The Silver Scale
In which a wife confesses and Death strikes from the dark to complicate an already baffling mystery
The Story: At the castle of Major Hamish Gregor, an elderly Scotsman who is also known as Duchlan, his sister, Miss Mary Gregor, is found murdered in her room. Her window was locked on the inside and so was her door. Apparently no one could have killed her and escaped, yet no weapon was found, thus precluding suicide. The only clue is a fish scale found in the dreadful wound, which might have been made by an axe. Just outside the window is a loch in which fishermen catch herring.
Besides the servants, none of whom had any reason to kill Miss Gregor, there live in the castle Oonagh, the wife of Duchlan s son, Eoghan Gregor, who has been away with his regiment, and their young son.
Dr. Eustace Hailey, assisted by Lead McLeod, the. Procurator Fiscal, and two other friends, tries in vain to solve the mystery. Dr. Hailey learns that, although Miss Gregor was known as a very good woman, she interfered unduly in the bringing up of Oonagh’s young son.
Inspector Dundas arrives, and Duchlan seems annoyed by his questions.
Dundas learns that Duchlan’s son, Eoghan, is in the castle, having arrived by motor boat the previous evening, though he was not expected then.
Dr. Hailey, attracted by Oonagh’s peculiar actions, watches her in the moonlight, and when she plunges into the loch he pulls her out. Obviously she had intended to commi, suicide. She refuses to re-enter the castle, and then cries out in dismay as her husband, Eoghan, approaches.
ER husband’s arrival exerted a singular effect on Oonagh. She seemed to gather her wits and discipline them in an instant. When Eoghan demanded in tones in which anxiety and anger were mingled, why she had left Duchlan,
“Because I had something to say to Dr. Hailey.”
The words were spoken with a degree of assurance which was the more remarkable from the brightness of the moon. It seemed to the doctor that Eoghan must observe the wet condition of his wife’s clothing. But apparently he was too agitated to observe anything.
“It’s dreadfully inconsiderate of you.” he cried, “especially at such a time. My father roused me to come to look for you. He’s terribly distressed.”
“He knows that I wished to talk to Dr. Hailey.”
"But not at this hour, surely!”
“Did your father tell you where to find me?”
“He said you might be here.”
“He knew where I was.”
Eoghan remained silent, gazing at his wife. He faced the moon, and Dr. Hailey saw that his features expressed a deep melancholy.
"I should like you to come back with me now.”
“I can’t go back to Duchlan.”
A look of bewilderment appeared on the young man’s face. "Why not?”
"You must come back.”
She shook her head.
“Dr. Hailey is going to ask John MacCallien to put me up for the night.”
Eoghan tried to grasp his wife’s arm. She shrank from him.
“Surely, doctor,” he cried, “you can’t approve of behavior of this sort? We have sorrow enough at Duchlan ...”
He broke off. Dr. Hailey considered a moment and then turned to him.
“I should like you both to come into the house with me,” he said. “I have something to tell you.” He glanced at Oonagh, whose face expressed a lively dissent. “I shall not try to persuade you against your will. All I want is to put you and your husband in possession of certain facts.”
“I don’t wish to hear them.”
He realized that she feared the discovery of her attempted suicide, and pitched about in his mind for some means of avoiding that discovery. There were none. He weighed the danger and took his decision.
“I have just rescued your wife from drowning,” he told Eoghan in a matter-of-fact tone.
“It’s as I say. The bank of the bum under the castle is very steep, and it’s easy, as you know, to slip on that steep bank. There’s nothing to break the fall till the bum is reached, and at high tide the water in the mouth of th^ burn is deep.”
He spoke in challenging tones. He added: “Please don’t ask any questions just now; I shall not answer them.”
He watched the young man and saw his expression change from melancholy to fear. Eoghan’s fists were clenched. Suddenly he caught his wife’s arm, holding it in a strong grip. This time she did not shrink from him. They walked to the door of the house in silence. It was ajar. Dr. Hailey led the way into the smoking room and switched up the light. An exclamation of dismay broke from Eoghan’s lips when he saw his wife. He came to her and put his arm round her to help her to a chair. A fire was laid in the grate; he stooped and lit it. Oonagh’s eyes followed every movement.
It was an interesting face in spite of its weakness. Even in her distress, the girl managed to convey a remarkable impression of vitality. Dr. Hailey glanced at Eoghan. There was vitality in his face too, but it was clouded by his melancholy. Oonagh, he thought, was one of those women who need to depend on a man’s direction. Was this man capable of giving her the support without which her vitality must constitute a danger?
A S YOU know, ”Dr. Hailey said, “I had an opportunity of inspecting Miss Gregor’s body this evening. That inspection has convinced me that she was killed by someone possessed of great strength and using a weapon taken from a fishing boat. That’s the first fact that I wish to make known to you.”
He sat down and put his eyeglass in his eye. Although his clothes clung to him rather dismally, he had not lost the kindliness of manner which ordinarily distinguished him.
“Why do you think the weapon was taken from a fishing boat?” Eoghan asked.
“Because I found the scale of a herring near the edge of the wound.”
Oonagh raised her head sharply.
“That would mean that the scale had been on the blade of the weapon?”
