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Did She Fall?
CARE SITS ON CREWE HOUSE
WHEN Daniel and the rest returned from the beach, Manning, who had returned a little before the others, was waiting on the veranda. "A nice, depressing morning," he said in greeting. "Just the sort of a thing for a bright summer day. Invigorates the body and stimulates the nerves. Gives one an appetite."
He was talking at random now, popping out anything in an endeavor to make these sad-looking, harried people a little less dispirited. Among Manning's various vices was a genuine desire to see his friends happy, to open a bottle of any old thing and to help them to enjoy life. He was constantly fighting off the dread of depression. No one suspected how low-spirited he felt when alone at night he confronted himself in the mirror and thought, "Only a few more years left now and those not much good." For this reason he made it a point to be alone at night as little as possible. In this he succeeded tremendously, but no one realized more keenly than he that within a few short years he would be able to share only his memories with the charming women he had once seduced. Therefore, when he saw the party from the beach come trailing across the lawn, he, too, felt as if the bottom had dropped out of things. Getting drunk, he reflected, was no worse than getting morbid. The only trouble about it was you couldn't stay drunk indefinitely. And as soon as you got sober you became twice as morbid and no end sick. He voiced his thoughts tentatively.
"I think we should all get just a little bit drunk," he suggested.
"And play going to Jerusalem," added June.
"Or murderer, murderer, who's got the murderer," put in Sam bitterly.
"No," protested Daniel, "Scott is playing that game, and it looks as if he's going to win. How's Barney. doctor?"
"Barney's all right," replied Manning. "I've seen the best-hearted people break out like that before. When they've had a shock they turn on those closest to them. Don't worry, Dan. Something will come along and shock him back to reason."
He led June aside and looked at her seriously and with kindly comprehension.
"Listen, June," he said in a low voice. "I want you to know that I'm with the house in this affair. You know what I mean. I'm with you and Daniel and Barney, too, for that matter. A friend on the outside may prove very valuable in the near future. I'm that friend, and I want you to consider me so. Might not be so damned respectable, but I've still got a lot of influence round these parts with all kinds of people. They'll do things for me. That's all. You can count on me. Now I'm going to take charge of Daniel and put him to bed for a while. Send up some coffee and toast and" — he considered a moment, then continued — "yes, you'd better send up a bottle of well-selected wine. I've got to put some heart into Daniel. This thing is going to be a fight, June, and it's only just begun."
"It began a long time ago, Dr. Manning," said June. "I'm afraid that this is the last act where everybody gets carried off the stage on stretchers and things. But it's good to know we can count on you. Something keeps telling me we're not licked yet. If I thought so"— she shrugged her shoulders— "I'd put an end to the misery."
"How ?" asked Manning.
"I don't know right off, but I'd find a way."
"Do you think he did it, that chap, Holt ?"
June followed the direction of the doctor's glance to an isolated corner of the veranda where Holt was sitting alone. Within the past few hours the man had altered shockingly. There was a crazy cast to his face. His eyes were all confused with conflicting emotions, hate and fear fighting for supremacy. June could find in her heart no pity for Lane Holt.
"I wish he had," she answered. "I wish he had."
"He damn well looks the part," said Manning. "If he goes round like that much longer he'll be slipping the noose over his own head. Come along, June. I must look after Dan."
Together they walked down the veranda and joined the group. No one appeared to be interested in breakfast, yet no one could hit on anything better to do.
Before Daniel left with the doctor, he turned to his friends. "We should get this straight, I think," he said. "Munson is not to blame. He did everything in his power to head off what has happened. I know that. Now he must go his way and we ours. I still consider him my friend, and you must admit that as a friend Scott Munson is, to say the least, a good egg."
"And as an enemy he's a pain in the neck," said Sam doggedly.
"An unhappy selection of words to express your sentiments, Sam." Daniel grinned at his friend from the doorway.
