The Singing Kettle
Presenting Mr. Treadgold of Savile Row in the strange case of the girl who dreamed she was drowning
MY OLD FRIEND and client, H. B. Treadgold, head of the eminent firm of tailors, Bowl, Treadgold & Flack, of Savile Row, and an enthusiastic amateur criminologist in his leisure hours, had asked me to drop in at his chambers in Bury Street for a glass of sherry.
A young woman was with him when I arrived. Olivia Rawley was a nice-looking American girl, not more than twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, I judged. I gathered that her father, George Rawley, now dead, had been an old customer of the New York branch of Bowl, Treadgold & Flack, and had met Mr. Treadgold on the occasion of the latter’s frequent visits to the States. “Daddy said you’d the clearest mind of any man he’d ever met,” the girl informed my friend shyly. “He said you’d a natural flair for solving mysteries.”
Old H. B. shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t let’s exaggerate. Let’s say, rather, that like Tristram Shandy’s father, I try to weigh nothing in the common scales. I like to form an independent judgment.”
She smiled. “Daddy told me you were always quoting Tristram Shandy. He said it was your favorite book.”
I grinned. “It’s his Bible. He finds texts in it to suit every occasion.”
The girl had grown serious.
“I hope you won’t laugh at me when you’ve heard my story,” she told Mr. Treadgold gravely. “But I have nobody in England to confide in except Uncle Eustace’s lawyer and he’s an old fossil, and I am in such terrible need of some good advice. Three months ago, when daddy died. I came over to make my home with my grandfather. Colonel Charton, who, some years ago, came into the family property of Charton Place, in Somersetshire. My mother—she died when I was bom—was English, Colonel Charton’s only daughter, but he quarrelled with her when she married an American and all relations ceased between them. Of late years daddy had no luck. First we lost our money in the crash and then he had to undergo this terrible operation, from which he never recovered. I guess he had a presentiment, for the day before he entered the hospital he wrote to my grandfather, begging him to look after me if the worst came to the worst. When daddy died 1 sent
my grandfather a line at Charton Place. My Uncle Eustace, mother’s only brother, replied. I’d never met him, but I’d heard of him as being an engineer somewhere in South America. Well, he wrote now7 to say he’d returned to be with the old man, who’d had a stroke and was paralyzed. He invited me to come and make my home at Charton, and enclosed money for the fare. He told me he was a bachelor and that a little young company would brighten up the old house.
“I had rather a shock when I first saw Charton,” Miss Rawley continued. “It’s a terribly decrepit old house and only one wing’s in use. Moreover, my grandfather, who’s over seventy, is quite helpless, unable to move or even speak properly, and never leaves his suite—he has a housekeeper and a male attendant to look after him. Still I had quite a thrill to find myself in a place where my ancestors had lived for centuries. And Uncle Eustace was charming to me—I believe I could have been very happy there if he hadn’t died.”
“He died?” Mr. Treadgold echoed sympathetically.
SHE NODDED. “Six weeks ago yesterday—we found him dead in bed. A man who used to boast that he’d never had a day’s illness in his life.”
“What did the doctor say?” my friend asked.
“Heart failure. There had to be an inquest, as he’d appeared to be perfectly well, and the jury returned a verdict of ‘death from natural causes.’ He’d been living at Charton for about three months when I arrived, and I never saw a man so happy. Neither grandfather nor he seemed to have much money, and we never had a visitor. But Uncle Eustace was quite content to fish and go for walks and gossip with the farmers.”
“Who else is there in the house?” H. B. w7anted to know. “Only Mrs. Mangove, the housekeeper, who’s been with my grandfather for the past eight years, and the male nurse —his name’s Oscar Halmquist.” She checked. “They were never very friendly to Uncle Eustace—to me, either. I think they regarded us both as intruders.”
Mr. Treadgold sat bolt upright in his chair. “Are you suggesting . . . ”
"He was big and strong.” she burst out. “He’d always lived in the open air. He drank very little and didn’t smoke at all. I never saw such a magnificent phvsique in my life.”
