The Room with the Iron Shutters

In which a key and a clue further complicate a baffling mystery

ANTHONY WYNNE February 1 1930

The Room with the Iron Shutters

In which a key and a clue further complicate a baffling mystery

ANTHONY WYNNE February 1 1930

The problem: Lord Gerald Glen, a wealthy Sussex squire, a fanatical prohibitionist, and the maker of large philanthropic gifts to medicine, is found dead one morning after breakfast, lying on the floor of his study, the windows of which are sealed with heavy iron shutters and the door locked. On the desk in front of him is a scrawled note in his handwriting: “I have been murdered,” and his heart has been pierced by a narrow knifelike instrument, of which diligent search reveals no trace.

The discovery is made by Buckle, his butler, who a few minutes before has been ordered by Lord Gerald, in a feeble voice and through the locked door, to close the shutters from the outside. While doing so he observes Lord Gerald at his desk, head on hands and obviously in distress.

Alarmed, he telephones for Dr. Pendrith, the local doctor, and the two force an entrance, together with Bridget Glen, the dead man’s niece. The latter has been living with Lord Gerald, together with her brother, Patrick Glen, with whom Lord Gerald has been on bad terms.

Patrick Glen is in love with Pamela Whinstone, the daughter of a neighboring Colonel, a drunkard; and almost immediately after the murder, the two vanish, presumably eloping.

Dr. Hailey, of Harley Street, and Inspector Verrey, of Scotland Yard, take up the case. Dr. Hailey overhears a mysterious conversation between Patrick and Pamela, before the two vanish, in which the words“ arrested tomorrow” occur; and in the course of their investigations they interview Sparling, landlord of the local inn, who states that he has heard, the butler threaten Lord Gerald’s life and Colonel Whinstone, who is on the verge of delirium tremens. The story continues:

BEFORE the doctor could reach him Colonel Whinstone was up again, standing glaring with bloodshot swollen eyes.

“He isn’t here,” he hiccupped. “I tell you, he isn’t here.”

He glanced about him, repeating his assurance in bibulous tones. Suddenly he waved his hand.

“Sit down. Tell you the whole story.”

He sank down himself into an armchair, narrowly escaping a fall into the fireplace as he did so. Mrs. Whinstone hurried to his side.

“You must come back to bed, dear,” she cried; “you can’t stay here, you know.”

“Go away.”

She turned to the doctor.

“Will you please help me?”

Dr. Hailey approached the drunken man, but was ordered peremptorily to keep his distance.

“I refuse to go back to bed,” Colonel Whinstone declared. He looked so formidable that even his wife abandoned her intention and withdrew to a place behind his chair. He leaned over the arm of the chair and rang the bell. Then he waved the doctor to a seat.

“Sit down. Tell you the whole story. Must tell you. For Pam’s sake. Patrick’s bound to be arrested. Bound to be charged with the old man’s murder. You’ve come to arrest Patrick, eh?”

Verrey was addressed. He stated gravely that he had not come to arrest Patrick Glen.

“No?” But you’re from Scotland Yard, eh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Of course. Knew that, knew it.” Colonel Whinstone turned to his wife.

“Told you Scotland Yard would be on Patrick’s track before night.” Suddenly the drunken man bent his head and wept audibly. “Poor Pam! Poor dear Pam! Horrible! Horrible! Horrible! Oh, Pam, I warned you.” He shot out his long arms. “I told you, dear, that he would be arrested today.”

He glanced about him, blinking his eyes. A knowing expression appeared on his face.

“The old man would have cut Pat off with a shilling,” he declared. “Told me himself he was going to do it.”

There was a knock at the door. The servant who had admitted Dr. Hailey and Verrey appeared to answer her master’s summons.

“Whisky and soda, Mary.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Be quick, like a good girl.”

The maid glanced at Mrs. Whinstone, who made a sign. Colonel Whinstone turned his head just in time to see it. He lurched to his feet.

“None of your monkey tricks, Eleanor,” he shouted. He stood swaying on his feet, shaking his fist at his wife. Then he began to laugh. “Eleanor says raspberry vinegar tastes same as port. Isn’t that damn funny? Eh?” He sat down again. “Eleanor puts stuff in the whisky—make you sick. Ipeccac . . . Ipecec . . . you know. Make you sick, sick. Isn’t that damn funny, too?”

The maid went away. Colonel Whinstone appeared to collect his thoughts.

“Poor old Jerry Glen,” he whimpered, “dashed good chap. Bee in ’s bonnet. Hive of bees. Buzz. ’S dead anyhow. Wish Pat hadn’t killed him.”

Dr. Hailey had seated himself. He rose now with the evident intention of going away. But his action immediately aroused Colonel Whinstone to opposition.

