The story: In Italy, Thomas Decker manages Anthony Newcomen's huge fortune. He phones Newcomen that death threatens him, the wire goes dead, Newcomen rushes to Decker's villa, finds the man murdered.
Hugh Churchill, the dead man's 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; Aldo Bertelli who is courting Nancy.
Newcomen, suspecting Dinah Moore, engages 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 lo Newcomen evidence that the dead man demanded payment of money which Lucardo owed him.
Newcomen, leaving Dinah Moore’s place in the dark, is fired upon by an unknown man who escapes. Later, while with Nancy Ormonde, he is again assailed unsuccessfully. Churchill, still trying to blackmail Lucardo, receives 1,000 lire, with a promise of more in three days.
Dinah Moore wishes to withdraw from her bargain with Newcomen, but is persuaded not to. Bertelli offers for 250.000 lire to tell Newcomen who murdered Tom Decker, and they arrange an appointment.
Newcomen, dining with Dinah Moore, chases a spy; the man falls over the garden wall and breaks his neck, and is revealed as Roberto, the cook; a strange motor car stops and picks up the body. Newcomen, returning to the villino, sees Dinah, apparently terror-stricken, at an upstairs window. He rushes to the room, and finds her lying on the floor, unconscious.
NEWCOMEN bent to press his ear against Dinah's breast with a terrible intuition that it would be with her as with Roberto in the open highway; and then he heard the faint murmur of the heart like a watch under a pillow.
He carried her down the winding of the stairs to her big room and laid her on the couch there. He wet a towel in the bathroom and put the cold of it to her throat.
She made no sound. She did not stir. It was only after a long moment that he saw her eyes were open, watching his movements intently. Something in her silence at that moment seemed to him utterly inhuman. He tried her pulse. It was already strong but very fast.
She was better. There was no use asking questions about how she felt.
"What was it, Dinah?" he asked. “What happened to you, up there?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head a little. Her eyes remained closed.
‘‘Did he die, Anthony?" she whispered.
"He’s dead.” said Newcomen.
"Did he talk before he died?"
"Not a word."
She opened her eyes and looked straight up toward the ceiling. It seemed to Newcomen that her next breath was deeper, as though in relief.
He stepped hack to reach a chair, but her hand moved out toward him.
“Will you stay with me?" she asked.
“I’ll stay." said Newcomen.
She closed her eyes again.
He sat down after he had pulled up a deep chair close to her. The time went by him with a soft whisper. Now and then he turned his head toward the window behind him. or the French windows that opened on the balcony above the loggia, on the right. But as a rule he watched nothing except the girl, studying her as though he were reading a page of difficult print, such as one of those big, time-faded pages of an early folio, so kind to the touch and so bathing to the eyes. By her breathing, she was now asleep.
He remained perhaps for ten minutes in this posture before he heard a breathing in the room. There had been no footfall, but now he was certain that he heard breathing, incredibly fast. He turned his head slowly, his jaw set hard, toward the door. Nothing appeared in it at the height of a man, but a figure seemed to be crouching there not much higher than the knees of a tall man.
The sound of the breathing unquestionably came from it. Then Hans moved stealthily out into the very faint light of the room. The big dog with his soundless feet paused in front of Newcomen to show him the white of his fangs and the green of his eyes. He went on and looked at his mistress, then lay down on the floor beside the couch. He was hot and tired from a run, apparently, but he did not slump down. He lowered himself like a hunting beast that knows when noise is not advisable.
ONE WHO stays in a room long enough, quietly enough, finds that time adds a fourth dimension to everything around him, just as the hunter in the hide at last sees the forest come to life. So for Newcomen, the room at last had a moving, breathing vitality. He lay inert in the chair with his eyes almost closed, and the inaction of his body left his mind more alert. If he stared at the girl, it seemed to him that the shadows behind him began to slide quietly across the floor toward his back. And if he glanced away from Dinah Moore, he always could see her opening her eyes behind his back and sitting up stealthily, with an ominous face.
When, at last, there was a movement, it was Hans who stood up from the floor. His panting had stopped long since and now he stepped utterly without sound, coming to Newcomen and looking at him with fixed eyes for a long moment. Afterward the dog turned his head toward Dinah Moore and went so close to her that she must have felt his breath.
These studies of Hans were, it appeared, to make sure that both his mistress and Newcomen were asleep. When he had satisfied himself, he moved across the room. Newcomen watched the crooked course through which the dog selected only places covered with the rugs and never stepped on the bare tiles where the scratching of his claws might make the slightest noise. He went to the open French windows and disappeared.
