THE AMAZING MEETING IN THE SHADOWS OF THE OLD COURTYARD
Bobby returned to his bed. He lay there still shivering, beneath the heavy blankets. "I don't dare!" He echoed Graham's words. "There's nothing else any one can say. I must decide what to do. I must think it over."
But, as always, thought brought no release. It merely insisted that the case against him was proved. At last he had been seen slipping unconsciously from his room—and at the same hour. All that remained was to learn how he had accomplished the apparent miracles. Then no excuse would remain for not going to Robinson and confessing. The woman at the lake and in the courtyard, the movement of the body and the vanishing of the evidence under his hand, Paredes's odd behaviour, all became in his mind puzzling details that failed to obscure the chief fact. After this something must be done about Paredes's detention.
He hadn't dreamed that his weariness could placate even momentarily such reflections, but at last he slept again. He was aroused by the tramping of men around the house, and strange, harsh voices. He raised himself on his elbow and glanced from the window. It had long been daylight. Two burly fellows in overalls, carrying pick and spade across their shoulders, pushed through the underbrush at the edge of the clearing. He turned. Graham, fully dressed, stood at the side of the bed.
"Those men?" Bobby asked wearily.
"The grave diggers," Graham answered. "They are going to work in the old cemetery to prepare a place for Silas Blackburn with his fathers. That's why I've come to wake you up. The minister's telephoned Katherine. He will be here before noon. Do you know it's after ten o'clock?"
For some time Bobby stared through the window at the desolate, ragged landscape. It was abnormally cold even for the late fall. Dull clouds obscured the sun and furnished an illusion of crowding earthward.
"A funereal day."
The words slipped into his mind. He repeated them.
"When your grandfather's buried," Graham answered softly, "we'll all feel happier."
"Why?" Bobby asked. "It won't lessen the fact of his murder."
"Time," Graham said, "lessens such facts—even for the police."
Bobby glanced at him, flushing.
"You mean you've decided to stand by me after what happened last night?"
"I've thought it all over. I slept like a top last night. I heard nothing. I saw nothing."
"Ought I to want you to stand by me?" Bobby said. "Oughtn't I to make a clean breast of it? At least I must do something about Paredes."
"It's hard to believe he had any connection with your sleep-walking last night, yet it's as clear as ever that Maria and he are up to some game in which you figure."
"He shouldn't be in jail," Bobby persisted.
"Get up," Graham advised. "Bathe, and have some breakfast, then we can decide. There's no use talking of the other thing. I've forgotten it. As far as possible you must."
Bobby sprang upright.
"How can I forget it? If it was hard to face sleep before, what do you think it is now? Have I any right—"
"Don't," Graham said. "I'll be with you again to-night. If I were satisfied beyond the shadow of a doubt I'd advise you to confess, but I can't be until I know what Maria and Paredes are doing."
When Bobby had bathed and dressed he found, in spite of his mental turmoil, that his sleep had done him good. While he breakfasted Graham urged him to eat, tried to drive from his brain the morbid aftermath of last night's revealing moment.
"The manager took my advice, but Maria's still missing. Her pictures are in most of the papers. There have been reporters here this morning, about the murders."
He strolled over and handed Bobby a number of newspapers.
"Where's Robinson?" Bobby asked.
"I saw him in the court a while ago. I daresay he's wandering around—perhaps watching the men at the grave."
"He learned nothing new last night?"
"I was with him at breakfast. I gather not."
Bobby looked up.
"Isn't that an automobile coming through the woods?" he asked.
"Maybe Rawlins back from Smithtown, or the minister."
The car stopped at the entrance of the court. They heard the remote tinkling of the front door bell. Jenkins passed through. The cold air invading the hall and the dining room told them he had opened the door. His sharp exclamation recalled Howells's report which, at their direction, he had failed to mail. Had his exclamation been drawn by an accuser? Bobby started to rise. Graham moved toward the door. Then Jenkins entered and stood to one side. Bobby shared his astonishment, for Paredes walked in, unbuttoning his overcoat, the former easy-mannered, uncommunicative foreigner. He appeared, moreover, to have slept pleasantly. His eyes showed no weariness, his clothing no disarrangement. He spoke at once, quite as if nothing disagreeable had shadowed his departure.
"Good morning. If I had dreamed of this change in the weather I would have brought a heavier overcoat. I've nearly frozen driving from Smithtown."
Before either man could grope for a suitable greeting he faced Bobby. He felt in his pockets with whimsical discouragement.
"Fact is, Bobby, I left New York too suddenly. I hadn't noticed until a little while ago. You see I spent a good deal in Smithtown yesterday."
Bobby spoke with an obvious confusion:
"What do you mean, Carlos? I thought you were—"
Graham interrupted with a flat demand for an explanation.
"How did you get away?"
Paredes waved his hand.
"Later, Mr. Graham. There is a hack driver outside who is even more suspicious than you. He wants to be paid. I asked Rawlins to drive me back, but he rushed from the courthouse, probably to telephone his rotund superior. Fact is, this fellow wants five dollars—an outrageous rate. I've told him so—but it doesn't do any good. So will you lend me Bobby—"
Bobby handed him a banknote. He didn't miss Graham's meaning glance.
Paredes gave the money to the butler.
Paredes gave the money to the butler.
"Pay him, will you, Jenkins? Thanks."
He surveyed the remains of Bobby's breakfast. He sat down.
"May I? My breakfast was early, and prison food, when you're not in the habit—"
Bobby tried to account for Paredes's friendly manner. That he should have come back at all was sufficiently strange, but it was harder to understand why he should express no resentment for his treatment yesterday, why he should fail to refer to Bobby's questions at the moment of his arrest, or to the openly expressed enmity of Graham. Only one theory promised to fit at all. It was necessary for the Panamanian to return to the Cedars. His purpose, whatever it was, compelled him to remain for the present in the mournful, tragic house. Therefore, he would crush his justifiable anger. He would make it practically impossible for Bobby to refuse his hospitality. And he had asked for money—only a trifling sum, yet Graham would grasp at the fact to support his earlier suspicion.
Paredes's arrival possessed one virtue: It diverted Bobby's thoughts temporarily from his own dilemma, from his inability to chart a course.
Graham, on the other hand, was ill at ease. Beyond a doubt he was disarmed by Paredes's good humour. For him yesterday's incident was not so lightly to be passed over. Eventually his curiosity conquered. The words came, nevertheless, with some difficulty:
"We scarcely expected you back."
His laugh was short and embarrassed.
"We took it for granted you would find it necessary to stay in Smithtown for a while."
Paredes sipped the coffee which Jenkins had poured.
"Splendid coffee! You should have tasted what I had this morning. Simple enough, Mr. Graham. I telephoned as soon as Rawlins got me to the Bastille. I communicated with the lawyer who represents the company for which I once worked. He's a prominent and brilliant man. He planned it with some local fellow. When I was arraigned at the opening of court this morning the judge could hold me only as a material witness. He fixed a pretty stiff bail, but the local lawyer was there with a bondsman, and I came back. My clothes are here. You don't mind, Bobby?"
That moment in the hall when Graham had awakened him urged Bobby to reply with a genuine warmth:
"I don't mind. I'm glad you're out of it. I'm sorry you went as you did. I was tired, at my wits' end. Your presence in the private staircase was the last straw. You will forgive us, Carlos?"
Paredes smiled. He put down his coffee cup and lighted a cigarette. He smoked with a vast contentment.
"That's better. Nothing to forgive, Bobby. Let us call it a misunderstanding."
Graham moved closer.
"Perhaps you'll tell us now what you were doing in the private staircase."
Paredes blew a wreath of smoke. His eyes still smiled, but his voice was harder:
"Bygones are bygones. Isn't that so, Bobby?"
"Since you wish it," Bobby said.
But more important than the knowledge Graham desired, loomed the old question. What was the man's game? What held him here?
Robinson entered. The flesh around his eyes was puffier than it had been yesterday. Worry had increased the incongruous discontent of his round face. Clearly he had slept little.
"I saw you arrive," he said. "Rawlins warned me. But I must say I didn't think you'd use your freedom to come to us."
"Since the law won't hold me at your convenience in Smithtown I keep myself at your service here—if Bobby permits it. Could you ask more?"
Bobby shrank from the man with whom he had idled away so much time and money. That fleeting, satanic impression of yesterday came back, sharper, more alarming. Paredes's clear challenge to the district attorney was the measure of his strength. His mind was subtler than theirs. His reserve and easy daring mastered them all; and always, as now, he laughed at the futility of their efforts to sound his purposes, to limit his freedom of action. Bobby didn't care to meet the uncommunicative eyes whose depths he had never been able to explore. Was there a special power there that could control the destinies of other people, that might make men walk unconsciously to accomplish the ends of an unscrupulous brain?
The district attorney appeared as much at sea as the others.
"Thanks," he said dryly to Paredes.
And glancing at Bobby, he asked with a hollow scorn:
"You've no objection to the gentleman visiting you for the present?"
"If he wishes," Bobby answered, a trifle amused at Robinson's obvious fancy of a collusion between Paredes and himself.
Robinson jerked his head toward the window.
"I've been watching the preparations out there. I guess when he's laid away you'll be thinking about having the will read."
"No hurry," Bobby answered with a quick intake of breath.
"I suppose not," Robinson sneered, "since everybody knows well enough what's in it."
Bobby arose. Robinson still sneered.
"You'll be at the grave—as chief mourner?"
