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Title: The Vanity Case Author: Carolyn Wells * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1901021h.html Language: English Date first posted: October 2019 Most recent update: October 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1.-Beautiful Myra Heath
Chapter 2.-Hopelessly Mismatched
Chapter 3.-Lights in the Night
Chapter 4.-The Work of Perry Heath
Chapter 5.-Club Members' Opinions
Chapter 6.-Questions and Answers
Chapter 7.-Detective Work
Chapter 8.-Who Used the Vanity Case?
Chapter 9.-Emma's Story
Chapter 10.-Bunny Tells Lies
Chapter 11.-An Artist or a Woman
Chapter 12.-The Clubmen Again
Chapter 13.-The Heath Staff
Chapter 14.-Perry Heath Makes a Call
Chapter 15.-A Midnight Meeting
Chapter 16.-Enter Steve Truitt
Chapter 17.-Mott Learns Some Truths
Chapter 18.-A Confession
MRS. PRENTISS enjoyed insomnia, but she didn't know it.
That is, she knew she had insomnia, of course, but she didn't know she enjoyed it. On the contrary, she thought it made her miserable. But it didn't. It was really her best asset, socially, and she could get herself into the limelight almost any time, by descanting and dilating upon her long hours of wakefulness, when others were sleeping.
Sympathy flowed freely at hearing of her weary vigils, her interminable but futile efforts to get to sleep, her tossings and turnings on her bed of unrest
Moreover, it was an excuse for afternoon naps, or for occasional dropping to sleep at the Bridge table, at the Movies or on a motor drive.
And if she chanced upon a fellow sufferer, then it was a matter of each politely waiting for a pause, to interrupt the other with the tale of her own experiences.
Partly because of a physical tendency that way, and partly by reason of nurturing, pampering and aggravating the disease, Mrs. Prentiss was chronically and happily insomniac.
Which explains why, one night, she prowled about her bedroom, in her not very fetching Mid-Victorian nightdress, and gazed out of one window after another.
For her bedroom had windows facing three ways, which enabled the wakeful Mrs. Prentiss to note conditions in the houses of her neighbors on either side as well as across the street.
And from a window that looked West, she could see, late as it was, sundry goings on that thrilled her curious soul. And when the goings on had ceased and no hint of them was left save two tiny specks of light, Mrs. Prentiss thought the show was over, only to have it reopened two or three times more.
Breathlessly she watched, and though her soliloquized exclamations were of homely diction, such as "For the Land's sake!" or "My goodness!" they none the less expressed the whole gamut of human surprise and wonderment.
Gaybrook Harbor was one of the most beautiful bits of natural charm on Long Island, and one of the most desirable locations for a summer colony.
So, of course, the Summer Colony came. Collectively, they were much the same as the average summer resort residents, and individually, too, they showed the same traits of extravagance, ostentation, exclusiveness, unneighborliness and brotherly unkindness.
Yet they were a congenial bunch, a light-hearted, carefree lot, with generally similar tastes and pursuits, and an eye single to the ultimate purpose of having a good time.
The Harbor was, as harbors have a way of being, crescent shaped, and down to the middle of its curving rim ran a little stream of pleasant water.
Though really a tiny river, the stream was called Gaybrook and was as pretty as its name.
Now this arbitrary provision of Nature divided the Harbor into halves socially as well as topographically. Not far from the shore, a bridge, a miniature Rialto, connected the land on the two sides of Gaybrook, but except for that there was a great gulf fixed.
On one side, the North side, the collection of estates and dwellings was called Harbor Gardens, and the other side was Harbor Park.
United municipally, geographically and patriotically, the two were yet divided socially, or at least in some phases of the social life.
Harbor Park was there first, and it held the Railroad Station, the Post Office, the church, the Clubhouse, the amusement halls and the "places" of many of the rich and great, whose greatness was the direct result of their riches. They were men of wealth, with wives of extravagance, with spoiled children and pampered servants. They were, for the most part, men of hearty good fellowship, of outdoor habits and convivial tastes.
Now, somewhat as a reaction, there had sprung up on the other side of the bridge, the modern institution known as an artist colony.
These people were not wealthy, but were talented. They lived in bungalows, more or less elaborate, they drove cars that were not of the Rolls-Royce breed, they had a Persian Tea Garden instead of a Movie Palace, and they unblushingly claimed intellect and erudition far above those commodities as sported by the Harbor Park denizens.
As one of their brilliant minded youths put it, "In Harbor Gardens you find men who do things. In Harbor Park, you find men who do people."
Yet they came together in many ways. They all belonged to the one and only Country Club, they all went to the one and only church, and they all shopped at the stores in Harbor Park. In fact there were no outward and ordinary signs of friction or dissension, but the Park people felt they were more worthwhile than the Gardens people, while the Gardeners, as they came to be called, knew they were superior to the Parkers.
The bungalows, which were deemed artistic, were set in carefully planned gardens, while the mansions on the other side were in large and landscaped parks; and as a matter of fact, either side of the bridge the homes were of great charm and beauty and usually masterpieces of care and skill.
So the Harbor people lived and flourished, with the silent bond of The Harbor holding them together, and the subtle bar of The Bridge dividing them.
Mrs. Prentiss, she of the insomnia, was a resident of The Gardens. The widow of an artist, she had lived on in their attractive bungalow, covered with honeysuckle and Virginia Creeper, and furnished with wicker things and rush rugs.
Next door to her, toward the West, was the far more pretentious bungalow of the Perry Heaths. It was indeed, a two story house, but when Heath was told that bungalows didn't have more than one story, he merely replied, "This bungalow has."
He was an artist, was Perry Heath, and though his pictures were not of great value, they were graceful little aquarelles, and found an ultimate if not a ready sale in the New York shops.
That is, they had done so, but with the recent fad for "no pictures at all," the water color Othello began to find his occupation going.
Yet, in a way, it didn't matter much, for Myra, his wife, had always had money, and recently, by reason of an uncle's death, had inherited a lot more. Heath's work was rather desultory, anyway. He painted when he felt like it, and the rest of the time, he spent on the water or in it, or else he ran down to New York for a few days.
An impulsive, irresponsible existence was his, but his artistic temperament balked at dates or fixed hours, and he was far from being alone in that attitude.
Most of the Harbor Gardens people were alike oblivious to routine or to definite engagements, and invitations were given and accepted with the mental reservation that they were in no way binding.
Myra Heath, an acknowledged beauty, of the ash blonde, Saint Cecilia type, was superior and self-contained by nature. Many called her cold, others opined her inordinately calm exterior covered a flaming Vesuvius of temper, if not temperament.
No one ever caught sign of a jarring note between husband and wife, yet no one ever saw a sign of affection. If they did not wash their dirty linen in public, neither did they air their clean linen there, and this mere absence of anything to talk about caused the gossips to talk volubly about them.
The neighbor, Mrs. Prentiss, was deeply curious, and spent much of her insomnia at her West window, hoping for a cloud as big as a man's hand to appear, that she might draw some conclusions as to the family status.
So far, she had been unsuccessful. The Heaths lived most naturally and ordinarily. Now and then they had parties. Now and then they went to parties. He went to the Club, she went to Bridge games, and they both went to church. A more exemplary couple could not be imagined. Yet Mrs. Prentiss, perhaps in the vagaries of her insomnia, had a persistent intuition that there was a fly in the Heath ointment, and she was determined to swat it.
The bungalow of the artist was a long-fronted house, shingled and painted white. With the superior taste of the Harbor Gardens crowd, he scorned such things as Living Rooms, Sun Parlors, Breakfast Alcoves and Sleeping Porches.
The whole of the middle of the house was one great room, called the Lounge, which had doors back and front, and from which the staircase ascended. Then, one end was the studio, spacious and well lighted, and the other end the dining-room. That was all, save for the long rear extension, back of the dining-room, which housed the kitchens and servants' quarters.
Owing to the large size of the rooms there was ample space upstairs for many chambers, guest rooms and baths.
A wide brick terrace ran along the whole front of the house, and the back doors opened onto the garden.
The studio was on the end of the house next Mrs. Prentiss, and its great rear windows looking north, showed the garden, a blazing mass of color all through the season.
Though the Lounge was attractive, and planned with an eye to comfort and convenience, the studio was also a comfortable cozy room, and oftener than not, family and guests gathered there to smoke and talk, for Perry Heath was never too busy to stop work.
It was on a soft, lovely evening in late June that the two Heaths sat there with two house guests, who, as they figure largely in this story, may as well be described here.
Bunny Moore, whose real name was Berenice, was the girl guest, and she was beautiful with the loveliness of youth. Though nearly twenty-two, she looked no more than eighteen, and her golden bobbed head, her big blue eyes and her unnecessarily touched up complexion were of that Dresden china variety that, in its perfection, is perhaps the fairest thing God ever made.
Anyway, she was terribly pretty, and her long, lithe slimness was draped along a wicker steamer chair, that was by far the most comfortable seat in the studio, and usually appropriated by Bunny.
Eight years younger than her hostess, they were Home Town friends, and Bunny was happily spending a month at the Gardens.
In her Paris frock, which was merely a wisp of orchid-colored chiffon, Bunny looked like a French doll. But she was far from being of a doll-like nature.
"I say," she remarked, as her well reddened lips opened to allow the words to come out and a cigarette to enter, "any of the hilarious populace coming to dinner?"
"No," said Myra, her pale lips lazily smiling, as she glanced at Bunny. "We're all alone, for once. After dinner, we'll have a spot of Bridge and tuck in early."
"Fine!" Bunny said, "I think I'll wash my hair. Don't want to trail down to New York just for that. Katie can help me dry it."
"Yes, after she comes in," Myra acquiesced. "It's her night out."
"I'll help you dry it," volunteered Larry Inman, the other guest. He was a distant relative of Myra's, a second or third cousin, once or twice removed, but he traded on the relationship to come now and then for a visit.
He was a wholesome looking, well set up chap, with dark, crisp hair and red brown eyes. Tall, broad-shouldered and athletic, in his white flannels, he looked a typical summer guest, and Perry Heath often said, he wasn't a bit crazy over Larry, but he tolerated him around, because he fitted into the atmosphere.
Inman's face in repose was somber, and a little cynical, but when he smiled all was forgiven and he won the heart of anyone who saw him.
Bunny liked him a lot, and though they were eternally sparring, they were the best of friends.
" 'Fraid not," she returned, "the ceremony has to take place in my bathroom, and Myra is such an old fuss where the proprieties are concerned."
A maid entered, pushing a perambulator which was really a small cellaret. She brought it to rest in front of Heath, who at once set himself to the business of mixing cocktails.
Myra, from her lounge chair, studied the maid critically. But she could find nothing to censure. Cap, apron and personal attitude were all perfection, for Katie was quick to learn and Myra was a thorough and competent teacher.
Though there was supposed to be about the house the careless and informal air always associated with a studio or a bungalow, Myra Heath's housekeeping instincts rebelled, and she was most punctilious in the matters of domestic etiquette.
So Katie took the glasses from Heath, on her perfectly appointed tray, with its caviare canapes and tiny napkins, and served them properly.
But after that she was allowed to leave the room, and "dividends" were portioned out by Heath himself.
"Rotten to have a snoopy maid around," he growled, "cocktails should be absorbed only in the bosom of one's own family."
"Katie isn't snoopy," his wife rejoined, not curtly, but with the air of one stating an important fact.
Indeed, everything Myra said, carried an effect of importance. There are people who can make statements or ask questions and get no response whatever. Though they talk, there is no speech nor language, their voice is not heard.
But Myra Heath's slightest word commanded attention, arrested all other conversation. This was not of her conscious volition, it seemed more the result of cosmic law. It had always been so, and complete strangers as well as those who knew her better, involuntarily obeyed.
"Not snoopy exactly," offered Inman, "but so softly and cat-footed, she gets on my nerves."
"I wouldn't have a noisy servant about," Myra informed him, with a calm glance of hauteur.
"Well, she spoils the whole day for me," Heath declared. "I do wish, Myra, you'd let us have the cocktail hour au naturel. Without hired service. Larry could pass the tray, or, if he balked, Bunny could."
"No," Myra said, and the one word was far more eloquently final, than any tirade could have been.
She did not smile, but neither did she frown. It was her way of closing an incident.
Her pale oval face was of a classic beauty, which would have been rendered a thousand times more attractive by even a fleeting smile. But smiles were not Myra's strong point. Her calm was superb, her dignity was unassailable, her poise was never shaken; but of merriment she had none, nor ever showed response to its manifestation in others.
There were irreverent minded people who dubbed her a "cold fish." But more accurately descriptive of Myra Heath, would be Tennyson's lines:
"Faultily faultless, idly regular, splendidly null:
Dead perfection, no more."
Secretly, she gloried in this immobility, this placid superiority, but when accused of it, she denied it flatly and finally.
Of course, she was inordinately vain of her looks; of her quiet, well behaved ash blonde hair; of her large grey eyes, that never grew dark and stormy with rage, or soft with unshed tears; of her pale pink lips, and dead white complexion, untouched by the make-up box; and of her individual style of dressing.
Her wardrobe included only gowns of white or pale grey, or elusive shades of fawn or beige. And all were made on soft, clinging lines, that made her look like an exquisite Burne-Jones picture, in unusually modish garb.
All these effects should have appealed to her artist husband, but they didn't. He was all for color, and he begged Myra to wear pale green or yellow, or even black, but a calm "No," was his answer.
And so, though few people knew it, he became a little fed up with Myra. To be sure, she had the money, so he couldn't seriously offend her, but by slow degrees, they drifted a little more apart, spiritually, and though outwardly just as usual, they knew themselves where they stood.
Heath's absences in New York, when he went down to see about selling his pictures, became a little longer each time. He paid more attention than he used to to feminine guests in the house. He contrasted in his own mind the deadly dullness of his wife and the gay bantering moods of Bunny or other girls and women who visited Myra.
For she loved to entertain. Her superiority complex craved opportunity to display her home in all its marvelous perfection of detail. Consequently no weekend found them without guests, and many remained as longer time visitors.
Lawrence Inman, also an artist, dabbled about in Perry's studio, producing futile attempts at seascapes, or garden pieces, at which Heath laughed good-naturedly and told him to try blacksmithing.
A distant relative of Myra's, Inman was her only kin, and except for Heath the natural heir to her large fortune.
Moreover, he was in love with her, or as near it as one could come to such a thing as romance with Myra Heath.
He had often told her so, only to receive a grave look and a calm "No," in response. But Larry Inman was not easily daunted, and he continued to dance attendance on his beautiful kinswoman, to the secret amusement of her true and lawful husband.
For Perry Heath was astute to a degree, and very little went on in his house of which he was unaware.
He even sensed, through sheer intuition, that Larry contemplated proposing to Myra some plan of divorce or elopement, and he idly wondered how his wife would take it.
This conviction, however, made not the slightest difference in his attitude toward the pair, and the peace of the household was unruffled.
But Heath, not illogically, told himself that sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander, and if Myra chose to philander with Inman, her husband was excusable if he flirted a tiny bit with the bewitching Bunny.
So that's how matters stood. The quartette, as a whole, was an affable, congenial and good-natured bunch. All were of broad and tolerant views, all had similar tastes and ideas, and each was modern-minded and wise in his own conceit.
Cocktails finished and dinner announced, they went across the Lounge to the dining-room.
Here again, the absolute perfection of the appointments and the excellence of the food justified Myra in her pride in her housekeeping.
As it never fell short of this standard, it naturally evoked no comment, nor did the hostess expect any. Achievement was all she desired; approbation, save for her own, she did not care for.
Dinner was rather a merry feast, for the cocktails had been potent, and though Myra smiled but seldom, the other three were in fine fig and feather, and a pleasant time was had by all.
Coffee was served on the front terrace, that looked out to sea, and later, as the darkness settled down, they went inside for Bridge.
"Let's play in the studio," Bunny said, "it's so much more cosy."
"Yes, I know your idea of cosiness," Heath retorted, "it's to babble all the time you're dummy and most of the time you're playing."
Bunny made a face at him, and went on to the studio, where Katie was deftly placing table, chairs and smoking stands.
They played a few rubbers, for moderate stakes, and then, Bunny, being dummy, and chattering as was her wont, Heath said, sharply:
"Do shut up, child! I can't think straight with your tongue clattering like that!"
"Oh, all right!" and the girl flounced out of her chair, went through the French window and out on the terrace.
"Now, she's mad," observed Inman, but Perry Heath said, gayly:
"Not so you'd notice it. That's a bid for me to follow her."
"Run along, then," said Myra, tolerantly, "I'll entertain Larry till you get back."
It was not entirely unprecedented, for their Bridge games occasionally broke up in just this fashion. Heath strolled along the terrace to the far end, where he found Bunny in a Rambler Arbor, exactly where he had expected to find her.
Very fair she looked, as she stood, leaning against its trellised window, her fair hair a soft gold in the moonlight, her flower-like face a little wistful as she gazed up at him.
Perry Heath was not a handsome man, but he was gentle and kindly, and little Bunny, unversed in the ways of men of the world, had fallen for his gay, good-natured charm.
His appearance was a bit inconspicuous in its lack of distinction or striking features. His rather pale face was surmounted by a shock of dark brown hair, which he had a habit of impatiently pushing back from his forehead, over which it invariably dropped again. His eyes were a grey blue, and he wore large tortoiseshell rimmed glasses, which, he said, having put on for his painting, he was later compelled to wear constantly.
They were not specially becoming, but Bunny contended they lent distinction to his face, and gave him a Bohemian look.
For the rest, Heath was average sized, average weight, and always dressed in the perfection of good taste as well as in the latest mode of tailorings.
His manner was always pleasant, receptive, responsive and generally charming. This, though habitual with him, was looked upon by Bunny as specially for her, and she was rapidly becoming his abject slave and adorer.
Heath saw this, of course, and tried to stave it off, by coolness and even negligence toward the girl.
But Bunny disregarded this and blithely went on falling in love, with neatness and dispatch.
"Come along, Bunny girl, they're waiting for us," Heath said, trying not to look too directly at her.
"Stay just a minute," she whispered, stepping a bit nearer to him. "Just one little minute—to look at the moon."
"Why, there isn't any moon, child," he exclaimed.
"There will be, in a minute. It's just going to rise—up out of the sea. Oh, do wait for it. Do,—dear—"
Of course, Perry had to meet the occasion. He waited. Waited, with Bunny in his arms, her slim little form held so close, he could feel her quick, startled breathing, could hear her ecstatic little gasps as she nestled her chin in his cupped hand that sought to raise her face to his.
But as the golden disk began to show above the sea horizon, Myra's voice sounded from the doorway:
"Come on in, you two,—the evening's over."
They obeyed her summons, and returning to the studio, found Inman mixing himself a nightcap, and Myra looking with deep interest at an old brown bottle she was holding.
Myra was an enthusiastic collector of Early American glass. Her cabinets held specimens of Sandwich, Wistarberg, Melville, and the worshipped Stiegel.
Of late her attention had turned to bottles and flasks, and, much to Heath's disgust, she had amassed a quantity of homely old whisky bottles, of amber, green and white, that bore precious, though inartistic devices and letterings.
To-day she had come across what she deemed the gem of her collection, a flat bottle, with the head of Washington on one side, showing the legend, "The Father of his Country," and a bust of General Taylor on the other, with the declaration, "General Taylor never Surrenders."
THIS bottle, Myra was holding to the light and admiring its ugliness; the while she referred to a big book on glass, and verified its exact status.
"Yes," she said, raptly, "it's all right! Dyottville Glass Works—Philadelphia—oh, it's a gem! A wonderful find!"
"Damn your wonderful find!" cried her husband irritably. "It amazes me, Myra, when you are so un-enthusiastic over most things, how you can go into ecstasies over a bit of ugly old glass, just because it is old. I have a feeling for beauty, in any form, but for a rotten old whisky bottle,—no!"
"But, dear, your natural intelligence and breadth of experience, must make you realize that better judges may be better pleased. That one who is up in these things understands and appreciates values that are not apparent to the layman."
Myra's tone was kindly,—too kindly,—such as one would use to an uneducated child, and Perry resented it.
"Oh, I know all that, old thing," he said, "but so much of your glass collection is really beautiful, and of true artistic value, I don't see why you condescend to these ugly and uninteresting bits."
"Ugly, I grant, but not uninteresting," Myra returned, and Perry gave up the contest.
"I expect it held mighty good whisky," he said, "a bit different from the stuff we get now,—even prewar. This held early American booze, I suppose."
Myra took the flask from his irreverent fingers, and began to polish it with her handkerchief.
"It isn't what it held," she said, "nor is it its beauty or intrinsic worth. It's age and genuineness that make it of value."
"Oh, I know!" Perry was distinctly irritable. "Don't think I am an absolute imbecile about this collecting business! I have heard of collections before yours!"
"I'm sure you have," Myra said, with that exasperating condescension of hers. "But I have one of the finest glass collections in the country, and if I am proud of it, I am justly so."
"Of course you are!" said Inman, with enthusiasm. "I know a little about such things, and yours, Myra, is a marvelous bunch of stuff."
"Yes, it is. I am fond of it as well as proud of it."
"Marvelous bunch of rubbish," Perry said. "Half a dozen of the pieces are delightfully worthwhile, but these corner saloon bottles you've accumulated recently are commonplace as well as hideous."
Myra looked at him a few seconds, without speaking, and then returned her attention to the brown bottle.
"I love that particular stare my wife gives me occasionally," Heath said, addressing no one in particular. "It perfectly represents the attitude that is sometimes spoken of as 'God Almighty to a black bettle.' It is very amusing."
"You shall have it again, if you care for it so much," Myra returned, and gave him another look, this time showing a more definite trace of contempt.
"Come, come," said Larry, "birds in their little nests agree. Let up on the bickering, if only to spare your guests embarrassment. And, too, old scout, your pictures are no more uniformly good than Myra's glass junk. This isn't saying that some of them are not masterpieces, but on the other hand—"
"Shut up," growled Heath, "yours are uniformly bad, you know. Well, consistency's a jewel."
"Larry knows more about color than you do," said Myra, judicially, speaking almost as if she were judging an exhibition of art.
"Pooh, color is my middle name," Heath retorted. He was not miffed at all, these altercations were of frequent occurrence. "I wish to goodness, Myra, you had a little sense of color. It might lead you to see how a touch of it would improve your pure, angel face. Your lips are perfectly shaped, but too pale. Your delicate but high cheek bones would welcome a touch of rouge, and your ash blonde eyebrows are simply screaming for a pencil!"
"That's so, My," agreed Bunny, who would have agreed with Perry had he said just the reverse. "Here's my vanity box, have a try at it."
"No," said Myra, with her most negative inflection. "My face is perfect as it is."
Her assured tone robbed the words of any semblance of petty vanity. It was as if the Venus of Milo had said quietly that she had a good figure.
Inman laughed. "That's true, sweetie," he said, "but just as an experiment, I'd like to see how you'd look with some pigment on your map."
He took the vanity case from Bunny and made as if to apply some rouge to Myra's face, but she waved him away with a soft, slow movement of her long white hand, and closed the incident with her characteristic "No."
Bunny, sitting on the arm of Heath's chair, clasped her knee while she swung a well-dressed and impertinent leg.
Her own face was a trifle over-decorated, but the garish tints couldn't hide the soft loveliness of her natural complexion, and though her nose was white as a clown's, it was adorably impudent and bewitching.
She had tossed around her neck a filmy scarf of American Beauty red, and its deep tone brought out the fairy-like charm of her soft pink throat and golden hair.
"Wish I had a cigarette holder to match this scarf," she said. "Can't you get me one, Perry? Doesn't amber ever come in deep red? I believe this is my color,—don't you?"
She leaned over Heath, her saucy face near his own, and by her own movement brought herself within the circle of his arm.
"You let my husband alone, Miss Vampire," said Myra, with more spirit than she often showed.
"Good gracious! I don't want him!" and Bunny hopped off the chair arm, and pirouetted about the room.
"I know you don't," and Myra's voice grew sharper, "but you play with him, and he, poor fool, falls for it."
"Hoot, toot, Myra!" Heath cried, in astonishment at this outburst, "let her play with me if she likes. I like it myself."
Perry said this merely to rouse his wife's temper, for, as a matter of fact. Bunny rather bored him, unless he was just in the mood for her wiles.
"I know you do," Myra looked at him coldly, "you like any girl who flatters you and makes you think you're a devil. You grub at any flapper with dabs of war-paint on her face, who puffs smoke into your eyes."
"Try a dab on your own face," said Bunny, impudently, pushing her vanity case toward Myra.
"Clear out, Bunny," said her hostess. "I'm fed up with you! And, unless you transfer your very marked attentions to some other man than my husband—"
"Well, well, was she jealous?" and Bunny threw her arms round Myra's neck and kissed her.
The girl was not a bit embarrassed by the older woman's outburst; in fact, she had been expecting it, and rather welcomed it. It added excitement to the situation, and Bunny gloried in a fuss.
"Let me alone," and Myra flung the girl from her. "I'm in earnest—"
"You seem to be," and Bunny stood a pace off, and scanned her critically.
Perry Heath laughed.
"She isn't really," he said. "One can't be jealous of a man one scorns—"
"Yes, I can," Myra declared. "I do scorn you—you're little and petty and mean. You're a trashy artist and a mere apology for a man. But you are my husband, and my dignity resents your foolish actions with other women. I refuse to put up with it, and—"
"Wait a minute," said Heath, in a drawling tone, "before you proceed, what about your own actions with our friend and fellow artist here? What about your foolish actions in that direction?"
"Larry? Oh, he's my cousin—"
"Distant cousin by the family records, but a very dear cousin in actuality." Heath said, but with more the effect of amused chaffing than real accusation.
Myra flared up.
"He is my cousin and my heir. The family fortune follows the family record, and at my death—"
"Good Lord, Myra, you're not thinking of dying, are you? For Heaven's sake, don't spring these shocks so suddenly!"
"I don't know when I shall die. but I have certainly made my will in Larry's favor. To my mind that is just and right. It is far more appropriate that my father's money should revert to my father's relatives than a man my father never saw, and would never have accepted as a son-in-law, had he been consulted."
"The woman with a serpent's tongue!" exclaimed Heath, really surprised at this outburst, so unlike his calm wife. "Is this a parlor entertainment you're giving us? Whose stunt is next? I've had enough of this number."
"Don't try to be funny. You're not clever enough for that. The idea of the Country Club wanting a man of your calibre for president! They little know your limitations!"
"Well, Myra, you're getting on fine! Proceed, go right along."
"Yes, do," urged Bunny. "When you get all wrought up like that, you almost get a shade of color in your face!"
"Yes, a touch of angry brick red," Perry remarked, looking thoughtfully at Myra, as if at a picture.
As a matter of fact, she was, if anything, paler than usual, and her cold gray eyes glittered in her intense rage.
The whole scene was unprecedented. Never had Myra Heath shown this phase before.
Larry Inman was dumb with surprise. Bunny was joyously excited; and Heath himself was frankly puzzled.
"Sam Anderson is a thousand times better equipped for such a position than you are!" Myra went on.
Anderson was another candidate.
"Anderson is a freak," put in Larry, but Myra snatched back the conversational ball.
"He isn't," she declared. "And, anyway, he'd make a better president than Perry, whatever he may be! Imagine Perry presiding at a meeting of the board of governors!"
"Oh, I could swing it," Heath said carelessly. "But don't think I can't see through this tirade of Myra's. It's all her exclusiveness, you know. She thinks that as we are Harbor Gardens people, it's degrading to have too much to do with a club In Harbor Park, even to be president of it."
"Yes, I do," Myra admitted. "Let the Harbor Park people take one of their own men for president. We of the Gardens have no call to mix in with them to that extent. If Perry chooses to go over there to play golf, because the links are better than the Garden links, let him do so. Let him be a member of the club so he can do so. But as to being president—no."
"All right, old thing," said Heath, amiably, "I'll refuse the candidacy, since it pesters you so. We've been married six years, and I never before saw you so het up. Give me a light, somebody."
He lazily held a cigarette to his lips, while Bunny picked up one of four lighted candles that stood on a refectory table, and held it for his use.
As she put it back, she idly opened a portfolio of sketches that lay on the table. Inside was a card, which said, in elaborate lettering:
"The Work of Perry Heath."
"What's this for?" she said, taking it up and closing the portfolio.
"Oh, that's a work of art in itself," Heath told her. "There was a loan exhibition here last summer and that was the card that designated my collection of masterpieces. It is such a gem of Spencerian work, I saved it."
The lettering on the card was ornamented with the old-fashioned Spencerian flourishes, and further embellished with the strange bird of unknown species, with which Spencerians were wont to decorate their pen work.
Bunny laughed at it, and gayly stuck it in the corner of the frame of one of Heath's best sketches that hung on the studio wall.
"All right, then, Perry," Myra said, more mildly now, "you'll withdraw your name from the candidates, and give up the idea of the club presidency?"
" 'Nobody, my darling, could call me a fussy man'," sang Heath. "Of course I will, if your ladyship decrees it. That will leave three names to vote on still. But I doubt if Anderson gets it. Seems to me Pinkie Garrison is a more general favorite."
"Nixy," Inman disagreed. "If not Anderson, then George Morton."
"Well, they're all Park men," Myra argued. "I don't care which of them is elected, if Perry doesn't run."
"I won't, I won't, I won't!" Heath reiterated. "Now, for Heaven's sake, drop that subject. Come on, let's all go to bed. A spot of Scotch, Larry?"
"Sure. This has been an exhausting conference. Gosh, what a watery concoction! You take this, I'll mix my own!"
Inman set back on the table the mild highball Heath had compounded for him, and, his eye lighting on the card in the picture frame, he took it down and set it up against the tall glass, so that "The Work of Perry Heath" seemed to refer to the Scotch and soda.
With a smile, Heath appropriated the drink. He cared little for whisky, while Inman was rather too fond of it.
Bunny sidled up to Heath, and begged a sip from his glass, while Myra, now apparently reconciled again to the "vamp," herself accepted a portion of Larry's nightcap.
"The dove of peace once more hovers in our midst," Perry said, as he rescued his glass from the absent-minded Bunny. He beamed through his shell-rimmed glasses, with the air of a kindly paterfamilias.
"I believe those convex lenses make your eyes look bigger," said Bunny, looking closely into the said lenses.
"A good thing," remarked Myra. "Perry's eyes are all the better for a bit of magnifying."
"I rather fancy my eyes," Heath said, imperturbably. "Awfully good color, what?"
"No color at all," retorted his wife, promptly. "Just commonplace uneventful eyes. Like your hair. Except that you wear it a bit long, there's no character to it whatever."
"I don't wear it long. It's cut as short as Larry's."
"At the back, yes. But you wear it long on top,—so you can shake it back with the gesture of an artist."
"That will do, Myra," said Heath, with unusual daring. "Please let my personal appearance alone, will you?"
"Certainly, Perry. It doesn't interest me at all." Heath stared at her. What was the matter with Myra tonight? She was all on edge for some reason,—was it really because of the election question, or was she upset at his attentions to Bunny Moore?
Bunny felt sure it was the latter, and remarking again her intention to wash her hair, she danced out of the room and up the stairs.
"That child is a picture!" said Heath, with the sole and amiable desire to annoy his wife.
But he didn't succeed, for Myra only said, "Yes, she is," in an abstracted tone, that gave the impression of absent-mindedness.
"I'm off for bed, too," Inman declared. "I hope after I leave the room you'll say I'm a picture."
"Indeed we shall," Heath assured him. "There are all sorts of pictures, you know."
"Yep. Good night," Larry said, a little shortly, and swung himself off.
Husband and wife sat silent for several moments, though occasionally glancing at one another.
At last, Myra gave a little sigh, and said, "Blow out the candles, please, they bother my eyes. And put out the lights, too, we may as well go to bed. It's Katie's night out."
Heath slowly blew out the four candles on the table, but delayed turning off the electric switches.
"What ailed you tonight, Myra?" he said, not unkindly, but a trifle accusingly.
"Oh, I don't know," she returned, her pale face showing a slight frown. "We are so hopelessly mismatched, Perry. Aren't we?"
"We sure are. What would you care to do about it?"
"What can we do? If we could be divorced, I'd marry Larry, of course. I can't see you marrying Bunny, though."
"Probably not,—though I might do worse."
"You could easily do worse, and probably would. But it's out of the question. We can't have the awful publicity of that sort of thing,—and then your secret would come out—"
"Oh, don't think I don't know all about it. Don't be an ostrich! But if you can see any way to our legal separation—"
"Collusion is not favored by the courts."
"I know that. But other people find ways to—to—"
"To whip the devil round the stump. Yes, I know,—but you don't want to go to Reno—"
"Of course not! I don't want to do anything. But if you could—er—disappear——"
"And never Come back? And under the Enoch Arden law, you could marry Inman? Oh, well, my lady, you'd have to wait seven years for that!"
"I'm not sure I should. Well, if you can't—if you can think of no way out—then—"
"Then what, Myra?"
"Then, perhaps,—oh, well, secrets sometimes leak out. Does Bunny know?"
"Heavens! Why do you lug in that child all the time? I don't know or care what she knows!"
"Aren't you in love with her, Perry?"
"Good Heavens, no! She's pretty and amusing, but after ten minutes she bores me to death. I like Polly Lanyon better than Bunny."
"Oh, yes, a Harbor Park girl! I do believe your natural instincts are more like the Parkers than the Gardeners after all."
"I dare say. At any rate, I like the Club, even if you won't let me be President—"
"Oh, perhaps you may be, yet."
"Perhaps so." Heath spoke gravely, more so than the subject seemed to warrant. "You ought to know."
"Yes, I ought to know."
The woman spoke gravely, also. All signs of bickering or caustic banter were gone now. Husband and wife seemed to be at a crisis. Was a parting of the ways imminent or would it all blow over, as it had done before?
"Let's sleep over it," suggested Heath, suddenly. "Go to bed, dear, and if necessary, we'll have this discussion continued in our next."
Myra rose, abstractedly walking toward the wide doors, and then through into the Lounge, and up the stairs.
As she turned and looked down, her attitude on the staircase was so like a Burne-Jones or a Rossetti picture, that Heath called out, "You Blessed Damozel! Wait till I get a pencil, I want to sketch you!"
But Myra only gave a light laugh and disappeared upstairs.
Perry looked at his watch, saw it was only eleven-thirty, hesitated about sitting down to read for a while, decided against it, and snapping off the lights went up to his own room.
It was just midnight when Myra softly opened her bedroom door, and crept down the stairs.
She felt her way in the dark, her sandalled feet making no sound on the rugs, and silently went on till she reached the studio.
There, one small shaded lamp was glimmering, and Inman stepped from the shadows to greet her.
"I was afraid you wouldn't come," he said, simply, as he took her in his arms.
"I was afraid I wouldn't, too," she returned, and the unusual smile that came to her face proved how beautiful she could be when she was happy.
"But you did!" he whispered, exultantly.
"That is quite evident," she smiled again, relaxing in his embrace, leaning her lovely head back to look into his eyes.
"What did Perry say to you? Any hope?"
"We didn't get anywhere. I broached the subject, but after some aimless and futile talk, he said we'd better sleep on it and take it up some other time."
"I did, and the other time is right now."
This was from Heath himself, who entered the studio and snapped on more lights as he spoke.
It was characteristic of Myra that she showed no surprise or embarrassment.
She remained in Inman's embrace, and turned her face to her husband with a slight frown of irritation at the intrusion.
Larry, too, was apparently undismayed, and stood his ground, as he took his cue from Myra.
"Then it's now a case of the time, the place and the loved one altogether," he said, lightly. "Go ahead, Perry, have your say."
"There's not much to say." Heath lighted a cigarette. "But as an interested bystander, I'd like to know what you two propose to do."
"That's only natural, I'm sure," Inman remarked, "what are we going to do, Myra?"
"You're going to do what I tell you," cried Heath, suddenly wrathy. "You, Larry, will go to your room at once, pack your things and get out of here the first thing in the morning."
"And if I refuse to obey?"
"You won't refuse. You are at my mercy. I have caught you down here, holding a clandestine meeting with my wife. I find her in your arms. By God, man, I have a right to shoot you!"
"Why don't you?" asked Inman, with maddening coolness.
"You're not worth it!" Heath glared at him. "Not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill you. Get out, I tell you! Go upstairs, and before I am down in the morning, you are to be far away from here and never come back! Get that?"
"Yes, Heath, I get that."
"Go, then." And Inman went, and again the husband and wife were alone together.
MRS. PRENTISS always sat down to her breakfast at half-past eight o'clock. If truth were told, she would have preferred an earlier hour, but Harbor Gardens people were late risers, and eight-thirty was just about the earliest one could breakfast with decency.
Most of the Gardeners liked nine o'clock better, and many were later still.
But Emily Prentiss clung to her early breakfast hour, and was always hoping against hope that her house guests would cling with her.
They never did, however, and try as she would, she could seldom get them downstairs at the appointed time.
This summer, her nephew, one Todhunter Buck, was spending the month of June with her. And as he was a docile and good-tempered chap, whom she had loved from babyhood on, she ruled him with a rod of iron, at least regarding her household appointments.
So Todhunter, whose awkward ancestral name had long since been reduced to Toddy, almost always beamed at his aunt across her matutinal table.
In available weather, this table was laid on the pleasant bungalow porch, which gave on the Western landscape and commanded a fairly good view of the Heath home. Being on the North horn of the crescent shaped harbor, these houses faced South.
"Toddy," said Mrs. Prentiss, as she poured the coffee, "there were queer doings at the Heath house last night."
"So?" said the youth, with a perfunctory showing of interest. "Jazz?"
"No, they're not that sort. Oh, I forgot you don't know them, of course, you having arrived only yesterday. But there's a girl over there that you'll like."
Pretty?" Toddy sat up.
"More than pretty,—a vision of angelic beauty."
"Gosh, Auntie, never heard you rave before!"
"And she's a nice girl, too. Oh, flapper and all that, but with some sense in her silly head. But I was telling you about last night."
"No, you weren't, you hadn't begun."
"Well, I will, if you'll be still a minute. I couldn't sleep—"
"Poor old auntie, I know. It must be awful to be to wakeful."
"It's terrible, Todhunter. You've no idea what it means to lie with wide open eyes and hear the clock strike the hours and half hours all through the night!"
"No. Why have a striking clock?"
"So I'll know what time it is, stupid. Well, last night, I was prowling about my room,—I do that when I just get worn out lying in bed awake—"
"Yes, go on. When does the pretty girl come in?"
"Not at all. Be quiet, will you? The people next door all went to bed some time before twelve o'clock."
"Hush. Don't be silly. And then, a little later, say, about midnight, there was a small light, a dim one, in the studio. That's the room at this end of the house."
"H'm. I suppose the pretty girl came down to the library to get a book. They always do that."
"Well, maybe. Then after a short time, there was a big light flashed on—"
"Of course. The hero of the story comes down and finds girl, in bewitching negligee, with her hair down—"
"Will you be still! Well, then, about one o'clock the lights all went out except for two tiny sparks, that looked like two candles."
"And probably were. The two big sparks being the girl and the man."
"Hush. I'm serious, Tod. For after that, oh—half an hour after, the big light was flashed on again, stayed on for a short time, and then went off, leaving the two little dim lights again."
"Got you. Proceed."
"Then, after another interval, comes the big light again, and then, later, that goes out and the two little lights stay there all the rest of the night."
"Till what time?"
"I don't know. I stopped watching and went back to bed about three. The little lights were burning then, and when I awoke it was broad daylight."
"Well, Aunt Em, I don't think you've detailed such a very astounding sequence of events after all. Lights on and off in a house, are not of unprecedented occurrence."
"No. But what were the two little lights that stayed on through all the other ups and downs of the big lights?"
"Night lights, I suppose—"
"Nonsense! I've lived next door to the Heaths since the first of May, and they never burnt night lights before."
"Always has to be a first time. But what do you want me to say? I'll agree it's amazing, alarming, terrifying,—anything you wish. But I don't get it."
"That's just it, Tod. I don't get it either. I think something has happened over there."
"Do you separate the letters of your words when you write, Auntie?"
"You ought to know. I often write to you. Why?"
"Yes, I know you do. I remember now. You write half a word, and then take up your pen and put it down a bit further on, to finish it."
"Well, what of it?"
"Only that it means that the writer has intuition to a marked degree. So my adored Aunt, I believe your assumption is right, and something did happen next door, last night. Your intuition is doubtless correct. What do you suppose the happening was?"
"Toddy, you are a trial. I never know whether you're interested in what I'm saying, or just poking fun at me."
