万维文库英文版

"The Eyes of Max Carrados/Chapter 3"

Jump to search

III

The Secret of Dunstan's Tower

IT was a peculiarity of Mr Carrados that he could drop the most absorbing occupation of his daily life at a moment's notice if need be, apply himself exclusively to the solution of some criminological problem, possibly a matter of several days, and at the end of the time return and take up the thread of his private business exactly where he had left it.

On the morning of the 3rd of September he was dictating to his secretary a monograph to which he had given the attractive title, "The Portrait of Alexander the Great, as Jupiter Ammon, on an unedited octadrachm of Macedonia," when a telegram was brought in. Greatorex, the secretary, dealt with such communications as a matter of course, and, taking the envelope from Parkinson's salver, he cut it open in the pause between a couple of sentences.

"This is a private matter of yours, sir," he remarked, after glancing at the message. "Handed in at Netherhempsfield, 10.48 a.m. Repeated. One step higher. Quite baffled. Tulloch."

"Oh yes; that's all right," said Carrados. "No reply, Parkinson. Have you got down 'the Roman supremacy'?"

"'. . . the type of workmanship that still enshrined the memory of Spartan influence down to the era of Roman supremacy,'" read the secretary.

"That will do. How are the trains for Netherhempsfield?"

Greatorex put down the notebook and took up an "ABC."

"Waterloo departure 11——" He cocked an eye towards the desk clock. "Oh, that's no good. 12.17, 2.11, 5.9, 7.25."

"The 5.9 should do," interposed Carrados. "Arrival?"

"6.48."

"Now what has the gazeteer to say about the place?"

The yellow railway guide gave place to a weightier volume, and the secretary read out the following details:

"Netherhempsfield, parish and village, pop. 732, South Downshire. 2728 acres land and 27 water; soil rich loam, occupied as arable, pasture, orchard and woodland; subsoil various. The church of St Dunstan (restored 1740) is Saxon and Early English. It possesses an oak roof with curious grotesque bosses, and contains brasses and other memorials (earliest 13th century) of the Aynosforde family. In the 'Swinefield,' 1½ miles south-west of the village, are 15 large stones, known locally as the Judge and Jury, which constitute the remains of a Druidical circle and temple. Dunstan's Tower, a moated residence built in the baronial style, and probably dating from the 14th century, is the seat of the Aynosfordes."

"I can give three days easily," mused Carrados. "Yes, I'll go down by the 5.9."

"Do I accompany you, sir?" inquired Greatorex.

"Not this time, I think. Have three days off yourself. Just pick up the correspondence and take things easy. Send on anything to me, care of Dr Tulloch. If I don't write, expect me back on Friday."

"Very well, Mr Carrados. What books shall I put out for Parkinson to pack?"

"Say . . . Gessner's Thesaurus and—yes, you may as well add Hilarion's Celtic Mythology."

Six hours later Carrados was on his way to Netherhempsfield. In his pocket was the following letter, which may be taken as offering the only explanation why he should suddenly decide to visit a place of which he had never even heard until that morning:—

"Dear Mr Carrados ('old Wynn,' it used to be),—Do you remember a fellow at St Michael's who used to own insects and the name of Tulloch—'Earwigs,' they called him? Well, you will find it at the end of this epistle, if you have the patience to get there. I ran across Jarvis about six months ago on Euston platform—you'll recall him by his red hair and great feet—and we had a rapid and comprehensive pow-wow. He told me who you were, having heard of you from Lessing, who seems to be editing a high-class review. He always was a trifle eccentric, Lessing.

"As for yours t., well, at the moment I'm local demon in a G-f-s little place that you'd hardly find on anything less than a 4-inch ordnance. But I won't altogether say it mightn't be worse, for there's trout in the stream, and after half-a-decade of Cinder Moor, in the Black Country, a great and holy peace broods on the smiling land.

"But you will guess that I wouldn't be taking up the time of a busy man of importance unless I had something to say, and you'd be right. It may interest you, or it may not, but here it is.

"Living about two miles out of the village, at a sort of mediaeval stronghold known as Dunstan's Tower, there is an ancient county family called Aynosforde. And, for the matter of that, they are about all there is here, for the whole place seems to belong to them, and their authority runs from the power to charge you two-pence if you sell a pig between Friday night and Monday morning to the right to demand an exchange of scabbards with the reigning sovereign whenever he comes within seven bowshot flights of the highest battlement of Dunstan's Tower. (I don't gather that any reigning sovereign ever has come, but that isn't the Aynosfordes' fault.) But, levity apart, these Aynosfordes, without being particularly rich, or having any title, are accorded an extraordinary position. I am told that scarcely a living duchess could hold out against the moral influence old dame Aynosforde could bring to bear on social matters, and yet she scarcely ever goes beyond Netherhempsfield now.

"My connection with these high-and-mighties ought to be purely professional, and so, in a manner, it is, but on the top of it I find myself drawn into a full-blooded, old haunted house mystery that takes me clean out of my depth.

"Darrish, the man whose place I'm taking for three months, had a sort of arrangement that once a week he should go up to the Tower and amuse old Mrs Aynosforde for a couple of hours under the pretence of feeling her pulse. I found that I was let in for continuing this. Fortunately the old dame was quite amiable at close quarters. I have no social qualifications whatever, and we got on very well together on those terms. I have heard that she considers me 'thoroughly responsible.'

