VERREY started to his feet. “What!” “I did open the door.” The butler’s voice was so low that they had to strain their ears to hear it. Dr. Hailey warned the detective with a movement of his hand that he wished to continue the examination uninterrupted.
“With your skeleton key?”
“When his lordship rang for me.”
The horse in the yard outside neighed. Dr. Hailey started in spite of himself.
“His lordship was lying on the floor. He was dead.”
Buckle plucked at the lapels of his coat. His grey cheeks made sickly contrast with the red handkerchief which protruded from his breast pocket. The doctor waited for a moment and then asked him to recount his movements, step by step.
“You were in the pantry, weren’t you, when his lordship rang for you?”
“Yes, sir. I had gone there after closing the shutters as his lordship ordered. When the bell rang I went to the door. I knocked, and I tried the handle.” He broke off and glanced at Verrey who had opened his notebook, and was evidently comparing the statement with the previous ones. He pressed his hand to his brow as though he experienced difficulty in recalling the details of the event. “The door was locked. I called but got no answer.”
He paused again.
“I thought,” he stammered at last, “that his lordship might have been taken ill.”
“There was that key.”
“The skeleton key?”
“Yes, sir. I had had it by me for years, sir.”
Buckle’s voice shook. The memory of the days when, as a little lad, he had been associated with his brother, deprived him of all courage. Dr. Hailey kept his eyes averted.
“I went to my room and got it. I opened the door. When I saw his lordship I ... I lost my nerve. I locked the door again ...”
The doctor raised his head.
“Stop a moment. You say his lordship was lying on the floor. Where was he lying?”
“Where we found him, sir. I told you the truth about that before.”
“Just as you found him?”
“Yes, sir. But . . .” Buckle’s voice faded again. A horrified look crept into his eyes: “His lordship, sir, was wearing his spectacles when I found him the first time.”
“Take care, Buckle,” Verrey exclaimed sharply.
“It’s true, sir.” The butler mopped his wet brow. “The expression of his face was so ghastly that even the detective pitied him.
“Whereas,” Dr. Hailey said, “on the next occasion on which you saw him his spectacles were lying against the door?”
“How was he lying?”
“His face was turned away from the window.”
“And that was how he was lying when you came back to the room?”
“You’re quite sure?”
“Yes, sir. The sun was shining on him because, as I told you, the shutter had blown open.”
“Did you touch him?”
“No, sir. I . . my nerves seemed to go weak like. It came over me, sudden, that here I was in the room with a dead man, having broken into his room.”
Again Buckle mopped his brow.
“I see. That was why you put your key in Mr. Patrick’s drawer.” Dr. Hailey spoke in tones of regret. “Where another man, a man who had no past to frighten him, would have called for help, you lost all your courage.”
The man hung his head.
“I had been talking foolishly after his lordship gave me the sack.”
“Oh, so you were under notice to go?” Verrey exclaimed.
“When did you receive that notice?”
“Two days before his lordship’s death.”
“After Mr. Patrick was ordered to leave the house?” Buckle looked surprised: “I didn’t know, sir, that Mr. Patrick had been ordered to leave the house.”
“He had been.”
Dr. Hailey adjusted his eyeglass.
“Why did you put your key in Mr. Patrick’s drawer?” he asked.
“To get rid of it.”
“And perhaps incriminate your master?”
“God knows, sir, I didn’t mean that. I I thought nobody would dare to search Mr. Patrick’s things. I meant to take it back again after the police had gone away.”
Dr. Hailey told Verrey that he had no further questions to ask. “Where did you get your skeleton key?” Verrey demanded of Buckle.
“From my brother.”
“Is it marked in any way ... I mean, could you identify it?”
“Yes, sir. There’s a little ring of dots on the handle.”
“So you allow that you went into the study and came out again, do you?”
“Whereas you declared before that you had not crossed the threshold of the room?”
“I did lose my nerve, sir.”
“Humph! It’s easy to say that. You’re a liar, my man, whatever else you may be.”
The butler’s face became contorted with the violence of the gust of feeling which swept him. His breath came in short gasps.
“You wouldn’t call me that,” he cried, “if you knew.” He seemed to choke. “My mother died a year after I was born ...” He broke off and gradually grew calmer. “Perhaps you can guess, sir, what that means. I was brought up by professional criminals with the fear of the police always beside me. I can’t shake that fear off.” There was a simplicity in his way of speaking which made Verrey look uncomfortable. But the detective was accustomed to quench his feelings. A long experience of the sentimental bent of the criminal mind had made him hard.
“No doubt,” he said brusquely. “The fact, however, remains that on your own showing you were in a position to kill Lord Gerald.”
“You entered and left the study. You had closed the shutters before doing so.”
The butler’s face stiffened with new fear. His jaw moved downward, giving him an expression of the liveliest terror.
“I never touched him,” he gasped. “I can prove that I never touched him.”
“Mabel heard his voice after I had been in the study.”
“Good heavens, you’ve just told us he was dead.” Buckle drew a sharp breath. He glanced at Dr. Hailey.
“I couldn’t have put his spectacles behind the door,” he said in low tones.
“They were behind the door.”
The detective’s eyes narrowed.
“Dead men don’t take their spectacles off. Remember there’s only your word that he was wearing his spectacles when you saw him.”