“I think so. I don’t see how it could have reached the place where I found it in any other way. There was only one scale, so I conclude that the weapon was wiped before being used.”
The girl moved her chair nearer to the fire. He saw her knuckles whiten as she grasped its arms.
“Queerly enough,” Eoghan said, “I brought some herring from a fishing boat on my way across the loch last night. They were pulling in the net when I passed them and I couldn’t resist the temptation. The launch is full of herring scales.”
He spoke calmly, but his words exerted a strong effect on his wife, who bent closer to the fire as if to hide her uneasiness. A lambent flame revealed the tense expression on her face.
“Still, you didn’t visit your aunt, did you?” Dr. Hailey asked.
“Yes, I did.”
“I understood from what your father said, that he called you early this morning to help to break into Miss Gregor’s room.”
“Oh, yes. But I went to her room before I went to bed last night. Her door was locked.”
Dr. Hailey waved his hand in a gesture which indicated that he would not at present concern himself with that aspect of the mystery.
“The second fact I wish you to know,” he said, “is that some time elapsed between the infliction of the wound and the death of Miss Gregor. During this time the murderer remained in the room. That is certain because, had the weapon been withdrawn from the wound before death, a much larger quantity of blood must have been spilt.”
“Have you any idea,” Eoghan asked, “how the room was entered?”
“Possibly by the door. It was locked in the morning but—”
“It was locked when I tried it at eleven o’clock last night.”
“Even so, you don’t know when, exactly, the key was turned, do you?”
“I know,” Oonagh said in quiet tones.
She faced Dr. Hailey. He saw that excitement had returned to her eyes.
“I went to Aunt Mary’s room just after ten o’clock,” she said. “I knocked and then opened .the door. Christina was just going to leave the room. I took her candle from her and went toward the bed where Aunt Mary was lying. When Aunt Mary saw me she sat up and began to gasp. I was frightened and went out and shut the door. I heard her
get out of bed and run to the door. She locked the door. Christina had gone away.”
Oonagh’s voice had become louder but was still subdued. There was an assurance in her tones that carried conviction.
“How do you know Miss Gregor locked the door?” Dr. Hailey asked.
“Because I tried the handle. I thought that oerhaps she was ill and that I ought to go into the room again.”
“You are quite sure of that?”
“Absolutely sure. I tried the handle several times.
“Did you call to Miss Gregor while you were trying the handle?”
“Yes. She didn’t answer me.”
Dr. Hailey turned to Eoghan.
“Did you call to her when you tried the handle?”
“I did, yes. I got no answer. I thought she had fallen asleep.”
“Aunt Mary seemed to be terrified of me,” Oonagh stated. “I have never seen anyone look so terrified in my life.” “She wasn’t easily frightened, was she?”
A smile flickered on the girl’s lips.
“Oh, no.” She added: “Until that moment I had been frightened of her.”
“Do you think she was calling for help?”
“No, that's the st-range thing. I think she was just dreadfully afraid. Panic-stricken: like a woman who sees a ghost. She didn’t try to call Christina back.”
Dr. Hailey leaned forward.
"How were you dressed?” he asked.
“I was in my nightdress. I was wearing a blue silk dressing gown.”
The room grew silent. Oonagh pushed aside her heavy fringe, and revealed a high brow.
“Why did you go to Miss Gregor’s room?” Dr. Hailey
The girl glanced at her husband before she replied.
“Aunt Mary and I had quarrelled before dinner. I wanted to talk to her.”
“To make up your quarrel?”
“Yes.” The monosyllable came firmly.
Dr. Hailey nodded.
“Duchlan told me.” he said, “that you had gone to bed before dinner because you weren’t feeling well.”
“I wasn’t feeling well. But that was the result of my quarrel with Aunt Mary.”
The doctor rose and took out his snuffbox.
"My position.” he said, “is a little difficult. I told Inspector Dundas that I wouldn’t try to double his work on the case. If I ask any more questions I’m afraid I shall be breaking that promise. My object in bringing you here, as you know, wasn’t to get information but to give it. I wanted you both to realize that this case presents very great difficulties which will certainly tax the resources of the police to the utmost.” l ie took a pinch of snulT Eoghan asked :
“Why did you want us to realize that?”
“So that your wife might feel able to return with you to Duchlan.”
“I confess I don’t follow.”
Dr. Hailey glanced at Oonagh. She shook her head. He took more snuff to avoid making an immediate reply and then said:
“I fancy it is better to tell the truth. Your wife was trying to drown herself when I rescued her.”
Eoghan jumped up.
“What!” The blood ebbed out of his cheeks. “Is this true?” he demanded of Oonagh.
“That you tried to— to drown yourself?”
He turned fearful eyes to Dr. Hailey.
“I insist on knowing the whole truth. Why is my wife with you at this hour? How does my father know that she’s with you?”
“I can’t answer the last question. The answer to the first is that I saw her jump from the jetty and ran to her help. It’s possible your father may have observed us.”
The young man strode to his wife and seized her hand. “Why did you do it?” he cried.
Oonagh remained bending over the fire, unresponsive and limp. When he repeated his question, she bowed her head but did not answer. The doctor sat down.
