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Did She Fall?


Thorne Smith



WHEN Daniel had mounted into the darkness of the upper hall, Munson approached Barney's painting and stood regarding it with decidedly disapproving eyes. He realized that in a sense this painting was an ally of his, but he could not bring himself to consider it with any measure of appreciation. Young Barney should not be doing a thing like that. One inquisitor in the house was quite sufficient. He would have to have that little talk with Barney. High time he was given the low-down on the situation. Daniel might deserve to be smitten down by the impersonal hand of the law, but certainly not by his brother. Standing before the painting, Munson decided that Barney was due for a shock—a flock of shocks, in fact.

He turned from the picture and let his gaze wander round the long wide hall. Something was on his mind, something that had given him a shock. The wild theory he had been holding in reserve was gradually taking the sharp, definite outlines of a conviction. And that conviction was in some way associated with the kitchen and a nocturnal cup of tea. Aunt Matty had never found the lost domino. Neither had Scott Munson, although, unknown to Aunt Matty, he had added to her plaintively peering eyes the best efforts of his own.

Entering the dining-room on noiseless feet, he crossed over to the pantry door and glanced through its small leaded window. One glance was enough to attract and to hold his attention. He thrust his hands comfortably into his pockets and settled back on his heels like a man prepared to stay where he was for some time to come. There was a puzzled expression in his eyes and his lips barely betrayed the suggestion of a smile.

What he saw was nothing less than the Shays in united action. The light was burning in the kitchen and beneath its sharp radiance Officers Shad and Red were moving about contortedly. From their singularly unsuccessful efforts to walk on tiptoe Munson concluded their lives heretofore must have been open books, unsullied by deception. As if in atonement for an occasional collision with a chair or a table, Officer Red applied one finger permanently to his lips. Munson gained the impression that his stout, rubicund assistant entertained the hope of impressing the inanimate objects that seemed to bestrew his path with the urgent need of the utmost silence and secrecy. It was too much to ask of any kitchen furniture, and finally when Officer Shad, in stooping over, brought that part of his body which was opposite his head but at a slightly higher elevation smartly against the pointed corner of a table, the result was disastrous. Both Shad and the table vied with each other in making the air hideous with sound. A plate crashed to the floor, and Red became much redder. But as far as Shad was concerned, he was standing in a vast silence in which only pain existed, pain and outraged dignity.

"What did you want to do that for ?" demanded Red in a low voice.

"Just to see how it would feel," replied Shad, his usually mild eyes blinking with hostility. "You should try it. It's a lot of fun."

"I know," said Red, "but there's no need to make such a noise about it . . . breaking plates and everything."

Shad laughed dramatically. "Did you ever bring yours up against the sharp point of a table?" he inquired softly. For a moment his gaze dwelt on a rather self-assertive section of his colleague's body, then once more he indulged in unpleasant laughter. "But it wouldn't hurt yours," he added with brutal frankness. "Yours is too damn fat."

Officer Red Shay did not exactly toss his head, but the dignity of his bearing eloquently expressed the fact that his mind was bent on higher if not larger things, and that there were some subjects he positively declined to discuss. Once more the search commenced, and the mildly diverted Munson found himself wondering what motive, if any, animated the activities of his staff. His curiosity grew to the proportions of a definite need to know. The Shays were stealthily peering into pots and pans, table drawers, and closets. Officer Red even went so far as to sound the walls with a delicate finger. This last was too much for Munson. He quietly opened the pantry door and, remaining in the unlighted pantry as he had done once before on the night of the murder of Emily-Jane, spoke to his staff from the darkness.

"Would you kindly try to tell me," he asked in a quiet voice, "what the devil you two imagine you're doing?"

The unexpectedness of this disembodied question completely demoralized the officers. Motionless they remained in exactly the same position they had been in when the voice smote their ears. They poised frozenly as if playing a tragically earnest adaptation of "still waters, no more moving." Only their eyes moved and they were very busy as they darted about the room in quest of the owner of the voice. When Munson emerged into the light of the kitchen the tableau disintegrated with twin sighs of profound relief.

