The Room with the Iron Shutters
Demonstrating once again that escape may often be the most dangerous way out of a tight corner
The Story: Lord Gerald Glen, a. wealthy Sussex squire and a fanatical prohibitionist, one of whose hobbies is the making of large philanthropic gifts to medicine, proceeds one morning after breakfast to his study. Shortly afterward his butler is summoned, and on reaching the door, hears his master’s faint voice ordering him to close the iron shutters on the windows. While doing this, he sees through the window Lord Gerald sitting at his desk, head on hands, and obviously in distress.
He knocks at the door, but gets no answer. Alarmed, he telephones for the local doctor, Dr. Pendrith, and after a short delay the two force an entrance end discover Lord Gerald dead on the floor, stabbed to the heart with a tiny knife-like weapon. There is a scrawled note on the desk, reading, “I have been murdered.”
All the evidence goes to show that Lord Gerald was killed in a room of which the doors were locked and the windows covered by impenetrable iron shutters. Lord Gerald has had living with him his niece, Bridget, and his nephew, Patrick, with whom he is not on good terms, for reasons not revealed.
Dr. Hailey, of Harley Street, and Inspector Verrey, of Scotland Yard, take up the case. Dr. Hailey discovers Patrick Glen and a girl outside the grounds of the house engaged in what is apparently a lovers’ quarrel. The butler and maid are questioned closely, but beyond a certain reticence on'the part of the former no information of any value is obtained from them. Dr. Hailey and the Inspector pa,y a visit to Dr. Pendrith’s house, and are impressed by the straightforwardness and general good taste of the doctor, and the snobbery of his wife. Once more Dr. Hailey strolls outside the house, this time after dark, and overhears a conversation between Patrick and the girl, the latter exclaiming distractedly, “You’ll be arrested tomorrow!’”
DR. HAILEY did not catch Patrick’s reply. He tried to follow the couple and managed to see them once more, but the snapping of a twig under his foot caused them to stand and look about them, and he was compelled to crouch down again. When he thought it safe to follow they had disappeared.
After seeking them in vain for half an hour he returned to the stile, arguing that the girl would have to return sooner or later to the house. He took up a position in deep shadow, and then, having made himself as comfortable as possible, addressed himself anew to the problem of Lord Gerald’s murder.
So far as he could see, Patrick had furnished a wholly satisfactory alibi. If it was true that the door of the study had been locked when he reached it—and the evidence of the maid Mabel seemed to be conclusive on that point—then it was certain that he had not left the study by the door. The bolted windows furnished sufficient proof that he had not emerged by that way— even supposing that he could possibly have left by any of the windows without being seen by the doctor or the butler. Yet the girl whom he had just met expected his immediate arrest; expected it, too, with deadly fear. It was certain that she had not spoken in that way without good, even overwhelming reason. What could her reason be?
Once more Dr. Hailey returned to the circumstances of the murder. Was it possible, after all, that some secret means of egress from the study existed? Verrey had spoken positively against that idea and he was a reputed expert. In all ordinary circumstances his opinion would have been final. But could it be trusted in these wholly exceptional circumstances? The doctor found himself repeating again the uncomfortable reflection: “Somebody committed this murder and that somebody did contrive to escape from the study.” There was the plain fact: the fact that the door was locked and the windows were fastened was not plainer or more obstinate. He made up his mind to advise an extensive removal of the wainscoting and even of the walls themselves. It was essentially one of those cases in which absolutely nothing could be left to chance.
An hour passed without witnessing the return of the lovers. Dr. Hailey found his position more and more irksome and at last resolved to abandon it. But when he had walked some distance away from the stile he turned back, feeling that he would not forgive himself if he missed so excellent an opportunity for want of a little patience. His senses were overstrained and he felt drowsy, but, by concentrating his thoughts on the case, he managed to remain alert. He did not finally abandon his vigil until another hour had gone by.
When he reached the village inn he had some trouble in rousing his host, but that good man was too much impressed by the gravity and importance of the occasion to offer any remonstrance.
“Any luck, sir?” he asked in deferential tones as he replaced the bolts in his front door.
“Now, there you are. Wot I said. ’Is lordship was a man of mystery, as the sayin’ is.”
Mr. Edward Sapling stood erect as he spoke, a trim figure of a man with sharp black eyes and tanned cheeks that were nevertheless a little sallow. His exasperating habit of appending the words “as the sayin’ is” to the larger part of his discourse had made an unfavorable impression on the doctor earlier in the day.
“Who owns the house on the other side of Shawdon Park?” Dr. Hailey asked.
“Is that Ryecroft, sir, or the Dyke?”
“I don’t know. It’s a biggish place, like a farmhouse.” “The Dyke, sir. It must be the Dyke you mean. Colonel Whinstone’s ’ouse, sir; it was a farm’ouse till ’e hadapted it to modern use, as the sayin’ is. ’E’s a real gentleman is the Colonel. Army, sir, and you know wot that signifies.”
Dr. Hailey assumed his eyeglass and perceived the effect of this action on Mr. Sapling.
“Is Colonel Whinstone a married man?” he asked. “Oh, indeed, yes, sir. ’E’s married all right.” A thin smile flickered on the innkeeper’s lips. “Very much married ’e is, in a manner of speakin’. ’Is wife, and ’is daughter, too, ’as the name of keepin’ a tight grip on ’im. Not but wot the need of a grip is there.”
The last remark was made in a confidential tone. Mr. Sapling conveyed successfully the impression that, though tolerant of human weakness, he knew where the line must be drawn.
“You mean that he drinks, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir, ’e drinks. ‘Sitra sitra,’ as the sayin’ is.”
It took the doctor a few moments to realize that “sitra” was Mr. Sapling’s rendering of et cetera. He did not, when this had become clear to him, pursue the matter of Colonel Whinstone’s weakness any further, though he felt assured that the innkeeper could have enlightened him. But he enquired about Miss Whinstone’s age.
