THE GOLDEN SCARAB
HERBERT HOPKINS MOORHOUSE
DONOVAN greeted them with evident relief. His recent promotion to Detective-Lieutenant had been won solely upon merit and he took his work seriously; hence he had found this futile hour at Westchester a poor beginning for the day and therefore irksome. Word had reached the nearest precinct over the telephone; in response to the butler’s frightened call a plainclothes man, accompanied by a constable, had been despatched to the house. The detective’s report had been turned in to headquarters and Lieutenant Donovan had come out to substantiate it. But beyond the fact that the two “niggers” were frightened and upset and that the “collection” upstairs in the bedroom was a queer one, he could see no reason for calling in the police. Everything was in order. The man had just died suddenly as he sat in his chair, down in the library, sipping a glass of port and reading a book.
Apparently, it was a straight case of heart failure. Nevertheless, he had thought it best to advise Addison Kent—if only because the thing had happened in Lamont’s house; also, he had summoned Dr. Crossley, the medical examiner.
All of which was exactly what Addison Kent had forecast to Dick Malabar on the way out.
Donovan’s telephoned description of the details had prepared him for this very attitude of the police. Coming so closely upon the heels of their evening with Professor Emil Caron, his sudden death naturally carried special significance to the two friends; but the police would base their conclusions upon the cold facts as revealed by their enquiry.
Malabar agreed with Kent that this was just as well and they decided that if nothing were missing—in short, if the golden scarab were safe in its hidingplace—it would be best to let things take their course. With the police off the scene, there would be better opportunity for a quiet and thorough investigation, unofficially.
In accordance with their prearrangement, therefore, Malabar presently slipped out of the library and went upstairs to the bedroom. He was gone but a few minutes, and upon his return,
Kent was relieved to catch his signal that the golden scarab with its wonderful ruby was safely hidden inside the cake of pink bath soap, as planned by Professor Caron the evening before.
The body of the late savant was sitting in a comfortable armchair at the big round library table in the centre of the room.
Its position was entirely natural, the head pillowed on one arm, as if he had dropped off to sleep while reading the book which lay open before him. Nothing had been disturbed and it was like this that he had been found by his Nubian servant. On a silver tray stood a wine glass and a decanter; there were soda-biscuit crumbs on an empty plate and some more on the surface of the table. The face of the dead man showed the calm repose of a sleeper; it was as if he had fallen asleep quite naturally and had slept away into another world.
“There is a safe—” began Addison Kent.
“I have not overlooked that,” smiled Donovan, stepping across to it and touching the spring that moved the
panel in front of it. “You see, it is locked and shows no marks of having been tampered with. Everything is in order, Mr. Kent.”
“I have questioned them all closely. There’s a big buck valet, who came here with the Frenchman; the others all belong to the place. The butler, as you know, is that Arab fellow that Mr. Lamont has had so long in his employ. Then there’s a gardener, who looks after the grounds—a Scotchman, named Sandy MacLean; he’s been with Lamont quite a while, too, and his honesty sticks out all over him. These two were alone here, looking after things till Mr. and Mrs. Lamont got back from
Europe. Lamont bought this place not long ago and the maids and all the rest haven’t been hired yet.”
“Then, you’ve discovered nothing suspicious that would indicate anything unusual?”
“Not a thing. There’s a chef and his assistant in the kitchen. They were hired on here just a few days ago from the caterer’s ■—the Laidlaw people—but they seem to be O.K., for I called up Laidlaw’s and these men have been with the firm for some time.”
“Nobody heard any sound in the night?”
“No. Every one of them was dead to the world—slept right through.”
“You said the butler and Professor Caron’s man were both frightened. Did you find out the cause of that?”
“That don’t mean a thing, Mr. Kent,” declared Donovan with conviction. “You know how it is with a coon when anything sudden like this happens; they go right up in the air. They’re scared stiff of being haunted and carry rabbit’s feet and all that bunk. Don’t know’s I blame ’em for gettin’ the woollies, either, in this big house after dark and those coffins upstairs. .Well, here’s the doc. at last and we’ll soon know if there’s anything wrong.”
