FICTION

Treeholme House

In which a clue is found, a key is lost and a baffling mystery becomes still more baffling

EDITH HOWIE February 1 1939
FICTION

Treeholme House

In which a clue is found, a key is lost and a baffling mystery becomes still more baffling

EDITH HOWIE February 1 1939

Treeholme House

In which a clue is found, a key is lost and a baffling mystery becomes still more baffling

EDITH HOWIE

The Story: Near the town of Montfort, John Gaunt, mill

owner, lives in a wall-enclosed country home with his beautiful wife, Lisa. Francis O’ Neill, an explorer, guest of the Gaunls, wants a secretary to help him write a booh. Marcia Stafford is 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 ¡he inside. Gaunt and the res! 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 just been released from penitentiary. John Gaunt engages Reter Devaney. a private detective, whose real name is Reter Devaney Holgate, to act as Bobby's tutor, and Griggs, a persona! friend, as chauffeur.

The doctors decide that Nurse Ives died of natural causes, but Reter informs Marcia that she was murdered. Reeves, the butler, tells Reter that the dead nurse distrusted someone in the house, but just 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 his back.

Colonel Truax arrives with policemen to take charge of the investigation. Mrs Gaunt announces that her jewels have been stolen from a saje in her suite of rooms, and Griggs discloses that Lisa met the Japanese ex-chauffeur downtown that afternoon. Later it is revealed that Lisa is a drug addict.

John Gaunt goes to town to see the Jap. He doesn’t return, and later is found badly injured in a cabin that belongs to Bill Griggs. The latter, severely questioned by Colonel Truax, states that Gaunt had intended to disappear, to lie lote in the cabin to await developments.

A new butler, Kennedy, is found stabbed to death. Doris, a maid, is found behind an adjacent curtain, listening, and she slumps to the floor when discovered.

FAINTED!" said Peter. He dropjxri his gun into his pocket.

1 got up from my somewhat undignified position. "Put her over on the couch,” the colonel ordered. Peter lifted her. As he did so, something tinkled to the floor.

"What was that?” Colonel Truax asked sharply.

The policeman who was nearest stooped. He gave a muttered exclamation. On his fiat brown hand, something glittered.

"What is it?” said the colonel again.

"It’s part of Mrs. Gaunt 's bracelet.” I said mechanically. "Ah—the stolen jewels,” the colonel said with satisfaction. "I was never quite certain l ought to believe in them.” He took the fragment into his own hand. Light caught the facets with gleams of rainbowed fire.

"Is that,” said a voice behind and slightly above us, "my bracelet?”

Lisa Gaunt, a study in black and white, stood upon the grand staircase.

"What is it?” she asked and came slowly down. And then, "Oh!”

Quickly Colonel Truax snatched up a rug and flung it over the body of Kennedy.

“Mrs. Gaunt, I beg of you ...”

Peter had gone toward her. but she waved him aside. “No; I’m all right. What is it? Someone else is dead?” The colonel bowed his head.

"Who?”

"Kennedy.”

"Kennedy? You mean the new butler? Why, how terrible!” Her eyes went over to the couch where Doris lay.

one lax hand sweeping the floor. "Mr. Holgate, what is the matter with Doris? She isn’t dead too?”

"She was hiding behind the curtains.” Peter said slowly. "She had part of your bracelet in her pocket.”

"My bracelet? But I don’t understand.”

"Neither do we, Mrs. Gaunt.” Colonel Truax said kindly. Something, perhaps the reality of that bracelet, had softened him. "Will you sit down, Mrs. Gaunt? We have some -ernews for you.”

Peter swung a chair about so that its back was to the rug-covered heap. She leaned forward, her hands along its immense carved arms.

“Colonel Truax, 1 must know about Kennedy.”

“I’m sorry we can't tell you very much. He was found about ten minutes ago by one of my men. He was apparently killed much as Reeves was killed —by a strong knife

thrust through the back, probably piercing the heart Death must have been practically instantaneous.”

She shuddered.

"How—horrible !” Her voice was low.

The colonel drew a chair up to face her.

"Mrs. Gaunt,” he said, “we have some other news for you. Your husband has been found.”

"John? John has been found? When? Where?”

"Shortly after one o’clock. He was found bound and gagged lying in the loft of a summer cabin."

**\Vhat summer cahin?” But her eyes had gone arrowlike to the spot where Bill Griggs leaned with a mocking smile against the door.

"Yeah— in mine." he said. He moved suddenly, striking like a rattlesnake. “Mrs. Gaunt, how’d you know it was gonna be my cabin?"

She jumped to her feet.

“How dare you !” she said. “Colonel Truax !”

Bill subsided again. He seemed rather amused. Lisa Gaunt turned to the colonel.

“Tell me about John,” she begged. “Was he—stabbed too?”

“Stabbed? I'm afraid you misunderstood me. Mr. Gaunt is alive.”

“Alive?” she said. “You mean that John isn’t dead? He’s—alive?”

“Certainly.” The colonel looked a trifle surprised. “He is very weak and he’s had a nasty crack on the head but—” “But I don’t understand,” she said. She stood up. “Alive!” she repeated, swaying, and laughed a little. The

CHARLES L A S A L L E

laugh trailed off. She looked at me with a strange expression.

“It’s true, is it?” she asked softly. “Johnny isn’t dead?” “No,” I said.

“I see.” She sat down, visibly thinking.

Just then Doris returned to consciousness. She struggled to her elbow and pointed an accusing finger at me.

“She did it !” she gasped. “She did it !”

Peter leaped at her and shook her by the shoulder. “What’s the matter with you? Who did what?”

“Miss Marcia! She said there'd be more murders when Reeves was killed. She said I was to get used to them because there’d be more, and she was right.”

Peter raised his eyes to heaven.

“Marcia, what on earth made you say a fool thing like that?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” I snapped. “I was just talking. Doris is a little idiot.”

“You did too say it !” she half screamed. “You said there’d be more murders and there was. How’d you know if you didn’t do it?”

“Be quiet!” Peter said in an awful voice. “Trying to embroil Miss Stafford won’t save your own skin, my girl. What we want to know is what you were doing behind that curtain?”

She shrank back.