Sam looked back at Daniel and realized with a stab of impotent anger what a human wreck he was as he stood there grinning, or trying to grin. It was as much as he could do to keep the tears from starting to his eyes.
"Oh, hell," he replied a little huskily, "what do words matter any more? What do they mean? I feel like Manning. Let's all get a little drunk, and laugh a lot at nothing."
"Or cry a lot for something," surprisingly remarked Sue, who had never placed much confidence in her tongue.
One by one they drifted into the cheerful old dining-room, but Holt remained alone on the veranda. He was brooding, scheming, and fighting down his fear. Why couldn't he tell? Munson wouldn't believe him. No one would believe him, yet, by God, Daniel was guilty as hell. Holt had not seen his face, but there was no mistaking his figure, particularly that blood-wet hand. His fear was gaining ascendency now. All the world was fear. Everything was against him. Everyone. Hopelessly he slumped forward in his chair. His thoughts were like the haze on a tropic swamp . . . fevered, poisoned, drifting.
When Manning had finished with Daniel's arm and got him into bed, he leaned back in an easy chair and sipped his wine with pagan appreciation.
"Ah, Daniel, my boy," he said, "if we were only in Biarritz or Paris. I often think of those places."
"Somehow I'd like to be in Montreux," came rather wistfully from the bed. "You know, Manning . . . all of us . . . out of this mess . . . Barney better and everything." A moment's silence, then, "but that can't be . . . ever." The voice trailed off and finished with a decided, "Damn it all to hell !"
"It can be, Daniel." Manning's tone was tempting "Listen, Daniel, it can be. I'm positive of that."
"You know my damn young fool of a nephew, Lambert? Rich as all outdoors. Mother's side."
"Know him well. He's all right."
"Glad you think so. Glad somebody thinks so. I like him, myself. Drink up, Daniel. It won't hurt you." Manning was working hard to put a little enthusiasm into his patient. He was waxing enthusiastic himself as his plan took shape in his mind. "Well," he continued, "young Lambert has a yacht among many other things, a regular sea-going yacht. She's anchored in a cove near Willow Point . . . not far off. And she's ready for sea at a moment's notice. Remember that. It's a good point. Now, this damn fool nephew of mine has been just aching to take a trip round the world or to any spot between or thereon. All he's waiting for is someone to go with him. Doesn't care how many. It could be done quietly, Daniel, and if this mess, as you call it, keeps on getting messier, why, I say, let's go."
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," called Daniel.
"The doctor's wanted," one of the maids announced in an awed voice. "They've brought the body back."
"Oh, damn !" said Manning, gulping down his wine. "It's not my job, but anything to be obliging. Think it over, Dan."
The door closed and Daniel lay there alone . . thinking. He was too damn tired to think. He closed his eyes. . .
He must have drowsed off, for when he next opened his eyes, June was sitting by his bed. He had not heard her come in nor did he know how long she had been there. Her hand was lying on the coverlet, a strong but now pathetically listless hand, and he let his fall upon it.
"Hello, June." He gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
"'Lo, Daniel. Any better?"
"Lots. How's Barney?"
"He's up and about. The poor kid seems to be lost."
"He doesn't come to me."
"He's thinking only of himself at present and of . . . her."
"I'd like to spank his bottom."
"Very pretty. Suppose I died. Would you go round visiting the sick and wounded?"
"If they'd been good to me, yes. I might get drunk and laugh at nothing."
"Would you mind if I died, Daniel?"
"Quite a lot. Part of me is dead already. Do you want to kill the rest?"
"Then don't die."
"But I might have to."
"Same here. I'm pretty damn close to it now."
"What do you mean?"
"What did you mean?"
Silence. A long silence, then Daniel, "Is she next door?"
"No, Dan. It's in a spare room. There is no 'she.'"
"It's just as well, June. The trouble started with her, but it hasn't ended with her."
"Are you glad she's gone?"
