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   Chapter 5 THE LADY OF THE LAKE

The Deep Lake Mystery By Carolyn Wells Characters: 19864

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"And so," I thought to myself, "I shall see again the Lady of the Lake."

As Alma Remsen entered the room, I realized the aptness of Kee's term, high-handed. Without any effect of strong-mindedness, the girl showed in face and demeanour a certain self-reliance, an air of determination, that made even a casual observer feel sure she could hold her own against all comers.

Yet she was a gentle sort. Slender, of medium height, with appealing brown eyes, she nodded a sort of greeting that included us all, and addressed herself to the coroner.

"You sent for me, Doctor Hart?" she said, in a low, musical voice.

"Yes, Miss Remsen. Will you answer a few direct questions?"

"Certainly. To the best of my ability."

"First of all, then, when did you last see your uncle alive?"

"I was over here day before yesterday, Tuesday, that would be. I have not been here since, until this morning."

My heart almost stopped beating. I had seen her come in her canoe-but stay, that was at one-thirty or thereabouts. Perhaps she salved her conscience for the lie by telling herself that was this morning.

"You mean, when you came over here perhaps half an hour ago?"

"Yes." Alma looked at him in some surprise. "What else could I mean?"

A finished actress, surely. I was amazed at her coolness and her pretty air of inquiry.

"Who summoned you?"

"Mrs. Fenn. She had been asked to do so by Mr. Ames."

"What was her message?"

"That Uncle Sampson had died of apoplexy and I'd better come right over."

"So you came?"

"Yes, as soon as I could get here."

"Have you seen-er-Mr. Tracy?"

"No; Mr. Ames advised against it."

"Well, Miss Remsen, I think we want no information from you, except a formal statement of your relationship to the dead man and your standing with him."

"Standing?"

"Yes. Were you good friends?"

"The best. I loved Uncle Sampson and he loved me, I know. I am his only living relative, except some distant cousins. I am the daughter of his sister, of whom he was very fond."

The girl was a bit of an enigma. She seemed straightforward and sincere, yet I was somehow conscious of a reservation in her talk, a glibness of speech that carried the idea of a prearranged story.

Why I should mistrust her I couldn't say, at first. Then I remembered that I had seen her canoeing over to Pleasure Dome in the night, and now she was saying she had not done so.

"Are you his heiress?" The question came sharply.

"So far as I know," she replied with perfect equanimity. "My uncle has told me that his will leaves the bulk of his estate to me, but he also told me that when he married Mrs. Dallas, he would revise that will, and make different arrangements."

"Did you resent this?"

"Not at all. I knew my uncle would leave me a proper portion of his wealth, and that as long as he lived he would take care of his sister's child."

"You are an only child of your parents?"

"I had a twin sister. She died fourteen years ago."

"And she is buried on this estate?"

"Her grave is in a small cemetery which also contains the graves of my parents and five or six other relatives of my uncle's family."

"How did it come about that the cemetery is on the grounds of the estate? It is, I believe, a New England custom."

"It was my mother's wish. She was devoted to the little girl who died and wanted to have the grave where she could visit it often. My uncle humoured her and also had the remains of my father sent here to be buried beside the child. Then, when my mother died, about a year ago, naturally she was buried there, too."

"I see. What did your sister die of?"

"Scarlet fever. There was an epidemic of it. We both had it, but I pulled through, though it left me with a slight deafness in one ear."

"Then, after your mother's death, you went to live by yourself on the island. Why did you do this?"

"Because my uncle was to marry Mrs. Dallas."

"And you don't like Mrs. Dallas?"

"I don't dislike her at all, but I am not of an easy-going disposition. I felt sure there would be clashes, and I told uncle I'd rather live by myself. He understood and agreed. So after some looking about, we decided on the island of Whistling Reeds as the most attractive site for a home."

"And he built a house for you there?"

"Oh, no, the house was already there. He bought the whole island, house and all."

"You like it as a home?"

"I love it. I am happier there than I could be anywhere else."

"Are you not lonely?"

"No more than I would be anywhere. I have capable and devoted servants, and I have tennis courts and an archery field and I have many boats and can get any place I wish to go in them. No, I am not so lonely as I sometimes was here in this great house. Of course, since my mother's death, I haven't gone much in society but I am thinking of going out more in the future."

