Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
"We have had a very sad occurrence here, Doctor," said Miss Cornelia gently.
The Doctor braced himself.
"Richard Fleming?" gasped the Doctor in tones of incredulous horror.
"Shot and killed from that staircase," said Miss Cornelia tonelessly.
The detective demurred.
"Shot and killed, anyhow," he said in accents of significant omission.
The Doctor knelt beside the huddle on the floor. He removed the fold of the raincoat that covered the face of the corpse and stared at the dead, blank mask. Till a moment ago, even at the height of his irritation with Bailey, he had been blithe and offhand - a man who seemed comparatively young for his years. Now Age seemed to fall upon him, suddenly, like a gray, clinging dust - he looked stricken and feeble under the impact of this unexpected shock.
"Shot and killed from that stairway," he repeated dully. He rose from his knees and glanced at the fatal stairs.
"What was Richard Fleming doing in this house at this hour?" he said.
He spoke to Miss Cornelia but Anderson answered the question.
"That's what I'm trying to find out," he said with a saturnine smile.
The Doctor gave him a look of astonished inquiry. Miss Cornelia remembered her manners.
"Doctor, this is Mr. Anderson."
"Headquarters," said Anderson tersely, shaking hands.
It was Lizzie's turn to play her part in the tangled game of mutual suspicion that by now made each member of the party at Cedarcrest watch every other member with nervous distrust. She crossed to her mistress on tiptoe.
"Don't you let him fool you with any of that moth business!" she said in a thrilling whisper, jerking her thumb in the direction of the Doctor. "He's the Bat."
Ordinarily Miss Cornelia would have dismissed her words with a smile. But by now her brain felt as if it had begun to revolve like a pinwheel in her efforts to fathom the uncanny mystery of the various events of the night.
She addressed Doctor Wells.
"I didn't tell you, Doctor - I sent for a detective this afternoon." Then, with mounting suspicion, "You happened in very opportunely!"
"After I left the Johnsons' I felt very uneasy," he explained. "I determined to make one more effort to get you away from this house. As this shows - my fears were justified!"
He shook his head sadly. Miss Cornelia sat down. His last words had given her food for thought. She wanted to mull them over for a moment.
The Doctor removed muffler and topcoat - stuffed the former in his topcoat pocket and threw the latter on the settee. He took out his handkerchief and began to mop his face, as if to wipe away some strain of mental excitement under which he was laboring. His breath came quickly - the muscles of his jaw stood out.
"Died instantly, I suppose?" he said, looking over at the body. "Didn't have time to say anything?"
"Ask the young lady," said Anderson, with a jerk of his head. "She was here when it happened."
The Doctor gave Dale a feverish glance of inquiry.
"He just fell over," said the latter pitifully. Her answer seemed to relieve the Doctor of some unseen weight on his mind. He drew a long breath and turned back toward Fleming's body with comparative calm.
"Poor Dick has proved my case for me better than I expected," he said, regarding the still, unbreathing heap beneath the raincoat. He swerved toward the detective.
"Mr. Anderson," he said with dignified pleading, "I ask you to use your influence, to see that these two ladies find some safer spot than this for the night."
Lizzie bounced up from her chair, instanter.
"Two?" she wailed. "If you know any safe spot, lead me to it!"
The Doctor overlooked her sudden eruption into the scene. He wandered back again toward the huddle under the raincoat, as if still unable to believe that it was - or rather had been - Richard Fleming.
Miss Cornelia spoke suddenly in a low voice, without moving a muscle of her body.
"I have a strange feeling that I'm being watched by unfriendly eyes," she said.
Lizzie clutched at her across the table.
"I wish the lights would go out again!" she pattered. "No, I don't neither!" as Miss Cornelia gave the clutching hand a nervous little slap.
During the little interlude of comedy, Billy, the Japanese, unwatched by the others, had stolen to the French windows, pulled aside a blind, looked out. When he turned back to the room his face had lost a portion of its Oriental calm - there was suspicion in his eyes. Softly, under cover of pretending to arrange the tray of food that lay untouched on the table, he possessed himself of the key to the front door, unperceived by the rest, and slipped out of the room like a ghost.