"For five or six weeks everything went on swimmingly. I had just enough to do to keep me from doing nothing; people have a delightful habit of not being taken ill in the night, and there is a comfortable cob to trot round on.

"Tuesday is my Dunstan's Tower day. Last Tuesday I went as usual. I recall now that the servants about the place seemed rather wild and the old lady did not keep me quite as long as usual, but these things were not sufficiently noticeable to make any impression on me at the time. On Friday a groom rode over with a note from Swarbrick, the butler. Would I go up that afternoon and see Mrs Aynosforde? He had taken the liberty of asking me on his own responsibility as he thought that she ought to be seen. Deuced queer it struck me, but of course I went.

"Swarbrick was evidently on the look-out. He is a regular family retainer, taciturn and morose rather than bland. I saw at once that the old fellow had something on his mind, and I told him that I should like a word with him. We went into the morning-room.

"'Now, Swarbrick,' I said, 'you sent for me. What is the matter with your mistress since Tuesday?'

"He looked at me dourly, as though he was still in two minds about opening his mouth. Then he said slowly:

"It isn't since Tuesday, sir. It was on that morning.'

"'What was'? I asked.

"'The beginning of it, Dr Tulloch. Mrs Aynosforde slipped at the foot of the stairs on coming down to breakfast.' "'She did?' I said. 'Well, it couldn't have been very serious at the time. She never mentioned it to me.'

"'No, sir,' the old monument assented, with an appalling surface of sublime pride, 'she would not.'

"'Why wouldn't she if she was hurt?' I demanded. 'People do mention these things to their medical men, in strict confidence.'

"'The circumstances are unusual, sir,' he replied, without a ruffle of his imperturbable respect. 'Mrs Aynosforde was not hurt, sir. She did not actually fall, but she slipped—on a pool of blood.'

"'That's unpleasant,' I admitted, looking at him sharply, for an owl could have seen that there was something behind all this. 'How did it come there? Whose was it?'

"'Sir Philip Bellmont's, sir.'

"I did not know the name. 'Is he a visitor here?' I asked.

"'Not at present, sir. He stayed with us in 1662. He died here, sir, under rather unpleasant circumstances.'

"There you have it, Wynn. That is the keystone of the whole business. But if I keep to my conversation with the still reluctant Swarbrick I shall run out of foolscap and into midnight. Briefly, then, the 'unpleasant circumstances' were as follows:—Just about two and a half centuries ago, when Charles II. was back, and things in England were rather gay, a certain Sir Philip Bellmont was a guest at Dunstan's Tower. There were dice, and there was a lady—probably a dozen, but the particular one was the Aynosforde's young wife. One night there was a flare-up. Bellmont was run through with a rapier, and an ugly doubt turned on whether the point came out under the shoulder-blade, or went in there. Dripping on to every stair, the unfortunate man was carried up to his room. He died within a few hours, convinced, from the circumstances, of treachery all round, and with his last breath he left an anathema on every male and female Aynosforde as the day of their death approached. There are fourteen steps in the flight that Bellmont was carried up, and when the pool appears in the hall some Aynosforde has just two weeks to live. Each succeeding morning the stain may be found one stair higher. When it reaches the top there is a death in the family.

"This was the gist of the story. As far as you and I are concerned, it is, of course, merely a matter as to what form our scepticism takes, but my attitude is complicated by the fact that my nominal patient has become a real one. She is seventy-two and built to be a nonagenarian, but she has gone to bed with the intention of dying on Tuesday week. And I firmly believe she will.

"'How does she know that she is the one?' I asked. There aren't many Aynosfordes, but I knew that there were some others.

"To this Swarbrick maintained a discreet ambiguity. It was not for him to say, he replied, but I can see that he, like most of the natives round here, is obsessed with Aynosfordism.

"'And for that matter,' I objected, 'your mistress is scarcely entitled to the distinction. She will not really be an Aynosforde at all—only one by marriage.'

"'No, sir,' he replied readily, 'Mrs Aynosforde was also a Miss Aynosforde, sir—one of the Dorset Aynosfordes. Mr Aynosforde married his cousin.'

"'Oh,' I said, 'do the Aynosfordes often marry cousins?' "'Very frequently, sir. You see, it is difficult otherwise for them to find eligible partners.'

"Well, I saw the lady, explaining that I had not been altogether satisfied with her condition on the Tuesday. It passed, but I was not able to allude to the real business. Swarbrick, in his respectful, cast-iron way, had impressed on me that Sir Philip Bellmont must not be mentioned, assuring me that even Darrish would not venture to do so. Mrs Aynosforde was certainly a little feverish, but there was nothing the matter with her. I left, arranging to call again on the Sunday.

"When I came to think it over, the first form it took was: Now who is playing a silly practical joke, or working a deliberate piece of mischief? But I could not get any further on those lines, because I do not know enough of the circumstances. Darrish might know, but Darrish is cruising off Spitzbergen, suffering from a nervous breakdown. The people here are amiable enough superficially, but they plainly regard me as an outsider.

"It was then that I thought of you. From what Jarvis had told me I gathered that you were keen on a mystery for its own sake. Furthermore, though I understand that you are now something of a dook, you might not be averse to a quiet week in the country, jogging along the lanes, smoking a peaceful pipe of an evening and yarning over old times. But I was not going to lure you down and then have the thing turn out to be a ridiculous and transparent hoax, no matter how serious its consequences. I owed it to you to make some reasonable investigation myself. This I have now done.