R. CROSSLEY, the medical examiner, arrived in a mood that matched the first five letters of his name. He was a very busy man with a morning so fully scheduled with places to go and things to do that he was in an exceptional hurry, and cross because he was hurried. He listened carefully, however, to the detective-lieutenant’s repetition of the situation, after which he proceeded with an examination of the body. He went upstairs to look over the “collection” of antiques and came down, pulling on his gloves.
“Interesting, very interesting!” he commented with a slight smile. “I think what is needed here is an undertaker, Mr. Kent. The police appear to have been called in just because a negro servant thought the place was acquiring too many dead bodies, ancient' and modern! Professor Caron was quite elderly, as you note, and appears to have passed away quite naturally. In my opinion, no inquest is necessary. Nothing missing; everything as it should be—• You understand?”
“What time did death occur, doctor?”
“About two o’clock this morning, I would say—about six hours ago.”
“And the cause of death?”
“Mm—natural, quite natural. Seems to have slept right away. No sign of any abnoimality. Heart weak, evidently.” He picked up a small round bottle from the table. “This was found on his person, lieutenant?”
“Yes, .doc.—in his vest pocket,” Donovan replied. “Digitalis, Mr. Kent. As you perhaps know, it is a heart treatment. He probably went off very peacefully. No relatives here, I understood you to say? So, we can’t question them as to his past state of health and so on. Well, it is hardly necessary.”
“Is there anything exceptional about the pallor of the face, doctor?” asked Kent.
“No, I don’t think so. He is in a sitting posture. The
blood drains out of the arteries into the veins, of course; but he has not been dead long enough for post-mortem staining to have set in, except in the legs, perhaps. Well, I understand you were acquainted with the deceased, Mr. Kent. You will look after all the arrangements, I suppose. Here is my card, if there is anything further I can do. I am in a great hurry this morning and if there’s nothing else—?”
“That’s all right, doctor. Everything will be attended to, thanks.”
Five minutes later the medical examiner’s runabout was speeding south and the heavy doors had closed on Detective-Lieutenant Donovan and his men.
A S SOON as they had gone, Addison Kent’s manner -¿A. altered. He turned upon Malabar.
“Now, let’s get at it, Dick. Come upstairs and show me that ruby first.” When the golden scarab lay once more exposed in his hand he drew a deep breath. “Beautiful! Beautiful! Many murders have been committed for less precious prizes. To begin with, I am going to hustle this down-town into a safety-deposit box; we can not feel easy till that is done.”
“I’ve found out something about this sacred cat,” offered Malabar, stepping over to the grotesque shell in which the mummy was enclosed. “These shells are usually in two longtitudinal halves, sealed with adhesive gum and the whole thing thickly coated with pitch. Run your finger along there. Look closely.”
“I see what you mean. Appears to have been resmeared,” Kent confirmed. “This shell has been opened since it was found in its original state. Not very recently, though.”
"Perhaps not. But why did Professor Caron pretend
that it had never been opened? Why was he so nervous last night whenever I went near this thing? You must have noticed how he chased me away from it.”
“He said the cat had not been unbandaged and had to be officially photographed in the process,” Kent dismissed. “What we want to make sure of, as soon as possible, is whether this is a natural death or not. I am not satisfied of that yet. Come on down to the library.” On the big, round, library table were spread the articles which Donovan had found upon the person of the dead man, together with a pencilled inventory. Kent glanced at the list briefly, then picked up the little black notebook which contained the combination of the library safe. With this in hand, he proceeded to turn the dial slowly and presently the door swung open.
Malabar joined him, peering inside. Last night they had watched Professor Caron replace the sealed package, after abstracting the golden scarab. There had been nothing else in the safe except a file of correspondence. The novelist and the journalist looked at each other now, mutely. The sealed package, containing the empty velvet case, was gone!
“He may have changed his mind after we left and removed it,” Malabar speculated.
“The answer to that is in front of you, Dick. Look at that correspondence file. Quite evidently, it has been rummaged hurriedly. The professor was too systematic to leave it in a mess like that.”