“I swear he was wearing them. The light was flashing on them.” The young man rose suddenly and stood facing his accuser. “His lordship was a strong man,” he said. “If I killed him I must have struck him when he wasn’t expecting me to strike. He wouldn’t have written that note saying that he had been murdered if I had killed him, would he?”
The shot told. But Verrey was in no mood to relinquish his prize.
“You’re asking us to believe,” he challenged, “that somebody entered the study after you had left it ... in order to take off your master’s spectacles. Eh?”
“It seems like that.”
“And that before you entered the study, the murderer left it without passing through either the door or the windows. Think man! If what you say is true either your master or his murderer rang the bell which brought you from the pantry. If it was your master who rang the bell, then the murderer had no time to commit the murder and escape by the door before you reached it. If the murderer rang the bell, then he might just, perhaps, have managed to get out of the room, but he would have been bound to meet you in the hall. Do you agree?”
Buckle considered a moment.
“Yes, sir. I answered the bell as soon as I heard it.” “So what I am saying stands. If you are speaking the truth the murderer got out of that room without passing through the door or the windows—unless indeed he was hidden in the room when you entered it.”
“Oh, no. I looked round the room. There was nobody there ”
“And then there’s another point. Whoever went back into the room, after your visit, to remove the spectacles, managed to put them so near the door that it seems to be doubtful if he could have opened the door to make his escape.”
“Don’t you think it looks as if somebody was lying?” “I can’t say, sir.”
Verrey sat down.
“You can go now,” he said. “But remember I may want you again. Keep your mouth shut about your visit here.”
THE butler walked rather unsteadily to the door.
When he had closed the door behind him, Verrey sunk back wearily in his chair.
“So,” he exclaimed, “we reach stalemate again.”
“What he said about Lord Gerald being a strong man is good logic, anyhow.”
Verrey seemed disinclined to argue.
“It seems that nobody committed the murder,” he said in bitter tones. “Nobody except Buckle entered the room. Nobody left it.” He turned with a wry smile to the doctor. As he did so, a look of surprise appeared on his face.
“Are you not feeling well?”
“Only a little tired. Why?”
“You look rather pale.”
Dr. Hailey passed his hand across his brow.
“I have always found,” he said, “that a problem the solution of which eludes me produces a sense of extreme exhaustion.” He rose as he spoke. “There is one direction,” he stated, “in which we have made no investigation. Lord Gerald must have left numerous scientific memoranda.”
“Piles of them. I glanced through some of them a day or two ago. They’re mostly about treatment by sunlight and sunlight lamps.”
The doctor walked to the window and stood looking out for a few minutes. Then he returned to his friend.
“I don’t think,” he said, “that Buckle invented that story about the spectacles. He was careful to tell us that he observed the light flashing on the glass. It would require a much cleverer man than he is to add that touch to a concocted story. Besides we know that the day was an exceptionally fine one for the time of year.”
The doctor’s voice was rather hoarse. Verrey saw that he remained pale, but he observed, also, signs of an increasing excitement.
“Have you anything special in your mind?” he asked. “Only the glimmerings of an idea. Shawdon Hall faces south, doesn’t it?”
“And the murder was committed before noon. Verrey, I want to go back to the Hall at once and I want you to come with me. We can go across in Sapling’s car.” The detective remarked a new eagerness, but he could see that the thoughts which filled his companion’s mind were far from welcome there. Dr. Hailey’s genial face was troubled and there was distress in his eyes. He agreed to accompany him and rang the bell at his side to order the car.
“What’s the line?” he asked.
“No. I can’t be sure yet. My dear fellow, when an idea which one resists with all one’s might forces its way into one’s thoughts, it’s better not to talk about it. You remember John Hunter’s advice to Jenner: ‘Why think, why not try?’ I must try my idea; don’t compel me to discuss it.”
Verrey ordered the car. He was surprised to hear the doctor tell the servant who had answered his summons, to bring him a glass of brandy.
“You don’t feel well, then?”
“Perhaps not quite well. I must clear my wits.” Sapling’s car was a sedan of the old, high type. As soon as he entered it Dr. Hailey lay back in his corner. He closed his eyes.
“Wonderful thing, brandy,” he remarked.
He stumbled when getting down from the vehicle, but seemed to recover himself when they entered the hall. Patrick and Bridget Glen received them. At the doctor’s request Patrick brought his uncle’s memoranda into the study. Dr. Hailey seated himself at the desk and made a rapid examination of the closely written sheets.
“Most of this work seems to be based on experiments,” he said. “Did your uncle fit up a laboratory at any time?”
“Not here. I think he had a workroom of his own at the hospital.”
The doctor read aloud a few of the titles: The nature of Haematoporphoryn; A new method of preparing Haematoporphoryn; Sensitization with special reference to the effects of Haematoporphoryn; Haematoporphoryn as a sensory stimulant. He glanced at Patrick. “He seems to have been specially interested in this substance?”
“He was, apparently.”
“You haven’t heard him discuss it?”
Patrick shook his head. “I’m not scientifically minded, I’m afraid,” he said.
“What about your sister?”
The young man called Bridget into the room. Dr. Hailey asked her if she had assisted her uncle in the preparation of his papers.
“Oh, no. He kept that part of his life strictly to himself.”
“But he talked to you about it, surely?” “Sometimes. Not often.”
“Not about Haematoporphoryn?”
The girl’s face brightened.
“Oh, yes; he did tell me that he was working on that substance. He has found a new way of preparing it.”
“Do you know what his idea was?”
“Something to do with his sunlight lamps, I think. Haematoporphoryn allows the patient to benefit more by the lamp treatment.”
“He told you that?”
“Nothing more than that?”
“I don’t think so.” Bridget hesitated. “He had a theory that the future of medicine lay with what he called Sensitizers,” she said at last. “He seemed to think that the effect of most diseases is to sensitize the nerves so that ...” She broke off. “I’m afraid,” she confessed, “that I never could understand his ideas properly. He called his theory The Law of Reaction,’ I remember.”
Dr. Hailey leaned across the desk. He was greatly excited, and Verrey, who was watching him closely, saw drops of perspiration gleam on his brow.
“We live by accepting the blows of Nature and returning them,” he quoted.
“Yes. That’s what Uncle Jerry used to say. And if we are ill, Nature’s blows hurt us more. I remember he told me once that a person with a nervous breakdown saw the world through a telescope, heard it through a microphone and and touched it with raw flesh.”
“He called that sensitization?”
“Yes. He said nervous troubles were due to poisons in the blood which made the nerves exquisitively sensitive.”
“Haematoporphoryn is one of those poisons?”
“I’m sure that was what he believed. Once he told me that there were two kinds of diseases, namely, those in which the nerves were too sensitive—such as rheumatism; and those in which the nerves were not sensitive enough —such as consumption. The sunlight treatment, he thought, was only of use in the latter class, and he hoped to make it more useful still by giving the patients this new substance before they got their sunlight.”
The doctor rose.
“Show me exactly where your uncle’s body was lying?” he asked in hoarse tones.
Bridget walked to the window and pointed to a place on the floor close beside it.
“And you entered the room with the doctor about half-past eleven?”
Dr. Hailey came to the place indicated and stood gazing out through the window. The sunlight revealed the deathly pallor of his cheeks. Suddenly he clasped his hands to his brow. He reeled and fell heavily on the floor.
VERREY sprang to the doctor’s side. He knelt down and put his arm under his head.
“Some brandy, please,” he demanded.
He saw that his friend had lost consciousness. He loosened his collar, while Bridget Glen felt his pulse. “He’s all right,” the girl said. “It’s just a faint.” Patrick brought the brandy and Bridget poured a few drops on Dr. Hailey’s lips. He sighed deeply and then, after a moment, opened his eyes.
“Quick . . .’’ he whispered in tones of desperate urgency, “Close all the shutters ...”
His voice grew faint and he shut his eyes again. Bridget gazed in deepening wonder at the detective. She saw a new, lively fear in Verrey’s eyes.
“Shall I close the shutters?” Patrick asked in dubious tones.
“I don’t know.”
The sick man raised his hand in a gesture of entreaty. “I’ve been murdered,” he gasped. “Close . . .” His lips continued to move but no sound was audible. Patrick hurried from the room and a moment later they heard the first of the iron shutters clang into position. In a few seconds the study was plunged in darkness. The young man, having completed his task, returned to the room and shut the door.
“What about ringing for Pendrith?” he asked.
“Please don’t open the door again,” Dr. Hailey whispered. His voice had suddenly regained a little of its strength. “Nobody . . . must . . . leave . . . the room,” he added after a moment. “Nobody.”
They could not see him but they heard his breathing which seemed to grow more labored as it increased in force. They waited, tensely expectant, after what seemed like an interminable interval he spoke again.
“It’s the . . . light.”
“What light?” Verrey asked in unsteady tones.
“The . . sun . . .It . . . ”
Again the voice failed. Was he slipping back into unconsciousness? If only they could see him.
“What does he mean?” Bridget asked.
“I don’t know.”
“We’d better do as he wishes, don’t you think?” Patrick declared. He caught his breath. “It must be the same thing as Uncle Jerry.”
“Hailey, old man,” Verrey exclaimed, “are you all right?”
There was no reply. Each of the persons waiting in the room was conscious of a cold sense, as if some chill spirit had passed.
“Hailey . . . Hailey . . .”
“I can still feel his pulse,” Bridget stated.
“Yes, yes, quite sure.”
“Give me the brandy.”
Patrick found the glass and put it in Verrey’s outstretched hand.
“Rub it on his lips,” Bridget advised. “Don’t try to pour it into his mouth or you may choke him.”
“If we only had a light.” “Somehow,” the detective said, “I feel that we had better not have a light. As to what he said ... I think we must stay here.”
Silence fell again. But the darkness was full of so lively a sense of menace that it seemed that silence had a thousand tongues. Whose hand was this which, on the very spot where one man had been done to death, had struck another man down?
“Uncle Jerry was stabbed,” Bridget whispered, voicing the question which was in each of their minds.
“I’ve, got a lamp,” Verrey said. He took the lamp from his pocket and handed it to Patrick. The young man felt for the buttons of the doctor’s waistcoat and unfastened them. He bared the chest and then, for an instant, flashed the beam of the lamp upon it. A sigh of relief broke from his lips at the sight of the unwounded skin.
“My nerves are queer, I'm afraid,” he confessed.