Bobby walked from the room. He hadn't cared to reply. He feared, as it was, that he had let slip his increased self-doubt. He put on his coat and hat and left the house. The raw cold, the year's first omen of winter, made his blood run quicker, forced into his mind a cleansing stimulation. But almost immediately even that prophylactic was denied him. With his direction a matter of indifference, chance led him into the thicket at the side of the house. He had walked some distance. The underbrush had long interposed a veil between him and the Cedars above whose roofs smoke wreathed in the still air like fantastic figures weaving a shroud to lower over the time-stained, melancholy walls. For once he was grateful to the forest because it had forbidden him to glance perpetually back at that dismal and pensive picture. Then he became aware of twigs hastily lopped off, of bushes bent and torn, of the uncovering, through these careless means, of an old path. Simultaneously there reached his ears the scraping of metal implements in the soft soil, the dull thud of earth falling regularly. He paused, listening. The labour of the men was given an uncouth rhythm by their grunting expulsions of breath. Otherwise the nature of their industry and its surroundings had imposed upon them a silence, in itself beast-like and unnatural.
At last a harsh voice came to Bobby. Its brevity pointed the previous dumbness of the speaker:
And Bobby turned and hurried back along the roughly restored path, as if fleeing from an immaterial thing suddenly quickened with the power of accusation.
He could picture the fresh oblong excavation in the soil of the family burial ground. He could see where the men had had to tear bushes from among the graves in order to insert their tools. There was an ironical justice in the condition of the old cemetery. It had received no interment since the death of Katherine's father. Like everything about the Cedars, Silas Blackburn had delivered it to the swift, obliterating fingers of time. If the old man in his selfishness had paused to gaze beyond the inevitable fact of death, Bobby reflected, he would have guarded with a more precious interest the drapings of his final sleep.
This necessary task on which Bobby had stumbled had made the thicket less congenial than the house. As he walked back he forecasted with a keen apprehension his approaching ordeal. It would, doubtless, be more difficult to endure than Howells's experiment over Silas Blackburn's body in the old room. Could he witness the definite imprisonment of his grandfather in a narrow box; could he watch the covering earth fall noisily in that bleak place of silence without displaying for Robinson the guilt that impressed him more and more?
A strange man appeared, walking from the direction of the house. His black clothing, relieved only by narrow edges of white cuffs between the sleeves and the heavy mourning gloves, fitted with solemn harmony into the landscape and Bobby's mood. Such a figure was appropriate to the Cedars. Bobby stepped to one side, placing a screen of dead foliage between himself and the man whose profession it was to mourn. He emerged from the forest and saw again the leisurely weaving of the smoke shroud above the house. Then his eyes were drawn by the restless movements of a pair of horses, standing in the shafts of a black wagon at the court entrance, and his ordeal became like a vast morass which offers no likely path yet whose crossing is the price of salvation.
He was glad to see Graham leave the court and hurry toward him.
"I was coming to hunt you up, Bobby. The minister's arrived. So has
Doctor Groom. Everything's about ready."
Doctor Groom. Everything's about ready."
"Yes. He used to see a good deal of your grandfather. It's natural enough he should be here."
Bobby agreed indifferently. They walked slowly back to the house. Graham made it plain that his mind was far from the sad business ahead.
"What do you think of Paredes coming back as if nothing were wrong?" he asked. "He ignores what happened yesterday. He settles himself in the Cedars again."
"I don't know what to think of it," Bobby answered. "This morning Carlos gave me the creeps."
Graham glanced at him curiously. He spoke with pronounced deliberation, startling Bobby; for this friend expressed practically the thought that Paredes's arrival had driven into his own mind.
"Gave me the creeps, too. Makes me surer than ever that he has an abominably deep purpose in using his wits to hang on here. He suggests resources as hard to understand as anything that has happened in the old room. You'll confess, Bobby, he's had a good deal of influence over you—an influence for evil?"
"I've liked to go around with him, if that's what you mean."
"Isn't he the cause of the last two or three months nonsense in
"I won't blame Carlos for that," Bobby muttered.
"He influenced you against your better judgment," Graham persisted, "to refuse to leave with me the night of your grandfather's death."
"Maria did her share," Bobby said.
He broke off, looking at Graham.
"What are you driving at?"
"I've been asking myself since he came back," Graham answered, "if there's any queer power behind his quiet manner. Maybe he is psychic. Maybe he can do things we don't understand. I've wondered if he had, without your knowing it, acquired sufficient influence to direct your body when your mind no longer controlled it. It's a nasty thought, but I've heard of such things."
"You mean Carlos may have made me go to the hall last night, perhaps sent me to the old room those other times?"
Now that another had expressed the idea Bobby fought it with all his might.
"No. I won't believe it. I've been weak, Hartley, but not that weak. And
I tell you I did feel Howells's body move under my hand."
I tell you I did feel Howells's body move under my hand."
"Don't misunderstand me," Graham said gently. "I must consider every possibility. You were excited and imaginative when you went to the old room to take the evidence. It was a shock to have your candle go out. Your own hand, reaching out to Howells, might have moved spasmodically. I mean, you may have been responsible for the thing without realizing it."
"And the disappearance of the evidence?" Bobby defended himself.
"If it had been stolen earlier the coat pocket might have retained its bulging shape. We know now that Paredes is capable of sneaking around the house."
"No, no," Bobby said hotly. "You're trying to take away my one hope. But I was there, and you weren't. I know with my own senses what happened, and you don't. Paredes has no such influence over me. I won't think of it."
"If it's so far-fetched," Graham asked quietly, "why do you revolt from the idea?"
Bobby turned on him.
"And why do you fill my mind with such thoughts? If you think I'm guilty say so. Go tell Robinson so."
He glanced away while the angry colour left his face. He was a little dazed by the realization that he had spoken to Graham as he might have done to an enemy, as he had spoken to Howells in the old bedroom. He felt the touch of Graham's hand on his shoulder.
"I'm only working in your service," Graham said kindly. "I'm sorry if I've troubled you by seeking physical facts in order to escape the ghosts. For Groom has brought the ghosts back with him. Don't make any mistake about that. You want the truth, don't you?"
"Yes," Bobby said, "even if it does for me. But I want it quickly. I can't go on this way indefinitely."
Yet that flash of temper had given him courage to face the ordeal. A lingering resentment at Graham's suggestion lessened the difficulty of his position. Entering the court, he scarcely glanced at the black wagon.
There were more dark-clothed men in the hall. Rawlins had returned. From the rug in front of the fireplace he surveyed the group with a bland curiosity. Robinson sat near by, glowering at Paredes. The Panamanian had changed his clothing. He, too, was sombrely dressed, and, instead of the vivid necktie he had worn from the courthouse, a jet-black scarf was perfectly arranged beneath his collar. He lounged opposite the district attorney, his eyes studying the fire. His fingers on the chair arm were restless.
Doctor Groom stood at the foot of the stairs, talking with the clergyman, a stout and unctuous figure. Bobby noticed that the great stolid form of the doctor was ill at ease. From his thickly bearded face his reddish eyes gleamed forth with a fresh instability.
The clergyman shook hands with Bobby. "We need not delay. Your cousin is upstairs." He included the company in his circling turn of the head.
"Any one who cares to go—"
Bobby forced himself to walk up the staircase, facing the first phase of his ordeal. He saw that the district attorney realized that, too, for he sprang from his chair, and, followed by Rawlins, started upward. The entire company crowded the stairs. At the top Bobby found Paredes at his side.
"Carlos! Why do you come?"
"I would like to be of some comfort," Paredes answered gravely.
His fingers on the banister made that restless, groping movement.
Graham summoned Katherine. One of the black-clothed men opened the door of Silas Blackburn's room. He stepped aside, beckoning. He had an air of a showman craving approbation for the surprise he has arranged.
Bobby went in with the others. Automatically through the dim light he catalogued remembered objects, all intimate to his grandfather, each oddly entangled in his mind with his dislike of the old man. The iron bed; the chest of drawers, scratched and with broken handles; the closed colonial desk; the miserly rag carpet—all seemed mutely asking, as Bobby did, why their owner had deserted them the other night and delivered himself to the ghostly mystery of the old bedroom.
Reluctantly Bobby's glance went to the centre of the floor where the casket rested on trestles. From the chest of drawers two candles, the only light, played wanly over the still figure and the ashen face. So for the second time the living met the dead, and the law watched hopefully.
Robinson stood opposite, but he didn't look at Silas Blackburn who could no longer accuse. He stared instead at Bobby, and Bobby kept repeating to himself:
"I didn't do this thing. I didn't do this thing."
And he searched the face of the dead man for a confirmation. A chill thought, not without excuse under the circumstances and in this vague light, raced along his nerves. Silas Blackburn had moved once since his death. If the power to move and speak should miraculously return to him now! In this house there appeared to be no impossibilities. The cold control of death had been twice broken.
Katherine's entrance swung his thoughts and released him for a moment from Robinson's watchfulness. He found he could turn from the wrinkled face that had fascinated him, that had seemed to question him with a calm and complete knowledge, to the lovely one that was active with a little smile of encouragement. He was grateful for that. It taught him that in the heavy presence of death and from the harsh trappings of mourning the magnetism of youth is unconquerable. So in affection he found an antidote for fear. Even Graham's quick movement to her side couldn't make her presence less helpful to Bobby. He looked at his grandfather again. He glanced at Robinson. As in a dream he heard, the clergyman say:
"The service will be read at the grave."
