The story: In Italy, Thomas Decker manages Anthony Newcomens huge fortune. He phones Newcomen that death, threatens him, the wine goes dead. Newcomen tushes to Decker's villa, finds the latter murdered.
Hugh Churchill, the dead mans secretary, tells Marchese Lucardo, a detective, that the last persons who called on Thomas Decker were: Nicholas Decker, an impoverished cousin; Dinah Moore, employed to restore the villa frescoes; Nancy Ormonde who came from America to marry the dead man; A'do Bertelli who is courting Nancy.
Newcomen, suspecting Dinah Moore, engaged all her time for one week for $5,000 to help him discover the murderer. Churchill informs him that notes in the dead man's safe which showed thousands of dollars owing to him, are missing.
Newcomen learns that Nicholas Decker and Aldo Bertelli arranged a false alibi for the night of the murder. An apparent attempt by unknown persons to shoot Newcomen is frustrated. An attempt to poison Dinah Moore also fails. The dead man's ex-butler, Emilio, is imprisoned on suspicion.
Churchill, failing in an attempt to blackmail Lucardo, shows to Newcomen evidence that the dead man demanded payment from Lucardo of money which the latter owed.
Newcomen, leaving Dinah Moore's place in the dark, is fired on by an unknown man who escapes. He calls on Nancy Ormonde and is walking along a dark street with her when he is again fired upon from a window. Nancy throws herself in front of Newcomen, and the would-be killer jerks his weapon upward. Newcomen plunges into the building after his assailant and Nancy calls after him: “Come out or I'll climb in after you.”
NEWCOMEN FOUND the door, but his fingers recognized the strength of thick oak crosspieces. The iron plate of the lock was as big as two hands.
He snapped on his cigarette lighter and looked around him. Sacked onions and potatoes filled the air with a sour pungency. From the beams, corn hung on cobs, drying, the color of true gold. It was a storeroom. Two of the windows of it were secured by shutters and wooden pieces nailed across inside. Only the one window was open, the shutters wide, and the crosspieces lying on the floor. He picked up one of them. Part of the nails were rusted black. The oilier part shone silver bright. They recently had been drawn from the old sockets.
He hesitated, looking toward the window where the white face of Nancy Ormonde appeared.
After a moment, he went out to her.
They hurried down the length of the alley, and came out into the moonlit calm of the great piazza a moment later.
‘‘Did anyone know you were going down that alley. Nancy?" he asked.
They had reached a sidewalk café, and she sank into one of the iron chairs.
“I don’t know. The whole world has gone crazy!" she gasped.
"Think back. What’s the last time that you mentioned the alleys?” demanded Newcomen.
"I’m trying to think. I haven't talked about them at all, not for a week.”
"Where was that?”
"At the Jimmy Mortimer house.”
"Who was there?”
“Everybody. It was a huge party.”
"But whom did you talk to particularly?"
"I don't remember. Tony. I’m trying to think I talked to twenty people.”
“All the four Mortimers were there?”
“Yes, the marchese was there. But that poor, fat-faced—"
“Never mind. I'm not accusing Lucardo. Who else?"
“Dinah Moore, I remember.”
"Ah. Dinah was there?"
" With Tom Decker."
"Bertelli? Nicholas Decker? They’re both friends of Jimmy Mortimer."
“Yes, they both were there."
"Nicholas Decker, Lucardo, Bertelli, Dinah Moore. Anybody else I know?”
"Only poor, dried-up Hugh Churchill, the secretary. Tony, it was murder, your murder, that was attempted back there!"
"It was a miss,” said Newcomen.
“There’s a gendarme. Tell him ...”
She sprang up.
"Let the thing go,” said Newcomen, "The man--or lady —in that window back there, was taking a pot shot at you, not at me, Nancy.”
“I never heard of anything so crazy, Tony !”
“No? You talk a week ago about the alleys. You say that you’re going to see them again the first night you have a chance. The most romantic place in the world. Wasn’t that it?”
“I suppose I may have said that."
"Well, someone heard you. That’s all. And laid the trap. Not a difficult thing to do. Simply to prepare that old storeroom and wait every evening. Just requires patience. . . But who could hate you as patiently as all that, Nancy?”
“I don’t know ! Tony, I want to go home !”
ON THE morning of the fourth day since the murder of Thomas Decker. Marchese Lucardo drove his old car through the gate of the Villa Oliviera. When he reached the house. Hugh Churchill was waiting for him in the dimness of the great hall.
“We’ll go straight up to my rooms,” said Churchill.
But Lucardo in his leisurely way paused and examined the bottom of a picture frame which hung near the foot of the stairs.