Newcomen turned from Dinah and went softly across the room to the balcony beyond the French windows.
The shadows cast by the moon had now shrunk close to the feet of the trees; the olives were clouds of silver-grey. All things seemed to be clearly revealed, and yet every shadow was deep enough to defy the eye, and all edges, all outlines, lacked sharp detail.
Something rustled through the grass, a sound like that of a passing wind, except that it was more localized. Then Hans came out of the brush into the open, carrying something in his mouth. He looked behind him. He looked to either side. But he did not look up, where Newcomen was watching from the balcony. Instead, he glided off among the shadows, and as soon as he was gone, Newcomen slipped over the balustrade and down a pillar to the ground.
He followed the direction the dog had taken, moving swiftly, and came through the trees in time to see the wolf-dog scale the road wall and disappear on the farther side. The imagination of Newcomen tricked him with the image of Roberto, the cook and poisoner, scrambling over that wall at exactly the same point !
He ran on until he could look over the barrier. At the same moment, Hans leaped up on the far side of the road and vanished over the garden w'all of the Villa Oliviera.
Newcomen followed, sweating with haste, down the wall, across the road, and up the farther side until he dropped to the moist ground of the terrace beyond. He was in time to see Hans trotting up to the next level, and Newcomen broke into a skulking run, putting down his feet as carefully as possible, the outer edge of the sole first. Up to the Hercules Terrace he followed behind Hans, and there saw the dog slipping down past the moon-brightened face of the water-lily pond. The dark mouth of the grotto opened just beyond. Here Hans paused for a moment to look back over his shoulder. Then he entered the blackness.
SO FAR as Newcomen was aware, no rear opening afforded a retreat from the grotto. He kept himself under t he black shadow of the trees at the edge of the lawn, and in this shelter approached the mouth of the artificial cave. Close by, he halted. He could hear what he took to be a faint sound of scratching. Then silence. And after a few minutes, Hans appeared again and trotted panting down the length of the terrace, disappearing to the left down the steps which led to the terrace immediately beneath.
Newcomen went to the mouth of the grotto. He leaned and listened. When he heard not a sound from the inside, he made a pace into that thick darkness. The black of it closed over his lips and stifled him like water. He ignited his cigarette lighter. The glow from it danced up and down. The shadows wavering behind the out jutting of the rocks gave a sinister life to the little cave. The solid walls of it seemed in motion.
The cave had a sort of inner ear, a secondary excavation the floor of which was not rock but soft earth, and the sign of the dog’s scratching was still on the surface of it. With the toe of his shoe he kicked into the loose of the soil; a fresh mutton bone, clotted with black earth, tumbled out into view.
Newcomen put a hand against the wall of the cave and smiled. He was understanding more things than one. This was the treasure trove of Hans; this was the burial ground which he would excavate in a time of winter famine, if hunger ever overtook him !
Into the freshly disturbed soil, Newcomen rooted again with his foot. Something much lighter than the bone came out, and flashed at him. He leaned above it; staring. At last he picked up a little stiletto which could not have been long in the damp of the ground, for it was only beginning to tarnish, the rust commencing to form in a series of little black spots.
It was a delicate weapon with a hilt so small that obviously one was meant to hold it between the two first fingers, with the thumb pressed down over the butt like a hypodermic. Gripped in that fashion, its blade would penetrate like a needle, deeply without effort. Before the first wasp-sting of pain flashed across the nerves the point would already be entering the heart. Ladies of a more potent and earlier age sometimes armed themselves with these little tools, as with a special grace. The whole hilt and blade, together, were not over five or six inches long.
The lighter began to grow hot in the hand of Newcomen. He snapped down the cover and left the grotto.
At the end of the water-lily pond he paused at the spot where the body of Thomas Decker had fallen.
No doubt, when Hans decided to add this bit to his store it was enriched by the blood of Tom Decker. Newcomen braced back his shoulders and took a deeper breath.
THE Marchese Lucardo was of a nature so simple that it was easy for him to spend a day in any of twenty pursuits. He could walk endlessly down the rows of his orchards and vineyards, talking with the farmers here and there; he might drive up through the mountains and spend many hours half waking, half drowsing over a small fiasco of red wine, while his eyes wandered over the view and tasted the differences between highlands and lowlands, with the distances breathed full of mists.
He could be content to spend a day hunting with a shotgun and a dog or with a camera; or he might fall into talk with the cook and speak not so much about the meals that were to come as about triumphs of the past.
On this afternoon, however. he spent much time talking to the cook and the butler.
