Kent Power, scientific detective, in the strange case of the man whom no one wanted to kill
POWER put down the phone receiver and turned to Sergeant Papineau, who was savoring the last Half inch of a good-night whisky and soda. “How’d you like to go for a little ride, Pap?”
“Me,” the sergeant’s rotund shoulders moved protestingly, “I prefer perhaps to hit the hay.”
“Then you’ve never heard of the Eight Horses?” “Comment?”
“They’re not the stable kind. Bunch of soldats who came back after the War and agreed to keep up the old camaraderie. Built a lodge up in the Laurentians, and kept building bigger ones as fortune favored ’em. Although there w'ere twelve of them, they called themselves 8 Chevaux, after the old French box cars, 40 Hommes, 8 Chevaux. They seem to be in trouble tonight. Serious trouble, I’d say. They particularly asked me to come alone, but I think you’d better ride along.”
On second thoughts Papineau decided that perhaps he would.
On the way north through the darkness, while he bent over the wheel of his swiftly moving roadster, Power told more of the gentlemen of the Eight Horses. “Funny thing about this crowd is that they’ve all been amazingly successful in their careers.
Perhaps it was the acquisitive instinct in them that drew them together in the first place. Nobody can deny, for instance, that John Considene has shown the Midas touch.”
“Sacre!” exclaimed Papineau with re-
freshed interest. “He is one of the eight horses?” “Very much so. Then there’s Tait Connors, who can improvise on corporation law like a Chopin on a piano; Paul Kühner, who designed the Colonial Bank Building; Dr. Frederic Panton, medicine’s gift to rich and neurotic women; and so on. I take it that when a bunch like that send for me, they’re in considerable of a mess.”
"DAUL KÜHNER, looking like a bluff sea captain in sou’wester and long boots, met them at a landing stage beside the big lake. Off to the right, a few dilapidated frame houses silhouetted themselves against the night.
“Glad to see you, Power.” He seemed to mean it, but showed genuine concern when Sergeant Papineau was introduced. “Does he have to come into the picture?” he grunted in Power’s ear as they strode toward the waiting speedboat.
“What do you think?”
Whatever he thought, Kühner only grunted before he stepped aboard.
“Why am I invited into the magic circle tonight?” Power asked presently, when the speedy boat was splitting the waves northward.
Kühner shook his head, nodded warningly toward the young guide at the wheel, and relit his bulldog pipe. After that, conversation was entirely spasmodic, and half an hour later they came to the island on which the clubhouse sUxxI. It was an imposing structure, with great wide
verandahs, to the upper of which outside stairs led up in two end flights. In the spacious living room inside, seven men sat around the large central table, and while they did not look like men who frightened easily, it was evident that whatever other emotions gripped them, fear was a common denominator.
John Considene, tall and impressive, rose from the table’s head. Even in rough wood's clothes he was commanding. Iron-grey hair whose curl suggested a permanent wave; arrogant, perhaps a little pompous. In certain disrespectful circles they called him the Big Wind, but there was no doubt that, in his fifty-odd years, he had blown down a lot of sturdy financial oaks on his way up the mountain.
He frowned when Sergeant Papineau was introduced, but gave no voice to his annoyance. On the other hand, he took on, as though by right, the spokesmanship of the Eight Horses. “A very distressing thing has happened. Power. Shortly before we rang you up from the village. Harry Vane was found down by the shore with a knife sticking through his shoulders.”
“And you haven’t notified the police?”
“We w'ant to clear this thing up ourselves. That’s why we sent for you; why we asked you to come alone.” Tait Connors broke in. He seemed angry. But that was not unusual, and went with his lean, sandy face. Connors suggested recklessness, and there was a hint of sadism in the rather baleful glare of his slightly bloodshot grey eyes. He spoke habitually out of the corner of his mouth in a truculent way, and it got him what he wanted in courtrooms, where even judges were inclined to bend before his fiery onslaughts. One of the youngest of this group, he was, despite his truculence, an attractive figure, leanly tall, with wide shoulders and a quick nervous manner. His bark, some suggested, was worse than his bite.
Power gave him a sardonic glance. “So you think you’re above the law?”
“Skip it,” the other growled, slumping angrily into his wide shoulders.
"The sooner you get it out of your heads that you stand in any more privileged position than other murder suspects, the better. Where’s the body?”
They had left it undisturbed where they had found it, in the middle of a pathway through the woods about 100 yards from the clubhouse and not far from the shore of the lake. When the flashlights picked it out presently, what was left of Harry Vane lay face down, hands outstretched, knees drawn up fairly in the centre of the path; and, from the middle of a large stain that darkened his khaki shirt, protruded the handle of an ordinary hunting knife.