Malabar made no further comment, but stood aside and watched with interest while Addison Kent proceeded to make a minute examination of the big room. It was not every day that one was privileged to observe a superdetective at work— one of those “Master Minds” one reads about—picking up such tiny clues as threads and shoe-buttons and therefrom, by process of ratiocination, arriving at the Terrible Truth! But here was the creator of such exaggerated fictional characters himself at work on a real investigation! Here, forsooth, was an author who joked about his own characters and he was personally attempting practical results in deduction! If Dick Malabar had not had in advance a great respect for Kent’s abilities, he might have indulged in cynical amusement; as it was, he watched with sober interest.
It was little things for which Addison Kent was looking
apparently; but he did not go about, whining like a hound on a keen scent and making strange grunts and noises or anything like that. He was merely the trained observer, silent, methodical, thorough. He did get down on his hands and kness, however, once or twice and he did produce a magnifying-glass before he finished! A spot near the big library table seemed to interest him; for he spent some time in close scrutiny of the very thick pile of the immense, plain taupe, Axminster rug, placing a chair directly over it in order that it might not be disturbed. In a far corner of the library he also paused a while. The surface of the library table came in for a careful examination. He took the stopper out of the decanter and sniffed at the wine; he held the solitary wineglass to his nose.
The body in the chair next received attention. After studying its position, he looked long at the wrists of either hand, passing his fingers lightly over them. He removed one of the house-slippers with evident interest and carefully felt the silk-clad ankle. The neck, also, he felt gently. He seemed puzzled ; but said never a word.
When he had finished by examining the telephone and tracing the wiring, he sat down, thoughtfully filled his pipe and lighted it. He smoked for several minutes.
“I am far from satisfied, Dick. But if this is a murder, it is a diabolically unusual one. Call in that Nubian servant and let’s hear what he has to say.”
TWELLANI was far from at ease as he stood before them in the presence of his dead master; but it was impossible to tell from his manner whether his diffidence was due to anything more significant than the natural superstitions of his race. He was not of the Nubas but of the Barabra, he informed them as he drew himself to his full height—from the Nile country.
“By which he means that he is not a slave or the son of a slave,” volunteered Malabar in English. “The Nilotic branch dislikes the term Nuba because the pagan Kordofan Nubas were supplied to the Sudanese slave markets for years. He will be Mohammedan; but not fanatically so.”
Kent nodded as he studied the giant figure before him. He was glad to have Dick Malabar beside him; if the man’s French failed him, the journalist could come to the rescue with his knowledge of dialects.
“You know, of course, that the death of your master is a very, very serious matter, Kellani,” Kent began carefully. “In this country the police are very quick to ask many questions when a man dies suddenly. We must know exactly what happened and it will be best for you to tell the truth-—all of it. You understand, Kellani?” Slow inclination of the head signified that he understood. He covertly shifted his position so that the body at the library table would not be within his line of vision so disconcertingly.
“When did you see your master alive last?”
Not since the night before, was the answer. After the gentlemen visitors had gone the master had summoned him to bring more wine to the library, where he was sitting up, reading books. When Kellani had taken in the tray he had not been needed further and had gone to bed. “And you went straight to sleep, I suppose?” “Certainly. That is why men go to their beds.”
“And you heard no sound—no loud cry or other noises?”
“No, I heard nothing, Sidi. The ears of Kellani go to sleep with the rest of his body.”
“What time was it when you awoke in the morning?” “At the hour of the first prayer.”
“Just before sunrise—at daybreak, eh? And you came down here to the library right after that? Was anybody else in the house up at that hour?”
“No. It is a habitation of dogs and sons of dogs!”
“He’s not calling you names, Kent,” interpolated Dick Malaber hastily as he noted the look in the novelist’s eye. “It’s a slap at Mokra.”
Kent nodded appreciation of the fact; but he continued to eye the Nubian keenly.
“Why did you come down to the library so early, Kellani? Professor Caron was a guest and it was not your duty to look after the house, was it?”
“I am my master’s servant and my master would have no other attend to his wants.”
“But your master was supposed to be asleep upstairs and it was much too early for him to need you. Why did you go to the library at that hour?” persisted Kent.
