PROFESSOR WINANT and his tubby wife were trying to untangle a particularly vicious fishing trying line when Michael Brent dropped in to see them. Their joint endeavors had resulted in a more hopeless entanglement than ever, and Michael Brent’s casual visit was a welcome interruption.
“I just dropped in to ask if you know chess, professor,” Brent explained.
“Oh, indeed,” beamed Winant. “Chess! My favorite game. You play? Oh, splendid. Yes. I’m glad there’s another enthusiast in camp. Yes. Yes, indeed.”
“We’ll have a game, then. After this wretched business is settled.”
“Certainly. Yes, yes,” agreed Winant in his jerky manner, as if agreeable affirmatives were being plucked out of him by invisible wires. “Very glad to take you on. Mrs. Winant plays, too. Yes. She’s very keen.”
“I noticed a set in Hope’s cabin yesterday. Perhaps he plays, too. We’ll get up a small tournament.”
“Splendid. Yes. Splendid idea.”
They chatted for a little while. Mrs. Winant shook her head dolefully when the murder was discussed. A dreadful business, she said. She couldn’t imagine anyone being so heartless as to kill a fellow creature. They had thought of leaving camp by the mail boat that morning, but had decided that, after all, it wouldn’t be quite fair to Mr. Hope. “He isn’t to blame, of course,” she said.
Professor Winant was very anxious to know if Brent had formed any theory about the murder. He himself, he confessed, was utterly in the dark. Of course they didn’t mix very much with the other guests and doubtless things had been going on . . .
“A very, very mysterious business,” said Winant solemnly. “Yes. A strange affair. As you said at breakfast, Mr. Brent, the motive is so obscure. Yes. What was the motive? If we know that, we know all.”
“That’s what’s bothering me,” said Brent.
Out on the verandah, as they stood there talking, he noticed a big, six-foot bow and a sheaf of arrows hanging from the logs above the door. All the cabins at Lone Wolf had such characteristic appurtenances. Brent’s own place, for instance, boasted a deer head above the fireplace, bearskin rugs on the verandah, a pair of crossed tomahawks on the wall, and a small birchbark canoe on the mantel.
“Another of your hobbies, professor?” he asked, reaching and taking the bow from the nails that supported it.
“Hobby? What do you mean?” asked Winant blankly. “Can you handle one of these things?” Brent tried the bowstring. It lacked tension.
“Oh, dear, no,” said Winant. “I’ve never tried it. The bow has been hanging up there ever since we came. I believe Mr. Frenette is quite an expert, though. Yes. A very good shot. He was practising up on the hill a few days ago. Remarkably good eye.”
“Really? I’d like to try my hand at it. I imagine it’s more difficult than it looks, though.”
PAULINE was tidying up his cabin, and Michael Brent took advantage of the opportunity to ask why she had quarrelled with Adelard Frenette the previous night.
The girl looked surprised. But she answered readily enough, with a shrug:
“Oh, Adelard—pooh—he was jus’ jealous. He didn’t want me to go down to Mr. Kennedy’s.”
“He followed you down there, didn’t he?”
Pauline again looked surprised. Apparently she wondered how Michael Brent had come by his information. She said frankly:
“Yes. I was mad at him for that. When I came out I tol’ him what I thought. He say, ‘It’s not safe for you to be alone wit’ that man.’ Pooh! I know how to take care of myself. Mr. Kennedy, he was a terrible flirt.” Pauline dimpled reminiscently and then became serious. “Poor man. He’s gone now. Adelard never like’ him.”
“Did Adelard and you make up?”
“Oh, yes. We always make up. We sat on the hill and talk, talk, talk for a long time. I tol’ Adelard he was foolish to be so jealous. Mr. Kennedy, he was very good-looking, sure, but he mean nothing to me. He flirt wit’ me and I laugh and flirt back, but when he try to kiss me—bang—I slap his face. My goo’ness, I’m to marry Adelard nex’ spring. If he can’t trus’ me now, I tell him, I won’t marry him at all. That shut him up quick.”
When the girl left, Michael Brent got a tablet of writing paper and a fountain pen from his luggage, and sat out on the verandah overlooking the river.
