The Silver Scale
In which a sleuth finds a suspect guilty and a wife counters with a disturbing disclosure
The Story: At the castle of Major Hamish Gregor, a dour old Scotsman known also as Duchlan, his elderly sister, Miss Mary Gregor, is found murdered in her room. Her door and window were locked on the inside, and no weapon was found in the room though obviously she had been killed by a heavy one. The only clue to this mysterious crime is a silvery herring scale found in the wound.
Dr. Hailey, assisted by Dr. McDonald and the Procurator Fiscal named McLeod, try in vain to solve the mystery. Inspector Dundas arrives and his pointed personal questions are resented by Duchlan. later Dundas is found dead, having been murdered in much the same manner as Mary Gregor.
Duchlan s son, Eoghan, is married to an Irish girl named Oonagh, who, during her husband's absence with his regiment, resides in the castle. She had been persecuted by the murdered woman, who wished to control the training of Oonagh’s young
On the night that his aunt was killed Eoghan arrived secretly 2t the castle. He had lost a fortune by gambling that day, and his aunt’s death enabled him to inherit her money.
Oonagh is saved from an attempt to commit suicide, and the natural inference is that she was involved in the murder of Miss Gregor, or knows who committed the crime.
Inspector Barley arrives to replace Dundas. He questions Eoghan and the latter suddenly astonishes everyone by confessing that he killed his aunt in order to inherit her money. Barley refuses to believe this story, however. He thinks that Eoghan has told it in order to protect his wife whom Eoghan knows to be guilty.
With suspicion pointing chiefly at Oonagh, another complication is added when Barley learns that Dr. McDonald was, and is, in love with Oonagh. As her physician, he had opportunities to meet her frequently. He claims, however, that Oonagh did not reciprocate his love, and that both she and he are innocent of any crime.
Under sharp questioning, Duchlan admits to Barley that he knew of Oonagh’s clandestine meetings with Dr. McDonald.
WHEN Duchlan had gone away, Dr. Hailey gave the detective an account of his interview with Dr. McDonald.
“You can, of course, question him yourself if you wish,” he added, “but I think that if you do you will waste your time. He admitted quite frankly that he had fallen in love with Mrs. Eoghan. He denied, and went on denying, that she has ever, in any degree, given him encouragement.” “Did he?” Barley’s expression showed how much importance he attached to such a statement. “It’s curious, if he’s
telling the truth, that Mrs. Eoghan should have tried to drown herself; indeed that these murders were committed at all. Innocent people never commit crimes to escape from unjust accusations.”
“I agree. But innocent people sometimes sacrifice themselves to preserve those they love.”
Barley did not reply. He had made up his mind to question Dr. McDonald and was not the man to be turned from such a resolution.
Arranging his singular dust coat which made him look like a chessboard, he drove to Ardmore with Dr. Hailey during the afternoon. They found the doctor at home. He took them to a small room at the back of the house, which smelt faintly of iodoform. The room contained a number of glass cases full of instruments, and numerous jars in which lints and gauzes were stored. Though the cleanliness and order of this surgery were beyond reproach, it had a desolate aspect. The spirit somehow was lacking.
Dr. McDonald opened a drawer in the desk which occupied the end of the room and took out a box of cigars.
“You’ll smoke, inspector?”
“No, thank you.” Barley sat down on a leather-covered couch and crossed his legs. He got to business immediately,
explaining that the questions he was about to ask were likely to tax both memory and observation.
“Let us go back, in the first place, to the night of the murder of Miss Gregor. You were, I understand, summoned on the night to see Mrs. Eoghan Gregor’s little boy?” “Yes, I was.”
“About what time?”
“About half-past nine.”
“Did Mrs. Eoghan Gregor receive you?”
“She was in the nursery. The child had had another of his hysterical attacks and was rather weak. I—”
“Excuse me interrupting you, but how was Mrs. Eoghan Gregor dressed?”
“She wore a blue dressing gown.”
“Was the maid, Christina, in the nursery?”
“Yes; but as soon as I arrived she went away to attend to Miss Gregor. She came back before I left.”
“So that you and Mrs. Eoghan Gregor were alone?" “With the child, yes.”
“Did Mrs. Eoghan seem to be unduly excited?” McDonald raised his head sharply. A look of anxiety appeared on his face.
“She was distressed about the child.”
Barley thrust out his hands.
“I shall be frank with you,” he declared. “Duchlan has just told me that Mrs. Eoghan and her aunt quarrelled violently during the evening, for which reason Mrs. Eoghan retired early to bed. What I want to know is whether or not Mrs. Eoghan discussed this quarrel with you.”
“She told me that she was upset with the attitude her aunt was adopting toward her.”
“Did she tell you that her aunt accused her of being in love with yourself?”
Barley’s voice rang out, but the impression he produced was less than he seemed to expect. McDonald nodded.
“She told me that, yes.”
“That Miss Gregor was determined to impart all her suspicions to her nephew on his return?”
The detective thrust his head forward.
“That meant ruin both for Mrs. Eoghan and yourself?” he demanded.
“Possibly, if Eoghan Gregor believed his aunt.”
“Have you any reason to suppose that he would not have believed her?”
