A Mystery Story
I. KATHERINE HEARS THE SLY STEP OF DEATH AT THE CEDARS
II. THE CASE AGAINST BOBBY
III. HOWELLS DELIVERS HIMSELF TO THE ABANDONED ROOM
IV. A STRANGE LIGHT APPEARS AT THE DESERTED HOUSE
V. THE CRYING THROUGH THE WOODS
VI. THE ONE WHO CREPT IN THE PRIVATE STAIRCASE
VII. THE AMAZING MEETING IN THE SHADOWS OF THE OLD COURTYARD
VII. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE GRAVE
IX. BOBBY'S VIGIL IN THE ABANDONED ROOM
X. THE CEDARS IS LEFT TO ITS SHADOWS
THE ABANDONED ROOM
KATHERINE HEARS THE SLY STEP OF DEATH AT THE CEDARS
The night of his grandfather's mysterious death at the Cedars, Bobby
Blackburn was, at least until midnight, in New York. He was held there by
the unhealthy habits and companionships which recently had angered his
grandfather to the point of threatening a disciplinary change in his
will. As a consequence he drifted into that strange adventure which later
was to surround him with dark shadows and overwhelming doubts.
Before following Bobby through his black experience, however, it is
better to know what happened at the Cedars where his cousin, Katherine
Perrine was, except for the servants, alone with old Silas Blackburn who
seemed apprehensive of some sly approach of disaster.
At twenty Katherine was too young, too light-hearted for this care of her
uncle in which she had persisted as an antidote for Bobby's shortcomings.
She was never in harmony with the mouldy house or its surroundings,
bleak, deserted, unfriendly to content.
Bobby and she had frequently urged the old man to give it up, to move, as
it were, into the light. He had always answered angrily that his
ancestors had lived there since before the Revolution, and that what had
been good enough for them was good enough for him. So that night
Katherine had to hear alone the sly stalking of death in the house. She
told it all to Bobby the next day—what happened, her emotions, the
impression made on her by the people who came when it was too late to
save Silas Blackburn.
She said, then, that the old man had behaved oddly for several days, as
if he were afraid. That night he ate practically no dinner. He couldn't
keep still. He wandered from room to room, his tired eyes apparently
seeking. Several times she spoke to him.
"What is the matter, Uncle? What worries you?"
He grumbled unintelligibly or failed to answer at all.
She went into the library and tried to read, but the late fall wind
swirled mournfully about the house and beat down the chimney, causing the
fire to cast disturbing shadows across the walls. Her loneliness, and her
nervousness, grew sharper. The restless, shuffling footsteps stimulated
her imagination. Perhaps a mental breakdown was responsible for this
alteration. She was tempted to ring for Jenkins, the butler, to share
her vigil; or for one of the two women servants, now far at the back of
"And Bobby," she said to herself, "or somebody will have to come out here
to-morrow to help."
But Silas Blackburn shuffled in just then, and she was a trifle ashamed
as she studied him standing with his back to the fire, glaring around the
room, fumbling with hands that shook in his pocket for his pipe and some
loose tobacco. It was unjust to be afraid of him. There was no question.
The man himself was afraid—terribly afraid.
His fingers trembled so much that he had difficulty lighting his pipe.
His heavy brows, gray like his beard, contracted in a frown. His voice
quavered unexpectedly. He spoke of his grandson:
"Bobby! Damned waster! God knows what he'll do next."
"He's young, Uncle Silas, and too popular."
He brushed aside her customary defence. As he continued speaking she
noticed that always his voice shook as his fingers shook, as his stooped
shoulders jerked spasmodically.
"I ordered Mr. Robert here to-night. Not a word from him. I'd made up my
mind anyway. My lawyer's coming in the morning. My money goes to the
Bedford Foundation—all except a little annuity for you, Katy. It's hard
on you, but I've got no faith left in my flesh and blood."
His voice choked with a sentiment a little repulsive in view of his
ruthless nature, his unbending egotism.
"It's sad, Katy, to grow old with nobody caring for you except to covet
She arose and went close to him. He drew back, startled.
"You're not fair, Uncle."
With an unexpected movement, nearly savage, he pushed her aside and
started for the door.
"Uncle!" she cried. "Tell me! You must tell me! What makes you afraid?"
He turned at the door. He didn't answer. She laughed feverishly.
"It—it's not Bobby you're afraid of?"
"You and Bobby," he grumbled, "are thicker than thieves."
She shook her head.
"Bobby and I," she said wistfully, "aren't very good friends, largely
because of this life he's leading."
He went on out of the room, mumbling again incoherently.
She resumed her vigil, unable to read because of her misgivings, staring
at the fire, starting at a harsher gust of wind or any unaccustomed
sound. And for a long time there beat against her brain the shuffling,
searching tread of her uncle. Its cessation about eleven o'clock
increased her uneasiness. He had been so afraid! Suppose already the
thing he had feared had overtaken him? She listened intently. Even then
she seemed to sense the soundless footsteps of disaster straying in the
decayed house, and searching, too.
A morbid desire to satisfy herself that her uncle's silence meant
nothing evil drove her upstairs. She stood in the square main hall at the
head of the stairs, listening. Her uncle's bedroom door lay straight
ahead. To her right and left narrow corridors led to the wings. Her room
and Bobby's and a spare room were in the right-hand wing. The opposite
corridor was seldom used, for the left-hand wing was the oldest portion
of the house, and in the march of years too many legends had gathered
about it. The large bedroom was there with its private hall beyond, and a
narrow, enclosed staircase, descending to the library. Originally it had
been the custom for the head of the family to use that room. Its ancient
furniture still faded within stained walls. For many years no one had
slept in it, because it had sheltered too much suffering, because it had
witnessed the reluctant spiritual departure of too many Blackburns.
Katherine shrank a little from the black entrance of the corridor, but
her anxiety centred on the door ahead. She was about to call when a
stirring beyond it momentarily reassured her.
The door opened and her uncle stepped out. He wore an untidy
dressing-gown. His hair was disordered. His face appeared grayer and more
haggard than it had downstairs. A lighted candle shook in his right hand.
"What are you doing up here, Katy?" he quavered.
She broke down before the picture of his increased fear. He shuffled
"What you crying for, Katy?"
She controlled herself. She begged him for an answer to her doubts.
"You make me afraid."
He laughed scornfully.
"You! What you got to be afraid of?"
"I'm afraid because you are," she urged. "You've got to tell me. I'm all
alone. I can't stand it. What are you afraid of?"
He didn't answer. He shuffled on toward the disused wing. Her hand
tightened on the banister.
"Where are you going?" she whispered.
He turned at the entrance to the corridor.
"I am going to the old bedroom."
"Why? Why?" she asked hysterically. "You can't sleep there. The bed isn't
He lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper:
"Don't you mention I've gone there. If you want to know, I am afraid. I'm
afraid to sleep in my own room any longer."
"And you don't think they'd look for you there. What is it? Tell me what
it is. Why don't you send for some one—a man?"
"Leave me alone," he mumbled. "Nothing for you to be worried about,
"Yes, there is," she cried. "Yes, there is."
He paid no attention to her fright. He entered the corridor. She heard
him shuffling between its narrow walls. She saw his candle disappear in
its gloomy reaches.
She ran to her own room and locked the door. She hurried to the window
and leaned out, her body shaking, her teeth chattering as if from a
sudden chill. The quiet, assured tread of disaster came nearer.
The two wings, stretching at right angles from the main building, formed
a narrow court. Clouds harrying the moon failed quite to destroy its
power, so that she could see, across the court, the facade of the old
wing and the two windows of the large room through whose curtains a
spectral glow was diffused. She heard one of the windows opened with a
grating noise. The court was a sounding board. It carried to her even the
shuffling of the old man's feet as he must have approached the bed. The
glow of his candle vanished. She heard a rustling as if he had stretched
himself on the bed, a sound like a long-drawn sigh.
She tried to tell herself there was no danger—that these peculiar
actions sprang from the old man's fancy—but the house, her surroundings,
her loneliness, contradicted her. To her over-acute senses the thought of
Blackburn in that room, so often consecrated to the formula of death,
suggested a special and unaccountable menace. Under such a strain the
supernatural assumed vague and singular shapes.
She slept for only a little while. Then she lay awake, listening with a
growing expectancy for some message to slip across the court. The moon
had ceased struggling. The wind cried. The baying of a dog echoed
mournfully from a great distance. It was like a remote alarm bell which
vibrates too perfectly, whose resonance is too prolonged.
She sat upright. She sprang from the bed and, her heart beating
insufferably, felt her way to the window. From the wing opposite the
message had come—a soft, shrouded sound, another long-drawn sigh.
She tried to call across the court. At first no response came from her
tight throat. When it did at last, her voice was unfamiliar in her own
ears, the voice of one who has to know a thing but shrinks from asking.
The wind mocked her.
"It is nothing," she told herself, "nothing."
But her vigil had been too long, her loneliness too complete. Her earlier
impression of the presence of death in the decaying house tightened its
hold. She had to assure herself that Silas Blackburn slept untroubled.
The thing she had heard was peculiar, and he hadn't answered across the
court. The dark, empty corridors at first were an impassable barrier, but
while she put on her slippers and her dressing-gown she strengthened her
courage. There was a bell rope in the upper hall. She might get Jenkins.
When she stood in the main hall she hesitated. It would probably be a
long time, provided he heard at all, before Jenkins could answer her. Her
candle outlined the entrance to the musty corridor. Just a few running
steps down there, a quick rap at the door, and, perhaps, in an instant
her uncle's voice, and the blessed power to return to her room and sleep!
While her fear grew she called on her pride to let her accomplish that
brief, abhorrent journey.
Then for the first time a different doubt came to her. As she waited
alone in this disturbing nocturnal intimacy of an old house, she shrank
from no thought of human intrusion, and she wondered if her uncle had
been afraid of that, too, of the sort of thing that might lurk in the
ancient wing with its recollections of birth and suffering and death. But
he had gone there as an escape. Surely he had been afraid of men. It
shamed her that, in spite of that, her fear defined itself ever more
clearly as something indefinable. With a passionate determination to
strangle such thoughts she held her breath. She tried to close her mind.
She entered the corridor. She ran its length. She knocked at the locked
door of the old bedroom. She shrank as the echoes rattled from the dingy
walls where her candle cast strange reflections. There was no other
answer. A sense of an intolerable companionship made her want to cry out
for brilliant light, for help. She screamed.
"Uncle Silas! Uncle Silas!"
Through the silence that crushed her voice she became aware finally of
the accomplishment of its mission by death in this house. And she fled
into the main hall. She jerked at the bell rope. The contact steadied
her, stimulated her to reason. One slender hope remained. The
oppressive bedroom might have driven Silas Blackburn through the
private hall and down the enclosed staircase. Perhaps he slept on the
lounge in the library.
She stumbled down, hoping to meet Jenkins. She crossed the hall and the
dining room and entered the library. She bent over the lounge. It was
empty. Her candle was reflected in the face of the clock on the mantel.
Its hands pointed to half-past two.
She pulled at the bell cord by the fireplace. Why didn't the butler come?
Alone she couldn't climb the enclosed staircase to try the other door. It
seemed impossible to her that she should wait another instant alone—
The butler, as old and as gray as Silas Blackburn, faltered in. He
started back when he saw her.
"My God, Miss Katherine! What's the matter? You look like death."
"There's death," she said.
She indicated the door of the enclosed staircase. She led the way with
the candle. The panelled, narrow hall was empty. That door, too, was
locked and the key, she knew, must be on the inside.
"Who—who is it?" Jenkins asked. "Who would be in that room? Has Mr.
Bobby come back?"
She descended to the library before answering. She put the candle down
and spread her hands.
"It's happened, Jenkins—whatever he feared."
"Not Mr. Silas?"
"We have to break in," she said with a shiver. "Get a hammer, a chisel,
whatever is necessary."
"But if there's anything wrong," the butler objected, "if anybody's been
there, the other door must be open."
She shook her head. Those two first of all faced that extraordinary
puzzle. How had the murderer entered and left the room with both doors
locked on the inside, with the windows too high for use? They went to the
upper story. She urged the butler into the sombre corridor.
"We have to know," she whispered, "what's happened beyond those
She still vibrated to the feeling of unconformable forces in the old
house. Jenkins, she saw, responded to the same superstitious misgivings.
He inserted the chisel with maladroit hands. He forced the lock back and
opened the door. Dust arose from the long-disused room, flecking the
yellow candle flame. They hesitated on the threshold. They forced
themselves to enter. Then they looked at each other and smiled with
relief, for Silas Blackburn, in his dressing-gown, lay on the bed, his
placid, unmarked face upturned, as if sleeping.
"Why, miss," Jenkins gasped. "He's all right."
Almost with confidence Katherine walked to the bed.
"Uncle Silas—" she began, and touched his hand.
She drew back until the wall supported her. Jenkins must have read
everything in her face, for he whimpered:
"But he looks all right. He can't be—"
"Cold—already! If I hadn't touched—"
The horror of the thing descended upon her, stifling thought.
Automatically she left the room and told Jenkins what to do. After he had
telephoned police headquarters in the county seat and had summoned Doctor
Groom, a country physician, she sat without words, huddled over the
The detective, a competent man named Howells, and Doctor Groom arrived at
about the same time. The detective made Katherine accompany them upstairs
while he questioned her. In the absence of the coroner he wouldn't let
the doctor touch the body.
"I must repair this lock," he said, "the first thing, so nothing can be
Doctor Groom, a grim and dark man, had grown silent on entering the room.
For a long time he stared at the body in the candle light, making as much
of an examination as he could, evidently, without physical contact.
"Why did he ever come here to sleep?" he asked in his rumbling bass
voice. "Nasty room! Unhealthy room! Ten to one you're a formality,
policeman. Coroner's a formality."
He sneered a little.
"I daresay he died what the hard-headed world will call a natural death.
Wonder what the coroner'll say."
The detective didn't answer. He shot rapid, uneasy glances about the room
in which a single candle burned. After a time he said with an accent of
"That man was murdered."
Perhaps the doctor's significant words, added to her earlier dread of the
abnormal, made Katherine read in the detective's manner an apprehension
of conditions unfamiliar to the brutal routine of his profession. Her
glances were restless, too. She had a feeling that from the shadowed
corners of the faded, musty room invisible faces mocked the man's
All this she recited to Bobby when, under extraordinary circumstances
neither of them could have foreseen, he arrived at the Cedars many
Of the earlier portion of the night of his grandfather's death Bobby
retained a minute recollection. The remainder was like a dim, appalling
nightmare whose impulse remains hidden.
When he went to his apartment to dress for dinner he found the letter of
which Silas Blackburn had spoken to Katherine. It mentioned the change in
the will as an approaching fact nothing could alter. Bobby fancied that
the old man merely craved the satisfaction of terrorizing him, of
casting him out with all the ugly words at his command. Still a good deal
more than a million isn't to be relinquished lightly as long as a chance
remains. Bobby had an engagement for dinner. He would think the situation
over until after dinner, then he might go.
It was, perhaps, unfortunate that at his club he met friends who drew him
in a corner and offered him too many cocktails. As he drank his anger
grew, and it wasn't all against his grandfather. He asked himself why
during the last few months he had avoided the Cedars, why he had drifted
into too vivid a life in New York. It increased his anger that he
hesitated to give himself a frank answer. But always at such moments it
was Katherine rather than his grandfather who entered his mind. He had
cared too much for her, and lately, beyond question, the bond of their
affection had weakened.
He raised his glass and drank. He set the glass down quickly as if he
would have liked to hide it. A big man, clear-eyed and handsome, walked
into the room and came straight to the little group in the corner. Bobby
tried to carry it off.
"'Lo, Hartley, old preacher. You fellows all know Hartley Graham? Sit
down. We're going to have a little cocktail."
Graham looked at the glasses, shaking his head.
"If you've time, Bobby, I'd like a word with you."
"No preaching," Bobby bargained. "It isn't Sunday."
Graham laughed pleasantly.
"It's about money. That talks any day."
Bobby edged a way out and followed Graham to an unoccupied room. There
the big man turned on him.
"See here, Bobby! When are you going out to the Cedars?"
"You're a dear friend, Hartley, and I've always loved you, but I'm in no
mood for preaching tonight. Besides, I've got my own life to lead"—he
glanced away—"my own reasons for leading it."
"I'm not going to preach," Graham answered seriously, "although it's
obvious you're raising the devil with your life. I wanted to tell you
that I've had a note from Katherine to-day. She says your grandfather's
threats are taking too much form; that the new will's bound to come
unless you do something. She cares too much for you, Bobby, to see you
throw everything away. She's asked me to persuade you to go out."
"Why didn't she write to me?"
"Have you been very friendly with Katherine lately? And that's not
fair. You're both without parents. You owe Katherine something on
Bobby didn't answer, because it was clear that while Katherine's
affection for him had weakened, her friendship for Graham had grown too
fast. Looking at the other he didn't wonder.
"There's another thing," Graham was saying. "The gloomy old Cedars has
got on Katherine's nerves, and she says there's been a change in the old
man the last few days—wanders around as if he were afraid of something."
Bobby laughed outright.
"Him afraid of something! It's always been his system to make everybody
and everything afraid of him. But you're right about Katherine. We have
always depended on each other. I think I'll go out after dinner."
"Then come have a bite with me," Graham urged. "I'll see you off
afterward. If you catch the eight-thirty you ought to be out there before
Bobby shook his head.
"An engagement for dinner, Hartley. I'm expecting Carlos Paredes to pick
me up here any minute."
Graham's disapproval was belligerent.
"Why, in the name of heaven, Bobby, do you run around with that damned
Panamanian? Steer him off to-night. I've argued with you before. It's
unpleasant, I know, but the man carries every mark of crookedness."
"Easy with my friends, Hartley! You don't understand Carlos. He's good
fun when you know him—awfully good fun."
"So," Graham said, "is this sort of thing. Too many cocktails, too much
wine. Paredes has the same pleasant, dangerous quality."
A club servant entered.
"In the reception room, Mr. Blackburn."
Bobby took the card, tore it into little bits, and dropped them one by
one into the waste-paper basket.
"Tell him I'll be right out." He turned to Graham.
"Sorry you don't like my playmates. I'll probably run out after dinner
and let the old man terrorize me as a cure for his own fear. Pleasant
prospect! So long."
Graham caught at his arm.
"I'm sorry. Can't we forget to-night that we disagree about Paredes? Let
me dine with you."
Bobby's laugh was uncomfortable.
"Come on, if you wish, and be my guardian angel. God knows I need one."
He walked across the hall and into the reception room. The light was not
brilliant there. One or two men sat reading newspapers about a
green-shaded lamp on the centre table, but Bobby didn't see Paredes at
first. Then from the obscurity of a corner a form, tall and graceful,
emerged with a slow monotony of movement suggestive of stealth. The man's
dark, sombre eyes revealed nothing. His jet-black hair, parted in the
middle, and his carefully trimmed Van Dyke beard gave him an air of
distinction, an air, at the same time, a trifle too reserved. For a
moment, as the green light stained his face unhealthily, Bobby could
understand Graham's aversion. He brushed the idea aside.
"Glad you've come, Carlos."
The smile of greeting vanished abruptly from Paredes's face. He looked
with steady eyes beyond Bobby's shoulder. Bobby turned. Graham stood on
the threshold, his face a little too frank. But the two men shook hands.
"I'd an idea until I saw Bobby," Graham said, "that you'd gone back
"Each year I spend more time in New York. Business suggests it. Pleasure
His voice was deep and pleasant, but Bobby had often remarked that it,
like Paredes's eyes, was too reserved. It seemed never to call on its
obvious powers of expression. Its accent was noticeable only in a
pleasant, polished sense.
"Hartley," Bobby explained, "is dining with us."
Paredes let no disapproval slip, but Graham hastened to explain.
"Bobby and I have an engagement immediately after dinner."
"An engagement after dinner! I didn't understand—"
"Let's think of dinner first," Bobby said. "We can talk about engagements
afterward. Perhaps you'll have a cocktail here while we decide where
"The aperitif I should like very much," Paredes said. "About dinner there
is nothing to decide. I have arranged everything. There's a table waiting
in the Fountain Room at the C—— and there I have planned a little
surprise for you."
He wouldn't explain further. While they drank their cocktails Bobby
watched Graham's disapproval grow. The man glanced continually at his
watch. In the restaurant, when Paredes left them to produce, as he called
it, his surprise, Graham appraised with a frown the voluble people who
moved intricately through the hall.
"I'm afraid Paredes has planned a thorough evening," he said, "for which
he'll want you to pay. Don't be angry, Bobby. The situation is serious
enough to excuse facts. You must go to the Cedars to-night. Do you
understand? You must go, in spite of Paredes, in spite of everything."
"Peace until train time," Bobby demanded.
He caught his breath.
"There they are. Carlos has kept his word. See her, Hartley. She's
A young woman accompanied the Panamanian as he came back through the
hall. She appeared more foreign than her guide—the Spanish of Spain
rather than of South America. Her clothing was as unusual and striking as
her beauty, yet one felt there was more than either to attract all the
glances in this room, to set people whispering as she passed. Clearly she
knew her notoriety was no little thing. Pride filled her eyes.
Paredes had first introduced her to Bobby a month or more ago. He had
seen her a number of times since in her dressing-room at the theatre
where she was featured, or at crowded luncheons in her apartment. At such
moments she had managed to be exceptionally nice to him. Bobby, however,
had answered merely to the glamour of her fame, to the magnetic response
her beauty always brought in places like this.
"Paredes," Graham muttered, "will have a powerful ally. You won't fail
me, Bobby? You will go?"
Bobby scarcely heard. He hurried forward and welcomed the woman. She
tapped his arm with her fan.
"Leetle Bobby!" she lisped. "I haven't seen very much of you lately. So
when Carlos proposed—you see I don't dance until late. Who is that
behind you? Mr. Graham, is it not? He would, maybe, not remember me. I
danced at a dinner where you were one night, at Mr. Ward's. Even lawyers,
I find, take enjoyment in my dancing."
"I remember," Graham said. "It is very pleasant we are to dine together."
He continued tactlessly: "But, as I've explained to Mr. Paredes, we must
hurry. Bobby and I have an early engagement."
Her head went up.
"An early engagement! I do not often dine in public."
"An unavoidable thing," Graham explained. "Bobby will tell you."
"It's a nuisance, particularly when you're so condescending, Maria."
She shrugged her shoulders. With Bobby she entered the dining-room at the
heels of Paredes and Graham.
Paredes had foreseen everything. There were flowers on the table. The
dinner had been ordered. Immediately the waiter brought cocktails. Graham
glanced at Bobby warningly. He wouldn't, as an example Bobby appreciated,
touch his own. Maria held hers up to the light.
"Pretty yellow things! I never drink them."
She smiled dreamily at Bobby.
"But see! I shall place this to my lips in order that you may make
pretty speeches, and maybe tell me it is the most divine aperitif you
have ever drunk."
She passed the glass to him, and Bobby, avoiding Graham's eyes, wondering
why she was so gracious, emptied it. And afterward frequently she
reminded him of his wine by going through the same elaborate formula.
Probably because of that, as much as anything else, constraint grasped
the little company tighter. Graham couldn't hide his anxiety. Paredes
mocked it with sneering phrases which he turned most carefully. Before
the meal was half finished Graham glanced at his watch.
"We've just time for the eight-thirty," he whispered to Bobby, "if we
pick up a taxi."
Maria had heard. She pouted.
"There is no engagement," she lisped, "as sacred as a dinner, no
entanglement except marriage that cannot be easily broken. Perhaps I have
displeased you, Mr. Graham. Perhaps you fancy I excite unpleasant
comment. It is unjust. I assure you my reputation is above reproach"—her
dark eyes twinkled—"certainly in New York."
"It isn't that," Graham answered. "We must go. It's not to be evaded."
She turned tempestuously.
"Am I to be humiliated so? Carlos! Why did you bring me? Is all the world
to see my companions leave in the midst of a dinner as if I were
plague-touched? Is Bobby not capable of choosing his own company?"
"You are thoroughly justified, Maria," Paredes said in his expressionless
tones. "Bobby, however, has said very little about this engagement. I did
not know, Mr. Graham, that you were the arbiter of Bobby's actions. In a
way I must resent your implication that he is no longer capable of caring
Graham accepted the challenge. He leaned across the table, speaking
directly to Bobby, ignoring the others:
"You've not forgotten what I told you. Will you come while there's time?
You must see. I can't remain here any longer."
Bobby, hating warfare in his present mood, sought to temporize:
"It's all right, Hartley. Don't worry. I'll catch a later train."
"Ah! Bobby still chooses for himself."
"I'll have enough rumpus," Bobby muttered, "when I get to the Cedars.
Don't grudge me a little peace here."
Graham arose. His voice was discouraged.
"I'm sorry. I'll hope, Bobby."
Without a word to the others he walked out of the room.
So far, when Bobby tried afterward to recall the details of the evening,
everything was perfectly distinct in his memory. The remainder of the
meal, made uncomfortable by Maria's sullenness and Paredes's sneers, his
attempt to recapture the earlier gayety of the evening by continuing to
drink the wine, his determination to go later to the Cedars in spite of
Graham's doubt—of all these things no particular lacked. He remembered
paying the check, as he usually did when he dined with Paredes. He
recalled studying the time-table and finding that he had just missed
Maria's spirits rose then. He was persuaded to accompany her and Paredes
to the music hall. In her dressing-room, while she was on the stage, he
played with the boxes of make-up, splashing the mirror with various
colours while Paredes sat silently watching.
The alteration, he was sure, came a little later in the cafe at a table
close to the dancing floor. Maria had insisted that Paredes and he should
wait there while she changed.
"But," he had protested, "I have missed too many trains."
She had demanded his time-table, scanning the columns of close figures.
"There is one," she had said, "at twelve-fifteen—time for a little
something in the cafe, and who knows? If you are agreeable I might
forgive everything and dance with you once, Bobby, on the public floor."
So he sat for some time, expectant, with Paredes, watching the boisterous
dancers, listening to the violent music, sipping absent-mindedly at his
glass. He wondered why Paredes had grown so quiet.
"I mustn't miss that twelve-fifteen," he said, "You know, Carlos, you
weren't quite fair to Hartley. He's a splendid fellow. Roomed with me at
college, played on same team, and all that. Only wanted me to do the
right thing. Must say it was the right thing. I won't miss that
"Graham," Paredes sneered, "is a wonderful type—Apollo in the flesh and
Billy Sunday in the conscience."
Then, as Bobby started to protest, Maria entered, more dazzling than at
dinner; and the dancers swayed less boisterously, the chatter at the
tables subsided, the orchestra seemed to hesitate as a sort of obeisance.
A man Bobby had never seen before followed her to the table. His
middle-aged figure was loudly clothed. His face was coarse and clean
shaven. He acknowledged the introductions sullenly.
"I've only a minute," Bobby said to Maria.
He continued, however, to raise his glass indifferently to his lips. All
at once his glass shook. Maria's dark and sparkling face became blurred.
He could no longer define the features of the stranger. He had never
before experienced anything of the kind. He tried to account for it, but
his mind became confused.
"Maria!" he burst out. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Her contralto laugh rippled.
"Bobby looks so funny! Carlos! Leetle Bobby looks so queer! What is the
matter with him?"
Bobby's anger was lost in the increased confusion of his senses, but
through that mental turmoil tore the thought of Graham and his intention
of going to the Cedars. With shaking fingers he dragged out his watch. He
couldn't read the dial. He braced his hands against the table, thrust
back his chair, and arose. The room tumbled about him. Before his eyes
the dancers made long nebulous bands of colour in which nothing had form
or coherence. Instinctively he felt he hadn't dined recklessly enough to
account for these amazing symptoms. He was suddenly afraid.
"Carlos!" he whispered.
He heard Maria's voice dimly:
"Take him home."
A hand touched his arm. With a supreme effort of will he walked from the
room, guided by the hand on his arm. And always his brain recorded fewer
and fewer impressions for his memory to struggle with later.
At the cloak room some one helped him put on his coat. He was walking
down steps. He was in some kind of a conveyance. He didn't know what it
was. An automobile, a carriage, a train? He didn't know. He only
understood that it went swiftly, swaying from side to side through a
sable pit. Whenever his mind moved at all it came back to that sensation
of a black pit in which he remained suspended, swinging from side to
side, trying to struggle up against impossible odds. Once or twice words
flashed like fire through the pit: "Tyrant!—Fool to go."
From a long immersion deeper in the pit he struggled frantically. He must
get out. Somehow he must find wings. He realized that his eyes were
closed. He tried to open them and failed. So the pit persisted and he
surrendered himself, as one accepts death, to its hateful blackness.
Abruptly he experienced a momentary release. There was no more swaying,
no more movement of any kind. He heard a strange, melancholy voice,
whispering without words, always whispering with a futile perseverance as
if it wished him to understand something it could not express.
"What is it trying to tell me?" he asked himself.
Then he understood. It was the voice of the wind, and it tried to tell
him to open his eyes, and he found that he could. But in spite of his
desire they closed again almost immediately. Yet, from that swift
glimpse, a picture outlined itself later in his memory.
In the midst of wild, rolling clouds, the moon was a drowning face.
Stunted trees bent before the wind like puny men who strained impotently
to advance. Over there was one more like a real man—a figure, Bobby
thought, with a black thing over its face—a mask.
"This is the forest near the Cedars," Bobby said to himself. "I've come
to face the old devil after all."
He heard his own voice, harsh, remote, unnatural, speaking to the dim
figure with a black mask that waited half hidden by the straining trees.
"Why am I here in the woods near the Cedars?"
And he thought the thing answered:
"Because you hate your grandfather."
Bobby laughed, thinking he understood. The figure in the black mask
that accompanied him was his conscience. He could understand why it
The wind resumed its whispering. The figures, straining like puny men,
fought harder. The drowning face disappeared, wet and helpless. Bobby
felt himself sinking back, back into the sable pit.
"I don't want to go," he moaned.
A long time afterward he heard a whisper again, and he wondered if it was
the wind or his conscience. He laughed through the blackness because the
words seemed so absurd.
"Take off your shoes and carry them in your hand. Always do that. It is
the only safe way."
He laughed again, thinking:
"What a careful conscience!"
He retained only one more impression. He was dully aware that some time
had passed. He shivered. He thought the wind had grown angry with him,
for it no longer whispered. It shrieked, and he could make nothing of its
wrath. He struggled frantically to emerge from the pit. The quality of
the blackness deepened. His fright grew. He felt himself slipping, slowly
at first then faster, faster down into impossible depths, and there was
nothing at all he could do to save himself.
* * * * *
"Go away! For God's sake, go away!"
Bobby thought he was speaking to the sombre figure in the mask. His voice
aroused him to one more effort at escape, but he felt that there was no
use. He was too deep.
Something hurt his eyes. He opened them and for a time was blinded by a
narrow shaft, of sunlight resting on his face. With an effort he moved
his head to one side and closed his eyes again, at first merely thankful
that he had escaped from the black hell, trying to control his
sensations of physical evil. Subtle curiosity forced its way into his
sick brain and stung him wide awake. This time his eyes remained open,
staring about him, dilating with a wilder fright than he had experienced
in the dark mazes of his nightmare adventure.
He had never seen this place before. He lay on the floor of an empty
room. The shaft of sunlight that had aroused him entered through a crack
in one of the tightly drawn blinds. There were dust and grime on the
wails, and cobwebs clustered in the corners.
In the silent, deserted room the beating of his heart became audible. He
struggled to a sitting posture. He gasped for breath. He knew it was very
cold in here, but perspiration moistened his face. He could recall no
such suffering as this since, when a boy, he had slipped from the crisis
of a destructive fever.
Had he been drugged? But he had been with friends. There was no motive.
What house was this? Was it, like this room, empty and deserted? How had
he come here? For the first time he went through that dreadful process of
trying to draw from the black pit useful memories.
He started, recalling the strange voice and its warning, for his shoes
lay near by as though he might have dropped them carelessly when he had
entered the room and stretched himself on the floor. Damp earth adhered
to the soles. The leather above was scratched.
"Then," he thought, "that much is right. I was in the woods. What was I
doing there? That dim figure! My imagination."
He suffered the agony of a man who realizes that he has wandered
unawares in strange places, and retains no recollection of his actions,
of his intentions. He went back to that last unclouded moment in the
cafe with Maria, Paredes, and the stranger. Where had he gone after he
had left them? He had looked at his watch. He had told himself he must
catch the twelve-fifteen train. He must have gone from the restaurant,
proceeding automatically, and caught the train. That would account for
the sensation of motion in a swift vehicle, and perhaps there had been a
taxicab to the station. Doubtless in the woods near the Cedars he had
decided it was too late to go in, or that it was wiser not to. He had
answered to the necessity of sleeping somewhere. But why had he come
here? Where, indeed, was he?
At least he could answer that. He drew on his shoes—a pair of patent
leather pumps. He fumbled for his handkerchief, thinking he would brush
the earth from them. He searched each of his pockets. His handkerchief
was gone. No matter. He got to his feet, lurching for a moment dizzily.
He glanced with distaste at his rumpled evening clothing. To hide it as
far as possible he buttoned his overcoat collar about his neck. On
tip-toe he approached the door, and, with the emotions of a thief,
opened it quietly. He sighed. The rest of the house was as empty as this
room. The hall was thick with dust. The rear door by which he must have
entered stood half open. The lock was broken and rusty.
He commenced to understand. There was a deserted farmhouse less than two
miles from the Cedars. Since he had always known about it, it wasn't
unusual he should have taken shelter there after deciding not to go in to
He stepped through the doorway to the unkempt yard about whose tumbled
fences the woods advanced thickly. He recognized the place. For some time
he stood ashamed, yet fair enough to seek the cause of his experience in
some mental unhealth deeper than any reaction from last night's folly.
He glanced at his watch. It was after two o'clock. The mournful
neighbourhood, the growing chill in the air, the sullen sky, urged him
away. He walked down the road. Of course he couldn't go to the Cedars in
this condition. He would return to his apartment in New York where he
could bathe, change his clothes, recover from this feeling of physical
ill, and remember, perhaps, something more.
It wasn't far to the little village on the railroad, and at this hour
there were plenty of trains. He hoped no one he knew would see him at the
station. He smiled wearily. What difference did that make? He might as
well face old Blackburn, himself, as he was. By this time the thing was
done. The new will had been made. He was penniless and an outcast. But
his furtive manner clung. He didn't want Katherine to see him like this.
From the entrance of the village it was only a few steps to the
station. Several carriages stood at the platform, testimony that a
train was nearly due. He prayed that it would be for New York. He
didn't want to wait around. He didn't want to risk Katherine's driving
in on some errand.
His mind, intent only on escaping prying eyes, was drawn by a man who
stepped from behind a carriage and started across the roadway in his
direction, staring at him incredulously. His quick apprehension vanished.
He couldn't recall that surprised face. There was no harm being seen,
miserable as he was, dressed as he was, by this stranger. He looked at
him closer. The man was plainly clothed. He had small, sharp eyes. His
hairless face was intricately wrinkled. His lips were thin, making a
To avoid him Bobby stepped aside, thinking he must be going past, but the
stranger stopped and placed a firm hand on Bobby's shoulder. He spoke in
a quick, authoritative voice:
"Certainly you are Mr. Robert Blackburn?"
For Bobby, in his nervous, bewildered condition, there was an ominous
note in this surprise, this assurance, this peremptory greeting.
"What's amazing about that?" he jerked out.
The stranger's lips parted in a straight smile.
"Amazing! That's the word I was thinking of. Hoped you might come in
from New York. Seemed you were here all the time. That's a good one on
me—a very good one."
The beating of Bobby's heart was more pronounced than it had been in the
deserted house. He asked himself why he should shrink from this stranger
who had an air of threatening him. The answer lay in that black pit of
last night and this morning. Unquestionably he had been indiscreet. The
man would tell him how.
"You mean," he asked with dry lips, "that you've been looking for me? Who
are you? Please take your hand off."
The stranger's grasp tightened.
"Not so fast, Mr. Robert Blackburn. I daresay you haven't just now come
from the Cedars?"
"No, no. I'm on my way to New York. There's a train soon, I think."
His voice trailed away. The stranger's straight smile widened. He
commenced to laugh harshly and uncouthly.
"Sure there's a train, but you don't want to take it. And why haven't
you been at the Cedars? Grandpa's death grieved you too much to go near
Bobby drew back. The shock robbed him for a moment of the power to
"Dead! The old man! How—"
The stranger's smile faded.
"Here it is nearly three o'clock in the afternoon, and you're all
dressed up for last night. That's lucky."
Bobby couldn't meet the narrow eyes.
"Who are you?"
The stranger with his free hand threw back his coat lapel.
"My name's Howells. I'm a county detective. I'm on the case, because your
grandfather died very strangely. He was murdered, very cleverly murdered.
Queerest case I've ever handled. What do you think?"
In his own ears Bobby's voice sounded as remote and unreal as it had
through the blackness last night.
"Why do you talk to me like this?"
"Because I tell you I'm on the case, and I want you to turn about and go
straight to the Cedars."
"This is—absurd. You mean you suspect—You're placing me under arrest?"
The detective's straight smile returned.
"How we jump at conclusions! I'm simply telling you not to bother me
with questions. I'm telling you to go straight to the Cedars where
you'll stay. Understand? You'll stay there until you're wanted—Until
The merciless repetition settled it for Bobby. He knew it would be
dangerous to talk or argue. Moreover, he craved an opportunity to
think, to probe farther into the black pit. He turned and walked away.
When he reached the last houses he glanced back. The detective
remained in the middle of the road, staring after him with that
straight and satisfied smile.
Bobby walked on, his shaking hands tightly clenched, muttering to
"I've got to remember. Good God! I've got to remember. It's the only way
I can ever know he's not right, that I'm not a murderer."
THE CASE AGAINST BOBBY
Bobby hurried down the road in the direction of the Cedars. Always he
tried desperately to recall what had occurred during those black hours
last night and this morning before he had awakened in the empty house
near his grandfather's home. All that remained were his sensation of
travel in a swift vehicle, his impression of standing in the forest near
the Cedars, his glimpse of the masked figure which he had called his
conscience, the echo in his brain of a dream-like voice saying: "Take off
your shoes and carry them in your hand. Always do that. It's the only
These facts, then, alone were clear to him: He had wandered, unconscious,
in the neighbourhood. His grandfather had been strangely murdered. The
detective who had met him in the village practically accused him of the
murder. And he couldn't remember.
He turned back to his last clear recollections. When he had experienced
his first symptoms of slipping consciousness he had been in the cafe in
New York with Carlos Paredes, Maria, the dancer, and a strange man whom
Maria had brought to the table. Through them he might, to an extent,
trace his movements, unless they had put him in a cab, thinking he would
catch the train, of which he had talked, for the Cedars.
Already the forest crowded the narrow, curving road. The Blackburn place
was in the midst of an arid thicket of stunted pines, oaks, and cedars.
Old Blackburn had never done anything to improve the estate or its
surroundings. Steadily during his lifetime it had grown more gloomy, less
With the silent forest thick about him Bobby realized that he was no
longer alone. A crackling twig or a loose stone struck by a foot might
have warned him. He went slower, glancing restlessly over his shoulder.
He saw no one, but that idea of stealthy pursuit persisted. Undoubtedly
it was the detective, Howells, who followed him, hoping, perhaps, that he
would make some mad effort at escape.
"That," he muttered, "is probably the reason he didn't arrest me at
Bobby, however, had no thought of escape. He was impatient to reach the
Cedars where he might learn all that Howells hadn't told him about his
A high wooden fence straggled through the forest. The driveway swung from
the road through a broad gateway. The gate stood open. Bobby remembered
that it had been old Blackburn's habit to keep it closed. He entered and
hurried among the trees to the edge of the lawn in the centre of which
the house stood.
Feeling as guilty as the detective thought him, he paused there and
examined the house for some sign of life. At first it seemed as dead as
the forest stripped by autumn—almost as gloomy and arid as the
wilderness which straggled close about it. He had no eye for the symmetry
of its wings which formed the court in the centre of which an abandoned
fountain stood. He studied the windows, picturing Katherine alone,
surrounded by the complications of this unexpected tragedy.
His feeling of an inimical watchfulness persisted. A clicking sound swung
him back to the house. The front door had been opened, and in the black
frame of the doorway, as he looked, Katherine and Graham appeared, and he
knew the resolution of his last doubt was at hand.
Katherine had thrown a cloak over her graceful figure. Her sunny hair
strayed in the wind, but her face, while it had lost nothing of its
beauty, projected even at this distance a sense of weariness, of anxiety,
of utter fear.
Bobby was grateful for Graham's presence. It was like the man to assume
his responsibilities, to sacrifice himself in his service. He
straightened. He must meet these two. Through his own wretched appearance
and position he must develop for Katherine more clearly than ever
Graham's superiority. He stepped out, calling softly:
She started. She turned in his direction and came swiftly toward him. She
spread her hands.
"Bobby! Bobby! Where have you been?"
There were tears in her eyes. They were like tears that have been
too long coming. He took her hands. Her fingers were cold. They
twitched in his.
"Look at me, Katherine," he said hoarsely. "I'm sorry."
Graham came up. He spoke with apparent difficulty.
"You've not been home. Then what happened last night? Quick! Tell us what
"I've seen the detective," he answered. "He's told you, too? Be careful.
I think he's back there, watching and listening."
Katherine freed her hands. The tears had dried. She shook a little.
"Then you were at the station," she said. "You must have come from New
York, but I tried so hard to get you there. For hours I telephoned and
telegraphed. Then I got Hartley. Come away from the trees so we can talk
without—without being overheard."
As they moved to the centre of the open space Graham indicated Bobby's
"Why are you dressed like that, Bobby? You did come from town? You
can tell us everything you did last night after I left you, and early
Bobby shook his head. His answer was reluctant.
"I didn't come from New York just now. I was evidently here last night,
and I can't remember, Hartley. I remember scarcely anything."
Graham's face whitened.
"Tell us," he begged.
"You've got to remember!" Katherine cried.
Bobby as minutely as he could recited the few impressions that remained
from last night.
When he had finished Graham thought for some time.
"Paredes and the dancer," he said at last, "practically forced me away
from you last night. It's obvious, Bobby, you must have been drugged."
Bobby shook his head.
"I thought of that right away, but it won't do. If I had been drugged I
wouldn't have moved around, and I did come out somehow, I managed to
get to the empty house to sleep. It's more as if my mind had simply
closed, as if it had gone on working its own ends without my knowing
anything about it. And that's dreadful, because the detective has
practically accused me of murdering my grandfather. How was it done?
You see I know nothing. Tell me how—how he was killed. I can't believe
I—I'm such a beast. Tell me. If I was in the house, some detail might
start my memory."
So Katherine told her story while Bobby listened, shrinking from some
disclosure that would convict him. As she went on, however, his sense of
bewilderment increased, and when she had finished he burst out:
"But where is the proof of murder? Where is there even a suggestion? You
say the doors were locked and he doesn't show a mark."
"That's what we can't understand," Graham said. "There's no evidence we
know anything about that your grandfather's heart didn't simply give out,
but the detective is absolutely certain, and—there's no use mincing
matters, Bobby—he believes he has the proof to convict you. He won't
tell me what. He simply smiles and refuses to talk."
"The motive?" Bobby asked.
Graham looked at him curiously. Katherine turned away.
"Of course," Bobby cried with a sharpened discomfort. "I'd forgotten. The
money—the new will he had planned to make. The money's mine now, but if
he had lived until this morning it never would have been. I see."
"It is a powerful motive," Graham said, "for any one who doesn't
"But," Bobby answered, "Howells has got to prove first that my
grandfather was murdered. The autopsy?"
"Coroner's out of the county," Graham replied, "and Howells won't have an
assistant. Dr. Groom's waiting in the house. We're expecting the coroner
almost any time."
Bobby spoke rapidly.
"If he calls it murder, Hartley, there's one thing we've got to find out:
what my grandfather was afraid of. Tell me again, Katherine, everything
he said about me. I can't believe he could have been afraid of me."
"He called you," Katherine answered, "a waster. He said: 'God knows what
he'll do next.' He said he'd ordered you out last night and he hadn't
had a word from you, but that he'd made up his mind anyway. He was going
to have his lawyer this morning and change his will, leaving all his
money to the Bedford Foundation, except a little annuity for me. He grew
sentimental and said he had no faith left in his flesh and blood, and
that it was sad to grow old with nobody caring for him except to covet
his money. I asked him if he were afraid of you, and all he answered
was: 'You and Bobby are thicker than thieves.' Oh, yes. When I saw him
for the last time in the hall he said there was nothing for me to worry
about except you. That's all. I remember perfectly. He said nothing more
"I wonder," Bobby muttered, "if a jury wouldn't think it enough."
Katherine shook her head.
"There seemed so much more than that behind his fear," she said. "As I've
told you, he gave me a feeling of superstition. I never once was afraid
of a murderer—of a man in the house. I was afraid of something queer and
active, but not human."
"Would you," he asked, "call a man going about in an aphasia quite
human? Somnambulists do unaccountable things—such as overcoming locked
"Don't, Bobby! Don't!" Katherine cried.
"Sh—h! Quiet!" Graham warned.
A foot scraped on gravel.
"Maybe the detective," Bobby suggested.
He stared at the bend, expecting to see the stiff, plain figure of the
detective emerge from the forest. Instead with a dawning amazement he
watched Carlos Paredes stroll into view. The Panamanian was calm and
immaculate. His Van Dyke beard was neatly trimmed and combed. As he
advanced he puffed in leisurely fashion at a cigarette.
"After last night he has the nerve—"
"Be decent to him," Bobby urged. "He might help me—might clear up
"I wonder," Graham mused, "to what extent he could clear it up if
Paredes threw his cigarette away as he came closer. Solemnly he shook
hands with Katherine and Bobby, expressing a profound sympathy. Even then
Bobby remarked that those reserved features let slip no positive emotion.
