The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 28

WHILST THE ladies were walking in the park after tea, Dick went from room to room and made a very thorough examination of windows and walls. He had procured a builder's tape measure, and, with the assistance of one of the police officers who had arrived from London, he measured the room both inside and out, and compared his figures with those he obtained from the two apartments which flanked the state chamber. The difference was so slight as to preclude any possibility of there being a secret passage between the walls. These, as is usual in the Elizabethan buildings, were very thick and seemed solid enough.

The state apartment was a large room, rather overpoweringly furnished, with an old - fashioned four - poster bed set upon a dais. The walls were hung with tapestries; a few old pieces of furniture comprised its contents, and had the floor been covered with rushes it might have stood for an Elizabethan bedroom without one modem touch.

He pulled aside the long velvet curtains that hid the windows and saw that they were very heavily barred, and called up the caretaker.

"Yes, sir, these are the only windows in the house that have bars," said the man. "The late Lord Selford had them put in after a burglary. You see, the porch is just below, and it is easy to get into the state room."

Dick pulled open the leaded windows and examined the bars closely. They were firmly fixed and set so close that it was impossible for any but a child to squeeze through. As he was shutting the windows, Sneed came into the room.

"The ladies are sleeping here, aren't they?" asked the stout man, and nodded his approval of the bars. "They'll be safe enough. I'll have a man in the corridor all night, one in the hall, and two in the grounds. Personally, I'm not worried about trouble coming tonight unless his lordship brings it with him. What time is he expected?"

"Between six and seven in the morning," said Dick, and Captain Sneed grunted his satisfaction.

There was one other part of the house that Dick Martin was anxious to see, and here the caretaker was his guide. There was, he learned, a range of cellars running half the width of the main block. These were reached through an underground kitchen, one section was set aside as a wine cellar and was, he found, well stocked. There were no lights here save those which he carried, and, unlike many other cellars of these Elizabethan houses, the roof was not vaulted. Great oaken beams ran across the cellar, and these supported heavy wooden slats, black with age.

Apart from the wine cellar, this underground portion of Selford Manor was empty except for three large beer barrels, which had arrived only a few days before. He tapped them one by one, and on an excuse sent the caretaker upstairs. Dick's sense of smell was abnormal, and when he sniffed it was not the smell of beer that reached his nostrils.

Looking round, he saw in a dark corner a small case opener. It was very new. Climbing the steps, he closed and bolted the door, and, returning to the barrels, prised open the end of one. The fumes now became overpowering. Dipping in his hand he ran his fingers through the glistening white flakes and grinned. Then, replacing the lid, he went up the steps.

This inspection satisfied Dick on many points. He went up to the hall and, passing to the back of the building, took his car and drove down to the lodge gates, returning on foot, not by the drive, but through the plantation which bordered the eastern portion of the estate.

The hour of crisis was at hand. He felt that the atmosphere was electric, and this night would settle, one way or the other, the mystery of Lord Selford's long disappearance.

Before dinner he had an opportunity of a talk with the girl. They strode up and down the broad lawn before the house.

"Oh, yes, I slept," she said with a smile. And then, unexpectedly: "Mr Martin, I have given you an awful lot of trouble."

"Me?" He was genuinely surprised. "I can't see that you have given me more trouble than other people," he went on lamely. "You have certainly caused me a lot of anxiety, but that is only natural."

There was a pause.

"Do you feel that way about all - your cases?" she asked, not looking at him.

"This isn't a case - Sybil," he said, a little huskily. "I have a personal interest here. Your safety means more to me than anything else in the world."

She shot one quick glance at him.

"And am I safe now?" she asked, and when he did not reply: "Why are we staying here tonight?"

"Mr Havelock thinks - - " he began.

"Mr Havelock is frightened," she said quietly. "He believes that whoever these terrible people are, he has been chosen as the next victim."

"Of whom is he afraid?" asked Dick.

"Of Stalletti," she shuddered. He looked at her in amazement.

"Why do you say that? Mr Havelock has told you?"

She nodded. "Men will say things to women that they will never confess to men," she said. "Do you know that Mr Havelock believes that Lord Selford is entirely under Stalletti's influence? And, what is more, he thinks that - but he will tell you himself. Do you know why we are staying at Selford Manor?"

"I only know about a message that came to Havelock," said Dick.

"We're staying here because it is a fortress - the only fortress which can keep this horrible man at bay. Why I am included in the invitation, I don't know. But Mr Havelock is very insistent upon the point. Lord Selford cannot possibly be interested in me."