McDonald wiped his brow.
“Eoghan Gregor,” he said in quiet tones, “is in love with his wife, and she is in love with him.”
"Nevertheless his wife was meeting you each evening after dark?”
“Did Duchlan tell you that, too?”
“It’s not true. We met on one or two occasions only because Mrs. Eoghan wished to ask my advice.” Suddenly McDonald’s voice rang out. “You can have no idea of the torture inflicted on that poor girl by her father-in-law and her aunt.”
McDonald rose and began to stump about the room. His powerful body seemed too big for its narrow limits. Dr. Hailey was reminded of a young tiger pacing its cage.
“Yes, torture,” he cried. “That’s the only word that applies. You didn’t know Miss Gregor. I did. A woman without a flicker of compassion; devoured by jealousy and family pride. She had not married, I believe, because the idea of losing her name of Gregor of Duchlan was intolerable to her. It may seem a grotesque idea, but I am convinced that it was her instinct to be the mother as well as the daughter of her race. Fate, as it happened, had allowed her to realize that instinct in the case of Eoghan. Mrs. Eoghan, however, robbed her of its complete fulfillment. She dared to assert her wifehood and her motherhood.
Eoghan loved her more than he loved his aunt. It was obvious that as soon as the slender thread of Duchlan’s life was broken, Miss Gregor’s reign at the castle would end for ever.” McDonald paused and then added : “Unless in the meanwhile, husband and wife could be estranged from one another and separated permanently. In that case Hamish would fall into his aunt’s hands just as his father had done before him. Miss Gregor would remain the mistress of Duchlan.”
He turned as he spoke and faced his accuser. Barley was too good a student of human nature not to be impressed but he was also a practical man, well able to judge of the motives underlying any process of reasoning.
“You are telling me, remember,” he warned, “that neither you nor Mrs. Eoghan could expect any mercy from Miss Gregor. That is exactly what I believe myself.”
‘‘What does that prove?"
“It supplies a strong motive for the crime which, as I believe, you committed between
The doctor started.
“What? You think I murdered Miss Gregor?”
“With the help of Mrs. Eoghan.”
MCDONALD’S face darkened. He wiped his brow again. Dr. Hailey saw him glance out of the window as though an impulse to escape had come to him. Then he began to laugh.
“You must be crazy. Crazy ! How do you suppose I got into the woman’s bedroom?”
He wiped his brow again. He sat down and disposed his leg with the most attentive care.
“What? Do you mean to say you didn’t know that the door was locked?”
“Eoghan Gregor says it was not locked.”
The doctor stared. He repeated in tones of bewilderment : “Eoghan says it was not locked? Why, I saw the carpenter cut out the lock.”
“Did you try the handle?”
“So your knowledge is at second-hand.”
“The carpenter tried the handle.”
“He told you that?”
“Good gracious, no. I saw him do it. He tried it several Barley blinked his eyes.
“That, however, was in the morning. What I am suggesting is that the door was unlocked when you left the nursery at the end of your visit the night before.”
“It was locked then, too. Mrs. Eoghan heard her aunt
“Forgive me, Mrs Eoghan’s evidence is of no value on that point.”
McDonald laughed again.
“I see. It’s a case of heads I win, tails you lose, is it?” “My dear sir. Miss Gregor was murdered. Somebody, therefore, entered the room and escaped from it; and human beings do not pass through doors and windows. It’s easier, in my humble opinion, to assume that Mrs. Eoghan and yourself have given an untrue account of your doings than to believe that the laws of Nature have been set aside.”
“How do you suggest that I killed the old woman? With my wooden leg?”
"No, sir. I believe that Mrs. Eoghan brought an axe from the kitchen. The servants had gone to bed.”
“I see.” The doctor drew a deep breath. “And the herring scale that was found in the wound, where did that come from?”
“Possibly from the blade of the axe.”
“You have still to explain how the door locked itself on the inside, haven’t you?”
“I believe I can explain that, too.”
Barley had recovered his suavity. Like a huntsman whose quarry has turned at bay, he seemed to be making ready to deal a final blow.
“I shall be surprised,” he declared, “if positive proof is not soon forthcoming that you did murder Miss Gregor. Very greatly surprised ! I go further than that. I know where to look for that proof, and I know that when I do look for it I shall find it.” He spoke with complete conviction.
Dr. Hailey experienced a sense of bewilderment which, he saw, was shared fully by McDonald. How could it be proved that the doctor had entered the bedroom? Or that he had escaped from it again without passing through the door?
“There’s one further point.” Barley said, “on which I am seeking enlightenment. Do you remember who was the first to enter Miss Gregor’s room after the lock had been cut from the door?”
“Were the blinds in the room drawn?”
“Did you open them?”
“Very well. Now tell me. was the amputation which made it necessary for you to wear a wooden leg a high or a low amputation?”
“A high one.”
“So that you walk with difficulty?”
“I mean, you’re always in some danger of slipping or falling?”
McDonald shook his head. He raised his wooden leg from the floor, using both hands in the work.
“As you see,” he remarked, “I wear a special shoe on this foot. These nails in the sole are guaranteed to grip anything.”
