an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: In the Tiger’s Cage
Author: Carolyn Wells
eBook No.: 2300371h.html
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023
This eBook was produced by:Walter Moore
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Chapter 1. - The Place Called Forest Mead
Chapter 2. - In the Zoo
Chapter 3. - In the Tiger’s Cage
Chapter 4. - Bluebell
Chapter 5. - Pamela
Chapter 6. - Cross Questions and Crooked Answers
Chapter 7. - More Witnesses
Chapter 8. - The State Police
Chapter 9. - Sara Lamb
Chapter 10. - Neighbors
Chapter 11. - The Theories of Dobbs
Chapter 12. - Pamela’s Flight
Chapter 13. - Doctor Bhaer
Chapter 14. - Miss Artemisia Brett
Chapter 15. - Miss Brett and Mr. Stone Confer
Chapter 16. - Confidences
Chapter 17. - Riddell, the Overseer
Chapter 18. - The Awful Truth
“Anything noisy on the Potomac?” sang out Andy Fraser, as he sprinted up the gravel path and came to a halt in front of a white, semi-circular, colonnaded porch with an enormous white house behind it.
“Not until you brought yourself along,” returned Allan Moore, his host and long-time friend.
“Come along up,” called out Marcia Moore, Allan’s wife. “Come up, little head, sunning over with curls—”
Andy scowled as he pulled at his golden ringlets, that any debutante would have envied, and which had been one of the sorrows of his young life. He went up the steps and joined the group on the verandah, sitting down next his hostess and lifting her hand to kiss it.
“Drop it,” growled Allan, but Andy proceeded with his nefarious intentions, and then continued to hold the hand which lay in his quietly enough.
“Where’ve you been?” asked Iris Beverly, a quivering, temperamental girl, yet so beautiful with her translucent green eyes and her perfectly shaped red lips that to see her was to stop, look and listen.
“Oh, I’ve been neighboring. Called on the Kent chap and on that Pollock fellow. Decent, both of them, and of a comradely manner.”
“Who wouldn’t be, with you?” demanded Pamela Brett, an engaging youngster of seventeen, with page-bobbed black hair and dark, dancing eyes. “But I don’t call them neighbors, they live miles away.”
“That’s neighborish up here,” Andy smiled at her. “Besides, I wanted a walk.”
The scene was a golden September afternoon in the extreme northwestern corner of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In one of the great open spaces, not so far from the Trail still holding memories of the Mohawk Tribe, stood the old Moore homestead. It had stood there nearly two centuries, and the additions and alterations its architecture had undergone had not entirely ruined its dignity and charm.
The main part of the house was a long rectangle with a two hundred foot frontage and a fifty foot depth. The entrance through the Colonial doorway led to a great hall or lounge, and this in turn continued in an ell or extension back through a sun porch and out to a paved terrace. There were innumerable rooms—on the right, as one entered, card-room, library and drawing-room, also smoking-room, billiard-room and a most important flower-room, where the garden blooms were arranged for distribution.
On the left, the large dining-room, a breakfast-room and a morning sitting-room, also the kitchen, pantries, servants’ dining-room and butler’s office.
There were dressing-rooms on either side of the entrance hall, a service-room from the butler’s office to the lounge, and, though the description sounds complicated, the house was of simple lines and convenient arrangement.
It faced the South, and at the Western end of the second floor were the rooms of Allan Moore and his wife, the rest of the floor being given over to the housekeeper and secretaries, with many luxurious guest-rooms.
At the end of the corridor that led to the Moores’ apartments was a small spiral staircase, leading down to a concealed outlet in the dining-room, and thus out to the verandah.
The verandah, circling nearly the whole building, was wide and varied in its appointments of nooks and resting-places, shaded portions and glassed-in bits, and the late afternoon usually found a merry group of guests gathered on the front porch for the cocktail hour.
“We’ve been discussing Oscar Wilde,” said Iris Beverly, drawing Fraser into the conversation.
“Heavy sledding for a warm afternoon,” he returned. “What was the particular point of the chatter?”
“I’ll tell you,” Pamela began eagerly. “It seems the Wilde guy wrote a poem—I never read it, but it’s about a man’s wanting to kill anybody he loves. Now, that’s a nice state of things, isn’t it?”
“Charming,” Andy agreed. “And is it about time to change the subject now? I hate talk about killing.”
“I know you do,” said Owen Challis, smiling superiorly. “You don’t even read detective stories.”
“You do!” and Andy scorned him. “You read enough for the whole crowd.”
“I like ’em, too,” put in Pamela. “I think they’re great. Got any with you, Owen?”
“Hush, child. They’re not good for little girls.” Challis smiled at her a bit absent-mindedly. “You mustn’t think about such matters as death and killing.”
“Pooh! and me a painter of wild animals!”
“Well, you’re not a hunter of big game, and your —er—pictures wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
“Hi, there, Challis, don’t you knock my little girl’s talent,” and Moore frowned at the big, handsome man. “There’s a new model for you, Pam. The chimpanzee has come, and after dinner, we’re going out to welcome him and give him a name.”
“Oh, goody! Let me name him; do.”
“Let me perpetuate his mug on canvas and I care not what he is called,” declared Carleton Reid, who was a real painter. His pictures of Allan’s animals were rapidly achieving fame and commanding astonishing prices. “Is he a pretty bird?”
“Now that I think of it,” and Moore studied Reid’s face, “he looks a whole lot like you.”
“Slay him, Carl,” cried Iris, her eyes flashing; “don’t stand for such talk!”
“My dear child,” returned Reid, “that isn’t ‘such talk,’ it’s biological fact. Why shouldn’t I look like a chimpanzee? He’s my direct ancestor—or, isn’t he? I’m short on evolution, but I know the arboreals gave us our right to be.”
“He made us what we are to-night: I hope he’s satisfied,” sang Andy.
“Hush your noise,” ordered Iris. “It isn’t nice to try to sing when you can’t sing. But of all the monkey tribe, I like the chimp the best. He has such a sad, wistful gaze and such a wide, all-embracing mouth—”
“I hope he won’t ever embrace me,” and Marcia gave a little shudder.
She was a lovely person, of blonde type and qualities. Her hair, of tarnished gold, lay in soft ringlets all over her small head, and her blue eyes shone with contentment, happiness and a general assurance that her ways were ways of pleasantness and all her paths were peace.
Yet she was no dumb-bell, Marcia was not. Beneath the shimmering curls a shrewd New England brain carried on, while her flower face beamed with gentle innocence.
She had been married to Allan Moore for two years, and she was now twenty-eight. He was thirty-four, but they had grown together until they felt and seemed the same age, and his big calm seemed to envelop her and stay the ready outlet of her sometimes daring independence.
Her marriage to him had been like cutting the bonds of a prisoner or freeing a wild bird from its snare. She was now responsible to no one, least of all to her husband, who worshipped her, yet always with an eye to her safe and sane behavior.
Full of New England traits and traditions, Marcia, untravelled and inexperienced, knew little save what she had learned in her country home but, after all, that was plenty. Her vivid imagination and her intrepid defiance of danger led her into small scrapes that given a wider scope might have been disastrous. But her peccadilloes brought only mild rebuke and swift forgiveness from her husband and were quickly forgotten by both.
They were at one in their love of the old place, and any changes or improvements Marcia wanted she could have, but she was easily contented in material things and did her part by admiring and applauding Allan’s decisions.
A Yale graduate in ’twenty-two, he was for a couple of years an ardent naturalist, and then becoming interested in a gold mine in South Dakota he went out there, with an older man as his partner, and made good.
This man was Tom Brett, father of Pamela, and now dead. But the marvellous success of the mine made them both very rich men, and Moore, rather a sleeping partner at best, left the business to Brett and went off to hunt big game.
But when he was twenty-eight his father died, and he had to come home from India and take over. His mother was dead, too, and he had no brothers or sisters. Wherefore, he followed his own sweet will, remodelled the old house, but carefully, and with an eye to its continued harmony.
And then he achieved what had been to him a lifelong hope, a small zoo of his very own.
The building, a few hundred feet from the house, was designed by a famous architect and was a gem of beauty aside from its perfection as a menagerie. His experience in big game hunting and the information and advice he acquired from the best and finest sources enabled him to collect as many as he wanted of the creatures of the jungle.
He experimented until he found a keeper that suited him and then turned his attention to his estate. He had everything put in order from the great park of old trees to the flower-gardens. He had golf-links and tennis-courts, gymnasium and swimming-pools installed, gave the old house a fresh coat of white paint, and then—he married Marcia.
Together, they finished up things, made a circle of mutual friends, and settled down while young enough to enjoy it to a life of country hospitality.
And the place was called, as it always had been, Forest Mead.
Neither of them liked the sound of Forest Mead, but as the present Allan Moore was fourth of the name he couldn’t see himself changing it to any more grandiose title than his forefathers had given it.
Guests, however, invariably quarrelled with it.
“An inane name!” Owen Challis was even now saying.
“Sounds like a new drink at the soda-fountain,” Andy Fraser put in.
“More like an old-fashioned perfumery—in the days of ‘Jockey Club,’” this from Iris, her green eyes smiling.
“Look out, Iris,” warned Andy, “that dates you! What do you know about Jockey Club?”
“I thought it was a Night Club,” Iris cleverly wriggled out.
“Andy’s right,” announced Pamela. “None of you seems to know that mead is plain grass—poetical for meadow, of course. But it’s also a drink and Forest Mead is a drink, or should be. But it has nothing to do with a soda-fountain; it is sipped by elves in the forest, from tiny acorn cups.”
“You’re ’way off, Pam,” and Allan smiled at her. “It’s mead, yes, but not in acorns, no. Mead, drunk by a lot of Robin Hood’s men, in boisterous green doublets and—”
“That’s sack you’re thinking of, Allan,” said Challis. “You’re all mixed up.”
“So was the sack,” declared Andy.
“Mead,” repeated Moore, “and Arthur with all his knights of the Round Table—”
“On the joust,” Andy helped along, “with javelin and tourney—well, if you don’t like Forest Mead what would you name the old place?”
“The Moore the merrier,” said Reid, taking another cocktail.
“Oh, don’t drag in the name,” Allan begged. “I hate the name of Moore. Why couldn’t the family have been Trevelyan or Carmichael or something impressive?”
“Quoth the raven, ‘Never Moore’!” said Andy, and Pamela squealed with glee.
The group broke up. One by one, or by twos, they drifted away, sauntering across the lawns or strolling on the terrace, where peacocks walked with mincing steps, trailing their feathers.
“Where’s the lambkin?” asked Fraser, as he and Pamela perched themselves on a marble balustrade.
Sara Lamb was Marcia’s social secretary but was in every respect looked upon as a member—indeed, an honored member—of the family.
“I don’t know,” said Pamela, shaking her short, orderly locks. “But I do know I shall be jealous if you even think of her when I’m about.”
“Yes, I mentioned her to make you jealous. It takes the edge off, though, when you’re so frank about it. Is Marcia jealous of her, too?”
“Of Sara?” Pam’s big brown eyes stared at him. “Whatever put that in your head?”
“Same thing that put it in yours. Her attitude toward him—”
“Looking at him—?”
“And then, suddenly—”
“Looking away quickly, while a—”
“Faint pink steals into her soft cheek, and—”
“Her long lashes droop in sweet confusion:—”
“Yes. Oh, Pam, you’re a humdinger! But it’ll be confusion worse confounded, if Marcia catches on—”
“Piffle! there’s nothing to catch on to. Allan’s devoted, soul and body to his Marcia. If Sara makes eyes at him he can’t help it.”
“You’re his staunch ally.”
“Why not? He’s done so much for me. You know he and my Dad were partners in that Wild West mine, and when Daddy died Allan took charge of everything for me. He’s pure gold, that man.”
“Yes, I know. And he’s fool-proof, too. Lookit, how he wards off the Beverly Beauty, yet always a Lord Chesterfield letter to his son.”
“Allan hasn’t any son.”
“No; and you haven’t any education. But we can’t all have everything. I suppose you know it’s just about dinner time.”
“No! Is it, really? I must run. I’ve a new frock for to-night, and it’s a teaser to get into. The others are all dressed. Wait for me in the hall if I’m late.”
Pretty Pamela ran away, her step light and lithe as a young animal.
With incredible speed she soon returned, a mass of pale green sheer stuff that swirled and shimmered round her like spindrift.
At the dinner table she was in high spirits, and with the mischievous impulse of annoying Andy, she resumed the subject of killing.
“I say, Sara, you weren’t with us this afternoon: what do you think about killing the one you love? Would you be likely to?”
Sara Lamb was always the personification of demureness. Seldom had anyone seen her ruffled, never did she assert herself in contradiction of another. She was a general favorite, and only her ever-present restraint kept her from being a belle.
Not beautiful, not even pretty, her winsome face had a charm that seemed born of her lovely character. In no sense diffident or meek, she held her own with anyone, yet never obtruded her presence or her opinions.
At her work she was perfection, and Pamela’s assumption of her interest in Allan was at least exaggerated.
Sara’s poise was never-failing, for the simple reason that her demureness was real not assumed, and she sincerely wanted to please the employers who were always kind to her.
She looked at Pamela a little quizzically.
“Sounds paradoxical to me,” she said; “but then, so much depends on temper or temperament or both. Your killer seems to have a wild animal complex.”
“Now, now, Sara,” Allan put in, “don’t lump all the wild animals under one complex. The great cats, who have the best brains of the killers, would never kill a loved one. And we’re not considering temper or temperament. The question is simply whether you would kill the one you love.”
“No, indeed. Why should I? I’d kill the one who came between us.”
“But there’s no question of anyone coming between you.”
“Then why kill anybody?”
“You’re hopeless!” said Allan, smiling at her, while several people at the table watched and tried to analyze the smile.
Iris Beverly looked superior and gave the two younger women a scornful glance.
“What do those girls know about it?” she exclaimed. “Or what will they ever know about it? You must consider temperament, Allan, if you’re considering killing for love!”
“Oh, my dear child! I’m not considering killing for love! I’d never dream of doing such a thing!”
“Well, I would!” and Iris’ gray-green eyes glittered. “It is the only motive that would have any effect on me.”
“Glad you don’t love me,” and Allan gave an exaggerated shudder.
“But I do love you—”
“Of course you do,” Allan went on, unperturbed. “You love all men, as is counselled in Holy Writ. Of course I mean all proper men. Do they all love you?”
“Of course!” and Iris tossed her head. She was about to speak further but Marcia interrupted. One of Marcia’s talents was to interrupt without being rude.
“I’m in disgrace,” she said, as if there were no topic under discussion. “Eric’s mad at me.”
“What?” said Allan, with an air of dropping all other subjects for this.
“Yes, he is;” Marcia’s smile widened, but she spoke firmly. “He won’t speak to me. Oh, of course, he’s respectful, and answers my questions, if any—but I can tell.”
“Of course you can tell!” Allan spoke strongly.
“Good Heavens, Al,” said Reid, “why take it so to heart? Are you jealous of your animal tamer?”
“He isn’t an animal tamer,” Allan grew more and more severe of expression, “he’s keeper, he looks after the zoo and the animals, but only in the way of a caretaker. Also, he is entirely respectful and well-behaved, and if Marcia thinks he is annoyed at her it must be because of something she has done regarding the animals. Have you, dear?”
His voice softened, and he looked at his wife almost beseechingly, as if begging for her confidence.
“Why, no; nothing of any importance,” and Marcia looked at him amiably but by no means penitently.
“What was it?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” and Marcia turned her head away and spoke to Challis.
“What was it?” Allan repeated, and his frown at Challis seemed to close the lips of the guest.
“I told you, Allan, it was nothing,” and Marcia’s spirited manner would have made most men cease persistence.
“What was it?” he said, for the third time, and now a cold anger was in his tone.
Marcia apparently thought it time to capitulate. “It was just a little joke,” she said; “I offered Bluebell a sniff of a bunch of catnip I had in my hand—I had picked it as I came through the garden, and—”
“Catnip! Marcia, you didn’t!” Allan turned white, and a hush fell.
“Certainly I did,” she returned. “Why, Allan, it didn’t hurt her, she hardly had a sniff before Eric grabbed it. He was very rude.”
Allan recovered himself.
“Marcia darling,” he said, “I’ve told you, you know—”
“Yes, I know, dear. But never mind it now, please drop the subject.”
“But I want to know,” urged Carleton Reid. “What was the harm, Allan?”
“Mightn’t have been any,” and Allan forced a smile; “in fact there wasn’t any, so far as I know. But the big cats—”
“Oh,” said Andy, “you mean the lions?”
“Lions or tigers,” Allan explained; “or panthers or leopards, they’re all of the cat family, and catnip sometimes affects them in the way it does a house cat, though in lesser degree. It is, of course, forbidden in the zoo.”
“What would it do to them?” asked Pamela; “make them frisky?”
“It might,” Allan said. “Don’t you ever take any in there.”
“And so it upset Friend Eric,” said Andy. “Well, I wouldn’t want to incur that man’s enmity. I’d rather be in the bad graces of one of the caged brutes.”
“That’s blah, Andy,” and Moore shook his head. “You fellows must know that there are dangers connected with a bunch of wild animals.”
“We’re going out there after dinner, and then you must give us a lecture on Natural History.”
“Never!” said Allan. “I learned better than to do that, long ago.”
“Good! I don’t want to hear it,” and Iris looked bored already.
“Don’t be alarmed, Iris,” Marcia put in, “Allan won’t do that. Will you, dear?”
“No,” and her husband seemed to ignore the apparently peace-making “dear.”
“But who is Bluebell?” asked Andy, who seldom listened to animal talk.
“She’s my pet tigress,” and Allan spoke gently. “A beauty, isn’t she, Marcia?”
“Yes, indeed,” and it was easy to see that the coast was clear again.
Indeed, when Allan anticipated a visit to his beloved zoo, with guests who, some of them at least, bid fair to take an interest in his pets, he was as happy as a child showing off his collection of stamps or birds’ eggs.
“Why such an absurd name?” Iris asked.
“You won’t think it so absurd when you see her,” Allan said. “The name is Marcia’s choice, and it does seem to fit the beast. What made you think of it, dear?”
“Oh, it just sort of suited,” and Marcia smiled again. “And she is a darling. Not an atom of guile in her lovely lithe body. Wait till you see her, she’s truly a marvel.”
“New acquisition?” asked Andy, who detested the whole zoo.
“Yes,” his host told him. “You needn’t go with us if you’d rather not. We’ll stay only a short time.”
“Oh, no, I’ll go along. I’m not afraid of the things, you know, but—”
“But they just don’t appeal to you,” offered Sara in her understanding way. “I’ll stay here with you, if you like. I’ve seen Bluebell often.”
“All right, we’ll stay here and play by ourselves.”
“Indeed, you’ll do nothing of the sort,” Allan announced. “We’re all going, except Andy, who may stay here by himself, if he chooses.”
“No,” said Fraser, “I’m ready to go. In fact, I’m rather keen to see little Bluebell.”
They left the table, and strolled out to the long verandah.
“Do we want wraps?” Marcia said, and then answered herself “No, it’s only a step.”
The moon was up now, and the lawns had turned to silver. Some crossed on the soft sward, and some walked on the gravel paths.
The lovely building rose, white and glimmering, its shape circular, a little like the Temple of Vesta, at Rome.
They walked slowly on.
Allan led the way, Iris by his side, and Marcia followed with Owen Challis.
Andy Fraser, who had Sara with him, led her away from the rest and toward the maze, a fine piece of work, copied from an age-old English garden.
“Come for a stroll first,” he urged, “and we can go to the zoo afterward. After Allan gets his lecture over.”
“He never lectures,” Sara defended, but she went on with him. “I love the maze, let’s go in for a moment, and then back to the crowd.”
The stillness of the evening, the shimmering of the moonlight and the wafted fragrance of some nearby shrubs made the tall, dark trees seem weird and mysterious. They were about eight feet high, and perfectly pruned and trimmed.
Sara, of course, knew the secret of threading the maze, though once inside, there appeared to be no way out. Andy let her direct their steps, and they made the full circuit before he realized it.
“Come along now,” said Sara, as they came back to the entrance, “we must go to the zoo. Mr Moore won’t like it if we don’t.”
“Just so, lady. But I’ll take you there and then go back to the house. I hate the zoo.”
“Why do you?”
“I’ve no interest in wildcats, I hate to hear them yowl, and—the place smells so.”
“How absurd; the animals are not all of the cat family, they don’t yowl,—much—and there never was a zoo that didn’t have a slight animal odor. This one is the freest from it of any I’ve ever known. Eric is a splendid zoo-keeper. Do come along in, I wish you would.”
“That settles it. Here we go.”
They were now nearing the zoo, and reaching it, went in.
Shouts of laughter called them to the group standing around the cage that held the new chimpanzee.
“There’s no doubt,” Carleton Reid was saying, “that the great apes are the most interesting of all, for studying psychology—”
“Oh, do leave psychology out of the question for once!” cried Pamela. “Just look at him as a funny animal. See, he’s winking at us! And he’s smart! I believe he’d snatch at my beads if I gave him half a chance!”
She dangled her necklace at him and the creature made a futile clutch toward it.
“Don’t do that, Pamela!” Allan said, sternly. “Heavens! I thought you people knew how to behave in a zoo; you’re like a crowd of school children! Try to remember that though my animals are hand-picked and most carefully tended and taught they are still wild animals, and no one can ever be certain what a big beast will do. Am I right, Eric?”
“Yes, sir,” said the zoo-keeper, looking at the visitors a bit morosely. “More than right, Mr Moore. After a crowd of people come in here and go out again the animals are all upset. They don’t like it, and they’re nervous and witchetty for days afterward.”
“Temperamental,” said Reid. “I told you so. Keep ’em all out, Eric; the creatures won’t be good models for days.”
“Of course they’re not here only as models, Carl,” Moore said, lightly; “I like to think my other guests are interested in seeing them.”
“We are,” said Andy, delicately holding his nose. “I’m having the time of my life!”
“You’re absurd,” said Allan, calmly. “The animal odor, inseparable from any zoo, is not oppressive in here.”
“No, sir, it ain’t,” growled Eric; “I bet they ain’t a menagerie in the whole country as clean and sweet as this here one.”
“The new chimp is a dear,” said Marcia, who was deeply interested in the animal. “He’s a youngster, isn’t he, Allan?”
“Oh, yes, just two years old. You have to begin with them as young as that. Later they grow unmanageable, and shouldn’t be kept at all after they’re eight years old or so. But they learn wonderfully. Eric and I are going to teach this fellow lots of stunts. Why, last week I saw one who could drive nails with a hammer and could lock or unlock a padlock with a key. What shall we call the chap?”
Just then the chimpanzee, in merry mood, was bounding around in his cage, yelling a peculiar cry that sounded like “Hoo-hoo! Wah-hoo!” and Marcia clapped her hands and said;
“He’s named himself! He’s Ballyhoo, of course.”
The recipient of the new name seemed pleased with it and continued to live up to it until his visitors moved on, when he followed them with such sad, wistful looks that Sara ran back to comfort him.
A strange, human-like face he had, with that oddly growing hair that fell back from his brow in what is often called a widow’s peak. Large, mournful eyes, a wide, thin-lipped mouth, and a complete set of Horace Greeley whiskers made up the physiognomy of Ballyhoo. He eagerly accepted Sara’s overtures, and from that moment they were friends.
“Have you no deer?” asked Andy; “I think deer are the loveliest things—”
“For an outdoor zoo, yes;” Allan said. “But not for this place. Deer are very dangerous animals. Those who know, say the only safe deer is a dead one. They are the most restless and nervous of wild creatures.”
“All of them are nervous,” put in Eric; “I don’t know a blamed one that isn’t.”
“That’s right,” Reid corroborated. “That’s why they’re subjects for psychology. I get a lot of their natures when painting them.”
“So do I,” said Pamela, so earnestly that everybody laughed, and Allan came to her rescue.
“You bet you do, Pam,” he declared. “You’re a regular diviner of temperament, and when you learn not to go too near Ballyhoo you can make grand pictures of him.”
Pamela’s talent for painting existed mainly in her own small head, but she resented any doubt or criticism of it. It was seldom offered her, however, for they all loved the child, and put up with her funny little faults.
“No bears, either?” asked Challis, who was interested in the zoo, for his own sake.
“Bears are particularly dangerous,” Allan said, a bit regretfully. “You’re thinking, I daresay, of Yellowstone Park bears, but bears in captivity are quite another matter. An old, experienced zoo-man told me, ‘Beware of the bears! You never know what they’ll be up to next.’ Some seem gentle and even affectionate, yet in one second they may for no conceivable reason turn into devils. My choicest pets are the great cats. Here they are.”
With pride, Allan paused before the cage of Bluebell, the tigress.
The great beast, a magnificent specimen of her tribe, raised slowly her tawny head and with slumberous eyes gazed on the admiring crowd.
“Make her get up, Allan,” cried Pamela; “I like her better when she’s roused.”
“I’ll rouse her,” said Reid, and whistling softly, he said, “Come, Bluebell! Come, beauty!”
But the shining eyes looked at him scornfully, and his call was ignored.
“I’ll get her,” Pamela cried, and going rather close to the bars, she cooed an invitation.
Wearily and seeming bored, Bluebell let her lids drop over the glittering eyeballs and buried her nose in her graceful forepaws.
“Watch me rouse her,” said Marcia, and as she said softly, “Ah, there, Bluebell,” she waved her large chiffon handkerchief toward the apathetic beast.
The amber eyes flashed wide open, the tigress sprang to her feet and bounded to the bars where Marcia stood.
“Mr Moore—” Eric said, in a voice that betrayed intense anger, “if you’re going to allow—”
“What?” asked Allan. “What have you there, Marcia?”
“Only my handkerchief,” she returned, shaking it at him, and laughing; “Bluebell loves me, she always comes at my call.”
“There,” Pamela exclaimed, “isn’t she beautiful when she stands like that? I wish I could paint her now!”
“You’d better keep away from her, Pam. I think she’s nervous to-night. But look at her, Reid, isn’t she wonderful, poised that way?”
“Marvellous! I wonder if I could paint her tonight—”
“Better let her alone. She’s upset, for some reason; wait till to-morrow.”
“She’s rattled and excited, Mr Moore,” Eric growled. “Can’t you leave her lay, for to-night?”
“Yes, Eric, we’re not staying long.”
“Oh, Allan,” and Iris looked at him beseechingly, “I want to stay. The animals are so interesting tonight. Do you ever feel you are doing wrong in taking them from their native haunts and cooping them up?”
“Well, you see, my dear Iris, wild beasts in captivity are really much better off than those in the jungle. Their life, the life of all wild things is a frantic struggle for existence, and these creatures are well fed and guarded from harm, which they would not be in their native wilds.”
“Oh, I see,” put in Fraser; “a sort of S.P.C.A. A kind of orphan asylum. Who was it wrote that lovely poem, beginning:
Be kind to the panther, for when thou wert young
In thy country far over the sea,
’Twas a panther ate up thy papa and mamma,
And had several mouthfuls of thee.”
“But a panther and tiger are different, aren’t they?” asked Reid, “in the matter of eating people, I mean.”
“Yes,” returned Allan, “the tiger is worse—they are uncertainty itself.”
“I know,” interrupted Andy:
Or if when you are strolling round
A noble wild beast meets you,
With black stripes on a yellow ground,
Just notice if he eats you.
This simple rule will help you learn
The Bengal Tiger to discern.
I get my learning from the poets. It seems to me the most aesthetic way.”
“It is,” Allan agreed, “if the poets happen to know their Natural History. And really, that rule you quoted is about the only sure way to judge a tiger. Anyone who predicts what a tiger will do is invariably mistaken. The beasts have not the slightest idea of etiquette. Nor have they any notion of consistency; put not your faith in tigers, they may purr and smile and then turn again and rend you.”
“Bluebell wouldn’t,” said Marcia, looking at the great creature who now lay quiescent but with heaving pulses and half-shut fiery eyes.
“You can’t tell, Marcia,” Allan went on. “By the way, tigers are very fond of flowers. If we should let Bluebell out, she’d make a bee-line for the garden, and if she chose to go into the house she’d paw every bouquet to pieces.”
“Tiger cubs are lovely,” and Pamela rolled her eyes in ecstasy at thought of them. “I’ve seen the dearest little baby cubs, why, they’re just like kittens—”
“Yes,” Allan agreed, “that is until they’re about two years old. After that, better farm them out.”
“Well, I want one anyway. Won’t you get me one, Allan, just a weeny one, and I’ll keep it until you say it’s too grown up, and then you can take it and bring it up in here with Bluebell.”
“Your plan won’t click, Pam, dear,” Allan returned, “I wouldn’t trust Bluebell around the corner. She’d probably kill the cub, thinking it her own.”
“Do they do that?”
“Sometimes. As I told you, there’s no telling what a tiger will do.”
“‘And each man kills the thing he loves—’” quoted Iris.
“I’m tired of that theme song,” pouted Pamela. “And, anyway, Bluebell isn’t a man—”
“A woman is as much of a killer as a man,” Iris retorted, “whether an animal or a human being.”
They went on to the other cages, but in a few moments, Allan, responding to a touch on his arm, turned to see Eric beckoning him.
He turned and walked away with the keeper, who led him to an ante-room and spoke gravely.
“Mr Moore, I’m sorry to say this, but I can’t remain in your employ if Mrs Moore is permitted to bother Bluebell as she does.”
“Bother Bluebell?” Allan stared. “What do you mean, Page?”
“Just that, sir. Mrs Moore has a turn for mischief, and in that gay handkerchief she flaunts about there is hidden a little ball of catnip. This makes Bluebell frisky, and it’s far from being good for her. Will you ask Mrs Moore to stop it?”
Allan looked grave.
“Are you sure about this, Page?” he asked.
“I have not seen any ball or packet of catnip, sir, but I can note the odor and I can see its effect on Bluebell.”
“I don’t notice any catnip smell.”
“It is not strong enough for you to get it above the ordinary smells of the zoo. But I am trained to observe anything unusual, and I’m sure I’m right in my conclusion.”
“I’m glad you told me, Eric. I will attend to the matter. Not at present, of course. But we’ll go back to the house now.”
Allan rejoined his guests, stood about with them for a few moments longer and then proposed that they go back to the house.
“This air gets oppressive after a time,” he said; “we can come again to-morrow, if you like. Why such a big hanky, Marcia?” and he smilingly took it from her hand and shook it out.
Nothing fell from it, but there was a noticeable odor of catnip to anyone looking for it.
“Fashion, dear,” she said; “all the girls have the same.”
And at her nod, Iris, Pamela and Sara all flung out great squares of chiffon. Owen Challis, with a quick grasp, possessed himself of them all, and bunching them together, held them behind his back.
“Long Chin Foo, the Great Oriental Magician!” he announced, posing like a conjurer. “Blindfold me, Andy.”
Fraser pulled a fresh handkerchief from his pocket, and with the manner of a magician’s assistant, did as he was bid.
“Now,” Challis went on, “I will give these handkerchiefs to their owners by second sight.”
He brought out one from the lot he held behind him, and waving it through the air, he said;
“The property of our Iris. Accept it, please.”
“Too easy,” Andy said; “we all know the Paris Nights perfume Iris affects.”
“So?” and Challis showed another handkerchief. “You guessed wrong, Andy. This has no fragrance, yet I know it belongs to Miss Lamb. Am I right?”
“Yes,” said Sara, as she took it. “Wonderful work! as I’m sure no other woman here carries an unscented handkerchief.”
“Tut,” said Challis, “don’t queer my pitch. Well, here’s another—this is Pamela’s.”
“Of course,” Pam responded, “you pick out the best perfume, and you know it must be mine.”
“Of course,” agreed the magician, “and that leaves this last one for Marcia. Queer scent,” he added, sniffing at it, and Marcia hastily reached for it and crumpled it in her hand.
“Come along,” said Allan, “no more zoo to-night. Close up the place, Eric. Good night.”
“Yes, Mr Moore. Good night.”
“Where are we going?” cried Fraser. “I’m scared!”
For Allan had led them through a door seldom opened, and which disclosed a dimly lit passage.
“Turn on more light, Eric,” he called back, and as the order was obeyed they could discern the walls and roof of the tunnel-like way.
“Never been in here before?” Allan smiled at Fraser. “It’s a secret entrance—well, no, not exactly a secret entrance, but a private one, from the house to the zoo. Who knows where we will come out?”
“In the kitchen, of course,” said Owen Challis.
“Now, how did you know that?” Allan stared in surprise. “Oh, I remember! You’re by way of being a detective.”
“Not quite that,” Challis laughed; “but I am more or less of an architect, and we must enter the house through the kitchen.”
“You see,” Allan explained, “this tunnel has been here since Revolutionary times. I had it cleared out and fixed up to give me a special way to the zoo.”
“Do you go out there nights, and admire the creatures?” asked Iris. “How exciting! May I go with you some time?”
“Here we are,” said Allan, abruptly, and they found themselves in the corner of the immense kitchen. He herded them through a pantry and into the dining-room, then on through the hall to the lounge.
“A good time was had by all,” declared Iris, as she settled herself on a love-seat, hoping Allan would sit beside her.
He didn’t do so, however, but announced his own programme.
“I’m keen for bridge to-night,” he said, “but I’m playing only with the good ones. That lets you out, Pam and you, too, Marcia. Iris and Sara qualify, also Challis, who, being a detective, knows how to play bridge.”
“Suits me perfectly,” said Reid, who was the merest amateur at the game. “Come along, Pamela, let’s go back to the zoo, and study our models in peace and quietness.”
“May we, Allan?” asked Pamela, a little doubtfully.
“Of course, child. You two know how to behave. If the place is closed, ring up Eric, from the zoo porch. The buttons are marked. Clear out with you.”
“That leaves us, Andy, to flock by ourselves,” and Marcia looked not at all dismayed at the prospect.
“Suits me,” Fraser said, “let’s go.”
The quartette left behind, being all bridge lovers, at once settled down to a serious game.
“Isn’t it funny,” said Iris, “how Pamela thinks she can paint? It’s awfully good of Carl to humor her so. And really, he teaches her a lot.”
“Who wouldn’t be good to Pamela?” Allan returned. “She has a little talent, of course, and Reid is mighty kind, but she’ll never paint anything worthwhile. I hope he will do the chimp—that monkey’s a character.”
And then they settled down to their game, with that stern joy that warriors feel in foemen worthy of their steel.
Carleton Reid and Pamela found Eric still in the animal house. He was about to close up the place and was none too well pleased to have further visitors.
But he listened respectfully as Reid explained their presence.
“You see, Page, we couldn’t study the animals as models while the crowd was here. So, we want to be here by ourselves for a while, and look at them without making any bother. Mr Moore said you could go along home, and we’ll put out the lights when we leave.”
Eric looked doubtful.
“It’s all right, of course, Mr Reid. And any other night I wouldn’t give it a second thought. But tonight, Bluebell is all of a pother, and—oh, I don’t mean to put you out,” he said hastily, seeing Reid’s disappointed look, “but I want to urge you to be most special quiet, and not speak to the animals at all.”
“That, of course, Page,” and the artist looked much relieved. “Now just show me what to do, and we’ll be here less than an hour, and we’ll leave everything in perfect order. Mr Moore said for you to do this.”
“What Mr Moore says, goes,” and Eric Page gave a deep sigh.
“What’s that mean, Eric?” asked Pamela, in her pretty, sympathetic way. “That deep sigh, and your general air of unhappiness?”
“Well, Miss, maybe you could help. It’s Mrs Moore, who is so full of spirits she don’t think what a trouble she’s whooping up when she teases the big cats. The lion, now; Mr Moore wouldn’t let us go near him to-night, for Mrs Moore is the tricksy bit, and Lord knows what she’d do.”
“But what can I do about it, Eric?”
“Well, you see, Miss Brett, the master he’s so soft for his wife he won’t scold whatever she does. So I thought if you’d say to Mrs Moore, serious-like, not to bother the animals it might mebbe have better effect than Mr Moore’s saying so.”
“I’ll do that, Eric, of course,” and Pamela looked thoughtful. “I’m afraid it won’t do much good, but I’ll do just what you ask.”
“Thank you, Miss; anyhow, it can’t do any harm.”
Then Eric showed Reid what lights and locks to manipulate when they left the zoo, and went off to his home, pleased that he had found opportunity for a step in the right direction.
The two students went from cage to cage, observing the creatures, some of whom were asleep and others alertly observant. Carleton Reid gave Pamela much really valuable information, which she honestly tried to absorb, without, however, any great success.
The time passed all too quickly for the artist, who seldom had a chance for uninterrupted study in the zoo.
But he knew they must be going back to the house, and said so, as he prepared to carry out Page’s instructions.
“Let’s go back through the tunnel thing,” urged Pamela, but Reid said no, so positively that the girl did just as he directed.
“Where does Page live?” he inquired as they walked along.
“He has a lovely cottage, back of the zoo. Quite a little distance away, on the edge of the birch grove.” They reached the house just as the card players were finishing their game, and in a few moments Marcia and Fraser appeared.
“Where’ve you been?” Allan asked, as the latter came in.
“Down on the lower terrace, mooning around,” Marcia replied, and seeing that it teased Allan, she went on; “don’t you want to play another rubber, and we’ll go back there.”
“No more for me, to-night,” said Sara. “Such strenuous games are too much like work. You’d better take a hand, Mrs Moore.”
“No, I’m on the home run. Call Jo-jo, Allan, and tell him to rake up some supper. Tell him to serve it out on the terrace—it’s lovely out there now.”
Allan obeyed, Jo-jo being Joseph, the butler. The enterprise was successful and soon they were out beneath the stars, seated round a most pleasantly-spread table.
When a midnight chime was heard, Marcia started up, saying “I’d no idea it was so late. Good night, everybody, I’m going to bed.”
“A sudden gesture, but most satisfactory,” laughed Iris, “I’m glad to go.” And then, with gay good-nights, they all went to their rooms.
It was the habit of Eric Page to rise at six in the morning, to partake of a hearty breakfast cooked for him by his wife, and get over to the zoo about seven. He would examine the animals with his trained eye and then make a list of matters to be attended to by his two assistants aside from their regular routine.
As he walked along on the crisp autumn morning after the visit of Mr Moore and his guests the night before, he began to think about the sudden approach of cooler weather and the advisability of fires in the zoo.
Page looked admiringly at the building as he came nearer to it. He was an animal lover and could have been an animal trainer, but neither he nor his master cared for trained performances. They both loved to watch the naturally developing traits and characteristics of the great beasts and just now were especially interested in the new chimpanzee.
The zoo was divided into self-contained sections and the animals carefully grouped according to type.
The Great Cats, as all naturalists call the lions and tigers and their ilk, were really Eric’s favorites, and of them all Bluebell was his pet. He was always angry if anyone took liberties with the tigress, knowing that teasing or petting were equally bad for her. But his temper was really roused when Marcia played tricks on him. She would tie a bunch of flowers to a string, throw the flowers into the cage, and when Bluebell sprang delightedly for the treat, Marcia would pull it away and laugh to hear the disappointed growls.
A lovely nature Marcia had, save for her delight in teasing her friends. And the animals she counted among her best friends, so teased them unmercifully. This, she well knew, teased Allan also, and as she added to his annoyance by rousing his jealousy the poor man found thorns among his roses.
Page went in by a rear entrance and made first for the chimpanzee’s cage.
Ballyhoo was awake and seemingly in gay good humor. Giving him a quick once-over, the keeper turned toward the division that housed Bluebell.
Before he reached the cage Eric could hear the heavy panting of the tiger and knew in a moment that something was wrong.
He hurried and saw Bluebell hunched in the far corner of her cage, growling softly but deeply, and in the foreground, on the floor of the cage, lay a huddled shape which did not require a second glance for him to see it was Marcia. Marcia, her beautiful dead face scratched and torn, her gown in rags, her hair disordered, and her whole attitude that of having been tossed to where she was lying.
Bluebell was twitching nervously—more than that, she was trembling, quivering, yet with glaring eyes, ready to spring at any sort of provocation.
Page acted quickly. He was not the sort to lose his head in an emergency and he reached for a long pole and a whip. He pressed a button which would bring one of his men quickly, and in a few seconds one of them came.
“Bad work, Jake,” Page said, “come on, now. I’ll keep Bluebell all right, and do you open the door and pull Mrs Moore out, and slam the door shut again like two strokes of lightning. Get me?”
“Y—yes,—but I’m afraid—”
“No matter if you are—you do as I tell you!” Eric’s thundering voice scared Jake more than the rest of the situation, and from sheer fright, he obeyed. He opened the cage door, pulled at Marcia’s gown and hesitated.
“Rush it!” bellowed Page, but Jake was incapable of further motion of any sort. The sight of Marcia’s face was too much for him, and he fell to the floor unconscious.
Had it not been that the other under-keeper arrived just then, Bluebell would have sprung out at the open door.