“I wasn’t doing nothing. I—I just came in from the dining room and I saw Kennedy and he was dead, and then I heard someone coming and I was scared and so I hid behind the curtain. But I didn’t have nothing to do with it, Mr. Holgate. Honest, I didn’t.”

“How’d you knowr he was dead?” Peter asked mildly.

“I saw the knife and—and the blood—just like Reeves—” “Didn’t touch him, did you?”

“No, Mr. Holgate.”

Peter walked toward the table. Now he swung around with the bit of bracelet in his hand.

“Then how’d this get in your apron pocket?”

Her eyes flickered. She made an abortive clutch at her pocket.

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, come now, Doris.” Peter seemed to be having all this his own way, for the colonel was, if only for the moment, an interested spectator. “Think again. Especially since I took this from Kennedy’s hand.” He reached into his owm pocket and produced the other half of the bracelet. “Really !” said Lisa Gaunt.

/^OLONEL TRUAX came across and retrieved Ixrth fragments by reaching for them over Peter’s shoulder. He joined them together.

“Well, I’ll be darned!” he said as he studied the result. “Your witness,” Peter said with a little click of his teeth. Lisa Gaunt had risen to inspect the bracelet.

“Yes, it’s mine,” she said after a second’s scrutiny. “Doris—”

The girl broke into rapid speech.

“Honest, Mrs. Gaunt, it was how I said. Kennedy was lying there an’— maybe I wasn’t so scared as I said, because I went over beside him and that was how I saw the bracelet, and I knew it was yours so 1 pulled at it and it broke. And then I heard somelxxiy coming, and I didn't have time to get aw'ay so I hid. Honest, that’s how it was.”

There was a silence. In spite of ourselves, I think we all believed her. She was obviously frightened at the predicament in which she found herself and without the wit to lie convincingly.

"Then Kennedy,” Peter guessed slowly, “got some track of the jewels and was murdered because he did.”

The colonel nodded thoughtfully.

The others were being shepherded into the room by this timeCurran in shirt sleeves and knickerbockers, O’Neill plainly interrupted at the beginning of a shave, Mrs. Carver prim in her inevitable black chiffon. Behind them trooped the remaining servants, Mrs. Harris, the housekeeper, Thelma and Mary, the housemaids, and Jaynes, the cook, followed by the very worried-lOOking Mr. Olsen from the lodge, w'ho had heard the rumor that John Gaunt was found and had chosen this inopportune time to come up to the house in search of information. Colonel Truax eyed them coldly.

“House has been searched, sir,” Forbes said, appearing. “Very good.” He turned to Lisa Gaunt. “Is everyone here?”

“Everyone but Collins who does the outside work,” Lisa Gaunt said indifferently. “And my brother.”

“Collins has been on the far side of the lake all day, ma’am,” Olsen said, “working with the water pump.”

“All right, Forbes. When the medical examiner comes, let me know.”

All the time that he was questioning them, I sat there thinking: Oh, this is no good. Noneofit. All talk. There’ll have to be something more to go on before any of this will stop. And I kept thinking what a blank wrall an unsupjxxted alibi can be.

For they all had alibis, even the servants. It had been Thelma’s afternoon off and she had gone to town. She had walked both ways, and on her return entered the house by the servants’ door. No one had been in the kitchen and she had gone straight to the room she shared with Doris. Mary had been asleep. Jaynes, the cook, had spent his afternoon playing solitaire in the basement and smoking a villainous old pipe he did not dare smoke anyw’here else. At five o’clock he had returned to the kitchen to begin preparations for dinner. He had not seen Kennedy then, although he presumed he had been around, since some silver and a cleaning preparation were laid out in the butler’s pantry. Mrs. Harris had been counting linen in the storeroom.

AS FOR Doris, her movements were less understandable.

She had been in attendance upon Lisa Gaunt during most of the afternoon. About a quarter of five, Mrs. Gaunt told her she could go. She w'ent to her own room for a while and then decided to come downstairs looking for company, as she expressed it. She had not gone into the

kitchen because she supposed Jaynes w;as there and she didn’t want to see him. Why not? She tossed her head. Oh, just because. She had gone out with Jaynes a few times and he was disposed to be a little jealous.

The colonel became interested at that. Jealous? Of whom was he jealous? She’d rather not say. Of Kennedy, perhaps? Well, yes and no. Jaynes considered they were engaged. He never liked it if she looked at another man, and Mr. Kennedy was young and good-looking. Had he been jealous of Reeves? Oh. my gomlness, no. He had no reason to lx. Reeves was an old man that is, he was at least fifty. The colonel, who would never see fifty-five again, snorted over this.

Well, had she seen Kennedy? No, she hadn’t. She had looked into the butler’s pantry, but no one was there. The swing d(x>r into the dining room was quivering as if someone had just gone through, so she decided to wait. When he didn’t come oh, after ten minutes or so she went into the dining room herself. No. the servants weren’t supposed to lx in the front of the house— she knew that— but she didn’t think Mr. Kennedy’d lx cross at her. From the dining room she went into the hall, and it was there close by the stairway that she’d seen the txxly.

Yes, she’d gone close after the first second or so. To see if he were dead. That was when she saw the bracelet. And recognized it. When she tried to take it away, the links had broken. Then she heard someone coming and hid. Why? She was panicky, she guessed. Afraid they’d accuse her of having murdered him. What did she think now? Oh — this with a lift of long lashes—she wasn’t afraid now. She knew the police, and Mr. Holgate, wouldn’t arrest a girl for something she didn’t do.

The colonel said “Humph!” He was interested enough in the “jealous” angle to requestion Jaynes. Were Doris’ statements true? Well, sort of. No, he wasn’t jealous of Kennedy. Kennedy’d had more sense than Doris thought. He wasn’t interested in her. He did his Ixst to keep out of her way, as far as Jaynes had been able to see. But Doris had a notion that a maid and a butler were a step higher than the other servants, so she went after Kennedy hammer and tongs.

That seemed to lxall to lxobtained from the servants, which wasn’t much, but Colonel Truax got little more from the others.