"On Sunday when I went there Swarbrick, with a very long face, reported that on each morning he had found the stain one step higher. The patient, needless to say, was appreciably worse. When I came down I had made up my mind.

"'Look here, Swarbrick,' I said, 'there is only one thing for it. I must sit up here to-night and see what happens.'

"He was very dubious at first, but I believe the fellow is genuine in his attachment to the house. His final scruple melted when he learned that I should not require him to sit up with me. I enjoined absolute secrecy, and this, in a large rambling place like the Tower, is not difficult to maintain. All the maid-servants had fled. The only people sleeping within the walls now, beyond those I have mentioned, are two of Mrs Aynosforde's grandchildren (a girl and a young man whom I merely know by sight), the housekeeper and a footman. All these had retired long before the butler admitted me by an obscure little door, about half-an-hour after midnight.

"The staircase with which we are concerned goes up from the dining hall. A much finer, more modern way ascends from the entrance hall. This earlier one, however, only gives access now to three rooms, a lovely oak-panelled chamber occupied by my patient and two small rooms, turned nowadays into a boudoir and a bathroom. When Swarbrick had left me in an easy-chair, wrapped in a couple of rugs, in a corner of the dark dining hall, I waited for half-an-hour and then proceeded to make my own preparations. Moving very quietly, I crept up the stairs, and at the top drove one drawing-pin into the lintel about a foot up, another at the same height into the baluster opposite, and across the stairs fastened a black thread, with a small bell hanging over the edge. A touch and the bell would ring, whether the thread broke or not. At the foot of the stairs I made another attachment and hung another bell.

"'I think, my unknown friend,' I said, as I went back to the chair, 'you are cut off above and below now.'

"I won't say that I didn't close my eyes for a minute through the whole night, but if I did sleep it was only as a watchdog sleeps. A whisper or a creak of a board would have found me alert. As it was, however, nothing happened. At six o'clock Swarbrick appeared, respectfully solicitous about my vigil.

"'We've done it this time, Swarbrick,' I said in modest elation. 'Not the ghost of a ghost has appeared. The spell is broken.'

"He had crossed the hall and was looking rather strangely at the stairs. With a very queer foreboding I joined him and followed his glance. By heavens, Wynn, there, on the sixth step up, was a bright red patch! I am not squeamish; I cleared four steps at a stride, and stooping down I dipped my finger into the stuff and felt its slippery viscidity against my thumb. There could be no doubt about it; it was the genuine thing. In my baffled amazement I looked in every direction for a possible clue to human agency. Above, more than twenty feet above, were the massive rafters and boarding of the roof itself. By my side reared a solid stone wall, and beneath was simply the room we stood in, for the space below the stairway was not enclosed.

"I pointed to my arrangement of bells.

"'Nobody has gone up or down, I'll swear,' I said a little warmly. Between ourselves, I felt a bit of an ass for my pains, before the monumental Swarbrick.

"'No, sir,' he agreed. 'I had a similar experience myself on Saturday night.'

"'The deuce you did,' I exclaimed. 'Did you sit up then?'

"'Not exactly, sir,' he replied, 'but after making all secure at night I hung a pair of irreplaceable Dresden china cups in a similar way. They were both still intact in the morning, sir.'

"Well, there you are. I have nothing more to say on the subject. 'Hope not,' you'll be muttering. If the thing doesn't tempt you, say no more about it. If it does, just wire a time and I'll be at the station. Welcome isn't the word.—Yours as of yore,

"Jim Tulloch.

"P.S.—Can put your man up all right.

"J. T."

Carrados had "wired a time," and he was seized on the platform by the awaiting and exuberant Tulloch and guided with elaborate carefulness to the doctor's cart, which was, as its temporary owner explained, "knocking about somewhere in the lane outside."

"Splendid little horse," he declared. "Give him a hedge to nibble at and you can leave him to look after himself for hours. Motors? He laughs at them, Wynn, merely laughs."

Parkinson and the luggage found room behind, and the splendid little horse shook his shaggy head and launched out for home. For a mile the conversation was a string of, "Do you ever come across Brown now?" "You know Sugden was killed flying?" "Heard of Marling only last week; he's gone on the stage." "By the way, that appalling ass Sanders married a girl with a pot of money and runs horses now," and doubtless it would have continued in a similar strain to the end of the journey if an encounter with a farmer's country trap had not interrupted its tenor.

The lane was very narrow at that point and the driver of the trap drew into the hedge and stopped to allow the doctor to pass. There was a mutual greeting, and Tulloch pulled up also when their hubs were clear.

"No more sheep killed, I hope?" he called back.

"No, sir; I can't complain that we have," said the driver cheerfully. "But I do hear that Mr Stone, over at Daneswood, lost one last night."

"In the same way, do you mean?"

"So I heard. It's a queer business, doctor."

"It's a blackguardly business. It's a marvel what the fellow thinks he's doing."

"He'll get nabbed, never fear, sir. He'll do it once too often."

"Hope so," said the doctor. "Good-day." He shook the reins and turned to his visitor. "One of our local 'Farmer Jarges.' It's part of the business to pass the time o' day with them all and ask after the cow or the pig, if no other member of the family happens to be on the sick list."

