The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 27

THERE WAS much for Sneed to do before he could find the rest he so greatly needed. After a hasty breakfast he met the police chief of Sussex, and together they motored over to Gallows Hill, carrying a warrant for the arrest of the scientist. But the bird had flown, and the house was in charge of an odd man who had been employed to do jobs about the grounds. He had, he said, no knowledge whatever of the doctor or of any other inmate of the house. The man lived in a little cottage about a quarter of a mile away from the doctor's house, and his story was that he had been awakened early in the morning by Stalletti, who had given him a key and told him to go to Gallows Cottage and stay there until he returned.

A search of the house revealed no fresh information. The doctor's bed had not been slept in, and the two beds in the little room were also untenanted.

"It would be a very difficult charge to prove, anyway," said the Sussex officer as they left the house. "Unless you found the pellets in his possession, you could hardly charge him with administering dangerous drugs. And even then you'd have to prove they were dangerous. They may have been a sedative. You say that the young lady met this man in peculiar circumstances, and while she was in a very nervous state?"

"She met him, to be exact," said Sneed sarcastically, "in a tomb in the bowels of the earth at two o'clock in the morning, which, I submit, are circumstances which incline a young lady to feel a trifle on the nervous side?"

"In the Selford tomb? You didn't tell me that," said the Sussex man resentfully. For there is, between Scotland Yard and the provincial police, a certain amount of friction, which it would be ungenerous to ascribe to jealousy and untruthful to explain as well - founded.

Until midday Sneed was at the Weald House, in consultation with the officer who had been called in from Scotland Yard to take charge of the case.

"No, there are no marks on the woman. She died from fright - at least, that is the doctor's opinion," said the Yard man. "The other fellow was beaten to death. I've searched the orchard, it is simply littered with spent shells from an automatic pistol. How do you account for that?"

Sneed told him of the fusillade which had met them when they attempted to pursue the unknown trespasser.

"We found eighteen empty cartridge cases; there are probably another one or two knocking about which we haven't picked up yet," said the Scotland Yard man. "Can you account for the ladder which we found against the house?"

Sneed explained that phenomenon in a few words.

"Humph!" said the Yard man. "It is queer about Cody. He's on the register."

"Don't use those American expressions," said Sneed testily, and the Yard man grinned, for he had spent two years in New York and had added to the vocabulary of police headquarters.

"Anyway, he's in the Records Office. He was convicted twenty - five years ago of obtaining money by false pretences in the name of Bertram; he was one of the first individuals in England to run a correspondence school, and he caught some unfortunate person for a thousand pounds on the pretence that he could teach him the art of hypnotism. He and a fellow Stalletti were in it, but Stalletti got away - -"

"Stalletti?" Sneed looked at him open - mouthed. "That Italian doctor?"

"He's the fellow," nodded Inspector Wilson. "If you remember, our people caught Stalletti for vivisecting without a licence, but that was a few years later. He is a clever devil, Stalletti."

"'Clever' is not the word," said Sneed grimly. "But it is news to me that they were acquainted."

"Acquainted! Stalletti came here twice a week. I've been talking to some of the servants, who were given a holiday last night and told not to come back until ten o'clock this morning. There was something dirty going on here and Cody wanted them out of the way."

Sneed took his hand and shook it solemnly.

"You've got the making of a detective in you," he said. "I discovered that before I went into the house last night!"

As he was going:

"By the way, Martin has been here. He came to retrieve his car. He's driven it flat into Horsham to get new tyres and he wanted me to ask you to wait for him."

Sneed strolled down to the lodge gates and had not long to wait when Dick's machine came flying along the road.

"Jump in; I'm going to Selford," said Martin. - "Mrs Lansdown arrived half an hour ago. Did you find Stalletti?"

"No. That bird is doing a little quick flying - and he's wise!"

"I didn't expect he would wait for you."

"Did you know he was a friend of Cody's?" asked Sneed.

He was a little annoyed when his information failed to produce the sensation he had anticipated. Dick Martin knew this and more.

"Oh, yes. Old and tried friends - but not by the same jury. I'd give a lot of money to have Stalletti's key!"

"His what?"

"His key," repeated Dick, dodging round a farmer's cart and narrowly escaping destruction from a speedster coming from the other direction. "He has the fifth key; Lord Selford has probably the sixth; and X, the great unknown, has the seventh. I'm not quite sure about Lord Selford," he went on, and the other listened thunder - stricken. "But if I'd got to Cape Town four or five days before I did, I should have known for sure."

"Is Selford in this?" demanded Sneed.

"Very much in it," was the reply, "but not quite so much as Stalletti. Forgive me being mysterious, Sneed, but nature intended me to be a writer of mystery stories, and I like sometimes to escape from the humdrum of detective investigation into the realms of romance."

"Where is Cawler?"

