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Did She Fall?


Thorne Smith



THROUGH the slanting rays of a new sun that promised great things if given time, Pete Clark, occasional fisherman and confirmed seeker of solitude and rest, gently nosed his odorous old boat against the small beach just under High Point Rock. Pete had no reason in particular for this enterprising landing. As a matter of fact, Pete never had any reason for doing any of the things he did. Therefore he was a happy man. Realizing that his boat had found its way to a rather pleasant haven, Pete considered the advisability of entrusting his valuable person to the shore. It seemed the logical thing to do, and Pete did it, but not because it was logical.

In the course of his purposeless amblings, his speculative eye dwelt on a small bright object lying near by in the sand. Inasmuch as this object was actually near by, to be exact, no farther from Pete than three paces, this excellent navigator decided to pick it up. This he did, and after examining it with purely esthetic enjoyment slipped it into a trustworthy pocket, wondering as he did so just what the hell it was. As to wonder was to worry, that is for Pete, he gave it up and continued his snaillike tour of inspection.

Suddenly, that is if the arresting of so slow a progress could be called sudden, Pete stopped. His long arms froze to the seams of his trousers, and his eyes became glued to the mass of shelving, broken rocks. Altogether Pete was a most unpicturesque object. But Pete had one saving feature, developed from long gazings on distant horizons. Pete had good eyes, keen though disarmingly vague and mild. He was now using those eyes as he had never used them in all the years of their looking.

What he saw was the body of a girl, most improperly clad, lying on the rocks. And Pete's eyesight told him that the body would never move again of its own volition. But Pete moved. He moved by slow stages as if fascinated, until at last he found himself standing over the body of the dead girl.

And so it was Pete Clark, of humble calling and few demands, who first found all that remained of the beautiful and highly admired Emily-Jane.

Just what was the nature of the thoughts that passed through the mind of Pete on that bright, fair morning, as he stood with the lonely sea as a background and contemplated the broken body of the beautiful girl, is not recorded, but awe was written on his seamed and sun-dyed face. Some minutes passed before the practical side of Pete's nature asserted itself. Then it was that he began dimly to realize the fact that he knew this girl, for Pete was by way of being a local character, well received in the highest as well as the more modest kitchens. This girl was none other than Miss Emily-Jane Seabrook, Mr. Barney's young lady.

Once this fact had become firmly fixed in the bemused brain of Pete Clark, his movements thereafter were merely automatic. With meticulous solicitude he beached his pride and joy, and after eying the results of his efforts with approval, departed down the beach at a pace which for Mr. Peter Clark was a trifle above terrific.

Thus it came about that at six o'clock Pete presented himself for the first time at the front door of the Crewe Mansion and commanded the infuriated maid to summon Mr. Barney with the utmost expedition. He intimated darkly that all was far from well. Dubiously and ungraciously the maid departed, and in a surprisingly short time for Barney he appeared on the scene and hurried to the door where Pete was unhappily lurking.

"Come in, Pete," called Barney. "What's all this about bad news ? Anything wrong at home? How about a drink?"

As Pete stood listening to Barney and remembering him as a tumbling cub, his heart grew heavier and heavier and his tongue seemed turned to stone. Casual-minded as he was, Pete instinctively sensed the tragic irony of the situation. Young Barney offering him the sympathy that he himself soon would be needing.

"Mr. Barney," he began, and halted.

"Yes, Pete, what is it?" asked Barney, reading the trouble in his old friend's face. "Is it as bad as all that?"

"'Fraid it is, Mr. Barney," said Pete. "It's worse. Your young lady, sir, is lying at the base of High Point Rock and—"

Barney just looked at him with a question, a plea in his eyes. Just looked at him and waited.

"Yes," said Pete. "Yes, Mr. Barney, she is."

Barney stiffened as if a current of electricity had been suddenly shot through his body. Then slowly he began to sway. Pete was able to stand it no longer. He took young Barney in his arms.

