tear up their correspondence, it is for the express purpose of keeping it from being read?”

“If they wasn’t ashamed of it they wouldn’t take so much trouble, Miss Rachel,” Liddy said oracularly. “More than that, with things happening every day, I consider it my duty. If you don’t read and act on this, I shall give it to that Jamieson, and I’ll venture he’ll not go back to the city to-day.”

That decided me. If the scraps had anything to do with the mystery ordinary conventions had no value. So Liddy arranged the scraps, like working out one of the puzzle-pictures children play with, and she did it with much the same eagerness. When it was finished she stepped aside while I read it.

“Wednesday night, nine o’clock. Bridge,” I real aloud. Then, aware of Alex’s stare, I turned on Liddy.

“Some one is to play bridge to-night at nine o’clock,” I said. “Is that your business, or mine?”

Liddy was aggrieved. She was about to reply when I scooped up the pieces and left the conservatory.

“Now then,” I said, when we got outside, “will you tell me why you choose to take Alex into your confidence? He’s no fool. Do you suppose he thinks any one in this house is going to play bridge to-night at nine o’clock, by appointment! I suppose you have shown it in the kitchen, and instead of my being able to slip down to the bridge to-night quietly, and see who is there, the whole household will be going in a procession.”

“Nobody knows it,” Liddy said humbly. “I found it in the basket in Miss Gertrude’s dressing-room. Look at the back of the sheet.” I turned over some of the scraps, and, sure enough, it was a blank deposit slip from the Traders’ Bank. So Gertrude was going to meet Jack Bailey that night by the bridge! And I had thought he was ill! It hardly seemed like the action of an innocent man–this avoidance of daylight, and of his fiancee’s people. I decided to make certain, however, by going to the bridge that night.

After luncheon Mr. Jamieson suggested that I go with him to Richfield, and I consented.

“I am inclined to place more faith in Doctor Stewart’s story,” he said, “since I found that scrap in old Thomas’ pocket. It bears out the statement that the woman with the child, and the woman who quarreled with Armstrong, are the same. It looks as if Thomas had stumbled on to some affair which was more or less discreditable to the dead man, and, with a certain loyalty to the family, had kept it to himself. Then, you see, your story about the woman at the card-room window begins to mean something. It is the nearest approach to anything tangible that we have had yet.”

Warner took us to Richfield in the car. It was about twenty-five miles by railroad, but by taking a series of atrociously rough short cuts we got there very quickly. It was a pretty little town, on the river, and back on the hill I could see the Mortons’ big country house, where Halsey and Gertrude had been staying until the night of the murder.

Elm Street was almost the only street, and number fourteen was easily found. It was a small white house, dilapidated without having gained anything picturesque, with a low window and a porch only a foot or so above the bit of a lawn. There was a baby- carriage in the path, and from a swing at the side came the sound of conflict. Three small children were disputing vociferously, and a faded young woman with a kindly face was trying to hush the clamor. When she saw us she untied her gingham apron and came around to the porch.

“Good afternoon,” I said. Jamieson lifted his hat, without speaking. “I came to inquire about a child named Lucien Wallace.”

“I am glad you have come,” she said. “In spite of the other children, I think the little fellow is lonely. We thought perhaps his mother would be here to-day.”

Mr. Jamieson stepped forward.

“You are Mrs. Tate?” I wondered how the detective knew.

“Yes, sir.”

“Mrs. Tate, we want to make some inquiries. Perhaps in the house–“

“Come right in,” she said hospitably. And soon we were in the little shabby parlor, exactly like a thousand of its prototypes. Mrs. Tate sat uneasily, her hands folded in her lap.

“How long has Lucien been here?” Mr. Jamieson asked.

“Since a week ago last Friday. His mother paid one week’s board in advance; the other has not been paid.”

“Was he ill when he came?”

“No, sir, not what you’d call sick. He was getting better of typhoid, she said, and he’s picking up fine.”

“Will you tell me his mother’s name and address?”

“That’s the trouble,” the young woman said, knitting her brows. “She gave her name as Mrs. Wallace, and said she had no address. She was looking for a boarding-house in town. She said she worked in a department store, and couldn’t take care of the child properly, and he needed fresh air and milk. I had three children of my own, and one more didn’t make much difference in the work, but–I wish she would pay this week’s board.”

“Did she say what store it was?”

“No, sir, but all the boy’s clothes came from King’s. He has far too fine clothes for the country.”