"Both, dear. That is, I'm interested in the pretty girl. Tell me more about her."
"Oh, she has yellow hair and blue eyes and a skin like peaches and cream. She's a friend of Mrs. Heath's, and I think she has bewitched Mr. Heath. She would bewitch any man not totally blind!"
"Yet you like her, Aunt?"
"Yes, she's a dear girl. Sort of homelike and gentle-mannered with older persons, like me. But I expect she's a hoyden among her own crowd."
"She's younger than the Heaths, then?"
"Yes; Bunny is twenty-two. The Heaths are both over thirty."
"Me for the Bunny! Why the kittenish name?"
"Her name is Berenice. But she's always called Bunny."
"Oh, well, I'd just as lief call her that as anything. When can I see her?"
"To-day, probably. They'll all be at the Greshams' this afternoon, and we'll be there, too."
"All right, but I'll hang about outside this morning, and hope to catch a preliminary glimpse of the universal charmer."
Toddy, having finished his breakfast, lighted a cigarette, as he glanced over toward the Heath house.
But he saw no sign of the occupants nor even any servants about, opening doors or windows.
And then, just as aunt and nephew rose from the table, there came to their ears a loud scream from the house next door.
Just one single, terrified shriek, seemingly a feminine voice, raised in sudden, uncontrollable fear or horror.
"Let's rush over!" Toddy cried, putting one leg over the porch railing.
"No, no," his aunt restrained him. "We can't do that. Harbor Gardens people are conventional and reserved. Wait until we hear something more."
But they heard nothing further, and after waiting for a time, Mrs. Prentiss went about her household affairs and young Buck sat on the verandah rail and smoked.
* * * * * * *
The shriek had come from Katie, the Heaths' parlormaid.
This capable and efficient young woman was in the habit of coming downstairs at eight o'clock every morning. For the Heaths breakfasted at nine, and Myra's exactions called for a house in perfect order at that hour.
It was Katie's duty to open windows and straighten things generally in the rooms and on the porches.
She had overslept a trifle this morning, for she had been out late,—indeed, she had come home from her evening out far later than the prescribed hour.
But she came downstairs, trim and neat in her smart morning uniform, and set diligently to work with her brush and duster.
The Lounge in order, she proceeded to the studio, and it was the sight that met her eyes there, that brought forth the wild scream of terror that the neighbors heard.
For there, in the middle of the floor, lay Myra Heath with a candle burning at her head and another at her feet.
Katie looked twice to be sure that it was her mistress, so strange and so changed was the face that she saw.
Then, her hands over her eyes, she stumbled her way back to the kitchen and fell into a chair there.
"What's the matter, Katie?" Cook said, curiously, and the butler came from the dining-room to listen.
"Oh, Mrs. Pierce, oh, Herrick,—it's the Missis,—she's—oh, I do believe she's dead!"
"Dead! Watcha talkin' about?" and Mrs. Pierce, the cook, stared at the excited girl.
"She is—she is! Just you go and look—in the stujo,—on the floor—"
But Mrs. Pierce, and Herrick, the butler, had already rushed through to the studio.
"Fer the love of the saints!" exclaimed Mrs. Pierce, "and the candles burnin' and all!"
"It ain't Mrs. Heath—" Herrick said, greatly puzzled.
"Sure it's Mrs. Heath! But justa look at her! Whatever has she been a doin' to herself?"
For it was a strange Myra Heath they saw. Instead of her usually pale face and colorless lips, they saw a scarlet mouth, of exquisite shape; cheeks delicately rouged, with beautiful effect; eyebrows finely pencilled and showing their true arch; and a hint of color at the roots of the long lashes, that, upturned, showed wide open eyes, fixed in the stare of death.
Yes, unmistakably death, though the vivid coloring was more lifelike than had ever before shown on Myra Heath's handsome features.
"Don't stand there like a ninny, Pierce!" the butler cried out. "We must tell somebody—we must call Mr. Heath—"
"Of course,—of course,"—responded the flustered woman. "You go and tell him, Herrick. You're the one to go."
Herrick considered. He was the one to go, doubtless, yet he felt strangely unwilling. Perry Heath had no valet, Herrick looked after some of his things, the rest were left to the maids. But he couldn't send one of the girls on such an errand as that. No, he must go himself.
So, slowly, Herrick turned away from the terrible yet fascinating sight, and slowly climbed the stairs.
He knocked at Perry Heath's door but heard no response. Repeated knocks brought no word from within, and so Herrick gently pushed open the door.
There was no one there, and the bed had obviously not been slept in.
This was amazing, and Herrick's legs trembled under him,
Nonplussed, and uncertain what to do next, the butler hesitated, and then went along the hall to Lawrence Inman's room, and knocked there.
"Who is it? What's the matter?" Inman called, and Herrick heard him jump out of bed and open the door.
Inman faced the man with a look of surprise, for guests were not called of a morning in this house.
"If you please, sir," Herrick began, "there's—there's trouble below."
"Trouble below?" Larry rubbed his eyes. "What do you mean? Speak out, man."
"Well, sir, Mr. Heath, sir, he ain't in his room."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know, sir. And Mrs. Heath, she's—she's dead, I think."
"What! Herrick, what are you talking about? You been drinking?"
"No sir. But I tell you there's great trouble on. Mrs. Heath, sir,—I tell you she's dead, sir."
Herrick's excitement made him incoherent, and without waiting to dress, Inman flung on a dressing gown, over his pajamas, and pushing the man aside, hurried down the stairs.
He went straight to the studio, and gave a gasp as he looked down at the prostrate figure on the floor.
The two candles were still burning, but they were guttering and almost burnt out.
Myra lay in a composed position, but with strange accessories. Her gown, the one she had worn the evening before, was of white georgette, simply made. But across the bodice, now, was flung the deep crimson scarf that was Bunny's. Round her neck was a heavy string of large, almost barbaric beads, of red and gold.
Instinctively, Inman glanced up at a light-sconce, where these beads usually hung, as a sort of decorative touch.
Their place was empty. Had Myra decked herself in these things?
He gazed at her face. Always beautiful, in her calm pale way, she was far more so now, with the color on cheeks and lips, with the dark touches that made her eyes look large and striking, and with the scarf of American Beauty red, enlivening her white dress.
And the candles,—two of those from the long studio table,—standing in their brass candlesticks at her head and feet, still faintly alight, but just ready to flicker out, these gave the effect of a shrine or a strange ceremonial of some sort.
"Oh, my God!" Larry groaned, as a man will, who does not know what else to say.
"She's been killed, Mr. Inman, sir," said Herrick, as he pointed to a great contusion on Myra's left temple.
This was not noticeable at first glance, for the head was turned to that side, and the hair was a bit fluffed out as if to hide it.
Inman looked, then turned away in horror, and ran from the room.
Herrick followed him, and they faced one another as they stood in the Lounge.
"What must we do, sir?" asked the man, and Inman stared at him speechlessly.
"But we must do something," Herrick urged, allowing himself the familiar pronoun by reason of the great stress of the occasion.
"Yes, yes," Larry roused himself to answer. "Yes, I suppose, we must."
"Where is Mr. Heath, sir?" Herrick went on, anxiously.
"Lord, I don't know. Where can he be? He must be around somewhere."
"No sir, he ain't. Why, he'd be right here, if he was. Now, what about Miss Moore?"
"Miss Moore? Oh, yes,—well, what about her?"
Herrick was disgusted with the man. He had never before been up against such a terrible situation, but he knew his place and he knew his business. A butler must be alert and helpful and capably attentive, but it is not for him to take command. That must be done by the gentlemen of the family, and here was Mr. Inman, whom Herrick liked and admired, falling down on the job.
"Why, sir, she ought to be—er—warned a bit, don't you think?"
"Yes, yes, certainly. Warn her, Herrick, warn her, by all means." Herrick stared.
"It's not for me, sir. I'll send Mrs. Pierce or one of the maids."
"Yes, do. That's right,—Mrs. Pierce or one of the maids."
Herrick shook his head. Mr. Inman was a broken reed. And with Mrs. Heath dead and Mr. Heath absent, what was to be done?
"Do you think, sir," he said, forcing himself to suggest, "that we ought to call a doctor, or—"
"A doctor? Oh, yes,—a doctor. Why,—why, Herrick, she's dead."
"I know it, sir, but it's most generally done in such cases. Oh, I wish Mr. Heath would come!"
"I wish so, too. I'm—I'm no good in a matter like this. I'm no good, Herrick."
"No, sir," said Herrick, sincere for once. "Well, then, suppose I telephone for Doctor Conklin, he's the family physician."
"Yes, do,—do that, Herrick, at once."
"Yes, sir. And I'll send Carter, the ladies' maid, to Miss Moore, and she can tell her, you see."
"And you, sir, yourself, you'd better dress, for there'll be people coming, you know."
"Why, yes,—" Inman looked down at himself as if surprised at his garb. "Yes, certainly. I will."
He went off to his room, and, closing the studio door, Herrick went to the telephone.
He summoned Doctor Conklin, who promised to come over at once.
Then, with a swift glance about, Herrick pulled open a drawer in the big table, and from a loose pile of small bills, and a box containing silver coin, he helped himself rather liberally, stuffing the money in his pocket.
He eyed what was left with the air of a connoisseur, decided it was as little as he safely dared leave, and closed the drawer again.
Then he turned his attention to the dead woman, and silently contemplated the strange details of Myra Heath's appearance.
Never before had he seen his mistress with artificial color on her cheeks or lips; never before had he seen her wearing a crimson scarf; never before, to his knowledge, had she worn a string of gaudy beads. It was beyond his powers of divination to fathom these mysteries.
And then, at her feet, propped against the candlestick that stood there, he saw the card which he had seen many times before,—the ornate pen and ink work that bore the legend, "The Work of Perry Heath."
To Herrick this carried no sinister suggestion, he merely thought the card had been dropped there, and was about to pick it up, when there seeped through his bewildered brain a vague memory that one should not touch things on the scene of a mysterious death.
So he restrained his impulse to blow out the last feeble flickerings of the two candles, and, instead, raised the shades of the back windows to let in the daylight.
Then, patting his pocket with a soft sigh of satisfaction, he went out of the room, and sought the other servants.
He found them in the pantry, agog with excitement at the tales of Katie and Mrs. Pierce, but not daring to report for duty until summoned.
Herrick was unstrung himself, but kept his head, and assumed an extra dignity as he issued orders.
"No gossiping, now," he said; "Mrs. Pierce, you go on with getting the breakfast ready. We've no call to neglect our work. Carter, you go up to Miss Moore's room, and—and—well, you do the best you can. Tell the young lady that Mrs. Heath has—has—say, she's had an accident,—yes, that will do, an accident. And get Miss Moore to dress at once, for the doctor is coming and after that goodness knows what goings on there will have to be!"
"Oh,—I can't tell Miss Bunny!" Carter burst into sobs. "Poor Mrs. Heath—are you sure, Herrick, she's—dead? Let me see her."
"No, nobody, must go into that room till the doctor comes,—or Mr. Heath."
"Where is Mr. Heath?" exclaimed Carter.
"I don't know," Herrick said, slowly. "There's a lot to be learned yet. You go along, Carter, get Miss Bunny dressed and take up her breakfast. I'm at my wit's end! Nobody to boss—or, anything! Mr. Inman, he's all flabbergasted like,—I wish Mr. Heath would come back—wherever he's gone!"
Carter obeyed the orders of her superior, and taking a tray with coffee and rolls, started for Bunny's room.
But even as she tapped at the door, she heard the sound of wild sobbing within.
No summons bade her enter, and after another knock, Carter opened the door and went in.
Bunny was huddled in a forlorn heap in the middle of her bed, and was crying bitterly.
"There now, there now, Miss Bunny," Carter said, moved to pity at the sight of the girl's intense grief, "take a sup of coffee, do—"
With an air of bewilderment, Bunny looked up in the maid's face, and docilely took the cup she proffered.
As she swallowed, she looked over the rim of the cup at Carter.
"What is it?" she whispered. "What's all the excitement about?"
"Well,—Miss,—you see, Mrs. Heath, she—she isn't so well."
"Not well! Myra! What do you mean?"
"She's—she's had an accident, ma'am."
"Accident! What sort of accident?"
"She—" but Carter's powers of vague prevarication were limited, and she blurted out, "why, she's dead, ma'am!"
"Dead!" said Bunny, not hysterically, but with an awed, dazed air, her intent gaze fixed on Carter's face.
"Yes, ma'am," the maid returned, ready, the Rubicon crossed, to dilate on the subject.
"Dress me," Bunny said, almost sharply. "Never mind the bath, give me my clothes."
And in utter silence the girl rapidly donned her garments.
"A white frock," she said, with a sudden remembrance of the conventions. "A simple one."
A plainly tailored white voile gown was forthcoming and Bunny put it on, adding a necklace of small jet beads.
"Do you know where Mr. Heath is, ma'am?" said Carter, timidly, but determined to raise the question.
"No, how should I? Isn't he about?"
"No, ma'am, Herrick can't find him anywhere."
"Oh, he's around somewhere, of course. No, I don't want any more coffee. Where is—Mrs. Heath?"
"Oh, ma'am, she's in the stujo—she's—"
"Never mind, Carter, I'll go down now."
BUNNY went slowly downstairs, pausing on every step.
Just as she reached the Lounge, Doctor Conklin entered. He was a brisk, alert sort of person, with sharp, penetrating eyes and a quick jerkiness of movement.
Though he had turned toward the studio, he paused at sight of Bunny, and looked at her inquiringly.
"Belong here, do you?" he said, shortly.
"I am a guest of the Heaths," Bunny returned, a little brusque, because she was not accustomed to such abrupt manners.
"Oh, you are. Where is Mr. Heath? What am I wanted for, anyway?"
Herrick, who had admitted the doctor, said, respectfully: "If you will come this way, sir."
He led the way to the studio, and Doctor Conklin walked in silence after him.
Bunny followed, timidly, and with hesitating steps.
She saw the doctor pause suddenly, as he reached the studio door, and clench his hands, while his face took on a look of horror.
But he said no word, and strode over to the body that lay on the floor.
The candles had gone out; a black wick fallen over in a small pool of melted wax being all that remained in each tall candlestick.
For a few seconds, the man's piercing eyes took in the details, the card propped against one candlestick, the bizarre effect of the gay colored beads and scarf, the glaring tints of the make-up on the dead face, and the terrible wound on the temple, that was visible only in part.
Quickly, then, he stooped, and gently turned the head the better to examine this abrasion.
It was obvious to him at once that death had resulted from a sudden and powerful blow, delivered by a strong hand.
Also, the weapon used was in evidence.
Beside the fractured skull lay the broken fragments of a brown bottle of thick, heavy glass.
About to pick these up, Doctor Conklin thought better of it, and contented himself with looking closely at them.
"A brutal job!" he said, indignantly. "This woman was struck on the temple with this heavy bottle, and killed almost instantly! Who did it?"
His question was addressed to no one in particular, but as he raised his eyes, he discovered he had several auditors.
Bunny, wide-eyed and white-faced, had sunk into a chair, and was clutching at the window curtain nearest her.
Larry Inman had come in also, and stood, leaning against the mantel, his face set and horror-stricken.
Herrick was inside the room, on duty, but the other servants were hovering just outside the studio door, all more or less moaning their grief or murmuring their opinions.
"Where is Mr. Heath?" the doctor asked, rising from his examination. "Who is in charge here?"
There was a moment's silence and then Inman said, "We do not know where Mr. Heath is, doctor. He has not been seen this morning at all. In his absence I suppose I would better assume charge of things. I am a cousin of Mrs. Heath's. Is it—is it—murder?"
Though he balked at the terrible word, every one listened breathlessly for the answer.
"Murder? Yes! Of the most brutal, dastardly type! Where is this woman's husband?"
He turned to the butler, who shook his head.
"Nobody knows, sir. Mr. Heath was here last night, but he is not here now. His bed seems not to have been slept in."
"Well, the further proceedings are not for me to conduct. I will tell the police, and they will take charge. Mr. Inman, will you call up the Harbor Park Police Station?"
But Inman turned this task over to Herrick. For one thing, Larry had no intention of taking orders from the family physician, and, too, he was much shaken as to nerves, and it was more than he could face, to call in the police to investigate the death of Myra, his beautiful cousin!
He made no apology for shifting the errand to another, and turned solicitously to Bunny, as he saw her face blanch afresh at the police call.
Doctor Conklin looked at the pair curiously. They were not at all friendly in their attitude toward him, and he wondered why.
But he had so much else to wonder about that he turned back to his scrutiny of the dead woman.
He was fairly well acquainted with the Heaths, for, on occasion, he had prescribed for their minor ailments, and had, too, once or twice met them socially.
He was a Gardens man himself, for, of course, no Gardener would have a Park physician.
But the police had to come from the Park, and it was astonishing how quickly they managed to appear.
Three or four men arrived, but the Coroner and a Detective Sergeant took the case in hand.
With a perfunctory nod at the brief summary Doctor Conklin gave him, the Coroner set about his own examination of the body.
He had never known Myra Heath in life, and therefore, was not surprised at the pronounced make-up of her face.
But he showed his amazement at the candlesticks with their traces of burnt-out candles, and especially at the penned card.
"The Work of Perry Heath," he read, with an incredulous expression on his shrewd, small countenance. "Her husband, eh? Where is he?"
Informed that Heath was inexplicably missing, he nodded sagaciously.
"Made his getaway, did he? Well, it'll be a hard job to find him, for if he had the nerve to sign his handiwork, he must be well out of the neighborhood by this time. What say about how long she's been dead, Conklin? Some seven or eight hours, eh?"
"Hard to tell, Doctor Osborn. Perhaps your guess is about right. I'd put it eight, anyway."
"Well, seven or eight. It's nine now,—say she was killed 'long about two o'clock."
"I don't see how we can set it any more positively. The skull is fractured, you see—"
"Yes, beastly work! And with an old whisky bottle! Must have been a tramp thug—"
"Well, the bottle is no clue to the intruder. For that's one of Mrs. Heath's own bottles."
"Her bottle! This old booze holder?"
"Yes, she collected them. See the row of them in that cabinet?"
"My stars!" Osborn looked in amazement at the neat row of old liquor bottles on the shelf. "Whatever did she want of them?"
"They have a certain value to collectors. Anyway, I'm confident this was one of hers. I've seen her collection before, and I've heard her exult over certain specimens. Wasn't this bottle the property of Mrs. Heath?" He added, turning suddenly to Inman.
"Y—yes," Larry stammered, not so much ill at ease as startled by the abrupt question.
"Have you any idea who used it to brain her?" put in the Coroner.
It was a pet device of Osborn's to fire an unexpected question at a witness, and watch its effect.
"I? No, indeed! How could I have?"
Larry had regained his composure, and was ready for any ordeal.
Mott, the Detective Sergeant, took up the matter then, and in a quiet, almost gentle tone, began to ask definite questions.
"Who discovered Mrs. Heath's body here?" he said.
"Katie, the parlor maid," Herrick answered.
"Where is she? Tell her to come here."
Herrick nodded to the girl, who came slowly into the room and stood before Mott.
Her attitude was calm and unembarrassed. She had shrieked with terror at the shock of finding the body, but her fright had passed and now feelings of interest and curiosity predominated in her breast.
"Tell the story of what happened," said Mott, gravely but not too sternly.
"Well, sir, I come down stairs and went to my work—"
"At what time?"
Katie flushed a little, and said, "I was a bit late, sir. I'm to be down at eight and it was ten or fifteen after."
"Not more than that?"
"No, sir. And I tidied up the Lounge, and dusted about a bit, then I came in here to do the same, and as soon as I got through the door I saw—that—" she pointed to Myra's body.
"What did you do?"
"I let out a yell that they must have heard over at the Park! I couldn't help it,—I was that scared, sir."
"Yes, you must have been startled. What next?"
"Then I just ran to the pantry to find Herrick, and I told him."
"You didn't stop to look at Mrs. Heath more closely, and you didn't—didn't touch her?"
"Goodness, no! Touch her? I should say not! I just rushed out of this room as quick as I could."
"Is this the gown Mrs. Heath was wearing last evening?"
"Yes, sir, the very same, only of course, she didn't have that scarf on, nor those beads. That's Miss Bunny's scarf."
"Make no remarks, except in answer to questions. When did you last see Mrs. Heath alive?"
"Last night, about half-past eight, sir. It was my evening out, and after I fixed the Bridge table in here, I went out."
"Where did you go?"
"I went to the Movies. Over in Garden Park."
"What time did you come home?"
Katie turned red. "I don't just know,—I didn't notice."
"Ah, you were later than you should have been?"
"Katie's a good girl," Herrick spoke up for her. "She might have been a minute or two late, but nothing to do any harm."
"Never mind that now," Mott said. "When you came in, Katie, did you notice anything unusual about?"
Clearly she had been about to make a different answer and suddenly changed her mind.
Again Mott said, "Never mind that, now," and proceeded with his queries.
"Do you recognize this bottle, Katie?" He pointed to the pieces without touching them.
"Oh, yes, sir."
"Whose is it?"
"Why, it was Mrs. Heath's. The newest one she had She set a deal by it, sir."
"Proud of it, was she?"
"Yes, sir. Said it was the finest of the whole bunch. Terrible lookin' things, I call 'em!"
"Who do you suppose used this bottle to kill your mistress?"
"Who but some horrid burglar? Comin' of course, to steal some of her precious old glass. She often said it was very valuable, sir."
"Yes, it is. And you assume a robber was after it and was discovered by Mrs. Heath, and he killed her?"
"Did you see any trace of the robber when you came in last night late, or this morning, either?"
"No, sir, I didn't notice anything."
"You wouldn't! Herrick, did you?"
"Did I what, sir?"
"Did you see any traces of an intruder when you opened up the house this morning?"
"That I did not, for why there weren't any such."
"You seem positive."
"Well, what I mean is, that there was no door or window opened or unlocked. I fastened them all myself, last night, and I found them just so this morning."
"Proving to your mind, that no intruder could have gotten in or out?"
"Proving that to anybody's mind, sir. I always lock up everything after the last one of the family goes upstairs. Sometimes that's pretty late, but last night it was fairly early."
"Not much more than eleven-thirty, sir. Mr. Heath, he was the last one to go upstairs. Then I went my rounds and every window and every door was fastened by me, I do assure you."
"Some other time, Herrick, I want more detailed account of those fastenings. But now, you declare that the house was so thoroughly locked up that no one could get in or out?"
"I do, sir."
"Then, how did Mr. Heath get out?"
"That's what's puzzling me. I ask you, sir, how did he get out? For get out he did, since he ain't now in the house. But how did he do it,—and why?"
"Those are questions for wiser heads than yours, Herrick. You saw him go upstairs?"
"Yes, sir. After Mrs. Heath had gone up and likewise, Miss Moore and Mr. Inman. Master was the last one up, and now where is he?"
The blank, despairing look on the man's face would have been amusing had the matter been of less grave import.
"Could Mr. Heath have had a telegram or any sort of message that called him away late last night, or in the early morning hours?"
"He could have had messages, of course, but he couldn't get out of any door, and leave it locked behind him, on the inside. Nor out any window, for they all have patent catches and they were all locked."
"None left open for air?"
"There's patent ventilators to take care-of that. Ever since the burglary scares two years or so ago, Mrs. Heath has been most particular about the locks everywhere."
"We'll go into all that later. Where, then, do you think Mr. Heath is at the present moment?"
"Laws, sir, if I only knew! But I can't think of any place he could be, or any way he could get there!"
Detective Mott transferred his attention to Inman, who had seated himself, turning his chair so that the body of Myra was not in his line of vision.
Mott looked at Larry a moment before he spoke to him, and his keen eye noted that Inman's hands clenched themselves involuntarily, and his whole body tensed a trifle, as if preparing himself for an ordeal.
And ordeal it was, for Mott had a way of making his most casual remarks seem accusatory, and his lightest question often hinted at vital import.
The detective had acquired this manner purposely, knowing it sometimes frightened a witness into telling the truth, Yet his tones were suave and his attitude courteous, as he said:
"Being the nearest relative of Mrs. Heath present, I assume, Mr. Inman, that you are deeply anxious to learn who committed this shocking crime."
"Yes," said Larry, and no more. His voice was low and even, his face showed little or no emotion, and though he did not seem to resent the detective's question he certainly evinced no intention of offering gratuitous information.
But Detective Mott well knew the distaste most people have for detailing unpleasant recollections, and he proceeded along practical and straightforward lines.
"Then, will you tell me, in your own words, of the events of last evening, up to the time you last saw Mrs. Heath alive?"
"We spent the evening quietly at home," Larry replied, with cold politeness. "Miss Moore and myself are staying here, and there were no other guests at dinner. After dinner, we four had a game of Bridge here in this room, and when that was over, we chatted a bit, and then Miss Moore left us and went to her room. A few moments later I went up to bed, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Heath here. That is all I can tell you, Mr. Mott."
"At what time did you go upstairs, Mr. Inman?"
"Something after eleven, I think. I don't know more accurately than that."
"Did you hear Mr. and Mrs. Heath come upstairs, later?"
"That I can't say. If I did I didn't notice it. One pays no attention to the footsteps of the household."
"You do not remember hearing them, then?"
"I do not."
"Were Mr. and Mrs. Heath in their usual good health and spirits last evening?"
"I noticed nothing at all unusual."
"This is not the formal inquest, Mr. Inman, but I am hoping you can tell me some detail or impart some bit of information, that may give us a hint which way to look for the murderer. The coroner, as well as the family physician declares that Mrs. Heath was wilfully murdered by a fierce blow with a heavy bottle. The concussion broke the bottle and fractured the lady's skull, also producing a deep flesh bruise. Can you imagine for a moment, that Mr. Heath could have thus attacked his wife?"
"One can imagine anything, Mr. Mott. But if you mean do I think such a thing probable, I say, of course I do not. Mr. and Mrs. Heath were on perfectly good terms, and it is absurd to think of such a thing as a family brawl that would lead to such a blow!"
"Was Mrs. Heath high-tempered? Or is Mr. Heath of an impulsive or fiery nature?"
"I have always known them to be cultured, high-bred people. Far removed from quarrels that might lead to physical violence."
"Then we must look elsewhere for the murderer. Now another mystery is the disappearance of Mr. Heath. Can you shed any light on that, either by fact or theory?"
"I'm afraid I can't, Mr. Mott. Perry Heath has been a friend of mine for years and while I can't think he killed his wife, I am still more at a loss to imagine a cause for his disappearance just now."
"What significance do you attach to this card, 'The Work of Perry Heath'?"
"Personally, I think that card was dropped by accident. It is a card that we have joked about often. It has been kicking around this studio for months."
"I see. Then you don't think it indicates that Mr. Heath killed his wife, and placed the card there in a spirit of bravado?"
"No, indeed. I think it far more likely that someone else killed Mrs. Heath and placed the card where it was found, in order to seem to incriminate Mr. Heath. That is, unless my other impression is the truth, that the card fell there accidentally."
"These things will be gone into more thoroughly at the Inquest," Mott said. "That will take place this afternoon, at two o'clock. Please be in attendance, Mr. Inman."
He turned to Bunny with an apologetic glance, as if he hated to annoy her, but his duty was imperative.
"Miss Moore," he said, gently, "your friend Mrs. Heath was not in the habit of using what is known as the make-up box, was she?"
"No," said Bunny, frightened at this opening. She had expected questions as to her friendship with Myra and her position in the house.
"Knowing her well, do you think she herself applied the powder and rouge which is now so conspicuously on her face?"
"Oh, no," Bunny said, excitedly, "she never would do that! Never. Why, we often coaxed her to try it, but she never would."
"Did she possess a vanity box of her own?"
"Why—yes,—she had two or three that were given her as presents, by people who didn't know her distaste for such things."
"Where are these gifts?"
"I don't know, I'm sure. Up in her boudoir, I suppose."
"Not likely she used one of them then, for the cosmetics now on her face?"
"N—no,—I shouldn't think so."
Bunny had turned pale, and was shaking with nervousness. But she forced herself to speak calmly, and managed to control her quivering lips.
"Is the red scarf that is so artistically draped round Mrs. Heath's figure her own property?"
"No," the girl replied, "it is mine."
"Yours? How did it get where it now is?"
"I don't know, I'm sure." Bunny had conquered her nerves somewhat, and was beginning to try her natural wiles on her inquisitor. "I was wearing it last evening when I stepped out on the porch, and when I went upstairs to bed, I left it down here. Why Mrs. Heath put it round her, I don't know, I'm sure. It was not like her at all. All her scarves are white or silver grey."
"You were the first to leave the group last night to go up to bed?"
"Yes. We were all about to go, but I chanced to go up first. Why?"
The sudden question was in a rather impertinent tone, but was accompanied by an innocent and enchanting smile, that made Detective Mott sit up and take notice. He had his own opinion of young women who tried to cajole or bewitch a detective, and he immediately began to watch his step.
"Why, because I want to know all about when you last saw Mrs. Heath alive."
"That was the time." Bunny spoke softly. "I said good night,—I think,—or, perhaps I didn't, we're not very punctilious about such things, and I went up to my room and shut the door, and I didn't hear anybody else come upstairs at all."
"And you didn't leave your room again, last night?" Bunny paled, and her big blue eyes stared at the detective.
"W—what do you mean?" she said, with a gasp and a little catch in her voice.
Mott looked at her. Could it be that this lovely child had some knowledge, guilty or otherwise, that she was keeping back?
"It doesn't seem to be an abstruse question," Mott smiled kindly at her. "I only asked if you left your bedroom again after you went in and shut the door."
"Why, no,—no, of course I didn't!"
"Then you knew nothing of the tragedy until you came downstairs. this morning?"
"I knew before I came down, because Carter, Mrs. Heath's maid, came to my room and told me."
"I see. And did Carter tell you the details of Mrs. Heath's appearance? How her face was painted, and how there were candles at her head and feet?"
"No,—she didn't tell me that—" Bunny looked vaguely at Mott, her lovely eyes clouding with tears as she glanced toward the beautiful still figure on the floor.
"Then you were shocked afresh when you came downstairs and saw the—the scene that you did see?"
"You gazed at the strangely painted face,—"
"Yes." Bunny's eyes looked straight into the detective's own.
"You saw the crimson scarf draped across the body?"
"You saw the card about Mr. Heath's work?"
"You saw the candles burning at her head and feet, almost as if in a church?"
"Yes." Bunny looked rapt now, and then, as the detective ceased his questions she burst into a flood of helpless tears, and blindly took the handkerchief Larry silently offered.
"Miss Moore," Mott seemed to ignore her sudden breakdown, "please answer this with candor. Was there any ill feeling, to your knowledge, between Mr. Heath and his wife?"
"No," and Bunny ceased crying, and faced the detective with all her old insouciance and independence. "Most certainly not! They were one of the most devoted couples I ever knew."
"There was no difference of opinion,—I mean on a vital subject?"
"No, nothing special or definite. Except, perhaps, that Mr. Heath did not sympathize in Mrs. Heath's fancy for collecting old glass."
"That would scarcely be sufficient reason for him to attack her with one of her own old bottles," Mott said, gravely.
"No, of course not," returned Bunny.
THE Harbor Country Club was over on the Park side, but its members included many of the Gardens people as well.
It was frequented mostly by men, though their wives and daughters, who cared for golf and tennis, were often there, too.
A few of the less active spirits hobnobbed on the porch and smoked, as they somewhat conservatively discussed the Heath tragedy.
Though not yet noon, the news from the Gardens had crossed the bridge and swept through the Park like wildfire. Everybody had heard or was hearing it and there were almost as many versions as there were talebearers.
Yet few of the exaggerated accounts could be much worse than the true statement of the awful occurrence.
"Where is Perry Heath?" was the question urged even more frequently than "Who killed Myra?"
Arthur Black, one of the solid men of the Club, declared that it was impossible that the murderer should be other than the husband.
"The Heaths were by no means turtle doves," was the way he put it. "And, even recognizing the rights of the dead to nil nisi bonum, our Myra was a saint in looks only."
"She sure looked like one, though," said Wallace Forbes, an artist from the Gardens, whose bungalow-studio was not far from the Heaths' own. "She could have posed for any of the ecclesiastical stained glass windows."
"Too pale and wan for my taste," remarked Sam Anderson, who was a true representative of the Park type. Smiling, bald-headed, and with a missing eye-tooth, he gave the impression of being more interested in women of the earth, earthy, than in the Myra Heath sort. But he was a prominent clubman, and was about to run for president.
"The disappearance of Heath clinches your election, Anderson," Black declared, but the other answered: "I'm not keen to be elected. And, anyway, Heath will come back,—he must. To my mind, his absence is no indication at all that he killed his wife. Why should he? Maybe, as you say, Black, the pair were not exactly lovey-dovey, but few married people are, nowadays. Yet it doesn't lead to murder. You'll have to find a bigger motive than mere incompatibility before I'll believe that Heath killed his wife. What about that young chap, her cousin, or whatever he is?"
"Larry Inman?" said Forbes. "Yes, he's her cousin,—a distant one, I think. But why should he murder her?"
"He's her heir," put in Black, who always knew all about everybody's business affairs, "there's motive; but, on the other hand, I've heard he was in love with the pale goddess."
"Did you hear that when they found her, dead, she was all rouged and made up,—eyebrows pencilled and all?"—this from Anderson, who was a bit of a gossip.
"Yes, and beside that, there was a red sash tied around her," Black asserted. "And candles burning at her head and feet. I think the murderer was a—you know,—paromaniac, or whatever they call it."
Black's erudition savored of Wall Street rather than the colleges, but he cared little for the higher education.
"Paranoiac," corrected Forbes. "But he was, to my mind, merely an artist. He evidently deemed Mrs. Heath too pale and colorless, and he wanted to see how she would look with more color. I'd like to see her myself. They say she looks stunning."
"Leave out the gruesome details, Wally," Black begged. "I'd like to see her made up, if she were alive, but a painted corpse is too horrible to talk about!"
"I agree," exclaimed Al Cunningham, who just then joined the group. "But I'm interested in the mystery part of it. I love detective stories, and here's a corking one, unrolling before us. I'm going to the Inquest this afternoon. Wonder if Heath will be back for it?"
"You speak as if he had just stepped out on an errand," Black objected. "Why, man, he is the criminal,—the murderer,—and he made his getaway. He'll never come back."
"Your saying so doesn't make it so," laughed Cunningham. "I can't imagine a man killing his wife anyway, but certainly he couldn't—he just couldn't fix her all up like that after she was dead!"
"How inexperienced in crime you are!" Black told him. "Why, I've known lots of cases where a husband killed his wife or a wife her husband, for what seemed to an outsider the merest trifle."
" 'He had to kill her, she wouldn't support him!' " murmured Forbes, smiling at the recollection of the old story.
"And for far less reason than that," Black went on. "I know of a case where a young woman killed her husband because he wouldn't let her smoke."
"Oh, there was something back of that," remarked Anderson. "I don't believe that was her real motive. I tell you motive is the thing to look for. Now, Perry Heath had no motive,—no big motive. He may have been jealous of that young what's his name? the cousin, but he wouldn't kill Mrs. Heath for that. He'd kill the cousin."
"Do you know Heath?" demanded Forbes.
"Not intimately at all, but I know him slightly. I've seen him here at the Club occasionally. I've never been to his house."
"Then you don't really know him. He's not a man of fierce passions or angry impulses. If he sensed trouble from Inman's attentions to Mrs. Heath, he wouldn't kill either of them, he'd put the young man out of his house and merely shake his finger at his wife. I live over there, you know, and I'm acquainted with the whole bunch. There's a baby down there, who's about as pert a little parcel as often comes. Name of Bunny, and I believe she's somewhat gone on Perry herself."
"Oh, well, then there's your motive," Cunningham cried. "Intense natured artist, tired of his marble Galatea of a wife, turns to baby doll for relief. Falls desperately in love with the kid, and decides that the line of least resistance is to put Friend Wife out of the way. Does so, and skips. He won't return,—but the little girl will follow at the proper time,"
"Don't be a silly ass, Al," scoffed Black. "I don't say that may not all be the truth, but you've no slightest reason to assume it, and no evidence to point toward it."
"Didn't say I had. But a fellow can deduce and theorize, can't he? Anyway, I'm going to the Inquest. I think it's the duty of all of us to go, for this is a very mysterious case, and if we can shed any light on it, we ought to do so."
"Maybe," said Black, "but I'm not going to the Inquest. Sit all afternoon in a hot, stuffy place, only to have the thing adjourned, or, at most, to hear an open verdict."
"I'm not going, either," Anderson stated. "Or, if I do, I'll just look in for a moment, and stick to the back of the room, so I can get out easily. Coroners are fearfully long-winded. And we'll get the whole proceedings from the papers. The New York papers will feature this, as it's really a bizarre case."
"It surely is!" exclaimed Cunningham. "I never heard of such strange details, the make-up business and all that. And Heath's flying the coop. Oh, I wouldn't miss the inquiry meeting for anything!"
"Nor I," said Forbes. "The reason you Park men don't want to go, is only because it's a Gardens affair. I think such hidebound prejudices are silly!"
"Right on both counts, Forbes," and Anderson laughed. "It is because we don't want to mix in with the Gardens affairs, and it is silly of us!"
"Well, I'm glad to hear you acknowledge it," and Forbes grinned in return. "That's more than most of the prejudiced Parkers do."
"And the Gardeners are even more prejudiced," retorted Anderson, who was a rather keen judge of human nature. "Well, lots of water will flow under the bridge, before Park and Gardens will subscribe to a Brotherly Love compact."
"They ought to be at one on this matter," Cunningham said, seriously. "A murder is a vital event, and it should be considered the duty of every citizen on both sides of the bridge to take an active interest in the case and watch out for any way to help or further the work of the detectives."
"Yes, and a fat lot of thanks you'd get from said detectives for butting in!" Black opined.
As always, his words carried weight by reason of their sound and practical common sense.
"That's right!" Anderson declared. "Next to artists, detectives are the most sensitive and touchy bunch in the world."
"A detective is an artist," Cunningham said. "His work is an art, even more than it is a science, and, of course, it is both."
"You know a lot about it, Cunny," laughed Black, and then said, seriously, "I mean that. Al is right about the detective being an artist, though he has to be a lot of other things, too. And Al does know something about detective work. I say, fellows, if that's so that we, as a community, ought to take a hand in this matter, why not depute Cunningham to do the business, and we all pay him, as we would pay a professional detective?"
Black's business instinct told him that the promise of payment would not be unwelcome to Cunningham, and he knew the other men present were well able to put up the cash. Moreover, his own conscience, which was really an active one, would be eased by the knowledge that the community's duty was not being shirked.
"But I'm not a professional," Cunningham protested.
"All the better," said Black. "Amateur work is often better in a case like this."
"Good plan," said Anderson, heartily. "Let Cunny take the matter up, and do his best. Let him report to us at intervals,—when he has anything to report And I'll gladly stand my share of the gaff."
That was the way the Park people did things. They had the money, the Gardens people had the brains. Al Cunningham was a Gardens man, and lived by the method commonly designated as "hand to mouth." But he was a shrewd, canny sort, and was also a general favorite on both sides of the bridge.
"Leave it lay that way, for the moment," he said, as the others began to mention terms and methods. "Don't hamper me with advice. I'll do what I can. And then, if I put up the goods, you can give me a well deserved honorarium, and if not, not. See?"
They saw, and Cunningham went off to glean further information where he might find it.
The others sat and talked over the matter for a few minutes, and then their conversation drifted to other topics of a more personal interest to them.
Meanwhile the Heath home was in a turmoil.
The police were in charge. Both Bunny and Larry, as well as the servants were forbidden to leave the place.
The body of Myra, still in its beautiful but strange condition, lay where it was found, and must remain there until viewed by the Coroner's jury.
The studio was guarded by a policeman who sat just outside the closed door. The Lounge was full of bustling people, who, with more or less authority, fussed around inquisitively.
Mrs. Prentiss, presuming on her importance as the nearest neighbor, came over, with a face appropriately long and a manner appropriately solemn, to offer help of any sort in her power.
Bunny refused to see her at first, but on a more insistent message the girl went reluctantly from her room downstairs to greet the caller.
Very sweet Bunny looked, in her simple white frock, with her lovely face innocent of make-up, for she felt as if she never wanted to see a make-up box again.
Her blue eyes showed traces of tears, and her lips quivered as she came toward Mrs. Prentiss.
And for once, the girl failed to show an alert interest at the sight of a strange and good-looking young man.
