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Did She Fall?
BACK on the club-house veranda Daniel Crewe was staring at the place where he had last seen the girl and her partner. All he now saw was an exceedingly exasperated fat man brutally assaulting a small white object that so far had successfully escaped any serious injury. The fat man was one of the club's richest members, so he could well afford to be both exceedingly fat and exasperated. It was nothing much to see. And it is to be doubted if Daniel actually witnessed the titanic conflict, which is just as well, because the sight would have given him, at that moment, but scant relief from his thoughts.
His long, thin, tanned countenance was of a peculiarly friendly cast in spite of the trouble that now lay on it. There was a haunting suggestion of a misunderstood horse. A sort of protective expression had crept about his eyes, which were of an undecided gray. For a large, long, and apparently self-reliant man there was something unexpectedly speculative about Daniel Crewe, a sense of eternal sadness. It was as if the shadow of regret had settled lightly upon him, never to leave him altogether happy and at peace again. Life does such things to people regardless of their material circumstances.
Daniel was thinking now of his brother, thinking with more desperation and bafflement than he cared to admit to himself. Yet even as he thought, he little suspected that in a short while now Death would be sending its impulses through his strong arms and that only a few short hours separated him from tragedy, stark and ugly.
Interwoven in the thoughts of his brother were nagging thoughts of others—friends who held a place in his loyalty and confidence.
There was Sam Stoughten, for instance. He had never been long separated from Sam even after having had four years of him as roommate at college. And then there was Sam's wife Sue. A good girl, Sue, sensitive as the devil beneath her apparent stolidity.
And how about June Lansing? Daniel loved June. Recently she had informed him that they were engaged. Daniel had not answered back. He knew June. They must be engaged if she said so.
He thought of these three oddly lovable individuals, then included himself and his brother. They were all involved, all a part of the picture. They were all actively engaged in the conflict that was taking place in his mind.
"Here we are," he thought, "the five of us—all at the mercy of one girl, our happiness, our hopes, every damn thing."
His eyes grew narrow, and there was a sudden hardening round his jaws. Scott Munson, silently watching, remarked this and pondered after his fashion.
But chiefly Daniel's thoughts were with his brother Barney. Barney was a creature who deserved the serious thought of someone, and it was not the boy's fault.
From the first this young man had always got the tough breaks. At birth he had lost his mother and thereby won his father's unreasonable antipathy, one might almost say active antagonism. The old man had resented Barney. Dan had been the favorite. Nothing too good for the first and successfully born. And Dan had hated it. The harder the old man had ridden Barney the stronger was Dan pulled to his brother. A strange nature, Dan's. What made it harder for him was his youthful realization that at heart his father was a good person and that perhaps somewhere hidden within his stubborn old heart was a sort of lonesome love for his younger son.
Whatever it was, Barney from the outset had never got what he wanted. At every turn the old man had thwarted him, trampled on his small aspirations as a child, opposed them when the boy had grown to manhood. It had only been through the active intervention of Dan that Barney had been given his chance to paint. Even then it had been a source of sporadic friction and ridicule.
Then the old man had died. After that life had taken on a different color for Barney—a friendlier warmth. The bulk of the estate had gone to Daniel. To Barney had been allotted the magnificent income of five thousand two hundred dollars per annum. Even unto the end—a typical gesture.
Promptly and without questioning his brother, Daniel had set about readjusting matters so that the valuable estate was equally divided even to the joint ownership of their picturesque old summer home on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound.
In the simplicity of his soul Barney had been well satisfied with the original arrangement. He was pleased with his one hundred dollars a week—enthusiastic about it. No need now to swallow his pride and to wait for whatever small bits of change that might come his way. The experiences of his youth had left their traces.
"Now I'll never have to work much," he had confided to Daniel. "Just paint all the time, all the damntime. Travel perhaps. But of course I'll live here with you, keep on living here just as always . . . it's a nice old place . . . that is if you want me. When you get married I'll paint a portrait of your wife. For nothing," he added magnificently.
"Thanks," said Daniel. "That will be great. Yes, you'd better keep on living right where you are. It would be safer. We're used to you round here. Just sit down quietly somewhere and paint all the damn time."
"And travel perhaps," added Barney.
So that was all settled.