There was a chorus of shouts and shrill yells from the front door, followed by the loud stamping of children’s feet and a throaty “whoa, whoa!” Into the room came a tandem team of two chubby youngsters, a boy and a girl, harnessed with a clothes- line, and driven by a laughing boy of about seven, in tan overalls and brass buttons. The small driver caught my attention at once: he was a beautiful child, and, although he showed traces of recent severe illness, his skin had now the clear transparency of health.

“Whoa, Flinders,” he shouted. “You’re goin’ to smash the trap.”

Mr. Jamieson coaxed him over by holding out a lead-pencil, striped blue and yellow.

“Now, then,” he said, when the boy had taken the lead-pencil and was testing its usefulness on the detective’s cuff, “now then, I’ll bet you don’t know what your name is!”

“I do,” said the boy. “Lucien Wallace.”

“Great! And what’s your mother’s name?”

“Mother, of course. What’s your mother’s name?” And he pointed to me! I am going to stop wearing black: it doubles a woman’s age.

“And where did you live before you came here?” The detective was polite enough not to smile.

“Grossmutter,” he said. And I saw Mr. Jamieson’s eyebrows go up.

“German,” he commented. “Well, young man, you don’t seem to know much about yourself.”

“I’ve tried it all week,” Mrs. Tate broke in. “The boy knows a word or two of German, but he doesn’t know where he lived, or anything about himself.”

Mr. Jamieson wrote something on a card and gave it to her.

“Mrs. Tate,” he said, “I want you to do something. Here is some money for the telephone call. The instant the boy’s mother appears here, call up that number and ask for the person whose name is there. You can run across to the drug-store on an errand and do it quietly. Just say, `The lady has come.'”

“`The lady has come,'” repeated Mrs. Tate. “Very well, sir, and I hope it will be soon. The milk-bill alone is almost double what it was.”

“How much is the child’s board?” I asked.

“Three dollars a week, including his washing.”

“Very well,” I said. “Now, Mrs. Tate, I am going to pay last week’s board and a week in advance. If the mother comes, she is to know nothing of this visit–absolutely not a word, and, in return for your silence, you may use this money for–something for your own children.”

Her tired, faded face lighted up, and I saw her glance at the little Tates’ small feet. Shoes, I divined–the feet of the genteel poor being almost as expensive as their stomachs.

As we went back Mr. Jamieson made only one remark: I think he was laboring under the weight of a great disappointment.

“Is King’s a children’s outfitting place?” he asked.

“Not especially. It is a general department store.”

He was silent after that, but he went to the telephone as soon as we got home, and called up King and Company, in the city.

After a time he got the general manager, and they talked for some time. When Mr. Jamieson hung up the receiver he turned to me.

“The plot thickens,” he said with his ready smile. “There are four women named Wallace at King’s none of them married, and none over twenty. I think I shall go up to the city to-night. I want to go to the Children’s Hospital. But before I go, Miss Innes, I wish you would be more frank with me than you have been yet. I want you to show me the revolver you picked up in the tulip bed.”

So he had known all along!

“It WAS a revolver, Mr. Jamieson,” I admitted, cornered at last, “but I can not show it to you. It is not in my possession.”

CHAPTER XXII

A LADDER OUT OF PLACE

At dinner Mr. Jamieson suggested sending a man out in his place for a couple of days, but Halsey was certain there would be nothing more, and felt that he and Alex could manage the situation. The detective went back to town early in the evening, and by nine o’clock Halsey, who had been playing golf–as a man does anything to take his mind away from trouble–was sleeping soundly on the big leather davenport in the living-room.

I sat and knitted, pretending not to notice when Gertrude got up and wandered out into the starlight. As soon as I was satisfied that she had gone, however, I went out cautiously. I had no intention of eavesdropping, but I wanted to be certain that it was Jack Bailey she was meeting. Too many things had occurred in which Gertrude was, or appeared to be, involved, to allow anything to be left in question.

I went slowly across the lawn, skirted the hedge to a break not far from the lodge, and found myself on the open road. Perhaps a hundred feet to the left the path led across the valley to the Country Club, and only a little way off was the foot-bridge over Casanova Creek. But just as I was about to turn down the path I heard steps coming toward me, and I shrank into the bushes. It was Gertrude, going back quickly toward the house.

I was surprised. I waited until she had had time to get almost to the house before I started. And then I stepped back again into the shadows. The reason why Gertrude had not kept her tryst was evident. Leaning on the parapet of the bridge in the moonlight, and smoking a pipe, was Alex, the gardener. I could have throttled Liddy for her carelessness in reading the torn note where he could hear. And I could cheerfully have choked Alex to death for his audacity.

