Authors: Mignon G. Eberhart
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective
“Nonsense,” said Dorothy vigorously. “You’ll be all right in a day or two. How’s Mother Denisty taking this business of William’s death?”
“I—don’t know,” faltered Felicia.
“No, I don’t suppose you do know,” said Dorothy with something like exasperation. “Really, Felicia, you can’t see anything. Have the police done anything?”
“About William, you mean? Nothing more. At least, nothing that I know of.”
Dorothy patted Felicia’s hand briskly.
“Then why do you worry? Mother Denisty can’t live forever. And think of the insurance she—”
“Mother Denisty is very kind to me,” said Felicia. Her hands were trembling.
“Kind,” said Dorothy. She laughed abruptly. “You are all afraid of her. Every one of—”
“Ah, there you are, Dorothy,” said Mrs. Denisty’s bland voice from the doorway. Dorothy turned quickly, Felicia bent closer over her knitting, and Susan felt quite suddenly as if something had shifted and moved under her feet. Like quicksand, she thought, only it was nothing so perceptible.
“I hope you’ve cheered up Felicia,” said Mrs. Denisty. Her eyes were as blank and cold as two blue beads, but her voice was pleasant. If she had heard Dorothy’s words, she gave no indication of it.
“I’ve tried to,” said Dorothy. She rose. “I must run now. Good-bye, Felicia. Good-bye, Miss Dare. Good-bye, Mother Denisty.”
She kissed Felicia’s white face; she kissed Mrs. Denisty. But Susan rose and walked downstairs and out the wide front door with Dorothy, who accepted her company with the breezy manner that seemed characteristic of her.
“Poor Felicia,” said Dorothy. “Do walk along to the bridge with me, Miss Dare. The path goes this way. I live just across the ravine, you know. I should be so alone but for Felicia. I’m a widow, you know. Tell me, just how
“She seems not much changed,” said Susan.
“That’s what I feared. It seems so queer and useless for her to brood over William. I can’t imagine—” She checked herself abruptly and then continued in the same rapid way: “I don’t believe any of them realize the state Felicia is in. And Miss Dare—I am afraid for her.”
“Afraid! Of whom?”
Dorothy paused before she said, very slowly: “I’m afraid Felicia has Felicia to fear more than anyone else.”
Suicide! Brooding over William. Was that what Dorothy meant? At their right was the patch of brown, dripping sumach. Susan said: “That’s where the man was murdered, isn’t it?”
“About there, I believe,” said Dorothy. She met Susan’s eyes for a long moment. “Take care of Felicia—watch her, Miss Dare. Good-bye.”
Her heels tapped the wooden floor of the bridge. Susan watched, thinking of her last words, until Dorothy’s blonde head vanished around the curve in the path beyond the bridge. Then Susan turned. As she did so something about the floor of the bridge caught her eye, and she bent to look.
Presently she rose and very thoughtfully went back to the house. But it was exactly then that terror clutched at Susan and would not be shaken off.
Yet, at the moment, there was nothing at all that she could do. Nothing but wait and listen and look.
It made it no easier when, that dreary afternoon, Felicia talked of death. Talked absently, queerly, knitting on a yellow afghan. What did Susan think it would be—did she think it would be difficult—would one regret at the last—when it was too late—would one—
“Has anyone talked to you—of death?” asked Susan sharply.
“N-no,” said Felicia. “That is, Dorothy and I have talked of it. Some. And Marlowe always likes to discuss such things.”
“But that is wrong,” said Susan abruptly. “You are sad and depressed.”
“Perhaps,” said Felicia agreeably. She knitted a long row before she said:
“Dear Glad—he is so good to me. He would, really, give me anything I want. Why, he would even give me a divorce if I asked for it: he has often said so. Not that I want a divorce. It only shows that he would put my wishes, even about that, ahead of Mother Denisty’s.”
“Then why,” said Susan very gently, “does he keep the—Easter image?”
Felicia flinched visibly, but replied:
“Why, you see, Miss Dare, he—he believes in its power. And he keeps it because he says it would be very weak to give in to his—feeling about it.”
“But he talks as if—” began Susan irrepressibly and checked herself.
“Oh, yes,” said Felicia. “But that’s only because he doesn’t like to admit it to other people.”
It was that night that the thing happened in the drawing room. And that was the matter of the yellow afghan.
