Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Abandoned Room by Wadsworth Camp – Full Text (Chapters 9-10)

CHAPTER IX

BOBBY'S VIGIL IN THE ABANDONED ROOM

For a long time the little group gathered in the snow-swept cemetery remained silent. The lamp, shaking in the district attorney's hand, illuminated each detail of the casket's interior linings. Bobby tried to realize that, except for these meaningless embellishments, the box was empty. That was what held them all—the void, the unoccupied silken couch in which they had seen Silas Blackburn's body imprisoned. Yet the screws which the detective had removed, and the mass of earth, packed down and covered with snow, must have made escape a dreadful impossibility even if the spark of life had reanimated its occupant. And that occupant stood there, trembling and haggard, sobbing from time to time in an utter abandonment to the terror of what he saw.

To Bobby in that moment the supernatural legend of the Cedars seemed more triumphantly fulfilled than it would have been through the immaterial return of his grandfather. For Silas Blackburn was a reincarnation more difficult to accept than any ghost. Had Paredes, who all along had offered them a spectacle of veiled activity and thought, grasped the truth? At first glance, indeed his gossip of oriental theories concerning the disintegration of matter, its passage through solid substances, its reassembly in far places, seemed thoroughly justified. Yet, granted that, who, in the semblance of Silas Blackburn, had they buried to vanish completely? Who, in the semblance of Silas Blackburn, had drowsed without food for three days in the house at Smithtown?

The old man stretched his shaking hands to Bobby and Katherine.

"Don't let them bury me again. They never buried me. I've not been dead! I tell you I've not been dead!" He mouthed horribly. "I'm alive! Can't you see I'm alive?"

He broke down and covered his face. Jenkins sank on the heap of earth.

"I saw you, Mr. Silas, in that box. And I saw you on the bed. Miss Katherine and I found you. We had to break the door. You looked so peaceful we thought you were asleep. But when we touched you you were cold."

"No, no, no," Blackburn grimaced. "I wasn't cold. I couldn't have been."

"There's no question," Bobby said hoarsely.

"No question," Robinson repeated.

Katherine shrank from her uncle as he had shrunk from her in the library the night of the murder.

"What do you make of it?" the district attorney asked Rawlins.

The detective, who had remained crouched at the side of the grave, arose, brushing the dirt from his hands, shaking his head.

"What is one to make of it, sir?"

Paredes spoke softly to Graham.

"The Cedars wants to be left alone to the dead. We would all be better away from it."

"You won't go yet awhile," Robinson said gruffly. "Don't forget you're still under bond."

The detail no longer seemed of importance to Bobby. The mystery, centreing in the empty grave, was apparently inexplicable. He experienced a great pity for his grandfather; and, recalling that strengthening moment with Katherine, he made up his mind that there was only one course for him. It might be dangerous in itself, yet, on the other hand, he couldn't go to Katherine while his share in the mystery of the Cedars remained so darkly shadowed. He had no right to withhold anything, and he wouldn't ask Graham's advice. He had stepped all at once into the mastery of his own destiny. He would tell Robinson, therefore, everything he knew, from the party with Maria and Paredes in New York, through his unconscious wanderings around the house on the night of the first murder, to the moment when Graham had stopped his somnambulistic excursion down the stairs.

Robinson turned his light away from the grave.

"There's nothing more to do here. Let us go back."

The little party straggled through the snow to the house. The hall fire smouldered as pleasantly as it had done before they had set forth, yet an interminable period seemed to have elapsed. Silas Blackburn went close to the fire. He sank in a chair, trembling.

"I'm so cold," he whined. "I've never been so cold. What is the matter with me? For God's sake tell me what is the matter! Katherine—if—if nothing happens, we'll close the Cedars. We'll go to the city where there are lots of lights."

"If you'd only listened to Bobby and me and gone long ago," she said.

Robinson stared at the fire.

"I'm about beaten," he muttered wearily.

Rawlins, with an air of stealth, walked upstairs. Graham, after a moment's hesitation, followed him. Bobby wondered why they went. He caught Robinson's eye. He indicated he would like to speak to him in the library. As he left the hall he saw Paredes, who had not removed his hat or coat, start for the front door.

"Where are you going?" he heard Robinson demand.

Paredes's reply came glibly.

"Only to walk up and down in the court. The house oppresses me more than ever to-night. I feel with Mr. Blackburn that it is no place to stay."

And while he talked with Robinson in the library Bobby caught at times the crunching of Paredes's feet in the court.

"Why does that court draw him?" Robinson asked. "Why does he keep repeating that it is full of ghosts? He can't be trying to scare us with that now."

But Bobby didn't answer.

"I've come to tell you the truth," he burst out, "everything I know. You may lock me up. Even that would be better than this uncertainty. I must have an answer, if it condemns me; and how could I have had anything to do with what has happened to-night?"

He withheld nothing. Robinson listened with an intent interest. At the end he said not unkindly:

"If the evidence and Howells's report hadn't disappeared I'd have arrested you and considered the case closed before this miracle was thrown at me. You've involved yourself so frankly that I don't believe you're lying about what went on in the old room when you entered to steal those exhibits. Can't say I blame you for trying that, either. You were in a pretty bad position—an unheard-of position. You still are, for that matter. But the case is put on such an extraordinary basis by what has happened to-night that I'd be a fool to lock you up on such a confession. I believe there's a good deal more in what has gone on in that room and in the return of your grandfather than you can account for."

"Thanks," Bobby said. "I hoped you'd take it this way, for, if you will let me help, I have a plan."

He turned restlessly to the door of the private staircase. In his memory Howells's bold figure was outlined there, but now the face with its slow smile seemed sympathetic rather than challenging.

"What's your plan?" Robinson asked.

Bobby forced himself to speak deliberately, steadily:

"To go for the night alone to the old room as Howells did."

Robinson whistled.

"Didn't believe you had that much nerve. Two men have tried that. What good would it do?"

"If the answer's anywhere," Bobby said, "it must be hidden in that room. Howells felt it. I was sure of it when I was prevented from taking the evidence. You've believed it, I think."

"There is something strange and unhealthy about the room," Robinson agreed. "Certainly the secret of the locked doors lies there. But we've had sufficient warning. I'm not ashamed to say I wouldn't take such a chance. I don't know that I ought to let you."

Bobby smiled.

"I've been enough of a coward," he said, "and, Robinson, I've got to know. I shan't go near the bed. I'll watch the bed from a corner. If the danger's at the bed, as we suspect, it probably won't be able to reach me, but just the same it may expose itself. And Rawlins or you can be outside the broken door in the corridor, waiting to enter at the first alarm."

"Howells had no chance to give an alarm," Robinson muttered. "We'll see later."

But Bobby understood that he would agree, and he forced his new courage to face the prospect.

"Maybe something will turn up," Robinson mused. "The case can't grow more mysterious indefinitely."

But his tone held no assurance. He seemed to foresee new and difficult complications.

When they returned to the hall Bobby shrank from the picture of his grandfather still crouched by the fire, his shoulders twitching, his fingers about the black briar pipe shaking. Groom alone had remained with him. Bobby opened the front door. There was no one in the court.

"Paredes," he said, closing the door, "has gone out of the court. Where's
Katherine, Doctor?"

"She went to the kitchen," the doctor rumbled. "I'm sure I don't know what for this time of night."

After a little Graham and Rawlins came down the stairs. Graham's face was scarred by fresh trouble. Rawlins drew the district attorney to one side.

"What have you two been doing up there?" Bobby asked Graham.

"Rawlins is hard-headed," Graham answered in a low, worried tone.

He wouldn't meet Bobby's eyes. He seemed to seek an escape.

"Where's Katherine?" he asked.

"Doctor Groom says she went to the back part of the house. Why won't you tell me what you were doing?"

"Only keeping Rawlins from trying to make more mischief," Graham answered.

He wouldn't explain.

"Aren't there enough riddles in this house?" Doctor Groom asked with frank disapproval.

Rawlins and Robinson joined them, sparing Graham a further defence. The district attorney had an air of fresh resolution. He was about to speak when the front door opened quietly, framing the blackness of the court. They started forward, seeing no one.

Silas Blackburn made a slow, shrinking movement, crying out:

"They've opened the door! Don't let them in. Don't let them come near me again."

Although they knew Paredes had been in the court the spell of the Cedars was so heavy upon them that for a moment they didn't know what to expect. They hesitated with a little of the abnormal apprehension Silas Blackburn exposed. Then Rawlins sprang forward, and Bobby called:

"Carlos!"

Paredes stepped from one side. He lingered against the black background of the doorway. It was plain enough something was wrong with him. In the first place, although he had opened the door, he had been unwilling to enter.

"Shut the door," Silas Blackburn moaned.

Paredes, with a quick gesture of surrender, stepped in and obeyed. His face was white. He had lost his immaculate appearance. His clothing showed stains of snow and mould. He held his left hand behind his back.

"What's the matter with you?" Robinson demanded.

The Panamanian's laugh lacked its usual indifference.

"When I said the Cedars was full of ghosts I should have heeded my own warning. I might better have stayed comfortably locked up in Smithtown."

Silas Blackburn spoke in a hoarse whisper:

"What did you see out there? Are they coming?"

"I saw very little," Paredes answered. "It was too dark."

"You saw something," Doctor Groom rumbled.

Paredes nodded. He looked at the floor.

"A—a woman in black."

"By the lake!" Bobby cried.

"Not as far as the lake. It was near the empty grave."

Silas Blackburn commenced to shake again. The doctor's little eyes were wider.

"It was a woman—a flesh-and-blood woman?" Robinson asked.

"If it was a ghost," Paredes answered, "it had the power of attack; but that, as you'll recall, is by no means unusual here. That's why I've come in rather against my will. It seems strange, but I, too, have been struck by a sharp and slender object, and I thought, perhaps, the doctor had better look at the result."

With a motion of repugnance he moved his left hand from behind his back and stretched it to the light. The coat below the elbow was torn. The slender hand was crimson. He tried to smile.

"Luckily it wasn't at the back of my head."

