The Silver Scale
Wherein a lover confesses and a new shadow casts its pall over Duchlan's stricken castle
The story: At the castle of Major Hamish Gregor, a dour old Scotsman known also as Duchlan, his elderly and somewhat eccentric sister is found murdered in her room. The circumstances are mysterious because both her door and her window were locked on the inside and no weapon can be found in the room, though the dreadful wound on her chest could have been made only by quite a heavy one such as an axe. The only clue is a silvery herring scale found in the wound. The castle stands on the bank of a loch in which fishermen catch herring.
Dr. Eustace Hailey, assisted by Dr. McDonald and Procurator Fiscal McLeod, try in vain to solve the mystery. Inspector Dundas arrives and delves into the family’s history, much to the annoyance of Duchlan.
Duchlan's son, Eoghan, is married to an Irish girl named Oonagh, who, when Eoghan is away with his regiment, resides in the castle with her young son, Hamish. There ivas friction between her and the murdered woman because the latter insisted on training Oonagh’s young son.
Eoghan arrived at the castle in a boat the night of the murder.
He had been ruined by gambling that very day. He was the
heir of his aunt. Miss Gregor, the murdered woman : therefore was suspected of having committed the crime.
Oonagh also had a motive, because Miss Gregor had made life almost unbearable for her. In fact, she throws herself into the loch the night following the murder and is rescued by Dr. Hailey. She will not explain why she attempted suicide.
Duchlan is not above suspicion either, because of his hostility to, and hampering of, Inspector Dundas.
Dundas leaves Dr. Hailey to step into a room of the castle other than the one in which Miss Gregor was murdered, and a moment later. Dr. Hailey and others present are astounded to find that he also has been killed, much in the same manner as the previous victim.
DR. HAILEY glanced about the room and, seeing nothing, looked again as though aware of a presence that defied human senses. Then he touched the stain on the yellow head. He started back.
“His skull’s broken,” he cried, “broken like an egg-shell. Was the door of the room shut?”
“Yes,” said Dr. McDonald.
“We met nobody in the corridor. There’s no other door on the corridor. There’s nowhere anybody could hide.
Dr. Hailey satisfied himself that Dundas was dead. Then he walked to the open window. The night was very still. He listened, but could hear nothing except the gurgle of the burn below the window and the less sophisticated mirth of small waves on the shingle. The herring boats were still lying at anchor near the shore. He looked down at the smooth wall, which fell even farther here than under Miss Gregor’s window because of the sharp fall of the ground toward the burn. Nobody had come this way.
McDonald had risen and was standing gazing at the detective’s body. His cheeks were white, his eyes rather
staring. Every now and then he moistened his dry lips. “There’s no sign of a struggle,” he said in a hoarse whisper.
Dr. Hailey nodded. The champagne glasses stood where they had been placed, and though the bottle had descended somewhat into its pail, it had not been disturbed.
“You heard no cry?”
“I heard nothing.”
“How long do you suppose we were absent from the room?”
“Half a minute. Not more.”
“These oil lamps throw long and deep shadows, you know. And we weren’t looking for possible assassins. ...” As he spoke Dr. Hailey stepped out into the corridor. He lit his electric lamp and directed the beam to right and left. The corridor ended at a window which looked out in the same direction as the windows of Dundas’s bedroom, and there was a space of about a yard between this window and the bedroom door—evidently big enough to serve as a hiding-place. He extinguished the lamp. The rays of the paraffin lamp near the stairhead, feeble as they were, effectively illuminated the space under the window. He called Dr. McDonald.
“You would have seen anybody there,” he said.
“Of course. Nobody could hide there.”
McDonald’s face had lost its accustomed expression of cheerfulness; it revealed the deep agitation which fear and horror were arousing in his spirit.
“I think,” he cried suddenly, “that we ought to go down below and make sure that no ladder or rope was employed.” “Very well.”
Dr. Hailey walked back to the dead man and examined his injury again. Then he accompanied his colleague. They found Duchlan and his son waiting for them at the head of the stairs.
“It’s good of you to come, Dr. Hailey,” Eoghan Gregor said. He noticed the pallor of Dr. McDonald’s face and stiffened. “Is there anything wrong?”
“Dundas has just been murdered.”
Both father and son recoiled.
“His skull has been broken ...” McDonald faltered over this medical detail and then added: “Hailey and I are going down to—to investigate the ground under the window.”
Duchlan seemed to wish to ask some further questions but desisted. He stood aside to allow the two doctors to pass. He followed them downstairs and was followed in turn by Eoghan. Dr. Hailey asked them if they possessed an electric lamp and was told that they did not.
Eoghan led the way to the place immediately under Dundas’s window. Dr. Hailey lit his torch and swept the bank with the strong beam. The beam showed nothing. He turned it to light the front of the house, and saw that there was a French window immediately under Dundas’s bedroom.
“What room is that?” he asked Duchlan.
“The writing room.”