H. B. canted his head sagely. “Physique’s a deceptive thing,” he observed, his blue eyes on the girl. “A fellow can strain his heart and never know it.”
“He was in absolutely perfect health. In the afternoon we’d been for a long tramp over the hills, and after dinner we’d played chess together—we were such good pals. He’d got into the way of drinking maté in South America and had a silver-bound gourd to brew it in. He showed me how to make it, and I’d take it to him in bed in the mornings. On this morning he didn’t move when I went in, and I thought he was still asleep. I touched his hand to wake him and it was cold—cold !” She turned her head away.
“How did he look?”
“Absolutely calm, as though he were sleeping.”
“Was there anything unusual in the appearance of the room?”
“No. His clothes were folded on a chair, the curtains drawn back, the windows wide open. He was always great on fresh air.”
“Did anyone hear anything in the night?”
“I was coming to that. Uncle Eustace’s room is at the end of the wing, on the ground floor—it’s the only floor in use. I sleep on the same corridor but in the middle, with Mrs. Mangove’s quarters between me and Uncle Eustace. I didn’t sleep very well that night as I had a tooth that had been troubling me. Soon after three o’clock the pain woke me up, and as I lay there I thought there was a step in the passage outside. I opened the door and heard a curious humming noise.”
"VyfR. TREADGOLD knit his brow. “A humming -i-V-L noise?” he repeated.
“A sort of faint, bubbling, droning sound. It came from along the corridor. Then someone approached from the direction of my uncle’s room. It was Oscar. He asked me why I wasn’t in bed, and I told him I had toothache. I said to him ‘What’s that funny row?’ and he answered, ‘It’s only the kettle singing in Mrs. Mangove’s room. Your grandfather’s not so well and as we’re likely to be up with him all night. Mrs. Mangove’s making us a cup of tea.’ Next morning, after I’d found Uncle Eustace, I asked Mrs. Mangove whether he hadn’t cried out or anything in the night, and she told me No, for if he had she or Oscar must have heard him because they were up with the colonel until dawn.” Sire stopped. “You know,” she added slowly,
“I thought afterward that noise I heard wasn't really a bit like a kettle singing.”
Her hands clasped together, she gazed earnestly at Mr. Treadgold, whose portly figure comfortably filled the big armchair as he reflectively smoked his pipe. He made no comment and she resumed: “Now I come to the strangest part of the story. Last night I had a terribly vivid dream.
I dreamed I was drowning.”
H. B. looked up sharply. “Drowning?”
She nodded. “Uncle Eustace's death was a great shock to me; I haven’t been sleeping well since he died. Last night there was a tremendous wind at Charton. and so that it shouldn’t keep me awake, Mrs. Mangove gave me some bromide; the wind was so strong that, on going to bed. I had to close the window. Well, maybe it was because I’m used to sleeping with the windows open, but when I fell asleep I had this frightful nightmare. I seemed to be stifling. I awoke suddenly, bathed in perspiration, with my head splitting. The cold air was blowing on my face and the window was banging about—the storm had blown it in. I was still half asleep but I was telling myself, the way one does, that I’d have to get up and shut the blessed window. Then suddenly I became aware of the strange humming noise I’d heard the night my uncle died.”
“Where was it coming from?” Mr. Treadgold questioned. “I can’t say except that it seemed to be louder than when I’d heard it before. There’s no electric light at Charton, and while I was groping for the matches I had a sudden feeling that someone was in the room. I cried out, ‘Who’s there?’ then a match was struck and I saw that it was Mrs. Mangove in her dressing gown.”
“And the humming noise?”
“It seemed to have stopped. Mrs. Mangove said, ‘You were shouting in your sleep and the window’s blown open.’ She was going to close it, but I told her to leave it—the room was frightfully stuffy. I jumped out of bed and ran on the balcony in my nightdress. Mrs. Mangove’s match blew out and she didn’t light the candle—I could hear her moving about in the dark behind me and telling me I’d catch my death of cold. But I didn’t care—after that terrible dream I felt I couldn’t get enough fresh air. In the end she made me go back to bed.”