He said: "We have many people coming this evening. Let the titbits be very good. Some of those anchovies curled around toothpicks and stuck into those little squares of spiced toast; and the other things, as you have made them before. Let there be enough to leave a wastage afterward. In a big house there always should be a sense of comfort and plenty. For lack of that same plenty. I have caused my son to wander away from me into the expensive world. But all this you know as well as I do. This evening. I wish everything to be perfect. Help me today so that I can help you tomorrow. That is a good proverb.”
When he had finished talking in this vein, the marquis went into his office. It was his routine. Considering the familiar weaknesses of his nature, he knew' that if he did not submit to some sort of a routine, he never would accomplish anything except to make time flow away toe fast, like soundless water down a flume. So he fell to his correspondence.
This morning he had on his desk not only letters but also a small oblong packet with the wrapper addressed in typewriting. This packet he chose to unravel first of all, and he took from it a little unsigned, typewritten note, which said:
"My dear Marchese:
Last evening the poisoner. Roberto, who used to be the cook for Dinah Moore, showed his ugly face near her villa again. Either the man is crazy or he is receiving good pay. What do you think?
If he is being paid, how interesting if you could find out the source of his income?
I enclose, by the way, the knife with which Thomas Decker probably was stabbed through the back.
I know that you keep a collection of interesting weapons of all sorts, and perhaps you will enjoy having this about.”
Lucardo, when he had finished reading, without looking at the other contents of the packet, smoothed the paper and read again. He lift«! the paper to the light and made sure that it had no watermark. He squint«! at the lettering, to observe that some of the letters were printed toward the left hand, while others struck a little to the right. The ink was not one even shade, but sometimes darker and sometimes lighter. The letter was written in Italian, but it was plain from the phraseology that an English-speaking person had composed the note. Certain typographical mistakes indicated an amateur at work on the machine.
“An American or an Englishman,” ran the thoughts of Lucardo. "who knows something about me and who has very strong hands, to judge by the degree of pressure he used in writing this letter. A cool, steady man. without nerves. It is, of course, Signor Newcomen.”
When he had reached this conclusion, he picked up the letter, unlocked a steel filing cabinet and put the paper away in a definite place, with great care. Afterward, he made an entry on two separate cards, to make sure of being able to locate the letter again as quickly as possible, whenever he chose.
All of this had been finished before he opened the final wrapping inside the packet and disclosed the little stiletto. Small globules of earth were still attached to it. He observed the spots of rust with interest. He held up the weapon to the light and saw that it still was keen enough to glisten like the end of a dripping icicle.
Afterward, he went into the washroom adjoining his office and washed the stiletto with a good deal of care, seeing that all the liquid ran into a soap dish which, afterward, he emptied into a small flask. The flask he corked, labelled, and gave to a servant with word to take it at once to the commissary of police in Florence. With the flask he sent a brief note:
"Test this to find out if there are traces of human blood. If so, identify the type of blood. Answer at once. Do not wait till tomorrow. Lucardo.”
When he had finished this hit of work, he picked up a book stuck the stiletto into it like a paper knife, and laid the book in plain view upon his desk. The time for his party was approaching when his chauffeur took the flask at full speed into the city.
NEWCOMEN, at the end of the fifth day since the murder of Thomas Decker, drove Dinah Moore out to the Villa Lucardo to the party. On the way he said to her: “What's the special trouble now, Dinah?”
“You’ll find it in the newspapers," she answered. “Roberto was found dead in the road outside the villino.”
“Ah, was he?”
“Anthony, did you-—?”
“He fell from the wall,” said Newcomen, shortly.
She turned her head and examined his face.
“Whenever you are ready to talk about last night, I’ll do my share of chattering,” he said.
She did not answer this.
He observed, “The poisoner out of the way that’s good news, isn’t it? Or were you fond of Roberto?”
She looked up suddenly, but not at Newcomen. “Fond of him?” she echoed.
“You might have been. Perhaps, that unlucky night, he didn’t mean to put the poison on your plate. Perhaps he’d forgotten that you would be served first. Perhaps he was reasonably sure, Dinah, that the first service would be for your guest? So I was intended. In that case, I would have had a fit and died like the cat. Would you have been sorry about the poor young man after he was gone? Would you, Dinah?”
She drew a breath and then looked away from him.
"Would you have taken his head on your lap, as you did the cat? Would you have soothed his hair as you did the dead cat? With the same thoughtful look?” asked Newcomen.
Here she turned her head and looked steadily at him.
He continued: “Because you have a way of abstracting yourself from even the most exciting moment. If a whole battle began to smash and crash around you, I can imagine Dinah stopping to admire the sound effects, quietly, instead of ducking into the first shellhole. It’s admirable, self-control like that; but it seems a little mysterious. And dangerous. Because it’s hard to understand. You follow me, Dinah?”