“Certainement!'’ Sergeant Papineau said grimly. “It is an affair for the coroner.”
They demurred over that. Tait Connors, in particular, argued in his fiery way that surely they could clear the thing up first and send for the coroner afterward. But when both Power and Sergeant Papineau remained obdurate. Paul Kühner was sent off again, this time alone, to bring legality into the piece.
Connors was still growling when they returned to the clubhouse. At least Power could get under way with the thing. They wanted the murder cleared up at once, before anyone left the island.
“Then why didn't you try to ferret it out for yourself?” Power asked him. “You’re a lawyer.”
"I did, and got nowhere. Why the devil do you suppose we sent for you?”
“All right,” Power said. “When was Vane murdered?” “Some time between eight and nine o’clock. That’s as near as we can make it. He left the clubhouse at eight, and Considene found him at nine.”
“Where were the rest of you during that time?”
Four had been playing hndge in this same room, of whom only one, Dr. Panton, had left in the hour. Frank Tolmie liad been sitting in the tall wing chair over by the alcove that led to a side verandah.
Only the murdered man, John Considene and Tait Connors had been, so to speak, at large.
“Well, Mr. Considene,”
Power asked, “where were you?”
Considene did not answer immediately. Perhaps he was just being careful, or perhaps his ego forced him to the dramatics of it.
“1 was in the library, writing.” Yet somehow his glance, for all its intéressement, seemed muddied and unclear, as though it wavered in the face of truth.
“All that time?” .
“You had to go outside to find the body.”
Considene frowned. Obviously he didn’t like this quizzing, the situation of inferiority it put him in. “Of course !”
It came impatiently.
"Did you go out through this room?”
“No; there’s a door from the library to the side verandah.”
“Then no one saw you go?”
“Not that 1 know of.”
“What about you, Connors?”
“I was here and there,” the lawyer replied wryly.
“1 could have been anywhere — outside, inside.”
Connors flung out his hands in his flamboyant way.
“It is better, m’sieu. to cease the stalling.” Papineau warned him bluntly.
Connors grinned, and became suddenly younger and more likable. "Okay, sergeant. I w'as here for a while, then I went upstairs to my room and took a dollop of bicarbonate for my ulcer.
Then I lay down on my bed to let it sizzle, and looked at a magazine. It bored me. so I went down to the library.”
“M’sieu Considene was there then?” Papineau cut in.
"Yeah. Perhaps it’s too bad I didn’t linger.” He grinned slyly. “Instead, I took the third volume of Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’ upstairs. It suited my mood better, so I stayed with it until G>n raised the hue and cry'.”
POWER turned to Dr. Frederic Panton. There is a type of fat man who is at the same time feminine and eleve ; Dr. Frederic Panton belonged to this interesting species. An uncanny, almost feline, flair for human weakness had made him Montreal’s leading psychiatrist, and it was said that he could do more with a neurotic than any other man in Canada.
“I more or less flitted about, too.” The words came in a squeaky, high-pitched voice, and the pursy little mouth formed them w'ith the relish of a born gossip. “It was forced on me. Since providence gave me the sort of mind that refuses to escape from reality in card games, I found nothing in this room to inspire. As there seemed no hope of philosophic discussion, I
“You’re a liar. Fred.” Frank Tolmie cut in tersely. “I tried to-—”
Dr. Panton spread pudgy hands toward Power appealingly. “He wished to discuss the book he was reading, ‘Man Against Himself.’ My entire professional life is given up to begging men and women not to fight against themselves. Since I come here for relaxation, I refused to be drawn by such amateur searchers after the truth as dear Frank.” “What did you do in lieu?” Power asked.
"Ascended to my bedroom and lay staring at the ceiling —a most exciting occupation, my dear boy, if you have a creative talent.”
“I notice,” Power said, “that flights of stairs lead down outside from the upper verandah. That means that both you and Gmnors could have left the clubhouse without being seen.”
“Too devastatingly true, alas.” squeaked the psychiatrist.
Power turned finally to Frank Tolmie. Tolmie was, with Connors, a younger member of this group of war veterans, and looked less than his forty years. He had a resilient figure, and thick, dark, glossy hair. His large dark eyes, which alone betrayed his maturity, seemed to have seen much and understood much. There were those who declared he was the brains behind John Considene’s pompous frontage and growing millions.
“You were over there facing the window.” Power said. "Did you see anyone leave the house?”
“No.” The answer came definitely, but was followed immediately by a qualification. “Of course anyone might have left without my seeing them. I was reading practically all the time.” “You didn’t even see Vane leave the house?”