Almost indifferently he saw the dark-clothed men sidle forward, lift a grotesquely shaped plate of metal from the floor, and fit it in place, hiding from his eyes the closed eyes of the dead man. He nodded and stepped to the hall when Robinson tapped his arm and whispered:
"Make way, Mr. Blackburn."
He watched the sombre men carry their heavy burden across the hall, down the stairs, and into the dull autumn air. He followed at the side of Katherine across the clearing and into the overgrown path. He was aware of the others drifting behind. Katherine slipped her hand in his.
"It is dreadful we shouldn't feel more sorrow, more regret," she said. "Perhaps we never understood him. That is dreadful, too; for no one understood him. We are the only mourners."
Bobby, as they threaded the path behind the stumbling bearers, found a grim justice in that also. Because of his selfishness Silas Blackburn had lived alone. Because of it he must go to his long rest with no other mourners than these, and their eyes were dry.
Bobby clung to Katherine's hand.
"If I could only know!" he whispered.
She pressed his hand. She did not reply.
Ahead the forest was scarred by a yellow wound. The bearers set their burden down beside it, glancing at each other with relief. Across the heap of earth Bobby saw the waiting excavation. In his ears vibrated the memory of the harsh voice:
"It's deep enough!"
Another voice droned. It was soft and unctuous. It seemed to take a pleasure in the terrible words it loosed to stray eternally through the decaying forest.
Bobby glanced at bent stones, strangled by the underbrush; at other slabs, cracked and brown, which lay prone, half covered by creeping vines. The tones of the clergyman were no longer revolting in his ears. He scarcely heard them. He imagined a fantasy. He pictured the inhabitants of these forgotten, narrow houses straying to the great dwelling where they had lived, punishing this one, bringing him to suffer with them the degradation of their neglect. So Robinson became less important in his mind. Through such fancies the ordeal was made bearable.
A wind sprang up, rattling through the trees and disturbing the vines on the fallen stones. Later, he thought, it would snow, and he shivered for those left helpless to sleep in the sad forest.
The dark-clothed men strained at ropes now. They glanced at Katherine and Bobby as at those most to be impressed by their skill. They lowered Silas Blackburn's grimly shaped casing into the sorrel pit. It passed from Bobby's sight. The two roughly dressed labourers came from the thicket where they had hidden, and with their spades approached the grave. The sound from whose imminence Bobby had shrunk rattled in his ears. The yellow earth cut across the stormy twilight of the cemetery and scattered in the trench. After a time the response lost its metallic petulance.
Katherine pulled at Bobby's hand. He started and glanced up. One of the black-clothed men was speaking to him with a professional gentleness:
"You needn't wait, Mr. Blackburn. Everything is finished."
He saw now that Robinson stood across the grave still staring at him. The professional mourner smiled sympathetically and moved away. Katherine, Robinson, the two grave diggers, and Bobby alone were left of the little company; and Bobby, staring back at the district attorney, took a sombre pride in facing it out until even the men with the spades had gone. The ordeal, he reflected, had lost its poignancy. His mind was intent on the empty trappings he had witnessed. He wondered if there was, after all, no justice against his grandfather in this unkempt burial. The place might have something to tell him. If it could only make him believe that beyond the inevitable fact nothing mattered. If he were sure of that it would offer a way out at the worst; perhaps the happiest exit for Katherine's sake.
Then Doctor Groom returned. His huge hairy figure dominated the cemetery. His infused eyes, beneath the thick black brows, were far-seeing. They seemed to penetrate Bobby's thought. Then they glanced at the excavation, appearing to intimate that Silas Blackburn's earthy blanket could hide nothing from the closed eyes it sheltered. At his age he faced the near approach of that inevitable fact, and he didn't hesitate to look beyond. Bobby knew what Graham had meant when he had said that Groom had brought the ghosts back with him. It was as if the cemetery had recalled the old doctor to answer his presumptuous question.
"There's no use your staying here."
The resonance of the deep voice jarred through the woods. The broad shoulders twitched. One of the hairy hands made a half circle.
"I hope you'll clean this up, my boy. You ought to replace the stones and trim the graves. You couldn't blame them, could you, if these old people were restless and tried to go abroad?"
For Bobby, in spite of himself, the man on whose last shelter the earth continued to fall became once more a potent thing, able to appraise the penalty of his own carelessness.
"Come," Katherine whispered.
But Bobby lingered, oddly fascinated, supporting the ordeal to its final moment. The blows of the backs of the spades on the completed mound beat into his brain the end. The workmen wandered off through the woods. From a distance the harsh voice of one of them came back:
"I don't want to dig again in such a place. People don't seem dead there."
Robinson tried to laugh.
"That man's wise," he said to the doctor. "If Paredes spoke of this cemetery as being full of ghosts I could understand him."
The doctor's deep bass answered thoughtfully:
"Paredes is probably right. The man has a special sense, but I have felt it myself. The Cedars and the forest are full of things that seem to whisper, things that one never sees. Such things might have an excuse for evil."
"Let's get out of it," Robinson said gruffly.
Katherine withdrew her hand. Bobby reached for it again, but she seemed not to notice. She walked ahead of him along the path, her shoulders a trifle bent. Bobby caught up with her.
"Katherine!" he said.
"Don't talk to me, Bobby."
He looked closer. He saw that she was crying at last. Tears stained her cheeks. Her lips were strange to him in the distortion of a grief that seeks to control itself. He slackened his pace and let her walk ahead. He followed with a sort of awe that there should have been grief for Silas Blackburn after all. He blamed himself because his own eyes were not moist.
Back of him he heard the murmuring conversation of the doctor and the district attorney. Strangely it made him sorry that Robinson should have been more impressed than Howells by the doctor's beliefs.
They stepped into the clearing. The wind had dissipated the smoke shroud. It was no longer low over the roofs. Against the forest and the darker clouds the house had a stark appearance. It was like a frame from which the flesh has fallen.
The black wagon had gone. The Cedars was left alone to the solution of its mystery.
Paredes, Graham, and Rawlins waited for them in the hall. There was nothing to say. Paredes placed with a delicate accuracy fresh logs upon the fire. He arose, flecking the wood dust from his hands.
"How cold it will be here," he mused, "how impossible of entrance when the house is left as empty as the woods to those who only go unseen!"
Bobby saw Katherine's shoulders shake. She had dried her eyes, but in her face was expressed an aversion for solitude, a desire for any company, even that of the man she disliked and feared.
Robinson took Rawlins to the library for another futile consultation, Bobby guessed. Katherine sat on the arm of a chair, thrusting one foot toward the fresh blaze.
"It will snow," she said. "It is very early for that."
No one answered. The strain tightened. The flames leapt, throwing evanescent pulsations of brilliancy about the dusky hall. They welcomed Jenkins's announcement that luncheon was ready, but they scarcely disturbed the hurriedly prepared dishes, and afterward they gathered again in the hall, silent and depressed, appalled by the long, dreary afternoon, which, however, possessed the single virtue of dividing them from another night.
For long periods the district attorney and the detective were closeted in the library. Now and then they passed upstairs, and they could be heard moving about, but no one, save Graham, seemed to care. Already the officers had had every opportunity to search the house. The old room no longer held an inhabitant to set its fatal machinery in motion. Yet Bobby realized in a dull way that at any moment the two men might come down to him, saying:
"We have found something. You are guilty."
The heavy atmosphere of the house crushed such forecasts, made them seem a little trivial. Bobby fancied it gathering density to cradle new mysteries. The long minutes loitered. Doctor Groom made a movement to go.
"Why should I stay?" he grumbled. "What is there to keep me?"
Yet he sat back in his chair again and appeared to have forgotten his intention.
Graham wandered off. Bobby thought he had joined Rawlins and Robinson in the library.
The only daylight entered the hall through narrow slits of windows on either side of the front door. Bobby, watching these, was, even with the problems night brought to him now, glad when they grew paler.
Paredes, who had been smoking cigarette after cigarette, arose and brought his card table. Drawing it close to him, he arranged the cards in neat piles. The uncertain firelight made it barely possible to identify their numbers. Doctor Groom gestured his disgust. Katherine stooped forward, placing her hands on the table.
"Is it kind," she asked, "so soon after he has left his house?"
"Wait!" he said softly.
Puzzled, she glanced at him.
"Stay just as you are," he directed. "There has been so much death in this house—who knows?"
Languidly he placed his fingers on the edge of the table opposite hers.
"What are you doing?" Dr. Groom asked hoarsely.
"Wait!" Paredes said again.
Then Bobby, scarcely aware of what was going on, saw the cards glide softly across the face of the table and flutter to the floor. The table had lifted slowly toward the Panamanian. It stood now on two legs.
"What is it?" Katherine said. "It's moving. I can feel it move beneath my fingers."
Her words recalled to Bobby unavoidably his experience in the old room.
"Don't do that!" the doctor cried.
"If," he answered, "the source of these crimes is, as you think, spiritual, why not ask the spirits for a solution? You see how quickly the table responds. It is as I thought. There is something in this hall. Haven't you a feeling that the dead are in this dark hall with us? They may wish to speak. See!"
The table settled softly down without any noise. It commenced to rise again. Katherine lifted her hands with a visible effort, as if the table had tried to hold them against her will. She covered her face and sat trembling.
"I won't! I—"
Paredes shrugged his shoulders, appealing to the doctor. The huge, shaggy head shook determinedly.