“What is this old gash in the wood?” he asked. “I’ve seen it before and asked Thomas Decker, but he always forgot to answer.”
“Well,” said Churchill, pausing, “at last he had to answer everything—everything. ”
He said the last through his teeth. Then he pointed across the hall.
“You see those old weapons yonder?” he asked. “That group of them decorating the comer? The short-handled battle-axe is the one that sank into that picture frame. And Mr. Decker wouldn’t talk about it. Naturally he wouldn’t.”
“Did he do it?” murmured Lucardo, lifting his simple face and looking at the secretary."
“Not he,” said Churchill, then: “You said on the telephone that you wanted to see me?”
“I thought it would be well to bring you a small payment, Mr. Churchill, as an evidence of good faith,” said Lucardo. “So I brought over a thousand lire. Please take it.”
He put the bills in the hand of the secretary, and Churchill made a gesture as though he would throw the money back.
“A thousand lire? Chicken feed !” he said. “We were talking about fifty thousand. Signor Marchese !”
“This is merely an earnest of what is to come,” said Lucardo. “I am communicating with a banker in London. I have hopes of raising a considerable sum there. But to get money here in Florence ...”
“Why not?” demanded Churchill. "You have enough stuff in your house to stock a museum. Pictures, furniture, statues, everything. You could sell some of that and never miss it!”
“Ah, perhaps," said Lucardo, "but there is no market now for such things. If I were forced to sell. I would not realize a quarter of the real value.”
“In this world," said Churchill, "I discover that business is business and nothing else. Mr. Decker never hesitated to grind me he never troubled about my feelings. Marchese Lucardo, I have testimony that will throw you into the hands of the police. Unless I have fifty thousand lire, at once . . . In a pinch, Signor Marchese, there is always that picture by Pontormo the two saints by the well. I would take that in place of the money.”
"Take that?” cried the marchese, staring. "It is the treasure of the collection ! I would rather give blood than that.”
“I’d rather have money than blood,” said Churchill. “But whatever I get, I must have it at once.”
“At once?" groaned Lucardo. "How much time do you give me?”
“Forty-eight hours!” said the secretary sternly.
“What? Two days? But there would not even be time to advertise a sale!” pleaded Lucardo.
"You can put up the furnishings of your villa as a pledge, however,” said Churchill, "and then get the money from a bank.”
“Three days, for heaven’s sake!” cried the marchese.
“Three days? Well, I’m a good-natured fellow,” said Churchill. “Three days let it be.”
ALDO BERTELLI, even while Lucardo was talking with Hugh Churchill, sat with Dinah Moore in that big room whose French windows gave on the silver tops of the olive trees outside.
“I was talking with Nancy Ormonde about you the other day.” he had said when he called, "and she says that you have some charming drawings. I’m not a connoisseur, but I’d like to see them, if I may.”
That was why she brought him to the upper room and he watched her unlock the old safe which stood in a comer of the chamber. It was of a type which any professional yegg would have smiled at. Five minutes and a “can-opener” would have forced its door, but it was a reasonable security against ordinary thieves. She unlocked it now and took out a stack of her drawings.
"You’ll smile when you see them,” she said. "But a little while ago I began to think they might have a value; and if they have, I’m afraid to let them lie about.”
“I’d love to see them," said Bertelli, holding out his hand for the stack.
“Sit down there by the window," said the girl. “Here— this chair has a good light. Then I can give them to you one by one.”
“You mustn't trouble.” said Bertelii, with a certain urgency. "I cannot keep you standing. Let me have them. They will all have an interest for me.”
"Will they?” she answered, looking closely at him.
“Of course they will,” said the big voice of Newcomen from the door.
Bertelli started around.
“Excuse me for walking in.” said Newcomen to the girl. "I found the front door open and just wandered in and kept on wandering. You were up here the other night looking for something, weren't you, Bertelli?”
"Up here? At night?” said Bertelli, beginning to frown, Newcomen squinted at him with care.
“I don’t think I’m wrong.” he said. “It was only the impression of a moment , by night, with no more light than the flash of a gun gives. But I think you were here the other night, Bertelli. Why?”
“Signore’,’’ said Bertelli, "there is something in your tone that I do not choose to understand.”
"Dinah, I’m occupied with Signor Bertelli,” said Newcomen.
The girl walked to the tall windows and out onto the balcony.
Newcomen said : "You've shown me a good deal of attention once or twice, recently, Bertelli. I can stand that better than your attentions to Dinah Moore. I think the door is still open, downstairs.”
Bertelli drew himself up and bowed.