“Did you notice anything to explain the curious sound you’d heard?”
“No; but, then, the room was still dark.”
“Didn’t you question her about it?”
“I did this morning. She said I’d dreamed it.”
Mr. Treadgold wagged his head dubiously. “Well, you know, you may have. The singing of the kettle, or what-
ever it was, was connected in your mind with your uncle’s death, which, as you say, gave you a great shock.”
SHE SHOOK her head. “It was no dream. And it wasn’t the kettle either. I heard it as plainly as 1 hear the traffic under your windows—a funny, jarring noise, rather like a weak electric bell.”
“What sort of person is this Mrs. Mangove?” asked Mr. Treadgold, filling his pipe.
Olivia Rawley shrugged her shoulders. “About fortyfive and still good-looking in a way. Uncle Eustace used to say she’d been grandfather’s chère amie, but 1 guess that was just his joke, although I believe the old man was pretty gay in his time.”
“And this male nurse, Oscar What’s-his-name?”
“Oscar Halmquist. He’s only been at Charton for the past six months. Mrs. Mangove picked him up somewhere in London he’s a Swedish-American and a very clever masseur. He used to be in business in Chicago but went down in the crash.”
“Who inherits from your uncle?”
“Grandfather and I were his only living relatives. What he had. Uncle Eustace left to me.”
“Ah!” Mr. Treadgold laid down his pipe. “How much?” “A few hundred pounds in cash and some South American investments. At the present market prices they’d realize only about fifteen hundred pounds, the lawyer says, but if I hold on they’re likely to improve considerably.
"It was a tremendous surprise,” she went on, “when, about six weeks after I’d arrived at Charton, my uncle sent for me and told me he’d made a will in my favor. Mrs. Mangove and Oscar were with him. Uncle Eustace said something to her about the ‘old man’ being free to do what he liked with his own money, but he added, putting his arm about me, ‘This little lady will eventually come into Charton and I mean to see that she’s properly provided for.’ I thought it was so sweet of him. Then he read the will aloud to the three of us and signed it, and made them witness his signature.”
“You inherit the house, do you?”
“Yes. It’s heavily mortgaged, I believe.”
“What about your grandfather’s money?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “From what Uncle Eustace told Mrs. Mangove that day, I thought maybe that grandfather had left it to her.”
Mr. Treadgold nodded absently. “When do you go back?”
“By the seven forty-five tonight. I told them I had to come up for the day to sign some papers for the lawyer.”
“If George Duckett and I ran down in the car tomorrow, could you give us some lunch?”
She was radiant. “Of course. I shan’t lx? afraid, going to bed tonight, if I know I’m to see you tomorrow.”
H. B. patted her shoulder paternally. “Don’t worry!
I think it's a mare’s nest you’re asking me to investigate, or should I say a nightmare’s nest? But you may expect us about one.”
I saw her to the lift. “So any excuse is good enough,”
1 told him, coming back, “to take a jaunt into the country?” He beamed at me. “ 'I wish I had not known so much of this affair,’ ” he quoted, “ ‘or that I had known more of it.’ ”
“That’s from Tristram Shandy, l suppose?”
“Right, George! Somerset in May will lxv delicious.” “A lot of jx'nny-dreadful imaginings of a hysterical young woman !”
He looked wise. "Your penny-dreadful is never half so improbable as real life dares to be, old man. The case presents certain jxnnts of interest. For instance, do you not IX'rceive the shadow, as it were, of a motive, a pecuniary motive, of which so much crime is born?”
“1 don’t see what object these people had in putting Eustace Charton out of the way, if that’s what you mean. He’d left his money to the girl, hadn’t he?”
“And who inherits from the girl, if anything happens to her?”
“Her next-of-kin, I presume.”
“Her grandfather, that’s to say. And who inherits from him?”
"I see what you’re getting at. II the girl’s to be believed, it’s the housekeeper.”
