The Greene Murder Case

By S. S. Van Dine.

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To
Norbert L. Lederer

Άγαθὴ δἑ παράφασίς έστιν έταίρου

Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.

Hamlet

Characters of the Book

The Greene Murder Case

I

A Double Tragedy

(Tuesday, November 9; 10 a.m.)

It has long been a source of wonder to me why the leading criminological writers⁠—men like Edmund Lester Pearson, H. B. Irving, Filson Young, Canon Brookes, William Bolitho, and Harold Eaton⁠—have not devoted more space to the Greene tragedy; for here, surely, is one of the outstanding murder mysteries of modern times⁠—a case practically unique in the annals of latter-day crime. And yet I realize, as I read over my own voluminous notes on the case, and inspect the various documents relating to it, how little of its inner history ever came to light, and how impossible it would be for even the most imaginative chronicler to fill in the hiatuses.

The world, of course, knows the external facts. For over a month the press of two continents was filled with accounts of this appalling tragedy; and even the bare outline was sufficient to gratify the public’s craving for the abnormal and the spectacular. But the inside story of the catastrophe surpassed even the wildest flights of public fancy; and, as I now sit down to divulge those facts for the first time, I am oppressed with a feeling akin to unreality, although I was a witness to most of them and hold in my possession the incontestable records of their actuality.

Of the fiendish ingenuity which lay behind this terrible crime, of the warped psychological motives that inspired it, and of the strange hidden sources of its technic, the world is completely ignorant. Moreover, no explanation has ever been given of the analytic steps that led to its solution. Nor have the events attending the mechanism of that solution⁠—events in themselves highly dramatic and unusual⁠—ever been recounted. The public believes that the termination of the case was a result of the usual police methods of investigation; but this is because the public is unaware of many of the vital factors of the crime itself, and because both the Police Department and the District Attorney’s office have, as if by tacit agreement, refused to make known the entire truth⁠—whether for fear of being disbelieved or merely because there are certain things so terrible that no man wishes to talk of them, I do not know.

The record, therefore, which I am about to set down is the first complete and unedited history of the Greene holocaust.1 I feel that now the truth should be known, for it is history, and one should not shrink from historical facts. Also, I believe that the credit for the solution of this case should go where it belongs.

The man who elucidated the mystery and brought to a close that palimpsest of horror was, curiously enough, in no way officially connected with the police; and in all the published accounts of the murder his name was not once mentioned. And yet, had it not been for him and his novel methods of criminal deduction, the heinous plot against the Greene family would have been conclusively successful. The police in their researches were dealing dogmatically with the evidential appearances of the crime, whereas the operations of the criminal were being conducted on a plane quite beyond the comprehension of the ordinary investigator.

This man who, after weeks of sedulous and disheartening analysis, eventually ferreted out the source of the horror, was a young social aristocrat, an intimate friend of John F.-X. Markham, the District Attorney. His name I am not at liberty to divulge, but for the purposes of these chronicles I have chosen to call him Philo Vance. He is no longer in this country, having transferred his residence several years ago to a villa outside of Florence; and, since he has no intention of returning to America, he has acceded to my request to publish the history of the criminal cases in which he participated as a sort of amicus curiae. Markham also has retired to private life; and Sergeant Ernest Heath, that doughty and honest officer of the Homicide Bureau who officially handled the Greene case for the Police Department, has, through an unexpected legacy, been able to gratify his life’s ambition to breed fancy wyandottes on a model farm in the Mohawk Valley. Thus circumstances have made it possible for me to publish my intimate records of the Greene tragedy.

A few words are necessary to explain my own participation in the case. (I say “participation,” though, in reality, my role was that of passive spectator.) For several years I had been Vance’s personal attorney. I had resigned from my father’s law firm⁠—Van Dine, Davis & Van Dine⁠—in order to devote myself exclusively to Vance’s legal and financial needs, which, by the way, were not many. Vance and I had been friends from our undergraduate days at Harvard, and I found in my new duties as his legal agent and monetary steward a sinecure combined with many social and cultural compensations.

Vance at that time was thirty-four years old. He was just under six feet, slender, sinewy, and graceful. His chiselled regular features gave his face the attraction of strength and uniform modelling, but a sardonic coldness of expression precluded the designation of handsome. He had aloof gray eyes, a straight, slender nose, and a mouth suggesting both cruelty and asceticism. But, despite the severity of his lineaments⁠—which acted like an impenetrable glass wall between him and his fellows⁠—, he was highly sensitive and mobile; and, though his manner was somewhat detached and supercilious, he exerted an undeniable fascination over those who knew him at all well.

Much of his education had been acquired in Europe, and he still retained a slight Oxonian accent and intonation, though I happen to be aware that this was no affectation: he cared too little for the opinions of others to trouble about maintaining any pose. He was an indefatigable student. His mind was ever eager for knowledge, and he devoted much of his time to the study of ethnology and psychology. His greatest intellectual enthusiasm was art, and he fortunately had an income sufficient to indulge his passion for collecting. It was, however, his interest in psychology and his application of it to individual behaviorism that first turned his attention to the criminal problems which came under Markham’s jurisdiction.

The first case in which he participated was, as I have recorded elsewhere, the murder of Alvin Benson.2 The second was the seemingly insoluble strangling of the famous Broadway beauty, Margaret Odell.3 And in the late fall of the same year came the Greene tragedy. As in the two former cases, I kept a complete record of this new investigation. I possessed myself of every available document, making verbatim copies of those claimed for the police archives, and even jotted down the numerous conversations that took place in and out of conference between Vance and the official investigators. And, in addition, I kept a diary which, for elaborateness and completeness, would have been the despair of Samuel Pepys.

The Greene murder case occurred toward the end of Markham’s first year in office. As you may remember, the winter came very early that season. There were two severe blizzards in November, and the amount of snowfall for that month broke all local records for eighteen years. I mention this fact of the early snows because it played a sinister part in the Greene affair: it was, indeed, one of the vital factors of the murderer’s scheme. No one has yet understood, or even sensed, the connection between the unseasonable weather of that late fall and the fatal tragedy that fell upon the Greene household; but that is because all of the dark secrets of the case were not made known.

Vance was projected into the Benson murder as the result of a direct challenge from Markham; and his activities in the Canary case were due to his own expressed desire to lend a hand. But pure coincidence was responsible for his participation in the Greene investigation. During the two months that had elapsed since his solution of the Canary’s death Markham had called upon him several times regarding moot points of criminal detection in connection with the routine work of the District Attorney’s office; and it was during an informal discussion of one of these problems that the Greene case was first mentioned.

Markham and Vance had long been friends. Though dissimilar in tastes and even in ethical outlook, they nevertheless respected each other profoundly. I have often marvelled at the friendship of these two antipodal men; but as the years went by I came more and more to understand it. It was as if they were drawn together by those very qualities which each realized⁠—perhaps with a certain repressed regret⁠—were lacking in his own nature. Markham was forthright, brusque, and, on occasion, domineering, taking life with grim and serious concern, and following the dictates of his legal conscience in the face of every obstacle: honest, incorruptible, and untiring. Vance, on the other hand, was volatile, debonair, and possessed of a perpetual Juvenalian cynicism, smiling ironically at the bitterest realities, and consistently fulfilling the role of a whimsically disinterested spectator of life. But, withal, he understood people as profoundly as he understood art, and his dissection of motives and his shrewd readings of character were⁠—as I had many occasions to witness⁠—uncannily accurate. Markham apprehended these qualities in Vance, and sensed their true value.

It was not yet ten o’clock of the morning of November the 9th when Vance and I, after motoring to the old Criminal Courts Building on the corner of Franklin and Centre Streets, went directly to the District Attorney’s office on the fourth floor. On that momentous forenoon two gangsters, each accusing the other of firing the fatal shot in a recent payroll holdup, were to be cross-examined by Markham; and this interview was to decide the question as to which of the men would be charged with murder and which held as a State’s witness. Markham and Vance had discussed the situation the night before in the lounge-room of the Stuyvesant Club, and Vance had expressed a desire to be present at the examination. Markham had readily assented, and so we had risen early and driven downtown.

The interview with the two men lasted for an hour, and Vance’s disconcerting opinion was that neither was guilty of the actual shooting.

“Y’ know, Markham,” he drawled, when the sheriff had returned the prisoners to the Tombs, “those two Jack Sheppards are quite sincere: each one thinks he’s telling the truth. Ergo, neither of ’em fired the shot. A distressin’ predicament. They’re obvious gallows-birds⁠—born for the gibbet; and it’s a beastly shame not to be able to round out their destinies in proper fashion.⁠ ⁠… I say, wasn’t there another participant in the holdup?”

Markham nodded. “A third got away. According to these two, it was a well-known gangster named Eddie Maleppo.”

“Then Eduardo is your man.”4

Markham did not reply, and Vance rose lazily and reached for his ulster.

“By the by,” he said, slipping into his coat, “I note that our upliftin’ press bedecked its front pages this morning with headlines about a pogrom at the old Greene mansion last night. Wherefore?”

Markham glanced quickly at the clock on the wall, and frowned.

“That reminds me. Chester Greene called up the first thing this morning and insisted on seeing me. I told him eleven o’clock.”

“Where do you fit in?” Vance had taken his hand from the doorknob, and drew out his cigarette-case.

“I don’t!” snapped Markham. “But people think the District Attorney’s office is a kind of clearing-house for all their troubles. It happens, however, that I’ve known Chester Greene a long time⁠—we’re both members of the Marylebone Golf Club⁠—and so I must listen to his plaint about what was obviously an attempt to annex the famous Greene plate.”

“Burglary⁠—eh, what?” Vance took a few puffs on his cigarette. “With two women shot?”

“Oh, it was a miserable business! An amateur, no doubt. Got in a panic, shot up the place, and bolted.”

“Seems a dashed curious proceeding.” Vance abstractedly reseated himself in a large armchair near the door. “Did the antique cutlery actually disappear?”

“Nothing was taken. The thief was evidently frightened off before he made his haul.”

“Sounds a bit thick, don’t y’ know.⁠—An amateur thief breaks into a prominent home, casts a predat’ry eye on the dining-room silver, takes alarm, goes upstairs and shoots two women in their respective boudoirs, and then flees.⁠ ⁠… Very touchin’ and all that, but unconvincin’. Whence came this caressin’ theory?”

Markham was glowering, but when he spoke it was with an effort at restraint.

“Feathergill was on duty last night when the call was relayed from Headquarters, and accompanied the police to the house. He agrees with their conclusions.”5

“Nevertheless, I could bear to know why Chester Greene is desirous of having polite converse with you.”

Markham compressed his lips. He was not in cordial mood that morning, and Vance’s flippant curiosity irked him. After a moment, however, he said grudgingly:

“Since the attempted robbery interests you so keenly, you may, if you insist, wait and hear what Greene has to say.”

“I’ll stay,” smiled Vance, removing his coat. “I’m weak; just can’t resist a passionate entreaty.⁠ ⁠… Which one of the Greenes is Chester? And how is he related to the two deceased?”

“There was only one murder,” Markham corrected him in a tone of forbearance. “The oldest daughter⁠—an unmarried woman in her early forties⁠—was killed instantly. A younger daughter, who was also shot, has, I believe, a chance of recovery.”

“And Chester?”

“Chester is the elder son, a man of forty or thereabouts. He was the first person on the scene after the shots had been fired.”

“What other members of the family are there? I know old Tobias Greene has gone to his Maker.”

“Yes, old Tobias died about twelve years ago. But his wife is still living, though she’s a helpless paralytic. Then there are⁠—or rather were⁠—five children: the oldest, Julia; next, Chester; then another daughter, Sibella, a few years under thirty, I should say; then Rex, a sickly, bookish boy a year or so younger than Sibella; and Ada, the youngest⁠—an adopted daughter twenty-two or three, perhaps.”

“And it was Julia who was killed, eh? Which of the other two girls was shot?”

“The younger⁠—Ada. Her room, it seems, is across the hall from Julia’s, and the thief apparently got in it by mistake while making his escape. As I understand it, he entered Ada’s room immediately after firing on Julia, saw his error, fired again, and then fled, eventually going down the stairs and out the main entrance.”

Vance smoked a while in silence.

“Your hypothetical intruder must have been deuced confused to have mistaken Ada’s bedroom door for the staircase, what? And then there’s the query: what was this anonymous gentleman, who had called to collect the plate, doing above-stairs?”

“Probably looking for jewellery.” Markham was rapidly losing patience. “I am not omniscient.” There was irony in his inflection.

“Now, now, Markham!” pleaded Vance cajolingly. “Don’t be vindictive. Your Greene burglary promises several nice points in academic speculation. Permit me to indulge my idle whims.”

At that moment Swacker, Markham’s youthful and alert secretary, appeared at the swinging door which communicated with a narrow chamber between the main waiting-room and the District Attorney’s private office.

Mr. Chester Greene is here,” he announced.

II

The Investigation Opens

(Tuesday, November 9; 11 a.m.)

When Chester Greene entered it was obvious he was under a nervous strain; but his nervousness evoked no sympathy in me. From the very first I disliked the man. He was of medium height and was bordering on corpulence. There was something soft and flabby in his contours; and, though he was dressed with studied care, there were certain signs of overemphasis about his clothes. His cuffs were too tight; his collar was too snug; and the colored silk handkerchief hung too far out of his breast pocket. He was slightly bald, and the lids of his close-set eyes projected like those of a man with Bright’s disease. His mouth, surmounted by a close-cropped blond moustache, was loose; and his chin receded slightly and was deeply creased below the under lip. He typified the pampered idler.

When he had shaken hands with Markham, and Vance and I had been introduced, he seated himself and meticulously inserted a brown Russian cigarette in a long amber-and-gold holder.

“I’d be tremendously obliged, Markham,” he said, lighting his cigarette from an ivory pocket-lighter, “if you’d make a personal investigation of the row that occurred at our diggin’s last night. The police will never get anywhere the way they’re going about it. Good fellows, you understand⁠—the police. But⁠ ⁠… well, there’s something about this affair⁠—don’t know just how to put it. Anyway, I don’t like it.”

Markham studied him closely for several moments.

“Just what’s on your mind, Greene?”

The other crushed out his cigarette, though he had taken no more than half a dozen puffs, and drummed indecisively on the arm of his chair.

“Wish I knew. It’s a rum affair⁠—damned rum. There’s something back of it, too⁠—something that’s going to raise the very devil if we don’t stop it. Can’t explain it. It’s a feeling I’ve got.”

“Perhaps Mr. Greene is psychic,” commented Vance, with a look of bland innocence.

The man swung about and scrutinized Vance with aggressive condescension. “Tosh!” He brought out another Russian cigarette, and turned again to Markham: “I do wish you’d take a peep at the situation.”

Markham hesitated. “Surely you’ve some reason for disagreeing with the police and appealing to me.”

“Funny thing, but I haven’t.” (It seemed to me Greene’s hand shook slightly as he lit his second cigarette.) “I simply know that my mind rejects the burglar story automatically.”

It was difficult to tell if he were being frank or deliberately hiding something. I did feel, however, that some sort of fear lurked beneath his uneasiness; and I also got the impression that he was far from being heartbroken over the tragedy.

“It seems to me,” declared Markham, “that the theory of the burglar is entirely consistent with the facts. There have been many other cases of a housebreaker suddenly taking alarm, losing his head, and needlessly shooting people.”

Greene rose abruptly and began pacing up and down.

“I can’t argue the case,” he muttered. “It’s beyond all that, if you understand me.” He looked quickly at the District Attorney with staring eyes. “Gad! It’s got me in a cold sweat.”

“It’s all too vague and intangible,” Markham observed kindly. “I’m inclined to think the tragedy has upset you. Perhaps after a day or two⁠—”

Greene lifted a protesting hand.

“It’s no go. I’m telling you, Markham, the police will never find their burglar. I feel it⁠—here.” He mincingly laid a manicured hand on his breast.

Vance had been watching him with a faint suggestion of amusement. Now he stretched his legs before him and gazed up at the ceiling.

“I say, Mr. Greene⁠—pardon the intrusion on your esoteric gropings⁠—but do you know of anyone with a reason for wanting your two sisters out of the way?”

The man looked blank for a moment.

“No,” he answered finally; “can’t say that I do. Who, in Heaven’s name, would want to kill two harmless women?”

“I haven’t the groggiest notion. But, since you repudiate the burglar theory, and since the two ladies were undoubtedly shot, it’s inferable that someone sought their demise; and it occurred to me that you, being their brother and domiciled en famille, might know of someone who harbored homicidal sentiments toward them.”

Greene bristled, and thrust his head forward. “I know of no one,” he blurted. Then, turning to Markham, he continued wheedlingly: “If I had the slightest suspicion, don’t you think I’d come out with it? This thing has got on my nerves. I’ve been mulling over it all night, and it’s⁠—it’s bothersome, frightfully bothersome.”

Markham nodded non-committally, and rising, walked to the window, where he stood, his hands behind him, gazing down on the gray stone masonry of the Tombs.

Vance, despite his apparent apathy, had been studying Greene closely; and, as Markham turned to the window, he straightened up slightly in his chair.

“Tell me,” he began, an ingratiating note in his voice; “just what happened last night? I understand you were the first to reach the prostrate women.”

“I was the first to reach my sister Julia,” retorted Greene, with a hint of resentment. “It was Sproot, the butler, who found Ada unconscious, bleeding from a nasty wound in her back.”

“Her back, eh?” Vance leaned forward, and lifted his eyebrows. “She was shot from behind, then?”

“Yes.” Greene frowned and inspected his fingernails, as if he too sensed something disturbing in the fact.

“And Miss Julia Greene: was she too shot from behind?”

“No⁠—from the front.”

“Extr’ordin’ry!” Vance blew a ring of smoke toward the dusty chandelier. “And had both women retired for the night?”

“An hour before.⁠ ⁠… But what has all that got to do with it?”

“One never knows, does one? However, it’s always well to be in possession of these little details when trying to run down the elusive source of a psychic seizure.”

“Psychic seizure be damned!” growled Greene truculently. “Can’t a man have a feeling about something without⁠—?”

“Quite⁠—quite. But you’ve asked for the District Attorney’s assistance, and I’m sure he would like a few data before making a decision.”

Markham came forward and sat down on the edge of the table. His curiosity had been aroused, and he indicated to Greene his sympathy with Vance’s interrogation.

Greene pursed his lips, and returned his cigarette-holder to his pocket.

“Oh, very well. What else do you want to know?”

“You might relate for us,” dulcetly resumed Vance, “the exact order of events after you heard the first shot. I presume you did hear the shot.”

“Certainly I heard it⁠—couldn’t have helped hearing it. Julia’s room is next to mine, and I was still awake. I jumped into my slippers and pulled on my dressing-gown; then I went out into the hall. It was dark, and I felt my way along the wall until I reached Julia’s door. I opened it and looked in⁠—didn’t know who might be there waiting to pop me⁠—and I saw her lying in bed, the front of her nightgown covered with blood. There was no one else in the room, and I went to her immediately. Just then I heard another shot which sounded as if it came from Ada’s room. I was a bit muzzy by this time⁠—didn’t know what I’d better do; and as I stood by Julia’s bed in something of a funk⁠—oh, I was in a funk all right⁠ ⁠…”

“Can’t say that I blame you,” Vance encouraged him.

Greene nodded. “A damned ticklish position to be in. Well, anyway, as I stood there, I heard someone coming down the stairs from the servants’ quarters on the third floor, and recognized old Sproot’s tread. He fumbled along in the dark, and I heard him enter Ada’s door. Then he called to me, and I hurried over. Ada was lying in front of the dressing-table; and Sproot and I lifted her on the bed. I’d gone a bit weak in the knees; was expecting any minute to hear another shot⁠—don’t know why. Anyway, it didn’t come; and then I heard Sproot’s voice at the hall telephone calling up Doctor Von Blon.”

“I see nothing in your account, Greene, inconsistent with the theory of a burglar,” observed Markham. “And furthermore, Feathergill, my assistant, says there were two sets of confused footprints in the snow outside the front door.”

Greene shrugged his shoulders, but did not answer.

“By the by, Mr. Greene,”⁠—Vance had slipped down in his chair and was staring into space⁠—“you said that when you looked into Miss Julia’s room you saw her in bed. How was that? Did you turn on the light?”

“Why, no!” The man appeared puzzled by the question. “The light was on.”

There was a flutter of interest in Vance’s eyes.

“And how about Miss Ada’s room? Was the light on there also?”

“Yes.”

Vance reached into his pocket, and, drawing out his cigarette-case, carefully and deliberately selected a cigarette. I recognized in the action an evidence of repressed inner excitement.

“So the lights were on in both rooms. Most interestin’.”

Markham, too, recognized the eagerness beneath his apparent indifference, and regarded him expectantly.

“And,” pursued Vance, after lighting his cigarette leisurely, “how long a time would you say elapsed between the two shots?”

Greene was obviously annoyed by this cross-examination, but he answered readily.

“Two or three minutes⁠—certainly no longer.”

“Still,” ruminated Vance, “after you heard the first shot you rose from your bed, donned slippers and robe, went into the hall, felt along the wall to the next room, opened the door cautiously, peered inside, and then crossed the room to the bed⁠—all this, I gather, before the second shot was fired. Is that correct?”

“Certainly it’s correct.”

“Well, well! As you say, two or three minutes. Yes, at least that. Astonishin’!” Vance turned to Markham. “Really, y’ know, old man, I don’t wish to influence your judgment, but I rather think you ought to accede to Mr. Greene’s request to take a hand in this investigation. I too have a psychic feeling about the case. Something tells me that your eccentric burglar will prove an ignis fatuus.”

Markham eyed him with meditative curiosity. Not only had Vance’s questioning of Greene interested him keenly, but he knew, as a result of long experience, that Vance would not have made the suggestion had he not had a good reason for doing so. I was in no wise surprised, therefore, when he turned to his restive visitor and said:

“Very well, Greene, I’ll see what I can do in the matter. I’ll probably be at your house early this afternoon. Please see that everyone is present, as I’ll want to question them.”

Greene held out a trembling hand. “The domestic roster⁠—family and servants⁠—will be complete when you arrive.”

He strode pompously from the room.

Vance sighed. “Not a nice creature, Markham⁠—not at all a nice creature. I shall never be a politician if it involves an acquaintance with such gentlemen.”

Markham seated himself at his desk with a disgruntled air.

“Greene is highly regarded as a social⁠—not a political⁠—decoration,” he said maliciously. “He belongs to your totem, not mine.”

“Fancy that!” Vance stretched himself luxuriously. “Still, it’s you who fascinate him. Intuition tells me he is not overfond of me.”

“You did treat him a bit cavalierly. Sarcasm is not exactly a means of endearment.”

“But, Markham old thing, I wasn’t pining for Chester’s affection.”

“You think he knows, or suspects, something?”

Vance gazed through the long window into the bleak sky beyond.

“I wonder,” he murmured. Then: “Is Chester, by any chance, a typical representative of the Greene family? Of recent years I’ve done so little mingling with the élite that I’m woefully ignorant of the East Side nabobs.”

Markham nodded reflectively.

“I’m afraid he is. The original Greene stock was sturdy, but the present generation seems to have gone somewhat to pot. Old Tobias the Third⁠—Chester’s father⁠—was a rugged and, in many ways, admirable character. He appears, however, to have been the last heir of the ancient Greene qualities. What’s left of the family has suffered some sort of disintegration. They’re not exactly soft, but tainted with patches of incipient decay, like fruit that’s lain on the ground too long. Too much money and leisure, I imagine, and too little restraint. On the other hand, there’s a certain intellectuality lurking in the new Greenes. They all seem to have good minds, even if futile and misdirected. In fact, I think you underestimate Chester. For all his banalities and effeminate mannerisms, he’s far from being as stupid as you regard him.”

I regard Chester as stupid! My dear Markham! You wrong me abominably. No, no. There’s nothing of the anointed ass about our Chester. He’s shrewder even than you think him. Those oedematous eyelids veil a pair of particularly crafty eyes. Indeed, it was largely his studied pose of fatuousness that led me to suggest that you aid and abet in the investigation.”

Markham leaned back and narrowed his eyes.

“What’s in your mind, Vance?”

“I told you. A psychic seizure⁠—same like Chester’s subliminal visitation.”

Markham knew, by this elusive answer, that for the moment Vance had no intention of being more definite; and after a moment of scowling silence he turned to the telephone.

“If I’m to take on this case, I’d better find out who has charge of it and get what preliminary information I can.”

He called up Inspector Moran, the commanding officer of the Detective Bureau. After a brief conversation he turned to Vance with a smile.

“Your friend, Sergeant Heath, has the case in hand. He happened to be in the office just now, and is coming here immediately.”6

In less than fifteen minutes Heath arrived. Despite the fact that he had been up most of the night, he appeared unusually alert and energetic. His broad, pugnacious features were as imperturbable as ever, and his pale-blue eyes held their habitual penetrating intentness. He greeted Markham with an elaborate, though perfunctory, handshake; and then, seeing Vance, relaxed his features into a good-natured smile.

“Well, if it isn’t Mr. Vance! What have you been up to, sir?”

Vance rose and shook hands with him.

“Alas, Sergeant, I’ve been immersed in the terra-cotta ornamentation of Renaissance façades, and other such trivialities, since I saw you last.7 But I’m happy to note that crime is picking up again. It’s a deuced drab world without a nice murky murder now and then, don’t y’ know.”

Heath cocked an eye, and turned inquiringly to the District Attorney. He had long since learned how to read between the lines of Vance’s badinage.

“It’s this Greene case, Sergeant,” said Markham.

“I thought so.” Heath sat down heavily, and inserted a black cigar between his lips. “But nothing’s broken yet. We’re rounding up all the regulars, and looking into their alibis for last night. But it’ll take several days before the checkup’s complete. If the bird who did the job hadn’t got scared before he grabbed the swag, we might be able to trace him through the pawnshops and fences. But something rattled him, or he wouldn’t have shot up the works the way he did. And that’s what makes me think he may be a new one at the racket. If he is, it’ll make our job harder.” He held a match in cupped hands to his cigar, and puffed furiously. “What did you want to know about the prowl, sir?”

Markham hesitated. The Sergeant’s matter-of-fact assumption that a common burglar was the culprit disconcerted him.

“Chester Greene was here,” he explained presently; “and he seems convinced that the shooting was not the work of a thief. He asked me, as a special favor, to look into the matter.”

Heath gave a derisive grunt.

“Who but a burglar in a panic would shoot down two women?”

“Quite so, Sergeant.” It was Vance who answered. “Still, the lights were turned on in both rooms, though the women had gone to bed an hour before; and there was an interval of several minutes between the two shots.”

“I know all that.” Heath spoke impatiently. “But if an amachoor did the job, we can’t tell exactly what did happen upstairs there last night. When a bird loses his head⁠—”

“Ah! There’s the rub. When a thief loses his head, d’ ye see, he isn’t apt to go from room to room turning on the lights, even assuming he knows where and how to turn them on. And he certainly isn’t going to dally around for several minutes in a black hall between such fantastic operations, especially after he has shot someone and alarmed the house, what? It doesn’t look like panic to me; it looks strangely like design. Moreover, why should this precious amateur of yours be cavorting about the boudoirs upstairs when the loot was in the dining-room below?”

“We’ll learn all about that when we’ve got our man,” countered Heath doggedly.

“The point is, Sergeant,” put in Markham, “I’ve given Mr. Greene my promise to look into the matter, and I wanted to get what details I could from you. You understand, of course,” he added mollifyingly, “that I shall not interfere with your activities in any way. Whatever the outcome of the case, your department will receive entire credit.”

“Oh, that’s all right, sir.” Experience had taught Heath that he had nothing to fear in the way of lost kudos when working with Markham. “But I don’t think, in spite of Mr. Vance’s ideas, that you’ll find much in the Greene case to warrant attention.”

“Perhaps not,” Markham admitted. “However, I’ve committed myself, and I think I’ll run out this afternoon and look over the situation, if you’ll give me the lie of the land.”

“There isn’t much to tell.” Heath chewed on his cigar cogitatingly. “A Doctor Von Blon⁠—the Greene family physician⁠—phoned Headquarters about midnight. I’d just got in from an uptown stickup call, and I hopped out to the house with a couple of the boys from the Bureau. I found the two women, like you know, one dead and the other unconscious⁠—both shot. I phoned Doc Doremus,8 and then looked the place over. Mr. Feathergill came along and lent a hand; but we didn’t find much of anything. The fellow that did the job musta got in by the front door some way, for there was a set of footprints in the snow coming and going, besides Doctor Von Blon’s. But the snow was too flaky to get any good impressions. It stopped snowing along about eleven o’clock last night; and there’s no doubt that the prints belonged to the burglar, for no one else, except the doctor, had come or gone after the storm.”

“An amateur housebreaker with a front-door key to the Greene mansion,” murmured Vance. “Extr’ordin’ry!”

“I’m not saying he had a key, sir,” protested Heath. “I’m simply telling you what we found. The door mighta been unlatched by mistake; or someone mighta opened it for him.”

“Go on with the story, Sergeant,” urged Markham, giving Vance a reproving look.