“I think I can supply the answer.” he said. “Your wife feared that you had played a part in the murder of your aunt.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“Her suicide was sure to be interpreted as a confession of her own guilt. She was shielding you.”
“Oonagh, is that true?”
There was no reply. The doctor waited a moment and then said to Eoghan :
“It wasn’t an unreasonable fear, perhaps. No more unreasonable, certainly, than the fear under which you are laboring at this moment, namely that your wife’s attempt to drown herself was a confession of guilt.” His voice became gentle: “What’s the use of pretense at a time such as this? The more deeply we love, the quicker must be our fear, seeing that each of us is liable under provocation to lose self-control. Why I told you about my examination of your aunt's wound was that you might realize that it cannot have been inflicted by a woman. Your wife did not kill your aunt. Your fear that she may have done so proves, surely, that you, too, are guiltless.”
He paused. A look of inexpressible relief had appeared on Oonagh’s face. She stretched out her hand to her husband, who grasped it.
“You have reasons, presumably, both of you, for your fears,” Dr. Hailey added. “I can only speculate about them. 1 note, in passing, that you are no longer sharing a bedroom. Whatever your reasons may be, they do not invalidate my argument.”
He turned to Eoghan.
“Take John MacCallien’s car and drive your wife home. The door of the garage isn’t locked.”
TPvR. HAILEY heard nothing officially about the murder ^ of Miss Gregor for several days after his visit to Duchlan. But news of the activity of Inspector Dundas was not lacking. That young man. in his own phrase, was leaving no stone unturned. He liad surrounded the castle with policemen; he had forbidden the inhabitants to leave the grounds on any pretext whatever; and he had commandeered motor cars and boats for his own service. The household staff, so it was reported, was reduced to a state of panic. Nor were his activities confined to Duchlan. Every one of the two thousand villagers of Ardmore lay under the heavy cioud of his suspicion.
“And yet,” Dr. McDonald of Ardmore told Dr. Hailey, “he hasn't advanced a step. He has found no motive for the murder. Suspicion attaches to nobody, and he possesses not even the remotest idea of how the murderer entered or left Miss Gregor’s bedroom.”
Dr. McDonald made this statement with a degree of bitterness which indicated how grievously he himself had suffered at Dundas’s hands.
“The man’s a fusser,” he added. “Nothing must escape him. And so everything escapes him. He’s always trying to hold a bunch of sparrows in one hand while he plucks them with the other.”
The Ardmore doctor smiled at his metaphor. He w'as a big man, red of face and raw of bone, with a wooden leg which gave him much trouble; a man, as Dr. Hailey knew, reputed something of a dreamer but believed, too, to be very wise in the love of his profession and in his knowledge of men. His blue eyes continued to sparkle.
“I promised not to interfere,” he said.
“He told me that. He hasn’t much opinion of amateur methods of catching criminals,” remarked Dr. Hailey.
“So I gathered.”
Dr. McDonald’s eyes narrowed. He leaned forward in his chair in order to move his leg to a more comfortable position.
“Dici you see the old scar on Miss Gregor’s chest?” he asked.
“What did you make of it?”
Dr. Hailey shook his head. “You mustn’t ask me that, you know.”
“Very well. But that’s the clue that Dundas has fastened on. Who wounded Miss Gregor ten years ago? He thinks if he can answer that question his troubles’ll be over. And the queer thing is that nobody can or will tell him. He’s got it worked out that the poor woman was probably at home here when she wras wounded. And yet neither Duchlan nor Angus nor Christina seems to know anything about the wound.”
Dr. McDonald paused. It was obvious that he hoped to interest his colleague, but Dr. Hailey only shook his head. “You mustn’t ask me for my opinion.”
“There’s another queer thing. Dundas has paid a lot of attention to the herring scale you discovered. He found a second scale inside the wound. He argued that the weapon the wound was inflicted with must have come from the kitchen, and he’s been giving the servants a fearful time. I believe he found an axe with fish scales on it, but the clue led him nowhere. There’s nothing to show that any of the servants went to Miss Gregor’s room after Christina, her maid, had left it for the night.”
“Is Dundas still hopeful of being able to solve the mystery?” Dr. Hailey asked.
“No.” Dr. McDonald moved his leg again. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “I’m here in the capacity of an ambassador. Dundas wants your help, but he’s too proud to ask for it after what he said to you. He suggested that, as one of your professional brethren, I might carry the olive branch.”
“I’m afraid not.”
“I hope you won’t stand too much on ceremony. You have him at your mercy.”
“That’s not the way to look at it.” Dr. Hailey took a pinch of snuff. “If I go to Duchlan now I’ll be compelled to work along Inspector Dundas’s lines. I’ve no doubt they’re good lines, but they are not mine. I should only confuse his mind and my own.”
“I see. You insist on a free hand.”
“Not that exactly. What I’m really asking is a free mind. I don’t want to co-operate. You can tell Dundas that, if he likes. I’ll work at the problem independently of him. Any discoveries I may make will belong to him, of course.”
“He won’t consent to that. He’ll give you a free hand only so long as he’s with you in all you do.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Dr. Hailey made up his mind.