"The Lord knows!" said Dick cheerfully. "My first idea was that he was responsible for the murders, but maybe I'm wrong. He hated his aunt - that, by the way, was Mrs Cody - but I don't think he hated her well enough to commit wilful murder. He was certainly very good to Sybil Lansdown."

Sneed grinned. "Which goes a long way with you, Dick."

"Farther than you could see," admitted Dick shamelessly.

Mrs Lansdown was not visible when they arrived. She had gone up to the room where her daughter was sleeping and had not come down, Mr Havelock told them. "Have you arranged to get the police down?" he asked.

"There will be a dozen hard - eating men quartered in this kitchen tonight," said Sneed good - humouredly. Mr Havelock put down the book he had been reading, and rising, stretched himself painfully.

"I'm worried sick. I'll confess that to you. Captain Sneed," he said. "Our friend Martin thinks I am romancing, but I can tell you that I shall be a very relieved man this time tomorrow morning."

He strode up and down the room, his hands behind him, his high forehead wrinkled in a frown.

"Lord Selford is not in London," he said without preliminary. "At any rate, he is not at the Ritz - Carlton. They have not seen him and know nothing about him."

"Has he ever stayed at the Ritz - Carlton?" asked Dick quickly.

"No - that is the extraordinary thing about it. I asked that very question. It was on an impulse that I stopped as I was passing this morning. You will remember that I have had several letters from him on Ritz - Carlton paper?"

Dick nodded. "But he has never stayed there; I could have told you that," he said. "Have you ever sent money to him there?"

"Yes," said the lawyer immediately. "About two years ago he rang me up on the telephone. I recognized his voice the moment he spoke. He said he was going to Scotland to fish and asked me if I would send him some American money - a very, considerable sum - to the hotel."

"How much?"

"Twenty thousand dollars," said Havelock. "I didn't like it."

"Did you ask him to see you?"

"I didn't ask him, I begged him. In fact," he confessed, "I threatened to resign my trusteeship unless he came in to see me or allowed me to see him; just about then I was getting a little nervous."

"What did he say?"

Mr Havelock shrugged his broad shoulders. "He laughed. He has a peculiar, weak, giggling sort of laugh that I remember ever since he was a boy. It is inimitable, and is the one sure proof to me that the doubts I had privately entertained had no foundation."

"Did you send the money?"

"I had to," said Mr Havelock in a tone of despair. "After all, I was merely a servant of the estate, and he moves so rapidly as to allow of no delay in dispatching. It was then I began to think of sending somebody to 'pick him up' - that is the police term, isn't it?"

Dick thought for a while. "Tell me one thing: when he called you up last night, did he tell you where he was speaking from?"

"I knew," was the reply. "It was from a call office. The operator invariably tells you when a call office is coming through. The strange thing is that only a few days ago he was reported at Damascus. We have been working out the times, and we have concluded that by flying to Constantinople and catching the Oriental express, he could have reached London half an hour before he telephoned me."

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Mrs Lansdown, who had come from her daughter. Sybil's mother looked worn, but there was happiness in the tired eyes, which told of the relief she had experienced after the most terrible night of strain and anxiety.

"I don't understand what it is all about," she said, "but thank God my little girl is safe. Have you found the chauffeur?"

"Cawler? No, he has not been seen since Sybil left him."

"You don't think anything has happened?" she asked nervously.

"I don't know. I shouldn't think so," replied Dick with a reassuring smile. "Cawler is quite able to look after himself, and I don't doubt that if there was a fight he came off best."

Later in the afternoon there arrived further news of Stalletti. He had been seen by a village constable soon after he had aroused his hired man. Apparently Stalletti had a small car which he was in the habit of driving about the neighbourhood, and the cycling constable had seen him speeding in the direction of London.

'Speeding' is hardly the term that could be properly applied, for the machine did thirty miles an hour with difficulty and had the habit of going dead for no ascertainable cause. Stalletti was looking wild and agitated and was talking to himself; he was cranking the car when the constable came up with him, and the policeman thought he had been drinking, for he seemed to be abnormally excited and scarcely noticed the advent of the cyclist.

"That bears out to a large extent my theory," said Dick. "Stalletti is a devil, but a shrewd devil. He knows that the sands are running out, and with him, as with Cody, it is a case of sauve qui peut."

He managed to get a few hours' sleep, and in the evening he made a careful survey of the house, particularly of the sleeping quarters which had been assigned to the party. The upper floor was reached by a broad carved staircase, Elizabethan in design and execution, which terminated at a broad oblong landing, from which ran the two corridors into which the bedrooms opened. There were eight massive doors, four on each side. The corridor was lighted by long windows which looked down into a courtyard, formed by two wings of the building. In one of these was a self - contained suite, which had been the late Lord Selford's private apartments, and in which, in point of fact, he had died. The other wing had been converted into servants' quarters. There were no apartments above, the bedrooms being extremely lofty and running up to within a few feet of the roof. Facing the stairs was the 'State Apartment', as it was called, which had once been the principal bedroom of the house, and this had been assigned to Sybil and her mother.

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