The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 14

IT WAS the ringing of the telephone bell that woke him. He rolled over on the bed and took down the receiver.

"Hullo!" he said, in genuine surprise. "Your voice was the last in the world I expected to hear."

There was a little laugh at the other end of the phone.

"You recognized it? That's rather clever of you. I came down to see you half an hour ago, but the hall porter was certain that you were not in."

"Is anything wrong? " he asked quickly.

There was a little hesitancy.

"N - no," said Sybil Lansdown. "Only I wanted to - consult with you. That is the technical term, isn't it?"

"Come along by all means. I will mollify the porter."

She did not know why the porter should need mollification until she arrived. He had had no time to shave, to do any more than jump in and out of the bath, and he was in the throes of cooking when he opened the door to her.

"The truth is," he said, "I've sent my housekeeper away - that's rather a grand name for a daily help, but it impresses most people."

"Then I'll be impressed," she laughed, and sniffed. "What is that burning?"

He clasped his forehead and flew into the kitchenette, the girl at his heels.

"When you fry eggs," she said severely, "you usually put fat in the pan. You are not domestic, Mr Martin. And what on earth is that?"

She pointed to the crude rope ladder that lay in the corner of the kitchen.

"My fire escape," he said glibly. "I'm one of those scared folk who can't go to sleep unless they're sure that they're not going to be roasted - with or without fat," he added maliciously, "before they wake."

She was looking at him suspiciously.

"It never occurred to me that you were that kind of man," she said, and sliced the eggs scientifically from the pan on to a plate. "Twelve o'clock is disgracefully late for breakfast, but I'll wait till you have finished. You have just got up, I suppose? Did I wake you?"

"You did," he confessed. "Now, Miss Lansdown, what is troubling you?"

"Finish your breakfast," she ordered, and was adamant to his wheedling until he had drunk his coffee. "I was talking to mother last night after you'd left. I'm afraid you've rather worried her. And you need not feel penitent about it, because I realize that you only said as much as you thought necessary. We had a long, long talk, and the upshot of it was, I went to see Mr Havelock this morning, and I told him all about my Portuguese trip and the incident of the key. Mr Havelock was very worried, and he wants me to have police protection; In fact, I had the greatest difficulty in dissuading him from telephoning to Scotland Yard. I then made a suggestion to him, which rather surprised him, I think."

"What was the suggestion?"

"I won't tell you. I'd like to spring my surprise on you without warning. Have you a car?"

He nodded.

"Will it hold three?"

"Who is the other?" asked Dick, nettled at the thought that what at first had promised to be a tete - a - tete was to be spoiled by the inclusion of a third person.

"Mr Havelock. We are going down to Selford Hall - and the tombs of the Selfords," she added dramatically.

A slow smile dawned on Dick's face.

"You're certainly a mind - reader, for I was taking that trip this afternoon - alone."

"You wouldn't have been able to see the tombs alone," said the girl; "and I warn you it's an awfully creepy place. In fact, mother isn't particularly keen on my going down with you. Mr Havelock has very kindly agreed to come, and I'm relieved, because be knows the place and its history. We are to call for him at half - past two at his office. And will you bring the key you have?"

"The two keys," he corrected. "I'm sort of collecting keys just now. Yes, I'll be there."

She gathered up her bag and rose.

"What is the mystery?" he asked, sensing from her air of quiet triumph that she had made some important discovery.

"You will know this afternoon," she said.

He saw her from the door, took off his coat, and shaved, and by one o'clock he had retrieved the keys from his banker, and just before half - past one his car drew up at the door of 107, Coram Street. The girl was waiting for him, for no sooner had he knocked than the door opened and she appeared.

"Have you the keys?" she asked, almost before he had greeted her. "Mother doesn't like my going. She is nervous about anything connected with the Selford family."

"What is the mystery?" he asked.

"You shall see. I fed in my most mysterious mood. You haven't asked me why I'm not at the library. It is Founder's Day, and to celebrate the birth of the man who opened the library - we close it! Are you a good driver?"

"I have few equals," he admitted modestly.

"But are you a good driver?"