For Todhunter Buck had accompanied his aunt, partly as escort, but more from a desire to see Bunny herself.
Nor was he disappointed. He told himself on the spot, that she was the loveliest girl he had ever seen and was the one girl in the world for him, and many such decisions and asseverations.
Bunny acknowledged his introduction with absent-minded politeness and asked them to come with her to a small morning room back of the dining room, where they could talk in more seclusion.
"Who is here? Who is looking after you?" demanded Mrs. Prentiss, with her usual brusqueness.
"Nobody," said Bunny, "I am all alone. I'd go home, but the police won't let me. I haven't sent word to my people about this yet,—of course, they'll see it when it gets into the papers,—but it's all so terrible,—so awful,—that I couldn't bring myself to write about it, and I just couldn't telephone!"
"No, no, of course not, my dear. But you can't stay here alone—haven't you heard a word from Mr. Heath?"
"Not a word," Bunny's face turned rosy pink, but her voice was calm and steady. "I can't imagine where he went or what's keeping him away."
"Who is in charge here?"
"That's what everybody asks. Why, nobody's in charge, exactly. Mr. Inman is, in some ways, and of course, the servants keep the house running just as usual. I see a few of Myra's friends, but not all of them—I just can't!"
"Of course you can't," put in Toddy Buck, with real sympathy. "It oughtn't to be expected of you."
"You must come over and stay with me," Mrs. Prentiss ordained, and her nephew's heart leaped for joy.
"Oh, no, I can't do that," Bunny said. "The police won't let me leave this house; and when they do, I shall, of course, go straight home."
"I suppose you have to wait till after the Inquest," Mrs. Prentiss said, "but directly that is over, you must come to me until you start for your home. You can't stay here alone with Mr. Inman. It wouldn't do at all."
"I think," Bunny spoke with a strange air of submission, "a case like this makes its own laws of etiquette. And, too, I think I must look over Myra's things a little. There's no one else to do it, and a woman ought to go over her desk and—and such things."
"Yes, yes,—of course," Mrs. Prentiss spoke a little vaguely. "But my house is open to you, my dear, and I'm sure when you think it over, you will see it would be wise for you to come over there."
"I expect Mr. Heath home at any minute," Bunny said. "I shan't make any plans until he comes."
"But he may not come at all," Mrs. Prentiss began and stopped suddenly as she saw the grief and horror on Bunny's face.
"Oh,—why,—he must come! Why wouldn't he? Oh, Mrs. Prentiss, where is he? Where can he be?" And unable to bear up any longer, Bunny put her head down on the kind hearted woman's shoulder, and cried softly.
Toddy felt decidedly out of it. The girl had not looked at him after the aunt's presentation of him, and he resented it. To be sure she was nearly frantic with fear and anxiety, but she might at least recognize his existence.
Nor was Bunny totally oblivious of this eager and would be helpful knight.
But she was so distracted with her woe. She was still suffering from the grief and shock of the whole affair, and she was distraught at the continued absence of Perry Heath.
If only he would come home and take matters in hand. She had been a happy carefree guest, and now, suddenly, without a word of warning, she was precipitated into a terrible position of responsibility and anxiety.
The servants came to her for orders, not knowing what else to do. The police authorities continually came to her with questions that she could not answer.
Neighbors and friends telephoned, wrote or called in ever increasing numbers, for the Heaths were popular, and the Gardens people were chummy together.
Inman, too, had his hands full.
He had tried to take the helm, tried to assert his rights as Myra's heir and successor, but his claims were ignored by the police and as the Heaths' lawyer was away from home, no real information could be gained as to her will or its contents.
Mrs. Prentiss was determined to see Myra's body, and having said a temporary good-by to Bunny, she approached the guardian of the studio door, just as Wallace Forbes, on the same errand bent, arrived there.
His cajolery and her claim as a sort of guardian of Miss Moore, won them an entrance, and the pair closed the door behind them and stood almost transfixed at the scene before them.
The blinds were drawn and the lights shaded, but Myra's face shone forth in a startling unearthly beauty.
She looked so alive; her careless, relaxed position, seemingly that of a moment's abandon to rest.
The gaudy beads lent a striking color note, and the rich crimson scarf trailed across her slender form with the grace of a drapery arranged by an artist.
"By an artist?" Forbes was already thinking to himself.
And the card: "The Work of Perry Heath." Could that mean that the awful deed was Heath's work and the depraved man had the bravado to set the card there?
Impossible, he concluded. Whoever did the killing had put the card there as a gruesome jest, or as a false clue that would turn suspicion to Heath.
But if Heath did not do it, where was he? Why disappear, if he were innocent of this thing?
Forbes could not answer his own questions, and turned his attention more closely to Myra's face.
He had known her in life, though he had not met her often. But he well remembered her pale face, with its utter absence of any sort of make-up; and the present condition of rouge, powder, lipstick and eyebrow pencil, arrested his attention.
"You knew her?" he asked of Mrs. Prentiss, who was also gazing, as if spellbound, at the strange, beautiful countenance.
"Yes, but I never saw her look like this! She never used cosmetics and she never wore gay colors."
"No, that's the inexplicable thing. Who fixed her up like that, and why? Was it done before she was killed—or after?"
"Oh, horrors, Mr. Forbes, before, of course! Nobody, even a ghoul, could paint the face of a woman he had murdered!"
"It would seem so. But why would Mrs. Heath paint up like that, or allow any one else to do it?"
"Oh, that isn't unanswerable. She might have consented to try it for once,—on a dare, maybe."
"Yes, that's true. But then, granting she did so, and that she donned the scarf and the beads in the same spirit of experiment, who came in and killed her?"
"You don't think the card means that it was her husband's deed, then?"
Mrs. Prentiss was always straightforward of speech, and she asked the question bluntly.
But Forbes only replied by saying, "Do you?"
"I don't know. I know Perry Heath, and he always seemed to me a good-natured, easy-going man, but you can't tell what those quiet chaps will do on a sudden wild impulse. You a detective?"
"No, not a real one, but I'm interested in the subject, and especially so in this case, because of its own strange and bizarre effects and, too, because I know the people implicated."
"Well, then I'll tell you something, and you can advise me whether to tell it to the police or not."
"Of what nature is your secret? Perhaps you'd better take it direct to the authorities."
"No, you listen. Last night, I couldn't sleep and pretty much all night I was up and around my room, and I looked over here a lot. And, I saw strange goings and comings in this part of the Heath house."
"What sort of goings and comings?"
"Not exactly the people, but the lights, they kept snapping on and off. First, there were full lights here. Then, about half-past eleven they all went out,—the lights, I mean,—down stairs, and two or three bedrooms were lighted up. Then, about midnight, I saw a small faint light in this room,—this studio of Mr. Heath's. And not more than ten or fifteen minutes after that, the full light flashed on in this same room. Well, sir, after a time those lights went off and there remained only two small sparks,—those candles, there, that are now burnt out. I saw the two sparks, low down, through the window, but I couldn't make out what they were. I never thought of candles on the floor!"
"Of course not. This story is very important, Mrs. Prentiss. Of course, you must tell it to the police, but go on and tell me the rest. Hurry it along, we may be interrupted at any minute now."
"Well, then, those little lights kept on burning,—I realize now they were the candles,—and later still, say, 'long about half-past one, the big light snapped on again."
"Then some one was here after the candles had been placed on the floor!"
"Yes, half an hour after."
"Yes, I'm not through yet. Then the big light went off and the two sparks showed again. And after another short interval, on snaps the big light again."
"You amaze me, Mrs. Prentiss! Then people were in and out after the murder—"
"Well, we don't quite know that,—but they were in and out after those candles were set burning. Then, if you please, the big light goes off and the candles show again. And that was well after two o'clock. I watched them a long while and then I went back to bed and I fell asleep. That's all I know about it."
"And it's a lot. Of course, we can't explain the various lights until we know more of the movements of the household during the night. Perhaps the candles were lighted early, before Mrs. Heath was attacked at all."
"Maybe, but they were surely not put on the floor until after she was dead. Why would they be? They are so evidently meant as funeral candles. Why place them on the floor, at her head and feet, before she was dead?"
"You are right. When you saw the sparks, and didn't realize they were candle flames, were they, do you think, just where they are now?"
"Yes, exactly. They were right in line with my vision as I looked from my window."
"The police detective may experiment with other candles, and see if you can verify their position."
"He may, if he chooses, but I know now those candles stood right there where they are now, ever since one o'clock, or thereabouts, last night"
THAT afternoon at two o'clock, the Lounge at the Heath home looked a more fitting place for a social reception than for a Coroner's Inquest.
The big room, with its windows open front and back, showed window boxes of bright colored flowers, over which the thin sash curtains swayed in the breeze, and the sunlight played through their fluttering folds.
On the tables were vases and baskets of flowers arranged with the care and taste that was the resulting routine of Myra's instructions.
The easy chairs and Davenports showed their summer garb of flowered English chintz, and small light chairs had been brought from the caterer's for the audience that was expected.
Many people came, both from the Park and from the Gardens, for the Heaths had numerous friends, and there was the usual quota of curiosity seekers.
Coroner Osborn sat at a table, his canny, dark eyes darting about the room, and his small features twisted into a thoughtful frown, as he realized the magnitude of the task before him.
But he was a man of efficient habits, and on the stroke of two he called his first witness.
This was Katie, the parlor maid, who had first discovered Myra's body.
She took the chair indicated, and faced the Coroner with composure.
But Osborn had no suspicion that the girl was in any way implicated in the crime, and he merely asked a few definite and direct questions as to her movements that morning and her actions on making the discovery of the tragedy in the studio.
He had heard her story before, but had it repeated for the benefit of the men who were serving as jurors.
Again Katie hesitated when asked at what time she had returned to the house the night before.
Coroner Osborn pressed the point.
"At what hour are you supposed to come home, when you have your evening out?" he asked her.
"At eleven o'clock," she replied, with apparent reluctance.
"That seems to me a bit late, but no matter. What time was it when you really returned?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Who let you in? I don't suppose you carry a latchkey."
"No, sir. I—I just got in—myself."
The Coroner turned to Herrick.
"At what time did you lock up the house?" he asked.
"At something after eleven-thirty." The man spoke sulkily, for he could see that this must impair Katie's story, and the servants were, for the most part, loyal to one another.
"You locked the back doors,—the kitchen entrance as well as the front door and windows?"
"Yes, sir." Herrick could see no way to evade the truth.
"Then how did Katie get in?" the inexorable voice continued.
There was a moment's silence, and then Emma, the waitress, spoke up and said: "I let her in."
"Ah, now we are getting facts. How did you know when she came? Did you sit up for her? Did she knock? Tell the truth, now."
But Emma was a straightforward person, and she said, simply, "Why, Katie threw a pebble up at my bedroom window, and I came down and unbolted the kitchen door for her. I often do that."
"Oh, you do! And you bolted it again, after her?"
"And what time of night was this?"
Emma gave a scared glance at Katie, but she had a supreme respect for the majesty of the law, and she replied:
"Well, it was just half past one, sir. I saw the clock in the pantry as I went through."
"A fine time of night for a young woman to be getting home!" exclaimed the Coroner, but, remembering that the derelictions of the Heath servants were not his immediate concern, he went on with his inquiries.
"Did you, Emma, see anything unusual about the house at that time?"
"No, sir, but I wasn't in this part of the house. The maids' rooms are in an ell at the back."
"I see. And you went straight back to your room?"
"Yes, sir, as soon as I had locked the door after Katie."
"Very well. And Katie, what did you do, on your return?"
"I stayed downstairs a moment, or two, and then I went to my room."
"What did you stay down for?"
"I went to the icebox, to get something to eat." Katie blushed a little, but spoke candidly.
"Katie's always eatin'," Herrick murmured, with a tolerant smile.
"And then you went up to bed?"
"Yes, sir, I did."
"And saw nothing unusual, nor anybody about?"
Katie hesitated for a bit, and then, suddenly jerking up her head, she said, "No, sir," in a loud, clear voice.
"You are sure?" the Coroner urged, for he had a feeling she was not telling the truth.
"Sure," she replied, firmly, and Osborn dropped the query, and led her to tell of her finding the dead woman in the studio.
This recital was just as she had told it to him before, and the jurors listened eagerly to the details of the unusual appearance of Mrs. Heath, and the strange presence of the written card and the burning candles.
"The candles were just about to go out?" asked Osborn.
"Almost ready to, sir," agreed Katie. "They burned a bit longer—they were still alive when Herrick came in. But they flickered out in a few moments."
The other servants were questioned, but no further or more definite light was thrown on the mystery of the murder or on the disappearance of Perry Heath.
Carter, the ladies' maid, was the last to be interrogated.
Also, she was the only one of the staff who showed real distress or grief. The others seemed a stony hearted lot, but Carter, her eyes red with weeping, truly grieved for the mistress she had loved and cared for.
Asked what she knew of Myra's last hours, she said:
"I dressed Mrs. Heath for dinner last evening. She was a bit fussy about her clothes, as she often was. I tried three gowns before she was suited. Then, when I brought that white georgette, she said, 'Yes, that's the very thing, Carter. I'll wear that.' So, I put it on her, and she said, laughing like, 'They're all at me to wear a touch of color. S'pose I wear some red beads?' But I could see she didn't mean it, and I held up two necklaces for her choice, one a string of crystal beads and one of pearls. And she chose the pearls, and I clasped them round her neck and she looked beautiful—but just beautiful!"
"She didn't use rouge or powder?"
"A dash of powder, yes, sir. But not rouge,—oh, no, never."
"Have you seen her—this morning?"
"Yes, sir,"—Carter almost broke down at the memory of it, but she went on. "Yes, sir, I have. And whoever could have tricked her out like that, I don't know. But she looks beautiful now, to my way of thinking."
"Go back to last night. After you dressed Mrs. Heath for dinner did you see her again? At bedtime?"
"No, sir. When Mrs. Heath was dining at home, in just a simple gown, she never required me to help her prepare for bed. I was not expected to be on duty after she went down to dinner, and I had laid out her night things."
"Then the last time you saw her alive, was when she went down to dinner last evening?"
"The very last, sir."
"And did you go to her room this morning, expecting to see her there?"
"Oh, no sir. I went down to my breakfast and then the others told me what had happened."
"You went in to look at Mrs. Heath?"
"Yes, but I couldn't stay a moment. The sight was too much for me. I almost fainted. I've a weak heart. And, too, Herrick bid me take up Miss Moore's tray and to tell her the terrible news. So I had to do that."
"You had to break the news to Miss Moore? That was a hard task. How did she take it?"
"Very hard, sir. She was sobbing when I went into the room, and—well, we wept together, sir."
"Yes, doubtless. But, what was Miss Moore crying about—before you had a chance to tell her about what had happened?"
"I don't know, sir." Carter looked surprised. It was quite evident she hadn't thought of this before.
"Never mind, she will speak for herself. You are excused. Miss Moore, will you please answer a few questions?"
Quietly composed, Bunny gave the Coroner her attention, though she was not asked to leave the chair where she was sitting.
"Why were you crying when Carter came to your room this morning?"
"I can not see any reason why I should tell you that, Doctor Osborn," the girl said, quietly, but with a stubborn note in her voice.
"Nor can I see any reason why you should not tell me," was the equally quiet return. "This is an occasion, Miss Moore, when seemingly intrusive questions must be asked and should be answered. Why do you object to telling the cause of your tears?"
"Only because I was crying about a private and personal sorrow, and I cannot see that it has anything to do with the inquiry you are conducting."
"Then you refuse to tell me the cause of your grief?"
"I certainly do. Anything I can tell you bearing on this—this tragedy, I will. But my own personal sorrows are not for public investigation."
Bunny's voice was so calm and her manner so dignified that it contrasted curiously with her pert little face and her smiling mouth.
The girl couldn't help smiling, and it was impossible for the Coroner not to be in sympathy with her.
So he merely said, "Then when Carter told you of Mrs. Heath's death, that was the first you knew of it?"
"Of course," said Bunny, her blue eyes staring at him in amazement.
"Then what did you do?"
"I dressed at once and came down stairs."
"And went to the studio?"
"Who else was in the studio at that time?"
"Doctor Conklin, the family physician, went in just as I did. He began at once to examine the—the body, and I went out of the room."
"Miss Moore, have you any idea where Mr. Heath can be?"
"Not the slightest."
"When did you see him last?"
"Last evening, when I said good night to them all, and went up to my room."
"Who do you mean by them all?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Heath and Mr. Inman. When I went upstairs, they were all in the studio."
"You recognize the old bottle, which was obviously the fatal weapon, as one belonging to Mrs. Heath's collection?"
"Oh, yes. It was the latest one she had acquired, and she said it was a most valuable one."
"Was it a subject of discussion during the evening?"
"Why, yes, I think it was. Mr. and Mrs. Heath disagreed a bit as to its artistic value."
"Who held the bottle at the time of this discussion?"
"Why,—I don't know. Yes, now I look back, I think Mrs. Heath was holding it. She was sort of polishing it with her handkerchief. She loved her old glass and would often rub up the pieces until they shone."
"I see. Then,—be careful, please, this is important,—you seem to have a mental picture of Mrs. Heath, polishing her cherished antique, with her handkerchief. What did she do with it then?"
"I'm sure I don't remember. I think she set it down on the table,—but I don't recollect that definitely."
"Do you, Mr. Inman?"
"I have a vague notion that she did so, but I couldn't swear to it. How is this point important?"
"Because, Mr. Inman, finger print experts have examined the fragments of the broken glass bottle, and they have discovered that the only finger prints on the pieces are those of yourself and Miss Moore."
"That is not surprising," Larry said, without the quiver of an eyelash, "for both Miss Moore and myself held the bottle and examined it during the evening."
"But Mrs. Heath wiped the glass clear with her handkerchief. Did you two handle it again after that?"
"Why—I—we must have done so," Inman said, hesitantly, "else how could our finger prints get on the pieces? You are sure of your facts, I suppose?"
"Yes, Mr. Inman, we are positive. Now, to put the matter plainly, we are of course, searching for the hand that wielded that brutal weapon, and thereby ended the life of Mrs. Heath. We know that the prints of two people are in evidence on the glass, and no others. We hold that if the murderer grasped the bottle after your prints and Miss Moore's prints were on it, his own would have been superimposed also."
"I have been told that the modern criminal guards against finger prints and protects his hands with gloves or with a piece of fabric."
"You are right," the Coroner looked at him gravely, "but if, in this case, the murderer had done so, even the gloves he wore, or the bit of cloth he used would have blurred and smeared the previous prints. On the contrary they are clear and plain."
"Then I can give you no explanation of these conditions. I, myself, left the room only a few minutes after Miss Moore's departure, and at that time Mr. Heath and his wife were there alone, and the old bottle stood on the table. As I said, if my finger prints were found on it, or Miss Moore's, they must have been put there earlier in the evening, and the murderer who took up the bottle later, failed to disturb them."
"You are a relative of Mrs. Heath's?"
"Our mothers were cousins. That is not a very close relationship, but Mrs. Heath had no nearer kin."
"And you are her heir?"
"She gave me to understand that."
"Then she was not devoted to her husband?"
"Oh, they were good pals," Larry shrugged his shoulders. "But they were so unlike and their tastes so uncongenial, that one could scarcely call them devoted."
"Was Mr. Heath jealous of you? Of your attentions to his wife?"
"Jealous is too strong a word. I think it piqued him to have his wife appear interested, even to a slight extent, in any other man."
"Dog in the manger type, then?"
"Exactly that. Perry Heath was proud of his wife, but he was irritated by her unwillingness to do as he wanted. Mrs. Heath was strong-willed, and Heath resented her independent attitude."
"Where do you think Perry Heath now is?"
"I have not the slightest idea, but the man is quite clever enough to hide himself where he will not be found."
"You think then, that he killed his wife?"
"What else can I think? I left the pair here alone. Next thing I hear of them, she is dead and he is missing. In default of other evidence what other theory is possible?"
"True enough, but how did the man get out?"
"Supposing some other murderer, how did he get in?"
"That is aside the issue. I hold that Perry Heath could not get out of this house last night, unless some one inside had let him out and locked the door after him."
"Of course that is so," Larry spoke thoughtfully. "But where does that lead us?"
"To the presumption that Heath did go away, on some legitimate errand. That Mrs. Heath let him out and locked the door after him. That later, some one entered the studio and in a sudden fit of angry passion brained Mrs. Heath with the murderous bottle."
"Then," and Larry smiled dryly, "how did that man get out?"
"He didn't," said the Coroner.
"He is still in the house then?"
"I will not pretend to misunderstand you, Doctor Osborn. You mean that the murderer was a regular inmate of this house, either family, guest or servant."
"You have stated the assumption accurately, Mr. Inman."
Had Larry been less perturbed, he must have laughed at the pompous air and stilted diction of the Coroner.
But he was dismayed at the turn things had taken. He had had no doubts but the Coroner would at once assume Perry Heath guilty and forthwith institute a search for him.
"Your assumptions are not without interest," Larry said, looking at the Coroner. "But what, then, is the meaning of the eccentric act of painting Mrs. Heath's face and adding colorful touches to her costume? This point was an obsession with Mr. Heath, but no one else would have done such a thing."
"As I understand it, nearly all of Mrs. Heath's friends and acquaintances urged her to use a touch of make-up, and, too, we have no real reason to assume that the rouge was applied to Mrs. Heath's face after she was dead. It may well be that she consented to the experiment while still alive."
Inman looked startled.
"Surely a medical man can tell you about that," he said.
This speech deeply annoyed the Coroner, for he suddenly realized his own delinquency in not having thought of that point.
He therefore ignored it, until such time as he could correct his own error.
"Then the card, of such sinister significance. It is scarcely possible that Mr. Heath would have placed that where it was found, if the terrible deed had been really his own work."
"That's just where you're wrong," Larry exclaimed. "Perry Heath is full of the spirit of bravado, he has a diabolical sense of humor. It is exactly what he would do,—attach a gruesome signature to his own work."
"I can't agree with that. But we are not seeking opinions, we want facts. If then we assume Mr. Heath went away on some simple or casual errand, where do you think he is now?"
"That is surely a matter of opinion, Mr. Coroner, and you say you are out for facts. But I can't opine about Mr. Heath's casual errand,—if he went on one,—for I am fully convinced that he killed his wife and then disappeared purposely and permanently."
"Getting out of the house and leaving no unlocked door or window."
"Surely he had his latch key."
"But the front door was fastened on the inside with a chain bolt."
"Then by some overlooked window, or side door, perhaps."
"No, we have had the most thorough and careful search made in that respect. Herrick fastened every door and window on the inside, last night. And he found the bars and bolts all intact this morning."
"Then I give it up, but I still feel sure that there must be some obscure entrance or exit from this house, that Perry Heath could use, if so minded."
"Will you suggest one?"
"In the cellar, perhaps the coal hole."
"Not a chance. Everything down there was cut off from the main house, by the upper cellar door, leading from the pantries, and which is the only means of connection with the cellar. This door was locked as usual, on the pantry side. Heath could not have gone down through it, and left it locked."
"Let me go over the house, and I'll guarantee I can find several ways he could have left his home secretly. Lord knows I've no wish to accuse Perry Heath of this thing if he is not guilty, but, personally, I think there is no slightest sign of his innocence."
"You say you all urged Mrs. Heath to use what is known as 'make-up' on her face?"
"Yes, we did. We all felt it would improve her extremely pale countenance."
"You thought that, too, Miss Moore?"
Osborn had a most disconcerting way of turning with a sudden question to another witness.
"Why, yes," Bunny said, pulling herself together. "We have all been in the habit of jesting about it."
"Then the crime was clearly the work of some one who knew of the distaste of Mrs. Heath for cosmetics, and some one who had sufficient nerve to apply the coloring to a dead woman's face."
"You said you were not sure she was dead when—" Larry began, but the Coroner interrupted him.
"I am sure now." He referred to a written message which had been handed him. "I asked Doctor Conklin to investigate that matter, and he tells me that the cosmetics were applied to Mrs. Heath's face after death."
"How can he tell?" Larry growled.
"There are many ways to ascertain that. A physician could not be mistaken. Now, what I want to know is, where is the vanity box that was used for the purpose."
"That's easy," said Inman. "When I left the room, I saw a gold vanity box with lots of dangling trinkets, lying on the table."
"It is not there now. Who removed it?"
Nobody answered, and the Coroner, turning to Bunny, said,
"Do you think it was Mrs. Heath's own?"
"I think it must have been," she replied, but her voice shook in spite of her efforts to keep it steady.
"Then why has it disappeared?"
"I'm sure I don't know," Bunny had recovered her pertness if not her poise. "I suppose whoever used it, carried it off. They are sometimes valuable trifles, and I think it was a burglar who did the whole crime."
She put her head on one side like a wise canary bird, and falling under the spell of her helpless air and wistful countenance, the Coroner forbore to question her further.
But, whether by reason of Osborn's lack of skill, or the non-committal evidence of the witnesses, no points of real importance were forthcoming, and the awestruck and bewildered jury brought in the open verdict of murder by unknown hands, but with a strong recommendation that Perry Heath be found.
THE Country Club of Gaybrook Harbor, being over on the Park side, was a magnificent and ornate structure, built with a large outlay of money and a small outlay of taste. But it catered especially to the comforts of its members and its spacious verandahs and big easy chairs were well patronized of a summer afternoon.
Al Cunningham strolled over there after the Inquest was over.
He had his own opinions of the Coroner's methods and procedure, but he was determined not to express them, but merely give a report of the affair.
He found a small group of men, who were quite evidently waiting for him, and almost without preliminaries, he plunged into his subject and gave a brisk and accurate account of the Inquest.
The men were those who had agreed to employ Cunningham as a private and amateur detective in the Heath matter, and they listened to his story, for the most part in silence.
Then Arthur Black said:
"I gather, Al, from the way you describe things, that you don't altogether approve of Osborn's technique."
"Technique! He hasn't any. He hasn't sense enough to go in when it rains. I didn't mean to speak out in meetin' like this, but since you ask, I'll admit, that I think he's about the worst apology for a Coroner I ever saw!"
"Seen many?" asked Anderson, a little dryly.
"Well, I've seen a few," Cunningham stood his ground; "and I've read lots of detective stories, and I know how a coroner ought to behave."
"But he can't do anything more until they find Perry Heath," Black said. "That chap has got to be found. There's no question of his guilt. Why, his running away is the same as a confession! And who else could it have been? As Al tells us, the house was so darned well locked up that no intruder could get in."
"Yes," Anderson interrupted, "and by the way, how did Heath get out?"
"It doesn't matter how he got out, since he did get out," Wallace Forbes declared. "We have to admit he's missing, so why not assume he's the murderer? It seems not only the logical but the inevitable deduction."
"Well, I don't know," Cunningham said, thoughtfully, "Logical, yes. But not inevitable, to my mind. You see, that man Osborn got no evidence of any value. Spoken evidence, I mean. He questioned his witnesses perfunctorily and very sketchily. He ought to have put those servants through a regular grilling and the house guests ought to have been questioned far more closely. That blue eyed flapper knows a lot more than she told. Why, she knew about the thing before the maid went up to tell her,—or else why was she crying to beat the band when the maid went in her room?"
"Oh, come now, Al, that's pure surmise," Anderson objected.
"Maybe, but surmises ought to be looked into and tracked down. Then, that girl vamped the Coroner so at the last, that when she told him she thought the murder was the work of a burglar, he just nodded his head and let up on her entirely. Fine sort of Coroner, I'll tell the G. P.!"
"Well, old man," Black said, "then your work is cut out for you. The verdict of a Coroner's jury doesn't close a case, and I rather fancy that man Mott won't let the matter rest as is. He's a live wire, I happen to know, and you, Cunny, could do worse than to join issues and work with him."
"No, I prefer to go on my own."
"There speaks the true amateur! Of course you would. And I don't know but you're right about it Can't you get around the Little Bright Eyes, and find out what she really knows? You don't suspect she is the principal, do you?"
"Mercy, no!" Cunningham looked shocked. "She's a mere kid. But I do think she's in the know,—more or less."
"Then go to it, and find out."
"Will Cunny be let do this?" Anderson asked. "Will they want him nosing around in the Heath bungalow,—it is a bungalow, I suppose, being over on that side."
"Yes, it's a bungalow," Forbes told him. "And one of the most attractive ones over there. Heath was an artist—"
"Why was? Do you think he's dead too?" Black asked.
"No. But when any one disappears like that, you can't help thinking of him in the past tense. Well, Perry Heath is a pretty fair artist, and his home is one of the show places of the Gardens. Oh, it didn't cost a quarter as much as your place, Black, or as Anderson's home, but it's a comfortable enough shack. And now, I've no idea who's at the head of it. You see, Mr. and Mrs. Heath had no children and the two house guests over there can't be expected to stay on forever."
"Somebody said that Inman is Mrs. Heath's heir."
"I know. I mean, I know that's the report, but I don't know how true it is."
"Well, somebody's got to talk," said Black, decidedly. "You can't find out things any other way. And if there's nobody in particular to work this thing up, all the more reason, why we old Harbor residents should take hold and do our best to run down the murderer of Myra Heath, whether it is her husband we're after or not."
"That's the way I look at it," Cunningham agreed. "Those two people over there and that bunch of servants must give up what they know. Somebody must make 'em do it. If Mott goes for the little beauty, he'll probably fall down on the job just as Osborn did, for she's a witch child, all right. But I shall steel my heart against her vamping and wrest the truth from her soul! Why was she crying bitterly when Carter went to tell her about Mrs. Heath? Don't tell me it was some sorrow of her own. Too much of a coincidence. Or, if it was, then she must cough up what the sorrow was. It can't hurt her as much to bare her secret grief as it can to be suspected of a premature knowledge of the tragedy!"
"Good Lord, Al, but you have imagination!" Sam Anderson exclaimed. "I dare say it's a good asset for a detective, but don't let it run away with you."
"Oh, imagination helps only up to a certain point. After that you want tact, policy, cunning and all the Machiavellian traits to round up your facts. You want to hear everything you can. You want to see, quickly and surely. And most of all you need the psychologic instinct to guide you among the shoals of false clues that continually crop up."
"My, Al, you do know a lot!" exclaimed Black. "I'd no idea we were employing such a modern and up to date sleuth!"
"And then, after all," Cunningham went on, "it largely depends on luck, and hard work, or,—" he laughed,—"work and hard luck!"
"Well, you're philosophical, to say the least," Anderson told him. "But go ahead, old chap. Quiz the pretty little girl,—I'd like to see that charmer,—and put the he-cousin through a course of sprouts. My choice is for him. He's the only one I can see who has motive, which, I've been told, is the first thing to look for."
"I suppose Inman may be said to have had motive," Cunningham said, slowly, "but I know him, and though I'm not an intimate friend, I can't seem to see him brutally murdering his beautiful cousin, to inherit her property."
"Why not?" said Anderson. "I mean, granting the brutal murder, somebody must have done it. And presumably somebody in the house, if the stories of the careful locking up are all true. I don't eliminate the possibility of Heath's guilt but I can't see how he could get away afterward. He could, of course, have gone away before the crime, if the cousin did it."
"Well, I'll go there this evening, if they'll let me in, if not, I'll insist on an interview tomorrow. I shall say I represent the Country Club, which feels it has a right to use every effort to locate one of its members who is mysteriously absent."
"Yes, that's a good way to put it," commended Black. "You must get something, Cunny. As you say, that doddering Coroner got nowhere!"
"It's outrageous, the way such cases are handled by incompetent and ignorant officials!" Anderson declared. "By the time a clever or experienced detective can get busy on them, the important clues have been obliterated. And not only that, but the bungling operatives are so cocksure and self-sufficient that they persuade the public of their own efficiency when they have none at all."
"That's right, Sam," Black agreed. "Well, get busy, Cunningham. Hunt down Heath, if you can. Get all the information you can from the people at the bungalow, and let's cover the Country Club with glory by solving the mystery of the murder of Myra Heath!"
"Heath will come back of his own accord," Anderson said, insistently. "And you'll find clues or evidences pointing to Larry Inman as the perpetrator of the crime. Of course, this is pure surmise on my part, but all the evidence seems to lie in that direction."
"Maybe," Cunningham said, thoughtfully. "I'm not sure you're not right. But innocent or guilty, it ought not to be hard to find Heath. Men can't drop out of sight so easily. I've heard, the Department have already put detectives on his track, but I've heard of no response as yet. Though, of course, it's too soon to expect it. I don't know Heath awfully well, after all. Do any of you fellows know anything—er—unsatisfactory about him?"
"Shady, you mean?" asked Black.
"Yes,—or queer,—peculiar. Eccentric. Anything, in fact, out of the ordinary. The sort of thing a chap wouldn't tell of an acquaintance, except in such circumstances as these we're now facing. If any one knows anything detrimental to Perry Heath, I hold it is his duty to tell it."
"I agree with that," Anderson spoke decidedly. "Personally, I know nothing. I'm not very well acquainted with him, but when I learned he was to be a rival candidate for the Club presidency, I naturally looked up his record."
"Where'd you find it?" asked Cunningham, eagerly.
"Oh, I don't mean in official files. I just asked a few club members. I found out nothing definitely against him, and not much definitely for him. He seemed to be rather colorless, I thought."
"Yes, that's Perry," said Wally Forbes. "Good enough, all round sort, but nothing startling about him. If he committed this murder, it's the first exciting incident of his life, I'm sure. He loved a good time, he is out-doorsy, and he's a genial chap. I think it was his general placidity and good nature that made the Gardens people choose him for their candidate. Most of them are so temperamental, they are unfitted for such a post as President of a Club."
"He's welcome to the election, if he'll come back for it," Sam Anderson said, speaking with obvious sincerity. "I don't care a rap for it, dunno whatever made me consent to run."
"There are others," vouchsafed Black. "Garrison's a favorite."
"Hope he'll get it, then," Anderson said, but his tone was not quite so genuine now.
Cunningham departed, with a cheery word as to his own success, and from the Clubhouse, he wandered back, over the bridge to The Gardens.
As he went, he mused on the difference of atmosphere in the two sides of Gaybrook Harbor.
And it occurred to him, that, though on the Park side, the householders were rather formal and a bit stiff, on the Gardens side, there was far more camaraderie and what might be called neighborly sociability.
This led him to wonder if anything might be learned from the neighbors of the Heaths.
As he neared the bungalow, he noted as he passed, the house just before it, and he saw no signs of occupancy. Clearly, the house was at present untenanted. So nothing could be gained from that side.
But on the other side, the side toward the sea, he saw a pleasant bungalow, and on its small but cheery verandah, a middle aged woman and a young man sat chatting.
Now, Al Cunningham was not an Adonis for looks, but he had an ingratiating way with him, which, added to a discreetly flattering tongue, sometimes made astonishing inroads on the confidence of middle aged or elderly ladies.
He passed the Heath house, and beaming his most debonair smile, he deliberately walked up the garden path and up a few steps of the porch of Mrs. Prentiss.
Toddy Buck looked round in surprise, then rose, to greet a supposed friend of his aunt.
But Mrs. Prentiss showed no recognition of the caller, and Cunningham, staking all on one bold move, held out his hand to her, as he said, "You'll forgive me, I know, when you hear what I've called about."
His smile faded and gave way to a mysterious air, and his lowered voice promised thrilling revelations.
Emily Prentiss couldn't resist this, and she graciously bowed and pointed to a nearby chair.
Cunningham, thus encouraged, tacitly took Todhunter Buck also into his confidence, and began by saying:
"I'm Al Cunningham, a Gardens man, of course, and I saw you two at the Inquest this afternoon. Mrs. Prentiss, I felt sure that you knew something about the affair but as you were not called upon, you couldn't—or didn't tell it."
"Well, I declare!" cried the astonished woman. "Now however did you guess that? Here I was just discussing with my nephew whether or no I ought to tell somebody, and along you come! It's just providential, that's what it is! You a detective, Mr. Cunningham?"
"Well, I am, but not a professional one. As a matter of fact, I'm a rank amateur, but I'm working in the interests of the Country Club. Mr. Heath was a member, you know, and some of the men think they ought to look into the matter of his strange disappearance. And they've put the work rather more or less into my hands. So, as I said, I have a hunch you know something—oh, I beg your pardon, forgive the slang!"
"No harm at all," Mrs. Prentiss beamed on him. "My nephew here, uses the most atrocious slang, so I'm used to it. Well sir, your hunch is a right one. I do know something, though whether it's of any account or not, I can't say. But seeing you are what you are, and sent out by the Club and all, I don't see why I shouldn't tell you. In fact, I'd have told it before if I'd known who to tell. I don't altogether cotton to the police. They're so high and mighty, and they can take what you tell 'em, and then twist it all out of kilter until it's no use to them or anybody else."
"That's so, Mrs. Prentiss," Cunningham's voice was deeply sympathetic. "Now, if you care to tell me, I'll promise you the information will not be wasted."
"All right, I'll tell."
Whereupon, Mrs. Prentiss detailed anew her watch of the night before. She told accurately and just as she had told her nephew at breakfast of the strange appearances, disappearances and reappearances of lights in the Heath studio.
"It is a most interesting story," Cunningham said, when she had finished. "And I am sure it is of the utmost importance. Were it only concerning the main lights of the room, it would not be so peculiar, but the appearance of the two small sparks which were doubtless the candles left there, makes it all a strong piece of evidence, which, however, needs straightening out and unraveling to get its meaning. Let us try, Mrs. Prentiss, to reconstruct the happenings. Keep check on me and tell me if I go wrong. Now, say the complete darkness at half past eleven meant the family and servants had all retired."
"Yes, that's probably right."
"Well, then, say, that when a dim light appeared perhaps half an hour later, some one came downstairs on a trifling errand,—for a book, or cigarettes or some such thing."
"Yes,—though that isn't very definite."
"Ah, you thought I would be one of those detectives who could deduce a man with a hooked nose and Vandyke beard, with a slight limp and a cast in his left eye!"
Mrs. Prentiss laughed, appreciating the banter. "Well, go on," she said.
"Well, the indefinite prowler came downstairs, snapped on a small light, maybe a desk light,—that wasn't the candle, was it?"
"No, I recollect the effect clearly. It was doubtless, as you suggest, a small desk light or reading lamp."
"Then, in a few moments comes another person, who flashes on the full lights of the room."
"Of course, though, it need not have been another person. It may well have been the first, the indefinite person, still hunting what he came after."
"Right! You are a born detective, Mrs. Prentiss! Well, anyhow, that big light stayed on till about one o'clock. That right?"
"Yes, as near as I remember the hours. Then the candles showed."
"Yes, and it was during the time of that big light,—between twelve and one o'clock, that Mrs. Heath was killed. Or, at least, that's the way I see it. For the candles were, in all probability, put in place to represent funeral candles. Now that must have been done after the lady was dead. Then, having arranged things to his satisfaction, the murderer snapped off the big light, and left the room, whether he left the house or not."
"But there were more lights on and off after that."
"That is the most important of all. If my belief is the truth, that the crime was committed just before the candles were lighted, then whoever came into that room afterward, saw the candles, saw the dead woman, and has, so far, kept quiet about it."
"Might have been some of the servants," suggested Mrs. Prentiss.
"Yes, it might easily have been. And the second trip, as we may call the time when the big light was again flashed on for a short time, may have been other servants, come to confirm the news already told."
"Now you're romancing," Todhunter Buck broke in. "I say, Mr. Cunningham, I'm keen on this detective business myself. I wish you'd let me help you, I'll promise not to be a nuisance."
"Glad to have you. I've no illusions regarding my own powers, but I have a capacity for work, and a bulldog tenacity for digging at a clue."
"Good. Well, then I think you've no right to assume the servants any more than the guests of the household. Nor, to my mind, have you any more reason to suspect them, than that the murderer, himself returned to the scene of his crime two or three times. There's no argument that he shouldn't. He killed the lady, and in all probability he afterward made up her face in that strange fashion. But it is quite as likely that he was in and out of that room, and that he snapped on and off the big lights as that any one else did. Why, if the guests or servants had gone there inadvertently, and had seen that awful sight, they would have given an alarm at once."
"That's so, Toddy," said his aunt, looking admiringly at her nephew. "I wish I had looked more carefully for shadows on the blind. I did sometimes see one moving vaguely about, but it was so indistinct that recognition was impossible."
"You didn't see any one out of doors? Any one leaving the premises?"