"Boy, boy," he muttered, "come over here and sit down. We'll get Mr. Dan for you. He'll take care of you now."

"Yes, Pete, get Dan," said Barney, forgetting his brother's wound. "I think I'd like to have Dan."

* *

There it was! The knock! The fateful sound for which he had been waiting throughout all the years of his life, it seemed . . . waiting and preparing. During the early hours of the morning he had risen and cut away as much as he could of the red, frayed bandage. With his right hand he had encased his arm in a clean towel, pinned it somehow, and let it go at that. Now he was ready for the summons.

The knocking continued with increasing urgency. Weakly he rolled from his bed and went to the door. "Yes," he called. "What is it ?"

"Oh, Mr. Dan," came the voice of Dora, one of the maids, "Mr. Barney wants you bad. An awful thing has happened. He's downstairs."

"Tell him I'll be with him." Daniel's voice was choked.

Barney wanted him. God Almighty, what irony! Barney wanted him. And he must face Barney with the accusing truth in his heart. He had brought this sorrow to his own brother by slaying the thing he loved. Thank God, the sincerity of his sympathy for Barney would help to carry him through the ordeal.

Daniel was an ill man, weak from fatigue and the loss of blood. The terrible strain of all that he had gone through already had ravaged his face. Devitalizing fever was burning in his veins. He realized that his arm was now in a dangerous condition. In spite of all this, some reserve of power, some force of pride lay within him and gave him strength—the strength that kills its possessor. But far above all other factors was his affection for his brother. The knowledge that Barney needed him at this moment urged him on.

He struggled into his dressing-gown. With one hand on the edge of the bureau he steadied himself and threw back his shoulders, his head well up, then like a man about to take a perilous plunge he made for the door. It was surprisingly opened for him by Scott Munson, fully clad and alert. For a brief moment their eyes met and Daniel's threw back a challenge. Then Munson's gaze shifted to the blood marks on the white surface of the window ledge. Daniel, following his gaze, received a shock so numbing that it left him outwardly frozen. Its effect was not apparent, He merely grinned back at Munson.

"No time for hound work, Scott," he said. "Barney needs me."

Munson bowed. He had asked for the slur and got it.

"Sure you can stand it, Dan?" he asked.

"I have to stand it, Scott."

"All right. Come on."

Together they walked down the hall and descended the stairs, Daniel displaying no sign of weakness. Barney was sitting on a long bench in the hall, and Pete Clark, silently protective, was standing by. At the sound of his brother's familiar tread, Barney raised his face, and slowly his chin and lips began to quiver until at last a gasp broke from him. He gripped the bench with both hands and dropped his head. Why was he such a baby? Daniel would know he wasn't a baby and would tell the others so. It was all right now. Daniel had come. Daniel's arms were about him and he hid his face in his brother's robe.

"Go ahead, kid," Dan was saying. "Go ahead, Barney. Do as you damn well please. Look, boy, look at me. See, I'm crying, too."

And, in truth, Daniel was crying. Tears were running down his haggard cheeks, although he made no sound. Daniel was crying inwardly for the grief of his brother. Barney looked up at Daniel as if for confirmation. With a slender finger he touched one of the tears on his brother's face.

"Don't, Dan," he whispered. "Don't feel so sad." He hesitated, then added in a voice of incredulity, "She's gone, Dan, she's . . . oh, Dan, she's dead." Then Barney broke, and the terrible sobs of a man wrenched themselves from his breast.

"That's the boy, Barney," Daniel murmured, holding his shaking brother and swaying gently. "Just like long ago, Barney, when things went wrong. But they always came right, didn't they? And they'll come right now."

They were alone, each with a racked heart, and the years fell away. Once more they were boys together, sharing each other's woes. But this time it was the elder brother who needed the greater comforting. And just as in those other days, a sea breeze passed down the hall and found its way to the old, drifting orchard.

"Don't you mind, Barney. Don't you mind."