With the tablet propped against his knees he wrote the names of everyone at Lone Wolf Camp, beginning with Peter Hope himself. Against the names he lined out two columns, respectively headed “Motive” and “Opportunity.”
Peter Hope—This camp is all that remains of his one-time fortune. His personal finances are at a low ebb. The camp is his home, his means of livelihood. He has clung to it through everything. He gave a guest a bad cheque. Hope is not the sort of man to invoke the law, although he could not be forced to pay the gambling debt. Besides, the publicity would be fatal to the camp.
Did Somerset, alias Kennedy, really use marked cards? Don’t overlook possibility that Hope could have marked them himself, after the game, even after the murder, to show extenuating circumstances in the event of trouble. At any rate, he got his cheque back, thereby extricating himself from a possibly ruinous situation.
Opportunity—No evidence to show that he was at the cabin between 10 o’clock and 10.30, but it was possible.
Ted Hope—Ted doubtless knew of the difficulties facing his uncle. Perhaps not the whole truth, but some of it. If he believed his uncle was threatened with serious financial trouble as a result of a swindle, loyalty might have prompted him to confront Somerset and call for a showdown.
Opportunity— Same as in Peter Hope’s case.
Duke Rose—His job was to see that Somerset stayed away from New York, yet Somerset was preparing to disobey instructions and leave camp.
Mike Monday—Loyalty motive eliminated because he knew nothing about the poker game. No other apparent motive unless Somerset was guilty of some wrong to his daughter. Doubtful.
Opportunity—Slight but possible. We have only his word for it that he went directly from the dock to Seldon’s cabin.
Adelard Frenette—Jealousy motive possible. Loyalty to Hope might strengthen this if he knew of Hope’s difficulty.
Opportunity— None, if Pauline’s story is true.
Pauline—No motive, if her story is true. Opportunity, good.
Ruth Owen— Depends on how her story checks with that of Mrs. Seldon. My opinion is, no motive, no opportunity.
Tom Seldon—An unstable character. Strong jealousy motive. He knew about the murder before Hope and I went to his cabin. He—
Michael Brent heard footsteps on the front verandah. He got up, put aside the writing tablet and went into the cabin. Ruth Owen and her sister had arrived.
MRS. SELDON was pale and haggard as she faced Brent, sitting in the big living room of the cabin. Ruth was quiet, anxious, distressed.
“I came here to see you a little while ago,” said Mrs. Seldon in a low voice. “You were out. I don’t want you to think I didn’t mean to tell you, Mr. Brent. It would have been horribly unfair to Ruth.”
“Ruth, I think, has been very courageous.”
“And I have been very foolish. Things have been difficult for us in the past few years, Mr. Brent. We’ve had financial reverses. Tom has worked very hard—too hard. He was on the brink of a complete mental breakdown not long ago. This rest has done him a great deal of good. I’m not trying to excuse myself, but the strain has been so great that, even though I knew Tom was jealous and easily upset, I couldn’t resist the temptation to let go a little.”
“I think I can understand that,” said Brent sympathetically.
“Mr. Kennedy was very attractive. I liked him very much. There was nothing in the nature of an affair—an amusing flirtation, you might say. There was no harm in it. But Tom was furious. It upset him so badly that he actually spoke to Mr. Kennedy about it. That was—humiliating. Tom thought the situation was much worse than it was.”
MICHAEL BRENT studied the woman’s pale, harassed face for a moment.
“And so,” he said, “when questions were being asked, you kept quiet to protect your husband. After all, he might have done it.
"There was a spice of danger, then, when you went to Mr. Kennedy’s cabin last night?”
“Well, yes. He suggested that I drop in for a cocktail. I declined to go. But then, during the evening, I changed my mind. It was foolish of me, but I suppose I simply rebelled. After all, there was no harm in it, and nearly every woman likes a touch of romance with a spice of danger.”
“At what time did you go, Mrs. Seldon?”
“At half-past nine. I was about to leave at ten o’clock—I had a cocktail and we simply sat and talked for half-an-hour— Mr. Kennedy seemed very nervous and abstracted—and then Pauline came in.”
“Pauline didn’t tell me you were there.”
