The Room with the Iron Shutters

Wherein the police mark their man and Death throws a new shadow over a tragic mystery

ANTHONY WYNNE February 15 1930

The Room with the Iron Shutters

Wherein the police mark their man and Death throws a new shadow over a tragic mystery

ANTHONY WYNNE February 15 1930

The problem: Lord Gerald Glen is found dead one morning, 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.” His heart has been pierced by a narrow knifelike instrument, of which there is 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 Colonel Whinstone, who states that Dr. Pendrith told him that Pat Glen was insane and that he himself had heard Glen threaten suicide on being refused permission to marry Pamela.

Verrey finds in Pat Glen’s desk a skeleton key which has obviously been used to open the study door from the outside.

Dr. Hailey takes up this new development in the case with Dr. Pendrith, The story continues:

CONSTERNATION rather than surprise was expressed in Dr. Pendrith’s tones.

“It is so.” Again Dr. Hailey sipped his brandy. "I’ll tell you about it in a moment, but before I do so I want to clear up a little matter which arose during an interview I had today with your patient, Colonel Whinstone. Whinstone, who was very drunk, virtually accused you of unprofessional conduct. He declared categorically that you had visited him for the express purpose of telling him that Patrick Glen was mad.”

Dr. Pendrith raised his glass of brandy to his lips and sipped slowly. He set the glass down and shook his head.

“I saw Whinstone this afternoon,” he said. “His wife told me about your visit and his ravings. I shall be surprised if he lives through tomorrow. There’s a case of a man utterly sodden with drink. He has a double aortic and a hugely dilated heart. He was raving when I saw him.”

Dr. Hailey nodded agreement. “I told Verrey his statements were grotesque. But you know what these Scotland Yard men are. For all their veneer of science their minds move along curiously conventional lines. Verrey seemed to think it the most natural thing in the world that a doctor should run about breaking his professional oath and making slanderous statements about his patients into the bargain.”

“In point of fact I have never discussed Patrick Glen with Whinstone and I have never attended Patrick Glen professionally. Mrs. Whinstone spoke to me about him the other day. She was upset, naturally, about the opposition of Lord Gerald to her daughter’s marriage, but she told me that her husband had not withdrawn his consent. I heard today, however, that he did withdraw his consent just before the murder.”

“Yes. So he told us.”

“When his present drinking bout began, in other words. Poor devil, he’s one of the best fellows in the world when he steadies up, and one of the most unpleasant when he lets go.” Dr. Pendrith sighed. “His pulse was 130 when I left him. It’s obvious that his heart is giving out. I promised to see him again before midnight.”

Dr. Hailey finished his brandy and set his eyeglass in his eye. He told his companion about the discoveries which Verrey had made and gave him an account of the theory that the detective had built up on his discoveries.

“My chief reason for troubling you,” he said, “was to learn what you think of Patrick Glen. You know him better than most other people.”

“Frankly, I like him.”

“So do I.”

“He’s a bit of a mystery, I admit. And he had a reputation as a woman hater and a cynic. But I happen to know that he’s a good-hearted fellow. I think that his love affair with Pamela Whinstone has swept him off his feet for the time being. That’s apt to happen to men of his type.”

“Exactly my own conclusion. Unfortunately, Verrey has this wretched skeleton key to oppose to any psychological consideration. Armed with that he’s prepared to take his chance against the whole faculty.” The doctor drew a deep breath. “One can’t blame him. Somebody must have entered and left the study and the skeleton key offers a reasonable explanation of the manner in which the murderer got away.”

Dr. Pendrith started.

“No, it doesn’t. By heavens, Hailey, I’ve just remembered. Lord Gerald’s spectacles were lying immediately behind the study door. I had to warn Bridget Glen to pick them up before she opened the door, or they would have been smashed. The door can’t have been opened by a fraction of an inch after Lord Gerald fell. Had it been opened the spectacles would have been pushed back.”

“Absolutely.” Dr. Hailey’s eyeglass fell from his eye. He leaned forward, making no attempt to hide his excitement. “You’re quite sure?”

“Quite. I distinctly remember telling Bridget to pick up the spectacles. She’ll corroborate what I say.”

“My dear fellow, what a stroke of good luck. The spectacles couldn’t have been pushed under the door, by any chance?”

“No, no. Shawdon Hall’s about the best built house in Sussex. You could hardly push a sheet of notepaper under any of its doors.”

DR. HAILEY accompanied Dr. Pendrith to the Dyke to visit Colonel Whinstone. He sent a message to Bridget Glen, asking her to receive him when the consultation was over. Whinstone had lost ground since the morning and lay in a semi-comatose state, plucking aimlessly at the coverings of his bed. He did not appear to notice the arrival of the doctors.

“I was afraid to give him anything really strong,” Dr. Pendrith stated. “He’s only had a half-grain opium pill. I don’t see that we can risk anything further tonight.”

“No.” Dr. Hailey felt the man’s pulse, which was weak and thready. “You’ve cut off his alcohol?”

“Yes, absolutely. It’s his only chance.”

They descended to the room in which the interview with Verrey had taken place. Mrs. Whinstone awaited them.

"It’s very good of you to come,” she said to Dr. Hailey, “especially after the terrible scene this morning. I was unable to tell you then that my husband was not in possession of his senses. All that rubbish about Patrick.”

“Pendrith has been telling me.”

“The boy may have brought a pistol to the house, but if so I never saw it. He had one or two interviews alone with my husband. But you can trust nothing poor Philip says.”

Mrs. Whinstone retained her calmness in spite of the distress under which she was laboring. Dr. Hailey reassured her.

“I am far from sharing Colonel Whinstone’s ideas about Mr. Glen,” he declared.

“I was afraid you would take all he said seriously. My poor husband is wonderfully convincing, even when he is scarcely aware of what he is saying. So far as I know he has no knowledge whatever about Patrick’s doings, though he is naturally grieved at what has happened.”

Mrs. Whinstone pronounced the word “grieved” with a shake of her head. It was a word, evidently, which was frequently on her lips, and Dr. Hailey could not help picturing the uses to which she must have put it in her dealings with her husband. Was it her readiness to become grieved which had driven him, in the first instance, to strong drink?