Gordon Curran had left the mills at three o’clock for a golf foursome. He arrived at Treeholme atxmt a few minutes to five, he thought. The foursome had fizzled out when one of the men failed to apixar. Kennedy was alive then? Certainly, he was. He’d taken the golf clubs. No, Curran didn’t know what had been done with them; that wasn’t his affair. He’d gone into the library to smoke a cigarette and then upstairs for the shower which he hadn’t had yet and which he’d like to take as soon as possible. No, he hadn’t seen Kennedy again, but he hadn’t looked for him either. I le didn’t know whether Kennedy was dead when he went upstairs or not. He hadn’t used the main staircase.

Why not? A shrug. He seldom did. 'Hie other was closer to his room. From the main staircase you had to walk the length of the balcony to reach the doors at either end. No, this wasn’t the service stairway, although it was the one Doris probably used. This one balancer! the main staircase from the other side of the house. It was the one the entire household took if they wanted to avoid being seen by jx*ople in the hall. He’d picked up the city jxqxrs in the library and brought them along. Got so interested in them he didn’t hear anything until the jxfliceman rapped on his door. Then he came downstairs.

Francis O’Neill was in a fine Irish temper. Only one half of his face was shaved, and he kept dabbing at it with a towel as he talked. He had been shaving any frxfl ought to lx able to see that. It was a wonder he hadn’t cut his head off when he saw' that policeman standing behind him. No, he didn’t use a safety razor; where did they supjx>se you could get safety-razor blades in the centre of the jungle, for example? He’d come in alxrut four-thirty. He’d .seen Kennedy. Kennedy had got him a drink, and then he w'ent upstairs. No, he hadn’t seen anyone else and he didn’t want to.

Mrs. Carver, of course, had seen nothing. She’d been in her room except for a trip she’d made to the storeroom to see if Mrs. Harris was really where she said she was going to be. Mrs. Harris sniffed and I smiled secretly. Mrs. Carver never trusted the servants. When Colonel Truax asked her about Kennedy, she looked confused. “Oh, you mean the new one,” she said. The last time she’d seen him had Ixen at luncheon. She didn’t bother him much, she confided. Mostly she w'ent and got what she wanted herself.

Everyone was bored by this time, including Colonel Truax. He turned a thoughtful eye in my direction, and I was beginning to wonder whether he meant to question me, when there came an interruption.

The medical examiner arrived.

NO DOUBT there w'as something salutary' about the idea of our sitting there while the police went about their work. For my own part, I kept my eyes away resolutely from the milling group about the body. But I couldn’t shut them entirely away from the flash as the pictures were taken, and I was conscious all the time that tape lines and chalk were being brought into play and that measurements were being carefully calculated.

The others were equally distrait. Francis O’Neill sat opposite me, smoking one cigarette after another. Gordon Curran appear«! calm enough, at ease in a big carved chair, but one of his feet tapped a constant irritating tattoo, l.isa Gaunt alone seemed interested in the movements at the other end of the hall. She produced a cigarette, and 1 saw with a lit tle secret thrill of knowledge that it was from her black jewelled case.

From then on, with the best of intentions not to, 1 would catch myself sniffing a little, striving to catch some hint of the sickly sweetness I had tx*en told was characteristic of opium. 1 wondered if it was the drug that gave her that aspect of relaxed interest conspicuous against the uneasiness the rest of us displayed.

At last, when it seemed the strain had gone past bearing, someone said. ‘‘That’s all,” and there was a movement for departure. The Ixxiy of Kennedy was lifted to a stretcher and borne out of sight. Nothing was left but the chalk marks on the floor and the discarded rug, and Colonel Truax holding a long slender-bladed dagger by its jx>int while he scrutinized the gem-encrusted handle. Then, for the second time within a week, we were asked the question, “Does anyone recognize this knife?” and as before there was a silence.

Mary, one of the housemaids, spoke timidly: “I think it’s one of Mr. Gaunt’s knives, sir, from the gun room. There’s a bit of chain near the handle.”

It was true. At the base of the handle there were a few links of fine steel chain.

"Who has the key to the gun room?” asked Colonel Truax, his eyes travelling from one to the other of us.

”1 believe there is only the one key,” Lisa Gaunt said at last, "and my husband had it.”

Someone’s breath came in a long hissing sigh. 1 think we realiz«! what that meant. If John Gaunt had the only key and the dagger had been taken from a locked room, then the same person who had tied up John Gaunt and left him to die, in all probability had killed Kennedy.

‘‘1 lolgate !" This was the colonel.

"Yes?”

"See if the gun room is locked.”

We waited, breathless almost, for the verdict. Peter returned, his face expressionless.

"It is lock«!.”

“Thank you. Mrs. Gaunt, is it possible to enter the gun room in any other way say from the windows?”

T ISA GAUNT rubbed out her cigarette.

•*—* "Gordon, help me," she said in a bored tone. “The gun room? 1 don't think I’ve been in it more than a half a dozen times since we built the house. I really don’t know.”

"It would lx* impossible,” Gordon Curran said in a flat voice. “The gun room is an inside room. That is. only one wall has windows and they are both small and high. I doubt if a man could get through them. Certainly they could not lxreached from outside without a ladder."

“How about the lock?”

“One of the best,” said Peter. “Its self locking.”

“Of course, even a good lock is not impregnable to a clever locksman, but its forcing would entail a knowledge which I doubt is possessed by anyone here.” The colonel seemed to lx* musing.

Peter spoke then, and there was a hard quiver in his voice.

“Kennedy w as one of my men. I don’t know how many of you knew that, but I’m making it my business to find out who did know. He was a fine youngster, and he leaves a wife and a three-months-old baby.” Doris gave a gasp and Peter look«! her way abstractedly. "He was one of the best o(x*ratives 1 had. and I’m willing to cover any wager that the reason he was kill«! was because he knew something. And Fin going to find out what that something was. There’s somebody in this nxnn right now that I’m telling to remember this that Bill Kennedy’s death will never lx* written down as an unsolved case while I’m alive!”

I wasn’t guilty and I had no idea who was, but something in Peter’s voice made me cold all over. I knew that he meant every word he said.

“You are very melodramatic, Mr. Holgate,” Lisa Gaunt said. 11er lip curled.

I Iis gaze was sombre.

