The blinding rain which had been steadily falling for the last hour cut and stung our faces, and the wind wheezing through the trees about us rocked our little car until it made progress almost impossible. An illuminating streak of lightning, followed by a deafening crash of thunder, caused me to cower down in the seat and cover my ears with my hands.
"Well, here's our finish!'' exclaimed my brother, who had valiantly striven to pilot the machine in the storm. "There's a tree lying directly across the road."
He brought the car to a standstill, and turned his spotlight on the dark object blocking our path. It was a huge tree, evidently stricken down by the lightning, and it covered the entire road.
"What on earth are we going to do ?" I sobbed hysterically. "We can't stay out in a storm like this, and we are miles and miles away from anyone!"
We had been steadily climbing an upward grade, and the cavern-like ravines on either side and the depths of blackness behind me struck a chill in my heart. "I wish we'd never come out on this crazy motor trip," I wailed. "New York is good enough for me. Alan, what can we do?"
"I'll see," he answered. "Keep your hand on the brake, this is a pretty stiff hill, and the road is slippery; if the car starts skidding it's good night."
He spoke jocularly enough, but I knew he was worried. Climbing out of the machine, he went around to the big, supine tree and examined it.
"It's no use, Nell," he called to me, pitching his voice above the roar of the wind, "I can't budge it."
In the brief light caused by a second flash of lightning, I saw the stark, bare outlines of a two-story house, possibly a hundred feet ahead of us on my right.
"Alan, there's a house! A house up there further on the hill," I cried wildly.
"You're right, there is. It's either an empty one, or its occupants hit the hay early. I'll pull the car out onto the side of the road, and we'll make a run for it."
He got back into his seat, and with a few careful maneuvers of the wheel succeeded in bringing the machine around to a spot where it might stand in safety. Then he searched in the darkness until he found a rock, which he placed under the wheel in case something should start it rolling down-grade.
"Turn up your collar! The rain feels like ice-water when you're out in it. That house is probably farther off than it looks."
Taking my hand, he helped me out. My feet went into deep mud, and I almost lost my balance. With a little shriek I clutched him to save myself. Then we started to run.
It was up-hill all the way, a much steeper and longer climb than I had anticipated, and, as Alan had said, the rain was like ice-water beating against the back of my neck and shoulders. I was shaking and shivering like a drowned cat by the time we reached the stoop on the front of the building.
The house was barren of fence and surrounding trees, and stood on a sort of knoll at the side of the hills. No light was visible anywhere. Alan used his pocket flash and that guided us to the front door, which was swinging dismally back and forth on one hinge, making a doleful, creaking noise, distinguishable above the wind. We did not stop to knock, feeling pretty certain the house had no occupant or the door would be locked on a night like this.
"For such shelter let us give thanks!" Alan chuckled grimly, pushing me in first. He closed the door after us to shut out the rain, but it immediately swung open again.
We found ourselves in a long, wide hall which evidently divided the house through the centre. At the extreme end was an old-fashioned staircase with banisters. The floors creaked and gave with the weight of our bodies as we walked, and I fancied a rat scurried across my foot.
There was an odor of mustiness and damp about the place, as though it had not been occupied for years.
There were no furnishings of any kind, no blinds to the windows, and most of the panes of glass were missing ; but even in the dim light that Alan's "spot" afforded we could see it had an old-time elegance. Probably at one time monstrous log fires had burnt in the massive brick fireplaces at the end of the two rooms opening off the separating hallway. The woodwork appeared to be of black walnut, the floors unquestionably had been highly polished, though now they were worn and earth- stained. The ceilings were falling, and the wallpaper hung in great strips from the plastering — a more uninviting place could not be imagined. I clung to Alan's arm, half afraid to venture farther.
"I'm awfully cold," I whimpered, through chattering teeth. "D'ye suppose there's a stove in the kitchen ? Maybe we can find some paper and start a fire if there is."
Alan did not answer, but led the way to the back of the house. Before some swinging doors he hesitated a second, then flung them open and entered; I followed. It was an old-fashioned brick-floored kitchen. In one corner stood a battered, rust-covered coal-range. The chimney was disconnected, and part of it lay on the floor before the open oven. Piles of old rags and broken bits of twigs and newspaper filled a box near it.
Alan thrust the spot light into my hand and pounced upon the debris. In a little while he had a fire burning in the old stove, and the kitchen was filled with sooty smoke and blessed warmth.