Was there the slightest hesitation this time over the negative? If there was, it was very slight. No, Tolmie hadn’t even seen Vane leave the house.
“Have you any idea why Vane was killed?”
This time there was no hesitation. “Not the slightest.”
No one had.
“All right,” Power said. “If you gentlemen want to turn in, there’s no objection. It’s after one.”
As they rose to go, Dr. Panton said with a fat chuckle: “I hope one of us stews in his juice all night.” A statement in which the rest found no cause for mirth.
“One more question.’’ Power exclaimed as they were moving away. “Who else is on the island besides yourselves?”
There were, John Considene replied, the cook and the steward — Marsters and Parks.
“Was it one of them who handled the powerboat that brought us up?”
The big iron-grey man
hesitated the barest fraction of a second, something like a frown appearing between his brows. “That was Hugh Macleod, our guide,” he said curtly. “He has a small cabin up the hill at the back.”
While he had been speaking, something like constraint seemed to hold the others, as though Power’s question had raised an embarrassing issue. But it broke at once as they all started up the staircase. When the lase footfall had ceased above. Power said to Papineau: “I think I’ll go and have a talk to Macleod. Do you mind staying here and keeping an eye on things? Somebody might make a misstep; and from the looks of things we’ll need that sort of break to give us the lucky lead.”
“Oui; so far she is not’ing but fog.”
THE little cabin nestled halfway up the hill about a quarter of a mile from the clubhouse, and there was still a light in its windows. Evidently Hugh Macleod found cause for wakefulness. Rising from the stoop on which he had been sitting, he said sharply: “Who’s that?” And
then, recognizing Power: “Oh, it’s you.”
“Let’s go inside and have a chat,” Power invited.
The cabin was austerely neat and clean, and its bare furniture had been placed with a harmony that made the place look larger and cooler than it was. Seating himself on the edge of the table. Power said: “Where were you when Vane was killed?”
Macleod spoke curtly, as though on guard. He was slim and muscular and young. There was a quiet poise, an uprightness, that gave him dignity. His features were cleanly chiselled—straight nose, dark eyes, narrow eyebrows—and, strangely enough, did not suggest the great outdoors. But two things he did have, Power decided— pride and character. Had these been the cause of that frown that had darkened John Considene’s face at mention of his name, and that restraint which had fallen on the others of the Eight Horses?
“You were alone, I suppose?”
“So vou know nothing at all about the murder?”
Power began to move slowly about the room, his eyes searching its details as though he were looking for something important. Halfway around it, he turned and faced the guide again. “There’s something troubling you. isn’t there?”
The dark young eyes narrowed, seemed to become more guarded. “No,” he answered tersely.
Power pointed to the bookshelves beside the fireplace. “Are you studving medicine, by any chance?”
Suddenly Power reached up and took down the leather belt and sheath that hung to the wall above the shelves. “Your knife’s gone.”
Power walked over to the younger man and looked him straight in the eyes. “And it’s sticking in Vane’s back at this minute?”
“Why didn’t you tell me that, when I asked you if there was something troubling you?”
Macleod’s dark eyes did not waver. “Because I didn’t kill him.”
“When did you miss it?”
“When I saw it in Vane’s back.”
“Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
“No!” It came tight-lipped, and with a sort of desperation.
POWER went down the hill toward yet another lighted window—the cookhouse in the rear of the club. Its two occupants, in a state of semidress, were playing forty-fives with a greasy pack of cards.
“Don’t you fellows ever sleep?” he asked them.
Marsters. the cook, had the look of cooks the world over—tex) much pecking at his own products—but the little steward. Parks, was a lean, hard-bitten soul. It was he who answered: “Not tonight, mister.”
“Did either of you hear or see anything tonight you’d like to tell the police?” Power asked them.
“Huh?” grunted the cook, with a flabby look of fear. “He can’t bite ya!” growled Parks, shifting his wad of gum, and gazing thoughtfully at the hand he had dealt himself before Power came in.
Marsters stared at Power with the vacant concentration of the overfat. He finally felt confident enough to say: “We keeps our eyes open.” That helped him so much that he went on: “We been sittin’ here playin’ forty-fives an’ sort uv glummin’ the sitooation over, see? I says to Parks: ‘We might as well rullize we’re in this the same as the gents out front.’ ”
“You mean it was me says that to you, Fatface,” grunted the hard-bitten little steward.
“Have it yer own way. But what I did say, and ya can’t deny it, was that when the time come, we might as well pour out what’s in the pot.”
“It’s a sound policy,” Power agreed.
Marsters moved his quivering mountain of flesh forward impressively. “We know who killed Vane, mister.”
“Is that so?” Power exclaimed.
“You betcha,” grunted Parks.