* *

Munson slapped the telephone back on its fork and sat back in his chair, regarding the squat instrument gloomily.

"God damn everything," he said quite slowly and distinctly, "including myself."

His arrangements had been made. The district attorney, summoned from his bed at that early hour, had agreed to put him in complete charge of the case. The district attorney at that early hour would have agreed to anything—anything at all if he were only allowed speedily to return to bed.

"Play no favorites, Scott," he had said, "and call on the local authorities."

And when Munson had told him where to go, the district attorney had yawned. Two more telephone conversations had set the machinery in motion.

This was the first case in his career that Munson had approached with dread. He had insisted on taking it because he knew that things would be even worse if outsiders were let loose in that old, friendly house. Yet he roundly damned everything, including himself. His hands came down with a snap on the mahogany arms of his chair. He rose briskly and went to the open window of the library.

"Pete Clark," he called.

Pete sped down the veranda at the rate of at least twelve miles an hour.

"Did you find the gardener, Griggs?"

"I did, sir, and I sent him to stand by the body."

"Thank you, Pete. Do you mind standing by here for a short time?"

"Well, sir, if I could sit—"

"Certainly, Pete. Sit, collapse, or contort, but just stick around."

"Thank you, Mr. Munson."

"I thank you."

Munson left the library and stood waiting in the hall. He had invited the household, exclusive of the servants, to confer with him immediately in the library. He now watched its various members descend the stairs and enter that pleasant room. There was a method in what he did. It interested him to note the manner in which each person looked at him as he or she passed by.

Sam Stoughten's expression had been that of a rather anxious shamefaced boy whose sins had only partially found him out. His wife's had been merely that of a very much worried wife who wished everything would settle down again so that she could deal properly with her fool of a husband. Lane Holt's had been that of a man who hides his fear behind a swagger. Aunt Matty's had been merely one businesslike question-mark— "What's happened to our house, Scott?" June Lansing's had been thoughtful and searching. Daniel's expression had been that of a man so weary he no longer cared much. In Barney's eyes Scott read the greatest trouble. Grief had left them a trifle wild and a trifle brooding. They were not the eyes of a sane man. He had been the only one who had looked at Munson and not seen him. Barney was turning in, trying to puzzle something out, to catch a lost impression or to map out some little plan of his own.

"You don't have to go through all this, Barney," Munson had told him, placing a kindly but restraining hand on his shoulder.

"But I must go in," Barney had replied, and moved on with lowered head. "I might help you, Scott," he had tossed back.

Munson entered the library and confronted the little group.

"I'm nervous," he said, "and worried. I guess we all are. I won't keep you long here because we have a harder task ahead. Here, then, is the situation." He addressed himself to Daniel. "You can have me handle the case, for I have full authority already, or you can entrust yourselves to the usual agents of the law—the law which at present I represent. It is for you to decide whether you prefer me among you or some other equally distasteful person or persons. If—"

"Stay here and do your worst, Scott," interrupted Daniel. "You can't help it. In a way you're doing us all a kindness, even if it hurts."

"Thanks, Dan," replied Munson. "You always were a sport."

"See here!" Holt was on his feet, mouthing aggressively. "What's all this about, anyway? You don't know that a crime has been committed. What right have you to assume so? It's the most irregular way of carrying on I've ever encountered."

"A crime has been committed." Barney's voice came startlingly from a corner.

"Holt, in some respects, is justified in what he says," continued Munson calmly. "My methods are somewhat unofficial, but they have a few saving virtues. They are quiet. They are intelligent. They are absolutely uninfluenced by self-interest or any desire to win official recognition. And that means a lot. As to the question of a crime having been committed, I think that most of us present will agree with me when I say a crime has been committed and that that crime is murder. Anyway, I am already in possession of certain information conclusive enough to convince me. And by the way, Holt" — Munson stepped across the room and stood over the lounging figure — "may I ask for that key?"

Holt's face grew white. He sprang to his feet. "You damned spy!" he cried.