“She didn’t see me. When I heard a footstep on the trail I simply slipped out on to the front verandah. I was afraid she might talk.”
“And when Pauline left?”
“I said good-by to Mr. Kennedy and went away. While Pauline was there I had heard the boat coming in. I was frightened, for I realized that it might be serious if Tom got to our cabin and found I wasn’t there. I ran out—there was someone coming up the trail—and hurried toward the clearing. Then I met Ruth. She had heard the boat come in, and ran out to look for me. We went up to the cookhouse for a moment and then back to our cabin.”
“Your husband wasn’t there,” said Brent. “He suspected the truth—or worse than the truth, perhaps—and went down to Kennedy’s place.”
“Yes. And he found Mr. Kennedy dead’.’
“Mr. Brent.” she said earnestly, clenching her fingers, “if I thought Tom killed Mr. Kennedy I wouldn’t tell you what I have just told you. I’d try to protect him. But he didn’t do it. I’m positive. When he came back to the cabin he was in a terrible state of nerves. He told us about finding the body. He suspected that I had been there—told me that when he was in the cabin he detected the odor of the perfume I use. He practically accused me of having committed the murder. I denied having been at the cabin at all. He told me that if I did it, he would assume I had done it in self-defense. He begged me to tell him the truth. I stuck to my story.”
MICHAEL BRENT studied the woman's pale, harrassed face for a moment.
"And so," he said, "when questions were being asked, you kept quiet to protect your husband. After all, he might have done it. He kept silent to protect you. And Ruth kept silent to protect you both."
“Tom didn’t do it, Mr. Brent.”
“At what time did you leave Kennedy’s cabin?”
"At about five minutes past ten."
“When I found his body he was dressed in pyjamas and dressing gown. He was fully dressed when you last saw him, of course?”
Michael Brent did some mental figuring.
“I’m glad you told me this, Mrs. Seldon. It helps.”
“Will it have to come out—that I was there?”
“So far as I’m concerned,” Brent promised, “your secret will be respected.”
“Who could have done it, Mr. Brent?” asked Ruth suddenly.
“At first I suspected everyone. Now, if I believe all I have been told, I can suspect no one. It’s rather confusing.”
Lunch that day, until Michael Brent created a sensation, was a quiet meal.
Everyone seemed to feel the strain. Murder had been committed and there was a murderer among them. Peter Hope tried to keep the conversational ball rolling, but his efforts met with scant success. Grover Carey was his usual good-humored self, but no one appeared to appreciate his efforts to ease the tension. Duke Rose and Tom Seldon were gloomy and preoccupied. The women were quiet.
“When do you expect the police, Mr. Hope?” asked Ruth toward the end of the meal.
“Not until after dark, I’m afraid,” returned Hope. “Goulet’s boat is pretty slow.”
“Any progress, Brent?” asked Carey.
“There isn’t much I can do.” Michael Brent replied. “I think the police will have no trouble clearing up the case. In fact, I think the affair will automatically solve itself.”
“What d’yuh mean by that?” demanded Duke Rose, looking up with a frown.
“Kennedy knew someone was out to get him. He took precautions. I think the police will have the handcuffs on the murderer five minutes after they reach camp. As an amateur detective I haven’t been a conspicuous success, so I think I’ll leave well enough alone.”
“I don’t get this,” said Hope seriously.
“Precautions?” exclaimed Professor Winant, mystified. “What precautions could he have taken? If Kennedy had taken proper precautions, providing he knew he had an enemy, he wouldn’t have been killed.”
“Well, I can’t guarantee anything,” said Brent indifferently, "but when a man is murdered and leaves a sealed envelope marked ‘To be opened by the police in the event of my death,’ I think it’s reasonable to assume that the envelope contains information that will have a bearing on the murder.”
“Where did you find it?” demanded Hope. “Why didn’t you tell us? Did you open it?”
“I don’t care to get myself into trouble with the police by opening the letter,” said Brent, “and I couldn’t very well tell you about it until I found it.”
He thrust back his chair and strolled toward the door. “But where is the letter?” demanded Hope. “Good lord, man, if the murderer got his hands on that he’d destroy it. I think you should open it right away. Don’t wait for the police.”