The man turned to Graham.
"Our little difference of last evening," he said suavely, "will, I hope,
evaporate in this atmosphere of unexpected sorrow. If I was in the wrong
I deeply regret it. My one wish now is to join you in being of use to
Bobby and Miss Katherine in their bereavement. I saw the account in a
paper at luncheon. I came as quickly as possible."
Graham answered this smooth effrontery with a blunt question.
"Do you know that Bobby is in very real trouble, that he may be
implicated in Mr. Blackburn's death?"
Paredes flung up his hands, but Bobby, looking for emotion in the sallow
face then, found none. Paredes's features, it occurred to him, were
exactly like a mask.
Bobby checked himself. In his unhealthy way Paredes had been a good
friend. The man's voice flowed smoothly, demanding particulars.
"But this," he said, when they had told him what they could, "changes the
situation. I must stay here. I must watch that detective and learn what
he has up his sleeve."
Graham turned away.
"I've tried. Maybe you'll succeed better than I."
"Then you'll excuse me," Paredes said quickly. "I should like your
permission to telephone to my hotel in New York for some clothing. I want
to see this through."
The three looked at each other. Katherine and Graham seemed about to
speak. Bobby wouldn't let them.
"Carlos," he said, "you might help me. I'm almost afraid to ask. What
happened in the cafe last night? The last thing I remember distinctly is
sitting there with you and Maria and a stranger she had introduced. I
didn't get his name. What did I do? Did any one leave the place with me?"
Paredes smiled a little, shaking his head.
"You behaved as if Mr. Graham's earlier fears had been accomplished. You
insisted you were going to catch your train. I didn't think it wise, so I
went to the cloak room with you, intending to see you home. Somehow, just
the same you gave me the slip."
"You oughtn't to have let him get away," Graham said.
Paredes shrugged his shoulders.
"You weren't there. You don't know how sly Bobby was."
"I suppose it's useless to ask," Graham said. "You saw nothing put in
"Is it likely? Certainly not. I should have mentioned it. I should have
stopped such a thing. What do you think I am, Mr. Graham?"
"Sorry," Graham said. "You must understand we can't let any lead slip.
This stranger Maria brought up?"
"I didn't catch his name," Paredes answered.
"I'd never seen him before. I gathered he was a friend of
hers—connected with the profession. Now I shall telephone with your
permission, Miss Katherine; and don't you worry, Bobby. I will see you
through; but we can't do much until the coroner comes, until the
detective can be made to talk."
Katherine hesitated for a moment, then she surrendered.
"Please go with him, Hartley, and—and make him as comfortable as you can
in this unhappy house."
Katherine detained Bobby with a nod. He saw the others go. He shrank, in
his mental and physical discomfort, from this isolation with her. As soon
as the door was closed she touched his hand. She burst out passionately:
"I don't believe it, Bobby. I'll never believe it no matter what
"It's sweet of you, Katherine," he said huskily. "That helps when you
don't know what to believe yourself."
"Don't talk that way. Such a crime would never have entered your head
under any conditions. Only, Bobby, it ought never to have happened. You
ought never to have been in this position. Why have you been friendly
with people like—like that Spaniard? What can he want, forcing himself
here? At any rate, you'll never lead that sort of life again?"
Her fingers sought his. He clasped them firmly.
"If I get past this," he said, "I'll always look you straight in the
eye, Katherine. It was mad—silly. You don't quite understand—"
He broke off, glancing at the door through which Graham had disappeared.
"Then remember," she said softly, "I don't believe it."
She released his hand, sighing.
"That's all I can say, all I can do now. You're ill, Bobby. Go in. Rest
for awhile. When you've had sleep you may remember something."
He shook his head. He walked slowly with her to the house.
As he climbed the stairs he heard Paredes telephoning. He couldn't
understand the man's insistence on remaining where clearly he was
He entered his bedroom which he had occupied only once or twice during
the last few months. The place seemed unfamiliar. As he bathed and
dressed his sense of strangeness grew, and he understood why. The last
time he had been here he had stood in no personal danger. There had been
no black parenthesis in his life during the stretch of which he might
have committed an unspeakable crime. For he couldn't believe as firmly as
Katherine did. Since he couldn't remember, he might have done anything.
"Come!" he called in response to a stealthy rapping at the door.
Stealth, it occurred to him, had, since last night, become a stern
condition of his life.
Graham entered and noiselessly closed the door.
"I had a chance to slip in," he explained. "Paredes is wandering about
the place. I'd give a lot to know what he's after at the Cedars.
Katherine is in her room, trying to rest after last night, I fancy."
"And," Bobby asked, "the detective—Howells?"
"If he's back from the station," Graham answered, "he's keeping low. I
wonder if it was he or Paredes who followed you through the woods?"
"Why should Carlos have followed me?" Bobby asked. "I've been thinking it
over, Hartley. It isn't a bad scheme having him here, since you think he
hasn't told all he knows."
"I don't say that," Graham answered. "I don't know what to think about
Paredes. I've come to talk about just that. I'm a lawyer, and I've had
some criminal practice. Since this detective will be satisfied with you
for a victim, I'm going to take your case, if you'll have me. I'll be
your detective as well as your lawyer."
Bobby was a good deal touched.
"That's kind of you—more than I deserve, for I have resented you
Graham, it was clear, didn't guess he referred to his friendship for
Katherine, for he answered quickly:
"I must have seemed a nuisance, but I was only trying to get you back on
the straight path where you've always belonged. I can't believe you did
this thing, even unconsciously, until I'm shown proof without a single
flaw. Until the autopsy the only thing we have to work on is that party
last night. I've telephoned to New York and put a trustworthy man on the
heels of Maria and the stranger. Meantime I think I'd better watch
"Please," Bobby agreed. "Stay with me, Hartley, until this man takes some
He picked at the fringe of the window curtain. "If the autopsy shows that
my grandfather was murdered," he said, "either I killed him, or else some
one has deliberately tried to throw suspicion on me, for with only a
motive to go on this detective wouldn't be so sure. Why in the name of
heaven should any one kill the old man, place all this money in my hands,
and at the same time send me to the electric chair? Don't you see how
absurd it is that Carlos, Maria, or any one else should have had a hand
in it? There was nothing for them to gain from his death. I've thought
and thought in such circles until I am almost convinced of the logic of
He drew the curtain farther back and gazed across the court at the room
where his grandfather lay dead. One of the two windows of the room was a
little raised, but the blinds were closely drawn.
"I did hate him," he mused. "There's that. Ever since I can remember he
did things to make me despise him. Have—have you seen him?"
"Howells took me in. He looked perfectly normal—not a mark."
"I don't want to see him," Bobby said.
He drew back from the window, pointing. The detective, Howells, had
strolled into the court. His hands hung at his sides. They didn't swing
as he walked. His lips were stretched in that thin, straight smile. He
paused by the fountain, glancing for a moment anxiously downward. Then he
came on and entered the house.
"He'll be restless," Graham said, "until the coroner comes, and proves or
disproves his theory of murder. If he questions you, you'd better say
nothing for the present. From his point of view what you remember of last
night would be only damaging."
"I want him to leave me alone," Bobby said. "If he doesn't arrest me I
won't have him bullying me."
Jenkins knocked and entered. The old butler was as white-faced as Bobby,
"The policeman, sir! He's asking for you."
"Tell him I don't wish to see him."
The detective, himself, stepped from the obscurity of the hall, smiling
his queer smile.
"Ah! You are here, Mr. Blackburn! I'd like a word with you."
He turned to Graham and Jenkins.
"Alone, if you please."
Bobby mutely agreed, and Graham and the butler went out. The
detective closed the door and leaned against it, studying Bobby with
his narrow eyes.
"I don't suppose," he began, "that there's any use asking you about your
movements last night?"
"None," Bobby answered jerkily, "unless you arrest me and take me before
those who ask questions with authority."
The detective's smile widened.
"No matter. I didn't come to argue with you about that. I was curious to
know if you'd tried to see your grandfather's body."
Bobby shook his head.
"I took it for granted the room was locked."
"Yes," the detective answered, "but some people, it seems, have skilful
ways of overcoming locks."
He moved to one side, placing his hand on the door knob.
"I've come to open doors for you, to give you the opportunity an
affectionate grandson must crave."
Bobby hesitated, fighting back his feeling of repulsion, his first
instinct to refuse. The detective might take it as an evidence against
him. On the other hand, if he went, the man would unquestionably try to
tear from a meeting between the living and the dead some valuable
confirmation of his theory.
"Well?" the detective said. "What's the matter? Thought the least I could
do was to give you a chance. Wouldn't do it for everybody. Then everybody
hasn't your affectionate nature."
"For God's sake, stop mocking me. I'll go, since you wish."
The detective opened the door and stood aside to let Bobby pass.
"Daresay you know the room—the way to it?"
Bobby didn't answer. He went along the corridor and into the main hall
where Katherine had met Silas Blackburn last night. He fought back his
aversion and entered the corridor of the old wing. He heard the detective
behind him. He was aware of the man's narrow eyes watching him with a
Bobby, with a feeling of discomfort, sprung in part from the gloomy
passageway, paused before the door his grandfather had had the
unaccountable whim of entering last night. The detective took a key from
his pocket and inserted it in the lock.
"Had some trouble repairing the lock this morning," he said. "That
fellow, Jenkins, entered with a heavy hand—a good deal heavier than
whoever was here before him."
He opened the door.
"Queerest case I've ever seen," he mumbled. "Step in, Mr. Blackburn."
Because of the drawn blinds the room was nearly as dark as the corridor.
Bobby entered slowly, his nerves taut. Against the farther wall the bed
was like an enormous shadow, without form.
"Stay where you are," the detective warned, "until I give you more light.
You know, I wouldn't want you to touch anything, because the room is
exactly as it was when he was murdered!"
Bobby experienced a swift impulse to strangle the brutal word in the
detective's throat. But he stood still while the man went to the
bureau, struck a match, and applied it to a candle. The wick burned
reluctantly. It flickered in the wind that slipped past the curtain of
the open window.
"Come here," the detective commanded roughly.
Bobby dragged himself forward until he stood at the foot of the
four-poster bed. The detective lifted the candle and held it beneath
"You look all you want now, Mr. Robert Blackburn," he said grimly.
Bobby conquered the desire to close his eyes, to refuse to obey. He
stared at his grandfather, and a feeling of wonder grew upon him. For
Silas Blackburn rested peacefully in the great bed. His eyes were closed.
The thick gray brows were no longer gathered in the frown too familiar to
Bobby. The face with its gray beard retained no fear, no record of a
Bobby glanced at the detective who bent over the bed watching him out of
his narrow eyes.
"Why," he asked simply, "do you say he was murdered?"
"He was murdered," the detective answered. "Murdered in cold blood, and,
look you here, young fellow, I know who did it. I'm going to strap that
man in the electric chair. He's got just one chance—if he talks out, if
he makes a clean breast of it."
Across the body he bent closer. He held the candle so that its light
searched Bobby's face instead of the dead man's, and the uncertain flame
was like an ambush for his eyes.
In response to those intolerable words Bobby's sick nerves stretched too
tight. No masquerade remained before this huntsman who had his victim
trapped, and calmly studied his agony. The horror of the accusation shot
at him across the body of the man he couldn't be sure he hadn't murdered,
robbed him of his last control. He cried out hysterically:
"Why don't you do something? For God's sake, why don't you arrest me?"
A chuckle came from the man in ambush behind the yellow flame.
"Listen to the boy! What's he talking about? Grief for his grandfather.
That's what it is—grief."
"Stop!" Bobby shouted. "It's what you've been accusing me with ever
since you stopped me at the station." He indicated the silent form of
the old man. "You keep telling me I murdered him. Why don't you arrest
me then? Why don't you lock me up? Why don't you put the case on a
He waited, trembling. The flame continued to flicker, but the hand
holding the candlestick failed to move, and Bobby knew that the eyes
didn't waver, either. He forced his glance from the searching flame. He
managed to lower and steady his voice.
"You can't. That's the trouble. He wasn't murdered. The coroner will tell
you so. Anybody who looks at him will tell you so. Since you haven't the
nerve to arrest me. I'm going. I'm glad to have had this out with you.
Understand. I'm my own master. I do what I please. I go where I please."
At last the candle moved to one side. The detective straightened and
walked to Bobby. The multitude of small lines in his face twitched. His
voice was too cold for the fury of his words.
"That's just what I want you to do, damn you—anything you please. I'm
accusing nobody, but I'm getting somebody. I've got somebody right now
for this old man's murder. My man's going to writhe and burn in the
chair, confession or no confession. Now get out of this room since you're
so anxious, and don't come near it again."
Bobby went. At the end of the corridor he heard the closing of the door,
the scraping of the key. He was afraid the detective might follow him to
his room to heckle him further. To avoid that he hurried to the lower
floor. He wanted to be alone. He must have time to accustom himself to
this degrading fate which loomed in the too-close future. Unless they
could demolish the detective's theory he, Bobby Blackburn, would go to
the death house.
A fire blazed in the big hall fireplace. Paredes stood with his back to
it, smoking and warming his hands. A man sat in the shadow of a deep
leather chair, his rough, unpolished boots stretched toward the flaming
logs. As he came down the stairs Bobby heard the heavy, rumbling voice of
the man in the chair:
"Certainly it's a queer case, but not the way Howells means. I daresay
the old fool died what the world will call a natural death. If you smoke
so much you will, too, before long."
Bobby tried to slip past, but Paredes saw him.
"Feeling better, Bobby?"
The boots were drawn in. From the depths of the chair arose a figure
nearly gigantic in the firelight. The man's face, at first glance,
appeared to be covered with hair. Black and curling, it straggled over
his forehead. It circled his mouth, and fell in an unkempt beard down his
waistcoat. The huge man must have been as old as Silas Blackburn, but he
showed no touch of gray. His only concession to age was the sunken and
bloodshot appearance of his eyes.
Bobby and Katherine had always been afraid of this great, grim country
practitioner who had attended their childish illnesses. That sense of an
overpowering and incomprehensible personality had lingered. Even through
his graver fear Bobby felt a sharp discomfort as he surrendered his hand
to the other's absorbing grasp.
"I'm afraid you came too late this time, Doctor Groom."
The doctor looked him up and down.
"Not for you, I guess," he grumbled. "Don't you know you're sick, boy?"
Bobby shook his head.
"I'm very tired. That's all. I'm on my way to the library to try to
He freed his hand. The big man nodded approvingly.
"I'll send you a dose," he promised, "and don't you worry about your
grandfather's having been murdered by any man. I've seen the body. Stuff
and nonsense! Detective's an ass. Waiting for coroner, although I know
he's one, too."
"I pray," Bobby answered listlessly, "that you're right."
"If there's any little thing I can do," Paredes offered formally.
"No, no. Thanks," Bobby answered.
He went on to the library. He glanced with an unpleasant shrinking from
the door of the enclosed staircase leading to the private hall just
outside the room in which his grandfather lay dead. There was no fire
here, but he wrapped himself in a rug and lay on the broad, high-backed
lounge which was drawn close to the fireplace, facing it. His complete
weariness conquered his premonitions, his feeling of helplessness. The
entrance of Jenkins barely aroused him.
"Where are you, Mr. Robert?"
"Here," Bobby answered sleepily.
The butler walked to the lounge and looked over the back.
"To be sure, sir. I didn't see you here."
He held out a glass.
"Doctor Groom said you were to drink this. It would make you sleep, sir."
Bobby closed his eyes again.
"Put it on the table where I can reach it when I want it."
"Yes, sir. Mr. Robert! The policeman? Did he say anything, if I might
make so bold as to ask?"
"Go away," Bobby groaned. "Leave me in peace."
And peace for a little time came to him. It was the sound of voices in
the room that aroused him. He lay for a time, scarcely knowing where he
was, but little by little the sickening truth came back, and he realized
that it was Graham and the detective, Howells, who talked close to the
window, and Graham had already fulfilled his promise.
Bobby didn't want to eavesdrop, but it was patent he would embarrass
Graham by disclosing himself now, and it was likely Graham would be glad
of a witness to anything the detective might say.
It was still light. A ray from the low sun entered the window and rested
on the door of the enclosed staircase.
Graham's anxious demand was the first thing Bobby heard distinctly—the
thing that warned him to remain secreted.
"I think now with the coroner on his way it's time you defined your
suspicions a trifle more clearly. I am a lawyer. In a sense I represent
young Mr. Blackburn. Please tell me why you are so sure his grandfather
"All right," the detective's level voice came back. "Half an hour ago I
would have said no again, but now I've got the evidence I wanted. I
appreciate, Mr. Graham, that you're a friend of that young rascal, and
what I have to say isn't pleasant for a friend to hear. But first you
want to know why I'm so sure the case is murder, in spite of the doctor
who made his diagnosis without really looking."
"Go on," Graham said softly.
Bobby waited—his nerves as tense as they had grown in the presence of
the dead man.
"Two days ago," the detective went on quietly, "old Mr. Blackburn came to
the court house in Smithtown and asked for the best detective the
district attorney could put his hand on. I don't want to blow my own
trumpet, but I've got away with one or two pretty fair jobs. I've had
good offers from private firms in New York. So they turned him over to
me. It was easy to see the old man was scared, just as his niece says he
was last night. The funny part was he wouldn't say definitely what he was
afraid of. I thought he might be shielding somebody until he was a little
surer of his ground. He told me he was afraid of being murdered, and he
wanted a good man he could call on to come out here to the Cedars if
things got too hot for him. I can hear his voice now as distinctly as if
he was standing where you are.
"'My heart's all right,' he said. 'It won't stop awhile yet unless it's
made to. So if I'm found cold some fine morning you can be sure I was
put out of the way.'
"I tried to pump him, naturally, but he wouldn't say another word except
that he'd send for me if there was time. He didn't want any fuss made,
and he gave me a handsome present to keep my mouth shut and not to bother
him with any more questions. I figured—you can't blame me, Mr.
Graham—that the old boy was a little cracked. So I took his money and
let it go at that. I didn't think much more about it until they told me
early this morning he lay dead here under peculiar circumstances."
"Odd!" Graham commented. "It does make it more like murder, Howells. But
he doesn't look like a murdered man."
"When you know as much about crime as I do, Mr. Graham, you'll realize
that murders which are a long time planning are likely to take on one of
two appearances—suicide or natural death."
"All right," Graham said. "For the purpose of argument let us agree it's
murder. Even so, why do you suspect young Blackburn?"
"Without a scrap of evidence it's plain as the nose on your face," the
detective answered. "If old Blackburn had lived until this morning our
young man would have been a pauper. As it is, he's a millionaire, but I
don't think he'll enjoy his money. The two had been at sword's points for
a long time. Robert hated the old man—never made any bones about it. You
couldn't ask for a more damaging motive."
"You can't convict a man on motive," Graham said shortly. "You spoke of
"More," the detective replied, "than any jury in the land would ask."
Bobby held his breath, shrinking from this information, which, however,
he realized it was better he should know.
"When I got here," the detective said, "I decided on the theory of murder
to make a careful search as soon as day broke. I didn't have to wait for
day, though, to find one crying piece of evidence. For a long time I was
alone in the room with the body. Queer feeling about that room, Mr.
Graham. Don't know how to describe it except to say it's uncomfortable.
Too old, maybe. Maybe it was just being there alone with the dead man
before the dawn, although I thought I was hardened to that sort of thing.
Anyway, I didn't like it. To keep my spirits up, as well as to save time,
I commenced searching the place with a candle. Nothing about the bed.
Nothing in the closets or the bureau."
He grinned sheepishly.
"You know I kind of was afraid to open the closet doors. Then I got on my
knees and looked under the bed. The light was bad and I didn't see
anything at first. After a minute, close against the wall, I noticed
something white. I reached in and pulled it out. It was a handkerchief,
and it had a monogram, Mr. Graham—R. B. in purple and green."
He paused. Graham exclaimed sharply. Bobby felt the net tighten. If that
evidence was conclusive to the others, how much more so was it for him!
He recalled how, after awaking in the empty house, he had searched
unsuccessfully in all his pockets for his handkerchief, intending to
brush the dirt from his shoes.
"I went to his room," the detective hurried on, "and found a lot of his
clothes and his stationery and his toilet articles marked with the same
cipher. I knew my man had made a big mistake—the sort of mistake every
criminal makes no matter how clever he is—and I had him. But that isn't,
by any means, all. Don't look so distressed, Mr. Graham. There isn't the
slightest chance for him. You see I repaired the lock, and, as soon as it
was day, closed the room and went outside to look for signs. Since
nightfall no one had come legitimately through the court except Doctor
Groom and myself. Our footprints were all right—making a straight line
along the path to the front door. In the soft earth by the fountain I
found another and a smaller print, made by a very neat shoe, sir, and I
said to myself: 'There is almost certainly the footprint of the
"There were plenty of others coming across the grass. He'd evidently
avoided the path. And there was one directly under the open window where
the body lies. It's still there. Perhaps you can see it. No matter.
That's the last one I found. The prints ceased there. There wasn't a one
going back, and I was fair up a stump. Then I saw a little undefined
sign of pressure on the grass, and I got an idea. 'Suppose,' I says, 'my
man took his shoes off and went around in his stockinged feet!' I
couldn't understand, though, why he hadn't thought of that before. I went
back to Robert Blackburn's room and got one of his shoes, and ran into a
snag again. The sole of the shoe was a trifle larger than the footprints.
Every one of his shoes I tried was the same way. I argued that the
handkerchief was enough, but I wanted this other evidence. I simply had
to clear up these queer footprints.
"I figured, since the murder had been made to look so much like a natural
death, that he'd come out here some time to-day, expecting to carry it
off. I wanted to go to the station, anyway, to find out if he'd been seen
coming through last night or early this morning. While I was talking to
the station agent I had my one piece of luck. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Mr. Robert walks up from the woods. He'd been hiding around the
neighbourhood all the time. Probably had missed his handkerchief and
decided he'd better not take any chances. Yet it must have seemed a
pretty sure thing that the station wouldn't be watched, and it's those
nervy things, doing the obvious, that skilful criminals get away with all
the time. I needed only one look at him, and I had the answer to the
mystery of the footprints. I gave him plenty of time to come here and
change his clothes, then I manoeuvered him out of his room and went there
and found the pumps he'd worn last night and to-day. You see, they'd be
a little smaller than his ordinary shoes. Not only did they fit the
footprints exactly, but they were stained with soil exactly like that in
the court. There you are, sir. I've made a plaster cast of one of the
prints. I've got it here in my pocket where I intend to keep it until I
clear the whole case up and turn in my report."
Graham's tone was shocked and discouraged.
"What more do you want? Why haven't you arrested him?"
In this room the detective's satisfied chuckle was an offence.
"No good detective would ask that, Mr. Graham. I want my report clean.
The coroner will tell us how the old man was killed. I want to tell how
young Blackburn got into that room. One of the windows was raised a
trifle, but that's no use. I've figured on the outside of the wing until
I'm dizzy. There's no way up for a normal man. An orangoutang would make
hard work of it. His latch key would have let him into the house, and it
would have been simple enough for him to find out that the old man had
changed his room. I've got to find out how he got past those doors,
locked on the inside."
He chuckled again.
"Almost like a sleep-walker's work."
Bobby shivered. Was that where the evidence pointed? Already the net was
too finely woven. The detective continued earnestly:
"I'm figuring on some scheme to make him show me the way. I've a sort of
plan for to-night, but it's only a chance."
"What?" Graham asked.
"Oh, no, sir," Howells laughed. "You'll learn about that when the
"I don't understand you," Graham said. "You're sure of your man but you
keep no close watch on him. Do you know where he is now?"
"Haven't the slightest idea, Mr. Graham."
"What's to prevent his running away?"
"I'm offering him every opportunity. He wouldn't get far, and I've a
feeling that if he confessed by running he'd break down and give up the
whole thing. You've no idea how it frets me, Mr. Graham. I've got my man
practically in the chair, but from a professional point of view it isn't
a pretty piece of work until I find out how he got in and out of that
room. The thing seems impossible, and yet here we are, knowing that he
did it. Well, maybe I'll find out to-night. Hello!"
The door opened. Bobby from his hiding place could see Paredes on the
threshold, yawning and holding a cigarette in his fingers.
"Here you are," he said drowsily. "I've just been in the court. It made
me seek company. That court's too damp, Mr. Detective."
His laugh was lackadaisical.
"When the sun leaves it, the court seems full of, unfriendly things—what
the ignorant would call, ghosts. I'm Spanish and I know."
The detective grunted.
"Funny!" Paredes went on. "Observation doesn't seem to interest you. I'd
rather fancied it might."
He yawned again and put his cigarette to his lips. Puffing placidly, he
turned and left.
"What do you suppose he means by that?" the detective said to Graham.
Without waiting for an answer he followed Paredes from the room. Graham
went after him. Bobby threw back the rug and arose. For a moment he was
as curious as the others as to Paredes's intention. He slipped across the
dining room. The hall was deserted. The front door stood open. From the
court came Paredes's voice, even, languid, wholly without expression:
"Mean to tell me you don't react to the proximity of unaccountable forces
here, Mr. Howells?"
The detective's laugh was disagreeable.
"You trying to make a fool of me? That isn't healthy."
As Bobby hurried across the hall and up the stairs he heard
"You should speak to Doctor Groom. He says this place is too crowded by
the unpleasant past—"
Bobby climbed out of hearing. He entered his bedroom and locked the door.
He resented Paredes's words and attitude which he defined as studied to
draw humour out of a tragic and desperate situation. He thought of them
in no other way. His tired mind dismissed them. He threw himself on the
"If I run away I'm done for. If I stay I'm done for."
He took a fierce twisted joy in one phase of the situation.
"If I was there last night," he thought, "Howells will never find out
how I got into the room, because, no matter what trap he sets, I can't
His leaden weariness closed his eyes. For a few minutes he slept again.
Once more it was a voice that awakened him—this time a woman's, raised
in a scream. He sprang up, flung open the door, and stumbled into the
corridor. Katherine stood there, holding her dressing gown about her with
trembling hands. The face she turned to Bobby was white and
panic-stricken. She beckoned, and he followed her to the main hall. The
others came tearing up the stairs—Graham, Paredes, the detective, and
the black and gigantic doctor.
In answer to their quick questions she whispered breathlessly:
"I heard. It was just like last night. It came across the court and stole
in at my window."
She shook. She stretched out her hands in a terrified appeal.
"Somebody—something moved in that room where he—he's dead."
"Nonsense," the detective said. "Both doors are locked, and I have the
keys in my pocket."
Paredes fumbled with a cigarette.
"You're forgetting what I said about my sensitive apprehension of
The detective interrupted him loudly, confidently:
"I tell you the room is empty except for the murdered man—unless
someone's broken down a door."
Katherine cried out:
"No. I heard that same stirring. Something moved in there."
The detective turned brusquely and entered the old corridor.
The others followed. Katherine was close to Bobby. He touched her hand.
"He's right, Katherine. No one's there. No one could have been there. You
mustn't give way like this. I'm depending on you—on your faith."
She pressed his hand, but her assurance didn't diminish.
The key scraped in the lock. They crowded through the doorway after
the detective. He struck a match and lighted the candle. He held it
over the bed. He sprang back with a sharp cry, unlike his level
quality, his confident conceit. He pointed. They all approximated his
helpless gesture, his blank amazement. For on the bed had occurred an
The body of Silas Blackburn no longer lay peacefully on its back. It had
been turned on its side, and remained in a stark and awkward attitude.
For the first time the back of the head was disclosed.
Their glances focussed there—on the tiny round hole at the base of the
brain, on the pillow where the head had rested and which they saw now was
stained with an ugly and irregular splotch of blood.
Bobby saw the candle quiver at last in the detective's hand. The man
strode to the door leading to the private hall and examined the lock.
"Both doors," he said, "were locked. There was no way in—"
He turned to the others, spreading his hands in justification. The
candle, which he seemed to have forgotten, cast gross, moving shadows
over his face and over the face of the dead man.
"At least you'll all grant me now that he was murdered."
They continued to stare at the body of Silas Blackburn. Cold for many
hours, it was as if he had made this atrocious revealing movement to
assure them that he had, indeed, been murdered; to expose to their
startled eyes the sly and deadly method.
HOWELLS DELIVERS HIMSELF TO THE ABANDONED ROOM
For a long time no one spoke. The body of Silas Blackburn had been alone
in a locked room, yet before their eyes it lay, turned on its side, as if
to inform them of the fashion of this murder. The tiny hole at the base
of the brain, the blood-stain on the pillow, which the head had
concealed, offered their mute and ghastly testimony.
Doctor Groom was the first to relax. He raised his great, hairy hand to
the bed-post and grasped it. His rumbling voice lacked its usual
authority. It vibrated with a childish wonder:
"I'm reminded that it isn't the first time there's been blood from a
man's head on that pillow."
"What do you mean?" the detective snarled. "There's only one answer to
this. There must have been a mechanical post-mortem reaction."
For a moment Doctor Groom's laugh filled the old room. It ceased
abruptly. He shook his head.
"Don't be a fool, Mr. Policeman. At the most conservative estimate this
man has been dead more than thirteen hours. Even a few instants after
death the human body is incapable of any such reaction."
"What then?" the detective asked. "Some one of us, or one of the
servants, must have overcome the locks again and deliberately disturbed
the body. That must be so, but I don't get the motive."
"It isn't so," Doctor Groom answered bluntly.
Already the detective had to a large extent controlled his bewilderment.
"I'd like your theory then," he said dryly. "You and Mr. Paredes have
both been gossiping about the supernatural. When you first came you
hinted dark things. You said he'd probably died what the world would call
a natural death."
"I meant," the doctor answered, "only that Mr. Blackburn's heart might
have failed under the impulse of a sudden fright in this room. I also
said, you remember, that the room was nasty and unhealthy. Plenty of
people have remarked it before me."
Graham touched the detective's arm.
"A little while ago you admitted yourself that the room was
Doctor Groom smiled. The detective faced him with a fierce belligerency.
"You'll agree he was murdered."
"Certainly, if you wish to call it that. But I ask for the sharp
instrument that caused death. I want to know how, while Blackburn lay on
his back, it was inserted through the bed, the springs, the mattress,
and the pillow."
"What are you driving at?"
Doctor Groom pointed to the dead man.
"I merely repeat that it isn't the first time that pillow's been stained
from unusual wounds in the head. Being, as you call it, a trifle
superstitious, I merely ask if the coincidence is significant."
Katherine cried out. Bobby, in spite of his knowledge that sooner or
later he would be arrested for his grandfather's murder, stepped
"I know what you mean, doctor."
"Anybody," the doctor said, "who's ever heard of this house knows what I
mean. We needn't talk of that."
The detective, however, was insistent. Paredes in his unemotional way
expressed an equal curiosity. Bobby and Katherine had been frightened as
children by the stories clustering about the old wing. They nodded from
time to time while the doctor held them in the desolate room with the
dead man, speaking of the other deaths it had sheltered.
Silas Blackburn's great grandfather, he told the detective, had been
carried to that bed from a Revolutionary skirmish with a bullet at the
base of his brain. For many hours he had raved deliriously, fighting
unsuccessfully against the final silence.
"It has been a legend in the family, as these young people will tell you,
that Blackburns die hard, and there are those who believe that people who
die hard leave something behind them—something that clings to the
physical surroundings of their suffering. If it was only that one case!
But it goes on and on. Silas Blackburn's father, for instance, killed
himself here. He had lost his money in silly speculations. He stood where
you stand, detective, and blew his brains out. He fell over and lay where
his son lies, his head on that pillow. Silas Blackburn was a money
grubber. He started with nothing but this property, and he made a
fortune, but even he had enough imagination to lock this room up after
one more death of that kind. It was this girl's father. You were too
young, Katherine, to remember it, but I took care of him. I saw it. He
was carried here after he had been struck at the back of the head in a
polo match. He died, too, fighting hard. God! How the man suffered. He
loosened his bandages toward the end. When I got here the pillow was
redder than it is to-day. It strikes me as curious that the first time
the room has been slept in since then it should harbour a death behind
locked doors—from a wound in the head."
Paredes's fingers were restless, as if he missed his customary cigarette.
The detective strolled to the window.
"Very interesting," he said. "Extremely interesting for old women and
young children. You may classify yourself, doctor."
"Thanks," the doctor rumbled. "I'll wait until you've told me how these
doors were entered, how that wound was made, how this body turned on its
side in an empty room."
The detective glanced at Bobby. His voice lacked confidence.
"I'll do my best. I'll even try to tell you why the murderer came back
this afternoon to disturb his victim."
Bobby went, curiously convinced that the doctor had had the better of
For a moment Katherine, Graham, Paredes, and he were alone in the
"God knows what it was," Graham said, "but it may mean something to you,
Bobby. Tell us carefully, Katherine, about the sounds that came to you
across the court."
"It was just what I heard last night when he died," she answered. "It was
like something falling softly, then a long-drawn sigh. I tried to pay no
attention. I fought it. I didn't call at first. But I couldn't keep
quiet. I knew we had to go to that room. It never occurred to me that the
detective or the coroner might be there moving around."
"You were alone up here?" Graham said.
"I think so."
"No," Bobby said. "I was in my room."
"What were you doing?" Graham asked.
"I was asleep. Katherine's call woke me up."
"Asleep!" Paredes echoed. "And she didn't call at once—"
He broke off. Bobby grasped his arm.
"What are you trying to do?"
"I'm sorry," Paredes said. "Now, really, you mustn't think of that. I
shouldn't have spoken. I'm more inclined to agree with the doctor's
theory, impossible as it seems."
"Yesterday," Katherine said, "I would have thought it impossible. After
last night and just now I'm not so sure. I—I wish the doctor were right.
It would clear you, Bobby."
"Do you think any jury would listen to such a theory?"
Katherine put her finger to her lips. Howells and the doctor came
from the corridor of the old wing. At the head of the stairs the
"You will find it very warm and comfortable by the fire in the lower
hall, Mr. Blackburn."
He waited until Katherine had slipped to her room until Graham, Paredes,
the doctor, and Bobby were on the stairs. Then he walked slowly into the
Bobby knew what he was after. The detective had made no effort to
disguise his intention. He wanted Bobby out of the way while he searched
his room again, this time for a sharp, slender instrument capable of
penetrating between the bones at the base of a man's brain.
Paredes lighted a cigarette and warmed his back at the fire. The doctor
settled himself in his chair. He paid no attention to the others. He
wouldn't answer Paredes's slow remarks.
"Interesting, doctor! I am a little psychic. Always in this house I have
responded to strange, unfriendly influences. Always, as now, the approach
of night depresses me."
Bobby couldn't sit still. He nodded at Graham, arose, got his coat and
hat, and stepped into the court. The dusk was already thick there.
Dampness and melancholy seemed to exude from the walls of the old house.
He paused and gazed at one of the foot-prints in the soft earth by the
fountain. Shreds of plaster adhered to the edges, testimony that the
detective had made his cast from this print. He tried to realize that
that mute, familiar impression had the power to send him to his
execution. Graham, who had come silently from the house, startled him.
"What are you looking at?"
"No use, Hartley. I was on the library lounge. I heard every word
"Perhaps it's just as well," Graham said. "You know what you face. But I
hate to see you suffer. We've got to find a way around that evidence."
Bobby pointed to the windows of the room of death.
"There's no way around except the doctor's theory."
He laughed shortly.
"Much as I've feared that room, I'm afraid the psychic explanation won't
hold water. Paredes put his finger on it. I would have had time to get
back to my room before Katherine called—"
"Hartley! I'm afraid to go to sleep. It's dreadful not to know whether
you are active in your sleep, whether you are evil and ingenious to the
point of the miraculous in your sleep. I'm so tired, Hartley."
"Why should you have gone to that room this afternoon?" Graham asked.
"You must get this idea out of your head. You must have sleep, and,
perhaps, when you're thoroughly rested, you will remember."
"I'm not so sure," Bobby said, "that I want to remember."
He pointed to the footprint.
"There's no question. I was here last night."
"Unless," Graham said, "your handkerchief and your shoes were stolen."
"Nonsense!" Bobby cried. "The only motive would be to commit a murder in
order to kill me by sending me to the chair. And who would know his way
around that dark house like me? Who would have found out so easily that
my grandfather had changed his room?"
"It's logical," Graham admitted slowly, "but we can't give in. By the
way, has Paredes ever borrowed any large sums?"
Bobby hesitated. After all, Paredes and he had been good friends.
"A little here and there," he answered reluctantly.
"Has he ever paid you back?"
"I don't recall," Bobby answered, flushing. "You know I've never been
exactly calculating about money. Whenever he wanted it I was always glad
to help Carlos out. Why do you ask?"
"If any one," Graham answered, "looked on you as a certain source of
money, there would be a motive in conserving that source, in increasing
it. Probably lots of people knew Mr. Blackburn was out of patience with
you; would make a new will to-day."
"Do you think," Bobby asked, "that Carlos is clever enough to have got
through those doors? And what about this afternoon—that ghastly
disturbing of the body?"
He smiled wanly.
"It looks like me or the ghosts of my ancestors."
"If Paredes," Graham insisted, "tries to borrow any money from you now,
tell me about it. Another thing, Bobby. We can't afford to keep your
experiences of last night a secret any longer."
He stepped to the door and asked Doctor Groom to come out.
"He won't be likely to pass your confidences on to Howells," he said.
"Those men are natural antagonists."
After a moment the doctor appeared, a slouch hat drawn low over his
"What you want?" he grumbled. "This court's a first-class place to catch
cold. Dampest hole in the neighbourhood. Often wondered why."
"I want to ask you," Graham began, "something about the effects of such
drugs as could be given in wine. Tell him, will you, Bobby, what happened
Bobby vanquished the discomfort with which the gruff, opinionated
physician had always filled him. He recited the story of last night's
dinner, of his experience in the cafe, of his few blurred impressions of
the swaying vehicle and the woods.
"Hartley thinks something may have been put in my wine."
"What for?" the doctor asked. "What had these people to gain by drugging
you? Suppose for some far-fetched reason they wanted to have Silas
Blackburn put out of the way. They couldn't make you do it by drugging
you. At any rate, they couldn't have had a hand in this afternoon. Mind,
I'm not saying you had a thing to do with it yourself, but I don't
believe you were drugged. Any drug likely to be used in wine would
probably have sent you into a deep sleep. And your symptoms on waking up
are scarcely sharp enough. Sorry, boy. Sounds more like aphasia. The path
you've been treading sometimes leads to that black country, and it's
there that hates sharpen unknown. I remember a case where a tramp
returned and killed a farmer who had refused him food. Retained no
recollection of the crime—hours dropped out of his life. They executed
him while he still tried to remember."
"I read something about the case," Bobby muttered.
"Been better if you hadn't," the doctor grumbled. "Suggestions work in a
man's brain without his knowing it."
He thought for a moment, his heavy, black brows coming closer together.
He glanced at the windows of the old room. His sunken, infused eyes
"I know how you feel, and that's a little punishment maybe you deserve.
I'll say this for your comfort. You probably followed the plan that had
been impressed on your brain by Mr. Graham. You came here, no doubt, and
stood around. With an automatic appreciation of your condition you may
have taken that old precaution of convivial men returning home, and
removed your shoes. Then your automatic judgment may have warned you that
you weren't fit to go in at all, and you probably wandered off to the
"Then," Bobby asked, "you don't think I did it?"
"God knows who did it. God knows what did it. The longer I live the surer
I become that we scientists can't probe everything. Whenever I go near
Silas Blackburn's body I receive a very powerful impression that his
death in that room from such a wound goes deeper than ordinary murder,
deeper than a case of recurrent aphasia."
His eyes widened. He turned with Graham and Bobby at the sound of an
automobile coming through the woods.
"Probably the coroner at last," he said.
The automobile, a small runabout, drew up at the entrance to the court. A
little wizened man, with yellowish skin stretched across high cheek
bones, stepped out and walked up the path.
"Well!" he said shrilly. "What you doing, Doctor Groom?"
"Waiting to witness another reason why coroners should be abolished," the
doctor rumbled. "This is the dead man's grandson, Coroner; and Mr.
Graham, a friend of the family's."
Bobby accepted the coroner's hand with distaste.
"Howells," the coroner said in his squeaky voice, "seems to think it's a
queer case. Inconvenient, I call it. Wish people wouldn't die queerly
whenever I go on a little holiday. I had got five ducks, gentlemen, when
they came to me with that damned telegram. Bad business mine, 'cause
people will die when you least expect them to. Let's go see what Howells
has got on his mind. Bright sleuth, Howells! Ought to be in New York."
He started up the path, side by side with Doctor Groom.
"Are you coming?" Graham asked Bobby. Bobby shook his head. "I don't want
to. I'd rather stay outside. You'd better be there, Hartley."
Graham followed the others while Bobby wandered from the court and
started down a path that entered the woods from the rear of the house.
Immediately the forest closed greedily about him. Here and there, where
the trees were particularly stunted, branches cut against a pallid,
greenish glow in the west—the last light.
Bobby wanted, if he could, to find that portion of the woods where he had
stood last night, fancying the trees straining in the wind like puny men,
visualizing a dim figure in a black mask which he had called his
The forest was all of a pattern—ugly, unfriendly, melancholy. He went
on, however, hoping to glimpse that particular picture he remembered. He
left the path, walking at haphazard among the undergrowth. Ahead he saw a
placid, flat, and faintly luminous stretch. He pushed through the bushes
and paused on the shore of a lake, small and stagnant. Dead, stripped
trunks of trees protruded from the water. At the end a bird arose with a
sudden flapping of wings; it cried angrily as it soared above the trees
and disappeared to the south.
The morbid loneliness of the place touched Bobby's spirit with chill
hands. As a child he had never cared to play about the stagnant lake,
nor, he recalled, had the boys of the village fished or bathed there.
Certainly he hadn't glimpsed it last night. He was about to walk away
when a movement on the farther bank held him, made him gaze with eager
eyes across the sleepy water.
He thought there was something black in the black shadows of the
trees—a thing that stirred through the heavy dusk without sound. He
received, moreover, an impression of anger and haste as distinct as the
bird had projected. But he could see nothing clearly in this bad light.
He couldn't be sure that there was any one over there.
He started around the end of the lake, and for a moment he thought that
the shape of a woman, clothed in black, detached itself from the
shadow. The image dissolved. He wondered if it had been more
substantial than fancy.
"Who is that?" he called.
The woods muffled his voice. There was no answer. Nor was there, he
noticed, any crackling of twigs or rustling of dead leaves. If there
had been a woman there she had fled noiselessly, yet, as he went on
around the lake, his own progress was distinctly audible through the
decay of autumn.
It was too dark on the other side to detect any traces of a recent human
presence in the thicket. He couldn't quiet, however, the feeling that he
had had a glimpse of a woman clothed in black who had studied him
secretly across the stagnant stretch of the lake.
On the other hand, there was no logic in a woman's presence here at such
an hour, no logic in a stranger's running away from him. While he
pondered the night invaded the forest completely, making it impossible
for him to search farther. It had grown so dark, indeed, that he found
his way out with difficulty. The branches caught at his clothing. The
underbrush tangled itself about his feet. It was as if the thicket were
trying to hold him away from the house.
As he entered the court he noticed a discoloured glow diffusing itself
through the curtains of the room of death.
He opened the front door. Paredes and Graham alone sat by the fire.
"Then they're not through yet," Bobby said.
Graham arose. He commenced to pace the length of the hall.
"They've had Katherine in that room. One would think she'd been through
enough. Now they've sent for the servants."
Paredes laughed lightly.
"After this," he said, "I'm afraid, Bobby, you'll need the powers of the
police to keep servants in your house."
Muttering, frightened voices came from the dining-room. Jenkins entered,
and, shaking his head, went up the stairs. The two women who followed
him, were in tears. They paused, as if seeking an excuse to linger on
the lower floor, to postpone as long as possible their entrance of the
room of death.
Ella, a pretty girl, whose dark hair and eyes suggested a normal
vivacity, spoke to Bobby.
"It's outrageous, Mr. Robert. He found out all we knew this morning.
What's he after now? You might think we'd murdered Mr. Blackburn."
Jane was older. An ugly scar crossed her cheek. It was red and like an
open wound as she demanded that Bobby put a stop to these inquisitions.
"I can do nothing," he said. "Go on up and answer or they can make
trouble for you."
Muttering again to each other, they followed Jenkins, and in the lower
hall the three men waited.
Jenkins came down first. His face was white. It twitched.
"The body!" he mouthed. "It's moved! I saw it before."
He stretched out his hands to Bobby.
"That's why they wanted us, to find out where we were this afternoon, and
everything we've done, as if we might have gone there, and disturbed—"
Angry voices in the upper hall interrupted him. The two women ran down,
as white as Jenkins. At an impatient nod from Bobby the three servants
went on to the kitchen. Howells, the coroner, and Doctor Groom descended.
"What ails you, Doctor?" the coroner was squeaking. "I agree it's an
unpleasant room. Lots of old rooms are. I follow you when you say no
post-mortem contraction would have caused such an alteration in the
position of the body. There's no question about the rest of it. The man
was clearly murdered with a sharp tool of some sort, and the murderer was
in the room again this afternoon, and disturbed the corpse. Howells says
he knows who. It's up to him to find out how. He says he has plenty of
evidence and that the guilty person's in this house, so I'm not fretting
myself. I'm cross with you, Howells, for breaking up my holiday. One of
my assistants would have done as well."
Howells apparently paid no attention to the coroner. His narrow eyes
followed the doctor with a growing curiosity. His level smile seemed
to have drawn his lips into a line, inflexible, a little cruel. The
"Instead of abolishing coroners we ought to double their salaries."
The coroner made a long squeak as an indication of mirth.