On the way back to the castle, Barley asked Dr. Hailey if he had noticed that no mention of the murder of Dundas had been made by McDonald.
“Every moment I expected to hear him advance that second murder as proof of his innocence.”
“Because guilty people always overstate their cases.”
“I see. Does that mean that you harbor some doubts about his guilt?”
"Not doubts exactly. I believe my case is good; good enough to secure a verdict from a jury. But it’s a case in logic rather than in personal conviction. Frankly, McDonald doesn’t seem to me to fill the part assigned to him.”
“I agree with you.”
“And the same applies to Mrs. Eoghan.”
“And yet the choice undoubtedly lies between them and Eoghan Gregor. And we know now that Eoghan Gregor lied to us.”
"About the locked door?”
“Exactly. The carpenter did try the door.” Barley lay back on the cushions and combed his mustache. “I left a message that he was to be called to the castle. We shall hear his own story.”
THE carpenter awaited them. He was a tall lean man with big features and clear, bright eyes. He made short work of the idea that the door had not been locked when he opened it.
“It was locked,” he declared. "I tried the handle myself. What is more, I tried to force the lock. But that's not possible with these doors. I daresay you know Duchlan's father was a locksmith.”
Barley nodded. “You’re prepared to swear, are you,” he asked, “that the key had been turned on the inside?”
The detective dismissed the man and told Angus to bring a pair of bellows from the kitchen. Then he invited Dr. Hailey to accompany him.
"I promised you positive proof of McDonald's guilt,” he said, “and now I will furnish it. I warn you to be prepared for a surprise. As you’ve just heard, Eoghan Gregor’s story is a fabrication.”
They left the house and walked to the flower bed which lay under the window of Miss Gregor’s bedroom. The detective took the bellows from the piper.
“Observe,” he said, “that Miss Gregor’s room is immediately above the study. Also that the earth in this bed is quite dry. Mr. McLeod, the Procurator Fiscal, examined the bed on the morning after the murder and found it undisturbed.” He turned to Angus. “Am I right?”
“Yes, sir. I was with Mr. McLeod, sir, when he examined the ground. It looked exactly as it looks at this moment.” “Very well.”
Barley applied the snout of the bellows to the surface of the earth and began to blow' gently. As he blew, dust was driven away in semicircles, leaving a more or less even surface. He continued to work for a few minutes and then stood erect. There was a puzzled look on his face.
“Well?” Dr. Hailey asked.
“You see, there’s nothing. Frankly I don’t understand it.” He glanced up at Miss Gregor’s window, and an exclamation broke from his lips. He pointed to an iron spike sticking out from the wall just above the window. “What’s that?” he demanded of Angus.
“It was put there long ago to carry a sun blind, sir. But Miss Gregor did not like the blind.”
“You could reach it from the window sill?”
The detective measured the distance from the spike to the ground with his eye, then stepped on to the border and applied his bellows to a spot immediately under the spike. A few vigorous strokes of the bellows revealed a footprint under the loose dust of the surface. A moment later a second footprint, on which the marks of heavy nails were clearly visible, was disclosed. Barley stood back and pointed to these signs.
“You see—footprints, one of which is studded with nails.” A gleam of triumph shone in his eyes. He turned to Dr. Hailey.
“You saw' McDonald’s shoe,” he exclaimed. “Do you doubt that this print was made by it?”
“No. There’s no doubt that it was made by it.”
"Notice, it’s right under the spike. He had a piece of rope apparently. He must have dropped only a short distance, because these footprints are not deep. I feel sure that as soon as he landed he climbed into the window of the smoke room. There are no other footprints. No doubt she was walking with him there, ready to throw a few handfuls of loose earth on his tracks.”
Dr. Hailey nodded. “It must be so, of course,” he said. “I congratulate you.”
They returned to the house and mounted to Miss Gregor’s room. Barley climbed out on the window sill and satisfied himself that the spike was within reach.
“We may as w'ell complete our job,” he declared, "by inspecting the spike from above. The iron is rusty, and it’s long odds that the rope he used has left some trace of its presence.”
This expectation was confirmed. Looking down from the window of the little pantry which served the nursery on the top floor. Dr. Hailey had an excellent view of the upper surface of the iron spike. The thick rust on the surface had been broken away at one place and the metal was visible.
“Are you satisfied now that a rope was used?” Barley asked.
“That must be the explanation because, as you see, nobody can possibly have reached the spike from above. The drop is too great. Nobody reached it from below because there are no signs of the use of a ladder. It was reached therefore from the window sill, which, as I’ve just proved, is easy.” Barley leaned against the dresser, which occupied one side of the room and on which were standing jugs of milk and dishes of various kinds.
“W’hat I think happened was this,” he said. “When Mrs. Eoghan realized that her aunt was determined on her ruin and the ruin of her lover, her first idea, as you know, was to run away. But neither she nor McDonald had any money. He saw the folly of that course. Did he not exert himself to get the girl home again when she escaped to his house? From what you told me about that incident, I think it’s a just inference that he had become thoroughly alarmed by her violence and by the reactions to her violence in this house. He was specially afraid of Miss Gregor whose character he knew only too well. But to get rid of a headstrong woman with whom one has become compromised is no easy task. Facilis est descensus Averni sed revocare gradum hic labor, hoc opus est.” The quotation broke gorgeously from his lips. He swept the air with his hands, making the plates behind him rattle.