There was no sign of any attempt to climb the wall. He walked for some distance to right and left and repeated his examination. The grass was innocent of any mark such as must have been imprinted on it had a ladder been used to reach the window. He turned to Duchlan who was standing beside him.
“The Procurator Fiscal told me that he examined the ground under your sister’s window,” he said.
“He did, yes. I was with him. We had the advantage of
bright sunlight on that occasion and also of the fact that there’s a flower bed under the window. We found absolutely nothing. Neither footprint nor mark of ladder.”
“There seems to be nothing here either.”
They stood facing each other in silence. The murmur of voices came softly to them from the herring boats. Dr. Hailey turned and descended the bank to the shore. He hailed the nearest of the boats and was answered in the soft accents of the Highlands.
“Did you see anybody at that lighted window up there?” "I did not. We've been sleeping. It was your voices that wakened us.”
“Did you hear anything?”
Dr. Hailey felt exasperated at the man’s calmness and told him what had happened. The news was received with a stream of exclamations.
“I thought your lookout man might have seen something at the window.”
“We have no lookout man when we anchor inshore. But we’re light sleepers, all of us. As I told you, it was your voices awakened us. There was no cry from the bedroom. Not a sound at all whatever.”
THEY returned to the house and entered Duchlan’s study. Dr. Hailey told Eoghan Gregor that he wished to see his little boy before they dealt further with the case of Dundas, and he and McDonald left father and son together and climbed the stairs to the top floor of the house. Oonagh met them at the top of the stairs.
“He’s had another attack,” she cried in anxious tones. She paused an instant before the word “attack." Dr. Hailey realized that she had meant to say “fit.” That short word carries too great a burden of fear. She led the way into a big room, the walls of which were covered with texts from the Bible. The little boy was lying down. As he approached the bed an old woman in cap and apron who had been bending over the child, stood up and moved aside to let him pass.
Her broad, deeply wrinkled face was streaked with tears.
Dr. Hailey lifted the ice-bag from the child’s brow and looked into the wide-open eyes. He lit his lamp and flashed it suddenly on the small face. When the patient winced, he nodded reassuringly.
‘‘What about the signs?” he asked McDonald.
‘‘They’re all negative.”
Dr. Hailey patted the hand which lay closed on the coverlet beside him. He asked the child to tell him his name and got a clear answer: ‘‘Hamish Gregor of Duchlan.”
Even the babes in Duchlan Castle were taught, it seemed, to set store on their territorial right.
“Who taught you your name?” he asked.
He bent and drew his nail lightly across the child’s forearm, a proceeding watched with careful eyes by the nurse. After a short interval a red wheal appeared on the skin where he had stroked it. The wheal became rapidly more marked and acquired a pallor in the middle which suggested that
the arm had been lashed with a whipcord. Both Oonagh and the nurse exclaimed in dismay.
“What does it mean?” Oonagh asked.
“It’s a sign of a certain type of nervous temperament. That’s all. The attacks belong to the same order. They’ll soon pass off, though they may return.” Dr. Hailey exchanged a smile with his patient, who was now viewing the wheal with astonishment. He added: “There's absolutely nothing to fear, now or later.”
Oonagh thanked him with a sincerity that admitted of no question. She seemed to have changed since the night on which he had rescued her, but he did not fail to observe that she was strung up to a high pitch. He wondered if it was from her that the child had inherited its weakness, but decided that in all probability Dundas’s view was the correct one. This girl was physically healthy even if her mind was being severely tried. She listened with admirable self-control to his direction about the treatment of her boy, and emphasized this for the guidance of the old nurse.
“You’ve noticed. I suppose,” Dr. Hailey said to the nurse, “that the child bruises easily, and sometimes more easily than at other times.”
“Yes, doctor, I have.” The old woman’s grave, attractive face darkened. “I call him ‘Hamish hurt himself’ because he always seems to be covered with bruises. There’s bruises that come of themselves, too, without his hurting himself. I didna ken that it was his nerves.”
Her voice was soft and urgent like a deep stream in spate. Its tones suggested that she was only half convinced. Duchlan’s description of his servants as friends was evidently fully justified.
“He’ll grow out of it.”
The nurse hesitated a moment, then the blood darkened in her withered cheeks.
“I should tell you, doctor,” she said, “that Hamish has been losing ground lately. He seems that lifeless and depressed. I think it’s as if he was frightened of something or somebody. Children are mair sensitive like than old folk."
She broke off and glanced at Oonagh as if she feared that she had exceeded her right. But the girl nodded.
The doctors returned to the smoking room to Duchlan and his son. As they did so, Angus the piper came to the door. He announced that a young fisherman wished to speak to the laird.
“Show him in, Angus.”
A TALL fellow in a blue jersey appeared. He carried a' tam-o’-shanter in his hand. When he had half-crossed the room he stood and began to fidget with his cap. Duchlan greeted him cordially.