"What is the blackguardly business?" asked Carrados.

"Well, that is a bit out of the common, I'll admit. About a week ago this man, Bailey, found one of his sheep dead in the field. It had been deliberately killed—head cut half off. It hadn't been done for meat, because none was taken. But, curiously enough, something else had been taken. The animal had been opened and the heart and intestines were gone. What do you think of that, Wynn?"

"Revenge, possibly."

"Bailey declares that he hasn't got the shadow of an enemy in the world. His three or four labourers are quite content. Of course a thing like that makes a tremendous sensation in a place like this. You may see as many as five men talking together almost any day now. And here, on the top if it, comes another case at Stone's. It looks like one of those outbreaks that crop up from time to time for no obvious reason and then die out again."

"No reason, Jim?"

"Well, if it isn't revenge, and if it isn't food, what is there to be got by it?"

"What is there to be got when an animal is killed?"

Tulloch stared without enlightenment.

"What is there that I am here to trace?"

"Godfrey Dan'l, Wynn! You don't mean to say that there is any connection between——?"

"I don't say it," declared Carrados promptly. "But there is very strong reason why we should consider it. It solves a very obvious question that faces us. A pricked thumb does not produce a pool. Did you microscope it?"

"Yes, I did. I can only say that it's mammalian. My limited experience doesn't carry me beyond that. Then what about the entrails, Wynn? Why take those?"

"That raises a variety of interesting speculations certainly."

"It may to you. The only thing that occurs to me is that it might be a blind."

"A very unfortunate one, if so. A blind is intended to allay curiosity—to suggest an obvious but fictitious motive. This, on the contrary, arouses curiosity. The abstraction of a haunch of mutton would be an excellent blind. Whereas now, as you say, what about the entrails?"

Tulloch shook his head.

"I've had my shot," he answered. "Can you suggest anything?"

"Frankly, I can't," admitted Carrados.

"On the face of it, I don't suppose anyone short of an oracle could. Pity our local shrine has got rusty in the joints." He levelled his whip and pointed to a distant silhouette that showed against the last few red streaks in the western sky a mile away. "You see that solitary old outpost of paganism——"

The splendid little horse leapt forward in indignant surprise as the extended whip fell sharply across his shoulders. Tulloch's ingenuous face seemed to have caught the rubicundity of the distant sunset.

"I'm beastly sorry, Wynn, old man," he muttered. "I ought to have remembered."

"My blindness?" contributed Carrados. "My dear chap, everyone makes a point of forgetting that. It's quite a recognised form of compliment among friends. If it were baldness I probably should be touchy on the subject; as it's only blindness I'm not."

"I'm very glad you take it so well," said Tulloch. "I was referring to a stone circle that we have here. Perhaps you have heard of it?"

"The Druids' altar!" exclaimed Carrados with an inspiration. "Jim, to my everlasting shame, I had forgotten it."

"Oh, well, it isn't much to look at," confessed the practical doctor. "Now in the church there are a few decent monuments—all Aynosfordes, of course."

"Aynosfordes—naturally. Do you know how far that remarkable race goes back?"

"A bit beyond Adam I should fancy," laughed Tulloch. "Well, Darrish told me that they really can trace to somewhere before the Conquest. Some antiquarian Johnny has claimed that the foundations of Dunstan's Tower cover a Celtic stronghold. Are you interested in that sort of thing?"

"Intensely," replied Carrados; "but we must not neglect other things. This gentleman who owned the unfortunate sheep, the second victim, now? How far is Daneswood away?"

"About a mile—mile and a half at the most."

Carrados turned towards the back seat.

"Do you think that in seven minutes' time you would be able to distinguish the details of a red mark on the grass, Parkinson?"

Parkinson took the effect of three objects, the sky above, the herbage by the roadside, and the back of his hand, and then spoke regretfully.

"I'm afraid not, sir; not with any certainty," he replied.

"Then we need not trouble Mr Stone to-night," said Carrados philosophically.

After dinner there was the peaceful pipe that Tulloch had forecast, and mutual reminiscences until the long clock in the corner, striking the smallest hour of the morning, prompted Tulloch to suggest retirement.

"I hope you have everything," he remarked tentatively, when he had escorted the guest to his bedroom. "Mrs Jones does for me very well, but you are an unknown quantity to her as yet."

"I shall be quite all right, you may be sure," replied Carrados, with his engagingly grateful smile. "Parkinson will already have seen to everything. We have a complete system, and I know exactly where to find anything I require."

Tulloch gave a final glance round.

"Perhaps you would prefer the window closed?" he suggested.

"Indeed I should not. It is south-west, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"And a south-westerly breeze to bring the news. I shall sit here for a little time." He put his hand on the top rail of a chair with unhesitating precision and drew it to the open casement. "There are a thousand sounds that you in your arrogance of sight ignore, a thousand individual scents of hedge and orchard that come to me up here. I suppose it is quite dark to you now, Jim? What a lot you seeing people must miss!"

Tulloch guffawed, with his hand on the door knob.

"Well, don't let your passion for nocturnal nature study lead you to miss breakfast at eight. My eyes won't, I promise you. Ta-ta."