She was still watching him with expressionless eyes.
“You always make yourself clear when you talk with me." she said at last.
He had slowed the car until it merely crawled, the powerful motor taking it on at a walking pace, while the gravel crunched like snow under the tires. The trees went by them slowly, each with a whispering of wind in the branches. Off to the left was the Lucardo Villa, the walls roughed in with greys and yellows.
"Anthony." Dinah said, “why don’t you leave Florence? The next bullet may not miss you. Why don’t you turn around and go now?"
“Suppose I take you with me?” asked Newcomen.
“What do you mean?”
“Suppose we went together?”
"Where?” she asked.
“Over the hills and far away.” said Newcomen, "Farther away than the end of the seventh day."
HE FELT her glance and turned to her, but only in time to see her eyes close as though she were afraid to open her mind to him.
"You’re not smiling. Anthony?”
“Not a smile."
“Then I’ll go wherever you please."
“Yes,” she said.
“Why do you keep your eyes closed, Dinah?” he asked. “Are you seeing the other fellow’s face?”
"What other face?”
“The one for whom you need all the money. What would he think if he know what’s in your mind now? What would he do, Dinah?"
“Laugh. I suppose.” she answered.
“Is that all there is to it?”
She opened her eyes after this long moment. The intense blue of them under the black of her hair was a perennial surprise. But she did not speak.
He parked the car among the crowd of them at the side of the villa, and walked around the corner of the great house with her toward the entrance.
Someone called out behind them. Harry Calliver and De Briggis and two or three girls came hurrying up. and they all went into the house with much chattering and laughing.
Then Nancy Ormonde picked him up with her eyes and brought him to her side. She was dressed in a rose-colored affair, with the yellow lustre of the lining shining through the sheer outer material.
“I like your dress,” said Newcomen.
“I’m glad you like the dress,” said Nancy, looking at it and then smiling at him.
“Nancy, what a relief you are!” he said. “To be with you, why, it’s like walking out of darkness into daylight. You’re so frank. Where’s our host?”
“Poor Franco ! He’s occupied for a moment, the servants say. I suppose with some of his silly police work. The old house doesn’t have the right sort of life unless he’s in it, do you think?”
“No, it doesn’t.” said Newcomen. “All these old pictures . . . Why do people ever go in for painted flowers?”
A voice spoke to Nancy and hurried by. Newcomen turned his head and saw Bertelli gliding through the crowd.
“Why should Bertelli go past you at such a rate?” he asked. “You haven’t been harsh to him, have you?”
“You know how Italians are,” she said. “They’re always thinking around a corner before one gets to it.”
“Has Bertelli simply been forehanded about it?” asked Newcomen, laughing.
Nicholas Decker appeared beside them, saying: “Bertelli? Have you been talking about the Bertelli news?”
Neither of them spoke to him. They did not smile either, but Nicholas Decker was not easily affronted. His eyes and his mustache shone with an equal brilliance, and his color had been heightened by cocktails. He kept laughing as he talked.
“Aldo has struck it rich. Really paying his debts. I know of twenty or thirty thousand lire that he’s cleared off. Astonishing fellow, eh? Where would a Bertelli be getting so much money? What bank would trust him? What relative has any money? Where has he been gambling? It’s a mystery, eh?”
THEY GOT rid of Decker, and a moment later big Lucardo came panting into the house, shaking hands, pouring out greetings. His party had gathered a good headway. People were wandering through the formal garden in front of the house, and here and there in the big rooms. All the invited guests had come, and a few friends who refused to be overlooked, for Lucardo opened his house in this fashion hardly more than once a year. He was made exclusive on the one hand by his ancient name and on the other by his poverty. He hailed Newcomen, and got him into the study. The floorspace was small, but the ceiling was as lofty as the largest salon on the ground Moor.
"This is like a chapel.” said Newcomen. “Leads your thoughts upward, doesn’t it?”
“Upward?” echoed Lucardo blankly, looking at the white stucco angels who were stuck to the ceiling. “Ah, well ! I wanted to thank you for the letter. Signor Newcomen, and for the stiletto, as well. What a sharp blade ! What steel !”
"What letter?” asked Newcomen. “And what stiletto?”
The marchese did not seem to hear the remark. He rambled on: “We have lost the secret of making that beautiful steel. Mass production is good enough for pins and needles, but daggers are another matter. The handmade thing is still the best in a pinch. Here is a dagger that could be used as well by a child as by a grown man. Only find the proper place, and the blade will do the rest !”
