“Oh, don’t blame Max,” said the girl wearily. “It isn’t his fault. After you threw me down”—Hal winced—“I started to run wild. It’s the Hardscrabbler in me. I took to drinking and running around, and Max pulled me out of it, and I went to live with him. I didn’t care. Nothing mattered, anyway. And I wasn’t afraid of anything like this happening, because I thought the pills made it all safe.”
Here Dr. Surtaine reappeared. “I’ve got a detective coming that I can trust.”
“A detective?” cried Hal. “Oh, Dad—”
“You keep out of this,” retorted his father, in a tone such as his son had never heard from him before. “I guess you’ve done enough. The question is”—he continued as regardless of Milly as if she had been deaf—“how to hush her up.”
“You’ve had your chance to hush me up,” said the girl sullenly.
“Any money within reason—”
“I don’t want your money.”
“Listen here, then. You tried to murder me. That’s ten years in State’s prison. Now, if ever I hear of you opening your mouth about this, I’ll send you up. I guess that will keep you quiet. Now, then, what’s your answer?”
“Give me a glass of whiskey, and I’ll tell you.”
Hal poured her out a glass. She passed a swift hand above it.
“Here’s peace and quiet in the proprietary medicine business,” she said, and drank. “I guess that’ll—make—some—stir,” she added, with an effect of carefully timing her words.
Her body lapsed quite gently back into the chair. The two men ran and bent over her as the glass tinkled and rolled on the floor. There was an acrid, bitter scent in the air. They lifted their heads, and their eyes met in a haggard realization. No longer was there any need of hushing up Milly Neal.
The doorbell buzzed.
“That’s the detective,” said Dr. Surtaine to Hal. “Stay here.”
He wormed himself painfully into an overcoat which concealed his scarified shoulder, and went out. In a few moments he and the officer reappeared. The latter glanced at the body.
“Heart disease, you say?” he asked.
“Yes: valvular lesion.”
“Better ’phone the coroner’s office, eh?”
“Not necessary. I can give a certificate. The coroner will be all right,” said Dr. Surtaine, with an assurance derived from the fact that a year before he had given that functionary five hundred dollars for not finding morphine in the stomach of a baby who had been dosed to death on the “Sure Soother” powders.
“That goes,” agreed the detective. “What undertaker?”
“Any. And, Murtha, while you’re at the ’phone, call up the ‘Clarion’ office and tell McGuire Ellis to come up here on the jump, will you?”
Left to themselves, with the body between them, father and son fell into a silence, instinct with the dread of estranging speech. Hal made the first effort.