“Well, after Doc Doremus got there and made an examination of the older woman’s body and inspected the younger one’s wound, I questioned all the family and the servants⁠—a butler, two maids, and a cook. Chester Greene and the butler were the only ones who had heard the first shot, which was fired about half past eleven. But the second shot roused old Mrs. Greene⁠—her room adjoins the younger daughter’s. The rest of the household had slept through all the excitement; but this Chester fellow had woke ’em all up by the time I got there. I talked to all of ’em, but nobody knew anything. After a coupla hours I left a man inside and another outside, and came away. Then I set the usual machinery going; and this morning Captain Dubois went over the place the best he could for fingerprints. Doc Doremus has got the body for an autopsy, and we’ll get a report tonight. But there’ll be nothing helpful from that quarter. She was fired on from in front at close range⁠—almost a contact shot. And the other woman⁠—the young one⁠—was all powder-marked, and her nightgown was burnt. She was shot from behind.⁠—That’s about all the dope.”

“Have you been able to get any sort of a statement from the younger one?”

“Not yet. She was unconscious last night, and this morning she was too weak to talk. But the doctor⁠—Von Blon⁠—said we could probably question her this afternoon. We may get something out of her, in case she got a look at the bird before he shot her.”

“That suggests something to me, Sergeant.” Vance had been listening passively to the recital, but now he drew in his legs, and lifted himself a little. “Did any member of the Greene household possess a gun?”

Heath gave him a sharp look.

“This Chester Greene said he had an old .32 revolver he used to keep in a desk drawer in his bedroom.”

“Oh, did he, now? And did you see the gun?”

“I asked him for it, but he couldn’t find it. Said he hadn’t seen it for years, but that probably it was around somewheres. Promised to dig it up for me today.”

“Don’t hang any fond hopes on his finding it, Sergeant.” Vance looked at Markham musingly. “I begin to comprehend the basis of Chester’s psychic perturbation. I fear he’s a crass materialist after all.⁠ ⁠… Sad, sad.”

“You think he missed the gun, and took fright?”

“Well⁠—something like that⁠ ⁠… perhaps. One can’t tell. It’s deuced confusin’.” He turned an indolent eye on the Sergeant. “By the by, what sort of gun did your burglar use?”

Heath gave a gruff, uneasy laugh.

“You score there, Mr. Vance. I’ve got both bullets⁠—thirty-twos, fired from a revolver, not an automatic. But you’re not trying to intimate⁠—”

“Tut, tut, Sergeant. Like Goethe, I’m merely seeking for more illumination, if one may translate Licht⁠—”

Markham interrupted this garrulous evasion.

“I’m going to the Greene house after lunch, Sergeant. Can you come along?”

“Sure I can, sir. I was going out anyway.”

“Good.” Markham brought forth a box of cigars. “Meet me here at two.⁠ ⁠… And take a couple of these Perfectos before you go.”

Heath selected the cigars, and put them carefully into his breast pocket. At the door he turned with a bantering grin.

“You coming along with us, Mr. Vance⁠—to guide our erring footsteps, as they say?”

“Nothing could keep me away,” declared Vance.

III

At the Greene Mansion

(Tuesday, November 9; 2:30 p.m.)

The Greene mansion⁠—as it was commonly referred to by New Yorkers⁠—was a relic of the city’s ancien régime. It had stood for three generations at the eastern extremity of 53rd Street, two of its oriel windows actually overhanging the murky waters of the East River. The lot upon which the house was built extended through the entire block⁠—a distance of two hundred feet⁠—and had an equal frontage on the cross-streets. The character of the neighborhood had changed radically since the early days; but the spirit of commercial advancement had left the domicile of the Greenes untouched. It was an oasis of idealism and calm in the midst of moiling commercial enterprise; and one of the stipulations in old Tobias Greene’s last will and testament had been that the mansion should stand intact for at least a quarter of a century after his death, as a monument to him and his ancestors. One of his last acts on earth was to erect a high stone wall about the entire property, with a great double iron gateway opening on 53rd Street and a postern-gate for tradesmen giving on 52nd Street.

The mansion itself was two and a half stories high, surmounted by gabled spires and chimney clusters. It was what architects call, with a certain intonation of contempt, a “château flamboyant”; but no derogatory appellation could detract from the quiet dignity and the air of feudal traditionalism that emanated from its great rectangular blocks of gray limestone. The house was sixteenth-century Gothic in style, with more than a suspicion of the new Italian ornament in its parts; and the pinnacles and shelves suggested the Byzantine. But, for all its diversity of detail, it was not flowery, and would have held no deep attraction for the Freemason architects of the Middle Ages. It was not “bookish” in effect; it exuded the very essence of the old.

In the front yard were maples and clipped evergreens, interspersed with hydrangea and lilac-bushes; and at the rear was a row of weeping willows overhanging the river. Along the herringbone-bond brick walks were high quickset hedges of hawthorn; and the inner sides of the encircling wall were covered with compact espaliers. To the west of the house an asphalt driveway led to a double garage at the rear⁠—an addition built by the newer generation of Greenes. But here too were boxwood hedgerows which cloaked the driveway’s modernity.

As we entered the grounds that gray November afternoon an atmosphere of foreboding bleakness seemed to have settled over the estate. The trees and shrubs were all bare, except the evergreens, which were laden with patches of snow. The trellises stood stripped along the walls, like clinging black skeletons; and, save for the front walk, which had been hastily and imperfectly swept, the grounds were piled high with irregular snowdrifts. The gray of the mansion’s masonry was almost the color of the brooding overcast sky; and I felt a premonitory chill of eeriness pass over me as we mounted the shallow steps that led to the high front door, with its pointed pediment above the deeply arched entrance.

Sproot, the butler⁠—a little old man with white hair and a heavily seamed capriform face⁠—admitted us with silent, funereal dignity (he had evidently been apprised of our coming); and we were ushered at once into the great gloomy drawing-room whose heavily curtained windows overlooked the river. A few moments later Chester Greene came in and greeted Markham fulsomely. Heath and Vance and me he included in a single supercilious nod.

“Awfully good of you to come, Markham,” he said, with nervous eagerness, seating himself on the edge of a chair and taking out his cigarette-holder. “I suppose you’ll want to hold an inquisition first. Whom’ll I summon as a starter?”

“We can let that go for the moment,” said Markham. “First, I’d like to know something concerning the servants. Tell me what you can about them.”

Greene moved restlessly in his chair, and seemed to have difficulty lighting his cigarette.

“There’s only four. Big house and all that, but we don’t need much help. Julia always acted as housekeeper, and Ada looked after the Mater.⁠—To begin with, there’s old Sproot. He’s been butler, seneschal, and majordomo for us for thirty years. Regular family retainer⁠—kind you read about in English novels⁠—devoted, loyal, humble, dictatorial, and snooping. And a damned nuisance, I may add. Then there are two maids⁠—one to look after the rooms and the other for general service, though the women monopolize her, mostly for useless fiddle-faddle. Hemming, the older maid, has been with us ten years. Still wears corsets and fit-easy shoes. Deep-water Baptist, I believe⁠—excruciatingly devout. Barton, the other maid, is young and flighty: thinks she’s irresistible, knows a little table-d’hôte French, and is the kind that’s constantly expecting the males of the family to kiss her behind the door. Sibella picked her out⁠—she’s just the kind Sibella would pick out. Been adorning our house and shirking the hard work for about two years. The cook’s a stodgy German woman, a typical hausfrau⁠—voluminous bosoms and number-ten feet. Puts in all her spare time writing to distant nieces and nephews in the upper reaches of the Rhine basin somewhere; and boasts that the most fastidious person could eat off her kitchen floor, it’s that clean; though I’ve never tried it. The old man engaged her a year before he died; gave orders she was to remain as long as she liked.⁠—There you have the personnel of the backstairs. Of course, there is a gardener who loafs about the lawn in summer. He hibernates in a speakeasy up Harlem way.”

“No chauffeur?”

“A nuisance we dispense with. Julia hated motorcars, and Rex is afraid to travel in them⁠—squeamish lad, Rex. I drive my own racer, and Sibella’s a regular Barney Oldfield. Ada drives, too, when the Mater isn’t using her and Sibella’s car is idle.⁠—So endeth.”

Markham had been making notes as Greene rambled along with his information. At length he put out the cigar he had been smoking.

“Now, if you don’t mind, I want to look over the house.”

Greene rose with alacrity and led the way into the main lower hall⁠—a vaulted, oak-panelled entrance containing two large carved Flemish tables of the Sambin school, against opposite walls, and several Anglo-Dutch crown-back chairs. A great Daghestan rug stretched along the parqueted floor, its faded colors repeated in the heavy draperies of the archways.

“We have, of course, just come from the drawing-room,” explained Greene, with a pompous air. “Back of it, down the hall”⁠—he pointed past the wide marble stairway⁠—“was the governor’s library and den⁠—what he called his sanctum sanctorum. Nobody’s been in it for twelve years. The Mater has kept it locked up ever since the old man died. Sentiment of some kind; though I’ve often told her she ought to clean the place out and make a billiard-room of it. But you can’t move the Mater, once she’s got an idea in her head. Try it some time when you’re looking for heavy exercise.”

He walked across the hall and pulled aside the draperies of the archway opposite to the drawing-room.

“Here’s the reception-room, though we don’t use it much nowadays. Stuffy, stiff place, and the flue doesn’t draw worth a damn. Every time we’ve built a fire here, we’ve had to have the cleaners in to remove the soot from the tapestries.” He waved his cigarette-holder toward two beautiful Gobelins. “Back there, through those sliding doors, is the dining-room; and farther on are the butler’s pantry and the kitchen where one may eat off the floor. Care to inspect the culinary department?”

“No, I think not,” said Markham. “And I’ll take the kitchen floor for granted.⁠—Now, can we look at the second floor?”

We ascended the main stairs, which led round a piece of marble statuary⁠—a Falguière figure, I think⁠—, and emerged into the upper hall facing the front of the house where three large close-set windows looked out over the bare trees.

The arrangement of the rooms on the second floor was simple and in keeping with the broad foursquare architecture of the house; but for the sake of clarification I am embodying in this record a rough diagram of it; for it was the disposition of these rooms that made possible the carrying out of the murderer’s hideous and unnatural plot.

There were six bedrooms on the floor⁠—three on either side of the hall, each occupied by a member of the family. At the front of the house, on our left, was the bedroom of Rex Greene, the younger brother. Next to it was the room occupied by Ada Greene; and at the rear were Mrs. Greene’s quarters, separated from Ada’s by a fair-sized dressing-room through which the two apartments communicated. It will be seen from the diagram that Mrs. Greene’s room projected beyond the main western elevation of the house, and that in the L thus formed was a small balustraded stone porch with a narrow flight of stairs, set against the house, leading to the lawn below. French doors opened upon this porch from both Ada’s and Mrs. Greene’s rooms.

A floor plan with six bedrooms, three on each side of a large hallway running between them, stairs leading down to the main floor, and a second set of stairs leading up to the top floor behind doors labelled “swinging door to servants’ stairs.” The two bedrooms in the back right connect to each other via a dressing room, and both also have external doors to a stone balcony, from which stairs lead down to the grounds.
Plan of second floor. (For the sake of simplification all bathrooms, clothes-closets, fireplaces, etc., have been omitted.)

On the opposite side of the hall were the three rooms occupied by Julia, Chester, and Sibella, Julia’s room being at the front of the house, Sibella’s at the rear, and Chester’s in the centre. None of these rooms communicated with the other. It might also be noted that the doors to Sibella’s and Mrs. Greene’s rooms were just behind the main staircase, whereas Chester’s and Ada’s were directly at the head of the stairs, and Julia’s and Rex’s farther toward the front of the house. There was a small linen closet between Ada’s room and Mrs. Greene’s; and at the rear of the hall were the servants’ stairs.

Chester Greene explained this arrangement to us briefly, and then walked up the hall to Julia’s room.

“You’ll want to look in here first, I imagine,” he said, throwing open the door. “Nothing’s been touched⁠—police orders. But I can’t see what good all that stained bed-linen is to anyone. It’s a frightful mess.”

The room was large and richly furnished with sage-green satin-upholstered furniture of the Marie Antoinette period. Opposite to the door was a canopied bedstead on a dais; and several dark blotches on the embroidered linen gave mute evidence of the tragedy that had been enacted there the night before.

Vance, after noting the disposition of the furniture, turned his gaze upon the old-fashioned crystal chandelier.

“Were those the lights that were on when you found your sister last night, Mr. Greene?” he asked casually.

The other nodded with surly annoyance.

“And where, may I ask, is the switch?”

“Behind the end of that cabinet.” Greene indifferently indicated a highly elaborated armoire near the door.

“Invisible⁠—eh, what?” Vance strolled to the armoire and looked behind it. “An amazin’ burglar!” Then he went up to Markham and spoke to him in a low voice.

After a moment Markham nodded.

“Greene,” he said, “I wish you’d go to your room and lie down on the bed just as you were last night when you heard the shot. Then, when I tap on the wall, get up and do everything you did last night⁠—in just the way you did it. I want to time you.”

A plan of a bedroom. The bed faces the door to the hall, and beside the door is an armoire standing in front of the light switch. Two other doors lead to a bathroom and a closet.
Plan of Julia’s bedroom.

The man stiffened, and gave Markham a look of resentful protestation.

“Oh, I say⁠—!” he began. But almost at once he shrugged compliance and swaggered from the room, closing the door behind him.

Vance took out his watch, and Markham, giving Greene time to reach his room, rapped on the wall. For what seemed an interminable time we waited. Then the door opened slightly, and Greene peered round the casing. Slowly his eyes swept the room; he swung the door further ajar, stepped inside hesitantly, and moved to the bed.

“Three minutes and twenty seconds,” announced Vance. “Most disquietin’.⁠ ⁠… What do you imagine, Sergeant, the intruder was doing in the interim of the two shots?”

“How do I know?” retorted Heath. “Probably groping round the hall outside looking for the stairs.”

“If he’d groped that length of time he’d have fallen down ’em.”

Markham interrupted this discussion with a suggestion that we take a look at the servants’ stairway down which the butler had come after hearing the first shot.

“We needn’t inspect the other bedrooms just yet,” he added, “though we’ll want to see Miss Ada’s room as soon as the doctor thinks it’s advisable. When, by the way, will you know his decision, Greene?”

“He said he’d be here at three. And he’s a punctual beggar⁠—a regular fiend for efficiency. He sent a nurse over early this morning, and she’s looking after Ada and the Mater now.”

“I say, Mr. Greene,” interposed Vance, “was your sister Julia in the habit of leaving her door unlocked at night?”

Greene’s jaw dropped a little, and his eyes opened wider.

“By Jove⁠—no! Now that you mention it⁠ ⁠… she always locked herself in.”

Vance nodded absently, and we passed out into the hall. A thin, swinging baize door hid the servants’ stairwell at the rear, and Markham pushed it open.

“Nothing much here to deaden the sound,” he observed.

“No,” agreed Greene. “And old Sproot’s room is right at the head of the steps. He’s got good ears, too⁠—too damned good sometimes.”

We were about to turn back, when a high-pitched querulous voice issued from the partly open door on our right.

“Is that you, Chester? What’s all this disturbance? Haven’t I had enough distraction and worry⁠—?”

Greene had gone to his mother’s door and put his head inside.

“It’s all right, Mater,” he said irritably. “It’s only the police nosing around.”

“The police?” Her voice was contemptuous. “What do they want? Didn’t they upset me enough last night? Why don’t they go and look for the villain instead of congregating outside my door and annoying me?⁠—So, it’s the police.” Her tone became vindictive. “Bring them in here at once, and let me talk to them. The police, indeed!”

Greene looked helplessly at Markham, who merely nodded; and we entered the invalid’s room. It was a spacious chamber, with windows on three sides, furnished elaborately with all manner of conflicting objects. My first glance took in an East Indian rug, a buhl cabinet, an enormous gilded Buddha, several massive Chinese chairs of carved teakwood, a faded Persian tapestry, two wrought-iron standard lamps, and a red-and-gold lacquered highboy. I looked quickly at Vance, and surprised an expression of puzzled interest in his eyes.

In an enormous bed, with neither headpiece nor foot-posts, reclined the mistress of the house, propped up in a semi-recumbent attitude on a sprawling pile of varicolored silken pillows. She must have been between sixty-five and seventy, but her hair was almost black. Her long, chevaline face, though yellowed and wrinkled like ancient parchment, still radiated an amazing vigor: it reminded me of the portraits I had seen of George Eliot. About her shoulders was drawn an embroidered Oriental shawl; and the picture she presented in the setting of that unusual and diversified room was exotic in the extreme. At her side sat a rosy-cheeked imperturbable nurse in a stiff white uniform, making a singular contrast to the woman on the bed.

Chester Greene presented Markham, and let his mother take the rest of us for granted. At first she did not acknowledge the introduction, but, after appraising Markham for a moment, she gave him a nod of resentful forbearance and held out to him a long bony hand.

“I suppose there’s no way to avoid having my home overrun in this fashion,” she said wearily, assuming an air of great toleration. “I was just endeavoring to get a little rest. My back pains me so much today, after all the excitement last night. But what do I matter⁠—an old paralyzed woman like me? No one considers me anyway, Mr. Markham. But they’re perfectly right. We invalids are of no use in the world, are we?”

Markham muttered some polite protestation, to which Mrs. Greene paid not the slightest attention. She had turned, with seemingly great difficulty, to the nurse.

“Fix my pillows, Miss Craven,” she ordered impatiently, and then added, in a whining tone: “Even you don’t give a thought to my comfort.” The nurse complied without a word. “Now, you can go in and sit with Ada until Doctor Von Blon comes.⁠—How is the dear child?” Suddenly her voice had assumed a note of simulated solicitude.

“She’s much better, Mrs. Greene.” The nurse spoke in a colorless, matter-of-fact tone, and passed quietly into the dressing-room.

The woman on the bed turned complaining eyes upon Markham.

“It’s a terrible thing to be a cripple, unable to walk or even stand alone. Both my legs have been hopelessly paralyzed for ten years. Think of it, Mr. Markham: I’ve spent ten years in this bed and that chair”⁠—she pointed to an invalid’s chair in the alcove⁠—“and I can’t even move from one to the other unless I’m lifted bodily. But I console myself with the thought that I’m not long for this world; and I try to be patient. It wouldn’t be so bad, though, if my children were only more considerate. But I suppose I expect too much. Youth and health give little thought to the old and feeble⁠—it’s the way of the world. And so I make the best of it. It’s my fate to be a burden to everyone.”

She sighed and drew the shawl more closely about her.

“You want to ask me some questions perhaps? I don’t see what I can tell you that will be of any help, but I’m only too glad to do whatever I can. I haven’t slept a wink, and my back has been paining me terribly as a result of all this commotion. But I’m not complaining.”

Markham had stood looking at the old lady sympathetically. Indeed, she was a pitiful figure. Her long invalidism and solitude had warped what had probably been a brilliant and generous mind; and she had now become a kind of introspective martyr, with an exaggerated sensitiveness to her affliction. I could see that Markham’s instinct was to leave her immediately with a few consoling words; but his sense of duty directed him to remain and learn what he could.

“I don’t wish to annoy you more than is absolutely necessary, madam,” he said in a kindly voice. “But it might help considerably if you permitted me to put one or two questions.”

“What’s a little annoyance, more or less?” she asked. “I’ve long since become used to it. Ask me anything you choose.”

Markham bowed with Old World courtesy. “You are very kind, madam.” Then, after a moment’s pause: “Mr. Greene tells me you did not hear the shot that was fired in your oldest daughter’s room, but that the shot in Miss Ada’s room wakened you.”

“That is so.” She nodded slowly. “Julia’s room is a considerable distance away⁠—across the hall. But Ada always leaves the doors open between her room and mine in case I should need anything in the night. Naturally the shot in her room wakened me.⁠ ⁠… Let me see. I must have just fallen to sleep. My back was giving me a great deal of trouble last night; I had suffered all day with it, though I of course didn’t tell any of the children about it. Little they care how their paralyzed old mother suffers.⁠ ⁠… And then, just as I had managed to doze off, there came the report, and I was wide-awake again⁠—lying here helpless, unable to move, and wondering what awful thing might be going to happen to me. And no one came to see if I was all right; no one thought of me, alone and defenseless. But then, no one ever thinks of me.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t any lack of consideration, Mrs. Greene,” Markham assured her earnestly. “The situation probably drove everything momentarily from their minds except the two victims of the shooting.⁠—Tell me this: did you hear any other sounds in Miss Ada’s room after the shot awakened you?”

“I heard the poor girl fall⁠—at least, it sounded like that.”

“But no other noises of any kind? No footsteps, for instance?”

“Footsteps?” She seemed to make an effort to recall her impressions. “No; no footsteps.”

“Did you hear the door into the hall open or close, madam?” It was Vance who put the question.

The woman turned her eyes sharply and glared at him.

“No, I heard no door open or close.”

“That’s rather queer, too, don’t you think?” pursued Vance. “The intruder must have left the room.”

“I suppose he must have, if he’s not there now,” she replied acidly, turning again to the District Attorney. “Is there anything else you’d care to know?”

Markham evidently had perceived the impossibility of eliciting any vital information from her.

“I think not,” he answered; then added: “You of course heard the butler and your son here enter Miss Ada’s room?”

“Oh, yes. They made enough noise doing it⁠—they didn’t consider my feelings in the least. That fuss-budget, Sproot, actually cried out for Chester like a hysterical woman; and, from the way he raised his voice over the telephone, one would have thought Doctor Von Blon was deaf. Then Chester had to rouse the whole house for some unknown reason. Oh, there was no peace or rest for me last night, I can tell you! And the police tramped around the house for hours like a drove of wild cattle. It was positively disgraceful. And here was I⁠—a helpless old woman⁠—entirely neglected and forgotten, suffering agonies with my spine.”

After a few commiserating banalities Markham thanked her for her assistance, and withdrew. As we passed out and walked toward the stairs I could hear her calling out angrily: “Nurse! Nurse! Can’t you hear me? Come at once and arrange my pillows. What do you mean by neglecting me this way⁠ ⁠… ?”

The voice trailed off mercifully as we descended to the main hall.

IV

The Missing Revolver

(Tuesday, November 9; 3 p.m.)

“The Mater’s a crabbed old soul,” Greene apologized offhandedly when we were again in the drawing-room. “Always grousing about her doting offspring.⁠—Well, where do we go from here?”

Markham seemed lost in thought, and it was Vance who answered.

“Let us take a peep at the servants and hearken to their tale: Sproot for a starter.”

Markham roused himself and nodded, and Greene rose and pulled a silken bell-cord near the archway. A minute later the butler appeared and stood at obsequious attention just inside the room. Markham had appeared somewhat at sea and even uninterested during the investigation, and Vance assumed command.

“Sit down, Sproot, and tell us as briefly as possible just what occurred last night.”

Sproot came forward slowly, his eyes on the floor, but remained standing before the centre-table.

“I was reading Martial, sir, in my room,” he began, lifting his gaze submissively, “when I thought I heard a muffled shot. I wasn’t quite sure, for the automobiles in the street backfire quite loud at times; but at last I said to myself I’d better investigate. I was in negligé, if you understand what I mean, sir; so I slipped on my bathrobe and came down. I didn’t know just where the noise had come from; but when I was halfway down the steps, I heard another shot, and this time it sounded like it came from Miss Ada’s room. So I went there at once, and tried the door. It was unlocked, and when I looked in I saw Miss Ada lying on the floor⁠—a very distressing sight, sir. I called to Mr. Chester, and we lifted the poor young lady to the bed. Then I telephoned to Doctor Von Blon.”

Vance scrutinized him.

“You were very courageous, Sproot, to brave a dark hall looking for the source of a shot in the middle of the night.”

“Thank you, sir,” the man answered, with great humility. “I always try to do my duty by the Greene family. I’ve been with them⁠—”

“We know all that, Sproot.” Vance cut him short. “The light was on in Miss Ada’s room, I understand, when you opened the door.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you saw no one, or heard no noise? No door closing, for instance?”

“No, sir.”

“And yet the person who fired the shot must have been somewhere in the hall at the same time you were there.”

“I suppose so, sir.”

“And he might well have taken a shot at you, too.”

“Quite so, sir.” Sproot seemed wholly indifferent to the danger he had escaped. “But what will be, will be, sir⁠—if you’ll pardon my saying so. And I’m an old man⁠—”

“Tut, tut! You’ll probably live a considerable time yet⁠—just how long I can’t, of course, say.”

“No, sir.” Sproot’s eyes gazed blankly ahead. “No one understands the mysteries of life and death.”

“You’re somewhat philosophic, I see,” drily commented Vance. Then: “When you phoned to Doctor Von Blon, was he in?”

“No, sir; but the night nurse told me he’d be back any minute, and that she’d send him over. He arrived in less than half an hour.”

Vance nodded. “That will be all, thank you, Sproot.⁠—And now please send me die gnädige Frau Köchin.”

“Yes, sir.” And the old butler shuffled from the room.

Vance’s eyes followed him thoughtfully.

“An inveiglin’ character,” he murmured.

Greene snorted. “You don’t have to live with him. He’d have said ‘Yes, sir,’ if you’d spoken to him in Walloon or Volapük. A sweet little playmate to have snooping round the house twenty-four hours a day!”

The cook, a portly, phlegmatic German woman of about forty-five, named Gertrude Mannheim, came in and seated herself on the edge of a chair near the entrance. Vance, after a moment’s keen inspection of her, asked:

“Were you born in this country, Frau Mannheim?”

“I was born in Baden,” she answered, in flat, rather guttural tones. “I came to America when I was twelve.”

“You have not always been a cook, I take it.” Vance’s voice had a slightly different intonation from that which he had used with Sproot.

At first the woman did not answer.

“No, sir,” she said finally. “Only since the death of my husband.”

“How did you happen to come to the Greenes?”

Again she hesitated. “I had met Mr. Tobias Greene: he knew my husband. When my husband died there wasn’t any money. And I remembered Mr. Greene, and I thought⁠—”

“I understand.” Vance paused, his eyes in space. “You heard nothing of what happened here last night?”

“No, sir. Not until Mr. Chester called up the stairs and said for us to get dressed and come down.”

Vance rose and turned to the window overlooking the East River.

“That’s all, Frau Mannheim. Be so good as to tell the senior maid⁠—Hemming, isn’t she?⁠—to come here.”

Without a word the cook left us, and her place was presently taken by a tall, slatternly woman, with a sharp, prudish face and severely combed hair. She wore a black, one-piece dress, and heelless vici-kid shoes; and her severity of mien was emphasized by a pair of thick-lensed spectacles.

“I understand, Hemming,” began Vance, reseating himself before the fireplace, “that you heard neither shot last night, and learned of the tragedy only when called by Mr. Greene.”

The woman nodded with a jerky, emphatic movement.

“I was spared,” she said, in a rasping voice. “But the tragedy, as you call it, had to come sooner or later. It was an act of God, if you ask me.”

“Well, we’re not asking you, Hemming; but we’re delighted to have your opinion.⁠—So God had a hand in the shooting, eh?”

“He did that!” The woman spoke with religious fervor. “The Greenes are an ungodly, wicked family.” She leered defiantly at Chester Greene, who laughed uneasily. “ ‘For I shall rise up against them, saith the Lord of hosts⁠—the name, the remnant, and son, and daughter, and nephew’⁠—only there ain’t no nephew⁠—‘and I will sweep them with the besom of destruction, saith the Lord.’ ”

Vance regarded her musingly.

“I see you have misread Isaiah. And have you any celestial information as to who was chosen by the Lord to personify the besom?”

The woman compressed her lips. “Who knows?”

“Ah! Who, indeed?⁠ ⁠… But to descend to temporal things: I assume you weren’t surprised at what happened last night?”

“I’m never surprised at the mysterious workin’s of the Almighty.”

Vance sighed. “You may return to your Scriptural perusings, Hemming. Only, I wish you’d pause en route and tell Barton we crave her presence here.”

The woman rose stiffly and passed from the room like an animated ramrod.

Barton came in, obviously frightened. But her fear was insufficient to banish completely her instinctive coquetry. A certain coyness showed through the alarmed glance she gave us, and one hand automatically smoothed back the chestnut hair over her ear. Vance adjusted his monocle.

“You really should wear Alice blue, Barton,” he advised her seriously. “Much more becoming than cerise to your olive complexion.”

The girl’s apprehensiveness relaxed, and she gave Vance a puzzled, kittenish look.

“But what I particularly wanted you to come here for,” he went on, “was to ask you if Mr. Greene has ever kissed you.”

“Which⁠—Mr. Greene?” she stammered, completely disconcerted.

Chester had, at Vance’s question, jerked himself erect in his chair and started to splutter an irate objection. But articulation failed him, and he turned to Markham with speechless indignation.

The corners of Vance’s mouth twitched. “It really doesn’t matter, Barton,” he said quickly.

“Aren’t you going to ask me any questions about⁠—what happened last night?” the girl asked, with obvious disappointment.

“Oh! Do you know anything about what happened?”

“Why, no,” she admitted. “I was asleep⁠—”

“Exactly. Therefore, I shan’t bother you with questions.” He dismissed her good-naturedly.

“Damn it, Markham, I protest!” cried Greene, when Barton had left us. “I call this⁠—this gentleman’s levity rotten-bad taste⁠—damme if I don’t!”

Markham, too, was annoyed at the frivolous line of interrogation Vance had taken.

“I can’t see what’s to be gained by such futile inquiries,” he said, striving to control his irritation.

“That’s because you’re still holding to the burglar theory,” Vance replied. “But if, as Mr. Greene thinks, there is another explanation of last night’s crime, then it’s essential to acquaint ourselves with the conditions existing here. And it’s equally essential not to rouse the suspicions of the servants. Hence, my apparent irrelevancies. I’m trying to size up the various human factors we have to deal with; and I think I’ve done uncommonly well. Several rather interesting possibilities have developed.”

