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"It's upstairs!" Dale took a step toward the alcove stairs. Brooks halted her.
"Who's in this house besides ourselves?" he queried.
"Only the detective, Aunt Cornelia, Lizzie, and Billy."
"Billy's the Jap?"
Brooks paused an instant. "Does he belong to your aunt?"
"No. He was Courtleigh Fleming's butler."
Knock - knock - knock - knock the dull, methodical rapping on the ceiling of the living-room began again.
"Courtleigh Fleming's butler, eh?" muttered Brooks. He put down his candle and stole noiselessly into the alcove. "It may be the Jap!" he whispered.
Knock - knock - knock - knock! This time the mysterious rapping seemed to come from the upper hall.
"If it is the Jap, I'll get him!" Brooks's voice was tense with resolution. He hesitated - made for the hall door - tiptoed out into the darkness around the main staircase, leaving Dale alone in the living-room beset by shadowy terrors.
Utter silence succeeded his noiseless departure. Even the storm lulled for a moment. Dale stood thinking, wondering, searching desperately for some way to help her lover.
At last a resolution formed in her mind. She went to the city telephone.
"Hello," she said in a low voice, glancing over her shoulder now and then to make sure she was not overheard. "l-2-4 - please - yes, that's right. Hello - is that the country club? Is Mr. Richard Fleming there? Yes, I'll hold the wire."
She looked about nervously. Had something moved in that corner of blackness where her candle did not pierce? No! How silly of her!
Buzz-buzz on the telephone. She picked up the receiver again.
"Hello - is this Mr. Fleming? This is Miss Ogden - Dale Ogden. I know it must seem odd my calling you this late, but - I wonder if you could come over here for a few minutes. Yes - tonight." Her voice grew stronger. "I wouldn't trouble you but - it's awfully important. Hold the wire a moment." She put down the phone and made another swift survey of the room, listened furtively at the door - all clear! She returned to the phone.
"Hello - Mr. Fleming - I'll wait outside the house on the drive. It - it's a confidential matter. Thank you so much."
She hung up the phone, relieved - not an instant too soon, for, as she crossed toward the fireplace to add a new log to the dying glow of the fire, the hall door opened and Anderson, the detective, came softly in with an unlighted candle in his hand.
Her composure almost deserted her. How much had he heard? What deduction would he draw if he had heard? An assignation, perhaps! Well, she could stand that; she could stand anything to secure the next few hours of liberty for Jack. For that length of time she and the law were at war; she and this man were at war.
But his first words relieved her fears.
"Spooky sort of place in the dark, isn't it?" he said casually.
"Yes - rather." If he would only go away before Brooks came back or Richard Fleming arrived! But he seemed in a distressingly chatty frame of mind.
"Left me upstairs without a match," continued Anderson. "I found my way down by walking part of the way and falling the rest. Don't suppose I'll ever find the room I left my toothbrush in!" He laughed, lighting the candle in his hand from the candle on the table.
"You're not going to stay up all night, are you?" said Dale nervously, hoping he would take the hint. But he seemed entirely oblivious of such minor considerations as sleep. He took out a cigar.
"Oh, I may doze a bit," he said. He eyed her with a certain approval. She was a darned pretty girl and she looked intelligent. "I suppose you have a theory of your own about these intrusions you've been having here? Or apparently having."
"I knew nothing about them until tonight."
"Still," he persisted conversationally, "you know about them now." But when she remained silent, "Is Miss Van Gorder usually - of a nervous temperament? Imagines she sees things, and all that?"
"I don't think so." Dale's voice was strained. Where was Brooks? What had happened to him?
Anderson puffed on his cigar, pondering. "Know the Flemings?" he asked.
"I've met Mr. Richard Fleming once or twice."
Something in her tone caused him to glance at her. "Nice fellow?"
"I don't know him at all well."
"Know the cashier of the Union Bank?" he shot at her suddenly.
"No!" She strove desperately to make the denial convincing but she could not hide the little tremor in her voice.
The detective mused.
"Fellow of good family, I understand," he said, eyeing her. "Very popular. That's what's behind most of these bank embezzlements - men getting into society and spending more than they make."