“Mrs. Whinstone,” he confessed to Dr. Pendrith, as they drove toward Shawdon Hall, “is one of those women who inspire me with terror.”

“I know. She has the same effect on everyone—except the vicar.” Dr. Pendrith shrugged his shoulders. “The type was common enough thirty years ago. Self-righteousness without mercy or understanding. Her father was a wealthy stockbroker with a big house in Kensington. His one idea seems to have been to marry his daughters to landowners. I believe she was a pretty girl when Whinstone married her.”

“What sort of girl is Pamela?”

“She’s her father’s daughter. If she ever had a will of her own her mother extinguished it long ago. And yet there’s a something ...” Dr. Pendrith hesitated a moment. “The old man took to drink,” he said at last, “as soon as he could manage it. Pamela took to love affairs. She has the reputation of being what Americans call ‘boy crazy.’ I rather think, though, that Patrick Glen has effected a cure of that ailment. I’ve heard nothing of her doings for some months.”

Dr. Hailey nodded.

“Just the type to attract him. A girl he can dominate, but never feel absolutely sure of. I take it she’s pretty.”

“Very.”

BRIDGET GLEN was waiting for them. She displayed an admirable restraint in spite of the anxiety she was enduring.

“My brother,” she stated, “has not communicated with me in any way. But I feel sure he’ll soon let me know where he is. After all, he made a full statement to Inspector Verrey.”

Dr. Hailey asked her if she remembered any circumstance attending her unlocking of the study door.

“The question, as it happens,” he explained, “has acquired a peculiar significance.”

“I noticed that the lock was rather stiff.”

“Before that?”

The girl’s pleasant face became troubled.

“Before that? Before that I had taken my uncle’s pulse . . . and told Dr. Pendrith that I thought I felt a flicker. Then I watched him doing artificial respiration . . . He discovered the wound ... I felt rather faint. Oh, yes, and then Dr. Pendrith called to me that Uncle Gerald’s spectacles were lying on the floor behind the door.”

“Ah, you remember that?”

Bridget looked surprised.

“Quite well. I picked up the spectacles and put them on the desk.”

“Where were they lying?”

“Just behind the door.”

“You’re quite sure of that?”

“Absolutely sure. Come to the study and I’ll show you. The spectacles are in one of the drawers of the desk.”

When they entered the room Bridget closed the door. Dr. Hailey bent down and satisfied himself that the aperture under the door was much too narrow to allow of the passage of any object thicker than a piece of paper. The girl brought the spectacles and laid them on the floor, immediately behind the door.

“That’s where they were lying.”

“Do you agree, Pendrith?”

“I do, indeed.”

Dr. Hailey put his hand on the door handle and moved the door slowly and gently. The spectacles were pushed across the floor by the action.

“You see,” Dr. Pendrith said, “you can’t open the door without displacing them. If anybody had left the room by the door after the murder the spectacles could not have been lying, as they were lying, against the door.”

“Did the butler, Buckle, observe them?” Dr. Hailey asked Bridget.

“I can’t really say. But we can ask him.”

She rang the bell. A moment later Buckle entered the room.

The butler looked uneasy, but maintained his professional gravity. He stood awaiting orders.

“You told me,” Dr. Hailey said to him, “that you didn’t notice whether or not Miss Bridget unlocked this door when she left the room after his lordship’s death?”

“That is so, sir. I didn’t notice because I was leaning over his lordship’s body at the moment.”

“Did you hear Dr. Pendrith speak to Miss Bridget?”

Buckle contracted his brow. He shook his head and then suddenly exclaimed:

“Oh, yes, I heard the doctor tell Miss Bridget to be careful of his lordship’s spectacles.”

“What did the doctor say?”

“He said the spectacles were lying behind the door and that if the door was opened they would be broken.” “Did you see the spectacles?”

“No, sir.”

Dr. Hailey picked up the spectacles and handed them to the butler.

“Do you recognize them?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, they’re his lordship’s.”

“How do you know?”

“He always wore these gold spectacles. I’ve often brought them to him.”

When Buckle had gone away Bridget asked why so much trouble had been taken to verify the point.

“It has been suggested that the door may have been opened after your uncle’s death.”

“I see. And the door cannot have been opened?”

“Exactly.”

As they were leaving the house a telephone call from his house summoned Dr. Pendrith to an urgent case. Dr. Hailey refused to be taken back to the village in the doctor’s car and set out alone on foot. He had not walked far from the house before he heard quick steps behind him. He turned to meet Bridget.

“May I come with you a little way, doctor?”

“We can talk here.”

The girl caught her breath.

“I feel I cannot bear this suspense any longer,” she cried. “Ever since Pat left me I’ve been in torture.” She put her hand on Dr. Hailey’s arm, grasping it strongly. “Say that the police don’t suspect Pat,” she whispered.

“It isn’t a question of suspicion. It’s a question of proof.”

“That means that they do suspect him. I felt sure of it. But it’s monstrous. Pat’s incapable of hurting anybody on earth.”

Her breath came in short gasps.

“So I believe.”

“What, you don’t agree with the police? Oh, I’m so glad!”

The doctor turned back and they walked slowly toward the house.

“My friend Inspector Verrey,” he said, “has his duty to perform. That duty is to find the murderer of your uncle. Certain facts have come to his notice which seem to implicate your brother. He must give full weight to these facts. But everything depends on the door of the study. If the door was not, in fact, opened after your uncle’s death, then Verrey’s case falls to the ground.”

“And we know that it wasn’t opened?”

Irrepressible relief inspired the girl’s tones.

“Yes.”

“I can’t thank you enough.”

Dr. Hailey remained silent for a few moments.

“You may be able to help me very much,” he said at last, “if you tell me quite frankly all that you know of the dispute between your brother and your uncle.”

Bridget hesitated. They reached the Hall and she invited the doctor to re-enter. She led him to the study and closed the door behind her.

“I have been terrified to speak about that matter,” she confessed, “because to say that anybody in these last few days quarrelled with my uncle was to throw suspicion on him. That was why I refused to tell you anything. But what you’ve just said alters everything. It is quite true that Pat and Uncle Jerry had a serious quarrel. Pat. was determined to marry Pamela Whinstone. Uncle Jerry would not consent because of Colonel Whinstone’s drunkenness.