“Macleod!” the cook breathed. “Macleod done it. Vane was killed between eight an’ nine, wasn’t he? They found him down front in the path leadin’ to the toe uv the
island, didn’t they? Well, at five past eight, Parks an’ me......
havin' got the day’s doin’s cleared away—was takin’ our ease out on the steps there. Someone passed down along, headin’ in that direction; an’ it was Macleod, mister, make no mistake.”
“It was pretty dark by that time, wasn’t it?”
“I can spot Mr. High-an’-Mighty Macleod’s cut an’ jib any time uv day or night.”
“I wonder if everyone can,” Power mused.
“If he was lookin’ down his snooty nose at ’em, they could,” Parks declared with a touch of venom. Hugh Macleod’s quiet manner evidently had an irritating effect on his co-workers.
“Any idea why he killed Vane?” Power asked.
“I guess he had his reasons.”
“But. you don’t know of any.”
“No, we don’t, mister. Now if it’d been some of the others, we could give ya dot and tittle—eh, Parks?”
“You said it.”
“What’s the lowdown?”
Parks masticated his wad reflectively. “I don’t wanta talk out of me turn, mister. This ain’t a bad billet ”
“Spill it. bye,” urged the cook. “You got nothin’ to lose but your chains.”
“I was servin’ drinks to Tolmie. Connors, the Doc and Mr. Considcne,” Parks said, “this afternoon on the verandah. They was talkin’ about Vane; I caught his name as I come out with the tray, an' they closed like clams. But a guy can gather moss if he keeps his ears clean.
I come out for the empties, quietlike. Tolmie was savin', ‘We ought to wipe him off the slate.’ The rest of ’em nodded their heads, an’ then Connors swung on me that way he has. like a bee stung him, an’ yelped, ‘We didn't ring for you!’ an’ then Mr. Considene kicked him under the table.”
“You’re quite sure it was Vane they were talking about?”
“Ain't a doubt of it.”
T)ERHAPS it was two hours later when a voice an-*• nounced, “Comes the dawn.” It was Papineau, and Power rose stiffly from the chair in the club living room in which he had been sleeping, to see that the lake below was a sheet of yellow crimson. I íe drank a glass of water from the cooler, and then they went down to look at the body in daylight.
It lay very much as they had left it, but it was Papineau’s quick eyes that grasped the difference. "Sacre, it is gone the knife!”
It was gone all right. Power glanced through the bushes. It was about twenty feet to the lakeside. The knife had probably been flung far out into the water, which was slowly but surely washing away any incriminating evidence it might have held.
He turned to study the body again. Vane had evidently been on his way to the toe of the island, for he had fallen in that direction. And then Power’s glance moved to the surroundings in a slow, comprehensive circle; to the sparse trees and undergrowth that lined the path.
Suddenly he tiptoed into the latter toward the gnarled old pine that stood a few feet in. watching carefully where he planted his toes. Presently he called, and Papineau followed, to find him bent on his knees behind the bole of the pine.
“Take a dekko.”
Pap took it and said: "Out; someone 'asstood behind this tree not too long ago.”
“He was nervous, too. Kept changing his stance like a cow in fly-time.”
“It is the murderer. I le ’as waited there for M. Vane. To explain it otherwise is to suppose they 'ave play 'ide and seek, ces camarades anciens de la guerre.''
Power rose and began to move in an ever wider circle through the underbrush. Five minutes later he came back and said: “The sooner the coroner gets here now, the
JOHN CONSIDENE'S expression, as they ascended the clubhouse steps and found him at the top, suggested a none too restful night. “I hope,” lie said, "you’re making progress.”
Somehow, Power thought, there was not much steam behind that hope, whose expression seemed pious rather than passionate. "We’re doing as well as can be expected,” he replied. “Dr. Panton up yet?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I'll go up and see.”
The fat medico lifted a petulant face from the pillows. “Is this a bedroom?” he demanded tragically. “Or a public thoroughfare?”
“Sorry to disturb you,” Power said grinning, “but I’m looking for a microscope.”
“Dear heaven, I haven't used one of those things for years. You can't see the human soul with lenses. Vane had one, though. The poor thing became an amateur botanist to compensate for his unremitting failure at everything else. You’ll find it in his room—the last along the hall.” “He was a failure, eh?”
"Yes.” The gossip in Dr. Panton broke through his sleepiness. “You know the type too many visions, not enough concentrative power. Always expecting to meet the golden dawn around the next comer.”
“Sounds pretty harmless. Why was there bad blood between him and Tait Connors?”
A look of guile crept into the slits of eyes. “So you’re going to pick on me !”