"Then so am I."
"Munson thinks I did it, June."
"Scott thinks everybody did it."
"Sort of a mass attack, eh?"
"Or a series of individual assaults."
"Each pushing her nearer the brink"
"We shouldn't talk like this," said June.
"Why not? You never liked her."
"I never liked her, no. Toward the end I hated her more than anything else in life. I hated her more than the filthiest vice or the most cowardly deed."
"She deserved all that, June."
"But what about God?"
"He wouldn't have cared for her much."
"Wish it could have happened some other way . . . wish he had done it instead of—"
"He did kill her, June, if there is a God. He killed her as much as—oh, well, anybody. Don't doubt that."
"You couldn't get Scott to see it that way."
"He'd have a hell of a time catching God."
"He'd try to if he thought there was a ghost of a chance."
"How'd you like to go away?"
"How go away?"
"On a yacht, a fine big yacht. All over the world. Everywhere. Away from this mess. Out of reach. New places. A new suit of thoughts."
"God, Dan, I'd love it. Could I have a new dress of thoughts?"
"Yes, dear, and a hat."
"Everything new from the skin out, Dan."
"That goes with me as long as you don't change your skin."
"Do you like my skin?"
"The little I've been able to ogle."
"We'll like each other a long time, Dan?"
"Let's do it, June."
"No matter what?"
"No matter what."
"And then we'll go away to everywhere on that yacht, won't we ?"
"If you'll slip me a kiss we will."
"All right. I'm going now." June bent over Daniel.
"Excuse me, can I come in, lady?"
"Great God, June, what's that?"
A crushed face with desperate eyes was looking in at the window. It seemed to be suspended in space and terribly aware of the fact.
"What are you doing there?" asked June. "Just what are you doing there?"
"Damned if I know, lady," spoke the face. "Risking life and limb, if you ask me, but Mr. Munson thinks I'm looking before clues."
"What, me, lady? Looking? I'm just clutching Hanging on for dear life."
"Well, you can't come in. That's that. Tell Mr. Munson so."
"Oh, lady, I can't get down. Come look how I am all scrunched up and perilous."
"You should have thought about that before you climbed up here."
"I did, lady. That was all I thought of. Couldn't think of anything else."
"Well, tell Mr. Munson you can't come in."
The face looked earthward cautiously. "Mr. Munson," it wailed, "she says I can't come in."
"Then snap on down," came the voice of Scott Munson.
"Did you hear that, lady?" asked the face. "`Snap on down,' says he. There's a fair sample for you. I'd snap like a twig if I hit the ground. Do let me come in, lady."
"Let him in, June," said Daniel. "I'm interested to see just what is attached to a face like that."
"You can come in," said June.
"I'll always remember this, lady, and you, too, sir, in the bed. I'll always remember this and be grateful. Could you give me a hand, lady? It's more for the sake of confidence. A man just can't be courageous in the position I'm in. It would be foolhardy."
June seized the outstretched hand and gave it a powerful pull. Face, body, and feet came clattering into the room.
"Lady, you saved my life," said Officer Shad as he rose from the floor.
"Bring him over here, June?"
From the left knee of the man's trousers Daniel picked a piece of red lint. Another piece clung to his elbow.
"Now an envelope and my fountain-pen, old dear." He placed the lint in the envelope and wrote :
Clues found on the body and person of one of your profession. With the compliments of Daniel Crewe.
"Take that to Mr. Munson, officer, and call again at any time."
"But not by the tree, sir. Never that tree again."
"This is the way out," said June.
"Where do I go when I leave here, lady?"
"Oh, just go wandering round, barging in anywhere. Some day we'll find your body rotting in the halls." Officer Shad slid out with a shiver.
"He spoiled a perfectly good kiss," complained June, returning to the bed.
Daniel dressed slowly and went downstairs. He was wondering what had become of Sam Stoughten. He hadn't had a talk with Sam since the thing occurred. He would like to know what Sam was thinking. Munson had those letters.