“Mrs. Eoghan could summon him whenever she wished, because of her child. She compelled him, in addition, to visit her unofficially in his boat. He learned that matters were going from bad to worse here. Then came discovery and the immediate prospect, almost the certainty, of ruin. Duchlan might perhaps be induced to forgive and forget, but not so Miss Gregor.
“And so the murder was planned. The exact nature of these plans can only be guessed at—I admit that gaps still exist in our knowledge—but the outline is clear. After the doctor’s arrival on the night of the murder, Mrs. Eoghan
went to her aunt’s room and told her that she was much alarmed about her child. That prepared the way for Dr. McDonald’s coming to the bedroom. When he came, Mrs. Eoghan went downstairs to the study. The doctor must then have struck his blow. As you know, it was a blow of terrific violence which was not mortal. But the old woman’s heart failed. He locked the bedroom on the inside, assured himself that she was dead, fixed his rope in a single loop over the spike, and let himself down from the window which he had closed behind him.
“The rope was not long enough to bring him to the ground. There was a short drop. As we saw, it only remained to climb into the smoke room, coil up the rope, get rid of the weapon and cover the footprints. McDonald then left the house by the front door. He knew that he would be sent for as soon as the crime was discovered. Things fell out so well, as you know, that he was actually afforded the opportunity next morning of bolting the window without being observed, thus placing a most formidable barrier between his pursuers and himself.”
Barley spoke with a pride which, in the circumstances, was pardonable. His case was complete. There remained only the work of rounding it off.
“I hope,” he added, “that you will criticize me without mercy.”
Dr. Hailey shook his head.
“The only criticism I could make has been made already by yourself. The facts and the people seem to be ill-mated. On the other hand, so far as I can see, the people in this case must yield to the facts. There is no other possible explanation.”
“No.” Barley made the plates rattle again. “The murder of Dundas is incredible if Dr. McDonald did not commit it. Think of it. You were on guard, so to speak, at the door of his room. That young fisherman was watching the window. You’re ready to swear that nobody entered at the door; he’s ready to swear that nobody entered by the window. And we know that Eoghan Gregor’s story is an invention.”
“We presume that, at any rate.”
“No, sir.” Barley smiled suddenly. “You noticed perhaps that I left you on the way up to this room. I looked into Dundas’s bedroom. The mattress in his bed is a hair mattress, a hard hair mattress at that. I presume he must have asked that the feathers be taken away.”
There was a knock at the door of the pantry. Christina entered and asked Dr. Hailey to come into the nursery for a moment.
“It’s Hamish,” she explained. “He looks queer again.” She led the way, but turned back to close the door of the nursery behind the doctor. He walked to the cot, where the child was lying asleep, and bent over him.
“What happened?” he asked.
“His face was twitching.”
“I don’t think there is anything to be alarmed at.”
He listened to the child’s breathing for a few minutes and then turned to the old woman, who stood behind him plucking nervously at her apron.
“What he wants is sleep, rest.”
Christina’s eyes were troubled. She shook her head in a fashion that expressed melancholy and resentment.
“Where is the poor lamb to find rest in this house?” she asked in her rich tones. Suddenly she took a step forward; she raised a skinny hand.
“Will you tell me, is it true that the detective from Edinburgh will be suspecting Hamish’s mother?”
“I—I don’t think I can discuss that.”
The old woman uttered a cry.
“Oh, it will be true then, if you will not tell me.” She put her hand on his sleeve and raised her black eyes to his face. “She is not guilty,” she declared in tones of deep conviction. “I know that she is not guilty.”
Dr. Hailey frowned.
“How can you know that?”
“Mrs. Gregor would not hurt a fly.”
He shook his head. He had no wish to argue the case with this old woman, and yet there was something in the passionate earnestness of her voice which challenged him.
“I hope you’re right.”
She continued to clutch his arm.
“I know what the man from Edinburgh will be saying,” she declared. “That it was Dr. McDonald who killed Miss Gregor, him being helped by Hamish’s mother.” She released him and stood back from him. "Will you please sit down? There is something that I must tell you.”
HE HESITATED a moment and then did as she asked.
She sat down opposite to him in a low chair that he guessed had been used for generations in the Duchlan nursery. Her face was dark and drawn and the muscles round her mouth were twitching.
“Did you see the scar of a wound on Miss Gregor’s chest?” she asked him.
“I will tell you about it.”
She pressed her hand to her brow and remained for a moment as if praying. Then she faced him.
“I came to Duchlan.” she said, “the year that the laird was married. When Mr. Eoghan was bom, his mother
asked me to be his nurse. Many’s the time I’ve sat on this chair and bathed him before the fire there. His mother used to sit where you are sitting now.”
She covered her eyes again. An uneasy silence filled the room. Dr. Hailey found himself listening attentively to the soft breathing of the child.
“Well?” he asked.
