“Here!” cried Exel and Leroux, together.
“Did you see anyone leave the lower hall as you entered?”
“No one; emphatically, there was no one there!”
“Then I am right.”
“Good God!” whispered Exel, glancing about him, with a new, and keen apprehensiveness.
“Take your drink,” concluded Cumberly, “and join me in my search.”
“Thanks,” replied Exel, nervously proffering a cigar-case; “but I won’t drink.”
“As you wish,” said the doctor, who thus, in his masterful way, acted the host; “and I won’t smoke. But do you light up.”
“Later,” muttered Exel; “later. Let us search, first.”
Leroux stood up; Cumberly forced him back.
“Stay where you are, Leroux; it is elementary strategy to operate from a fixed base. This study shall be the base. Ready, Exel?”
Exel nodded, and the search commenced. Leroux sat rigidly upon the settee, his hands resting upon his knees, watching and listening. Save for the merry ticking of the table-clock, and the movements of the searchers from room to room, nothing disturbed the silence. From the table, and that which lay near to it, he kept his gaze obstinately averted.
Five or six minutes passed in this fashion, Leroux expecting each to bring a sudden outcry. He was disappointed. The searchers returned, Exel noticeably holding himself aloof and Cumberly very stern.
Exel, a cigar between his teeth, walked to the writing-table, carefully circling around the dreadful obstacle which lay in his path, to help himself to a match. As he stooped to do so, he perceived that in the closed right hand of the dead woman was a torn scrap of paper.
“Leroux! Cumberly!” he exclaimed; “come here!”
He pointed with the match as Cumberly hurriedly crossed to his side. Leroux, inert, remained where he sat, but watched with haggard eyes. Dr. Cumberly bent down and sought to detach the paper from the grip of the poor cold fingers, without tearing it. Finally he contrived to release the fragment, and, perceiving it to bear some written words, he spread it out beneath the lamp, on the table, and eagerly scanned it, lowering his massive gray head close to the writing.
He inhaled, sibilantly.
“Do you see, Exel?” he jerked—for Exel was bending over his shoulder.
“I do—but I don’t understand.”
“What is it?” came hollowly from Leroux.
“It is the bottom part of an unfinished note,” said Cumberly, slowly. “It is written shakily in a woman’s hand, and it reads:—’Your wife’"...
Leroux sprang to his feet and crossed the room in three strides.
“Wife!” he muttered. His voice seemed to be choked in his throat; “my wife! It says something about my wife?”
“It says,” resumed the doctor, quietly, “‘your wife.’ Then there’s a piece torn out, and the two words ‘Mr. King.’ No stop follows, and the line is evidently incomplete.”