“Tell him,” he said, “that I can’t accept these terms. I’m an amateur, not a professional, and my studies of crime are undertaken only because they interest me. When I work alone my mind gropes about until it finds something which appeals to it. I follow a line of investigation often without knowing exactly why I’m following it. It would be intolerable to have to explain and justify every step. And Dundas would certainly insist on such explanations. The detection of crime, I think, is an art more than a science, like the practice of medicine.”
■TAR. McDONALD did not dispute this idea; indeed he seemed to agree with it. He went away saying that he would come back if Dundas agreed to the terms.
Dr. Hailey joined John MacCallien under the pine trees in front of the house, and sat down in the deck chair which awaited him. The day was insufferably hot and close, so hot and so close that even Loch Fyne seemed to be destitute of a ripple.
“Dundas sent him. But I can’t work with Dundas.” John MacCallien nodded.
“Of course not. I was talking to the postman while you were indoors. He says that Dundas has got the whole place by the ears. There’s a panic.”
“So McDonald suggested.”
“Dundas has found out that Eoghan Gregor is in debt. Eoghan’s his aunt’s heir, so you can guess what inference has been drawn. But there's the shut room to be got over.
The man has had an inventory made of every ladder in Argyll.”
“The wdndows were bolted. Nobody can have got into the room through the windows.”
“No, so I supposed. But you know wfiat Dundas and his kind are —detail, detail, till you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
The haze which veiled the loch about Otter and which blotted out the rolling contours of the hills of Cowal seemed to be charged with fire and suffocation. Even in the shade of the trees, a hot vapor lay on the ground. The doctor took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
“I never realized that it could be so hot in the Highlands.” He lay back and looked up at the clumps of dark-green pine needles above him.
“Did you know Miss Gregor well?” he asked his friend suddenly.
“Not very well. Since my return from India I’ve seen very little of her. My knowledge belongs chiefly to my youth. My father always spoke of her as a present-day saint, and Í suppose I adopted that opinion ready-made.” He remained thoughtful for a few minutes, during which the doctor observed his kindly face with satisfaction. John MacCallien, he reflected, was one of those men who do not change their opinions gladly and who are specially reluctant to revise the teachings of their parents.
“Your father’s view was shared by everybody else in this neighborhood, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. By everybody.”
MacCallien sat up. He shook his head rather sadly: “When my brother and I were children,” he said, “we often met Miss Gregor out driving. Our nurse, on these occasions, always told us to take our hats off, and that became a burden. One day, just as the carriage was passing, we put out our tongues instead. I can still see the horror on the dear woman’s face. She stopped the carriage, got out and read us a lecture on good manners. We didn’t mind that so much, but she wrote as well to our father. I remember thinking, while we were being punished, that she wasn’t my idea of a saint.”
He smiled faintly and then looked surprised when he saw how attentive Dr. Hailey had become.
“How old was Miss Gregor at that time?”
“She must have been quite young. In her twenties or early thirties, I suppose.”
“What happened the next time you met her?”
“Oh, we took our hats off, of course.”
“I fancy she bowed to us as she had done formerly. Funnily enough, though, I can’t remember much about her after that.”
“Did you know Duchlan’s wife?”
“Oh, yes, rather.” MacCallien’s voice became suddenly enthusiastic. “She was an awfully good sort. We loved her. I remember my brother saying once that Mrs. Gregor would never have told our father if we had put our tongues out at her. She had a short married life, poor woman.”
Dr. Hailey passed his hand over his brow.
“What did she die of?” he asked.
“Diphtheria, I believe. She died very suddenly.”
Dr. Hailey spent the afternoon in a hammock, turning over the details of the mystery in his mind. He did not disguise from himself that he was disappointed at not having been allowed to attempt a solution. On the other hand, such ideas as he had evolved offered no substantial basis of deduction. He discussed the subject again with his host after dinner, but obtained no enlightenment.
“I’ve no doubt,” John MacCallien said, “that Dundas has exhausted all such probabilities as secret doors and chambers. He was prepared. I feel sure, to tear the castle to pieces to find one clue. My friend the postman had it from Angus, Duchlan’s piper, that he found nothing. There are no secret chambers, no passages, no trapdoors.”
“And no other means by which the murderer can have entered the bedroom or escaped out of it?”
John MacCallien raised his head.
“We know that he did enter the bedroom and did escape out of it.”
“Exactly. And miracles don’t happen.”
The doctor took a pinch of snuff. “This is the fourth time that I’ve encountered a case in which a murder was committed in what seemed like a closed room or a closed space. I imagine that the truth, in this instance, will not be more difficult to discover than in those others ...”
He broke off because they heard a car driving up to the door. A moment later Dr. McDonald came limping into the room.
“You’ve got your terms. Hailey,” he said as he shook the doctor’s hand. “Dundas owns himself beaten.” He shook hands with John MacCallien and then turned back to Dr. Hailey. “Can you possibly come to Duchlan tonight?”
INSPECTOR DUNDAS received the two doctors in his A bedroom, a large room situated near the one formerly occupied by Miss Gregor and directly overlooking the burn. He was seated on his bed when they entered, studying notes, and wore only a shirt and trousers. But he did not seem to be feeling the heat.
Continued on page 73
The Silver Scale
Continued, Jr om page 14
“It’s good of you, Dr. Hailey,” he said in grateful tones, “because I wasn’t as polite as I might have been at our first meeting. Pride cometh before a fall, eh?”