He nodded placidly. “Exactly. Then we start with a motive, at any rate. So let’s see whether we may not discover at Charton Place the answer to the riddle, ‘What sings like a kettle and makes people dream of drowning?’ ” “Eustace Charton didn’t dream, that 1 know of—he died.”
My friend had veiled his eyes. “Yes.” he said gravely, “he died. But in that sleep of death,” he added, staring in front of him, “what dreams may come!”
CHARTON PLACE, its Tudor red brick glowing in the sunshine of a perfect May morning, proved to be a long, low mansion, the bulk of it given over to ruin and neglect, as the roof, broken in places, and sagging gutters suggested. Wings projected right and left from the central mass. At the sound of our wheels on the grass-grown avenue, Olivia Rawley came running from a door in the right-hand wing.
“If you’d care to look round,” she said to Mr. Treadgold, “now’s the time. Mrs. Mangove and Oscar are with grandfather; they’ll be busy for the next half hour.”
A red baize door led off the small lobby which we entered.
“My grandfather’s suite,” Miss Rawley informed us. “I saw him this morning—I pay him a little visit every day. He’s not so well. I’m afraid.”
We went to Miss Rawley’s bedroom first. It was half way along a shabby, cheerless corridor.
“Those are the housekeeper’s quarters,” she said, pointing to an opening farther along the passage. “And that’s Uncle Eustace’s room at the far end.”
With American college pennants and an array of photographs displayed on the mantelpiece, she had done her best to lighten the gloom of the bedroom into which she ushered us. The furniture was Victorian, oppressive, a huge four-poster, a massive mahogany wardrobe, a marble washstand. A French window stood wide open on a small balcony, with shallow steps curving down to a stretch of green turf where thrushes hopjxid in the sunshine. Mr. Treadgold lx:gan to moon aimlessly about the room, scanning the ceiling, rapping the black oak wainscot with his knuckles, sounding the floor. He spent some time scrutinizing the door, and presently, with his penknife, began to probe the keyhole, from which he ultimately extracted a fragment of newspaper.
“I can explain that,” the girl told him. “This room’s fearfully draughty. The other night, when it was blowing so hard, Mrs. Mangove showed me how to stuff up the keyhole with paper.”
Mr. Treadgold grunted. “You read
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the Daily Telegraph in this house, do you?” he said abstractedly, staring at the piece of newspaper in his hand.
“Mrs. Mangove takes it; she reads it to grandfather,” Miss Rawley explained.
H. B. nodded sombrely. He was at the fireplace now. The metal plate across the chimney was closed; the fireplace was evidently not in use, although a fire was laid in the grate. My friend opened and shut the plate, then began examining the pieces of newspaper with which the fire was laid. He smoothed out and glanced over a number of them before dropping them back, with a grunt, behind the bars.
“Will you show me your uncle’s room
now?” he requested, dusting his hands.
With its closed shutters and sheeted bed, it was a creepy place. The girl let in some liglit, and we saw Mr. Treadgold raking over the unlit fire as he had done in the ! other room.
“What was the date of your uncle’s death?” he asked the girl presently, a twist of newspaper which he had extracted from the grate and smoothed out, in his hand.
“The night of March twenty-seven.” she told him.
“Is the gas laid on in the house?”
She shook her head. “We haven’t even got the electricity. We cook with paraffin.”
“Who does the cooking?”
“A daily woman from the village.” “Was it she who cooked the dinner the night your uncle died?”
Y\ 7"E MKT the housekeeper at lunch. W In her neat black dress with linen collar and cuffs, her hair, blonde paling to grey, carefully waved, Mrs. Mangove was the pattern of respectability. She greeted us as friends of Olivia’s family, politely but without enthusiasm, and thereafter effaced herself, her thin lips compressed, her light, blue eyes bent to her plate. It is my experience that few people can resist Mr. Treadgold’s charm; but Mrs. Mangove remained proof against all his attempts to draw her out with harmless questions about the neighboring country and the history of the old house.
