The problem: Lord Gerald Glen is found dead one morning, lying on the floor of his study, the windows of which ore 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 knife-like 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, o, 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, who, in the course of discussion, mentions that Lord Gerald’s spectacles were lying in such a position on the floor that the door could not have been opened.
Colonel Whinstone suffers a heart attack, and dies after Pendrith has made an injection of strychnine.
Patrick Glen suddenly returns alone. The story continues:
PATRICK GLEN carried a small dressing case. He set it down on the desk and kissed his sister on both cheeks.
“I hope,” he said in his cool, clipped tones, “that you haven’t been worried, Biddy, dear?”
“I’ve been dreadfully worried.”
“I had no option.” He turned to Dr. Hailey. “Well, any progress, doctor?”
Bridget asked her brother if he had breakfasted and then, when he assured her that he had, told him about Colonel Whinstone’s death. That news seemed to cause him lively distress, but he offered no explanations.
“I think,” his sister concluded gravely, “that your absence has made a very bad impression.”
“Why should it?”
“Until the mystery is solved I suppose we’re all under suspicion.”
Patrick frowned. He seemed, the doctor thought, reluctant to give his mind to the subject which was engrossing so much attention. In spite of his incisive manner he was a man in a dream, occupied with thoughts of his own.
“I gave the police a full statement,” he said. “I’m ready to answer any further questions they may wish to ask me.”
He glanced at Dr. Hailey as he spoke.
“The position is,” the doctor stated, ‘'that suspicion has turned against you in your absence, perhaps to some extent because of your absence.”
The young man spoke incredulously.
“Yes. Because Inspector Verrey found a skeleton key in a drawer in your dressing-table.”
“I am stating the fact. He will no doubt tell you himself.”
“I never possessed such a thing in my life.”
“It was found as I’ve told you. What is more, the clearest evidence exists that it was made use of to turn the key in the door of this room.”
Dr. Hailey spoke quietly. He saw the blood ebb from the girl’s cheeks, but Patrick Glen did not change color. He proceeded to develop Verrey’s theory and the objections to it which he had been able to raise.
“As things stand at present,” he concluded, “the position of your uncle’s spectacles behind the door is the only solid piece of evidence which exists to disprove Verrey’s idea. Verrey is engaged at this moment in trying to discount that evidence. In the circumstances you will see how important it is that you should account for every moment of your time between breakfast and the discovery of your uncle’s body.”
“I was in the library most of the time. I went out for a short walk just before the crime was committed.”
“Did anybody see you in the library?”
“I ... I don’t think so.”
“Whom did you meet when you were out?”
“Nobody. I went out by the door at the back of the house leading to the stables. There was nobody about. When I came in again I saw the doctor’s car.”
“So that you can’t prove that you were not in this room with your uncle?”
“I wasn’t with him.”
“That isn’t the point. I’m afraid that in this case your unsupported statement is not enough.”
Patrick shrugged his shoulders.
“There it is,” he said. “I can’t improve on it.”
“Were you doing anything in the library?”
“I was reading the newspapers ”
“Did you hear anything?”
“You didn’t write a letter by any chance?”
The young man shook his head.
“I didn’t. I was rather upset, I suppose, because I had quarrelled with my uncle and was under the necessity of leaving this house. As a matter of fact I went into the library to read the advertisements of vacant appointments. I had an idea I might get a post on some plantation in the colonies.”
The doctor considered a moment.
“I think,” he said, “that it will be necessary for you to give a full account of all your doings and to explain the reasons for them. It is known to the police that Miss Pamela Whinstone left her home in your company, and it is also known that her father had refused his consent to your marriage and was about to remove her from your reach. Colonel Whinstone informed the police about this himself. The police take the view that your quarrel with your uncle and your subsequent quarrel with your prospective father-in-law brought you face to face with poverty. You could hope for no financial help from either of these sources and could not, therefore, afford to keep a wife. They think that you murdered your uncle to prevent him changing his will, and that, having secured the fortune he has left you, you abducted Miss Whinstone and took her to Scotland as a necessary preliminary to marrying her against her father’s will.”
“I did take Miss Whinstone to Scotland.”
Bridget uttered a cry of dismay.
“Oh, my dear!”
“Don’t worry, Biddy.”
“It is known, further, that when Colonel Whinstone refused his consent to your marriage you went about armed with a pistol—presumably for the purpose of frightening Miss Whinstone into consenting to run away with you.”
“Yes. My old army pistol.”
“That fact will be used as evidence of the unbalanced and violent state of your mind, in other words as evidence that you were a person quite likely to commit a crime. Against all this it is only possible to set the position of a pair of spectacles on the floor. That, so far as I can see, is the solitary piece of evidence in disproof of the police view. And even that piece of evidence is shaky, for those who saw the spectacles, your sister and Dr. Pendrith, were in a highly nervous and excited state of mind. They may, just, conceivably, have made an error of observation.”
“I didn’t make any error,” Bridget interpolated.
“Forgive me, I’m putting the case as it will be put to the jury. The Crown will suggest error as a matter of course. They will support their suggestion by pointing out that a sister’s evidence is likely to be as favorable as possible to her brother and will ask further how the murderer made his escape from the room if not by the door—seeing that the windows were all securely fastened. That, I’m afraid, is the case we have to meet. I won’t disguise from you that I think it a strong case. Verrey, I know, believes it to be the true explanation of the mystery.”
Patrick Glen walked to a side table and took a box of cigarettes from a drawer. He brought the box to the mantelpiece and began to fill his case from it. He lit a cigarette.
“Do I understand you to suggest, Dr. Hailey,” he asked, “that you do not personally accept the view of the police?”
“I don’t accept it.”