“Just twenty years, she is. Can’t ’elp rememberin’ ’ei age, because she was born on the very day I entered this ’ouse for the first time as proprietor. Talk of the villagt ’er birth was, seein’ as ’ow ’er father and mother ’ac been married nine years without issue, as the sayin’ is before it ’appened.”
“Can you describe her?”
“As pretty a girl, sir, as you could wish to look at. Sb ’as dark hair with a gleam o’ gold in it and red cheek and a figure wot’s as trim as a lily. Like ’er mother sh is, but with the old man’s temper. Lor’, ’ow she did tel me orf once abaht supplyin’’im . . .”
Mr. Sapling emitted a reminiscent chuckle as he brok off. He seemed to possess the Londoner’s enjoyment of the spectacle of feminine wrath exhibited in the face of male backsliding. It was apparent that Miss Whinstone’s rebuke had had no other effect than to increase his admiration of her.
“Has there been any talk of her marriage?” Dr. Hailey asked him in severe tones.
“Plenty, sir, but nothin’ definite, as the sayin’ is. I did ’ear that she and Mr. Patrick Glen ’ad been seen walkin’ out, but for myself I don’t place no credit in it.”
“Colonel Whinstone, sir, and Lord Gerald was daggers at each other about the liquor question.” The innkeeper lowered his voice and bent forward so that his breath nearly extinguished the candle in his hand.
“Some says that Lord Gerald and Mrs. Whinstone was lovers before she took up with the Colonel. ’E and she was friendly to the last.”
“In spite of the fact that Colonel Whinstone and Lord Gerald didn’t speak to each other?”
Mr. Sapling took a step backward.
“Oh, they spoke to each other,” he declared. “In a manner of speakin’ you might say as they were friendly like in private life, but they was daggers all the same w’en it came to public matters. Lord Gerald ’e tried a ’undred times to shut this ’ere pub, w’ereas Colonel Whinstone ’e did ’is best to save the license, and ’e saved it.”
The doctor considered a moment. “What difference could it make to Mr. Patrick Glen,” he asked at last, “that his uncle and Colonel Whinstone disagreed about your license?”
“Mr. Patrick wouldn’t go against the old man, bein’ ’is agent. Lord Gerald was right down crazy, ’e was, abaht boozin’.” Drop o’ beer was like a red rag to a bull with ’im. ’E wouldn’t ’ave liked his nephew to marry Colonel Whinstone’s daughter, Colonel Whinstone bein’ a ’eavy boozer ’isself, as everybody knows.”
IN SILENCE Dr. Hailey ascended the linoleum-covered stair, followed by his host. They parted on the landing, where an oil lamp, which emitted fumes of paraffin, was burning rather dimly. When he passed Inspector Verrey’s bedroom, the doctor saw a gleam of light under the ill-fitting door. He knocked and was promptly invited to enter. The detective was sitting up in bed with a notebook on his knees. He glanced up, revealing a troubled face.
“Well?” he asked.
“Nothing much I’m afraid.”
“Of course not. There’s nothing anywhere in this infernal case. Everything melts like snow off a dyke as soon as you look at it. I’m driving myself crazy with that accursed room and its doors and windows.”
Dr. Hailey sat down and drew his overcoat closer about him, for the night was cold. He gave Verrey a brief account of his doings and of his talk with Mr. Sapling.
“Can you think of any reason,” he asked, “why the girl who I feel sure is Miss Whinstone, should expect Patrick Glen’s immediate arrest?”
“None.” Verrey spoke the word explosively, as if he derived a savage pleasure in speaking it.
“There’s the fact for you anyhow. Other facts which may be material are that Colonel Whinstone is a drunkard and that Patrick Glen is in love with his daughter. I have no doubt that our friend Sapling is right in thinking that Jerry Glen would have opposed this marriage. He would inevitably have become panic-stricken at the idea of uniting two alcoholic tendencies. I think we must face the possibility that he did know about this love affair and did oppose it. That may very well be the explanation of the coldness which existed between his nephew and himself.”
“Good Lord!” The detective bent forward eagerly. His agile mind made a pattern of the various scraps of evidence and the pattern pleased him. A look of satisfaction appeared on his face. “No doubt Lord Gerald threatened to turn him adrift unless he gave the girl up,” he remarked.
“On the grounds of scientific morality.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Everything in Jerry’s life was based on science and the Mendelian law, and he never stopped to ask whether or not a particular case really fell under that law. Everybody who got drunk was a dipsomaniac so far as he was concerned.”
Verrey got out of bed and pulled on his dressing-gown. He began to pace up and down the floor.
“I’m ready to bet Patrick refused to give the girl up,” he declared. “He’s the sort of man who would refuse. On the other hand he’s not the sort of man who would relish the idea of love in a cottage. Can you see him earning a lean living?”
The doctor shook his head doubtfully.
“My trouble is that I can’t see him clearly at all. I haven’t really got hold of him. I wouldn’t go the length of saying that he was incapable of earning his living.” “Not incapable. Disinclined.”
“Perhaps, but I don’t feel certain on the point.” Verrey frowned.
“You’ll admit, anyhow, that he’s a lot better off with his uncle dead than he would be if his uncle was alive— that is, supposing that he really wishes to marry Miss Whinstone.”
“Oh, yes. He’s a rich man now and he can marry anybody he chooses.” Dr. Hailey took a pinch of snuff. “Why should he go meeting the girl secretly?”
“Even if we accept the idea that he had a motive for wishing his uncle out of the way we don’t reach a definite conclusion. There must be something else. Besides, we haven’t even approached an explanation of the murder itself. You’re quite sure that there is no secret entrance to the study at Shawdon Hall?”
“I’m absolutely sure.”
The detective spoke with the conviction of an expert challenged on his special subject.
“A trapdoor, for example?”
“T^c parquet is there to disprove that. It covers the whole floor space. I had it lifted and examined.”
“The ceiling then?”
“No, no. You can dismiss that notion from your
“Nevertheless, I think we ought to remove the wainscoting. You can’t be too sure in a matter of this kind.”
Verrey shrugged his broad shoulders.