“The murderer won’t find the letter, I can promise you that,” said Michael Brent.
TOM SELDON came to Michael Brent’s cabin a few minutes later.
“Why haven’t you questioned me?” he said abruptly.
“What's the use? You might confess. And I don’t need a confession. I’ll let Kennedy’s letter fix that.”
“Why would I confess? I didn’t do it?”
“To protect your wife. But she didn’t do it, Seldon. You found the body, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” replied the man sullenly.
“Did you find the weapon?”
“You didn’t kill him?”
“Then don’t confess,” advised Michael Brent.
Seldon looked at him oddly and then, without another word, turned and strode away.
Apparently Michael Brent was content to assume that the letter would solve the case for him. because he did not pursue the diligent enquiries of the morning. He spent a few minutes chatting with Adelard Frenette, but the murder was not mentioned. Afterward he crossed the bridge and called on Grover Carey, whom he found stripping a strong light fly line from a reel and coiling it in a loose circle on the verandah table.
“Got to keep our fishing tackle dry,” chuckled Carey. “What’s on your mind?”
“Adelard says you have a good archer’s bow here. He’s going to give me a few lessons.”
“Bow?’ said Carey reflectively. “Oh, yes—over the fireplace. I thought it was just an ornament. I didn’t know anyone used those things any more.” He dropped the fishing line, went into the living room and took down the bow. "It’s been there ever since I came. I don’t think there are any arrows around, though.”
“Adelard says he has plenty.” Brent took the bow, plucked the string. It twanged sharply. “I’ve never tried archery as a sport. It ought to be rather interesting.”
“I’d just as soon play tiddley-winks,” said Carey, with a grin. “Take the thing along with you. It’s about as useful around here as a pair of roller skates.”
“I don’t need it just now, thanks. Someone told me Adelard was pretty smart with the bow and arrow and I got talking to him about it, so he said he’d give me a few pointers. Adelard says Hope has a bow but it’s an expensive thing and he’s very proud of it, so I wouldn’t want to borrow it from him. There’s one in Duke Rose’s place but Duke wasn’t around, so Adelard said he thought there was one here.”
“You wouldn’t care for a nice, lively game of marbles, would you?” chuckled Carey, his fat paunch shaking with laughter. “That’s another good boys’ game, they tell me.”
“As a matter of fact,” confessed Brent, “I really came over to ask you a favor.”
Carey became serious.
“If Professor Winant drops in on you tonight, will you make it your business to keep him here for about half an hour?”
“Winant? Sure. What’s the idea?”
“I’m not saying. But I’d like you to be here.”
Carey nodded gravely.
“You want to make sure he’s on the right side of the river for half an hour, is that it? What’s up? Something about the murder?”
Carey whistled softly.
“You don’t think Winant did it !” he exclaimed. “That queer old geezer? Why, what reason—?”
“How do we know Winant is a professor? How do we know he isn’t a crook, a fugitive from justice? Suppose he is. Suppose Kennedy got wise to it.”
Carey digested this. Then he wagged his head slowly. “By George,” he said, “you may be right at that. Although —gosh—I don’t think Winant would have nerve enough to rob a baby’s bank.”
"Maybe you’re right. But I’ve got a hankering to beat the police to it. I’d like to solve this crime before they open that letter.”
“I think you’re a blamed fool not to open it. Why, Winant was right in the dining room when you told us about it. If he’s guilty, do you think he’s going to sit around and twiddle his thumbs until the police get here?”
“He couldn’t find that letter if he searched for a thousand years. I wasn’t born yesterday. Just the same, it’s one reason why I want you to keep him here for a good half hour tonight. Now this is what I want you to do. Sit on your verandah tonight after dark—say, about eight o’clock. You’ll be in plain view of my cabin. When you see a flashlight blink a couple of times, give me an answering flash so I’ll know you’re on the job.”
“Will Winant be here then?”
“No. I’ll allow a good five minutes at the least. Then, when Winant reaches your camp, flash your light again.”
“What the deuce are you going to do?” asked Carey. His good-natured face was troubled.
“I’ll tell you afterward. But before that half-hour is up, I think I’ll know who killed Kennedy.”