“Did you notice his face?” Verrey asked in horrified tones. “No.”
Bridget announced that she was no longer sure if she could feel the pulse.
VERREY said: “We can’t allow him to die without medical attention. Somebody must call Dr. Pendrith.”
Patrick slipped away to the door. A flash of sunlight proclaimed his passage and then the darkness fell again. But they had had a clear view of the sick man’s face. Bridget gasped in horror.
“Is he dead?” the detective asked.
She fumbled for the pulse.
“No. No, I can still feel it. I ... I think I can feel it . . ”
Indecision swallowed her words, leaving Verrey in agonizing doubt.
“I wish we had sent for the doctor sooner,” he declared. “He was looking ill when we came here, but he insisted on coming. He believed, I think, that he had solved the mystery of your uncle’s death.”
The girl did not reply. She was still trying to feel the pulse and could not be sure that it was not the throbbings of her own fingers that she was feeling.
“Your uncle had time to write,” Verrey whispered, “whereas Hailey had time only to whisper.”
There was a dull, mechanical note in the detective’s voice. He seemed to be speaking purely because he was afraid not to speak, because the silence frightened him. “I’m sure I can feel his pulse now.”
“He said it was the sun, didn’t he?”
“Do you know what he means?”
“No. The sun was shining when my uncle died.”
“But your uncle was stabbed.”
“Yes.” Bridget’s voice expressed surprise. “I had almost forgotten that. Uncle Jerry was lying on this very spot. And he wanted the shutters closed, too.” Again the room was flooded with light. They heard voices whispering together. Patrick’s voice declared:
“I think we must respect his wishes, Dr. Pendrith.”
When the door was shut again, Patrick told them that Dr. Pendrith was with him in the room.
“Dr. Pendrith happened to be visiting the gardener’s wife ...”
Bridget felt a cool hand touch her hand and realized that Dr. Pendrith was beside her, feeling the patient’s pulse.
“He’s pulseless,” the doctor announced. “I really think we must get him to bed and give him some treatment. This darkness is dreadful. He’ll very likely slip through our fingers if we don’t do something.”
He moved away from the patient as he spoke.
“I’d rather he wasn’t taken out of here,” Patrick declared. “His last words before he lost consciousness were a warning against opening the shutters or even the door.”
“Rubbish, my dear boy. People who are going to faint always get queer notions.”
“Well, doctor,” Bridget said, “I can vouch for the fact that his pulse has got weaker each time the door has been opened. It was fairly good when Pat went to call you, but the moment Pat opened the door it seemed to collapse. It was just beginning to come back again when you came into the room. Now it’s gone once more. I do think we ought to keep him in the dark a little longer.”
“Very well. But the responsibility must be yours, remember.”
“What could you do for him,” Verrey asked, “if he was in bed?”
“Half a dozen things. I’d begin with strychnine. I can’t give strychnine here.”
“No. Of course not.” The detective’s voice was full of hesitation. “I’m inclined to think,” he added, “that we ought to be guided by Dr. Pendrith. After all, the ‘idea that it was the light that made him ill, can’t be correct.”
“I can feel his pulse now,” Bridget announced. “Feel it, doctor.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Dr. Pendrith’s voice said:
“ ’Pon my soul, I can’t feel it.”
“I can’t feel it. There isn’t any pulse.”
“Oh, yes, surely.”
“Feel it yourself. It may have collapsed this moment.”
The doctor moved his hand away and Bridget applied her fingers once more to Dr. Hailey’s wrist. She uttered an exclamation of horror.
“Exactly. The man’s at the point of death. I’m afraid I must override your scruples. I can’t stand here and see him go out without having made the smallest effort to save him.”
HE MOVED away as he spoke. Once more Bridget felt the pulse.
“Why, it’s come back,” she cried, “it’s much stronger now, Dr. Pendrith.”
She raised her voice because the doctor had taken a step toward the door. They heard the handle of the door rattle. And then, suddenly, a whisper, which each of them recognized as Dr. Hailey’s, sounded in the silence.
“Don’t open the door, for heaven’s sake. I’m a dead man if . .
The handle rattled again. A cry, feeble but charged with living fear, broke from the sick man’s lips. But the door remained closed. They heard Patrick’s voice announcing to Dr. Pendrith that he accepted responsibility for what he was doing in holding the door shut.
“I must have been unconscious,” Dr. Hailey whispered. “Don’t open the door and don’t send for Dr. Pendrith. Is Verrey still here?”
“Here I am, old man.”
“Verrey, listen. I know who killed Lord Gerald. I must tell you in case I die.” He broke off and then said: “I think I may die at any moment.”
His voice was much stronger. He moved slightly and his breathing once more became audible.
“Is there brandy there?” he asked.
Bridget managed to convey the glass to his lips.
He gasped for a minute or two and then began to speak:
“Listen. The story begins with Patrick Glen. His refusal to give up Pamela Whinstone: Colonel Whinstone’s withdrawal of his consent to the marriage. That was my clue . . . Why did Whinstone withdraw his consent? You know, my dear Verrey, how I answered that question . . Because of revelations made to him about Patrick’s health . . . That was a guess. It’s a true guess.”
Dr. Hailey breathed himself.
“How’s my pulse?” he asked Bridget.
