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Title: The Affair at Flower Acres Author: Carolyn Wells * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900631h.html Language: English Date first posted: July 2019 Most recent update: July 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Serialized in The Evening Independent—St. Petersburg, Florida, USA beginning October 4, 1924
Chapter 1. - Finley’s Return
Chapter 2. - Why Did She Marry Him?
Chapter 3. - Who Fired the Shot?
Chapter 4. - Detective Dobbins
Chapter 5. - Family Affairs
Chapter 6. - A Lot Yet To Be Told
Chapter 7. - The Sole Clew
Chapter 8. - The Secret Parcel
Chapter 9. - An Awful Accusation
Chapter 10. - Dolly Fay
Chapter 11. - Nancy Explains
Chapter 12. - As to Miss Turner
Chapter 13. — Eva’s Story
Chapter 14. - Pennington Wise
Chapter 15. - Grim Gannon
Chapter 16. - It’s Never Too Late for Clews
Chapter 17. - One More Confession
Chapter 18. - The Man Who Wore the Rubbers
Dusk is in itself sinister. Bright noonday or black midnight are definite, positive, even tangible, but dusk is uncertain, mysterious, eerie. And once it begins its creeping, insidious progress, it comes faster and more inexorably with every moment, until its first gray, wavering shadows turn to dense and menacing shapes.
At Flower Acres, the beautiful Long Island home of the Raynors, a September dusk was stretching its first long fingers of shadow across the terraces and massed flower beds. The blue spruces and yellow arbor vitae lost their color, and merged into the deepening gray, while the blossoming plants faded to nothingness.
The sun parlor, on the south side of the great house, had reflected from its huge panes the pink and gold of the sunset, and now was dimming to grayness with the rest.
Through the falling darkness rang out a single shot.
In the wide doorway between the house and the sun parlor the glimmer of a white-clad figure pierced the gloom, and a door facing east and a door facing west, both swung on their hinges.
And on the red stone floor, crumpled into an ungainly heap, lay the inert form of Douglas Raynor, its outline indistinguishable in the sudden complete darkness, till a click of a switch button sounded and the bright lights flashed out.
* * * * * * * * *
Three days before, Malcolm Finley had returned from Japan.
Not directly; he had spent the few last weeks of his two years’ absence in London and had come home from there.
As the liner steamed up the Hudson, Finley gazed on the Manhattan sky-line with the sense of proud proprietorship that all good Americans feel in that tidy mass of rectangles. He recognized the old familiar buildings and noted the new ones with pleased satisfaction, while he responded courteously to the bromides about them from his fellow-passengers.
The quickly successive sensations incident to landing and reaching a hotel all pleased him, and in sheer delight he noted or missed old landmarks until alone in his room at the Waldorf, he began to feel a longing for human companionship.
Accordingly he reached for the telephone and confided his wishes to Ezra Goddard.
“Of course I’ll dine with you,” that old chum responded. “Trusty old Waldorf, eh? Good! Be there in fifty minutes. Good-by.”
During a somewhat lengthy and extremely satisfactory dinner, Finley learned all that he wanted to know about business, politics and friends. Goddard was a storehouse of information on these points, and guided by an occasional question, he placidly poured forth his torrents of news until Finley’s parched curiosity was fairly inundated.
“All right, Goddard, that’s enough about the Jerrold scandal. And I’m fed up with Wall Street details. So now,—what about—Nancy?”
Ezra Goddard looked at his host thoughtfully. “You went away when she married, didn’t you?”
“Yes,—when she married that unspeakable man!”
“Because she married him?”
“Partly. Also, I had a fine opportunity offered in my Japan trip. What about the girl? Do you ever see her?”
“Oh, often. They live out on Long Island,—fine, big estate, magnificent, really.”
“Then he has done her well?”
“As to setting,—yes.”
“Is she—is she happy? Is he good to her?”
“Can’t answer either question. You know Nancy,—if she weren’t happy she’d never let anybody know it. As to his being good to her,—he is and he isn’t.”
“Hard to put it into words. But, he’s—oh, he’s impossible!”
“No,—not that. But he’s a tyrant, a despot—an overseer!”
“My God! Does he tyrannize over Nan!”
“Does he! It makes my blood boil,—but what can one do when she resents the slightest comment on his actions, or even allusions to them?”
“Then she loves him?”
“She can’t. No woman could. But,—oh, there are so many sides to it all,—so many complications—”
“Tell me all about it. If that man is unkind to little Nan—”
“You can’t do anything. The best thing you can do, Mal, is to keep away. Raynor’s always been a bit jealous of you—”
“Of me? What nonsense! Why, Nan and I were the merest friends—so far as any one knew—”
“Including Nan herself?”
“Why, yes,—I should say so. There was nothing between us—”
“But you loved her?”
“And do still. But I’m man enough to realize she’s the wife of another,—only,—if that other—”
“Why did she marry him? Why, Malcolm?”
“I don’t know, Goddard. But never mind conjecture,—give me facts. What does that brute do to her?”
“Nothing tangible,—nothing you could lay your hand on. But he teases her, irritates her, criticizes her unjustly, and in a mean way,—until sometimes I should think she would kill him!”
“Not Nancy,—she’s the gentlest of girls—”
“Was. But of late she seems to be getting to the end of her rope, the limit of her patience. If it weren’t for Orry,—I almost think she might rebel openly—”
“His influence is good over her. They adore each other,—I never knew a more devoted brother and sister,—and when Raynor stirs Nan up beyond endurance, Orry is the one who pours oil on the troubled waters.”
“He never seemed to me to have much go—”
“No, he hasn’t. Orville Kent is a dreamer, an artist. But he has a fine nature, and he also has a good sense of proportion,—a real knowledge of relative values. And so he quiets Nan now and then,—but truly it’s seldom necessary, for the girl is so well poised herself. If she ever regrets her marriage, no one is allowed to guess it from her words or actions.”
“Bless her heart! Perhaps it isn’t so very bad. Raynor had big qualities—”
“Yes, but also some mighty small ones! He can jab the iron into his wife’s soul, and then twist it around in the wound with a diabolical cleverness.”
“Is she alone with him, except for Orville?”
“Lord, no. There’s quite a household. Raynor’s sister, Miss Mattie, is there,—also a nurse.”
“Not exactly,—that is, she’s what they call a dietitian,—you see, Raynor has developed a hippy concern as to his health, and he lives on calories or carbohydrates or something,—anyway, they have to be weighed and counted by a trained dietary person, hence, the nurse.”
“H’m,—an old man, apprehensive about his health is a fine mate for lovely Nancy Kent!”
“Exactly. Why did she marry him?”
“I’d like to go down there, Goddard. Would it be taking my life in my hands?”
“Unless Raynor invites you, yes.”
“Won’t he? Can’t you make him? You seem to be on an intimate footing down there.”
“I’ll ask him, gladly.”
“Do it now.”
Goddard stared at the determined face before him. Tall, strong and thirty, Malcolm Finley was the sort of man who gives instructions in the full expectation of their being carried out.
His rather fair hair was thick, and showed a suspicion of waviness as it tossed back from his wide brow. His eyes were gray and deep set and his mouth showed sweetness as well as firmness in its sensitive curves.
But his chin was the index of his nature. Strong and square, it was the chin of a fighter, modified by wisdom and judgment. And wisdom and judgment were the prominent traits of Finley’s character.
A most casual glance at him gave the impression of capability and efficiency with indomitable determination and persistence. Moreover, he usually spoke with a decision that cut off possible objections.
Wherefore Goddard obediently went to a telephone and returned not much later with a mystified expression on his face.
“I don’t quite understand it,” he said, resuming his seat at the table, and lighting a fresh cigar, “but old Raynor says he will be charmed to see you. Suffering you to come, I could have understood,—but charmed! Looks tricky to me.”
“That he expects to get some fun out of your visit, somehow. I told him you were home, and that I was dining with you, and that you wanted to run down to his place with me and renew old acquaintance, and he fell for it so quickly and so cordially that I can’t see through it. I thought he’d have conscientious objections of some sort. But he was positively urgent. Said for you to come with me on Friday for the week-end, and as much longer as you could content yourself there. It’s an enormous place, you know,—big as a hotel, full of servants and guests and neighbors—”
“Neighbors? Thought it was country.”
“Oh, big adjoining estates,—almost like an English countryside. Now, look here, Mal, you must be careful. I’m sure the old brute has something up his sleeve, and it’s most likely to be a wicked hope of catching you making love to his wife, which will give him a chance for deviltry of some sort. So carry yourself with great circumspection—”
“Circumspection be hanged! I’ll adopt whatever attitude toward Nancy I see fit! Old friend, for choice,—but if he gets funny—”
“He won’t get funny,—but,—he’ll take it out of her.”
“Oh, will he! If he does, he’ll have to settle with me. Look here, Goddard, that’s why I want to go there, to see what that girl is up against. I’m not going to please myself,—Lord knows it’s a dangerous matter, anyway. For when I see Nan,—dear little Nan, again,—I shall have all I can do to hold myself in leash. But,—if that man is bothering her—”
“I’m not sure I’ll take you, Mal, if you talk like that. Don’t stir up trouble, will you?”
“I promise nothing. But I go.”
* * * * * * * * *
And so he did.
The two friends went down to Flower Acres in Goddard’s beautiful little roadster, preceded by a motor load of luggage and Goddard’s man.
For that worthy citizen, Goddard, was by way of being luxurious, and had foregone the expense of married life in order to pamper himself with lavish bachelor comforts.
As they neared the place and the full meaning of its name burst upon him, Finley stared in delight at the scene. Literally acres of flowers, late blossoms now, spread over the earth, and among and between box or yew hedges, rows of poplars and clumps of evergreens, were great beds of asters, cosmos, goldenglow, chrysanthemums, salvia and late roses, while formal gardens showed more rare and choice blossoms.
The whole effect was a blaze, a riot of color, and the perfection of detail and harmony of arrangement bespoke a master mind back of it all, as well as the heart of a flower-lover.
“Who does it?” asked Finley, almost in a voice of awe, as one vista after another met his eyes.
“Nan,” said Goddard, briefly. “It’s her hobby.”
“Well, if the brute gives her full swing like this, he can’t be all bad.”
“Never said he was. Now, Malcolm, remember my warning. Don’t be fool enough to disregard it. Do not flirt with Nancy Raynor, nor even seem to do so. I’m positive there’s something behind this willingness of Raynor to have you here, and you must not let him have even an imaginary cause for jealousy.”
“Oh, shut up, Goddard, what do you take me for? If you think I’m a disturber of families or a troublemaker of any sort, you’re greatly mistaken.”
“I don’t think you are—on purpose. But—”
“Well, shut up, anyway. If, when and as you see me going wrong it will be time enough to read me lectures,—as if I were a callow schoolboy!”
They neared the house, whose front façade of dull red brick with white painted trimmings showed a wide and hospitable looking entrance.
Pausing before entering, Finley turned to look at the picture. From the terrace, one first glanced over more flower acres, then some woodland of low growths, then a great stretch of uneven beach, and finally a horizon of sea and sky.
It was so beautiful that Finley hoped in his heart his bedroom might face this way.
Yet when, a short time later, he presented himself to the family, already at tea on the western terrace, he found the outlook even more picturesque. For here the flower acres ran to a denser wood, behind which was even now being staged a particularly theatrical sunset.
Goddard was already there, and Finley’s arrival was a trifle dramatic.
As he stepped through the French window from the library to the western terrace, he saw first the face of Nancy Raynor. She looked at him over the cup of tea she was pouring, and if the cup shivered a little on its saucer, she instantly stilled it, and continued her occupation.
“Charlotte, like a well-conducted person, went on cutting bread and butter,” Finley said, lightly, though his heart was pounding as he went toward her.
For that one startled glance of her dark eyes, that one little rattle of the cup on its saucer, had told volumes to the man seeking information.
“How do you do, Malcolm?” she said, holding out her hand with a cordial yet detached air. “It is pleasant to meet again.”
“Indeed it is,” he said, warmly, then catching Goddard’s significant glance, he checked his enthusiasm, and turned to greet the master of the house.
“Mr. Raynor?” he said with a slightly interrogative inflection.
“You know it’s Mr. Raynor,” and his host touched his hand for a moment, “why the question mark? Have you forgotten me?”
“No, indeed;” and for once Malcolm Finley was almost disconcerted. “But the beauty and charm of your place has gone to my head, and I’m not quite sure of anything.”
“Oh,—that is what has gone to your head, is it? The beauty of the place?”
Not only was the emphasis unmistakable, but a brief glance in the direction of his wife added meaning to the man’s words.
“Yes, indeed,” Finley went on, lightly. “I’ve just come from Japan, but even there I saw no profusion of flowers that so charmed my senses as your gardens here.”
“Nor no such beautiful women as we have here?” Again the slight glance at Nancy, which was accomplished by merely moving his eyes and not his head.
Finley felt himself clinching his hands, and with all his power of control in force, he returned, “Japan is the land of beautiful women, if one cares for that type. Ah, Orville, old chap, how are you?”
He left Raynor and crossed the terrace to shake hands with Orville Kent, Nancy’s brother, who greeted him with a smile.
“It’s good to see you again, Malcolm. You’ve been away a long time.”
“Two years. You look just the same, Orry. In fact, I find little changed except the traffic laws.”
“Oh, well, that’s liquor traffic law,—and, too,—is it very much changed?”
“Miss Raynor,” Orville said, as he turned to an alert-eyed lady, who was quite evidently impatient for introduction, “I want you to know Malcolm Finley,—an old friend of ours, just back from Japan.”
“How wonderful!” she exclaimed, “you must tell me all about it. Will you, Mr. Finley? All about the kickshaws, or whatever they are,—and the cherry-blossom carnivals and everything.”
“Surely I will, if you want to hear it.”
“But not now,” Orville interrupted, seeing that the good-natured Finley was willing to begin at once. “Let’s go for a stroll, Malcolm. I’ll show you the swans on the lake.”
Feeling that the whole situation was fraught with an undercurrent of danger, Finley, after an instant’s hesitation, agreed, and the two went off.
“I’m glad you came down here,” Kent began, soon after they left the house; “you may be able to cheer things up a bit. We’re in doleful dumps, somehow.”
“What about? Servants leaving?” Finley asked, lightly, uncertain what line to pursue.
“No. But Douglas is getting so queer.”
“Mentally, morally or physically?”
“Oh, every way. He’s fiendish to Nan—”
“What?” and Finley’s sharp tone made Orville turn and stare at him.
“Oh,” he said, and then fell into a silence.
After a moment he resumed, “I say, perhaps it wasn’t a good thing for you to come either. I see you still care for her.”
“Look here, Orville, cut that out. It’s nobody’s business whether I care for anybody or not. When you see anything in my conduct toward your sister that calls for criticism, come and tell me so. Until then, I must ask you to refrain from even thinking about it.”
“All right, old fellow, I understand. And so I’ll tell you how I see it. Douglas is hateful to Nan, but it’s partly her own fault.”
“I don’t believe it!” This burst involuntarily from Finley, and quickly, in order to cover it, he said: “I mean, I can’t think Nan would do anything deserving of Raynor’s censure.”
“Censure? Oh, no. That isn’t it. But she’s never of the same mind with him,—never sees things as he does,—never really agrees with him. Yet she pretends to. And that, to a man like Raynor, who can’t be deceived by anybody, is unbearable.”
“And just what can I do about it?”
“Oh, nothing definite. Of course not. But I thought maybe your being here for a time would divert the current, shift the cards about, and give us all a new angle on things.”
“You expect an unusual effect from a mere casual guest.”
“Don’t take it so seriously. I don’t expect anything. But if you could just influence Nan a little to be more lenient to Douglas’ ways, or rather to his opinions and convictions that differ from her own. That’s the trouble, they never see things alike.”
“But, my dear boy,—I can’t—”
“I tell you, don’t take it like that. I don’t want you to do anything definite,—only—oh, pshaw, I thought you’d understand!”
“Same little old Orry! Petulant, impatient and unreasonable. Well, son, I’ll do this; I’ll look about a bit, and if I can act the part of guide, philosopher and friend to your sister, you can just bet I’ll do it!”
“Or to Douglas. He must like you or he wouldn’t have asked you down. Can’t you get round him, get chummy with him,—and then ask him to try to understand Nan better?”
“My dear boy! Advise a husband of two years to understand his wife better!”
“I knew you wouldn’t understand,” and Orville sighed.
Why Did She Marry Him?
The house at Flower Acres faced north. On the western side a terrace and on the eastern side a veranda ran the full length of the house, and from each opened a door into the sun parlor that spread across the southern front. This sun parlor was an ideal room. Three sides and a roof of glass, with convenient curtains and lattices, it was always available for occupation or for idleness.
On the fourth side, against the house, was a wide stone fireplace and a door opening into a rear hall. The appointments included reading tables, writing desks, card tables, cozy ingle nooks, and tempting swings and lounges of ease and comfort.
Out here the family often had their coffee and smoked after dinner, and Malcolm Finley following the others was fighting a strong temptation to seat himself near his hostess. He had sat at her right hand at dinner, and their conversation, though of the lightest, had been intently listened to,—Finley couldn’t help noticing,—by Douglas Raynor, and also by his sister, Miss Mattie.
Deeming it wise, therefore, he took a seat beside the maiden lady, a proceeding entirely to her satisfaction.
“You’re one of Nancy’s old beaus, aren’t you?” she asked, her ever-present curiosity evincing itself at once.
“Now, Miss Raynor,” Finley said, gayly, “I object to that term old beau. It makes me feel like a somewhat decrepit but well-preserved man of sixty or so.”
“Nonsense, you know I didn’t mean anything like that. But weren’t you one of her admirers?”
“Oh, yes,—surely none but a blind man could plead not guilty to that charge! You’re one yourself, aren’t you? You admire her yourself, don’t you?”
“Yes,—except that I think she’s overly slim for a matron.”
Finley gave a brief glance at the slender, lissome form of his hostess, but looked away quickly, lest his eyes linger too long.
She sat in a swing, amid a cluster of cushions. Her small, dark head leaned back with a slight abandon, and her wistful little face was upturned to Goddard, who stood above and behind her. One black slippered foot kept the swing swaying a trifle, and her outspread hands rested on the sides of the swing.
“Do stop that teetering, Nan,” her husband said, pettishly. “You get on my nerves with your eternal seesawing. Why can’t you sit quiet?”
“I will, Douglas,” and the accompanying smile showed no trace of annoyance. She steadied the swing, and sat motionless, crossing her hands on her lap. Her gown was of plain black velvet, a trailing garniture of fine French flowers its only ornament. She wore no jewels, save a string of pearls, and her small, delicate face, though pale, was bright and animated.
“Why have you so few decorations to-night, my dear?” Raynor went on, looking her over critically. “In honor of our returned traveler, you should have donned your bravest war paint.”
“Beauty unadorned,” Nan said, smiling, but Finley saw her hands clasp tightly, as if there were a disturbing undercurrent to her husband’s remarks.
“Not your beauty,” Raynor said. “You’re too pale, my dear, to claim that your face is your fortune.”
“Then tell me so when we’re alone, Douglas. Personalities—”
“There she goes again! Always lecturing me on my manners! What would you do, Finley, if you had a wife that never stopped pestering you?”
“I’d let her pester,” Malcolm said, and his cool voice gave no sign of the anger in his breast. This, then, was the way Raynor was a brute. He baited his poor wife with absurd and unjust reproof, and held her conduct up to scorn or ridicule.
“Yes,—one has to,” and Raynor sighed, over-emphatically. “I’ve given up trying to mend her ways,—but it is tiresome to be caught up continually.”
“Oh, I don’t, Douglas. Don’t believe him, Malcolm, he’s teasing me. And by the way, Douglas, how do you like the new rhododendron beds?”
“A fine question—considering you placed them exactly where I asked you not to! Why did you do that? To prove your independence of my wishes, or merely to be contrary.”
“But, Douglas, dear, they’re just where you said you wanted them!”
“Nothing of the sort. You misunderstood entirely. You would, of course. Oh, well, I can’t expect to have anything as I want it around this place. With your knowledge of gardens and landscapes, Nan, I should think you could see for yourself that they should be fifty feet, at least, farther from the arbor.”
“I’ll have them changed.” Nan spoke dully, listlessly, as if she would rather change the whole garden plan than have any further dissension.
“Yes, and spend a fortnight more of the gardeners’ time! You’ve no conception of the value of time—or of money. I should think your early days of forced economy would have taught you not to be quite so extravagant. But there’s an old proverb, ‘Set a beggar on horseback—’ and so forth, that jolly well fits you. Where you going, Orville?”
“Out,” said Orry, shortly. “Star gazing,” he added, with a smile at Finley. “Want to go?” Finley went and Miss Raynor at once began to discuss him.
“What a nice man he is,” she said; “but not much of a talker. His conversational powers seem limited. I couldn’t draw him out at all.”
“Nancy could,—without half trying,” said Nancy’s husband. “I believe I’ll get some fun out of that chap. I’m a great student of human nature, as you know, Goddard, I study it as Orville studies his beloved astronomy. I believe Venus has a conjunction on to-night,—or Jupiter is giving a three-ringed circus. Want to go out there with them, Nan?”
“No, thank you,” and she tried to speak brightly, though her husband’s voice had a nasty ring in it.
“Devoted little wife,—rather stay with her husband,—that it? Don’t trouble yourself to say yes, for I shouldn’t believe you. Well, here comes Eva at last. Three minutes late, Miss Turner. What’s my sin to-day?”
“Too many calories for your luncheon, Mr. Raynor. And instead of making up for it at dinner, you transgressed again.”
“Did I? Well, it was that damned chocolate roll! I can’t resist that. I believe my wife orders it just to tempt me beyond endurance. She knows how fond of it I am. Did you, Nancy?”
“No, Douglas, you know I didn’t!”
“Well, why did you order it, then? I noticed you scarcely touched it yourself.”
“Yes, Nancy,” chimed in Miss Mattie, “why did you have it? To please your guest?”
“Yes, to please Mr. Goddard,” said Nan, bravely smiling. “You like it, don’t you, Ezra?”
“Oh, I do,” he exclaimed, “and so does Miss Mattie.”
“I don’t wish to have anything on the table that my brother doesn’t want there,” the prim spinster replied.
They were rather alike, the brother and sister. Both were very thin, with thin gray hair and thin, high voices. They looked as if they were thin blooded, and though a thin veneer of culture showed on the surface, one gained the impression that beneath were very primitive and unbridled impulses.
Douglas Raynor, tall and spare, had a hawk-like face, small bright eyes, and thin lips that closed in a tight straight line. The man was an able scholar, a most successful business man, and a loyal, upright and esteemed vestryman in the local church.
Two years ago, when he married the lovely Nancy Kent, all the world wondered. Wondered how he ever persuaded such a dainty bit of femininity to link her life with his. He had been a friend of her father’s, who had died since the marriage, but among scores of suitors it was hard to understand Nan’s decision.
Miss Mattie, though, saw no cause for surprise. To her, her brother Douglas was the epitome of all that was worth while or desirable. And her query was what had Douglas seen in that pale-faced big-eyed chit to make him want her. Curiosity being the lady’s strong point, she set about to find out. Her quest was unsuccessful, but she did succeed in adding no negligible weight to the burden of discomfort the mistress of Flower Acres carried.
The next morning most of the household arose with a fixed and positive determination on at least one point.
Nancy Raynor vowed to herself that not one word or glance of a personal or even friendly nature would she vouchsafe to Malcolm Finley. For she divined her husband was on the lookout for such and would exaggerate and distort their meaning to the discomfiture of all concerned.
Ezra Goddard vowed to himself that he would drop another hint, a strong one, to Finley on the advisability of keeping away from his hostess.
Miss Mattie vowed to herself she would find out the true state of affairs between Nan and Mr. Finley, and if she could find the least thing to report she would hasten to her brother with the matter.
Orville Kent concluded that Nan was doing wrong, and he must consider carefully whether to speak to her on the subject or not.
Eva Turner promised herself to be more careful in the matter of her employer’s diet, and to take from it and add to it certain items which she deemed would make the result more nearly what she thought he ought to have.
And Malcolm Finley solemnly and roundly swore to himself that he would stop, look and listen a little further, and then, if he was satisfied that that old curmudgeon was really maltreating that darling girl, he, Finley, would settle the said curmudgeon’s hash—in one way or another!
Finley would not see the members of the family until luncheon time unless by chance. And, having seen Nan out among the gardens, he concluded to make his own chance.
He strolled forth, but by the time he was in the great maze and labyrinth of flower beds, the lady he had seen from his window had vanished.
Doubtless she was in some greenhouse, or behind some sheltering trees, but he couldn’t find her. Wandering aimlessly, he came upon a small house,—a very small house.
It was built near a shiny, ripply brook, and was both picturesque and comfortable in its effects.
On its absurdly small porch sat an absurdly large man. Finley had a fleeting thought of Big Bruin in Tiny Cub’s chair.
“Good day,” he said, pleasantly, and the man on the porch nodded indifferently.
“Belong to the Raynor estate?” Finley’s glance took in the house.
“Yep. Any o’ your business?”
“Not the least. Good day.”
“Hey, wait a minute. Don’t be so awful swift in your proceedjer. You a friend of the family?”
“Yep. Any o’your business?”
The man apparently appreciated the good-natured mockery, and laughed.
“C’mon up on the porch,” he invited. “Here’s another chair.”
“Just for a minute then,” and Finley took the proffered seat. “Wonderful gardens, these.”
“That’s right. My work’s more wonderful, though. So’s Orville Kent’s.”
“His is astronomy, I know. What’s yours?”
“Bugology. Entomology, you know. And I had this shack right here by the water so’s I c’d study waterbeetles and the fifty-’leven other insects round about. Like that sort o’ thing?”
“I think I should if I knew more about it. Are you—er—in Mr. Raynor’s employ?”
“No; I ain’t in nobody’s employ. I’m my own master. But I make my reports—”
What he did with the reports he made Finley didn’t wait to hear, for he caught a glimpse of Nan’s blue garden smock, and with the merest word of farewell, he strode off.
Again, however, the quarry eluded him, and he found there is nothing easier than to lose a human being in acres of flowers.
He stood a minute, reconnoitering when what seemed to be a young whirlwind bore down upon him.
“Oh, sir, how do you do? Who are you? A fairy prince? Mine—come to claim my hand?” The speaker was a girl of about fourteen, her bobbed hair flying, her little frock of knitted wool open at the throat and brief at the knees, her Tam perched on one side of her tousled head, and her round, bonny young face laughing with glee.
“I’m Dolly Fay,” she announced. “I’m a neighbor of the Raynors and I live just across that brook.”
“There’s a man lives almost in the brook,” Finley informed her.
“Yes, I know. Old Grim Gannon, the bug man. He collects beetles and spiders and grasshoppers and—”
“And their ilk,” Finley finished for her.
“Does that mean their young? Yes, he gets eggs and cocoons and, oh,—and lovely butterflies! Where you going?”
“To look for Mrs. Raynor. Can’t you help me find her?”
“Cert. I’ll take you right to her. You’re a real nice man. Do you like me?”
“So do I you. Come on.”
She ran ahead and it took Finley’s longest strides to keep up with her. At last, sure enough, she brought him to a sunken garden, whose depth had hidden Nan from view.
“Good morning,” she said, with a little constraint in her tone but an irrepressible smile of welcome in her eyes. “Hello, Dolly,” she went on, “have you scraped acquaintance with Mr. Finley?”
“Yes, he thinks me adorable! And I think he’s enchanting. But, Nan, I see you want to be alone with him,—so tra la la—” and she danced away, laughing at them.
“Stop, Dolly! Come back!” but the girl-child’s ringing laughter was the only reply, and in a moment that was lost in the distance.
There was a silence. Not awkward, not embarrassing, but fraught with weight of portent, a premonition of trouble, and yet,—a silence of surpassing sweetness.
Wistful, pathetic, Nan’s eyes rose to meet the ones that looked down on her with infinite kindness.
“What can I do for you?” Finley said, wasting no time in preliminaries.
“Nothing,” she returned, blankly. “There’s nothing to be done. You see how things are.”
“I see. Why did you marry him, Nan?”
Though the voice was gentle, the inflection almost caressing, Nancy Raynor straightened up and turned a cold glance on him.
“Because I chose to, Mal. I do not regret it.”
“You don’t! Well, by Heaven, I do! The mere thought of you, you, Nan, linked to that clod, that beast—”
“Stop! My husband is neither a clod nor a beast. He is a great man and a great scholar.”
“Great man be blowed! Great scholar be hanged! Is he a great husband to you? Is he even a decent husband? Is he good to you? Kind to you? Answer me, Nan,—answer me!”
Finley had grasped her two hands in his own, and stood eagerly gazing down into her frightened face.
“Don’t, oh, don’t!” she cried. “He will come,—he’s always on watch,—and he will see you,—and he will kill me!”
“I shall kill him,—if he has you in this state of abject fear, this condition of utter subjection!”
“But he has,—both those things are true. I can’t help it,—and—you can’t help me.”
“I will help you, Nan,—I must. I’m a helper first of all. I’m a fixer, a straightener-out of wrong conditions. You shall be freed from that brute—”
“Stop, Malcolm.” Her voice was quiet now, and icily calm. “I don’t want you to say those things. They mean nothing and they hurt me.”
“Nan,” Finley took her by the shoulders and looked deep into her dark eyes, “Nan, do you love him?”
“How could I, Malcolm?” she said, simply. “Then why did you marry him?”
“That I cannot tell you—”
“You mean you will not.”
“Yes, I mean I will not.”
“Why, Nan? Why, Nan, dear?” Finley’s voice was tender, his gaze was compelling, but she shrank away from him, saying:
“Don’t be kind to me—oh, Malcolm, don’t! I can’t bear it.”
“I don’t understand, dear, but—I’m going to. I’m going to get at the bottom of this thing, and if you’re being sinned against or imposed upon I’m going to be the one to punish the scoundrel who’s doing it. You know I love you, Nan,—oh, don’t be afraid, I’m not going to tell you so, but I have always loved you, and even though you threw me over for Raynor, I’m still going to keep watch and ward that no harm comes to you.”
“Please don’t! Please, Malcolm, don’t!”
“Ah, so my little plan worked, did it? I followed you down here, Mr. Finley,” these opening words were followed by the appearance of Miss Mattie from around the corner of the group of evergreens, “because I felt pretty sure that you would be making love to my brother’s wife. Ah, ha!”
Her thin old face took on a diabolical look of glee, and she peered into the face of each with a triumphant leer.
“Why, Miss Mattie, you here?” said Finley, quickly. “That’s good. And you will have your little joke. Now, own up, you heard me asking Mrs. Raynor to have more burglar protection down here. More trained men to keep watch and ward over her valuables. Don’t you agree with me?”
“Is that what you were talking about?” Miss Mattie said, thoughtfully, and with a shade of disappointment on her face.
“Yes,” said Finley, delighted that he had at least partly convinced her. “There should be a small corps of night watchmen, and more house protection beside.”
“Why does it interest you so deeply, Mr. Finley?”
“Oh, I’m not in the business,—don’t think I’m a burglar-alarm agent, but I see the necessity for better protection. I’m surprised that so able a man as Raynor doesn’t see it that way himself.”
“Yes, my brother is an able man, but he’s the sort whose mind is above domestic details. He leaves all such to Nan.”
“That’s why I’m trying to persuade Mrs. Raynor to attend to it or to let me do it for her. I’ll take up the matter with your husband, if you say so, Mrs. Raynor.”
“You were calling her Nan when I came up,” Miss Mattie spoke suspiciously.
“Oh, we were old friends, and I believe we did use to use first names. But it’s a more formal situation now. Shall we go to the house, it’s almost luncheon time?”
The three strolled along the flower-bordered walks, and as they reached the terrace, Dolly Fay flew to greet them.
“Got your spooning done, you two?” she asked, shaking a merry forefinger at Nan and Finley.
Miss Mattie’s lulled suspicions suddenly awoke again.
She said nothing, but her thin lips came together in a straight line of faded pink, and her thin gray hair seemed almost sentient as the canny old head wagged in understanding.
“It was you I was spooning with,” Finley said to her, with a glance of exaggerated reproach. “You called me your fairy prince,—and then you ran off and left me.”
“Because you had found the real princess. What’s the matter, Nan? You look as if you were going to cry!”
“But I’m not,” and the brave little face forced itself to smile, and the firm little chin set itself with an air of dogged determination. “I’ll just run to my room and change for luncheon,—there’s time if I’m expeditious.”
Miss Mattie went too, and Malcolm Finley, in answer to a killing glance bestowed on him by the flapper, said:
“What a beastly little brat you are!”
Luncheon that day was not a festive affair. Finley caught Nan alone for a moment, just before they were summoned to the diningroom.
“Would you rather I went home to-day?” he asked, briefly.
“No, oh, no,” she said, and a look of distress came to her face. “Don’t do that! Stay—stay and protect me—something may happen—”
“Sweethearting as usual?” came Raynor’s caustic voice and the two started guiltily apart. Though utterly innocent in word or deed, the consciousness of their mutual feelings made them especially sensitive to the jibes of Nan’s husband.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” their tormentor went on. “Some men would object to their wives’ snatching every chance for a whispered word with an old sweetheart, but I’m a magnanimous sort, aren’t I, Nan?”
He slipped his arm round her, and drew her close to him, chuckling as he noted her almost uncontrollable shrinking away from him.
“There, there, my beauty,” and he touched her cheek caressingly, “she’s a restive little filly, Malcolm, she needs a bit of taming yet.”
“You don’t want me too tame, I’m sure,” Nan said, brightly, but Finley saw the look of utter aversion in her eyes, which Raynor could not see.
Nor was it difficult to understand. Though a handsome-featured man, Douglas Raynor had a pale, anemic look that contrasted sharply with Nan’s fine, wholesome color. He seemed, too, a little short of breath, though whether this meant the man was ill or merely in a temper, Finley wasn’t sure. But he did wonder if the dietitian knew her business, for, to his mind, Raynor was in need of medical advice.
At the luncheon table he was moody; now bursting into a perfect stream of chatter, then, as suddenly, lapsing into a sullen silence. He called frequently for water, draining his glass so often that Miss Turner looked at him thoughtfully.
“Stop looking at me, Eva,” he cried out. “I suppose water is free,—if some other beverages are not. Can’t a man drink a glass of water without being held up for it?”
“I haven’t said a word, Mr. Raynor,” the nurse observed.
“You don’t have to. You just roll those hard-boiled eyes of yours at me, and I know what you mean. Hatfield, give me a pitcher of water,—a thermos jug of it. I will have what I want in my own house! Confound that damned clock! I never heard such a racket of ticking! Finley, what do you think of a wife who buys a noisy, clattering clock, and hangs it on the dining-room wall, for no reason but that she knows I detest to hear it tick?”
“Oh, come now, Douglas,” and Nan smiled bravely, “you know you wanted me to find a real old banjo clock—”
“But not to put in the dining-room—of all places! Hatfield, take the beastly thing down!”
The butler looked at his mistress for confirmation of this order, and as she nodded her head, he took the offending timepiece down and carried it from the room.
Finley was watching Nan, who at the moment was pouring coffee into demi-tasses. Her lips quivered a little, but she was calm and smiling as she handed the cups to Hatfield. Still looking at her, Finley saw a little movement of her hand over the cup destined for her husband.
Surely, surely, she dropped something into it. And then, with a furtive, almost frightened air, she glanced quickly around the table as if to see if she had been observed.
“Saccharine, of course,” Finley said to himself. “What’s the matter with me? I’m seeing things. Probably his nibs is forbidden sugar. But why the scared glance? Why, probably he doesn’t know it, and would scold if he did. What a brute he is! The very worst sort of a beast! I wish I could kill him!”
Orry, across the table, was nervously twisting the corners of his napkin into spirals. As a result of shell-shock in the war, his nerves were still in bad shape, and of late it was feared they would never be better. Yet Orville Kent was not so much affected by the ticking of a clock or any material annoyances as he was by the mental atmosphere about him. And when Douglas Raynor broke into real tantrums, Kent not infrequently rose and left the table.
At this juncture, however, they all left the table.
Raynor went off at once for the confab with Miss Turner that followed every meal, and that settled the menu for the next one. Thus, three times a day Nan was sure of a half-hour’s respite, and those were the only times she was sure of.
“Come, sit in the swing a moment or two, Malcolm,” Nan said, her eyes emphasizing the invitation.
“Me, too?” asked Goddard, very much on the watch against indiscretions.
“Yes, indeed; I’ll sit between you,” and Nan appropriated the middle cushion of the wide swing on the west terrace.