“You mustn’t go,” the old man cried. “You must stay and listen to my story. Must tell you my story.” He hiccupped and remained for a moment staring in front of him. “I’m drunk,” he added, “but another drink will steady me. Eleanor’s fault for locking up the whisky.” He glanced toward the door, and then lowered his voice. “Fact is, Patrick Glen’s mad.”

The statement was made with so much conviction that, in spite of the speaker’s condition, it carried weight. The doctor looked at Verrey and hesitated. Then he turned to Mrs. Whinstone. She, poor woman, made no sign. The maid returned to the room and placed a bottle of whisky, a siphon and three tumblers beside her master.

“Help yourselves, gentlemen,” Colonel Whinstone invited.

Both doctor and detective refused to drink. The old man rose and poured himself out three fingers of whisky. He held his tumbler up to the light before tasting its contents. Then he swallowed them at a gulp. Within a few seconds the spirit began to exert a steadying influence on him. His hands ceased to tremble and his speech became clearer.

“I possess proof of what I tell you,” he stated. “Patrick Glen was medically examined. Doctor has no doubt that his mind’s weak. When I heard that, I said: ‘No marriage.’ Made arrangements to pack Pamela off to her aunt in Jersey. Was to have gone today.”

He blew through his pursed lips, after the manner of half-drunken men, but it was obvious that his brain was alert. Verrey snatched at the opportunity afforded him.

“Who was the doctor who made this statement about Mr. Glen?” he asked.

“Pendrith.”

“Of Shawdon?”

“Yes. Pendrith’s known Pat Glen all his days. Told me it was a bad case.”

“When did he tell you this?”

“Let me see.” Colonel Whinstone hiccupped again. “Two days . . . yes, two days before poor old Jerry’s death.”

“You’re quite sure about that date?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell Mr. Glen that you refused to allow your daughter to marry him?”

“Yes. Always believe in open diplomacy.”

“What did he say?”

“Asked me why.”

“Yes?”

“Told him I’d come round to his uncle’s way of thinking! Bad heredity both sides of the family. That sort of thing.”

“But not that you had heard he was mentally afflicted?”

“Good Heavens, of course not.”

“Did he seem to accept your decision?”

Colonel Whinstone leaned forward in his chair. His voice fell to a hoarse whisper.

“He didn’t. Took a gun out of his pocket and said: ‘Either I marry Pam or I blow my brains out!’ ”

COLONEL WHINSTONE’S long addiction to alcohol had made him dependent on that commodity for his powers of concentration. Far from increasing his drunkenness, a second lose of neat whisky exerted a further steadying effect on him.

“I realized when I saw that gun,” he stated, “that Pendrith hadn’t overstated the case. Boy’s eyes were wild. Told him to put it away and got him out of the house. Glad to see the last of him. Haven’t seen him since.”

Verrey stroked his chin, pressing his fingers strongly against it.

“You thought he really did mean to use the pistol?” he asked in dubious tones.

“I’m sure of it. Fellow’s never been the same since he was hit on the head by a splinter of shell in the war. Somme. Injured’s brain, you know. That sort of thing gets worse and worse.”

"How did your daughter take it?”

Colonel Whinstone shook his head.

“Badly. Pam’s in love with him.”

“So that when he left you he believed that his uncle had ruined his happiness?”

“That’s it.”

“But that your daughter still loved him?”

“Yes, yes. He believed that, of course.”

The detective rose.

“Did he . . . did he use any threatening language against his uncle?”

“Called him a vindictive fanatic.”

“Vindictive?”

“Don’t know what he meant. Man’s mad.”

Verrey thanked Colonel Whinstone and said that he had obtained all the information he wished. But the old man was not ready to see his visitors depart.

“It’s Pam I’m troublin’ about,” he declared. “What’re you goin’ to do about Pam?”

His face became very anxious as he spoke, and his voice trembled. It was obvious that his only concern was to relieve his daughter of blame.

“I’m not going to do anything.”

“Pam’s a fool. Isn’t her fault that she’s gone off with him. Fellow’s got shocking hold on her. You know.

Women always attracted by madmen . . . Pam had nothin’ to do with murder of old Jerry Glen.”

In spite of his intoxication Colonel Whinstone spoke these last words with an effort which proclaimed how lively were his fears on his daughter’s behalf. His long face, which suggested in a curious way that of a horse, was stricken with gravity, and his big bony fingers plucked at his sleeping suit.

“There’s no question of that, of course,” Verrey stated in brisk tones. “Our object was to discover why your daughter should have eloped with Mr. Glen. You have enabled us to solve that problem.” He considered a moment and then added: “Dr. Hailey suggests that since they cannot get married in England without your consent, they may have gone to Scotland to acquire a residence qualification.”

Colonel Whinstone struggled to his feet.