“Well, Dugald. what has brought you here tonight?” he asked, and then before the lad could reply introduced him as the brother of “my two good friends and helpers, Mary and Flora Campbell.”
Dugald recovered his self-possession slowly. He stated that he had been told by his friends that the laird was anxious to meet a fisherman who had not been asleep during the last hour and who had therefore been in a position to see what was happening at the castle.
“I wrass in the farthest out of the boats,” he added, “and I wass not sleeping. I could see the house all the time.” Angus brought a chair and the young fellow sat down. Dr. Hailey asked him:
“Were you looking at the house particularly?"
"Yess, I wass.” “What did you see?” ‘‘There wass a window with a light in it. A big man came to the window and then, after a long time, a little man.”
“You didn’t see their faces?”
“No, sir. Because the light wass behind them. The moon wass shining on the windows, but it wass not so bright as the light in the room.”
The doctor nodded his agreement with their just considera-
“Quite. Now do you remember which of the two men whom you saw remained longest at the window, the big man or the little
“The big man, sir.” Dr. Hailey turned to his companions.
“I looked out of the window after I reached the room. I was feeling very hot and remained at the window a little time. So far, therefore, w'e seem to be on solid ground.” He addressed the fisherman: “Can you describe what you saw of the little man?” “I saw him at the window. He went away again in a moment.” The doctor leaned forward.
“You noticed nothing peculiar about his coming or going?”
“Think very carefully, please.”
“No, sir, I noticed nothing at all. He came and he went, like the big man before him.” “There was no cry?” “I did not hear any cry.”
“Was that the only window on the floor that was lighted?”
“You’re quite sure?” “Yes, sir.”
“What do you say, Duchlan?”
The old man inclined his head.
“He’s quite right. I was here with Eoghan. The nursery window doesn’t overlook the sea."
Dr. Hailey put his eyeglass in his eye.
“You said the moon was shining on the house. Did you see anything unusual on the wall or the roof?”
“No, sir, nothing at all.”
“Do you think that, if somebody had climbed up to the window by means of a ladder, you would have seen him?” “Oh. yes, I would.”
“In spite of the lighted window?”
“Yes. If a cat had climbed up to the window I would have seen it. There wass no ladder.”
“You can swear to that?”
“I can swear to it.”
Angus was told to give the fisherman a drink. When he had gone Duchlan roused himself from the lethargy into which he seemed to have fallen.
“You yourself can testify. Dr. Hailey,” he asked, “that nobody entered the room after you left it?”
“So that both door and windows were as effectually sealed as if they had been locked and bolted?”
“It seems so.”
“As effectually as were the windows and door of my poor sister’s room?”
The old man straightened in his chair:
“Can you suggest any explanation of those two tragedies?” he demanded.
“Thev’re exactly alike."
“In conception and execution, exactly alike.”
“The same hand must have struck both blows?”
“It seems so.”
Silence fell in the room: they glanced at one another uneasily.
“On the face of it, it’s impossible that murder can have been committed in either case,” Duchlan said at last.
His voice faded away. He began to move uneasily in his chair. The habit into which he had fallen of ascribing so many of the events of his life to supernatural agencies, was doubtless the cause of the fear which was expressed vividly on his features.
"It will be necessary,” Dr. Hailey said, “to recall Mr. McLeod. I may be wrong, but I feel we have no time to lose. What has happened twice may happen a third time.”
That thought had, apparently, been present in the minds of his companions. Dr. McDonald glanced uncomfortably about him, while Duchlan wiped his brow. There was alacrity, too, in Eoghan’s manner of promising to go at once to the police office in Ardmore.
T"\R. HAILEY spent the next morning examining the ground under Dundas’s window. The hot weather had hardened the turf so that it was idle to expect that it would reveal much; it revealed nothing. The hardest lawn must have taken some imprint from a ladder that bore a man’s weight. He stood looking at the blank slope with eyes that betrayed no feeling; then his gaze moved over the grass, down to the burn; and beyond the burn, to the loch. He shook his head and returned to the castle, where he found Mr. McLeod, newly arrived from Campbelltown, awaiting him. The Procurator Fiscal seemed to be deeply moved bv the new tragedy.
“What is this manner of death, doctor," he asked, “which can pass through locked doors?" His tones accused; he added: “Duchlan tells me that you and McDonald hadn't left the poor man more than a minute before he was killed. Is that so?”
“I don’t think that a minute elapsed between our leaving him and his death.”
Mr. McLeod’s big face grew pale. “You're saying that Dundas was struck down, not that he was murdered.” he exclaimed in tones of awe.
They had entered the study. The Procurator Fiscal sat down and bent his head. When he had remained in that posture of humility for a few minutes he stated that he had sent to Glasgow for help.
“They’ll send their best, depend on it."
“I hope so.”
“Poor Dundas,” he moralized in unsteady tones. “This case was to have made his name. How little we know, Dr. Hailey, of the secret designs of Providence.” He paused and then added: “I have heard it said that there is a curse on this house.”