After dinner that evening Ted Hope spoke to Brent in private.
“Ruth tells me you had a talk with Connie,” he said. “I think you’ve been very decent, Mr. Brent. Have you— spoken to Tom yet?”
Brent shook his head.
“No, not yet. And I’m not going to tell him Mrs. Seldon was at the cabin, if that’s what you mean.”
“It would only stir up a lot of trouble.”
“That’s my opinion, too.”
“And—by the way—I’m sorry I was rude to you this morning. But I knew Ruth hadn’t been there.”
“That’s all right,” smiled Brent. “Will you and Ruth drop in to see me tonight? About eight o’clock.”
“Okay. We’ll be along.”
Michael Brent went to his own cabin. There he spent a long time studying the sheets on which he had completed his compilation of suspects, of motives, of opportunities. Occasionally he crossed out a name.
His study only deepened his conviction that he had arrived at the correct, the logical solution. Only one point bothered him. His solution to that point was no more than a guess—an accurate guess, he felt—but without proof. No one knew better than Michael Brent that a criminal cannot be convicted on guesswork.
There lay his problem—to convert that solution from the realm of speculation to the hard realm of evidence acceptable in a court of law.
It was dark when Ted and Ruth arrived.
“Any sign of the boat yet?” Brent asked them.
“Uncle Peter and Mike have been watching for it for the past half-hour,” said Ted. “It isn’t in sight.”
They sat on the verandah overlooking the river. Across the stream they could see the lighted windows of Carey’s cabin. There was a light, too, in Duke Rose’s place near the bridge.
The young people were curious, Brent knew. They were wondering why he had asked them to come.
“I have asked you here,” he explained, “to listen to some of my ideas about the murder.”
Sitting there in the gloom he began to outline his discoveries and the conclusions he had drawn from them. He told about the clippings he had found in the dead man’s luggage, of his interview with Duke Rose, of Duke’s admission that the victim was Harry Somerset. He told them of the other clipping concerning the Albrechts, of Rose’s statement that Somerset claimed to be in a position to make “a lot of money in a hurry.”
“There was some connection between the murder and Somerset’s intention to leave Lone Wolf. Why did he want to go away? Why did he resort to cheating to raise the money for his flight? He had received no mail, other than a letter from New York expressly urging him to stay. There was a hired gunman watching him. In spite of all that, some powerful motive impelled him to invent an excuse for getting out. And the motive was money. An opportunity obviously had presented itself after he came to this camp.”
“Can’t imagine what it could have been,” said Ted, puzzled.
“Why did Somerset come to this particular camp in the first place? I asked myself that. Apparently he made a sudden decision while he was staying in Montreal. Was it because he knew or guessed about the money-making opportunity that lay here? I began to see a possible connection with that clipping about the Albrecht affair. Why did he keep that clipping? Why did it interest him?”
“I see it!” cried Ruth excitedly. “He thought the Albrechts were here at Lone Wolf!”
“My gosh!” stuttered Ted. “Surely—surely not the Winant s?”
“Why not?” asked Brent calmly. “The newspaper item stated that the Albrechts had been seen in Mexico. That may have been a case of mistaken identity. After all, the couple hadn’t been arrested. The Albrechts were still at large. And if they were here at Lone Wolf Camp and Somerset knew about it, there lay the little gold mine he mentioned to Duke Rose.”
“The reward !” exclaimed Ruth.
“Fifty thousand bucks,” Ted said. “Boy, was he sitting pretty!”
“Why stop at fifty thousand? Albrecht stole half a million. Why not a little blackmail? Then, if that play for bigger stakes fell through, the reward could still be collected.”
“You’ve hit it !” declared Ted admiringly. “You’ve hit it right on the head. That’s why he didn’t expose Winant right away. Held him up for blackmail. Probably got some hush money at that. Winant gets tired of paying up, so the next step is exposure. By George, Mr. Brent, that was neat thinking. And what a motive for murder! Winant knew blamed well he couldn’t afford to let him go out on that boat. I can hardly believe it yet. That fusty old codger with his book about rocks, and his ‘yes, yes,' and—oh, I'll be everlastingly good goldarned!”