Munson smiled pleasantly. "Please don't keep us waiting," he said. "We have other things to do."

There was the sound of an automobile stopping at the front entrance. Munson, looking through the window, saw several local constables alighting from a disreputable machine. Lane Holt, turning round, also saw them.

"Would you like to be searched?" asked Munson. "You see the law is already in operation." Munson's manner suddenly changed. He leaned forward and held the man with his eyes, eyes stinging with fury. "Hurry up," he said in a low voice. "I want that key."

Holt reeled back as if struck by a snake. His expression registered both fear and surprise. Was the man confronting him Scott Munson? God, no. He was a demon—hate in the body of man.

"I'm waiting. I'm waiting," thrilled Munson's voice.

Holt's fingers fumbled in his watch pocket and withdrew a key which he extended to Munson with a shrinking hand as if in mortal fear of coming in contact with him. When Munson accepted the key it seemed as if every person in the room breathed easier.

"And did you get what you were after?" he inquired sarcastically.

"No," came hoarsely from Holt.

"If you had," went on Munson in an even, venomous voice, "I'd have got that too. Now, listen, Holt. Even before this investigation has got well under way you've made yourself liable to arrest for attempted theft. Sit down now and think that over. You called me a spy. Of course I'm a spy. At present that's my one occupation, and I hate it. But it doesn't take much of a spy to find out what you've been doing ever since you accepted the hospitality of Daniel and Barney Crewe."

Munson paused and turned to face the others in the room. His eyes seemed to hold everybody in a spell like some bad dream.

"I'm a spy," he announced. "Anyone who ever finds out anything is, in one sense or another, a spy has to be a spy. That's one reason why I asked all of you here. To me you are all suspects, and as suspects you naturally come under my espionage. I will play no favorites, nor will I shirk the most unpleasant duty. I ask you not to regard me as your friend any longer, but merely as a man out to get the truth, to exonerate the innocent and to confront the guilty. Quite a speech, isn't it?" He paused, then hastened on: "Quite a speech, yes, but the situation must be made clear. It must be understood. If the guilty person can beat me, I for one won't blame him. Let him do it. I'd escape the consequences of a murder myself if I could. So, I say, go to it and escape if and when you can. I'm here to do a mean job that does not appeal at all to me, but I'm going to do it, and I'm going to show no mercy. And to be entirely frank with you all, the only persons in this room who have nothing to hide are Aunt Matty and young Barney over there. You are all against me and I'm against you all. But just the same that fact does not prevent me from liking you all and from wishing that things were different." He paused and turned to Holt. "Sit down!" he snapped. "I'll talk to you later."

Then he walked to his former position and half sat on a long table laden with books, magazines, papers, lamps, and ash trays—an untidy, comfortable table. Everyone present was amazed at the sudden urbanity of the man. He favored them all with a bland smile.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I made a mistake when I told you I liked you all. Personally, I never could bear the sight of Lane Holt, but just because of my feelings about him he will receive, if anything, more careful treatment than anyone else."

He walked over to a window and looked out as if expecting something. Then he once more returned to his former place and looked thoughtfully at each one of the group in turn.

"There is a murderer present," he said quietly, and the effect of that simple statement was horrible, almost beyond endurance. "A murderer," he repeated as if to himself, "and he may be my friend. Funny. And even if I catch him I shall always regard him as my friend."

Abruptly he ceased speaking and, turning his back on his listeners, idly sorted the magazines on the table. For a full minute the room was submerged in a brooding silence. Barney, who had been growing gradually more excited throughout the course of Munson's talk, now began to tremble slightly. Daniel, watching him with solicitous eyes, was about to go to him when he was arrested by the sound of Holt's voice.

"What right have you to say that a murderer is present ?" he demanded. "What proof ?"

Without troubling to turn, Munson answered: "That's my business, Holt."

"No, it isn't, Scott," came the excited voice of Barney, at the sound of which both Daniel and Munson started forward. "No, it isn't. It's my business. I know the murderer now. I've just figured it out. He always hated her . . . he didn't want me to marry her . . . didn't want me to marry Emily-Jane! There he is! Look at him ! There is the murderer."

Barney's voice broke in hysteria and he pointed wildly at Daniel, who stood still with his hands hanging helplessly beside him. On his face there was an expression of profound sorrow as he said in a low, pleading voice, "Barney, kid. Oh, Barney, Barney, Barney."

And Barney laughed crazily, his trembling arm still extended toward Daniel.

"I tell you my own brother murdered Emily-Jane," he cried in a loud voice. "Look at him. Look at him. Doesn't he look like a murderer? He killed her as sure as God."

And Daniel still stood there like a man crucified, his tired, tragic eyes striving to reach the heart of his brother. It was not what Barney said that mattered, but that his brother for whom he had gone through several cycles of hell with many more to come should have turned on him at this moment—that was the final affliction.

"Barney, old man, Barney," his voice called to his brother. "Come here, kid. Forget it. Don't be like that."

No one will ever know whether or not Barney was answering that call when he took two steps forward, then crumpled to the floor.

In an instant Daniel had gathered him up in his arms and carried him to a sofa. The pain caused by this action caused him to stagger back against Scott Munson.

"Get a doctor, Scott," he said.

"He's already here," replied Munson. "See, he's taking care of Barney. It was only a nervous outburst, Daniel. Don't mind that. He knows you're his best friend."

He led Daniel to the pantry and made him sit down. Then he handed him a drink. Leaving him for a moment, he returned with Manning.

"My God, Dan," said the doctor, "you shouldn't have lifted your brother like that. Here, let me look at that arm."

Then, carrying on a rapid-fire conversation, he dressed and bandaged Daniel's arm, after which he took a drink himself and gave one to his patient.

Daniel, feeling his strength returning, followed Manning back to the library where Munson still held the group together. Barney, revived, had gone to his room under the care of Aunt Matty.

"Does he still believe?" Daniel asked as Scott Munson joined them.

"He's not right yet," said Munson, "but you mustn't mind him. All sensitive, high-strung temperaments are like that when overwrought."

"Then you're not going to arrest me?" asked Daniel, with a broken grin.

"Not on that kind of evidence, Dan," replied Munson. "Barney's ravings are not relevant." He looked Daniel squarely in the face and said: "We are all going to the rocks now. Are you strong enough to come? I had to talk myself hoarse this morning, waiting for that damn fool Manning. Of course we could have moved her before, but I've blocked off the entire point from cliff top to the beach. It's essential that I should see things for myself. Would you like to see her?"

It was a challenge that Daniel feared not to accept.

Back down to the beach again. Daniel recalled all the terrors of only a few short hours ago. This time he was accompanied by nearly all of the actors in the drama. Thank God, Barney was not among them. Daniel could never have stood that. Those stretcher-bearers, two stalwart fishermen, they were to bring Emily-Jane home. And he must look at her in full daylight under the watchful eye of Munson. Was that why they all were there? Munson, the torturer, always got his way. Well, he, Daniel, would fool him this time. He had used up all his emotions of any kind. He was as dead as Emily-Jane so far as caring was concerned.

He was walking with Manning now, and the doctor was helping him along. "Munson's a brute," said Manning. "You should never have done this."

Daniel began to laugh. "Done what, doctor?" he demanded.

He knew the doctor was looking at him curiously, and he pulled himself together.

They had reached the rocks now. Munson was carefully shepherding them. Something to do with foot-prints, perhaps, or perhaps not. Somehow, June was on his other side. She was holding tight to his hand. Raise your head. Look. Don't laugh. For God's sake, don't laugh. "I did that." Should he shout it?

Yes, there was Emily-Jane. A little figure on a large rock. He knew what she looked like. He had made her so for this public exhibition. Hold tight, June.

"Jesus," muttered Manning behind them, "doesn't she look lonely ?"

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