The lunch was excellent, the duckling tender, the green peas fresh from the garden, the claret eminently drinkable. Under the influence of the meal Mr. Treadgold seemed to cheer up, and when a dish of ice cream appeared he positively beamed.
"Is this the result of the American influence at Charton, Miss Olivia?” he demanded of our hostess.
The girl laughed. "Indeed it isn’t. The colonel loves ice cream and has it every day.”
Mr. Treadgold took a large spoonful. "You must have a jolly good freezer,” he said appreciatively, smacking his lips. “1 never tasted better ice cream in my life.” “Mrs. Mangove says they never could get a cook in these parts who could handle a freezer properly,” Miss Rawley explained, “so we get our ice cream in London. It comes down twice a week.” “By train, do you mean?” I asked. “Uh-huh. Packed in dry ice.”
Mr. Treadgold chuckled. “The way the drug stores in America send it out, eh? That’s your suggestion, I suppose, Miss Olivia?”
“As a matter of fact, it’s Oscar’s,” she answered. “You know he used to be in the food preserving business back in Chicago.” At that moment a thickset man with a heavy mustache put his head in at the dining-room door. “He’s asleep,” he said to the housekeeper. “If he rings, will you see what he wants? I must go to the railway station.”
“Very gocxl, Oscar,” Mrs. Mangove replied.
He went away and presently we heard a car start up outside. We had our coffee at the table. Mr. Treadgold had grown strangely silent. He had lit a cigar and smoked it in vigorous puffs, his brows knitted in thought. The conversation languished and I felt relieved when a bell whirred twice and the housekeeper, standing up, announced that she must go to the colonel and took her leave.
“Well,” said Miss Rawley rather tensely to my friend when Mrs. Mangove had gone, “what have you found out?”
Mr. Treadgold stared at her sombrely without replying. Then he said: “Let’s go for a tum in the air, shall we?”
Y\7 K STROLLED for a spell in silence *V on the turf under the windows. We were approaching the stables when we heard the sound of a car, and the next moment a small roadster came up the back drive and halted at the closed gates of the yard. Oscar was driving and he had a large carton case in the tonneau. We were almost at the stable gates as he stopped, but he ignored us and, jumping down to ojien the gates, clambered back to the wheel and drove inside.
Something drew my attention to Mr. Treadgold. His air had become curiously alert. As we began to stroll back he said to the girl: "On the washstand in your bedroom. there’s an empty water bottle, a carafe. How long has it been empty?”
She gazed at him in surprise. "As long as I ’ve been here, I 'd say. I never use that washstand. I clean my teeth in the bathroom.”
He caught her arm. "The window of
your room’s round here, isn’t it? Let’s go to it !”
We entered the bedroom through the open French window. The water bottle had a tumbler inverted upon it. Mr. Treadgold’s blue eyes sparkled. “I shall want a cork,” he announced. He selected a cork from several Miss Rawley brought him from her dressing-table and, whipping the glass from the carafe, covered the neck of the carafe with his hand, then securely corked the vessel. “I’m going to borrow this for a day or two,” he said and thrust the carafe under his coat. “We’ll go out by the window, shall we?”
The girl went first and I followed, Mr. Treadgold coining last. Scarcely had I set foot on the lawn when I heard the smash of glass.
“Dear me,” H. B. observed, staring ruefully at the shivered pane of one of the two wings of the window, “how very clumsy of me! I stumbled, and in trying to save myself I put my elbow through it.”
“It doesn’t matter as long as you didn’t cut yourself,” said Miss Rawley. “I never shut the window in this weather anyway.”
Mr. Treadgold eyed her absently. "It was two nights ago you had this dream of yours?”
He nodded, then pointed at the broken pane. "Well, if the stuffiness of the room was the cause, you won’t dream of drowning tonight,” he remarked with a smile.
I looked at him sharply, hut his air was blandly innocent.
We went to the car and H. B. put the carafe out of sight under the rug. Then he gave the girl his hand. “Cheer up, young lady. I believe I can guarantee you a good night’s rest. But you might telephone me as soon as that window’s repaired.”
