Was There a Body?
A frightened girl, a deserted house, a vanishing corpse —and Kent Power tackles a many-sided mystery
PAPINEAU rang the doorbell, and then he and Kent Power hunched their raincoats against the drizzle that sloped down out of the hot July night. When no one answered, he continued to ring—and no one continued to answer.
“We shall look at the window, non?”
“Okay. I could do with Mr. Chamberlain’s umbrella tonight.”
As they moved along the front of the house they could see the lights of two other Back River mansions. The Harkness house lay embowered in tree and shrub about a hundred yards distant; another house stood a little farther on, but on the other side of the highway.
They went on to the third side window. The shutters were closed on the inside halfway up, but no light showed in the upper half. Yet barely thirty minutes ago Miss Claire Harkness, from her window next door, had seen through the lighted upjxT half of this window a figure stretched across a desk, sprawled across a desk—with a kx>k of death alx)ut it. She had not recognized the figure, she had seen it only an instant before the light went out, but she had felt that cold, damp intuition of death.
“Per'aps she ’as been seein’ t'ings," Papineau now suggested.
“Let’s try to get inside.”
The back door yielded to their combined efforts. After that a kitchen gave off the musty-fusty smell of a deserted interior. Which was as it should have been. J. Langthorne Grane and his wife were reputedly at Murray Bay. Papineau turned on a light, and they went on into a lower hall which had something of the same smell. The door of the room they sought stood slightly ajar. Papineau gave it a quick shove with his toe, at the same time reaching for the light switch.
They saw a room lined with books. Hundreds of books. In its centre stood a flat-topped mahogany desk and a swivel chair. If the story told them in the next house had worked out, there should have been a man lying sprawled across that desk. There wasn’t. The mahogany top was clear—absolutely clear.
“Rim!” Papineau gave his mustache a twist. “It is the fool's errand.” And half an hour later, when after a survey of the rest of the house they stood on the back steps, he said: “What you t’ink?”
Power stepped out into the drizzle again and around to the half-shuttered window. Gazing across lawn, across hedge, across another lawn set with trees, he surveyed the Harkness house. He could see the light in the girl's bedroom. “What time is it?” he asked.
“Ten after one.”
“I’m going over there again. I want you to stay here.” He gave a few terse directions and set off toward the hedge.
ELLERY HARKNESS, the girl's uncle, let him in. He was a squarish little man with small bright eyes and close-clipped, curly hair . . . and a breezy manner. But Power had discovered on his previous visit that the breeziness didn't belong; it was there because of some inner attempt on the part of its wearer to be something which nature had not quite ordained him to be—like the comedian who insists on playing Hamlet. And while it made him none the less lovable, it made him just the least pathetic.
His greeting now betrayed again the whimsical dichotomy. The “Come in! Come in!” was breezy, but it gave way to an uneasy concern w ith the next breath: “Did you find anything over there?” “No.”
“I’ve been wondering if you would. There was certainly no sign of life when I passed the house. I'm sure I'd have noticed it—despite the rain.”
They had reached the foot of the stairs. “I thought I’d like to talk to your niece again.” Power said.
“She’ll be relieved to hear your news. By Jove, you’re wet ! What about a little spot before you go up?”
Power thought that might be a gtxxi idea and was shown into a room beyond the staircase. It was a snug, bachelorish sort of room: the overstuffed chairs and slightly disarrayed furniture suggested that you could sit with your feet up and your hair down. There w as a huge radio on the other side of the fireplace over which very faintly a German voice was audible. This room also showed that strange cleft in its owner’s character. The magazines scattered about were of the lurid-covered adventure type, yet the books that lined the shelves on the nearest wall had other pretensions. A strange, disconnected assortment, these books. Power glanced at some of the titles, “The Deterioration of the Race,” “Will We All Be Morons?” “Down the Slojx* of Intelligence.” The sort of pseudo-science that catches credulous minds.
Harkness came back with a tray. “Here we are!” He poured two drinks and handed one to Power: “Happy
“I suppose,” Power said, “Miss Harkness could have imagined il. A person waking up suddenly and going to a w indow might have that sort of optical trick played on them.”
“Yes,” the other agreed. “It's too bad I wasn't at home
at the time. I could have gone over there and settled the matter myself. Saved you the trip out from Montreal at this time of night.”
“That’s all right,” Power said. “I’ll go up and see her now.”
“You know the way. You’ll find Mrs. Nyles with her.”
Power went upstairs. Mrs. Nyles stood at the foot of Claire Harkness’ bed like an eagle guarding its young. A tall, spare, dry woman she had a face like Dante’s—the same sort of brooding medieval profile, the same dark eyes and tight mouth—which softened only when she looked at the girl in the bed.
Who was enough to soften any mouth. When Power had first heard her name he thought of clair de lune. She was one of those lovely ash blondes with exciting hollows under the high cheekbones and eyes that suggested all the cool mystery of the night. Yet there was something tragic about her. But vaguely and elusively so. You felt she had suffered, yet it seemed incredible that so lovely a girl need have suffered.
She was sitting bolt upright in the bed now, her face taut with anxiety. “What was it?” she breathed—as though she were deadly afraid of, yet fascinated by, the possibilities in his answer.