"Sit down," Doctor Groom said, waving Robinson and Rawlins away. "Let me see how badly he's hurt. There'll be plenty of time for questions afterward."

Paredes lay back in one of the chairs and extended his arm. He kept his eyes closed while the doctor stooped, examining the wound. All at once his nearly perpetual sleeplessness since coming to the Cedars had recorded itself in his face. His nerves at last confessed their vulnerability as he fumbled for a cigarette with his good hand, as he placed it awkwardly between his lips.

"Would you mind giving me a light, Bobby?"

Bobby struck a match and held it to the cigarette.

"Thanks," Paredes said. "Are you nearly through, doctor? I daresay it's nothing."

Doctor Groom glanced up.

"Nothing serious with a little luck. It's only torn through a muscle. It might have pierced the large vein."

His forehead beneath the shaggy black hair was deeply lined. He turned to
Robinson doubtfully.

"Maybe you'll tell us," Robinson said, "what made the wound."

"No use shirking facts," the doctor rumbled. "Mr. Paredes has been wounded just as he said, by something sharp and slender."

"You mean," Robinson said, "by an instrument that could have caused death in the case of Howells and—and—"

"I won't have you looking at me that way," Silas Blackburn whined.

"Yes," the doctor answered. "Before we go any farther I want to bind this arm. There must be an antiseptic in the house. Where is Katherine? See if you can find her, Bobby."

As Bobby started to cross the dining room he heard the slight scraping of the door leading to the kitchen. He knew there was someone in the room with him. He touched a cold hand.

"Bobby!" Katherine breathed in his ear.

He understood why the little light from the hall had failed to disclose her when she had come from the kitchen. She wore the black cloak. Against the darkness at the end of the room she had made no silhouette. When he put his arms around her and touched her cheek, he noticed that that, too, was cold; and the shoulders of the cloak were damp as if she had just come in from the falling snow.

"Where have you been?" he asked.

"Looking outside," she answered frankly. "I couldn't sit still. I wondered if the woman in black would be around the house to-night. Then I was afraid, so I came in."

Doctor Groom's voice reached them.

"Have you found her? Is she in the dining room?"

Without any thought of disloyalty Bobby recognized the menace of coincidence.

"Take your cloak off," he whispered. "Leave it here."

"Why?"

While he drew the cloak from her shoulders he raised his voice.

"Carlos has been hurt. The doctor asked me to find you."

His simple strategy was destroyed by the appearance of Rawlins. The detective came directly to them; nor was the coincidence lost on him, and it was his business to advertise rather than to conceal it. Without ceremony he took the cloak from Bobby. He draped it over his arm.

"The doctor," he said to Katherine, "wants a basin of warm water, some old linen, carbolic acid, if you have it."

She nodded and went back to the kitchen while Bobby returned with the detective to the hall. Paredes's eyes remained closed.

"Where did you get the cloak, Rawlins?" Robinson asked.

"The young lady," Rawlins answered with soft satisfaction, "just wore it in. At least it's still wet from the snow."

Paredes opened his eyes. He looked for a moment at the black cloak. He closed his eyes again.

"You could recognize the woman who attacked you?" Rawlins said.

Paredes shook his head.

"You've forgotten how dark it is. Please don't ask me even to swear that it was a woman."

"You're trying to say it wasn't flesh and blood," Blackburn quavered.

Paredes smiled weakly.

"I'm trying to say nothing at all."

"Tell us each detail of the attack," Robinson said.

But Katherine's footsteps reached them from the dining room and Paredes wouldn't answer. Under those conditions Robinson's failure to press the question was as disturbing as the detective's matter-of-fact capture of the cloak.

Paredes glanced at Katherine once. There was no softness in her attitude as she knelt beside his chair. Neither, Bobby felt, was there the slightest uneasiness. With a facile grace she helped the doctor bathe and bandage the slight wound.

"A silk handkerchief for a sling—" the doctor suggested.

"I won't have a sling," Paredes said. "I wouldn't know what to do without the use of both my hands."

"You ought to congratulate yourself that you still keep it," the doctor grumbled.

Bobby took the pan and the bottles from Katherine and rang for Jenkins. It was clear that Robinson had hoped the girl would go out with them herself and so give Paredes an opportunity to speak. This new development made him wonder about Graham's theories as to Paredes. If it was Maria who had struck the man there had either been a quarrel among thieves or else no criminal connection had ever existed between the two. Paredes, however, aping the gestures of an invalid, was less to Bobby's taste than his satanic appearance when he had come from the private staircase.

Rawlins still held the cloak. After Jenkins had removed the doctor's paraphernalia, everyone seemed to wait. It was Silas Blackburn who finally released the strain.

"Katy, where you been with that cloak? What's he doing with it?"

Without answering she took the cloak from Rawlins, and gave the detective and the district attorney the opportunity they craved. She walked up the stairs, turning at the landing. Her farewell seemed pointed at the Panamanian who looked languidly up at her.

"If I'm wanted I shall be in my room."

"Who would want you, Katherine?" Graham blurted out. But it was clear he had caught the coincidence, too, and the trouble he had confessed a little earlier was radically increased.

"That remains to be seen," Robinson sneered as soon as she had gone.
"Now, Mr. Paredes."

"I've really told you everything," he said. "I walked toward the graveyard. At a point very close to it I felt the presence of this creature in black. I spoke. I took my courage in my hands. I reached out. I touched nothing." He raised his injured hand. "I got this for my pains."

"What made you go to the graveyard?" Robinson asked suspiciously.

There was no mockery in the Panamanian's answer.

"I have told you the court for me has always been full of ghosts." He pointed to Silas Blackburn. "It frightened me that this man should come back through the court from his grave with all the evidence pointing to an astral magic. I wanted to retrace his journey. I thought at the grave, if I were alone, something might expose itself that had naturally remained hidden in the presence of so many materialistic human beings."

A smile spread over Rawlins's cold, unimaginative features.

"That sounds well, Mr. Paredes, and there is a lot about this case that looks like ghosts, but leave us a few flesh-and-blood clues. This woman in black is one of them, although she's been slippery as an eel. It looks to me as if you went to the grave to meet her alone exactly as you went to the deserted house to talk quietly with her night before last. Maybe she mistook you for one of us snooping in the dark, and let you have it."

"If that is so," Paredes said easily, "the nature of my wound would suggest that she is guilty of the crimes in the old room. Why not go out and arrest her then? She might explain everything except the return to life of Mr. Blackburn. I'm afraid that's rather beyond you in any case. But at least find her."

Robinson joined in Rawlins's laugh.

"Why go outside for that?"

Paredes started.

"You never mean—"

"You bet we do," Rawlins said. "If what I've doped out hadn't been so we'd have caught her long before. We're not blind, and we haven't missed the nerve with which she helped the doctor fix you up. We haven't caught her before because her headquarters have been right in this house all the time. You remember the other night, Mr. Robinson. You'd just questioned her in the court and had threatened to question him, too, when she came in here ahead of us and slipped out the back way. She must have told him to follow because they had to talk, undisturbed by us. They went by different roads to the deserted house where a light had been seen before. We happened to hit his trail first and followed it. I'll guarantee you didn't see her when you first came in."

Robinson shook his head.

"Mr. Graham kept me busy, and I rather waited for your report before pushing things. I didn't see her or question her until after Mr. Graham and Mr. Blackburn had started for New York."

"And she could have sneaked in the back way any time before that,"
Rawlins said.

"It's utter nonsense!" Graham cried.

Rawlins turned on him.

"See here, Mr. Graham, you've been trying to fight me off this way all afternoon. It won't do."

"Katy's a good girl," Silas Blackburn quavered.

With a growing discomfort Bobby realized that when the woman had cried near the graveyard he had reached out for Katherine and had failed to find her. Moreover, the night Graham and he had heard the crying in the old room she had stood alone in the corridor. It was easily conceivable that the turn of events after Robinson's arrival should have made it necessary for conspirators to consult free from any danger of disturbance. But Katherine, he told himself, was assuredly the victim of coincidence. He couldn't picture her entangled in any of Paredes's purposes. Her dislike of the man was complete and open. But he saw that Rawlins out of the mass of apparently inexplicable clues had extracted this material one and would follow it desperately no matter who was hurt; and Robinson was behind him. That accounted for their frequent excursions upstairs during the afternoon, for Rawlins's ascent as soon as they had returned from the grave. They had evidently found something to sharpen their suspicions, and Graham probably knew what it was.

Robinson took out his watch.

"We can't put this off too late," he mused.

The detective at his heels, he walked to the library. Bobby started after them. Graham caught him and they crossed the dining room together.

"What do they mean to do?" Bobby asked.

"I have been afraid of it since this afternoon," Graham answered. "I haven't cared to talk about it. I had hoped to hold them off. They intend to search Katherine's room. I think they believe she has something important hidden there. I've been wondering if they've got track of Howells's report which we told Jenkins to hide."

"Why," Bobby asked, "should that involve Katherine?"

"Howells may have written something damaging to her. He knew she was devoted to your interests."

Robinson called to them from the library.

"Won't you please come in, Mr. Blackburn?"

Bobby and Graham continued to the library. They found Rawlins gazing through the door of the private staircase.

"We could go up this way," he was saying, "and across the old room so that she needn't suspect."

"What is he talking about?" Bobby asked Robinson angrily.

"You wanted to help," Robinson answered, "so Rawlins and I are going to give you a chance. We are about to search your cousin's room. We hope to find there an explanation of a part of the mystery—the motive, at least, for Howells's death; perhaps your own exoneration. You'd do anything to have that, wouldn't you? You've said so."

"At her expense!" Bobby cried. "You've no right to go to her room. She's incapable of a share in such crimes. Do you seriously think she could plan an escape from the grave and bring back to life a man three days dead?"

"Give me a human being that caused death," Robinson answered, "and I'll tackle the ghosts later. You're wrong if you think I'm going to quit cold because your grandfather looks like a dead thing that moves about and talks. I shan't give up to that madness until I've done everything in my power. I would be a criminal myself if I failed to do as Rawlins wishes. If your cousin's skirts are clear no harm will be done. I'm acting on the assumption that your confession was honest. I want you to get Miss Perrine out of her room. I want you to see that she stays downstairs while we search."

