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Dale had failed with the Doctor. When Lizzie's screams once more had called the startled household to the living-room, she knew she had failed. She followed in mechanically, watched an irritated Anderson send the Pride of Kerry to bed and. threaten to lock her up, and listened vaguely to the conversation between her aunt and the detective that followed it, without more than casual interest.
Nevertheless, that conversation was to have vital results later on.
"Your point about that thumbprint on the stair rail is very interesting," Anderson said with a certain respect. "But just what does it prove?"
"It points down," said Miss Cornelia, still glowing with the memory of the whistle of surprise the detective had given when she had shown him the strange thumbprint on the rail of the alcove stairs.
"It does," he admitted. "But what then?"
Miss Cornelia tried to put her case as clearly and tersely as possible.
"It shows that somebody stood there for some time, listening to my niece and Richard Fleming in this room below," she said.
"All right - I'll grant that to save argument," retorted the detective. "But the moment that shot was fired the lights came on. If somebody on that staircase shot him, and then came down and took the blue-print, Miss Ogden would have seen him."
He turned upon Dale.
She hesitated. Why hadn't she thought of such an explanation before? But now - it would sound too flimsy!
"No, nobody came down," she admitted candidly. The detective's face altered, grew menacing. Miss Cornelia once more had put herself between him and Dale.
"Now, Mr. Anderson - " she warned.
The detective was obviously trying to keep his temper.
"I'm not hounding this girl!" he said doggedly. "I haven't said yet that she committed the murder - but she took that blue-print and I want it!"
"You want it to connect her with the murder," parried Miss Cornelia.
The detective threw up his hands.
"It's rather reasonable to suppose that I might want to return the funds to the Union Bank, isn't it?" he queried in tones of heavy sarcasm. "Provided they're here," he added doubtfully.
Miss Cornelia resolved upon comparative frankness.
"I see," she said. "Well, I'll tell you this much, Mr. Anderson, and I'll ask you to believe me as a lady. Granting that at one time my niece knew something of that blue-print - at this moment we do not know where it is or who has it."
Her words had the unmistakable ring of truth. The very oath from the detective that succeeded them showed his recognition of the fact.
"Damnation," he muttered. "That's true, is it?"
"That's true," said Miss Cornelia firmly. A silence of troubled thoughts fell upon the three. Miss Cornelia took out her knitting.
"Did you ever try knitting when you wanted to think?" she queried sweetly, after a pause in which the detective tramped from one side of the room to the other, brows knotted, eyes bent on the floor.
"No," grunted the detective. He took out a cigar - bit off the end with a savage snap of teeth - lit it - resumed his pacing.
"You should, sometimes," continued Miss Cornelia, watching his troubled movements with a faint light of mockery in her eyes. "I find it very helpful."
"I don't need knitting to think straight," rasped Anderson indignantly. Miss Cornelia's eyes danced.
"I wonder!" she said with caustic affability. "You seem to have so much evidence left over."
The detective paused and glared at her helplessly.
"Did you ever hear of the man who took a clock apart - and when he put it together a gain, he had enough left over to make another clock?" she twitted.
The detective, ignoring the taunt, crossed quickly to Dale.
"What do you mean by saying that paper isn't where you put it?" he demanded in tones of extreme severity. Miss Cornelia replied for her niece.
"She hasn't said that."
The detective made an impatient movement of his hand and walked away - as if to get out of the reach of the indefatigable spinster's tongue. But Miss Cornelia had not finished with him yet, by any means.
"Do you believe in circumstantial evidence?" she asked him with seeming ingenuousness.
"It's my business," said the detective stolidly. Miss Cornelia smiled.
"While you have been investigating," she announced, "I, too, have not been idle."
The detective gave a barking laugh. She let it pass. "To me," she continued, "it is perfectly obvious that one intelligence has been at work behind many of the things that have occurred in this house."
Now Anderson observed her with a new respect.
"Who?" he grunted tersely.
Her eyes flashed.
"I'll ask you that! Some one person who, knowing Courtleigh Fleming well, probably knows of the existence of a Hidden Room in this house and who, finding us in occupation of the house, has tried to get rid of me in two ways. First, by frightening me with anonymous threats - and, second, by urging me to leave. Someone, who very possibly entered this house tonight shortly before the murder and slipped up that staircase!"
The detective had listened to her outburst with unusual thoughtfulness. A certain wonder - perhaps at her shrewdness, perhaps at an unexpected confirmation of certain ideas of his own - grew upon his face. Now he jerked out two words.
Miss Cornelia knitted on as if every movement of her needles added one more link to the strong chain of probabilities she was piecing together.
"When Doctor Wells said he was leaving here earlier in the evening for the Johnsons' he did not go there," she observed. "He was not expected to go there. I found that out when I telephoned."