Then Daniel had gone about making Barney a rich young man and had understood perfectly when Barney had failed to be impressed with his newly acquired wealth. As a matter of fact, the whole strange business had made young Barney a little more than upset. He had not returned to his usual abnormal self until he had made an elaborate and illegal will in which he beautifully left all his earthly goods to Daniel, not omitting his paintings. They received special mention. For some reason rather vague in his ewn mind Barney seemed to believe that this will of his relieved him of all further interest in and responsibility for his fortune. He was now left free to paint all the damn time when not benignly contemplating his brother as his prospective heir.
These brothers, each in his own way, were strangely dependent on each other. Yet that did not prevent them from seeing clearly each other's imperfections. For example, Barney could never quite forget how stupid Daniel had been about breeding foxes. Barney had made the suggestion after having read about fox-breeding in some Sunday supplement. It had resulted in one of those idiotic exchanges both enjoyed.
"And why in God's name should we breed foxes?" Daniel demanded.
"We'd have more foxes then." This with patience from Barney.
"What do we want with more foxes ?" persisted the other.
"But we haven't any foxes at all yet," replied Barney, keeping a strong hold on himself.
"Yes, yes, I know, but suppose we had some foxes?"
"Well, we'd just have more, that's all. We'd have more foxes. Isn't that enough for you?"
"Too damned much," scoffed Daniel. "What would we do with all these foxes knocking about all over the place? I ask you that."
"We could sell them. Earn a good profit," suggested Barney, who had not thought the idea quite through.
"And take the bread out of some other fox-breeder's mouth," countered Daniel.
"Why bread ?" asked Barney mildly.
"Why not bread?" returned Daniel. "Don't fox-breeders eat bread like the rest of us?"
"I don't know," said Barney stoutly. "I never met a fox-breeder. How did bread get into this argument anyway?"
"I don't know, but let's not go on about foxes any more," pleaded Daniel.
"All right," replied Barney, getting pretty well tired of foxes himself. "But we could give them away to our friends for Christmas or just any old time for that matter."
"Who wants a fox?" asked Daniel.
"I don't know who wants a fox right off," cried Barney. "I don't go round asking people if they want foxes. Let's forget there ever was a fox. Sorry now I brought up the subject, sorry I even mentioned the name of fox. Thought it would be a thing to do, that's all."
"Yes," grinned Daniel cynically, "a hell of a thing to do. You just stick to your painting, Barney. Why not paint yourself a couple of foxes and then breed 'em?"
Too full for words Barney went about his ways. He might yet breed foxes just to spite his brother. And in his dream he pictured the whole countryside swarming with foxes until at last they were trampled under foot.
Daniel was convinced, perhaps justly, that his brother needed the protection of a stronger mind. If not, why did the boy persist in painting red apples sky-blue and in giving to his nudes the unpalatable hue of a very old and dead fish?
"Because I see 'em that way," the exasperated Barney had once explained under the fire of rude criticism.
"Well, it's a terrible way to see anything," observed Daniel, and added color blindness to his brother's other deficiencies.
An aunt, Miss Matty Evans, often had to listen to this sort of stuff, and although she was mildly amused she wondered how men could be such fools.
"You two should go on the vaudeville circuit when you get to arguing," she once remarked. "People are crazy enough to pay money to listen to that kind of nonsense."
Until the appearance of Emily-Jane at the beginning of the summer the world had been a good place for the two brothers_
At the thought of this girl and her potentialities for harm, Daniel's hands gripped the arms of his chair, gripped and held fast. The man who sat quietly watching him over the rim of his newspaper was quick to note this involuntary action. He wondered what he could do for Daniel—how he could force himself into his thoughts.
"What can I do?" Daniel was thinking. "Something must be done. How can I prevent that young idiot from going through with it? What can I tell him? She's got me all tied up—cold."
As his eyes stared unseeingly across the green expanse of the golf-course these questions went jabbing through his mind steadily, unceasingly like a physical pain. Scott Munson, observing the conflict, felt a growing excitement within himself, something undefinable yet filled with imminent danger. About Daniel as he sat there brooding there was an atmosphere of fatefulness, as if already he was on his way to some final yet inevitable act that would forever cut him off from old familiar ties.
Scott Munson sensed this and divined the source of Daniel's trouble. He had watched his friend looking at Emily-Jane when that golden young slip had teed off at the first hole and he knew that although she was now no longer there Daniel was still seeing her in his mind's eye. And Munson knew that to Daniel this girl stood for everything that was undesirable in life, everything that was disastrous.