“Better. It’s quite good now.”
“It was your squeezing my arm, Miss Glen, which roused me. Why did you squeeze my arm so tightly?”
“I—I didn’t squeeze your arm,” Bridget said.
“Somebody squeezed my arm. My hand is tingling still, so I know my pulse must have been stopped forcibly.”
“No, no, really.”
The doctor waited a few moments, then he assured himself again that Verrey was beside him.
“I had studied poor Whinstone,” he told the detective. “I couldn’t believe that a man so full of honest commonsense as he was, in spite of his weakness, would have taken Lord Gerald’s word in a case of this sort. Suppose Lord Gerald had come to him and said: ‘Patrick has no right to marry, because he is the victim of disease,’ would he have believed him? Of course not. Whinstone knew his Jerry Glen and knew that he was prepared to go to any length to stop this marriage. Lord Gerald might pretend to be a doctor, but he wasn’t. No. It wasn’t anything that Lord Gerald told him that made Whinstone withdraw his consent. What was it, then? Whom does one believe about health and disease? Eh?”
“A doctor,” Verrey said.
“Exactly. I realized that the information that Patrick Glen had no right to marry must have been conveyed to Whinstone, not by Lord Gerald but by a doctor ... he believed what he was told.
“Get that idea in your mind, Verrey. Whinstone believed what he was told. He acted on it. He withdrew his consent to his daughter’s engagement because of it. The doctor who convinced him—this is what I said to myself—must have been a man whom he trusted. A man whom he trusted absolutely. A man whom he knew by personal experience to be absolutely trustworthy ...”
Dr. Hailey broke off. A sigh broke from his lips.
“There was only one doctor, Verrey, who could have convinced Whinstone about a matter of this kind, his own doctor, Pendrith.”
IN THE tense silence which followed this statement, Dr. Hailey’s labored breathing became an intolerable rhythm. But none dared to speak.
“At first,” the doctor resumed, gasping as he spoke, “I refused to admit to my mind the idea that Pendrith could possibly have lent himself to such a plot. But the idea remained hammering at my mind. No one but Pendrith could have persuaded Whinstone; therefore, since Whinstone was persuaded, Pendrith persuaded him. That could only mean that Lord Gerald was in a position to force Pendrith to carry out his wishes.”
Dr. Hailey sighed again. They heard him draw up his foot.
“I feel much better. Is the door being guarded?”
“Yes, sir.” Patrick’s voice sounded hollow and moved in the darkness.
“And now, my dear Verrey, we come to the real problem, the characters of the two men. Lord Gerald undoubtedly believed that it was his duty to stop that marriage. He thought, in this matter, as a ' man of science, but I am convinced that his feelings, the feelings behind his thoughts, were those of the lover who had been rejected years before by Mrs. Whinstone. Lord Gerald’s conscious thought was: As a student of heredity I believe that if my nephew marries Pamela Whinstone their children will probably turn out drunkards or degenerates. But behind that conscious thought there was an emotion, far stronger than any scientific reasoning, namely, jealousy and the desire for revenge. Mrs. Whinstone had wounded Lord Gerald’s pride by marrying Colonel Whinstone.
“Her daughter should not marry his nephew and so inherit his fortune. It was the emotion which gave the scientific reasoning its force, which turned it into fanaticism, which made it careless even of truth if the desired end could be accomplished. Having failed to prevent the engagement by honest means, Lord Gerald, I feel sure, turned to dishonest ones.”
Again the doctor paused and again the darkness seemed to be filled with ghosts.
“I don’t mean that he was consciously dishonest. Oh, no. But this blazing, furious jealousy made him deaf even to the voice of his own conscience and blinded him so that he could see no objection to what he was doing. Patrick had been ill in London—that’s a guess, but I think it will stand—Lord Gerald began to imagine sinister things about this illness. His imagination, backed by his jealousy, convinced him. The longer he thought about it, the more certain he became. The curse of alcohol, the curse under which, as he held, his nephew had been born, leads its victims to other worse disaster. So, he must have argued, it had been with Patrick. You can see how his secret wish translated itself into a fear and how that fear, a transfiguration of his jealousy, compelled him to warn Whinstone. Far from feeling that he was acting dishonestly, he came to feel that he was acting in the only way open to an honest man. Was it not his duty-—to science, to Pamela Whinstone, to his own soul—to enlighten Whinstone? But mark how cool and calculating his brain remained in spite of this self-deception. He recognized that it would not avail to convey the information himself. Only one man was in a position to perform that office successfully—Pendrith. And so, when his niece sent for Pendrith, he told the doctor what he desired of him.”
“Are you not overtaxing your strength?” Bridget asked in shaking tones.