“Perhaps. But, you s«>, Mrs. Gaunt, Kennedy was more than just my operative. He was also my friend.”

1 lis voice was gentle, but it held the finality of fate.

The colonel was fidgeting with the knife.

“Mr. O’Neill, what sort of a knife would you say this was?”

Francis O’Neill was having difficulty in getting on top

of his sulks.

“I’m no authority," he said ungraciously, but he did condescend to get up and look at the dagger. “Florentine, wouldn’t you say? If we could get into that room and it really belongs there, its history is probably written on its label underneath.”

“All in good time, Mr. O’Neill. Forbes, take two men and search the rooms on the upper floors. All keys found

are to be brought to me marked with the place of finding.” The officer went out. Colonel Truax looked at us gravely. “It will lx* necessary to search you people as well. Unless someone objects.” No one did apparently. “Holgate, will you help me? Miss Stafford, please be kind enough to do the same for the ladies. If you will retire to the library ...”

XTEVER in my life had I been given such a task. Right then and there, all the romanticism of police work went out for me. No sooner had Colonel Truax made his request than a barrier went up between us. I was separate from the rest of the women. Automatically I took my place on the side of the law. They were suspect and I was not. They resented the fact and me.

But, somehow or other, it was accomplished, and when we were summoned back to the hall I was glad to be able to report that I had not found the key.

The colonel did not seem surprised.

"That will be all,” he said quietly. “As soon as Forbes reports the result of his search of the upper floors, you may go to your rooms if you choose. Until the lower floor is searched, I will ask those who do not wish to go upstairs to remain here.”

“My dear Colonel Truax,” said Lisa Gaunt languidly, “are we to have no dinner? Surely the servants may be allowed to do their tasks.”

The colonel looked at her for a long moment. Then he

beckoned to Peter.

“Madam,” he said formally, “if that key is in this house it is essential that we find it before it is hidden or sucessfully lost. Holgate, wall you be so good as to go through the kitchen? If it is possible to lock the doors between the kitchen and this part of the house—”

Lisa Gaunt stood up with a motion silken smooth. “Whom do you suspect, colonel? The servants?”

“For the present I keep an open mind,” he said slowly. “I suspect no one.”

Lisa Gaunt shrugged.

“Please don’t trouble, Mr. Holgate. We will wait on Colonel Truax’s pleasure.”

Which made a pleasant feeling in the room. It didn’t improve while we waited. The room seemed to fill with tension until it was ready to overflow.

Peter and the colonel were standing a little behind me. Although they were speaking softly, I could hear what they said. Whatever their differences, they had apparently forgotten them.

“As I see it,” Peter said in a low* voice, “it stacks up something like this: Kennedy found that bracelet in some connection that would lead directly to the gun room, and thence to the person who kidnapped John Gaunt and who was responsible for Reeves’ murder. Kennedy was no fool. He could put two and two together as well as anyone. If he found the gun-room door unlocked—the room, mind you, to which only one person held a key—”

“If he knew that fact,” the colonel interpolated.

“One of the cards I didn’t lay on the table, colonel. He knew that. He’d been watching that gun room from the time he arrived here on orders—to see who tried to go in. You see, colonel,” Peter went on slowly, “it occurred to me or to us—that a room inaccessible to everyone by reason of a missing key, might be the perfect hiding place for twenty thousand dollars worth of jewellery.”

“And you mean to tell me that this paragon, Kennedy, caught his man in the gun room with the jewels, picked out the bracelet as a sample to show you, and then turned his back on the person he suspected of kidnapping and murder, and walked away, with the result that he was stabbed in the back?”

"It doesn’t sound very clever, does it?” Peter asked mildly. “And if you knew anything about his past work, it wouldn’t sound like Kennedy either. Have you stopped to think, colonel, that possibly Kennedy was not murdered in this room? That the body was carried here after death?” The colonel seemed speechless.

“Then where . . ?”

"1 would say in the gun room as the most logical place.” 1 heard the colonel’s teeth click together.

"Holgate, we’ve got to get into that room without any more delay. Mrs. Gaunt, would you object to our forcing the gun-room door?”

"Not in the least,” Lisa Gaunt said. She seemed totally uninterested.

DIT Gordon Curran and Mrs. Carver and Francis U O’Neill and I were interested enough to trail along in the van of the littleprocession that started toward the gun room. Since Lisa Gaunt did not seem to care what happened to the door, the colonel had sent for an axe. I felt a little sick, realizing what was going to happen to the beautifully panelled oak, and as Olsen squared away I shut my eyes. I did not want to see.

But I could not keep from hearing. The axe struck the oak with a dull splintering noise. The sound of its bite was followed almost immediately by something else. This was an echoing crash, the unmistakable sound of glass breaking. "What was that?”

"The window.”

"Hurry,” Peter ordered between his teeth.

Colonel Truax was glaring at the hapless Gordon Curran.

“You said no one could get in or out of that room by the windows.”

“I did. Upon my word, I don't see how they could.” The axe was cutting now, steadily. Widening cracks of light began to show. Olsen was obviously trying to cut out the lock and he was succeeding. Only a matter of minutes remained before the door would swing free.

Peter stood at one side waiting. His hands were deep in his trouser pockets. A curious little smile played about his mouth.

All our eyes were rivetted upon that enlarging hole. I pressed my hands tightly together and felt it would be a relief to scream. When the door did swing back, what would we see? What had the crash of glass presaged?

I was not the only one alarmed. Mrs. Carver’s eyes were round with terror.

"Will there be shooting?” she quavered.

And Peter laughed. Not a nice laugh.

“Do you want to know what’s inside there? I’ll make a guess at it. Anyone want to bet that I’m wrong? There’ll be no one there, Mrs. Carver. No one to be afraid of. What we’ll find are things—Mrs. Gaunt’s missing jew-ellery and the key to the gun-room door.”

Just then the last wood was broken apart by the steel blade and the door swung inward.

“Back everyone!” That was Peter.

Wordlessly we obeyed, but we remained standing there in the hall, a strangely incongruous group. Mrs. Carver in her elaborately formal chiffon. Francis O’Neill still clutching his towel. Gordon Curran shirt-sleeved as he had come from the golf course. Olsen leaning on the handle of the axe, panting a little, his face wet with sweat.