“She was one of the angels; very beautiful, too. The laird was mad for her. I can hear his step on the stair now, coming up to sit beside her while I bathed Mr. Eoghan. Ah, he was a different man in those days from the man he is now, full of jokes and laughter. But Miss Gregor was the same always and he was afraid of her. Do you know she stayed in this house all the time that the laird was married?”
Again she paused. When her eyes were shut she looked like some very old bird molting its last feathers.
“Miss Gregor had not a good word for her brother’s wife. And she was clever and cunning to wound the poor lady. Every day she was making hints and finding faults. The food was not fresh; there was waste going on in the kitchen; the laird’s clothes were not aired for him; Mr. Eoghan was not gaining weight. Everything. She did not complain to her sister-in-law; only to the laird.
‘You must speak to her,’ was what she said always, and he did not dare to disobey.
“The laird’s wife was an Irishwoman and had a quick temper.
Because she loved her husband it was an affront to her the way Miss Gregor was carrying on. One day, after her husband had complained of her bad housekeeping, she ran to her sister-in-law and told her that she knew where these complaints were coming from. She was so angry that she did not care that I could hear her. ‘Surely I am entitled to speak when I see my brother and his child neglected?’
Miss Gregor said in her soft, gentle voice. ‘You are not entitled to make trouble between me and my husband, nor to try to take my child away from me,’ Mrs. Gregor replied.
I saw the blood come boiling up in her cheeks and her eyes. She cried out: ‘Ever since I married, you have tried to steal my happiness from me.
You are stealing my husband. Then you will try to steal my child. Other people may think you a good woman, but I know what you are.’
Miss Gregor smiled and said she forgave everything, as a Christian woman should. Then she went, her eyes red with crying, to her brother to tell him about his wife’s temper.”
Christina’s toothless jaws snapped. Her eyes glowed.
“Oh. she was cunning. Have you seen a cat waiting for a mouse? The laird began to think that his wife was unjust to his sister. There were dreadful quarrels between them and Miss Gregor was waiting always to take his side. He did not come here any more when his wife was here, but he used to come with his sister.
Mr. Eoghan was afraid of Miss Gregor who was never no hand with children, but his father made him kiss her. Doctor, doctor, I knew that there was sorrow coming, and I could not do anything to help the poor young lady. Do you know I could see madness growing and growing in her face.”
She bowed her head. When she spoke again, her voice had fallen almost to a whisper.
“It was like that, too, with Hamish’s mother, only Mr. Eoghan was away from her most of the time.” She clasped her knees and began to sway backward and forward. “Hamish was afraid of Miss Gregor. The first time he took one of them turns was after she was here trying to give him some medicine of her own. His mother she came to the room and took the poor laddie in her arms because he was screaming with fear.”
She broke off suddenly and a look of anxiety came into her face.
“I mind the day Duchlan’s lady did the same thing.” she exclaimed.
She remained silent for a few minutes and then added: “The night Duchlan’s lady was drowned, his sister was taken ill.”
DR. HAILEY’S face expressed the horror which this information caused him.
“Yes. In the burn there, at the high tide.”
“What was the nature of Miss Gregor’s illness?”
"I do not know. The doctor, Dr. McMillan, brought bandages with him every day when he came to see her. I saw the bandages myself in his bag.”
Her voice faded away.
“What explanation did the laird give?” Dr. Hailey asked. “He did not give any explanation. The Procurator Fiscal from Campbelltown, not Mr. McLeod but the gentleman who was Procurator Fiscal before him, came here once or twice. When Miss Gregor was better, she and the laird went away for a trip to England.”
“I see.” He shook his head. “Did he, the laird I mean, seem—did you think he was distressed at his wife’s death?” Christina sighed deeply. “Maybe he was; maybe not. I could not say.”
“Did he come to the nursery much?”
“No, he did not. But Miss Gregor she came every day. Mr. Eoghan was hers, and she would have it that he would call her ‘Mother.’ When he was older Miss Gregor told him that his mother had died from a cold.”
Dr. Hailey rose.
“Do you remember what kind of a dressing gown your poor mistress used to wear?” he asked suddenly.
“Always a blue dressing gown like the one Hamish’s mother wears. They was wonderful like each other, Mrs. Eoghan’s mother and his wife.” She rose also. “Will you tell me,” she pleaded, “why they are blaming Hamish’s mother now?”
He started slightly. Had she not been giving him the very information which was lacking to Barley’s case? He was about to refuse her request when an impulse to reward confidence with confidence made him change his mind.
“Only Dr. McDonald can have committed these murders,” he said. “He and Mrs. Gregor are friends.” “Why do you say: ‘Only Dr. McDonald can have committed these murders?’ ”
Again he hesitated. But her distress overcame his reluctance. He gave her an outline of the case.
“I don't think that Dr. McDonald went into the bedroom,’’ she declared.
“If you could prove that! Unhappily I myself saw him going into Mr. Dundas’s room.”
“They are going to arrest Hamish’s mother?”
Dr. Hailey shook his head sadly. “I suppose so.”
“No, no. They must not. Hamish’s mother did not do it. She did not. I am sure.”
