For several minutes Bill stood still and listened. Not even a board
creaked. The house was as quiet as a tomb. Of one thing he felt certain:
Mr. Zenas Sanders and his bodyguard had left the place for good. There
would be no more visitors tonight.
He looked at his wristwatch. It was quarter to eleven. Fifteen minutes
more, and he would slip out of the back door and make his way over to
Twin Heads Harbor. More than ever now, he wanted to get in touch with
Ezra Parker. Two heads would be much better than one in this
predicament. He must have advice. Too much hung on the decision he must
make—he dared not rely on his own judgment alone. But there must be some
way out of this mysterious business. Parker, that clear-headed Yankee,
would be able to suggest the proper course to follow, if anybody could.
The last thing to do before leaving, was to make sure that the garage
was still lighted up. Parker must not fail their rendezvous.
And now Bill realized that it was no longer necessary to leave lights
burning all over the house. Pocketing the small automatic which Mr.
Sanders had so thoughtlessly provided, he picked up his flashlight, and
set about switching off electrics in the various rooms.
Working his way through the house, he came to the butler’s pantry. Even
in full sunshine it must have been depressing. With only the narrow beam
of his flash to illumine it, the place was dank enough to plunge the
most cheerful person into a mood of melancholy. Bill gazed at the wall
with its jail-like row of keys, each bearing a small tag with the name
of a room in diminutive handwriting. Above the keys was an ordinary
glass frame which enclosed the indicators of bells from the rooms. It
seemed as if he were watching the still heart of the house, with wires
leading like bloodless arteries to the gaunt and distant chambers.
Suddenly, Bill flashed his torch full upon the wall.
He had thought he saw one of the indicators move. The bell had not
rung—or he had not heard it—but he could have sworn that he had seen one
of the disks tremble. He peered closer. For a full minute he watched the
indicators, but now could discern no movement.
“Nerves!” he muttered angrily. “This darned house is making a woman of
A glance at his watch showed that it lacked but five minutes to the
hour. He strolled to the end of the kitchen passage, returned, and went
into the hall to get his cap. The wind had risen. He could hear it
swishing through the trees outside, a long, low whine in the
pine-needles, in vivid contrast to the deadly stillness inside the
house. He was returning to the pantry on his way to the back door, when
he felt his heart jump—and then stand still. Clear and unmistakable, the
tinkling of an electric bell.
Bill leapt into the butler’s pantry and his eyes scanned the double row
of indicators on the wall. Not one of them moved by the fraction of an
inch. A soft, faint whir sounded again. In some room of the house a
finger was pressed upon an electric button. Bill went into the passage
and listened. The sound was much clearer now. It seemed to come from
behind the closed door across the corridor.
That door was of heavy oak, and the key was in the lock. Even without
the white tag that hung from it, Bill knew it was a second entrance to
the cellar, or so Charlie had told him. What if the door led to a part
of the cellar that he had not already inspected? A moment’s thought made
it plain that Mr. Evans must have left the key in the door to prevent
the insertion of a duplicate from the cellar side.
The ringing stopped abruptly. Why on earth, Bill wondered, should there
be an electric bell in the cellar? Charlie had mentioned no such thing,
and who could have been ringing it, and why? For a few moments Bill
could not decide whether to investigate or simply to ignore the matter.
There was, however, the possibility that it was meant to be a message or
a warning to him, and he decided to find out its meaning at once.
Extinguishing his flashlight, he gently turned the key in the cellar
door. He pulled the door open and quickly stepped behind it. Nothing
could be heard from the cellar, not a rustle, not a whisper. After
waiting a moment or two, Bill ventured to move into the open doorway. A
musty smell floated up the stairs—a smell of earth and stagnant air.
With his outstretched foot, Bill explored until he found the first step.
Very gingerly he descended into the darkness, his hand touching the
stone wall at his side for guidance. When he reached the bottom, he
paused again to listen. But he could hear nothing save his own
breathing. Then, like a sudden stab through his brain, the bell pealed
This time it was quite close to him. He felt that if he reached out he
could have touched it. The flashlight was still clenched in his hand. He
hesitated, then pressed the button and held the light above his head.
The cellar, vast and irregular, stanchioned by square stone pillars, lay
before him, streaked by the wavering shadows cast by his light.
Bill saw at once that it was not the place he had gone over with
Charlie. Arched wine-bins, mostly empty, made dim hollows along the
walls. But still he could not locate the sound. With a final whir the
ringing stopped, and the conviction swept into his mind that he had been
listening, not to a call-bell, but to a telephone.
Yet he could see nothing that remotely resembled a telephone instrument.
A bare heavy table with a couple of benches beside it stood in the
middle of the floor, and he could see nothing else in the dimness save
the blank, arched walls.
Ready to snap off his light at the first hint of any lurking enemy, Bill
pushed forward and explored two short bays that ran out at right angles
to the main wine cellar, but without result. Why, he deliberated, should
there be a telephone in this underground spot? So far as his observation
had gone, there was no phone upstairs, and a cellar seemed a mighty
queer place to instal one. To conceal the instrument seemed stranger
still. Bill noticed that a passage led off to the left. Avoiding some
tumbled packing-cases on the floor, he went forward to see what he could
After he had gone about ten yards, he was brought up short by a heavy
door. Like the one upstairs, this door also had its key in the lock. It
was a primitive sort of lock and made a loud click as he turned it—too
loud for Bill’s taste in the circumstances. He let a couple of seconds
go by before venturing to proceed. His hand was on the key, ready to
pull the door open, when something happened that made him stop and
listen intently. He snapped off his light. From behind the iron-studded
door he imagined—but was by no means certain—that he had heard a sound.
After a minute or two of silence he concluded that it must have been the
wind stirring in a loose grating in the passage beyond. But presently he
thanked his stars he had switched off the light, for suddenly he heard
quite clearly the sound of footsteps, approaching on the other side of
the unlocked door.
The situation called for swift action. In the blinding darkness, he
quickly estimated whether he could possibly get through the cellar and
up into the house in time to avoid discovery. It was not likely. But
there was a shallow niche in the wall behind the door, and he slipped
into it, praying that he would remain concealed when the door opened.
The footsteps grew louder, then drew to a stop. A pause, and then he
heard the mumble of a voice from behind the door. Somebody was talking
over the telephone in there—of that Bill felt sure. But the voice was
too low for him to distinguish the words. Curiosity impelled Bill to
risk pulling the door open half an inch, and he peered through the crack
into the space beyond.
Instantly the voice ceased. The place was pitch dark, and though Bill
stared till his eye-balls ached, he could see nothing. Then in the inky
blackness he heard a slight rustle. What was the man doing? Even though
Bill had used the utmost care in opening the door, this stranger must
have heard him. Glued to the crack, he closed his eyes and listened.
At first he heard nothing—then it came again—a faint rustle. It was
nearer now—almost at the door. Somebody or something was moving
stealthily toward him.
Bill drew back and none too soon. Bang! A heavy body crashed against the
farther side of the door. It slammed open and back against the cellar
wall with a crash loud enough to wake the dead. Bill had just time to
realize that had he remained at the crack he would have had a nasty
blow, when sinewy arms gripped him and he found himself fighting for his