“There are too many of us,” Robinson was saying. “You’d better go on alone, Rawlins, and don’t take any chances. I’ve got to have this man. You understand? I think he knows things worth while.”
The rising wind laughed at his whisper. The detective flashed his lamp once, shut it off again, and stepped into the close embrace of the thicket.
Suddenly Bobby grasped Graham’s arm. The little group became tense, breathless. For across the wind with a diffused quality, a lack of direction, vibrated to them again the faint and mournful grief of a woman.
THE ONE WHO CREPT IN THE PRIVATE STAIRCASE
The odd, mournful crying lost itself in the restless lament of the wind. The thicket from which it had seemed to issue assumed in the pallid moonlight a new unfriendliness. Instinctively the six men moved closer together. The coroner’s thin tones expressed his alarm:
“What the devil was that? I don’t really believe there could be a woman around here.”
“A queer one!” the detective grunted.
The district attorney questioned Bobby and Graham.
“That’s the voice you heard from the house?”
“Perhaps not so far away.”
Doctor Groom, hitherto more captured than any of them by the imminence of a spiritual responsibility for the mystery of the Cedars, was the first now to reach for a rational explanation of this new phase.
“We mustn’t let our fancies run away with us. The coroner’s right for once. No excuse for a woman hiding in that thicket. A bird, maybe, or some animal—”
“Sounded more like a human being,” Robinson objected.
The detective reasoned in a steady unmoved voice: “Only a mad woman would wander through the woods, crying like that without a special purpose. This man Paredes has left the house and come through here. I’d guess it was a signal.”
“Graham and I had thought of that,” Bobby said.
“Howells was a sharp one,” Robinson mused, “but he must have gone wrong on this fellow. He ’phoned me the man knew nothing. Spoke of him as a foreigner who lolled around smoking cigarettes and trying to make a fool of him with a lot of talk about ghosts.”
“Howells,” Graham said, “misjudged the case from the start. He wasn’t to blame, but his mistake cost him his life.”
Robinson didn’t answer. Bobby saw that the man had discarded his intolerant temper. From that change he drew a new hope. He accepted it as the beginning of fulfilment of his prophecy last night that an accident to Howells and the entrance of a new man into the case would give him a fighting chance. It was clearly Paredes at the moment who filled the district attorney’s mind.
“Go after him,” he said shortly to Rawlins. “If you can get away with it bring him back and whoever you find with him.”