"He is your cousin," he said significantly, and she stared at him.

"What does that mean?"

"It means," Dick spoke slowly, "and this thought has only occurred to me recently, that, if Lord Selford dies, you are the heiress - at - law."

She was speechless with astonishment. "But that isn't so, surely? Mr Havelock hinted to me that Selford had probably married. And I'm a very distant relation." He nodded.

"The only relation," he said; "and now you will understand just why you have been threatened. You told me Mr Cody had offered you a paper to sign. There is no doubt at all that that paper was either some deed of gift or a will. Cody was in the Selford business up to his neck."

"But where is Lord Selford?"

"I don't know," he replied simply. "I can only guess - and fear."

Her eyes opened wide. "You don't mean - he's dead?" she gasped.

"He may be. I'm not sure. Perhaps it would be better if he were."

Mr Havelock was approaching him, trouble on his rugged face, a frown of perplexity making a furrow in his forehead.

"What time do you expect Selford to arrive?" asked Dick.

The lawyer shook his head.

"H he arrives at all I shall be a happy man," he said. "For the moment I have not any great hope, only a vague kind of apprehension. What news will the morning bring to us? I'd give my small fortune to be a day older than I am. There is no news, I suppose, about Stalletti?"

"None," said Dick. "The police are looking for him, and he will find it difficult to escape."

The caretaker came out at that moment to announce that a meal had been got ready, and they went into the library, where it had been served.

The dinner, for which the caretaker and his wife were equally apologetic, was of the simplest order. They dined on cold viands, of a quality in odd contrast to the wine which came up from the cellar. After the meal was over, Dick took the girl into the rose garden at the back of the house, and for a long time Mrs Lansdown watched them pacing up and down the gravelled walk, deep in earnest conversation.

Presently the girl came in alone and spoke to her mother, and the two of them returned to where Dick Martin was pacing the path, his hands behind him, his chin on his breast.

When he at last appeared on the lawn before the house, he found Mr Havelock and Sneed were discussing the disposition of the Scotland Yard men. It was growing dark, the light showed in the window of a distant cottage. Dick looked up at the sky. Darkness would fall in an hour; after that - -

"Who is going for a walk to the tombs?" he asked.

Mr Havelock did not receive the suggestion with enthusiasm. "It is too dark," he said nervously. "And we can't leave these people alone in the house."

"Our men will look after them," said Dick. "Anyway, they have gone to bed. Mrs Lansdown sent her excuses."

"I think they're quite safe," said Mr Havelock, looking up at the barred windows. "I confess that as time goes on I am considerably doubtful as to the wisdom of spending the night in this wretched place. I suppose - - " He hesitated and laughed. "I was going to do a very cowardly thing and suggest that I should go home. As I am the only person who need stay, that idea would hardly appeal to you gentlemen. The truth is," he said frankly, "I'm nervous - horribly nervous! I feel as if there is some fearful shadow lurking in every bush, a ghastly shape behind every clump of trees."

"We'll not go to the tombs," said Dick, "but we will go as far as the valley. There are one or two things I would like to ask you; the topography here is not very familiar to me and you may help me."

The three men went through the farmyard, and Dick stopped only to pat the chained watch - dog who had served Sybil Lansdown so well. So they passed into what he had come to call 'the valley'.

The sky was clear; the sun had gone down, but it was light enough to see even distant objects. And here, as they strolled, Mr Havelock learned for the first time of the secret behind Lew Pheeney's death.

"But this is amazing!" he said in astonishment. "There was nothing in the newspapers about his having been asked to pick a lock - of course, it was the lock of the Selford tomb!"

"The information that doesn't come out at inquests would fill Miss Lansdown's library," said Sneed. "Maybe it will all come out some day."

They walked on in silence for a long time. Evidently Mr Havelock was cogitating this news.

"I wish I had known before," he said eventually. "I might have been able to give you a great deal of assistance. I suppose he didn't tell you who was his employer?"

Dick shook his head. "No, but we can guess."

"Stalletti?" asked Havelock quickly.

"I should imagine so. I can't think of anybody else."

They stopped at the place where the struggle had occurred between Tom Cawler and the Awful Thing, and Dick turned slowly round and round until his eyes had roved the full circle of the view.

"What is that place?" He pointed to a white scar showing above a grassy ridge.

"Those are the Selford Quarries," said the lawyer; "they are not worked today and represent a liability. We have had to close the road above them."