“My dear marchese,” said Newcomen, “the dagger looks like business. But do you mind telling me what you’re talking about?”
“Ah, well,” said Lucardo, “I knew you would admire fine steel. There was blood on it, my friend. And I have just received a report that the blood is of the type of Decker’s. Shall we get back to the others? But do remember that when you have a little spare time I should like to talk to you.”
“It would be an honor and a pleasure,” said Newcomen.
He went out with the marchese, and a moment later saw Bertelli lingering from group to group.
The Italian joined him in a corner of the music room.
Newcomen said: “I’ve brought some cash with me, Signor Bertelli. So suppose we have the name at once?”
Bertelli nodded and smiled.
“You shall have it at once, but we must not part immediately. It is proper enough for us to be seen chatting, I hope, even if the murderer comes in and sees us,” he said.
“The killer is here?” asked Newcomen.
“By all means!” said Bertelli. “I wondered, for instance, if you have made a guess about the sex of the murderer, signore?”
“A stiletto,” said Newcomen, “could be used as well by a woman as by a man.”
“Ah? A stiletto?” said Bertelli. “Do you know it was a stiletto?”
“Do you?” answered Newcomen.
“I saw the blow struck!” replied the Italian, setting his jaw hard and nodding.
“That’s the sort of testimony that counts in a courtroom,” said Newcomen.
“It will never be given in a courtroom!” answered Bertelli.
“Come, come!” said Newcomen. “You don’t expect me to pay for testimony that can’t be given to a judge?”
“I offered to give you the name.” said Bertelli sharply. “I didn’t offer to prove the case in a law court. I offer you a name which will surprise you so much that you will understand at once that I have told you the truth.”
“Why should it surprise me?” asked Newcomen.
Bertelli parted his lips in a laugh that made no sound.
“The question is,” said Bertelli, “are you prepared to pay for that name?”
“You were an eyewitness?” asked Newcomen.
“Yes,” said the Italian, bowing a little as though he were acknowledging a bit of praise.
“You can show the motives behind the killing?” persisted Newcomen.
“I can, signore.”
“But you will not talk in a witness box?"
“I believe.” said Bertelli, “that the flesh of a Bertelli is just as mortal as the flesh of a Thomas Decker."
“So we let it go at that?”
“Will you pay or will you not?” demanded Bertelli
“Two hundred and fifty thousand lire!” murmured Newcomen.
“Exactly that sum,” snapped Bertelli, reddening.
“Very well,” said Newcomen suddenly. “I’ll pay.”
Here a servant, approaching in haste, called: "Signor Bertelli, a very urgent telephone message for you. Very urgent, signore!”
“I come back at once,” said Bertelli, and hurried from the room.
Newcomen, scowling after him for an instant, suddenly followed. The music room was left to the chatter of a half dozen people.
The sun had been pouring red through the western windows for some time, casting a tremulous pattern of leaf shadows from the climbing vines which twisted up among the window-bars. Now those shadows blurred suddenly. The light grew both more red and more dim. and then a soft wall of shadow washed across the world as the sun sank.
It was just at this moment that someone began to cry out at the top of his voice. His words could not be understood at once. A rumor flew out before them like an echo around a loud sound.
Aldo Bertelli had been found dead at the telephone in the study of the marchese.
Lucardo was not present at the moment. Newcomen and Nicholas Decker were in the study with the butler, staring at the body of Bertelli, sprawled across the desk, his left hand gripping the telephone receiver, and a spot of blood extending from a narrow slit in the back of his coat. He was wearing white linen, and the red of the stain was very clear.
Newcomen picked up the receiver and spoke into the phone.
A woman’s voice was calling excitedly. "Signore! Signor Bertelli!”
Newcomen looked down at the narrow rat face of Bertelli. whose eyes were still half open. He seemed to be pressing his ear against the desk to listen, like a doctor, for the beating of a heart.
“Who is speaking?" asked Newcomen. “Signor Bertelli was called away.”
“But I was talking to him this moment. I am Teresa, his maid and the message said I was to telephone to him at once, because he wished to say something terribly urgent. And then he groaned ... Signore, what has happened?”
“Be calm, Teresa,” said Newcomen. “Who spoke to you?”
“There was no name. But l was told to telephone instantly to the Villa Lucardo and ask for my signore."
“You spoke with Signor Bertelli?” asked Newcomen.
“Yes, signore. Only three words and then he groaned and said nothing more.”
“You will hear about everything presently,” said Newcomen. “That is all.”
He rang off.