“You’ll be disappointed,” he declared.
He brought his notebook and showed it to his companion. The doctor saw a workmanlike sketch of the ground floor of Shawdon Hall and perceived that the walls of the study had been carefully measured both as regards their height and length and thickness. Accurate notes had been made of the disposition of the furniture in the rooms adjoining the study.
“There are only these two places,” the detective said, pointing them out with his pencil, “where a secret door could possibly exist. Naturally I devoted the utmost care to the examination of these places.”
“And yet the murderer entered and went away.”
Their, eyes met.
“Yes. He entered and he went away.”
THAT night Dr. Hailey found great difficulty in getting to sleep. In spite of all his efforts to banish the case from his mind it went on presenting itself in a series of questions: Why had the dead man ordered the closing of the shutters? Why had he locked himselr in instead of escaping from a danger which he clearly foresaw? Why had Patrick Glen paid his midnight visit to the Dyke, and why had Miss Whinstone not returned home? Why had she said that her‘lover was bound to be arrested immediately? He searched the characters of all the actors in the tragedy, so far as he knew those characters, for some answer to his questions, but discovered only doubts and contradictions.
Verrey was standing beside his bed when he awoke.
“Patrick Glen is missing,” the detective informed him in laconic tones.
The doctor sat up.
“His bed was not slept in last night. He had not returned to Shawdon Hall when I left there half an hour ago.”
“What about the girl?”
“I don’t know. Pm having enquiries made at the Dyke.”
Dr. Hailey leaned over the side of the bed to the chair on which his clothes were deposited. He found his eyeglass in his waistcoat pocket and put it in his eye. He sat gazing at Verrey.
“Miss Whinstone brought no luggage with her from her house last night,” he stated tentatively. “I certainly didn’t get the impression that she was in the act of eloping with Patrick Glen.”
The detective didn’t offer any opinion. It was clear that his attention was now focused on the missing man, and that a theory of the crime, based on Patrick’s disappearance, was developing in his mind.
“It may be,” he remarked, “that we shall reach our goal without being compelled to solve the mystery of the shuttered room. If we can prove that Patrick Glen had a motive for killing his uncle and has now run away to avoid arrest we may be able to bring him to justice. What do you think?”
“I think if I was a juryman I should want to know, before I convicted, how the murder had been committed.”
Verrey shook his head.
"I went to Shawdon Hall at seven o’clock this morning,” he said, “and re-examined the wainscoting of the study, and even the floor and ceiling. You may take it from me as an absolute certainty that there is no entrance to that room other then the door and windows. Since we know as a fact that the murderer did not leave by the door, nor yet by the window facing the front of the house, he must presumably have left by the window at the side. But he can’t have done that, because the window at the side was bolted.”
There was a knock at the door. Verrey answered it and returned to the doctor with a letter, the seal of which he broke open on the way. He glanced at the contents. “The girl,” he said, “is missing also.”
“So they were in the act of eloping.”
Dr. Hailey shook his head. He had, apparently, no comment to offer.
“When a man who may be accused of a serious crime gets married in a hurry,” Verrey remarked, “one always suspects that he is taking steps to prevent the woman he has married from giving evidence against him.” “Miss Whinstone is only twenty years of age.”
“What has that got to do with it?”
“She can’t marry without the consent of her parents . . . unless she gives a false age.”
The detective whistled softly.
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“I may be wrong, but I think she will not give a false age. His code is likely to restrain Patrick Glen from consenting to such a course.”
“Your average upper-class Englishman is more likely to commit a murder than a misdemeanor. He doesn’t break by-laws.”
Verrey shrugged his shoulders.
“Anyhow I’ll have the local registry offices called up,” he stated.
THE inquest on Lord Gerald’s body took place in the dining room at Shawdon Hall. The coroner, a solicitor from Lewes, whose name was Gosling, appeared to be divided between his sense of personal importance and his sense of the importance of the Glen family. He was a plump, red-faced man with white curls and a lisping manner of speech. His “Juwy,” as he called it, consisted of a group of local men, among whom Dr.
Hailey recognized Mr. Sapling. Mr.
Sapling, by reason of his superior knowledge and education, was chosen to be foreman. The coroner delivered a short opening address, in the course of which he stated that everything which science could accomplish in the elucidation of crime had been accomplished in the present instance.
“His lordship’s body and his vital organs have been subjected,” he declared in solemn tones, “to a prolonged scwutiny by the most distinguished experts of the day. Nothing except a wound in the heart has been discovered.”
Dr. Pendrith was the first witness. He gave a full account of his financial dealings on behalf of the dead man, and then recounted how he had been summoned to Shawdon Hall by the butler, Buckle, and how he had gained access, with Buckle and Miss Bridget Glen, to the study.
“Was the doah of the study locked?” the coroner asked him.
“I didn’t try the door myself. The butler met me before I entered the house and told me that the door was locked. That was why we went to the window.”
“And then?” enquired the coroner.
“It was bolted. I tried to open it. Then Miss Glen broke the glass.”
Mr. Sapling, who had taken some notes, asked leave to put a few questions to the witness.
“Did the manner of Mr. Buckle, the butler,” he enquired, “arouse any suspicion in your mind?”
Mr. Sapling looked grave.
“Was Mr. Buckle hagitated?”
“He was anxious about his master.”
“ ’Ave the kindness, doctor, to hanswer my question.” “He may have been greatly agitated. Yes, I suppose he was.”
“And yet ’e ’ad no idea wot ’ad ’appened in ’is lordship’s studio?”
“Doesn’t that seem to you, lookin’ back on it, as the sayin’ is, a curious state of haffairs?”
“It hasn’t struck me in that way,” Dr. Pendrith remarked drily.
Mr. Sapling turned to the coroner in token that he was satisfied. Dr. Pendrith stood down and Buckle was sworn. The innkeeper listened to the butler’s evidence with a degree of attention that was menacing. He sat, bent forward in his chair, his hand raised to his ear and his long neck craned forward. A supercilious smile curled his lips from time to time as the witness told his story. The moment that story was complete he pounced on the unhappy man.