"You've already searched her room."

"Not since Rawlins—"

Robinson caught himself.

"Never mind that. It is necessary it should be searched to-night. Even you'll acknowledge it's significant that all day when she has been downstairs her door has been locked."

"It's only significant," Bobby flashed, "in view of your treatment of her yesterday."

Robinson grinned.

"That will hardly go down. Rawlins has hesitated to break in. I've instructed him to do it now, if necessary. For the last time, will you bring your cousin down? Will you go through and unlock the door leading from the old bedroom to the private hall so we can get up?"

"No," Bobby cried, "I wouldn't do it if I believed you were right. And I know you're wrong."

"Prove that we're wrong. Clear your cousin by helping us,"
Robinson urged.

"Since you're so determined," Graham said quietly, "I'll do it."

"Hartley! What are you thinking of?"

"Of showing them how wrong they are," Graham said. "I'll tell her Doctor Groom wishes to speak to her about Mr. Blackburn. I'll warn him to keep her downstairs for a quarter of an hour. That should give you plenty of time."

Robinson nodded.

"She'll never forgive you," Bobby said. "It's spying."

He wondered that Graham should choose such a course so soon after it had become clear that Katherine had never really loved him.

"It's the best way to satisfy them," Graham said. "I have, perhaps, more faith than you in Katherine."

He left them to carry out Robinson's instructions. They waited at the entrance of the private staircase.

"I may witness this outrage?" Bobby asked.

"I'd rather you didn't speak of it in such harsh terms," Robinson smiled.

Bobby didn't know what to expect. The whole thing might be a trick of
Paredes, in line with his hints the night of Howells's death, to involve
Katharine. The quiet confidence of the two officials was disturbing. What
had Rawlins seen?

After a long time Graham descended the private staircase, carrying a lighted candle. He beckoned and they followed him back through the private hall into the wide and mournful bedroom. It encouraged Bobby to see the district attorney and the detective hurry across it. After all, they were really without confidence of solving its ghostly riddle. What they were about to do, he argued, was a last chance. They would find nothing. They would acknowledge themselves beaten.

When they entered the farther wing he noticed that Katherine's door stood wide.

"You see," he said.

"When I called her," Graham explained, "she thought something had happened to her grandfather. She ran out."

"And forgot all about the door," Robinson grinned. "That's lucky.
Now, Rawlins."

Bobby couldn't bring himself to cross the threshold, but from the corridor he could see the interior of the room and all that went on there during the next few moments. A candle burned on the bureau, exposing the feminine neatness and delicacy of the furnishings. The presence of the three men was a desecration; what they were about to do, an unforgivable act of vandalism.

Rawlins went to a work table while Robinson rummaged in the closet. Graham, meantime, bent against the footboard of the bed, watching with anxious eyes. Bobby's anger was increased by this picture. He resisted an impulse to run to the stairs and call Katherine up. That would simply increase Robinson's suspicions. There was nothing she could do, nothing he could do.

Rawlins had clearly been unsuccessful at the work table. He glided to the bureau. One after the other he opened the drawers, fumbling within, lifting the contents out, replacing them with a rough haste while Bobby's futile rage increased.

Suddenly he saw Graham's attitude alter. Rawlins's back stiffened. He pulled the bottom drawer altogether from the bureau and thrust it to one side. He gazed in the opening.

"Come here, Mr. Robinson," he said softly.

Robinson left the closet and stooped beside the detective. He exclaimed.
Graham went closer looking over their backs.

"You'd better see, Bobby," he said without turning.

"Yes," Robinson said. "Let me show you how wrong you were, Mr. Blackburn.
Let me ask if you knew you were wrong."

Bobby entered with a quicker pulse. He, too, stooped and looked in the opening. Abruptly everything altered for him. He wondered that his physical surroundings should remain the same, that the eager faces beside him should retain their familiar lines.

Against the back-board of the bureau, where it would fit neatly when the drawer was in place, lay a plaster cast of a footmark. Near by was a rumpled handkerchief that Bobby recognized as his own, and the envelope, containing Howells's report which they had told Jenkins to hide.

"Well?" Robinson grinned.

"I swear I didn't know they were there," Bobby answered. "You'll never make me believe that Katherine knows it."

"I've guessed," Rawlins said, "that the stuff was hidden here ever since this afternoon when I saw a small bundle sneaked in."

"Who brought it?" Bobby took him up.

Robinson's grin expanded.

"Leave us one or two surprises to spring in court."

"Then," Bobby said, "my cousin wasn't in the room when this evidence was brought here."

"I'll admit that," Rawlins answered, "but she wasn't far away, and she got here before I could investigate, and she's kept the door locked ever since until just now."

He lifted the exhibits out. The shape of the cast, the monogram on the handkerchief cried out their testimony.

Robinson grasped Howells's report and glanced over the fine handwriting.
After a time he looked up.

"There's the case against you, Mr. Blackburn, and at the least your cousin's an accessory. But why the devil did you come to me and make a clean breast of it?"

"Because," Bobby cried, "I didn't know anything about these things being here. Can't you see that?"

"That's the trouble," Robinson answered uncertainly, "I think I do see it."

"Besides," Graham said, "you're still without the instrument that caused death."

"I expect to land it in this room," Rawlins answered grimly.

He replaced the drawer and continued to fumble among the clothing it contained. All at once he called out and raised his hand. On the forefinger a tiny red stain showed.

"How did you do that?" Robinson asked.

"Something pricked me," the detective answered. "Maybe it was only a pin, but it might have been—"

Excitedly he resumed his search. He took the clothing from the drawer and threw it to one side. Nothing remained in the drawer.

"I guess it must have been a pin," Robinson said, disappointed.

But Rawlins took up each article of clothing and examined it minutely.
His face brightened.

"Here's something stiff. By gad, I believe I've got it!"

Concealed in a woollen sack, with the slender shaft thrust through and through the folds, was a peculiarly long, stout, and sharp hat pin. Rawlins drew it out. He held it up triumphantly.

"Now maybe we're not getting somewheres! That's the boy that did the trick in both cases, and it's what scratched Mr. Paredes. Maybe you noticed how quickly she came upstairs to hide this when she got in."

"Good work, Rawlins," Robinson said.

He glanced at Bobby and Graham.

"Have either of you seen this deadly thing before?"

Bobby wouldn't answer, but after a moment's hesitation Graham spoke:

"There's no point in lying, Bobby. Katherine knows nothing of this. I disagree with Rawlins. If she had been working with Paredes, which is unthinkable, she'd never have made such a mistake. She wouldn't have struck him. I have seen her wear such a pin."

"If she didn't cut him with it," Rawlins reasoned, "who else could have got it out of here and put it back to-night when she kept her door locked?"

"There's no getting around it," Robinson said. "Take charge of these things, Rawlins. Put them in a safe place."

"What are you going to do?" Bobby asked.

"I'm afraid there's only one thing to do," Robinson answered. "I'll have to arrest you both. One of you used this pin in the old room. It doesn't make much difference which one. You've been working together, and we'll find out about Paredes later."

"You're making a terrible mistake," Bobby muttered. "You don't know Katherine or you couldn't suspect her of any share in such crimes. Give me until morning to prove how wrong you are."

"What would be the use?" Robinson asked.

"If you'll do that, I will get the truth for you—the whole truth, how the room was entered, everything. I swear it, Robinson. Only a few hours. Let me carry out my plan. Let me offer myself to the dangers of the old room as Howells and my grandfather did. Your case is no good unless you can explain the miracle to-night. Give us this chance. Then in the morning, if nothing happens and you still think I'm guilty, lock me up, but for God's sake, Robinson, leave her out of it."

Graham walked to the window and flung it open. A violent gust of wind swept in, carrying a multitude of icy flakes.

"The storm is worse," he said. "No one is likely to try to escape from this house to-night."

Bobby stretched out his hand.

"You can't expose her to that."

Rawlins hadn't forgotten the sense of fellowship sprung from the pursuit of Paredes through the forest.

"He's right, Mr. Robinson. You could lock up a dozen people. You might send them to the chair without uncovering the real mystery of the Cedars. Maybe he might find something, and he'd be as safe in that room as in any jail I know of. I mean one of us would be in the library and the other in the corridor outside the broken door. How could he reasonably get out? If there was an attempt to repeat the trick we'd be ready. As for the girl, it's simple enough to safeguard against her getting away before morning. As Mr. Graham says, no one's likely to run far in this storm, anyway."

Robinson considered.

"I don't want to be hard," he said finally, "and I don't want to miss any chance of cleaning up where poor Howells failed."

He glanced at the extraordinary array of evidence. The good nature which, one felt, should always have been in his face, shone at last.

"I don't believe you're guilty. As far as you're concerned it's likely enough a put-up job. I don't know about the girl. Go ahead, anyway, and tell us, if you can, how the locked room was entered. Explain the mystery of that old man who looks as if he were dead, but who moves around and talks with us."

"The answer, if it's anywhere," Bobby said, "is in the old room."

Robinson nodded.

"Under the conditions it seems worth while. Go on then and clear your cousin and yourself if you can. You have until daylight to-morrow."

Bobby's gratitude was sufficiently eloquent in his eyes, but he said nothing. He hurried from the room to find Katherine. As soon as he had stepped in the corridor he saw her figure against the wall.

"Katherine!" he breathed.

"I've heard everything," she said.

He led her to the main hall where the greedy ears in her bedroom couldn't overhear them.

"Then you suspected what they were about?" he asked her.

"Uncle Silas," she answered, "seemed just as he had been when I went upstairs, so I wondered, and I remembered I had left my door unlocked."

"Then you knew those things were there?"

Her face was white. She trembled. Her words came jerkily:

"Of course I didn't. I only kept my door locked because they had searched so thoroughly before. It was an humiliation I couldn't bear to face again."

"You don't know," he asked, "who took that stuff from Howells; who hid it in your bureau?"

The trembling of her slender body became more pronounced. She spoke through chattering teeth:

"Bobby! Why do you ask such things? You believe I am guilty as you thought I was the woman in black. You think now, because those things were in my bureau—"

"Stop, Katherine! You won't answer me?"