The doctor faced his questioner.
“It is not my reading of your character,” he said simply.
“Is that your only reason?”
“That is my chief reason. There are the spectacles.”
Patrick drew himself up.
“I’ll tell you my story,” he said. “About three months ago, to my considerable surprise, I realized that I had fallen in love with Pamela Whinstone. The idea was so foreign to my thoughts that, for a time, I didn’t allow myself to entertain it seriously. I told myself that I was the victim merely of a passing infatuation, though, curiously enough, I had not formerly been interested even to that extent in any woman. I may be wrong but I rather think the war was to blame. Those of us who joined the army in our teens—I was seventeen—became men in France, in. the conditions of trench warfare. That is to say, in the conditions of an hourly expectation of death or rather of a dull indifference to life in the larger sense of that word. We had no future; woman belongs to the future. We had no free emotion and therefore no means of approaching women. At a time when other men’s feelings were flowing out naturally to women, our feelings were being dried up by the fear we no longer felt acutely because it lived with us. Do I make myself clear?”
“Quite clear. The war devoured sex as it devoured everything else.”
“Yes, that’s it. It devoured sex. It made us something more than men and something less. The feelings natural to our age, too, arose in scenes of violence. An association was established. For my own part I found myself, when the war ended, averse to women. My instincts demanded the violence to which they had grown accustomed; the prospects of a quiet domestic life simply had no attraction for me.”
Patrick paused and glanced enquiringly at the doctor. “On the other hand,” he said, “the kind of women who provide what is called excitement revolted my ideas of decency.”
Dr. Hailey’s eyes narrowed.
“I had guessed as much,” he said. “Let me tell you the rest of my conjecture. Your falling in love with Miss Whinstone followed a scene of violence in which she was a principal actor. A scene, let us say, between her father and herself.”
The young man started.
“Colonel Whinstone told you?”
“Mrs. Whinstone, then?”
“No. You have just told me yourself. But, as I said, I guessed before you told me. An element of violence of some sort was essential to the arousing of your affection for any woman.”
Patrick did not appear to hear this last remark. He was standing, leaning against the mantelpiece. A look of devotion had come into his eyes.
“I have never admired anyone so much in my life,” he said in low tones. “I was returning from hunting. I met Colonel Whinstone being driven in his car by his daughter. He was sitting beside her, obviously the worse for drink. As they approached me he leaned forward suddenly and grabbed at the wheel. For a moment I thought that a smash was certain, because the car was travelling very fast. Then Pamela acted. Slight as she is, she flung her father away from the wheel. They were just beside me. He half rose in his seat. His face was red and contorted with fury. He tried again to grab at the wheel. Pamela struck him under the angle of the jaw and crumpled him up. They passed. I turned and saw the car pull up. I rode back. She was weeping violently, and her mother was in hysterics. I tied up my horse and drove them home.”
PATRICK GLEN finished his story in tones which thrilled. His eyes were shining.
“Could any man help admiring such a girl?” he asked. “From that moment, I confess it frankly, Pamela was as essential to me as the air I breathe. I knew that I must marry her or break.”
He threw his half-smoked cigarette into the grate.
“All the feelings that the war had stifled, and all the feelings it had aroused seemed to combine together to urge me toward her. I had only one idea, one hope, one ambition. And my thoughts rushed and surged like a river in full spate. You can scarcely realize how violent they were ...”
“And still are.”
The doctor spoke gently.
“Yes, when they meet with any opposition. When Colonel Whinstone withdrew his consent and I found to my horror that Pamela might be constrained to obey him, I determined instantly to take her away by force. I told her that if she refused me I should blow my brains out. I meant it. I mean it still. I showed her the pistol. It’s in my pocket now. Do you know, the idea of blowing my brains out is as great a comfort to me as was the idea, when I was fighting in Mesopotamia in the third year of the war, that I had a dose of poison in my pocket in case I fell into the hands of the Arabs. I can’t and won’t live without Pamela. I have had a taste of the pain that the prospect of losing her causes me. It’s unendurable.”
He frowned heavily. “I suppose you think I’m crazy.”
“No. I think you’re a product of the war.”
“I love Pamela, war or no war.”
“Undoubtedly. But, as it happens, all the fear and horror of the trenches, all the naked brutality, all the unspeakable violence of those first days of your manhood have been infused into your love. Your love has gathered to it every emotion of which your nature is capable. All the great passions of human story are demonstrated by subsequent events to be of that kind.” The young man drew a deep breath.
“I consulted a doctor in London,” he stated. “He told me there was nothing in the drink business. That settled me. I could live. I told Uncle Gerald exactly how I felt. When he flew into a rage I left him. I fancy he went to Colonel Whinstone and told him there was insanity in our family—anyhow, the consent which had been given was refused suddenly and Pamela was ordered to have nothing to do with me.”
Dr. Hailey raised his head in a gesture of interruption. “Stop a moment. As I understand the position, Colonel Whinstone gave his consent in the first instance, in spite of the fact that your uncle disapproved?”
“Yes, he did. Poor old chap, he was a sportsman when he wasn’t in liquor. The fact that I was going to be cut off with a bob didn’t upset him in the least— though it did upset Mrs. Whinstone. Told me he’d back me anywhere to make a home, a good one, too, for Pamela.”
“That was before you consulted the doctor in London?”
“Did you tell him you were going to consult the doctor?”
“No. I did that for my own conscience sake. If the verdict was that we had no right to marry I was going to . . . ” He broke off and shrugged his shoulders.
“Blow your brains out?”