“I can’t bear that dietitian person,” she said abruptly, and decidedly.
“Why do you have her here, then?” Goddard inquired.
“Because Douglas thinks he’s ill,—or would be, if he didn’t have his diet carefully watched. But I think he’s less well since she came than before.”
“He doesn’t seem very well,” Finley agreed. “Is that the reason he scolds you so much, Nan?”
“I daresay. Though he’s always been pettish if I cross him in any way.”
“You oughtn’t to put up with it!” Finley burst out. “It’s outrageous—”
“It’s none of your business, Mal,” Goddard interrupted. “You’ve no right to speak like that.”
“No, you haven’t,” Nan said, gravely. “Whatever he says or does, he’s my husband, and therefore entitled to my respect and the respect of my guests.”
“Hullo!” cried Dolly Fay, suddenly appearing before them. “Here you are, and, oh, Nan, I say, what do you think? That Fairy Prince of mine isn’t a Fairy Prince at all! He’s a whitewashed sepulcher! A base dee-deceiver! What do you think he did? He called me a brat! Oh, how I hate you, Mr. Finley!”
“I did,—I own up,—but it was in a moment of anger. I apologize.”
“And take it back?”
“Well—no,—I think not.”
“Bah!” and Dolly made a saucy face at him. “Then I won’t play tennis with you,—and I do want a game.”
“Take me on,” and Goddard rose to oblige her.
“Glad to, I’m told you’re a crack player. Come along, then.”
“That was good of old Ezra,” Finley said; “I may not get a chance with you alone again. Nan, can I help you in any way?”
“No, dear, of course you can’t.” Then she flushed enchantingly at the unintentional word, and said, very seriously, “We can’t hide it from ourselves,—I do care for you, Malcolm,—I think I always have cared, but I am a wife,—and,” she drew herself up proudly, “I am a Cæsar’s wife. Never shall I fail in the most minute particular of any duty I owe my husband. I am saying this to you now, once for all. I do want you to go away,—and I never want to see you again—as long as Douglas lives. If he should—if anything should happen—Oh, Mal, I am at the end of my rope! I can’t live with him! I can’t! I can’t! You’ve no idea how awful he can be—”
“You needn’t live with him, Nan. Surely you can get a separation—”
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean that!” Nan’s horrified eyes spurned the thought. “But—oh, I don’t know what I mean—only, Malcolm, I am his wife, and as such I owe him all honor and all duty,—and I propose to pay it!”
“Fine talk, my dear,—but a bit hifalutin!” Raynor stepped out from the house, and came up behind the pair in the swing. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much. You can bet you’re going to pay me all you so truly say you owe me. I’ll see to the payment, myself. Now, Mr. Finley, as you seem to be a menace to the tranquil happiness of my home, perhaps it would be as well if you began to think of making your farewells. I asked you down here to learn how matters stood between you and my wife. I’ve learned, therefore you are no longer necessary to my plans.”
“But I too have learned something,” Finley said. “I have learned how matters stand between you and your wife, and I have a remark to make,—which is that unless you give me your promise as man to man to treat her with more kindness after I am gone, than you have done during my stay here, I shall not go at once.”
“That is a strange thing to say to a husband.”
“It is, because you are a strange husband. Now, if your unkindness to Nan has been simply because of my presence here, and if it will cease with my departure, I will go away immediately. But not otherwise.”
“Bless my soul! You presume to dictate to me! And about my most private and personal affairs!”
“I do. As a friend of your wife, and as a friend of humanity, I insist upon the promise I require.”
“And you shall have it. Mr. Finley, I promise you that if you will remove your presence from my roof-tree, I will at once transform myself into the most gentle, loving and kind-tempered of husbands. I will give my wife her own way in everything. I will be docile, meek and mild. Can I say more?”
“You can never say another word to me, of any sort whatever!” And in a fury Finley left them and went into the house.
He was sure he had made a fool of himself. Sure he had harmed Nan rather than helped her. Yet who could stand against the fiendish power of irritation that that man possessed?
Finley went to his room, but he did not at once begin to pack his things. He sat down by a window and gazed out over the flowers, to the sea and sky, and let his thoughts grow calmer and more practical.
Was there no way he could help Nan? Was there not something he could do? No task would be too hard, no service too difficult, if he could but make up for the trouble and annoyance he had caused her.
For he had small doubt but that Raynor would wreak on his wife the anger he must feel toward himself, Finley.
A long time he thought and sighed as he pondered.
And then, instead of packing his kit and starting for the train, he bathed and dressed and presented himself on the western terrace just as tea was being brought there.
Finley did not look at his host or speak to him, but as there were present most of the family, and a few neighbors, this omission was not noticed.
Dolly Fay was very much in evidence, and Finley began to wonder whether, after all, she was a little nuisance or a captivating child. For she was so pretty and well-mannered, she helped Nan with the tea service so capably and daintily, that he said, as he took his teacup from her, “Mayn’t I be your Prince again? I’ll take back what I said.”
“Oh, yes, then you may,” she beamed. “After I pass the buns, we’ll talk it over.”
Finley had seated himself, not near Nan, but where he could watch her. In fact, he was beside Miss Mattie, who was more than ready to entertain him.
And it was during one of her long and rambling discourses that Finley, watching Nan, again saw that quick, furtive motion as of dropping something in Raynor’s teacup.
“Saccharine, sure,” he thought, and smiled as he saw that Raynor himself was all unconscious of it.
“She can fool him then,” he thought. “But seems to me she could fool him oftener and better than she does. She fairly invites his diatribes.”
Tea over, they lingered on the terrace. Another gorgeous sunset was under way, and feminine expressions of admiration were enthusiastic, while the men gazed at it in silence.
“Rarely does that old sun get a chance to sink to rest in such a bed of beauty,” said Eva Turner, who was always loquacious at tea time.
“There she goes!” cried Dolly, as the last of the great flaming disk dropped out of sight. “And I must go, too, or mother will blow me up sky-high. Who’ll walk to the bridge with me?”
“I will,” said Orry, who was a born cavalier, and likewise fond of gay little Dolly.
But they tarried until the other guests had taken leave and then, as they sauntered across the lawn, down toward the bridge over the tiny brook that separated the two estates, the sinister dusk was creeping in from the darkening horizon.
“I’m jealous of your other Prince,” Kent bantered, and Dolly said, seriously, “He isn’t really mine, he’s Nan’s.”
“Nonsense! What has Nan to do with Princes?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter that she’s married to that old hobgoblin. I mean that can’t stop her loving her Prince.”
“Don’t, Dolly; it isn’t nice for a little girl to say things like that.”
“Nice or not,—it’s true talk. You see, Nan ought to have married Mr. Finley in the first place.”
“Hush, Dolly,” Kent spoke sternly, “I can’t have you talking of your elders like that. Besides, Nan’s my sister, and I forbid you to gossip about her.”
“All right, Orry, I won’t. Miss Mattie isn’t your sister, is she? May I talk about her?”
“Yes, if you like,” and the young man smiled.
“Well, she’s a meddlesome Mattie. What do you s’pose she’s doing now? She’s looking down here at us!”
The two were on the bridge now, the little rustic affair that added picturesqueness to the scene. Dolly had turned and was looking back toward the house.
“What sharp eyes you have,” Kent said, looking too. “I can scarcely see her. The dark comes quickly.”
“Yes.” Dolly looked at her wrist-watch. “It’s just seven o’clock. I must run. Good-by, Orry.”
“Good-by,” Kent said, looking at his own watch, and starting off toward the house.
Meddlesome Mattie had been looking out her window at the two strolling across the lawn, but there was no more to it than idle curiosity.
It was her habit to watch everything and everybody, in hope of learning something she was not meant to know.
For some time she had been sitting in the twilight, listening for nothing in particular, but just from habit.
From her own room, with the windows all open, she had heard her brother leave the terrace and go into the sun parlor,—that was doubtless to avoid the dampness.
She had heard Malcolm Finley, at the same time, leave the terrace and go into the house, walking through the rear hall, and out on the east veranda. She had listened intently but didn’t hear Nan follow him,—a distinct disappointment to Miss Mattie.
Mr. Goddard, she knew, was in his own room. And Eva Turner was bustling about, now in her bedroom, then on the stairs, then to the kitchen and back again,—of course, intent upon her dietary duties.
Despairing of any further sounds of interest, Miss Mattie snapped on her lights and looked at her clock. It was five minutes to seven then, time to begin to dress for dinner.
And then, though not listening intently, Miss Mattie’s ears were startled by the sound of a single shot.
Indeed, at first, she didn’t recognize it as a shot. So often a supposed shot had been a blow-out or a burst tire, that now when it was really a shot, she naturally thought it something else. For a moment no sounds followed, and then various light footsteps could be heard below.
Still unthinking of tragedy, Miss Mattie stepped out into the hall, and though hall and stairs were as yet unlighted, she felt her way to the banister rail and started slowly down the stairs.
When half way down she could discern a white figure standing in the door between the hall and the sun parlor, but as she went on, the figure which she knew to be that of Eva Turner went through the doorway and the next instant the lights of the sun parlor were flashed on.
Miss Mattie scurried the rest of the way down and peered through the hall door into the sun room.
On the floor lay her brother in an ungainly heap, near him stood Malcolm Finley, an automatic pistol in his hand, and by the door, her hand still on the light switch, stood Eva Turner.
She was not looking at Finley, but in the opposite direction, toward the west door of the sun room.
And at that door, in another moment, appeared Nan, white-faced and terrified.
Then, as Nan stepped into the room, Orville Kent also came in from the south side, through the outside door that opened on the lawns and flower beds that ran down to the brook.
“What is it?” he cried; then, catching sight of Raynor’s fallen figure, and taking in Finley with the pistol, Kent sprang across the room to put his arm round the shaking form of his sister.
“Move, somebody! Do something!” came from Miss Turner in an hysterical shriek, she herself standing like a stone image.
“Oh, Douglas!” Miss Mattie cried, and tottered to a chair.
“Who—who did it?” gasped Nan, her voice almost inaudible.
“Who did it?” mocked Miss Turner. “There he stands,—with his weapon still in his hand! Look at him!”
“I—I didn’t do it,” Malcolm Finley said, and quickly added, “I don’t think I did.”
“Oh, you don’t!” and Miss Turner’s scorn fell on him. “Well, then, Mrs. Raynor did it! As I came to this door I heard the shot, and before I could get the light on I saw you both—”
“How could you see without the lights on?” asked Orville Kent, sternly. “Better keep still, Miss Turner, till you’re asked to speak.”
Ezra Goddard came then, shocked and wondering; Hatfield, the butler, appeared, and several maid servants huddled in the background.
“Somebody must take charge here,” Goddard said, going toward the stricken man; “perhaps he isn’t dead.”
“Oh,” said Nan, her frightened eyes staring, “isn’t he?”
“Hush, Nan,” said her brother, “hush, Nancy, dear, don’t talk. Will you let me take you to your room?”
“No, no, Orry, I must stay here—I must! You stay by me.”
“Yes, Nan,” and Kent placed her in a big chair, and then sat near her.
“Yes, he’s dead,” Goddard said, after a brief examination. “I think the women should go to their rooms,—or, at least, away from here.”
But none of the women would do this, and as Miss Mattie showed signs of faintness, Eva Turner hastened away and returned with restoratives.
“Hatfield,” Ezra Goddard said, giving his orders curtly, “call the family doctor,—you know his number?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” and the butler disappeared.
“Did you shoot Raynor, Malcolm?” was the next question.
“No,” said Finley, but his face was so drawn with shock and sorrow that his word carried no clear conviction.
“Then what are you doing with that pistol?”
“I-I picked it up—as I came in—I—Look here Goddard, it’s none of your business!”—
“Oh, yes, it is,—I’m making it my business.
Have you no more to say?”
“No more,” said Malcolm Finley.
“I have,” said the nurse. “It was either Mr. Finley or Mrs. Raynor who fired that shot!
If Ezra Goddard had followed the sea, he would have been the sort of sailor who is dubbed able seaman. If he had chosen the ministry as a career, he would have been known as an eminent divine. Had he pitched on the legal profession, he would have been spoken of as a noted lawyer. Or had he been an author, he would most certainly have attained the rank of celebrated novelist.
Moreover, if he had bent his talents and energies to the science of sleuthing, he would have risen rapidly to the height of Transcendent Detective, and would have become famous.
But detective he was not, for though possessed of the necessary perspicacity and perspicuity, he had had no training or experience, and knew little or nothing of finger-print work or of third-degree practice.
So it was really owing more to his inherent generalship than to his deductive ability that he stepped forward and assumed control of the entire situation. Moreover, no one else seemed ready or willing to take that step, so it seemed to Goddard that he simply had to.
His efficiency in emergency was well nigh 100 percent, and within fifteen minutes of the discovery of Douglas Raynor’s death, Goddard had sent word to the family physician, the county medical examiner and the local police. And within an hour they had all arrived.
Doctor Saxton came first. Though he was the family physician, he had rarely been called to Flower Acres, for there had been little illness in the household. When Douglas Raynor began to get faddy about his diet, he sought advice from various well advertised books, and, later, had decided on the employment of a resident dietitian. Miss Turner was by no means the first of these; indeed she was merely the present incumbent, and was already slated for dismissal by her patient.
But, being present, and being a graduate nurse, Doctor Saxton immediately spoke to her professionally, and seemed to rely on her assistance.
She came to him tremblingly, and with an obvious aversion to touching or even looking at the dead body of her late patient.
“Shot through the heart,” the doctor said, after a brief investigation. “Who did it?”
To this direct question there was no answer. Miss Turner compressed her lips into a straight, unspeaking line, while the others present, who were huddled round the sides of the sun room, gave only aghast, wondering looks at the doctor.
Held by some fascination of horror, they had all remained in the presence of the dead. Goddard had advised it, and the rest had inertly obeyed.
Nancy, her hand clasped in her brother’s, was half reclining in a long chair, while Miss Mattie sat bolt upright, eagerly watching everything that transpired.
Malcolm Finley sat, with folded arms and a calm, inscrutable face, his gray eyes moving slowly from the dead victim of the tragedy to the living wife, and back again.
From his scrutiny of the livid face and contorted muscles of Raynor Doctor Saxton at last lifted a puzzled countenance to, the group of anxious spectators.
“There are strange conditions here,” he said, “most peculiar, inexplicable conditions. Had Douglas Raynor any enemies?”
He glanced round the room, and as no one else spoke, Ezra Goddard said:
“In view of the fact that some one shot and killed him, I think we may logically assume that he had.”
The tinge of irony was slight, but quite enough to annoy the doctor.
“Not at all, sir. It is perfectly possible that the shooting might have been an accident, or—a suicide.”
“Oh, was it? Do you think that?” Nan spoke rapidly, in jerky accents, as if surprised but not displeased at this suggestion.
“I can’t say yet, Mrs. Raynor. On the face of it, it looks as if he had been shot down by the hand of another, but until after a more detailed examination, I prefer not to give a definite opinion. And for that, I want to await the arrival of the medical examiner. When he comes, I must ask that we be left by ourselves, except that I wish Miss Turner to remain with us in her professional capacity.”
“I’d like to say a word—” began Malcolm Finley, but Goddard stopped him peremptorily.
“Not a word, Mal. Surely you know better. This is not the time or place for any revelation, theory or suspicion. In fact, I ask all of you to say nothing definite or vital until the examiner and the detectives get here.”
“I shall say what I choose,” announced Nan, “and I say—”
“My dear Mrs. Raynor,” Goddard spoke quietly, but looked at her with a steady gaze, “just reflect a moment on the fact, that quite aside from yourself, what you would say might affect others in a way for which you would be sorry.”
“What do you mean?” she said, her face drawn by an agonized frown.
“It doesn’t matter what I mean, but it might matter a great deal what you say, so I ask you, I beg of you, to say nothing.”
His insistence won the day, and Nan said no more, except now and then in a whisper to Orry, which was unheard by the others.
And so, when Doctor Fraser, the examiner, came, everybody was turned out of the room except Nurse Turner.
From her expression it might be gathered that she would have preferred to go also, but as both doctors directed her to remain, she had no choice in the matter.
The others filed into the large living room, and seated themselves. Malcolm Finley almost gave way to his strong desire to sit by the side of Nancy, but compelled himself to conquer it, and crossed the room to sit beside Miss Mattie.
She, however, was so pointedly cold and distant of manner, Finley turned aside and began talking to Goddard.
“I hope a fairly decent detective will be sent,” he said; “for this is not a case to be bungled.”
“It is not, indeed,” Goddard assented; “I only hope the doctors can prove it a suicide.”
“Why?” cried Nan, resenting, as always, any aspersion on her husband. “Suicide is the deed of a coward,—and Douglas was never that!”
“No, he was not,” Goddard said; “yet I wish it might have been,—for a murder mystery is a long, hard road to travel.”
“It’s a murder,—but it’s no mystery.”
These words were spoken by Miss Mattie, and were intoned in a sepulchral voice that was in itself an indictment of the one she had in mind. Nor was the identity of that one long in doubt. She looked straight at Nan, and though she said no more definite word, it was easily seen that already she accused Nancy Raynor of the death of her husband.
“But Nancy didn’t shoot him,” the spinster added, and Nan looked up quickly, to see the stern old face as accusing as ever, and the sharp old eyes glaring at her.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, wearily, and leaning back in her chair she closed her eyes, and her brother watched her affectionately.
“I wish Nan would go to her room,” Orville Kent said; “she can be of no use to-night, and when the policemen come it will drive her frantic.”
“She ought to be driven frantic,” Miss Mattie’s cold voice declared. “Of course she can’t go to her room, Orville; she must be questioned with the rest of us.”
Notwithstanding the awfulness of the occasion, it was quite clear that Miss Mattie looked forward to the questioning not without relish. She had always been a devoted sister, she sincerely mourned her brother, and she greatly desired to have his murderer, if there were one, found and punished, but beneath all these natural emotions was an irrepressible enjoyment of the anticipation of the inquiries and revelations that must soon take place.
Moreover, she desired that all the actors in the drama take their parts, and if Nan should drop out of the ranks, half the excitement of the thing would disappear.
Miss Raynor did not formulate all these thoughts, even to herself; indeed, she would probably have disclaimed them had she been taxed with them; but, nevertheless, they were the workings of her subconscious mind.
At last, to her satisfaction, the police arrived. The others, too, felt a certain sense of relief, for action of any sort is better than idle suspense.
The chief, whose name was Pell, remained in the sun parlor with the physicians, but after a few moments there, the detective came into the living room and looked inquiringly about him.
“I am Ezra Goddard,” said the self-appointed spokesman, “a friend of the late Mr. Raynor. This is Mrs. Raynor, and Miss Mattie Raynor,—a sister.”
The others were introduced, both Finley and Kent acknowledging their names by the slightest of nods and some servants were designated.
Detective Dobbins sat down and as he rolled his beady black eyes from one to another he rubbed his hands as if in active enjoyment of the situation.
As indeed he was, for when one is a detective, and month in and month out one gets nothing of any importance to detect, what can be more satisfying than a first-class mystery in the home of first-class people?
And Dobbins was quite confident of his ability to prove himself a first-class sleuth.
Personally, he preferred the word sleuth to detective, as it seemed to him to connote more daring work, and also he deemed it less hackneyed. To his sleuthing, then, he applied himself.
“Who was the last to see Mr. Raynor alive?” he began, in a most workmanlike way.
Goddard, who was firmly determined to answer all questions that were addressed to nobody in particular, and some that were definitely addressed, said:
“That is the regulation question, Mr. Dobbins, but, as usual, it is almost impossible to answer. If Mr. Raynor was shot by the hand of another, that individual was, of course, the last one to see him alive. Now, of that we have no knowledge. If, on the other hand, Mr. Raynor committed suicide—”
“Suicide!” cried the astounded Dobbins. “I have not been told that there is any suggestion of that!”
He looked like a man suddenly defrauded of his rights.
“It’s not a question of suggestion, Mr. Dobbins,” Goddard went on, suavely, “but of investigation. And a rational investigation must consider all possibilities.”
“Quite so,—quite so.” Detective Dobbins began to wish that Mr. Goddard had never been born.
“Well,” he resumed, after a moment’s thought, “let us put it this way, then. Which ones of you were among the last to see Mr. Raynor alive?”
“Ah, that’s better,” and Goddard smiled approval. “I can answer that for all of us. We were all together on the terrace having tea. After tea we still sat there until dusk began to fall. Then several neighbors who were with us started for their homes. And we, the members of the family and household, dispersed to our rooms to dress for dinner.”
“All of you here present were at tea with Mr. Raynor?”
“Yes,” said Goddard, and others nodded.
“Who left the group first?”
“The guests from the neighboring houses,” Goddard replied.
“I did,” Orville Kent said; “I went with one of the guests, a young lady from the Fay place, next to this.”
“And after Mr. Kent?” Dobbins queried, his black eyes taking in the expression on each face.
“I think I went off next,” Finley said, “unless Miss Turner, the nurse, preceded me. Of that I’m not quite sure.”
“I’m sure,” Nan said; “Miss Turner did go before Mr. Finley,—she went to the pantry to see about some malted milk for my husband. And then Mr. Finley went away, and then Miss Raynor, and then my husband rose and went himself into the house.”
“And from the house into that room—that sun parlor, I believe you call it.”
“Yes,” Nancy agreed, “that is, he must have done so. But when he left me he went into the house.”
“You were then alone at the tea table, Mrs. Raynor?”
“The tea table had been removed, Mr. Dobbins, some time since. But, yes, I was then alone on the west terrace, where we had had tea.”
“What did you do?”
“Do? Why, nothing. I sat a moment, thinking I must go and dress for dinner, but delaying a few moments to enjoy the soft evening air and the fragrance of my flowers.”
“And you sat there until—”
“Until—” Nan repeated, a far-away, reminiscent look in her eyes.
Just then, Goddard gave a loud and emphatic “Ahem!” and Nan looked quickly at him.
No one could mistake the look on his face for anything but a sharp glance of warning, which, indeed, it was intended to be.
Whereupon, Nancy Raynor drew herself together with a visible effort, and began to speak glibly.
“Why, yes,—what was I saying? Oh, yes; I sat there until I heard that shot,—yes, until I heard that shot, Mr. Dobbins.”
“You are sure of this, Mrs. Raynor?”
“Yes, yes, perfectly sure,—until I heard the shot—”
“Yet, until Mr. Goddard attracted your attention just now, you were going to give me a different reply.”
“No, I wasn’t,—oh, no, I wasn’t! Why should I?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure. Now what time was it when you heard the shot?”
“I can’t say, exactly. I didn’t look at my watch. But of course I know, in a general way, that it must have been a little before seven. For I always go upstairs to dress by seven,—or a very little later. Yes, I should say it might have been nearly seven.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. You know yourself, Mr. Dobbins, nobody can fix a time exactly if they’re not thinking about it.”
“No, that’s true. Well, then, you heard the shot,—did you know at once where it came from?”
“I knew from which direction it came, and, of course, I ran that way.”
“Into the sun parlor?”
“Yes,—that is, no,—not into it,—but to the door, the west door, and looked in.”
“Yes; and after you went into the room what did you see—”
“My husband—but I told you I didn’t go into the room!”
“You must have to have seen your husband, for as he lay on the floor, there was a large table between him and the west door,—you couldn’t have seen him from the doorway.”
“Oh, yes, I did,—I’m positive I did.”
“I think, Mr. Dobbins, you will gain little by questioning Mrs. Raynor further to-night. She is greatly unstrung—”
“Excuse me, Mr. Goddard, I think I shall gain a great deal by questioning Mrs. Raynor to-night. I must ask you not to interfere.”
“Then, will you not let her rest a few moments, and return to her later?” Goddard’s manner showed only concern for Nan’s comfort.
“Yes, I will do that. I will talk to Miss Raynor, and Mrs. Raynor can pull herself together. Tell me anything you can of the matter, Miss Raynor.”
“I went upstairs to my room, and I sat a while looking out of the window. I saw Mr. Kent and Miss Dolly Fay cross the lawns toward her home, and I saw Mrs. Lewis, who lives in another direction, also start to walk home. I could see no others, but I heard Mr. Goddard go to his room, across the hall from my own, and I heard Miss Turner moving in and out of the pantry. I heard my brother’s footsteps as he went into the house and out again to the sun room, and I heard Mr. Finley go out on the east veranda.”
“You have acute hearing, Miss Raynor.”
“It has always been good, and I am not yet old enough for it to become impaired. Then, as I thought it getting late, I turned on my lights and looked at my clock. It was nearly seven.”
“I don’t know,—ten or fifteen minutes of seven, I think. Then I heard the shot, and I didn’t at first think anything was wrong. I thought of somebody cleaning a gun, or shooting a bird,—not definitely, you know, but those thoughts went through my mind. I went out in the hall, but it was so nearly dark I couldn’t see anything. As I reached the stairs, a light appeared downstairs, and I hurried down.”
“What did you see?”
“Miss Turner just going into the sun parlor—”
“Or coming out?”
“Oh, I never thought of that! Yes, she might have been coming out—”
“Think carefully now; I want to find out who was in the sun room about that time.”
“Well, if she was coming out, she was backing out. I—I think she was, now I recollect the scene. Why, you don’t think she shot him, do you?”
“I don’t think anything yet. Go on. Who else were there?”
“Oh, Nan was peering in at the west door, Mr. Finley was just inside the east door, and Mr. Raynor, my poor brother, lay on the floor in a dreadful heap—”
“Who came next?”
“In a few moments Orville Kent came in at the back door, the south one, and he looked after Nan,—Mrs. Raynor. But I must tell you that Mr. Finley had the pistol in his hand, and I can’t see what further evidence you want than that!”
With the expression of a Nemesis on her sharp, shrewd old face, Miss Raynor sat back in her chair and glared at Malcolm Finley.
“Will you speak for yourself, Mr. Finley?” said Dobbins. “What have you to say?”
“Only this,” Finley replied. “I was on the east veranda—”
“What were you doing?”
“Nothing,—except finishing a cigarette, and thinking that as soon as I had finished it I would go up to my room.”
“Do you know what time it was then?”
“I only know that it was shortly before seven. I couldn’t say how many minutes before.”
“Did you finish your cigarette?”
“I don’t know. I heard a shot, and I daresay I tossed the cigarette away unconsciously as I ran in the direction of it.”
“Yes, or walked very swiftly. At any rate, I reached the west door of the sun parlor in a few seconds, and going in I found Mr. Raynor on the floor, a pistol by his side. I picked up the weapon—”
“Don’t you know that was a wrong act?”
“I didn’t stop to think of right or wrong. I picked it up almost unconsciously; at any rate, involuntarily. It was almost dark, I could with difficulty distinguish what had happened, and then, suddenly the lights came on, and Miss Turner stood in the house doorway.”
Mr. Dobbins raised his finger with a dramatic gesture.
“Wait, sir, stop right there. Let me reconstruct the scene.”
He rolled off this phrase with gusto; quite obviously he had read or heard it, and was glad of an opportunity to make use of it.
“As I understand it, the sun parlor, on the south side of the house, has four doors, one facing each of the points of the compass.”
“Exactly right,” agreed Goddard, “and the north door connects the sun parlor with the house.”
“Opening into a hall—”
“A cross hall, yes,” Goddard said.
“Now, then,” and Dobbins looked straight at Malcolm Finley, “when you came in through the east door, as you say you did, what did you see?”
“It was dusk, I could see nothing distinctly, but I made out the figure of Mr. Raynor, fallen to the floor, and I saw lying near him a pistol, which I at once picked up.”
“I have told you I don’t know why. Merely a natural, unconscious action. I was stunned by the sight of the man,—apparently dead.”
“Apparently dead? How could you tell that in the dim light?”
“I couldn’t,—definitely. But when a man is motionless, in a heap on the floor, with a pistol near by, it doesn’t require much mental argument to assume that he may be dead.”
“Humph,—your story is not very convincing. Then what else did you see?”
“Almost immediately the light was snapped on, and I saw Miss Turner, the nurse, in the house doorway.”
“The light switch is there?”
“Yes, in the wall, by the door jamb.”
“And Miss Turner’s expression—her attitude? Did she—er—look surprised?”
“That I can’t say. I merely saw that it was Miss Turner who stood there, and my glance flew at once to Mr. Raynor.”
“You went to him,—examined him?”
“No; I stood quite still. I was momentarily incapable of action, because of my surprise and dismay.”
“What happened next?”
“Mrs. Raynor, startled by the sound of the shot, appeared at the west door. She had come from the terrace, where we had tea—”
“Yes, she told all that. Reconstruct the scene, please.”
“Mrs. Raynor appeared at the west door of the sun parlor, and stood there,—as shocked, as petrified, as I was myself.”
“Next, I think, Miss Raynor came,—brushing past Miss Turner in the house doorway, and almost at the same instant Orville Kent appeared at the south door. He came in and went at once to his sister, and then we all began to make exclamations and ask questions. But there’s the scene,—as you call it.”
“The next thing is,” Dobbins proceeded, “to fix the time accurately. Do you know it, Mr. Finley?”
“I know that it was a little before seven,—ten minutes or so before the hour. But I didn’t look at my watch.”
“Do you know the hour, Mrs. Raynor?”
“No,—I’ve no closer idea than that it was a little before seven.”
“I think the shot occurred about fifteen minutes before the hour,—and yet, no,—I put on my boudoir light at five to seven, I think, or was it twenty to? I can’t remember. Why does it matter so much?”
“Do you know, Mr. Kent?”
“Not precisely; but when I left Miss Fay at the bridge she had just said it was seven o’clock, and that is nearly five minutes’ walk away. When I came to the south door I saw Mr. Finley and the others gathered round in consternation,—just as he described them.”
“I have here before me, then, the first arrivals on the scene, with the exception of Miss Turner. I think her presence is advisable.”
Dobbins stepped to the door and summoned the nurse, who came at once.
“Please tell me of the tragedy as you know it, Miss Turner,” the detective said.
“There’s little to tell,” said Miss Turner, who looked utterly worn and exhausted, perhaps owing to her experiences with the doctors in the next room. “I heard a shot—”
“At what time?”
“At exactly five minutes before seven—”
“How do you know so definitely?”
“Because, as a nurse, I always know precisely what time it is. I glance at my wrist watch constantly,—partly from habit, partly from the necessity in my profession of always knowing the time. Without looking, I can tell you now that it is exactly eight minutes after eleven.”
“That’s right,” Dobbins said, with a satisfied glance at his own timepiece. “I think we may feel sure, then, that the shot was fired at five minutes before seven. Where were you at that time, Miss Turner?”
“In the pantry.”
“And you, Miss Raynor?”
“In my boudoir,—as I’ve told you.”
“You, Mr. Finley?”
“On the east veranda, smoking a cigarette.”
“Between the brook at the foot of the hill and this house.”
“In my bedroom.”
Nan’s face was very white and her voice faltered as she said, “On the west terrace.”
“But,” and Miss Turner spoke with a cold clearness, “I saw you, Mrs. Raynor, just going out of the sun parlor as I turned on the light.”
“Just coming in,—you mean,” cried Orville Kent, and his voice was tense and anxious.
“No,” Miss Turner declared, “just going out,—and hurriedly. She came back, a moment later, and acted surprise at—at what she already knew.”
“You’re mistaken,” said Finley, in a quiet way. “Your own surprise at the fearful scene the sudden light showed you dazed your eyes as well as your brain, and you couldn’t tell just what you did see.”
“Indeed I could!” Miss Turner spoke with decided asperity. “But I will admit I don’t know which of you it was that killed him. Only,—Mr. Dobbins,—it must have been one or the other, and they both know it.”
“I think Miss Turner should be warned,” put in Goddard’s stern voice, “that she is unwise to accuse any one so definitely of what she cannot prove. The evidence must be collected and sifted and passed upon, and I must say that so far I cannot see that it points toward any one or two who are present any more than it does to the others here. As nearly as I can learn, the ‘scene’ which Mr. Dobbins so earnestly desired to have reconstructed includes some five or six individuals,—any one of whom might have shot Mr. Raynor,—beside the possibility of his having shot himself. Therefore, Miss Turner, for your own good, let me advise you to say less and think more.”
“After I have thought more,—I can say a good deal more,” was the significant response to this, and then Miss Turner was called back by the doctors.
“A valuable witness, that nurse,” and Detective Dobbins nodded his head in satisfaction. “The way she knew the time, now; there’s efficiency for you,—there’s reliability for you! We’ll learn a lot from that woman when the time comes for her further revelation.”
“But don’t forget, Mr. Dobbins,” Goddard warned him, “that Miss Turner, so far, is just as open to suspicion as any one else. Don’t forget that, although Mr. Finley was at the east door, and Mrs. Raynor at the west one, yet they may have been attracted by the sound of a shot that was fired by some one who was at either the north or south door.”
“But Mr. Kent came in at the south door—”
“That was later, Mr. Dobbins. It is quite possible that an intruder from outside came in at the south door, fired the shot that killed Mr. Raynor, and disappeared again, before Mr. Kent reached the house at all.”
“In that case you would have seen him running away, Mr. Kent?” the detective interrogated.
“Not in the dusk,” returned Orville Kent, thoughtfully. “I am sure, as I make out the time of the shooting, he would have had time to get away before I came to the south door. It was too dark to see a man if he desired not to be seen,—I mean by that, if he kept to the shadow of the shrubbery. A man walking straight away from the south door I should probably have seen, but not one who skulked furtively away,—as, of course, I had no thought of looking for any such person.”
Every one present except the detective seemed relieved at the suggestion of an intruder from outside. Goddard followed it up.
“As you can clearly see, Mr. Dobbins, the probability of an intrusion by an outsider is too strong to be neglected. I trust, therefore, you will thoroughly investigate it before accusing, without sufficient evidence, any member of the household.”
“Evidence will be forthcoming, Mr. Goddard. We have as yet scarcely begun to look for it. Testimony comes first, and we have discovered much already. The time of the shot is accurately fixed by Miss Turner at five minutes before seven—”
“Is her unsupported testimony to be implicitly relied on, Mr. Dobbins?”
“Just what do you mean by that, Mr. Goddard?”
“Only that if Miss Turner chose, for any reason, to state the time inaccurately, she could of course do so. Myself, I think the shot was fired a trifle earlier than that.”
“Now as to the weapon,” Dobbins said, briskly, ignoring Ezra Goddard’s suggestion. “Who can identify this pistol?”
“Every one of us,” Kent said, carelessly. “It was the property of my brother-in-law, and was always kept in the upper right-hand drawer of that desk, at your side.”
“Was it, indeed?” and Dobbins seemed surprised. “And was it, to your knowledge, Mr. Kent, in that drawer just before the shooting?”
“To my belief, rather than knowledge,—a belief based on the assumption that it was doubtless there, because that was its accustomed place. However, as the assassin probably took it from the drawer, he may have done so at any time previous to the moment of the crime.”
“Or,” suggested Malcolm Finley, “in the event of an ill-intentioned intruder, Mr. Raynor himself may have opened the drawer and taken the pistol out to protect himself, and so may have been shot, by his own hand or another’s.”
“I can’t see it as a suicide,” and Dobbins gave a long look at Finley. “Where was any motive for Douglas Raynor to kill himself?”
“For that matter, who had any motive to kill him?” asked Goddard.
“We won’t go into that at present,” Dobbins returned, quickly, but his darting glances at both Finley and Nan Raynor gave an unmistakable idea of his opinion on the matter.
“No, don’t,” was Goddard’s warning. “Let me tell you, Mr. Dobbins, this case is far from simple. Let me ask you to go slowly, for there are many things yet to be discovered.”
“That I well know, Mr. Goddard. Nor am I the one to move too quickly in matters of this sort. Slow and sure,—that’s my motto. But this pistol is a valuable bit of evidence. We must take care of it. It will, of course, show the fingerprints of Mr. Malcolm Finley,—as he handled it. If it shows no others—” He paused with dramatic significance.
“It will prove that the murderer wore gloves,” said Ezra Goddard, coolly.
“Let me come in,—let me hear all this!”
The words were spoken by Dolly Fay, who came into the room, looked quickly about and then seated herself close to Nan.
“Ask me things, Mr. Detective,—I can tell you a lot.”
“Your evidence would be of no use, miss; we can’t take children as witnesses—”
“Pooh, I guess you’ll be glad to get evidence from anybody,—if it’s good evidence.”
“Do you know anything about the matter?” asked Dobbins, his curiosity getting the better of his indifference.
“Not a thing—”
“Why did you come over here, Dolly?” asked Nan. “I think you’d better run home again. You can come back to-morrow morning.”