“It won’t be before tomorrow at the earliest. The glazier has to come from Glebely.”
He nodded serenely. “Tomorrow will be all right.” He clambered to the wheel. “You’ll be seeing me again very soon.”
ON OUR drive back to town he was in his most taciturn mood and I wasted no time in asking questions to which, as I knew from experience, I should receive no reply. He dropped me at the office, promising to communicate with me next day. It was not until past seven o’clock in the evening that a telephone call summoned me to Bury Street. Chief Inspector Manderton, a Scotland Yard man and an old crony of H. B.’s, was with him.
The first thing I saw was the carafe, still securely corked, on the desk. Mr. Treadgold was arguing with the inspector.
“Normal air contains only 0.04 per cent carbon dioxide,” he declared vigorously, "and here’s the analyst’s report" he shook a pajTer at the visitor — "to tell us that the air in this water bottle contains something like one-half per cent, a vastly higher percentage. And that after nearly forty-eight hours, mark you! We’ve no direct proof, I grant you, that Eustace Charton was murdered, but I submit that the inference, based on this sample of the air in the girl’s bedroom two nights ago which this carafe, protected by its tumbler, providentially retained, is irresistible. The question is. Are they going to have another go at making away with her, and if so, when?”
At the same moment, the telephone whirred. I lifted the receiver. It was Olivia Rawley.
“Tell Mr. Treadgold,” she said, "that the window was mended this morning. I couldn't ring up before because we’ve been in such an upset. Grandfather’s had another stroke and I’m afraid he’s very bad. No. nothing happened last night. Î must hang up now; I hear somebody coming.”
I had to interrupt H. B.’s argument with the Scotland Yard man to give him the gist of this communication. Mr. Treadgold became violently excited.
"If they mean to strike again, they'll strike at once,” he cried. "I gained her a night’s reprieve at least by busting her
window so that they couldn’t monkey with it. But now the window’s repaired and the old man's had another stroke—don’t you see that, if he dies on their hands, there remains only the girl between them and Eustace Charton’s investments? I’m leaving for Charton at once, and I give you fair warning, Manderton, if I can’t count on you I mean to take the law into my own hands.”
The inspector grunted. “If I do go with you. I've no authority. It’s a matter for the county police. I’ll have to communicate with them.”
"Go ahead! There’s the telephone.” He glanced at his watch. “We should be there by half-past ten. Tell them to meet us at the Charton Arms.”
IT WAS raining when we slid out of London and the Great West Road was glassy. Night fell black as pitch. It was past eleven o’clock when we drew up outside the half-timbered front of the inn at Charton. The police superintendent from Glebely, the neighboring market town, a sergeant and two constables awaited us. Inspector Manderton retired into a private sitting room with the superintendent,whom he introduced to us as Superintendent Charles. Then Mr. Treadgold joined them, leaving me to a long vigil over the local newspaper in the deserted tap, for the bar had closed at ten. The patter of the rain, the occasional bark of a dog, were the only sounds from the village.
At midnight Mr. Treadgold reappeared, followed by Manderton and Charles. The sergeant and his two men emerged from the inn kitchen and we set off in a body for Charton Place. The front gate was only latched, the lodge dark. To deaden the sound of our footsteps, we walked on the grass bordering the avenue. The mansion in sight, the superintendent dispatched his three men to keep a watch on the front entrance, with orders to detain anyone who should try to leave, while we made a detour through the park and fetched up at the side of the house. I realized that our destination was the exterior of Olivia Rawley’s room.
We halted in the lee of a great oak a hundred paces from the house. Not a light showed anywhere; we strained our ears in vain for any sound from the desolate mansion. Motioning to us to stay where we were, Mr. Treadgold crept forward. In a minute he was back.
“It’s for tonight,” he whispered tensely. “At any rate her window’s closed. There’s no sound yet. We’ll give it another half hour.”