“Your uncle threatened to disinherit your brother, didn’t he?”

The girl nodded.

“Yes. He was to have gone to see his lawyer about it on the day he died.”

“To make a new will?”

“I suppose so.”

“Do you think he was really in earnest? People threaten sometimes without meaning to fulfill their threats.”

“Oh, yes, he was in earnest. It was a matter of conscience with him. You know how he used to talk about his scientific conscience. What he said to Pat was: ‘You’re committing a crime against your unborn children. There’s a tendency toward alcoholism in our own family, and Whinstone is a dipsomaniac. Your children will be tainted. Not only must I not consent to such a crime; I must oppose it. I can only oppose it by washing my hands of you’!”

Bridget paused. Her eyes were sorely troubled, and it was evident that she had shared all her brother’s distress.

“Pat sent for me to come home,” she added. “You know that I'm studying medicine at Henry’s Hospital?” “Yes, I know. So your brother was very much upset?”

“He was upset, but not in the way I expected. Pat’s not a child and he knows the world. Till he fell in love with Pamela he was the coolest, most self-possessed man I’ve ever known. People called him a woman-hater. He was cynical, not in an affected way, but because that was how his mind worked. I thought he would be horrified at the idea of being penniless. No, that idea didn’t seem to have entered his thoughts. The only thing that was worrying him was whether or not he was playing fair by Pamela.”

Bridget caught her breath.

“He was dreadfully excited on that subject. He asked me every conceivable sort of question about alcoholism and about our family taint—I hadn’t even known that we had a taint—and wanted me to assure him that Uncle Jerry was wrong. Naturally I couldn’t do that right away. I asked Uncle Jerry, however, to tell me exactly what the taint in our family was. He said our father, his brother, had been a drunkard, and that he himself had drunk too much as a young man. His father, too, had died of D.T.’s. I tried to argue that that history was not very serious, but he only got angry with me. ‘Look at Whinstone,’ he kept saying, ‘and ask yourself if it is not a crime to unite his blood to ours.’ Pat went up to London and consulted Sir Andrew Bridge: Sir Andrew knows Uncle Jerry. He said he could see no danger and laughed at the idea that there was any true dipsomania in either of the families. ‘Your uncle,’ he remarked to Pat, ‘isn’t a doctor. Don’t worry about his opinions.’ Pat told Uncle Jerry after that that he had decided to marry Pamela ...”

Dr. Hailey raised his hand.

“Just a moment. Did your uncle know that your brother was going to see Sir Andrew Bridge?”

“No. It was I who advised the consultation.”

“But the fact that the consultation had taken place was mentioned to your uncle?”

“Oh, yes. It didn’t influence him in the slightest.”

“Was your brother very angry?”

“No, he wasn’t.” The girl caught her breath again. “Considering how terribly worked up he was, he was wonderfully patient and considerate. He said how sorry he was to cause his best friend so much distress and that he hoped that, in the long run, what he was going to do would prove its own justification. It was Uncle Jerry who lost his self-control. He made himself so ill with his anger that I had to send for Dr. Pendrith.”

“Ah! So that was the piece of professional knowledge which Pendrith refused to disclose?”

Dr. Halley smiled as he spoke. It pleased him to think that his professional brother had been faithful to his duty. The ridiculous character of Colonel Whinstone’s statement appeared now in its true light.

“Did your uncle tell Dr. Pendrith what had upset him?” he asked.

“I don’t know. The doctor told me that he found my uncle in a state of over-excitement and that he had advised him to give up work for a day or two, so I fancy he didn’t tell him.”

“You mean he thought your uncle was doing too much hospital business?”

Bridget nodded.

“He mentioned something about a new department at Henry’s. My uncle, as probably you know, built the Light Treatment Institute there and spent an enormous amount of time and labor on it.”

“I know. He had made himself an expert. It’s pretty clear, don’t you think, that he didn’t tell Dr. Pendrith the real cause of his distress?” The doctor repressed a sigh. “Pendrith’s advice wasn’t much use, then?”

“Not much. He sent some medicine—bromide—and that seemed to steady Uncle Jerry’s nerves. But all the same, whenever Pat appeared he got terribly jumpy. I’m sure he was horrified at the idea of turning Pat out of the house, and yet his conscience wouldn’t let him change his mind.”

“I didn’t know that your brother had been turned out of the house?” Dr. Hailey said in tones of astonishment.

“He was given a week to get his things together. I think he would have been paid six months’ salary as well, but that hadn’t been settled. Pat, I’m afraid, hadn’t saved anything.”

The doctor’s brows contracted. It had not occurred to him that Patrick Glen had been in real financial straits. For a man on the eve of his married life the prospect must have been a black one. He faced Bridget squarely.

“There’s another question. Your brother seems to have been in possession of a pistol. I saw him myself with a pistol in his hand ...”

He broke off because Bridget had grown pale. He put his hand on her shoulder.

“I know nothing about that,” she exclaimed in tones of fear.

“It was probably an old army pistol. He must have possessed one.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Can you explain why he should have behaved in that way?”

There was a moment of silence. The girl slowly recovered herself.

“I think I understand why,” she said in tones that were little more than a whisper. “Pat told me that he felt that if he lost Pamela he didn’t wish to live. He told me quite calmly that if he lost her he would . . . die. I didn’t allow myself to think what he meant exactly, but I was dreadfully frightened. He was so . . . so cool about it, so matter-of-fact. I expect he told Pamela the same thing. I had an impression that he was being burned by a cold fire that he had no power to control. I almost felt that with one side of his nature he didn’t wish to be in love with Pamela. Something stronger than himself had overwhelmed him and was carrying him away . . . like a man being swept away by the tide. In that mood he might threaten to shoot himself, mightn’t he? It wouldn’t be just bluff.”

“I feel sure that it wasn’t just bluff. From the first I’ve thought that we were dealing with that very rare thing ... a great passion. That kind of passion which blinds and breaks and, if it is thwarted, destroys. You can call that excess of emotion by any name you please; it remains one of the facts of life. It happens.”