“There was the tray and wineglass to take away and some dusting—”
"Glass, did you say?”
Again the slow inclination of the frizzled head.
“And you found him dead at the table, just like he is now? Look, Kellani!”
Kellani looked, hesitatingly. His gaze did not linger; but shifted uncertainly. Plainly, he was ill at ease.
“In the presence of your dead master, Kellani. I demand that you speak nothing but the truth,” impressed Kent solemnly. "Are you telling us the full truth?”
“By the pupil of this eye! yes, Sidi. By the beard of the Prophet—■!”
“Why have you hidden the second wineglass?” demanded Addison Kent sharply.
“There was only one wineglass. By Allah! only one.” “You are lying!” cried Kent, jumping to his feet suddenly. “There were two! You served two people in this room early this morning—your master and the man who called to see him after midnight!”
“Yes, Sidi,” admitted the Nubian, shrinking from the accusing finger. “That is true.”
“By Jove!” murmured Malabar with interest.
“Well? Go on—explain! What about this visitor?”
BADLY frightened, Kellani told in his broken French of the stranger’s arrival shortly after midnight. The lights were out and Mokra and the others had retired. Professor Caron, however, still sat in the library, reading. The caller had not rung the doorbell but had tapped on the glass of the French doors that opened from the library directly upon the tiled portico outside. Professor Caron had admitted the late visitor himself, through this library door. He had summoned Kellani almost immediately, ordering refreshments served. That was all Kellani knew about it.
“Who was this man? Had you ever seen him before?” “No. I did not know him. I knew not his name.” “What happened after that? How long did the stranger stay?”
That, Kellani was unable to say. His master had sent him off to bed and he had gone there obediently, leaving the two gentlemen alone in the library.
“About the wineglass—Why did you hide it when the police came?”
His master had warned him that nobody must know of this midnght interview; that was why he had removed the second glass and said nothing. Always he was his beloved master’s obedient servant, even as he was now theirs.
“Rather an unusual hour for a social call,” mused Kent. “What did this man look like? Was he a small man, like Professor Caron?”
“Yes, a very small man, Sidi.”
“The truth, Kellani!” warned Kent sternly. “Again, I have to correct you! The man was a big man, powerfully built, strong! Was he not?”
“Yes, he was a very big man, Sidi.”
Addison Kent looked over at Dick Malabar helplessly, then stepped across to the bell-cord and rang for the butler.
“I would advise you to pray earnestly six times to-day, Kellani. Allah is great!
Ask Him to grant you wisdom other than the wisdom of the serpent. You may go.”
As the Nubian strode to the door with alacrity he almost collided with Mokra. The butler twisted quickly to one side, hastily thrusting out one arm his hand closed except for the first and third fingers; it was as if, thereby, he would ward off some power to injure.
“See that!” whispered Malabar to Kent. “You note that he is resisting ‘the evil eye?’ Mokra belongs to the Kabyles—pure Berber stock-—the original Numidian.
Trouble brewing there, Kent.”
MOKRA was agitated. Fear anger, worry, superstitious dread — all were written in his dark, heavy-boned face and anxious black eyes that looked restlessly about him. It was a more intelligent face, a more trustworthy face than that of the stolid Nubian who, so willingly, had just left the library with its silent sleeper and magic inquisitor who knew the answers to his own questions!
As Richard Malabar had intimated, he was of the pure Berber race that was in North Africa before the Arabs came—of the Haratin or “Black” Berbers of the southern slopes of the hill country. Also, he had belonged to the zouaves and had fought for France, earning honorable
discharge. Long association with such French gentlemen as his present benefactor, Armaund Lamont, had enabled him to become proficient in European ways. His spoken French was not the atrocious pidgin tongue which the Arab attempts. From his Berber blood he derived a natural attachment to home life and habits of labor, which the Arab lacks; but to this had been added the influence of his army training and the polish of long service. He was a loyal, faithful and efficient servant.
Addison Kent smiled at him. He had known Mokra for some time and was aware of the confidence which Lamont reposed in him.
“You do not like Kellani?” he encouraged.