"You gave us such a start, Mr. Munson," Officer Red was honest enough to admit.

"Sorry, Red," replied Munson, "but you haven't answered my question."

"I don't rightly remember it, sir," said Officer Red.

"Well, what's the meaning of all this grotesque mincing about this kitchen like a couple of trick conspirators?" Munson demanded. "What do you hope to find here?"

"We were looking for it," said Shad in a low voice.

"It?" repeated Munson. "What?"

"The will," announced Officer Shad.

"What will and whose?" Scott Munson was becoming more and more perplexed.

"The will that's at the bottom of all this trouble," explained Officer Red. "It was my idea, the will."

"Oh, I see," said Munson, sitting down at the table and critically examining his finger-nails. "And it's not here, perhaps?" He eyed his staff sadly.

"No, Mr. Munson," replied Officer Shad. "It's not here."

Munson drummed on the table with the nails he had been recently inspecting.

"I hate to discourage initiative," he said at last, "but in spite of my best efforts I can't disabuse my mind of the belief that you two are about the biggest damn fools I've ever had the good fortune—mind me, I say, good fortune—to meet. Still, I may be wrong. Possibly there are two bigger damn fools somewhere hidden in an obscure crevice of this earth. If that is so I hope they stay there."

He rose from the table and switched the light on in the pantry. Aunt Matty was a hoarding housekeeper.

The pantry was filled with earthenware jars and tin boxes. It was a storeroom of pleasant surprises. In the past it had never failed to whet Barney's curiosity and to stimulate his cupidity. There were many shelves and cupboards. Munson looked about him with interest. This was the only room in the house he had not searched. He had looked for that missing domino from attic to cellar. He had been through all the outhouses, and now he knew that if it was still in existence it must be somewhere in the room in which he stood. Well, he would give the boys a little encouragement, he decided. After his last remarks to them they deserved to be encouraged. He called them into the pantry.

"Now, I'm going to give you something to look for," he promised them. "If your heads are so set on finding missing property, just swarm over this room and bring me back a domino."

Blank amazement greeted his request.

"Doesn't look much like a place where they'd hide games," said Officer Shad skeptically, glancing at the shelves and cupboards.

"Perhaps he wants a piece of sugar," suggested Officer Red.

"No," said Scott. "And I don't mean a domino either in the strict usage of the word. What I want is a large, floppy, black garment with a hood on it. If you want to save yourself a lot of unnecessary exertion, which I suspect you do, I suggest you look through those lower cupboards first. Take the one in the extreme corner."

Officer Shad, remembering the painful if ludicrous injury inflicted on his person by the table, squatted with surprising compactness, and opened the door to the cupboard. "Nothing in here," he announced, "except a lot of old stone jars. Seem empty to me."

"How big are those stone jars, Shad?" asked Munson with sudden interest.

"A matter of some two feet, I'd say," the officer replied.

"Will you yank the one out that seems hardest to get at?"

Shad inspected the jars with a calculating eye. "They're all hard to get at," he concluded.

"But I said the hardest." Munson's voice was sharper now.

With a grunt of utter weariness Shad thrust in a long arm and after a great deal of noise, succeeded in dragging forth a jar which obviously from his efforts must have been the hardest to get at.

"Now lift off the top," said Munson.

Shad obeyed, and Munson bent down quickly.

"Now pull it out," he continued, and there was no elation in his voice. It sounded rather flat and tired.

When Shad had drawn the crumpled black garment from the jar, he extended it to Munson. "You knew it was there all the time," said Shad in an injured voice.

"No, I didn't," Scott hastily disclaimed. "Honestly, Shad, I didn't. I just doped it out that the thing had to be there, or somewhere else close by."