"No," she said, backing away from him. "But you are going to answer me. We have come to that point already. Just an hour or two of trust, and then this! It's the Cedars forcing us apart as it did when we had our quarrel. Only this time it is definite. Do you think I'm guilty of these atrocious crimes, or don't you? Everything for us depends on your answer, and I'll know whether you are telling me the truth."

"Then," he said, "why should I answer?"

And he took her in his arms and held her close.

She didn't cry, but for a moment she ceased trembling, and her teeth no longer chattered.

"My dear," he said, "even if you had hidden that evidence I'd have known it was to protect me."

Then she cried a little, and for a moment, even in the unmerciful grasp of their trouble, they were nearly happy. The footsteps of the others in the corridor recalled them. Katherine leaned against the table, drying her eyes. Graham, Robinson, and Rawlins walked into the hall.

"Hello!" Robinson said, "I suppose that isn't an unfair advantage, Mr.
Blackburn. Still, I'd rather she hadn't been told."

"He's told me nothing," Katherine answered. "I came back to the corridor;
I heard everything you said."

"Maybe it's as well," Robinson reflected. "It certainly is if what you heard has shown you the wisdom of giving up the whole thing."

She stared at him without replying.

"Come now," he wheedled. "You might tell us at least why you stole and secreted the evidence."

"I'll answer nothing."

"That's wiser, Katherine," Graham put in.

She turned on him with a complete and unexpected fury. The colour rushed back to her face. Her eyes blazed. Bobby had never guessed her capable of such anger. His wonder grew that her outburst should be directed against Graham.

"Keep quiet!" she cried hysterically. "Don't speak to me again. I hate you! Do you understand?"

Graham drew back.

"Why, Katherine—"

"Don't," she said. "Don't call me that."

The officers glanced at Graham with frank bewilderment. Rawlins's materialistic mind didn't hesitate to express its first thought:

"Must say, I always thought you were sweet on the lady."

"Hartley!" Bobby said. "You have been fair to us?"

"I don't know why she attacks me," Graham muttered.

His face recorded a genuine pain. His words, Bobby felt, overcame a barrier of emotion.

They heard Paredes and Doctor Groom on the stairs.

"What's this?" the doctor rumbled as he came up.

"I—I'm sorry I forgot myself," Katherine said through her chattering teeth. She turned to Robinson. "I am going to my room. You needn't be afraid. I shan't leave it until you come to take me."

"Truly I hope it won't be necessary," the district attorney answered.

She hurried away. Rawlins grinned at Paredes.

"I'm wondering what the devil you know."

Robinson made no secret of what had happened. In reply to the questions of Paredes and the doctor he told of the discovery of the evidence and of the stout hat-pin that had, unquestionably, caused death. The man made it clear enough, however, that he didn't care to have Paredes know of Bobby's plan to spend the night in the old room, and Rawlins, Bobby, and Graham indicated that they understood.

"It's quite absurd that any one should think Katherine guilty," the doctor said to Robinson. "This evidence and its presence in her room are details that don't approach the heart of the mystery. That's to be found only in the old room, and I don't think any one wants to tempt it again. In fact, I'm not sure one can learn the truth there and live. You know what happened to Howells when he tried. Silas Blackburn went there, and none of us can understand the change that's taken place. I have been watching him closely. So has Mr. Paredes. We have seen him become grayer. We have seen his eyes alter. He sits shaking in his chair. Since we came back from the grave the man—if we can call him a man—seems to have—shrunk."

"Yes," Paredes said. "Perhaps we shouldn't have left him alone. Let us go back. Let us see if he is all right."

Rawlins laughed skeptically.

"You're not afraid he'll melt away!"

"I'm not so sure he won't," Paredes answered.

They followed him downstairs. Because of the position of Blackburn's chair they could be sure of nothing until they had reached the lower floor and approached the fireplace. Then they saw. It was as if Paredes's far-fetched fear had been realized. Blackburn was not in his chair, nor was he to be found in the hall. Even then, with the exception of Paredes, they wouldn't take the thing seriously. Since the old man wasn't in the hall; since he couldn't have gone upstairs, unobserved by them, he must be either in the library, the dining room, or the rear part of the house. There was no one in the library or the dining room; and Jenkins, who sat in the kitchen, still shaken by the discovery at the grave, said he hadn't moved for the last half hour, was entirely sure no one had come through from the front part of the house.

They returned to the hall and stood in a half circle about the empty chair, where a little while ago Silas Blackburn had cowered, mouthing snatches of his fear—"I'm not dead! I tell you I'm not dead! They can't make me go back—"

The echoes of that fear still shocked their ears.

There was a hypnotic power about the vacancy as there had been about the emptiness in the burial ground. Paredes spoke gropingly.

"What would we find," he whispered, "if we went to the cemetery and looked again in the coffin?"

"Why should he have come back at all?" Groom mused.

Robinson opened the front door.

"You know he might have gone this way."

But already the snow had obliterated the signs of their own passage in and out. It showed no fresh marks.

"Silas Blackburn has not gone that way in the body," Doctor Groom rumbled.

The storm was more violent. It discouraged the idea of examining the graveyard again before morning.

Robinson glanced at his watch. He led Bobby and the detective to the library.

"Then try your scheme if you want," he said, "but understand I assume no responsibility. Honestly, I doubt if it amounts to anything. You'll shout out if you are attacked, or the moment you suspect any real cause for fear. Rawlins will be in the corridor, and I'll be in the library or wandering about the house—always within call. Rawlins will guard the broken door, but be sure and lock the other one."

The two officers went upstairs with Bobby. Graham followed.

"You understand," Robinson said. "I'd rather Paredes and the doctor didn't suspect what you are going to do. Change your mind before it's too late, if you want."

Bobby walked on without replying.

"You can't dissuade him," Graham said, "because of what will happen to-morrow unless the truth is discovered to-night."

In the upper hall they found Katherine waiting. Her endeavours were hard to face.

"You shan't go there for me, Bobby," she said.

"Isn't it clear I must go in my own service?" he said, trying to smile.

He wouldn't speak to her again. He wouldn't look at her. Her anxiety and the affection in her eyes weakened him, and he needed all his strength, for at the entrance of the dark, narrow corridor the fear met him.

Rawlins brought a candle and guided him down the corridor. Graham came, too. The detective locked the door leading to the private hall and slipped the key in his pocket.

"Nobody will get through there any more than they will through the other door which I'll watch."

With Graham's help he made a quick inspection of the room, searching the closets and glancing beneath the bed and behind the furniture.

"There's no one," he said, preparing to depart. "I tell you there's no chance of a physical attack."

His unimaginative mind cried out.

"I tell you you'll find nothing, learn nothing, for there's nothing here to find, nothing to learn."

"Just the same," Graham urged, "you'll call out, won't you, Bobby, at the first sign of anything out of the way? For God's sake take no foolish chances."

"I don't want the light," Bobby forced himself to say. "My grandfather and Howells both put their candles out. I want everything as it was when they were attacked."

Rawlins nodded and, followed by Graham, carried the candle from the room and closed the broken door.

The sudden solitude and the darkness crushed Bobby, taking his breath. Yellow flames, the response of his eyes to the disappearance of the candle, tore across the blackness, confusing him. He felt his way to the wall near the open window. He sat down there, facing the bed.

At first he couldn't see the bed. He saw only the projections of his fancy, stimulated by Silas Blackburn's story, against the black screen of the night. He understood at last what the old man had meant. The darkness did appear to possess a physical resistance, and as the minutes lengthened it seemed to encase all the suffering the room had ever harboured. But he wouldn't close his eyes as his grandfather had done. It was a defence to keep them on the spot where the bed stood while his mind, in spite of his will, pictured, lying there, still forms with bandaged heads. He wouldn't close his eyes even when those fancied shapes commenced to struggle in grotesque and impotent motion, like ants whose hill has been demolished. Nor could he drive from his ears the echoes of delirium that seemed to have lingered in the old room. He continued to watch the darkness until the outlines of the room and of its furniture dimly detached themselves from the black pall. The snow apparently caught what feeble light the moon forced through, reflecting it with a disconsolate inefficiency. He could see after a time the pallid frames of the windows, the pillow on the bed, and the wall above it. He fancied the dark stain, the depression in the mattress where the two bodies had rested. Those physical objects forced on him the probability of his guilt. Then he recalled that both men, dead for many hours, had moved apparently of their own volition; and his grandfather had come back from the grave and then had disappeared, leaving no trace; and he comforted himself with the thought that the explanation, if it came at all, must arise from a force outside himself, whether of the living or the dead.

Because of that very assurance his fear of the room was incited. Could any subtle change overcome him here as it evidently had the others? Could there be repeated in his case a return and a disappearance like his grandfather's? There was, as Rawlins had said, no way in or out for an attack. Therefore the danger must emerge from the dead, and he was helpless before their incomprehensible campaign.

The whole illogical, abominable course of events warned him to bring his vigil to an end before it should be too late; urged him to escape from the restless revolt of the dead who had dwelt in this room. And he wanted to respond. He wanted to go to the corridor and confess to Rawlins and Robinson that he was beaten. Yet he had begged so hard for this chance! That course, moreover, meant the arrest of Katherine and himself in the morning. For a few hours he could suffer here for her sake. Daylight, if he could persist until then, would bring release, and surely it couldn't be long now.

He shrank back. Steadily it had grown colder in the old room. He shivered. He drew his coat closer about him. What temerity to invade the domain of death, as Paredes had called it, to seek the secrets of unquiet souls!

He ceased shivering. He waited, tensely quiet. Without calculation he realized that the moment for which he had hoped was at hand. The old room was about to disclose its secret, but would it permit him to depart with his knowledge? He forgot to call. He waited, helpless and terrified, against the wall. He heard a moaning cry, faint and distant—the voice they had heard in the forest and at the grave. But it was more than that that held him. He knew now what Katherine had heard across the court, heralding each tragedy and mystery. He caught a formless stirring. Yet on the bed there was no one. Fortunately he had not gone there.