“May Allah slice him in pieces! Do not believe anything he says, Monsieur Kent. His tongue is without bones and it moves in whatever way he chooses!”
“I quite agree with you, Mokra. Did you hear anyone moving about inside the house last night?”
“No, monsieur. I went to bed early and I slept very soundly. I heard nothing until roused by that son of a slipper in the morning.”
“What time was that?”
“Not long after sunrise, monsieur.”
“You missed the prayer at fedjeur, then?”
Allah forgive him! He had not slept so soundly for years. It was a djinn that had carried him away!
“Did you have anything to eat or drink before retiring?” asked Kent quickly.
“Only a glass of milk and a piece of cake, monsieur.” “The glass from which you drank —it has been washed?”
Assuredly. Mokra had washed it himself. He was not “the dirty dog of a Kabyle” which that mule of a fellah had called him. Allah demolish him! No Mussulman washed offener than Mokra!
“I understand it was you who telephoned for the police. Why did you do that?”
“Because that whelp of the devil—that fellah with the eyes, ears, nose, teeth and tail of a dog’s dog—!” Mokra paused, conscious that the excitement into which his words were leading him was out of place. “He said he would cut out my heart, monsieur, and I was afraid to be
alone with him. I required some shiny buttons for him to see. That was why I called the police to come.”
“Did you know that Professor Caron had a visitor here in the library last night after we left the house?”
No, Mokra had not known that. He was surprised. “Kellani did not tell you?”
“Very well, Mokra. That will be all just now—unless you have something to ask, Dick?”
“No. We’ll ring if we need you again, Mokra.” As soon as the butler was out of the room, Malabar leaned forward eagerly. “That is true about the man calling here in the early hours of the morning? You were not just inventing it to test Kellani?”
“Hardly, Dick,” smiled Kent. “It is as true as the evidence written in this room.”
“/"'iOME here and see for yourself. Whoever poured the N^wine did so with an unsteady hand; if it was Professor Caron, he was agitated by the presence of the caller at that hour, and if it was the stranger himself, he was probably already under the influence of liquor. One of the glasses overflowed slightly onto the tray. You can see the mark of the two glasses quite distinctly and you note that one of them had a larger base than the other.
“But that is not all, of course. Here on the surface of the table-—stoop down and you will get the light on it just right; the mark is quite plain—a very big man has leaned his weight upon his hand there. The fingers are outspread, you note. A man with a hand like that must be over six feet and built to powerful proportions. He wore gloves and was careful not to remove them while in this room—a fact that is suspicious.”
“That is why the impression is somewhat indeterminate, then,” commented Malabar with interest. “What else?”
“Over here in the corner—You may have noted that in the corners of any room, covered by a carpet or large rug like this, the pile is scarcely worn, but is of its original thickness. He evidently stood here for some time—perhaps while he held forth at some length upon the object of his visit. Note the size of the marks, made by his feet. They match the hand.”
“How do you know that these marks were not made by the feet of Donovan or one of his men—the mark of the hand, too, for that matter?”
“Because none of the police wore gloves and because the police are not equipped with golf boots. Take the magnifying-glass and you will see the impression of the rubber studs plainly. The boots were brand new—perhaps purchased specially for this nocturnal visit.”
Dick Malabar rubbed his chin reflectively and slowly nodded his head.
“This man, then, stole the sealed package from the safe, you think?”
“Either he stole it or it was handed to him by Professor Caron, but I doubt the latter.”
“You mean—?” “Professor Caron was bound, hand and foot! The marks on his wrists and ankles are not very noticeable; but they are there. What puzzles me is why the visitor removed the professor’s slippers?”
“In replacing them he put them on the wrong feet—the right slipper on the left foot and the left slipper on the right foot. Look for yourself. I tell you, Dick, something damnable happened in this room in the early morning hours; but what? What?” He took a pace across the room and back, head bent in thought. He paused at the table and idly picked up the twoounce bottle of digitalis that had been found in the deceased’s vest pocket.
“We know that the professor was in terror from something or other, Kent. The fact that he hid the ruby shows that he was afraid of this very visit*, doesn’t it? It does not look well—the whole thing. Everything points to foul play—”
Malabar paused at an exclamation from the novelist, who was staring at the little round bottle in his hand.