As he stepped out on the veranda his eyes fell on Barney, sitting crouched before his easel. Then Daniel transferred his gaze to the canvas. He was shocked to attention. A great trembling emptiness took the place of all other emotions. His brother was painting the scene of the crime with the murderer on the spot. So much was apparent at once to the eye although the picture was little more than commenced. There was the Rock caught in a pale unearthly radiance, and caught in the radiance also was the vague, half-formed figure of a man in a black domino with the hood removed. The figure although hardly more than an impression looked tall and gaunt, much like his own. Its arms were upraised frantically, and the face, indistinguishable, was lifted to the hidden source of the light.
Daniel lost himself in the weird spirit of this terrible picture. Once more he was standing at the edge of the cliff with the first numbing realization of murder laying cold hands on his heart. He was alone there, sick and afraid. He had done it. He had murdered. He could feel again the flesh of the girl's bare shoulder. He could feel her slipping from him, twirling through the night to death.
Daniel's lips began to tremble. Sweat broke from his forehead. He tried to take his eyes from the canvas, but the fascination of horror held them fixed. It was as if he were calling to himself, accusing himself, demonstrating his deed before the eyes of the world. Nothing Scott Munson could do or say would have the same uncanny power as had this picture to move him, to break down his resistance and self-control and finally to cause him to confess his crime. Here was the highest refinement of torture, conceived by his own brother.
So absorbed had Daniel been in the picture that he had not noticed his brother's curious gaze fixed upon him. Barney had been noting with the insight of an artist every light and shade of emotion that passed across Daniel's face. He had been studying his brother's expressions, his open display of dread and horror, with morbidly bitter enjoyment.
"I thought you'd appreciate it," he said in a strangely hostile voice. "I am doing it for your special edification."
Daniel started, came back out of the picture, and looked at his brother. "Don't, kid," he said. "It's not like you."
Barney laughed ironically. "It's exactly like me. I am like that."
"You never hurt a soul in your life, Barney . . before."
"No? Well, watch me from now on."
Aunt Matty had come out and was standing by Daniel. She was staring at the picture with wide eyes.
"Oh, Barney," she said, at last, "that's not nice. Why don't you paint something else—a rose or a rainbow ?"
"Or a pickle or a sponge or a cabbage," suggested Barney, with a sneer. "That picture isn't intended to be nice. I prefer to paint murderers. My inspiration stands beside you."
Daniel led Aunt Matty back into the house and sat her down on a sofa in the library. The old lady, usually so game, was weeping softly.
"There, there now," murmured Daniel, putting an arm round the frail body. "Barney isn't well yet. He doesn't mean what he says. He'll come back to us. Don't take on so."
"I don't know what's come over this old house," said Aunt Matty. "It used to be a place of so much sea and sunlight, Danny. Laughter and comfort and the smell of the orchard. And you were both such good boys. All the time good. Why, you didn't ever drink much and cut up, not even after you were grown men. Good friends and happiness, and the servants all satisfied. Where's it all gone to, Danny? Overnight, all gone."
"It will come back, Aunt Matty. We'll bring it back somehow."
Daniel lied to the old lady, but his lies had to wind their way around a sizable lump in his throat. Those days, he knew, would never return. When he thought of the days ahead his heart failed him.
"I think I could have stood anything," said Aunt Matty, "if you two boys were as you've always been. Barney's bitterness and accusations, Daniel, are breaking my heart. Why should he hold it against you?"
"He's not himself," replied Daniel, wearily. "He'll come round presently. His nerves are shot, that's all."
Aunt Matty lowered her voice to a confidential whisper. Her bright eyes snapped. "Everything started with that Emily-Jane," confided the old lady. "I wish I'd pushed her off that rock myself."