I remember other more important things. The jagged hole through the stained glass of one of the three high windows that centred the western wall. I remember the careless profusion of jewels spilling along the top of the glass case below the windows, and the ring of keys that lay in almost the exact centre of the dark crimson mg, and the vacant space on the north wall where the Florentine dagger had hung.

Just then there was a commotion at the front door. Nicholas Carver and Bobby were returning.

Carver’s quick little eyes took in the situation, but he had sense enough to leave Bobby with Griggs before he came toward us. He saw the splintered door and choked.

“Wh—what’s been going on here?” he asked in a loud whisper.

“Kennedy’s dead,” Gordon Curran said shortly. “Murdered.”

“Another butler?” Nicholas Carver’s jaw dropped. “Well, I’m a son of a —say, who did it?”

“Nobody seems to know.” Curran’s tone was dryly sarcastic.

“Come off !” Nicholas Carver said. He craned his neck. “Ain’t those Lissy’s rings and stuff?”

“What do you think?” Perhaps Gordon Curran was tired of being polite.

V\ ^ITHIN the room, Peter stood up and ceased his ** occupation, which had consisted, to the layman’s eye, of crawling over the floor staring hard at the carpet. He brushed his hands together and came to the door.

“That you, Nick? Better keep the kid out of here, hadn’t you?”

“Yeah,” Carver agreed. “We’ll be goin’. We didn’t know nothin’ was happening here. We been over on the far side of the lake until just now. Say, is it true Johnny Gaunt’s been found? Mrs. Olsen was telling me—”

“What?” said Gordon Curran sharply. Francis O’Neill had dropped his towel. “I don’t believe it,” Mrs. Carver said spitefully.

Peter looked at them soberly.

"Yes, it’s true. Sorry, Curran, I forgot you hadn’t heard. He was found shortly after noon in Griggs’ summer cabin. He’d been kept tied up there without food or drink. Some time today or last night at the latest, his captor visited him for what was presumably to be the last time. He beat him over the head with a revolver butt and left him for dead.” There was a vicious something about Peter’s voice that stung.

"He’s alive?”

“Yes. he’ll live. That seems certain. He’s in fairly bad shape, however-—”

“You’re arresting Griggs?”

Peter shook his head.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’s rather—well, complicated. It might not be Griggs after all.”

"Is he conscious—Johnny?”

"Not yet, I believe.” Peter dropped the words carefully, delicately.

Gordon Curran’s fists were clenched.

“We’re putting up with a lot from you, Holgate. Where is he?”

“John Gaunt’s in the Montfort hospital,” Peter said, thin-lipped. “And I might say he's in a private room on the top floor with no fire escape, and guarded by two policemen. And there he’ll stay until he is conscious and can talk. Make what you like out of that.”

Gordon Curran tcxik a quick step forward. I thought he meant to strike Peter.

who stared at him from unfriendly eyes. “Skip it!” he advised, turning away. Curran’s hands slowly straightened out and he drew a long breath.

“This is too much,” he said in a halfchoked voice. “Colonel Truax !”

The colonel came to the door. Peter hung on his heel.

“Yes. Mr. Curran?”

“Is it true that my cousin has been found?”

“Certainly.” The colonel’s voice was frigid.

“When may I see him?”

“I’m afraid not for some time, Mr. Curran.” From his manner you’d think the colonel took positive pleasure in making that statement.

Gordon Curran frowned.

“I may telephone? After all, the directors of the mills should be informed of this.”

“Certainly,” said the colonel again. “Where is the nearest telephone?”

“I’ll plug one in here,” said Peter accommodatingly. Gordon Curran glared after him. Presently he reappeared with a phone which he plugged into the circuit in the gun room. He stepped back to let Curran through. “At your service, Curran.” He grinned mockingly.

There was nothing to do but make the best of it. Gordon Curran took the telephone, but his face was black with fury.

In the meantime Colonel Truax had discovered Nicholas Carver and was frowning at him.

“You’re Carver, aren’t you? I was going to send after you later.”

“Yeah. Well I just run in for a minute. The kid’s back there. We’ll go down to the lake. I guess. I came up to tell Lissy me and the kid were playing ball and we busted one of her windows.” His grin widened as he looked at the gaping hole in the glass. “I guess that’s it.”

PETER was on him in a second.

“You say that again. Carver. You broke that window. How?”

“How’d you suppose we broke it? With a ball, of course.”

"You mean that you threw a ball through this window into this room?” “Well, I didn’t know just which room it was, but since that’s the window that’s broke I guess this is the right one all right.” Peter’s eyes had narrowed until they seemed mere slits.

“Sure it was a ball you threw in here?” Nicholas Carver’s eyes blazed.

“What do you mean? I said it was a ball, didn’t I?”

“And if you did throw a ball through the window,” Peter continued slowly, “then where is that ball now?”

Nicholas Carver’s eyes went helplessly to the floor. Then he straightened up triumphantly.

“There it is.” he said, and pointed. “Right over there.”

It was. Nestled nicely at the foot of one of the suits of armor.

“All right, Nick,” Peter said softly. Walking lightly, he crossed the room and bent to pick up the ball. We heard his muffled exclamation. He strolled back toward us and his face was stern.

“This it?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Nicholas Carver said dubiously. “Well, I dunno. The ball I threw was white.”

“And so was this white once,” Peter said, still in that soft silky voice. “But, you see, Nick, since you threw it, this ball has rolled into blood.”

Before any of us had a chance to say anything, he had swung around upon the colonel.

“It seems that I was right and that Kennedy did die here. Look !”

From where I stood I could see the ball, dark along one side, and the ugly stain that streaked across Peter’s wrist which he was slowly wiping upon his handkerchief.

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“Do you mind getting me a clean handkerchief. Marcia?” asked Peter. “You’ll find some in the upper left-hand drawer of my bureau.”

He said it very casually. As I went upstairs I wondered why he had dismissed me with such a transparent excuse. When I found the handkerchiefs, I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror, and then I knew.

