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Authors: Mignon G. Eberhart

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective

The Cases of Susan Dare (17 page)

BOOK: The Cases of Susan Dare
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At one end was a sort of kitchen, with a small gas plate and a table and some shelves. Along one side and behind a screen was a couch and a mirror and dressing table.

“There,” said Mariette, pointing, and Susan bent to look closely at the small congregation of shaving tools—the shaving brush had dried, but little white ribbons of soap clung to it as if they had just been squeezed out of the tube of shaving soap that lay beside it, except that they too had dried. A safety razor was there, also.

It was, of course, exactly what Mariette had already described to her, but as she looked at the bits of white soap and the unused razor blade, Susan found herself convinced: André Cavalliere had not intended to disappear. That much, at least, was certain.

“Have you found something?”

“No more than you told me,” said Susan. “Where was the money hidden?”

Mariette led the way quickly to the fireplace at the front of the room. The brick was loose, and it was evident—or would have been evident to a searcher—that it was loose. So probably the money had had nothing to do with the thing. Except to indicate again that André Cavalliere had not intended to disappear.

Susan looked thoughtfully about the room. It was evidently here that he had worked and lounged. There were shabby but comfortable-looking chairs. Easels. A paint- smeared table. Ash trays. A small rug or two, very thin and worn. Queer that the rugs were arranged with so little regard for need or symmetry. One was flung crookedly before the fireplace. One was straight enough below a chair, but the chair had been placed so that it stood at an awkward angle to the rest of the room.

Susan walked over to the chair.

Odd that the chair was placed so carefully in the very center of the rug. Odd—

Someone was coming up the attic stairs.

Madame opened the door; her dark eyes swept keenly over Susan and Mariette.

“So Mariette has been telling you her troubles,” she said harshly. “Mariette is a silly girl. The young man has gone. Yes. But it is not for Mariette to find him. He will return if he so desires. Your breakfast,” said Madame firmly, “is waiting.”

Madame too possessed a key to the studio room, and she locked the door firmly behind them. Susan saw Mariette’s slender hand close upon her own key.

And it was as they reached the second floor again that the incident occurred that was, then, so trivial.

And that was the breakfast tray, laden with soiled dishes and a crumpled napkin, which stood upon the bottom step. Madame halted as she saw it, then swept forward, took it up in her wide hands, and looked at Susan and Mariette.

“Mr. Malmin,” she said, “had breakfast in his own room this morning. Agnes is very careless. She ought not to have put the tray on the steps.”

She turned, and her thin black dress billowed out after her as she went down the steps to the first floor.

As they followed, Susan put out her hand silently toward Mariette who, understanding, gave her the key to the studio.

Madame poured coffee for them and rustled away.

When, an hour later, Susan went to her room again, Madame was sitting in her own room with the door wide open and herself in such a position as to command a view of the entire length of the corridor and the entrance to the narrow third-floor stairway. Susan opened her door, ostensibly to catch any stirring of cool air, and took up a book, and thus entered upon a prolonged and silent duel with the black-eyed Frenchwoman. Mariette came nervously into the corridor now and then, looked at Susan and at Madame, and vanished again.

John Kinder’s door remained closed. But once another man, short and stocky and supple, with a dark, hawk-like face, emerged from the room directly opposite Susan’s, gave her a quick, keen look, and went down the stairway.

That was, of course, the man Mariette had called Louis Malmin. He looked, Susan was bound to admit, fully capable of accomplishing all the crimes in the Decalogue, alone and unaided. But there was nothing to link him with André. Nothing, indeed, so far, to link André with any of them except Mariette. Unless Madame’s vigilance was a clue to—well, to what?

It was late in the afternoon when Susan contrived an errand to take Madame’s attention. Although it was actually Mariette who induced the Frenchwoman to examine the money she had taken from André’s room. They were downstairs in the living room by that time, and Madame was still vigilant.

“Money!” said Madame. “You took money from his room! How much?”

“I—haven’t counted it,” said Mariette with unexpected guile. “I thought it was safer with me. Do you want to look at it?”

