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Did She Fall?


Thorne Smith



IN the library June Lansing sat facing Scott Munson. Her eyes were alert and filled with expectancy. Munson's were those of a tired and none too happy man.

"June," he began, "I want to talk over this case with you. Something has to happen today. Things can't continue like this. We've been stalling long enough."

June leaned back in her chair and considered her cigarette. "Yes, Scott," she said. "What comes next?"

"Well," replied Munson hesitatingly, "I thought you might have something to say."

"And I thought that was your job, Scott," June coolly observed.

"Of course," said Munson, "but—well, I had a long talk with Sam last night and he had lots to say. Daniel is going to talk this morning. . . . You see, June, the case is about closed."

"Then why string it out, Scott?" June smiled and lighted another cigarette.

"I have some things," Munson explained. "This for example. It was hidden in the pantry, June."

He held up the black domino, which he had taken from the table.

"And then there's this buckle," he continued. "It was found in the sand near the rocks. It sort of worries me, June . . . this thing taken together with what Sam saw that night, your hand with that solitaire on it, and no end of other stuff. Did you hold on with your right hand and pull with your left, June?"

"Yes," said June, her poise never deserting her. "It was safer. The ledge, as you know, is narrow at that point."

Munson thoughtfully studied the girl's face. She was pale but collected, and for the first time he detected an expression of pain in her eyes.

"I'm sorry, June," he said gently.

June laughed shortly and rose from the chair. For several minutes she paced the room restlessly.

"Sorry, Scott?" she repeated at last, turning suddenly and confronting Munson. "Where can you find the word? There is no word. No form of speech can express the sorrow and horror I've been carrying round in my heart. I did the thing. Let's get that straight. I did it because I couldn't let Dan do it. I took that frightful stigma on myself because Dan—Scott, Dan is too fine for a thing like that. In time I was going to let him know—let you all know, but I still had hope. I still thought we might get away somewhere. It was murder, Scott, but it wasn't such a terrible murder. I am weak enough to regret it though. Day and night it is in my eyes, in my thoughts, gnawing at my mind. But I couldn't let Dan do it . . . I couldn't let him do it. We were all mad that night."

She sank to a chair and buried her face in her hands. Little convulsive shivers ran through her body. Munson rose and, crossing over to her, placed a hand on her shoulder. For some time they remained thus in the silence of the great, dim room.

"I read one of her letters to him," she resumed, her head still in her hands, her eyes fixed on the carpet. "Then I knew what all the trouble was about. After the dance she told me she had a date for a little walk in the moonlight."

"Why did she tell you that?"

"Because I pretended I had one, too, and she was warning me to keep away from High Point Rock. She thought I was like herself—a cheat. I think she almost liked me then. A girl like her gets lonely unless she has someone of her kind about her. I took the domino and got down to the ledge long before anyone else had started. I thought I lost that buckle somewhere along the way. All evening it had been giving me trouble, but I never knew just where it fell off. I waited on the ledge, Scott, waited a long time, and then the thing happened. Everyone who comes to High Point Rock halts at that spot or close to it at some time or other. I knew they would come and I waited. Those minutes will be with me all my life. You know the rest. Sam must have seen. In the confusion of the scuffle above my head I reached up and gripped her ankle . . . I pulled her over the edge of the cliff and she almost struck me as she fell. I heard her strike. It came to me through the darkness. Oh, God, oh, God, that sound!" She paused and looked up at Munson. "I'd beaten Dan to it," she added, "but at the peace of my own soul if I have such a thing. Is that enough, Scott?"

"Yes, June," he answered. "I'm afraid the case is closed."

"It's a God-damned lie." Daniel's words cut sharply across the silence of the room. "It's impossible—stupid."

Munson and June turned quickly to see the two brothers standing in the doorway. Daniel strode across the room and pulled June roughly to her feet. Then he took her in his arms and held her fiercely to him.

"Scott, it's a damned lot of nonsense," he said, looking at Munson over June's shoulders. "I did it and you've all along known I did. Barney—everyone knows. This girl here is out of her mind. Shut up, June"— and Daniel shook her vigorously, then once more gathered her in his arms.

"I'm afraid June is right," replied Munson. "You see, Daniel, I can prove it."

For a moment Daniel's faculties were atrophied. He could hardly realize the fact that he was not an actual murderer. His whole world was changed by this new development. But he was not relieved. He was afraid for June. She was in danger. This, at the moment, was all he knew. June was in danger. Now he would have to fight. Barney crossed the room and placed a timid hand on June's arm. He, too, seemed bewildered.

