His flashlight was in his hand now, and the round, white ray shot down the corridor—seemed suddenly to falter unsteadily—swept in through an open door that was almost beside him—and then, as though a nerveless hand held it, the ray dropped and played shakily on the toe of his boot before it went out.
A stifled cry rose to his lips. Something cold, like a hand of ice, seemed to clutch at his heart. Those portieres, the wide, richly carpeted corridor! It was the corridor of the night before! That room at his side was the room where he had seen Hilton Travers, the chauffeur, dead, lashed in a chair! He felt the sweat beads burst out anew upon his forehead.
It was the crime club!
His brain seemed to whirl, staggered as by some gigantic, ghastly mockery. The Crime Club! Here! He had thought to creep upon that man—and he had run blindly into the very heart and centre of these hell fiends’ nest!
Silently he stood there, holding his breath as he listened now, motionless as a statue, forcing his mind to think. He remembered that last night his impression of the place had been that it was more like some great private mansion than anything else. Well, he had been right, it seemed! He could have laughed aloud—sardonically, hysterically. It was not so strange now that there were no rooms on the right-hand side of the corridor! And what could have suited their purpose better, what, by its very location, its unimpeachable character, could be a more ideal lair for them than this house! And how grimly simple it was now, the explanation! In the five years that the false Henry LaSalle had been in possession, they had cunningly remodelled the upper floor—that was all! It was quite clear now why the man never entertained—why he had never been caught or found or known to be in communication with his fellow conspirators! It was no longer curious that one might watch the door of the house for months at a stretch and go unrewarded for one’s pains, as the Tocsin had done, when access to the house by those who frequented it was so easy through the garage on the side street—and from the garage, if their work there was in keeping with their clever contrivances within the house, by an underground connection into, say, the cellar or basement!
Again Jimmie Dale checked that nervous, unnatural inclination to laugh aloud. Was there anything, any single incident, any single detail of all that had transpired, that was not explained, borne out, as it could be explained and borne out in no other way save that the Crime Club should be no other than this very house itself? It was the exposition of that favourite theory of his—it was so obvious that therein lay its security. He had mocked at the Magpie not many moments before on that score—and now it was the beam in his own eye! It was so obvious now, so glaringly obvious, that the Crime Club could have been nowhere else; so obvious, with every word of the Tocsin’s story pointing it out like a signpost—and he had not seen it!