“I’m no coward, but I know what’s happened to Howells. This isn’t an ordinary case. I don’t want to walk into an ambush. It would be safer not to run him down alone.”
“All right,” Robinson agreed, “I don’t care to leave the Cedars for the present. Perhaps Mr. Graham—”
But Graham wasn’t enthusiastic. It never occurred to Bobby that he was afraid. Graham, he guessed, desired to remain near Katherine.
“I’ll go, if you like,” Doctor Groom rumbled.
It was probable that Graham’s instinct to stay had sprung from service rather than sentiment. The man, it was reasonable, sought to protect Katherine from the Cedars itself and from Robinson’s too direct methods of examination. As an antidote for his unwelcome jealousy Bobby offered himself to Rawlins.
“Would you mind if I came, too? I’ve known Paredes a long time.”
“What do you think of that, Rawlins?”
But the detective stepped close and whispered in the district attorney’s ear.
“All right,” Robinson said. “Go with ’em, if you want, Mr. Blackburn.”
And Bobby knew that he would go, not to help, but to be watched.
The others strayed toward the house. The three men faced the entrance of the path alone.
“No more loud talk now,” the detective warned. “If he went on tiptoe so can we.”
Even with this company Bobby shrank from the dark and restless forest. With a smooth skill the detective followed the unfamiliar path. From time to time he stooped close to the ground, shaded his lamp with his hand, and pressed the control. Always the light verified the presence of Paredes ahead of them. Bobby knew they were near the stagnant lake. The underbrush was thicker. They went with more care to limit the sound of their passage among the trees. And each moment the physical surroundings of the pursuit increased Bobby’s doubt of Paredes. No ordinary impulse would bring a man to such a place in this black hour before the dawn—particularly Paredes, who spoke constantly of his superstitious nature, who advertised a thorough-paced fear of the Cedars. The Panamanian’s decision to remain, his lack of emotion before the tragic succession of events at the house, his attempt to enter the corridor just before Bobby had gone himself to the old room for the evidence, his desire to direct suspicion against Katherine, finally this excursion in response to the eerie crying, all suggested a definite, perhaps a dangerous, purpose in the brain of the serene and inscrutable man.
They slipped to the open space about the lake. The moon barely distinguished for them the flat, melancholy stretch of water. They listened breathlessly. There was no sound beyond the normal stirrings of the forest. Bobby had a feeling, similar to the afternoon’s, that he was watched. He tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the darkness across the lake where he had fancied the woman skulking. The detective’s keen senses were satisfied.