Chapter IV
 

How much of Sperry's proceeding with the carpet the governess had seen I do not know. I glanced up and she was there, on the staircase to the third floor, watching us. I did not know, then, whether she recognized me or not, for the Wellses' servants were as oblivious of the families on the street as their employers. But she knew Sperry, and was ready enough to talk to him.

"How is she now?" she asked.

"She is sleeping, Mademoiselle."

"The children also."

She came down the stairs, a lean young Frenchwoman in a dark dressing gown, and Sperry suggested that she too should have an opiate. She seized at the idea, but Sperry did not go down at once for his professional bag.

"You were not here when it occurred, Mademoiselle?" he inquired.

"No, doctor. I had been out for a walk." She clasped her hands. "When I came back - "

"Was he still on the floor of the dressing-room when you came in?"

"But yes. Of course. She was alone. She could not lift him."

"I see," Sperry said thoughtfully. "No, I daresay she couldn't. Was the revolver on the floor also?"

"Yes, doctor. I myself picked it up."

To Sperry she showed, I observed, a slight deference, but when she glanced at me, as she did after each reply, I thought her expression slightly altered. At the time this puzzled me, but it was explained when Sperry started down the stairs.

"Monsieur is of the police?" she asked, with a Frenchwoman's timid respect for the constabulary.

I hesitated before I answered. I am a truthful man, and I hate unnecessary lying. But I ask consideration of the circumstances. Neither then nor at any time later was the solving of the Wells mystery the prime motive behind the course I laid out and consistently followed. I felt that we might be on the verge of some great psychic discovery, one which would revolutionize human thought and to a certain extent human action. And toward that end I was prepared to go to almost any length.

"I am making a few investigations," I told her. "You say Mrs. Wells was alone in the house, except for her husband?"

"The children."

"Mr. Wells was shaving, I believe, when the - er - impulse overtook him?"

There was no doubt as to her surprise. "Shaving? I think not."

"What sort of razor did he ordinarily use?"

"A safety razor always. At least I have never seen any others around."

"There is a case of old-fashioned razors in the bathroom."

She glanced toward the room and shrugged her shoulders. "Possibly he used others. I have not seen any."

"It was you, I suppose, who cleaned up afterwards."

"Cleaned up?"

"You who washed up the stains."

"Stains? Oh, no, monsieur. Nothing of the sort has yet been done."

I felt that she was telling the truth, so far as she knew it, and I then asked about the revolver.

"Do you know where Mr. Wells kept his revolver?"

"When I first came it was in the drawer of that table. I suggested that it be placed beyond the children's reach. I do not know where it was put."

"Do you recall how you left the front door when you went out? I mean, was it locked?"

"No. The servants were out, and I knew there would be no one to admit me. I left it unfastened."

But it was evident that she had broken a rule of the house by doing so, for she added: "I am afraid to use the servants' entrance. It is dark there."

"The key is always hung on the nail when they are out?"

"Yes. If any one of them is out it is left there. There is only one key. The family is out a great deal, and it saves bringing some one down from the servants' rooms at the top of the house."

But I think my knowledge of the key bothered her, for some reason. And as I read over my questions, certainly they indicated a suspicion that the situation was less simple than it appeared. She shot a quick glance at me.

"Did you examine the revolver when you picked it up?"

"I, monsieur? Non!" Then her fears, whatever they were, got the best of her. "I know nothing but what I tell you. I was out. I can prove that that is so. I went to a pharmacy; the clerk will remember. I will go with you, monsieur, and he will tell you that I used the telephone there."

I daresay my business of cross-examination, of watching evidence helped me to my next question.

"You went out to telephone when there is a telephone in the house?"

But here again, as once or twice before, a veil dropped between us. She avoided my eyes. "There are things one does not want the family to hear," she muttered. Then, having determined on a course of action, she followed it. "I am looking for another position. I do not like it here. The children are spoiled. I only came for a month's trial."

"And the pharmacy?"

"Elliott's, at the corner of State Avenue and McKee Street."

I told her that it would not be necessary for her to go to the pharmacy, and she muttered something about the children and went up the stairs. When Sperry came back with the opiate she was nowhere in sight, and he was considerably annoyed.

"She knows something," I told him. "She is frightened."

Sperry eyed me with a half frown.

"Now see here, Horace," he said, "suppose we had come in here, without the thought of that seance behind us? We'd have accepted the thing as it appears to be, wouldn't we? There may be a dozen explanations for that sponge, and for the razor strop. What in heaven's name has a razor strop to do with it anyhow? One bullet was fired, and the revolver has one empty chamber. It may not be the custom to stop shaving in order to commit suicide, but that's no argument that it can't be done, and as to the key - how do I know that my own back door key isn't hung outside on a nail sometimes?"