I was deathly white. The sight of that bloodstain on the floor, after the dramatic events of the past hour, had been too much for me. I sat down on the bed. That was why Peter had sent me away—to give me a chance to catch hold of myself. Until I sat down I hadn’t realized that I was shaking in every muscle. After a while I felt calmer.

There was a rustle in the hall. The rustle of a woman’s dress. Then a light footfall, an urgent voice.

“Find out, Frank. Find out from the hospital. Maybe he’s dead after all—or dying. Perhaps they’ve been lying to me.” It was the voice of Lisa Gaunt.

“And what do you hope?”

I jumped. The brusque, clipped tones were unmistakable.

“Don’t put it that way, Frank. I know it sounds awfully callous. But it’s been checkmate for both of us as long as he was alive. He’s told me often enough he would never give me a divorce on any grounds. I can’t face it, Frank. I can’t. If he still lives —never to get away from Treeholme—” “Whatever you do, darling,” said Francis O’Neill, “don’t let your real feelings get the better of you. After all, you’re a devoted wife, and your husband is lying in hospital with a fractured skull. You’ve got to be worried—frantic—”

“I’m afraid of Colonel Truax. And that terrible Holgate man. When they look at me I’m sure they know what I’m thinking —that they can read the thoughts passing through my mind—”

Her voice trailed away, suddenly hushed.

I sat there on the bed, my mind in a turmoil.

WHEN I went downstairs a little later, the house was hushed and still. A large rug now covered the place in the hall where Kennedy’s Ixxly had lain. At one edge I discerned chalk marks and I shuddered at their implication.

In the library Mrs. Carver and Gordon Curran were sitting near the windows. Mrs. Carver, prim and severe, was knitting. Her needles clicked along at a furious speed. Gordon Curran lounged near by, staring blackly at nothing. Lisa Gaunt and Francis O’Neill were standing near the fireplace. Lisa flung a careless glance my way.

“Come and sit down, Marcia. There’s nothing to do but wait.”

I was standing in the doorway that opened on the large hall. I heard voices and a heavy tramp of footsteps from the gun room. Colonel Truax and a stranger, whom I guessed to be the fingerprint expert, were emerging from the gun room. Behind them came Bill Griggs and two policemen.

The colonel did not deign to notice me. I might have been one of the newel posts on the staircase as far as he was concerned, but Bill Griggs gave me a clandestine wink as he passed.

From the far end of the room, Lisa Gaunt spoke.

“Griggs!”

The colonel swung about on that.

“Yes, Mrs. Gaunt?”

“Sorry,” Lisa Gaunt said, the insolence that overlaid her words as obvious as the patina on old bronze. “I was addressing Griggs.”

“May I ask what you want of him?” “Isn’t it rather obvious, colonel? I want to go to the hospital to see my husband. I was about to tell Griggs to bring the car around.”

I didn’t think the colonel liked that idea at all. His eyebrows met in a line across his nose.

“Unless of course,” she continued, “I am to consider myself a prisoner in my own house.”

‘‘No, no, nothing like that,” the colonel said testily. “I am certain,” he went on, eyeing us sternly, “that everyone here is clever enough to realize that any attempt to leave Treeholme or Montfort at this time might result in giving the er—authorities erroneous ideas as to the reason for the departure.”

“Knowing the authorities as we do,” Lisa Gaunt agreed with devastating politeness, “I am sure that we all do realize it.”

I thought the colonel was going to explode. His face reddened alarmingly and he gave a sort of snort.

“Very well, madam. I see that we understand each other.”

“Oh, perfectly,” she said. “Now, if I may talk to Griggs—”

“I’m sorry,” said the colonel with such savage satisfaction in his voice that you knew he wasn’t sorry at all. “Doubtless there is someone here who can drive you over. Mr. Curran, perhaps, or Mr. O’Neill. But you can’t have Griggs.”

“And why not?” Lisa Gaunt’s tone was deadly.

“He is under arrest.”

V\TE WERE all so astounded that the YV colonel took Griggs away without protest or objection. After a while Francis O’Neill said he would drive the car if Lisa was still resolved to visit the hospital. Gordon Curran said the visit wouldn’t do any good. Johnny Gaunt was unconscious and likely to remain so for some time. However, Mrs. Carver suggested that it would “look better” if Lisa went to the hospital, and that settled it.

They all drove off to the hospital—Lisa and Mrs. Carver and Gordon Curran and Francis O’Neill. Peter came into the hall as the big car pulled away.

“Pete,” I cried. “Did you know they arrested Griggs? How could they? He didn’t kill Kennedy.”

Pete grinned at me.

“You have to know why every wheel goes round, don’t you? Griggs is no more under arrest than you are. It’s a frame-up. Griggs is in on it himself.”

“But why?”

“To lull the guilty party into a sense of false security. It may work out. Come along into the gun room. I want to do some more snooping.”

We went into the gun room. Peter began to examine the floor in front of the suit of armor. I remembered that it was there that Kennedy must have fallen, and I averted my eyes.

1 didn't want to see what he was doing.

I looked instead at the weapons that lined the walls. There was a little of everything in that room. I wasn’t very scientific about what I saw; anything more than twelve inches in length I called a sword, anything less, a dagger—which classification was apparently not the one followed when this collection was arranged.

In spite of myself, I became interested. Presently I got up and began to wander about reading the cards that set forth the history of each weapon. I was careful not to touch anything, although Peter grunted that they’d tested for fingerprints and it had been “no go.”

Pete was taking a long time. I did three walls and then, tiring a bit of the glitter of steel, moved over to the glass case that stood directly below the windows.

It was full of a miscellany of things. There were arrowheads and tomahawks and Indian bows and curiously feathered arrows, and an axe blade or two. It was as if everything for which there had been no other place had been gathered in this one spot.

A lump of raw turquoise intrigued me. Southern Indian stuff, that. Turquoise and beaten silver—tourists thrilled to it. Silver hut no gold. That was queer. You had to go farther south before you found gold. Mexico or Central America. The Mayans had worked with the precious

metal. Francis O’Neill had shown me photographs of golden ornaments taken from the excavations near Palenque. There had been golden treasure in the pyramided Temples of the Sun, up whose broad stone steps thousands of living victims had plodded, only to meet, at the summit, sharp death upon a bloodstained altar.