“You are right, Dick, and here is some more evidence under our very eyes. I am going to telephone my friend,
Doctor Harvey, and have him analyze this stuff. I believe he will find the contents of this bottle inert; for digitalis is not active after eighteen months or so. The label shows the date of manufacture to have been over two years ago.”
“That this bottle was planted in Professor Caron’s pocket by the murderer to suggest treatments for a weak heart; that his death is not due to that.”
“How was he killed?”
“It is not going to be easy to find that out.”
“When the man who came here discovers that the jewel case is empty—that the golden scarab is missing—• It was that he was after?”
‘ Undoubtedly. He will come back here for it.”
“ Ai?d waste no time in doing so, I would say.”
“I expect him to make another attempt—possibly to-night.”
“What are you going to do?” Malabar looked up eagerly.
“When the gentleman calls to-night,” stated Addison Kent quietly, “we shall be here to receive him!”
THE day grew oppressively hot and humid for the time of year; but that did not lessen the detail with which it was crowded for Addison Kent. There were cables to send to Paris and to Armaund Lamont in Switzerland. An undertaker took charge of the body of the late archaeologist after Kent’s own doctor had viewed it. Doctor Harvey carried away with him the bottle of digitalis and also the spoonful of wine that remained in the glass upon the tray, promising to complete his analysis and report before night upon the desirability of an autopsy.
The thing which Addison Kent had planned to do first of all that day, however, had been erased from his program through the arguments of Richard Malabar. Whoever was after the golden scarab, the journalist pointed out, was hardly likely to be alone in his quest. Professor Caron had intimated that nobody knew he had the gem in his possessión; but this was disproved by the visit of the man who had walked off with the sealed package out of the safe. And if one man knew of the ruby and its whereabouts, there was no telling how many more might be aware of the prospective “haul” and be on the watch. Whoever were after it certainly would be keeping a sharp eye open for its removal from the Lamont residence. Not only might it be dangerous to change the location of the jewel at the present moment; to do so might also defeat Kent’s very purpose in taking up temporary quarters in the Lamont house—to surprise the thieves in a second attempt to enter the place in search of the scarab.
“I am satisfied that the fellow who came here has confederates, Kent,” Malaber declared with conviction. “They may be only hired ‘look-outs,’ set to keep close watch on this house and the movements of its inmates. This is big game, remember, and well worth big effort.” “You have some suggestion to offer?”
“Yes. I advise keeping the golden scarab right here—■ for to-night, at least, or until the enemy have shown a lead which we can follow up. I believe with you that they will try to enter the house sooner or later, thereby providing us with our opportunity. But they will do that only if they believe the ruby is still here.”
“That sounds reasonable,” agreed Kent, chin in hand. “Would you put it back in the same hiding-place, then?” “I’ve thought of a better place—better for our purpose, that is. Let us bait a trap, as it were. You will sleep in Professor Caron’s bedroom—in his bed—while I occupy the sitting-room that opens off it. There is a davenport, if I remember rightly, or we can fix up a cot of some kind.”
“And where will the golden scarab retire for the night?” “On the breast of one of the mummies. It will tuck out of sight, quite nicely, inside the bandages. That is the last place whoever is after it will be liable to look for it. They will have a natural tendency to shy away from the mummies and—
“Remember what Professor Caron said last night, Dick: ‘Nothing is safe from a bold thief!' Nothing is sacred!’ Remember the thieves who penetrated the tombs of the Pharaohs in ancient days. Nevertheless, I think your suggestion is a good one; for, if we get them inside that bedroom and fail to nab them, we deserve to be licked!”
“That’s my idea exactly, old chap. We’ll take turns in standing guard. I shall take the first watch—say till three or three-thirty a.m. Then I shall wake you for your trick. Is that agreeable?”