Bridget inclined her head.

“It has happened to Pat,” she said. “That is exactly what has happened to him.”

The telephone bell began to buzz. Bridget answered it. Her face became very grave as she listened.

“It’s another call for Dr. Pendrith,” she said. “They thought he might still be here. Colonel Whinstone is desperately ill.”

DR. HAILEY took the receiver from Bridget and offered to return to the Dyke until Dr. Pendrith could be found. His offer was accepted thankfully by Mrs. Whinstone.

“He’s terribly weak,” the poor woman stated, “and he looks so dreadfully ill that I’m afraid ...” she broke off.

“I’ll come now.”

He left Bridget with a promise to return the following day. The night air revived his flagging wits and cleared his thoughts. In spite of all the information he had obtained, in spite of Verrey’s observations and deductions, the problem of Lord Gerald’s death, he saw, was no whit nearer a solution. The position of the spectacles behind the door ruled the door out as the murderer’s way of exit from the study. In face of that certainty even the skeleton key lost its importance. Possibly Patrick had possessed the skeleton, possibly he had tried to use it. But the door had not been opened after the spectacles fell behind it. After the first sense of satisfaction that Verrey could not, in face of this evidence, charge Patrick with the murder, came a renewed sense of bewilderment. What was the secret of the room with the iron shutters?

Mrs. Whinstone was with her husband when Dr. Hailey reached the Dyke. She came forward to the bedroom door to meet him and conducted him to the bed.

“He seemed to grow much worse about half an hour ago,” she said in a whisper. “I thought he had become unconscious, but he’s just spoken to me.”

The doctor walked to the bed and sat down beside it. Colonel Whinstone’s face was bloated, and his breathing seemed to be exceedingly labored. His pulse, however, was of fairly good volume.

“Well,” Dr. Hailey asked, “how are you?”

“Rotten . . .” The sick man moved his head round and tried to shuffle himself nearer to the doctor. “If I could have a drink, old man,” he whispered, “I’d be all right. Only a short one. It’s this accursed thirst ...”

“We’ll see what can be done.”

Dr. Hailey turned round. Mrs. Whinstone was standing immediately behind him.

“Dr. Pendrith said he was to have nothing,” she declared in tones of finality.

“Pendrith’s a fool.” With a great effort Colonel Whinstone raised himself to a sitting posture. He glared angrily at his wife. “It isn’t Pendrith,” he cried. “It’s you. You’d do me out of a drink on my deathbed because of your theories. You’re another Jerry Glen, that’s what you are. But I’m going to have a drink. Do you hear, I’m going to have a drink. Ring the bell.”

“Please try to control yourself, dear.”

“Did Pendrith give this order or did you give it?”

“Dr. Pendrith gave it.”

“I don’t believe you. The day he came here to tell me Patrick Glen was mad he urged me to have a drink with him. You weren’t in the room, thank goodness. Ring the bell.”

“No, dear.”

“Pendrith told me I mustn’t knock off too quick. Said it might bring on D.T’s. Where’s Pendrith?”

Colonel Whinstone’s eyes gazed blankly at Dr. Hailey, who had retired a few paces from the bed.

“He’s been called out to a serious case.”

“Send for him. He’ll give me a drink, anyhow.”

Mrs. Whinstone tried to put her hand on her husband’s brow, but he pushed her away. She came to Dr. Hailey.

“What am I to do? Dr. Pendrith did say that he was to have no more alcohol.”

“I think you had better obey your doctor.”

The room was in semi-darkness; a lamp with a green shade was burning on a table near the bed. Mrs. Whinstone went to it and moved it farther away. Then she returned to Dr. Hailey. After a few moments the patient fell back on his pillows.

“I fancy,” the doctor said, “that it would be better to leave him alone. In his present state we are only likely to irritate him.”

They left the roon., closing the door behind them. Dr. Hailey listened for a few moments, and then followed Mrs. Whinstone down stairs.

“If it will be any comfort to you,” he said, “I’ll remain here till Pendrith comes. I rather fancy that he was called to a confinement and so it may be well on in the morning before he can get away.”

“Oh, please, I should be so grateful. You’ll go to bed, of course.”

“I think so. And I think you should lie down, too.”

“No, no, I must wait with him.”

“My dear Mrs. Whinstone, his brain is so irritable that your mere presence in the room excites him. I fancy that he’ll sleep now ... if he’s left alone. His pulse is excellent, so I don’t think there’s anything to be feared for the present. You’ll need all your strength later.”

Mrs. Whinstone pressed her hands wearily to her brow. Her world was falling to pieces and she was not the woman to rebuild it.

“Everything seems to have come at once,” she moaned. “Pamela has sent no message. It’s too awful to think of her at the mercy of that dreadful man.”

“I should not allow myself to worry too much about her.”

“What, when she’s run away with a madman!”

“Patrick Glen isn’t mad. I’ve seen Dr. Pendrith tonight and he has assured me that that story is only a product of your husband’s imagination. He never told your husband that Patrick Glen was mad.”

Mrs. Whinstone sat erect.

“My husband said he was carrying a pistol.”

“I think that may have been true, but it doesn’t prove that he was mad.”

“What?”

“It’s a little difficult to explain, but I think the truth is that Patrick Glen was so violently in love with your daughter that the prospect of losing her shook his self-control. He couldn’t bear the idea of life without her. That is equivalent to saying that he was hypnotized by the idea of suicide. Such cases are not common, but they occur.”

A smile of cold pity curled Mrs. Whinstone’s thin lips. Madness apparently she could believe in, even respect; but the idea that love was capable of driving anyone to desperate action was so foreign to her mind as to be ridiculous.

“I confess that I don’t understand.”

“Emotion is always hard to understand unless one is experiencing it oneself. Think of the effect on your daughter of the sight of that pistol.”

Mrs. Whinstone started.

“Did he show the pistol to Pamela?”

“Yes.”

“To force her to run away with him?”

“Yes.”

“If he’s not mad he’s a scoundrel, surely?”

“Or a man desperately in love.”

The woman shook her head. Her mouth had hardened.

“I’m afraid I can’t make these distinctions,” she exclaimed. ‘I’ve always believed that people ought to control themselves.”