I shuddered a little, remembering the horror of those deaths and wondering how in the name of any god men could cut a beating heart from a living body and keep their own sanity.

And yet men become calloused to killing. One death more or less—what was it Peter had said? “Once your murderer has killed, he may as well kill again. He has put himself outside the law.” We were having a sample of it here. First Reeves and now Kennedy.

I stiffened abruptly. Whether I had realized it or not, I had been looking consciously for something. Now—

“Pete!” I said, and I hardly recognized my own voice. “Come here !”

“What is it, Marcia?”

“Look there,” I said. “Tell me what you see. Or, rather, what you don’t see. Pete, tell me.”

“What I don’t see—”

He bent over the case.

“I was right, then,” I said in a half whisper. “I did see it. There were two of them and now there’s none.”

The Mayan sacrificial knife—the twin to the one that had killed Reeves—was gone.

PETER’S hands along the case edge showed white streaks across the knuckles. Below the white, muscles quivered.

“Was it there this afternoon when you broke in?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t look. I never thought—”

“I don’t see how it could have been taken then,” I said thoughtfully.

“I don’t think it was there this afternoon,” Peter said. He was tapping at the glass with one fingernail. “What I want to know is why it was taken.”

“Well, it obviously wasn’t to kill Kennedy,” I said.

“Forget the obvious things,” Peter advised.

I tried to. I concentrated on the space where the knife had been. It was as vacant as my brain. If the murderer had taken that knife, why on earth hadn't he used it? Surely it had been an easier one to get at than the chained dagger. I crossed over and looked at the place from which a few links of chain depended.

“How would you go about getting one of these knives free, Pete?”

He countered with another question. “How would you?”

“P'ile it,” I suggested dubiously.

“Could be done, but it might be noisy and it would take a while. Or you could free the staple from the wall—another long performance. He used hydrofluoric acid.”

“Hydrofluoricacid,” I repeated stupidly. “The hungriest liquid known to chemists. It will eat through almost anything. A drop on one of these links and in a few seconds you can break it like string between your fingers.”

“It isn’t the sort of thing a woman would be apt to know, is it? Mrs. Carver, for instance, wouldn’t know, nor Lisa Gaunt nor Doris nor me.”

His mouth twitched.

“You divide everything automatically into male and female, don’t you, darling? And if you think for one instant that I am suspecting you or Mrs. Carver .

A little pause held between us. I seemed to be growing cold.

“It couldn’t be Lisa Gaunt, Pete.” “Forget your personal prejudices, will you? Stop saying it can’t be this one. it can’t be that one. Get it through your head that two people, perhaps three, have been killed by someone who lives in this house or has access to it. Whether you like it or not, it’s got to be one of us, one of the people we’re living among. Even throwing out yourself and myself and Mrs. Carver and Bill Griggs as being beyond suspicion, you’ve still got a lovely crew to choose from and no one exempted.”

“Nicholas Carver?”

Pete laughed a little then.

“I give you Nick Carver, Marcia, gladly. I don’t think he had anything to do with it. He hasn’t the brain for it, for one thing.”

“All right,” I said reluctantly, “I suppose I’ll have to give you Lisa Gaunt then. But . . . ” I hesitated.

“What’s the trouble?”

“They’re brother and sister, Pete.” “What’s that got to do with it? Not underestimating Lisa’s brain, are you?” “No,” I said slowly. “I don’t believe I am.”

I wasn’t either. Not when I thought of her history. It was only too evident, once you compared Lisa Gaunt with her mother and brother, that either her intelligence was of a superior order to theirs or that her opportunities for self-improvement had been greater. And it was equally true that an opportunity without the will to grasp it is useless. There were no wasted opi>ortunities behind Lisa Gaunt and, if by reason of her own determination and application, she now belonged, at least in outward semblance, to a higher social order than that to which her mother and brother dared aspire, surely it must be counted more than anything else to her credit. She was beautiful, clever, interesting, charming if she cared to be. Who were we to criticize her if her culture was veneer rather than solid wood?

Peter was watching me curiously.

“I think,” I said, “that if Lisa Gaunt wanted to do a thing like murder, she’d do a good job. There’d be no loose ends. She’d find out about hydrofluoric acid if she needed to. But I don’t think she did this, Pete. She’s got too much at stake. Killing butlers—where would that get her?” “Nowhere,” Pete admitted frankly. “Unless she was afraid of Reeves because he knew something she didn’t want told.” “Perhaps he was blackmailing her,” I suggested. “No, I don’t believe that. Not Reeves.”

“We’re going around in a circle. Think hard. Where would you hide that knife if you had taken it and wanted it kept handy?”

“In the library,” I said. “Then if anyone asked questions I could say, ‘Oh, all Mr. O'Neill’s Central American stuff is in there. We never touch it. You’ll have to ask him.’ ”

“You may be right. Come along.”

But we didn’t find the knife in the library. We didn’t find it at all.

LISA GAUNT and her party came back 1 an hour later. No good feeling existed among them. Lisa had been permitted no more than a glimpse of John Gaunt, and the hospital authorities had been noncommittal about his chances of recovery. Then Lisa had insisted on stopping at the club for dinner, over Gordon Curran’s indignant protests, and the results had been unfortunate.

“They stared at us,” said Mrs. Carver, roused to a pitch of querulous indignation, “like we was animals.”

Lisa Gaunt, affixing a cigarette into a long holder, gave her a cold stare.

“Don’t be ridiculous, mother. But it was true they were disagreeable. Asking Frank for his autograph. And at least a dozen tried to speak to me—people I’d never seen before.”

“Oh, you’d seen them right enough,” Gordon Curran interrupted gloomily. “It was just that you haven’t had to notice them before.”

“It all comes from living in this hole,” said Lisa Gaunt, throwing herself into a chair. “Montfort—bah!”

Something, the dinner perhaps, seemed to have rubbed Gordon Curran raw. He •strode over to stand in front of her.

