In which a mystery deepens and dread of a Death which stalks in silence seixes the beleaguered Gaunt household
The Story: Near the town of Montfort, John Gaunt, mill owner, lives in a wall-enclosed country home with his beautiful wife, Lisa. Francis 0' Neill, an explorer, guest of the Gaunts, wants a secretary to help him write a book. Marcia Stafford ts engaged.
Other members of the household are Gordon Curran, Gaunt's cousin, who manages the mills; Mrs. Carver, Lisa's mother; Bobby, the young Gaunt heir ; Sarah 1res, an elderly English nurse; Reeves, the butler; Mrs. Harris, the housekeeper ; and a Japanese chauffeur.
Walking alone on the estate near a lake one evening, Marcia is astonished to find John Gaunt clutching the chauffeur by the throat and demanding, “Tell me where she got it. If you gave it to her. I'll kill you.” The chauffeur refuses to answer, and Gaunt orders him to leave the estate.
At the edge of the lake, Marcia receives a still greater shock when she finds the nurse lying partly in the water. She calls Gaunt, who tries to resuscitate the woman, but she is dead.
That night a dark figure glides into Bobby’s room from the balcony. Marcia, who is guarding the boy, rouses the household with her screams. The door to the balcony is found locked on the inside. Gaunt and the rest appear to accept the explanation that she must have dreamed her experience.
Next day, Lisa’s brother, Nicholas Carver, arrives at the house. He has fust been released from penitentiary. John Gaunt engages Beier Devaney, a private detective, to act as Bobby's tutor, and Griggs, a personal friend, as chauffeur.
The doctors decide that Nurse Ives died of natural causes, but Beter informs Marcia that she was murdered. Reeves, the butler, tells Beter that the dead nurse distrusted someone in the house, but fust as he is about to reveal the name, he is called away and a few minutes later is found lying in the hall with a knife in Ins back.
I’LL STAY here,” I said. “I’m all right. See about Reeves. Is he—is he dead?”
“I'm afraid so,” Peter Devaney said gently.
He left me then and went to kneel beside the body that sprawled on the floor, face downward, the neck twisted aside so queerly that you could have no doubt that the man was dead. I stayed there leaning against the wall, my fingers spread to keep from falling, but I had to watch Peter. I couldn’t help seeing it all -the little dark river of blood that had crawled a few inches and then sunk into the greyish carpet and was drying there; the knife that had been thrust between the shoulders and whose handle gleamed dully in the overhead lights.
Peter stood up. He looked at me and his lower lip was caught between his teeth.
“Dead, all right.” he said. "Poor old guy.”
The sight of that knife was making me sick. I said imploringly, “Won’t you can’t you take that knife . . . ” He shook his head.
“I mustn't. Marcia. This is murder and no doubt of it this time. We'll have to leave him as he is until the police get here."
The police! 1 drew in my breath. Of course, that was what they did in detective stories, notified the police and the coroner. An idea struck me.
“Peter!" I said. “You're a detective!”
“I thought I was.” There was a grim little twist to his mouth. He was staring at his feet. "It was true, you see. Reeves did know too much. And apparently his knowledge was straight.”
I was looking at him in horror. Suddenly I realized that Peter's welfare was very important to me.
"Then someone overheard us talking to Reeves and—” "Exactly. Murdered him.”
“Then you and 1
1 íe was at his watch. "Think you can run downstairs and find Gaunt? Get him here quietly without rousing the rest? I'll stay here.”
I nodded. I even went a step or two. and then 1 had to stop and say, "You’ll br careful?”
"Yes. I'll be careful.” Hi* patted the pocket of his coat comfortingly. “All right Hurry, will you?"
I turned away, but there was no longer need for hurry. Because Doris had come quietly upstairs, presumably in search of Reeves, and was standing at the turn of the hall. Even as I met her eyes, she threw back her head and began to scream horribly. Abruptly the screams died. She slumped, sliding downward and lay still, a little heap of black and white.
“Never mind, Marcia,” Peter said in a hard voice. “That's done it. If Gaunt didn't hear her, it'll tie because he’s dead too. And the rest of them as well.”
With his words, some spring broke in my own brain. I began to shake uncontrollably. With a little sound of pity, Peter put his arms atxnit me.
SOMEONE was running up the stairs. We heard the footsteps clearly. They paused at the top. obviously at a loss for direction.
“Here!” called Peter. He let me go.
The footsteps came on, and behind them we could hear doors opening and the sound of questions being asked and answered.
“What's going on here?” asked John Gaunt. His eyes dropped to the sprawled figure on the firxir and then lifted.
and there was horror in their depths. “Not Reeves. Pete?” he said slowly. “Oh, poor old chap !"
“I’m afraid it was my fault,” Peter said bitterly. “1 took too long a chance. Gaunt, and he paid for it.”
John Gaunt stood staring down at the twisted figure.
“It wasn’t your fault, Pete,” he said tiredlv.
“Knew something, didn't he? I thought so. He was afraid of something ”
He broke oft abruptly. We could hear Francis O’Neill's voice.
“Gaunt! Gaunt! Where are you?”
“Here,” John Gaunt called. “Come on if you like, but for heaven’s sake keep the women off.”
O’Neill rounded the corner, grunted and stopped short with the effect of slamming on four-wheel brakes. He asked, “Dead?” quite calmly and turned back to deal with the others behind him.
“Just a minute.” he said, meeting what was apparently a barrage of questions. “There’s been an accident. The butler is dead.”
“Reeves is dead !” It was Lisa Gaunt’s voice. “Let me past. Frank. No, I will go!”
“Better not. Lisa.” O'Neill said quietly. “Now if the rest of you will just be calm and go back—”
“Who found him?”
"But who was it that screamed^”
“How do I know?” O’Neill asked. “I know no more about it than you do.”
Beside me, Peter made an impatient gesture.
