Geraldine Bonner.

The Black Eagle Mystery



скачать книгу бесплатно

CHAPTER XIX
JACK TELLS THE STORY

That night Babbitts, O'Mally and I left for Quebec. Before we went the wires that connected us with the Canadian city had been busy. St. Foy 584 had been located, a house on a suburban road, occupied for the last two weeks by an American called Henry Santley. Instructions were carried over the hundreds of intervening miles to surround the house, to apprehend Santley if he tried to get away, and to watch for the lady who would join him that night. Unless something unforeseen and unimaginable should occur we had Barker at last.

As we rushed through the darkness, we speculated on the reasons for his last daring move – the sending for his daughter. O'Mally figured it out as the result of a growing confidence – he was feeling secure and wanted to help her. He had had ample proof of her discretion and had probably some plan for her enrichment that he wanted to communicate to her in person. I was of the opinion that he expected to leave the country and intended to take her with him, sending back later for the mother. He was assured of her trust and affection, knew she believed in him, and was certain the murder hadn't been and now never would be discovered. He could count on safety in Europe and with his vast gains could settle down with his wife and his daughter to a life of splendid ease. Well, we'd see to that. The best laid schemes of mice and men!

The sun was bright, the sky sapphire clear as the great rock of Quebec, crowned with its fortress roofs, came into view. The two rivers clasped its base, ice-banded at the shore and in the middle their dark currents flowing free. Snow and snow and snow heaved and billowed on the surrounding hills, paved the narrow streets, hooded the roofs of the ancient houses. Through the air, razor-edged with cold and crystal clear, came the thin broken music of sleigh bells, ringing up from every lane and alley, jubilant and inspiring, and the sleighs, low running, flew by with the wave of their streaming furs and the flash of scarlet standards.

Glorious, splendid, a fit day, all sun and color and music, for me to come to Carol!

A man met us at the depot, a silent, wooden-faced policeman of some kind, who said yes, he thought the lady was there, and then piloted us glumly into a sleigh and mounted beside the driver. A continuous, vague current of sound came from Babbitts and O'Mally as we climbed a steep hill with the Frontenac's pinnacled towers looming above us and then shot off down narrow streets where the jingle of the bells was flung back and across, echoing and reverberating between the old stone houses. It made me think of a phrase the boys in the office used, "coming with bells!"

We went some distance through the town and out along a road, where the buildings drew apart from one another, villas and suburban houses behind walls and gardens. At a smaller one, set back in a muffling of whitened shrubberies, the sleigh drew in toward the sidewalk.

Before the others could disentangle themselves from the furs and robes, I was out and racing up the path.

My eyes, ranging hungrily over the house, thinking perhaps to see her at one of the windows, saw in it something ominous and secretive. There was not a sign of life, every pane darkened with a lowered blind. All about it the snow was heaped and curled in wave-like forms as if endeavoring to creep over it, to aid in the work of hiding its dark mystery. Barker's lair, his last stand! It looked like it, white wrapped, silent, inscrutable.

As I leaped up the piazza steps the door was opened by a man in uniform. He touched his hat and started to speak, but I pushed him aside and came in peering past him down a hall that stretched away to the rear. At the sound of his voice a door had opened there and a woman came out. For a moment she was only a shadow moving toward me up the dimness of the half-lit passage. Then I recognized her, gave a cry and ran to her.

My hands found hers and closed on them, my eyes looking down into the dark ones raised to them. Neither of us spoke, it didn't occur to me to explain why I was there and she showed no surprise at seeing me. It seemed as if we'd known all along we were going to meet in that dark passage in that strange house. And standing there silent, hand clasped in hand, I saw something so wonderful, so unexpected, that the surroundings faded away and for me there was nothing in the world but what I read in her beautiful, lifted face.

I never had dared to hope, never had thought of her as caring for me. All I had asked was the right to help and defend her. Perhaps under different circumstances, when things were happy and easy, I'd have aspired, gone in to try and win. But in the last dark month, when we'd come so close, we'd only been a woman set upon and menaced, and a man braced and steeled to do battle for her. Now, with her stone-cold hands in mine, I saw in the shining depths of her eyes – Oh, no, it's too sacred. That part of the story is between Carol and me.