“Yes. But the verdict was not that. I told Uncle Gerald. But he didn’t even listen to me. You know what he was like. His mind was made up. We were dipsomaniacs and the Whinstones were dipsomaniacs and our children were bound to be little degenerates—vagabonds or criminals or lunatics. I asked him if he didn’t consider that the medical profession knew more about these matters than he knew. He denied it. He got so angry and upset that Biddy sent for Dr. Pendrith.”
“Was it just after that that Colonel Whinstone withdrew his consent?”
“Yes, the next day. I called to see Pamela and the old man told me.”
“Can you remember his words?’
“Yes. He said, ‘Look here, old man, when I gave my consent to your marriage with Pam I hadn’t fully considered all the objections. I find now that I must withdraw it.’ I felt as if I had been shot.
‘What objections?’ I asked him.
‘Family feelings, that sort of thing.’
‘Look here, Colonel Whinstone,’ I shouted, ‘I’ll marry Pamela if I have to take her out of this house by force.’ All my most violent and terrible feelings seemed to surge in a tidal wave into my brain. I was deaf. I was blind. I rushed away from him to find Pamela. She was locked in her bedroom. I threatened to break in the door if she didn’t open it. I told her I was going to take her away by force.” He paused and passed his hand across his brow. “Poor girl, she looked terribly afraid of me. Though she has such amazing courage, she’s weak where her parents are concerned. She said: ‘I feel it’s my duty to obey.’ I rushed out of the house. I thought of shooting myself then and there ...”
Again the doctor raised his hand.
“You didn’t press Colonel Whinstone to tell you his reasons?” he asked.
“I did. He wouldn’t answer me except with vague statements.”
“Did he know your uncle’s reasons for refusing to sanction your marriage?”
“Yes. My uncle told him at the beginning exactly what he thought. Uncle Jerry was one of those men who never spared other people’s feelings where his own ideas were concerned.”
“So that it can’t have been the dipsomania theory which caused Colonel Whinstone to change his mind?”
“Oh, no. He knew all about that . . . and discounted it all. He told me himself that he regarded Uncle Jerry as a fanatic and didn’t mean to wreck Pamela’s happiness to please him.”
Dr. Hailey leaned forward.
“Have you heard since,” he asked, “what the real reason of the refusal was?”
“Yes. Pamela told me.”
“It seems that Dr. Pendrith told the old man that I was mad.”
“Did Miss Whinstone hear the doctor say this?”
“No, nobody heard him.”
“Pendrith, of course, never said anything of the kind. No doctor would. The idea arose in the poor man’s befuddled mind. Colonel Whinstone had been drinking for a week before his death and was not accountable.” “He wasn’t drunk when he withdrew his consent. I’ve never seen him more sober.”
“Possibly not at that moment. Naturally when he heard that Lord Gerald had been murdered he assumed that you were the murderer.”
“Yes, he seems to have thought so. Pamela told me that he expected I would be arrested within a day or two. He couldn’t get her away from here quickly enough after the murder. If I hadn’t taken her to Scotland I should probably never have seen her again. It was the sight of my pistol which compelled her to yield, that and nothing else.”
“How did you manage to meet her?”
Dr. Hailey watched the young man closely as he asked this question.
“I knew she would call at the vicarage some time before she went away. The vicar’s daughter is her best friend. I waited for her. We met over there.”
He indicated the rising ground beyond the park with a sweep of his hand.
“I saw you.”
“I happened to be strolling in that direction. I was a witness of your meeting.”
Patrick nodded. “It was life or death for me. I brought every weapon I possessed into action. I succeeded.”
“In spite of the fact that Miss Whinstone believed that you were of unsound mind?”
“Perhaps because of that fact. Pamela is a very brave girl. I think she would take great risks to save me from—from disaster.”
The young man spoke calmly. It was clear that when he said he had hesitated at nothing to compel the woman he loved, he spoke the plain truth.
“You mean that Miss Whinstone believed you when you told her you would blow out your brains if she refused you?”
“Yes. Because she believed that the injury to my head received in the war had affected my self-control. In fact, I think that was the only consideration which would have made her disobey her parents. She broke with all her traditions, so to speak, to save my life. I had counted on that. And I had no qualms because, in fact, I was fighting for my life. I was not in any sense playing a part.”
Dr. Hailey put his eyeglass in his eye. He regarded Patrick thoughtfully.
“Everything,” he stated deliberately, “seems to me to depend on how drunk Colonel Whinstone was during the last week of his life. You can’t throw any light on that question, can you?”
“Not much. As I’ve told you he wasn’t drunk when he withdrew his consent. I saw him once after that on the following day, when I showed him my pistol. He wasn’t drunk then.”
“That was the day before your uncle’s death?”
“Had you seen much of him before he withdrew his consent?”
“No, I hadn’t. We had a long talk just after Uncle Jerry issued his ultimatum—he wasn’t drunk then, by the way—but I didn’t see him after that for some days.”
“Weren’t you going to the house?”
“Not much. Pamela and I spent most of our time out of doors. I visited the doctor in London, too, and was away overnight.”
“Miss Whinstone didn’t mention that her father was drinking.”
“No. But she wouldn’t have mentioned it in any case. She was tremendously loyal to her father.”
“Where is she now?”
The doctor leaned forward as he asked the question.
“With my aunt in Haddington. When the three weeks required to establish a Scottish domicile have passed I’m going there to marry her.’
They heard a car coming to the door. A moment later Verrey strode into the room without waiting for Buckle to announce him. When he saw Patrick an exclamation of astonishment broke from his lips.
“So you’ve returned?”
“It seems so.”
The detective’s manner was official and brusque, distinctly hostile, Dr. Hailey thought. He turned to the doctor.
“I’ve just seen Pendrith,” he stated. “He can’t swear absolutely that the spectacles were touching the door. I pressed him hard on the point and forced him to admit that it is just possible that they were not touching the door. He allows that he was greatly upset at the moment and in no very good state of mind to make accurate observation.”
