The Bat

Contents:
Author: Mary Roberts Rinehart

Chapter Nineteen Murder on Murder

"Our on the roof!"

"Come on, Beresford!"

"Hustle - you men! He may be armed!"

"Righto - coming!"

And following Miss Cornelia’s lead, Jack Bailey, Anderson, Beresford, and Billy dashed out into the corridor, leaving Dale and the frightened Lizzie alone with the Unknown.

"And I’d run if my legs would!" Lizzie despaired.

"Hush!" said Dale, her ears strained for sounds of conflict. Lizzie, creeping closer to her for comfort, stumbled over one of the Unknown’s feet and promptly set up a new wail.

"How do we know this fellow right here isn’t the Bat?" she asked in a blood-chilling whisper, nearly stabbing the unfortunate Unknown in the eye with her thumb as she pointed at him. The Unknown was either too dazed or too crafty to make any answer. His silence confirmed Lizzie’s worst suspicions. She fairly hugged the floor and began to pray in a whisper.

Miss Cornelia re-entered cautiously with her candle, closing the door gently behind her as she came.

"What did you see?" gasped Dale.

Miss Cornelia smiled broadly.

"I didn’t see anything," she admitted with the greatest calm. "I had to get that dratted detective out of the room before I assassinated him."

"Nobody went through the skylight?" said Dale incredulously.

"They have now," answered Miss Cornelia with obvious satisfaction. "The whole outfit of them."

She stole a glance at the veiled eyes of the Unknown. He was lying limply back in his chair, as if the excitement had been too much for him - and yet she could have sworn she had seen him leap to his feet, like a man in full possession of his faculties, when she had given her-false cry of alarm.

"Then why did you - " began Dale dazedly, unable to fathom her aunt’s reasons for her trick.

"Because," interrupted Miss Cornelia decidedly, "that money’s in this room. If the man who took it out of the safe got away with it, why did he come back and hide there?"

Her forefinger jabbed at the hidden chamber wherein the masked intruder had terrified Dale with threats of instant death.

"He got it out of the safe - and that’s as far as he did get with it," she persisted inexorably. "There’s a HAT behind that safe, a man’s felt hat!"

So this was the discovery she had hinted of to Anderson before he rebuffed her proffer of assistance!

"Oh, I wish he’d take his hat and-go home!" groaned Lizzie inattentive to all but her own fears.

Miss Cornelia did not even bother to rebuke her. She crossed behind the wicker clothes hamper and picked up something from the floor.

"A half-burned candle," she mused. "Another thing the detective overlooked."

She stepped back to the center of the room, looking knowingly from the candle to the Hidden Room and back again.

"Oh, my God - another one!" shrieked Lizzie as the dark shape of a man appeared suddenly outside the window, as if materialized from the air.

Miss Cornelia snatched up her revolver from the top of the hamper.

"Don’t shoot - it’s Jack!" came a warning cry from Dale as she recognized the figure of her lover.

Miss Cornelia laid her revolver down on the hamper again. The vacant eyes of the Unknown caught the movement.

Bailey swung in through the window, panting a little from his exertions.

"The man Lizzie saw drop from the skylight undoubtedly got to the roof from this window," he said. "It’s quite easy."

"But not with one hand," said Miss Cornelia, with her gaze now directed at the row of tall closets around the walls of the room. When that detective comes back I may have a surprise party for him," she muttered, with a gleam of hope in her eye.

Dale explained the situation to Jack.

"Aunt Cornelia thinks the money’s still here."

Miss Cornelia snorted.

"I know it’s here." She started to open the closets, one after the other, beginning at the left. Bailey saw what she was doing and began to help her.

Not so Lizzie. She sat on the floor in a heap, her eyes riveted on the Unknown, who in his turn was gazing at Miss Cornelia’s revolver on the hamper with the intent stare of a baby or an idiot fascinated by a glittering piece of glass.