Munson knew this much from his power of concentrated observation helped by his knowledge of Daniel. But there were many other things that Munson did not know, but which he would very much have liked to know.
For instance, he did not know that seven years past, when at college, Daniel had had intimate relations with Emily-Jane and that recently, even in the face of her approaching marriage with his brother, the girl had attempted to renew those relations. This was one thing that Munson did not know—one single scrap of concrete knowledge which might have done much to alter circumstances.
Nor did Munson know anything about the "Hush! Hush! Club," an esoteric little organization that festered during Daniel's later period at college and created no end of salacious speculation among certain members of the student body. The celebrations and rituals of this group were never mentioned nor could they be mentioned for the obvious reason that expulsion and disgrace would have descended swiftly upon its members. And even members of such little circles do not court this kind of public recognition.
And innocent Emily-Jane had been its high priestess and inspiration.
Into the inner circles of this group of girls and boys Emily-Jane had conducted Sam Stoughten. There she had dominated him physically, and Sam had gone through a very bad time of it before Daniel had succeeded in conducting him back for a breath of fresh air. But in doing so Daniel had momentarily come under the sway of Emily-Jane, who, to do her credit, appears to have been a specialist in her particular line.
Another thing Scott did not know was about the letters.
Sam had killed a classmate, killed him because of Emily-Jane. True enough, Sam had not meant to kill the boy. It had been one of those situations in which the loser died as the result of a fair fight. The authorities had never been able to trace the supposed murderer, but Sam had been silly enough and heart-broken enough to pour the whole story into a letter to Emily-Jane. In this letter written in a moment of self-loathing Sam shouldered the responsibility for the boy's death. In the hands of a district attorney, it would be an extremely convincing confession.
Then there were other letters. Lots of them. Poor Sam had poured out on paper the ravings of a temporarily diseased mind, and Emily-Jane was in possession of the collected filth. Also she had a few rather revealing letters from Dan. More important still, Emily-Jane had told Daniel that unless he played hands off, those letters would find their way into the hands of Sue and June. Daniel knew that this was no idle threat. Emily-Jane was quite reckless enough to pull down the whole house of cards and involve them all in the crash. She had more strings to her bow than one.
Taken altogether it was a pretty situation. The happiness of more than one person was tangled up in it. In striking at one, Emily-Jane could injure them all—Sam, Sue, Barney, June and Daniel. She held all the cards and was playing them with the skill of an experienced player. But this is sometimes dangerous. It certainly was so in the case of Emily-Jane.
Finally, Scott Munson was not aware of the fact that through a window of the club-house at that very minute the amiable face of Sam Stoughten was also turned toward the links whereon Emily-Jane was sporting with Lane Holt. It would have given Munson more unpleasant food for mental consumption had he been able to see the expression lurking behind Sam's horn-rimmed glasses.
For Sam those letters existed like some tangible defilement, some deadly, unclean threat. When he encountered Emily-Jane at the home of the brothers the weight of the ages again settled down on his sturdy shoulders. He longed to remove from the face of the earth this girl who was planning such an unfair enterprise as to marry Barney.
He did not blame her for the past. Sam took, as he should, full responsibility on himself for his own con-duct. But to strike through him and through Daniel at others . . . well, yes, murder was not so bad after all in certain situations.
Then, there was Lane Holt. A chance encounter after years had led Daniel to invite the man to visit him—an idle invitation and a ready but graceful acceptance.
That did it. Lane Holt was among them. He, too, was a part of the picture. Quite an important part. He was on the side of Emily-Jane. He had a comprehensive understanding of the situation. Daniel more than suspected that he was taking full advantage of it right under the eyes of poor color-blind Barney.
It had all come about through the unfortunate over-sight of allowing Barney at large unaccompanied. But who could have forecast the result? As a rule Barney never paid personal attention to women. In the abstract he had vague, fanciful ideas about them. In the flesh he loved to look at them when pleasing. But no one for a moment suspected he would drive home with one of them from the Coastal Golf Club and keep her there for lunch, later in the dusk of a summer's evening driving off with her again. Only Emily-Jane could turn a trick like that. And Emily-Jane had done it.
Scott Munson had been present when Barney had introduced Emily-Jane to Daniel. From that moment on Munson had been aware of gathering forces, electricity in the air. And when, finally, Emily-Jane had landed the idealistic Barney and established herself as a part of the household under the skeptical chaperonage of Miss Matty Evans, Munson had known that things were all wrong with Daniel and that the situation was not going to improve until Emily-Jane was removed. Just how this was to be accomplished Munson failed to see. However, what he did see was that Emily-Jane in some peculiar way known only to herself had a strong hold on Daniel and that Daniel was unsuccessfully striving to break it.