Keeley Moore listened to the girl with the deepest interest. I wondered what he would say if he knew what I knew of her midnight canoe trip!

But I vowed to myself then and there that I should never tell of that. I knew I might be doing wrong, withholding such an important bit of information, but I was determined to keep my secret.

I tried to make myself think it was some other girl I had seen, but the alert figure before me and the white costume said plainly that I was making no mistake in recognizing the girl of the canoe.

From beneath her little white felt hat strayed a few golden curls, and I well remembered the bare head that had looked silvery in the moonlight.

I said to myself, by way of placating my conscience, that when the time came I would tell Kee about it, but I certainly did not propose to give the Coroner a chance to suspect this lovely girl of crime.

Apparently, the Coroner had no slightest suspicion of Alma, but you can't tell. He may have been drawing her out in order to prove her complete innocence or he may have felt that she had motive and must be closely questioned.

"Were you at home last evening?" Hart said, in a casual tone.

"Yes, I was."

"You didn't go out all the evening or night?"

"No. I didn't leave the island."

"Whew!" I exclaimed to myself, "it's lucky she doesn't know that I know!"

I gazed at her in admiration. I didn't, I couldn't think that she had killed her uncle, but knowing, as I did, that she had visited Pleasure Dome, I could only think that she had come on some secret errand.

"Maybe," I puzzled over it, "she came to see her uncle on some private business, and saw the murderer at his work. Maybe she knew the criminal, and is shielding him."

For I had already made up my mind that some one in the house had killed Sampson Tracy. I didn't believe in any burglar or intruder. I thought a member of the family or household had done the deed, and, presumably, for the sake of inheritance. I had heard there were large bequests to the servants in Tracy's will, and there were several men to suspect.

I longed for a talk alone with Kee, but I saw this could not occur very soon.

"How did you occupy your evening?" pursued Hart, and I listened eagerly for the answer.

"I had an interesting book I was reading and after dinner I sat in my living room with the book until I finished the story. Then I played on the piano a little, as I often do in the evening, and about half-past ten I went to bed."

All of this was stated in a calm, even voice, and with the most clear and unflinching gaze of the brown eyes.

I realized then what beautiful eyes they were. Deep brown, with long, curling black lashes, and an expression of wistful appeal that would go straight to any man's heart.

Once for all, I was committed to the cause of Alma Remsen, and never, to Kee Moore or to anybody else, would I divulge any word that might make trouble for her.

I wasn't exactly in love with the girl then, or if I was I didn't know it. But I felt like a guardian toward her, and surely my first duty was to guard the secret of her canoe trip that night.

"You come over here often?" Moore asked, in his pleasant way, and she replied without hesitation.

"Oh, yes, I come over in my canoe or my motor boat nearly every day. Uncle gives me vegetables and fruit from the garden, and flowers, too."

"You say you haven't seen your uncle since his death," Kee went on. "Have you been told of the peculiar details of his deathbed?"

"Yes," Alma said, her brown eyes clouding with perplexity. "But I can't understand the meaning of such conditions. Who do you suppose would do such absurd things?"

"Doctor Rogers thinks it was the work of some small girl--"

"Ridiculous!" cried Alma. "Does he think a small girl killed my uncle?"

"No, apparently the deed was done by a strong man. But he thinks the flowers and those things were put where they were found by some mischievous child. Do you know of any ten- or twelve-year-old girl near by?"

"No, I don't," and she looked about wonderingly. "Of course, there are lots of them in the village, but I know of none among the servants' families or in the neighbourhood at all. I don't agree with Doctor Rogers. It's too fantastic to think of a child coming along here at that time of night and getting into the house--Oh, the very idea is ridiculous."

"I agree to that," said Hart. "But how can we explain the feather duster and the food and all that?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," Alma declared, "but any man who was diabolically minded enough to drive a nail into the head of a sleeping victim would have a distorted brain, and might have done all those queer things. But cannot you detectives and policemen find out the truth?"

Her tone was appealing, she seemed to be asking their help, and I marvelled afresh at her poise and calm.

"You and Mrs. Dallas are friendly?" Coroner Hart broke out, abruptly.

"Oh, yes. We are not intimates, she is older than I am. But we h

ave never had anything but the pleasantest of interviews."

"You are friendly with Mr. Ames?"

"In a general way, yes. He too, is so much older than I am that I have never given him a thought save as a friend of my uncle's. I don't know Mr. Ames very well, but I've certainly no unfriendly feelings toward him."