"The Doctor!" repeated the detective, his eyes narrowing, his head beginning to sway from side to side like the head of some great cat just before a spring.
"As you know," Miss Cornelia went on, "I had a supplementary bolt placed on that terrace door today." She nodded toward the door that gave access into the alcove from the terrace. "Earlier this evening Doctor Wells said that he had bolted it, when he had left it open - purposely, as I now realize, in order that he might return later. You may also recall that Doctor Wells took a scrap of paper from Richard Fleming's hand and tried to conceal it - why did he do that?"
She paused for a second. Then she changed her tone a little.
"May I ask you to look at this?"
She displayed the piece of paper on which Doctor Wells had started to write the prescription for her sleeping-powders - and now her strategy with the doctor's bag and the soot Jack Bailey had got from the fireplace stood revealed. A sharp, black imprint of a man's right thumb - the Doctor's - stood out on the paper below the broken line of writing. The Doctor had not noticed the staining of his hand by the blackened bag handle, or, noticing, had thought nothing of it - but the blackened bag handle had been a trap, and he had left an indelible piece of evidence behind him. It now remained to test the value of this evidence.
Miss Cornelia handed the paper to Anderson silently. But her eyes were bright with pardonable vanity at the success of her little piece of strategy.
"A thumb-print," muttered Anderson. "Whose is it?"
"Doctor Wells," said Miss Cornelia with what might have been a little crow of triumph in anyone not a Van Gorder.
Anderson looked thoughtful. Then he felt in his pocket for a magnifying glass, failed to find it, muttered, and took the reading glass Miss Cornelia offered him.
"Try this," she said. "My whole case hangs on my conviction that that print and the one out there on the stair rail are the same."
He put down the paper and smiled at her ironically. "Your case!" he said. "You don't really believe you need a detective at all, do you?"
"I will only say that so far your views and mine have failed to coincide. If I am right about that fingerprint, then you may be right about my private opinion."
And on that he went out, rather grimly, paper and reading glass in hand, to make his comparison.
It was then that Beresford came in, a new and slightly rigid Beresford, and crossed to her at once.
"Miss Van Gorder," he said, all the flippancy gone from his voice, "may I ask you to make an excuse and call your gardener here?"
Dale started uncontrollably at the ominous words, but Miss Cornelia betrayed no emotion except in the increased rapidity of her knitting.
"The gardener? Certainly, if you'll touch that bell," she said pleasantly.
Beresford stalked to the bell and rang it. The three waited - Dale in an agony of suspense.
The detective re-entered the room by the alcove stairs, his mien unfathomable by any of the anxious glances that sought him out at once.
"It's no good, Miss Van Gorder," he said quietly. "The prints are not the same."
"Not the same!" gasped Miss Cornelia, unwilling to believe her ears.
Anderson laid down the paper and the reading glass with a little gesture of dismissal.
"If you think I'm mistaken, I'll leave it to any unprejudiced person or your own eyesight. Thumbprints never lie," he said in a flat, convincing voice. Miss Cornelia stared at him - disappointment written large on her features. He allowed himself a little ironic smile.
"Did you ever try a good cigar when you wanted to think?" he queried suavely, puffing upon his own.
But Miss Cornelia's spirit was too broken by the collapse of her dearly loved and adroitly managed scheme for her to take up the gauge of battle he offered.
"I still believe it was the Doctor," she said stubbornly. But her tones were not the tones of utter conviction which she had used before.
"And yet," said the detective, ruthlessly demolishing another link in her broken chain of evidence, "the doctor was in this room tonight, according to your own statement, when the anonymous letter came through the window."
Miss Cornelia gazed at him blankly, for the first time in her life at a loss for an appropriately sharp retort. It was true - the Doctor had been here in the room beside her when the stone bearing the last anonymous warning had crashed through the windowpane. And yet -
Billy's entrance in answer to Beresford's ring made her mind turn to other matters for the moment. Why had Beresford's manner changed so, and what was he saying to Billy now?
"Tell the gardener Miss Van Gorder wants him and don't say we're all here," the young lawyer commanded the butler sharply. Billy nodded and disappeared. Miss Cornelia's back began to stiffen - she didn't like other people ordering her servants around like that.
The detective, apparently, had somewhat of the same feeling.
"I seem to have plenty of help in this case!" he said with obvious sarcasm, turning to Beresford.
The latter made no reply. Dale rose anxiously from her chair, her lips quivering.
"Why have you sent for the gardener?" she inquired haltingly.
Beresford deigned to answer at last.
"I'll tell you that in a moment," he said with a grim tightening of his lips.
There was a fateful pause, for an instant, while Dale roved nervously from one side of the room to the other. Then Jack Bailey came into the room - alone.
