“Why—” he said in a voice that mingled astonishment with horror. He paused. His glance slowly traversed the circle of silent faces.
BILLY PRACTICES JIU-JITSU
“We have had a very sad occurrence here, Doctor,” said Miss Cornelia gently.
The Doctor braced himself.
“Richard Fleming?” gasped the Doctor in tones of incredulous horror.
“Shot and killed from that staircase,” said Miss Cornelia tonelessly.
The detective demurred.
“Shot and killed, anyhow,” he said in accents of significant omission.
The Doctor knelt beside the huddle on the floor. He removed the fold of the raincoat that covered the face of the corpse and stared at the dead, blank mask. Till a moment ago, even at the height of his irritation with Bailey, he had been blithe and offhand—a man who seemed comparatively young for his years. Now Age seemed to fall upon him, suddenly, like a gray, clinging dust—he looked stricken and feeble under the impact of this unexpected shock.
“Shot and killed from that stairway,” he repeated dully. He rose from his knees and glanced at the fatal stairs.
“What was Richard Fleming doing in this house at this hour?” he said.
He spoke to Miss Cornelia but Anderson answered the question.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he said with a saturnine smile.
The Doctor gave him a look of astonished inquiry. Miss Cornelia remembered her manners.
“Doctor, this is Mr. Anderson.”
“Headquarters,” said Anderson tersely, shaking hands.
It was Lizzie’s turn to play her part in the tangled game of mutual suspicion that by now made each member of the party at Cedarcrest watch every other member with nervous distrust. She crossed to her mistress on tiptoe.
“Don’t you let him fool you with any of that moth business!” she said in a thrilling whisper, jerking her thumb in the direction of the Doctor. “He’s the Bat.”
Ordinarily Miss Cornelia would have dismissed her words with a smile. But by now her brain felt as if it had begun to revolve like a pinwheel in her efforts to fathom the uncanny mystery of the various events of the night.
She addressed Doctor Wells.
“I didn’t tell you, Doctor—I sent for a detective this afternoon.” Then, with mounting suspicion, “You happened in very opportunely!”
“After I left the Johnsons’ I felt very uneasy,” he explained. “I determined to make one more effort to get you away from this house. As this shows—my fears were justified!”
He shook his head sadly. Miss Cornelia sat down. His last words had given her food for thought. She wanted to mull them over for a moment.
The Doctor removed muffler and topcoat—stuffed the former in his topcoat pocket and threw the latter on the settee. He took out his handkerchief and began to mop his face, as if to wipe away some strain of mental excitement under which he was laboring. His breath came quickly—the muscles of his jaw stood out.