“Do you see?” Nicholas Decker was saying. "In exactly the same spot and exactly the same sort of a wound as the one that killed Thomas. The same murderer has killed Bertelli! But how could the same person wish to kill the two of them? What did they have in common?”
“They had your friendship in common,” said Newcomen coldly.
He stepped hack to the middle of the room and began to look over it, calmly.
"Both the doors were open,” said Nicholas Decker. “You noticed that? Both doors were open, and yet Bertelli was stabbed right there, at the desk, where twenty people might have seen the thing happen from the hall.”
“I notice that,” agreed Newcomen. He turned his head and listened, for a moment, to the babble of voices, the muttering of running feet through the house. From outside the villa he heard motors roar and whine as people who were more timid than curious rushed away from the unlucky house.
“But think of it again!” insisted Nicholas Decker. “To step in here behind poor Aldo and knife him, deliberately... The person who did that had a nerve as cold as yours, Newcomen.”
Here Decker stopped short and laid a hand over his mouth, bright mustacnes and all, while he stared at Newcomen, his eyes great with his suspicion.
“Yes.” said Newcomen carelessly. “A very cool or a very frightened fellow did this trick.”
He turned to the butler. “Who told you that Signor Bertelli was wanted on the telephone?” he asked.
“The telephone told me, signore. That is to say, it rang, and when I answered, a woman said that she had a terribly great need of speaking to Signor Bertelli at once.”
“Did she give her name?” asked Newcomen.
“No, signore. There was something in her voice that made me go at once to call Signor Bertelli.”
“Someone knew that I was speaking to Bertelli, just then,” said Newcomen.
“Pardon me, signore?" echoed the amazed butler.
“Nothing." said Newcomen.
He turned abruptly away and stared at the wall opposite the desk of the marchese. A picture of an old Tuscan scene hung there, a villa on a hill with muleteers driving their loaded animals slowly up the bending of the road toward the great house, and a bridge in the foreground, with half of a village church.
Something glinted at the foot of the wall. Newcomen leaned and picked it up between his thumb and forefinger.
“It was left behind, this time,” he said, and showed to Nicholas Decker the little stiletto, now bathed in blood, with a large dark drop of red adhering to the point.
Newcomen placed the weapon on the blotter of the desk. The paper began to soak up a spreading red stain.
“Where’s Lucardo? He ought to be on hand.” said Newcomen, “with all this confusion going on.”
"Lucardo?” gasped Nicholas Decker. “I wonder if I have the answer! Lucardo who said that poor Tom gave him back his promissory notes that night—Lucardo who invites Bertelli here to this party and then — Lucardo who owes so much money that he must be ready to do murder ... I have it; it’s true! Find Lucardo and you find the double murderer. Get him! Wait a moment and I’ll prove the point. You won’t find Lucardo; he isn’t here because he’s taken to his heels. Poor Aldo! Stabbed in the back by that fat fool. Find Lucardo. Find the marchese!”
“Wait,” called Newcomen. “Be quiet, you fool!”
But Nicholas Decker already had broken out from the room, and his voice went shouting through the halls : “Find Lucardo. Find the marchese. Murder! Catch Lucardo. Murder!”
NEWCOMEN, now that the roaring voice of Nicholas Decker was bellowing through the house, shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the desk, where he leaned for some time over the stiletto, waiting.
But the marchese did not appear.
By this time a large part of the guests had hurried from the place: those w'ho remained were held together by a growing wonder and a sort of horrified delight such as that which gossips feel when a real social crime looms within their ken. For Lucardo had disappeared from the villa completely. A search organized on the spot combed the big house from top to cellar, but not a trace of him was found.
Nicholas Decker seemed to rejoice in this disappearance. He took on himself the air of a prophet and talked with such excitement that he almost forgot to sleek his mustaches. Newcomen said to him: “After all, what earthly reason can there be for the marchese to stab a fellow like Bertelli? An unimportant rat like Bertelli!”
Decker cried: “Blackmail! But Lucardo can’t stand being bled so long. He strikes back.”
“In his own house.” said Newcomen, “when it was filled with people? In his own study, with two doors wide open on a hall w'here people might be walking back and forth at any time?”
“In his own house--because nobody will suspect the host,” said Decker. “In his own study--because notice that his study opens on the east, and the sunset light from the west pours the room full of dimness. Neat! Oh, Franco was very neat about it! And then he heard my voice bawling out his name and accusing him, and a panic takes hold of him. He sees that the devil has started on his trail, and he runs for his life. Fat men are easily frightened.”
“How clearly you've worked it all out,” murmured Newcomen, watching him. “What a good brain you have for crime!”