A kind of paralysis seemed to have affected him, for he sank lower in his chair. He kept nodding his head and mumbling as if he was repeating chastening truths to himself and registering his acceptance of them. Dr. Hailey got the impression that he was greatly afraid lest his own life might be taken at any moment.
He left him and went up to Dundas’s bedroom. The body had not been moved. A shaft of sunlight touched the yellow hair. It was easy to discount the panic of McLeod and the others, but not so easy to escape from the influences which
had wrought that panic. He picked up one of the notebooks which the detective had filled with details of his investigation. It made melancholy reading. The pages were crowded with negative observations; everything had been eliminated—door, windows, walls, ceiling, floor. The last note was not without pathos: “It will be necessary to
He put the book back in its place and polished his eyeglass. He held the glass above the dead man’s head where the skull was fractured, and marvelled again at the strange savage violence of the blow. The bedroom assuredly did not contain any weapon capable of inflicting this grievous injury. He had already examined such pieces of the movable furniture as might have been made use of. The murderer had carried his own weapon, or rather two weapons; an axe perhaps in the case of Miss Gregor, a bludgeon or a knuckleduster in this case. The first weapon, had it been employed in the second case, must have split Dundas’s skull from vault to base.
Again he turned to the window and again surveyed the bank between the house and the burn. Autumn was dressing herself in her scarlet and saffrons; already the air held that magical quality of light which belongs only to diminishing days and which seems to be of the same texture as the colors it illuminates. He marked the fans of the chestnuts across the burns, pale gold and pale green. The small coin of birch leaves a-jingle in the wind, lightly yellow as the sequins on a girl's dress, the beeches and oaks wine-stained from the winds’ bacchanal, the rowans flushed with their fruiting. A man might easily from this place throw a telltale weapon into that fervent tangle or even into the burn. But no, he had searched diligently and knew that no weapon lay hidden in any of these places. He turned back to the room. He bent forward and then strode quickly to the dead man’s side.
The light had revealed a gleam of silver among the golden hair. He recognized another herring scale.
r"PHE discovery of the herring scale on Dundas’s head sent Dr. Hailey down to Ardmore to Dr. McDonald. The latter’s house stood on a spur or rock overlooking the harbor. As he ascended the path, which mounted in zigzags to the house, Hailey had a view of the whole extent of this singular natural basin with its islands and bays. The bulk of the fishing fleet lay at anchor, far up opposite the town, but skiffs in pairs were dotted over the whole expanse of water. He marked the clean, dainty lines of these vessels, in excellent accord with their short, raked masts. They looked like young gulls in their first grey plumage, lively, eager pigeons. A small coaster was fussing in from the lock. He lingered to watch it enter the narrow mouth of the harbor. As it passed, the fringes of seaweed round the islands were lifted and small waves broke on the shores. The smell of boats and seaweed and fish rose to his nostrils. Soft voices reached him across the still, hot air. He ascended higher and turned again. From this point the drying poles, on which a few herring nets hung like corpses on a gallows, had a meagre appearance, as of some great ship in irretrievable wreck. But the color of the nets made very comfortable contrast with the pine wood on Garvel Point across the bay.
The house was built of red sandstone and had a red roof which stood up sharply against the hill behind it. The windows looked out on the harbor, but their longest view was limited everywhere by rocks and heather, a patchwork of purple and green and grey, very bare and desolate even in sunlight. He rang the bell, and was invited to enter by a young woman whose high color and dark, shining hair were in the tradition of Highland beauty. She showed him into a big room and only then announced that her master had not yet returned from his morning round.
“But I'm expecting him back at any moment now, so perhaps you'll be able to wait.”
She went away immediately without hearing his answer. He walked to the bookshelf which filled one side of the room and glanced at its contents. McDonald, it seemed, was a reader of catholic taste, for here were most of the classics of European literature, especially of French literature: Balzac, Flaubert, de Maupassant, Montaigne, Voltaire, Saint Beuve. He pulled out one or two of the volumes. They looked distinctly the wor^e for wear. There were no medical books on any of the shelves. The owner of the library clearly was a romantic, though he had tempered his enthusiasm with other fare. Dr. Hailey found it difficult to reconcile his knowledge of the man with the man’s books. The room was comfortable as men understand that word; it was supplied with big chairs and the apparatus of reading and smoking. A shotgun of rather old-fashioned type whose barrels were shining with oil, stood in one corner. A vase on the mantelpiece was piled high with cartridges. The walls bore pictures of boats, all of them evidently the work of the same artist and equally undistinguished. Dr. Hailey examined one of them. It was signed by McDonald himself.
He sat down and took a pinch of snuff. The medical profession, he reflected, is full of men who wish all their lives that they had never entered it. Yet very few of such doctors succeed in making their escape because, though they possess the temperaments of artists, they lack the necessary power of expression or perhaps the necessary craftsmanship. A practice makes too many demands on time and strength to be bedfellow with any enthusiasm. Since McDonald painted
pictures, the odds were that he wrote novels or poetry. It was unlikely that his accomplishment in writing was better than his accomplishment in painting. Why had he not married?