Before Markham could reply Sproot passed the archway and opened the front door to someone whom he greeted respectfully. Greene immediately went into the hall.

“Hallo, doc,” we heard him say. “Thought you’d be along pretty soon. The District Attorney and his entourage are here, and they’d like to talk to Ada. I told ’em you said it might be all right this afternoon.”

“I’ll know better when I’ve seen Ada,” the doctor replied. He passed on hurriedly, and we heard him ascending the stairs.

“It’s Von Blon,” announced Greene, returning to the drawing-room. “He’ll let us know anon how Ada’s coming along.” There was a callous note in his voice, which, at the time, puzzled me.

“How long have you known Doctor Von Blon?” asked Vance.

“How long?” Greene looked surprised. “Why, all my life. Went to the old Beekman Public School with him. His father⁠—old Doctor Veranus Von Blon⁠—brought all the later Greenes into the world; family physician, spiritual adviser, and all that sort of thing, from time immemorial. When Von Blon, senior, died we embraced the son as a matter of course. And young Arthur’s a shrewd lad, too. Knows his pharmacopoeia. Trained by the old man, and topped off his medical education in Germany.”

Vance nodded negligently.

“While we’re waiting for Doctor Von Blon, suppose we have a chat with Miss Sibella and Mr. Rex. Your brother first, let us say.”

Greene looked to Markham for confirmation; then rang for Sproot.

Rex Greene came immediately upon being summoned.

“Well, what do you want now?” he asked, scanning our faces with nervous intensity. His voice was peevish, almost whining, and there were certain overtones in it which recalled the fretful complaining voice of Mrs. Greene.

“We merely want to question you about last night,” answered Vance soothingly. “We thought it possible you could help us.”

“What help can I give you?” Rex asked sullenly, slumping into a chair. He gave his brother a sneering look. “Chester’s the only one round here who seems to have been awake.”

Rex Greene was a short, sallow youth with narrow, stooping shoulders and an abnormally large head set on a neck which appeared almost emaciated. A shock of straight hair hung down over his bulging forehead, and he had a habit of tossing it back with a jerky movement of the head. His small, shifty eyes, shielded by enormous tortoise-rimmed glasses, seemed never to be at rest; and his thin lips were constantly twitching as with a tic douloureux. His chin was small and pointed, and he held it drawn in, emphasizing its lack of prominence. He was not a pleasant spectacle, and yet there was something in the man⁠—an overdeveloped studiousness, perhaps⁠—that gave the impression of unusual potentialities. I once saw a juvenile chess wizard who had the same cranial formations and general facial cast.

Vance appeared introspective, but I knew he was absorbing every detail of the man’s appearance. At length he laid down his cigarette, and focused his eyes languidly on the desk-lamp.

“You say you slept throughout the tragedy last night. How do you account for that remarkable fact, inasmuch as one of the shots was fired in the room next to yours?”

Rex hitched himself forward to the edge of his chair, and turned his head from side to side, carefully avoiding our eyes.

“I haven’t tried to account for it,” he returned, with angry resentment; but withal he seemed unstrung and on the defensive. Then he hurried on: “The walls in this house are pretty thick anyway, and there are always noises in the street.⁠ ⁠… Maybe my head was buried under the covers.”

“You’d certainly have buried your head under the covers if you’d heard the shot,” commented Chester, with no attempt to disguise his contempt for his brother.

Rex swung round, and would have retorted to the accusation had not Vance put his next question immediately.

“What’s your theory of the crime, Mr. Greene? You’ve heard all the details and you know the situation.”

“I thought the police had settled on a burglar.” The youth’s eyes rested shrewdly on Heath. “Wasn’t that your conclusion?”

“It was, and it is,” declared the Sergeant, who, until now, had preserved a bored silence. “But your brother here seems to think otherwise.”

“So Chester thinks otherwise.” Rex turned to his brother with an expression of feline dislike. “Maybe Chester knows all about it.” There was no mistaking the implication in his words.

Vance once more stepped into the breach.

“Your brother has told us all he knows. Just at present we’re concerned with how much you know.” The severity of his manner caused Rex to shrink back in his chair. His lips twitched more violently, and he began fidgeting with the braided frog of his smoking-jacket. I noticed then for the first time that he had short rachitic hands with bowed and thickened phalanges.

“You are sure you heard no shot?” continued Vance ominously.

“I’ve told you a dozen times I didn’t!” His voice rose to a falsetto, and he gripped the arms of his chair with both hands.

“Keep calm, Rex,” admonished Chester. “You’ll be having another of your spells.”

“To hell with you!” the youth shouted. “How many times have I got to tell them I don’t know anything about it?”

“We merely want to make doubly sure on all points,” Vance told him pacifyingly. “And you certainly wouldn’t want your sister’s death to go unavenged through any lack of perseverance on our part.”

Rex relaxed slightly, and took a deep inspiration.

“Oh, I’d tell you anything I knew,” he said, running his tongue over his dry lips. “But I always get blamed for everything that happens in this house⁠—that is, Ada and I do. And as for avenging Julia’s death: that doesn’t appeal to me nearly so much as punishing the dog that shot Ada. She has a hard enough time of it here under normal conditions. Mother keeps her in the house waiting on her as if she were a servant.”

Vance nodded understandingly. Then he rose and placed his hand sympathetically on Rex’s shoulder. This gesture was so unlike him I was completely astonished; for, despite his deep-seated humanism, Vance seemed always ashamed of any outward show of feeling, and sought constantly to repress his emotions.

“Don’t let this tragedy upset you too much, Mr. Greene,” he said reassuringly. “And you may be certain that we’ll do everything in our power to find and punish the person who shot Miss Ada.⁠—We won’t bother you any more now.”

Rex got up almost eagerly and drew himself together.

“Oh, that’s all right.” And with a covertly triumphant glance at his brother, he left the room.

“Rex is a queer bird,” Chester remarked, after a short silence. “He spends most of his time reading and working out abstruse problems in mathematics and astronomy. Wanted to stick a telescope through the attic roof, but the Mater drew the line. He’s an unhealthy beggar, too. I tell him he doesn’t get enough fresh air, but you see his attitude toward me. Thinks I’m weak-minded because I play golf.”

“What were the spells you spoke about?” asked Vance. “Your brother looks as if he might be epileptic.”

“Oh, no; nothing like that; though I’ve seen him have convulsive seizures when he got in a specially violent tantrum. He gets excited easily and flies off the handle. Von Blon says it’s hyperneurasthenia⁠—whatever that is. He goes ghastly pale when he’s worked up, and has a kind of trembling fit. Says things he’s sorry for afterward. Nothing serious, though. What he needs is exercise⁠—a year on a ranch roughing it, without his infernal books and compasses and T-squares.”

“I suppose he’s more or less a favorite with your mother.” (Vance’s remark recalled a curious similarity of temperament between the two I had felt vaguely as Rex talked.)

“More or less.” Chester nodded ponderously. “He’s the pet in so far as the Mater’s capable of petting anyone but herself. Anyway, she’s never ragged Rex as much as the rest of us.”

Again Vance went to the great window above the East River, and stood looking out. Suddenly he turned.

“By the by, Mr. Greene, did you find your revolver?” His tone had changed; his ruminative mood had gone.

Chester gave a start, and cast a swift glance at Heath, who had now become attentive.

“No, by Gad, I haven’t,” he admitted, fumbling in his pocket for his cigarette-holder. “Funny thing about that gun, too. Always kept it in my desk drawer⁠—though, as I told this gentleman when he mentioned it”⁠—he pointed his holder at Heath as if the other had been an inanimate object⁠—“I don’t remember actually having seen it for years. But, even so, where the devil could it have gone? Damme, it’s mysterious. Nobody round here would touch it. The maids don’t go in the drawers when they’re cleaning the room⁠—I’m lucky if they make the bed and dust the top of the furniture. Damned funny what became of it.”

“Did you take a good look for it today, like you said?” asked Heath, thrusting his head forward belligerently. Why, since he held to the burglar theory, he should assume a bulldozing manner, I couldn’t imagine. But whenever Heath was troubled, he was aggressive; and any loose end in an investigation troubled him deeply.

“Certainly, I looked for it,” Chester replied, haughtily indignant. “I went through every room and closet and drawer in the house. But it’s completely disappeared.⁠ ⁠… Probably got thrown out by mistake in one of the annual house-cleanings.”

“That’s possible,” agreed Vance. “What sort of a revolver was it?”

“An old Smith & Wesson .32.” Chester appeared to be trying to refresh his memory. “Mother-of-pearl handle: some scroll-engraving on the barrel⁠—I don’t recall exactly. I bought it fifteen years ago⁠—maybe longer⁠—when I went camping one summer in the Adirondacks. Used it for target practice. Then I got tired of it, and stuck it away in a drawer behind a lot of old cancelled checks.”

“Was it in good working order then?”

“As far as I know. Fact is, it worked stiff when I got it, and I had the sear filed down, so it was practically a hair-trigger affair. The slightest touch sent it off. Better for shooting targets that way.”

“Do you recall if it was loaded when you put it away?”

“Couldn’t say. Might have been. It’s been so long⁠—”

“Were there any cartridges for it in your desk?”

“Now, that I can answer you positively. There wasn’t a loose cartridge in the place.”

Vance reseated himself.

“Well, Mr. Greene, if you happen to run across the revolver you will, of course, let Mr. Markham or Sergeant Heath know.”

“Oh, certainly. With pleasure.” Chester’s assurance was expressed with an air of magnanimity.

Vance glanced at his watch.

“And now, seeing that Doctor Von Blon is still with his patient, I wonder if we could see Miss Sibella for a moment.”

Chester got up, obviously relieved that the subject of the revolver had been disposed of, and went to the bell-cord beside the archway. But he arrested his hand in the act of reaching for it.

“I’ll fetch her myself,” he said, and hurried from the room.

Markham turned to Vance with a smile.

“Your prophecy about the non-reappearance of the gun has, I note, been temporarily verified.”

“And I’m afraid that fancy weapon with the hair-trigger never will appear⁠—at least, not until this miserable business is cleaned up.” Vance was unwontedly sober; his customary levity had for the moment deserted him. But before long he lifted his eyebrows mockingly, and gave Heath a chaffing look.

“Perchance the Sergeant’s predacious neophyte made off with the revolver⁠—became fascinated with the scrollwork, or entranced with the pearl handle.”

“It’s quite possible the revolver disappeared in the way Greene said it did,” Markham submitted. “In any event, I think you unduly emphasized the matter.”

“Sure he did, Mr. Markham,” growled Heath. “And, what’s more, I can’t see that all this repartee with the family is getting us anywheres. I had ’em all on the carpet last night when the shooting was hot; and I’m telling you they don’t know nothing about it. This Ada Greene is the only person round here I want to talk to. There’s a chance she can give us a tip. If her lights were on when the burglar got in her room, she maybe got a good look at him.”

“Sergeant,” said Vance, shaking his head sadly, “you’re getting positively morbid on the subject of that mythical burglar.”

Markham inspected the end of his cigar thoughtfully.

“No, Vance. I’m inclined to agree with the Sergeant. It appears to me that you’re the one with the morbid imagination. I let you inveigle me into this inquiry too easily. That’s why I’ve kept in the background and left the floor to you. Ada Greene’s our only hope of help here.”

“Oh, for your trusting, forthright mind!” Vance sighed and shifted his position restlessly. “I say, our psychic Chester is taking a dashed long time to fetch Sibella.”

At that moment there came a sound of footsteps on the marble stairs, and a few seconds later Sibella Greene, accompanied by Chester, appeared in the archway.

V

Homicidal Possibilities

(Tuesday, November 9; 3:30 p.m.)

Sibella entered with a firm, swinging gait, her head held high, her eyes sweeping the assemblage with bold interrogation. She was tall and of slender, athletic build, and, though she was not pretty, there was a cold, chiselled attractiveness in her lineaments that held one’s attention. Her face was at once vivid and intense; and there was a hauteur in her expression amounting almost to arrogance. Her dark, crisp hair was bobbed but not waved, and the severity of its lines accentuated the overdecisive cast of her features. Her hazel eyes were wide-spaced beneath heavy, almost horizontal eyebrows; her nose was straight and slightly prominent, and her mouth was large and firm, with a suggestion of cruelty in its thin lips. She was dressed simply, in a dark sport suit cut extremely short, silk-wool stockings of a heather mixture, and low-heeled mannish Oxfords.

Chester presented the District Attorney to her as an old acquaintance, and permitted Markham to make the other introductions.

“I suppose you know, Mr. Markham, why Chet likes you,” she said, in a peculiarly plangent voice. “You’re one of the few persons at the Marylebone Club that he can beat at golf.”

She seated herself before the centre-table, and crossed her knees comfortably.

“I wish you’d get me a cigarette, Chet.” Her tone made the request an imperative.

Vance rose at once and held out his case.

“Do try one of these Régies, Miss Greene,” he urged in his best drawing-room manner. “If you say you don’t like them, I shall immediately change my brand.”

“Rash man!” Sibella took a cigarette and permitted Vance to light it for her. Then she settled back in her chair and gave Markham a quizzical look. “Quite a wild party we pulled here last night, wasn’t it? We’ve never had so much commotion in the old mansion. And it was just my luck to sleep soundly through it all.” She made an aggrieved moue. “Chet didn’t call me till it was all over. Just like him⁠—he has a nasty disposition.”

Somehow her flippancy did not shock me as it might have done in a different type of person. But Sibella struck me as a girl who, though she might feel things keenly, would not permit any misfortune to get the better of her; and I put her apparent callousness down to a dogged, if perverted, courageousness.

Markham, however, resented her attitude.

“One cannot blame Mr. Greene for not taking the matter lightly,” he reproved her. “The brutal murder of a defenseless woman and the attempted murder of a young girl hardly come under the head of diversion.”

Sibella looked at him reproachfully. “You know, Mr. Markham, you sound exactly like the Mother Superior of the stuffy convent I was confined in for two years.” She became suddenly grave. “Why draw a long face over something that’s happened and can’t be helped? Anyway, Julia never sought to brighten her little corner. She was always crabbed and faultfinding, and her good deeds wouldn’t fill a book. It may be unsisterly to say it, but she’s not going to be missed so dreadfully. Chet and I are certainly not going to pine away.”

“And what about the brutal shooting of your other sister?” Markham was with difficulty controlling his indignation.

Sibella’s eyelids narrowed perceptibly, and the lines of her face became set. But she erased the expression almost at once.

“Well, Ada’s going to recover, isn’t she?” Despite her effort, she was unable to keep a certain hardness out of her voice. “She’ll have a nice long rest, and a nurse to wait on her. Am I expected to weep copiously because of baby sister’s escape?”

Vance, who had been closely watching this clash between Sibella and Markham, now took a hand in the conversation.

“My dear Markham, I can’t see what Miss Greene’s sentiments have to do with the matter. Her attitude may not be strictly in accord with the prescribed conduct for young ladies on such occasions, but I feel sure she has excellent reasons for her point of view. Let us give over moralizing, and seek Miss Greene’s assistance instead.”

The girl darted him an amused, appreciative glance; and Markham made a gesture of indifferent acquiescence. It was plain that he regarded the present inquiry as of little importance.

Vance gave the girl an engaging smile.

“It’s really my fault, Miss Greene, that we are intruding here,” he apologized. “It was I, d’ ye see, that urged Mr. Markham to look into the case after your brother had expressed his disbelief in the burglar theory.”

She nodded understandingly. “Oh, Chet sometimes has excellent hunches. It’s one of his very few merits.”

“You, too, I gather, are sceptical in regard to the burglar?”

“Sceptical?” She gave a short laugh. “I’m downright suspicious. I don’t know any burglars, though I’d dearly love to meet one; but I simply can’t bring my flighty brain to picture them going about their fascinating occupation the way our little entertainer did last night.”

“You positively thrill me,” declared Vance. “Y’ see, our minority ideas coincide perfectly.”

“Did Chet give you any intelligible explanation for his opinion?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not. He was inclined to lay his feelings to metaphysical causes. His conviction was due, I took it, to some kind of psychic visitation. He knew, but could not explain: he was sure, but had no proof. It was most indefinite⁠—a bit esoteric, in fact.”

“I’d never suspect Chet of spiritualistic leanings.” She shot her brother a tantalizing look. “He’s really deadly commonplace, when you get to know him.”

“Oh, cut it, Sib,” objected Chester irritably. “You yourself had a spasm this morning when I told you the police were hotfooting it after a burglar.”

Sibella made no answer. With a slight toss of the head she leaned over and threw her cigarette into the grate.

“By the by, Miss Greene”⁠—Vance spoke casually⁠—“there has been considerable mystery about the disappearance of your brother’s revolver. It has completely vanished from his desk drawer. I wonder if you have seen it about the house anywhere.”

At his mention of the gun Sibella stiffened slightly. Her eyes took on an expression of intentness, and the corners of her mouth lifted into a faintly ironical smile.

“Chet’s revolver has gone, has it?” She put the question colorlessly, as if her thoughts were elsewhere. “No⁠ ⁠… I haven’t seen it.” Then, after a momentary pause: “But it was in Chet’s desk last week.”

Chester heaved himself forward angrily.

“What were you doing in my desk last week?” he demanded.

“Don’t wax apoplectic,” the girl said carelessly. “I wasn’t looking for love missives. I simply couldn’t imagine you in love, Chet.⁠ ⁠…” The idea seemed to amuse her. “I was only looking for that old emerald stickpin you borrowed and never returned.”

“It’s at the club,” he explained sulkily.

“Is it, really! Well, I didn’t find it anyway; but I did see the revolver.⁠—Are you quite sure it’s gone?”

“Don’t be absurd,” the man growled. “I’ve searched everywhere for it.⁠ ⁠… Including your room,” he added vengefully.

“Oh, you would! But why did you admit having it in the first place?” Her tone was scornful. “Why involve yourself unnecessarily?”

Chester shifted uneasily.

“This gentleman”⁠—he again pointed impersonally to Heath⁠—“asked me if I owned a revolver, and I told him ‘yes.’ If I hadn’t, some of the servants or one of my loving family would have told him. And I thought the truth was best.”

Sibella smiled satirically.

“My older brother, you observe, is a model of all the old-fashioned virtues,” she remarked to Vance. But she was obviously distraite. The revolver episode had somewhat shaken her self-assurance.

“You say, Miss Greene, that the burglar idea does not appeal to you.” Vance was smoking languidly with half-closed eyes. “Can you think of any other explanation for the tragedy?”

The girl raised her head and regarded him calculatingly.

“Because I don’t happen to believe in burglars that shoot women and sneak away without taking anything, it doesn’t mean that I can suggest alternatives. I’m not a policewoman⁠—though I’ve often thought it would be jolly good sport⁠—and I had a vague idea it was the business of the police to run down criminals.⁠—You don’t believe in the burglar either, Mr. Vance, or you wouldn’t have followed up Chet’s hunch. Who do you think ran amuck here last night?”

“My dear girl!” Vance raised a protesting hand. “If I had the foggiest idea I wouldn’t be annoying you with impertinent questions. I’m plodding with leaden feet in a veritable bog of ignorance.”

He spoke negligently, but Sibella’s eyes were clouded with suspicion. Presently, however, she laughed gaily and held out her hand.

“Another Régie, monsieur. I was on the verge of becoming serious; and I simply mustn’t become serious. It’s so frightfully boring. Besides, it gives one wrinkles. And I’m much too young for wrinkles.”

“Like Ninon de L’Enclos, you’ll always be too young for wrinkles,” rejoined Vance, holding a match to her cigarette. “But perhaps you can suggest, without becoming too serious, someone who might have had a reason for wanting to kill your two sisters.”

“Oh, as for that, I’d say we’d all come under suspicion. We’re not an ideal home circle, by any means. In fact, the Greenes are a queer collection. We don’t love one another the way a perfectly nice and proper family should. We’re always at each other’s throats, bickering and fighting about something or other. It’s rather a mess⁠—this ménage. It’s a wonder to me murder hasn’t been done long before. And we’ve all got to live here until 1932, or go it on our own; and, of course, none of us could make a decent living. A sweet paternal heritage!”9

She smoked moodily for a few moments.

“Yes, any one of us had ample reason to be murderously inclined toward all the others. Chet there would strangle me now if he didn’t think the nervous aftermath of the act would spoil his golf⁠—wouldn’t you, Chet dear? Rex regards us all as inferiors, and probably considers himself highly indulgent and altruistic not to have murdered us all long ago. And the only reason mother hasn’t killed us is that she’s paralyzed and can’t manage it. Julia, too, for that matter, could have seen us all boiled in oil without turning a hair. And as for Ada”⁠—her brows contracted and an extraordinary ferocity crept into her eyes⁠—“she’d dearly love to see us all exterminated. She’s not really one of us, and she hates us. Nor would I myself have any scruples about doing away with the rest of my fond family. I’ve thought of it often, but I could never decide on a nice thorough method.” She flicked her cigarette ash on the floor. “So there you are. If you’re looking for possibilities you have them galore. There’s no one under this ancestral roof who couldn’t qualify.”

Though her words were meant to be satirical, I could not help feeling that a sombre, terrible truth underlay them. Vance, though apparently listening with amusement, had, I knew, been absorbing every inflection of her voice and play of expression, in an effort to relate the details of her sweeping indictment to the problem in hand.

“At any rate,” he remarked offhandedly, “you are an amazingly frank young woman. However, I shan’t recommend your arrest just yet. I haven’t a particle of evidence against you, don’t y’ know. Annoyin’, ain’t it?”

“Oh, well,” sighed the girl, in mock disappointment, “you may pick up a clue later on. There’ll probably be another death or two around here before long. I’d hate to think the murderer would give up the job with so little really accomplished.”

At this point Doctor Von Blon entered the drawing-room. Chester rose to greet him, and the formalities of introduction were quickly over. Von Blon bowed with reserved cordiality; but I noted that his manner to Sibella, while pleasant, was casual in the extreme. I wondered a little about this, but I recalled that he was an old friend of the family and probably took many of the social amenities for granted.

“What have you to report, doctor?” asked Markham. “Will we be able to question the young lady this afternoon?”

“I hardly think there’d be any harm in it,” Von Blon returned, seating himself beside Chester. “Ada has only a little reaction fever now, though she’s suffering from shock, and is pretty weak from loss of blood.”

Doctor Von Blon was a suave, smooth-faced man of forty, with small, almost feminine features and an air of unwavering amiability. His urbanity struck me as too artificial⁠—“professional” is perhaps the word⁠—and there was something of the ambitious egoist about him. But I was far more attracted than repelled by him.

Vance watched him attentively as he spoke. He was more anxious even than Heath, I think, to question the girl.

“It was not a particularly serious wound, then?” Markham asked.

“No, not serious,” the doctor assured him; “though it barely missed being fatal. Had the shot gone an inch deeper it would have torn across the lung. It was a very narrow escape.”

“As I understand it,” interposed Vance, “the bullet travelled transversely over the left scapular region.”

Von Blon inclined his head in agreement.

“The shot was obviously aimed at the heart from the rear,” he explained, in his soft, modulated voice. “But Ada must have turned slightly to the right just as the revolver exploded; and the bullet, instead of going directly into her body, ploughed along the shoulder-blade at the level of the third dorsal vertebra, tore the capsular ligament, and lodged in the deltoid.” He indicated the location of the deltoid on his own left arm.

“She had,” suggested Vance, “apparently turned her back on her assailant and attempted to run away; and he had followed her and placed the revolver almost against her back.⁠—Is that your interpretation of it, doctor?”

“Yes, that would seem to be the situation. And, as I said, at the crucial moment she veered a little, and thus saved her life.”

“Would she have fallen immediately to the floor, despite the actual superficiality of the wound?”

“It’s not unlikely. Not only would the pain have been considerable, but the shock must be taken into account. Ada⁠—or, for that matter, any woman⁠—might have fainted at once.”

“And it’s a reasonable presumption,” pursued Vance, “that her assailant would have taken it for granted that the shot had been fatal.”

“We may readily assume that to be the case.”

Vance smoked a moment, his eyes averted.

“Yes,” he agreed, “I think we may assume that.⁠—And another point suggests itself. Since Miss Ada was in front of the dressing-table, a considerable distance from the bed, and since the weapon was held practically against her, the encounter would seem to take on the nature of a deliberate attack, rather than a haphazard shot fired by someone in a panic.”

Von Blon looked shrewdly at Vance, and then turned a questioning gaze upon Heath. For a moment he was silent, as if weighing his reply, and when he spoke it was with guarded reserve.

“Of course, one might interpret the situation that way. Indeed, the facts would seem to indicate such a conclusion. But, on the other hand, the intruder might have been very close to Ada; and the fact that the bullet entered her left shoulder at a particularly vital point may have been the purest accident.”

“Quite true,” conceded Vance. “However, if the idea of premeditation is to be abrogated, we must account for the fact that the lights were on in the room when the butler entered immediately after the shooting.”

Von Blon showed the keenest astonishment at this statement.

“The lights were on? That’s most remarkable!” His brow crinkled into a perplexed frown, and he appeared to be assimilating Vance’s information. “Still,” he argued, “that very fact may account for the shooting. If the intruder had entered a lighted room he may have fired at the occupant lest his description be given to the police later.”

“Oh, quite!” murmured Vance. “Anyway, let us hope we’ll learn the explanation when we’ve seen and spoken to Miss Ada.”

“Well, why don’t we get to it?” grumbled Heath, whose ordinarily inexhaustible store of patience had begun to run low.

“You’re so hasty, Sergeant,” Vance chided him. “Doctor Von Blon has just told us that Miss Ada is very weak; and anything we can learn beforehand will spare her just so many questions.”

“All I want to find out,” expostulated Heath, “is if she got a look at the bird that shot her and can give me a description of him.”

“That being the case, Sergeant, I fear you are doomed to have your ardent hopes dashed to the ground.”

Heath chewed viciously on his cigar; and Vance turned again to Von Blon.

“There’s one other question I’d like to ask, doctor. How long was it after Miss Ada had been wounded before you examined her?”

“The butler’s already told us, Mr. Vance,” interposed Heath impatiently. “The doctor got here in half an hour.”

“Yes, that’s about right.” Von Blon’s tone was smooth and matter-of-fact. “I was unfortunately out on a call when Sproot phoned, but I returned about fifteen minutes later, and hurried right over. Luckily I live near here⁠—in East 48th Street.”

“And was Miss Ada still unconscious when you arrived?”

“Yes. She had lost considerable blood. The cook, however, had put a towel-compress on the wound, which of course helped.”

Vance thanked him and rose.

“And now, if you’ll be good enough to take us to your patient, we’ll be very grateful.”

“As little excitement as possible, you understand,” admonished Von Blon, as he got up and led the way upstairs.

Sibella and Chester seemed undecided about accompanying us; but as I turned into the hall I saw a look of interrogation flash between them, and a moment later they too joined us in the upper hall.

VI

An Accusation

(Tuesday, November 9; 4 p.m.)

Ada Greene’s room was simply, almost severely, furnished; but there was a neatness about it, combined with little touches of feminine decoration, that reflected the care its occupant had bestowed upon it. To the left, near the door that led into the dressing-room communicating with Mrs. Greene’s chamber, was a single mahogany bed of simple design; and beyond it was the door that opened upon the stone balcony. To the right, beside the window, stood the dressing-table; and on the amber-colored Chinese rug before it there showed a large irregular brown stain where the wounded girl had lain. In the centre of the right wall was an old Tudor fireplace with a high oak-panelled mantel.

As we entered, the girl in the bed looked at us inquisitively, and a slight flush colored her pale cheeks. She lay on her right side, facing the door, her bandaged shoulder supported by pillows, and her left hand, slim and white, resting upon the blue-figured coverlet. A remnant of her fear of the night before seemed still to linger in her blue eyes.

Doctor Von Blon went to her and, sitting down on the edge of the bed, placed his hand on hers. His manner was at once protective and impersonal.

“These gentlemen want to ask you a few questions, Ada,” he explained, with a reassuring smile; “and as you were so much stronger this afternoon I brought them up. Do you feel equal to it?”

She nodded her head wearily, her eyes on the doctor.

A plan of a bedroom. The bed is across from the fireplace. Next to the fireplace is a dressing table, before which a spot is labelled “where Ada was found wounded.” The bed sits between two doors, one leading to a bathroom and the other leading to a “dressing room that communicates with Mrs. Greene’s room.” A light switch is next to the door to the hall, opposite from which are French windows leading out to a balcony.
Plan of Ada’s bedroom.

Vance, who had paused by the mantel to inspect the hand-carving of the quadrae, now turned and approached the bed.

“Sergeant,” he said, “if you don’t mind, let me talk to Miss Greene first.”

Heath realized, I think, that the situation called for tact and delicacy; and it was typical of the man’s fundamental bigness that he at once stepped aside.

“Miss Greene,” said Vance, in a quiet, genial voice, drawing up a small chair beside the bed, “we’re very anxious to clear up the mystery about last night’s tragedy; and, as you are the only person who is in a position to help us, we want you to recall for us, as nearly as you can, just what happened.”

The girl took a deep breath.

“It⁠—it was awful,” she said weakly, looking straight ahead. “After I had gone to sleep⁠—I don’t know just what time⁠—something woke me up. I can’t tell you what it was; but all of a sudden I was wide awake, and the strangest feeling came over me.⁠ ⁠…” She closed her eyes, and an involuntary shudder swept her body. “It was as though someone were in the room, threatening me.⁠ ⁠…” Her voice faded away into an awed silence.

