AS the guests started toward their rooms Macklin found himself beside Mrs. Glassock and Genevive. “It has been a terrible experience for you,” he said. “I hope that it has no ill effects. If I can be of any service do not hesitate to call upon me.”
Mrs. Glassock’s chin rose perceptibly. “The only service you can render us, young man, is to permit us to forget the humiliating position in which your imposture has placed us,” and she swept majestically up the stairway.
Genevive paused beside him. “I am sorry for you, Mr. Donovan,” she said, coldly; “but you have brought it upon yourself. One should not pretend to be what one is not,” and she followed her mother up the stairs to their rooms.
Percy Thorn, assisting his aunt, followed them. As he passed Donovan he stopped and put a hand on the other’s shoulder. “I want you to know, Mackie,” he said, “that I think Saranov is a damned liar.”
“Thanks,” replied Donovan. “I knew you would not believe such a ridiculous charge.”
“But who in the world could have done it?” asked Thorn.
Donovan shook his head. “I wish I knew,” he replied.
He remained a moment, after the others had gone, to speak to his father—to ask the latest news concerning his mother, only to learn that there had been no change; then he, too, ascended the stairs toward his room. As he reached the top step the door of Nariva Saranov’s room opened and he saw her standing there. It was evident that she wanted to speak to him. She held a finger to her lips, enjoining silence, at the same time motioning him toward her. He had taken but a couple of steps in her direction when the door of Saranov’s room opened and he stepped into the hall. Simultaneously Nariva stepped back into her room and closed her door.
“I thought your room was at the opposite end of the hall, Mr. Donovan,” said Saranov, with a slightly sarcastic inflection.
“No one should know it better than you,” replied Macklin.
Saranov paled. “Keep away from my daughter’s room,” he said, nastily.
Macklin bowed. “She has been absent from the library since the police came,” he said, “and I feared that she might be indisposed. I but wished to stop and inquire. Perhaps you can enlighten me.”
“My daughter is quite well, thank you,” replied Saranov, and as Donovan bowed again and turned toward his room the other watched him until he was out of sight.
Again in his room, the house restored to the normal quiet of the early morning hours, Donovan threw himself into an easy chair beside the table, and lighting a cigaret sat pondering the occurrences of the night. That which occupied him most was a mad effort to discover some means of removing all suspicion connected with the attempt that he believed had been made upon his life, from the person of Nariva Saranov. He did not want to believe that she had had any guilty part in it, and yet, try as he would to reach another, the conviction remained unalterable that she had attempted to lure him to his death, and that by chance only Mason B. Thorn had approached her door at the very instant that she had expected Donovan. It made him wince to even think it, and so he would set off each time upon a new tack in a fruitless effort to explain her various questionable actions upon some other hypothesis. But he could not explain away her evident surprise when she discovered him alive; he could not explain why she had been the last to come to the hall after the firing of the fatal shot; he could not explain why she and Goertz alone of all the company had been absent from the library during the police investigation. His judgment told him that she and Goertz and Saranov were at the bottom of the plot to kill him, yet but just now when she had attempted to speak to him Saranov had prevented. Then there was the memory of those almost tragic words that still were ringing in his ears: “Mon Dieu! I do love you!” and recollection of the horror that had been in her eyes as she voiced the cry and fled up the stairway. What did it all mean? Donovan rubbed the back of his neck with his right palm, but the movement had scarcely begun when it stopped abruptly, the man remaining with his hand on his neck in rigid immobility, his eyes glued upon the floor at the bottom of the closet door, beneath which a piece of paper was slowly being pushed into the room.
Cautiously Donovan arose from his chair and tip-toed across the room toward the closet. He made no noise as he moved—none until his hand fell upon the knob and then, in the same instant, he flung the door wide. The closet was empty. He entered it and examined every inch of it. It was absolutely empty except for a couple of suits that he had hung in it the day before. Like all the other closets in the house it was wainscoted with cedar to the same height that the rooms were paneled in various ornamental woods.