“Not I. I’m here to help,—why, Nancy, I was in bed, and I heard the telephone, and I heard our people talking about it,—somebody was telling Dad the news,—and I just hopped up and skittled into my togs, and ran over. Nobody at home knows I came—”
“I’ll take you home, Dolly,” and Kent rose; “come along, now.”
“No, Orry, you don’t understand. I’ve a bit of detective instinct; why, I read sleuth stories all the time,—but I never hoped to have a real murder mystery to solve—oh, Nan, you needn’t pretend you’re sorry he’s dead—”
“Dolly, be quiet!” Miss Mattie glared at her. “You’re a wicked little thing, and I order you,—I command you to leave this house at once.”
“But you’re not mistress here, Miss Mattie,—and beside, you’d better let me stay,—why, I may be of inestimable assistance—inestimable!”
She fairly gloated over her long words, and she was an impertinent, forward child, yet something in her manner, some expression in her eyes, made Ezra Goddard feel that she might be of use, and he said:
“Let the child stay if she likes. No possible witness ought to be ignored. Did you hear the shot fired, Miss Fay?”
“Oh, no! If I had I’d have been over here at once. At what time did it happen?”
“A few minutes before seven,” Goddard answered, watching her closely.
“Before seven? Then that’s just when Orry and I stood on the little bridge,—too far away to hear a shot,—who did it?”
The girl’s big eyes moved slowly from one to another, as if she would learn the secret thoughts of each one.
Then she nodded her head. “A bad man from outside, of course. Did anybody see anything of him? I know who he was.”
“You know who he was!” Detective Dobbins fairly jumped.
“Well,—I can’t say positively, of course, but—there’s one way to look,—you know whom I mean, Miss Mattie,—I won’t speak the name if you don’t.”
And the queer child refused to mention the person she had in mind and Miss Raynor declared she had no knowledge of what Dolly meant.
“I attach little importance to this baby-talk,” said Dobbins, grandly. “The thing is now to get the testimony of more interested parties. Mrs. Raynor, I must ask you a few personal questions. Would you prefer to see me alone,—on the subject?”
“No,” said Nan, faintly, and her hand slid into her brother’s, while Dolly Fay, on her other side, patted her arm affectionately, “I will answer anything you ask,—right here.”
“Indeed, you will,” put in Miss Mattie. “You’re in a desperate position, Nancy,—I want to hear what you have to say. For it is an open secret—”
“You are not being interrogated, Miss Raynor,” Goddard interrupted her; “kindly be silent.”
“Be silent yourself, Mr. Goddard. You are, I know, a friend of Mr. Finley, and you, of course, fear any disclosures that will involve him, but let me tell you those disclosures must be made,—the affair of Nancy and Malcolm Finley must be made public, and then the motive for the doing away with my poor brother can no longer be a mystery.”
“Oho,” and Dobbins looked enlightened, “that’s how it is, is it? Now, Mrs. Raynor, since you are ready to answer me, just what were your personal relations with your late husband? Amicable or—otherwise?”
“Amicable, certainly,” and Nan’s clear, cool voice came as a surprise to all who listened.
“Ah—um—yes,—quite so. You were congenial in every respect? You loved him? He loved you? In a word your married life was a happy one?”
“Yes to all those questions, Mr. Dobbins.” The voice was cold now, and Nan’s beautiful head was held high, and a scornful look was on her face.
“Ah,—certainly.” The detective was at a loss just how to carry on his grilling process. “You held your husband then in high esteem?”
“Indeed, yes, Mr. Dobbins. He was a most honorable and upright man, respected by all who knew him.”
“You loved him better than you loved anybody else in all the world?”
Something like a smile curved Nan’s lips for an instant at the wording of this inquiry, and she answered:
“That question is irrelevant and you have no right to ask it. Yet I am willing to answer it in the affirmative. However, I cannot see that it has any bearing on the case.”
“Mrs. Raynor,” the detective looked at her severely, “you have a different mental attitude now from that which you showed when I questioned you before. I may say you have a grip on yourself, you have pulled yourself together, and are ready to make your own defense. I cannot, therefore, place entire confidence in your statements. I shall have to ask corroboration. Miss Raynor, do you assert that there was no jarring note in the marital attitude of Mr and Mrs. Raynor?”
“I do not assert that, Mr. Dobbins, but the exact contrary. My brother and his wife were both uncongenial and unhappy. They had few, if any, tastes in common, there was constant friction, even quarrels, and when Mrs. Raynor represents it otherwise, she is not stating the situation as it really was.”
Nancy Raynor looked at Miss Mattie with a cold scorn that would have withered a less belligerent nature, but the spinster went on:
“Moreover, Mrs. Raynor is secretly glad that her husband is dead—”
“Mattie, hush!” Nancy’s voice rang out in sharp command. “You may state what facts you choose, but if you hold such opinions of me or of Douglas, you must and shall keep them to yourself!”
Whether Miss Mattie’s opinions were untrue, or whether she was merely cowed at last by a superior force, no one knew, but she ceased talking and drew her lips close together in a thin, hard line.
Add then the medical examiner came in from the other room.
“There are strange developments in this case,” he said; “I suggest, Mr. Dobbins, that you defer your further questioning until morning. I must also inform you, Mrs. Raynor, that we have to take away your husband’s body to-night. An autopsy is necessary, important questions have arisen. Dobbins, let everything remain as it is until to-morrow. The household may retire,—nobody, of course, may leave the house,—who is this child?”
“I’m Dolly Fay,—a neighbor. I’m going to stay the night with Mrs. Raynor.”
“But, Dolly, dear,” Nan said, gently, “what will your mother think when she finds your room vacant?”
“Oh, that’s all right. I pinned a note on my pillow, telling her I had come over here.”
Fraser, the county examiner, paid no further heed to Dolly, gave a few more instructions to the detective and went away.
Eva Turner came to Nancy, and asked, in a perfunctory way, if she could do anything for her physical comfort.
“No, thank you,” and Nan looked at her a little curiously; “good night, Miss Turner.”
“Good night,” and Eva Turner went at once to her room.
Nan Raynor also went to her beautiful apartments,—but it was many a long hour ere those two women sought their pillows.
Dolly Fay slept in Douglas Raynor’s room, and though she was asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow, Nan Raynor in the adjoining room was busily moving about for a long time. But when at last sheer exhaustion made Nan fall into troubled slumber as daylight began to dawn, Dolly awoke refreshed and alert.
She hopped out of bed and ran to look at Nan. Seeing her asleep, the girl tiptoed away, and her quick eyes caught sight of a bit of folded paper under the door.
She picked it up and without unfolding it, laid it on Nan’s dressing table. Then, reconsidering, she woke Nan up to tell her of it.
Wide awake at once, “Give it to me,” the older woman said.
Sitting up in bed, she read these lines.
Dear Heart: At least, please be advised by me in this. Keep a quiet but gentle pose and answer questions straightforwardly but admit nothing. M. F.
Silently Nan meditated on this, until Dolly, tired of waiting for her to speak, leaned over her and read the missive too.
“What does he mean, Nan?” she asked.
“What he says, I suppose. It’s good advice and I shall follow it. Dolly, you wormed yourself into this thing,—you had no right to read this note—”
“Oh, don’t you be afraid of me, Nancy. I won’t tell a single thing you don’t want me to. I’ll never tell that you got that note,—shall I?”
“Of course not, Dolly. Oh, why are you here at all? I shouldn’t have let you stay,—but I was so dazed and troubled last night I scarcely realized that you were here.”
“Now, Nan, I’m here to help you. Honest, I won’t tell a thing you don’t want me to,—why, what have you been doing? Here’s a whole heap of ashes in the fireplace! You been burning things?”
“It’s chilly, isn’t it? Let’s start a little fire.”
Hastily and rather nervously, Nan laid on some wood from the basket and Dolly ran for a match. Soon a fire was blazing and into it Nan thrust the note she had just read.
Then still wrapped in her soft silk dressing-gown, she sank into a low chair before the fire and asked Dolly to ring for her maid.
“We’ll have tea here, Dolly, and then we’ll dress and go down to breakfast. There’s a hard day before me, and I must meet it bravely.”
“Yes, dear,” and Dolly fluttered around her with loving little attentions and drew a low table to her side.
Dolly adored Nan, and always endeavored to imitate her ways. So now she too was quiet and composed rather than indulging in her usual excited enthusiasm.
“Listen, Dolly,” Nan said, after they had had their tea, “I can trust you, can’t I?”
“To the end!” said Dolly, dramatically, but very earnestly.
“Then, dear, I’ll tell you, that I am in deep trouble. Don’t ask me any questions, don’t tell anybody anything about me, but help me all you can,—won’t you, Dolly?”
“Indeed I will,—you know I’ll be glad to help.”
“Then this is what you can do, dear. Take this little parcel and hide it somewhere among your own things until I ask you for it again. Have you some place,—where nobody can get at it?”
“Oh, yes, I have a drawer in my desk that I always keep locked. I will put it in that.”
“And can you get it over home without attracting attention? You see, Dolly, they may search my rooms,—and—”
“Don’t worry, Nan, darling,—trust all to me. Why, it’s only a small parcel; I can get it in my coat pocket,—it’s a big pocket, you know.”
“Very well, dear. Do that,—and never say a word of it to any one, not even your mother.”
“Oh, I won’t. What else can I do for you?”
“Nothing, now. Be true and faithful to me, won’t you, Dolly?”
Nan looked utterly despairing, and Dolly put her arms round her as she reassured her of her love and loyalty.
“All right, dear,” and Nan suddenly straightened up and looked brave and strong again. “Now, dress, and we’ll go downstairs.”
Nancy Raynor dressed herself with care, choosing a plain black gown, and massing her dark hair in a soft coil. She was so slender and girlish, so pathetic and sad looking that Dolly stared at her.
“You don’t look like yourself,” she said; “yesterday you looked like—like a royal queen,—and now you’re more like a—a broken lily.”
“You’re poetic, Dolly,” and Nan smiled a little. “Never mind my looks, let’s go down now,—and please, my dear child, don’t say anything whatever about me—to anybody at all. Can you promise me that?”
“Yes, of course I promise. And I’ll keep the promise, too.”
Downstairs, Dolly found a peremptory message from her mother to come home at once, and greatly to her disappointment she had to go.
Nancy Raynor presided at the breakfast table with her accustomed grace and dignity, and at first no one was there with her but Ezra Goddard.
“Excuse me, if I speak abruptly,” he said, in a low voice, as the butler left the room for a moment, “but, Mrs. Raynor, if you want any help or advice that I can give, command me. Or get a lawyer,—you doubtless have one,—but don’t ask Malcolm Finley to help you.”
“Why?” and her large dark eyes turned curiously toward him.
“I think you know why”—he spoke very gently— “but much will depend on to-day’s disclosures. And remember I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.
“Good for you, Goddard,” Orville Kent said, as he came into the room, “we’ll want help, I’m thinking. Nancy, dear, be careful what you say. Let me be with you whenever you’re questioned. There’s a lot yet to be told.”
With that, Kent lapsed into silence and devoted himself to his breakfast, paying little attention as the others of the household drifted in and took their places at the table.
Malcolm Finley, beyond formal greetings, said almost nothing, and Miss Turner was equally taciturn.
Only Miss Mattie Raynor was loquacious.
Her grief at her brother’s death was, partly at least, lost sight of in her interest and wonder as to his assailant.
“Do you know what I think?” she asked, with an important air. “I think old Grim Gannon had something to do with Douglas’ death. I did think it was you, Nan, but I’ve reconsidered, and you know Gannon is a queer dick.”
But nobody commented on this statement, or responded in any way to Miss Mattie’s opinion, and soon the uncomfortable meal was over and the group separated.
“Come for a walk in the gardens,” Finley whispered to Nan, as they left the dining-room. “I want to talk to you.”
“I daren’t,” she returned, lifting piteous eyes to his. “Don’t ask me—we mustn’t be seen together.”—
“Come with me, Nancy,” Kent said, peremptorily. And as she obeyed, he admonished her, “Are you crazy, Nan? For heaven’s sake keep away from Finley at least until after the funeral!”
“Yes, Orry,” she said, docilely. “I want to do what’s right.”
“Well, then conduct yourself very carefully. Stay by me or by Miss Mattie all the time. You can’t be too careful, Nan. Do try to realize, dear, that you’re in a very peculiar situation. Say nothing, keep your dignity, be very quiet and non-committal—”
“Of course I’ll do all that,—I know my duty—” And Nan once more regained the poise that was natural to her, and yet which seemed to slip so easily from her now.
Doctor Fraser and Detective Dobbins arrived and called the household together in the great living room.
It was clear to be seen that they were possessed of new and important information, and Dobbins seemed scarcely able to control his own excitement as the medical examiner began his inquiries.
“We have found strange conditions,” Fraser began, addressing himself principally to Nan, but taking in the rest in his roving glance. “Of course Mr. Raynor was killed by a pistol shot. It was fired at short range, the bullet entered his heart and death was practically instantaneous. But an autopsy has revealed the fact that Mr. Raynor was also the victim of poisoning.”
He paused and looked at one after another of the silent group.
Only Miss Mattie showed excitement. She quivered with amazement and indignation, and her accusing glance turned toward the wife of the dead man.
“Yes,” Fraser went on, “an examination of the contents of the stomach shows the presence of arsenic, taken very lately, as well as the cumulative effects of that poison shown by various conditions.
“As may not be known to you laymen, the symptoms of cumulative arsenical poisoning are anemia, shortness of breath, occasional prostration, pallor, and excessive thirst. All these things were present in Mr. Raynor’s case, and I’m sure you can remember them.”
“I do,” Miss Mattie cried. “Oh, my poor Douglas! Yes, he was so thirsty at luncheon yesterday, he called for one glass of water after another! Poisoned! Oh, my God!”
The elderly spinster hid her face in her hands, for once deprived of speech by her emotions.
“This,” Fraser went on, “opens up a new field of inquiry. We must assume that some one administered the arsenic from day to day—”
“Unless it was suicide,” put in Ezra Goddard, smoothly.
“There is that possibility,” Fraser admitted, “but it is highly improbable. Never, to my knowledge, has there been any record of suicide by cumulative poisoning.”
“That does not debar the possibility.” Goddard insisted.
“It does not, sir. That must be discovered. I hold that it is exceedingly improbable, however. To resume: this process of arsenical poisoning of Mr. Raynor must have been going on for at least a fortnight or so, and had he not been shot, and had the poisoning continued, the man must have died from its effects in the course of another fortnight.”
The alert eyes of Detective Dobbins scrutinized the faces before him.
But save for the contorted and agonized countenance of Miss Mattie, they were all stonily devoid of expression.
Nancy Raynor looked like a statue cut in marble. Her face was colorless, even her lips were almost white, and her great dark eyes were piercingly fastened on the face of Doctor Fraser.
Malcolm Finley and Ezra Goddard were calmly listening with no more evidence of surprise than they might give to any ordinary narrative.
Orville Kent bent his attention solicitously on his sister, and Nurse Turner gazed imperturbably into space.
“Can any one present,” Fraser went on, “suggest any explanation of this poisoning process?”
As no one replied, he questioned each in turn.
“Certainly not,” Nancy Raynor said, her voice and manner perfectly composed. “I cannot imagine who would attempt to poison my husband, and I am most certainly sure he never thought of doing such a thing himself.”
“The thing is almost incredible,” Orville Kent said, in his turn. “Why, if somebody was successfully poisoning a man, would he also shoot him?”
“That is a question easy to ask and difficult to answer,” Dobbins declared, with an air of one who utters profound wisdom.
“Miss Turner,” Fraser said, “as nurse and dietitian to Mr. Raynor, did you not notice the symptoms I have described?”
“Not to think of them as symptoms of poisoning,” Eva Turner answered. “I noticed that Mr. Raynor was pale, was anemic, and that at times he showed shortness of breath, but these things I was trying to correct by changes in his diet. As you know, Doctor Fraser, those symptoms you mention, are not exclusively the effect of arsenical poisoning.
“No, of course not. You couldn’t be expected to realize their cause. But now, having discovered the presence of arsenic in his system and in his stomach, we know,—we know that Mr. Raynor was being purposely and systematically dosed with arsenic. If not given as a medicine by doctor or nurse,—it must have been administered with a criminal intent. Whose was the hand that gave it?”
He paused, and glanced around. But there was no response, and no sound, except for the uncontrollable sobbing of the dead man’s sister.
“She did it!” Miss Mattie broke out, between her sobs. “Nan did it,—I saw her slip a tablet—”
“Hush!” Orville Kent fairly thundered at her. “I insist that Miss Raynor shall not be allowed to talk. She is beside herself with nervous excitement and is not responsible for what she says. If investigation of this matter must be made, let it be done officially, and not by hysterical outbursts of ill-advised information!”
Kent was white-faced and stern, and his tensed muscles seemed almost ready to strike out in defense of his sister.
“Mr. Kent,” Fraser said, “you must not defeat the ends of justice—”
“I don’t want to,” Kent stormed back; “but I refuse to sit here and let my sister be slandered and wickedly accused by a woman who would willingly perjure herself to convict my sister of a crime she is incapable of committing. You have no right, Doctor Fraser, to listen to the ravings of a mad woman—”
“There, there, Mr. Kent,” Dobbins broke in, “you do harm rather than good to your sister’s cause by such a violent outburst. This investigation must be made. We must ask questions of those present, as they are the ones most likely to know the facts. Miss Raynor, do you accuse—”
“No,” and Mattie Raynor sat bolt upright, and controlled herself sufficiently to speak quietly. “No, I accuse nobody. I spoke impulsively, and I retract anything I said,—or suggested.”
Nan looked at her with a sort of dumb gratitude.
Then Ezra Goddard spoke.
“It is a strange case,” he said; “but, I should say, Doctor Fraser, that as the poisoner did not succeed in his efforts and the person who shot Mr. Raynor did carry out his fatal intention, that the poisoning matter sinks into insignificance beside the matter of the shooting.”
“Not at all, Mr. Goddard. The poisoner is quite as much a criminal in intent as the one who fired the pistol. Moreover, it is my theory that they are one and the same. We must admit the desire to kill Mr. Raynor, on the part of somebody. The situation suggests that this would-be murderer tried the poison process, and finding that too slow or too inefficacious resorted to the quicker and surer means of shooting.”
“Well,” said Orville Kent, shortly, “get busy then, and find out who it was. But go about it by inquiry and evidence and not by the imbecile method of accusing an entirely unsuspectable person!”
“The situation is narrowing itself down,” Doctor Fraser said slowly. “Matters must be inquired into,—a motive must be found. No evidence has shown or hinted that Mr. Raynor had any enemies,—I mean among his business relations or in his personal affairs, who might have desired his death. There must be a motive, and before we can feel obliged to look for it elsewhere, it must be shown that it is not to be found in his intimate family relations. While I regret the necessity, I must, Mrs. Raynor, ask you for a frank statement of your attitude toward your late husband.”
“My attitude?” Nan said, her head held erect and her dark eyes blazing with indignation; “that is a strange question, sir. I can only say that my attitude toward my husband was that of respect, honor and admiration.”
“And love,—Mrs. Raynor?”
“I don’t know just how to answer that.” The beautiful brow knitted as if in deep consideration.
“I assume I must answer, however, so I will say that while there was comradeship and harmony between my husband and myself, there was not what might be called deep affection. But,” she added, proudly, “we honored and trusted one another.”
“He was kind to you?”
“He was not. No question of respect to his memory can make me affirm that he was kind to me,—for he was not.”
“Why did you marry him?”
“For reasons of my own,—quite apart from affection or—”
“A matter of expediency, then?”
“Exactly.” Nan seemed pleased with the word. “It was a matter of expediency.”
“And the reason for the expedience?”
“That I cannot tell you. If you can persuade me that it is necessary I may do so,—but otherwise, I shall not answer that question.”
“Look here,” Orville Kent said, “why are you baiting my sister like that? Those questions are unnecessary, and you know it. I don’t know myself why my sister married Douglas Raynor, but I never tried to drag it out of her!”
Fraser paid no attention to the anger of her brother, but continued to question Mrs. Raynor.
“Had you noticed the symptoms I described as being those of poison?”
“I had noticed that my husband did not seem very well, but I ascribed it to the changing diet he was eternally trying.”
“Meaning that Miss Turner experimented on him?” said Fraser, quickly.
“Only in the pursuit of her duty. I know that my husband was a faddist as to his diet, and I know that Miss Turner, as well as other dietitians he has employed, did her best to please him, and to improve his health. If the treatment was not successful, I’m sure it was in no way Miss Turner’s fault.”
Instead of seeming gratified at this vindication of herself, Eva Turner looked curiously at the speaker.
“I thank you,” she said, at last, nodding her head in Nan’s direction, “but I am in no need of your championship, Mrs. Raynor. Nor am I especially interested in the matter of poisoning. I should say, Doctor Fraser, that the shot that killed Mr. Raynor was far more important than poison that didn’t kill him! And I will ask you to remember, that I was the one who turned on the lights just in time to see two people in the room with the dead man,—either of whom,—” she paused, and then went on firmly, “both of whom are secretly glad of the poor man’s death.”
Orville Kent turned on her in a fury of passion, but Ezra Goddard laid a restraining hand on his arm.
“Keep quiet, Kent,” he said. “Miss Turner, you are making a grave statement.”
“I am,” she responded, her face white and set, “but you can determine the truth of it for yourself. As the principal witness, as the one who first turned the light on a deed done in the dark, I hold that my testimony is of utmost importance and should be considered first of all.”
“You are right, Miss Turner,” Dobbins said; “if you saw the dead man and those two people in the room, there can be no doubt but that one of them fired the fatal shot. The question is, which one?”
“That ought to be easy for a detective to discover,” Miss Turner said, carelessly. “And after it is discovered, it may be learned whether it was that one or the other who was already trying to bring about the desired result by means of slow poison.”
The woman’s face was almost distorted by fury. She seemed beside herself as she thought of the details of the tragedy.
Goddard looked at her curiously. Why should she be so wrought up over the matter? Why so bitter toward Nancy Raynor, and, inferentially, toward Finley? Was she in love with the dead man? Or with Finley? Or what did ail her, anyway?
And then Miss Mattie broke forth again. But this time she spoke in agonized reproach, rather than in angry accusation.
“Oh, Nan,” she cried, in a wailing tone, “oh, Nancy, why did you do it? I saw you,—I saw you drop pellets in Douglas’ teacup—twice I saw you—”
“Did you do that, Mrs. Raynor?” Fraser fired at her, suddenly.
“Yes, “ faltered Nan, “yes,—I did.”
The afternoon sun shone brightly on the great beds of blossoms at Flower Acres. The gay colored vista that stretched from the terraces down the gently sloping hillside to the brook seemed brighter and more beautiful than ever by contrast to the sad and troubled atmosphere of the darkened house.
The funeral of Douglas Raynor had taken place, and the family had gathered again on the western terrace for the tea that was daily served there.
The law had stayed its investigation of the tragedy until after the last rites were held for the victim, but even now the sinister figure of the detective was seen coming toward them.
“I say,” declared Kent, “that’s too bad. Nan mustn’t be interviewed now. She’s all in with nervous excitement and fatigue. That detestable Dobbins person can surely wait till to-morrow—”
“I’ll tell him so,” said Ezra Goddard, quietly, and he rose and went to meet Dobbins as he crossed the lawn.
“Come and talk with me first,” Goddard said, leading the detective into the library. “Surely you don’t want to intrude upon Mrs. Raynor just now.”
“Look here, Mr. Goddard,” the other said, “consideration of a woman’s feelings is all very well, but when the woman is suspected of being a murderess, you can’t be too finicky about how you treat her. Now, I’ve waited till after the funeral, and I tell you I don’t dare wait much longer. She’ll bolt.”
“Oh, no, she won’t. And, Mr. Dobbins, are you sure you’re justified in that definite accusation?”
“Yes, I’m sure, and the District Attorney is sure, too. We can’t arrest her without further proof, but we’ve got to find that. We’ve got to question her more closely, we’ve got to search her belongings,—and I daresay it’s too late already. Of course, she has had time to destroy evidence.”
“You’re on the wrong tack, Dobbins. Mrs. Raynor never shot her husband—”
“Then Finley did it. It rests between the two. And at any rate, she was poisoning him. Why, it’s an open and shut case. Here’s the lady, with an elderly husband, who is unkind,—positively cruel to her, and here’s a younger man, in love with her and she with him—”
“Hold on there, Dobbins. You’ve no right to say that!”
“You can’t deny it. I’ve looked into the matter, and I find that Finley was a rejected suitor when she married old Raynor,—for his wealth, of course. Now, she’s stood two years or thereabouts of the old man, and she just gave out. She couldn’t put up with him any longer. So, she being a deep sort, takes to a slow poisoning process. Three different people have told me they have seen her secretly slipping little white tablets into the tea cup or wineglass of her husband.”
“I can’t believe it!”
“They said it, anyway. The sister is one,—and two other credible witnesses say the same. Now, you must admit that looks bad. Ugly,—that’s what it is,—the whole case is ugly.”
“It is,—I grant you that, But you must remember, Miss Raynor is no friend of her brother’s wife,—they have never been congenial,”
“That’s neither here nor there. Say they couldn’t hit it off together, that’s no reason for Miss Mattie to make up a falsehood about the poison.”
“They may have been harmless tablets,—bicarbonate of soda—”
“No, no. The man had a nurse looking after him,—why would the wife administer medicine,—and why secretly?”
“That secrecy business may be a mistake. Or merely a secret from Mr. Raynor, who would have been angry if he had thought his wife was dosing him.”
“All right, Mr. Goddard, if that is the true version of the tablets, then surely Mrs. Raynor can’t object to explaining it as such. She will have every chance to vindicate herself, and Lord knows, I hope she can do it. But my duty is plain, and I think the sooner I get at a serious inquiry the better.”
“That’s all right, Mr. Dobbins,—and I’ll make you this proposition. Let me help you, and I’ll agree to play fair. You tell me all you discover and I’ll tell you what I learn.”
“Humph. What can you learn?”
“Don’t be supercilious. You may yet be glad to come around to my theory.”
“Have you one?”
“Rather! And a good one. It is that an outsider, an evil intentioned intruder came in and shot Raynor, at dusk, and made away without being seen.”
“Fine fairy story!”
“Not at all,—he left his footprint on the sun room floor.”
“Very good of him, I’m sure! And from that footprint, will you please tell me the color of his hair and what clothes he wore? Also his age and height? I’ve read story books, you see!”
“Then if you have, why didn’t you find that footprint for yourself?” Goddard spoke seriously. “It’s right there, under the eyes of anybody who chooses to look for it.”
“Is it there yet?”
“Yes, unless it has been washed off to-day. I saw it yesterday.”
“Why didn’t you tell me of it?”
“It’s not my business to hunt clews,—it’s yours.”
“I’m going to look at it,—where is it?”
“Come on, I’ll show you.”
The two men went to the sun parlor, and on its floor of red tiles, between two rugs, was certainly a faint, irregular footprint, made quite evidently by some one who wore new rubbers. The tiny corrugated pattern of the sole of a new overshoe was positively there, though indistinct.
“Pooh,” said Dobbins, “that might have come there before or after the shooting time.”
“Might have, yes, but isn’t it up to you to prove it did or it didn’t? Oughtn’t you to know who has been here wearing new rubbers? They are not commonly worn by ladies and gentlemen of a household like this.”
“Some of the servants—”
“Nonsense, servants don’t wear overshoes to clean floors!”
“A visitor,—an errand boy—”
“Why surmise? Why not find out for certain? My theory that a man entered at dusk, shot his victim and disappeared, is quite in keeping with that footprint,—can you say as much for any of yours?”
Dobbins began to look grave.
“Much obliged to you, Mr. Goddard, it certainly calls for investigation. And I’ll accept your offer of help. Only it must be frankness between us. If I tell you what I learn, you must tell me anything you discover.”
“Agreed, though I doubt if I discover anything of importance. My forte is deduction rather than search.”
By reason of further request on Goddard’s part, Dobbins left the search of Nan’s rooms until the next day, and then he declared his intentions.
“Certainly you may search my rooms, Mr. Dobbins,” Nan said, quietly. “Shall I come with you?”
“No, Mrs. Raynor, but I want some one with me? Miss Turner?”
“No, I’ll go,” put in Meddlesome Mattie. “I’m the proper one to go.”
She accompanied the detective, Nan making no objection, and the two of them made a thorough search among Nancy Raynor’s things.
It would be false to say Miss Mattie did not enjoy it,—her feminine curiosity was gratified at this opportunity to see her sister-in-law’s belongings and she poked into drawers and cupboards with enthusiasm.
Especially did the detective scrutinize the bottles in the medicine cabinet. There were a few vials of white tablets, which he confiscated, but which were labeled quinine or soda mints or some simple preparation.
They were about to call this search complete, when Miss Mattie’s sharp eyes noticed a book set askew on the book shelf. She pulled it out and found there was a volume concealed behind it. This was a book about poisons and their antidotes. A small book, evidently addressed to the layman and meant for family use.
But its presence there, or, rather its hidden presence was of interest, and Dobbins eagerly grabbed it from Miss Mattie’s hands.
He ran over its pages, and found that at arsenical poisoning the leaves were thumbed and worn as if by an interested student.
“I knew it,” said Miss Mattie, with a horrified look at the page. “I knew Nan was poisoning him. In a way,—I can understand it,—Douglas led her an awful life, but—that doesn’t condone a crime! Oh, Nancy, how could you!”
It was strange that Miss Mattie, in small affairs so quick tempered and sharp of tongue, should, in face of this great tragedy, be more sorrowful than angry. She seemed solicitous for Nan, although she fully believed she had been poisoning her brother.
“He wasn’t killed by the poison,” Dobbins reminded her. “Do you think she shot him?”
“No,” said Miss Mattie, decidedly. “Nan wouldn’t do that. But I believe Mr. Finley did, and I can’t see why you don’t arrest him. Wasn’t he discovered holding the pistol? Hadn’t he a motive that no one else had? Has he given any really satisfactory explanation of picking up that pistol if he didn’t fire it? I tell you, Mr. Dobbins, he’s your man, and you mustn’t let him slip through your fingers.”
“He won’t,—never fear. He’s watched continually, Miss Raynor, as, in fact, are all the people of the house.”
“My land! All of us?”
“Yes, of course. There are several men detailed for that purpose. Well, Miss Raynor, I don’t see that we can learn anything more here. There’s Small use looking into Mrs. Raynor’s letters—”
“Oh, yes, let us do that!”
But Dobbins had no wish to satisfy the mere idle curiosity of his companion, and he didn’t think the letters could have any bearing on the whole question,—for, he reasoned, if there were any incriminating ones they would have been removed or destroyed.
With the book on poisons, carefully wrapped to preserve possible finger print clews, he went downstairs, Miss Raynor accompanying him.
They found that in their absence a newcomer had appeared, who brought with him a new element of mystery.
In the living room, addressing himself to Nan, was a young man of perhaps thirty or so. He was tall, dark and lean, a man of fine face and figure, but with crafty black eyes that darted here and there, seeming to read the attitudes of the others.
Orville Kent, in attendance on his sister, was also listening to the announcements the stranger was making.
He was, he told Dobbins, Lionel Raynor, son of Douglas Raynor by his first marriage.
“Had you ever heard of this son before?” Dobbins asked of Nan.
“Yes,” she said, “I knew of his existence, but I have never before met him.”
“He was apprised of his father’s death?”
“Oh, yes, the lawyer looked after all notifications of the family.”
“You didn’t get here for the funeral, Mr. Raynor?” said Dobbins, looking at him attentively.
“No, I came on from the West, and couldn’t make connections. But now that I am here, I wish to take possession at once. I have with me my father’s will, which bequeaths to me everything he possessed. I want also to push the investigation of his death,—his murder”—he looked straight at Nan— “and I want to see justice done.”
“You are making any accusations?” asked the detective.
“Not that,—I leave that to you and your assistants. But it can’t be a difficult case, given the elements of an unloving wife and her former suitor.”
Nan Raynor winced, Malcolm Finley, who was present, clenched his hands in silent fury, and Ezra Goddard scrutinized the speaker with a look of deepest consternation.
“But my husband made a later will,” Nan declared, her spirit roused by these continued blows of misfortune.
“Yes? Have you it?” Lionel Raynor’s tone was insolent.
“It is in Mr. Raynor’s desk,” Nan said, quietly.
“Produce it, then.” This was said with a sneer, as if the new claimant to the property had no fear of the will being forthcoming.
Nor was it. Though the desk was ransacked by Dobbins, assisted by Goddard and Orville Kent, no trace of a will could be found.
“But it has always been there,” said Nan, looking perplexed. “I mean ever since it was drawn up, a year or more ago.”
“Who witnessed it?” asked Dobbins.
“Mr. Gannon, for one,” Nan said, “and the butler, for another. But not the butler we have now. It was Peters, the one we had last year.”
“Grimshawe Gannon? Then he is easily available, and will know where the will is,” Goddard said. “This matter should have been looked into sooner.”
“I know,” Nan said, “the lawyer, Mr. Stratton, said so. But I begged him to wait till to-day. He is coming this afternoon to read the will.”
“How can he read it, if there isn’t any to read?” asked Lionel Raynor, flippantly. “I fear, Mrs. Stepmother, you won’t be able to find that will,—as I am quite sure it exists only in your imagination.”
Nancy Raynor gave him one scornful glance but said nothing. As a matter of fact she knew all about the will her husband had made in her favor, knew how little he had left to Lionel and knew of its other bequests. She had been minded, before she saw this unattractive son of her late husband to supplement his bequest of her own will, but now that he was insolent and overbearing, she debated over that decision.
“It must be that Mr. Gannon has the will in his possession,” she said, “or, more likely, Mr. Stratton has it. At any rate, I know that it exists, and that its provision for myself is entirely satisfactory.”
Lionel Raynor threw her a quizzical glance, but his eyes rested for a moment on her beautiful face.
For Nancy Raynor, in, her black gown and tiny white crepe collar was very fair and sweet to look at. Her face, pale with weariness and grief, her large eyes, dark with sorrow and trouble, and her drooping, sensitive mouth formed a picture that was alluring as it was pathetic.
“Well, Mrs. Raynor,” Lionel said, “it rests between you and me, then, as to who inherits my father’s estate. I have here the will that names me the heir. If you produce a later one, giving you the right to it I have nothing more to say. But you must put up the goods.”
“Why have you never been here before, Lionel?” Nan said. “Why have we never met?”
“Oh, to be frank, I rather resented the governor’s marrying again, and I think I didn’t care about seeing the new incumbent. That’s all there was to it. Now, if we’re to share the property, I suppose we’d better call a truce until the settlements can be made.”
“Why a truce? Why not a permanent friendship,—whatever the outcome of the settlement?”
Lionel looked at her accusingly. “I don’t form friendships with people who—who tried to poison my father!”
Nan shrank as if from a blow, and Dobbins thought this a good time to thrust a question at her.
“That reminds me, Mrs. Raynor,” he said, “is this book yours?” He held out the little volume, but did not let her take it.
“Why—where did you find it?” she asked, her voice trembling; “where did you get that?”
“Hidden behind some other books on your bookshelf. Is it yours?”
A sudden and decided change came over Nancy Raynor.
A spot of color burned on either white cheek, her lips stiffened to a firm line, and her dark eyes flashed. She straightened herself up, shrugging her shoulders as one who accepted fate and was ready to face it.
“Yes,” she said, raising her chin with a touch of obstinacy, “yes, it is mine.”
“Where did you get it?”
“I bought it,—some time ago, at a second-hand bookshop.”
“Why did you buy it?”
“Because the subject interested me.”
“The subject of poisoning?”
“Of arsenical poisoning in particular?”
“Why did it interest you,—at this particular time?”
“Because—because I thought somebody was poisoning my husband and I wanted to learn the truth about it.”
Dobbins almost laughed outright at this absurd story, and showed by his face how little he believed in it.
“You know, do you not, that he was being so poisoned,—and that you are suspected of being the poisoner?”
“I know it,” Nan sat bolt upright now, and her head, held high, was defiant in its pose. “Can you prove it?”
“I don’t advise you to take that attitude, Mrs. Raynor,” Dobbins said, not unkindly. “It won’t get you anywhere. Confession is a good thing, but if you’re not inclined to that, at least don’t antagonize those who are merely inquiring.”
“No, don’t, Nan,” said her brother. “You’ve got a hard row to hoe, but we’re all back of you, and if you’ll just tell the truth, it will all be smoothed out very soon.”