A second pinch of snuff went to the answering of this last question, but before it had been answered McDonald himself strode into the room.
“Annie told me that a very tall man was waiting for me,” he exclaimed. “I thought it must be you.” He shook hands. “Well, anything new?”
“Not much—there was a herring scale on Dundas’s head.” “Good heavens! So the same weapon was used in both
Dr. Hailey shook his head.
"I don’t think that’s probable,” he said, “though of course the head of an axe might cause such an injury.” McDonald's tone became undecided. He stood in the middle of the floor frowning heavily and tugging at his chin. At last he shook his head.
“These fish scales are mysterious enough.” he declared, “but the real mystery, it seems to me, isn’t going to be solved by them or by any question of weapons. Until you can explain how these two bedrooms were entered and how escape from them took place you are working in the dark.”
T^R. HAILEY leaned back in his chair.
LJ “How long have you attended the Duchlan family?”
“More than ten years.”
“And yet you were unaware that Miss Gregor had been wounded?”
“I was. I’ve never examined Miss Gregor’s chest.” McDonald strode to the window and back again. “She often suffered from colds and two years ago had a severe attack of bronchitis, but she would never allow me to listen to her breathing. Duchlan told me before I saw her the first time that she had a great horror, amounting to an obsession, of medical examinations and that I must do my best to treat her without causing her distress.”
“So he knew about the scar? Dundas said that he denied all knowledge of it.”
“It’s possible, isn’t it, that she had made the same excuses to her brother that she made to her doctors? Duchlan may have believed that she really was averse from any examination.”
Dr. Hailey nodded.
“That’s true. But you’ll admit that it’s strange she should have sustained a wound of such severity without allowing anybody in the house to find out that she had sustained it.” He wrinkled his brows. “I still think that when she locked her door she was the victim of panic. Is there a portrait of Duchlan's wife at the castle?”
“I’ve never seen one.”
“I looked for one in all the public rooms and in some of the bedrooms. I didn’t find it. For a man who clings to his possessions so tenaciously, that’s a queer omission. Every other event of Duchlan’s life is celebrated in some fashion on his walls.”
McDonald sat down and drew his wooden leg forward with both hands.
“What are you driving at?” he asked.
“I’m beginning to think that Duchlan’s wife was concerned in the wounding of Miss Gregor. That would explain the absence of her portrait and the wish to hide the scar. It might explain Miss Gregor’s panic at sight of Eoghan’s wife. Both father and son, remember, married Irish girls. Mrs. Eoghan’s sudden appearance in her bedroom may conceivably have recalled to the old woman’s mind a terrible crisis of her life.”
“Miss Gregor, believe me, was a level-headed woman.” “No doubt. But shocks of that sort, as you know, leave indelible scars on the consciousness, so that every reminder of them induces a condition of nervous prostration.”
“Very well.” McDonald moved his leg again and leaned forward. “What happened after she locked her bedroom
“I think she shut and bolted her windows. It’s only reasonable to suppose that the windows were open on account of the heat.”
“Then she was murdered.”
The country doctor sighed. He repeated, “Then she was murdered,” adding in weary tones: "How? Why? By whom?” He raised his kindly grey eyes to look his colleague in the face.
Dr. Hailey dismissed his questions with a short, impatient gesture.
“Never mind that. Come back to Mrs. Eoghan. She told me that she went to her aunt’s room in a blue silk dressing gown, because, having quarrelled with her aunt before dinner, she now wished to make up her quarrel. A similar order of events may have occurred in the case of Duchlan’s wife.”
McDonald’s face had become troubled.
“You don’t suggest, do you,” he demanded in tones of impatience, “that that fearful wound was inflicted by a girl?”
“No.” Dr. Hailey shook his head. “You go too fast, my
Continued on page 32
The Silver Scale
Continued from page 24
friend. Leave the room out of the picture for a moment, entirely out of the picture. Here's a more interesting question: Was the quarrel between Mrs. Eoghan and Miss Gregor of the same nature as the quarrel between Duchlan’s wife and Miss Gregor? The answer depends obviously on Miss Gregor. There are plenty of women who Cannot live with the wives of their men ¡folk, women who resent these wives as interlopers, women whose chief object it becomes to estrange their husbands from them, sometimes even to alienate their children. Was Miss Gregor one of these women?”
A prolonged silence followed this challenge. McDonald's uneasiness appeared to grow from moment to moment. He kept shifting in his chair and moving his wooden leg about in accord with the movements of his body. A deep flush had spread over his
"She was one of those women,” he said at last.
MCDONALD rose and stood in front of the empty fireplace.
“As a matter of fact,” he said, “I have reason to know that Mrs. Eoghan’s life at Duchlan was made impossible by Miss Gregor’s jealousy. Almost from the moment when Eoghan went away to Malta, his aunt began to torment and persecute his wife. The burden of her complaint was that the heir to Duchlan was not being properly brought up.”