"It is more than enough," he said. "You need not trouble yourself any further. It is a sufficient insult. Signor Newcomen. A friend of mine will wait on you and-- ”
"Ah, you’re talking about a duel, are you?” said Newcomen. "Then I’ll give you the best reason of all."
Bertelli saw the danger while it was still in the air but he could not dodge the fist. It struck him half on the neck, half on the root of the jaw, and he slithered down the wall to the floor in a loose heap.
Newcomen picked him up by the scruff of the neck.
"Don’t take him out like that,” said Dinah Moore, in the calmest of voices, “a little cold water in his face will--"
“I'll restore him before I show him the door,” said Newcomen.
He walked out the door with Bertelli dragging his length behind, and so down the stairs, the feet of the Italian thumping loudly from step to step. By the time they were passing through the living room, Bertelli began to recover his wits and struggle to regain his feet. Newcomen permitted that only when he was outside the front door. He stood back, then, and watched Bertelli stagger and weave until his legs were steady. The whole side of his face was blotched with red.
“You look all right,” said Newcomen. “People won’t notice anything. But how’s the proud Italian heart, Bertelli? Burning up, isn’t it?”
“Dio--santo!" whispered Bertelii with pale lips.
"If you want more trouble out of it,” said Newcomen, "you can have it. I hear you're a duellist, Bertelli. Well, there’s enough Italy in me to make me handy with a small sword myself. Get out of my sight before I smack you down again. And if I find you sneaking around the villino again. I'll twist your neck till it breaks.”
HE TURNED his back on Bertelli and went back into the house. Dinah Moore was entering the room from the foot of the stairs. Her composure was perfectly undisturbed.
“Was he the one who shot at you the other night?” she asked.
“I think so,” said Newcomen. "He’s behind us now, so don’t bother about him. But why was he here? What did he want?”
Dinah shook her head, puzzled. “Nancy Ormonde said my drawings might be worth money. But I hardly think so. Just a heap of old and new work of mine. If he wanted something, he merely used the drawings as an excuse.”
"Where do you keep them?”
"In the safe."
“Mind if I look?"
"Not at all.”
Dinah Moore had replaced the drawings in the safe. She took them out and set them aside. There was nothing else in the safe but a few old papers, inconsequential receipts and the like. Newcomen examined them carefully, but found nothing that could conceivably interest Bertelli.
“He was here for something,” grunted Newcomen. Dinah put back the drawings. They returned to the other room.
“I want to make a business proposition to you. Anthony,” said the girl slowly. She held out a fold of money. “I want you to take it back and let me go.”
“Is that the twenty-five hundred advance payment I gave you?”
“What’s happened to you?” asked Newcomen. “You wanted that money for somebody, didn’t you?”
“A man, eh?”
“Well, he still needs it, doesn’t he? Men who take money from girls never stop needing help.”
She said nothing.
“You only have to stick it out for three more days and you clean up five thousand. What makes you want to cut and run?”
"Anthony, reasons won’t matter with you. But will you let me go?”
“How badly do you want to go?”
"It’s more than wanting. I have to go.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Come, come!” said Newcomen. “Let’s not be mysterious.”
She drew a great breath, staring at him.
“No,” she murmured to herself. “No, you won’t let me go. You’re going to keep me to the end.”
“To the seventh day. I suppose I am,” said Newcomen. “But there’s your own danger!” cried the girl.
“What danger?” he asked.
“They tried to murder you last night—and you ask me what danger?”
“You heard about that shot in the alley? It was at Nancy Ormonde. Not at me.”
“It was not at her. She jumped in front of you. And then the shooting stopped.”
"Stories spread fast in Florence. But about it. The murderer lost heart. The sound of his gun frightened him,” stated Newcomen. “Somebody Nancy jilted. Somebody like that was trying to get even.”
"You know that’s not true,” she answered.
"It's the way I choose to look at it,” he said. "Do we have lunch?”
She looked at him and made a silent surrender. Then she rose and left. Newcomen sat down to look over the darkened room, the sheen of the waxed tiles, the vague images which reflected in that surface, the bigness, the sense of space and air.
They had lunch quietly in a sort of forced calm, fritto misto, a bottle of Rhine wine pale with the dew of the icebox. Then Newcomen was called to the telephone.
The moment he heard the voice, he settled himself in a chair, at ease for much talking.
"Of course not,” he said. “I slept perfectly. And you?"
"I couldn’t sleep a wink.” said Nancy Ormonde.
Dinah Moore brought an ash tray and a cigarette. She put the cigarette in his mouth and lighted it. Newcomen nodded at her through the smoke.