He seemed to sense danger in the air. His hands clenched at his sides, but except for that tiny betrayal of emotion, he still kept his servant's pose.
"You sent for me?" he queried of Miss Cornelia submissively, ignoring the glowering Beresford.
But Beresford would be ignored no longer. He came between them before Miss Cornelia had time to answer.
"How long has this man been in your employ?" he asked brusquely, manner tense.
Miss Cornelia made one final attempt at evasion. "Why should that interest you?" she parried, answering his question with an icy question of her own.
It was too late. Already Bailey had read the truth in Beresford's eyes.
"I came this evening," he admitted, still hoping against hope that his cringing posture of the servitor might give Beresford pause for the moment.
But the promptness of his answer only crystallized Beresford's suspicions.
"Exactly," he said with terse finality. He turned to the detective.
"I've been trying to recall this man's face ever since I came in tonight - " he said with grim triumph. "Now, I know who he is."
"Who is he?"
Bailey straightened up. He had lost his game with Chance - and the loss, coming when it did, seemed bitterer than even he had thought it could be, but before they took him away he would speak his mind.
"It's all right, Beresford," he said with a fatigue so deep that it colored his voice like flakes of iron-rust. "I know you think you're doing your duty - but I wish to God you could have restrained your sense of duty for about three hours more!"
"To let, you get away?" the young lawyer sneered, unconvinced.
"No," said Bailey with quiet defiance. "To let me finish what I came here to do."
"Don't you think you have done enough?" Beresford's voice flicked him with righteous scorn, no less telling because of its youthfulness. He turned back to the detective soberly enough.
"This man has imposed upon the credulity of these women, I am quite sure without their knowledge," he said with a trace of his former gallantry. "He is Bailey of the Union Bank, the missing cashier."
The detective slowly put down his cigar on an ash tray.
"That's the truth, is it?" he demanded.
Dale's hand flew to her breast. If Jack would only deny it - even now! But even as she thought this, she realized the uselessness of any such denial.
Bailey realized it, too.
"It's true, all right," he admitted hopelessly. He closed his eyes for a moment. Let them come with the handcuffs now and get it over. - every moment the scene dragged out was a moment of unnecessary torture for Dale.
But Beresford had not finished with his indictment. "I accuse him not only of the thing he is wanted for, but of the murder of Richard Fleming!" he said fiercely, glaring at Bailey as if only a youthful horror of making a scene before Dale and Miss Cornelia held him back from striking the latter down where he stood.
Bailey's eyes snapped open. He took a threatening step toward his accuser. "You lie!" he said in a hoarse, violent voice.
Anderson crossed between them, just as conflict seemed inevitable.
"You knew this?" he queried sharply in Dale's direction.
Dale set her lips in a line. She did not answer.
He turned to Miss Cornelia.
"Yes," admitted the latter quietly, her knitting needles at last at rest. "I knew he was Mr. Bailey if that is all you mean.
The quietness of her answer seemed to infuriate the detective.
"Quite a pretty little conspiracy," he said. "How in the name of God do you expect me to do anything with the entire household united against me? Tell me that."
"Exactly," said Miss Cornelia. "And if we are united against you, why should I have sent for you? You might tell me that, too."
He turned on Bailey savagely.
"What did you mean by that 'three hours more'?" he demanded.
"I could have cleared myself in three hours," said Bailey with calm despair.
Beresford laughed mockingly - a laugh that seemed to sear into Bailey's consciousness like the touch of a hot iron. Again he turned frenziedly upon the young lawyer - and Anderson was just preparing to hold them away from each other, by force if necessary, when the doorbell rang.
For an instant the ringing of the bell held the various figures of the little scene in the rigid postures of a waxworks tableau - Bailey, one foot advanced toward Beresford, his hands balled up into fists - Beresford already in an attitude of defense - the detective about to step in between them - Miss Cornelia stiff in her chair - Dale over by the fireplace, her hand at her heart. Then they relaxed, but not, at least on the part of Bailey and Beresford, to resume their interrupted conflict. Too many nerve-shaking things had already happened that night for either of the young men not to drop their mutual squabble in the face of a common danger.
"Probably the Doctor," murmured Miss Cornelia uncertainly as the doorbell rang again. "He was to come back with some sleeping-powders."
Billy appeared for the key of the front door.
"If that's Doctor Wells," warned the detective, "admit him. If it's anybody else, call me."
Billy grinned acquiescently and departed. The detective moved nearer to Bailey.
"Have you got a gun on you?"
"No." Bailey bowed his head.
"Well, I'll just make sure of that." The detective's hands ran swiftly and expertly over Bailey's form, through his pockets, probing for concealed weapons. Then, slowly drawing a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, he prepared to put them on Bailey's wrists.
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