Dale noticed the curious tableau.

"Lizzie - what are you looking at?" she said with a nervous shake in her voice.

"What’s he looking at?" asked Lizzie sepulchrally, pointing at the Unknown. Her pointed forefinger drew his eyes away from the revolver; he sank back into his former apathy, listless, drooping.

Miss Cornelia rattled the knob of a high closet by the other wall.

"This one is locked - and the key’s gone," she announced. A new flicker of interest grew in the eyes of the Unknown. Lizzie glanced away from him, terrified.

"If there’s anything locked up in that closet," she whimpered, "you’d better let it stay! There’s enough running loose in this house as it is!"

Unfortunately for her, her whimper drew Miss Cornelia’s attention upon her.

"Lizzie, did you ever take that key?" the latter queried sternly.

"No’m," said Lizzie, too scared to dissimulate if she had wished. She wagged her head violently a dozen times, like a china figure on a mantelpiece.

Miss Cornelia pondered.

"It may be locked from the inside; I’ll soon find out." She took a wire hairpin from her hair and pushed it through the keyhole. But there was no key on the other side; the hairpin went through without obstruction. Repeated efforts to jerk the door open failed. And finally Miss Cornelia bethought herself of a key from the other closet doors.

Dale and Lizzie on one side - Bailey on the other - collected the keys of the other closets from their locks while Miss Cornelia stared at the one whose doors were closed as if she would force its secret from it with her eyes. The Unknown had been so quiet during the last few minutes, that, unconsciously, the others had ceased to pay much attention to him, except the casual attention one devotes to a piece of furniture. Even Lizzie’s eyes were now fixed on the locked closet. And the Unknown himself was the first to notice this.

At once his expression altered to one of cunning - cautiously, with infinite patience, he began to inch his chair over toward the wicker clothes hamper. The noise of the others, moving about the room, drowned out what little he made in moving his chair.

At last he was within reach of the revolver. His hand shot out in one swift sinuous thrust - clutched the weapon - withdrew. He then concealed the revolver among his tattered garments as best he could and, cautiously as before, inched his chair back again to its original position. When the others noticed him again, the mask of lifelessness was back on his face and one could have sworn he had not changed his position by the breadth of an inch.

"There - that unlocked it!" cried Miss Cornelia triumphantly at last, as the key to one of the other closet doors slid smoothly into the lock and she heard the click that meant victory.

She was about to throw open the closet door. But Bailey motioned her back.

"I’d keep back a little," he cautioned. "You don’t know what may be inside."

"Mercy sakes, who wants to know?" shivered Lizzie. Dale and Miss Cornelia, too, stepped aside involuntarily as Bailey took the candle and prepared, with a good deal of caution, to open the closet door.

The door swung open at last. He could look in. He did so - and stared appalled at what he saw, while goose flesh crawled on his spine and the hairs of his head stood up.

After a moment he closed the door of the closet and turned back, white-faced, to the others.

"What is it?" said Dale aghast. "What did you see?"

Bailey found himself unable to answer for a moment. Then he pulled himself together. He turned to Miss Van Gorder.

"Miss Cornelia, I think we have found the ghost the Jap butler saw," he said slowly. "How are your nerves?"

Miss Cornelia extended a hand that did not tremble.

"Give me the candle."

He did so. She went to the closet and opened the door.

Whatever faults Miss Cornelia may have had, lack of courage was not one of them - or the ability to withstand a stunning mental shock. Had it been otherwise she might well have crumpled to the floor, as if struck down by an invisible hammer, the moment the closet door swung open before her.

Huddled on the floor of the closet was the body of a man. So crudely had he been crammed into this hiding-place that he lay twisted and bent. And as if to add to the horror of the moment one arm, released from its confinement, now slipped and slid out into the floor of the room.

Miss Cornelia’s voice sounded strange to her own ears when finally she spoke.

"But who is it?"