“Was the room dark?” Vance asked gently.

“Pitch-dark.” Slowly she turned her eyes to him. “That’s why I was so frightened. I couldn’t see anything, and I imagined there was a ghost⁠—or evil spirit⁠—near me. I tried to call out, but I couldn’t make a sound. My throat felt dry and⁠—and stiff.”

“Typical constriction due to fright, Ada,” explained Von Blon. “Many people can’t speak when they’re frightened.⁠—Then what happened?”

“I lay trembling for a few minutes, but not a sound came from anywhere in the room. Yet I knew⁠—I knew⁠—somebody, or something, that meant to harm me was here.⁠ ⁠… At last I forced myself to get up⁠—very quietly. I wanted to turn on the lights⁠—the darkness frightened me so. And after a while I was standing up beside the bed here. Then, for the first time, I could see the dim light of the windows; and it made things seem more real somehow. So I began to grope my way toward the electric switch there by the door. I had only gone a little way when⁠ ⁠… a hand⁠ ⁠… touched me.⁠ ⁠…”

Her lips were trembling, and a look of horror came into her wide-open eyes.

“I⁠—I was so stunned,” she struggled on, “I hardly know what I did. Again I tried to scream, but I couldn’t even open my lips. And then I turned and ran away from the⁠—the thing⁠—toward the window. I had almost reached it when I heard someone coming after me⁠—a queer, shuffling sound⁠—and I knew it was the end.⁠ ⁠… There was an awful noise, and something hot struck the back of my shoulder. I was suddenly nauseated; the light of the window disappeared, and I felt myself sinking down⁠—deep.⁠ ⁠…”

When she ceased speaking a tense silence fell on the room. Her account, for all its simplicity, had been tremendously graphic. Like a great actress she had managed to convey to her listeners the very emotional essence of her story.

Vance waited several moments before speaking.

“It was a frightful experience!” he murmured sympathetically. “I wish it wasn’t necess’ry to worry you about details, but there are several points I’d like to go over with you.”

She smiled faintly in appreciation of his considerateness, and waited.

“If you tried hard, do you think you could recall what wakened you?” he asked.

“No⁠—there wasn’t any sound that I can remember.”

“Did you leave your door unlocked last night?”

“I think so. I don’t generally lock it.”

“And you heard no door open or close⁠—anywhere?”

“No; none. Everything in the house was perfectly still.”

“And yet you knew that someone was in the room. How was that?” Vance’s voice, though gentle, was persistent.

“I⁠—don’t know⁠ ⁠… and yet there must have been something that told me.”

“Exactly! Now try to think.” Vance bent a little nearer to the troubled girl. “A soft breathing, perhaps⁠—a slight gust of air as the person moved by your bed⁠—a faint odor of perfume⁠ ⁠… ?”

She frowned painfully, as if trying to recall the elusive cause of her dread.

“I can’t think⁠—I can’t remember.” Her voice was scarcely audible. “I was so terribly frightened.”

“If only we could trace the source!” Vance glanced at the doctor, who nodded understandingly, and said:

“Obviously some association whose stimulus went unrecognized.”

“Did you feel, Miss Greene, that you knew the person who was here?” continued Vance. “That is to say, was it a familiar presence?”

“I don’t know exactly. I only know I was afraid of it.”

“But you heard it move toward you after you had risen and fled toward the window. Was there any familiarity in the sound?”

“No!” For the first time she spoke with emphasis. “It was just footsteps⁠—soft, sliding footsteps.”

“Of course, anyone might have walked that way in the dark, or a person in bedroom slippers.⁠ ⁠…”

“It was only a few steps⁠—and then came the awful noise and burning.”

Vance waited a moment.

“Try very hard to recall those steps⁠—or rather your impression of them. Would you say they were the steps of a man or a woman?”

An added pallor overspread the girl’s face; and her frightened eyes ran over all the occupants of the room. Her breathing, I noticed, had quickened; and twice she parted her lips as if to speak, but checked herself each time. At last she said in a low tremulous voice:

“I don’t know⁠—I haven’t the slightest idea.”

A short, high-strung laugh, bitter and sneering, burst from Sibella; and all eyes were turned in amazed attention in her direction. She stood rigidly at the foot of the bed, her face flushed, her hands tightly clinched at her side.

“Why don’t you tell them you recognized my footsteps?” she demanded of her sister in biting tones. “You had every intention of doing so. Haven’t you got courage enough left to lie⁠—you sobbing little cat?”

Ada caught her breath and seemed to draw herself nearer to the doctor, who gave Sibella a stern, admonitory look.

“Oh, I say, Sib! Hold your tongue.” It was Chester who broke the startled silence that followed the outbreak.

Sibella shrugged her shoulders and walked to the window; and Vance again turned his attention to the girl on the bed, continuing his questioning as if nothing had happened.

“There’s one more point, Miss Greene.” His tone was even gentler than before. “When you groped your way across the room toward the switch, at what point did you come in contact with the unseen person?”

“About halfway to the door⁠—just beyond that centre-table.”

“You say a hand touched you. But how did it touch you? Did it shove you, or try to take hold of you?”

She shook her head vaguely.

“Not exactly. I don’t know how to explain it, but I seemed to walk into the hand, as though it were outstretched⁠—reaching for me.”

“Would you say it was a large hand or a small one? Did you, for instance, get the impression of strength?”

There was another silence. Again the girl’s respiration quickened, and she cast a frightened glance at Sibella, who stood staring out into the black, swinging branches of the trees in the side yard.

“I don’t know⁠—oh, I don’t know!” Her words were like a stifled cry of anguish. “I didn’t notice. It was all so sudden⁠—so horrible.”

“But try to think,” urged Vance’s low, insistent voice. “Surely you got some impression. Was it a man’s hand, or a woman’s?”

Sibella now came swiftly to the bed, her cheeks very pale, her eyes blazing. For a moment she glared at the stricken girl; then she turned resolutely to Vance.

“You asked me downstairs if I had any idea as to who might have done the shooting. I didn’t answer you then, but I’ll answer you now. I’ll tell you who’s guilty!” She jerked her head toward the bed, and pointed a quivering finger at the still figure lying there. “There’s the guilty one⁠—that snivelling little outsider, that sweet angelic little snake in the grass!”

So incredible, so unexpected, was this accusation that for a time no one in the room spoke. A groan burst from Ada’s lips, and she clutched at the doctor’s hand with a spasmodic movement of despair.

“Oh, Sibella⁠—how could you!” she breathed.

Von Blon had stiffened, and an angry light came into his eyes. But before he could speak Sibella was rushing on with her illogical, astounding indictment.

“Oh, she’s the one who did it! And she’s deceiving you just as she’s always tried to deceive the rest of us. She hates us⁠—she’s hated us ever since father brought her into this house. She resents us⁠—the things we have, the very blood in our veins. Heaven knows what blood’s in hers. She hates us because she isn’t our equal. She’d gladly see us all murdered. She killed Julia first, because Julia ran the house and saw to it that she did something to earn her livelihood. She despises us; and she planned to get rid of us.”

The girl on the bed looked piteously from one to the other of us. There was no resentment in her eyes; she appeared stunned and unbelieving, as if she doubted the reality of what she had heard.

“Most interestin’,” drawled Vance. It was his ironic tone, more than the words themselves, that focused all eyes on him. He had been watching Sibella during her tirade, and his gaze was still on her.

“You seriously accuse your sister of doing the shooting?” He spoke now in a pleasant, almost friendly, voice.

“I do!” she declared brazenly. “She hates us all.”

“As far as that goes,” smiled Vance, “I haven’t noticed a superabundance of love and affection in any of the Greene family.” His tone was without offense. “And do you base your accusation on anything specific, Miss Greene?”

“Isn’t it specific enough that she wants us all out of the way, that she thinks she would have everything⁠—ease, luxury, freedom⁠—if there wasn’t anyone else to inherit the Greene money?”

“Hardly specific enough to warrant a direct accusation of so heinous a character.⁠—And by the by, Miss Greene, just how would you explain the method of the crime if called as a witness in a court of law? You couldn’t altogether ignore the fact that Miss Ada herself was shot in the back, don’t y’ know?”

For the first time the sheer impossibility of the accusation seemed to strike Sibella. She became sullen; and her mouth settled into a contour of angry bafflement.

“As I told you once before, I’m not a policewoman,” she retorted. “Crime isn’t my specialty.”

“Nor logic either apparently.” A whimsical note crept into Vance’s voice. “But perhaps I misinterpret your accusation. Did you mean to imply that Miss Ada shot your sister Julia, and that someone else⁠—party or parties unknown, I believe the phrase is⁠—shot Miss Ada immediately afterward⁠—in a spirit of vengeance, perhaps? A crime à quatre mains, so to speak?”

Sibella’s confusion was obvious, but her stubborn wrath had in no wise abated.

“Well, if that was the way it happened,” she countered malevolently, “it’s a rotten shame they didn’t do the job better.”

“The blunder may at least prove unfortunate for somebody,” suggested Vance pointedly. “Still, I hardly think we can seriously entertain the double-culprit theory. Both of your sisters, d’ ye see, were shot with the same gun⁠—a .32 revolver⁠—within a few minutes of each other. I’m afraid that we’ll have to be content with one guilty person.”

Sibella’s manner suddenly became sly and calculating.

“What kind of a gun was yours, Chet?” she asked her brother.

“Oh, it was a .32, all right⁠—an old Smith & Wesson revolver.” Chester was painfully ill at ease.

“Was it, indeed? Well, that’s that.” She turned her back on us and went again to the window.

The tension in the room slackened, and Von Blon leaned solicitously over the wounded girl and rearranged the pillows.

“Everyone’s upset, Ada,” he said soothingly. “You mustn’t worry about what’s happened. Sibella’ll be sorry tomorrow and make amends. This affair has got on everybody’s nerves.”

The girl gave him a grateful glance, and seemed to relax under his ministrations.

After a moment he straightened up and looked at Markham.

“I hope you gentlemen are through⁠—for today, at least.”

Both Vance and Markham had risen, and Heath and I had followed suit; but at that moment Sibella strode toward us again.

“Wait!” she commanded imperiously. “I’ve just thought of something. Chet’s revolver! I know where it went.⁠—She took it.” Again she pointed accusingly at Ada. “I saw her in Chet’s room the other day, and I wondered then why she was snooping about there.” She gave Vance a triumphant leer. “That’s specific, isn’t it?”

“What day was this, Miss Greene?” As before, his calmness seemed to counteract the effect of her venom.

“What day? I don’t remember exactly. Last week some time.”

“The day you were looking for your emerald pin, perhaps?”

Sibella hesitated; then said angrily: “I don’t recall. Why should I remember the exact time? All I know is that, as I was passing down the hall, I glanced into Chet’s room⁠—the door was half open⁠—and I saw her in there⁠ ⁠… by the desk.”

“And was it so unusual to see Miss Ada in your brother’s room?” Vance spoke without any particular interest.

“She never goes into any of our rooms,” declared Sibella. “Except Rex’s, sometimes. Julia told her long ago to keep out of them.”

Ada gave her sister a look of infinite entreaty.

“Oh, Sibella,” she moaned; “what have I ever done to make you dislike me so?”

“What have you done!” The other’s voice was harsh and strident, and a look almost demoniacal smouldered in her levelled eyes. “Everything! Nothing! Oh, you’re clever⁠—with your quiet, sneaky ways, and your patient, hangdog look, and your goody-goody manner. But you don’t pull the wool over my eyes. You’ve been hating all of us ever since you came here. And you’ve been waiting for the chance to kill us, planning and scheming⁠—you vile little⁠—”

“Sibella!” It was Von Blon’s voice that, like the lash of a whip, cut in on this unreasoned tirade. “That will be enough!” He moved forward, and glanced menacingly into the girl’s eyes. I was almost as astonished at his attitude as I had been at her wild words. There was a curious intimacy in his manner⁠—an implication of familiarity which struck me as unusual even for a family physician of his long and friendly standing. Vance noticed it too, for his eyebrows went up slightly and he watched the scene with intense interest.

“You’ve become hysterical,” Von Blon said, without lowering his minatory gaze. “You don’t realize what you’ve been saying.”

I felt he would have expressed himself far more forcibly if strangers had not been present. But his words had their effect. Sibella dropped her eyes, and a sudden change came over her. She covered her face with her hands, and her whole body shook with sobs.

“I’m⁠—sorry. I was mad⁠—and silly⁠—to say such things.”

“You’d better take Sibella to her room, Chester.” Von Blon had resumed his professional tone. “This business has been too much for her.”

The girl turned without another word and went out, followed by Chester.

“These modern women⁠—all nerves,” Von Blon commented laconically. Then he placed his hand on Ada’s forehead. “Now, young lady, I’m going to give you something to make you sleep after all this excitement.”

He had scarcely opened his medicine-case to prepare the draught when a shrill, complaining voice drifted clearly to us from the next room; and for the first time I noticed that the door of the little dressing-room which communicated with Mrs. Greene’s quarters was slightly ajar.

“What’s all the trouble now? Hasn’t there been enough disturbance already without these noisy scenes in my very ear? But it doesn’t matter, of course, how much I suffer.⁠ ⁠… Nurse! Shut those doors into Ada’s room. You had no business to leave them open when you knew I was trying to get a little rest. You did it on purpose to annoy me.⁠ ⁠… And nurse! Tell the doctor I must see him before he goes. I have those stabbing pains in my spine again. But who thinks about me, lying here paralyzed⁠—?”

The doors were closed softly, and the fretful voice was cut off from us.

“She could have had the doors closed a long time ago if she’d really wanted them closed,” said Ada wearily, a look of distress on her drawn white face. “Why, Doctor Von, does she always pretend that everyone deliberately makes her suffer?”

Von Blon sighed. “I’ve told you, Ada, that you mustn’t take your mother’s tantrums too seriously. Her irritability and complaining are part of her disease.”

We bade the girl goodbye, and the doctor walked with us into the hall.

“I’m afraid you didn’t learn much,” he remarked, almost apologetically. “It’s most unfortunate Ada didn’t get a look at her assailant.” He addressed himself to Heath. “Did you, by the way, look in the dining-room wall-safe to make sure nothing was missing? You know, there’s one there behind the big niello over the mantel.”

“One of the first places we inspected.” The Sergeant’s voice was a bit disdainful. “And that reminds me, doc: I want to send a man up in the morning to look for fingerprints in Miss Ada’s room.”

Von Blon agreed amiably, and held out his hand to Markham.

“And if there’s any way I can be of service to you or the police,” he added pleasantly, “please call on me. I’ll be only too glad to help. I don’t see just what I can do, but one never knows.”

Markham thanked him, and we descended to the lower hall. Sproot was waiting to help us with our coats, and a moment later we were in the District Attorney’s car ploughing our way through the snowdrifts.

VII

Vance Argues the Case

(Tuesday, November 9; 5 p.m.)

It was nearly five o’clock when we reached the Criminal Courts Building. Swacker had lit the old bronze-and-china chandelier of Markham’s private office, and an atmosphere of eerie gloom pervaded the room.

“Not a nice family, Markham old dear,” sighed Vance, lying back in one of the deep leather-upholstered chairs. “Decidedly not a nice family. A family run to seed, its old vigor vitiated. If the heredit’ry sires of the contempor’ry Greenes could rise from their sepulchres and look in upon their present progeny, my word! what a jolly good shock they’d have!⁠ ⁠… Funny thing how these old families degenerate under the environment of ease and idleness. There are the Wittelsbachs, and the Romanoffs, and the Julian-Claudian house, and the Abbassid dynasty⁠—all examples of phyletic disintegration.⁠ ⁠… And it’s the same with nations, don’t y’ know. Luxury and unrestrained indulgence are corruptin’ influences. Look at Rome under the soldier emperors, and Assyria under Sardanapalus, and Egypt under the later Ramessids, and the Vandal African empire under Gelimer. It’s very distressin’.”

“Your erudite observations might be highly absorbing to the social historian,” grumbled Markham, with an undisguised show of irritability; “but I can’t say they’re particularly edifying, or even relevant, in the present circumstances.”

“I wouldn’t be too positive on that point,” Vance returned easily. “In fact, I submit, for your earnest and profound consideration, the temperaments and internal relationships of the Greene clan, as pointers upon the dark road of the present investigation.⁠ ⁠… Really, y’ know”⁠—he assumed a humorsome tone⁠—“it’s most unfortunate that you and the Sergeant are so obsessed with the idea of social justice and that sort of thing; for society would be much better off if such families as the Greenes were exterminated. Still, it’s a fascinatin’ problem⁠—most fascinatin’.”

“I regret I can’t share your enthusiasm for it.” Markham spoke with asperity. “The crime strikes me as sordid and commonplace. And if it hadn’t been for your interference I’d have sent Chester Greene on his way this morning with some tactful platitudes. But you had to intercede, with your cryptic innuendoes and mysterious head-waggings; and I foolishly let myself be drawn into it. Well, I trust you had an enjoyable afternoon. As for myself, I have three hours’ accumulated work before me.”

His complaint was an obvious suggestion that we take ourselves off; but Vance showed no intention of going.

“Oh, I shan’t depart just yet,” he announced, with a bantering smile. “I couldn’t bring myself to leave you in your present state of grievous error. You need guidance, Markham; and I’ve quite made up my mind to pour out my flutterin’ heart to you and the Sergeant.”

Markham frowned. He understood Vance so well that he knew the other’s levity was only superficial⁠—that, indeed, it cloaked some particularly serious purpose. And the experience of a long, intimate friendship had taught him that Vance’s actions⁠—however unreasonable they might appear⁠—were never the result of an idle whim.

“Very well,” he acquiesced. “But I’d be grateful for an economy of words.”

Vance sighed mournfully.

“Your attitude is so typical of the spirit of breathless speed existing in this restless day.” He fixed an inquisitive gaze on Heath. “Tell me, Sergeant: you saw the body of Julia Greene, didn’t you?”

“Sure, I saw it.”

“Was her position in the bed a natural one?”

“How do I know how she generally laid in bed?” Heath was restive and in bad humor. “She was half sitting up, with a coupla pillows under her shoulders, and the covers pulled up.”

“Nothing unusual about her attitude?”

“Not that I could see. There hadn’t been a struggle, if that’s what you mean.”

“And her hands: were they outside or under the covers?”

Heath looked up, mildly astonished.

“They were outside. And, now that you mention it, they had a tight hold on the spread.”

“Clutching it, in fact?”

“Well, yes.”

Vance leaned forward quickly.

“And her face, Sergeant? Had she been shot in her sleep?”

“It didn’t look that way. Her eyes were wide open, staring straight ahead.”

“Her eyes were open and staring,” repeated Vance, a note of eagerness coming into his voice. “What would you say her expression indicated? Fear? Horror? Surprise?”

Heath regarded Vance shrewdly. “Well, it mighta been any one of ’em. Her mouth was open, like as if she was surprised at something.”

“And she was clutching the spread with both hands.” Vance’s look drifted into space. Then slowly he rose and walked the length of the office and back, his head down. He halted in front of the District Attorney’s desk, and leaned over, resting both hands on the back of a chair.

“Listen, Markham. There’s something terrible and unthinkable going on in that house. No haphazard unknown assassin came in by the front door last night and shot down those two women. The crime was planned⁠—thought out. Someone lay in wait⁠—someone who knew his way about, knew where the light-switches were, knew when everyone was asleep, knew when the servants had retired⁠—knew just when and how to strike the blow. Some deep, awful motive lies behind that crime. There are depths beneath depths in what happened last night⁠—obscure fetid chambers of the human soul. Black hatreds, unnatural desires, hideous impulses, obscene ambitions are at the bottom of it; and you are only playing into the murderer’s hands when you sit back and refuse to see its significance.”

His voice had a curious hushed quality, and it was difficult to believe that this was the habitually debonair and cynical Vance.

“That house is polluted, Markham. It’s crumbling in decay⁠—not material decay, perhaps, but a putrefaction far more terrible. The very heart and essence of that old house is rotting away. And all the inmates are rotting with it, disintegrating in spirit and mind and character. They’ve been polluted by the very atmosphere they’ve created. This crime, which you take so lightly, was inevitable in such a setting. I only wonder it was not more terrible, more vile. It marked one of the tertiary stages of the general dissolution of that abnormal establishment.”

He paused, and extended his hand in a hopeless gesture.

“Think of the situation. That old, lonely, spacious house, exuding the musty atmosphere of dead generations, faded inside and out, run down, dingy, filled with ghosts of another day, standing there in its ill-kept grounds, lapped by the dirty waters of the river.⁠ ⁠… And then think of those six ill-sorted, restless, unhealthy beings compelled to live there in daily contact for a quarter of a century⁠—such was old Tobias Greene’s perverted idealism. And they’ve lived there, day in and day out, in that mouldy miasma of antiquity⁠—unfit to meet the conditions of any alternative, too weak or too cowardly to strike out alone; held by an undermining security and a corrupting ease; growing to hate the very sight of one another, becoming bitter, spiteful, jealous, vicious; wearing down each other’s nerves to the raw; consumed with resentment, aflame with hate, thinking evil⁠—complaining, fighting, snarling.⁠ ⁠… Then, at last, the breaking-point⁠—the logical, ineluctable figuration of all this self-feeding, ingrowing hatred.”

“All of that is easy to understand,” agreed Markham. “But, after all, your conclusion is wholly theoretic, not to say literary.⁠—By what tangible links do you connect last night’s shooting with the admittedly abnormal situation at the Greene mansion?”

“There are no tangible links⁠—that’s the horror of it. But the joinders are there, however shadowy. I began to sense them the minute I entered the house; and all this afternoon I was reaching for them blindly. But they eluded me at every turn. It was like a house of mazes and false passages and trapdoors and reeking oubliettes: nothing normal, nothing sane⁠—a house in a nightmare, peopled by strange, abnormal creatures, each reflecting the subtle, monstrous horror that broke forth last night and went prowling about the old hallways. Didn’t you sense it? Didn’t you see the vague shape of this abomination continually flash out and disappear as we talked to these people and watched them battling against their own hideous thoughts and suspicions?”

Markham moved uneasily and straightened a pile of papers before him. Vance’s unwonted gravity had affected him.

“I understand perfectly what you mean,” he said. “But I don’t see that your impressions bring us any nearer to a new theory of the crime. The Greene mansion is unhealthy⁠—that’s granted⁠—and so, no doubt, are the people in it. But I’m afraid you’ve been oversusceptible to its atmosphere. You talk as if last night’s crime were comparable to the poisoning orgies of the Borgias, or the Marquise de Brinvilliers affair, or the murder of Drusus and Germanicus, or the suffocation of the York princes in the Tower. I’ll admit the setting is consonant with that sort of stealthy, romantic crime; but, after all, housebreakers and bandits are shooting people senselessly every week throughout the country, in very much the same way the two Greene women were shot.”

“You’re shutting your eyes to the facts, Markham,” Vance declared earnestly. “You’re overlooking several strange features of last night’s crime⁠—the horrified, astounded attitude of Julia at the moment of death; the illogical interval between the two shots; the fact that the lights were on in both rooms; Ada’s story of that hand reaching for her; the absence of any signs of a forced entry⁠—”

“What about those footprints in the snow?” interrupted Heath’s matter-of-fact voice.

“What about them, indeed?” Vance wheeled about. “They’re as incomprehensible as the rest of this hideous business. Someone walked to and from the house within a half-hour of the crime; but it was someone who knew he could get in quietly and without disturbing anyone.”

“There’s nothing mysterious about that,” asserted the practical Sergeant. “There are four servants in the house, and any one of ’em could’ve been in on the job.”

Vance smiled ironically.

“And this accomplice in the house, who so generously opened the front door at a specified hour, failed to inform the intruder where the loot was, and omitted to acquaint him with the arrangement of the house; with the result that, once he was inside, he went astray, overlooked the dining-room, wandered upstairs, went groping about the hall, got lost in the various bedrooms, had a seizure of panic, shot two women, turned on the lights by switches hidden behind the furniture, made his way downstairs without a sound when Sproot was within a few feet of him, and walked out the front door to freedom!⁠ ⁠… A strange burglar, Sergeant. And an even stranger inside accomplice.⁠—No; your explanation won’t do⁠—decidedly it won’t do.” He turned back to Markham. “And the only way you’ll ever find the true explanation for those shootings is by understanding the unnatural situation that exists in the house itself.”

“But we know the situation, Vance,” Markham argued patiently. “I’ll admit it’s an unusual one. But it’s not necessarily criminal. Antagonistic human elements are often thrown together; and a mutual hate is generated as a result. But mere hate is rarely a motive for murder; and it certainly does not constitute evidence of criminal activity.”

“Perhaps not. But hatred and enforced propinquity may breed all manner of abnormalities⁠—outrageous passions, abominable evils, devilish intrigues. And in the present case there are any number of curious and sinister facts that need explaining⁠—”

“Ah! Now you’re becoming more tangible. Just what are these facts that call for explanation?”

Vance lit a cigarette and sat down on the edge of the table.

“For instance, why did Chester Greene come here in the first place and solicit your help? Because of the disappearance of the gun? Maybe; but I doubt if it is the whole explanation. And what about the gun itself? Did it disappear? Or did Chester secrete it? Deuced queer about that gun. And Sibella said she saw it last week. But did she see it? We’ll know a lot more about the case when we can trace the peregrinations of that revolver.⁠—And why did Chester hear the first shot so readily, when Rex, in the next room to Ada’s, says he failed to hear the second shot?⁠—And that long interval between the two reports will need some explaining.⁠—And there’s Sproot⁠—the multilingual butler who happened to be reading Martial⁠—Martial, by all that’s holy!⁠—when the grim business took place, and came directly to the scene without meeting or hearing anyone.⁠—And just what significance attaches to the pious Hemming’s oracular pronouncements about the Lord of hosts smiting the Greenes as he did the children of Babylon? She has some obscure religious notion in her head⁠—which, after all, may not be so obscure.⁠—And the German cook: there’s a woman with, as we euphemistically say, a past. Despite her phlegmatic appearance, she’s not of the servant class; yet she’s been feeding the Greenes dutifully for over a dozen years. You recall her explanation of how she came to the Greenes? Her husband was a friend of old Tobias’s; and Tobias gave orders she was to remain as cook as long as she desired. She needs explaining, Markham⁠—and a dashed lot of it.⁠—And Rex, with his projecting parietals and his wambly body and his periodic fits. Why did he get so excited when we questioned him? He certainly didn’t act like an innocent and uncomprehending spectator of an attempted burglary.⁠—And again I mention the lights. Who turned them on, and why? And in both rooms! In Julia’s room before the shot was fired, for she evidently saw the assassin and understood his purpose; and in Ada’s room, after the shooting! Those are facts which fairly shriek for explanation; for without an explanation they’re mad, irrational, utterly incredible.⁠—And why wasn’t Von Blon at home in the middle of the night when Sproot phoned him? And how did it happen he nevertheless arrived so promptly? Coincidence?⁠ ⁠… And, by the by, Sergeant: was that double set of footprints like the single spoor of the doctor’s?”

“There wasn’t any way of telling. The snow was too flaky.”

“It probably doesn’t matter particularly, anyhow.” Vance again faced Markham and resumed his recapitulation. “And then there are the points of difference in these two attacks. Julia was shot from the front when she was in bed, whereas Ada was shot in the back after she had risen from bed, although the murderer had ample time to go to her and take aim while she was still lying down. Why did he wait silently until the girl got up and approached him? How did he dare wait at all after he had killed Julia and alarmed the house? Does that strike you as panic? Or as cool-headedness?⁠—And how did Julia’s door come to be unlocked at that particular time? That’s something I especially want clarified.⁠—And perhaps you noticed, Markham, that Chester himself went to summon Sibella to the interview in the drawing-room, and that he remained with her a considerable time. Why, now, did he send Sproot for Rex, and fetch Sibella personally? And why the delay? I yearn for an explanation of what passed between them before they eventually appeared.⁠—And why was Sibella so definite that there wasn’t a burglar, and yet so evasive when we asked her to suggest a counter-theory? What underlay her satirical frankness when she held up each member of the Greene household, including herself, as a possible suspect?⁠—And then there are the details of Ada’s story. Some of them are amazing, incomprehensible, almost fabulous. There was no apparent sound in the room; yet she was conscious of a menacing presence. And that outstretched hand and the shuffling footsteps⁠—we simply must have an explanation of those things. And her hesitancy about saying whether she thought it was a man or a woman; and Sibella’s evident belief that the girl thought it was she. That wants explaining, Markham.⁠—And Sibella’s hysterical accusation against Ada. What lay behind that?⁠—And don’t forget that curious scene between Sibella and Von Blon when he reproached her for her outburst. That was devilish odd. There’s some intimacy there⁠—ça saute aux yeux. You noticed how she obeyed him. And you doubtless observed, too, that Ada is rather fond of the doctor: snuggled up to him figuratively during the performance, opened her eyes on him wistfully, looked to him for protection. Oh, our little Ada has flutterings in his direction. And yet he adopts the hovering professional-bedside manner of a high-priced medico toward her, whereas he treats Sibella very much as Chester might if he had the courage.”

Vance inhaled deeply on his cigarette.

“Yes, Markham, there are many things that must be satisfactorily accounted for before I can believe in your hypothetical burglar.”

Markham sat for a while, engrossed in his thoughts.

