Six Seconds of Darkness/Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

" WHERE is she now?” flashed Carroll.

A deep pink dyed the old lady’s cheeks.

“She’s up there, tied, just like we found her.”

In spite of himself, Hall chuckled. Mrs. Faber swung on him in indignation.

“Didn’t I have orders to leave everything just like it was found?” she demanded irately. “And didn’t we find her bound and gagged?”

Her logic was unanswerable, and they followed her up the front staircase, down the hall, and thence to the attic. The attic itself belied its name. It was sealed and comfortably plastered, and radiators gave testimony to the fact that Hamilton had provided top-floor warmth for the winter. In answer to a question as to where Ethel could be found, Mrs. Faber nodded mysteriously.

“I’ll show you soon enough—just follow.”

She led the way to a door which she flung open, and Hall, Denson, Rollins and Carroll—with Eunice and Harrelson in the rear—followed her into a small, neatly furnished, prettily decorated room, with chintz curtain over the window through which the morning sun streamed cheerily. The room itself was in perfect order; the bed had not been slept in, the dresser was neatly fixed, every chair in place. Carroll looked around curiously.

“The maid, Mrs. Faber?”

“I said she was in the attic,” flashed the old lady, “and she is.”

“But this——

“These are the servants’ quarters. The attic is up yonder,” and she indicated a flight of steps so steep as to resemble a ladder which led from the maid’s room through a trapdoor to a false attic or loft. Carroll and Rollins produced flash lights and mounted swiftly to the top. The girl was lying on the rough floor boarding which covered the beams, and over her hovered the extremely articulate and very solicitous Maggie, explaining vociferously why she could not unbind the cords which held the girl. Carroll produced a knife and in a few strokes released her. With which Ethel promptly fainted.

It was the work of but a few minutes for Carroll and Rollins to bear her down the ladder and stretch her on the bed. Then the men retired, the door closed, and, after leaving his whisky flask for purposes of resuscitation, Rollins joined them. It was perhaps a half hour later that Mrs. Faber opened the door to announce that the combined efforts of herself, Eunice, and Maggie had succeeded in restoring Ethel to consciousness and that she could not talk now, thanks to a growing hysteria.

“Rather peculiar she wasn’t found when the house was first searched,” volunteered Carroll.

“No,” answered Rollins; “I did not have a chance to go over things as I wanted to before I found Hartigan, and once I had him I thought the case was solved. And I left no orders for a search with my men here; in fact, if Rafferty searched at all, it was on his own hook. So it isn’t a bit peculiar.”

The men repaired downstairs and Doctor Robinson was summoned. It was more than an hour later that he came down from upstairs to announce that Ethel would see the detectives, but urging that she be made to talk as little as possible.

“The poor girl has had a terrible time of it,” said the man of medicine. “She has been lying in that cramped position and in constant terror for twelve hours. Be as easy with her as you can.”

They filed quietly up to the third floor again and were admitted to the room by Eunice. Hall, Denson, Rollins, and Harrelson took their places around the walls and Carroll drew a chair up to the bed. His face, as he gazed compassionately at the overwrought, unstrung girl, was that of a guileless boy; his eyes infinitely kind.

“Feeling better?” he asked soothingly.

Tears filled the girl’s eyes. Her body shook with sobs. Carroll touched her hand gently.

“There, there, my girl. You’re all right now and in the hands of friends. I wanted to ask you some questions, but if you’re feeling badly I’ll wait.”

“No—no—don’t! Mrs. Faber says it’s important that you should be knowing everything right away. And, oh!—she says they killed Mr. Hamilton!”

“Don’t you worry about that; we’re going to catch the man who did it. Suppose you tell us what happened to you last night—if you feel well enough?”

“I ain’t feelin’ very well, sir, but I’ll tell all I know, I—I’m feeling awful bad, sir, but there ain’t no chance of my gettin’ things wrong because I ain’t been doin’ nothing but lyin’ up there, thinkin’, for—it seems like twelve years ’stead of twelve hours, sir.”

She wiped the tears from her eyes, controlled herself with an effort, and went on with her story:

“I come upstairs early last night, sir, so’s to read a perfectly grand story in a magazine. I was readin’ it when all of a sudden I hear somebody outside. At first I think it’s Donaldson—he’s the new butler, sir; but then I notice that the man who is walkin’ has got rubber heels on, an’ I know that Donaldson don’t wear them, and neither does Mr. Hamilton.

“Honest! I got cold and hot all over at the same time. I run to the winder an’ looked out to the garden. There was some one creepin’ across t’ward that bush yonder——

Carroll walked to the window and looked. The bush in question was situated about sixty feet from the house and directly in front of the big double doors opening from the living room onto the first-floor veranda. He interrupted the girl:

“What sort of looking man was it?”