Meanwhile the detective confronted Doctor Wells.
"You say, Doctor, that you came back to take these women away from the house. Why?"
The Doctor gave him a dignified stare.
"Miss Van Gorder has already explained."
Miss Cornelia elucidated. "Mr. Anderson has already formed a theory of the crime," she said with a trace of sarcasm in her tones.
The detective turned on her quickly. "I haven't said that." He started.
It had come again - tinkling - persistent. - the phone call from nowhere - the ringing of the bell of the house telephone!
"The house telephone - again!" breathed Dale. Miss Cornelia made a movement to answer the tinkling, inexplicable bell. But Anderson was before her.
"I'll answer that!" he barked. He sprang to the phone.
"Hello - hello - "
All eyes were bent on him nervously - the Doctor's face, in particular, seemed a very study in fear and amazement. He clutched the back of a chair to support himself, his hand was the trembling hand of a sick, old man.
"Hello - hello - " Anderson swore impatiently. He hung up the phone.
"There's nobody there!"
Again, a chill breath from another world than ours seemed to brush across the faces of the little group in the living-room. Dale, sensitive, impressionable, felt a cold, uncanny prickling at the roots of her hair.
A light came into Anderson's eyes. "Where's that Jap?" he almost shouted.
"He just went out," said Miss Cornelia. The cold fear, the fear of the unearthly, subsided from around Dale's heart, leaving her shaken but more at peace.
The detective turned swiftly to the Doctor, as if to put his case before the eyes of an unprejudiced witness.
"That Jap rang the phone," he said decisively. "Miss Van Gorder believes that this murder is the culmination of the series of mysterious happenings that caused her to send for me. I do not."
"Then what is the significance of the anonymous letters?" broke in Miss Cornelia heatedly. "Of the man Lizzie saw going up the stairs, of the attempt to break into this house - of the ringing of that telephone bell?"
Anderson replied with one deliberate word.
"Terrorization," he said.
The Doctor moistened his dry lips in an effort to speak.
"By whom?" he asked.
Anderson's voice was an icicle.
"I imagine by Miss Van Gorder's servants. By that woman there - " he pointed at Lizzie, who rose indignantly to deny the charge. But he gave her no time for denial. He rushed on, " - who probably writes the letters," he continued. "By the gardener - " his pointing finger found Bailey " - who may have been the man Lizzie saw slipping up the stairs. By the Jap, who goes out and rings the telephone," he concluded triumphantly.
Miss Cornelia seemed unimpressed by his fervor.
"With what object?" she queried smoothly.
"That's what I'm going to find out!" There was determination in Anderson's reply.
Miss Cornelia sniffed. "Absurd! The butler was in this room when the telephone rang for the first time."
The thrust pierced Anderson's armor. For once he seemed at a loss. Here was something he had omitted from his calculations. But he did not give up. He was about to retort when - crash! thud! - the noise of a violent struggle in the hall outside drew all eyes to the hall door.
An instant later the door slammed open and a disheveled young man in evening clothes was catapulted into the living-room as if slung there by a giant's arm. He tripped and fell to the floor in the center of the room. Billy stood in the doorway behind him, inscrutable, arms folded, on his face an expression of mild satisfaction as if he were demurely pleased with a neat piece of housework, neatly carried out.
The young man picked himself up, brushed off his clothes, sought for his hat, which had rolled under the table. Then he turned on Billy furiously.
"Damn you - what do you mean by this?"
"Jiu-jitsu," said Billy, his yellow face quite untroubled. "Pretty good stuff. Found on terrace with searchlight," he added.
"With searchlight?" barked Anderson.
The young man turned to face this new enemy.
"Well, why shouldn't I be on the terrace with a searchlight?" he demanded.
The detective moved toward him menacingly.
"Who are you?"
"Who are you?" said the young man with cool impertinence, giving him stare for stare.
Anderson did not deign to reply, in so many words. Instead he displayed the police badge which glittered on the inside of the right lapel of his coat. The young man examined it coolly.