“Will you take over. Gaunt, or shall I?”
“You,” said John Gaunt. He seemed sunk in apathy. No one who watched him would have guessed his grief to be anything but genuine. It was plain that Reeves had been more than a servant, he had been a friend.
Peter went by me. In the past few minutes he seemed to have changed, altered his personality in some subtle way. There was authority in his step and in his voice.
"Will you all be quiet for a moment?” he asked. “Reeves, the butler, is dead. He was stabbed. Miss Stafford and I found him a few minutes ago. It was Doris who screamed. She came upon the body unexpectedly.”
There were murmurs from the others, but Peter’s voice continued to dominate the group.
“It will be necessary to notify the police. Possibly I need not tell you what that will mean. In a short time they’ll be here, endeavoring to discover the murderer.” His voice became harsh. “If you will take my advice, you will finish dressing at once and await their arrival. I need not warn you that this is no time to leave Treeholme for any purpose whatever.”
He turned on his heel and came back to us. He stood for a moment looking down at the crumpled figure of Doris.
“Poor little fool!” he said. He bent and picked her up. “Will you look out for her, Marcia? Can I take her to your room?” He paused to look at me sharply. “You’re a little green yourself. Sure you’re all right?”
I nodded, wishing things were less swimmy and more
stable about me. I felt worse than green, but I made up my mind that I wouldn’t show it.
Written down, all this seems to have consumed a considerable amount of time. In reality it did not. Peter, who checked it with his watch, says that barely four minutes elapsed between the discovery of the body and John Gaunt’s measured question: “I suppose—it wouldn’t do— to move him? He looks so uncomfortable - -poor old chap.” “Better not,” Peter said gently. “After I put Doris down I’ll get on to the police for you. In the meantime, you stay here, will you?”
JOHN GAUNT nodded. I doubt if the man could have gone far. The spirit seemed drained out of him. There was a low seat against the wall. To this he retreated and sat slumped, his fingers fumbling for his cigarette case, his eyes upon the sprawling thing before him.
“There’s a man with all the devils in hell upon his
shoulders, and I'd give my right hand to help him," Peter said to me in a low voice as we went toward my room.
“Can’t you?" I asked.
He, too, seemed dispirited.
"I don’t know.”
He dumped Doris rather unceremoniously in the centre of my bed and took my hands.
“Be careful. Marcia."
"Oh, yes.” He frowned, hesitated. “You'd better slip down and talk to Griggs. Tell him to carry on."
"I will. And you'll be careful, too?”
"Yes.” Suddenly he was in no hurry. He glanced at Doris. She was still unconscious. “Marcia, some of this will have to come out. No help for it. What I’m doing here—that is, who I really am.”
"But there’s no reason, so far as I can see, why it all need come out now. I mean about the letter. What we’ll do is this: I’ll see Colonel Truax when he gets hereI’ve known him before, worked with him. I think I can make a deal with him. After all, I've got some inside dope on this that he might find useful. If he listens to me, I’ll get him to take my statement first, but it'll be this in the main: We called Reeves, understand, to ask him about a letter we had found in the desk, who it belonged to, etc. He had to go when Mrs. Gaunt’s bell rang, but he promised to come back. When he didn’t we went to look for him. Got it?”
I was still shaken but I said. “Yes, I think so. But the letter itself, Pete?” I asked. “What about it?”
“What? Oh, I see. Just an old thing Miss Ives lelt behind. Reeves identified her writing for us.” He bit his lips suddenly. “I wish I’d kept that letter. That was a blunder and a half.”
“Pete,” I said. “I’m frightened.”
“I know, dear. So am I. but keep your chin up.”
He kissed me and was gone.
1 was rather unpardonable short with Doris when she came to. after being doused with icy water from the bathroom faucet. She was inclined to feel that she was of rather finer clay than the rest of us since she had fainted when we did not.
“I’m not used to murders, Miss Marcia,” she said, preening herself a little.
“Well, you had better get used to them,” I said hardily, l^ater on I was to regret this remark, one of those unthinking spur-of-the-moment sort of things that, stored up in a
mean little mind and repeated to the proper jx*rson at the proper time, may make all kinds of trouble.
She shrank away from me.
"Oh. miss! You think there's going to be another murder?"
I shrugged, smiled enigmatically.
“How do I know?"
She looked frightened
“I saw Reeves, miss. It must have been just before“Here!” I said. "You’re not going to faint again, are you? Smell this.”
"This” was ammonia. She gufixd and choked.
When she had somewhat recovered, I said, “Go on. You saw Reeves
“He was in the lower hall. Mrs. Gaunt had sent me down for her bag, and Reeves went by me. He looked black, miss. He said someone had rung Mrs. Gaunt’s bell in the libran’, and when he got down no one was there. He said his feet hurt, miss.”
“What did Reeves do then, Doris?”
"He went upstairs, and I went into the kitchen with a message for cook."
I kept trying to think.
"Did you set* anyone else downstairs or in the halls, Doris?”
She said, “No. miss,” but I wasn’t sure she was telling the truth. She looked frightened.
“How did you happen to come into the nursery wing?” “Mrs. Gaunt wanted to see Mr. Devaney, miss.” She shivered. “That was how I saw it.”
“Yes,” I said.
SOMEHOW, almost like second sight, I could see the accomplishment of that murder. Our conversation overheard; the decision swiftly made; the descent to the lower floor for the purpose of ringing the library bell; the slow unhurried climbing of the stairs to the upper floor, perhaps meeting Reeves on the way; the lying in wait; the waiting until the butler had passed and then the final stroke delivered; the secret leaving of the scene.
I shivered a little. Planned as it must have been on the spur of the moment, it had been flawlessly, daringly executed. There had been no hesitation, no bungling. Doris’ tongue was loosened. She wanted to talk.
"Who do you think did it, miss?" she asked in a thick whisper.
I my head. "1 don’t know.”