The child began to cry. Dr. Hailey watched him awaken and then descended to the ground floor. The heat wave continued and the afternoon was heavy with distant thunder. He left the castle and walked toward Darroch Mor. The woods, he thought, looked like a gipsy child he had seen once winding red leaves about her limbs. He came to an open space where was a view of the loch and the great mountains beyond Inverary. The turf, set with thyme on which heavy bees lingered, invited one to rest. He sat down and took out his snuffbox. The bees on the thyme made music for him till he fell asleep.
A woman’s voice awakened him. He sat up and saw Oonagh. He jumped to his feet.
“I’m afraid I was sleeping.” “Yes,” she said, “it was unkind of me to wake you.”
She “looked weary and anxious but he noticed how well dressed she was. Less observant eyes than his might have failed to recognize in the simplicity of her frock and in the way she wore her clothes an attitude of mind and spirit denied to the vulgar. Most women in this crisis of fate would have relaxed their self-discipline.
“I want you to help me if you will,” she said. “That I need help very badly must be my excuse for waking you. I’ve seen Dr. McDonald and heard about your visit to him this morning.”
She broke off as if she felt that she had explained herself with enough clearness. He stooped to pick up his snuffbox which had fallen on the ground.
“You’ve been so wonderfully successful in other cases, haven’t you?” She caught her breath. “If murder will out, so will innocence, don’t you think?”
“Very well, I give you my word that Dr. McDonald did not murder my aunt. Now, how can we prove that he didn’t?”
Her face had become animated, and her beauty in consequence was enhanced. In spite of himself Dr. Hailey felt the influence of that potent magic.
“I don’t know how we can prove that he didn’t,” he said.
Continued on page 39
Continued from page 23
"At any rate it’s got to be tried, hasn’t it?” She came to him and put her hand on his arm. “You will help me?”
“On one condition.”
“That you will tell me the whole truth from the beginning and answer any questions I may ask you.”
Oonagh nodded. “Yes, I promise.” She seated herself on the grass, inviting him to do the same. Tall bracken, becoming yellow, framed her face.
“Where shall I begin?”
“I want, first of all, to know about your relations with your aunt.”
“We were rivals, I suppose.”
“I am Eoghan’s wife and Hamish’s mother. But I am not a Gregor as they are.” She plucked a piece of thyme and gazed at it. “Perhaps I did not attach enough importance to that.” Suddenly she raised her head and looked him in the face. “Being a Gregor, after all, was my aunt’s chief interest in life. The Gregor family was all she had to live for.”
“You would not say that, would you, if she were still alive?”
“Perhaps not. But if not, I’m sorry. I think now that there was something very sad, very lonely in that woman’s position. She was so bitterly hungry for the things I had, Eoghan’s love, my child’s love, perhaps even Duchlan’s love. She wanted—” Oonagh broke off, her lips remaining parted as if awaiting the word she needed to explain her thought. “She wanted to have a hand in the future of the family. To belong to the future as women do who have children of their own. Because she couldn’t bear children who would be members of her family, she wanted to steal the children other women had borne so that she could stamp her personality and ideas on their minds. Behind that too, I think, was the ordinary need of every woman for a child.” Again she broke off. Dr. Hailey nodded. “I see.”
“I feel that I’m being horribly cruel. It’s like talking about a deformity.”
“Deformed people, you know, have ways of their own of forgetting their afflictions.” “I suppose so.”
“Family pride, I imagine, was Miss Gregor’s way. I noticed that her bedroom was full of all sorts of rubbish that she had made at different times in her life.”
“Yes, I often noticed that too. She was horrified once when I wanted to give an old coat of Hamish’s to a child in the village. The coat disappeared and Christina told me that my aunt had burned it. Whereas she didn’t mind in the least when I gave some of my own clothes to the child’s mother. Duchlan’s cast-off clothes were always put away in a wardrobe to be sent to a missionary in China.”
“To be dedicated.”
Oonagh raised her eyebrows sharply.
“Yes, that’s exactly what she told me, and that was the Duchlan atmosphere.”
SHE pulled the thyme to pieces and scattered them.
“After I realized what was happening I began to grow resentful. My nerves got jagged. One day I lost my temper and told my aunt that she was not to interfere with the way I was bringing up Hamish. She wept and became hysterical. Poor woman, I can hear her protesting that she had no wish to interfere in any way. But I was afraid of her. There was a look in her eyes. She told my father-in-law, too, that I had been cruel to her. After that the very air I breathed seemed to grudge itself. Every day things got worse. Dr. McDonald told you, didn’t he, that I ran away?” “Yes.”
She shook her head. “Did he tell you why I ran away?”
”1 suppose I ought not to have lost my temper as I did. I don’t think it was for
myself I was so angry. It seemed so horrible that they should suspect Dr. McDonald. I was upset, too, for Eoghan’s sake and Hamish’s sake.”
She caught her breath sharply.
“Once I got out of the house I felt different. But I felt, too, that I couldn’t go back again. It was like waking up out of a dreadful nightmare. In that house neither my husband nor my child belonged to me. It was only when I got away that I felt myself wife and mother again. I meant to go back to Ireland, to my people. I meant to write to Eoghan from there telling him that if he wanted me he must give me a home of my own—”
She broke off. Her voice, when she spoke again, was rather faint.