“Smoothed out, indeed!” Miss Mattie bristled with indignation. “I insist on the fullest investigation of my brother’s death. I can scarcely believe Nan is responsible for it, but I must know. Also, I want to know about this will business. Can’t we send for Grim Gannon, and get at something!”
“Why not?” said Kent, himself greatly interested in the matter of his sister’s inheritance, and leaving the room he despatched a servant to bring Gannon.
At last the big man lumbered slowly in. It was plain to be seen he was ill at ease in the presence of more refined people, but he had, too, a certain self-satisfaction that carried him through.
“Whatcha want o’ me, Mis’ Raynor,” he said, as he awkwardly took a chair. “What can I do fer you?”
“You can tell me what you know of my husband’s will, Mr. Gannon. You witnessed it, I think.”
“No, Mis’ Raynor, I didn’t.” The cold light blue eyes of Grimshawe Gannon looked into her own, without any expression of concern or even interest in the matter.
“Why, Mr. Gannon, my husband told me that you did,—you and Peters,—the butler we had last year.”
“Yes’m, I remember Peters,—a good man but stupid. Well, him an’ me, we never signed no will for Mr. Raynor,—leastwise, not me, anyway.”
“That man is telling a falsehood,” said Nan, quietly. “You did witness Mr. Raynor’s signature to his will, Mr. Gannon, and you know where that will is.”
Gannon gave a helpless look around the room, as if to say, “What can I say to that?”
But he only shrugged his great shoulders, and repeating his entire ignorance as to the existence or whereabouts of any will, he rose and lumbered off.
“Well,” Dobbins said, “it begins to look serious. Can we get hold of the other witness, Mrs. Raynor?”
“I don’t know,” Nan said, looking thoughtful rather than confounded. “I can’t understand it at all!”
Malcolm Finley was not at all pleased with the rôle in which he found himself cast. He was a man of action, and he was obliged to keep quiet. He was accustomed to lead, and he found himself following. He preferred to dictate,—but was taking orders.
Most of all, he was desperately in love with Nancy Raynor, and was not allowed to tell her so. His mentor in this matter was Goddard, who positively forbade Finley to say a word to Nan except in the presence of others.
“Your time will come,” Goddard told him. “If your love for her is the real thing, and if she reciprocates, no harm can come of waiting until a right and proper time to tell her of it. It would be unwise as well as untimely to tell her now,—and, too, Finley, there’s a big mystery to be solved by somebody. Between you and me, I don’t think much of that detective—”
“But for that reason he’s a good one to have on the case. He gets nowhere, he befogs all the issues—”
“And is that a good thing?”
“It most certainly is,—for all concerned.”
Finley went off and Goddard mused over what he had said.
Ezra Goddard carried a heavy heart. He felt that there was no solution to the mystery of the shooting, but to ascribe it either to Nan or Malcolm, and he couldn’t bear to think it was either of those. Moreover, Nan had confessed to the ownership of the book on poisons, she had been seen secretly slipping tablets into her husband’s teacup,—what theory was there except the guilt of one or both?
And the detective was most certainly incapable of handling the case. Yet was he? He had gone about the search of Nan’s rooms in a systematic way, and surely he had achieved results there!
Just now, matters seemed to be temporarily held up because of the absence of the will which Nan declared existed.
If this could be found and Nan inherited the estate, things would be quite different from the event of Lionel Raynor owning the place.
Goddard didn’t like young Raynor,—didn’t like him at all.
But that, he had the justice to admit to himself, was because his presence threatened the future of Nancy, and moreover, he had a suspicion that in some inexplicable way, Lionel was responsible for the disappearance of the later will.
Yet his opinions made small difference if the will Lionel possessed was the only one extant. For it was in every way, Goddard knew, a true and legal document,—the only question being whether there had been a later one,—or whether,—this just occurred to Goddard, whether Douglas Raynor in a fit of anger had destroyed the will he had made in Nan’s favor.
This was quite thinkable, for Raynor’s rages, especially of late, had been ungovernable and disastrous.
Another trouble was that Nancy Raynor was an enigma, not at all an understandable sort of a woman, but a strange combination of frankness and secrecy that made her hard to fathom.
Goddard longed to send to New York for a famous detective he knew of, but, somehow he feared the things such a detective might discover.
He swiftly ran over the possibilities.
On the theory of many people, Nancy Raynor and Malcolm Finley were glad to renew their old-time friendship and it had quickly ripened into love.
Both were of intense and passionate temperament, both were impulsive and daring. He could not deny the possibility that, goaded beyond endurance by her husband’s cruelty and longing for the love and peace of Finley’s protection, Nancy had let herself be driven to the point of poisoning the one that stood between her and happiness.
Also, it could be, that Finley, utterly exasperated at Raynor’s petty cruelties to the woman he loved, had, either impulsively or with premeditation shot him down.
At any rate Goddard could see it would look like this to a newcomer, and with the added evidence of the book on poisons found in Nan’s possession, there was a strong chance the astute detective would quickly prove all these things true.
Goddard, though a friend to both the interested parties, and wanting to save them, had no mind to compound a felony,—and yet, he could not bring himself to call in the far-seeing brain that might see the black and dreadful truth.
While he was pacing the east veranda and thinking these things over Malcolm Finley had at last found Nan alone.
It was not premeditated, for Finley had made up his mind to heed Goddard’s counsel and keep away from the lady except in the presence of others.
Yet when he chanced to see her alone, on the west terrace, half hidden in the shadows of a great wistaria vine, he went to her at once and sat beside her.
“It’s no use, dear,” he said, gently; “I can’t keep away. Now, Nancy, what do you want me to do?”
She scarcely heard the words of the question,—she was taken captive by his look and manner.
“What do I want you to do?” she whispered, half unconsciously repeating the words, and then a realization of her great trouble, her great loneliness surged over her, and she raised her eloquent, sad eyes to his, saying, “Help me,—Malcolm,—help me,—somehow.”
“Yes, dearest, yes, of course I will.” He still held himself in check, though longing to clasp her in his arms.
“It’s hard. Nan,—darling! you’ve no idea how hard it is—”
“Yes, I have, Malcolm”—she looked at him piteously— “but—oh, Malcolm, you don’t know what I went through with that man! You don’t know! It was like a living death,—oh, I mustn’t talk like that! Forgive me, Malcolm,—forgive me, dear—”
“Forgive you? Sweetheart! When I love you so I’m just holding myself together lest I break all bounds and tell you how I love you! I can’t help it, Nan,—I must take you in my arms—just once,—please,—my little girl—”
Just for an instant she swayed toward him, and then drew back, with a heart-breaking sigh.
“No,—dear,—I see I must be brave for both of us. Listen, Malcolm, I am in very deep waters,—I can’t tell the truth,—I can’t—”
“What! Then, Nan, if it’s as bad as all that,—you must have a lawyer, a good one, at once. You must tell him everything,—everything, dearest. Tell me nothing,—I don’t want to know,—but tell him all—”
“But, listen, Mal,—if this will of Lionel’s holds,—I am penniless.”
“Never, while I am in the world! What’s mine is yours—”
“But that won’t do. I can’t take your money—”
“Indeed, you can! No one need ever know. I’ll get Wadsworth for you,—he’s great,—and most discreet. Yes, he’s our man.”
“And,—and, Malcolm, whom will you get for yourself?”
“For myself? Why,—oh, yes,—of course, for myself. Why,—well, you see, I hadn’t thought of that. But it will be all right, Nan,—trust me to make it all right.”
“Oh, you are so splendid. Malcolm,—why did I marry that awful man? Oh, why did I?”
“Wait a minute,—why did you, Nan?”
She looked at him a long moment, with a grave regard, and then said, “I can’t tell you, Mal,—I can’t tell you, but, oh, I’m glad he’s dead. There, I’ve said it, and I don’t care! I’m glad, glad, glad! I couldn’t have lived another day with him!”
“Hush, dear,—don’t say such things. Now, listen, Nancy, and do just as I tell you. I shall have to stay here for a time, as I am under scrutiny,—and to run away would be foolish. But I’m going to send for Lawyer Wadsworth, and he will take you in hand. Tell him everything,—do you understand, dear?”
“Yes,—tell him about the—the tablets you put in Raynor’s coffee cup,—I saw you do it, dear. Tell Wadsworth all about it. Trust him, and he will do more for you than any other man I know of could do.”
“But I can’t,—Mal, I can’t tell anybody about—about the—”
“I’ll tell it then,” and Miss Mattie stepped before them.
“Yes, I’ve been eavesdropping,” she said, as they looked at her in dismay. “Or, I can scarcely call it that, as you took no pains to lower your voices very much. Nan, I heard you say how glad you are that your husband is dead. I didn’t need that to tell me who killed him,—hush, don’t say a word,—don’t add perjury to your other crimes. And I don’t say, Nan, but that you did lead a miserable life with him. I know how Douglas treated you,—and, Nancy,—I know why.”
Miss Mattie’s voice dropped to a whisper, but her face, though distorted with passion, was that of one who spoke truth.
“Let that rest for a moment, Nan, and tell me what you know about Douglas’ will.”
“Nothing more than I have told everybody. It was always kept in the secretary drawer. Some one has stolen it.”
“Or Douglas destroyed it.”
“That may be,” Nan agreed. “He was very, very angry at me the day before—before he died, and he threatened to disinherit me,—but I didn’t think he would do so.”
“He couldn’t,” said Miss Mattie. “A man can’t disinherit his wife. And the will must be found. I hardly think he destroyed it.”
“Why does old Gannon deny witnessing it?” Finley asked.
“Gannon is an old snake in the grass,” Miss Raynor said. “He has some axe to grind, you may be sure. For I know he witnessed that will.”
“The other witness, Peters, must be found,” said Finley. “But when we get Wadsworth up here he will see to all that.”
“You see, Nan,” Miss Mattie went on, “I don’t know as that will Lionel has remembers me,—properly. In the later will Douglas left me a large bequest. He had much more money of late years, but if that will his son has claims it all, where will we be?”
“Where will we be, anyway?” Nan said, wearily. “But I don’t propose to give up my rights without a struggle, and I’m going to have a talk with Lionel and I’m going now.”
She went away in search of the young man, and found him in the sun parlor. At first, the family had rather shunned that room as a place of evil memories, but it was so pleasant and attractive of itself, and so comfortable now that the autumn winds were chill out of doors, that they often drifted out here to read or to converse.
“Can’t we join forces, Lionel?” she said, as she came toward him.
“Sit down and talk it over,” he said, arranging a big cushion for her. “I’d like to be friends, Nan, if you can convince me you didn’t kill my father. You can’t expect me to be friendly toward you, otherwise.”
“Of course I didn’t kill him,” Nan said, “how can you even imagine such a thing?”
“You say that, but your face, your eyes, your whole expression belies your words. Do you also deny poisoning him,—or are you only disclaiming the shooting?”
The hard, sharp, black eyes of the young man looked closely into her own, and there was something in his manner, in his effect, that repelled Nan so utterly she was scarce able to speak to him.
“I think,” she said, slowly, “that I prefer not to discuss anything with you. I will refer you to my lawyer.”
Lionel Raynor gave a start. “A lawyer, have you one?”
“I shall have, very soon. Meantime, you may wait for answers to your questions.”
“Hoity toity, is that the tone you’re going to take toward me? Because I warn you it is not a wise thing to do. Going to have a lawyer, are you? And, pray, how are you going to pay him? Don’t you know you’re practically penniless? But I suppose your friend, Mr. Finley, will be only too glad to pay—”
But Nancy had risen and walked away.
At the doorway, she met Detective Dobbins, on his search, as always.
“No overshoes found,” he announced, as one who gives out portentous news. “Been all over the house, family, servants, guests,—can’t find a new rubber in the place. Plenty of old ones,—good enough ones, too, but no brand new ones,—and only a brand new one would have made that print. Most remarkable.”
“But it can’t be of real significance, can it, Mr. Dobbins?” Nan raised her sad eyes to his face. “Why do you put such stress on it?”
“Why, it’s a clew, Mrs. Raynor, don’t you see,—a clew!” The man’s eyes fairly sparkled, as if he were telling of a discovered treasure. “And it might be of utmost importance to you, Mrs. Raynor. For, if we can prove that rubber was on the foot of a man from outside,—an intruder,—why, then it lets out everybody in the house,—everybody!”
“Then, if you can’t find a new overshoe in the house, it must have been an outsider?” Nan was interested now.
“Looks that way,—yes, ma’am, it looks that way. Oh, you cheer up, Mrs. Raynor, things look pretty black against you, I’ll admit that. But, if I can pull you out, I will! Yes, ma’am, I will. Though we may have to implicate your friend, Mr. Finley.” The detective made this speech purposely, as a test of Nan’s behavior. He gained little, for she presented only a mask-like calm of face, and an air of utter indifference.
“A deep one,” he said to himself, as she walked slowly away, “yes, a mighty deep one,—and, therefore, most likely a wrong one!”
Nan wandered on, down to the gardens, down the hillside to the bridge over the brook, and seeing Dolly Fay, waved her hand in invitation.
And Dolly came, flying, her sash-ends straight out behind her.
“Nancy, darling, how are you this morning? Oh, you blessed angel, do try to look a speck more cheery! I can’t stand it to have you so awful sad all the time!”
“Dolly, dear, have you the packet safe,—you know, the one I gave you to keep for me?”
“Oh, yes, Nan, yes, of course.”
“Run and get it, then,—I’ll wait for you here,—and we’ll go for a walk.”
Dolly obeyed, and soon the two were walking along the brookside down the path that led to the falls.
Nan carried the little parcel, noting by a glance that it had in no way been tampered with.
“What’s doing about Mr. Raynor, Nan?” Dolly asked, earnestly. “Whenever I ask mother or dad, they tell me to keep still; Orry won’t tell me a thing, and that fool detective glares at me when I try to pump him. Old Grim Gannon,—he’s my friend, you know,—but he says such awful things, I won’t listen to him.”
“What does he say, Dolly,—or, no, don’t tell me,—I’d rather not know.”
“Indeed, I wouldn’t tell you,—why, Nan, he says terrific things about you, and about Mr. Finley, and about everybody, even including Miss Turner.”
“Yes; that is, he didn’t say anything definite, but I sort of gathered he thinks she’s sly.”
“Never mind, Dolly, I’d rather you wouldn’t listen to such gossip, but if you do, don’t repeat it to me. Now, look out, dear, I’m going to destroy this little parcel. It’s nothing of any value.”
Standing on the bank, just above a small but turbulent waterfall made by the brook over a stony decline, Nan tossed the packet lightly into the foaming, bubbling cascade.
Then, without a backward glance, and looking a little frightened, she said, hastily, “Come along, Dolly, let’s go home.”
They climbed the bank, and hastened back to Flower Acres.
“You won’t mention this episode, dear?” Nan said.
“Of course not. You know I’ll never do a thing you don’t want me to, Nan. And, besides, I know more things than that about the whole affair that I’m not going to tell.”
“Why, Dolly, what do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing. But you’re not the only one I’m keeping still about.”
“If you don’t know anything of more importance than that I threw away a worthless parcel, you don’t know much, dear.”
Nan smiled a little at the child, thinking she was exaggerating her knowledge of events.
They parted on the bridge, and Nan climbed the gently rolling hillside, one of the most beautiful features of Flower Acres.
As she neared the house, and looked at the great, well-proportioned pile, and noted the beautiful effects of distant landscape and nearby gardens, her heart sank at thought of leaving the place forever. Yet she had not been happy there,—the home held nothing but sad memories. Would she ever be happy elsewhere? Would she ever be happy again anywhere? Where could she go? What could she do? These problems overpowered her. Her whole mind was chaos, her brain refused to think.
Orry came to meet her.
“Nan, dear,” he said, gently, “there’s trouble afoot. That despicable spy of a Dobbins has been ferreting about and has found some arsenic tablets,—do you know anything about them?”
“No,—no, Orry, of course I don’t.”
“But,—he says he found them in a vase—in your bedroom. In a large, tall vase that stands on a pedestal.”
“Yes, I know the vase—”
“And did you,—Nan, did you put the tablets there?”
“Don’t ask me, Orry,—oh, don’t ask me.”
“I must ask you, Nan. We have to get at these things. For more reasons than you know of, I must find out the truth. You did put them there, Nan, after Douglas’ death, thinking nobody would find them. Didn’t you?”
“Yes,—Orry,—but,—but they weren’t poison tablets.”
“They found them, Nan, and they’ve analyzed them, and they contain arsenic,—so, don’t say that to anybody else. I think, sister, you’d better deny all knowledge of them.”
“Yes; Nan, pull yourself together. Get your wits about you. Realize that you’re suspected of murdering your husband! I’m ready to help you, more than anxious to do all I can,—but you must do your part. I don’t think, Nan, they’ll ever accuse you of the shooting,—if they do, we’ll tackle that matter when the time comes,—but they do think you were poisoning Douglas, and you must stoutly deny it.”
“You believe I was, Orry?”
“Of course not! I wouldn’t believe it if I saw you putting the stuff in his mouth! But that’s neither here nor there. The others believe you guilty—”
“Who? Why, the detective, the police, the District Attorney, the reporters,—all the horrid gang. Now, Nan, listen; you must deny it,—in toto,—firmly, positively and repeatedly. I can do little for you otherwise.”
“I will, then,” and Nan looked half dazed.
“And do it intelligently, Nan. Realize you’re in danger, and your only hope is in instant and decisive action! See? It won’t do for you to face the detectives with that confused look, and say, calmly, ‘No, I didn’t do it.’ You must asseverate, reiterate, insist, and repeat your innocence. Shout it to the skies,—we’ll all help,—but our efforts will be as nothing unless you cooperate intelligently,—see? Intelligently. Will you? Will you, Nancy?”
“Yes, of course,” and in obedience to Orry’s orders, she began to put more vigor in her tones, more force in her voice, and at last the brother began to feel he had roused her to her task.
But when they reached the house, and Detective Dobbins met her with the direct accusation of having dropped the tablets in the large vase in her bedroom in order to prevent their being found by the searchers, she broke down utterly, and cried out, “I did,—yes, I did!”
“It’s this way, Orry,” Finley said to Kent, as the two held private conclave in Kent’s room, “that silly detective has his mind made up that Nan is concerned in Raynor’s death. You and I know she isn’t,—couldn’t be,—but we’ve got to prove it. Now, old Goddard, who has no thought or care for any one but my own foolish self, forbids my taking any definite steps to protect Nan, because, he says, it will react against her to have me for her champion—”
“Why, for heaven’s sake, does he say that?”
“You must see,—you must know, Kent, that I love her with all my heart and soul. I have always loved her,—if I hadn’t gone away when I did, I might have made her marry me—”
“No, you couldn’t have done that, Mal. She married Raynor of her own will,—nobody forced her into that—”
“Yes,—but I mean, no outside pressure was brought to bear. She made her own decision. Why she did it, I don’t know,—but I am sure,—positive, there was some strong reason, quite apart from affection for the man,—she hadn’t any.”
“No, not even at first. The night before she was married, I had a talk with her, and she looked like a girl at the very end of her rope. She seemed desperate,—and yet despondent,—I couldn’t get anything out of her, though, she just begged me to let her alone,—said she knew what she was about.”
“Your father? He was alive then. What did he say?”
“Dad seemed puzzled,—more than anything else. He tried to ask her some questions,—but she wouldn’t answer any of them.”
“There was some reason,” Finley said, thoughtfully, “some threat Raynor held over her,—there must have been. But, never mind that now,—she’s rid of that man forever. And it’s up to us, to get her out of all this trouble and start life afresh for her. I’ll tell you, Orry, that when the time comes, I hope to tell her all I feel for her,—but not now. I won’t add the weight of a straw to the burden she has to bear. But, as you are her brother, I must talk to you plainly. What about these poison tablets?”
“I don’t think, Finley, I can discuss that,—even with you.”
Kent looked so utterly dejected, so hopeless, that Finley saw at once he believed in Nan’s guilt.
“But you must, Orry. If Nan did try to poison Raynor, I’d rather know it,—then I can work more intelligently. For I’m going to work,—only I shall pursue a different course if I have to cover her guilt or prove her innocence.”
“What do you think, yourself?”
“I don’t know what to think. I saw Nan,—twice,—put something in Raynor’s cup. I thought at first it was saccharine,—then I tried to think it was some harmless medicine,—but why should she do that, when he had a trained nurse?”
“I know Nan was desperate,—I know Raynor had brought her to the last stage of desperation,—and, I know she studied up the subject of poisons. Do we need more proof?”
“We must know all we can find out, in order to prove the contrary. Here’s my predicament, Kent. I know a first class detective, who would come out here and solve the whole business in short order,—but, do we want him? Do we want him to prove that Nan killed her husband,—or even attempted to kill him? Isn’t it better to let Dobbins blunder along,—even,—even giving him some manufactured evidence, if necessary—”
“Yes; make up some clews,—now, as to that print of an overshoe,—I believe somebody faked that,—to turn Dobbins on a wrong scent.”
Kent looked at the other curiously.
“Who would do such a thing?” he asked.
“Why, Miss Raynor is quite capable of such a trick,—or old Goddard, or Miss Turner,—or you yourself, if you’d thought of it. It all draws suspicion away from Nan,”
“And away from you. Maybe Nan did it for your benefit, Finley.”
“Maybe she did,” said Finley, thoughtfully. “It wasn’t a bad scheme; except that it was a little ridiculous to a keen observer. It was so—so obvious.”
“And you propose doing more of such obvious hocus-pocus?”
“Don’t take that tone, Orry, as if I were compounding a felony. But if by any such trickery I could divert suspicion from Nan, I’d gladly do it. However, if I were to engage the detective I have in mind,—Wise, his name is,—he’d see through all planted clews in a minute. He’d go straight to the truth of the matter,—and, if that involved Nan,”
“Then we don’t want Wise,—that’s positive,” Kent declared. “Now what about Lionel Raynor and his will business?”
“Looks bad to me. That’s the thing I’d like to put Wise onto. He’d soon settle the will business, he’d straighten out all the question of property and inheritance, and he’d show up who did the poisoning and who did the shooting!”
“Well, old chap, there’s no chance that you did it, if you’re willing to have the big sleuth on the job!”
“I didn’t shoot Raynor, but look here, Kent, I’d swear that I did, if Nan should be accused of that. And if she poisoned him—”
“Don’t get that detective, Finley,” said Kent, very gravely. “Let’s manufacture clews,—or whatever your plan is, ourselves.”
A tap on the door sounded, and Kent admitted Goddard and Detective Dobbins.
“We’ve come for a definite talk about these matters,” Dobbins said, a bit pompously; “it’s time things came to a focus. Now, I’m sorry, but I can’t see any way to look for the criminal in this case, except toward the one most interested,—most benefited by the death of the victim,—and that’s Mrs. Raynor.”
“She’s not benefited at all,” said Orry, coolly, “if you mean financially. She’s practically cut off—”
“She didn’t know that until after the deed was done,” returned Dobbins, “and I don’t mean financially only. Mrs. Raynor was exceedingly unhappy with her husband, she had tried for some time to take his life by administering a slow, cumulative poison. Not succeeding, and urged on by the reappearance of her former suitor, which, I admit, made the attitude of her husband harder to bear, Mrs. Raynor became desperate and ended her bondage, for it was bondage, by shooting her tyrant.”
“But you accuse me of the shooting,” said Finley. “Only my fingerprints were found on the revolver, I’m told.”
“That was a clever stunt of yours, Mr. Finley,” and the detective looked at him with a sort of grudging admiration, “I believe you picked up that pistol, just as you say you did,—and, I believe that you had seen who dropped it,—who had fired it, as well,—and, to save her you were quick-witted enough to whip out your handkerchief and polish off all finger marks except your own. It was an ingenious dodge, and it worked,—in that it eliminated the prints of Mrs. Raynor’s fingers. But you can’t get ahead of me, Mr. Finley,—I’m onto your little games.”
The astounded, even crestfallen look, which Malcolm Finley was not quite quick enough to hide, seemed to corroborate the opinions of the detective.
“Cut it out, Dobbins,” said Orville Kent, sternly; “perhaps you have some reason to suspect my sister of giving tablets of some sort to Mr. Raynor, but you have no evidence to warrant such a suspicion as you are now suggesting! My sister was out on the west terrace at the time that shot was fired—”
“Now, now, Mr. Kent, how do you know that? You, yourself, were down on the bridge a good three hundred yards away and you know nothing of the situation except by hearsay—”
“Neither do you!”
“True enough, but it’s my business to get all the hearsay evidence available and then deduce the truth.”
“Well, there’s no truth in the statement that my sister shot—”
“Oh, shut up, Kent,” said Ezra Goddard, impatiently. “We know your love and loyalty for your sister prompts all this defense of her, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.”
“Well, we’re going to get somewhere,” declared Dobbins, “and mighty quick, too. I’ll take up the poisoning business first. We have everything to prove that,—except Mrs. Raynor’s own confession,—which we can hardly expect.”
“What’s your proof?” demanded Kent.
“We have found four different people who saw Mrs. Raynor furtively slip something into her husband’s tea or coffee cups, we have found a book on poisons concealed in her bookcase, and we have found tablets hidden in a vase in her bedroom which, when analyzed, were found to be arsenic. Add to this the symptoms of arsenical poisoning observed in Mr. Raynor for some time before he died, and state if you can, any flaw in my reasoning from these facts that Mrs. Raynor poisoned her husband.”
“Granting all that,” Malcolm Finley said, “you’ve no real case against Mrs. Raynor. Douglas Raynor was not killed by poison, he was shot; and your connection of Mrs. Raynor with that shooting is a figment of your imagination. I was on the spot within a minute after the shot was fired,—I know Mrs. Raynor was out on the west terrace,—I will swear—”
“Save your perjury until you are called on for it, Mr. Finley,” and Dobbins looked at him gravely.
“I haven’t perjured myself yet,—save your advice until I do. But here’s another thing, Mr. Dobbins. All you say regarding Mrs. Raynor might apply equally well to somebody else. As to the shooting, it would be just as logical to suspect Miss Turner, say, for she was nearer the spot where Mr. Raynor fell than his wife was. You say I wiped fingerprints from that weapon. May they not have been those of the nurse?”
“She had no motive,—Mrs. Raynor had.”
“Motive is a good deal, but it isn’t everything,” Finley persisted. “Again, as to the tablets. Suppose Mrs. Raynor was giving her husband simple tablets,—soda or something,—and suppose some one else, say a disgruntled servant was administering the poison. Then wouldn’t the most likely thing be for the poisoner to ‘plant’ the poison in a vase in Mrs. Raynor’s room—”
“Look here, Mr. Finley, you’re romancing altogether too much. I haven’t time for such balderdash. If you, or anybody else has any facts to communicate to me, go ahead, but otherwise, I must go on with my proceedings against Mrs. Raynor. There is no help for it. If she is really innocent, it must come out,—if she is guilty,—it must be shown. Justice must be done.”
In the meantime, Nan Raynor, at her wits’ end as to what course to pursue was walking in the Italian garden. As she paced the flower-bordered walks, she marveled at the desolate position in which she found herself.
Her brother loved her,—but after all, Orry seemed to her more like a child, than a source of help or strength. She had always looked after Orry and cared for him, yet, though he was devoted to her, she had never sought his advice or assistance. Malcolm Finley loved her,—but just now, he was the last one to apply to. Anything he could do for her, would be far better left undone. There were willing ears listening, willing tongues ready for gossip if she so much as turned to him for friendly advice.
Ezra Goddard was a good friend, but somehow Nan didn’t see her way clear to go to him for help. He was so devoted to Finley, and so afraid for Finley’s reputation that he scarcely had a thought for any one else. Yet he was a just man and a practical and capable one,—perhaps he would be the best one for her to confer with.
Miss Raynor was a weather vane. Now she seemed fond of Nan, and resented her suspicions of her, and the next minute she would be voicing the same suspicions herself.
As Nan walked along, her hands clasped behind her, her eyes cast down, she was joined by Grimshawe Gannon.
She had never liked the old man, but at her husband’s especial command, she had always been courteous to him. She had never understood the link that bound these two silly assorted natures, but she couldn’t help seeing there was one. For, occasionally, Gannon would come up to the house and be closeted an hour or so with Raynor, after which episode Raynor would be unusually harsh to Nan. By this she knew that the relations between the two men were not amicable; for it was always after Raynor had had an unpleasant interview with somebody else, that he vented his irritability on his wife.
And so, in accordance with her usual habit, Nan nodded a greeting to Gannon and said a pleasant good morning.
“You know, Mrs. Raynor,” he began, abruptly, “I know a lot about your husband.”
“I suppose so, Mr. Gannon. You were acquainted with him longer than I ever was.”
“Much longer. He was a hard man, ma’am, a very hard man,—as no one has better cause for knowing than yourself.”
Nan’s big, mournful eyes lifted for a moment to the rugged face of the man beside her.
“If you have anything to tell me, Mr. Gannon, please do so. If not, I prefer not to have my solitude intruded on.”
“Lay off the hoity-toity language, ma’am, I’m plain-spoken myself, and I’ve a plain word to say.”
“Say it then, please,” Nan said, wearily.
“Well, it’s just this. Young Raynor has come here to make trouble for you, ma’am.”
“Yes, he has, and I know it. Now, you know it yourself,—in part. You know he’s going to take all his father’s property, and you don’t get any. See?”
“Yes, I know about the will he has—”
“And do you know about the will you haven’t? Ah, there’s the trouble.”
“What do you know about that will, Mr. Gannon?” Nan turned suddenly and fired the question at him so quickly that he was decidedly taken aback.
“Me? Me?—” He stammered. “Why, I don’t know nothing, ma’am,—my, you come at me so,—I’m all flustered,—that’s what I am, flustered.”
“You wouldn’t be flustered if you had a clear conscience! Now, what do you know about that will,—that you witnessed,—and that you said you didn’t witness? Don’t think you deceived me! You didn’t! But where is that will? I am sure you know—”
“What’s it worth to you, ma’am, for me to tell you what I know?”
“It isn’t worth one dollar,—in money,—if that is your meaning,—but I can tell you, it will be worth all your peace of mind for you to tell me about that will.”
“Peace of mind,—now, I dunno, ma’am,—that’s a large order, peace of mind. Does any of us have that, I wonder.”
“You’ll have none, from now on, unless you tell the truth.”
“Oh, I haven’t any truth to tell that I haven’t told. I was just sounding you,—just trying you out.”
“Well, don’t ever do it again!” Nan frowned at him severely. “I refuse to submit to your blackmailing scheme,—for that is what it is. But I shall repeat your conversation to the detective, and he will make further inquiries. I know, Grimshawe Gannon, I know, that you witnessed that will and that you now know where it is. And you’ll be made to give it up! Here comes Mr. Dobbins now!”
Sure enough, the detective was coming toward them, evidently in search of Mrs. Raynor.
“I give this man over to you, Mr. Dobbins,” she said, excitedly; “he witnessed the will my husband made in my favor, and he has it now,—concealed somewhere. He stole it,—I don’t know why,—but I want you to find out all about it.”
“Now, now, Mr. Detective,” the old man said, “this lady’s all stirred up over nothin’—I don’t know a thing about that will she’s speakin’ of. As I told you, I never signed no will for Mr. Raynor—
“I’ve settled that will business to my own satisfaction,” said Dobbins sternly. “I believe, Mrs. Raynor, that the day your husband was killed you had had a very unusually severe quarrel, had you not?”
“Not a quarrel, Mr. Dobbins, but my husband had been unusually angry at me.”
“For what reason?”
“For some mere trifle. I forget how it did begin.”
“I can refresh your memory then. It was because of your interest in Mr. Malcolm Finley. Can you say I am wrong?”
“It makes no matter whether you are or not. He was angry with me so often that the causes of his anger were of little consequence.”
“But on that day he was so angry that he threatened to destroy the will he had made in your favor.”
“How did you know that?” and Nan looked truly astounded.
“Ah, you thought your little tiffs were not overheard, did you? But Miss Raynor happened to be passing your door,—and as you had both raised your voices,—or at any rate, Mr. Raynor had,—she heard him say—”
“Passing the door! She was eavesdropping, as usual. Very well, he did say that.”
“And,—you thought the crisis had come, and so, Mrs. Raynor, that afternoon you shot him so that he couldn’t destroy that will. But—he had already done so!”
“How do you know?”
“Because it cannot be found. And who else would make away with it? Surely you wouldn’t,—nor his sister,—nor could any one want that will destroyed,”
“Except Lionel Raynor, “ Nan began.
“He wasn’t here,” said Dobbins, sternly. “You can’t drag him in. The case is clear. You feared the destruction of that will, you had become newly interested in your returned suitor, you had reached the point of desperation with your husband’s cruelty,—you concluded to end it all. The pistol, your husband’s own, was convenient in the drawer of the table. Every one else had left the tea table and gone to dress for dinner. Perhaps acting impulsively, because of such a good chance, you stepped into the sun parlor, shot your victim, dropped the weapon and ran out again just as Mr. Finley, arriving at once from the east side, saw your disappearing figure hurrying through the door opposite. Miss Turner, snapping on the lights also saw you going out, and a few moments later, Mr. Kent, coming on the scene saw you returning,—but apparently appearing for the first time upon the scene. It’s all explained, Mrs. Raynor,—I’m telling you what I know, in order to prepare you a little for the trial you must face.”
“Good lord, man,” cried old Gannon, “the lady’s fainting. How could you blurt out all that! Get out of my way!”
And fairly brushing the detective aside, the great, gaunt man lifted the drooping figure before him, and carried Nan swiftly into the house and placed her on a couch in the living room.
“Look after her!” he said curtly to Miss Raynor, who bustled in, and then Gannon strode into the library where the men now were.
“You want to check up that Dobbins person,” he said; “he’s a brute, and if Mrs. Raynor is guilty, that’s no reason she should be tortured by him.”
On his very heels Dobbins came striding in.
“No wonder the lady fainted,” he said, “no wonder she is ill and nervously upset. She is a drug addict!”
“What!” shouted Kent, jumping up and glaring at Dobbins.
“Yes,—I’ve proof right here,” and Dobbins produced a damp looking paper parcel. “Mrs. Raynor, accompanied by the little Fay girl, went down to the brook,—along the Falls road, and she threw this package into the falls. I waded in and fished it out,—and here it is.”
He opened the parcel, and showed four vials, two empty; one full and one partly full of a white powder. And all were labeled morphine.
“What have you to say?” demanded Dobbins.
But no one had anything to say.
“You see,” Dobbins said, “it explains a good deal to know that Mrs. Raynor was a victim of the drug habit. Why, it may go far toward getting her off easy—”
“It may do nothing of the sort!” Malcolm Finley exploded. “How dare you accuse Mrs. Raynor of that? I don’t believe a word of it! What will you try to fasten on her next?”
“I don’t blame you for getting wrathy, Mr. Finley,” Dobbins said, looking at him almost benignly, “and I’m mighty sorry myself to say anything against the lady, but here’s the proof—”
“Proof nothing! You pick up a measly parcel of rubbish and you jump to a conclusion! Has any one ever seen Mrs. Raynor ever so slightly under the influence of a drug?”
“Never!” said Orville Kent,—but he looked thoughtful and seemed puzzled at the whole episode.
“Where’s that nurse person?” asked Dobbins suddenly. “She’d know about Mrs. Raynor’s habits.”
“She’s gone,” Kent informed him. “Went off last night, bag and baggage. And, by the way, she took with her a nifty bunch of stocks and bonds.”
“Raynor’s?” asked the detective.
“Well, they had been,—but they were all transferred to her, and were in a big packet, marked with her name, in the safe. Of course, I gave them to her as she asked.”
“Queer doings,” muttered Dobbins. “Why should Raynor give them to her? Was he sweet on her?”
“Not a bit of it!” Kent said; “Douglas wasn’t that sort,—and too, I think he positively disliked Miss Turner. But he was trying her out as a diet nurse. He was a faddist about his food.”
“How’d she come to go off in such a hurry?” asked Dobbins, looking amazed. “We hadn’t finished questioning her. Where is she?”
“She left a New York address, which she said would always reach her. But you don’t suspect she had anything to do with the shooting, do you?”
“Why, look here,” Dobbins said. “There are three,—no, four doors to that room where Mr. Raynor was killed. Now, there is a possibility that the criminal was at any one of the four. If east or west, it must have been Mrs. Raynor or Mr. Finley. If south, it was some outsider, who got away, Kent, before you came on the scene. But, there’s the north door, at which was Miss Turner, and later, Miss Raynor. We can’t suspect Miss Raynor of her brother’s death, but I’ve always rather had my mind on Miss Turner. I don’t at all like the idea of her going away.”