"Now, you speak of it, seems as if I did see some man sort of sneakin' out. But it wasn't Perry Heath. It was a short, thickset fellow, and I'm pretty near sure it was that Katie's young man. I've seen him before,—he always brings her home after her evening out. Katie's a nice girl, a respectable girl, and she's engaged to her beau. But they do stay out awful late. My, if she was my maid, she'd be in the house and the back door locked by ten o'clock. And no other maid a sneakin' down to let her in, neither? But Mrs. Heath, now, she gave her orders, and then she just took for granted they was carried out! Yes, that's Myra Heath all over. She'd give implicit and explicit directions to that bunch of servants over there, and she'd assume they're all obeyed to the letter. Land, they ain't! She always held her head so high—regular Johnny-Look-In-The-Air, she was! Well, poor thing, she'll never hold her head high again!"
"Her servants were not loyal, then?"
"Oh, loyal, in a way. They liked her for all her airs, but of course, it's human nature to scamp service if nobody's looking."
"Oh, sure. But do you think the servants were up and about at that hour of the night?"
"You heard what the girls told at the Inquest."
"Yes. And they seemed honest and straightforward. Emma let Katie in and then went back to her room. Katie visited the icebox, and then went to her room."
"Yes," Mrs. Prentiss spoke dubiously. "That's what they said. And like enough 'twas true. But what became of Perry Heath? How did he get out and where did he go?"
"Was he a man to be friendly with the maids? Would Emma, say, have let him out as readily as she let Katie in?"
"I wouldn't put it past her, as far as Emma's concerned. But I don't think Mr. Heath was like that. Not that you can tell a single thing about any man. But Perry Heath is so up and coming, so sort of straightforward, that it seems to me, if he wanted to get out of his own house unbeknownst, he'd manage it himself without the aid of any servant."
"Yes," Al Cunningham agreed, "that's the way I size up Perry Heath. Now, here's another thing. If Heath killed his wife, and vamoosed afterward, as many suppose, why would he want to make it appear that there was no way for him to get out? Why not do his killing and walk off leaving the front door, open behind him? I can't get the reason for his secrecy. For his trying to make it look as if he escaped by supernatural means."
"That's a point," cried Todhunter Buck, eagerly. "That's a point that's been puzzling me, and I've got my answer!"
"You have!" said Cunningham, "what is it?"
"Well, you see," Toddy was a little excited at being made a principal in the discussion, "you see, I'm not at all sure that Heath was the murderer."
"No," Cunningham said, "I'm not, either."
"Well," Toddy went on, "suppose, just suppose, that the murderer was that Inman man."
"But why should he kill his cousin? They say he was in love with her?" This from Mrs. Prentiss.
"I know they say that. But suppose he wasn't. Suppose he pretended to be, but he wasn't. And he wanted her money, which was to come to him by her will. Well, suppose he killed her, and fixed up the cosmetic stunt and the candles and all, with the idea of implicating her husband, who, they say, always wanted her to rouge up and all that. Well, then, suppose, he shut off the lights, all but the candles, and just lay doggo and waited. And suppose Friend Husband comes creeping down to find out what's up. And suppose the cousin kills him, too. And,—conceals his body—say, in the cellar,—or garden."
"Why, Todhunter Buck, what a terrible idea!" cried his aunt, gasping for breath.
"But it's all terrible, Aunt Emily. And that would account for the disappearance of Perry Heath without leaving any door or window unlocked."
"Ingenious in theory," Cunningham said, deeply interested in Toddy's notion. "But does it hold water?"
"As how?" asked young Buck.
"Well, it isn't so easy to conceal a body in the cellar"—
"All right," Toddy cried, "then he takes it out and throws it in the sea. Weighted and all that, you know. And comes back, and turns on the big light for that last time,—and then, locks the doors and goes off to bed."
"Maybe," Cunningham said, shaking his head thoughtfully, "maybe."
THAT evening Larry Inman and Bunny dined alone.
It was an ordeal, but they had agreed that it was wise for them to keep up the ordinary routine of the house as far as possible, and be ready at any moment for the return of Perry Heath.
As a matter of course, and also because there was need for a master, Inman assumed the head of the house, while Bunny naturally filled Myra's place in affairs of domestic detail.
The servants were nervous and frightened, and but for Herrick's good sense and wise advice they would have fled the place.
But he kept the staff in order, and dinner was served with its usual correct formality.
Inman and Bunny did not, however, sit in the places heretofore occupied by the two Heaths. They retained their own chairs, at opposite sides, leaving the host's place for his return.
Bunny's eyes filled as she remembered the gay party at table the night before, but she conquered her emotions, and contrived to manage a little light conversation with Inman.
"We have to face the situation," he said, gravely, "and we may as well do the best we can to keep—"
"Keep the home fires burning," Bunny said, with an effort to speak lightly.
"Yes," he responded, "against Perry's return."
"Where is he, Larry?" Bunny said, for Herrick was momentarily out of the room.
There was a note of intense anguish in her voice, a hint of tragedy that was breaking her young heart.
"I don't know, Bunny," Inman said, but he did not look at her. "It is very hard to know what to do. Unless he comes home soon, I shall have to look after some of his business matters for him. A note of his falls due to-morrow and such things should not be neglected."
"Oh, no, of course not. Do attend to it, Larry,—if—if he doesn't come to-night. Where could he have gone?"
"Bunny, you know Perry is a law unto himself. He may have gone away last night, before—before Myra died. She may have known all about his going, and said good by to him and all,—after you and I went upstairs. It wouldn't be an unheard of thing."
"N—no, I suppose not. But in that case, he'll see about the—the crime, in tonight's papers, and he'll come right home, of course."
"Yes, of course."
But again, Inman did not look at her. He seemed to avoid her eyes, and turned his glance aside when he spoke to her.
"What about Myra's will?" the girl said, suddenly,—so suddenly that Inman gave a start.
"Why, the lawyer, Hart, is away. He's expected home in a day or two. He will doubtless come as soon as he hears the news."
"Are you Myra's heir?"
"I don't know, Bunny. You heard what she said to Heath last night. If I am, I shall be glad, for the money belongs in our family, and Perry can always make his own living."
"Yes; is this house Myra's, too?"
"Her money was used to build it, but I'm not sure who holds the title. Don't talk about such details,—things are bad enough without dragging in money matters!"
For the first time, Larry spoke impatiently, and Bunny stared at him, her lips quivering.
She looked very lovely, in a low necked frock of black chiffon. It was plainly made and unrelieved by any trimming, and her soft, babyish neck and arms were fair and sweet. Her face was entirely innocent of make-up,—the very sight of cosmetics made her shudder,—and her own blue eyes, her naturally crimson lips and the beautiful gold of her hair, formed a color scheme that no art could improve.
She wore no dangling beads, no bangle bracelets, and the simplicity of her costume added to her luring charm.
But Inman seemed not to notice. He was preoccupied with his own thoughts, except as he was careful to preserve a conventional air of Social usage before the servants.
The death of Myra was a tragedy that sank the whole household in gloom. But Heath's absence was treated as merely part of the usual routine, and whatever these two might think about it, they must assume his impending reappearance.
They were not confidential, this pair, but they were at one in preserving a calm exterior and a courteous attitude.
Dinner over, they went into the Lounge for coffee.
By a common, though unspoken impulse they avoided the studio.
All that remained of beautiful Myra Heath had been taken away by the Funeral Director's men, but plans for the obsequies were in abeyance pending Perry's return.
But though the studio had been restored to its usual condition of orderly informality, it was and would ever be a room of horror to any inmate of the Heath household.
So Bunny, a crumpled and pathetic little figure, sat in the corner of the big davenport, and Inman stalked about the great room, cigarette in one hand, and coffee cup in the other.
They were full of unrest, both of them, but could not bring themselves to talk of Myra.
"I wish I could go home," Bunny said, plaintively. "Won't they let me go, Larry?"
"I don't think so. It seems a Coroner's verdict is far from final in the minds of the police. They don't seem inclined to make a move, though, or let anybody else make one, until Perry comes home."
"Are they doing anything to find him?"
"Yes,—in a stupid, bat-blind way. They telephoned to the dealer who often sells his pictures, and the man said he hadn't seen Perry for two or three weeks. A fat lot of good such hunting does!"
"What do you think they ought to do?"
The little flower face looked up at him wistfully, as if he were the only hope or reliance.
As indeed he was. Poor little Bunny had never before known a trouble or care greater than the misfit of a new gown, or the tragedy of an unbecoming hat. And now, plunged suddenly into a sorrow so grave and terrible, and with no hope of rescue or relief, her dazed brain and stunned heart could scarcely meet the issues.
Yet she was learning. Already she was beginning to see that she must rely on herself for decisions and actions.
Her thoughts flew to the rather nice woman who had that morning offered to help her. Who had even offered her a temporary home—and, who seemed to consider one necessary.
"Larry," she said, suddenly, "I ought not to be here alone with you."
He set down his cup and came and seated himself by her side.
"No, Bunny," he said, seriously, "you ought not. To be sure, a situation like this, a terrible crisis of this sort, gives one liberty to break all laws of convention,—indeed, it makes convention seem a trivial and futile thing. But, conventions remain, when situations pass. I wish I knew what is best for you to do. I'm sorry to tell you, that I know you will not be allowed to go home just yet. Mott is very busy with his inquiries, and he's only waiting a little longer for Perry's reappearance, before he breaks loose with some terrible developments."
"What do you mean, Larry, you scare me to death!"
"Don't be frightened till the time comes,—I'll keep you advised and all that, but,—be prepared, Bunny, for stormy times ahead."
"What do you mean?" the girl cried. She was ashy white now, and her blue eyes were big and dark with apprehension.
"Larry," she whispered, "you know that awful man, said that—our,—our finger-prints were on that bottle!"
"Yes, I know he did."
"What does that mean, Larry?"
"Well, Bunny, what does it mean?"
But a sudden change came over the queer, elfin child.
She sprang up from the couch, and almost dancing across the room, she seated herself bolt upright in a small, straight chair.
She folded her arms, and her lovely mouth pursed itself into a pout of mutinous rebellion.
"I'm not afraid of them," she said, defiantly. "They can say what they choose, and do what they choose! I'm not afraid! Are you, Larry?"
"No," he replied, puzzled at her belligerent attitude. "Why should I be?"
"Ah, why should you be?" she repeated, "why should I be? Why should anybody be?"
"Bunny, hush! You're talking nonsense," Inman exclaimed, a vague fear coming to him, that the matter had affected her mind.
"No,—no, I'm not. I say, Larry, have you looked over Perry's papers?"
"No, of course not! What right have I to do that?"
"Oh, he'll never come back. I thought at first he would,—now, I know he won't. And I miss him so—I miss him so—" her voice trailed away like a diminishing echo.
Inman sighed. She was such a child.
Yet the next moment she spoke seriously.
"Larry, the lady next door,—that Mrs. Prentiss, you know, has asked me to go to stay with her for a while,—until I can go home."
"Has she? Why, Bunny, that's the very thing! I do hope you'll go!"
"Are you so anxious to be rid of me?"
"Yes,—for your own good. For your own good name. You see, people would talk if you and I stayed here alone. Nor would it make it any better for you if Perry turned up. You must see that! But for you to go to Mrs. Prentiss', would be an ideal plan! Do go, Bunny, do. You can run over here every day, you know, to look over Myra's things and all that. Please, Bunny, let me urge you to go."
"Don't attempt to boss me! You know it always makes me obstinate!"
"Well, I'll coax you, then. Go, dear, there's a good girl. You will, won't you?"
"I—I don't know—"
Now, Bunny had immediately and fully made up her mind to go, but she couldn't resist the chance to tease Larry. He was so ridiculously insistent.
Then just at that crisis, the door-knocker sounded, and Herrick admitted three callers.
They were Mrs. Prentiss and her nephew, Todhunter Buck; and with them was a young man, a stranger to Bunny, but an acquaintance of Inman, Alexander Cunningham.
"I'm out to find Perry Heath," Cunningham said, after they were all seated. "I'm sure you understand, Mr. Inman, the interest and anxiety felt by the Country Club members, and as they can't do much as a body, they've asked me to institute a search for Heath, and, also, to do what I can toward unraveling the mystery of Mrs. Heath's tragic death."
"Detective work?" asked Larry, in a non-committal voice.
"Yes, but not professional. Some men like Arthur Black, Sam Anderson, and others of that crowd, have, in a way, engaged me to do this, and I'm mighty glad to try. We are assuming that as the nearest kin of Mrs. Heath, you will sanction any and every effort to solve the mystery of the case."
"Well,—I'm not sure about that," Inman said, slowly. "I want to know who killed my cousin, of course, but your blanket proposition as to 'any and every effort' seems to me a bit—er—unlimited."
"You want to limit it?" asked Cunningham, his cool grey eyes fixed on Larry's face.
The latter looked up, quickly.
"Perhaps not limit it,—but, rather, assist in its direction."
"Oh, that's all right, we're glad of any assistance. Now, while I'm not a professional detective, I am acting under authority, I am endorsed by the Club, and so I trust I'm not exceeding my rights in asking for the freedom of the house for purposes of investigation."
"You mean unquestioned access to all rooms?" Inman stared at him,
"I mean just that," and Cunningham stared back. "I can imagine no possible objection. The examination of Mrs. Heath's room is of utmost importance, and I'm sure Miss Moore would say no word against my entering her room."
"Indeed I would!" and Bunny drew herself up angrily. "Why should you go into my room, Mr. Cunningham?"
"It is an established custom, Miss Moore, to inspect carefully, and with an eye to helpful evidence, all parts of the house and grounds in which a crime has been committed. I am sorry to say, the police, in this case, have been lax in this respect. But I am told it is due to the absence of Mr. Heath. That, however, is really an additional reason for haste and care in the matter of search, for Mr. Heath's disappearance is a puzzle in itself, and it is highly probable that the two mysteries are interdependent."
"Now, Mr. Cunningham," Mrs. Prentiss broke in, "you're wasting good time, thrashing out foolish questions. Of course, Mr. Inman wants you to have full swing here, and likewise of course, Miss Moore wants you to make a full search. She's new to this business and doesn't understand. So you go right ahead, full steam, and I'll bet a cooky, you unearth some clue that nobody else has noticed. You go into that studio there,—that's where the awful thing happened,—and you see what you can see!"
Though hardly mid-Victorian, Mrs. Prentiss was of the later Victorian age, and her fashions savored of that period. Her buxom body was drawn into a rather tight corset, and an approach to the once desired hour-glass figure was attained. Her gown was of black georgette, with large and gay colored flowers patterned on it, and her black and white hair was parted in the middle and crimped on either side, with a neat French Twist at the back.
Her face was round, full and good-natured. Her eyes, bright, black and snapping, with a tendency toward the type known as pop-eyed.
Her manner was most brisk and energetic. She was born to rule, and for the most part lived up to her birthright.
In the present instance, she simply took the helm, and as Bunny was too much cowed to object, and Inman was too uncertain of his own mind to advise, her orders were obeyed and she remained master of the situation.
Cunningham disappeared into the studio, with young Buck following, like a shadow at his heels.
"All rubbed down and polished up!" cried Cunningham, disgustedly, as he saw the spick and span room, "I did think they'd have the place guarded from that sort of thing."
"What are you out for, anyway?" asked Toddy, who was eagerly waiting to see the detective work.
"Oh, just hints—but who could get any hints here? Body gone. Weapon removed,—even the broken bits of glass swept up! No chance for footprints on this thick carpet. No finger-prints on these carefully dusted knick-knacks and doo-dads. Even Heath's painting materials are all put away as neatly as a lady's work-basket!"
"But what good would finger-prints do you? If they were those of the family party, they would mean nothing. And if strange ones, how would you know whose?"
"Point pretty well taken. And, I'm not really keen for finger-prints. I just want something—something indicative or suggestive. Well, here are some letters." He ran over a handful he drew from a pigeonhole.
"Nothing any good! They're bills or Club notices, mostly. No billets doux from adoring damsels or anything like that. My, he has a lot of pipe cleaning paraphernalia! Look at all these contraptions."
Toddy Buck gazed without much interest at the array of patent devices for cleaning pipes or cigarette holders.
"Too many," he said, contemptuously. "An old bit of wire does me. And say, how tidy he keeps his paints. Look at these water-color boxes. All in perfect order. I thought artists were a messy lot."
"Heath isn't. He loves things orderly. His wife did, too. Look at all this glass of hers, ranged in rows in these two cabinets. Not a piece set awry, and all shining and speckless."
"Yes, and there's a row of old bottles like the one she was killed with."
Toddy spoke in an awe-struck tone. This business seemed a bit gruesome to him, though he was deeply interested.
"Now, maybe, Mr. Cunningham," he went on, "maybe the murderer, whoever he was, touched up the lady's face with these paints, instead of regular cosmetics." Al Cunningham looked up quickly.
"It might be possible. I can't visualize that scene, Buck. If Heath killed his wife, I can understand his painting her face, for he was always at her to do it herself, and, too, he was an artist and forever dabbling with brushes. But I don't think he killed her. For there's no way he could get out. Whereas, if he went away, before she was killed, then, clearly some one in the house is the criminal, and tried to turn suspicion to Heath by setting up the card and all that."
"Who, for choice?"
"Well, Inman is a good guess. He had motive, opportunity, and time. And he's clever enough to arrange matters to make it seem the work of Heath. I mean the cosmetics and all, as well as the card. And he's an artist, so if the facial applications were from Heath's water-color box, why, Inman could do that all right, too."
"And you think Heath really couldn't get away?"
"After committing the crime? Well, you look around. See these windows. Small diamond panes, narrow sashes, strong inside locks—"
"But you've only the servants' word that these were all found locked this morning, as well as the rest of the house."
"Yes, and it mostly rests on Herrick's word. But why should he lie about it? Nobody suspects him; he was devoted to Mrs. Heath, and Perry, too. And he could never have put on that make-up so artistically,—so perfectly. No, it was the work of an artist,—or, a woman."
"The maids?" queried Buck. "For of course, you can't mean Miss Moore!"
"I mean anybody and nobody. There is no one above suspicion. I'm merely inquiring about everybody. Well, I'm going upstairs. Bedrooms often tell tales that living rooms know nothing of."
Cunningham went back into the Lounge, and merely stated that he had found nothing of definite importance in the studio.
Without asking further permission, he went upstairs, and at his nod of invitation, Toddy Buck followed.
"I don't get it," Cunningham mused, as they entered Heath's bedroom. "Both Inman and the little Princess seem all upset at my investigations. Now, why don't they want the truth found out? Are they shielding Perry? Or anybody else? For you know if this thing is the work of an outsider, those two must have let the outsider in and let him out again, and also they must have let Heath out."
"Unless he went off naturally, and unquestioned, before the tragedy occurred," Toddy said.
"Yes, that's true talk. Now you see, Buck, we must get in our minds a picture of this room of Perry Heath's. For we want to remember it all through our future work. A man's room is himself. Of course, that applies more particularly to a bachelor's room, for a wife can knock the personality out of her husband's room, if she chooses, and often does. Look at this place, now. Can't you read Heath all over it? See the chiffonier,—all the brushes and toilet implements laid in a straight orderly row—"
"That's the housemaid's work."
"I know it, but Perry kept them so. You can somehow see that. Look in his dresser drawers. I'll bet his socks and handkerchiefs are in neat piles." He opened one after another, and the clothing was as tidy as he had expected it to be.
"And here's an easy chair, drawn up to the window, with a smoking-stand beside it, and a paper rack nearby. He is a bit of a Sybarite, is Perry, and yet a tidy sort, too. The two traits don't often go together."
"Well, what you've found out about his neatness and his love of ease doesn't get you along very far in solving the mystery, does it?"
"Don't be impatient, son. All in good time. Now, I have this room photographed on my mind in detail; come on, we'll tackle Mrs. Heath's room."
"Oh, I don't like to," and Buck drew back with a natural instinct against invading the sanctity of the dead woman's apartments.
"All right, you stay out, or go back downstairs."
But Toddy was naturally inquisitive, and, too, he was bound to be in on this detective business, so he followed the older man across the threshold.
The bedroom was beautiful, done up in pale gray and silver, quite in keeping with the exquisite taste and love of simplicity that had characterized Myra Heath in life.
Carter sat by a window, doing a bit of mending, and she looked up inquiringly as the two came in.
"You are Carter?" Cunningham said, pleasantly. "I'm glad you are here, perhaps you will show us about some matters, and we will not have to pry, ourselves."
The woman looked a little less severe then, and rising, she awaited orders.
"Where is Mrs. Heath's vanity case?" Cunningham asked, without preliminaries.
"She has several," the maid returned.
"Get them all out," was the order, and from some cupboard and drawers, Carter produced three, all beautiful and costly, and all in such a state of newness that it was plain to be seen they had never been used. The tiny pads for powder or rouge were spotless. The lipstick showed its silvered covering unbroken, and the little boxes of cosmetics were still sealed.
Scanning the three, carefully, and noting their newness, Cunningham said, looking about, "Where is the one she used? These have never been even opened."
"Mrs. Heath never used a vanity box, sir," Carter told him. "She had this powder-puff box, here on the dresser, but she never used rouge or lip salve."
"Ah, yes, I see. Go and bring me one from Miss Moore's room. The one she habitually uses."
Carter hesitated a moment, and then catching the austere glance of the man's eye, she went on the errand, and returned with an elaborate gold affair, that had many dangling chains and accessories attached to the main box.
"This is the one Miss Moore uses?" Cunningham asked.
"It is the only one I have seen her use since she has been here," Carter returned.
"I'll keep it," Cunningham said, coolly, as he slipped it in his capacious pocket and left the room.
WHEN Cunningham and Toddy Buck came downstairs, they learned that Bunny had concluded to go home with Mrs. Prentiss and stay for a time. The combined persuasions of that insistent lady and Larry Inman had resulted in Bunny's acquiescence, and she was about to go up for a suitcase and some necessary belongings.
"I needn't take much," she said, pausing at the foot of the stairs, "for I can run back and forth for whatever I need."
She ran along up, and Cunningham, after a few words of farewell, took his departure.
A few moments later; Bunny came down from upstairs, followed by Carter, with a small suitcase.
"I'm ready," she said, slowly, to Mrs. Prentiss, "but I can't find my vanity box. It's the queerest thing—I had it in my room just before dinner. I usually have it about with me, but—I left it upstairs, and now I can't find it!"
Toddy Buck hesitated. He knew Cunningham had taken it away, but he was uncertain whether to tell that or not. He concluded to keep silent on the matter for he had told Cunningham he would not interfere with his detective work, and he felt he was not at liberty to divulge the detective's secrets.
Bunny said no more about it, though it was plain to be seen it worried her.
With a quietness unusual for her gay little self, she said good-night to Inman and went with Mrs. Prentiss across the lawn to the house next door.
It was also unusual for Bunny to pay so little attention to a presentable and attractive young man, as she showed toward Todhunter Buck.
But Bunny was not herself. Small wonder, considering the shock she had sustained.
Once in Mrs. Prentiss' cheery if old fashioned living room, Bunny stood, irresolutely, by a table and faced the other two.
Her big blue eyes were appealing. She looked baby-like and helpless.
But Bunny Moore was not helpless. If she looked so, it was Nature's fault, not her own.
A more wise, canny, sophisticated little piece than Bunny could scarcely be imagined.
But she was troubled. And, if truth were known, she had reason to be.
"Mr. Buck," she said, speaking almost for the first time directly to Toddy, "I know perfectly well, you and that Mr. Cunningham are shadowing me. I think that is the term the detectives use."
"Why,—why, Miss Moore,—" Toddy was dumfounded at this, "why, you must know if I could do anything to help you—"
"You would do just the opposite! Yes, of course, I know that!" Bunny's eyes blazed now, and her voice quivered. The poor child was all wrought up, her nerves were on edge, and she felt she must take it out of somebody.
But she looked so lovely, so like a bruised blossom or a broken butterfly, that Toddy Buck forgot all about Cunningham and detective work, and wanted only to enlist in the service of Bunny Moore for the rest of his mortal career.
"Now, you just wait!" he exclaimed, eagerly, "I'm for you—all for you! And I'll put all my cards on the table. Al Cunningham did take your vanity case, or whatever you call it. And I'm expecting you to tell me why he took it, and why you care so much that he did take it."
Buck looked at her straightforwardly, and to his delight, Bunny returned the glance with equal calmness.
But Mrs. Prentiss, as she herself would have expressed it, could see through a ladder with a hole in it, and she realized that Miss Bunny, whether naive or sly, could wind Mr. Todhunter Buck round her adorable pink little finger, and that she was quite ready to proceed with and enjoy the process.
Also, Mrs. Prentiss had the somewhat unusual quality of a fine sense of relative values. And she sized up accurately and truly, Bunny's sudden little spurt of defiance and she knew that there was something back of it, more than a missing vanity case. She knew that Bunny had something to conceal, and that in her present mood, she would either blurt it out, or would tell some egregious lies.
And good Mrs. Prentiss wanted to save the pretty child from either contingency.
So she said, quite casually, "You clear out, Tod. Go to bed, or go down town to the Movies, or do whatever you like. Miss Moore and I are quite ready to excuse you."
Toddy, catching the gleam of his aunt's commanding eye, immediately said his simple good nights and left the room.
"Now, my dear child," Mrs. Prentiss said, after a moment of tactful silence, "you may go right to bed, or,—if you choose, you may talk things over a bit first."
Bunny looked at her with the glance a wise owl might give a country sparrow, and said, courteously: "Please, Mrs. Prentiss, I think I'll go to my room. You are so good to me,—and I do appreciate it,—but, it has been a hard day, and—oh, I'm sure you understand! I want to be alone!"
"Of course, you do, you poor dear. Now, you come right along with me."
And for the next half hour, Mrs. Prentiss was more like a matron of an orphan asylum or head nurse in a charity ward than anything else.
And little Bunny, exhausted by the unaccustomed strain on her nerves and emotions, tucked herself between the nice percale sheets, which Mrs. Prentiss "preferred to linen," and, after her kind hostess had departed, thought things over.
Meanwhile, though Toddy Buck had fallen under the spell of Bunny's charm, he had not entirely taken leave of his senses, and he went out for a walk, thoughtfully turning his steps toward the Funeral Parlors, where now reposed all that was mortal of lovely Myra Heath.
Buck was a methodical sort. He arranged his emotions and predilections in order, as another man might his business affairs.
Toddy saw at once,—he was nobody's fool,—that he was either in love or about to fall in it, with Bunny Moore.
He knew, too, that Detective Mott, as well as the amateur Cunningham strongly believed that the exquisite child knew more than she had told about the fearful tragedy at the Heath bungalow.
This, to Buck's mind, did not make the girl any less desirable or attractive as an inamorata, but he did feel that he had to know.
That was one strong differentiation between Mrs. Prentiss and her nephew. Mrs. Prentiss, with her almost uncanny intuition, knew things. Toddy Buck, in his blundering but pig-headed way, believed things, and—had to find out.
So, to the rooms of the Co-operative Casket Company he went, feeling sure that beyond the great palms and Oriental vases of their entresol, he would find the man he was looking for.
Nor was he disappointed. In a private room, of which there were several, he found closeted Al Cunningham and Detective Mott in earnest consultation.
The two greeted him with grave and serious faces.
On a table between them lay an ornate and elaborate vanity case, which Buck instantly believed to be Bunny's missing property.
It was of gold, and to the main box were attached various and sundry dangling little boxes or phials, all hung by gold chains.
"Here you are, Mr. Buck," and Cunningham plunged at once into the matter; "this is Miss Moore's vanity box. I took it from her bedroom. Now experts have made tests and they say that the cosmetics applied to Mrs. Heath's face after she was dead, might have been from this box—"
"Might have been!" said Buck, quietly. "What does that prove?"
"Only that they were not from the boxes belonging to Mrs. Heath herself. That, so far as we know, there was no other available vanity box in the Heath house last night. An examination of the servants' belongings shows only some inferior materials. That this box shows on its surface the finger-prints of Miss Moore, only—no others. And so, we are forced to the conclusion, that, quite apart from the murder, the making up of Mrs. Heath's face was done by Miss Moore. This in itself is, of course, no crime, but added to the fact that Miss Moore's finger-prints were on the bottle that was used as a weapon, we can't help feeling that Miss Moore was in some way implicated in the matter, if only as an accessory or an observer."
"You think so?" was Toddy's non-committal reply.
"We do," was the response from Detective Mott, himself. "And if you are interested in a proof of it, stay here a few moments longer. I have sent for an important witness, and if you choose, you can listen in."
So Toddy stayed, and it was not long before Emma, the waitress from the Heath home, appeared.
She was the one who had seemed simple and honest at the time of the Inquest and Mott greeted her kindly.
"Well, Emma," he said, "we've sent for you, because we think you know more than you told at the Inquest."
"Yes, sir," said the phlegmatic and imperturbable young woman.
Mott didn't quite know whether her response was one of acquiescence or merely acknowledgment of his remark, but he felt his way slowly.
"You do know a little more, Emma?" he said, ingratiatingly.
"Yes, sir," was the stolid assent.
"Well, tell it." Mott was getting impatient.
"Tell what, sir?"
"What you know."
But suddenly, Emma seemed to get scared.
"I—I don't know anything, sir!" she half breathed, her eyes getting big with fright and her voice trembling.
Mott pursued his advantage.
"Yes, you do! Now, out with it! Do you want to find yourself in the station house? Tell me what you saw, when you came downstairs to let Katie in!"
"I told the gentleman, sir, that I saw nothing."
"I know you did. And you told a lie! Now, do the best you can to repair the slip of your tongue. What did you see? Or whom?"
"I—I saw—" Emma hesitated, but her interlocutor gave her a prod.
"Out with it now! It will be far better for you in the long run, if you tell the truth. You saw somebody—who was it?"
"Miss—Miss Bunny, sir."
"Yes, of course, I knew that!"
This was mendacity on Mott's part, but he knew how to treat a girl like Emma.
"What was she doing?" he went on.
"She—she was going upstairs, sir."
"Going upstairs, was she? Alone?"
"Quite alone, sir."
"Did she—listen, now, Emma,—did she have this vanity box in her hand?"
"Y—yes, sir," Emma faltered.
"Are you sure?" Toddy Buck broke in. "I believe this girl will assent to anything you suggest!"
"Are you sure, Emma?" Mott Repeated.
"Yes, sir, I'm sure," Emma said, "because I heard it jingle as it hit against the stair rail. Oh, sir, I hope I haven't done wrong to tell!"
"No. You do wrong when you don't tell. Do you know any more? What did the young lady do next?"
"That's all, sir. She went up the stairs and into her own room and shut the door."
"And this was at one o'clock?"
"No, sir, it was half past one."
"You're a good witness, Emma. Half past one was what you said at the Inquest."
"But it was half past one, sir. I saw by the pantry clock."
"Yes," interrupted Al Cunningham, "and you said at the Inquest that you saw no one when you came down to let Katie in. You said that the servants' rooms are all in the back of the house—"
"Yes, sir,—" Emma looked distressed. "But I peeped in the front part, through the door upstairs, and I saw Miss Moore. And I didn't say anything about it at first,—but now, I thought I'd better."
"Oh, you did!" said Cunningham. "And whose advice made you feel that way about it?"
Truly, Emma was ingenuous!
"Ah, Carter's. And why does she want Miss Moore brought into this thing?"
"I don't know, sir. She just advised me to tell all I knew."
"And have you done so?"
"Yes, sir, I have, but Katie,—she hasn't."
"Hello," Mott took up the querying. "Katie hasn't, eh? Well, do you know what it is that Katie hasn't told? Can you tell us as well as Katie could?"
"Then go ahead."
"Why, you see, Katie is engaged to her young man, Jimmy Lomax. Well, when they two comes home, from Katie's evening out, they don't always come right in the house."
"No? What do they do?"
"Well, they—they sets in the arbor and—and spoons—like."
"Oh, I see. And you wait till they're through spooning, and then you let Katie in? You're a loyal friend, Emma."
"Well, go on."
"Well, you see, sir, that night,—last night as ever was, sir, when Katie and Jim was settin' quiet like in the arbor, he saw a man come out of the house, leastwise he come off of the verandah, and he went away."
"Yes, sir, went down the road and out of the gate."
"Oh, he did. And who was this man?"
"Jim, he don't know, sir. You see, he was talkin' to Katie, and he just sorta noticed the man, unthinkin' like. He says it mighta been Mr. Heath, and then again, it mightn't."
"I see. Well, that matter will bear looking into. Now, as to Miss Moore. You're sure you saw her coming upstairs, at one-thirty, with this vanity case in her hand?"
"Yes. sir, I'm sure."
Emma's stolid demeanor went far to convince her hearers of her sincerity of statement, whatever the deductions might indicate.
After a few more questions, which brought out nothing new, Mott sent the girl away, with strict instructions to tell no word of what had passed at the interview. And so thoroughly did he threaten her with punishment, for disobedience, that Emma went off, vowing inviolable secrecy.
"You see," Mott said, breaking the silence that had fallen, "Osborn gave me a tip about Miss Moore. A pretty serious one. He asked her a string of questions early this morning, before she had time to make up anything. Well, he asked her if she saw the two candles burning, at the head and feet of Mrs. Heath. And Miss Moore said she did. Now, you see, when Miss Moore came downstairs, and went to the studio to look on the body of Mrs. Heath, for the first time, after Carter had told her the news, Doctor Conklin was there, and the two went in practically at the same time."
"Well?" said Cunningham, as Mott paused.
"Well, then the candles had gone out—burnt out, you know,—but they were out. Now, Miss Moore agreed, when Osborn referred to her seeing the candles burning. When did she see those candles burning?" Cunningham looked thoughtful.
"If that Emma person's story is true," he said, "then Miss Moore was downstairs, just before one-thirty—"
"And went upstairs, with her vanity case, at half past one," declared Mott. "Having either been down and viewed the dead woman,—or, having been either principal or accessory to the fact of her death."
He put the case so simply, and in a tone so devoid of real accusation, that Toddy Buck, at first inclined to deny vigorously Bunny's possible connection with the crime, thought better of that, and said slowly:
"You suspect the little girl, then, Mr. Mott?"
"Suspect is too strong a word, Mr. Buck. But I do think some parts of her story call for investigation, and I think she knows more than she has told."
"She certainly does, if she was downstairs at half past one o'clock," Cunningham said, in a tense, strained voice. "Yet, the doctors agree that Mrs. Heath died about two o'clock. It may be, therefore, that Miss Moore was down there, that in a spirit of fun, the two women made use of Miss Moore's vanity box, and that Mrs. Heath was party to the making up of her own face."
"No, Mr. Cunningham," Mott said, "that won't do. The doctors proved that the make-up was put on Mrs. Heath's face after death. Of that they are certain. As to the time of death, that is not an easy matter to state positively. I have seen many cases, where the doctor has been out two or three hours in his reckoning regarding that matter. They can't tell exactly. The best of them admit that."
"Then, what do we gather from Miss Moore's presence on the stairs at half past one, and her denial of it?" asked Cunningham, gravely.
"That we can't decide about, until we question Miss Moore further," Toddy Buck broke in, his young face aglow with interest. "I've only met Miss Moore today. You fellows doubtless think that because of her beauty, I've fallen in love with her. I don't say that I have or haven't, but I do think she is a helpless girl, with a lot of possible or apparent evidence against her. And, I propose to take up her cause, and carry on for her, till I find out the truth of the affair. To imagine for a moment, that that baby-faced chit committed a murder is just too ridiculous! But a lot of hard-boiled detectives may think differently. And so, unbiased by any prejudice in Miss Moore's favor, I'm going to do all I can to see that justice is done her. That's all."
"You're fortunate in having her under your own present rooftree," Mott said, a little dryly.
"I am," Buck agreed, courteously, and without a smile. "She is now under my aunt's protection, as far as gossip and slander are concerned. If she should prove to be mixed up in this thing, other than as an innocent onlooker, I shall be greatly surprised. But, anyway, I'm going to get at the truth if I can—"
"Let the chips fall where they may?" asked Cunningham.
"Yes," Toddy said, "where they may."
"All right," Mott said, heartily, "you're the right stuff, young man. If you don't fall too hard for the charms of the Moore Baby, we'll find you a valuable assistant, I'm sure."
The three men separated for the night, Mott declaring that he meant to sleep on the matter, and Toddy, his young heart full of food for thought, to toss for hours on a sleepless couch.
But Al Cunningham went across the bridge, and over to the Clubhouse in Harbor Park.
It was not so much that he felt it his duty to report at once to his employers, but he was full of the subject and hoped to find some one at the Club with whom he could talk over things. It was not late, from the viewpoint of the Club members, although many of the Gardens bungalows were dark as he walked by.
The walk seemed short, for Cunningham had much to think about, and when he reached the Clubhouse, he found, as he had thought, a goodly number of men playing Bridge or billiards, or sitting in desultory chat in the smoking lounge.
Of the ones who were really his employers, Cunningham found Arthur Black and Sam Anderson in confab.
"Hello, Cunny," called out the latter, "what have you found out regarding the Heath matter? We're pretty curious about it over here."
"There are developments," Cunningham returned, as he took a seat near them, and lighted a cigarette. Then he told them all he knew of the affair, dilating on the recent facts they had learned which implicated or seemed to implicate the lovely Miss Moore.
"Ridiculous!" cried Anderson. "That Moore Baby couldn't harm a fly!"
"Do you know her?" asked Black.
"Oh, not to say know her, exactly, but I've seen her now and then. She came over here once in a while with Mrs. Heath for the Club dances, and though I never was introduced to the chit, I couldn't help seeing her and admiring her as one would a pretty butterfly. I'm not the sort to have to do with the youngsters, but I have a spark of perception, and if that infant in arms could kill a woman—"
"Oh, Lord, Anderson," Cunningham broke in, "nobody is accusing the child of murder, but we must admit if she was going slowly upstairs, carrying her vanity case, at half past one, she must have known something."
"Yes, I suppose so," Anderson agreed. "But what I want you to do, Cunny, is to find out who was the murderer, and to find out where Perry Heath is. I can't help thinking the two mysteries are connected."
"Connected? Of course, they are," Black declared. "If the little girl knows anything, she ought to be made to tell. But the mystery ought to be solved without her help, no matter how often she ran up and down stairs."
Meantime the subject of their discussion, the uncertain and mysterious Bunny, was lying in her little bed in Mrs. Prentiss' best guest room, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling.
She wondered why Cunningham had taken her gold vanity case, and whether she would ever get it, back.
Restlessly she turned and twisted, sometimes getting up and sitting by the window, and again, turning on the light and trying to read.
At last, as she had returned to bed, and was about to drop into a real sleep, there was a light tap on her door, and she sprang up and opened it, to see Mrs. Prentiss in boudoir cap and gown.
"My dear," she whispered, "there's a call for you on the telephone. A man's voice, but he won't give his name. Says it's important he should speak to you."
"Mr. Inman, probably," said Bunny, as she slipped her bare feet into her little silk mules.
A few moments later, she took up the telephone receiver, and heard, to her stunned amazement, the voice of Perry Heath.
"Hush!" he said, softly; "don't make a row. I only want to tell you to watch your step. I can't advise you definitely or particularly, but just be noncommittal, taciturn, uncommunicative,—all those things. In other words, keep your trap shut! See?"
"No, I don't see at all! Where are you? What do you know? Why don't you come home?"
"Never mind all that. You mind what I say, or you'll be everlastingly sorry." And with that, the voice ceased.
MRS. PRENTISS did not inquire and Bunny did not vouchsafe any information as to the identity of her telephone caller.
The girl went back to bed, and the older woman went to her room, but neither of them slept much. Toddy Buck, too, was wakeful, and when the three met at breakfast, though outwardly cheerful, there was an undercurrent of restraint and all were a little ill at ease.
The meal was nearly over, when Bunny was called to the telephone.
"I won't go!" she cried, petulantly. "You go for me, won't you, Mr. Buck?"
"No, Miss Moore," the waitress intervened, "the gentleman on the wire says he must speak to you personally."
With a sigh, Bunny rose and went to the small booth in the hall, where the instrument was.
As she had fully expected, the voice she heard was Perry Heath's.
"Don't speak," he said, "don't say a word. But, listen. You must be careful what you say or do, Emma has told a lot of stuff about you,—probably lies,—but she will make trouble for you if she can. I don't think she has it in for you exactly, but she loves to talk, and the detectives are getting a lot out of her.
"You'd better see her yourself, if you can, and manage to shut her mouth some way. Offer her money, if you can do it secretly. But be careful that no one knows it. And remember this, child. Inman did the deed. Inman is the criminal. If they come at you, and they will, you tell them he is the murderer of Myra. Now, remember all I've said, and don't go to pieces when they question you. You've nothing to fear,—if you keep your secrets to yourself. But confide in anybody and you're lost."