Matt, enormous and of almost phenomenal strength, pushed Jake away with his foot, grabbed at Marcia’s skirts and pulled her out of the cage, while Page kept the excited beast at bay with his whip.
The cage door was slammed shut, the tigress left to her own will, as Page picked up the still unconscious Jake, shook him well, and set him on a bench against the wall.
“Now,” he said, to the waiting Matt, “I must report at the house. You two stay here, and guard Mrs Moore. The animals may riot, but they can’t get loose, so there’s no real danger. Jake will find himself in a minute, and I’m going to get Mr Sheldon or Foss. Don’t leave this place for a second, and don’t let anybody in. Nobody, mind!”
“Did Bluebell kill her?” whispered Matt, his eyes staring at the awful heap on the floor.
“Shut up! It’s not your business. Don’t you say a word to Jake, nor let him talk to you, neither. Here, take the whip, but don’t strike Bluebell, unless she growls loudly. Then just touch her lightly. She’ll understand. Mind now, Matt, a lot depends on you, right here.”
Page left by way of the tunnel and was at the house in a minute or two.
He strode to the kitchen and found the cook and some housemaids about. Also, a stray footman, whom he despatched to waken Mr Sheldon the steward and bid him come downstairs as soon as he could. “Tell him to put something on but come quickly.”
“What shall I tell him it’s for?” asked the curious messenger.
“Never you mind. Just tell him Eric Page bids him come at once.”
It was but a few minutes before Mr Sheldon arrived, looking grave and concerned.
“Something important, Eric?”
“Yes, sir. Come with me, sir, if you please.”
Back through the tunnel they went, and Page talked as they went on. So when they reached the zoo Jim Sheldon knew all there was to be told about the awful fate of Marcia Moore.
He gazed steadily at the dead woman for a moment, turned aside with a shudder, but presently pulled himself together.
“It’s not for us, Page, to sorrow over this, we have our part to play. I will take over for the time being. Do you stay here by the cage, and by Mrs Moore, until I go back to the house and get Mr West.”
“The secretary man? Why, he went to North Adams yesterday, to stay the night.”
“True enough, so he did. Well, I’ll get hold of Foss and let him waken Mr Moore, and tell him. He must be told at once. I’m not sure I know what to do about other details.”
“Carry on, Mr Sheldon. You’ve a good head on you, and Mr Moore is that dependent on you! You’ll do all right.”
“Well, Page, you stand by here, and set those two chaps of yours about their business. But keep them out of this room, until—until later.”
“Very good, sir,” and Page turned to his underlings. He liked the steward, the whole staff liked Mr Sheldon, he was always wise and just.
When he reached the kitchen, he found the butler there and told him of the tragedy.
“Yes, Mr West is away,—he’ll be home soon after nine, I’d say. It’s near seven already. Better call Mr Moore?”
“Decidedly. Where’s Foss?”
Foss, Allan Moore’s valet, was soon found and sent to tell his master what had happened, and to get him dressed and downstairs at once.
“Sorry Mr West isn’t here,” Sheldon went on, for at Forest Mead the staff operated with the regularity of clockwork. “But we can’t help that.”
“What happened?” asked Joseph, who had been butler for years and looked upon Allan and Marcia as his own special property.
“Can’t tell you, only Mrs Moore is clawed by that poisonous beast—the one they call Bluebell. Ugh, how can a man keep such monsters around!”
Foss was a first-class valet, as indeed all the servants were proficient in their several ways, but he found it the hardest job he had ever undertaken to tell Allan Moore of the death of his wife.
Foss found him asleep and wakened him by a touch on his shoulder.
“Eh,” murmured Allan, sitting upright and then opening his eyes. “What is it? What the devil do you mean, Foss, by banging at me like that? Eh,—I say, what’s up?”
“Listen, Mr Moore,” the valet began, “I—that is—”
“Come, man, out with it! Have you broken something in the bathroom? Not my green glass turtle, I trust?”
“Sit up, Mr Moore. And you must get up, sir. Never mind your bath just now. Here are your—”
By now, Allan had grasped the meaning of Foss’ manner.
“Something’s happened!” he exclaimed, “something awful. Don’t tell me it hasn’t. And don’t hold back the tale to let me down easy! You know I don’t stand for that sort of thing. What is it? Out with it— at once.”
Foss tried to speak, but could only stammer.
“Stop that!” Allan said, sternly, “tell me at once what it’s all about or leave the room and send me someone that can talk!”
“It’s—it’s Mrs Moore, sir—”
“Yes, and what about Mrs Moore?”
“Gone? Missing? What has happened to her?” Allan had quieted down a little, but his eyes stared into Foss’ face with a menacing glare.
This seemed to impel Foss to speech more than bullying did, and he said, steadily enough, “She’s dead, sir. The tiger killed her.”
Moore groaned. He gave one long look into the valet’s eyes, and springing from his bed began to throw on his clothes.
Foss, quick of understanding, used every effort to help him and in an incredibly short time Allan was down the stairs and was met by Sheldon in the kitchen.
But a word or two and Allan was in the tunnel and out at the zoo where he found Eric Page keeping his mournful guard.
“What does it mean?” he asked, with a look of blank wonder so foreign to himself that Jim Sheldon took a step nearer to him.
“We don’t know,” he said. “Eric found Mrs Moore in Bluebell’s cage this morning—”
“In the cage? And the tiger…”
“There, too. As she is now.”
Allan looked and turned away quickly. Bluebell had gathered herself back in the cage, fierce-eyed, snarling and growling. But his attention was for his wife. He sank down on his knees by the bench on which they had laid her, his arm across the still body, his face hidden. The others turned away their eyes.
When at last he rose the manner of his loss seemed to return to him: he looked wonderingly from the scarred but unmangled form of Marcia toward the great beast in the cage.
“What ails her, Eric?”
“I don’t know, Mr Moore.”
But Eric’s manner belied his words.
“You do,” Allan cried out; “or think you do. You think because Mrs Moore waved a little catnip at her last evening, you think Bluebell is still affected by it. It’s not so. What you suggest is impossible!”
“I didn’t suggest it, sir,” said Page, truthfully.
“I know you didn’t, but it’s what you think. What’s to be done? Sheldon, what do you think?”
“In—in regard to—to the lady, do you mean, sir?”
“Of course. Can we take her to the house? to her room?”
“Of course, Mr Moore. Why not?”
“Isn’t there some law about, you know about not touching her till—till the doctor comes?”
Sheldon stared at him.
“You’re thinking of the police and of murder. Mrs Moore isn’t murdered, she was killed by the tiger—”
“No, she was not. Oh, there’s Challis. Come here, Owen. Look—look at Marcia.”
Challis obeyed and then turned back quickly to look at Allan, who was swaying to and fro.
Challis glanced at the steward.
“Take charge, Sheldon,” he said. “Do nothing, however, but wait. I’ll call Doctor Palmer. Foss, come along with Mr Moore and myself.”
“No,” said Allan, speaking uncertainly. “I’ll— I’ll stay here.”
“Better come,” and Challis took his arm and urged him along.
At the house, Mrs Bond, the housekeeper and Foss looked after their master, and Challis went at once to telephone the doctor.
Sara was around, moving quietly and saying nothing; Effie, Marcia’s own maid, was in the servants’ sitting-room, uncertain what to do.
Having called the doctor, Challis found Reid and Fraser in the breakfast-room, and dropped down himself for a cup of coffee and some food.
“I wish West would show up,” he said; “but until he comes I’ll carry on. Allan is all to pieces, and the doctor’d better look after him.”
“What happened, Owen?” asked Andy, abruptly.
“I wish I knew. All I can say is that Marcia was found in the tiger’s cage, and the beast is still r’arin’ round, glaring and excited.”
“Just as she was last night?”
“Only much more so. There’s something the matter with her more than catnip.”
“Marcia isn’t in the cage, still, is she?”
“Oh, no. Someone got her out—but I couldn’t get the details.”
“Is she—is she—”
“Badly clawed? Yes. But you can go and see. I can’t talk about it.”
“I’m going now,” said Carleton Reid, rising abruptly.
“He’s Marcia’s cousin, you know,” said Challis, as Reid left the room.
“And heir,” added Challis, getting a well-deserved look of reproach from Andy.
“Has anybody told Iris?” said Fraser.
“I don’t know. But Sara or Mrs Bond will see to that. I wish the doctor would come.”
And soon Doctor Palmer did come, and hearing but a few words went out to the zoo.
Challis went along to guide him, and the two entered the place together. Eric Page rose and stood at attention, as the doctor bent over Marcia’s body.
The physician asked few questions; indeed the facts seemed to tell their own tale.
“How long has she been dead?” Challis asked.
“Hard to say. I fancy since about two o’clock or three. What was she doing out here at that time of night?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure. It’s all a mystery.”
“In his room, and I wish you’d see him. He nearly collapsed when he was out here, and I sent him off with Foss, the valet, and the housekeeper.”
“I leave you in charge, Page,” said Doctor Palmer sternly. “Don’t let anyone touch the body, and after I see Mr Moore I’ll have it taken to the house. Don’t let anyone in, except the guests or servants of the house, and keep them out if you can.”
He strode back again, and Challis followed.
They both went up to Allan’s apartments and found him in his den, which with Marcia’s boudoir and their two bedrooms and dressing-rooms, made up the suite they occupied.
Doctor Palmer looked Allan over and after a brief examination, said;
“You’re all right, boy, but I want you to be a little careful. You’ve had a terrible shock, and you’ll not get over it in a hurry.”
He stepped into the bathroom, deliberately mixed a bromide, and ordered it swallowed. Then he bade Moore to rest in an easy chair and see no one except when necessary. “You’ll be questioned, of course, but take things as quietly as possible. You know you have a tricky heart and I don’t want you tearing around. Why was Marcia out there last night?”
“I don’t know,” and Allan’s face showed agony. “But—did Bluebell kill her? Bluebell loved her—”
“You don’t mean you’d trust her in the tiger’s cage?”
“No, of course not. But if she did go in I shouldn’t expect Bluebell to turn on her.”
“You must know, Allan, none better, that wild beasts are never trustworthy.”
“I do know that, and the tigers are the most treacherous of the lot.”
“Didn’t Marcia go to bed, as usual?”
“Yes. We came upstairs fairly early.”
“Then she went down again?”
“I don’t know! How can I know? If I’d known do you suppose I would have let her go down secretly? She must have lost her mind.”
“No, Marcia didn’t lose her mind.”
“How do you know?” Allan spoke almost angrily.
“Well, be that as it may, I don’t want you to lose yours. Now you obey my orders. I’m going back to the zoo. I shall have Marcia carried—where?—to her own rooms?”
“Yes, to her boudoir. Get Louise to see to her. Mayn’t I come? Don’t treat me like a child, Doctor.”
“It isn’t that, but you have an ordeal before you, and you must save yourself all you can. I’ll be in here again in a few moments. Where’s West, that smart secretary of yours?”
“Out of town, but he’ll be back soon now.”
Doctor Palmer went back to the zoo and found several people there.
Iris Beverly had arrived and was hysterical in spite of Andy’s pleas that she control herself. Sara Lamb was conversing with Page, earnestly and in low tones. Reid and Challis were there—all overcome by the tragedy. Presently George West quietly joined them.
“Where’s Mr Moore?” he asked after a few moments. “I was told he was here.”
“Well, he isn’t,” said Eric, who was getting more and more in a temper. “Mr West, can’t you make these people get out of here? Except, of course, the doctor.”
“I’ll take your place, Eric,” West said, calmly. “You go home for a while and let your wife make you some breakfast or something.”
In a kindly way he urged Page from the chair he was in and sat down in his place.
He looked round at the faces watching him, and said, to Challis;
“Where is Mr Moore, and how did this tragedy happen?”
“I can’t tell you anything about this, for I know nothing about it myself. Mr Moore is in his rooms. Wouldn’t you better go to see him?”
“In a moment, yes. Of course he knows of this?”
“Yes,” said Doctor Palmer, looking up from Marcia’s face to West’s. “And he is all in. A little more and he’ll have a complete collapse. I hope, Mr West, that you and Foss can keep him very quiet and I’ll keep watch of him.”
“I’ll go to him at once, Doctor. Just tell me a word or two as to Mrs Moore. When did this thing happen?”
“Some time in the night or early morning. Challis, give Mr West the details.”
“I can’t,” Owen Challis told the secretary. “We were all out here last evening, went into the house and had some supper and went up to bed at midnight. That’s all I know. We assume Marcia must have come downstairs again and must have gone into the tiger’s cage for reasons of her own.”
“Incredible!” and West shook his head, negatively. “I say, Doctor, what was the immediate cause of death? Is there a scratch or bite in a vital spot?”
“I haven’t yet found any, but there must be.”
“Examine most carefully, will you!”
He joined Doctor Palmer in his search, and said, at last, “You can’t find a lethal wound. Why do you say Bluebell killed her?”
Doctor Palmer stared at him.
“When a corpse is found in the locked cage of an angry tiger, it is difficult to think of any reason for death except the teeth of the tiger.”
“Or claws, I suppose you mean. I see no traces of biting.”
Doctor Palmer looked embarrassed, but he only said;
“I haven’t yet finished my examination. I haven’t found marks of teeth as yet, but there must be some to be found. None of these scratches killed her, but—”
“But you assume a tiger bite. Well, I don’t. And it will take more than assumption to prove that Bluebell killed her. Why, man, that tiger loved Mrs Moore.”
“I place small reliance on the love of a man-eating tiger!”
“Go on, then; but, mark my words, you’ll find you are accusing Bluebell unjustly.”
“If so, so much the better for Bluebell. Why that ridiculous name?”
“I don’t know, Mrs Moore named her.”
“You’d better go along and report to Mr Moore. I’ll see you again.”
Doctor Palmer had a way of getting himself obeyed, and West found himself carrying out the suggestion.
“Very well,” he said, as he left them. “I told Page I’d take his place—”
“Oh, there are plenty of us to do that,” said Carleton Reid. “Look after Mr Moore—he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
“Just be natural and rational and act as if he were all right,” said Iris—“and he’ll be all right. I think I’ll go with you, I understand Allan.”
No one said her nay and she went off with the secretary.
Sara Lamb looked after them with a faint smile, and then something like a young whirlwind came flying in at the door.
It was Pamela, who, in defiance of advice from West and Mrs Bond and others, had rushed from the house, through the tunnel and into the zoo.
“Where’s Marcia?” she cried, frantically, and then, seeing the lacerated cheek and throat of her friend, she gave a scream and sank down on the floor.
She didn’t faint, Pamela was not that sort, but she became hysterical and her shrieks of fearful laughter alternated with her shuddering wails of fear and terror.
She spurned the ministrations of those who tried to soothe her, she fought Andy and Reid, who undertook to quiet her, and only Sara succeeded in bringing her to any sort of docile behavior.
At last Sara led her away, and Doctor Palmer rose from his work with a puzzled face.
“I propose to call a consultant,” he said; “without asking Allan, I shall telephone to North Adams for a friend of mine. This case is beyond my experience.”
George West and Iris finally found Allan in his own den, a room on the second floor, divided from his bedroom by his dressing-room and bath.
He seemed to have recovered his usual poise and greeted West with an expression of welcome.
“I’m glad you’re here, George,” he said. “Will you run away, please, Iris? I have some matters I want to talk over with West while they’re fresh in my mind.”
He had risen, and stood holding the door for Iris to pass through.
“Oh, Allan,” she said, in a trembling voice, “I want to see you. I’m so lonely and—and frightened—”
“I’ll see you later on, my dear. Go, now, go and talk to Sara or little Pam.”
“Two children! I don’t want them—I want you.”
“Not now,” he said, more decidedly, and gently taking her arm, urged her from the room.
“Now,” he said, turning to West, “I’ve got hold of myself. What are they saying down there? What do they think caused Mrs Moore’s death?”
“The tiger of course seems obvious, but—”
“Bluebell? She wouldn’t hurt a hair of Marcia’s head! It’s all mysterious. How did my wife get in the cage?”
George West stared.
“Why couldn’t she open the door and go in, if she wanted to?”
“But she didn’t want to. She never did such a thing before.”
“But Mrs Moore is—was—a very impulsive sort, as you know, and I should say there is nothing she wouldn’t dare.”
“She was most brave and courageous, but not foolhardy.”
“She wanted to go up with that trick flyer who was visiting at Mr Kent’s.”
“Yes, I know, but that was just dare-devil boasting. I wouldn’t let her go, of course, any more than I would let her enter a cage, and she knew it.”
West wanted to, but didn’t quite dare tell his employer that knowing of her husband’s objection might not have restrained Mrs Moore from doing as she pleased.
Doctor Palmer, accompanied by Owen Challis, came seeking the master of the house.
“It’s this way, Allan,” Challis began; “there can be no possible grain of doubt that Marcia was killed by that vicious beast—”
“Bluebell isn’t vicious,” Moore returned, speaking quietly, and as if of a person. “She is fierce, of course, but not of a vicious temper at all.”
“Don’t be silly,” Challis broke in. “You know yourself that the tiger tribe are least dependable of all the wild animals.”
“I’ve often heard you say so, Allan,” added Andy Fraser, who was drifting by and heard the conversation. “You’ve declared that no matter how docile and sunny-tempered a tigress might be she could unexpectedly go berserk and become the most savage of the lot.”
“It’s true enough,” and Moore sighed. “But Bluebell is different.”
“No, they’re all alike. Why, don’t you get Kent over here? I went to see him yesterday, and Pollock, too. Your two neighbors. And Kent knows lots about animals in a zoo.”
“What do I want of him, if he does?” Allan stormed. “He doesn’t know anything I don’t know. Am I to call in my neighbors to ask advice concerning my own affairs?”
“Sure. If he’s an expert naturalist he can help decide whether Bluebell killed Marcia.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Fraser,” said Allan, “don’t ever take an expert seriously. Without exception, they are devoid of common sense—they have nothing but their expert knowledge. Now, no expert zoologist can say whether Bluebell killed Marcia or not. I suppose she must have done so, though I protest at it still. However, it must be proved—if possible—”
“Could she have died of shock?” asked Andy, doubtfully.
“There’s only one way to find out,” and the doctor looked at Moore. “We must have an autopsy—it is imperative.”
“Very well, if it must be,” and Allan nodded. “I want to know the truth. Can you carry through here, Palmer?”
“Not so good. Guess we’d better go over to that little hospital at Arden. My offices would do, but the Arden place has more room and better appliances and paraphernalia.”
“Do what is best,” Allan said, a little convulsively. “I don’t know what you’re looking for, though. How else could she have come by her death?”
Doctor Palmer remained silent, and Fraser said, “Shut up, Allan. He means suicide, but that’s too ridiculous. Don’t you go over to the hospital, Allan; no use getting all harrowed up unnecessarily. Come and have a few billiards with me. I want you to keep sane.”
Andy had a way of saying such things that didn’t offend, but, on the contrary, comforted.
Allan had no intention of playing billiards, but he was glad not to go through the ordeal of that hospital visit.
Challis, who had been away for a time, returned, heard the plan, and declared he was going to the hospital, too.
“And don’t tell any others,” he advised, “we don’t want the whole tribe along.” He went to his room, telephoned, and then, ready to go, went down to the zoo.
He found it nearly empty of human beings. The women had been sent away and only Sheldon remained with Eric Page.
“What do you make of it, Mr Challis?” Sheldon inquired.
“Hard to tell, I think. On the face of things one can only say that Mrs Moore came downstairs after the rest of the household were all asleep, and out of sheer mischief climbed into the tiger’s cage, to play with the beast. She had a bunch of flowers for her; for some strange reason, I am told, Bluebell was fond of flowers.”
“Yes, she was. But how do you know Mrs Moore brought her some?”
“There’s a wilted bunch of them lying almost under the creature. You’ve noticed it, Eric?”
“Yes, Mr Challis,” and Eric was respectful, though scarcely courteous. “And she won’t let anyone touch those flowers neither! Just you try!”
“I’ve no desire to try. What does she do? growl?”
“I’ll say she does. Even them few petals on the other side of the cage—she won’t let us sweep ’em out. She’s still all of a quiver, but she’s ca’min’ down. Me, I don’t understand it.”
“Nor I, Eric,” Sheldon declared. “But I don’t see, Mr Challis, how come you noticed the flowers she’s sitting on. She well-nigh hides them from sight.”
“Oh, I just chanced to get a glimpse of them. But I’d like to see the flowers, Eric. Can’t you get her to stand up just a minute?”
“I’ll try, Mr Challis,” and the keeper spoke to the great striped cat in a pleasant way.
But Bluebell only rolled her tawny eyes around, and sat still.
A dainty bit of food offered brought better results, and the tiger rose slowly and moved with her feline grace across the cage.
“Don’t try to get the flowers out,” warned Page; “better not touch them, Mr Challis.”
So the two men contented themselves with staring at the wilted blossoms, a small bunch of cosmos, goldenglow and some tiny asters, of an odd golden-brown.
With her angry eyes upon them, Bluebell obtained the treat Page had for her and then majestically stalked back to her flowers and again lay her great body across the blossoms, with a low growl of satisfaction.
“If you’d’a snatched them, there’d been the devil to pay,” Eric declared, and they believed him.
Then Doctor Palmer came and said the hospital car was ready; internes entered and took the sorry remains of Marcia Moore out of the zoo for the last time.
Challis went in a car with the doctor, and at Allan’s orders George West accompanied them.
A short ride brought them to the pretty little hospital, the gift of a grateful citizen and a proud possession of the tiny village of Arden.
West remained with the doctor, and though there were necessary delays the matter was put forward as swiftly as possible.
Challis waited in the reception hall, and his patience was finally rewarded by the appearance of a tall, distinguished-looking man, whom he greeted with a “Hello, Stone.”
“Well, Challis,” returned Fleming Stone, “what do you want of me, now? Nothing to take much time, I hope.”
“Probably not, but maybe. Well, well, if here isn’t Doctor St. John! And what are you doing here, old chap?”
An elderly, white-haired and red-cheeked man held out his hand with a smile.
“Owen Challis, as I live! And, I say, boy, here’s Fleming Stone. Know him?”
“Well, rather! Why, I’m why he’s here!”
“Too true,” said Stone. “I’m here at the command of Challis, but so far, it’s mine not to reason why.”
“Do you know the Moores, Doctor St. John?”
“Yes, slightly. Very old family here.”
“True, but only young scions now.”
And then Challis told them in a few words of the tragedy, and asked the doctor if he cared to take a look at the performance of the autopsy.
“I’ve no special reason,” Challis went on, “but I’d like to have you two men go to the operating-room with me.”
“Who’s doing it?” asked St. John, and when Challis told him he shook his head.
“Good man,” he conceded, “but—oh, well, let’s go. Will he mind?”
“Not at all. He’ll be flattered. Come along, Stone.”
Doctor St. John’s presence opened all doors, and they found themselves with Doctor Palmer, at the very beginning of his task.
As Challis had predicted, he was pleased to have the famous St. John there to admire his deftness and skill, and incidentally to give advice, if he would.
But the visitor declined to participate in any way save to look on, and the three men made an interested audience.
“As you see,” Palmer announced after the finish, “there is positively no sign of any fatal scratch or bite of the tiger. There are many flesh wounds, bad ones; many long but superficial scratches; the clothes are badly torn, the hair disarranged, a rib or two broken —was she tossed?”
“We don’t know,” answered West, “but it is probable.”
“Well, in my opinion, the victim of the ferocious beast died actually of heart failure, induced by fright. Or shock, if you prefer it. But as we cannot prosecute a tiger, I see no redress we may look for.”
“And, too,” put in West, “there may yet be a deep incision from the claws that you have not discovered, Doctor. Or might the claws have poisoned her, and so caused death?”
Fleming Stone was secretly amused at West’s making suggestions at all, when the two physicians were present.
“No,” declared Palmer, arrogantly, “it is as I have said. And besides, the tiger was the cause of her death. So what matter if the beast clawed her to her doom or so frightened and shocked her that she died of heart failure? I shall make my report in that way. Also, I shall do my utmost to persuade Moore to have the beast killed.”
“He’ll never do that, Doctor,” West declared. “He feels his wife’s death very deeply but he has no rancor toward the tiger. He claims, and justly enough, that Bluebell has no reasoning powers, no knowledge of right and wrong, and so is in no way responsible for her deed.”
“But I happen to know,” Palmer went on pompously, “that a tiger who has once tasted human blood is ever after avid for a repetition of the experience. This makes Bluebell an exceptionally dangerous beast to possess.”
“I am positive, Doctor,” West returned, “that Mr Moore is entirely conversant with all such matters, and at any rate he will do just as he chooses about having the tiger killed. Personally, I do not think he will do so.”
“Nor I,” agreed Challis. “Are you going back to Forest Mead, Doctor, or shall Mr Stone and I toddle on?” And can we set you down, Doctor St. John?”
“I shall stay here for a bit,” Palmer said; “I have some tests to look after and so forth. Excuse me now, I am going to the laboratory.”
He stalked out of the room, with the air of a successful, but very preoccupied general, and George West laughed.
“Great old boy, Doc. Palmer,” he said. “And just what are you doing here, Mr Fleming Stone? To put Bluebell through a cross examination, and deduce exactly how she killed Mrs Moore, and why?”
“Something of the sort,” and Stone smiled. “I’m staying in North Adams, and came over this morning. This locality is one of my happiest hunting grounds.”
“Doc. Palmer was going to call a consultant from North Adams this morning,” West said, musingly; “then he concluded he could clear up things himself. And did.”
“An able man,” offered St. John. “I’ve known him many years. He has a large practice.”
“A little stuck on himself,” put in Challis, “but a dear old thing and devoted to the Moore family.”
“And now shall we go?” St. John asked. “I thank you for your invitation but I have my own car here. I just happened to be here on an errand.”
The three went down the stairs to the reception-room and George West disappeared to seek the mortician’s men. But in a moment he returned to ask Challis to go with him, and the two went off together.
In the reception-room, alone, the famous doctor and the famous detective looked at one another.
“Fine case I can see stretching out before me,” said Stone.
He spoke quietly, but the doctor seemed startled and gave him a sudden inquisitive look from his deep gray eyes.
“You saw, then? You understood?”
“Yes, Doctor St. John. Those spots on the larynx and trachea have a meaning—as you know.”
“Yes! You know a lot, Stone, for a layman! Perhaps you can name them?”
“Yes, petechial hemorrhages.”
“Oh, why mince matters? Proving she was dead when she was put into the cage.”
“Wait, my boy, not too fast. Couldn’t the tiger have smothered her?”
“No; because there are not sufficient bruises round her mouth and throat. But there are faint discolorations where a person would have held her tightly, and the spots prove it.”
“Doctor St. John, we can’t toss this thing aside lightly. Why did you say no word of dissent to Doctor Palmer’s conclusions?”
“It was none of my business. I had not been called in consultation, nor even been invited to attend the autopsy. I had no right to comment, unless my opinion was asked, which it most certainly was not.”
After a moment’s silence, Fleming Stone said;
“I have to see that body again, Doctor St. John. Would you mind going back there with me? For two reasons: I doubt if I’d be let in, without your ‘open sesame,’ and, too, I’d like your—er—companionship; which, being translated, means—help.”
“I’m glad to go with you. Yes, I can get you in.”
“And get everybody else out. I don’t want a long time, but I must see one or two things.”
They went upstairs again, and found the mortician’s men there.
With courteous but peremptory words, St. John put them out and calmly locked the doors.
The two agreed that the bruises, though faint, were discernible as from pressure of human hands.
Stone murmured, as if to himself, “someone held her closely and, using both hands, stifled her until her breath was gone. Held her in his left arm, and with his right hand closed her lips and nostrils, using his left hand for further force.”
St. John looked at him admiringly.
“Exactly right. How quick you are!”
“The murderer was quick. He must have acted like lightning. I say he because we have no interchangeable pronoun. It could, of course, have been a woman—nowadays they have strong hands, what with tennis, golf and all. But he is understood to mean either sex. Of course, I’m not drawing any deductions, or even thinking of them, yet. I want to see what there is to see here. Will you examine her eyes?” The doctor did so, and said:
“Pupils greatly contracted; reduced to pin-points. Corroborative, but after all the spots tell the story. The trachea and larynx, closely dotted with those small crimson and purple spots, the petechias, leave us no room for doubt. They look like fleabites, and are due to the extravasation of blood, but they spell— suffocation, as plain as print.”
“And you note that the scratches are all very light. They drew blood, to be sure, but not in large quantities.”
“And while her hair is tousled and tossed there are no scratches under it, as it would seem there must be had the tiger mauled her to death.”
“She put up a fight,” mused Stone, “or tried to. See, two of her long, pointed finger nails are broken off short—jaggedly, too. They are nails on her left hand, which may tell us something later.”
Fleming Stone scribbled hastily in a little notebook, using an abbreviated sort of shorthand which he had invented himself.
“Thank you, Doctor St. John,” he said, at last. “I’ve seen all I want to. You were indeed good to help me through. Now I’m going in search of the clothing. In the custody of a nurse or matron, likely.”
“I’ll ring for the matron,” and St. John pushed a button.
Then they let in the waiting men from the hall and themselves stepped outside the door.
A pleasant-faced woman appeared, a matron of middle age, and Stone told her what he wanted.
“Oh, yes,” she returned, “I have charge of Mrs Moore’s clothing. But I was told to let nobody see it.”
Doctor St. John assured her it was all right; assured her, also, of Fleming Stone’s authority, and bade her meet his wishes in future.
Satisfied, she took them to a small room and displayed the garments Marcia had worn.
The dainty lingerie seemed to possess no interest for Stone, but he closely scrutinized the gown.
It was of chiffon, a plainly made but very smart evening gown, with no trimming save ruchings of the material. These ruffles were torn to shreds in many places, and the whole dress was bedraggled and soiled.
Stone turned the garment one way and another, as if learning something from its sorry condition.
“All right,” he said, as he picked a tiny withered blossom from the rags and tried to disentangle a small wisp of green, “but where is her bag or vanity case or whatever she carried of that kind?—at least, a handkerchief.”
“I’ve seen nothing of the sort, sir,” said the matron; “nothing like that was brought here.”
“Very well, but her shoes—I’d greatly like to see them.”
The matron, Mrs Lennox, produced a pair of dainty silver brocade slippers, and Stone took them almost eagerly.
But after a brief glance he ceased to regard them, yet, still holding them, observed that he would take them away with him, and asked for a box or a bit of paper.
Mrs Lennox wrapped them up for him, including the pale colored silk stockings that she deemed should be with them, and gave the parcel to the detective.
Then the two men went down again to the reception-room and found Challis patiently awaiting them.
“Owen,” said Stone, abruptly, “why did you call me over here in such a hurry?”
“I can’t quite explain it to myself, Fleming. But I had a hunch, a queer feeling that there is something all wrong about this whole story. Where does—oh, well, I’ve nothing to say until after you speak. Big boy, isn’t he, Doctor?”
“He’s wonderful!” declared the famous physician. “If there is anything questionable about this affair, Mr Stone will find the answer.”
“Awfully glad you were here, sir,” Stone acknowledged; “your help as to that petechial matter is invaluable.”
“Call on me again if ever I can be of any service,” and with a civil good-by, the doctor left them.
“Does Moore know I’m coming?” asked Stone after they were in the car. “I’d like to know where I stand.”
“Oh, yes,” Challis reassured him, “I told Allan I should send for you. And he said do whatever I chose.”
“But why? Have you, or had you, any suspicion of anything or anybody, aside from the tiger?”
“Nothing definite, no. But there are wheels within wheels at Forest Mead, and—oh, well, I thought if you found things all right there’d be no harm done; and if anything is tricky I want you on the job.”
“Meaning you suspect someone of crime or attempted crime?”
“Not quite that. Say, rather, I suspect some situations to be questionable and I want you to do the questioning. You’ll like the place, and there’s a fine lot of visiting friends. Look ’em over well—God knows what you may find. I’m not keeping anything back from you, understand, but we can’t talk now. For the moment come over to the house. Allan will welcome you heartily, and the rest is up to you.”
Reaching Forest Mead, they found Allan upstairs in his den, and Doctor Palmer was with him.
Apparently, the doctor had not denied the general supposition that Marcia had been killed by the tiger and Allan was speaking of arrangements for the funeral.
Challis introduced Fleming Stone and Moore gave him a cordial greeting.
“Any friend of Owen’s is welcome here,” he said, conventionally, “and I am glad to know you personally—I’ve heard lots about you. And, I can tell you I’m mighty glad we don’t have to ask your advice professionally.”
“That’s just the point, Allan,” Challis broke in. “It is not a certainty that Marcia was killed by Bluebell.”
“What do you mean, Owen? That’s the very matter Palmer, here, has been looking into! Ask him.”
Both Challis and Stone looked at the now uncomfortable doctor.
“There is a doubt—” he said, stammering a little; “that is—well, it is a possibility that—and yet, at the same time—”
Challis smiled at him.
“What Doctor Palmer is trying to say,” he helped out, “is that there is a possibility that Marcia was dead when she entered the tiger’s cage.”
“What!” Allan interrupted, whirling round to face him, “what are you saying, Owen?”
Unheeding him, Challis turned to the doctor and spoke very seriously;
“Didn’t you notice, Doctor, the—the, what do you call it, Stone?”
For on the drive from the hospital the detective had told his friend of the discovery made by himself and Doctor St. John.
“Petechial hemorrhages. You saw them, Doctor Palmer?”
“Certainly. They mean suffocation. The tiger suffocated his victim with his great paws before clawing her to death. Or it may be that the beast killed her by suffocation, and then clawed her.”
“No,” said Stone, decidedly, “it was not that way. The marks on her face are the marks of human hands, not of a tiger’s claws. This is my conclusion, after a careful examination, and Doctor St. John thoroughly concurs in my decision. Do you not also agree, Doctor Palmer?”
Palmer looked both crestfallen and obstinate. “Since you have St. John’s opinion,” he said, “you don’t need mine. It is a matter that cannot be proved, and while I admit the possibility that Marcia was dead when she was put in the cage, it is by no means a certainty. Also, it is an absurd theory. The conclusion that the tiger killed her is borne out by the evidence, and the bruises on her mouth and chin that show suffocation are quite as likely to be the work of a brute beast as of a human being.”
“Besides,” said Allan, who was white and shaking, “who in the world would want to kill Marcia? She had no enemies, she was beloved by everybody —even Bluebell loved her, and if Bluebell killed her we can’t try and convict a wild beast, can we?”
“And if Bluebell didn’t kill her,” Stone asked gravely, “must we not try to find out who did?”
“I don’t know—” said Allan, distractedly. “Must we do that? Does it matter? We can’t bring her back to life.”
“Pull yourself together, old chap,” said Challis, looking at him, wonderingly. “Don’t talk like that.”
“Brace up, Allan,” said Palmer, taking a grip on his own nerves. “If Marcia was murdered—really murdered—we must get busy. I was honest in my diagnosis, but since St. John says murder, then murder it is.”
“You appreciated that it might be?” asked Challis, looking at him a little dubiously.
“Yes, yes—of course. But I hesitated to bring such a load of trouble to all these dear people just because it ‘might be.’ I am still convinced it was all the work of that snarling brute—”
“Bluebell isn’t a snarling brute,” Allan spoke evenly, “she is a good-tempered beast, and she never would have hurt Marcia except for some unknown and at present mysterious reason.”
Stone looked up. It was the first time he had heard Allan speak in such a quiet voice, and he began to have more respect for him.
“At any rate, Mr Moore,” he said, “the affair must be investigated. It must be reported to the police. The bare possibility of murder enforces that. Now, do you want me to take the case or not? Please be quite frank; Challis called me over—”
“Yes, yes—I know,” Moore interrupted, nervously. “He says you’re a wizard, and I’ve no doubt you are. Certainly, certainly—take the case. Do all you can—stop at nothing; spare no time, pains nor expense. If any man on God’s earth killed my Marcia, tell me, and I’ll settle with him—outside the law.”
“Don’t talk foolishness, Allan,” Challis advised. “We will find the man, but the law will take care of his punishment. As I understand it you give Mr Stone, then, carte blanche in every particular?”
“Yes, to be sure.” Allan spoke impatiently now. “Let him do whatever he likes—go wherever he pleases. But remember, Mr Fleming Stone, Eric Page is in no way mixed up in this matter.”
“Why do you mention him, then?” asked Stone, casually.
“Because he is the first suspect you will pick out. I know that. You will find reasons to suspect him, but he is absolutely innocent. He loved my wife, in a meek, doglike way he worshipped her, and I won’t have him tormented with questions.”
“Everyone of the household must be questioned, Mr Moore,” Stone told him.
Allan drew a deep sigh.
“Very well, then,” he said; “go about it your own way. You will, I daresay, call the county sheriff—”
“The State Troopers,” suggested Doctor Palmer.
“You are the one to do it, Doctor,” Stone told him. “Will you go to some other room for the purpose? I want to talk to Mr Moore a bit.”
“Shall I tell any of the household?” asked Challis.
“Certainly,” replied Moore, as the detective said nothing. “Tell Mrs Bond first, and ask her to give Mr Stone some decent rooms. But that’s Sheldon’s work. Well, tell Bond to tell him. And you tell Sara and Iris, and of course, Fraser and Reid. Let Pam pick it up; she will. Clear out, Owen, after all, I’m the one to talk to Mr Stone. Doctor Palmer, consult your own preference as to your movements, but leave me here with Stone for a time.”
Allan was unlike himself, and both Challis and the doctor glanced at him curiously as they left the room.
He then turned to Fleming Stone, with a slight sigh of relief.
“I’m glad to see you by yourself, Mr Stone,” he began; “now, tell me truly, do you feel certain my wife was killed by a human murderer?”
“Of course, Mr Moore, or I never should have said so. With no wish to seem to slight Doctor Palmer’s skill or judgment I feel that he deliberately blinded himself to the evidence he found in his autopsy. He is an old man, a long time friend of your family, and I think that, as he felt no good end could be achieved by suggesting murder, he preferred to take the benefit of the doubt and call it accident.” Allan Moore looked keenly at the speaker.
“Yes, yes,” he said, “that may well be so. But now, since St. John’s declaration, there can be no doubt of the truth?”
“None at all. It is imperative now that you report the case to the police. I shall work with them, if you care to have me—or against, if I find it necessary. Needless to say, if I proceed, I must have full sway in all matters of the investigation.”
“Yes—oh, yes.” Allan gave a deep sigh. “It is such a terrible thing anyway—my wife’s death, I mean; but to have a murder investigation makes it infinitely worse.”
“Yet you want to apprehend the criminal?”
“I—I suppose so. You see, I care so little who did it, and so much that it was done—”
“I know. You feel that way now, but soon you will react to the awfulness of the deed. Then you will want to know who was the criminal and why. Have you any notion of one who could wish her harm?”
“Not one—no. Several? perhaps yes.”
“You mean you can think of several people capable of having killed Mrs Moore!”
“Capable, certainly. But willing to do so? well, no, to that.”
“Mr Moore, I most assuredly decline to take up this case unless you are prepared to tell me with utmost frankness everyone you suspect, everything you know concerning it and every bit of evidence, direct or hearsay, that comes to your knowledge. Can you promise this?”
“I don’t see why not. As you say, we should know who was the murderer and he should be duly punished; but I have a fear of misplaced vengeance. I would far rather never know the truth than to attach the guilt to the wrong person. And I must insist that you remember my solemn statement that it was in no way the work of Eric Page.”
“Why do you insist so strongly on Page’s innocence?”
“Because he will be your suspect. He was devoted to my wife, in an humble, respectful way. He would have laid down his life for her, I verily believe. And he is a hard person to talk to. He is quite likely in his surly, resentful fashion to rouse suspicion against himself, or to deepen it if it is already roused against him.”
“A strange character?”
“Not quite that, but a morose, taciturn disposition, ready at all times to take offence, even though none is meant.”
“Very well, we’ll dismiss Page for the moment. What about the other servants?”
“Oh, Lord, Page isn’t a servant! He’s a skilled, experienced zoo-keeper; I couldn’t get along without him.”
“And that’s why you don’t want him suspected?”
“Of course. There’s no other reason. No, I can’t suspect any of the servants, or assistants. You see, there’s my secretary, West, and Marcia’s secretary, Miss Lamb—and Mrs Bond, the housekeeper.”
Fleming Stone was too experienced a detective to fail to note the faint flush that came to Allan’s cheek at the mention of Sara Lamb.
But he said only:
“Any more of these assistants?”
“Perhaps Sheldon. He’s the steward, and he’d hate to be called a servant. As for Foss, my valet, I don’t think he’d mind it, but he’s quite a peg above a servant, mentally. The butler and the staff are of course servants, and accept the name.”
“Then we come to your guests. Everybody who was in the house last night is automatically detained, pending inquiry.”
“They’re all house guests, two women and three men. Challis you know, the others will, of course, do as you tell them. Now, Mr Stone, I have pressing matters to attend to, and people that I must see. Can we not postpone further talk until later?”