“That’s it, that’s it,” he exclaimed. “Gone to Scotland. Gretna Green.” He pressed his hands to his brow. “Poor Pam! Poor little Pam!”

It was sufficiently evident that a tide of alcoholic emotionalism was about to submerge him. Dr. Hailey made speed to escape from the house, after he had helped him back to bed and urged Mrs. Whinstone to send for the doctor.

“I may be wrong, but I think he’s going to be ill. When a man reaches the stage where he can only sober himself with more drink, he’s in danger.”

Verrey was so excited about the news he had just heard that the doctor found it difficult to convince him that there were serious objections to the acceptance of Colonel Whinstone’s story. Nevertheless he pressed these objections on the detective’s notice.

“I find it almost impossible to believe,” he said, “that any reputable medical man would make the statements attributed to Pendrith.”

“Why not? Surely it’s a doctor’s duty to warn a father that his daughter is about to marry a lunatic.”

“It’s a doctor’s first duty to respect the confidence his patients repose in him.”

“Um . . . up to a point.”

Dr. Hailey frowned. “Very well, up to a point be it. But what point? Did Pendrith know as a fact that Patrick Glen was mad? Could he know that as a fact?”

“He’s the family doctor.”

“No doubt. But in a matter of that sort the family doctor would certainly not rely solely on his own general knowledge. He would insist on a consultation with a specialist in mental diseases . . . somebody qualified, as I am qualified. We have heard nothing to suggest that he did anything of the sort. We haven’t heard a single word, indeed, about Patrick Glen’s mental state. Is it conceivable that in these circumstances Pendrith took it on himself to make so damaging and so dangerous a statement?”

Verrey shrugged his shoulders.

“It seems so to me. I would warn any of my friends in similar circumstances, 'pon my soul I would.”

“You aren’t a doctor, my dear sir. The mere suggestion that anybody is mentally deranged is inexcusable, unless it is based on careful examination. No man in this country is mad until two medical men, acting independently of one another, have certified him to be so.”

“A man who goes about flourishing a pistol!”

Dr. Hailey’s brow cleared.

“I’m afraid you misunderstand me. The point isn’t whether or not Patrick Glen is mentally deranged. He may very well be unbalanced as the result of the injury to his head. The point is whether or not a doctor, and especially a scrupulous man such as Pendrith, would act in so grossly unprofessional a fashion. I do not believe that Pendrith acted in that fashion, and therefore I do not believe Colonel Whinstone’s story. Whinstone had his wits about him in spite of his drunkenness. He was concerned to discount Patrick Glen’s responsibility for his actions because Patrick Glen has run away with his daughter.”

“Anyhow he has no doubt who it was who murdered Lord Gerald.”

The triumphant note in the detective’s voice was unmistakable.

“Apparently not.”

“And good grounds for his conviction?”

“Possibly.”

They walked a short distance in silence, each busy with his own thoughts. Verrey broke the silence.

“You told me yourself,” he said, “that the curse of the Glens amounted to a form of mental derangement.”

“I said that it was probably epileptic in character.”

“That’s good enough. If Patrick Glen is an epileptic.”

“No, no. You can’t presume in that fashion. Epilepsy, granting that it exists in the older generation of the Glen family, may or may not be hereditary in that family. There is nothing to show that Patrick Glen is epileptic. On the contrary, he seemed to me to be particularly free from such a taint. The injury to his head is ample explanation of any abnormality in his conduct.”

“Why should Whinstone suspect him of murder, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’ll admit that that question wants answering?”

“Drunkards are naturally suspicious.”

“Very well then, leave that and tell me why, after having given his consent to it, Whinstone changed his mind and forbade his daughter’s marriage?”

“I can’t answer that question either.”

“Something must have come to his knowledge?”

“Presumably.”

Verrey drew his slouch hat down over his eyes with a gesture which proclaimed a hardening purpose.

“It’s a starting point, anyhow,” he declared, “and I mean to start from it right away. I’m going back to that room with a blank mind, and I’m going to search it, every foot of it, every inch of it, till I find the explanation of the mystery.”

“Why not see Pendrith with me first?” the doctor asked. “It would be as well to hear his version of the story before we proceed any further.”

“No.” The word broke explosively from the detective’s lips. “The room first. The people afterward. What’s the good of anything till we know how the murderer reached his victim and how he left him?”