“I’ve listened to your Homeric catalogue, Vance,” he said at length, “but I can’t say that it inflames me. You’ve suggested a number of interesting possibilities, and raised several points that might bear looking into. However, the only potential weight of your argument lies in an accumulation of items which, taken separately, are not particularly impressive. A plausible answer might be found for each one of them. The trouble is, the integers of your summary are without a connecting thread, and consequently must be regarded as separate units.”

“That legal mind of yours!” Vance rose and paced up and down. “An accumulation of queer and unexplained facts centring about a crime is no more impressive than each separate item in the total! Well, well! I give up. I renounce all reason. I fold up my tent like the Arabs and as silently steal away.” He took up his coat. “I leave you to your fantastic, delirious burglar, who walks without keys into a house and steals nothing, who knows where electric switches are hidden but can’t find a staircase, who shoots women and then turns up the lights. When you find him, my dear Lycurgus, you should, in all humaneness, send him to the psychopathic ward. He’s quite unaccountable, I assure you.”

Markham, despite his opposition, had not been unimpressed. Vance unquestionably had undermined to some extent his belief in a housebreaker. But I could readily understand why he was reluctant to abandon this theory until it had been thoroughly tested. His next words, in fact, explained his attitude.

“I’m not denying the remote possibility that this affair may go deeper than appears. But there’s too little to go on at present to warrant an investigation along other than routine lines. We can’t very well stir up an ungodly scandal by raking the members of a prominent family over the coals, when there’s not a scintilla of evidence against any one of them. It’s too unjust and dangerous a proceeding. We must at least wait until the police have finished their investigation. Then, if nothing develops, we can again take inventory and decide how to proceed.⁠ ⁠… How long, Sergeant, do you figure on being busy?”

Heath took his cigar from his mouth and regarded it thoughtfully.

“That’s hard to say, sir. Dubois’ll finish up his fingerprinting tomorrow, and we’re checking up on the regulars as fast as we can. Also, I’ve got two men digging up the records of the Greene servants. It may take a lot of time, and it may go quick. Depends on the breaks we get.”

Vance sighed.

“And it was such a neat, fascinatin’ crime! I’ve rather been looking forward to it, don’t y’ know, and now you talk of prying into the early amours of serving-maids and that sort of thing. It’s most disheartenin’.”

He buttoned his ulster about him and walked to the door.

“Ah, well, there’s nothing for me to do while you Jasons are launched on your quaint quest. I think I’ll retire and resume my translation of Delacroix’s Journal.”

But Vance was not destined then to finish this task he had had in mind so long. Three days later the front pages of the country’s press carried glaring headlines telling of a second grim and unaccountable tragedy at the old Greene mansion, which altered the entire character of the case and immediately lifted it into the realm of the foremost causes célèbres of modern times. After this second blow had fallen all ideas of a casual burglar were banished. There could no longer be any doubt that a hidden death-dealing horror stalked through the dim corridors of that fated house.

VIII

The Second Tragedy

(Friday, November 12; 8 a.m.)

The day after we had taken leave of Markham at his office the rigor of the weather suddenly relaxed. The sun came out, and the thermometer rose nearly thirty degrees. Toward night of the second day, however, a fine, damp snow began to fall, spreading a thin white blanket over the city; but around eleven the skies were again clear.

I mention these facts because they had a curious bearing on the second crime at the Greene mansion. Footprints again appeared on the front walk; and, as a result of the clinging softness of the snow, the police also found tracks in the lower hall and on the marble stairs.

Vance had spent Wednesday and Thursday in his library reading desultorily and checking Vollard’s catalogue of Cézanne’s watercolors. The three-volume edition of the “Journal de Eugène Delacroix”10 lay on his writing-table; but I noticed that he did not so much as open it. He was restless and distracted, and his long silences at dinner (which we ate together in the living-room before the great log fire) told me only too clearly that something was perturbing him. Moreover, he had sent notes cancelling several social engagements, and had given orders to Currie, his valet and domestic factotum, that he was “out” to callers.

As he sat sipping his cognac at the end of dinner on Thursday night, his eyes idly tracing the forms in the Renoir Beigneuse above the mantel, he gave voice to his thoughts.

“ ’Pon my word, Van, I can’t shake the atmosphere of that damnable house. Markham is probably right in refusing to take the matter seriously⁠—one can’t very well chivy a bereaved family simply because I’m oversensitive. And yet”⁠—he shook himself slightly⁠—“it’s most annoyin’. Maybe I’m becoming weak and emotional. What if I should suddenly go in for Whistlers and Böcklins! Could you endure it? Miserere nostri!⁠ ⁠… No, it won’t come to that. But⁠—dash it all!⁠—that Greene murder is haunting my slumbers like a lamia. And the business isn’t over yet. There’s a horrible incompleteness about what’s already occurred.⁠ ⁠…”

It was scarcely eight o’clock on the following morning when Markham brought us the news of the second Greene tragedy. I had risen early, and was having my coffee in the library when Markham came in, brushing past the astonished Currie with only a curt nod.

“Get Vance out right away⁠—will you, Van Dine?” he began, without even a word of greeting. “Something serious has happened.”

I hastened to fetch Vance, who grumblingly slipped into a camel’s-hair dressing-gown and came leisurely into the library.

“My dear Markham!” he reproached the District Attorney. “Why pay your social calls in the middle of the night?”

“This isn’t a social call,” Markham told him tartly. “Chester Greene has been murdered.”

“Ah!” Vance rang for Currie, and lighted a cigarette. “Coffee for two and clothes for one,” he ordered, when the man appeared. Then he sank into a chair before the fire and gave Markham a waggish look. “That same unique burglar, I suppose. A perseverin’ lad. Did the family plate disappear this time?”

Markham gave a mirthless laugh.

“No, the plate’s intact; and I think we can now eliminate the burglar theory. I’m afraid your premonitions were correct⁠—damn your uncanny faculty!”

“Pour out your heart-breakin’ story.” Vance, for all his levity, was extraordinarily interested. His moodiness of the past two days had given way to an almost eager alertness.

“It was Sproot who phoned the news to Headquarters a little before midnight. The operator in the Homicide Bureau caught Heath at home, and the Sergeant was at the Greene house inside of half an hour. He’s there now⁠—phoned me at seven this morning. I told him I’d hurry out, so I didn’t get many details over the wire. All I know is that Chester Greene was fatally shot last night at almost the exact hour that the former shootings occurred⁠—a little after half past eleven.”

“Was he in his own room at the time?” Vance was pouring the coffee which Currie had brought in.

“I believe Heath did mention he was found in his bedroom.”

“Shot from the front?”

“Yes, through the heart, at very close range.”

“Very interestin’. A duplication of Julia’s death, as it were.” Vance became reflective. “So the old house has claimed another victim. But why Chester?⁠ ⁠… Who found him, incidentally?”

“Sibella, I think Heath said. Her room, you remember, is next to Chester’s, and the shot probably roused her. But we’d better be going.”

“Am I invited?”

“I wish you would come.” Markham made no effort to hide his desire to have the other accompany him.

“Oh, I had every intention of doing so, don’t y’ know.” And Vance left the room abruptly to get dressed.

It took the District Attorney’s car but a few minutes to reach the Greene mansion from Vance’s house in East 38th Street. A patrolman stood guard outside the great iron gates, and a plain-clothes man lounged on the front steps beneath the arched doorway.

Heath was in the drawing-room talking earnestly to Inspector Moran, who had just arrived; and two men from the Homicide Bureau stood by the window awaiting orders. The house was peculiarly silent: no member of the family was to be seen.

The Sergeant came forward at once. His usual ruddiness of complexion was gone and his eyes were troubled. He shook hands with Markham, and then gave Vance a look of friendly welcome.

“You had the right dope, Mr. Vance. Somebody’s ripping things wide open here; and it isn’t swag they’re after.”

Inspector Moran joined us, and again the handshaking ceremony took place.

“This case is going to stir things up considerably,” he said. “And we’re in for an unholy scandal if we don’t clean it up quickly.”

The worried look in Markham’s eyes deepened.

“The sooner we get to work, then, the better. Are you going to lend a hand, Inspector?”

“There’s no need, I think,” Moran answered quietly. “I’ll leave the police end entirely with Sergeant Heath; and now that you⁠—and Mr. Vance⁠—are here, I’d be of no use.” He gave Vance a pleasant smile, and made his adieus. “Keep in touch with me, Sergeant, and use all the men you want.”11

When he had gone Heath gave us the details of the crime.

At about half past eleven, after the family and the servants had retired, the shot was fired. Sibella was reading in bed at the time and heard it distinctly. She rose immediately and, after listening for several moments, stole up the servants’ stairs⁠—the entrance to which was but a few feet from her door. She wakened the butler, and the two of them then went to Chester’s room. The door was unlocked, and the lights in the room were burning. Chester Greene was sitting, slightly huddled, in a chair near the desk. Sproot went to him, but saw that he was dead, and immediately left the room, locking the door. He then telephoned to the police and to Doctor Von Blon.

“I got here before Von Blon did,” Heath explained. “The doctor was out again when the butler phoned, and didn’t get the message till nearly one o’clock. I was damn glad of it, because it gave me a chance to check up on the footprints outside. The minute I turned in at the gate I could see that somebody had come and gone, the same as last time; and I whistled for the man on the beat to guard the entrance until Snitkin arrived. Then I came on in, keeping along the edge of the walk; and the first thing I noticed when the butler opened the door was a little puddle of water on the rug in the hall. Somebody had recently tracked the soft snow in. I found a coupla other puddles in the hall, and there were some wet imprints on the steps leading upstairs. Five minutes later Snitkin gave me the signal from the street, and I put him to work on the footprints outside. The tracks were plain, and Snitkin was able to get some pretty accurate measurements.”

After Snitkin had been put to work on the footprints, the Sergeant, it seemed, went upstairs to Chester’s room and made an examination. But he found nothing unusual, aside from the murdered man in the chair, and after half an hour descended again to the dining-room, where Sibella and Sproot were waiting. He had just begun his questioning of them when Doctor Von Blon arrived.

“I took him upstairs,” said Heath, “and he looked at the body. He seemed to want to stick around, but I told him he’d be in the way. So he talked to Miss Greene out in the hall for five or ten minutes, and then left.”

Shortly after Doctor Von Blon’s departure two other men from the Homicide Bureau arrived, and the next two hours were spent in interrogating the members of the household. But nobody, except Sibella, admitted even hearing the shot. Mrs. Greene was not questioned. When Miss Craven, the nurse, who slept on the third floor, was sent in to her, she reported that the old lady was sleeping soundly; and the Sergeant decided not to disturb her. Nor was Ada awakened: according to the nurse, the girl had been asleep since nine o’clock.

Rex Greene, however, when interviewed, contributed one vague and, as it seemed, contradictory bit of evidence. He had been lying awake, he said, at the time the snowfall ceased, which was a little after eleven. Then, about ten minutes later, he had imagined he heard a faint shuffling noise in the hall and the sound of a door closing softly. He had thought nothing of it, and only recalled it when pressed by Heath. A quarter of an hour afterward he had looked at his watch. It was then twenty-five minutes past eleven; and very soon after that he had fallen asleep.

“The only queer thing about his story,” commented Heath, “is the time. If he’s telling the tale straight, he heard this noise and the door shutting twenty minutes or so before the shot was fired. And nobody in the house was up at that time. I tried to shake him on the question of the exact hour, but he stuck to it like a leech. I compared his watch with mine, and it was OK. Anyhow, there’s nothing much to the story. The wind mighta blown a door shut, or he mighta heard a noise out in the street and thought it was in the hall.”

“Nevertheless, Sergeant,” put in Vance, “if I were you I’d file Rex’s story away for future meditation. Somehow it appeals to me.”

Heath looked up sharply and was about to ask a question; but he changed his mind and said merely: “It’s filed.” Then he finished his report to Markham.

After interrogating the occupants of the house he had gone back to the Bureau, leaving his men on guard, and set the machinery of his office in operation. He had returned to the Greene mansion early that morning, and was now waiting for the Medical Examiner, the fingerprint experts, and the official photographer. He had given orders for the servants to remain in their quarters, and had instructed Sproot to serve breakfast to all the members of the family in their own rooms.

“This thing’s going to take work, sir,” he concluded. “And it’s going to be touchy going, too.”

Markham nodded gravely, and glanced toward Vance, whose eyes were resting moodily on an old oil-painting of Tobias Greene.

“Does this new development help coordinate any of your former impressions?” he asked.

“It at least substantiates the feeling I had that this old house reeks with a deadly poison,” Vance replied. “This thing is like a witches’ sabbath.” He gave Markham a humorous smile. “I’m beginning to think your task is going to take on the nature of exorcising devils.”

Markham grunted.

“I’ll leave the magic potions to you.⁠ ⁠… Sergeant, suppose we take a look at the body before the Medical Examiner gets here.”

Heath led the way without a word. When we reached the head of the stairs he took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door of Chester’s room. The electric lights were still burning⁠—sickly yellow disks in the gray daylight which filtered in from the windows above the river.

The room, long and narrow, contained an anachronistic assortment of furniture. It was a typical man’s apartment, with an air of comfortable untidiness. Newspapers and sports magazines cluttered the table and desk; ashtrays were everywhere; an open cellaret stood in one corner; and a collection of golf-clubs lay on the tapestried Chesterfield. The bed, I noticed, had not been slept in.

In the centre of the room, beneath an old-fashioned cut-glass chandelier, was a Chippendale “knee-hole” desk, beside which stood a sleepy-hollow chair. It was in this chair that the body of Chester Greene, clad in dressing-gown and slippers, reclined. He was slumped a little forward, the head turned slightly back and resting against the tufted upholstery. The light from the chandelier cast a spectral illumination on his face; and the sight of it laid a spell of horror on me. The eyes, normally prominent, now seemed to be protruding from their sockets in a stare of unutterable amazement; and the sagging chin and flabby parted lips intensified this look of terrified wonder.

Vance was studying the dead man’s features intently.

“Would you say, Sergeant,” he asked, without looking up, “that Chester and Julia saw the same thing as they passed from this world?”

Heath coughed uneasily.

A plan of a bedroom. In the center of the room is a knee-hole desk and a chair labelled “arm chair in which Chester was shot.” The bed is against one wall, and on the opposite wall are doors leading to a closet and a bathroom.
Chester’s bedroom.

“Well,” he admitted, “something surprised them, and that’s a fact.”

“Surprised them! Sergeant, you should thank your Maker that you are not cursed with an imagination. The whole truth of this fiendish business lies in those bulbous eyes and that gaping mouth. Unlike Ada, both Julia and Chester saw the thing that menaced them; and it left them stunned and aghast.”

“Well, we can’t get any information outa them.” Heath’s practicality as usual was uppermost.

“Not oral information, certainly. But, as Hamlet put it, murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ.”

“Come, come, Vance. Be tangible.” Markham spoke with acerbity. “What’s in your mind?”

“ ’Pon my word, I don’t know. It’s too vague.” He leaned over and picked up a small book from the floor just beneath where the dead man’s hand hung over the arm of the chair. “Chester apparently was immersed in literature at the time of his taking off.” He opened the book casually. “Hydrotherapy and Constipation. Yes, Chester was just the kind to worry about his colon. Someone probably told him that intestinal stasis interfered with the proper stance. He’s no doubt clearing the asphodel from the Elysian fields at the present moment preparat’ry to laying out a golf-course.”

He became suddenly serious.

“You see what this book means, Markham? Chester was sitting here reading when the murderer came in. Yet he did not so much as rise or call out. Furthermore, he let the intruder stand directly in front of him. He did not even lay down his book, but sat back in his chair relaxed. Why? Because the murderer was someone Chester knew⁠—and trusted! And when the gun was suddenly brought forth and pointed at his heart, he was too astounded to move. And in that second of bewilderment and unbelief the trigger was pulled and the bullet entered his heart.”

Markham nodded slowly, in deep perplexity, and Heath studied the attitude of the dead man more closely.

“That’s a good theory,” the Sergeant conceded finally. “Yes, he musta let the bird get right on top of him without suspecting anything. Same like Julia did.”

“Exactly, Sergeant. The two murders constitute a most suggestive parallel.”

“Still and all, there’s one point you’re overlooking.” Heath’s brow was roughened in a troubled frown. “Chester’s door mighta been unlocked last night, seeing as he hadn’t gone to bed, and so this person coulda walked in without any trouble. But Julia, now, was already undressed and in bed; and she always locked her door at night. Now, how would you say this person with the gun got into Julia’s room, Mr. Vance?”

“There’s no difficulty about that. Let us say, as a tentative hypothesis, that Julia had disrobed, switched off the lights, and climbed into her queenly bed. Then came a tap on the door⁠—perhaps a tap she recognized. She rose, put on the lights, opened the door, and again repaired to her bed for warmth while she held parley with her visitor. Maybe⁠—who knows?⁠—the visitor sat on the edge of the bed during the call. Then suddenly the visitor produced the revolver and fired, and made a hurried exit, forgetting to switch the lights off. Such a theory⁠—though I don’t insist on the details⁠—would square neatly with my idea regarding Chester’s caller.”

“It may’ve been like you say,” admitted Heath dubiously. “But why all the hocus-pocus when it came to shooting Ada? That job was done in the dark.”

“The rationalistic philosophers tell us, Sergeant”⁠—Vance became puckishly pedantic⁠—“that there’s a reason for everything, but that the finite mind is woefully restricted. The altered technic of our elusive culprit when dealing with Ada is one of the things that is obscure. But you’ve touched a vital point. If we could discover the reason for this reversal of our inconnu’s homicidal tactics, I believe we’d be a lot forrader in our investigation.”

Heath made no reply. He stood in the centre of the room running his eye over the various objects and pieces of furniture. Presently he stepped to the clothes-closet, pulled open the door, and turned on a pendant electric light just inside. As he stood gloomily peering at the closet’s contents there was a sound of heavy footsteps in the hall and Snitkin appeared in the open door. Heath turned and, without giving his assistant time to speak, asked gruffly:

“How did you make out with those footprints?”

“Got all the dope here.” Snitkin crossed to the Sergeant, and held out a long Manila envelope. “There wasn’t no trouble in checking the measurements and cutting the patterns. But they’re not going to be a hell of a lot of good, I’m thinking. There’s ten million guys more or less in this country who coulda made ’em.”

Heath had opened the envelope and drawn forth a thin white cardboard pattern which looked like an inner sole of a shoe.

“It wasn’t no pygmy who made this print,” he remarked.

“That’s the catch in it,” explained Snitkin. “The size don’t mean nothing much, for it ain’t a shoe-track. Those footprints were made by galoshes, and there’s no telling how much bigger they were than the guy’s foot. They mighta been worn over a shoe anywheres from a size eight to a size ten, and with a width anywheres from an A to a D.”

Heath nodded with obvious disappointment.

“You’re sure about ’em being galoshes?” He was reluctant to let what promised to be a valuable clue slip away.

“You can’t get around it. The rubber tread was distinct in several places, and the shallow, scooped heel stood out plain as day. Anyhow, I got Jerym12 to check up on my findings.”

Snitkin’s gaze wandered idly to the floor of the clothes-closet.

“Those are the kind of things that made the tracks.” He pointed to a pair of high arctics which had been thrown carelessly under a boot-shelf. Then he leaned over and picked up one of them. As his eye rested on it he gave a grunt. “This looks like the size, too.” He took the pattern from the Sergeant’s hand and laid it on the sole of the overshoe. It fitted as perfectly as if the two had been cut simultaneously.

Heath was startled out of his depression.

“Now, what in hell does that mean!”

Markham had drawn near.

“It might indicate, of course, that Chester went out somewhere last night late.”

“But that don’t make sense, sir,” objected Heath. “If he’d wanted anything at that hour of the night he’d have sent the butler. And, anyway, the shops in this neighborhood were all closed by that time, for the tracks weren’t made till after it had stopped snowing at eleven.”

“And,” supplemented Snitkin, “you can’t tell by the tracks whether the guy that made ’em left the house and came back, or came to the house and went away, for there wasn’t a single print on top of the other.”

Vance was standing at the window looking out.

“That, now, is a most interestin’ point, Sergeant,” he commented. “I’d file it away along with Rex’s story for prayerful consideration.” He sauntered back to the desk and looked at the dead man thoughtfully. “No, Sergeant,” he continued; “I can’t picture Chester donning gumshoes and sneaking out into the night on a mysterious errand. I’m afraid we’ll have to find another explanation for those footprints.”

“It’s damn funny, just the same, that they should be the exact size of these galoshes.”

“If,” submitted Markham, “the footprints were not Chester’s, then we’re driven to the assumption that the murderer made them.”

Vance slowly took out his cigarette-case.

“Yes,” he agreed, “I think we may safely assume that.”

IX

The Three Bullets

(Friday, November 12; 9 a.m.)

At this moment Doctor Doremus, the Medical Examiner, a brisk, nervous man with a jaunty air, was ushered in by one of the detectives I had seen in the drawing-room. He blinked at the company, threw his hat and coat on a chair, and shook hands with everyone.

“What are your friends trying to do, Sergeant?” he asked, eying the inert body in the chair. “Wipe out the whole family?” Without waiting for an answer to his grim pleasantry he went to the windows and threw up the shades with a clatter. “You gentlemen all through viewing the remains? If so, I’ll get to work.”

“Go to it,” said Heath. Chester Greene’s body was lifted to the bed and straightened out. “And how about the bullet, doc? Any chance of getting it before the autopsy?”

“How’m I going to get it without a probe and forceps? I ask you!” Doctor Doremus drew back the matted dressing-gown and inspected the wound. “But I’ll see what I can do.” Then he straightened up and cocked his eye facetiously at the Sergeant.

“Well, I’m waiting for your usual query about the time of death.”

“We know it.”

“Hah! Wish you always did. This fixing the exact time by looking over a body is all poppycock anyway. The best we fellows can do is to approximate it. Rigor mortis works differently in different people. Don’t ever take me too seriously, Sergeant, when I set an exact hour for you.⁠—However, let’s see.⁠ ⁠…”

He ran his hands over the body on the bed, unflexed the fingers, moved the head, and put his eye close to the coagulated blood about the wound. Then he teetered on his toes, and squinted at the ceiling.

“How about ten hours? Say, between eleven-thirty and midnight. How’s that?”

Heath laughed good-naturedly.

“You hit it, doc⁠—right on the head.”

“Well, well! Always was a good guesser.” Doctor Doremus seemed wholly indifferent.

Vance had followed Markham into the hall.

“An honest fellow, that archiater of yours. And to think he’s a public servant of our beneficent government!”

“There are many honest men in public office,” Markham reproved him.

“I know,” sighed Vance. “Our democracy is still young. Give it time.”

Heath joined us, and at the same moment the nurse appeared at Mrs. Greene’s door. A querulous dictatorial voice issued from the depths of the room behind her.

“… And you tell whoever’s in charge that I want to see him⁠—right away, do you understand! It’s an outrage, all this commotion and excitement, with me lying here in pain trying to get a little rest. Nobody shows me any consideration.”

Heath made a grimace and looked toward the stairs; but Vance took Markham’s arm.

“Come, let’s cheer up the old lady.”

As we entered the room, Mrs. Greene, propped up as usual in bed with a prismatic assortment of pillows, drew her shawl primly about her.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” she greeted us, her expression moderating. “I thought it was those abominable policemen making free with my house again.⁠ ⁠… What’s the meaning of all this disturbance, Mr. Markham? Nurse tells me that Chester has been shot. Dear, dear! If people must do such things, why do they have to come to my house and annoy a poor helpless old woman like me? There are plenty of other places they could do their shooting in.” She appeared deeply resentful at the fact that the murderer should have been so inconsiderate as to choose the Greene mansion for his depredations. “But I’ve come to expect this sort of thing. Nobody thinks of my feelings. And if my own children see fit to do everything they can to annoy me, why should I expect total strangers to show me any consideration?”

“When one is bent on murder, Mrs. Greene,” rejoined Markham, stung by her callousness, “one doesn’t stop to think of the mere inconvenience his crime may cause others.”

“I suppose not,” she murmured self-pityingly. “But it’s all the fault of my children. If they were what children ought to be, people wouldn’t be breaking in here trying to murder them.”

“And unfortunately succeeding,” added Markham coldly.

“Well, that can’t be helped.” She suddenly became bitter. “It’s their punishment for the way they’ve treated their poor old mother, lying here for ten long years, hopelessly paralyzed. And do you think they try to make it easy for me? No! Here I must stay, day after day, suffering agonies with my spine; and they never give me a thought.” A sly look came into her fierce old eyes. “But they think about me sometimes. Oh, yes! They think how nice it would be if I were out of the way. Then they’d get all my money.⁠ ⁠…”

“I understand, madam,” Markham put in abruptly, “that you were asleep last night at the time your son met his death.”

“Was I? Well, maybe I was. It’s a wonder, though, that someone didn’t leave my door open just so I’d be disturbed.”

“And you know no one who would have any reason to kill your son?”

“How should I know? Nobody tells me anything. I’m a poor neglected, lonely old cripple.⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, we won’t bother you any further, Mrs. Greene.” Markham’s tone held something both of sympathy and consternation.

As we descended the stairs the nurse reopened the door we had just closed after us, and left it ajar, no doubt in response to an order from her patient.

“Not at all a nice old lady,” chuckled Vance, as we entered the drawing-room. “For a moment, Markham, I thought you were going to box her ears.”

“I admit I felt like it. And yet I couldn’t help pitying her. However, such utter self-concentration as hers saves one a lot of mental anguish. She seems to regard this whole damnable business as a plot to upset her.”

Sproot appeared obsequiously at the door.

“May I bring you gentlemen some coffee?” No emotion of any kind showed on his graven wrinkled face. The events of the past few days seemed not to have affected him in any degree.

“No, we don’t want coffee, Sproot,” Markham told him brusquely. “But please be good enough to ask Miss Sibella if she will come here.”

“Very good, sir.”

The old man shuffled away, and a few minutes later Sibella strolled in, smoking a cigarette, one hand in the pocket of her vivid-green sweater-jacket. Despite her air of nonchalance her face was pale, its whiteness contrasting strongly with the deep crimson rouge on her lips. Her eyes, too, were slightly haggard; and when she spoke her voice sounded forced, as if she were playing a role against which her spirit was at odds. She greeted us blithely enough, however.

“Good morning, one and all. Beastly auspices for a social call.” She sat down on the arm of a chair and swung one leg restlessly. “Someone certainly has a grudge against us Greenes. Poor old Chet! He didn’t even die with his boots on. Felt bedroom slippers! What an end for an outdoor enthusiast!⁠—Well, I suppose I’m invited here to tell my story. Where do I begin?” She rose, and throwing her half-burned cigarette into the grate, seated herself in a straight-backed chair facing Markham, folding her sinewy, tapering hands on the table before her.

Markham studied her for several moments.

“You were awake last night, reading in bed, I understand, when the shot was fired in your brother’s room.”

“Zola’s Nana, to be explicit. Mother told me I shouldn’t read it; so I got it at once. It was frightfully disappointing, though.”

“And just what did you do after you heard the report?” continued Markham, striving to control his annoyance at the girl’s flippancy.

“I put my book down, got up, donned a kimono, and listened for several minutes at the door. Not hearing anything further, I peeked out. The hall was dark, and the silence felt a bit spooky. I knew I ought to go to Chet’s room and inquire, in a sisterly fashion, about the explosion; but, to tell you the truth, Mr. Markham, I was rather cowardly. So I went⁠—oh, well, let the truth prevail: I ran up the servants’ stairs and routed out our Admirable Crichton; and together we investigated. Chet’s door was unlocked, and the fearless Sproot opened it. There sat Chet, looking as if he’d seen a ghost; and somehow I knew he was dead. Sproot went in and touched him, while I waited; and then we went down to the dining-room. Sproot did some phoning, and afterward made me some atrocious coffee. A half-hour or so later this gentleman”⁠—she inclined her head toward Heath⁠—“arrived, looking distressingly glum, and very sensibly refused a cup of Sproot’s coffee.”

“And you heard no sound of any kind before the shot?”

“Not a thing. Everybody had gone to bed early. The last sound I heard in this house was mother’s gentle and affectionate voice telling the nurse she was as neglectful as the rest of us, and to bring her morning tea at nine sharp, and not to slam the door the way she always did. Then peace and quiet reigned until half past eleven, when I heard the shot in Chet’s room.”

“How long was this interregnum of quietude?” asked Vance.

“Well, mother generally ends her daily criticism of the family around ten-thirty; so I’d say the quietude lasted about an hour.”

“And during that time you do not recall hearing a slight shuffling sound in the hall? Or a door closing softly?”

The girl shook her head indifferently, and took another cigarette from a small amber case she carried in her sweater-pocket.

“Sorry, but I didn’t. That doesn’t mean, though, that people couldn’t have been shuffling and shutting doors all over the place. My room’s at the rear, and the noises on the river and in 52nd Street drown out almost anything that’s going on in the front of the house.”

Vance had gone to her and held a match to her cigarette.

“I say, you don’t seem in the least worried.”

“Oh, why worry?” She made a gesture of resignation. “If anything is to happen to me, it’ll happen, whatever I do. But I don’t anticipate an immediate demise. No one has the slightest reason for killing me⁠—unless, of course, it’s some of my former bridge partners. But they’re all harmless persons who wouldn’t be apt to take extreme measures.”

“Still”⁠—Vance kept his tone inconsequential⁠—“no one apparently had any reason for harming your two sisters or your brother.”

