FIVE minutes later, Vincent Harrelson answered a rap on the door and David Carroll came in, followed by the lawyer, the police commissioner, and Barrett Rollins. Eunice stepped forward and spoke with admirable self-possession.
“Did you enjoy our conversation?” she questioned brightly.
“I can’t say that I did,” he answered. “You only succeeded in puzzling me more than ever.”
“It’s what they tried to do,” growled Rollins.
“Quite evidently,” returned Carroll. “And now, Miss Duval, may I ask you one question?”
“A thousand if you like. But I tell you right now——”
“There’s no use quibbling!” snapped Harrelson aggressively. “I killed Hamilton, and Miss Duval, thinking that she will be let off because she is a woman, has confessed to save me. You tell her this, Carroll, honestly: Do you or do you not think that I would be acquitted on the facts as you know them?”
Carroll eyed him keenly.
“According to the facts as you have presented them, Mr. Harrelson, I should say that you would be acquitted without any great trouble. What do you think, Mr. Denson?”
The lawyer nodded gravely.
“I think they’d let you off, son, provided your story stood the test of cross-examination.”
Harrelson turned triumphantly to the girl.
“You see, dear; even Mr. Denson admits that I’d be let off. Now will you retract your silly, soft-hearted confession?”
The girl looked up and then away again.
“You’re a dear boy,” she said in a choked little voice. “But, you see, gentlemen, I cannot retract the truth. I shot Mr. Hamilton. You wanted to ask me a question, Mr. Carroll?”
“Yes—it is a question directed at both of you. During your little talk just now you seemed to agree that there was one revolver, and one only, among the three of you. Is that correct?”
They were silent for a minute, suspecting a trap. Denson spoke:
“I’d advise that you tell the truth.”
“Yes,” said Harrelson, “there was just one revolver—Mr. Hamilton’s. I picked it up off the floor and fired at him.”
Eunice shook her head.
“It is just a question of which one is telling the truth, Mr. Carroll. I give you my word that I fired the revolver.”
“That’s all I wanted to know,” replied the detective. “And now, if you will, I am going to ask you to go with us to the house. I will take Mr. Rollins here and Red Hartigan with us. I want the scene re-enacted exactly as it happened last night. Mr. Denson agrees. Do you?”
“I do,” answered the girl promptly.
“And I.” The reply of the young man was almost as ready.
A few minutes later they were speeding toward Hamilton’s handsome home in two large touring cars. On their arrival they found Mrs. Faber on the long veranda to greet them.
Carroll bowed to her as he led the party up the steps by the L of the porch.
“Good morning, Mrs. Faber! Have you heard anything from your maid or the butler yet?”
The little old lady shook her head.
“No, sir. I don’t understand any of it, either—unless they got scared when the shooting started and ran away. I might understand the maid doing that, sir; but not the butler. He was a big, strapping man, sir.”
“He was that,” indorsed Denson. “I saw him last night, and he didn’t impress me as being the type of man to be frightened by a little shooting.”
“What’s all this talky-talk about the butler?” broke in Rollins roughly. “Whada we care where he’s gone? We got the guy that done the work, an’ we should worry if the butler never comes back.”
“No-o, on the face of it, we shouldn’t,” said Carroll slowly. “But in a case as complex as this one I prefer to talk to every one who was near the scene at the time.”
“Piffle!” snapped Rollins. “S’more o’ your dam’—beggin’ your pardon, ladies— highfalutin’ stuff. Got to go ahead just so, like it’s wrote down in the book. Honest, you private sleuths gimme a pain; if you was to see a guy shoot another one you’d go up an’ examine th’ footprints an’ the calibre of the revolver instead of chasin’ the feller that you seen do it.”
Instead of growing angry, Carroll threw back his head and laughed ringingly.
“Pretty good, Rollins. Maybe you’re right, after all. I’m somewhat of an old fogy in those things; like the farmer with the jointed fishing rod and gold-mounted handle—he whips the stream all day and catches a trout two inches long while the kid on the bank with a switch from a tree, four yards of string, and a bent pin catches a dozen.”