I wondered at myself. Why did I so admire this girl, so respect her, and yet have an undercurrent of fear for her? She was utterly frank, perfectly straightforward, to all appearances, yet-probably influenced by what I knew-I couldn't believe in her.

She was so self-possessed, so unafraid in her attitude and expression of face, that I had no real reason to doubt her good faith.

But I did, and I determined to watch Alma Remsen carefully and to the exclusion of everybody else connected with the mystery.

Moreover, I determined to keep my knowledge to myself. I wasn't sure whether I should tell Moore eventually or not, but at any rate, I wasn't ready to tell him yet.

After a few questions, which seemed to me of no real importance, Alma was excused and Mrs. Dallas was summoned.

What a different type of woman!

She was, as I learned later, about thirty, but her hair had turned prematurely gray, almost white. She wore it short, a soft, curly bob, that framed her young-looking face with a sort of halo.

Her eyes were gray, too, with dark lashes, and her complexion was perfect. That lovely creamy flesh, with a soft sheen on it that needed, I felt sure, no aid of cosmetics.

Her mouth was a Cupid's bow, and her smile was that of a siren.

I gazed at her, because I couldn't tear my eyes away.

True, I had seen her the night before at the Moores' dinner party, but she hadn't looked like this then. At the dinner she had seemed out of sorts, and unsmiling.

Now, she was animated and fascinating.

A strange idea came to me. Suppose she had killed Sampson Tracy, wouldn't she adopt this attitude of charm to wheedle the Coroner?

Then I laughed at my own foolishness. Why, of all people, would Katherine Dallas kill the man she was about to marry? The wealthy, powerful magnate, who was ready to dower her with everything heart could wish and put her at the head of his great establishment. Of course not. She had no motive, nor had she opportunity. Even if she possessed a latchkey, which might well be, she couldn't come to the house in the dead of night, and get away again, without being seen by somebody.

Although, I was forced to admit, whoever killed the man had gone to his room in the dead of night, and had got away again, unseen, so far as we could learn. How had he got away? Well, that question was as yet unanswered.

Even now, I realized, Coroner Hart was asking Mrs. Dallas her opinion on this very matter.

"I can't imagine," she said, and I was angry with myself to realize that her voice had in it no ring of a false note, no hint of insincerity.

"It is too impossible," she went on, her lovely face alight with interest, "whoever killed Mr. Tracy had to get out of that room and leave the door locked behind him, but how could he do it?"

"Dived out of the window," suggested Keeley, to hear what she would say.

"Then he was a master diver," she told him. "Deep Lake, or as they call it here, the Sunless Sea, is not only very deep, but it is full of hidden rocks and there are strong eddies and currents,-oh, it is a dangerous hole!"

"There's the alternative of a secret passage," Moore went on. "Did you ever hear of one?"

"No, and I doubt there being such. I mean, the house, though of complicated structure, is modern and I'm quite sure it hasn't any concealed or subterranean passages. If it had, I think Mr. Tracy would have spoken of them to me."

"Why do you feel so sure of that?"

"Only because he told me everything. I mean he was confidential by nature and I've never known him to have a secret from me."

"Why didn't Mr. Tracy attend the dinner last night at which you were a guest?"

She coloured a little, but answered frankly: "We had had a little tiff, and he was, while not really angry at me, just enough annoyed to stay home from the party. I think he regretted having declined the invitation, but then it was too late to change his mind."

"What was your disagreement about?"

"Must I tell that?"

"I think you'd better, Mrs. Dallas."

"I greatly prefer not to."

"Still I must request it."

"Well, then, he had said he wanted to tell me something about his niece, Miss Remsen."

"Something unpleasant?"

"I feared so. I didn't know. But he said it was a thing I ought to know about if I was coming into the family."

"He gave you no hint as to the purport of his disclosures?"

"He wanted to, but I wouldn't listen. I told him I didn't want to hear it, at any rate, not then."

"Why did you take that attitude in the matter?"

"I'll try to explain. I have known Mr. Tracy about a year. I've been engaged to him about three months. Now, he had never mentioned this thing before. So I had a feeling that he had spoken impulsively, and perhaps on thinking it over would change his mind about telling me."

"And you had no curiosity about it?"