He jigged off to his own room and in ten minutes was soundly asleep. But the oak clock in the room beneath marked the quarters one by one until the next hour struck, and then round the face again until the little finger stood at three, and still the blind man sat by the open window that looked out over the south-west, interpreting the multitudinous signs of the quiet life that still went on under the dark cover of the warm summer night.

"The word lies with you, Wynn," remarked Tulloch at breakfast the next morning—he was twelve minutes late, by the way, and found his guest interested in the titles of Dr Darrish's excellent working library. "I am supposed to be on view here from nine to ten, and after that I am due at Abbot's Farm somewhere about noon. With those reservations, I am at your disposal for the day."

"Do you happen to go anywhere near the 'Swinefield' on your way to Abbot's Farm?" asked Carrados.

"The 'Swinefield'? Oh, the Druids' circle. Yes, one way—and it's as good as any other—passes the wheel-track that leads up to it."

"Then I should certainly like to inspect the site."

"There's really nothing to see, you know," apologised the doctor. "Only a few big rocks on end. They aren't even chiselled smooth."

"I am curious," volunteered Carrados, "to discover why fifteen stones should be called 'The Judge and Jury.'"

"Oh, I can explain that for you," declared Tulloch. "Two of them are near together with a third block across the tops. That's the Judge. The twelve jurymen are scattered here and there. But we'll go, by all means."

"There is a public right of way, I suppose?" asked Carrados, when, in due course, the trap turned from the highway into a field track.

"I don't know about a right," said Tulloch, "but I imagine that anyone goes across who wants to. Of course it's not a Stonehenge, and we have very few visitors, or the Aynosfordes might put some restrictions. As for the natives, there isn't a man who wouldn't sooner walk ten miles to see a five-legged calf than cross the road to look at a Phidias. And for that matter," he added thoughtfully, "this is the first time I've been really up to the place myself."

"It's on Aynosforde property, then?"

"Oh yes. Most of the parish is, I believe. But this 'Swinefield' is part of the park. There is an oak plantation across there or Dunstan's Tower would be in sight."

They had reached the gate of the enclosure. The doctor got down to open it, as he had done the former ones.

"This is locked," he said, coming back to the step, "but we can climb over easy enough. You can get down all right?"

"Thanks," replied Carrados. He descended and followed Tulloch, stopping to pat the little horse's neck.

"He'll be all right," remarked the doctor with a backward nod. "I fancy Tommy's impressionable years must have been spent between the shafts of a butcher's cart. Now, Wynn, how do we proceed?"

"I should like to have your arm over this rough ground. Then if you will take me from stone to stone——"

They paced the broken circle leisurely, Carrados judging the appearance of the remains by touch and by the answers to the innumerable questions that he put. They were approaching the most important monument the Judge—when Tulloch gave a shout of delight.

"Oh, the beauty!" he cried with enthusiasm. "I must see you closer. Wynn, do you mind—a minute——"

"Lady, Jim?" murmured Carrados. "Certainly not. I'll stand like Tommy."

Tulloch shot off with a laugh and Carrados heard him racing across the grass in the direction of the trilithon. He was still amused when he returned, after a very short interval.

"No, Wynn, not a lady, but it occurred to me that you might have been farther off. A beautiful airy creature very brightly clad. A Purple Emperor, in fact. I haven't netted a butterfly for years, but the sight gave me all the old excitement of the chase."

"Tolerably rare, too, aren't they?"

"Generally speaking, they are. I remember waiting in an oak grove with a twenty-foot net for a whole day once, and not a solitary Emperor crossed my path."

"An oak grove; yes, you said there was an oak plantation here."

"I didn't know the trick then. You needn't go to that trouble. His Majesty has rather peculiar tastes for so elegant a being. You just hang a piece of decidedly ripe meat anywhere near."

"Yes, Jim?"

"Do you notice anything?" demanded the doctor, with his face up to the wind.

"Several things," replied Carrados.

"Apropos of high meat? Do you know, Wynn, I lost that Purple Emperor here, round the blocks. I thought it must have soared, as I couldn't quite fathom its disappearance. This used to be the Druids' altar, they say. I don't know if you follow me, but it would be a devilish rum go if—eh?"

Carrados accepted the suggestion of following Jim's idea with impenetrable gravity.

"I haven't the least doubt that you are right," he assented. "Can you get up?"

"It's about ten feet high," reported Tulloch, "and not an inch of crevice to get a foothold on. If only we could bring the trap in here——"

"I'll give you a back," said Carrados, taking a position against one of the pillars. "You can manage with that?"

"Sure you can stand it?"

"Only be as quick as you can."

"Wait a minute," said Tulloch with indecision. "I think someone is coming."

"I know there is," admitted Carrados, "but it is only a matter of seconds. Make a dash for it."

"No," decided Tulloch. "One looks ridiculous. I believe it is Miss Aynosforde. We'd better wait."

A young girl with a long thin face, light hair and the palest blue eyes that it would be possible to imagine had come from the wood and was approaching them hurriedly. She might have been eighteen, but she was "dressed young," and when she spoke she expressed the ideas of a child.

"You ought not to come in here," was her greeting. "It belongs to us."

"I am sorry if we are trespassing," apologised Tulloch, colouring with chagrin and surprise. "I was under the impression that Mrs Aynosforde allowed visitors to inspect these ruins. I am Dr Tulloch."

"I don't know anything about that," said the girl vaguely. "But Dunstan will be very cross if he sees you here. He is always cross if he finds that anyone has been here. He will scold me afterwards. And he makes faces in the night."