“Nothing,” he said. “Absolutely nothing.”
“Oh! . . . Oh!” Relief flooded her eyes, brought the faint color to the lovely hollow of her cheeks. “I’m so glad!” And then contritely: “And so sorry that I’ve
brought you all the way out from Montreal for nothing. I must have imagined it. It only lasted a moment—just the merest instant—and then the light went out. But it was so real—so horribly vivid. I was so silly to faint.”
“There, there, dear!” Mrs. Nyles said soothingly, and then turned on Power fiercely. “Hasn’t she had enough for one night?”
Power went over to the window. He stood for a moment staring out through it. Then he said to the girl: “Would you mind coming over here?”
She came over and Power said, pointing with his finger, “Look !”
She drew in a sharp, quick breath. “Oh ! . . .Oh ! Then I did see it!” She was trembling like a leaf. She clutched at his arm. “Who is it? Please! Don’t torture me!”
“It’s only Sergeant Papineau, Miss Harkness,” he said gently. “But look again. Is that exactly what you saw?”
She had to force herself to it, and yet when she did look the sight seemed to mesmerize her. “Yes—yes—that’s exactly what I saw.”
“But you said you saw blood on the side of his face. You couldn’t have seen that, could you? It’s much too far.”
“Yes . . . it’s too far.”
Mrs. Nyles thrust herself between them. “This foolishness has gone far enough!” she declared fiercely. “Come, dear.” She led the girl back to bed.
Power said apologetically from beside the bed a moment later. “I just wanted to be sure that you could have seen someone over there.” And then he said, “Who did you think it was?”
The girl shook her head dazedly and said nothing. Mrs. Nyles said curtly, “If you don’t go at once I shall call her uncle!”
Power smiled at her in an odd twisted way. “Who do
you think it was?” he asked, and then turned on his heel.
At the foot of the stairs he said to Ellery Harkness, who was waiting there with his glass in his hand : “I don't think I’ll be troubling you any more, tonight.”
T.JE REJOINED Papineau in the other house. “It proved one thing. Pap,” he said, flinging himself into the swivel chair. “She could have seen what she said she saw.”
“And then there’s the odd fact that neither Mrs. Nyles nor Ellery Harkness was in the house when she saw it. And then there’s the equally odd fact that she thought the person she saw was someone she knew.”
“She has said who?” Papineau asked eagerly.
“No, she passed that question up. But it was someone she is emotionally attached to. As a matter of fact the distance is too great for her to have recognized anyone. She actually thought you were that person—whiskers and all!”
“It is very peculiar.”
“You bet it is! We’re going over this place again—with our eyes wide open. Let’s start with this desk.”
He ran a finger over its polished surface and looked at the tip. He went to the small table by the window and did the same thing. There was a difference: this time he got dust.
“Someone wiped that desk clean recently, Pap. Get me a cloth and a basin of water—and an empty bottle.”
When Papineau returned, Power wet the cloth in the water and wiped the top of the desk clean, rubbing every inch of its surface hard. Rinsing the cloth into the basin, he poured the resultant fluid into the pickle bottle Papineau had brought. When a policeman arrived, they left him in charge and returned to Montreal. In the laboratory at the back of his flat Power placed the washings in a series of test tubes and these in a centrifuge which, in the manner of centrifuges, caused all the gleanings to sink to the bottom. These deposits he sucked into a pipette, transferred to a glass slide and placed under the microscope.
But when he turned to the other man after a careful scrutiny of them, he had to confess crestfallenly: “There’s not a blood cell in a carload. There should be. Pap. Why was that desk wiped so clean if there wasn't bhxxl on it?”
“But if it is wiped clean, how can you expect to find the blood?”
“A few cells w'ould have clung. Blood’s sticky that way.”
“But perhaps there is blood somewhere else?”
“Then why didn’t we find it?” Suddenly he leaned forward. “The blotter! That desk should have had a blotting pad on it ! It could have caught the blood. Come on, let’s go!”
They went off into the night again, and this time Power led the way unerringly to the cellar of the Grane house. And there, stooping, he laid a hand against the furnace door.
“Warm !” he breathed.
Papineau felt too. "Sacré nom, vous avez raison! There ’as been a fire—the ’ouse is supposedly empty, and it is
a warm night! For sure there is somet’ing funny ’ere!”
Power swung the door open. They got a shovel and brought out dead but still warm ashes. In this debris presently they found a very small fragment of partly charred, tooled leather. “This.” Power declared, holding it out triumphantly, “is the corner of a blotting pad—or I’m a pound of fried fish!”
They went back to Montreal again. Power placed the bit of leather in solution and washed from it part of a brownish stain. What he saw of this solution under the microscope caused him to frown and mutter: “If that stain was blood the heat has so broken up the blood corpuscles that they’re unrecognizable . . .” But suddenly he said, “Wait a minute!”
He went into the closet and came back with a little vulcanite apparatus that had an eyepiece attached to it.
“Qu’est-ce?” Papineau wanted to know.
“Spectroscope. If that debris contains hemoglobin set free from destroyed blood cells, it will show the characteristic spectrum.” Presently, he held the apparatus out to the other man. “Take a dekko! Notice those two vertical dark bands close together?”