Dr. Hailey adjusted his eyeglass.

“No doubt,” he said deliberately, “that is the safest course.”

He emphasized the word “safest.” Mrs. Whinstone flushed.

“You don’t agree with me?”

“It isn’t a matter of agreeing. Either one is desperately in love or one is not desperately in love. There are emotions which drive both men and women to ruin.

Happily, perhaps, only a few men and women are capable of experiencing such emotions ...”

“We have conscience to guide us in these matters, Dr. Hailey.”

“May not conscience be on the side of love?”

Mrs. Whinstone’s face assumed an expression which the doctor had not seen before.

“Perhaps I’m in a better position than you to judge,” she said. “When I was a girl I believed myself to be in love with a man of whom my parents disapproved. Had I married him, I would have caused them great distress, though I might have pleased myself.”

The eyeglass fell from Dr. Hailey’s eye.

“You won’t misunderstand me,” he said, “if I say that I think you were wrong.”

“The man I cared for had dissolute habits.”

“What does that matter if you loved him?”

Silence fell between them. In the silence the doctor saw Mrs. Whinstone begin to weep. He left her and walked to a bookcase which stood against one of the walls. He began to read the titles of the books mechanically. Little Women and Good Wives, Stepping Heavenward, Self Help, Eric, or Little by Little. He turned round to say that he thought of going to bed.

“The man I cared for was Lord Gerald Glen,” she told him in low tones. “After I refused to marry him he changed completely. He said that any good he had been able to do in the world was the result of my refusal.”

DR. HAILEY lay awake thinking about Mrs. Whinstone and Lord Gerald. He knew now that what had sustained the woman in her adversity was the belief that her sacrifice of happiness had given the world a good man. She had not evidently allowed herself to think how much better Lord Gerald might have been had she married him.

Was it her refusal years before, which had chiefly prompted her lover to refuse his consent to her daughter’s marriage? There was Lord Gerald’s fanaticism, of course, and Colonel Whinstone’s drunkenness. But even fanatics show sometimes a remarkable elasticity of conscience. Mrs. Whinstone’s people had denied Lord Gerald his happiness; had he seized the chance which time had given him to revenge himself on Mrs. Whinstone’s daughter? If so, his action had probably been unconscious in its origins. The man had surely persuaded himself that he was listening to the voice of his scientific conscience. What of the woman? Had she, too, vaguely realized the truth? He thought it might be so, since clearly she had continued to love Lord Gerald till his life’s end. If only he had threatened her with a pistol as Patrick Glen had threatened her daughter! There, in his acceptance of her refusal lay the truth and the tragedy of Lord Gerald’s life. He had blamed on alcohol his own lack of strong emotion and made science of necessity. Alcohol had come to represent in his mind his personal inadequacy. Since we are all concerned to cover up our deficiencies or to excuse them or even to glory in them, the scientific conscience had developed as the direct outcome of the lover’s faint heart. Men who have made compromises of this sort with their weakness are invariably bullies. Dr. Hailey recalled that Lord Gerald had been reputed at Henry’s Hospital a bad-tempered man whose severity toward those under him was often merciless. He had never spared a sinner whose punishment lay in his hands.

The doctor’s mind was moving along this line of approach to the problem of Lord Gerald’s death when he fell asleep. He was wakened by a loud knocking on His door. The room was full of sunlight. He sat up and invited the servant to enter. A maidservant with a white face came into the room.

“Please, doctor, Mrs. Whinstone says will you come quick. The colonel isn’t in ’is bedroom.”

“What!”

“The colonel, sir, has disappeared. We can’t find ’im nowhere.”

“Tell your mistress I’ll come at once.”

Dr. Hailey dressed quickly. He found Mrs. Whinstone in her husband’s bedroom gazing with terrified eyes at an empty bed. The shock she had suffered seemed to have deprived her for the moment of the power of clear thought.

“What has happened?”

“He’s gone.”

The doctor waited until her scattered wits should be gathered. He observed that there were no signs of disorder in the bedroom.

“I lay down for a little while,” Mrs. Whinstone said at last, “because he seemed to be sleeping quietly. When I woke it was daylight. I came into the room and found the bed empty ...” She broke off, passing her hand quickly across her brow. “The doors are all locked and the windows are all bolted. He can’t have left the house.”

“What about the wine cellar?”

“No, we’ve searched there. He isn’t there. Besides, I locked the cellar last night and took the key away.”

“Is there any other place where he could hide a supply of whisky?”

“I don’t think so.”

“In his sitting room, for example?”

“I don’t think so.”

Dr. Hailey descended the stairs and told a servant, whom he met in the hall, to take him to the smoking room. The room was dingy, in spite of the bright morning sunlight which filled it. His attention fastened instantly on a big cupboard at the far end of the room. He came to it and opened the door. Colonel Whinstone was lying huddled up on the floor inside.

He bent down and felt the man’s pulse. It was beating feebly. But the features were pale and lifeless and the breathing was scarcely audible. He turned to the maid, who stood watching him with horrified eyes.

“I shall want somebody to help me to carry him back to his bedroom,” he said “There’s the gardener.”

“Go and tell him.”

The doctor moved his patient to a less huddled position. He took a pillow from one of the smoky old armchairs and put it under his head. Then he glanced along the shelves of the cupboard, which were laden with piles of paper and old periodicals. He stepped over Colonel Whinstone’s body and passed his hand along one of the shelves, behind the papers. His hand encountered a bottle.

The bottle was half full of brandy. He opened it and rubbed a little of the spirit on his patient’s lips. Then, very carefully, he allowed a few drops to trickle into the man’s mouth. But there was no response to this treatment. Again he felt the pulse. It had grown sensibly weaker. He thrust back the door of the cupboard for more light. The sunlight fell on Colonel Whinstone’s face and revealed the intimate pallor of death. The doctor bent down and rubbed more brandy on the fading lips. He opened the man’s night-wear and began to massage his heart. The last faint hue of life seemed to vanish from the skin.

The gardener, who had apparently been summoned at an earlier hour to look for his master, hurried into the room. But Dr. Hailey waved him back.