“ ’Ad you any idea, Mr. Buckle,” he demanded, “wot ’ad transpired, in a manner of speakin’, within ’is lordship’s studio?”
“I had not.”
“Wot made you send for the doctor, eh?”
“His lordship rang his bell, but when I reached the study door it was locked and I was unable tv get any answer from his lordship.”
“Couldn’t you ’ave looked in at the window, eh?” “His lordship’s orders were that the shutters were not to be opened.”
Mr. Sapling filled his lungs with a deep breath.
“You sent for the doctor, but you didn’t look into the room, eh?”
“That is so.”
“And yet ’is lordship ’ad rung ’is bell for you?” “Yes.”
“Didn’t it seem to you that under the circumstances you ’ad a perfect right to look into the room?” “Certainly not.”
“Before you sent for the doctor?”
“I think you ’ad a perfect right to look into the room. If I ’ad been in your shoes, I don’t mind tellin’ you, I wouldn’t ’ave ’esitated to look into the room.”
Mr. Sapling nodded in a threatening manner as he
“Orders are orders, Mr. Sapling.”
“Orders? Wot’s the use of talkin’ abaht orders when ’im as gives ’em don’t answer you? Supposin’ I suggests to you that you didn’t need to look through the window, seein’ ’as ’ow you ’ad just come out of the room?”
The coroner cleared his throat.
“I cannot allow you to make such a suggestion, Mr. Sapling,” he interjected sharply.
“No ’arm meant, sir.”
Mr. Gosling addressed the witness. “The door was locked when you tried it?”
“Was the key in the lock?”
He turned to the innkeeper.
“Your suggestion amounts to a chawge of murdah against Mr. Buckle. If Mr. Buckle murdah’d Lord Gerald, how did he manage to lock the doah of the study on the inside aftah he quitted the woom?”
Mr. Sapling shrugged his shoulders, in token, apparently, of his view that a skilful murderer would not lack resources. But he asked no more questions. Inspector Verrey was then sworn.
“I wish,” he stated, “to announce that Mr. Patrick Glen left this house last night and has not yet returned. He informed nobody of his intention to go away, nor does anybody, so far as I am aware, know his object in going. Until we possess further information on that point our evidence cannot be completed, and I therefore suggest an adjournment.”
WHEN the coroner and his jury had gone away, Verrey asked the butler, Buckle, to attend him in the study.
“Sapling’s a fool, of course,” he told Dr. Hailey, “but all the same, it is just possible that he may have started a hare. Buckle looked exceedingly uncomfortable while he was being cross-examined.”
The doctor nodded.
“I observed that.”
The butler had not recovered his equanimity when he entered the room. His thin face was flushed and the curious birdlike expression of his features seemed to be intensified. He looked like a man who has just suffered a severe fright.
“Sit down, Buckle,” Verrey said. “There are a few additional questions which I wish to ask you—arising out of Mr. Patrick’s disappearance.”
The servant sighed audibly. His sigh expressed so great a relief that Dr. Hailey and the detective exchanged glances.
“Very good, sir.”
“Did you see Mr. Patrick go out last night?”
“Did he ring for you before he went out?”
“Did he ask you, at any time during the day, to pack for him?”
“No, sir. I had no idea, sir, that he was going away. . .” The servant sighed again, but less deeply. As selfconfidence returned, he became, Dr. Hailey observed, more communicative. Verrey leaned back in his chair.
“I want you to tell me quite frankly,” he said, “whether or not you have any idea why Mr. Patrick has left home?”
“I have no idea, sir.”
“You really mean that?”
“I really do mean it, sir.”
The detective thought a moment. Then he asked suddenly:
“Do you know anything about Miss Pamela Whinstone?”
“I have seen her.”
“Did she come here often?”
“Not very often, sir. Miss Whinstone is a friend of Miss Bridget’s.”
“I see. It was as Miss Bridget’s friend that she came here?”
“Did his lordship see her when she came?”
“Sometimes he did, sir.”
“And Mr. Patrick?”
“Sometimes he saw her, too.”
Again Verrey paused. He appeared to find the crisp answers he had received somewhat disconcerting, for he frowned.
“It has been suggested,” he stated at last, “that Mr. Patrick is in love with Miss Whinstone.”
“You’ve heard the suggestion made?” “Oh, no, sir.” Buckle shook his head as he spoke. “I’ve not heard Mr. Patrick’s name coupled with that of any lady.”
“Have you seen Colonel Whinstone, Miss Whinstone’s father?”
“I’ve seen him, sir.”
“Did he come here often?”
“He came here sometimes, sir.”
“As Lord Gerald’s guest?”
“With Mrs. Whinstone?”
“She came sometimes.”
“When was he here last?”
“About two months ago, I think.” “And before that?”
“He came about once a month, usually.” “So there was a longer interval than usual after his last visit?”
“Yes, sir. There was.”
Verrey thrust his head forward, revealing, by the movement, the eagerness he felt.
“His lordship did not approve of Colonel Whinstone’s habits, eh?” he asked in brisk tones.”
“You heard him express himself on the subject?”
“To Mr. Patrick?”
“What did he say?”
The butler hesitated.
“So far as I can remember,” he replied cautiously, “he said that Colonel Whinstone was a dipsomaniac.”
“You know what that means?”
A faint smile appeared on Buckle’s face. “Yes, sir.”
“What does it mean?”
“Oh, no, much more than that. A dipsomaniac is a madman, the particular form of whose madness is strong drink.” “I see.”
“Did Mr. Patrick agree with his uncle?” “No, sir. I heard him tell his lordship on one occasion that he was putting Colonel Whinstone’s case much too high.” “Well?”
“His lordship said that he had made a special study of the subject.”
“Did you get the impression that they were quarrelling about Colonel Whinstone?”
“Not quarrelling so much as arguing.” “Now tell me, was Miss Pamela Whinstone mentioned at all?”
Buckle shook his head.
“Not in my hearing, sir.”