"It is - or was - Courtleigh Fleming," said Bailey dully.

"But how can it be? Mr. Fleming died two weeks ago. I - "

"He died in this house sometime tonight. The body is still warm."

"But who killed him? The Bat?"

"Isn’t it likely that the Doctor did it? The man who has been his accomplice all along? Who probably bought a cadaver out West and buried it with honors here not long ago?"

He spoke without bitterness. Whatever resentment he might have felt died in that awful presence.

"He got into the house early tonight," he said, "probably with the Doctor’s connivance. That wrist watch there is probably the luminous eye Lizzie thought she saw.

But Miss Cornelia’s face was still thoughtful, and he went on:

"Isn’t it clear, Miss Van Gorder?" he queried, with a smile. "The Doctor and old Mr. Fleming formed a conspiracy - both needed money - lots of it. Fleming was to rob the bank and hide the money here. Wells’s part was to issue a false death certificate in the West, and bury a substitute body, secured God knows how. It was easy; it kept the name of the president of the Union Bank free from suspicion - and it put the blame on me."

He paused, thinking it out.

"Only they slipped up in one place. Dick Fleming leased the house to you and they couldn’t get it back."

"Then you are sure," said Miss Cornelia quickly, "that tonight Courtleigh Fleming broke in, with the Doctor’s assistance - and that he killed Dick, his own nephew, from the staircase?"

"Aren’t you?" asked Bailey surprised. The more he thought of it the less clearly could he visualize it any other way.

Miss Cornelia shook her head decidedly.

"No."

Bailey thought her merely obstinate - unwilling to give up, for pride’s sake, her own pet theory of the activities of the Bat.

"Wells tried to get out of the house tonight with that blue-print. Why? Because he knew the moment we got it, we’d come up here - and Fleming was here."

"Perfectly true," nodded Miss Cornelia. "And then?"

"Old Fleming killed Dick and Wells killed Fleming," said Bailey succinctly. "You can’t get away from it!"

But Miss Cornelia still shook her head. The explanation was too mechanical. It laid too little emphasis on the characters of those most concerned.

"No," she said. "No. The Doctor isn’t a murderer. He’s as puzzled as we are about some things. He and Courtleigh Fleming were working together - but remember this - Doctor Wells was locked in the living-room with us. He’d been trying to get up the stairs all evening and failed every time."

But Bailey was as convinced of the truth of his theory as she of hers.

"He was here ten minutes ago - locked in this room," he said with a glance at the ladder up which the doctor had ascended.

"I’ll grant you that," said Miss Cornelia. "But - " She thought back swiftly. "But at the same time an Unknown Masked Man was locked in that mantel-room with Dale. The Doctor put out the candle when you opened that Hidden Room. Why? Because he thought Courtleigh Fleming was hiding there!" Now the missing pieces of her puzzle were falling into their places with a vengeance. "But at this moment," she continued, "the Doctor believes that Fleming has made his escape! No - we haven’t solved the mystery yet. There’s another element - an unknown element," her eyes rested for a moment upon the Unknown, "and that element is - the Bat!"

She paused, impressively. The others stared at her - no longer able to deny the sinister plausibility of her theory. But this new tangling of the mystery, just when the black threads seemed raveled out at last, was almost too much for Dale.

"Oh, call the detective!" she stammered, on the verge of hysterical tears. "Let’s get through with this thing! I can’t bear any more!"

But Miss Cornelia did not even hear her. Her mind, strung now to concert pitch, had harked back to the point it had reached some time ago, and which all the recent distractions had momentarily obliterated.

Had the money been taken out of the house or had it not? In that mad rush for escape had the man hidden with Dale in the recess back of the mantel carried his booty with him, or left it behind? It was not in the Hidden Room, that was certain.

Yet she was so hopeless by that time that her first search was purely perfunctory.

