The Door with Seven Locks

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 24

THAT MOMENT of terror when Sybil stared up into the round face of Cawler, the chauffeur, remained with her all her life, Behind she heard the grunts and thuds of the beast - man who was trying to open the door. Above her, behind the bars and the glass, another possible enemy. The face disappeared for a moment, and then she heard the sound of hideous squeaking and the grating was turned back on its rusty hinge. A few seconds and the frame of the skylight was lifted, and a hand reached down to her. Without a moment's hesitation she sprang on to the chair, gripped the hand, and found herself being pulled upward.

"Hold on to the edge for a minute - I'm puffed!" gasped Cawler, and she obeyed.

Over her shoulder she saw the door bulging, and then there came a crash as a huge body was thrown against it.

"Up with you!" said the chauffeur, and, stretching down, gripped her beneath the arms and pulled her far enough up to enable her, by her own exertions, to reach the flat, lead - covered roof.

Cawler looked round anxiously. As he gazed at the door he saw a panel shiver. Holding the girl by the arm he drew her along the roof. An old lantern, illuminated by a candle, was all the light there was to guide them, but she saw the end of the ladder, and, without a word of instruction, swung herself over and, remembering a trick of her childhood, slid down; it was not dignified, but it was rapid. She had hardly reached the ground before she was joined by Cawler.

He looked anxiously at the parapet. The moon was momentarily obscured by clouds, but there was enough light to see the silhouette of the giant man as he too came to the ladder. There was no time to pull it down. Gripping the girl by the arm, they raced along a path, turned abruptly, and, threading their way through the trees, ran without stopping until they reached a shallow ditch, across which he assisted her.

Cawler had tossed the lantern away before the flight began. They had no other light to lead them but the fitful rays of the moon. At the other side of the ditch he stopped.

"Don't make a noise," he whispered.

She could hear nothing, but he seemed uncertain.

"If I could only get at my car," he muttered. "Come on!"

They laboured through a field of growing corn until they came to a gate; which was open. Now they were on a road and facing a very high, old wall.

"That's Selford Park," explained Cawler, and the girl started. Selford Park! She had no idea they were anywhere near that dreadful place, and she shivered.

"There's a gap in the wall farther along; I think that'll be the best place to take you. If he gets on our track we shan't be able to shake him off."

"Who is he?" she asked, and then: "What happened? I heard somebody scream."

"So did I," said Cawler in a low voice. "I thought it was you. That's why I got the ladder and came up to see what was happening. I've been up there before, and I know that old skylight like a book."

He did not explain that he was by nature curious and suspicious, and that he had his own views as to Cody's sincerity in certain matters and had indulged in a little private investigation of his own. As it happened, this theory that Cody was a swell mobsman (Mr Cawler invariably theorized on a magnificent scale) was miles away from the truth; but he had made many surreptitious visits into the forbidden portions of the house without succeeding, however, in confirming his natural prejudices against the man who was his master.

"Something's happening; I know that," he said, as they walked along the road. "I've seen him once before - that naked man. At least, he's not naked; he's got an old pair of breeches on, but he don't wear any shirt."

"Who is he?" she asked, in a horrified whisper.

"I don't know. A sort of giant - a bit mad, I think. I only saw him at a distance once, and he scared the life out of me. I've got an idea - but that won't interest you. Here's the hole in the wall." It was not visible, even in daylight, for the gap was filled with a seemingly impassable barrier of rhododendrons, but Mr Cawler had evidently been here before also, for he lifted a bough, and, crawling under, she found herself inside the park.

It was not that portion of the park with which she was familiar, and he told her, as they trudged across the billowy grass, that it was called Shepherds' Meadows, and that here the old lord had kept his famous Southdowns. He kept up an intermittent flow of talk; told her, to her surprise, that Mrs Cody was his aunt.

"She brought me up when I was a kid, me and my brother Johnny; he died when I was about six."

"Have you been with her all your life?" asked the girl, glad to have some interest to take her mind off her experience.

He laughed contemptuously. "With her? Lord, no! I got away as soon as I could."

"Wasn't she kind to you?"

"She's never heard the word," was the uncompromising reply. "Kind? I'd say she was! If I went to bed without feeling hungry I used to think I was ill! She used to whack me to keep her in good shape, the same as you take dumb - bell exercise. She hated Johnny worse than me. He was my twin brother. I reckon he was pretty lucky to die."