It was only then, as she chattered on inconsequently, that he realized that she was a little overwrought; perhaps some of her mother's nervousness had been communicated to her. Certainly, if she had a premonition of danger, that terrible day was to justify her fears. If Dick had half guessed what horrors lurked in the lap of that warm spring day, he would have driven the car into the nearest lamp - post.

The machine turned into Lincoln's Inn Fields and stopped before the Havelock building. When Mr Havelock came down to the car, he was smiling broadly, as though there were an element of humour in the adventure. "How does it feel," he asked, as the car moved westward, "for a detective to receive a clue from an amateur? Are you very much chagrined at Miss Lansdown's remarkable theory?"

"I haven't heard the theory," said Dick, skilfully dodging between a bus and a taxicab. "I've got my thrill coming."

"I hope you will get it," said Havelock dryly. "Frankly, I would not have come on this little jaunt but for the fact that my monthly visit to Selford Hall is due, and a lawyer never loses an opportunity of saving unnecessary expenses. You, Mr Martin, will appear in the expense sheet of the Selford estate as a liability!"

Like other men whose jokes were infrequent, he was amused at the slightest of his own jests.

The car flew through Horsham, bore to the right on to the Pulborough Road, and, nearly two hours after they had left the City, it pulled up before a pair of imposing lodge gates. At the sound of the horn an untidy - looking woman came from the lodge, opened the gates, and dropped a curtsey to Mr Havelock as the car sped up a well - tended drive.

"We have to keep the place in spick and span order," explained Mr Havelock; "and one of my jobs is to engage a staff of servants the moment our globe - trotting young lord decides to settle down in his native land."

"Are there any servants in the hall itself?" asked Dick.

Havelock shook his head.

"A caretaker and his wife only," he said. "Once a month we have a contingent of women in from the village to clean up and dust and polish. As a matter of fact, the place is in a very good state of repair, and why he doesn't let it is beyond my understanding. By the way," he said suddenly, "I had a letter from him this morning. He is delaying his arrival till December, which probably means that he won't be home this winter."

"Where is he now?" asked Dick, looking over his shoulder.

Mr Havelock smiled.

"I shouldn't like to be very explicit on the subject. He was at Cairo when the Egyptian mail left. He's probably now in Damascus or Jerusalem. I don't mind confessing that I often wish him in Jericho!"

At that moment the Hall came into view; a Tudor house of severe and unpleasing lines. To Dick's untutored eye it had the appearance of a large brick barn, to which twisted chimneys and gables had been added. The car drew up at the broad gravelled space before the porch.

"We'd better get down here. We have a mile walk across the rough," said Havelock.

At the sound of the car wheels the caretaker, a middle - aged man, had appeared, and with him the lawyer exchanged a few words about the estate. It seemed that the caretaker was also acting as bailiff, for he reported a fence that needed repairing, and an oak that had been uprooted in a recent storm.

"Now, then," said Havelock. He had brought a walking - stick with him, and led the way across the broad lawn which, Dick noted, had recently been cut, through an orchard into a farmyard, which was untenanted save for half a dozen chickens and a dog, and through another gate into the park. Though there was no road, there was a definite pathway which led across the broad acres, skirting and half - encircling the steep bluff under which the house was built, through a spinney, and at last into a shallow valley, on the opposite side of which stood a long, dark line of trees.

As they climbed the gentle slope that led to the wood, Dick was struck by the lifelessness of the dark copse, which he would have recognized from Mrs Lansdown's description. The trees, with their green, dank - looking boles, seemed dead in spite of their new greenness. Not a leaf stirred upon that airless day, and to add to the gloom, a big thunder - cloud was rising rapidly beyond the bluff, showing defined edges of livid grey against the blue sky.

"It is going to rain, I'm afraid," said Mr Havelock, glancing up. "We are nearly there."

The path became visible again; it led a serpentine course through the trees, mounting all the time. And then, unexpectedly, they came into a clearing, in the middle of which was a great dome - shaped rock.

"This is called the Selford Stone," explained Mr Havelock, pointing with his stick; "and that is the entrance to the tombs."

Cut in the face of the rock was an oblong opening, covered by a steel grille, red with rust, but, as Dick saw, of enormous strength. Mr Havelock put down the lanterns he had been carrying, and lit them one by one before he took from his pocket a big, ancient - looking key, and inserted it in the rusty lock. With a turn of his wrist the ward snapped back and the door of the iron grille opened squeakily.

"Let me go first."

The lawyer stooped and went down a flight of moss - covered steps. The girl followed. Slick bringing up the rear. There were twelve of these steps, the detective counted, and by the light of a lantern he saw a small vaulted room, at the end of which was another steel grille of lighter make. The same key apparently fitted both.

Beyond the second door the solid rock had been hollowed out into twenty tiny chapels. They looked for all the world like refectory cells, with their heavy oaken doors and huge hinges, and on each had been carved a string of names, some of which, as Dick found when he tried to read them, were now indecipherable, where the wood had rotted.

The chapels ran along two sides of the narrow passage in which they stood, and at the very end was the twenty - first cell, which differed from all the others in that its door was of stone, or so it appeared at first glance. It differed, too, in another respect, as Dick was to discover. Mr Havelock turned to him and held up the lantern, that the visitor might better see.

"Here is what Miss Lansdown wishes you to see," he said slowly. "The door with the seven locks!"

Dick stared at the door. There they were, one under the other. Seven circular bosses on the door, each with its long key slit.

Now he knew. It was to this awful place that Lew Pheeney had been led to work under the fear of death!

The door was enclosed in a fantastic frame and gruesomely ornamented. A stone skeleton was carved on each pillar; so real they looked that even Dick was startled. He tapped the door with his knuckles; it was solid - how solid, he soon learned.

"Who is in here?" he said, and Havelock's finger pointed to the inscription:

"SIR HUGHE SELLFORDE, Kt Founder of ye Sellforde Houfe.

Heare I wayte as quiet as a moufe Fownder of the Sellforde Houfe A curfe on whosoever mocks Who lieth fast with feven lockes. Godde have mercie."

"The inscription is of a much later period than Hugh's death," said Havelock.

"What is in there? Is he - buried here?" said Dick slowly. Mr Havelock shook his head. "I don't know. The late Lord Selford, who had the old door with its seven locks taken down, and this new door - which is steel, by the way - made in Italy, said there was nothing except an empty stone casket; and, indeed, nothing can be seen."

"Seen?" repeated the girl in surprise. "How is it possible to see?"

There was a little panel about six inches m length and two inches broad, apparently part of the solid door, and running across its centre. Mr Havelock caught its bevelled edge between his finger and thumb and it moved aside, leaving a small aperture not an inch in depth. "I ought to have brought an electric torch," he said. "I've got one," said Dick, and, taking a small lamp from his pocket, he held it up near to his eyes and sent the light into the interior.

He looked into a cell about six feet square. The walls were green and damp; the rudely carved stone floor was thick with dust. In the very centre, resting on a rough stone altar, was an oblong, box - shaped sarcophagus of crumbling stone.

"The stone box? I don't know what that is," said Havelock. "Lord Selford found it in the tomb and left it as it was. There was no sign of a body - -"

Suddenly the passage was lit by a blue, ghastly flame, that flickered for a second and was gone. The girl, with a gasp of fright, clung to Dick's arm.

"Lightning," said Havelock calmly. "I'm afraid we're going to have a wet journey back to town."

Even as he spoke, the hoarse roar of thunder shook the earth. It was followed by another flash of lightning, that revealed the ghostly doors of the dead on either side, and sent the girl shrinking against the detective.

"We'll not get wet, anyway," said Dick, patting the shoulder of the trembling girl. "There's a whole lot of nonsense talked about storms. They're the most beautiful demonstrations that nature sends. Why, when I was in Manitoba - -"

The flash was followed instantly by a deafening explosion.

"Something's hit," said Dick calmly.

And then, from the far end of the passage, came the sound of the clanging of metal against metal.

"What was that?" he asked, and, flying along the passage, dashed through the outer lobby, up the slippery stairs to the entrance gates.

A flash of lightning blinded him for a second; the thunder crash that came on top of it was deafening; but he had seen what he had feared. The great iron grille had been shut on them, and on the wet clay before the door he saw the prints of naked feet!

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