“Yes, indeed; but one moment first. Tell me of your last sight of Mrs Moore.”
“Last evening we spent in the zoo, then came back and had some supper out on the terrace. We all went to our rooms fairly early—about midnight, I think. I went with my wife into her boudoir, and we were there something less than half an hour, when I bade her good night, left her, and we both retired.”
“Do you know that she retired?”
“Why—I suppose not; only it was the natural thing for her to do. Oh, you mean she must have gone downstairs again; yes—that, of course.”
“When she was discovered in the cage, had she on the same gown she had been wearing during the evening?”
“Yes, I think so. Ask the girls. But, yes, she wore that chiffon at dinner, I know.”
“Now, to get downstairs and into the zoo how must she have gone?”
“Either by the main staircase, or by a small private stair from the hall here, down to the ground floor. At any rate, she probably went through the tunnel to the zoo. Someone will show you the tunnel. Ask Challis all these things, or Sheldon. I—I can’t bring myself to act as cicerone.”
“And small wonder,” said Stone sympathetically, and the two men separated.
The detective wandered along the hall, down the stairs and out at the front door. He saw no one as he went but going on around the corner of the house he came upon a girl, sitting on the verandah railing.
“Hullo,” she said, smiling at him, “and who may you be?”
The small, piquant face, and the alert, even nervous, air betokened a suppressed excitement, and Fleming Stone walked warily.
“I’m a guest of the house,” he smiled in return; “are you? If so, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Acquaintances, as yet,” said Pamela, primly. “I am Miss Brett, and something tells me you’re a detective.”
“Fleming Stone, yes. You know of the tragedy, then?”
“What made you think I didn’t? Yes, I know—but they’ve all gone and shut themselves up in the library, and won’t let me in. I think it’s an outrage!”
“Never mind, they haven’t asked me in, either. Let’s talk it over by ourselves.”
“Yes, we will.” Pamela seemed suddenly more grown up, and she led the way to a sheltered nook where there was a settee.
“How much do you know?” asked Stone as they sat down.
“Very little,” she replied. “You see, they all think I’m a kid—pooh, I know more than they think!”
“You must tell it all to me,” Stone declared, “but first, let me advise you to tell the exact truth. It’s so much better for all concerned.”
“Why did you think I meant to fib?” Pamela’s big, dark eyes were questioning, but in no way impertinent or mischievous.
“Because you said you knew very little and immediately after said you knew more than they thought.”
“Well, all I know is that Marcia is dead, and that somebody killed her—I mean some person, not the tiger.”
“How did you learn that?”
“I listened at the library door. But Jo-jo came along, and I had to move on.”
“Joseph, the butler. He’s fond of me, so I don’t like to have him think I’d eavesdrop.”
“But you would?”
“Every time I get a chance. Do you want me to keep at it, and report to you? I’m a first-class eavesdropper.”
“I won’t go so far as to engage you, but if you hear anything important I’d be glad to know of it.”
Stone spoke unsmilingly, and Pamela understood. “It’s a case of ‘All fair in love and war,’ I suppose.”
“It’s more than that. It’s a grave matter, and I fear a complicated one. I shall, of course, question everybody in the house, but I wish you’d give me a few points now. Do you know of anyone who is secretly pleased at the death of Mrs Moore?”
”You mean love affairs?”
“Affairs of any kind.”
“Well, of course, Iris must be glad—in a way.”
“In what way?”
“You see, Iris is terribly in love with Allan; she was, before he married Marcia.”
“Would she go so far as to remove Mrs Moore from her path?”
Pam looked up at him quickly, but she saw such a serious expression on Stone’s thoughtful face that she answered straightforwardly;
“I can’t think she would. But if somebody did kill Marcia, Iris is your most likely suspect.”
“You read detective stories?”
“I don’t have to. The others all do, and they’re all the time talking about them. I get the babble. I know that clues are all out and vital evidence is the thing now.”
“You’ve no vital evidence in this matter, have you?”
“No, because they won’t let me in on their confab. Truly, Mr Stone, I’m not a fool, you know. It isn’t my fault if I happen to be only seventeen. And that isn’t so terribly young. But it’s young for one who thinks as much as I do.”
Pamela’s deep sigh over her misunderstood youth did not cause Stone amusement; on the contrary, he thought he had found a worthwhile ally.
“And just who is Iris?” he asked quietly.
“Iris Beverly. She was a great friend of Marcia’s, though Allan knew her long before he knew Marcia. Some say Marcia cut Iris out—”
“Yet they were friends?”
“Oh, well, you know what women are. Iris visits here often, because she’s still so fond of Allan.”
”And he cares for her?”
“Not so you’d notice it. But—you never can tell.”
”Could Mr Moore be concerned in his wife’s death?”
“Good heavens, no! And yet—oh, anything is possible, isn’t it? I’ll have to think this thing over. I’m glad I met up with you. Now, you go away for a while and leave me to think. I’ll begin to see through things, I verily believe!”
“I’d rather talk more to you. You see, I want to get various viewpoints.”
“You’ll get viewpoints enough, and you bet they’ll be various! You don’t know the crowd here?”
“Only Mr Challis and Mr Moore.”
“Well, there aren’t so many of us, but we’re a hectic lot. Everybody is in love with somebody he or she oughtn’t to be in love with.” Pamela suddenly stared at her interested audience. “Why,” she exclaimed, “if anybody here did do it, or had a hand in it, that would make it a crime passionel, wouldn’t it?”
“You said you knew the jargon, the babble, I believe you do. Who is in love with you?”
“Nobody but Andy Fraser; he’s a nice boy. And I’m in love with Carleton Reid; he’s an artist and so am I. We paint the animals.”
“There are many?”
“It’s quite large, for a private zoo. You haven’t seen it? Want me to take you there?”
As a matter of fact, Stone wanted to get in touch with the older members of the household, and he wondered that he was not called to attend their conclave. But at the same time he felt he was getting general information from this attractive youngster and, too, he must visit the scene of the tragedy. Willingly, therefore, he accepted the invitation, and the two crossed the lawn to the beautiful building that housed the animals.
“What an odd hobby,” Stone said. “Does Mr Moore care for the brutes personally, or as a collection?”
“Oh, personally,” returned Pam. “They are almost persons to him. Be careful to consider them as such. Page, the keeper, feels the same way about them.”
Eric met them at the door, greeted Stone politely, if not cordially, and, turning back to his work, left Pamela to do the showing off.
But the detective took small interest in any but the tigress.
Bluebell, crouched in the corner of her cage, was disinclined to accept Pamela’s overtures and seemed to resent them.
“Get up, Bluebell,” Pam said; “show yourself off to Mr Stone. Come, Bluebell, here’s a flower.”
She took a blossom from her belt and pushed it between the bars.
The great, beautiful beast rose slowly, crossed the cage with utmost dignity and began to paw the flower.
Then suddenly she started, seemed frightened or excited and went tearing round and round the cage.
Eric came at once, said sternly, “You didn’t stir her up, Miss Pam?”
“No, Eric, I only threw her that rather wilted rose.”
The keeper drew out the rose and examined it.
“Nothing to it, Eric. A fresh rose, I picked it half an hour ago.”
“Seems so, Miss. Guess I’ll have to ask you folks to leave Bluebell alone for to-day. She’s nervous yet.”
“She’s not only nervous, Page, she’s artificially stirred up,” Stone said, with a curious glance at the tiger.
Page stared at him. “You know beasts, sir?” he asked.
“Not scientifically. But I know enough to realize that Bluebell is under the influence of a stimulant of some sort.”
“Oh, I know,” Pam cried. “Last night Marcia kept waving a catnip-ball at her.”
Eric nodded his head. “I thought as much. Mrs Moore was always up to mischief. Not that I’d hint ill of her,” he added, turning to Fleming Stone, “but she was that merry, you know, she loved to get Bluebell merry, too.”
“But,” objected Stone, “that whiff of catnip couldn’t affect Bluebell for more than an hour at most.”
“Right, sir,” and Eric looked at the detective with a new interest. “You do know about them! Give her a good look, please, sir. I can’t quite get it. And Mr Moore takes no interest—”
“Isn’t he going to have her shot?” exclaimed Pamela. “Is he going to keep her after—after—”
”But she didn’t kill Mrs Moore, you know.”
”Oh, I don’t know! How can anybody know—for sure? Eric, do you believe Marcia was dead when she was put in Bluebell’s cage?”
“It’s not for me to say, Miss Pam.”
“You’ll have to say when you’re asked by the authorities,” Stone suggested.
“Time enough then, sir. But as a man who knows of a tiger’s ways, wouldn’t you say Bluebell had had something more than catnip to make her act up so?”
”Between you and me, Page, yes. But really, I haven’t expert knowledge, and if anything happened to Bluebell that we don’t know of it will be difficult to ferret it out. If Mrs Moore was murdered it is an amazing crime. So amazing, in fact, that it ought to be simple of solution.”
“Yes,” and Pamela wagged her head, sagaciously, “the more bizarre the crime, the simpler of solution. That’s in all the story-books.”
“This crime isn’t bizarre,” Stone said, “but it’s diabolically clever!”
Returning to the house Stone found the butler trying to get the police station at Arden, the tiny village near by.
Apparently the police, if any, had no station, and the bored underling who was saying so abruptly left off and the connection was broken.
The patient Joseph made another attempt but with no better result, and Fleming Stone took the instrument and informed his hearer in no uncertain terms that he would be wise to attend to his business. But this resulted only in a suggestion that Mr Stone call the Traffic Manager, no assistance in which course was volunteered.
A call as directed, brought the information that the Traffic Manager was not in just then, and could a message be left?
“Yes,” said Stone, calmly, “tell him there’s a murder-case here, and he’s to send some State Troopers or other assistance at once.”
A laconic promise to do this was given and the matter was closed for the moment.
Allan, looking a bit bewildered, came to Stone and grasping him by the arm, said, “Come along, we’re all waiting for you. What have you found out?”
“That the police up here are rather derelict. Where do you want me to go?”
“Come along to the library. I say, Mr Stone, do get things on a bit, can’t you? The women are getting hysterical, and the men worse. I can’t stand much more of it.”
“Now, Mr Moore,” said Stone, in his matter-of-fact way, “drop that nervousness and excitement. You have a tragedy to face; don’t let yourself go to pieces on its insignificant details. We’ll get the police directly, and they’ll take over the routine work. You’ve enough to do to consider the actual facts of the murder.”
“What are they? Who did it?”
The question was left unanswered, as they stepped into the library.
Some had left the room but there were several still there and a general introduction followed.
The house-party had been augmented by two neighbors, who had come to call and offer help.
Pamela, who was present, made a dash for Stone and handed him a folded paper, saying; “Somebody left that for you.”
With an inclusive nod of apology, Stone quickly scanned the few words and slipped the paper into his pocket. It had read: “The Kent man was terribly in love with Marcia. Pam.”
The Kent man was Tony Kent, one of the two neighbors within walking distance of Forest Mead. Stone soon learned that he was a naturalist and a lover of animals, with a deep interest in the zoo. He was a fair-haired, well-set-up chap, with a sunny smile and pleasant manner.
The other neighbor, Foster Pollock, was less attractive, Stone thought, but seemed to be better poised and of a higher intelligence. He was a dark, good-looking man, with large brown eyes, one of which showed a very slight cast. He was a amateur aviator, and though well-mannered, he seemed, Stone thought, rather as if he were making a duty call and was anxious to get away.
Iris Beverly assumed the role of hostess, to which gesture Moore paid slight attention.
Sara Lamb, though most unobtrusive, was definitely present, and Stone covertly watched Allan’s attitude toward the girl. He noted little, however; for the man was so worried and bothered that he was scarcely responsible for his own actions. It was not like Allan Moore to lose his poise to the slightest degree, but he had never had such a reason therefor.
It soon became apparent to Stone that the group before him were waiting for his declaration or whatever form of address he proposed to make. Grasping the welcome opportunity, he said, quietly;
“Called here by Mr Moore, through my friend, Mr Challis, I am asked to investigate the tragic death of Mrs Moore, and to discover, if possible, who is responsible for it. It is a case, to my mind, that requires instant attention or I would wait for the arrival of the police. But whatever I do will later be detailed to them, and they, of course, will be the supreme authority.”
“If you can get ’em,” said Tony Kent. “They’re pretty scarce around here.”
“And first,” Stone went on, “there must be, of course, a direct questioning of all who were in this house last night. It is my custom to confer with each one separately, so I will ask you all to leave this room and remain in calling distance. I will begin with Mr Moore himself, and at once.”
But just then Joseph appeared to say that the Traffic Manager of the station at Arden was on the wire.
Stone went to talk to him, but the result was only the information that Arden had no police and the matter must be referred to North Adams. Whereupon that town was called, but a prolonged discussion disclosed that the farm of Forest Mead was not in its jurisdiction, and the State Police must be advised.
Fleming Stone refused to give up any more of his valuable time and turned the matter over to George West, who took over the telephone.
Stone returning to the library found only Moore there, and he was a bit peevish.
“Seems to me,” he said to the detective, “it’s unnecessary for you to quiz me again.”
“Perhaps so,” said Stone, amiably. “But just a few questions now. Who are all these people? Two neighbors?”
“Friends of ours. Kent, an animal lover, Pollock, an aviator.”
“You like the men?”
“Oh, yes. We don’t see much of them. To dinner, once in a while, or informal visits now and then.”
”Did Mrs Moore like them?”
“Oh, Lord, I suppose somebody’s been telling you Kent was in love with my wife. That Pamela, for choice! Well, he may have been, probably was, but she didn’t care two straws for him.”
“And the other one, Pollock?”
“Another neighbor. A good sort, easy-going somewhat taciturn fellow. I like him better than Marcia did, but we rarely saw him. If you’re looking for suspects you can cross them both off. You’ll find the others will all say the same.”
“So you’ve crossed off Eric Page and these two neighbors. To cut it short, is there anyone you do suspect?”
Allan Moore hesitated. He looked embarrassed but, more than that, he looked deeply anxious, a little alarmed and altogether uncomfortable.”
“No,” he said, at last, “no, there is not.”
“And you wouldn’t tell me if there were,” Stone said to himself. But aloud, he said; “Then we must seek our suspects from some other source.”
“And be mighty careful about it, Mr Stone. I don’t propose having my guests suspected of having murdered my wife.”
“You believe that she was murdered?”
“I have to, after Doctor St. John’s decision—and your own.”
“Then we come back to your household. You have several people here who are not ordinary servants—”
”If you mean Sara Lamb or George West, stop where you are. Those are our two secretaries, and truer, more loyal hearts never beat.”
“Your higher servants, then? Mrs Bond, Mr Sheldon, Foss, Joseph—”
“Not one of those would ever harm a hair of Marcia’s head. I don’t know who would, Mr Stone —that’s for you to find out. But cut out the servants, please. They are trustworthy indeed, that is, the principals. And the underlings are not allowed much freedom of movement. What are you looking for? An assassin?”
“At heart, yes. This was, of course, a premeditated crime. Mrs Moore could not have suffocated herself—and, by the way, don’t confound suffocation with strangulation—they are quite different. Then, if Mrs Moore left her room after you two had said good night, she must have gone downstairs again, presumably of her own accord.”
“Of her own accord—yes, I suppose so; but why?”
”That’s the point. You have no idea?”
“She was not, well, interested in any man?”
Allan laughed. “My Marcia? No! We were all-in-all to each other. I am not the sort of man to be fooled by a woman and my wife was the truest, dearest, sweetest of women.”
“But full of mischief?”
“Innocent mischief, yes.”
“Well, Mr Moore, I think I needn’t detain you longer. Will you ask Mrs Bond to come next?”
Moore went away without a further word. Challis looked in and as Fleming Stone saw him, he asked him to sit down.
“I think I’d rather have you here, Owen. As a witness, you know. The affair seems complicated. Is Moore a truthful sort?”
“Oh, well, about like other people. If he wants to mislead you as to Marcia’s death he’ll probably do so.”
“I think that’s what he wants.”
Mrs Bond entered. It is impossible to say she came in, as her appearance was of the greatest dignity and even condescension. She was tall and slender, somewhat mid-Victorian in manner and dress, and with unassailable poise and presence.
“You wish to see me?” she said, with a disinterested glance at Stone.
“Yes, please,” Stone returned, with equal nonchalance. “Will you sit there?”
He indicated a chair facing a strong light, and the housekeeper accepted it.
“I am busy this morning, Mrs Bond, so, will you please tell me briefly, what you know of Mrs Moore’s movements last evening?”
“Nothing at all, sir. I last saw her as she left the dinner table.”
“You did not see her during the evening?”
“Not at all. And as my room is in the other wing from hers I had no opportunity of a chance glimpse of her.”
“I see. Now, who on the staff did see her, during the evening?”
“After they came back from the zoo?”
“Only Joseph and one or two footmen, and of course a couple of maids in the pantry. He will tell you that.”
“What about Mrs Moore’s own maid?”
“Last night was her evening off. She didn’t attend on Mrs Moore after dinner at all. Those were her orders.”
“Now, Mrs Bond, in your opinion was Mrs Moore taken by anyone with evil intent to the zoo, or, did she go of her own accord?”
“That’s a very difficult question, Mr Stone. In my opinion, however, she went of her own accord.”
”Whatever for?” exclaimed Owen Challis.
“Her love of mischief,” said Mrs Bond, seriously. “She adored Bluebell, and the tigress loved her, but if Mrs Moore gave the beast a whiff of catnip it made her frisk about and made Mrs Moore laugh herself into fits.”
“No, Mrs Bond, that isn’t the way of it,” Stone told her. “Mrs. Moore was killed before she was put into the tiger’s cage.”
“Oh, no!” the housekeeper cried, “that couldn’t be!”
“Yes, that’s what happened. Now, Mrs Bond, who is your suspect?”
Overcome by this new horror, Mrs Bond could scarcely control her voice enough to speak.
“You mean who killed her, and then put her in the tiger’s cage? Why, nobody could do a thing like that!”
“Yet it was done. Now who would have the will to do it?”
Calmed and even awed by Stone’s firm, impressive tones, the housekeeper managed to pull herself together.
“Could it have been a woman?” she asked, almost in a whisper.
“It could,” Stone returned, “though hardly likely. In that case who is in your mind?”
“Miss Beverly, of course.” The voice was very low, but the words were distinct.
“Be careful, Mrs Bond,” Stone warned her; “you are making a grave accusation. Have you reason to think it is a true one?”
“Mr Stone, I am an observant woman. I keep my own counsel, to be sure, but I can’t help seeing what goes on under my very nose. Miss Beverly is crazy over Mr Moore. She knew him before Mrs Moore did, and has always been desperately jealous. I can scarcely imagine her committing such a fearful crime, but I do know she would most willingly do anything to sweep Mrs Moore from her path. Mark my word, she will soon marry Mr Moore.”
“Oh, I say now, Mrs Bond,” interposed Challis; “I think you’re going too far—too fast, anyway. Iris Beverly couldn’t have done it, to begin with—”
”Why not?” cried the woman. “Tell me more details. Was Mrs Moore shot? Why did nobody hear it? Was she stabbed?”
“No,” Stone told her, “she was suffocated, and then put into Bluebell’s cage. Bluebell didn’t kill her, though the beast mauled her about a bit.”
“Not meaning any harm,” Mrs Bond declared. “Well, if that’s all true, then hunt down that evil woman—that viper with a heart of flint!”
“You may go now, Mrs Bond,” Stone said; “but do not repeat this conversation to anyone, not to anyone at all. In fact, it will go hard with you if you do. Were Mrs Moore and Miss Beverly friendly?”
”Outwardly, yes. But Mrs Moore was very jealous, and Miss Beverly loved to make her more so.”
Dismissed by Stone’s nod, she left the room and almost ran into Iris Beverly.
Without glancing at the housekeeper, Iris went on in and asked the detective if he wouldn’t take her on next.
“Yes, since you are here; but I prefer for you all to come as you are summoned. Sit there, please. Close the door, Owen. Now, Miss Beverly, these interviews are merely preliminary and must be short. You are a friend of Mr or Mrs Moore?”
“Of both,” said Iris, glibly. “I knew Mr Moore before he was married, and I have known Mrs Moore ever since that event.”
“You are, or were, friendly with both?”
“But of course. The crowd are all friends, aren’t we, Owen?”
“Yes,” Challis said, laconically.
“And what do you think made Mrs Moore go out to the zoo after she said good night to you, last night?”
“To play with that wild beast, of course. Marcia was crazy about the tiger, and the brute seemed to like her. But Marcia would play tricks with Bluebell, and she just about ruined all the fine work Eric had done in training. But is it true that Bluebell didn’t kill her? That she was dead when she was put into the cage?”
Iris was excited now. Her breast heaved, her face was flushed and eager, and she impatiently awaited a reply.
“Yes, that is true. Can you conceive of anyone wanting to kill that lovely woman?”
“Lovelier women than Marcia Moore have been killed.”
Iris’ long, greenish eyes took on a mournful gaze as she looked at Stone. She was wearing a plain black gown, far more becoming to her than the bright colors she loved and usually wore. Dangling jet earrings hung against her white neck, and she carried a huge white chiffon handkerchief edged with black lace. Her very red lips and crimson finger nails gave a touch of the bizarre, and though far from being attractive to all Iris Beverly had a fascination for some that was almost diabolical.
It was an open secret that she did her utmost to exert this fascination on Allan, and though Marcia had resented it it was looked upon with tolerance by most of the others.
But here, in the strong light in which Stone had chosen to place her, her charm was lessened. It needed a more artificial atmosphere to make it potent.
“Of course,” the detective went on, “but you have not answered my question.”
“Which is the same as asking me who I think killed her.”
“Shall I speak right out, or hedge?”
“Right out, please.”
“Well, then, Sara Lamb, of course.”
“Why of course?”
“Because she is madly in love with Allan.”
“But so are you.”
Iris favored him with a stare, and then let it break into a smile.
“Now, how did you know that? I thought no one knew it but myself—and Allan, of course.”
“So you and Miss Lamb are both in love with your host?”
“Yes, but that’s nothing shocking nowadays. And anyway, I wouldn’t be so silly as to kill his wife in the hope of winning him for myself! That would be too foolish!”
“But you think Miss Lamb might?”
“How can I tell?” Iris shrugged her shoulders. “No, I shouldn’t think so, but there’s certainly no one else in the lot who would.”
“None of the men?”
“Only Owen, there—he might.”
“Why? With what motive?”
“Oh, I don’t know. If you had the motive you’d have the criminal, wouldn’t you?”
“You’re talking idly, Miss Beverly. Have you any real reason for mention of Mr Challis in this connection?”
“Not the slightest, but he is here to defend himself, and the others aren’t.”
“Iris, you’re simply silly,” Challis said. “Never mind suspects, have you any knowledge of what Marcia did or meant to do after she left us all last night?”
“No, indeed. What did she do? Went out to see Bluebell, I suppose. And then, did she meet somebody there, or what? Reconstruct the crime for me, Mr Stone, won’t you?”
“She must have gone out there, or been taken out there, and killed, and placed in the cage with the tiger. That is all we know? What can you tell me, Miss Beverly, about the people in the house—not the guests—the secretaries and such?”
“Why Sara Lamb is—was—Marcia’s secretary. She’s your best card. George West, Allan’s secretary, was, of course, in love with Marcia, but that doesn’t make sense. He ought to have killed Allan. It complicates things, having Marcia killed. Why do you think a woman did it? Why not a man?”
“Good gracious, Iris, you suggested a woman—”
”Keep still, Owen,” Stone begged; “Miss Beverly didn’t suggest a woman, that was Mrs Bond’s idea.” As he spoke he watched Iris.
She flared up at once.
“Oho, so Mrs Bond suspects a woman, does she? Does she! Well, it isn’t hard to guess her suspect. It is, without doubt, my honorable self. ‘Yes,’ says Mrs Bond, probably stuttering and stammering, ‘Miss Beverly done it, she is the criminal.’”
Her imitation of the housekeeper’s speech was funny but Stone did not smile. “Where were you at the time, Miss Beverly?” he asked.
“At what time?”
“It is declared by the doctors that Mrs Moore died at about two o’clock.”
“Two o’clock? I was in bed, of course. Not asleep, I am bothered with insomnia, but in my room, locked in.”
“You heard no unusual sound?”
“Nothing but the ordinary night sounds.”
“A breeze rustling the ivy, an owl, or some night bird, a possible bat—”
“No sounds in the house?”
“Those I mostly imagine. I often think I hear footsteps or someone breathing heavily, but it always is imagination.”
“Did you imagine any last night?”
“Yes, I thought I heard someone going downstairs, but I can’t say surely that I did.”
“I think I have all the information you can give me, Miss Beverly,” said Fleming Stone, his manner courteous and bland, as he rose to dismiss her.
“All right, Mr Stone, call me back if you want anything more. But you look into the case of Sara Lamb, and remember she is not the amiable child she appears to be.”
“Hateful thing!” said Challis, as he closed the door after Iris.
“Mannerisms,” vouchsafed Stone. “She knows more than she said. And she has nothing definite against Miss Lamb. Merely jealousy and bad temper. It is going to be a hard pull, Owen. To be honest, I see very little light, so far.”
Sara Lamb came next.
To put her at her ease Stone dismissed Challis and spoke gently and in a matter-of-fact way.
But this was clearly perceived by the astute Sara, and she said, wearily; “Don’t baby me, Mr Stone; I am miserable, but I will tell you anything I can,”
”Very well, Miss Lamb. Then, who were Mrs Moore’s enemies?”
“There could be no one in the world, Mr Stone, who could hate that lovely woman. She was an angel of goodness and—”
“But she was a piece of mischief?”
“Oh, merely foolish, innocent mischief. Such as a schoolgirl might do.”
“She loved to stir up the animals.”
“Not the animals, only Bluebell. But Bluebell loved her—”
“Don’t waste time on the tigress, Miss Lamb. You know of course that someone killed Mrs Moore, before she was put into the tiger’s cage. Who could have done it?”
“How was she killed?” Sara looked at him thoughtfully.
“She was suffocated, by strong, powerful hands, that held her nostrils tightly, and held her mouth shut. She could not breathe, she was suffocated, and afterward placed in the cage of the tiger, with the intention that it would be assumed the tiger caused her death.”
As the detective talked, in a low, steady voice, ever gaining in dramatic intensity, Sara Lamb shuddered, paled, and half rose, twisting her fingers together in a dumb agony.
“Stop!” she cried out, “I cannot bear it. Who? —nobody could do that to Mrs Moore! That dear woman, that beautiful—”
“Might it have been her husband who did it?” Stone spoke in a half whisper, “her husband, who perhaps didn’t love her as others thought he did— but who loved another—another and a younger—” Sara Lamb gave a shriek, wild and despairing albeit of a low tone, and racing to the door, she opened it and fled down the long hall.
George West, appearing, reported that he had finally tracked down the State Police and had received the information that there was nobody available at the moment but that the matter would be attended to as soon as possible, say, in a couple of hours or so.
Andy Fraser was called and he was not an amenable witness. He seemed to resent Stone’s presence and even to doubt his authority.
“I don’t mind so much, if you get anywhere,” he said frankly and with a good-natured smile; “but as a rule I class private detectives with interior decorators. They don’t do much, but what they do they do wrong.”
“Your opinions don’t interest me enough to resent them, Mr Fraser,” Stone said, with a slight smile. “I only want a few words from you, regarding last evening. Did you notice anything that would cast any light on the mystery of Mrs Moore’s death?”
Stone ignored the rude manner and speech. He liked Andy, as everybody did, and he knew the man was anxious and worried.
“You see, Mr Fraser, we have a peculiar situation, Mrs Moore was killed and then put into the cage with the tiger.”
“You have mighty little proof of that; merely those blood specks—or whatever they are.”
“But those are, to a physician, proof positive, and may not be contradicted by a layman.”
“Meaning somebody in the house strangled Marcia and then put her in the cage to throw the blame on the tiger.”
“That’s how it looks at present. As the outer door of the zoo is fastened with a spring lock, which this morning was found undisturbed, no outsider could have entered the zoo. Whoever was there with the lady came through the tunnel.”
“Unless she went down there herself, and then let him in.”
“Granting that possibility it is unlikely she would let in anyone who was of intent to kill her. What it looks like is a tryst with somebody. Were it not for the suffocation it would seem as if she just went down there by herself, to play with the tiger.”
“What Stone wants, Andy,” Challis said, “is for you to suggest someone who went with Marcia, or followed and joined her in the zoo.”
“Someone who wanted to bring about her death?” Fraser queried.
“Someone who did bring about her death whether he went there with that intent or not,” Stone suggested. “They may have quarrelled.”
“Well, sir,” Andy burst out suddenly, “I don’t see why you assume a lover. Folks have died and worms have eaten ’em for other reasons beside love. As I see it, the fellow that killed Marcia is the one who’s going to profit by her death.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Challis, “Reid!”
“Reid, certainly,” Andy agreed. “He is her heir, Mr Stone, and, incidentally, her cousin.”
“Why is he here?”
“He’s an artist, a good one. He paints the animals and sells his pictures. But of course his market has fallen off under present conditions, and, oh, well, there’s a motive, that’s all.”
“And a darn good motive, too,” Challis declared. “I mean a plausible theory. Carleton is a sly chap— I’ve often noticed that. Allan has so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it, and Marcia has quite a bit. And hers is mostly all willed to Reid. There’s your case, Mr Stone.”
“Maybe and maybe not,” said the detective. “It is a way to look, I grant. They were friends?”
“Oh, yes,” Andy said, “chummy and all that. Sort of took each other for granted.”
“Not in love?”
“Lord, no. Marcia was a mischievous hoyden but not a love-maker. She and Allan were devoted, and though Allan sometimes let his glances stray, she never did. Right, Challis?”
“Very well,” Stone said; “you may go, Mr Fraser, and please send Mr Reid along.”
When Carleton Reid came, Pamela was with him. “You can just as well take us together,” she told Stone. “We don’t either of us know anything about the matter, but we’ll answer questions, if any.”
“Very well,” Stone nodded, absent-mindedly. “You’re a relative, Mr Reid?”
“Yes, a first cousin. Marcia left me a bequest in her will. You’ll probably say I killed her to get the money, but I didn’t.”
“If you didn’t, that’s all right,” Stone assured him. “But I’m only forestalling the police when I ask you if you have any witness or corroboration to help prove your statement.”
“Alibi, is it? Nothing, except that I was in bed and asleep at the time Marcia is supposed to have been killed. Nobody can verify that, I suppose, but if nobody saw me outside my own room I ought to have the benefit of the doubt.”
“What does that mean?” Pamela asked.
“It means,” Reid informed her, “that if anybody thinks I left my room and went down to the zoo to meet Marcia he will have to offer some proof of the kind the detective stories call incontrovertible.”
“Gracious! what a word! Well, I can offer said proof,” and Pamela shook her Dutch bobbed dark hair; “I saw you go downstairs myself.”
“Tell me about it,” said Stone, concealing the interest he felt.
“Look out there, Pam,” Owen Challis said, “you know you have a reputation for tarradiddles. Don’t try to work off any now.”
“Not much, old dear. I’m on my word of honor. It was this way, Mr Stone. I went upstairs with the crowd, and went to my room. I was fussing about when I realized I’d left my bag downstairs and as it had in it a love letter that I wouldn’t have seen for worlds I started down to get it. I had on my best lounging pajamas, and I rather hoped I’d meet somebody for a word or two of merry chat, but I just missed our Carleton. He was coming upstairs as I went out of my door, and he must have seen me, yet he whisked around the corner of the corridor and disappeared like a streak.”
“How was he dressed?” asked Stone.
“In the same rig he wore at dinner. What did you go downstairs for, Carl?”
“Some paint-brushes that I’d left down and I didn’t want them to stiffen over night.”
“Where were they?” pursued Pam. “You didn’t have them in your hand.”
“I washed them in the butler’s pantry and left them there to dry. Mr Stone, I’m here to answer your questions, not Miss Brett’s.”
“When did you get your brushes again, Mr Carleton?”
“Not at all. This morning, when I heard about Marcia, I wasn’t paying much attention to my painting outfit.”
“And what time was it when you went down for your brushes?”
“I haven’t the least idea. I never know the time.”
“Do you know what time it was, Miss Brett?” Pamela looked wise.
“I didn’t look at my watch,” she said, “because it wasn’t going. It mostly never is. But we came upstairs about one o’clock—”
“Nonsense, Pam. We came up at midnight.” This from Challis. “Don’t you remember, Marcia said it was late?”
“That’s odd in itself,” Reid put in. “Midnight isn’t late for Marcia, nor for any of us. I don’t get that. Well, anyway, we all came up together. I was looking over my paintbox, and I remembered those brushes. So I went down.”
“Where had you left them?” asked Stone.
“In the zoo, where I was painting in the early afternoon.”
“In the zoo!” Pamela cried out. “Then you saw Marcia! Then you know all about it!”
“Keep quiet, Pam,” Reid admonished. “Of course I didn’t see Marcia. This must have been about one o’clock. Marcia couldn’t have gone down then. There was no sign of her.”
“You put on the lights in the zoo?” asked Stone.
“I—er—no. I had a tiny flash light, which I always carry in my pocket.”
“May I see it?”
Reid stared, flushed, and then said:
“I mean I carry it at night, if—when, I’m likely to want it. It’s up in my room. Shall I get it?”
“Not now, no. Then, I take it, Mr Reid, you saw no one as you went downstairs, went to the zoo, came back again, and as you reached the head of the stairs you saw Miss Brett.”
“I didn’t see Miss Brett.”
“Oh, Carleton, you must have!” Pamela exclaimed. “You looked straight at me and then scooted.”
“I saw somebody moving in the dim light, but I didn’t see who it was, and I went on to my room.”
Reid’s account was clear enough, he told a straightforward story; but so agitated was his manner, so tremulous his mouth, that he failed to carry complete conviction.
“Think again, please, Mr Reid,” Stone said, not unkindly, “much may depend on this. You’re sure you saw no one and heard no one in any room, hall or corridor, with the possible exception of Miss Brett?”
“Sure,” said Reid, carelessly, and with seeming lack of interest.
“You are anxious to learn the identity of your cousin’s murderer?”
“If you put it that way, yes, of course. But I am not sure she was murdered. Doctors frequently give a mistaken diagnosis. And Marcia was quite capable of getting in the cage with Bluebell herself—I’ve known her to do it.”
“Oh, Carl,” Pamela cried, “not really! I never heard of her doing that, did you, Owen?”
“No,” and Challis shook his head.
“Well, she has,” reiterated Reid, “she was a headstrong piece and stopped at nothing. I often told Allan she’d come to grief some day, monkeying with the brutes.”
“And in the zoo,” went on Stone, “you saw no one?”
“Did the animals make no sound?”
“Not that I noticed. You see they know me, I’m there so often painting them.”
“And you picked up your brushes—where were they?”
“In Eric’s wash-room. I left them there in a jug of water.”
“Mrs Moore couldn’t have been there when you were? Hidden, say, behind the cages.”
“Oh, she could have, I suppose. But why should she? That seems a fantastic suggestion.”
“The whole affair seems fantastic,” Stone said, gravely. “We have to pick out the seemingly fantastic from the grim truth. You can give me no nearer idea of the time, Mr Reid?”
“Sorry, but I can’t. You know, yourself, when you’re not thinking about the time it goes by unnoticed. At any rate I did not see my cousin or any one else during my absence from my room. Can I tell you anything more, Mr Stone?”
“Not just now. Or, stay; yes, suppose you tell me whom you suspect, if anyone.”
“H’m. Shall I tell the truth or hedge?”
“Oh, better tell the truth, I’d say.”
“Well, suspect is too strong a word, but I have a queer feeling that Allan himself may be the man you are after.”
“Mr Moore! Is this a hunch, or have you reason for your statement?”
“It isn’t a statement. It’s more like a psychic bid.”
“Meaning by that?”
“Meaning that Allan was exceedingly put out when Marcia teased the animals, that he was raging at her when she gave catnip to Bluebell, that he had an awful temper—”
“But he loved his wife, Mr Reid,” Stone said, with an air of intense surprise.
“‘And each man kills the thing he loves,’ to quote Oscar Wilde, as we were doing at dinner.”
Stone nodded his head with no great show of interest.
“You are both excused now,” he said. “Call the butler, will you, Owen?”
Pam went off with Reid, and soon Joseph appeared, looking perturbed.
“You want me, sir?” he said to Stone.
“Yes, Joseph; I’ll keep you only a few minutes. Where were you last night after midnight?”
The butler answered promptly enough:
“The ladies and gentlemen went upstairs at about that time. I then had the table cleared, the dishes washed, and when everything was in order, I sent the under servants to bed and went myself.”
“Reaching your room about one o’clock?”
“Earlier, sir. More like half-past twelve. There wasn’t much to be done.”
“You saw or heard nothing of Mrs Moore after she went upstairs with the others?”
“Joseph, answer this truthfully. Have you ever seen or heard anything that would make you think Mr Moore was interested in any other woman than his wife?”
Joseph gave his questioner a quick glance and said, “Is this as man to man, sir?”
“Yes, Joseph, it is. If you know anything it is your duty to tell it.”
“Well, then, I have had moments when I thought Mr Moore’s fancy was a-roving toward little Miss Lamb.”
Had the matter been less serious Stone would have laughed at the butler’s troubled face. As it was, he said:
“You are not imagining this?”
“Not that, sir; yet I may be wrong. I know the master is devoted to his wife, but there’s some men, sir, who now and again turn aside to look at a younger face.”
“Younger!” exclaimed Challis, “Marcia was about the same age as Sara. I happen to know that.”
“Indeed, sir,” said Joseph, “you surprise me. I thought the mistress was older. Be that as it may, Mr Moore did sometimes look at Miss Lamb kinda hungry like. The master has an eye for a pretty face.”
“But Joseph,” Challis went on, “you can’t mean that you think for a minute that Mr Moore would murder his wife—”
“The saints preserve us!” Joseph’s face went white, “don’t say such a thing, sir! Still and all, Miss Lamb is a pretty bit.”
“This state of things was recognized in the kitchen, Joseph?” Stone asked, remembering Mrs Bond’s denunciation of Iris. “You’re sure it isn’t Miss Beverly that your master admires?”
“Well, sir, Mr Moore now—he can’t resist a pretty face. I daresay he admires Miss Beverly too. But little Sara, now, she’s so sweet and lovable it wouldn’t be in human nature not to see it. Anyhow, Mr Moore, he likes the chit. But no, he wouldn’t kill his lady for that. If he did it it was in a wild burst of temper at her cuttin’ up in the zoo. I’ve seen him that mad I’ve feared for her suffering from his wrath, more’n the animals.”
“Well, Joseph, this shall be remembered, but I trust it won’t mean anything serious. Is there any servant who stays up all night, Joseph? Some big houses have such servants.”
“Not now, we don’t, sir. We did, we always had a footman on duty all round the clock, but Mrs Moore, she put an end to it. She said it was all nonsense keeping a man up like that, and it must be stopped. So stopped it was; and now, after the folks is all abed we none of us stay up. So last night everybody goes off to bed and look what happens!”
“But you couldn’t have prevented it, had you been up.”
“Maybe not, but I’d have known who came downstairs with Mrs Moore, or who followed her down unbeknownst.”
“Is Mrs Moore’s maid a confidential one? Does Mrs Moore tell her things?”
“More or less, sir; just more or less. Last night was her night out. So she didn’t go to Mrs Moore’s room at all last evening, not when she came home, I mean.”
“I’d like to see her. Send her to me, and you may go now. Say nothing of what we have said in here just now. You understand that, do you?”
“Yes, sir. The maid’s name is Effie, I’ll send her along.”
“The plot thickens,” said Challis, looking at his friend.
“And clears,” returned Stone.
“Don’t be cryptic.”
“No, I won’t; but in this multitude of counselors we must surely find safety.”
“You’re learning things?” Challis asked.
“Nothing else but,” and Stone nodded absent-mindedly.
But Challis knew the detective well enough to realize that the more absent-minded he seemed the more alert and keen he was.
Effie was a puzzle.
Stone felt that as soon as he saw her. Although accustomed to appraising a human being at sight, there were some baffling creatures now and then who required study. This he seldom had time to give. But in case of necessity it had to be done.
The girl was handsome in a cheap way. Entirely devoid of culture or refinement she yet had a breezy, whole-souled manner that made for a sort of comradeship.
Dark hair, cut and curled in the current mode, snapping black eyes, on the bold order, and lavishly reddened lips and cheeks, she was of stunning effect, and quite evidently possessed a superiority complex.
She wore a simple black silk gown and a string of jet beads, and entered the room with a certain grace of motion and very much at her ease.
“You sent for me?” she said, in a low, musical voice, and shot a glance at Stone from beneath mascaraed lashes.