THEY parted in the avenue leading to Shawdon Hall. Dr. Hailey walked slowly back to the village. He reflected that in spite of all the pains which had been taken, the mystery of the room with the iron shutters remained as impenetrable as ever. It was getting on his nerves; it had so far got on the nerves of his companion that he had now apparently lost confidence in his powers as an observer. Verrey had been ready to stake his reputation that the study contained no secret doors or traps. Yet he had now gone to look again for such explanations of an event which, failing their discovery, was inexplicable. Verrey, in other words, had abandoned the method of which he had been so enthusiastic an advocate—the method of psychological rather than of physical observation. Routed, he had fallen back on such clues as may be gleaned from a study of tables and chairs. The doctor made up his mind to resist that temptation. He addressed himself once more to the character of Patrick Glen, and was immediately aware that he had made a discovery. Probably as the result of what Colonel Whinstone had said about him, Patrick’s figure lost the mists of uncertainty which had surrounded it and stood out clearly. The doctor beheld a man in love and recognized the quality of this emotion. Few people, he had learned by experience, are capable of a great passion. And even these few, when their feelings are engaged, do not as a rule apprehend immediately the strength of the tide to which they are committed. Time and circumstance are necessary to bring enlightenment. A great passion resembles such simple needs as air and water; it compels its victim, much as the impulse to live compels ordinary men. The wretch deprived of water has no tradition, no code, no pride of family or person. He has even no personality.

With a thrill of excitement Dr. Hailey traced the march of the self-complacent, self-assured man of the world from his habitual attitude of tolerant cynicism to his new, desperate dependence. There had come, undoubtedly, a moment in Patrick Glen’s life when he had realized as a plain truth that he could not live without Pamela Whinstone.

It seemed important to determine that moment as precisely as possible. The available evidence suggested that it had occurred one or two days before the murder of Lord Gerald, and that the occasion had been Colonel Whinstone’s refusal to sanction the marriage. Pamela Whinstone was evidently a girl who yielded to authority, for her lover had apparently taken the view that if she was removed from his influence he would lose her. It had been the fear of losing her which had discovered to him his true feelings.

Dr. Hailey recalled the scene he had witnessed on the previous day. He could not doubt that Patrick Glen waylaid the girl who, no doubt, had been told to avoid him. It was probable that the cry she had uttered was occasioned by the sight of his pistol. Had he really meant to shoot himself, if she refused him? Or was the weapon intended for use against her?

The doctor reached the inn and ascended the stair to the private sitting room he shared with Verrey. A moment later there was a hurried knock at the door and Mr. Sapling entered. The man’s red face and nervous manner proclaimed the excitement under which he was laboring.

“I’ve a bit of noos for you, doctor,” he announced. “There’s a man in the bar now wot ’eard Buckle say ’e would do in ’is lordship, so ’elp ’im Gawd!”

Mr. Sapling grasped the lapels of his jacket as he spoke, a gesture in which he seemed to find both support and emphasis. His heightened color had not banished the ferret-like look from his face or the malicious gleam in his eyes. Dr. Hailey, who had seated himself and was in the act of taking snuff, regarded him coldly.

“Really!” he ejaculated.

“Yes, sir. ’E’s a young farmer, name of 'Indle. And ’e’s ready to swear ’is Bible oath, as the sayin’ is, that the butler said the words wot ’e ’eard ’im say. I says to ’im: ‘Mr. 'Indle,’ says I, ‘it’s your bounden duty, it is, to place them facts at the disposal of the police.’ ’E’s ready to see you, sir, at this moment.”

The doctor’s eyes narrowed. He was engaged in speculating whether or not Patrick Glen, in love, was likely to concern himself enough about money to care whether his uncle left him any, and had no wish to abandon so absorbing a theme. On the other hand, it was possible that Mr. Hindle really did know something. He considered a moment, and then told Sapling to bring up his friend.

MR. HINDLE proved to be a muscular young man with a sunburnt face and a very large quantity of pale yellow hair. He strode heavily into the room and brought a strong smell of whisky with him. The whisky was in his eyes as well as in his cheeks. But he was not drunk.

“Sit down, please,” Dr. Hailey invited him.

“Shall you want me, sir?” Mr. Sapling asked in tones which suggested that the question was a mere matter of form.

“No.”

The innkeeper closed the door rather noisily behind him, expressing thereby his indignation at being excluded from the interview. The thought passed through Dr. Hailey’s mind that the man would listen behind the door. He turned to the young fellow and adjusted his eyeglass.

“I believe you have some information which you feel you ought to communicate to the police,” he said in unenthusiastic tones. “I am not the police, but I am acting in this case along with them.”

Mr. Hindle had crossed his legs, which were encased in leather gaiters. He uncrossed them and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his bleary eyes on the doctor.

“It’s about Buckle, Lord Gerald’s butler,” he declared rather shyly. “I happened to hear him threatening his master.”

“Yes, when?”

“About a month ago.”

“Where?”

“Here, in the bar. He was a bit tight at the time, I admit.”

“What did he say?”

“That he would do the old man in if he gave him the sack.”

Dr. Hailey frowned.

“He was joking, of course.”

“No, I don’t think so. He seemed to be very angry.”

“Did anybody else hear him?”

“No, we were alone in the bar. Sapling had gone away at the moment. I remember, because I thought the chap looked dangerous and wondered if I ought to tell Sapling. I didn’t tell him.”