Sitting there on the veranda, Munson felt that the situation, whatever it was, was rapidly coming to a climax that the climax was at hand, right there among them all.
Munson looked as much like a detective as a detective will ever look like one. He had been a detective, actively and successfully. The government knew his work. But Munson was more of the scholar, more of the student. He was a living curiosity directed by intelligence and a power of observation that almost approached divination. He could feel a situation, anticipate a coming conflict. As a lecturer in criminology and psychological detection he had been much in demand among colleges that went in for that sort of thing. He had two passions—the study of human conduct, and travel, thc_ latter running a poor second. When actively engaged on a case he was absolutely ruthless, attacking the minds of those he suspected with devilish ingenuity. He had, perhaps, his own private opinions about murder and other allied indulgences, but these were so clearly separate from his professional attitude that not even his best friend could count on the slightest latitude or show of grace.
And that is what troubled Munson all the more in this present situation. He feared for Daniel, and would willingly have sacrificed his own career to prevent disaster—to save his friend from the danger he felt was present. But once Daniel committed himself to a certain unlawful course of conduct, once he, for example, took a human life, Munson would be arrayed against him and would give Daniel no more quarter than he would have given any other individual who had placed himself beyond the pale of the law. Before the event, Scott Munson was human; after—well, he followed his own convictions, for which perhaps no one can blame him—much.
His large, dark, intense eyes; his sharp, determined features; his straight black hair, slightly streaked with gray, his slim, alert body, well poised and competent—all these characteristics of Scott Munson created an impression of a man not easily deflected from his course. About him at times there was something uncomfortably subtle, something Satanic. One felt that within him dwelt some hidden source of power waiting to be released. No doubt this impression was created because of the man's abnormal interest in the mental processes of virtually everyone with whom he came in contact. People were never quite stupid to Munson. He never grew bored with the most banal individual, for the reason that he was completely engrossed in trying to sound and chart the substrata thought currents tunneling the mind of the person under observation. Many women hated him instinctively. More men would have done so, perhaps, were it not for the fact that even today men have a greater opportunity to live their dreams, to turn their currents of thought into active expression. Had Scott Munson suddenly found himself in a world of normal, well-adjusted, standardized minds he would willingly have exchanged his bodily comforts for all the torments of hell.
Eyes on the links, watching—three pairs strong. And even as they watched the object of their vigil came lightly across the green accompanied by her debonair partner.
At the sight of the two approaching the club-house with their open display of intimacy and understanding, a low sound of impotent anger involuntarily escaped Daniel's lips, and he rose quickly from his chair. Munson followed his example, and in silence the two men walked down the veranda and stood together at its edge. Only Sam Stoughten did not move at the girl's approach. He remained motionless at the window, his eyes alone moving, but their expression never changed. The sharp, concealed hatred never left them. It lived and darted there behind his slightly tinted horn-rimmed glasses.
Daniel stood gazing out at the quiet surface of the Sound upon whose blue waters, about three miles out, a group of fair green islands lay sprinkled in picturesque disorder, their shores rimmed in collars of cream-white. sand. There was an expression of hopelessness in Daniel's brooding eyes. June Lansing's image was floating through his thoughts. She was mingling with bad company, for desperation was bringing to the surface in his mind a resolve it had long restrained.
Unexpectedly, a hand fell upon his shoulder. He swung round with a sharp start. Between himself and Scott Munson stood Holt.
"Will either of you gentlemen do me the favor of a flask?" he asked. "It was plenty hot out there. We cut our game short."
"Don't swing a flask," said Daniel shortly. "I'm going home."
He strode off down the veranda, knocking against a chair. Holt's gaze followed the retreating figure, and the man who stood for a moment quietly but intently regarding Holt read in his eyes a mixture of malice, envy, and scorn, which is never a pretty thing to see.
"Half a minute," said Scott, and doubled back of the club-house.
"Damn cads," muttered Holt. He hated their guts. He wished to God they were well out of the way. Mr. Holt was quite sincere about this. For Daniel his emotion was mixed with sordid envy, for Munson with wholesome fear. To him Barney did not matter. The boy was growing a full set of horns even before he had a wife. That was funny in a way—funny to Lane Holt. He sought out Emily-Jane to tell her about it. The girl laughed merrily. It was pleasant to hear such laughter.