“She never shot Raynor,” said Ezra Goddard. “Why in the world would she? Especially if he was kind enough to give her a bundle of valuable securities.”
“She didn’t shoot him to get those,” Kent added, “for they were all properly endorsed over to her, and the parcel, all ready for her, was in the safe with her name on it.”
“Maybe he was holding out on her for some reason,” mused the detective. “There must have been some secret alliance or some important interest between the two for a man like Raynor to give a transient nurse such a gift.”
“We don’t know that it was a gift,” Kent said; “perhaps it represented her accumulation of savings which Raynor had invested for her.”
“I never saw a case with so many angles to it,” Dobbins sighed. “Here’s Lionel Raynor impatient to take possession of his inheritance and as nobody can find a later will, he’ll have to have it, for all I can see, and what is Mrs. Raynor going to do for a home? Not only that, but she’ll be arrested soon now, unless something turns up in some other direction.”
“No!” Orville Kent gave a start. “You won’t arrest my sister! Why, man, you haven’t a shred of real evidence!”
“Oh, haven’t we? I hate to do it, Mr. Kent, but justice demands action,—and I haven’t an idea any jury would ever convict her—”
“But arrested! Nan! In jail! Never—” and Kent’s face was white at the thought of it.
“I wish we could hear of some outsider,” Dobbins said; “if now, Mr. Kent, as you came up the hill you had seen any one skulking off—”
“I didn’t,” Kent said, tersely; “I wish to goodness I had,—but I can’t invent such a person! Yet there may have been one—”
“No use discussing imaginary criminals,” Dobbins said, briskly, “we’ve quite enough real suspects.”
“Suppose I confess to the shooting—” began Malcolm Finley, and Dobbins quickly turned to him.
“Do!” he cried, “that’s what I’ve been waiting for! You confess to shield Mrs. Raynor,—and then she’ll confess to shield you—”
“Oho,” Goddard said, “that’s fine! If they each confess to shield the other, that lets them both out!”
“Not much it doesn’t!” Dobbins returned. “The truth is, to put it plainly, one of those two people shot Mr. Raynor. Both know which one did it. Neither will tell, unless if one confesses, then the other will. If Mrs. Raynor fired the shot, then Mr. Finley picked up the pistol afterward, and rubbed off her fingermarks. If, on the other hand, the shot was fired by Mr. Finley,—Mrs. Raynor saw him as she stood at the west door. But they both know.”
“This is discarding the theories of Miss Turner or of an intruder from outside,” Ezra Goddard summed up, thoughtfully.
“Yes, sir, and I do discard them. I’ve thought over that nurse, but she never would have shot and then turned on the lights. In the dusk she would have run away.”
“You can’t affirm that so positively,” Kent said; “nor can you give up the idea of an outsider merely because I didn’t see him make his getaway. Of course he would have disappeared silently and in the darkness of the shrubbery, and I’d stand small chance of seeing him at all.”
Dobbins looked uncertain again. The man seemed to have little initiative,—yet he was rated a good detective. But as he had said, this case presented so many possibilities, had so many sides to it; and Dobbins was an earnest inquirer rather than a brilliant deducer.
“I’ve got to interview more people,” he sighed as he rose. “But I know where to go for information. I’m going for some now,—and if I’m not mistaken, it will throw some light on a few dark points.”
Sanguine of nature, the detective went off and went straightway to the home of Dolly Fay.
That young person sat in a swing on the lawn, and with a word of greeting Dobbins sat down beside her.
“Now, young lady,” he said, trying to intimidate her by a fierce scowl, “you are to tell me all you are keeping back about Mrs. Raynor. If you don’t, you’ll be in danger yourself.”
“Danger? How come?” and the slangy child snapped her little fingers in the detective’s face.
This flippancy irritated the arm of the law, and he scowled harder at her.
“Be careful, Miss. Have you ever heard of contempt of court?”
“No,—what’s it mean?”
“It means that if you treat lightly the inquiries of a detective you are liable to fine and imprisonment.”
This was drawing; rather a long bow, but Dobbins found it was necessary to take strong measures with this difficult chit.
“Oo! I’se so ‘fwaid!” But though Dolly pretended flippancy, Dobbins could see she was seriously disturbed at his words.
“And so,” he followed up his advantage, “unless you see fit to tell me whatever I ask of you, I shall have to report you—”
“What do you want to know?” the question was snapped at him.
“You were with Mrs. Raynor when she threw a parcel into the Falls?”
“Yes; that was only a bit of rubbish.”
“Why did she take the trouble to carry it to the Falls to dispose of it?”
“Oh, it wasn’t any trouble. We were out for a walk, you know—”
“Had you ever seen that parcel before?”
Dolly’s face flushed and she squirmed in her seat. She had promised Nan to mention the incident to nobody,—but she had a wholesome fear of the law, and too, the detective was watching her closely, and putting his own construction on her hesitation.
But Dolly was game.
“No,” she said, stubbornly, “I never saw it before.”
Dolly was unaccustomed to lying, unaccustomed, also, to being questioned by a detective, and as she spoke the untrue words, her red lips quivered and she burst into tears.
“Go away!” she cried, “you’ve no right to come here and talk to me like that!”
“Wait a minute, Miss Fay. Try to realize that for you to tell the truth will help Mrs. Raynor more than for you to conceal anything.”
“What do you mean by that? I don’t believe you! Take me to Mrs. Raynor, then, and if she gives me permission, I’ll tell you all you ask.”
But this plan by no means suited Dobbins, and, too, he had found out all he wanted to know. There was a mystery about the parcel. It was a secret between the two. Dolly had promised Mrs. Raynor not to tell about it,—therefore, the parcel of morphine was of importance,—it was no old rubbish to be tossed away carelessly.
He went away, and Dolly, torn and shaken by the experience, started to walk over to Flower Acres and talk to Nan about it.
She had done her best to keep faith with Nan, and if that old detective had discovered anything, it was not her fault, she mused.
As she came to old Gannon’s house, that worthy sat on his little porch, smoking his pipe.
Dolly was friendly with the old man over his “specimens” which always interested her. She didn’t like Gannon,—didn’t trust him, but she had a natural bent toward the science he followed and had spent many hours listening to his discourses on the habits of water-beetles, or the varieties of dragon-flies.
“Did you get the new night moth?” she asked as she paused before him.
“Yep. It’s in the case.” He jerked his finger over his shoulder, a motion meant as an invitation to go in and look at it if she chose, and curious to see the new specimen, Dolly ran into Gannon’s house.
The old man remained on the porch, and when a few moments later Lionel Raynor joined him there, he had quite forgotten Dolly’s existence.
Gannon and his visitor fell into an absorbed conversation. Dolly, inside the room, studying the new moth, heard the hum of their voices but paid no heed.
At last, satisfied with her examination of the specimen, she turned to leave the room, when a word or two from the men on the porch caught her ear.
“We’re lucky to be rid of the nurse,” Lionel was saying, “she could have made trouble. I made her see it was best for her to go,—and go quickly.”
“That’s all right,” Gannon said, grumblingly. “But what about me? When do I get mine?”
“What’s your everlasting hurry?” asked Lionel. “You’ve enough to live on,—haven’t you?”
“Yes; but I don’t trust you, especially; and besides I want to get my boodle and go to South America. It’s long been the dream of my life to study tropical insects down there. You fixed off the Turner woman, why can’t you fix off me?”
“I will as soon as it’s possible. I hate to seem in too much of a hurry to take possession. And—I’m sorry for Mrs. Raynor—”
“Softy! If you get hit there,”
“Not at all,—it isn’t that. But I don’t—I can’t believe Mrs. Raynor shot Dad,—and if she didn’t—”
“If she didn’t, who did? That lover of hers,—Finley. It has to be one of the two,—you know that, Lionel.”
“What about Peters?”
“He’s all right,—gone to California.”
“Well,—I’ll fix up the financial matters as soon as I can, Gannon,—but don’t hurry me. Where’s the—the—you know?”
“It’s all right.”
“Haven’t you destroyed it yet?”
“When you meet my demands,—I’ll consider yours.”
“Oh, you Shylock! I tell you I’ll fix things as soon as I can.”
“Don’t worry. It’s all safe—”
“And the other?”
“Well, so long. I’ll go right now to see Lawyer Stratton. But I wish I knew who killed Dad.”
“You’re mighty affectionate toward his memory,—considering how he treated you when he was alive!”
“I can forget that, if I have all his property. And, I tell you a fellow can’t see his father murdered in cold blood without getting hot about it!”
Lionel Raynor went away, and Dolly Fay, scenting a new mystery, felt it would be better for her to depart unnoticed.
She accordingly slipped out at the back door of Gannon’s little house, and went a roundabout way so that the old man shouldn’t see her.
She didn’t quite know, herself, why she took these precautions, but it was in the back of her head, that the conversation she had just overheard was of importance, in some way, to the Raynor case.
Moreover, she gathered that it referred to the will of Mr. Raynor, and that there was some wrongdoing on the part of somebody in connection with that will.
She couldn’t quite bring herself to think anything so terrible as that these two men planned to destroy a will, yet the fragments of conversation she had caught pointed that way.
Unversed in the ways of wicked men, Dolly was intuitive by nature and sagacious beyond her years.
The more she mulled over the matter, the more she began to feel sure that the missing will that gave the Raynor property to Nan was concealed in Grim Gannon’s house. She distrusted the man,—although she admired his erudition, and was grateful for his kind instructions in the field she was deeply interested in,—that of natural history.
Always an outdoor girl, Dolly studied the habits of the little creatures, and by reason of Gannon’s influence had turned her study especially toward birds and the larger insects. Butterflies and moths fascinated her as well as the water flies. So her presence in Gannon’s house was always welcome and unquestioned. The old woman who kept house for the hermit liked Dolly but paid no attention to her comings and goings.
So, Dolly thought if opportunity offered, and it certainly would, she proposed to hunt for that missing will. Doubtless it would require little search, for Gannon, unsuspecting of the child, would not hide it carefully. All this came to Dolly by intuition, and as she went she pondered on ways and means.
As if in answer to her thoughts, she saw Gannon come out of his door and go striding off in the direction of the Raynor house.
Whereupon, Miss Dolly Fay quickly whisked herself about, and pretended to be going the other way.
Passing Gannon, she went on, and when he was safely out of sight she made straight for his house.
Entering the always open door, she went into the one big living room, which was also his workroom and museum, and this time, ignoring the beetles and butterflies, she looked eagerly about at the desks and cupboards which she had never before noticed.
A medium sized desk seemed to hold the paper of the old man, and after a glance about her, Dolly quickly began pulling out bundles of letters and papers.
As she had anticipated they were for the most part relating to the science of entomology in one way or another. Letters, clippings, memoranda,—all seemed to have to do with insects or birds.
Until a type-written paper rather different from the others caught her eye. It was a large sheet, but of flimsy texture. She unfolded it and glanced over it quickly. She caught sight of the words, “to my wife, Nancy Kent Raynor—” and knew she had achieved the object of her search.
Her absorption was interrupted by an exclamation outside the window and looking up Dolly saw Lionel Raynor, his face aflame with anger staring at her.
“You little thief!” he cried, and then, as he strode around to enter at the door, Dolly’s quick-thinking mind led her swiftly to conceal the paper by slipping it into the lining of her coat. There was a rip in the bottom of the side pocket, and anything put there, would, as she well knew, drop to the hem of the coat and stay there in safety.
This was done, when—and it was but a moment,—Lionel entered at the door from the hallway.
“Give me that paper!” he said, in a low, threatening tone.
“What paper?” said Dolly, with a look as of a very complacent cat who has just finished a fine canary.
“Don’t talk like that! The paper you just now stole from Mr. Gannon’s desk!”
“Why, do you want to steal it?”
“Shut up that baby talk, and hand over that paper!”
But Dolly was not at all intimidated. She was afraid of the law, but not of her fellow man.
“Mr. Raynor,” she said, with dignity, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m here working on my entomology,—Mr. Gannon is my teacher,—and you accuse me of stealing! Do you know what contempt of court means?”
Dolly was fond of this new phrase, and though Raynor wanted to laugh at the way she threw it at him, he was far too angry and anxious to feel amusement.
“That will do,” he said, sternly. “I saw you.
You took a paper from Mr. Gannon’s desk. Where is it?”
“I put it back,—there it is,” pointing to the first paper at hand.
“That’s not the one,—it was a yellowish paper,”
“A yellowish paper?” Dolly looked at him inquiringly.
She was sure now that she had done right to take the will. It must be the lost one, that belonged to Nan. At any rate, Lionel Raynor had no claim to it.—
“Yes,—the one you were reading when I came up the porch steps.”
For some reason the man had concluded to change his tone. But it was too late, his anger had proved to Dolly his deep desire to get possession of the paper and she was bound he shouldn’t.
“All a mistake, Mr. Raynor,” she said, with her sweetest smile. “Some of these old yellowed newspaper clippings, I dare say.”
“No, it wasn’t!” his ire blazed up anew. “It was a larger paper,—a type-written one,—where is it?”
“Search me!” said Dolly, slangily, at the same time putting her hands in her two coat pockets, careful not to expose the slitted lining of one.
“On my honor, these are the only pockets I possess, and they are both empty.”
She stood before him, a slip of a thing, her simple little one-piece frock quite evidently possessing no hiding place, her coat pockets empty, and her piquant face turned up to his own with a look of utter innocence.
“Positively, I haven’t it on me,” she cried, as she threw off the loose coat, and whirled around before him. “I swear, Mr. Raynor, that I have not any paper hidden about my person.”
Of course she hadn’t, with her coat over a chair-back near by.
Unsuspecting her prevarication, Raynor gave her a perplexed look, even held her coat as she slipped her arms again into its sleeves.
“If only it doesn’t crackle,” she said to herself as she pulled the coat into place a little gingerly.
“I resent all you have said to me, Mr. Raynor,” she announced with dignity. “I will leave you to look for papers yourself. I’m going home.” As she left the room, she turned back, and wickedly and untruthfully called out: “Be careful,—here comes Mr. Gannon!”
The Italian garden at Flower Acres, though conventional in design and detail, was so planned that it was always a picturesque mass of bloom and greenery. In one corner was a specially attractive arbor, and here, oblivious to any thought of carping criticism, sat Finley and Nan Raynor.
“It’s out of the question, dear,” he said, “that you and I should shun each other’s society for a foolish feeling of convention. Your husband is dead, and when the time comes, you are going to marry me—”
“Oh, no, Malcolm,—never—”
“Why not, pray?” he smiled at her as at a wayward child. “I’m not going to hurry you, Nan, I’m not even going to trouble you with my love-making,—but, unless you can look me straight in the eyes and tell me you don’t love me,—and never can love me,—then I shall continue to hope, yes, and expect—”
“Oh, hush, Malcolm,—don’t talk like that. I never can marry you until this mystery is cleared up,—and then,—less than ever!”
“What do you mean by then less than ever?”
“I mean that when the truth is known about—about Douglas’ death,—it will be impossible for me to marry anybody—”
“Except me! You bet it will. Now, Nan, dearest, you must confide in me. You must tell me the whole truth—”
“Never!” and Nan Raynor’s face was so full of horror and alarm that Finley himself felt a shudder of fear at thought of unknown, undreamed-of possibilities.
“What an opportunity!” exclaimed an exultant voice, and Dobbins stepped inside the arbor. “Just the people I want to see. The very two! And I will inform you that unless you both answer truly the questions I’m going to put to you, it will be a very serious mistake,—a very serious mistake, indeed.”
“We are not obliged to incriminate ourselves, Mr. Dobbins,” Finley said.
“No, but I shall judge by your manner, by your attitude,—ah, I may say I shall judge more by what you don’t say than by what you do.”
“Be careful, Nan,” Finley said, “of what you don’t say!”
But though his tone was jocular it was obviously a forced lightness, and his eyes showed apprehension of trouble.
“First, Mrs. Raynor, as you may or may not know, we retrieved that parcel you threw into the Falls.”
“Yes?” said Nan, in a low tone.
“And we found that it contained a dope outfit,—to put it plainly, some bottles of morphine.”
“And I want you to tell me, if you please, why you threw it away with such secrecy and care.”
“Because,” Nan spoke with an effort, “because, if it had been discovered in my possession or if I had been known to destroy it,—I would have been misjudged in the matter.”
“Misjudged? Am I misjudging you now, when I assume that the morphine in question belonged to you?”
“I—I suppose it—belonged to me,—” Nan’s great eyes looked dark and troubled, and she glanced from one man to the other, as if uncertain what course to pursue.
“Oho, you suppose it belonged to you, do you? Aren’t you quite sure? Where did you buy it?”
“I—I didn’t buy it.”
“Where did you get it, then? How did you get it? That stuff is not easily procurable,—though its devotees seem to manage it, somehow.”
“I found it, “ Nan said, slowly, and speaking as if against her will. “It,—it belonged to somebody else.”
“Where did you find it?” Dobbins’ cold glare seemed fairly to hypnotize her into answering, and she said:
“Among my husband’s belongings.”
“A likely story!” the detective scoffed. “That won’t go down, Mrs. Raynor. You found the stuff among his things after you had put it there. Now, as I see it, you not only gave your husband poison tablets but you are yourself a morphine addict—”
“Oh, stop!” Nan cried, goaded beyond endurance, “I didn’t take the stuff,—he did!”
“Your husband took drugs?”
“Yes; I will tell you, but don’t let it become public,—don’t let Miss Raynor know,—my husband was a secret indulger in morphine,—and the tablets I put in his teacup or coffee cup were—were to cure him of the habit.”
“Oh, Nan, was that it?” Finley’s eyes gleamed with a glad relief at this explanation of the tablets. But Dobbins shook his head.
“Ingenious, Mrs. Raynor, positively a masterstroke! But it won’t wash. The late Mr. Raynor showed no symptoms of being a drug addict, there were no traces of morphine found at the autopsy,—at least, I heard of none,—and I’m afraid I must set this story down as an invention of your clever brain. I’m sorry. I’d be glad to think you had such a plausible excuse for the tablets, but I can’t see it. However, I’ll put it up to the doctors. They’ll know for certain whether your explanation can possibly be a true one—”
“Very well,” Nancy Raynor drew herself up in scornful dignity, “go and ask the doctors,—as a detective it is your right,—but as a man, I ask you not to divulge the fact of my husband’s weakness, unless absolutely necessary. I want to save his name from that stigma—if I can—”
“That stigma will never rest on the name of Douglas Raynor,” and Dobbins’ look signified anew his disbelief in the whole story.
He went away, and Nan, turning to Finley, said:
“I think it would be wise for you to go away, Malcolm,—away from Flower Acres, I mean. I have all I can bear with these horrible scenes, and to have you near me,—and yet not be able to let myself go—oh, what can I do?”
“Keep your head, now, Nan,—don’t get hysterical. I know you’ve enough to make you so,—but don’t. Tell me about the morphine, dear.”
“There’s nothing to tell, except what I said. Douglas did take it on the sly, and so I—”
“Wait a minute, Nancy,—tell me this: why did you marry Raynor?”
“I had to,—oh, Mal, there were terrible, dreadful reasons,—not reasons of my own,—but affecting others,—I can’t tell you,—but there was no way out!”
“I wish you could confide in me, dearest. Don’t you know that from now on, I’m your protector, guardian, guide. Don’t you know that I’m always back of you, like a rock,—a stronghold. Won’t you realize this—”
“But you can’t—you mustn’t talk like that,—so soon—”
“Oh, what are the conventions between us? You never loved Raynor, did you?”
“And you do love me?”
The briefest glance of the beautiful, sad eyes gave Finley his answer.
And, then, before either could speak again, Dolly Fay came running toward the arbor.
“Oh, Nan,” she cried,—and, seeing Finley, she added, “shall I speak right out before the Prince?”
“Yes,” said Nan, smiling a little, “speak out, Dolly; what is it?”
“Why, I found the will for you.”
“Yes; Mr. Raynor’s will that leaves the money to you,—you know.”
“Crazy child,—what do you mean?”
“Don’t you call me a crazy child,—look at that!” Dolly produced a much folded paper, and gave it to Nan.
“A will doesn’t look like this, dear,—a will is an important looking document.”
But Nan unfolded the flimsy yellow paper, and as she read it her face changed.
“Malcolm,” she said, “this is a copy of the will!” And it was. Evidently a carbon copy made at the same time the will was typed, and of course identical in wording.
Finley took it and perused it intently.
“That’s what it is, Nan. Where did you get it, Dolly?”
“Oho,—I’m not such a crazy child after all,—am I? Well, I’ll tell you.”
She gave a detailed account of her finding the will in Gannon’s house, and her two hearers mulled over the tale.
“You see,” Finley said to Nan, “this is merely a copy, and it is neither signed nor witnessed. Therefore it is of no value as a will, but it is of great value as a proof that a will in your favor was drawn.”
“Oh, I know it was,—I saw it,” Nan said.
“This proves it,” Finley went on. “You’ve done a great thing for Mrs. Raynor, Dolly. And I think, Nan, you should get this copy into the hands of your lawyer just as soon as possible. There’s tricky work going on,—and from Dolly’s story, I begin to think Lionel Raynor and old Gannon are pals—”
“Oh, no,” Dolly cried; “they’re mad as hops at each other!”
“That doesn’t deny their being in league against your interests, Nan.”
“But Grimshawe Gannon was Douglas’ friend,—they were especially cronies,—I often wondered at it. I thought sometimes it irked Douglas, but he always treated Gannon with utmost courtesy, even deference.”
“Perhaps Gannon had a hold on him—”
Nan’s eyes widened. “I never thought of that before! Do you know, Mal, I believe it’s the truth, though! As I look back, I can see how Douglas often submitted to Gannon’s presence, or to his wishes, against his own will. I wondered at it,—but it never occurred to me that the old man had a definite hold on Douglas.”
“I think I’ll quiz the old man. He is shrewd, but he may let out something inadvertently. Nancy, you go with that paper to Stratton at once. Don’t take it to Dobbins,—go right to the lawyer. Take Dolly with you and tell him the whole story. I’m going to see Gannon.”
On his way to Gannon’s house, Finley was joined by Ezra Goddard, and they went together.
“You’re in an anomalous position, Malcolm,” Goddard said, seriously; “you’re more than half suspected of that shooting, you know,—and yet you don’t deny it point-blank.”
“They can’t prove it on me,” Finley spoke defiantly. “Why worry?”
“Don’t be flippant. Sometimes I think you really did do it—”
“Don’t be silly! If you did, I’m not sure I’d blame you much. That woman was going through hell with that man! He ought to have been shot. On the other hand, if she shot him, you’re holding off to shield her,—when necessary—”
“Why, Goddard, you ought to be a detective! A scientific one! How you do discern things! I’m amazed at your perspicuity! But never mind the murder for the moment,—listen to this complication about the will.”
Finley told him the whole story of the copy of the will,—and then said:
“Now, if Gannon and young Raynor are in cahoots, we must find it out; and if they’re not,—then we must learn all we can from Gannon.”
“A lot you’ll learn from Grim Gannon! He’s an oyster for dumbness.”
“Well, let’s beard the oyster in his den, and see what happens.”
They found Gannon on his porch as usual,—taciturn and grim, as usual.
“Whatcha want?” he growled as they approached.
“We want to know about the Raynor will,” Goddard said, sternly; “and we want the truth. We have the carbon copy and we want the original. Where is it?”
“Donno, gentlemen; you’re barkin’ up the wrong tree.”
“No, we’re not,” said Finley, decidedly. “You know where that will is,—and you’d better produce it!”
“Now, now, Mr. Finley,” the old man removed his pipe from his mouth as he glowered at the speaker, “it don’t become you,—the suspected murderer of Mr. Raynor, and the present lover of Mrs. Raynor, to come around here with such talk! You ain’t in no position to threaten me,—you’d better lay low, if you know what’s good for yourself.”
“Grimshawe Gannon, you’re an old man,—or I’d knock you down for that speech! But I warn you, if you ever repeat it,—I will! Moreover, if you ever again mention that lady’s name except in terms of utmost respect and reverence, I’ll deal with you accordingly. Your accusations against myself bother me not at all,—but, remember what I have said! Now I know you for a fraud and a rascal. I know you witnessed that will for Mr. Raynor, and I also know that it is in your possession. Produce it, or I’ll have you arrested for fraud and deceit.”
“My good land!” From a complacent, bullying old man, Gannon changed to a cringing, frightened coward. “What do you mean, Mr. Finley? I don’t know anything about the will.”
“The copy was found in your house.”
“That doesn’t prove the original is there.”
“It proves that it may be,” and Finley watched closely the changing countenance of the man.
“Maybe’s a long way off,” Gannon said, and now he looked crafty and sly rather than intimidated.
He puzzled Finley; and Goddard, too, was at a loss just how to take him.
But as if by an inspiration, Finley said, suddenly, “Oh, of course you don’t know anything about it. But we can get all necessary information from Peters,—the other witness.”
“Peters!” Gannon’s face fell. “You don’t know where he is.”
“Oh, don’t we! Well, you needn’t tell us.”
“Say,—do you know where Peters is?” Gannon was whining now.
“We do. Now, here’s your last chance, Gannon.” This from Goddard. “Do you want to come clean about the will,—or, let it rest and take your chances on getting into trouble over the thing?”
Gannon considered. He looked from one to the other, and shrewdly concluded they were,—partly, at least,—bluffing.
“I’ll take my chances,” he said, and resumed his pipe.
And no amount of further cajolery, threatening or argument could gain any more information from him.
Detective Dobbins had a long session with Doctor Saxton.
The family physician admitted that there had been occasions when he had felt a slight suspicion that Douglas Raynor indulged in morphine, but he had never seen sufficient definite symptoms to prove it to his own satisfaction. Dobbins’ story of the morphine Nan threw away made him very thoughtful.
“I do wish I could prove up her yarn,” he said; “it would please me greatly to believe in the innocence of that woman. No, I’ve never suspected her of touching morphine herself,—and I’m sure she wasn’t an addict,—but when a woman suffers as she has, it is not surprising if they turn to narcotics for relief. Anyway, lots of them do.”
“Never mind your opinions, Doc, get down to facts. Was there any trace of morphine found in the stomach of Douglas Raynor at the autopsy?”
“No, not a trace,” and Doctor Saxton looked carefully at the report he held.
“What would be the cure,—if, as she said, she was giving him pellets to stop his use of the drug?”
“Why, atropine, of course.”
“Was any trace of atropine mentioned in the report?”
“No;” and again the doctor scrutinized the typewritten statement.
“But there was plenty of evidence of cumulative arsenical poisoning?”
“Then the yarn falls to the ground. It was clever, but she is a clever woman. I believe, as you suggested, that her troubles forced her to the use of morphine. That she destroyed it rather than have it known to be in her possession. That she pretended it was her husband who took it, to save her own reputation. And then, it came in handy to say the tablets she gave him secretly were to cure him of a drug habit,—there are such things, aren’t there—?”
“Oh, yes. There are such remedies advertised, and many foolish, hopeful wives have secretly tried to cure their unsuspecting husbands of the drink or drug habit by such means.”
“Why foolish wives?”
“Because it never succeeds, and usually worse trouble ensues.”
“Well, the kind of morphine she threw away,—white powder—is the kind that is taken internally, isn’t it?”
“And would be found in the stomach after death?”
“If taken recently enough.”
“Also atropine would show traces?”
“If taken recently enough.”
“Well, as neither of these things are shown and as arsenic is shown I’m betting that those tablets were arsenic,—and I’m going to work on that belief.”
“You’re a detective, and I’m only a doctor. But I’ve known Mrs. Raynor pretty well, and I can’t bring myself to believe that she would poison her husband.”
“Have you ever known of a woman who did kill her husband?”
The doctor thought a moment and then said, “Yes,—I have known of two cases.”
“And in either case would you have believed that that woman would kill her husband?”
“No, I would not! I could scarcely believe it after I knew it was the truth.”
“That’s the answer,” said Dobbins, shortly. “Now, you knew that the Raynors were not happy together, didn’t you?”
“Nobody could be happy with that man. I don’t see why she ever married him.”
“Probably for his money.”
“It must have been.”
“Now, here’s another point, Doctor. That nurse he had. Why did he have her?”
“Oh, Raynor was a diet crank,—there are lots of them nowadays. She was a dietitian, and she pandered to his fads and fancies.”
“Is that all there was to it?”
“So far as I know. What do you mean?”
“I didn’t altogether like the doings of that nurse. I didn’t like the way she looked at Mrs. Raynor—”
“Vindictive, rather. She bore Mrs. Raynor no good will,—of that I’m sure. And she was a sly one. Moreover, she left hurriedly, and took with her a big sum of money.”
“Oh, her own,—at least, they say it was. But it’s strange for a man to give such a lot of money to a nurse,—unless he’s in love with her. And I’ve found no hint that such was the case.”
“Oh, no, Miss Turner was not a young woman,—nor in any way a fascinating woman. Also, Raynor wasn’t that sort of a man. He had faults, he was a brute to his wife, he was a cold-blooded fish, but he wasn’t a woman fancier,—not at all.”
“Well, then the nurse had some sort of a hold over him—”
“No; Raynor wouldn’t be in thrall of any sort to any woman.”
“She might have known something about him—”
“Not likely,—though possible. Well, Mr. Detective, if you suspect Miss Turner of any wrongdoing, why did you let her get away?”
“I don’t exactly suspect her of wrong-doing,—but I’d like to question her about Raynor. And I’m going to do it.”
“Mrs. Raynor,” Dobbins said, speaking gravely and very respectfully, “I wonder if you can tell me anything about your husband’s young life,—before you married him.”
“Only in a general way,” Nan answered. “He was married before, you know, and had one child, Lionel. I never knew his first wife; I think she died before they had been married many years. Mr. Raynor was a friend of my father’s, and though not as old, was not much younger.”
“Your father sanctioned your marriage?”
“Yes.” Nan’s face was expressionless and the detective’s hope that she would impart further information about being forced into the marriage was frustrated.
“It was a love match?” he ventured.
“Are these questions necessary, Mr. Dobbins?”
“Perhaps not absolutely necessary, but advisable,—almost unavoidable.”
“Then I will say that while Mr. Raynor had my esteem and respect, I was not what may be called in love with him.”
“But married him at your father’s orders, eh?”
“In accordance with my father’s wishes, certainly.”
“And have had no reason to regret the step?”
“I protest, Mr. Dobbins. Unless you can convince me that these are not queries prompted by idle curiosity, I must decline to answer.”
“Well, Mrs. Raynor, to tell you the truth, I am trying to get at something, and I don’t know just how to put it. But, if I must say it bluntly, was your husband ever interested in any other woman during his married life with you?”
The detective was ill at ease, and deeply embarrassed, but to his relief Nancy Raynor took the question in a matter-of-fact way.
“No,” she said, “I am sure I can affirm that he was not. It may be I am mistaken, but I knew my husband’s ways and character very well, and I am positive that there was no attachment of the sort you suggest.”
“How about before he married you?”
“Of that I cannot speak with authority. I was acquainted with Mr. Raynor for less than a year before we were married, and of his previous life I know almost nothing.”
“I don’t mean casual affairs, or slight attachments, but do you know of no episode in his life so serious as to cause any one,—any woman—to wish to bring about his death?”
“No;” but Nan looked troubled and even puzzled.
“I am sure, Mrs. Raynor, you have some one in mind. Can’t you see how advantageous it would be to yourself, if you could help me to find some such person?”
“Mr. Dobbins, have you any one in mind? If so, name her, and I will tell you if I can corroborate your suspicions.”
“Very well, then,”—Dobbins glanced around to be sure they were not overheard, “the nurse, Miss Turner.”
Nancy Raynor looked startled, yet she nodded her head ever so slightly, as if that were the name she expected.
“I hate to breathe suspicion with no real evidence to go upon,” she said, slowly, “but I have had doubts of Miss Turner’s sincerity. Yet my reasons are so slight,—merely a glance of hers at my husband, when she thought no one saw her, or a stern set of her lips as she turned away from him. This may have been only in my imagination, but from many such instances I somehow gathered that she hated him.”
“If so, Mrs. Raynor, that would presuppose a previous acquaintance, would it not? Surely she was not here long enough to have conceived a hatred for him.”
“It would seem so.” Nan meditated. “It’s queer,—I can’t mention any definite occurrence, but I feel sure she hated Mr. Raynor strongly, vindictively, and—oh, do you think she shot him?”
“No, Mrs. Raynor, I’ve not the slightest reason to think that. But I do think,—if your story of your drug remedy is a true one,—I do think it possible that she was administering the poison pellets.”
“My story is true, Mr. Dobbins,—oh, please, believe it! I knew my husband was secretly taking drugs,—I found that soon it would become an ineradicable habit. Somebody told me of the cure,—also, I read the advertisements of it,—it was warranted harmless, so I tried it on Mr. Raynor. I reasoned that if it didn’t cure him, it could do him no harm. So I—And, too,—I cannot tell you,—I don’t want to tell you, how unutterably cruel he was to me because of the drug.”
“But I thought,” Dobbins watched her closely, “I thought morphine made people merry and happy. Stimulated, perhaps, but given to a rosy outlook on life.”
“Yes,—but it was when he couldn’t get the drug that he was so terrible. I had to hide it from him,—and then when he couldn’t find it, he—he became almost like a maniac,—he tortured me until I had to give it to him again.”
“You poor woman!” Dobbins said sympathetically, “I don’t wonder you wanted to kill him.” If this was a trap, Nan took no notice of it. She went on.
“I gave him the pellets quite regularly for a time,—he not knowing it, of course. I could see no marked improvement in the matter of the drug habit, but I was alarmed at noticing symptoms that seemed to indicate that something was radically wrong. He had spells of prostration, most unusual for him. He became slightly anemic, was short of breath, and subject to intense thirst. I spoke of these things to Miss Turner, but she said I imagined them and that he was all right.
“I became more alarmed,—yet I didn’t like to speak to Doctor Saxton about it.”
“I think the principal reason was, I feared he would attribute the conditions to the pellets I had been giving him,—and I knew those were harmless,—for I had had them analyzed by an expert chemist. So,—I really don’t know how I came to think of poison, but I did, and I bought a little book telling about poisons and their antidotes. As I read it, I became convinced that Mr. Raynor was regularly taking arsenic into his system. I thought first of suicide,—then I began to suspect Miss Turner of knowing something about it. Suspect is too strong a word,—I merely wondered if any of her medicines contained arsenic, and if he was getting too much or something of that sort.”
“And that explains, you think, the whole matter of the arsenic poisoning?”
“Don’t you think so?”
“Frankly, I do not. I still think,—pardon my brutal plainness, that all this is a fabrication of your own. It is most ingenious, but there is too much against it. First, poison pellets were found hidden in a vase in your bedroom. Again, if either the drug, morphine, or the patent medicine you say you were administering had been found at the autopsy, your story might carry more weight. But no traces of those substances appear in the report of the operating surgeons. You have had time to invent and perfect this fairy tale,—if you suspected Miss Turner, why didn’t you accuse her at once?”
“As I told you,” Nan spoke with difficulty, “I didn’t—I don’t exactly suspect her,—I can only say,—I don’t entirely trust her. I hoped, if I threw away all the morphine and all the curative pellets, it would never be known that my husband indulged in drugs at all. I am sensitive about his reputation and I don’t want the matter known. His sister would be most chagrined and mortified if she knew of it.”
“Well, Mrs. Raynor, I can’t think this is a time for such punctilious consideration of Miss Raynor’s feelings, or even of your husband’s weakness. Try to remember that you are under grave suspicion yourself, of having killed your husband, by poison, or by a shot, or both. Try to remember that your explanations and excuses, so far, have no real weight as evidence in your favor, and for heaven’s sake, if you know anything definite or truly prejudicial to any one else, tell it,—and help your own cause!”
Dobbins spoke emphatically, for he was concerned for this woman, who belittled her own danger, while she shielded her husband’s memory from reproach, and his sister’s mind from disturbance.
“Now,” Dobbins went on, “what I’m getting at is this. If you have enough real doubt of Miss Turner, say so,—and I’ll go straight and hunt her down and face her with the question.”
“I don’t know—” and Nan’s worried face showed deepest doubt. “It does seem so awful to accuse a poor nurse of crime, with so little to suggest it.”
“Maybe I can add a little,” and as the short, sharp tones fell on their ears, Miss Mattie glided into the room.