“Yes, Effie,” and Stone spoke gently, for he especially wanted to win her confidence “Sit there, please, and just answer a few questions simply and frankly.”
“May I smoke?” she said, in a matter-of-fact way.
“I would rather you did not. I shall not keep you long. Did you attend Mrs Moore last evening when she dressed for dinner?”
“Yes, sir. As I always do.”
“And then she went down to dinner, leaving you to pick up and that sort of thing?”
“Yes; and then I went out myself—it was my evening off.”
“And you did not attend on Mrs Moore later, when she went to bed?”
“No, sir. That is the understanding. I never do when it is my night out.”
“You laid out her night things and all that?”
“Yes. And her bathrobe and slippers, and I saw to it that her night-table had the books she wanted, and cigarettes, and all that, and left the room all ready for her, with a low light turned on.”
“I see. Now tell me of this morning.”
Effie drew a sigh, touched her eyes with a chiffon handkerchief and indulged in a dramatic swallow.
“I went to her room this morning, as usual, opened the door, as I always do, and went in. I was confronted by the sight of the bed exactly as I had left it last night. It had not been slept in! Imagine my surprise! I was not alarmed then, but I was amazed.”
“Never mind your sensations, what did you do?”
“I looked about to be sure I was not mistaken, that Mrs Moore had not slept there, had not undressed or touched her night things, and then I went at once in search of Mrs Bond. I found her, and she told me the awful, the fearsome story.”
“Yes, don’t weep. I understand your grief, of course, but indulge it later. Now, tell me of Mrs Moore. Did she ever, to your knowledge, do such a thing before? I mean, stay away from her room all night, without touching her night things?”
“No, she never did.” Effie rolled her black eyes ceilingward in an effort of memory.
“What did you think at first?”
“I thought she wasn’t there.”
Stone looked at her sharply, but she seemed unconscious of any impertinence, so he went on:
“What did you think then?”
“That she had run away.”
“With whom or to whom?”
“I couldn’t decide; I thought it might be Mr Challis, or maybe that Mr Kent.”
“I’ll be damned!” said Challis, calmly. “What do you mean by saying such a thing as that?”
“Aren’t you in love with her, sir—weren’t you, I mean? I thought you were.”
The calm voice, almost uninflected, enraged Challis, but it deeply interested Stone, and he said:
“Hush up, Owen, ignore it. No, Effie, Mr Challis was not in love with Mrs Moore, nor did you think he was. Be careful, girl, don’t be too clever, or you may regret it. Now, as to Mr Kent. Have you any more reason to mention him?”
But Effie had turned sulky. No longer did she roll her black eyes at Stone, no more did she sigh convulsively or waft her handkerchief about.
“I have my own reasons,” she said, with a touch of flippancy in her tone.
“And will you tell me these important reasons or save them for the police?”
A look of positive fear came into the girl’s eyes, and she said, almost meekly, “I’ll tell you.”
“Very well; was Mrs Moore really interested in Mr Kent?”
“She liked him a lot, and he adored her. She sometimes went for long walks with him, when Mr Moore was away.”
“Did it annoy Mr Moore, if he heard of it?”
“I’ll answer that,” said Challis. “It did not. Allan had perfect faith in his wife, and what this woman is making up I don’t know.”
“Oh, you don’t, Mr Challis?” and Effie rose in her wrath. “Well, I’ll tell you. Mr Moore’s faith in his wife was altogether too perfect, and I’m not making up that bit of news. Mrs Moore was well aware that there were other men in the world beside her husband.”
According to the medical evidence it was concluded that Marcia had died about two o’clock on Saturday morning. It was mid-afternoon on Saturday before the State Police materialized.
Then came Sergeant Landon, who knew his lines, and said, correctly, “Now, now, what’s all this about?”
This opening was a bit difficult in the face of the dignified and stern-countenanced Joseph, but tradition must be obeyed.
“Where’s the folks? Who’s in charge?” he continued, inquisitorially.
But Joseph failed to fall in with this attempt at camaraderie, and asked coldly;
“You wish to see Mr Moore?”
“I sure do, and p. d. q. at that. Lead me to him.”
“Walk in, please,” and Joseph did the requested leading.
The morning-room had been given over to the expected authorities, and in a few moments Allan appeared.
Challis came along, and remarked, easily:
“Thought you’d never get here. This is Mr Moore, head of the house. I’m Mr Challis, guest and assistant. Now get on with it.”
Content to let Challis carry on, Allan seated himself and looked at the sergeant.
Landon was a middle-aged man, with quick-moving black eyes and crisp dark hair, its curl looking like a permanent wave.
He stared a moment and then said to Allan, “Will you tell me of the trouble, Mr Moore, or will your friend tell me?”
“I’ll tell you,” Challis broke in. “Mr Moore is to be spared all unnecessary exertion. In a few words, Mrs Moore was found this morning in a small zoo on the premises. Her dead body was discovered in the tiger’s cage. It was removed and taken to a nearby hospital for an autopsy.”
“Did the tiger kill her?”
“According to the final decision of the doctors, no.”
“What did kill her?”
“I think,” Allan put in, “we will call Mr Stone and let him tell Sergeant Landon about the matter.”
“That will be best,” Challis agreed; “Fleming Stone is a well known detective, and can confer with you more intelligently than we can.”
“You have already a private investigator on the case!”
“We have,” Allan said, sternly, “and we propose to keep him on it. He will in no way interfere with your work.”
“You bet he won’t. Call him in, will you?”
“I’ll send him to you,” Allan said, rising; “if you want me further I will come back. But Mr Challis can tell you all that I could tell, and Mr Stone can tell you what he has done so far.”
Landon looked after the departing man with such a stare of amazement that Challis almost smiled.
“Don t worry,” he said; “you’ll have a chance to see him again. And he’s pretty much all in, so there’s no use making him listen to the story over again. I can give you the details. And here’s Mr Stone, he’ll tell you his deductions.”
Expecting to see a blase, drawling-voiced detective, Landon was surprised at Stone’s active manner and alert expression of face.
He greeted Landon without enthusiasm, but with no hint of superiority or patronage.
“Here’s the story,” began Challis, at once. “There is a house-party here for the week-end. Last evening we carried on as usual, and when we all went upstairs to bed everything was serene. This morning, however, word was brought that the dead body of Mrs Moore had been found in the zoo, a private enterprise of Mr Moore’s, who is interested in wild animals.”
“What killed her?” Landon asked, remembering where Challis had left off.
“Naturally it was first supposed to be the work of the tiger, but it was later declared by the famous Doctor St. John, and discovered at the same time by Mr Stone, here, that the lady had been suffocated before she was put in the cage.”
“Any suspects? Any clues?”
Challis looked at Stone, who said, “Nothing very definite. I have Mrs Moore’s shoes and I’ve been examining them. The fine yellow sand in the crevice between the sole and the satin upper is similar in appearance to the sand in the yellow gravel of the maze, which may or may not indicate that she was out there. Do you know, Challis?”
“No; I was playing bridge the latter part of the evening, myself.”
“This detective work is more in the field of my colleague, who will arrive shortly,” volunteered Landon. “Dobbs is one of our most acute detectives, Mr Stone, and will doubtless be invaluable to you in your deductions.”
“Doubtless,” said Stone, in his absent-minded way. “Perhaps that is he now.”
A noisy motor-cycle clattered up the drive, and in a few moments their group was enlarged by the addition of Detective Lieutenant Dobbs.
A stocky, thickset man, with very slick ash-colored hair and round gray eyes, the new sleuth proved to be.
Not so breezy as Landon, he fell meekly into a chair, and hoped he was not too late.
“Go on from where you are, Mr Stone, you were listing your clues,” Landon said, and Dobbs perked up at this, but returned to his moody attitude at Stone’s response.
“No. I merely referred to the yellow sand in the seams of the slippers, which appears to be like the sand in the paths of the maze. Mr Dobbs may see the slippers at any time he likes, and draw his own conclusions.”
A tap at the door proved to be Joseph, who asked Mr Stone to come out for a few moments to attend to an important matter.
Excusing himself, the detective left the room, closing the door behind him and asked the butler what it was all about.
“It’s Dan, sir,” replied Joseph, “he’s the head gardener—and will you please come to my pantry?” Stone went and found the gardener awaiting him.
“It’s this way, sir,” he began; “I was goin’ in the maze, for to be sure it was proper tidy, an’ there on the ground I see a bag that I know is one of Mrs Moore’s. She has a mort o’ bags, and I’ve seen this un afore. It’s black an’ silver and most purty to look at.”
“Yes,” said Stone, “and where is it, Dan?”
“That’s it, sir, I didn’t want to touch it till you seen how it’s a lyin’ an’ so I left my Danny there to watch it till you could get out there to deduct it, sir. I’m hearin’ as how you’re the great deducter, and I’m keepin’ it safe for you.”
“Good man!” exclaimed Stone, “come along, show me!”
The two went off toward the maze, and Dan said, as they neared it;
“They’s another thing, too, Mr Stone—you see this here low bush of pink flowers?”
“Yes, what are they?”
“They’re wygelia lutea, but that don’t make no difference. Now, you see where the top blossom’s been bruk off?”
“Yes, Dan, I see.”
“Well, sir, when I left this here bush last night, ’bout six o’clock, that bloom was there, stickin’ up as perk as could be. ’Course, I know all my flowers an’ all their blossoms. An’ I’m aimin’ to raise this bush to a proper point like, an’ sumbuddy’s bin an’ bruk off that top bloom. How about it?”
“Meaning that it has any bearing on the matter of Mrs Moore’s death?”
“I couldn’t go so far as to say that, sir, but—well, come along into the maze.”
They went in and trod the path between the high box hedges, and Stone, who loved beautiful horticulture, followed his guide with delight. The intricate way, so bewildering to a stranger, was, of course, familiar to Dan, and soon they came to Danny, a lad of eight or ten, guarding a portion of the hedge.
“Nobody bin here?” said father to son.
Then Dan showed Fleming Stone where, tucked rather deep in the prickly hedge, could be seen a black and silver bag.
Carefully, Stone drew it out, noting the place it came from.
“Odd that it should have been pushed in so far,” he mused.
“’Twasn’t pushed in, Mister, it was slung in!”
This from the lad, Danny, whose joyous excitement was only exceeded by his father’s dismay at the daring of his son.
But Stone smiled at the boy, and said;
“You’re quite right, and that is proved by the little snapped-off twigs. Had it been pushed it would have slipped in without disturbing them. You’re sure this is Mrs Moore’s bag, Dan?”
“Oh, yes, sir, I’ve seen it many a time.”
“You’ve done a good job, I shouldn’t wonder. Anything else askew?”
“Not a leaf, sir.”
“No footprints on the gravel, of course?”
“Lots of ’em, all over and atop of each other, but none clear enough to be seen proper.”
“That’s right. Got a piece of dark string, Dan?”
“I have,” cried Danny, eagerly, as his father felt in his pockets and shook his head.
“All right, son,” and Stone smiled at the lad. “Tie it on here, on this branch where the bag was. Farther back, don’t make it conspicuous.”
Danny tied it deftly, and, taking the bag, Stone went back to the house and sought his own rooms.
He had been allotted a bedroom and bath with an adjoining sitting-room or study. From here he rang and, a footman answering, he sent a message asking Moore to come to him.
Allan arriving, Stone showed him the bag, and he agreed at once that it was Marcia’s and the very one she had carried the evening before.
“You’ve opened it?” he asked, though with no tone of censure.
“No, I want you to do that. There may be a note for you, or some private matters that you need not disclose.”
But Allan merely turned the open bag upside down and let its contents fall on the table.
The usual trinkets appeared. Handkerchiefs, compact, gold cigarette case and lighter, ivory shopping-tablet, tiny purse, a few odd cards and papers, and among the latter a folded new hundred-dollar bill. There was also a veil and a pair of gray suede street gloves.
“A queer lot,” Allan said, and looked at Stone with a slight wonder in his eyes.
“In what respect? Looks normal to me.”
“No, not for Marcia. Why the large bill? If she loses at bridge I pay for her. And why the gloves— not evening gloves—and why the veil? Looks as if she meant to go out calling.”
“Probably fixed up her bag like this in the afternoon, going to a card-party, and forgot to rearrange it.”
“Not like her. And it isn’t an afternoon bag; it’s distinctly an evening bag and matched the gown she wore.”
“Will her maid know all about it?”
“Yes, she ought to. I suppose she is in the house, I’ll ring for her.”
Effie duly appeared and exclaimed at sight of the bag.
“My gracious! So you’ve got her bag! I’ve been hunting everywhere for it. Where’d you get it?”
“Found it,” said Stone, laconically. “Now, Effie, how does it strike you? Did Mrs Moore carry that bag when she went down to dinner?”
“She sure did. I put the things in it for her, myself. Some of them.”
“Why, the reg’lars. Hankchiffs, compact, cigarettes —why, in the name o’ goodness is a veil and, gloves there? And what’s she doin’ with a hundred-dollar bill, and no purse!”
“Could she have put these unusual things in after dinner, when she came upstairs and then went down again, as we assume she did.”
“Could she? Why, she must have! Or else, how’d they get in her evening bag? Funny, I’ll say.”
“Yes, Effie,” said Allan, severely, “we all know it’s funny. But what we’re asking you is if you can suggest why Mrs Moore collected gloves and veil and money when she went downstairs alone, after midnight.”
“I can only suppose, Mr Moore, that she went downstairs to meet somebody—”
Effie paused, frightened by the menacing frown on Allan’s face.
“You can suppose nothing of the kind,” he said, “nor need you state any further surmise. You, then, did not put the articles mentioned in the bag when you arranged it for Mrs Moore. Merely answer that question.”
“I did not.”
“What jewelry did Mrs Moore wear?” asked Stone.
“When I dressed her for dinner? Very little. Her string of pearls, two diamond clips and her large square-cut dinner-ring. They are all right, aren’t they?”
“You may go now, Effie,” and Stone opened the door for her. “But don’t say a word about this bag, and don’t repeat a word of the conversation we’ve just had. You can make a lot of trouble for yourself by talking too much. So watch your step.”
The girl went away, and Stone returned to Allan.
“You found your wife’s jewels all safe?” he asked.
“No,” the other replied.
“What was missing?”
From his pocket, Allan drew a ring, from the setting of which a large stone had quite evidently been pried.
“Tell me about it.”
“I found it on her finger, like that,” Allan said, slowly. “Page, apparently hadn’t noticed it, and on an impulse I drew the ring off her finger and kept it. I’ve told no one.”
“An odd impulse,” Stone frowned. “And you’ve made a bad mistake. Why did you conceal the despoiled ring?”
Moore flushed a deep red and then paled again. “I was a fool, I daresay,” he declared, “but I acted on impulse. I was afraid someone would think that I had been instrumental in Marcia’s death, and I thought to turn suspicion to a robber.”
Stone looked puzzled.
“But the stone was missing—”
“Yes, it was pried out. It was, of course, the work of a robber, who probably took the diamond after he had killed her, but left the setting lest it might incriminate him to have the ring in his possession.”
“Yes, an unset stone would be easier to hide, also to dispose of. You thought quickly, Mr Moore—and cleverly.”
“You believe my story?” Allan stiffened a little.
“Oh, yes,—but if you were not a rich man I might not believe it. Now, assuming for a moment that Mrs Moore did go downstairs to meet somebody, can you suggest who it would have been?”
“Of course not. She wouldn’t do such a thing! I must admit that she did go downstairs, and therefore had a reason for doing so. But it might have been the simplest of reasons, to fetch something she wanted—”
“But for that purpose she would not carry a bag, with gloves and veil in it.”
“No; that makes it seem as if she was going out—”
“Yet she had no hat. Though of course, she would not need a hat—at night.”
“Nonsense, Mr Stone, she was not going out, off the premises I mean. Unless she went downstairs on some simple errand she was headed for the zoo. The bag, of course, has an explanation, only we don’t know it. Where was it found?”
“In the maze.”
“She dropped it there, then. But why, in heaven’s name did she go to the maze? That isn’t possible. No, whoever killed her stole her bag—”
“Meaning some burglar or robber?”
“Certainly. It could have been no one she knew.”
“But a thief would open the bag and would take the money.”
“Yes. Oh—I can’t see it at all.”
Fleming Stone was keenly watching the face and hands of his host.
The detective placed great confidence in hints he gained from the hands of those he questioned and Allan Moore’s hands were nervous and restless. The fingers were twisted and contorted until Stone was forced to think the man was either ill or greatly concerned over this inquiry.
Not yet ready to suspect him of wrong-doing, it did seem that he must be carefully questioned, and Stone said, directly;
“Well, Mr Moore, I think we must assume that whoever suffocated Mrs Moore was the one who stole her diamond. It couldn’t have dropped out of the ring, for the scratches on the setting show it was pried out with some piece of sharp steel. Now, frankly, is there any one of your guests or your household whom you could possibly suspect of such a deed?”
“Certainly not! What an impossible suggestion!”
“Nor your servants?”
“I can’t imagine such a thing. Nor my secretaries. I have told you this before, Mr Stone.”
“I know it, but the finding of this bag in the maze puts a new face on things. We know now, that Mrs Moore left her room, carrying this bag, of her own accord. We know that it was left in the maze, but we do not know whether she left it there herself or not. These things must be found out, but it would be a help if you could tell us of anyone more likely than another to be mixed up in the tragedy.”
“There is no one under my roof of whom I harbor the slightest suspicion.”
“Yet some of them harbor a suspicion of you.”
“Doubtless they do. That I cannot help.”
“How about those men, your neighbors?”
“Neighbors, but three or four miles away. Kent admired my wife, but I can’t think there was any serious affair between them, or that Kent would kill anybody.”
“And the other one, Pollock?”
“We know him even less well. He has lived in his house more than a year and he’s been here only three or four times, most formally, and invited us there the same way. We liked him fairly well, but knew him very slightly. No, there’s no shadow of reason for looking their way, either of them. It must have been that Mrs Moore came down in the night, went to the maze, or not, went to the zoo, or not, and that someone, of whose identity we’ve no idea, killed her, stole her ring, and put her in Bluebell’s cage, supposing it would be thought the tiger killed her. That, Mr Stone, sums it all up, as I see it.”
Without answering, Stone said, “There is something else I would like to ask the maid: will you ring for her again?”
When she appeared Stone said:
“Effie, was your mistress in the habit of taking anything,—any sedative,—to make her sleep?”
“Not in the habit, but she did occasionally take a half-grain of codeine.”
“How did she take it? I mean, did you give it to her?”
“Yes; except on my evenings out I always helped her get ready for bed. If she thought she wasn’t going to sleep well she asked me to give her a pellet or to put the box on her bedside-table where she could reach it.”
“Have you any reason to think she wanted one last night?”
“I have, but only because of this—there were but two pellets left in the little box, and when I looked this morning one of them was missing. There is only one there now.”
“Meaning that she took one herself last night?”
“How else? I was intending to open a fresh box this morning, but when I found there was no need for them, ever again, I looked to see if the two remaining ones were still there and there was only one.”
“Bring it to me, and then you may be excused.”
The girl went away, and Allan rose to go, saying, “I can’t talk to that Dobbs man, Stone. Get me off, there’s a good chap. Tell him I’ve a headache, or a toothache or anything you like. I’ll see him tomorrow.”
Moore went off, and Effie returned with the codeine.
“Thank you, Effie, you may go now,” Stone told her.
But the girl delayed. “I say, Mr Stone,” she whispered, “did he kill her? Did Mr Moore kill his wife?”
“Effie,” Stone said, sternly, “you’d better be careful what you say. Don’t you know that to make such an accusation, or merely such a suggestion, unless you have proof of what you say, may land you in jail?”
Effie jumped, and then smiled and said, “Oh, come now, Mr Stone—”
“I mean that, and if you persist in mentioning names I’ll see to it myself that you’re duly punished.”
Effie fairly ran off, glad to get away from this terrible man, and Stone closed the door of his room and locked it.
What did this new development mean? he mused.
It looked as if Marcia had gone up to bed when the rest did; had taken a sleeping tablet, and then, apparently changing her mind, had collected gloves and veil and a hundred dollars and had gone downstairs again.
He couldn’t reconcile the tablet with an expected errand out to the zoo or the maze. He couldn’t imagine an unexpected errand, for who could have called her out and how?
There was a telephone in her room—that must be checked up.
But it was unlikely. The errand was undoubtedly a secret one and telephone calls after midnight usually are heard by more than the person being called.
She went, then, with her costly ring on, and from that ring the great diamond was pried and the setting left on her finger.
This Allan took off her hand, kept it.
And his reason for so doing was, to say the least, a tangled tale.
Food for reflection, indeed. Yet he must get back to Dobbs, whom he much wanted to see as he carried on his work.
He jotted down a few words on a slip of paper and put it in his pocket.
And one note was to see about that codeine.
That was odd, any way you looked at it.
He could only think that she took the narcotic and then decided or was forced to decide to go out at once, and she hurried to make ready and to go downstairs.
Why the hundred-dollar bill he had no idea, but he fully believed that it and other peculiarities of the evidence coming to light might all be explained in one and the same theory.
Was it possible that she had become somewhat overpowered by the drug and her consciousness more readily numbed under its definite and positive aid?
Hard nuts to crack, and after a short session with the valiant Dobbs he must set about it.
But when Fleming Stone went downstairs again Dobbs had departed, and would not reappear until next morning.
Police routine had been attended to. Most of the household had been quizzed, most of the servants likewise. A plain clothes man was in the zoo, another patrolling the grounds.
It was cocktail hour, and Stone was interested to note how the different ones were affected by a slight exhilaration.
Allan was cheerier and less silent. Iris a trifle more dramatic. Pamela, on the other hand, was serious and very charming. The men showed little if any change of demeanor, but Sara was—well, queer.
Always so composed, so poised, she now was nervous, even jumpy. When spoken to she jerked her head around to face the speaker, and then turned away again.
Stone set this down to a natural reaction. She had never before been in circumstances of murder, and the gruesome details, of which everyone seemed now to be talking, so troubled her that she shivered and looked terrified at each revelation.
The detective took it upon himself to try to calm her a little. He sat beside her and, with the tact always at his disposal, he managed to turn her thoughts into less distressing channels.
Then he asked her to go with him for a stroll in the grounds.
They went, Allan casting a curious glance after them, and by a roundabout way Stone led their steps toward the maze.
“I don’t want to go near the maze,” Sara said, pathetically, like a timid child. “That’s where Marcia was killed.”
“What makes you think that?” Stone asked, concealing his surprise.
“I—I dreamed it—”
“You did nothing of the sort,” and Stone spoke pleasantly, but in a decided tone. “You overheard something that made you imagine it, and I’ll bet you heard it by listening at a closed door!”
Sara looked at him in fear, but, seeing his quizzical smile, she smiled too and seemed to shake off suddenly her mood of dejection.
“Yes, Mr Stone, I did hear it that way. But is it true?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure. Let’s go into the maze and find out.”
He took her by the elbow, and though she trembled a little she went willingly, and they threaded the maze.
“I don’t know the way,” he said, “do you?”
“Fairly well, but we might get lost.”
“Better not go far in, then,” and Stone stood still, wondering where the tree was on which Danny had tied the string.
The maze was a finely built affair, like everything else at Forest Mead.
The boxwood trees that outlined its tangled paths were eight feet high, so that anyone inside was completely and thoroughly hidden. It was, perhaps thirty feet square, and every tree was trimmed into perfect shape and the hedges therefore were true and exact. There were no curves, all corners were right angles, sharply defined.
There was an infallible rule for finding one’s way successfully through the paths and back to the entrance. This rule was to turn to the right at every turn except one. But the difficulty was to remember which one. It was really the turn number thirteen, but it was hard to number the corners as one passed them, and if a miscount were made the wayfarer was almost always irretrievably lost.
Sara explained this, and Stone had no desire to take a chance. He would try out the matter some other time. What he wanted now was to see if Sara showed any fear or embarrassment at being in the maze—in a word, if she indicated any appearance of having been there or any knowledge of anyone else having been there the night before.
And this Stone could not quite make out.
She was nervous, visibly so, but she was bravely holding on to her composure, which in itself was a hint that she had something to conceal.
“No,” he said, “I think we’d better not get lost in here. We could call out, I suppose—is that what a lost prowler does?”
“Yes, there’s nothing else to do, except keep on wandering, on the chance of hitting the right path.”
“Too doubtful. Let’s go.”
“I hoped we might pick up some clues in here.”
“Picking up clues is old-fashioned business now, I’m told, Miss Lamb. Detectives scorn that sort of thing.”
“Oh, if a first-class clue puts itself in my path I pick it up. But I depend on other information mostly.”
“Well, there’s a clue in your path, or isn’t it?”
Stone looked down, and at the edge of the path, almost hidden, was a tiny feather, of gray and red.
He picked it up and noted its fresh look. Surely it had not been there long.
“Why,” Sara exclaimed, “it’s a feather from a man’s hat. Don’t you know, some men stick a feather in their hatbands, like a tyrolean yodeler.”
“Yes, it is like that; we’ll keep it anyway,” and Stone put it in his pocket-book.
“Well, doesn’t it prove then that some man met Marcia here, and stole her ring and her money and then killed her and took her to the zoo, and put her in the tiger’s cage?”
Stone looked at her. Apt reasoning for a sudden discovery! But was it sudden? It occurred to him that Sara Lamb might have planted that clue for him to find. She was so quick with her deductions, so glib with her explanations.
He said, “That’s going ahead pretty fast,” noted her look of disappointment at his ignoring her suggestion, and led the way back again out of the maze.
“We must get back to the house,” he advised. “It’s time to dress for dinner. Now, brace up, Miss Lamb. I know you have lost a good friend, but so have the others. And you still have ordeals to face. Has Dobbs interviewed you yet?”
“No,” and again her face showed piteous fear.
“Well, it needn’t bother you. Just tell the truth and he’ll soon let you go.”
“And if I don’t tell the truth?”
“You’ll be in trouble, real, downright trouble, that even I cannot save you from. If you want to tell lies, tell them to me, I’ll recognize them as such.”
For the first time, Stone saw a mischievous look on the face of Sara Lamb.
“Maybe you will and maybe you won’t,” she said, and then herself deliberately changed the subject.
As Stone dressed for dinner, he admitted to himself he was completely mystified by the girl’s manner and words.
He began to believe she had put the feather where it was found, with the definite purpose of having the discovery made by somebody.
To be sure, she had shown a disinclination to go into the maze, but that, too, he deemed part of her game. She had meant to go there all the time, or, if not, she knew sooner or later the feather would be found.
Her motive, he felt sure, was to divert suspicion from Allan Moore.
He had reason to think there was a vague belief that Moore could have been the criminal, though there was nothing definite said about it.
And everybody knew that in no circumstances would Allan Moore wear a feather in his hatband. If, then, the meek and mild Sara had cooked up this scheme, she was a one—that he willingly admitted.
* * * * * * * * *
So it came about that Fleming Stone and Detective Dobbs did not meet until Sunday morning. And that was a fine time for a meeting, as it occurred before anybody thought of coming downstairs, except the butler and his selected aides.
“Hello, Joseph,” said Stone as he encountered the man and noted his austere face break into a correctly respectful smile, “I haven’t had a word with you yet, about the tragedy. In ten words, what are your conclusions?”
The butler held up his two hands, and touching the finger-tips in succession he counted off; “Well, Mr Stone, I must say my suspicions lean toward—but you said, ten words, I believe.”
“Joseph, you’re a rascal,” and Stone looked at him in surprise. “How dare you go humorous in this serious matter?”
“I didn’t mean to be humorous exactly, sir, but— well, as a matter of fact, I have no suspicions, nor have I a right to express any.”
“You have both those things, Joseph, and I’ll see you later about it. Now give me some breakfast, for I have to tackle the great Detective Dobbs this morning, and he has to tackle me. Put him in the morning-room when he comes, and tell him I’ll join him in a few moments.”
Nor was it long before the two detectives sat down to solemn conclave.
The somewhat rotund Mr Dobbs was in most ways an exact opposite of Fleming Stone, whose long, lean length gave him a dignity the other did not possess.
Stone’s face, too, with the sort of features called chiseled, was distinctly different from the round, plump countenance of Dobbs.
“Well, Mr Stone,” the other began, “I’m glad to have a chat with you.”
“Why?” said Stone, who felt a mischievous desire to rag his new acquaintance.
“Why,—why, for many reasons,” and Dobbs looked a trifle discomfited.
“All right, Mr Dobbs. Go to it. Reason number one?”
But Dobbs had recovered.
“Well, firstly Mr Stone, who do you think killed the lady?”
“I’m sorry, Mr Dobbs, but I haven’t come to a conclusion as yet.”
“Well, I have, and you’ll be surprised when you hear it. I think that without any doubt Miss Sara Lamb is the power behind the throne. Now, mind, I don’t say she actually killed Mrs Moore. She ain’t bigger’n a pint o’ cider, but she had motive and opportunity. Yes, sir, motive and opportunity, and that, as you know yourself, is what moves one to murder. Now, wait a minute; I say I believe she is responsible for the death of the lady, but I don’t say I shan’t change my mind. I ain’t one of those pig-headed guys who stick to a theory like a puppy at a root. No, sir, if I see reason to look another way, I look. And the actual murderer, you ask?”
Stone wanted to say he hadn’t asked, but he kept still.
“The actual murderer, sir, I take to be Mr Allan Moore, himself. You say, ‘What, a man murder his own wife?’ I reply, it has been done. And well you know yourself, it has been done. Then why not again? The two in collusion could easily accomplish the fell deed. The motive—ah, my dear sir, have you not already discovered the affection between the pair? Just to see her look at him with those brown eyes—they can be called liquid—yes, sir, those liquid brown eyes, and you don’t need a fortune-teller to know how things stand. Do you, I say, do you?”
A pause at last gave Stone an opportunity to speak, and he answered the direct question.
“No,” he said, “no, Mr Dobbs, I don’t need a fortune-teller for anything that I know of. But just why do you suspect these two? Have you any evidence?”
“Well, not to say definite evidence. I’ve only just come on board, you know. Give me time. And, as I say, I’m not positive. Why, to-morrow, I may have a totally different theory. I’m not ashamed to say I’m not infallible. I’m not ashamed to say I pass from one phase to another.”
“Well, if I may, I think I’ll await your next phase.”
Dobbs looked at him questioningly.
“Any offensive intent?”
“By no means. Now, once for all, Mr Dobbs, get it straight in your mind that I have only respect for your opinions and beliefs, only admiration for any clever deductions you may make, and only leniency for any mistakes you experience. We are both working on this case. I think it wiser that we do not try to work together in the sense of comparing notes and swapping information. If either of us succeeds in tracking down this murderer I am sure the other will be glad. So let each of us work by himself, but with only friendliness between us.”
Dobbs round face showed his disappointment, and he said, dejectedly;
“All right, Mr Stone. I had looked for more intimate collaboration, but I freely admit if I run across a good clue I’m quite content to keep it to myself, and deal with it by myself.”
“That, of course, allows me to do the same, Mr Dobbs. But I again assure you that I hope for only justice and fairness between us. Do you care to tell me, should you discard your present theory of Mr Moore and Miss Lamb being involved in the crime, what way you would look next?”
“Why, certainly, I have no objection to telling you; I have my eye on Mr Reid. He inherits, you know, and that is a motive which cannot be ignored. Yes, if I am forced to give up my suspicions of Mr Moore I shall certainly turn my attention to the possibility of the guilt of Mr Reid.”
“Thank you for your frankness, and as I cannot see that further conversation will help us any, I’ll be excused now, if you please, but I’m always at your service if you want me.”
Stone left the room, and Mr Dobbs, after a disgusted sniff, remarked to himself that some people were too toploftical, and that pride was advertised to precede a fall.
Which proves that Mr Stone did not fool Mr Dobbs very much and vice versa.
And which also proves that the relationship obtaining between the two men was not exactly one of brotherly love.
Stone had no objection to the presence of Dobbs, he had no fear that the man would beat him to the solution of their problem; all that bothered him was Dobbs’ calm acceptance of the guilt of Sara and Allan, separately or in collusion, which was just the strongest belief in Stone’s mind at the moment. Like Dobbs, too, he felt he might change his mind at any new knowledge coming his way, or any real evidence tending in a different direction.
In fact, his pride was a trifle jarred, and he felt it belittling to hold the same theory as his far less erudite competitor, especially as he had had the advantage of that talk with Sara in the maze, and Dobbs had not.
He wandered along the hall and, hearing voices on the terrace, went out.
“Oh, come along and be chummy,” begged Iris, moving a cushion or two in the big hammock she occupied.
“Not there, Miss Beverly,” and Stone smiled, “I want to sit where I can enjoy looking at you.”
“Yes, do,” cried Pam, “she’s got up regardless!”
This was true enough, for Iris wore lounging pajamas, of an elaborate and expensive type.
The three visiting men were all there, and Challis was eager to ask Stone how things were going but thought better not to, for various reasons.
After a few inane remarks from one and another, Iris said;
“There’s no reason we should avoid the subject uppermost in every mind. Why can’t we talk about Marcia?”
“We can, of course,” Reid offered, “but why should we?”
“Because we all want to,” Iris returned. “If you don’t like it, Carleton, you can go away. I want to know some things and I have a right to ask.”
“Of course you have,” said Fraser. “I want to do some asking, too. It’s all right, isn’t it, Mr Stone?”
“Of course, yes. Where is Mr Moore?”
“Do you want him?” cried Pamela, jumping up. “I’ll find him for you.”
“No, no, child, sit down. I don’t want him. There’s a quorum here. Go on with your questions, Miss Beverly.”
“Well, what about the money in Marcia’s bag? That is such a mysterious piece of business that it ought to be looked into. Marcia never carries a big bill like that. A few fives and tens for bridge, or for unexpected shopping, yes,—but a hundred-dollar bill is a silly thing to cart around. Nobody could change it, and it would have to be changed for almost any purpose.”
“Oh, come, now,” said Fraser, “don’t write us down paupers. I’ll change a hundred-dollar bill, if anyone wants me to.”
As his hand went to his pocket, Pamela said, “Don’t be silly. You know no one here has one. I’m not sure you could change a ten-dollar bill.”
“Huh,” said Andy; “but why make such a fuss about Marcia having it? The matter of her taking gloves and a veil on her midnight ramble seems to me more incredible than the money.”
“I think so, too,” said Reid. “She certainly intended going away.”
“No,” said Pamela, “she had no hat. Effie and I searched her things and there was no hat missing. A bag and a veil and a lot of money won’t do, without a hat. And anyway, she couldn’t have been going anywhere at that time of night!”
“Then we must admit,” Stone said, “that the bag and its contents and the lack of a hat are incompatible and couldn’t occur—even though they did occur.”
“Of course there’s an explanation,” said Challis, thoughtfully, “it’s just that we haven’t found it yet. There’s a pretty problem. Where could Marcia by any possibility have been going, with her bag, an evening bag, furnished as it was, yet wearing no hat or coat, and having on evening slippers?”
“Answer number one,” said Iris, “she was not intending to walk, in those spike heels. She wouldn’t have gone far.”
“Deduction, she was to meet someone in the grounds,” said Stone.
“That’s the answer,” Fraser contributed. “Now whom was she to meet? Don’t be flippant, please, I’m serious.”
“Someone from the house,” Stone suggested, “or one of the two neighbors.”
“Kent, then,” said Reid, “she scarcely knew the other one. But cut that out. Marcia never so far forgot her dignity as to come down and meet a man after midnight, in evening dress and no hat. Ridiculous!”
“Carleton’s right,” Iris agreed. “Marcia was at heart conventional, even straitlaced in some ways. She never would do that.”
“You’ve overlooked a possible point,” suggested Stone, gravely. “What about blackmail? Might she come down secretly, with the money to pay some scoundrel who was hounding her?”
There was a moment’s silence, and then Challis said, “I wonder if you haven’t struck it, Fleming. It comes mighty near, anyhow.”
“It’s only a guess,” Stone went on. “But she might go on such an errand, without a hat. The veil might have been intended to put over her hair, not as an appanage to a hat; yet for some reason she didn’t put it on, and the gloves, I don’t quite see, unless she meant to put them on to cover her valuable ring— perhaps fearing a necessity of giving the villain the ring too. A hundred dollars isn’t much if it really was blackmail.”
Iris looked at him in admiration.
“You wonderful man!” she breathed in a rapt whisper, not knowing how Stone hated blatant compliment. “You’ve hit it exactly.”
“Maybe,” Reid said, looking dubious. “But as I knew Marcia, if she had been blackmailed, which seems an impossibility in itself, she would never have taken matters in her own hands, she would have turned it over to Allan.”
Stone looked at him, and wondered if he himself could be the blackmailer.
But the others pounced on the new idea.
“Of course, that’s it,” Pamela said, “anybody can be blackmailed. Even the loveliest and sweetest woman in the world. And Marcia was that. Dear Marcia. She did some foolish little thing, or let slip some silly remark, and some bad woman blackmailed her, for the man who killed her was an accomplice, of course.”
“Do hold your tongue, Pam,” said Andy, smiling at her. “Don’t make a fool of yourself.”
“Miss Brett isn’t foolish,” Stone observed; “I’m not sure I agree to all this, but there may well be a crumb of truth in it. It doesn’t seem likely a man blackmailed Mrs Moore, but a vicious-minded woman is more of a possibility. And a man may have come as her ambassador, and it is conceivable that seeing Mrs Moore’s great diamond, he killed her by strangling her, and then put her in the tiger’s cage to divert suspicion from himself.”
“In that case,” said Reid, “we have to look outside Forest Mead for our villain.”
“Not necessarily,” said Stone, slowly. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t have been anyone in this house.”
A silence fell on the group. The detective’s simple statement was so true and an angry retort so futile that each one thought it over and decided to say nothing.
“Shall you work on that theory, Mr Stone?” asked Iris, at last.
“I seldom indulge in theories, Miss Beverly. They are unsatisfactory at best. What I have suggested is merely a supposition of what might have been.”
“I’m sure it’s just what did happen,” said Pam, with conviction. “But of course it was nobody in this house. That’s too absurd. It couldn’t have been Iris or me, or even the Lamb. And as to the men, just imagine Andy or Carl or Challis doing such a thing! Too absurd. No, it’s somebody from another town, North Adams, maybe, or Arden.”
“You’re a champion indeed, Pam,” Andy said, “but we chaps have to confess that it’s not impossible that one of us did it, nor is it impossible that somebody not here present, but one of the household, may have been the problematical blackmailer.”
“Do not think of me as subscribing to this theory,” Stone said, unsmilingly; “while it may be a true one, or true in part, I am not too strongly for it.”
“What theory?” said a voice, and George West stepped out on the terrace. His thin, pale face was even paler than usual, and he looked like one carrying a heavy burden. “Have you a sound idea about the tragedy?”
He dropped down on a settee, and held his hat on his knees.
Fleming Stone noticed the soft gray felt, and noticed, too, that it bore in its hatband a tiny feather, much like the one even then in his own pocket though of different coloring.
“Well, yes,” he said, in reply to West, “we have an idea. I can’t vouch for its soundness. It is, in a word, blackmail.”
Watching carefully, Stone saw the hands of Allan Moore’s secretary clench and open again swiftly.
“No!” he said, almost in a whisper; “no, not that —oh, it couldn’t be! That lovely woman—oh, rot! where did you ever get such an idea?”
His sudden change of tone was too definite not to be noticed, and Fleming Stone decided that Mr George West would bear watching.
Also, he wore a feather in his hatband.
Also, he was known to be deeply and hopelessly in love with his employer’s beautiful wife.
Allan came out of the house and joined the group on the terrace. He looked sad and weary, but more than that he looked harassed and upset. “Where’s Sara?” he asked, shortly.
“I’ll find her,” said the ever-ready Pam, jumping up. “I think she’s in the flower-room.”
“Sit down,” Allan bade her. “I’ll find her myself. What are you people talking about?”
“Marcia,” said the irrepressible Pamela. “We think she was blackmailed.”
Allan stared at her.
“Don’t be so brutal, dear,” he said, gently. “What does she mean, Owen?”
Pamela flew across the stone-flagged floor and wriggled herself into Allan’s arms.
“Don’t be cross with me,” she begged, “I can’t bear it. I’m only trying to help.”
“Then help by keeping still,” Allan said, his arm round her, but a severe note in his voice.
“It’s a suggestion, Mr Moore,” Stone volunteered. “And there may be something in it. Supposing someone, perhaps a bridge partner, a woman, maybe, had or thought she had a bit of malicious gossip or scandal she could tell about Mrs Moore. Suppose she, or more likely, some man acting for her, made an appointment to meet Mrs Moore Friday night, and she was obliged to keep the date or have this story made public. It isn’t a plausible theory, but it might have happened. We all know there is lots more blackmail going on than we have any idea of, and it is a way to look.”