"H'm," he said. "Very pretty - nice neat design - very chaste!" He took out a cigarette case and opened it, seemingly entirely unimpressed by both the badge and Anderson. The detective chafed.
"If you've finished admiring my badge," he said with heavy sarcasm, "I'd like to know what you were doing on the terrace."
The young man hesitated - shot an odd, swift glance at Dale who ever since his abrupt entrance into the room, had been sitting rigid in her chair with her hands clenched tightly together.
"I've had some trouble with my car down the road," he said finally. He glanced at Dale again. "I came to ask if I might telephone."
"Did it require a flashlight to find the house?" Miss Cornelia asked suspiciously.
"Look here," the young man blustered, "why are you asking me all these questions?" He tapped his cigarette case with an irritated air.
Miss Cornelia stepped closer to him.
"Do you mind letting me see that flashlight?" she said.
The young man gave it to her with a little, mocking bow. She turned it over, examined it, passed it to Anderson, who examined it also, seeming to devote particular attention to the lens. The young man stood puffing his cigarette a little nervously while the examination was in progress. He did not look at Dale again.
Anderson handed back the flashlight to its owner.
"Now - what's your name?" he said sternly.
"Beresford - Reginald Beresford," said the young man sulkily. "If you doubt it I've probably got a card somewhere - " He began to search through his pockets.
"What's your business?" went on the detective.
"What's my business here?" queried the young man, obviously fencing with his interrogator.
"No - how do you earn your living?" said Anderson sharply.
"I don't," said the young man flippantly. "I may have to begin now, if that is of any interest to you. As a matter of fact, I've studied law but - "
The one word was enough to start Lizzie off on another trail of distrust. "He may be a lawyer - " she quoted to herself sepulchrally from the evening newspaper article that had dealt with the mysterious identity of the Bat.
"And you came here to telephone about your car?" persisted the detective.
Dale rose from her chair with a hopeless little sigh. "Oh, don't you see - he's trying to protect me," she said wearily. She turned to the young man. "It's no use, Mr. Beresford."
Beresford's air of flippancy vanished.
"I see," he said. He turned to the other, frankly. "Well, the plain truth is - I didn't know the situation and I thought I'd play safe for Miss Ogden's sake."
Miss Cornelia moved over to her niece protectingly. She put a hand on Dale's shoulder to reassure her. But Dale was quite composed now - she had gone through so many shocks already that one more or less seemed to make very little difference to her overwearied nerves. She turned to Anderson calmly.
"He doesn't know anything about - this," she said, indicating Beresford. "He brought Mr. Fleming here in his car - that's all."
Anderson looked to Beresford for confirmation.
"Is that true?"
"Yes," said Beresford. He started to explain. "I got tired of waiting and so I - "
The detective broke in curtly.
He took a step toward the alcove.
"Now, Doctor." He nodded at the huddle beneath the raincoat. Beresford followed his glance - and saw the ominous heap for the first time.
"What's that?" he said tensely. No one answered him. The Doctor was already on his knees beside the body, drawing the raincoat gently aside. Beresford stared at the shape thus revealed with frightened eyes. The color left his face.
"That's not - Dick Fleming - is it?" he said thickly. Anderson slowly nodded his head. Beresford seemed unable to believe his eyes.
"If you've looked over the ground," said the Doctor in a low voice to Anderson, "I'll move the body where we can have a better light." His right hand fluttered swiftly over Fleming's still, clenched fist - extracted from it a torn corner of paper....
Still Beresford did not seem to be able to take in what had happened. He took another step toward the body.
"Do you mean to say that Dick Fleming - " he began. Anderson silenced him with an uplifted hand.
"What have you got there, Doctor?" he said in a still voice.
The Doctor, still on his knees beside the corpse, lifted his head.
"What do you mean?"
"You took something, just then, out of Fleming's hand," said the detective.
"I took nothing out of his hand," said the Doctor firmly.
Anderson's manner grew peremptory.
