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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bat - Chapter 18
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The Bat - Chapter 18 Post by :Got_Pez Category :Long Stories Author :Mary Roberts Rinehart Date :May 2012 Read :1470

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The Bat - Chapter 18

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN. THE BAT STILL FLIES

He stepped back in the doorway, looked out, then turned to them again.

"I come in, please?" he said pathetically, his hands quivering. "I not like to stay in dark."

Miss Cornelia took pity on him.

"Come in, Billy, of course. What is it? Anything the matter?"

Billy glanced about nervously.

"Man with sore head."

"What about him?"

"Act very strange." Again Billy's slim hands trembled.

Beresford broke in. "The man who fell into the room downstairs?"

Billy nodded.

"Yes. On second floor, walking around."

Beresford smiled, a bit smugly.

"I told you!" he said to Miss Cornelia. "I didn't think he was as dazed as he pretended to be."

Miss Cornelia, too, had been pondering the problem of the Unknown. She reached a swift decision. If he were what he pretended to be—a dazed wanderer, he could do them no harm. If he were not—a little strategy properly employed might unravel the whole mystery.

"Bring him up here, Billy," she said, turning to the butler.

Billy started to obey. But the darkness of the corridor seemed to appall him anew the moment he took a step toward it.

"You give candle, please?" he asked with a pleading expression. "Don't like dark."

Miss Cornelia handed him one of the two precious candles. Then his present terror reminded her of that one other occasion when she had seen him lose completely his stoic Oriental calm.

"Billy," she queried, "what did you see when you came running down the stairs before we were locked in, down below?"

The candle shook like a reed in Billy's grasp.

"Nothing!" he gasped with obvious untruth, though it did not seem so much as if he wished to conceal what he had seen as that he was trying to convince himself he had seen nothing.

"Nothing!" said Lizzie scornfully. "It was some nothing that would make him drop a bottle of whisky!"

But Billy only backed toward the door, smiling apologetically.

"Thought I saw ghost," he said, and went out and down the stairs, the candlelight flickering, growing fainter, and finally disappearing. Silence and eerie darkness enveloped them all as they waited. And suddenly out of the blackness came a sound.

Something was flapping and thumping around the room.

"That's damned odd." muttered Beresford uneasily. "There is something moving around the room."

"It's up near the ceiling!" cried Bailey as the sound began again.

Lizzie began a slow wail of doom and disaster.

"Oh—h—h—h—"

"Good God!" cried Beresford abruptly. "It hit me in the face!" He slapped his hands together in a vain attempt to capture the flying intruder.

Lizzie rose.

"I'm going!" she announced. "I don't know where, but I'm going!"

She took a wild step in the direction of the door. Then the flapping noise was all about her, her nose was bumped by an invisible object and she gave a horrified shriek.

"It's in my hair!" she screamed madly. "It's in my hair!"

The next instant Bailey gave a triumphant cry.

"I've got it! It's a bat!"

Lizzie sank to her knees, still moaning, and Bailey carried the cause of the trouble over to the window and threw it out.

But the result of the absurd incident was a further destruction of their morale. Even Beresford, so far calm with the quiet of the virtuous onlooker, was now pallid in the light of the matches they successively lighted. And onto this strained situation came at last Billy and the Unknown.

The Unknown still wore his air of dazed bewilderment, true or feigned, but at least he was now able to walk without support. They stared at him, at his tattered, muddy garments, at the threads of rope still clinging to his ankles—and wondered. He returned their stares vacantly.

"Come in," began Miss Cornelia. "Sit down." He obeyed both commands docilely enough.

"Are you better now?"

"Somewhat." His words still came very slowly.

"Billy—you can go."

"I stay, please!" said Billy wistfully, making no movement to leave. His gesture toward the darkness of the corridor spoke louder than words.

Bailey watched him, suspicion dawning in his eyes. He could not account for the butler's inexplicable terror of being left alone.

"Anderson intimated that the Doctor had an accomplice in this house," he said, crossing to Billy and taking him by the arm. "Why isn't this the man?" Billy cringed away. "Please, no," he begged pitifully.

Bailey turned him around so that he faced the Hidden Room.