There had been sounds and voices in the vestibule behind us. They came vaguely upon my consciousness, low and then breaking suddenly into a louder key, phrases, exclamations, questions. I don't think if the house had been rocked by an earthquake I'd have noticed it, and it wasn't till O'Mally came down the passage calling me, that I dropped her hands and turned. His face was creased into an expression of excited consternation, and he rapped out, not seeing Carol:

"What the devil are you doing there? Haven't you heard?" Then his eye catching her, "Oh, it's Miss Whitehall. Well, young lady, you must have had a pretty tough time here last night."

She simply drooped her eyelids in faint agreement.

"What do you mean?" I cried, and looked from O'Mally's boisterously concerned countenance to Carol's worn, white one. "What is it, something more?"

She gave a slight nod and said:

"The last – the end this time."

O'Mally wheeled on me:

"She hasn't told you. He shot himself – here, last night, shortly after she arrived."

Before I had time to answer, Babbitts and the man in uniform, a police inspector, were beside us. Babbitts was speechless – as I was myself – but the inspector, pompous and stolid, answered my look of shocked amazement:

"A few minutes after one. Fortunately I'd got your instructions and the house was surrounded. My men heard the report and the screams and broke in at once."

I looked blankly from one to the other. There was a confused horror in my mind, but from the confusion one thought rose clear – Barker had done the best, the only thing.

The inspector, ostentatiously cool in the midst of our aghast concern, volunteered further:

"He didn't die till near morning and we got a full statement out of him. For an hour afterward he was as clear as a bell – they are that way sometimes – and gave us all the particulars, seemed to want to. I've got it upstairs and from what I can make out he was one of the sharpest, most daring criminals I ever ran up against. I've had the body kept here for your identification. Will you come up and see it now?"

He moved off toward the stairs. O'Mally and Babbitts, muttering together, filing after him. I didn't go but turned to Carol, who had thrust one hand through the balustrade that ran up beside where we were standing. As the tramp of ascending feet sounded on the first steps, she leaned toward me, her voice hardly more than a whisper:

"Do you know who it is?"

"Who what is?" I said, startled by her words and expression.

"The man upstairs?"

I was terror-stricken – the experiences of the night had unhinged her mind. I tried to take her hand, but she drew it back, her lips forming words just loud enough for me to hear:

"You don't. It's Hollings Harland."

"Carol!" I cried, certain now she was unbalanced.

She drew farther away from me and slipping her hand from the balustrade pointed up the stairs:

"Go and see. It's he. There's nothing the matter with me, but I want you to see for yourself. Go and see and then come back here and I'll tell you. I know everything now."

I went, a wild rush up the stairs. In a room off the upper hall, the light tempered by drawn blinds, were O'Mally, Babbitts and the inspector, looking at the dead body of Hollings Harland.

CHAPTER XX
JACK TELLS THE STORY

When I came down she was waiting for me. With a finger against her lips in a command for silence, she turned and went along the passage to the door from which I had seen her enter. I followed her and catching up with her as she placed her hand on the knob, burst out:

"What is it – what does it mean? Where's Barker? In the name of Heaven tell me quickly what has happened?"

"I'll tell you in here," she said softly, and opening the door preceded me into the room.

It was evidently the dining-room of the house, a round table standing in the center, a sideboard with glass and china on it against the wall. A coal fire burned in the grate, and the blinds were raised showing the dazzling glitter of the snow outside. It was warm and bright, the one place in that sinister house that seemed to have a human note about it. She passed round the table to the fire and, standing there, made a gesture that swept the walls and unveiled windows:

"Last night in this room I at last understood the tragedy in which we've all been involved."

I stood like a post, still too bemused to have any questions ready. There were too many to ask. It was like a skein so tangled there was no loose thread to start with.

"Did you know Harland was here when you came?" was what I finally said.

She nodded:

"I suspected it on Sunday afternoon. I was certain of it on Sunday night before I left New York." She dropped into a chair by the fire, and pointed me to one near-by at the table. "Sit down and let me tell it to you as it happened to me, my side of it. When you've heard that, you can read the statement he gave, then you'll see it all. Straight from its beginning to its awful end here last night."

Before she began I told her of our interview with Mrs. Whitehall and that we knew her true relationship to Barker.

She seemed relieved and asked if her mother had also told us of her position with regard to Harland. When she saw how fully we'd been informed she gave a deep sigh and said:

"Now you can understand why I prevaricated that day in Mr. Whitney's office. I was trying to shield my father, to help him any way I could. Oh, if I'd known the truth then or you had – the truth you don't know even yet! It was Johnston Barker that was murdered and Hollings Harland who murdered him!"