Nicholas Decker was stopped short by this remark. He regarded Newcomen through narrowed eyes, for an instant, and then he answered: “I? Well, a man has what God gives him!” But afterward he went quickly away.
The police, arriving a few moments later, found Newcomen in the study with the dead man, studying the handle of the stiletto with a large reading glass. The butler looked on from the shadows of a corner.
“Notice,” said Newcomen, “that there are no fingerprints on the hilt. Here where the blood spurted, it soaked through some sort of cloth, and left the checking of a very fine-grained material ...”
The commissary himself was in the room.
"Signore,” he said, “your observations are invaluable. To have the assistance of your eyes, what would we not give? But in the meantime, if we may be permitted to go ahead in our own stupid, unassisted way ...”
Newcomen went out to his car, and found Dinah Moore already waiting in it. She pulled her skirt aside and drew the fullness of it over her knees as he climbed in.
“What do you think, Dinah?” he asked as he started the car.
She made one of her usual pauses before she answered: “I think you’re very tired, Anthony.”
“I? Tired?” he said. “Oh, that’s stuff. I’m not tired.”
The remark irritated him. He drove hard and fast.
He got her to the villino. When he saw her to her door, he said: “I’ll give you a ring, shortly. You know. Dinah, I’d give a good deal to know just what’s in your mind now.”
“Would you?” she asked. “But you wouldn’t like it, Anthony. Good night.”
When he reached the house, the huge empty dimness of the hall arrested him.
“Lights,” he said to the butler. “I want plenty of lights tonight. Everywhere. All over the house. You understand? Burn some of the darkness out of this place.”
He went up to his room, stepping quickly because slow motions caused his knees to sag a little under the weight of his own body, and this annoyed him. For his mind to be blanketed with a mist of weariness did not matter so much, because he could fight that off; but the sense of physical weakness told him how long he had gone without real sleep, and he was alarmed.
As he opened the door of his own apartment, the air from an open window pushed toward him, whispering. The breath of it was qualified faintly by the cigarette smoke of that same day. He paused, stopped by the dimness of the room, for no lights had been turned on in it and the starlight made only one dim step past the windows, only enough to show him, in the easy chair beside the open window, the bulk of a big man who was sitting at ease, perfectly reposed, his legs stretched out before him.
Newcomen dosed the door behind him and stretched out his hand for the switch.
“Ah, Lucardo.” he said, “I was expecting you, with half of my mind.”
Then he turned on the lights.
ON THE morning of the sixth day after the death of Thomas Decker. Newcomen came down in the light of dawn to the villino. He threw a pebble up through the open French windows behind the balcony, and Hans came out and looked at him with a sort of patient hatred. Then Dinah came into the dark rectangle of a window, looking tall in the long sweep of her dressing gown. She looked down at Newcomen as silently as the dog.
“Will you come down?” he asked.
“Have you had any sleep?” she answered.
“Will you come down?” he repeated.
“Yes.” she said, and disappeared.
He walked up and down on the terrace, breathing deeply to get the fumes of cigarette smoke out of his lungs, until the girl appeared with the black shadow of the dog gliding behind her.
“We’ll have breakfast out here in moment.” she said. “Could you eat some toast—very dry?”
“No, I couldn’t eat it,” admitted Newcomen. “Do I look as bad as that?”
She considered him gravely and thoroughly, and said nothing.
“Say something,” commanded Newcomen.
“It’s the sixth day,” said the girl. “But can you last out till tomorrow'?”
“What will happen tomorrow'?” he asked.
“Before he died, Tom Decker was very nervous,” she said. “So was Aldo Bertelli —very nervous yesterday. And you’re nervous today. Very.”
“Does that mean that I am about to die? Am I to follow them?”
She allowed the question to answer itself.
The big tray arrived and was placed on one of the iron garden tables.
“I’ve been doing some thinking,” Newcomen said. “Want to know about what?”
Dinah looked away from him across that most beautiful valley in the world. Her eyes forgot the Duomo, the towers. “Or do you already know?” he asked. “I know,” she said, nodding.
“Well, what have I been thinking about just now?” he demanded.
“About me, Anthony,” she said.
“What have I been thinking?”
“That I am beautiful.”
“Am I wrong?”
The sleeves of her dress were thin chiffon, cut very wide. She folded her arms like a Chinaman, with the hands inside the sleeves.
“Go on and tell me, Dinah,” he insisted. “Am I wrong?”
“No,” she said. “Your thinking makes me so.”
“You told me at Impruneta that I’d never know real love.”
“I was wrong.” she said.
“But is it the big thing?” he asked. “I mean, has the golden lightning hit me? Do I see the stars at noon?”