"We will go," said Tulloch quietly. "I am sorry that we should have unconsciously intruded."

He raised his hat and turned to walk away, but Miss Aynosforde detained him.

"You must not let Dunstan know that I spoke to you about it," she implored him. "That would be as bad. Indeed," she added plaintively, "whatever I do always makes him cruel to me."

"We will not mention it, you may be sure," replied the doctor. "Good-morning."

"Oh, it is no good!" suddenly screamed the girl. "He has seen us; he is coming!"

Tulloch looked round in the direction that Miss Aynosforde's frightened gaze indicated. A young man whom he knew by sight as her brother had left the cover of the wood and was strolling leisurely towards them. Without waiting to encounter him the girl turned and fled, to hide herself behind the farthest pillar, running with ungainly movements of her long, wispish arms and uttering a low cry as she went.

As young Aynosforde approached he courteously raised his hat to the two elder men. He appeared to be a few years older than his sister, and in him her colourless ovine features were moulded to a firmer cast.

"I am afraid that we are trespassing," said the doctor, awkward between his promise to the girl and the necessity of glossing over the situation. "My friend is interested in antiquities——"

"My unfortunate sister!" broke in Aynosforde quietly, with a sad smile. "I can guess what she has been saying. You are Dr Tulloch, are you not?"

"Yes."

"Our grandmother has a foolish but amiable weakness that she can keep poor Edith's infirmity dark. I cannot pretend to maintain that appearance before a doctor . . . and I am sure that we can rely on the discretion of your friend?"

"Oh, certainly," volunteered Tulloch. "He is——"

"Merely an amateur," put in Carrados, suavely, but with the incisiveness of a scalpel.

"You must, of course, have seen that Edith is a little unusual in her conversation," continued the young man. "Fortunately, it is nothing worse than that. She is not helpless, and she is never violent. I have some hope, indeed, that she will outgrow her delusions. I suppose"—he laughed a little as he suggested it—"I suppose she warned you of my displeasure if I saw you here?"

"There was something of the sort," admitted Tulloch, judging that the circumstances nullified his promise.

Aynosforde shook his head slowly.

"I am sorry that you have had the experience," he remarked. "Let me assure you that you are welcome to stay as long as you like under the shadows of these obsolete fossils, and to come as often as you please. It is a very small courtesy; the place has always been accessible to visitors."

"I am relieved to find that I was not mistaken," said the doctor.

"When I have read up the subject I should like to come again," interposed Carrados. "For the present we have gone all over the ground." He took Tulloch's arm, and under the insistent pressure the doctor turned towards the gate. "Good-morning, Mr Aynosforde."

"What a thing to come across!" murmured Tulloch when they were out of earshot. "I remember Darrish making the remark that the girl was simple for her years or something of that sort, but I only took it that she was backward. I wonder if the old ass knew more than he told me!"

They were walking without concern across the turf and had almost reached the gate when Carrados gave a sharp, involuntary cry of pain and wrenched his arm free. As he did so a stone of dangerous edge and size fell to the ground between them.

"Damnation!" cried Tulloch, his face darkening with resentment. "Are you hurt, old man?"

"Come on," curtly replied Carrados between his set teeth.

"Not until I've given that young cub something to remember," cried the outraged doctor truculently. "It was Aynosforde, Wynn. I wouldn't have believed it, but I just caught sight of him in time. He laughed and ran behind a pillar when you were hit."

"Come on," reiterated Carrados, seizing his friend's arm and compelling him towards the gate. "It was only the funny bone, fortunately. Would you stop to box the village idiot's ears because he puts out his tongue at you?"

"Village idiot!" exclaimed Tulloch. "I may only be a thick-skulled, third-rate general practitioner of no social pretension whatever, but I'm blistered if I'll have my guests insulted by a long-eared pedigree blighter without putting up a few plain words about it. An Aynosforde or not, he must take the consequences; he's no village idiot."

"No," was Carrados's grim retort; "he is something much more dangerous—the castle maniac."

Tulloch would have stopped in sheer amazement, but the recovered arm dragged him relentlessly on.

"Aynosforde! Mad!"

"The girl is on the borderline of imbecility; the man has passed beyond the limit of a more serious phase. The ground has been preparing for generations; doubtless in him the seed has quietly germinated for years. Now his time has come."

"I heard that he was a nice, quiet young fellow, studious and interested in science. He has a workshop and a laboratory."

"Yes, anything to occupy his mind. Well, in future he will have a padded room and a keeper."

"But the sheep killed by night and the parts exposed on the Druids' altar? What does it mean, Wynn?"

"It means madness, nothing more and nothing less. He is the receptacle for the last dregs of a rotten and decrepit stock that has dwindled down to mental atrophy. I don't believe that there is any method in his midnight orgies. The Aynosfordes are certainly a venerable line, and it is faintly possible that its remote ancestors were Druid priests who sacrificed and practised haruspicy on the very spot that we have left. I have no doubt that on that questionable foundation you would find advocates of a more romantic theory."

"Moral atavism?" suggested the doctor shrewdly.

"Yes—reincarnation. I prefer the simpler alternative. Aynosforde has been so fed up with pride of family and traditions of his ancient race that his mania takes this natural trend. You know what became of his father and mother?"