Munson, standing by Dan's roadster, watched him thoughtfully as he approached.
"Well?" said Daniel, regarding Munson with a sort of rebellious interrogation in his eyes.
Although they had been sitting with. each other practically all morning on the veranda of the club, this was the first word that had passed between them. The gift of silence is vouchsafed only to those who are either content with their thoughts or unhappily occupied with them.
"Well?" replied Munson, also with a rising inflection.
Daniel experienced a stab of nerves as Munson remained quietly looking at him. "What do you mean by well, Scott?" he asked.
"What did you mean?" replied Munson.
Daniel laughed uneasily. "Nothing much, I expect," he replied. "Just wondering what you wanted—how you got here."
"No, you didn't, Daniel," replied Munson seriously. "You meant, what was I thinking you were thinking. If you want to know, Dan, I've been thinking a damn sight more than I care to. I'd like to feel free to let your thoughts alone. I mean that, Dan, for you of all men. What's on your mind? What's burning you up? Hadn't you better come across with me? Let's face the trouble together. You know I can help at times. At least you won't feel so confounded lonesome. Come on, Dan, old boy."
Slowly Daniel climbed into his car. He appeared not to have heard his old friend. How tired and strangely remote he felt . . . old for his thirty years. When at last he spoke he did not look at Munson, but continued to stare vacantly ahead over the arc of the steering wheel.
"Scott," he said, "there's only one person can help now and she—I mean, that person won't help. That person who could help, who could so easily help, only wants to hurt, to injure and destroy. I know that." He drummed nervously on the wheel with the tips of his long brown fingers. "Yet something's got to be done," he added as if to himself. "Something . . . what?"
"Maybe together we could dope that something out," suggested Munson.
Then Daniel turned and asked Munson a strange question, one that troubled his friend's thoughts considerably throughout the tragic days to follow. "Tell me, Scott," he began, as if he were inwardly puzzling over a certain problem, "tell me this. A man purchases deliberately a number of high-powered guns, arranges his business affairs, and, let us say, travels all the way to Africa at no small trouble and expense. Well, once there this man proceeds to organize and equip a small army of carriers and what-nots. Then, after several weeks of crouching, stalking, and false-dealing in general, he brings down a fine, great elephant or a tiger—animals that are minding their own affairs, keeping to their own land, and living according to their own savage code. What would you call that man, Scott? What would the world call him ?"
"Why, don't be childish, Dan !" laughed Munson.At the worst he's nothing more than a fanatical hunter, a waster of time, money, and animal life. Why?"
Daniel nodded appreciatively. "Just so," he went on, "but the idea of it has always puzzled me somewhat. I know I'm a bit childish about wantonly killing things —always have been." He hesitated a moment, then continued: "And suppose that same chap removes from the face of the earth a person who wrecks and strikes at one's very being—one's so-called soul, a person far more deliberately cruel and dangerous to society than the most treacherous beast or reptile that lurks in the jungle, a creature who is not only evil but also one who can create evil in others—what, Scott, would you call that person ?"
There was fever in Daniel's eyes as he turned and confronted his friend.
"I see what you're driving at, Dan," slowly replied Munson, "and I can't say that in a manner of speaking I don't sympathize with your point of view. But again you're all wrong. You can't trifle with human life—"
"How about human hearts and souls ?" snapped Daniel.
"As things stand today the law fails to take them strictly into consideration," said Munson, "although they play a part. But, by and large, it has a hard enough time dealing with the body. There are no doubt soul-murderers or heart-murderers or mind-murderers, but as a rule they escape unpunished in this world. Daniel, the man you spoke of, no matter what the circumstances, is in this world a murderer, and there's no getting away from that. We're living in this world, you see. Remember that, Dan, remember that."
Again Daniel nodded agreement. "I guess you're right at that, Scott," he said with a twisted smile. "No doubt about it. But, after all, it does seem sort of goofy, doesn't it? Damn goofy I'd call it, if you ask me. Murderer—a nice, bright, homelike word, that!" He paused and smiled at Munson, and this time his smile was natural and friendly. "Just like some of the crazy discussions we used to have back at college. Thanks, Scott. See you soon. You're lunching at the club, I suppose?"
Without waiting for an answer he set his car in motion.
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