Dale hailed the tinkle of the city telephone with an inward sigh of relief. The detective moved to answer the house phone on the wall by the alcove, mistaking the direction of the ring. Dale corrected him quickly.
"No, the other one. That's the house phone." Anderson looked the apparatus over.
"No connection with the outside, eh?"
"No," said Dale absent-mindedly. "Just from room to room in the house."
He accepted her explanation and answered the other telephone.
"Hello - hello - what the - " He moved the receiver hook up and down, without result, and gave it up. "This line sounds dead," he said.
"It was all right a few minutes ago," said Dale without thinking.
"You were using it a few minutes ago?"
She hesitated - what use to deny what she had already admitted, for all practical purposes.
The city telephone rang again. The detective pounced upon it.
"Hello - yes - yes - this is Anderson - go ahead." He paused, while the tiny voice in the receiver buzzed for some seconds. Then he interrupted it impatiently.
"You're sure of that, are you? I see. All right. 'By."
He hung up the receiver and turned swiftly on Dale. "Did I understand you to say that you were not acquainted with the cashier of the Union Bank?" he said to her with a new note in his voice.
Dale stared ahead of her blankly. It had come! She did not reply.
Anderson went on ruthlessly.
"That was headquarters, Miss Ogden. They have found some letters in Bailey's room which seem to indicate that you were not telling the entire truth just now."
He paused, waiting for her answer. "What letters?" she said wearily.
"From you to Jack Bailey - showing that you had recently become engaged to him."
Dale decided to make a clean breast of it, or as clean a one as she dared.
"Very well," she said in an even voice, "that's true."
"Why didn't you say so before?" There was menace beneath his suavity.
She thought swiftly. Apparent frankness seemed to be the only resource left her. She gave him a candid smile.
"It's been a secret. I haven't even told my aunt yet." Now she let indignation color her tones. "How can the police be so stupid as to accuse Jack Bailey, a young man and about to be married? Do you think he would wreck his future like that?"
"Some people wouldn't call it wrecking a future to lay away a million dollars," said Anderson ominously. He came closer to Dale, fixing her with his eyes. "Do you know where Bailey is now?" He spoke slowly and menacingly.
She did not flinch.
The detective paused.
"Miss Ogden," he said, still with that hidden threat in his voice, "in the last minute or so the Union Bank case and certain things in this house have begun to tie up pretty close together. Bailey disappeared this morning. Have you heard from him since?"
Her eyes met his without weakening, her voice was cool and composed.
The detective did not comment on her answer. She could not tell from his face whether he thought she had told the truth or lied. He turned away from her brusquely.
"I'll ask you to bring Miss Van Gorder here," he said in his professional voice.
"Why do you want her?" Dale blazed at him rebelliously.
He was quiet. "Because this case is taking on a new phase."
"You don't think I know anything about that money?" she said, a little wildly, hoping that a display of sham anger might throw him off the trail he seemed to be following.
He seemed to accept her words, cynically, at their face value.
"No," he said, "but you know somebody who does." Dale hesitated, sought for a biting retort, found none. It did not matter; any respite, no matter how momentary, from these probing questions, would be a relief. She silently took one of the lighted candles and left the living-room to search for her aunt.
Left alone, the detective reflected for a moment, then picking up the one lighted candle that remained, commenced a systematic examination of the living-room. His methods were thorough, but if, when he came to the end of his quest, he had made any new discoveries, the reticent composure of his face did not betray the fact. When he had finished he turned patiently toward the billiard room - the little flame of his candle was swallowed up in its dark recesses - he closed the door of the living-room behind him. The storm was dying away now, but a few flashes of lightning still flickered, lighting up the darkness of the deserted living-room now and then with a harsh, brief glare.
A lightning flash - a shadow cast abruptly on the shade of one of the French windows, to disappear as abruptly as the flash was blotted out - the shadow of a man - a prowler - feeling his way through the lightning-slashed darkness to the terrace door. The detective? Brooks? The Bat? The lightning flash was too brief for any observer to have recognized the stealing shape - if any observer had been there.
But the lack of an observer was promptly remedied. Just as the shadowy shape reached the terrace door and its shadow-fingers closed over the knob, Lizzie entered the deserted living-room on stumbling feet. She was carrying a tray of dishes and food - some cold meat on a platter, a cup and saucer, a roll, a butter pat - and she walked slowly, with terror only one leap behind her and blank darkness ahead.