"It was a shock, of course,” said Newcomen.
Dinah Moore was leaving the room. He put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and called: "Dinah, come back!”
SHE SAT down with her back to him.
“Tony, can you dream who fired that shot at you?” asked Nancy.
"I can dream. But I’m not sure. Somebody who has a headache at this moment. I think.”
“Whom do you mean?”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about a girl who looked death in the face and didn’t care.”
“I did care, Tony. I was horribly frightened.”
“How many men have seen a girl risk her life for him; not because she loved him, either.”
“I’m not so sure, Tony.”
“Aren’t you? That’s not just kindness, I hope. But that bit you did, threw a light on you. A halo, Nancy, to my eyes.”
"You’re not going to make an angel of me, Tony?”
“All except wings that might carry you away,” said Newcomen, breathing out a yawn behind his hand. “When can I see you?”
“Any time. Now, for instance.”
“I’m sorry. But I can’t today.”
“You have to spend the time with Dinah Moore. Is that it?”
“About the chapel frescoes.”
"Oh, Tony, you dreadful liar!”
“Tomorrow? I’ll telephone.”
“And don’t forget on account of frescoes and things.”
“I won’t. Good-by.”
He hung up.
“Is Nancy Ormonde falling in love with you?” asked Dinah Moore.
"Nancy? Oh, Nancy doesn’t simply fall, do you think?”
“What would you call it?”
“She merely decides,” said Newcomen.
“Do you think that she’s as cold-blooded as that?” asked the girl.
"I don’t know. What do you think, Dinah?”
“We don’t think about one another,” she answered.
"Do you siesta?” he asked.
“Usually. I don’t have to.”
“You could lie down on that couch and I on this one,” said Newcomen.
“I’ll read,” she said. “Do you want to be wakened at any special time?”
“No, this is already a special time,” he said.
He stretched himself on a couch, pulled a pillow under his head, and took from his pocket a small green tassel. He began to pass the silk threads slowly through his fingertips, as though absent-minded, his head turned to watch her.
Dinah went to the bookshelves in the comer of the room.
“Do lie down and rest.” said Newcomen.
“Well . . .” she said, turning slowly, yawning a little. “Take off that hot dress and slip on something cool and light.” he suggested.
“What color shall it be?” she asked.
“I’ve seen you in a charming dressing gown,” said Newcomen.
“The green one.” said Newcomen. “It was this color.”
He held up the silk tassel, and, watching closely—he had to watch very closely indeed to see—he observed the quick little tremor that ran through her. She went to him and took the tassel from his fingers.
“Where did you find it. Anthony?” she asked.
“Why, you’d never guess, would you?” said Newcomen.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “Where did you find it?”
“I found it in Tom Decker’s studio.”
“The studio ...” breathed the girl.
“On the floor,” he said, “close to the telephone table.”
She moved back, as though she wanted a better chance to look at his face, with distance for clear perspective.
“When?” she asked.
“Why, I found it there the morning Decker died,” said Newcomen.
She sank slowly onto the couch opposite him.
“The morning he died ...” she echoed.
“And I’ve had it in my pocket ever since, as a matter of fact.”
“That same morning, you saw me in a green dressing gown,” she stated. “And you noticed that a tassel was gone from the belt of the dressing gown, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Did I?” said Newcomen, absently.
A long silence followed.
“You will siesta, won’t you, Dinah?” he asked.
She stood up.
“I’ll—yes,” she said.
“You’ll come back soon?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Do come soon,” said Newcomen, and listened to the soft closing of the door.
THE PILLOW raised Newcomen’s head to such a height that he was able to look into the tall mirror that hung on the opposite wall, and in it he could observe the greater part of the wall behind his head, including the door through which Dinah Moore had just gone. Over it was placed a Madonna between two adoring angels in blue and white Della Robbia ware. This was not fitted into a wall niche but merely hung on brackets, and there was a certain amount of play in the setting so that the vibration caused by the door sent a slight tremor through the plaque. The mirror exaggerated the motion.
To the left of the door hung a Venetian landscape with sheep and trees and blue running water, and a pair of absurd eighteenth-century lovers in their best and silliest clothes. To the right of the door stood a tall chest of drawers, a very good and old piece. All of this lay within the field embraced by the mirror’s reflection. Newcomen, almost closing his eyes, studied the Madonna and the angels through his lashes and seemed asleep.
He was incommoded by the size of the automatic under his coat and turned a little to give it more room. After that, he lay motionless, watching the mirror.