Verrey rose and stood with his back to the fireplace. He took his pipe from his pocket and seemed to examine the bowl attentively.
“If I told you, Buckle,” he remarked, “that Lord Gerald forbade Mr. Patrick to marry Miss Pamela Whinstone, would I surprise you?”
“You would, sir.”
The scrutiny of the pipe came to a sudden end. The detective fixed his eyes on Buckle’s face.
“Did Mr. Patrick usually obey his uncle?” he asked.
“Everybody obeyed his lordship.” “That’s what you were trying to tell the foreman of the jury, isn’t it?”
The butler started as if he had been struck. He flushed and then paled again. “Yes, sir.”
“He didn’t believe you, of course?”
Verrey took a step forward.
“I’m not quite sure,” he said in stern tones, “that I believe you myself.”
'pjE STOOD gazing at Buckle, seeming to read him through and through. The man’s cheeks lost all their color.
“Surely, sir,” he stammered, “you can take my word ...” He broke off and glanced shiftily about him as if he expected to find some means of escape.
“Use your common sense, my lad. Your master rings for you and you find his door locked. You have just obeyed his order to close the shutters, and in doing so have observed that you can see him clearly from the window. Is it reasonable to suppose that your first idea would not be to go back to the window and look a second time?”
“I did think of doing it . . Buckle’s face was haggard. He grasped the arms of his chair so tightly that his knuckles were blanched.
“Don’t you think,” the detective warned him in chill tones, “that you had better tell the truth, before it is too late to tell it?” He took another step forward and laid his hand on the butler’s shoulder. “You did look into the room?”
Buckle bowed his head. He remained silent and motionless for several minutes. When at last he looked up, his face was ghastly.
“Well?” Verrey demanded.
There was no response.
“Look here, Buckle. As man to man you’re a fool to hide anything. It doesn’t follow that because you looked in at that window, you murdered your master.”
The butler moistened his dry lips with his tongue.
“I did look in at the window,” he confessed in strained tones.
Verrey pointed to the window which Bridget Glen had broken.
“Yes, sir.” Buckle drew a deep breath. “One of the shutters was open.”
“It had blown open, I think. It wasn’t fastened.”
“What did you see?”
Buckle raised his hand to his forehead and kept it there.
“I saw his lordship lying on the floor.” “Where?”
“There, sir, where his body was found.” A feeble gesture indicated a place on the floor near the window.
Silence fell in the room. Dr. Hailey glanced at the tense, strained features of the servant and experienced a conviction of truth.
“Could you see his lordship clearly?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. The sun was shining on him. His face was turned away, but I made no doubt he was dead.”
Verrey walked quickly across the floor to the window and stood with his back to it, looking at the place where Lord Gerald’s body had been found.
“What did you do,” he asked the butler, “after you saw your master?”
“I closed the shutter and telephoned for Dr. Pendrith.”
“But told him nothing of what you had discovered?”
“He was out, sir. I gave a message that he was to come here at once. When he arrived I only said that I was afraid something was wrong.”
“Why did you only say that? Why didn’t you tell him what you had seen?” Buckle moved uneasily.
“I was afraid.”
“Of what I had seen.”
“Supposing I was blamed ...”
The blood which had returned to his cheeks, ebbed out of them again as he spoke. Fear, evidently, was being renewed in his mind. When Verrey made no comment, he added:
“One of the estate hands saw me closing the shutters the first time. He must have wondered what I was doing. The feeling came over me that if I told the doctor I had seen his lordship lying dead I might be blamed, seeing that I had closed the shutters ...”
“Urn!” Verrey frowned his dissatisfaction at this reply. He glanced again at the doctor, and was surprised to see a gleam of newly awakened interest in his eyes.
“In other words,” Dr. Hailey said, “your conscience made a coward of you.” “I don’t understand you, sir.”
The doctor placed his eyeglass in position.
“His lordship warned you,” he stated in deliberate tones, “that if you got drunk again you would be dismissed from his service.”
Buckle’s face flushed hotly.
“That had nothing to do with it,” he exclaimed.
“I think it had.” Dr. Hailey turned to the detective. “Sapling knew, apparently,” he remarked, “that a quarrel had taken place between Lord Gerald and his butler. He would not have asked the questions he did ask unless he had been in possession of some special knowledge. It’s a fair inference that unguarded statements were made at one time or another in the bar of the inn at Shawdon.” “Well?” Verrey demanded.
“Unguarded statements are made when tongues have been loosened by a few drinks. At such moments people often give expression to their real feelings. In vino veritas.” The eyeglass fell. “You won’t deny, Buckle, that you get drunk occasionally.”
There was no reply. The doctor leaned back in his chair.
“Had you been an ordinary servant Lord Gerald would have dismissed you the moment he suspected that you touched liquor in any form. But you were an ex-soldier, his nephew’s batman, with, I take it, a good record of service. So he forgave you. That kind of forgiveness is apt to rankle, especially in a mind such as yours. It occurred to you, probably, that if Mr. Patrick was master here your position would be more secure and your lot much more agreeable. Because you knew that, sooner or later, you would get drunk
again. To be dismissed without a character ...”
“I swear I never wished his lordship any hurt,” Buckle cried.
“Probably not. But when you got drunk at the village inn, you uttered threats against him, all the same.”
“Undoubtedly yes. Mr. Sapling proved that by the questions he asked you. You must have realized, surely, that Mr. Sapling suspects you to be the murderer of Lord Gerald. Why should he suspect you? Obviously because he has heard you using threatening language. People, I can assure you, do not use such language unless their feelings are roused. That was what I meant when I spoke of your conscience making a coward of you.”
“I never raised a finger against his lordship.”
Anger and fear were mingled in the butler’s tones. But fear predominated.
“I am not accusing you of raising a finger against him. I am merely pointing out why you refrained from telling Dr. Pendrith that, in your opinion, he was dead. You wanted him to be dead. Unrealized wishes, if they are unlawful, turn into anxieties and fears—anxieties and fears, too, so grossly exaggerated that we discover danger in everything. Had I seen Lord Gerald lying on the floor as you saw him, I should not have been stricken, immediately, with terror that I might be accused of having murdered him. The idea would simply not have occurred to me.”