"You think unfriendly spooks did it. I've always believed you were an old
fogy. Hanged if that doesn't sound modern."
The doctor ran his fingers through his thick, untidy hair.
"I merely ask for the implement that caused death. I only ask to know how
it was inserted through the bed while Blackburn lay on his back. And if
you've time you might tell me how the murderer entered the room last
night and to-day."
The coroner repeated his squeak. He glanced at the little group by the
"Out in the kitchen, upstairs, or right here under our noses is almost
certainly the person who could tell us. Interesting case, Howells!"
Howells, who still watched the doctor, answered dryly:
The coroner struggled into his coat.
"Permits are all available," he squeaked. "Have your undertakers out when
Graham answered him brusquely.
"Everything's arranged. I've only to telephone."
The coroner nodded at Doctor Groom. His voice pointed its humour with a
"If I were you, Howells, I'd take this hairy old theorist up as a
The doctor made a movement in his direction while Howells continued to
stare. The doctor checked himself. He went to the closet and got his
hat and coat.
"Want me to drop you, old sawbones?" the coroner asked.
Savagely the doctor shook his head.
"My buggy's in the stable."
The coroner's squeak was thinner, more irritating than ever.
"Then don't let the spooks get you, driving through the woods. Old folks
say there are a-plenty there."
Bobby arose. He couldn't face the prospect of the man's squeaking again.
"We find nothing to laugh at in this situation," he said. "You're
The coroner's eyes blazed.
"I'm through, if that's the way you feel. Goodnight." He added with a
sharp maliciousness: "I leave my sympathy for whoever Howells has his
eagle eye on."
Howells, when the doctor and the coroner had gone, excused himself with a
humility that mocked the others:
"With your permission I shall write in the library until dinner."
He bowed and left.
"He wants to work on his report," Graham suggested.
"An exceptional man!" Paredes murmured.
"Has he questioned you?" Graham asked.
"I'd scarcely call it that," Paredes replied. "We've both questioned, and
we've both been clams. I fancy he doesn't think much of me since I
believe in ghosts, yet the doctor seems to interest him."
"Where were you?" Graham asked, "when Miss Perrine's scream called us?"
Paredes stifled a yawn.
"Dozing here by the fire. I am very tired after last night."
"You don't look particularly tired."
"Custom, I'm ashamed to say, constructs a certain armour. To-morrow, with
a fresh mind, I hope to be able to dissect all I have seen and heard, all
that has happened here to-day."
"The thing that counts is what happened to me last night, Carlos," Bobby
said. "It's the only way you can help me."
As Paredes strolled to the foot of the stairs Bobby waited for a
defensive reply, for a sign, perhaps, that the Panamanian was offended
and proposed to depart. Paredes, however, went upstairs, yawning. He
"I must make myself a trifle more presentable for dinner."
Graham faced Bobby with the old question:
"What can he want hanging around here unless it's money?" And after a
moment: "He's clever—hard to sound. I have to leave you, Bobby. I must
telephone—the ugly formalities."
"It's good of you to take them off my mind," Bobby answered.
He remained in his chair, gazing drowsily at the fire, trying,
always trying to remember, yet finding no new light among the
shadows of his memory.
Just before dinner Katherine joined him. She wore a sombre gown that
made her face seem too white, that heightened the groping curiosity
of her eyes.
Without speaking she sat down beside him and stared, too, at the
smouldering fire. From her presence, from her tactful silence he drew
comfort—to an extent, rest.
"You make me ashamed," he whispered once. "I've been a beast, leaving you
here alone these weeks. You don't understand quite, why that was." She
wouldn't let him go on. She shook her head. They remained silently by the
fire until Graham and Paredes joined them.
When dinner was announced the detective came from the library, and,
uninvited, sat at the table with them. His report evidently still
filled his mind, for he spoke only when it was unavoidable and then
in monosyllables. Paredes alone ate with a show of enjoyment, alone
attempted to talk. Eventually even he fell silent before the lack
Afterward he arranged a small card table by the fire in the hall. He
found cards, and, with a package of cigarettes and a box of matches
convenient to his hand, commenced to play solitaire. The detective, Bobby
gathered, had brought his report up to date, for he lounged near by,
watching the Panamanian's slender fingers as they handled the cards
deftly. Bobby, Graham, and Katherine were glad to withdraw beyond the
range of those narrow, searching eyes. They entered the library and
closed the door.
Graham, expectant of a report from his man in New York as to the
movements of Maria and the identity of the stranger, was restless.
"If we could only get one fact," he said, "one reasonable clue that
didn't involve Bobby! I've never felt so at sea. I wonder if, in spite of
Howells's evidence, we're not all a little afraid since this afternoon,
of something such as Katherine felt last night—something we can't
define. Howells alone is satisfied. We must believe in the hand of
another man. Doctor Groom talks about indefinable hands."
"Uncle Silas was so afraid last night!" Katherine whispered.
"That," Bobby cried, "is the fact we must have."
"What's that?" he asked sharply.
They sat for some time, listening to the sound of wheels on the gravel,
to the banging of the front door, and, later, to the pacing of men in the
room of death overhead. They tried again to thread the mazes of this
problem whose only conceivable exit led to Bobby's guilt. The movements
upstairs persisted. At last they became measured and dragging, like the
footsteps of men who carried some heavy burden.
They looked at each other then. Katherine hid her eyes.
"It's like a tomb here," Bobby said.
He arranged kindling in the fireplace and touched a match to it. It
hadn't occurred to him to ring for Jenkins. None of them wished to be
disturbed. Eventually it was the detective who intruded. He strolled in,
glanced at them curiously for a moment, then walked to the door of the
enclosed staircase. He grasped the knob.
"To-night," he announced, "I am trying a small experiment on the
chance of clearing up the last details of the mystery. Since it
depends on the courage of whoever murdered Mr. Blackburn I've small
hope of its success."
He indicated the ceiling. "You've heard, I daresay, what's been going on
up there. Mr. Blackburn's body has been removed to his own room. The room
where he was killed is empty. I mean to go up and enter and lock the
doors as he did last night. I shall leave the window up as it was last
night. I shall blow out the candle as he did."
He lowered his voice. He looked directly at Bobby. His words carried a
"I shall lie on the bed and await the murderer under the precise
conditions Mr. Blackburn did."
"What do you expect to gain by that?" Graham asked.
"Probably nothing," Howells answered, "because, as I have said, success
depends upon the courage of a man who kills in the dark while his victim
sleeps. I simply give him the chance to attack me as he did Mr.
Blackburn. Of course he realizes it would be a good deal to his advantage
to have me out of the way. I ask him to come, therefore, as stealthily as
he did last night. I beg him to match his skill with mine. I want him to
play his miracle with the window or one of the locks. But I'll wager he
hasn't the nerve, although I don't see why he should hesitate. He's a
doomed man. I shall make my arrest in the morning. I shall publish all my
Bobby wouldn't meet the narrow, menacing eyes, for he knew that Howells
challenged him to a duel of slyness with the whole truth at stake. The
detective's manner increased the hatred which had blazed in Bobby's mind
when he had stood in the bedroom over his grandfather's body. For a
moment he wished with all his heart that he might accept the challenge.
He did the best he could.
"I gather," he said, "that you haven't unearthed the motive for
disturbing the body. And have you found the sharp instrument that
The detective answered tolerantly:
"I have found a number of sharp instruments. None of them, however, seems
quite slender or round enough. I'll get all that out of my man when I
lock him up. I'll get it to-night if he dares come."
"Why," Graham said, "do you announce your plans so accurately to us?"
The detective's level smile widened.
"You shouldn't ask that, Mr. Graham. I've caused the servants to know my
plans. Mr. Paredes knows them. I wish every one in the house to know
them. That is in order that the murderer, who is in the house, may come
if he wishes."
Katherine arose abruptly.
"When you come down to it," she said, "you are accusing one of us. It's
"I am a detective, Miss," Howells answered. "I have my own methods."
Bobby stared at the slight protuberance in the breast pocket of the
detective's coat. The cast of his footprint must be secreted there, and
almost certainly the handkerchief which had been found beneath the bed.
He shrank from his own thoughts.
If he had consciously committed this murder he could understand a desire
to get that evidence.
Katherine had gone closer to the detective.
"In any case," she urged him, "I wish you wouldn't try to spend the night
in that room. It isn't pleasant. After what the doctor has said,
it—well, it isn't safe."
Howells burst out laughing.
"Never fear, Miss. I'm content to give Doctor Groom's spirits as much
chance to take a fall out of me as anybody. I'll be going up now." He
bowed. "Good-night to you all, and pleasant dreams."
He opened the door and slipped into the darkness of the private
staircase. They heard him, after he had closed the door, climbing upward.
"He has plenty of courage, Hartley! If nothing happens to him to-night
he'll finish Bobby in the morning. That mustn't happen. He mustn't go to
jail. You understand. Things would never be the same for him again."
Graham spread his hands.
"What am I to do? I might go to New York and get after these
"Don't leave the Cedars," Bobby begged, "until he does arrest me.
There'll be plenty of time for the New York end then. I've no faith in
it. Watch Carlos if you want, but most important of all, find
out—somehow you've got to find out—what my grandfather was afraid of."
"And if it does come to an arrest, Bobby, you're not to say a word to
anybody without my advice. You ought to get to bed now. You must have
rest, and Katherine, too. Don't listen to-night, Katherine, for messages
from across the court."
"I'll try," she said, "but, Hartley, I wish that man wasn't there. I wish
no one was in that room."
She took Bobby's hand.
"Good-night, Bobby, and don't give up hope. We'll do something. Somehow
we'll pull you through."
Bobby waited, hoping that Graham would offer to share his room with him.
For, as he had said earlier, the prospect of going to sleep, of losing
control of his thoughts and actions, appalled him. Yet such an offer, he
realized, must impress Graham as delicate, as an indication that he
really doubted Bobby's innocence, as a sort of spying. He wasn't
surprised, therefore, when Graham only said:
"I'll be in the next room, Bobby. If you're restless or need me you've
only to knock on the wall."
Bobby didn't leave the library with them. The warmth with which Katherine
had just filled him faded as he watched her go out side by side with
Graham. Her hand was on Graham's arm. There was, he fancied, in her eyes
an emotion deeper than gratitude or friendship. He sighed as the door
closed behind them. He was himself largely to blame for that situation.
His very revolt against its imminence had hastened its shaping.
He walked anxiously to the table. He had remembered the medicine Doctor
Groom had prepared for him that afternoon to make him sleep. He hadn't
taken it then. If it remained where he had left it, which was likely
enough in the disordered state of the household, he would drink it now.
Reinforced by his complete weariness, it ought to send him into a sleep
profound enough to drown any possible abnormal impulses of
The glass was there. He drained it, and stood for a time looking at the
pinkish sediment in the bottom. That was all right for to-night, but
afterward—he couldn't shrink perpetually from sleep. He shrugged his
shoulders, remembering it would make little difference what he did in his
sleep when they had him behind prison bars. Perhaps this would be his
last night of freedom.
He found Paredes still in the hall. The Panamanian, with languid
gestures, continued to play his solitaire. His box of cigarettes was
"I thought you were tired, Carlos."
Paredes glanced up. His eyes were neither weary nor alert. As usual his
expression disclosed nothing of his thoughts, yet he must have read in
Bobby's tone a reproach at this indifference.
"The game intrigues me," he murmured, "and you know," he added dreamily.
"I sometimes think better while I amuse myself."
Bobby nodded good-night and went on up to his room. Even while he
undressed the effects of the doctor's narcotic were perceptible. His eyes
had grown heavy, his brain a trifle numb.
Almost apathetically he assured himself that he couldn't accomplish these
mad actions in his sleep.
"Yet last night—" he murmured. "That finishes me in the eyes of the
law. The doctor will testify to aphasia. According to him I am two
He yawned, recalling snatches of books he had read and one or two
scientific reports of such cases. He climbed into bed and blew out his
candle. His drowsiness thickened. In his dulled mind one recollection
remained—the picture of Howells coldly challenging him with his level
smile to make a secret entrance of the old bedroom in a murderous effort
to escape the penalty of the earlier crime. And Howells had been right.
His death would give Bobby a chance. The destruction of the evidence, the
bringing into the case of a broader-minded man, a man without a carefully
constructed theory—all that would help Bobby, might save him. Howells,
moreover, had indicated that he had so far withheld his evidence. But
that was probably a bait.
In his drowsy way Bobby hated more powerfully than before this detective
who, with a serene malevolence, made him writhe in his net. Thought
ceased. He drifted into a trance-like sleep. He swung in the black pit
again, fighting out against crushing odds. The darkness thundered as
though informing him that graver forces than any he had ever imagined
had definitely grasped him. Then he understood. He was in a black cell,
and the thundering was the steady advance of men along an iron floor to
He flung out his hands. He sat upright, opening his eyes. The blackness
assumed the familiar, yielding quality of the night. The thunder, the
footfalls, became a hurried knocking at his door.
"Bobby! You're there—" It was Katherine. Her tone made the night as
frightening as the blackness of the pit.
"What's the matter?"
"You're there. I didn't know. Get up. Hartley's putting some clothes on.
Hurry! The house is so dark—so strange."
"Tell me what's happened."
She didn't answer at first. He struck a match, lighted his candle, threw
on a dressing gown, and stepped to the door. Katherine shrank against
the wall, hiding her eyes from the light of his candle. He thought it
odd she should wear the dress in which she had appeared at dinner. But
it seemed indifferently fastened, and her hair was in disorder. Graham
stepped from his room.
"What is it?" Bobby demanded.
"You wouldn't wake up, Bobby. You were so hard to wake." The idea seemed
to fill her mind. She repeated it several times.
"It's nothing," Graham said. "Go back to your room, Katherine. She's
She lowered her hands. Her eyes were full of terror. "No. We have to go
to that room as I went last night, as we went to-day."
Graham tried to quiet her. "We'll go to satisfy you."
Her voice hardened. "I know. I was asleep. It woke me up, stealing in
across the court again."
Bobby grasped her arm. "You came out and aroused up at once?"
She shook her head. "I—I couldn't find my dressing gown. This dress was
by the bed. I put it on, but I couldn't seem to fasten it."
Bobby stepped back, remembering his last thought before drifting into the
trance-like sleep. She seemed to know what was in his mind.
"But when I knocked you were sleeping so soundly."
"Too soundly, perhaps."
"Come. We're growing imaginative," Graham said. "Howells would take care
of himself. He'll probably give us the deuce for disturbing him, but to
satisfy you, Katherine, we'll wake him up."
"If you can," she whispered.
They entered the main hall. Light came through the stair well from the
lower floor. Graham walked to the rail and glanced down. Bobby followed
him. On the table by the fireplace the cards were arranged in neat
piles. A strong draft blew cigarette smoke up to them.
"Paredes," Graham said, amazed, "is still downstairs. The front door's
open. He's probably in the court."
"It must be very late," Bobby said.
"Half-past two. I looked at my watch. The same time as last night."
With a gesture of resolution she led the way into the corridor. Bobby
shrank from the damp and musty atmosphere of the narrow passage.
"Why do you come, Katherine?" he asked.
"I have to know, as I had to know last night."
Graham raised his hand and knocked at the door which again was locked on
the inside. The echoes chattered back at them. Graham knocked again. With
a passionate revolt Katherine raised her hands, too, and pounded at the
panels. Suddenly she gave up. She let her hands fall listlessly.
"It's no use."
"Howells! Howells!" Graham called. "Why don't you answer?"
"When he boasted to-night," Katherine whispered, "the murderer
"Suppose he's gone down to the library?" Graham said.
Bobby gave Katherine the candle.
"No. He'd have stayed. We've got to break in here. We've got to
Graham placed his powerful shoulder against the door. The lock strained.
Bobby added his weight. With a splintering of wood the door flew open,
precipitating them across the threshold. Through the darkness Graham
sprang for the opposite door.
"It's locked," he called, "and the key's on this side."
Bobby took the candle from Katherine and forced himself to approach the
bed. The flame flickered a little in the breeze which stole past the
curtain of the open window. It shook across the body of Howells, fully
clothed with his head on the stained pillow. His face, intricately lined,
was as peaceful as Silas Blackburn's had been. Its level smile persisted.
Bobby caught his breath.
He set the candle on the bureau.
"It's no use. We must look at the back of his head."
"The back of his head!" Katherine echoed.
"It's illegal," Graham said.
"Look!" Bobby cried. "We've got to look!"
Graham tiptoed forward. He stretched out his hand. With a motion of
abhorrence he drew it back. Bobby watched him hypnotically, thinking:
"I wanted this. I hated him. I thought of it just before I went to
Graham reached out again. This time he touched Howells's head. It rolled
over on the pillow.
"Good God!" he said.
They stared at the red hole, near the base of the brain, at a fresh
crimson splotch, straying beyond the edges of the darker one they had
seen that afternoon.
Graham turned away, his hand still outstretched, as if it had touched
some poisonous thing and might retain a contamination.
"He was prepared against it," he whispered, "expected it, yet it got
He glanced rapidly around the room whose shadows seemed crowding about
the candle to stifle it.
"Unless we're all mad," he cried, "the murderer must be hidden in this
room now. Don't you see? He's got to be, or Groom's right, and we're
fighting the dead. Go out, Katherine. Stand by that broken door, Bobby.
I'm going to look."
A STRANGE LIGHT APPEARS AT THE DESERTED HOUSE
Graham's intention, logical as it was, impressed Bobby as quite futile.
Silas Blackburn had died in this ancient, melancholy room behind locked
doors. This afternoon, with a repetition of the sounds that had probably
accompanied his death, they had been drawn to find that, behind locked
doors again, the position of the body had changed incredibly, as if to
expose to them the tiny fatal wound at the base of the brain. Now for the
third time those stealthy movements had aroused Katherine, and they had
found, once more behind locked doors, the determined and malicious
detective, murdered precisely as old Blackburn had been.
Of course Graham was logical. By every rational argument the murderer
must still be in the room. Yet Bobby foresaw that, as always, no one
would be found, that nothing would be unearthed to explain the succession
of tragic mysteries. While Graham commenced his search, indeed, he
continued to stare at the little round hole in Howells's head, at the
fresh, irregular stain on the pillow, and he became absorbed in his own
predicament. Again and again he asked himself if he could be responsible
for these murders which had been committed with an inhuman ingenuity. He
knew only that he had wandered, unconscious, in the vicinity of the
Cedars last night; that he had been asleep when his grandfather's body
had altered its position; that he had gone to sleep a little while ago
too profoundly, brooding over Howells's challenge to the murderer to
invade the room of death and kill him if he could. Howells had been
confident that he could handle a man and so solve the riddle of how the
room had been entered. Certainly Howells's challenge had been accepted,
and Bobby knew that he had fallen into that deep sleep hating the
detective, telling himself that the man's death might save him from
arrest, from conviction, from an intolerable walk to a little room with a
"Recurrent aphasia." The doctor's expression came back to him. In such a
state a man could overcome locked doors, could accomplish apparent
miracles and retain no recollection. And Bobby had hated and feared
Howells more than he had his grandfather.
Dully he saw Katherine go out at Graham's direction. As one in a dream he
moved toward the door they had had to break down on entering.
"Stand close to it," Graham said. "We'll cover everything."
"You'll find no one," Bobby answered with a perfect assurance.
He saw Graham take the candle and explore the large closets. He watched
him examine the spaces behind the window curtains. He could smile a
little as Graham stooped, peering beneath the bed, as he moved each piece
of furniture large enough to secrete a man.
"You see, Hartley, it's no use."
Graham's lack of success, however, stimulated his anger.
"Then," he said, "there must be some hiding place in the walls. Such
devices are common in houses as old as this."
Bobby indicated the silent form of the detective.
"He believed I killed my grandfather. The only reason he didn't arrest me
was his failure to find out how the room had been entered and left. Don't
you suppose he looked for a hiding place or a secret entrance the first
thing? It's obvious."
But Graham's savage determination increased. He sounded each panel. None
gave the slightest revealing response. He got a tape from Katherine and
measured the dimensions of the room, the private hall, and the corridor.
At last he turned to Bobby, his anger dead, his face white and tired.
"Everything checks," he admitted. "There's no secret room, no way in or
out. Logically Groom's right. We're fighting the dead who resent the
intrusion of your grandfather and Howells."
He laughed mirthlessly.
"After all, we can't surrender to that. There must be another answer."
"From the first Howells was satisfied with me," Bobby said.
Graham flung up his hands.
"Then tell me how you got in without disturbing those locks. I grant you,
Bobby, you had sufficient motive for both murders, but I don't believe
you have two personalities, one decent and lovable, the other cruel and
cunning to the point of magic. I don't believe if a man had two such
personalities the actions of one would be totally closed to the memory of
Bobby smiled wanly.
"It isn't pleasant to confess it, Hartley, but I have read of such
"I wish to the devil I had shared your room with you to-night," Graham
muttered. "I might have furnished you an alibi for this affair at least."
"Either that," Bobby answered frankly, "or you might have followed me and
learned the whole secret. Honestly, isn't that what you were thinking of,
Hartley? And I did go to sleep, telling myself it would help me if
something of the sort happened to Howells. Now I'm not so sure that it
will. I—I suppose you've got to notify the police."
Graham held up his hand.
"What's that? In the corridor!"
There were quiet footsteps in the corridor. Bobby turned quickly,
Paredes strolled slowly through the passage, a cigarette held in his
slender, listless fingers. Bobby stared at him, remembering his surprise
a few minutes ago that the Panamanian should have sat up so late, should
have been, probably, in the court when they had followed Katherine to the
discovery of this new crime.
Paredes paused in the doorway. He took in the tragic picture framed by
the sinister room without displaying the slightest interest. He continued
to hold his cigarette until it expired. Then he crossed the threshold.
Graham and Bobby watched the expressionless face. Gracefully Paredes
raised his finger and pointed to the bed. When he spoke his voice was low
"Appalling! I feared something of the kind when I heard you come to
He glanced at the broken door.
"The same unbelievable circumstance," he drawled. "I see you had to
The colour flashed back to Graham's face.
"You have taken plenty of time to solve your misgivings."
"It hasn't been so long. I fancied everything was all right, and I was
immersed in my solitaire. Then I heard a stirring upstairs. As I've told
you, the house frightens me. It is not natural or healthy. So I came up
to investigate this stirring, and there was Miss Katherine in the hall.
She told me."
Graham faced him with undisguised enmity.
"Immersed in your solitaire! We were attracted by a light in the lower
hall at such an hour. We looked down. You were not there. The front door
Paredes glanced at his cold cigarette. He yawned.
"When Howells died precisely as Mr. Blackburn did," Graham hurried on,
"you alone were awake about the house. Weren't you at that moment in
Paredes laughed tolerantly.
"It is clear, in spite of my apologies, that we are not friends, Graham;
but, may I ask, are you accusing me of this strange—accident?"
"I should like to know what you were doing in the court."
"Perhaps," Paredes answered, "I was attracted there by the sounds that
aroused Miss Katherine."
Graham shook his head.
"From her description I doubt if those sounds would have been audible in
"No matter," Paredes said. "I merely suggest that it's a case for Groom.
His hint of a spiritual enmity may be saner than you think."
Katherine appeared in the doorway. She had evidently overheard Paredes's
comment, for she nodded. The determination in her eyes suggested that she
had struggled with the situation during these last moments and had
reached a definite conclusions That quality was in her voice.
"At least, Hartley," she said, "you must send for Doctor Groom before
you notify the police."
Graham waved his hand.
"Why?" he asked. "The man is dead."
With a movement, hidden from Paredes, she indicated Bobby.
"Last time there was a good deal of delay before the doctor came. If we
get him right away he may be able to do something for this poor fellow.
At least his advice would be useful."
Bobby realized that she was fighting for time for him. Any delay would be
useful that would give them a chance to plan before the police with
unimaginative efficiency should invade the house and limit their
opportunities. Graham showed that he caught her point.
"Maybe it's better," he said. "Then, Bobby, telephone Groom to be ready
for you, and take my runabout. It's in the stable. You'll get him here
much faster than he could come in his carriage."
"While I'm gone," Bobby asked, "what will you do?"
"Watch this room," Graham jerked out. "See that no one enters or leaves
it, or touches the body. I'll hope for some clue."
"You've plenty of courage," Paredes drawled. "I shouldn't care to watch
alone in this room."
He followed Katherine into the corridor. Bobby looked at Graham.
"You'll take no chances, Hartley?"
Graham's smile wasn't pleasant.
"According to you and the dead detective there's no risk while you're out
of the house. Still, I shall be nervous, but don't worry."
Bobby joined the others before they had reached the hall.
"Of course Hartley found nothing," Katherine said to him.
"Nothing," Paredes answered, "except a very bad temper."
Katherine's distaste for the man was no longer veiled.
"You don't like Mr. Graham," she said, "but he is our friend, and he is
in this house to help us."
"I regret that the amusement Mr. Graham causes me sometimes finds
expression. He is so earnest, so materialistic in his relation to the
world. That is why he will see nothing psychic in the situation."
Paredes's easy contempt was like a tonic for Katherine. Her fear seemed
to drop from her. She turned purposefully to Bobby, ignoring the
"I shall watch with Hartley," she said.
He was ashamed that jealousy should creep into such a moment, but her
resolve recalled his amorous discontent. The prospect of Graham and her,
watching alone, drawn to each other by their fright and uncertainty, by
their surroundings, by the hour, became unbearable. It placed him, to an
extent, on Paredes's side. It urged him, when Paredes had gone on
downstairs, to spring almost eagerly to his defence.
"As Hartley says," Katherine began, "he makes you think of a snake. He
must see we dislike and resent him."
"You and Hartley, perhaps," Bobby said. "Carlos says he is here to help
me. I've no reason to disbelieve him."
A little colour came into Katherine's face. She half stretched out her
hand as if in an appeal. But the colour faded and her hand dropped.
"We are wasting time," she said. "You had better go."
"I am sorry we disagree about Carlos," he commenced.
She turned deliberately away from him.
"You must hurry," she said. "Hurry!"
He saw her enter the corridor to join Graham. The obscurity of the narrow
place seemed to hold for him a new menace.
He walked downstairs slowly. While he telephoned, instructing a servant
to tell the doctor to be dressed and ready in twenty minutes, he saw
Paredes go to the closet and get his hat and coat.
"I shall keep you company," the Panamanian announced.
Bobby was glad enough to have him. He didn't want to be alone. He was
aware by this time that no amount of thought would persuade useful
memories to emerge from the black pit. They walked to the stable, half
gone to ruin like the rest of the estate. Bobby started Graham's car. The
servants' quarters, he saw, were dark. Then Jenkins and the two women
hadn't been aroused, were still ignorant of the new crime. As they drove
smoothly past the gloomy house they glimpsed through the court the dimly
lit windows of the old room that persistently guarded its grim secret.
Bobby pictured the living as well as the dead there, and his mind
revolted, and he shivered. He opened the throttle wider. The car sprang
forward. The divergent glare from the headlights forced back the
reluctant thicket. Paredes drawled unexpectedly:
"There is nothing as lonely anywhere in the world."
He stooped behind the windshield and lighted a cigarette.
"At least. Bobby," he said between puffs, "the Cedars has taken from you
the fear of Howells."
And after a time, staring at the glow of his cigarette, he went on
"Have you noticed anything significant about the discovery of each
mystery at the Cedars?"
"Many things," Bobby muttered.
"Think," Paredes urged him.
Bobby answered angrily:
"You've suggested that to me once to-day, Carlos. You mean that each time
I have been asleep or unconscious."
"I mean something quite different," Paredes said.
He hesitated. When he continued, his drawl was more pronounced.
"Then you haven't remarked that each time it has been Miss Katherine who
has made the discovery, who has aroused the rest of the house?"
The car swerved sharply. Bobby's first impulse had been to take his hands
from the wheel, to force Paredes to retract his sly insinuation.
"That's the rottenest thing I've ever known you to do, Carlos.
Take it back."
Paredes shrugged his shoulders.
"There is nothing to take back. I accuse no one. I merely call attention
to a chain of exceptional coincidences."
"You make me wonder," Bobby said, "if Hartley isn't justified in his
dislike of you. You'll kill such a ridiculous suspicion."
"Or?" Paredes drawled. "Very well. It seems my fate recently to offend
those I like best. I merely thought that any theory leading away from you
would be welcome."
"Any theory," Bobby answered, "involving Katherine is unthinkable."
"I didn't understand exactly how you felt. I rather took it for granted
that Graham—Never mind. I take it back."
"Then drop it," Bobby answered sullenly, sorry that there was nothing
else he could say.
They continued in silence through the deserted forest whose aggressive
loneliness made words seem trivial. Bobby was asking himself again where
he had stood last night when he had glimpsed for a moment the straining
trees and the figure in a mask which he had called his conscience. If he
could only prove that figure substantial! Then Graham would have some
ground for his suspicion of Paredes and the dancer Maria. He glanced at
Paredes. Could there have been a conspiracy against him in the New York
cafe? Did Paredes, in fact, have some devious purpose in remaining at
The automobile took a sharp curve in the road. Bobby started, gazing
ahead with an interest nearly hypnotic. The headlights had caught in
their glare the deserted farmhouse in which he had awakened just before
Howells had told him of his grandfather's death and practically placed
him under arrest. In the white light the frame of the house from which
the paint had flaked, appeared ghastly, unreal, like a structure seen in
a nightmare from which one recoils with morbid horror. The light left the
building. As the car tore past, Bobby could barely make out the black
mass in the midst of the thicket.
Paredes had observed it, too.
"I daresay," he remarked casually, "the Cedars will become as deserted as
that. It is just that it should, for the entire neighbourhood impresses
one as unfriendly to life, as striving through death to drive life out."
"Have you ever seen that house before?" Bobby asked quickly.
"I have never seen it before. I do not care ever to see it again."
It was a relief when the forest thinned and fields stretched, flat and
pleasant, like barriers against the stunted growth. Bobby stopped the car
in front of one of a group of houses at a crossroads. He climbed the
steps and rang. Doctor Groom opened the door himself. His gigantic, hairy
figure was silhouetted against the light from within.
"What's the matter now?" he demanded in his gruff voice. "Fortunately I
hadn't gone to bed. I was reading some books on psychic manifestations.
Who's sick? Or—"
Bobby's face must have told him a good deal, for he broke off.
"Get your things on," Bobby said, "and I will tell you as we drive
back, for you must come. Howells has been killed precisely as my
For a moment Doctor Groom's bulky frame remained motionless in the
doorway. Instead of the surprise and horror Bobby had foreseen, the old
man expressed only a mute wonder. He got his hat and coat and entered the
runabout, Paredes made room for him, sitting on the floor, his feet on
the running board.
Bobby had told all he knew before they had reached the forest. The doctor
"The wound at the back of the head was the same as in your
"Then what good am I? Why am I routed out?"
"A formality," Bobby answered. "Katherine thought if we got you quickly
you might do something. Anyway, she wanted your advice."
The woods closed about them. Again the lights seemed to push back a
"I can't work miracles," the doctor was murmuring. "I can't bring men
back to life. Such a wound leaves no ground for hope. You'd better have
sent for the police at once. Hello!"
He strained forward, peering around the windshield.
"Funny!" Paredes called.
Bobby's eyes were on the road.
"What do you see?"
"The house, Bobby!" Paredes cried.
"No one, to my certain knowledge," the doctor said, "has lived in that
house for ten years. You say it was empty and falling to pieces when you
woke up there this morning."
Bobby knew what they meant then, and he reduced the speed of the car and
looked ahead to the right. A pallid glow sifted through the trees from
the direction of the deserted house.
Bobby guided the car to the side of the road, stopped it, and shut off
the engine. At first no one moved. The three men stared as if in the
presence of an unaccountable phenomenon. Even when Bobby had
extinguished the headlights the glow failed to brighten. Its pallid
quality persisted. It seemed to radiate from a point close to the ground.
"It comes from the front of the house," Bobby murmured.
He stepped from the automobile.
"What are you going to do?" Paredes wanted to know.
"Find out who is in that house."
For Bobby had experienced a quick hope. If there was a man or a woman
secreted in the building the truth as to his own remarkable presence
there last night might not be so far to seek after all. There was,
moreover, something lawless about this light escaping from the place at
such an hour. A little while ago, when Paredes and he had driven past,
the house had been black. They had remarked its lonely, abandoned
appearance. It had led Paredes to speak of the neighbourhood as the
domain of death. Yet the strange, pallid quality of the light itself made
him pause by the broken fence. It did come from the lower part of the
front of the house, yet, so faint was it, it failed to outline the
aperture through which it escaped. The doctor and Paredes joined him.
"When I was here," he said, "all the shutters were closed. This glow is
too white, too diffused. We must see."
As he started forward Paredes grasped his arm.
"There are too many of us. We would make a noise. Suppose I creep up and
"There is one way in—at the back," Bobby told the doctor. "Let us go
there. We'll have whoever's inside trapped. Meantime, Carlos, if he
wishes, will steal up to the front; he'll find out where the light comes
from. He'll look in if he can."
"That's the best plan," Paredes agreed.
But they had scarcely turned the corner of the house, beyond reach of the
glow, when Paredes rejoined them. His feet were no longer careful in the
underbrush. He came up running. For the first time in their acquaintance
Bobby detected a lessening of the man's suave, unemotional habit.
"The light!" the Panamanian gasped. "It's gone! Before I could get close
it faded out."
Bobby called to the doctor and ran toward the door at the rear. It was
unhinged and half open as it had been when he had awakened to his painful
and inexplicable predicament. He went through, fumbling in his pocket for
matches. The damp chill of the hall nauseated him as it had done before,
seemed to place about his throat an intangible band that made breathing
difficult. Before he could get his match safe out the doctor had struck a
wax vesta. Its strong flame played across the dingy, streaked walls.
"There's a flashlight, Carlos," Bobby said, "in the door flap of the
Paredes started across the yard with a haste, it seemed to Bobby,
Striking matches as they went, the doctor and Bobby hurried to the front
of the house. The rooms appeared undisturbed in their decay. The shutters
were closed. The front door was barred. The broken walls from which the
plaster hung in shreds leered at them.
Suddenly Bobby turned, grasping the doctor's arm.
"Did you hear anything?"
The doctor shook his head.
"Or feel anything?"
"I thought," Bobby said excitedly, "that there was some one in the
hall. I—I simply got that impression, for I saw nothing myself. My
back was turned."
Paredes strolled silently in.
"It may have been Mr. Paredes," the doctor said.
But Bobby wasn't convinced.
"Did you see or hear anything coming through the hall, Carlos?"
"No," Paredes said.
He had brought the light. With its help they explored the tiny cellar and
the upper floor. There was no sign of a recent occupancy. Everything was
as Bobby had found it on awakening. A vagrant wind sighed about the
place. They looked at each other with startled eyes. They filed out with
an incongruous stealth.
"Then there are ghosts here, too!" Paredes whispered.
"Who knows?" Doctor Groom mused. "It is as puzzling as anything that has
happened at the Cedars unless the light we saw was some phosphorescent
effect of decaying wood or vegetation."
"Then why should it go out all at once?" Bobby asked. "Is there any
connection between this light and what has happened at the Cedars?"
"The house at least," Paredes put in, "is connected with what has
happened at the Cedars through your experience here."
At Doctor Groom's suggestion they sat in the automobile for some time,
watching the house for a repetition of the pallid light. After several
minutes, when it failed to come, Bobby set his gears.
"Graham and Katherine will be worried."
They drove quickly away from the black, uncommunicative mass of the
abandoned building. The woods were lonelier than before. They impressed
Bobby as guarding something.
He drove straight to the stable. As they walked into the court they saw
the uncertain candlelight diffused from the room of death. In the hall
Bobby responded to a quick alarm. The Cedars was too quiet. What had
happened since he and Paredes had left?
"Katherine! Hartley!" he called.
He heard running steps upstairs. Katherine leaned over the banister. Her
quiet voice reassured him. "Is the doctor with you?"
He nodded. Paredes yawned and lighted a cigarette. He settled himself in
an easy chair. Bobby and Doctor Groom hurried up. Katherine led them down
the old corridor. Two chairs had been placed in the broken doorway.
Graham sat there. He arose and greeted the doctor.
"Nothing has happened since I left?" Bobby asked.
Graham shook his head.
"Katherine and I have watched every minute."
Doctor Groom walked to the bed and for a long time looked down at
Howells. Once he put out his hand, quickly withdrawing it.
"It's simply a repetition," he said at last, and his voice was softer
than its custom. "It may be a warning, for all we know, that no one may
sleep in this room without attracting death. Yet why should that be? I
miss this poor fellow's materialistic viewpoint. There's nothing I can do
for him, nothing I can say, except that death must have been
instantaneous. The police must seek again for a man to place in the
Graham touched his arm with an odd reluctance.
"Sitting here for so long I've been thinking. I have always been
materialistic, too. Tell me seriously, doctor, do you believe there is
any psychic force capable of killing two men in this incisive fashion?"
"No one," the doctor answered, "can say what psychic force is capable of
doing. Some scientists have started to explore, but it is still uncharted
country. From certain places—I daresay you've noticed it—one gets an
impression of peace and content; from others a depression, a sense of
suffering. I think we have all experienced psychic force to that extent.
Remember that this room has a history of intense and rebellious
suffering. Some of it I have seen with my own eyes. Your father's fight
for life, Katherine, was horrible for those of us who knew he had no
chance. As I watched beside him I used to wonder if such violent agony
could ever drift wholly into silence, and when we had to tell him finally
that the fight was lost, it was beyond bearing."
"If these men had been found dead without marks of violence," Graham
said, "I might consider such a possibility, irrational as it seems."
"Irrational," Doctor Groom answered, "must not be confused with
impossible. The marks of a physical violence, far from proving that the
attack was physical, strengthens the case of the supernatural. Certainly
you have heard and read of pictures being dashed from walls by invisible
hands, of objects moved about empty rooms, of cases where human beings
have been attacked by inanimate things—heavy things—hurtling through
the air. Some scientists recognize such irrational possibilities.
"Very well," Graham said stubbornly. "I'll follow you that far, but you
must show me in this room the sharp object with which these men were
attacked, no matter what the force behind it."
The doctor spread his hands. His infused eyes nearly closed.
"That I can't do. At any rate, Robert, this isn't wholly tragic to you. I
don't see how any one could accuse you of aphasia to-night."
"You've not forgotten," Bobby said slowly, "that you spoke of a
"That's the trouble," Graham put in under his breath. "He has no more
alibi now than he had when his grandfather was murdered."
Bobby told of his heavy sleep, of the delay in Katherine's arousing him.
The doctor's gruff voice was disapproving.
"You shouldn't have drunk that medicine. It had stood too long. It would
only have approximated its intended effect."
"You mean," Bobby asked, "that I wasn't sleeping as soundly as I
"Probably not, but you're by no means a satisfactory victim. Men do
unaccountable things in a somnambulistic state, but asleep they haven't
wings any more than they have awake. You've got to show us how you
entered this room without disturbing the locks. Now, Mr. Graham, we must
comply with the law. Call in the police."
"There's nothing else to do," Bobby agreed.
So they went along the dingy corridor and downstairs. From the depths of
the easy chair in which Paredes lounged smoke curled with a lazy
indifference. The Panamanian didn't move.
While Graham and the doctor walked to the back of the hall to telephone,
Katherine, an anxious figure, a secretive one, beckoned Bobby to the
library. He went with her, wondering what she could want.
It was quite dark in the library. As Bobby fumbled with the lamp and
prepared to strike a match he was aware of the girl's provocatively near
presence. He resisted a warm impulse to reach out and touch her hand. He
desired to tell her all that was in his heart of the division that had
increased between them the last few months. Yet to follow that impulse
would, he realized, place a portion of his burden on her shoulders; would
also, in a sense, be disloyal to Graham, for he no longer questioned that
the two had reached a definite sentimental understanding. So he sighed
and struck the match. Even before the lamp was lighted Katherine was
speaking with a feverish haste:
"Before the police come—you've a chance, Bobby—the last chance. You
must do before the police arrive whatever is to be done."
He replaced the shade and glanced at her, astonished by her intensity, by
the forceful gesture with which she grasped his arm. For the first time
since Silas Blackburn's murder all of her vitality had come back to her.
"What do you mean?"
She pointed to the door of the private staircase.
"Just what Howells told you before he went up there to his death."
Bobby understood. He reacted excitedly to her attitude of conspirator.
"He said," she went on, "that the criminal had nothing to lose. That it
would be to his advantage to have him out of the way, to destroy that
"I thought of it," Bobby answered, "just before I went to sleep."
"Don't you see?" she said. "If you had killed him you would have taken
the cast and the handkerchief and destroyed them? Hartley has told me
everything, and I could see his coat for myself. The cast and the
handkerchief are still in Howells's pocket."
"Why should I have killed him if not to destroy those?" Bobby took her up
with a quick hope.
"You didn't," she cried. "Nothing would ever make me believe
that you killed him, but you will be charged with it unless the
evidence—disappears. You'll have no defence."
Bobby drew back a little.
"You want me to go there—and—and take from his pocket those things?"
"You remember he suggested that he hadn't sent his report. That may be
Bobby shook his head. "He must have said that as a bait."
"At the worst," she urged, "a report without evidence could only turn
suspicion against you. It wouldn't convict you as those other things may.
You must get them. You must destroy them."
Graham slipped quietly in and closed the door.
"The district attorney is coming himself with another detective," he
said. "I can guess what Katherine has been talking about. She's right.
I'm a lawyer, an I know the penalty of tampering with evidence. But I
don't believe you're a murderer, and I tell you as long as that evidence
exists they can convict you. They can send you to the chair. They may
arrest you and try you anyway on his report, but I don't believe they can
convict you on it alone. You're justified in protecting yourself, Bobby,
in the only way you can. No one will see you go in the room. We'll
arrange it so that no one can testify against you."
Bobby felt himself at a cross roads. During the commission of those
crimes he had been unconscious. If he had, in fact, had anything to do
with them, his personality, his real self, had known nothing, had done no
wrong. His body had merely reacted to hideous promptings whose source
lurked at the bottom of the black pit. To tamper with evidence would be a
conscious crime. All the more, because of his doubt of himself, he shrank
from that. Katherine saw his hesitation.
"It's a matter of your life or death."
But although Katherine decided him it wasn't with that. She came closer.
She looked straight at him, and her eyes were full of an affection that
stirred him profoundly:
"For my sake, Bobby—"
He studied the dead ashes of the fire which a little while ago had
played on Howells, vital and antagonistic, by the door of the private
staircase. The man had challenged him to do just the thing from which he
shrank. But Howells was no longer vital or antagonistic, and it occurred
to him that a little of his shrinking arose from the thought of
approaching and robbing the still thing upstairs, all that was left of
the man who had not been afraid of the mystery of the locked room.
"For my sake," Katherine repeated.
Bobby squared his shoulders. He fought back his momentary cowardice. The
affection in Katherine's eyes was stronger than that.
"All right," he said. "Howells never gave me a chance while he was alive.
He'll have to now he's dead."
Katherine relaxed. Graham's face was quite white, but he gave his
instructions in a cold, even tone:
"We'll go to the hall now. Katherine will go on upstairs. She mustn't see
you enter the room, but she will watch in the corridor while you are
there to be sure you aren't disturbed. You and I will chat for awhile
with the others, Bobby, then you will go up. You understand? Paredes
mustn't even guess what you are doing. I'll keep him and Groom
downstairs. If he spied, if he knew what you were at, he'd have a weapon
in his hands I'd hate to think about. He may be all right, but we can't
risk any more than we have to. We must go on tiptoe."
He opened the door. Katherine gave Bobby's hand a quick,
"Take the stuff to my room," Graham whispered. "The first chance, we'll
destroy it so that no trace will be left."
They went to the hall. Without speaking, Katherine climbed the stairs.
Graham drew a chair between Paredes and the doctor. Bobby lounged against
the mantel, trying to find in the Panamanian's face some clue as to his
real feelings. But Paredes's eyes were closed. His hand drooped across
the chair arm. His slender, pointed fingers held, as if from mere habit,
a lifeless cigarette.
"Asleep," Graham whispered.
Without opening his eyes Paredes spoke: "No; I feel curiously awake."
Doctor Groom glanced at his watch. "The powers of prosecution," he
grumbled, "ought to be here within the next fifteen or twenty minutes."
Bobby glanced at Graham. Then it wasn't safe to delay too long. More and
more as he waited he shrank from the invasion of the room of death. The
prospect of reaching out and touching the still, cold thing on the bed
revolted him. Was there anything in that room capable of forbidding his
intention? Was there, in short, a surer, more malicious force for evil
than his unconscious self, at work in the house? He was about to make
some formal comment to the others, to embark on his distasteful
adventure, when Paredes, as if he had read Bobby's mind, opened his
eyes, languidly left his chair, and walked to the foot of the stairs.
"Where you going?" Graham asked sharply.
Paredes waved his hand indifferently and walked on up. There was
something of stealth in his failure to reply, in his cat-like tread on
the stairs. Graham and Bobby stared after him, unable to meet this new
situation audibly because of Groom. Yet five minutes had gone. There was
no time to be lost. Paredes mustn't rob Bobby of his chance. With a sort
of desperation he started for the stairs. Graham held out his hand as if
to restrain him, then nodded. Bobby had his foot on the first step when
Katherine's cry reached them, shaping the moment to their use. For there
was no fright in her cry. It was, rather, angry. And Bobby and Graham ran
up while Doctor Groom remained in his chair, an expression of blank
amazement on his face.
A candle burned on the table in the upper hall. Katherine and Paredes
stood near the entrance of the old corridor. Paredes, as usual, was quite
unruffled. Katherine's attitude was defensive. She seemed to hold the
corridor against him. The anger of her cry was active in her eyes.
Paredes laughed lightly.