She leaned forward confidentially.
“I'll tell you who I think it was. I think it was that explorer.”
“Mr. O’Neill?” At that moment, such a notion seemed ridiculous and 1 laughed. “It ’s up to the jxilice to find out who did it. Doris. I )on't you think you’d better go and see if you can't help Mrs. Gaunt?”
“I’m afraid to go through the halls,” she half whispered. “I'll go with you." I said.
I was afraid myself, but determined not to show it. I left her at Lisa Gaunt’s and went on downstairs and out into the sunshine, where Bill Griggs lounged against a bricked pillar and watched Bobby being a train. I called him over and told him what had happened as briefly as jxissible. He was shocked.
“Yeah, but ” he said slowly. "Well. 1 guess Johnny was right. Whoever it is means business." And then, "Poor Reeves. He was a guy.”
Which seemed a gcxxi enough epitaph for anyone. 1 told him what Peter had said, and he nodded and patted his hip pocket.
“Okay. And you can tell Johnny if you get a chance that his orders still go with me shoot first and ask questions afterward. There ain't nobody going to get close enough to me to stick a knife in my gizzard."
I said I hojxxl not. It was time for me to go in but I lingered. It was far pleasanter outside. In the warmth of the sunshine, you could forget the black ugliness of murder.
“Bill,” I asked, “did anyone come out of the house oh. say, twenty minutes ago?”
He looked at me suspiciously.
“What are you getting at?”
“Nothing,” I said lamely. “I just wondered.”
“There's half a dozen ways out of this dump,” he grumbled, “and the whole bunch has been running in and out all afternoon.”
“I suppose so,” I said. I felt dejecter!.
After a minute, I went back into the house. I found that everyone, with the exception of John Gaunt and Peter, had gathered in the hall to await the arrival of the police. For all the warmth outside, the hall seemed dark and chilly. A fire had been lighted in the fireplace and Lisa Gaunt sat close to it.
“Haven’t the police come yet?” she asked jxitulantly as I came in.
I said. “No.” but almost immediately there was a knock on the front No one moved so strong is habit until with a muttered imprecation Gordon Curran remembered that there was no one now to open the door for us and went himself. At the same instant John Gaunt aime down the stairs.
Continued on page 20
Continued from page 17
“Colonel Truax?” he asked. “I am John Gaunt.”
THERE were four of the police the colonel, the medical examiner and two others. Bill Griggs afterward told us that two more constables were stationed, one at the front of the house and one at the back.
Colonel Truax was a tall, straight, soldierly looking man. He shook hands with John Gaunt and then the little procession went up the staircase, all except one policeman who remained immobile by the front door. Gordon Curran returned morosely to the fire.
“I'm getting tired of this,” he said to no one in particular. "Of what?” Lisa Gaunt asked. "Nothing’s happened yet.”
"That’s the trouble. It’s this blasted sitting around and waiting.”
"Where is Mr. Devaney?” Mrs. Carver asked. There was a malicious something in her eyes as she looked at me that made me uneasy.
“Upstairs,” I said.
“He isn't the one who did it, is he?”
“Certainly not!” I’m afraid I sounded as snappish as I felt.
The old lady fixed me with her unwinking gaze.
“How do you know he didn’t?” she asked triumphantly. “Because I was with him when he found the body. We came into the house together just before five.”
It was at this moment that Nicholas Carver strolled into the hall, and I was surprised to find that I hadn’t missed him before. He saw the policeman at the door and blanched.
"What’s that guy doing here?” he asked in a husky whisper.
I stood closest to him. When no one else offered an explanation, I told him. In some queer fashion, I sensed that he was relieved at the news.
“Who did it?”
I shook my head.
His quick eyes took in the room. “Where’s that Devaney guy?”
I did not answer. I did not intend to discuss Peter with anyone else.
“Stop being an idiot, Nick,” Lisa Gaunt ordered, “and for heaven’s Rake, if you haven't got a story that’ll pass the police, make one up. will you?”
He turned sullen. “They can’t pin nothing on me.”
She looked at him coldly. “I hope not.”
He growled inarticulately. “What’s the chance for a drink?”
“Excellent—provided you get it for yourself. The servants are all in the library with orders to stay there. Personally”—-she gave him an unflattering glance “if I were you, I shouldn’t addle my wits with whisky.”
He related, somewhat pugnaciously, that they couldn’t pin nothing on him, but he lit a cigarette and sat down.
It was horrible, waiting. There seemed to be no sounds from upstairs. We didn’t talk. There was nothing to talk about. We simply sat, straining our ears, while the silence builded like a wall about us. Occasionally someone struck a match, or a piece of wood dropix-d in the fireplace, and that was all. At the front door, the policeman stood quiet as a graven image.
It would have been a relief to scream, to go into hysterics, to let all inhibitions go, but to a civilized mind such a state occurs only when the will gives over control of the body. I gritted my teeth and sat and waited.
I do not know how long it was before Colonel Truax came down the stairs again. He was followed by one of the policemen and John Gaunt. Peter brought up the rear. For just a moment, over the heads of the others, his eyes met mine. It seemed to me he nodded imperceptibly, and I guessed that he had made his bargain with the colonel.
COLONEL TRUAX was a fuss budget and martinet. It took an unbelievable length of time to get him settled at a small table with a policeman at his elbow ready to take down our statements in shorthand. On one corner of the table he placed something wrapped in a white handkerchief. I think all who sav.' it shuddered, knowing it must be the knife that had killed Reeves. When all was to his liking, he cleared his throat and eyed us sternly.
“I w'ill ask each one of you to explain his whereabouts from four o'clock on. Miss” he glanced down at a list he held—"Miss Stafford, will you begin, please.”
There had been no chance to talk to Peter. Now, however, glancing his way, I received a reassuring nod. It heartened me.