"I'm not so sure I don't agree with you. I'm not so sure the dead aren't in this hall. That is why I'll have nothing to do with such dangerous play. It has shown us, at least, that you are psychic, Mr. Paredes."
"I have a gift," Paredes murmured. "It would be useful to speak with them. They see so much more than we do."
He lifted his hands. He waved them dejectedly. He stooped and commenced picking up the cards. The doctor arose.
"I shall go now." He sighed. "I don't know why I have stayed."
Bobby got his coat and hat.
"I'll walk to the stable with you."
He was glad to escape from the dismal hall in which the firelight grew more eccentric. The court was colder and damper, and even beyond the chill was more penetrating than it had been at the grave that noon. Uneven flakes of snow sifted from the swollen sky, heralds of a white invasion.
"No more sleep-walking?" the doctor asked when he had taken the blanket from his horse and climbed into the buggy.
Bobby leaned against the wall of the stable and told how Graham had brought him back the previous night from the stairhead, to which he had gone with a purpose he didn't dare sound. The doctor shook his head.
"You shouldn't tell me that. You shouldn't tell any one. You place yourself too much in my hands, as you are already in Graham's hands. Maybe that is all right. But the district attorney? You're sure he knows nothing of this habit which seems to have commenced the night of the first murder?"
"No, and I think Paredes alone of those who know about that first night would be likely to tell him."
"See that he doesn't," the doctor said shortly. "I've been watching Robinson. If he doesn't make an arrest pretty soon with something back of it he'll lose his mind. He mightn't stop to ask, as I do, as Howells did, about the locked doors and the nature of the wounds."
"How shall I find the courage to sleep to-night?" Bobby asked.
The doctor thought for a moment.
"Suppose I come back?" he said. "I've only one or two unimportant cases to look after. I ought to return before dinner. I'll take Graham's place for to-night. It's time your reactions were better diagnosed. I'll share your room, and you can go to sleep, assured that you'll come to no harm, that harm will come to no one through you. I'll bring some books on the subject. I'll read them while you sleep. Perhaps I can learn the impulse that makes your body active while your mind's a blank."
The idea of the influence of Paredes, which Graham had put into words, slipped back to Bobby. He was, nevertheless, strengthened by the doctor's promise. To an extent the dread of the night fell from him like a smothering garment. This old man, who had always filled him with discomfort, had become a capable support in his difficult hour. He saw him drive away. He studied his watch, computing the time that must elapse before he could return. He wanted him at the Cedars even though the doctor believed more thoroughly than any one else in the spiritual survival of old passions and the power of the dead to project a physical evil.
He didn't care to go back to the hall. It would do him good to walk, to force as far as he could from his mind the memory of the ordeal at the grave, the grim, impending atmosphere of the house. And suppose he should accomplish something useful? Suppose he should succeed where Graham had failed?
So he walked toward the stagnant lake. The flakes of snow fell thicker. Already they had gathered in white patches on the floor of the forest. If this weather continued the woods would cease to be habitable for that dark feminine figure through which they had accounted for the mournful crying after Howells's death, which Graham had tried to identify with the dancer, Maria.
As he passed the neighbourhood of the cemetery; he walked faster. Many yards of underbrush separated him from the little time-devastated city of the dead, but its mere proximity forced on him, as the old room had done, a feeling of a stealthy and intangible companionship.
He stepped from the fringe of trees about the open space in the centre of which the lake brooded. The water received with a destructive indifference the fluttering caresses of the snowflakes. Bobby paused with a quick expectancy. He saw nothing of the woman who had startled him that first evening, but he heard from the thicket a sound like muffled sobbing, and he responded again to the sense of a malevolent regard.
He hid himself among the trees, and in their shelter skirted the lake. The sobbing had faded into nothing. For a long time he heard only the whispers of the snow and the grief of the wind. When he had rounded the lake and was some distance beyond it, however, the moaning reached him again, and through the fast-deepening twilight he saw, as indistinctly as he had before, a black feminine figure flitting among the trees in the direction of the lake. Graham's theory lost its value. It was impossible to fancy the brilliant, colourful dancer in this black, shadowy thing. He commenced to run in pursuit, calling out:
"Stop! Who are you? Why do you cry through the woods?"
But the dusk was too thick, the forest too eager. The black figure disappeared. In retrospect it was again as unsubstantial as a phantom. The flakes whispered mockingly. The wind was ironical.
He found his pursuit had led him back to the end of the lake nearest the Cedars. He paused. His triumph was not unmixed with fear. A black figure stood in the open, quite close to him, gazing over the stagnant water that was like a veil for sinister things. He knew now that the woman was flesh and blood, for she did not glide away, and the snow made pallid scars on her black cloak.
He crept carefully forward until he was close behind the black figure.
"Now," he said, "you'll tell me who you are and why you cry about the Cedars."
The woman swung around with a cry. He stepped back, abashed, not knowing what to say, for there was still enough light to disclose to him the troubled face of Katherine, and there were tears in her eyes as if she might recently have expressed an audible grief.
"You frightened me, Bobby."
Without calculation he spoke his swift thought: "Was it you I saw here before? But surely you didn't cry in the house the other night and afterward when we followed Carlos!"
The tranquil beauty of her face was disturbed. When she answered her voice had lost something of its music:
"What do you mean?"
"It was you who cried just now? It was you I saw running through the woods?"
"What do you mean?" she asked again. "I have not run. I—I am not your woman in black, if that's what you think. I happened to pick up this cloak. You've seen it often enough before. And I haven't cried."
She brushed the tears angrily from her eyes.
"At least I haven't cried so any one could hear me. I wanted to walk. I hoped I would find you. I thought you had come this way, so I came, too. Why, Bobby, you're suspecting me of something!"
But the problem of the fugitive figure receded before the more intimate one of his heart. There was a thrill in her desire to find him in the solitude of the forest.
Only the faintest gray survived in the sky above the trees. The shadows were thick about them. The whispering snow urged him to use this moment for his happiness. It wasn't the thought of Graham that held him back. Last night, under an equal temptation, he might have spoken. To-night a new element silenced him and bound his eager hands. His awakening at the head of the stairs raised an obstacle to self-revelation around which there seemed to exist no path.
"I'm sorry. Let us go back," he said.
She looked at him inquiringly.
"What is it, Bobby? You are more afraid to-day than you have ever been before. Has something happened I know nothing of?"
He shook his head. He couldn't increase her own trouble by telling her of that.
The woods seemed to receive an ashy illumination from the passage of the snowflakes. Katherine walked a little faster.
"Don't be discouraged, Bobby," she begged him. "Everything will come out straight. You must keep telling yourself that. You must fight until you believe it."
The nearness of her dusk-clothed, slender figure filled him with a new courage, obscured to an extent his real situation. He burst out impulsively:
"Don't worry. I'll fight. I'll make myself believe. If necessary I'll tell everything I know in order to find the guilty person."
She placed her hand on his arm. Her voice fell to a whisper.
"Don't fight that way. Uncle Silas is dead; Howells has been taken away. The police will find nothing. By and by they will leave. It will all be forgotten. Why should you keep it active and dangerous by trying to find who is guilty?"
"Katherine!" he cried, surprised. "Why do you say that?"
Her hand left his arm. She walked on without answering. Paredes came back to him—Paredes serenely calling attention to the fact that Katherine had alarmed the household and had led it to the discovery of the Cedars's successive mysteries. He shrank from asking her any more.
They left the thicket. In the open space about the house the snow had spread a white mantle. From it the heavy walls rose black and forbidding.
"I don't want to go in," Katherine said.
Their feet lagged as they followed the driveway to the entrance of the court. The curtains of the room of death, they saw, had been raised. A dim, unhealthy light slipped from the small-paned windows across the court, staining the snow. Robinson and Rawlins were probably searching again.
Suddenly Katherine stopped. She pointed.
"What's that?" she asked sharply.
Bobby followed the direction of her glance. He saw a black patch against the wall of the wing opposite the lighted windows.
"It is a shadow," he said.
She relaxed and they walked on. They entered the court. There she turned, and Bobby stopped, too, with a sudden fear. For the thing he had called a shadow was moving. He stared at it with a hypnotic belief that the Cedars was at last disclosing its supernatural secret. He knew it could be no illusion, since Katherine swayed, half-fainting, against him. The moving shadow assumed the shape of a stout figure, slightly bent at the shoulders. A pipe protruded from the bearded mouth. One hand waved a careless welcome.
Bobby's first instinct was to cry out, to command this old man they had seen buried that day to return to his grave. For there wasn't the slightest doubt. The unhealthy candlelight from the room of death shone full on the gray and wrinkled face of Silas Blackburn.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE GRAVE
"Hello, Katy! Hello, Bobby! You shown your face at last? I hope you've come sober."
The thin, quarrelsome voice of Silas Blackburn echoed in the mouldy court. The stout, bent figure in the candlelight studied them suspiciously. Katherine clung to Bobby, trembling, startled beyond speech by the apparition. They both stared at the gray face, at the thick figure, which, three days after death, they had seen buried that noon in the overgrown cemetery. Bobby recalled how Doctor Groom had reminded him that an activity like this might emerge from such places. He had suggested that the condition of the family burial ground might be an inspiration to such strayings. Yet why should the spirit of Silas Blackburn have escaped? Why should it have returned forthwith to the Cedars, unless to face his grandson as his murderer?
Afterward Bobby experienced no shame for these reflections. The encounter was a fitting sequel to the moment in the dark room when he had felt Howells move beneath his hand. He had a fleeting faith that the void between the living and the dead had, indeed, been bridged.