"Sorry to have given the household one more shock. Fortunately no
"What is it, Katherine?" Graham demanded.
"I don't know," she answered. "He startled me. He entered the corridor."
"Quite right. She was there. I was on my way to my room. If your house
had electricity, Bobby, this incident would have been avoided. I saw
something dark in the corridor."
"You may not know," Graham said, "that ever since we found Howells, one
of us has tried, more or less, to keep the entrance of that room under
"Yet you were all downstairs a little while ago," Paredes yawned. "It's
too bad. I might have taken my turn then. At any rate, since I was
excluded from your confidence, I overcame my natural fear, and, for
Bobby's sake, slipped in, and, I am afraid, startled Miss Katherine."
"Yes," she said.
His explanation was reasonable. There was nothing more to be said, but
Bobby's doubt of his friend, sown by Graham and stimulated by the
incidents of the last hour, was materially strengthened. He felt a
sharp fear of Paredes. Such reserve, such concealment of emotion, was
"If," Graham was saying, "you really want to help Bobby, there is
something you can do. Will you come downstairs with me for a moment? I'd
like to suggest one or two things before the police arrive."
Without hesitation Paredes followed Graham down the stairs.
Katherine turned immediately to Bobby, her eyes eager, full of the tense
determination that had dictated her plan in the library.
"Now, Bobby!" she whispered. "And there's no time to waste. They may be
here any minute. I won't see you go, but I'll be back at once to guard
you against Paredes if he slips up again."
She walked across the hall and disappeared in the newer corridor. Without
witness he faced the old corridor, and with the attempt directly ahead
his repugnance achieved a new power. The black entrance with its scarcely
dared memories reminded him that what he was about to do was directed
against more than human law, was an outrage against the dead man. He had
to remind himself of the steely purpose with which Howells had marked him
as the murderer; and the man's power persisted after death. In such a
contest he was justified.
He took the candle from the table. Through the stair-well the murmur of
Graham's voice, occasionally interrupted by Groom's heavy tones or the
languid accents of Paredes, drifted encouragingly. Trying to crush his
premonitions, Bobby entered the corridor. Instead of illuminating the
narrow passage the candle seemed half smothered by its blackness. For the
first time in his memory Bobby faced the entrance of the sinister room
alone. He pushed open the broken door. He paused on the threshold. It
impressed him as not unnatural that he should experience such misgivings.
They sprang not alone from the fact that within twenty-four hours two men
had died unaccountably within these faded walls. Nor did the evidence
pointing to his own unconscious guilt wholly account for them. At the
bottom of everything was the fact that from his earliest childhood he had
looked upon the room as consecrated to death; had consequently feared it;
had, he recalled, always hurried past the disused corridor leading in its
Through its wide spaces the light of the candle scarcely penetrated. No
more than an indefinite radiance thrust back the obscurity and outlined
the bed. He could barely see the stark, black form outstretched there.
The dim, vast room, as he advanced, imposed upon him a sense of
isolation. Katherine in the upper hall, the others downstairs, whose
voices no longer reached him, seemed all at once far away. He stood in a
place lonelier and more remote than the piece of woods where he had
momentarily opened his eyes last night; and, instead of the straining
trees and the figure in the black mask which he had called his
conscience, he had for motion and companionship only the swaying of the
curtains in the breeze from the open window and the dark, prostrate thing
whose face as he went closer was like a white mask—a mask with a fixed
and malevolent sneer.
The wind caught the flame of the candle, making it flicker. Tenuous
shadows commenced to dance across the walls. He paused with a tightening
throat, for the form on the bed seemed moving, too, with sly and scarcely
perceptible gestures. Then he understood. It was the effect of the
shaking candle, and he forced himself to go on, but a sense of a multiple
companionship accompanied him—a sense of a shapeless, soundless
companionship that projected an idea of a steady regard. There swept
through his mind a procession of figures in quaint dress and with faces
not unlike his own, remembered from portraits and family legends, men and
women to whom this room had been familiar, within whose limits they had
suffered, cried out a too-powerful agony, and died. It seemed to him that
he waited for voices to guide him, to urge him on as Katherine had urged
him, or to drive him back, because he was an intruder in a company whose
habit was strange and terrifying.
He forced his glance from the shadows which seemed more active along the
walls. He raised his candle and stared at the dead man. The cast was
undoubtedly there. The coat, stretched tightly across the breast,
outlined it. He stood at the side of the bed. He had only to bend and
place his hand in the pocket which the cast filled awkwardly. The wind
alone, he saw, wasn't responsible for the shaking of the candle. His hand
shook as the shadows shook, as the thing on the bed shook. The sense of
loneliness grew upon him until it became complete, appalling. For the
first time he understood that loneliness can possess a ponderable
quality. It was, he felt, potent and active in the room—a thing he
couldn't understand, or challenge, or overcome.
His hand tightened. He thought of Katherine guarding the corridor; of
Paredes and Doctor Groom, held downstairs by Graham; of the county
authorities hurrying to seize this evidence that would convict him; and
he realized that his duty and his excuse were clear. He understood that
just now he had been captured by a force undefinable in terms of the
world he knew. For a moment he eluded the stealthy fleshless hands of its
impalpable skirmishers. He reached impulsively out to the dead man. He
was about to place his fingers in the pocket, which, after all was said
and done, held his life.
In the light of the candle the face seemed alive and more menacing than
it had ever done in life. About the straight smile was a wider, more
The candle flickered sharply. It expired. The conquering blackness took
He told himself it was the draft from the window which was strong, but
the companionship of the night was closer and more numerous. The darkness
wreathed itself into mocking and tortuous bodies whose faces were hidden.
In an agony of revolt against these incorporeal, these fanciful horrors,
he reached in the pocket.
He sprang back with a choked, inaudible cry, for the dead thing beneath
his hand was stirring. The dead, cold thing with a languid and impossible
rebuke, moved beneath his touch. And the pocket he had felt was empty.
The coat, a moment ago bulging and awkward, was flat. There sprang to
his mind the mad thought that the detective, malevolent in life, had long
after death snatched from his hand the evidence, carefully gathered, on
which everything for him depended.
THE CRYING THROUGH THE WOODS
Bobby's inability to cry out alone prevented his alarming the others and
announcing to Paredes and Doctor Groom his unlawful presence in the room.
During the moment that the shock held him, silent, motionless, bent in
the darkness above the bed, he understood there could have been no
ambiguity about his ghastly and loathsome experience. The dead detective
had altered his position as Silas Blackburn had done, and this time
someone had been in the room and suffered the appalling change. Bobby's
fingers still responded to the charnel feeling of cold, inactive flesh
suddenly become alive and potent beneath his touch. And a reason for the
apparent miracle offered itself. Between the extinction of his candle and
the commencement of that movement!—only a second or so—the evidence had
disappeared from the detective's pocket.
Bobby relaxed. He stumbled across the room and into the corridor. He went
with hands outstretched through the blackness, for no candle burned in
the upper hall, but he knew that Katherine was on guard there. When he
left the passage he saw her, an unnatural figure herself, in the
yellowish, unhealthy twilight which sifted through the stair well from
the lamp in the hall below.
She must have sensed something out of the way immediately, for she
hurried to meet him and her whisper held no assurance.
"You got the cast and the handkerchief, Bobby?"
And when he didn't answer at once she asked with a sharp rush of fear:
"What's the matter? What's happened?"
He shuddered. At last he managed to speak.
"Katherine! I have felt death cease to be death."
Later he was to recall that phrase with a sicker horror than he
"You saw something!" she said. "But your candle is out. There is no light
in the room."
He took her hand. He pressed it.
"You're real!" he said with a nervous laugh. "Something I can understand.
Everything is unreal. This light—"
He strode to the table, found a match, and lighted his candle. Katherine,
as she saw his face, drew back.
"My candle went out," he said dully, "and he moved through the darkness.
I tell you he moved beneath my hand."
She drew farther away, staring at him.
"You were frightened—"
"No. If we go there with a light now," he said with the same dull
conviction, "we will find him as we found my grandfather this afternoon."
The monotonous voices of the three men in the lower hall weaved a
background for their whispers. The normal, familiar sound was like a
tonic. Bobby straightened. Katherine threw off the spell of his
"But the evidence! You got—"
She stared at his empty hands. He fancied that he saw contempt in her
"In spite of everything you must go back. You must get that."
"Even if I had the courage," he said wearily, "it would be no use, for
the evidence is gone."
"But I saw it. At least I saw his pocket—"
"It was there," he answered, "when my light went out. I did put my hand
in his pocket. In that second it had gone."
"There was no one there," she said, "no one but you, because I watched."
He leaned heavily against the wall.
"Good God, Katherine! It's too big. Whatever it is, we can't fight it."
She looked for some time down the corridor at the black entrance of the
sinister room. At last she turned and walked to the banister. She called:
"Hartley! Will you come up?"
Bobby wondered at the steadiness of her voice. The murmuring below
ceased. Graham ran up the stairs. Her summons had been warning enough.
Their attitudes, as Graham reached the upper hall, were eloquent of
"You didn't get the cast and the handkerchief?" he said.
Bobby told briefly what had happened.
"What is one to do?" he ended. "Even the dead are against me."
"It's beyond belief," Graham said roughly.
He snatched up the candle and entered the corridor. Uncertainly Katherine
and Bobby followed him. He went straight to the bed and thrust the candle
beneath the canopy. The others could see from the door the change that
had taken place. The body of Howells was turned awkwardly on its side.
The coat pocket was, as Bobby had described it, flat and empty.
Katherine turned and went back to the hall. Graham's hand shook as
Bobby's had shaken.
"No tricks, Bobby?"
Bobby couldn't resent the suspicion which appeared to offer the only
explanation of what had happened. The candle flickered in the draft.
"Look out!" Bobby warned.
The misshapen shadows danced with a multiple vivacity across the walls.
Graham shaded the candle flame, and the shadows became like morbid
decorations, gargantuan and motionless.
"It's madness," Graham said. "There's no explanation of this that we can
Howells's straight smile mocked them. As if in answer to Graham a voice
sighed through the room. Its quality was one with the shadows,
unsubstantial and shapeless. Bobby grasped one of the bed posts and
braced himself, listening. The candle in Graham's hand commenced to
flicker again, and Bobby knew that it hadn't been his fancy, for Graham
It shook again through the heavy, oppressive night, merely accentuated
by the candle—a faint ululation barely detaching itself from silence,
straying after a time into the silence again. At first it was like the
grief of a woman heard at a great distance. But the sound, while it
gained no strength, forced on them more and more an abhorrent sense of
intimacy. This crying from an infinite distance filled the room,
seemed finally to have its source in the room itself. After it had
sobbed thinly into nothing, its pulsations continued to sigh in
Bobby's ears. They seemed timed to the renewed and eccentric dancing
of the amorphous shadows.
Graham straightened and placed the candle on the bureau. He seemed
more startled than he had been at the unbelievable secretiveness of
a dead man.
"You heard it?" Bobby breathed.
"What was it? Where did you think it came from?" Bobby demanded. "It was
like someone mourning for this—this poor devil."
Graham couldn't disguise his effort to elude the sombre spell of the
room, to drive from his brain the illusion of that unearthly moaning.
"It must have come from outside the house," he answered "There's no use
giving way to fancies where there's a possible explanation. It must have
come from outside—from some woman in great agony of mind."
Bobby recalled his perception of a woman moving with a curious absence of
sound about the edges of the stagnant lake. He spoke of it to Graham.
"I couldn't be sure it was a woman, but there's no house within two
miles. What would a woman be doing wandering around the Cedars?"
"At any rate, there are three women in the house," Graham said,
"Katherine and the two servants, Ella and Jane. The maids are badly
frightened. It may have come from the servants' quarters. It must have
been one of them."
But Bobby saw that Graham didn't believe either of the maids had released
that poignant suffering.
"It didn't sound like a living voice," he said simply.
"Then how are we to take it?" Graham persisted angrily. "I shall question
Katherine and the two maids."
He took up the candle with a stubborn effort to recapture his old
forcefulness, but as they left the room the shadows thronged thickly
after them in ominous pursuit; and it wasn't necessary to question
Katherine. She stood in the corridor, her lips parted, her face white
"What was it?" she said. "That nearly silent grief?"
She put her hands to her ears, lowering them helplessly after a moment.
"Where did you think it came from?" Graham asked.
"From a long ways off," she answered. "Then I—I thought it must be in
the room with you, and I wondered if you saw—"
Graham shook his head.
"We saw nothing. It was probably Ella or Jane. They've been badly
frightened. Perhaps a nightmare, or they've heard us moving around the
front part of the house. I am going to see."
Katherine and Bobby followed him downstairs. Doctor Groom and Paredes
stood in front of the fireplace, questioningly looking upward. Paredes
didn't speak at first, but Doctor Groom burst out in his grumbling,
"What's been going on up there?"
"Did you hear just now a queer crying?" Graham asked.
"I've heard nothing," Paredes answered, "except Doctor Groom's
disquieting theories. It's an uncanny hour for such talk. What kind of a
cry—may I ask?"
"Like a woman moaning," Bobby said, "and, Doctor, Howells has changed his
"What are you talking about?" the doctor cried.
"He has turned on his side as Mr. Blackburn did," Graham told him.
Paredes glanced at Bobby.
"And how was this new mystery discovered?"
Bobby caught the implication. Then the Panamanian clung to his slyly
expressed doubt of Katherine which might, after all, have had its impulse
in an instinct of self-preservation. Bobby knew that Graham and Katherine
would guard the fashion in which the startling discovery had been made.
Before he could speak for himself, indeed, Graham was answering Paredes:
"This crying seemed after a time to come from the room. We entered."
"But Miss Katherine called you up," Paredes said. "I supposed she had
heard again movements in the room."
Bobby managed a smile.
"You see, Carlos, nothing is consistent in this case."
Paredes bowed gravely.
"It is very curious a woman should cry about the house."
"The servants may make it seem natural enough," Graham said. "Will you
As they crossed the dining room they heard a stirring in the kitchen.
Graham threw open the door. Jenkins stood at the foot of the servants'
stairs. The old butler had lighted a candle and placed it on the mantel.
The disorder of his clothing suggested the haste with which he had left
his bed and come downstairs. His wrinkled, sunken face had aged
perceptibly. He advanced with an expression of obvious relief.
"I was just coming to find you, Mr. Robert."
"What's up?" Bobby asked. "A little while ago I thought you were all
asleep back here."
"One of the women awakened him," Graham said. "It's just as I thought."
"Was that it?" the old butler asked with a quick relief. But immediately
he shook his head. "It couldn't have been that, Mr. Graham, for I stopped
at Ella's and Jane's doors, and there was no sound. They seemed to be
asleep. And it wasn't like that."
"You mean," Bobby said, "that you heard a woman crying?"
Jenkins nodded. "It woke me up."
"If you didn't think it was one of the maids," Graham asked, "what did
you make of it?"
"I thought it came from outside. I thought it was a woman prowling around
the house. Then I said to myself, why should a woman prowl around the
Cedars? And it was too unearthly, sir, and I remembered the way Mr. Silas
was murdered, and the awful thing that happened to his body this
afternoon, and I—you won't think me foolish, sirs?—I doubted if it was
a human voice I had heard."
"No," Graham said dryly, "we won't think you foolish."
"So I thought I'd better wake you up and tell you."
Graham turned to Bobby.
"Katherine and you and I," he said, "fancied the crying was in the room
with us. Jenkins is sure it came from outside the house. That is
"Wherever it came from," Bobby said softly, "it was like some one
mourning for Howells."
Bobby remembered that Jenkins hadn't been aroused by the discovery of
"You'd know in a few minutes anyway," he said. "Howells has been killed
as my grandfather was."
Jenkins moved back, a look of unbelief and awe in his wrinkled face.
"He boasted he was going to sleep in that room," he whispered.
Bobby studied Jenkins, not knowing what to make of the old man, for into
the awe of the wrinkled face had stolen a positive relief, an emotion
that bordered on the triumphant.
"It's terrible," Jenkins whispered.
Graham grasped his shoulder.
"What's the matter with you, Jenkins? One would say you were glad."
"No. Oh, no, sir. It is terrible. I was only wondering about the
"What do you know about his report?" Bobby cried.
"Only that—that he gave it to me to mail just before he went up to the
"You mailed it?" Graham snapped.
Jenkins hesitated. When he answered his voice was self-accusing.
"I'm an old coward, Mr. Robert. The policeman told me the letter was very
important, and if anything happened to it I would get in trouble. He
couldn't afford to leave the house himself, he said. But, as I say, I'm a
coward, and I didn't want to walk through the woods to the box by the
gate. I figured it all out. It wouldn't be taken up until early in the
morning, and if I waited until daylight it would only be delayed one
collection. So I made up my mind I'd sleep on it, because I knew he had
it in for you, Mr. Robert. I supposed I'd mail it in the morning, but I
decided I'd think it over anyway and not harrow myself walking through
"You've done a good job," Graham said excitedly. "Where is the
"In my room. Shall I fetch it, sir?"
Graham nodded, and Jenkins shuffled up the stairs.
"What luck!" Graham said. "Howells must have telephoned his suspicions to
the district attorney. He must have mentioned the evidence, but what does
that amount to since it's disappeared along with the duplicate of the
report, if Howells made one?"
"I can fight with a clear conscience," Bobby cried. "I wasn't asleep
when Howells's body altered its position. Do you realize what that means
to me? For once I was wide awake when the old room was at its tricks."
"If Howells were alive," Graham answered shortly, "he would look on the
fact that you were awake and alone with the body as the worst possible
evidence against you."
Bobby's elation died.
"There is always something to tangle me in the eyes of the law with these
mysteries. But I know, and I'll fight. Can you find any trace of a
conspiracy against me in this last ghastly adventure?"
"It complicates everything," Graham admitted.
"It's beyond sounding," Bobby said, "for my grandfather's death last
night and the disturbance of his body this afternoon seemed calculated to
condemn me absolutely, yet Howells's murder and the movement of his body,
with the disappearance of the cast and the handkerchief, seem designed to
save me. Are there two influences at work in this house—one for me, one
"Let's think of the human elements," Graham answered with a frown. "I
have no faith in Paredes. My man has failed to report on Maria. That's
queer. You fancy a woman in black slipping through the woods, and we hear
a woman cry. I want to account for those things before I give in to
Groom's spirits. I confess at times they seem the only logical
explanation. Here's Jenkins."
"If trouble comes of his withholding the report I'll take the blame,"
Graham snatched the long envelope from Jenkins' hand. It was addressed in
a firm hand to the district attorney at the county seat.
"There's no question," Graham said. "That's it. We mustn't open it. We'd
better not destroy it. Put it where it won't be easily found, Jenkins. If
you are questioned you have no recollection of Howells having given it to
you. Mr. Blackburn promises he will see you get in no trouble."
The old man smiled.
"Trouble!" he scoffed. "Mr. Blackburn needn't fret himself about me. He's
the last of this family—that is Miss Katherine and he. I'm old and about
done for. I don't mind trouble. Not a bit, sir."
Bobby pressed his hand. His voice was a little husky: "I didn't think
you'd go that far in my service, Jenkins."
The old butler smiled slyly: "I'd go a lot further than that, sir."
"We'd better get back," Graham said. "The blood hounds ought to be
here, and they'll sniff at the case harder than ever because it's done
They watched Jenkins go upstairs with the report.
"We're taking long chances," Graham said, "desperately long chances, but
you're in a desperately dangerous position. It's the only way. You'll be
accused of stealing the evidence; but remember, when they question you,
they can prove nothing unless the cast and the handkerchief turn up. If
they've been taken by an enemy in some magical fashion to be produced at
the proper moment, there's no hope. Meantime play the game, and Katherine
and I will help you all we can. The doctor, too, is friendly. There's no
doubt of him. Come, now. Let's face the music."
Bobby followed Graham to the hall, trying to strengthen his nerves for
the ordeal. Even now he was more appalled by the apparently supernatural
background of the case than he was by the material details which pointed
to his guilt. More than the report and the cast and the handkerchief,
the remembrance of that impossible moment in the blackness of the old
room filled his mind, and the unearthly and remote crying still throbbed
in his ears.
Katherine, Graham, and the doctor waited by the fireplace. They had heard
nothing from the authorities.
"But they must be here soon," Doctor Groom said.
"Did you learn anything back there, Hartley?" Katherine asked.
"It wasn't the servants," he said. "Jenkins heard the crying. He's
certain it came from outside the house."
Paredes looked up.
"Extraordinary!" he said.
"I wish I had heard it," Doctor Groom grumbled.
"Thank the good Lord I didn't. Perpetually, Bobby, your house reminds me
that I've nerves sensitive to the unknown world. I will go further than
the doctor. I will say that this house is crowded with the
supernatural. It shelters things that we cannot understand, that we will
never understand. When I was a child in Panama I had a nurse who,
unfortunately, developed too strongly my native superstition. How she
frightened me with her bedtime stories! They were all of men murdered or
dead of fevers, crossing the trail, or building the railroad, or digging
insufficient ditches for De Lesseps. Some of her best went farther back
than that. They were thick with the ghosts of old Spaniards and the
crimson hands of Morgan's buccaneers. Really that tiny strip across the
isthmus is crowded with souls snatched too quickly from torn and tortured
bodies. If you are sensitive you feel they are still there."
"What has all this to do with the Cedars?" Doctor Groom grumbled.
"It explains my ability to sense strange elements in this old house.
There are in Panama—if you don't mind, doctor—improvised graveyards,
tangled by the jungle, that give you a feeling of an active, unseen
population precisely as this house does."
He arose and strolled with a cat-like lack of sound about the hall. When
he spoke again his voice was scarcely audible. It was the voice of a man
who thinks aloud, and the doctor failed to interrupt him again.
"I have felt less spiritually alarmed in those places of grinning
skulls, which always seem trying to recite agonies beyond expression,
than I feel in this house. For here the woods are more desolate than the
jungle, and the walls of houses as old as this make a prison for
A vague discomfort stole through Bobby's surprise. He had never heard
Paredes speak so seriously. In spite of the man's unruffled manner there
was nothing of mockery about his words. What, then, was their intention?
Paredes said no more, but for several minutes he paced up and down the
hall, glancing often with languid eyes toward the stairs. He had the
appearance of one who expects and waits.
Katherine, Graham, and the doctor, Bobby could see, had been made as
uneasy as himself by the change in the Panamanian. The doctor cleared his
throat. His voice broke the silence tentatively:
"If this house makes you so unhappy, young man, why do you stay?"
Paredes paused in his walk. His thin lips twitched. He indicated Bobby.
"For the sake of my very good friend. What are a man's personal fears and
desires if he can help his friends?"
Graham's distaste was evident. Paredes recognized it with a smile. Bobby
watched him curiously, realizing more and more that Graham was right to
this extent: they must somehow learn the real purpose of the
Panamanian's continued presence here.
Paredes resumed his walk. He still had that air of expectancy. He seemed
to listen. This feeling of imminence reached Bobby; increased his
restlessness. He thought he heard an automobile horn outside. He sprang
up, went to the door, opened it, and stood gazing through the damp and
narrow court. Yet, he confessed, he listened for a repetition of that
unearthly crying through the thicket rather than for the approach of
those who would try to condemn him for two murders. Paredes was right.
The place was unhealthy. Its dark walls seemed to draw closer. They had a
desolate and unfriendly secretiveness. They might hide anything.
The whirring of a motor reached him. Headlights flung gigantic,
distorted shadows of trees across the walls of the old wing. Bobby faced
"They're coming," he said, and his voice was sufficiently
Graham joined him at the door. "Yes," he said. "There will be another
inquisition. You all know that Howells for some absurd reason suspected
Bobby. Bobby, it goes without saying, knows no more about the crimes than
any of us. I dare say you'll keep that in mind if they try to confuse
you. After all, there's very little any of us can tell them."
"Except," Paredes said with a yawn, "what went on upstairs when the woman
cried and Howells's body moved. Of course I know nothing about that."
Graham glanced at him sharply.
"I don't know what you mean, but you have told us all that you are
"Quite so. And I am not a spy."
He moved his head in his grave and dignified bow.
The automobile stopped at the entrance to the court. Three men stepped
out and hurried up the path. As they entered the hall Bobby recognized
the sallow, wizened features of the coroner. One of the others was short
and thick set. His round and florid face, one felt, should have expressed
friendliness and good-humour rather than the intolerant anger that marked
it now. The third was a lank, bald-headed man, whose sharp face released
more determination than intelligence.
"I am Robinson, the district attorney," the stout one announced, "and
this is Jack Rawlins, the best detective I've got now that Howells is
gone. Jack was a close friend of Howells, so he'll make a good job of it,
but I thought it was time I came myself to see what the devil's going on
in this house."
The lank man nodded.
"You're right, Mr. Robinson. There'll be no more nonsense about the case.
If Howells had made an arrest he might be alive this minute."
Bobby's heart sank. These men would act from a primary instinct of
revenge. They wanted the man who had killed Silas Blackburn principally
because it was certain he had also killed their friend. Rawlins's words,
moreover, suggested that Howells must have telephoned a pretty clear
outline of the case. Robinson stared at them insolently.
"This is Doctor Groom, I know. Which is young Mr. Blackburn?"
Bobby stepped forward. The sharp eyes, surrounded by puffy flesh,
studied him aggressively. Bobby forced himself to meet that unfriendly
gaze. Would Robinson accuse him now, before he had gone into the case
for himself? At least he could prove nothing. After a moment the man
"Who is this?" he asked, indicating Graham.
"A very good friend—my lawyer, Mr. Graham," Bobby answered.
Robinson walked over to Paredes.
"Another lawyer?" he sneered.
"Another friend," Paredes answered easily.
Robinson glanced at Katherine.
"Of course you are Miss Perrine. Good. Coroner, these are all that were
in the front part of the house when you were here before?"
"The same lot," the coroner squeaked.
"There are three servants, a man and two women," Robinson went on.
"Account for them, Rawlins, and see what they have to say. Come upstairs
when you're through. All right, Coroner."
But he paused at the foot of the steps.
"For the present no one will leave the house without my permission. If
you care to come upstairs with me, Mr. Blackburn, you might be useful."
Bobby shrank from the thought of returning to the old room even with this
determined company. He didn't hesitate, however, for Robinson's purpose
was clear. He wanted Bobby where he could watch him. Graham prepared to
"If you need me," the doctor said. "I looked at the body—"
"Oh, yes," Robinson sneered. "I'd like to know exactly what time you
found the body."
Graham flushed, but Katherine answered easily:
"About half-past two—the hour at which Mr. Blackburn was killed."
"And I," Robinson sneered, "was aroused at three-thirty. An hour during
which the police were left out of the case!"
"We thought it wise to get a physician first of all," Graham said.
"You knew Howells never had a chance. You knew he had been murdered the
moment you looked at him," Robinson burst out.
"We acted for the best," Graham answered.
His manner impressed silence on Katherine and Bobby.
"We'll see about that later," Robinson said with a clear threat. "If it
doesn't inconvenience you too much we'll go up now."
In the upper hall he snatched the candle from the table.
Katherine nodded to the old corridor and slipped to her room. Robinson
stepped forward with the coroner at his heels. Bobby, Graham, and the
doctor followed. Inside the narrow, choking passage Bobby saw the
district attorney hesitate.
"What's the matter?" the doctor rumbled.
The district attorney went on without answering. He glanced at the
"So you had to smash your way in?"
He walked to the bed and looked down at Howells.
"Poor devil!" he murmured. "Howells wasn't the man to get caught
unawares. It's beyond me how any one could have come close enough to make
that wound without putting him on his guard."
"It's beyond us, as it was beyond him," Graham answered, "how any one got
into the room at all."
In response to Robinson's questions he told in detail about the discovery
of both murders. Robinson pondered for some time.
"Then you and Mr. Blackburn were asleep," he said. "Miss Perrine aroused
you. This foreigner Paredes was awake and dressed and in the lower hall."
"I think he was in the court as we went by the stair-well," Graham
"I shall want to talk to your foreigner," Robinson said. He shivered.
"This room is like a charnel house. Why did Howells want to sleep here?"
"I don't think he intended to sleep," Graham said. "From the start
Howells was bound to solve the mystery of the entrance of the room. He
came here, hoping that the criminal would make just such an attempt as he
did. He was confident he could take care of himself, get his man, and
clear up the last details of the case."
Robinson looked straight at Bobby.
"Then Howells knew the criminal was in the house."
"Howells, I daresay," Graham said, "telephoned you something of his
suspicions." Robinson nodded.
"He was on the wrong line," Graham argued, "or he wouldn't have been so
easily overcome. You can see for yourself. Locked doors, a wound that
suggests the assailant was close to him, yet he must have been awake and
watchful; and if there had been a physical attack before the sharp
instrument was driven into his brain he would have cried out, yet Miss
Perrine was aroused by nothing of the sort, and the coroner, I daresay,
will find no marks of a struggle about the body."
The coroner who had been busy at the bed glanced up.
"No mark at all. If Howells wasn't asleep, his murderer must have been
invisible as well as noiseless."
Doctor Groom smiled. The coroner glared at him.
"I suggest, Mr. District Attorney," he squeaked, "that the ordinary
layman wouldn't know that this type of wound would cause immediate
"Nor would any man," the doctor answered angrily, "be able to make such a
wound with his victim lying on his back."
"On his back!" Robinson echoed. "But he isn't on his back."
The doctor told of the amazing alteration in the positions of both
victims. Bobby regretted with all his heart that he had made the attempt
to get the evidence. Already complete frankness was impossible for him.
Already a feeling of guilt sprang from the necessity of withholding the
first-hand testimony which he alone could give.
"And a woman cried!" Robinson said, bewildered. "All this sounds like a
"You've more sense than I thought," Doctor Groom said dryly. "I never
could get Howells to see it that way."
"What are you driving at?" Robinson snapped.
"These crimes," the doctor answered, "have all the elements of a
Robinson's laugh was a little uncomfortable.
"The Cedars is a nice place for spooks, but it won't do. I'll be frank.
Howells telephoned me. He had found plenty of evidence of human
interference. It's evident in both cases that the murderer came back and
disturbed the bodies for some special purpose. I don't know what it was
the first time, but it's simple to understand the last. The murderer
came for evidence Howells had on his person."
Bobby couldn't meet the sharp, puffy eyes. He alone was capable of
testifying that the evidence had been removed as if to secrete it from
his unlawful hand. Yet if he spoke he would prove the district attorney's
point. He would condemn himself.
"Curious," Graham said slowly, "that the murderer didn't take the
evidence when he killed his man."
"I don't know about that," Robinson said, "but I know Howells had
evidence on his person. You through, Coroner? Then we'll have a look,
although it's little use."
He walked to the bed and searched Howells's pockets.
"Just as I thought. Nothing. He told me he was preparing a report. If he
didn't mail it, that was stolen with the rest of the stuff. Rawlins's
right. He waited too long to make his arrest."
Again Bobby wondered if the man would bring matters to a head now. He
could appreciate, however, that Robinson, with nothing to go on but
Howells's telephoned suspicions, might spoil his chances of a solution by
acting too hastily. Rawlins strolled in.
"The two women were asleep," he said. "The old man knows nothing beyond
the fact that he heard a woman crying outside a little while ago."
"I don't think we need bother about the back part of the house for the
present," Robinson said. "Howells's evidence has been stolen. It's your
job to find it unless it's been destroyed. Your other job is to discover
the instrument that caused death in both cases. Then maybe our worthy
doctor will desert his ghosts. Mr. Blackburn, if you will come with me
there's a slight possibility of checking up some of the evidence of which
Howells spoke. Our fine fellow may have made a slip in the court."
Bobby understood and was afraid—more afraid than he had been at any time
since he had overheard Howells catalogue his case to Graham in the
library. Why, even in so much confusion, had Graham and he failed to
think of those tell-tale marks in the court? They had been intact when he
had stood there just before dark. It was unlikely any one had walked
across the grass since. He saw Graham's elaborate precautions demolished,
the case against him stronger than it had been before Howells's murder.
Graham's face revealed the same helpless comprehension. They followed
Robinson downstairs. Graham made a gesture of surrender. Bobby glanced at
Paredes who alone had remained below. The Panamanian smoked and lounged
in the easy chair. His eyes seemed restless.
"I shall wish to ask you some questions in a few minutes, Mr. Paredes,"
the district attorney said.
"At your service, I'm sure," Paredes drawled.
He watched them until they had entered the court and closed the door.
The chill dampness of the court infected Bobby as it had always done.
It was a proper setting for his accusation and arrest. For Robinson, he
knew, wouldn't wait as Howells had done to solve the mystery of the
Robinson, while the others grouped themselves about him, took a
flashlight from his pocket and pressed the control. The brilliant
cylinder of light illuminated the grass, making it seem unnaturally
green. Bobby braced himself for the inevitable denouement. Then, while
Robinson exclaimed angrily, his eyes widened, his heart beat rapidly
with a vast and wondering relief. For the marks he remembered so
clearly had been obliterated with painstaking thoroughness, and at
first the slate seemed perfectly clean. He was sure his unknown friend
had avoided leaving any trace of his own. Each step in the grass had
been carefully scraped out. In the confusion of the path there was
nothing to be learned.
The genuine surprise of Bobby's exclamation turned Robinson to him with a
look of doubt.
"You acknowledge these footmarks were here, Mr. Blackburn?"
"Certainly," Bobby answered. "I saw them myself just before dark. I knew
Howells ridiculously connected them with the murderer."
"You made a good job of it when you trampled, them out," Robinson
But it was clear Bobby's amazement had not been lost on him.
"Or," he went on, "this foreigner who advertises himself as your friend!
He was in the court tonight. We know that."
Suddenly he stooped, and Bobby got on his knees beside him. The cylinder
of light held in its centre one mark, clear and distinct in the trampled
grass, and with a warm gratitude, a swift apprehension, Bobby thought of
Katherine. For the mark in the grass had been made by the heel of a
"Not the foreigner then," Robinson mused, "not yourself, Blackburn, but a
woman, a devoted woman. That's something to get after."
"And if she lies, the impression of the heel will give her away," the
"You'd make a rotten detective, Coroner. Women's heels are cut to a
pattern. There are thousands of shoes whose heels would fit this
impression. We need the sole for identification, and that she hasn't left
us. But she's done one favour. She's advertised herself as a woman, and
there are just three women in the house. One of those committed this
serious offence, and the inference is obvious."
Before Bobby could protest, the doctor broke in with his throaty rumble:
"One of those, or the woman who cried about the house."
Bobby started. The memory of that eerie grief was still uncomfortable in
his brain. Could there have been actually a woman at the stagnant lake
that afternoon and close to the house to-night—some mysterious friend
who assumed grave risks in his service? He recognized Robinson's logic.
Unless there were something in that far-fetched theory, Katherine faced a
situation nearly as serious as his own. Robinson straightened. At the
same moment the scraping of a window reached them. Bobby glanced at the
newer wing. Katherine leaned from her window. The coincidence disturbed
him. In Robinson's mind, he knew, her anxiety would assume a colour of
guilt. Her voice, moreover, was too uncertain, too full of misgivings:
"What is going on down there? There have been no—no more tragedies?"
"Would you mind joining us for a moment?" Robinson asked.
She drew back. The curtain fell over her lighted window. The darkness of
the court was disturbed again only by the limited radiance of the
flashlight. She came hurriedly from the front door.
"I saw you gathered here. I heard you talking. I wondered."
"You knew there were footprints in this court," Robinson said harshly,
"that Howells connected them with the murderer of your uncle."
"Yes," she answered simply.
"Why then," he asked, "did you attempt to obliterate them?"
"What do you mean? I didn't. I haven't been out of the house since just
"Can you prove that?"
"It needs no proof. I tell you so."
The flashlight exposed the ugly confidence of Robinson's smile.
"I am sorry to suggest the need of corroboration."
"You doubt my word?" she flashed.
"A woman," he answered, "has obliterated valuable testimony, I shall make
it my business to punish her."
She laughed again. Without another word she turned and reentered the
house. Robinson's oath was audible to the others.
"We can't put up with that sort of thing, sir," Rawlins said.
"I ought to place this entire household under arrest," Robinson muttered.
"As a lawyer," Graham said easily, "I should think with your lack of
evidence it might be asking for trouble. There is Paredes who
acknowledges he was in the court."
"All right. I'll see what he's got to say."
He started for the house. Bobby lingered for a moment with Graham.
"Do you know anything about this, Hartley?"
"Nothing," Graham whispered.
"Then you don't think Katherine—"
"If she'd done it she'd have taken good care not to be so curious. I
doubt if it was Katherine."
They followed the others into the hall. Bobby, scarcely appreciating why
at first, realized there had been a change there. Then he understood:
Robinson faced an empty chair. The hall was pungent with cigarette smoke,
but Paredes had gone.
Robinson pointed to the stairs.
"Get him down," he said to Rawlins.
"He wouldn't have gone to bed," Graham suggested. "Suppose he's in the
old room where Howells lies?"
But Rawlins found him nowhere upstairs. With an increasing excitement
Robinson joined the search. They went through the entire house. Paredes
was no longer there. He had, to all appearances, put a period to his
unwelcome visit. He had definitely disappeared from the Cedars.
His most likely exit was through the kitchen door which was unlocked, but
Jenkins who had returned to his room had heard no one. With their
electric lamps Robinson and Rawlins ferreted about the rear entrance for
traces. The path there was as trampled and useless as the one in front.
Rawlins, who had gone some distance from the house, straightened with a
satisfied exclamation. The others joined him.
"Here's where he left the path right enough," he said. "And our foreigner
wasn't making any more noise than he had to."
He flashed his lamp on a fresh footprint in the soft soil at the side of
the path. The mark of the toe was deep and firm. The impression of the
heel was very light. Paredes, it was clear, had walked from the house
"Follow on," Robinson commanded. "I told this fellow I wanted to question
him. I've scared him off."
Keeping his light on the ground, Rawlins led the way across the clearing.
The trail was simple enough to follow. Each of the Panamanian's
footprints was distinct. Each had that peculiarity that suggested the
stealth of his progress.
As they continued Bobby responded to an excited premonition. He sensed
the destination of the chase. He could picture Paredes now in the
loneliest portion of the woods, for the trail unquestionably pointed to
the path he had taken that afternoon toward the stagnant lake.
"Hartley!" he said. "Paredes left the house to go to the stagnant lake
where I fancied I saw a woman in black. Do you see? And he didn't hear
the crying of a woman a little while ago, and when we told him he became
restless. He wandered about the hall talking of ghosts."
"A rendezvous!" Graham answered. "He may have been waiting for just that.
The crying may have been a signal. Perhaps you'll believe now, Bobby,
that the man has had an underhanded purpose in staying here."
"I've made too many hasty judgments in my life, Hartley. I'll go slow on
this. I'll wait until we see what we find at the lake."
Rawlins snapped off his light. The little party paused at the black
entrance of the path into the thicket.
"He's buried himself in the woods," Rawlins said.
They crowded instinctively closer in the sudden darkness. A brisk wind
had sprung up. It rattled among the trees, and set the dead leaves in
gentle, rustling motion. It suggested to Bobby the picture which had been
forced into his brain the night of his grandfather's death. The moon now
possessed less light, but it reminded him again of a drowning face, and
through the darkness he could fancy the trees straining in the wind like
puny men. Abruptly the thought of penetrating the forest became
frightening. The silent loneliness of the stagnant lake seemed as
unfriendly and threatening as the melancholy of the old room.
"There are too many of us," Robinson was saying. "You'd better go on
alone, Rawlins, and don't take any chances. I've got to have this man.
You understand? I think he knows things worth while."
The rising wind laughed at his whisper. The detective flashed his
lamp once, shut it off again, and stepped into the close embrace of
Suddenly Bobby grasped Graham's arm. The little group became
tense, breathless. For across the wind with a diffused quality, a
lack of direction, vibrated to them again the faint and mournful
grief of a woman.
THE ONE WHO CREPT IN THE PRIVATE STAIRCASE
The odd, mournful crying lost itself in the restless lament of the wind.
The thicket from which it had seemed to issue assumed in the pallid
moonlight a new unfriendliness. Instinctively the six men moved closer
together. The coroner's thin tones expressed his alarm:
"What the devil was that? I don't really believe there could be a woman
"A queer one!" the detective grunted.
The district attorney questioned Bobby and Graham.
"That's the voice you heard from the house?"
"Perhaps not so far away."
Doctor Groom, hitherto more captured than any of them by the imminence of
a spiritual responsibility for the mystery of the Cedars, was the first
now to reach for a rational explanation of this new phase.
"We mustn't let our fancies run away with us. The coroner's right for
once. No excuse for a woman hiding in that thicket. A bird, maybe, or
"Sounded more like a human being," Robinson objected.
The detective reasoned in a steady unmoved voice: "Only a mad woman would
wander through the woods, crying like that without a special purpose.
This man Paredes has left the house and come through here. I'd guess it
was a signal."
"Graham and I had thought of that," Bobby said.
"Howells was a sharp one," Robinson mused, "but he must have gone wrong
on this fellow. He 'phoned me the man knew nothing. Spoke of him as a
foreigner who lolled around smoking cigarettes and trying to make a fool
of him with a lot of talk about ghosts."
"Howells," Graham said, "misjudged the case from the start. He wasn't to
blame, but his mistake cost him his life."
Robinson didn't answer. Bobby saw that the man had discarded his
intolerant temper. From that change he drew a new hope. He accepted it as
the beginning of fulfilment of his prophecy last night that an accident
to Howells and the entrance of a new man into the case would give him a
fighting chance. It was clearly Paredes at the moment who filled the
district attorney's mind.
"Go after him," he said shortly to Rawlins. "If you can get away with it
bring him back and whoever you find with him."
"I'm no coward, but I know what's happened to Howells. This isn't an
ordinary case. I don't want to walk into an ambush. It would be safer not
to run him down alone."
"All right," Robinson agreed, "I don't care to leave the Cedars for the
present. Perhaps Mr. Graham—"
But Graham wasn't enthusiastic. It never occurred to Bobby that he was
afraid. Graham, he guessed, desired to remain near Katherine.
"I'll go, if you like," Doctor Groom rumbled.
It was probable that Graham's instinct to stay had sprung from service
rather than sentiment. The man, it was reasonable, sought to protect
Katherine from the Cedars itself and from Robinson's too direct methods
of examination. As an antidote for his unwelcome jealousy Bobby offered
himself to Rawlins.
"Would you mind if I came, too? I've known Paredes a long time."
"What do you think of that, Rawlins?"
But the detective stepped close and whispered in the district
"All right," Robinson said. "Go with 'em, if you want, Mr. Blackburn."
And Bobby knew that he would go, not to help, but to be watched.
The others strayed toward the house. The three men faced the entrance of
the path alone.
"No more loud talk now," the detective warned. "If he went on tiptoe
so can we."
Even with this company Bobby shrank from the dark and restless forest.
With a smooth skill the detective followed the unfamiliar path. From time
to time he stooped close to the ground, shaded his lamp with his hand,
and pressed the control. Always the light verified the presence of
Paredes ahead of them. Bobby knew they were near the stagnant lake. The
underbrush was thicker. They went with more care to limit the sound of
their passage among the trees. And each moment the physical surroundings
of the pursuit increased Bobby's doubt of Paredes. No ordinary impulse
would bring a man to such a place in this black hour before the
dawn—particularly Paredes, who spoke constantly of his superstitious
nature, who advertised a thorough-paced fear of the Cedars. The
Panamanian's decision to remain, his lack of emotion before the tragic
succession of events at the house, his attempt to enter the corridor just
before Bobby had gone himself to the old room for the evidence, his
desire to direct suspicion against Katherine, finally this excursion in
response to the eerie crying, all suggested a definite, perhaps a
dangerous, purpose in the brain of the serene and inscrutable man.
They slipped to the open space about the lake. The moon barely
distinguished for them the flat, melancholy stretch of water. They
listened breathlessly. There was no sound beyond the normal stirrings of
the forest. Bobby had a feeling, similar to the afternoon's, that he was
watched. He tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the darkness across the
lake where he had fancied the woman skulking. The detective's keen senses
"Dollars to doughnuts they're not here. They've probably gone on. I'll
have to take a chance and show the light again."
Fresh footprints were revealed in the narrow circle of illumination.
Testifying to Paredes's continued stealth, they made a straight line to
the water's edge. Rawlins exclaimed:
"He stepped into the lake. How deep is it?"
The black surface of the water seemed to Bobby like an opaque glass,
hiding sinister things. Suppose Paredes, instead of coming to a
rendezvous, had been led?
"It's deep enough in the centre," he answered.
"Shallow around the edges?"
"Then he knew we were after him," Groom said.
Rawlins nodded and ran his light along the shore. A few yards to the
right a ledge of smooth rock stretched from the water to a grove of pine
trees. The detective arose and turned off his light.
"He's blocked us," he said. "He knew he wouldn't leave his marks on the
rocks or the pine needles. No way to guess his direction now."
Doctor Groom cleared his throat. With a hesitant manner he recited the
discovery of the queer light in the deserted house, its unaccountable
disappearances their failure to find its source.
"I was thinking," he explained, "that Paredes alone saw the light give
out. It was his suggestion that he go to the front of the house to
investigate. This path might be used as a short cut to the deserted
house. The rendezvous may have been there."
Rawlins was interested again.
"How far is it?"
"Not much more than a mile," Groom answered.
"Then we'll go," the detective decided. "Show the way."
Groom in the lead, they struck off through the woods. Bobby, who walked
last, noticed the faint messengers of dawn behind the trees in the east.