But there was no help for it: I turned and followed Gertrude slowly back to the house.

The frequent invasions of the house had effectually prevented any relaxation after dusk. We had redoubled our vigilance as to bolts and window-locks but, as Mr. Jamieson had suggested, we allowed the door at the east entry to remain as before, locked by the Yale lock only. To provide only one possible entrance for the invader, and to keep a constant guard in the dark at the foot of the circular staircase, seemed to be the only method.

In the absence of the detective, Alex and Halsey arranged to change off, Halsey to be on duty from ten to two, and Alex from two until six. Each man was armed, and, as an additional precaution, the one off duty slept in a room near the head of the circular staircase and kept his door open, to be ready for emergency.

These arrangements were carefully kept from the servants, who were only commencing to sleep at night, and who retired, one and all, with barred doors and lamps that burned full until morning.

The house was quiet again Wednesday night. It was almost a week since Louise had encountered some one on the stairs, and it was four days since the discovery of the hole in the trunk-room wall.

Arnold Armstrong and his father rested side by side in the Casanova churchyard, and at the Zion African Church, on the hill, a new mound marked the last resting-place of poor Thomas.

Louise was with her mother in town, and, beyond a polite note of thanks to me, we had heard nothing from her. Doctor Walker had taken up his practice again, and we saw him now and then flying past along the road, always at top speed. The murder of Arnold Armstrong was still unavenged, and I remained firm in the position I had taken–to stay at Sunnyside until the thing was at least partly cleared.

And yet, for all its quiet, it was on Wednesday night that perhaps the boldest attempt was made to enter the house. On Thursday afternoon the laundress sent word she would like to speak to me, and I saw her in my private sitting-room, a small room beyond the dressing-room.

Mary Anne was embarrassed. She had rolled down her sleeves and tied a white apron around her waist, and she stood making folds in it with fingers that were red and shiny from her soap-suds.

“Well, Mary,” I said encouragingly, “what’s the matter? Don’t dare to tell me the soap is out.”

“No, ma’m, Miss Innes.” She had a nervous habit of looking first at my one eye and then at the other, her own optics shifting ceaselessly, right eye, left eye, right eye, until I found myself doing the same thing. “No, ma’m. I was askin’ did you want the ladder left up the clothes chute?”

“The what?” I screeched, and was sorry the next minute. Seeing her suspicions were verified, Mary Anne had gone white, and stood with her eyes shifting more wildly than ever.

“There’s a ladder up the clothes chute, Miss Innes,” she said. “It’s up that tight I can’t move it, and I didn’t like to ask for help until I spoke to you.”

It was useless to dissemble; Mary Anne knew now as well as I did that the ladder had no business to be there. I did the best I could, however. I put her on the defensive at once.

“Then you didn’t lock the laundry last night?”

“I locked it tight, and put the key in the kitchen on its nail.”

“Very well, then you forgot a window.”

Mary Anne hesitated.

“Yes’m,” she said at last. “I thought I locked them all, but there was one open this morning.”

I went out of the room and down the hall, followed by Mary Anne. The door into the clothes chute was securely bolted, and when I opened it I saw the evidence of the woman’s story. A pruning- ladder had been brought from where it had lain against the stable and now stood upright in the clothes shaft, its end resting against the wall between the first and second floors.

I turned to Mary.

“This is due to your carelessness,” I said. “If we had all been murdered in our beds it would have been your fault.” She shivered. “Now, not a word of this through the house, and send Alex to me.”

The effect on Alex was to make him apoplectic with rage, and with it all I fancied there was an element of satisfaction. As I look back, so many things are plain to me that I wonder I could not see at the time. It is all known now, and yet the whole thing was so remarkable that perhaps my stupidity was excusable.

Alex leaned down the chute and examined the ladder carefully.

“It is caught,” he said with a grim smile. “The fools, to have left a warning like that! The only trouble is, Miss Innes, they won’t be apt to come back for a while.”

“I shouldn’t regard that in the light of a calamity,” I replied.

Until late that evening Halsey and Alex worked at the chute. They forced down the ladder at last, and put a new bolt on the door. As for myself, I sat and wondered if I had a deadly enemy, intent on my destruction.

I was growing more and more nervous. Liddy had given up all pretense at bravery, and slept regularly in my dressing-room on the couch, with a prayer-book and a game knife from the kitchen under her pillow, thus preparing for both the natural and the supernatural. That was the way things stood that Thursday night, when I myself took a hand in the struggle.