Allan Moore showed clearly that he was controlling his temper by a strong effort. He gently pushed Pamela into a chair and then faced the others, saying;
“I very much want the murderer of my wife found. You may all do anything or suspect anybody as a criminal or accessory. But you may not assume any theory that implies wrong-doing on her part. If you think Marcia unjustly accused of some trivial wrong-doing in regard to her bridge cronies, take up the matter by all means, but if you think she really did anything wrong—any of you—then I want you to go away from here. I refuse to entertain under my roof anyone harboring the least doubt of my wife’s honesty, goodness or loyalty to myself and to our friends. This, of course, does not apply to Mr Stone, or to Detective Dobbs. They are carrying on their business, and moreover they never knew my wife when she was alive, so cannot realize her immaculate probity and sweet nature.
“The funeral services will be held on Monday, to-morrow, and I much prefer not to be consulted by the detectives until after that. Unless absolutely necessary, Mr Stone, leave me out and talk to Challis instead.”
“Your wishes shall be respected, Mr Moore. I am quite sure your personal attention need not be called to any official matters just now. I shall carry on my investigations, and doubtless Dobbs will do the same, but you shall be spared until you are ready to be consulted.”
“That is all I ask. And now I must go into session with Sara and Mrs Bond, regarding the necessary arrangements.”
“Oh, Allan,” Iris cried, “let me help you. There are so many things I can advise you about—”
“Thank you, Iris, but Sara and Mrs Bond can do all that is required, and West and Sheldon will see me through. Keep me posted, Challis, as to any important developments that may show up—you see how it is.” Abruptly he turned and went back into the house, with a motion to West, who rose and followed him.
“Poor chap, he’s all in,” said Andy. “I never saw him so queer before. You’d expect him to be broken up, but he’s more than that. He’s like a man with— with—”
“With a secret,” put in Andy. “I think, somehow, the blackmail idea is a step in the right direction, and Allan knows more about it than he’s telling. He wants to keep Marcia’s fair name unsmirched, and who can blame him? Now to find the blackmailer, if any.”
“I’m going for a walk,” said Stone. “You people will probably be quizzed by the redoubtable Dobbs. Don’t tell him anything you wouldn’t tell me. I’m not jealous of his prowess, but I want a fair chance with him.”
“Where are you going to walk?” Pamela inquired; “may I go with you?”
“I’m fond of solitude,” Stone began, but the wheedlesome smile was too much for him, and he said, lamely, “Come along then, if you won’t chatter too much.
“I’m going,” Stone informed his pretty companion, as they went down the drive toward the gates, “to call on the two neighbors, Mr Pollock and Mr Kent. If that will be too long a walk for you you can run back now.”
“You did well to bring me along,” Pamela told him, with no motion toward turning back. “I can show you a short cut—”
“Of course I know the short cut, my child, or I never should have started to walk it.”
“Oh, it’s not such a long walk, and it’s a grand day for walking. Is it a snooping expedition?”
“Your diction could be improved upon, but yes, I suppose you have described the trip correctly. Do you know these men?”
“Very slightly, and they’re not at all interesting. Mr Kent was an admirer of Marcia, but I can’t see him blackmailing her.”
“What do you mean, an admirer of Mrs Moore, when they met so seldom?”
“Ah, but was it so seldom? Once, anyway, I know that Marcia went for a drive with him and kept it secret—or thought she did.”
“How did you find it out?”
“Snooping. And, too, one day Marcia came home from a walk, with a bunch of those little goldy asters in her belt, and we don’t grow those. I think they aren’t grown anywhere around here except at Mr Kent’s place.”
“Oh, pshaw, they grow everywhere; she might have picked them up in the village. That’s no sort of clue. Tell me of her attitude toward Kent.”
“Well, I didn’t ever see them together, but Effie told me she once carried a note to him from Marcia.”
“That’s your snooping, then, servants’ chatter.”
“Yes, and if you’re any sort of detective you’ll know that isn’t such a bad way to find out things.”
“No, but you see I don’t like Effie.”
“Neither do I; she’s so common and loud. And then again, she’s real nice, almost like folks. What are you going to ask these men about?”
“I don’t quite know. But look here, if I put my hands together this way,” joining his finger-tips as he spoke, “you run off outdoors or into another room and leave me alone with my host.”
“How can I do that?”
“Easily, if you have a grain of ingenuity. I thought you had a lot. Well, just sort of yawn, and look bored, and murmur something about looking at the garden—and drift off. Surely you can do that.”
“To the queen’s taste. Watch me.” Pamela’s pride had been touched and she was anxious now to show her dramatic powers.
“Don’t overdo it. Just fade out, you know, and wait for me outside. I shan’t be long in any case.”
And then Stone switched the conversation to other matters and told amusing anecdotes until they reached the Pollock house.
“We’ll take this first, as it comes first,” he said; “and the same plan obtains. But don’t leave the room unless I do give the signal; we sha’n’t be here long.”
As they entered the gate, Pamela cried, “Why, there are some of those little browny asters here, too. I don’t believe they are so rare.”
“Is that the kind you mean? No, that’s a common variety.”
“Then Marcia kept Mr Kent’s flowers because he gave them to her, and not because of their unusualness or beauty. They’re not so very pretty.”
“Not pretty at all, my way of thinking. But surely they grow in the Moore gardens, too.”
“Dunno,” returned Pamela, now looking at the larger chrysanthemums. “These are beautiful. The frost will catch them pretty soon.”
“Who’s talking about frost in September?” came a voice, followed immediately by a man appearing round a corner of the house. “Miss Brett, how do you do?”
“And Mr Stone,” said Pamela, by way of introduction. “Mr Pollock, we’re interested in your flowers, they all seem to be yellow.”
“Late flowers so often are. The goldenglow is at its best now, and the chrysanthemums,—you’re fearing frost already?”
“Well, sometimes an unseasonable one catches us unawares.”
“That’s so. Will you come up on the porch? Tell me, how is poor Mr Moore? I am so sorry for him. You’re a detective, Mr Stone? How are you getting on with your investigations? Sit here, Miss Brett, do. A terrible thing, isn’t it?”
Pollock was of the sort who keep up a running conversation without pausing for replies. His sympathy sounded perfunctory, yet his words and tone seemed sincere enough.
“There,” he said, as he arranged his guests to his liking. “Now,” and he pushed a bell, “what will you drink, Miss Brett? Ginger ale or a fruit lemonade? A highball, Mr Stone? I have some first-rate makin’s.” A white-coated servant appeared, and took his master’s instructions.
“Good of you to come,” Pollock went on, “I’m right down glad you did. I haven’t been as neighborly over at Forest Mead as I should have liked. I’m a busy man and I really haven’t the habit of neighboring. It is a habit, you know. But, let me say right now, if there’s anything I can do—anything at all— just let me know and I’ll make time for it. I always say people can make time for anything they want to do—really want to, you know—and I do want to be of help if there’s any possible way.”
“That’s good of you, Mr Pollock,” Stone said; “and Mr Moore may be glad to avail himself of your offer. He’s pretty much all in, as you may well imagine; but after the funeral services, which will be held on Monday, he will, I am sure, be more like himself again. If you care to come over I am instructed to give you the invitation.”
“Yes, oh, yes, assuredly. It is difficult for me to attend funerals, I am temperamentally sensitive, but as a mark of respect, oh, certainly, yes. It is heartrending, the—er—circumstances, you know, but, have you not some clue—ah, here is James, with our refreshment. See now, Miss Brett, a lovely fruit-sherbet for you, with a cherry on top, and lord knows what’s inside it—shall you like it?”
“Oh yes,” said Pamela enthusiastically, and even as she took it she saw Fleming Stone’s finger-tips come together, and remain that way for a moment.
“And, Mr. Pollock,” she went on, “may I not take it out to that lovely little arbor and enjoy it by myself? I don’t shine in serious conversation, and I am so saddened by my friend’s death, I like best to be alone.”
“Yes, yes, child, run along. Poor little girl, how it must grieve you.”
Pamela ran along, and the two men were soon provided with grown-up drinks.
“I’m not here to question you, Mr Pollock,” Stone said, “but there is one inquiry I want to make. Of course, you are under no obligation to answer it but in my official position I should be glad to have it answered. But first, how well do you know Mr Kent?”
“Well, now, not at all intimately. We are friendly, of course, but not really neighborly. As I told you, I am not a good neighbor. I get so absorbed in my own affairs I forget the world at large.”
“What is your interest, may I ask?”
“I’m an aviator, Mr Stone. An amateur aviator. I do not as yet, fly fast or far, but I have a license, and by practice I hope to improve and perhaps become an expert. Thus, you see, I haven’t so much time for visiting round as I should like. Nor have I felt as yet that I could invite my neighbors or friends to go with me in my plane. But some day I shall reach a point of progress when I can do so. But I interrupt. You wish to speak of Mr Kent?”
“Only to ask you, in strictest confidence, if you know of his—er—acquaintance with the late Mrs Moore. This may sound strange, even wrong, to you, but I assure you I inquire in the name of justice. I have reason to think the gentleman in question had an interest in the lady a trifle deeper than mere neighborliness or even friendliness. This, of course, strictly between ourselves. I only ask you to tell me, if you care to, what you know of this matter in the way of facts, not at all inquisitively as to your opinions.”
“Very well put, Mr Stone, very well put. Exceedingly well put. And most clever of you to tell Miss Brett to leave us to ourselves at your given signal.”
“At what!” said Stone, more utterly taken aback than he would have believed possible.
“The signal,” repeated Pollock, permitting himself the slightest of smiles, “Did she not understand that when you joined your finger-tips for a moment, she was to make an excuse to leave us and flock by herself?”
“Yes,” said Stone promptly, and looking the other squarely in the eye. “You are quite correct, so far.”
“And the rest is,” Pollock was smiling openly now, “that you want to get a line on me, under the guise of a query about Kent. Well, Mr Stone, you might as well have asked right out.”
“So it would seem,” and now Stone was himself grinning, “but you must know that is not the way detectives work. Seldom do they strike an occasion where it is better to ask right out. But since this is one, I will ask right out. Can you tell me anything about this matter, Mr Pollock? Can I get a line on you by asking for it? I acknowledge my carelessness, even my stupidity, in choosing the approach I used, and I recognize your quick-witted understanding of my ruse, but further than that I have no apology to make, and I should be glad of any help you care to give me.”
“Well spoken, Mr Stone. I think we shall be friends. Now, for a starter; Mrs Moore, as I understand it, was suffocated. And by human hands, not by a wild beast.”
“That is correct, Mr Pollock. To the best of our knowledge and belief that is the truth.”
“Then it is impossible that suspicion should ever turn my way. Oh, don’t trouble to repudiate the idea. I know you have no reason to suspect me, nor any will to do so. I scarcely knew the lady and have seen Mr Moore but a few times. But my positive assertion is based on the fact that I am afflicted with the ailment known as Depuytren’s Contraction, which would render it impossible for me to suffocate or strangle anybody.”
He held out his hand, and Stone, who was familiar with the infirmity, saw that the man had a bad case of the trouble in question. His finger-tips were turned in until they touched his palms, nor could he straighten them out.
“It would not be painful,” he went on, “except that I also have arthritis, and the two together sometimes make me want to howl with the ache. But, as you can see, I am far from the type required to make a good strangler.”
“The lady was suffocated, not strangled,” Stone informed him, but added, “Neither, however, do I see then how you can manage a plane.”
Pollock laughed easily, “Oh, it’s not so difficult as it would seem. Of course it’s only managing; but I do manage—somehow.”
“I wasn’t suggesting a suspicion of your being implicated in the matter,” Stone rejoined as easily, “but we detectives are often up against it to introduce a subject without seeming to have suspicion. As to your catching on to my little ruse, I am amused at the episode; I admit your cleverness and I confess to a slight wound in my vanity, but not much of the last and I shall doubtless repeat the trick at any future opportunity I may meet.”
“That’s all right, Mr Stone, forget it. I should not have noticed it except that you were a trifle evident with your gesture, the little girl looked twice to be sure you were signalling, and then she made up a rather transparent excuse to get away. Quite thoughtlessly you nodded slightly, and she made her little speech. A nice child, isn’t she?”
“I don’t look on her quite as a child, girls are grown up so young, nowadays.”
“True. I am unaccustomed to girls, or to young people in general. In fact, they have small interest for me. Mrs Moore, beautiful as she was, had no appeal for me. I would rather talk to Miss Beverly, and yet even that would give me no particular pleasure. No, I fear I have no use for young people.”
The man was so evidently sincere in what he was saying that Stone wondered a little.
“You are not married, Mr Pollock?”
“No, one doesn’t marry an old woman, and you know my opinion of the young ones. I am what is generally known as a confirmed bachelor, and married life, I am sure, would bore me to extinction. Now shall we take up the subject of Mr Tony Kent?”
“If you please.”
“I doubt I can tell you anything definite about him, but I can say that I have seen him and Mrs Moore together some few times when no one else was with them. I feel rather uncomfortable at telling you this, but if ever justice cries out for vengeance it is in a murder-case, and while I cannot think Kent is implicated, yet if you are collecting information all I have is at your disposal.”
“Thank you. And these occasions you speak of?”
“They were infrequent. Once or twice driving, in Mr Kent’s car; once, walking, at twilight; and once I met them in the village having tea at the Inn. Not serious matters, you see. But I tell of them in all seriousness.”
“And I thank you. May I come to see you again, Mr Pollock?”
“Whenever you will. I am almost always at home, unless trying my wings. And if I can be of any help, count on me.”
Stone collected Pamela, they made their good-bys and went away.
“You liked him?” she asked.
“Yes. He’s odd, but seems sincere and exceedingly quick-witted. Now for the other chap.”
They walked on in silence, Stone looking forward rather than backward.
“Stay by me this time, Pam,” he said as they went through the gate. “Different tactics, you see.”
They found Tony Kent in a hammock on his front porch, reading. He jumped up as he saw them and welcomed them cordially, albeit with a solemn face.
“But how pleasant to see you,” he said, and it seemed to Stone that he sounded shallow and insincere after Pollock’s frankness.
“We just stopped in for a moment,” Stone said, easily. “Moore asks you to come over to the services, if you care to. They will be to-morrow, at two. And as I’m here may I ask you one or two questions?”
“Assuredly,” and Kent ensconced Pamela on a low-cushioned chair and gave her a box of candy.
“I may sound a trifle invidious,” Stone went on, “but remember, I’m investigating a serious matter.”
“I do remember that,” Kent returned. “It is also serious to me. I will say frankly that I loved Mrs Moore very deeply, and I am ready to help in any way possible to avenge her death. There must be something I can do—there must.”
“Did she return your affection?” asked Stone, deciding that frankness was the keynote of the conversation.
“I don’t say so,” Kent returned, slowly, and with a glance at Pamela.
“Don’t mind me,” the girl said, “I may be young, but I’m not blind. You know what girls are nowadays. Speak right out, Mr Kent.”
“Yes? Well, then, I am sure Mrs Moore felt kindly toward me—further than that I cannot go. We were congenial, you see, liked the same things, enjoyed the same sort of thoughts, the same kind of music, the same books; in a word, we were happy together, far more so I really believe than she was with her husband. Allan Moore is a fine man but not at all the right husband for a girl of Marcia’s temperament.”
“Better suited to Iris Beverly,” put in Pamela, who felt sure of her ground here.
“Yes, or even the Lamb young person,” suggested Kent.
“You are a rich man, Mr Kent?” Stone inquired casually.
The reply was equally unconcerned.
“Hardly that, but I have enough—or nearly enough. Why?”
“We have reason to think Mrs Moore was being blackmailed, and I wondered if you needed money.”
Kent gave him a quick glance and went on, calmly; “No, I neither blackmailed her nor killed her. I thought you would know that. You see I fairly worshipped her. I hoped to win her completely, persuade her to divorce Moore and marry me. There’s my story, Mr Stone, believe it or not. I had no wish to kill her, no hope but to win her at last and make her happy. I think I was making progress, I think she was learning to love me, and then came this awful thing. I am certain, in my own mind, that Moore discovered our affair and killed her because of it. How else could she get into the zoo? I am an animal lover, and I could have put her in Bluebell’s cage, but I loved her, I wanted her, I would have fought for her on occasion or I would have given my life for her.
“No, Mr Stone, don’t look toward me when searching out the murderer, but if you want an avenger, I am your man.”
“Which way would you look, Mr Kent?”
“As I have said, toward her injured husband. And, moreover, I do not think he will long grieve over the loss of his wife. Consolation is at his elbow, a girl far better fitted to make him happy is waiting to be asked—”
“Sara?” cried Pam.
“Of course. The day is past when we mince these matters. Come out in the open, Mr Stone, accuse Allan Moore: if you can get evidence accuse Sara Lamb as his accomplice, and drive the guilt home where it belongs.”
“You are a wild animal fancier, Mr Kent?”
“To a degree. Not as Moore is one. I have studied their habits and I have a sort of intuitive understanding of them, but I would not care for a zoo. Too much of them bores me, and I sicken of their bestiality. Yet I cannot help an interest in the great cats —the lions and tigers cast a spell over me at times. But now, that is gone. I dream of that terrible Bluebell clawing Marcia’s sweet face and beautiful body and I feel I never want to see a wild beast again.”
“I don’t blame you,” cried Pam. “I feel that way too: I don’t want to paint them any more. I wish Allan would sell them and make that lovely building over into a tea-garden or something.”
“I can’t agree with you, however, Mr Kent,” Stone said, “about Moore’s guilt. As I understood it, your acquaintance with Mrs Moore was slight—at any rate Moore decidedly thought so. Had you two been more openly intimate, had Allan had more reason for jealousy, I might look at it differently. Did you meet her in the grounds of the Moore home the night she was killed?”
Kent hesitated a second and then said, “Of course not. I am told she went downstairs to meet a man who blackmailed her and murdered her. That was not I.”
Fleming Stone admitted to himself that he was foolish, but somehow those last four words of Tony Kent’s seemed to him to be true talk.
As they left the Kent place, Pamela said; “There are some more of those russet-colored asters.”
“They seem to be everywhere,” said Stone, absently.
Monday morning Foster Pollock came over to Forest Mead.
He and Allan Moore met casually, and though Pollock expressed no word of sympathy he was a trifle more friendly than usual, his eyes showed sorrow and understanding.
He asked Moore frankly if there were not something he could do to be helpful, even offering to entertain overnight guests if the house were crowded.
Allan was courteous if not cordial, and when Pollock offered to take Iris or Pamela for a short areo-plane spin Allan said it might be pleasant for them to get away from the oppressive atmosphere of the house and he hoped they would go.
The guest went in search of them, and though Iris declined Pam was overjoyed to go and ran for her plane togs.
“Delightful child,” said Pollock as she hurried away; and Iris said, warmly, “Yes, indeed. We all love her. And she is really a clever aviator.”
“She is,” he agreed. “I was surprised at her skill the last time I took her up. She begged me to let her go up alone, but I said not yet.”
“As you feel best,” Iris returned. “But I think she could manage it all right.”
“All ready,” Pamela said, reappearing. “We shan’t be gone long, Iris. I’m sure a little scoot will do me good.”
Pollock had his small car and Pamela sat beside him as he drove.
“I don’t see how you grasp the wheel at all,” she said, with compassion in her lovely eyes. “Your poor fingers are all curled up.”
“It isn’t easy,” he returned; “and it hurts my pride to be awkward, but I manage the best I can.”
“You do wonderfully. Does it hurt you?”
“When I have arthritis also, yes; and that’s just about all the time. I’m not whining, you know, I’m making it out as bad as I can because I like your pretty sympathy.”
He smiled at her, and Pamela touched her fingertips to the back of his crumpled-up hand.
“Poor Foster,” she said; “My Dad used to have a friend who had this very same trouble. I never saw the man, but Daddy told me about it and about him. It was long ago, but it made a strong impression on Father, so I always remembered it.”
“Your father is not living?”
“Oh, no, he has been dead a long time. Allan is really my guardian but I live with my mother’s people. Can you play golf and tennis?”
“I can’t manage a golf club, or a racket. My athletic sports are confined to bridge and chess.”
They reached the pleasant little house, and went at once to the hangar.
Pamela’s eyes were dancing with joy as they rose in the air, and small wonder, for she herself was piloting, while Pollock watched her closely and instructed her carefully.
It was during this absence of its owner that Fleming Stone took occasion to go to Pollock’s house.
He told the man who let him in that he would sit on the porch for a while and then if Mr Pollock did not return he would jog along. He needed no attention, but the man was to tell Pollock that Mr Stone had called.
Left alone, but a few moments elapsed before Stone was in the house and foraging about. Downstairs he found absolutely nothing of doubtful appearance, and upstairs produced the same results.
Simply furnished but in general good taste, the house was quite evidently the home of a bachelor of sufficient means and studious habits.
Books lay around everywhere, and while not always ponderous tomes there was little frivolous literature.
Chairs and lounges were comfortable, even luxurious, and little tables were conveniently placed.
Regardless of the danger of interruption, Stone pulled open desk drawers and peered in pigeonholes. He opened cupboards and looked in chests, but nowhere could he find anything in the least suspicious.
Nor was he looking for anything special. But he had resolved to give this house and Kent’s the onceover, and he set about it with his inevitable thoroughness.
He could run through the contents of a desk or dresser in half the time it would take a less thorough man, and do the job far better.
He found absolutely nothing the least bit suspicious, and though powder had quite evidently been spilled on the floor in front of the closet door, he could not read any sinister meaning in that.
It was clearly a splash of dusting powder, for the tin was on the nearby dresser, and what more natural than that a man with crippled fingers should spill the stuff.
Stepping around it, lest he leave his footprint, Stone peeped into the small closet and found it contained only hats and shoes.
No hat showed a tiny feather, and no shoes looked in any way unusual, so he gave over his search and went softly downstairs again, out at the front door and down the road to Tony Kent’s place.
He found, as he had hoped, that Kent had already gone to the funeral, and again he told the servant who admitted him that he would remain a short time and would then let himself out.
The maid seemed satisfied to let him do so, and returned to her own domain.
Again he hurried lightly up the stairs and surveyed the rooms speedily but with care.
The house was more pretentious than Pollock’s and more tastefully appointed, but it was clearly a man’s home and showed no feminine touch.
Again the deft, noiseless search took place, and again with negative results.
One drawer only was locked, and this yielded readily to a small tool Stone drew from his pocket.
To his surprised interest there appeared an assortment of notes and cards in the unmistakable chirography of Marcia Moore.
A hasty perusal of the missives disclosed only invitations for dinner or evening, with perhaps a note of thanks for flowers or a book. Then there were several snapshot photographs, mostly group pictures, and a few of Marcia in the zoo, leaning against Bluebell’s cage or tossing a flower to the tigress.
Nothing that anyone could criticize, not even a tiny powder-puff or a small broken fan.
Stone concluded he could find nothing, tiptoed down the stairs and, as he stepped out on the porch, Kent’s car turned in at the drive.
The funeral, then, was over, and quickly slipping into a verandah rocker, Stone sat, as if wearied with waiting, while his host approached the steps.
But Kent was clearly in no mood for conversation.
“Glad to see you, Mr Stone,” he said, “that is, I would be if I felt in the mood to see anyone. But as you can readily understand I don’t feel like talking just now, and I am going to ask you to call some other time.”
“Certainly, Mr Kent,” and Stone rose to go. “I fully understand and I am truly sorry for you. I know that you want to help find the murderer of Mrs Moore and are willing to do all you can in that direction. I will call again in a day or two and trust you will then feel like talking.”
Stone felt a decided sympathy for the man and realized what an ordeal the services must have been for him: That brief glance at the notes and mementoes proved to him that however much Kent had cared for his neighbor’s wife, there was, so far, nothing to hint that his regard was returned, certainly no proof of illicit affection on her part.
He went back to Forest Mead and found Challis and Dobbs in consultation in the morning-room.
“Come in, Mr Stone,” Dobbs said, as he passed the half-open door. “We want a serious talk.”
He paused while Stone closed the door and seated himself to confer with them.
“It seems to me,” Dobbs proceeded, “that we’ve found our criminal; and to my way of thinking he’s none other than the lady’s husband himself. I feel quite certain that Mr Moore strangled his wife—”
“Suffocated,” Stone said, quietly, but with decision.
“All right, suffocated, then; what’s the difference?”
“A great deal, and you must not confound the two processes. Strangling is compressing the windpipe until the victim cannot draw breath through it. Suffocating is holding the mouth and nostrils closed so that no air can be drawn in or let out.”
“Seems to me much of a muchness. But have it your own way. Well, then, say Allan Moore suffocated his wife—”
“Either with intent to kill her, or because he lost his temper, he caught her by the throat, and squeezed harder than he meant to, in his anger, unintentionally killing her.”
“Not broken cuff-links or cigarette ashes, but more psychological argument.”
“All right,” said Stone, cheerfully, “I always like psychology. Just how does it work in?”
Dobbs lost a little of his cocksureness.
“Well, I mean,” he began, but with a gesture of impatience, Owen Challis took up the tale.
“You mean that Mr Moore was fed up with his wife’s goings on in the matter of teasing his pet tigress, and he took her down to the zoo, or found her down there, and when she was saucy or unmanageable, he made a grab at her, and inadvertently killed her. That something like it?”
“Yes,” said Dobbs sulkily, “about like that in the main points.”
“Very good,” Stone said, “plausible and logical, but have we any real proof of such conditions? Though high-tempered at times, Mr Moore is not one to fly at the woman he loved so well and suffocate her with his own strong hands.”
“I grant you that, sir,” Dobbs agreed, “but what else can we assume? Who else had motive and opportunity to attack the lady that night, who else had the knowledge of the zoo and the cage fastenings and all that to put her in the cage with the bloodthirsty tiger?”
“Easy, there, Dobbs, easy,” counselled Fleming Stone; “Bluebell was never a bloodthirsty sort—Mr Moore says so.”
“Mr Moore would say anything in praise of that brute, whether true or not. He’s fond of her, the Lord knows why, and he won’t hear a word against her.”
“And really that makes no difference—since the tiger didn’t kill her.”
“I don’t know whether it did or not,” and Dobbs shook his head.
“Well, I know,” and Stone spoke decisively. “Bluebell no more killed Mrs Moore than I did.”
“Who did kill her then?” and Moore himself entered the room as he spoke. “I don’t want to seem impatient, Stone, but if we can’t get at anything definite, I’m willing to let the matter drop. No discovery of the criminal, no punishment of him can bring Marcia back to life, and I’m so wearied with the investigations going on here, there and everywhere that I’m ready to give up the problem, close up the place and go off to Africa for a long trip.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Moore, but that won’t do,” and Dobbs looked at him with more truculence than he had ever shown before. “You can’t walk off and leave matters in that casual way. You know, I suppose, that while there are many ways to look for the criminal, there is a strong suspicion harbored against yourself.”
“By whom?” asked Allan, calmly.
“By me, for one,” Dobbs told him. “I have been far from idle in the last few days. I have found out some things, and while I am not ready to arrest you, nor am I positive, as yet, that I am right, I believe that you and you alone are responsible for the death of your wife.”
“Alone?” and Allan raised his fine eyebrows. “Are you quite sure you do not suspect someone else in collusion?”
Dobbs was a bit taken aback, but he stood his ground.
“That, too, may come into it,” he said. “There are, of course, two women beneath this roof both of whom are deeply in love with you. Don’t interrupt me; I do not always base my deductions on shreds and ashes. I study the situations, the circumstances, the conditions—”
“And you learned that!” Allan looked scornful. “And to which of these charmers do I incline?”
Doggedly, Dobbs plunged ahead. “To the little one, to Sara Lamb; you are mad about her, and now you are free I make no doubt you two will wed as soon as a decent time has elapsed.”
Allan Moore looked at the detective as a man might look at a crawling slug.
“Mr Dobbs,” he said, after a momentary pause, “I have had slight experience with detectives, but I didn’t think they talked like that. Hereafter, please speak to me only when absolutely necessary, only when your queries cannot be answered for me by my friend Mr Challis or by my private investigator, Mr Stone.”
“Look out, Mr Moore,” Dobbs blustered, “you may lay yourself open to a charge of contempt of court—”
“If by court you mean yourself, Mr Dobbs, the charge is already due.”
“Pipe down,” said Challis. “That sort of talk won’t get us anywhere. Now, Allan, since Mr Dobbs has remarked upon it, we must admit there is some slight reason for suspicion of several people in this house, which, if we had a more logical suspect could be disregarded.”
“No more logical suspect than Mr Moore is needed;” Dobbs looked at Challis, keeping his glance carefully away from Allan. “I am credibly informed that on the night of Mrs Moore’s death, just before they all went upstairs, Mr Moore was seen to embrace Miss Lamb, though they thought they were unobserved.”
“Servants’ gossip,” said Fleming Stone, “and of no use as definite evidence anyway. Have you never kissed a girl in a shadowy corner, Mr Dobbs? In this day and generation is it a sign of a criminal complex?”
“It is a step toward discovery,” and Dobbs spoke angrily. “A hint which way to look, a straw to show what way the wind blows.”
“All of that, I dare say,” Stone agreed, “but what of it? Where does it get you?”
“Gets me very close to the point of arresting Mr Moore as a principal and Miss Lamb as an accomplice.”
“Try it,” said Stone, “and you’ll find yourself in a bad hole. Now it seems to me we have more immediate and more important problems to tackle. Where, for instance, is the diamond from Mrs Moore’s ring? It did not fall out of its setting, it was pried out, and that with some difficulty. Moreover, the theft was accomplished between the time Mrs Moore was killed and the time she was put into the tiger’s cage. The tiger couldn’t have clawed it out, could she, Mr Moore?”
“Might have, by chance, if she had hit the stone squarely with a claw; but that is highly improbable, and, too, it would have deeply scratched the fingers.”
“Are tigers attracted by flashing or brilliant things?”
“No, not especially. They are fond of flowers, but of nothing else in particular, except food.”
“Is it known why they are attracted to flowers?”
“Oh, yes, it is the odor that they enjoy. Their sense of smell is highly developed, and they are exhilarated by any sweet or strong fragrance and make a dive for any blossom within their reach. When we show them off we always toss a flower in the cage to liven them up.”
“And can they be enlivened by other means?”
“Often. But there is really no predicting what a tiger will do. It is the most uncertain of all beasts. It has the most brain of any animal, and the most remarkable cunning.”
“How do they kill?”
“Normally a tiger attacks man only when cornered, and seldom eats the body. The lion, tiger and bear attack alike. They let fly a terrific fore-paw blow at the head or face of their victim that knocks him down and wounds him. The rest is more leisurely. But it is hard to say just what mode or manner a tiger will adopt. As I said, they are the most inexplicable beasts. No one can say how a tiger would react to given conditions.”
Stone watched the speaker, amazed at his cool and collected talk on tigers, then he realized that Allan was looking at the subject from his usual scientific viewpoint, and was not even connecting his statements with his wife’s death. This convinced the detective more than ever that Allan was not the murderer, for had he been, he could not have convincingly talked in this manner.
“Mr Moore,” Stone asked, “would you be willing to have Bluebell shot to further the search for your wife’s murderer?”
“It would disturb me greatly to have the animal killed, but if you assure me it will be of the slightest use in solving the problem, yes, certainly I would agree to the plan. I have no real affection for the beast, and of course I would not let her money value be considered. Why do you want her killed, when you say she is in no way to blame? If Marcia’s body was thrown in her cage it is not surprising that she would follow her natural instincts. She tossed the body across the cage, I make no doubt, but she troubled it little after that.”
“Then where’d all them bruises and scratches come from?” demanded Dobbs, scowling.
Allan ignored the query, and Challis said, “One spring from the tiger and one mauling followed by a toss across the cage would bring those results. But since they didn’t kill her why destroy the tiger, Fleming?”
“It may not be necessary, but I want to send for a Toxological expert I know of. He can tell me what I want to know. Mr Moore, that tiger was artificially stirred up, by some means.”
“Yes, she was,” and again Stone was amazed at the sudden interest shown in any reference to the beast.
“Then I will try to get Doctor Bhaer,” he went on. “He is one of the greatest animal experts of the day. There are only four or five who could swing this thing, and he is the most available.”
“What will he do?” and Allan showed intense desire to know more.
“I can’t say, offhand. But he will know all about the matter.”
“Have him come right here to stay,” Allan urged, and it was plain to be seen that the naturalist looked forward to the visit.
“Guess I’ll light out,” said Dobbs, crossly. “I don’t seem to take such a lot of interest in vets for wild animals.”
As no one said a word to detain him he left the room, closing the door somewhat ungently behind him.
“Not a nice man,” said Challis, shaking his head in mock sadness. “Not one bit a nice man.”
“Harmless,” said Stone, “unless he tampers in any way with the tiger.”
“Eric won’t let him do that,” Allan assured them. “Now, after getting the opinions of this expert, Mr Stone, can you judge Bluebell’s part in the affair?”
“I think so; and I am assuming that if Doctor Bhaer advises you to put an end to Bluebell’s career, you will agree?”
“Yes, but I must be shown the reason. That I think is only fair.”
“How does it come into the problem, Fleming?” Challis asked, curiously.
“Because, first of all, the murder was committed by someone who knows the habits and ways of wild animals in captivity. I am just about ready to say we can eliminate from our list of suspects anyone without such knowledge. I may speak too hastily when I say the murder was committed by such a one, but I mean the dead body was put in the cage by someone who understood. And I don’t quite see collusion. Yet it might be that one killed her, and another put her in the cage.”
“Don’t think me callous,” said Allan, suddenly. “It seems, I know, as if I were too willing to discuss these awful subjects. But as you know, Owen, wild beasts are not terrible to me, they are friends, and if one goes wrong it is as if a human friend betrayed me. Marcia felt as I do about them, and even yet I can’t think Bluebell willingly harmed her.”
“Nor do I,” Stone said so decidedly that there was no mistaking his sincerity. “Has Mr Reid any knowledge or experience of zoo doings?”
“Not intimately,” Allan said. “He picks up more or less when he paints the animals, but it’s physical knowledge of them, not mental.”
“How about Mr Fraser?”
“Andy? Oh, he has a smattering of their habits and customs. He’s a regular sponge for absorbing information, and he catches on to the brutes’ ways with real ingenuity. But he’d never put Marcia in Bluebell’s cage! I think you may eliminate him first of all.”
“And Miss Beverly?”
Allan almost smiled. “Cut her out, too. She detests the zoo and all its works. She pretends to like it because she thinks that pleases me. But I know when she’s making believe. No, there’s no breath of suspicion that may rest on Iris.”
“Nor little Pamela?”
“Of course not.”
“Except,” Challis put in, “that she’s a headstrong piece, ready for anything and might have helped without knowing it.”
“Can’t see it,” and Allan shook his head. “That rounds up the crowd, I think.”
“No,” said Stone.
“Except for the staff and upper assistants, I mean.”
“Miss Lamb is neither of those.”
“Oh. Well, we spoke of her.”
“Is she fond of the animals?”
“Devoted to them,” Allan spoke a trifle defiantly. “But also devoted to Marcia.”
“Yes, of course.” Stone watched Moore’s hands. “And how about West?”
“Oh, he’s all right. He can look out for himself. But let Sara alone.”
And so Stone sent for Doctor Bhaer to come and in the meantime tried to pick up more information among the too numerous possible suspects.
While no one in the house seemed to have a sufficiently strong motive to put lovely Marcia Moore out of existence, yet Stone well knew that a murder-motive is often a most secret and hidden thing and may go undiscovered except by accident or by most careful investigation.
He was determined that discovery should not fail because of his lack of zeal in searching, and if the tiger was in any way connected with the death of the victim Doctor Bhaer would find it out, and might find out other important truths.
Tuesday, the day after the funeral, was one of those heavenly days that make one believe autumn is the choicest season of all.
The house seemed deserted, Iris and Pam keeping to their rooms, Reid at the zoo painting Bluebell, because he had heard a hint of her proposed passing, and Fraser mooning about the grounds alone.
Challis, in the den, was idly looking at some old snapshots, taken out west, when Pamela came hurrying in, dressed in her flying togs.
“Mr Pollock telephoned,” she explained, breathlessly, “and says he will give me a flying lesson if I can come over right away. Is it all right, Allan?”
“Of course, dear. Get any scrap of pleasure you can. Do you want to stay on here, or would you rather go home soon?”
“I’ll stay for a while. I’m doing so well with my aviation practice it would be a shame to leave off. Allan, dear, you know how sorry I am for you, don’t you? I like to think I cheer you up a little mite by being here. But if you rather I’d go—”
“No, no, child, stay on as long as you like. After all the bothers with the police people are over I shall go away. But I’m making no plans now.”
“Where’d these pictures come from? Here’s Dad in this one.”
“Yes, they were taken out at the mines. Look at me in this one!”
“Goodness, you look like a miner, sure enough. And there’s Tinker, that was Dad’s dog. And Mr — oh, gracious I must run! Leave those pictures where I can see them when I come back. They’re interesting.”
She danced away, her picturesque, lithe figure rounding the corner of the corridor, down the stairs, and out to the waiting car.
Mark, one of the Moore chauffeurs, drove her over to the Pollock house: she got out at the hangar and found Pollock awaiting her arrival.
“It is such a perfect morning,” he said, “I thought it would do you good to take a fly.”
“Oh, yes, I’m crazy to go, and, Mr Pollock, oh, dear Mr Pollock, can’t I—won’t you let me go up alone?”
The man looked grave. It was hard to refuse that pleading voice, those entreating eyes, and, too, she really was accomplished enough, if only she kept her head.
“Did you ask Mr Moore if you might go alone?” he asked, dubiously.
“Not this morning, but he has often said he would trust you not to let me go ahead too fast, and last time you said I was quite proficient enough— Oh, Mr Pollock, do—do let me!”
“Will you promise to be very careful? promise not to go over any water? promise—”
“I’ll promise anything, everything—oh, goody! I’m going alone!”
Foster Pollock assisted her to her place and gave her a few last directions. He had been training her for some time, she had shown a remarkable aptitude, and she took the matter seriously, every sense alert.
“Keep your head,” he repeated, “remember all I’ve told you, and don’t go far. This is your first spin alone and I want you to make a perfect success of it. Just go down to the village and back. I shall be anxious until I see you returning.”
She promised all he asked, she proved by her actions that she understood and obeyed his directions and she rose and went on till she became a mere speck in the distance.
He went back to the house and sat on the verandah. Not a distinguished looking man, Foster Pollock’s face showed intelligence if not intellectuality. Deeply interested in aviation, he was a trick flyer and studied and practiced daily to achieve certain stunts which he had not yet mastered.
Allan Moore was an amateur aviator and often wished he could emulate Pollock’s prowess, but when he found that Marcia, too, wanted to go up with their neighbor, and fly upside down and turn somersaults he put a ban on his wife’s flying at all.
Pamela he allowed greater freedom, for the girl seemed to be a born flyer and, though often heedless and daring in some ways, she took aviation seriously and never tried any daredevil work in a plane.
Pollock had no business interests that his neighbors knew of, but as he lived simply they assumed he had a small private income, which was indeed the fact.
But he had no use for wild animals, and sometimes almost shuddered at the sights in the zoo. However, he seldom went there, for he was not a chummy sort and his visits to Forest Mead were formal and infrequent.
Kent, on the other hand, was interested in the animals, and though no more of a visitor than Pollock he often went over to the zoo and spent hours talking to Eric about his pets. Eric didn’t like him especially, but Eric was a grumpy sort and liked few people.
By an irony of fate, Kent had fallen deeply in love with Marcia, though without special encouragement on her part. To be sure, it was Marcia’s nature to flirt with any man who came her way, but while she liked Kent well enough she felt no real interest in him.
When Fleming Stone had asked Moore his opinion of these two men, Allan had replied that he knew little of them but that they seemed to be right-minded citizens of an average type, and he cared naught for their pedigree or history. He had his own friends, who visited at his home, and an occasional dinner or garden-party invitation was sufficient courtesy for his neighbors.
Wherefore Kent’s admiration for the lovely Marcia had found little to feed on—at least so far as was generally known.
Stone wondered if she could have gone downstairs that night to meet Kent clandestinely, but decided there was no evidence of such a thing and much against it. It seemed to him a rather unlikely attempt for her to hope to get downstairs unseen and meet him for a secret interview in the maze or the grounds.
The matter of blackmail was still in Stone’s mind and he felt that if it could be proved it would clear up some of the mystery, but he saw no way of linking it up with such comparative strangers as Kent and Pollock, when there were more obvious suspects nearer home. Carleton Reid and George West stood forward in the detective’s list of possibilities of blackmailers, yet either of those men seemed improbable.
These matters, too, were in the mind of Foster Pollock. To his thinking the people at Forest Mead were a queer lot. Iris Beverly he thought little of, not understanding those intense, temperamental women who always looked as if they wanted someone to make love to them. Mrs Moore he admired, in a general way for her undeniable beauty and charm but he felt no definite attraction for her. Little Pamela he was rather fond of as a child but Pollock felt no interest in her save as a promising aviator, and in that respect he felt she exhibited real talent.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was about noon when Doctor Bhaer drove up to the Moore house, and discovered Stone on the verandah waiting for him.