“But he heard other remarks of the same sort, eh?”

Hindle nodded.

“I believe he did. Buckle often got drunk and he’s always nasty in liquor.”

“So these threats had been going on for a long time?”

“I don’t know. It’s only lately that Buckle has taken to coming to the bar. I think before that he was on the water-wagon—one of those chaps who go T.T. for a bit.”

There was a note of contempt in the young man’s voice. He, at any rate, was not to be accused of any temporary lapses into abstinence.

“Did you try to dissuade him, seeing that you took him seriously?” the doctor asked.

“Oh, yes. Told him that sort of thing was a mug’s game. He said he had killed dozens of men in the war and wasn’t afraid of killing a few more.”

Dr. Hailey leaned back in his chair.

“Many a boaster talks in the fashion,” he said, “especially when he’s drunk. As a matter of fact Buckle seems to have had a good warservice record. The odds are Lord Gerald spoke pretty sharply to him about his drinking habits. Vain people always resent that kind of reproof. There’s a big difference between threatening to kill a man and killing him.”

Hindle’s bleary eyes fell, but he raised them again after a few seconds and faced his companion.

“That’s true. But you’ll admit that there’s a type of chap who does fulfill his threats.”

“Yes.”

“Very well, I got the impression that Buckle belonged to that type. I’m not easily scared, but I don’t mind owning I was scared of him. The moment I heard his lordship had been murdered, that threat came back to my mind.”

The doctor nodded.

“I suppose you’ve heard about the circumstances in which the murder was committed?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“In a sealed room?”

“Yes.”

“Did Buckle impress you as the kind of man who would be able to carry out his threat in that extraordinarily clever way?”

“No. I admit you have me there.”

“Drunken boasters are usually cautious enough when they’re sober. But this murderer is something more than cautious. He has baffled Scotland Yard. Buckle struck me as a man of very limited intelligence.”

Hindle crossed his legs once more. He had been fumbling in his pocket and now produced a short briar pipe.

“A butler would know the secrets of the house,” he declared significantly.

“Possibly, if there are any to know.”

“You bet your life there’s a secret passage, sir.”

Dr. Hailey rose. It was evident that Hindle was about to fill his pipe and, if he was allowed to do so, smoke it also while he discussed the mystery of the shuttered study.

“I’m obliged to you for your information,” the doctor said. “I’ll pass it on to Inspector Verrey.”

VERREY returned from his searching in a somewhat excited state of mind.

“There aren’t any secret passages,” he declared crisply.

The doctor told him about the visit he had received from Mr. Hindle, but the news did not appear to arouse his interest.

“I fancy,” he said, “that it’s the old story of the angry servant letting off steam at a safe distance from his master. People don’t advertise murder.”

Verrey sat down and filled his pipe.

“I saw Miss Bridget Glen,” he stated. “I pressed her hard about her brother’s relations with her uncle, and she admitted that they quarrelled badly a few days before the murder. She told me that her brother was determined at all costs to marry Miss Whinstone, and that he had said to her that he was ready to break stones if necessary.”

Dr. Hailey raised his eyelids which had been drooping.

“Ah, then I’m right.”

“Right?”

“I had just come to the conclusion when you returned that Patrick Glen did not murder his uncle.”

The doctor watched Verrey closely as he spoke. He saw a look of opposition appear in the man’s eyes.

“I don’t follow.”

“Men who are ready to break stones do not commit murder in order to avoid the necessity of breaking them. The only motive Patrick Glen could have had for killing his uncle was to prevent his uncle from disinheriting him.”

“That seems to me a pretty strong motive.”

“Not in this case. Patrick Glen is really in love.”

“Um.” The detective stroked his chin. “Lord Gerald’s death has made his nephew a very rich man. It’s useful to be rich when you’re thinking of getting married.”

“But when you’re really in love, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Being really in love, my dear Verrey, is a pretty anxious experience. There’s no doubt that Patrick came near to losing Pamela Whinstone. If they had managed to send the girl to Jersey he would have lost her.”

“You rate Miss Whinstone’s fidelity pretty low.”

“No, no. I’ve never seen Pamela Whinstone, but I think I can hazard a guess about her character. There are hundreds of the same type. They obey those who are nearest to them at the moment. However much she may love Patrick she would have submitted to her parents if Patrick had not been at hand to prevent her.

The detective did not reply. He put his hand in his pocket and extracted a key.

“Look at, it,” he requested, “and tell me if you notice anything peculiar about it.”

Dr. Hailey turned the key, which was large and dull, over in his hands.

“I can’t say I notice anything special,” he remarked.

“It’s the key of the study at Shawdon Hall.”

“Ah!”