"Hush, don't talk. The very walls have ears. No one can hear what I say to you, but they can hear what you say to me. So, don't say a word. Don't tell anyone I have talked to you, don't tell anyone the whole truth. Let them hunt for me as much as they like,—they'll never find me. Good-by, Little One, and try to forget me yourself."
The voice ceased abruptly, and the dead silence told Bunny she would hear nothing more.
She hung up the receiver, and walked slowly back to the porch, where the others still sat.
They looked at her so expectantly that she felt she must satisfy or at least allay their evident curiosity.
"It was a man I know," she said, slowly. "He thinks I am in danger, and warns me to be careful. Especially, he warns me against the waitress over at the Heath house. That Emma,—he thinks she is telling tales about me."
"She is," Toddy spoke out, bluntly. He had concluded that he could best help Bunny by telling her all he knew, and letting her profit by it.
"They are not true," Bunny said, calmly. "Emma is making up stories."
"I heard her, last night," Buck said, not looking at her, but gazing intently at the cigarette he was lighting. "I have to admit, her statements had the ring of truth."
"Bah!" said his aunt, "you don't know truth when you hear it, Todhunter! You have about as much insight or intuition as a hitching-post! Also, you're a gullible sort. If anybody told you the earth was flat, you'd begin to think that very likely it is."
Bunny smiled a little, but she looked at Buck, seriously.
"Did you really hear Emma talk?" she asked. "What did she say?"
Toddy hesitated, and then said: "I believe I'll tell you, for I think you ought to know. She declares she saw you going upstairs at half past one o'clock, the night of the murder. She says you were walking slowly, and you were carrying your vanity case,—the one you have lost."
"How did Emma come to disclose this fact?" Bunny spoke coldly, her eyes almost glittered, and her whole expression was unlike her usual sunny smile.
"She said Carter told her to do it," Toddy went on, looking at her now, and trying to gather an inkling of her real thoughts.
"Carter!" Bunny gave a sudden start, and a frightened look appeared in her eyes.
In some ways, Toddy Buck had a single track mind. Just now, he was determined to find out something about Bunny's doings on the fatal night, and he took deliberate advantage of her present distraction to quiz her.
"You were downstairs, you know," he said, not accusingly, but as one stating a fact. "You saw the candles burning—"
"I—I saw those in the morning—" Bunny began, but Toddy said, inexorably:
"No; they had burned out when you entered that room in the morning. You went in with Doctor Conklin, and the candles had then gone out."
Bunny stared at him. But instead of losing her grip on herself, she seemed to be steadier, and she said, quietly:
"What are you trying to do? Trick me into some incriminating statement?"
"No." Buck looked at her kindly but very seriously. "I am trying to prepare you for others who will try to trick you into such admissions. For it is better you should know that there are such,—that there are people who are beginning to think you have some knowledge of Mrs. Heath's death beyond what you have told."
"Oh, there are!" and now, Bunny's lovely mouth took on a scornful curve, her blue eyes stared haughtily and her golden, curly bob tossed with an air of utter contempt for the people of whom she had just been told.
"Will you be good enough," she said stonily, "to go to them and tell them to mind their own personal affairs?"
"But they consider this matter their own affair," Buck said, watching her. "You see, they are the detectives. That man, Mott, is just waiting a little longer for Perry Heath's return—"
"Perry Heath will never return," Bunny said, with a note of solemnity in her voice.
Mrs. Prentiss' intuition lifted its head.
"Was that Perry Heath talking to you on the telephone last night and this morning?" she demanded.
Bunny returned her gaze. "No," she said, simply, and shook her head.
The girl's mind worked like lightning. She wanted to confide in these kind friends, and ask their advice, but Perry Heath had forbidden her to say he had spoken to her, and his word was law.
Then, suddenly Bunny wondered if his word ought to be law. He had certainly acted queerly. And, too, he had said that Inman was the criminal. Larry! She wondered if Heath really thought so. Or did he know—oh, it was all so frightful—so dangerous! Truly, she must watch her step!
Yet she must not antagonize these people with whom she was staying. On the contrary, she must make them like her. She must make them believe in her truth and innocence. She must wheedle Mrs. Prentiss into a real friendship, and she must charm young Buck, until he was blind to her faults.
Well, these things ought to be easy for her—for Baby Moore, who had always, so far in her short life, charmed anybody she wished to.
But these folks were so—no, not suspicious,—but so curious, yes, that was it, they were curious to know about her doings that night.
Well, they must not know, that was a sure thing!
Why, her fingerprints and Larry's too, were on that bottle, that awful bottle that had brought about the death of Myra!
And her vanity case,—oh, why did they harp on that so? Did they know—oh, what did they know?
And just here, Mrs. Prentiss broke in on her thoughts again.
"What were you crying about so bitterly when Carter came to your room to tell you the sad news? Please tell us,—it will be so much better for you to confide in friends. You see, dear, you are very much alone, and you are too young and too inexperienced to meet the awful avalanche of questions that detective will fling at you. You will be swamped, and you will answer thoughtlessly and you will contradict yourself, and get into no end of trouble. Now, if you tell us the whole story, we can understand the case better and we can be of real help to you."
"That's right!" agreed Toddy. "Come, little girl, let me be your guide, philosopher and friend. I'll bet I can bring you through with bells on, whereas if you flounder along by yourself, you'll be, poetically speaking, in the soup!"
"Oh, I can't—I can't—" and Bunny was crying now. Not sobbing, but just silently weeping, and the tears ran unheeded down her pink cheeks.
But they left no stain, for never once, since the sight of Myra and her painted face, had Bunny touched rouge or lipstick.
"Well, let me tell it, and you check me up," Toddy said, still on his pet line of investigation.
"You went downstairs late at night to get your vanity box that you had left in the studio."
"How did you know that!" and Bunny looked up at him in astonishment.
"All right, I know," and he nodded his head in satisfaction. "Well, then, when you went in the room, you saw—Mrs. Heath,—dead—"
"Oh, no! no!" and Bunny covered her eyes with her hands.
"Yes, dead—and the candles burning—"
"You're all wrong, Mr. Buck. I saw nothing of the sort. I—I didn't go down—"
"My dear girl, I don't care how many falsehoods you tell, but I can't let you think you're making me believe them. I know you went downstairs—"
"No, I didn't—I didn't—"
"Then, when did you see those candles burning at the head and feet of Mrs. Heath?"
"I—I didn't see them at all. I almost felt as if I had seen them, because I heard them described so often—"
"Oh tut, tut! Let up on the Fairy Tales. Now, little Miss Moore, I'm ready to help you, my good aunt, here, is ready also, but we can't do it unless you are frank and truthful with us."
"You see, my dear," Mrs. Prentiss spoke gravely, "I am certain you knew of Mrs. Heath's death before Carter told you. That is why you were crying when the woman came to your room."
"Nothing of the sort!" said Bunny, who had suddenly, and, it seemed, miraculously, recovered not only her sang froid, but her usual attitude of airy impertinence. I was crying because of a bad dream I had had. I thought—oh, it was a terrible dream,—I don't want to remember it! Now, Mrs. Prentiss and Mr. Buck, you are kind and good-hearted, but I can't—I just simply can't be more frank and confidential with you, because—well, because I just can't! But I do feel grateful for your well meant offers of help, and I can see how you think I ought to tell you more,—but, you see, you are already prejudiced against me, and what I would tell you, would doubtless make you more suspicious of me, and surer that I am more or less implicated in the death of my friend."
If Bunny had made this speech with an humble or appealing air, it might have had a good effect, but, on the contrary, she was smiling of face and gay of demeanor.
Her hearers couldn't know that the poor child was frightened almost to death, that she longed for help and advice, and that she hated to seem heartless and ungrateful, but Bunny had a perverse nature in some ways. Kindness always won her heart; sympathy always impelled her confidence; but these people showed a little too much cold curiosity, a little too much suspicious interest, to please Miss Bunny. And discerning these things, she turned from a sweet confiding child, to a wise, canny and even tricky young woman.
It wasn't quite fair of Bunny, but then, she felt that they hadn't been quite fair to her. Asking questions of the servants behind her back!
Assuming the reasons for her crying in her room; prying into the matter of her having seen the lighted candles; why couldn't they ask her frankly about these points, and not quiz that horrid Emma! And Perry Heath had told her to beware of Emma.
She had never before given the maid any definite thought. But now she began to believe she was a snake in the grass! And that brought to her mind the fact that when she and Perry Heath were on the terrace in the evening, before Myra died, when she had stood in the shelter of Perry Heath's arms, Emma, at work in the dining-room, had ample opportunity of seeing them.
Oh, well, a girl had to have a little fun.
But suddenly, there swept over Bunny a great wave of disgust for Perry Heath, and his demonstrations of affection. It didn't lessen her distaste to remember that said demonstrations had been quite as much her fault as his.
Oh, pshaw, after all, what did it amount to? A kiss or two, as Kipling puts it:
"By, from and between us both,"
was of little import. Especially in the face of these graver matters now occupying their attention.
But Bunny didn't quite trust these new friends of hers.
Torn between the impulse to tell them all, and throw herself on their mercy, and the conviction that she would be sorry if she did, there seemed to be no good way out.
So she decided to waive the issue for the moment, anyway.
In response to their shocked protestations at her last speech, she said, in a conciliatory way:
"Well, never mind. I do want some advice, but I'm not quite ready to tell you all about myself. I think I'll run over to the other house a few moments, and see for myself what Emma had to say, and also have a few words with Carter. I can't say I altogether relish their talking about me so, and I think I should be better able to shape my course if I know just where they stand."
"May I go with you?" asked Toddy, and though about to say no, his smile was so truly friendly and sincere, Bunny changed her mind and said graciously, "I'd be glad to have you, Mr. Buck."
"Oh, you two youngsters might as well use first names," said Mrs. Prentiss, her own placid kindliness to the fore again.
"All right, come on, Bunny," Buck said, cheerily, and the girl smiled an acquiescence.
Over to the Heath house they went, and found Larry Inman in the studio, surrounded by a desk full of letters and papers belonging to Perry Heath.
"Come in," he said, wearily pushing back the piles of documents. "How are you this morning, Bunny? Good day, Mr. Buck."
But Inman seemed preoccupied, and though they voiced a few amenities, his gaze strayed back to his work.
"Have you found anything of importance?" Bunny asked.
"No, not as bearing on the mystery of Myra's death or Perry's absence," Inman replied. "There's a lot of unanswered letters and unpaid bills, but nothing of sufficient weight to be alarming."
"Do you think Perry will ever come back?" Bunny said, in a voice of deep gravity, and with a penetrating glance at Larry.
"I did think so, at first," he returned, slowly. "Now,—I don't know."
"Bunny has heard from him," said Todhunter Buck, in a clear cut voice.
"What!" cried Inman, turning to look at the girl.
"I have not!" she declared, angrily, but the flood of color that broke over her face gave her words the lie.
"You have!" Inman said, "I always can tell when you're lying, Bunny. What did he say? Did he write you?"
"No! I haven't heard from him at all. Mr. Buck is mistaken,—or he is joking. A very ill-timed jest!"
"I think he telephoned to her," Toddy spoke to nobody in particular, merely looking into space, as he leaned his chin on the knob of his stick.
"Did he, Bunny?" demanded Inman.
"No," she said, and this time with absence of all excitement or emphasis.
"Then where does the joke come in?"
"Oh, I had a telephone message from someone else, and Mr. Buck thinks it funny to assume it was from Perry. I wish I knew where he is!"
"Yes, so do I," Inman agreed. "I say, Bun, here comes that pest, Mott! Do you want to scoot out the back way?"
"No, she does not," Todhunter Buck spoke with spirit. "Miss Moore is no quitter. We will stay and face the music!"
Bunny looked frightened at first, then seeing in Toddy's eyes that new light of friendly kindness, she concluded to stay with him.
"Ah, here you all are!" said Mott, as he entered the studio, a step ahead of Herrick, who was endeavoring to do his duty.
"Yes, here we are," Inman agreed. "What can we do for you, Mr. Mott?"
"Oh, answer a few questions, explain a few incidents, state a few facts and corroborate or deny some reports."
"A pretty big order," and Inman gave a slight smile. "However, we'll do what we can. Sit down, Mr. Mott."
Though not of deep intuitions, Mott sensed that the mental atmosphere was not in sympathy with him. That fact, however, served only to make him more than ever determined to carry out his plans, and he spoke more brusquely than he had meant to do.
"You are the one I want to question first, Miss Moore," he said, and his tone was stern.
"Yes?" she said, and her own voice was decidedly flippant
This irritated him, as she had meant it should, and he plunged in:
"I am told, Miss Moore, that you went upstairs at half past one, or thereabouts the night of Mrs. Heath's death. Is that true?"
"Why, no, I don't think so," Bunny looked like a puzzled child. "I should say I went up to bed some time earlier than that. Didn't I, Larry?"
Inman gave her an imploring glance, which she rightly understood to mean advice to be more ingratiating in her manner.
But he loyally played up to her lead, and said:
"As I remember it, Miss Moore said good night and went to her room at something like half past eleven,—about the time I went upstairs myself. Is it important?"
"It is very important," Mott said, gravely. "I gather, from facts told me that Miss Moore did go upstairs at the time you mention, but that she went down again later, and then re-ascended the stairs at about half past one o'clock. She carried up with her, her gold vanity case. It has been proved that the contents of this case were used on the countenance of Mrs. Heath, after that lady had ceased to live."
"Excuse me, Mr. Mott," Toddy broke in, "may I ask how you proved that?"
"By the evidence that the vanity case in question is the only one known to have been in the house that night which would give the results, the colors or tints, found on the face of the dead woman. This has been most carefully tested by expert chemists and we believe our deductions to be true ones. Did you put the make-up on Mrs. Heath's face, Miss Moore?"
"Most certainly not," said Bunny, but so tremulous were her lips, and so nearly inaudible her voice that Mott smiled grimly, as if in disbelief.
"But you were down in the studio at one thirty?" he went on, inexorably.
"No,—I was not—" her voice trailed off to silence.
"Think again. Would it not be better to tell the truth?"
"Sir?" Bunny's air was that of a tragedy queen, but somehow it failed to carry conviction to the obstinate Mott.
"It is a well known fact," he said, almost meditatively, "that a person will deny a deed up to a certain point, and then, will reach the end of the rope and make full confession. Are you not at the end of your rope, Miss Moore?"
"Not nearly," Bunny said, her voice full of scorn.
Mott sighed patiently.
"Then we must go on," he said. "Now, we have to consider also the flight of Perry Heath. It is acknowledged that a disappearance is often equivalent to a confession. Therefore, I am ready to assume that since Mr. Heath has disappeared, it may well be that he is responsible for the death of his wife. I do not attribute too much importance to the card left behind, with the legend, 'The Work of Perry Heath.' That, it seems to me may be the work of the murderer himself and equally well may not. I can scarcely conceive of Mr. Heath leaving the card if he were really the murderer. And, yet, it is not easy to imagine another doing it."
"Might it not be the work of some of the servants?" asked Buck, earnestly, trying to read the ever increasing mystery of it all.
"It doesn't seem like that to me," Mott said, "yet, of course it may be. Too often servants are neglected or ignored as witnesses. On the contrary, it seems to me that servants, granted their truthfulness, are most valuable witnesses. They know the family secrets often, they overhear the family jars, or small squabbles. I wish, by the way, Mr. Inman, you would call in the man, Herrick. He may prove helpful."
Larry was not at all anxious to accede to this suggestion, but he saw no way out of it, and he pushed the bell that summoned the butler.
Sleek, smug and subservient, Herrick appeared.
"Did you ever hear or overhear any quarrels or small tiffs between Mr. and Mrs. Heath?" Mott asked him.
The man stammered a few incoherent words and said nothing intelligible.
"Speak up," said Mott sternly. "You heard my question, answer it."
Thus adjured, Herrick, after another stumbling interval, managed to get out the information that he had heard such.
"When last?" Mott asked.
"The—the night Mrs. Heath died," Herrick replied.
"Here, in this room?" the detective went on.
"Yes, sir. They were in here."
"And where were you?"
"In the Lounge, sir."
"What were you doing there?"
"Just waiting to lock up the house. Mr. and Mrs. Heath were about to go upstairs."
"And they quarreled?"
"Not to say quarreled, sir. But they had words, like, and Mrs. Heath told the master that she knew his secret."
"Oh, she did! And what did he reply to that?"
"Oh, he said a lot of things, but I didn't half hear and I didn't get the drift anyway. But they talked about a divorce, and the lady said if the master's secret should get known it would be terrible."
"I don't think you know much about that conversation, Herrick."
"No, not much, sir."
"Well, then, don't try to repeat it. Was Miss Moore's name mentioned?"
"It was, sir." Herrick flashed an apologetic look at Bunny.
"In what way?"
"Mrs. Heath asked the master if he was in love with Miss Moore."
"Ah, and what did he say?"
"He said, 'Good Heavens, no!' "
"Yes," Mott said, musingly, "he would say that, in any case."
While the confab was going on in the Heath studio, Mrs. Prentiss was sitting at her window, wondering whether to go over to the Heaths' house or not.
Her curiosity was as strong as usual and her inclination was to go, but a strange sense of caution held her back.
She felt, intuitively, that she could do no good over there and might do harm. Moreover, she could have a report of what had transpired, when her nephew and her guest reappeared, and so, Mrs. Prentiss sat, waiting and thinking.
She thought of the strange wilfulness of the flapper of to-day, thought how wise and sophisticated Bunny was, and though the idea shocked her beyond words, she was forced to admit to herself that she could believe Bunny had killed Mrs. Heath either with or without the connivance of Perry Heath, himself.
She didn't feel that she did believe this, but knew that if there was much more evidence against Bunny, she might have to believe it.
This did not turn her heart against the girl, on the contrary, she felt a strong impulse to protect her, to hide her, if necessary, from the clutches of the law.
For Bunny was an appealing little person. With all her flippancy and pertness, she had a sweet, loving nature, and Mrs. Prentiss, with her childless hearth and motherly heart, longed to comfort and protect the poor little thing.
The telephone rang, and Mrs. Prentiss answered it herself. This was her custom, for her quick curiosity never could wait for the intervention of a servant's offices.
A man's voice said, "May I speak to Miss Moore, please?"
"Who is calling?" Mrs. Prentiss responded, in a tone which she endeavored to make sound like that of a servant.
"No matter. Merely ask Miss Moore to come to the telephone. This is important."
The voice was cold, dictatorial and impatient. Clearly, the speaker was in a temper.
Now, Mrs. Prentiss did not know Perry Heath well, but her ever present intuition hinted to her that it might be she was listening to his voice.
It didn't sound exactly like Heath, but some voices are different on the telephone, and she couldn't be sure.
Taking a chance, she said, still in the deferential tone of a servant:
"Is this Mr. Heath? Miss Bunny said she would not speak on the telephone to anyone else."
Mrs. Prentiss heard the astonished gasp at the other end of the line, and grinned with satisfaction.
But the reply came: "Heath? No, this is—this is Jackson. Please tell Miss Moore I must speak with her. You may say I have important news for her."
Suddenly Emily Prentiss felt that she was overstepping the bounds of propriety. She was a gentlewoman, not a detective, and she had no right to intercept or eavesdrop upon a private communication.
So she said simply, "Miss Moore is next door at the Heath house. If you wish, you can call her there."
"Thank you," was the response, and without further good-by, the voice ceased.
The advice, however, was followed, for a few moments later the telephone bell rang in the Heath studio.
Inman reached for the receiver, but Mott was too quick for him.
Grasping it first, the detective said, briskly: "Hello!"
"Hello," said a man's voice, "I want to speak to Miss Moore, and make it snappy!"
Though not very quick-witted, Mott was ingenious, and endeavoring to sound like Herrick, he said: "Miss Moore ain't here, sir."
"Yes, I am!" cried Bunny, so loud that her voice carried over the wire as she sprang toward the instrument, and tried to wrest it from Mott's grasp.
And so agile and lithe were the girl's hands, that she succeeded, and in a moment, she was listening to Heath's voice.
"For Heaven's sake, Bunny, you are up against it! Now, listen, I have to speak fast. You fire Emma, send her 'way off so she can't testify against you. Get rid of Herrick, too, if you can. Those two are in cahoots, and they saw us on the terrace. By the way, there was a lot of money in the desk drawer. I'll bet Herrick has stolen that. If so, it'll give you a hold over him. You play innocent baby, and sneak off home as spry as you can. I'm not coming back,—not at all—get that?"
"Yes," Bunny said, faintly.
"Forget me,—if you have any lingering memories of me,—have you, dear?"
The tender note in his voice was too much for the girl, she helplessly dropped the receiver, and buried her face in her hands, while the great sobs came in her throat.
Mott grasped the receiver, but his "hello!" was answered only by a mocking laugh, and a jeering "good-by."
"That was Heath," he said, with conviction. "That man is hanging round yet! But I'll get him!"
Mott called Central, and immediately had an investigation ordered that must result in knowledge of where the telephone message came from, at any rate.
Then, the detective turned to Bunny.
"You know where Perry Heath is!" he said, accusingly, and the sound of his stern accents roused the girl from her crying spell.
"I do not!" she declared, and faced him with angry eyes. "See here, Mr. Mott, I'm tired of your prying into my affairs, of your innuendoes and questions. Now if you suspect me of a hand in my friend's death, then I'd rather you'd say so straight out, and stop this beating around the bush."
"All right, I will, Miss Moore. I do think you have more knowledge of the tragedy that occurred in this room, than you have admitted. Moreover, I think there are bits of evidence that strongly point toward yourself as the perpetrator of the crime. As you asked me to do, I am speaking straightforwardly. The time has passed for mincing matters. To my mind, the death of Mrs. Heath must have been brought about by one of three persons; her husband or one of her two house guests. Her husband is out of the question, because it was impossible for him to get out of the house and leave it locked and bolted behind him. That is, of course, unless somebody inside the house, aided his escape. Of that we have no evidence whatever. Also, Mr. Inman is not a likely suspect, because he was in love with the lady. This is not mere surmise, it is a fact attested by the servants of this house and by mutual friends of the people in question.
"I am told that Mr. Inman's affection for Mrs. Heath was known not only to her husband and household, but to most of her friends and acquaintances. Now, even granting that he would be inheritor of her estate, Mr. Inman is not going to kill the woman he loves. Then, where can we look for the murderer but to her girl friend, the visitor of Mrs. Heath, who is, incidentally, in love with Mrs. Heath's husband, and will doubtless some day marry him?"
"What?" Bunny's face was deadly white and her eyes stared in horror and dismay.
"That's the way things look," said Mott, easily, unheeding the angry countenances of the two men present. "Also, it must be remembered, that Miss Moore's fingerprints are on the broken bottle which was used as the weapon of death—"
"Mine are there, too, I am told," exclaimed Larry Inman.
"Yes, but yours are over those of Miss Moore,—superimposed upon hers. This, as you can't help seeing, proves that the bottle was first used by Miss Moore, as a deadly weapon, and afterward picked up or examined by Mr. Inman. Perhaps he was present at the time, and wrested it from Miss Moore's hand, thus leaving his prints above her own."
"Flimsy stuff!" Todhunter Buck exclaimed. "Why, man, it may be that Miss Moore fingered the bottle in the most innocent way, and that afterward Mr. Inman, using it as a weapon, printed his own finger tips upon those of Miss Moore."
"The point is all right, Mr. Buck, but we have too much evidence against Miss Moore, to ignore or evade the question of her guilt. It must be thoroughly investigated, and if she can clear herself, so much the better. Now, the matter of the vanity case. It has been proved, to the satisfaction of the police, that the make-up on Mrs. Heath's face was applied after she was dead, and also that the materials used are the same as those in Miss Moore's vanity case. It is further assumed, though of course this cannot be a matter of actual proof, that the color was applied by either a woman or an artist. This assumption is not mere surmise, but founded on the evidence of the application of the color. It was done by a swift, sure hand, a hand accustomed to laying on color. This may sound trivial or even absurd to you, but you must remember it is these small clues that lead to discoveries. Had an intruder, such as a burglar or midnight marauder, committed this crime, he would not, probably could not, have applied that makeup with such a degree of skill and artistic taste. But an artist could do it, or—a woman could do it! Miss Moore, did you apply the cosmetics to Mrs. Heath's dead face?"
Mott intended this as a bold stroke. He turned suddenly and faced Bunny with his question, spoken in a brutal, threatening tone, and accompanied by a stern, accusing glare.
Bunny turned white, attempted to speak, then swayed in her seat, and toppled over sideways.
Todhunter Buck sprang to catch her, his own lips white and quivering with fury.
"How dare you?" he cried, "no police authority gives you a right to frighten a young lady like that! As man to man, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
"Don't show contempt for the law, or interfere with its processes, Mr. Buck," Mott said, sternly, in no, wise disconcerted by Tod's outburst.
"I have no contempt for the law or its processes," the young man stormed on, "but I have unmeasured contempt for your own conception and application of the law! I shall take Miss Moore over to my aunt's house at once. And if or when you want to question her further, you will find her there. But it must be in my aunt's presence, for a young girl is no match for the coarse brutal attacks of a police detective!"
Buck was so fiercely angry, so boiling over with wrath, that his attitude nearly struck the others dumb.
It was at this moment that Al Cunningham arrived.
He looked curiously at the little group.
Bunny, whose faintness had been merely momentary, was clinging to Buck's arm, her face drawn with fear and terror, her whole frame trembling with nervous excitement.
Inman was apparently dazed—his hands moved twitchingly and he was looking wildly about, but was seemingly unable to speak.
Mott was stern, implacable, like an avenging instrument of the law, and Todhunter Buck was trying to control himself, and master the situation.
Scenting a good chance, as Cunningham's entrance made a slight diversion, Buck whispered to Bunny, "Come on!" and without further ceremony, he led her swiftly through one of the open French windows, across the terrace, and over across the lawns to his aunt's house.
"My dear child!" said that good lady, as she took the distressed girl in her arms, "what have they been doing to you?"
"They've been persecuting her, Aunt Emily," the nephew declared hotly. "That man Mott is a brute! a beast! I wouldn't have minded if he had asked Bunny questions, if he had been courteous about it. I wouldn't have minded even his accusations, if he had shown a decent consideration for her. But he banged his talk like a sledge-hammer, and he glowered at the poor little thing like a demon of wrath—oh, he was horrible!"
By reason of Toddy's valiant indignation and Mrs. Prentiss' cooing endearments, Bunny began to revive her drooping spirits, and recover her poise.
"You are both so good to me!" she exclaimed, "it sort of makes up for that awful man's treatment of me. How could he say I would—do—do that to Myra! Oh, Mrs. Prentiss, who did do it? Who killed her? And who could touch up her face after she was dead? Perry couldn't do that! I'm sure he couldn't. I couldn't—and Larry couldn't—"
"What about the servants?" Mrs. Prentiss was secretly devoured with curiosity.
"It's too absurd to imagine Herrick doing that, and none of the others was about—"
"Emma," suggested Mrs. Prentiss.
"Oh, Emma, she couldn't use a lipstick as that one was used! Mrs. Prentiss, did you see Myra? I could scarcely bear to look at her myself, but the picture of her, as she lay there, is as clear to my mind as if I could still see it. She was made up with a skill that was nothing short of wonderful! Carter could have done it, but no other servant in that house. And of course, there's no reason to suspect Carter. She was devoted to Myra."
"Her husband could have done it," put in Tod. "Wasn't it really 'The Work of Perry Heath'?"
"Oh, no!" Bunny looked agonized. "They were not entirely congenial, but he never would kill her!"
"But didn't he often urge her to use color on her face?" persisted Mrs. Prentiss, still curious.
"Yes, we all did. We coaxed her to try it now and then. But nobody could make Myra do anything she didn't want to do."
"Did Carter, her maid, want her to use make-up?" said Toddy, suddenly.
"Oh yes, but she had stopped asking Myra to do so. Myra had scolded her too often for suggesting it."
"I'll bet she's the murderer, then," said Buck, thoughtfully. "She had opportunity, in the sense that anyone in the house had opportunity. She had motive if, as I've heard, Mrs. Heath left her a sum of money in her will. And if she did kill her mistress, she's the only one in the house who could apply that careful make-up, and who would have the callousness, the heartlessness to do it. Why, if you or Mr. Inman or Mr. Heath had killed the lady, not one of you could have been so devoid of common human feeling as to put on that make-up!"
Bunny gave him a grateful glance.
"Of course we couldn't!" she exclaimed. "And, though it seems too dreadful to suspect Carter, yet—well, she is a mysterious sort of woman—"
"How?" eagerly inquired Mrs. Prentiss.
"Oh, nobody knows anything about her early life, where she came from and all that. Then, she has a fearful temper,—Myra discharged her three times for impudence and tantrums. Each time she took her back, for Carter would promise to behave herself,—but it would be the same scenes over again."
"It was certainly a crime of passion," Buck said, musingly. "You see, Mrs. Heath, for some reason, went down to the studio late at night. We can't get away from that. Then somebody came to her there, and had,—must have had a discussion with her, that became a quarrel, a desperate quarrel, and resulted in the person, whoever it may have been, impulsively grabbing up that bottle and bashing Mrs. Heath on the temple. Now, those details we know are true, though we don't know who the assailant was. Then, the poor lady dead, the heartless, soulless murderer, proceeded to make up that dead face, to see how she would look. That statement sounds incredible, I know, but it is what happened! We are assured the cosmetics were applied after death, and, of course, that is a point easily settled. I don't know much of doctor's lore, but even a layman could tell that, I should think. And, you see, Bunny, they used your vanity case. That is pretty well proved, too, I think. Now, how did that vanity case get back in your room?"
Though Buck spoke casually, Bunny looked up at him quickly, to see if he were laying a trap for her.
But if so, he got small satisfaction.
"I don't know," she said, simply.
"Didn't you carry it upstairs, late at night, at half past one, as Emma declares?"
Todhunter Buck spoke gently, but he evidently expected an answer.
"No," said Bunny. "Emma made that up. She is a born liar."
The girl would not have spoken so vehemently, but that the words of Perry Heath, over the telephone,, still rang in her ears.
"Get rid of Emma! Beware of Emma!" lingered in her memory, and she was determined to impugn the girl's veracity whenever opportunity offered.
Buck said no more, but lighting a cigarette, he strolled out on the porch, and Mrs. Prentiss, seeing Bunny's worn looks and tired face, proposed a long motor drive to freshen her up, and the girl willingly agreed to the plan.
Meantime, Al Cunningham was listening to Mott's emphatic statements that the Moore Baby was the murderer of her friend and hostess, and also that she was the heartless and unfeeling wretch who had painted the face of her victim.
Although seemingly beyond belief, Cunningham was impressed by Mott's clear and undeniable statements, and logical deductions.
Larry Inman treated the idea with scornful contempt, but Cunningham, with open mind, listened to the detective's arguments.
"You see, it couldn't have been Heath himself," Mott declared, "because he went away after the house was locked up. I haven't a doubt but that he was the man seen by the chap who sat in the back arbor with Katie, at about one o'clock that night. In fact, the young fellow has declared himself certain that it was Heath who sneaked away from the house. Well, the whole thing occurred after that, do you see? Very likely Mrs. Heath saw her husband out, and locked the door after him. He was in the habit, I'm told, of going off to New York suddenly and unexpectedly, and nobody thought anything of it. Then, say, Mrs. Heath came back to the studio. Somebody came to her there, and that somebody killed her. It must have been somebody in the house. I've dismissed all thought of the servants, it isn't the type of crime that connotes an un-intellectual murderer."
"Just what do you mean by that?" broke in Cunningham.
"I mean it was a brainy crime. A crime committed by some one with intellect and imagination."
"I don't get you," Cunningham persisted. "Why?"
"Oh, because a person of low intelligence or small education would never have dared remain behind long enough to do that fantastic making-up and dressing up. You see, it wasn't only the matter of cosmetics, but there was the crimson scarf draped across her, and the beads,—and all that betokened a person of skill and taste, however perverted as to ordinary respect for the dead. As I said, Mr. Heath is out of it. Mr. Inman here rouses no suspicion in my mind, because he was in love with the lady."
"Shut up!" growled Larry. "I'd rather you'd suspect me than to talk like that!"
"Leaving only the question of Miss Moore," Mott went on, quite as if Inman had not spoken, "and there are too many positive bits of evidence against that girl to let suspicion stray in any other direction. She was in love with the husband, therefore, of course, jealous of the wife. She is a flapper, as they are called, without enough brains or heart to realize the enormity of her crime."
"Look here, Mott," Larry burst forth, "I will not sit here and hear that child maligned without a word of protest. Miss Moore is absolutely incapable of such a thing as murder! It is out of the question—"
"Don't be absurd, Mr. Inman." Mott's tones were icy, relentless. "Just because a woman is young and pretty, she can't be put outside the pale of suspicion. Miss Moore's finger-prints are on the bottle, under your own. Miss Moore's vanity case was used, also her crimson scarf. Miss Moore was seen going upstairs with that vanity case in her hand after the time the murder is assumed by the medical men to have been committed. Miss Moore was found crying wildly m bed the next morning, when the servant came to tell her of the tragedy. She already knew it! Of course, for she had brought it all about. Now, when I ask her a few questions, she faints and goes all to pieces. Does that look like innocence? I have checked up all my facts, I have sifted all the evidence, and I find no flaw in my reasoning, no loophole of escape from my convictions. I, too, am amazed at such a crime at the hands of such a young and beautiful girl. But as we all know, the trend of the young people of the present day, is toward lawlessness of all sorts. The younger generation, as is well known, is composed of incorrigible, unruly, unmanageable spirits. They will listen to no advice, heed no admonition. They do anything—dare anything. We all know their habits, know the extent of their indulgence in dances, drink, and improper behavior. Can we entirely wonder, then, when one of them goes a step further and commits a crime? Is it not far more plausible to suspect a careless, heedless, harebrained young thing than a mature man, whose knowledge of crime and its punishment would deter him from such a deed?"
"Your arguments are not without truth and justice, Mr. Mott," Cunningham said, very seriously. "And it does seem that you have evidence, of a sort, against Miss Moore. Are you going to arrest her?"
"Not immediately. But she is under surveillance, and an attempt to leave Gaybrook Harbor would, of course, result in her detention. But we have reason to believe she has knowledge of Mr. Heath's movements. He has telephoned her, we are almost certain, more than once, and so, by leaving her free for a time, we hope to get hold of him. He doubtless knows of her crime, and is lying low against the time when she can get away and join him. Then they will both disappear and never be heard of again. I mean, that is their plan."
"You know this?" asked Cunningham, gravely.
"Not by actual proof, but by the strongest implications. And here comes my messenger now, with word of Heath's present whereabouts."
Mott unfolded a note brought him by a boy, and with a brief ejaculation of annoyance, he declared: "Well, I suspected as much! When Heath telephoned Miss Moore this morning, he was in New York, in a pay station,—I mean one of those slot affairs, and he can't be traced."
Cunningham looked interested.
"I say," he offered, "maybe the wise guy behind all this is Heath. Maybe he planned the whole affair, left Miss Moore to put it over,—granting her 'flapper' indifference to crime,—and having carried out his orders, she flippantly set up the sign, 'The Work of Perry Heath' impishly used the vanity box on the dead woman, draped the scarf about her, and went upstairs, with her vanity case, at half past one,—and was found next morning, crying bitterly, from nervous reaction and fright."
"Yes," he said, "there's reason in all that. Which is why I'm determined to track down Perry Heath, wherever he is, and, incidentally, keep Miss Moore under my eye."
The man looked so serious, so certain, that Larry Inman checked the angry protest that rose to his lips.
Though pretending a haughty indifference to matters of gossip or scandal, the Gaybrook Harbor Country Club was, to a man, deeply interested in the Heath case.
The women, for the Club admitted the gentler sex to membership, were frankly agog with curiosity; but the men, seemingly under protest, discussed developments guardedly and conservatively.
The Harbor Park citizens felt a secret exultation that the terrible affair had happened over on the Gardens side. The exclusive Harbor Gardens, where the upstart artists held their heads high and sniffed at the Parkers!
And now the Highbrows over there had shown the bad taste to have a murder in their select and fastidious colony!
Well, the Park people were charitable, and admitted that the deplorable affair might have happened anywhere, but opined that the artistic temperament is an uncertain proposition at best.
The Club had members from both sides of the bridge, but the most influential and important ones were Parkers.
A group of these were sitting in their favorite haunt, a shaded corner of a verandah, awaiting the luncheon hour.
They were the ones who had employed Al Cunningham to look into the case and they welcomed him with interest as he came up the steps.
"I've just left the Heath house," he said, speaking gravely. "That detective, Mott, seems to have a stranglehold on the Moore Baby, and—well, I can't see any other direction to look."
"Bunny Moore!" exclaimed Arthur Black. "That won't do! Why, she is a peach, an angel! It's too absurd to think ofher killing anybody! You'll have to do better than that, Cunny!"
"Well, here's the straight of it. They've proved that the house was so securely bolted and barred, that the murderer couldn't get out after his crime. Unless, of course, he was let out by some one inside, who bolted the door or window after him. Got that?"
"Yes," said Sam Anderson, a little impatiently, "go on."
"Well, they assume that it couldn't have been a servant, because none of the servants over there could have made up the face of the dead lady as well as it was done. Except Carter, the lady's maid, and they have no evidence against her. The police insist that that queer business of making up, was done by an artist or a woman. And, that seems to me sound judgment. Only an artist or a woman could apply the cosmetics so beautifully. I saw Mrs. Heath myself, and my word, fellows, she was a picture!"
"Pale as a ghost whenever I've seen her," Anderson observed.
"Yes, I know. But with the cosmetics she was just too lovely! Pity she never used them in life."
"Go on, Al," urged Black. "What are they going to do about it?"
"Well, they are still sifting the evidence, but Mott says that he has no doubt about Miss Moore being the criminal. He says the youngsters of to-day stop at nothing, not even at crime. He says she is madly in love with Heath, and he agrees with .a suggestion of mine, that maybe Bunny Moore and Perry were in cahoots, and planned the crime together. Then, either Perry did the killing and Bunny let him out the door, or he went away earlier, and left her to do it."
"Oh," Sam Anderson said, in a tone of utter disgust at the idea, "you know, Cunningham, you know, that infant in arms couldn't—simply couldn't do such a thing!"
"That's where you're wrong, old boy. The infants in arms of to-day are not in their parents' arms, by any means! And a fat lot you know about girls, anyway! I doubt if you've ever so much as spoken to a girl of the current issue! They are Oh Lawks! for sure!"
"I don't have to be a Lounge Lizard to know a little of what is going on in the social world!" Anderson snapped, angrily.
He was somewhat sensitive about his bald head, and though not yet forty, he was far from being a society favorite.
"And though the flappers are a gay lot and even a wild lot, they do draw the line at murder!" Anderson went on. "Mott is a fool, and a blind one at that. And you're another, Cunny, if you let yourself be swayed by his asinine deductions and dumb-bell conclusions! Now, I tell you, no girl of that age is going to kill her friend with a whisky bottle!"
"Oh, I don't say she meant to kill her," Cunningham said, hastily. "That collusion theory may be all wrong. But the two women may have had a spat and both lost their tempers, and the bottle sitting handy—"
"No!" Anderson said, more quietly, but decidedly, "she never did it. If you want the logical criminal look for the man with motive and opportunity. Here's the way I dope it out. Perry Heath had always been in the habit of flying off to New York whenever the mood took him. Lots of us up here do that. You. do, Black, and I do. Well, say Perry went off, quite as usual. It doesn't matter how he got out as it was doubtless before the house was locked up at all. Well, then, say the little girl went up to bed at half-past one, as the servant testifies. Maybe they all three went up then, but that doesn't matter. What matters is, who came downstairs afterward. We know there were several goings up and down, because of the neighbor, Mrs. What's her name? seeing lights off and on pretty much all night.
"Well, say, that Mrs. Heath and Larry Inman were alone at one time. Say he made violent love to her,—their affair is common knowledge,—and say she repulsed him, so strongly and definitely that he got mad, flew in a raging temper and grabbed up the first weapon he saw, and dashed it at her in his passion."
"They don't seem to suspect Inman at all," Cunningham said.
"Of course not! They don't know enough. But it stands out clearly that he is the one. Lord, it's all nothing to me,—I never cared tuppence for Perry; Heath, anyway. But I can't sit quietly by and see that young thing railroaded into a trial—of course, they'd never convict her, but the trial would kill her!"
"Flappers don't die so easy!" commented Wallace Forbes, who, though he had said little, was convinced of Bunny's guilt.