"I warn you not to obstruct the course of justice!" he said forcibly. "Give it here!"
The Doctor rose slowly, dusting off his knees. His eyes tried to meet Anderson's and failed. He produced a torn corner of blue-print.
"Why, it's only a scrap of paper, nothing at all," he said evasively.
Anderson looked at him meaningly.
"Scraps of paper are sometimes very important," said with a side glance at Dale.
Beresford approached the two angrily.
"Look here!" he burst out, "I've got a right to know about this thing. I brought Fleming over here - and I want to know what happened to him!"
"You don't have to be a mind reader to know that!" moaned Lizzie, overcome.
As usual, her comment went unanswered. Beresford persisted in his questions.
"Who killed him? That's what I want to know!" he continued, nervously puffing his cigarette.
"Well, you're not alone in that," said Anderson in his grimly humorous vein.
The Doctor motioned nervously to them both.
"As the coroner - if Mr. Anderson is satisfied - I suggest that the body be taken where I can make a thorough examination," he said haltingly.
Once more Anderson bent over the shell that had been Richard Fleming. He turned the body half-over - let it sink back on its face. For a moment he glanced at the corner of the blue-print in his hand, then at the Doctor. Then he stood aside.
"All right," he said laconically.
So Richard Fleming left the room where he had been struck down so suddenly and strangely - borne out by Beresford, the Doctor, and Jack Bailey. The little procession moved as swiftly and softly as circumstances would permit - Anderson followed its passage with watchful eyes. Billy went mechanically to pick up the stained rug which the detective had kicked aside and carried it off after the body. When the burden and its bearers, with Anderson in the rear, reached the doorway into the hall, Lizzie shrank before the sight, affrighted, and turned toward the alcove while Miss Cornelia stared unseeingly out toward the front windows. So, for perhaps a dozen ticks of time Dale was left unwatched - and she made the most of her opportunity.
Her fingers fumbled at the bosom of her dress - she took out the precious, dangerous fragment of blue-print that Anderson must not find in her possession - but where to hide it, before her chance had passed? Her eyes fell on the bread roll that had fallen from the detective's supper tray to the floor when Lizzie had seen the gleaming eye on the stairs and had lain there unnoticed ever since. She bent over swiftly and secreted the tantalizing scrap of blue paper in the body of the roll, smoothing the crust back above it with trembling fingers. Then she replaced the roll where it had fallen originally and straightened up just as Billy and the detective returned.
Billy went immediately to the tray, picked it up, and started to go out again. Then he noticed the roll on the floor, stooped for it, and replaced it upon the tray. He looked at Miss Cornelia for instructions.
"Take that tray out to the dining-room," she said mechanically. But Anderson's attention had already been drawn to the tiny incident.
"Wait - I'll look at that tray," he said briskly. Dale, her heart in her mouth, watched him examine the knives, the plates, even shake out the napkin to see that nothing was hidden in its folds. At last he seemed satisfied.
"All right - take it away," he commanded. Billy nodded and vanished toward the dining-room with tray and roll. Dale breathed again.
The sight of the tray had made Miss Cornelia's thoughts return to practical affairs.
"Lizzie," she commanded now, "go out in the kitchen and make some coffee. I'm sure we all need it," she sighed.
Lizzie bristled at once.
"Go out in that kitchen alone?"
"Billy's there," said Miss Cornelia wearily.
The thought of Billy seemed to bring little solace to Lizzie's heart.
"That Jap and his jooy-jitsu," she muttered viciously. "One twist and I'd be folded up like a pretzel."
But Miss Cornelia's manner was imperative, and Lizzie slowly dragged herself kitchenward, yawning and promising the saints repentance of every sin she had or had not committed if she were allowed to get there without something grabbing at her ankles in the dark corner of the hall.
When the door had shut behind her, Anderson turned to Dale, the corner of blue-print which he had taken from the Doctor in his hand.
"Now, Miss Ogden," he said tensely, "I have here a scrap of blue-print which was in Dick Fleming's hand when he was killed. I'll trouble you for the rest of it, if you please!"
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.