“On the contrary, I thought your attitude entirely unexceptional.”
The doctor sat down near the open window and mopped his brow. Dundas, he perceived, had lost his air of assurance. Even his sprightliness of manner had deserted him. The change was rather shocking, as indicating a fundamental lack of self-confidence. The man had put all his trust in cleverness and thoroughness, and when these failed he had nothing to fall back on.
“Perhaps you would like me to give you an account of what I’ve done,” he said. “A few facts have emerged.”
He spoke wearily, without enthusiasm. Dr. Hailey shook his head.
“I should prefer to ask you questions.” “Very well.”
The doctor rose and pulled off his coat. Before he sat down again he glanced out at the sea, white under the full moon. The sails of fishing boats stained the whiteness here and there, and he saw that several of the boats were lying close inshore at the mouth of the burn. The sound of the fishermen’s voices came softly on the still air. He turned to his companions.
"They seem to have shot a net out here.” Dr. McDonald turned indifferently away. “Yes.”
“I had no idea they fished so close inshore.”
“Oh, yes. The herring come into the shallow water at night to feed.”
A faint smile flickered on Dundas’s lips. “You’re thinking of the possibility that one of those fishermen may have climbed in here?” he asked. "That idea was in my own mind. But I feel sure now that there’s nothing in it. Nobody could climb these walls.”
Dr. Hailey sat down. He polished his eyeglass and put it in his eye.
“I’m afraid I wasn’t thinking of that,” he confessed. “Boats, especially fishing boats, have always attracted me. It used to be one of my boyish ambitions to spend a night with the herring fleet.” He leaned forward. “McDonald told me that you observed the scar on Miss Gregor’s chest.” “Yes. I tried to work on that clue, but I got nothing. Nobody here knows anything about it.”
“Isn’t that rather strange?”
“Very strange. But truth to tell, doctor, the people here are impossible. They know nothing about anything. When I said to Duchlan that nobody could hide an injury of that sort, he met me with a shrug of his shoulders. What are you to do? The scar is very old. It may date back twenty years.” “Yes. But it represents what was once a severe wound. Long ago somebody tried to kill Miss Gregor. Since I formed that opinion I’ve been trying to get information about the lady. I’ve made a discovery.” “Yes?” The detective’s voice rang out sharply.
“Everybody seems to believe that she was a saint, and nobody seems to know much about her.”
“My dear sir,” Dr. McDonald interrupted, “I knew her well. The whole neighborhood knew her well.”
“As a figure, yes. Not as a woman.” “What does that mean?”
“Who were her intimate friends?”
The Ardmore doctor nursed his leg with both handsHe looked blank.
“Oh, the lairds and their families.”
“John MacCallien confesses that he used to see her out driving occasionally. He was taught to hold her in great respect. He knows nothing about her.”
“He's a bachelor.”
“Yes. But he goes everywhere. One of his friends told me yesterday that Miss
Gregor was looked on as a woman apart. She was full of good works but she gave her confidence to nobody. She had no woman friend, no man friend. In such a place as this, gossip is passed on from father to son and mother to daughter. It’s quite clear that this woman lived her life in seclusion.” Dr. McDonald frowned. “She never j impressed me in that way. Her nephew’s j upbringing had been the chief business of I her life. I can still hear her clear voice saying: ‘Doctor McDonald, the knowledge that a young life had been committed to my care overwhelmed me. I felt that I must live and work and think and plan for no other object than Eoghan’s welfare in the very highest sense of that word.’ ”
“Are you not confirming what I’ve suggested? Miss Gregor’s life was here, in this house, between these walls.” Dr. Hailey allowed his eyeglass to drop. “I’ve been asking myself where her interest was centred before Eoghan was born,” he added. ‘‘Clever, active-minded women always, believe me, find something or somebody to absorb their attention.”
Nobody answered him; Dundas’s interest was wholly extinguished. There was a i knock at the drx>r. Angus, the piper, entered ! with a tray on which glasses tinkled together.
; The gilded neck of a champagne bottle protruded from a small ice pail like a pheasant’s neck from a coop.
“Duchlan will be honored, gentlemen,” Angus announced, “if you’ll accept a little refreshment.”
He stood in the doorway awaiting their decision. Dundas signed to him to put the I tray down on the dressing table.
“Shall I open the bottle?”
Angus performed this office with much dignity. He filled the glasses on the tray and presented them to the three men. Dr. Hailey took occasion to glance at his face, but found it inscrutable. The piper knew how to keep his thoughts to himself. When ( lie had left the room Dundas remarked that a similar courtesy had not been extended to himself.
j “I’m getting to know Duchlan,” he declared. “This is his way of telling me what lie thinks of me. Champagne isn’t for a common policeman.”
I He laughed and flushed as he spoke. It was clear that, under his uncompromising manner, he was exceedingly sensitive, j “This is the hottest night of the year, you know,” Dr. Hailey suggested amiably.
“Oh, it’s been hot enough every night since I came here.”
TNUNDAS emptied his glass at a gulp, an offense, seeing that the wine was good, j He made a joke about a fanner at a public dinner to whom champagne had been served, but failed to amuse his companions.