He was glad. The night cloaked too much in this neighbourhood. By
daylight the empty house would guard its secret less easily. Suddenly he
paused and stood quite still. He wanted to call to the others, to point
out what he had seen. There was no question. By chance he had
accomplished the task that had seemed so hopeless yesterday. He had found
the spot where his consciousness had come back momentarily to record a
wet moon, trees straining in the wind like puny men, and a figure in a
mask which he had called his conscience. He gazed, his hope retreating
before an unforeseen disappointment, for with the paling moon and the
bent trees survived that very figure on the discovery of whose nature he
had built so vital a hope; and in this bad light it conveyed to him an
appearance nearly human. Through the underbrush the trunk of a tree
shattered by some violent storm mocked him with its illusion. The dead
leaves at the top were like cloth across a face. Therefore, he argued,
there had been no conspiracy against him. Paredes was clean as far as
that was concerned. He had wandered about the Cedars alone. He had opened
his eyes at a point between the court and the deserted house.
Rawlins turned back suspiciously, asking why he loitered. He continued
almost indifferently. He still wanted to know Paredes's goal, but his
disappointment and its meaning obsessed him.
When they crept up the growing light exposed the scars of the deserted
house. Everything was as Bobby remembered it. At the front there was no
decayed wood or vegetation to strengthen the doctor's half-hearted theory
of a phosphorescent emanation.
The tangle of footsteps near the rear door was confusing and it was some
time before the three men straightened and glanced at each other, knowing
that the doctor's wisdom was proved. For Paredes had been there recently;
for that matter, might still be in the house. Moreover, he hadn't hidden
his tracks, as he could have done, in the thick grass. Instead he had
come in a straight line from the woods across a piece of sandy ground
which contained the record of his direction and his continued stealth.
But inside they found nothing except burnt-out matches strewn across the
floor, testimony of their earlier search. The fugitive had evidently
left more carefully than he had come. The chill emptiness of the deserted
house had drawn and released him ahead of the chase.
"I guess he knew what the light meant," the detective said, "as well as
he did that queer calling. It complicates matters that I can't find a
woman's footprints around here. She may have kept to the grass and this
marked-up path, for, since I don't believe in banshees, I'll swear
there's been a woman around, either a crazy woman, wandering at large,
who might be connected with the murders, or else a sane one who
signalled the foreigner. Let's get back and see what the district
attorney makes of it."
"It might be wiser not to dismiss the banshees, as you call them, too
hurriedly," Doctor Groom rumbled.
As they returned along the road in the growing light Bobby lost the
feeling he had had of being spied upon. The memory of such an adventure
was bound to breed something like confidence among its actors. Rawlins,
Bobby hoped, would be less unfriendly. The detective, in fact, talked as
much to him as to the doctor. He assured them that Robinson would get the
Panamanian unless he proved miraculously clever.
"He's shown us that he knows something," he went on. "I don't say how
much, because I can't get a motive to make it worth his while to commit
The man smiled blandly at Bobby.
"While in your case there's a motive at least—the money."
"That's the easiest motive to understand in the world. It's stronger
Bobby wondered. Love had been the impulse for the last few months' folly
that had led him into his present situation. Graham, over his stern
principles of right, had already stepped outside the law in backing
Katherine's efforts to save Bobby. So he wondered how much Graham would
risk, how far he was capable of going himself, at the inspiration of
such a motive.
The sun was up when they reached the Cedars. Katherine had gone to her
room. The coroner had left. Robinson and Graham had built a fresh fire in
the hall. They sat there, talking.
"Where you been?" Robinson demanded. "We'd about decided the spooks had
done for you."
The detective outlined their failure. The district attorney listened with
a frown. At the end he arose and, without saying anything, walked to the
telephone. When he returned he appeared better satisfied.
"Mr. Paredes," he said, "will have to be a slick article to make a clean
getaway. And I'm bringing another man to keep reporters out. They'll know
from Howells's murder that Mr. Blackburn didn't die a natural death. If
reporters get in don't talk to them. I don't want that damned foreigner
reading in the papers what's going on here. I'd give my job to have him
in that chair for five minutes now."
Graham cleared his throat.
"I scarcely know how to suggest this, since it is sufficiently clear,
because of Howells's suspicions, that you have Mr. Blackburn under close
observation. But he has a fair idea of Paredes's habits, his haunts, and
his friends in New York. He might be able to learn things the police
couldn't. I've one or two matters to take me to town. I would make myself
personally responsible for his return—"
The district attorney interrupted.
"I see what you mean. Wait a minute."
He clasped his hands and rolled his fat thumbs one around the other. The
little eyes, surrounded by puffy flesh, became enigmatic. All at once he
glanced up with a genial smile.
"Why not? I haven't said anything about holding Mr. Blackburn as more
than a witness."
His tone chilled Bobby as thoroughly as a direct accusation would
"And," Robinson went on, "the sooner you go the better. The sooner you
get back the better."
Graham was visibly puzzled by this prompt acquiescence. He started for
the stairs, but the district attorney waved him aside.
"Coats and hats are downstairs. No need wasting time."
Graham turned to Doctor Groom.
"You'll tell Miss Perrine, Doctor?"
The doctor showed that he understood the warning Graham wished to convey.
The district attorney made a point of walking to the stable to see them
off. Graham gestured angrily as they drove away.
"It's plain as the nose on your face. I was too anxious to test their
attitude toward you, Bobby. He jumped at the chance to run us out of the
house. He'll have several hours during which to turn the place upside
down, to give Katherine the third degree. And we can't go back. We'll
have to see it through."
"Why should he give me a chance to slip away?" Bobby asked.
But before long he realized that Robinson was taking no chances. At the
junction of the road from Smithtown a car picked them up and clung to
their heels all the way to the city.
"Rawlins must have telephoned," Graham said, "while we went to the
stable. They're still playing Howells's game. They'll give you
plenty of rope."
He drove straight to Bobby's apartment. The elevator man verified their
suspicions. Robinson had telephoned the New York police for a search. A
familiar type of metropolitan detective met them in the hall outside
"I'm through, gentlemen," he greeted them impudently.
Graham faced him in a burst of temper.
"The city may have to pay for this outrage."
The man grinned.
"I should get gray hairs about that."
He went on downstairs. They entered the apartment to find confusion in
each room. Bureau drawers had been turned upside down. The desk had been
examined with a reckless thoroughness. Graham was frankly worried.
"I wonder if he found anything. If he did you won't get out of town."
"What could he find?" Bobby asked.
"If the court was planted," Graham answered, "why shouldn't these rooms
"After last night I don't believe the court was planted," Bobby said.
In the lower hall the elevator man handed Bobby the mail that had come
since the night of his grandfather's murder. In the car again he glanced
over the envelopes. He tore one open with a surprised haste.
"This is Maria's handwriting," he told Graham.
He read the hastily scrawled note aloud with a tone that failed
toward the end.
"You must not, as you say, think me a bad sport. You were very wicked
last night. Maybe you were so because of too many of those naughty little
cocktails. Why should you threaten poor Maria? And you boasted you were
going out to the Cedars to kill your grandfather because you didn't like
him any more. So I told Carlos to take you home. I was afraid of a scene
in public. Come around. Have tea with me. Tell me you forgive me. Tell me
what was the matter with you."
"She must have written that yesterday morning," Bobby muttered. "Good
Lord, Hartley! Then it was in my mind!"
"Unless that letter's a plant, too," Graham said. "Yet how could she know
there'd be a search? Why shouldn't she have addressed it to the Cedars
where there was a fair chance of its being opened and read by the police?
Why hasn't my man made any report on her? We've a number of questions to
But word came down from the dancer's apartment that Maria wasn't at home.
"When did she go out?" Graham asked the hall man.
"Not since I came on duty at six o'clock."
Graham slipped a bill in the man's hand.
"We've an important message for her. We'd better leave it with the maid."
When they were alone in the upper hall he explained his purpose to Bobby.
"We must know whether she's actually here. If she isn't, if she hasn't
been back for the last twenty-four hours—don't you see? It was
yesterday afternoon you thought you saw a woman at the lake, and last
night a woman cried about the Cedars—"
"That's going pretty far, Hartley."
"It's a chance. A physical one."
A pretty maid opened the door. Her face was troubled. She studied them
with frank disappointment.
"I thought—" she began.
"That your mistress was coming back?" Graham flashed.
There was no concealment in the girl's manner. It was certain that Maria
was not in the apartment.
"You remember me?" Bobby asked.
"Yes. You have been here. You are a friend of mademoiselle's. You can,
perhaps, tell me where she is."
Bobby shook his head. The girl spread her hands. She burst out excitedly:
"What is one to do? I have telephoned the theatre. There was no one there
who knew anything at all, except that mademoiselle had not appeared at
the performance last night."
Graham glanced at Bobby.
"When," he asked, "did you see her last?"
"It was before luncheon yesterday."
"Did she leave no instructions? Didn't she say when she would be back?"
The girl nodded.
"That's what worries me, for she said she would be back after the
performance last night."
"She left no instructions?" Graham repeated.
"Only that if any one called or telephoned I was to make no appointments.
What am I to do? Perhaps I shouldn't be talking to you. She would never
forgive me for an indiscretion."
"For the present I advise you to do nothing," Graham said. "You can
safely leave all that to her managers. I am going to see them now. I
will tell them what you have said."
The girl's eyes moistened.
"Thank you, sir. I have been at my wits' end."
Apparently she withheld nothing. She played no part to confuse the
On the way to the managers' office, with the trailing car behind them,
Graham reasoned excitedly:
"For the first time we seem to be actually on the track. Here's a
tangible clue that may lead to the heart of the case. Maria pulled the
wool over the maid's eyes, too. She didn't want her to know her plans,
but her instructions show that she had no intention of returning last
night. She probably made a bee line for the Cedars. It was probably she
that you saw at the lake, probably she who cried last night. If only she
hadn't written that note! I can't get the meaning of it. It's up to her
managers now. If they haven't heard from her it's a safe guess she's
playing a deep game, connected with the crying, and the light at the
deserted house, and the disappearance of Paredes before dawn. You must
realize the connection between that and your condition the other evening
after you had left them."
Bobby nodded. He began to hope that at the managers' office they would
receive no explanation of Maria's absence destructive to Graham's theory.
Early as it was they found a bald-headed man in his shirt sleeves pacing
with an air of panic a blantantly furnished office.
"Well!" he burst out as they entered. "My secretary tells me you've come
about this temperamental Carmen of mine. Tell me where she is. Quick!"
Graham smiled at Bobby. The manager ran his fingers across his bald and
"It's no laughing matter."
"Then she has definitely disappeared?" Graham said.
"Disappeared! Why did I come down at this ungodly hour except on the
chance of getting some word? She didn't even telephone last night. I had
to show myself in front of the curtain and give them a spiel about a
sudden indisposition. And believe me, gentlemen, audiences ain't what
they used to be. Did these ginks sit back and take the show for what it
was worth? Not by a darn sight. Flocked to the box office and howled for
their money back. If she doesn't appear to-night I might as well close
the house. I'll be ruined."
"Unless," Graham suggested, "you get your press agent to make capital out
of her absence. The papers would publish her picture and thousands of
people would look her up for you."
The manager ceased his perplexed massage of his forehead. He shook
"I'd thought of that with some frills. 'Has beautiful dancer met foul
play? Millions in jewels on her person when last seen.' Old stuff, but
they rise to it."
"That will help," Graham said to Bobby when they were in the car again.
"The reporters will find Maria quicker than any detective I can put my
hand on. My man evidently fell down because she had gone before I got him
on the case." At his office they learned that was the fact. The private
detective had been able to get no slightest clue as to Maria's
whereabouts. Moreover, Bobby's description of the stranger who had
entered the cafe with her merely suggested a type familiar to the
Tenderloin. For purposes of identification it was worthless. Always
followed by the car from Smithtown, they went to the hotel where Paredes
had lived, to a number of his haunts. Bobby talked with men who knew him,
but he learned nothing. Paredes's friends had had no word since the man's
departure for the Cedars the day before. So they turned their backs on
the city, elated by the significance of Maria's absence, yet worried by
the search and the watchful car which never lost sight of them. When they
were in the country Graham sighed his relief. "You haven't been stopped.
Therefore, nothing was found at your apartment, but if that wasn't
planted why should Maria have sent an incriminating note there?"
"Unless," Bobby answered, "she told the truth. Unless she was sincere
when she mailed it. Unless she learned something important between the
time she wrote it and her disappearance from her home."
"Frankly, Bobby," Graham said, "the note and the circumstances under
which it came to you are as damaging as the footprints and the
handkerchief, but it doesn't tell us how any human being could have
entered that room to commit the murders and disturb the bodies. At least
we've got one physical fact, and I'm going to work on that."
"If it is Maria prowling around the Cedars," Bobby said, "she's amazingly
slippery, and with Paredes gone what are you going to do with your
physical fact? And how does it explain the friendly influence that wiped
out my footprints? Is it a friendly or an evil influence that snatched
away the evidence and that keeps it secreted?"
"We'll see," Graham said. "I'm going after a flesh-and-blood criminal who
isn't you. I'm going to try to find out what your grandfather was afraid
of the night of his murder."
After a time he glanced up.
"You've known Paredes for a long time, Bobby, but I don't think you've
ever told me how you met him."
"A couple of years ago I should think," Bobby answered. "Somebody brought
him to the club. I've forgotten who. Carlos was working for a big Panama
importing firm. He was trying to interest this chap in the New York end.
I saw him off and on after that and got to like him for his quiet manner
and a queer, dry wit he had in those days. Two or three months ago he—he
seemed to fit into my humour, and we became pretty chummy as you know.
Even after last night I hate to believe he's my enemy."
"He's your enemy," Graham answered, "and last night's the weak joint in
his armour. I wonder if Robinson didn't scare him away by threatening to
question him. Paredes isn't connected with that company now, is he? I
gather he has no regular position."
"No. He's picked up one or two temporary things with the fruit companies.
More than his running away, the thing that worries me about Carlos is his
ridiculous suspicion of Katherine."
He told Graham in detail of that conversation. Graham frowned. He opened
the throttle wider. Their anxiety increased to know what had happened at
the Cedars since their departure. The outposts of the forest imposed
silence, closed eagerly about them, seemed to welcome them to its dead
loneliness. There was a man on guard at the gate. They hurried past. The
house showed no sign of life, but when they entered the court Bobby saw
Katherine at her window, doubtless attracted by the sounds of their
arrival. Her face brightened, but she raised her arms in a gesture
suggestive of despair.
"Does she mean the evidence has been found?" Bobby asked.
Graham made no attempt to conceal his real interest, the impulse at the
back of all his efforts in Bobby's behalf.
"More likely Robinson has worried the life out of her since we've been
gone. I oughtn't to have left her. I set the trap myself."
When they were in the house their halting curiosity was lost in a vast
surprise. The hall was empty but they heard voices in the library.
They hurried across the dining room, pausing in the doorway, staring
with unbelieving eyes at the accustomed picture they had least
expected to see.
Paredes lounged on the divan, smoking with easy indifference. His
clothing and his shoes were spotless. He had shaved, and his beard had
been freshly trimmed. Rawlins and the district attorney stood in front of
the fireplace, studying him with perplexed eyes. The persistence of their
regard even after Bobby's entrance suggested to him that the evidence
remained secreted, that the officers, under the circumstances, were
scarcely interested in his return. He was swept himself into an explosive
"Carlos! What the deuce are you doing here?"
The Panamanian expelled a cloud of smoke. He smiled.
"Resting after a fatiguing walk."
In his unexpected presence Bobby fancied a demolition of the hope Graham
and he had brought back from the city. He couldn't imagine guilt lurking
behind that serene manner.
"Where did you come from? What were you up to last night?"
There was no accounting for Paredes's daring, he told himself, no
accounting for his easy gesture now as he drew again at his cigarette
and tossed it in the fireplace.
"These gentlemen," he said, "have been asking just that question. I'm
honoured. I had no idea my movements were of such interest. I've told
them that I took a stroll. The night was over. There was no point in
going to bed, and all day I had been without exercise."
"Yet," Graham said harshly, "you have had practically no sleep since you
"Very distressing, isn't it?"
"Maybe," Rawlins sneered, "you'll tell us why you went on tiptoe, and I
suppose you didn't hear a woman crying in the woods?"
"That's just it," Paredes answered. "I did hear something like that, and
it occurred to me to follow such a curious sound. So I went on tiptoe, as
you call it."
"Why," Robinson exclaimed angrily, "you walked in the lake to hide
"It was very dark. That was chance. Quite silly of me. My feet got wet."
"I gather," Rawlins said, "it was chance that took you to the
Paredes shook his head.
"Don't you think I was as much puzzled as the rest by that strange,
disappearing light? It was as good a place to walk as any."
"Where have you been since?" Graham asked.
"When I had got there I was tired," Paredes answered. "Since it wasn't
far to the station I thought I'd go on into Smithtown and have a bath and
rest. But I assure you I've trudged back from the station just now."
Suddenly he repeated the apparently absurd formula he had used
"You know the court seems full of unfriendly things—what the ignorant
would call ghosts. I'm Spanish and I know." After a moment he added: "The
woods, too. I shouldn't care to wander through them too much after dark."
Robinson stared, but Rawlins brushed the question aside.
"What hotel did you go to in Smithtown?"
"It's called the 'New.' Nothing could be farther from the fact."
"Shall I see if that's straight, sir?"
The district attorney agreed, and Rawlins left the room. Paredes laughed.
"How interesting! I'm under suspicion. It would be something, wouldn't
it, to commit crimes with the devilish ingenuity of these? No, no, Mr.
District Attorney, look to the ghosts. They alone are sufficiently
clever. But I might say, since you take this attitude, that I don't care
to answer any more questions until you discover something that might give
you the right to ask them."
He lay back on the divan, languidly lighting another cigarette. Graham
beckoned Robinson. Bobby followed them out, suspecting Graham's purpose,
unwilling that action should be taken too hastily against the Panamanian;
for even now guilty knowledge seemed incompatible with Paredes's polished
reserve. When he joined the others, indeed, Graham with an aggressive air
was demanding the district attorney's intentions.
"If he could elude you so easily last night, it's common sense to put him
where you can find him in case of need. He's given you excuse enough."
"The man's got me guessing," Robinson mused, "but there are other
"What's happened since we left?" Graham asked quickly. "Have you got any
trace of Howells's evidence?"
Robinson smiled enigmatically, but his failure was apparent.
"I'm like Howells," he said. "I'd risk nearly anything myself to learn
how the room was entered, how the crimes were committed, how those poor
devils were made to alter their positions."
"So," Bobby said, "you had my rooms in New York searched. You had me
followed to-day. It's ridiculous."
Robinson ignored him. He stepped to the front door, opened it, and looked
around the court.
"What did the sphinx mean about ghosts in the court?"
They walked out, gazing helplessly at the trampled grass about the
fountain, at the melancholy walls, at the partly opened window of the
room of mystery.
"He knows something," Robinson mused. "Maybe you're right, Mr. Graham,
but I wonder if I oughtn't to go farther and take you all."
Graham smiled uncomfortably, but Bobby knew why the official failed to
follow that radical course. Like Howells, he hesitated to remove from the
Cedars the person most likely to solve its mystery. As long as a chance
remained that Howells had been right about Bobby he would give Silas
Blackburn's grandson his head, merely making sure, as he had done this
morning, that there should be no escape. He glanced up.
"I wonder if our foreigner's laughing at me now."
Graham made a movement toward the door.
"We might," he said significantly, "find that out without disturbing
Robinson nodded and led the way silently back to the house. Such a method
was repugnant to Bobby, and he followed at a distance. Then he saw from
the movements of the two men ahead that the library had again offered the
unexpected, and he entered. Paredes was no longer in the room. Bobby was
about to speak, but Robinson shook his head angrily, raising his hand in
a gesture of warning. All three strained forward, listening, and Bobby
caught the sound that had arrested the others—a stealthy scraping that
would have been inaudible except through such a brooding silence as
pervaded the old house.
Bobby's interest quickened at this confirmation of Graham's theory.
There was a projection of cold fear, moreover, in its sly allusion. It
gave to his memory of Paredes, with his tall, graceful figure, his lack
of emotion, his inscrutable eyes, and his pointed beard, a suggestion
nearly satanic. For the stealthy scraping had come from behind the closed
door of the private staircase. Howells had gone up that staircase. None
of them could forget for a moment that it led to the private hall outside
the room in which the murders had been committed.
It occurred to Bobby that the triumph Graham's face expressed was out of
keeping with the man. It disturbed him nearly as thoroughly as Paredes's
stealthy presence in that place.
"We've got him," Graham whispered.
Robinson's bulky figure moved cautiously toward the door. He grasped the
knob, swung the door open, and stepped back, smiling his satisfaction.
Half way down the staircase Paredes leaned against the wall, one foot
raised and outstretched, as though an infinitely quiet descent had been
interrupted. The exposure had been too quick for his habit. His face
failed to hide its discomfiture. His laugh rang false.
"I'm afraid we've caught you, Paredes," Graham said, and the triumph
blazed now in his voice.
What Paredes did then was more startling, more out of key than any of his
recent actions. He came precipitately down. His eyes were dangerous. As
Bobby watched the face whose quiet had at last been tempestuously
destroyed, he felt that the man was capable of anything under sufficient
"Got me for what?" he snarled.
"Tell us why you were sneaking up there. In connection with your little
excursion before dawn it suggests a guilty knowledge."
Paredes straightened. He shrugged his shoulders. With an admirable effort
of the will he smoothed the rage from his face, but for Bobby the satanic
"Why do you suppose I'm here?" he said in a restrained voice that
scarcely rose above a whisper. "To help Bobby. I was simply looking
around for Bobby's sake."
That angered Bobby. He wanted to cry out against the supposed friend who
had at last shown his teeth.
"That," Graham laughed, "is why you sneaked, why you didn't make any
noise, why you lost your temper when we caught you at it? What about it,
Mr. District Attorney?"
Robinson stepped forward.
"Nothing else to do, Mr. Graham. He's too slippery. I'll put him in a
"You mean," Paredes cried, "that you'll arrest me?"
"You've guessed it. I'll lock you up as a material witness."
Paredes swung on Bobby.
"You'll permit this, Bobby? You'll forget that I am a guest in your
"Why have you stayed? What were you doing up there? Answer those
questions. Tell me what you want."
Paredes turned away. He took a cigarette from his pocket and lighted it.
His fingers were not steady. For the first time, it became evident to
Bobby, Paredes was afraid. Rawlins came back from the telephone. He took
in the tableau.
"What's the rumpus?"
"Run this man to Smithtown," Robinson directed. "Lock him up, and tell
the judge, when he's arraigned in the morning, that I want him held as a
"He was at the hotel in Smithtown all right," Rawlins said.
He tapped Paredes's arm.
"You coming on this little joy ride like a lamb or a lion? Say, you'll
find the jail about as comfortable as the New Hotel."
Paredes smiled. The evil and dangerous light died in his eyes. He became
all at once easy and impervious again.
"Like a lamb. How else?"
"I'm sorry, Carlos," Bobby muttered. "If you'd only say something! If
you'd only explain your movements! If you'd only really help!"
Again Paredes shrugged his shoulders.
"Handcuffs?" he asked Rawlins.
Rawlins ran his hands deftly over the Panamanian's clothing.
"No armed neutrality for me," he grinned. "All right. We'll forget the
bracelets since you haven't a gun."
Puffing at his cigarette, Paredes got his coat and hat and followed the
detective from the house.
Robinson and Graham climbed the private staircase to commence another
systematic search of the hall, to discover, if they could, the motive for
Paredes's stealthy presence there. Bobby accepted greedily this
opportunity to find Katherine, to learn from her, undisturbed, what had
happened in the house that morning, the meaning, perhaps, of her
despairing gesture. When, in response to his knock, she opened her door
and stepped into the corridor he guessed her despair had been an
expression of the increased strain, of her helplessness in face of
Robinson's harsh determination.
"He questioned me for an hour," she said, "principally about the heel
mark in the court. They cling to that, because I don't think they've
found anything new at the lake."
"You don't know anything about it, do you, Katherine? You weren't there?
You didn't do that for me?"
"I wasn't there, Bobby. I honestly don't know any more about it
than you do."
"Carlos was in the court," he mused. "Did you know they'd taken him? We
found him creeping down the private stairway."
There was a hard quality about her gratitude.
"I am glad, Bobby. The man makes me shudder, and all morning they
seemed more interested in you than in him. They've rummaged every
She laughed feverishly.
"That's why I've been so upset. They seemed—" She broke off. She picked
at her handkerchief. After a moment she looked him frankly in the eyes
and continued: "They seemed almost as doubtful of me as of you."
He recalled Paredes's suspicion of the girl.
"It's nonsense, Katherine. And I'm to blame for that, too."
She put her finger to her lips. Her smile was wistful.
"Hush! You mustn't blame yourself. You mustn't think of that."
Again her solicitude, their isolation in a darkened place, tempted him,
aroused impulses nearly irresistible. Her slender figure, the pretty
face, grown familiar and more desirable through all these years, swept
him to a harsher revolt than he had conquered in the library. In the face
of Graham, in spite of his own intolerable position he knew he couldn't
fight that truth eternally. She must have noticed his struggle without
grasping its cause, for she touched his hand, and the wistfulness of her
"I wish you wouldn't think of me, Bobby. It's you we must all think of."
He accepted with a cold dismay the sisterly anxiety of her attitude. It
made his renunciation easier. He walked away.
"Why do you go?" she called after him.
He gestured vaguely, without turning.
He didn't see her again until dinner time. She was as silent then as she
had been the night before when Howells had sat with them, his moroseness
veiling a sharp interest in the plan that was to lead to his death.
Robinson's mood was very different. He talked a great deal, making no
effort to hide his irritation. His failure to find any clue in the
private staircase after Paredes's arrest had clearly stimulated his
interest in Bobby. The sharp little eyes, surrounded by puffy flesh, held
a threat for him. Bobby was glad when the meal ended.
Howells's body was taken away that night. It was a relief for all of them
to know that the old room was empty again.
"I daresay you won't sleep there," Graham said to Robinson.
Robinson glanced at Bobby.
"Not as things stand," he answered. "The library lounge is plenty good
enough for me tonight."
Graham went upstairs with Bobby. There was no question about his
purpose. He wouldn't repeat last night's mistake.
"At least," he said, when the door was closed behind them, "I can see if
you do get up and wander about in your sleep. I'd bet a good deal that
"If I did it would be an indication?"
"Granted it's your custom, what is there to tempt you to-night?"
Bobby answered, half jesting:
"You've not forgotten Robinson on the library sofa. The man isn't exactly
working for me. Tonight he seems almost as unfriendly as Howells was."
"I ought to sleep now if ever. I've seldom been so tired. Two such
"But I am glad you're here, Hartley. I can go to sleep with a more
"Don't worry," Graham said. "You'll sleep quietly enough, and we'll all
be better for a good rest."
For only a little while they talked of the mystery. While Graham
regretted his failure to find any trace of Maria, their voices dwindled
sleepily. Bobby recalled his last thought before losing himself last
night. He tried to force from his mind now the threat in Robinson's eyes.
He told himself again and again that the man wasn't actually unfriendly.
Then the blackness encircled him. He slept.
Almost at once, it seemed to him, he was fighting away, demanding
"What's the matter? Leave me alone."
He heard Graham's voice, unnaturally subdued and anxious.
"What are you doing, Bobby?"
Then Bobby knew he was no longer in his bed, that he stood instead in
a cold place; and the meaning of his position came with a rush of
"Get hold of yourself," Graham said. "Come back."
Bobby opened his eyes. He was in the upper hall at the head of the
stairs. Unconsciously he had been about to creep quietly down, perhaps to
the library. Graham had awakened him. It seemed to offer the answer to
everything. It seemed to give outline to a monstrous familiar that
drowned his real self in the black pit while it conducted his body to the
commission of unspeakable crimes.
He lurched into the bedroom and sat shivering on the bed. Graham entered
and quietly closed the door.
"What time is it?" Bobby asked hoarsely.
"Half-past two. I don't think Robinson was aroused."
The damp moon gave an ominous unreality to the room.
"What did I do?" Bobby whispered.
"Got softly out of bed and went to the hall. It was uncanny. You were
like an automaton. I didn't wake you at once. You see, I—I thought you
might go to the old room."
Bobby shook again. He drew a blanket about his shoulders.
"And you believed I'd show the way in and out, but the room was empty, so
I was going downstairs—"
"Good God! Then it's all true. I did it for the money. I put Howells out
to protect myself. I was going after Robinson. It's true. Hartley! Tell
me. Do you think it's true?"
Graham turned away.
"Don't ask me to say anything to help you just now," he answered huskily,
"for after this I don't dare, Bobby. I don't dare."
THE AMAZING MEETING IN THE SHADOWS OF THE OLD COURTYARD
Bobby returned to his bed. He lay there still shivering, beneath
the heavy blankets. "I don't dare!" He echoed Graham's words.
"There's nothing else any one can say. I must decide what to do. I
must think it over."
But, as always, thought brought no release. It merely insisted that the
case against him was proved. At last he had been seen slipping
unconsciously from his room—and at the same hour. All that remained was
to learn how he had accomplished the apparent miracles. Then no excuse
would remain for not going to Robinson and confessing. The woman at the
lake and in the courtyard, the movement of the body and the vanishing of
the evidence under his hand, Paredes's odd behaviour, all became in his
mind puzzling details that failed to obscure the chief fact. After this
something must be done about Paredes's detention.
He hadn't dreamed that his weariness could placate even momentarily such
reflections, but at last he slept again. He was aroused by the tramping
of men around the house, and strange, harsh voices. He raised himself on
his elbow and glanced from the window. It had long been daylight. Two
burly fellows in overalls, carrying pick and spade across their
shoulders, pushed through the underbrush at the edge of the clearing. He
turned. Graham, fully dressed, stood at the side of the bed.
"Those men?" Bobby asked wearily.
"The grave diggers," Graham answered. "They are going to work in the old
cemetery to prepare a place for Silas Blackburn with his fathers. That's
why I've come to wake you up. The minister's telephoned Katherine. He
will be here before noon. Do you know it's after ten o'clock?"
For some time Bobby stared through the window at the desolate, ragged
landscape. It was abnormally cold even for the late fall. Dull clouds
obscured the sun and furnished an illusion of crowding earthward.
"A funereal day."
The words slipped into his mind. He repeated them.
"When your grandfather's buried," Graham answered softly, "we'll all
"Why?" Bobby asked. "It won't lessen the fact of his murder."
"Time," Graham said, "lessens such facts—even for the police."
Bobby glanced at him, flushing.
"You mean you've decided to stand by me after what happened last night?"
"I've thought it all over. I slept like a top last night. I heard
nothing. I saw nothing."
"Ought I to want you to stand by me?" Bobby said. "Oughtn't I to make a
clean breast of it? At least I must do something about Paredes."
"It's hard to believe he had any connection with your sleep-walking last
night, yet it's as clear as ever that Maria and he are up to some game in
which you figure."
"He shouldn't be in jail," Bobby persisted.
"Get up," Graham advised. "Bathe, and have some breakfast, then we can
decide. There's no use talking of the other thing. I've forgotten it. As
far as possible you must."
Bobby sprang upright.
"How can I forget it? If it was hard to face sleep before, what do you
think it is now? Have I any right—"
"Don't," Graham said. "I'll be with you again to-night. If I were
satisfied beyond the shadow of a doubt I'd advise you to confess, but I
can't be until I know what Maria and Paredes are doing."
When Bobby had bathed and dressed he found, in spite of his mental
turmoil, that his sleep had done him good. While he breakfasted Graham
urged him to eat, tried to drive from his brain the morbid aftermath of
last night's revealing moment.
"The manager took my advice, but Maria's still missing. Her pictures are
in most of the papers. There have been reporters here this morning, about
He strolled over and handed Bobby a number of newspapers.
"Where's Robinson?" Bobby asked.
"I saw him in the court a while ago. I daresay he's wandering
around—perhaps watching the men at the grave."
"He learned nothing new last night?"
"I was with him at breakfast. I gather not."
Bobby looked up.
"Isn't that an automobile coming through the woods?" he asked.
"Maybe Rawlins back from Smithtown, or the minister."
The car stopped at the entrance of the court. They heard the remote
tinkling of the front door bell. Jenkins passed through. The cold air
invading the hall and the dining room told them he had opened the door.
His sharp exclamation recalled Howells's report which, at their
direction, he had failed to mail. Had his exclamation been drawn by an
accuser? Bobby started to rise. Graham moved toward the door. Then
Jenkins entered and stood to one side. Bobby shared his astonishment, for
Paredes walked in, unbuttoning his overcoat, the former easy-mannered,
uncommunicative foreigner. He appeared, moreover, to have slept
pleasantly. His eyes showed no weariness, his clothing no disarrangement.
He spoke at once, quite as if nothing disagreeable had shadowed his
"Good morning. If I had dreamed of this change in the weather I would
have brought a heavier overcoat. I've nearly frozen driving from
Before either man could grope for a suitable greeting he faced Bobby. He
felt in his pockets with whimsical discouragement.
"Fact is, Bobby, I left New York too suddenly. I hadn't noticed until a
little while ago. You see I spent a good deal in Smithtown yesterday."
Bobby spoke with an obvious confusion:
"What do you mean, Carlos? I thought you were—"
Graham interrupted with a flat demand for an explanation.
"How did you get away?"
Paredes waved his hand.
"Later, Mr. Graham. There is a hack driver outside who is even more
suspicious than you. He wants to be paid. I asked Rawlins to drive me
back, but he rushed from the courthouse, probably to telephone his
rotund superior. Fact is, this fellow wants five dollars—an
outrageous rate. I've told him so—but it doesn't do any good. So will
you lend me Bobby—"
Bobby handed him a banknote. He didn't miss Graham's meaning glance.
Paredes gave the money to the butler.
"Pay him, will you, Jenkins? Thanks."
He surveyed the remains of Bobby's breakfast. He sat down.
"May I? My breakfast was early, and prison food, when you're not in
Bobby tried to account for Paredes's friendly manner. That he should have
come back at all was sufficiently strange, but it was harder to
understand why he should express no resentment for his treatment
yesterday, why he should fail to refer to Bobby's questions at the moment
of his arrest, or to the openly expressed enmity of Graham. Only one
theory promised to fit at all. It was necessary for the Panamanian to
return to the Cedars. His purpose, whatever it was, compelled him to
remain for the present in the mournful, tragic house. Therefore, he would
crush his justifiable anger. He would make it practically impossible for
Bobby to refuse his hospitality. And he had asked for money—only a
trifling sum, yet Graham would grasp at the fact to support his earlier
Paredes's arrival possessed one virtue: It diverted Bobby's thoughts
temporarily from his own dilemma, from his inability to chart a course.
Graham, on the other hand, was ill at ease. Beyond a doubt he was
disarmed by Paredes's good humour. For him yesterday's incident was not
so lightly to be passed over. Eventually his curiosity conquered. The
words came, nevertheless, with some difficulty:
"We scarcely expected you back."
His laugh was short and embarrassed.
"We took it for granted you would find it necessary to stay in Smithtown
for a while."
Paredes sipped the coffee which Jenkins had poured.
"Splendid coffee! You should have tasted what I had this morning. Simple
enough, Mr. Graham. I telephoned as soon as Rawlins got me to the
Bastille. I communicated with the lawyer who represents the company for
which I once worked. He's a prominent and brilliant man. He planned it
with some local fellow. When I was arraigned at the opening of court this
morning the judge could hold me only as a material witness. He fixed a
pretty stiff bail, but the local lawyer was there with a bondsman, and I
came back. My clothes are here. You don't mind, Bobby?"
That moment in the hall when Graham had awakened him urged Bobby to reply
with a genuine warmth:
"I don't mind. I'm glad you're out of it. I'm sorry you went as you did.
I was tired, at my wits' end. Your presence in the private staircase was
the last straw. You will forgive us, Carlos?"
Paredes smiled. He put down his coffee cup and lighted a cigarette. He
smoked with a vast contentment.
"That's better. Nothing to forgive, Bobby. Let us call it a
Graham moved closer.
"Perhaps you'll tell us now what you were doing in the private
Paredes blew a wreath of smoke. His eyes still smiled, but his voice
"Bygones are bygones. Isn't that so, Bobby?"
"Since you wish it," Bobby said.
But more important than the knowledge Graham desired, loomed the old
question. What was the man's game? What held him here?
Robinson entered. The flesh around his eyes was puffier than it had been
yesterday. Worry had increased the incongruous discontent of his round
face. Clearly he had slept little.
"I saw you arrive," he said. "Rawlins warned me. But I must say I didn't
think you'd use your freedom to come to us."
"Since the law won't hold me at your convenience in Smithtown I keep
myself at your service here—if Bobby permits it. Could you ask more?"
Bobby shrank from the man with whom he had idled away so much time and
money. That fleeting, satanic impression of yesterday came back, sharper,
more alarming. Paredes's clear challenge to the district attorney was the
measure of his strength. His mind was subtler than theirs. His reserve
and easy daring mastered them all; and always, as now, he laughed at the
futility of their efforts to sound his purposes, to limit his freedom of
action. Bobby didn't care to meet the uncommunicative eyes whose depths
he had never been able to explore. Was there a special power there that
could control the destinies of other people, that might make men walk
unconsciously to accomplish the ends of an unscrupulous brain?
The district attorney appeared as much at sea as the others.
"Thanks," he said dryly to Paredes.
And glancing at Bobby, he asked with a hollow scorn:
"You've no objection to the gentleman visiting you for the present?"
"If he wishes," Bobby answered, a trifle amused at Robinson's obvious
fancy of a collusion between Paredes and himself.
Robinson jerked his head toward the window.
"I've been watching the preparations out there. I guess when he's laid
away you'll be thinking about having the will read."
"No hurry," Bobby answered with a quick intake of breath.
"I suppose not," Robinson sneered, "since everybody knows well enough
what's in it."
Bobby arose. Robinson still sneered.
"You'll be at the grave—as chief mourner?"
Bobby walked from the room. He hadn't cared to reply. He feared, as it
was, that he had let slip his increased self-doubt. He put on his coat
and hat and left the house. The raw cold, the year's first omen of
winter, made his blood run quicker, forced into his mind a cleansing
stimulation. But almost immediately even that prophylactic was denied
him. With his direction a matter of indifference, chance led him into the
thicket at the side of the house. He had walked some distance. The
underbrush had long interposed a veil between him and the Cedars above
whose roofs smoke wreathed in the still air like fantastic figures
weaving a shroud to lower over the time-stained, melancholy walls. For
once he was grateful to the forest because it had forbidden him to glance
perpetually back at that dismal and pensive picture. Then he became aware
of twigs hastily lopped off, of bushes bent and torn, of the uncovering,
through these careless means, of an old path. Simultaneously there
reached his ears the scraping of metal implements in the soft soil, the
dull thud of earth falling regularly. He paused, listening. The labour of
the men was given an uncouth rhythm by their grunting expulsions of
breath. Otherwise the nature of their industry and its surroundings had
imposed upon them a silence, in itself beast-like and unnatural.
At last a harsh voice came to Bobby. Its brevity pointed the previous
dumbness of the speaker:
And Bobby turned and hurried back along the roughly restored path, as if
fleeing from an immaterial thing suddenly quickened with the power of
He could picture the fresh oblong excavation in the soil of the family
burial ground. He could see where the men had had to tear bushes from
among the graves in order to insert their tools. There was an ironical
justice in the condition of the old cemetery. It had received no
interment since the death of Katherine's father. Like everything about
the Cedars, Silas Blackburn had delivered it to the swift, obliterating
fingers of time. If the old man in his selfishness had paused to gaze
beyond the inevitable fact of death, Bobby reflected, he would have
guarded with a more precious interest the drapings of his final sleep.
This necessary task on which Bobby had stumbled had made the thicket less
congenial than the house. As he walked back he forecasted with a keen
apprehension his approaching ordeal. It would, doubtless, be more
difficult to endure than Howells's experiment over Silas Blackburn's body
in the old room. Could he witness the definite imprisonment of his
grandfather in a narrow box; could he watch the covering earth fall
noisily in that bleak place of silence without displaying for Robinson
the guilt that impressed him more and more?
A strange man appeared, walking from the direction of the house. His
black clothing, relieved only by narrow edges of white cuffs between the
sleeves and the heavy mourning gloves, fitted with solemn harmony into
the landscape and Bobby's mood. Such a figure was appropriate to the
Cedars. Bobby stepped to one side, placing a screen of dead foliage
between himself and the man whose profession it was to mourn. He emerged
from the forest and saw again the leisurely weaving of the smoke shroud
above the house. Then his eyes were drawn by the restless movements of a
pair of horses, standing in the shafts of a black wagon at the court
entrance, and his ordeal became like a vast morass which offers no likely
path yet whose crossing is the price of salvation.
He was glad to see Graham leave the court and hurry toward him.
"I was coming to hunt you up, Bobby. The minister's arrived. So has
Doctor Groom. Everything's about ready."
"Yes. He used to see a good deal of your grandfather. It's natural enough
he should be here."
Bobby agreed indifferently. They walked slowly back to the house. Graham
made it plain that his mind was far from the sad business ahead.
"What do you think of Paredes coming back as if nothing were wrong?" he
asked. "He ignores what happened yesterday. He settles himself in the
"I don't know what to think of it," Bobby answered. "This morning Carlos
gave me the creeps."
Graham glanced at him curiously. He spoke with pronounced deliberation,
startling Bobby; for this friend expressed practically the thought that
Paredes's arrival had driven into his own mind.
"Gave me the creeps, too. Makes me surer than ever that he has an
abominably deep purpose in using his wits to hang on here. He suggests
resources as hard to understand as anything that has happened in the old
room. You'll confess, Bobby, he's had a good deal of influence over
you—an influence for evil?"
"I've liked to go around with him, if that's what you mean."
"Isn't he the cause of the last two or three months nonsense in
"I won't blame Carlos for that," Bobby muttered.
"He influenced you against your better judgment," Graham persisted, "to
refuse to leave with me the night of your grandfather's death."
"Maria did her share," Bobby said.
He broke off, looking at Graham.
"What are you driving at?"
"I've been asking myself since he came back," Graham answered, "if
there's any queer power behind his quiet manner. Maybe he is psychic.
Maybe he can do things we don't understand. I've wondered if he had,
without your knowing it, acquired sufficient influence to direct your
body when your mind no longer controlled it. It's a nasty thought, but
I've heard of such things."
"You mean Carlos may have made me go to the hall last night, perhaps sent
me to the old room those other times?"
Now that another had expressed the idea Bobby fought it with all
"No. I won't believe it. I've been weak, Hartley, but not that weak. And
I tell you I did feel Howells's body move under my hand."
"Don't misunderstand me," Graham said gently. "I must consider every
possibility. You were excited and imaginative when you went to the old
room to take the evidence. It was a shock to have your candle go out.
Your own hand, reaching out to Howells, might have moved spasmodically. I
mean, you may have been responsible for the thing without realizing it."
"And the disappearance of the evidence?" Bobby defended himself.
"If it had been stolen earlier the coat pocket might have retained its
bulging shape. We know now that Paredes is capable of sneaking around
"No, no," Bobby said hotly. "You're trying to take away my one hope.
But I was there, and you weren't. I know with my own senses what
happened, and you don't. Paredes has no such influence over me. I won't
think of it."
"If it's so far-fetched," Graham asked quietly, "why do you revolt from
Bobby turned on him.
"And why do you fill my mind with such thoughts? If you think I'm guilty
say so. Go tell Robinson so."
He glanced away while the angry colour left his face. He was a little
dazed by the realization that he had spoken to Graham as he might have
done to an enemy, as he had spoken to Howells in the old bedroom. He
felt the touch of Graham's hand on his shoulder.
"I'm only working in your service," Graham said kindly. "I'm sorry if
I've troubled you by seeking physical facts in order to escape the
ghosts. For Groom has brought the ghosts back with him. Don't make any
mistake about that. You want the truth, don't you?"
"Yes," Bobby said, "even if it does for me. But I want it quickly. I
can't go on this way indefinitely."
Yet that flash of temper had given him courage to face the ordeal. A
lingering resentment at Graham's suggestion lessened the difficulty of
his position. Entering the court, he scarcely glanced at the black wagon.
There were more dark-clothed men in the hall. Rawlins had returned.
From the rug in front of the fireplace he surveyed the group with a
bland curiosity. Robinson sat near by, glowering at Paredes. The
Panamanian had changed his clothing. He, too, was sombrely dressed,
and, instead of the vivid necktie he had worn from the courthouse, a
jet-black scarf was perfectly arranged beneath his collar. He lounged
opposite the district attorney, his eyes studying the fire. His fingers
on the chair arm were restless.
Doctor Groom stood at the foot of the stairs, talking with the clergyman,
a stout and unctuous figure. Bobby noticed that the great stolid form of
the doctor was ill at ease. From his thickly bearded face his reddish
eyes gleamed forth with a fresh instability.
The clergyman shook hands with Bobby. "We need not delay. Your cousin is
upstairs." He included the company in his circling turn of the head.
"Any one who cares to go—"
Bobby forced himself to walk up the staircase, facing the first phase
of his ordeal. He saw that the district attorney realized that, too,
for he sprang from his chair, and, followed by Rawlins, started upward.
The entire company crowded the stairs. At the top Bobby found Paredes
at his side.
"Carlos! Why do you come?"
"I would like to be of some comfort," Paredes answered gravely.
His fingers on the banister made that restless, groping movement.
Graham summoned Katherine. One of the black-clothed men opened the door
of Silas Blackburn's room. He stepped aside, beckoning. He had an air of
a showman craving approbation for the surprise he has arranged.
Bobby went in with the others. Automatically through the dim light he
catalogued remembered objects, all intimate to his grandfather, each
oddly entangled in his mind with his dislike of the old man. The iron
bed; the chest of drawers, scratched and with broken handles; the closed
colonial desk; the miserly rag carpet—all seemed mutely asking, as
Bobby did, why their owner had deserted them the other night and
delivered himself to the ghostly mystery of the old bedroom.