The great man was delighted at the fine estate and cast eager glances at the building the chauffeur had told him was the zoo.
“Let’s go there,” he said to Stone, as impatient as a boy, but the detective advised waiting for Moore’s appearance.
Allan soon came and, greetings exchanged, they went to the zoo at once, owing to the visitor’s impatience. So pleased was he with the fine home for the animals, and over the beasts themselves and the obviously capable keeper that Doctor Bhaer waxed so enthusiastic, he well nigh forgot his errand.
Reminded, he went dutifully to look at Bluebell, who lay in her cage, morosely meditating on some affairs of her own.
“Magnificent specimen,” the visitor said, taking in the points of the fine beast. “Awful pity to kill her.”
“Do you think that necessary?” Allan asked eagerly, while Eric turned aside, lest he hear the affirmative answer.
“Only if you want to know whether or not she was artificially stimulated the night of the lady’s death. Just why do you want to know that?”
“Because,” Allan told him, “it may prove a means of tracing my wife’s murderer.”
“Then that is enough,” Doctor Bhaer said, gravely. “I have not yet heard the details of the murder, but if the death of this noble creature is forfeit to help along it will certainly be killed for a good cause.”
“How would you kill her?” asked Allan, his voice husky.
Eric left the room.
“I think we needn’t decide at the moment,” Bhaer said, gently. “May I look about a bit?”
They made the round of the cages; Eric returned, and the doctor was enthusiastic over the exhibits. The chimpanzee interested him exceedingly. “Poor Ballyhoo,” said Allan; “had things gone differently, his would have been a gay life. We were all prepared to have a lot of fun with him. But the tragedy put an end to all that, and the chimp has been sad and lonely ever since he arrived.”
“I suggest, Mr Moore,” the doctor said, later, “that you go back to the house, if you please, leaving me to talk a bit with Mr Stone and with Page.”
With a look at his beautiful pet, Allan turned and went through the tunnel to the house.
“He’s taking it hard,” said the doctor.
“Yes,” Stone agreed. “He is willing the tiger should be killed, if necessary, but I fear he thinks we are over-eager to sacrifice her unnecessarily.”
“It isn’t entirely decided yet in my mind,” Bhaer said, slowly. “I want to know some more details from Page, here.”
Then there was some talk between the doctor and the keeper regarding Bluebell’s condition and habits, until the expert was satisfied that he had all necessary information.
And then it was luncheon time, and Doctor Bhaer took his place at the table with the rest. He was a fine-looking, gray-haired man, with a kindly face and keen blue eyes. He made himself an entertaining guest and relieved the gloom of the situation by interesting tales of his experiences.
During the meal Joseph came in, and with a low-voiced message called George West out.
The secretary left the room and the butler told him that Mr Pollock was outside in his car and wanted to see him.
As West went down the verandah steps Pollock said, peremptorily;
“Get a hat if you need it, otherwise come as you are, but get in the car quickly.”
The voice carried command, also agitation and, without a hat, West jumped into the car and they were racing toward the gate, all in a moment.
“Something dreadful has happened,” Pollock said. “Pamela went up alone this morning, in my plane, and I’ve just had word from Little Minden that the plane is down in a field over there, and afire—that’s all I know.”
He said no more, but drove like a maniac until West tried to lessen the speed. “Be careful,” he said, quietly, “we don’t need another accident before we get there.”
Pollock understood and slowed down a trifle, quickly picking up the pace again.
“I must!” he murmured, “I can’t slow down.”
“You’ll be held up at this next village and lose more time than you’ve gained.”
They reached the village, explained to a traffic man, and flew on, followed by a couple of State Troopers.
Reaching Little Minden, they followed a few stragglers, the rearguard of the crowd already gone to a field on the outskirts of the tiny village.
Instantly, Pollock saw the plane and the dreadful heap on the ground, covered with some motor car robes and guarded by a Trooper Captain.
He and West pushed through the crowd, and told the Captain who they were.
Without a word, the Captain himself lifted the covering a little, and one glance was enough for the two men.
“Did you know she had gone up?” Pollock asked of West.
“Yes, Mr Moore told us so, but he didn’t say she flew alone.”
“She did,” Pollock heaved a deep sigh. “She told me Mr Moore was willing she should do so, and reluctantly I let her go. But she was quite capable of flying alone—something must have gone wrong, or she lost her head and panicked in some emergency. What shall we do?”
“You decide,” said West.
Pollock thought a moment. “One of us must stay here,” he said, “and one go back to Forest Mead. I will stay, as there will be many questions asked by the authorities, which you can’t answer. It’s a terrible errand, West, but it must be faced. Ask Moore to wait until he sees me before blaming me too much. We can’t take up that question now. What shall we do with—with Pamela? I think you’d better send a mortician here from Little Minden, as you go through it on your way home. Then, when I can get away from here, I will telephone you from the undertaker’s place, and you can let me know what Moore advises. And will you call up my mechanician, Bennett, and tell him to come over here as fast as he can. He can bring anyone from the Moore place if anyone wants to come.”
“I see it all as you do, Mr Pollock. I dread breaking the news, the place is so full of tragedy already, but it must be done. Shall I leave your car for you, and pick up a livery in the village?”
“Yes, do that. There’s no telling what may happen. I may need it before Bennett gets here. On your way.”
“I suppose,” West hesitated a moment, and turned to the Captain, “I suppose there can be no doubt—”
“Want to look again?” asked the understanding Trooper, lifting the covering robe once more.
“I don’t want to, but I think it is my duty,” and George West forced himself to make sure that the terrible object was really the burned body of Pamela Brett. He recognized the large and peculiar clasp on her disfigured handbag, but as he reached to take it the Captain interposed saying it must not be touched.
But the sight of it was proof enough and West went away without another word.
He hurried back to Forest Mead, wondering how he could best tell his story. He thought of speaking to Fleming Stone first, or perhaps some of the women, or Owen Challis, Moore’s closest friend, but he decided that his duty was to report directly to his employer and, reaching the house, he went to Allan’s den and finding no one there rang for a footman to fetch him.
Moore came, both Challis and Stone with him.
“What is it, West?” he said; “you may speak out before these chaps. No secret, I suppose?”
“No, Mr Moore, but another tragedy. Miss Brett was flying alone, and had a bad accident. A crash.”
“She is—she is killed?”
“Yes, and the plane is wrecked. It is over at Little Minden. When I left here it was because Mr Pollock had heard the news, and he took me over there with him. Do you want further details, or will you let me spare you those and take charge of the matter myself, with such assistance as you direct?”
“Yes, do that, West; there’s a good chap. I am not a craven, I hope,” he turned a woebegone face to the others, “but truly, I have stood about all the blows of fate I can bear. Look after it all, West. Use Sheldon, and if you need him, ask Mr Fraser to help you.
“Mr Stone and Owen, I wish you would attend to Doctor Bhaer’s wants. Have him do with Bluebell as he sees fit, I make no stipulations whatever. And on his decisions and advices base your own actions. Mr Stone, please go on with your work here as planned, and excuse me from conference for the rest of the day.
“Send me Foss, please, and send me Sara—she must notify Pamela’s people. They will doubtless come up here from New York, but possibly not. She will find out. I don’t want to see Pollock to-day, but do you, Owen, tell him that I consider him in no way to blame. Pamela is headstrong and determined, and I make no doubt she went up alone against Mr Pollock’s better judgment. She told him, I am sure, that I had expressed my willingness that she should do so. I had, but only because of her pleas and cajolery.
“Here is Foss, leave me with him, and communicate through him, for a time, at least.”
Allan leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, looking utterly exhausted.
Stone and Challis left the room. West told them he was about to call up Pollock’s mechanician, who would go over to the scene of the disaster, and anyone could go with him who chose.
Stone expressed a desire to go, and West agreed to tell Bennett to stop for him.
Challis went in search of his fellow guests and the visiting doctor, to tell, as best he might, the new tidings.
Doctor Bhaer, not knowing Pamela at all, and the others but slightly, betook himself to the zoo, where he spent the afternoon.
Stone chose to sit in front with the mechanician and Bennett proved to be a taciturn chap, with no desire for conversation. But Stone had a way with him, and before long he had Bennett in a talkative, even chatty mood.
Not that he expected to learn much from the underling, but he hadn’t yet quite placed Pollock to his satisfaction and the detective seldom missed a chance to acquire information. Often he had said that an ounce of information is worth a pound of clues, and unasked information was the best sort.
Knowing the welcome that human nature gives the personal equation he plunged in.
“You must lead a busy life, Bennett, what with Mr Pollock’s aviation fad and his affliction.”
“Busy enough, sir. What do you mean by affliction?”
“That trouble he has with his fingers. They seem to me so crumpled up as to be pitiable. Aren’t they mighty painful?”
“Not so very. Maybe when the weather is bad, or he’s been using them a long time, they get stiff and ache him some. But he doesn’t seem so much bothered.”
“He can do pretty much anything, then?”
“Well, yes, sir, though that reminds me that only last week he did say as they were getting worse. He cut hisself shaving, and too, his hand kinda slips on the wheel, if he’s drivin’ a car. Lordy, if they do get worse, and he can’t skyfly I dunno what he’ll do!”
“He’s fond of flying, then?”
“Fond ain’t the word. He’s an expert, you know, sir, and what he can’t do with a plane ain’t worth worryin’ over.”
“Can nothing be done for the trouble?”
“I s’pose not, or he’d have had it done. He’s had ’em cut twice since I been with him. He goes to the hospital and they cut the tendings, or whatever he calls ’em, but it don’t do much good. He says yesterday he can’t hang onto things no more. He can grip ’em, you see, and then they slips right outen his hand. Yes, it’s pretty bad.”
“And now he’s lost his beautiful aeroplane. They’re costly things, aren’t they?”
“I’ll say they are! But Mr Pollock’s got some money. He don’t put on airs, but he’s got all the jack he needs.”
“Where did he live before he came here?”
“In New York City. I didn’t know him then, but that’s where he made his money, in real estate, somebody told me. A first class man, Mr Pollock; I’m proud to work for him. I say, sir, he won’t get into no trouble over this here accident to the young lady, will he?”
“Trouble? How could he?”
“Well, they might say as how he didn’t ought to let her go up alone.”
“They may say something of that sort, but he can’t be held to blame for what happened. I understand Mr Moore told her she could go. Mr Pollock couldn’t go back of that, could he?”
“No, I suppose not. But he’ll take it hard. He’s a man what takes things hard.”
Reaching the field of the disaster, Stone found Foster Pollock disconsolate indeed. Somebody had brought him a camp stool, and he sat studying his ruined plane. He gave but a nod of greeting to Stone, and turned eagerly to Bennett, to whom he talked volubly and excitedly about the catastrophe.
Stone gathered at once that his interest was in his own loss, rather than in the human tragedy, and turned away with a feeling of dejection.
Learning that Pamela’s body had been taken to the village funeral parlors he turned his steps that way.
Fleming Stone reached the small establishment that was the mortuary of Little Minden and asked the suave undertaker to let him see Pamela’s body.
“It’s pretty terrible,” the man told him, “but if you can stand it, come ahead.”
They went into a rear room and, turning on a bright light, Garson lifted the sheet that covered all that was left of pretty Pamela Brett.
Steeling himself to the ordeal, Stone made careful examination, but discovered nothing definitely helpful in any suggestive way.
The detective realized his own absurdity; he knew how foolish he was, and yet he could not prevent or obliterate a vague, haunting notion that this new horror was in some way connected with the other one. He could see no faintest possibility that this death was not entirely fortuitous, yet he knew he must investigate its minutest detail before he could lay that hazy fear.
He was suddenly aware of a presence at his side, and looking up, he saw Foster Pollock, gazing down at the dead girl.
There was a look on Pollock’s face that almost startled the detective. It seemed to him more than the mere sense of horror that must be touched by the awful sight, and he wondered if the aviator had a personal interest in Pam deeper than he had supposed. There was something puzzling about that look.
“And to think that I am responsible for this!” he said. “To think that I brought it about!”
“Don’t look at it that way,” advised Stone, sensibly, “you are in no way responsible. Moore said distinctly that he told her she might go alone. And, in any case, you say she was entirely capable, and of course an accident may happen to anybody.”
“Yes, that is true—and sane. But, in my place, you couldn’t help the feeling I have. Had it not been for me she would be alive to-day.”
Stone began to suspect a trace of masochism, even exhibitionism, but Pollock spoke simply if bitterly, and the detective ended by feeling sorry for him.
“Cut it out, Pollock,” he said, kindly. “You’ve no real reason for such recrimination. Now, look here, you know all about aviation. Is there any chance that anyone could have tampered with your plane? I mean—you know we’re hunting a criminal—could an evil genius have fixed a bit of mechanism, or put some bolt askew, intending harm to Pamela?”
“What an awful suggestion! But, no; no one could have done that! My hangar is always kept carefully locked. No one has a key except Bennett and myself, and I’d trust that chap to the limit. Besides, before she took off this morning both Bennett and I went over it all, examined every screw and bolt, every part and gadget. It was in perfect order when I put her in, that I can swear to. I even went for a short spin before she arrived, to make myself certain.”
“You expected her, then?”
“Not definitely, no. But for days she has been saying she would come as soon as she could wheedle Mr Moore into letting her fly alone.”
“Well, I’ll be getting on. I’m going to have this pitiful little body sent to North Adams for attention, and then it will be at the disposal of her relatives.”
“Who are her relatives?”
“She lived with an aunt in New York, but she spent a lot of time up here, summers.”
“She was abroad last year; I never saw her till this summer.”
“Were you specially interested in her?”
“Romantically, you mean? Oh, no. To me she seemed just a bright, entertaining child. She amazed me by her aptitude for flying and, as Moore was willing, I taught her, and she proved a real prodigy.”
The men went back to the mortician’s office, and Stone made the necessary arrangements and asked where he could get a car to take him back to Forest Mead.
“Let me go with you,” said Pollock, “and we’ll share the expense. I want to see Mr Moore about this matter.”
“I doubt if he’ll see you, he’s pretty well done in. But come along, if you like.”
Finding a good car with a competent driver they went back together, rather silent on the way.
“You don’t like the zoo?” Stone asked, when conversation seemed called for.
“No, not the animals. I admire the building greatly, but I can’t abide a menagerie. It is partly because it seems a shame to keep those splendid creatures in such close confinement, but more because I am somewhat afraid of them, and they possess no interest for me. Mechanics are more in my line. One can’t like everything.”
“No; and they tell me you do marvels with your trick flying. I hope you’ll give me an exhibition some day.”
“I’d like to, if life at Forest Mead ever gets back to normal. You’re staying on?”
“Yes, for a time, anyway. You’re a plucky chap. How can you manage air stunts with your crippled hands?”
“Training. I can use my hands in plane work, almost normally; yet I can’t grasp anything tightly otherwise.”
“Can you shake hands?”
“No, and sometimes it is very embarrassing. I can’t always pause to explain, and a hurried introduction means my offering a ball of fist for a shake.”
“Too bad,” and Stone looked his sympathy. “I am familiar with the details, I’ve a friend with a similar case. You can write, if you get the pen in position carefully, but you can’t play the piano.”
“No, and that is a trial to me. I don’t want to bore others, but I used to get much pleasure from the keys myself. Well, that’s a thing of the past. I wish I liked radio music, but it always seems to me artificial.”
“To me, too. Where did you live before you came here?”
“Am I being interrogated?”
“We had that out the other day, didn’t we? I’m interested in the past of all with whom I come in contact, in a general way. Don’t answer, if you don’t want to. And pardon my curiosity.”
“Oh, there’s no secret. I was born in Buffalo, and lived there till I grew up. About fifteen years ago I came away, and I’ve drifted pretty well all over the U.S.A., seeking my fortune.”
“And found it?”
“Found enough for the present. Perhaps five years ago I went into partnership with a friend and we did well in real estate. I am not an extravagant sort, and I saved up enough to devote my time to aviation. I hope to commercialize my knowledge, eventually.”
“Didn’t the real estate business require clerical work?”
Pollock looked up, inquiringly. “Oh, you mean my crooked fingers! Yes, more or less, but I got along. Why, when I was over—what was that?”
“What was what?”
“I thought I heard something give way.”
“No, I think not. The driver would have noticed it. What were you saying? ‘When you were over’— where?”
“Oh, yes, when I was over in London—I never went abroad but once—I could write long letters home, and the trouble was well advanced, then.” They reached Forest Mead, and Stone asked his companion to come in.
“Mr Moore may see you,” he said, “don’t take my word to the contrary.”
But Allan Moore still declined to see any caller, and sent word by Owen Challis that he would be glad to see Mr Pollock after a day or two.
“That’s all right,” Pollock said, and joined the group on the terrace.
They all seemed glad to see him, with that pathetic relief that comes with any interruption of a sorrowful occasion.
“Sit here, Mr Pollock,” and Iris indicated a place on the settee at her side. “Tell us all you can about our darling girl.”
“No, Miss Beverly,” he returned, “that I can’t do. Thank Heaven that you know only the facts: the details are too dreadful. And I want to say, right here, once for all, that I feel perfectly certain the accident was not brought about by any fault or ignorance on the part of Miss Brett. She had become an accomplished flyer and I should not have hesitated to advise her to take any simple trip. Stunt flying, of course, she had never tried. And one more thing, I must state that the aeroplane was in perfect condition, and in exact, even meticulous order. Whatever happened was sheer accident. In so far as you feel I was to blame in letting her go I must accept your censure, but at her positive assurance that Mr Moore had given his permission I saw no reason to withhold mine.”
“It’s all right, Pollock,” Challis said, “Allan Moore has no criticism to make. He will tell you so himself when he sees you, which will be soon. As you can all readily understand, the matter of his wife’s death, of the anticipated killing of Bluebell, and now this second tragedy has played the devil with his nerves and Doctor Palmer has taken him in charge.”
“Poor Allan,” Iris sighed. “Who is with him, Challis?”
“Oh just West, and Foss, and—I don’t know, Mrs Bond, likely. She’s a good nurse. He’s well looked after at any rate.”
Doctor Bhaer joined the group, asking a few questions about the aeroplane disaster.
“I shall stay for a few days,” he announced, “assuming nobody objects. I hardly know whom to address, but I should be glad to remain here until I can talk further with Mr Moore.”
“Address me, Doctor Bhaer,” said Iris, cordially. “I shall assume the role of hostess for the time being. And I can assure you that you are a welcome guest here so long as it suits your convenience to remain. If there is anything you want call Mrs Bond or Mr Sheldon or the servants and you will be attended. What is it, Joseph? A telegram? Open it.”
Taking the yellow paper, Iris read the message aloud.
“Will arrive sometime this evening. Have me met at Arden station. Signed, Artemisia Brett.”
“That’s Pamela’s aunt, the one she lived with. Her father’s sister, and a spinster lady. I’m glad she’s coming, to take the responsibility of the arrangements. I hope she’ll take poor dear Pam down to New York for the funeral. I don’t think either Allan or I could stand another one here.”
Stone had noticed that the envelope was addressed to Allan, but it did seem better that someone else should open it, and he concluded to accept the situation as Iris ordained it.
“She knows Mr Moore?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” Iris told him, and Challis added, “She lived with her brother, that is, Pam’s father, when he was out west, on the mining business. He and Allan were partners, you know.”
“When was that?” Stone asked.
No one knew exactly, but Challis thought vaguely some twelve or fourteen years back.
Doctor Bhaer seemed bored by these reminiscences, and Iris tactfully drew him into the conversation, which she turned toward wild animals, and gave Andy a glance of command to carry on, which he did, cleverly.
Clearly, Doctor Bhaer was accustomed to be catered to, and Iris felt there were plenty of them to attend to this matter.
She also drew Carleton Reid into it, by referring to his popular paintings of Allan’s pets, and soon the doctor was in his element.
Iris went into the house to see Mrs Bond about the expected guest, and Pollock followed her.
“I am leaving now,” he said; “call on me at any time for any help I can render. I shall have to run down to New York to see about some aviation matters, but I’ll be at your service at any time. And when Mr Moore feels better I’ll have a chat with him. Good-by for now.”
Iris said good-by, with a sad little smile, and went in search of the housekeeper.
“Oh, yes,” said Mrs Bond, at once, “I remember Miss Brett—Miss Artemisia. An eccentric, but a lovable lady. Shall I give her the sunrise suite?”
“Yes, I think so. She will probably not stay long. Oh, Mrs Bond, how dreadful everything is!”
“There, there, now, Miss Beverly, don’t take on so. It is awful about that poor child, but with me it is so swallowed up in Mrs Moore’s death that it just seems a passing sorrow. Tell me, Miss Iris, who you think killed our dear lady. I’m sure it wasn’t any of the help. We all loved her.”
“I know you did, Mrs Bond. None of us knows who killed her.”
“I can’t get it out of my head that it was some of the people in the house. You wouldn’t think it was Mr West, now, would you?”
“I certainly would not, Mrs Bond. And you mustn’t make such suggestions.”
“No, ma’am, I suppose not. Are you taking Mrs Moore’s place, ma’am?”
“Yes, for the present. Somebody must be at the head, and I am well-fitted for the position. Very well, then, Mrs Bond, give Miss Brett the sunrise suite, she’ll love it; and do all you can to help or comfort her.”
“Small she’ll want of that sort of thing, she’s the independent sort. She’s very bossy, if you get my meaning, Miss Iris.”
“She can’t do much bossing here. By the way, I thought Miss Pamela lived with her mother’s people; this lady is her father’s sister.”
“The child lived all over. Sometimes she’d get mad at her Aunt May—that’s her mother’s sister— and go over to her Aunt Artemisia in a pet and stay there a while. They all loved her, but she was a terror to take care of.”
Iris returned to the terrace and found Doctor Bhaer talking to a rapt audience.
“The great cats, as we call them,” he was saying, “attack a victim’s face with a swift, powerful blow of a strong forepaw, which knocks down the quarry and usually leaves deep and fierce gashes from the claws. The blow of a tiger’s paw is as powerful as that of a grizzly. It has never been my lot to see a tiger in the cage with a human being other than a trainer, and I am not sure what would happen in case of a friendship such as I am told existed between Mrs Moore and Bluebell.
“It is strange, but my long experience has taught me that many daring women have a positive longing to enter a tiger’s cage. They beg circus managers to go in with them, and to let them be photographed. It is a peculiar obsession, but far from unusual.”
Iris shuddered; “It is ghastly,” she said. “I’ve often heard Allan say that the tiger is the most uncertain of beasts.”
“That is true, indeed,” Bhaer returned. “No matter how deep a friendship existed between Mrs Moore and the animal she should never have gone into the cage. Oh, I know it is not supposed that she went in alive, but I shall feel more certain about all that when I have held an autopsy on the brute.”
“What will it show, possibly?” asked Reid.
“What I want to know most is whether Bluebell had been in any way stimulated or exhilarated, by a human being.”
“Yes, purposely. If so it decidedly narrows the search that is being conducted for the murderer.”
“How could it have been done?” Reid pursued.
“I’ll reserve that information until after I know it myself. But the mere presence of a human being in the cage at all invariably reacts on a tiger. The trouble is, we cannot tell how it is going to react. It may quieten the animal and reduce it to a cringing humility, or it may so excite it that it acts as a powerful stimulant. But there are other conditions I feel must be looked into, if we are going to give a human slayer the benefit of the doubt.”
The scholarly face showed the deepest interest in his subject and he rambled on, as if thinking aloud.
“She was tossed—tossed, you see, and, unless the tiger was inflamed with anger or some equally powerful emotion, she would have been dragged—”
“Marcia sometimes used catnip—” Andy Fraser reminded him, but he shook his head.
“No, I mean something far stronger than catnip. Something that could be in the knowledge of only somebody well learned in wild beast lore.”
“Back to Eric!” exclaimed Reid. “He knows as much as Allan—”
“Why not back to Allan?” said Iris, slowly. “Understand, I ask that question only to have it answered. It doesn’t mean I suspect Allan.”
“I should hope not!” Challis gave her a scathing glance. “Doctor Bhaer, don’t be misled. Mr and Mrs Moore were a devoted couple. There is no more chance of Allan’s guilt than of my own, and I believe I have not been suspected as yet.”
“Then you’re the only one who hasn’t,” Iris flung at him. “I understand I have the honor of being adjudged guilty by some. But I have heard no scrap of evidence for such suspicion.”
“Nor is there any,” said Fraser. “Don’t talk nonsense, Iris—it wasn’t a woman’s job, that’s certain.”
“I have no idea that it was,” said Doctor Bhaer, “but it is a mistake to say that it couldn’t have been. We know so little of the circumstances of Mrs Moore’s entrance into the cage, whether she went in dead or alive, whether of her own volition or under duress, if alive, that we cannot predicate beyond doubt what the conditions were. Am I right, Mr Stone?”
“Yes, in the main. I am strongly of the opinion that she was suffocated before she was put in the cage, but there is still the possibility that the tiger suffocated her, in spite of some contradictory evidence. When can we learn your findings, Doctor Bhaer? Can you still ascertain what you wish to know?”
“Yes, I think so. I want to see Mr Moore once more but I shall use all expedition possible, and advise you as soon as my report is ready.”
“What has Eric to say about it?” asked Andy.
“Nothing official,” Bhaer looked grave. “I don’t want him to be present; I prefer the assistance, such as I need, of the under-keepers, with Mr Sheldon to stand by.”
“And how long must we hang around here?” Fraser inquired, a little petulantly.
When no one replied, Stone said;
“That’s up to the police, Mr Fraser. I think you can get away soon, if you really want to.”
“It isn’t that I want to, but I have some important business matters awaiting my return.”
“Better talk to Mr Dobbs about it,” counseled Stone. “Also Mr Moore. I think he’ll be himself again, shortly.”
“Not until Bluebell is a thing of the past,” said Bhaer. “He’s going to take that episode very hard. But I have one argument left up my sleeve which will insure his agreement to the tiger’s death. Now, I’m going for a short walk. Want to come along, Mr Stone?”
The detective nodded, and the two went off across the lawns.
“I’m no detective,” Bhaer said, as they walked along, “but naturally I can’t help wondering. Do you know, it seems to me that Allan Moore himself is your logical suspect.”
“Logical, but not psychological,” Stone returned, with no intent of being waggish. “I have studied the man, deeply, and I think his affection for his wife was flawless. I have drawn opinions from everyone in the house, high and low, and all lead me to that conclusion. I admit that for the moment he is greatly attracted by Sara Lamb, but I feel sure it is—as yet —purely the reaction from his grief, and he leans on her as a sort of life-saver. It might easily turn to affection and perhaps to marriage, eventually, but, just now, I am sure it is simply the line of least resistance. Moore is a strong character as to his decisions and opinions, but when it comes to the emotions he is weak and uncertain. This is not said in disparagement, but as a sound bit of reasoning from conditions as I see them.”
“I’m glad you told me all that, it gives me a better impression of Moore than I had before. May I ask in what direction your inclinations tend?”
“I’m sorry to say they are wobbly. Seldom have I been so uncertain of my own deductions, yet I am deeply interested in the case.”
“You got out of that neatly, sir, and I won’t pry further. I’m interested to know what you’ll say if the autopsy on the erratic Bluebell turns out as I imagine it will.”
“I won’t show a prying spirit, either, Doctor Bhaer, and I look forward to your report with eagerness. Though I fancy I know what it will be.”
“You do! Pray tell me what you anticipate.”
“I am not a vaunter of my powers; indeed, I scarcely know why I said that. But I think it does not require technical knowledge to guess that you will discover that the tiger was artificially stimulated in order to have it appear that it caused the death of Mrs Moore. If you so find it would go far to help along certain theories that I feel sure about, yet have no proof of. Do you often have occasion to kill a wild beast in captivity?”
“It has never been my duty before.” Bhaer looked serious, almost sorrowful. “As you can readily imagine circumstances very seldom call for it.”
“Yes, of course, I can see that. I wonder if you will let me be present at the operation, merely as an educational experience.”
“Yes, indeed, I shall be glad of your presence.”
“Thank you. And now suppose we go back to the house, as the cocktail hour draws near, and in these strenuous days such matters are not out of place.”
They turned their steps toward the house, Bhaer gazing delightedly at the wide-spreading lawns, reaching to rocky glades and deep ravines in the distance.
“Pity the house isn’t more in keeping with the estate,” he commented.
“That is true. It has been added to many times, and not always harmoniously.”
That evening Miss Brett arrived.
With only a few exaggerations she would have been what is known as a comic relief. As it was, however, she was a fine example of the triumph of mind over matter; for while her material person was eccentric, even comical, her mentality was of a dignity and importance that commanded instant respect.
Tall, somewhat gaunt, but with a certain stateliness of carriage, she strode into the big lounge hall where the interested group awaited her.
Her costume was entirely of black crepe—not the lovely silk fabric that goes by that name nowadays, but the old-fashioned material long ago used for widows’ veils and bands of trimming.
Her whole gown and coat were made of it, and also her hat, which, however, was an up-to-date model, known as a beret, perched on her silver-gray hair like a nesting bird.
Her handbag, quite unmistakably made to order, was of the same material, and far from being a lugubrious figure she was of decidedly smart effect. Her face, carrying too much make-up, was strong and large-featured, somewhat of the George Eliot type, and her snapping black eyes swept the room as she said, in a low, musical voice, “Where’s Allan?”
“Here I am, Arty,” he said, coming in suddenly; “how do you do?”
“I’m all right,” she said, briefly; “sit down, Allan, you’re nearly dead.”
She sat down herself as Challis placed a chair for her, and Allan dropped into a seat near her.
“Yes,” she went on, speaking rapidly, but not hurriedly, “I know who you all are. No introductions necessary. Yes, I had a good trip, I am not tired with my journey, and I do not want to go to my room just yet. Take off your solicitous look, Miss Beverly, Mrs Bond will attend to my comfort. My maid is with her now. Sit down, you men, and somebody tell me all there is to tell about my darling—my Pamela girl.”
Her voice broke a little, but with a keen glance she looked at one after another, and then said, “Owen, you tell me.”
“I am willing,” Challis said, “but I have not been over to the place where the plane fell. Mr Stone has, and he can give you more particulars.”
“Mr Stone, then, please—if you are willing.”
“Certainly,” he agreed, courteously.
Briefly he told her of Pamela’s going up alone in Pollock’s aeroplane, of her well-known prowess and ability, of Allan’s expressed willingness that she should go, of Pollock’s assurance that the machine was in perfect order, and of the unknown cause of the accident that had resulted in the destruction of the machine and the death of its occupant.
Miss Artemisia listened intently.
“H’m, accident—” she said, as the recital came to an end.
Stone looked up at her quickly. Had he unwittingly put some of his own apprehensions into his voice?—for surely he had said no word that could carry even the remotest suggestion that he thought Pamela’s death other than accident.
“What else?” he said, with seeming carelessness. “Presumably some little thing went askew, she turned the wrong gadget or something, and then she panicked and Lord knows what happened; but the plane took fire and fell in a field near Little Minden.”
Miss Brett nodded her fine head. She was not an old woman—perhaps slightly over fifty, and well poised. No one present attributed her calm reception of Stone’s story to lack of feeling, it was only too evident that she was holding back her emotions until such time as she chose to give way to them.
All knew how she loved the girl, all had been told of her indomitable courage and bravery and her equally inflexible will.
“You have nothing more to tell me?” she asked of Stone.
“No, Miss Brett, nothing by way of information.”
She looked at him a moment, then cast a brief but comprehensive glance at the others.
“I have said nothing of Marcia,” her voice became fainter, “I cannot talk of her to-night. I shall go to my room now, and I shall not reappear till morning. Do not disturb yourself, Miss Beverly; if I want food, Mrs Bond will send me a tray. Allan, come to see me in about an hour, or less. I bid you all good night.”
The black-robed figure rose, a waiting Joseph materialized from somewhere and escorted Miss Brett up the broad staircase.
“A strange person,” commented Andy Fraser, “but I like her.”
“I more than like her,” Allan said. “She is of sterling worth. She is all broken up over poor little Pam, but you won’t see her emotion displayed. She’s very like her brother, Pamela’s father. He was my partner, you know, in our mining days, and if ever there was a prince of good fellows it was Tom Brett. He idolized his daughter, and had he lived Pam would have been more wisely brought up. As it was, she was spoiled by her over-indulgent relatives. I suppose I am greatly to blame for saying she might fly alone, but like the others I hated to deny her anything in reason, and I thought that was in reason. And she was a wheedlesome child. I loved to please her.”
“It is the delight of your soul to please people,” Iris gave him an affectionate glance; “I never knew a kinder nature.”
“Now, now, Iris,” Fraser broke in, “don’t you know ‘Praise to the face is open disgrace’? I don’t feel that way about it when it is addressed to me—which it never is—but I know it upsets Allan.”
“Not from me,” and Iris gave a gentle smile which was utterly lost on Moore, for whom it was meant.
Still reminiscent, he went on; “Pam was like her father, too. Active, energetic, ambitious, daring, she had lots of his traits. He really brought about the success of our mine. We had setbacks at first and I should have given the project up entirely but for Tom. He stuck to it, and sure had the devil’s own time. Bad advisers, ignorant instructors, brutal overseers, incompetent workmen, and some evil enemies who almost got the better of him many times. He went through black days, that chap, before he reached his final success. And much of the time I was ’way off in Africa or Asia hunting big game and having the time of my life. That didn’t bother Tom, he always said I was no help except to put money in the thing, so I went out there a few times, incidentally taking a look at our own not unimportant wild beasts and noted the fine progress Tom was making, and came home again.”
“Did Miss Artemisia ever go out there?” Stone asked.
“Oh, yes, some of the time she kept house for her brother—his wife died while they were there and Arty was a brick, as she always is.”
“She looked so funny in that heavy crepe,” said Iris, smiling at the recollection.
“She has queer notions about dress,” Allan agreed. “But you may be thankful to see her in black. When she wears colors she’s like a Turner landscape.”
“Come on, Allan,” Iris suggested, “let’s have a little bridge. It will divert you.”
“I don’t want to be diverted. You’ve got Reid and Andy and Owen, go ahead and play. I’m going up to see Arty pretty soon.”
He wandered out on the terrace, and Stone followed.
“Can you think of any way, Mr Moore, that the death of Pamela can be linked up with the death of your wife?”
“No, can you?” Allan’s tone was almost curt.
“I can’t answer that yet—not that I am unwilling, but for lack of insufficient data. I take it, however, that you want me to proceed with my investigation, which, I have reason to think is on the verge of a solution of our mystery, no matter in what way suspicion is directed.”
“Yes,—with one exception—leave out the women. I don’t really think you suspect any woman, but if you do I’d rather you didn’t follow it up. I may be wrong, but I would rather have my wife’s death unavenged than to bring it home to a woman. Indeed, I rather hope now that we can prove it was the work of Bluebell. May not Doctor Bhaer’s operations prove that the tiger killed Marcia after all?”
“No, I think not. But if you do not want the truth known, whatever it may be, I cannot proceed with my work. In another day or two I shall have gone too far to turn back, and now is the last moment when you can stop proceedings, so far as I am concerned, if you want to.”
Allan Moore was silent for what seemed a long interval. Then he said;
“Before I answer that proposition, Mr Stone, will you answer me a question? Will you tell me if you have any suspicion, however slight, that I, myself, am the murderer of my wife?”
Stone looked at him gravely.
“Mr Moore, if I answer that question, it must be truly. If there is one certain result from the autopsy on the tigress it will turn my suspicions toward you. It cannot help doing so. Yet, even that will not prove my suspicions well founded, nor shall I consider them anything more than suspicions, to be proved or discarded.”
“You don’t care to tell me what it is that the autopsy will prove or disprove to you?”
“It must, of course, hinge on some act which can implicate only one who knows a lot about wild animals. This can include, besides myself, Eric, Carl Reid and Mr Kent. As I have frequently told you, you may cut out Eric, I would suspect myself sooner than him.”
Stone thought to himself, “if you harp on that much more, I will suspect Eric!” but he said;
“Of those three, Reid is the only one with apparent motive.”
“Well, they all tell me Kent was in love with my wife—”
“Then why should he kill her? Don’t repeat such rubbish about ‘each man kills the thing he loves,’ it seems to me inappropriate to this case.”
“Good for you, Stone, I think so, too. Written by a perverted mind, it has no reference to the present case. And, while I may have been a tolerant, easy-going sort of husband, it was just because I had such faith in my wife, that I trusted her utterly, and do still. Kent may have admired her greatly, but I agree with you. He is not the sort to kill her for that or any other reason—or I’m no reader of character.”
“I feel that he is not guilty, but ‘not the sort,’ has long ceased to be an argument to a detective. Well, then, to-morrow we will end the life of your truly magnificent tiger, and I hope your regret for it will be tempered by the real necessity for the deed.”
“Yes; forgive me if I seem foolishly sentimental, but Marcia loved Bluebell, too, and I can’t be unmoved by it all.”
“Of course not. Now, go on to see Miss Brett. Ask her, will you, to give me an interview some time tomorrow. She seems a superior type.”
“She’s all of that. So like Tom. Pamela, too, was a chip of the old block. It’s all bewildering, Mr Stone; out of my line, you know. I can fight wild beasts, but wild human beings are different. Good night.”
He went up the stairs, and Stone sought the smoking-room.
Doctor Bhaer was there alone and looked up from his book with a smile of greeting.
“Sit down,” he said to Stone, and went on, as if thinking aloud. “Do you know that now I can’t connect up Mr Moore with this thing at all.”
“Anybody else in your mind?”
“Oh, no. But wait till to-morrow morning’s disclosures.”
“What about those two neighbors, if you exonerate all the house people?”
“They’re out of it, anyway,” said Bhaer, “Pollock has those twisted fingers, he couldn’t suffocate anybody, and Kent was in love with her.”
“There are too many possible criminals over here, though. Almost anybody in the house could have—”
“Tut, tut! Very few could have and fewer still would have. No motive for most of them. But what about that missing diamond? Isn’t it pretty certain the murderer annexed that?”
“Probably,” Stone told him. “But the police are after that. They’ll find it if anyone can.”
“All right. Now that tiger is going to be shot at sunrise—or, rather, at six o’clock to-morrow morning, rain or shine.”
“Why so early, Dr Bhaer?”
“Convenience. Get it all over before people flock around. Be at the zoo at six, if you want to be in the audience. I’m asking only the ones I want.”
And that’s how it came about that Fleming Stone was up and dressed the next morning, well before six, and went out to the zoo to await Doctor Bhaer. But the doctor was already there.
Eric was there, too, looking like a man under death sentence himself, and George West hurried in, accompanied by Mr Sheldon.
Matt, Eric’s chief assistant, large of frame and stolid of face, stood awaiting orders, but Jake, the under aide, had refused to appear.
There was no fuss or bother; at six o’clock, Doctor Bhaer shot the beautiful animal, and Bluebell slumped down, almost without a quiver.
There was an ante-room with a large table, sometimes used when the animals were ailing, and the body of the dead beast was wheeled in and laid upon it.
No one was allowed at the actual post-mortem save Fleming Stone, Page and Sheldon.
When the time came, Doctor Bhaer performed his duties with the skill of experience and knowledge, and Stone kept close watch. The other two turned aside, Eric openly sobbing and Sheldon looking decidedly ill.
The work went on, however, and to his disappointment the doctor made no definite important discovery.
“What about it, Mr Stone?” he said, after his deft work seemed fruitless.
“Let me have a closer look,” and the detective stepped nearer the table. “Will you make an incision right there?” he said, indicating the tiger’s right haunch, at a spot between the leg and the loin.
Wonderingly, Bhaer did so, and with pincers Stone extracted what was beyond all doubt the glass needle broken off from a large hypodermic syringe.
“Here we have it,” he exclaimed, not at all in triumph, but with deepest interest.
Doctor Bhaer stared at him.
“How did you find that?” he fairly blurted out in his amazement.
“By looking for it,” Stone told him. “I had the advantage; I was sure it must be there from Bluebell’s own evidence. But leave discussion till later. We’ll take this, and I doubt if we find anything more. See, there is inflammation, is there also infection?”
“No; of course, the needle was sterilized.”
“Maybe not. However, finish with your work, and see about the embalming and that. Look, Eric, see what we found—”
“I don’t want to see it, Mr Stone. Lemme alone, please, sir.”
Stone understood, gave the man a parting pat on the shoulder, and went back to the house.
He found Challis and Reid at the breakfast table and Fraser hovering about the sideboard. Concluding not to wait for Doctor Bhaer he took a place at the table and, somewhat to his surprise, the coffee tasted good.
He told the others a few pointed facts, watching them closely to note their reactions.
But he gave no details, observing that it was not table-talk, and none asked questions.