BRENT settled back in his chair.
"That’s all very well as a theory. It’s a logical motive for the murder, of course, but based on sheer supposition. And don’t think I doped out the Albrecht theory in jig-time either. It wasn’t until I got Duke Rose’s story that I began to figure it out. Don’t forget that there were a few other likely motives in the affair. I had to do some eliminating. The murder of Harry Somerset was no simple stabbing. The motive was covered up and so was the method. It was diabolically and cunningly planned and perfectly executed.”
“I don’t see much cunning about walking into a man’s cabin and driving a knife into him,” objected Ted.
“We didn’t find any knife.”
“Why should you? The murderer would take it away with him—or throw it into the river.”
“That’s what he meant us to think. As a matter of fact, no knife was used.”
“Then how was he stabbed?” asked Ruth.
“When I examined the body,” Brent said, “I noticed two things. In the first place, the wound was not clean cut. It was very deep and very narrow, but the flesh was ragged about the edges of the cut. A knife sharp enough to penetrate so deeply would leave only a thin slit in the flesh. In the second place, there were blood-streaks on Somerset’s hands, fairly heavy on one, lighter on the other. They indicated that he had grabbed at the bloodstained weapon as it was withdrawn. Merely clutching the handle of the weapon and withdrawing it himself wouldn’t have left those stains.”
“The hand nearest his body would wipe most of the blood from the weapon as it slipped through his grasp, you mean,” interrupted Ted.
“Exactly. But his hands were uninjured. There were no cuts. If someone stabbed you, if you clutched at the blade, if it was withdrawn while your hands were closed about it tightly, your hands would be cut. I realized that my reasoning might be faulty, but nevertheless I did entertain the possibility of a sharp-pointed weapon—not a knife. Later I realized what that weapon could have been. But in the meantime I discovered that Loo had lost a knife from his kitchen last evening, and I realized that the murderer was clever enough to command my wholehearted respect.”
“I can’t understand it,” said Ruth helplessly.
“Somerset was apparently stabbed. A knife was missing. The disappearance of Loo’s knife was apparently conclusive proof that a knife was used. As long as the investigation continued on that assumption the murderer was safe, for the simple reason that when the crime was committed he was at a considerable distance from the scene.”
“Why didn’t he leave the knife near the body then, to make sure?” Ted asked.
“I doubt if it would have fitted the wound. Then again, it wouldn’t have been a natural thing for the murderer to do if he had used a knife. Our killer, I tell you, was clever. The disappearance of the knife helped him in another way, strengthened his alibi immensely. Loo washed the knife after dinner last evening. He didn’t miss it until midnight. The natural conclusion, if we assumed the knife had been used to kill Somerset, would be that the knife was stolen after dinner and before the murder was committed. The murderer was nowhere near the cookhouse in that time. Other people were—Loo himself, Adelard, Pauline and Duke Rose. But if the disappearance of the knife was a mere blind, it could have been taken by anyone who was in the cookhouse after the murder occurred.”
“What was the weapon, Mr. Brent?” asked Ruth.
“When I noticed the bow and arrows outside Winant’s cabin—”
TED ALMOST shouted.
“An arrow !” he gasped. “Well, by the powers! I never thought of it. An arrow ! Why, of course. One of those big bows can drive an arrow hard enough to split a board.”
“—I remembered a line in one of the newspaper items concerning Albrecht,” Brent continued. “It noted that he was a member of an Archery Association. Then and there I came to the conclusion that I was right in my idea that a knife had not been used and Albrecht was the murderer.”
There was a dead silence. Then Ruth put her finger on the one weakness in Brent’s theory.
“What happened to the arrow?”
“That,” returned Brent, “was the bothersome question. Tom Seldon didn’t get rid of it. If he had found an arrow in the body he wouldn’t have entertained the crazy notion that his wife might have killed Somerset. He wouldn’t have had any reason for keeping quiet about the crime. No, if an arrow was used, the chief object was to aid in providing an alibi. But if an arrow had been found it would have pointed directly to the murderer. Then the killer must have guarded against that discovery in advance. He is no fool. But I think I know how it was done.”
Michael Brent got up from his chair and went into the dark living room.