I told my story' in a voice that seemed strangely unlike my own. I had been swimming, had met Mr. Devaney, returned to the house, etc. As I told it, I was intensely critical of what I was saying. It seemed to me to be weak and full of holes. The palms of my hands were wet. For the first time, even more definitely than at the moment we found Reeves’ body, I realized that this was murder and that I was concerned in it.
Colonel Truax asked me a few questions and then let me go. Again he consulted the paper in his hand.
Nicholas Carver was very definite about w'hat he had been doing. He’d come h3wne from town at—oh. say, three o’clock. He’d looked around for something doing—what precisely he didn’t explain—and when he didn’t find it he went to sleep. Slept till a little before five and then went down to the lake for a sw'im. Sure, he’d seen Miss Stafford and Mr.—Mr. Devaney. Then they went up to the house and he had his sw'im. He didn’t know about the murder until a minute ago, when Miss Stafford told him. How’d that happen? Well, he hadn’t started his sw'im until late, and the water was warm so he’d stayed longer than he’d first intended. There was no harm in that, because dinner wasn’t until late on these warm nights—eight o’clock. “You were on friendly terms with the butler?”
Nicholas Carver became wary. What did he mean, friendly terms? You weren’t friendly w'ith a butler, w'ere you? So far as he knew, Reeves was all right in his place, w'hich was opening the front door. Stinking snob, but then most servants w'ere. Reeves was a perfect example of the wrorst type—one of these high and mighty, nose-in-the-air guys, all the time w'ith his “I believe so, sir” and—
“That will do,” Colonel Truax interrupted testily. “I asked you to account for your own movements, not for a dissertation on butlers.”
From his stand by the hearth, Francis O’Neill bowed. “You are an archaeologist, Mr. O’Neill?”
“Something of the sort.”
“But recently returned from—”
“Quite so. You are a guest in this house?”
“I seem to be a permanent resident. Mr. Gaunt was good enough to ask me to stay here until my book was written.”
“You had known Reeves, the butler, before coming here?”
“No.” Denial was instant, given with crisp, clipped intonation.
“You were living in this house, Mr. O’Neill, by your own statement. This would involve some contact with the servants. On what terms were you with the dead man?” “With Reeves?” Francis O’Neill wrinkled his forehead. “I—well, it’s hard to say. A butler is an impersonal sort of creature. He’s around and that’s about all. He seemed to be an excellent servant and entirely in Mr. Gaunt’s confidence.”
I AM making no attempt to write down all Colonel Truax’s questions. I could not if I wanted to because my memory would not serve me. The ones I remember are those which seemed to be the high lights and the ones that are still vividly impressed upon my mind.
When the inevitable question, “Where were you this afternoon?” was asked, Francis O’Neill shrugged a little.
“Really, colonel. I’m afraid you’ll find this rather unsatisfactory. I dictated to Miss Stafford until noon, and then went over to the Montfort Country Club for a foursome of golf. Griggs, the chauffeur, drove me over. I had lunch there. I played golf until—oh. say, a quarter past four, and then Mrs. Gaunt met me at the club house. We had a cocktail and came back here. I’m not sure w'hat the time was—Griggs might know. Mrs. Gaunt said she was going to lie down for a while. I had a whisky and soda—got it myself—and then came up to my room. I was there w'hen the maid screamed.”
“When you came into the house, did you see Reeves?” “No; come to think of it, I don’t believe we did.”
“Was that usual?”
“Well, not unusual. The maid. Doris, was in the hall. Reeves was more or less a law unto himself. It might have been the time he was upstairs talking to Miss Stafford and Mr. Devaney.”
Colonel Truax consulted his notes.
“You speak of mixing yourself a drink. Where was that?” “In the library'.”
The colonel put down his notebook.
“Did you ring for the butler when you went into the library, Mr. O’Neill?”
The question was asked so casually, with such little emphasis, that it had no importance at all, but it confirmed what the long delay had made me suspect that Colonel Truax had interviewed the servants before he came to us, and that Doris’ story of Reeves’ fruitless call to the library' had been told. I waited for O’Neill’s answer with a certain quickening of my breath. It came.
“No,” he said shortly.
“Thank you, Mr. O’Neill,” the colonel said smoothly. “Mr. Holgate.”
There was a little stir when Peter answered.
“Your name is—”
“Peter Devaney Holgate,” said Peter firmly.
“Your occupation is what, Mr. Holgate?”
“I am the head of the Holgate Agency. You might call me a private investigator.”
I was watching the others. At this information, Mrs. Carver looked shocked, Lisa Gaunt disgusted. Francis O’Neill—I wondered if the emotion that flickered for a second across his face could possibly be fear. The match with which he was lighting his pipe slipped through his
fingers. He bent to pick it up, and when he straightened again his face was impassive. Nicholas Carver looked triumphantly about with an I-knew-it-all-the-time expression. Gordon Curran’s face was sunk in shadow. John Gaunt’s hand hid all but his mouth, which emerged beneath it, patient, close-lipped, somehow unbelievably sad.
“You were hired by Mr. Gaunt?”
“Yes. Mr. Gaunt had reason to believe that his son was in danger and he wanted protection for him.”
“You are in the habit of going out on such cases, Mr. Holgate?”
“No. Ordinarily I should have detailed one of my men. Mr. Gaunt is a personal friend, however, and wished me to come.”
“You spoke of danger, Mr. Holgate. What did you mean?”
Peter spoke slowly.
“It is a little hard to explain. Kidnapping and ransom, perhaps. Perhaps something else. Threats can be rather vague as to their intent. There were a number of puzzling things.”
“You believe Mr. Gaunt had reason to fear for his son’s safety?”
“Mr. Holgate, how many people in this house knew that Devaney was not your name, and that you were not John Gaunt’s son’s tutor?”
“Three,” Peter said thoughtfully. “Mr. Gaunt, Griggs, the chauffeur, and the dead man. I also told Miss Stafford myself this afternoon, and I should guess that Mr. Carver suspected.”