"Then, I'm morally responsible," said Daniel. "I tried to do it, I wanted to do it, and I planned to do it. If June did do the thing it was I who drove her to it."

"I killed her because I wanted to," broke in June "No one drove me to it."

"You keep quiet," said Daniel, holding her even closer.

"Do you loathe me, Barney?" she asked.

Barney bent over and kissed a part of her nose, "I'm thinking," he whispered. "Hold tight, old girl."

"Morally responsible, yes," replied Munson, "but I can't arrest you on that. June actually did it and inasmuch as there was no conspiracy between you, June is guilty of murder in the eyes of the law. And it's the law with which we have to deal. Both you and Sam are potential murderers. Both of you tried to murder Emily-Jane, but the fact remains that you didn't do it. You failed and now June must—"

"But, my God, Scott," cut in Daniel, "can't something be done? You're not going to arrest June for the murder of Emily-Jane?"

"What else can I do?" asked Scott, with a helpless shrug of his shoulders,

"Take me," said Daniel. "You can prove a charge against me without any trouble. I'll offer no defense."

"I'm not looking for a victim just for the fun of it," replied Munson rather bitterly.

"Listen, Scott," put in Barney, "if you'll go over there in the corner and count one hundred I'll guarantee to save everybody a lot of trouble."

For some minutes Munson paced the floor lost in thought. June raised her head and watched him.

"Keep fighting, Dan," she whispered. "We're not licked yet. I feel it."

"Wish I had a gun," muttered Barney. "I'd shoot him in the legs."

"This is what I'm going to do," said Munson, stopping in front of the little group. "I'm going to motor to New Haven and parley with the district attorney. I don't know what will come of it, but I'll try to make things as easy as I can for you, June. Daniel, you and Sam had better come along with me, so that June won't have too many allies to get her into trouble. June, I suggest that you stay on the veranda as much as possible where my staff can keep an eye on you. Consider yourself under arrest."

He left the room and hurried upstairs. The moment he was gone Daniel turned to Barney.

"It's up to you, Barney," he said. "Get in touch with Manning and dope out a scheme with him. Mention the yacht. June shouldn't be here when we get back. Lay the staff low if necessary. And work quick, Barney. I'll delay Scott as long as I can."

"I'm thinking," replied Barney, "thinking deeply."

"Don't forget the yacht," continued Dan, hurriedly. "It's our one best bet. And get June out of the way."

"I'm still thinking," was all Barney said.

"Ready?" called Munson from the door. The Shays stood behind him. They were regarding June with sorrowful eyes.

* *

Barney had thought to some purpose. No sooner had the car containing Munson, Sam, and Daniel driven off than he was calling up Manning. This excellent man received the news calmly.

"From six o'clock on tomorrow morning," he told Barney, "there'll be a sea-going yacht hanging round Singing Reef. Try like hell to pick us up there. We'll be waiting—that is, the yacht will."

Barney then called up Sally Brent and made known his needs. Sally was only too willing to meet them. Barney could have her motorboat or anything else he wanted. The warmth of Barney's gratitude brought a faint flush to the cheeks of the small young lady at the other end of the wire.

Barney's next call was a New Haven number—another girl friend. Marion Wilson would be quite willing to lie for Barney. At seven o'clock tomorrow morning she would call up and say that June had arrived in a state of nervous exhaustion. Yes, she understood perfectly. All set.

Leaving the library, Barney hurried to the beach and got his motorboat into the water. Soon he was chugging vibratingly toward the islands. As a result of this trip, Pete Clark began to move with incredible rapidity. He left the rocks and went about his affairs. Barney returned to the beach and did a surprising thing. He took a heavy sock from his pocket and packed it with sand. Later, when Pete came strolling through the orchard, Barney unobtrusively put him in possession of the sand-filled sock. Barney was still thinking. He hurried up to June's room and carefully packed two traveling bags. He included even mules and a rather seductive pajama outfit. All the bright things he put in, for in his heart he knew that even if he succeeded there still would be many sad days dawning for June.