“Somebody’s got to loosen up sooner or later. Connors was heard to say yesterday afternoon that Vane should be wiped off the slate -or words to that effect.”
“That long-eared, blatting Parks!” squeaked the other. “But you'll find no motive there, dear boy. What Tait was saying was that we should drop Harry from the club. Harry hasn’t been able to pay his dues for the last three years, and in the—”
“I'm sorry, doctor,” Power cut in curtly. “I don't believe you.”
The other flung out his hands in a gesture of resignation. “Very well, then, you don’t." And then, cocking his head to
one side quizzically. “If you’re looking for a motive for poor Harry’s murder. I’m afraid you’re doomed to disappointment. Don’t think that we haven’t been racking our brains to the same effect. I happen to know the inner lives of my club fellows as well as anyone. I know of no reason under heaven why we or anyone else would have wanted to murder him. The only logical explanation of his death is that someone on this island is a paranoiac killer to whom the identity of the victim means nothing so long as he can satisfy his lust. I’ve searched my brain all night for a clue to paranoia in any of my friends here, and have found none.”
“What about Hugh Macleod?”
“Marsters and Parks?”
The medico shrugged. “I haven’t explored their egos as yet.”
It all had the ring of truth. Power agreed as he stepped out into the hall again and closed the door behind him. Yet one mustn't forget that one so trained in the handling of human nature as Dr. Frederic Panton must have learned through a thousand necessities to act a convincing part.
HE WENT along to the dead man’s room, whose appearance dotted the i’s of the interpretation of him he had just heard. Everything about it—the confusion of the papers on the desk, the almost desperate striving for effect in the arrangements of the decorations—spoke of futility. Even the numerous books pointed to a mind that had jumped frantically from subject to subject in the search for an intellectual home. But the microscope on the table before the window was a good one, and the drawers below held all the necessary gadgets. Power sat down and went to work.
He was still at it when a shout rose below. A group of men that included Sergeant Papineau, moved down the steps toward the jetty. The speedboat was returning; streaking the lake’s surface half a mile southward. He decided suddenly that this would be a good time to take a look into the other bedrooms.
He therefore missed an arrival which was more dramatic than either that of the coroner or the provincial policeman who accompanied him. Number five of the Eight Horses house rules stated, “You can bring anything here but a woman.” Here, however, was a girl; and that her presence was disrupting, Power realized at once when he came downstairs. She was a mighty nice-looking girl; one of those slender blondes who convey a sense of ease and strength, whose swaying loveliness was in itself sufficient reason for house rule number five. Quite simply dressed, she had blue eyes which, though rather grim in expression this morning, suggested frankness.
“My daughter, Helen,” John Considene said through tight, reluctant lips.
“I’m afraid you’ve caught us in an unfortunate moment, Miss Considene,” Power said.
“Yes,” she said, and her expression was that of one who had come prepared to meet unfortunate moments.
At that, a certain restraint fell on the assembly. Power said: “If you don’t mind, I’ll go down and join the coroner.”
What, he asked himself as he strode toward the scene of the murder, had brought the girl here in defiance of rule five? The very fact of the rule made it most unlikely that Paul Kühner would have phoned her from the village at the foot of the lake, informing her of the tragedy. Was her appearance purely coincidental, or had it some subtler bearing?
Papineau introduced him to the provincial policeman: “My friend, Constable
Crechette.” The stout general practitionercoroner rose from beside the body tchktchking. “It is obvious he ’as been murdered.”
“Can we move him now?”
Power turned to the policeman and Hugh Macleod, who was standing beside him. “1 want you two men to lift the body between you and hold it upright.” When
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they had done that, he said to Papineau: I “Stand on the far side of him and hold his head up.”
Backing away a few feet. Power stared i at the group for perhaps a minute, then he said: “Okay; you can take him now.”
The coroner said doubtfully: “Perhaps it is better there should be a more thorough examination in Mo’real; the post mortem, eh?”
“Excellent idea. Could you take the doctor and the body down the lake in the speedboat, Macleod?”
The young guide stiffened. “I’d just as soon not,” he said rather brusquely. “Parks can run the boat.” And then, when Power shrugged rather sceptically: “I've got a right to stay here and look after my interests.”
“All right,” Power said, “get Parks.” When Macleod had moved off, he turned to Constable Crechette: “Sergeant
Papineau and I have been investigating this case while waiting for you. If you’d like to follow your own line, it’s all right with us.”
“But no!’’ exclaimed the other quickly. “You have the layout. It is better you continue.”