“I’ve been listening,” she said, seating herself. “I make no bones of doing that, in any matter concerning my brother’s death. I’ve heard all you two have said,—and I must confess, Nan, I think you’re pretty fine. I don’t believe, now, you poisoned Douglas,—I believe your story of the drugs and the cure,—you see I know you better than Mr. Dobbins does. I am shocked, of course, to learn that Douglas hankered after morphine,—it’s disgraceful,—but to my mind, it’s a small matter compared with the question of who killed him. Now, I always disliked the Turner woman, and moreover, I always thought there was something between her and Douglas. I mean something that happened before she came here,—perhaps long ago. I have, at times, noticed a look pass between the two, that showed more than the mere relation of nurse and patient.”
“That’s what I want to get at!” cried Dobbins, eagerly.
“Come to me, then,” said Miss Mattie, calmly. “Mrs. Raynor is young and trusting,—she’s really unversed in the ways of women of the world. I don’t say she didn’t shoot my brother,—she suffered, Lord knows! and in a moment of desperation,—but that’s not the point at present. If Nan didn’t give Douglas poison,—then Eva Turner did.”
“Your reasons for thinking so?” asked Dobbins, shortly.
“Motive and opportunity,” Miss Mattie snapped back.
“Motive!” exclaimed Dobbins, surprised indeed.
“I think so,” and the old head nodded, while the bright black eyes gleamed maliciously. “My brother had a lamentable episode in his life about twenty years ago.”
“With Eva Turner?” asked Dobbins, quickly.
“That I don’t know. But the girl’s name was Effie Talcott,—and it might have been Miss Turner, under a different name.”
“You know the circumstances?” asked the detective.
“Yes; and I think the time has come to tell them.”
Miss Mattie settled herself in her chair, almost as if prepared to enjoy the recital,—and it must be admitted it appealed to her love of the dramatic. Also, she was,—for the moment, at least,—on Nan’s side and wanted to aid her if she could.
“It was when my brother was perhaps forty years old. He was a widower and though not what could be termed gay, he was now and then intrigued by a pretty face. Effie Talcott was a chorus girl, and Douglas fell madly in love with her. He had no idea of marrying her, of course, but he lavished every attention on her, as well as costly presents of jewels, furs and all sorts of luxuries.
“Well, one night they were driving out somewhere after the theater, and there was a motor accident. Miss Talcott’s leg was broken,—bad fracture, and she went to the hospital. She was there nearly a year, and when she came out she did not exactly limp, but she could never dance again. Of course, this ended her stage career, and she turned to my brother for support.
“This he refused, and she brought a breach of promise suit against him. It was settled out of court, but the girl was not at all satisfied with the arrangements made for her, and she vowed she’d get even with Douglas sooner or later. My brother only laughed at this,—he had no fear of her,—and she dropped out of his life. But I heard that during her stay in the hospital she had developed an interest in nursing and had an aptitude for it. That is all I know,—but, if you put two and two together—”
“You mean,” Dobbins fixed her with his piercing glance, “you mean that Eva Turner was—is Effie Talcott?”
“I only mean she may be. The Talcott girl would be about forty now, and if she has been a nurse for years, she may be a dietitian as well as any other specialist.”
“She may be,” agreed Nan, “but the chances are against it. Why, if she wanted revenge on Douglas for her fancied wrongs—”
“Not fancied wrongs,” said Dobbins, “but very real ones,—if Miss Raynor’s story is correct in every particular.”
“It is,” said Miss Mattie, her eyes cast down. “It nearly killed me,—the disgrace was so great,—but Douglas kept it quiet, by paying enormous sums to everybody concerned,—including the girl.”
“I didn’t suppose the motor accident was his fault—” Dobbins began, but seeing Miss Raynor’s expression, he quickly added, “was it said to be?”
“By some people,” she admitted. “The girl was a burden, he couldn’t stand her in his life any longer,—and there were some that said he tried to throw her out of the car. I don’t believe it,—but I want you to understand the case,—for if Miss Turner is Effie Talcott, she had every reason in the world to hate my brother. I loved him,—I love his memory,—but I am too just to be blind to his faults,—or to let my pride or affection stand in the way of my being of any assistance to Mrs. Raynor.”
“You knew nothing of all this?” the detective said, turning to Nan.
“Absolutely nothing,” she replied. “I can only say, what I have already told you, that a few times I saw on Miss Turner’s face a look of almost diabolical hatred toward my husband. It was when she thought she was unobserved; or when once I chanced to see her face in a mirror,—but if she is the girl Miss Raynor tells of, she had reason to hate Douglas Raynor and she surely did.”
In consequence of this story of Mattie Raynor’s, Detective Dobbins set off at once for New York City, to interview the nurse at the address she had left behind her.
He found the place readily enough,—a rooming house of a respectable but not elaborate type.
Asking for Miss Turner, he was told she was not at home, but her mother was.
An interview with the mother was easily obtained, and Dobbins found himself in a small front room, rather tawdrily furnished as a sitting room.
He was greeted in a non-committal fashion by a middle-aged woman carelessly groomed and informally attired.
“Sit down,” she said, and as she herself sat down, she drew a small smoking stand toward her and lighted a cigarette.
“What’s it about?” she said.
“About Miss Turner,” Dobbins replied, his sternest effects in evidence. “Where is she?”
“Out on a case,—I don’t know where, exactly.”
“I think you can find the address, somehow, can’t you?”
“Maybe; when I know what you want her for. Is it a case?”
“Yes; it’s a case,” and Dobbins smiled inwardly, as he thought of what he meant by a case.
“Oh, well, then, I’ll give you the address. Want her for your own family?”
“Look here, I want you to tell me something about her,—about her early life. I’m—I’m a reporter,—I’m getting statistics about the early life of nurses, and how they came to take up their profession.”
“Yes. Where was Miss Turner born?”
“Land! I don’t know.”
Dobbins stared. “I thought you were her mother!”
The woman laughed outright.
“I’m only a hired mother. You know, actresses and nurses and, oh, lots of girls,—nice ones,—have to have a mother. Well, sometimes, not having a real one,—they hire one. I’m a professional mother. I have four ‘daughters’ in this house.”
The woman looked eminently respectable,—she even had a trace of aristocracy, noticeable in spite of her poor costume and slatternly air. She held her cigarette like a thoroughbred, and her voice was not uncultured.
“Miss Turner is in luck to have secured your services,” he smiled, “but,—er—do ladies as—as mature as Miss Turner need a—a chaperon—?”
“Not always,” she smiled at him. “Eva is no chicken,—but I’ve been her mother so long,—she still keeps me on. We’ve come to be fond of one another.”
“How long have you been with her?”
“Lemmesee. Twenty years or more.”
“Was she a trained nurse all that time?”
“Not all,—she was on the stage first off,—but she got hurt in an automobile accident—”
Dobbins’ calm gave way, and his involuntary expression of excitement frightened the woman.
“Look here,” she cried, “who are you, anyway? What do you want of Eva?”
“I want to see her,—I want to talk with her,—why are you so alarmed?”
“You don’t want her for—for anything special?”
“Such as what? What have you in mind that frightens you so? I think, Mrs.—”
“I think, Mrs. Morrison, that you are unnecessarily disturbed. Unless Miss Turner has reason to fear my questions, I cannot think she will object to them. But, one thing, first. You have known Miss Turner for—did you say, twenty years?”
“About that,” the woman’s face was sullen now, and she said no more than she had to.
“Was her name always Eva Turner?”
Mrs. Morrison’s face turned white.
“So it’s come, has it?” she said, with a moaning wail that transformed her independent attitude to one of cringing fear. “Are you a detective?”
“Yes, I am. Now, you’ll save time and trouble for yourself, Mrs. Morrison, if you answer my questions. What was Miss Turner’s name as an actress? I know all actresses have assumed names.”
“She didn’t. When she was a chorus girl,—not an actress,—she used her own name,—Effie Talcott. She was a nice girl and a good girl, until—”
“Until she fell into the clutches of a bad, unscrupulous man.”
“Exactly that. He made love to her, he led her astray, he ruined her, and at last he took her on a joy ride,—there was an accident, and she broke her leg,—a bad compound fracture. He took her to a hospital,—and, he never saw her again!”
“He paid her expenses?”
“Yes,—but he had promised to marry her—”
“Are you sure?”
“She always said so. She sued him—but he was too great and powerful for her to have success of that sort. His lawyers settled with her for a very small sum,—which she was obliged to take because she had no way to make him pay more.”
“And—was she—is she of a revengeful disposition?”
“She is, indeed!—that is,—why, no,—I don’t know—”
The woman had suddenly come to her senses and realized that she was telling too much for her “daughter’s” good.
“I don’t know anything about it! I will tell you nothing more!” she cried angrily.
“Give me her present address.”
“I will not.”
“Then I will find it out for myself. Good day.” And Dobbins left her without further word.
It was two days later that Dobbins returned in triumph to Flower Acres, bringing Miss Turner with him. The arm of the law had been powerful enough to persuade the nurse, much against her will, to return to the scene of the tragedy.
When accused, in the presence of Mrs. Raynor, of poisoning Douglas Raynor, Miss Turner at first denied it, and then, as further pressure was brought to bear, she cried out, “Yes, I did,—I did try to put that man out of the world. But I didn’t do it,—his wife shot and killed him!”
And this story she stuck to. No amount of questioning or cross questioning could shake her statements.
She told the tale of her acquaintance with Douglas Raynor, admitting it was twenty years ago.
“He spoiled my whole career,” she said; “my whole life. I was a successful singer, a favored chorus girl. My dancing was greatly admired and I planned to become a professional dancer rather than a singer or an actress. I had a fine opportunity for advancement, and was about to accept another and better position than the one I then had, when I went, at Douglas Raynor’s invitation on a midnight ride in his car. He drove the machine himself,—a swift roadster, and, when we were on a long lonely stretch of road, late at night, that man—” She paused a moment, glancing at Mrs. Raynor, and then, at a nod from the detective, she went on, “That man tried to throw me out of the car.”
“Incredible!” murmured Dobbins, while Nan sat like a statue, listening, horrified.
“Yes, he did,” Eva Turner reiterated; “he gave me a push, and I should have fallen out, but that I grabbed the side of the car. I also grabbed at his arm, and that threw the steering gear askew,—I suppose, for the car swerved, and upset, and we both landed in a ditch by the side of the road. He escaped without serious injury but my leg was broken in two places, and I could never dance again. I could walk all right,—without a limp,—but I couldn’t take a dancing step. Of course, I couldn’t walk until after three months in the hospital, and then three more of recuperation at home. And Mr. Raynor never came near me,—never sent me a line of sympathy or encouragement,—merely sent his secretary,—or some man of business, to learn of my progress and to pay the bills.”
“You felt revengeful for all this?” Dobbins asked, mildly.
“Did I?” Eva Turner’s eyes blazed. “I wanted to kill him,—I wanted to put him to death by some slow, lingering torture that would make him feel a tithe of the grief and despair that I suffered! I was a young girl,—called beautiful,—a career of triumph before me,—and the cup was dashed from my hand in one moment! There were other ways open to me to earn my livelihood,—I could be a stenographer, or any such prosaic wage-earner,—but such things made no appeal to me after my hope of a dancing career.
“The only thing I felt I could take up was nursing. During my stay in the hospital, I became interested in that, and the nurses I met there were kind and helpful. So, when I was able I took my training and became a graduate nurse. Oh, the hard work and the unpleasant duties connected with that training! How different from the life of gayety and luxury I had hoped for!”
“And all the time your heart was full of revenge toward Mr. Raynor?” the detective inquired.
“Yes, but I saw no way to gratify it. In fact, as the years went by, and I grew older, I rather forgot my hatred of him,—and became absorbed in my work. Then, one day, by chance, I came across,—I heard through another nurse, that Mr. Raynor wanted a dietitian. That is one of my specialties, and as I thought about old times, all my hatred of the man came back to me,—all my animosity revived, and I conceived a diabolical plan of coming here to be his dietitian,—and poisoning him while I prepared his food.”
“Cold-blooded premeditation, then.”
“Yes,—I suppose so,—but it didn’t seem to me murder,—it didn’t even seem wrong. It seemed only justice toward the man who had wronged me, who had wrecked my life,—who had tried to murder me! Where is the wrong there? Is that not mere justice?”
“But the individual may not take the administration of justice in hand,—it must be done by the law.”
“Yes! What law would punish that man? What court of justice would condemn him on my say-so? No, I knew of his sin,—I proposed to mete out the punishment. Right or wrong,—that is what I came to Flower Acres determined to do.”
Miss Turner sat bolt upright in her chair. She held her head high, her hands, crossed in her lap, now and then clenched themselves in her righteous indignation, but she was otherwise calm and collected.
Nancy Raynor looked at her in uncertainty. Knowing, as she did, the cruel, even brutal, nature of the man who had wronged this woman, she couldn’t wonder at her spirit of revenge. Yet, after twenty years of smoldering fires, it seemed strange to have the flame break out so suddenly.
“And so you poisoned him,” she said, slowly, looking at Eva Turner. “Did he know it?”
“I’m not sure. I think he suspected it. That was why he gave me a large sum of money,—in securities,—if I would go away from here.”
“He knew who you were, then?” Dobbins asked.
“Not at first. But I revealed myself to him,—and then he was frightened. He begged me, pleaded with me to go away. But that was my revenge,—to see him cringe and crawl. I’m not sure I really meant to kill him,—I don’t know. I wanted to have him ill,—suffering,—frightened,—and then, if my revenge became satiated,—perhaps I should have stopped the poison.”
“This is a strange confession, Miss Turner,” Dobbins said, at last.
“But a true one,” she returned, with calm equanimity. “And remember, I did not kill him. His wife did that,—and I, for one, do not blame her. I know, as no one else can, what a life he led that poor woman.”
She looked compassionately at Nancy, but in a cool, detached way, as if she had no personal interest beyond a sympathy with any one whose life was connected with that of Douglas Raynor.
The others present on this occasion were Finley, Goddard and Orville Kent. Miss Raynor asked to come, but said she couldn’t stand what she knew would be a vilification of her brother.
Lionel Raynor, too, asked to be excused from hearing the nurse’s accusation of his father. He knew of the old affair, and preferred not to listen to its repetition.
Ezra Goddard was deeply interested. His sharp eyes darted from one face to another as the recital proceeded, and he noted the fleeting emotions that showed themselves in turn.
Malcolm Finley’s countenance was impassive. He expressed no interest or curiosity, but sat, arms folded, absorbing every word of Eva Turner’s revelations.
Of them all, Orville Kent seemed the most disturbed.
As always, when he was nervously excited, he sat twisting the corners of his handkerchief into spirals. This habit troubled Nan, not because it was annoying so much as that to her knowledge and experience it was a proof of Orry’s perturbation of spirit.
There was deep affection between this brother and sister, and Nan, the older, had always watched over her brother with devoted care.
Never a strong boy, Kent had grown to manhood only by reason of his own determined efforts to improve his health. Exercise, diet, medical treatment, all had been called on to make a strong, hearty constitution out of a frail one,—and though the success was only partial, yet Kent, the man, was a decided improvement on Kent, the sickly child, and delicate boy.
But his congenital nervousness had never been entirely overcome and when Nan saw him begin to twist his handkerchief, she knew that he was deeply disturbed mentally for some reason or other.
It was self-evident that it was the disclosures of Eva Turner that so upset Orry. He listened with flushed face and unnaturally bright eyes; he leaned forward in his chair to drink in her words, and then as she admitted her decision to use poison on her unsuspecting victim, Kent fell back as if under a crushing blow.
Dobbins, too, was watching. Could it be, he thought, that Kent was in love with Miss Turner? She was,—she must be, at least ten years or so older than he, though, as Dobbins knew, that might not prove an insuperable barrier to such a condition of things.
Again, Miss Turner, though a fine-looking wholesome woman, was in no way a charmer or even especially attractive in her appearance.
But unless for some such reason, Dobbins couldn’t divine why Kent was so desperately unnerved, even alarmed, the detective thought.
But as Eva Turner continued to talk, it began to be more clear that while she was confessing her own part in the affair she was also making ready for a graver accusation against some one else.
She had said earlier that Nancy Raynor had shot her husband, but now she came back to it, and made the definite statement that she was sure of it.
“Did you see Mrs. Raynor with the pistol in her hand?” Dobbins asked. “This is a grave statement you’re making, Miss Turner.”
“No; I didn’t see that,—for the simple reason that I didn’t flash the lights on quickly enough for that.”
“Tell me exactly what you saw when the lights did go on.”
“I saw Mr. Finley picking up the pistol, and Mrs. Raynor fleeing out at the west door.”
“And you consider that a proof that she fired the shot?”
“Yes; for if Mr. Finley had done so, he would not be picking up the weapon from the floor—where she had dropped it.”
“Your testimony is of the greatest importance, Miss Turner, so I will ask you to be very careful what you say. You’re sure Mrs. Raynor was fleeing—I take that word to mean running away from possible discovery.”
“That is exactly what she was doing.” Eva Turner nodded her head with emphasis. “If ever I saw a scared, frightened-looking woman, she was one then.”
“Did Mr. Finley look frightened also?”
“He looked more disturbed,—bewildered, puzzled. I should say he picked up the pistol with the intention of helping to shield Mrs. Raynor, either by taking the crime on his own shoulders,—or, at least,—by removing her fingermarks from the weapon. He was already rubbing it with his handkerchief when I looked at him.”
“You have reconstructed this affair very definitely, Miss Turner. You must have thought over it a great deal.”
“I have. I have lived that scene over and over in my mind,”
“With the idea of making up this poppycock yarn!” Orville Kent burst out.
And then Dobbins understood the distress Orry had shown. He had realized that, although Eva Turner admitted the poisoning, she meant to bring the shooting back to Nan, and Kent was apprehensive for his sister.
He was, therefore, Dobbins decided, making ready now to put up’ a bold fight and he started in by trying to turn the tables and lay the crime at Eva Turner’s door.
But, no, Kent did not go as far as that. He held up his hand, still shaking nervously and said:
“I protest against this woman’s testimony. I insist that it is not worthy of credence. She has admitted that she tried to poison Douglas Raynor, is it to be allowed her, then, to accuse some one else of bringing about his death? Is she not disqualified as a witness? Would she not lay the crime on anybody rather than that suspicion should rest on her? I do not accuse her,—we know too little of the truth as yet,—but I do say that her evidence is worthless. Moreover, it is absurd. She says she saw Mrs. Raynor running out of the door. Suppose she was. Suppose Mrs. Raynor, hearing the shot, ran to the room to see what had happened. She entered in the semi-darkness, and then, when Miss Turner put on the lights, she saw the tragedy,—and, of course, she ran from the room. The most natural thing for a frightened woman to do. I make no accusation myself, I offer no suggestion, but I hold, Mr. Dobbins, that you must not take this woman’s unsupported word for what happened that night.”
“You are right,” Ezra Goddard said. “I agree, Mr. Dobbins, that such a deeply interested party as Miss Turner cannot be depended on for an unbiased account of what occurred,—or, rather, what she merely assumed or imagines to have occurred.”
Kent looked relieved at this support of his own opinions, and settled back in his chair, still twisting his handkerchief, and now and then glancing sympathetically at Nan.
A short time previously Lionel Raynor had drifted into the room. Apparently he had overcome his disinclination to listen to the testimony regarding his father’s death, for he silently took a seat, and listened with attention.
At last he spoke.
“I suppose as my father’s son and heir, I have some voice in this matter,” he said; “and I want to put it on record that so far as I am concerned, I am willing to drop the investigation. I accuse no one, I make no suggestion, drop no hint as to who the criminal may have been. If it was any member of this household, I don’t want to know it. And if it was some marauder from outside, I feel sure there’s no chance of getting him now. So, Mr. Dobbins, you can call off your assistants,—for I’m told you have other detectives on a still hunt for clews. I did, at first, feel a most natural desire to avenge my father’s death, but for more than one reason, I now feel I would rather the matter be dropped. This, I think, will meet the approval of my father’s widow, and I cannot see that there is any one else to be considered.”
“Oh, you can’t!” exclaimed Dobbins, looking at Lionel curiously. “Well, let me tell you, Mr. Raynor, that the law doesn’t work or rest at the dictation of a mere citizen! Justice calls for the utmost effort on our part to find the murderer of Douglas Raynor,—and Justice must run its course.”
Kent, who had nodded his head eagerly in affirmation of Lionel’s speech, again looked cast down at Dobbins’ words. He fell back in his chair, and as his fingers worked nervously, he looked at his sister with a face of infinite sadness and despair. Detective Dobbins looked around the group.
He was a man of limited intelligence, but he had the wisdom to recognize his own limitations. And he sighed to himself as he realized that here was a big case, a big situation,—but, alas, too big for him to cope with. He almost said as much, but paused in time, knowing that was not the part of wisdom.
“By a chance,” he said, “we have here now the four people who stood at the four doors of the sun parlor at the time Mr. Raynor was shot. Oh, yes, I know Mr. Kent came to the south door about ten minutes after the shot, but I hold that even in the dusk he would have seen any one leaving by that door, so he was practically a guardian of that exit.”
“Not at all, Mr. Dobbins,” Orry’s eyes glittered with excitement, but his voice was steady. “I came up from the bridge, and as I walked along I wasn’t even looking toward the house.”
“Where were you looking?”
“West,—at the afterglow of the sunset. It was growing dark but there were a few silvery clouds fading to gray. And even if I had come up the hill looking toward the house I could not have seen any one who had come out of that south door, if he had been careful to skulk along in the shadows of the shrubbery, which doubtless he would have done.”
“That’s true,” Finley said, “and I agree, Mr. Dobbins, that you have that south door unaccounted for, and you must take into consideration the possibility that the murderer of Mr. Raynor escaped that way.”
“Granting that possibility, then,” Dobbins continued, “I say that we have here present the three known to have been at the other three doors, and Mr. Kent, who appeared at the south door a very little later. I would like a sworn statement from each of you as to what you saw and heard. Mr. Finley, will you speak first, and remember you are on oath.”
“I heard the shot, I went from the east veranda to the east door of the sun room, I went in, and I saw Douglas Raynor on the floor, a revolver at his side. I picked it up,—an involuntary act, for which I have no definite explanation, and at that moment, Miss Turner snapped on the lights.”
“Did you see Mrs. Raynor in the room? Recollect, you are on oath.”
“I saw her at the west doorway.”
“Coming in or going out?”
“As I was so amazed at the sight of Mr. Raynor, and a little blinded by the sudden light, I cannot positively answer your question. But to the best of my knowledge and belief she was coming in.”
The quiet tones, the straightforward air did more to carry conviction than emphasis could have done. Nan looked at him gratefully, and Orry showed relief at the words.
“You think she was going out, Miss Turner?”
“I know she was,” said the nurse, accenting her words with a nod of her head. “I saw her even before I saw Mr. Raynor and I can swear she was hastening out of the room.”
“Mrs. Raynor, do you care to testify,—you are not obliged to.”
“No,—I’d rather not,”—said Nan, in a voice so low as to be almost inaudible.
Eva Turner said nothing, but the triumphant look on her face told of her conviction of Nan’s guilt.
“I haven’t spoken yet,” Kent said, deliberately. “I suppose I have a right to be heard, Mr. Dobbins?”
“Certainly,—I wish you would recount what you saw when you appeared on the scene.”
“I came in at the south door,” Orry began, “and I found the scene much as you have all described it. Douglas lay on the floor, Finley stood near him, revolver in hand, Miss Turner was at the north door, or just inside it, and Miss Mattie was close to her. But as I came in at the South door my sister was just entering the west door. She was not going out, she was not ‘fleeing’ or running away, she was coming in,—I saw her,—her face horror stricken with surprise and fright.”
Miss Turner gave a supercilious smile.
“Mr. Kent is quite right,” she said, “but it must be remembered that he came a few moments later than the rest of us. That was Mrs. Raynor’s return that he saw. I saw her leave the room, hastily, as I said, and I then saw her return, coming in at the door, as her brother also entered at the south door. This, I think, explains the seeming discrepancy in our accounts.”
Kent looked baffled. More nervous than ever, he picked at his coat collar,—pulled his handkerchief from his breast pocket and returned it there, drummed on his knees with his fingers and finally said:
“Mr. Dobbins, you have only Miss Turner’s unsupported word for that and I hold that is not sufficient.”
Poor Dobbins looked worried to death He saw no loophole of explanation,—it was all to him a deep inexplicable mystery. The only definite or illuminating testimony he had was that of Eva Turner, and if he must discount that, his case was hard indeed.
“I think,” he said, at last, wiping his forehead, “that I must take some time to think this thing over. I must digest this new information that I have received from Miss Turner, I must report it to my superiors, and I must be guided by them in my next move.”
“Am I under arrest?” Eva Turner asked, a little fearfully.
“No; no, Miss Turner, not yet. The whole place is under surveillance, you must not,—indeed, you cannot get away,—but I see no reason, for the moment, to arrest you. At least, not until I talk with the chief. But your case is grave,—I cannot hold out much hope of leniency for you.”
Eva Turner said nothing,—her placid face seeming to conceal every thought or emotion of her brain.
“I am not sure Mrs. Raynor wishes me to stay here,” she said, turning to Nan with an air half diffident, half insolent.
“I am not sure that I do,” Nan returned calmly. “But I think it is proper that you should stay, and so I ask you to do so.... You may take the room you had before,—and—I will ask you to respect my desire to be let alone.”
The group broke up and Finley took Nan off for a walk in the grounds.
“Make no objections,” he said, “you will be ill if you don’t get out of doors more. Now you’re going for a long walk all around the place, and if you say so, we won’t mention the affair of the tragedy at all.”
“Then I’ll go,” Nan said, and they started off.
Ezra Goddard tarried a moment to speak to Orry.
“My boy,” he said, kindly, “you must take care of yourself. You’re not over that shell shock business yet,—at least the effects of it are still in your system. Don’t worry too much over this miserable affair.”
The newcomer at Flower Acres was a good-looking, well set-up man of thirty-five or so, with thick chestnut hair, brushed back from his forehead, keen, blue eyes and a manner that inspired confidence.
There are such men who give the effect of knowing what they are about and knowing that they are doing it right.
Pennington Wise was his name, and he was a justly celebrated private detective.
Ezra Goddard had engaged him, for Ezra Goddard had come to several very definite conclusions. One of these was that Detective Dobbins couldn’t swing the Raynor case, and another was, that probably any other police detective would not do much better than Dobbins. So, also, Goddard was positive that the two suspected persons, who were both dear to him, were innocent, and it was to prove the innocence of his friend Finley, and of his friend Mrs. Raynor, that Goddard took the matter into his own hands and sent for Pennington Wise.
The arrival of the detective threw most of the household into consternation.
Malcolm Finley was, on the whole, glad, yet he felt a certain uneasiness as to what might transpire.
Nan Raynor and her brother looked aghast at the news of the arrival, yet tried to conceal their apprehensions.
Miss Turner was frightened, Lionel Raynor was angry, and Miss Mattie, though affronted at not having been consulted in the matter, was deeply interested and agog with curiosity as to what the new developments would be. Miss Raynor was a strange character. Though sincerely mourning her brother, she was possessed of a morbid curiosity that dominated all other sentiments, and which prompted her interest in the investigation, far more than her real desire to see justice done to the criminal.
So she greeted Pennington Wise with cordiality and welcomed him to Flower Acres, while the others looked on with varying degrees of uncertainty.
“Wonderful place,” Wise said, standing on the terrace, hands behind him and gazing over the great gardens with unbounded admiration. “Before beginning my work here I must beg for a few minutes to absorb this marvelous beauty!”
With him had come a strange little being, who, he said, carelessly, was his assistant. She was a small scrap of a girl, slender as a willow wand, inconspicuous, unnoticeable, almost invisible, so persistently did she keep in the background. A slip of black was her gown, and her black hair and eyes all seemed to melt into the shadows as she crept to the darkest corners of the room. Yet she was always there, always at the beck or call of Pennington Wise, and her assistance was as valuable as it was unostentatious.
From a secluded alcove of the terrace, almost hidden by a tall palm, Zizi, for that was the girl’s name, looked out, raptly, over the flowery acres. No one noticed her, but had any one done so, he would have observed her utter concentration of delight, her fairly sensuous reveling in the masses of color and the warm waves of fragrance that came to them through the sunshine of the mellow autumn afternoon.
At last, Wise drew a long sigh, as of very surfeit of the beauty before him, and turned to the group, who awaited his questions, with widely different anticipations.
It was tea-time, always a pleasant function at the Raynor house and Ezra Goddard had arranged that the first inquiries of the detective should be conducted under the guise of a social chat rather than an official grilling.
Yet the atmosphere was not one of pleasantry. The very air seemed charged with impending disturbance and the fear of unwelcome disclosures haunted the breast of more than one of the group.
Although Pennington Wise was suave of voice and courteous of manner there was something definite, something direct in the gaze of his clear blue eyes that brought foreboding to some on whom it fell.
It transpired that the detective knew the history of the case; that he knew most of the conclusions arrived at by the local police and detectives, and that his inquiries were directed now to individuals, asking their exact knowledge.
“Be careful in your statements,” he counseled. “There is nothing so uncertain as human evidence. If I am to get at the facts of this case, I must have the most meticulous efforts on the part of you all to speak the truth. Yes, it does take an effort to think. Let us take this point of Mrs. Raynor’s position when Miss Turner put the lights on. Miss Turner, can you swear that Mrs. Raynor was leaving the room?”
“Was she frightened-looking?”
“Yes, indeed she was!”
“Ah,—how did you observe this when her back was toward you? How do you know that she did not wear an expression of triumph—”
Eva Turner looked dumfounded.
“You see,” Wise went on, “Miss Turner noted the frightened face of Mrs. Raynor, although she swears that Mrs. Raynor was going out of the door,—fleeing,—I believe she has said. A person doesn’t flee backward, so Mrs. Raynor could scarcely have shown a frightened face to Miss Turner. Now, Mr. Finley, for your account of this moment. You entered at the east door,—after you heard the shot?”
“Yes,” said Finley, shortly. He was not gruff or annoyed, but he felt as if he were to be tripped up unless very careful, even though telling a straight story.
“You were inside the room,—the sun parlor,—before the light flashed up?”
“You had involuntarily picked up the revolver before the light appeared?”
“How could you see the weapon?”
“It was dusk,—not entirely dark, and the metal shone clearly.”
“Yes, it would. You could see Mr. Raynor—”
“As a huddled heap on the floor. Seeing the pistol, I knew what must have happened, and I picked it up—”
“Yes, I know; and then the light came and,—here is the point, you glanced at once toward Mrs. Raynor?”
“No,—or, I don’t know.” Finley spoke slowly. “I should say I looked first at Mr. Raynor,—naturally he caught my attention.”
“Of course.—of course,” Wise assented, “and then?”
“And then,—oh, I don’t know! I suppose my eyes glanced round—”
“Try to think,—your eyes glanced round and you saw Mrs. Raynor—”
“Going out or coming in at the west door?”
Finley fidgeted. It was one thing to tell a glib tale to Dobbins and quite another to meet these clear blue eyes with an indefinite statement.
“I don’t know,” he said, at last, desperately; “I should say she was just standing there,—neither going out nor coming in.”
“Certainly not ‘fleeing’ then,” and Wise nodded. “You saw her face, Mr. Finley?”
Again Finley paused. His doubtful expression gave an effect not so much of trying to remember, as of thinking what would be the best statement to make.
He decided to be non-committal.
“Mr. Wise,” he said, “I cannot say. I was so startled by the occasion, and also so blinded by the sudden light, that I cannot say whether I could see Mrs. Raynor’s face or not. I may have seen her profile,—or—or she may have turned while I looked—”
“That will do, Mr. Finley.” Wise looked at him contemplatively, rather than accusingly. “You are uncertain because you want to be. You are uncertain of what to say,—rather than as to what you saw. You are trying to think what will be best for Mrs. Raynor’s interests.”
“Are you a clairvoyant, Mr. Wise?” Finley asked, a little shortly.
“No, it is not necessary to be that to read your attitude.”
“My attitude is more sincere than you think.” Finley spoke angrily now. “I have no reason to speak other than the truth. But I submit that in the disturbing circumstances of that moment it is not surprising that I cannot remember clearly the details of the scene.”
“That is perfectly true. Yet, the details you do remember are somewhat contradictory. The lights flashed on, you glanced first and naturally at the shocking sight of Mr. Raynor’s body on the floor. With the light on you could see this plainly,—could even see that he was evidently dead, or at least, seriously injured. Is this not so?”
“And you looked at the revolver in your hand?”
“I dare say,—I suppose so,—yes, I am sure I did.”
“Then, your glance turned toward the door where Mrs. Raynor stood.”
“Yet, after the notice you took of Mr. Raynor, after the look you gave the weapon you held in your hand, after these appraising glances,—you state that your eyes were so blinded by the sudden light you could not see Mrs. Raynor clearly.”
Malcolm Finley looked chagrined, and then, in manly fashion he accepted the situation.
“I fear I spoke hastily, Mr. Wise. You are showing me that human evidence is indeed an uncertain thing. Now, I can only say, that I agree that after the attention I paid to the sight of Mr. Raynor, and to the revolver, which I saw quite clearly, I could not have been dazzled by the light. But when I said that,—I thought it was so. Now, I will correct it by saying that I must have been dazed rather than dazzled, and dazed,—stunned, almost, by the shock of the evident tragedy, and because of my bewildered senses I did not see clearly,—definitely, rather, the exact position or attitude of Mrs. Raynor as she stood in the doorway.”
“Yet it seems probable that you should see the lady as well as that you should see the other scenes you speak of. You noticed Miss Turner?”
“Yes; she stood, her hand still on the light switch, her face horrified, and behind her came Miss Raynor, equally agitated.”
“You seem to have noticed these two ladies much more definitely than you observed Mrs. Raynor. Why was that?”
“I cannot tell you,” Malcolm Finley said, with dignity. “You asked me for a truthful statement,—I have given it to the best of my ability.”
Wise nodded his head, and a gleam of satisfaction in his blue eyes seemed to indicate that he found Malcolm Finley’s evidence illuminating in some way, at least.
“Will you tell me,” he said, turning to Nan, “whether you were leaving or entering the room when the lights appeared?”
“I don’t know—” she said, slowly.
“Try to think”—the detective’s voice was gentle— “it may mean a great deal.”
But Nan suddenly turned obstinate.
“I can’t think,—I can’t remember. And you frighten me with your efforts to trip everybody up! Suppose I say the wrong thing—”
“Just detail your movements. You were sitting on the terrace when you heard the shot?”
“You rose at once and walked toward the sun parlor?”
“Mrs. Raynor, then as you had been sitting in the dusk, your eyes were accustomed to it,—not as if you had come from a lighted room,—when you reached the west door of the sun parlor, was the door open?”
“You looked in?”
“What did you see?”
“Nothing alarming—at first. I couldn’t see Mr. Raynor from the doorway.”
“But you saw—”
Nancy looked at him, her eyes wide with horror, yet full of uncertainty. Perhaps because of the hint Wise had given, several of the onlookers thought she was in doubt as to what was best to say,—not as to the truth.
“You saw—” the inexorable blue eyes looked steadily at her.
“I saw—” she spoke like one hypnotized, then she seemed fairly to wrench her own gaze away from the detective’s as she cried out, “I won’t tell you what I saw! I didn’t see anything!”
“Let her alone,” said a soft little voice, and the girl, Zizi, glided to Nan’s side, sank in a low seat beside her, and took her hand.
“As to incidental matters,” the detective said, speaking on as if without interruption, “whose was the revolver?”
“It belonged to my brother,” Miss Mattie said, eagerly, glad to take a part in this enthralling conversation.
Wise looked at her with interest.
“Where did he keep it?”
“Right in the table drawer in the sun parlor. He wasn’t exactly afraid of burglars, but there have been rumors of them around, and the way crime is on the increase these days, my brother kept it handy in case of need.”
“Who knew the revolver was in that drawer?”
“Everybody in the house,” Miss Raynor replied. “We had all been told it was there, we had all been warned not to touch it,—for it was always loaded.”
“None were found on it except mine,” Malcolm Finley volunteered.
“I’ve been told you wiped it with your handkerchief, Mr. Finley, even while you were dazzled by the sudden light and dazed by the shock of the tragedy.”—
Finley looked disconcerted but answered quietly, “Yes, I did it unthinkingly—”
“You did not do it unthinkingly,” the detective said, in quick, sharp tones. “You did it purposely,—to remove fingerprints,—either your own or another’s! Will you say which?”
“If I say which, I shall certainly say my own,—for I have no reason to suspect any one else.”
“Did you shoot Mr. Raynor?”
“I am not obliged to answer that question, as you well know, Mr. Wise.”