Something like five or ten minutes went by slowly before he saw the bright Della Robbia piece tremble again; and then the door opened. There was no sound. It pushed open perhaps a foot, and Newcomen strained his eyes to get a glimpse of the figure in the hall behind it, but it was like staring at something in a twilight mist.
He could discover the outlines, but not the face. He could not even be sure whether it were man or woman. It was all as vague as an indistinct recollection out of infancy, one of those memories which are more illusion and fancy than hard fact.
The door at last closed again, soundlessly. It seemed to Newcomen that a ghost had entered the room.
Newcomen took a deeper breath.
And two or three minutes still passed before the girl returned to the room in the green dressing gown.
“That’s good,” said Newcomen, in a sleepy voice. “It’s a nice, cool color.”
“The belt has two tassels now,” said Dinah Moore. “I suppose you’re glad of that?”
“It is a relief,” said Newcomen.
He smiled at her, but she did not smile in return. She went over to the opposite couch and lay down on it.
“Are you going to sleep?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” he said.
She was silent again. Newcomen stretched himself, turned his head toward the back of the couch, and almost at once his regular breathing became more audible, slower, more deep in vibration. The girl, listening, smiled a little.
“It’s a good pretense,” she said softly, “but you did it a little too quickly. People wouldn’t fall asleep as quickly as that in real life, would they?”
He did not answer. He did not stir.
And she, after a moment, turned her head suddenly, and stared across the room. She saw the hand of Newcomen slide from his breast to the couch beside him and remain there, the fingers loose.
SHE STOOD up, frowning, and crossed the room to him, stepping slowly and carefully. Even when she stood just above him, she was not certain. She bent and peered more closely at his face, noting above all a certain loosening of the lines about the mouth, a slight swelling of the lips. The lines in the forehead were less sharply cut also.
She continued to stand there for a few moments, until the thing was entirely 'clear in her mind. Newcomen actually was asleep or else he was a matchless actor.
She returned to her own couch. She did not sleep for a considerable interval. The thoughts which passed in her mind caused her eyes to widen, brighten, and only gradually they grew dim again. She was certain that sleep would not by any means overcome her; and then she was aware of someone sitting beside her, and knew, by the deep gulf of weariness through which she was rousing, that she had been in profound slumber for a long time.
She blinked her eyes to make sure, and saw that Newcomen was reading a book in a chair which he had drawn up close to the couch, only leaving space between the leg of his chair and the side of the couch for the German dog. He was turning a page now. She watched the care and automatic skill with which the big forefinger slid down the edge, lifted the page, turned it with a continuous and yet slow movement which prevented the slightest crackling sound.
She watched him for some moments. Presently, without looking from the page, he said: “A good sleep. Dinah?”
“Yes, a good sleep,” she answered.
“It’s a sign of a clear conscience, isn't it,” asked Newcomen, “when one wakes up slowly, with wide-open eyes, smiling a little?”
“I wasn't smiling,” she said.
“Ah, but you were,” said Newcomen.
“You can't tell, Anthony. You didn’t even glance at me.”
“I didn’t need to," said Newcomen. “I was watching you with my mind’s eye. I know just how you will look under any circumstances. Asleep or waking . . . with or without tassels.”
“It’s terribly late!” she exclaimed, looking out the window. For all the eastern trees were covered by the shadow of the house.
“Just pleasantly late," said Newcomen. “Too late for tea, I suppose, and only a fraction too early for cocktails. By the time you’ve yawned twice, we can start having cocktails . I'll go to the villa and change and come back.”
He was back in the villa and had changed his clothes when the butler came, saying: “Signor Bertelli wishes to speak to you. Are you in, signore?”
“Connect me,” said Newcomen.
BERTELLI said over the wire, in a soft but distinct voice: "Signor Newcomen, if I do nothing more about what happened today, does it prove that I am a coward?”
“I think not,” said Newcomen. “I think it merely proves that you’re biding your time.”
“Shall we let it go at that, then? In the meantime, we can be of practical use to one another. I have something to sell.”
"I'm not a collector,” said Newcomen.
"But of information?”
"That may be different. Information about what?”
“About your dead friend, Thomas Decker.”
“What about him, Signor Bertelli?”
“I wish to tell you the name of his murderer,” said Bertelli.
“Ah, that would be worth knowing,” said Newcomen, “if it’s not that fellow Emilio in the prison.”
"You know that it’s not he,” said Bertelli.
"Not at all,” answered Newcomen.
“You know perfectly well," said Bertelli, in the same low, clear voice, the words carefully clipped off, “that the butler had nothing to do with the murder. That is why you are conducting your own investigation.”
“Ah, am I investigating?”