"We might look again for that hole in the ceiling."

"I won't do it. Miss Jeremy has read of something of that sort, or heard of it, and stored it in her subconscious mind."

But he glanced up at the ceiling nevertheless, and a moment later had drawn up a chair and stepped onto it, and I did the same thing. We presented, I imagine, rather a strange picture, and I know that the presence of the rigid figure on the couch gave me a sort of ghoulish feeling.

The house was an old one, and in the center of the high ceiling a plaster ornament surrounded the chandelier. Our search gradually centered on this ornament, but the chairs were low and our long-distance examination revealed nothing. It was at that time, too, that we heard some one in the lower hall, and we had only a moment to put our chairs in place before the butler came in. He showed no surprise, but stood looking at the body on the couch, his thin face working.

"I met the detectives outside, doctor," he said. "It's a terrible thing, sir, a terrible thing."

"I'd keep the other servants out of this room, Hawkins."

"Yes, sir." He went over to the sheet, lifted the edge slowly, and then replaced it, and tip-toed to the door. "The others are not back yet. I'll admit them, and get them up quietly. How is Mrs. Wells?"

"Sleeping," Sperry said briefly, and Hawkins went out.

I realize now that Sperry was - I am sure he will forgive this - in a state of nerves that night. For example, he returned only an impatient silence to my doubt as to whether Hawkins had really only just returned and he quite missed something downstairs which I later proved to have an important bearing on the case. This was when we were going out, and after Hawkins had opened the front door for us. It had been freezing hard, and Sperry, who has a bad ankle, looked bout for a walking stick. He found one, and I saw Hawkins take a swift step forward, and then stop, with no expression whatever in his face.

"This will answer, Hawkins."

"Yes, sir," said Hawkins impassively.

And if I realize that Sperry was nervous that night, I also realize that he was fighting a battle quite his own, and with its personal problems.

"She's got to quit this sort of thing," he said savagely and apropos of nothing, as we walked along. "It's hard on her, and besides - "

"Yes?"

"She couldn't have learned about it," he said, following his own trail of thought. "My car brought her from her home to the house-door. She was brought in to us at once. But don't you see that if there are other developments, to prove her statements she - well, she's as innocent as a child, but take Herbert, for instance. Do you suppose he'll believe she had no outside information?"

"But it was happening while we were shut in the drawing-room."

"So Elinor claims. But if there was anything to hide, it would have taken time. An hour or so, perhaps. You can see how Herbert would jump on that."

We went back, I remember, to speaking of the seance itself, and to the safer subject of the physical phenomena. As I have said, we did not then know of those experimenters who claim that the medium can evoke so-called rods of energy, and that by its means the invisible "controls" can perform their strange feats of levitation and the movement of solid bodies. Sperry touched very lightly on the spirit side.

"At least it would mean activity," he said. "The thought of an inert eternity is not bearable."

He was inclined, however, to believe that there were laws of which we were still in ignorance, and that we might some day find and use the fourth dimension. He seemed to be able to grasp it quite clearly. "The cube of the cube, or hypercube," he explained. "Or get it this way: a cone passed apex-downward through a plane."

"I know," I said, "that it is perfectly simple. But somehow it just sounds like words to me."

"It's perfectly clear, Horace," he insisted. "But remember this when you try to work it out; it is necessary to use motion as a translator of time into space, or of space into time."

"I don't intend to work it out," I said irritably. "But I mean to use motion as a translator of the time, which is 1:30 in the morning, to take me to a certain space, which is where I live."

But as it happened, I did not go into my house when I reached it. I was wide awake, and I perceived, on looking up at my wife's windows, that the lights were out. As it is her custom to wait up for me on those rare occasions when I spend an evening away from home, I surmised that she was comfortably asleep, and made my way to the pharmacy to which the Wellses' governess had referred.

The night-clerk was in the prescription-room behind the shop. He had fixed himself comfortably on two chairs, with an old table-cover over his knee and a half-empty bottle of sarsaparilla on a wooden box beside him. He did not waken until I spoke to him.

"Sorry to rouse you, Jim," I said.

He flung off the cover and jumped up, upsetting the bottle, which trickled a stale stream to the floor. "Oh, that's all right, Mr. Johnson, I wasn't asleep, anyhow."

I let that go, and went at once to the object of our visit. Yes, he remembered the governess, knew her, as a matter of fact. The Wellses' bought a good many things there. Asked as to her telephoning, he thought it was about nine o'clock, maybe earlier. But questioned as to what she had telephoned about, he drew himself up.