"No, I have never heard them mentioned."

"The father is in a private madhouse. The mother—another cousin, by the way—died at twenty-five."

"And the blood stains on the stairs? Is that his work?"

"Short of actual proof, I should say yes. It is the realisation of another family legend, you see. Aynosforde may have an insane grudge against his grandmother, or it may be simply apeish malignity, put into his mind by the sight of blood."

"What do you propose doing, then? We can't leave the man at large."

"We have nothing yet to commit him on. You would not sign for a reception order on the strength of seeing him throw a stone? We must contrive to catch him in the act to-night, if possible."

Tulloch woke up the little horse with a sympathetic touch—they were ambling along the highroad again by this time—and permitted himself to smile.

"And how do you propose to do that, Excellency?" he asked.

"By sprinkling the ninth step with iodide of nitrogen. A warm night . . . it will dry in half-an-hour."

"Well, do you know, I never thought of that," admitted the doctor. "Certainly that would give us the alarm if a feather brushed it. But we don't possess a chemist's shop, and I very much doubt if I can put my hand on any iodine."

"I brought a couple of ounces," said Carrados with diffidence. "Also a bottle of 880 ammonia to be on the safe side."

"You really are a bit of a sine qua non, Wynn," declared Tulloch expressively.

"It was such an obvious thing," apologised the blind man. "I suppose Brook Ashfield is too far for one of us to get over to this afternoon?"

"In Dorset?"

"Yes. Colonel Eustace Aynosforde is the responsible head of the family now, and he should be on the spot if possible. Then we ought to get a couple of men from the county lunatic asylum. We don't know what may be before us."

"If it can't be done by train we must wire or perhaps Colonel Aynosforde is on the telephone. We can go into that as soon as we get back. We are almost at Abbot's Farm now. I will cut it down to fifteen minutes at the outside. You don't mind waiting here?"

"Don't hurry," replied Carrados. "Few cases are matters of minutes. Besides, I told Parkinson to come on here from Daneswood on the chance of our picking him up."

"Oh, it's Parkinson, to be sure," said the doctor. "Thought I knew the figure crossing the field. Well, I'll leave you to him."

He hastened along the rutty approach to the farmhouse, and Tommy, under the pretext of being driven there by certain pertinacious flies, imperceptibly edged his way towards the long grass by the roadside. In a few minutes Parkinson announced his presence at the step of the vehicle.

"I found what you described, sir," he reported. "These are the shapes."

Tulloch kept to his time. In less than a quarter of an hour he was back again and gathering up the reins.

"That little job is soon worked off," he remarked with mild satisfaction. "Home now, I suppose, Wynn?"

"Yes," assented Carrados. "And I think that the other little job is morally worked off." He held up a small piece of note-paper, cut to a neat octagon, with two long sides and six short ones. "What familiar object would just about cover that plan, Jim?"

"If it isn't implicating myself in any devilment, I should say that one of our four-ounce bottles would be about the ticket," replied Tulloch.

"It very likely does implicate you to the extent of being one of your four-ounce bottles, then," said Carrados. "The man who killed Stone's sheep had occasion to use what we will infer to be a four-ounce bottle. It does not tax the imagination to suggest the use he put it to, nor need we wonder that he found it desirable to wash it afterwards—this small, flat bottle that goes conveniently into a waistcoat pocket. On one side of the field—the side remote from the road, Jim, but in the direct line for Dunstan's Tower—there is a stream. There he first washed his hands, carefully placing the little bottle on the grass while he did so. That indiscretion has put us in possession of a ground plan, so to speak, of the vessel."

"Pity it wasn't of the man instead."

"Of the man also. In the field the earth is baked and unimpressionable, but down by the water-side the conditions are quite favourable, and Parkinson got perfect reproductions of the footprints. Soon, perhaps, we may have an opportunity of making a comparison."

The doctor glanced at the neat lines to which the papers Carrados held out had been cut.

"It's a moral," he admitted. "There's nothing of the hobnailed about those boots, Wynn."

· · · · · · ·

Swarbrick had been duly warned and obedience to his instructions had been ensured by the note that conveyed them bearing the signature of Colonel Aynosforde. Between eleven and twelve o'clock a light in a certain position gave the intelligence that Dunstan Aynosforde was in his bedroom and the coast quite clear. A little group of silent men approached the Tower, and four, crossing one of the two bridges that spanned the moat, melted spectrally away in a dark angle of the walls.

Every detail had been arranged. There was no occasion for whispered colloquies about the passages, and with the exception of the butler's sad and respectful greeting of an Aynosforde, scarcely a word was spoken. Carrados, the colonel and Parkinson took up their positions in the great dining hall, where Dr Tulloch had waited on the occasion of his vigil. A screen concealed them from the stairs and the chairs on which they sat did not creak— all the blind man asked for. The doctor, who had carried a small quantity of some damp powder wrapped in a saturated sheet of blotting-paper, occupied himself for five minutes distributing it minutely over the surface of the ninth stair. When this was accomplished he disappeared and the silence of a sleeping house settled upon the ancient Tower.

A party, however, is only as quiet as its most restless member, and the colonel soon discovered a growing inability to do nothing at all and to do it in absolute silence. After an exemplary hour he began to breathe whispered comments on the situation into his neighbour's ear, and it required all Carrados's tact and good humour to repress his impatience. Two o'clock passed and still nothing had happened.

"I began to feel uncommonly dubious, you know," whispered the colonel, after listening to the third clock strike the hour. "We stand to get devilishly chaffed if this gets about. Suppose nothing happens?"

"Then your aunt will probably get up again," replied Carrados.

"True, true. We shall have broken the continuity. But, you know, Mr Carrados, there are some things about this portent, visitation—call it what you will—that even I don't fully understand down to this day. There is no doubt that my grandfather, Oscar Aynosforde, who died in 1817, did receive a similar omen, or summons, or whatever it may be. We have it on the authority——"

Carrados clicked an almost inaudible sound of warning and laid an admonishing hand on the colonel's arm.

"Something going on," he breathed.

The soldier came to the alert like a terrier at a word, but his straining ears could not distinguish a sound beyond the laboured ticking of the hall clock beyond.

"I hear nothing," he muttered to himself.

He had not long to wait. Half-way up the stairs something snapped off like the miniature report of a toy pistol. Before the sound could translate itself to the human brain another louder discharge had swallowed it up and out of its echo a crackling fusillade again marked the dying effects of the scattered explosive.

At the first crack Carrados had swept aside the screen. "Light, Parkinson!" he cried.

An electric lantern flashed out and centred its circle of brilliance on the stairs opposite. Its radiance pierced the nebulous balloon of violet smoke that was rising to the roof and brought out every detail of the wall beyond.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Colonel Aynosforde, "there is a stone out. I knew nothing of this."

As he spoke the solid block of masonry slid back into its place and the wall became as blankly impenetrable as before.

"Colonel Aynosforde," said Carrados, after a hurried word with Parkinson, "you know the house. Will you take my man and get round to Dunstan's workroom at once? A good deal depends upon securing him immediately."

"Am I to leave you here without any protection, sir?" inquired Parkinson in mild rebellion.

"Not without any protection, thank you, Parkinson. I shall be in the dark, remember."

They had scarcely gone when Dr Tulloch came stumbling in from the hall and the main stairs beyond, calling on Carrados as he bumped his way past a succession of inopportune pieces of furniture.

"Are you there, Wynn?" he demanded, in high-strung irritation. "What the devil's happening? Aynosforde hasn't left his room, we'll swear, but hasn't the iodide gone off?"

"The iodide has gone off and Aynosforde has left his room, though not by the door. Possibly he is back in it by now."

"The deuce!" exclaimed Tulloch blankly. "What am I to do?"

"Return——" began Carrados, but before he could say more there was a confused noise and a shout outside the window.

"We are saved further uncertainty," said the blind man. "He has thrown himself down into the moat."

"He will be drowned!"

"Not if Swarbrick put the drag-rake where he was instructed, and if those keepers are even passably expert," replied Carrados imperturbably. "After all, drowning . . . But perhaps you had better go and see, Jim."

In a few minutes men began to return to the dining hall as though where the blind man was constituted their headquarters. Colonel Aynosforde and Parkinson were the first, and immediately afterwards Swarbrick entered from the opposite side, bringing a light.

"They've got him out," exclaimed the colonel. "Upon my word, I don't know whether it's for the best or the worst, Mr Carrados." He turned to the butler, who was lighting one after another of the candles of the great hanging centre-pieces. "Did you know anything of a secret passage giving access to these stairs, Swarbrick?" he inquired.

"Not personally, sir," replied Swarbrick, "but we always understood that formerly there was a passage and hiding chamber somewhere, though the positions had been lost. We last had occasion to use it when we were defeated at Naseby, sir."

Carrados had walked to the stairs and was examining the wall.

"This would be the principal stairway, then?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, until we removed the Elizabethan gallery when we restored in 1712."

"It is on the same plan as the 'Priest's Chamber' at Lapwood. If you investigate in the daylight, Colonel Aynosforde, you will find that you command a view of both bridges when the stone is open. Very convenient sometimes, I dare say."

"Very, very," assented the colonel absently. "Every moment," he explained, "I am dreading that Aunt Eleanor will make her appearance. She must have been disturbed."

"Oh, I took that into account," said Tulloch, catching the remark as he put his head in at the door and looked round. "I recommended a sleeping draught when I was here last—no, this evening. We have got our man in all right now," he continued, "and if we can have a dry suit——"

"I will accompany you, sir," said Swarbrick.

"Is he—violent?" asked the colonel, dropping his voice.

"Violent? Well," admitted Tulloch, holding out two dripping objects that he had been carrying, "we thought it just as well to cut his boots off." He threw them down in a corner and followed the butler out of the room.

Carrados took two pieces of shaped white paper from his pocket and ran his fingers round the outlines. Then he picked up Dunstan Aynosforde's boots and submitted them to a similar scrutiny.

"Very exact, Parkinson," he remarked approvingly.

"Thank you, sir," replied Parkinson with modest pride.


本页面最后更新于2020-10-07 02:06,点击更新本页查看原网页

本站的所有资料包括但不限于文字、图片等全部转载于维基文库(wikisource.org),遵循 维基百科:CC BY-SA 3.0协议

万维文库为维基百科爱好者建立的公益网站,旨在为中国大陆网民提供优质内容,您还可以直接访问维基文库官方网站


顶部

如果本页面有数学、化学、物理等公式未正确显示,请使用火狐或者Safari浏览器