Staring through the eyepiece, Papineau declared that indeed he did see two vertical bands close together.
“Then we can be sure that somebody’s blood at some time has fallen on that bit of leather.”
Papineau laid the spectroscope on the bench. “So she ’as been right, then, the beautiful mademoiselle!”
“But where is the body? We must ’ave the body.”
Power sat down and stared at the microscope in front of him.
“It had to be disposed of in a hurry. It was between halfpast eleven and twenty-five to twelve that the girl saw it through her window. She phoned you at once, and we got here shortly after twelve. During that time not only had the body to be disposed of, but the blotting pad had to be thrown into the furnace with enough loose paper to bum it fairly completely. Let’s say about twenty minutes. It seems to point just one w-ay to me.”
“The Back River. It runs directly behind both houses. Better get your grappling crew out there at once.”
Papineau reached for the telephone and put the order through. Before he could lay the receiver down. Power took it from him and put a call through to Murray Bay. It was quite a w hile before J. Langthorne Crane’s voice came over
the wire. Power did not tell him outright that murder had been done in his house. He merely said that someone had been seen in the house and that Mr. Grane had better return immediately to Montreal.
“But couldn’t you get in touch with my son, Jerry, and have him attend to the matter?” exclaimed the distant voice. “He lives at the Harcourt Apartments on Sherbrooke Street.” “I’ll certainly get in touch with him. Mr. Grane,” Power replied, “but I must insist that you return to Montreal yourself.”
He dialled the Harcourt Apartments. The girl at the desk informed him that Mr. Grane hadn't come in yet. He had gone out shortly before eleven but he— “I'll be right over!” Power said and, banging down the receiver, said to Papineau: “‘Once more into the
breach, dear friends!’ ”
MISS Joyce Parent, the girl at the sw-itchboard of the Harcourt Apartments, belonged to the trickier type of that vast txxiy of femininity you see issuing from office buildings around five o’clock of an afternoon. The sight of her caused Sergeant Papineau to adopt his Laughing Cavalierish manner, and lean confidentially over her desk.
‘‘Bo’ soir, mademoiselle. We are interested in M’sieu Jerry Grane tonight.” “What's ne been up to this time?” Miss Parent wanted to know. The knowing look in her eyes suggested that he might be up to anything.
“He is that type, eh?” Papineau exclaimed with a chuckle.
"You said it!” And then—as though to speak in all fairness: “Mind you, I like Mr. Jerry, but he certainly steps on it.”
"Beaucoup speed, eh?”
“You know how it is with that dark Tyrone Power kind—us women spoil ’em. That's not good for a man, is it?” She cocked a mischievous eye up at Power.
“How should I know?” he said with a grin. “Tell us about his movements tonight.”
She gave the bunch of dark curls at the back of her head a gentle push with one hand. “He came in about nine-thirty. Two people called him on the phone—” “Male or female?”
“Male—and he went out like I told you over the phone. I thought he looked kind of upset. Someone came for him with a car—”
“Who?” Papineau interrupted quickly. “I don’t know. Just as he went out I had to leave the desk to take a parcel to the elevator. I saw him get into a car that was waiting at the foot of the steps.” “What kind of a car?” Power asked. “Oneof those light-colored little coupés.” Outside on Sherbrooke Street they halted under a lamp and looked at one another. “It begins to glimmer t’rough the mist—non?" Papineau exclaimed.
Power put his back against the post. “I keep thinking of Claire Harkness. Pap. She was mighty relieved when I told her we’d found nothing in that other house. And then, when I pointed you out to her. she got almost into a panic again. I got the impression of someone stirred to their emotional depths—as though the picture she saw through that window involved someone to whom she was deeply attached. Shall we say it was Jerry Grane?”
“You mean she is in love wit’ him?” “Yes. Perhaps she thought it was Jerry she saw. On the other hand she might have thought—’’
“That it is someone he ’as murdered!” “That’s about it. Better get your boys out looking for him.”
“I do that—immédiatement."
“And try to find out if anyone saw that light-colored coupé outside the Grane house last night.”
“And so to bed !”
POWER was having breakfast the next morning when the phone rang. It was Sergeant Papineau—and would he come to the Back River as soon as he could. In something less than half an hour later he was walking down the slope behind the Grane house to the river. In the boathouse four men stood around something that lay dripping on the floor. It was the figure of a tall, slim young man who was unquestionably of the “dark Tyrone Power type.”
There was a nasty wound on the back of the head—some blood on the forehead— but even that could not rob him of a dark, masculine beauty: perhaps Absalom with longer hair had looked like this.
The four men standing around were Sergeant Papineau, Dr. Morin, the coroner; J. Langthorne Grane, and his neighbor from across the highway, R. B. Layton —a tall, dryish horse-faced man in flannel trousers and tweed coat. Grane looked genuinely broken up. He was a short man with a stomach and that arrogance toward circumstances which comes so naturally to those who have inherited money. But here was something about which he could not be arrogant. However wayward, Jerry bad been his only child, and this was a sordid business altogether.
“I hope,” he said to Power, “you'll be able to unravel this ghastly business.” Papineau said, pointing to the river: “We found ’im out there—as you suspect. Wit’ this tied to ’is feet.”