"So busily." said Bertelli, “that there are people who feel that you are trying to cover up your own traces.”
“In Florence,” said Newcomen, “there are always a few people who are capable of thinking anything.”
Bertelli allowed a silence to intervene for an instant.
“Concerning my proposal,” he said at last, and something in that quiet voice suggested to Newcomen a mind strained to the uttermost by a nervous tension.
“It would be worth something to me, of course,” said Newcomen.
“How much?” asked Bertelli.
“Why, ten thousand lire, say?”
“A hundred thousand lire, perhaps?” asked Bertelli.
“Too much !” said Newcomen.
“A hundred and fifty thousand lire, say?” said Bertelli.
“My dear fellow,” laughed Newcomen. "You’re not serious, of course. That’s quite a fortune. A hundred and fifty thousand?”
He laughed again.
The voice of Bertelli cut short his laughter, as the Italian said: “Suppose we say two hundred thousand lire?”
There was a pause.
Newcomen said, sharply: “I’ll take that offer.”
“The price rose while you waited,” said Bertelli calmly. “It is now a quarter of a million lire.”
“I accept!" said Newcomen. “Will you come up here now ?”
“I can’t come there now,” said Bertelli.
"The doctor confines me to my bed.”
“Indisposed. When I see you, no one must know about it."
“I’ll see you wherever you say. Bologna, perhaps?”
"Instead of going a distance, let us meet in a crowd.”
“Perfect! I’ll give a party tomorrow.”
“One already is being given. The Marchese Lucardo. Will you be there?”
“If I'm asked.”
“I’ll see that you are. At six-thirty, say?”
"You want an advance payment?”
“Signore. I must trust everything to your honor.”
“My honor? Very well!” said Newcomen. “This doctor—he’s taking good care of you. Bertelli?”
“He is a clever man. Good-by, Signor Newcomen. ”
“One moment. You’ll take care of yourself?”
“Who is this doctor?”
"I know him. At six-thirty tomorrow, at Lucardo’s. Good-by!”
THE MANNERS of all Italians above a certain class are perfect and only degenerate under the influence of a bad marriage, that is to say, an unprofitable one. As a rule, the educated man is only a boor when it pays to be one. Doctor Ferrando was fitted with manners as sleek as a thin kid glove, and even over the telephone he conveyed a special unction.
He smiled continually and bowed a little to the receiver as he talked.
“I’m out of sorts,” said big Newcomen over the wire. “Can you run up to see me right away? I have an evening engagement.”
“Tomorrow, perhaps?” said Doctor Ferrando.
“This evening. Now, please,” urged Newcomen. “A special favor to me, Doctor Ferrando.”
“My dear Signor Newcomen, I cancel everything else at once and come to you as fast as the automobile will take me,” said the doctor.
And all the way to the Villa Oliviera he doubled the usual fee and then undoubled it. He was in a pleasant misery. The rich should pay more, and the rich Americans should pay still more. But unfortunately the old golden days when well-to-do Americans paid today and reckoned tomorrow seem to have departed forever. They seem to expect to pay not more than twice what others would be charged. Doctor Ferrando was in a perspiration before he got out at the big villa. He had not been able to make up his mind.
The first look at Newcomen made him add fifty lire to the bill on the strength of youth; but with the second look he subtracted the extra fifty. He could not tell what to think.
Newcomen said: “The fact is that I’m not up to snuff. A bit groggy in the mornings, and a bit lethargic through the day. I wonder if the old blood pressure is right or if the liver is out of whack, or something like that.”
Ferrando made an examination. He punched at the liver and located it obscurely behind a sheathing of abdominal muscle strong enough to gird up the loins of a horse. He listened with his stethoscope to a heart-beat as loud and steady as the tramping of the same horse over an iron bridge.
Ferrando stepped back and polished his spectacles, and then brushed his mustaches with the tips of his fingers. The glasses added profundity to his judgments, the mustaches doubled the smartness of his air.
“As a matter of fact,” said the doctor, “it is not difficult to see that there is a touch of liverish condition. That would account for the symptoms you complain of. You drink cocktails, Signor Newcomen?”
“Avoid them,” suggested Ferrando. "Also, oranges and eggs are bad for the liver. It will make only a slight variation in your diet, but an essential one. And then if you get to bed a little earlier at night, you will feel a new man, signore.”
“I’ll do exactly as you say.” said Newcomen, as he pulled on his clothes. “My friend Bertelli says that you are the best man in Italy.”
“Ah, you know Signor Bertelli?”
“A very charming man.” said Ferrando.