“That’s about the size of it, Mr. Carroll. I wasn’t slappin’ at you personal, y’understand; it’s just that you fellers ain’t used to the game, an’ y’ travel all around th’ block to git next door.”
“Well, as Rollins has said,” went on Carroll gravely, albeit he was not unconscious and not unamused at the glances of wonder on the faces of Hall and Denson at his reception of Rollins’ brusqueness, “that eliminates a need to interview the butler. Now for the living room.”
They entered the room in which the shooting had occurred, and as they did so the weird associations of the place affected the nerves of all. They became quiet—all of them save Rollins. As for the head of the regular office, he strutted up and down the room with his chest out like a pouter pigeon, proclaiming his theories to all who would listen.
They were theories which absolved Eunice and Harrelson from all blame and loomed ominous for a certain Mr. Red Hartigan, who scowled silently at the big man.
“Helluva lot he knows!” growled Hartigan once. Carroll silenced him with a look.
Finally the young detective placed the characters in the little tragedy, himself assuming the role of the dead man; Hartigan stood behind the screen; Eunice took her place behind the portières; Harrelson and Carroll started into the library, adjoining the living room on the western side.
“I want to be sure that everything is just as it was last night,” he said. “Are you sure it is, Miss Duval?”
The girl glanced around.
“Yes, except that that large door there opening to the veranda was open. The portières behind this French window here were closed, those over the window on the other side of the door were partly closed, and those over the window behind the screen were thrown back—I remember throwing them back myself during the afternoon so that the breeze could come through.”
“And the screen over the corner of the veranda?”
“Was down on the southern side, because the exposure is slightly westerly, too, and we did that to keep the afternoon sun away. The screen on the eastern exposure had been rolled up.”
“Good!” said Carroll. “Now begin at the beginning. You, Hartigan—you had your gun out.”
Hartigan frowned deeply.
“Say, listen here, cull! If you’ve brung me up here to catch me in a trap, y’r gonna get fooled, see! I didn’t have no gat—never carried one. I had a bundle of swag, an’ I was standin’ back here—slipped in through th’ back stairs, hall, dinin’ room, an’ was waitin’ to vamoose through this here winder when I seen this girl step out from behind them curtains yonder.”
“No one was in the room when you came in from the dining room?”
“Didn’t see no one. Guess she was there all th’ time.”
“Why didn’t you make your get-away right off?”
“Because,” explained the burglar, “it was th’ other half of th’ winder that was open, an’ that was beyond th’ screen. So there wasn’t nothin’ to do but for me to wait until th’ coast was clear. I lay low—until th’ fight started.”
“Hmm! Did you see this man, Miss Duval?”
She shook her head.
“No. No one came in the room right then but Donaldson.”
A battery of eyes flashed to hers. Carroll was patently surprised.
“The butler,” she explained.
“You didn’t mention him. Why?”
“I forgot him. He came in the room, looked out toward the garden, and walked into the dining room again.”
“Did you see him, Hartigan?”
“Yeh, I seen him.”
“Why didn’t you mention it?”
“I got my own good reasons for that.”
Rollins burst in violently.
“It’s probable that the butler was in on the robbery!” he rasped. “That’s why this here guy won’t say nothin’—low as they get, they don’t get so low as to squeal on a pal. But that’d explain your butler beatin’ it when the fireworks started.”
“So-o! Was Donaldson in with you?”
“That’s f’r me to know an’ you to find out,” said Hartigan belligerently. “I’ve said all I’m gonna say about him.”
“Which is tantamount to an admission that the butler was concerned in the burglary,” interjected Denson. Hartigan looked at him sharply.
“It ain’t tantymount to nothin’, you wise guy!”