Reluctantly Bobby's glance went to the centre of the floor where the
casket rested on trestles. From the chest of drawers two candles, the
only light, played wanly over the still figure and the ashen face. So for
the second time the living met the dead, and the law watched hopefully.
Robinson stood opposite, but he didn't look at Silas Blackburn who could
no longer accuse. He stared instead at Bobby, and Bobby kept repeating
"I didn't do this thing. I didn't do this thing."
And he searched the face of the dead man for a confirmation. A chill
thought, not without excuse under the circumstances and in this vague
light, raced along his nerves. Silas Blackburn had moved once since his
death. If the power to move and speak should miraculously return to him
now! In this house there appeared to be no impossibilities. The cold
control of death had been twice broken.
Katherine's entrance swung his thoughts and released him for a moment
from Robinson's watchfulness. He found he could turn from the wrinkled
face that had fascinated him, that had seemed to question him with a calm
and complete knowledge, to the lovely one that was active with a little
smile of encouragement. He was grateful for that. It taught him that in
the heavy presence of death and from the harsh trappings of mourning the
magnetism of youth is unconquerable. So in affection he found an antidote
for fear. Even Graham's quick movement to her side couldn't make her
presence less helpful to Bobby. He looked at his grandfather again. He
glanced at Robinson. As in a dream he heard, the clergyman say:
"The service will be read at the grave."
Almost indifferently he saw the dark-clothed men sidle forward, lift a
grotesquely shaped plate of metal from the floor, and fit it in place,
hiding from his eyes the closed eyes of the dead man. He nodded and
stepped to the hall when Robinson tapped his arm and whispered:
"Make way, Mr. Blackburn."
He watched the sombre men carry their heavy burden across the hall, down
the stairs, and into the dull autumn air. He followed at the side of
Katherine across the clearing and into the overgrown path. He was aware
of the others drifting behind. Katherine slipped her hand in his.
"It is dreadful we shouldn't feel more sorrow, more regret," she said.
"Perhaps we never understood him. That is dreadful, too; for no one
understood him. We are the only mourners."
Bobby, as they threaded the path behind the stumbling bearers, found a
grim justice in that also. Because of his selfishness Silas Blackburn had
lived alone. Because of it he must go to his long rest with no other
mourners than these, and their eyes were dry.
Bobby clung to Katherine's hand.
"If I could only know!" he whispered.
She pressed his hand. She did not reply.
Ahead the forest was scarred by a yellow wound. The bearers set their
burden down beside it, glancing at each other with relief. Across the
heap of earth Bobby saw the waiting excavation. In his ears vibrated the
memory of the harsh voice:
"It's deep enough!"
Another voice droned. It was soft and unctuous. It seemed to take a
pleasure in the terrible words it loosed to stray eternally through the
Bobby glanced at bent stones, strangled by the underbrush; at other
slabs, cracked and brown, which lay prone, half covered by creeping
vines. The tones of the clergyman were no longer revolting in his ears.
He scarcely heard them. He imagined a fantasy. He pictured the
inhabitants of these forgotten, narrow houses straying to the great
dwelling where they had lived, punishing this one, bringing him to suffer
with them the degradation of their neglect. So Robinson became less
important in his mind. Through such fancies the ordeal was made bearable.
A wind sprang up, rattling through the trees and disturbing the vines on
the fallen stones. Later, he thought, it would snow, and he shivered for
those left helpless to sleep in the sad forest.
The dark-clothed men strained at ropes now. They glanced at Katherine
and Bobby as at those most to be impressed by their skill. They lowered
Silas Blackburn's grimly shaped casing into the sorrel pit. It passed
from Bobby's sight. The two roughly dressed labourers came from the
thicket where they had hidden, and with their spades approached the
grave. The sound from whose imminence Bobby had shrunk rattled in his
ears. The yellow earth cut across the stormy twilight of the cemetery and
scattered in the trench. After a time the response lost its metallic
Katherine pulled at Bobby's hand. He started and glanced up. One of the
black-clothed men was speaking to him with a professional gentleness:
"You needn't wait, Mr. Blackburn. Everything is finished."
He saw now that Robinson stood across the grave still staring at him.
The professional mourner smiled sympathetically and moved away.
Katherine, Robinson, the two grave diggers, and Bobby alone were left of
the little company; and Bobby, staring back at the district attorney,
took a sombre pride in facing it out until even the men with the spades
had gone. The ordeal, he reflected, had lost its poignancy. His mind was
intent on the empty trappings he had witnessed. He wondered if there
was, after all, no justice against his grandfather in this unkempt
burial. The place might have something to tell him. If it could only
make him believe that beyond the inevitable fact nothing mattered. If
he were sure of that it would offer a way out at the worst; perhaps the
happiest exit for Katherine's sake.
Then Doctor Groom returned. His huge hairy figure dominated the cemetery.
His infused eyes, beneath the thick black brows, were far-seeing. They
seemed to penetrate Bobby's thought. Then they glanced at the excavation,
appearing to intimate that Silas Blackburn's earthy blanket could hide
nothing from the closed eyes it sheltered. At his age he faced the near
approach of that inevitable fact, and he didn't hesitate to look beyond.
Bobby knew what Graham had meant when he had said that Groom had brought
the ghosts back with him. It was as if the cemetery had recalled the old
doctor to answer his presumptuous question.
"There's no use your staying here."
The resonance of the deep voice jarred through the woods. The broad
shoulders twitched. One of the hairy hands made a half circle.
"I hope you'll clean this up, my boy. You ought to replace the stones and
trim the graves. You couldn't blame them, could you, if these old people
were restless and tried to go abroad?"
For Bobby, in spite of himself, the man on whose last shelter the earth
continued to fall became once more a potent thing, able to appraise the
penalty of his own carelessness.
"Come," Katherine whispered.
But Bobby lingered, oddly fascinated, supporting the ordeal to its final
moment. The blows of the backs of the spades on the completed mound beat
into his brain the end. The workmen wandered off through the woods. From
a distance the harsh voice of one of them came back:
"I don't want to dig again in such a place. People don't seem dead
Robinson tried to laugh.
"That man's wise," he said to the doctor. "If Paredes spoke of this
cemetery as being full of ghosts I could understand him."
The doctor's deep bass answered thoughtfully:
"Paredes is probably right. The man has a special sense, but I have felt
it myself. The Cedars and the forest are full of things that seem to
whisper, things that one never sees. Such things might have an excuse
"Let's get out of it," Robinson said gruffly.
Katherine withdrew her hand. Bobby reached for it again, but she seemed
not to notice. She walked ahead of him along the path, her shoulders a
trifle bent. Bobby caught up with her.
"Katherine!" he said.
"Don't talk to me, Bobby."
He looked closer. He saw that she was crying at last. Tears stained her
cheeks. Her lips were strange to him in the distortion of a grief that
seeks to control itself. He slackened his pace and let her walk ahead.
He followed with a sort of awe that there should have been grief for
Silas Blackburn after all. He blamed himself because his own eyes were
Back of him he heard the murmuring conversation of the doctor and the
district attorney. Strangely it made him sorry that Robinson should have
been more impressed than Howells by the doctor's beliefs.
They stepped into the clearing. The wind had dissipated the smoke shroud.
It was no longer low over the roofs. Against the forest and the darker
clouds the house had a stark appearance. It was like a frame from which
the flesh has fallen.
The black wagon had gone. The Cedars was left alone to the solution of
Paredes, Graham, and Rawlins waited for them in the hall. There was
nothing to say. Paredes placed with a delicate accuracy fresh logs upon
the fire. He arose, flecking the wood dust from his hands.
"How cold it will be here," he mused, "how impossible of entrance when
the house is left as empty as the woods to those who only go unseen!"
Bobby saw Katherine's shoulders shake. She had dried her eyes, but in her
face was expressed an aversion for solitude, a desire for any company,
even that of the man she disliked and feared.
Robinson took Rawlins to the library for another futile consultation,
Bobby guessed. Katherine sat on the arm of a chair, thrusting one foot
toward the fresh blaze.
"It will snow," she said. "It is very early for that."
No one answered. The strain tightened. The flames leapt, throwing
evanescent pulsations of brilliancy about the dusky hall. They welcomed
Jenkins's announcement that luncheon was ready, but they scarcely
disturbed the hurriedly prepared dishes, and afterward they gathered
again in the hall, silent and depressed, appalled by the long, dreary
afternoon, which, however, possessed the single virtue of dividing them
from another night.
For long periods the district attorney and the detective were closeted in
the library. Now and then they passed upstairs, and they could be heard
moving about, but no one, save Graham, seemed to care. Already the
officers had had every opportunity to search the house. The old room no
longer held an inhabitant to set its fatal machinery in motion. Yet Bobby
realized in a dull way that at any moment the two men might come down to
"We have found something. You are guilty."
The heavy atmosphere of the house crushed such forecasts, made them seem
a little trivial. Bobby fancied it gathering density to cradle new
mysteries. The long minutes loitered. Doctor Groom made a movement to go.
"Why should I stay?" he grumbled. "What is there to keep me?"
Yet he sat back in his chair again and appeared to have forgotten his
Graham wandered off. Bobby thought he had joined Rawlins and Robinson in
The only daylight entered the hall through narrow slits of windows on
either side of the front door. Bobby, watching these, was, even with the
problems night brought to him now, glad when they grew paler.
Paredes, who had been smoking cigarette after cigarette, arose and
brought his card table. Drawing it close to him, he arranged the cards in
neat piles. The uncertain firelight made it barely possible to identify
their numbers. Doctor Groom gestured his disgust. Katherine stooped
forward, placing her hands on the table.
"Is it kind," she asked, "so soon after he has left his house?"
"Wait!" he said softly.
Puzzled, she glanced at him.
"Stay just as you are," he directed. "There has been so much death in
this house—who knows?"
Languidly he placed his fingers on the edge of the table opposite hers.
"What are you doing?" Dr. Groom asked hoarsely.
"Wait!" Paredes said again.
Then Bobby, scarcely aware of what was going on, saw the cards glide
softly across the face of the table and flutter to the floor. The table
had lifted slowly toward the Panamanian. It stood now on two legs.
"What is it?" Katherine said. "It's moving. I can feel it move beneath
Her words recalled to Bobby unavoidably his experience in the old room.
"Don't do that!" the doctor cried.
"If," he answered, "the source of these crimes is, as you think,
spiritual, why not ask the spirits for a solution? You see how quickly
the table responds. It is as I thought. There is something in this hall.
Haven't you a feeling that the dead are in this dark hall with us? They
may wish to speak. See!"
The table settled softly down without any noise. It commenced to rise
again. Katherine lifted her hands with a visible effort, as if the table
had tried to hold them against her will. She covered her face and sat
"I won't! I—"
Paredes shrugged his shoulders, appealing to the doctor. The huge, shaggy
head shook determinedly.
"I'm not so sure I don't agree with you. I'm not so sure the dead aren't
in this hall. That is why I'll have nothing to do with such dangerous
play. It has shown us, at least, that you are psychic, Mr. Paredes."
"I have a gift," Paredes murmured. "It would be useful to speak with
them. They see so much more than we do."
He lifted his hands. He waved them dejectedly. He stooped and commenced
picking up the cards. The doctor arose.
"I shall go now." He sighed. "I don't know why I have stayed."
Bobby got his coat and hat.
"I'll walk to the stable with you."
He was glad to escape from the dismal hall in which the firelight
grew more eccentric. The court was colder and damper, and even beyond
the chill was more penetrating than it had been at the grave that
noon. Uneven flakes of snow sifted from the swollen sky, heralds of a
"No more sleep-walking?" the doctor asked when he had taken the blanket
from his horse and climbed into the buggy.
Bobby leaned against the wall of the stable and told how Graham had
brought him back the previous night from the stairhead, to which he had
gone with a purpose he didn't dare sound. The doctor shook his head.
"You shouldn't tell me that. You shouldn't tell any one. You place
yourself too much in my hands, as you are already in Graham's hands.
Maybe that is all right. But the district attorney? You're sure he knows
nothing of this habit which seems to have commenced the night of the
"No, and I think Paredes alone of those who know about that first night
would be likely to tell him."
"See that he doesn't," the doctor said shortly. "I've been watching
Robinson. If he doesn't make an arrest pretty soon with something back of
it he'll lose his mind. He mightn't stop to ask, as I do, as Howells did,
about the locked doors and the nature of the wounds."
"How shall I find the courage to sleep to-night?" Bobby asked.
The doctor thought for a moment.
"Suppose I come back?" he said. "I've only one or two unimportant cases
to look after. I ought to return before dinner. I'll take Graham's place
for to-night. It's time your reactions were better diagnosed. I'll share
your room, and you can go to sleep, assured that you'll come to no harm,
that harm will come to no one through you. I'll bring some books on the
subject. I'll read them while you sleep. Perhaps I can learn the impulse
that makes your body active while your mind's a blank."
The idea of the influence of Paredes, which Graham had put into words,
slipped back to Bobby. He was, nevertheless, strengthened by the
doctor's promise. To an extent the dread of the night fell from him
like a smothering garment. This old man, who had always filled him with
discomfort, had become a capable support in his difficult hour. He saw
him drive away. He studied his watch, computing the time that must
elapse before he could return. He wanted him at the Cedars even though
the doctor believed more thoroughly than any one else in the spiritual
survival of old passions and the power of the dead to project a
He didn't care to go back to the hall. It would do him good to walk, to
force as far as he could from his mind the memory of the ordeal at the
grave, the grim, impending atmosphere of the house. And suppose he
should accomplish something useful? Suppose he should succeed where
Graham had failed?
So he walked toward the stagnant lake. The flakes of snow fell thicker.
Already they had gathered in white patches on the floor of the forest. If
this weather continued the woods would cease to be habitable for that
dark feminine figure through which they had accounted for the mournful
crying after Howells's death, which Graham had tried to identify with the
As he passed the neighbourhood of the cemetery; he walked faster. Many
yards of underbrush separated him from the little time-devastated city of
the dead, but its mere proximity forced on him, as the old room had done,
a feeling of a stealthy and intangible companionship.
He stepped from the fringe of trees about the open space in the centre of
which the lake brooded. The water received with a destructive
indifference the fluttering caresses of the snowflakes. Bobby paused with
a quick expectancy. He saw nothing of the woman who had startled him that
first evening, but he heard from the thicket a sound like muffled
sobbing, and he responded again to the sense of a malevolent regard.
He hid himself among the trees, and in their shelter skirted the lake.
The sobbing had faded into nothing. For a long time he heard only the
whispers of the snow and the grief of the wind. When he had rounded the
lake and was some distance beyond it, however, the moaning reached him
again, and through the fast-deepening twilight he saw, as indistinctly as
he had before, a black feminine figure flitting among the trees in the
direction of the lake. Graham's theory lost its value. It was impossible
to fancy the brilliant, colourful dancer in this black, shadowy thing. He
commenced to run in pursuit, calling out:
"Stop! Who are you? Why do you cry through the woods?"
But the dusk was too thick, the forest too eager. The black figure
disappeared. In retrospect it was again as unsubstantial as a phantom.
The flakes whispered mockingly. The wind was ironical.
He found his pursuit had led him back to the end of the lake nearest the
Cedars. He paused. His triumph was not unmixed with fear. A black figure
stood in the open, quite close to him, gazing over the stagnant water
that was like a veil for sinister things. He knew now that the woman was
flesh and blood, for she did not glide away, and the snow made pallid
scars on her black cloak.
He crept carefully forward until he was close behind the black figure.
"Now," he said, "you'll tell me who you are and why you cry about
The woman swung around with a cry. He stepped back, abashed, not knowing
what to say, for there was still enough light to disclose to him the
troubled face of Katherine, and there were tears in her eyes as if she
might recently have expressed an audible grief.
"You frightened me, Bobby."
Without calculation he spoke his swift thought: "Was it you I saw here
before? But surely you didn't cry in the house the other night and
afterward when we followed Carlos!"
The tranquil beauty of her face was disturbed. When she answered her
voice had lost something of its music:
"What do you mean?"
"It was you who cried just now? It was you I saw running through
"What do you mean?" she asked again. "I have not run. I—I am not your
woman in black, if that's what you think. I happened to pick up this
cloak. You've seen it often enough before. And I haven't cried."
She brushed the tears angrily from her eyes.
"At least I haven't cried so any one could hear me. I wanted to walk. I
hoped I would find you. I thought you had come this way, so I came, too.
Why, Bobby, you're suspecting me of something!"
But the problem of the fugitive figure receded before the more intimate
one of his heart. There was a thrill in her desire to find him in the
solitude of the forest.
Only the faintest gray survived in the sky above the trees. The shadows
were thick about them. The whispering snow urged him to use this moment
for his happiness. It wasn't the thought of Graham that held him back.
Last night, under an equal temptation, he might have spoken. To-night a
new element silenced him and bound his eager hands. His awakening at the
head of the stairs raised an obstacle to self-revelation around which
there seemed to exist no path.
"I'm sorry. Let us go back," he said.
She looked at him inquiringly.
"What is it, Bobby? You are more afraid to-day than you have ever been
before. Has something happened I know nothing of?"
He shook his head. He couldn't increase her own trouble by telling
her of that.
The woods seemed to receive an ashy illumination from the passage of the
snowflakes. Katherine walked a little faster.
"Don't be discouraged, Bobby," she begged him. "Everything will come out
straight. You must keep telling yourself that. You must fight until you
The nearness of her dusk-clothed, slender figure filled him with a new
courage, obscured to an extent his real situation. He burst out
"Don't worry. I'll fight. I'll make myself believe. If necessary I'll
tell everything I know in order to find the guilty person."
She placed her hand on his arm. Her voice fell to a whisper.
"Don't fight that way. Uncle Silas is dead; Howells has been taken away.
The police will find nothing. By and by they will leave. It will all be
forgotten. Why should you keep it active and dangerous by trying to find
who is guilty?"
"Katherine!" he cried, surprised. "Why do you say that?"
Her hand left his arm. She walked on without answering. Paredes came back
to him—Paredes serenely calling attention to the fact that Katherine had
alarmed the household and had led it to the discovery of the Cedars's
successive mysteries. He shrank from asking her any more.
They left the thicket. In the open space about the house the snow had
spread a white mantle. From it the heavy walls rose black and forbidding.
"I don't want to go in," Katherine said.
Their feet lagged as they followed the driveway to the entrance of
the court. The curtains of the room of death, they saw, had been
raised. A dim, unhealthy light slipped from the small-paned windows
across the court, staining the snow. Robinson and Rawlins were
probably searching again.
Suddenly Katherine stopped. She pointed.
"What's that?" she asked sharply.
Bobby followed the direction of her glance. He saw a black patch against
the wall of the wing opposite the lighted windows.
"It is a shadow," he said.
She relaxed and they walked on. They entered the court. There she
turned, and Bobby stopped, too, with a sudden fear. For the thing he had
called a shadow was moving. He stared at it with a hypnotic belief that
the Cedars was at last disclosing its supernatural secret. He knew it
could be no illusion, since Katherine swayed, half-fainting, against him.
The moving shadow assumed the shape of a stout figure, slightly bent at
the shoulders. A pipe protruded from the bearded mouth. One hand waved a
Bobby's first instinct was to cry out, to command this old man they had
seen buried that day to return to his grave. For there wasn't the
slightest doubt. The unhealthy candlelight from the room of death shone
full on the gray and wrinkled face of Silas Blackburn.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE GRAVE
"Hello, Katy! Hello, Bobby! You shown your face at last? I hope you've
The thin, quarrelsome voice of Silas Blackburn echoed in the mouldy
court. The stout, bent figure in the candlelight studied them
suspiciously. Katherine clung to Bobby, trembling, startled beyond speech
by the apparition. They both stared at the gray face, at the thick
figure, which, three days after death, they had seen buried that noon in
the overgrown cemetery. Bobby recalled how Doctor Groom had reminded him
that an activity like this might emerge from such places. He had
suggested that the condition of the family burial ground might be an
inspiration to such strayings. Yet why should the spirit of Silas
Blackburn have escaped? Why should it have returned forthwith to the
Cedars, unless to face his grandson as his murderer?
Afterward Bobby experienced no shame for these reflections. The encounter
was a fitting sequel to the moment in the dark room when he had felt
Howells move beneath his hand. He had a fleeting faith that the void
between the living and the dead had, indeed, been bridged.
Then he wondered that the familiar figure failed to disintegrate, and he
noticed smoke curling from the blackened briar pipe. He caught its
pungent aroma in the damp air of the court. Moreover, Silas Blackburn had
spoken, challenging him as usual with a sneer.
"Let us go past," Katherine whispered.
But Silas Blackburn stepped out, blocking their way. He spoke again. His
whining accents held a reproach.
"What's the matter with you two? You might 'a' seen a ghost. Or maybe
you're sorry to have me back. Didn't you wonder where I was, Katy? Reckon
you hoped I was dead, Bobby."
Bobby answered. He had a fancy of addressing emptiness.
"Why have you come? That is what you are to us—dead."
Silas Blackburn chuckled. He took the pipe from his mouth and tapped the
tobacco down with a knotted forefinger.
"I'll show you how dead I am! Trying to be funny, ain't you? I'll make
you laugh on the wrong side of your face. It's cold here. I'm going in."
The same voice, the same manner! Yet his presence denied that great fact
which during three days had been impressed upon them with a growing fear.
The old man jerked his thumb toward the dimly lighted windows of the
"What you got the old room lighted up for? What's going on there? I tried
to sleep there the other night—"
Katherine sprang forward. She stretched out her hand to him with a
reluctance as pronounced as Graham's when he had touched Howells's body.
Her fingers brushed his hand. Her shoulders drooped. She clung to his
arm. To Bobby this resolution was more of a shock, less to be explained,
than his first assurance of an immaterial visitor. What did it mean to
him? Was it an impossible assurance of safety?
The old man patted Katherine's shoulder.
"Why, what you crying for, Katy? Always seems something to scare
He jerked his thumb again toward the lighted windows.
"You ain't told me yet what's going on in the old room."
Bobby's laugh was dazed, questioning.
"They're trying to account for your murder there."
His grandfather looked at him with blank amazement.
"You out of your head?"
"No," Katherine cried. "We saw you lying there, cold and still. I—I
"You've not forgotten, Katherine," Bobby said breathlessly, "that he
Silas Blackburn took his hand from Katherine's shoulder.
"Trying to scare me? What's the matter with you? Some scheme to get
"You slept in the old room the other night?" Bobby asked helplessly.
"No, I didn't sleep there," his grandfather whined. "I went in and lay
down, but I didn't sleep. I defy anybody to sleep in that room. What you
talking about? It's cold here. This court was always damp. I want to go
in. Is there a fire in the hall? We'll light one, while you tell me
what's ailin' you."
He turned, and grasped the door knob. They followed him into the hall,
shaking the snow from their coats.
Paredes sat alone by the fire, languidly engaged in the solitaire which
exerted so potent a fascination for him. He didn't turn at their
entrance. It wasn't until Bobby called out that he moved.
Bobby's tone must have suggested the abnormal, for Paredes sprang to his
feet, knocking over the table. The cards fell lightly to the floor,
straying as far as the hearth. His hands caught at the back of his
chair. He remained in an awkward position, rigid, white-faced, staring
at the newcomer.
"I told you all," he whispered, "that the court was full of ghosts."
Silas Blackburn walked to the fire, and stood with his back to the
smouldering logs. In this light he had the pallor of death—the lack of
colour Bobby remembered beneath the glass of the coffin. The old man,
always so intolerant and authoritative, was no longer sure of himself.
"Why do you talk about ghosts?" he whined. "I—I wish I hadn't waked up."
Paredes sank back in his chair.
"Waked up!" he echoed in an awe-struck voice.
Bobby took a trivial interest, as one will turn to small things during
the most vital moments, in the reflection that twice within twenty-four
hours the Panamanian had been startled from his cold reserve.
"Waked up!" Paredes repeated.
His voice rose.
"At what time? Do you remember the time?"
"Not exactly. Sometime after noon."
Bobby guessed the object of Paredes's question. He knew it had been
about noon when they had seen the coffin covered in the restless,
Paredes hurried on.
"How long had you been asleep?"
"What makes you ask that?" the other whined. "I don't know."
"It was a long time?"
Blackburn's voice rose complainingly.
"How did you guess that? I never slept so. I dozed nearly three days, but
I'm tired now—tired as if I hadn't slept at all."
Paredes made a gesture of surrender. Bobby struggled against the purpose
of the man's questions, against the suggestion of his grandfather's
"Your idea is madness, Carlos," he whispered.
"This house is filled with it," Paredes said. "I wish Groom were here.
Groom ought to be here."
"He's coming back," Bobby told him. "He shouldn't be long now. He said
before dinner time."
"I wish he would hurry."
The Panamanian said nothing more, as if he realized the futility of
pressing the matter before Doctor Groom should return. Necessary
questions surged in Bobby's brain. The two that Paredes had put, however,
disturbed his logic.
Katherine, who hadn't spoken since entering, kept her eyes fixed on her
uncle. Her lips were slightly parted. She had the appearance of one
afraid to break a silence covering impossible doubts.
Bobby called on his reason. His grandfather stood before him in flesh.
With the old man, in spite of Paredes's ghastly hint, probably lay the
solution of the entire mystery and his own safety. He was about to speak
when he heard footsteps in the upper hall. His grandfather glanced
inquiringly through the stair-well, asking:
"Who's that up there?"
The sharp tone confessed that fear of the Cedars was active in the
"The district attorney," Bobby answered, "a detective, probably
"What they doing here?"
He indicated Paredes.
"What's this fellow doing here? I never liked him."
"They've all come because I thought I saw you dead, lying in the
"We all saw," Bobby cried angrily, and Paredes nodded.
Blackburn shrank away from them.
The three men descended the stairs. Half way down they stopped.
"Who is that?" Robinson cried.
Graham's face whitened. He braced himself against the banister.
"Next time, Mr. District Attorney," Paredes said, "you'll believe me when
I say the court is full of ghosts. He walked in from the court. I tell
you they found him in the court."
Silas Blackburn's voice rose, shrill and angry:
"What's the matter with you all? Why do you talk of ghosts and my being
dead? Haven't I a right to come in my own house? You all act as if you
were afraid of me."
Paredes's questions had clearly added to the uncertainty of his manner.
Katherine spoke softly:
"We are afraid."
The others came down. Robinson walked close to Silas Blackburn and for
some time gazed at the gray face.
"Yes," he said. "You are Silas Blackburn. You came to my office in
Smithtown the other day and asked for a detective, because you were
afraid of something out here."
"There's no question," Graham cried. "Of course it is Mr. Blackburn, yet
it couldn't be."
"What you all talking about? Why are the police in my house? Why do you
act like fools and say I was dead?"
They gathered in a group at some distance from him. They unconsciously
ignored this central figure, as if he were, in fact, a ghost. Bobby and
Katherine told how they had found the old man, a black shadow against the
wall of the wing. Paredes repeated the questions he had asked and their
strange answers. Afterward Robinson turned to Silas Blackburn, who
"Then you did go to the old room to sleep. You lay down on the bed, but
you say you didn't stay. You must tell us why not, and how you got out,
and where you've been during this prolonged sleep. I want everything that
happened from the moment you entered the old bedroom until you wakened."
"That's simple," Silas Blackburn mouthed. "I went there along about ten
o'clock, wasn't it, Katy?"
"Nearly half past," she said. "And you frightened me."
"He must tell us why he went, why he was afraid to sleep in his own
room," Graham began.
Robinson held up his hand.
"One question at a time, Mr. Graham. The important thing now is to learn
what happened in the room. You're not forgetting Howells, are you?"
Silas Blackburn glanced at the floor. He moved his feet restlessly. He
fumbled in his pocket for some loose tobacco. With shaking fingers he
refilled his pipe.
"Except for Bobby and Katherine," he quavered, "you don't know what that
room means to Blackburns; and they only know by hearsay, because I've
seen it was kept closed. Don't see how I'm going to tell you—"
"You needn't hesitate," Robinson encouraged him. "We've all experienced
something of the peculiarities of the Cedars. Your return alone's enough
to keep us from laughter."
"All right," the old man stumbled on. "I was raised on stories of that
room—even before my father shot himself there. Later on I saw
Katherine's father die in the big bed, and after that I never cared to
go near the place unless I had to. The other night, when I made up my
mind to sleep there, I tried to tell myself all this talk was tommyrot.
I tried to make myself believe I could sleep as comfortably in that bed
as anywhere. So I went in and locked the door and raised the window and
"You're sure you locked the door?" Robinson asked.
"Yes. I remember turning the key in both doors, because I didn't want
anything bothering me from outside."
They all looked at each other, unable to forecast anything of Blackburn's
experiences; for both doors had been locked when the body had been found.
Granted life, how would it have been possible for Silas Blackburn to have
left the room to commence his period of drowsiness? An explanation of
that should also unveil the criminal's route in and out.
The tensity of the little group increased, but no one interposed the
obvious questions. Robinson was right. It would be quicker to let the
protagonist of this unbelievable adventure recite its details in his own
fashion. Paredes ran his slender fingers gropingly over the faces of
several of the cards he had picked up.
"When I got in bed," Silas Blackburn continued, "I thought I'd let the
candle burn for company's sake, but there was a wind, and it came in the
open window, and it made the queerest black shadows dance all over the
walls until I couldn't stand it a minute longer. I blew the candle out
and lay back in the dark."
He drew harshly on his cold pipe. He looked at it with an air of
surprise, and slipped it in his pocket.
"It was the funniest darkness. I didn't like it. You put your hand out
and closed your fingers as if you could feel it. But it wasn't all black,
either. Some moonlight came in with the wind between the curtains. It
wasn't exactly yellow, and it wasn't white. After a little it seemed
alive, and I wouldn't look at it any more. The only way I could stop
myself was to shut my eyes, and that was worse, for it made me recollect
my father the way I saw him lying there when I was a boy. God grant none
of you will ever have to see anything like that. Then I seemed to see
Katy's father, too; and I remembered his screams. The room got thick
with, things like that—with those two, and with a lot of others come out
of the pictures and the stories I've heard about my family."
His experience when he had gone to the room to take the evidence from
Howells's body became active in Bobby's memory.
"There I lay with my eyes shut," Silas Blackburn went on in his strange,
inquiring voice. "And yet I seemed to see those dead people all around
me, and I thought they were in pain again, and were mad at me because I
didn't do anything. I guess maybe I must 'a' been dozing a little, for I
He broke off. He raised his hand slowly and pointed in the direction of
the overgrown cemetery where they had seen his coffin covered that noon.
His voice was lower and harsher when he continued:
"I—I thought I heard them say that things were all broken out there,
and—and awful—so awful they couldn't stay."
His voice became defiant.
"I ain't going to tell you what I dreamed. It was too horrible, but I
made up my mind I would do what I could if I ever escaped from that room.
I—I was afraid they'd take me back with them underneath those broken
stones. And you—you stand there trying to tell me that they did."
He paused again, looking around with a more defiant glare in his
bloodshot eyes. He appeared to be surprised not to find them
laughing at him.
"What's the matter with you all?" he cried. "Why ain't you making me out
a fool? You seen something in that room, too?"
"Go on," Robinson urged. "What happened then? What did you do?"
Blackburn's voice resumed its throaty monotone. As he spoke he glanced
about slyly, suspecting, perhaps, the watchfulness of the fancies that
had intimidated him.
"I realized I had to get out if they would let me. So I left the
bed. I went."
He ceased, intimating that he had told everything.
"I know," Robinson said, "but tell us how you got out of the room, for
when you—when the murder was discovered, both doors were locked on the
inside, and you know how impossible the windows are."
"I tell you," Katherine said hysterically, "it was his body in the
Bobby knew her assurance was justified, but he motioned her to silence.
"Let him answer," Robinson said.
Silas Blackburn ran his knotted fingers through his hair. He shook his
"That's what I don't understand myself. That's what's been worrying me
while these young ones have been talking as if I was dead and buried. I
recollect telling myself I must go. I seem to remember leaving the bed
all right, but I don't seem to remember walking on the floor or going
through the door. You're sure the doors were locked?"
"No doubt about that," Rawlins said.
"Seems to me," Blackburn went on, "that I was in the private staircase,
but did I walk downstairs? First thing I see clearly is the road through
the woods, not far from the station."
"What did you wear?" Robinson asked.
"I'd had my trousers and jacket on under my dressing-gown," the old man
answered, "because I knew the bed wasn't made up. That's what I wore
except for the dressing-gown. I reckon I must have left that in the room.
I wouldn't have gone back there for anything. My mind was full of those
angry people. I wanted to get as far away from the Cedars as possible. I
knew the last train from New York would be along about three o'clock, so
I thought I'd go on into Smithtown and in the morning see this detective
I'd been talking to. I went to Robert Waters's house. I've known him for
a long time. I guess you know who he is. He's such a book worm I figured
he might be up, and he wouldn't ask a lot of silly questions, being
selfish like most people that live all the time with books. He came to
the door, and I told him I wanted to spend the night. He offered to shake
hands. That's funny, too. I didn't feel like shaking hands with anybody.
I recollect that, because I'd felt sort of queer ever since going in the
old room, and something told me I'd better not shake hands."
Paredes looked up, wide-eyed. The cards slipped from his fragile,
"Do you realize, Mr. District Attorney, what this man is saying?"
But Robinson motioned him to silence.
"Let him go on. What happened then?"
"That's all," Blackburn answered, "except this long sleep I can't make
out. Old Waters didn't get mad at my not shaking hands. He was too tied
up in some book, I guess. I told him I was sleepy and didn't want to be
bothered, and he nodded to the spare room off the main hall, and I
tumbled into bed and was off almost before I knew it."
Paredes sprang to his feet and commenced to walk about the hall.
"Tell us," he said, "when you first woke up?"
"I guess it was late the next afternoon," Silas Blackburn quavered,
fumbling with his pipe again. "But it was only for a minute."
Paredes stopped in front of Robinson.
"When he turned! You see!"
"It was Waters knocking on the door," Blackburn went on. "I guess he
wanted to know what was the matter, and he talked about some food, but I
didn't want to be bothered, so I called to him through the door to go
away, and turned over and went to sleep again."
"He turned over and went to sleep again!" Katherine said breathlessly,
"and it was about that time that I heard the turning in the old bedroom."
"Katherine!" Graham called. "What are you talking about? What are you
"What else is there?" she asked.
"She's thinking about the truth," Paredes said tensely. "I've always
heard of such things. So have you. You've read of them, if you read at
all. India is full of it. It goes back to ancient Egypt—the same person
simultaneously in two places—the astral body—whatever you choose to
call it. It's the projection of one's self whether consciously or
unconsciously; perhaps the projection of something that retains reason
after an apparent death. You heard him. He didn't seem to walk. He
doesn't remember leaving the room, which was locked on the inside. His
descent of the stairs was without motion as we know it. He had gone some
distance before his mind consciously directed the movement of this
active image of Silas Blackburn, while the double from which it had
sprung lay apparently dead in the old room. You notice he shrank from
shaking hands, and he slept until we hid away the shell. What
disintegration and coming together again has taken place since we buried
that shell in the old graveyard? If his friend had shaken hands with him
would he have grasped emptiness? Did his normal self come back to him
when the shell was put from our sight, and he awakened? These are some of
the questions we must answer."
"You've a fine imagination, Mr. Paredes," Robinson said dryly.
His fat face, nevertheless, was bewildered, and in the eyes, surrounded
by puffy flesh, smouldered a profound uncertainty.
"I wish Groom were here," Paredes was saying. "He would agree with me. He
would know more about it than I."
Robinson threw back his shoulders. He turned to Rawlins with his old
authority. The unimaginative detective had stood throughout,
releasing no indication of his emotions; but as he raised his hand
now to an unnecessary adjustment of his scarf pin, the fingers were
not quite steady.
"Telephone this man Waters," Robinson directed. "Then get in
communication with the office and put them on that end."
Rawlins walked away. Robinson apologized to Silas Blackburn with an
"Got to check up what I can. Can't get anywhere with these things unless
you make sure of your first facts. I daresay Waters's story will tally
Blackburn nodded. Graham cleared his throat.
"Now perhaps we may ask that very important question. The day Mr.
Blackburn called at your office in Smithtown he told Howells he was
afraid of being murdered. According to Howells, he said: 'My heart's all
right. It won't stop yet awhile unless it's made to. So if I'm found cold
some fine morning you can be sure I was put out of the way.'"
"I know," Robinson said.
"And that night," Graham continued, "when he went to the old room, he was
terrified of something which he wouldn't define for Miss Perrine."
"He warned me not to mention he'd gone there," Katherine put in. "He told
me he was afraid—afraid to sleep in his own room any longer."
"What about that, Mr. Blackburn?"
For a moment Bobby's curiosity overcame the confusion aroused by his
grandfather's apparently occult return. All along they had craved the
knowledge he was about to give them, the statement on which Bobby's life
had seemed to depend. Blackburn, however, was unwilling. The question
seemed to have returned to him something of his normal manner.
"No use," he mumbled, "going into that."
"A good deal of use," Robinson insisted.
Blackburn shifted his feet. He gazed at his pipe doubtfully.
"I don't see why. That didn't come, and seems it wasn't what I ought to
have been afraid of after all. All along I ought to have been afraid only
of the Cedars and the old room. I've been accused of being unjust. I
don't want to do an injustice now."
"Please answer," Robinson said impatiently.
"You must answer," Graham urged.
"I don't see that it makes the slightest difference," Paredes drawled.
"What has it got to do with the case as it stands to-night?"
Robinson snapped at him.
"You keep out of it. Don't forget there's a lot you haven't
Silas Blackburn looked straight at Bobby. Slowly he raised his hand,
pointing an accusing finger at his grandson.
"If you want to know, I was afraid of that young rascal."
Katherine started impulsively forward in an effort to stop him. Blackburn
waved her away.
"You trying to scare me, Katy?" he asked suspiciously.
"Evidently," Robinson commented to Graham, "Howells wasn't as dull as we
thought him. Go on, Mr. Blackburn. Why were you afraid of your grandson?"
"Maybe he can tell you better than I can," the old man answered. "Don't
see any use raking up such things, anyway. Maybe I'd been pretty harsh
with him. Anyway, I knew he hated the ground I walked on and would be
glad enough to see me drop in my tracks."
"That isn't so," Bobby said.
"You keep quiet now. You always talked too much."
So the old feeling survived.
"Go on," Robinson urged.
"I'd always been a hard worker," Blackburn whined, "and he was a waster.
Naturally we didn't get along. I'd decided to make a new will, leaving my
money to the Bedford Foundation, and I wrote him that, thinking it would
bring him hot foot to make it up with me. I'd been nervous about him
before, because I didn't know what might come into his head when he was
on these wild parties. So I'd spoken to Howells, thinking I'd trip him if
he tried any funny business. When he didn't come that night I got scared.
He knew I wouldn't make the new will until morning, and since I couldn't
see any man throwing all that money away, I figured he'd guessed he
couldn't turn me and wouldn't waste any time talking.
"When you got a lot of money and a grandson who hates you, you have to
think of such things. Suppose, I thought, he should come out here drunk
when I was sound asleep. I knew he had a latch key, and he might sneak up
to my room before I could even get to the telephone. Or I was afraid he
might hire somebody. You can buy men for that sort of work in New York. I
tell you the more I thought of it the more I was sure he'd do something.
You'd understand if you lived in this lonely place with all that money
and nobody you wanted to will it to. I nearly sent for Howells right
then. But if nothing had happened I'd have looked a fool."
"I wanted you to send for a man," Katherine cried.
Bobby leaned against the wall, repeating to himself the words of Maria's
note which accused him of having made the very threat his grandfather
"So," Blackburn rambled on, "I decided I wouldn't sleep in my room that
night, and I picked out the least likely place for anybody to find me. I
was more afraid of him than I was of the old room, but, as I've told you,
the old room made me forget Master Robert."
Robinson stepped to Bobby's side.
"All along Howells was right. Tell me what you did with that evidence."
Bobby turned away. Katherine tried to laugh. Graham beckoned to Robinson.
"What's the use of bothering with evidence against a suspected murderer
when the murdered man stands talking to you?"
Robinson frowned helplessly. Paredes sprang to his feet.
"You're taking too much for granted, Graham. There was a murder.
Blackburn was killed. We've as many witnesses to that fact as we have
that he's come back. This man who talks with us, accusing Bobby, may not
stay. Have you thought of that? I have noticed something that makes me
think it possible. I have been afraid to speak of it. But it makes me
hesitate to say that this man is alive, as we understand life. We have to
learn the nature of the forces we are dealing with, exactly how dangerous
They started at a sharp rap on the front door.
"Now who?" the old man whined. "I wish you wouldn't look at me so. It
makes me feel queer. You're all crazy."
"It's probably Doctor Groom," Bobby said, and stepped to the door,
It was Groom. The huge man walked in, struggling out of his coat. At
first the others screened Silas Blackburn from him, but he
acknowledged their strained attitudes, the excitement that still
animated Paredes's face.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked. "Found something, Mr. District
Robinson moved to one side, jerking his thumb at Silas Blackburn. The
coat and hat slipped from Doctor Groom's hand. His mouth opened. His
great body crept slowly back until the shoulders rested against the wall.
He placed the palms of his hands against the wall as if to push it away
in order to assure further retreat. Always the little, infused eyes
remained fixed on the man who had been his friend. Such terror was
chiefly arresting because of the great figure conquered by it.
Blackburn thrust his pipe in his mouth. He laughed shakily.
"That fellow Groom will have a stroke."
The Doctor's greeting had the difficult quality of a masculine sob.
"Who do you think?" the other whined. "You going to try to frighten me
out of my skin, too? These people are trying to say I've been lying dead
in the old room. Hoped you'd have enough sense to set them right and tell
me what it's all about."
The doctor straightened.
"You did lie dead in the old room."
His harsh, amazed tones held an unqualified conviction.
"I saw you there. I helped the coroner make the examination. You had been
dead for many hours. And I saw you bolted in your coffin. I saw you
buried in the graveyard you'd let go to pieces."
The others had, as far as possible, recovered from the first shock, had
done their best to fathom the mystery, but Groom's fear increased. His
reddish eyes grew always more alarmed. Silas Blackburn turned with a
quick, frightened gesture, facing the fire. Paredes drew a deep breath.
"Now you'll see," he said.
Doctor Groom shrank against the wall again. After a moment, with the
motions of one drawn by an outside will, he approached the figure at the
fireplace. Then Bobby saw, and he heard Katherine's choked scream. For
now that his grandfather's back was turned there was plainly visible on
the white of the collar, near the base of the brain, a scarlet stain. And
the hair above it was matted.
"That's what I meant," Paredes whispered.
Graham moved back.
Robinson stared. The fear had found him, too.
Doctor Groom touched Blackburn's shoulder tentatively.
"What's the matter with the back of your neck?"
Blackburn drew fearfully away. He raised his hand and fumbled at the top
of his collar. He held his fingers to the firelight.
"Why," he said blankly, "I been bleeding back there."
To an extent the doctor controlled himself.
"Sit down here, Silas Blackburn," he said. "I want to get the lamplight
on your head."
"I ain't badly hurt?" Blackburn whined.
"I don't know," the doctor answered. "Heaven knows."
Blackburn sat down. The light shone full on the stained collar and the
dark patch of hair at the base of the brain. Doctor Groom examined the
wound minutely. He straightened. He spoke unsteadily:
"It is a healed wound. It was made by something sharp."
Robinson thrust his hands in his pockets.
"You're getting beyond my depths, Doctor. Bring him up to the old
bedroom. I want him to see that pillow."
But Blackburn cowered in his chair.
"I won't go to that room again. They don't want me there. I'll have work
started in the cemetery to-morrow."
"Mr. Blackburn," Robinson said, "the man we buried in the cemetery
to-day, the man these members of your family identify as yourself, died
of just such a wound as the doctor says has healed in your head."
Blackburn cowered farther in his chair.
"You're making fun of me," he whimpered. "You're trying to scare
an old man."
"No," Robinson said. "How was that wound made?"
The crouched figure wagged its head from side to side.
"I don't know. Nothing's touched me there. I remember I had a headache
when I woke up. Why doesn't Groom tell me why I slept so long?"
"I only know," Groom rumbled, "that the wound I examined upstairs must
have caused instant death."
Paredes whispered to him. The doctor nodded reluctantly.
"What do you mean?" Blackburn cried. "You trying to tell me I can't stay
He pointed to Paredes.
"That's what he said—that I might have to go back, but I never heard of
such a thing. I'm all right. My neck doesn't hurt. I'm alive. I tell you
I'm alive. I'll teach you—"
Rawlins returned from the telephone.
"His story's straight," he said in his crisp manner. "I've been talking
to Waters himself. Says Mr. Blackburn turned up about three-thirty,
looking queer and acting queer. Wouldn't shake hands, just as he says. He
went to the spare room and slept practically all the time until this
afternoon. No food. Waters couldn't rouse him. Mr. Blackburn wouldn't
answer at all or else seemed half asleep. He'd made up his mind to call
in a doctor this afternoon. Then Mr. Blackburn seemed all right again,
and started home."
Robinson gazed at the fire.
"What's to be done now, sir?" Rawlins asked.
"Find the answer if we can," Robinson said.
Paredes spoke as softly as he had done the other night while reciting his
sensitive reaction to the Cedars's gloomy atmosphere. Only now his voice
"Call me a dreamer if you want, Mr. District Attorney, but I have given
you the only answer. This man's soul has dwelt in two places."
"I'm going slow on calling anybody names, but I haven't forgotten that
there's been another crime in this house. Howells was killed in that
room, too. I would like to believe he could return as Mr. Blackburn has."
Blackburn looked up.
"What's that? Who's Howells?"
And as Robinson told him of the second crime he sank back in his chair
again, whimpering from time to time. His fear was harder to watch.