“This” was a heavy iron weight that had been used as an anchor for the small rowboat on the bank beside the jetty.
Grane said to his friend Layton: “I
must let Tom Porteous know.” He set off up the slope, a bowed, rather pitiful figure.
Layton turned to Papineau: “After
you were at my place this morning I talked to my gardener. He came past here about ten to twelve last night. He says there was a car parked in the driveway.”
Power swung on him sharply: “What kind of a car?"
“A light-colored one. He didn’t get a very good look at it. he says.”
Papineau breathed. “It is the same!” Power said to Layton: “We'll talk to your gardener later. Do you know anything about the relationship between this house and the one next door?” He jerked a thumb toward the Harkness place.
“If you’re referring to the engagement between Jerry and Claire—”
“Engagement!” Power exclaimed, while Papineau’s rotund body tensed.
“They were going to be married next month. We were all very pleased. Claire’s a very fine girl, and the families have been friends for years. You met Ellery Harkness last night, didn’t you?”
“One of my oldest friends. A bit of a faddist—gets carried away with all kinds of fool ideas. But the salt of the earth. He’ll feel mighty badly about this.”
Power found J. Langthorne Grane at the phone in the hall, heard him say: “Yes— yes, I realize that, Tom. I’ll go into the whole matter with you in a day or two. At present I have enough on my mind.” The dead boy’s father put the receiver down and stared blankly in front of him, didn’t seem to realize Power was there. Power said, “There are one or two things we ought to know, Mr. Grane. About your son.”
Grane shook himself back to reality. "Yes, of course. Come in here.” He led the way into the dining room. When Power refused a drink he poured himself a stiff one and sat down by the table. He began to talk about the boy at once. It seemed to relieve him to do that.
For a man of his type he spoke with unexpected frankness and sincerity. Either death had done that for him or he was, under his arrogance, a sensitive and affectionate man. I íe spoke of the boy’s earlier years, how they had hoped so much of him and yet spoiled him.
“He had a way of doing the daring thing, of living dangerously. I have never lived dangerously, and it was something I secretly admired in him—something I surreptitiously catered to. When he was thrown out of school for painting an effigy of his headmaster on the front of the chapel pulpit, I laughed. When he was thrown out of Oxford for heaving a scout into a fountain, I found that amusing too. But some of his later exploits were not so amusing.”
“Who,” Power asked, “is Tom Porteous?”
“His business partner—stockbroker. I thought association with a man like Tom would steady Jerry down. I think it did. Then when he got engaged to Claire I Harkness I felt certain he had left his past definitely behind him. But it caught up with him again.” Suddenly, he faced Power shorn of all affectation. “I’m responsible for his death. Power. I realize it in my very marrow. As responsible as if I’d struck that blow myself.”
“You don’t know who did strike the blow?”
The stricken man shook his head.
POWER left him and went over to the Harkness place. This time a servant admitted him. He found Ellery Harkness in the den beyond the staircase.
“Hello!” the latter exclaimed in his breezy way. “You back again?”
“Somebody saw a car in the Grane driveway last night.”
“The deuce you say!”
“You passed the house twice. Funny you didn’t see it.”
“It certainly is.”
“They found Jerry Crane’s body in the river this morning.”
It shook Ellery Harkness to the last fibre of his rolypoly frame. It took all the laughing joviality out of him. “Great I Scott!” he gasped. “You can’t mean i that!”
i “I certainly do.”
I larkness gave himself a shake. “It puts a totally different complexion on things.” “Then you did see a car in the Grane driveway?”
The other man looked him straight in the eye. “Yes, Power, I did,” he said simply. “On my way up the road. It wasn’t there when I returned.”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“Because I thought that Jerry had driven out in that car. I was afraid.”
“That he was up to something.” lie took a step forward and said contritely, “I know I was foolish, Power, but look at it this way. The boy was engaged to my niece. I felt it my duty to—”
“Protect him from the law.”
“That’s one of the reasons we have criminals—because people like you try to protect them,” Power said curtly, and swung on his heel.
And then, presently, with Sergeant j Papineau he stepped into R. B. Layton’s greenhouse across the highway. Here they I found a big, rawboned man with a heavy , grey mustache. This was the gardener, Henry Calkins.
“You saw a light-colored car parked in the Grane driveway last night,” Power said.
“Yeah.” The gardener wore a habitually blank look in his faded grey eyes, as though ' there were blinkers in front of his soul. “Was it a coupé?”
“Dunno. Only saw her stern. She was j standin’ quite fur in the driveway. Been a burglary over to the Granes’?”
“We don’t know yet. Did you see anybody in the car?”
“Was there a light in the house anywhere?”
“Didn’t see none.”
“And that’s all you can tell us?”
They left Henry Calkins chewing imperturbably at his cud. “Communicative gent, isn’t he?” Power said.
“He does not seem to like people. He disapproves.”
As they moved along the highway toI ward the Grane house, Power said: “I had ! a talk with Ellery Harkness this morning. He lied about it at first, but finally agreed that he’d also seen the car.”