I started forward, but she raised a silencing hand, her voice shaken and pleading:

"Don't, please, say anything. Let me go on in my own way. It's so hard to tell." She dropped the hand to its fellow and holding them tight-clenched in her lap, said slowly: "If my mother told you of that conversation I had with Mr. Harland you know what I discovered then – that he loved me. I never suspected it before, but when he pressed me with questions about Johnston Barker, so unlike himself, vehement and excited, I understood and was sorry for him. I told him as much as I could then, explained my feeling for the man he was jealous of without telling my relationship, said how I respected and trusted him, what any girl might say of her father. He seemed relieved but went on to ask if Mr. Barker and I were not interested in some scheme, some undertaking of a secret nature. That frightened me, it sounded as if he had found out about us, had been told something by someone. Taken by surprise, I answered with a half truth, that Mr. Barker had a plan on foot for my welfare, that he wanted to help me and my mother to a better financial position, but that I was not yet at liberty to tell what it was. I saw he thought I meant business, and as I go on, you'll see how that information gave him the confidence to do what he did later.

"I know now that the Whitney office discovered I had had a letter from Mr. Barker mailed from Toronto asking me to join him there and that I agreed to do so in a phone message that same day. That letter, directed to my office, was in typewriting and was signed with my father's initials. It was short, merely telling me that there was a reason for his disappearance which he would explain to me, that his whereabouts must be kept secret, and that he wanted me to come to him to make arrangements for a new business venture in which he hoped to set me up. As you know I attempted to do what he asked, and was followed by two men from the Whitney office."

"How do you know all this?" I couldn't help butting in.

She gave a slight smile, the first I had seen on her face:

"I'll tell you that later – it's not the least curious part of my story. Realizing by the papers that there was a general hue and cry for him I was very cautious, much more so than your detectives thought. I saw them, decided the move was too dangerous, and came back. At that time, and for some time afterward, I believed that letter was from my father."

"Wasn't it?"

She shook her head:

"No – but wait. I had no other letter and no other communication of any sort. I searched the papers for any news of him, thinking he might put something for me in the personal columns, but there was not a sign. Days passed that way, my business was closed and I had time to think, and the more I thought the more strange and inexplicable it seemed. Why, in the letter, had he made no reference to the broken engagement, so vital to both of us, that night in the church. Why had he said nothing about my mother whose state of mind he would have guessed?

"From the first I had suspicions that something was wrong. I could not believe he would have done what they said he had. Even after I read in the papers of his carefully planned get-away I was not convinced. After that scene in the Whitney office, when I saw you were all watching me, eager to trip me into any admission, my suspicions grew stronger. There was more than showed on the surface. I sensed it, an instinct warned me.

"As days passed and I heard nothing more from him, the conviction grew that something had happened to him. If it was accident I was certain it would have been known; if, as many thought, he'd lost his memory and strayed away, I was equally certain he'd have been seen and recognized. What else could it be? Can you picture me, shut up with my poor distracted mother, ravaged by fear and anxiety? Those waiting days – how terrible they were – with that sense of dread always growing, growing. Finally it came to a climax. If my father was dead as I thought, there was only one explanation – foul play. On Friday, when you came to see me, I was at the breaking point, afraid to speak, desperate for help and unable to ask for it.

"Now I come to the day when I learned everything, when all these broken forebodings of disaster fell together like the bits of glass in a kaleidoscope and took a definite shape. It was Sunday, can it be only two days ago? My mother had moved to the cottage and I was alone in the apartment packing up to follow her. About the middle of the afternoon while I was hard at work the telephone rang. I answered it and was told by the operator Long Distance was calling me, Quebec. At that my heart gave a great jump of joy and relief – my father was alive and sending for me again. It was like the wireless answer of help to a foundering vessel.

"You know how often the Long Distance connection varies – one day you can recognize a voice a thousand miles off that on the next you can't make out at a hundred? The voice that had spoken to me from Toronto was no more than a vibration of the wire, thin and toneless. The one that spoke from Quebec was distinct and colored with a personality.

"The first words were that it was J. W. B. and at these words, as if the receiver had shot an electric current into me, I started and grew tense, for it did not sound like the voice of J. W. B. It went on, explaining why he had not communicated with me, and how he now again wanted me to come to him. I, listening, became more and more sure that the person speaking was not my father, but that, whoever he was, his voice stirred a faint memory, was dimly suggestive of a voice I did know.