There was a snort from Nicholas Carver.
“It was in connection with this danger to Bobby Gaunt that you talked to Reeves this afternoon?”
“I see.” Colonel Truax did not pursue this farther. “How did you spend the afternoon, Mr. Holgate?”
“I drove into Montfort and had lunch there. John Gaunt had taken Bobby to a circus in the next town, so I was free. I came back to the house, wrote a couple of letters, gave them to Reeves to post, and went down to the lake to find Miss Stafford. We sat on the raft for a while and talked. I told her that I had learned something I thought Reeves could explain, and asked her to come with me to see him. After we had dressed, we went to the house and asked Reeves to come upstairs to the nursery with us. He did. While we were talking, a bell rang and Reeves went to answer it. He did not come back. That was approximately five ten. We waited fifteen or twenty minutes and then went to look for him.”
“Mr. Holgate, during the time you were talking to Reeves, did you learn what you wanted to know?”
The room became tense. You got the effect of people leaning forward for an answer. Someone there w'anted terribly to know. I was afraid to look around for fear of what I’d see on some revealing face.
“I did not,” Peter said gravely, and the tension relaxed. I felt it go and I knew why. Someone there knew himself for being temporarily safe at least. It was not a nice thought.
I was so preoccupied with it that I did not hear the rest of the questions Colonel Truax asked Peter.
1ATER, I heard Gordon Curran saying unemotionally J that he had lunched at the Mills, played a round of golf at the club, and had driven to Treeholme about five minutes past five. He had not seen Reeves. No, that was not unusual. Treeholme was understaffed, in his opinion. Reeves was probably busy. He had left his car in front and gone directly to his room, where he thought he must have gone to sleep. He had been awakened by someone screaming. No, he knew of no reason why anyone should kill Reeves.
Colonel Truax, dismissing him, did not look pleased. Opposite me, Peter seemed sunk in thought.
According to my idea, this was time wasted. Mrs. Carver made me think of a laundress we had had at one time. She didn’t hear nothin’; she didn’t see nothin'; she didn’t know nothin’; and if she had, she didn’t intend to tell it. She was alternately terrified and stubborn, and altogether she made a most unsatisfactory witness.
I hadn’t expected much from Lisa Gaunt, and that was fortunate because I didn’t get anything. I think she completely baffled Colonel Truax. She sat there, silken and lovely, as impossible to catch and hold as water. When had she seen Reeves last? Really, that was hard to say. Probably when she was leaving for the club. Some time about half past three. She hadn’t seen him when she returned? No. she hadn’t. How was that? A shrug. It would be easily understood by anyone familiar with the customs of Treeholme. In her opinion. Reeves had made a most unsatisfactory butler. He had been spoiled. He was what was known as an “old retainer” and his length of service had given him an authority that virtually made him master, not servant. In effect, he owned Treeholme. “Isn’t that rather a strong statement, Mrs. Gaunt?”
“I do not think so.” Lisa Gaunt said calmly.
I listened to her strange dark voice, careless and emotionless, and I looked at John Gaunt, one fine hand held like a shield across his face, and I wondered how he could sit there so calmly, listening to statements that must be unbearably humiliating to him, the voiced criticisms of a wife before a group of strangers. My eyes went back to Lisa Gaunt. Her face was a beautiful and expressionless mask.
Colonel Truax tapped a dubious pencil upon the table. “But Reeves’ strong—er— handed notions were not a sufficient reason for murder, were they?”
Her answer must have astounded him.
“I should think so—yes. There were moments when I could have murdered him myself.”
The colonel coughed and shot a glance at John Gaunt, who had removed his protecting hand and was staring speculatively at his wife.
“I do not take you seriously, Mrs. Gaunt.”
“That,” said Lisa Gaunt, “is of course your privilege.”
For some reason, her words struck a chill into my very soul.
It was obvious that the colonel was shaken. He mentioned that Mr. O’Neill had said the maid, Doris, was in the hall. That was correct? Certainly. Had Mrs. Gaunt asked for Reeves, rung for him, anything like that? No. She had gone upstairs to her room, telling Doris to come with her. Mr. O’Neill had remained below, saying something about a drink. She had not seen him go into the library but she presumed he had—there was a whisky decanter there and it was the logical place to go if you wanted a drink. No, she had seen no one in the halls or elsewhere. She had sent Doris downstairs with a message to the cook suggesting -a change in the dinner menu because of the heat. Yes, there had been a second message. It was while Doris was on her way to deliver the second message that she saw Reeves’ body and screamed. The second message was to Mr. Devaney, asking him to bring Bobby into the library ten minutes before dinner would be announced. It had so happened that she had not seen the little boy during the day.
“Yes. Certainly. Thank you, Mrs. Gaunt.” The colonel shuffled his papers and said, “Mr. John Gaunt.”
THERE was nothing, so far as I could see. to be learned from John Gaunt’s testimony. He had taken his son to the circus in the next town, driving his own car. They had reached the lodge a few minutes before five o’clock. He had stopped because Olsen, the gardener, asked him to look at a gate that wasn’t working properly. When Olsen mentioned that Griggs had just taken Mrs. Gaunt and Mr. O’Neill to the house, he had telephoned to the garage and asked the chauffeur to come for the little boy, who was getting restless. He had remained at the lodge fifteen or twenty minutes. When he drove up to the house, Bobby was playing happily, so he spoke to Griggs and went on into the house. He heard Doris scream as he entered and he ran upstairs.
It seemed to me. all the way along, that there were a great many questions that were not being asked, questions that would have, to me at least, clarified a great many things. I looked at Peter for help. I think he sensed my dissatisfaction because he smiled and shook his head.
Colonel Truax had let John Gaunt go and was unwrapping the knife. He held it. still protected by the handkerchief, before us.