He tried to call out, realizing that the danger could find him if it chose, but his throat was tight and it permitted no response.

His glance hadn't wavered from the wall above the stained pillow. There was movement there. Then he saw. A hand protruded from the blackness of the panelling where they had sounded and measured without success. In the ashen, unnatural light from the snow the long fingers of the hand were like the feelers of a gigantic reptile. They wavered feebly, and he became convinced that the hand was immaterial, that it was unattached to any body. If that was so it couldn't be the hand of Katherine. At least he had proved that Robinson and Rawlins had been wrong about her. That sense of victory stripped him of his paralyzing fear. It loosed the tight band about his throat. He called. He could prove the immaterial nature of the repulsive hand wavering from the wall.

Crying out, he sprang to his feet. He flung himself across the bed. With both of his own hands he grasped the slender, inquisitive fingers which wavered above the stained pillow, and once more his throat tightened. He couldn't cry out again.

CHAPTER X

THE CEDARS IS LEFT TO ITS SHADOWS

Straightway Bobby repented the alarm he had, perhaps too impulsively, given. For the hand protruding from the wall was, indeed, flesh and blood, and with the knowledge came back his fear for Katherine, conquering his first relief. A sick revulsion swept him. He remembered the evidence found in Katherine's room, and her refusal to answer questions. Could Paredes and the officers have been right? Was it conceivably her hand struggling weakly in his grasp?

The door from the corridor crashed open. Rawlins burst through. Graham ran after him. From the private stairway arose the sound of the district attorney's hurrying footsteps.

"What is it? What have you got?" Rawlins shouted.

Graham cried out:

"You're all right, Bobby?"

The candle which the detective carried gleamed on the slender fingers, showing Bobby that they had been inserted through an opening in the wall. He couldn't understand, for time after time each one of the panels had been sounded and examined. Beyond, he could see dimly the dark clothing of the person who, with a stealth in itself suggestive of abnormal crime, had made use of such a device. As Rawlins hurried up he wondered if it wouldn't be the better course to free his prisoner, to cry out, urging an escape.

Already it was too late. The detective and Graham had seen, and clearly they had no doubt that he held the one responsible for two brutal murders and for the confusing mysteries that had capped them.

"Looks like a lady's hand," Rawlins called. "Don't let go, young fellow."

He unlocked the door to the private hallway. Graham and he dashed out. In
Bobby's uncertain grasp the hand twitched.

Robinson's voice reached him through the opening.

"Let go, Mr. Blackburn. You've done your share, the Lord knows. You've caught the beast with the goods."

Bobby released the slender fingers. He saw them vanish through the opening. He left the bed and reluctantly approached the door to the private hall. Excited phrases roared in his ears. He scarcely dared listen because of their possible confirmation of his doubt. The fingers, he repeated to himself, had been too slender. The moment that had freed him from fear of his own guilt had constructed in its place an uncertainty harder to face. Yet there was nothing to be gained by waiting. Sooner or later he must learn whether Katherine had hidden the evidence, whether she had used the stout and deadly hatpin, whether she struggled now in the grasp of vindictive men.

A voice from the corridor arrested him.

"Bobby!"

With a glad cry he swung around. Katherine stood in the opposite doorway. Her presence there, beyond a doubt, was her exculpation. He crossed the sombre room. He grasped her hands. He smiled happily. After all, the hand he had held was not as slender as hers.

"Thank heavens you're here."

In a word he recited the result of his vigil.

"It clears you," she said. "Quick! We must see who it is."

But he lingered, for he wanted that ugly fear done with once for all.

"You can tell me now how the evidence got in your room."

"I can't," she said. "I don't know."

The truth of her reply impressed him. He looked at her and wondered that she should be fully dressed.

"Why are you dressed?" he asked.

She was puzzled.

"Why not? I don't think any one had gone to bed."

"But it must be very late. I supposed it was the same time—half-past two."

She started to cross the room. She laughed nervously.

"It isn't eleven."

He recalled his interminable anticipation among the shadows of the old room.

"I've watched there only a little more than an hour!"

"Not much more than that, Bobby."

"What a coward! I'd have sworn it was nearly daylight."

She pressed his hand.

"No. Very brave," she whispered. "Let us see if it was worth it."

They stepped through the doorway. Half way down the hall Robinson, Graham, and Rawlins held a fourth, who had ceased struggling. Bobby paused, yet, since seeing Katherine step from the corridor, his reason had taught him to expect just this.

The fourth man was Paredes, nearly effeminate, slender-fingered.

"Carlos!" Bobby cried. "You can't have done these unspeakable things!"

The Panamanian stared without answering. Evidently he had had time to control his chagrin, to smother his revolt from the future; for the thin face was bare of emotion. The depths of the eyes as usual turned back scrutiny. The man disclosed neither guilt nor the outrage of an assumed innocence; neither confession nor denial. He simply stared, straining a trifle against the eager hands of his captors.

Rawlins grinned joyously.

"You ought to have a medal for getting away with this, young fellow.
Things didn't look so happy for you an hour or so ago."

"And I had half a mind," Robinson confessed, "to refuse you the chance.
Glad I didn't. Glad as I can be you made good."

With the egotism any man is likely to draw from his efforts in the detection of crime he added easily:

"Of course I've suspected this spigotty all along. I don't have to remind you of that."

"Sure," Rawlins said. "And didn't I put it up to him strong enough to-night?"

Paredes laughed lightly.

"All credit where it is due. You also put it up to Miss Perrine."

"The details will straighten all that out," Robinson said. "I don't pretend to have them yet."

"I gather not," Paredes mused, "with old Blackburn's ghost still in the offing."

"That talk," Rawlins said, "won't go down from you any more. I daresay you've got most of the details in your head."

"I daresay," Paredes answered dryly.

He fought farther back against the detaining hands.

"Is there any necessity for this exhibition of brute strength? You must find it very exhausting. You may think me dangerous, and I thank you; but I have no gun, and I'm no match for four men and a woman. Besides, you hurt my arm. Bobby was none too tender with that. I ought to have used my good arm. You'll get no details from me unless you take your hands off."

Robinson's hesitation was easily comprehensible. If Paredes were responsible for the abnormalities they had experienced at the Cedars he might find it simple enough to trick them now, but the man's mocking smile brought the anger to Robinson's face.

"Of course he can't get away. See if there's anything on his clothes,
Rawlins. He ought to have the hatpin. Then let him go."

The detective, however, failed to find the hatpin or any other weapon.

"You see," Paredes smiled. "That's something in my favour."

He stepped back, brushing his clothing with his uninjured hand. He lighted a cigarette. He drew back the coat sleeve of his left arm and readjusted the bandage. He glanced up as heavy footsteps heralded Doctor Groom.

"Hello, Doctor," he called cheerily. "I was afraid you'd nap through the show. It seems the bloodhounds of the law left us out of their confidence."

"What's all this?" the doctor rumbled.

Paredes waved his hand.

"I am a prisoner."

The doctor gaped.

"You mean you—"

"Young Blackburn caught him," Robinson explained. "He was in a position to finish him just as he did Howells."

"Except that I had no hatpin," Paredes yawned.

The doctor's uneasy glance sought the opening in the wall.

"I thought you had examined all these walls," he grumbled. "How did you miss this?"

Robinson ran his fingers through his hair.

"That's what I've been asking myself," he said. "I went over that panelling a dozen times myself."

Bobby and Katherine went closer. Bobby had been from the first puzzled by Paredes's easy manner. He had a quick hope. He saw the man watch with an amused tolerance while the district attorney bent over, examining the face of the panel.

"An entire section," Robinson said—"the thickness of the wall—has been shifted to one side. No wonder we didn't see any joints or get a hollow sound from this panel any more than from the others. But why didn't we stumble on the mechanism? Maybe you'll tell us that, Paredes."

The Panamanian blew a wreath of smoke against the ancient wall.

"Gladly, but you will find it humiliating. I have experienced humility in this hall myself. The reason you didn't find any mechanism is that there wasn't any. You looked for something most cautiously concealed, not realizing that the best concealment is no concealment at all. It's fundamental. I don't know how it slipped my own mind. No grooves show because the door is an entire panel. There isn't even a latch. You merely push hard against its face. Such arrangements are common enough in colonial houses, and there was more than the nature of the crimes to tell you there was some such thing here. I mean if you will examine the farther door closer than you have done you will find that it has fewer coats of paint than the one leading to the corridor, that its frame is of newer wood. In other words, it was cut through after the wing was built. This panel was the original door, designed, with the private stairway and the hall, for the exclusive use of the master of the house. Try it."

Robinson braced himself and shoved against the panel. It moved in its grooves with a vibrant stirring.

"Rusty," he said.

Katherine started.

"That's what I heard each time," she cried.

Above his heavy black beard the doctor's cheeks whitened. Robinson made a gesture of revulsion.

"That gives the nasty game away."

"Naturally," Paredes said, "and you must admit the game is as beautifully simple as the panel. The instrument of death wasn't inserted through the bedding as you thought inevitable, Doctor. Suppose you were lying in that bed, asleep, or half asleep, and you were aroused by such a sound as that in the wall behind you? What would you do? What would any man do first of all?"

Robinson nodded.

"I see what you mean. I'd get up on my elbow. I'd look around as quickly as I could to see what it was. I'd expose myself to a clean thrust. I'd drop back on the bed, more thoroughly out of it than though I'd been struck through the heart."

"Exactly," Paredes said, with the familiar shrug of his shoulders.

"You're sensible to give up this way," Robinson said. "It's the best plan for you. What about Mr. Blackburn?"

Graham interfered.

"After all," he said thoughtfully. "I'm a lawyer, and it isn't fair, Robinson. It's only decent to tell him that anything he says may be used against him."

"Keep your mouth shut," Robinson shouted.

But Paredes smiled at Graham.

"It's very good of you, but I agree with the district attorney. There's no point in being a clam now."

"Can you account for Silas Blackburn's return?" the doctor asked eagerly.

"That's right, Doctor," Paredes said. "Stick to the ghosts. I fancy there are plenty in this house. I'm afraid we must look on Silas Blackburn as dead."