Some time later, Doctor Bhaer returned, sought out Stone, and together they went to make report to Allan Moore.
They found him in his den with Detective Dobbs, who was feeling a bit indignant at not having been at the zoo with the others.
“We couldn’t expect you over here so early,” said Bhaer, suavely, “and of course, there was nothing anyone could do.”
Then, ignoring the policeman, he turned to Allan, and gave him a brief recital of what had happened, touching lightly on the gruesome side and speaking frankly of the necessary facts.
To his surprise and satisfaction, Allan said; “I’m glad it’s over. I’ve been feeling it was a duty and I’m glad it’s done. How did you know that bit of broken needle was there, Mr Stone?”
For the doctor had generously given Stone the credit which was rightfully his.
“I had an advantage over Doctor Bhaer,” he replied; “I have watched the motions of the tiger from the start. The day after Mrs Moore’s death Bluebell showed an extraordinary nervous excitement, a jumpiness that seemed to argue some artificial stimulant. But that wore off, and the tiger’s behavior became more natural again, except for two things that I noticed.
“One was a slight limp, scarcely noticeable, but very decidedly there. Her right hind leg dragged the least trifle when she walked slowly. The other was a habit she had of licking a certain spot on her right haunch—she could just reach it with her tongue.
“These two things made me think she had a sore there, but though I called Eric’s attention to it, he said she had perhaps sprained a ligament. But one day when I was alone in the zoo I touched the tiger on that spot with a padded stick; she jumped just as a human being would in similar case. I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that there was something wrong there, so at the autopsy I looked.”
“Good for you, Mr Stone,” and Doctor Bhaer gave the detective full credit for his cleverness. “I should have noticed her limp myself.”
“No, sir,” insisted Stone, “it was almost imperceptible.”
“It was doubtless getting worse, as it festered from day to day. Well, it goes to prove a voluntary injection of something, presumably morphine, and that presupposes a human intention to stir her up.”
“Morphine!” exclaimed Dobbs, “you’re crazy, man. Morphine is a sedative not a stimulant.”
Doctor Bhaer looked at the speaker as at some strange new type.
“I am not in the habit of confounding those two terms,” he said, quietly. “Given in that way to that animal, it would raise her to the highest degree of nervous excitement and cause her to cut up wild antics. I am experienced in these things.”
Dobbs subsided, though with a bad grace, and Bhaer went on:
“No matter how friendly were the tiger’s feelings toward Mrs Moore, a dose of that sort would make her lose her mental balance and bring about a friskiness, even a frenzy of action. She tossed the body across the cage, she clawed at it, though not savagely, she tore the flowers, and acted generally crazy. All this I know, yet I overlooked the glass needle and Mr Stone found it, for which reason I take off my hat to him.”
“We were working together,” Stone said, “it matters not what part I took, since we found the means of artificial stimulation used. Now, to discover who engineered that feat.”
“Someone with knowledge of medicine,” said Dobbs, so anxious to seem clever that he overlooked the obviousness of his deduction.
“Yes,” and Bhaer nodded gravely; “also someone with a real knowledge of the great cats. A lion or a panther would be affected in the same way. I am a Big Game vet, you know, and I have had wide experience. You all know how catnip affected Bluebell. Multiply that by a hundred and you get the results of a morphine injection.”
“I didn’t know all that,” Stone admitted, “but I did know it is a stimulant, and seeing the tigress limp a little and lick what seemed to be a painful spot, I gathered a possibility of some sort of hypodermic.”
“How did you know the glass broke off inside the animal?” snorted Dobbs, incredulously.
“Only because there was a sore spot there, which grew worse instead of better. I think Eric was putting liniment on for the limp, which indicated a slight sprain or strain, for I smelled it once or twice. But he is sensitive about the beast, so I didn’t like to worry at him. Doctor Bhaer has made it all clear to us.”
“Except who did it,” Dobbs said, with a side glance at Moore.
“You may as well speak out, Mr Dobbs,” Allan told him. “This information I daresay makes you more than ever suspicious of me or of Eric Page. But we are both innocent—”
“Sez you,” muttered Dobbs, nastily, and Bhaer turned on him.
“Look here, Lieutenant Dobbs,” he said, “or whatever your ranking is, if you want to accuse Mr Moore of any wrong doing why don’t you speak out openly and not throw out an occasional innuendo? It would be far more decent of you.”
“Very well,” and Dobbs’ face took on an ugly look, “I will be what you call decent, then. I do suspect Mr Moore of wrong doing—very wrong doing; and when I get one or two more points of evidence which I am after I shall doubtless bring about his arrest.”
“And just what are those one or two points?” asked Fleming Stone, in a voice suspiciously smooth.
Dobbs looked at him quickly, and said, with rude emphasis, “I’m not telling.”
“All right,” Stone returned, “look out they don’t play the boomerang on you.”
Not quite sure of the meaning of this to him, unusual word, Dobbs said nothing.
“Speak out, Lieutenant,” said Allan, suddenly regaining his old-time snap, “if you’re going to arrest me I want to know it.”
“It depends,” and Dobbs stirred uneasily in his chair.
“Oh, it does, eh? And upon what?”
When Allan Moore took that tone it made his hearers a bit uncomfortable. But the police detective rallied.
“Can’t tell you, sir, for the moment. You’ll know in good time.”
“All right; I can wait. Now, Mr Stone, my friend Miss Brett wants very much to see you. How about it?”
“I’m glad to wait upon her. Where shall I find her?”
“In the sitting-room of her own suite. Joseph will take you there. And, deal gently with her. She is usually a spirited, independent sort, but the dreadful fate of poor little Pam has well nigh unbalanced her. She thinks somebody sent Pamela to her doom.”
“May I inquire how that could be done?” Dobbs said, laboriously sarcastic.
“In several ways,” Stone informed him, “which I haven’t time to detail now, and which you ought to know for yourself.”
Miss Brett received the detective in her sitting-room. This so-called “sunrise suite” well deserved its name, and the September morning sun flooded the whole room, which, already furnished in yellow, responded nobly to the golden effects. Goldenrod, goldenglow, yellow asters and roses stood around in bowls and vases, and the last straw, which nearly broke down Stone’s gravity, was Miss Artemisia herself, in yellow satin lounging pajamas, picked out with gold lace.
He had been warned that in colors she was a sight to behold, and he longed for her black crepe gown; but, after all, it was an exhibition and he accepted it as such.
She was set forth in an upright, straight-backed chair, and in spite of her gaudery was a figure of dignity and high mettle.
“Good morning, Mr Stone,” she said, holding out a long, slender hand. “I am very well, thank you, slept nicely, enjoyed my breakfast, have most comfortable quarters, and am glad to see you. Sit in that chair, please—I had it placed for you. Now, will you tell me briefly of the death of the tiger, and more at length as to the results that affected your decisions or suspicions regarding Marcia’s murder?”
Taking his clue as to the elimination of social amenities, Stone told her directly and simply of the work of Doctor Bhaer, of the finding of the hypodermic needle and his consequent conviction of wilful murder, proved by the stimulation of the animal by artificial means.
“You mean Bluebell was excited and really beside herself?”
“Not quite that, but she tossed Mrs Moore’s body and scratched and tore at it, as she presumably would not have done had she been normal.”
“I don’t know. Had she been quite herself an opportunity to attack a human being—a first opportunity, at that, would doubtless rouse her primeval instincts—but all that we shall know, and it doesn’t really matter.”
“Oh, yes, it matters decidedly, and now we have the needle to work on. It is, of course, a definite clue and proves a murderer with a close familiarity with the habits of the great cats and a means and opportunity of using his knowledge. Does this suggest to you any individual?”
“It certainly does. Marcia herself.”
“Oh, no! Mrs Moore could not want to stir up the beast while she was in the cage, and, too, in such case, what did she do with the rest of the hypo?”
“That,” and Miss Brett looked like a wise-eyed owl, “is easy. Eric found it on the floor and hid or destroyed it.”
“Too much assumption. We are dealing only with facts. How about Allan Moore?”
“Must he be always the scapegoat? And have you any more definite information against him than against Eric? Let Allan rest for a while. He had no motive. True, he is now leaning toward the lamblike Sara. But that is natural rebound. He never looked at Sara when Marcia was here. Don’t let the gossips mislead you, Mr Stone; Sara’s star is rising, but it never could do so till Marcia’s had set. Understand?”
Stone did understand and he agreed. Moore was one of those men who need a woman’s aid and comfort in trouble, and at the moment he little considered its bearing on the future.
“Yes,” he said, “fully. You have penetrating perceptions, Miss Brett. Have they led you to any definite suspect?”
“No, nor should I tell you so, if they had. A suspect is a mistake. Find your criminal, but beware of suspects.”
A little surprised at her wisdom Stone forbore to tell her those were his own ideas, too, for he did not want to discuss Marcia with her, but Pamela.
“Do you care to talk of your niece,” he began, gently, “or would you rather not?”
“Of course, I want to talk of her—that’s why I sent for you. And, as a preliminary observation, I will say that I think that child was murdered, just as much as Marcia was.”
“Can you explain how?”
“No; nor have I any suspect. But discovery of one will bring knowledge of the other. How was it done?”
“Heavens, Miss Brett, I don’t know!”
“You mean you know of ways in which it could have been accomplished but you don’t know which one to select.”
“Yes, O Seeress,” and now Stone stared at her in wonder. “That’s about the size of it.”
“Then tell me some of them.”
“Well, had someone been of a mind to murder her while she was here, just running around, you know, he could have put a poisoned chocolate in her handbag—I’m told she always carried chocolates with her. Or he could have poisoned one of her cigarettes, she always carried those. If someone conceived the unthinkable plan of killing her in the aeroplane, he could have poisoned the drinking-water she had by her, or a sandwich, if she had any. I think we may omit the idea of anyone removing or tinkering with the gadgets of the machine, for Pollock went over it most carefully at the last minute, and Bennett, too.”
“Who is Bennett?”
“Pollock’s mechanician. A most able man in his work.”
“And those things were not done?”
“Not so far as we can discover. It was not thought necessary to have an autopsy, as there was no question raised concerning the cause of her death. The natural, and doubtless true assumption is that the girl mistakenly pushed or pulled some lever or something like that, and quickly seeing her error tried to correct it too late, or in a panic made a further blunder, perhaps lost her head utterly, and couldn’t avert disaster. The plane crashed, took fire, and, as it was several minutes before it was reached, the flames made any steps toward recovery impossible.”
“Yes, I know that was the general way it happened. And, so, if there was any queer work it can never be found out now?”
“Never is a long day on a detective’s calendar, Miss Brett,” and Stone looked at her intently for a moment.
Arty clapped her hands softly, and gave him a quick, sad little smile.
“Oh,” she breathed, “you see it as I do! and you’re going to look into it! Now, see here, Mr Stone, you give up hunting Marcia’s murderer, for the moment —just for the moment; you can go back to that, you know—and put all your force on the question of Pam’s murder.”
“Murder mysteries are not solved by force, Miss Brett.”
“Oh, I don’t mean that kind of force, I thought you had a force of men, you know, of helpers, underlings—”
“No, private investigators usually work alone. I do, at any rate.”
“Well, devote all your time and attention to it then. I’ll pay you double rates, and I’ll fix it all right with Allan.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Afraid, too, it might result in Mr Moore’s immediate arrest—”
She shuddered. “Don’t talk rubbish,” she adjured him.
“It isn’t rubbish, it’s plain sense. Now, tell me, why do you think there was foul play in your niece’s case?”
“Well, for two sound reasons. First, because that Mr Pollock wouldn’t have let the girl go up alone unless she was well fitted to do so; second, because Pamela was competent to drive alone, I know it. And as she was not the sort to turn levers wrongly, or to lose her head if she did, I can’t swallow that theory. Yet she did fall, the plane did crash and burn, and if not her fault, it was, necessarily, the fault of someone else.”
“You know of anyone who had a motive?”
“There could be but one motive.”
Again Stone looked at her with amazed admiration at her perspicacity.
“Shall I tell you that motive, or will you tell it to me?”
“You tell it, Mr Stone.” She looked at him expectantly.
“It could only be because the murderer of Mrs Moore learned that Pamela knew his identity—that, therefore, the girl was a menace and must be disposed of.”
“You use his as of common gender?”
“Then, yes, that is what I mean. Someone knew Pam was going flying, someone knew she must not come down alive, and so took steps that she should not do so.”
“But no one knew she was going up alone. She didn’t know it herself before she left here.”
“How do you know that?”
“Miss Beverly told me. She said that Pam told her she wanted to, but she doubted if Mr Pollock would let her.”
“Then that makes it just so much the worse. The murderer was even willing to kill Mr Pollock too, if necessary, to get rid of Pam.”
“It is, of course, possible, but hard to believe.”
“For a detective?”
“Yes, we are also human beings. To imagine a monster willing to kill two innocent people to save his own miserable skin—”
“Oh, come, now, Mr Stone, it is monstrous, but you can’t make me think you are too thin-skinned to believe it.”
“No, Miss Brett, my life experiences have taught me to believe even worse than that of our brother man. But there are lions in the path.”
“Of course. In any path of inquiry you doubtless find those stumbling-blocks. Do you strain at a lion and swallow a tiger?”
Stone had to smile at her absurd question.
“Perhaps I do,” he said; “now, to get down to cases. Do you completely dismiss Mr Moore as a possible suspect?”
“I do—and I don’t.”
“That won’t do. It is no answer. And, by the way, let me warn you. If anyone ever says, ‘Well, yes— and no,—’ in my presence, I get up and leave the room.”
“All right, I’ll say it only when I want to get rid of you. Then, no, I can’t as yet completely exonerate Allan, though I can’t quite think he killed his wife.”
“You are more of a wobbler than I had supposed you. Can you elucidate that at all?”
“Oh, yes. I knew him before Marcia did. He has a vein of ferocity in his make-up, that crops out suddenly and makes him do atrocious things. One time, out at the mine, he grew wrathy at an overseer named Riddell and he gave him such a whaling! Of course, I didn’t see it; Tom told me, but it went to show that Allan can go completely berserk on occasion. Now, we all know how he hated Marcia’s little teasing ways. I’ve seen him clench his hands to keep from slapping her. It is at least possible that that night she went a step too far in her teasing of Bluebell, and Allan lost his head—”
“You mean then, that he went down to the zoo with her that night?”
“Or followed her down. Anyway, suppose she gave the tiger the jab of morphine, being in the cage at the time—”
“In the cage!”
“Yes, why not? To my certain knowledge she had always wanted to go in the cage, and Allan always put her off, telling her he would let her go some other time. Well, suppose that night that he did let her go, he being there to look after her, and suppose she, knowing how a little jab of morphine would chirk up the tiger, gave it to her, in a spirit of devilish mischief.”
“But that wouldn’t be Mr Moore’s doing.”
“Oh, well, I hate to put it into words. If you must have it then, I mean suppose after she was in the cage, Allan himself caught at her, strangled her, and let Bluebell finish the job.”
Stone looked at her in utmost horror.
“Miss Brett, I can’t think you mean this.”
“I can’t think I do, either. But you won’t let me say, ‘Yes—and no,’ or maybe and maybe not. So I put it straight, to see how it sounded, and I don’t believe it, but—it might have been that way, if, as many think, his fancy had turned to the little Lamb girl.”
“It doesn’t ring true, I don’t believe it. But I’ll think it over. Now, as to your niece. Are you taking her to New York for burial?”
“Yes. In the family plot at Woodlawn. I shall go down to-night or to-morrow morning. With Allan’s advice and help I shall attend to the mortician’s work. But I plan to come back here, about Saturday. Meantime, will you do some investigation I want done?”
“If I can. I am engaged by Mr Moore, you know.”
“Oh, I’ll fix it with him. Well, I want you to go over to the field where the aeroplane came down and hunt around there, to see if you can’t find something —anything that will tell you just what happened.”
“I was planning to do that anyway. But I shall go all the more eagerly because you suggest it.”
“Mr Stone, has no one suggested that Pamela made the plane fall, herself? Has no one thought of suicide?”
“Yes, it was mentioned. But no one could believe that. The girl was so gay, so happy and contented with life. Why do you speak of it?”
“Only because every murder I have ever heard of is adjudged first an accident, then a suicide, then a murder. Why is this so? Why go through the wondering about the accident and the suicide? Why not take up the murder question first?”
“Oh, now, Miss Brett, that is unworthy of you. That is spoken like an amateur. You well know that while such a routine is frequent it isn’t universal. And the explanation is, of course, that one would rather believe a sudden, violent death was an accident rather than either of the alternatives. A suicide is thought by many to be the deed of a coward, though often it is far from that, but even so it is deemed preferable to murder. So it is merely human nature choosing the preferable first.”
“You are right, of course. I should have thought that out for myself. Well, Mr Stone, I begin at the other end. It is my firm belief that my little girl was murdered, and if so I want to know it. You can make some inquiries and do some poking about while I am down in New York. I will come back here on Saturday, and I hope you will have some word for me about it. I shall tell Allan of this, but no one else. Please keep it confidential till my return. You may, doubtless will, prove me wrong, but I must be satisfied, if possible, that no human being is responsible for my darling’s fate before I give up the search. Now, you may go, if you please. I shall appear at luncheon and may see you there, casually. Good morning.”
Fleming Stone accepted his dismissal, and made a profound bow, followed by a dignified exit.
He laughed to himself at some phases of the interview, but realized that he greatly admired Miss Artemisia Brett and deeply appreciated the keenness of her intellect and the cleverness of her decisions.
Going downstairs, Stone went out through a side door and made his way to the gardener’s cottage.
Here he found Danny, the gardener’s son, and asked permission to take the lad with him on an errand or two.
This was, of course, granted, and Fleming Stone was accompanied by the eager boy when he went to the garage for a small car which he could drive himself.
They started off, and Stone took the way to Little Minden.
“Danny,” he began, as they speeded a little, “I want to take you over here and set you to work, and then leave you, still working, when I go back to Forest Mead. Is that all right?”
“Sez you,” returned the boy, nodding at his idolized director.
“Then listen. Can you collect a few good all-round chaps as helpers?”
“Guesso. If I can get Froggie Winans and—”
“Never mind their names. I’ll tell you now what you are to do. You know where the aeroplane came down with Miss Brett in it?”
“Yes sir.” The boy’s eyes filled and he wiped them on his sleeve.
“Well, I shall look around a bit myself, and when I have to go I want you and your crowd to keep on looking, in ever widening circles—do you know what I mean?”
“Make a clean sweep of it, and not miss out anythin’.”
“That’s it, exactly.”
“And what are we lookin’ for?”
“For any bits of metal, wood, paper, cloth, leather, or any possible scrap of anything that could be a piece of that aeroplane or in it.”
“But it’s all burned up.”
“Listen, Danny, but don’t repeat this. It isn’t all burned up. At least, it may not be. That plane broke apart, so to speak, amidships.”
“What you mean, Mr Stone?”
“To put it as simply as I can, Danny, I mean that the fore part of the plane is burnt to cinders—to cinders or melted metal. But the rear half fell off— in bits, not as a whole—somewhere, not so very far away, and not so much burned, probably, as the part we salvaged. I can’t explain more fully, you must take it for granted I am right.”
“I know! I love my love with a B, because—”
“Because it is bad business! Mighty bad!”
“Danny,” Stone couldn’t help smiling at the impudent little face, “do you want me to turn around and take you home?”
“Oh, no, no, no! Don’t do that!”
“Then keep your mouth shut. You speak that word, and it’s all over between us.”
“I won’t, Mr Stone, honest I won’t. Go on, tell me more.”
Stone eyed him closely, decided he meant what he said, and went on;
“That’s all. You and the other boys hunt around, pick up everything you can find that looks as if it had dropped from the plane. Don’t miss anything. If you are uncertain, bring it along; but don’t you dare come home with a lot of junk that a blind baby could tell never was near an aeroplane.”
“I get yer, Mr Stone, and I give the once-over to all the bits of joolry and pieces-of-eight me henchmen finds me.”
“Been reading old ballads, eh? Well, that’s the game as I’ve outlined it. Can you play it?”
“Yes, sir, but if I find a bit of buried treasure that I like myself. I can collect that, can’t I?”
“Not too much of it. I can’t fill up Forest Mead with rubbish. You bury it again and come back for it some day.”
When they reached Little Minden Stone left his car at the livery garage and started off with Danny for the scene of the wreck. There was little left there save a patch of ashes, and Stone showed the boy what he meant by walking round and round in widening circles, each making a path a yard or two apart.
Stone picked up a small bit of metal, Danny some charred wood and loose paper, which Stone said was correct material.
By the time the object lesson was over a small crowd of urchins had gathered and Stone saw his work there was at an end.
He spoke pleasantly to the boys, told them the livery man would pay them their wage after they had done their work. Told Danny how long to stay, and that the livery man would send him home with his loot. Told him how far to extend his circles, and then, leaving the rest to Danny’s wise little head, he fixed matters up with the livery man, got into his car and hastened back to Forest Mead.
He didn’t expect much from this experiment, but if some pieces of ailerons or other parts could be found at a considerable distance it might mean an important sort of evidence.
As he drove through Little Minden he noticed the attractive Public Library that stood at the end of the village Green.
On a sudden impulse he drew up to its curb, left his car and went in.
A bored looking young man was marking books and Stone endeavored to draw him into conversation.
This was a difficult process. The man was willing to answer questions or give information about the books, but took no further interest in his caller.
Stone asked him if any of the people around Arden came to him for books, as there was no library in Arden.
“Yes,” he said; “some few.”
“Do they come over from Forest Mead or around there?”
“I don’t know where Forest Mead is. Quite a good many country folks come in fine cars and all, but they mostly take the books away and then send ’em back. They don’t read here much.”
“Can I see your subscription lists?”
“We don’t call them that. We have a Day Book and an Accession Book. The Day Book is the readers, the other’s the books, as we buy them. Which you want?”
“I’d like to look at both, please.”
“You on a still hunt?”
“Well, you might call it that. Let me see the names of your readers of late, please.”
The librarian opened the Day Book at its latter pages, and whirled it around to face Stone.
But it proved of small interest.
To be sure, many entries seemed to be names of present and past guests of the Moores; also Kent and Pollock had written their names as sponsors for others, presumably their guests, this seeming to be the rule of the institution.
“This chap, now,” and Stone pointed to Antony Kent, “what does he like best to read?”
“Him? Mostly about wild animals. With some old novels, Fenimore Cooper and like that. Some poetry, too; lately he’s been eatin’ up our poetry books.”
“In love, maybe,” and Stone smiled.
“Like as not.”
“And this man, Pollock?”
“Oh, he’s all for aviation. His plane fell and burned up, you know.”
“Yes,” said Stone, “I know.”
As he drove home, Fleming Stone mused over his own last words to the librarian at Little Minden.
“Yes, I know. The plane fell and burned up.” Pamela fell and was burned up. Any clue in that? It was more like what an old-fashioned jury used to call “an act of God.” Juries might call it that nowadays, he didn’t know; he attended few inquests now. The Medical Examiner took the place of coroner, inquest, jury, all that old-time routine.
“The plane fell and was burned up.”
Of course it did—of course it was.
He wondered what Pamela had done that was wrong. But he must await Danny’s return before he could think about that. Nice chap, Danny. Sharp as they come. And if—
His random thoughts switched back to Miss Artemisia Brett. Odd person. Very odd. That yellow satin rig! And yet it had a distinguished air. She gave it that, of course. It would have no distinguishment on a less impressive wearer. How quick-witted she was.
Well, he must get busy. He was engaged to find the murderer of Marcia Moore, and, if any, the murderer of little Pam.
Could such a person exist?
It was quite on the cards that Pam had seen something the night of Marcia’s death, had unwittingly let the murderer know of it, and had to pay the awful penalty of being a potential informer.
He had heard the story of Pam seeing Carleton Reid in the hall that night, heard about the paintbrushes, but had paid little attention to it.
Was that criminal carelessness? Ought he to look up that matter and investigate the paint-brush story?
He determined to do it anyway. It could do no harm, and it might lead to something.
Also, he had, so far, made nothing of Marcia’s handbag found in the maze. Of the diamond gone from her ring. Of the small dark-colored aster he found in the flounce of her gown, at the hospital.
He had by no means forgotten these things, his work on them had been arrested by later and, seemingly, more important developments.
The feather from a man’s hat, too. That might mean nothing at all, perhaps it came from one of the under gardeners’ hats, but it should have its turn.
Just now Pamela’s death took precedence over all else.
He positively connected it with Marcia’s murder. How or why, he had no idea; but he was sure there could be no motive for it but Pamela’s knowledge of something that would incriminate the murderer, if known. It could easily be that she had seen and recognized someone in the house or on the grounds quite apart from catching sight of Carleton Reid.
Nor had Stone finally discarded his suspicion of Reid.
“It must be somebody,” he told himself, “who knows a whole heap about tigers. Just to know the great cats generally isn’t enough. I’ve picked up some definite if scattering information myself, since I’ve been here, and I know that a lion may be docile, even kindly, but a tiger or a leopard is an assassin. A trainer may punish a lion, but unless absolutely out of reach he would never dare strike a tiger! So, we must look for someone who knew enough to evade the tiger’s claws himself, yet also knew about the way a hypo of morphine would affect the brute. Now that’s knowing a lot. That’s specialized knowledge. Who would have it?”
In his mind, he went over all the possible names.
Allan, of course; but Stone wasn’t strong for Moore as a murderer. If only because of his gentle and kindly disposition. He had his fits of temper, to be sure, but not to the extent of murdering his loved wife! And all agreed that he did love her.
Eric Page? In spite of Moore’s denial of this possibility Stone felt the man was a good suspect, knew all there was to know about the care and keeping of the beasts. Oh, not like Doctor Bhaer, of course, but as a layman of long experience. He knew far more than his employer, which was as it should be, for on Eric devolved action in emergency as well as the daily routine. There was no adequate motive to ascribe to Eric, but he could not be disregarded.
Carleton Reid had motive, if a desire for his legacy constituted one.
He had been in the zoo so much and so continuously that he couldn’t help learning a good deal of physiology, and his art work taught him all there was to know of the beasts’ anatomy. Yes, Reid had motive and opportunity, and all-sufficient technical knowledge; thus he was put at once above all others as a probability.
Yet—it didn’t seem like Reid. Much as he wanted the money that would some day be his, he was not the sort to hasten that day.
Stone laughed at himself. How often had he told others there was no “criminal class”! Most murders “didn’t seem like” their perpetrators. And most men would do anything for money, if they greatly needed money.
George West, to Stone, was the “mystery element” in the case.
The detective had had little to do with the secretary, and when they did have a short chat it was about ordinary matters, or Mr Moore’s health, or the weather.
In fact, Fleming Stone told himself, the greatest reason he had for even thinking of George West was that it is orthodox to suspect a secretary, he is so generally the murderer after all. And, too, West had been seen wearing a tiny feather in his hat. (Great clue, that!)
So, except for Iris Beverly, that pretty well cleared the slate of suspects in the house. The girl had motive, for the more Stone saw of her the more he realized how desperately she was in love with Allan, or at least, how desperately she was determined that she should win him away from the demure little Sara and eventually marry him herself.
Iris showed her hand openly enough, but it was easy for the detective to see that she had but slight effect on Allan Moore’s heart.
Sara Lamb, if indeed she was trying to win him, went about it in a far more clever way, and almost seemed at times to be shunning him.
Several times she had announced her intention of leaving, but Mrs Bond, to whom the announcement was necessarily made, told her that Mr Moore wanted everybody to stay on for the present; in fact, it was exceedingly doubtful if the police would allow anyone to leave.
So Sara lingered, helping Mrs Bond in any way she could, writing necessary letters, checking up Marcia’s accounts, and helping Effie dispose of her wardrobe.
Stone’s mind dwelt on the girl for a time, but he could see no way in which she could be primarily guilty, nor, indeed, any way in which collusion with Allan or anyone else would have been possible.
Miss Lamb was mildly interested in the denizens of the zoo, neither afraid nor fond of them. She was self-effacing, yet always easily found if needed. A sweet-natured, merry-hearted little piece before the tragedy, or so Mrs Bond informed him. The other servants and the guests all said the same thing, although none seemed to know her really well.
Of course, to think of her in connection with Marcia’s murder was absurd, but there was a trace of mystery clinging to her, and Stone determined to look into that.
As he neared Tony Kent’s house, on his way to Forest Mead, he thought of stopping for a short call.
Something in the librarian’s face when they spoke of Kent gave him a vague hint that the man was of interest to him, and Stone, too, felt a sort of curiosity about him.
But second thought made him think he might get better results by talking to the other chap, Pollock, about Kent, than by going to the fountain head.
So he went on past Kent’s tree-shaded home to Pollock’s smaller cottage, with its private landing-field and hangar.
He went up the drive and found Pollock sitting on the front porch, reading.
“Hello, Mr Stone,” he called out heartily, as he rose and ran down the steps; “come along in, do. I’m glad to see you.”
“I’m just back from Little Minden, and I thought I’d tell you any thing further I’d picked up in the way of news about your plane. I say, Mr Pollock, it’s a delicate subject, but I feel sure Mr Moore intends to give you a new plane, if you’ll accept it.”
“I don’t know what to say,” and the man showed embarrassment; “it seems awful to be reimbursed for that hellish tragedy, but I am not a rich man, and Moore is. I willingly taught the girl to fly, and I have given a great many lessons to Mr Moore himself, but, as I say—well, I don’t want to seem grasping”
“It isn’t being grasping, it’s only fair. Of course, it won’t be right away, but justice will be done you, and when remuneration is offered you it’s my advice you take it.”
“I’m glad you say that, and I’ll be mighty glad to follow your advice.”
“Can you salvage anything out of the wreck?”
“Perhaps some trifles. Not enough to consider, I fear.”
“Strange thing, wasn’t it? I wonder what the girl did.”
“So many things she might have done. A mere turn of some little thing the wrong way, and it’s all over.”
“Well, you can’t blame yourself in any way.”
“I don’t see that I can. How is Mr Moore, and Miss Brett?”
“Oh, they’re about the same. The whole house is upset, and everybody’s nerves on edge and all that. Look here, Pollock, I’m not unduly curious, I hope, but I wish you’d tell me a little about the affair between Mrs Moore and Kent. Was it an affair?”
“That term is so elastic. Why, yes, I hate to gossip, but where there’s smoke there’s apt to be fire. She did meet him occasionally, for a drive or a ramble—without her husband’s knowledge. This is strictly confidential.”
“I understand that. I’m asking professionally. You know much about wild animals?”
“Just about nothing, and I wish I knew less. How anyone can want to keep the beasts right under their noses I don’t see. Yet, after all, one oughtn’t to criticize. Moore has a private zoo, I have a private hangar. Pot can’t call kettle black.”
“But Moore is fond of aviation, too.”
“Yes; if he hadn’t his pet lions and grizzlies he’d go in more seriously for flying, I am sure.”
“But coming back to Kent, he seldom went to Forest Mead, did he?”
“I don’t know, really. I seldom went there myself. We are all country neighbors, but that’s all you can say. We’re none of us intimates.”
“Would Kent and Mrs Moore meet at night— clandestinely?”
“You’re skirting pretty close,” and Pollock smiled a bit. “I can’t answer that from personal observation, but—do you stand for servants’ gossip?”
“Any port in a storm.”
“Then, my man, Bennett, has told me that he has seen the pair strolling in the lanes round here late at night—very late.”
“It would have to be late to escape notice of the family over there.”
“When they don’t have guests they retire earlier. Country folk always do.”
“Yes, that’s so. Now, I daresay this seems mean and scoundrelly to you, but an investigator has to investigate, you know.”
“Oh, yes, I know. And I’ll tell you anything I decently can. But I can think of nothing more. Once I met Mr Kent and Mrs Moore out in a motor, but that was a long time ago, and as it was broad daylight it can’t be called incriminating.”
“If it was long ago, it shows the intrigue is not of recent development.”
“Long ago is variable. I’ve only lived here two years, but it was when I first came. That’s what I mean by long ago.”
“I see. How long has Kent lived here?”
“I’m not sure. Three years, I’d say. Maybe longer.”
“Thank you. I’ll be jogging.”
“Don’t hurry. How do you like the new guest over there? I’m told she’s a queer Dick, Servants’ gossip, again.”
“You mean Miss Artemisia. Well, I rather like her. She is queer, especially in appearance—yes, and in manner. But she interests me.”
“Mostly by her efficiency in words, I think. On first sight of her, one would naturally indulge in a few amenities. But she discounts all that by answering questions before they are asked, telling things before they are suggested; in fact, taking the words out of your mouth.”
Pollock laughed out.
“Oh, yes,” he said; “I remember. Is your car all right?”
Stone glanced toward it. “I think so—why?”
“I just thought I heard something give—what was I saying? Oh, yes; I remember an old man who used to do that. It’s an entertaining trick. And is Miss Brett terribly broken up about poor Pam?”
“Yes, she is going down to New York this afternoon or evening, to take the poor little body. A ghastly thing to happen, Pollock.”
“Unspeakable. I greatly admired that child. I don’t like flappers as a rule, but she had sense, and she was naturally a flyer. She would have become a trickster, given time and practice.”
“You don’t—you can’t think she was trying any tricks, do you?”
“It is quite possible.” Pollock looked grave. “She was crazy to do so, but she promised she never would until I gave her permission.”
“And I suppose it doesn’t matter. Whatever the accident was, it was something the girl’s ignorance or fright brought about. I suppose we shall never know.”
“No, I suppose not. Drop in again, Stone, when you’re passing. I’m never really lonely, I like solitude. But as Poet Cowper puts it:
Give me still a friend in my retreat,
To whom to whisper, ‘Solitude is sweet.’
Moving on, are you? Well, come again, always glad to see you.”
Stone moved on, and with a wave of his hand Pollock went back to his porch chair.
As the detective turned the corner of the small but well-kept place, the man Bennett came toward him and held up his hand, with a detaining gesture.
“Can I speak to you a minute, sir?” he said, as Stone drew up to the curb.
“Of course, Bennett. What’s it all about?”
“Well, I don’t rightly know how to say it, but— well, do you know anything about flyin’, Mr Stone?”
“Not much. As to actual experience, nothing at all.”
“You mean you don’t know how to drive one?”
“More than that. I mean that practically the mechanism is all Greek to me.”
“I see. Well, of course, I know a lot about all that, and I want to tell you I got a hunch that the little girl didn’t do nothin’ wrong—but maybe somebody else did. And I may’s well blurt it right out. That Mr Kent, he was over to our house before Miss Pam went up—just before—and he was pokin’ around in the plane, askin’ what was this and that gadget for, when along she came and Mr Pollock with her, and she got in.”
“Be careful what you’re saying, or implying, Bennett, this may be a grave matter—”
“You bet it’s a grave matter, sir, and I am careful. Now, I know a thing or two about Kent and Mrs Moore—as I heard Mr Pollock tellin’ you—”
“Eavesdropping?” asked Stone.
“Just that, sir,” and Bennett gave him a glance, half defiant and half ashamed; “but, he’s a man to look out for.”
“Let me get this straight, Bennett,” Stone said, sternly. “You saw Mr Kent poking around in the aeroplane just before Miss Pamela went up?”
“I did, sir.”
“You saw nothing definite or that could be called suspicious in what he did?”
“Well, no; but why would he be nosin’ around there at all?”
“Didn’t Mr Pollock notice it?”
“Not he. He was took up with greetin’ the girl and sayin’ howdy-do, and then loadin’ her into the plane.”
“I’m afraid, Bennett, that you have some personal grievance against Mr Kent. Haven’t you?”
“No, not to say personal. But I didn’t like his walkin’ in the lane with Mrs Moore, ’long ’bout one or two o’clock o’ nights.”
“Did that happen often?”
“How do I know? I saw ’em three times, and that’s all I know; but I can swear to that. And I found somethin’.”
“I wasn’t goin’ to tell anybody ’bout this, but I been a thinkin’, and I think maybe it’s my dooty.”
“Since you’ve mentioned it, it is your duty. Tell me.”
In silence, Bennett drew from his pocket a case, and handed it to Stone.
A black leather case, which, when the detective opened it, showed a hypodermic syringe of large size. Its needle had been broken off, and it looked as if the needle found in the tiger’s hide would fit in its place.
“Where did you find this?”
“Under a stone in Mr Kent’s yard, just alongside the fence, on the inside.”
“Coupla days after Mrs Moore died.”
“How did you come to look under the stone?”
“It was a fairly big one, and I could see it had been moved—it wasn’t settin’ straight on the ground. So I looked under it, just like anyone would.”
“Did you show it to Mr Pollock?”
Bennett looked sheepish, then said, straightforwardly, “I’ll tell you the truth, sir. I thought Mr Pollock would take charge of it, and I’d get no credit, or—or anythin’.”
“Reward, you mean?”
“Well, yes, sir. I planned to show it to the police, and then I sorter got cold feet, and I knew Mr Pollock would call me down for keepin’ it quiet, so just now, seein’ you, I thought I’d tell you about it.”
“You did right, though a bit late about it. Are you willing I should take it in charge, and will you promise not to speak of it to anybody till I say you may?”
“Not to Mr Pollock, sir?”
“Not to anybody, for a day or so; you had your chance to show it to him, and you didn’t do so. Now if you will leave it all to me you’ll be more likely to get a—reward than if you prattle about it.”
“Not a word will I say, sir, to anybody at all.”
“Very well, Bennett, I think I can trust you to keep that promise. It will be for your own good.” Stone went on his way, outwardly calm, but inwardly stirred up at the sudden revelations coming his way.
He was by no means sure that Kent was a criminal suspect, but these things must be looked into. Anyone from Forest Mead could have planted that hypo in Kent’s yard, under a stone, and if Kent really had used it on Bluebell, the last place he would think of hiding it would be where it was found.
Yet, Kent was well posted as to wild animals, he could easily procure the syringe, and if he had used it in Moore’s zoo he might easily have been nervously upset enough to attempt to hide it in the first available place.
Again, if he had been in the habit of taking those nocturnal strolls with Marcia they were doubtless lovers, and a death motive might be found in that fact. Still again, if Kent had been fumbling around in the aeroplane he could all too easily have set wrong some part of the mechanism that would have resulted in disaster, and if this were the dreadful truth a motive could have been found in the fear that Pamela knew too much about the tiger’s condition that fatal night, or, maybe, had seen Kent in the Moore grounds, or had seen him meet Marcia, or been aware of some incriminating evidence.
Thus soliloquizing, he reached Forest Mead before he knew it and found luncheon already in progress.
Miss Brett welcomed him, and beckoned him to a seat at her side that she had saved for him against all comers.
She was again in her black crepe regalia, for she was leaving for New York shortly.
“Allan and I are driving down,” she told him, “and Allan will stay over for the funeral. We shall return here on Saturday. Then, Mr Stone, I shall hope to find you have discovered some facts or hints that will help us along, and lead us to the truth. I am fully convinced that Pamela’s death was not due to her own error or to any untoward accident. It was brought about purposely—”
“Why, Miss Arty,” exclaimed Iris, “how you talk! What possible motive could anyone have for killing that darling child? Preposterous!”
“The darling child may have had some knowledge about Marcia’s death which the murderer of Marcia feared might yet implicate him. But don’t talk about it, Iris, you know so little about such things and you talk as if you knew even less—it’s painful to hear you talk at all.”
About to make some scathing rejoinder, Iris felt Sara’s hand on her own and turned to see the girl mutely begging her to be silent.
Understanding, for Iris was nobody’s fool, she remained silent, even giving Miss Brett a slight, kindly smile.
Before Miss Brett left the house Stone snatched a moment alone with her and told her of Bennett’s revelations.
“Kent, eh?” she said, grasping it all instantly. “I doubt it. But anyone here could make it appear Kent, of course. Dig into it, Mr Stone. Do your stuff, and when I get back I’ll help you.”
As good as her word, Miss Arty returned to Forest Mead on Saturday, Allan, of course, with her.
She had discarded her intensive mourning garb and arrived at the house in the late afternoon wearing a quiet travelling costume of red and black foulard.
She joined the group on the verandah and seated herself in a huge high-backed chair Andy offered.
“Yes, we put poor, dear little Pam away in the mausoleum. The family are all utterly crushed and broken. Sister Isabel almost lost her mind. The flowers were marvelous! Allan isn’t well at all. I think Doctor Palmer should be called. I sent him straight to his room; Foss is with him. Oh, I don’t mean he is really ill, but for Heaven’s sake try to chirk him up, all of you. Don’t everlastingly talk about murder to him. But I want a talk with you, Mr Stone, on that very subject. Give me a cocktail, Andy, and then I’ll be all right.”
She took off her hat as she talked, held it up to view, saying, “The latest model from Paris,” and then tossed it over toward a settee. It would have fallen short, but Andy caught it and deposited it carefully in a safe place.