“We daren’t lift him just now. Tell Mrs. Whinstone to come here, and ring up Dr. Pendrith’s house. Say that if he has returned home he must come at once and bring strychnine with him. Don’t forget—strychnine.”

“Very good, sir.”

Dr. Hailey felt the pulse again. It was almost impalpable, a mere trickle like a thread under his finger. He left his patient and pulled down the blind, for the sun was shining directly into the room. Then he made a further application of brandy to the lips. The flickering pulse seemed to strengthen slightly. Mrs. Whinstone came to his side. An exclamation of horror broke from her lips as she saw her husband.

“Is he dead?” she cried.

“No.”

“Oh, dear, he looks dreadfully ill.”

The doctor continued his labors, and was rewarded by a small improvement of the breathing and pulse.

“If he rallies a little, we can take him upstairs,” he said, “but I’m afraid to move him at present. Unhappily I have no strychnine, but I’ve sent an urgent call to Pendrith telling him to bring some. The response to brandy is very poor.”

Mrs. Whinstone was mastering herself.

“Was the brandy in the cupboard?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I used to wonder if he had a private supply. It can’t be expected to have much effect, I suppose.”

She stood looking down at her husband with a curious, distant expression in her eyes. The years of their married life had not united them, and this dreadful end was little calculated to awaken any kindly feelings she may have cherished.

“Had he gone into the cupboard?” she asked.

“Yes, and shut the door behind him. He seems to have collapsed before he found the bottle because it hadn’t been uncorked.”

“He can’t have been drunk then.”

“No. It’s difficult to understand why he should have shut the door.”

Mrs. Whinstone sighed.

“I suppose to hide himself from prying eyes.”

The gardener returned to say that Dr. Pendrith was on his way.

“He had left home to come here before I rang up, so I couldn’t give your message about the strychnine,” the man stated.

“Probably he carries it about with him.”

Again Dr. Hailey took the pulse. It was distinctly stronger.

“It looks as if he was going to pull round. But I don’t want to move him till Pendrith arrives. In the condition he’s in now he might collapse again at any moment.” The doctor stood erect. He waited for the gardener to leave the room and then asked, “Was last night the first occasion on which you had locked the cellar?”

“Oh, no.”

“Did he know you had locked it?”

“Yes, I told him.”

“So this was his own way of getting a drink?”

‘Yes. He must have brought the bottle home himself.”

“Has he ever collapsed in this fashion before?”

“Never.”

“He wasn’t like this when you sent for Pendrith last night?”

“Oh, no, he was just dreadfully drunk then, I think. He had been drinking steadily all day till I locked up the cellar.”

“Pendrith told me he thought something of the kind would happen.”

They heard the hum of a car approaching the house. A moment later Dr. Pendrith came briskly into the room. He glanced at Mrs. Whinstone in a silent greeting, and at once knelt beside his patient and felt his pulse.

“He’s rallied a little?” he asked Dr. Hailey.

“I think so. He was in extremis.”

“I’ll give him a sixtieth.”

Dr. Pendrith rose and asked Mrs. Whinstone for a little water and a teaspoon. When she left the room to get what he wanted Dr. Hailey informed him of the circumstances of the case.

“He had a private supply of whisky down here, and must have come down to get it after dawn, seeing that he shut the cupboard door behind him. He would scarcely have shut the door unless it had been daylight and in any case the lights in the room were not lit.”

“I told his wife to lock the cellar. I thought that enforced abstinence was his only chance.”

“Quite.”

“As soon as I give him the strychnine we’ll move him upstairs. It’s a chance not to be missed, because I don’t believe that with his heart in its present state he can hold out for long. Have you listened to his heart?”

“No.”

Mrs. Whinstone returned. Dr. Pendrith took a case from his pocket and extracted a small glass tube. He examined the tube carefully and then handed it to Dr. Hailey.

“That is strychnine, isn’t it?” he asked. “My eyes are blurred from want of sleep.”

“Oh, yes.”

Dr. Pendrith uncorked the tube and shook one of the pellets into the teaspoon. Then he took a silver box from his pocket and opened it. The box contained a glass hypodermic syringe. He fitted a needle to the syringe and filled it from the glass of water. He expelled the water into the teaspoon. Dr. Hailey had bared Colonel Whinstone’s arm. Dr. Pendrith rubbed the skin with a swab soaked in iodine which he had brought with him. He refilled the syringe with the dissolved strychnine in the teaspoon and knelt beside his patient. He pinched up a fold of skin where the iodine had darkened it and injected the strychnine. He put his finger on the puncture, after he withdrew the needle and kept it there for a few moments. Dr. Hailey announced that the pulse had improved slightly.

“Is his bed ready?” Dr. Pendrith asked Mrs. Whinstone.

“Oh, yes.”

“I should like a hot bottle in the bed.”

“Very well.”

The gardener was summoned again, and he and the two doctors carried the patient upstairs and laid him in his bed. The sunlight in the bedroom showed that his cheeks were still bloodless. Dr. Hailey felt his pulse and at once began again to massage his heart.

“Another collapse.”

“Shall I give him more strychnine?”

“I don’t know.”

“Good heavens—he’s going, old man.”

Both doctors rubbed at the patient’s chest. Mrs. Whinstone entered the room with a hot water bottle. She uttered a cry of dismay and dropped the bottle on the floor. The gurgling sound which it emitted mingled with the sound of the air passing to and fro between her husband’s lips as the doctors continued their artificial respiration.

Dr. Hailey felt the pulse once more.

“I can’t detect it,” he said.

He stood back from the bed a little way to allow his colleague to apply his ear to the patient’s chest. Dr. Pendrith raised his head slowly from that examination. He faced Mrs. Whinstone.

“I fear it’s all over.”

THE next morning Dr. Hailey slept late. When he entered his sitting room he found Inspector Verrey waiting for him.

“You had a night call, I hear?” Verrey said.

“Yes.”

“Poor old devil! He had a bad look, hadn’t he?” The detective waved his hand, signifying by the gesture the frailty of all human life. “I’ll talk to you while you have your breakfast. Things are moving at last.”