“Yes.” she said.
“Well, a thing like that is deathless, isn’t it?” asked Newcomen.
“Yes, deathless,” she said.
“But do I mean anything to you?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Everything,” she said.
“Say that again,” he directed.
“I love you, Anthony,” she said.
After a moment he asked: “What was I wishing all last night?”
“That you’d never seen me,” she said.
“What’s the matter with us?”
“It’s a beautiful sort of wretchedness, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Why do you smile like that?” he asked. “We’re not saying a sad good-by.”
“Aren’t we?” said Dinah.
“I don’t follow this,” he said. “Why don’t I take you in my arms? You would not care, would you?”
“No,” she said.
“You’d like it, wouldn’t you, Dinah?” “Yes,” she said.
“We’d both like it more than anything in the world, wouldn’t we?” asked Newcomen.
SHE LOOKED at him and smiled again. “Yes,” she said.
“What are you reading in my face, Dinah? Ugly words?”
“Yes,” she said.
“But in spite of them, you’d have me? No matter what the ugliness is?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Then what stands between us, Dinah?” he asked.
She kept on reading his face like a page of small print.
“What's between us?” he repeated.
“A dead man, I suppose ” she answered.
After a moment of staring, he took out a handkerchief and scrubbed his wet face.
"Sit down and eat something.” said Newcomen.
“I don’t want anything to eat, Anthony.”
“Sit down and eat something,” he commanded.
She sat down behind the iron table. He watched her hands as she poured coffee and hot milk. She raised the cup and tasted the drink. The heat of it puckered her forehead.
“Actually, you’re hardly more than a baby,” said Newcomen.
She looked up at him.
“Eat some of the toast, too,” said Newcomen.
She broke a piece of it. He listened to the crunching. He watched her swallowing. When she paused, he said: “Try one of those peaches, too.”
She peeled it like a European, with knife and fork. He watched the small slices disappear.
“If I love you in the great way--knocking the sun out of the sky and letting the stars come out—like that, if I love you, all I want is you. Isn't that true?”
She leaned back in her chair.
“Yes,” she said.
"Then tell me what keeps me from falling on my knees beside you, Dinah, and thanking God for you; and putting my hands on you; and holding you so that when you speak I can feel your voice and not care what you’re saying because there is only one thought in our flesh; and nothing to breathe except the blue of the sky. That’s the way it ought to be with us, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she said.
The dimness in her eyes collected in tears that rolled slowly down her face. Newcomen lighted a cigarette.
“When did you begin loving me?” he asked.
“Well -always,” she said.
“There wasn’t anyone before, not even a ghost?”
“No,” she said.
“You expect me to believe that?”
“You don’t think there could be some sort of hope, do you? For things to be better, I mean? Some small sort of a hope that I could hold onto?”
“You mean some sort of hope that we might find happiness together, after all?”
"You mean,” said Newcomen, "a hope that we might be married and have children and all that?”
“No. there’s no hope of that at all,” he told her.
"You wouldn’t marry me, Anthony?”
SHE CLOSED her eyes. He watched her for a time. The sun had swung around the comer of the house until it lay across her knees. Her lap was filled with rosy fire that stained her hands.
“But, Dinah, you don’t expect me to marry you, do you?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“With what I know, you don’t expect that, do you?” he repeated.
“No,” she whispered. "From the moment you found the green tassel, you were more than half sure that I was guilty. Isn’t that true?”
“And you bought my time for a week simply because you had a ghost of a hope ; that if you came to know me you would know for sure? You wanted to try me, wasn’t that it?”
"Yes,” said Newcomen. “Will you forget that for a while. We might go off some place together. Would you do that?”
"Yes,” she said.
“Then pack your things and get out of Florence, now!” he commanded.
She started up from the chair, crying out: “Will you go with me, now?”
“What do you think?” he asked.
“No. You’ll stay here,” she answered, sinking down in the chair again.
“You know that, don’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, closing her eyes again. She made an effort and then spoke with her eyes still shut.
“Where shall I go?” she asked.
“Somewhere up in the mountains. You know why?”
“Yes. Everything seems cleaner there.”
“You start for Merano. I’ll go after you tomorrow. Some time tomorrow I’ll start. You wire back the name of the hotel you’re staying in.”
“Anthony, will you come with me?”
“No,” he said.
“For sweet pity’s sake, will you come with me, Anthony?”
He threw down his cigarette and stamped on it.
“No,” he said.
He turned his back and walked rapidly away, down the bend of the driveway, with the gravel crunching noisily under his feet.
To be Continued