So it was arranged. Evening found Kent and Dick Malabar installed' at ihe Westchester mansion, to the great relief of Mokra. It was evident that the butler had been afraid of being left alone on the premises, even although the solid Scotsman-—Sandy, the gardener—had quarters above the garage, scarcely a stonesthrow from the big house. The removal of the body from the library and the arrival of Kent and Malabar afforded the simple
Algerian much comfort, and only the presence of the Nubian prevented him from being entirely happy. As it was, he felt pretty cheerful and went about the laying of the table in the dining-room with an assurance which finally sent the late professor’s manservant, sulking, to his room in the servants’ wing.
All day long the coastal stations had been flying storm signals. At sundown thunder-clouds were shouldered high in the heavens, mountainous, black.
“Looks as if we were in for a bad storm before morning,” was Kent’s comment as he glanced at the sky. They had come out on the portico after dinner for coffee and cigars.
“The worse the better,” responded Malabar, smiling a little at the paradox. “Under cover of the Stygian darkness and the uproar of the warring elements, the determined enemy crept stealthily upon the sleeping fortress—all that sort of thing!”
It got dark early. The air seemed to hang like a pall, sultry, pocketed, dead. Out on the highway the sound of motors rose to a passing hum—died away. From the river persisted the staccato of a launch, strangely loud, and somewhere the dull beat of turbine engines.
“npHE telephone wants to talk with you. Monsieur Kent, if you please,” announced Mokra from the library doorway.
“It was Harvey, Dick,” Kent informed as he came back to his chair. “As I expected, that digitalis is inert—an old bottle of it, entirely useless.”
“You think it was placed in Caron’s pocket to mislead?” “I’m sure of it. He was no more taking treatments for his heart than I am! Whoever planted it has run across the bottle, standing on a shelf somewhere; he suddenly conceived the idea and acted upon it without noticing the old date on the label. That much is clear.”
“What about the wine?”
“There is a slight trace of chloral hydrate, but not enough to do any harm—not more than would be required for a sleeping draught.”
“That is strange. Does Harvey recommend an autopsy?”
‘ He does. We ought to have a report on that to-morrow; but I doubt if they’ll find anything to prove that a murder has been committed.”
“Yet you are convinced—?”
“I am waiting for the report of the medical experts.” Sandy MacLean passed with a light ladder on. his muscular shoulder. He nodded to them and grinned. “Everything snug for the night, Sandy?” called Kent. “Ay, that it is. We’ll no be needin’ the sprinklers, Ah’m thinkin’, sir.” He paused to wave a hand at the sky. “Them clouds wull be geein’ lawn-waterin’ the nicht.” He went on towards the garage, wagging his head wisely.
“I asked Sandy if he had noticed anybody hanging about the place during the day,” remarked Kent.
“The answer is ‘yes,’ Dick. He saw two young fellows hanging about suspiciously, off and on, all afternoon. They were looking in at the gate and once he caught them lounging on the grass, behind some bushes. He chased them off about their business. He had some tools stolen out of the garage not long ago.”
“What did I tell you?” There was a note of satisfaction in Malabar’s voice. “Well, let them come!”
“You had better see that you have a full clip in your automatic when you go on duty. You’re sworn in as a deputy now, remember. If you have to, don’t hesitate to shoot.”
“I only hope we are not taking all these precautions for nothing,” was Malabar’s prayer.
“It will not be very difficult to approach the house, anyway,” and Kent indicated the surrounding shrubbery, “or to get inside, for that matter.”
The grounds of the Lamont estate stretched away into the gloom, the boundaries lost in the darkness, except for the gleam of lamps on the posts at the foot of the driveway, where the heavy iron gates were closed and locked for the night. There was a light standard near the garage, while two lamps glowed dimly in their frosted globes on either side of the porte eochere. In every other direction the shrubbery afforded concealment.
ABOUT ten o’clock Addison Kent decided to turn in for a few hours’ rest. He left Malabar amusing himself in the billiard room. But it was some time after he was undressed and in bed before the novelist could get to sleep. Long ago he had mastered insomia by sheer mental control; but to-night his mind seemed full of vagrant thoughts. He blamed the failure of his efforts to relax at first upon the fact that it was not his regular bedtime; but perhaps the presence of the automatic and the electric torch under his pillow, with all that they signified, had something to do with it.