When Barney descended to the veranda the Shays were keeping solicitous eyes on June Lansing. He procured his easel and set it up in front of one of the French windows opening into the library. Then he wandered up to the Shays. They made no protest when he offered to paint their pictures. June made this possible by agreeing to sit close by. Barney placed his subjects in the French windows and began the serious business of making the Shays immortal. He painted swiftly and honestly, and presently the Shays began to appear on the canvas. After ten minutes of steady work, he arrested his flying brush and asked the officers to elevate their chins a little more proudly. As they did so, Pete Clark silently rose up behind them and smote Officer Shad delicately but sufficiently upon the head with the sock Barney had so providentially packed with sand. Officer Red, turning to ascertain the reason for his associate's sudden collapse, received a similar blow. Pete then quietly withdrew with the sock, and Barney hurried upstairs for the bags. June was waiting in the hall to relieve him of one of these. Together they hurried to the back of the house where Aunt Matty and Sue were waiting to say good-by. There was no time for words. It was a silent departure. June was crying softly as she hurried through the orchard. Aunt Matty was holding a conference with the servants from which they dispersed with sealed lips.

At the border of the salt marshes Barney suddenly disappeared into a hole from which June had to extricate him. The suitcase had opened and most of its intimate contents lay on the ground.

"Are you helping me to escape or am I helping you?" demanded June.

"It's sort of an entente cordiale," replied Barney, helping her to repack the bag.

At the opening of a small creek, Pete was placidly waiting for them in the flattest of flat-bottomed skiffs. June stepped in and Barney passed the bags to her.

"They'll never find her, Mr. Barney," declared Pete. "Never in the world. I'm taking her to my last resort. Have Mr. Dan down here tonight. I'll be waiting."

June said nothing as the skiff moved off. She merely looked back at Barney and bit her under lip.

When Barney had once more seated himself in the chair, the Shays were about to return to their normal state of mental obtuseness.

"What happened?" asked Officer Shad.

"Nothing," replied Barney innocently. "I thought you fell asleep."

Officer Red tenderly felt the top of his head. "No," he declared. "No. It couldn't have been that ... not just that."

* *

Munson on his return was not a happy man, and the Shays were even less so. On learning of the disappearance of June, Scott had immediately called up Headquarters and got in touch with Bennett.

"Get out here as fast as you can," he told him. "The Shays are hopeless."

In spite of the fact that both Shad and Red stoutly exonerated Barney, pointing out the utter impossibility of his having had anything to do with June's escape, Munson regarded that cheerful young man with suspicion and distrust.

Munson felt that the absence of June Lansing was not so serious. She would not be able to get far. All arteries of escape were being watched. It would be impossible for her to make a complete getaway. Nevertheless it was annoying. Things looked bad enough for June as they were. This little escapade was not going to help at all. Yet in his heart he did not blame her. Had he been in her place he would have done the same thing. He did not even take the trouble to make inquiries, knowing the hopelessness of trying to battle against the loyalty of Crewe House.

* *

At two o'clock that night Daniel used the old tree outside his window for the last time. At the edge of the salt marshes Pete Clark was patiently waiting for him. Daniel stepped into the skiff and was silently carried out across the marshes. The reeds hid the skiff, and the channel twisted between high banks. Presently they came to a small island—a mere scrap of earth surrounded by mud and stagnant water. In the darkness, Pete miraculously guided Daniel along a narrow path. Daniel was mud to the hips.

There was a low shed in the bushes, and it was here that Daniel found June. She was fighting mosquitoes and smoking cigarettes. For a moment he held the disheveled figure in his arms, then he, too, turned his attention to the mosquitoes.

"Think we'll get away with it ?" asked June. "We have so far," replied Daniel.

"Didn't believe it was in Barney," she continued.

"You never can tell what's in Barney," said Daniel. "He's always been a bit amazing to me."

June edged closer to Daniel.

"Dan," she said rather haltingly, "do you feel anydifferently toward me now that you know I'm a—that I killed Emily-Jane?"

"How could I, June?"

"You don't feel that I'm stained sort of?"

"Far from it."

"But I do, Dan." Her sad eyes looked out into the darkness.

"We were both in it, old thing. Don't feel like that." Pete appeared with a pot of hot coffee.

At seven o'clock that morning, Barney was called to the telephone. Marion Wilson was on the wire. Munson followed Barney into the room and stood suspiciously at his elbow.

"You say she's there?" said Barney into the transmitter.

"Yes," came the mendacious reply. "In bed. Her nerves seem to have gone to pieces."

"Hell!" replied Barney. "Hold the wire, Marion." He turned to the waiting Munson. "She says that June's just drifted in and they've put her to bed." Munson took the telephone and questioned the girl closely. "Don't let her out of your sight until I get there," he told her. "I'm coming right now."