CHAPTER XXIII

WHILE THE STABLES BURNED

About nine o’clock that night Liddy came into the living-room and reported that one of the housemaids declared she had seen two men slip around the corner of the stable. Gertrude had been sitting staring in front of her, jumping at every sound. Now she turned on Liddy pettishly.

“I declare, Liddy,” she said, “you are a bundle of nerves. What if Eliza did see some men around the stable? It may have been Warner and Alex.”

“Warner is in the kitchen, miss,” Liddy said with dignity. “And if you had come through what I have, you would be a bundle of nerves, too. Miss Rachel, I’d be thankful if you’d give me my month’s wages to-morrow. I’ll be going to my sister’s.”

“Very well,” I said, to her evident amazement. “I will make out the check. Warner can take you down to the noon train.”

Liddy’s face was really funny.

“You’ll have a nice time at your sister’s,” I went on. “Five children, hasn’t she?”

“That’s it,” Liddy said, suddenly bursting into tears. “Send me away, after all these years, and your new shawl only half done, and nobody knowin’ how to fix the water for your bath.”

“It’s time I learned to prepare my own bath.” I was knitting complacently. But Gertrude got up and put her arms around Liddy’s shaking shoulders.

“You are two big babies,” she said soothingly. “Neither one of you could get along for an hour without the other. So stop quarreling and be good. Liddy, go right up and lay out Aunty’s night things. She is going to bed early.”

After Liddy had gone I began to think about the men at the stable, and I grew more and more anxious. Halsey was aimlessly knocking the billiard-balls around in the billiard-room, and I called to him.

“Halsey,” I said when he sauntered in, “is there a policeman in Casanova?”

“Constable,” he said laconically. “Veteran of the war, one arm; in office to conciliate the G. A. R. element. Why?”

“Because I am uneasy to-night.” And I told him what Liddy had said. “Is there any one you can think of who could be relied on to watch the outside of the house to-night?”

“We might get Sam Bohannon from the club,” he said thoughtfully. “It wouldn’t be a bad scheme. He’s a smart darky, and with his mouth shut and his shirt-front covered, you couldn’t see him a yard off in the dark.”

Halsey conferred with Alex, and the result, in an hour, was Sam. His instructions were simple. There had been numerous attempts to break into the house; it was the intention, not to drive intruders away, but to capture them. If Sam saw anything suspicious outside, he was to tap at the east entry, where Alex and Halsey were to alternate in keeping watch through the night.

It was with a comfortable feeling of security that I went to bed that night. The door between Gertrude’s rooms and mine had been opened, and, with the doors into the hall bolted, we were safe enough. Although Liddy persisted in her belief that doors would prove no obstacles to our disturbers.

As before, Halsey watched the east entry from ten until two. He had an eye to comfort, and he kept vigil in a heavy oak chair, very large and deep. We went up-stairs rather early, and through the open door Gertrude and I kept up a running fire of conversation. Liddy was brushing my hair, and Gertrude was doing her own, with a long free sweep of her strong round arms.

“Did you know Mrs. Armstrong and Louise are in the village?” she called.

“No,” I replied, startled. “How did you hear it?”

“I met the oldest Stewart girl to-day, the doctor’s daughter, and she told me they had not gone back to town after the funeral. They went directly to that little yellow house next to Doctor Walker’s, and are apparently settled there. They took the house furnished for the summer.”

“Why, it’s a bandbox,” I said. “I can’t imagine Fanny Armstrong in such a place.”

“It’s true, nevertheless. Ella Stewart says Mrs. Armstrong has aged terribly, and looks as if she is hardly able to walk.”

I lay and thought over some of these things until midnight. The electric lights went out then, fading slowly until there was only a red-hot loop to be seen in the bulb, and then even that died away and we were embarked on the darkness of another night.

Apparently only a few minutes elapsed, during which my eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness. Then I noticed that the windows were reflecting a faint pinkish light, Liddy noticed it at the same time, and I heard her jump up. At that moment Sam’s deep voice boomed from somewhere just below.

“Fire!” he yelled. “The stable’s on fire!”

I could see him in the glare dancing up and down on the drive, and a moment later Halsey joined him. Alex was awake and running down the stairs, and in five minutes from the time the fire was discovered, three of the maids were sitting on their trunks in the drive, although, excepting a few sparks, there was no fire nearer than a hundred yards.