“Good head. After you get the body aboard the boat, I want you and Sergeant Papineau to conduct a sort of nature hunt.” Stepping in behind the pine tree whose environs he had examined earlier, Power came back with some vegetation in his hand. “Start from here in a circle, and every fern you find like this one make a blaze beside it. Cover the first quarter of a mile of this path, the environs of the clubhouse and jetty, and Macleod’s cabin. Here’s a frond each for you and Papineau.”
Constable Crechette seemed puzzled. “This fern then ’as something to do with—
“Allons, mon ami!” Pap exclaimed, taking him by the arm. “C'est la guerre!”
ON THE way back to the clubhouse, Power saw Tait Connors and Hugh Macleod just beyond the corner of the building. Connors seemed angry about something, and the guide’s manner suggested a cold stubbornness. The girl had gone from the living room, and the gentlemen were sitting about rather bleakly. Crossing to the writing table by the window, Power passed Connors, who had entered from the side door and whose expression was still truculent. Picking up a wad of paper, he returned to the big table, seated himself and said: “Now,
gentlemen, I’m going into your movements of yesterday a little more closely. What time did you arrive here?”
John Considene answered for them. “Two o’clock.”
“Then I want to know exactly and in detail what each of you did in the six or seven hours before Vane was murdered. When I say exactly, I mean exactly. I don’t want any reneging later on—anyone recollecting that he did something different from what he said he did. And I want every movement. We’ll start with you, Mr. Considene.”
“I hope you know where you’re going with all this,” Tait Connors growled, flinging himself into a chair irritably.
“It’s time you found a salve for that tortured ego, Tait,” Dr. Frederic Panton squeaked.
“Let’s get on with it,” Frank Tolmie exclaimed. “The sooner we’re out of this the better.” He seemed nervous, had the look of a man with a hangover, a sort of burning in his dark, quick eyes. Tolmie, like so many other brilliant men, Power decided, suffered from his imagination.
For upwards of two hours Power took down meticulously the life threads of these men, checking and rechecking them where they crossed. Collecting finally the not inconsiderable pile of manuscript that lay in front of him, he faced them again and said: “You’re sure there’s nothing else,
gentlemen?” They seemed satisfied so he I said to Considene: “I’m going up to
Vane’s room, and I don’t want to be disturbed. In the meantime, you gentle' men can do what you like so long as you don’t leave the island.”
He went upstairs. GMlecting some of the books from Vane’s shelves, he crossed to the table on which the microscope sat and preceded to make a slide of the fern frond which had remained his after sharing with Papineau and Gmstable Crechette. He was still studying it when the sergeant arrived, rather drooped and perspiring. “We 'ave search everywhere. We find only one other like the fern you ’ave given us.”
“Where?” Power snapped, swinging on him sharply.
"Behind the cabin of young M’sieu Macleod.”
“Oh? Is Crechette still at it?”
“Then I want you to stay here and stand watchdog. Don’t let anybody in here on any business whatsoever. I’ll be back shortly.”
Apparently it had been his intention to re-examine certain of the bedrooms. In this he suffered disappointment. Three doors he opened, only to have to back out with a grinning. “Sorry. I'm in the wrong pew.” So he gave it up, and took the path at the back to Hugh Macleod’s cabin.
It also was occupiedbut by more than the guide. Across the table from the latter sat Helen Considene, and they had evidently been talking very earnestly together. As they rose to their feet the slim dark boy and the slender blond girl something suddenly clicked in Power’s brain. And then it was as if a door had been opened on the sun.
“So it was you who rang Miss Considene up from the village?” Power said to the guide.
“Yes.” Macleod’s dark eyes were wary, antagonistic.
"Why did you find it necessary to inform her of the murder?”
“But he didn’t, Mr. Power!” the girl exclaimed.
“Then why did he ring you up? And why are you here?”
“Don’t tell him, Helen!” Macleod said sharply.
"But why not, Hugh? I’m not ashamed of it.” The more he saw of this girl. Power decided, the better he liked her. There was a clean honesty in her that cut straight through the sophistry of life.
“It’s our business,” Macleod said. “It has nothing to do w ith Mr. Vane’s death.”
“Are you sure of that?” Power asked him.
The young guide swung sharply, almost passionately. “Yes. Iam!”
“All right then, let me tell the riddle in the sands. You two happen to be in love with one another. Something happened yesterday to disturb the waters, so you rang Miss Considene up last night to tell her so.” He turned to the girl. “I suppose your father put a spoke in the wheels.”
She stared at him incredulously. “Simeone has told you. You couldn’t have guessed it.”
“Hadn't you better tell me the whole story?” he asked, smiling at her reassuringly.