"Did you know that room was there?" he questioned, his doubts still unquieted.

Billy shook his head.

"No."

"He couldn't have locked us in," said Miss Cornelia. "He was with us."

Bailey demurred, not to her remark itself, but to its implication of Billy's entire innocence.

"He may know who did it. Do you?"

Billy still shook his head.

Bailey remained unconvinced.

"Who did you see at the head of the small staircase?" he queried imperatively. "Now we're through with nonsense; I want the truth!"

Billy shivered.

"See face—that's all," he brought out at last.

"Whose face?"

Again it was evident that Billy knew or thought he knew more than he was willing to tell.

"Don't know," he said with obvious untruth, looking down at the floor.

"Never mind, Billy," cut in Miss Cornelia. To her mind questioning Billy was wasting time. She looked at the Unknown.

"Solve the mystery of this man and we may get at the facts," she said in accents of conviction.

As Bailey turned toward her questioningly, Billy attempted to steal silently out of the door, apparently preferring any fears that might lurk in the darkness of the corridor to a further grilling on the subject of whom or what he had seen on the alcove stairs. But Bailey caught the movement out of the tail of his eye.

"You stay here," he commanded. Billy stood frozen. Beresford raised the candle so that it cast its light full in the Unknown's face.

"This chap claims to have lost his memory," he said dubiously. "I suppose a blow on the head might do that, I don't know."

"I wish somebody would knock me on the head! I'd like to forget a few things!" moaned Lizzie, but the interruption went unregarded.

"Don't you even know your name?" queried Miss Cornelia of the Unknown.

The Unknown shook his head with a slow, laborious gesture.

"Not—yet."

"Or where you came from?"

Once more the battered head made its movement of negation.

"Do you remember how you got in this house?" The Unknown made an effort.

"Yes—I—remember—that—all—right" he said, apparently undergoing an enormous strain in order to make himself speak at all. He put his hand to his head.

"My—head—aches—to—beat—the—band," he continued slowly.

Miss Cornelia was at a loss. If this were acting, it was at least fine acting.

"How did you happen to come to this house?" she persisted, her voice unconsciously tuning itself to the slow, laborious speech of the Unknown.

"Saw—the—lights."

Bailey broke in with a question.

"Where were you when you saw the lights?"

The Unknown wet his lips with his tongue, painfully.

"I—broke—out—of—the—garage," he said at length. This was unexpected. A general movement of interest ran over the group.

"How did you get there?" Beresford took his turn as questioner.

The Unknown shook his head, so slowly and deliberately that Miss Cornelia's fingers itched to shake him in spite of his injuries.

"I—don't—know."

"Have you been robbed?" queried Bailey with keen suspicion.

The Unknown mumbled something unintelligible. Then he seemed to get command of his tongue again.

"Everything gone—out of—my pockets," he said.

"Including your watch?" pursued Bailey, remembering the watch that Beresford had found in the grounds.

The Unknown would neither affirm nor deny.

"If—I—had—a—watch—it's gone," he said with maddening deliberation. "All my—papers—are gone."

Miss Cornelia pounced upon this last statement like a cat upon a mouse.

"How do you know you had papers?" she asked sharply.

For the first time the faintest flicker of a smile seemed to appear for a moment on the Unknown's features. Then it vanished as abruptly as it had come.

"Most men—carry papers—don't they?" he asked, staring blindly in front of him. "I'm dazed—but—my mind's—all—right. If you—ask me—I—think—I'm—d-damned funny!"

He gave the ghost of a chuckle. Bailey and Beresford exchanged glances.

"Did you ring the house phone?" insisted Miss Cornelia.

The Unknown nodded.

"Yes."

Miss Cornelia and Bailey gave each other a look of wonderment.

"I—leaned against—the button—in the garage—" he went on. "Then—I think—maybe I—fainted. That's—not clear."

His eyelids drooped. He seemed about to faint again.

Dale rose, and came over to him, with a sympathetic movement of her hand.

"You don't remember how you were hurt?" she asked gently.

The Unknown stared ahead of him, his eyes filming, as if he were trying to puzzle it out.