Daniel derived no little comfort from the venomous wish of Aunt Matty. "I guess you're back to normal now," he said. "Let's not worry any more, or better still, let me do all the worrying for you. I'm used to it now."
He stood up, then on a sudden impulse, bent over the bewildered and saddened old lady, and kissed her cheek. Then he left the room. Straight past Barney he walked, his eyes avoiding the easel, and across the lawnto the beach in search of Sam. He must be about somewhere.
Then Daniel saw him. He was sitting on some rocks with Sue, and both looked miserable. When he joined them, the pair appeared relieved.
"How's your arm ?" asked Sam abruptly.
"Doc Manning is quite proud of it, Sam. No need to trouble about the arm at all."
"That was a strange thing," remarked Sue.
"Stranger things have happened, Sue," said Daniel.
Sam showed no interest in the strangeness of the thing.
"Tell me, Dan," continued Sue, "did Sam murder Emily-Jane?"
"Don't mind me," put in Sam. "I'm somewhere else."
"Why do you ask, Sue?"
"Because I think he acts like a murderer. He's been sitting here muttering and grunting and scowling into my face. Why, you'd think he was a couple of murderers at least."
"Do murderers go on like that, Sue?"
"Well, they couldn't behave any worse."
"Then, Sam did it. The mystery is solved."
"I hope they catch him and hang him good," said Sue. "Then perhaps he'll come to his senses."
"It might be just the thing he needs, a good old-fashioned hanging."
"Ha, ha,"—the sound startled Daniel—"you're an amusing couple, you two. A regular pair of Neros, playing the fiddle while Rome burns. Munson will have us all hung if we don't slip him some arsenic mighty quick."
"What did I tell you?" said Sue. "Those are the words of the worst type of murderer—a poisoner, no less."
For some time three pairs of moody, trouble-touched eyes did their best to discourage the glinting surf playfully belaboring the sand, then as if at some unspoken command, the owners of the eyes arose without expectation and, mounting the bluff, filed across the lawn to the house. Sue went on ahead, but Sam and Daniel were stopped by Munson.
"Thanks for your assistance, Daniel," said Munson, tapping the envelope containing the lint strands plucked from the body of Officer Shad, "but I hardly feel like using these. Your action has tied my hands."
"Stow that stuff, Scott," replied Daniel good-naturedly. "You probably think you've got enough dope without them. You'll use them if you think they'll help you. My advice is to keep them, old man. You'll need everything you can get to convict an innocent man. However, it has been done."
Munson's eyes snapped. "Thanks not my game, Daniel," he said. "And you know it."
"Nobody seems to be running true to form these days, Scott," remarked Daniel.
Bennett appeared at the corner of the house and approached them.
"Bennett, I want you to meet two of our best suspects," said Scott, and he introduced them.
"We're neck and neck," said Daniel, "vying for the honors."
"Well, I hope you both lose," said Bennett, with evident sincerity as he shook hands. "I never heard of a murderer before voluntarily contributing evidence."
"It's my kind heart, Bennett," said Daniel. "I like to see everybody happy."
As Daniel and Sam walked away Bennett's eyes followed them. "A cool customer," he remarked, referring to Daniel.
"So damn cool," replied Munson, "I expect him to crack at any moment now."
Just before they reached the veranda Sam halted Daniel. "Sorry as hell about that arm, Dan," he said rapidly. "I must have miscalculated. Daniel, I was desperate."
"We won't talk about that, Sam," replied Daniel, "but isn't it one devil of a mess?"
Barney was still painting, and in spite of every effort of will Daniel could not prevent himself from lingering over the picture. The old feeling gradually crept back, the old horror.
The inquest was over. Both procedure and verdict had gone according to Munson's carefully laid plans. He had succeeded in protecting the family, sparing Barney's feelings, and saving the reputation of the dead girl. At the same time he had got exactly what he wanted, a clear field.