“Oh, no. I’m getting better every minute . . . Why I didn’t want you to send for Pendrith is that I must talk about him . . . It’s quite clear, I think, that Lord Gerald’s disclosure about his nephew was news to Pendrith. Pendrith told me himself that he had not attended Patrick Glen. Therefore he was being asked to father a story about the truth of which he could know nothing. He was being asked, that is to say, to break faith with his profession. There can be no doubt about that, for the only argument which was going to convince Whinstone was a statement of personal knowledge. Pendrith unquestionably had to say: I know that Patrick Glen suffered from such and such a disease.’ Had he said: ‘Lord Gerald tells me,’ Whinstone would instantly have discounted the whole story. Consequently, it is necessary to face the conclusion that Pendrith went to Whinstone and told him that he knew as a fact that Patrick Glen had forfeited his right to marry. I feel as certain as I can feel about anything in this world that Pendrith acted in this way only under the strongest compulsion. It is simply incredible that a doctor enjoying the good reputation which he enjoys in this neighborhood could consent to sell his professional soul like this if he had not been entirely in the hands of the buyer. I asked myself: Of what motive was the terrible hold which Lord Gerald possessed over Dr. Pendrith? That seemed to reduce the whole theory to absurdity, because, in actual life, country squires do not as a rule wield the power of spiritual blackmail over family physicians. Once I again it became necessary to consider the deeper mystery of character.”
THE room seemed to have grown insufferably hot and the darkness intensified the suffocation. Verrey, who had remained kneeling beside Dr. Hailey, moved his stiff limbs to an easier posture. He searched the darkness for sight of Dr. Pendrith but his eyes saw nothing except shadows. A feeling that the air was full of whirring, sinister wings startled him.
“I turned my attention to Pendrith, to the man himself and his surroundings. You’ve seen his home and his people, Verrey, but I must redirect your attention to them. To that fine old Elizabethan house, to that exquisite garden, to those rooms so different from the rooms one might expect in a country doctor’s house. What do they mean? Then, look at Mrs. Pendrith. You observed her curious affectation of speech; how she managed to split up even the word ‘Yes’ into three syllables; her wheedling tones; her contempt for her husband’s large ideas; her scarcely veiled dislike of the man. Pendrith’s dominant idea is to be the gentleman; that idea dominates his wife also, only contrariwise. She spends her time thwarting him, maddening him with innumerable pinpricks. Do you remember how she persisted in speaking of their evening meal as ‘supper’? He would have liked to see her dressed for dinner. When a man and his wife are divided, both as a rule give the affection which should belong to the other to the children, and that is what has happened in the Pendrith family. These spoiled children are the key to the problem. Pendrith, poor devil, finds his chief happiness in the sentimental relations he has established with them. How he would like to make them a part of his grandeur. Put there’s his wife to reckon with. She has taught them to despise their father.”
Dr. Hailey paused, as if to emphasize his last statement. “Look closely at the man,” he went on. “Look at his weakness, look at his vanity, the vanity which expresses itself in those beds of Dutch bulbs, in those exquisite cups and glasses, in those liqueurs, in his cigars, his butler, his food, his very clothes . . . There’s only one way in which he can get the better of his wife and so win the battle they’re fighting for their children, namely, by getting rich. Vanity, injured pride, lacerated feelings, the instincts of a husband, the instincts of a father, most of all the instincts of a man who feels himself inferior, have driven Pendrith for years toward the same goal. He has desired wealth as men desire women. But how can a country doctor with no capital except his house and furniture hope to grow rich?”
The question rang out. Dr. Hailey’s voice was increasing every moment in strength. It went unanswered.
“A short time ago,” the doctor continued, “Lord Gerald paid the sum of £30,000 into Pendrith’s account. That money is still there; it has not been touched. Nevertheless, I assure you, there was a moment, a few days ago, when most of it seemed to be irretrievably lost. I don’t know the particulars. I had meant to investigate them. But of the fact I have no sort of doubt, even though what I am offering you is still only guesswork. The truth is that Pendrith, on the strength of that money standing to his credit, entered into a gigantic speculation. It was the old story. The shares he bought were bound, so he supposed, to rise. He was in a position to satisfy his broker that he possessed enough to cover any possible fall. Lord Gerald’s money, the money given for the purchase of radium, was misappropriated by him, temporarily, in order to realize his dream. What happened? The shares fell. Pendrith was face to face with the dreadful knowledge that he had lost his patient’s money. At the next Settling Day he must inevitably be exposed, ruined. Visions of the Assizes rose before his eyes. And then came the thought, too awful to be admitted to his mind, of the fate in store for his boy and girl.”
Another deep sigh broke from the doctor’s lips.
“I tried to look at the Elizabethan house, at the tulips, at the bric-a-brac, at the liqueurs and the cigars, the manservant and the meals, with the eyes through which Pendrith saw them on that day when he knew that he would be exposed as an embezzler. His world in ruins, all that he had worked for, striven for the things that were part of his soul! He, a common thief, branded, disgraced, hidden out of sight. What would his wife say? What would his children say? What would happen to his wife and children? For he had protected them. He had even loved them all in his hostile, contemptuous, cringing, sentimental way. He wanted to stay with them, to go on, to be himself, the doctor, the father, the husband. To live still in the place of his life. To grow his bulbs, to sip his old brandy, to visit his patients, to quarrel, to indulge his boy and girl. How sweet all these everyday things had become! They must not be taken away from him and he must not be taken away from them. But how to save himself to save his folk? It was not Settling Day yet. There was still a little time. Well, in that little time he must do something. Perhaps the shares would rise again. If not . . . ”
The doctor broke off and once more his voice fell to a whisper. But the whisper betrayed no suggestion of weakness.