“Has anyone seen this knife before?” There was a short silence. Then Francis O’Neill spoke quietly.
“All of us. I should think.”
“This is your knife, Mr. O’Neill?”
“It was. It is one of two that I gave Mr. Gaunt when I first came to Treeholme.”
“What is it?” Colonel Truax asked,
regarding it distastefully. It was not pleasant to contemplate. It was long and slender, the spear-shaped point covered now with a dark and rusty stain.
“It is Old Empire Mayan taken from one of the excavations near Palenque. Centuries ago it was a sacrificial knife, used to cut the heart from living victims as they were held upon the altar.”
“It is metal?”
“Stone. The Mayans worked with but few metals. This knife is very ancient. Possibly it was used during the Christian year 1000 A.D. It may even antedate it.” Colonel Truax looked thoughtful, weighing the knife.
“I see,” he said. “Where was this knife kept, Mr. Gaunt?”
John Gaunt glanced up from the cigarette he was lighting.
“In a glass case in the gun room.” Colonel Truax’s eyebrows lifted.
“We call it that,” said John Gaunt looking annoyed. “Perhaps the name is an anomaly. Still there’s quite a pretty collection of weapons, guns, rifles, and so forth. I’ve done some big-game shooting. Then there’s older stuff—swords, sabres, claymores, dirks, daggers, and what not. All of it is labelled and classified. I had an expert out here to do the work.”
“You mentioned daggers?”
“There are a few. Italian mostly. Why?” “I simply wondered why the murderer chose this weapon if there were others convenient to his hand.”
“The explanation is very simple,” John Gaunt said with the shadow of a smile. “The daggers, as well as all the other sharp instruments, are chained to their positions. The chains are fine steel. It would be difficult to cut them loose.”
Colonel Truax gave him a sharp glance. “And the guns?”
“Are the same. It would require a key to free them from the racks unless the chain itself is broken. Furthermore, the gun room is locked at night.”
“But it would be possible for a person to secure a weapon—say, before the room was locked for the night?”
“Very difficult, I should say. As I explained before, each article is labelled and has its own place. Reeves checked them over each night before locking the room. If one had been missing—which never happened, by the way—he would have reported it to me at once. This mayall seem needlessly cautious to you,” John Gaunt said gravely, “but I have no fancy to leave weapons where anyone may pick them up and no one the wiser. If a dagger, for example, is gone, I want to know about it and take my own precautions.”
“This knife, however, was not chained. Why was that?”
“It had not occurred to me that it was a dangerous weapon,” John Gaunt said slowly. “I thought of it as a curio, not a weapon, as something old and useless except for the purpose for which it had been intended. It was kept in a case with some other articles—arrowheads, Indian pipes and the like.”
“You knew what its use had been?” “Yes. Mr. O’Neill told me its history at the time he gave it to me. We had been talking of weapons, and I was showing him the workmanship on some of my Florentine daggers. When he offered to give me these knives, I jumped at the chance of possessing them.”
“Was anyone else present at the time?" “I don’t think so. We were alone, weren’t we, Frank?”
“Yes,” Francis O’Neill said evenly. “We’d been playing billiards, and somehow or other we started talking about Damascene blades and their ability to cut nonresistant articles such as veils. Johnnyoffered to show me his collection of weapons, so we went there. The rest were playing bridge.”
“Have you told the story' of this knife to anyone since that night, Mr. O’Neill?”
O’NEILL shook his head with a rueful smile.
“You’ve got me there. I may have. Any
little thing is apt to start me off, and when I mount my hobby I ride it to death.” “H’mm.” The colonel seemed dissatisfied. “Is there anyone in this house, Mr, O’Neill, who is at all familiar with Mayan history?”
"No-o. I doubt it. Of course. I've been educating Miss Stafford a bit along those lines, and I’ve got a fairly comprehensive library with me that would be accessible to anyone.” He laughed a little. “It’s rather an acquired taste."
Opposite, Gordon Curran glanced impatiently at his wrist watch.
"Surely, colonel, interesting as all this may be, it’s a trifle beside the point, isn’t it? I should think a quicker way to get to the end of this tangle would be to question the servants. After all. Reeves was a butler. No doubt he had some friends, some enemies, and it’s hardly probable that they would be found among the people in this Why on earth should any of us murder Reeves?”
“That is precisely—what I intend -to find out —if possible,” the colonel rapped. “I shall conduct-this investigation in my own way, Mr. Curran.”
Gordon Curran shrugged. An uncomfortable little silence fell. Colonel Truax rewrapped the knife carefully.
"Mr. Gaunt,” he said without looking up, “presumably you are more familiar than anyone else with the contents of the gun room. Would you be kind enough to see if anything besides this knife is missing?”
John Gaunt departed. We waited. When he returned, there was a queer little smile on his face.
"Nothing missing. There is, however, one thing added. This." He placed on the table before Colonel Truax a revolver. The colonel viewed it with lively interest.
’Indeed! A knife taken and a revolver put in its place. Odd.”
“Not exactly in its place. The knife was in a case. The revolver had been hung on a peg on the opposite side of the room.” “Humph!” said the colonel. Gingerly he picked up the revolver. “Does this gun belong to er anyone here?”
"Yeah, it’s mine,” said Nicholas Carver behind me. “What of it?”
“So far as we are concerned at present, nothing." said the colonel suavely. “Mr. Gaunt?”
John Gaunt retrieved the gun and whirled it about one finger, his eyes upon his brother-in-law.
"What made you put it there. Nick?” "It’s a gun room, ain’t it?" Nicholas Carver asked truculently. "A gun room’s where you keep guns.”
1 saw Francis O’Neill’s shoulders move convulsively.
"Quite oh. quite." said John Gaunt. There was a laugh back of his eyes. "111 put it back, shall I?”
He went off with long swinging steps. Again there was a silence broken only by the rustle of the papers on Colonel Truax’s table and the taj>-tapping of Lisa Gaunt’s slipper. John Gaunt returned. Somewhere a clock struck the quarter hour.
