“Because I tell you I’m on the case, and I want you to turn about and go straight to the Cedars.”
“This is—absurd. You mean you suspect—You’re placing me under arrest?”
The detective’s straight smile returned.
“How we jump at conclusions! I’m simply telling you not to bother me with questions. I’m telling you to go straight to the Cedars where you’ll stay. Understand? You’ll stay there until you’re wanted—Until you’re wanted.”
The merciless repetition settled it for Bobby. He knew it would be dangerous to talk or argue. Moreover, he craved an opportunity to think, to probe farther into the black pit. He turned and walked away. When he reached the last houses he glanced back. The detective remained in the middle of the road, staring after him with that straight and satisfied smile.
Bobby walked on, his shaking hands tightly clenched, muttering to himself:
“I’ve got to remember. Good God! I’ve got to remember. It’s the only way I can ever know he’s not right, that I’m not a murderer.”
THE CASE AGAINST BOBBY
Bobby hurried down the road in the direction of the Cedars. Always he tried desperately to recall what had occurred during those black hours last night and this morning before he had awakened in the empty house near his grandfather’s home. All that remained were his sensation of travel in a swift vehicle, his impression of standing in the forest near the Cedars, his glimpse of the masked figure which he had called his conscience, the echo in his brain of a dream-like voice saying: “Take off your shoes and carry them in your hand. Always do that. It’s the only safe way.”
These facts, then, alone were clear to him: He had wandered, unconscious, in the neighbourhood. His grandfather had been strangely murdered. The detective who had met him in the village practically accused him of the murder. And he couldn’t remember.
He turned back to his last clear recollections. When he had experienced his first symptoms of slipping consciousness he had been in the cafe in New York with Carlos Paredes, Maria, the dancer, and a strange man whom Maria had brought to the table. Through them he might, to an extent, trace his movements, unless they had put him in a cab, thinking he would catch the train, of which he had talked, for the Cedars.
Already the forest crowded the narrow, curving road. The Blackburn place was in the midst of an arid thicket of stunted pines, oaks, and cedars. Old Blackburn had never done anything to improve the estate or its surroundings. Steadily during his lifetime it had grown more gloomy, less habitable.
With the silent forest thick about him Bobby realized that he was no longer alone. A crackling twig or a loose stone struck by a foot might have warned him. He went slower, glancing restlessly over his shoulder. He saw no one, but that idea of stealthy pursuit persisted. Undoubtedly it was the detective, Howells, who followed him, hoping, perhaps, that he would make some mad effort at escape.