"Oh, no, not beyond a natural wonder as to what it could be. But I am very fond of Alma Remsen, and I was positive it couldn't be anything really serious. Perhaps an early love affair or escapade that would be better left buried in oblivion."

"So you had words over it all."

"Yes, I was so insistent that he should not tell me, and he so equally insistent that I should hear it, that we had a real quarrel."

"How did it wind up?"

"By his leaving my house-he was calling on me-in a rage. I admit it was a foolish thing to quarrel about, but I was determined to have my way in the matter, and I did."

"When was this affair?"

"It was Monday night."

"And to-day is Thursday. You didn't see him again?"

"No. He sulked Tuesday and Wednesday. I called him on the telephone yesterday and asked him if he was going to the Moores' dinner party, and he said 'No,' very shortly and hung up the receiver."

"He was really angry, then?"

"Yes, but I fancy more with himself than with me. Mr. Ames told me that Mr. Tracy was sorry about it all, and that he kept my scarf near him all the time. I know Mr. Tracy's ways, and when he keeps any of my belongings near him, he isn't really angry at me."

"You are speaking of the crimson scarf that was found on Mr. Tracy's bed?"

"Yes, that one." And then, the calm of Katherine Dallas broke down and she burst into a piteous flood of tears.

I was not surprised. I had noticed her clenching fingers and her tapping foot, and I knew she was striving to keep a grip on her feelings.

It was Inspector Farrell who opened the door for her, and as she stumbled through, we saw Alma Remsen awaiting her, and knew she would be duly cared for.

Farrell returned into the room and closed the door, and went slowly back to his seat.

"What about it?" he said, including both Hart and Keeley Moore in his glance of inquiry.

"Whoever killed that man, it was not Mrs. Dallas," Kee declared. "I don't suppose anybody thought she did, but there's no slightest reason to suspect her."

"What about the girl?" asked Farrell, with brooding eyes.

"Drive a nail in her uncle's head!" Moore exclaimed. "I can't see her doing that! Can you, Norris?"

"No," I said, and it was God's truth. That lovely girl connected with a brutal, inhuman deed,-no, nobody could believe that!

"Well, then, where are we at?" Farrell asked.

"At Harper Ames," said the coroner, and we realized that he was sticking to his first impressions.

"All right," Farrell sighed. "Get him in here next, then."

But just then, Sally Bray came to the door. Farrell let her in and asked the result of her investigation of Mr. Tracy's belongings.

"There's nothing missing as Griscom and I can see," she reported, "except two things-I mean, three."

"What are they?" and Farrell placed a chair for her and spoke in a kindly tone.

"One is the Tottum Pole."

"The what?"

"She doubtless means the Totem Pole," said Moore, quietly. "Is that it, Sally?"

"Yes, sir, that's what I said, the Tottum Pole. It was one of Mr. Tracy's favourite toys. It was Indian, Griscom says, and it always stood on his bedside table. He thought it was a-a charm, like."

"A Luck you mean, I dare say." Keeley had taken the inquiry into his own hands for the moment.

"Yes, sir, it was his Luck, that's what Griscom said."

"How large was it?"

"About so big." Sally measured a foot or more with her hands. "Oh, it was fierce! Yet beautiful, too."

"Bright colours, and a face at the top--"

"Yes, sir. But a norful face, all eyes--"

"I know. You understand, Mr. Farrell, don't you? She means a miniature Totem Pole. They have them in the better class of shops round here that carry Indian trinkets. The little Totem Poles are interesting, and are called lucky. I have two or three at home. But mine are smaller, only six or eight inches. And so this Totem Pole is missing. What else, Sally?"

"Two of Mr. Tracy's best weskits, sir! His striped dark blue morey, and his pearl-coloured figgered satin."

"He wore fancy waistcoats, then?"

"Oh, yes, sir, he was a great hand for weskits of beautiful stuff. Never gay or gaudy, but soft, lovely colours and the expensivest materials."

"And two of them are gone. Are you sure?"

"Yes, sir. Griscom missed 'em. He says they ain't gone to the cleaner's or anything like that, for they're both nearly new. And he says he knows they were in their right place yesterday morning, sir."

"Well," Hart said, "we can't complain of any lack of curious complications. This seems to prove a man did the deed. A woman surely would not take fancy waistcoats!"

"And why should a man take them, either?" Moore asked, but none of us could answer.

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