She had only reached the table and was preparing to deposit her tray and beat a shameful retreat, when a sound behind her made her turn. The key in the door from the terrace to the alcove had clicked. Paralyzed with fright she stared and waited, and the next moment a formless thing, a blacker shadow in a world of shadows, passed swiftly in and up the small staircase.
But not only a shadow. To Lizzie's terrified eyes it bore an eye, a single gleaming eye, just above the level of the stair rail, and this eye was turned on her.
It was too much. She dropped the tray on the table with a crash and gave vent to a piercing shriek that would have shamed the siren of a fire engine.
Miss Cornelia and Anderson, rushing in from the hall and the billiard room respectively, each with a lighted candle, found her gasping and clutching at the table for support.
"For the love of heaven, what's wrong?" cried Miss Cornelia irritatedly. The coffeepot she was carrying in her other hand spilled a portion of its boiling contents on Lizzie's shoe and Lizzie screamed anew and began to dance up and down on the uninjured foot.
"Oh, my foot - my foot!" she squealed hysterically. "My foot!"
Miss Cornelia tried to shake her back to her senses.
"My patience! Did you yell like that because you stubbed your toe?"
"You scalded it!" cried Lizzie wildly. "It went up the staircase!"
"Your toe went up the staircase?"
"No, no! An eye - an eye as big as a saucer! It ran right up that staircase - " She indicated the alcove with a trembling forefinger. Miss Cornelia put her coffeepot and her candle down on the table and opened her mouth to express her frank opinion of her factotum's sanity. But here the detective took charge.
"Now see here," he said with some sternness to the quaking Lizzie, "stop this racket and tell me what you saw!"
"A ghost!" persisted Lizzie, still hopping around on one leg. "It came right through that door and ran up the stairs - oh - " and she seemed prepared to scream again as Dale, white-faced, came in from the hall, followed by Billy and Brooks, the latter holding still another candle.
"Who screamed?" said Dale tensely.
"I did!" Lizzie wailed, "I saw a ghost!" She turned to Miss Cornelia. "I begged you not to come here," she vociferated. "I begged you on my bended knees. There's a graveyard not a quarter of a mile away."
"Yes, and one more scare like that, Lizzie Allen, and you'll have me lying in it," said her mistress unsympathetically. She moved up to examine the scene of Lizzie's ghostly misadventure, while Anderson began to interrogate its heroine.
"Now, Lizzie," he said, forcing himself to urbanity, "what did you really see?"
"I told you what I saw."
His manner grew somewhat threatening.
"You're not trying to frighten Miss Van Gorder into leaving this house and going back to the city?"
"Well, if I am," said Lizzie with grim, unconscious humor, "I'm giving myself an awful good scare, too, ain't I?"
The two glared at each other as Miss Cornelia returned from her survey of the alcove.
"Somebody who had a key could have got in here, Mr. Anderson," she said annoyedly. "That terrace door's been unbolted from the inside."
Lizzie groaned. "I told you so," she wailed. "I knew something was going to happen tonight. I heard rappings all over the house today, and the ouija-board spelled Bat!"
The detective recovered his poise. "I think I see the answer to your puzzle, Miss Van Gorder," he said, with a scornful glance at Lizzie. "A hysterical and not very reliable woman, anxious to go back to the city and terrified over and over by the shutting off of the electric lights."
If looks could slay, his characterization of Lizzie would have laid him dead at her feet at that instant. Miss Van Gorder considered his theory.
"I wonder," she said.
The detective rubbed his hands together more cheerfully.
"A good night's sleep and - " he began, but the irrepressible Lizzie interrupted him.
"My God, we're not going to bed, are we?" she said, with her eyes as big as saucers.
He gave her a kindly pat on the shoulder, which she obviously resented.
"You'll feel better in the morning," he said. "Lock your door and say your prayers, and leave the rest to me."
Lizzie muttered something inaudible and rebellious, but now Miss Cornelia added her protestations to his.
"That's very good advice," she said decisively. "You take her, Dale."
Reluctantly, with a dragging of feet and scared glances cast back over her shoulder, Lizzie allowed herself to be drawn toward the door and the main staircase by Dale. But she did not depart without one Parthian shot.
"I'm not going to bed!" she wailed as Dale's strong young arm helped her out into the hall. "Do you think I want to wake up in the morning with my throat cut?" Then the creaking of the stairs, and Dale's soothing voice reassuring her as she painfully clambered toward the third floor, announced that Lizzie, for some time at least, had been removed as an active factor from the puzzling equation of Cedarcrest.
Anderson confronted Miss Cornelia with certain relief.
"There are certain things I want to discuss with you, Miss Van Gorder," he said. "But they can wait until tomorrow morning."
Miss Cornelia glanced about the room. His manner was reassuring.
"Do you think all this - pure imagination?" she said.
She hesitated. "I'm not sure."
He laughed. "I'll tell you what I'll do. You go upstairs and go to bed comfortably. I'll make a careful search of the house before I settle down, and if I find anything at all suspicious, I'll promise to let you know."
She agreed to that, and after sending the Jap out for more coffee prepared to go upstairs.
Never had the thought of her own comfortable bed appealed to her so much. But, in spite of her weariness, she could not quite resign herself to take Lizzie's story as lightly as the detective seemed to.
"If what Lizzie says is true," she said, taking her candle, "the upper floors of the house are even less safe than this one."
"I imagine Lizzie's account just now is about as reliable as her previous one as to her age," Anderson assured her. "I'm certain you need not worry. Just go on up and get your beauty sleep; I'm sure you need it."
On which ambiguous remark Miss Van Gorder took her leave, rather grimly smiling.
It was after she had gone that Anderson's glance fell on Brooks, standing warily in the doorway.
"What are you? The gardener?"
But Brooks was prepared for him.
"Ordinarily I drive a car," he said. "Just now I'm working on the place here."
Anderson was observing him closely, with the eyes of a man ransacking his memory for a name - a picture. "I've seen you somewhere - " he went on slowly. "And I'll - place you before long." There was a little threat in his shrewd scrutiny. He took a step toward Brooks.
"Not in the portrait gallery at headquarters, are you?"
"Not yet." Brooks s voice was resentful. Then he remembered his pose and his back grew supple, his whole attitude that of the respectful servant.
"Well, we slip up now and then," said the detective slowly. Then, apparently, he gave up his search for the name - the pictured face. But his manner was still suspicious.
"All right, Brooks," he said tersely, "if you're needed in the night, you'll be called!"
Brooks bowed. "Very well, sir." He closed the door softly behind him, glad to have escaped as well as he had.
But that he had not entirely lulled the detective's watchfulness to rest was evident as soon as he had gone. Anderson waited a few seconds, then moved noiselessly over to the hall door - listened - opened it suddenly - closed it again. Then he proceeded to examine the alcove - the stairs, where the gleaming eye had wavered like a corpse-candle before Lizzie's affrighted vision. He tested the terrace door and bolted it. How much truth had there been in her story? He could not decide, but he drew out his revolver nevertheless and gave it a quick inspection to see if it was in working order. A smile crept over his face - the smile of a man who has dangerous work to do and does not shrink from the prospect. He put the revolver back in his pocket and, taking the one lighted candle remaining, went out by the hall door, as the storm burst forth in fresh fury and the window-panes of the living-room rattled before a new reverberation of thunder.
For a moment, in the living-room, except for the thunder, all was silence. Then the creak of surreptitious footsteps broke the stillness - light footsteps descending the alcove stairs where the gleaming eye had passed.
It was Dale slipping out of the house to keep her appointment with Richard Fleming. She carried a raincoat over her arm and a pair of rubbers in one hand. Her other hand held a candle. By the terrace door she paused, unbolted it, glanced out into the streaming night with a shiver. Then she came into the living-room and sat down to put on her rubbers.
Hardly had she begun to do so when she started up again. A muffled knocking sounded at the terrace door. It was ominous and determined, and in a panic of terror she rose to her feet. If it was the law, come after Jack, what should she do? Or again, suppose it was the Unknown who had threatened them with death? Not coherent thoughts these, but chaotic, bringing panic with them. Almost unconscious of what she was doing, she reached into the drawer beside her, secured the revolver there and leveled it at the door.
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