"Might I suggest," Graham said, "that Howells isn't out of the case yet?
It would be worth looking into."
"By all means," Robinson agreed.
Rawlins coughed apologetically.
"I asked them about that at the office. Howells was taken to his home in
Boston to-day. The funeral's to be to-morrow."
"Then," Robinson said, "we're confined for the present to this end of the
case. The facts I have tell me that two murders have been committed in
this house. It is still my first duty to convict the guilty man."
Graham indicated the huddled, frightened figure in the chair.
"You are going against the evidence of your own eyes."
"I shall do what I can," Robinson said sternly. "We buried one of those
men this noon. His grandson, his niece, and those who saw him
frequently, swear it was this living being who has such a wound as the
one that caused the death of that man. There is only one thing to
do—see who we buried."
"The permits?" Graham suggested.
"I shall telephone the judge," Robinson answered, "and he can send
them out, but I shan't wait for hours doing nothing. I am going to the
grave at once."
"A waste of time," Paredes murmured.
"I don't understand," Silas Blackburn whined, "You say the doors were
locked. Then how could anybody have got in that room to be murdered? How
did I get out?"
Robinson turned on Paredes angrily.
"I'm not through with you yet. Before I am I'll get what I want
He stormed away to the telephone. No one spoke. The doctor's rumpled head
was still bent over the back of Silas Blackburn's chair. The infused eyes
didn't waver from the crimson stain and the healed wound, and Blackburn
remained huddled among the cushions, his shoulders twitching. Paredes
commenced gathering up his cards. Katherine watched him out of
expressionless eyes. Graham walked to her side. Rawlins, as always
phlegmatic, remained motionless, waiting for his superior.
Bobby threw off his recent numbness. He realized the disturbing parallel
in the actions of his grandfather and himself. He had come to the Cedars
unconsciously, perhaps directed by an evil, external influence, on the
night of the first murder. Now, it appeared, the man he was accused of
killing had also wandered under an unknown impulse that night. Was the
same subtle control responsible in both cases? Was there at the Cedars a
force that defied physical laws, moving its inhabitants like puppets for
special aims of its own? Yet, he recalled, there was something here
friendly to him. After the movement of Howells's body and the
disappearance of the evidence, the return of Silas Blackburn stripped
Robinson's threats of power and seemed to place the solution beyond the
district attorney's trivial reach.
The silence and the delay increased their weight upon the little group.
Silas Blackburn, huddled in his chair, was grayer, more haggard than he
had been at first. He appeared attentive to an expected summons. He
seemed fighting the idea of going back.
The proximity of Graham to Katherine quieted the turmoil of Bobby's
thoughts. If he could only have foreseen this return he would have
listened to the whispered encouragement of the forest.
Robinson reappeared. Anxiety had replaced the anger in the round face
which, one felt, should always have been no more than good-natured.
"Jenkins will have to help," he said.
Silas Blackburn arose unsteadily.
"I'm coming with you. You're not going to leave me here. I won't stay
"He should come by all means," Paredes said, "in case anything
The old man put his hands to his ears.
"You keep quiet. I'm not going back, I tell you."
Bobby didn't want to hear any more. He went to the kitchen and called
Jenkins. He let the butler go to the hall ahead of him in order that he
might not have to witness this new greeting. But Jenkins's cry came back
to him, and when he reached the hall he saw that the man's terror had not
They went through the court and around the house to the stable where they
found spades and shovels. Their grim purpose holding them silent, they
crossed the clearing and entered the pathway that had been freshly blazed
that day for the passage of the men in black.
The snow was quite deep. It still drifted down. It filled the woods with
a wan, unnatural radiance. Without really illuminating the sooty masses
of the trees it made the night white.
Silas Blackburn stumbled in the van with Paredes and Robinson. The doctor
and Rawlins followed. Graham was with Katherine behind them. Bobby walked
last, fighting an instinct to linger, to avoid whatever they might find
beneath the white blanket of the little, intimate burial ground.
Groom turned and spoke to Graham. Katherine waited for Bobby, and the
white night closed swiftly about them, whispering until the shuffling of
the others became inaudible.
Was she glad of this solitude? Had she sought it? Her extraordinary
request in that earlier solitude came to him, and he spoke of it while he
tried to control his emotions, while he sought to mould the next few
minutes reasonably and justly.
"Why did you tell me to make no attempt to find the guilty person?"
"Because," she answered, "you were too sure it was yourself. Why, Bobby,
did you think I was the—the woman in black? That has hurt me."
"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said, "but there is something I must tell
you now that may hurt you a little."
And he explained how Graham had awakened him at the head of the stairs.
"You're right," he said. "I was sure then it was myself, in spite of
Howells's movement. It followed so neatly on the handkerchief and the
footmarks. But now he has come back, and it changes everything. So I can
He couldn't be sure whether it was the cold, white loneliness through
which they paced, or what he had just said that made her tremble.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have told you that."
"I am glad," she answered. "You must never close your confidence to me
again. Why have you done it these last few months? I want to know."
"Then you shall know."
Through the white night his hands reached for her, found her, drew her
close. The moment was too masterful for him to mould. He became, instead,
plastic in its white and stealthy grasp.
"I couldn't stay," he said, "and see you give yourself to Hartley."
She raised her hands to his shoulders. He barely caught her whisper
because of the sly communicativeness of the snow.
"I am glad, but why didn't you say so then?"
The intoxication faded. The enterprise ahead gave to their joy a fugitive
quality. Moreover, with her very surrender came to him a great misgiving.
"But you and Hartley? I've watched. It's been forced on me."
"Then you have misunderstood," she answered. "You put me too completely
out of your life after our quarrel. That was about Hartley. You were too
jealous, but it was my fault."
"Hartley," he asked, "spoke to you about that time?"
"Yes, and I told him he was a very dear friend, and he was kind enough to
accept that and not to go away."
His measure of the widening of the rift between them made her more
precious because of its affectionate human quality. She had been kinder
to Graham, more mysterious about him, to draw Bobby back. Yet ever since
his arrival at the Cedars, Graham had assumed toward Katherine an
attitude scarcely to be limited by friendship. He had done what he had
in Bobby's service clearly enough for her sake. For a long time past,
indeed, in speaking of her Graham always seemed to discuss the woman he
expected to marry.
"You are quite sure," he asked, puzzled, "that Hartley understood?"
"Why do you ask? He has shown how good a friend he is."
"He has always made me think," Bobby said, "that he had your love. You're
sure he guessed that you cared for me?"
In that place, at that moment, there was a tragic colour to her coquetry.
"I think every one must have guessed it except you, Bobby."
He raised her head and touched her lips. Her lips were as cold as the
caresses of the drifting snowflakes.
"We must go on," she sighed.
In his memory the chill of her kiss was bitter. In the forest they could
speak no more of love.
But Bobby, hand in hand with her as they hurried after the others,
received a new strength. He saw as a condition to their happiness the
unveiling of the mystery at the Cedars. He gathered his courage for that
task. He would not give way even before the memory of all that he had
experienced, even before the return of his grandfather, even before the
revelation toward which they walked. And side by side with his
determination grew shame for his former weakness. It was comforting to
realize that the causes for his weakness and his strength were identical.
The subdued murmur of voices reached them. They saw among the indistinct
masses of the trees restless patches of black. Katherine stumbled against
one of the fallen stones. They stood with the others in the burial
ground, close to the mound that had been made that day.
"They haven't begun," Bobby whispered.
She freed her hand.
A white flame sprang across the mound. The trees from formless masses
took on individual shapes. A row of cypresses on which the light gleamed
were like sombre sentinels, guarding the dead. The snow patches,
clustered on their branches, were like funeral decorations pointing their
morbid function. The light gave the overturned stones an illusion of
striving to struggle from their white imprisonment. Robinson swung his
lamp back to the mound.
"The snow isn't heavy," he said, "and the ground isn't frozen. It
oughtn't to take long."
Silas Blackburn commenced to shake.
"It's a desecration of the dead."
"We have to know," Robinson said, "who is buried in that grave."
With a spade Jenkins scraped the snow from the mound. Rawlins joined him.
They commenced to throw to one side, staining the white carpet, spadesful
of moist, yellow earth. Their labour was rapid. Silas Blackburn watched
with an unconquerable fascination. He continued to shake.
"I'm too cold. I'll never be warm again," he whined. "If anything happens
to me, Bobby, try to forget I've been hard, and don't let them bury me.
Suppose I should be buried alive?"
"Suppose," Paredes said, "you were buried alive to-day?"
He turned to Bobby and Katherine.
"That also is possible. You remember the old theories that have never
been disproved of the disintegration of matter into its atoms, of its
passage through solid substances, of its reforming in a far place? I
wouldn't have to ask an East Indian that."
Jenkins, standing in the excavation, broke into torrential speech.
"Mr. Robinson! I can't work with the light. It makes the stones seem to
move. It throws too many shadows. I seem to see people behind you, and
I'm afraid to look."
Nothing aggressive survived in Rawlins's voice.
"We can work well enough without it, sir."
Robinson snapped off the light. The darkness descended eagerly upon
them. Above the noise of the spades in the soft earth Bobby heard
indefinite stirrings. In the graveyard at such an hour the supernatural
legend of the Cedars assumed an inescapable probability. Bobby wished
for some way to stop the task on which they were engaged. He felt
instinctively it would be better not to tamper with the mystery of
Silas Blackburn's return.
Bobby grew rigid.
"There it is again," Graham breathed.
A low keening came from the thicket. It increased in power a trifle, then
drifted into silence.
It wasn't the wind. It was like the moaning Bobby had heard at the
stagnant lake that afternoon, like the cries Graham and he had suffered
in the old room. Seeming at first to come from a distance, it achieved
a sense of intimacy. It was like an escape of sorrow from the
Bobby turned to Katherine. He couldn't see her for the darkness. He
reached out. She was not there.
"Katherine," he called softly.
Her hand stole into his. He had been afraid that the forest had taken
her. Under the reassurance of her handclasp he tried to make himself
believe there was actually a woman near by, if not Maria, some one who
had a definite purpose there.
Robinson flashed on his light. Old Blackburn whimpered:
"The Cedars is at its tricks again, and there's nothing we can do."
"It was like a lost soul," Katherine sighed. "It seemed to cry from
"It must be traced," Bobby said.
"Then tell me its direction certainly," Robinson challenged. "We'd
flounder in the thicket. A waste of time. Let us get through here.
The light showed Bobby that the detective and Jenkins had nearly
finished. He shrank from the first hard sound of metal against metal.
It came. After a moment the light shone on the dull face of the casket
which was streaked with dirt.
Jenkins rested on his spade. He groaned. It occurred to Bobby that the
man couldn't have worked hard enough in this cold air to have started the
perspiration that streamed down his wrinkled face.
"It would be a tough job to lift it out," Rawlins said.
"No need," Robinson answered. "Get the soil away from the edges."
He bent over, passing a screw driver to the detective.
"Take off the top plate. That will let us see all we want."
Jenkins climbed out.
"I shan't look. I don't dare look."
Silas Blackburn touched Bobby's arm timidly.
"I've been a hard man, Bobby—"
He broke off, his bearded lips twitching.
The grating of the screws tore through the silence. Rawlins glanced up.
"Lend a hand, somebody."
Groom spoke hoarsely:
"It isn't too late to let the dead rest."
Robinson gestured him away. Graham, Paredes, and he knelt in the snow
and helped the detective raise the heavy lid. They placed it at the side
of the grave.
They all forced themselves to glance downward.
Katherine screamed. Silas Blackburn leaned on Bobby's arm, shaking with
gross, impossible sobs. Paredes shrugged his shoulders. The light
wavered in Robinson's hand. They continued to stare. There was nothing
else to do.
The coffin was empty.
BOBBY'S VIGIL IN THE ABANDONED ROOM
For a long time the little group gathered in the snow-swept cemetery
remained silent. The lamp, shaking in the district attorney's hand,
illuminated each detail of the casket's interior linings. Bobby tried to
realize that, except for these meaningless embellishments, the box was
empty. That was what held them all—the void, the unoccupied silken couch
in which they had seen Silas Blackburn's body imprisoned. Yet the screws
which the detective had removed, and the mass of earth, packed down and
covered with snow, must have made escape a dreadful impossibility even if
the spark of life had reanimated its occupant. And that occupant stood
there, trembling and haggard, sobbing from time to time in an utter
abandonment to the terror of what he saw.
To Bobby in that moment the supernatural legend of the Cedars seemed more
triumphantly fulfilled than it would have been through the immaterial
return of his grandfather. For Silas Blackburn was a reincarnation more
difficult to accept than any ghost. Had Paredes, who all along had
offered them a spectacle of veiled activity and thought, grasped the
truth? At first glance, indeed his gossip of oriental theories concerning
the disintegration of matter, its passage through solid substances, its
reassembly in far places, seemed thoroughly justified. Yet, granted that,
who, in the semblance of Silas Blackburn, had they buried to vanish
completely? Who, in the semblance of Silas Blackburn, had drowsed without
food for three days in the house at Smithtown?
The old man stretched his shaking hands to Bobby and Katherine.
"Don't let them bury me again. They never buried me. I've not been dead!
I tell you I've not been dead!" He mouthed horribly. "I'm alive! Can't
you see I'm alive?"
He broke down and covered his face. Jenkins sank on the heap of earth.
"I saw you, Mr. Silas, in that box. And I saw you on the bed. Miss
Katherine and I found you. We had to break the door. You looked so
peaceful we thought you were asleep. But when we touched you you
"No, no, no," Blackburn grimaced. "I wasn't cold. I couldn't have been."
"There's no question," Bobby said hoarsely.
"No question," Robinson repeated.
Katherine shrank from her uncle as he had shrunk from her in the library
the night of the murder.
"What do you make of it?" the district attorney asked Rawlins.
The detective, who had remained crouched at the side of the grave, arose,
brushing the dirt from his hands, shaking his head.
"What is one to make of it, sir?"
Paredes spoke softly to Graham.
"The Cedars wants to be left alone to the dead. We would all be better
away from it."
"You won't go yet awhile," Robinson said gruffly. "Don't forget you're
still under bond."
The detail no longer seemed of importance to Bobby. The mystery,
centreing in the empty grave, was apparently inexplicable. He experienced
a great pity for his grandfather; and, recalling that strengthening
moment with Katherine, he made up his mind that there was only one course
for him. It might be dangerous in itself, yet, on the other hand, he
couldn't go to Katherine while his share in the mystery of the Cedars
remained so darkly shadowed. He had no right to withhold anything, and he
wouldn't ask Graham's advice. He had stepped all at once into the mastery
of his own destiny. He would tell Robinson, therefore, everything he
knew, from the party with Maria and Paredes in New York, through his
unconscious wanderings around the house on the night of the first murder,
to the moment when Graham had stopped his somnambulistic excursion down
Robinson turned his light away from the grave.
"There's nothing more to do here. Let us go back."
The little party straggled through the snow to the house. The hall fire
smouldered as pleasantly as it had done before they had set forth, yet an
interminable period seemed to have elapsed. Silas Blackburn went close to
the fire. He sank in a chair, trembling.
"I'm so cold," he whined. "I've never been so cold. What is the matter
with me? For God's sake tell me what is the matter! Katherine—if—if
nothing happens, we'll close the Cedars. We'll go to the city where there
are lots of lights."
"If you'd only listened to Bobby and me and gone long ago," she said.
Robinson stared at the fire.
"I'm about beaten," he muttered wearily.
Rawlins, with an air of stealth, walked upstairs. Graham, after a
moment's hesitation, followed him. Bobby wondered why they went. He
caught Robinson's eye. He indicated he would like to speak to him in the
library. As he left the hall he saw Paredes, who had not removed his hat
or coat, start for the front door.
"Where are you going?" he heard Robinson demand.
Paredes's reply came glibly.
"Only to walk up and down in the court. The house oppresses me more than
ever to-night. I feel with Mr. Blackburn that it is no place to stay."
And while he talked with Robinson in the library Bobby caught at times
the crunching of Paredes's feet in the court.
"Why does that court draw him?" Robinson asked. "Why does he keep
repeating that it is full of ghosts? He can't be trying to scare us with
But Bobby didn't answer.
"I've come to tell you the truth," he burst out, "everything I know. You
may lock me up. Even that would be better than this uncertainty. I must
have an answer, if it condemns me; and how could I have had anything to
do with what has happened to-night?"
He withheld nothing. Robinson listened with an intent interest. At the
end he said not unkindly:
"If the evidence and Howells's report hadn't disappeared I'd have
arrested you and considered the case closed before this miracle was
thrown at me. You've involved yourself so frankly that I don't believe
you're lying about what went on in the old room when you entered to steal
those exhibits. Can't say I blame you for trying that, either. You were
in a pretty bad position—an unheard-of position. You still are, for that
matter. But the case is put on such an extraordinary basis by what has
happened to-night that I'd be a fool to lock you up on such a confession.
I believe there's a good deal more in what has gone on in that room and
in the return of your grandfather than you can account for."
"Thanks," Bobby said. "I hoped you'd take it this way, for, if you will
let me help, I have a plan."
He turned restlessly to the door of the private staircase. In his memory
Howells's bold figure was outlined there, but now the face with its slow
smile seemed sympathetic rather than challenging.
"What's your plan?" Robinson asked.
Bobby forced himself to speak deliberately, steadily:
"To go for the night alone to the old room as Howells did."
"Didn't believe you had that much nerve. Two men have tried that. What
good would it do?"
"If the answer's anywhere," Bobby said, "it must be hidden in that room.
Howells felt it. I was sure of it when I was prevented from taking the
evidence. You've believed it, I think."
"There is something strange and unhealthy about the room," Robinson
agreed. "Certainly the secret of the locked doors lies there. But we've
had sufficient warning. I'm not ashamed to say I wouldn't take such a
chance. I don't know that I ought to let you."
"I've been enough of a coward," he said, "and, Robinson, I've got to
know. I shan't go near the bed. I'll watch the bed from a corner. If
the danger's at the bed, as we suspect, it probably won't be able to
reach me, but just the same it may expose itself. And Rawlins or you
can be outside the broken door in the corridor, waiting to enter at
the first alarm."
"Howells had no chance to give an alarm," Robinson muttered. "We'll
But Bobby understood that he would agree, and he forced his new courage
to face the prospect.
"Maybe something will turn up," Robinson mused. "The case can't grow more
But his tone held no assurance. He seemed to foresee new and difficult
When they returned to the hall Bobby shrank from the picture of his
grandfather still crouched by the fire, his shoulders twitching, his
fingers about the black briar pipe shaking. Groom alone had remained with
him. Bobby opened the front door. There was no one in the court.
"Paredes," he said, closing the door, "has gone out of the court. Where's
"She went to the kitchen," the doctor rumbled. "I'm sure I don't know
what for this time of night."
After a little Graham and Rawlins came down the stairs. Graham's face was
scarred by fresh trouble. Rawlins drew the district attorney to one side.
"What have you two been doing up there?" Bobby asked Graham.
"Rawlins is hard-headed," Graham answered in a low, worried tone.
He wouldn't meet Bobby's eyes. He seemed to seek an escape.
"Where's Katherine?" he asked.
"Doctor Groom says she went to the back part of the house. Why won't you
tell me what you were doing?"
"Only keeping Rawlins from trying to make more mischief," Graham
He wouldn't explain.
"Aren't there enough riddles in this house?" Doctor Groom asked with
Rawlins and Robinson joined them, sparing Graham a further defence. The
district attorney had an air of fresh resolution. He was about to speak
when the front door opened quietly, framing the blackness of the court.
They started forward, seeing no one.
Silas Blackburn made a slow, shrinking movement, crying out:
"They've opened the door! Don't let them in. Don't let them come near
Although they knew Paredes had been in the court the spell of the Cedars
was so heavy upon them that for a moment they didn't know what to expect.
They hesitated with a little of the abnormal apprehension Silas Blackburn
exposed. Then Rawlins sprang forward, and Bobby called:
Paredes stepped from one side. He lingered against the black
background of the doorway. It was plain enough something was wrong
with him. In the first place, although he had opened the door, he had
been unwilling to enter.
"Shut the door," Silas Blackburn moaned.
Paredes, with a quick gesture of surrender, stepped in and obeyed. His
face was white. He had lost his immaculate appearance. His clothing
showed stains of snow and mould. He held his left hand behind his back.
"What's the matter with you?" Robinson demanded.
The Panamanian's laugh lacked its usual indifference.
"When I said the Cedars was full of ghosts I should have heeded my own
warning. I might better have stayed comfortably locked up in Smithtown."
Silas Blackburn spoke in a hoarse whisper:
"What did you see out there? Are they coming?"
"I saw very little," Paredes answered. "It was too dark."
"You saw something," Doctor Groom rumbled.
Paredes nodded. He looked at the floor.
"A—a woman in black."
"By the lake!" Bobby cried.
"Not as far as the lake. It was near the empty grave."
Silas Blackburn commenced to shake again. The doctor's little eyes
"It was a woman—a flesh-and-blood woman?" Robinson asked.
"If it was a ghost," Paredes answered, "it had the power of attack; but
that, as you'll recall, is by no means unusual here. That's why I've come
in rather against my will. It seems strange, but I, too, have been
struck by a sharp and slender object, and I thought, perhaps, the doctor
had better look at the result."
With a motion of repugnance he moved his left hand from behind his back
and stretched it to the light. The coat below the elbow was torn. The
slender hand was crimson. He tried to smile.
"Luckily it wasn't at the back of my head."
"Sit down," Doctor Groom said, waving Robinson and Rawlins away. "Let me
see how badly he's hurt. There'll be plenty of time for questions
Paredes lay back in one of the chairs and extended his arm. He kept his
eyes closed while the doctor stooped, examining the wound. All at once
his nearly perpetual sleeplessness since coming to the Cedars had
recorded itself in his face. His nerves at last confessed their
vulnerability as he fumbled for a cigarette with his good hand, as he
placed it awkwardly between his lips.
"Would you mind giving me a light, Bobby?"
Bobby struck a match and held it to the cigarette.
"Thanks," Paredes said. "Are you nearly through, doctor? I daresay
Doctor Groom glanced up.
"Nothing serious with a little luck. It's only torn through a muscle. It
might have pierced the large vein."
His forehead beneath the shaggy black hair was deeply lined. He turned to
"Maybe you'll tell us," Robinson said, "what made the wound."
"No use shirking facts," the doctor rumbled. "Mr. Paredes has been
wounded just as he said, by something sharp and slender."
"You mean," Robinson said, "by an instrument that could have caused death
in the case of Howells and—and—"
"I won't have you looking at me that way," Silas Blackburn whined.
"Yes," the doctor answered. "Before we go any farther I want to bind this
arm. There must be an antiseptic in the house. Where is Katherine? See if
you can find her, Bobby."
As Bobby started to cross the dining room he heard the slight scraping of
the door leading to the kitchen. He knew there was someone in the room
with him. He touched a cold hand.
"Bobby!" Katherine breathed in his ear.
He understood why the little light from the hall had failed to disclose
her when she had come from the kitchen. She wore the black cloak. Against
the darkness at the end of the room she had made no silhouette. When he
put his arms around her and touched her cheek, he noticed that that, too,
was cold; and the shoulders of the cloak were damp as if she had just
come in from the falling snow.
"Where have you been?" he asked.
"Looking outside," she answered frankly. "I couldn't sit still. I
wondered if the woman in black would be around the house to-night. Then
I was afraid, so I came in."
Doctor Groom's voice reached them.
"Have you found her? Is she in the dining room?"
Without any thought of disloyalty Bobby recognized the menace of
"Take your cloak off," he whispered. "Leave it here."
While he drew the cloak from her shoulders he raised his voice.
"Carlos has been hurt. The doctor asked me to find you."
His simple strategy was destroyed by the appearance of Rawlins. The
detective came directly to them; nor was the coincidence lost on him, and
it was his business to advertise rather than to conceal it. Without
ceremony he took the cloak from Bobby. He draped it over his arm.
"The doctor," he said to Katherine, "wants a basin of warm water, some
old linen, carbolic acid, if you have it."
She nodded and went back to the kitchen while Bobby returned with the
detective to the hall. Paredes's eyes remained closed.
"Where did you get the cloak, Rawlins?" Robinson asked.
"The young lady," Rawlins answered with soft satisfaction, "just wore it
in. At least it's still wet from the snow."
Paredes opened his eyes. He looked for a moment at the black cloak. He
closed his eyes again.
"You could recognize the woman who attacked you?" Rawlins said.
Paredes shook his head.
"You've forgotten how dark it is. Please don't ask me even to swear that
it was a woman."
"You're trying to say it wasn't flesh and blood," Blackburn quavered.
Paredes smiled weakly.
"I'm trying to say nothing at all."
"Tell us each detail of the attack," Robinson said.
But Katherine's footsteps reached them from the dining room and Paredes
wouldn't answer. Under those conditions Robinson's failure to press the
question was as disturbing as the detective's matter-of-fact capture of
Paredes glanced at Katherine once. There was no softness in her attitude
as she knelt beside his chair. Neither, Bobby felt, was there the
slightest uneasiness. With a facile grace she helped the doctor bathe and
bandage the slight wound.
"A silk handkerchief for a sling—" the doctor suggested.
"I won't have a sling," Paredes said. "I wouldn't know what to do without
the use of both my hands."
"You ought to congratulate yourself that you still keep it," the
Bobby took the pan and the bottles from Katherine and rang for Jenkins.
It was clear that Robinson had hoped the girl would go out with them
herself and so give Paredes an opportunity to speak. This new development
made him wonder about Graham's theories as to Paredes. If it was Maria
who had struck the man there had either been a quarrel among thieves or
else no criminal connection had ever existed between the two. Paredes,
however, aping the gestures of an invalid, was less to Bobby's taste than
his satanic appearance when he had come from the private staircase.
Rawlins still held the cloak. After Jenkins had removed the doctor's
paraphernalia, everyone seemed to wait. It was Silas Blackburn who
finally released the strain.
"Katy, where you been with that cloak? What's he doing with it?"
Without answering she took the cloak from Rawlins, and gave the detective
and the district attorney the opportunity they craved. She walked up the
stairs, turning at the landing. Her farewell seemed pointed at the
Panamanian who looked languidly up at her.
"If I'm wanted I shall be in my room."
"Who would want you, Katherine?" Graham blurted out. But it was clear he
had caught the coincidence, too, and the trouble he had confessed a
little earlier was radically increased.
"That remains to be seen," Robinson sneered as soon as she had gone.
"Now, Mr. Paredes."
"I've really told you everything," he said. "I walked toward the
graveyard. At a point very close to it I felt the presence of this
creature in black. I spoke. I took my courage in my hands. I reached
out. I touched nothing." He raised his injured hand. "I got this for
"What made you go to the graveyard?" Robinson asked suspiciously.
There was no mockery in the Panamanian's answer.
"I have told you the court for me has always been full of ghosts." He
pointed to Silas Blackburn. "It frightened me that this man should come
back through the court from his grave with all the evidence pointing to
an astral magic. I wanted to retrace his journey. I thought at the grave,
if I were alone, something might expose itself that had naturally
remained hidden in the presence of so many materialistic human beings."
A smile spread over Rawlins's cold, unimaginative features.
"That sounds well, Mr. Paredes, and there is a lot about this case that
looks like ghosts, but leave us a few flesh-and-blood clues. This woman
in black is one of them, although she's been slippery as an eel. It looks
to me as if you went to the grave to meet her alone exactly as you went
to the deserted house to talk quietly with her night before last. Maybe
she mistook you for one of us snooping in the dark, and let you have it."
"If that is so," Paredes said easily, "the nature of my wound would
suggest that she is guilty of the crimes in the old room. Why not go out
and arrest her then? She might explain everything except the return to
life of Mr. Blackburn. I'm afraid that's rather beyond you in any case.
But at least find her."
Robinson joined in Rawlins's laugh.
"Why go outside for that?"
"You never mean—"
"You bet we do," Rawlins said. "If what I've doped out hadn't been so
we'd have caught her long before. We're not blind, and we haven't missed
the nerve with which she helped the doctor fix you up. We haven't caught
her before because her headquarters have been right in this house all the
time. You remember the other night, Mr. Robinson. You'd just questioned
her in the court and had threatened to question him, too, when she came
in here ahead of us and slipped out the back way. She must have told him
to follow because they had to talk, undisturbed by us. They went by
different roads to the deserted house where a light had been seen before.
We happened to hit his trail first and followed it. I'll guarantee you
didn't see her when you first came in."
Robinson shook his head.
"Mr. Graham kept me busy, and I rather waited for your report before
pushing things. I didn't see her or question her until after Mr. Graham
and Mr. Blackburn had started for New York."
"And she could have sneaked in the back way any time before that,"
"It's utter nonsense!" Graham cried.
Rawlins turned on him.
"See here, Mr. Graham, you've been trying to fight me off this way all
afternoon. It won't do."
"Katy's a good girl," Silas Blackburn quavered.
With a growing discomfort Bobby realized that when the woman had cried
near the graveyard he had reached out for Katherine and had failed to
find her. Moreover, the night Graham and he had heard the crying in the
old room she had stood alone in the corridor. It was easily conceivable
that the turn of events after Robinson's arrival should have made it
necessary for conspirators to consult free from any danger of
disturbance. But Katherine, he told himself, was assuredly the victim of
coincidence. He couldn't picture her entangled in any of Paredes's
purposes. Her dislike of the man was complete and open. But he saw that
Rawlins out of the mass of apparently inexplicable clues had extracted
this material one and would follow it desperately no matter who was hurt;
and Robinson was behind him. That accounted for their frequent excursions
upstairs during the afternoon, for Rawlins's ascent as soon as they had
returned from the grave. They had evidently found something to sharpen
their suspicions, and Graham probably knew what it was.
Robinson took out his watch.
"We can't put this off too late," he mused.
The detective at his heels, he walked to the library. Bobby started
after them. Graham caught him and they crossed the dining room together.
"What do they mean to do?" Bobby asked.
"I have been afraid of it since this afternoon," Graham answered. "I
haven't cared to talk about it. I had hoped to hold them off. They intend
to search Katherine's room. I think they believe she has something
important hidden there. I've been wondering if they've got track of
Howells's report which we told Jenkins to hide."
"Why," Bobby asked, "should that involve Katherine?"
"Howells may have written something damaging to her. He knew she was
devoted to your interests."
Robinson called to them from the library.
"Won't you please come in, Mr. Blackburn?"
Bobby and Graham continued to the library. They found Rawlins gazing
through the door of the private staircase.
"We could go up this way," he was saying, "and across the old room so
that she needn't suspect."
"What is he talking about?" Bobby asked Robinson angrily.
"You wanted to help," Robinson answered, "so Rawlins and I are going to
give you a chance. We are about to search your cousin's room. We hope to
find there an explanation of a part of the mystery—the motive, at least,
for Howells's death; perhaps your own exoneration. You'd do anything to
have that, wouldn't you? You've said so."
"At her expense!" Bobby cried. "You've no right to go to her room.
She's incapable of a share in such crimes. Do you seriously think she
could plan an escape from the grave and bring back to life a man three
"Give me a human being that caused death," Robinson answered, "and I'll
tackle the ghosts later. You're wrong if you think I'm going to quit cold
because your grandfather looks like a dead thing that moves about and
talks. I shan't give up to that madness until I've done everything in my
power. I would be a criminal myself if I failed to do as Rawlins wishes.
If your cousin's skirts are clear no harm will be done. I'm acting on the
assumption that your confession was honest. I want you to get Miss
Perrine out of her room. I want you to see that she stays downstairs
while we search."
"You've already searched her room."
"Not since Rawlins—"
Robinson caught himself.
"Never mind that. It is necessary it should be searched to-night. Even
you'll acknowledge it's significant that all day when she has been
downstairs her door has been locked."
"It's only significant," Bobby flashed, "in view of your treatment of her
"That will hardly go down. Rawlins has hesitated to break in. I've
instructed him to do it now, if necessary. For the last time, will you
bring your cousin down? Will you go through and unlock the door leading
from the old bedroom to the private hall so we can get up?"
"No," Bobby cried, "I wouldn't do it if I believed you were right. And I
know you're wrong."
"Prove that we're wrong. Clear your cousin by helping us,"
"Since you're so determined," Graham said quietly, "I'll do it."
"Hartley! What are you thinking of?"
"Of showing them how wrong they are," Graham said. "I'll tell her
Doctor Groom wishes to speak to her about Mr. Blackburn. I'll warn him
to keep her downstairs for a quarter of an hour. That should give you
plenty of time."
"She'll never forgive you," Bobby said. "It's spying."
He wondered that Graham should choose such a course so soon after it had
become clear that Katherine had never really loved him.
"It's the best way to satisfy them," Graham said. "I have, perhaps, more
faith than you in Katherine."
He left them to carry out Robinson's instructions. They waited at the
entrance of the private staircase.
"I may witness this outrage?" Bobby asked.
"I'd rather you didn't speak of it in such harsh terms," Robinson
Bobby didn't know what to expect. The whole thing might be a trick of
Paredes, in line with his hints the night of Howells's death, to involve
Katharine. The quiet confidence of the two officials was disturbing. What
had Rawlins seen?
After a long time Graham descended the private staircase, carrying a
lighted candle. He beckoned and they followed him back through the
private hall into the wide and mournful bedroom. It encouraged Bobby to
see the district attorney and the detective hurry across it. After all,
they were really without confidence of solving its ghostly riddle. What
they were about to do, he argued, was a last chance. They would find
nothing. They would acknowledge themselves beaten.
When they entered the farther wing he noticed that Katherine's door
"You see," he said.
"When I called her," Graham explained, "she thought something had
happened to her grandfather. She ran out."
"And forgot all about the door," Robinson grinned. "That's lucky.
Bobby couldn't bring himself to cross the threshold, but from the
corridor he could see the interior of the room and all that went on there
during the next few moments. A candle burned on the bureau, exposing the
feminine neatness and delicacy of the furnishings. The presence of the
three men was a desecration; what they were about to do, an unforgivable
act of vandalism.
Rawlins went to a work table while Robinson rummaged in the closet.
Graham, meantime, bent against the footboard of the bed, watching with
anxious eyes. Bobby's anger was increased by this picture. He resisted an
impulse to run to the stairs and call Katherine up. That would simply
increase Robinson's suspicions. There was nothing she could do, nothing
he could do.
Rawlins had clearly been unsuccessful at the work table. He glided to the
bureau. One after the other he opened the drawers, fumbling within,
lifting the contents out, replacing them with a rough haste while Bobby's
futile rage increased.
Suddenly he saw Graham's attitude alter. Rawlins's back stiffened. He
pulled the bottom drawer altogether from the bureau and thrust it to one
side. He gazed in the opening.
"Come here, Mr. Robinson," he said softly.
Robinson left the closet and stooped beside the detective. He exclaimed.
Graham went closer looking over their backs.
"You'd better see, Bobby," he said without turning.
"Yes," Robinson said. "Let me show you how wrong you were, Mr. Blackburn.
Let me ask if you knew you were wrong."
Bobby entered with a quicker pulse. He, too, stooped and looked in the
opening. Abruptly everything altered for him. He wondered that his
physical surroundings should remain the same, that the eager faces beside
him should retain their familiar lines.
Against the back-board of the bureau, where it would fit neatly when the
drawer was in place, lay a plaster cast of a footmark. Near by was a
rumpled handkerchief that Bobby recognized as his own, and the envelope,
containing Howells's report which they had told Jenkins to hide.
"Well?" Robinson grinned.
"I swear I didn't know they were there," Bobby answered. "You'll never
make me believe that Katherine knows it."
"I've guessed," Rawlins said, "that the stuff was hidden here ever since
this afternoon when I saw a small bundle sneaked in."
"Who brought it?" Bobby took him up.
Robinson's grin expanded.
"Leave us one or two surprises to spring in court."
"Then," Bobby said, "my cousin wasn't in the room when this evidence was
"I'll admit that," Rawlins answered, "but she wasn't far away, and she
got here before I could investigate, and she's kept the door locked ever
since until just now."
He lifted the exhibits out. The shape of the cast, the monogram on the
handkerchief cried out their testimony.
Robinson grasped Howells's report and glanced over the fine handwriting.
After a time he looked up.
"There's the case against you, Mr. Blackburn, and at the least your
cousin's an accessory. But why the devil did you come to me and make a
clean breast of it?"
"Because," Bobby cried, "I didn't know anything about these things being
here. Can't you see that?"
"That's the trouble," Robinson answered uncertainly, "I think I do see
"Besides," Graham said, "you're still without the instrument that
"I expect to land it in this room," Rawlins answered grimly.
He replaced the drawer and continued to fumble among the clothing it
contained. All at once he called out and raised his hand. On the
forefinger a tiny red stain showed.
"How did you do that?" Robinson asked.
"Something pricked me," the detective answered. "Maybe it was only a pin,
but it might have been—"
Excitedly he resumed his search. He took the clothing from the drawer and
threw it to one side. Nothing remained in the drawer.
"I guess it must have been a pin," Robinson said, disappointed.
But Rawlins took up each article of clothing and examined it minutely.
His face brightened.
"Here's something stiff. By gad, I believe I've got it!"
Concealed in a woollen sack, with the slender shaft thrust through and
through the folds, was a peculiarly long, stout, and sharp hat pin.
Rawlins drew it out. He held it up triumphantly.
"Now maybe we're not getting somewheres! That's the boy that did the
trick in both cases, and it's what scratched Mr. Paredes. Maybe you
noticed how quickly she came upstairs to hide this when she got in."
"Good work, Rawlins," Robinson said.
He glanced at Bobby and Graham.
"Have either of you seen this deadly thing before?"
Bobby wouldn't answer, but after a moment's hesitation Graham spoke:
"There's no point in lying, Bobby. Katherine knows nothing of this. I
disagree with Rawlins. If she had been working with Paredes, which is
unthinkable, she'd never have made such a mistake. She wouldn't have
struck him. I have seen her wear such a pin."
"If she didn't cut him with it," Rawlins reasoned, "who else could
have got it out of here and put it back to-night when she kept her
"There's no getting around it," Robinson said. "Take charge of these
things, Rawlins. Put them in a safe place."
"What are you going to do?" Bobby asked.
"I'm afraid there's only one thing to do," Robinson answered. "I'll have
to arrest you both. One of you used this pin in the old room. It doesn't
make much difference which one. You've been working together, and we'll
find out about Paredes later."
"You're making a terrible mistake," Bobby muttered. "You don't know
Katherine or you couldn't suspect her of any share in such crimes. Give
me until morning to prove how wrong you are."
"What would be the use?" Robinson asked.
"If you'll do that, I will get the truth for you—the whole truth, how
the room was entered, everything. I swear it, Robinson. Only a few hours.
Let me carry out my plan. Let me offer myself to the dangers of the old
room as Howells and my grandfather did. Your case is no good unless you
can explain the miracle to-night. Give us this chance. Then in the
morning, if nothing happens and you still think I'm guilty, lock me up,
but for God's sake, Robinson, leave her out of it."
Graham walked to the window and flung it open. A violent gust of wind
swept in, carrying a multitude of icy flakes.
"The storm is worse," he said. "No one is likely to try to escape from
this house to-night."
Bobby stretched out his hand.
"You can't expose her to that."
Rawlins hadn't forgotten the sense of fellowship sprung from the pursuit
of Paredes through the forest.
"He's right, Mr. Robinson. You could lock up a dozen people. You might
send them to the chair without uncovering the real mystery of the Cedars.
Maybe he might find something, and he'd be as safe in that room as in any
jail I know of. I mean one of us would be in the library and the other in
the corridor outside the broken door. How could he reasonably get out? If
there was an attempt to repeat the trick we'd be ready. As for the girl,
it's simple enough to safeguard against her getting away before morning.
As Mr. Graham says, no one's likely to run far in this storm, anyway."
"I don't want to be hard," he said finally, "and I don't want to miss any
chance of cleaning up where poor Howells failed."
He glanced at the extraordinary array of evidence. The good nature which,
one felt, should always have been in his face, shone at last.
"I don't believe you're guilty. As far as you're concerned it's likely
enough a put-up job. I don't know about the girl. Go ahead, anyway, and
tell us, if you can, how the locked room was entered. Explain the mystery
of that old man who looks as if he were dead, but who moves around and
talks with us."
"The answer, if it's anywhere," Bobby said, "is in the old room."
"Under the conditions it seems worth while. Go on then and clear your
cousin and yourself if you can. You have until daylight to-morrow."
Bobby's gratitude was sufficiently eloquent in his eyes, but he said
nothing. He hurried from the room to find Katherine. As soon as he had
stepped in the corridor he saw her figure against the wall.
"Katherine!" he breathed.
"I've heard everything," she said.
He led her to the main hall where the greedy ears in her bedroom couldn't
"Then you suspected what they were about?" he asked her.
"Uncle Silas," she answered, "seemed just as he had been when I went
upstairs, so I wondered, and I remembered I had left my door unlocked."
"Then you knew those things were there?"
Her face was white. She trembled. Her words came jerkily:
"Of course I didn't. I only kept my door locked because they had
searched so thoroughly before. It was an humiliation I couldn't bear to
"You don't know," he asked, "who took that stuff from Howells; who hid it
in your bureau?"
The trembling of her slender body became more pronounced. She spoke
through chattering teeth:
"Bobby! Why do you ask such things? You believe I am guilty as you
thought I was the woman in black. You think now, because those things
were in my bureau—"
"Stop, Katherine! You won't answer me?"
"No," she said, backing away from him. "But you are going to answer me.
We have come to that point already. Just an hour or two of trust, and
then this! It's the Cedars forcing us apart as it did when we had our
quarrel. Only this time it is definite. Do you think I'm guilty of these
atrocious crimes, or don't you? Everything for us depends on your answer,
and I'll know whether you are telling me the truth."
"Then," he said, "why should I answer?"
And he took her in his arms and held her close.
She didn't cry, but for a moment she ceased trembling, and her teeth no
"My dear," he said, "even if you had hidden that evidence I'd have known
it was to protect me."
Then she cried a little, and for a moment, even in the unmerciful grasp
of their trouble, they were nearly happy. The footsteps of the others in
the corridor recalled them. Katherine leaned against the table, drying
her eyes. Graham, Robinson, and Rawlins walked into the hall.
"Hello!" Robinson said, "I suppose that isn't an unfair advantage, Mr.
Blackburn. Still, I'd rather she hadn't been told."
"He's told me nothing," Katherine answered. "I came back to the corridor;
I heard everything you said."
"Maybe it's as well," Robinson reflected. "It certainly is if what you
heard has shown you the wisdom of giving up the whole thing."
She stared at him without replying.
"Come now," he wheedled. "You might tell us at least why you stole and
secreted the evidence."
"I'll answer nothing."
"That's wiser, Katherine," Graham put in.
She turned on him with a complete and unexpected fury. The colour rushed
back to her face. Her eyes blazed. Bobby had never guessed her capable
of such anger. His wonder grew that her outburst should be directed
"Keep quiet!" she cried hysterically. "Don't speak to me again. I hate
you! Do you understand?"
Graham drew back.
"Don't," she said. "Don't call me that."
The officers glanced at Graham with frank bewilderment. Rawlins's
materialistic mind didn't hesitate to express its first thought:
"Must say, I always thought you were sweet on the lady."
"Hartley!" Bobby said. "You have been fair to us?"
"I don't know why she attacks me," Graham muttered.
His face recorded a genuine pain. His words, Bobby felt, overcame a
barrier of emotion.
They heard Paredes and Doctor Groom on the stairs.
"What's this?" the doctor rumbled as he came up.
"I—I'm sorry I forgot myself," Katherine said through her chattering
teeth. She turned to Robinson. "I am going to my room. You needn't be
afraid. I shan't leave it until you come to take me."
"Truly I hope it won't be necessary," the district attorney answered.
She hurried away. Rawlins grinned at Paredes.
"I'm wondering what the devil you know."
Robinson made no secret of what had happened. In reply to the questions
of Paredes and the doctor he told of the discovery of the evidence and of
the stout hat-pin that had, unquestionably, caused death. The man made it
clear enough, however, that he didn't care to have Paredes know of
Bobby's plan to spend the night in the old room, and Rawlins, Bobby, and
Graham indicated that they understood.
"It's quite absurd that any one should think Katherine guilty," the
doctor said to Robinson. "This evidence and its presence in her room are
details that don't approach the heart of the mystery. That's to be found
only in the old room, and I don't think any one wants to tempt it again.
In fact, I'm not sure one can learn the truth there and live. You know
what happened to Howells when he tried. Silas Blackburn went there, and
none of us can understand the change that's taken place. I have been
watching him closely. So has Mr. Paredes. We have seen him become grayer.
We have seen his eyes alter. He sits shaking in his chair. Since we came
back from the grave the man—if we can call him a man—seems to
"Yes," Paredes said. "Perhaps we shouldn't have left him alone. Let us go
back. Let us see if he is all right."
Rawlins laughed skeptically.
"You're not afraid he'll melt away!"
"I'm not so sure he won't," Paredes answered.
They followed him downstairs. Because of the position of Blackburn's
chair they could be sure of nothing until they had reached the lower
floor and approached the fireplace. Then they saw. It was as if Paredes's
far-fetched fear had been realized. Blackburn was not in his chair, nor
was he to be found in the hall. Even then, with the exception of Paredes,
they wouldn't take the thing seriously. Since the old man wasn't in the
hall; since he couldn't have gone upstairs, unobserved by them, he must
be either in the library, the dining room, or the rear part of the house.
There was no one in the library or the dining room; and Jenkins, who sat
in the kitchen, still shaken by the discovery at the grave, said he
hadn't moved for the last half hour, was entirely sure no one had come
through from the front part of the house.
