Mandy was not happy in her mind. No matter how tempting the dishes she cooked, her beloved “Miss Kitty” failed to eat more than “jes’ scraps,” as Mandy expressed it in her disgust. But Kitty’s heart as well as her thoughts were centered in the sickroom and she did not linger elsewhere. Weakened through loss of blood and shock, Ted Rodgers had lain partly conscious all through the morning, taking no interest in his surroundings and only rousing when Kitty spoke to him. But even to her he addressed no conversation, being content to hold her hand and gaze at her with his heart in his eyes.
“Do go and lie down, Miss Baird.” Miss Grey, the trained nurse, laid a sympathetic hand on Kitty’s shoulder. “I assure you Mr. Rodgers is better, and I promise to call you the moment Dr. McLean gets here.”
Kitty stretched her cramped muscles and looked at Ted. Even to her inexperienced eyes, he appeared to be resting more comfortably and his cheeks were a healthier color. She felt inexplicably weary; her eyelids were heavy from lack of sleep and her head ached unmercifully. Taking care not to arouse Rodgers, Kitty moved away from the bedside.
“I’ll be in the room,” she told Miss Gray, lowering her voice, “just across the hall, and I will leave my door open. If you want the slightest thing just call me, and I will come at once.”
Kitty’s desire for “forty winks,” as her aunt had always termed her afternoon nap, was not to be gratified immediately, for as she stepped into the hall, Mandy came toiling up the stairs.
“Law, ma’am, Miss Kitty!” she ejaculated. “Dis hyar day am gwine to be de ruination of me. I wish that no-count nigger, Oscar, was hyar attendin’ to his work.”
“I wish so, too!” echoed Kitty fervently. “Have you had word from Oscar?”
“No, m’m.” Mandy had a habit of mumbling her words. “Whar’s Mrs. Potter?”
“I’m sure I don’t know.” Kitty yawned. “In the library, probably.”
“No she ain’t, neither!” Mandy’s exasperation was gaining the upper hand. “Thar’s been two tele[Pg 262]phone calls fo’ her, an’ I ’spects Mister Ben’ll jump clear through his skin if she don’t come an’ talk to him.”
“Is Mr. Ben on the ’phone now?”
“I’ll talk to him on the branch ’phone.” Kitty crossed the hall. “You might see if Mrs. Potter is lying down in the boudoir.”
The telephone instrument was close by the door and Kitty, who had earlier in the day deadened the sound of the bell by stuffing cotton about it, so that its ring might not disturb Rodgers, took off the receiver. No masculine voice answered her low hail, and finally, convinced that her cousin must have grown tired and rung off, she hung up the receiver. Going over to her bed she threw herself fully dressed upon it, and in a few minutes her even breathing showed that she had fallen into the heavy slumber of utter exhaustion.
Mandy, left to her own devices, wandered down the hall to the boudoir. It was located next to the bedroom which had belonged to Miss Susan Baird. The old colored woman cautiously poked her head inside the door sufficiently for to convince herself that the boudoir was empty, then withdrew. She stood for some seconds before the closed door leading into “Miss Susan’s” bedroom, but her superstitious dread kept her from entering it. Had she [Pg 263]done so she would have found the object of her search.
Nina Potter, her ear close to the key-hole of the door, heard Mandy stump heavily away and drew a long, long breath of relief. Getting up from her knees, she looked about the room. It had been left untouched since the funeral, Mandy not having found courage either to dust or sweep, or, for the matter of that, to enter it upon any occasion whatever, in spite of Kitty’s directions to put the bedroom in order.
It was a large room with high ceilings and diamond-paned windows. The shades were raised and the afternoon sunshine fell full upon the carved four-post bedstead with its time-worn canopy and broad valance. Going over to the bureau, Nina tried the different drawers; they were all unlocked. Turning once again to convince herself that she really was alone in the room, she waited a second and then went through the bureau with neatness and dispatch. Her search was unproductive of result. Nothing daunted, she examined the old desk with equal thoroughness, and then turned her attention to the mahogany wardrobe which occupied one corner of the room. She found that it contained nothing but clothes which a generation before had been fashionable. They hung on the wooden pegs, rainbow hued, beribboned, and musty. Nina hastily [Pg 264]closed the doors and turned her back on the wardrobe.
The action brought her face to face with the bedstead. It was the only piece of furniture in the room which she had not examined. With some hesitancy she walked over to it. The sheets had been spread neatly over the mattress, but the bolster and pillows had evidently been tossed in place, for they had assumed grotesque shapes and to her excited imagination it seemed as if some human form lay sprawled across the bed.
Raising the sheets, she ran her hands back and forth over the mattress as far as she could reach. No rustle of papers, such as she had hoped to hear, resulted. Looking about, she spied the short wooden steps which Miss Susan Baird had used to mount into bed every night, and dragged them into place. Standing on the top step and resting her weight partly on the bed, Nina managed to feel the whole surface of the mattress.
Finally, she straightened her aching figure and stood upright. She was conscious of a slight feeling of giddiness; the next instant she had lost her balance and rolled to the floor. As she descended she threw out her hand and instinctively clutched the valance. It ripped away with a tearing sound, and when she sat up, bewildered, her eyes were on a level with the wooden springs of the bed. Between [Pg 265]them and the mattress rested an oblong box. It was painted the color of mahogany and fitted snugly into its cleverly contrived hiding place.