“And if this wasn’t a hole, do you know

what'd be happening to you? Do you? Has one reporter been able to get through to you, tell me that? How much space do you think the big newspapers are giving these murders? Very little. And why? It’s not that there isn’t plenty for them here. Millionaire—beautiful wife—all the old stuff. It’s because they can’t get in to get any of it. There’s no one to give them copy. They’re taking what Truax and the police dole out, and they’re liking it. Johnny’s kidnapping hasn’t raised much stir. But if Treeholme wasn’t guarded the way it is, you’d have had a taste of it. More than you’d want.” He glared at her.

“I’d forgotten the papers,” Lisa Gaunt admitted. Her eyes were narrowed. She seemed to be considering this new idea.

“Well, think of them then.” Gordon Curran said disagreeably. “If you’d been content to stay here—eat something here —but no. You had to drive over to the club. You might have known people’d look at you. I think that’s what you did it for.” “Gordon! How dare you?”

He laughed, an ugly laugh.

“Why not? ‘Hole !’ Where did you come from? A gutter, for all we know.”

“That ain’t so,” Mrs. Carver snapped. “Gutter—what do you mean gutter? I’d like you to know that—”

He ignored her. She subsided, shaking her head in bewilderment.

“What a brief you hold for Montfort,” Lisa Gaunt said unpleasantly. “Stop making a fool of yourself, Gordon.”

“I’m not the one who’s making a fool of himself,” he said hotly. “Good heavens! You live here, don’t you? Johnny’s money comes from the mills. Not that you haven’t made it hard enough for him—” “I should think you’d be the last person in the world to be worrying over John Gaunt’s welfare,” Lisa interrupted venomously.

It had, I thought wearily, all the elements of a lovely row. I wished Peter’d get through in the library and come in to take charge of this madhouse. A footstep sounded, and I looked up hopefully. But it was Mrs. Harris. She was carrying a telephone. As she had done the first time I saw her. she planted herself in front of Lisa Gaunt.

“A call for Mr. Holgate, madam.”

Lisa Gaunt turned her head and looked at me.

“He’s in the library, I believe,” I said, restraining an impulse to giggle wildly. I never expected to get accustomed to the idea that a detachable phone would really work.

“Thank you, madam,” said Mrs. Harris. She departed with a dignity not a whit disturbed by the black look that Gordon Curran cast her way.

ALTHOUGH Gordon Curran and Lisa Gaunt appeared ready and willing to take up their quarrel at the exact point where it had been dropped, Francis O’Neill created a diversion.

“Couldn’t we have coffee?” he asked wistfully.

Lisa shrugged.

“Nobody to bring it up, I suppose,” she said. “And there’s not much use in ringing either. Probably they’re frightened to death. Servants are apt to be cowards, I’ve noticed.”

Somehow I didn't like that. There’d been no cowardice about Reeves, or Sarah Ives, or William Kennedy. Perhaps they’d still be alive if there had been.

“Can you blame them?” Francis O’Neill was asking. “Poor devils! Don’t forget that our dead have all come from their side of the stairs.”

“Point that out to Truax, will you?” Gordon Curran said angrily. “It’s ridiculous. Two people—three if you choose to count Sarah Ives—murdered—all of them servants, mind you—and who are the people who are being held, suspected—” “Did you say three, Curran?” Peter asked quietly from the doorway. “You’re a bit behind the times. The number is four.”

His steady gaze held us all motionless for a moment. Then Curran spoke. “Four!” He sounded startled.

Lisa Gaunt was on her feet, one hand clutched to her throat.

"Not Johnny?” she gasped. “Johnny’s not dead—”

“No, no,” Peter said soothingly. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Gaunt. I’m sorry I startled you. I had forgotten for the moment that you might misunderstand—” “Get on with it, man!” said Curran, shaking at his arm. “Who now?”

Peter stood quite still. When he spoke, his tone was even and deliberate.

“The body of the Japanese, Toshio Moto, was found a few minutes ago in his room on lower Fifth Street. The body was quite cold. IIe had been stabbed.”

There was a strained little silence. Then, even against my better judgment, I spoke.

"Stabbed, Pete? With what?”

Once more I had the sensation of someone listening avidly for an answer. It was as if the very room itself stood on tiptoe waiting. Then with Peter’s reply the tension was gone.

“Not certain.” he said curtly. “There was no knife found.”

Flame crackled. I glanced over my shoulder. Gordon Curran was lighting a cigarette.

“Stabbed, ch? And I suppose,” he said unpleasantly, “the omnipotent Colonel Taiax believes that one of us did it?” Peter did not smile.

“As to that—unfortunately I am not in Colonel Truax’s confidence.”

“Pretty much run yourself out around here, haven’t you, Sherlock?” Francis O’Neill asked with a sneer.

But Peter was not attending. He was looking beyond him to where Lisa Gaunt stxxl swaying, a dreadful grey pallor overlaying her face.

“One, two, three, four,” she said in a queer high voice. “Reeves and Nanna

and Kennedy and now Moto—Johnny— one by one! Oh! Oh!”

Lisa Gaunt had fainted. Even as Peter leaped to catch her, she went down.

Francis O’Neill carried her upstairs to her room, followed by Mrs. Carver, who was babbling. Someone rang for Doris. After a while Francis O’Neill came downstairs and gestured curtly to Peter.

“How is she?”

“All right.” said O’Neill. “She wants to see you.”

Peter’s eyebrows went up. He said nothing, however, and went on upstairs. I thought O’Neill looked puzzled and worried. Peter came back in about five minutes.

“Let’s see if we can find something to eat in the kitchen,” he said to me.

I was wild with curiosity to know why Lisa Gaunt had sent for him, but he kept his own counsel until after Jaynes had given us sandwiches and coffee. Then he said:

“I’ve got a little eavesdropping job for you. In about an hour. In the library.”

“Eavesdropping!” I was indignant. “That isn’t in my line, Pete.”

He brushed aside my objections impatiently.

“This is murder I’m investigating. I want you to be behind that screen in the comer of the library, with your notebook and pencil to take down a shorthand account of an interview. Lisa Gaunt has decided to talk.”

I gasped.

“Is that why she sent for you?”

Peter nodded.

“She asked me to be in the library at ten o’clock.”

“Do you think she knows who did it?”

“I think she knows who might havedone it,” Peter said. “If she doesn’t disappoint me, I imagine it won’t be long before we have the solution to the whole mystery.”