“On that point I couldn’t be altogether lucid. We Greenes don’t confide in one another. There’s a beastly spirit of distrust in this ancestral domain. We all lie to each other on general principles. And as for secrets! Each member of the family is a kind of Masonic Order in himself. Surely there’s some reason for all these shootings. I simply can’t imagine anyone indulging himself in this fashion for the mere purpose of pistol practice.”

She smoked a moment pensively, and went on:

“Yes, there must be a motive back of it all⁠—though for the life of me I can’t suggest one. Of course Julia was a vinegary, unpleasant person, but she went out very little, and worked off her various complexes on the family. And yet, she may have been leading a double life for all I know. When these sour old maids break loose from their inhibitions I understand they do the most utterly utter things. But I just can’t bring my mind to picture Julia with a bevy of jealous Romeos.” She made a comical grimace at the thought. “Ada, on the other hand, is what we used to call in algebra an unknown quantity. No one but dad knew where she came from, and he would never tell. To be sure, she doesn’t get much time to run around⁠—mother keeps her too busy. But she’s young and good-looking in a common sort of way”⁠—there was a tinge of venom in this remark⁠—“and you can’t tell what connections she may have formed outside the sacred portals of the Greene mansion.⁠—As for Chet, no one seemed to love him passionately. I never heard anybody say a good word for him but the golf pro at the club, and that was only because Chet tipped him like a parvenu. He had a genius for antagonizing people. Several motives for the shooting might be found in his past.”

“I note that you’ve changed your ideas considerably in regard to the culpability of Miss Ada.” Vance spoke incuriously.

Sibella looked a little shamefaced.

“I did get a bit excited, didn’t I?” Then a defiance came into her voice. “But just the same, she doesn’t belong here. And she’s a sneaky little cat. She’d dearly love to see us all nicely murdered. The only person that seems to like her is cook; but then, Gertrude’s a sentimental German who likes everybody. She feeds half the stray cats and dogs in the neighborhood. Our rear yard is a regular pound in summer.”

Vance was silent for a while. Suddenly he looked up.

“I gather from your remarks, Miss Greene, that you now regard the shootings as the acts of someone from the outside.”

“Does anyone think anything else?” she asked, with startled anxiety. “I understand there were footprints in the snow both times we were visited. Surely they would indicate an outsider.”

“Quite true,” Vance assured her, a bit overemphatically, obviously striving to allay whatever fears his queries may have aroused in her. “Those footprints undeniably indicate that the intruder entered each time by the front door.”

“And you are not to have any uneasiness about the future, Miss Greene,” added Markham. “I shall give orders today to have a strict guard placed over the house, front and rear, until there is no longer the slightest danger of a recurrence of what has taken place here.”

Heath nodded his unqualified approbation.

“I’ll arrange for that, sir. There’ll be two men guarding this place day and night from now on.”

“How positively thrilling!” exclaimed Sibella; but I noticed a strange reservation of apprehension in her eyes.

“We won’t detain you any longer, Miss Greene,” said Markham, rising. “But I’d greatly appreciate it if you would remain in your room until our inquiries here are over. You may, of course, visit your mother.”

“Thanks awf’ly, but I think I’ll indulge in a little lost beauty sleep.” And she left us with a friendly wave of the hand.

“Who do you want to see next, Mr. Markham?” Heath was on his feet, vigorously relighting his cigar.

But before Markham could answer Vance lifted his hand for silence, and leaned forward in a listening attitude.

“Oh, Sproot!” he called. “Step in here a moment.”

The old butler appeared at once, calm and subservient, and waited with a vacuously expectant expression.

“Really, y’ know,” said Vance, “there’s not the slightest need for you to hover solicitously amid the draperies of the hallway while we’re busy in here. Most considerate and loyal of you; but if we want you for anything we’ll ring.”

“As you desire, sir.”

Sproot started to go, but Vance halted him.

“Now that you’re here you might answer one or two questions.”

“Very good, sir.”

“First, I want you to think back very carefully, and tell me if you observed anything unusual when you locked up the house last night.”

“Nothing, sir,” the man answered promptly. “If I had, I would have mentioned it to the police this morning.”

“And did you hear any noise or movement of any kind after you had gone to your room? A door closing, for instance?”

“No, sir. Everything was very quiet.”

“And what time did you actually go to sleep?”

“I couldn’t say exactly, sir. Perhaps about twenty minutes past eleven, if I may venture to make a guess.”

“And were you greatly surprised when Miss Sibella woke you up and told you a shot had been fired in Mr. Chester’s room?”

“Well, sir,” Sproot admitted, “I was somewhat astonished, though I endeavored to conceal my emotions.”

“And doubtless succeeded admirably,” said Vance dryly. “But what I meant was this: did you not anticipate something of the kind happening again in this house, after the other shootings?”

He watched the old butler sharply, but the man’s lineaments were as arid as a desert and as indecipherable as an expanse of sea.

“If you will pardon me, sir, for saying so, I don’t know precisely what you mean,” came the colorless answer. “Had I anticipated that Mr. Chester was to be done in, so to speak, I most certainly would have warned him. It would have been my duty, sir.”

“Don’t evade my question, Sproot.” Vance spoke sternly. “I asked you if you had any idea that a second tragedy might follow the first.”

“Tragedies very seldom come singly, sir, if I may be permitted to say so. One never knows what will happen next. I try not to anticipate the workings of fate, but I strive to hold myself in readiness⁠—”

“Oh, go away, Sproot⁠—go quite away,” said Vance. “When I crave vague rhetoric I’ll read Thomas Aquinas.”

“Yes, sir.” The man bowed with wooden courtesy, and left us.

His footsteps had scarcely died away when Doctor Doremus strode in jauntily.

“There’s your bullet, Sergeant.” He tossed a tiny cylinder of discolored lead on the drawing-room table. “Nothing but dumb luck. It entered the fifth intercostal space and travelled diagonally across the heart, coming out in the post-axillary fold at the anterior border of the trapezius muscle, where I could feel it under the skin; and I picked it out with my penknife.”

“All that fancy language don’t worry me,” grinned Heath, “so long’s I got the bullet.”

He picked it up and held it in the palm of his hand, his eyes narrowed, his mouth drawn into a straight line. Then, reaching into his waistcoat pocket, he took out two other bullets, and laid them beside the first. Slowly he nodded, and extended the sinister exhibits to Markham.

“There’s the three shots that were fired in this house,” he said. “They’re all .32-revolver bullets⁠—just alike. You can’t get away from it, sir: all three people here were shot with the same gun.”

X

The Closing of a Door

(Friday, November 12; 9:30 a.m.)

As Heath spoke Sproot passed down the hall and opened the front door, admitting Doctor Von Blon.

“Good morning, Sproot,” we heard him say in his habitually pleasant voice. “Anything new?”

“No, sir, I think not.” The reply was expressionless. “The District Attorney and the police are here.⁠—Let me take your coat, sir.”

Von Blon glanced into the drawing-room, and, on seeing us, halted and bowed. Then he caught sight of Doctor Doremus, whom he had met on the night of the first tragedy.

“Ah, good morning, doctor,” he said, coming forward. “I’m afraid I didn’t thank you for the assistance you gave me with the young lady the other night. Permit me to make amends.”

“No thanks needed,” Doremus assured him. “How’s the patient getting on?”

“The wound’s filling in nicely. No sepsis. I’m going up now to have a look at her.” He turned inquiringly to the District Attorney. “No objection, I suppose.”

“None whatever, doctor,” said Markham. Then he rose quickly. “We’ll come along, if you don’t mind. There are a few questions I’d like to ask Miss Ada, and it might be as well to do it while you’re present.”

Von Blon gave his consent without hesitation.

“Well, I’ll be on my way⁠—work to do,” announced Doremus breezily. He lingered long enough, however, to shake hands with all of us; and then the front door closed on him.

“We’d better ascertain if Miss Ada has been told of her brother’s death,” suggested Vance, as we went up the stairs. “If not, I think that task logically devolves on you, doctor.”

The nurse, whom Sproot had no doubt apprised of Von Blon’s arrival, met us in the upper hall and informed us that, as far as she knew, Ada was still ignorant of Chester’s murder.

We found the girl sitting up in bed, a magazine lying across her knees. Her face was still pale, but a youthful vitality shone from her eyes, which attested to the fact that she was much stronger. She seemed alarmed at our sudden appearance, but the sight of the doctor tended to reassure her.

“How do you feel this morning, Ada?” he asked with professional geniality. “You remember these gentlemen, don’t you?”

She gave us an apprehensive look; then smiled faintly and bowed.

“Yes, I remember them.⁠ ⁠… Have they⁠—found out anything about⁠—Julia’s death?”

“I’m afraid not.” Von Blon sat down beside her and took her hand. “Something else has happened that you will have to know, Ada.” His voice was studiously sympathetic. “Last night Chester met with an accident⁠—”

“An accident⁠—oh!” Her eyes opened wide, and a slight tremor passed over her. “You mean.⁠ ⁠…” Her voice quavered and broke. “I know what you mean!⁠ ⁠… Chester’s dead!”

Von Blon cleared his throat and looked away.

“Yes, Ada. You must be brave and not let it⁠—ah⁠—upset you too much. You see⁠—”

“He was shot!” The words burst from her lips, and a look of terror overspread her face. “Just like Julia and me.” Her eyes stared straight ahead, as if fascinated by some horror which she alone could see.

Von Blon was silent, and Vance stepped to the bed.

“We’re not going to lie to you, Miss Greene,” he said softly. “You have guessed the truth.”

“And what about Rex⁠—and Sibella?”

“They’re all right,” Vance assured her. “But why did you think your brother had met the same fate as Miss Julia and yourself?”

She turned her gaze slowly to him.

“I don’t know⁠—I just felt it. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve imagined horrible things happening in this house. And the other night I felt that the time had come⁠—oh, I don’t know how to explain it; but it was like having something happen that you’d been expecting.”

Vance nodded understandingly.

“It’s an unhealthy old house; it puts all sorts of weird notions in one’s head. But, of course,” he added lightly, “there’s nothing supernatural about it. It’s only a coincidence that you should have felt that way and that these disasters should actually have occurred. The police, y’ know, think it was a burglar.”

The girl did not answer, and Markham leaned forward with a reassuring smile.

“And we are going to have two men guarding the house all the time from now on,” he said, “so that no one can get in who hasn’t a perfect right to be here.”

“So you see, Ada,” put in Von Blon, “you have nothing to worry about any more. All you have to do now is to get well.”

But her eyes did not leave Markham’s face.

“How do you know,” she asked, in a tense anxious voice, “that the⁠—the person came in from the outside?”

“We found his footprints both times on the front walk.”

“Footprints⁠—are you sure?” She put the question eagerly.

“No doubt about them. They were perfectly plain, and they belonged to the person who came here and tried to shoot you.⁠—Here, Sergeant”⁠—he beckoned to Heath⁠—“show the young lady that pattern.”

Heath took the Manila envelope from his pocket and extracted the cardboard impression Snitkin had made. Ada took it in her hand and studied it, and a little sigh of relief parted her lips.

“And you notice,” smiled Vance, “he didn’t have very dainty feet.”

The girl returned the pattern to the Sergeant. Her fear had left her, and her eyes cleared of the vision that had been haunting them.

“And now, Miss Greene,” went on Vance, in a matter-of-fact voice, “we want to ask a few questions. First of all: the nurse said you went to sleep at nine o’clock last night. Is that correct?”

“I pretended to, because nurse was tired and mother was complaining a lot. But I really didn’t go to sleep until hours later.”

“But you didn’t hear the shot in your brother’s room?”

“No. I must have been asleep by then.”

“Did you hear anything before that?”

“Not after the family had gone to bed and Sproot had locked up.”

“Were you awake very long after Sproot retired?”

The girl pondered a moment, frowning.

“Maybe an hour,” she ventured finally. “But I don’t know.”

“It couldn’t have been much over an hour,” Vance pointed out; “for the shot was fired shortly after half past eleven.⁠—And you heard nothing⁠—no sound of any kind in the hall?”

“Why, no.” The look of fright was creeping back into her face. “Why do you ask?”

“Your brother Rex,” explained Vance, “said he heard a faint shuffling sound and a door closing a little after eleven.”

Her eyelids drooped, and her free hand tightened over the edge of the magazine she was holding.

“A door closing.⁠ ⁠…” She repeated the words in a voice scarcely audible. “Oh! And Rex heard it?” Suddenly she opened her eyes and her lips fell apart. A startled memory had taken possession of her⁠—a memory which quickened her breathing and filled her with alarm. “I heard that door close, too! I remember it now.⁠ ⁠…”

“What door was it?” asked Vance, with subdued animation. “Could you tell where the sound came from?”

The girl shook her head.

“No⁠—it was so soft. I’d even forgotten it until now. But I heard it!⁠ ⁠… Oh, what did it mean?”

“Nothing probably.” Vance assumed an air of inconsequentiality calculated to alleviate her fears. “The wind doubtless.”

But when we left her, after a few more questions, I noticed that her face still held an expression of deep anxiety.

Vance was unusually thoughtful as we returned to the drawing-room.

“I’d give a good deal to know what that child knows or suspects,” he murmured.

“She’s been through a trying experience,” returned Markham. “She’s frightened, and she sees new dangers in everything. But she couldn’t suspect anything, or she’d be only too eager to tell us.”

“I wish I were sure of that.”

The next hour or so was occupied with interrogating the two maids and the cook. Markham cross-examined them thoroughly not only concerning the immediate events touching upon the two tragedies, but in regard to the general conditions in the Greene household. Numerous family episodes in the past were gone over; and when his inquiries were finished he had obtained a fairly good idea of the domestic atmosphere. But nothing that could be even remotely connected with the murders came to light. There had always been, it transpired, an abundance of hatred and ill-feeling and vicious irritability in the Greene mansion. The story that was unfolded by the servants was not a pleasant one; it was a record⁠—scrappy and desultory, but none the less appalling⁠—of daily clashes, complainings, bitter words, sullen silences, jealousies and threats.

Most of the details of this unnatural situation were supplied by Hemming, the older maid. She was less ecstatic than during the first interview, although she interspersed her remarks with Biblical quotations and references to the dire fate which the Lord had seen fit to visit upon her sinful employers. Nevertheless, she painted an arresting, if overcolored and prejudiced, picture of the life that had gone on about her during the past ten years. But when it came to explaining the methods employed by the Almighty in visiting his vengeance upon the unholy Greenes, she became indefinite and obscure. At length Markham let her go after she had assured him that she intended to remain at her post of duty⁠—to be, as she expressed it, “a witness for the Lord” when his work of righteous devastation was complete.

Barton, the younger maid, on the other hand, announced, in no uncertain terms, that she was through with the Greenes forever. The girl was genuinely frightened, and, after Sibella and Sproot had been consulted, she was paid her wages and told she could pack her things. In less than half an hour she had turned in her key and departed with her luggage. Such information as she left behind her was largely a substantiation of Hemming’s outpourings. She, though, did not regard the two murders as the acts of an outraged God. Hers was a more practical and mundane view.

“There’s something awful funny going on here,” she had said, forgetting for the moment the urge of her coquettish spirits. “The Greenes are queer people. And the servants are queer, too⁠—what with Mr. Sproot reading books in foreign languages, and Hemming preaching about fire and brimstone, and cook going around in a sort of trance muttering to herself and never answering a civil question.⁠—And such a family!” She rolled her eyes. “Mrs. Greene hasn’t got any heart. She’s a regular old witch, and she looks at you sometimes as though she’d like to strangle you. If I was Miss Ada I’d have gone crazy long ago. But then, Miss Ada’s no better than the rest. She acts nice and gentle-like, but I’ve seen her stamping up and down in her room looking like a very devil; and once she used language to me what was that bad I put my fingers in my ears. And Miss Sibella’s a regular icicle⁠—except when she gets mad, and then she’d kill you if she dared, and laugh about it. And there’s been something funny about her and Mr. Chester. Ever since Miss Julia and Miss Ada were shot they’ve been talking to each other in the sneakiest way when they thought no one was looking. And this Doctor Von Blon what comes here so much: he’s a deep one. He’s been in Miss Sibella’s room with the door shut lots of times when she wasn’t any more sick than you are. And Mr. Rex, now. He’s a queer man, too. I get the creeps every time he comes near me.” She shuddered by way of demonstration. “Miss Julia wasn’t as queer as the rest. She just hated everybody and was mean.”

Barton had rambled on loquaciously with all the thoughtless exaggeration of a gossip who felt herself outraged; and Markham had not interrupted her. He was trying to dredge up some nugget from the mass of her verbal silt; but when at last he sifted it all down there remained nothing but a few shining grains of scandal.

The cook was even less enlightening. Taciturn by nature, she became almost inarticulate when approached on the subject of the crime. Her stolid exterior seemed to cloak a sullen resentment at the fact that she should be questioned at all. In fact, as Markham patiently pressed his examination, the impression grew on me that her lack of responsiveness was deliberately defensive, as if she had steeled herself to reticency. Vance, too, sensed this attitude in her, for, during a pause in the interview, he moved his chair about until he faced her directly.

“Frau Mannheim,” he said, “the last time we were here you mentioned the fact that Mr. Tobias Greene knew your husband, and that, because of their acquaintance, you applied for a position here when your husband died.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” she asked stubbornly. “I was poor, and I didn’t have any other friends.”

“Ah, friends!” Vance caught up the word. “And since you were once on friendly terms with Mr. Greene, you doubtless know certain things about his past, which may have some bearing on the present situation; for it is not at all impossible, d’ ye see, that the crimes committed here during the past few days are connected with matters that took place years ago. We don’t know this, of course, but we’d be very much gratified if you would try to help us in this regard.”

As he was speaking the woman had drawn herself up. Her hands had tightened as they lay folded in her lap, and the muscles about her mouth had stiffened.

“I don’t know anything,” was her only answer.

“How,” asked Vance evenly, “do you account for the rather remarkable fact that Mr. Greene gave orders that you were to remain here as long as you cared to?”

Mr. Greene was a very kind and generous man,” she asserted, in a flat, combative voice. “Some there were that thought him hard, and accused him of being unjust; but he was always good to me and mine.”

“How well did he know Mr. Mannheim?”

There was a pause, and the woman’s eyes looked blankly ahead.

“He helped my husband once, when he was in trouble.”

“How did he happen to do this?”

There was another pause, and then:

“They were in some deal together⁠—in the old country.” She frowned and appeared uneasy.

“When was this?”

“I don’t remember. It was before I was married.”

“And where did you first meet Mr. Greene?”

“At my home in New Orleans. He was there on business⁠—with my husband.”

“And, I take it, he befriended you also.”

The woman maintained a stubborn silence.

“A moment ago,” pursued Vance, “you used the phrase ‘me and mine.’⁠—Have you any children, Mrs. Mannheim?”

For the first time during the interview her face radically changed expression. An angry gleam shone in her eyes.

“No!” The denial was like an ejaculation.

Vance smoked lethargically for several moments.

“You lived in New Orleans until the time of your employment in this house?” he finally asked.

“Yes.”

“And your husband died there?”

“Yes.”

“That was thirteen years ago, I understand.⁠—How long before that had it been since you had seen Mr. Greene?”

“About a year.”

“So that would be fourteen years ago.”

An apprehension, bordering on fear, showed through the woman’s morose calmness.

“And you came all the way to New York to seek Mr. Greene’s help,” mused Vance. “Why were you so confident that he would give you employment after your husband’s death?”

Mr. Greene was a very good man,” was all she would say.

“He had perhaps,” suggested Vance, “done some other favor for you which made you think you could count on his generosity⁠—eh, what?”

“That’s neither here nor there.” Her mouth closed tightly.

Vance changed the subject.

“What do you think about the crimes that have been committed in this house?”

“I don’t think about them,” she mumbled; but the anxiety in her voice belied the assertion.

“You surely must hold some opinion, Mrs. Mannheim, having been here so long.” Vance’s intent gaze did not leave the woman. “Who, do you think, would have had any reason for wanting to harm these people?”

Suddenly her self-control gave way.

Du lieber Herr Jesus! I don’t know⁠—I don’t know!” It was like a cry of anguish. “Miss Julia and Mr. Chester maybe⁠—gewiss, one could understand. They hated everybody; they were hard, unloving. But little Ada⁠—der süsse Engel! Why should they want to harm her!” She set her face grimly, and slowly her expression of stolidity returned.

“Why, indeed?” A note of sympathy was evident in Vance’s voice. After a pause he rose and went to the window. “You may return to your room now, Frau Mannheim,” he said, without turning. “We shan’t let anything further happen to little Ada.”

The woman got up heavily and, with an uneasy glance in Vance’s direction, left the room.

As soon as she was out of hearing Markham swung about.

“What’s the use of raking up all this ancient history?” he demanded irritably. “We’re dealing with things that have taken place within the past few days; and you waste valuable time trying to find out why Tobias Greene hired a cook thirteen years ago.”

“There’s such a thing as cause and effect,” offered Vance mildly. “And frequently there’s a dashed long interval between the two.”

“Granted. But what possible connection can this German cook have with the present murders?”

“Perhaps none.” Vance strode back across the room, his eyes on the floor. “But, Markham old dear, nothing appears to have any connection with this débâcle. And, on the other hand, everything seems to have a possible relationship. The whole house is steeped in vague meanings. A hundred shadowy hands are pointing to the culprit, and the moment you try to determine the direction the hands disappear. It’s a nightmare. Nothing means anything; therefore, anything may have a meaning.”

“My dear Vance! You’re not yourself.” Markham’s tone was one of annoyance and reproach. “Your remarks are worse than the obscure ramblings of the sibyls. What if Tobias Greene did have dealings with one Mannheim in the past? Old Tobias indulged in numerous shady transactions, if the gossip of twenty-five or thirty years ago can be credited.13 He was forever scurrying to the ends of the earth on some mysterious mission, and coming home with his pockets lined. And it’s common knowledge that he spent considerable time in Germany. If you try to dig up his past for possible explanations for the present business, you’ll have your hands full.”

“You misconstrue my vagaries,” returned Vance, pausing before the old oil-painting of Tobias Greene over the fireplace. “I repudiate all ambition to become the family historian of the Greenes.⁠ ⁠… Not a bad head on Tobias,” he commented, adjusting his monocle and inspecting the portrait. “An interestin’ character. Dynamic forehead, with more than a suggestion of the scholar. A rugged, prying nose. Yes, Tobias no doubt fared forth on many an adventurous quest. A cruel mouth, though⁠—rather sinister, in fact. I wish the whiskers permitted one a view of the chin. It was round, with a deep cleft, I’d say⁠—the substance of which Chester’s chin was but the simulacrum.”

“Very edifying,” sneered Markham. “But phrenology leaves me cold this morning.⁠—Tell me, Vance: are you laboring under some melodramatic notion that old Mannheim may have been resurrected and returned to wreak vengeance on the Greene progeny for wrongs done him by Tobias in the dim past? I can’t see any other reason for the questions you put to Mrs. Mannheim. Don’t overlook the fact, however, that Mannheim’s dead.”

“I didn’t attend the funeral.” Vance sank lazily again in his chair.

“Don’t be so unutterably futile,” snapped Markham. “What’s going through your head?”

“An excellent figure of speech! It expresses my mental state perfectly. Numberless things are ‘going through my head.’ But nothing remains there. My brain’s a veritable sieve.”

Heath projected himself into the discussion.

“My opinion is, sir, that the Mannheim angle of this affair is a washout. We’re dealing with the present, and the bird that did this shooting is somewheres around here right now.”

“You’re probably right, Sergeant,” conceded Vance. “But⁠—my word!⁠—it strikes me that every angle of the case⁠—and, for that matter, every cusp, arc, tangent, parabola, sine, radius, and hyperbole⁠—is hopelessly inundated.”

XI

A Painful Interview

(Friday, November 12; 11 a.m.)

Markham glanced impatiently at his watch.

“It’s getting late,” he complained, “and I have an important appointment at noon. I think I’ll have a go at Rex Greene, and then leave matters in your hands for the time being, Sergeant. There’s nothing much to be done here now, and your routine work must be gone through with.”

Heath got up gloomily.

“Yes; and one of the first things to be done is to go over this house with a fine-tooth comb for that revolver. If we could find that gun we’d be on our way.”

“I don’t want to damp your ardor, Sergeant,” drawled Vance, “but something whispers in my ear that the weapon you yearn for is going to prove dashed elusive.”

Heath looked depressed; he was obviously of Vance’s opinion.

“A hell of a case this is! Not a lead⁠—nothing to get your teeth in.”

He went to the archway and yanked the bell-cord viciously. When Sproot appeared he almost barked his demand that Mr. Rex Greene be produced at once; and he stood looking truculently after the retreating butler as if longing for an excuse to follow up his order with violence.

Rex came in nervously, a half-smoked cigarette hanging from his lips. His eyes were sunken; his cheeks sagged, and his short splay fingers fidgeted with the hem of his smoking-jacket, like those of a man under the influence of hyoscine. He gave us a resentful, half-frightened gaze, and planted himself aggressively before us, refusing to take the seat Markham indicated. Suddenly he demanded fiercely:

“Have you found out yet who killed Julia and Chester?”

“No,” Markham admitted; “but we’ve taken every precaution against any recurrence.⁠ ⁠…”

“Precaution? What have you done?”

“We’ve stationed a man both front and rear⁠—”

A cackling laugh cut him short.

“A lot of good that’ll do! The person who’s after us Greenes has a key. He has a key, I tell you! And he can get in whenever he wants to, and nobody can stop him.”

“I think you exaggerate a little,” returned Markham mildly. “In any case, we hope to put our hands on him very soon. And that’s why I’ve asked you here again⁠—it’s quite possible that you can help us.”

“What do I know?” The man’s words were defiant, and he took several long inhalations on his cigarette, the ashes of which fell upon his jacket unnoticed.

“You were asleep, I understand, when the shot was fired last night,” went on Markham’s quiet voice; “but Sergeant Heath tells me you were awake until after eleven and heard noises in the hall. Suppose you tell us just what happened.”

“Nothing happened!” Rex blurted. “I went to bed at half past ten, but I was too nervous to sleep. Then, some time later, the moon came out and fell across the foot of the bed; and I got up and pulled down the shade. About ten minutes later I heard a scraping sound in the hall, and directly afterward a door closed softly⁠—”

“Just a moment, Mr. Greene,” interrupted Vance. “Can you be a little more definite about that noise? What did it sound like?”

“I didn’t pay any attention to it,” was the whining reply. “It might have been almost anything. It was like someone laying down a bundle, or dragging something across the floor; or it might have been old Sproot in his bedroom slippers, though it didn’t sound like him⁠—that is, I didn’t associate him with the sound when I heard it.”

“And after that?”

“After that? I lay awake in bed ten or fifteen minutes longer. I was restless and⁠—and expectant; so I turned on the lights to see what time it was, and smoked half a cigarette⁠—”

“It was twenty-five minutes past eleven, I understand.”

“That’s right. Then a few minutes later I put out the light, and must have gone right to sleep.”

There was a pause, and Heath drew himself up aggressively.

“Say, Greene: know anything about firearms?” He shot the question out brutally.

Rex stiffened. His lips sagged open, and his cigarette fell to the floor. The muscles of his thin jowls twitched, and he glared menacingly at the Sergeant.

“What do you mean?” The words were like a snarl; and I noticed that his whole body was quivering.

“Know what became of your brother’s revolver?” pursued Heath relentlessly, thrusting out his jaw.

Rex’s mouth was working in a paroxysm of fury and fear, but he seemed unable to articulate.

“Where have you got it hidden?” Again Heath’s voice sounded harshly.

“Revolver?⁠ ⁠… Hidden?⁠ ⁠…” At last Rex had succeeded in formulating his words. “You⁠—filthy rotter! If you’ve got any idea that I have the revolver, go up and tear my room apart and look for it⁠—and be damned to you!” His eyes flashed, and his upper lip lifted over his teeth. But there was fright in his attitude as well as rage.

Heath had leaned forward and was about to say something further, when Vance quickly rose and laid a restraining hand on the Sergeant’s arm. He was too late, however, to avoid the thing he evidently hoped to forestall. What Heath had already said had proved sufficient stimulus to bring about a terrible reaction in his victim.

“What do I care what that unspeakable swine says?” he shouted, pointing a palsied finger at the Sergeant. Oaths and vituperation welled shrilly from his twitching lips. His insensate wrath seemed to pass all ordinary bounds. His enormous head was thrust forward like a python’s; and his face was cyanosed and contorted.

Vance stood poised, watching him alertly; and Markham had instinctively moved back his chair. Even Heath was startled by Rex’s inordinate malignity.

What might have happened I don’t know, had not Von Blon at that moment stepped swiftly into the room and placed a restraining hand on the youth’s shoulder.

“Rex!” he said, in a calm, authoritative voice. “Get a grip on yourself. You’re disturbing Ada.”

The other ceased speaking abruptly; but his ferocity of manner did not wholly abate. He shook off the doctor’s hand angrily and swung round, facing Von Blon.

“What are you interfering for?” he cried. “You’re always meddling in this house, coming here when you’re not sent for, and nosing into our affairs. Mother’s paralysis is only an excuse. You’ve said yourself she’ll never get well, and yet you keep coming, bringing her medicine and sending bills.” He gave the doctor a crafty leer. “Oh, you don’t deceive me. I know why you come here! It’s Sibella!” Again he thrust out his head and grinned shrewdly. “She’d be a good catch for a doctor, too⁠—wouldn’t she? Plenty of money⁠—”

Suddenly he halted. His eyes did not leave Von Blon, but he shrank back and the twitching of his face began once more. A quivering finger went up; and as he spoke his voice rose excitedly.

