The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 15

SYBIL AND Havelock had followed closely behind him. Havelock's face had lost its rubicund colour, and the hand that went up to shake at the rail was trembling.

"What foolery is this?" he said angrily, and the quavering note may have been due to his annoyance.

Suddenly Dick's pistol leapt up. Twice he fired at the figure he glimpsed through the dripping rhododendrons. It had grown in a few minutes from bright sunlight to a gloom that was almost terrifying. The clouds sent the rain hissing in his face, but the nicker of lightning had given him a glimpse of the huge, fleshy arms.

"Oh, don't shoot; please - please don't!" The girl was sobbing, her head on his breast, and Dick dropped his pistol.

"You have a key to open the gate?" he asked in a low voice, and Havelock nodded,

"Give it to me."

Martin took the key from the shaking hand, put his arm through the bars and inserted it in the lock. A sharp twist of his wrist and the door was pushed open.

"Go on ahead; I won't be far behind you."

He dashed into the bushes where he had seen the figure, and he saw that he bad not altogether failed, for on the long yellow cylinder that lay on the grass was a spatter of blood. He turned the cylinder over; it was about four feet in length and immensely heavy. Attached to the nozzle was a rubber tube about an inch in diameter. Searching around, he found a second cylinder, with a similar equipment. At the nozzle end of this latest find was a circular red label which had evidently been scratched off its fellow. W.D, Chlorine Gas. Handle Carefully. Poison. There was no sign of the half - naked man, and he started off at a run to overtake Sybil.

The lightning flashed incessantly, and there was scarcely an interval between the peals of thunder. Both the girl and Mr Havelock were as pale as death when he caught them up.

"What was it? Whom did you fire at?" asked Havelock huskily.

"Nerves," said Dick, without shame. By the time they reached the house they were wet through, but he declined the invitation to go into the Hall and dry his clothes. He had work to do, and no sooner had the door closed on the girl than he was on his way back to the Selford tombs.

As he approached the wood he proceeded with caution, searching left and right and keeping his eyes on those little dumps of bushes which afforded cover. The wounded man was nowhere in sight.

He had slipped the key of the catacombs into his pocket, and now, having opened the grille, he took a pair of handcuffs from his hip pocket, snapped them at the top and bottom of the lock, so that it was impossible for the door to close. This done, he descended the steps, and, flashing his lamp before him, he came to the door of the seven locks. From an inside pocket of his waistcoat he took out the two keys and tried one of them on the top keyhole, without producing any result. It was not until he had got to the fourth slit that the key slipped in and turned with a click. He pulled gently, but the door did not budge. He tried with the second of the keys, and found that it fitted the last of the locks. Turning them both together, he pulled again, but the door did not move.

The mystery of the door was very clear to Dick Martin. Seven keys had to turn simultaneously before the door would open; and when it opened, what was there to see? He drew back the panel and looked at the stone urn. If the ancient Sir Hugh was buried here, was his body in that casket?

It was impossible to see the side walls in their entirety, but from what view he got it seemed unlikely that there could be any hidden sepulchre. The long shelf cut in the solid rock (which he now saw for the first time) had in all probability held all that was mortal of the first Selford, but no trace remained of him.

Pocketing the keys, he went back, closing and locking the middle door, and ascended the steps into the daylight. Here he had a shock. Not a dozen feet from the mouth of the tomb was one of the long yellow cylinders which he had last seen fifty feet away. The beast - man, then, was somewhere at hand; in all likelihood was watching him at this moment with hateful eyes. In spite of his self - possession, a little shiver ran down Dick Martin's spine. There was something obscene about this strange visitant.

He lifted the heavy cylinder, walked a few paces and flung it into the bushes, and then followed the path through the trees.

He had an almost overpowering desire to run. He recognized with horror that he was on the verge of panic, and it needed but this discovery to swing him round to face the way he had come. Slowly, and against every natural instinct, he walked back through the forest towards where the cylinder was, to where his enemy was hiding. Coming to the edge of the clearing, he waited a full minute. Having thus tutored his nerves, he continued on his way to the house, never once looking back, but all his nerves taut.

It was with a feeling very much like relief that he reached the open valley and the comforting sight of the ugly home of the Selfords. The cold malignity of this inhuman creature; his persistence, wounded as he was, to destroy the man against whom his enmity had been aroused; the deadly earnestness of him - all these things were impressive. This accidental association with the door of seven keys that hid nothing apparently but dust had brought him into deadly peril - had it also jeopardized Sybil Lansdown? At the thought, something gripped at his heart. It was all so unreal, so unbelievable.

A member of the everyday world who suddenly found himself in a community of pixies and fairies could be no more bewildered than was Richard Martin at the revelations which had followed one on the other during the past three days. Crime he knew, or thought he knew; and criminals were an open book to him. His youth had been spent amongst these evaders and breakers of the law. They had taught him their sinister tricks; he had become proficient in their practices. He knew the way their minds worked, and could - and would, since he was something of a writer - have prepared a passable textbook on criminal psychology.

But now he was out of the world of real crime. Only once before had he had that experience, when it was his duty to investigate a series of terrible accidents which had shocked Toronto to its depths. Here he had met for the first time the amateur criminal and found himself at sea. But for the greatest good luck, the man he sought would have escaped detection. As it was, he virtually betrayed himself. The criminal mind is not a brilliant one; its view is commonplace, its outlook narrow and restricted. The average criminal lives meanly, from hand to mouth, and is without reserves, either of assistance in committing a crime or in covering his retreat.

Crime is an ugly word, he thought, as he paced slowly towards the house. Up to now, beyond the attempts which this unknown assailant of his had made, no charge could lie against any discoverable man. Except Lew Pheeney! Poor Lew, he had belonged to the real world. What agony of mind had he suffered when, in the dark of the night, he had found himself working on that awful door.

He was soaked to the skin, but was not aware of the fact until, with a gasp of dismay, the girl drew attention to his sodden coat just as he was taking his place at the wheel.

"Did you go back to look for the gate locker?" asked Mr Havelock, who had returned to his old buoyant manner.

"Yes," said Slick, as he started the car. "I didn't find him, though. Traces of him - yes, but not him."

"Was he wounded?" asked Sybil quickly.

"Well, if he was wounded, it wasn't serious," said Dick cautiously.

"I wish to heaven you had killed the brute," snapped Havelock viciously. "Brr!"

He had borrowed an overcoat from the caretaker, and dozed in this all the way to town. They overtook and passed through a corner of the storm near Leatherhead. But the three people were too occupied with their own thoughts even to notice the incident. They put Mr Havelock down at his house in St John's Wood, and Sybil, who was feeling very guilty for having brought an elderly man on this unpleasant adventure, was suitably apologetic.

"It is nothing, and I'm really not so wet as our friend, said Mr Havelock good - humouredly. "And I'm certainly not worried about what we saw. It is what I didn't see that concerns me."

"What you didn't see?" repeated the girl.

Havelock nodded. "Our friend has discovered a great deal more than he has told us, and I'm not so sure that the discovery is a pleasant one. However, we will talk about that in the morning."

He hurried into his house, and Dick turned the car towards Coram Street.

'1 won't let you come in, Mr Martin," she said, when he set her down. "Will you promise to go straight home and take a hot bath and change your clothes at once?"

It was a promise easy to make, for his soul ached for the smell of hot water.

He was no sooner out of his bath and into dry clothes than he called up Sneed.

"I'm sorry to wake you up," said Dick exultantly, 'but I wonder if you would come along and have dinner with me? I have three chapters to tell you."

Sneed grunted his dissatisfaction with the scheme, but after a while he agreed, though his promise was so vague and garnished with so many reservations that Dick was surprised when the bell rang and he opened the door to the big man, who walked wearily into the study and dropped into the first comfortable chair.

"Got the warrant for that raid tonight," he said. "We operate at ten o'clock."

"You told the Chief Constable of Sussex eleven - fifteen," said Dick, in surprise.

Inspector Sneed sighed. "I want to get it over before the local Sherlocks arrive," he said. "Besides, somebody might tip off Stalletti. You never know. Trust nobody, Dick, not in our profession. I suppose you haven't spilt this story to anybody?"

Dick hesitated. "Yes, I've told a little to Mr Havelock, and, of course, a lot to Miss Lansdown."

Sneed groaned. "Havelock's all right, but the lady - oh, my heavens! Never trust a woman, my son. I thought that was the first article in a policeman's creed. She'll be having people in to tea and telling 'em all about it. I know women."

"Have you told anybody?" demanded Dick.

Inspector's Sneed's smile was very superior.

"Nobody except the chief and my wife," he said inconsistently. "A wife's different. Besides, she's got toothache and she hates opening her mouth anyway. A woman with toothache never betrays a confidence. Make a note of that when you write your book."

It was the inspector's belief that every police officer in the force was secretly engaged in preparing his reminiscences; a delusion of his which had its justification in a recently printed series of articles that had appeared in a Sunday newspaper.

"Now, what have you got to tell me?"

He listened with closed eyes whilst Martin told him of the afternoon spent at the Selford tombs. When he came to the part where the iron grille had been locked on the party, Sneed opened his eyes and sat up.

"Somebody else had a key," he said unnecessarily. "Nothing in that vault, you say?"

"Nothing that I could see, except the stone casket," said Martin.

"Humph!" He passed the palm of his hand round his big face rapidly. "Seven keys," he mused. "Seven locks. Two you've got, five somebody else has got. Get the five - or, better still, blow in the door with dynamite."

Dick took out his long cigarette holder and puffed a cloud of smoke to the ceiling.

"There seems hardly any excuse for that. I fiddled with one of the keyholes a little, and I can tell you it's a lock that the best man in the world won't be able to pick. Pheeney failed."

Sneed jerked up his head. "Pheeney! Good Lord! I'd forgotten him! Let me have a look at the key."

Dick took it from his pocket and gave it to the stout man, who turned it over and over on the palm of his hand.

"I don't know one like that," he confessed. "Italian, you say? Well, possibly. You didn't see the barebacked lad?"

"I caught a glimpse of him. He's as quick and as slippery as an eel - poor devil!"

Inspector Sneed looked up sharply.

"You're in my way of thinking, eh? That this is one of Stalletti's experiments?"

He was very thoughtful and did not speak for a long time.

"The gas must have been there all the time. And, of course, they knew you were coming. And then, I have an idea, the presence of Havelock took them by surprise. It's only an idea, and I don't know why I think so."

He rose with difficulty.

"Well," he said, "we'll see tonight. Have your car but don t bring your gun, because you're not supposed to be present, and I'd hate for there to be any unofficial shooting."

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