"Oh, see here," he said. "I can't very well tell you that, can I? This business has got ethics, all sorts of ethics."

He enlarged on that. The secrets of the city, he maintained loftily, were in the hands of the pharmacies. It was a trust that they kept. "Every trouble from dope to drink, and then some," he boasted.

When I told him that Arthur Wells was dead his jaw dropped, but there was no more argument in him. He knew very well the number the governess had called.

"She's done it several times," he said. "I'll be frank with you. I got curious after the third evening, and called it myself. You know the trick. I found out it was the Ellingham, house, up State Street."

"What was the nature of the conversations?"

"Oh, she was very careful. It's an open phone and any one could hear her. Once she said somebody was not to come. Another time she just said, 'This is Suzanne Gautier. 9:30, please.'"

"And tonight?"

"That the family was going out - not to call."

When I told him it was a case of suicide, his jaw dropped.

"Can you beat it?" he said. "I ask you, can you beat it? A fellow who had everything!"

But he was philosophical, too.

"A lot of people get the bug once in a while," he said. "They come in here for a dose of sudden death, and it takes watching. You'd be surprised the number of things that will do the trick if you take enough. I don't know. If things get to breaking wrong - "

His voice trailed off, and he kicked at the old table cover on the floor.

"It's a matter of the point of view," he said more cheerfully. "And my point of view just now is that this place is darned cold, and so's the street. You'd better have a little something to warm you up before you go out, Mr. Johnson."

I was chilled through, to tell the truth, and although I rarely drink anything I went back with him and took an ounce or two of villainous whiskey, poured out of a jug into a graduated glass. It is with deep humiliation of spirit I record that a housemaid coming into my library at seven o'clock the next morning, found me, in top hat and overcoat, asleep on the library couch.

I had, however, removed my collar and tie, and my watch, carefully wound, was on the smoking-stand beside me.

The death of Arthur Wells had taken place on Monday evening. Tuesday brought nothing new. The coroner was apparently satisfied, and on Wednesday the dead man's body was cremated.

"Thus obliterating all evidence," Sperry said, with what I felt was a note of relief.

But I think the situation was bothering him, and that he hoped to discount in advance the second sitting by Miss Jeremy, which Mrs. Dane had already arranged for the following Monday, for on Wednesday afternoon, following a conversation over the telephone, Sperry and I had a private sitting with Miss Jeremy in Sperry's private office. I took my wife into our confidence and invited her to be present, but the unfortunate coldness following the housemaid's discovery of me asleep in the library on the morning after the murder, was still noticeable and she refused.

The sitting, however, was totally without value. There was difficulty on the medium's part in securing the trance condition, and she broke out once rather petulantly, with the remark that we were interfering with her in some way.

I noticed that Sperry had placed Arthur Wells's stick unobtrusively on his table, but we secured only rambling and non-pertinent replies to our questions, and whether it was because I knew that outside it was broad day, or because the Wells matter did not come up at all I found a total lack of that sense of the unknown which made all the evening sittings so grisly.

I am sure she knew we had wanted something, and that she had failed to give it to us, for when she came out she was depressed and in a state of lowered vitality.

"I'm afraid I'm not helping you," she said. "I'm a little tired, I think."

She was tired. I felt suddenly very sorry for her. She was so pretty and so young - only twenty-six or thereabouts - to be in the grip of forces so relentless. Sperry sent her home in his car, and took to pacing the floor of his office.

"I'm going to give it up, Horace," he said. "Perhaps you are right. We may be on the verge of some real discovery. But while I'm interested, so interested that it interferes with my work, I'm frankly afraid to go on. There are several reasons."

I argued with him. There could be no question that if things were left as they were, a number of people would go through life convinced that Elinor Wells had murdered her husband. Look at the situation. She had sent out all the servants and the governess, surely an unusual thing in an establishment of that sort. And Miss Jeremy had been vindicated in three points; some stains had certainly been washed up, we had found the key where she had stated it to be, and Arthur had certainly been shaving himself.

"In other words," I argued, "we can't stop, Sperry. You can't stop. But my idea would be that our investigations be purely scientific and not criminal."

"Also, in other words," he said, "you think we will discover something, so you suggest that we compound a felony and keep it to ourselves!"

"Exactly," I said drily.

It is of course possible that my nerves were somewhat unstrung during the days that followed. I wakened one night to a terrific thump which shook my bed, and which seemed to be the result of some one having struck the foot-board with a plank. Immediately following this came a sharp knocking on the antique bed-warmer which hangs beside my fireplace. When I had sufficiently recovered my self-control I turned on my bedside lamp, but the room was empty.