Miss Bell. About a week after he got it.”
He gave me little time to worry about that, however.
“There is something else I want to verify. On the night Sarah Gittings was murdered, Mr. Blake telephoned here, I believe; to Miss Judy. At what time was that?”
“Shortly after seven. A quarter past, possibly.”
“That was a message from Miss Judy’s mother, I gather?”
“Yes, but he—”
I checked myself, too late. He was bending forward again, watching me. “But what?”
“I have just remembered. He asked if Sarah was here; but that is in his favor, naturally. If he had known he need not have asked.”
“Or if he did know, and wished to give the impression that he did not.”
He sat there looking at me, and for the first time I realized that he was potentially dangerous to me and mine. His china blue eyes were cold and searching; under his bald head his face was determined, almost belligerent. And he was intelligent, shrewd and intelligent. Later on I was to try to circumvent him; to pit my own wits against his. Always he thwarted me, and often he frightened me. In his way, almost to the very end, he remained as mysterious as Sarah, as aloof as Florence Gunther, as implacable as fate itself.
Yet he treated me always with friendliness and often with deference, and now his voice was almost casual.
“Did he say where he was when he called up?”
“No. At home, probably.”
“Don’t you know better than that, Miss Bell?” he inquired pointedly. “If you don’t, let me tell you. On that night Jim Blake dined early, and left the house at seven, or a few minutes after. He did no telephoning before he left. We have a list of his calls out for that night. Wherever he was when he telephoned—and we are trying to locate that—he was not at home.”
And I felt again that this communicativeness of his was deliberate, that he was watching for its effect on me.
“But why? Why would Jim Blake kill Sarah?” I demanded. “What would be his motive?”
He was getting ready to go, and he stopped by the door.
“Now and then, in criminal work,” he said, “we find the criminal before we learn the motive. I make no accusation against Mr. Blake. I merely say that his movements that night require explanation, and that until he makes that explanation we have to use our own interpretation. If that’s unfavorable to him that’s his fault.”
One comfort at least we had at that time. The reporters, the camera men and the crowds of inquisitive sightseers had abandoned us, and out on the Warrenville road Hawkins had thriftily piled brush about the site of the crime, and was letting in the morbid minded at a price until the county police stopped him.
The cow had died.
But in my own household demoralization was almost complete. The women were in a state of hysteria, afraid to leave the house and almost as terrified to stay in it. On Tuesday morning the laundress had come upstairs pale and trembling, to say that the chair had been taken from the laundry again, and was once more in the room where the wood was stored. And on that night, at something after twelve o’clock, Clara ran down to my room, pounding on the door and shouting that there was a man under her bed.
It required Joseph with the revolver and myself with all my courage to discover Jock there, neatly curled up and asleep.
The matter of the chair, however, puzzled me. I took Judy and went down. It was a plain wooden chair, and it had been left where it was found. Judy mounted it and examined the joists above, for this portion of the basement is not ceiled. But there was nothing there except a large black spider, at which she got down in a hurry.
I don’t know what I had expected to find. The sword-stick, perhaps.
It was on Wednesday that I determined to see Jim. I had not seen him for over a week, not indeed since the day of Sarah’s funeral, and if Wallie’s state had bewildered me Jim’s frankly shocked me.
I had been fond of Jim, but with