“Sacré nom, he ’as—”
“He thought Jerry Grane was inside performing some devilment—and kept mum to cover him up. Noblesse oblige." Power grinned, and then said, “I’m going in to see what Tom Porteous can tell me.” What he had intended to get from Porteous was light on the Saturday night life of Jerry Grane. Instead, when he stepped into the broker’s inner office, he said point-blank: “What were you doing with Jerry Grane on the Back River last night?” Porteous belonged to the still-watersrun-deep type. Altogether apart from his square shoulders and square chin and straight grey eyes, he impressed you as a young man who was going places, but wouldn’t say where.
Power’s question undoubtedly jarred him. There was a sudden tightening about the strong mouth, a guardedness in the taut eyes—even a slight pallor under the well-tanned skin.
“Who says I was there with him?”
“And you never make mistakes?”
“We all make ’em, Porteous, but don’t let’s make too many. You called for Jerry at his flat last night and drove him out to his father’s place on the Back River. You know that we found his body in the river this morning. What do you know about it?”
! Porteous looked him straight in the eyes.
“I don’t know anything about it,” he said I firmly.
"You have a light brown coupé parked outside your office?"
“There are probably a hundred of the same color in Montreal, but I'm willing to gamble it was the one that was seen parked in the driveway of the Grane place between eleven and twelve last night.”
“I know absolutely nothing about Jerry Grane’s death,” the other repeated doggedly.
“Then perhaps you know something about his past?”
“Yes.” Porteous agreed after a moment’s consideration, “I know something about that.”
“Such as what?”
Again the broker hesitated. When he did speak, it was with some bitterness. “He was a rotter!”
“I hadn’t gathered that. My information is that he was just a gay blade given to living dangerously.”
“I dare say. People forgave him because he liad charm, because he was a Grane, but he was a rotter just the same. He not only broke hearts, he was callous about it. I know two girls who could give you chapter and verse: I saw them off at the train when they left Montreal. There'd have been another if he’d lived.”
Porteous started, and the dark color flooded his face. “Yes,” he said gruffly.
Could it be, Power asked himself, that Porteous also loved the girl, had been jealous of the dead man? He rose from his chair. “You won’t tell me why you drove him to Back River last night?”
“I’ve nothing more to say,” Porteous replied through grim lips.
Once again Power drove out to the Back River, but he didn’t stop at the Grane house. He pulled up a moment later in the Layton driveway. Layton had been sitting on the terrace and came down to meet him. Power said, “Do you mind if I take Henry Calkins away for an hour? I think I’ve found the car he saw last night, and he may be able to identify it definitely.” ’
“That’s quite all right,” declared the other man, and then, his long, rather horselike face lengthening, he said earnestly, “I feel terribly sorry for Langthorne Grane, Power. You know, of course, about Mrs. Grane?”
“No,” Power exclaimed with sudden interest.
“She had a bad mental breakdown two years ago. In fact, she only returned from the sanitarium this spring.”
“You mean,” Power cut in sharply, “she was insane?”
“Yes—and I’m afraid this will send her off again. I’ve been sitting here all afternoon wondering how the news could be kept from her. There's Calkins now, over by the pool.”
Power walked slowly across the lawn, his head down. What twisted threads there were in this skein, and what a warp of tragedy they were making!
HE INVITED Calkins to accompany him into Montreal. On the way into the city, between moments in which his mind recurred to those two houses on the Back River and their strange destinies, he made one or two attempts to engage the gardener in conversation. They proved abortive. Whatever he was with flowers, Calkins was no talker. He made only one voluntary remark on the trip in. They were moving along the Cote des Neiges Road when he said, pointing to some rather sad-looking trees that lined the way: “They oughta do something about that tussock moth.”
Power pulled into the curb directly behind Tom Porteous’ car, and pointing at it, said, “Is that the one you saw last night?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Calkins replied. “How do you know?”
“Bumper’s got a slant.”
It was true, the rear bumper had a slant downward on the left. “I’ll be right back,” Power said, stepping out. And once again
he entered Tom Porteous’ private office. “I’ve just had your car definitely identified as the one that was seen outside the Grane house last night.” Power told him. “It looks very much as if we’ll have to arrest you for murder.”
Porteous got slowly to his feet, his face working oddly. “I didn’t kill him!” “Then.” Power said grimly, “you’d better tell me what you were doing at Back River last night.”
Porteous dropped into his chair again; he looked very upset. “I drove him out there.”
“And then what?”
The other man stared for a moment at the pencil in his hand. And then, looking up at Power, he said stubbornly: “You might as well know the whole story. He had used some of the firm’s funds for a private gamble and lost. I didn't discover it until last night, and when I threatened to put the whole thing up to his father, he told me about some bonds that his mother had signed over to him which were in the safe of the house at Back River. It sounded fishy, but he finally persuaded me they were his. so I agreed to drive him out. I stayed in the car while he went into the house. When he didn’t return after half an hour, I decided to go inside and see what was keeping him. He was lying across the library table—dead.”
“And you took to your heels?”
Porteous gave him a destrate look. “I realize now I was a fool, but put yourself in my place. We’d quarrelled, we’d both been in love with the same girl—”
“So you are in love with Claire Harkness, too?”