Dr. Hailey spoke in a very quiet tone, but before he had finished, large drops of perspiration gleamed on Buckle’s forehead. The man drew his hand across his forehead, sweeping them away. He contrived to force a smile.
“I’m afraid, sir,” he declared, “that that reasoning’s a bit beyond me.”
“You don’t deny, at any rate, that you may have said foolish things in the inn at Shawdon?”
Verrey, who had remained at the window, returned to the fireplace.
“The fact stands,” he declared, “that you told nobody what you had seen?” “Yes, sir.”
“Very well, now you shall hear what another witness in this house has to say. Have the goodness to ask the maid Mabel to come here.”
T3UCKLE left the room rather unsteadily. Verrey turned to the doctor. “Do you believe his story?”
“I think he spoke the truth. But if so, the murder must have taken place much earlier than we thought.”
Dr. Hailey inclined his head. “Presumably. After he received that wound in his heart Jerry Glen did not move.”
“So that either Buckle is lying or the maid was mistaken in thinking she heard her master’s voice?”
Verrey sat down and began to fill his pipe. Buckle returned with the servant girl. She repeated the story which she had told on the previous evening.
“You’re quite sure it was his lordship’s voice you heard?” the detective asked her. “Oh, yes, sir. I ’aven’t a doubt.”
“You hear that, Buckle? His lordship was on his feet within a quarter of an houi of your visit to the window. He can’1 therefore have been dead when you saw him.”
The butler shook his head.
“I thought he was dead,” he deelare( stubbornly.
“Did you get a good view of the roon from the window?”
“Yes, sir. There was nobody in th room.”
“You would swear to that?”
“I would swear to it.”
The detective pulled out his notebook and consulted it. Then he addressed himself to the girl.
“Did his lordship often speak to you?” he asked.
“No, sir, not often.”
“So that you very seldom heard his voice?”
Mabel began to look confused. She glanced at the butler as if she hoped he would prompt her, but discovered no help in that quarter.
“I know’d ’is voice,” she declared. “I ’aven’t a doubt it was ’im I ’eard.” “Remember you were on the other side of that heavy door. It isn’t easy to recognize voices through a thick door.” The girl didn’t reply for a moment, then she exclaimed:
“I wouldn’t tell you a lie, sir.”
“It’s not a question of telling lies. I’m sure you thought it was his lordship’s voice that you heard. What I am saying is that you may have made a mistake.” “If it wasn’t ’is lordship’s voice it was Mr. Patrick’s voice.”
“Quite so. Or somebody else’s.”
“No, sir. I can tell a gentleman’s voice when I ’ears it.”
“Are you sure that the voice you heard really came from this room?”
“Oh, yes, sir. I ’ad my ear to the door.” The detective’s eyes narrowed.
“Buckle says,” he stated, “that he saw his lordship lying dead a quarter of an hour before you heard what you heard.” The girl flushed hotly. But there was an element of courage in her character which resisted the attempt to make her change her mind. She repeated her story in the words in which she had first told it.
“You hear this,” Verrey said to Buckle. “It’s difficult to know how you can both be right.”
“Seeing is believing, sir.”
“No doubt. But dead men do not rise to their feet and speak. And the wound which killed your master undoubtedly killed him instantly.”
“I can only tell you what I saw, sir.” When he and the doctor were alone, the detective smoked vigorously for a few moments, surrounding himself with a cloud.
“ ’Pon my soul, doctor,” he declared at last, “this case is getting beyond me. I want to believe Buckle, because I think he’s speaking the truth; and I feel sure the girl is speaking the truth. But the only possible way of reconciling their stories is to suppose that their master was drugged. And we know he wasn’t.”
“Might he not have fainted?”
“I suppose he might. But he wasn’t the fainting kind, was he?”
“No, he wasn’t.”
“And anyhow it’s strange, to say the least, that he should have fainted on the very spot where he was destined, a quarter of an hour later, to fall with a knife in his heart.”
The doctor nodded.
“We can dismiss that idea,” he remarked brusquely.
“So that the murder took place just after the bell was rung for the second time. I wonder if the shutter really did blow open . ”
Verrey crossed to the broken window and raised it; he put out his hand and drew one of the iron shutters into the closed position. The shutter moved easily, so easily that the lightest touch caused it to swing on its hinges. Dr. Hailey watched the operation with his dull, observant eyes.
“These oiled hinges,” he remarked, “belong to Jerry Glen’s character. He looked on every sort of machine and every sort of mechanical contrivance as expressions of his beloved science. A creaking door always roused his wrath.”
Verrey returned to the fireplace. “Unless we dismiss the girl Mabel as a mere romancer,” he said, “we must conclude that it was the murderer she heard, not his victim. Can you conceive of any circumstances, my dear Hailey, in which a murderer would be likely to make use of the expression: ‘O God, help me!’ in which, having so spoken, he would fall to the floor?”
There was an ironical note in the detective’s voice which suggested that he was laughing at himself as well as complaining against the difficulty of the case. Failure, so far as he was concerned, was being piled upon failure. Against the iron wall of conflicting evidence, his quick mind was proving itself a feeble enough instrument. The doctor shook his head. “No.”
“Nor can I. Let’s walk across to the Dyke and make the acquaintance of Colonel Whinstone.”
'T'HE day was rather cold, but patches of sunlight lay on the downs turning the sere grass to gold. The cloud wrack was still wintry enough, but here and there a glimpse of rich blue promised the coming of spring. Dr. Hailey stood to contemplate the pleasant spectacle. He was about to express the satisfaction it gave him when he observed how far his companion’s thoughts were removed from the face of nature.
“You heard Mabel say,” Verrey remarked, “that if the voice she heard was not her master’s voice then it must have been Patrick Glen’s.”