"Well, now that you've got it," inquired Officer Red sarcastically, "what are you going to do with it?"

"Put those jars back exactly as you found them," said Munson, "and keep this little incident strictly to yourselves. Don't ask foolish questions, Red, but go upstairs and park yourself in the hall. Watch all the doors. At the end of two hours come down and wake up Shad. He'll be making revolting noises on the couch in the library. We should have someone outside by rights, but I don't think the people involved in this case are going to try to make a getaway. Snap to it."

The Shays' idea of snapping at that hour of the night was rather a languid stroll. Before the pantry door closed on them they glanced back at Munson.

"What's he doing?" asked Red in a whisper. "Kissing it?"

"Looks more like his nose," said Shad. "Perhaps he has a cold."

Munson carried the domino to the kitchen and sat down. Again he sniffed at the neck band to which still clung a faint trace of scent, illusive, almost indefinable.

Then he let the domino drop to his knees and sat staring straight ahead of him.

* *

"Bennett," said Munson on the following morning, when that crisp, self-confident officer put in an appearance, "it's good to get you back. My staff is becoming almost too diverting."

Bennett smiled appreciatively. "Have they been shooting up the countryside again?" he asked.

"No," replied Munson. "Looking for lost wills this time." He paused and passed a hand impatiently across his eyes. He had hardly slept at all that night. "Perhaps I wrong the Shays," he resumed. "When I come to consider it, they've been the only bright spot in this whole tragic business. You know, Bennett, whenever I have any dealings with those two broken reeds of the law I get the same feeling of bewilderment and unreality that poor Alice must have experienced at the mad tea-party. If they were just a little bit better I'd see that they were damn well fired from the force, but they're so dumb, so incredibly useless, I'm afraid to cast them adrift in this world of frenzied competition."

Munson little realized as he spoke that despite his humane sentiments the Shays were destined soon to be cast very much adrift indeed.

The two men were walking round the west side of the house. They came to the orchard and continued on in the direction of the salt marshes.

"Yes," said Munson slowly, in response to a question from his companion, "the case is about over as far as our end of it is concerned. Nothing remains to be done now save, perhaps, the most heart-breaking task that ever confronted a man. I'm such a coward, Bennett, that I'm tempted to clear out and let you take charge from here. I feel like an undertaker for broken souls."

"If I can help to make things any easier, Mr. Munson," replied Bennett, "I'm at your disposal, although I don't like this business so much myself. They're all nice people," he added, with a backward jerk of his head in the direction of the house.

"Thanks, Bennett," said Munson. "I'll let you know. Let's go over there and have a little talk with Betty. That girl, I suspect, is a mine of information if you can only make her forget to tell lies."

Betty was sitting on the same bench at the end of the orchard where she had first told her story of the murder of Emily-Jane. As Munson and Bennett, apparently engaged in casual conversation, strolled past the bench, Munson stopped, and with an arresting hand on the officer's arm, looked at the girl with a friendly grin.

"Isn't that so, Betty?" he asked, hoping to arouse her curiosity.

"Isn't what so, Mr. Munson?" asked Betty innocently, rising to the bait.

"Well, Mr. Bennett here was just saying," Munson explained, absent-mindedly sitting down beside Betty, "Officer Bennett was just saying that it's a downright shame so much fuss and worry should be made over the death of Miss Emily-Jane."

For the peace of mind of one Thomas Shanks, it was fortunate he was not present to witness the look of warm approval with which Betty favored Bennett, who upon receiving it immediately felt compensated for the remark Munson had so callously put into his mouth.

"And he's about right, too," replied Betty feelingly. "All the trouble started the moment she set foot in the house. Before that this place was one of the happiest spots in all the world. You know that yourself, Mr. Munson."