"A pity that he should be upset just now." said Newcomen.
“Well, we are no longer children.”
“Exactly," said Newcomen. “What would you say about Aldo? Nothing seriously wrong?”
“Nerves—what is there to say about nerves?” asked Ferrando. “Without them man would be a beast, eh? With them he suffers like a poor devil. A pity, Signor Newcomen.”
“Mr. Thomas Decker ...” said Newcomen.
"Ah, a terrible misfortune.” said Ferrando.
“Mr. Decker ...”
"To me, a personal loss. Permit me to beg you to believe me. A personal loss,” said the doctor. “Such a waste—and at the hands of a butler.”
"Ridiculous.” said Newcomen.
“Absurd,” said Ferrando.
“Poor Tom Decker was troubled with bad nerves from time to time,” observed Newcomen.
“Very often,” agreed Ferrando. “Often I had him in my care for that very weakness. A battery overcharged is soon worn out. May I use that comparison?”
“A man with an eye like yours,” said Newcomen, “sees twice as much as the ordinary fellow like me.”
“In my profession, the eyes must be used, of course.”
“Naturally,” said Newcomen. “If he had been more nervous than usual just before the end, you would have noticed it, doctor, of course.”
“Of course,” said Ferrando. “And in fact he was more nervous than usual. I gave him, that same day, a double sedative. Not an opiate but a hypnotic.”
“Tom Decker had grown to hate the nighttime, hadn’t he?” asked Newcomen.
“The very thing,” said the doctor. “One grows used to trouble by day, but its face becomes hideous at night. It is the unknown that we fear.”
“Of course,” agreed Newcomen. “And Tom Decker had become afraid of the night?”
“He hated to see the setting of the sun; Just before the end, he was in a bad state.”
“Did the bad state come on him suddenly?”
“That very day perhaps?”
“Yes. Exactly. That very day he suddenly was extremely nervous.”
“This Florentine air is very soothing,” suggested Newcomen, “but sometimes it plays tricks on us, perhaps? And the nerves go crash like Tom Decker’s?”
“Exactly so,” said the doctor.
“Or Bertelli’s, for instance?”
“In the same class, entirely.”
“As though a man suddenly became afraid?”
“Exactly as though he became afraid.”
“A sort of dread of the night and the unknown, you say?”
“There is no better way of putting it.”
“Thank you for coming. I’ll follow your orders. Good-by, Doctor Ferrando.”
“It is a pleasure to serve you,” said Ferrando, and left with a light step, for he was sure that he had not come to that house for the last time. Some people are limited in the number of illnesses they can afford to have, but money is a blessing to the idle rich and to the doctors who take care of them.
NEWCOMEN went down through the twilight to the villino where Dinah Moore lived. He took the long way around because he did not feel like climbing stone walls in his dinner jacket and patent leather shoes.
He found the table set for two on the terrace outside the house. There was only the light of two candles under glass hoods, besides the dimness of the moon which was just pushing up through the eastern trees. Dinah Moore moved toward him from the shadows.
“An old-fashioned scene,” said Newcomen. “A girl, a moon and a garden.”
“With a modern touch,” she said, smiling gravely.
“What’s the modern touch?”
“Young man in dinner jacket and gun.”
“Am I carrying a gun?” said Newcomen.
“Your clothes fit beautifully, of course. They always do. The gun disturbs the line just a trifle. ”
“Do you think I am being melodramatic--carrying a gun when I am invited to dinner with a girl in a garden under the moon?”
Dinah shook her head. They moved toward the table. “If you feel you are in danger, of course. Take that chair, so that you can watch the moon. Dinner will be here presently.”
“You don’t feel any sense of danger, Dinah?”
She looked at him across the table. “Yes,” she answered frankly. “Ever since Tom Decker died.”
"Since Tom Decker was murdered,” he corrected.
“But not the sort of danger that can be warded off with a gun.”
"And yet you have a defense?”
He rose a little from his chair before she could answer.
“What is it?” she asked in a low voice.
“Have you thought of everything for this evening?” he answered in a voice equally low.
“I hope so,” she replied.
“I think you have,” murmured Newcomen. “I think that you’ve even thought of hiring an audience for us.”
He sprang from the table suddenly with the naked automatic in his hand.
“Come out in the open!” he called in Italian, facing a patch of big shrubs.
A crackling of footfalls through the brush, a sound as of a rushing wind answered him; and Newcomen plunged in pursuit.
HE WENT through the brush like a stone through a glass. Beyond, turning the corner of a potted lemon tree, he had a glimpse of the fugitive. The moon brushed a hand of silver over the face of Roberto, the former cook. Then he was lost as he dodged behind the tree.