I stripped off my soggy motor coat, and flung it across the box to dry out; Alan removed his coat and did likewise.
"Now, if I just had a cup of coffee and a sandwich I wouldn't be at all unhappy," I said.
"Forget it!" he laughed. "Nothing doing. It's a lucky thing for us this old barn is well built. If it wasn't I could see visions of that wind lifting it off its pins and tossing it down into the cavern."
I shuddered. "Let's not think about it. The car may not even be there in the morning."
To kill time and to get our mind off the storm outside I suggested that we rummage around a bit, and see what the place was like upstairs.
As we stepped into the long open hallway, a gust of wind whipped through the swinging door and carried with it a perfect torrent of rain, that made little puddles at our feet.
Fearfully I followed Alan up the long, broad flight of stairs, feeling that uncanny something that is so often present in an old, unused house. I half expected some spectre of the past to reach out and lay clammy, unearthly hands upon me, or a shadowy something to greet us on the landing where we paused and looked about.
There were six doors leading off the corridor, all exactly alike. With the exception of one they were slightly ajar — the sixth appeared to be locked.
Curiosity prompted me to go toward it first. The knob turned in my hand, but the door stayed closed.
"Bluebeard's den!" laughed Alan. "Take care that you aren't another Ann."
"I wonder why."
"Possibly for the same reason that all the others aren't. The owner, when he left the place, didn't take the trouble to unlock it."
I twisted and turned the knob, trying to force an entrance, but the lock held in spite of its age and rustiness. Alan laughed at my efforts, then he pushed open the door to his right, which was slightly ajar. His exclamation of surprise called my attention from the bolted door.
"What is it?" I gasped.
"By George, Nell, look here!"
Back to Top
The Dead Man
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?"
The woman who stood there holding the lantern above her head was the most tragically beautiful creature I had ever seen. She did not appear to be very young. Possibly she was in her later thirties, but her small, almost childish, stature gave her the appearance of extreme youth. Great dark eyes burnt in a small ashen pale face, whose pallor was accentuated by her vivid scarlet mouth. Masses of blue-black hair tumbled about her shoulders, and on to the leather collar of my coat. Evidently the coat had been hastily donned, for it wasn't fastened, and exposed to view the shimmery satin of an evening gown she wore.
In a brief glance I noted her sodden silver shoes, and the mud-stained hem of her gown. The silver lace which bordered it was mud-stained and spattered with blood. A pongee cloak, which she had evidently used to motor in, lay a drenched and soggy mass on the seat of the roadster.
For a strained moment we stared at each other. The fragile, infinitely pathetic woman facing Alan and myself. Then she swayed as if about to fall. I started toward her, but she straightened up bravely and gave a little laugh.
"It — it isn't very pleasant out here," she said in a musical voice, "the house is a trifle better."
Silently we trudged back through the overgrown grass and weeds, our feet sinking deep into the spongy ground. Alan relieved her of the lantern and lighted us into the house.
"I — I'll return your coat to you." she said in a half-apologetic tone, going towards the stove, which still glowed red and cheerful from the fire Alan had built. "I shan't need it now. I really didn't mean to steal it. I hoped to return it somehow — some way. I was desperate."
As we were silent, she choked and then with an air of bravado, continued: "I am sorry I cannot offer you any better hospitality, but — " a wave of a very thin white hand expressed more than words could have done.
"Offer us any better hospitality — ?" Alan repeated dumbly after her.
"Yes. This is my home, but it isn't the same as it was when I lived here."
"I — I don't quite understand," I stammered.
A thin white line settled about Alan's rigid mouth. I knew he was wondering what connection the beautiful pallid woman had with the dead man lying upstairs. If she had herself killed him — or if she even knew of his existence. She seemed to sense what I did; for the half-born smile on her lips faded, the dark eyes became darker, if possible, as they widened. Her hands fluttered upward, then dropped helplessly to the side of her orchid-colored gown.
"Yes," she said dully, as if in reply to a question — "I killed him. I was in the closet upstairs when you went into the other room. While you were in there I stole out through the door I had locked on the inside, and down the stairs. I took your cloak, and ran out to the stable. I was going to drive away, when you called me back. Perhaps it is just as well you did. It doesn't matter much one way or another."