“How about having our talk right here, Miss Brett,” Stone suggested; “I think there can be nothing confidential about it, and as Mr Moore isn’t with us we can speak out. Did you learn anything definite?”
“Well, no; I can’t say I did. Joseph, go up to my rooms and tell the maid to give you the shoe-box, tied round with a red ribbon.”
The butler went on the errand, and Miss Artemisia settled back in her big chair in sheer physical enjoyment of her comfort.
The box brought, she called for a small table and displayed a lot of letters, photographs and snapshots.
As the others gathered round to look at them, she said;
“I think Pamela had it in mind to show these to you. I’m not sure they’re of any interest, but you never can tell. They are all pictures of her father out at the mine. She thought it would please Allan to look them over.”
“They’d interest anybody,” said Reid; “the scenery is so rugged and picturesque. Gosh, I’d like to paint out there!”
“Who are all these people?” Iris asked. “I never saw such a lot of fierce looking men! Are they the miners?”
“Yes, mine-workers of all sorts,” Arty told her.
“Uninteresting bunch,” commented Challis; “not a brainy face in the lot.”
“What do you expect from toilers of a mine?” and Stone smiled. “But they have good names. See, this picture has a list on the back.”
“That’s a sort of round-up,” Arty said; “there’s Allan, and that’s my brother.”
“And this chap behind your brother?” Stone said; “he’s a retiring sort; you can see only his arm and his hat.”
“He’s the overseer,”—Miss Brett raised her lorgnon to her eyes. “What was his name? Oh, yes, here it is, on the back. Riddell. I knew him slightly. A morose chap.”
“He writes well,” and Stone gave an approving nod at the name. “But your brother sure blotted him out of the picture.”
Miss Arty laughed. “Poor Tom was always a bit awkward; he didn’t see very well, and I’m sure he stood in front of Riddell without meaning to. He was the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew. A darling, Tom was.”
“May I keep this picture, Miss Arty?” Stone asked. “I sort of like it.”
“Yes, indeed; you may each select one to keep if you care to. They are interesting, even if you don’t know the people.”
A few took a picture apiece, but not many cared for them. As always, they satisfied an ephemeral curiosity in a few moments and then lost interest and turned to something else.
But Iris said, “Give me the one that shows the best portrait of Allan. I’d like to have that.”
And Sara Lamb, also, chose a group of which Allan was the central figure.
“Allan isn’t in many of them,” Miss Arty said, noting these selections, “he was out there so seldom. Tom transacted all the business—he just loved it. Of course, he had lots of help.”
And just then Allan joined them.
He looked weary but not really ill, and they all remembered the injunction to avoid gruesome topics.
“Who’s for tennis?” cried Fraser. “Perfectly grand, playing these cool afternoons. How about it, Allan.”
“Count me out. Dobbs just telephoned. He’ll be here shortly. I rather fancy he means to arrest me.”
“Did he say so?” and Stone smiled at him.
“No, I heard it in his voice.”
“Oh, pshaw; fiddlestrings!” remarked Miss Arty, “that’s your vivid imagination, Allan. Come along, Mr Stone, I need a walk, after riding in that motor car a million miles.”
She started down the verandah steps and Stone followed.
They went across the lawn toward the rose garden, Miss Brett selecting their route.
“We’ll sit here,” she directed, choosing a comfortable settee. “Is there any reason to think that Dobbs idiot will really arrest Allan?”
“Yes; but I think not to-night. Allan is over-apprehensive. Things are bad, however. Beyond all doubt, Miss Brett, your niece was murdered.”
“How?” asked the lady, calmly, and Stone well knew the calmness was not due to lack of grief and indignation.
“I have proved to my own satisfaction and belief that some very fiend put a bomb into the aeroplane, which exploded and blew the thing to pieces.”
“Oh, no!” Miss Brett’s calm gave way. “Oh, nobody could be so devilish. No sane person could—” She broke off and sat, clenching her hands and staring at the sunset.
“Do you mean that?”
“I am sorry to say I do. I had some boys see what they could find by way of evidence, and they brought me a piece of twisted and torn lead pipe that could be nothing but the remains of what is called a lead pipe bomb.”
“Then who did it? You must know by now!”
“No; but I shall soon discover. Miss Brett, was anybody now in this house, even among the servants, ever out at the mine—employed there, I mean?”
“Not that I know of. You can ask Allan.”
“Don’t do that. I don’t want to stir him up. Do you think Mr Kent or Mr Pollock or any of their servants were ever out there?”
“Not that I know of. What are you getting at, anyway? Suppose they had been, they never knew Marcia. She never was out there.”
“Not at all?”
“No; never. Allan didn’t meet her until long after the mine was closed down.”
“What do you know of the helpers or servants out there?”
“Nothing special. There was nobody that seemed to me like a murderer.”
“Think well. Not looking for a murderer, but for someone who had a grievance, or a grouch, or an account to settle. Someone who would have it in for Allan or for your brother, and who took his revenge in killing Moore’s wife or your brother’s daughter.”
“Of course there could have been such a person. Men out there were rough, even primitive in their passions. But none of them ever saw Marcia, and Pam was only a child, nine or ten years old—I fear you’re barking up the wrong tree, Mr Stone.”
“Very likely,” Stone sighed. “Then you know of no disgruntled steward or agent or overseer, or even cook or house-servant?”
“Never heard of any. And they were all treated well. My brother was considered by many to be too lenient, too generous with his help.”
“This Riddell, the foreman—”
“Yes, overseer. Was he lenient, too?”
“As much so as an overseer could be. You know they have to manage some fierce fellows. I don’t remember him well, those people came and went. But they never had personal relations with Tom. Everything was done through agents. I mean, as to hiring and firing.”
“I see. Now, Miss Brett, if Allan is arrested it will go hard with him. He is so broken, so shaky as to nerves, that I fear for his sanity if much more tragedy comes to him. We have to admit there is a fiend among us. These two deaths did not happen accidentally, they were planned by a clever, fiendishly clever brain. Fraser couldn’t do these things, he isn’t clever enough. Challis I leave out entirely. He is a firm friend of Moore’s and he is a detective at heart. Of course, he is also an old friend of mine but I am omitting no possibilities. Reid is clever, but he was fond of Marcia, and I can’t think he’d commit murder for money. But there are a lot of others here, West, Sheldon, Page, Foss—and—Iris, Sara and Mrs Bond. Now, I am willing to go on record as saying any one of these possesses the requisite cleverness, but I can’t see any of them doing it.”
“Why can’t you? Because you are too softhearted?”
“Not only that; because of insufficient motive, lack of daring, or doubtful opportunity.”
“You’re right, of course. No amount of cleverness will make up for those obstacles. And you’re harking back to life at the mine to get motives. But these people were not at the mine—”
“Not Eric? Or Joseph? Or Foss?”
“Not to my knowledge. And I should have known. I didn’t go there much but we had letters from Tom right along, and he often came East. It was a sort of de luxe ranch, you know. Not much on gas and electricity, but very comfortably furnished and all that. No roughing it. And lots of house-servants. I only kept away because I was bored out there, not from lack of comfort.”
“And you know of no one who lived there, in any capacity, who is in the East now?”
“No one at all, Mr Stone. Should I think of any such I will let you know at once. Tell me more about Pamela’s awful fate. It tears my very soul, but I want to know all, and then try to put it out of my mind. Don’t tell Allan any more than you have to, he is so jumpy already.”
“There’s little to tell. My boys found only a few scraps of metal, twisted and burnt—aluminum bits, doubtless from the ailerons which crashed at a distance from the rest of the plane. Pieces were all over, the end was missing. I can’t explain it entirely, but it was so wrenched apart in the middle that it could only have been done by a bomb. A bomb presupposes a murderer, and a murderer presupposes a motive.”
“You think the motive was that Pamela knew something vital she might tell, something about the death of Marcia.”
“That is my belief.”
“Then suspicion can rest only on the head of Mr Pollock.”
“Not only. You see—this is confidential—Mr Kent was over at the hangar when Pamela took off, and he was fumbling around in the plane.”
“And, of course, that mechanician, Bennett,—he had every chance.”
“But what possible motive?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure.”
“I hoped you could link Bennett or Eric or Sheldon or some such person up with the Western years, and we’d get a steer that way.”
“I’ll think it over well, but I don’t see a glimmer of light. What about the big diamond ring?”
“We’ve heard nothing of it. The police have that in charge.”
“You’re working with them?”
“Only in so far as I’m not working against them. There’s really nothing we can work on together. I’ve said nothing to Dobbs about the mine matter. I don’t feel it a duty to do so, and if I can get anything out of it I want to do it myself. Of course, if they question you about it, you must tell whatever you know.”
“I’ll choose my confidences. But what’s troubling me is that danger of Allan’s arrest. Misguided justice is a terrible thing.”
“Tell me some more about this man, Riddell.”
“Riddell? Tom’s superintendent? Why, I know nothing about him. I never saw him to speak to.”
“But you saw him?”
“Why, yes, if Tom and I were walking or riding and chanced to meet him, as we did two or three times, Tom might stop and pass a few words with him. I, of course, paid no attention.”
“Would you know him if you saw him again?”
“I don’t believe so. Oh, I see what you mean. You’re thinking he might be Eric or Sheldon or that Bennett, or somebody like that.”
“Yes, that’s the idea I had in mind.”
“But Allan would know him.”
“Of course. Could he have some hold on Allan? Could he have made him employ him?”
“Oh, no, that’s all too fanciful. If it had been Tom, now. Not that Tom was one for making trouble, but he had to keep the men in order, of course. But Allan, he was never there, had nothing to do with discipline or criticism. And they all worked all right, so far as I know. If there had been real dissatisfaction I should have known of it. Why have you hit on this Riddell?”
“For a silly reason, I admit. I’ve seen only that one word of his handwriting, yet I’m ready to pronounce him a potential criminal. That sounds crazy, I have no doubt, but there is some truth in it. How I wish he had a t in his name!”
“Why, for Heaven’s sake?”
“It would be such a help. Of course, you haven’t any more specimens of his handwriting, have you?”
“No. Oh, I don’t know—there may be some in the box of pictures and letters. There are several notes, I know. I’ll look.”
“Do. And here’s another thing. You know all the men up here pretty well, don’t you?”
“Most of them. I’ve been here a lot this summer, though not long at a time.”
“Are any of them in the habit of wearing a little feather stuck in their hatbands?”
“No, they’re not that sort—not sporty, you know. George West does sometimes, but not the house crowd.”
“Well, here’s another thing. Can you think of any way to find out if anyone of them has a coat— probably an evening coat, that smells of woman’s make-up on the left lapel? It’s odd for a detective not to be able to find that out for himself, but I don’t want to rouse the slightest suspicion that I’m looking for it. I’m wondering if your maid could get around such a situation. Is she clever?”
“Clever as they come. A man would be better, though. Is Foss out of the question?”
“Oh, yes. I don’t want him to get on to it. Think it over, see what you can do. The Danny boy is excellent, but I can’t bring him into the house.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“And here’s another thing. Have you seen any of the men who have or had a scar or scratch on the back of the neck, rather on the left side?”
“No, only Allan’s chauffeur. I noticed that because I had to sit behind him, going and coming, on our New York trip. He said it was a mosquito bite that proved a bit troublesome.”
“No mention has been made of the chauffeurs. I doubt if there’s any use taking that up. But I’ll put Dobbs wise. I leave any routine work to them.”
“Mr Stone, do you know I think we’re making very little headway. I do not mean any disparagement to you or your efforts, but we get nowhere.”
Had Miss Brett known the detective better, she would have hesitated to go on as she did.
“No. Don’t you think some clues should have led somewhere, some evidence should have been forthcoming, some witness should have stepped forward with a story that would lead somewhere?”
Stone’s resentment vanished at this, to him, fol-de-rol, and he laughed.
“I do, indeed, Miss Brett. I think the clues and bits of evidence have been most unkind in hiding themselves so long, and I’d just love to hear some stories from reliable witnesses. But, do you know, I am not at all an idle person, and those things you speak of I have been eagerly searching for and not entirely in vain. We may yet get some of these mysterious clues and things. Now, suppose you go and hunt through your box and letters and see if you can find me some bits of Riddell’s writing. Keep this matter confidential, for I warn you nothing so scares away those elusive little clues and bits of evidence as chattering about them. I’m going to the village for a walk before dinner, if anybody craves to know.”
He went off, and after a short time Miss Arty went to the house to do his bidding.
Stone, reaching the village did two errands, the first to the laundry, a good one, for the country-house people were particular folk.
He found the manager and, asking a confidential chat, inquired if he or any of his employes could remember a blood-stained collar sent to be washed about a week ago.
To Stone the question was a simple one, but to Mr Garner, the laundryman, it seemed like a spark to tinder.
“I said so! I said so!” he exclaimed, jumping up and down, in his excitement; “I knew it meant something! I knew it!”
“Good gracious, Mr Garner, what’s all the excitement about? Did you have a collar to wash that somebody had hit a mosquito on?”
The balloon collapsed.
“Oh, is that all it was? I thought you meant it was connected with the Moore murder.”
“Well, did you have such a one?”
“No, sir. No, I didn’t.”
“Then why the excitement?”
“Well, what we did have was a collar that came with a gentleman’s laundry, and it was all wrinkled; you know what I mean, washed out, but not ironed. That way, you know. And the sorter came to show it to me and—you see, I have the detective instinct—I thought at once, that the murderer had washed away the damning spot!”
“Whew!” and Stone managed to preserve his gravity. “You have got the detective instinct! And who sent the collar?”
“Ah, that we don’t know.”
“Don’t know! And you call yourself a detective! Why don’t you know!”
“Well, you see, all the collars were in together, they’re mostly numbered, of course, but this one wasn’t and all we know is, it came from the West End. Out where the Moores live and the Mannerings and Mr Pollock and Mr Kent and Mr Ellison they all live out that way, and it might have been from any of them.”
“Then how did you know where to send it back?”
“We didn’t. It’s here yet. We’re waiting for somebody to claim it.”
“All right,” said Stone, “I claim it. It isn’t mine, but I claim it in the name of the law. You’ll give it to me, please.”
“Will—will it get me into any trouble?”
“It will get you into very decided trouble if you don’t give it to me. Better be sensible and pass it over than to have the police come for it.”
With a white face and trembling hands the laundryman produced the collar from a locked drawer, and passed it over.
“That’s all right,” said Stone, kindly. “If anybody bothers you about it, just send them to me. Send to Mr Moore’s at Forest Mead, I’m visiting there.”
Jubilant at this maybe trifling success, Stone went from the laundry to a nondescript sort of printing shop and photograph studio, and asked for their cleverest camera man.
A good-looking youth appeared and Stone showed him the photograph of the men out on the mining ranch.
“Interesting bit,” said the youth, looking at the group of men and the rocky scenic effects.
“What I want,” explained Stone, “is an enlargement, the very biggest one you can make; not of the whole picture, but of this part I’ve marked with a circle. Don’t mutilate this little card, but can’t you get me a good-sized copy of the part I want?”
The youth, whose name was Summers, allowed he could, and Stone begged for an early delivery.
“Be ready to-morrow noon,” Summers said, “but I can’t send it. Got no way. Can’t you call for it?”
“I’ll call or send. If a bright youngster, answering to the name of Danny, comes for it, let him have it. But nobody else.”
Mr Summers placidly agreed, and Stone walked back to Forest Mead, well pleased with his real, if not apparent progress.
Reaching his rooms, Stone found several specimens of Riddell’s writing. Miss Arty had come across them and had sent them with a note saying they were all she could find.
There was no doubt as to their verity, for most of them were signed and the autograph was the same as that on the back of the picture which showed Allan standing in front of the overseer. But there were plenty of letters now to check up, and the detective, an experienced graphologist, quickly found the peculiarities which, taken in connection with other signs, indicate a possible criminality of character.
Riddell must be looked up, and some queries regarding him settled at once.
Stone well knew that there is no real criminal type of writing any more than there is a real criminal physiognomy, but the penmanship which cannot stick to one angle of inclination, cannot find a solid basic line, shows an uneven pressure and always a wavering t-bar, is the type generally found in the records of police departments.
And though the papers were for the most part mere jotted memoranda from the overseer, Stone held them precious as clues that must be followed up.
He showed the picture to Allan, also the scraps of writing, but Moore had no recollection of having seen the picture before, of anybody named Riddell, or of any employee at the mine at any time. He was, very literally, a silent partner, Brett having done all the directing and ordering. Yet, Stone had a stubborn conviction that to find Riddell would be a long step toward the success he aimed at.
In the evening Dobbs came, and as Stone met him on his arrival, he saw at once that the policeman was in belligerent mood.
“Give me a few words first,” the detective asked, and led Dobbs to a small ante-room where they could be alone.
“I’m told you are proposing to arrest Mr Moore,” Stone said, gravely.
“Yes, we’ve dawdled over this thing long enough. I’m going to put up or shut up.”
“Then, Lieutenant, you’d better shut up. Now, wait a minute, don’t begin to splutter until you hear what I have to say. I have several pieces of conclusive proof against someone who is not Mr Moore.” Stone refrained from saying that he did not know who it was. “These things I shall prove up to the hilt and be ready to make public in a few days. Say, by Thursday at the very latest. I am not dictating to you, but I do tell you that if you make that arrest, if you put Allan Moore in jail, you will most surely have to release him again on Thursday. This procedure will make you a laughing-stock and will do your colleagues no good. Incidentally, it will be a severe as well as an unjust blow to Mr Moore, who is by no means a well man. I am not advising you; so far as I am concerned you can go your own gait, and if it were not for the fact that Mr Moore is my friend, I should let you run head-on to your own fate. But do you not see that a postponement of your plan to arrest him will in no way hinder your administering of what you think is justice, but will probably spare him a nervous breakdown and a long, serious illness? If I thought him a murderer I would not present the matter to you thus, but as I know he is not, and as I propose to tell you who is the criminal, I offer you the opportunity of saving your face.”
If anyone but Fleming Stone had said that to Detective Dobbs that worthy would have laughed him to scorn. But, though he openly made fun of the amateur investigator, in his secret heart he had a strong belief in his powers and even an awe of his capabilities.
But he felt he must perforce bluster a little.
“All very good, Mr Stone, all ve—ry good! Now, if you will tell me the nature of these proofs of yours and explain just how and why you can liberate our suspect on—Thursday, is it?—and not before, I will take the matter under advisement.”
“Sorry, Dobbs, but that won’t do. I see, we must each go on our own way. Arrest your man, then, and if it brings to him a long and serious illness I shall be sorry for you as well as for him. Go right ahead with your plans, and when my revelations are made known on Thursday remember you might have saved yourself your consequent chagrin and regret.”
Fleming Stone rose and gave every effect of considering the conversation at an end. He pushed back his chair, opened the door, and was about to go through it, when he heard the words he expected.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, Mr Stone; don’t be so hasty. I—I might consent to post—”
“I am not at all interested in what you might do. If you have anything definite to say to me I will listen. Otherwise,—” another step was taken toward the door.
“Oh, all right—all right! I won’t say anything about an arrest to-night, but—”
“And not until after Thursday!”
“Well, well, then—not until after Thursday. But we shall closely watch our suspect.”
“Not to his knowledge, please, Lieutenant. I ask you this as man to man. Surely you have some discreet, clever shadow, who will do his duty without annoying Mr Moore?”
“Oh, yes, I think that can be arranged. And, now, you will give me perhaps a hint of your new suspect?”
“I have no new suspect, I never give hints and I shall be away much of the time from to-morrow till Thursday. Also, you will kindly keep all I have said confidential.”
Before joining the group in the library Stone went up to his rooms and called for Foss.
Opening the conversation by inquiries about Mr Moore’s health, Stone learned that the valet was somewhat alarmed at his master’s increasing weakness and possible impending illness.
“All owing to his wife’s death,” Stone suggested.
“That, and the little girl’s death, and the everlasting hangin’ around of old Dobbs!” declared Foss angrily.
“You all love Mr Moore?”
“That we do, but none can see as I can how he is failing.”
“Unless Miss Lamb notices it.”
Foss gave the speaker a quick glance, but concluding the remark needed no response, he said nothing.
“Well, Foss, I think if you will help me a bit we can get along toward making Mr Moore a happier man. You think the police suspicion of him weighs on his mind?”
“Heavily, sir, very heavily.”
“Then you do a couple of errands, and see if that helps us out a bit.”
“Right glad to do so, Mr Stone. What are they?” Stone showed him the collar that was washed but not ironed, and Foss looked at it curiously.
“Have it ironed,” Stone directed, smiling at the valet’s bewilderment. “Get the house laundress to do it, it needn’t be well done, you see. Then, try to match it. Try first, here in the house, then try the neighbors, Mr Mannering, Mr Pollock and Mr Kent.”
“How can I go into the gentlemen’s bedrooms, sir—I”
“Nonsense, you needn’t do that. Ask the valets or housekeepers if that collar belongs to their masters. Say it came here by mistake. Just find out if it is the property of any of those I’ve mentioned. It’s some job, Foss, I know, but if it will help Mr Moore,— and it will…”
“All right, sir, I’ll do my best.”
“Stout fellow. Now, there’s another thing; see if you can find a man who wears a little feather in his hatband, sometimes.”
“Yes, I know Mr West does. So cut him out. But anybody else in this house—anyone at all, from Mr Moore down to Danny boy. Or any of those neighbors I’ve mentioned, or their household staffs.”
“All right, Mr Stone. All I can say is I’ll do my best. It isn’t just in my line, this pokin’ and pryin’ about, but I’d do anything for Mr Moore.”
“You would? Then here’s one more stunt. If you can put this over you’re a one-er! I want to find someone who has a smear of face powder or cosmetic or even lipstick on his left lapel of some coat. Left, mind you, not right.”
“From a lady’s face?”
“Exactly. It was made, if any, about ten days ago, and may have been cleaned by now.”
Foss looked very grave.
“Made the night Mrs Moore—left us?” he said, with a catch in his throat.
“Yes, Foss, that’s right.”
“Perhaps a visit to the cleaner’s would be a good move, Mr Stone?”
“Excellent. You have a clever brain, Foss. Find out, if you can, will you?”
“Yes, sir. Is that all?”
“That is all, but I want your report by noon or earlier to-morrow. Is that possible?”
“If I can do it all I can do it by then.”
“Very well, do your best.”
Then Stone went downstairs again and joined the party in the lounge, all of whom he found decidedly improved in spirits because of Dobbs’ failure to arrest Allan that evening.
In fact he had said, as Iris volunteered to tell the detective, that he had some new information, and that while it could not be acted upon at once he felt sure he could promise them some good news by Thursday.
Stone’s eyebrows went up a little at this statement and he was glad Dobbs had departed, as he had no desire to meet the issue.
“Do you know anything about these new developments, Mr Stone?” asked Artemisia, noting his expression.
“Oh, that reminds me,” he returned, quickly, “I am most grateful to you, Miss Brett, for the papers you provided. They may prove of more real help than Lieutenant Dobbs’ enigmatical promises. And now, I wonder if we can’t have some entertainment. Is anybody, like the historic French, fond of light wines and dancing?”
“Oh, Mr Stone, do you dance?” cried Iris enrapturedly; “I never dreamed you did! Allan, you’ll order something on trays, won’t you?”
“I’ll look after it,” and Sara smiled at Moore, who welcomed her suggestion.
The radio was turned on, Sara was soon back, and to the surprise of some Miss Brett proved the best dancer in the room.
Stone, a perfect dancer was also a good entertainer, and he took it now upon himself to rouse the spirits of Moore who responded nobly, and soon the house-party was in happier mood than at any time since the tragedies began.
As they paid attention to the “trays” Stone sat beside Moore, and spoke in an undertone.
“Brace up,” he advised. “There is light on the horizon, and I want a few words with you to-morrow morning. Shall I come to your quarters? And at what time?”
“Blow in to my den about eleven—or ten, if you like it better.”
“All right, ten, then. And tell me this. What became of your gold-mine? Is it still yours?”
“Oh, Lord, no. About eight or ten years ago we had a fine chance to sell out to some chaps who wanted to form a company. I couldn’t be out there much, or anyway I wasn’t; Tom Brett was a hard worker, but he got fed up with it, and as the Corporation people offered us a whacking big pile, we sold out to them. I doubt we’d have done any better to stand pat. I can’t bear business of any sort, don’t understand it. And I’m not greedy for a really big fortune. My share was enough for me, and Tom’s for him, so we sold.”
“Would you like to go out there again, just to see the place, I mean?”
“No, not the slightest interest in it. I only hope someone is getting some good out of it.”
“You don’t know?”
“No; not now. That first company failed; there were rumors of others, but I lost track of it all.”
“Where is the place? Exactly?”
“I can’t tell you, precisely. But to-morrow morning I’ll show you maps and plans.”
“Good,” and then Stone changed the subject and gave of his talents to the program of mild entertainment already in progress.
Later, Kent and Pollock blew in for a short time, as they had been doing of late. Both were seemingly normal and serene, less gay than the Moore house-party, but ready to play up.
Stone looked at them closely, wondering if either could possibly be mixed up in the murders, and how and why.
He studied Kent again and was forced to admit to himself that this refined, studious, well-mannered chap had no signs of homicidal instinct.
He studied Pollock, and save for the crippled hands saw only a normal, average looking chap, with rather an ascetic face and olive skin. His one claim to beauty was a pair of large, deep brown eyes, with the merest trifle of a slant that gave a tinge of melancholy. But Pollock was entering into the spirit of the crowd, and showed no melancholy as he contributed his share by dancing a clever clog dance.
It was easily seen that Allan was tired, and the party broke up early, all going to their rooms well before midnight.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Sunday morning, Fleming Stone was around betimes.
He had brought no man of his own and Foss was willingly acting as valet.
But even the imperturbable Foss was surprised when told to pack a small bag with clothing for an overnight or two trip.
“Going away, sir?” he asked, rather unnecessarily.
Stone looked at him reproachfully: “With your detective instincts you ask that! Well, pack the bag, and I’ll see about going away later.”
By ten o’clock he was closeted with Moore.
“I won’t keep you long,” he said, noting Allan’s weary, restless eyes.
“Oh, that’s all right; I’m not sleeping well, just now. But stay as long as you like.”
“It’s this way, Mr Moore. I have a belief that the solution of the mystery of Mrs Moore’s death lies out in South Dakota, in the region of your mine.”
“Maybe. I’m sure I don’t know.”
“You haven’t any remembrance of any incident or circumstance that could connect the mine with the tragedy?”
“Not the slightest.”
“Nothing ever happened out there that made an enemy for you?”
“I called down one of the overseers once, for cruelty. He was doing the Simon Legree act. But I don’t know who he was, I’m sure.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Six or eight years, I suppose. But he could hardly be responsible for the two deaths here, if that’s what you’re thinking about.”
“No, of course not. Well, it’s this way, Mr Moore. I have to go away to-night, and I may not get back until about Wednesday night. Business connected with this affair of yours, of course. I think I have the low-down on it, and I think it will all be straightened out in a few days, but I must ask you to be patient that long. Does that sound all right to you?”
“Yes, Mr Stone, if you will put it over as soon as you can. I want to go off on a trip or something like that, but even if they would let me I can’t go till my mind is at rest about this matter.”
“No, of course not.”
“Will you leave anyone in your place?” asked Moore.
“Only Challis. Oh, and I’d like the help of Danny, the gardener’s boy. Will you see that he has permission to go and come as he likes, without question? He’s a bright lad, and my very good aide.”
“All right, Stone. I feel better already that you’re getting more active.”
“It was impossible to reach this point sooner, I assure you. The awful affair of Pamela Brett put everything back.”
“Of course. I’m not blaming you at all, but I’m so weary and ill.”
“Chirk up, man. Don’t think I fail in sympathy, but I want you to enjoy the long life that still stretches ahead of you.”
Stone returned to his own sitting-room and his messengers began to return. Danny, who had been sent for the enlarged photograph, brought a large parcel.
Foss came, apparently bursting with information; so much so, that Stone dragged him into the room and closed the door quickly.
But Foss received no reprimand, so good was his work. He told Stone that he had found collars like the one in question among Mr Moore’s own, also Mr Fraser’s and Mr Reid’s. Then, he said, the same sort were in the dresser-drawers of both Mr Pollock and Mr Kent.
“H’m,” said Stone; “seems to be a popular design.”
“Yes, sir,” agreed Foss. “The village shop keeps them, and the gentlemen buys ’em, when they run out unexpectedly.”
“What about the cosmetics on the coat collar?”
“Well, quite a few has had their coats cleaned the last coupla weeks, but not many from this house. Mr Moore’s about the only one had any cleanin’ done in the last week or so; both Mr Mannering and Mr Pollock had coats cleaned the day after—the day after Mrs Moore died.”
“Who is this Mr Mannering? I don’t know him.”
“He’s a neighbor, but he don’t ever come here.”
“Had a quarrel with Mr Moore—”
“About Mrs Moore.”
“Oh. Well we’re leaving him out.”
“Yes, sir. And about the feather, sir. Hardly anybody wears ’em. But it seems Mr Challis and Mr Pollock found one each one day and stuck ’em in their hats. Mr Challis threw his in his waste basket, and Mr Pollock, he lost his. His man told me. That’s all I dug up, Mr Stone.”
“And you did mighty well, Foss. Now, while I’m away, look well after Mr Moore, and I think when I return the good news I bring will make him all well again.”
“I hope it may, Mr Stone. He was well nigh dead after Mrs Moore’s passing, and then Miss Pamela, so soon after, it was just hell for him.”
“It sure was. Bag packed, Foss?”
“All ready, sir.”
Dismissing the man, Stone locked his door and eagerly opened the parcel of photographs.
He found just what he wanted, just what he expected.
The enlargement showed the man, Riddell, almost eclipsed by the burly figure of Tom Brett, who stood in front of him, leaving visible only the hat and the left arm of the overseer, which lay along the fence rail on which he was leaning.
After putting the picture in his bag, Stone sent for Danny, who came, eagerly expectant.
“My boy,” he said, “for a few days I want you to pretend you are a man.”
“Yes, sir,” returned Danny, striving to look old and wise.
“Your principal duty is to do just what I am about to tell you now; to do it exactly as I tell you, and to be just as smart as you can about it.”
“Yes, sir;” the anxious little face set itself in firm lines, and Stone looked in vain for any trace of cocksureness or over-confidence.
“Here is a list of people,” Stone gave him a paper, listing the names of most of the people at Forest Mead and at the neighbors’ houses. “Keep it safely, and note every day where each one is. The first one who goes away, I mean away on a train, or in a motor car, follow him. Trail him, shadow him, don’t lose sight of him for a moment unless you are certain where he, or she, is. This is a difficult and a very responsible task I am setting you, and I hope and trust you can put it over. This person may not go away at all, in which case, stay right here, yourself, but should he or she start be ready to follow at once.
“I have grave doubts as to the wisdom of putting you on this job, but you are better fitted for it than anyone I know. I have told your father about it. When, that is, if, you have to follow someone, we will call him Mr Whoo—if it should be a woman, also Mr Whoo—keep yourself out of sight, of course, and at first opportunity wire your father your address. If I come back suddenly Dan must be able to tell me just where you are at the moment. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. Will the first one who goes be the right one to follow?”
“I think so; the first one who is on the list. Should you follow the wrong one it will not be your fault, but it will be a catastrophe. However, you can only follow directions. Don’t do anything on your own initiative.”
“What does that mean, Mr Stone?”
“It means simply to obey orders, even though you think you can think up a better plan. Now, I’m leaving to-night. In no case can you communicate with me. But see to it that your father always knows exactly where you are.”
“If I can, I will.”
“I understand. If you have to scurry, to follow, just send your address home at the first possible instant.”
“You think he means to flit?”
Stone laughed. “You’ve hit it, Danny. But I want you to flit after him and stick to him.”
“Exactly. Very much unbeknownst.”
Stone gave the boy money for his enterprise, and a few addresses, and dismissed him with a sigh. It was quite on the cards that something untoward might happen to Danny before the detective saw him again.
And late that evening Fleming Stone found himself in New York City.
By midnight he had been to see a well-known surgeon, and soon thereafter was sound asleep in his own bed.
Monday morning he made arrangements by telephone for an aeroplane to take him to South Dakota, learning that the trip could be made in fourteen hours.
He left New York that afternoon and Tuesday’s sunrise found him nearing the mining region that had once belonged to Allan Moore and Tom Brett in partnership.
A few hours spent in the inner sanctum with the President and some secretaries of the Corporation now owning the mine gave him all the information he sought, and a garrulous overseer retained from former years added a valuable bit.
Wednesday afternoon he reached Forest Mead, and, before entering the house, went to the cottage of Dan, the gardener.
“Danny’s gone to New York,” the man said. “Told me to tell you he was after Mr Whoo, and would wire me soon’s he could.”
“All right,” said Stone, “come and tell me the instant you get a message. Don’t send anyone else with it.”
Then he went to the house, had a private session with Allan, and refused to see anyone else until later.
Then Dan came and told him Danny was at the Hotel Olympic, with Mr Whoo, and the man was sailing next day for Spain.”
“Probably has a castle there,” said Stone, to himself, and telephoned for Lieutenant Dobbs.
That worthy came, and he, too, did some telephoning and then Fleming Stone joined the group gathered round the big open fire in the lounge.
In his pleasant but decided way he told them that he had a story for them, but declined to tell it until after dinner, when, he said, he would reveal all.
And, owing to the detective’s good spirits and Allan’s serenity, dinner proved a satisfactory occasion all round.
Some were absent, and Stone was informed that George West was in North Adams and Carleton Reid in Boston.
“Where’s Miss Beverly?” he asked, and was told she had gone home.
Miss Artemisia was still with them and Fraser and Sara Lamb, very quiet and wistful looking, and, of course, Challis.
After dinner they went to the library, and Stone expressed himself ready to tell his story.
“Since Sunday,” he began, “I have been out to South Dakota and back.”
“To the mine?” exclaimed Miss Arty, raising her expressive hands.
“Yes, and while there I verified the suspicions I already had formed regarding the man who murdered Mrs Moore and little Pamela.”
Utter silence followed this, as none dared voice the question all wanted to put.
“I must ask leave to tell my story in my own way,” Stone went on. “I shall tell you, first, the motives of the murderer and then, if he has not himself arrived, I will tell you his name.
“The story really begins some years ago, when Mr Moore went out to the mine, to see Mr Brett and to have a look about. While there, and he was there but a day or two, he saw, one evening at dusk, a cruel overseer beat up a workman who was quite evidently ill and unable to work.
“Mr Moore, unable to stand this brutal injustice, went for the overseer, as he had a perfect right to do, both because he was half owner of the mine and also in the name of common humanity. And so angry was he that he chose his own method of humiliating the overseer, which was to order the unjustly punished man to punish his superior. ‘Lay on!’ exclaimed Mr Moore, and, half afraid, but obedient, the man did lay on. Then, Mr Moore bade the overseer apologize to the workman for his harsh words and his manhandling of the poor chap, which, under protest, the overseer did. The overseer’s name was—Riddell.”
“A bully and a coward!” exclaimed Allan Moore.
“I learned,” Stone proceeded, “from an overseer now at the mine, that Riddell, strange to say, felt little if any hard feelings toward the workman, but that his soul was filled with revenge toward Mr Moore, and he vowed he would kill him. He grew so possessed with his idea of revenge that Mr Brett finally discharged him, not wanting to have such a man on the place. I was told, too, that Riddell had a strain of Tartar blood in his veins, which accounted for his desperate brutality and his thirst for vengeance.
“It seems that Mr Moore held him, Riddell, up with a gun, while the workman lambasted him.”
“I did!” declared Allan; “and I’d do the same thing again! I never was so incensed! That brute— he wasn’t so big, but he was very strong—making that poor puny, half sick fellow work when he should have been in bed! He had a fever, of which, later, he died.”
“Well,” Stone went on, “Riddell never let up on his firm intention of getting even with Mr Moore, sooner or later. And he did. My informant told me that before he left the mine he had said he was uncertain whether he would kill Mr Moore or kill someone near and dear to him, thereby making him suffer, and kill Moore himself later on. So, as you can see, every instinct of murder was roused in him, and it was he—Riddell—who killed both Mrs Moore and little Miss Brett.”
At this point Joseph entered the room, bringing with him Dan the gardener.
“Mr Stone,” Dan said, quietly, “Danny has just telegraphed from New York, and he says he’s sailing for Spain to-morrow, and I must wire him a thousand dollars.”
Both Stone and Allan laughed outright, the rest being simply astounded.
But Stone told Dan that matters were now all arranged and Danny would not have to go to Spain.
And, indeed, it was not half an hour later that a decided disturbance was heard in the hall and, unwillingly enough, a handcuffed man was brought in, accompanied by two stalwart policemen, and followed by Lieutenant Dobbs and Danny.
The man, though previously known to them as Pollock, was Riddell, his real name being Foster Pollock Riddell.
His demeanor was defiant rather than ashamed, and, after demanding and obtaining a confession, Allan Moore begged that he be taken away, and thereafter the police had him in charge.
Not, however, before he had, as is the way of murderers, boasted of his cleverness, which, to his chagrin had given out at a critical moment.
“How could I recognize that imp of Satan?” he exclaimed, pointing to Danny, who, dressed in the garb of a well-to-do young man about town, looked older and more sedate than his wont.
“But for him,” Riddell went on, “I had accomplished my end and aim of poisoning Moore’s life for him, and so inflicting a punishment worse than death. Which, also, I might have accomplished later.”
“But why did you kill my darling?” wailed Miss Arty. “My baby, my little Pam! She never harmed you!”
“She knew too much, ma’am,” said Riddell, earnestly. “It was her life or mine.”
“And you put a lead-pipe bomb in the aeroplane!” exclaimed Stone, even yet half unable to believe in such fiend’s work.
“I had to—to save my own life. She was going to tell what she knew.”
“Oh, take him away!” cried Artemisia. “I never want to see him again!”
But from their prisoner the police learned that he had promised Marcia to take her up in his plane that fatal night. That, meeting her in the maze, as they had agreed, and where he had said he would bring proper coat and helmet for her, he had, instead, suffocated her, with his strong, though crippled hands, had carried her to the zoo and had put her in Bluebell’s cage, and had then given the tigress a hypodermic of morphine. For he knew far more about the habits of wild beasts than he had pretended.
Nor was it the first time he had secretly taken her for a ride at night. There was no romance between them but she wanted the excitement of the rides, and she paid him well each time. For long he had planned that some night he would make it her last on earth.
Owen Challis, however, was more interested in learning how Stone discovered the truth than in hearing the details of Riddell’s villainy.
“Oh, it wasn’t hard, once I got started,” Stone said. “But it was hard at first, for I could get no motive and no opportunity to work on. Also there were too many suspects. But once I got an idea of Pollock it was only a matter of sticking to it.”
“What gave you the idea of him?”
“Two slips that he made in conversation. One was, one day, speaking of Miss Brett, he said, ‘I remember’ and then awkwardly changed his speech. And another time he began to say, ‘When I was over—’ and stopped suddenly. He resumed, saying, ‘when I was over in London—’ or something like that, but his clumsy correction struck me as odd, and I remembered it. Then when there was talk of an overseer out at the mine I began to think. Then in the picture that showed Riddell’s arm and hand only, I found a clue. I had that picture enlarged, and sure enough the hand showed Depuytren’s Contraction, which is an ailment of the man we have been calling Pollock. Then I felt sure, but went out to the mine to corroborate and verify.
“I proved it all up to the hilt. Riddell had that trouble with his fingers then, though not so badly; it was about eight years ago. And he was a clever clog-dancer, and an amateur aeronaut, and the handwriting was the same, except as it was changed by the advancing trouble with his fingers.
“I knew too, that that slight slant in his brown eyes might mean a strain of Tartar blood, which I have learned he has, and that explains his heartless and soulless cruelty. He learned that Pamela remembered her father’s overseer with crippled hands like his, and he knew that such knowledge would almost certainly lead to his exposure.
“So he sent that girl up in his own plane, with a bomb in it placed there by his own hands. If anyone now has any sympathy for him or regret that he must meet his deserved fate, I don’t want to know it!”
“He has the diamond from Marcia’s ring, I suppose?” asked Challis.
“He had it, yes. The police have it now, Dobbs told me. Also, he planted his broken hypodermic syringe in Kent’s garden, hoping to implicate him. Then there were other slender clues. Pollock sent a coat to be cleaned soon after Mrs Moore’s death. I discovered it had a smear of cosmetic paste on its left lapel, which came, doubtless, from his suffocating her, that night, in the maze. I am sure he did kill her in the maze, and then carried her to the zoo. Two or three dropped flowers and her bag went to prove that. He was perhaps blackmailing her because he threatened to tell of her flights with him on various occasions. She was a daring and impulsive nature and generally got what she wanted.
“That is the main story of the vilest, wickedest soul I have ever known in my whole career, and I hope never again to meet such another!”
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