“I’ve been trying to look on the idea that it was Patrick Glen’s. If he had killed his uncle he might conceivably have used the words she heard. He might even have lifted the body and dropped it again when he became aware of steps approaching the window. The mischief is that this doesn’t help us to understand how he escaped from the room. We know as a fact that, within a minute or two, he was in the hall.”
“Don’t forget that the first sound Mabel heard was a cry. Why should he utter a
“Possibly he had become horrified at what he had done.”
They crossed the park, following the way the doctor had taken on the previous night. When they reached the hedge he pointed out to Verrey the place where Patrick Glen had stood, and the gap in the hedge through which Pamela Whinstone had escaped from her home.
“They disappeared in that direction,” he stated, indicating Shawdon Hall. “Patrick Glen’s car is missing.”
The gap in the hedge afforded access to a pathway which led to the old house. A garden, which proclaimed even in its bareness, most devoted care, flanked the path. The doctor noted the well-dug, richly manured soil and the excellent protection afforded to the rose bushes. These had not yet been pruned, but their promise was unmistakable.
“The Colonel is a gardener?”
“I believe a very distinguished one.” Dr. Hailey indicated some cocoanut shells hanging from one of the trees.
“A bird-lover, evidently.”
Verrey nodded. It was evident that he did not know the uses of these shells. When they reached the front door he rang the bell so vigorously that they heard it clanging in the servants’ quarters.
“Men who love birds,” he declared, “always seem to have a grievance against their fellows. I’ve noticed it again and again.”
A very smart maid answered the summons.
“Is Colonel Whinstone at home?” “Colonel Whinstone is not able to see anybody today.”
The girl’s tones were peremptory. She moved back as she spoke with the evident intention of closing the door. The detective took a step forward.
“Please tell him that the police are anxious to speak to him.”
“Here is my card.”
Verrey took a case from his pocket and extracted a card which he handed to the maid. She glanced at it uneasily.
“The Colonel’s not well, sir,” she exclaimed.
“Kindly do what I tell you?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but the Colonel mustn’t be disturbed. Can I give your card to Mrs. Whinstone?”
The maid retired into the house, leaving the door open. Dr. Hailey had a glimpse of a pleasant hall, wainscoted in fumed oak and furnished with big leather armchairs. Odds and ends of Jacobean furniture, a settle at right angles to a huge redbrick fireplace, high-backed chairs and a dresser covered with pewter pots, added charm to comfort. A broad staircase rose graciously in the background.
“I imagine they’ve had newspaper men here already,” Verrey said. “The village is full of them and they hear everything.” The maid returned and announced that her mistress would see them. She conducted them through the hall, which fulfilled the promise of its first impression, to a room that looked out on the gap in the hedge through which they had just passed. The room was empty, but a fire of logs burned in the iron basket on the great hearth. Dr. Hailey approached the fire and stood contemplating it with approval.
“This, my dear Verrey, is England.” “Urn—bit old-fashioned for my taste.” The detective glanced round the battened w’alls without enthusiasm.
“Is this the drawing-room, do you suppose?” he asked in the tones of a man who has his own ideas about what a drawing-room should look like.
“I fancy they would not call it that,” Dr. Hailey said.
He refrained, in Verrey’s presence, from expressing his whole-hearted approval of the room. The exquisite cleanliness which characterized it was alone sufficient advertisement of Mrs. Whinstone’s capacity as a housewife. Its austere simplicity revealed her taste. And yet there was something lacking. The room was bare without being in any degree unfurnished. It recalled an apartment in a hotel, which advances its welcome to strangers, bidding them discover comforts substantial as those provided at home. The appeal was unconvincing in proportion to its urgency. A picture of Mrs. Whinstone as one of those women who have their wedded life on leasehold rose in the doctor’s mind. Her diligence had not achieved the making of a home. He was speculating on the causes of this failure when she entered the room. He saw a woman of medium height with features of a peculiar fineness, which her manner of wearing her grey hair, close cropped like a man’s, did nothing to mar.
“Mr. Verrey?” she asked in a highpitched voice.
Verrey bowed in a fashion which left a good deal to be desired.
“I am Mr. Verrey,” he stated.
He introduced Dr. Hailey. Mrs. Whinstone acknowledged the doctor’s presence by a slight inclination of her head. She walked across the room to the fireplace, displaying a grace of movement which suffered no abatement by reason of the short skirt and heavy boots she was wearing.
“My husband is confined to his room,” she said. “He is not well enough to see you.”
Verrey cleared his throat.
“I expect you can guess the nature of the business that brings us here,” he began. “Your daughter’s disappearance, coming at such a time, has naturally aroused a great deal of interest.”
He paused. Mrs. Whinstone was looking at him with steady eyes.
“I do not wish to discuss my daughter,” she declared.
“I’m afraid we must discuss her, seeing that Mr. Patrick Glen has disappeared also.”
Mrs. Whinstone turned toward Dr. Hailey. Her eyes fell before his steady glance. It was obvious that she felt overwhelmed with shame, but the doctor realized that, with her shame, was mingled a lively fear. He observed how healthy she was, noting the rich blood in her cheeks and the firm lines of her figure. Age had not withered her.
“I know nothing of my daughter’s whereabouts,” she said in low tones.
Verrey took his notebook from his pocket, an action which evidently shocked her.
“How old is Miss Whinstone?” he asked.
“She can’t marry without her father’s consent?”
“Has he given his consent to her marriage?”
The detective looked up.
“That means he has refused to give his
There was no answer.
“Has he refused to give his consent?”
Mrs. Whinstone studied the Persian rug on which she was standing. Her lips seemed to move, but no words escaped them.
“I’ll put my question another way, if you like,” Verrey said. “Has Colonel Whinstone’s consent to your daughter’s marriage been asked?”
The woman raised her head. The fear in her eyes remained, but her courage was unmistakable.
“I choose not to answer that question,” she said.
“Look here, Mrs. Whinstone, this matter is serious. I don’t want to distress you more than I need, but it’s as well that you should realize how things stand. At the present moment something that looks very like a suspicion of murder attaches to Mr. Patrick Glen.”
