I followed him into the room. My surprise equalled his own at what I saw. In direct contrast to the barrenness of the rooms below, this one was beautifully furnished with rich draperies covering the crumbling walls, and rugs upon the floor. The furniture was evidently new, and though a trifle gaudy, not without taste.
A table in the centre of the room covered with a damask cloth, china and silver, was spread as though for a meal. There was a half-emptied bottle of wine, and two glasses. One glass still contained the liquor. Even a loaf of bread and some cold cuts and salad remained. An open lunch kit rested in a chair near the table.
I looked at Alan in amazement. He gave me a glance of equal astonishment.
“I don’t quite understand it,” he murmured. “Do you suppose it is possible that some one lives here?”
I shook my head. “With the whole lower floor going to rack and ruin, and overrun with rats? No, it isn’t possible.”
“Nell, this bread is soft.” He lifted the loaf and thrust his finger into the crust; then he glanced half apprehensively over his shoulder at some velvet draperies which covered the double doors.
I don’t know why, but I shivered. Judging from their juxtaposition those doors led into the room which was bolted from the hallway.
Alan lowered his voice as he spoke.
“Someone is either in this house or has been here but a short time ago,” he said. “This food is fresh. For some reason it has not been eaten.”
I gave a little cry, half of protest, half of fear, as he parted the draperies, and drew back the heavy-paneled doors behind them.
Then I cried out in horror. Lying across a canopied bed was a man in evening clothes. It needed no second glance even in the small light Alan’s spot afforded to show us he was dead. That either suicide or murder had caused his death, for on the white bosom of his shirt was a hideous red spot, and the blue satin and lace of the bedspread was stained with blood.
“My God!” Alan whispered hoarsely.
As if to accentuate the gruesomeness of the picture and its surroundings, a streak of lightning flashed directly upon that supine figure on the bed. The burst of thunder which followed seemed to rend the sky in two. The wind careening madly around the house, rocked and banged the shutters of the one window.
“Let’s — let’s try to go on!” I sobbed. “This is awful, I can’t stand it here like this!”
“It looks like murder — “ he muttered.
Seemingly compelled against his will he advanced toward the bed. I watched him in fascination as he let his light play upon the features of the man lying there. Then more fearful of the shadows behind me, and the blackness of the room we had left than of the dead, I crept close to him.
Almost of one accord, we exclaimed, “Judge MacPherson!”
A tall lean man with reddish grey hair, a trifle long, a sandy beard and no mustache, keen, cruel eyes with crisscross wrinkles about them. MacPherson, in life, was a man not easily forgotten if once known, and not to be mistaken for anyone else, even in death. The man stretched out before us was unquestionably Judge MacPherson. Then, too, I recognized an unusual sapphire and diamond ring on his finger which I had admired at a dinner party not a month before.
“It is murder,” Alan said. “He hasn’t been robbed, either. I wonder if there is a telephone here.”
“To call up the police, of course.”
“There isn’t any, I’m sure of it.”
I was right. Though the two rooms we had just entered were furnished and appeared to have been recently occupied, all the others were in the same state of decay as the lower floor. There was no telephone in any of them.
After a while Alan closed the double doors, and drew the velvet hangings, then silently, dazed and horror-stricken, we retraced our steps to the kitchen. The fire we had built at least had life and a certain cheerfulness, and the horror of the thing we had discovered made it impossible for us to stay in the furnished rooms upstairs.
“We can’t go on tonight,” he said. “With daylight we may find a detour, but we can’t risk it in the dark; we don’t know how close the road is to the edge of the ravine.”
I could not banish the picture of the dead man lying upstairs weltering in his own blood, amidst all the garish luxury of velvets and satin, with the uneaten meal spread so near to him. Such a short time ago he had sat at the same table with us, a genial host, though a bit sardonic in his humor. Knowing him to have been a hard, cruel administrator of justice, I never doubted for an instant that he had been murdered.
“Alan,” I whispered, half fearful of being overheard by ears forever deafened, “who do you suppose killed him?”
He shook his head.
“Any one of a hundred people might desire his death. Revenge is unquestionably the motive behind it.”
As he spoke, his eyes widened, and I noted a quick intake of his breath. Then I saw what had caused this. My motor coat which I had left to dry was gone! Though his still remained where he had placed it.
“Some one is in this house !” I cried hoarsely.
“Yes. The person who killed MacPherson is still here!”
“What are you going to do!” I wailed, as he turned abruptly and started to leave the kitchen.
“Search for him,” he answered grimly.
“But you are unarmed! A man desperate enough to commit murder wouldn’t hesitate to kill you.”
Then a peculiar sound came to us above the roaring of the wind and the drip of the rain. Unquestionably, it was the buzz of a motor.
We ran to the window, and regardless of the drenching we received the instant it was opened, we peered out into the darkness. At first we saw nothing; then darker against the dark sky we distinguished the outline of another building, not so large as the house we were in, but beyond a doubt a big barn.
“Our man is in there,” said Alan.
“He was in the house when we arrived, and beat it to the barn while we were upstairs. He has a car out there. That’s the engine we heard.”
“Don’t go out! Alan! Don’t go out there!” But my protests were in vain.
A door opened from the kitchen to a summer porch, and a path which led to the barn. Almost before the words were out of my mouth he darted through this door and out into the storm. There was nothing for me to do but to follow.
I felt I would rather face a live murderer than stay alone in that great house with his dead victim.
Before we reached the barn, a car, which by its long low outlines was just distinguishable in the darkness, swung out into the road before us. Its lamps were unlighted, and we could not see its occupant.
Alan called out commandingly, with a bravery which was foolhardy to an extreme.
“Stop! Stop where you are!”
The car came towards us. The engine sputtered; the machine swerved a little, as though driven by a drunken person or some one unused to handling a wheel.
Alan gave his command again, then deliberately stepped into the pathway. The car came to an abrupt stop.
“You can’t go on tonight,” Alan said. “The road is blocked, and whoever you are, you’d be a fool to attempt it in this storm.”
The person at the wheel did not reply, but instead swung the car around and returned to the barn. We followed.
As we reached a doorway, a sudden gleam of light illuminated the passage. It came from a kerosene lantern held by a figure in a motor coat which I recognized as my own. A small, unquestionably feminine figure.
* * * * *
“I’ll go back to the house with you,” she said. “After all, what difference does it make?”
· END OF PART 2 ·
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A mysterious woman flees from the house, and nearly runs over Alan.
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