Bailey’s eyes snapped open. He took a threatening step toward his accuser. “You lie!” he said in a hoarse, violent voice.
Anderson crossed between them, just as conflict seemed inevitable.
“You knew this?” he queried sharply in Dale’s direction.
Dale set her lips in a line. She did not answer.
He turned to Miss Cornelia.
“Yes,” admitted the latter quietly, her knitting needles at last at rest. “I knew he was Mr. Bailey if that is all you mean.”
The quietness of her answer seemed to infuriate the detective.
“Quite a pretty little conspiracy,” he said. “How in the name of God do you expect me to do anything with the entire household united against me? Tell me that.”
“Exactly,” said Miss Cornelia. “And if we are united against you, why should I have sent for you? You might tell me that, too.”
He turned on Bailey savagely.
“What did you mean by that ’three hours more’?” he demanded.
“I could have cleared myself in three hours,” said Bailey with calm despair.
Beresford laughed mockingly—a laugh that seemed to sear into Bailey’s consciousness like the touch of a hot iron. Again he turned frenziedly upon the young lawyer—and Anderson was just preparing to hold them away from each other, by force if necessary, when the doorbell rang.
For an instant the ringing of the bell held the various figures of the little scene in the rigid postures of a waxworks tableau— Bailey, one foot advanced toward Beresford, his hands balled up into fists—Beresford already in an attitude of defense—the detective about to step in between them—Miss Cornelia stiff in her chair—Dale over by the fireplace, her hand at her heart. Then they relaxed, but not, at least on the part of Bailey and Beresford, to resume their interrupted conflict. Too many nerve-shaking things had already happened that night for either of the young men not to drop their mutual squabble in the face of a common danger.
“Probably the Doctor,” murmured Miss Cornelia uncertainly as the doorbell rang again. “He was to come back with some sleeping-powders.”
Billy appeared for the key of the front door.
“If that’s Doctor Wells,” warned the detective, “admit him. If it’s anybody else, call me.”
Billy grinned acquiescently and departed. The detective moved nearer to Bailey.
“Have you got a gun on you?”
“No.” Bailey bowed his head.
“Well, I’ll just make sure of that.” The detective’s hands ran swiftly and expertly over Bailey’s form, through his pockets, probing for concealed weapons. Then, slowly drawing a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, he prepared to put them on Bailey’s wrists.
THE SIGN OF THE BAT
But Dale could bear it no longer. The sight of her lover, beaten, submissive, his head bowed, waiting obediently like a common criminal for the detective to lock his wrists in steel broke down her last defenses. She rushed into the center of the room, between Bailey and the detective, her eyes wild with terror, her words stumbling over each other in her eagerness to get them out.