Dr. Hailey sipped the liquor, watching the tiny clusters of bubbles on its surface, elfish pearls cunningly set in gold. The wine was excellently chilled and yielded its virtue generously.
"What do you make of Duchlan?” the doctor asked after a prolonged interval of 1 silence.
j “He’s a Highland laird. They’re all alike.”
i “Pride and poverty.” j “I understood that Miss Gregor was a rich woman.”
The policeman’s face brightened.
“Ah,” he exclaimed, “you know that, do you?”
I “John MacCallien told me.”
! “It’s true. An uncle, who made money in I business, left her a big sum about ten years I ago. Why, I don’t know. Duchlan got nothing.”
Dr. Hailey ncxlded.
“Has Duchlan helped you?”
“No. he has not.”
“What about Eoghan Gregor?”
Dundas shrugged his shoulders.
‘‘Another of the same. But I didn’t expect help there after I found that the fellow has just gambled his money away.” He leaned forward suddenly. “Eoghan Gregor was ruined on the day of his aunt’s death. And his aunt has left him all her money.”
He remained tensely expectant, watching I the effect of his disclosure. Dr. Hailey denied him satisfaction.
“After all, his aunt brought him up, you know.”
“Exactly. He knew that she would leave him her money.”
"Wouldn’t she have lent him money, if he had asked her?”
“I don’t think so. Not to pay gambling debts, at any rate. Miss Gregor, by all accounts, was a woman with most violent prejudices against gambling in any form.” Dundas glanced at Dr. McDonald for confirmation.
“She looked on every kind of game of chance as the invention of the devil,” the Ardmore doctor declared. “I’ve heard her ; myself call playing cards ‘the devil’s tools.’ ; I’m sure that if she had suspected that her ! nephew indulged in gambling she would have disinherited him as a matter of principle.” . Dr. Hailey nodded. “I see.”
“It came to this,” Dundas declared. “Of j the three questions that must be answered in every case of murder—Who? Why? ¡
How?—I may have found answers to the j first two.” He raised his right hand in a • gesture which recalled a bandmaster. “But the third has remained obstinately unanswerable. There isn’t a shadow of doubt that the door was locked on the inside. As you know, a carpenter had to be fetched to cut out the lock. He told me that he examined the windows and saw for himself that they ¡ were bolted. Dr. McDonald here arrived before the carpenter had completed his work, to confirm these statements. In other words, that room with its thick walls and heavy door was completely sealed up. You couldn’t have broken into it without using great violence. And there’s not a sign of violence anywhere.”
The policeman rubbed his brow uneasily. “Has the idea occurred to you.’’ McDonald asked, “that the murder may have been committed in some other room?” “What? But how was the body got into the bedroom in that case? I assure you that you can’t turn the key of the door from the outside. I’m an authority on skeleton keys of all sorts. No skeleton key that was ever invented could pick that lock. And the end of the key doesn’t protrude from the lock, j The locks of this house are all astonishingly j ingenious. I’m told they were the invention of Duchlan’s grandfather, who had a passion for lockmaking.”
“Like Louis the Sixteenth.”
Dundas looked blank. “I didn’t know that Louis the Sixteenth was interested in locks,” he said in a tone which proclaimed his innocence of any knowledge about that monarch.
“He was. And his interest set a fashion. I’ve little doubt that the Duchlan of those days acquired his taste for mechanics during a visit to London or Paris. Some years ago I made a study of these eighteenth-century locks. Many of them are extraordinarily clever.”
“Those here are, at any rate.” Dundas rose as he spoke and brought the lock which had been cut from Miss Gregor’s door for the doctor’s inspection. He pointed to the keyhole. “Observe how the key enters at a different level on each side of the door. That precludes the possibility of picking the lock with a skeleton key or of turning the key from the outside with pliers. You would think these were two locks, indeed, instead of only one, hut they're connected.”
Dr. Hailey focused his eyeglass on the piece of mechanism and then handed it back.
“I agree with you,” he said. “It is absolutely certain that the door was neither locked nor unlocked from the outside.” “That means, remember, that Miss Gregor locked the door.”
“I suppose so.”
The detective shook his head.
“How can you, or I for that matter, suppose anything else? Seeing that the windows were bolted on the inside.” Again he rubbed his brow. “My brain seems to be going round in circles,” he cried. “What I’m really saying is that Miss Gregor inflicted that dreadful wound on herself, seeing that j nobody was present in the room with her '
and that nobody can have escaped out of her room. And she certainly didn’t inflict the wound on herself.”
“She did not.”
Dundas’s face had become very solemn. This mystery, which had brought all his efforts to nothing, exerted, it seemed, a profoundly depressing effect on his spirits. He shook his head mournfully as the difficulties against which he had been contending presented themselves anew to his mind.
“What I don’t understand,” Dr. Hailey said, “is why the windows were shut at all. It was an exceedingly hot night; as hot or hotter than it is now. Nobody in such conditions would sleep with closed windows.” He turned to Dr. McDonald: “Do you happen to know if Miss Gregor was afraid of open windows—I mean, absurdly afraid?”
“I don’t think so. I rather imagine that in summer she usually slept with her windows open.”