Dr. Hailey inclined his head.
“And now I want to talk to the butler here. He was the only other occupant of the room, and it’s just possible that he may have observed more than he has been ready so far to admit.”
Verrey glanced at Bridget. She had flushed a moment before, but now her face had grown pale again.
“If you ring the bell,” she said, “Buckle will answer it.”
Patrick sat down and lit a fresh cigarette. He offered a cigarette to Verrey, who refused it.
“Do you want me to stay here?” he asked. “Because if you don’t I’ll go across to the Dyke. I have a message for Mrs. Whinstone.”
“From Miss Whinstone?”
“Where is Miss Whinstone?”
“I choose not to answer that question, sir.”
Verrey frowned. But he waved the matter aside.
“I should prefer to see Buckle without your being present,” he stated.
Buckle presented himself. The detective told him to come into the room. Patrick Glen rose and walked out.
“Did you notice your master’s spectacles lying on the floor here?” Verrey asked the butler in sharp tones.
“Think again, my man, and remember that what you say will be compared with what others have said.”
There was a threatening note in the detective’s voice. He added before Buckle had time to reply:
“I haven’t forgotten how you lied to me about looking through the window.” The shot told. The butler’s nervous features assumed an anxious expression. His hands began to move spasmodically.
“I didn’t see his Lordship’s spectacles till Miss Bridget picked them up,” he declared.
“Did you see her pick them up?”
“No, sir, but I heard Dr. Pendrith tell her to take care because they were lying behind the door.”
“What did the doctor say? His exact words, I mean?”
Buckle’s eyelids twitched.
“He said . . . I think he said ‘Take care. His spectacles are lying . . .’ He may have said ‘Mind his spectacles!’ I can’t quite remember.”
“You don’t really remember what he said?”
“Not exactly what he said.”
“Where were you when Dr. Pendrith spoke to Miss Bridget?”
“I was kneeling beside his Lordship.”
“I was facing the window.”
“So that Dr. Pendrith was facing that wall?” Verrey indicated the wall opposite to the broken window.
“What was he doing?”
“He was looking at the wound in his Lordship’s heart.”
“How was his Lordship lying?”
“With his feet toward the door.”
“So that the doctor had to turn his head round to see the spectacles?”
“Did you see him turn his head round?”
“I suppose he must have done.”
“Did you see him?”
Verrey’s voice rasped.
“I ... I can’t remember.”
“That means that it was just a glance, a glance over his shoulder, so to speak, eh?”
“It must have been.”
“You would have remembered if he had turned round and gazed at the door?”
“I think so.”
“One couldn’t see very clearly how the spectacles were lying unless one did turn round?”
“In fact, from that position it would be quite easy to think the spectacles were lying up against the door, even if they were really lying an inch or two this side of the door. Eh?”
Buckle glanced at the door. “I could tell, sir, from where I’m standing whether they were touching the door or not,” he said.
“Of course. Because you’re standing up. But Dr. Pendrith was kneeling down. Kneel down now where the doctor was and test the matter for yourself.”
As he spoke, the detective picked up the spectacles which had remained in the desk, and placed them on the floor, three or four inches away from the door. He told Buckle to shut his eyes.
“Now open them. Now shut them,” he ordered.
The man obeyed.
“They seem to be near the door.”
“Are they touching the door?”
“Perhaps they are.”
Verrey replaced the spectacles and took out his notebook. He made a rapid entry. “You may go now, Buckle.”
He put the notebook back into his pocket.
“They’re trying at the Yard,” he stated, “to trace the makers of the skeleton key. When that has been done, my case will be complete.”
Something in his manner, as he pronounced these words, made Bridget gasp.
“Your case against whom?” she asked in whispered tones.
“Against your brother.”
DR. HAILEY remained with Bridget Glen after Verrey had gone away. He did not disguise from her how seriously he viewed the situation.
“We must face the fact,” he said, “that the only solid piece of evidence we possess, the position of the spectacles behind the door, has been, if not shaken, at least discounted to some extent. And we must not forget that at the back of any jury’s mind will be the question: if the murderer did not leave the room by the door, how did he leave it? Juries are not usually bodies possessed of much imagination. The tragedy, of course, is that nobody saw your brother between the end of breakfast and the discovery of your uncle’s body. His behavior, too, in abducting Miss Whinstone will certainly prejudice people against him. The newspapers have not hidden their suspicions.” The girl’s distress was no longer capable of being disguised. She sat with pale cheeks and fear-shaken eyes.
“Now, oh course, Miss Whinstone must be recalled to her home. I attach the very greatest importance to her testimony.” Dr. Hailey spoke in earnest tones.
“Why?” Bridget asked.
“Because I have a suspicion, it is no more than that, that she may possess information about the true cause of her father’s change of mind. I have tried, in all my dealings with the case to look at the characters rather than at the circumstances. I had an opportunity, as you know, of meeting Colonel Whinstone, and I formed a fairly clear idea of his personality. He did not strike me as the sort of man who would change his mind in a matter of importance without good reason. You heard your brother say that he refused to give him any reason. He told me that his reason was that Dr. Pendrith believed your brother to be mad. That statement seems to carry its own refutation. What doctor would make such a statement? Who would believe such a statement, even if a doctor made it? Certainly not a shrewd man of the world, with the soldier’s sense of truth in him. No, I feel that we have not heard the real reason, and that until we do hear it there will be no hope of solving the mystery. It may very well be that Miss Whinstone refrained from telling your brother all that she knew.”
Bridget nodded. She did not seem to share the doctor’s hopes, but she was evidently grateful to him.