“And you prefer not to do so?”
“Now, as to the mark of the overshoe on the floor.” The strange detective seemed to jump from one subject to another easily. “Who saw it?”
“I did,” Miss Raynor vouchsafed. “The other detective showed it to me. He said it was a clew.”
“It is,” Wise said gravely. “Was it a whole print of the sole, Miss Raynor?”
“Oh, no; just a partial print,—of one side of the rubber.”
“Let me see, now.” Miss Mattie was elated and a little flustered. “Why, it was the right side of the right foot,—yes, that was it.”
Wise looked amazed at this very definite statement, and expressed his surprise.
“But I looked at it most carefully,” Miss Mattie went on, and she leaned her head back and closed her eyes, the better to concentrate her memory. “Yes, I can see it clearly in my mind. It was positively the print of a new overshoe; it was on the floor between the two rugs, and—why, I could draw you a picture of it! It was the clear, full print of the right side of the right foot.”
“Are the rights and lefts of overshoes so clearly defined?” asked Goddard, greatly interested in this unexpected accuracy.
“Oh, yes, they are nowadays. I can see it”—again she closed her eyes— “I can see how it curves around,—yes, the right foot,—the right side of the foot.”
“And the footprint was pointed toward or away from Mr. Raynor?” Wise asked.
“Toward him,—yes, toward him.”
“Miss Raynor, your testimony is valuable, indeed. Your mode of telling it convinces me of its truth. You have unusual powers of observation and of description. The footprint has been washed away?”
“No,” Miss Mattie shook her head. “It has not, but so many people have looked at it, and measured it, and fussed over it, that it is partly obliterated.”
“I will examine it,” said Wise.
“Does that mean somebody came in—in from outside,—and—and shot my husband?” Nan asked, her breath short and her voice faint.
“Not necessarily, Mrs. Raynor,” Wise said. “It may be it was a footprint made in the afternoon,—had it been raining?”
“No,” Miss Raynor said, “but the gardens are often damp, and a footprint would be possible.”
Again Wise gave her a glance of admiration.
“Was the footprint mud?” asked Zizi, her clear little voice cutting in sharply.
“I’m not sure,” Miss Mattie said, thoughtfully. “It may have been merely the impress of the rubber sole on the stone floor of the room. It was dust rather than mud, anyway.”
“Probably the footprint of a servant,” Wise said, as he rose from his chair and strolled about. “You see, if there had been an intruder from outside, he would have left more than one footprint.”
“No,” Orville Kent remarked, “there was no floor space just there except between the rugs. Other footprints would have been on the rugs and so unobservable.”
“You incline to the outsider theory, Mr. Kent?” the detective inquired.
“Yes,” Orry said, “I do now. I didn’t at first, because I saw no one as I returned to the house,—but I realize now that such a man might easily have escaped my observation.”
Orry was nervous, as usual, twisting up a bit of paper he was holding, and smoothing it out again.
“I think,” he went on, throwing the paper aside, and picking up a burnt match, which he proceeded to worry, “if you will turn your attention to some one outside this household, Mr. Wise, you will get on the right track, sooner.”
“Perhaps so,” and Wise nodded acquiescently. “Tell me what you saw when you arrived, Mr. Kent. The room was lighted then?”
“Oh, yes. They all stood in the doors,—as you’ve already heard described. My sister—”
“Did you notice her first?”
“Yes,—I think I did. I saw her white scared face, and I sprang toward her, fearing she was going to faint. Then, of course, I saw the body of my brother-in-law on the floor,”
“Why do you say the body—did you then know Mr. Raynor was dead?”
“Of course not. I only saw that he lay on the floor. But, in view of all we have learned since, it seems natural that I should refer to that stricken form as the body. No, at the moment, I had a confused notion that he had had a stroke—or something like that.”
Orry’s voice was even, but his fingers were nervously working. One hand twirled his watch fob round and round, while with the other he drummed on the arm of his chair. The family were used to these nervous manifestations, but the detective looked at him curiously.
“You are agitated, Mr. Kent.”
“Nothing,—nothing,” said Orry. “A nervous affection habitual to me. I can’t help it,—I’ve always been so,—and a trifle of shell shock in the war helped it along.”
He jumped up and began pacing the terrace. He paused here and there to pick a faded flower or withered leaf from some plant, he twitched at a hanging vine, he pushed a chair back and another one forward and both Pennington Wise and his sharp-eyed young assistant watched carefully the motions of Orville Kent.
“Please do not trouble my brother more than you have to, Mr. Wise,” Nan’s pathetic voice said. “He is really ill, though he tries to control himself. Overexcitement or anxiety is very hard on him.”
“Nonsense, Nan,” her brother said, looking at her affectionately, “I can take care of myself. I’m not down and out yet.”
“By no means,” Wise said, heartily, “and we’ll spare you all we can, Mr. Kent.”
“Well, Zizi,” Pennington Wise said to his funny little assistant, “we’ve a case on our hands.”
“We have, for fair,” the girl replied.
The two were strolling through the great gardens of Flower Acres,—yet strolling is not quite the word. They were walking rather rapidly, for, as Zizi said, “There’s an awful lot of garden to see, Penny, and I mean to see it all.”
“Want me to delay the case, that you may see more of the gardens!”
“Delay the case! You’ll be lucky if you ever get this case finished. Why, I never saw one with such a lot of side issues and contradictory clews!”
“Let’s straighten it out then. What’s our problem?”
“Who killed Mr. Raynor, and why?”
“If we find out ‘who,’ the ‘why’ will follow as the night the day.”
“Probably. Now, as a starter, who did kill him?”
“Oh, Penny, no!”
“Don’t let your sympathy run away with you. Just because Mrs. Raynor is beautiful, soft-eyed, pathetic—”
“And was married to a brute of a husband—”
“Yes,—well, doesn’t all that lead toward a supposition that at last,—at the end of her endurance, she could bear his tyranny no longer and she ended it?”
“It might with some women,—but Mrs. Raynor is conscientious—”
“That’s why she held out as long as she did.”
“Not she! She’s a firebrand underneath that calm exterior.”
“Oh, Penny, you don’t read her right at all!”
“At least you’ll agree that she is in love with Mr. Finley.”
“Of course,—who wouldn’t be?”
“And the pair are glad to be relieved of the presence of Mr. Raynor?”
“Y—yes,—I suppose they are.”
“Well, then, in the absence of any other suspect, why balk at one or both of those two?”
“Let’s try for another suspect.”
“Just to leave those turtle doves in peace?”
“No, Penny”—the big black eyes were very earnest now— “but because, if they should be innocent,—how dreadful to suspect them.”
“Go ahead, then,—who’s your suspect?”
“Let’s check ’em off. Miss Mattie is out of it.”
“Of course. She adored her brother,—but now she seems to cotton to his widow. Were they always friendly?”
“Pretty much so. I’ve sounded the servants, and I find that Miss Mattie and Mrs. Raynor managed to hit it off fairly well. But the old maid is variable, blows hot and blows cold,—and so Mrs. Raynor was now in favor and now out. However, there’s no question of Miss Mattie. What about the son?”
“He’s a rotter, but he never killed his father. He’s frank and outspoken,—I don’t think he’s honest, though. But, you’re hunting suspects for the crime now,—aren’t you?”
“Yes; leave the Lionel thing till later. Now, who are left?”
“Mrs. Raynor and her—er,—admirer,—her brother, and the nurse.”
“The brother is out of it,—a poor nervous wreck,—shell shock,—though the servants say he always was a delicate chap. The nurse, I should say, is out of it, for she has admitted the poisoning,—and I don’t believe she shot him too.”
“But, Zizi, where are you getting to,—with your ‘don’t believes,’ and your ‘can’t be’s’? Opinions don’t mean anything.”
“They do,—if they’re my opinions!” The scrap of humanity drew herself up to her full height,—which was little over five feet,—and her dark eyes snapped with defiance.
“Then we have left the two I suggested at the start, Mrs. Raynor and Mr. Finley. I don’t suppose you suspect Ezra Goddard?”
“I don’t,—no. But I’d think of him before I would of those two darling people!”
“Ziz, you’re hopeless. Those lovers have turned your sentimental head,—and I foresee you’ll be no good on this case at all,—you may as well go home.”
“Oh, you think so,—do you? Well, suppose you turn your attention in a direction that evidently hasn’t as yet occurred to your blind old eyes.”
“An intruder? an outsider? It well may be, Zizi.” And Wise looked thoughtful.
“It may be, yes,—but I didn’t mean that. I mean—Grimshawe Gannon.”
“As the murderer?”
“He had a hold over Mr. Raynor,—or Mr. Raynor had a hold over him—”
“I can’t make out yet,—but I think it was a sort of mutual thing. I got around a parlor maid,—who is of the curious, prying type, and though she hadn’t much interest in it, she did say that Mr. Raynor and old Gannon had interviews sometimes late at night,—secretly—”
“She imagined the secrecy. Why should they be secret about it? Gannon lives on the place,—he is a sort of pensioner on Raynor’s bounty—”
“Of course he is,—but why?”
“I gathered that they were old friends or acquaintances,—that Gannon was less fortunate than Raynor,—that he cared only for his Natural History studies, and that Raynor gave him a home and a place to carry on his butterfly hunting,—or whatever he does.”
“You gathered most of the crop of Gannon information,—but not all. That old codger has a—had a hold on the great man,—on Douglas Raynor, that made Raynor afraid of him. On the other hand, he was in some way afraid of Raynor. So,—I got all this from the maid,—they used to argue over something and they spoke in low voices and behind closed doors. This roused the girl’s curiosity, and she listened. But all she could get was the sound of quarreling voices and after each interview a sort of patching up of the matter until it broke out the next time.”
“You got a lot from a little eavesdropping!”
“Yes, I did,” Zizi looked complacent. “Now, you’re to take that information and see if it’s worth anything. You see, Pen, that old Gannon is an ideal villain,—he looks for all the world like a murderer, even like a pirate or bandit—”
“Don’t be foolish, Ziz,—your imagination is running away with you.”
“Well, it will bring me back. Oh, Penny, do look at the view from here! And there’s a bridge,—I suppose that is the bridge to which Mr. Kent walked with the neighbor that night—
“It must be,—there’s no other bridge nearby. Yes, see, he—Come on down on the bridge, Zizi.”
The two went down the gentle incline of sloping lawn to the pretty little bridge that spanned the noisy, tumbling brook, whose musical ripple had been aided by judiciously placed stones in its course.
“Now, Ziz, take it in,—get the picture. Mr. Kent stood here, with the neighbor girl, at the time of the shooting. You can’t see the house from here,—look, you can see the roofs of it, but not the doorways.”
“Yes, I see that. Nor could you hear a shot,—could you?”
“I doubt it. But that doesn’t matter. I’m getting at the time. All the people at the house are hazy as to the exact time,—I mean, to the minute, of the shooting. They all say a little before seven,—or near seven.”
“Except the nurse.”
“Yes,—she fixes it definitely,—but, is she truthful?”
“I don’t know,—I’ve not quite sized up that nurse yet. Of course she would know the time, and if she did tell the truth,—it seems to tally with Kent’s account. He was here at this bridge at seven, exactly, and he started to walk up this hill—”
“Hardly a hill, Penny, just a gentle rise—”
“Well, this gentle rise, then. Let’s take the rise ourselves, and see how long it takes.”
They walked up the slope toward the house.
“I’m thinking now about an intruder, Zizi. You see, it was pretty much dusk at seven o’clock, and Kent couldn’t be expected to see any one skulking away from the house, if the person took pains not to be seen.”
“And especially if the observer had no thought of looking out for a criminal, and if the observer was, as Mr. Kent was, admiring the sunset glow.”
“That’s all so,—and you must agree that if an intruder entered the sun parlor, just before seven, and shot Douglas Raynor, he could make an easy getaway in the deepening twilight without being seen by Orville Kent coming along where we are now.”
“All true,—but you’ve no trace of a marauder, except in your imagination.”
“There’s the overshoe.”
“Oh, pooh, the overshoe!”
“Don’t sniff at it, Ziz; that overshoe means a lot to me.”
“Maybe it was faked—”
“Maybe it wasn’t.”
“Well, all right; now, Penny, I’ve trailed over this part of the historic ground with you,—now, you come with me.”
“To Grim Gannon’s house.”
“To find out what hold he had over Douglas Raynor or Raynor had over him.”
“Going to ask him outright?”
“You are. Or, if not that, you’re going to hint around in your inimitably clever fashion, until you get some points.”
Grimshawe Gannon sat on the little porch of his unattractive old house. He watched the two draw near with a contraction of his bushy eyebrows, and his face showed almost a terrified apprehension as they turned from the path and began to ascend his steps.
“What do you want?” he growled. “I don’t know anything about the Douglas murder!”
“Then you surely need feel no uneasiness at sight of a detective,” said Wise, cheerily, as he reached the top step and sat down upon it.
“Two detectives,” amended Zizi, seating herself on the porch railing, since Gannon continued to occupy the only chair in sight.
“Yes, I’m a detective,” she added, as the old man stared at her as at some strange specimen of Natural History. “I’d like nothing better than to have you show me your collection and explain it all to me.”
“Do you—do you like that sort of thing?” Gannon recovered his poise somewhat as his thoughts were swayed to his beloved work.
“Adore it! But no time just now. As you say, Mr. Gannon, you know nothing about the Raynor murder, and that’s just why we want a little talk with you.... We can’t get anything out of people who do know about the crime,—they won’t tell.”
“You know who they are?”
“Maybe,—maybe not.” Zizi was in her most flippant mood. “Any way, you can tell us other things,—and don’t you refuse now,” she shook her skinny little forefinger at him, “or I’ll have the law on you!”
As she had fully expected, Grim Gannon’s face paled at the threat, made fearful by the low tense voice and the piercing gleam from the black eyes. As a matter of fact, Zizi was choking with laughter at the way she was impressing this great hulk of a man, but beneath her mirth was a very strong and definite purpose, and her intuition directed her the best way to go about it.
“What do you want to know?” Gannon blurted out. He made an effort to speak gruffly, but wound up with a sort of a scared bleat.
At a glance from Zizi, Wise took up the questioning.
“About the will,” he said, in a low, even voice. “You witnessed Douglas Raynor’s will,—after which, after the man was dead, you stole the will and hid it. Where is it?”
“No, no”—but the man trembled all over— “I never did such a thing.”
“Yes, you did,—but it was not of your own instigation. You were put up to it by—you know by whom! Where is it?”
“I don’t know,—I haven’t got it.”
“You had the copy,—the little Fay girl found it.”
“Yes,—but I haven’t the will itself—the signed will.”
“All right, then I know who has. Now, see here, Gannon,—what do you know of Douglas Raynor’s past? If you’ll come across with that, I’ll let up on the will business—for the present.”
“What do you mean—his past? He never did anything wrong—”
“Oh, didn’t he? Well, I say he did. And, furthermore, I say you know all about it,—and you used this knowledge for—”
“Don’t say it!” Gannon put up his hand as if to ward off a blow. “Don’t say that word,—it isn’t true!”
Wise saw at once the old man was afraid of being accused of blackmail,—saw, too, that the charge was doubtless true,—else why such fear of it? But Pennington Wise saw, further, that if this old fellow was in fear of dread of such an accusation, he surely was not enough of a hardened criminal to be implicated in murder.
In fact, Pennington Wise, a good reader of character, sized up old Grim Gannon about right, as a bully and a coward, a wrong-doer, in a happy-go-lucky, easy-going sort of way, but not a desperate criminal.
He believed that Gannon had been persuaded to steal the will by a stronger nature than his own,—Lionel Raynor’s, of course,—and that Gannon even now regretted it.
Also, Wise concluded, Gannon had blackmailed Raynor, but only in an informal and probably small way, so that Raynor, though now and then resenting it, usually let it go on, and let Gannon live in peace with his butterflies.
But it had to be proved, and Wise set to work to verify his opinions.
By dint of careful and adroit questioning, by judicious hints of “the law,” and by means of some help here and there from Zizi, Wise finally drew from him the disgraceful story of Raynor’s life in so far as it affected the dead man’s widow.
“Yes,” old Gannon recapitulated, “I knew he lied to Miss Kent, as she was then. I knew he made up that yarn about her father being a criminal,—a forger,—I knew he made her marry him because if she didn’t he’d split on her father, and she’d be disgraced and her father’d be put in jail, and her brother’d die of shame,—and, well, Raynor put it to that girl in such a way that she couldn’t get out of marrying him unless she brought her whole family down to the dregs of disgrace. And it wasn’t true—it wasn’t true!” The old man waxed furious now. “I know the truth! Douglas Raynor committed that forgery himself! I know it! I’ve always known it, and Raynor knew I knew it! That’s why he was afraid of me! That’s why he gave me this house,—gave me money,—let me have my own way! That’s why he was afraid of me,—and he was afraid of me! He used to beg me not to tell his wife of his fraud on her—”
“Did you threaten to do so?”
“Yes, I did! To see him cringe and crawl and beg for mercy. Oh, I had no intention of telling her,—but I loved to scare him!”
The old man shook with hysterical emotion, that was between laughter and anger. Then he sobered down, suddenly.
“But she found out,” he said, almost in a whisper. “She found out,—not through me,—but she overheard some words we said one night, and she gathered that he had deceived her about her father.”
“What did she do?” Zizi asked, breathlessly.
“She went straight to Raynor and taxed him with it. He denied it, of course,—she couldn’t prove it,—so she could do nothing. But—after she knew,—I for one don’t blame her for killing him.”
“Hush!” Wise said, sternly, “we don’t know that she did kill him. Tell me exactly of what he accused her father.”
“Why, he told her that her father had committed a forgery,—long ago, you know,—in his young days. He said that he, Raynor, was the only one who knew the truth, that unless she married him he would expose her father’s guilt, and that if she would marry him, it could remain hushed up for ever.
“And Raynor did this forgery himself?” asked Zizi, her cheeks scarlet with fiery indignation.
“Yes; and of course the poor girl sacrificed herself to save her father and brother from disgrace.”
“Didn’t she ask her father about it?”
“No; he was an invalid,—really very ill. The shock might kill him,—Raynor told her. Also, he said, the disgrace would kill Orville Kent, who is of a proud, sensitive nature, and delicate as well. So, to save the bunch, she married that devil—”
“Without proving his story!” cried Zizi; “without finding out if it was all true?”
“How could she? She had no one to ask but her own family or this suitor. Her mother was dead,—she adored her father and brother, and so, when Raynor picked her for his victim he had an easy mark.”
“And she was in love with Mr. Finley at the time?” asked Zizi.
“That I can’t say, but they were acquainted, I know. When she said yes to Raynor, they were married very soon and settled down here at Flower Acres. Her father lived but a short time after that, and she put up with her brute of a husband for nearly two years before she discovered what he had done to her. Then—well, I’m inclined to think she took matters into her own hands.”
“I’m inclined to think so, too,” said Pennington Wise, gravely. “All this puts a new light on it. The fearful truth coming home to her, the impossibility of living with that man after she had learned of his perfidy, and then the added agony of seeing again the man whom she must have loved before her marriage,—whom she surely loves now,—oh, what other theory is there—?”
“Does her brother,—does Mr. Kent know?” Zizi asked.
“I’m not sure,” said Gannon. “If he does, she has told him lately, for she has tried to keep it from him all along. No, I don’t think he knows anything about it all. But, of course, he knows of the terrible life his sister led with her husband and it has made him sad and ill. Orville Kent is a queer man, but he has a sound heart and a deep affection for his sister. She has cared for him like a mother all his life.”
“He is younger than she?” inquired Zizi.
“No; four years older. But always being delicate makes him seem younger. Any way, I only hope she can be acquitted,—women always are, you know, and then the brother and sister can go away and live by themselves,—and later on, maybe, Malcolm Finley can look them up.”
Grim Gannon leaned back in his chair as if he had now settled the affairs of the universe. He had apparently lost his fear of the detectives, or of the law, and he beamed contentedly on his visitors. He was again the dreamy, absent-minded naturalist that the better half of his nature made him. His crafty, scheming soul was in abeyance.
He scarcely noticed his callers’ farewells, and they left him drowsing over his old pipe.
Crossing the lawns they met Orville Kent coming toward them.
“I want to give myself up,” he said, speaking steadily, but with a nervous twitching of his long fingers. “I killed my brother-in-law, Douglas Raynor.”
Wise gave a quick glance at Zizi.
“Mr. Kent,” he said, kindly, “I know you think this sacrifice of yourself for your sister is a right thing to do. And I appreciate the love and affection that it shows to have you willing to take even crime on your own shoulders to lift it from hers. I know how black the case is against her,—I know how you have tried to devise some means of getting her freed from suspicion. And I know that now, when you can’t help seeing that the net is tightening round her,—the last doubts of her guilt vanishing,—I know that in your utter desperation you have concluded to avow the crime yourself, and take her punishment. But, Mr. Kent, this is not so easy a matter to accomplish as it seems to you, and I’m going to advise you against your plan. I’m going to ask you to give me twenty-four hours, at least, to find out the real truth.”
“Take your twenty-four hours, Mr. Wise,” said Kent, slowly.
Pennington Wise was in the sun parlor studying the room once more.
“A little late for clews, isn’t it, Mr. Detective?” Lionel Raynor said, in a tone more jovial than sarcastic.
Young Raynor, though not liked at first, had gradually made himself more acceptable to the family. He had quite won the heart of Miss Mattie, he got on well with the men, and except for Nan, he was friendly all round. But he was so positive that it was Nan who shot his father that no arguments could change his opinion.
As to the inheritance he was jauntily confident in his present ownership of the whole estate, and reserved any discussion of Nan’s rights or claims until the matter of the murder should be settled, one way or another.
He kept his eye on Pennington Wise, for he had a suspicion that that astute person was in sympathy with his father’s widow, and would get her off as easily as he possibly could.
Moreover, Lionel was a wide-awake sort, and was interested in watching the ways and means of a great detective, secretly thinking they hadn’t, as yet, amounted to much.
But this mistaken impression was caused by Wise’s modest and urbane demeanor, which was one of his chief assets.
Zizi, too, his clever little helper, did much in the way of discovering sidelights on the various aspects of the case, and, as a matter of fact, Wise was getting his deductions and convictions in order, and was nearly ready to divulge his conclusions.
Orville Kent puzzled him. The young man was so moody, as well as physically upset that Wise was interested in him aside from the matter in hand. Kent’s strongest trait,—or, so it seemed to Wise,—was his affection for his sister. He worshiped her with a dumb, dog-like devotion, often evident in his glances at her, while he said no word.
Wise was not at all surprised when Kent assumed the burden of guilt. In fact, the detective had looked for it. He held that there are some natures not only capable of a great sacrifice for a loved one, but who really glory in it. It is the stuff of which the early martyrs were made.
After Kent had made his sudden and impulsive confession and Wise had asked for twenty-four hours’ further search, the detective was a very busy man.
And so, later that evening, he was going over the sun parlor floor again. The room had been kept intact, as to any disturbance of furniture or fittings, and the print of the rubber overshoe had been carefully preserved.
It was this that Wise was studying,—although he had long ago agreed that it was merely the impression of the right side of the right shoe worn by some one who had entered the room at some time. Whether at the time the crime was committed or not, who could say? Though, of course, it must have been at least within a few hours of the time, or the mark would have been removed by a servant.
Wise looked up at Lionel Raynor’s chaff, and smiled a little.
“It’s never too late for clews,” he said, “and this print is such a good one I hate not to utilize it. To me it is exceedingly indicative, and I am pretty nearly ready to state it was left here by the murderer himself.”
“Or herself,” amended Lionel. “I tell you, Mr. Wise, as soon as you get away from the one who is most concerned, the most interested in the absence of my father, you get away from the truth.”
“This overshoe is of too large a size for the one you have in mind,” said Wise, looking at him with apparent interest in his views.
“Nonsense! It is just the thing a clever woman would do,—put on the large shoes of a man, over her little slippers. Then, she would think, the clew would be misleading, as,” he looked at Wise, “as it seems to be.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Wise. “Have you noticed the direction in which this points?”
“Well, it is pointed toward the place where my father fell, if that’s what you mean.”
“That isn’t what I mean,” said Wise.
And then, with a murmur of excuse, the detective left the room and went into the house. In the hall, he met Zizi and drew her aside for a word.
“Come with me, Ziz, to talk to Kent. And watch him. You know when anybody is making up a yarn, if you pretend to believe him, he will go on and elaborate his falsification until he defeats his own ends. Now, Kent is putting up a confession to save his sister. If we can persuade him that his sister is in no danger, he will doubtless retract, but I propose to let him think she is strongly suspected, and see him insist on his own guilt. Any way, we must learn all he knows,—if he is so certain of Mrs. Raynor’s guilt, he must know more than we do.”
The two went to Orville Kent’s rooms.
These were two sunny, pleasant rooms on the south side of the house.
Kent received them in his sitting room,—which was more like a studio, not a working studio, but the room of an art lover and dilettante.
“Come in,” he said, gravely. “You want to see me? Take a seat, Miss Zizi.”
“Thank you,” and Zizi slid toward the chair indicated. “Oh,” she cried, pausing en route, “what a dear face! Who is it?”
She took up a photograph, and Kent’s eyes smiled as he said: “That’s Dolly Fay,—a neighbor, and a harum-scarum. That’s only an enlarged snapshot, but it shows her at her best.”
“She’s a darling; I hope I may meet her,” and Zizi returned the picture to its place, after a further close scrutiny.
“Now, just a few words as to your somewhat startling statement, Mr. Kent,” Wise began. “I shall start out by saying that I don’t believe you shot your brother-in-law, and that I do believe you claimed that you did, in order to lift suspicion from your sister. Now, there’s my platform, and if you can convince me of your guilt, I want to hear what you have to say. It is better, I’m sure you’ll agree, to tell me the details, than to rehearse them to the police,—though if you prefer that—”
“No, no—” Orry’s fingers were working nervously, and he seemed uncertain what to say.
“Well, then, let us start by assuming that your story is true. Why did you kill your brother-in-law?”
“Because,—because he made my sister’s life a burden.”
“But he had done that for two years—”
“Oh, it was much worse of late. He was—he was brutal to her—”
“Yes,—I know,—but that equally explains why she should kill him.”
“She didn’t! Oh, she didn’t—she never could—I tell you, Mr. Wise, my sister is incapable of such a deed!”
“Then she didn’t do it,—then she can’t be convicted of it,—then—then, Mr. Kent, why do you take the blame and pretend to a crime you never committed?”
“Do you mean that?” Orry looked up eagerly. “Do you mean my sister can’t be convicted if she is innocent? Can’t she be wrongly suspected and—”
“She is suspected, of course. But others are, too. Mr. Finley is. And there is a strong tendency on the part of some to suspect an outsider,—on account of the print of the overshoe.”
“Is that really a clew?” Kent looked incredulous.
“It’s a sort of a negative clew. I have made most careful search and I have found in the house no rubbers that can be made to fit that print. In fact, there are no absolutely new rubbers on the premises,—and that print was made by a brand-new rubber.”
“Supposing I did it,—and threw away my rubbers—”
“Where did you throw them?” Wise sprang the question suddenly.
“Why—why,—I don’t know—you startle me, Mr. Wise, when you are so abrupt.”
“All right,—where would you choose to throw them?”
“In the rubbish can, I suppose,” and Kent looked so blank that Zizi smiled at his utter lack of ingenuity in inventing his imaginary hiding place for his imaginary rubbers.
“Now, as to the time, once more,” Wise said. “What do you know of the time from your own observation regarding that moment of the crime?”
“What do you mean, exactly?”
“I mean, from teatime until after you knew that Douglas Raynor had been shot, did you look at your own watch?”
“Not that I remember. I don’t think I did.”
“Yet I think you testified that you stood on the bridge with Miss Fay at seven o’clock.”
“Oh, yes, I did. She said it was seven, and she must hurry home, as her mother would be expecting her. So she went home, and I came back up the hill to this house.”
“Reaching here to find Raynor shot and the others standing about in consternation?”
“Oh, Mr. Kent, you are forgetting your story of shooting him yourself!” Zizi cried this out, half in laughter, half in amazement that the man could be so disingenuous.
Kent did not smile,—he looked troubled, and said earnestly, “But you tell me, Mr. Wise, that my sister will not be arrested if she is innocent.”
“I did not say arrested,—I said convicted. However, I do not think she will even be arrested. So, as I said, wait twenty-four hours before you make public this rather bewildering story of your own guilt. We have pretty well proved that the shot was fired at five minutes before seven. You were then on the bridge with Miss Fay, and remained there till seven. Now when you see your sister in such dire danger that you feel necessary to take over her guilt, and claim it for yourself, it will be time enough to make your confession. But for heaven’s sake get it bolstered up into shape so that at least Dobbins will believe it! I doubt if you could put it down any one else’s throat!”
“Will you let me know, Mr. Wise, if or when you see matters so tending toward my sister that she is in danger?”
“In order that you may make your fake confession?”
“I’ll promise this,—Mr. Kent. I’ll promise to tell you first of all, when I have learned the identity of the real criminal. And I will tell you within the twenty-four hours.”
“I know what ails that Kent man,” Zizi said, as they walked away, and went for a little stroll in the gardens. “He has no sense of humor.”
“My word, Zizi! Do you call this an occasion for an exhibition of a sense of humor?”
“Not precisely, but I mean he couldn’t even see how funny he was, bargaining with you to let him know when the psychological moment arrived for him to commit perjury to save his sister,—and not only that, but he can’t see that he can’t be accused and convicted of a crime which he cheerfully admits he only pretends to have committed.”
“Your English is nearly as involved as his plans! Now, Zizi, the will business must be looked into next,—and settled before we can accuse the beautiful widow.”
“Don’t, Penny,—it hurts me when you speak like that.”
“Didn’t she shoot her husband?”
“No,—a thousand times no!”
“Who did, then?”
“You know well enough, Penny Wise! But as to that will, we’ve got to get it out of Friend Lionel somehow.”
“Not an easy job.”
“No. Why don’t you threaten him with the law,—you know he has the original of that copy,—or he has destroyed it. Can’t you frighten him?”
“He’s not the sort of chap who frightens easily—”
“Not by mere words,—I know. But, I say, Penny,—I’ve an idea, of course, you won’t agree to it,—and yet,—if you should—I’m sure,—I’m positive it would succeed,—oh, Penny, mayn’t I?”
“Well, since you state your plan so clearly, I can’t help agreeing that it is a capital suggestion!”
“Oh, I forgot I haven’t told you the plan yet. And, by the way, Pen, did you notice a most important item when you gazed on that picture of Miss Dolly Fay?”
“No; oh, seeress, what was it?”
“I’ll check it up first,—I may be wrong,—but if it should be, and,—yes,—it must be, it’s quite in keeping—
“Zizi, stop that! It’s growing on you, that habit of babbling on like an imbecile—”
“Not an imbecile, dear, merely a thoughtful person ruminating aloud. My thoughts fly so fast—”
“Get back to your plan for extracting the Raynor will from the Lionel proposition.”
“All right. My idea is to scare him into fits,—into fits!”
“Lovely! And then?”
“Then? Why, then, of course, he’ll give up the will.”
“Surely. To me.”
“And the scaring procedure?”
Zizi leaned toward Wise, and in a sepulchral tone, whispered, “Ghosts!”
“Ziz, you’re crazy!”
“No, I’m not. I happened to learn that Lionel Raynor is more or less of a spiritualist,—or, rather, that he believes in spirits and is mortally afraid of them. Now, I’ll give him a manifestation that if it doesn’t persuade him to give up that will, at least will prove that he has suppressed or destroyed it.”
“It might be a good thing,” Wise said, meditatively. “I know your powers in that direction, Ziz, I mean in carrying out a scheme of that sort, and I say, go ahead. But do it now.”
“Yes, to-night. And alone. I don’t want any help.”
“Late, I suppose.”
“Yes; well after midnight. I have my stuff with me.”
And that’s how it happened that very late that night, about half-past two, a slim little figure stood in front of a mirror and draped itself with a multitude of gauzy gray draperies that floated and waved at a breath or a motion.
Zizi’s head and shoulders as well as her tiny body were covered with the misty veils and the cowl-shaped hood came well over her forehead.
Her make-up box had turned her face chalky white, her lips were pale, but her eyes were not only ringed with black shadows, but a tiny touch of phosphorus on her eyebrows gave an unearthly glow that was suggestive of the infernal.
Unseen, the gray figure glided along the hall and paused at the door of Lionel Raynor’s room.
Listening a moment, Zizi heard no sound save the regular breathing as of a sound sleeper, and softly turning the knob she entered the door and closed it behind her.
Reaching the bedside, Zizi, so intent on her work that she felt almost a real ghost, leaned over and lightly touched the sleeper on the arm.
When he awoke suddenly, and sat bolt upright, the ghost was in the middle of the room, and with slowly waving arms was coming toward him.
Now Raynor was afraid of ghosts,—he vowed his unbelief in them, but he always knew that if he ever saw one he should be frightened out of his wits. And he was.
He turned cold all over, a chill perspiration broke out on him, and though he tried to scream he found himself unable to utter a sound.
Zizi had done her work well. A more frightful ghost, even a more evident one, would have roused Raynor’s suspicion of trickery, but never dreaming of such a thing in this house, and, moreover, impressed by the type of apparition,—which he had always held was the real thing,—he at once accepted the wraith-like figure as supernatural.
Even when the eyes turned on him, and he saw merely two small blurs of flickering light,—Zizi was too much of an artist to overdo the phosphorus,—it seemed that at last a true ghost had appeared to him, and Lionel Raynor gave way to paroxysms of fear.
He writhed, he mumbled, he clutched at the bedclothes, and the watchful Zizi saw that there was danger of the man’s going into convulsions.
In the faintest of tones, scarcely audible at all, she said:
“Fear not,—fear not,—no harm shall touch you,—if—if—if—”
Her voice trailed off to nothingness, but she could see the words had reassured him a trifle,—which was all she wanted.
Realizing the need for haste, lest her subject become too satisfied of his safety, she murmured:
“If you are right—if you are ready to do right—to make restitution,—to restore the will—the will—the will—”
Even as she whispered the words, Zizi knew her ruse had succeeded. She had already sized up Lionel Raynor as no villain at heart; she was convinced that he had suppressed the will because of a sudden greed and because of the opportunity afforded him by the peculiar conditions of the case. Moreover, she knew he truly thought that Nancy Raynor had killed his father and believed that therefore she had no right to the inheritance. But she knew, too, that he was frightened and apprehensive at what he had done, and that this ghostly warning would, in all probability, bring about the restoration of the will.
“You promise?” she breathed, moving slowly backward,—her gray draperies wavering through the air, as her hidden arms moved them, and her gleaming eyes fixed on him in the darkness.
“I promise!” he returned, speaking clearly, though his teeth chattered and his voice trembled. “I promise—”
“And you will keep that promise,—or”—the faint voice grew fainter, but was still audible to the paralyzed listener— “or,—to-morrow night—to-morrow night—” And she was gone.
As a matter of fact, Zizi merely sank to the floor, but it gave all the effect of a supernatural disappearance.
She crawled to the door,—which was in an alcove, and noiselessly let herself out into the dark hall.
Again in her own room, she removed her phosphorus, and powder, and slipped out of her multitudinous layers of fine tulle.
“A wonderful frock,” she said, admiringly, as she folded it carefully into a surprisingly small compass and laid it away. “I doubt if there’s a better ghost effect possible. And I think it turned the trick. That man was literally scared stiff. Penny will be pleased. And I’m sure he’ll keep his promise,—if not,—there’s more to follow.”
And she tucked herself into bed, and slept soundly till daybreak.
Sure enough, Penny Wise was pleased the next day, when he found what a perfect success Zizi’s plan had been.
Early in the day Lionel Raynor went to Nan with the news that he had found the will in question.
It was in all respects like the carbon copy Dolly Fay had unearthed, but it was signed and witnessed.
“Where was it?” Nan asked, looking at Lionel curiously.
“It had slipped behind a drawer in father’s desk,” the son declared, and Wise never knew whether that was the hiding-place Lionel had chosen or whether he had produced it from his own room and made up the desk story.
Nor did any one care. The will, a true document, gave Nancy Raynor the larger portion of the fortune and estate of Douglas Raynor. It provided properly and comfortably for his son and his sister, it left a goodly sum to Grimshawe Gannon and to the household servants, and was in all respects a satisfactory will,—to all concerned,—unless an exception might be made of Lionel.
And Zizi felt pretty sure that that young man was,—in a way, satisfied.