“In that case she certainly meant to leave them open on the night of her death.”
“I thought of that too,” he said. “No doubt you’re right, but you’ll have to supply an answer to the question why, in fact, the windows were shut. Why did she shut these
windows on the hottest night of the year? If you can answer that question it seems to me that you'll have gone a long way toward the truth.”
“You know, I take it, that Mrs. Eoghan Gregor visited the room immediately after her aunt had gone to bed?”
“Yes, I know that. She told me herself. She said that Miss Gregor locked the door in her face.”
“Isn’t it probable that Miss Gregor shut the windows at the same time?”
“Why should she?”
“Perhaps for the same reason that she locked the door.”
“Can you name that reason?”
Dundas raised his head sharply.
“Mrs. Eoghan Gregor thinks that her aunt was afraid of her.”
“What, afraid she would climb in by the window?”
“Panic never reasons, you know.”
A knock on the door interrupted them. In answer to Dundas’s invitation to come in, Eoghan Gregor entered the room.
EOGHAN was pale and looked anxious. He addressed himself to Dr. McDonald. “Will you please come to Hamish?” he asked. “He’s had another slight fit, I think.”
Continued on page 78
The Silver Scale
Continued from page 75
He stood in the doorway, apparently unaware of the others in the room. Dr. j McDonald jumped up and hurried away.
“That’s unfortunate,” Dundas remarked, in the tone of a man who resents any deflection of interest from his own concerns. He j added: “A fit’s the same as a convulsion, j isn’t it?”
“Of the same nature.”
j "The child’s evidently subject to them.
¡ McDonald told me it had one a few days before Miss Gregor’s death. He doesn’t seem to think they're very serious.”
¡ “No, not as a rule.”
“Lots of children get them, don’t they?” j “Yes.”
I Dr. Hailey found himself listening and ! recognized that, strong as was his interest in : detective work, his interest in the practice of medicine was much stronger. He wished that Eoghan Gregor had invited him to accompany McDonald, and felt a sudden sharp disinclination to continue the work which had brought him to the house. It was with a sense of lively annoyance that he heard Dundas ask further if fits were a sign of nervous weakness.
“I have an idea that both Duchlan and his son are very highly strung,” the detective suggested in those hushed tones which laymen always adopt when speaking to doctors ; about serious disease. “I don’t mind confessing that I’ve been working along these lines. Duchlan, as you’ve probably heard, is a good laird, though a bit queer. His sister. Miss Gregor, seems to have had ! notions - what they call hereabouts Highland second-sight. That’s the first generation. Eoghan Gregor’s the second generation, and he’s a grumbler with the temperament of a gambler. Then there’s the boy, the third generation.”
He paused expectantly. The doctor was in the act of taking a pinch of snuff and completed that operation.
"Fits in children,” he stated coldly, “are usually caused by indigestion.”
“Is that so?” Duchlan was abashed.
“Yes. Probably the child has been eating berries or green apples.”
“McDonald said he was afraid of brain fever.”
Dr. Hailey did not reply. Listening, he fancied he heard a child crying, but could not be sure. He thought that, but for the fact that this mystery so greatly challenged his curiosity, he would have abandoned the attempt to solve it. The picture of Oonagh Gregor bending anxiously over her child, a picture that came and remained stubbornly in his mind, did not invite to revelations which might possibly add new sorrows to her lot. For an instant the futility of criminal investigations assailed his mind. What did it matter who had killed Miss Gregor, seeing that Miss Gregor was dead and beyond help? Then he recognized the source of that idea in his feelings toward Dundas. The hound is always so much less lovable, so much less interesting, than its quarry.
“I don’t think,” he said, “that I can go further tonight. I like to sleep on my ideas.” He rose as he spoke, but the expression in Dundas’s eyes made him hesitate. The detective, as he suddenly realized, was in great distress.
“The truth is, doctor, that if I can't reach some sort of conclusion within the next day or two, I’ll be recalled,” Dundas said. “And up till now I've been going ahead from case to case. I’ll never get another chance if somebody else succeeds where I’ve failed. I’m only speaking for myself, of course, but from that point of view there isn’t a moment to be lost. I know, because I had a letter today from headquarters.”
He took a folded sheet of paper from his pocket as he spoke and unfolded it. He read :
“It’s obvious that somebody entered Miss
Gregor’s bedroom, seeing that she didn’t kill herself. Your report suggests that you’re losing sight of this central fact in order to run after less important matters. Success can only be won by concentration. Ask yourself how the bedroom was entered. When you’ve found an answer to that question you’ll have little difficulty, probably, in answering the further question: Who entered it?”
“That is exactly the method I have always found to be useless in difficult cases,” Dr. Hailey said with warmth.
“But you see what the letter means. They’re growing restive. The papers are shouting for a solution, and they’ve got nothing to offer.”
Dr. Hailey sat down again and leaned forward.
“My method is always to proceed from the people to the crime rather than from the crime to the people. And the person I am most interested in, as a rule, certainly in the present case, is the murdered man or woman. When you know everything there is to be known about a person who has been murdered, you know the identity of the murderer.”
DUNDAS shook his head. “I feel that I do know the identity of the murderer. But that knowledge hasn’t helped me.”