The detective leaned over and pointed with a pencil to a tiny scrape on the dull surface of the key. This scrape was situated immediately under the barrel of the key and ran along the upper part of the flange for a considerable distance.

“You see it?”

“Why, yes.”

“Turn it over and look at the opposite side.”

There was a similar scrape on the same place on the opposite side. Dr. Hailey raised enquiring eyes to his companion.

“What does it mean?”

Verrey leaned back and applied a match to his pipe.

“If I may say so,” he remarked, “I think this is where a police training proves its value. These marks were made by a skeleton key—the kind employed to unlock a door when the key has been left in the lock.”

Dr. Hailey raised his eyes sharply.

“I know what you mean.”

The detective expelled a long whiff of smoke.

“It serves me right,” he said rather unctuously, “for having neglected to examine the key more carefully. Somehow the idea of a skeleton never entered my mind, which was occupied with secret chambers. Once I had satisfied myself that the key had not been turned from the outside with a pair of pliers—the usual amateur’s method—I forgot all about it. Now we know how the door of the study came to be locked on the inside.”

“You are quite sure that the marks really do betray the use of a skeleton key?”

“Look at them, my dear doctor. They run parallel to one another and are deepest where the skeleton came into contact with the flange of the key and was forced over the flange. These are the marks one invariably finds when a skeleton key has been used.”

The doctor’s face expressed astonishment.

“But only professional thieves use such things.”

“You can buy skeleton keys in London quite easily.”

“In other words, the study door was really locked on the outside.”

“Yes. By the murderer after he had completed his job.”

Dr. Hailey rose and opened his snuffbox.

“Isn’t that putting it rather high?” he objected. “Granted that a skeleton key was used, it remains to find the person who used it.”

He glanced at Verrey as he spoke and saw a flush mount to the young man’s cheeks.

“I have found the person who used it.”

The detective put his hand in his pocket as he spoke and produced a metal object which resembled a key except that it had no flange. He handed it to the doctor.

“It fits the key,” he stated in tones which thrilled.

Dr. Hailey took the skeleton and pushed it over the key of the study. He observed that the open edges exactly corresponded to the marks he had already examined. There was a small circle of dots on the handle of the skeleton.

“There’s no doubt that this skeleton was used on the key,” he stated.

“None.” Verrey took his pipe out of his mouth and held it with the stem facing his companion. “I found the skeleton,” he stated, “in one of the drawers in Patrick Glen’s dressing-table.”

HE OBSERVED the effect of his disclosure on the doctor with a satisfaction which he was at no pains to hide.

“Here’s my solution,” he exclaimed in eager tones. “Patrick Glen decided on murder as soon as he knew his uncle meant to disinherit him. He planned everything with minute care. When Lord Gerald went into his study on the fatal morning he followed him and stabbed him to the heart at his desk. Lord Gerald was sitting at his desk and remained in that position except that, of course, his head sank down on his hands. Then Patrick locked the door and rang for Buckle. It was his voice, not Lord Gerald’s, which the butler heard. He knelt behind the desk when Buckle was closing the shutters and consequently the man saw nobody but his master.”

Verrey pulled at his notebook and turned the pages rapidly.

“Here it is. Buckle said in his evidence: ‘The sun was shining into the room. His lordship was sitting where you are sitting now. His head was bent down over the desk. It seemed to be hidden in his arms.’ ”

Dr. Hailey nodded: “I remember.”

“Very well. Once the shutters had been closed, Patrick dragged the body to the place where it was ultimately found and laid it there. Then he rang the bell again, and again hid himself. He guessed, no doubt, that Buckle would look in at the window when he failed to obtain an answer from his master. As we know, that is exactly what happened. The butler went outside and found that a leaf of one of the shutters had swung open. He looked into the room and saw his master’s body lying on the floor. He hurried away at once to the telephone, just as the murderer had felt sure he would do.”

“I imagine that Patrick had meant to seize this opportunity of leaving the room, but unfortunately for his plans this was the moment when Mabel the housemaid appeared on the scene.”

Again the detective consulted his notebook.

“Let me read you her evidence on this point. You asked her, if you recollect, what she heard in the study. Here is her reply:

“ ’I was passin’ thro’ the ’all. I ’eard a cry, most like a child wot ’as ’urt itself terrible. I tried to open the door. Then I ’eard ’is lordship’s voice say: ‘0 God, ’elp me!’ and then I ’eard ’im fall.”

“When he grasped the fact that the hall was not empty, Patrick Glen must have been in a terrible quandary. He knew that the person in the hall could only be one of the female servants, because his sister was out riding and had not come back, and Buckle, the only male indoor servant, had certainly gone to the telephone, which is in the library at the back of the house. The idea apparently struck him to frighten the girl away, for he knew that her first impulse would be to rush off to the butler for help. He uttered a cry. The girl at once came to the door and tried to open it. Then, as he had hoped and expected, she hurried off.”