“Dr. McDonald begged me to return to Duchlan,” she said. “He had persuaded me before Christina came.”
Dr. Hailey nodded.
“How did the old people receive you when you returned to the castle?”
“Not very well. They were furious, but they tried to pretend that they were more hurt than angry. That didn’t prevent them from spying on me next day.”
Her cheeks flushed as she told how she had asked Dr. McDonald to meet her where they were not likely to be disturbed.
“I felt that if I was left entirely alone I might do something desperate. My nerves were in that condition. A friend with whom you can talk things over is the greatest blessing in such circumstances; besides. Dr. McDonald knows what life is like at Duchlan.”
She frowned and bit her lip.
“My aunt followed me from the house. When I returned just before dinner, she came to my room and told me that she had seen us. Nothing happened then, but the next afternoon Duchlan spoke to me in her presence. My self-control broke. I told them that my mind was made up to leave Eoghan if he refused to take me away.”
Her eyes more than her words revealed the extreme tension at which she had been living. She plucked at the thyme, scattering its small flowers about her.
“I didn’t appear at dinner. But the evening post brought me a letter from Eoghan which changed everything. He told me plainly that he had lost a huge sum of money and was coming to Duchlan to try to borrow it from Aunt Mary. He said that, if he failed to borrow it. he would have to leave the army in disgrace. The letter ended with an appeal to me to put my feelings on one side and help him for the sake of Hamish.” She looked up and faced the doctor. “That was why I went to Aunt Mary’s room after Dr. McDonald had seen Hamish.”
Dr. Hailey had been polishing his eyeglass. He put it to his eye.
“McDonald was still in the nursery when you went to Miss Gregor’s room?” he asked. “Yes. I left him there.”
“When did you meet him again?”
“In the smoke room. He had come downstairs. I told him that I had decided to make the best of things for Eoghan’s sake. The window was open because of the heat. My aunt’s room, as you know, is directly above. We heard her walk across her room to the windows and shut them.”
“McDonald told me nothing of that?” Dr. Hailey’s voice challenged. He saw the girl blush.
“He wouldn’t, for my sake.”
“Because you had been alone together in the smoke room?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, just after we heard Aunt Mary close her windows we heard the engine of Eoghan’s motor boat. My father-in-law must have heard it too, because a minute later we heard him coming downstairs. Dr. McDonald didn’t wish to meet him. He climbed out through the open window and went away round the house to his car. I put the light out and waited till my father-in-law had opened the front door—”
“What! McDonald climbed out through the window?” Dr. Hailey’s eyeglass dropped.
“To avoid meeting my father-in-law. I had told him about the scene with my father-in-law before dinner. The door of the smoke room was shut and the front door was locked. If he hadn’t gone out by the window, he would certainly have met my father-in-law.”
“It was really the only thing to do in the circumstances. I was glad he thought of it, because it was so important not to give my father-in-law any further cause of complaint against me.”
“What did you do after that?”
“I went back to my room. Eoghan came to my room—•”
She broke off. Tears she could not restrain filled her eyes.
T THINK you must tell me,” Dr. Hailey -*■ said in gentler tones, “exactly what happened between your husband and yourself.”
Oonagh had recovered her self-possession but her busy fingers still plucked at the thyme.
"Eoghan told me about his loss,” she said. “Did he come straight to your bedroom?” She gazed in front of her, at the brown sails of a pair of herring boats which were lying becalmed far out in the loch.
“He went to Miss Gregor’s room before he came to you?”
“He told you that he had been to her r°“Yes.”
Her voice was scarcely audible. Dr. Hailey watched her for a moment and then asked :
“He told you that her bedroom door was locked?”
“And that, though he had knocked at the door, she had refused to open it?”
“He said she hadn’t opened it.”
“Nor answered him?”
“He said she hadn’t answered him.”
“Was she a light sleeper?”
“So he thought she hadn’t answered him because she was angry with you?”
The girl drew a sharp breath.
“He was angry with you?”
“He was upset.”
"Did you tell him that you had decided to apologize to your aunt?”
“Yes, I did.”
"He was too upset to—to believe me. He—said I had ruined him.” She turned suddenly. "I had told Dr. McDonald about Eoghan’s losses and he offered to lend me money, two thousand pounds. Eoghan was upset about that, too.”
She broke off and covered her face with her hands.
“You mean that such an offer from such a quarter aroused your husband’s suspicions?” “My aunt had written to him.”
“Telling him that you were in love with McDonald?”
“Hinting at it.”
The doctor’s eyes narrowed.
“The fact that he found Miss Gregor’s door shut against him and the fact that you had received an offer of money from McDonald, taken together, convinced him that he had been correctly informed?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“He accused you of being in love with McDonald?”
She raised her head; he saw that she was trembling.
“He was so dreadfully distressed.”
“He didn’t try to excuse himself for his gambling, then?”
“Now tell me”—Dr. Hailey leaned forward—“didn’t you think that it was strange that Miss Gregor had refused to answer
“I thought it very strange.”
“Yes. Aunt Mary loved Eoghan.”
“Do you still think it strange?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you still think it strange that your aunt refused to speak to your husband?” She shook her head.
