“No—but there was a light from somewhere—like a pocket-flash—” She could not go on. She saw Fleming’s face before her—furious at first—then changing to that strange look of bewildered surprise— she put her hands over her eyes to shut the vision out.
Lizzie made a welcome interruption.
“I told you I saw a man go up that staircase!” she wailed, jabbing her forefinger in the direction of the alcove stairs.
Miss Cornelia, now recovered from the first shock of the discovery, supported her gallantly.
“That’s the only explanation, Mr. Anderson,” she said decidedly.
The detective looked at the stairs—at the terrace door. His eyes made a circuit of the room and came back to Fleming’s body. “I’ve been all over the house,” he said. “There’s nobody there.”
A pause followed. Dale found herself helplessly looking toward her lover for comfort—comfort he could not give without revealing his own secret.
Eerily, through the tense silence, a sudden tinkling sounded—the sharp, persistent ringing of a telephone bell.
Miss Cornelia rose to answer it automatically. “The house phone!” she said. Then she stopped. “But we’re all here.”
They looked attach other aghast. It was true. And yet—somehow —somewhere—one of the other phones on the circuit was calling the living-room.
Miss Cornelia summoned every ounce of inherited Van Gorder pride she possessed and went to the phone. She took off the receiver. The ringing stopped.
“Hello—hello—” she said, while the others stood rigid, listening. Then she gasped. An expression of wondering horror came over her face.
THE PHONE CALL FROM NOWHERE
“Somebody groaning!” gasped Miss Cornelia. “It’s horrible!”
The detective stepped up and took the receiver from her. He listened anxiously for a moment.
“I don’t hear anything,” he said.
“I heard it! I couldn’t imagine such a dreadful sound! I tell you—somebody in this house is in terrible distress.”
“Where does this phone connect?” queried Anderson practically.
Miss Cornelia made a hopeless little gesture. “Practically every room in this house!”
The detective put the receiver to his ear again.
“Just what did you hear?” he said stolidly.
Miss Cornelia’s voice shook.
“Dreadful groans—and what seemed to be an inarticulate effort to speak!”
Lizzie drew her gaudy wrapper closer about her shuddering form.
“I’d go somewhere,” she wailed in the voice of a lost soul, “if I only had somewhere to go!”
Miss Cornelia quelled her with a glare and turned back to the detective.
“Won’t you send these men to investigate—or go yourself?” she said, indicating Brooks and Billy. The detective thought swiftly.