“Y’r shootin’ off y’r mouth too much!” growled Rollins. “One more word an’ I’ll——”
“Y’ can’t scare me——”
“Here, here!” Carroll stepped between the pair. “None of that, please. You, Hartigan, get behind the screen. For safety’s sake, Roberts, take your place on the veranda to see that this man doesn’t try any funny work. And now, folks, if you will—”
He walked into the library with Harrelson, and that young man took up the story.
“We were standing here by the centre table, quarrelling,” he said simply. “It got more and more violent, and finally he struck me. I knocked him down. I was kind of sorry about it, because he was so much smaller than I. But he was game, all right. He jumped up and made a dash for the table. Got a big paper weight off there and slammed it at me. Fortunately I ducked and managed to grapple with him.”
“Just one minute, Mr. Harrelson. How did you happen to be in here with him?”
“Mr. Hamilton did not like me, and we started quarrelling about my attentions to his ward, to whom I have the honour to be engaged. We met in the living room, and he asked her to leave us alone. She refused, and he suggested that we come in here where we could be alone. I, of course, agreed.”
“And why did you go behind the portières, Miss Duval?”
“I thought they might come back in the room and think I had gone. I came back when I heard the violent quarrel and the noise evidently caused by the throwing of the paper weight.”
“I see. And just about then is when you came in from the dining room, wasn’t it, Hartigan?”
“Guess so. Th’ room looked empty, an’ this here lady come out from behind them there curtains right afterward.”
“Go ahead, Harrelson.”
“As I say, I grappled with him. All I wanted to do was to hold him quiet, but he was stronger than I thought and slippery as an eel. We banged against the door and it flew open. We staggered into the room.”
“Where was Miss Eunice at that time?”
The girl took her place halfway between the door and the table.
“I was standing right here, frightened to death.”
“Is that the way you saw them, Hartigan?”
“That’s th’ way it looked to me. ’Course I couldn’t see awful plain from behind that there screen.”
“And then?” prompted Carroll.
“Mr. Hamilton tore loose from me,” went on the young artist. “Before I knew what he was doing he had the drawer of that table open and a revolver in his hand. Eunice screamed, and I jumped for him and grabbed his arm. Then——”
“I turned out the lights,” said Hartigan.
“You!” It was a chorus from Eunice, Harrelson and Rollins.
“Yes, I knew that,” said Carroll quietly. “Go ahead, Mr. Harrelson.”
“As the lights went out the revolver dropped to the floor. I reached down, grabbed it, and shot him.”
Eunice’s face flamed.
“That is not the truth, Mr. Carroll. You can look at him and see that it is not the truth. The revolver spun against my feet. Before I realized what I was doing I picked it up and fired at Mr. Hamilton. And he did not tell the truth about one other feature in his eagerness to shield me. I had the revolver in my hands before the lights went out; isn’t that so, Hartigan?”
The burglar shook his head.
“I dunno, miss. Y’see, about then I was fixin’ to reach for th’ light switch; but I do know this—that the revolver dropped before I turned off the lights!”
“A-a-ah!” A sigh escaped the rigid Denson. He turned sharply to Harrelson. “Is that the truth, Vincent?”
The young man coloured violently.
“I shot in the dark,” he persisted mulishly.
“I don’t believe you,” announced Denson finally, “although I wish to God I could. You have a good defence.”
Eunice flashed him a glance of appreciation.
“Thanks, Mr. Denson.”
Carroll strolled idly about the room, examining floors and ceiling. From the opposite corner, he spoke over his shoulder:
“Would you mind standing exactly on the spot from which you shot, Miss Duval?”
“Certainly.” She placed herself immediately between the table and the door, on a line with the comer of the room. Carroll walked back across the room and extended both hands—one to Eunice and one to Harrelson.
“I think that about absolves the pair of you two foolish children,” he said heartily.
A gasp of surprise went up and a chorus of “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” said Carroll slowly, “that the bullet that was fired from that spot never hit Mr. Hamilton at all. It struck in the very corner of the walls and ceiling yonder! You can see the hole for yourselves!”