“But Sibella’s money isn’t enough. You want ours along with hers. So you’re arranging for her to inherit all of it. That’s it⁠—that’s it! You’re the one who’s been doing all this.⁠ ⁠… Oh, my God! You’ve got Chester’s gun⁠—you took it! And you’ve got a key to the house⁠—easy enough for you to have one made. That’s how you got in.”

Von Blon shook his head sadly and smiled with rueful tolerance. It was an embarrassing moment, but he carried it off well.

“Come, Rex,” he said quietly, like a person speaking to a refractory child. “You’ve said enough⁠—”

“Have I!” cried the youth, his eyes gleaming unnaturally. “You knew Chester had the revolver. You went camping with him the summer he got it⁠—he told me so the other day, after Julia was killed.” His beady little eyes seemed to stare from his head; a spasm shook his emaciated body; and his fingers again began worrying the hem of his jacket.

Von Blon stepped swiftly forward and, putting a hand on each of his shoulders, shook him.

“That’ll do, Rex!” The words were a sharp command. “If you carry on this way, we’ll have to lock you up in an institution.”

The threat was uttered in what I considered an unnecessarily brutal tone; but it had the desired effect. A haunting fear showed in Rex’s eyes. He seemed suddenly to go limp, and he docilely permitted Von Blon to lead him from the room.

“A sweet specimen, that Rex,” commented Vance. “Not a person one would choose for a boon companion. Aggravated macrocephalia⁠—cortical irritation. But I say, Sergeant; really, y’ know, you shouldn’t have prodded the lad so.”

Heath grunted.

“You can’t tell me that guy don’t know something. And you can bet your sweet life I’m going to search his room damn good for that gun.”

“It appears to me,” rejoined Vance, “he’s too flighty to have planned the massacre in this house. He might blow up under pressure and hit somebody with a handy missile; but I doubt if he’d lay any deep schemes and bide his time.”

“He’s good and scared about something,” persisted Heath morosely.

“Hasn’t he cause to be? Maybe he thinks the elusive gunman hereabouts will chose him as the next target.”

“If there is another gunman, he showed damn bad taste not picking Rex out first.” It was evident the Sergeant was still smarting under the epithets that had so recently been directed at him.

Von Blon returned to the drawing-room at this moment, looking troubled.

“I’ve got Rex quieted,” he said. “Gave him five grains of luminal. He’ll sleep for a few hours and wake up penitent. I’ve rarely seen him quite as violent as he was today. He’s supersensitive⁠—cerebral neurasthenia; and he’s apt to fly off the handle. But he’s never dangerous.” He scanned our faces swiftly. “One of you gentlemen must have said something pretty severe.”

Heath looked sheepish. “I asked him where he’d hid the gun.”

“Ah!” The doctor gave the Sergeant a look of questioning reproach. “Too bad! We have to be careful with Rex. He’s all right so long as he isn’t opposed too strongly. But I don’t just see, sir, what your object could have been in questioning him about the revolver. You surely don’t suspect him of having had a hand in these terrible shootings.”

“You tell me who did the shootings, doc,” retorted Heath pugnaciously, “and then I’ll tell you who I don’t suspect.”

“I regret that I am unable to enlighten you.” Von Blon’s tone exuded its habitual pleasantness. “But I can assure you Rex had no part in them. They’re quite out of keeping with his pathologic state.”

“That’s the defense of half the high-class killers we get the goods on,” countered Heath.

“I see I can’t argue with you.” Von Blon sighed regretfully, and turned an engaging countenance in Markham’s direction. “Rex’s absurd accusations puzzled me deeply, but, since this officer admits he practically accused the boy of having the revolver, the situation becomes perfectly clear. A common form of instinctive self-protection, this attempting to shift blame on others. You can see, of course, that Rex was merely trying to turn suspicion upon me so as to free himself. It’s unfortunate, for he and I were always good friends. Poor Rex!”

“By the by, doctor,” came Vance’s indolent voice; “that point about your being with Mr. Chester Greene on the camping-trip when he first secured the gun: was that correct? Or was it merely a fancy engendered by Rex’s self-protective instinct?”

Von Blon smiled with faultless urbanity and, putting his head a little on one side, appeared to recall the past.

“It may be correct,” he admitted. “I was once with Chester on a camping-trip. Yes, it’s quite likely⁠—though I shouldn’t like to state it definitely. It was so long ago.”

“Fifteen years, I think, Mr. Greene said. Ah, yes⁠—a long time ago. Eheu! fugaces, Postume, Postume, labuntur anni. It’s very depressin’. And do you recall, doctor, if Mr. Greene had a revolver along on that particular outing?”

“Since you mention it, I believe I do recall his having one, though again I should choose not to be definite on the subject.”

“Perhaps you may recollect if he used it for target practice.” Vance’s tone was dulcet and uneager. “Popping away at tree-boles and tin cans and whatnot, don’t y’ know.”

Von Blon nodded reminiscently.

“Ye-es. It’s quite possible.⁠ ⁠…”

“And you yourself may have done a bit of desult’ry popping, what?”

“To be sure, I may have.” Von Blon spoke musingly, like one recalling childish pranks. “Yes, it’s wholly possible.”

Vance lapsed into a disinterested silence, and the doctor, after a moment’s hesitation, rose.

“I must be going, I’m afraid.” And with a gracious bow he started toward the door. “Oh, by the way,” he said, pausing, “I almost forgot that Mrs. Greene told me she desired to see you gentlemen before you went. Forgive me if I suggest that it might be wise to humor her. She’s something of a dowager, you know, and her invalidism has made her rather irritable and exacting.”

“I’m glad you mentioned Mrs. Greene, doctor.” It was Vance who spoke. “I’ve been intending to ask you about her. What is the nature of her paralysis?”

Von Blon appeared surprised.

“Why, a sort of paraplegia dolorosa⁠—that is, a paralysis of the legs and lower part of the body, accompanied by severe pains due to pressure of the indurations on the spinal cord and nerves. No spasticity of the limbs has supervened, however. Came on very suddenly without any premonitory symptoms about ten years ago⁠—probably the result of transverse myelitis. There’s nothing really to be done but to keep her as comfortable as possible with symptomatic treatment, and to tone up the heart action. A sixtieth of strychnine three times a day takes care of the circulation.”

“Couldn’t by any chance be a hysterical akinesia?”

“Good Lord, no! There’s no hysteria.” Then his eyes widened in amazement. “Oh, I see! No; there’s no possibility of recovery, even partial. It’s organic paralysis.”

“And atrophy?”

“Oh, yes. Muscular atrophy is now pronounced.”

“Thank you very much.” Vance lay back with half-closed eyes.

“Oh, not at all.⁠—And remember, Mr. Markham, that I always stand ready to help in any way I can. Please don’t hesitate to call on me.” He bowed again, and went out.

Markham got up and stretched his legs.

“Come; we’ve been summoned to appear.” His facetiousness was a patent effort to shake off the depressing gloom of the case.

Mrs. Greene received us with almost unctuous cordiality.

“I knew you’d grant the request of a poor old useless cripple,” she said, with an appealing smile; “though I’m used to being ignored. No one pays any attention to my wishes.”

The nurse stood at the head of the bed arranging the pillows beneath the old lady’s shoulders.

“Is that comfortable now?” she asked.

Mrs. Greene made a gesture of annoyance.

“A lot you care whether I’m comfortable or not! Why can’t you let me alone, nurse? You’re always disturbing me. There was nothing wrong with the pillows. And I don’t want you in here now anyway. Go and sit with Ada.”

The nurse drew a long, patient breath, and went silently from the room, closing the door behind her.

Mrs. Greene reverted to her former ingratiating manner.

“No one understands my needs the way Ada does, Mr. Markham. What a relief it will be when the dear child gets well enough to care for me again! But I mustn’t complain. The nurse does the best she knows how, I suppose.⁠—Please sit down, gentlemen⁠ ⁠… yet what wouldn’t I give if I could only stand up the way you can. No one realizes what it means to be a helpless paralytic.”

Markham did not avail himself of the invitation, but waited until she had finished speaking and then said:

“Please believe that you have my deepest sympathy, madam.⁠ ⁠… You sent for me, Doctor Von Blon said.”

“Yes!” She looked at him calculatingly. “I wanted to ask you a favor.”

She paused, and Markham bowed but did not answer.

“I wanted to request you to drop this investigation. I’ve had enough worry and disturbance as it is. But I don’t count. It’s the family I’m thinking of⁠—the good name of the Greenes.” A note of pride came into her voice. “What need is there to drag us through the mire and make us an object of scandalous gossip for the canaille? I want peace and quiet, Mr. Markham. I won’t be here much longer; and why should my house be overrun with policemen just because Julia and Chester have suffered their just deserts for neglecting me and letting me suffer here alone? I’m an old woman and a cripple, and I’m deserving of a little consideration.”

Her face clouded, and her voice became harsh.

“You haven’t any right to come here and upset my house and annoy me in this outrageous fashion! I haven’t had a minute’s rest since all this excitement began, and my spine is paining me so I can hardly breathe.” She took several stertorous breaths, and her eyes flashed indignantly. “I don’t expect any better treatment from my children⁠—they’re hard and thoughtless. But you, Mr. Markham⁠—an outsider, a stranger: why should you want to torture me with all this commotion? It’s outrageous⁠—inhuman!”

“I am sorry if the presence of the officers of the law in your house disturbs you,” Markham told her gravely; “but I have no alternative. When a crime has been committed it is my duty to investigate, and to use every means at my disposal to bring the guilty person to justice.”

“Justice!” The old lady repeated the word scornfully. “Justice has already been done. I’ve been avenged for the treatment I’ve received these many years, lying here helpless.”

There was something almost terrifying in the woman’s cruel and unrelenting hatred of her children, and in the cold-blooded satisfaction she seemed to take in the fact that two of them had been punished by death. Markham, naturally sympathetic, revolted against her attitude.

“However much gratification you may feel at the murder of your son and daughter, madam,” he said coldly, “it does not release me from my duty to find the murderer.⁠—Was there anything else you wished to speak to me about?”

For a while she sat silent, her face working with impotent passion. The gaze she bent on Markham was almost ferocious. But presently the vindictive vigilance of her eyes relaxed, and she drew a deep sigh.

“No; you may go now. I have nothing more to say. And, anyway, who cares about an old helpless woman like me? I should have learned by this time that nobody thinks of my comfort, lying here all alone, unable to help myself⁠—a nuisance to everyone.⁠ ⁠…”

Her whining, self-pitying voice followed us as we made our escape.

“Y’ know, Markham,” said Vance, as we came into the lower hall, “the Empress Dowager is not entirely devoid of reason. Her suggestion is deserving of consideration. The clarion voice of duty may summon you to this quest, but⁠—my word!⁠—whither shall one quest? There’s nothing sane in this house⁠—nothing that lends itself to ordin’ry normal reason. Why not take her advice and chuck it? Even if you learn the truth, it’s likely to prove a sort of Pyrrhic vict’ry. I’m afraid it’ll be more terrible than the crimes themselves.”

Markham did not deign to answer; he was familiar with Vance’s heresies, and he also knew that Vance himself would be the last person to throw over an unsolved problem.

“We’ve got something to go on, Mr. Vance,” submitted Heath solemnly, but without enthusiasm. “There’s those foot-tracks, for instance; and we’ve got the missing gun to find. Dubois is upstairs now taking fingerprints. And the reports on the servants’ll be coming along soon. There’s no telling what’ll turn up in a few days. I’ll have a dozen men working on this case before night.”

“Such zeal, Sergeant! But it’s in the atmosphere of this old house⁠—not in tangible clues⁠—that the truth lies hidden. It’s somewhere in these old jumbled rooms; it’s peering out from dark corners and from behind doors. It’s here⁠—in this very hall, perhaps.”

His tone was fraught with troubled concern, and Markham looked at him sharply.

“I think you’re right, Vance,” he muttered. “But how is one to get at it?”

“ ’Pon my soul, I don’t know. How does one get at spectres, anyway? I’ve never had much intimate intercourse with ghosts, don’t y’ know.”

“You’re talking rubbish!” Markham jerked on his overcoat, and turned to Heath. “You go ahead, Sergeant; and keep in touch with me. If nothing develops from your inquiries, we’ll discuss the next step.”

And he and Vance and I went out to the waiting car.

XII

A Motor Ride

(November 12⁠–⁠November 25)

The inquiry was pushed according to the best traditions of the Police Department. Captain Carl Hagedorn, the firearms expert,14 made a minute scientific examination of the bullets. The same revolver, he found, had fired all three shots: the peculiar rifling told him this; and he was able to state that the revolver was an old Smith & Wesson of a style whose manufacture had been discontinued. But, while these findings offered substantiation to the theory that Chester Greene’s missing gun was the one used by the murderer, they added nothing to the facts already established or suspected. Deputy Inspector Conrad Brenner, the burglar-tools expert,15 had conducted an exhaustive examination of the scene for evidential signs of a forced entrance, but had found no traces whatever of a housebreaker.

Dubois and his assistant Bellamy⁠—the two leading fingerprint authorities of the New York Police Department⁠—went so far as to take fingerprints of every member of the Greene household, including Doctor Von Blon; and these were compared with the impressions found in the hallways and in the rooms where the shootings had occurred. But when this tedious process was over not an unidentified print remained; and all those that had been found and photographed were logically accounted for.

Chester Greene’s galoshes were taken to Headquarters and turned over to Captain Jerym, who carefully compared them with the measurements and the patterns made by Snitkin. No new fact concerning them, however, was discovered. The tracks in the snow, Captain Jerym reported, had been made either by the galoshes given him or by another pair of the exact size and last. Beyond this statement he could not, he said, conscientiously go.

It was established that no one in the Greene mansion, with the exception of Chester and Rex, owned galoshes; and Rex’s were number seven⁠—three sizes smaller than those found in Chester’s clothes-closet. Sproot used only storm-rubbers, size eight; and Doctor Von Blon, who affected gaiters in winter, always wore rubber sandals during stormy weather.

The search for the missing revolver occupied several days. Heath turned the task over to men trained especially in this branch of work, and supplied them with a search-warrant in case they should meet with any opposition. But no obstacle was put in their way. The house was systematically ransacked from basement to attic. Even Mrs. Greene’s quarters were subjected to a search. The old lady had at first objected, but finally gave her consent, and even seemed a bit disappointed when the men had finished. The only room that was not gone over was Tobias Greene’s library. Owing to the fact that Mrs. Greene had never let the key go out of her possession, and had permitted no one to enter the room since her husband’s death, Heath decided not to force the issue when she refused pointblank to deliver the key. Every other nook and corner of the house, however, was combed by the Sergeant’s men. But no sign of the revolver rewarded their efforts.

The autopsies revealed nothing at variance with Doctor Doremus’s preliminary findings. Julia and Chester had each died instantaneously from the effects of a bullet entering the heart, shot from a revolver held at close range. No other possible cause of death was present in either body; and there were no indications of a struggle.

No unknown or suspicious person had been seen near the Greene mansion on the night of either murder, although several people were found who had been in the neighborhood at the time; and a bootmaker, who lived on the second floor of the Narcoss Flats in 53rd Street, opposite to the house, stated that he had been sitting at his window, smoking his bedtime pipe, during the time of both shootings, and could swear that no one had passed down that end of the street.

However, the guard which had been placed over the Greene mansion was not relaxed. Men were on duty day and night at both entrances to the estate, and everyone entering or leaving the premises was closely scrutinized. So close a watch was kept that strange tradesmen found it inconvenient and at times difficult to make ordinary deliveries.

The reports that were turned in concerning the servants were unsatisfactory from the standpoint of detail; but all the facts unearthed tended to eliminate each subject from any possible connection with the crimes. Barton, the younger maid, who had quitted the Greene establishment the morning after the second tragedy, proved to be the daughter of respectable working people living in Jersey City. Her record was good, and her companions all appeared to be harmless members of her own class.

Hemming, it turned out, was a widow who, up to the time of her employment with the Greenes, had kept house for her husband, an ironworker, in Altoona, Pa. She was remembered even there among her former neighbors as a religious fanatic who had led her husband sternly and exultantly in the narrow path of enforced rectitude. When he was killed by a furnace explosion she declared it was the hand of God striking him down for some secret sin. Her associates were few: they were in the main members of a small congregation of East Side Anabaptists.

The summer gardener of the Greenes⁠—a middle-aged Pole named Krimski⁠—was discovered in a private saloon in Harlem, well under the benumbing influence of synthetic whiskey⁠—a state of beatific lassitude he had maintained, with greater or lesser steadfastness, since the end of summer. He was at once eliminated from police consideration.

The investigation into the habits and associates of Mrs. Mannheim and Sproot brought nothing whatever to light. Indeed, the habits of these two were exemplary, and their contacts with the outside world so meagre as to be regarded almost as nonexistent. Sproot had no visible friends, and his acquaintances were limited to an English valet in Park Avenue and the tradespeople of the neighborhood. He was solitary by nature, and what few recreations he permitted himself were indulged in unaccompanied. Mrs. Mannheim had rarely left the premises of the Greene house since she had taken up her duties there at the time of her husband’s death, and apparently knew no one in New York outside of the household.

These reports dashed whatever hopes Sergeant Heath may have harbored of finding a solution to the Greene mystery by way of a possible accomplice in the house itself.

“I guess we’ll have to give up the idea of an inside job,” he lamented one morning in Markham’s office a few days after the shooting of Chester Greene.

Vance, who was present, eyed him lazily.

“I shouldn’t say that, don’t y’ know, Sergeant. On the contr’ry, it was indubitably an inside job, though not just the variety you have in mind.”

“You mean you think some member of the family did it?”

“Well⁠—perhaps: something rather along that line.” Vance drew on his cigarette thoughtfully. “But that’s not exactly what I meant. It’s a situation, a set of conditions⁠—an atmosphere, let us say⁠—that’s guilty. A subtle and deadly poison is responsible for the crimes. And that poison is generated in the Greene mansion.”

“A swell time I’d have trying to arrest an atmosphere⁠—or a poison either, for the matter of that,” snorted Heath.

“Oh, there’s a flesh-and-blood victim awaiting your manacles somewhere, Sergeant⁠—the agent, so to speak, of the atmosphere.”

Markham, who had been conning the various reports of the case, sighed heavily, and settled back in his chair.

“Well, I wish to Heaven,” he interposed bitterly, “that he’d give us some hint as to his identity. The papers are at it hammer and tongs. There’s been another delegation of reporters here this morning.”

The fact was that rarely had there been in New York’s journalistic history a case which had so tenaciously seized upon the public imagination. The shooting of Julia and Ada Greene had been treated sensationally but perfunctorily; but after Chester Greene’s murder an entirely different spirit animated the newspaper stories. Here was something romantically sinister⁠—something which brought back forgotten pages of criminal history.16 Columns were devoted to accounts of the Greene family history. Genealogical archives were delved into for remote titbits. Old Tobias Greene’s record was raked over, and stories of his early life became the common property of the man in the street. Pictures of all the members of the Greene family accompanied these spectacular tales; and the Greene mansion itself, photographed from every possible angle, was used regularly to illustrate the flamboyant accounts of the crimes so recently perpetrated there.

The story of the Greene murders spread over the entire country, and even the press of Europe found space for it. The tragedy, taken in connection with the social prominence of the family and the romantic history of its progenitors, appealed irresistibly to the morbidity and the snobbery of the public.

It was natural that the police and the District Attorney’s office should be hounded by the representatives of the press; and it was also natural that both Heath and Markham should be sorely troubled by the fact that all their efforts to lay hands on the criminal had come to naught. Several conferences had been called in Markham’s office, at each of which the ground had been carefully reploughed; but not one helpful suggestion had been turned up. Two weeks after the murder of Chester Greene the case began to take on the aspect of a stalemate.

During that fortnight, however, Vance had not been idle. The situation had caught and held his interest, and not once had he dismissed it from his mind since that first morning when Chester Greene had applied to Markham for help. He said little about the case, but he had attended each of the conferences; and from his casual comments I knew he was both fascinated and perplexed by the problem it presented.

So convinced was he that the Greene mansion itself held the secret to the crimes enacted there that he had made it a point to call at the house several times without Markham. Markham, in fact, had been there but once since the second crime. It was not that he was shirking his task. There was, in reality, little for him to do; and the routine duties of his office were particularly heavy at that time.17

Sibella had insisted that the funerals of Julia and Chester be combined in one service, which was held in the private chapel of Malcomb’s Undertaking Parlors. Only a few intimate acquaintances were notified (though a curious crowd gathered outside the building, attracted by the sensational associations of the obsequies); and the interment at Woodlawn Cemetery was strictly private. Doctor Von Blon accompanied Sibella and Rex to the chapel, and sat with them during the services. Ada, though improving rapidly, was still confined to the house; and Mrs. Greene’s paralysis of course made her attendance impossible, although I doubt if she would have gone in any case, for when the suggestion was made that the services be held at home she had vetoed it emphatically.

It was on the day after the funeral that Vance paid his first unofficial visit to the Greene mansion. Sibella received him without any show of surprise.

“I’m so glad you’ve come,” she greeted him, almost gaily. “I knew you weren’t a policeman the first time I saw you. Imagine a policeman smoking Régie cigarettes! And I’m dying for someone to talk to. Of course, all the people I know avoid me now as they would a pestilence. I haven’t had an invitation since Julia passed from this silly life. Respect for the dead, I believe they call it. And just when I most need diversion!”

She rang for the butler and ordered tea.

“Sproot makes much better tea than he does coffee, thank Heaven!” she ran on, with a kind of nervous detachment. “What a sweet day we had yesterday! Funerals are hideous farces. I could hardly keep a straight face when the officiating reverend doctor began extolling the glories of the departed. And all the time⁠—poor man⁠—he was eaten up with morbid curiosity. I’m sure he enjoyed it so much that he wouldn’t complain if I entirely forgot to send him a check for his kind words.⁠ ⁠…”

The tea was served, but before Sproot had withdrawn Sibella turned to him pettishly.

“I simply can’t stand any more tea. I want a Scotch highball.” She lifted her eyes to Vance inquiringly, but he insisted that he preferred tea; and the girl drank her highball alone.

“I crave stimulation these days,” she explained airily. “This moated grange, so to speak, is getting on my young and fretful nerves. And the burden of being a celebrity is quite overwhelming. I really have become a celebrity, you know. In fact, all the Greenes are quite famous now. I never imagined a mere murder or two could give a family such positively irrational prominence. I’ll probably be in Hollywood yet.”

She gave a laugh which struck me as a trifle strained.

“It’s just too jolly! Even mother is enjoying it. She gets all the papers and reads every word that’s written about us⁠—which is a blessing, let me tell you. She’s almost forgotten to find fault; and I haven’t heard a word about her spine for days. The Lord tempers the wind⁠—or is it something about an ill wind I’m trying to quote? I always get my classical references confused.⁠ ⁠…”

She ran on in this flippant vein for half an hour or so. But whether her callousness was genuine or merely a brave attempt to counteract the pall of tragedy that hung over her I couldn’t make out. Vance listened, interested and amused. He seemed to sense a certain emotional necessity in the girl to relieve her mind; but long before we went away he had led the conversation round to commonplace matters. When we rose to go Sibella insisted that we come again.

“You’re so comforting, Mr. Vance,” she said. “I’m sure you’re not a moralist; and you haven’t once condoled with me over my bereavements. Thank Heaven, we Greenes have no relatives to swoop down on us and bathe us in tears. I’m sure I’d commit suicide if we had.”

Vance and I called twice more within the week, and were received cordially. Sibella’s high spirits were always the same. If she felt the horror that had descended so suddenly and unexpectedly upon her home, she managed to hide it well. Only in her eagerness to talk freely and in her exaggerated efforts to avoid all sign of mourning did I sense any effects on her of the terrible experience she had been through.

Vance on none of his visits referred directly to the crimes; and I became deeply puzzled by his attitude. He was trying to learn something⁠—of that I was positive. But I failed to see what possible progress he could make by the casual methods he was pursuing. Had I not known him better I might have suspected him of being personally interested in Sibella; but such a notion I dismissed simultaneously with its formulation. I noticed, however, that after each call he became unaccountably pensive; and one evening, after we had had tea with Sibella, he sat for an hour before the fire in his living-room without turning a page of the volume of da Vinci’s “Trattato della Pittura” which lay open before him.

On one of his visits to the Greene mansion he had met and talked with Rex. At first the youth had been surly and resentful of our presence; but before we went away he and Vance were discussing such subjects as Einstein’s general-relativity theory, the Moulton-Chamberlin planetesimal hypothesis, and Poincaré’s science of numbers, on a plane quite beyond the grasp of a mere layman like myself. Rex had warmed up to the discussion in an almost friendly manner, and at parting had even offered his hand for Vance to shake.

On another occasion Vance had asked Sibella to be permitted to pay his respects to Mrs. Greene. His apologies to her⁠—which he gave a semiofficial flavor⁠—for all the annoyance caused by the police immediately ingratiated him in the old lady’s good graces. He was most solicitous about her health, and asked her numerous questions regarding her paralysis⁠—the nature of her spinal pains and the symptoms of her restlessness. His air of sympathetic concern drew from her an elaborate and detailed jeremiad.

Twice Vance talked to Ada, who was now up and about, but with her arm still in a sling. For some reason, however, the girl appeared almost farouche when approached by him. One day when we were at the house Von Blon called, and Vance seemed to go out of his way to hold him in conversation.

As I have said, I could not fathom his motive in all this apparently desultory social give-and-take. He never broached the subject of the tragedies except in the most indirect way; he appeared, rather, to avoid the topic deliberately. But I did notice that, however casual his manner, he was closely studying everyone in the house. No nuance of tone, no subtlety of reaction, escaped him. He was, I knew, storing away impressions, analyzing minute phases of conduct, and probing delicately into the psychological mainsprings of each person he talked to.

We had called perhaps four or five times at the Greene mansion when an episode occurred which must be recounted here in order to clarify a later development of the case. I thought little of it at the time, but, though seemingly trivial, it was to prove of the most sinister significance before many days had passed. In fact, had it not been for this episode there is no telling to what awful lengths the gruesome tragedy of the Greenes might have gone; for Vance⁠—in one of those strange mental flashes of his which always seemed wholly intuitive but were, in reality, the result of long, subtle reasoning⁠—remembered the incident at a crucial moment, and related it swiftly to other incidents which in themselves appeared trifling, but which, when coordinated, took on a tremendous and terrible importance.

During the second week following Chester Greene’s death the weather moderated markedly. We had several beautiful clear days, crisp, sunshiny, and invigorating. The snow had almost entirely disappeared, and the ground was firm, without any of the slush that usually follows a winter thaw. On Thursday Vance and I called at the Greene mansion earlier than on any previous visit, and we saw Doctor Von Blon’s car parked before the gate.

“Ah!” Vance observed. “I do hope the family Paracelsus is not departing immediately. The man lures me; and his exact relationship to the Greene family irks my curiosity.”

Von Blon, as a matter of fact, was preparing to go as we entered the hallway. Sibella and Ada, bundled in their furs, stood just behind him; and it was evident that they were accompanying him.

“It was such a pleasant day,” explained Von Blon, somewhat disconcertedly, “I thought I’d take the girls for a drive.”

“And you and Mr. Van Dine must come with us,” chimed in Sibella, smiling hospitably at Vance. “If the doctor’s temperamental driving affects your heart action, I promise to take the wheel myself. I’m really an expert chauffeur.”

I surprised a look of displeasure on Von Blon’s face; but Vance accepted the invitation without demur; and in a few moments we were riding across town, comfortably installed in the doctor’s big Daimler, with Sibella in front, next to the driver’s seat, and Ada between Vance and me in the tonneau.

We went north on Fifth Avenue, entered Central Park, and, emerging at the 72nd Street entrance, headed for Riverside Drive. The Hudson River lay like a sheet of bluegrass below us, and the Jersey palisades in the still clear air of early afternoon were as plainly etched as a Degas drawing. At Dyckman Street we went up Broadway, and turned west on the Spuyten Duyvil Road to Palisade Avenue overlooking the old wooded estates along the water. We passed through a private roadway lined with hedges, turned inland again to Sycamore Avenue, and came out on the Riverdale Road. We drove through Yonkers, up North Broadway into Hastings, and then skirted the Longue Vue Hill. Beyond Dobbs Ferry we entered the Hudson Road, and at Ardsley again turned west beside the Country Club golf-links, and came out on the river level. Beyond the Ardsley Station a narrow dirt road ran up the hill along the water; and, instead of following the main highway to the east, we continued up this little-used road, emerging on a kind of plateau of wild pastureland.

A mile or so farther on⁠—about midway between Ardsley and Tarrytown⁠—a small dun hill, like a boulder, loomed directly in our path. When we came to the foot of it, the road swung sharply to the west along a curved promontory. The turn was narrow and dangerous, with the steep upward slope of the hill on one side and the precipitous, rocky descent into the river on the other. A flimsy wooden fence had been built along the edge of the drop, though what possible protection it could be to a reckless or even careless driver I could not see.

As we came to the outermost arc of the little detour Von Blon brought the car to a stop, the front wheels pointing directly toward the precipice. A magnificent vista stretched before us. We could look up and down the Hudson for miles. And there was a sense of isolation about the spot, for the hill behind us completely shut off the country inland.

We sat for several moments taking in the unusual view. Then Sibella spoke. Her voice was whimsical, but a curious note of defiance informed it.