He broke off, and took a step forward, holding out his hand. But though she tottered, Mrs. Whinstone rejected his help. She came to one of the armchairs and sank into it, pressing her hand to her brow.
“You must forgive me,” she apologized, “but I have been living under a severe strain.”
The detective watched her for a few minutes in silence. Then he said:
“You will understand, now, why it is necessary that I should know whether Colonel Whinstone’s consent to your daughter’s marriage was asked for.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You don’t know?”
Mrs. Whinstone shook her head, but the gesture conveyed no precise information.
“Might it not be well,” Dr. Hailey suggested, “to understand each other a little more fully. The information we are seeking has only an indirect bearing on Miss Whinstone. Its direct bearing is on Mr. Patrick Glen. We wish to know whether or not that young man was acting against his uncle’s wishes and so, whether he and his uncle had quarrelled? A suggestion has been made that such a quarrel took place.”
“I can’t help you.”
The doctor inclined his head.
“In that case, I’m afraid,” he said, “we must conclude that our questions have proved embarrassing—and draw the obvious inference.”
“What do you mean?”
“The inference that a quarrel did take place between Mr. Patrick Glen and Lord Gerald about your daughter.”
Dr. Hailey pronounced the words “about your daughter” quietly enough, but the effect on Mrs. Whinstone was immediately evident. Her firmness gave way. Nevertheless she managed to retain a measure of self-control.
“You must draw what inference you please, Dr. Hailey,” she said faintly.
The doctor considered a moment. He gave his opponent time to recover herself a little and then announced:
“I saw your daughter leave this house last night with Mr. Patrick Glen.”
“I had followed Mr. Glen from Shawdon Hall for reasons with which I needn’t trouble you. Your daughter joined him at the stile, beyond the garden. They walked away in the direction of the Hall. Unhappily it was misty.”
Silence fell in the room. Mrs. Whinstone’s distress was already passing beyond her control. She plucked at the lapels of the coat she was wearing with tremulous fingers, keeping her eyes downcast meanwhile as if afraid that a single glance might betray her.
“You must be mistaken.”
“I do not think that I was mistaken. You will not deny your daughter is missing from her home?”
“She has gone away.”
The woman summoned what courage remained to her. With an effort, the costly nature of which was apparent, she raised her head and faced her questioner. “I do not know,” she stated.
“But you can guess, surely. If Colonel Whinstone has refused his consent to Miss Whinstone’s marriage, then it is obvious that, unless false statements about her age are made, her marriage cannot take place—in England. It cannot take place in Scotland either until she or her future husband have been resident in that country for twenty-one days, but after that lapse of time it can take place there in spite of any parental objection. My own view, for what it is worth, is that Mr. Glen has taken your daughter across the Scottish border.”
V/TRS. WHINSTONE belonged to that section of the English ruling class which, in thought as well as in speech, discounts human nature. It was evident that her daughter’s elopement seemed to her so disgraceful a breach of good behavior as to be almost unpardonable. Her own human nature, however, was asserting itself against the barren code. Dr. Hailey
perceived that she was torn between shame and fear; between, that is to say, ! her conceptions of right and wrong and I her natural affection. He concluded that she believed her daughter to be in immediate and serious danger.
“I overheard your daughter,” he told her, “say to Mr. Glen that he was certain to be arrested today.”
He watched her closely as he spoke. She flinched under his gaze.
“May I ask why you are telling me these things, Dr. Hailey?” she demanded.
“To show you how necessary it is that you should be frank with us.”
“I had no idea that my daughter would go away with Mr. Glen.”
“You knew, however, that she was in love with Mr. Glen?”
A vestige of a smile appeared on the woman’s thin lips. Love had played but little part, it seemed, in her life.
“I knew that Mr. Glen wanted to marry her.”
“And that she wanted to marry him?” “I think she was ready to marry him.” “It was a suitable match, was it not?” “Under certain conditions.”
Dr. Hailey rubbed his eyeglass thoughtfully between his finger and thumb.
“You mean, provided that Lord Gerald gave his consent?”
“Mr. Glen was wholly dependent on his uncle, I understand?”
“So that had you known that Lord Gerald was opposed to the match you would have refused your consent to it?” Mrs. Whinstone’s eyes fell.
“I should have been guided in a matter of that sort by my husband,” she said in low tones.
“In point of fact Lord Gerald did oppose the match. Had his death not occurred exactly when it did occur, his nephew would have been disinherited?”
Dr. Hailey adjusted his eyeglass as he spoke. He saw fear quicken in the woman’s face.
“I know nothing about that.”
“As things stand, however, Mr. Patrick Glen is his uncle’s heir. I put it to you, Mrs. Whinstone, that your husband refused his consent to this marriage because Lord Gerald opposed it.”
“My husband gave his consent to the match.”
Mrs. Whinstone’s voice remained low pitched, but it lacked nothing of clarity.
“Before he knew that Lord Gerald opposed it?”
“After he knew.”
Dr. Hailey’s face expressed the astonishment he felt.
“But your daughter has eloped,” he exclaimed. “Why should she elope if she has her father’s consent to her marriage?” There was no answer. Verrey who was watching the doctor closely saw him start as if a new idea had sprung suddenly to his mind.
“Was the consent withdrawn?”
The woman clasped her hands together in a gesture of distress which she was unable to restrain. For a moment it seemed that she intended to unbosom herself, then the impulse was quenched. She glanced significantly at the door.
“I’m afraid I can give you no more information,” she said. “My husband’s illness makes it necessary that I should not be away from him any longer.”
She began to walk toward the door as she spoke. But her manner of going suggested hesitation rather than decision. Dr. Hailey stood his ground.
“I can only conclude,” he stated, “that it was the news of Lord Gerald’s death which caused Colonel Whinstone to withdraw his consent.”
Mrs. Whinstone reached the door. She opened it. A cry escaped her lips. A tall man, arrayed in a sleeping-suit, thrust her aside, and came reeling and staggering into the room. As he approached the fireplace where Dr. Hailey was standing, he lost his footing and fell heavily to the floor.