Again Verrey read:

" 'I ran out o’ the ’all to tell Mr. Buckle, and then the thought came to me that ’e would be mad with me for listenin’ be’ind the door. So I ran up to my room and lay down on the bed, for I felt that bad, and didn’t know right wot I ought to do. W’en I came down again, there was Mr. Buckle goin’ out o’ the front door—Mr. Patrick wasn’t in the ’all. But ’e came into the ’all a minute after.’ ”

“There was Patrick Glen’s chance. The moment he heard the girl run away he opened the door of the study and stepped out, locking the door behind him with the skeleton key he had obtained for the purpose, and so, apparently, leaving the door locked on the inside. He walked out of the house, returning when Dr. Pendrith arrived.”

Verrey finished speaking. His excitement had increased as he unfolded his explanation, and he now awaited with the utmost eagerness the verdict which seemed to him to be his due. Dr. Hailey nodded his great head slowly and approvingly.

“I congratulate you, my dear fellow,” he stated, “on a very pretty piece of logic. I know you won’t misunderstand if I mention one or two points which occurred to me while you were speaking. First and foremost the question of voices. Was Lord Gerald’s voice really like his nephew’s voice?”

“Yes.” Again the notebook was opened and consulted. “When I asked the girl Mabel this morning if she was quite sure it was her master’s voice she heard, she said first: ‘Oh, yes, sir, I ’aven’t a doubt.’ I pressed her, you remember, to tell me if she had often been spoken to by Lord Gerald, and she admitted then that she had seldom heard his voice. And then came the admission: ‘If it wasn’t ’is lordship’s voice it was Mr. Patrick’s voice.’ ”

Again the doctor nodded. “A good point. Now then, there’s the message. Can you explain why Lord Gerald should have left a statement that he had been murdered lying on his desk? I take it that his nephew’s attack on him was sudden and unexpected.”

The detective’s face clouded.

“Remember, we know for certain,” Dr. Hailey added, “that the writing is Jerry Glen’s. His banker has vouched for that. On this point, at any rate, there can be no doubt.”

“Is it necessary to suppose that Lord Gerald was unaware that his nephew meant to attack him?”

“He’s a big strong man. He offered no resistance.”

“Is it certain that the wound was immediately fatal?”

“Absolutely certain.”

Verrey started.

“Those small cuts in his clothes,” he exclaimed. “Do you remember that when you showed them to me at the mortuary I suggested that a struggle had taken place?”

“My dear sir, they were bloodstained. The blood could only have come from the wound, which was immediately fatal. The cuts were therefore made after death.”

Again the detective looked nonplussed.

“Patrick probably brandished that pistol of his,” he said, “for we know that he threatened Miss Whinstone and her father with it. Perhaps he told his uncle that he was going to shoot him dead and covered him. That would render any struggle futile. All the old man could do would be to scribble a message. He was at his desk, don’t forget. That would give the murderer exactly the chance to strike which he was looking for.”

VERREY'S researches and discoveries struck Dr. Hailey as resembling closely those of a scientific man engaged on the study of a problem of disease. A material fact had been discovered, and a theory had been built on this fact which afforded an explanation of most of the observed phenomena. But his training as a physician warned him that though the probabilities were in favor of the detective, no final conclusion was justified.

“Look at the evidence as a whole, my dear doctor,” Verrey urged. “Take the attitude of Colonel Whinstone, for example. Why did he withdraw the consent he had already given to his daughter’s marriage to Patrick Glen? Money was not the deciding factor, because consent had been given in spite of, even in face of, Lord Gerald’s threat to disinherit his nephew. What was the deciding factor? Obviously Patrick Glen’s own attitude. He was going about with a pistol threatening to shoot people. No doubt Whinstone consulted Dr. Pendrith who had to admit that he, too, harbored doubts about the fellow’s sanity. There is further confirmation of this in Whinstone’s behavior after the murder. The expression you heard Miss Whinstone use, ‘You’re bound to be arrested tomorrow,’ was evidently borrowed from her father. The Colonel expected murder, and therefore expected the arrest of the murderer; his only mistake was that he underestimated the murderer’s cunning.

“Then, relations between Lord Gerald and his nephew. In some ways they were the relations of father and son. The old man loved Patrick dearly, as is attested by the will he made and by the fact that he pardoned the rascal Buckle his lapses into drunkenness, merely because Buckle had been Patrick’s batman in the war. That was a tremendous act of kindness when Lord Gerald’s views on alcohol are remembered; indeed it proves that the man’s affection for his nephew was as strong as his fanaticism. But the engagement to Miss Whinstone united affection and fanaticism against Patrick. Every instinct and every prejudice of Lord Gerald’s nature must have been roused to violent opposition when he realized that his nephew was about to marry the daughter of the most notorious drunkard in Sussex.”