Gertrude seldom loses her presence of mind, and she ran to the telephone. But by the time the Casanova volunteer fire department came toiling up the hill the stable was a furnace, with the Dragon Fly safe but blistered, in the road. Some gasolene exploded just as the volunteer department got to work, which shook their nerves as well as the burning building. The stable, being on a hill, was a torch to attract the population from every direction. Rumor had it that Sunnyside was burning, and it was amazing how many people threw something over their night-clothes and flew to the conflagration.

I take it Casanova has few fires, and Sunnyside was furnishing the people, in one way and another, the greatest excitement they had had for years.

The stable was off the west wing. I hardly know how I came to think of the circular staircase and the unguarded door at its foot. Liddy was putting my clothes into sheets, preparatory to tossing them out the window, when I found her, and I could hardly persuade her to stop.

“I want you to come with me, Liddy,” I said. “Bring a candle and a couple of blankets.”

She lagged behind considerably when she saw me making for the east wing, and at the top of the staircase she balked.

“I am not going down there,” she said firmly.

“There is no one guarding the door down there,” I explained. “Who knows?–this may be a scheme to draw everybody away from this end of the house, and let some one in here.”

The instant I had said it I was convinced I had hit on the explanation, and that perhaps it was already too late. It seemed to me as I listened that I heard stealthy footsteps on the east porch, but there was so much shouting outside that it was impossible to tell. Liddy was on the point of retreat.

“Very well,” I said, “then I shall go down alone. Run back to Mr. Halsey’s room and get his revolver. Don’t shoot down the stairs if you hear a noise: remember–I shall be down there. And hurry.”

I put the candle on the floor at the top of the staircase and took off my bedroom slippers. Then I crept down the stairs, going very slowly, and listening with all my ears. I was keyed to such a pitch that I felt no fear: like the condemned who sleep and eat the night before execution, I was no longer able to suffer apprehension. I was past that. Just at the foot of the stairs I stubbed my toe against Halsey’s big chair, and had to stand on one foot in a soundless agony until the pain subsided to a dull ache. And then–I knew I was right. Some one had put a key into the lock, and was turning it. For some reason it refused to work, and the key was withdrawn. There was a muttering of voices outside: I had only a second. Another trial, and the door would open. The candle above made a faint gleam down the well-like staircase, and at that moment, with a second, no more, to spare, I thought of a plan.

The heavy oak chair almost filled the space between the newel post and the door. With a crash I had turned it on its side, wedging it against the door, its legs against the stairs. I could hear a faint scream from Liddy, at the crash, and then she came down the stairs on a run, with the revolver held straight out in front of her.

“Thank God,” she said, in a shaking voice. “I thought it was you.”

I pointed to the door, and she understood.

“Call out the windows at the other end of the house,” I whispered. “Run. Tell them not to wait for anything.”

She went up the stairs at that, two at a time. Evidently she collided with the candle, for it went out, and I was left in darkness.

I was really astonishingly cool. I remember stepping over the chair and gluing my ear to the door, and I shall never forget feeling it give an inch or two there in the darkness, under a steady pressure from without. But the chair held, although I could hear an ominous cracking of one of the legs. And then, without the slightest warning, the card-room window broke with a crash. I had my finger on the trigger of the revolver, and as I jumped it went off, right through the door. Some one outside swore roundly, and for the first time I could hear what was said.

“Only a scratch. . . . Men are at the other end of the house. . . . Have the whole rat’s nest on us.” And a lot of profanity which I won’t write down. The voices were at the broken window now, and although I was trembling violently, I was determined that I would hold them until help came. I moved up the stairs until I could see into the card-room, or rather through it, to the window. As I looked a small man put his leg over the sill and stepped into the room. The curtain confused him for a moment; then he turned, not toward me, but toward the billiard-room door. I fired again, and something that was glass or china crashed to the ground. Then I ran up the stairs and along the corridor to the main staircase. Gertrude was standing there, trying to locate the shots, and I must have been a peculiar figure, with my hair in crimps, my dressing-gown flying, no slippers, and a revolver clutched in my hands I had no time to talk. There was the sound of footsteps in the lower hall, and some one bounded up the stairs.

I had gone Berserk, I think. I leaned over the stair-rail and fired again. Halsey, below, yelled at me.

“What are you doing up there?” he yelled. “You missed me by an inch.”

And then I collapsed and fainted. When I came around Liddy was rubbing my temples with eau de quinine, and the search was in full blast.