“It was at this moment that the summons came from Miss Bridget Glen to visit her uncle. Pendrith learned that he had been chosen by Lord Gerald to convey the news about Patrick Glen to Colonel Whinstone. What were his feelings? Perhaps we shall never know. Lord Gerald was in his most righteous mood. He must have poured out his story in torrents of words. Did the doctor refuse? Did he resist? I doubt it. He thought: ‘What does it matter, anyhow, what I do?’ There was only one hope for him and that was not to disturb this fierce old man, not to incur his anger or rouse his suspicions. For if Lord Gerald’s anger was awakened by opposition to his will, he might demand the return of his money. I think Pendrith agreed there and then. We know that he succeeded. Whinstone was convinced. That evening Pendrith sent some pellets to Lord Gerald, medicine to soothe the old man’s nerves. What did those pellets contain? They were supposed, I believe, to contain bromide of potash. That is so, isn’t it, Miss Glen?”
“So they did, no doubt, all except one. But that one special pellet, which looked exactly like the others, contained another substance, a substance the powers of which are only now becoming known to medical science, namely, haematoporphoryn. Dr. Pendrith is one of the few people in this country who knows the uses of haematoporphoryn. Lord Gerald was another of these few people, as his memoranda show. It was, in some ways, a case of sending coals to Newcastle, for Lord Gerald had been experimenting with the new drug for a long time in connection with his study of sunlight treatment.” Again Dr. Hailey paused. Be resumed in calmer tones.
“The secret of haematoporphoryn is that it renders anyone who takes it intensely sensitive to light. Bright sunlight, as has recently been proved, may kill an individual so sensitized in a few minutes or even seconds. Pendrith, you see, had decided to do something. He had reflected that the £30,000 had been paid to him personally. If Lord Gerald died, who was going to say for what purpose the money had been paid?”
THE handle of the door rattled and the sound caused Bridget Glen to exclaim in fear.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t let anyone open the door,” Dr. Hailey cried.
“It’s all Tight, sir,” Patrick said, “I’m standing guard.”
There was a moment of silence and then the doctor spoke again.
“This method of getting rid of a troublesome person,” he observed, “has much to recommend it. It is moderately sure because the effect of the haematoporphoryn lasts some hours, and in that time daylight of full strength is likely to be encountered by most people. It is safe because so far the Criminal Investigation Department knows nothing about it, and because in any case the substance cannot be detected in the dead body. Haematoporphoryn is produced frequently by the body itself, though, of course, in very small amounts. Further, who is going to connect a sudden fainting fit with a bottle of pills, each of which can be shown to be above suspicion, because the one pill that was not innocent has already been swallowed? One gives the pellet of haematoporphoryn, and one leaves the sun to do the rest. I am speaking with assurance because I happen to have a friend who has been experimenting on himself with the substance. He found he dared not go out of doors after even quite a small dose; so extreme is the degree of sensitization produced.
“But the method is not without its snags. And the chief snag is that you can never be absolutely sure that your dose will kill. Some people are much less susceptible to sensitization than others. That would not matter much if one was dealing with an ignoramus, such a man as Colonel Whinstone, for example; but it would matter enormously if the chosen victim was Lord Gerald Glen. Because Lord Gerald knew accurately the symptoms of sensitization by haematoporphoryn. Nothing was more certain than that, as soon as he began to feel ill, he would suspect the nature of his trouble.
There is a peculiar effect on the eyes and on the brain. The moment his suspicions were aroused he would shut himself up in the dark and stay in the dark till the haematoporphoryn had lost its effect. In other words, he would escape death and at the same time learn that an attempt had been made to murder him. What is more, in this particular case he would have no trouble whatever in identifying his murderer. There, my dear Verrey, you have the difficulty with which Dr. Pendrith found himself face to face when he decided to murder Lord Gerald.
“He could, of course, secure himself to some extent by giving a very large dose and by insisting that the ‘bromide’ must be taken in the morning. There is always the chance that a sunny day might succeed the one on which the dose of haematoporphoryn was swallowed. The victim, too, being unsuspicious might lose the power of helping himself before he recognized what had happened to him. But even so, an element of risk remained, a risk so terrible that it must at all costs be guarded against. You know what happened. On the morning of which he was murdered, Lord Gerald had a dose of ‘bromide’ before breakfast. He was in good spirits and spoke of the ‘surprise’ which was coming—meaning by that the purchase of radium to be made by Dr. Pendrith. His quarrel with his nephew, however, continued, and they exchanged the barest civilities. After breakfast he must have felt unwell, because he left The Times behind him when he went into his study—an unusual thing for him to do. The next news of him we have is his summons to his butler Buckle to close the iron shutters. The door of the study is locked. In other words, he has realized his condition. He knows the desperate danger which threatens him and is taking the only means of salvation that are available.
“Buckle, while he was closing the shutters, saw him lying prostrate over his desk. It was at, or before, this moment that the message saying he had been murdered by P— he could not write Pendrith—was written. The man was collapsing just as I collapsed a few moments ago. Note that the day was brilliant and that the sun shines directly into this room.”
Hailey drew breath. When he resumed, his voice was clearer than it had been since he began to speak.