Mystified, Donovan came from the closet and locked the door, leaving the key in the lock. Then he stooped and picked up the bit of folded paper. It bore but a single word—the same word that the other message had borne—“BEWARE!”
As he stood before the closet door turning the bit of paper over and over, the while he searched his mind for an explanation as to the identity of its sender and the means by which he had been able to shove it from under the closet door without being in the closet, his attention was attracted by what seemed to be a shuffling sound from one of the balconies before the windows on the opposite side of the room. Cautiously he raised his eyes toward the window. The light from the reading lamp illuminated the table, the chair beside it, and a little area of the floor surrounding the two, leaving the balance of the room in a subdued light.
Beyond the table was the window from which the sound seemed to come. As he watched he thought that he saw something move upon the balcony just outside the window. He remained very quiet, apparently examining the paper in his hand, his eyes barely raised to the window. Again he saw the movement without—a human hand reached forth toward the sash. It clutched the bottom in an attempt to raise it higher, but the sash did not move. Then another hand appeared, perhaps to help. In the second hand was a long, slim dagger. The second hand never reached the sash. There was a shot. The hands disappeared. The tinkle of metal on stone. A curse. Silence.
Donovan leaped for the window, threw it open and stepped out onto the balcony. There was no one there—there was no one on any of the other balconies. A rich Irish voice rose from below. “Phwat the divil’s wrong up there?” it demanded. Its owner was one of the officers left to guard the rear of the house.
“I thought I heard a shot,” said Donovan. He said nothing about the figure on his balcony, for he had determined to ferret out the mysteries of that night, unaided. If Nariva was involved he wanted to know it first, and shield her, if he could. Love and insanity merely have different names.
He stooped and examined the stone floor of the balcony. There lay the dagger. He picked it up and carried it into his room. He could hear people running through the hall, aroused and alarmed by this second shot. He heard the gruff, low tones of the police, and the high, frightened voices of women. He carried the dagger to the table and held it close to the light. His face was very near it as he examined it minutely. It was a weapon of foreign make, its velvet grip bound with cords of gold. A faint fragrance wafted to his nostrils. Quickly he raised the grip closer to them and inhaled, then he let the weapon fall to the table as his hand dropped limply at his side. His face was drawn and white—the hilt was scented with Nariva Saranov’s perfume.
For a moment he stood thus, then he turned and walked quickly to the door, opened it and stepped into the hall. He wanted to see who was there—or, more particularly, who was not. They were all there—Saranov, Nariva, the Glassocks, servants and police. Percy Thorn came down a moment later, his aunt behind him. Goertz alone was absent. No one seemed able to explain the shot and Donovan kept silent as to what had transpired upon his balcony and within his room.
Tired, haggard, nerve wracked, the occupants of the house returned once more to their rooms. Macklin threw himself upon his bed, fully dressed, after switching off the lights. He did not intend to sleep. He had wanted to wait until the house quieted, if it ever did, that he might, in comparative safety from discovery, go to Saranov’s door and listen. He had an idea that Goertz was in there, and he wanted to make sure. But he was very tired—almost exhausted—and he dozed before he realized the danger. It could have been for but an instant before his sleep was shattered by a piercing scream, and, again, a shot rang through the house.
Macklin leaped from his bed and ran toward the hall door; as he did so, from the closet door on the opposite side of the room, a pistol flashed in the dark and a bullet whizzed by his head. As he had no weapon he could not return the fire, but he sprang to the switch and turned on the lights. Then he wheeled and faced the closet door. It was closed and the key was still upon the outside, where he had left it. He crossed the room and tried the knob—the door was locked!
As he entered the hall again he found it filled with nervous men and terrified women. Everyone was talking at once. Only the police were near normal, and even their nerves were a bit on edge.