"Maybe we overdo the flappers' reputation for wickedness," Black put in. "I agree with Sam, that they're wild and daring in lots of ways, but murder—no!"
"Not intentional murder, maybe—" Cunningham began again, but Forbes went on:
"It's as Detective Mott says, the painting up could have been done by only a woman or an artist. Miss Moore is a woman, the two men in the house are artists. We've got to choose one of the three. Now, I hold that Heath is out of it, because he left the house, presumably, before the deed was done. I hold that Inman can't be guilty of killing the woman he loves, even in a fit of ungovernable temper. Leaving only then Bunny. What?"
"Your conjectures are mere foolishness," Anderson declared. "You say this must be or that can't be, on purely arbitrary opinion. Now, if Al is going to get anywhere in this thing, and I, for one, don't think he is, he must first of all track down Perry Heath. That oughtn't to be hard to do. Either the man is hiding or he will return. If the former, that argues him either guilty himself or shielding some one he knows to be guilty. If the latter, his return will clear up a lot of the mystery. But as the crime was done night before last, he must have seen it in the papers by this time,—if he knew of it no other way,—and were he innocent, he would surely come home."
"Unless he is shielding the guilty," interposed Black. "But if Larry Inman did it, and Perry knew it, why would he shield him?"
"He wouldn't," Cunningham declared. "That's why it comes back to Bunny Moore. If she did it, and Heath knew it, he'd light out and stay lit, just as he has done."
"Stuff and nonsense!" Anderson remarked, coldly. "You're pig-headed, Al. You've got that Mott man's views in your head, and you shape everything to fit them. Now, if you're going to carry on, you hunt down Heath. That's the first thing to do. Am I right, Black?"
"Why, yes, Sam. You see, I think myself that Heath is the criminal. I don't care what you all say, I think Heath killed his wife because he found her with Inman. Then he vamoosed. I don't care about clues and evidence, my knowledge of human nature tells me that, given a man and wife and a Tertium Quid, there's bound to be a domestic tragedy."
"Well, there's been a domestic tragedy all right," Anderson smiled, grimly. "But your great knowledge of human nature is not infallible, I suppose."
"Oh, Lord, Sam, talk about pig-headedness! Ii you get a notion into that old bald head of yours, a Japanese earthquake couldn't dislodge it!"
But Al Cunningham had respect for the judgment of Anderson, and he went away to ruminate over his advice as to finding Perry Heath.
It ought not to be difficult. A man can't drop out of existence without leaving some sign, some clue as to his whereabouts.
Heath was not a man of affairs, his business was simple,—merely the disposing of his pictures through dealers, or, occasionally to private buyers.
A list of such buyers and dealers must be easily obtainable, and it could not be a very arduous task to interview some of them. And some of them must have knowledge of Heath.
Yet Cunningham was by no means sure of this. A business man's associates would know about him, but an artist is a different proposition. If for any reason Perry Heath chose to absent himself for a time or forever, it did not seem to Cunningham that he could be easily found.
Why Heath wanted to disappear, he did not know, but he felt sure the disappearance was voluntary and would be prolonged.
He tried to delve into the mystery of the identity of the criminal. There was that strange card to be considered.
If the make-up was the work of an artist or a woman, surely the card was the work of a woman or an imbecile. No man would do such a thing as that. But a woman would be quite capable of thinking the placing of that card would throw suspicion on Heath.
Oh, pshaw, all clues seemed to point to a woman. The lighted candles, the crimson scarf,—it was all very well to say an artist, but to Cunningham's perturbed mind, they all seemed to scream, "Bunny!"
He felt a little resentful. It was all very well for those chaps to put him on the job of detecting. He was glad enough to be promised pay for it,—if he could put up the goods. But he didn't think it was fair to pooh-pooh all his theories and discoveries, because, with natural chivalry, they hated to suspect a woman,—a girl.
So did he. He was not enjoying the prospect of seeing that lovely morsel of femininity brought to the bar of justice.
But if he was doing sleuth work, he must follow up the avenues that opened to him, and see where they led. And he couldn't help seeing that they led, apparently, at least, to Bunny Moore.
So the case of Bunny Moore must be looked into. And old Anderson could say what he chose, he had no idea what little devils flappers were! Cunningham himself had a sister, and he knew she was the despair of his parents, and was almost incorrigible. He had tried, himself, to lecture her, but he found he might as well talk to a self-willed monkey. She snapped her fingers at him and laughed in his face.
She pretended a sort of mock obedience and then ran away and acted up forty times worse. Of course, he couldn't believe her capable of murder, but, he held that Bunny's killing of Myra was unpremeditated, perhaps an accident.
But the evidence was, to his mind, strong. He had counted up the hours of the lights snapping on and off, as Mrs. Prentiss had related them.
And as he reconstructed things, Bunny had left her vanity case down in the studio and went down to get it. Maybe, he surmised, she knew she would meet Heath there. Maybe Myra heard them together, and came down,—angry. Maybe, Heath, dreading a row, cleared out, and the two women quarrelled.
Then, little Bunny, losing her temper, grabbed up the bottle and hurled it at Myra, with unexpected effect.
Then, stunned at what she had done, the girl may have been temporarily out of her senses, and might have given way to the whim of painting Myra's face, almost unconsciously.
Oh, well, there was no use in surmising, but he felt that his reconstruction was right in the main, if not in every detail.
But he set himself to work to hunt up Perry Heath or to learn something about him.
And this legitimate search was far more to his taste than tracking down a poor little defenceless girl.
For whatever he might think of her ways and whims, Cunningham couldn't help admiring the lovely child, and couldn't help a deep pity and compassion for her.
Meantime, the lovely child was returning from her motor ride with Mrs. Prentiss, refreshed in body and mind by the pleasant drive and the cheering companion.
For Mrs. Prentiss was greatly taken with Bunny Moore.
She chatted pleasantly, but now and then she put leading questions so adroitly that they were innocently answered, and she felt her heart going out to her young guest.
When they reached the Prentiss house, that good lady advised Bunny to run and tidy up for luncheon.
And so it was a serene, almost happy looking girl who came down in a fresh white frock and joined Mrs. Prentiss and her nephew at the table on the porch.
Beside Bunny's plate lay a sealed note.
With a murmured word of apology, Bunny opened it and her eyes ran over the contents.
"Nothing important," she said, smiling, and carelessly tucked the missive under the napkin in her lap.
But she seemed to have acquired a new interest in life.
She was more animated, she spoke gayly, even jestingly, and once or twice her laughter rang out quite like the Bunny of old times.
Todhunter Buck was fascinated. The rare beauty of the girl, enlivened by a touch of gay impertinence, charmed the young man almost out of his senses.
For, notwithstanding Al Cunningham's aspersions, Bunny was not a typical "flapper," she was, at heart, a girl of fine tastes and high ideals.
She already liked young Buck and as for Mrs. Prentiss, Bunny felt she had never known, outside her own family, any one so kind to her.
So, in this atmosphere of affection and pleasant companionship, she blossomed out into her best self, and she was gay and pensive by turns. Her mood changed from bantering to seriousness and back again, and Todhunter, adoring her, fell so hopelessly and helplessly in love that he was almost an imbecile.
Mrs. Prentiss watched the young man with secret amusement, for she had seen her nephew fall in love many times, but it seemed to her that this time he fell a little harder than ever before.
But as she left the table, Bunny's mood suddenly changed.
Rising, she dropped the letter from her lap, and when Toddy picked it up and handed it to her, she paled suddenly, and then as quickly flushed again.
"Thank you," she said, but her voice sounded far away, and her eyes looked troubled. "Please, Mrs. Prentiss, may I go to my room for a while? And not be disturbed—unless—unless it's necessary."
Emily Prentiss, with her quick intuition, knew the girl meant unless by a summons of the law.
But she only said, "Certainly, my dear. I'll come for you, if—if it is necessary. Try to get some rest."
Smiling perfunctorily, Bunny went slowly up the stairs.
"Oh, by gosh, Aunt Emily, isn't she just all there is of it!" Toddy cried, clasping his aunt's hands in his own, as he beamed at her.
"Did you ever see such glorious eyes! Such a cream puff complexion! Such red lips,—and without a touch of lipstick! Gee, I didn't know they came like that! She's—why, she's edible!"
"Oh, Toddy, behave yourself. How many girls have you raved over to me before?"
"But none like this, Aunt Em! Oh, never, no, never one like this Bunny person!"
"Well, then, Todhunter," Mrs. Prentiss spoke seriously, "if you are really fond of the girl, you'd better get busy and see what you can do for her. For, I can tell you, my boy, she is in imminent danger of arrest"
"Arrest! Aunt Em, you're crazy!"
"No. You're crazy if you can't see where she stands. That man, Mott, has his eagle eye on her, and his claws are itching to clutch at her throat! I tell you, Tod, unless you can find a better suspect, things are going to look very black for Bunny Moore."
"Then I'll find a better suspect! I'll find the real criminal! It's too absurd to connect that baby with crime! You know that, yourself, Aunt Em. You know she is as innocent as a snowflake, don't you?"
"Well, dear, like you, I can't think of her killing anybody, even in a sudden fit of passion. She isn't that sort. Her temper is the temper of a wilful child, but not of a vicious nature. I can read people, and I have faith in Bunny. But police detectives are a dogged, obstinate lot If they get a suspect in their minds, they bend every bit of evidence toward that theory. They even twist and garble the evidence to fit their own schemes. They persecute and ballyrag a witness into saying almost anything they want said, and then announce it as evidence. You've heard of railroading. Well, Bunny will be railroaded, unless we look alive! There, I've told you my opinions, and as you know, your old Aunt is fairly astute in her judgments."
"You bet you are, Aunt Em! And I'm ready to admit you've got me scared, good and plenty! Now I'm going to fly at this thing, and if I can't get at the truth of the business, I know somebody who can."
"A friend of mine,—a regular deteckatif feller. But I'm going to have a whack myself, first. You see, I've got a hunch!"
"I'm not deeply impressed by that news, Todhunter. I can't think you know a hunch when you see one! If you know a really good detective, you'd better get hold of him than to follow your own silly hunches!"
"I like your pleasant frankness, Auntie, and I believe you're pretty darned near right! But I do want to look into one side of the matter first, and if that doesn't pan out anything, I'll yell for Truitt. That's my friend, Steve Truitt."
"I've heard of him. He's rather celebrated."
"Yes, though he's a young chap. We were college chums, and he's as bright as they come. Well, Auntie, here's my hunch. I think Inman killed the lady. And I think he did it, because he wanted her money. And I think he was not in love with her,—no, not by no means!—but I think she was in love with him, and pestered the life out of him. I think he is in love with Bunny—who could help it? And so Myra bored him, and when she begged him to elope with her, he just got mad and—perhaps unintentionally,—I mean, unpremeditatedly, let fly the bottle, and it did for her."
"Ingenious enough, Tod, but nothing to back up such a theory."
"Plenty to back it up, Aunt Em. You forget Inman's finger-prints are on that bottle."
"So are Bunny's."
"I know, but that only shows they both touched the bottle. And, as some people think Bunny was present at the moment of the crime, maybe she was. Maybe she tried to grab the bottle and save Myra's life. I think myself Bunny knows more than she has told, but I don't think anything she knows is detrimental to herself—bless her!"
"Then go to work to sift the evidence against Mr. Inman. There must be some, if he is really the criminal. But if you do get a line on him, for Heaven's sake, get your detective friend to come and help you. For you'd only bungle the job."
"Oh, I don't know!" said her nephew, airily, and went off by himself to think things over.
Strolling about his aunt's grounds, he drifted over to the Heath house, and found Larry Inman alone on a verandah.
"Hello," Inman said; "take a seat and sit down." Tod dropped into a lounge chair, and the two men smoked in silence for a few moments.
"Care if I ask you some questions?" Tod said, with a straightforward glance at the other.
"Wish you would. I say, I'm up against it,—have you any ideas?"
Buck looked at him, curiously.
"Nothing but," he returned. "Haven't you?"
"Yep. But they're all no good. Say, I'm told you have a detective instinct,—I believe that's the technical term,—can't you ferret out who killed my cousin?"
Buck shot out the words with such clear-cut emphasis and assured intent, that Inman, instead of showing any resentment, merely replied, "No, I didn't do it." Suddenly Todhunter Buck's heart fell.
He couldn't have explained it himself, but there was something about Inman's plain statement that carried conviction,—a deep conviction,—that he was telling the simple truth.
Buck's hunch crumbled and fell to pieces. His hopes were dashed, and his heart sank at the idea of investigating further along lines that might,—that must implicate Bunny Moore!
But, "Who did then?" was all he said.
"You're in love with Miss Moore?" Inman asked, quietly, and Toddy, having suddenly taken a liking to this calm person, replied, "Yes."
"Then, I'll tell you of the danger she's in. For I'm hoping you can help me to help her."
"Are you in love with her?" Tod said, meeting the other's frankness with his own.
"No; I loved my cousin. But I greatly admire Bunny, and I can't think her guilty,—except that I've no other way to look."
"You know something!" Buck exclaimed, with a flash of his aunt's sort of intuition.
"Yes, this. I heard a sound on the stairs that night at half past one o'clock, and I opened my door just a crack, and I saw Bunny coming up, with her vanity case in her hand, and looking as white as death, and trembling like a leaf."
"Then, after a few moments, I went downstairs, and found Myra dead in the studio. The candles burning at her head and feet,—and, Buck,—when I felt of her outstretched arm, it—it was still warm!"
DETECTIVE MOTT promised himself a profitable afternoon, as he approached the Heath house for the express purpose of grilling the servants.
He had his suspicions and his theories pretty well in shape, he told himself but he needed corroboration and also hoped to get side lights on certain aspects of the tragedy.
He passed the two men whom he saw talking on the verandah, and went on around to the rear entrance.
Herrick admitted him, and with an air of importance, the detective ensconced himself in the servants' sitting room, and commanded the butler to round up the whole staff and bring them at once.
There were, therefore, five harried and alarmed looking faces grouped in front of him, when he began his inquisition.
He had heard their stories before, but informed the scared servants that he believed they had not told all they knew, and unless they were prepared to come across with the whole truth, he hinted that there were vague but no less dire punishments awaiting them.
So frightening were his implied terrors, that his auditors, especially the women, became verbose and even garrulous.
"You never asked me nothing!" exclaimed Mrs. Pierce, the cook, as if resentful at being left out of the game. "And I know a lot!"
"I'll bet you do," said Mott, encouragingly.
As a matter of fact, he hadn't much faith in the value of the cook's knowledge for he considered her domain was entirely outside the family's living rooms, and he doubted her opportunities for observation.
But he must leave no stone unturned, so he said, with a fine mixture of request and command:
"Tell what you know, Pierce, if it has any bearing on the case."
"Bearing on the case, is it? Well, sir, rather! I seen the murderer a sneakin' down the stairs, in the dead o'night, to do his murderin'!"
"You did?" Mott's attention was caught at last. "Who was it?"
"Who but Mr. Inman, to be sure. And him comin' along so soft and cat-footed, not makin' a sound,—but I saw him plain as plain! that I did!"
"At what time was this?" Mott held his pencil poised over his notebook. "Be careful, now—if you don't know exactly, say so,—don't draw on your imagination."
"Well, it would be not far from two o'clock, one way or another."
"And what were you doing out of bed at that time of night?"
"I was chasin' that Katie! Not that I'm responsible for the morals of any young girl the mistress chooses to get in here, but I can't help takin' an interest, and Katie's a good girl, though over fond of traipsin' out of evenin's."
"But we have account of Katie's time of entrance—"
"Yes, sir. And you know that Emma sneaked down to let her in, and all that. And you know that Emma went right back to bed, and that Katie lingered downstairs, as she most generally does, a eatin' cold bits out of the ice-box. Well, I had just enough cream for the breakfast, it wasn't over plenty, and I was scared that Katie'd make way with it, so I says to myself, I'll just slip down and see to that. So, down I come, in me dressin' gownd, and sure enough, that Katie was just about reachin' for the cream pitcher! Well, I saved the cream, and I give her a good talkin' to. Then I sends her up to bed, and after a look round to see was the cat in her box, and the lights all out, I was for goin' up meself, when I heard a step on the front stairs.
"Not meanin' to snoop, but fearin' 'twas some interloper, I stuck me head in the door far enough to see 'twas Mr. Inman a comin' down. As he had a right to maunder about the house if he chose, I shut the door softly-like and went upstairs. I thought no more about it, till you began askin' questions. And so, I thought I better out with it."
"Well," Mott hid his interest behind a look of indifference, "it may prove of some importance and it may not. You're sure it was Mr. Inman?"
"Did he have a light?"
"No, sir, he was feelin' his way like. I could see him by the wee bit of light from the hall behind me, and I shut the door quick, so's he wouldn't see me."
"Where was he going?"
"I don't know, sir, except that he was comin' down the stairs. He was about half way down, a hangin' onto the banister like."
"I see. Well, Pierce, do you know anything more about the family's doings that night?"
"Only what Emma said, that she saw Miss Bunny go upstairs at half past one."
"H'm, they all seemed to be wakeful! Emma, tell me again of your seeing Miss Moore."
"Well, sir, I was for letting Katie in, and then I was for getting back as quick as I could. And as I went up the back stairs, I saw Miss Moore coming up the front stairs. I could see her, but I don't think she saw me,—she was takin' on something fierce."
"What do you mean, taking on?"
"Well, she wasn't exactly crying, but she was sobbing dry-like, and sorta gasping, 'sif she was scared stiff."
"She was dressed—"
"She had on a neglijay, sir. A light blue chiffon it was,—oh, a pretty one!"
"And she was carrying—"
"Her vanity case. Oh, a lovely one! All gold and chains and danglin' doodads. It clinked a little as she walked, she was that shaky."
"Well, then, Miss Moore went up at one-thirty?"
"Yes, sir, half past one as ever was."
Mott turned back to Pierce.
"And you saw Mr. Inman go down at two o'clock?"
"Yes, sir, that I did. About two, it was."
"You women can both swear to these statements?" They said they could, and Mott made notes of the given hours. It seemed to him he was narrowing down the facts of the case.
"Now, Emma, I know it is not a nice thing to do, to talk about your employers, especially when they are not here to defend themselves. But a case like this annuls all laws of ethics, and you must answer my questions truthfully. Do you think Mr. Inman and Miss Moore are attached to one another,—in—er—any sentimental way?"
"Oh, no sir. That they are not"
"You seem very sure."
"Of course us servants can't help seein' things."
"You can't, anyway, Emma," broke in Mrs. Pierce. "You're everlastingly snoopin' around on your betters. Don't you say a word now, about their affairs!"
"On the contrary, Mrs. Pierce," Mott said, sternly, "Emma must tell anything she knows. It is a serious matter to hold back information from the law and unless, Emma, you want to get yourself arrested, you'd better come across with whatever you know. But, mind now, nothing that you don't know. We don't want surmises or guesswork."
"Emma knows little about what goes on in the house," Carter said, with an air of superior knowledge. "She is only a waitress,—I am the ladies' maid."
"Your turn will come," the detective assured her. "Emma is talking now. Go on, Emma, tell me anything you know of the flirtations of Miss Moore. If she was not attracted by Mr. Inman, was she by any one else?"
"Well, sir, she and the master—they was friends like."
"Yes? And how do you know?"
"Well, now and again, I'd sort of see them stoppin in corners like, and he'd kiss her, or pat her arm,—oh, you know, sir!"
Emma blushed deeply and Mott said, very gravely, "Yes, I know. Now, did you often see scenes of this sort?"
"No, sir, not so often."
"When was the last time, for instance?"
"The night Mrs. Heath died, sir. That evening after dinner, I was putting away the silver in the sideboard, and the dining room windows open on the terrace, and I couldn't help seeing, just outside, was Mr. Heath and Miss Bunny, and him holdin' her in his arms and kissin' her."
"You are certain, Emma?" Mott did not smile or show surprise.
"Yes, sir, certain."
"That will do. Let no one present mention any word of this conversation. As I told you the inquiries of a detective in a case like this are necessary, and are sacred. If any one of you repeats a word of what you are now hearing you will be promptly and duly punished."
Mott's manner carried even more threatening hints than his words, and the whole crowd was properly impressed.
"Now, Carter," he went on, "tell me anything you may know about the relations of your employers. Be frank, for as I forbid you people to repeat this talk, so I can promise you that I shall not repeat it, except to the officers of the law."
"Well, sir, as ladies' maid to both Mrs. Heath and Miss Moore, of course, I couldn't help seeing how things went. Mrs. Heath, she was terribly in love with Mr. Inman. Mr. Heath, he knew it, and they had hot words about it, now and then."
"Did you hear them?"
"In part, sir. Sometimes Mr. Heath would come in while Mrs. Heath was dressing, and he'd bid me go in the next room and shut the door. Then I'd do so, but if they raised their voices as they sometimes did, I couldn't help hearing that they were quarrelling about Mr. Inman, even though I couldn't hear all they said. But I never mentioned it, not even to the others down here. I know my place, and I've been maid to grand ladies that had bigger secrets than Mrs. Heath had."
"She had no big secrets, then?"
"Not what I'd call such. She liked Mr. Inman and he adored her, but they were cousins,—though distant ones,—and she had a right to be friendly."
"Did Mr. Heath urge her to use rouge and that sort of thing?"
"They all did that. Yes, he would come to her dressing room and laughingly try to put some on her face. But she just said, 'No,' in that way she had, and he'd stop. Then, Miss Bunny, she was always at her to use color, and Mr. Inman, he was, too. It was sort of a household joke, you see."
"I see. Then, Carter, any one of those three might have applied that paint to her face after the poor lady was dead."
"They might, sir."
"Or you might have done it yourself?"
"Why, of course I could do it sir,—but I didn't. I was up in my bed, asleep."
"She was," broke in the cook. "I heard her snoring when I went down to look after Katie."
"Well, we're not suspecting you, Carter," Mott said, "we've no reason to. You surely had no motive and no opportunity to kill your mistress."
"The saints forbid!" said Carter, fervently.
"I can tell you something else, sir," Emma said, not unwilling to take the limelight again.
"All right, go ahead, Emma."
Mott began to think he was getting some sidelights, if not very crucial statements.
"Well, 'long about twelve o'clock, I thought I heard Katie comin' in. When I have to wait on her comin' in, I'm terrible wakeful. 'Most every week she makes me let her in when it's her night out."
"Why do you do it?"
"Oh, we all like Katie," Emma gave an affectionate glance at the pretty parlor-maid. "And she's got her young man, you know, and it's a pity she should have to come in at eleven o'clock, and him such a fine feller!"
It was clear to be seen that the state of "keeping company" had raised Katie to an eminence where she commanded the favors of the other servants.
"And so," Emma went on, "I stay awake like, to let her in, for Mrs. Heath gave her an awful dressin' down once when she caught her comin' in late. Then, as I was listenin' for Katie, I heard voices downstairs. I thought the family had all gone to bed, and I was thinkin' of burglars—"
"Yes, you was!" sneered Mrs. Pierce. "You was et up with curiosity, and you was bound to see what you could."
"All right, then," said Emma, assentingly, "anyway, I pushed open softly the upstairs door to the front hall, and I peeked over the banisters. I couldn't see anybody, but I heard the voices in the stujo, and I reckernized Mr. and Mrs. Heath and Mr. Inman. I don't know whether Miss Bunny was there or not. So, knowing it wasn't burglars," she gave a look at Mrs. Pierce, "I went back to bed, and waited for Katie."
"And that was between twelve and one?"
"Oh, nearer twelve. Not more'n quarter past. I know, 'cause I thought it might like as not be a long while before Katie came."
"Well, then, if you are sure of your facts, Emma, we have proof that Mrs. Heath was alive and well at twelve-fifteen. You heard her voice, you say?"
"Yes, sir. I don't know what she was saying, I only heard her speak, but she was mad, sir. That I could tell. It seemed like Mr. Heath was quarrelling with Mr. Inman and Mrs. Heath was upset over it. But I didn't get the words, only their voices."
"I see. Well, all that doesn't help much, for the doctors say Mrs. Heath was killed at about two o'clock. Though they can't tell exactly. Now, Katie, that young man of yours,—he was with you in the arbor till half past one."
"Don't be frightened. I'm not discussing your affairs at all. Then he saw a man leave this house?"
"Not the house, the grounds."
"You've talked to Jimmy about this since?"
"Can you tell me just what he saw?"
"He says he wasn't noticing special, not thinkin' about anything but—"
"But your sweet self?"
"Well, yes, sir. And he just sorta noticed a man goin' sneakin' like through the shrubbery and out the side gate. He says if he'd been sneakin' toward the house, he'd 'a' thought more about it, but as he was goin' away, he gave it no considerin' and he woulda forgotten about it, if this awful thing hadn't 'a' happened."
"I see. Very natural, I'm sure. Now, does Jimmy think the man was Mr. Heath?"
"He says he don't know. It mighta been and it mightn't. It was like his size, maybe, but Jimmy, he just didn't take notice, and it was sorta dark, anyhow."
"And then you came right in the house?"
"Yes, sir, I was justa comin' in, when Jimmy saw him."
"He didn't follow him, then?"
"Oh, no sir. Jim, he went out the back gate. The man, he went through the little side gate, the one that leads to the woods."
"Then, of course, that's all you can tell about the man. Now, it seems it must have been Mr. Heath, because Mr. Heath is inexplicably missing. But just as you came in, you saw Miss Moore going upstairs?"
"No, sir, it was Emma as saw her."
"Yes, so it was. Well, that looks as if Miss Moore might have let Mr. Heath out and locked the door behind him, and gone upstairs just as Emma went up the other stairs."
"It might be, sir."
"Now, look here, Mr. Detective," said Herrick, who had been sitting still, gloomily listening, "I've got a word to say about that. I locked up everything when I went upstairs at shortly after eleven-thirty. The whole family was up in their rooms then. Now, my room is in the third story front, which it isn't a regular story, this here house being a bungaloo. But it's a loft, like, and comfortable enough. Any way, that's where I sleep, and it's right over the front door. My window was open, and if anybody had gone in or out of that front door, I'd a heard them. That door wasn't opened after I locked it that night, till I opened it the next morning. I know, because the chain bolt is out of order, and I plug a little stick in it. Nobody would do it exactly like I did, and anyways, I just know that door wasn't opened after I locked it up!"
"Very well, Herrick, but maybe Miss Moore let Mr. Heath out by a window."
"I'd a heard it if she had. I tell you, sir, I'm a light sleeper, and I've always got my ears open for burglars, and I tell you there couldn't have been a door or window open in this house that night, 'thout I heard it."
"Did you hear Emma open the door for Katie?"
"'Course I did!" Herrick looked contemptuous. "That Emma, she thinks she's so quiet! She goes downstairs like a hod carrier, and she opens that back door so careful, that she takes about ten minutes to do it! Last night, it stuck a little, and she had to jerk it open—ain't that so, Em?"
"Yes," and the girl looked her astonishment.
"Yes, it's so. And I was thinkin' I'd oil it next day, and then what happened put it clear out of my mind."
"How about the studio French windows? Couldn't a man leave the house that way?"
"They all squeak, every one of them," Herrick averred. "I've been meaning to be get 'em fixed, but I just haven't. But they squeak somethin' awful! if you don't believe that, Mr. Detective, you just try them."
"Then, Herrick," Mott turned on him, "how did Mr. Heath get out? Emma heard him talking after twelve, that was after you locked up, and yet he was gone in the morning. How did he get out?"
"That's what's botherin' me, sir," and Herrick looked awestruck. "I say, how could he get out? The cellarway was locked inside. Every door and window was fastened in the morning when I came downstairs. I'd 'a' heard any of 'em if they was opened in the night. I don't know sir, how he did get out!"
"Do you think the man Jimmy Lomax saw was Mr. Heath?"
"I don't think so, no, sir. 'Cause why, how could it be? Mr. Heath, he couldn't get out, sir."
"Then is he in the house yet?"
"I think so, sir."
"Why, Herrick, what do you mean?"
"I mean, sir, that the brute as done for Mrs. Heath done for him, too, sir, and hid his dead body somewhere."
"Absurd, my man! That couldn't be."
"All right, sir, but you asked me what I thought."
Having gained all he could from the servants, and giving no heed at all to Herrick's wild surmise, Mott, after further injunctions not to babble, went away.
As he walked round the house, he saw Inman on the front terrace, and stopped to speak to him.
"I say," Mott began, "do you think Perry Heath could have been murdered by the assassin of his wife, and his body concealed in the house?"
"Good Lord! What an idea!" Larry stared at him. "Yes, it sounds absurd, I know. But many details of this mysterious case are absurd. I say, do you think it could be possible?"
"I certainly do not. But it is surely a question easily answered. Why not search the house? There are not many hiding places in it that would serve such a purpose."
"Look here, Mr. Inman," Mott stalked along by the other's side, as they patrolled the long terrace, "who killed your cousin?"
"That's the question that's tormenting me to death!" Larry exclaimed, so emphatically, that Mott more than half believed him.
"Is it tormenting you because you don't know the answer or because you do?" he said, shrewdly.
"Just what do you mean by that?" Inman stopped and stared at him.
"I mean, do you suspect somebody whom you do not want to suspect? Are your convictions forced to a conclusion that you cannot bear to accept? In a word, do you feel you must suspect Miss Moore, though you hate to do so?"
The other glared at him.
"No," he said, "I do not suspect Miss Moore, and any one who does must be out of his mind! It's too absurd!"
"Now don't go on to say that that sweet young thing couldn't commit a crime! Crimes have been committed by young women, by girls, even before this day of the wicked and degenerate Flapper."
"I suppose, Mr. Mott, your position and your calling give you a right to voice such monstrous beliefs, but I can't believe you really mean them. I think you are putting it to me, to see what I will say to it. Well, sir, I say this. Miss Moore could no more have killed Mrs. Heath than I could myself. And I think your accusation of her, is to get me to deny it, and stand up for her, and then you will accuse me, as the only other possibility. Why do you leave Perry Heath out of your reckoning?"
"First, because I cannot believe he could be the criminal and place that card in evidence as a clue to his guilt. Another could do it, but not the criminal, himself. Had Heath committed that crime, he would have left a false clue that would have pointed to yourself or to some other person, but not to his own name."
"This doesn't seem to be one of those cases that have the regulation clues,—initialled handkerchiefs, broken cuff-links, special sort of tobacco ash,—"
"Footprints, one of a pair of pistols, library table paper-cutter, button torn from assailant's coat,—no, Mr. Inman, none of the hackneyed clues are present, except—finger-prints. You know of those important ones on the bottle,—the weapon. How do you explain those?"
"I daresay they are easy of explanation. Both Miss Moore and myself fingered that bottle when Mrs. Heath was showing it to us."
"Yes, and after that, Mrs. Heath polished it clean with her delicate handkerchief, leaving no marks on it of any sort"
"Oh, I don't know. We must have picked it up again, Miss Moore and I, after that. You know how idly, even unconsciously one picks up objects that are lying about."
"Yes, but there are only the prints of you two people, and Miss Moore's are beneath yours. She grasped it first."
"Indeed," said Larry Inman, and turned away with a yawn.
Al CUNNINGHAM had always flattered himself that he had detective instinct. But it was flattery, and, moreover, it was harmful flattery. For it gave him confidence in himself and in his conclusions which was not justifiable.
His detective instinct was all right up to a certain point. But that point came very near the beginning of the line of detective qualities.
For instance, his imagination was good, but it was untrained. A detective depends frequently on his imagination, but it is not one which runs rampant, or flies off in a new direction at any and every hint that presents itself.
Also, Cunningham lacked experience in many ways. He had intuition and quick perceptions, but his judgments were hasty and changeable; his sympathies too easily enlisted, and his personal bias too dominant in his conclusions.
If Mott had had Cunningham's brains in addition to his own, he would have been a first class sleuth. But Mott's strong points were his persistence and his dogged perseverance. Too often these were applied to a wrong premise, and so led him into a futile line of research.
Cunningham, on the contrary, starting on a promising outlook, would be easily turned aside by some sudden development, which might or might not be of real importance.
Had the two men chosen to work together and work harmoniously, they might have accomplished much. But in truth, each held the other's powers in contempt, and pursued his own way, with more or less success.
Myra Heath had been killed Tuesday night, or, rather in the early hours of Wednesday morning. About two o'clock, the doctors had surmised, but had admitted that might be from half an hour to an hour out of the way.
It was now late Thursday afternoon, and Cunningham couldn't feel that he had, so far, unearthed any real evidence or discovered any real clues. He was sure that Bunny Moore either did the deed, or knew who did it, but his certainty went for little without proof.
He despaired of finding Perry Heath, feeling certain that a clever man who could disappear so mysteriously was not going to let himself be found until he was good and ready.
Cunningham rather thought that Bunny had killed Myra accidentally, and that Heath knew it, and had gone away to save the girl from his enforced evidence.
But this, too, was only surmise, and with little foundation, at that.
So, rather discouraged, and with his vanity somewhat disturbed, Cunningham walked into the Club, with a half formed intention of telling his friends there that he could not solve the mystery.
But on reaching the Club he was given a note that proved to be from Sam Anderson.
"Dear Cunny:" it ran. 'I've gone down to New York on a mere chance of getting a line on Heath. I shall get back about nine, or, possibly later. I wish you'd be at my house when I return, as I may have news,—but, more likely not! Anyway, be there, and we can talk over things. Wait for me on the side porch. Yours, Sam."
Cunningham felt relieved at this promised help of Anderson's, but also felt a bit chagrined that the matter had been taken out of his own hands.
However, he proceeded to put in the time pleasantly enough, had his dinner at the Club, and a bit before the appointed hour, he strolled over to Anderson's house.
It was a solid, pretentious affair, built with an eye to bachelor freedom and luxury. A house typical of Harbor Park and entirely unlike the homes in Harbor Gardens.
Knowing well the side porch in question, Cunningham went there and sat down to wait. No formality was required, for Anderson's friends often congregated in this spot, and the big, cozy place was supplied with comfortable lounging chairs, smoking stands and all that went to make entertainment.
A butler appeared, and asked Cunningham what he could bring him, and then filled his order with the deft promptness of a well trained servant and left the visitor alone.
Cunningham stretched himself luxuriously in a chintz cushioned steamer chair, with pipe and glass at his elbow, and ruminated on the possibilities of Anderson's getting any trace of Heath.
At nine o'clock his host had not appeared, but a few moments after nine he saw a shadowy form approaching and a man came quietly up on the porch and sat down beside him.
Though dark, there was enough light from a house window for Cunningham to see the features of this man, and to his stunned amazement he realized it was Perry Heath!
"Don't raise a row, Cunny," Heath said, calmly. "It won't get you anywhere, you know, and if you sit tight, I may be able to help you."
Cunningham's quick wits accepted this, and he said, "All right, old man,—I thought you'd turn up sooner or later. Now, tell me all about it."
"Where's Anderson? He's the one I came to see. I thought it was he sitting here."
"No, he's gone to New York to hunt you. But he'll be home now, any minute. You'll wait for him?"
"Sure. I say, Cunny, what are you doing in the sleuthing line?"
"Why, I—good Lord, Perry, I can't sit here and talk calmly to you! I ought to be telephoning the police and all that!"
"Don't try it I'm not the murderer, you know."
"Larry, of course. I only blew in here for a minute to tell Sam that, and to ask him to see justice done. I know they're suspecting that mite of a girl, little Bunny, but she didn't do it. Only a blind, pig-headed imbecile could think such a thing!"
"Why are you in hiding?" Cunningham demanded.
"I'm not in hiding. I lit out because I didn't want to testify against Larry, but when that kiddy is accused, I have to put in a word for her."
"You saw Inman commit the crime?"
"Sure. But I don't want to go into details. I'm never coming back, why should I? I've lost Myra, she was all I cared for. Inman was in love with her, and—well, he was in love with her money, too. But I'm not going to blab about him. He can fight his own battles. It's the Moore Baby I'm looking after. Oh, no, I'm not in love with her, but I won't see harm come to the child. I'll appear against Inman, rather than that. Now, look here, Al, I can't wait any longer to see Sam now. You tell him I was here, and tell him what I've said."
"But, Lord, man, you can't go off like that! You've—why, you've knocked me galley-west, and I don't know what I ought to do—"
"You've no say in the matter. You tell Sam Anderson all I've told you, and you and he must work together to get that little girl freed of suspicion. If you don't—or can't, I'll appear in propria persona and fix things up myself."
"But—but, tell me more. How did you get out?"
"Walked out, of course. And Larry locked the door behind me."
"Who painted her face?"
"Larry, of course. And he set up that fool card, thinking he could implicate me."
"And you went off, rather than testify against the man who killed your wife! Who desecrated her dead body with that ghastly painting! And who tried to make it seem that you were her murderer! I can't swallow all that, Heath!"
"No, I suppose not." Heath spoke wearily, and brushed back the long lock that fell over his brow. "But Cunningham, it's because you can't understand a man of my temperament. My wife is dead, nothing can bring her back to me, and rather than go through the harrowing scenes of inquests, detectives, trials and interminable questioning, I'd rather get out and leave it all. You know my beliefs about immortality and all that. Or rather you know I don't believe in it. To my mind, Myra is gone and gone forever. That clay is no more my wife than any other bit of earth. I want her properly honored and decently buried, but all that will be attended to, I know. For Larry is her heir and her kinsman, and he will look after such matters properly. I shall go off by myself and begin a new life far away from here. I've no ties in Gaybrook Harbor,—on the contrary, it holds for me only horrors and sad memories. I never should have reappeared at all except that I fear for Bunny's safety. But if you and Anderson give a true report of my appearance here and state that I vow and declare that I saw Larry Inman kill my wife, I think there can be no further question of Bunny's guilt. It's too absurd to think of that child in connection with it, but Mott is stubborn, and having the idea in his head he won't easily give it up. However, if the persecution of Bunny goes on, I will come out in the open and protect her. That would mean entire exposure of Larry's guilt. Whereas, if Bunny is exonerated, perhaps Inman can get away with a not proven case. Oh, well, do what you can." And, to Cunningham's amazement, he found himself alone!
Heath had disappeared, silently, as he had come. He merely rose suddenly and stepping down from the porch had walked away so rapidly into the darkness of the shrubbery on the lawn, that Cunningham scarcely knew which way he went.
He rose and peered into the shadows. There was no use in pursuing Heath, he never could find him in the darkness of the night. And as to raising a hue and cry, Cunningham didn't know whether that was his duty or not.
He sat down again, dazed and worried. It all seemed like a dream. He could hardly believe that Perry Heath had really been there, and had told him such an extraordinary tale.
His brain was bemused, his usually alert faculties stunned, and the more he thought it all over the more it puzzled him.
He wished he had rushed after Heath as he went away, wished he had raised an alarm, even if he hadn't caught the man. The story was fishy,—that's what it was,—fishy. And there he had had a chance,—a wonderful chance to distinguish himself by catching and holding the elusive Perry Heath, and he had let the chance slip through his fingers. He should have grabbed the man, and called for help from the servants of the Anderson household. Those servants were so well trained that they would never come unless summoned, but a cry of alarm would have brought them to his aid. He ought to have held Heath prisoner, at least until he could have proved his story, or had Larry Inman called in to disprove it!
Altogether, Al Cunningham was pretty well disgusted with himself, and in his brain was a half formed resolution to say nothing of the matter to Anderson.
This was a dangerous thing to do, for Heath had commanded him to repeat his version of the affair, and at heart, Cunningham was a bit of a coward.
He was afraid of Heath, who had seemed very stern and determined. On the whole, it would doubtless be better to tell Anderson the whole story. He would blame him, for not nabbing Heath, but that could not be helped now.
He was still mulling over the matter, when Anderson arrived.
"Hello," he said, "glad to see you, Cunny. Sorry to be a bit late, but I had to take a detour. And I'm hungry as a hunter. Come on in the house with me, and we'll have a bit of supper together, while we talk. Though I've little to tell and I suppose you have less. The thing is getting on my nerves. It really begins to look desperate for the little girl. I heard—"
Anderson's voice was lost as he entered the house and made for the dining room. He had pushed Cunningham ahead of him, and soon the two were sitting down to a very appetizing chafing-dish supper.
"Well, I suppose you want to hear what I did,' Anderson said, and paused suddenly as he saw Cunningham staring at him.
So suddenly, that he bit his lip, and rising, with a muffled exclamation of pain, he hurried from the room, but was back in a moment.