"You killed Judge MacPherson?" I gasped. "Why?"
"You knew him ?"
An enigmatical smile played about her lips, full and softly rounded like a child's. That smile held a world of wisdom and tragedy in a moment's flicker. It made her face strangely old and careworn in the light of the oil lamp. I suddenly seemed to be looking at the remnants of a once beautiful woman, at a battered and bruised soul — not at the woman herself.
"I wonder just how well you knew him," she said as though to herself. "Not as well as I did, at any rate."
"He was your lover?" Alan asked.
We lowered our voices as if taking our key from her. Curiously, I felt more of an interest in the woman herself than the fact that she had killed Judge MacPherson. She shook her head in reply to Alan's question and her lips curled scornfully.
After a little, she said:
"Would you like to have me tell you all about it? Somehow, I feel as if I should be relieved if I did so; I'm really very unnerved and shaken. After all, it's a terrible thing to take a human life — to watch a soul leave a man's body, even though you know that man to be a reptile and deserving of more than one death. I shan't speak when I am arrested. They can do as they like with me. But I'll not have the newspapers and their ravenous readers gloating over my miserable downfall. You do not know who I am, nor do I know you — we shall never meet again — and something tells me that when morning comes you will allow me to go my way, and you will go another, so — I should like you to know the truth."
She was strangely calm. Only the pallid whiteness of her face, and a glitter to her dark eyes, showed any of the tumult seething within her. Alan and I both hung upon her words. Somehow it seemed unnecessary for us to talk. She shivered. Without a word Alan pulled the box on which he had flung his coat nearer the fire, and half assisted her to sit upon it.
"Shall I go upstairs and fetch you a chair?" he said.
"No! No! Oh, no!" For one instant she lost control of herself. The next moment she was as calm and restrained as a society matron serving tea.
Alan and I seated ourselves on the floor at her feet. The thunder and lightning had ceased, and but for the steady drip, drip of the rain, the night was placid and quiet.
For a long time it seemed to my overwrought nerves the woman sat there with her hands clasped loosely in her lap, her great eyes staring at a red glowing spot on the old stove. Once or twice she glanced apprehensively over her shoulder as though she expected the man she had slain to appear in the doorway behind her.
"I was born here, reared here, and married in this house," she said at last, ''my little boy was born here. It was a beautiful old house then. Seeing it now, you can scarcely realize what it was in those days. When I was a girl it used to be full of young people laughing, dancing and enjoying life. We had husking bees in the barn, halloween parties, dances, in the winter sleigh rides and Christmas trees.
"Many's the time I've coasted down that long hill and landed in a heap at the bottom. Then I married a man I adored. He worshipped me. He placed me on a pedestal, as something just a little more than mortal. He was an intensely religious man, perhaps a trifle austere, but because I loved society, young company, we continued to fill the home with guests. There was never a shadowy corner in the house like there is now — the lights were always bright. There were always laughing voices to be heard and music — " she spoke very slowly, in an almost pedantic fashion, as though choosing her words, and a bit uncertain of them. It was as though she were speaking a tongue not quite familiar to her.
"When my little boy was born both my husband and myself were overjoyed. Even the fact that he was a fragile little fellow did not drown our happiness. For a year we battled to keep him alive — then he began to grow sturdy and rosy like the other children who came with their parents to visit us. About that time my husband became very absorbed in his profession. He was compiling a historical volume of intense interest to himself. Because I was lonesome I used to go into the city quite often to the theatre — generally to matinees — and come back at dinner time. Several times I went later in the day, and remained overnight.
"I did not realize then that he was jealous of me — that he was suspicious. If only he had said something to me — but he never did — until too late! I was very innocent in those days.
"Principally because I did not wish to disturb him, or impose upon my friends, the few times I remained overnight in the city, I stayed in a small hotel, walking to and from the theatre alone.
"Imagine my horror when, one night, as I turned the corner to go to the hotel (which was in a side street), a man put his hand on my shoulder, and before I could make any protest, informed me I was under arrest.
"Too dazed and bewildered to demand the reason for this outrage, I did nothing but declare my innocence. I was dragged downtown to the police court, and put upon the stand before a grinning, gaping crowd of spectators. I was asked obscene questions by that man lying upstairs, sneered at because of my protestations of virtue, then thrown in a cell with two drunken prostitutes and a half-insane old woman. I was so ashamed, so horror-stricken, yet so certain of my release in the morning, that I did not telephone my husband of what had happened.