"No," he said at last. "The first thing I remember—I was in the garage—tied." He moved his lips. "I was—gagged—too—that's—what's the matter—with my tongue—now—Then—I got myself—free—and—got out—of a window—"

Miss Cornelia made a movement to question him further. Beresford stopped her with his hand uplifted.

"Just a moment, Miss Van Gorder. Anderson ought to know of this."

He started for the door without perceiving the flash of keen intelligence and alertness that had lit the Unknown's countenance for an instant, as once before, at the mention of the detective's name. But just as he reached the door the detective entered.

He halted for a moment, staring at the strange figure of the Unknown.

"A new element in our mystery, Mr. Anderson," said Miss Cornelia, remembering that the detective might not have heard of the mysterious stranger before—as he had been locked in the billiard room when the latter had made his queer entrance.

The detective and the Unknown gazed at each other for a moment—the Unknown with his old expression of vacant stupidity.

"Quite dazed, poor fellow," Miss Cornelia went on. Beresford added other words of explanation.

"He doesn't remember what happened to him. Curious, isn't it?"

The detective still seemed puzzled.

"How did he get into the house?"

"He came through the terrace door some time ago," answered Miss Cornelia. "Just before we were locked in."

Her answer seemed to solve the problem to Anderson's satisfaction.

"Doesn't remember anything, eh?" he said dryly. He crossed over to the mysterious stranger and put his hand under the Unknown's chin, jerking his head up roughly.

"Look up here!" he commanded.

The Unknown stared at him for an instant with blank, vacuous eyes. Then his head dropped back upon his breast again.

"Look up, you—" muttered the detective, jerking his head again. "This losing your memory stuff doesn't go down with me!" His eyes bored into the Unknown's.

"It doesn't—go down—very well—with me—either," said the Unknown weakly, making no movement of protest against Anderson's rough handling.

"Did you ever see me before?" demanded the latter. Beresford held the candle closer so that he might watch the Unknown's face for any involuntary movement of betrayal.

But the Unknown made no such movement. He gazed at Anderson, apparently with the greatest bewilderment, then his eyes cleared, he seemed to be about to remember who the detective was.

"You're—the—Doctor—I—saw—downstairs—aren't you?" he said innocently. The detective set his jaw. He started off on a new tack.

"Does this belong to you?" he said suddenly, plucking from his pocket the battered gold watch that Beresford had found and waving it before the Unknown's blank face.

The Unknown stared at it a moment, as a child might stare at a new toy, with no gleam of recognition. Then—

"Maybe," he admitted. "I—don't—know." His voice trailed off. He fell back against Bailey's arm.

Miss Cornelia gave a little shiver. The third degree in reality was less pleasant to watch than it had been to read about in the pages of her favorite detective stories.

"He's evidently been attacked," she said, turning to Anderson. "He claims to have recovered consciousness in the garage, where he was tied hand and foot!"

"He does, eh?" said the detective heavily. He glared at the Unknown. "If you'll give me five minutes alone with him, I'll get the truth out of him!" he promised.

A look of swift alarm swept over the Unknown's face at the words, unperceived by any except Miss Cornelia. The others started obediently to yield to the detective's behest and leave him alone with his prisoner. Miss Cornelia was the first to move toward the door. On her way, she turned.

"Do you believe that money is irrevocably gone?" she asked of Anderson.

The detective smiled.

"There's no such word as 'irrevocable' in my vocabulary," he answered. "But I believe it's out of the house, if that's what you mean."

Miss Cornelia still hesitated, on the verge of departure.

"Suppose I tell you that there are certain facts that you have overlooked?" she said slowly.

"Still on the trail!" muttered the detective sardonically. He did not even glance at her. He seemed only anxious that the other members of the group would get out of his way for once and leave him a clear field for his work.

"I was right about the Doctor, wasn't I?" she insisted.

"Just fifty per cent right," said Anderson crushingly. "And the Doctor didn't turn that trick alone. Now—" he went on with weary patience, "if you'll all go out and close that door—"

Miss Cornelia, defeated, took a candle from Bailey and stepped into the corridor. Her figure stiffened. She gave an audible gasp of dismayed surprise.

"Quick!" she cried, turning back to the others and gesturing toward the corridor. "A man just went through that skylight and out onto the roof!"

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