A servant entered with poached eggs on toast and coffee on a big silver tray. The doctor sat down at the table and began to help himself. The heavy hotel plate shone in the morning sun and the dishes, thicker and more substantial in their proportions than those belonging to any private house, invited by their spotless cleanliness.

“Friend Sapling keeps a clean table. I suppose he’s got the news of poor Whinstone’s death?”

“Rather. It was from him that I heard it. He professes to think that it may be connected, ‘as the sayin’ is,’ with Lord Gerald’s death.”

“He would. How does he relate it, did he tell you, to his suspicions about the butler?”

Verrey shrugged his shoulders.

“I put my case before the chief,” he said. “He thinks it’s good enough to follow up. We’re looking for Patrick Glen now.”

The doctor offered no comment. Breakfast was a meal which he liked to eat in comfort of mind with no companion but his newspaper. If he told Verrey about the spectacles a lively discussion would instantly follow. He unfolded The Times, glanced at it, and laid it on the table beside him, hoping that the hint would be taken. But the detective was too excited to relinquish his idea.

“Sapling tells me,” he said, “that Lord Gerald had a very bad temper. The people here were afraid of him. He seems to have known how to put the fear of God into them.”

“I think that’s probably true.”

“For all his philanthropy he was an autocrat, too. Anybody who crossed him suffered for it. I expect his nephew had to listen to some plain speaking.”

“No doubt.”

“And being a Glen himself, he probably resented it.”

The doctor finished his eggs and raised his coffee cup to his lips. Then he buttered a slice of the crisp toast and reached for the marmalade pot. His eyes caught the headline, “The Shawdon Mystery,” in the open newspaper.

“Have the journalistic sleuths made any fresh discoveries?” he asked in casual tones.

“None.”

“They seem to be busy.”

“Oh, they’re all here now. This is the news story of the day. I believe most of them favor the idea that Patrick Glen is the culprit. Sapling’s eloquence hasn’t made any converts among them.”

“The Times says that so far as is known, the police remain without a solution.”

Dr. Hailey finished his breakfast and rose from the table. His face expressed the annoyance he felt that he must interrupt the process of digestion by argument. He took a large pinch of snuff and Sat down in an armchair. After a few minutes silence he told Verrey what he had discovered.

“The door of the study,” he concluded, “cannot therefore have been opened after the murder was committed.”

“Unless the spectacles were pushed into position by means of something thrust under the door for that purpose.”

“That idea naturally occurred to me. It can be dismissed. Nothing can have been thrust under the door.

“Not a thin wire?”

The detective spoke calmly, but the rising tide of his exasperation and disappointment affected his tones.

“Not even that. The door fits perfectly. In addition, there’s a piece of wood nailed to the floor to exclude draughts. I was unable, when the door was closed, to pass a sheet of paper under it.”

Verrey jumped up.

“But, my dear sir, there’s the skeleton key. Do you really suggest that it has played no part in this business?”

“The door may have been unlocked. That it was not opened is certain.”

“Oh, really you know, doctor, the murderer left the room somehow.”

“Yes. But not by the door.”

“He didn’t leave by the windows. That’s beyond question.”

“No.”

“Nor by the floor nor by the chimney, nor by the ceiling, nor by the walls. We can give positive answers to all those suppositions. Therefore he must have left by the door in spite of your spectacles. He must have done.”

Verrey’s tones were charged with protest. His face had flushed somewhat and the vehemence of his manner made it evident that he meant to fight for his theory. The doctor regarded him for a moment in silence.

“So far as I can see,” he said at last, “the position of those spectacles makes it absolutely certain that he did not escape by the door. I may be mistaken. I may be overlooking some explanation which, when it is found, will dispose of this objection. But until such an explanation is forthcoming I cannot, in justice to my own reason, abandon the position to which my reason has led me.”

His tones were conciliatory and their gentleness had the effect of soothing his companion. But Verrey’s mind remained fixed on the skeleton key.

“You force me to discount the evidence of my senses,” he exclaimed. “The skeleton key is quite as substantial, quite as material a fact as the spectacles. Since these two facts contradict each other flatly we must proceed surely on a balance of the probabilities. A skeleton key of this type is designed to open or shut doors in the locks of which the key proper to these locks is in position on the opposite side. The marks made by the skeleton are clearly visible on the key of the study door. The skeleton was therefore used on the key of the study door. This evidence needs no witnesses; it is there for the whole world to see and prove; whereas the position of Lord Gerald’s spectacles has been assigned by people, all of whom were admittedly in a state of great excitement at the moment when the spectacles were observed by them. I have no doubt that they think the spectacles were lying against the door, but can we wholly trust their opinions? Excited people are notoriously inaccurate in their observations. The weight of probability is in favor of the key and against the spectacles.”

“You forget that Dr. Pendrith was one of the observers. A doctor is not generally disturbed by the sight of death to the same extent as laymen are disturbed.”

“But this was murder. Dr. Pendrith had just discovered that Lord Gerald had been murdered. Surely that discovery must have shaken his nerve a little! And remember that we are arguing about a very small space, a few inches more or less.”

Dr. Hailey inclined his head.

“I admit the force of what you say. But I feel nevertheless that these witnesses are to be relied on. They had no doubt at all in their minds about the accuracy of their observations.”

“Very well, put it in another way,” Verrey said. “Assume that the spectacles were lying against the door. What follows? That the skeleton key was fitted into the lock but that the door was not opened in the smallest degree. Isn’t that a reductio ad absurdum?”

“Not necessarily so.”

“Come, my dear doctor.”

“The key may have been used on some other occasion.”

“It may, but if we accept that explanation, we’re thrown back on a still greater absurdity—that a man made his escape from a sealed room without breaking any of the seals.”

“Well?”

“Isn’t it easier, and wiser too, to assume that two shocked and excited people made a very slight error of observation about a matter which can have seemed of little or no importance to either of them?”

Dr. Hailey took more snuff.

“Come with me to Shawdon,” he said, “and see and hear for yourself.”

They went out into a gentle morning and into a world refreshed by the return of the Atlantic wind. The dry air of the last days had been replaced by a conditioned atmosphere which was full of the indefinable promise of spring. The grass in Shawdon Park had assumed already a deeper shade of green.