"Bit my lip," he exclaimed, tenderly patting the bruised place with his table napkin, and resuming his chair. "All right, now, nothing serious. Well, Cunny, I'm like that man who said he didn't accomplish as much as he expected, and he didn't expect he would! I thought it would be easy to trace Perry Heath through his bankers. But they knew nothing about him at all. They let me see his bank account, though,—I felt a mean cur to look at it!—and only a day or two before he disappeared, he had received a big check from a man named Crandall. I assumed it was payment for a picture, and I hunted down the Crandall man. That's what took the time, for he lived out in a beastly suburb. Well, I found him, and he had bought one of Perry's pictures, and it was his check. But he knew nothing of Perry. He had bought the picture through Carr and Holden,—they're Heath's dealers, you know. So, I didn't get a bit forrader, and I'm disgusted with detective work,—my own or anybody else's!"
"So am I!" said Cunningham, so emphatically that Anderson looked up quickly.
"Why, what's come over you?" he inquired, with interest. "I thought Sherlock was your middle name!"
"No, Fathead's my middle name! Numskull, nincompoop, dumb-bell,—any of those!"
"Explain," said Anderson, smiling at the dejected countenance that faced him.
"Well," Cunningham shot his bolt, "Perry Heath was here to-night."
"What!" Anderson's tone was as explosive as the other's, and he evinced unbounded incredulity.
"Yes, Perry, himself, in the flesh. I talked with him."
"Well, if you're going to talk with me, make yourself explicit. I don't yet grasp your meaning, my boy."
So Cunningham told him, plainly and truthfully, every word that had passed between himself and the fugitive Heath.
He spoke slowly and straightforwardly, but he kept a wary eye out for any expression on Anderson's face that might warn him how his tale was to be taken.
Sam Anderson said no word until the whole story was told. He watched Cunningham carefully, looking up alertly if the narrative halted, and when the climax was reached he remarked, briefly:
"You were quite right, Al, about your middle names."
That was all, but Cunningham grew hot all over at the scathing tone of reproach.
"Now, look here, Sam," he began, but Anderson interrupted:
"There's nothing to 'look here' about. You were a double-barrelled idiot to let Heath get away, if you had him here. One yell from you would have brought at least three men servants from the house, and more from the garage and garden. You muffed it, Cunny, and that's all there is about that. Now, don't whine, and don't apologize. Your stupidity is beyond all apology and whining won't do a bit of good. How did he look? Fit, and all that?"
"I couldn't see very well, it was dark, and, too, I was so flabbergasted."
"You would be!" and Anderson still used that tone of utter exasperation at his friend's stupidity. "Well, all we can do now, is to try our best to set the little girl free and run Inman in."
Anderson spoke with brisk energy, as one who sees his plan of action made clear.
"Easier said than done," Cunningham growled.
"No, not if you tell your story to the authorities as convincingly as you have told it to me. I deplore your inactivity, but I am glad to have your evidence. The testimony of an eye witness, repeated at first hand, must have weight, and even that dunderheaded Mott can't fail to recognize it."
"You know," Cunningham said, musingly, "that young chap next door to the Heaths', he believed all along that Inman was the murderer. But he said, that Inman killed Heath, too, and hid his body in the cellar or pitched it into the sea."
"How clever!" Anderson said, sarcastically. "But now, we know,—or at least, you know, that Heath is alive,—I say, Al, it was dark, are you sure that was Heath?"
"Oh, yes. I know Perry as well as you do, and I could see him clearly enough to recognize him. And you know that little trick he has of tossing back that lock of hair that falls over his forehead, in true artist fashion. Oh, yes, it was Perry all right."
"Well, then Inman didn't kill him, in spite of the young man's astute deductions."
"No, of course not. Buck doesn't know anything of sleuthing,—any more than I do," Cunningham added with a wry smile.
"Don't blame yourself too much. I daresay I lit into you too roughly, old chap. If so, forget it. But I confess I should have liked to come home and find you here with Perry Heath, bound and gagged in a big chair!"
"But I had no reason to bind and gag him. He came to give helpful information—"
"Which you swallowed, bait, hook and sinker! Oh, I don't say it may not all be true, but, on the other hand it may not. Why, just suppose Perry Heath was the murderer, wouldn't he act just the same way? Suppose he wanted to free the little girl from suspicion, wouldn't he lay the blame on Larry Inman, the only possible suspect, except himself? It's a moil, any way you look at it, but I wish I could have talked to Heath, even if he got away afterward."
"I wish you could have, Sam. I'm darned sorry I let him go, but he just vanished, you see."
"Like the Boojum. Well, what say, Al, shall we go over to Headquarters and acquaint the powers that be with this tale, or shall we sleep over it and give it to them in the morning?"
"Oh, let's leave it till morning. Nobody of importance will be there this time of night, and I don't want to go clear out to Mott's house. I should think morning would be time enough."
"And let Heath put a few hundred more miles between himself and us! Though I don't suppose any search party could pick him up now, the trail is too cold. Well, so be it, then. Come on out to the porch and have a nightcap and a smoke and tomorrow we'll electrify the police,—to no good whatever!"
"You scoff at everything, Sam, but what have you to offer as a better plan of pursuit. If you'd been here, what would you have said to Heath?"
"First of all, if you want the truth, Cunny, I'd have marched him straight to Headquarters. If Mott wasn't there I'd have sent for him, p. d. q. And then I'd have made Heath tell his story under oath. Then we'd have had something to go on, some sworn evidence. I say, suppose we go over to Heath's house and confront Inman with this tale."
"You may go, if you like, but I shan't. I like Inman, and—oh, hang it all, I don't think I believe Heath's story at all. The more I think of it, the more fishy it seems."
"You mean you suspect—"
"Bunny Moore. I can't see any way out for her. To begin with Inman doesn't act like a guilty man. And Bunny does."
"How does she?"
"Well, she bursts into tears whenever she's questioned."
"What girl wouldn't, especially an innocent one?"
"Well, then, there's a lot of evidence about her being downstairs late at night, and all that—"
"What does that prove?"
"Nothing much, I admit. But her finger-prints are on the bottle—under Inman's."
"Oh, Lord, Cunny, we've mulled over all those points a hundred times. Do get some new ones. Here, have another cigar. And look out where you sling your ashes. Why use the whole floor?"
"Lord, Sam, what a fuss you are! Well, I suppose your nerves are on edge, I admit mine are. I guess I'll go home, and try to sleep on this thing. Maybe the night will bring counsel, as the poet or some wise guy says."
"Well, try it out. I don't know any other place to look for counsel. But if the night brings it to you, let me know early in the morning. For otherwise, I'm going to Mott with this story of the appearance of the missing man. Golly, to think I was combing New York City for the wretch, and here he was calmly sitting on my porch talking to my detective!"
"Don't rub it in," Cunningham growled. "I never claimed to be a detective, I only felt I had a little of the necessary qualification. But I see I haven't, and I'm quite ready to own up."
"Oh, it's all right, Al." Anderson was already sorry for his harshness to his friend. "And you've done more than anybody on the case in getting word from Heath. I tell you, that will be a point in your favor with the law people! I say, let's reconstruct the case,—I believe that's what they term it."
"All right," Cunningham spoke eagerly. "Say, Heath told the truth, then how did it all come about?"
"Oh, I suppose it was just the old story of two men and one woman. I don't think the Baby Girl was on the scene at all. I believe if she was seen coming or going on the stairs, it was after the whole show was over. I believe that Heath and his wife and Inman quarrelled. Then nobody can say just how that thing happened. It might well have been accidental. Perhaps one man attacked the other and Mrs. Heath threw herself between them in an effort to help one or the other, and received herself the blow meant for one of the men."
"I never should have thought of that! But it's darned plausible! I believe that's just what did happen; for that, supposing Inman held the bottle, would make Heath loath to appear against him. If Heath knew that Inman killed Mrs. Heath, but did it by accident, by her intercepting the blow meant for Heath, then I can see Perry doing just as he did do. Go away, rather than testify to the truth. But when the girl, Bunny, is implicated, then Heath had to come back and do what he could to save her. Oh, by Jove I see! Heath is sure this story will get to the ears of Inman, and then Inman will know that Heath is on his track, and if he doesn't confess, or at least, if Bunny isn't set free of all suspicion, Heath will turn up again, and give Larry what for!"
"Yes, that's logically thought out. Then, in that case, the sooner we make public Heath's story the better. All right, old man, as you say, it'll keep till morning, and then we'll go to see friend Mott. You must go with me, of course, and we must put it to him straight."
"Shall you go to tell Inman, too?"
"No, I think we'd better let Mott do that. Indeed, I don't see that we need figure in the matter at all, except to give the dope to Mott. It's his business after that, and if he doesn't make Larry Inman stand up and take his medicine, then I think Perry Heath will materialize again. And I hope I'll get a peek at him next time. If he comes to you, tell him I'm crazy to meet him."
"You take it all so lightly, Sam. I believe you have no heart, no real emotion."
"I haven't, much, to be frank with you. To me, old son, this is just a case and interests me only as a story book would. The Heaths, as you know, were never intimate friends of mine, and if I'm interested in the little Bunny, it's only as in a pretty and unprotected child. I scarcely know the girl, personally."
"All right, then, old man. See you in the morning. Good night"; and Cunningham strolled away.
BUT if Al Cunningham was not making much headway in his detective work, Todhunter Buck began to feel that he was getting along almost too well.
After Larry Inman had told him of coming downstairs late at night and discovering his cousin's dead body,—still warm—Buck was miserable with apprehension. It was all very well to assure himself that nothing,—no sort or kind of evidence would ever make him believe in the possibility of Bunny's guilt, but, even if the girl had no hand in the murder, she must have known about it when she came upstairs, white and trembling, as described by Inman, and with vanity case dangling from her hand.
Much as he wanted to do so, Buck couldn't believe Larry was lying, or even misrepresenting in the slightest degree.
One of Toddy's faculties was a real flair for the truth. All his life, he had almost invariably been able to tell when any one spoke falsely. It was a sort of insight or second sight, that told him at once of a speaker's insincerity.
This trait, of itself, was a strong asset in the matter of detective work, and the only trouble was, it was working against Toddy's own desires and intentions.
He wanted to clear Bunny from the faintest breath of suspicion, but every effort he made seemed to result in further evidence of her implication in the tragedy.
He sat on his aunt's porch in the increasing darkness of the evening, just at the same time that Cunningham sat on the porch of Sam Anderson, across the Gaybrook bridge.
His thoughts dwelt on the thing Inman had told him, and he tried his best to twist it around to seem a point in Bunny's favor. This, he was totally unable to do, and so he let his mind drift back to the girl herself and her exquisite beauty.
More than mere beauty of feature, he told himself, it was beauty of soul. Why, that angel could no more harbor a guilty thought than a seraph could!
From which cogitation it is plain to be seen that Todhunter Buck was very much in love.
Indeed, he even went so far as to let his fancy play in numbers, even in rhyme. To himself he murmured:
"Your eyes—of a tender, wind-flower blue,
With innocence back of them, looking through—"
It wasn't really inspired verse, but it pleased his aesthetic sense, and carried a little balm to his torn heart.
Then he came back to earth, and tried to decide what he must do. He had elected himself Bunny's knight errant, he meant to fight for her à la mort and à la mode and any other dramatic way he could find. Moreover, he meant to be practical and if being practical meant smuggling the girl out of Harbor Gardens, then, out she must go.
For Toddy Buck was of quick decision and rapid action. He fully believed that Inman had seen Bunny, just as he had described. Buck didn't want to believe this,—far from it,—but Larry had sounded truthful and Tod believed him.
This didn't necessarily argue Bunny guilty in any direct way, but it did seem to prove that she knew of Myra's death at that time, and that fact would explain why Carter found her sobbing so bitterly when she went to her room to tell her the news next morning.
Toddy tried to reconstruct the scene that Bunny left when she went upstairs but this he was unable to do. He thought, it must be that she saw Myra dead, but whether she had seen her killed or not, he had no idea. If she had, why didn't she raise an alarm? Unless,—no, he would never believe that Bunny had herself applied the colors of her vanity case to Myra's face!
Well, he thought, with his usual rapid conclusion, he must ask her about it. It might be hard to do that, but not so hard as to wait in suspense, and perhaps have evidence piling up against the girl he loved.
And then the object of his anxious thought came and seated herself on a low chair beside his own. So softly had she come, that he had no idea of her presence until he heard her soft, low voice saying:
"Mrs. Prentiss bid me come and talk to you for a few minutes before I go to my room."
"I'm glad to have you," he said, speaking quietly, too, and involuntarily laying his hand on the little one that rested on his chair arm.
Bunny looked up at him, her eyes of "wind-flower blue" dimly visible in the faint light that glimmered from the doorway.
"You are very good to me," she said, with a sad little sigh. "You and your aunt both. But I wish I could go home."
"I wish you could!" exclaimed Tod, his hand tightening its clasp on her own.
"Why do you speak like that? You frighten me!" she exclaimed, for his tone had been emphatic.
"I am frightened about you," he murmured. "Tell me, Bunny, tell me, dear, do you trust me?"
"Yes," she said, and her voice was clear and frank. There was no trace of coyness or shyness, it was as if soul spoke to soul, and with his power of reading the intent of another's words, Buck believed her.
He turned to face her more fully.
"Do you know you are in danger? Grave danger?"
"I suppose I am. But what can I do? I am very much alone—"
Her voice quivered and tears came into the blue eyes.
"No," Buck declared, "you are not alone. You have two staunch friends beneath this roof, and one of us, at least, would die for you!"
This was dangerously close to melodrama, but was saved therefrom by Toddy's obvious earnestness and the ringing note of affection in his tone.
But Bunny shuddered.
"Don't mention death," she said, "we've had enough of that for the present."
"So we have," he said, "and I, too, want to avoid the subject, but if I am to help you, and Lord knows you need help, I'll have to ask you some pretty blunt questions."
"You may," Bunny said, but her voice had taken on a cold formality, almost as if she spoke to an official detective.
"Oh," Tod groaned, "don't speak to me that way, or I can't talk at all!"
The girl laughed outright.
"Go on with your blunt questions," she commanded, but the laughter seemed to linger in her intonation.
Tod plucked up a morsel of courage. Surely a murderer could not laugh like that!
"When did you first see Mrs. Heath after she was dead?" he asked.
"Oh, I can't tell you that!" She gasped as if in horrified surprise, and started to rise from her chair.
"No, sit still. Don't tell me anything you don't choose to, but do,—oh, Bunny, do confide in me! You must have help,—I will help you. Dear Heart, tell me all—all about it."
"I—I've nothing to tell," and now she spoke really coldly, and with an accent of displeasure. "I thought detectives found out the truth from clues and things, not from asking people questions."
"Both methods are used," and now Toddy was stern and grave. "So you won't help me to help you?"
"I can't—oh, I can't—don't ask me a—about it! Don't!"
Her little hands twisted themselves nervously together and one foot beat a tattoo on the porch floor.
"Well, tell me this." Buck felt he mightn't get a better chance and he must find out some things. "Did you go downstairs and come up again late that night? After you had gone to your room for the night, I mean."
"Why—no,—of course, I didn't. Why should I?"
"But the maid said she saw you."
"Do you take her word in preference to mine?"
"No, I do not. However, Inman also says he saw you."
"Larry said that!" she sounded grieved, rather than angry. "Well then it's his word against mine isn't it?" Bravado had come to her aid. Her air was almost saucy, her tone almost gay.
Buck was annoyed. How could she treat such a serious matter so flippantly?
"Bunny, dear," he said, "I can't let you go on like this! And, too, before we go any further, there is something else I must tell you. I love you, darling, and I want you to learn to love me. I want you to promise that when this awful affair is all over, you will let me try to win your heart, try to make you see how I adore and worship you, and try to win your love in return. How about it, little sweetheart?"
The fact that no repulse had met his overtures, made Toddy's heart leap high with joy, and he caught the girl to him.
But she drew away, her hands gently pushing off his eager arms.
"Don't," she whispered, "at least not now,—not yet. You don't know,—oh, Toddy, dear, you don't know—"
"You're going to tell me all I don't know," he caught her fluttering hands and held them close. "You're going to let me be your father confessor and your guide, philosopher and friend, as well as your slave and adorer and—and, my darling, your future husband."
She sighed, and for a moment he thought she was going to surrender her sweet self to his embrace, then she turned away from him, and with tears in her voice she said: "No, please don't touch me. I—I—oh, I don't know what to say or do! And you can't help me,—at least, not now! I must—I must go through with it! I have to,—oh, I have to!"
"Yes, dear, but I'll go through with it, too. I'll be with you every step of the way. You can depend on me,—oh, Bunny, you can depend on me!"
"I well believe that,—but, no, I must go alone—alone."
And with that she left him and walked slowly back and into the house.
Buck looked after her, sorely tempted to follow, but concluded not to, feeling it was better to let her think things over by herself.
He went back to his chair on the porch, where sheltered by the clustering vines, he sat and smoked numberless cigars.
His aunt came out and said, in her crisp way: "Come, Toddy Boy, it's late. You can think about her in your dreams instead of catching your death of cold out on this porch. Come along in."
"No, Aunt Em. You run along to bed, and I'll go up when I get ready. Leave the door open, I'll lock it when I go in."
"Oh, all right, have your own way, but if you get hay fever, don't blame me!"
"I won't. Good night, auntie dear."
"Good night, Boy. You'll find anything you want in the pantry,—if so be, you can think of anything so prosaic as food!"
Buck smiled at his aunt's intuition, and left her raillery unanswered.
He sat there for hours, unheeding the flight of time. He ceased smoking, and sat, almost motionless, giving himself up to dreams far removed from detectives and murder mysteries.
How sweet and dear she was! And that little wistful smile,—that alone betokened her utter innocence. If she had a secret, it was that she was shielding somebody else,—from some mistaken sense of duty.
Well, he would discover her secret,—he had a right to, for his motives were all for her good, his interests only hers, from now on and for ever.
Some day, this awful investigation would be at an end, some day she would be free to go or come as she pleased. Then she would go home, and he would follow. He would meet her people, interview her father, and all would be shipshape and proper.
Whether it was the mental picture of the wedding feast, or the increasing chill of the night air, something turned his thoughts to the pantry his aunt had so casually referred to.
He was just contemplating a move in that direction, when he saw some one coming out of the front door.
The door had been closed, though not locked, and the one who came through it was Bunny,—yes, surely, Bunny!
He sat very still, his eyes almost starting from his head. Was she, could she be, walking in her sleep?
No, he saw at once that she was not.
She had on a dark frock, and black shoes and stockings, and she walked slowly, looking about her as she stepped.
She could not see Buck, as he sat back in the shadow, and he made no sound, so that she did not even pause to look that way.
She went softly, slowly, but steadily on, to the edge of the porch and down the steps.
As she went down the path to the side gate, Buck rose and quietly followed her.
He felt no hesitancy about doing this, he was her protector and he meant to watch over her.
It was not necessary to be very cautious, for the soft lawn deadened his steps, and apparently she had no thought she was not alone.
Across the lawn she made for the small piece of woods that was not far away.
In the shelter of a tree Toddy waited, and then as she went into the woods, he cautiously followed, but at a distance.
He had no wish to pry, but also, he must see that no danger came to her.
As she disappeared in the deep shadows, he edged nearer, and saw, with a sudden pang at his heart, that she met somebody, and that somebody was a man.
Like a flash, Buck remembered the letter Bunny had received at lunch time. How she had read it without comment, but with, he remembered, a heightened color, and a queer little frown.
Could it have been from this man, making an appointment for this meeting?
Buck was sure that it not only could have been, but was.
His heart was torn with fears. He tried to keep his faith in Bunny, but she had left the house secretly, and very late. She had come to meet a man who was waiting for her in a dark, lonely wood,
It didn't seem as if much more were needed to make the girl blameworthy beyond power of explanation.
He watched through the darkness, not daring, nor indeed wishing to go nearer, and it seemed to him that the two human shadows merged into one. As if Bunny had been lost in the man's embrace and as if she made no resistance to such conditions.
Toddy turned sick at heart. This was the girl he loved, worshipped, adored, to the point of idolatry. But this was also the girl he honored, respected and believed innocent of any guilty knowledge or connivance in her friend's death.
What was the truth? For once Buck's power of discernment was at fault.
He knew not what to think,—what to believe.
More than willing to give Bunny every possible benefit of the doubt, how could he believe her in all ways innocent, when she would do such a thing as this?
He tried to find an explanation. But if this interview were in the interests of law and justice, why so secret the meeting? Why so late an hour? So stealthy a departure from the house?
It was inexplicable. Tod began to feel a rising anger,—yes, even his Bunny could arouse his resentment at this treatment of his proffered help. Why hadn't she confided in him, and let him go with her to see this man?
Then he bethought himself of another explanation, and his wrath turned to great and grievous woe.
Suppose this man were Bunny's lover! Suppose it all had nothing to do with the murder mystery, but that this chap, confound him! had come from Bunny's home with messages or warnings or help of some sort in her dreadful dilemma.
Maybe they were affianced sweethearts, and the girl had only been flirting with him, and, he had to admit, she had done very little of that.
Indeed, she had really repulsed him, and it may have been only his imagination that made him hope she would yet turn to him with love and affection.
He knew little about her, his intuitions might not be true ones, maybe she was the typical flapper of whom he heard so much and so often.
Well, he must know a little more, and with a feeling of defiance of his own better nature, he crept softly nearer the pair in the woods.
They now sat on a fallen log, earnestly engaged in conversation.
He could not make out the tenor of their talk. He hated himself for trying to, but he edged still closer, and though he could see only shadowy outlines of their figures, he at last managed to make out a few words.
"Don't you care?" Bunny said, passionately, her voice raised a trifle, as if in amazed agony. "Have you no pity, no regret? Oh, I don't know what to do!
"Don't do anything, dear," the man's voice said. Buck could not place that voice, it was unfamiliar, though he realized he might have heard it before.
"But I can't be still and say nothing—you see,—I noticed the putty—"
The man, at that, clapped his hand across her mouth. "Hush!" he said, "I fancied I heard a sound. Somebody may be about."
Buck was still as death, ruminating on what he had heard. He was almost sure Bunny said "putty," but that seemed absurd, and, he thought, she might have said, "pretty" or "party."
But now their voices had sunk much lower, they talked on, but with more care lest they be overheard.
Tod became cramped, and cold, waiting, as he crouched behind a tree.
Also, he became disgusted with himself. True, he had come from pure motives, but he couldn't think it right to continue to spy on Bunny and her lover, as he had now concluded the man must be.
Then suddenly Bunny's voice rang out:
"I don't believe it! They'd never take me! They'd never convict me! It wouldn't be possible!"
Not a word of the man's speech could Tod detect, but next Bunny said:
"Yes, it is all Emma's fault. I knew Emma would tell! Oh, why did I do it? I am a wicked girl!" Then, it was evident the man tried to soothe her, to comfort her, but Tod turned away, sick at heart Whoever the man was, he was talking about the murder. And Bunny had said she did it. And said Emma had told—oh, well, there was small room for doubt now.
Buck began carefully to retrace his steps, and go back home, when he heard the others rise and start homewards also.
"You'll catch cold, dear," the man said, solicitously. "Why didn't you wear a wrap?"
"I'm not cold," Bunny said, walking by his side. "But I wish I knew what to do. You haven't helped me a bit—"
"Oh, yes I have. I've showed you how to save your own neck,—and, unless you look sharp, you'll have that to do. I'm sorry, dear, you have such a hard task ahead of you—I wish I could help you,—openly. But I can't. The only thing I can do is to advise you; and Bunny, you must, you must follow my advice."
"I will," she said, humbly, now, and the two walked on, passing within a few feet of Buck, as he stood, motionless, and watched them go by.
The man, he could see him better now, was of medium height, medium weight, and with no distinguishing peculiarity of gait or bearing.
It seemed to Tod that he might or might not have seen him before, it was a figure not easy to identify, unless more clearly seen.
Yet he cared little who the man might be. He was so cast down by the self-evident fact that he was an intimate friend of Bunny's that it made small difference what his name was.
After a few more steps, Bunny evidently forbade the man to go further with her on her homeward way, and with obvious reluctance, the man paused and stood watching her as she went on alone.
Dear little Bunny; she stepped out bravely, and Tod fairly yearned to run after her, and go on by her side. But something held him back. First, he was not at all sure she would welcome such an attention, and also, because some instinct told him to follow the man. To track him down and find out who he was and what he was up to.
At first indifferent, Tod felt a growing impulse to trail him home or wherever he was bound for.
So, knowing Bunny could get in at the unlocked door of his aunt's house, Buck stayed behind, and waited on the movements of the other.
He realized that Bunny might lock him out, but there were back windows and low verandah roofs, that had before this afforded him a belated ingress.
So, as the strange man began slowly to walk away, Buck followed him, silently and steadily.
Now and then, Toddy feared he stepped too audibly on a twig or stone, but the other did not look round, and the stealthy, silent chase continued.
Until suddenly, at an unavoidable misstep, Buck stumbled, and the other turned about sharply.
They were out of the wood shadows now, and Toddy saw to his amazement that the man was Perry Heath!
He nearly fell over in astonishment, but not pausing to think about it, he continued pursuit, expecting every minute he would be told to halt.
But, no, Heath went straight ahead, and roused to excitement by the spirit of the chase, Buck stolidly followed.
He was not quite sure whether or not Heath had seen him, or if so, had recognized him, but he trudged along, not quite so careful, now, to walk unheard.
For he planned an interview with the man he was pursuing. He was only waiting for a few moments more to think what he should say to him, and then he meant to overtake him with a few long strides, and make him give an account of himself. A man cannot disappear from the scene of a tragedy and then secretly reappear, and be seen by a good and honest citizen, without being called to account.
So Buck kept on, and then, thinking the time ripe, prepared for his onslaught.
They were near another, smaller, piece of woods now, and, even as Tod made up his mind to call out, Heath,—if it was he,—turned with a quick jerk, plunged into the wood, and in a few seconds was lost to view.
Tod raced after him, but the wood was full of undergrowth and fallen trees. There were roots and branches all over the ground, and after a few stumbling steps Buck realized he could never catch his quarry.
With a muttered bad word, he stood a moment, and then seeing its utter hopelessness, gave up the chase and went home.
The front door was still unlocked, and not knowing for certain that Bunny had come in, he left it unlocked and went up to his room.
There he sat, for several hours, mulling over the matter, and when at last he turned in, a few uneasy naps was all the sleep he could command.
TODHUNTER BUCK came down to breakfast next morning with what is popularly called a long face.
It didn't set well on him, his face being usually rounded out with smiles, and Mrs. Prentiss looked at him with an air of solicitude.
"Whattamatter Toddy?" she said, reverting to a childhood phrase.
But the young man looked at her with unseeing eyes.
"Where's Bunny?" he said, abruptly.
"Not up yet. She sent word she wasn't feeling well and would like breakfast in her room. I shan't ask her to get up until she chooses."
"She's got to get up,—I've got to see her."
Toddy frowned, and shook his tawny forelock like an irate terrier.
"You can wait," returned his aunt, placidly. "I won't have the little girl disturbed. She needs rest."
"Yes, she would,—after skylarking about all night!"
"Todhunter Buck! What do you mean?"
"What I say! Bunny went out last night, very late, and came in very much later."
"I don't believe it!" and Mrs. Prentiss stared in astonishment.
"Well, you'll have to," and thinking frankness the wisest course, Tod told his aunt all the strange happenings of the night before.
Mrs. Prentiss listened in silence until he had finished the tale, and then said;
"I don't care, Tod, I believe in that girl. If she went to meet Perry Heath,—if that man was Perry Heath, then there's some right and proper explanation.
"Perhaps he has some hold on the poor child—"
"Well, she wasn't afraid of him, at any rate," and Buck scowled at the recollection of the meeting of the pair.
"You go up and see her, Aunt Em," he said. "Don't tell her I told you about it, but ask her please to see me. She can put on a dressing gown or something but I must see her—I must."
"You're not to bother her, Tod—"
"Of course not. But, Auntie, you don't seem to see how serious it all is. The funeral of Mrs. Heath will be held this afternoon, and I happen to know that after that Mott means to get busy. He has a hunch that Heath will turn up for his wife's funeral. I am sure he won't, and that, when the services are over, Mott will make a dash after Bunny."
"Does Mott think Bunny killed Mrs. Heath?" the fire in Mrs. Prentiss' eyes would have daunted even the intrepid Mott could he have seen it.
"Oh, I don't know what he thinks! He doesn't know himself. But I do know that a lot of people over in the Park suspect Bunny, because they think she was or is in love with Heath. On the other hand, the Gardens people rather seem to suspect Inman, because of his well-known affair with Mrs. Heath."
"But, Tod, a man isn't going to kill the woman he loves."
"Oh, yes, he is,—if she angers him sufficiently. Larry's a queer Dick, he's so quiet and taciturn, you can't tell what he's done or will do. Why, he put up a most plausible yarn to me, to make me believe Bunny did kill the lady!"
"Do you believe him?"
"That's the devil of it. I don't know whether I do, or not. But I must see Bunny. A few moments' straight talk with that girl will tell me a lot. Do get her to let me see her, Aunt Em."
"All right, Tod, I will if I can. But no ballyragging, mind—"
"Lord, Aunt Em, I love her! Get that? And whatever I do or say, will be only and solely for her interests and hers alone. I'll eliminate myself and my affection for her, until I can dig up the truth and set her free from all taint of suspicion. And, to do that. Auntie, I'm going to send for old Steve. He'll come if I yell for him, and I'm about ready to yell."
At Mrs. Prentiss' insistence, Bunny consented to see Tod, and he entered her pretty boudoir to find a lovely little figure in a blue chiffon negligee, seated in the depths of a huge armchair.
"Hello," she said, putting out a little and rather limp hand. "Glad to see you."
"You don't look it," Toddy growled, sitting down beside her. "Now, see here, Bunny,—I'm not going to ballyrag you, because I promised Aunt Em I wouldn't. But, in a few well chosen words, what were you doing, chasing out in the woods last night?"
Bunny's face went dead white. She sat upright on the edge of the big chair, and clasped her hands tightly on her knees.
"What do you mean?" she breathed, "how do you know?"
"Of course I know. I know where you went, whom you met and when you returned. Now, explain."
But to his surprise the little figure took on an air of dignity and even resentment.
"Mr. Todhunter Buck," she said, "I have no reason that I know of, and certainly no intention of explaining to you why I do anything."
"There's a reason, all right," he returned, grimly, "and it's just this. If you don't let me help you, you'll very shortly find yourself in need of legal help, and that, even at its best, may not be of as much assistance as I can give you. Because, Bunny dear,—dearest,—I love you so, and I believe in you so, that I can work for your interests far better than a stranger and a suspicious lawyer."
"Why should a lawyer be suspicious?"
"Because Mott and his crowd would make him so, before he came to talk with you. He would be biased, prejudiced, by their opinions and insinuations, and more than that, he would scare you into fits—"
"He would not!" and the scarlet lips closed in a mutinous line.
"Yes, he would. You don't know what inquisitors they are. If you are suspected, Bunny,—there's no use mincing words,—you will be heckled and tormented until you can't say your soul's your own! You'll be tricked into admissions that you don't mean, and that may not even be true. You'll be forced to confess and declare and agree, until you won't even know what you're saying. Now, this isn't Fairy tales, it's true talk, and I beg of you, dear, to be advised by me. I've nothing in my mind but your interests nothing in my heart but love of you. Please, Bunny, see reason,—or, if you can't do that, then see and realize my devotion, and give yourself up to my advice."
She looked him straight in the eyes for a moment.
Then she said: "Toddy, if you had to keep silent or else incriminate a friend,—which would you do?"
"Such considerations, dear, must be set aside in the cause of law and order."
"H'm. I don't think a lawyer could talk any more priggishly than that. But, you know, Tod, you'd be suspected of anything, rather than tell something that might involve a friend, and—might after all involve him falsely."
The girl looked so earnest, so worried, and so sincere in her arguments, that Buck, though his heart gave a bound of delight at this tacit proof of her own innocence, realized it would be a hard job to persuade her to bear witness, which, as she said, might lead to incrimination of the wrong person.
"Well," he said, a little hopelessly, "if you keep mum, you'll make more trouble all around."
"I don't care. I mean, I can't help it. I didn't kill Myra,—"
"But you made up her face—"
"Oh, you horrible, dreadful thing! I'll never speak to you again! Go away. How can you say such an awful thing to me!"
Her eyes grew big with horror and she looked at Tod as if at some noisome reptile, and indeed, he felt as if he were one.
"I'm no good as a detective," he thought to himself, "I'm no good as an adviser or assistant to the girl I love,—in fact, I'm no good as a lover,—she doesn't seem to see me in that light. But I must get one more thing off my chest. I must find out whether she really said 'putty' last night, or some other word of similar sound."
So he rose to go away, then paused, and in a tone he tried to make casual, he said:
"What about the putty?"
He was both amazed and alarmed at the effect of this speech.
Bunny turned white, and her hands gripped the chair arms.
"How did you know?" she whispered, staring at him as one might at a suddenly materialized ogre.
Now, Tod had a strong inclination to say, "Oh, I know all about it," and thus probably find out a lot.
But the girl looked so helpless and pathetic, so shorn of all her bravado and jaunty independence, that it seemed to him unfair to deceive her.
Moreover, whatever the putty was or meant, it was quite evidently an important factor in the case, and he had no right to wrest the secret from her. If she chose to tell him, well and good. If not, he felt unwilling to force her hand.
"Do you know what I'm going to do, Bunny? I'm going to get a friend of mine, who's a first rate detective, to come here and look into things."
"All right," she responded, but she spoke listlessly, as if she had all at once lost interest in the whole matter.
"Of course. Why not?"
"And, Bunny,—darling, won't you smile at me—just once? At me, I mean, me, Tod Buck?"
Bunny smiled involuntarily, more at his whimsical pleading than in response to his plea.
"That's better," he said. "I suppose you wouldn't—wouldn't—er, let me kiss you?"
"Leave the room," said Bunny with the dignity of an imperial kitten, and grinning, Tod left.
The day wore on, and at luncheon time, Bunny came downstairs, fresh and sweet in her white sports gown with its narrow string belt of black.
Though not in gay spirits, she was calm and kindly, and in response to Mrs. Prentiss' solicitous urging, she ate a goodly amount of the dishes that had been prepared with special reference to her tastes.
"No," she said in answer to a question, "no, I just can't go over to the funeral this afternoon. I don't like funerals anyway, and it would kill me to see poor Myra lying there in—in—and anyway, people go to funerals more out of respect for the family or the ones left living, don't they? Well, Perry Heath isn't there, and I don't see any reason I should go for Larry Inman's sake. Do you, Mrs. Prentiss?"
"No," said the lady, decidedly. "I see no call for you to go, Bunny, since you don't want to. It would be a harrowing experience, and it could do no good to anyone."
"And Mr. Mott would glare at me, and everybody would stare,—oh, I simply couldn't stand it!"
"Then you shan't go," said Toddy Buck, helping himself a second time to the souffle dessert. "You won't mind being left alone? For I think I ought to go, don't you, Aunt Em?"
"Yes, of course Tod. As neighbors, it is our duty. But it won't be for long. You can look out the side windows, Bunny. Keep behind the net curtains and you can't be seen."
"You've got the technique down fine, Aunt Em," observed her nephew, "what you don't know about neighbor-watching isn't worth worrying over."
His aunt ignored his impertinence, and the subject was dropped.
"Old Steve Truitt is coming to-night," Buck informed them. "I telephoned him and he's all for it. Now, Bunny, while you're left alone this afternoon, you think things over, like a good girl, and when Truitt comes, you be prepared to tell him everything. You needn't tell us, if you don't want to, but Steve is a nice, comfy sort, and you just babble your heart out on his breast. Will you?"
"Maybe," said Bunny, disinterestedly, it would seem. "What's he like, Tod?"
"Pygmy as to size, but a big brain. Good-looking, in a way, but no Adonis. Also, he's engaged, so don't expect to flirt with him."
"No," said Bunny, so docilely, that it was evident her thoughts were elsewhere.
That afternoon, later, she sat at the side window, behind the net curtains, as per Mrs. Prentiss' advice, and watched the people arriving at the house next door to pay their last respects to the memory of Myra Heath.
Bunny felt as one in a dream. Her thoughts were chaotic, and in vain she endeavored to range them in orderly array.
The excitement of the last few days left her mind and brain in a state of ferment, and she gave herself up now to watching the people without trying to unravel or disentangle her own conclusions or intentions.
But after a time, the people had all arrived; nothing could be seen through the curtained windows next door, and Bunny knew that the services had begun.
Then the tears came. Emotion at the thought of beautiful Myra, dead,—murdered,—caused a rush of sobbing grief, that while it racked poor little Bunny's body, seemed to clear her mind. As she grew quieter, she found she saw things more clearly. She realized that of all the people in the Heath home, it was only Myra whom she loved, and whose terrible death she must help to avenge if by any possibility she could help.
She forced herself to go over the events of that terrible night. She made herself remember everything that had happened, or that she had reason to think happened. She closed her eyes, and for the first time since the tragedy, she thought coherently and deeply as to what she should do.
She was not sure who had killed Myra,—she could not be sure. Yet Perry Heath had insisting on seeing her to warn her of her own danger, and so—
But then, she had seen Larry—and, oh, good Heavens! Larry had said he saw her, he told Tod Buck that. Was Larry lying? Oh, had he seen her? Vanity case and all!
Perhaps after all the very best thing to do would be to tell the whole absolute and utter truth. Keep nothing back,—nothing.
She opened her eyes, and at once she rubbed them hard, sitting up straight in her chair.
She blinked and winked a moment, and then decided her eyes were not playing a trick on her, but there really was a man sitting in a chair across the room, looking at her.
He smiled,—people usually smiled at sight of Bunny.
"Sleep if you like," he said, and his voice was gentle, "I'll take this watch."
"If you were smaller, I should take you to be Mr. Truitt," she said, meditatively, for even sitting down it was plain to be seen that the stranger was a very long person.
"I am Truitt," he said; "it is Buck's favorite jest to tell folks I'm a dwarf or pigmy, and then he thinks it funny when they are surprised. You see," he said, rising, "I outgrew myself as a boy, and never got over it."
He was unusually tall, several inches over six feet, but he carried himself well and with no trace of awkwardness or self-consciousness.
"What is the girl like to whom you are engaged?" asked Bunny, letting her eyes travel up to the very top of this Eiffel Tower of humanity.
"I'm not engaged. That's another, I daresay, of Tod's tarradiddles. I suppose he's afraid you'll flirt with me. Do, won't you?"
"Probably. I usually do. But, Mr. Truitt, sit down here by me. I'm glad to talk with you alone a moment. You're here to look into the Heath case, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am a detective, as well as a friend of Buck's. I want to do all I can for him."
"Of course you do. I'm Bunny Moore, a friend of the Heaths. I was in the house at the time, visiting, and I am suspected of being the murderer."
There was no trace of a smile on Bunny's face. Her eyes looked earnestly into those of Truitt, and he saw that she had serious knowledge of the matter, whatever it might be.
"It seems incredible," he said, not perfunctorily, but with a seriousness that equaled her own. "Will you tell me a few details, or shall I wait until Tod comes home?"
"I will talk to you until they come. You don't look like a detective, Mr. Truitt."
"I did, until I changed all that. The first duty of a detective is not to look like one. I was helped by my height, of course. No conventional detective was ever as tall as I am. Then I cultivated a habit of looking like the person I am talking to. See, I now wear a smile like yours."
His face irradiated into a smile that was like, though in no way a mockery of Bunny's own; so much so, that she stared and gasped.
"It's a knack," he said, quietly. "And it gives me the advantage of a versatility of countenance."
"My good Heavens!" she exclaimed, "I never saw anybody like you!"
"Probably not. Now, talk, if you're going to. There's only one way for a detective to learn anything and that's for him to make other people talk to him."
"I thought you used clues and evidence and all that."
"Material clues are all very well, if they're real ones and vital to the case. Evidence is helpful, of course. But the real stuff is what is poured out by the human tongue. Give me a lot of babbling people and I'll solve your case."
"How much ought I tell you?"
"Every bit of a thing you know. I am very much in earnest when I work, Miss Moore, and I cannot always impress on people the desirability of telling all. All. Now, never mind about the general facts, the principal points, or the outstanding details. Tell me what you know that no one else knows. What you saw, that no one else knows you saw. What you heard that others didn't hear. What you surmise, that others don't even suspect. Those are the things that will help me to solve the mystery. You want it solved, don't you?"