"Want me to go with you?" asked Barney. "She might need a friendly face."

"I want no one to go with me," snapped Scott. "I'm damn well sick of you all."

"Oh, I see," said Barney humbly.

When Scott had gone Barney had an extremely private interview with Aunt Matty. As a result of this little talk three rather questionable cups of coffee were expeditiously brewed. They contained most of the tablets Dr. Manning had left for Daniel on the night of the dance. Aunt Matty painted the lily by adding several drops of this and that to the mixture—strong drugs long secreted in her own private medicine chest.

A few minutes later when she offered this concoction to Bennett and the two Shays with her own fair hands, the officers of the law could hardly refuse, especially when they saw Barney and Sam Stoughten gulping down their coffee with every indication of relish.

"I guess we all need something in these sad times," the old lady said, with a deep but hypocritical sigh.

There is no getting away from the fact that the officers were most potently doped. And strange to say, Bennett was the first to go. He was found sleeping peacefully in a chair on the veranda. Officers Shad and Red speedily emulated his example. Then Barney executed his master stroke.

With the aid of Sam he carried the sleeping men to the beach and placed them comfortably as possible in his temperamental motorboat. A modest supply of food and water followed them. The remaining room was taken up with an extra supply of gasoline. These preparations completed, Barney lashed the wheel and brought the engine to life. Soon the little motorboat with its three unconscious passengers became a rapidly diminishing speck against the blue.

"Suppose the boat capsizes and the three of them drown?" asked Sam, unhelpfully. "What then?"

Barney ran a hand through his disorderly, straw-colored hair. "I don't know exactly what then," he admitted. "It would be a great pity, but nobody has anything on us."

Barney next resorted to his bicycle and pedaled rapidly to Sally Brent's sumptuous home. That young lady was ready and waiting for him.

"It's all tuned up," she announced.

"So am I," said Barney, stepping into her long, rakish-looking motorboat. "You wait here for me, Sally. I'll take a walk with you then."

"All right, Barney," said little Sally Brent. "I'll wait right here."

Barney swept out on the Sound for a few miles, then brought the boat sharply about and followed the coast line. In the distance he saw his own home standing comfortably back among the trees. In a few minutes he rounded High Point Rock, and once more he changed the course of the boat. This time he drove for the shore, to a narrow channel opening into the salt marshes. Here among the reeds Pete with June and Daniel were waiting in the skiff. The transfer was rapidly made, Pete suitably rewarded, and the motor-boat headed for Singing Reef with June at the wheel. Daniel came aft and sat by Barney.

"Well, old fox face," he said, making an effort to be cheerful. "Why don't you come along with us?"

"No," said Barney, "I've a date to go walking with Sally, and, anyway, I have to return her boat."

"But you'll join us soon?"

"Just as soon as I've perfected a little scheme I've been working out."

"What scheme's that, Barney?"

"I'm learning how to count my chickens before they're hatched."

"How's that?" asked Daniel.

"Well," began Barney, "I'm a little reluctant to talk about it until I'm sure I'm right. You might laugh at me."

"Certainly not, Barney."

"It's really quite simple," said Barney. "The most important thing is to get to know a lot of chickens."

"Sort of gain their confidence?" Daniel suggested.

"Exactly," replied Barney, his face lighting up. "You get those chickens to place implicit trust in you. Then you stick around while they are laying their eggs, after which you stroll up quite casually and borrow the eggs."

"I think I see it all," said Daniel.

"I knew you would," replied Barney. "Well, when you've lured the eggs away from the chickens you find something or someone to throw them at—some enemy or creditor or just a casual passer-by. And there you are."

"How do you mean, there we are?" demanded Daniel.

"Just that. There you are. You can't go wrong. No eggs, no chickens. The answer is zero. It works out every time."

"Pretty tough on the hens," observed Daniel. "Don't you ever pay them back?"

"No," said Barney. "You buy 'em another rooster. After that I'm going in for bull-baiting."

"Sounds interesting. How do you do that?"

"Well, you put a worm on the end of a bull's nose," began Barney. "Then you push him off the end of a pier and the fish in snapping at the worm bite the bull on the nose."

"I should think the bull would be furious," put in Daniel.

"He is," said Barney. "And humiliated, too."