"It never occurred to me that I would be branded as a woman of the streets and sentenced to prison. But I was! I was! Judge MacPherson — a man of the world who should be able to distinguish between women — laughed at me, and with one wave of his smug hand, with one word sentenced me to six months' confinement and a lifetime of hell! Never so long as I live will I forget his face!
"That same night my baby was taken ill, my husband tried to find me — his search discovered to him the fact that I was in jail for soliciting on the street!
"Then the jealousy — the suspicions he had felt for me burst into flame, making him ready to believe the worst of me.
"I never saw him but once after that. That one time he denounced me as a woman unfit to live — as a thing too vile to breathe the same air as my child. Then he told me the boy was dead. Of course, he secured my release, but it was too late.
"When I came out of prison, I went to Judge MacPherson's home. I remember he was sitting at dinner. He was very annoyed at having his meal disturbed by a pale, bedraggled, slovenly-looking woman. He was at no pains to hide his annoyance. I told him what he had done to me, an innocent woman, and I demanded that he right this wrong.
"There was the same smiling sneer on his face as when he sentenced me.
" 'Just how can I do this, my dear lady?' he said.
'"'Go to my husband,' I cried wildly, I had not learned to restrain myself then — 'tell him that I am innocent — absolutely innocent. My baby is gone but there is still a chance for me, if he will take me — you must explain to him — you must make him understand!'
"He laughed — laughed at me.
"'Old stuff, my dear!' he sneered, 'old stuff. Why can't you women think of something original? Of course, you are all innocent, none of you will even admit to a first offense. I'm sorry if your child is dead, that is, if you had one, but I certainly won't help to hoodwink a man — who evidently is a person of principle. If you don't want to suffer, behave yourself; that's all I have to say. Good evening!'
"Then he showed me the door. I think I went insane. I remember standing outside and pounding on it, screaming maledictions on him, shrieking to him that he must clear me, that he must give me back my good name. Then some one seized me, and I was dragged away to the station-house again. I left it under a six months' sentence for disorderly conduct.
"When I got out this time, dazed, broken, aged, I realized that nothing I could ever do or say would reinstate me. This second arrest, caused by the man who had ruined me, had branded me forever and forever. I learned my husband had divorced me, disposed of everything in our home and sailed to France.
"Those who had been my friends passed me on the street without recognition. There was no one in the world I could turn to. I was practically without means. To be sure, I owned this house, but I did not have the money to keep it in repair, and I could not live in it. The memories it recalled were maddening. Then, too, I felt everyone knew my story, and I could not face their scornful glances.
"Time and again I was tempted to kill myself, but one thing always held me back; my undying soul-eating hatred for the man who had passed judgment on me.
"One day I realized why this monstrous thing had happened to me. I was to be the instrument with which to save innumerable women from a fate similar to mine! It was to be my task to rid the world of the viper who destroyed innocence and laughed at his handiwork. I almost became happy in contemplation of what I would do? What did it matter to me that to accomplish his destruction I must accomplish my own! The thing he had branded me, I became in reality. I was beautiful; soon I learned I was desirable, and I could be fascinating.
"I studied all the arts and wiles of the oldest profession in the world, and determined to sell myself to the highest bidder. My education, my knowledge of society, my culture all stood me in good stead. Understand, I always stayed within the law, I was never crude. I took no chances of another arrest. My new name, the one I adopted when I became of the demi-monde, I kept unsmirched, if you could call it that. I became a leader in the set where mistresses laughed at wives and where lovers were more popular than husbands.
"I discovered, to my intense delight, that although austere, and apparently religious. Judge MacPherson's besetting sin was women, that he used the timeworn excuse of an invalid wife to cover his indiscretions. You don't know it, of course, as he kept the scandal quiet, but it was I who brought about his divorce.
"It took me three years to secure an introduction to him, but it took less than three hours to hopelessly ensnare him. It was not strange that in the smiling, elegantly blase woman of the world he did not recognize the half-crazed, bedraggled woman of the police courts.
"He was just at that most susceptible age when he felt that youth was slipping from him, and old age waiting to claim him had put a taboo on affairs of the heart. With a desperate desire to remain young he flung himself headlong into my hands, never doubting that I was what I appeared — a divorcee whose misplaced affections had made her a trifle bitter toward men, yet who was longing and looking for a loving protector.