"Yes, I do now. This morning, I wasn't sure. But sitting here, and thinking about my friend, whom I loved, and seeing her funeral going on, yes, I do want her murderer discovered,—whoever he is."
"You didn't kill her?"
"No," and Bunny spoke quietly, showing no resentment at the question.
"Do you know who did?"
"I am not sure. As you will learn, as soon as you learn anything about the case—"
"Oh, I know the main facts—"
"Then you know there are three principal suspects, Mr. Heath, Mr. Inman and myself. Each of us had motive and opportunity,—I've learned that line from the detectives,—but my motive was not a strong one, and—I didn't make use of my opportunity."
"It was one of the men, then?"
"It was one of the men."
"Which one—do you think?"
"I don't know," she fidgeted a little, and her cheeks glowed pinker, but she went on; "think of it yourself. A man and wife and another man. The other man and the wife are desperately in love with one another. Which man is more likely to kill the woman?"
"The husband, of course."
"But the other man is the woman's heir. He is insatiate in his greed for money. He has about given up hope of winning the woman for his own. But if she dies, he will have her fortune. Now, which one?"
"You make it very interesting. Now, what do you know?"
"Only this. I went downstairs, late that night. I found Mrs. Heath dead, in the studio, with candles burning at her head and feet. I touched her, and her flesh was still warm—"
At this point Bunny's bravery gave way. She faltered, hesitated, and became suddenly silent.
Understanding, Truitt said no word, but looked at her with a glance of mingled compassion and encouragement.
And just at that time, there was a commotion next door, and they saw the casket of Myra Heath carried out from the house she had loved so well.
The sight restored Bunny's courage, reignited her fire of indignation and caused her to resume her story.
"They will be coming home soon," she said, nervously, "and I want to tell you what I know, Mr. Truitt, because,—because you have made me feel it is my duty."
"Tell only as much or as little as you think best. Do not be carried away by emotion at the sight of that casket. But if you will tell me the truth, I'm sure you will not regret it"
"No. Well, as I came upstairs, I saw Mr. Inman peeping through the crack of his door. He must have heard me on the stairs, and opened it the tiniest mite."
"I was so upset I didn't know what I was doing, but I went blindly on to my own room, and threw myself on the bed."
"Why didn't you raise an alarm?"
"Mr. Truitt, you will think this strange. But I was afraid. I feel years older now, though that was but a few days ago, but at that moment, I felt I just couldn't do anything at all. I vaguely reasoned that if there was any alarming to do, there were people in that house better fitted to look after it than I. That I, as the youngest and least experienced of the household had no call to take any initiative,—oh, I know this sounds foolish, but it's the truth. I've never done anything for myself, never had any responsibility of any sort, and I couldn't make myself do anything. I see now, it was cowardly and—"
"No, Miss Moore, it was natural. You were stunned, and, moreover, you had reason to believe that Mr. Inman knew something of the matter, or he would not be spying on you. You had reason to think Mr. Heath was in the house—hadn't you?"
"I don't know. I didn't think about Perry—about anybody but Myra. I cried and cried until I fell into a sort of sleep. But I kept starting up and listening every few minutes. And not another sound did I hear in that house all night long. Toward daylight, I began to wonder, if it hadn't been a dream. I got up and undressed and went to bed properly, but I waited almost breathlessly for what the morning might bring. So, when Carter came to tell me the news, I was sitting up in bed, crying."
Steve Truitt looked at her earnestly, but piercingly. "You were afraid to say anything, because you feared,—still fear—that Perry Heath was the criminal and you love him."
"I did love him then," said Bunny, simply; "I don't, now."
MRS. PRENTISS and her nephew came home from the funeral, full of that newsy gossip always engendered by such occasions.
"Good boy, Truitt!" Tod cried, on seeing his friend. "You're the Old Dependable still, I see. And you've scraped acquaintance with our little lady, here. That's all to the good."
"Have you been shown to your room? Did they make you comfortable?"
Mrs. Prentiss hovered about like a motherly hen, and though she got no definite answers to her questions, she gathered that her servants had done their duty by the new guest.
"No," said Tod, in answer to a query from Bunny, "Heath didn't show up. I didn't expect he would. Now, I say, Steve, whatever you do, or plan to do, you'd better get busy. For Mott has fire in his eye, and he's coming over here—"
"When?" Bunny asked.
"Right away, I shouldn't wonder. Have you two talked a bit?"
"Yes," Truitt said gravely. "Miss Moore has told me, I think, some details that she hadn't before disclosed. Now, am I Captain here, Tod?"
"You're Captain of this end of the investigation. I mean you're to do all you can to clear Miss Moore of suspicion and to steer Mott off her track."
"If Miss Moore is cleared of suspicion, surely that will automatically put Mott off that track."
"Yes. Can you do it?"
"What? Clear Miss Moore? Certainly. I can clear anybody who is innocent."
Toddy Buck gave a quick, glad look from one to the other of the pair before him.
"You'll get your chance, then," he said, "for here comes Mott, now."
The detective came in and was politely greeted. He sensed a slight antagonism, but it did not baffle him, for he was more or less accustomed to that.
"Mr. Truitt," Tod said, as he introduced the men, "is a private detective as well as a friend of mine. He is here to assist in investigating the Heath case if you care to consider his work in the light of assistance. If not, he will proceed independently. We hope there will be no friction or discord, but that, Mr. Mott, is up to you."
Tod's voice, though quiet, had a serious ring, and Mott hesitated a moment before he replied:
"You are putting it baldly, Mr. Buck, and I'm not sure I can answer offhand. But I have no reason to refuse Mr. Truitt's help, and I don't. But if his conclusions seem to me untrue or unwarranted, I shall not consider myself in any way bound to accept them."
"Of course not," said Truitt, himself. "But I fancy we shall not conflict, Mr. Mott. Suppose we run over our main assets. I'm quite sure we must agree that whoever killed Mrs. Heath, also put the make-up on her face."
Mott looked a little uncertain.
"For, it seems to me, that by no stretch of the imagination, can we conceive of someone else thus treating the face of a woman already dead."
"It ain't likely," said Mott, speaking a bit unwillingly, for this very natural assumption hadn't occurred to him.
"Then, as we have proved that the make-up came from the vanity case belonging to Miss Moore, we must place a great deal of importance on all evidence connected with that vanity case."
"You bet it's important!" Mott declared, with a direct glance at Bunny.
"You have it?" went on Truitt.
"Yes, sir, and I propose to keep it. It is the keynote of the whole affair. It is the thing that will send the murderer to the chair!"
"I quite agree with you," Truitt said, gravely; "it is the keynote of the whole affair. I hope you will keep it. Now, Mr. Mott, whose finger-prints were on that gold vanity case?"
"Yes, but whose else?"
"Didn't try out any others. There were more or less blurred impressions, but Miss Moore's prints were on top, and over all others, and there were plenty of 'em!
"Yes, but you see, Mr. Mott, Miss Moore had her vanity case in her possession after the murder was discovered. Naturally, she fingered it."
"Where'd she have it?"
"Up in my own room," Bunny replied, as the question was flung in her direction.
"How'd it get up there?"
"I carried it up."
"After the murder?"
"Y—yes, after the murder."
Bunny, with Steve Truitt's eyes to guide her, was answering Mott with a quiet composure, and even a self-assurance that he had never seen her exhibit before.
"You were downstairs that night, then?"
"Perhaps, Miss Moore," Truitt said, "it would be better for you to tell Mr. Mott about your going downstairs that night, after Mrs. Heath had been killed."
And so, simply and coherently, Bunny related the story of her visit to the studio, her finding Myra there, dead, and with the make-up on her face.
"Did you think the make-up was out of your box?" demanded Mott, who was unable to doubt the straightforward story of the girl.
"I didn't think about that. What I went down for was to get that vanity case. When I saw Mrs. Heath, I was so stunned, so shocked, I scarcely knew what I was doing. I caught up the vanity case, almost unconsciously, and I crept out of the room and upstairs, trembling and shaking with horror and fear."
"Fear of what?"
"Of nothing definite. Only the vague, shuddering fear that any one would feel after seeing a scene like that."
Tod Buck looked at the girl in amazement. What had come over Bunny to change so suddenly from a nervous, hysterical state to this calm, poised attitude.
Then, he remembered she'd had nearly an hour alone with Truitt, and he rightly concluded that Steve had coached her.
Mott, too, was disturbed at Bunny's demeanor. He had meant to browbeat her, to frighten her, to put her through a mild third degree, but he had meant to fasten the crime on her, or get from her some direct evidence against another.
And now, she not only had a strong and formidable champion, but she had, apparently, found herself, and Mott was at a decided disadvantage.
"Well, then," he said, after a short pause, "it begins to look like Mr. Inman is our man."
"Why?" asked Truitt, suavely. "Because he looked out of his door as Miss Moore came upstairs? Almost anyone would look out into the hall, at the sound of footsteps in a house at two o'clock in the morning."
"Especially a guilty man," growled Mott, who began to feel he was not shining as a detective.
"Yet that's scarcely enough to base a murder charge on. What other evidence have you, Mr. Mott, that you say so confidently, Mr. Inman is our man?"
"Well, the servants saw him going downstairs—"
"Yes, but that was at two o'clock, after Miss Moore had already been down and had seen Mrs. Heath dead."
Mott looked glum. The new revelation of Bunny's trip downstairs had not yet been adjusted by him to his other facts.
"I don't believe we can work together, Mr. Truitt," he said, rising. "You're too ready to pick on me."
"Not at all,—not at all, Mr. Mott," and Steve looked almost distressed. "I have only just taken hold of this thing, you see, and if I seem to question your deductions, it's only to get at what there is back of them. Well, we shall meet again soon, and perhaps we'll both have something to tell."
Thus practically dismissed, Mott went away, and Steve Truitt looked at his friends.
"I had to fire him," he said, apologetically, "I don't want to antagonize him, but I can't work with him. Now, Tod, let's go over to the Heath house. I can't go any further until we do."
"All right," and the two men started off, leaving Bunny Moore in better spirits than she had been since she had learned of the tragedy.
Inman was there alone, save for the servants.
He met them with a pleasant word, but with a worn, tired look, as if the afternoon had been a terrible mental strain for him.
"And small wonder," Truitt thought to himself, "if he is the murderer! Now, we'll see if he is."
But Inman, learning that Steve Truitt was an authorized investigator, at once assumed a non-committal attitude. He was ready to answer questions up to a certain point, but if they became personal or leading, he took refuge behind a blank wall of chilling courtesy, and either evaded the inquiry or sat in stony silence.
"You may as well admit going downstairs at two o'clock that night," Truitt said, at last, a little sharply; "for Miss Moore saw you watch her come up, and the cook has said she saw you go down."
"It does clinch it, doesn't it?" Larry almost smiled. "But I didn't know Miss Moore has said she went down. What did she go for?"
"Merely and solely to get her vanity case which she had left down in the studio. What did you go for?"
"I went down to learn what it could have been that Miss Moore had seen downstairs to send her up in such a pitiable state of fear and trembling."
Truitt looked him squarely in the eyes.
"Mr. Inman," he said, "the whole investigation turns on whether that speech you just uttered is the truth or not."
Larry looked at the detective with a nod, almost a quizzical glance. And Truitt, with that queer trick he had, looked back at him, with so similar an expression, that the two men seemed to look alike.
Tod Buck, observing, marveled, but said no word. "Yes," Truitt resumed, "if that is true, then you did not know what was in the studio, and consequently you are not the murderer. If not true, then you have spoken falsely to deflect suspicion from yourself. I do not ask you which is the fact, but I propose to find out for myself."
"But if I were the murderer," Larry said, evenly, "would I foolishly go back to the scene of the crime, when such a proceeding might easily lead to discovery?"
"You are clever, Mr. Inman," Truitt said, speaking impersonally, as if of another, " so I cannot predicate what you would or wouldn't do. But whoever killed Mrs. Heath is diabolically clever, and I haven't entirely sized you up yet."
If Larry Inman resented this barefaced dissection of himself and his criminal capabilities, he made no spoken objection He merely shrugged his shoulders, lighted another cigarette and sat placidly silent.
"What do you think of Miss Moore's story?" Truitt shot at him suddenly.
"I think it is all right—if it is true," Larry returned, his face somber with doubt.
Al Cunningham came in then, and as an amateur detective himself he was glad to see Truitt there.
Al had no petty jealousy as Mott had; he was only too glad to have some one to talk to about the things that were puzzling him.
"You see," he said, after they had mulled over the case, "the Gardens people suspect Inman,"—Larry was not in the room,—"and the Park people think the little girl did it. They say that a baby could have thrown a bottle like that with fatal effect. And Miss Moore's finger-prints are on the glass."
"On what part of the glass?" asked Truitt.
"Lord, man, I don't know."
"But my dear sir, as a detective, you should know. See here, whoever wielded that bottle as a weapon, in all probability grasped it by the neck."
"Not only likely, almost positively. Unless it was flung, and the doctors say it was not. Well, then, any number of people looking in later, might pick up pieces and finger them, and put them back where they were found. But only the finger-prints of the one who grasped it by the neck are of any value."
"Gosh! I never doped it out that way!"
"That's the way of it."
"I see it is. Say, I wish you'd have a talk with my principals, Mr. Forbes and Mr. Anderson. They're about fed up with me, and I'll gladly turn the thing over to you. Why, say, I let Perry Heath slip through my fingers!"
And, a little shamefacedly, Al Cunningham told about the interview he had had with Heath on Sam Anderson's porch.
Tod remembered the meeting in the woods of Heath and Bunny, and he said quickly, "Then Heath is still about. You know he's my pick for the murderer."
"No," Al objected, "I could tell by the way he talked to me that he isn't the murderer. Why, he loved his wife. But he told me Inman did it, and so I want to nail the crime on him."
"I'd like to see those men you speak of," Truitt said to Cunningham. "Can you fix it up for tonight?"
"Yes, sure. They'll all be at the Club, or if not, we can get them there."
"All right, Mr. Cunningham. Buck will bring me over at whatever hour you say. Now, if nobody objects, I'm going to give this house, or some rooms in it the once over, all alone by myself, and I'll be back at your house in time for dinner, Toddy boy."
The little group dispersed, and Steve Truitt, alone and unescorted, made his unquestioned way wherever he chose to go, through the rooms of the Heath house.
He spent most of his time in the bedrooms of Mr. and Mrs. Heath, paying scant attention to the studio or any part of the lower floor.
But he wandered for some time up and down the terrace, the East terrace on which there was a small latticed window as well as one long, French window.
Truitt scrutinized the windows, as other detectives had done before him and noted, as they had done, the absolute security of latches and locks.
Suddenly he spied something, and was about to investigate further, when he heard a cry from the Prentiss house next door.
Looking round quickly, he saw Bunny at her window, staring at him.
"Good girl," he called out gayly, "I'll come right over."
He strolled leisurely back to the Prentiss home, and found Bunny had come downstairs, and was ready for a conference.
Mrs. Prentiss and Tod were also waiting, and Truitt described his search of the Heath house.
"I found practically nothing of importance," he said, then, seeing Tod's blank look of disappointment, he added, "except Mr. Inman himself. He wouldn't admit he had seen you that night, Miss Bunny, until I told him that you had told me of it yourself. Then he loosened up a little, but he still feared a trap. However, he did admit that he went downstairs almost immediately after you came up, and said he went down to see what scared you so."
"H'm," said Mrs. Prentiss, "a little fishy. But, see here, Mr. Truitt, that checks up the lights. You know the place was dark as a pocket at one o'clock. Then, Bunny comes down at half past one, snaps on a bright light, and in about fifteen minutes turns it out and goes upstairs. Then, 'long about two, Mr. Inman comes down. Big light again, and soon he snaps it off and goes upstairs. Then, no more lights all night."
"Except the two small sparks—"
"Yes,—those the murderer put there—"
"The murderer being?"
"Inman!" exclaimed Tod. "You must have seen, Steve, how queer he was, how, you know,—furtive, and that sort of thing. Sly, uncommunicative, until he concluded to say something, then his words came out in a perfect sluice."
"Not much of a psychologist, are you, Tod?" and Truitt smiled at him.
"Oh, get out. I know what I know. I know the thing rests between Bunny and Inman. I know,—you know, Bunny didn't do it, therefore, and wherefore, it was Inman."
"Going to take me over to the Club to-night, Tod?" And as Toddy agreed, the whole subject was dropped by common consent, and one of Mrs. Prentiss' justly famed dinners was enjoyed with no accompanying talk of horrors.
But after dinner, Cunningham telephoned that they were to come over to Sam Anderson's house instead of to the Club, as he had invited a few chums there for billiards, and didn't want to go out.
So over they went, Truitt admiring as they walked briskly along, the bridge, the brook it crossed and the delightful, though different landscape on either side.
Sam Anderson was polite, even cordial, but it was plain to be seen that, as he was expecting guests, he must want them to make their visit brief.
Cunningham was the embarrassed one, for he had brought about this interview with no reason but a hope that it might be helpful to himself, and it was a little difficult to explain.
"I—I wanted you men to meet Mr. Truitt," he began a little lamely, but Tod Buck threw himself into the breach.
"It's all right, Mr. Anderson," he smiled; "we won't stay but a few minutes. I know you've got a party on. But to come down to brass tacks, I'm told that you Park people suspect Miss Moore of the Heath crime, and I'm asking you if you have any real, any definite evidence against her. And, if you haven't, if you won't—you, Mr. Anderson, as one of the most influential Park men,—if you won't do what you can to squash that rumor,—or suspicion, or whatever you call it."
"My dear boy," Sam Anderson smiled at him, "you're barking up the wrong tree! I haven't the slightest suspicion that Miss Moore did or could commit that terrible crime! Why, the mere idea is inconceivable. And I've said so every time I have been where the thing was discussed."
"Good for you, Mr. Anderson!" and Tod wrung his hand. "I suppose not all the Park people think alike, then."
"Whom do you suspect, Mr. Anderson?" Truitt asked, feeling that the time might be short, and he must learn all he could quickly.
"Why, I'm not sure I ought to voice a suspicion, and yet, if it's to help save the name and fame of a fair lady,—of a young girl, I suppose I need not hesitate. I am quite willing to put it on record that such evidence as has been rehearsed in my hearing, leads me to think that the criminal was Mr. Inman. I may be wrong, I can only say he seems to me the most likely suspect, as far as I can see."
"You don't think, then," Truitt went on, "it could have been the injured husband? You don't think Perry Heath did it?"
"How did he make a getaway afterward? I understand the house was locked up like a bank." Anderson seemed willing to talk, at least, until his guests arrived, so Truitt kept him at it.
"Yes, I hear it was. But why would Mr. Inman kill the woman he loved?"
"Do you remember a line of a famous poem, Mr. Truitt? It runs:
" 'For each man kills the thing he loves.'
Not entirely true, of course, but a man might do that from jealousy, or unrequited love. And, too, Mr. Inman is the heir. Oh, I don't know, of course, but he seems to me a far more likely suspect than Heath. I've heard the Heaths were married for several years, and though as a bachelor such things are outside my line, I don't think the average man is jealous enough to murder his wife after they have lived together as long as that."
"That's so," Truitt agreed, and then Sam Anderson's guests began to arrive and the callers left.
From Tod, from Bunny, from Mrs. Prentiss, and even calling in one or two of the servants, it seemed Steve Truitt would never cease his endless firing of queries.
On all sorts of subjects, seemingly with all sorts of objects, but all more or less connected with the Heaths or with other of the Harbor people.
At last, he went off by himself and smoked a cigar in silence and solitude.
He returned, smiling and debonair. And made himself so entertaining and agreeable, that he seemed no more a prosaic detective, but a gay and jolly chum of Tod's.
But after Mrs. Prentiss and Bunny had gone to bed, Truitt turned to Tod with a serious face.
"Old man," he said, "that woman was killed by either her husband or her cousin."
"Right, oh, oracle! I'm glad you see it that way."
"Heath, you know, is still in the neighborhood."
"Was last night."
"Is still. And to-night, my laddie, he will visit the house next door."
"Important, if true."
"Yes, that's just it. Maybe he won't. But I think,—I strongly believe he will."
"Do you happen to know what he will come for?"
"I do. He will come to get a book out of the—is there a library?"
"No, books are in the studio."
"All right, then. He'll come to get a book out of the studio. Shall we conceal ourselves behind the arras, and nab him when he arrives?"
"I was awake most of last night—"
"Oh, puddinghead! Stay at home, then. I'll go alone, or, better yet, I'll get your aunt to go with me. I must have a witness."
"Of course I'll go. If I fall asleep, you can punch me when he comes."
Admitting to himself, but not to Tod, that it might be a wild goose chase, Truitt led the way and followed by his friend, went silently across the lawns to the Heath house.
"Sit there," he whispered, pointing to a lawn settee, "and don't move till I tell you."
Tod did so, and ten minutes later, Truitt came to him and jogged his elbow. "All set," he whispered.
To Tod's amazement, one of the French windows in the studio was open.
"How'd you do that?" he exclaimed, but Steve only said, "Hush!" and pushed him inside.
ONCE in, and adjured to silence, Tod merely watched while Truitt noiselessly closed and locked the French window, and then stationed Tod behind a good-sized screen that was across a corner of the studio. He gave him a fairly comfortable chair, though not a large one, and then he ruthlessly cut an eyehole in the screen at the right height for Tod's eye while he was seated in the chair.
Nodding in satisfaction, Steve whispered that his purpose, as Truitt hoped it would.
"No matter what happens, don't make a move until I do," and then, afraid lest he might not be implicitly obeyed, he added, solemnly, "Bunny's life may depend on your absolute silence."
This stretched the long bow a little, but it served its purpose, as Truitt hoped it would.
Then he took up his own position which was inside the folds of a long drapery curtain, that hung over a little used window. In this he also cut a small peephole, and the vigil began.
Truitt had dared a low light to make these preparations, but he had turned that off and they were now in total darkness. His greatest fear was that Tod would fall asleep, but he banked his hopes on the word he had passed about Bunny, and trusted that the hint would keep the boy awake.
Although it seemed hours, it was not so very long before a faint noise was heard at the window whereby they had entered.
Both men were alert, watching and absolutely silent.
Accustomed now to the darkness, and because of a faint bit of light from the waning moon, they saw a tiny diamond shaped pane move from its place in the window on the East terrace, not a French window, a small window with latticed upper sash.
This pane came out entirely, removed by a hand outside, whose fingers showed dully pink against the panes.
The pane out, a whole hand came through and easily turned the window fastening, after which, the window was slowly and cautiously raised.
Had Truitt been less imperative Tod could scarcely have withstood an exclamation, as a man's leg came over the sill, followed by the rest of his anatomy.
It was Perry Heath. Though not closely acquainted, Tod had seen him before and recognized him at once. He knew the long lock of hair over his forehead that he was continually throwing back, for Heath took off his hat as soon as he was inside.
Then, stepping to the door of the Lounge, he listened intently for a moment, and, apparently satisfied, closed the door very softly, and turned on a small desk light.
Tod hoped his aunt was not having an insomnia attack, for she would certainly see that, and perhaps give an alarm.
But he had no time for thought, the sight of the man was too thrilling for that.
Heath, first of all, went to the bookshelves, took down a small volume and thrust it in his pocket, with a nod of decided satisfaction.
That done, he seemed about to leave, but paused and gazed about the room as if taking note of its contents.
He opened a large paintbox, and looked at it contemplatively, then closed it with a little sigh.
On the desk, beneath the lamp he had lighted, stood Myra's picture, a miniature in a velvet frame. This he picked up and gazed on for a long time. Then he sighed again, and it would seem was about to leave.
But as he stepped toward the window, Truitt came out from his hiding place, and snapping on a full light, said:
"Mr. Heath, I believe."
"Good Lord!" said Perry Heath, petulantly, rather than frightened, "and who are you?"
"Oh, I'm Truitt, the detective."
"You are. And what are you doing here?"
"I'm just detecting around a little. Come out, Tod." Tod Buck came out of his corner, wondering what would happen next.
"So there are two of you," Heath said, meditatively. "I might have managed one."
"I know," and Steve nodded, "that's why I provided two. Now, Mr. Heath, have you any objections to going with me to the Police Headquarters?"
"Why,—to be honest, I have. But I daresay they will be overruled."
"They most certainly will be. So we'll just consider it settled that we'll go along. Will you go what is called quietly, or shall we call Mr. Inman to go along and help us keep the peace."
"Don't drag him in, for Heaven's sake. I'll toddle along with you boys—I don't really mind going, you know."
"No, I suppose not. Come on, then."
"I say, Heath," put in Tod, who so far had been silent, "why does Bunny stand up so for you?"
"I suppose she thinks I did the killing. I didn't, you know, Larry did. But Bunny would stand up for either of us, or both of us,—she's that sort."
"Then did Mr. Inman put that make-up on your wife's face?" This from Truitt.
"How do I know? If he killed her, he must have done it."
"Mr. Heath, have you no resentment toward the man you say killed your wife? Have you no desire to see him brought to justice? No wish to have him punished? You loved your wife, do you not want her death avenged?"
Heath looked at him in silence a moment, and then said, quite calmly: "I'll talk at Headquarters, but I won't talk here. Come on, let's get along."
The others were quite willing, and putting out the lights Truitt marshaled his crowd out. He was not afraid of Heath's getting away, for both Tod and himself were husky chaps, and more than a match for one alone.
"No use restoring the putty pane—" Truitt said, pausing a moment at the window.
"Oh, yes, might as well," and with a deft movement of his long, slender hands, Heath manipulated the pane into place, pressed the putty round it, and left it looking as if it had not been touched.
"Clever dodge, that," said Tod, with enforced admiration.
"It's been like that a long time," Heath said, carelessly. "I've always kept soft putty on it, and nobody noticed."
"Bunny did," said Tod.
"Yes, she did. I can't think now how she happened to," and Heath again assumed that peevish tone, that meant some of his plans had gone wrong.
The walk to Headquarters, of course, took them over the bridge and for a short distance on the Park side of the Harbor.
Also, they passed the Country Club, and Heath, stopping suddenly, said:
"I say, I wish you fellows would stop here with me a minute. I want to get some letters I left in my locker. You can keep your eye on me, you know."
The three went inside, and as it was late almost no one was about. A few sleepy servants were in attendance, and a few more sleepy members were here and there.
"I'll just go in the locker room," said Heath, "you chaps won't be allowed in, of course, but you can sit right here and wait for me. I give you my word of honor, I will come straight back here to you, within five minutes."
Something in his voice rang true, and Steve said, "All right, old man, go ahead. We'll wait here."
A moment later, Sam Anderson came from the locker room.
"Who do you suppose is in there?" he whispered, looking greatly excited, "Perry Heath!"
"Yes, we know it," said Tod. "Hush, don't tell everybody! Thought you had a party on."
"I did, but it broke up a while ago, and we came over here to wind it up. The other chaps have just gone home, and I went in the locker room a minute, and I saw Heath. What's he doing here?"
"You go along home, Mr. Anderson," said Truitt, "and please don't say anything about Heath till morning. We're looking after him all right."
"Very well. I've no desire to mix in, but I think you have put one over our detective, Al Cunningham." He went off and the others waited for Heath.
But after waiting fifteen minutes and not seeing him, Tod asked a servant to go into the locker room and hurry him up.
The servant returned with the word, "There isn't anybody in there, Mr. Buck."
"Must be," and Tod strode in there himself.
But there was no one there. A window was open, but it gave one a rather long drop to the ground, and Tod wondered if Perry had taken that chance of a broken leg.
He went back and reported to Truitt, and that worthy stared at him.
"Then, I don't believe he took out the window, I believe he gave us the slip while we were talking to Mr. Anderson—"
"Oh, he couldn't have! I was looking about—"
"No, you weren't, you were looking directly at Anderson, and so was I. Depend upon it, old man, that's when the slippery Heath gave us the go by."
"It seems incredible—"
"Incredible or not, it happened. Come on, let's go home and go to bed."
"Well, you seem contented to lie down on the job."
"My dear boy, what can I do? What can either of us do, to-night?"
This was true enough, yet it was with a sense of disappointment at his friend's failure that Toddy Buck went to bed.
He slept late in the morning to make up for his vigils, and when he came hurrying down to a late breakfast, he found Steve Truitt there, and smiling broadly as he sat reading an official communication.
"It's from Mott," he said, succinctly, "and though he doesn't say so, I can't help feeling that friend Mott is a bit glad that the upstart detective has been outwitted by the clever criminal."
"Meaning?" asked Buck, his mouth full of toast and jam.
For answer, Truitt passed over the missive.
It was to the effect that Police Headquarters had received a note from Perry Heath.
"There is no doubt of its genuineness," the letter said, "for we have had it verified by several who know his writing."
"The note," they were further informed, "tells us that Perry Heath confesses to the murder of his wife, Myra. He gives no reason for the deed, but states that he is now so overcome with remorse and grief that he has committed suicide. He says it will be useless to hunt for his body for it can never be found, but he says by the time we read the letter he sent, he will be a dead man. Says he prefers that death to capital punishment, and that he could not continue to live now that his eyes are open to the heinousness of his crime."
"Well, what do you think of that?" exclaimed Toddy Buck, returning to his interrupted breakfast.
"I think Heath is a very clever man," returned Steve, "though it doesn't require a very fine brand of cleverness to pull the wool over Mr. Mott's blinking eyes."
"Don't you believe it?" asked Tod.
"That Heath is a suicide? I do not."
"Where is he, then?"
"You ask that question! Oh, Toddy, and it was you who let him get away!"
"I did nothing of the sort! You allowed him to go into the Club locker room and of course he jumped out of the window."
"Then we must look for him in some hospital for certainly he must have one or two broken legs."
"Oh, you're impossible this morning, Steve. Don't you mind Mott's crowing over you?"
"He crows best who crows last."
"Oh, then you have got something up your sleeve! I thought as much!"
"No, you didn't, you didn't think half as much. You distrusted, or mistrusted your old pal,—that's what you did. And here comes Miss Moore, as ever was! Do you know, fair lady, you started the whole ball rolling when you said putty? I doubt if I ever should have found that puttied pane otherwise. How did you know?"
"I don't know how I knew. I just stumbled on it as I was looking about."
Truitt then told her the whole story of the doings of the night before, and gave her permission to tell Mrs. Prentiss about it all, when opportunity should serve. For their good hostess could never leave her morning housekeeping for detective work or any other outside interest.
Tod having finished the jampot, turned to Truitt, and at once the detective's face became grave.
"Come on, boy, and we'll go and ring up the curtain on the last act. Do you want to go, Miss Moore? Do you want to see the arrest of the man who killed your friend?"
"No, oh, no!" and Bunny dropped her face in her hands. "And when you come back, don't tell me any more than you have to."
"Do you know—Miss Moore?" said Truitt, "do you know the secret?"
"No, I don't. But from some hints I have had from Myra, and some bits of talk I overheard, I have a sort of idea—but—no, I don't know Perry Heath's secret."
The two men went away, and Truitt led their steps to Police Headquarters.
There he gave a straightforward and accurate account of what had happened the night before.
Mott looked crestfallen enough when he listened to how the two men had captured Heath, but his small eyes gleamed with triumph, when he learned how their quarry had given them the slip.
Truitt paid little attention to his attitude or expression, but merely said:
"You have Perry Heath's confession of his crime?"
"Yes, we have it."
"Keep it carefully, and I will take you to Perry Heath, himself."
Amazed looks greeted this statement, and Mott again turned green with his absurd jealousy.
"I think we'll collect Mr. Cunningham, too," Truitt said, and so, with the necessary police officers, there was quite a little group who hung upon Truitt's orders as on a general's.
Truitt walked ahead with Cunningham, leaving Toddy Buck to follow with the disgruntled Mott.
The officers were asked to remain within summons, but outside the house as Truitt stopped at the gate of Sam Anderson's place.
"Anderson is hiding Heath!" Tod thought to himself, with a thrill at the excitement of it all.
The four were admitted and Mr. Anderson was apprised of their presence by one of his perfectly trained servants.
He came smiling into the room.
"Good morning," he said, "good morning. This is indeed a deputation. What can I do for you? Funds for some public monument?"
"No, Mr. Anderson," Truitt was spokesman. "We just want to ask you a few questions about the Perry Heath case. We know you are interested, enough so, to engage the services of Mr. Cunningham here, and so I feel sure you will help us in any further way you can."
"Certainly I will, and glad to do so. But, Mr.—er—Truitt, you remember I told you I saw Perry Heath last night."
Mott's eyes bulged, and Al Cunningham looked startled, but Truitt said, suavely, "I remember you did, Mr. Anderson, You were both in the Club locker room, weren't you?"
"Yes. Though I don't think Heath saw me. You see, I was just coming out when he breezed in, and hurried to his own locker, across the room from mine. He paid no attention to me, and I was so surprised, I said nothing to him. It was in my mind to hurry out and call Headquarters, then I saw you, Mr. Truitt, and I realized that you represented the Law, so, as you assured me you were on the job, I did no more about it, but came along home."
"And then what did you do, Mr. Anderson?"
"Then I went to bed, sir, and to sleep."
"Yes, but before you went to bed?"
"After I came home from the Club, I went nowhere else. As I say, I went to bed—"
"And I say, Mr. Anderson, you went over to Harbor Gardens."
"Over to Harbor Gardens! My dear sir, you must be out of your head!"
"Oh, no, I'm not," and Truitt laughed softly. "You see, I went home, and later, Mr. Buck and I went into the Heath house next door to Mr. Buck's home, and we spent some time there."
"Yes?" Anderson's tone was disinterestedly polite.
"Yes, and while we were there, Perry Heath came in."
"Heath! You amaze me!"
"Oh, no, Mr. Anderson, I don't amaze you, because while Heath was there, you were there, too."
"Yes, you. When Perry Heath was there, you were there, too, for the simple reason that Perry Heath could not be there without you. For,—sit still Mr. Anderson, for you are Perry Heath."
With a sudden swift move, Truitt was on his feet and at Anderson's side.
With a series of quick moves he had put on Anderson's head a toupee that covered his baldness, and had also adjusted into place a pair of shell rimmed glasses.
Perry Heath sat before them!
"Put in your tooth!" said Truitt, so sternly, that the man before him pulled from his waistcoat pocket a single tooth on a plate and slipped it into the place of the missing eye tooth of Sam Anderson.
"Oh, what a fool I was!" exclaimed Cunningham. "The night I was here to supper, Anderson had that in, and he left the table to remove it,—and I never caught on that it was a disguise! But Perry Heath! I can't believe it—or understand it!"
"There is no Perry Heath," Truitt said, "or rather, there is no Sam Anderson. Do you want to tell the story, Heath, or shall I?"
"There's not much to tell," Heath said, sullenly. "You fellows have got me, I might as well own up. I'm a bad egg, but I—oh, well, I was goaded into it. I won't speak ill of the dead, but my wife and I never hit it off. She was of the high and mighty variety, and I was a good fellow. So, I conceived the plan of being two men. It has been done before,—it isn't at all a unique instance.
"I built up a second personality, that's all there was to it. I was often away from home, down in New York, half of every week or so. Lots of the Harbor people are. So, when I wasn't at home I was making myself into Sam Anderson, a man as different as possible from Perry Heath. Appearance first, of course. This wasn't hard, as I have a bald head, and always wear a toupee,—as Heath, I mean. But, my toupees were so perfectly made and fitted, that no one but my wife ever suspected I wore one. The glasses, which are capital for disguise purposes, are simply plain, clear glass, and no one knew that. The false tooth is a natural thing for any man to have, but using it only as Heath, it helped to accentuate the difference. For the rest, the style of dress and hat and tie and all that, made two men of me. I practiced a slightly different voice, but, on the whole, it required only a light disguise, for so few Harbor Gardens people know Harbor Park people and vice versa."
"You had two separate lines of business?" Truitt asked, fascinated in spite of himself by the story.
"Of course, that's how it came about. I found I was making oodles of money in my financial deals. So that gave Sam Anderson free scope to do what he chose over on this side of the bridge. While, over in the artist settlement, the decent prices I got for my pictures and the fact that Myra had money, kept things going in the bungalow."
"And then?" Truitt's voice was accusing now.
"And then," Heath looked about him, "and then—why, then that snake-in-the-grass, Larry Inman, came into my home and broke it up."
"Don't blame him. You had ceased to love your wife before he came."
"A lot you know about it. Whipper-snapper that you are! He came between us, my wife turned her affections to him, and I thought I'd just drop out and let them have each other. And then—and then, he killed her!"
"No, that won't do, Heath," Mott put in, "we've got your written confession. You killed your wife. Why did you do it?"
"Because she would have that awful bunch of old glass about, I couldn't stand for it, and so—"
"Try again, Heath," Truitt said, "why did you kill her?"
"Because she knew my secret!" he blurted out. "Because just as I planned to disappear and make it seem like a suicide, leaving her to her Larry, she told me she knew all about my Sam Anderson role! Just as I had everything finished that had taken years to accomplish, all ready for flight and a calm, happy life of my own here, just then she up and tells me she knows it all. I was beside myself with rage and disappointment. I saw red, I suppose, and that confounded bottle stood there, and half demented I took it up and let fly at her. I didn't mean to kill her,—I didn't mean anything—I just hit out in despair."
"And then you used the make-up on her."
"Yes, I did. As I say, I wasn't quite myself, I was a little confused, and somehow it seemed to me she wasn't really dead,—couldn't be really dead.
"And Bunny's vanity-case was right there, and I was fairly obsessed to see how she'd look with a little color in her cheeks. It improved her so, I went on, fascinated with the results. I worked like an artist, as if I were doing a lovely picture,—I felt like that. Then, as a final touch I draped the scarf and added the red beads, and she was a picture! Oh, Myra! If you had looked like that in life, I should have adored you."
"Have you no shame? No regret? No penitence?"
Heath looked scornfully at Truitt, who had spoken out of the fullness of his heart.
"You are not my Father Confessor. You have tracked me down, but I am not confessing to you. I planned it so wonderfully. Over here, I have discreet servants, trained to the point of perfection. I could come and go as I chose, even changing my facial effects en route, if I pleased. And now—"
"Then it was you whom the servant saw leaving the Heath house that night—"
"Yes, of course. I came straight over here, let myself in, and went to bed, and got up in the morning as Anderson. My servants here are never surprised at my unexpected appearance."
"And that night, on your porch," Cunningham mused, "you came to see me as Heath, and later turned up as Anderson."
"Certainly. Don't bore me with reminiscent details. I tell you the whole game was easy, until," he laughed, "until they wanted to put us both up for candidates for the election. I could manage lots of it, but I couldn't run against myself. That's what made me conclude to bring the thing to a climax, though I didn't plan for the climax that took place."
"That'll do, now," Mott said, heavily. His brain was whirling with this unaccustomed burden of thought. "You come along, and tell the rest of those reminiscences to yourself in a cell."
He went to the door and whistled, and unresisting, Heath was taken away to his doom, his fate, which he had brought upon himself.
"However did you do it, Steve?" Bunny asked for the twentieth time.
"Oh, it was just luck. When I heard the man reappeared so often, I felt sure he was hiding near by. Then, as I couldn't dope out a hiding place, I was forced to the conclusion that he was hiding in some other man's skin. I prepared for a long search, for I was sure that was the solution. To start with I went over and searched not only the Heath house, but especially Heath's rooms for personal data of his habits. I got that man and his ways down pretty fine.
"Then the luck was, that when I went over to Anderson's that night, blest if he didn't have just that same punctilious tidiness, that extra degree of neatness; that wouldn't let a fleck of ash get on the floor, or a speck of anything anywhere. Most unusual for a man. And, Anderson's array of pipe cleaners was almost identical with Heath's."
"But how did you know he would come over to Heath's that night?"
"That was a long shot. But I had my suspicions roused even then. And when Anderson quoted that line, 'For each man kills the thing he loves,' I gave him a look which he caught. That line is from Oscar Wilde's 'Ballad of Reading Gaol,' and I figured that if that book was in evidence at Heath's it would be a point and also, and more important, if he had caught on to my gaze at him, and I thought he had, he'd very likely come over himself and take it away. And, as the man said, 'also which he done'!"
"Then he put that awful card up and lighted the candles and everything," said Bunny, musingly. "Oh, how could I ever think I cared for him!"
"He was not quite himself, I think," said Truitt, charitably, "when he set up the card and all that. And as for your momentary infatuation, my dear, if I were you, I'd forget it, and transfer my affections to a certain youth I wot of. Now you are off with the old love, can't you be on with the new?"
"I can try," said Bunny, smiling, and Tod whispered, "Come along out on the porch, by ourselves, and I'll give you a few lessons."
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