During her progress about the room the Unknown’s eyes followed her, but so still had he sat, so amazing had been the discovery of the body, that no one any longer observed him. Now and then his head drooped forward as if actual weakness was almost overpowering him, but his eyes were keen and observant, and he was no longer taking the trouble to act - if he had been acting.

It was when Bailey finally opened the lid of a clothes hamper that they stumbled on their first clue.

"Nothing here but some clothes and books," he said, glancing inside.

"Books?" said Miss Cornelia dubiously. "I left no books in that hamper."

Bailey picked up one of the cheap paper novels and read its title aloud, with a wry smile.

"’Little Rosebud’s Lover, Or The Cruel Revenge,’ by Laura Jean - "

"That’s mine!" said Lizzie promptly. "Oh, Miss Neily, I tell you this house is haunted. I left that book in my satchel along with ’Wedded But No Wife’ and now - "

"Where’s your satchel?" snapped Miss Cornelia, her eyes gleaming.

"Where’s my satchel?" mumbled Lizzie, staring about as best she could. "I don’t see it. If that wretch has stolen my satchel - !"

"Where did you leave it?"

"Up here. Right in this room. It was a new satchel too. I’ll have the law on him, that’s what I’ll do."

"Isn’t that your satchel, Lizzie?" asked Miss Cornelia, indicating a battered bag in a dark corner of shadows above the window.

"Yes’m," she admitted. But she did not dare approach very close to the recovered bag. It might bite her!

"Put it there on the hamper," ordered Miss Cornelia.

"I’m scared to touch it!" moaned Lizzie. "It may have a bomb in it!"

She took up the bag between finger and thumb and, holding it with the care she would have bestowed upon a bottle of nitroglycerin, carried it over to the hamper and set it down. Then she backed away from it, ready to leap for the door at a moment’s warning.

Miss Cornelia started for the satchel. Then she remembered. She turned to Bailey.

"You open it," she said graciously. "If the money’s there - you’re the one who ought to find it;"

Bailey gave her a look of gratitude. Then, smiling at Dale encouragingly, he crossed over to the satchel, Dale at his heels. Miss Cornelia watched him fumble at the catch of the bag - even Lizzie drew closer. For a moment even the Unknown was forgotten.

Bailey gave a triumphant cry.

"The money’s here!"

"Oh, thank God!" sobbed Dale.

It was an emotional moment. It seemed to have penetrated even through the haze enveloping the injured man in his chair. Slowly he got up, like a man who has been waiting for his moment, and now that it had come was in no hurry about it. With equal deliberation he drew the revolver and took a step forward. And at that instant a red glare appeared outside the open window and overhead could be heard the feet of the searchers, running.

"Fire!" screamed Lizzie, pointing to the window, even as Beresford’s voice from the roof rang out in a shout. "The garage is burning!"

They turned toward the door to escape, but a strange and menacing figure blocked their way.

It was the Unknown - no longer the bewildered stranger who had stumbled in through the living-room door - but a man with every faculty of mind and body alert and the light of a deadly purpose in his eyes. He covered the group with Miss Cornelia’s revolver.

"This door is locked and the key is in my pocket!" he said in a savage voice as the red light at the window grew yet more vivid and muffled cries and tramplings from overhead betokened universal confusion and alarm.

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Chicago: Mary Roberts Rinehart, "Chapter Nineteen Murder on Murder," The Bat, ed. White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922 and trans. Boswell, Robert Bruce in The Bat (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917), Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L242MIYF2BHLFCI.

MLA: Rinehart, Mary Roberts. "Chapter Nineteen Murder on Murder." The Bat, edited by White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922, and translated by Boswell, Robert Bruce, in The Bat, Vol. 22, New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L242MIYF2BHLFCI.

Harvard: Rinehart, MR, 'Chapter Nineteen Murder on Murder' in The Bat, ed. and trans. . cited in 1908, 1917, The Bat, D. Appleton and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L242MIYF2BHLFCI.