But, to the surprise of some, the police detectives and even Lawyer Stratton himself, began to think that since there was a will so beneficial to the widow, that it was strong, almost indubitable proof that she had been the one to rid herself of her undesirable husband.
“Yes,” Dobbins said, importantly, “when I thought she had no chance to gain the fortune by it, I couldn’t believe she had committed the crime,—but now the will proves clearly a motive, and who can doubt that Mrs. Raynor was anxious to inherit the property and also to take unto herself a more desirable—”
“Hush!” Wise cried at him. “You go too far and too fast, Mr. Dobbins. Also, you are utterly illogical. The will was in existence all the time. Mrs. Raynor didn’t know of its disappearance until after her husband’s death. Whatever her motive,—if any,—it was not affected by the disappearance or reappearance of that will!”
It was no secret that the detective Dobbins was no friend of Pennington Wise. The local sleuth was jealous of the more important investigator, and as he took no pains to hide his dislike, Wise didn’t go out of his way to conciliate him.
But Zizi had a notion that there was something to be gained by a judicious quizzing of Dobbins, and with her feminine tact she flattered him until he was ready to tell her anything he knew.
To be sure, it wasn’t much, but Dobbins had been on the case from the beginning and he might have scraps of information that might be of value.
“I think,” Zizi said to him, as she found him in the sun room, gazing at the still visible print of the overshoe, “I think, with you, Mr. Dobbins, that the whole secret rests on that footprint.”
“Yes,—yes,—it does,—it does, I’m sure. But how to get at it,—that’s the thing.”
“I suppose you’ve raked the shoe shops hereabouts.”
“Oh, yes,—but that could bring out nothing. Rubbers are all alike,—and I couldn’t find any shoe dealer who had sold rubbers to any member of this family or any of the servants lately. Most likely it was bought in New York, and of course it’s impossible to trace it.”
“Of course, and it would do no good to learn that rubbers had been bought. The thing is to find out what has become of the rubber that made this print. It can’t be the property of one of the servants—”
“Now, why can’t it?”
“First, because it’s too large for any of the maids. And, too, girls don’t wear rubbers nowadays. Their high heels won’t allow it. But, any way, this is the print of a man’s rubber. You can clearly see that.”
“I can, and I hold that it was Douglas Raynor’s rubber, and that Mrs. Raynor wore it that evening when she came in and shot him, because it would be a sort of disguise,—a false clew, you see.”
“You mean she purposely put on that overshoe, and purposely made that footprint—”
“I mean just that, miss. She’s a deep one, that Mrs. Raynor is, and though I thought first off she was trying to poison Mr. Raynor, I see now she wasn’t,—it was that nurse who did that. And Lord knows no jury would ever convict that nurse,—even if she’d succeeded. But, Mrs. Raynor, now, that’s another thing. She only wanted to be rid of her husband that she might marry another man,—a younger man and one who would be kinder to her. I don’t wonder at her hating old Raynor,—he was a brute if ever one lived,—but she had no right to shoot him,—no, ma’am, that she hadn’t.”
Zizi looked at Dobbins meditatively.
“You’ve never flinched from your suspicion of her, have you?” she asked.
“No, ma’am, not really. I’ve been swayed,—yes, swayed, one way and another, but I always come back to her, ’cause why, who else could it be? It’s got to be somebody,—the idea of an outsider is too ridiculous,—it’s got to be somebody in the house,—somebody interested,—desperately interested in old Raynor’s death. Now, excepting Mr. Finley, who is so interested as Mrs. Raynor? And after the man became a drug fiend he was just about impossible to live with.”
“But,—if you argue that Mrs. Raynor killed him impulsively,—after a quarrel or after he had abused her beyond all limit, I might agree; but for you to say she put on the overshoes, and deliberately planned the murder,—it’s too much to believe.”
“Not a bit too much. I tell you she’s a deep one,—she planned it most likely long before she carried it out,—then, waited her chance.”
“Having the overshoes with her all the time,—in readiness?”
“Oh, them overshoes might have been a sudden freak,—say she happened to see ’em sitting around and stuck her little feet in ’em as an additional precaution.”
“Sounds fishy to me. What did she do with the overshoes afterward?”
“Ah, that’s just it. If we could find those—but, you see, whoever shot Raynor hid those overshoes,—why, there’s no doubt that the murderer wore them,—the print is right near where Raynor stood, it’s pointed right toward him,—the shoe must have been on the foot of the murderer. There’s no getting away from that.”
“Just like leaving a visiting card.”
“Just exactly. And if we can find the rubbers, they may not give away the criminal, but I’ll say they will.”
“How about the nurse,—she’d have big feet,—nurses always do. And she’d be as likely to shoot Mr. Raynor as to poison him.’
“Miss Turner? Why, she was in the north door pushing on the lights.”—
“She says she was. Can she prove it?
“They all saw her,—Mrs. Raynor, Mr. Finley, Miss Raynor,—why, all of them saw her in the doorway—”
“Yes,—but that was after the shot. Why couldn’t she have fired the revolver, dropped it, and then have gone to the door, and turned on the lights?”
“No,—no,—that won’t work—”
“Why not? It’s as likely as that Mrs. Raynor did it,—or Mr. Finley. You must admit it as possible.”
“Well, no, miss. You see, Miss Raynor, now, she was on the stairs behind where Miss Turner was—”
“But that was after the shot. Miss Mattie didn’t leave her room until she heard the report, then she started,—then Mr. Finley started from the east veranda, then Mrs. Raynor started from the west terrace,—all these people started because of hearing that shot. Now, I say it could have been fired by Miss Turner, she could have hurried back into the house, and standing in that north door between the house and the sun room, she could have turned on the lights,—just as we know she did do,—after she had killed her man.”
“Well, well,—now, come, you do make it sound plausible,—but, no, if she had murdered Raynor, Miss Turner would never have come back here. She would have disappeared entirely,—yes, sir, so she would!”
“It does seem likely,” admitted Zizi, “but I wanted to show you that there was—there is a possibility of her being the criminal.”
“Oh, Lord, there’s a possibility of any of those people who stood at those various doors. And if they’d been grouped for a tableau, they couldn’t have slid to position slicker,—every one in place at the drop of the hat, you may say.”
“And each one so agitated, so shocked, that no clear account can be got from any of them.”
“That’s so. There’s Miss Turner now,—want to talk to her?”
Zizi did, and Dobbins called the nurse to them.
She was taciturn but willing to answer questions. She admitted her attempt to poison Mr. Raynor, but said she didn’t mean to kill him, only to make him ill and then promise to restore him to health if he would give her a large sum of money. This he had done, and the bonds she had received from him were, she said, compensation for her past ills at his hands.
She had no fears for herself, for though she had poisoned Mr. Raynor, his wife was in no position to call her to account,—nor was his son, who had stolen the will. Miss Raynor was not a person who would take definite steps and Miss Turner felt sure the law would not harm her even in the event of an accusation.
“But, look here,” Zizi said, “if Mrs. Raynor’s tablets that she gave to her husband secretly were harmless, what were they?”
“Atropine,—to counteract the effect of the morphine he was taking.”
“Well, why wasn’t the morphine discovered at the autopsy?”
“Because the atropine and the morphine so counteracted each other that all traces of both disappeared. Then they found only the arsenic.”
“And you put the arsenic that you had left in a vase in Mrs. Raynor’s room to incriminate her?” Zizi’s black eyes glared at the tranquil nurse.
“Not for that. I hid them there to get them out of my possession, and I thought they’d never be discovered. I’d no idea the detectives would make such a thorough search.”
“Miss Turner”—Zizi looked straight at her— “who do you think fired that shot?”
Eva Turner looked puzzled.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” she said; “I can’t help thinking it was Mrs. Raynor, yet it may have been Mr. Finley. It was surely one or the other, as I’ve said all along.”
“You didn’t do it yourself?” It was Dobbins who flung this at her.
Eva Turner stared at him.
“Gracious, no!” she said; “I’m scared to death of a pistol,—I wouldn’t touch one. I don’t know how to handle firearms at all.”
Zizi looked at her curiously. All this might or might not be true.
“Besides,” Miss Turner went on, “I was in the pantry talking to the cook when the shot rang out. Cook will tell you this. Then I ran to the door and turned on the lights.”
“And saw?” said Zizi; “tell me again.”
“And saw,” Miss Turner said, weary of the repetition, “and saw Mrs. Raynor going out and Mr. Finley holding the pistol. Is more needed to convict either one of those two,—or both?”
“Yes,” Zizi said, “more is needed. I have timed it, and I know it must have taken you at least a full minute to get from the pantry to that door and to push the light button. In that minute much could have happened.”
“All right,” said Eva Turner, “then you ought to get those two off with a not proven verdict. There is no possible doubt, but if it can’t be proved, then they can go free, I suppose.”
“As you put it,” Zizi said, slowly, “it would seem that those two, at the east and west doors, were the actors of the drama, and you two at the north and south doors,—you and Mr. Kent,—were the audience.”
“Mr. Kent didn’t come till three or four minutes later.”
“What did you all do in the meantime?”
“I don’t know,—nothing much, I think. I found Miss Raynor at my side, and I think I grasped at her, we rather clung together. Mr. Finley continued to stare at the pistol,—and he kept on rubbing it with his handkerchief; Mrs. Raynor didn’t do anything, just stood and stared—”
“You said she was going out.”
“She turned and came back, and stood in the doorway. Then Mr. Kent came and he flew to her side.”
“Without looking at Mr. Raynor?”
“He didn’t seem to,—as I recollect. He rushed to Mrs. Raynor, and put his arm around her,—for she looked as if she would faint.”
“No; but she might have, if Mr. Kent hadn’t come to her assistance. Of course that helped a lot. He is devoted to her, and it was most fortunate that she had him at her side from the very first.”
“You like Mrs. Raynor?” Zizi asked this quite casually.
“I don’t know,” Eva returned slowly. “When I first came here I hated her. She was Raynor’s wife,—she had everything that he had long ago promised to me. You can imagine what a jilted girl feels toward her successful rival. I came prepared to hate her,—but I meant no wrong to her. I came here to get satisfaction of one sort or another out of Douglas Raynor. I wanted to make him suffer as much as he had made me suffer,—and in any way I could compass. I wanted money, but I also wanted to make him suffer mentally and physically, both. I gave him the arsenic, in sufficient doses to scare him and to make him ill,—but I didn’t mean to kill him. I proposed to stop short of that. Well, then, when Mr. Finley came, I found I could hurt him by suggesting that Mrs. Raynor still cared for Mr. Finley.
“All in all I made Douglas Raynor pretty miserable and I’m glad of it. He vented his anger on his wife,—but I couldn’t help that. If she did shoot him,—it was no more than could be expected of a woman who had borne all she could bear. No one but myself knows what awful misery that man heaped on her head. If Nancy Raynor is accused,—if she is tried, I will go on the stand and testify to cruelty she received, to ignominy and scorn that was heaped on her, and to brutality unspeakable that she endured, until no jury in the world would give any verdict but full and entire acquittal. Yet even with all that, even though I pity her from my heart, I can’t say I like her. We are not congenial, she doesn’t like me,—but my sense of justice will make me witness for her, if it ever comes to that.”
“Good for you, Miss Turner,” Zizi cried. “Now, will your sense of justice go so far as to answer a few questions?”
“Then, knowing Mrs. Raynor fairly well, as you must, do you think she is a woman who would take her husband’s life,—no matter what he had done to make her miserable?”
“No, I do not. But—”
“You’re going to say we can’t vouch for a desperate woman. But I want your honest opinion. Aside from the facts of seeing Mrs. Raynor fleeing out of the sun parlor that night, aside from any thought of evidence,—you would be surprised to learn that Mrs. Raynor was a criminal.”
“Very much surprised. She is of the martyr type. She suffered in silence,—never upbraiding her husband or even justifying herself to him. Not a patient Griselda sort, not a meek, uncomplaining woman, but a proud, queenly nature who would accept insults in silence rather than demean herself by resenting them.”
“She gives me that impression,” Zizi said. “I never have been able to get near her,—in any sense of intimacy or chumminess.”
“Nobody can,” Eva said. “Nancy Raynor is a woman who loves very few people. She adored her father, she worships her brother,—and she is passionately in love with Mr. Finley. Oh, I know,—a nurse knows secrets of her patients that no one else dreams of. And that woman lavishes the affection of her whole nature on the few she cares for, and she is cold to the rest of the world. She is friendly with Miss Mattie, but there is no real affection there.”
“Nobody could be very fond of that old maid,” Zizi said, in a tone of pity rather than reproach. “And it’s her own fault,—she’s so prying and curious. Well, now, Miss Turner, here’s another question. Do you think Mr. Finley could have committed that murder?”
“Yes, I do. It’s a fearful thing to say,—and I don’t believe he’d do it merely that he might marry Mrs. Raynor later on,—but I do believe that he saw how that brute treated her, and he just couldn’t stand it, so he took the bit in his teeth and shot—”
“I thought you were sure it was Mrs. Raynor who shot—”
“I’ve told you again and again I don’t know which one it was! I’ve thought it over and over,—I’ve pictured out the scene with both of them, and all I can say is,—it was certainly one of them.”
“What about a man from outside?”
“That man from outside is all very well, if you can find him. But I think he’s made up by the detectives, because they can’t pin the crime on any one else. I wish they would call in a man from outside and let it go at that.”
“We can’t do that,” Dobbins said, speaking pompously, as if it all rested with him. “You see, Miss Zizi—”
But Zizi had caught sight of Pennington Wise walking down the path and she ran after him.
“Where you going?” she asked as she caught up with him.
“Down to the Falls,” he replied, patting her thin little hand as she pushed it through his bent arm.
They walked along in silence for a moment, and then Zizi related her conversation with the nurse.
“It’s true,” Wise said, “any jury would exonerate Nancy Raynor if she had shot her husband,—but I want to prove that she didn’t.”
“And that Mr. Finley did?”
“That would be almost as bad, wouldn’t it?” Wise smiled ruefully. “You see, I want those two to be happy ever after.”
“And so you’re going to make up a criminal to put in their place?”
“No, he’s already made up,—he’s the man who wore the rubbers.”
“And we’re going to the Falls to look for the rubbers?”
“Because that’s the hiding place Mrs. Raynor chose for the morphine bottles, you think the rubber man chose the same hiding place?”
“True, oh, Queen.”
“Well,—take it from me, you won’t find them there.”
Wise stopped stock-still. “Then there’s no use going on.”
“Oh, come along,—I might be mistaken,—of course, I never am, but there has to be a first time.”
“You’re an impertinent young thing. But, Ziz, I’ve got to find those rubbers,—I’ve just got to!”
“All right, we’ll find ’em. You see,—wait a minute, Penny, was the criminal one of the house people,—or not?”
“Yes—I think it was.”
“Then it was either a man, or a woman wearing a man’s rubbers. Now, he or she,—we’ll say he, meaning either sex,—he must have hidden the rubbers, because he couldn’t destroy them. You can’t burn rubbers—they make such a smell—and you can’t throw them down a waste pipe. I think they’re hidden,—they’re easy to hide, you see,—and if they are, we ought to find them. So, all right, the Falls first, and after that all other possible places.”
But the most careful examination of the Falls failed to disclose a discarded pair of rubbers. It was not difficult to become convinced that they were not there. For the clear, tumbling water, while it offered a good place of concealment from the casual passer-by, could not keep a secret from a determined investigator.
Malcolm Finley approached them as they stood there.
“A curious case, Mr. Finley,” Wise said, in the colloquial tone of one who addresses a fellow enthusiast.
“Where are your clews leading you now, Mr. Wise?” Finley asked.
“Nowhere, for the reason that I have few or no clews. I never saw a case so devoid of them. Except for the new overshoe, I can find nothing to call a clew.”
“You call that one?”
“Most assuredly,—and I think I may say, the one on which the whole case rests. If I can find those rubbers—”
“You will convict somebody?” Finley looked really alarmed.
“It may be so,” Wise watched him closely, without seeming to do so. “Yes,—I am sure of it.”
“Then, Mr. Wise, give up your search. It is unnecessary. I will make it unnecessary. I will tell you now what I’m going to tell the police later,—I confess to the crime myself,—I shot Douglas Raynor, and I give myself up.”
Wise restrained his smile.
“It is most interesting, Mr. Finley, how people love to ‘give themselves up.’ It would seem that to confess to a crime is a positive pastime of late! If many more confess to this one, we shall have to arrest them in bunches. Why are you confessing to it, Mr. Finley?”
“Your amusement is decidedly ill-timed, Mr. Wise. I cannot feel a solemn confession is an occasion for mirth.”
“Yours is,” and Zizi’s uncontrollable dimples came into play as she openly grinned at Finley.
Her smile was infectious and Finley joined in with a grim chuckle.
“You don’t believe me?” he said, quite taken aback at the way his confession was received.
“I do not,” Wise returned, “on the contrary you have removed any lingering doubts I may have had as to your entire innocence.”
“So a confession convinces you of a man’s innocence, does it?”
“Yes, in your case.” And then Wise became very grave. “You are making this confession, Mr. Finley, to shield Mrs. Raynor,—to save her, if possible, from further suspicion of having killed her husband. Answer me truly, is not this so?”
Finley looked at the detective, and seeing his earnest face, suddenly felt that candor was his best policy.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Now, here is the vital question. Are you making this confession,—assuming this crime, because you think Mrs. Raynor is guilty,—or, because you think that, though unjustly accused, she will be arrested and tried?”
Malcolm Finley looked helplessly at his inquisitor.
“I’d rather not answer that,” he said, at last.
“I suppose you see that a refusal to answer it, or, even a hesitation about answering it, is a tacit admission that you think her guilty.”
“No! It is not! If I must tell the truth, I can only say I do not know. I love Mrs. Raynor, I adore her,—and I would willingly give up my life for her if it would do her any good. But I think I can serve her better by living for her. Now, loving her as I do, it would seem the natural thing for me to say I can believe no evil of her. And it is true that I believe no evil. But if she killed that beast, it was no evil,—it was ridding the earth of a man who had no right to live at all! So, I say, I don’t know whether she shot him or not,—but if she did,—or if it is to be assumed that she did,—I want to take the accusation in her place.”
“Now, Mr. Finley,” Wise said, “you must know that what you suggest is impossible. You certainly know what compounding a felony means, and you are not so ignorant as to think you could put such a thing over, or that I should allow it. I think you speak honestly when you say you are not sure whether Mrs. Raynor fired the shot or not,—and, of course, that lets you out. If you had really done it, your attitude would be very different. Also, you must agree that from all the evidence we can get from the people on the scene at the time, it looks as if either you or Mrs. Raynor did the shooting. With you out,—by the way, why did you clean off the pistol so quickly?”
Malcolm Finley looked troubled. Then, “I will tell you,” he said. “I think I’d better be perfectly frank. I picked up that pistol and whipped out my handkerchief and rubbed off any finger-marks that might be on it, because—because I did think Mrs. Raynor had fired it.”
“Why did you think so?”
“Because as I entered I saw her going out of the opposite door,—just as Miss Turner said she did. There is no doubt about it,—she was fleeing, as Miss Turner expressed it, out of that west door. So I assumed she had shot him, and it came to me like a flash that her fingerprints would be on the revolver, and I must remove them. So I did. That’s all. Now I tell you this, for I want your advice. If you think Mrs. Raynor is going to be arrested,—I’m going to take steps to get her away. I tell you frankly, because I want your help.”
Wise stared at him.
“My help to get a criminal away?”
“Yes,” said Finley, coolly. “You know as well as I do that she’d never be convicted, so why drag through a trial? Why not spirit her away? You needn’t seem to have anything to do with it—”
“Mr. Finley, you talk nonsense. Now, I propose that we go,—you and I,—and have a little talk with Mrs. Raynor. Have you and she talked frankly about this matter as yet?”
“I have tried to,” Finley said, looking troubled, “but Mrs. Raynor seems to want to avoid the subject—”
“Yes,—she would. Well, I think we’ll have to ask her to talk.”
The two men started toward the house, and Zizi drifted off by herself.
She watched the men for a moment, then, turning, she strolled down to the bridge and across it toward Dolly Fay’s house.
Zizi had already met that vivacious young person, and since seeing the photograph of her in Kent’s room had desired another talk with her.
The two girls seated themselves comfortably in the swing, and Zizi came to the point at once.
“You want to help Mrs. Raynor if you can, don’t you, Dolly?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, indeed,—what can I do? I’m a born detective,—and I’ve read—”
“Never mind that,” Zizi smiled, “but just tell me a few things. Where’s your wrist watch?”
“Now how did you know I had one?”
“I saw it on your arm in a photograph of you that Mr. Kent has,—a snapshot,—and a good one.”
“Yes, that is a good one,—the one in that mauve organdie,—though of course it doesn’t show mauve in the picture—”
“Yes,—where is your watch?”
“Busted. I haven’t worn it for a week.”
“I knew it!” Zizi nodded her black head in satisfaction. “I saw from the picture it was one of those cheap things—forgive me if I am rude,—but this is important.”
“My watch important!” Dolly stared.
“Yes. Now tell me, when you did wear it, did it always keep the right time?”
“Never! I never knew that thing to be right in my life!”
“Then—think now,—then when you stood on the bridge that night with Mr. Kent, and you told him it was seven o’clock by your watch,—was it?”
“No,—I guess not,—for when I got home I was awful late, and Mother gave me a wigging. But, yes, it must have been right, too, for when I said it was seven, Mr. Kent looked at his watch, and agreed.”
“What do you mean agreed?”
“Why, he said, ‘So it is,’ or ‘Yes, seven,’ or something like that. I don’t remember his exact words, but he looked at his watch and nodded and then put it back in his pocket, and I came home. Why? What has my watch to do with it?”
“Maybe a lot,—maybe nothing at all. I say, Dolly, you know that old Gannon man, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, very well. He teaches me natural history.”
“Well enough to go to his house and browse around,—and take me?”
“Oh, yes. Want to go now?”
The girls started at once, and reaching Gannon’s house they found that worthy, as usual, sitting on his porch, smoking.
“Hello, Grim,” cried Dolly, “we’re going in to see some butterflies,—Zizi wants to see ’em.”
“All right. Be sure to shut the cases after you.” The girls went into the room where the specimens were, where almost all the rest of Gannon’s belongings were also.
“What a mess!” said Zizi. “Does he never have it cleared up?”
“No; it makes him wild to mention such a thing. Here are the butterflies.”
But Zizi was after something other than butterflies. After a cautionary glance outside at the old man, she shook a warning forefinger at Dolly and began to poke around among the litter that was piled in corners or on tables and settees.
Then she opened the cupboard door, and with a look of disgust on her face, grabbed an umbrella and poked among the shoes and slippers that were flung in there in an untidy heap.
With the umbrella she dragged out one old shoe after another, and, at last, with a suppressed cry of triumph, she pulled out a shiny overshoe.
It was a man’s rubber, and a new one,—of the type called slip-ons. That is, it had almost no upper, it was little more than a sole, with a narrow rim of rubber to hold it on the foot.
A little more poking brought forth its mate, and Zizi kicked the other rubbish back into the closet, and picked up her find with eagerness.
“The rubbers,” she whispered. “The very ones!”
“Oh, my!” Dolly said, clasping her little hands in dismay. “Then old Gannon is the murderer after all! I’m so sorry,”—and the child broke into tears.
“Hush up,” said Zizi, shaking her, “don’t let him hear. We must take these to Mr. Wise at once. Come along.”
She didn’t especially want Dolly’s company, but still less did she dare leave her there where she might divulge the secret of Zizi’s find, and which Zizi was determined should remain a secret until she could tell Wise about it.
The finding of the rubbers was merely the last resort of a long hunt. Zizi had looked everywhere. She had been over every nook and cranny of the Raynor house, over every possible hiding-place in the grounds. She had been sure she would find them,—and now she had. Or, she thought she had. They must be proved up by the print on the sun room floor,—and then—
Zizi easily concealed the rubbers in her capacious coat pockets, and beckoning Dolly they left the room.
She paused on the porch to speak to Gannon, with intent to learn if he had any suspicion of her real errand to his room.
Apparently he had not, for he only said, “Well, girls, see the butterflies?”
“Yes,” Zizi returned, “and they’re wonderful. Shall you collect more or is your stock complete?”
“I’ll get more from South America, when I go down there. I’m going to get off as soon as I can get my money from those lawyers.”
Dolly looked at him, open mouthed. How could this man, who had killed his benefactor, speak so casually of getting away with the money he had so fearfully come by?”
“You must miss Mr. Raynor,” Zizi said, giving him a quick glance of her black eyes.
“I do,” Gannon returned, and his glance at her was equally sharp. “He was a life-long friend, almost—”
“Yes, an uncertain friend,—I should judge from what I hear of him.”
“Uncertain is the word, ma’am,” and Gannon looked reminiscent. “Now, Raynor’d be as nice and friendly as one could wish, and then again he’d be the very dickens and all—yes, ma’am, the very dickens and all!”
“Was he ugly to you—as well as to his wife?” Zizi went on, drawing the old man out.
“Was he! Well, he was! Why, the things Douglas Raynor has said to me and done to me, I wouldn’t stand from any other mortal man! That I wouldn’t! He was a bad man,—it’s all very well to say speak only good of the dead,—but that man don’t deserve a good word even in death!”
“You’re not sorry he’s gone, then?” Zizi said this quite casually.
“Not I! He was my benefactor, some say. Well, he gave me this house, he gave me a sum of money in his will,—but, what did I do for him?”
“What did you?” Zizi prompted him.
“I kept his secrets for him,—that’s what I did! When he married that lovely lady,—when he persuaded her to marry him, he did it by a lie! He made her think her father a blackguard, when he was that blackguard himself—”
“And what were you?” cried Zizi, her eyes blazing. “What do you call yourself to stand by and see the lovely lady sold—and sold by fraud to a blackguard and a brute! What excuse do you give for your conduct?”
“Only that Raynor made me.”
“Ah, he had a hold on you, then?”
“That he did! A strangle-hold,—as he had on many others. And when he lied to the lady, when he pretended that she must marry him or disgrace her father, her brother and herself,—my hands were tied,—I could do nothing.”
“When did Mrs. Raynor learn of her husband’s deceit?”
“Only a few weeks before she shot him.”
Zizi looked at him curiously. Dolly stood staring, her face the picture of perplexity. She wanted to speak, but Zizi’s warning looks restrained her.
“Yes,” Gannon repeated, “she never knew about it till a month or so ago. Her brother now, he never knew of it,—I should say, until after Raynor was dead. You see, Mrs. Raynor she’d suffer anything and everything rather than any sorrow or trouble should touch her brother. They’re a devoted pair.”
“And you think Mrs. Raynor killed her husband?” Zizi said, after a moment’s silence.
Gannon shifted uneasily in his chair.
“I ain’t got no opinion,—for publication, miss,” he said. “I’d rather not tell what I think.”
“I should say you wouldn’t!” exclaimed Dolly, unable to keep silent another instant.
Whereupon, Zizi dragged her away.
“You go home, Dolly,” she said; “and don’t you mention one word of all this, to a single soul. If you do you’ll make more trouble than even Pennington Wise can clear up. You hear me, now? Do you promise? If you don’t, I’m going to shut you up somewhere!”
“Yes, I promise, Zizi. Oh, whoever thought that old curmudgeon did it? Just to get his money to go to South America! What a fiend!”
“Never mind all that now, Dolly. You just run home, and go about your own affairs. And if you love Mrs. Raynor, you keep still—for her sake.”
“I will, oh, Zizi, I will,” and Dolly obeyed orders.
Zizi, her precious find in her pockets went slowly on to the Raynor house.
She found Pennington Wise with Mrs. Raynor and Finley, all in Nan’s sitting room.
Very grave talk was in progress and as Zizi entered Nan was saying:
“I must stand by my confession, Mr. Wise. I must insist that I shot my husband. I hope a jury will not deal with me too severely, for I assure you I was tortured beyond the lot of most women. I never loved Mr. Raynor, I was tricked into marriage with him, I consented to it to save my father’s honor and reputation and, too, to save my brother from knowledge of our father’s guilt,—as I supposed. Then, when I learned that my father had never been guilty at all, but that my husband had lied to me,—can you wonder at my hatred of him? Also, remember that he was a drug addict,—and that when denied the morphine he craved, he became a veritable fiend. I felt I must try to save him from the inevitable fate of such indulgence, so I honestly tried. But it was all too much for me. I almost lost my mind,—perhaps I did lose my mind—” The sad face looked suddenly brighter, as if in hope that a mental unbalance would help to exonerate her.
“No, Mrs. Raynor, you haven’t lost your mind—” and Zizi came in and slipped into a seat next to Nan, and took her white hand in her own two little brown ones. “You’re all right, mentally, morally and physically. Penny, here are the overshoes.”
From her coat pocket Zizi produced the rubbers and handed them over to Wise.
The detective took them, and without a word, turned them over to look at the soles. A single nod of his head showed Zizi that he now knew all, that whatever was the story the rubbers told, it was final and complete.
But the effect on Nancy Raynor was as disastrous as it was unexpected. She turned perfectly white, she trembled like a leaf, and had Zizi not flung an assisting arm round her, she would have fallen from her chair. She did not lose consciousness; on the contrary, she looked as if keyed up to a high tension of excitement, and she clenched her hands as she said:
“Those are my husband’s,—those are Mr. Raynor’s overshoes.”—
“Are you sure?” asked Wise.
“Of course I’m sure. He bought them about a week before he died. They are a new model,—he had never worn them.”
“This,” and Wise held up the right one, “this is the overshoe that made the footprint on the floor of the sun room.”
“Yes”—Nan almost choked— “I—I wore them,—I put them on—”
“Hush, dear,” and now Malcolm Finley came to her side, motioned for Zizi to give him her chair, and then sitting down by the almost distracted woman, he put an arm round her, and soothed her agitation.
“The mystery is a mystery no longer,” Wise said slowly. “I know who wore this rubber and who shot Douglas Raynor,—but it was not Mrs. Raynor.”
“It wasn’t Orry,” Nan cried out. “I asked Dolly Fay if he was wearing rubbers that night and she said no. She was on the bridge with him—”
A great light broke upon Zizi. So Nan had been trying to shield her brother? How had she come to suspect him?
But Wise was speaking.
“I will tell you,—I must tell you all I know,” he said. “But I have given my word to your brother, Mrs. Raynor, that when I learned the identity of the murderer, I would tell him first of all. You may as well be told now, that Mr. Kent also confessed to the crime in order to save you, as Mr. Finley did. But since you didn’t do it, these two gentlemen have no necessity for such heroism.”
“Orry confessed,” said Nan, her eyes wide with wonder, “to save me! Bless him!” She looked almost happy at this proof of her brother’s love.
“Yes, he said if you were not to be accused, he had no confession to make,—but if you were, then he would shoulder the crime himself. And I promised to tell him when I found out the truth.”
“And you have?” Nan spoke in an awed whisper.
“And I have. Zizi, go yourself for Mr. Kent. Ask him to come here.”
Zizi went and returned quickly with Orville Kent.
He entered the room, white-faced and agitated but walking with a firm step. He glanced first at his sister, and seemed glad to see her in the protecting arm of Malcolm Finley.
“You found the rubbers?” he said, as he saw them on a small table.
“Yes,” Wise said, “and they tell the story of the crime. I promised you, Kent, I’d tell you first of all. Need I do so?”
“No,” Orville Kent returned. “I’ll tell, myself. I shot Douglas Raynor. You knew it, Nan,—I think you have known it all along. I think you saw me that night. But you don’t know why. Not to rid the world of a beast and a brute,—although he was those. Not to, save my sister from a life of terror and agony with a drug fiend, though he was that. Not to set my sister free to marry the man she loves and who loves her,—though I rejoice to know that will some day be possible. But here is the true reason why I shot Douglas Raynor. I saw Nan putting tablets into his tea or coffee. Time and again I saw her do this. And always furtively, stealthily, with a glance around to see if any one noticed. Then I saw Raynor begin to show symptoms of poisoning,—of arsenical poisoning. I went to a strange doctor in the city, and learned that they were the symptoms of arsenical poisoning beyond all doubt. I knew what Nan suffered, I saw the brute treating her more and more shamefully, and I was forced to the conclusion that my dear sister, unable to stand it any longer, had succumbed to temptation to rid herself of him. I did not blame her,—not for a minute,—but I wanted to save her from being a murderer,—so, I shot him for her. That is all.”
Kent sat quietly, not twitching his fingers or moving his hands now, but like a thoughtful, determined actor who had finished his part.
“There is no more,” he said, after a pause. “I am not sorry—I rather hated to own up,—and shouldn’t have done so except in case of suspicion of an innocent person. Had there been more talk of an intruder, had the household been exonerated and the matter left unsolved, I should have kept silence, for what I did was not murder,—one cannot murder a beast. It was just retribution for that man’s awful fraud on my sister,—I only learned of that lately. But, as I said, my motive was not murder,—it was to save my sister,—as I thought,—from being a murderer. Imagine my feelings when I learned that she had not given him poison at all,—but helpful medicine! However, the deed is done. Now, Nancy, darling, don’t feel bad about it,—forget it all when you can. Marry Finley, and let the years to come make up for all you have suffered. I made a mistake,—and for that mistake I atone.”
A quick motion of his hand, so quick that it even eluded Wise, who had been watching for it, and Kent had conveyed to his mouth a capsule of deadly and instantaneous poison.
After all, it was better so. He must have been convicted,—his motive, though born of his affection for his sister, would have seemed quixotic in the eyes of the law, and even if he had escaped capital punishment, long imprisonment would have been a worse fate for Orry Kent.
Finley led Nan away at once, and Wise called the household servants to assist him in the necessary procedures.
“How did you size up the rubbers so quick?” Zizi asked him. “I half thought they were Gannon’s.”
“I knew from the very first it had to be Kent,” Wise said, slowly. “But I didn’t know his real reason. I thought, of course, he just removed Raynor to save his sister from further unhappiness. I see now how that really high-minded man could bring himself to do it. It was partly brotherly devotion and partly a slight twist in his not quite normal mind, that gave him the heroism needed. As to the rubbers, when I found a tiny speck of green paint on the print on the floor, and when I learned that the little bridge had been painted not so very long ago, I couldn’t help linking that up with Kent. Then, we had no proof that he was on the bridge at seven o’clock. As a matter of fact he wasn’t. Dolly Fay’s watch was fast and Kent knew it. He’d been watching his chance, he took advantage of Dolly’s statement about the time, and utilized it for his own alibi. He came up to the house fully five or ten minutes before seven, entered the sun room and shot Raynor and dropped the pistol and went out again. Then he removed the overshoes—”
“Dolly said he didn’t wear any when he was with her,” Zizi objected.
“He did, though. Those slip-on affairs show so little that she didn’t notice them. He removed them after the shot was fired, and hid them, probably in the shrubbery. Later, he hid them in Gannon’s closet, which was a capital place,—if my little Zizi hadn’t been clever enough to look there. Ever since, Kent has been waiting to see if his sister should be really accused, and as soon as she was, he was ready.
“When he did confess, I knew he was really telling the truth, but I pretended to think he was making up in order to test him out. He said at once that if Mrs. Raynor was freed from suspicion he would not confess, but if she were accused he was ready to avow the crime. A strange being, Kent.”
“What made you first think of Kent?” asked Zizi, thoughtfully.
“First, I think, when he said he walked up from the bridge admiring the sunset. There was no sunset at that time he pretended to come up,—at seven. I looked up the weather records most carefully. I knew he lied about the sunset or else he had come about ten minutes earlier. At seven every vestige of sunset after-effects had faded from the sky. Then next, Miss Turner said positively that when Kent came in, a little after seven, he didn’t look toward Raynor at all, but only at his sister. Now, however solicitous for Mrs. Raynor he may have been, he would most certainly have glanced toward the dead man,—except that he had seen him before. So I knew that the sight of the body on the floor was not a surprise to him. From then on, I’ve only been trying to prove it up,—or prove myself mistaken.”
“Which you were not,—which you never are,” said Zizi, with an affectionate smile for the chief she so adored.
Kent’s hopes were fulfilled. A year or so later, far from the beautiful but no longer desirable estate of Flower Acres, Nancy Finley put her hand in that of her husband and set forth on a happy and tranquil life journey with him.
“Dear Orry,” she said, softly, “his martryrdom made possible my present happiness.”
“As your martyrdom was for the happiness of him and your father.”
“Yes, dear, and now it is all past, and we owe it to their memory as well as to our own two happy selves to forget the past and live only in the radiant present and the rosy future.”
“Together,—always together,” said Finley, his voice fraught with a happiness too great for further words.
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