Verrey paused. Dr. Hailey encouraged him with a little nod.

“There,” he remarked, “I think you are on solid ground. I feel quite sure that Jerry Glen regarded it as his most sacred duty to prevent that marriage.”

“Oh, there’s no denying that Lord Gerald was touched. Everyone who had anything to do with him knew that.”

Dr. Hailey rose.

“I confess, my dear fellow,” he said, “that you are exceedingly persuasive. Nevertheless, if I were you, I would not be in a hurry to take action.”

“Facts are facts.” Verrey picked up the key of the study, on to which the doctor had fitted the skeleton, and held it out in his open palm. “Here is something that can’t be waved aside.”

“No, no.” Dr. Hailey began to walk up and down the little room. “Your skeleton key is a fact, of course,” he said, in rather vague accents, “and every fact has its special and peculiar importance. But let us keep in touch, nevertheless, with the facts of life as well as with the facts of material things. Remember your own experiences, my dear Verrey. The days when you fell in love for the first time. I’ve seen a boy in the bewilderment of his first love affair develop an astonishing patience and tolerance with the friends who were exerting themselves to rescue him from his infatuation, and I’ve seen others whose restlessness drove them to all sorts of grotesque doings. But their surprise that others could not understand their necessity was not darkened by anger. All the world loves a lover, I think, because a lover loves all the world ...”

He broke off, a little out of breath. The detective eyed him coldly.

“What about the lover who poisons his wife in order to marry his mistress?” he asked.

“That is not the kind of love I’m thinking of.”

“It’s a common enough story. And after all, the lover risks his neck.”

The doctor was silent for a few moments:

“I don’t deny,” he said at last, “that in certain circumstances a great passion will not make a murderer of a man. But such circumstances invariably include an obstacle of some kind. The murder is committed solely because there is no other way in which passion can achieve its object. That condition does not hold here. Lord Gerald’s opposition did not, in fact, put an end to his nephew’s engagement.”

Verrey shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m afraid I take a less idealistic view of life,” he declared. “It seems to me that the loss of a large fortune is a disaster which many a man would seek to avoid by all the means in his power. Even lovers have their practical moments. The real question is whether or not Patrick Glen used this key. If he did, then he killed his uncle.”

DR. HAILEY occupied himself till dinner making a careful list of the events at Shawdon Hall on the morning of the murder.

After dinner, a thoroughly poor meal, he walked down the village street to Dr. Pendrith’s house. He found the doctor at home, seated alone in his consulting room with a cigar between his lips, a cup of coffee—the cup of an exquisite fineness—by his side. He was arrayed in a dinner coat.

“May I trespass once more on your goodness?” Dr. Hailey asked.

“I feel inclined, my dear fellow, to say thank Heaven you’ve come. Life is dull in the country after dark, you know. My wife always goes to bed at nine o’clock.” He rang the bell as he spoke and ordered coffee for his visitor without consulting his visitor’s wishes.

The manservant returned with another of his master’s exquisite coffee cups—they appeared to be sheathed in beaten gold—on a silver tray.

“What a charming service.”

“Ah, that’s Bohemian. The real thing. I bought these cups in Prague before the war. I doubt very much if I could replace them. I got a dozen liqueur glasses at the same time; they’re gilded first, as the cups are gilded. Which reminds me. Let me give you a Benedictine.”

“No, thank you.”

“A green chartreuse then?”

“No, no, please.”

“My dear fellow, as an excuse for showing you my glass. You can have Curacoa or Kummel, if you prefer it.”

Dr. Hailey hesitated.

“I usually drink brandy.”

“And I possess brandy which is at least, at least, mark you, a hundred years old. Waterloo brandy, you know.”

“Bring me a tumbler and a little water,” he ordered his servant.

He waited in eager expectation while his visitor raised the glass to his lips.

“Well?”

“Exquisite. It has the bouquet of a Chateau wine. I have never tasted such brandy.”

“The esters—the aromatic esters, my dear friend.”

“Yes. But what modern brandy—speaking relatively—possessed such a virtue?”

The servant returned. Dr. Pendrith poured a few drops of his precious spirit into the tumbler and added a few drops of water.

“Now taste that.”

“Good heavens!”

“The bouquet has gone?”

“Absolutely.”

“That’s the mystery. No, I don’t pretend to understand it. It seems, doesn’t it, as if a single drop of the common fluid is able to break the magic spell woven through all these years?”

Dr. Hailey took another sip of the undiluted brandy.

“I wish,” he said, “that every mystery could be resolved with as great ease. I’ve bothered you again, Pendrith, because, to make a long story short, things are beginning to look ugly for Patrick Glen, and because in my heart of hearts I don’t really trust that ugly appearance.”

“What!”


To be Continued