“A big man, sir; a very big man—not so tall, sir, but he looked awful big in the moonlight.”

“I see. Go ahead.”

“Well, at first I thought I would scream for help, but I knew if I did that the burglar outside——

“You are sure it was a burglar?”

“That’s the first thing I thought of, sir; an’ afterward, as I’m goin’ to tell you, I found out for sure it was. As I was sayin’, sir, I knew if I yelled he’d come in an’ shoot me or cut my throat or do somethin’ terrible like that. So I just got down an’ crawled under the bed, thinkin’ that maybe, if I laid real quiet, he wouldn’t do me no harm.

“For a long time there wasn’t any noise, an’ then—oh, it was awful!—I seen my door openin’, slow an’ careful, so’s it wouldn’t creak. I was that scared I couldn’t hardly breathe, an’ was all cramped up with lyin’ under th’ bed, an’ I got right hysterical.

“The man come in the room an’ walked all around. I had turned off my light, but there’s a light right outside the door, an’ that made the room pretty bright, an’ I noticed that it was shinin’ right on me where I was layin’ under the bed. I was scared to stay where I was, ’cause all he’d of had to do to see me would of been to look. So I made up my mind to try to move; that’s where I made a terrible mistake, sir; because no sooner did I move than he heard me.”

She stopped for a second and covered her eyes with her hands, as though to shut out a vision of the nightmare. At length she went on, although her voice was by no means as steady as it had been:

“He acted awful quick, sir—reached over an’ turned on the light at the bulb with one hand an’ took out a big revolver with the other——

“A-ah! He did have a revolver, then?”

“Cert’n’y, sir; don’t all burglars carry revolvers?”

“Some of ’em say they don’t,” broke in Rollins. The girl went on:

“He took out this big revolver an’ pointed it at the bed.

“‘Come out of that!’ he says real terrible an’ gruff. ‘Or, by God,’ he says, just like that, ‘I’ll shoot!’

“There wasn’t nothin’ else for me to do, sir, so I crawled out, an’ when I made as if to scream he tells me if I do he’s going to kill me right away; but if I don’t make no noise no harm will come to me. So I told him I’d do anything if he just wouldn’t kill me, an’ he said that he’d have to bind me and put a piece of cloth in my mouth so I wouldn’t scream, an’ then I’d have to climb up them there steps into the attic.

“I ast him what was he going to do with me when he got me there, an’ he said he wasn’t going to hurt me at all if I did that, but that he’d kill me if I didn’t, or if I tried any foolishness. So I said all right, I’d do it.

“He tied my hands behind my back, an’, even if he was a burglar, he was a real gentle feller once he got started, because he kept askin’ me was the rope too tight an’ did it hurt too much an’ sayin’ he was sorry he had to do it, but safety first was his motter. Then, when he got me up there, he laid me down as easy as he could an’ tied my feet together, said to wait for a couple of hours an’ then commence kickin’ on the floor an’ some one would come an’ let me free.

“Then he goes down the ladder again and commences prowlin’ about my room like he was waitin’ for some one. I rolled over easy so’s I could see the corner of the room by the door yonder, an’ who should I see come up the stairs but Donaldson!”

“Donaldson?”

“The butler, sir. I held my breath, because I knew right away that he was gonna shoot Donaldson, but he didn’t do nothin’ of the kind; they shook hands an’ started talkin’. I was s’prised, sir, because it was like they was old friends. But still I thought maybe Donaldson didn’t know that he was a burglar, an’ I was just gonna make a noise when Donaldson says to him—he says:

“‘Didja run into anybody up here, Lefty?’

“An’ then Lefty grins, just like that. ‘Yeh,’ he says; ‘some fool girl musta heard me an’ was hidin’ under the bed.’

“Then Donaldson says—shall I use the very words, sir?”

“Yes, my girl—the very words.”

“He says: ‘Damn the luck!’ Just like that, sir. ‘An’ what did you do with her, Lefty?’

“With that the man he calls Lefty kinder grins. ‘She’s a nice, commonsense girl,’ he says. ‘I told her I’d kill her if she didn’t do what I wanted, an’ I’ve got her, bound an’ gagged an’ all trussed up nice, lyin’ up in the attic yonder. By the time some one finds her we’ll have made our getaway.’