“I have been asking myself,” he went on, “what would be likely to make Colonel Whinstone change his mind. Remember that he had refused to withdraw his consent merely because your uncle opposed the marriage and threatened to disinherit your brother. He was not out for money for his daughter and he laughed at the dipsomania scare. He looked on your uncle as a fanatic. He knew, too, that your brother had been severely wounded in the head. None of these objections, if I may so call them, had exercised any influence on him. What is there left which might be expected to turn him overnight from a supporter of the marriage into an opponent?”
The doctor paused. Bridget was becoming interested in spite of herself.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a question as difficult in its way as the question how the murderer escaped from this room. But there exists one small clue. Colonel Whinstone seems to have suspected your brother of being your uncle’s murderer.”
“Yes. There’s no doubt on that point. He would hardly have suspected him, had he not known of some motive other than the motive of money. Colonel Whinstone was not the man to believe that Patrick would kill for money. I think, therefore, that the information which caused him to change his mind came from your uncle. It had nothing, obviously, to do with drink—that objection had been used for all its worth and had failed. It must have been something much more serious, some secret of an exceedingly damaging kind. May I ask you a very unpleasant question?”
“Did you regard your uncle as a strictly truthful man?”
“I thought he was the soul of honor,” she said in low tones.
“Forgive me, but I want to make a slight distinction in this case between truth and honor. Your uncle was incapable, of course, of dishonesty in the ordinary affairs of life. But I am thinking rather of his special enthusiasm, his abhorrence of alcohol and his belief that such a marriage as that proposed by your brother constituted a sin against society. Our human story is full of instances of good men who have not scrupled to make use of bad weapons in order to accomplish their special ends. It is a fact that your uncle was accused on one occasion of falsifying a set of figures in order to bolster up his case against the drink traffic. He didn’t offer a very satisfactory explanation.”
The girl sank back in her chair. She closed her eyes for a moment.
“Uncle Jerry,” she said, “was never quite accurate where his mania was concerned. I suppose that is the essence of fanaticism as opposed to reason.”
“In the last issue he would falsify anything rather than see his faith traversed?”
“He would twist anything.”
Dr. Hailey nodded.
“Yes, that’s a better word. Twisting things to suit our personal points of view is a vice we’re all subject to, more or less. But fanatically minded men are more subject to it than other men. They tend to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with the ideas they cherish. Very soon their minds cease to be able to distinguish between the real knowledge and the false. They acquire the power to make themselves believe what they know to be a lie. In my experience scientific men are as prone as, perhaps more prone than, other men to fall into this error.”
He paused and remained silent a moment.
“What I’m driving at is the possibility that your uncle may have given to some incident or circumstance of your brother’s life a twist which would have the effect of making Colonel Whinstone averse to the marriage. Do you think that is possible?”
“Yes,” she said at last. “I think it is, in the circumstances. Patrick’s engagement to Pamela was a denial of everything Uncle Jerry believed. It’s possible, isn’t it, that Mrs. Whinstone may know something?”
“I don’t think so. I should not personally feel inclined to confide any secret to Mrs. Whinstone. But I mean to cross question her again. Before I do that, though, I must see Pendrith again. He’s our chief hope at present because, if he really sticks to his statement that the spectacles were lying against the door, the case against your brother falls to the ground. If the spectacles were immediately behind the door, the door cannot have been opened.”
Bridget came and put her hand on the doctor’s arm.
“I swear they were immediately behind the door,” she cried. “I haven’t got the remotest shadow of doubt on that point.”
Dr. Hailey walked slowly back to Shawdon Village. He believed what Bridget had told him but he realized that his personal faith was not likely to be shared by others. Moreover that faith left the mystery of the room with the iron shutters intact on his hands. What sort of explanation could he offer as an alternative to Verrey’s explanation? He stood listening to the quiet, rhythmic sounds of the Weald, so charged with magic. How had the murderer escaped? Who was this man who could perform the impossible almost in the face of witnesses? Despondency crept to the doctor’s heart, but he thrust it away. He had acquired, by long and bitter effort, the power of concentrating his mind on any chosen subject, and shutting out from it subjects he did not desire to consider. He directed his thoughts to the question of the skeleton key. If the key did not, in fact, belong to Patrick Glen, where had it come from? And how did it happen that the key had been fitted to the lock of a door which, as he believed, had not been opened. These questions were still in his mind when he reached the inn. He had no sooner ascended to his room than Mr. Sapling attended him. The doctor did not hide his impatience, but the innkeeper was the last man to be disturbed by such an exhibition.
“I ’ave further noos for you, sir, about Buckle,” he announced in his thin tones which, in spite of their deferential quality, were strangely menacing.
“ ’Is brother’s doin’ time at the present moment. ’E was convicted in London two months ago.”
Mr. Sapling took a newspaper from his pocket. He unfolded it with his long, thin, dirty fingers on which tobacco stains mingled with grease stains.
“ ’Ere ye are.” He pointed to a column of the paper. “Smart capture by errand boy.” He handed the paper to Dr. Hailey and stood back with his thumbs hooked in the armholes of his waistcoat. His fingers moved rhythmically in accord with some undisclosed impulse. The doctor read the paragraph, which described how William Jones alias Buckle had been convicted at the Old Bailey of shop breaking and sentenced to three years penal servitude. He handed the paper back to the innkeeper. “That’s ’is brother.”
“How do you know?”