"You don't mean we've been talking to a dead man?" Katherine whispered.

"Before I answer," Paredes said, "I want to have one or two things straight. These men, Bobby, I really believe, think me capable of the crimes in this house. I want to know if you accept such a theory. Do you think I had any idea of killing you?"

Bobby studied the reserved face which even now was without emotion.

"I can't think anything of the kind," he said softly.

"That's very nice," Paredes said. "If you had answered differently I'd have let these clever policemen lay their own ghosts."

He turned to Robinson.

"Even you must begin to see that I'm not guilty. Your common sense will tell you so. If I had been planning to kill Bobby, why didn't I bring the weapon? Why did I put my hand through the opening before I was ready to strike? Why did I use my left hand—my injured hand? I was like Howells. I couldn't consider the case finished until I had solved the mystery of the locked doors. I supposed the room was empty. When I found the secret to-night, I reached through to see how far my hand would be from the pillow."

Bobby's assurance of Paredes's innocence clouded his own situation; made it, in a sense, more dangerous than it had ever been. His wanderings about the Cedars remained unexplained, and they knew now it had never been necessary for the murderer to enter the room, Katherine, too, evidently realized the menace.

"Do you think I—" she began.

Paredes bowed.

"You dislike me, Miss Katherine, but don't be afraid for yourself or Bobby. I think I can tell you how the evidence got in your room. I can answer nearly everything. There's one point—"

He broke off, glancing at his watch.

"Extraordinary courage!" he mused enigmatically. "I scarcely understand it."

Rawlins looked at him suspiciously.

"All this explaining may be a trick, Mr. Robinson. The man's slippery."

"I've had to be slippery to work under your noses," Paredes laughed. "By the way, Bobby, did you hear a woman crying about the time I opened this door?"

"Yes. It sounded like the voice we heard at the grave."

"I thought I heard it from the library," Robinson put in. "Then the rumpus up here started, and I forgot about it."

"The woman in black is very brave," Paredes mused. "We should have had a visit from her long before this."

"Do you know who she is?" Robinson asked. "And as Rawlins says, no tricks. We haven't let you go yet."

"I thought," Paredes mocked, "that you had identified the woman in black as Miss Katherine. She hasn't had anything to do with the mystery directly. Neither has Bobby. Neither have I."

"Then what the devil have you been doing here?" Robinson snapped.

"Seeing your job through," Paredes answered, "for Bobby's sake."

With a warm gratitude Bobby knew that Paredes had told the truth. Then he had told it in the library yesterday when they had caught him prowling in the private staircase. All along he had told it while they had tried to convict him of under-handed and unfriendly intentions.

"I saw," Paredes was saying, "that Howells wouldn't succeed, and it was obvious you and Rawlins would do worse, while Graham's blundering from the start left no hope. Somebody had to rescue Bobby."

"Then why did you give us the impression," Graham asked, "that you were not a friend?"

Paredes held up his hand.

"That's going rather far, Mr. Graham. Never once have I given such an impression. I have time after time stated the fact that I was here in Bobby's service. That has been the trouble with all of you. As most detectives do, you have denied facts, searching always for something more subtle. You have asked for impossibilities while you blustered that they couldn't exist. Still every one is prone to do that when he fancies himself in the presence of the supernatural. The facts of this case have been within your reach as well as mine. The motive has been an easy one to understand. Money! And you have consistently turned your back."

Robinson spread his hands.

"All right. Prove that I'm a fool and I'll acknowledge it."

Doctor Groom interrupted sharply.

"What was that?"

They bent forward, listening. Even with Paredes offering them a physical explanation they shrank from the keening that barely survived the heavy atmosphere of the old house.

"You see the woman in black isn't Miss Perrine," Paredes said.

He ran down the stairs. They followed, responding to an excited sense of imminence. Even in the private staircase the pounding that had followed the cry reached them with harsh reverberations. Its echoes filled the house as they dashed across the library and the dining room. In the hall they realized that it came from the front door. It had attained a feverish, a desperate insistence.

Paredes walked to the fireplace.

"Open the door," he directed Rawlins.

Rawlins stepped to the door, unlocked it, and flung it wide.

"The woman!" Katherine breathed.

A feminine figure, white with snow, stumbled in, as if she had stood braced against the door. Rawlins caught her and held her upright. The flakes whirled from the court in vicious pursuit. Bobby slammed the door shut.

"Maria!" he cried. "You were right, Hartley!"

Yet at first he could scarcely accept this pitiful creature as the brilliant and exotic dancer with whom he had dined the night of the first murder. As he stared at her, her features twisted. She burst into retching sobs. She staggered toward Paredes. As she went the snow melted from her hat and cloak. She became a black figure again. With an appearance of having been immersed in water she sank on the hearth, swaying back and forth, reaching blindly for Paredes's hand.

"Do what you please with me, Carlos," she whimpered with her slight accent from which all the music had fled. "I couldn't stand it another minute. I couldn't get to the station, and I—I wanted to know which—which—"

Paredes watched her curiously.

"Get Jenkins," he said softly to Rawlins.

He faced Maria again.

"I could have told you, I think, when you fought me away out there. No one wants to arrest you. Jenkins will verify my own knowledge."

"This is dangerous," the doctor rumbled. "This woman shouldn't wait here.
She should have dry clothing at once."

Maria shrank from him. For the first time her wet skirt exposed her feet, encased in torn stockings. The dancer wore no shoes, and Bobby guessed why she had been so elusive, why she had left so few traces.

"I won't go," she cried, "until he tells me."

Katherine got a cloak and threw it across the woman's shoulders. Maria looked up at her with a dumb gratitude. Then Rawlins came back with Jenkins. The butler was bent and haggard. His surrender to fear was more pronounced than it had been at the grave or when they had last seen him in the kitchen. He grasped a chair and, breathing heavily, looked from one to the other, moistening his lips.

Paredes faced the man, completely master of the situation. Through the old butler, it became clear, he would make his revelation and announce that simple fact they all had missed.

"It was Mr. Silas, of course, who came back?"

"Oh my God!" the butler moaned, "What do you mean?"

"I know everything, Jenkins," Paredes said evenly.

The butler collapsed against the chair. Paredes grasped his arm.

"Pull yourself together, man. They won't want you as more than an accessory."

Maria started to rise. She shrank back again, shivering close to the fire.

"Is your master hiding," Paredes asked, "or has he left the house?"

Jenkins's answer came through trembling lips.

"He's gone! Mr. Silas is gone! How did you find out? My God! How did you find out?"

"He said nothing to you?" Paredes asked.

Jenkins shook his head.

"Tell me how he was dressed."

The old servant covered his face.

"Mr. Silas stumbled through the kitchen," he answered hoarsely. "I tried to stop him, but he pushed me away and ran out." His voice rose. "I tell you he ran without a coat or a hat into the storm."

Paredes sighed.

"The Cedars's final tragedy, yet it was the most graceful exit he could have made."

Maria struggled to her feet. Her eyes were the eyes of a person without reason. That familiar, hysterical quality which they had heard before at a distance vibrated in her voice.

"Then he was the one! I wanted to kill him, I couldn't kill him because I never was sure."

"Did you see him go out an hour or so ago?" Paredes asked.

"I saw him," she cried feverishly, "run from the back of the house and down the path to the lake. I—I tried to catch him, but my feet were frozen, and the snow was slippery, and I couldn't find my shoes. But I called and he wouldn't stop. I had to know, because I wanted to kill him if it was Silas Blackburn. And I saw him run to the lake and splash in until the water was over his head."

She flung her clenched hands out. Her voice became a scream, shot with all her suffering, all her doubt, all her fury.

"You don't understand. He can't be punished. I tell you he's at the bottom of the lake with the man he murdered. And I can't pay him. I tried to go after him, but it—it was too cold."

She sank in one of the chairs, shaking and sobbing.

"Unless we want another tragedy," the doctor said, "this woman must be put to bed and taken care of. She has been terribly exposed. You've heard her. She's delirious."

"Not so delirious that she hasn't told the truth," Paredes said.

The doctor lifted her in his arms and with Rawlins's help carried her upstairs. Katherine went with them. Almost immediately the doctor and Rawlins hurried down.

"I have told Katherine what to do," Doctor Groom said. "The woman may be all right in the morning. What's she been up to here?"

"Then," Bobby cried, "there was a connection between the dinner party and the murders. But what about my coming here unconscious? What about my handkerchief?"

"I can see no answer yet," Graham said.

Paredes smiled.

"Not when you've had the answer to everything? I have shown you that
Silas Blackburn was the murderer. The fact stared you in the face.
Everything that has happened at the Cedars has pointed to his guilt."

"Except," the doctor said, "his own apparent murder which made his guilt seem impossible. And I'm not sure you're right now, for there is no other Blackburn he could have murdered, and Blackburns look alike. You wouldn't mistake another man for one of them."

"This house," Paredes smiled, "has all along been full of the presence of the other Blackburn. There has been evidence enough for you all to have known he was here."

He stretched himself in an easy chair. He lighted a cigarette and blew the smoke toward the ceiling.

"I shall tell you the simple facts, if only to save my skin from this blood-thirsty district attorney."

"Rub it in," Robinson grinned. "I'll take my medicine."

They gathered closer about the Panamanian. Jenkins sidled to the back of his chair.

"I don't see how you found it out," he muttered.

"I had only one advantage over you or the police, Graham," Paredes began, "and you were in a position to overcome that. Maria did telephone me the afternoon of that ghastly dinner. She asked me to get hold of Bobby. She was plainly anxious to keep him in New York that night, and, to be frank, I was glad enough to help her when you turned up, trying to impress us with your puritan watchfulness. Even you guessed that she had drugged Bobby. I suspected it when I saw him go to pieces in the cafe. He gave me the slip, as I told you, in the coat room when I was trying to get him home, so I went back and asked Maria what her idea was. She laughed in my face, denying everything. I, too, suspected the stranger, but I've convinced myself that he simply happened along by chance.