Madame looked at Susan and looked at Mariette. It was, however, Susan thought, the only bait to which she would have risen.

“Perhaps I’d better see it,” she said. “If André Cavalliere does not return, I shall be obliged to claim this money. He owes me—you understand?”

Quietly Susan followed them. When she heard Mariette close the door to her room she hurried along the corridor and, at last, up the steps to the third floor again.

She was always glad that Mariette had not been with her when she moved the chair and looked under the rug.

For under the rug, plain against the old pine floor was a queer, irregular mark. It was not blood—but blood had been there and had been recently and thoroughly washed. Susan sat back on her heels and looked at that mark.

The conclusion, of course, was obvious.

Madame’s vigilance took on a new and sinister meaning. That meant, then, that she knew something of the thing that had happened here.

Susan rose.

It did not take long to look carefully over the entire studio, for André Cavalliere had not been widely possessed of this world’s goods. Indeed, the only thing of interest Susan found was that André had smoked many cigarettes since the ash trays had been emptied; and that he had sketched everybody in the house in every possible pose.

Susan glanced rapidly through the portfolio crammed with sketches that lay on the broad table. There was Madame—Madame in workaday black; Madame’s glossy head bent over her lace; Madame facing her, with lids drooped over her dark eyes. There were sketches of John Kinder, his beard waggish and shaven and church-wardenish in turns. Sketches of Louis Malmin—one apparently a joke on the part of the artist, in which Louis Malmin appeared with a handkerchief tied round his head, huge rings in his ears, a wide knife between his white teeth, and something that was not a joke looking out of his eyes. There were sketches of a woman of great beauty of feature who looked vaguely familiar to Susan. There were sketches of Marietta—many of them. Susan closed the portfolio and put it under her arm.

She must hurry. Mariette could not keep Madame counting money forever.

She paused to replace the rug and the chair. Who had placed them there? Who had scrubbed in cold water that stain below until it was lighter than all the rest of the floor? Who—she bent over and took in her fingers a small object that lay wedged into the cushions of the chair so that only its blunt end had showed, and she stood there a moment, turning it in her fingers slowly. It was a small wooden bobbin. The kind that is used in making lace.

She closed her hand upon it. The attic was growing rapidly darker, and the heat was becoming sultry, as it does before an electrical storm. Madame’s hands, strong and broad, making lace assiduously. Madame’s hands carrying that breakfast tray. Madame’s hands scrubbing out the stain on the floor. She was somehow sure that the Frenchwoman had done that.

Susan decided she’d had enough of the attic and started for the stairway.

The hall below was empty and rather dark. But as she went quietly along it toward her own room a door away down at the end opened, and Madame’s figure was silhouetted against the light from a window in the room beyond.

That room was vacant. Why had Susan so strong an impression that there was someone in the room? Was it something about the fleeting glimpse of a turn of Madame’s head—a feeling that words had been quickly hushed?

At first Susan thought that, in the sudden dusk of the narrow corridor, Madame did not see her. But she opened her own door and a soft shaft of greenish light from the window beyond struck her face and she saw that black-clad figure hesitate.

There was a small bolt on the door, and Susan fastened it against unexpected interruption before she opened the portfolio and spread the sketches in a wide circle around her on the floor.

Slowly she arranged them so that all the sketches of one person were in a group, and she studied, fascinated, the results of that arrangement.

She had known these people always—she had known those varying expressions familiarly and long. Thus Madame looked when she was pleased; purring and complacent because a new lodger was prompt in paying. So Madame looked when intent on her lace-making. So when she was in festive mood. Thus when she was angry,

Louis Malmin in as many moods; studying them, there was one thing always predominant in the hawk-like, piratical face with its small dark eyes that were just a bit too close set, and that was acquisitiveness. Greed. A subordination of everything else in life to an overmastering need for gain.

Yes, perhaps André Cavalliere’s only forte lay in a strange flair for character divination—so that, with one stroke of a pencil, he could place driving greed in Louis Malmin’s eyes.