The girl's words seemed to be stabbing the man who sat beside her. For a moment he forgot what he had come there for—the problem that was uppermost in his mind. He was thinking of life at Crewe House before the advent of Emily-Jane. He was thinking of the ideal understanding and comradeship that had bound the two brothers so closely together. He was thinking of the plans the three of them had made during the long, lazy summer hours. There was going to be a breakfast in Paris on a certain specified morning, followed by a flight over the Channel and several weeks in London. After that they had planned a walking trip in which ale had largely figured. Barney had insisted on making it a slouching trip, and from that had rapidly retrograded until the trip had become a "barely moving tour of some small and preferably level area of England." Scott recalled his words. Where was all that now? Barney had ceased to be absurd. Old friendships were split and embittered. The breakfast in Paris had been shot to hell. Murder and suicide had come to spend the summer. There was no getting rid of them.

"Yes, Betty," Munson replied. "That's just about the way of it. This place here was one of the happiest and fairest spots on God's green earth. Bennett, it would have done your heart good just to have been about for a while. There was something so damned restful and decent about the place and the people in it. I was a tired man when I first came here, but after a couple of days I wasn't tired any more, and now"—he hesitated a moment—"well, now I'm tired again, tired as hell."

"You can thank that girl for that," said Betty, sticking to her original theme. "If she had never come here everything would be right now just like it had been before."

"Did you feel like that all along, Betty?" asked Munson.

"I certainly did," she replied. "Miss Emily-Jane never pulled the wool over my eyes, not for one second she didn't."

"Nor mine," said Munson.

"But she fooled most everybody else," the girl continued. "And she did it right in front of their eyes. It didn't take me long to see what kind she was—always pawing the men-folks with her hands and laughing up into their silly eyes, and poor easy-going Mr. Barney thinking she was just grand. It's a good thing for him she's gone. Why, the very afternoon of the party she—" Betty broke off suddenly and failed to complete her sentence. "I'd better be getting back to the house," she said. "They'll be hollering for me up there."

"Yes, I imagine you noticed a lot, Betty," thoughtfully observed Scott Munson, rising lazily from the bench. "A girl like you with eyes in her head sees a great deal more than people give her credit for. Isn't that so?"

Betty laughed knowingly. "I saw a whole lot more than Miss Emily-Jane ever wanted me to see," she replied. "I know for certain she tried to make a go for Mr. Daniel. I saw her try it with my own two eyes."

"But she was out of luck there," said Munson encouragingly. "What did Mr. Daniel do, Betty? Did he give her the cold shoulder?"

"He did that," Betty stoutly declared. "And she gave him the bare shoulder. I was standing in one of the alcoves and I saw the whole thing. I saw Mr. Dan pulling himself away from her. He was trying to get out of her room and she was holding him back with her naked arm. I'll never forget the look on his face. It was awful. And she laughed and asked him to call again."

"When did that happen?" asked Munson casually.

"Only a few hours before she was standing up before all the world, publicly engaging herself to Mr. Dan's own blood brother," she announced triumphantly.

"It was a good thing no one else saw it," said Munson. "Mr. Barney, for instance, or Miss June."

"It made no difference," answered Betty.

"Then someone else did see it?"

"Miss June saw the whole thing," Betty announced.

"I'd like to have heard what she said to Mr. Dan." Munson's laugh as he made this observation was just a trifle off key.

"She didn't say a word, Mr. Munson, not a word. She and Mr. Dan just stood there looking at each other, and I remember he kept shaking his head slowly from side to side."

"Then what happened, Betty?"

"Nothing happened," replied Betty. "Mr. Dan just went on to his room, and Miss June stood looking at Miss Emily-Jane's door with the strangest expressionin her eyes. She just stood there staring at that door, and then she went to her room. I wouldn't want anybody to look at me the way she looked at that door."

As the two men walked back through the orchard, Munson turned to Bennett.

"Had Betty realized what she was saying," remarked Munson, "she would rather have had her tongue cut out than to have said it."

But Bennett did not answer. He was thinking over what Betty had just told them, and he did not envy Munson his successful solution of the murder.

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