Mr. Sapling smiled. “ ’Ow does I know, sir? Look ’ere.” He brought a letter from his pocket and unfolded it. He read:
“ ’Appening to read an account of the inquest on the late Lord Gerald Glen, I saw that you, as foreman of the jury, ’ad put some very pertinent questions to ’is lordship’s butler, Buckle. That your suspicions of the man may be justified is very likely because, as the newspaper I send you under separate cover shows, ’is brother is a convicted criminal. I know wot I’m talkin’ about because I’ve been acquainted with the family for many years. The old man is still livin’ in the village of Dalehead on the Scottish border, near Berwick-on-Tweed. I am for obvious reasons.
“The letter was posted last night in the West Centre district of London, as the sayin’ is.”
“Thank you, Sapling.”
“I shall ’and over the letter and paper to Mr. Verrey when ’e comes in.”
Mr. Sapling went away. After lunch Dr. Hailey rang up Dr. Pendrith’s house and gave a message to the effect that he would call on the doctor about five o’clock. Then he went to bed and slept for three hours. He found Dr. Pendrith having tea alone in his drawing-room and was invited to share in that impressive meal, for the service of which a very large quantity of massive silver vessels had been mobilized. The doctor poured out the tea in a manner which would have done credit to a duchess.
“Well, is it the spectacles again?” he asked cheerfully. “I had a tremendous tussle about them with your friend Verrey this afternoon.”
Dr. Hailey accepted his cup, one of those spreading Georgian cups which were made to be filled with China tea, but not to keep it warm.
“That,” he said, “and other things. Verrey seems to have made it rather difficult for you to believe your own eyes, eh?”
“Indeed, yes. What a man ! He insisted on reconstructing the crime in this room. I had to kneel just as I knelt beside poor Lord Gerald, while he put a pair of spectacles beside the door. He swore that in such a position I couldn’t see the spectacles properly and I swore that I could see them properly. After that we had a second passage about the excited state of my mind. It was quite useless to try to tell him that doctors’ minds are proof against excitement of that kind.”
“He seemed to think he had shaken you.”
Dr. Pendrith shrugged his shoulders. “He’s entitled to think what he likes, of course. I fancy that if my evidence is ever heard in court he will be less satisfied with it than he expects. I have the clearest possible recollection of seeing those spectacles lying against the door, and I remain convinced that nobody could have opened the door without moving and perhaps damaging them. Bless my soul, why did I warn Bridget Glen to be careful if I didn’t think there was need for care?” “No. That’s a point. Bridget Glen, I may say, is as confident as you are on the subject, but, of course, if a charge is made against her brother, her evidence will, to some extent, be discounted. The butler, Buckle, declares that he didn’t see the spectacles at all. Verrey naturally tried to make him say that you could have had no more than a casual glance at them.” “H’m. Buckle was too shaken to notice anything. It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how a man who apparently fought well in the war, should be so easily unnerved? But I suppose it’s every man to his kind.” “Was he greatly unnerved?”
“Yes. I thought he was going to faint. When I discovered the wound in his master’s chest he covered his face with his hands and seemed to go quite limp.”
Dr. Hailey set his teacup down on the big silver tray.
“Buckle is rather the mystery man of this piece,” he declared. “I have had the impression from the beginning that the fellow had something on his mind. And yet I cannot see that he can possibly be incriminated. Several of the servants saw him at work outside of the study during the time when the murder must have been committed.”
Dr. Pendrith lit a cigarette, the smoke of which proclaimed its virtue.
“I’ve always thought rather well of him,” he said. “But I’m told he drinks and that he’s been in Lord Gerald’s black books for some time in consequence. It’s just possible that he was under notice at the time of the old man’s death. If Patrick was really to be kicked out, Buckle must have known that he would not retain his post for any length of time. I fancy he was tolerated only because of his war record, and because he had been Patrick’s servant.”
“I’m sure of that. So you think his evidence about the spectacles is worthless?”
“Absolutely worthless. I’m prepared to swear to it. Bridget Glen’s evidence is worth far more. But in the long issue it’s my evidence which will really count. Juries are usually tender to doctors in matters of that kind.”
Dr. Hailey nodded.
“Provided the doctor sticks to his point, they’ll accept his word against anybody’s.” He took out his snuffbox and opened it. He sat looking at the contents with vacant eyes. “You knew old Jerry Glen well,” he said. “Did he strike you as a fine character?”
“Yes and no.” A long whiff of the excellent smoke emerged from Dr. Pendrith’s lips. “He was intensely anxious to do what he conceived to be his duty. But behind that anxiety was a colossal vanity. Look at that Artificial Sunlight installation of his at Henry’s Hospital. He read up the whole subject; he experimented himself; he became almost an authority on the effects of light. That was his sense of duty. But when it was all over, those who had helped him, myself for example, disappeared from the picture. He had designed the installation; he had tested it; he had developed it; he had bought it; he had learned, better than any doctor, how to use it. Everyone heard the story and most people were taken in by it. You know that his name was being considered for the Fellowship of the Royal Society.” “I didn’t know.”
“It was. He had a wonderful power of impressing people, based, I think, on solid knowledge. And, of course, he was always ready to make huge benefactions. The Royal Society has had less distinguished members—that’s not what I’m complaining of—but very few people have blown their trumpets so long and so loud outside its doors. His violent attitude on the drink question was a part of his vanity. It distinguished him and won him the applause of millions. He loved to hear himself described as ‘this illustrious man of science who is devoting his life to the crusade against alcohol.’ ”
“Still, vanity is a human weakness.” “Yes, no doubt. But Lord Gerald’s vanity was the mainspring of his conduct. It was his religion, his god. Anybody who wounded his vanity became his deadly enemy, incapable in his eyes of any good. He was most unscrupulous, too, in the means he employed to discredit the people who opposed him.”
Dr. Hailey’s eyes narrowed.
“The stain on all fanaticism.”