IT SEEMED that John Considene had met Macleod on a fishing trip to Northern Ontario and. taking a liking to him, had started him in medicine at McGill. He had found him his present job at the Eight Horses so that he could help pay for his own tuition. He had even taken him to his own house and entertained him there. But and Macleod had learned this only yesterday, when he asked for it—Gmsidene drew the line at taking him into his family. That was why Macleod had rung her up, why she was here. “Because,” she added with that clear, frank glance. “I happen to love Hugh. Mr. Power, and I don’t intend giving him up.”
“You might as well tell him about Tait Connors,” Macleod said grufily.
“Yes.” Power swung on her sharply. “What about Connors?”
“He asked me to marry him last week,” the girl said with a movement of her shoulders that spoke worlds.
“I thought he was married.”
“His wife died last summer . . . Don’t you see now that my being here can have nothing to do with this dreadful thing that has happened, Mr. Power?”
He stared at her hard for a moment. “Did Frank Tolmie ever propose to you?”
"Good gracious, no!” she exclaimed with a short laugh.
“Never paid you any attention whatsoever?”
“Oh, he’s taken me out to dances. But I’m sure there was never—”
“I want you to be quite sure, Miss Gmsidene. Think hard. Mightn’t he have meant more than he seemed to? Mightn’t your father have hoped that he—”
At the mention of her father, the frankness became suddenly blanked out of her clear eyes. “No, Mr. Power, I’m quite sure there was nothing of that sort.”
But moving down the hill again, Power couldn’t quite rid himself of that last tableauthe girl’s too sharp negative, and a sort of suspense that seemed to ooze out of Hugh Macleod when she had spoken it.
Just short of the clubhouse, Power bumped into Constable Crechette. The constable was breathless. “I ’ave found two more of those ferns, Mr. Power.” “Show me.”
A little over a quarter of a mile along that same path on which Vane had been murdered, there jutted out into the lake a large flat rock which the club members evidently used as a fishing stance. Down at one side of this, Crechette pointed to the two clumps side by side. Power dropped on his knees and examined them closely. Then, with a sigh of relief, he rose again.
“That’s fine,” he said. “Let’s go back to the clubhouse.”
Parks was tying up the powerboat as they passed the jetty. “Just a minute,” Power said and strode along to join the steward. “How’s tricks?” he asked.
“Cripes, this is a heck of a note!” complained the other. "Corpses give me the woollies. Why couldn’t Mr. High-an’mighty Macleod have done the undertaker? I wasn’t hired to clean up murder.” “Nice little boat,” Power said, stepping off the jetty into the cockpit. “I just want to take a dekko at her engines.”
He disappeared through the hatch. When he came up a few minutes later. Parks asked quiveringly: “Say, mister, is there anything down there got anything to do with the murder?”
“My motto is to leave no stone unturned.” Power replied with a grin. “Mow’d you like to slip up and tell the gentlemen to meet me in the living room in about five minutes? Tell ’em I’d like ’em all to be wearing slippers—and tell ’em I don’t mean maybe.” Then he rejoined the constable and said: “Let’s sit down and smoke a cigarette. Crechette. There’re one or two things I think you ought to know.”
When, later, they entered the clubhouse, the gentlemen were waiting with an air of studied casualness. "Well,” Tait Connors snapped impatiently, “are you ready to go places?”
“In a minute,” Power told him. “Meanwhile I’m going to ask you all to step into the dining room and lock yourselves in.” "Don’t trust us, eh?” Frank Tolmie said with a curt laugh.
“You bet I don’t!”
When a door clicked behind them Power said to the constable, “Come on,” and
dashed up the stairs. Sergeant Papineau, still on guard in Vane’s room, wore a decided air of ennui, but was soon spurred into action.
When, finally, he ushered the Eight Horses back into the living room they saw set up on the large table Harry Vane’s microscope and some paraphernalia beside it. “What’s this?” squeaked Dr. Panton. “A class in biology?”
“Sit down, gentlemen,” Power invited them, “but don’t move the chairs.”
T_TE FACED them across the table. “The first thing I’m going to do is clear up the matter of motives. Nobody seems to know why anyone would have wanted to kill Harry Vane. It doesn’t matter any more; Vane wasn’t the man the murderer intended to kill.”
That brought them up with a wideeyed start.
“Perhaps you hadn’t noticed it—I wasn’t sure until I got them to stand Vane on his feet—but he had almost the same build, and was wearing almost identical clothes, as your guide, Hugh Macleod.” “Are you trying to tell us,” Dr. Frederic Panton squeaked out of a breathless silence, “that someone mistook Vane for Macleod?”
“Exactly. And I think it makes more sense; doesn’t it, Mr. Considene?”
John Considene said nothing, but his face had taken on a deathly pallor.
“Macleod told you yesterday,” Power went on, “that he wanted to marry your daughter. You didn’t like it. So you had a motive for wanting to kill him.”