Before Barney could go on any more about the bull, they had passed Singing Reef and were circling round a large, handsomely designed yacht with runaway-looking lines. On the stern they made out a freshly painted name.

No time for bull-baiting now. Barney took the wheeland brought the motorboat neatly alongside the yacht. Two handclasps and it was all over. Ready hands assisted June and Daniel aboard. The luggage followed.

Daniel and June were leaning over the rail as Barney sheered off.

"Good-by, Barney," called Daniel. "God bless you, boy."

"I'll follow you, Dan," called the small figure in the motorboat. "Wherever you are, I'll follow you. Just let me know."

June tried to speak, to call back a last word to Barney. Her voice broke and she held out both her hands in farewell.

The yacht got under way, and Barney turned to face a lonely sea. It had never been so lonely, he thought, so utterly bereft of life and interest. He turned his head and looked back at the rapidly vanishing yacht.

"So long, Dan," he whispered. "It won't be long. We'll get together soon.

True to her word, Sally was waiting for him in the same spot. She looked as if she had not even moved. At first she appeared as a small speck in the distance, and when Barney drew into the slip by which she stood she did not appear much larger.

For a long time they walked in silence, then presently they joined hands and Barney began to talk. Sally Brent listened with the wisdom of her sex.

When they reached Crewe House, Scott Munson was sitting on the veranda. As he watched them approach, a strange expression came into his eyes. It would have been difficult to tell at that moment the nature of his thoughts.

"Hello, Scott," said Barney.

"Out of my sight," replied Munson. "What have you done with Bennett and the Shays?"

"Don't be silly, Scott," said Barney. "Do I look as if I could do away with three able-bodied men?"

"No," admitted Scott, "but someone has."

"Perhaps they got tired of waiting for you and just went home."

"Who was responsible for that fake telephone call this morning?"

"Search me," said Barney.

"I'd like to hang you," said Scott.

* *

That night Barney sat on the veranda and wondered about June and Daniel. A few chairs away Munson was smoking moodily. Well on their way to the sea, June and Daniel were leaning over the rail of the flying yacht and wondering about Barney. Their thoughts must have passed on the water. Manning was not with them. He was walking across the lawn of Crewe House and approaching Barney's chair.

"May I come along when you go?" he asked, his voice sounding hushed in the darkness.

Barney placed his hand on the back of Manning's. "We'll go together," he said.

Later they were joined by Sam and Sue, but still the place seemed empty.

* *

The next morning Munson received a furious long-distance call from New York City.

"This is Bennett," that officer mouthed, "and I'm in New York. The Shays are with me and they're driving me mad."

"But why did you want to rush off to New York?" asked Munson, in his mildest voice.

Strange animal-like noises at the other end of the wire greeted this question.

"We didn't want to," Munson at last made out. There seemed to be tears in Bennett's voice. "We were doped and dumped into a half-witted motorboat and sent out unconscious across the Sound. When we came to we didn't know where we were. Later a Sound steamer picked us up and landed us at New York."

Munson sat back and considered the telephone. His face was a study in conflicting emotions.

"What do you think of that, Mr. Munson?" Bennett's voice demanded.

"Remarkably neat," replied Munson. "Never heard of anything quite like it."

"Ruthless, I call it," said the other. "The work of a cold-blooded criminal."

"Who doped you, Bennett?"

"That old devil you call Aunt Matty."

"What!" Munson sat up in his chair.

"Thought you'd be surprised," came Bennett's voice. "Yes. She's the snake in the grass. Put the bracelets on her, Mr. Munson. Arrest everybody. They're all in it."

Munson's eyes reflected the hopelessness of the situation. "I'm afraid they are," he answered. "In fact, I suspect the entire neighborhood. We can't arrest all of them."

"But what are we going to do?"

"Damned if I know, Bennett. I'll admit I'm stumped. I know this, though—in the future I'm going to confine my efforts to the professionally criminal class. Amateurs are too erratic for me."

"Same here," replied Bennett earnestly. "I guess I better be getting the Shays back home."

"All right," said Munson. "Bring them along."

He hung up and sat looking at the telephone. Slowly, reluctantly, a smile gathered at the corners of his lips. This facial manifestation finally crystallized in a grin of sheer enjoyment.

"Put the three of them in a boat and sent them off on their own," he mused. "My God, what a thing to do. And the old lady's in it—up to her ears. They're all in it—more than I even suspect."

Slowly he rose from the chair.

"Well, I'm licked," he said.

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