“For example, I once heard him describe a member of our profession who shall be nameless, as a man of evil reputation. I heard afterward that this particular physician had advised the Board of Henry’s Hospital against one of his schemes. The charge was baseless.”
“Why I asked you about him,” Dr. Hailey said, “is because I think he must have invented some slander about Patrick for Colonel Whinstone’s benefit. So far as I can see, that is the only possible explanation of his sudden withdrawal of his consent to the marriage between Patrick and his daughter.”
“It’s quite possible.”
“As I told you, Whinstone said you had warned him that Patrick was mad. But that was obviously a mere excuse to cover the true reason for his change of mind; not being a doctor he did not understand that his story bore its own refutation. Unless I am greatly mistaken it wasn’t madness, but something far worse than that, which had been revealed.”
Dr. Pendrith poured himself out a second cup of tea. He set the big teapot down lovingly and regarded it with satisfied eyes.
“Lord Gerald,” he said, “was absolutely determined to prevent that marriage. He told me so. In his heart of hearts, I believe, he hated Whinstone with an implacable hatred—Whinstone and Whinstone’s daughter, too. Such a pride as his could never forgive the wound it suffered when Mrs. Whinstone rejected him to marry her husband. The dipsomania business was a secondary consideration in my opinion, though I feel sure he persuaded himself that it was his real objection. His powers of self-deception were enormous.”
“So I think myself.”
“Patrick’s wish to marry Pamela Whinstone slapped him in the face. It struck at the idea he had cherished so long, that the girl’s mother had ruined herself by her marriage. In a sense it even justified that marriage.” Pendrith drew his breath sharply between his teeth. “How the man must have suffered! When he suffered, the sufferings of other people were of no account.”
“Unhappily, we have no proof.” Dr. Hailey took a pinch of snuff. “So far as I can gather, no member of the Whinstone family was present when the disclosure was made. Mrs. Whinstone talked about Patrick’s madness, which shows that she had been told the same story as was told to me. What Pamela knows I can’t say. It is just possible that an inkling of the truth may have reached her, because she refused to discuss what she had heard with Patrick.”
“Did Patrick tell you that?”
“It would be difficult, wouldn’t it, to tell a man you were going to marry that you had heard he was mad?”
Dr. Hailey shook his head.
“A little, perhaps. But I have a feeling that in the circumstances she would have told him. After all, she can’t have believed that he was mad. And since the story about this madness was supposed to have come from you, she would be able to tell him that she felt sure you had been prompted by Lord Gerald. No, I think she must have some idea of the truth. Whinstone impressed me as a man with a good deal of courage. He may well have felt that he owed it to his daughter to be quite frank with her. That’s why I have some hope of getting at the truth myself when she returns home.”
Dr. Pendrith drank his tea slowly and replaced his cup in its saucer.
“If what you say is correct,” he remarked, “Pamela must have discounted the story.”
“Not necessarily. She may have decided that she loved Patrick too much to lose him.” The doctor remained silent a moment. “You’ve guessed, of course,” he said, “the nature of the charge which I believe to have been made by Lord Gerald against Patrick.”
“The argument no doubt was that the sins of the fathers would be visited on the children. Whinstone, I imagine, had the countryman’s horror of disease. In any case he would feel it to be his duty to protect his daughter. Evidently Jerry Glen knew his man thoroughly.”
"VERREY was in the sitting room when Dr. Hailey returned to the village inn. He was seated by the fire writing notes. The doctor observed that the newspaper which Mr. Sapling had shown to him was lying on the table. He picked it up.
“What do you think of it?”
“Still, if a man has a burglar for a brother he’s in the way of obtaining burglar’s tools, isn’t he?”
The detective shook his head.
"Buckle bears an excellent character,” he said. “My own experience has been that people who have disreputable relations usually keep as far away from them as possible.” He closed his notebook. “All the same, I’ve sent for the man. You’re just in time to hear what he has to say for himself.”
“Excellent. The police of this country, I have always maintained, have no concern other than the truth.”
Dr. Hailey spoke sincerely. He sat down and told his friend about his interview with Dr. Pendrith.
“There is no doubt,” he said emphatically, “that Lord Gerald slandered Patrick in a way which left him no reputation at all. There would be a real motive for murder, I grant, if it did not happen that Patrick is ignorant of what was said.” “As I told you, I think there’s motive enough in the money I feel as certain as I am capable of feeling that Patrick Glen murdered his uncle. If Sapling hadn’t produced this newspaper I would have arrested the fellow and charged him before this. I mean to arrest him tonight.” Dr. Hailey polished his eyeglass between his finger and thumb. A slight flush mounted to his brow and for a moment his face wore an expression that was nearly dismay. But he mastered himself.
“Don’t you think we had better hear what Pamela Whinstone has to say? She’ll be home tomorrow, I imagine.” Verrey shook his head.
“I can’t see that it matters twopence what she has to say, and with all apologies, my dear Hailey, I can’t see, either, that it matters what Lord Gerald may or may not have said about his nephew. Suppose you do establish the fact that Patrick was slandered, what then?”
“I go step by step, my dear Verrey. The greatest of all the dangers which beset a man of science is the temptation to generalize before the work of observation is complete. We know that there were a number of actors in this tragedy. We ought to know all we can about each of them in relation to the tragedy, before we allow ourselves to theorize.”
“Isn’t that losing the forest by looking too closely at the trees? The centre of this case is the study at Shawdon Hall. Nobody can offer any explanation of the case until he has explained how the murderer escaped from the study. So far as I know, you have offered no explanation of that mystery.”
“Whereas you have offered an explanation which seems to me to be in contradiction to the character of the man whom it incriminates. Behind the mystery of the room, believe me, lies the deeper mystery of the man.”