She listened in amazement.

"And yet you went back to her?"

Cawler did not immediately answer, and when he did he prefaced his words with a little chuckle.

"She made good and I made bad," he said. "Not to tell you a lie, miss, I've been in prison sixteen times, mainly for hooking."

"For thieving?" she guessed.

'That's right," he said, in no sense abashed. "I'm a natural - born thief. Motor - cars mostly. I've taken more cars from racetracks than you'll ever own, young lady. But the last time I was up before the judge," he added in a more serious tone, "he gave me a warning that the next time I went up to the Old Bailey I'd be charged as an 'habitual'. That means a man who's always doing the same kind of crime, and they can always give you twelve years for that, so I quit. Came down on dear auntie for a job. I don't know why she took me on. Perhaps she thought, being a relation, I'd do any dirty work she wanted done - and I've done one or two queer jobs."

He stopped and motioned her to be silent, and suddenly lying down looked along the fairly level patch of ground across which they were moving. The landscape was unfamiliar to her.

On their left was what looked like a high white cliff, and she saw at its foot the gleam of water.

"That's the quarry," he said, following the direction of her eyes. "There is a sort of road running along the top, but it is very dangerous - no rails or wall or anything. People have been killed falling over."

He stopped again and looked back the way they had come. Evidently he saw something.

"You go on," he whispered. "Bear to the left. There's a bit of a wood there. Keep well away from the quarry."

"Who is it you see?" she asked, her knees trembling.

"I don't know." He was deliberately evasive. "You walk on and do as I tell you, and don't make too much noise."

She was terrified at the idea of being alone, but his instructions were so urgent that she could not refuse, and, turning, she made in the direction of the little copse which she saw outlined against the sky.

Cawler waited, flat on his face, his eyes watching the figure that was aimlessly wandering left and right, but coming inevitably in his direction. Fear, as we understand fear, Mr Cawler did not know. His shrewd Cockney wit, allied to a certain ruthlessness in combat, steeled him for the coming encounter. In his hand he gripped a long, steel, flat spanner, the only weapon he had brought with him, and as the great awkward figure loomed up before him, Tom Cawler leapt at him.

The sound of an animal howl of rage, the thud and flurry of battle came to the ears of the fearful girl, and she ran forward blindly. In the dark she stumbled into a tree and dropped, breathless, to the ground; but with a superhuman effort she scrambled to her feet and continued her flight, feeling her way through the closely grown copse. Every minute seemed to bring her to some new impenetrable barrier which defied circumvention.

Now she was clear of the wood and crossing a level stretch of grassland. Again she was climbing. No sound came from behind her. She was ignorant of the direction she was taking, or whither this erratic path of hers would lead; and when she came to another wood, she thought that she had run in a circle and returned to the place whence she had started. And then, most unexpectedly, she came into a clearing. The moonlight showed the white dome of a rock, and threw into shadow the black gap in its face. She nearly fainted. She was at the mouth of the Selford tombs, and the iron gate was open!

Her heart thumped painfully. It required the exercise of a supreme will to prevent herself from collapsing. Presently, gritting her teeth and commanding her faltering limbs, she walked towards the mouth of the tomb. The key was in the lock, she saw, and peered fearfully down into its dark depths. As she hesitated, she heard something behind her - a deep, sobbing, blubbering sound that froze her blood.

That beast - shape was coming through the wood after her. She reeled against the face of the tomb, her hands gripping the bars of the open gate, and then, with a sudden resolve, half - hysterical with terror, she darted into the mouth of the vault, and, slamming the gate behind her, thrust her hand through the bars, turned the key, and withdrew it.

She listened; there was silence in the tomb, and, creeping down the moss - grown stairs, she reached the first chamber. At the foot of the stairs she waited, listening, and after a while she heard the soft pad of feet above and a sound of crying. She shrank back towards the barred gate which separated the antechamber from the tomb. And then a shadow fell athwart the upper door, and she breathed painfully, her eyes fixed on the steps. Suppose he broke the lock? And she was alone … down here with the dead, in the dark.

She pushed her hand through the bars, and even as she wondered and dreaded, a new horror afflicted her; for her hand was suddenly gripped by a large, cold, clammy paw that had reached out from the darkness of the tomb.

With a scream she turned to face the new terror.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.