“All right,” Colonel Truax said at last and shut his notelxx>k. "That is all. You will be notified of the time of the inquest." He beckoned to Peter. “Just a moment, Holgate.”
We were beginning to rise from our chairs when an interruption came from Lisa Gaunt. She stotxi up. gently shaking into place the creamy laces of her tea gown.
“If you could spare me a moment, colonel, there is something I want to show you. Some time during this afternoon, the safe in my bedroom was opened. My jewels are gone.”
SHE spoke casually, dreamily, but the effect was the same as if she had exploded a charge of dynamite in our faces. Peter stopped where he was, transfixed. Colonel Truax dropped his notebook. I saw Nicholas Carver’s mouth
open. John Gaunt took a step toward her.
"Lisa,” he said, “do you know what you’re saying?”
She scarcely glanced at him.
“But if the safe was opened and your jewels are gone ” He turned to
Colonel Truax and spread his hands helplessly.
'Hie colonel looked grave.
“Exactly. You should have told us of this before, Mrs. Gaunt. It might give an entirely different aspect to the murder of your butler.”
“You mean that Reeves may have been killed by whoever stole the jewels?” she asked, looking prettily puzzled.
Colonel Truax did not answer. He bent forward.
"Mrs. Gaunt, were those jewels valuable?”
"Were they real, do you mean? Of course.”
“What was their value? Approximately?”
“I am not sure," she said slowly. “Ten thousand dollars—what do you think, Johnny—perhaps twenty thousand?”
John Gaunt was leaning against the mantelpiece, his arms folded, his mouth grim.
“I could tell you better if I knew what you had in the safe,” he said dryly.
She studied him thoughtfully for a moment and then turned back to the colonel.
“There were a lot of small things,” she said. “Rings, pins, a diamond clip, some earrings and—oh, yes, your bracelet, Johnny, emeralds and diamonds. The safe’s small and I keep nothing of great value there. My pearls, everything else, are in the bank and are sent out by special messenger when I require them.”
"You take your loss calmly, madam,” the colonel said stiffly.
“Why not?” she asked with superb arrogance. “They are insured.”
Colonel Truax’s mouth twitched.
"I see. And when did you first discover your er loss?”
“When I went back to dress. After Doris screamed.”
“You mean that the robbery was committed while you were in the hall, drawn there by the maid’s scream?”
“Certainly not. I do not know when it was committed. I have no way of knowing.”
"Will you explain. Mrs. Gaunt?”
"Surely.” She reseated herself with deliberation. “The safe, so far as I know, may have been opened at any time after three o’clock. I was not at Treeholme this afternoon. It was almost five o’clock when I returned, and I went upstairs immediately.”
“You did not notice if the safe was opened at that time?"
“No. I have a suite of rooms, colonel —sleeping room, dressing room and bath. The safe is in my bedroom. When I came upstairs, I went directly to my dressing room. Doris drew my bath. I did not go into the bedroom until I returned after the discovery' of Reeves’ body. Mr. Holgate had ordered us to dress and be ready for questioning. Doris was useless. I had to manage by myself. It was then that I found the safe open and the jewels gone."
“How large is this safe. Mrs. Gaunt?"
“Very small.” said John Gaunt wearily. "There is another larger one in the library. This one is built into the wall at the head of my wife’s bed. A carved panel glides back when a spring is touched. The safe is oixmed by a combination."
“This combination is known to a number of people?”
“To myself. Mrs. Gaunt, and the maid, Doris."
“Mrs. Gaunt, was the safe opened by the combination or had it been forced open?"
Lisa Gaunt shrugged.
“The inner door was standing open. The panel was pushed back. If, by forcing,
you mean was anything hammered or damaged, no.”
"When you made this discovery, Mrs. Gaunt, did you call your maid?”
“Doris? No. She was having hysterics in the housekeeper’s room. Besides, Doris knew nothing of the safe being opened or she would have spoken to me while she was preparing my bath.”
“Then when you noticed that the safe was open, you simply looked to see if your jewels were there, finished dressing and came downstairs without mentioning the matter to anyone?”
“It was rather like that,” Lisa Gaunt agreed.
“You did not consider the matter important?”
“Only to the insurance company,” Lisa said sweetly.
“It did not occur to you that Reeves might have been killed by the person w'ho stole your jewels?”
DRANCIS O’NEILL cleared his throat.
“Colonel Truax, doesn’t it appear to you that it would be a rather singular burglar who would choose mid-afternoon as the time to rob a house, descend to the gun room for a weapon whose use could be suspected by few but those who knew its history, in order to stalk a man who was a complete stranger to him and, to stab that man in the back after everyone who lived in the house had returned?”
“The question, Mr. O’Neill,” said the colonel acidly, “is whether or not the butler i vas a stranger to him. You have mentioned nothing in the way of procedure that would appear to me to be the least out of the way to the sort of burglar I suspect.” “I see,” Francis O’Neill said slowly. He looked thoughtful.
Mrs. Carver’s voice broke the stillness sharply.
“What kind of a burglar does he mean?” she asked Nicholas Carver.
“Shut up!” he said filially. I thought he looked uneasy, as well he might. When you have just spent three years in prison for robbery and then the jewels disappear from the house in which you are living, you are entitled to feel squeamish during the ixffice investigation. For myself, I remembered the envious glitter in his eyes when John Gaunt gave Lisa the bracelet, and there was no doubt in my mind as to the identity of the burglar.
“I would like to see this safe,” said Colonel Truax heavily, gettingup. “Doubtless the insurance company will send a man down, but in the meantime -care to come along, Holgate?”
“Like to,” said Peter briefly. “You’ll test for fingerprints?”
“Yes. Casey.” He beckoned to an officer. “Follow us.”
“Oh, there aren’t any fingerprints,” Lisa Gaunt said calmly.