Well, the man was gone. The stable burned to the ground, while the crowd cheered at every falling rafter, and the volunteer fire department sprayed it with a garden hose. And in the house Alex and Halsey searched every corner of the lower floor, finding no one.

The truth of my story was shown by the broken window and the overturned chair. That the unknown had got up-stairs was almost impossible. He had not used the main staircase, there was no way to the upper floor in the east wing, and Liddy had been at the window, in the west wing, where the servants’ stair went up. But we did not go to bed at all. Sam Bohannon and Warner helped in the search, and not a closet escaped scrutiny. Even the cellars were given a thorough overhauling, without result. The door in the east entry had a hole through it where my bullet had gone.

The hole slanted downward, and the bullet was embedded in the porch. Some reddish stains showed it had done execution.

“Somebody will walk lame,” Halsey said, when he had marked the course of the bullet. “It’s too low to have hit anything but a leg or foot.”

From that time on I watched every person I met for a limp, and to this day the man who halts in his walk is an object of suspicion to me. But Casanova had no lame men: the nearest approach to it was an old fellow who tended the safety gates at the railroad, and he, I learned on inquiry, had two artificial legs. Our man had gone, and the large and expensive stable at Sunnyside was a heap of smoking rafters and charred boards. Warner swore the fire was incendiary, and in view of the attempt to enter the house, there seemed to be no doubt of it.

CHAPTER XXIV

FLINDERS

If Halsey had only taken me fully into his confidence, through the whole affair, it would have been much simpler. If he had been altogether frank about Jack Bailey, and if the day after the fire he had told me what he suspected, there would have been no harrowing period for all of us, with the boy in danger. But young people refuse to profit by the experience of their elders, and sometimes the elders are the ones to suffer.

I was much used up the day after the fire, and Gertrude insisted on my going out. The machine was temporarily out of commission, and the carriage horses had been sent to a farm for the summer. Gertrude finally got a trap from the Casanova liveryman, and we went out. Just as we turned from the drive into the road we passed a woman. She had put down a small valise, and stood inspecting the house and grounds minutely. I should hardly have noticed her, had it not been for the fact that she had been horribly disfigured by smallpox.

“Ugh!” Gertrude said, when we had passed, “what a face! I shall dream of it to-night. Get up, Flinders.”

“Flinders?” I asked. “Is that the horse’s name?”

“It is.” She flicked the horse’s stubby mane with the whip. “He didn’t look like a livery horse, and the liveryman said he had bought him from the Armstrongs when they purchased a couple of motors and cut down the stable. Nice Flinders–good old boy!”

Flinders was certainly not a common name for a horse, and yet the youngster at Richfield had named his prancing, curly-haired little horse Flinders! It set me to thinking.

At my request Halsey had already sent word of the fire to the agent from whom we had secured the house. Also, he had called Mr. Jamieson by telephone, and somewhat guardedly had told him of the previous night’s events. Mr. Jamieson promised to come out that night, and to bring another man with him. I did not consider it necessary to notify Mrs. Armstrong, in the village. No doubt she knew of the fire, and in view of my refusal to give up the house, an interview would probably have been unpleasant enough. But as we passed Doctor Walker’s white and green house I thought of something.

“Stop here, Gertrude,” I said. “I am going to get out.”

“To see Louise?” she asked.

“No, I want to ask this young Walker something.”

She was curious, I knew, but I did not wait to explain. I went up the walk to the house, where a brass sign at the side announced the office, and went in. The reception-room was empty, but from the consulting-room beyond came the sound of two voices, not very amicable.

“It is an outrageous figure,” some one was storming. Then the doctor’s quiet tone, evidently not arguing, merely stating something. But I had not time to listen to some person probably disputing his bill, so I coughed. The voices ceased at once: a door closed somewhere, and the doctor entered from the hall of the house. He looked sufficiently surprised at seeing me.

“Good afternoon, Doctor,” I said formally. “I shall not keep you from your patient. I wish merely to ask you a question.”

“Won’t you sit down?”

“It will not be necessary. Doctor, has any one come to you, either early this morning or to-day, to have you treat a bullet wound?”

“Nothing so startling has happened to me,” he said. “A bullet wound! Things must be lively at Sunnyside.”

“I didn’t say it was at Sunnyside. But as it happens, it was. If any such case comes to you, will it be too much trouble for you to let me know?”

“I shall be only too happy,” he said. “I understand you have had a fire up there, too. A fire and shooting in one night is rather lively for a quiet place like that.”

“It is as quiet as a boiler-shop,” I replied, as I turned to go.