"I was confused and agitated, standing there with the receiver at my ear, while those sentences ran over the wire, every syllable clear and distinct. Then, suddenly, I thought of a way I could find out. My father was the only man in the world who knew of our secret, of the plan for our reunion. A simple question would test the knowledge of the person talking to me. When he had finished I said:

"'I've been longing to hear from you, not only for myself but for my mother – she's been in despair.'

"There was a slight pause before the voice answered:

"'Why should Mrs. Whitehall be so disturbed?'

"Then I knew it wasn't Johnston Barker. The reason for Mrs. Whitehall's disturbance was as well known to him as it was to me. Besides in our talks together he had never alluded to her as 'Mrs. Whitehall' but always as 'your mother' or by her Christian name, Serena.

"I said the mystery of his disappearance had upset her, she was afraid something had happened to him. A faint laugh – with again that curiously familiar echo in it – came along the wire:

"'You can set her mind at rest after you've seen me.'

"There was something ghastly about it – talking to this unknown being, listening to that whispering voice that called me to come and wasn't the voice I knew. It was like an evil spirit, close to me but invisible, and that I had no power to lay hold of.

"While I was thinking this he was telling me that he had a safe hiding place and that I must join him at once, the plans were now perfected for the new enterprise in which he was to launch me. I demurred and to gain time told him how I'd tried to go before and been followed. That caught his attention at once, his questions came quick and eager. Perhaps before that he had tried to disguise his voice, anyway now the familiar note in it grew stronger. I began to catch at something – inflexions, accent – till suddenly, like a runner who rounds a corner and sees his goal unexpectedly before him, my memory saw a name – Harland!

"I was so amazed, so staggered that for a moment I couldn't speak. The voice brought me back, saying sharply, 'Are you there?' I stammered a reply and said I couldn't make up my mind to come. He urged, but I wouldn't promise, till at length, feeling I might betray myself, I said I'd think it over and let him know later. He had to be satisfied with that and gave me his telephone number telling me to call him up as soon as I decided.

"What did I feel as I sat alone in that dismantled place? Can you realize the state of my thoughts? What did it mean – what was going on? The man was not Johnston Barker, but how could he be Harland, who was dead and buried? Ah, if you had come then instead of Friday I'd have told you for I was in waters too deep for me. All that I could grasp was that I was in the midst of something incomprehensible and terrible, from the darkness of which one thought stood out – my father had never sent for me, I had never heard from him – it had been this other man all along! I was then as certain as if his spirit had appeared before me that Johnston Barker was dead.

"And now I come to one of the strangest and finest things that ever happened to me in my life. Late on Sunday night a girl – unknown to me and refusing to give her name – came and told me of the murder, the whole of it, the evidence against me, and that I stood in danger of immediate arrest."

I jumped to my feet – I couldn't believe it:

"A girl – what kind of a girl?"

"Young and pretty, with dark brown eyes and brown curly hair. Oh, I can place her for you. She said she had been employed to help get the information against me and my father, and was the only woman acting in that capacity."

"Molly!" I gasped, falling back into my chair. "Molly Babbitts! What in Heaven's name – "

"You're right to invoke Heaven's name, for it was Heaven that sent her. She wouldn't tell me who she was or why she came, but I could see. What reason could there have been except that she believed me innocent and wanted to help me escape?"

For a moment I couldn't speak. I dropped my head and a silent oath went up from me to hold Molly sacred forever more. I could see it all – she'd found her heart, realized the cruelty of what was to be done, discovered in some way she'd given me wrong information, and done the thing herself. The gallant, noble little soul! God bless her! God bless her!

Carol went on:

"I wonder now what she thought of me. I must have appeared utterly extraordinary to her. She thought she was telling me what I already knew, or at least knew something of. But as I sat there listening to her I was piecing together in my mind what she was saying with what I myself had found out. I was building up a complete story, fitting new and old together, and it held me dumb, motionless, as if I didn't care. It would take too long to tell you how I got at the main facts – the smaller points I didn't think of. It was as if what she said and what I knew jumped toward each other like the flame and the igniting gas, connecting the broken bits into a continuous line of fire. I knew that murder had been committed. I knew that the body was unrecognizable. I knew that had my father been living I would have heard from him. I knew that the voice on the phone was Harland's. Without all the details she gave me it would have been enough. Before she had finished my mind had grasped the truth. It was Johnston Barker who had been murdered and Harland – trying now to draw me to him – was the murderer.



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18