While they were at dinner, somehow, some time, under the very eyes of the Easter image, the knitting was unraveled.
They found it when they entered the chill and quiet drawing room immediately after dinner. It lay in an untidy heap of crinkly yellow yarn, half on the chair where Felicia had left it, half on the floor.
Felicia saw it first and screamed.
And even Mother Denisty looked gray when she saw the heap of yarn. But she turned at once commandingly to Susan and told her to take Felicia upstairs.
Gladstone took Felicia’s arm, and Susan followed, and somehow they got her out of the room. As they passed the still, black Easter image Felicia shuddered.
Upstairs, however, she managed to reply to Gladstone’s inquiries.
Yes, she said, she had left the knitting there on the chair just before dinner.
“You are sure, Felicia?”
“Why, of course. I knew we would come into the drawing room for coffee and I—I wanted to have my knitting there. It—keeps me from looking at the image—”
“Nonsense, Felicia. The image won’t hurt you.”
Felicia wrung her hands.
“Glad, don’t keep up this pretense. You know you are afraid of it, too. And Miss Dare knows—”
“Miss Dare—” He turned, his eyes blue and cold and exactly like his mother’s, plunged into Susan’s eyes and Felicia cried:
“So there’s no need to pretend because she is here.”
“My wife,” said Gladstone to Susan, “seems to be a bit hysterical—”
“Oh, no, no,” moaned Felicia. “Don’t you see? Listen to me, Glad.” She was leaning forward, two scarlet spots in her cheeks and her great eyes blazing. “I left the knitting there in the chair. I was the last one in the dining room—do you remember?”
“Y-yes,” said Gladstone unwillingly.
“No one left the table. No one was in the drawing room. And when I returned, it was completely raveled out. Oh, it isn’t the knitting that matters: I don’t care about that. But it’s the—the cruelty. The—” she paused searching for the word, wringing her hands again. Finally it came: “The persecution,” said Felicia Denisty.
“Nonsense,” said Gladstone heavily. “You are making too much of an absurdly trivial thing. Now, Felicia, do be sensible. Take one of your capsules and go to sleep. The image simply couldn’t have pulled your knitting loose—if that’s what you mean.”
“The image,” said Felicia slowly, “couldn’t have killed William, either. But William is dead.”
“Don’t be morbid, Felicia,” said Gladstone. He paused with his hand on the door-knob. “Miss Dare, will you help me a moment, please?”
It was, of course, an absurdly transparent excuse. Felicia said nothing and Susan followed Gladstone into the hall. He closed the door.
“Did my wife unravel the knitting herself, Miss Dare?” he said directly.
“I don’t know.”
His hard blue eyes, so strangely like his mother’s, were plumbing her own eyes, seeking for any thought that lay behind them.
“She seems to have been talking to you a great deal,” he said, slowly.
“No,” said Susan quietly, “not a great deal.”
He waited for her to say more. But Susan waited, too.
“I hope,” he said at length, “that you realize to what her talk is due.”
Susan smoothed back her hair.
“Yes,” she said truthfully. “I believe I do.”
He stared at her again, then suddenly turned away.
“That’s good,” he said. “Good-night, Miss Dare.”
He went down the stairs at once. In a moment, Susan heard the heavy outside door close. He had not, then, joined his mother and Marlowe, whose voices, steadily and blandly talking, were coming from the drawing room. The room where the Easter image brooded and waited. She returned to Felicia.
“I took two capsules,” said Felicia wearily. “You needn’t stay, Miss Dare. I’ll be asleep in no time.”
Two capsules. Susan resolved to talk to the doctor the next day, did what she could for Felicia, and left. This time she met Marlowe, his arms full of yellow wool.
“Oh, hello there, Miss Dare,” he said. “I was just looking for you. What shall we do with this? Mother is frightfully upset about it. Glad is the apple of her eye, you know. It’s never been exactly a happy marriage—you’ve probably guessed it. Poor mother. And now Felicia’s got this queer notion about the Easter image.”
“How did she get the notion?” said Susan. “I mean—has it been long?”
“M-m—a few months. Seems to have got worse since these unlucky things have been happening. Just accidents, of course. But it is a bit queer. Isn’t it?”
“Very,” said Susan. “Tell me, is she interested in the French lessons?”