The doctor paused and turned to find his pipe on the mantelpiece behind him. He put the pipe in his mouth and opened a jar of tobacco.
‘‘My information comes from Mrs. Eoghan herself,” he stated. “I suppose I can count myself one of the only two friends she possesses in this neighborhood.”
He extracted a handful of tobacco from the jar and began to fill his pipe, proceeding with this task in a manner-the deliberation of which was belied by his embarrassment. Dr. Hailey saw that his hands were shaking.
"The whole atmosphere at Duchlan, believe me, was charged with reproof and every day brought its heavy burden of correction. Miss Gregor inflicted her wounds in soft tones that soon grew unendurable. She never ordered; she pleaded. But her pleas were so many backhanders. She possessed the most amazing ingenuity in discovering the weak points of her antagonist and a sleepless persistence in turning them to her advantage. Things came to a head a month ago.”
His pipe was full. He lit it carefully.
“A month ago little Hamish had a fit. I was sent for. I haven’t had as much experience of nervous ailments as you, and I confess that I was frightened. I suppose my fear communicated itself to the child’s mother. At any rate she told me that she felt sure the trouble had its origin in the state of her own nerves and that she had made up her mind to leave Duchlan. ‘Eoghan’s work in Ayrshire is nearly finished,’ she said, ‘and I’ve told him that if he won’t make a home for me after that I’ll leave him.’ I could see that she was at the end of her resources. I tried to calm her, but she was past being talked round. When I came downstairs from the nursery Miss Gregor was waiting for me. ‘It’s his mother, poor child,’ she lamented. ‘My dear Oonagh means well, of course, but she’s had no experience—no experience.’ ”
"I can hear her voice still,” he declared. "She shook her head slowly as she spoke and tears came into her eyes. ‘We’ve done everything that love can do, doctor,’ she told me, ‘but I’m afraid it’s too true that our efforts have been resented. Eoghan’s father is deeply distressed. I cannot tell you what I feel. As you know, I’ve looked on him and loved him as my own child.’ Then the suggestion for which I was waiting was offered: ‘Couldn’t you use your authority to insist that dear Oonagh must have a complete rest? She has sisters and brothers who will be so glad to see her, and
she needn’t feel a moment's anxiety about dear Hamish. Christina and I will devote ourselves to him.’ What could I say? I told her that such plans must wait till the child was better.
"A week later, three weeks ago, I heard a knock at this door one night just when I was going to bed. I opened the door. Mrs. Eoghan was standing behind it.”
A deep silence fell in the room. It was broken by the pleasant sound of blocks and tackle, the hoisting of sails. Dr. Hailey nodded without offering any comment.
"The girl was in a terrible state, weeping, hysterical, half crazy. She fell into the hall when I opened the door. I picked her up. Her clothes seemed to have been flung on anyhow. I carried her in here and put her in that chair.” With a sudden, jerky gesture he indicated the chair in which Dr. Hailey was seated. "She told me she had left Duchlan forever. Later on, when she had recovered a little, she told me that she had had a violent quarrel with Miss Gregor. She said Hamish had another turn. ‘Aunt Mary accused me of ill-using him, killing him. I lost all control of myself.’ ”
"Did it surprise you,” Dr. Hailey asked, "that she should have lost control of herself?”
“No, no. What surprised me was that she had endured Miss Gregor so long.”
“I didn’t mean that. Do you think her a hysterical type?”
"Not hysterical; highly strung. She has an extremely quick intelligence and a great honesty of mind. Miss Gregor’s hypocrisy exasperated her to delirium. She didn’t care what happened. She told me that she didn’t care what happened.” He covered his eyes with his hand. “I lit the fire here because the night had grown chilly. I boiled the kettle and made tea. After a while she grew calmer and described what had happened. They had all gone to bed. The nurse called her because her child seemed to be breathing badly. She hurried upstairs to find Miss Gregor giving the child a dose of sal volatile. You can imagine the rest. I had said that stimulants were not to be
“Miss Gregor had suggested a dose of sal volatile?”
“Yes. That morning. Mrs. Eoghan ordered her out of the nursery. She obeyed, but roused her brother and brought him upstairs to fight her battle for her. Duchlan was clay in her hands. Like most cowards he has a cruel streak in his nature.”
MCDONALD broke off. His uneasiness was increasing. He put his pipe down and stood staring in front of him at the pictures on the wall opposite.
“Naturally Mrs. Eoghan quoted my order. She demanded that I should be sent for. Duchlan said: ‘It seems to me, and your aunt agrees with me, that Dr. McDonald has been sent for quite often enough lately.’ There was no mistaking what he insinuated. She wouldn’t defend herself. She left them and came here.”
“I see.” Dr. Hailey moved in his chair. He looked up and saw that his companion was still gazing at the pictures. The muscles of his neck stood out rigidly; his arms were stiff.