Then he wondered that the familiar figure failed to disintegrate, and he noticed smoke curling from the blackened briar pipe. He caught its pungent aroma in the damp air of the court. Moreover, Silas Blackburn had spoken, challenging him as usual with a sneer.
"Let us go past," Katherine whispered.
But Silas Blackburn stepped out, blocking their way. He spoke again. His whining accents held a reproach.
"What's the matter with you two? You might 'a' seen a ghost. Or maybe you're sorry to have me back. Didn't you wonder where I was, Katy? Reckon you hoped I was dead, Bobby."
Bobby answered. He had a fancy of addressing emptiness.
"Why have you come? That is what you are to us—dead."
Silas Blackburn chuckled. He took the pipe from his mouth and tapped the tobacco down with a knotted forefinger.
"I'll show you how dead I am! Trying to be funny, ain't you? I'll make you laugh on the wrong side of your face. It's cold here. I'm going in."
The same voice, the same manner! Yet his presence denied that great fact which during three days had been impressed upon them with a growing fear.
The old man jerked his thumb toward the dimly lighted windows of the wing.
"What you got the old room lighted up for? What's going on there? I tried to sleep there the other night—"
Katherine sprang forward. She stretched out her hand to him with a reluctance as pronounced as Graham's when he had touched Howells's body. Her fingers brushed his hand. Her shoulders drooped. She clung to his arm. To Bobby this resolution was more of a shock, less to be explained, than his first assurance of an immaterial visitor. What did it mean to him? Was it an impossible assurance of safety?
The old man patted Katherine's shoulder.
"Why, what you crying for, Katy? Always seems something to scare you lately."
He jerked his thumb again toward the lighted windows.
"You ain't told me yet what's going on in the old room."
Bobby's laugh was dazed, questioning.
"They're trying to account for your murder there."
His grandfather looked at him with blank amazement.
"You out of your head?"
"No," Katherine cried. "We saw you lying there, cold and still. I—I found you."
"You've not forgotten, Katherine," Bobby said breathlessly, "that he moved afterward."
Silas Blackburn took his hand from Katherine's shoulder.
"Trying to scare me? What's the matter with you? Some scheme to get my money?"
"You slept in the old room the other night?" Bobby asked helplessly.
"No, I didn't sleep there," his grandfather whined. "I went in and lay down, but I didn't sleep. I defy anybody to sleep in that room. What you talking about? It's cold here. This court was always damp. I want to go in. Is there a fire in the hall? We'll light one, while you tell me what's ailin' you."
He turned, and grasped the door knob. They followed him into the hall, shaking the snow from their coats.
Paredes sat alone by the fire, languidly engaged in the solitaire which exerted so potent a fascination for him. He didn't turn at their entrance. It wasn't until Bobby called out that he moved.
Bobby's tone must have suggested the abnormal, for Paredes sprang to his feet, knocking over the table. The cards fell lightly to the floor, straying as far as the hearth. His hands caught at the back of his chair. He remained in an awkward position, rigid, white-faced, staring at the newcomer.
"I told you all," he whispered, "that the court was full of ghosts."
Silas Blackburn walked to the fire, and stood with his back to the smouldering logs. In this light he had the pallor of death—the lack of colour Bobby remembered beneath the glass of the coffin. The old man, always so intolerant and authoritative, was no longer sure of himself.
"Why do you talk about ghosts?" he whined. "I—I wish I hadn't waked up."
Paredes sank back in his chair.
"Waked up!" he echoed in an awe-struck voice.
Bobby took a trivial interest, as one will turn to small things during the most vital moments, in the reflection that twice within twenty-four hours the Panamanian had been startled from his cold reserve.
"Waked up!" Paredes repeated.
His voice rose.
"At what time? Do you remember the time?"
"Not exactly. Sometime after noon."
Bobby guessed the object of Paredes's question. He knew it had been about noon when they had seen the coffin covered in the restless, wind-swept cemetery.
Paredes hurried on.
"How long had you been asleep?"
"What makes you ask that?" the other whined. "I don't know."
"It was a long time?"
Blackburn's voice rose complainingly.
"How did you guess that? I never slept so. I dozed nearly three days, but
I'm tired now—tired as if I hadn't slept at all."
I'm tired now—tired as if I hadn't slept at all."
Paredes made a gesture of surrender. Bobby struggled against the purpose of the man's questions, against the suggestion of his grandfather's unexpected answers.
"Your idea is madness, Carlos," he whispered.
"This house is filled with it," Paredes said. "I wish Groom were here.
Groom ought to be here."
Groom ought to be here."
"He's coming back," Bobby told him. "He shouldn't be long now. He said before dinner time."
"I wish he would hurry."
The Panamanian said nothing more, as if he realized the futility of pressing the matter before Doctor Groom should return. Necessary questions surged in Bobby's brain. The two that Paredes had put, however, disturbed his logic.
Katherine, who hadn't spoken since entering, kept her eyes fixed on her uncle. Her lips were slightly parted. She had the appearance of one afraid to break a silence covering impossible doubts.
Bobby called on his reason. His grandfather stood before him in flesh. With the old man, in spite of Paredes's ghastly hint, probably lay the solution of the entire mystery and his own safety. He was about to speak when he heard footsteps in the upper hall. His grandfather glanced inquiringly through the stair-well, asking:
"Who's that up there?"
The sharp tone confessed that fear of the Cedars was active in the warped brain.
"The district attorney," Bobby answered, "a detective, probably
"What they doing here?"
He indicated Paredes.
"What's this fellow doing here? I never liked him."
"They've all come because I thought I saw you dead, lying in the old room."
"We all saw," Bobby cried angrily, and Paredes nodded.
Blackburn shrank away from them.
The three men descended the stairs. Half way down they stopped.
"Who is that?" Robinson cried.
Graham's face whitened. He braced himself against the banister.
"Next time, Mr. District Attorney," Paredes said, "you'll believe me when I say the court is full of ghosts. He walked in from the court. I tell you they found him in the court."
Silas Blackburn's voice rose, shrill and angry:
"What's the matter with you all? Why do you talk of ghosts and my being dead? Haven't I a right to come in my own house? You all act as if you were afraid of me."
Paredes's questions had clearly added to the uncertainty of his manner.
Katherine spoke softly:
Katherine spoke softly:
"We are afraid."
The others came down. Robinson walked close to Silas Blackburn and for some time gazed at the gray face.
"Yes," he said. "You are Silas Blackburn. You came to my office in Smithtown the other day and asked for a detective, because you were afraid of something out here."
"There's no question," Graham cried. "Of course it is Mr. Blackburn, yet it couldn't be."
"What you all talking about? Why are the police in my house? Why do you act like fools and say I was dead?"
They gathered in a group at some distance from him. They unconsciously ignored this central figure, as if he were, in fact, a ghost. Bobby and Katherine told how they had found the old man, a black shadow against the wall of the wing. Paredes repeated the questions he had asked and their strange answers. Afterward Robinson turned to Silas Blackburn, who waited, trembling.
"Then you did go to the old room to sleep. You lay down on the bed, but you say you didn't stay. You must tell us why not, and how you got out, and where you've been during this prolonged sleep. I want everything that happened from the moment you entered the old bedroom until you wakened."
"That's simple," Silas Blackburn mouthed. "I went there along about ten o'clock, wasn't it, Katy?"
"Nearly half past," she said. "And you frightened me."
"He must tell us why he went, why he was afraid to sleep in his own room," Graham began.
Robinson held up his hand.
"One question at a time, Mr. Graham. The important thing now is to learn what happened in the room. You're not forgetting Howells, are you?"
Silas Blackburn glanced at the floor. He moved his feet restlessly. He fumbled in his pocket for some loose tobacco. With shaking fingers he refilled his pipe.
"Except for Bobby and Katherine," he quavered, "you don't know what that room means to Blackburns; and they only know by hearsay, because I've seen it was kept closed. Don't see how I'm going to tell you—"
"You needn't hesitate," Robinson encouraged him. "We've all experienced something of the peculiarities of the Cedars. Your return alone's enough to keep us from laughter."
"All right," the old man stumbled on. "I was raised on stories of that room—even before my father shot himself there. Later on I saw Katherine's father die in the big bed, and after that I never cared to go near the place unless I had to. The other night, when I made up my mind to sleep there, I tried to tell myself all this talk was tommyrot. I tried to make myself believe I could sleep as comfortably in that bed as anywhere. So I went in and locked the door and raised the window and lay down."
"You're sure you locked the door?" Robinson asked.
"Yes. I remember turning the key in both doors, because I didn't want anything bothering me from outside."
They all looked at each other, unable to forecast anything of Blackburn's experiences; for both doors had been locked when the body had been found. Granted life, how would it have been possible for Silas Blackburn to have left the room to commence his period of drowsiness? An explanation of that should also unveil the criminal's route in and out.
The tensity of the little group increased, but no one interposed the obvious questions. Robinson was right. It would be quicker to let the protagonist of this unbelievable adventure recite its details in his own fashion. Paredes ran his slender fingers gropingly over the faces of several of the cards he had picked up.
"When I got in bed," Silas Blackburn continued, "I thought I'd let the candle burn for company's sake, but there was a wind, and it came in the open window, and it made the queerest black shadows dance all over the walls until I couldn't stand it a minute longer. I blew the candle out and lay back in the dark."
He drew harshly on his cold pipe. He looked at it with an air of surprise, and slipped it in his pocket.