He ran fast, but not like a sprinter of Newcomen’s quality. Newcomen called: “I'll fire, Roberto. Stand where you are!” Then he ran out from behind the potted lemons and had a glimpse of the coattails of Roberto as the cook vanished into the shadows under a little grove of cypresses. Newcomen, the moment he was among them, halted and stood still. The noise of running feet no longer pounded the earth. Before him, the narrow tree trunks ruled black lines across the moonshine. Merely to turn the head dazzled the eyes with jet black and brilliant white.
Roberto could not be far off. Perhaps he had given up the flight and was preparing himself, behind one of the trunks, to strike back at his pursuer; or perhaps he was stealing away.
Newcomen added up the chances, made his choice, and ran on again, breaking quickly out of the tree shadows into the comparative open of scattering olive trees, bent and twisted by time.
The way a rabbit gets up from behind a tuft of grass, a man’s silhouette sprang away from the crooked trunk of an olive tree. Roberto was there, running frantically, swaying a bit from side to side with effort, his head pitching back with every stride, like a miler finishing his exhausting race. But Newcomen ran easily up on him. He was reaching a hand for the Italian as Roberto came near the boundary wall. Roberto screamed as he dodged, and leaped straight up at the top of the barrier. He struck it, sprawling over, and toppled down on the farther side.
Newcomen heard the body strike with a solid force as he swung himself up to the top of the wall. He dropped down beside Roberto, who lay with his head twisted under one shoulder, motionless. When Newcomen turned the body, he heard the grating of broken bones in the neck.
He pressed his ear to the breast of the Italian. There was no tremor of the heart. He was dead. And at the same time the whine of a motor climbed the hill.
Newcomen swung back over the wall. The automobile wavered its headlight over the brow of the hill. Above the edge of the wall Newcomen saw the car stop. Two men climbed out, bent over Roberto, and then loaded the inert body into their machine. They drove on, and Newcomen faced the villino again.
He went slowly back to the dinner table. The candles made a vaguely flickering light, a running of faint shadows, across the moonlit tablecloth. That was the only sign of life. The maid was not there. The girl had left her chair.
He lifted his head to listen, and in the effort to clear his senses, he almost closed his eyes; but there was no sound nearer than the main road toward Florence. No wind blew. The shadows lay still beneath the cypresses. From the kitchen of the villino he heard not the least sound of rattling dishes.
He had left a living scene and returned to one as dead as paint. But by degrees he felt life re-enter the surroundings, a faint sense of it, as single as one ray of light in darkness, and as dangerous as the blade of a sharp knife. Then he opened his eyes. The danger did not lie around him on the ground. He felt it, coldly, raining an influence from above ; and when he looked up, he saw in the black arch of the tower casement, Dinah Moore, with the moon white upon her face.
“Dinah!” he called, and found himself looking at the empty darkness of the window from which she had disappeared.
Newcomen ran for the house. There was a cold horror in his blood and he tried to drive it out by the speed with which he climbed the stairs, still remembering the white of the face that had looked down on him and the inhuman, stone-cut smile.
He had to pass down the upper hall to reach the stairs that led into the tower. They went round and round in a spiral that was cut through the unnecessary thick of the wall. He passed one small chamber with the checked pattern of the window bars cast by the moonlight across the floor. He reached the highest story of the tower, and stood for a moment in the dark at the head of the stairs.
Down in the hollow among the villagers someone was playing an accordion, a crazy jazz-time tune as out of place to Newcomen as the tunes of a music box in a room of death. The moonlight poured through the open arch at which he had seen the girl. The curve of the arch lay brilliantly cut into the black upon the floor. He saw nothing else, but he remained there for a moment.
After that, he crossed to the empty window space where the girl had stood. From this point he could see the small table below, the moon-white on the tablecloth strangely qualified even at this distance by the yellow glow of the candle flames. He could tell the difference in color between the wine in the narrow glasses and the water in the big ones. Only the silver melted strangely into the brightness of the moonshine.
That uneasiness which he had felt when he first stood by the table had returned to him. He swung sharply about and stared into the shadows which poured the comers of the tower-room full.
He gritted his teeth as he tried to make out the puzzle. She could not have run down the stairs as fast as he had come up them, and yet she was gone.
He moved toward the other side of the floor and stumbled over a heap of shadow and softness. The shock of it stopped him an instant with electricity shooting out through his fingertips and up into the roots of his hair; then he lifted the body.
The head of Dinah Moore fell back over his arm with the white of the moonshine turning her face to stone.
To be Continued