His mind, intent only on escaping prying eyes, was drawn by a man who stepped from behind a carriage and started across the roadway in his direction, staring at him incredulously. His quick apprehension vanished. He couldn’t recall that surprised face. There was no harm being seen, miserable as he was, dressed as he was, by this stranger. He looked at him closer. The man was plainly clothed. He had small, sharp eyes. His hairless face was intricately wrinkled. His lips were thin, making a straight line.
To avoid him Bobby stepped aside, thinking he must be going past, but the stranger stopped and placed a firm hand on Bobby’s shoulder. He spoke in a quick, authoritative voice:
“Certainly you are Mr. Robert Blackburn?”
For Bobby, in his nervous, bewildered condition, there was an ominous note in this surprise, this assurance, this peremptory greeting.
“What’s amazing about that?” he jerked out.
The stranger’s lips parted in a straight smile.
“Amazing! That’s the word I was thinking of. Hoped you might come in from New York. Seemed you were here all the time. That’s a good one on me—a very good one.”
The beating of Bobby’s heart was more pronounced than it had been in the deserted house. He asked himself why he should shrink from this stranger who had an air of threatening him. The answer lay in that black pit of last night and this morning. Unquestionably he had been indiscreet. The man would tell him how.
“You mean,” he asked with dry lips, “that you’ve been looking for me? Who are you? Please take your hand off.”
The stranger’s grasp tightened.
“Not so fast, Mr. Robert Blackburn. I daresay you haven’t just now come from the Cedars?”
“No, no. I’m on my way to New York. There’s a train soon, I think.”
His voice trailed away. The stranger’s straight smile widened. He commenced to laugh harshly and uncouthly.
“Sure there’s a train, but you don’t want to take it. And why haven’t you been at the Cedars? Grandpa’s death grieved you too much to go near his body?”
Bobby drew back. The shock robbed him for a moment of the power to reason.
“Dead! The old man! How—”
The stranger’s smile faded.
“Here it is nearly three o’clock in the afternoon, and you’re all dressed up for last night. That’s lucky.”
Bobby couldn’t meet the narrow eyes.
“Who are you?”
The stranger with his free hand threw back his coat lapel.
“My name’s Howells. I’m a county detective. I’m on the case, because your grandfather died very strangely. He was murdered, very cleverly murdered. Queerest case I’ve ever handled. What do you think?”
In his own ears Bobby’s voice sounded as remote and unreal as it had through the blackness last night.
“Why do you talk to me like this?”