I looked at my watch. It was twentyfive past twelve. In silence we waited under the dripping foliage. Opposite us, across the stretch of turf, as my eyes became used to the darkness, I could distinguish the outline of the balcony of the girl’s room with steps down to the lawn. At last Treadgold touched Manderton’s arm and the four of us advanced stealthily.
We halted under the balcony. H. B. went forward and noiselessly mounted the three or four stairs. I saw him with his ear laid to the window, then he turned and beckoned silently. I was nearest and I went up first. 1 was trembling with excitement. At the top, I laid my ear to the window as I had seen H. B. do, and my heart began to thump.
A faint, bubbling, singing noise was audible within.
After that things happened quickly. I was aware of Superintendent Charles smashing the window with a vigorous thrust of his elbow, of Manderton fumbling at the catch, of H. B. leading the way in. They all had electric torches. The sound of heavy, stertorous breathing drew my attention to the bed. Olivia Rawley was there asleep under the bedclothes. She did not move at our entry.
The air in the room was stale and frowsty. Quietly persistent, the humming noise we had heard on our entry continued.
“Here we are!” cried Mr. Treadgold, directing his torch on the ground in front of the door leading to the corridor.
A BLOCK of ice gleamed coldly in the flashlight’s glare. It stood on the floor, a solid chunk, almost a foot high and about half as thick, not crystal clear like ordinary ice but milky white like a block of camphor. Without any visible movement it seemed to be gently vibrating on the sheet of metal—zinc or aluminum — on which it rested, with a soft and steady whir.
“There you have it !” H. B. exclaimed to the inspector. “By morning that block would have disappeared, leaving in its place sufficient carbon dioxide gas to render the atmosphere absolutely unbreathable. And they weren’t risking any fresh oxygen coming in. by the look of it. See!” He switched his light round to the window by which we had entered; the ground was strewn with the twists ot newspaper which had been used to stop up every available chink. “And I’ve no doubt,” he added, “that the door leading to the corridor is similarly blocked on the outside.”
“But what is this stuff?” I demanded of Mr. Treadgold, pointing at the block on its metal tray.
“Solidified carbon dioxide—otherwise known as dry ice!” was the reply. “But let’s see to Miss Rawley.”
Superintendent Charles was bending over the girl. Her lips were parted, her breathing labored.
“The young lady’s unconscious,” the superintendent declared.
“Hardly time for that,” Mr. Treadgold snapped back. “She’s doped more likely, the same as her uncle was, if we only knew. Get her out in the air !”
The girl opened her eyes. “What’s happened?” she muttered drowsily.
Superintendent Charles gathered her up, bedclothes and all, in brawny arms, and bore her out through the French window.
Footsteps and a woman’s voice, raised shrilly in protest, reached us as we stepped out in the grounds. Oscar Halmquist and the housekeeper were there in the custody of the sergeant and his men. Mrs. Mangove was hysterical.
“It was his idea,” she wailed, pointing a denunciatory finger at Halmquist. “He got rid of his wife that way, three years ago in Chicago. He had me in his power;
I had to do as he bade me.”
“Well, well, well,” said Inspector Manderton, switching his torch in her face, “as I live, if it isn’t Betsy Carter!”
The housekeeper shrank back sullenly.
“I know her, though she hasn’t been through our hands for a good long time,” Manderton informed us. “She has a list of convictions as long as your arm—embezzlement, blackmail and I don’t know what. Hold them!” he ordered the sergeant. “We’ll just run the little lady to hospital and send the car back for them.”
WITH OLIVIA RAWLEY resting quietly in the Cottage Hospital, and Halmquist and his accomplice lodged at the Glebely police station, where Manderton remained to interrogate them, Mr. Treadgold and I repaired to the Charton Arms for breakfast.
“What first suggested to me that Eustace Charton’s death might not have been natural,” he told me over our ham and eggs, “and that they had tried to use the same method on Olivia Rawley, was her dream that she was drowning.”
I nodded. “Very shrewd. Of course, most dreams are influenced by our physical state. You mean that a dream of this kind implies some interference with the organs of breathing?”