The doctor rubbed his brow as a tired man tries to banish the seductions of sleep.
“Did you notice,” he asked, “that Miss Gregor’s room was like an old curiosity shop?”
“It seemed to be pretty full of stuff. Those samplers on the wall—”
“Exactly. It was full of ornaments that most people would have preferred to get rid of. And every one of those ornaments bore some relation to Miss Gregor herself. Are you interested at all in folk-lore?” Dundas shook his head.
“I’m afraid not.”
“I am. I’ve studied it fcr years. One of the oldest and strongest beliefs among primitive peoples is that the virtue of a man or woman—his or her vital essence, so to speak —is communicated in a subtle way to material things. For example, the sword a soldier has carried comes to possess something of his personality. We all make some use of the idea, I admit; but most of us stop short in that use at the point where the material thing serves as a symbol of the spiritual. A modern mother keeps and treasures her dead son’s sword. She does not suppose that the sword contains or holds part of her son’s personality. But there are still people, probably there always will be people, who do not stop short at that point. Things they or their relations have made or used acquire sacredness in their eyes so that they can’t endure the idea of parting with them. The material becomes transmuted by a process of magic into something other than it appears to be. Miss Gregor, clearly, attached such importance to her own handiwork and to the possessions of her ancestors that she would not willingly allow any of them to be taken out of her sight. Unless I’m very much mistaken, that was the dominant note of her character.”
He paused. The detective looked mystified, though he tried to follow the reasoning to its conclusion.
“Well?” he asked.
“Her character was rooted in the past. It embraced the past, was nourished with it as with food. But it reached out, also, to the future; because the future is the heir of all things. Her brother Duchlan was of her way of thinking. But could she feel sure that the next generation would hold by the tradition? What was to become of the precious and sacred possessions after her death? That thought, believe me, haunts the minds of men and women who have abandoned themselves to family magic. Duchlan’s son, Eoghan, is the next generation. What were Miss Gregor’s relations to her nephew?”
“She acted as his mother.”
“Yes. So that another question arises: What were her relations to his mother? Duchlan’s wife, don’t forget, was Irish. That is to say, she stood outside of the High-
land tradition. If she had lived, and brought her son up herself, would he have inherited the authentic doctrines of the family? In other words, what kind of woman was Duchlan's wife? How did she fare in this place? What relations existed between her and her sister-in-law? I shall certainly try to obtain answers to all these questions?” “You won’t obtain them. The old man is determined not to speak about his family.
I told you that he professes to know nothing about the scar on his sister’s chest. And his servants are as uncommunicative as he is.” !
“My dear sir, a laird is a laird. There are always people who know what is going on in big houses.”
Dundas shrugged his shoulders.
“I haven’t found any in Ardmore, and I’ve spared no pains to find them.”
Dr. Hailey took a notebook from his pocket and unscrewed the cap of his fountain pen. He wrote for a few minutes, and then explained that if he kept a record of his thoughts about a case as they occurred to him, knowledge of the case seemed to grow.
“The act of writing impresses my brain in some curious way. When I write, things assume a new and different proportion.”
He laid his pen down beside the champagne glasses and leaned back.
“Detective work is like looking at a puzzle. The solution is there before one’s eyes, only one can’t see it. And one can’t see it because some detail more aggressive than the others leads one’s eyes away from the j essential detail. I have often thought that a painter could make a picture in which one particular face or one particular object would be invisible to the spectator until he had attained a certain degree of concentration or detachment.
“This room of Miss Gregor, for example, seems to us to be a closed box into which nobody could have entered and from which nobody could have emerged. The consequence of that idea is that we cannot conceive how the poor lady was murdered. Yet, believe me, the method of her murder is there, written plainly in the details we have both observed. When I write I attain a new point of view that is not attainable when I speak.
“For example—” He leaned forward again and extended his notebook. “I’ve written here that you found Duchlan and his household exceedingly reticent about past events. When you told me that, I merely wondered why it should be so. Now I can see that, in all their minds, a connection must exist between the present and the past. It follows that the scar on the dead woman’s chest is the clue to a great family upheaval, the effects of which are still being acutely felt, so acutely indeed that even murder is accepted as a possible or even probable outcome.”
He turned sharply as he spoke. Dr. McDonald had entered the room and was standing behind him. He rose to his feet.
“I’d like you to come and see this boy,” McDonald said. “It’s one of those puzzling cases that one finds it difficult to name.” He hesitated and then added: “It may be only a passing indigestion. On the other hand it may be the brain. I’ve acted so far on the assumption that it’s brain.”
Dr. Hailey promised Dundas that he would come back in the morning. He took his hat, followed McDonald to the door, and shut it. When they reached the foot of the stairs leading to the nursery, he remembered that he had left his fountain pen behind him and told his companion.
“I’ll go back for it,” McDonald said. McDonald ran back along the lighted corridor. Next moment Dr. Hailey heard his own name called in accents which proclaimed distress and horror. He strode to Dundas’s room.
The detective was lying huddled on the floor beside the bed. There was an ominous stain on his corn-colored hair.
Dr. McDonald was on his knees beside the man, trying apparently to feel his pulse. He raised frightened eyes as his colleague came into the room.
“He’s dead !”
To be Continued