"It was the funniest darkness. I didn't like it. You put your hand out and closed your fingers as if you could feel it. But it wasn't all black, either. Some moonlight came in with the wind between the curtains. It wasn't exactly yellow, and it wasn't white. After a little it seemed alive, and I wouldn't look at it any more. The only way I could stop myself was to shut my eyes, and that was worse, for it made me recollect my father the way I saw him lying there when I was a boy. God grant none of you will ever have to see anything like that. Then I seemed to see Katy's father, too; and I remembered his screams. The room got thick with, things like that—with those two, and with a lot of others come out of the pictures and the stories I've heard about my family."
His experience when he had gone to the room to take the evidence from
Howells's body became active in Bobby's memory.
Howells's body became active in Bobby's memory.
"There I lay with my eyes shut," Silas Blackburn went on in his strange, inquiring voice. "And yet I seemed to see those dead people all around me, and I thought they were in pain again, and were mad at me because I didn't do anything. I guess maybe I must 'a' been dozing a little, for I thought—"
He broke off. He raised his hand slowly and pointed in the direction of the overgrown cemetery where they had seen his coffin covered that noon. His voice was lower and harsher when he continued:
"I—I thought I heard them say that things were all broken out there, and—and awful—so awful they couldn't stay."
His voice became defiant.
"I ain't going to tell you what I dreamed. It was too horrible, but I made up my mind I would do what I could if I ever escaped from that room. I—I was afraid they'd take me back with them underneath those broken stones. And you—you stand there trying to tell me that they did."
He paused again, looking around with a more defiant glare in his bloodshot eyes. He appeared to be surprised not to find them laughing at him.
"What's the matter with you all?" he cried. "Why ain't you making me out a fool? You seen something in that room, too?"
"Go on," Robinson urged. "What happened then? What did you do?"
Blackburn's voice resumed its throaty monotone. As he spoke he glanced about slyly, suspecting, perhaps, the watchfulness of the fancies that had intimidated him.
"I realized I had to get out if they would let me. So I left the bed. I went."
He ceased, intimating that he had told everything.
"I know," Robinson said, "but tell us how you got out of the room, for when you—when the murder was discovered, both doors were locked on the inside, and you know how impossible the windows are."
"I tell you," Katherine said hysterically, "it was his body in the bed."
Bobby knew her assurance was justified, but he motioned her to silence.
"Let him answer," Robinson said.
Silas Blackburn ran his knotted fingers through his hair. He shook his head doubtfully.
"That's what I don't understand myself. That's what's been worrying me while these young ones have been talking as if I was dead and buried. I recollect telling myself I must go. I seem to remember leaving the bed all right, but I don't seem to remember walking on the floor or going through the door. You're sure the doors were locked?"
"No doubt about that," Rawlins said.
"Seems to me," Blackburn went on, "that I was in the private staircase, but did I walk downstairs? First thing I see clearly is the road through the woods, not far from the station."
"What did you wear?" Robinson asked.
"I'd had my trousers and jacket on under my dressing-gown," the old man answered, "because I knew the bed wasn't made up. That's what I wore except for the dressing-gown. I reckon I must have left that in the room. I wouldn't have gone back there for anything. My mind was full of those angry people. I wanted to get as far away from the Cedars as possible. I knew the last train from New York would be along about three o'clock, so I thought I'd go on into Smithtown and in the morning see this detective I'd been talking to. I went to Robert Waters's house. I've known him for a long time. I guess you know who he is. He's such a book worm I figured he might be up, and he wouldn't ask a lot of silly questions, being selfish like most people that live all the time with books. He came to the door, and I told him I wanted to spend the night. He offered to shake hands. That's funny, too. I didn't feel like shaking hands with anybody. I recollect that, because I'd felt sort of queer ever since going in the old room, and something told me I'd better not shake hands."
Paredes looked up, wide-eyed. The cards slipped from his fragile, pointed fingers.
"Do you realize, Mr. District Attorney, what this man is saying?"
But Robinson motioned him to silence.
"Let him go on. What happened then?"
"That's all," Blackburn answered, "except this long sleep I can't make out. Old Waters didn't get mad at my not shaking hands. He was too tied up in some book, I guess. I told him I was sleepy and didn't want to be bothered, and he nodded to the spare room off the main hall, and I tumbled into bed and was off almost before I knew it."
Paredes sprang to his feet and commenced to walk about the hall.
"Tell us," he said, "when you first woke up?"
"I guess it was late the next afternoon," Silas Blackburn quavered, fumbling with his pipe again. "But it was only for a minute."
Paredes stopped in front of Robinson.
"When he turned! You see!"
"It was Waters knocking on the door," Blackburn went on. "I guess he wanted to know what was the matter, and he talked about some food, but I didn't want to be bothered, so I called to him through the door to go away, and turned over and went to sleep again."
"He turned over and went to sleep again!" Katherine said breathlessly, "and it was about that time that I heard the turning in the old bedroom."
"Katherine!" Graham called. "What are you talking about? What are you thinking about?"
"What else is there?" she asked.
"She's thinking about the truth," Paredes said tensely. "I've always heard of such things. So have you. You've read of them, if you read at all. India is full of it. It goes back to ancient Egypt—the same person simultaneously in two places—the astral body—whatever you choose to call it. It's the projection of one's self whether consciously or unconsciously; perhaps the projection of something that retains reason after an apparent death. You heard him. He didn't seem to walk. He doesn't remember leaving the room, which was locked on the inside. His descent of the stairs was without motion as we know it. He had gone some distance before his mind consciously directed the movement of this active image of Silas Blackburn, while the double from which it had sprung lay apparently dead in the old room. You notice he shrank from shaking hands, and he slept until we hid away the shell. What disintegration and coming together again has taken place since we buried that shell in the old graveyard? If his friend had shaken hands with him would he have grasped emptiness? Did his normal self come back to him when the shell was put from our sight, and he awakened? These are some of the questions we must answer."
"You've a fine imagination, Mr. Paredes," Robinson said dryly.
His fat face, nevertheless, was bewildered, and in the eyes, surrounded by puffy flesh, smouldered a profound uncertainty.
"I wish Groom were here," Paredes was saying. "He would agree with me. He would know more about it than I."
Robinson threw back his shoulders. He turned to Rawlins with his old authority. The unimaginative detective had stood throughout, releasing no indication of his emotions; but as he raised his hand now to an unnecessary adjustment of his scarf pin, the fingers were not quite steady.
"Telephone this man Waters," Robinson directed. "Then get in communication with the office and put them on that end."
Rawlins walked away. Robinson apologized to Silas Blackburn with an uneasy voice.
"Got to check up what I can. Can't get anywhere with these things unless you make sure of your first facts. I daresay Waters's story will tally with yours."
Blackburn nodded. Graham cleared his throat.
"Now perhaps we may ask that very important question. The day Mr. Blackburn called at your office in Smithtown he told Howells he was afraid of being murdered. According to Howells, he said: 'My heart's all right. It won't stop yet awhile unless it's made to. So if I'm found cold some fine morning you can be sure I was put out of the way.'"
"I know," Robinson said.
"And that night," Graham continued, "when he went to the old room, he was terrified of something which he wouldn't define for Miss Perrine."
"He warned me not to mention he'd gone there," Katherine put in. "He told me he was afraid—afraid to sleep in his own room any longer."
"What about that, Mr. Blackburn?"
For a moment Bobby's curiosity overcame the confusion aroused by his grandfather's apparently occult return. All along they had craved the knowledge he was about to give them, the statement on which Bobby's life had seemed to depend. Blackburn, however, was unwilling. The question seemed to have returned to him something of his normal manner.
"No use," he mumbled, "going into that."
"A good deal of use," Robinson insisted.
Blackburn shifted his feet. He gazed at his pipe doubtfully.
"I don't see why. That didn't come, and seems it wasn't what I ought to have been afraid of after all. All along I ought to have been afraid only of the Cedars and the old room. I've been accused of being unjust. I don't want to do an injustice now."
"Please answer," Robinson said impatiently.
"You must answer," Graham urged.
"I don't see that it makes the slightest difference," Paredes drawled.
"What has it got to do with the case as it stands to-night?"
"What has it got to do with the case as it stands to-night?"
Robinson snapped at him.
"You keep out of it. Don't forget there's a lot you haven't answered yet."
Silas Blackburn looked straight at Bobby. Slowly he raised his hand, pointing an accusing finger at his grandson.
"If you want to know, I was afraid of that young rascal."
Katherine started impulsively forward in an effort to stop him. Blackburn waved her away.
"You trying to scare me, Katy?" he asked suspiciously.
"Evidently," Robinson commented to Graham, "Howells wasn't as dull as we thought him. Go on, Mr. Blackburn. Why were you afraid of your grandson?"
"Maybe he can tell you better than I can," the old man answered. "Don't see any use raking up such things, anyway. Maybe I'd been pretty harsh with him. Anyway, I knew he hated the ground I walked on and would be glad enough to see me drop in my tracks."
"That isn't so," Bobby said.
"You keep quiet now. You always talked too much."
So the old feeling survived.
"Go on," Robinson urged.
"I'd always been a hard worker," Blackburn whined, "and he was a waster. Naturally we didn't get along. I'd decided to make a new will, leaving my money to the Bedford Foundation, and I wrote him that, thinking it would bring him hot foot to make it up with me. I'd been nervous about him before, because I didn't know what might come into his head when he was on these wild parties. So I'd spoken to Howells, thinking I'd trip him if he tried any funny business. When he didn't come that night I got scared. He knew I wouldn't make the new will until morning, and since I couldn't see any man throwing all that money away, I figured he'd guessed he couldn't turn me and wouldn't waste any time talking.