"Miss Gregor had prompted that remark?”
“Of course. She did all her brother’s thinking for him. Mrs. Eoghan realized that the prompting hadn’t stopped at Duchlan.”
“Miss Gregor wrote regularly to Eoghan.” “And yet Mrs. Eoghan came here. Surely that was playing directly into the enemy’s hands?”
Dr. Hailey kept his eyes averted without knowing exactly why he did so. A prolonged silence followed his question. At last McDonald said:
“I fancy Eoghan had written her an unkind letter.”
“Blaming her for sending for you?”
“Accusing her perhaps of being in love with me.”
Dr. Hailey sat up.
“Do you mean that she was leaving her husband and child when she came here?” he exclaimed.
They heard another sail being hoisted. The sound of rowlocks came up to them from the harbor and then, suddenly and intolerably, the hoot of a steam whistle.
“Why did she come to you?” Dr. Hailey asked.
“For advice and shelter.” McDonald turned and picked up his pipe. His uneasiness seemed to have left him. He lit the tobacco and began to smoke.
“Naturally,” he said, “you want to know how much truth there was in Miss Gregor’s suggestion. So far as Mrs. Eoghan is concerned the answer is, none at all. But that isn’t the answer in my case. I want to tell you”—he turned and faced his companion as he spoke—“that I fell in love with Mrs. Eoghan almost as soon as I met her. Her husband was then in Malta. She was hungry for friendship and help and I gave her both. I’m not a child. I knew what had happened to me. And I knew that it was hopeless, in the sense that Oonagh was genuinely in love with her husband. But knowledge about the causes of pain does not help you when you’re compelled to bear it. What did help me was to try to smooth her way for
He shook his head.
"She thought that I was acting solely from professional motives. They were there all right, mind you, those professional motives. The girl’s nerves were frayed, jagged. But Miss Gregor wasn’t so unsuspecting. I had dared to call her behavior in question. I was an obstacle in her way. Worse, I was a danger. She hated me.” He drew a deep breath. “Do you know, Hailey, there was something big in that wicked old woman’s character? I couldn’t help admiring her. The busy way she set about discrediting my motives; first in her own mind, then in Duchlan’s. What persistence!
“And, mind you, I had sympathy for her, too. Eoghan was her child. She meant to hold him and his forever. I saw that in her little, quick, brown eyes. I had more than Highland pride and Highland craft against me. More than a will as strong as buffalo hide. Motherhood, hungry, selfish, implacable, was the real enemy. Deep called to deep. I knew her and she knew me. Only one mistake she made and that’s not strange in a woman. Oonagh wasn’t in love and hadn’t guessed, hadn’t dreamed, what my feelings were. There’s the misfortune that nobody could cure. I’m the only doctor in a radius of twelve miles. Oonagh kept sending for me for herself or Hamish, and I could plead my duty against my scruples. The old woman’s eyes saw every move. When Eoghan came back from Malta the tension reached breaking point. Only his going to Ayrshire prevented a break. He didn’t accuse Oonagh then of running after me, but that was in the back of his mind, where his aunt had put it. But he blamed her for her want of gratitude to his people and for her slackness in Hamish’s upbringing. They weren’t on speaking terms when he went away. The day he went away she sent for me and told me she was afraid of what she might do.”
HIS confession seemed to release Dr.
McDonald from bondage His manner, until now gloomy and reserved, changed.
“I’ve been frank with you, Hailey,” he said, “because sooner or later you’re bound to hear about the suspicions which Miss Gregor instilled into so many minds. I want you to know the truth. Oonagh belongs to Eoghan. Not for a single instant has she swerved from her loyalty to him. Her coming here was a gesture, a protest made when her fears for Hamish and her distress that her husband should have seemed to take sides against her, had
brought her to the edge of a breakdown.” He seated himself as he spoke and once more arranged his leg in front of him.
“The end of the story, happily, was better than the beginning. I was trying to persuade her to let me take her back to the castle when a car came to the door. It was the old nurse, Christina, who had been sent as a peacemaker, because Duchlan and his sister were genuinely afraid by that time. The old woman was terribly distressed. You saw her last night. She fixed those queer, black eyes of hers on Oonagh’s face and told her that Hamish was crying for his mother. I don’t know—there was something in her voice, some tone or quality, that made that appeal irresistible. You saw the child’s face; heard his voice. Oonagh’s resistance broke down at once. Then the old woman comforted her, promising that her troubles would soon be at an end. You couldn’t help believing her. But she’s a retainer of the Gregors. I felt that, in her heart of hearts, she shared Miss Gregor’s suspicions of me. Queerly enough, she awakened a sense of guilt which I hadn’t experienced in any of my dealings with Miss;Gregor.”
He shook his head.