"I played my cards well. I used all the coyness of the ingenue with the blandishments of the courtesan to keep him on tenter-hooks before he became that protector. After that, it was easier.
"He did not realize why I suggested week-end parties, gradually making this house their setting. I had, from the first, determined that as this was the home he had destroyed, so here he should be destroyed.
"It was his money which furnished those rooms upstairs. Rather grim humor, isn't it?
"Can you conceive of the loathing I felt at that man's touch, how I cringed as he embraced me? How I laughed and anticipated the climax of it all ? He called me a charming child with quaint ideas when he first saw this place, abandoned and decayed. The unusualness of our rendezvous appealed to him as unique. Early I learned unwholesome things intrigued him.
"Tonight was our third visit. We arrived just before the storm broke. As usual we brought a lunch kit with our dinner in it. That meal was never eaten. I had drugged the wine just enough to befog his brain, and make him like wax in my hands. Then as he sat there, stupid, dazed and inert, I told him who I was, and why he was here.
"And I laughed! Laughed at him as he had laughed at me when he had me taken away, kicking and screaming, by the police. You would have laughed, too, had you seen his face!
"When I showed him the revolver, and told him I was going to kill him, he cringed like a sick animal, whimpering and begging for mercy — the kind of mercy he hadn't shown me. Still I laughed! He staggered drunkenly to his feet, and came toward me. I don't think he felt certain that I meant what I said. I whirled on him and backed him into the bedroom. Then, when he made a lurch toward me, trying to secure the pistol and stumbled against the bed, I fired — he fell across it dead."
''Where is the pistol?" Alan asked drily.
The woman's eyes narrowed. "I flung it under the bed. His blood smeared my gown, see! After a little, I went out to drive the car to town, but it was raining so hard I became drenched before I reached the barn. I came back to the house. Then I heard you come in at the front door. I was frightened. I had fancied myself absolutely alone out here. I locked the bedroom door when I heard you climb the stairs — you know the rest — "
We were silent for a few moments. Then Alan said abruptly:
"I'd like to take a look at him again." The woman rose slowly, and we all filed up the stairs again. At the bedroom door she laid a feverish hand on mine, and I felt a shudder go through her, but when we stood staring at the cold, dark figure before us, her face was unexpressive, emotionless.
Half entangled in the lace of the bedspread where it had fallen, or been thrown, as MacPherson stumbled against the bed, was the revolver. The light from the lantern, though not brilliant, illuminated more space than Alan's spot had done, hence it had been hidden from our view before.
Alan looked steadily at her a moment. I could not read what was passing through his thoughts, then he motioned for us to follow him downstairs.
The steady drip, drip of the rain made me drowsy. We huddled in silence on the floor before the stove, the woman staring off in space. Presently I dozed, leaning against Alan's shoulder.
When I awakened, it was breaking day — she was gone!
"Alan!" I cried, shaking him a little to waken him. "She's gone!"
"Yes, I know. I saw her when she left."
"But — "
"Who are we to judge?" he asked slowly.
Back to Top
Two days later, picking up a New York newspaper, I read the headlines: "Judson MacPherson, well-known justice of the Criminal Court, commits suicide in abandoned house in the Catskill Mountains."
Then followed a half-column account of the act in detail. MacPherson having gotten into financial difficulties had chosen the coward's way out, so said the paper. A letter announced his intention of dying, and gave the location where to find his body. The paper also stated that the knowledge he had recently married a young and beautiful actress came as a distinct surprise to his friends. A picture of his bride accompanied the article.
The wistful, almost tragic, face pictured was unquestionably that of the woman who said she had killed him!
I stared at Alan as I handed him the newspaper.
"Was she lying?" I gasped.
He shook his head.
"If so, she was a clever actress," he answered. "But one thing is certain, we'll never know the truth. Either way he brought about his own death."
~ The End ~
Mr. Bingler's Murder Maze
By Wilbur S. Peacock
(56 min read)
Crack Detective | Mar. 1943 | Vol. 3 No. 2
Mr. Bingler was on the spot, for here was a case not covered by the situations described in his handy little instruction booklet for Home Detectives. But the little man's courage held out, even when he found himself lying next to a murdered man, with his own sword-umbrella sticking out of the corpse as sure-fire evidence!
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