“What a perfectly ripping spot for a murder!” she exclaimed, leaning over and looking down the steep slope of the bluff. “Why run the risk of shooting people when all you have to do is to take them for a ride to this snug little shelf, jump from the car, and let them topple⁠—machine and all⁠—over the precipice? Just another unfortunate auto accident⁠—and no one the wiser!⁠ ⁠… Really, I think I’ll take up crime in a serious way.”

I felt a shudder pass over Ada’s body, and I noticed that her face paled. Sibella’s comments struck me as particularly heartless and unthinking in view of the terrible experience through which her sister had so recently passed. The cruelty of her words evidently struck the doctor also, for he turned toward her with a look of consternation.

Vance glanced quickly at Ada, and then attempted to banish the embarrassment of the tense silence by remarking lightly:

“We refuse to take alarm, however, Miss Greene; for no one, d’ ye see, could seriously consider a criminal career on a day as perfect as this. Taine’s theory of climatic influences is most comfortin’ in moments like this.”

Von Blon said nothing, but his reproachful eyes did not leave Sibella’s face.

“Oh, let us go back!” cried Ada pitifully, nestling closer under the lap-robe, as if the air had suddenly become chill.

Without a word Von Blon reversed the machine; and a moment later we were on our way back to the city.

XIII

The Third Tragedy

(November 28 and November 30)

The following Sunday evening, November 28, Markham invited Inspector Moran and Heath to the Stuyvesant Club for an informal conference. Vance and I had dined with him and were present when the two police officials arrived. We retired to Markham’s favorite corner of the club’s lounge-room; and soon a general discussion of the Greene murders was under way.

“I’m rather amazed,” said the Inspector, his voice even quieter than usual, “that nothing has turned up to focus the inquiry. In the average murder case there are numerous lines to be explored, even if the right one is not hit upon immediately. But in this affair there appears to be nothing whatever on which to concentrate.”

“That fact in itself, I should say,” rejoined Vance, “constitutes a distinguishing characteristic of the case which shouldn’t be overlooked, don’t y’ know. It’s a clue of vital importance, and if only we could probe its significance I think we’d be on our way toward a solution.”

“A fine clue that is!” grumbled Heath. “ ‘What clue have you got, Sergeant?’ asks the Inspector. ‘Oh, a bully clue,’ says I. ‘And what is it?’ asks the Inspector. ‘The fact that there ain’t nothing to go on!’ says I.”

Vance smiled.

“You’re so literal, Sergeant! What I was endeavoring to express, in my purely laic capacity, was this: when there are no clues in a case⁠—no points de départ, no telltale indications⁠—one is justified in regarding everything as a clue⁠—or, rather, as a factor in the puzzle. To be sure, the great difficulty lies in fitting together these apparently inconsequential pieces. I rather think we’ve at least a hundred clues in our possession; but none of them has any meaning so long as it’s unrelated to the others. This affair is like one of those silly word-puzzles where all the letters are redistributed into a meaningless jumble. The task for the solver is to rearrange them into an intelligible word or sentence.”

“Could you name just eight or ten of those hundred clues for me?” Heath requested ironically. “I sure would like to get busy on something definite.”

“You know ’em all, Sergeant.” Vance refused to fall in with the other’s bantering manner. “I’d say that practically everything that has happened since the first alarm reached you might be regarded as a clue.”

“Sure!” The Sergeant had lapsed again into sullen gloom. “The footprints, the disappearance of the revolver, that noise Rex heard in the hall. But we’ve run all those leads up against a blank wall.”

“Oh, those things!” Vance sent a ribbon of blue smoke upward. “Yes, they’re clues of a kind. But I was referring more specifically to the conditions existing at the Greene mansion⁠—the organisms of the environment there⁠—the psychological elements of the situation.”

“Don’t get off again on your metaphysical theories and esoteric hypotheses,” Markham interjected tartly. “We’ve either got to find a practical modus operandi, or admit ourselves beaten.”

“But, Markham old man, you’re beaten on the face of it unless you can put your chaotic facts into some kind of order. And the only way you’ll be able to do that is by a process of prayerful analysis.”

“You give me some facts that’ve got some sense to ’em,” challenged Heath, “and I’ll put ’em together soon enough.”

“The Sergeant’s right,” was Markham’s comment. “You’ll admit that as yet we haven’t any significant facts to work with.”

“Oh, there’ll be more.”

Inspector Moran sat up, and his eyes narrowed.

“What do you mean by that, Mr. Vance?” It was obvious that the remark had struck some chord of agreement in him.

“The thing isn’t over yet.” Vance spoke with unwonted sombreness. “The picture’s unfinished. There’s more tragedy to come before the monstrous canvas is rounded out. And the hideous thing about it is that there’s no way of stopping it. Nothing now can halt the horror that’s at work. It’s got to go on.”

“You feel that, too!” The Inspector’s voice was off its normal pitch. “By God! This is the first case I’ve ever had that frightened me.”

“Don’t forget, sir,” argued Heath, but without conviction, “that we got men watching the house day and night.”

“There’s no security in that, Sergeant,” asserted Vance. “The killer is already in the house. He’s part of the deadly atmosphere of the place. He’s been there for years, nourished by the toxins that seep from the very stones of the walls.”

Heath looked up.

“A member of the family? You said that once before.”

“Not necessarily. But someone who has been tainted by the perverted situation that grew out of old Tobias’s patriarchal ideas.”

“We might manage to put someone in the house to keep an eye on things,” suggested the Inspector. “Or, there’s a possibility of prevailing upon the members of the family to separate and move to other quarters.”

Vance shook his head slowly.

“A spy in the house would be useless. Isn’t everyone there a spy now, watching all the others, and watching them with fear and suspicion? And as for dispersing the family: not only would you find old Mrs. Greene, who holds the purse-strings, an adamantine obstacle, but you’d meet all manner of legal complications as a result of Tobias’s will. No one gets a dollar, I understand, who doesn’t remain in the mansion until the worms have ravaged his carcass for a full quarter of a century. And even if you succeeded in scattering the remnants of the Greene line, and locked up the house, you wouldn’t have stamped out the killer. And there’ll be no end of this thing until a purifying stake has been driven through his heart.”

“Are you going in now for vampirism, Vance?” The case had exacerbated Markham’s nerves. “Shall we draw an enchanted ring around the house and hang garlic on the door?”

Markham’s extravagant comment of harassed discouragement seemed to express the hopeless state of mind of all of us, and there was a long silence. It was Heath who first came back to a practical consideration of the matter in hand.

“You spoke, Mr. Vance, about old man Greene’s will. And I’ve been thinking that, if we knew all the terms of that will, we might find something to help us. There’s millions in the estate, all of it left, I hear, to the old lady. What I’d like to know is, has she a full right to dispose of it any way she likes? And I’d also like to know what kind of a will the old lady herself has made. With all that money at stake, we might get on to a motive of some kind.”

“Quite⁠—quite!” Vance looked at Heath with undisguised admiration. “That’s the most sensible suggestion that’s been made thus far. I salute you, Sergeant. Yes, old Tobias’s money may have some bearing on the case. Not a direct bearing, perhaps; but the influence of that money⁠—the subterranean power it exerts⁠—is undoubtedly tangled up in these crimes.⁠—How about it, Markham? How does one go about finding out about other people’s wills?”

Markham pondered the point.

“I don’t believe there’d be any great difficulty in the present instance. Tobias Greene’s will is a matter of record, of course, though it might take some little time to look it up in the Surrogate’s files; and I happen to know old Buckway, the senior partner of Buckway & Aldine, the Greene solicitors. I see him here at the club occasionally, and I’ve done one or two small favors for him. I think I could induce him to tell me confidentially the terms of Mrs. Greene’s will. I’ll see what can be done tomorrow.”

Half an hour later the conference broke up and we went home.

“I fear those wills are not going to help much,” Vance remarked, as he sipped his highball before the fire late that night. “Like everything else in this harrowin’ case, they’ll possess some significance that can’t be grasped until they’re fitted into the final picture.”

He rose and, going to the bookshelves, took down a small volume.

“And now I think I’ll erase the Greenes from my mind pro tempore, and dip into the Satyricon. The fusty historians pother frightfully about the reasons for the fall of Rome, whereas the eternal answer is contained in Petronius’s imperishable classic of that city’s decadence.”

He settled himself and turned the pages of his book. But there was no concentration in his attitude, and his eyes wandered constantly from the text.

Two days later⁠—on Tuesday, November 30⁠—Markham telephoned Vance shortly after ten o’clock in the morning, and asked him to come at once to the office. Vance was preparing to attend an exhibition of negro sculpture at the Modern Gallery,18 but this indulgence was postponed in view of the District Attorney’s urgent call; and in less than half an hour we were at the Criminal Courts Building.

“Ada Greene called up this morning, and asked to see me without delay,” explained Markham. “I offered to send Heath out and, if necessary, to come myself later on. But she seemed particularly anxious that I shouldn’t do that, and insisted on coming here: said it was a matter she could speak of more freely away from the house. She seemed somewhat upset, so I told her to come ahead. Then I phoned you and notified Heath.”

Vance settled himself and lit a cigarette.

“I don’t wonder she’d grasp at any chance to shake the atmosphere of her surroundings. And, Markham, I’ve come to the conclusion that girl knows something that would be highly valuable to our inquiry. It’s quite possible, don’t y’ know, that she’s now reached a point where she’ll tell us what’s on her mind.”

As he spoke the Sergeant was announced, and Markham briefly explained the situation to him.

“It looks to me,” said Heath gloomily, but with interest, “like it was our only chance of getting a lead. We haven’t learned anything ourselves that’s worth a damn, and unless somebody spills a few suggestions we’re up against it.”

Ten minutes later Ada Greene was ushered into the office. Though her pallor had gone and her arm was no longer in a sling, she still gave one the impression of weakness. But there was none of the tremulousness or shrinking in her bearing that had heretofore characterized her.

She sat down before Markham’s desk, and for a while frowned up at the sunlight, as if debating how to begin.

“It’s about Rex, Mr. Markham,” she said finally. “I really don’t know whether I should have come here or not⁠—it may be very disloyal of me.⁠ ⁠…” She gave him a look of appealing indecision. “Oh, tell me: if a person knows something⁠—something bad and dangerous⁠—about someone very close and very dear, should that person tell, when it might make terrible trouble?”

“That all depends,” Markham answered gravely. “In the present circumstances, if you know anything that might be helpful to a solution of the murder of your brother and sister, it’s your duty to speak.”

“Even if the thing were told me in confidence?” she persisted. “And the person were a member of my family?”

“Even under those conditions, I think.” Markham spoke paternally. “Two terrible crimes have been committed, and nothing should be held back that might bring the murderer to justice⁠—whoever he may be.”

The girl averted her troubled face for a moment. Then she lifted her head with sudden resolution.

“I’ll tell you.⁠ ⁠… You know you asked Rex about the shot in my room, and he told you he didn’t hear it. Well, he confided in me, Mr. Markham; and he did hear the shot. But he was afraid to admit it lest you might think it funny he didn’t get up and give the alarm.”

“Why do you think he remained in bed silent, and pretended to everyone he was asleep?” Markham attempted to suppress the keen interest the girl’s information had roused in him.

“That’s what I don’t understand. He wouldn’t tell me. But he had some reason⁠—I know he did!⁠—some reason that terrified him. I begged him to tell me, but the only explanation he gave was that the shot was not all he heard.⁠ ⁠…”

“Not all!” Markham spoke with ill-concealed excitement. “He heard something else that, you say, terrified him? But why shouldn’t he have told us about it?”

“That’s the strange part of it. He got angry when I asked him. But there’s something he knows⁠—some awful secret; I feel sure of it.⁠ ⁠… Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have told you. Maybe it will get Rex into trouble. But I felt that you ought to know because of the frightful things that have happened. I thought perhaps you could talk to Rex and make him tell you what’s on his mind.”

Again she looked beseechingly at Markham, and there was the anxiety of a vague fear in her eyes.

“Oh, I do wish you’d ask him⁠—and try to find out,” she went on, in a pleading tone. “I’d feel⁠—safer if⁠—if⁠ ⁠…”

Markham nodded and patted her hand.

“We’ll try to make him talk.”

“But don’t try at the house,” she said quickly. “There are people⁠—things⁠—around; and Rex would be too frightened. Ask him to come here, Mr. Markham. Get him away from that awful place, where he can talk without being afraid that someone’s listening. Rex is home now. Ask him to come here. Tell him I’m here, too. Maybe I can help you reason with him.⁠ ⁠… Oh, do this for me, Mr. Markham!”

Markham glanced at the clock and ran his eye over his appointment-pad. He was, I knew, as anxious as Ada to have Rex on the carpet for a questioning; and, after a momentary hesitation, he picked up the telephone-receiver and had Swacker put him through to the Greene mansion. From what I heard of the conversation that ensued, it was plain that he experienced considerable difficulty in urging Rex to come to the office, for he had to resort to a veiled threat of summary legal action before he finally succeeded.

“He evidently fears some trap,” commented Markham thoughtfully, replacing the receiver. “But he has promised to get dressed immediately and come.”

A look of relief passed over the girl’s face.

“There’s one other thing I ought to tell you,” she said hurriedly; “though it may not mean anything. The other night, in the rear of the lower hall by the stairs, I picked up a piece of paper⁠—like a leaf torn from a notebook. And there was a drawing on it of all our bedrooms upstairs with four little crosses marked in ink⁠—one at Julia’s room, one at Chester’s, one at Rex’s, and one at mine. And down in the corner were several of the queerest signs, or pictures. One was a heart with three nails in it; and one looked like a parrot. Then there was a picture of what seemed to be three little stones with a line under them.⁠ ⁠…”

Heath suddenly jerked himself forward, his cigar halfway to his lips.

“A parrot, and three stones!⁠ ⁠… And say, Miss Greene, was there an arrow with numbers on it?”

“Yes!” she answered eagerly. “That was there, too.”

Heath put his cigar in his mouth and chewed on it with vicious satisfaction.

“That means something, Mr. Markham,” he proclaimed, trying to keep the agitation out of his voice. “Those are all symbols⁠—graphic signs, they’re called⁠—of Continental crooks, German or Austrian mostly.”

“The stones, I happen to know,” put in Vance, “represent the idea of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, who was stoned to death. They’re the emblem of Saint Stephen, according to the calendar of the Styrian peasantry.”

“I don’t know anything about that, sir,” answered Heath. “But I know that European crooks use those signs.”

“Oh, doubtless. I ran across a number of ’em when I was looking up the emblematic language of the gypsies. A fascinatin’ study.” Vance seemed uninterested in Ada’s discovery.

“Have you this paper with you, Miss Greene?” asked Markham.

The girl was embarrassed and shook her head.

“I’m so sorry,” she apologized. “I didn’t think it was important. Should I have brought it?”

“Did you destroy it?” Heath put the question excitedly.

“Oh, I have it safely. I put it away.⁠ ⁠…”

“We gotta have that paper, Mr. Markham.” The Sergeant had risen and come toward the District Attorney’s desk. “It may be just the lead we’re looking for.”

“If you really want it so badly,” said Ada, “I can phone Rex to bring it with him. He’ll know where to find it if I explain.”

“Right! That’ll save me a trip.” Heath nodded to Markham. “Try to catch him before he leaves, sir.”

Taking up the telephone, Markham again directed Swacker to get Rex on the wire. After a brief delay the connection was made and he handed the instrument to Ada.

“Hello, Rex dear,” she said. “Don’t scold me, for there’s nothing to worry about.⁠ ⁠… What I wanted of you is this:⁠—in our private mailbox you’ll find a sealed envelope of my personal blue stationery. Please get it and bring it with you to Mr. Markham’s office. And don’t let anyone see you take it.⁠ ⁠… That’s all, Rex. Now, hurry, and we’ll have lunch together downtown.”

“It will be at least half an hour before Mr. Greene can get here,” said Markham, turning to Vance; “and as I’ve a waiting-room full of people, why don’t you and Van Dine take the young lady to the Stock Exchange and show her how the mad brokers disport themselves.⁠—How would you like that, Miss Greene?”

“I’d love it!” exclaimed the girl.

“Why not go along too, Sergeant?”

“Me!” Heath snorted. “I got excitement enough. I’ll run over and talk to the Colonel19 for a while.”

Vance and Ada and I motored the few blocks to 18 Broad Street, and, taking the elevator, passed through the reception-room (where uniformed attendants peremptorily relieved us of our wraps), and came out upon the visitors’ gallery overlooking the floor of the Exchange. There was an unusually active market that day. The pandemonium was almost deafening, and the feverish activity about the trading-posts resembled the riots of an excited mob. I was too familiar with the sight to be particularly impressed; and Vance, who detested noise and disorder, looked on with an air of bored annoyance. But Ada’s face lighted up at once. Her eyes sparkled and the blood rushed to her cheeks. She gazed over the railing in a thrall of fascination.

“And now you see, Miss Greene, how foolish men can be,” said Vance.

“Oh, but it’s wonderful!” she answered. “They’re alive. They feel things. They have something to fight for.”

“You think you’d like it?” smiled Vance.

“I’d adore it. I’ve always longed to do something exciting⁠—something⁠ ⁠… like that.⁠ ⁠…” She extended her hand toward the milling crowds below.

It was easy to understand her reaction after her years of monotonous service to an invalid in the dreary Greene mansion.

At that moment I happened to look up, and, to my surprise, Heath was standing in the doorway scanning the groups of visitors. He appeared troubled and unusually grim, and there was a nervous intentness in the way he moved his head. I raised my hand to attract his attention, and he immediately came to where we stood.

“The Chief wants you at the office right away, Mr. Vance.” There was an ominousness in his tone. “He sent me over to get you.”

Ada looked at him steadily, and a pallor of fear overspread her face.

“Well, well!” Vance shrugged in mock resignation. “Just when we were getting interested in the sights. But we must obey the Chief⁠—eh, what, Miss Greene?”

But, despite his attempt to make light of Markham’s unexpected summons, Ada was strangely silent; and as we rode back to the office she did not speak but sat tensely, her unseeing eyes staring straight ahead.

It seemed an interminable time before we reached the Criminal Courts Building. The traffic was congested; and there was even a long delay at the elevator. Vance appeared to take the situation calmly; but Heath’s lips were compressed, and he breathed heavily through his nose, like a man laboring under tense excitement.

As we entered the District Attorney’s office Markham rose and looked at the girl with a great tenderness.

“You must be brave, Miss Greene,” he said, in a quiet, sympathetic voice. “Something tragic and unforeseen has happened. And as you will have to be told of it sooner or later⁠—”

“It’s Rex!” She sank limply into a chair facing Markham’s desk.

“Yes,” he said softly; “it’s Rex. Sproot called up a few minutes after you had gone.⁠ ⁠…”

“And he’s been shot⁠—like Julia and Chester!” Her words were scarcely audible, but they brought a sense of horror into the dingy old office.

Markham inclined his head.

“Not five minutes after you telephoned to him someone entered his room and shot him.”

A dry sob shook the girl, and she buried her face in her arms.

Markham stepped round the desk and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.

“We’ve got to face it, my child,” he said. “We’re going to the house at once to see what can be done and you’d better come in the car with us.”

“Oh, I don’t want to go back,” she moaned. “I’m afraid⁠—I’m afraid!⁠ ⁠…”

XIV

Footprints on the Carpet

(Tuesday, November 30; noon)

Markham had considerable difficulty in persuading Ada to accompany us. The girl seemed almost in a panic of fright. Moreover, she held herself indirectly responsible for Rex’s death. But at last she permitted us to lead her down to the car.

Heath had already telephoned to the Homicide Bureau, and his arrangements for the investigation were complete when we started up Centre Street. At Police Headquarters Snitkin and another Central Office man named Burke were waiting for us, and crowded into the tonneau of Markham’s car. We made excellent time to the Greene mansion, arriving there in less than twenty minutes.

A plain-clothes man lounged against the iron railing at the end of the street a few yards beyond the gate of the Greene grounds, and at a sign from Heath came forward at once.

“What about it, Santos?” the Sergeant demanded gruffly. “Who’s been in and out of here this morning?”

“What’s the big idea?” the man retorted indignantly. “That old bimbo of a butler came out about nine and returned in less than half an hour with a package. Said he’d been to Third Avenue to get some dog-biscuits. The family sawbones drove up at quarter past ten⁠—that’s his car across the street.” He pointed to Von Blon’s Daimler, which was parked diagonally opposite. “He’s still inside.⁠—Then, about ten minutes after the doc arrived, this young lady”⁠—he indicated Ada⁠—“came out and walked toward Avenue A, where she hopped a taxi. And that’s every man, woman, or child that’s passed in or out of these gates since I relieved Cameron at eight o’clock this morning.”

“And Cameron’s report?”

“Nobody all night.”

“Well, someone got in some way,” growled Heath. “Run along the west wall there and tell Donnelly to come here pronto.”

Santos disappeared through the gate, and a moment later we could see him hurrying through the side yard toward the garage. In a few minutes Donnelly⁠—the man set to watch the postern gate⁠—came hurrying up.

“Who got in the back way this morning?” barked Heath.

“Nobody, Sergeant. The cook went marketing about ten o’clock, and two regular deliverymen left packages. That’s everyone who’s been through the rear gate since yesterday.”

“Is that so!” Heath was viciously sarcastic.

“I’m telling you⁠—”

“Oh, all right, all right.” The Sergeant turned to Burke. “You get up on this wall and make the rounds. See if you can find where anyone has climbed over.⁠—And you, Snitkin, look over the yard for footprints. When you guys finish, report to me. I’m going inside.”

We went up the front walk, which had been swept clean, and Sproot admitted us to the house. His face was as blank as ever, and he took our coats with his usual obsequious formality.

“You’d better go to your room now, Miss Greene,” said Markham, placing his hand kindly on Ada’s arm. “Lie down, and try to get a little rest. You look tired. I’ll be in to see you before I go.”

The girl obeyed submissively without a word.

“And you, Sproot,” he ordered; “come in the living-room.”

The old butler followed us and stood humbly before the centre-table, where Markham seated himself.

“Now, let’s hear your story.”

Sproot cleared his throat and stared out of the window.

“There’s very little to tell, sir. I was in the butler’s pantry, polishing the glassware, when I heard the shot⁠—”

“Go back a little further,” interrupted Markham. “I understand you made a trip to Third Avenue at nine this morning.”

“Yes, sir. Miss Sibella bought a Pomeranian yesterday, and she asked me to get some dog-biscuits after breakfast.”

“Who called at the house this morning?”

“No one, sir⁠—that is, no one but Doctor Von Blon.”

“All right. Now tell us everything that happened.”

“Nothing happened, sir⁠—nothing unusual, that is⁠—until poor Mr. Rex was shot. Miss Ada went out a few minutes after Doctor Von Blon arrived; and a little past eleven o’clock you telephoned to Mr. Rex. Then shortly afterward you telephoned a second time to Mr. Rex; and I returned to the pantry. I had only been there a few minutes when I heard the shot⁠—”

“What time would you say that was?”

“About twenty minutes after eleven, sir.”

“Then what?”

“I dried my hands on my apron and stepped into the dining-room to listen. I was not quite sure that the shot had been fired inside the house, but I thought I’d better investigate. So I went upstairs and, as Mr. Rex’s door was open, I looked in his room first. There I saw the poor young man lying on the floor with the blood running from a small wound in his forehead. I called Doctor Von Blon⁠—”

“Where was the doctor?” Vance put the question.

Sproot hesitated, and appeared to think.

“He was upstairs, sir; and he came at once⁠—”

“Oh⁠—upstairs! Roaming about vaguely, I presume⁠—a little here, a little there, what?” Vance’s eyes bored into the butler. “Come, come, Sproot. Where was the doctor?”

“I think, sir, he was in Miss Sibella’s room.”

Cogito, cogito.⁠ ⁠… Well, drum your encephalon a bit and try to reach a conclusion. From what sector of space did the corporeal body of Doctor Von Blon emerge after you had called him?”

“The fact is, sir, he came out of Miss Sibella’s door.”

“Well, well. Fancy that! And, such being the case, one might conclude⁠—without too great a curfuffling of one’s brains⁠—that, preceding his issuing from that particular door, he was actually in Miss Sibella’s room?”

“I suppose so, sir.”

“Dash it all, Sproot! You know deuced well he was there.”

“Well⁠—yes, sir.”

“And now suppose you continue with your odyssey.”

“It was more like the Iliad, if I may say so. More tragic-like, if you understand what I mean; although Mr. Rex was not exactly a Hector. However that may be, sir, Doctor Von Blon came immediately⁠—”

“He had not heard the shot, then?”

“Apparently not, for he seemed very much startled when he saw Mr. Rex. And Miss Sibella, who followed him into Mr. Rex’s room, was startled, too.”

“Did they make any comment?”

“As to that I couldn’t say. I came downstairs at once and telephoned to Mr. Markham.”

As he spoke Ada appeared at the archway, her eyes wide.

“Someone’s been in my room,” she announced, in a frightened voice. “The French doors to the balcony were partly open when I went upstairs just now, and there were dirty snow-tracks across the floor.⁠ ⁠… Oh, what does it mean? Do you think⁠—?”

Markham had jerked himself forward.

“You left the French doors shut when you went out?”

“Yes⁠—of course,” she answered. “I rarely open them in winter.”

“And were they locked?”

“I’m not sure, but I think so. They must have been locked⁠—though how could anyone have got in unless I’d forgotten to turn the key?”

Heath had risen and stood listening to the girl’s story with grim bewilderment.

“Probably the bird with those galoshes again,” he mumbled. “I’ll get Jerym himself up here this time.”

Markham nodded and turned back to Ada.

“Thank you for telling us, Miss Greene. Suppose you go to some other room and wait for us. We want your room left just as you found it until we’ve had time to examine it.”

“I’ll go to the kitchen and stay with cook. I⁠—I don’t want to be alone.” And with a catch of her breath she left us.

“Where’s Doctor Von Blon now?” Markham asked Sproot.

“With Mrs. Greene, sir.”

“Tell him we’re here and would like to see him at once.”

The butler bowed and went out.

Vance was pacing up and down, his eyes almost closed.

“It grows madder every minute,” he said. “It was insane enough without those foot-tracks and that open door. There’s something devilish going on here, Markham. There’s demonology and witchcraft afoot, or something strangely close to it. I say, is there anything in the Pandects or the Justinian Code relating to the proper legal procedure against diabolic possession or spiritism?”

Before Markham could rebuke him Von Blon entered. His usual suavity had disappeared. He bowed jerkily without speaking, and smoothed his moustache nervously with an unsteady hand.

“Sproot tells me, doctor,” said Markham, “that you did not hear the shot fired in Rex’s room.”

“No!” The fact seemed both to puzzle and disturb him. “I can’t make it out either, for Rex’s door into the hall was open.”

“You were in Miss Sibella’s room, were you not?” Vance had halted, and stood studying the doctor.

Von Blon lifted his eyebrows.

“I was. Sibella had been complaining about⁠—”

“A sore throat or something of the kind, no doubt,” finished Vance. “But that’s immaterial. The fact is that neither you nor Miss Sibella heard the shot. Is that correct?”

The doctor inclined his head. “I knew nothing of it till Sproot knocked on the door and beckoned me across the hall.”

“And Miss Sibella accompanied you into Rex’s room?”

“She came in just behind me, I believe. But I told her not to touch anything, and sent her immediately back to her room. When I came out into the hall again I heard Sproot phoning the District Attorney’s office, and thought I’d better wait till the police arrived. After talking over the situation with Sibella I informed Mrs. Greene of the tragedy, and remained with her until Sproot told me of your arrival.”

“You saw no one else upstairs, or heard no suspicious noise?”

“No one⁠—nothing. The house, in fact, was unusually quiet.”

“Do you recall if Miss Ada’s door was open?”

The doctor pondered a moment. “I don’t recall⁠—which means it was probably closed. Otherwise I would have noticed it.”

“And how is Mrs. Greene this morning?” Vance’s question, put negligently, sounded curiously irrelevant.

Von Blon gave a start.

“She seemed somewhat more comfortable when I first saw her, but the news of Rex’s death disturbed her considerably. When I left her just now she was complaining about the shooting pains in her spine.”

Markham had got up and now moved restlessly toward the archway.

“The Medical Examiner will be here any minute,” he said; “and I want to look over Rex’s room before he arrives. You might come with us, doctor.⁠—And you, Sproot, had better remain at the front door.”

We went upstairs quietly: I think it was in all our minds that we should not advertise our presence to Mrs. Greene. Rex’s room, like all those in the Greene mansion, was spacious. It had a large window at the front and another at the side. There were no draperies to shut out the light, and the slanting midday sun of winter poured in. The walls, as Chester had once told us, were lined with books; and pamphlets and papers were piled in every available nook. The chamber resembled a student’s workshop more than a bedroom.

In front of the Tudor fireplace in the centre of the left wall⁠—a duplication of the fireplace in Ada’s room⁠—sprawled the body of Rex Greene. His left arm was extended, but his right arm was crooked, and the fingers were tightened, as if holding some object. His domelike head was turned a little to one side; and a thin stream of blood ran down his temple to the floor from a tiny aperture over the right eye.

A plan of a bedroom, showing a fireplace along one wall across from a day bed. In front of the fireplace is the silhouette of a fallen body, labelled “position in which body was found.”
Rex’s bedroom.

Heath studied the body for several minutes.

“He was shot standing still, Mr. Markham.