“I drove him out there, and he was killed,” the other went on without denying or affirming Power’s question. “I was innocent, but I knew there was no way to prove it. So I decamped.”
“And all the time you were out in the car you neither saw nor heard anything that strikes you now as suspicious?” “Not a thing. He went in by the front door and left it unlatched. But from where I had the car parked I couldn’t see the front of the house.”
Power looked down at him grimly. “I hope you’re telling the truth this time,” he said. “But make no mistake we’ll soon find out.”
On the drive back, Henry Calkins ventured his second voluntary remark that day. “Think you’re gonna find out who murdered that young fella?”
“You never know,” Power replied. “Queer, ain’t it? He was probably catchin’ it when I passed the house.” “What time did you pass the house?” “Mr. Layton says it was ten to twelve I come in the gate. I don’t carry a watch meself.”
Power glanced at the blank face beside him, and suddenly its expression seemed too blank, as though to the habitual something studied had been added. Was it possible that Calkins knew more about this crime than he was saying? Power dismissed the thought as ridiculous, yet it kept clinging to the fringes of consciousness like a burr.
When he returned to the Grane house, Papineau had something to show him, and led the way to the lilac hedge between the two properties. There, in the moist ground beneath a sort of gap, Papineau pointed to a single heel mark.
“You will notice, please, that it is made by someone going from ’ere to the Harkness house. You will notice also it is the heel mark of a lady’s shoe.”
“Well, well!” Power exclaimed, turning to the other man. “Better send for some plaster of Paris and make a model of it. I’m going through the hedge.”
T_J ALFW’AY across the lawn he saw the 4 girl sitting in a deck chair under a young elm on the slope leading to the river. It caused him to change his direction. She had a book in her hands, but she was not reading. She was staring down at the river with dry. tragic eyes.
He sat down on the grass beside her and stared also at the river. For the moment he said nothing. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that a pale hand had clenched itself on her lap. He took hold of it and pressed the fingers slowly back until they relaxed. Then, still clinging to it, he said sombrely: “There was a girl once. We had gone on a picnic to Ste. Agathe. 1 was sitting in the car waiting for her. She had gone back into the woods to get her coat. I tooted on the horn, not because there was any hurry, but because I wanted her to know I was still in the world and would always be waiting imperiously. She came running. There was a beauty in her movement that tore at your heart. Neither she nor I saw the big truck until it was too late.”
She turned to the sombre profile. Two tears welled slowly in her eyes and flowed down her cheeks—tears that suddenly eased a horrible tension in her breast. For she saw that he had lifted this lid from his own tragedy to build a bridge of sympathy over the abyss of her grief. She opened her mouth to thank him but, realizing suddenly the utter futility of words to convey her gratitude, she raised his hand to her lips and then let it drop again.
He said, his eyes still on the river, “Do you remember the exact time you went to the window last night?”
Yes, she remembered. Half past eleven.
“You’re quite sure of that?”
She had seen it in the luminous dial of her bedside clock as she got out of bed.
“Now I’m going to ask something you won’t want to do. I want the shoes Mrs. Nyles was wearing last night.”
It broke the thread between them. She drew her hand away from his clasp, stared at him with eyes in which suspicion grew steadily harder. “She had nothing to do with—”
He was staring at her fixedly. “I’m asking you to take me on trust, Miss Harkness. Don’t question me. Just do what
She continued to eye him uncertainly. “I don’t know what you’re—”
“If you don’t get them I’ll have to.”
There was something in his eyes she dared not fight against. But as he watched the lovely figure move up the slope toward the house, Power felt a surge of pity that was like a pain. If what Tom Porteous had said about the dead boy was true, she had been saved the horror of disillusionment. But how was she ever to know that?
She came back presently with the shoes in her hand. “I feel terrible about this, Mr. Power,” she declared. “Martha has been like a mother—”
"Look here,” he said firmly, yet not unkindly, as he took them from her, "there’s something you should be told, Miss Harkness. I saw it last night the moment I entered your bedroom. Mrs. Nyles has been a crutch under your soul, and it’s time you walked spiritually on your own. She has wrapped you in cotton wool—please, let me finish ! She has made you, emotionally speaking, a hothouse plant. Get out into the wind and sun of life, and don’t come back to Mrs. Nyles or your uncle until you can stand on your own two feet.” With which amazing homily he turned on his heel and left her.
Mrs. Nyles’ heel fit the impression under the lilacs so justly, so implicitly that only Mrs. Nyles could have trodden there. Power said to Papineau: “Go across and bring her over. I'll be waiting in the library. And don’t take any nonsense from her.”
Entering the back door of the Grane house, he went to the telephone in the hall. As he dialled a number he heard voices in the drawing-room: Ellery Harkness and Layton were doing their neighborly duty by the stricken father. He told Tom Porteous to get into his car and come to Back River as quickly as he could. After that he rang up the Layton house and told them to send Henry Calkins over. Then he went into the library.
A quarter of an hour later Papineau ushered in Mrs. Nyles. She looked more like an angry eagle than ever.
“We have just fitted one of the shoes you were wearing into a print under the lilac hedge,” he said, eyeing her coldly. ‘‘It fits closely enough to convince any jury that you were over here last night. What we want to know is what you were doing over here.”