"When you got a lot of money and a grandson who hates you, you have to think of such things. Suppose, I thought, he should come out here drunk when I was sound asleep. I knew he had a latch key, and he might sneak up to my room before I could even get to the telephone. Or I was afraid he might hire somebody. You can buy men for that sort of work in New York. I tell you the more I thought of it the more I was sure he'd do something. You'd understand if you lived in this lonely place with all that money and nobody you wanted to will it to. I nearly sent for Howells right then. But if nothing had happened I'd have looked a fool."
"I wanted you to send for a man," Katherine cried.
Bobby leaned against the wall, repeating to himself the words of Maria's note which accused him of having made the very threat his grandfather had feared.
"So," Blackburn rambled on, "I decided I wouldn't sleep in my room that night, and I picked out the least likely place for anybody to find me. I was more afraid of him than I was of the old room, but, as I've told you, the old room made me forget Master Robert."
Robinson stepped to Bobby's side.
"All along Howells was right. Tell me what you did with that evidence."
Bobby turned away. Katherine tried to laugh. Graham beckoned to Robinson.
"What's the use of bothering with evidence against a suspected murderer when the murdered man stands talking to you?"
Robinson frowned helplessly. Paredes sprang to his feet.
"You're taking too much for granted, Graham. There was a murder. Blackburn was killed. We've as many witnesses to that fact as we have that he's come back. This man who talks with us, accusing Bobby, may not stay. Have you thought of that? I have noticed something that makes me think it possible. I have been afraid to speak of it. But it makes me hesitate to say that this man is alive, as we understand life. We have to learn the nature of the forces we are dealing with, exactly how dangerous they are."
They started at a sharp rap on the front door.
"Now who?" the old man whined. "I wish you wouldn't look at me so. It makes me feel queer. You're all crazy."
"It's probably Doctor Groom," Bobby said, and stepped to the door, opening it.
It was Groom. The huge man walked in, struggling out of his coat. At first the others screened Silas Blackburn from him, but he acknowledged their strained attitudes, the excitement that still animated Paredes's face.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked. "Found something, Mr. District
Robinson moved to one side, jerking his thumb at Silas Blackburn. The coat and hat slipped from Doctor Groom's hand. His mouth opened. His great body crept slowly back until the shoulders rested against the wall. He placed the palms of his hands against the wall as if to push it away in order to assure further retreat. Always the little, infused eyes remained fixed on the man who had been his friend. Such terror was chiefly arresting because of the great figure conquered by it.
Blackburn thrust his pipe in his mouth. He laughed shakily.
"That fellow Groom will have a stroke."
The Doctor's greeting had the difficult quality of a masculine sob.
"Who do you think?" the other whined. "You going to try to frighten me out of my skin, too? These people are trying to say I've been lying dead in the old room. Hoped you'd have enough sense to set them right and tell me what it's all about."
The doctor straightened.
"You did lie dead in the old room."
His harsh, amazed tones held an unqualified conviction.
"I saw you there. I helped the coroner make the examination. You had been dead for many hours. And I saw you bolted in your coffin. I saw you buried in the graveyard you'd let go to pieces."
The others had, as far as possible, recovered from the first shock, had done their best to fathom the mystery, but Groom's fear increased. His reddish eyes grew always more alarmed. Silas Blackburn turned with a quick, frightened gesture, facing the fire. Paredes drew a deep breath.
"Now you'll see," he said.
Doctor Groom shrank against the wall again. After a moment, with the motions of one drawn by an outside will, he approached the figure at the fireplace. Then Bobby saw, and he heard Katherine's choked scream. For now that his grandfather's back was turned there was plainly visible on the white of the collar, near the base of the brain, a scarlet stain. And the hair above it was matted.
"That's what I meant," Paredes whispered.
Graham moved back.
Robinson stared. The fear had found him, too.
Doctor Groom touched Blackburn's shoulder tentatively.
"What's the matter with the back of your neck?"
Blackburn drew fearfully away. He raised his hand and fumbled at the top of his collar. He held his fingers to the firelight.
"Why," he said blankly, "I been bleeding back there."
To an extent the doctor controlled himself.
"Sit down here, Silas Blackburn," he said. "I want to get the lamplight on your head."
"I ain't badly hurt?" Blackburn whined.
"I don't know," the doctor answered. "Heaven knows."
Blackburn sat down. The light shone full on the stained collar and the dark patch of hair at the base of the brain. Doctor Groom examined the wound minutely. He straightened. He spoke unsteadily:
"It is a healed wound. It was made by something sharp."
Robinson thrust his hands in his pockets.
"You're getting beyond my depths, Doctor. Bring him up to the old bedroom. I want him to see that pillow."
But Blackburn cowered in his chair.
"I won't go to that room again. They don't want me there. I'll have work started in the cemetery to-morrow."
"Mr. Blackburn," Robinson said, "the man we buried in the cemetery to-day, the man these members of your family identify as yourself, died of just such a wound as the doctor says has healed in your head."
Blackburn cowered farther in his chair.
"You're making fun of me," he whimpered. "You're trying to scare an old man."
"No," Robinson said. "How was that wound made?"
The crouched figure wagged its head from side to side.
"I don't know. Nothing's touched me there. I remember I had a headache when I woke up. Why doesn't Groom tell me why I slept so long?"
"I only know," Groom rumbled, "that the wound I examined upstairs must have caused instant death."
Paredes whispered to him. The doctor nodded reluctantly.
"What do you mean?" Blackburn cried. "You trying to tell me I can't stay with you?"
He pointed to Paredes.
"That's what he said—that I might have to go back, but I never heard of such a thing. I'm all right. My neck doesn't hurt. I'm alive. I tell you I'm alive. I'll teach you—"
Rawlins returned from the telephone.
"His story's straight," he said in his crisp manner. "I've been talking to Waters himself. Says Mr. Blackburn turned up about three-thirty, looking queer and acting queer. Wouldn't shake hands, just as he says. He went to the spare room and slept practically all the time until this afternoon. No food. Waters couldn't rouse him. Mr. Blackburn wouldn't answer at all or else seemed half asleep. He'd made up his mind to call in a doctor this afternoon. Then Mr. Blackburn seemed all right again, and started home."
Robinson gazed at the fire.
"What's to be done now, sir?" Rawlins asked.
"Find the answer if we can," Robinson said.
Paredes spoke as softly as he had done the other night while reciting his sensitive reaction to the Cedars's gloomy atmosphere. Only now his voice wasn't groping.
"Call me a dreamer if you want, Mr. District Attorney, but I have given you the only answer. This man's soul has dwelt in two places."
"I'm going slow on calling anybody names, but I haven't forgotten that there's been another crime in this house. Howells was killed in that room, too. I would like to believe he could return as Mr. Blackburn has."
Blackburn looked up.
"What's that? Who's Howells?"
And as Robinson told him of the second crime he sank back in his chair again, whimpering from time to time. His fear was harder to watch.
"Might I suggest," Graham said, "that Howells isn't out of the case yet?
It would be worth looking into."
It would be worth looking into."
"By all means," Robinson agreed.
Rawlins coughed apologetically.
"I asked them about that at the office. Howells was taken to his home in
Boston to-day. The funeral's to be to-morrow."
Boston to-day. The funeral's to be to-morrow."
"Then," Robinson said, "we're confined for the present to this end of the case. The facts I have tell me that two murders have been committed in this house. It is still my first duty to convict the guilty man."
Graham indicated the huddled, frightened figure in the chair.
"You are going against the evidence of your own eyes."
"I shall do what I can," Robinson said sternly. "We buried one of those men this noon. His grandson, his niece, and those who saw him frequently, swear it was this living being who has such a wound as the one that caused the death of that man. There is only one thing to do—see who we buried."
"The permits?" Graham suggested.
"I shall telephone the judge," Robinson answered, "and he can send them out, but I shan't wait for hours doing nothing. I am going to the grave at once."
"A waste of time," Paredes murmured.
"I don't understand," Silas Blackburn whined, "You say the doors were locked. Then how could anybody have got in that room to be murdered? How did I get out?"
Robinson turned on Paredes angrily.
"I'm not through with you yet. Before I am I'll get what I want from you."
He stormed away to the telephone. No one spoke. The doctor's rumpled head was still bent over the back of Silas Blackburn's chair. The infused eyes didn't waver from the crimson stain and the healed wound, and Blackburn remained huddled among the cushions, his shoulders twitching. Paredes commenced gathering up his cards. Katherine watched him out of expressionless eyes. Graham walked to her side. Rawlins, as always phlegmatic, remained motionless, waiting for his superior.
Bobby threw off his recent numbness. He realized the disturbing parallel in the actions of his grandfather and himself. He had come to the Cedars unconsciously, perhaps directed by an evil, external influence, on the night of the first murder. Now, it appeared, the man he was accused of killing had also wandered under an unknown impulse that night. Was the same subtle control responsible in both cases? Was there at the Cedars a force that defied physical laws, moving its inhabitants like puppets for special aims of its own? Yet, he recalled, there was something here friendly to him. After the movement of Howells's body and the disappearance of the evidence, the return of Silas Blackburn stripped Robinson's threats of power and seemed to place the solution beyond the district attorney's trivial reach.