“Well, sir, I can’t tell you how terrible shocked I was at findin’ out Donaldson’s true nature. That’s the way with men, sir; you don’t know nothin’ about them until you happen to overhear somethin’ like I done with Donaldson. Just think of the risk I’d been runnin’ with him, sir; sleepin’ right in th’ next room, where he could come in any night an’ cut my throat an’ steal all my savings! It was just Gawd’s providence that he didn’t. But there wasn’t no use attractin’ him for help—he’d most probably of come up an’ killed me right then for makin’ a noise.

“He seemed awful pleased that this man Lefty had tied me up an’ put me in that awful place up yonder, an’ he said he didn’t have nothin’ else to fear because it was Maggie’s night out. Then they started talkin’ about other things. Lefty says to Donaldson:

“‘How’s things goin’?’

“‘Fine as prunes!’ Donaldson says, smilin’. ‘Conover’s outside an’ Hartigan’s on the first floor with enough boodle to keep us all rich for a year.’

“Then Lefty shakes his head. ‘I think I ought to get in on that,’ he says.

“‘Nothin’ doin’,’ says Donaldson. ‘Though we might give you a little rake-off. But you said all you wanted was them papers out of Mr. Hamilton’s safe.’

“‘You got ’em?’ asks the burglar.

“Donaldson nodded yes an’ took a packet tied with red ribbon out of his pocket an’ handed ’em to him. ‘There they are—th’ whole bunch. That’s your end, less’n we want to divide with you.’

“‘Oh,’ says the burglar, ‘I’m gettin’ out on the top side even if I don’t get no coin! I guess I’d better be goin’.’

“‘No time like now,’ says Donaldson. ‘You go down the front steps, an’ be mighty careful because old man Hamilton’s in the lib’ry, an’ he’s got company. They was raisin’ some sort of hell’—that’s just the word he used, sir, an’ me thinkin’ that he was a respectable man, sir—‘they was raisin’ hell,’ he says, ‘last I saw of ’em. You’ll find the latch on the front door loose. Take it easy, an’, whatever y’ do, don’t get caught.’

“‘I won’t,’ says the other feller. ‘No danger of that. I’ll go right out th’ front like I owned the house.’

“So they talked a little more, an’ then Donaldson says: ‘If you meet anybody there ain’t to be no shootin’, understand? Just beat it back upstairs an’ I’ll take care of you.’

“‘I ain’t no gunman,’ says the burglar.

“You got a gat, ain’t you?’ asks Donaldson.

“‘Yes,’ he says; ‘but so has Red Hartigan, an’ he ain’t no gunman.’

“‘Hartigan ain’t got a gun,” says Donaldson. ‘I searched him ’cause I didn’t want no rough stuff.’”

“Just one minute,” interrupted Carroll. “You are quite positive that Donaldson said he had searched Hartigan and that Hartigan did not have a gun?”

“Yes——

“What’s that got to do with it?” broke in Rollins roughly. “Didn’t we find the gun on Hartigan?”

“Well, they tell each other good-bye, an’ Donaldson repeats that there ain’t to be no shootin’, an’ then the burglar goes downstairs, soft an’ easy.

“For a few minutes after he’s gone Donaldson stands there like he’s thinkin’ about somethin’, an’ then he begins to smile. Then he comes into my room an’ stands at the foot of them there steps an’ calls up to me.

“‘Don’t be worried, Ethel,’ he says, ‘I’m goin’ downstairs for a minute, an’ as soon as I come back I’ll let you loose.’

“An’ I didn’t answer him, sir; I wouldn’t talk to that kind of a man, an’, besides,” naïvely, “that rag was in my mouth an’ I couldn’t. So he goes downstairs, an’ there I lay, sir; couldn’t move nor nothin’ an’ frightened to death with all I’d been through an’ seen, an’ after about five or ten minutes, sir—I’m not sure just how long it was—there came two shots——

“Two?”

“It sounded like either two or three, sir. The first one or two, whichever it was, come right together; but the other one, which come five or six seconds later, seemed to me it came from the garden.”

“Why did it sound that way? Explain what you mean.”

“It was a different sound, sir; there wasn’t no echo to it like there was to the first shot.”

“Cinch!” broke in Rollins quickly. “The first shot was really two an’ seemed like an echo. The second come from Hartigan an’ didn’t have no echo.”

“That may be right,” agreed Carroll complacently. “And now, just to make sure—would you recognize the burglar if you saw him, Ethel?”

“Yes, sir; surely, sir.”

Carroll immediately dispatched Hall downstairs with instructions to have Roberts bring Hartigan to the girl’s room. In five minutes Hall was back, and behind him the immense figure of the wounded burglar.

“Is that the man?” queried Carroll.

The girl glanced at him briefly.

“No, sir; certainly not. The man they called Lefty was an undersized runt of a man, not like this one at all!”