She made no attempt at denial. “I came for a walk,” she said curtly. “I often come over here when the Granes are away.”
“It was a poor night for a walk. Must have been pretty drippy under that hedge.”
“I came before the rain started.”
“Oh, no, you didn’t! That heel mark could only have been made in wet ground. I suggest that you were over here at half past eleven. That’s why you were so long getting to Miss Harkness when she screamed. I suppose you heard her through her open window' and hurried back—when you w'ere through w hat you were up to. What were you up to? You’d better be frank with us. It pays in the long run.”
She looked at him hard for a moment, and then muttered, “I’ve told you what I was doing. If I want to walk in the rain it’s my business.”
“You didn’t like Jerry Grane, did you? Apart from all other considerations. Miss Harkness’ marriage to him would have marked the end of your domination over her. I suggest that you saw him enter this house last night and came over hoping to meet him. You came to try to persuade him to give Miss Harkness up. What happened?”
But this time she clamped her mouth firmly shut, glared at him like a great bird at bay.
J. Langthome Grane came to the door looking old and haggard. “Did you send for Calkins? He’s at the door.”
“Bring him in,” Power said. “Bring everybody in.”
And then there was the whine of rubber on asphalt as a car turned off the highway. Tom Porteous, his square-cut face dogged and uneasy, entered the room with Calkins, J. Langthorne Grane and his two old friends. They made a strangely assorted group as they stood finally across the table from Power. The dauntless old eagle, Mrs. Nyles; the moldery, whiskered gardener with his blank, expressionless face, the grim young broker, and the three elderly men, themselves so various.
POWER addressed them with some impatience. “It’s a peculiar phenomenon,” he declared, “that no less than four people were in the vicinity of this house last night, and yet none of them seems to have seen one of the others. It either constitutes an amazing coincidence, or somebody isn’t telling all he knows.” His eye went slowly about the circle as if inviting them to speak. Nobody did. He fixed his glance finally on Tom Porteous. “What time did you arrive here with Jerry?”
Porteous looked pretty dogged, like a man with his back to the wall. He wet his dry lips and replied: “About five past
“How sure can you be of that?”
“I looked at my watch a minute or two after he went in the house.”
Power turned to the old gardener. “You passed the house at about ten minutes to twelve, didn’t you, Calkins?”
“I guess so. Mr. Layton kin tell ya exact.”
“That’s right,” Layton agreed. “I had looked at my watch and decided to go to r>ed just before he stepped through the gate.”
Power turned to the angry eagle. “I’m suggesting, Mrs. Nyles, that you looked through that window”—he pointed across the room—“at approximately half past eleven. Is that right?”
Perhaps she realized that the time for silence had passed, for she said without further ado, “Yes.”
“You could see through the slits in the shutter. You saw the body—and you saw someone with it.”
She stared at him for a moment, and then shook her head. “No.” she replied,
“I just saw the body.” But she also had to wet her lips with her tongue, and her glance was uneasy.
“I think you did see someone else, Mrs. Nyles. I believe, furthermore, that when the time comes you’ll swear to it in court.” Power turned to Porteous. “You arrived here with Jerry at five past eleven. You told me this morning that after waiting half an hour you came in to see what had happened and found him dead. Did you look at your watch before you came in?” “Yes.”
“What time was it?”
“Just short of half past.”
“How long were you in here?”
“Not more than a minute.”
“You just looked at the body and took to your heels.”
“It’s rather a pity you didn’t have the moral courage to stand your ground, Porteous. The murderer must have been in the house at the time. He probably heard you coming, and hid. When you left, it gave him the opportunity to carry the body to the river, dispose of it, and then return to burn the blotter with its telltale bloodstains.”
Power turned slowly on the old gardener. “Did you ever hear of Time, the thief, Calkins?”
Whatever the big rawboned man might have thought of that question his only reply to it was “Huh?” and the blank expression never left his face.
“Time has rather busted your story. You say you saw Mr. Porteous’ car in the driveway on your way home last night. Mr. Porteous left here about half past eleven, or a minute or two later. You got home at ten to twelve. Did it take you twenty minutes to walk a hundred yards?” “Naw,” Henry Calkins said, the least belligerently, “it didn’t.”
“Then you still insist that you saw the car, which Mr. Porteous says he drove aw'ay in at about half past eleven, at approximately ten to twelve?”
“Shore, I do! My story’s as good as his’n.”
“Just a minute now.” Power turned to Ellery Harkness. “Didn’t you tell me that you got home last night at about ten to twelve, Mr. Harkness?”
“That’s what the big clock said in the hall as I came in,” Harkness replied in his brisk, breezy way.
“You didn’t see the car?”
The question seemed to cause Harkness some discomfort; he glanced at Henry Calkins with all the regret of one man who must give another the lie.
“I’m afraid I didn’t,” he exclaimed, almost apologetically. “Not on my way home.”
“You couldn’t have missed it? There was quite a drizzle, wasn’t there?”
Harkness shook his head. “I remember distinctly glancing in at the house.” Power dabbed at the table with the eraser end of his pencil, and a tense silence hovered over the room. Then, looking up again, he said: “I think you must realize by this time, Mr. Harkness, that there’s no longer any use in trying to shield anyone. You passed this house on your way home at about ten to twelve. Calkins says he passed this house at about the same time. You saw him, didn’t you?”