Dick thought for a moment. "You don't feel like coming on to the tombs?" he asked, concealing a smile.

"I certainly do not," cried Mr Havelock with energy. "There's nothing in the world I wish to do less than to go poking round that ghastly place at this hour of the night 1 Shall we return?"

They walked back to the house; here the two Scotland Yard men who were on guard outside the house reported that Mrs Lansdown had opened the window of her room and had asked if she could be called at six in the morning.

"Let us go inside," said Havelock; "we shall disturb them with our voices."

They went back to the dining - hall and Havelock ordered up a quart of rare champagne. The hand that raised the glass to his lips trembled a little. The strain, he admitted, was beginning to tell upon him.

"Whatever happens, I am through with the Selford estate from tonight," he said; "and if this wretched young man does turn up - and I very much doubt whether he will keep his appointment - I shall hand him over my trust with the greatest relief."

"In which room are you sleeping?" asked Dick.

"I have chosen one of the wing rooms that faces up the corridor. It is part of the suite which the late Lord Selford occupied, and is by far the most comfortable. Though I'm not so sure it is the safest, because I'm rather isolated. I wanted to suggest that you have a man in the corridor."

"I've already arranged that," said Sneed, putting down his glass and smacking his lips with relish. "That's good wine. I don't think I have tasted anything better."

"Could you drink another bottle?" said Mr Havelock hopefully, and Sneed chuckled.

"You want an excuse to open another bottle, Mr Havelock!" he accused. "And I'll give it to you!"

Under the influence of the second bottle of wine the lawyer became more his normal self.

"The matter is still a tangle to me," he said. "What Cody had to do with Selford, or in what manner this wretched Italian - -"

"Greek," said Sneed quietly. "He calls himself Italian, but he's of Greek origin; I've established that fact. As to their connection, I'll tell you something." He folded his arms on the table and leaned across. "You remember sending Lord Selford to school?" he said slowly.

"To a private school - yes." Mr Havelock was patently astonished at the question.

"Do you remember the name of the schoolmaster?"

Havelock frowned. "I think I do," he said slowly. "Mr Bertram."

"He used to be Bertram, but later he took the name of Cody," said Sneed, and the other man's jaw dropped.

"Cody?" he said incredulously. "Do you mean to say that Cody and Bertram, Selford's tutor, are one and the same person?"

It was Dick who answered. "And now let me ask you a question, Mr Havelock. When this boy was quite young, had he a nurse?"

"Why, of course," replied Havelock.

"Do you remember her name?"

Again the lawyer searched his memory.

"I can't be sure, but I have an idea it was Crowther or some such name.

"Cawler?" suggested Dick.

"Yes, I think it was." The lawyer thought a while. "I'm certain it was. The name is familiar to me. I've heard of some other person called Cawler. Of course, Cody's chauffeur!"

"She was Cawler's aunt," said Dick. "Originally she was a nurse in the employ of the late Lord Selford, and she had charge of the boy. Does it strike you as significant that Cody should marry this uneducated and uncouth woman?"

There was a deep silence.

"How did you find this out?"

"By an examination of Cody's papers. Whoever murdered that wretched man carried away all the documents that were in his desk. But they omitted to search a box in which Mrs Cody kept her private treasures. Probably they thought she was not the type of woman who would keep any private correspondence; but the letters we found leave no doubt at all that she was Lord Selford's nurse, and that Cody was his tutor. You've never seen Cody?" Havelock shook his head.

"Are you also aware," said Dick slowly, "that Stalletti was, on two occasions, called in to Selford Manor in his capacity as a medical man to treat Lord Selford for alcoholism?"

"You amaze me!" gasped the lawyer. "Selford's doctor was Sir John Finton. I never knew that he had a local man. When did you learn all this?"

Dick looked at Sneed, who took out his pocket - case, selected a paper, and passed it across to the lawyer. It was the paper Dick had found in the box.

"But in what way do these affect the present Lord Selford and his wanderings?" asked Havelock in a tone of wonder. "The thing is inexplicable! The more information I get on this subject, the more obscure the whole affair seems to be!"

"Lord Selford will tell us that in the morning," said Dick briskly and looked at his watch. "And now I think we'll go to bed. I am a very tired man."

Sneed dragged himself from the table and flopped into a deep chair before the fire, which had been lighted in their absence.

"This is my pitch, and it is going to take a good man to get me out of it!"

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