"Now here's the first significant point: Maria by drugging Bobby defeated her own purpose. He had been drinking more than the Band of Hope would approve of, and on top of that he got an overdose of a powerful drug. The doctor can tell you better than I of the likely effect of such a combination."

"What I told you in the court, Bobby," the doctor answered, "much the same symptoms as genuine aphasia. Your brain was unquestionably dulled by an overdose on top of all that alcohol, while your mechanical reflexes were stimulated. Automatically you followed your ruling impulse. Automatically at the last minute you revolted from exposing yourself in such a condition to your cousin and your grandfather. Your lucid period in the woods just before you reached the deserted house and went to sleep showed that your exercise was overcoming the effect of the drug. That moment, you'll remember, was coloured by the fanciful ideas such a drug would induce."

"So, Bobby," Paredes said, "although you were asleep when the body moved and when Howells was murdered, you can be sure you weren't anywhere near the old room."

"But I walked in my sleep last night," Bobby reminded him.

The doctor slapped his knee.

"I understand. It was only when we thought that was your habit that it frightened us. It's plain. This sleep-walking had been suggested to you and you had brooded upon the suggestion until you were bound to respond. Graham's presence in your room, watching for just that reaction, was a perpetual, an unescapable stimulation. It would have been a miracle in itself if your brain had failed to carry it out."

Bobby made a swift gesture of distaste.

"If you hadn't come, Carlos, where would I have been?"

"Why did you come?" Graham asked.

"Bobby was my friend," the Panamanian answered. "He had been very good to me. When I read of his grandfather's death I wondered why Maria had drugged him to keep him in New York. In the coincidence lurked an element of trouble for him. At first I suspected some kind of an understanding between her and old Blackburn—perhaps she had engaged to keep Bobby away from the Cedars until the new will had been made. But here was Blackburn murdered, and it was manifest she hadn't tried to throw suspicion on Bobby, and the points that made Howells's case incomplete assured me of his innocence. Who, then, had killed his grandfather? Not Maria, for I had dropped her at her apartment that night too late for her to get out here by the hour of the murder. Still, as you suspected, Maria was the key, and I began to speculate about her.

"She had told me something of her history. You might have had as much from her press agent. Although she had lived in Spain since she was a child, she was born in Panama, my own country, of a Spanish mother and an American father. Right away I wondered if Blackburn had ever been in Panama or Spain. I began to seek the inception of the possible understanding between them. Since I found no illuminating documents about Blackburn's past in the library, I concluded, if such papers existed, they would be locked up in the desk in his room. I searched there a number of times, giving you every excuse I could think of to get upstairs. The other night, after I had suspected her of knowing something, Miss Katherine nearly caught me. But I found what I wanted—a carefully hidden packet of accounts and letters and newspaper clippings. They're at your service, Mr. District Attorney. They told me that Silas Blackburn had been in Panama. They proved that Maria, instead of ever having been his accomplice, was his enemy. They explained the source of his wealth and the foundation of that enmity. Certainly you remember the doctor told us Silas Blackburn started life with nothing; and hadn't you ever wondered why with all his money he buried himself in this lonely hole?"

"He returned from South America, rich, more than twenty-five years ago," the doctor said. "Why should we bother about his money?"

"I wish you had bothered about several things besides your ghosts," Paredes said. "You'd have found it significant that Blackburn laid the foundation of his fortune in Panama during the hideous scandals of the old French canal company. We knew he was a selfish tyrant. That discovery showed me how selfish, how merciless he was, for to succeed in Panama during those days required an utter contempt for all the standards of law and decency. The men who got along held life cheaper than a handful of coppers. That's what I meant when I walked around the hall talking of the ghosts of Panama. For I was beginning to see. Silas Blackburn's fear, his trip to Smithtown, were the first indications of the presence of the other Blackburn. The papers outlined him more clearly. Why had it been forgotten here, Doctor, that Silas Blackburn had a brother—his partner in those wretched and profitable contract scandals?"

"You mean," the doctor answered, "Robert Blackburn. He was a year younger than Silas. This boy was named in memory of him. Why should any one have remembered? He died in South America more than a quarter of a century ago, before these children were born."

"That's what Silas Blackburn told you when he came back," Paredes said. "He may have believed it at first or he may not have. I daresay he wanted to, for he came back with his brother's money as well as his own—the cash and the easily convertible securities that were all men would handle in that hell. But he never forgot that his brother's wife was alive, and when he ran from Panama he knew she was about to become a mother.

"That brings me to the other feature that made me wander around here like a restless spirit myself that night. You had just told your story about the woman crying. If there was a strange woman around here it was almost certainly Maria. As Rawlins deduced, she must either be hysterical or signalling some one. Why should she come unless something had gone wrong the night she drugged Bobby to keep him in New York? She wasn't his enemy, because that very night she did him a good turn by trampling out his tracks in the court."

Bobby took Maria's letter from his pocket and handed it to Paredes.

"Then how would you account for this?"

The Panamanian read the letter.

"Her way of covering herself," he explained, "in case you suspected she had made you drink too much or had drugged you. She really wanted you to come to tea that afternoon. It was after writing that that she found out what had gone wrong. In other words, she read in the paper of Silas Blackburn's death, and in a panic she put on plain clothes and hurried out to see what had happened. The fact that she forgot her managers, her professional reputation, everything, testified to her anxiety, and I began to sense the truth. She had been born in Panama of a Spanish mother and an American father. She had some stealthy interest in the Cedars and the Blackburns. She was about the right age. Ten to one she was Silas Blackburn's niece. So for me, many hours before Silas Blackburn walked in here, the presence of the other Blackburn about the Cedars became a tragic and threatening inevitability. Had Silas Blackburn been murdered or had his brother? Where was the survivor who had committed that brutal murder? Maria had come here hysterically to answer those questions. She might know. The light in the deserted house! She might be hiding him and taking food to him there. But her crying suggested a signal which he never answered. At any rate, I had to find Maria. So I slipped out. I thought I heard her at the lake. She wasn't there. I was sure I would trap her at the deserted house, for the diffused glow of the light we had seen proved that it had come through the cobwebbed windows of the cellar, which are set in little wells below the level of the ground. The cellar explained also how she had turned her flashlight off and slipped through the hall and out while we searched the rooms. She hadn't gone back. I couldn't find her. So I went on into Smithtown and sent a costly cable to my father. His answer came to-night just before Silas Blackburn walked in. He had talked with several of the survivors of those evil days. He gave me a confirmation of everything I had gathered from the papers. The Blackburns had quarrelled over a contract. Robert had been struck over the head. He wandered about the isthmus, half-witted, forgetting his name, nursing one idea. Someone had robbed him, and he wanted his money back or a different kind of payment, but he couldn't remember who, and he took it out in angry talk. Then he disappeared, and people said he had gone to Spain. Of course his wife suspected a good deal. In Blackburn's desk are pitiful and threatening letters from her which he ignored. Then she died, and Blackburn thought he was safe. But he took no chances. Some survivor of those days might turn up and try blackmail. It was safer to bury himself here."

"Then," Bobby said, "Maria must have brought her father with her when she came from Spain last summer."

"Brought him or sent for him," Paredes answered. "She's made most of her money on this side, you know. And she's as loyal and generous as she is impulsive. Undoubtedly she had the doctors do what they could for her father, and when she got track of Silas Blackburn through you, Bobby, she nursed in the warped brain that dominant idea with her own Latin desire for justice and payment."

"Then," Graham said, "that's what Silas Blackburn was afraid of instead of Bobby, as he tried to convince us to-night to cover himself."

"One minute, Mr. Paredes," Robinson broke in. "Why did you maintain this extraordinary secrecy? Nobody would have hurt you if you had put us on the right track and asked for a little help. Why did you throw sand in our eyes? Why did you talk all the time about ghosts?"

"I had to go on tiptoe," Paredes smiled. "I suspected there was at least one spy in the house. So I gave the doctor's ghost talk all the impetus I could. I was like Howells, as I've told you, in believing the case couldn't be complete without the discovery of the secret entrance of the room of death. My belief in the existence of such a thing made me lean from the first to Silas Blackburn rather than Robert. It's a tradition in many families to hand such things down to the head of each generation. Silas Blackburn was the one most likely to know. Such a secret door had never been mentioned to you, had it, Bobby?"

Bobby shook his head. Paredes turned and smiled at the haggard butler.

"I'm right so far, am I not, Jenkins?"

Jenkins bobbed his head jerkily.

"Then," Paredes went on, "you might answer one or two questions. When did the first letter that frightened your master come?"

"The day he went to Smithtown and talked to the detective," the butler quavered.

"You can understand his reflections," Paredes mused. "Money was his god. He distrusted and hated his own flesh and blood because he thought they coveted it. He was prepared to punish them by leaving it to a public charity. Now arises this apparition from the past with no claim in a court of law, with an intention simply to ask, and, in case of a refusal, to punish. The conclusion reached by that selfish and merciless mind was inevitable. He probably knew nothing whatever about Maria. If all the world thought his brother dead, his brother's murder now wouldn't alter anything. I'll wager, Doctor, that at that time he talked over wounds at the base of the brain with you."

The doctor moved restlessly.

"Yes. But he was very superstitious. We talked about it in connection with his ancestors who had died of such wounds in that room."

"Everything was ready when he made the rendezvous here," Paredes went on. "He expected to have Bobby at hand in case his plan failed and he had to defend himself. But Maria had made sure that there should be no help for him. When the man came did you take him upstairs, Jenkins?"

"No, sir. I watched that Miss Katherine didn't leave the library, but I think she must have caught Mr. Silas in the upper hall after he had pretended to give up and had persuaded his brother to spend the night."

Paredes smiled whimsically. He took two faded photographs from his pocket. They were of young men, after the fashion of Blackburns, remarkably alike even without the gray, obliterating marks of old age.

"I found these in the family album," he said.

"We should have known the difference just the same," the doctor grumbled.
"Why didn't we know the difference?"

"I've complained often enough," Paredes smiled, "of the necessity of using candles in this house. There was never more than one candle in the old bedroom. There were only two when we looked at the murdered man in his coffin. And in death there are no familiar facial expressions, no eccentricities of speech. So you can imagine my feelings when I tried to picture the drama that had gone on in that room. You can imagine poor Maria's. Which one? And Maria didn't know about the panel, or the use of Miss Katherine's hat-pin, or the handkerchief. All of those details indicated Silas Blackburn."