Lieutenant Terrance Donovan was among them. “Who’s missing, Macklin?” he demanded of his son.
“The butler, Count Saranov, and his daughter,” replied young Donovan.
“The butler is not on the premises,” said his father. “Which is Count Saranov’s room?”
“Here,” said Macklin, leading the way. The others crowded in their rear.
Lieutenant Donovan opened the door and fumbled for the light switch. His son stepped past him and found it, flooding the room with light. “Look!” he exclaimed, and pointed toward the closet.
There, on the floor, his body in the room, his legs extended into the closet, lay Count Boris Saranov, upon his back, blood running from a bullet wound in his forehead. Macklin Donovan turned and ran toward the hall.
“Miss Saranov!” he cried. “Something may have happened to her.”
His father followed him, and again the others swarmed behind. Macklin knocked upon the girl’s door—there was no response. He knocked again—louder. Silence. Motioning the others aside he stepped back, paused, hurled himself against the door with all his weight, striking it with a shoulder. A single lamp burned upon a table. The room was empty, as were the dressing room and bath and closet.
Macklin called the girl’s name aloud: “Nariva! Nariva!” but there was no response. He looked blankly at his father. “What do you make of it, Dad?” he asked.
The older man shook his head. “It’s got me,” he admitted; “but we’ll find her—she must be in the house.”
“That’s what you said about Goertz,” his son reminded him, “but you haven’t found him yet.”
“I’ll search the house myself this time,” replied Terrance Donovan. “I want to have a closer look at Saranov’s room and the body, then we’ll lock it up, and I’ll go through the house.”
Together they went into the hall and approached Saranov’s door. It was closed—they had left it open. The elder Donovan tried the knob, but the door did not open, then he stooped and looked through the keyhole.
“The door is locked, Mackie,” he said. “It is locked on the inside.” He turned to one of his men. “Break it in, McGroarty,” he said.
The huge Irishman had to do little more than lean against the door to send it crashing into the room. The lieutenant smiled. “There is nothing heavier than a ton of Mick,” he said, and McGroarty grinned, but the smile and the grin both faded as the two officers stepped into the room, for Saranov’s body was not there—only a little pool of blood marked the spot upon the floor outside the open closet door where the dead man’s head had rested.
Terrance Donovan scratched his head, then he turned and looked accusingly at the company clustered in the doorway. A wide-eyed, terrified housemaid was sobbing hysterically.
“Shut up!” admonished Donovan, whose own nerves were on edge by the various happenings in this house of mystery.
“I c-can’t,” sobbed the girl. “If ever I lives through this night, I quits. The house is haunted. I’ve said so right along. The noises I’ve heard—my gord!”
“What noises have you heard?” demanded Lieutenant Donovan.
“Footsteps at night w’en I’d be a-comin’ home late. My gord, I’d run all the way up stairs as fast as I could go, ’til I got scairt to go out o’nights.”
“Footsteps where?” asked the officer.
“In these rooms where there wasn’t nobody in ’em—on this floor mostly. This floor’s the worst. My gord, it’s awful.”
“Didn’t you ever tell anyone about ’em?” pursued Donovan.
“Sure! My gord, didn’t I tell Mr. Goertz half a dozen times?”
“What did he say?”
“He said I was just a nervous little girl afraid of the dark—that it was all my imagination. Imagination! I suppose poor Mr. Thorn a-lyin’ down stairs there dead, is imagination. An’ this here dead man wot gets up an’ locks his door an’ vanishes—I suppose he’s imagination, too. My gord!”
Donovan turned to the others. “If you would feel safer together,” he said, “you may go to the library and remain there the balance of the night—it will not be long now until daylight. There are officers at both ends of the house—you will be perfectly safe there.”
“I wouldn’t go back to my room alone if you’d give me Broadway,” said the house maid. The others appeared to feel similarly, for they moved toward the stairway and down to the library in a huddled group. There were no stragglers.