The silence and the delay increased their weight upon the little group. Silas Blackburn, huddled in his chair, was grayer, more haggard than he had been at first. He appeared attentive to an expected summons. He seemed fighting the idea of going back.
The proximity of Graham to Katherine quieted the turmoil of Bobby's thoughts. If he could only have foreseen this return he would have listened to the whispered encouragement of the forest.
Robinson reappeared. Anxiety had replaced the anger in the round face which, one felt, should always have been no more than good-natured.
"Jenkins will have to help," he said.
Silas Blackburn arose unsteadily.
"I'm coming with you. You're not going to leave me here. I won't stay here alone."
"He should come by all means," Paredes said, "in case anything should happen—"
The old man put his hands to his ears.
"You keep quiet. I'm not going back, I tell you."
Bobby didn't want to hear any more. He went to the kitchen and called Jenkins. He let the butler go to the hall ahead of him in order that he might not have to witness this new greeting. But Jenkins's cry came back to him, and when he reached the hall he saw that the man's terror had not diminished.
They went through the court and around the house to the stable where they found spades and shovels. Their grim purpose holding them silent, they crossed the clearing and entered the pathway that had been freshly blazed that day for the passage of the men in black.
The snow was quite deep. It still drifted down. It filled the woods with a wan, unnatural radiance. Without really illuminating the sooty masses of the trees it made the night white.
Silas Blackburn stumbled in the van with Paredes and Robinson. The doctor and Rawlins followed. Graham was with Katherine behind them. Bobby walked last, fighting an instinct to linger, to avoid whatever they might find beneath the white blanket of the little, intimate burial ground.
Groom turned and spoke to Graham. Katherine waited for Bobby, and the white night closed swiftly about them, whispering until the shuffling of the others became inaudible.
Was she glad of this solitude? Had she sought it? Her extraordinary request in that earlier solitude came to him, and he spoke of it while he tried to control his emotions, while he sought to mould the next few minutes reasonably and justly.
"Why did you tell me to make no attempt to find the guilty person?"
"Because," she answered, "you were too sure it was yourself. Why, Bobby, did you think I was the—the woman in black? That has hurt me."
"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said, "but there is something I must tell you now that may hurt you a little."
And he explained how Graham had awakened him at the head of the stairs.
"You're right," he said. "I was sure then it was myself, in spite of Howells's movement. It followed so neatly on the handkerchief and the footmarks. But now he has come back, and it changes everything. So I can tell you."
He couldn't be sure whether it was the cold, white loneliness through which they paced, or what he had just said that made her tremble.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have told you that."
"I am glad," she answered. "You must never close your confidence to me again. Why have you done it these last few months? I want to know."
"Then you shall know."
Through the white night his hands reached for her, found her, drew her close. The moment was too masterful for him to mould. He became, instead, plastic in its white and stealthy grasp.
"I couldn't stay," he said, "and see you give yourself to Hartley."
She raised her hands to his shoulders. He barely caught her whisper because of the sly communicativeness of the snow.
"I am glad, but why didn't you say so then?"
The intoxication faded. The enterprise ahead gave to their joy a fugitive quality. Moreover, with her very surrender came to him a great misgiving.
"But you and Hartley? I've watched. It's been forced on me."
"Then you have misunderstood," she answered. "You put me too completely out of your life after our quarrel. That was about Hartley. You were too jealous, but it was my fault."
"Hartley," he asked, "spoke to you about that time?"
"Yes, and I told him he was a very dear friend, and he was kind enough to accept that and not to go away."
His measure of the widening of the rift between them made her more precious because of its affectionate human quality. She had been kinder to Graham, more mysterious about him, to draw Bobby back. Yet ever since his arrival at the Cedars, Graham had assumed toward Katherine an attitude scarcely to be limited by friendship. He had done what he had in Bobby's service clearly enough for her sake. For a long time past, indeed, in speaking of her Graham always seemed to discuss the woman he expected to marry.
"You are quite sure," he asked, puzzled, "that Hartley understood?"
"Why do you ask? He has shown how good a friend he is."
"He has always made me think," Bobby said, "that he had your love. You're sure he guessed that you cared for me?"
In that place, at that moment, there was a tragic colour to her coquetry.
"I think every one must have guessed it except you, Bobby."
He raised her head and touched her lips. Her lips were as cold as the caresses of the drifting snowflakes.
"We must go on," she sighed.
In his memory the chill of her kiss was bitter. In the forest they could speak no more of love.
But Bobby, hand in hand with her as they hurried after the others, received a new strength. He saw as a condition to their happiness the unveiling of the mystery at the Cedars. He gathered his courage for that task. He would not give way even before the memory of all that he had experienced, even before the return of his grandfather, even before the revelation toward which they walked. And side by side with his determination grew shame for his former weakness. It was comforting to realize that the causes for his weakness and his strength were identical.
The subdued murmur of voices reached them. They saw among the indistinct masses of the trees restless patches of black. Katherine stumbled against one of the fallen stones. They stood with the others in the burial ground, close to the mound that had been made that day.
"They haven't begun," Bobby whispered.
She freed her hand.
A white flame sprang across the mound. The trees from formless masses took on individual shapes. A row of cypresses on which the light gleamed were like sombre sentinels, guarding the dead. The snow patches, clustered on their branches, were like funeral decorations pointing their morbid function. The light gave the overturned stones an illusion of striving to struggle from their white imprisonment. Robinson swung his lamp back to the mound.
"The snow isn't heavy," he said, "and the ground isn't frozen. It oughtn't to take long."
Silas Blackburn commenced to shake.
"It's a desecration of the dead."
"We have to know," Robinson said, "who is buried in that grave."
With a spade Jenkins scraped the snow from the mound. Rawlins joined him. They commenced to throw to one side, staining the white carpet, spadesful of moist, yellow earth. Their labour was rapid. Silas Blackburn watched with an unconquerable fascination. He continued to shake.
"I'm too cold. I'll never be warm again," he whined. "If anything happens to me, Bobby, try to forget I've been hard, and don't let them bury me. Suppose I should be buried alive?"
"Suppose," Paredes said, "you were buried alive to-day?"
He turned to Bobby and Katherine.
"That also is possible. You remember the old theories that have never been disproved of the disintegration of matter into its atoms, of its passage through solid substances, of its reforming in a far place? I wouldn't have to ask an East Indian that."
Jenkins, standing in the excavation, broke into torrential speech.
"Mr. Robinson! I can't work with the light. It makes the stones seem to move. It throws too many shadows. I seem to see people behind you, and I'm afraid to look."
Nothing aggressive survived in Rawlins's voice.
"We can work well enough without it, sir."
Robinson snapped off the light. The darkness descended eagerly upon them. Above the noise of the spades in the soft earth Bobby heard indefinite stirrings. In the graveyard at such an hour the supernatural legend of the Cedars assumed an inescapable probability. Bobby wished for some way to stop the task on which they were engaged. He felt instinctively it would be better not to tamper with the mystery of Silas Blackburn's return.
Bobby grew rigid.
"There it is again," Graham breathed.
A low keening came from the thicket. It increased in power a trifle, then drifted into silence.
It wasn't the wind. It was like the moaning Bobby had heard at the stagnant lake that afternoon, like the cries Graham and he had suffered in the old room. Seeming at first to come from a distance, it achieved a sense of intimacy. It was like an escape of sorrow from the dismantled tombs.
Bobby turned to Katherine. He couldn't see her for the darkness. He reached out. She was not there.
"Katherine," he called softly.
Her hand stole into his. He had been afraid that the forest had taken her. Under the reassurance of her handclasp he tried to make himself believe there was actually a woman near by, if not Maria, some one who had a definite purpose there.
Robinson flashed on his light. Old Blackburn whimpered:
"The Cedars is at its tricks again, and there's nothing we can do."
"It was like a lost soul," Katherine sighed. "It seemed to cry from this place."
"It must be traced," Bobby said.
"Then tell me its direction certainly," Robinson challenged. "We'd flounder in the thicket. A waste of time. Let us get through here. Hurry, Rawlins!"
The light showed Bobby that the detective and Jenkins had nearly finished. He shrank from the first hard sound of metal against metal.
It came. After a moment the light shone on the dull face of the casket which was streaked with dirt.
Jenkins rested on his spade. He groaned. It occurred to Bobby that the man couldn't have worked hard enough in this cold air to have started the perspiration that streamed down his wrinkled face.
"It would be a tough job to lift it out," Rawlins said.
"No need," Robinson answered. "Get the soil away from the edges."
He bent over, passing a screw driver to the detective.
"Take off the top plate. That will let us see all we want."
Jenkins climbed out.
"I shan't look. I don't dare look."
Silas Blackburn touched Bobby's arm timidly.
"I've been a hard man, Bobby—"
He broke off, his bearded lips twitching.
The grating of the screws tore through the silence. Rawlins glanced up.
"Lend a hand, somebody."
Groom spoke hoarsely:
"It isn't too late to let the dead rest."
Robinson gestured him away. Graham, Paredes, and he knelt in the snow and helped the detective raise the heavy lid. They placed it at the side of the grave.
They all forced themselves to glance downward.
Katherine screamed. Silas Blackburn leaned on Bobby's arm, shaking with gross, impossible sobs. Paredes shrugged his shoulders. The light wavered in Robinson's hand. They continued to stare. There was nothing else to do.
The coffin was empty.
The Abandoned Room by Wadsworth Camp – Full Text (Chapters 9-10)