“We hear of him next from Buckle. The bell rang. He found the door locked and became afraid—because he had something on his own conscience. There was the skeleton key, a reminder of a life he had quitted for honest and honorable service. He ran upstairs and got it. He opened the door with it. His master lay on the floor, beside the window, apparently dead. He saw him clearly because one of the shutters had blown open. The sunlight flashed from the spectacles which Lord Gerald was still wearing. Buckle relocked the door. He went out and closed the shutters—and in the darkness the collapsed man began to rally, just as I began to rally when the shutters were closed. The second summons to Buckle, obviously, was occasioned by the blowing open of the shutter. Lord Gerald must have recovered fairly well before that tragic accident occurred, because he walked from the bell toward the door—no doubt to speak to the butler through the door. It may be that, just as he reached the window, a small cloud passed from the sun’s face. Anyhow he received the full concentration of the beams from the window. He collapsed a second time.
“But darkness once again restored him. You have seen that restoration here in my own case. He tried to rise. He managed to struggle to his feet. Alas, it was the moment when Dr. Pendrith, summoned by Buckle, was reaching the house. Lord Gerald no doubt heard the car. He must have realized that death was beside him. He uttered a cry of horror. The words ‘Oh, God, save me!’ broke from his lips —Mabel the housemaid heard those words quite distinctly. He fell, just as the doctor was throwing open the shutters in order to flood the room with as much light as possible. His spectacles were dislodged and thrown against the door. A moment later Miss Bridget Glen smashed the window and she and Dr. Pendrith climbed into the room.”
Dr. Hailey caught his breath. At the same time a cry, low and pitiful, moaned in the darkness.
DR. HAILEY drew a sharp breath. “What’s that?” he demanded.
“Can I use my electric lamp?” Verrey asked.
“Yes. That feeble light won’t hurt me now.”
Verrey lit his lamp. The beam disclosed a huddled figure lying beside the door. It illuminated a face the muscles of which were still contracted in that last spasm which precedes death. There was color, though, in the lips and cheeks and brow.
A groan broke from Dr. Hailey’s lips.
“Pendrith! Oh, dear!”
“He’s gone, I’m afraid. Must have taken something.” Verrey’s tones were crisp but they did not effectually hide the state of his feelings.
Dr. Hailey staggered to his feet and with Patrick’s help reached the dead man. He felt his pulse and then touched one of his eyeballs.
“You see his good color?” he said to the detective. “Prussic acid or one of the cyanides. Poor devil ! I had no idea he was in the room.”
Dr. Hailey remained silent for some moments. Then he put his hand in Dr. Pendrith’s pocket and drew out his stethescope. He turned to Bridget Glen whose face was just visible in the dim light.
“You were quite right,” he said, “when you thought you felt a flicker in your uncle’s pulse. I have no doubt now that his pulse was beating when you found him in this room. Do you remember that as soon as you announced that his pulse was beating Pendrith put his stethescope on his chest?”
“Without unbuttoning his jacket?”
“That was when the murder was committed. Pendrith stabbed him through the heart by means of the tiny tenotomy knife he had fitted into the chest piece of his stethescope in readiness for such an emergency. The murder was committed before your eyes. Pendrith could afford to take no risks.”
As he spoke Dr. Hailey examined the chest piece of the dead man’s stethescope.
“There,” he said. “Look at that hole with the screw let into it. That was where the end of the knife was fastened to the little spring which secured its withdrawal into the chest piece after use. All he had to do was to put the chest piece on to the apex of the heart and press a very little with one finger. There is less than half an inch of skin and muscle to pierce.”
The doctor handed the stethescope to Verrey, who took it in shaking hands.
“You remember,” he said, “how we noticed those little cuts in his clothes. The fatal one which pierced his shirt and vest—the other which just touched the fabric of his jacket and waistcoat. These smaller cuts were made when Pendrith pretended at a later period to listen to the heart he had stabbed. Evidently the point of the knife continued to protrude slightly from the chestpiece. It was still wet with blood. Hence the blood on the cuts which did not pierce the shirt.”
Dr. Hailey sat down at the desk and covered his face with his hands.
“One step leads to another,” he murmured. “He killed Colonel Whinstone with his drug to prevent him telling me the reason why his consent to Patrick’s engagement was withdrawn. He foresaw that sooner or later Whinstone would speak, and feared that if I heard the truth I might reach the solution of the mystery. Unhappily, when Whinstone was being murdered I was still unaware of that solution. It hurts me to think that I actually helped to carry that poor fellow out of the cupboard, in which he had instinctively taken refuge, when, during his hunt for whisky, the strong morning sun brought on a feeling of collapse. I only began to guess at the truth an hour ago and I did not even realize that I had myself been marked down as a victim until the last moment—until I felt myself collapsing here. I rang Pendrith up this afternoon to say I was coming to see him. He must have suspected, I think, that I had probed the secret of Whinstone’s death, and become panic-stricken. He gave me the drug in a cup of tea, in one of his beautiful cups. The stuff has no taste.”
Dr. Hailey’s hand travelled to his waistcoat pocket. He found his snuff-box and opened it with fingers which still trembled.
“I must remain here till night falls,” he declared. “There’s no other way. Happily it won’t be a long time.”
He took a pinch of snuff.
“The bitter irony of the whole story is this that before Settling Day arrived Pendrith's shares must have risen again. As it happened he need not have harmed anyone. That was why he was able to show us his pass book and tell us that he was ready to pay over Lord Gerald’s money at any moment.”