"How could my handkerchief indicate anything of the kind?" Bobby asked,
"How did it come there?"

"What," Paredes said, "is the commonest form of borrowing in the world, particularly in a climate where people have frequent colds? I found a number of your handkerchiefs in your grandfather's bureau. The handkerchief furnished me with an important clue. It explains, I think, Jenkins will tell you, the moving of the body. It was obviously the cause of Howells's death."

"Yes, sir," Jenkins quavered. "Mr. Silas thought he had dropped his own handkerchief in the room with the body. I don't know how you've found these things out."

"By adding two and two," Paredes laughed. "In the first place, you must all realize that we might have had no mystery at all if it hadn't been for Miss Katherine. For I don't know that Maria could have done much in a legal way. Silas Blackburn had intended to dispose of the body immediately, but Miss Katherine heard the panel move and ran to the corridor. She made Jenkins break down the door, and she sent for the police. Silas Blackburn was helpless. He was beaten at that moment, but he did the best he could. He went to Waters, hoping, at the worst, to establish an alibi through the book-worm who probably wouldn't remember the exact hour of his arrival. Waters's house offered him, too, a strategic advantage. You heard him say the spare room was on the ground floor. You heard him add that he refused to open his door, either asking to be left alone or failing to answer at all. And he had to return to the Cedars the next day, for he missed his handkerchief, and he pictured himself, since he thought it was his own, in the electric chair. I'm right, Jenkins?"

"Yes, sir. I kept him hidden and gave him his chance along in the afternoon. He wanted me to try to find the handkerchief, but I didn't have the courage. He couldn't find it. He searched through the panel all about the body and the bed."

"That was when Katherine heard," Bobby said, "when we found the body had been moved."

"It put him in a dreadful way," Jenkins mumbled, "for no one had bothered to tell me it was young Mr. Robert the detective suspected, and when Mr. Silas heard the detective boast that he knew everything and would make an arrest in the morning, he thought about the handkerchief and knew he was done for unless he took Howells up. And the man did ask for trouble, sir. Well! Mr. Silas gave it to him to save himself."

"I've never been able to understand," Paredes said, "why he didn't take the evidence when he killed Howells."

"Didn't you know you prevented that, sir?" Jenkins asked. "I heard you come in from the court. I thought you'd been listening. I signalled Mr. Silas there was danger and to get out of the private stairway before you could trap him. And I couldn't give him another chance for a long time. Some of you were in the room after that, or Miss Katherine and Mr. Graham were sitting in the corridor watching the body until just before Mr. Robert tried to get the evidence for himself. Mr. Silas had to act then. It was his last chance, for he thought Mr. Robert would be glad enough to turn him over to the law."

"Why did you ever hide that stuff in Miss Katherine's room?" Bobby asked.

Jenkins flung up his hands.

"Oh, he was angry, sir, when he knew the truth and learned what a mistake he'd made. Howells didn't give me that report I showed you. It was in his pocket with the other things. We got it open without tearing the envelope and Mr. Silas read it. He wouldn't destroy anything. He never dreamed of anybody's suspecting Miss Katherine, so he told me to hide the things in her bureau. I think he figured on using the evidence to put the blame on Mr. Robert in case it was the only way to save himself."

"Why did you show the report to me?" Bobby asked.

"I—I was afraid to take all that responsibility," the butler quavered.
"I figured if you were partly to blame it might go easier with me."

Paredes shrugged his shoulders.

"You were a good mate for Silas Blackburn," he sneered.

"Even now I don't see how that old scoundrel had the courage to show himself to-night," Rawlins said.

"That's the beautiful justice of the whole thing," Paredes answered, "for there was nothing else whatever for him to do. There never had been anything else for him to do since Miss Katherine had spoiled his scheme, since you all believed that it was he who had been murdered. He had to hide the truth or face the electric chair. If he disappeared he was infinitely worse off than though he had settled with his brother—a man without a home, without a name, without a penny."

Jenkins nodded.

"He had to come back," he said slowly, "and he knew how scared you were of the old room."

"The funeral and the snow," Paredes said, "gave him his chance. Jenkins will doubtless tell you how they uncovered the grave late this afternoon, took that poor devil's body, and threw it in the lake, then fastened the coffin and covered it again. Of course the snow effaced every one of their tracks. He came in, naturally scared to death, and told us that story based on the legends of the Cedars and the doctor's supernatural theories. And you must admit that he might, as you call it, have got away with it. He did create a mystification. The body of the murdered man had disappeared. There was no murdered Blackburn as far as you could tell. Heaven knows how long you might have struggled with the case of Howells."

He glanced up.

"Here is Miss Katherine."

She stood at the head of the stairs.

"I think she's all right," she said to the doctor. "She's asleep. She went to sleep crying. May I come down?"

The doctor nodded. She walked down, glancing from one to the other questioningly.

"Poor Maria!" Paredes mused. "She's the one I pity most. She's been at times, I think, what Rawlins suspected—an insane woman, wandering and crying through the woods. Assuredly she was out of her head to-night, when I found her finally at the grave. I tried to tell her that her father was dead. I begged her to come in. I told her we were friends. But she fought. She wouldn't answer my questions. She struck me finally when I tried to force her to come out of the storm. Robinson, I want you to listen to me for a moment. I honestly believe, for everybody's sake, I did a good thing when I asked Silas Blackburn just before he disappeared why he had thrown his brother's body in the lake. I'd hoped it would simply make him run for it. I prayed that we would never hear from him again, and that Miss Katherine and Bobby could be spared the ugly scandal. Doesn't this do as well? Can't we get along without much publicity?"

"You've about earned the right to dictate," Robinson said gruffly.

"Thanks."

"For everybody's sake!" Bobby echoed. "You're right, Carlos. Maria must be considered now. She shall have what was taken from her father, with interest. I know Katherine will agree."

Katherine nodded.

"I doubt if Maria will want it or take it," Paredes said simply. "She has plenty of her own. It isn't fair to think it was greed that urged her. You must understand that it was a bigger impulse than greed. It was a thing of which we of Spanish blood are rather proud—a desire for justice, for something that has no softer name than revenge."

Suddenly Rawlins stooped and took the Panamanian's hand.

"Say! We've been giving you the raw end of a lot of snap judgments. We've never got acquainted until to-night."

"Glad to meet you, too," Robinson grinned.

Rawlins patted the Panamanian's shoulder.

"At that, you'd make a first-class detective."

Paredes yawned.

"I disagree with you thoroughly. I have no equipment beyond my eyes and my common sense."

He yawned again. He arranged the card table in front of the fire. He got the cards and piled them in neat packs on the green cloth. He placed a box of cigarettes convenient to his right hand. He smoked.

"I'm very sleepy, but I've been so stupid over this solitaire since I've been at the Cedars that I must solve it in the interest of my self-respect before I go to bed."

Bobby went to him impulsively.

"I'm ashamed, Carlos. I don't know what to say. How can I say anything?
How can I begin to thank you?"

"If you ever tell me I saved your life," Paredes yawned, "I shall have to disappear because then you'd have a claim on me."

Katherine touched his hand. There were tears in her eyes. It wasn't necessary for her to speak. Paredes indicated two chairs.

"If you aren't too tired, sit here and help me for a while. Perhaps between us we'll get somewhere. I wonder why I have been so stupid with the thing."

After a time, as he manipulated the cards, he laughed lightly.

"The same thing—the thing I've been scolding you all for. With a perfectly simple play staring me in the face I nearly made the mistake of choosing a difficult one. That would have got me in trouble while the simple one gives me the game. Why are people like that?"

As he moved the cards with a deft assurance to their desired combination he smiled drolly at Graham, Rawlins, and Robinson.

"I guess it must be human nature. Don't you think so, Mr. District
Attorney?"

* * * * *

The condition Paredes had more than once foreseen was about to shroud the Cedars in loneliness and abandonment. After the hasty double burial in the old graveyard the few things Bobby and Katherine wanted from the house had been packed and taken to the station. At Katherine's suggestion they had decided to leave last of all and to walk. Paredes with a tender solicitude had helped Maria to the waiting automobile. He came back, trying to colour his good-bye with cheerfulness.

"After all, you may open the place again and let me visit you."

"You will visit us perpetually," Bobby said, while Katherine pressed the Panamanian's hand, "but never here again. We will leave it to its ghosts, as you have often prophesied."

"I am not sure," Paredes said thoughtfully, "that the ghosts aren't here."

It was evident that Graham wished to speak to Bobby and Katherine alone, so the Panamanian strolled back to the automobile. Graham's embarrassment made them all uncomfortable.

"You have not said much to me, Katherine," he began. "Is it because I practically lied to Bobby, trying to keep you apart?"

She tried to smile.

"I, too, must ask forgiveness. I shouldn't have spoken to you as I did the other night in the hall, but I thought, because you saw Bobby and I had come together, that you had spied on me, had deliberately tricked me, knowing the evidence was in my room. Of course you did try to help Bobby."

"Yes," he said, "and I tried to help you that night. I was sure you were innocent. I believed the best way to prove it to them was to let them search. The two of you have nothing worse than jealousy to reproach me with."

In a sense it pleased Bobby that Graham, who had always made him feel unworthy in Katherine's presence, should confess himself not beyond reproach.

"Come, Hartley," he cried, "I was beginning to think you were perfect.
We'll get along all the better, the three of us, for having had it out."

Graham murmured his thanks. He joined Paredes and Maria in the automobile. As they drove off Paredes turned. His face, as he waved a languid farewell, was quite without expression.

Bobby and Katherine were left alone to the thicket and the old house. After a time they walked through the court and from the shadow of the time-stained, melancholy walls. At the curve of the driveway they paused and looked back. The shroud of loneliness and abandonment descending upon the Cedars became for them nearly ponderable. So they turned from that brooding picture, and hand in hand walked out of the forest into the friendly and welcoming sunlight.

THE END

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