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- Vicky Van - 4/40 -
at him, too. But Somers was not in flirtatious mood. He said, "I beg your pardon," in most correct fashion. Had he then, touched her inadvertently? It didn't seem so, but his speech assured it.
Vicky jumped up from the table, and ignoring Somers, ran out to the hall, saying something about looking after the surprise for the supper. To my surprise, Somers followed her, not hastily, but rather deliberately, and, quelling an absurd impulse to go, too, I turned to Norman Steele, who stood near.
"Who's this Somers?" I asked him, rather abruptly. "Is he all right?"
"You bet," said Steele, smiling. "He's a top-notcher."
"In what respects?"
"Every and all."
"You've known him long?"
"Yes. I tell you Cal, he's all right. Forget it. What's the surprise for supper? Do you know?"
"Of course not. It wouldn't be a surprise if we all knew of it."
"Well, Vicky's surprises are always great fun. Why the grouch, old man? Can't you chirrup?"
"Oh, I'm all right," and I felt annoyed that he read in my face that I was put out. But I didn't like the looks of Somers, and I couldn't say so to the man who had brought him there.
"Oh, please! Oh, _please!_" shouted a hoarse, strange voice, and one scarcely to be heard above the hum of gay voices and peals of gay laughter, "oh, _somebody_, please!"
I looked across the room, and in the wide hall doorway stood a man, who was quite evidently a waiter. He was white-faced and staring-eyed, and he fairly hung on to a portiere for support, as he repeated his agonized plea.
"What is it?" said Mrs. Reeves, as everybody else stared at the man. "What do you want?" She stepped toward him, and we all turned to look.
"Not you--no, Madame. Some man, please--some doctor. Is there one here?"
"Some of the servants ill?" asked Mrs. Reeves, kindly. "Doctor Remson, will you come?"
The pleasant-faced capable-looking woman paused only until Doctor Remson joined her, and the two went into the hall, the waiter following slowly.
In a moment I heard a shriek, a wild scream. Partly curiosity and partly a foreboding of harm to Vicky Van, made me rush forward.
Mrs. Reeves had screamed, and I ran the length of the hall to the dining room. There I saw Somers on the floor, and Remson bending over him.
"He's killed! He's stabbed!" cried Mrs. Reeves, clutching at my arm as I reached her. "Oh, what shall we do?"
She stood just in the dining-room doorway, which was at the end of the long hall, as in most city houses. The room was but dimly lighted, the table candles not yet burning.
"Keep the people back!" I shouted, as those in the living-room pressed out into the hall. "Steele, keep those girls back!"
There was an awful commotion. The men urged the women back, but curiosity and horror made them surge forward in irresistible force.
"Shut the door," whispered Remson. "This man is dead. It's an awful situation. Shut that door!"
Somehow, I managed to get the door closed between the dining-room and hall. On the inside were Remson, Mrs. Reeves, who wouldn't budge, and myself. Outside in the hall was a crowd of hysterical women and frightened men.
"Are you sure?" I asked, in a low voice, going nearer to the doctor and looking at Somers' fast-glazing eyes.
"Sure. He was stabbed straight to the heart with--see--a small, sharp knife."
Her hands over her eyes, but peering through her fingers, Mrs. Reeves drew near. "Not really," she moaned. "Oh, not really dead! Can't we do anything for him?"
"No," said Remson, rising to his feet, from his kneeling position. "He's dead, I tell you. Who did it?"
"That waiter--" I began, and then stopped. Looking in from a door opposite the hall door, probably one that led to a butler's pantry or kitchen, were half a dozen white-faced waiters.
"Come in here," said Remson; "not all of you. Which is chief?"
"I am, sir," and a head waiter came into the room. "What has happened?"
"A man has been killed," said the doctor, shortly. "Who are you? Who are you all? House servants?"
"No sir," said the chief. "We're caterer's men. From Fraschini's. I'm Luigi. We are here to serve supper."
"What do you know of this?"
"Nothing, sir," and the Italian looked truthful, though scared.
"Haven't you been in and out of the dining-room all evening?"
"Yes, sir. Setting the table, and such. But now it's all ready, and I was waiting Miss Van Allen's word to serve it."
"Where is Miss Van Allen?" I broke in.
"I--I don't know, sir," Luigi hesitated, and Doctor Remson interrupted.
"We mustn't ask these questions, Mr. Calhoun. We must call the police."
"The police!" cried Mrs. Reeves, "oh no! no! don't do that."
"It is my duty," said the doctor, firmly. "And no one must enter or leave this room until an officer arrives. You waiters, stay there in that pantry. Close those doors to the other room, Mr. Calhoun, please. Mrs. Reeves, I'm sorry, but I must ask you to stay here--"
"I won't do it!" declared the lady. "You're not an officer of the law. I'll stay in the house, but not in this room."
She stalked out into the hall, and Doctor Remson went at once to the telephone and called up headquarters.
The guests in the living room, hearing this, flew into a panic.
Of course, it was no longer possible, nor, as I could see, desirable to keep them in ignorance of what had happened.
After calling the police, Doctor Remson returned to his post just inside the dining-room door. He answered questions patiently, at first, but after being nearly driven crazy by the frantic women, he said, sharply, "You may all do just as you like. I've no authority here, except that the ethics of my profession dictate. That does not extend to jurisdiction over the guests present. But I advise you as a matter of common decency to stay here until this affair is investigated."
But they didn't. Many of them hastily gathered up their wraps and went out of the house as quickly as possible.
Cassie Weldon came to me in her distress.
"I must go, Mr. Calhoun," she said. "Don't you think I may? Why, it would interfere greatly with my work to have it known that I was mixed up in a--"
"You're not mixed up in it, Miss Weldon." I began to speak a little sternly, but the look in her eyes aroused my sympathy. "Well, go on," I said, "I suppose you will testify if called on. Everybody knows where to find you."
"Yes," she said, slowly, "but I hope I won't be called on. Why, it might spoil my whole career."
She slipped out of the door, in the wake of some other departing guests. After all, I thought, it couldn't matter much. Few, if any, of them were implicated, and they could all be found at their homes.
And yet, I had a vague idea that we ought all to stay.
"I shall remain and face the music," I heard Mrs. Reeves saying. "Where _is_ Vicky? Do you suppose she knows about this? I'm going up in the music room to see if she's there. You know, with all the excitement down here, those upstairs may know nothing of it."
"I shall remain, too" said Ariadne Gale. "Why should anyone kill Mr. Somers? Did the caterer's people do it? What an awful thing! Will it be in the papers?"
"_Will_ it!" said Garrison, who was standing near. "Reporters may be here any minute. Must be here as soon as the police come. Where is Miss Van Allen?"
"I don't know," and Ariadne began to cry.
"Stop that," said Mrs. Reeves, gruffly, but not unkindly. "Stay if you want to, Ariadne, but behave like a sensible woman, not a silly schoolgirl. This is an awful tragedy, of some sort."
"What do you mean, of some sort?" asked Miss Gale.
"I mean we don't know what revelations are yet to come. Where's Norman Steele? Where's the man who brought this Somers here?"
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