Once again the ruddy, jovial face was shadowed with regret. “Yes,” he confessed, and then as though to mitigate it: “At least I saw someone enter the Layton gate. I couldn’t swear that it was Calkins.” “Where were you at the time?”
“I was coming along the road behind him.”
“Did you see him come out of this house, or its grounds?”
Ellery Harkness shook his head, seemed glad he could make at least this denial. “I just caught sight of a figure turning in at Layton's gate. I hadn’t seen it before.” Power turned to the gardener. “What have you to say to that, Calkins? How do you account for those twenty lost minutes?”
There was a dogged look in the blank eyes now. Henry Calkins seemed fighting desperately against fear. “I didn’t lose no twenty minutes. I tell ya, I walked straight past this house—and that’s the truth.”
J. Langthome Grane interposed. “Surely you’re not trying to pin this ghastly thing on Calkins, Power! Why should he have wanted to kill Jerry?”
“It’s incredible !” R. B. Layton broke in. “I’ve known Calkins for years. He wouldn’t harm a fly !”
“I quite agree!” exclaimed Ellery Harkness.
Power turned to Tom Porteous. “You told me this morning that you saw two young women off on the train—two young women whose hearts Jerry Grane had broken. Would you mind giving us their names?”
A look of blank incredulity shot into the broker’s eyes. “Great Scott!” he gasped. “Vera Calkin !”
“Calkin, eh? That’s only an ‘s’ short of Calkins.” He swung on the gardener. “Have you a daughter, Vera?”
“Yeah!” Calkins looked both mystified and angry—angry in the way one gets who finds himself fighting a foe he cannot see. “But I don’t know nothin’ about her and young Mr. Jerry, an’ I never did. Ef you think I killed him, yore crazy!”
There was something in the gaunt man’s bearing, something indomitable in the tone of his voice that carried the sound of truth. Power got to his feet. He walked over to the window and stared out. He came back and stared for a moment at the earnest, horselike face of R. B. Layton. And then, suddenly, glancing at his wrist, he snapped, “What time is it now?”
Layton looked at his watch. “Ten past four.”
Power swung on the dead boy’s father. “What time have you?”
Mr. Grane had seven minutes to four! “So have I !” Power cried, and turned with glittering eyes on Layton. “Your watch is fast. You really saw Calkins come in the gate shortly after half past eleven ! Calkins may have seen the car in the driveway!”
Power turned to Ellery Harkness. “You didn’t see Calkins enter the gate, did you? You said you did because you wanted your own story to hang together. You couldn’t have seen him, because when he did enter the gate you were beginning to dispose of the body of the boy you had murdered. You killed Jerry Grane, didn’t you?”
The wide-eyed circle stared at Ellery Harkness. The dead boy’s father gasped, “It can’t be true!” He turned to Power.
ig “Why Jerry was to have married his niece io next month.” d “That’s why he killed him, Mr. Grane.” íe “What!”
“We all have our little quirk, Mr. y Grane, some odd twist of the mind.” ig Power turned to Ellery Harkness. “You’ve re had several quirks, Harkness, but your present one is mental ill-health. You’ve i. been reading a lot of pseudo-scientific e literature to the effect that the race is deteriorating because people who have
mental ill-health, or might inherit it,
marry and pass it on. When your niece u and Jerry Grane fell in love, you found o yourself in a dilemma. Jerry’s mother had g suffered a mental breakdown, but d because his father was one of your ir closest friends you hadn’t the nerve to for-
bid the marriage. It began to prey on your o mind. You love your niece; you couldn’t e bear the thought of her having mentally defective children. You saw Jerry enter if this house last night. You followed him in. Perhaps you tried to dissuade him from the marriage and he refused. In any case 3 you killed him—and for the reason I’ve s stated.”
t Power swung on Mrs. Nyles, who stood x there swaying like a ghost. “It was Ellery ;f Harkness you saw in this room last night, wasn’t it?” he said.
s When she did nothing but stare at him e blankly, he came around the table and ,f stood in front of her. “Wasn’t it? Speak j up, woman!”
e And then suddenly, the struggle that e had been going on between those two peri. sonalities within Ellery Harkness gave victory to one. “You don’t have to torture her any more, Power,” he said gently. “I t killed the boy.”
ON THE way into Montreal half an hour later, Papineau exclaimed, “Sacré ! nom, I feel as if I ’ave come t’rough the i wringer, me ! But tell me, ’ave you suspect, r until the moment you discover M’sieu e Layton’s watch is wrong, that M’sieu ! ’Arkness is the murderer?” e “I’m afraid I did, Pap—although I wasn’t sure until then. But when I heard >. this afternoon that Mrs. Grane had suff ered i a period of insanity last year, I suddenly ü remembered the books in Harkness’ den and realized that there could be a connecti ing link of motive. All the time I was ? questioning poor old Calkins I kept studyI ing Harkness out of the corner of my eye. t The more I studied him, the more he seemed to be one of those unhappy,
/ inhibited people who can get their minds , caught on the prongs of an obsession and pull any folly.”