Or was it the strangeness of his surroundings? He was not accustomed to a bedroom in which mummies in their coffins stood on guard! That grotesque black cat—!
In spite of himself his eyes kept wandering in the direction of the upright cases. He felt uncomfortable in
their presence, nervous, as if about them hung some malignant spell, an aura of malevolence—!
Rather sharply he took himself to task. Was he a child, glancing apprehensively over his shoulder in fear of the Bogie Man? Nonsense! These rumors of malicious spirits, exerting evil influences—Why, the dried-up bodies enclosed in those upright cases by the door there were over three thousand years old—harmless as the dust of the ages! As poor Caron had said, just last night: “Why should they harm anyone who sought to preserve their memory, who—?”
Just last night! Professor Caron was alive and well then. He had stood right over there as he spoke. Kent could see the smile on his face as he said it. Right in this room—just last night! This was Caron’s bed! Up there was the place where the plaster—“I will leap upon him like a wild beast upon his prey!”—
“Damn!” Kent punched the pillow irritably into a more comfortable position and kicked off the sheets. “Now, go to sleep, and be quick about it!” he apostrophied. “You’ve got to be up in less than five hours!”
Fitful blue light played into the dark room intermittently from the distant storm that was brewing. It would be sure to break in the night sometime and if he did not get to sleep before that happened, the storm would keep him awake if nothing else did.
Queer how the cold blue light that came and went caught the shine of the pitch on the wooden figure that was the cat’s coffin, sitting over there by the window. It gleamed on the rock-crystal of its staring eyes. He would not have much difficulty in imagining that the grotesque creature was winking and grinning at him—!
Deliberately, he turned his back upon it—and propped himself promptly on an elbow. For, out of the darkness from the opposite side of the room—! He shut his eyelids impatiently; but when he slowly opened them again—!
Without removing his stare, he fumbled for the light switch—and could not locate it. There was no mistaking the fact that two great eyes—real eyes— were glowing at him out of the dark—great, burning orbs like live coals!
Kent shut his eyelids once more and found, upon reopening them, that the glowing fires were gone. With a breath of relief he sank back on the pillow; but jerked up again instantly. They had not disappeared! They had only moved to another spot, where they still blazed at him in the darkness!
He stretched out an impatient arm for the light switch, found it and flooded the room. There was nothing to be seen at the spot!—not a thing!
Sheepishly, he snapped out the light and rolled over. After a while he dozed—slept. So that he did not hear the first low, distant rumble of thunder—like the mutter of approaching menace.
Spasmodically, Addison Kent sat up in bed, blinking, only half awake. The first thing that was borne in upon his sleep-blunted brain was the fact that a terrific electrical storm was in full blast. Thunderclaps cracked overhead like exploding cannon and almost simultaneously came the lightning in long, vivid flashes that for the moment lit the room like day—a moment of dazzling brightness, then utter blackness.
Then suddenly Kent was awake as he caught again the glow of those two malignant eyes that had stared at him before. The balls of fire glowed from the far corner of the bedroom, low down, near the floor. In the next lightning-flash he got just a glimpse of something, crouching for a spring!
R-ripplcl—Crack!—acklel came the thunder. He fumbled beneath the pillow for his automatic and sprang from the bed. Something struck him on the chest, as if launched from a catapult, and he went over backwards. He felt sharp pains as the clawing, yowling creature scratched the coat of his pajamas to ribbons!
With a yell he fought it off. He leaped to his feet. In another flash of lightning he saw a dark form dashing away into the interior of the house. He lost sight of it before he could fire at it.
He ran to the wall at the head of the bed and slithered his hand about in search of the light switch. The button snapped under his thumb; but the room remained in darkness. The fuses were blown—probably throughout the whole house!
What had attacked him? He pawed the pillow till he got hold of his electric torch. He turned it on, playing the beam across the floor to the corner without finding there anything to indicate an answer. He swung the disk of light to the corner where the mummy of the Egyptian cat—!
With an involuntary cry of astonishment, Kent strode across the room to investigate. The coffin-shell, in which the mummy of the sacred cat had been so securely sealed, lay on the floor in two longitudinal halves!
The cat was gone!
To be Continued.