“‘When the wind is in the east,’ Dr. Hailey quoted, ‘ ’tis neither good for man nor beast.’ Has it ever occurred to you, my dear Verrey, to relate the incidence of crime to meteorological conditions? You know, of course, that murder is much more frequent before the month of June than after it. I’m prepared to guess that one reason for that is that east winds are far commoner in the early spring than at any other time of year.”

“I don’t know.”

“The east wind blows over the dry plains of Europe; the west wind comes from the sea. The sea winds in all lands are the winds of sanity, kindness and moderation. The east wind was blowing when Lord Gerald met his death. I’ve verified that fact. It was a hot, cloudless day, the third of a series of hot, cloudless days, full of strong sunlight and yet, out of the sun, harsh and chill. That’s the weather that unstrings our human nerves.”

The detective did not reply. He looked grave and worried and evidently rather resented his friend’s pleasantries. But the doctor was not discouraged.

“The wind must have changed within the last hour or two,” he declared, “because this morning, when I found poor Whinstone, the sky was as clear and hard as ever. The sunlight suggested June rather than March. I always feel heavy and irritable in such weather.”

BUCKLE admitted them, and a moment later Bridget Glen came to them in the study. She greeted Dr. Hailey with the utmost friendliness, but was much less friendly in her attitude to Verrey.

“I’ve just heard the terrible news about Colonel Whinstone,” she told the doctor. “I feel so glad that you were able to be with him.”

Dr. Hailey sat down. He explained the reason of the visit, telling the girl frankly that his companion asked for further proof that the spectacles were really lying behind the door.

“I saw them myself after Dr. Pendrith pointed them out to me.”

Her voice was challenging but Verrey remained unaffected.

“I wish you to understand, Miss Glen,” he said, “that it is no doubt of your sincerity which brings me here this morning. I am satisfied that you are convinced that you did see the spectacles lying against the door. My trouble is that at that particular moment you were in a state of great emotional tension. Excitement and distress, as is well known, detract from the power of accurate observation.”

“You mean I may have been mistaken?”

“Yes.”

“I can assure you I wasn’t. I picked the spectacles up myself.”

"Think a moment. Imagine that a man’s life depends on the answer you are going to make, and then ask yourself: ‘Am I absolutely sure that the spectacles were actually touching the door?”’

The detective’s manner was very grave. Bridget seemed to be about to speak but checked herself. After a moment she said:

“I can’t swear that they were actually touching the door. But they were very close to it.”

“Ah!”

Verrey walked to the door.

“Will you please show me just where and how they were lying. I presume you have them by you.”

Bridget took the spectacles out of a drawer in the desk and laid them on the floor at a point near the hinges of the door.

“That’s where they were.”

“Very near the hinges?”

“Yes.”

The detective opened the door wide enough to allow him to pass out of the room. Then he closed it again.

“You see,” he said, “that the spectacles have moved only a very few inches.”

“They have moved.”

“Oh, yes, but it’s only a matter of inches. Can you be absolutely sure that they may not have been lying exactly where they are lying now?”

“I can be absolutely sure.”

“Remember a man’s life is at stake, Miss Glen.”

Bridget grew a shade paler. But she held her ground.

“I am absolutely sure that the spectacles were lying closer to the door than they are lying just now.”

Verrey drew a deep breath.

“You’ll recognize that where so much depends on the accuracy of an observation made in such trying circumstances, very strict tests must be applied, especially since your uncle’s murderer did make his escape from this room,” he declared, “It is as nearly certain as anything can be that the murderer left the room by the door.”

“You can apply any tests you like.”

“You say that you hadn’t noticed the spectacles until Dr. Pendrith called your attention to them?”

“Yes.”

“Yet they are a pretty conspicuous object.”

Bridget consented rather reluctantly.

“Doesn’t that suggest that your powers of observation were deficient at that particular moment?”

“I don’t think so. I was hurrying to open the door.”

“Why?”

The girl started.

“I ... I felt rather faint. Dr. Pendrith had just discovered that my uncle had been murdered.”

Verrey’s eyes narrowed. He turned to Dr. Hailey.

“I think I am right in saying,” he asked, “that at moments when we feel faint all our senses become dulled?”

“It often happens, yes.”

“Don’t you think we might make that stronger and say that it always happens?”

"It happens very frequently, certainly.”

“So that Miss Glen, who was admittedly feeling faint as the result of a very severe shock to her nervous system, administered a moment before, might well be excused for not seeing the spectacles in the first instance?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And would, in any case, be the last person who was likely to observe their position on the floor with exactitude?”

“I don’t think that follows. Remember her attention had been called to the spectacles.”

“That would not cure her faintness.”

“No, but it would focus her attention.”

Verrey shrugged his shoulders. It was evident that his questions had been framed with a view to their effect on a jury. He seemed pretty well satisfied with the responses evoked by them.

“I must see Pendrith again,” he stated, “but before I do so I should like to examine the door a little more closely.”

He left the room, closing the door behind him. They heard a scraping sound.

“What is he doing?” Bridget asked.

“Using a piece of wire, I think,” Dr. Hailey said, “to see if it is possible to reach the spectacles from the outside by means of it.”

Verrey returned and announced that he was satisfied that the spectacles had not been moved by any manipulation from outside. He rang up Dr. Pendrith and made an appointment with him.

“Would you care to accompany me to the doctor’s?” he asked Dr. Hailey.

“I think not.”

As soon as he had gone, Bridget’s self-control broke down. She confessed that she had not slept, and that she was a prey to every kind of anxiety.

“It is so unlike Patrick not to communicate with me. He must know how terribly anxious I am about him, and he’s the kindest brother in the world.”

“I think we must give him a little longer.”

The girl caught her breath.

“I can’t help feeling,” she cried, “that Colonel Whinstone’s death is connected in some way with this dreadful business. I know I’m not quite rational, but I seem to see a likeness between his death and Uncle Gerald’s death. That idea has been haunting me.”

“You can dismiss it from your mind. Colonel Whinstone died of alcoholic degeneration of the heart muscle.”

They heard a brisk step on the gravel. Bridget uttered a cry of joy:

“Patrick!”


To be Continued