“Patrick Glen is a rash enough fellow, surely?”
“Just so. Was the man who planned the murder at Shawdon rash? Does the murder bear the stamp of haste or carelessness?”
“Chance, you know, plays a big part in ‘such affairs. My theory allows fully for chance. It so happens that nobody saw the murderer emerge.”
“Your theory, on the contrary, goes out of its way to explain why the murderer did not emerge. Didn’t you suggest that the cry heard by Mabel, the housemaid, was uttered deliberately in order to drive that girl out of the hall?”
“One must cover the facts.”
“My dear fellow, the biggest fact of all is character. I am weary of reading that in moments of excitement men act contrary to their characters. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, believe me, are characters in fiction not in fact. Hyde is always Jekyll and Jekyll is always Hyde when it comes to life, for the simple reason that character is a balance of elements. The balance may be tilted, of course, first one way and then the other. But it returns always to its original position. My objection to your theory is not based on the position which Pendrith and Bridget Glen say the spectacles occupied; it is not based on the possibility that the skeleton key may have belonged to Buckle in the first instance. Its whole substance is my inability to conceive that Patrick Glen murdered his uncle for money. That again is based on what I know of the man and especially on what I know of him as a lover. He’s a product of the war and nowhere more so than in his lovemaking. It has been violent, disinterested, uncalculating; it has swallowed him up just as the war swallowed him up, deprived his life of horizons and his mind of providence. Is that the attitude of a murderer who has laid deep and careful plans for securing a fortune? Patrick had one desire only, namely, Pamela.”
The detective had been listening carefully. He leaned forward.
“You forget that Colonel Whinstone’s consent had been withdrawn. Since you tell me that Patrick was ignorant of the real cause of this change, I can only assume that he supposed that to be due to his poverty. He must get money if he was to get Pamela.”
“The event proves the contrary, surely.”
“Not at all. He got money. How do you know that Pamela would have run away with him if Lord Gerald hadn’t been killed?”
Dr. Hailey sighed.
“Come back to character,” he said. “Here is a man swayed by a great emotion, harassed and exhausted by it. A fine man, too, with a magnificent record of self sacrifice and courage. He knows that life has no value for him unless he can marry this girl, yet he’s ready to give her up— and his life with her, if his uncle’s ridiculous fears prove to be justified. He goes to London and submits his case, his life, to an independent arbiter. The doctor assures him he need not worry. He breaks with his uncle and prepares to leave home. Your cunning murderer would scarcely have prefaced his operations by an advertisement of that sort. But in the case of a lover, a lover such as this man, these actions seem to be natural. Even the wildernesses, the pistol for example, though they make a glaring contrast with the mask of cynicism and misogyny worn by him formerly, are well in the picture. That mask is the sign of turbulent emotions held in leash. One knows that, when it drops, the face behind it will be aflame.”
The doctor’s eyes, usually so dull, were full of eagerness. But he saw that he had achieved nothing. Verrey shook his head.
“Character, after all,” he remarked, “is a matter of opinion, whereas the study at Shawdon is a hard fact. I can only reply: How did the murderer leave the study if he didn’t leave by the door? So far as I can see, Patrick Glen is the only person who can possibly have left by the door.”
A LOUD knock sounded. Mr. Sapling presented himself.
“The butler is ’ere, sir,” he announced to Verrey.
“Bring him up.”
Dr. Hailey leaned toward his friend. “Will you allow me to question him in the first instance? You can ask him anything you want as we go along.”
Buckle came hurrying into the room. He glanced timidly about him, and then, not without an effort, recovered his calmness. He asked Verrey in his carefully modulated voice, which possessed the excellent quality of being soothing without obsequiousness, what he could do for him.
“Sit down, please. Dr. Hailey wishes to ask you some more questions.”
The butler seated himself, contriving to give the impression of being at his ease and yet remaining the servant, a performance the skill of which was not lost on the doctor. There was something about this young man which attracted, even though one possessed knowledge of his shortcomings.
“You’ve tried very hard, Buckle, to go straight, haven’t you?” Dr. Hailey asked him.
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“ You’ve tried very hard to go straight?” Silence fell in the room, a cruel silence. Verrey glanced at Dr. Hailey with protesting eyes. The doctor’s eyes were fixed on Buckle’s face.
“I have gone straight, sir.”
The man’s face was solemn, but the emotion which he was evidently suppressing colored it.
“Nearly straight. Not quite.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
Dr. Hailey advanced his great head. He set his eyes fixedly on Buckle’s face.
“You hid from us,” he said, “the fact that you had unlocked the door of the study.”
The butler half rose in his chair. His lips parted to speak, but the doctor silenced him with a swift gesture.
“Did your brother serve in the army during the war?” he asked suddenly.
“Whereas you did. Your brother is older than you, isn’t he?”
The man had become very pale. His hands gripped at the sides of his chair and he swayed a little in most uneasy fashion. “Yes.”
“Before the war you had to . . . work with him, hadn’t you?”
Suddenly Dr. Hailey rose and put his hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Don’t think that I’m trying to rake up a buried past. I cannot tell you how much I admire the way you have broken from old associations and made a place for yourself. But I want to appeal to you now to break completely. In the war you proved yourself a brave man. Go on being brave.”
“I ... I don’t understand you, sir.” “Yes, you do. Remember, it’s conscience makes cowards of us.”
The doctor returned to his seat. He leaned back a little, as though he relinquished the task of compulsion on which for a moment he had embarked. “Why didn’t you open the door of the study, after you had unlocked it?” he asked.
They heard Mr. Sapling’s voice quite clearly answering someone in the bar. Then the hoofs of a horse, walking on the cobbles outside, struck on the silence. “I did open the door,” Buckle said.