“Please stay right where you are,” he requested. “I placed your chairs in that corner of the verandah for a purpose.”
He lit the big gasoline lamp in the living room. Then he returned to the verandah with a flashlight. Michael Brent took up a position in front of the window, the upper half of his body darkly silhouetted against the light.
“All the scattered pieces of my little theory fit perfectly,” he said. “But so far it is only a theory. It wouldn’t hold water in a court of law. But if I can prove the method by which the arrow was removed, leaving no more trace than a few bloodstains on the victim’s hand and a little streak of blood on the verandah ...”
He pressed the button of the flashlight. The torch shone white and dear, blinked out, shone again.
“My verandah is unscreened,” remarked Michael Brent. “I am a good target against this light.”
Ruth uttered a little scream of alarm. Ted started to his feet.
“Brent, for God’s sake— !”
"I am either making a fool of myself,” answered Michael Brent, “or risking my life - ah!"
Out of the darkness that hid the rumbling rapids something flashed. It sped silently, swiftly, viciously, zipping through the air, buried its sharp, oval-shaped head with stabbing force into the side of the cabin, not three feet from where Brent stood. It stuck there, its feathered shaft quivering.
Michael Brent wrenched it from the log.
“I thought so!” he said quietly, holding the object in the light from the window.
It was an arrow, its thin oval-shaped head razor-sharp.
And from the end of the shaft, tightly and securely tied, trailed a length of light fly line that lay limp and almost invisible across the verandah railing, extending on out into the darkness.
“You -you stood there and let him — !” exclaimed Ted in a strangled voice.
“I had to get my proof,” said Michael Brent. He ran the fly line through his fingers. “I wondered if it could be done. Adelard assured me it was quite possible, at a short distance, with no wind, and with an expert holding the bow. And Adelard knows something about the use of the bow and arrow. There was no wind last night, the distance was short, the target was clearly visible, and Harris Albrecht, I assure you, is an expert.”
He peered out into the night, out at the cabin across the river where two shifting figures were blacked out against the lighted window, locked in a savage struggle.
“Quick ! Let’s get over there !”
THE BATTLE was over when they reached Carey’s cabin a few minutes later, panting from their run. Adelard Frenette was guarding a crushed and badly beaten prisoner, who sat huddled in one of the living-room chairs, face bruised, shoulders sagging dejectedly, eyes bleak with despair.
Ruth Owen stared at the man incredulously. Ted uttered an astounded shout.
The fat man passed a trembling hand across his bruised mouth.
“A little trap, eh, Mr. Brent?” he said thickly. “I should have known.”
“I do jus’ like you tol’ me, M’sieu Brent.” said Adelard proudly. “I come over here quiet. I wait. I watch beside de verandah. He sit here wit’ big bow, his arrow ready, his line all coiled an’ loose. I see dat flashlight. I see you standing up against de window, good target. And w’en he brings up de bow to shoot I yell at him and jump over de rail and grab him.”
Michael Brent looked thoughtfully at the crushed, defeated figure in the chair. He offered Carey a cigarette. The fat man shook his head.
“He got his shot away just the same.” Brent said to Adelard. “I tell you, although I knew you were over here and on the job. I didn’t feel any too comfortable while I was blinking that flashlight and inviting our friend here to take a shot at me. It had to be chanced though. It was the only way to get proof.”
"If Somerset hadn’t written that letter . . . ” mumbled Carey.
“There was no letter,” Brent told him. “But there should have been one. Somerset ought to have written it. He was stupid. He ought to have known he was flirting with death.”
“No letter !” blurted Carey.
“I was setting a trap for you. The letter, which didn’t exist, was the bait. You were afraid, in fact you were positive, that it would expose you. But I said I hadn’t opened it and that it was well hidden. Therefore, you concluded, if I died before the police got here you would be comparatively safe. A backwoods police officer wouldn’t be likely to recognize Harris Albrecht, and you would make it your business to disappear at the first opportunity.”
Michael Brent lit his cigarette. “Somerset was blackmailing you, wasn’t he?”
“Met me on the street in Montreal,” said Carey dispiritedly. “We had known each other in Boston. Followed me up here.” He looked up at Brent. “How do you know my name?”