The colonel swung around on her savagely.
“There are no fingerprints, madam? How do you know?”
“Well, of course, I’m not positive,” Lisa said, “but that was the first thing I thought of. Smeary fingerprints, as they’d be in a detective story. So I looked before I dosed the safe.”
“Before you what?” Colonel Truax fairly shouted.
“Lisa!” This was John Gaunt, despairing.
“Certainly I closed it. There are some papers there that the burglar did not touch, and while they may not be so valuable. I prefer to keep them locked up.” “In a safe that’s been opened once.” her husband groaned.
“I confess I do not understand you, madam,” said Colonel Truax bitterly. “Do you realize that we have only your word that there has been a robbery'?” When Lisa Gaunt spoke, each word was ice-tipped.
“You imply that there was no burglar? That I robbed myself?”
“I imply nothing.” the colonel said, throwing up his hands. ‘That will be a
matter for the insurance company to determine.” He glared at her. “There is such a thing, Mrs. Gaunt, as interfering with the course of justice. If I thought for one moment that—”
“What you forget, colonel, is that I am a woman and uninformed as to your legal processes,” Lisa said serenely.
Peter, who had been standing quietly in the background, now said, “It will do no harm, however, to test for fingerprints.” “No harm,” said the colonel, “but certainly no good. We will find no fingerprints save those of Mrs. Gaunt. Of that I am positive.”
On that note, he stalked from the room, followed after a moment by John Gaunt and Peter and Casey. Lisa remained, leaning back in her chair and smiling her little secret smile.
The atmosphere of the room had become unbearable. I wanted to get some place where I could draw a deep breath. No one was looking at me. Some sort of an argument had arisen between Nicholas Carver and his mother, and under cover of its noise I slipped out.
TT WAS strange to come again into sunshine and warmth after the cool dimness of the h’all. Beyond the terrace where zinnias and salvias burned brilliantly in sunlit space, I glimpsed Bobby’s bright head. I went that way.
Here Bill Griggs, thumbs thrust into his belt and cigarette canted skyw-ard, still watched over his charge.
“Police through in there?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“Find out anything? I mean, did you find out anything?”
I tried to remember whether I had or not. I decided I hadn’t.
“Not a thing,” I said. “That is, unless Pete did. Or Colonel Truax. I can’t see how anyone could find out much.” “Everybody got an alibi?”
“If they have, they’re ones that can’t be proved. You see, everyone but Pete and me was in his room.”
“Says which?” Bill Griggs said scornfully. “Yeah, I know. Well, if it’s up to old funny face to prove they wasn’t, it’ll be a long time getting proved.”
“Of course there are the servants.” I said doubtfully. “We didn’t hear what they said, but somehow—”
“Naw,” Bill said, “there’s nothin’ there. Believe me, w-hen this is all untangled, it’ll be upstairs not down that holds the answer to this riddle. W’here’s Johnny?”
“With Colonel Truax. Oh, I forgot to tell you—we had a burglary too. Mrs. Gaunt’s jewels were stolen.”
“Uh-huh,” Bill agreed placidly. “She had too many anyhow-. She’d look just as good without any.”
“There was one funny thing,” I said slowly. I went on to tell him what Doris had said about Reeves being called to the library and what I thought it might mean.
“Let ’em test for fingerprints.” he said. “Say, listen, if you get a good chance you tell Johnny I sawthe Jap downtown this afternoon.”
“Wh-what?” I stammered.
“You heard me. He was standing near the Busy Beelooked to me as if he were watching for someone.” He waited a minute before he w-ent on mildly. “She went into the Busy Bee.”
“She—whom do you mean? Not Mrs. Gaunt?”
“Who’d you think? Yeah, and in about two seconds the Jap went in too.”
“Bill. I think you’re crazy,” I said. “Nev’ mind what you think about*me,” he said cheerfully.
“Yes, but—Lisa Gaunt! What would she want with him?”
“How’d I know? I’m just telling you what happened. Listen, I wish you’d get on to that Devaney guy, and tell him I’ve a flock of cars to wash before night and I want to get at ’em.”
“All right.” I said. I started off but came back to say. “You’d better tell Mr. Gaunt yourself. I mean about the Japanese."
Smoke blurred across his eyes. Behind it he seemed to laugh.
“Okay. Just as you like.”
I had plenty to think about as I made my way back to the house. Could it have been the Japanese who killed Reeves? Was there any way in which he could have returned to the house unseen and been trapped by Reeves? Had he been the burglar, the murderer, or both? Suppose he had stolen Lisa’s jewels and Reeves had caught him. That wouldn’t wash, as Peter said. Reeves had been stabbed in the back. Someone had sneaked up behind him to kill him. Reeves hadn’t known death was coming. He had simply gone down a hall and . . .
I was walking blindly straight ahead past the doorway and around the house, to where the terrace was bright with cushions and wicker furniture. Lisa Gaunt’s cigarette case, black enamel, with a diamonded monogram, lay on one of the tables. I picked it up. held it idly for a moment. My head was whirling. I wondered if a smoke would help. I pressed the spring that opened the case.
It was half full—thin cork-tipped cylinders each with its dashingly entwined L. G. I took one.
“May I give you a light?”
I was too edgy to bear unexpected voices behind me. I whirled, dropping the
Gordon Curran stood there, debonair and smiling.
“Sorry if I startled you,” he said.
“It’s quite all right,” I said. "It was only that—well, I’ve had a shock or two today.”
“I know. It’s been rotten for you. For us all. for that matter, but you’ve had the worst of it.” His thumb released the catch of the lighter and the flame flared. “Still want that smoke?”
“Please,” I said.
I never got the cigarette to my lips. Something in his glance stopped me.
“What is it?” I asked sharply.
He was staring down at the case at my feet.
“Lisa’s, isn’t it?” he asked softly.
To be Continued