“No, not now.”
“I think she was dead.”
The words were spoken with evident distress. The doctor’s face became anxious.
"If she was dead,” he said, “then either Dr. McDonald or your husband had killed
“Is it or is it not true that, when you heard of her death, you feared that your husband had killed her?”
She hung her head and did not reply.
“It is true?”
Suddenly she faced him.
“I can’t answer directly,” she said, “because my feelings weren’t direct. It’s as you said at Darroch Mor. IF you ask me, do I think Eoghan capable of murder, I say ‘No.’ But if you tell me murder has been committed, I become afraid. Suppose that in some terrible, unguarded moment—” “Your husband has confessed that he murdered his aunt.”
Oonagh's eyes dilated. She put out her hands as if to ward off some great danger. Her body began to sway as the color ran out of her cheeks. Dr. Hailey put his arm round her shoulders.
“Let me say at once that I don’t believe him,” he assured her.
SHE tried to pull herself together and managed to regain her balance.
“Why don’t you believe him?”
“Because, though it’s just possible he may have got into Miss Gregor’s bedroom, it’s certain that he did not get out of it. The door was locked on the inside.”
She gazed at him with vacant, fearful
“Somebody got out of the bedroom?” “Yes.”
She shook her head. It was obvious that, whatever her heart might suggest, her reason had pronounced judgment.
“I know,” she declared in positive tones, “that Dr. McDonald did not go into my aunt’s room. That idea is wrong, whatever evidence there may seem to be in favor of it.” She shook her head. “And somebody did go in.”
“There were other men in the house in addition to your husband remember, namely Duchlan and Angus the piper.”
"Duchlan didn’t kill Aunt Mary.” She put her hand on the doctor’s wrist. “It’s certain, isn’t it, that Aunt Mary and Mr. Dundas were murdered by the same person?”
“How can Duchlan have killed Mr. Dundas?”
Dr. Hailey shook his head. “I don’t know.” He added after a moment. “Your husband confessed to that murder also. But, again, there’s evidence enough that he did not commit it.”
“The fact that he was not in the room when I left it. He says he was hidden in the bed: he was not.”
“Dr. McDonald was in the room with Mr. Dundas when you left it, wasn’t he?” “He returned to the room.”
She pressed her hand to her brow.
“I knew that Dr. McDonald didn’t kill my aunt. So he didn't kill Mr. Dundas either.”
Dr. Hailey readjusted his eyeglass. His kindly face looked troubled.
“Duchlan must have found out that Dr. McDonald left the smoke room by the window,” he stated.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it's obvious that he thinks McDonald killed his sister—with your
He watched Oonagh closely as he spoke. To his surprise she accepted his suggestion.
“He saw Dr. McDonald’s footprints on the earth under the window next morning. He covered them up.”
“He told you that?”
“What conclusion did he draw from the footprints?”
“He knew that they were Dr. McDonald’s because of the difference in the two feet. One of them—”
“Yes, I know that. That’s not what I mean. How did he think that McDonald had left the house?”
She hesitated. Then her expression grew resolute.
“He thought that Dr. McDonald had jumped from my aunt’s window,” she said in low to es.
“That means that he thought you were guilty of a share in her death?”
“He told you that?”
“And suggested that you had better anticipate the fate in store for you?”
“Please tell me what he said.”
“He said he knew that Dr. McDonald had killed Aunt Mary to prevent her fulfilling her threat to tell Eoghan. Then he said that he had covered up the doctor’s footprints to save Eoghan and Hamish from the shame of my complicity in the murder. ‘There is only one thing left for you to do,’ he said, ‘namely to make an end of a life that is already forfeit. That will at least
spare your husband and son the horror of your death on the gallows.’ He added: ‘High tide is at 2 a.m.’ ”
Her tones had not faltered. She seemed to be recounting events far removed from her present state.
“And you,” Dr. Hailey said, “feared, if you didn’t believe, that the real murderer was your husband?”
“I did fear that.”
“I was right in thinking that your death would divert suspicion from him?”
Oonagh inclined her head.
“It would have done so, wouldn’t it?” The doctor shook his head.
“Perhaps. But it would also have fastened suspicion on Dr. McDonald.”
“Oh, no. Duchlan had covered up the footprints. He would never have told what he had discovered, for Eoghan’s sake.” “Forgive me. Inspector Barley discovered the footprints for himself. Your death
would most surely have hanged McDonald.”
She frowned and bit her lip.
“I don’t think,” she said deliberately, ‘that Dr. McDonald could have been suspected at all if Inspector Dundas had not been murdered. Inspector Dundas did not suspect Dr. McDonald.”
Dr. Hailey nodded. The point was a good one.
“And so,” he remarked, “we reach the position that, whereas you tried to give up your life for your husband and child, your husband is trying at this moment to give his life for you. In other words, your husband shares his father’s belief in your guilt. That, as I said before, is presumptive evidence that neither you nor McDonald nor your husband nor your father-in-law is guilty. By a process of exclusion, therefore, we come to Angus.”
They heard steps on the carriageway behind them. Dr. Hailey turned his head and saw Duchlan approaching.
To be Continued