Considene rose, gathering the haughty garments of repudiation around him in so far as his agitation would permit. “I want you to know, Power—and everyone else here—that I had nothing to do with Harry Vane’s murder.”
“We’ll take your statement,” Power said, “even if it isn’t altogether true.” “Look here, Power—”
“Better sit down, Mr. Considene; you’re rocking the boat.”
Power turned to Tait Connors. “You asked Miss Considene to marry you last week, didn’t you?”
There was a sudden baleful gleam in the lawyer’s bloodshot eyes. “That’s my business!” he snapped. “If asking a girl to marry you makes you the potential murderer of all your rivals, we’re all potential murderers.”
“You’ve got to clear away the trees before you can build a house, Connors. I'm just doing that. You’re in love with her too, aren’t you, Tolmie? Or does that picture of her in your diary upstairs mean nothing?”
The red flame of embarrassment mounted angrily in Tolmie’s dark face. He glared at Power for a moment and then said: “Why do you have to drag that in? I didn’t kill Vane; I couldn’t have killed him.”
“Because I was in this room when he was murdered.”
Power turned to Paul Kühner. “You were here too, weren’t you?”
“You saw Tolmie?”
“Certainly. He was sitting in that chair over there by the door.”
“Then who’s sitting in it now?”
They turned. Someone was sitting in the high-backed chair. Like a man sensing a trap, Frank Tolmie shot across the room and swung the chair about. It was empty.
but a pair of high leather boots rested on the cushioned bench in front of it.
Tolmie came slowly back in a silence that fairly bristled, his face white, his knuckles tense.
“So you mightn’t have been sitting there all the time,” Power said.
Action broke suddenly through Tolmie’s shock. “You can’t frame me that way!” He swung on the others. “That was a dirty piece of stage-play. Just because this thing has baffled him, he has no right to . .
Perhaps it was Sergeant Papineau coming down the stairs who silenced him, or perhaps it was a realization of the futility of protest against what was, after all, a fail accompli. The sergeant was carrying very gingerly between his two hands, three sheets of paper which his fingers kept separate one above the other. When he laid them on the table beside Power, it was to be seen that each contained only what looked like dirt.
Then Tait Connors said in his truculent way: “Just the same, Frank, it’s destroyed your alibi. Better cool down and see what he pulls next. It’s probably my turn for the hot grid.”
T)OWER picked up a microscopic slide from the table. “On this I have the sori, or fruit dots of a fern that’s pretty rare in these parts—Woodsia glabella. It’s so rare that we’ve only been able to find two other specimens anywhere near where any of you gentlemen told me you were in the six hours prior to the murder.”
He proceeded to transfer to three other slides the takings from the sheets of paper Papineau had brought down. “It happens that the fruit dots of no two species of ferns are alike—which is one of the principal means of species differentiation.”
“What’s all this getting us, dear boy?” Dr. Panton exclaimed rather impatiently.
Power glanced down the microscope’s eyepiece at the first slide. “We found a specimen of Woodsia glabella behind the pine tree just opposite the spot on the path where Vane was murdered. It had been trampled by someone who stood there; by the man who waited last night for Hugh Macleod and mistook Vane for him.”
Removing the first slide from under the microscope, he replaced it with another to which he gave his eye. “These slides I’m examining now are scrapings from three pairs of boots—boots that three of you were wearing last night. Boots that might have trampled that fern . . Ah, here we are! More fruit dots from Woodsia g'abella. The man who wore these boots killed Harry Vane, and they’re your boots—”
A chair had been pushed back sharply. Tait Gmnors was on his feet, his truculent sandy features taut, a wildish look in his eye and a gun in his hand. “Stand back, all of you!” he barked.
He began to back toward the door.
“For heaven’s sake, Tait,” Dr. Panton squeaked almost imploringly, “face the facts.”
Papineau gave Power a questioning glance, but the latter shook his head.
Connors had reached the door. Suddenly he turned and streaked down the steps toward the jetty.
“He’s taking the powerboat!” Tolmie cried, and then John Considene: “Get
the rifles from the closet. We’ll have to stop him !”
“No need to do that,” Power said quietly. “He can’t get away without this.” He held up the spark plug he had removed from the boat’s engine while he was aboard her.
“You seem to think of everything, dear boy,” Dr. Panton exclaimed.
A sudden sinister report punctuated his eulogy.
“Great Scott!” gasped Paul Kühner. “He’s killed himself.”
“Perhaps,” breathed Frederic Panton solemnly in Power’s ear, “you thought of that, too.”
“Perhaps,” Power replied as solemnly, “I did.”