“I once knew a woman,” H. B. told me, “who fell into the hands of a charlatan who persuaded her to let him treat her under an anaesthetic for a malformation of one of her toes. He gave her too much ether and too little oxygen with the result that, under the influence of the mixture, she fancied she was drowning. The incident came back to me when Miss Rawley told her story. “So you looked for evidence of some
asphyxiation process in the room, eh? Was that why you were prodding at that keyhole?”
He nodded. “The scrap of newspaper I retrieved wasn’t large enough to give me the date of the issue; but I noticed that a number of twists of newspaper lying on top of the grate were all taken from the Daily Telegraph of two days before. .
“The day of the girl’s nightmare, eh?”
“Precisely. In Eustace Charton’s room, similar twists of newspaper bore the date March twenty-seven, the day of his death. In both nx>ms the pieces of newspaper were in long twists, and the idea occurred to me that they might have been used for stopping up the chinks in the door and window.”
Mr. Treadgold helped himself to a second cup of coffee and went on:
“I thought at first, of fumes from the exhaust of a motor-car piped into the room; but I remembered that carbon monoxide poisoning leaves definite traces with which every doctor nowadays is familiar. It was not until we met Oscar Halmquist returning from the station in his car that I suddenly guessed the truth.”
“I was with you, but I’m jiggered if I
Mr. Treadgold sighed heavily.
"George, George, where were your eyes? In the back of the car didn’t he have a carton plainly labelled ‘Dry Ice Thirty Lb.’, with the maker’s name? Now, I’m not a chemist, but I know a bit. about dry ice from living in the States. They call it ‘dry ice’ because it doesn’t melt like ordinary ice but on evaporation passes into a gaseous state. This gas—carbon dioxide— reduces the amount of oxygen present in a confined space by the amount of gas with which the air becomes mixed. I realized that if they’d really attempted to asphyxiate the little Rawley by means of dry ice, the normal composition of air in the bedroom must have become altered, and it suddenly struck me that that empty carafe, protected as it was by an inverted glass, might well have retained a specimen of the denatured atmosphere, although probably weakened by lapse of time. I submitted the carafe for analysis to a chemist friend of mine, with the results you
know, and at the same time enquired from the firm, whose name I’d seen on those cases of Halmquist’s, as to his purchases of dry ice. Apart from the present consignment, I discovered that on March twenty-five, two days before Eustace Charton’s death, a block of thirty pounds in weight was dispatched to him and another four days ago. My chemist friend assures me that one such block, over a period of from six to seven hours, would have been sufficient to fill a nx>m of the dimensions of Miss Rawley’s with, roughly, a nine per cent mixture of carbon dioxide gas which, over a period covering the hours of the night, would unquestionably prove fatal. He adds in his report ” Mr. Treadgold drew a paper from his pocket and, adjusting his pince-nez, read out:
“ ‘I do not think there arc any ix>st-mortem characteristics which would lead to the elucidation of the cause of death.’ ”
1 laughed. “You certainly have an answer to everything. But what about the humming noise?”
Mr. Treadgold cleared his throat. “That,
I confess, stumped me. It also stumped my friend. But I fancy the metal plate explains it. While dry ice nominally does not melt, it deposits a few drops of moisture—it was to avoid leaving any marks on the. floor, obviously, that our friends put a sheet of metal under the block. I believe the sound we heard is due to the gas escaping between the surface of the block and the metal plate, which causes an almost imperceptible lifting and falling of the block.”
I grinned at him. “You don’t miss much, do you, H. B.?”
He gave me his deprecating smile.
“If murder, as someone put it, is violence wrongly applied,” he remarked, producing his pipe, “successful crime detection is merely observation rightly applied. The criminologist has to think for himself, old man, remembering, as is written in Tristram Shandv, that ‘an ounce of a man’s own wit is vorth a ton of other people’s.’ But come, George, let’s go to the hospital and call on Miss Olivia, for it seems to me that, with a dying grandfather as her sole relative, that little lady’s future is our next most immediate concern.”