“Somerset was killed by an arrow. Albrecht killed Somerset. You shot the arrow. Therefore, you are Albrecht. Pure logic.”
The fat man’s ordinarily ruddy face was grey. His lip was split, one eye was half-closed, there was a bruise on his cheek. He had fought desperately against capture.
“I don’t know how you doped it out.” he muttered.
“When you showed me the bow over the fireplace today you said it had been hanging there ever since you came to camp. That wasn’t true. The stuffed trout was the only ornament over the mantel last night. The bow was out on the verandah, wasn’t it?”
The man’s eyes flickered.
“You knew Somerset often sat out on the verandah at night. You were determined that he wasn’t going out on that boat in the morning. If you hadn’t killed him in the way you did, you would have gone about it some other way.
“As soon as you saw him sitting there in the moonlight,” Brent continued, “you suggested that we go indoors. Your bow and arrow were prepared; hidden in a corner of the verandah. I suppose. You turned on the radio and put me to work mixing a cocktail in the kitchen. Then you invented the excuse of going out for the blankets and cushions. It didn't take long. You aimed, you shot. The arrow struck Somerset. A novice would have made a hash of the business, but you’re an expert. You were careful not to use a barbed arrow; the oval head was sharp and easily extricated. You pulled the arrow from the body helped a little, perhaps, by Somerset’s frantic grab at the shaft. You pulled back on the fly line and got the arrow clear of the verandah. Then you scooped up the blankets and cushions and came inside. After that you asked me to deliver that sum of money to Somerset, although you knew he was dead. You wanted me to find the body while you were still on this side of the river, with me to prove that you had never crossed the river. I was your perfect alibi witness. Right?”
“Of course I understand you had plenty of time in which to draw the arrow back across the river after I left your cabin. For all I know you may have cut the line and let the arrow go down the rapids. I suppose you had a line of retreat in case there had been a setback. If the arrow had become snagged in some manner, you would have walked around with me to deliver the money yourself. I suppose. You would have discovered the body yourself, with me waiting in the doorway, got rid of the arrow, called for help---”
ALBRECHT nodded. “The risk was very slight.”
“Except that Seldon would have beaten you to the discovery.”
A shrug. “One has to take chances. The scheme worked, didn’t it?”
“As smoothly as you planned it.”
Above the roar of the rapids they heard the quick drumming of a launch out in the darkness of the lake.
"The police, he’s come,” said Adelard Frenette.
Albrecht heaved himself unsteadily out of the chair.
“I’m licked.” he said. “They won’t find my wife, Brent. She’s in Europe. But they’ll want to know about the money, I guess. It’s in a deposit box in Montreal.”
He went over to the writing desk, produced a key and a receipt.
“There’s the box number and the name,” he said. All the fight had gone out of him. He looked very old and very tired. “No use fighting extradition—”
“You won’t have the chance,” Michael Brent reminded him quietly. “Murder is a hanging offense, you know.”
“I know that,” returned Albrecht in a low voice. He shrugged heavily. “Let’s go.”
They went out of the cabin, up the trail toward the bridge. Adelard Frenette led the way with the flashlight, Albrecht trudged silently behind. The others followed in single file.
“Brent,” said Ted, “what made you tell us Winant was Albrecht?”
“I didn’t. You jumped at the conclusion. It did occur to me for a while, I’ll admit. But Winant didn’t steal Loo’s knife. The Winants were the only people in camp who weren’t in the cookhouse last night.”
“But when you knew he had a bow and arrows at his cabin--"
“I knew he had no knowledge of archery, for the bow was hanging outdoors, where the dampness had ruined it. Albrecht wasn’t guilty of that sort of neglect. Besides, Winant admitted to a knowledge of skeetshooting and chess. The real Albrecht was too smart to admit anything like that.”
They reached the narrow bridge across the rapids.
“Mr. Brent,” said Albrecht suddenly, in a firm voice when he was halfway across the bridge.
And with a swift movement, before Adelard could turn, before Brent could lunge to stop him, he flung himself at the low rail and pitched over, tumbling headlong into the roaring darkness below.
Harris Albrecht had cheated the hangman.