“I wasn’t wrong. She had read my secret. She put Oonagh in the car and came back to this room for a shawl that had been left behind. I was outside at the car and when she didn’t return, I followed her here to find out if anything was amiss. She turned and gazed at me just as she had gazed at Oonagh but with very hostile eyes. ‘Whom God hath joined together,’ she said in solemn tones, ‘let not man put asunder.’ Then she picked up the shawl and hurried away.”
“Do you know what happened,” Dr. Hailey asked, “after Mrs. Eoghan got home?”
“Oh, yes. They received her with relief if without cordiality. That feeling soon passes. What remained was the knowledge that she had disgraced them publicly—the unpardonable sin. I called on the child next morning. Miss Gregor was in the nursery ; she told me that Mrs. Eoghan was in bed with a head-
“She had yielded to them?”
McDonald’s eyes narrowed. He shook his head.
“I don’t think that is how I should put it. Oonagh isn’t an Irishwoman for nothing. She was biding her time. I realized that the real battle would be fought when her husband came back. But I knew also that the period of waiting for that event would be greatly distressing to Oonagh. She’s one of those women who can’t act alone, who needs a friend to advise her and help her to gather her forces.” He raised his right hand, holding the palm horizontal and keeping the fingers extended. “I suppose we all depend to some extent on the feelings which animate us at any given moment. It’s only on high emotional planes that we’re heroes.” He lowered his hand. “Down here are weakness and hesitation. I think the truth is that she came to me for strength. She told me, a few days later, that she only lived when she was talking to me.” He leaned forward. “Mind you, it wasn’t my strength she wanted; it was her own. I helped her to command her own strength.”
Dr. Hailey nodded: “I know. Humanity as well as chemistry has its catalysts.” “Exactly.”
Dr. Hailey rose to go. “Am I at liberty to tell the new detective from Edinburgh what you’ve told me?” he asked.
He held out his hand. Suddenly he turned back.
“Do you know why Eoghan came back so hurriedly from Ayrshire?”
McDonald's face lost its eagerness; a slow flush rose to his cheeks.
“I suppose he came to borrow money. But Oonagh had sent for him.”
“To take her away?”
“He refused?” Dr. Hailey asked the
Continued on page 34
Continued from page 32
question in the tone of a man who knows
“I don’t know.”
The detective sent from Glasgow to replace Dundas had arrived when Dr. Hailey returned to the castle. He was with Duchlan in the study. He jumped to his feet the moment the doctor entered the room, and thrust out his hand like a man snatching a child from danger.
"Dr. Hailey, I presume. My name is Inspector Barley. Thompson Barley.”
He seized the doctor’s hand and wrung it. At the same time a broad smile exposed his strong, somewhat stained teeth.
“Delighted to make your acquaintance, doctor.” he cried: “even at such a tragic contretemps. Duchlan here has just been telling me of your goodness. What a calamity !” He waved his hand in a gesture which reproached the gods. “What a calamity!” Dr. Hailey sat down at the table. This most unScotslike Scot interested him. Barley, who wore a black and white check dust coat of terrific pattern, looked like a shopwalker and spoke like a decayed actor in a Strand publichouse. But Hailey detected another quality and warmed to it. Inspector Barley possessed pleasant grey eyes; his brow was fine, square and massive, and he had eloquent hands. What a pity that he had dyed his hair with henna!
”1 am going to venture to ask you,” Barley cried, “for an outline of the case. After that I hope that we may co-operate in everything.” He turned to Duchlan, bowing as he turned. “Doubtless, sir, you are well aware of the great distinction which attaches to Dr. Hailey’s name, both in medical and in criminological circles. But let me tell you that it is only among the élite of both these professions that his true worth is understood and appreciated.”
He gave his head a strong downward movement as he repeated the last sentence.
His mouth at this moment was slightly open, and his face had a vacant expression which paradoxically expressed a great deal. Duchlan gazed at him with lively astonishment.
Inspector Barley swung round again to face the doctor. He listened with gravity to the story of the two murders, offering no comment but bowing occasionally as he took a point. His face remained inscrutable. The fact that his features were somewhat broad and coarse and that he wore a bristling mustache added a grotesque touch to his ceremoniousness. When Dr. Hailey finished he leaned back in his chair and closed his
“Most mysterious, most mysterious,” he exclaimed in quick tones that wholly discounted the meaning of his words. “Apparently murders of a new genre. But probably not. Murder, as you know, changes its form only in unessentials. Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose."
His French accent was better than his English and went some way toward explaining his gestures. He rose and walked to the fireplace, seeming to glide across the carpet.
He stood with his back leaning on the mantelpiece.
“It must have struck you, of course, Dr. Hailey,” he exclaimed, “that there is one person who certainly had the opportunity of murdering poor Dundas.”
He paused. He glanced in turn at each of his companions. Neither spoke, though Dr. Hailey frowned.
“I mean Dr. McDonald, who returned alone to Dundas’s room to get your pen.”
A sound like a groan punctuated the silence.
Duchlan’s head had sunk on to his chest. He swayed for an instant and then slipped from his chair.
To be Continued