The proceedings had attracted a little well-bred interest. About a dozen members of the Coastal Golf Club had motored over, more to pay their respects and to offer decently restrained condolences than to attend the inquest itself. Unalloyed astonishment seemed to be the prevailing mood. The thing was simply impossible. There must be some mistake. Then they had motored back; cocktail time was perilously close at hand. Daniel had been glad to see the last of them. Manning had proved helpful without appearing to be so. He had encouraged speedy departures and warded off embarrassing questions.
One small creature composed entirely of eyes and legs did nothing else but look at Barney. He had scarcely been aware of her gaze. Her name was Sally Brent. Before the advent of Emily-Jane she had secretly entertained certain vaguely defined hopes. They were all about some day. She and Barney had—oh, well, there had always been Barney. Where was Barney now? He seemed to be lost in some utterly remote region behind his brooding eyes. Little Sally smiled gamely and allowed old Brent to drive her home. Just the same, she felt sure that, given the right opportunity, she could have brought a little comfort to her erstwhile playmate and companion. And any female from the age of eight, obsessed with this fine fancy, is a constant source of danger to the object of her solicitude.
It was twilight now. Barney was sitting at his easel. All afternoon he had sat there, working away with crazy concentration. The painting on the large canvas was gradually beginning to take on depth and definition. Whatever genius Barney had was going into its creation. His feelings for the bizarre found expression here in a weird atmospheric treatment. It was as much a painting of a mood as it was of a place or person.
Several yards away Daniel was standing, his eyes burning into the picture. Although Barney was aware of his brother's presence, he calmly continued with his brush. To Daniel there seemed to be something inevitable in the slow, unhesitating progress of the picture. It was like the sure-footed approach of Doom, dreadfully unhurried and confident. It was like a threat withheld until the time was ripe to strike. It was the face, the vague, cloudy, indistinguishable face of the figure that struck terror to Daniel's soul. It was his face. Daniel knew it. It had to be his face. He could see it. He could see himself staring into the damp, murky night, filled with the skimmed, sick drippings of a dying moon.
Unconsciously Daniel's face had taken on the same expression it had worn at the time of the murder. His features were tortured and drawn, his neck cords taut, his body strained and rigid. All unknowingly, Daniel stood there, a self-confessed murderer.
Scott Munson, appearing in the doorway, arrested his step, and took in the scene. From Daniel his eyes moved to the canvas, then back again to the agonized face. Munson received the impression that some terrible force, some impelling emotion, was goading Daniel against his will to offer himself as a model. Then a sigh escaped Daniel's lips and his body relaxed. He passed a hand across his eyes and moved away like a man who had just gone through some exhausting physical test. Then he saw Munson for the first time and turned away. Barney's bitter eyes looked mockingly into his. Helplessly he turned from side to side. He was trembling now, trembling inwardly. Every nerve in his body was lashing him with little nagging stings. In the back of his mind some dim glimmer of intelligence kept urging him to pull in, for the moment of danger was at hand. He breathed deeply and threw back his shoulders. His head went up. But he did not trust his tongue to speak. Silently he passed Munson and went upstairs to his room.
Munson walked over to Barney and looked sorrowfully into his eyes.
"No," he said. "You shouldn't do that. Daniel's always been damn good to you. Some day soon, Barney, I'm going to hurt you badly if only to bring you back to Dan."
He was thinking of five letters his searching hand had encountered tucked in a vest hanging under a number of other garments in a dark corner of Daniel's closet.
The net was being drawn closer round Daniel. Munson was morally convinced that he had committed the crime. He knew that with the evidence he had already in hand he could make him pay the extreme penalty. Yet there had been other people out that night, people with both motives and opportunity. An altogether new theory of the murder was forming itself in his mind. He would hold his hand for a while. . . .
And all that night in Daniel's room the light was kept burning. Whenever he turned it out the shadows of Barney and Emily-Jane kept flitting through the room.
Thank God she had not screamed.
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