Nina’s fingers trembled as she lifted out the box and tried to raise the cover. It was locked. Scrambling to her feet, she hurried to the bureau and selected a steel shoe horn. Slipping it under the box-lid she exerted all her strength. The lock resisted her efforts at first, then the rotten wood gave with a slight splintering sound.
In panting haste she threw back the lid. The box appeared to be filled with papers of all sizes, but Nina lost no time in examining them. On top lay a package of letters bearing her name in a familiar handwriting. Snatching them up, Nina replaced the box. With the aid of pins she tacked the valance back in place as best she could, straightened the bedclothes, and then stole from the room, her precious package clasped tightly in her hand. As she passed down the staircase, she was totally unaware that she was watched, nor did she catch the faint sound made by the opening and closing of “Miss Susan’s” bedroom door.
The fire in the library had been replenished a short time before by Mandy and it blazed with unaccustomed brilliancy, and Nina in the overheated atmosphere felt a return of the giddiness which had upset her upstairs. Crossing the library, she threw [Pg 266]open the upper half of the Dutch door. The cool air refreshed her and she stood enjoying it while her gaze roved over the garden and its box hedges along the walks. The flower beds in their winter dress presented a dreary aspect. But Nina’s attention did not linger upon them; instead it centered upon a man sitting on one of the stone benches near the sun-dial. His air of dejection was marked. He turned ever so slightly and in spite of the soft hat pulled far down on his forehead and his hunched shoulders, Nina recognized Leigh Wallace. On impulse she turned the key in the lower half of the door and opening it, walked down the path. Her footfall was noiseless and it was not until she stopped directly in front of him that Wallace became aware of her approach.
“Nina!” The low cry escaped him involuntarily.
“Don’t!” Her tone stung him like a lash. “I prefer to be addressed as Mrs. Potter.”
“Certainly.” Wallace grew white to the lips. “I shall respect your wishes. Had I known that you were here, I would not have come.”
“It is perhaps as well that you are here,” Nina took a step forward. “It gives me an opportunity to return these letters.”
Wallace looked at the package she held toward him and then at her.
“You kept them!” he gasped. “You had the nerve—”
Her scornful expression checked him. “Comment is unnecessary,” she said. “Take the letters and destroy them.”
Wallace’s uncomprehending stare frightened her. Was his old failing upon him—had he been drinking? For a long minute they regarded each other. Slowly he put out his hand, took the package, and without a glance at them or at her turned and walked away.
Inspector Mitchell left Charles Craige to enter “Rose Hill” alone.
“I’ll be in shortly,” he exclaimed. “Wait until I get there.” And, not waiting to hear even if Craige made an answer, the Inspector headed for the house adjoining the Baird mansion on the east. Craige paused a second to give an order to his chauffeur, then mounted the long steps to the vestibule where Mandy stood awaiting his arrival.
“I done see’d yo’ comin’,” she remarked, closing the door with a bang. “Go right in de lib’ry, Mister Charles. I’ll tell Miss Kitty yo’ am hyar jes’ as soon as my gran’son gets back from the sto’.” And Mandy resumed her place in the parlor window from whence she could obtain an unobstructed view up and down Q Street.
Craige’s heavy footsteps did not cause a man, standing in front of the open Dutch door in the library, to turn around, so fixed was his attention on the view into the garden. Craige paused just over the threshold of the library door.
“Why, hello, Ben!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know you were here.”
With a convulsive start, Ben Potter swung around and Craige recoiled a step or two. The rage stamped on Potter’s countenance had distorted it almost beyond recognition.
“God bless my soul!” Craige ejaculated. “Ben, what is it?”
Potter passed a hand across his face and with an effort regained some semblance of self-control.
“Nothing, nothing,” he stammered. “Where’s Kitty?”
“I am sure I don’t know.” Craige’s astonishment increased. “Probably upstairs.”
Potter brushed past him without a word and disappeared into the hall. Craige advanced farther into the library and paused in indecision. From where he stood he faced the Dutch door, the upper half of which stood open, and thus had an uninterrupted view of the garden.
It did not need remarkably keen eyesight to recognize the man and woman standing near the sun-dial. Craige stared at the tableau for fully a minute, then [Pg 269]turned thoughtfully away just as Leigh Wallace took the package from Nina Potter.
Kitty, awakened from her sleep by Ben Potter’s unceremonious entrance into her bedroom, was gazing at her cousin in utter bewilderment.
“What are you saying?” she demanded for the second time.
“That your revolver was found by Inspector Mitchell on the floor of Ted Rodgers’ car,” repeated Potter. He made no attempt to modify his angry tones and his voice carried through the open door and across the hall into Ted Rodgers’ bedroom.
“You are mad!” exclaimed Kitty. “My revolver is here in my desk.” Springing up she hastened to her antique secretary and pulled open one of the drawers. It was empty.
“The revolver was here yesterday,” she cried.
“And last night in Ted’s car,” reiterated Potter, with stubborn temper. “Your revolver—and one chamber had been recently discharged and Ted Rodgers nearly killed.”
As his words echoed across the hall Miss Gray, the trained nurse, closed the bedroom door and turned to look at her patient. With feeble strength he struggled upright.
“Bring me my clothes,” Ted Rodgers gasped, as she hurried to his side.