They returned to the hall and stood in a half circle about the empty
chair, where a little while ago Silas Blackburn had cowered, mouthing
snatches of his fear—"I'm not dead! I tell you I'm not dead! They can't
make me go back—"
The echoes of that fear still shocked their ears.
There was a hypnotic power about the vacancy as there had been about the
emptiness in the burial ground. Paredes spoke gropingly.
"What would we find," he whispered, "if we went to the cemetery and
looked again in the coffin?"
"Why should he have come back at all?" Groom mused.
Robinson opened the front door.
"You know he might have gone this way."
But already the snow had obliterated the signs of their own passage in
and out. It showed no fresh marks.
"Silas Blackburn has not gone that way in the body," Doctor Groom
The storm was more violent. It discouraged the idea of examining the
graveyard again before morning.
Robinson glanced at his watch. He led Bobby and the detective to
"Then try your scheme if you want," he said, "but understand I assume no
responsibility. Honestly, I doubt if it amounts to anything. You'll shout
out if you are attacked, or the moment you suspect any real cause for
fear. Rawlins will be in the corridor, and I'll be in the library or
wandering about the house—always within call. Rawlins will guard the
broken door, but be sure and lock the other one."
The two officers went upstairs with Bobby. Graham followed.
"You understand," Robinson said. "I'd rather Paredes and the doctor
didn't suspect what you are going to do. Change your mind before it's too
late, if you want."
Bobby walked on without replying.
"You can't dissuade him," Graham said, "because of what will happen
to-morrow unless the truth is discovered to-night."
In the upper hall they found Katherine waiting. Her endeavours were
hard to face.
"You shan't go there for me, Bobby," she said.
"Isn't it clear I must go in my own service?" he said, trying to smile.
He wouldn't speak to her again. He wouldn't look at her. Her anxiety and
the affection in her eyes weakened him, and he needed all his strength,
for at the entrance of the dark, narrow corridor the fear met him.
Rawlins brought a candle and guided him down the corridor. Graham came,
too. The detective locked the door leading to the private hall and
slipped the key in his pocket.
"Nobody will get through there any more than they will through the other
door which I'll watch."
With Graham's help he made a quick inspection of the room, searching the
closets and glancing beneath the bed and behind the furniture.
"There's no one," he said, preparing to depart. "I tell you there's no
chance of a physical attack."
His unimaginative mind cried out.
"I tell you you'll find nothing, learn nothing, for there's nothing here
to find, nothing to learn."
"Just the same," Graham urged, "you'll call out, won't you, Bobby, at
the first sign of anything out of the way? For God's sake take no
"I don't want the light," Bobby forced himself to say. "My grandfather
and Howells both put their candles out. I want everything as it was when
they were attacked."
Rawlins nodded and, followed by Graham, carried the candle from the room
and closed the broken door.
The sudden solitude and the darkness crushed Bobby, taking his breath.
Yellow flames, the response of his eyes to the disappearance of the
candle, tore across the blackness, confusing him. He felt his way to the
wall near the open window. He sat down there, facing the bed.
At first he couldn't see the bed. He saw only the projections of his
fancy, stimulated by Silas Blackburn's story, against the black screen
of the night. He understood at last what the old man had meant. The
darkness did appear to possess a physical resistance, and as the minutes
lengthened it seemed to encase all the suffering the room had ever
harboured. But he wouldn't close his eyes as his grandfather had done.
It was a defence to keep them on the spot where the bed stood while his
mind, in spite of his will, pictured, lying there, still forms with
bandaged heads. He wouldn't close his eyes even when those fancied
shapes commenced to struggle in grotesque and impotent motion, like ants
whose hill has been demolished. Nor could he drive from his ears the
echoes of delirium that seemed to have lingered in the old room. He
continued to watch the darkness until the outlines of the room and of
its furniture dimly detached themselves from the black pall. The snow
apparently caught what feeble light the moon forced through, reflecting
it with a disconsolate inefficiency. He could see after a time the
pallid frames of the windows, the pillow on the bed, and the wall above
it. He fancied the dark stain, the depression in the mattress where the
two bodies had rested. Those physical objects forced on him the
probability of his guilt. Then he recalled that both men, dead for many
hours, had moved apparently of their own volition; and his grandfather
had come back from the grave and then had disappeared, leaving no trace;
and he comforted himself with the thought that the explanation, if it
came at all, must arise from a force outside himself, whether of the
living or the dead.
Because of that very assurance his fear of the room was incited. Could
any subtle change overcome him here as it evidently had the others? Could
there be repeated in his case a return and a disappearance like his
grandfather's? There was, as Rawlins had said, no way in or out for an
attack. Therefore the danger must emerge from the dead, and he was
helpless before their incomprehensible campaign.
The whole illogical, abominable course of events warned him to bring his
vigil to an end before it should be too late; urged him to escape from
the restless revolt of the dead who had dwelt in this room. And he wanted
to respond. He wanted to go to the corridor and confess to Rawlins and
Robinson that he was beaten. Yet he had begged so hard for this chance!
That course, moreover, meant the arrest of Katherine and himself in the
morning. For a few hours he could suffer here for her sake. Daylight, if
he could persist until then, would bring release, and surely it couldn't
be long now.
He shrank back. Steadily it had grown colder in the old room. He
shivered. He drew his coat closer about him. What temerity to invade the
domain of death, as Paredes had called it, to seek the secrets of
He ceased shivering. He waited, tensely quiet. Without calculation he
realized that the moment for which he had hoped was at hand. The old room
was about to disclose its secret, but would it permit him to depart with
his knowledge? He forgot to call. He waited, helpless and terrified,
against the wall. He heard a moaning cry, faint and distant—the voice
they had heard in the forest and at the grave. But it was more than that
that held him. He knew now what Katherine had heard across the court,
heralding each tragedy and mystery. He caught a formless stirring. Yet on
the bed there was no one. Fortunately he had not gone there.
He tried to call out, realizing that the danger could find him if it
chose, but his throat was tight and it permitted no response.
His glance hadn't wavered from the wall above the stained pillow. There
was movement there. Then he saw. A hand protruded from the blackness of
the panelling where they had sounded and measured without success. In the
ashen, unnatural light from the snow the long fingers of the hand were
like the feelers of a gigantic reptile. They wavered feebly, and he
became convinced that the hand was immaterial, that it was unattached to
any body. If that was so it couldn't be the hand of Katherine. At least
he had proved that Robinson and Rawlins had been wrong about her. That
sense of victory stripped him of his paralyzing fear. It loosed the tight
band about his throat. He called. He could prove the immaterial nature of
the repulsive hand wavering from the wall.
Crying out, he sprang to his feet. He flung himself across the bed. With
both of his own hands he grasped the slender, inquisitive fingers which
wavered above the stained pillow, and once more his throat tightened. He
couldn't cry out again.
THE CEDARS IS LEFT TO ITS SHADOWS
Straightway Bobby repented the alarm he had, perhaps too impulsively,
given. For the hand protruding from the wall was, indeed, flesh and
blood, and with the knowledge came back his fear for Katherine,
conquering his first relief. A sick revulsion swept him. He remembered
the evidence found in Katherine's room, and her refusal to answer
questions. Could Paredes and the officers have been right? Was it
conceivably her hand struggling weakly in his grasp?
The door from the corridor crashed open. Rawlins burst through. Graham
ran after him. From the private stairway arose the sound of the district
attorney's hurrying footsteps.
"What is it? What have you got?" Rawlins shouted.
Graham cried out:
"You're all right, Bobby?"
The candle which the detective carried gleamed on the slender fingers,
showing Bobby that they had been inserted through an opening in the
wall. He couldn't understand, for time after time each one of the
panels had been sounded and examined. Beyond, he could see dimly the
dark clothing of the person who, with a stealth in itself suggestive of
abnormal crime, had made use of such a device. As Rawlins hurried up he
wondered if it wouldn't be the better course to free his prisoner, to
cry out, urging an escape.
Already it was too late. The detective and Graham had seen, and clearly
they had no doubt that he held the one responsible for two brutal murders
and for the confusing mysteries that had capped them.
"Looks like a lady's hand," Rawlins called. "Don't let go, young fellow."
He unlocked the door to the private hallway. Graham and he dashed out. In
Bobby's uncertain grasp the hand twitched.
Robinson's voice reached him through the opening.
"Let go, Mr. Blackburn. You've done your share, the Lord knows. You've
caught the beast with the goods."
Bobby released the slender fingers. He saw them vanish through the
opening. He left the bed and reluctantly approached the door to the
private hall. Excited phrases roared in his ears. He scarcely dared
listen because of their possible confirmation of his doubt. The fingers,
he repeated to himself, had been too slender. The moment that had freed
him from fear of his own guilt had constructed in its place an
uncertainty harder to face. Yet there was nothing to be gained by
waiting. Sooner or later he must learn whether Katherine had hidden the
evidence, whether she had used the stout and deadly hatpin, whether she
struggled now in the grasp of vindictive men.
A voice from the corridor arrested him.
With a glad cry he swung around. Katherine stood in the opposite doorway.
Her presence there, beyond a doubt, was her exculpation. He crossed the
sombre room. He grasped her hands. He smiled happily. After all, the hand
he had held was not as slender as hers.
"Thank heavens you're here."
In a word he recited the result of his vigil.
"It clears you," she said. "Quick! We must see who it is."
But he lingered, for he wanted that ugly fear done with once for all.
"You can tell me now how the evidence got in your room."
"I can't," she said. "I don't know."
The truth of her reply impressed him. He looked at her and wondered that
she should be fully dressed.
"Why are you dressed?" he asked.
She was puzzled.
"Why not? I don't think any one had gone to bed."
"But it must be very late. I supposed it was the same
She started to cross the room. She laughed nervously.
"It isn't eleven."
He recalled his interminable anticipation among the shadows of the old
"I've watched there only a little more than an hour!"
"Not much more than that, Bobby."
"What a coward! I'd have sworn it was nearly daylight."
She pressed his hand.
"No. Very brave," she whispered. "Let us see if it was worth it."
They stepped through the doorway. Half way down the hall Robinson,
Graham, and Rawlins held a fourth, who had ceased struggling. Bobby
paused, yet, since seeing Katherine step from the corridor, his reason
had taught him to expect just this.
The fourth man was Paredes, nearly effeminate, slender-fingered.
"Carlos!" Bobby cried. "You can't have done these unspeakable things!"
The Panamanian stared without answering. Evidently he had had time to
control his chagrin, to smother his revolt from the future; for the thin
face was bare of emotion. The depths of the eyes as usual turned back
scrutiny. The man disclosed neither guilt nor the outrage of an assumed
innocence; neither confession nor denial. He simply stared, straining a
trifle against the eager hands of his captors.
Rawlins grinned joyously.
"You ought to have a medal for getting away with this, young fellow.
Things didn't look so happy for you an hour or so ago."
"And I had half a mind," Robinson confessed, "to refuse you the chance.
Glad I didn't. Glad as I can be you made good."
With the egotism any man is likely to draw from his efforts in the
detection of crime he added easily:
"Of course I've suspected this spigotty all along. I don't have to remind
you of that."
"Sure," Rawlins said. "And didn't I put it up to him strong enough
Paredes laughed lightly.
"All credit where it is due. You also put it up to Miss Perrine."
"The details will straighten all that out," Robinson said. "I don't
pretend to have them yet."
"I gather not," Paredes mused, "with old Blackburn's ghost still in
"That talk," Rawlins said, "won't go down from you any more. I daresay
you've got most of the details in your head."
"I daresay," Paredes answered dryly.
He fought farther back against the detaining hands.
"Is there any necessity for this exhibition of brute strength? You must
find it very exhausting. You may think me dangerous, and I thank you; but
I have no gun, and I'm no match for four men and a woman. Besides, you
hurt my arm. Bobby was none too tender with that. I ought to have used my
good arm. You'll get no details from me unless you take your hands off."
Robinson's hesitation was easily comprehensible. If Paredes were
responsible for the abnormalities they had experienced at the Cedars he
might find it simple enough to trick them now, but the man's mocking
smile brought the anger to Robinson's face.
"Of course he can't get away. See if there's anything on his clothes,
Rawlins. He ought to have the hatpin. Then let him go."
The detective, however, failed to find the hatpin or any other weapon.
"You see," Paredes smiled. "That's something in my favour."
He stepped back, brushing his clothing with his uninjured hand. He
lighted a cigarette. He drew back the coat sleeve of his left arm and
readjusted the bandage. He glanced up as heavy footsteps heralded
"Hello, Doctor," he called cheerily. "I was afraid you'd nap through the
show. It seems the bloodhounds of the law left us out of their
"What's all this?" the doctor rumbled.
Paredes waved his hand.
"I am a prisoner."
The doctor gaped.
"You mean you—"
"Young Blackburn caught him," Robinson explained. "He was in a position
to finish him just as he did Howells."
"Except that I had no hatpin," Paredes yawned.
The doctor's uneasy glance sought the opening in the wall.
"I thought you had examined all these walls," he grumbled. "How did you
Robinson ran his fingers through his hair.
"That's what I've been asking myself," he said. "I went over that
panelling a dozen times myself."
Bobby and Katherine went closer. Bobby had been from the first puzzled by
Paredes's easy manner. He had a quick hope. He saw the man watch with an
amused tolerance while the district attorney bent over, examining the
face of the panel.
"An entire section," Robinson said—"the thickness of the wall—has been
shifted to one side. No wonder we didn't see any joints or get a hollow
sound from this panel any more than from the others. But why didn't we
stumble on the mechanism? Maybe you'll tell us that, Paredes."
The Panamanian blew a wreath of smoke against the ancient wall.
"Gladly, but you will find it humiliating. I have experienced humility in
this hall myself. The reason you didn't find any mechanism is that there
wasn't any. You looked for something most cautiously concealed, not
realizing that the best concealment is no concealment at all. It's
fundamental. I don't know how it slipped my own mind. No grooves show
because the door is an entire panel. There isn't even a latch. You merely
push hard against its face. Such arrangements are common enough in
colonial houses, and there was more than the nature of the crimes to tell
you there was some such thing here. I mean if you will examine the
farther door closer than you have done you will find that it has fewer
coats of paint than the one leading to the corridor, that its frame is of
newer wood. In other words, it was cut through after the wing was built.
This panel was the original door, designed, with the private stairway and
the hall, for the exclusive use of the master of the house. Try it."
Robinson braced himself and shoved against the panel. It moved in its
grooves with a vibrant stirring.
"Rusty," he said.
"That's what I heard each time," she cried.
Above his heavy black beard the doctor's cheeks whitened. Robinson made a
gesture of revulsion.
"That gives the nasty game away."
"Naturally," Paredes said, "and you must admit the game is as beautifully
simple as the panel. The instrument of death wasn't inserted through the
bedding as you thought inevitable, Doctor. Suppose you were lying in that
bed, asleep, or half asleep, and you were aroused by such a sound as
that in the wall behind you? What would you do? What would any man do
first of all?"
"I see what you mean. I'd get up on my elbow. I'd look around as quickly
as I could to see what it was. I'd expose myself to a clean thrust. I'd
drop back on the bed, more thoroughly out of it than though I'd been
struck through the heart."
"Exactly," Paredes said, with the familiar shrug of his shoulders.
"You're sensible to give up this way," Robinson said. "It's the best plan
for you. What about Mr. Blackburn?"
"After all," he said thoughtfully. "I'm a lawyer, and it isn't fair,
Robinson. It's only decent to tell him that anything he says may be used
"Keep your mouth shut," Robinson shouted.
But Paredes smiled at Graham.
"It's very good of you, but I agree with the district attorney. There's
no point in being a clam now."
"Can you account for Silas Blackburn's return?" the doctor asked eagerly.
"That's right, Doctor," Paredes said. "Stick to the ghosts. I fancy
there are plenty in this house. I'm afraid we must look on Silas
Blackburn as dead."
"You don't mean we've been talking to a dead man?" Katherine whispered.
"Before I answer," Paredes said, "I want to have one or two things
straight. These men, Bobby, I really believe, think me capable of the
crimes in this house. I want to know if you accept such a theory. Do you
think I had any idea of killing you?"
Bobby studied the reserved face which even now was without emotion.
"I can't think anything of the kind," he said softly.
"That's very nice," Paredes said. "If you had answered differently I'd
have let these clever policemen lay their own ghosts."
He turned to Robinson.
"Even you must begin to see that I'm not guilty. Your common sense will
tell you so. If I had been planning to kill Bobby, why didn't I bring
the weapon? Why did I put my hand through the opening before I was ready
to strike? Why did I use my left hand—my injured hand? I was like
Howells. I couldn't consider the case finished until I had solved the
mystery of the locked doors. I supposed the room was empty. When I found
the secret to-night, I reached through to see how far my hand would be
from the pillow."
Bobby's assurance of Paredes's innocence clouded his own situation; made
it, in a sense, more dangerous than it had ever been. His wanderings
about the Cedars remained unexplained, and they knew now it had never
been necessary for the murderer to enter the room, Katherine, too,
evidently realized the menace.
"Do you think I—" she began.
"You dislike me, Miss Katherine, but don't be afraid for yourself or
Bobby. I think I can tell you how the evidence got in your room. I can
answer nearly everything. There's one point—"
He broke off, glancing at his watch.
"Extraordinary courage!" he mused enigmatically. "I scarcely
Rawlins looked at him suspiciously.
"All this explaining may be a trick, Mr. Robinson. The man's slippery."
"I've had to be slippery to work under your noses," Paredes laughed.
"By the way, Bobby, did you hear a woman crying about the time I opened
"Yes. It sounded like the voice we heard at the grave."
"I thought I heard it from the library," Robinson put in. "Then the
rumpus up here started, and I forgot about it."
"The woman in black is very brave," Paredes mused. "We should have had a
visit from her long before this."
"Do you know who she is?" Robinson asked. "And as Rawlins says, no
tricks. We haven't let you go yet."
"I thought," Paredes mocked, "that you had identified the woman in black
as Miss Katherine. She hasn't had anything to do with the mystery
directly. Neither has Bobby. Neither have I."
"Then what the devil have you been doing here?" Robinson snapped.
"Seeing your job through," Paredes answered, "for Bobby's sake."
With a warm gratitude Bobby knew that Paredes had told the truth. Then he
had told it in the library yesterday when they had caught him prowling in
the private staircase. All along he had told it while they had tried to
convict him of under-handed and unfriendly intentions.
"I saw," Paredes was saying, "that Howells wouldn't succeed, and it was
obvious you and Rawlins would do worse, while Graham's blundering from
the start left no hope. Somebody had to rescue Bobby."
"Then why did you give us the impression," Graham asked, "that you were
not a friend?"
Paredes held up his hand.
"That's going rather far, Mr. Graham. Never once have I given such an
impression. I have time after time stated the fact that I was here in
Bobby's service. That has been the trouble with all of you. As most
detectives do, you have denied facts, searching always for something more
subtle. You have asked for impossibilities while you blustered that they
couldn't exist. Still every one is prone to do that when he fancies
himself in the presence of the supernatural. The facts of this case have
been within your reach as well as mine. The motive has been an easy one
to understand. Money! And you have consistently turned your back."
Robinson spread his hands.
"All right. Prove that I'm a fool and I'll acknowledge it."
Doctor Groom interrupted sharply.
"What was that?"
They bent forward, listening. Even with Paredes offering them a physical
explanation they shrank from the keening that barely survived the heavy
atmosphere of the old house.
"You see the woman in black isn't Miss Perrine," Paredes said.
He ran down the stairs. They followed, responding to an excited sense of
imminence. Even in the private staircase the pounding that had followed
the cry reached them with harsh reverberations. Its echoes filled the
house as they dashed across the library and the dining room. In the hall
they realized that it came from the front door. It had attained a
feverish, a desperate insistence.
Paredes walked to the fireplace.
"Open the door," he directed Rawlins.
Rawlins stepped to the door, unlocked it, and flung it wide.
"The woman!" Katherine breathed.
A feminine figure, white with snow, stumbled in, as if she had stood
braced against the door. Rawlins caught her and held her upright. The
flakes whirled from the court in vicious pursuit. Bobby slammed the
"Maria!" he cried. "You were right, Hartley!"
Yet at first he could scarcely accept this pitiful creature as the
brilliant and exotic dancer with whom he had dined the night of the first
murder. As he stared at her, her features twisted. She burst into
retching sobs. She staggered toward Paredes. As she went the snow melted
from her hat and cloak. She became a black figure again. With an
appearance of having been immersed in water she sank on the hearth,
swaying back and forth, reaching blindly for Paredes's hand.
"Do what you please with me, Carlos," she whimpered with her slight
accent from which all the music had fled. "I couldn't stand it another
minute. I couldn't get to the station, and I—I wanted to know
Paredes watched her curiously.
"Get Jenkins," he said softly to Rawlins.
He faced Maria again.
"I could have told you, I think, when you fought me away out there. No
one wants to arrest you. Jenkins will verify my own knowledge."
"This is dangerous," the doctor rumbled. "This woman shouldn't wait here.
She should have dry clothing at once."
Maria shrank from him. For the first time her wet skirt exposed her
feet, encased in torn stockings. The dancer wore no shoes, and Bobby
guessed why she had been so elusive, why she had left so few traces.
"I won't go," she cried, "until he tells me."
Katherine got a cloak and threw it across the woman's shoulders. Maria
looked up at her with a dumb gratitude. Then Rawlins came back with
Jenkins. The butler was bent and haggard. His surrender to fear was more
pronounced than it had been at the grave or when they had last seen him
in the kitchen. He grasped a chair and, breathing heavily, looked from
one to the other, moistening his lips.
Paredes faced the man, completely master of the situation. Through the
old butler, it became clear, he would make his revelation and announce
that simple fact they all had missed.
"It was Mr. Silas, of course, who came back?"
"Oh my God!" the butler moaned, "What do you mean?"
"I know everything, Jenkins," Paredes said evenly.
The butler collapsed against the chair. Paredes grasped his arm.
"Pull yourself together, man. They won't want you as more than an
Maria started to rise. She shrank back again, shivering close to the
"Is your master hiding," Paredes asked, "or has he left the house?"
Jenkins's answer came through trembling lips.
"He's gone! Mr. Silas is gone! How did you find out? My God! How did you
"He said nothing to you?" Paredes asked.
Jenkins shook his head.
"Tell me how he was dressed."
The old servant covered his face.
"Mr. Silas stumbled through the kitchen," he answered hoarsely. "I tried
to stop him, but he pushed me away and ran out." His voice rose. "I tell
you he ran without a coat or a hat into the storm."
"The Cedars's final tragedy, yet it was the most graceful exit he could
Maria struggled to her feet. Her eyes were the eyes of a person without
reason. That familiar, hysterical quality which they had heard before at
a distance vibrated in her voice.
"Then he was the one! I wanted to kill him, I couldn't kill him because I
never was sure."
"Did you see him go out an hour or so ago?" Paredes asked.
"I saw him," she cried feverishly, "run from the back of the house and
down the path to the lake. I—I tried to catch him, but my feet were
frozen, and the snow was slippery, and I couldn't find my shoes. But I
called and he wouldn't stop. I had to know, because I wanted to kill him
if it was Silas Blackburn. And I saw him run to the lake and splash in
until the water was over his head."
She flung her clenched hands out. Her voice became a scream, shot with
all her suffering, all her doubt, all her fury.
"You don't understand. He can't be punished. I tell you he's at the
bottom of the lake with the man he murdered. And I can't pay him. I tried
to go after him, but it—it was too cold."
She sank in one of the chairs, shaking and sobbing.
"Unless we want another tragedy," the doctor said, "this woman must be
put to bed and taken care of. She has been terribly exposed. You've heard
her. She's delirious."
"Not so delirious that she hasn't told the truth," Paredes said.
The doctor lifted her in his arms and with Rawlins's help carried her
upstairs. Katherine went with them. Almost immediately the doctor and
Rawlins hurried down.
"I have told Katherine what to do," Doctor Groom said. "The woman may be
all right in the morning. What's she been up to here?"
"Then," Bobby cried, "there was a connection between the dinner party and
the murders. But what about my coming here unconscious? What about my
"I can see no answer yet," Graham said.
"Not when you've had the answer to everything? I have shown you that
Silas Blackburn was the murderer. The fact stared you in the face.
Everything that has happened at the Cedars has pointed to his guilt."
"Except," the doctor said, "his own apparent murder which made his guilt
seem impossible. And I'm not sure you're right now, for there is no other
Blackburn he could have murdered, and Blackburns look alike. You wouldn't
mistake another man for one of them."
"This house," Paredes smiled, "has all along been full of the presence of
the other Blackburn. There has been evidence enough for you all to have
known he was here."
He stretched himself in an easy chair. He lighted a cigarette and blew
the smoke toward the ceiling.
"I shall tell you the simple facts, if only to save my skin from this
blood-thirsty district attorney."
"Rub it in," Robinson grinned. "I'll take my medicine."
They gathered closer about the Panamanian. Jenkins sidled to the back of
"I don't see how you found it out," he muttered.
"I had only one advantage over you or the police, Graham," Paredes began,
"and you were in a position to overcome that. Maria did telephone me the
afternoon of that ghastly dinner. She asked me to get hold of Bobby. She
was plainly anxious to keep him in New York that night, and, to be frank,
I was glad enough to help her when you turned up, trying to impress us
with your puritan watchfulness. Even you guessed that she had drugged
Bobby. I suspected it when I saw him go to pieces in the cafe. He gave me
the slip, as I told you, in the coat room when I was trying to get him
home, so I went back and asked Maria what her idea was. She laughed in my
face, denying everything. I, too, suspected the stranger, but I've
convinced myself that he simply happened along by chance.
"Now here's the first significant point: Maria by drugging Bobby defeated
her own purpose. He had been drinking more than the Band of Hope would
approve of, and on top of that he got an overdose of a powerful drug. The
doctor can tell you better than I of the likely effect of such a
"What I told you in the court, Bobby," the doctor answered, "much the
same symptoms as genuine aphasia. Your brain was unquestionably dulled by
an overdose on top of all that alcohol, while your mechanical reflexes
were stimulated. Automatically you followed your ruling impulse.
Automatically at the last minute you revolted from exposing yourself in
such a condition to your cousin and your grandfather. Your lucid period
in the woods just before you reached the deserted house and went to sleep
showed that your exercise was overcoming the effect of the drug. That
moment, you'll remember, was coloured by the fanciful ideas such a drug
"So, Bobby," Paredes said, "although you were asleep when the body moved
and when Howells was murdered, you can be sure you weren't anywhere near
the old room."
"But I walked in my sleep last night," Bobby reminded him.
The doctor slapped his knee.
"I understand. It was only when we thought that was your habit that it
frightened us. It's plain. This sleep-walking had been suggested to you
and you had brooded upon the suggestion until you were bound to respond.
Graham's presence in your room, watching for just that reaction, was a
perpetual, an unescapable stimulation. It would have been a miracle in
itself if your brain had failed to carry it out."
Bobby made a swift gesture of distaste.
"If you hadn't come, Carlos, where would I have been?"
"Why did you come?" Graham asked.
"Bobby was my friend," the Panamanian answered. "He had been very good to
me. When I read of his grandfather's death I wondered why Maria had
drugged him to keep him in New York. In the coincidence lurked an element
of trouble for him. At first I suspected some kind of an understanding
between her and old Blackburn—perhaps she had engaged to keep Bobby away
from the Cedars until the new will had been made. But here was Blackburn
murdered, and it was manifest she hadn't tried to throw suspicion on
Bobby, and the points that made Howells's case incomplete assured me of
his innocence. Who, then, had killed his grandfather? Not Maria, for I
had dropped her at her apartment that night too late for her to get out
here by the hour of the murder. Still, as you suspected, Maria was the
key, and I began to speculate about her.
"She had told me something of her history. You might have had as much
from her press agent. Although she had lived in Spain since she was a
child, she was born in Panama, my own country, of a Spanish mother and
an American father. Right away I wondered if Blackburn had ever been in
Panama or Spain. I began to seek the inception of the possible
understanding between them. Since I found no illuminating documents
about Blackburn's past in the library, I concluded, if such papers
existed, they would be locked up in the desk in his room. I searched
there a number of times, giving you every excuse I could think of to get
upstairs. The other night, after I had suspected her of knowing
something, Miss Katherine nearly caught me. But I found what I wanted—a
carefully hidden packet of accounts and letters and newspaper clippings.
They're at your service, Mr. District Attorney. They told me that Silas
Blackburn had been in Panama. They proved that Maria, instead of ever
having been his accomplice, was his enemy. They explained the source of
his wealth and the foundation of that enmity. Certainly you remember the
doctor told us Silas Blackburn started life with nothing; and hadn't
you ever wondered why with all his money he buried himself in this
"He returned from South America, rich, more than twenty-five years ago,"
the doctor said. "Why should we bother about his money?"
"I wish you had bothered about several things besides your ghosts,"
Paredes said. "You'd have found it significant that Blackburn laid the
foundation of his fortune in Panama during the hideous scandals of the
old French canal company. We knew he was a selfish tyrant. That discovery
showed me how selfish, how merciless he was, for to succeed in Panama
during those days required an utter contempt for all the standards of law
and decency. The men who got along held life cheaper than a handful of
coppers. That's what I meant when I walked around the hall talking of the
ghosts of Panama. For I was beginning to see. Silas Blackburn's fear, his
trip to Smithtown, were the first indications of the presence of the
other Blackburn. The papers outlined him more clearly. Why had it been
forgotten here, Doctor, that Silas Blackburn had a brother—his partner
in those wretched and profitable contract scandals?"
"You mean," the doctor answered, "Robert Blackburn. He was a year younger
than Silas. This boy was named in memory of him. Why should any one have
remembered? He died in South America more than a quarter of a century
ago, before these children were born."
"That's what Silas Blackburn told you when he came back," Paredes said.
"He may have believed it at first or he may not have. I daresay he wanted
to, for he came back with his brother's money as well as his own—the
cash and the easily convertible securities that were all men would handle
in that hell. But he never forgot that his brother's wife was alive, and
when he ran from Panama he knew she was about to become a mother.
"That brings me to the other feature that made me wander around here like
a restless spirit myself that night. You had just told your story about
the woman crying. If there was a strange woman around here it was almost
certainly Maria. As Rawlins deduced, she must either be hysterical or
signalling some one. Why should she come unless something had gone wrong
the night she drugged Bobby to keep him in New York? She wasn't his
enemy, because that very night she did him a good turn by trampling out
his tracks in the court."
Bobby took Maria's letter from his pocket and handed it to Paredes.
"Then how would you account for this?"
The Panamanian read the letter.
"Her way of covering herself," he explained, "in case you suspected she
had made you drink too much or had drugged you. She really wanted you to
come to tea that afternoon. It was after writing that that she found out
what had gone wrong. In other words, she read in the paper of Silas
Blackburn's death, and in a panic she put on plain clothes and hurried
out to see what had happened. The fact that she forgot her managers, her
professional reputation, everything, testified to her anxiety, and I
began to sense the truth. She had been born in Panama of a Spanish mother
and an American father. She had some stealthy interest in the Cedars and
the Blackburns. She was about the right age. Ten to one she was Silas
Blackburn's niece. So for me, many hours before Silas Blackburn walked in
here, the presence of the other Blackburn about the Cedars became a
tragic and threatening inevitability. Had Silas Blackburn been murdered
or had his brother? Where was the survivor who had committed that brutal
murder? Maria had come here hysterically to answer those questions. She
might know. The light in the deserted house! She might be hiding him and
taking food to him there. But her crying suggested a signal which he
never answered. At any rate, I had to find Maria. So I slipped out. I
thought I heard her at the lake. She wasn't there. I was sure I would
trap her at the deserted house, for the diffused glow of the light we had
seen proved that it had come through the cobwebbed windows of the cellar,
which are set in little wells below the level of the ground. The cellar
explained also how she had turned her flashlight off and slipped through
the hall and out while we searched the rooms. She hadn't gone back. I
couldn't find her. So I went on into Smithtown and sent a costly cable
to my father. His answer came to-night just before Silas Blackburn walked
in. He had talked with several of the survivors of those evil days. He
gave me a confirmation of everything I had gathered from the papers. The
Blackburns had quarrelled over a contract. Robert had been struck over
the head. He wandered about the isthmus, half-witted, forgetting his
name, nursing one idea. Someone had robbed him, and he wanted his money
back or a different kind of payment, but he couldn't remember who, and he
took it out in angry talk. Then he disappeared, and people said he had
gone to Spain. Of course his wife suspected a good deal. In Blackburn's
desk are pitiful and threatening letters from her which he ignored. Then
she died, and Blackburn thought he was safe. But he took no chances. Some
survivor of those days might turn up and try blackmail. It was safer to
bury himself here."
"Then," Bobby said, "Maria must have brought her father with her when she
came from Spain last summer."
"Brought him or sent for him," Paredes answered. "She's made most of her
money on this side, you know. And she's as loyal and generous as she is
impulsive. Undoubtedly she had the doctors do what they could for her
father, and when she got track of Silas Blackburn through you, Bobby, she
nursed in the warped brain that dominant idea with her own Latin desire
for justice and payment."
"Then," Graham said, "that's what Silas Blackburn was afraid of instead
of Bobby, as he tried to convince us to-night to cover himself."
"One minute, Mr. Paredes," Robinson broke in. "Why did you maintain this
extraordinary secrecy? Nobody would have hurt you if you had put us on
the right track and asked for a little help. Why did you throw sand in
our eyes? Why did you talk all the time about ghosts?"
"I had to go on tiptoe," Paredes smiled. "I suspected there was at least
one spy in the house. So I gave the doctor's ghost talk all the impetus I
could. I was like Howells, as I've told you, in believing the case
couldn't be complete without the discovery of the secret entrance of the
room of death. My belief in the existence of such a thing made me lean
from the first to Silas Blackburn rather than Robert. It's a tradition in
many families to hand such things down to the head of each generation.
Silas Blackburn was the one most likely to know. Such a secret door had
never been mentioned to you, had it, Bobby?"
Bobby shook his head. Paredes turned and smiled at the haggard butler.
"I'm right so far, am I not, Jenkins?"
Jenkins bobbed his head jerkily.
"Then," Paredes went on, "you might answer one or two questions. When did
the first letter that frightened your master come?"
"The day he went to Smithtown and talked to the detective," the
"You can understand his reflections," Paredes mused. "Money was his god.
He distrusted and hated his own flesh and blood because he thought they
coveted it. He was prepared to punish them by leaving it to a public
charity. Now arises this apparition from the past with no claim in a
court of law, with an intention simply to ask, and, in case of a refusal,
to punish. The conclusion reached by that selfish and merciless mind was
inevitable. He probably knew nothing whatever about Maria. If all the
world thought his brother dead, his brother's murder now wouldn't alter
anything. I'll wager, Doctor, that at that time he talked over wounds at
the base of the brain with you."
The doctor moved restlessly.
"Yes. But he was very superstitious. We talked about it in connection
with his ancestors who had died of such wounds in that room."
"Everything was ready when he made the rendezvous here," Paredes went on.
"He expected to have Bobby at hand in case his plan failed and he had to
defend himself. But Maria had made sure that there should be no help for
him. When the man came did you take him upstairs, Jenkins?"
"No, sir. I watched that Miss Katherine didn't leave the library, but I
think she must have caught Mr. Silas in the upper hall after he had
pretended to give up and had persuaded his brother to spend the night."
Paredes smiled whimsically. He took two faded photographs from his
pocket. They were of young men, after the fashion of Blackburns,
remarkably alike even without the gray, obliterating marks of old age.
"I found these in the family album," he said.
"We should have known the difference just the same," the doctor grumbled.
"Why didn't we know the difference?"
"I've complained often enough," Paredes smiled, "of the necessity of
using candles in this house. There was never more than one candle in the
old bedroom. There were only two when we looked at the murdered man in
his coffin. And in death there are no familiar facial expressions, no
eccentricities of speech. So you can imagine my feelings when I tried to
picture the drama that had gone on in that room. You can imagine poor
Maria's. Which one? And Maria didn't know about the panel, or the use of
Miss Katherine's hat-pin, or the handkerchief. All of those details
indicated Silas Blackburn."
"How could my handkerchief indicate anything of the kind?" Bobby asked,
"How did it come there?"
"What," Paredes said, "is the commonest form of borrowing in the world,
particularly in a climate where people have frequent colds? I found a
number of your handkerchiefs in your grandfather's bureau. The
handkerchief furnished me with an important clue. It explains, I think,
Jenkins will tell you, the moving of the body. It was obviously the cause
of Howells's death."
"Yes, sir," Jenkins quavered. "Mr. Silas thought he had dropped his own
handkerchief in the room with the body. I don't know how you've found
these things out."
"By adding two and two," Paredes laughed. "In the first place, you must
all realize that we might have had no mystery at all if it hadn't been
for Miss Katherine. For I don't know that Maria could have done much in a
legal way. Silas Blackburn had intended to dispose of the body
immediately, but Miss Katherine heard the panel move and ran to the
corridor. She made Jenkins break down the door, and she sent for the
police. Silas Blackburn was helpless. He was beaten at that moment, but
he did the best he could. He went to Waters, hoping, at the worst, to
establish an alibi through the book-worm who probably wouldn't remember
the exact hour of his arrival. Waters's house offered him, too, a
strategic advantage. You heard him say the spare room was on the ground
floor. You heard him add that he refused to open his door, either asking
to be left alone or failing to answer at all. And he had to return to the
Cedars the next day, for he missed his handkerchief, and he pictured
himself, since he thought it was his own, in the electric chair. I'm
"Yes, sir. I kept him hidden and gave him his chance along in the
afternoon. He wanted me to try to find the handkerchief, but I didn't
have the courage. He couldn't find it. He searched through the panel all
about the body and the bed."
"That was when Katherine heard," Bobby said, "when we found the body had
"It put him in a dreadful way," Jenkins mumbled, "for no one had bothered
to tell me it was young Mr. Robert the detective suspected, and when Mr.
Silas heard the detective boast that he knew everything and would make an
arrest in the morning, he thought about the handkerchief and knew he was
done for unless he took Howells up. And the man did ask for trouble, sir.
Well! Mr. Silas gave it to him to save himself."
"I've never been able to understand," Paredes said, "why he didn't take
the evidence when he killed Howells."
"Didn't you know you prevented that, sir?" Jenkins asked. "I heard you
come in from the court. I thought you'd been listening. I signalled Mr.
Silas there was danger and to get out of the private stairway before you
could trap him. And I couldn't give him another chance for a long time.
Some of you were in the room after that, or Miss Katherine and Mr. Graham
were sitting in the corridor watching the body until just before Mr.
Robert tried to get the evidence for himself. Mr. Silas had to act then.
It was his last chance, for he thought Mr. Robert would be glad enough to
turn him over to the law."
"Why did you ever hide that stuff in Miss Katherine's room?" Bobby asked.
Jenkins flung up his hands.
"Oh, he was angry, sir, when he knew the truth and learned what a
mistake he'd made. Howells didn't give me that report I showed you. It
was in his pocket with the other things. We got it open without
tearing the envelope and Mr. Silas read it. He wouldn't destroy
anything. He never dreamed of anybody's suspecting Miss Katherine, so
he told me to hide the things in her bureau. I think he figured on
using the evidence to put the blame on Mr. Robert in case it was the
only way to save himself."
"Why did you show the report to me?" Bobby asked.
"I—I was afraid to take all that responsibility," the butler quavered.
"I figured if you were partly to blame it might go easier with me."
Paredes shrugged his shoulders.
"You were a good mate for Silas Blackburn," he sneered.
"Even now I don't see how that old scoundrel had the courage to show
himself to-night," Rawlins said.
"That's the beautiful justice of the whole thing," Paredes answered, "for
there was nothing else whatever for him to do. There never had been
anything else for him to do since Miss Katherine had spoiled his scheme,
since you all believed that it was he who had been murdered. He had to
hide the truth or face the electric chair. If he disappeared he was
infinitely worse off than though he had settled with his brother—a man
without a home, without a name, without a penny."
"He had to come back," he said slowly, "and he knew how scared you were
of the old room."
"The funeral and the snow," Paredes said, "gave him his chance. Jenkins
will doubtless tell you how they uncovered the grave late this afternoon,
took that poor devil's body, and threw it in the lake, then fastened the
coffin and covered it again. Of course the snow effaced every one of
their tracks. He came in, naturally scared to death, and told us that
story based on the legends of the Cedars and the doctor's supernatural
theories. And you must admit that he might, as you call it, have got away
with it. He did create a mystification. The body of the murdered man had
disappeared. There was no murdered Blackburn as far as you could tell.
Heaven knows how long you might have struggled with the case of Howells."
He glanced up.
"Here is Miss Katherine."
She stood at the head of the stairs.
"I think she's all right," she said to the doctor. "She's asleep. She
went to sleep crying. May I come down?"
The doctor nodded. She walked down, glancing from one to the other
"Poor Maria!" Paredes mused. "She's the one I pity most. She's been at
times, I think, what Rawlins suspected—an insane woman, wandering and
crying through the woods. Assuredly she was out of her head to-night,
when I found her finally at the grave. I tried to tell her that her
father was dead. I begged her to come in. I told her we were friends. But
she fought. She wouldn't answer my questions. She struck me finally when
I tried to force her to come out of the storm. Robinson, I want you to
listen to me for a moment. I honestly believe, for everybody's sake, I
did a good thing when I asked Silas Blackburn just before he disappeared
why he had thrown his brother's body in the lake. I'd hoped it would
simply make him run for it. I prayed that we would never hear from him
again, and that Miss Katherine and Bobby could be spared the ugly
scandal. Doesn't this do as well? Can't we get along without much
"You've about earned the right to dictate," Robinson said gruffly.
"For everybody's sake!" Bobby echoed. "You're right, Carlos. Maria must
be considered now. She shall have what was taken from her father, with
interest. I know Katherine will agree."
"I doubt if Maria will want it or take it," Paredes said simply. "She has
plenty of her own. It isn't fair to think it was greed that urged her.
You must understand that it was a bigger impulse than greed. It was a
thing of which we of Spanish blood are rather proud—a desire for
justice, for something that has no softer name than revenge."
Suddenly Rawlins stooped and took the Panamanian's hand.
"Say! We've been giving you the raw end of a lot of snap judgments. We've
never got acquainted until to-night."
"Glad to meet you, too," Robinson grinned.
Rawlins patted the Panamanian's shoulder.
"At that, you'd make a first-class detective."
"I disagree with you thoroughly. I have no equipment beyond my eyes and
my common sense."
He yawned again. He arranged the card table in front of the fire. He got
the cards and piled them in neat packs on the green cloth. He placed a
box of cigarettes convenient to his right hand. He smoked.
"I'm very sleepy, but I've been so stupid over this solitaire since I've
been at the Cedars that I must solve it in the interest of my
self-respect before I go to bed."
Bobby went to him impulsively.
"I'm ashamed, Carlos. I don't know what to say. How can I say anything?
How can I begin to thank you?"
"If you ever tell me I saved your life," Paredes yawned, "I shall have to
disappear because then you'd have a claim on me."
Katherine touched his hand. There were tears in her eyes. It wasn't
necessary for her to speak. Paredes indicated two chairs.
"If you aren't too tired, sit here and help me for a while. Perhaps
between us we'll get somewhere. I wonder why I have been so stupid with
After a time, as he manipulated the cards, he laughed lightly.
"The same thing—the thing I've been scolding you all for. With a
perfectly simple play staring me in the face I nearly made the mistake of
choosing a difficult one. That would have got me in trouble while the
simple one gives me the game. Why are people like that?"
As he moved the cards with a deft assurance to their desired combination
he smiled drolly at Graham, Rawlins, and Robinson.
"I guess it must be human nature. Don't you think so, Mr. District
* * * * *
The condition Paredes had more than once foreseen was about to shroud the
Cedars in loneliness and abandonment. After the hasty double burial in
the old graveyard the few things Bobby and Katherine wanted from the
house had been packed and taken to the station. At Katherine's suggestion
they had decided to leave last of all and to walk. Paredes with a tender
solicitude had helped Maria to the waiting automobile. He came back,
trying to colour his good-bye with cheerfulness.
"After all, you may open the place again and let me visit you."
"You will visit us perpetually," Bobby said, while Katherine pressed the
Panamanian's hand, "but never here again. We will leave it to its ghosts,
as you have often prophesied."
"I am not sure," Paredes said thoughtfully, "that the ghosts
It was evident that Graham wished to speak to Bobby and Katherine alone,
so the Panamanian strolled back to the automobile. Graham's embarrassment
made them all uncomfortable.
"You have not said much to me, Katherine," he began. "Is it because I
practically lied to Bobby, trying to keep you apart?"
She tried to smile.
"I, too, must ask forgiveness. I shouldn't have spoken to you as I did
the other night in the hall, but I thought, because you saw Bobby and
I had come together, that you had spied on me, had deliberately
tricked me, knowing the evidence was in my room. Of course you did try
to help Bobby."
"Yes," he said, "and I tried to help you that night. I was sure you
were innocent. I believed the best way to prove it to them was to let
them search. The two of you have nothing worse than jealousy to
reproach me with."
In a sense it pleased Bobby that Graham, who had always made him
feel unworthy in Katherine's presence, should confess himself not
"Come, Hartley," he cried, "I was beginning to think you were perfect.
We'll get along all the better, the three of us, for having had it out."
Graham murmured his thanks. He joined Paredes and Maria in the
automobile. As they drove off Paredes turned. His face, as he waved a
languid farewell, was quite without expression.
Bobby and Katherine were left alone to the thicket and the old house.
After a time they walked through the court and from the shadow of the
time-stained, melancholy walls. At the curve of the driveway they paused
and looked back. The shroud of loneliness and abandonment descending upon
the Cedars became for them nearly ponderable. So they turned from that
brooding picture, and hand in hand walked out of the forest into the
friendly and welcoming sunlight.
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed