The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 17

MR HAVELOCK was reading a letter for the third time that morning. Twice he had consulted his managing clerk, and he was reading it for the third time when Dick Martin was shown in.

"I hope I didn't get you out of bed too early, Mr Martin, and I have to apologize for bringing you into this matter which ended, so far as you were concerned, when you returned. I had this letter this morning; I'd like you to read it."

The letter was in writing which was, by now, familiar to Dick. It bore the address of a Cairo hotel.

DEAR HAVELOCK (it began),

I had your cable about Dr Cody, and I am writing at once to tell you that I certainly know this man and I have had correspondence with him, so why he should deny all acquaintance with me, I can't understand, unless it is the natural reticence of a man who may not want other people to know his business. Cody wrote to me a long time ago, asking me for a loan. It was for a very considerable sum - £18,000 - and I had no inclination to advance this amount to a total stranger. He told me he had got into a very bad state, and that he wished to clear out of England, to get away from a man who had threatened to kill him. I forget the whole story now, but it struck me at the time that the man was sincere. I wish you would send me £25,000 in French notes. Register the parcel as usual, and address me at the Hotel de Pans, Damascus. 1 hope to go on to Bagdad, and thence into Southern Russia, where I believe there is a big property to be bought for a song.

The letter was signed 'Pierce'.

"Do you usually send him money when he asks for it?

"Invariably," said the other, in a tone of surprise.

"And you are sending him this large sum?"

Mr Havelock bit his lip.

"I don't know. I'm rather troubled about the matter. My managing clerk, in whose judgment I have complete faith, advises me to cable his lordship asking him to appoint another agent. The responsibility is too big, and after yesterday's horrible experience, I am almost inclined to wash my hands of the matter. It would, of course, mean a heavy loss to us, because the management of the Selford estates brings us in nearly five thousand pounds a year."

Dick was staggered at the figure.

"It must be an enormously wealthy estate," he said.

"It is," agreed Havelock. "And, unfortunately for me, it is increasing in value every day. It will soon become unwieldy."

"Did Lord Selford leave anything in the nature of a treasure?" asked Dick, as he remembered a question he had intended asking.

Havelock shook his head.

"No, beyond the cash at the bank, which was a large sum - fifty thousand pounds or so - there were no fluid assets. But he left a number of undeveloped coal lands in Yorkshire and Northumberland, which have since proved very valuable; in addition to which he had several large properties in Australia and South Africa, which have also enhanced in value to an enormous extent. You are thinking about the door with the seven locks?" he smiled. "Believe me, there is nothing there so far as I know, and I have seen every document, private and general, which the late Lord Selford left. That little cell is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. It could be cleared up in twenty - four hours if I had his lordship's permission to force the door. But I have never asked for it, because I have never seen the necessity for it." Then he smiled. "I have been hearing stories about you, Mr Martin. They tell me that you can pick a lock as skilfully as any cracksman."

"Most locks," said Dick promptly, "but none of the seven. I realize my limitations. Now, I could open that safe" - he pointed to a little black safe standing in the corner of the room - "as easily as I could open your office door. I won't say I could do it with a hairpin, but I have half a dozen instruments at home that would make that receptacle about as valuable a store as a cardboard box. But I've got a kind of instinct that tells me when I'm beaten, and I know I'm beaten on those seven locks. Has Lord Selford any relations?" he asked abruptly. Havelock nodded.

"One," he said. "Miss Sybil Lansdown, and, of course, her mother, though in law Miss Lansdown would be regarded as the heir to the property, supposing Lord Selford died without issue.

He took up the letter from the table, and his eyes ran over the written page. "I'm almost inclined to send you to Damascus with the money," he began, but Dick shook his head.

"No, sir." He was emphatic. "I've had one chase after this young man, and that is enough to last me for a lifetime. During the years he's been abroad has he had much money from you?"

"The greater part of five hundred thousand," replied Havelock quietly. "Generally for the purchase of estates, the deeds of which have never come to me. I have complained about this once or twice, but he has assured me that the tide deeds were in good keeping."

"One question I want to ask you before I go, said Dick, after turning the matter over in his mind. "Is it possible that these letters are forgeries?"

"Absolutely impossible," replied Havelock. I know his handwriting and its peculiarities as well as - indeed, better than - I know my own. I can assure you that not two years ago he wrote one of the letters I have in my file under my own eyes."

"He could not be impersonated?"

"Absolutely not. He is rather a thin - faced, sandy - haired man, who speaks with a little lisp. And the better to identify him, he has a round red patch - a birthmark - on his cheek, just below his ear. I have thought of all these possibilities. He might be impersonated, he might be held to ransom, or have fallen into the hands of some unscrupulous gang which was bleeding him. In fact, if I had not seen him at intervals during the past years, I should have become seriously alarmed. But there it is! If he chooses to wander about the world, I have no power to stop him, and his hobby is not so reprehensible that I can invoke the aid of the law to pin him down in England and keep him here. You are sure you would not like to take the trip to Damascus?"

"Perfectly sure," answered Dick immediately. "I can think of nothing I want to do less!"

Two disturbing factors had come into the life of Sybil Lansdown, and she found it difficult to concentrate her mind even upon rare editions or those inanimate volumes which once had seemed so interesting.

In one case the library helped to enlarge her knowledge. She collected all the literature available upon the history of the old county families, but there was little about Selford, except in one volume, written by a priest, which told, in too lurid detail, the story of Sir Hugh's many sins. Sybil closed the book hastily when it became a little too detailed.

"I'm afraid we are not a nice family," she said, as she put the volume back on its high shelf.

There was nothing in the library that could help her unravel her feelings about Mr Martin. Sometimes she thought she liked him very much indeed; at other times she was equally certain that he annoyed her. She wished she had not gone to the Selford tombs, and that there had been no cause for her laying her head on his breast, or fluttering to his arms in a panic induced by ghastly carvings and a fortuitous nicker of lightning.

Women were very rare visitors to the library, and when, in the slackest part of the afternoon, a lady walked into her room she was a little astounded. A short, stout woman, with a face which did not err on the side of softness, she was expensively dressed, though her voice belied her elegant appearance, for it was a little coarse and somewhat strident.

"Are you Miss Lansdown?" she asked.

Sybil rose from her chair.

"Yes, I am Miss Lansdown. Do you want a book?" she asked, thinking, as was sometimes the case, that the woman had called on behalf of one of the subscribers.

"No, I don't read books," was the disconcerting reply. "A lot of rubbish and nonsense, that put ideas in people's heads - that's what books are! If he didn't read so much, he'd be a cleverer man. Not that he isn't a gentleman born and bred," she added hastily, "and a nicer gentleman to deal with I've never known. You can take it from me, miss, that that man couldn't think wrong. He may have made a mistake - we're all liable to make mistakes. But he's not the sort of man who'd put his 'and to anything that wasn't fair and square."

Sybil listened in astonishment to this mysterious paean of praise, directed she knew not whither.

"Perhaps you - er - -"

"My husband," said the lady with dignity. "I am Mrs Bertram Cody." Sybil's mind flew over the index of members without recalling anybody who bore that name. "Dr Cody's wife," said the woman. "Have you got a chair where I can sit down?" With an apology Sybil drew a chair forward and placed it for the visitor. "My husband knew your father very well, miss. In fact, they were good friends years and years ago. And he said to me this morning - my husband, I mean: - If you're going to town, Elizabeth, you might pop in at Bellingham's Library, and he gave me the address; I've got it written down on a bit of paper."

She searched a very expensive bag and produced a small card. "Yes, there it is, in his own - handwriting." She showed the girl a scrawl which told her nothing. "My husband said: 'Go in and see Miss Lansdown and ask her if she'll come down to tea, and I can tell her something very interesting about her father that she never knew before."

Sybil was puzzled but interested. Who this strange woman was, and what position her husband occupied in society, she could only guess from the prefix the proud wife had put to her husband's name. As though she read the girl's thought, Mrs Cody went on: . "He's not a medical doctor. A lot of people think he is, but he's not. He's a literary doctor."

"Oh, a doctor of literature?"

"And law." The lady nodded impressively. He got it out of a college in America. The point is, miss, you have got lots of enemies." Mrs Cody lowered her voice until it was a harsh whisper. "My husband said: 'See the young lady and ask her not to breathe a word of what I've said, because it may cost me dear - it may cost me dear.'" She repeated the words slowly and imposingly. "'Take the Rolls - Royce,' he said, 'and maybe you can persuade her to come down and have a cup of tea. It wouldn't take her an hour, and nobody would know she'd been.'"

"But why shouldn't people know I've been?" asked the girl, secretly amused, and yet with a feeling at the back of her mind that there was something more serious in this communication than she could for the moment see.

"Because," said Mrs Cody, "of these enemies. They're not only after you, miss" - her voice was very solemn, and, in spite of her amusement, Sybil was impressed - "but they're after that Canadian man, the policeman."

"You mean Mr Martin?" asked the girl quickly.

Again Mrs Cody nodded her head.

"That's the fellow - the detective. They tried to get him once, but perhaps he hasn't told you about it. The next time he'll be popped off, as sure as my name's Elizabeth."

There was a telephone on the table, and Sybil looked at it for a moment in doubt.

"What had my father to do with all this?" she asked.

Mrs Cody pursed her lips, as though she could tell if she would. "My husband will tell you that, miss," she said.

Sybil examined the woman more critically. She was undoubtedly the most commonplace individual she had met for a long time; but her wealth was advertised by an abundance of jewellery. For with every movement of her head two big diamond earrings winked and sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. Her fingers were scarcely visible under the rings that covered them, for she wore no gloves, and across her ample bosom was a huge diamond.

"How far is it?" asked Sybil.

"Less than a hour. It's in Sussex." She explained the route and the exact situation of the house. "If you could get away in time for a cup of tea - -"

"I could do that," said the girl thoughtfully, "for this is my early afternoon."

Mrs Cody consulted a jewelled watch.

"I'll wait for you," she suggested. "You'll find my Rolls - Royce" - she rolled the words sonorously - "waiting in the square. You can't mistake it. It's black, picked out with little red lines."

"But please don't wait. I shall be half an hour yet."

"I don't mind waiting. But I think I had better stay in the car till you come. You're going to have a big surprise, young lady, and you'll thank me until your dying day that my husband sent me to see you."

Sybil called up her flat, but her mother was out, and she remembered that Mrs Lansdown had gone to a bridge party - her one recreation. She called Dick Martin, with no better result; and at four o'clock she went out into the square and looked for the limousine. She had not far to look; a handsome car was drawn up near the kerb, and at her appearance moved slowly towards her. The chauffeur, a round - faced, young - looking man of thirty (she guessed) was dressed in sober livery. Mrs Cody opened the door for her, and she got into an interior that was so heavily perfumed that she mechanically turned the lever that lowered the windows.

"I hope you telephoned to your mother, my dear?" said Mrs Cody, with a sidelong glance at the girl.

"I did, but she was not at home."

"Then you left a message with the servant?"

Sybil laughed. "We do not support such a luxury, Mrs Cody," she said. "Mother and I do the work of the house ourselves."

Mrs Cody sighed. "You told somebody else where you were going, I hope, my dear? You should always do that when you're going out, in case of accidents."

"No, I told nobody. I tried to get - a friend on the phone, but he was out too."

For a second the ghost of a smile dawned on the hard face and vanished again.

"You can't be too careful," said the lady sententiously. "Do you mind sitting back. Miss What's - your - name, in the corner. It's more comfortable."

It was also more unobservable, but this Sybil did not notice.

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