John Kinder, with time at his disposal, had posed exhaustively. Here he was in a dozen aspects, and Susan lingered over each. Here was Mariette, too: Susan looked at those sketches for a long time, and when she had finished was convinced of one thing at least, and that was that the artist had loved Mariette. He had not of his own volition left her. But then she had known that already. Poor little Mariette.

It was so dark when Susan pulled herself from a reverie into which she had plunged and turned to the last group of pictures that she had to reach up and turn on the single electric globe that hung from the ceiling in order to see the face of the unknown woman. There were only two poses of her, and as the bright light poured garishly down upon it, Susan remembered where she had seen that face with its almost too perfect regularity of feature.

It was certainly that of the woman who had emerged so swiftly from the dusk the previous night while Susan was waiting for Mariette; the woman who had slipped quickly up the steps, fleetingly under the light and into the church of Notre Dame.

Susan frowned and pushed back her soft light hair. Did that entirely account for the familiarity of that perfectly regular face? And if it was a face she had seen somewhere and frequently, whose was it?

She sighed and wished the storm would blow over, and fell to studying the pictures again. She lingered very long over one sketch.

Moments passed while the sky slowly darkened and the hot still house awaited the storm. And by the time Mariette knocked timidly at the door, Susan knew things that she had not known before.

The sound of the knock roused her from a queer, rather terrifying thought that André Cavalliere had left behind him what was, in effect, a record of his death.

For he had been murdered. Susan was sure of that.

What should she do?

To inform the police would be, just then, futile. She could say: I think this man was murdered because there’s a mark on the floor of his studio that has recently been scrubbed and which I think was blood. Because he has disappeared. Because his sketch portfolio holds certain faces in certain poses. They would say and rightly: Where is the body?

If she knew only a little more—and that little was something that had nothing to do with the blind, fumbling search into currents of thought and feeling around her that was at once Susan’s strength and Susan’s weakness. She smiled a little wryly. If Jim had been there it would have helped. Without him she must herself confirm instinct—if that was what it was—with reason. With clues. With definite evidence.

“Come in,” she said to Mariette’s knock, and then remembered the door was bolted and scrambled to her feet to open it.

As Mariette entered, pale as a ghost in her limp white dress, Susan scooped up the sketches, permitting one of the woman of Notre Dame to remain on top.

“Do you know this woman?” she asked Mariette directly.

“No,” said Mariette. “But it’s one of André’s sketches.”

“You’ve never seen her?”

“N-no. That is, there’s something vaguely familiar about her. But I’m sure I don’t know her. And I never saw this sketch before.”

“Has there been any time since you knew André when this woman could have been in the house without your knowing it?”

“Oh, yes. I was on tour for six weeks, last fall. She could have been here then. Louis Malmin was gone at that time, too, on a business trip. And—yes, I remember, that was the time when Mr. Kinder was gone, too. A vacation trip, he said, of about a week. But if she was here then—this woman, I mean—André didn’t tell me. You don’t mean—you don’t think he’s gone with her?” Her dark eyes sought Susan beseechingly.

“No, said Susan gently. “He has not gone with her. Has Madame Touseau any family? Any children or—any relatives at all? Or even any intimate friends?”

Mariette shook her head.

“No. Except that I believe she has a niece somewhere in California. But I’ve never seen her. And Madame keeps very much to herself. She often says her—well, she calls us all guests, you know—are her only family.” Mariette hesitated. “I’m afraid,” she said, “that Madame knows why you are here. She asked me—oh, a great many questions. She—” Mariette shivered a little in that hot, still room—“
she watches us so.

Susan delved into confused thoughts and went back for something, some word that had been spoken, that must be explored.

And she must herself this time, without Jim’s help, confirm with hard fact the findings of the queer divining rod of her own consciousness. Of the blind little tentacles of something that was so dangerously like intuition and yet was not quite that either.

The silence lay as heavy as the leaves outside.

Then Susan said:

“Mariette—I want you to go out and get me some things, and I don’t want Madame to see them when you return.”

BOOK: The Cases of Susan Dare
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