“With Dorothy, you mean? Oh, I don’t know. She goes regularly, nine o’clock every morning. Mother sees to that. But I don’t know that she likes it much. Funny thing, psychology, isn’t it? I suppose you see a lot of queer things in your profession, don’t you?”
“Well,” said Susan guardedly, “yes and no. Good-night. Oh, I don’t think it would be a good thing to give the yarn to her just now. Anyway, she’s asleep.”
He turned toward the stairway, his arms still full of yellow yarn.
In her room, Susan locked the door as she had done carefully every night in the silent haunted house. Haunted by a wooden image.
And then, vehemently, she rejected the thought. It was no wooden image that menaced that house and those within it. It was something far stronger.
And yet she was shaken in spite of herself by the incident of the knitting. After all,
Felicia herself unraveled it? The family were all at the table and no one left it even momentarily. And the pretty housemaid who was, since William’s death, acting as waitress, had been busily occupied and also, naturally, the cook.
But Susan was dealing only with intangibles. There was still no definite, material clue.
She turned, smoothed back her hair, and sat down at the writing desk. And set herself to reducing intangibles to tangibles.
It was after midnight when she leaned back and looked at what she had written.
A conclusion was there, of course, implicit in those facts. But she needed one link. And, even with that one link, she had no proof. Susan turned off the light and opened the window and stood there for a moment, looking out into the starless, quiet night.
Through the darkness and quiet a small dull sound came, beating with rhythmic little thuds upon her ears. And quite suddenly it was as if a small far-away tom-tom was beating out its dark and secret message.
Easter Island and a devil.
“This,” said Susan firmly to herself, “is fantastic. The sound is made by footsteps on the wooden bridge.”
She listened, and faintly the footsteps came nearer. She could see nothing through the soft damp blackness. But suddenly, not far below her window, the footsteps ceased. Whoever was on the bridge then had now reached the path.
There was no way to know who had passed.
Yet quite suddenly Susan knew as surely as if she had seen.
And with the knowledge came the strangest feeling of urgency. For she knew, with a blinding flash of light, what those footsteps on the bridge meant.
She snatched a dark silk dressing gown and flung it around her shoulders, unlocked her door and fled down the hall. She waited in the dusk above the stair railing, until the door below opened and she caught a glimpse of the person who entered. It was as she expected, and she turned and was at Felicia’s door by the time steps began to ascend the stairs.
If Felicia’s door were locked! But it was not. She opened it and slipped inside and leaned against it, her heart pounding as if she’d been racing. Felicia was sleeping quietly and peacefully.
Now what to do? If there were only time—time to plan, time to make arrangements. But there was not.
And she had no proof.
And the feeling of urgency was stronger.
Felicia lay so sunk in sleep that only her heavy drugged breathing told Susan that she was alive.
At the bedside table was a telephone—a delicate gold and ivory thing—resting on a cradle.
Did she dare use it?
She must take the risk. She would need help.
She went to the telephone, lifted it, and called a number very softly into the ivory mouthpiece, and waited.
“Hello—hello—” It was Jim Byrne’s voice and sounded sleepy and far away.
“Jim—Jim, this is Susan.”
“Susan—do you want me?”
“Yes.” Did she imagine it or did the floor creak very softly just below the door? If anyone were out there, if her voice, not Felicia’s, were heard—
“Susan—what are you doing?
Even at a distance the vibration from the telephone might be heard.
“Susan!” cried Jim and very softly Susan replaced the telephone on its cradle. Suddenly his voice was gone. And he was miles and miles away.
The floor under the door did not creak again. If she could only have told Jim what to do, what she was trying to do, where to wait until she signaled. Well, the thing now was to get Felicia out of danger.
She turned to the bed.
It was terrifically difficult to rouse Felicia. Susan was exhausted and trembling by the time she had managed to half carry and half push Felicia into the small dressing room. A chaise-longue was there, and when Felicia’s slack, inert figure collapsed upon it gracelessly, she fell again into the horribly heavy slumber from which she had never fully aroused. And all the time there had been that dreadful necessity for haste.
Susan, panting from the sheer physical strain, very softly closed the door of the dressing room.
Then, with the utmost caution, she turned the shade of the light so that it would not fall directly upon the door into the hall and yet so that anyone entering the room would be obliged to cross that narrow band of light.