The Abandoned Room
The Abandoned Room
CHAPTER II: THE CASE AGAINST BOBBY
BOBBY HURRIED DOWN THE ROAD in the direction of the Cedars. Always he tried desperately to recall what had occurred during those black hours last night and this morning before he had awakened in the empty house near his grandfather's home. All that remained were his sensation of travel in a swift vehicle, his impression of standing in the forest near the Cedars, his glimpse of the masked figure which he had called his conscience, the echo in his brain of a dream-like voice saying: "Take off your shoes and carry them in your hand. Always do that. It's the only safe way."
These facts, then, alone were clear to him: He had wandered, unconscious, in the neighbourhood. His grandfather had been strangely murdered. The detective who had met him in the village practically accused him of the murder. And he couldn't remember.
He turned back to his last clear recollections. When he had experienced his first symptoms of slipping consciousness he had been in the cafe in New York with Carlos Paredes, Maria, the dancer, and a strange man whom Maria had brought to the table. Through them he might, to an extent, trace his movements, unless they had put him in a cab, thinking he would catch the train, of which he had talked, for the Cedars.
Already the forest crowded the narrow, curving road. The Blackburn place was in the midst of an arid thicket of stunted pines, oaks, and cedars. Old Blackburn had never done anything to improve the estate or its surroundings. Steadily during his lifetime it had grown more gloomy, less habitable.
With the silent forest thick about him Bobby realized that he was no longer alone. A crackling twig or a loose stone struck by a foot might have warned him. He went slower, glancing restlessly over his shoulder. He saw no one, but that idea of stealthy pursuit persisted. Undoubtedly it was the detective, Howells, who followed him, hoping, perhaps, that he would make some mad effort at escape.
"That," he muttered, "is probably the reason he didn't arrest me at the station."
Bobby, however, had no thought of escape. He was impatient to reach the Cedars where he might learn all that Howells hadn't told him about his grandfather's death.
A high wooden fence straggled through the forest. The driveway swung from the road through a broad gateway. The gate stood open. Bobby remembered that it had been old Blackburn's habit to keep it closed. He entered and hurried among the trees to the edge of the lawn in the centre of which the house stood.
Feeling as guilty as the detective thought him, he paused there and examined the house for some sign of life. At first it seemed as dead as the forest stripped by autumn-almost as gloomy and arid as the wilderness which straggled close about it. He had no eye for the symmetry of its wings which formed the court in the centre of which an abandoned fountain stood. He studied the windows, picturing Katherine alone, surrounded by the complications of this unexpected tragedy.
His feeling of an inimical watchfulness persisted. A clicking sound swung him back to the house. The front door had been opened, and in the black frame of the doorway, as he looked, Katherine and Graham appeared, and he knew the resolution of his last doubt was at hand.
Katherine had thrown a cloak over her graceful figure. Her sunny hair strayed in the wind, but her face, while it had lost nothing of its beauty, projected even at this distance a sense of weariness, of anxiety, of utter fear.
Bobby was grateful for Graham's presence. It was like the man to assume his responsibilities, to sacrifice himself in his service. He straightened. He must meet these two. Through his own wretched appearance and position he must develop for Katherine more clearly than ever Graham's superiority. He stepped out, calling softly: