The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 29

IT WAS half past ten when Dick and the lawyer went upstairs to their rooms, and after he had seen Mr Havelock safely in his suite and had heard the key turned, he went into his own apartment, shut and locked the door, and lit a candle.

He waited ten minutes and then, noiselessly unlocking the door, he stepped out into the corridor. The detective on duty saluted him silently as he took out the key and relocked the door from the outside. Then he passed down the stairs and into the hall, where Sneed was waiting for him. Without a word, Dick unfastened the door of the room in which Sybil had seen the strange apparition, and they went in together.

The blinds here had been drawn by the caretaker; one of these, at the farther end of the room, Dick raised and pulled back the curtain.

"Wait in the hall, Sneed, and don't so much as cough until I shout. We may have to wait till daylight, but it's an even break that the man with the beard will come back."

Noiselessly he passed through the dark night and, climbing up to one of the raised flowerbeds, he took up a position where he could see the interior of the room. His theory might very well be absurd; on the other hand, it might prove to be the keystone of the solution he had constructed.

Time passed slowly, but he did not move, his face against the window - pane, his eyes staring into the darkness of the room. Far away in the still night he heard a church clock strike midnight, and, after an eternity, the half - hour. He began to think that his night was wasted, when suddenly, near the fireplace, there appeared on the floor a long, thin line of light. Holding his breath, he waited. The line broadened. And then, by the faint illumination provided, he saw the big hearthstone turn on a pivot, and a head appeared above the floor level.

It was a dreadful face he saw. The staring eyes, the straggling, ragged beard, the huge naked arm that rested for a second on the edge of the floor, were monstrously unreal. The Thing placed the candle he had been holding on the floor, and without an effort drew himself up until he was clear of the pit from which he had climbed.

Except for a pair of ragged short breeches he was naked. Dick gazed, spellbound, as the giant crouched and reached down a hand. And then another huge form came up, and the second of the monstrous beings appeared.

He was taller than the first. His round face was expressionless, and, unlike his companion, his skin was smooth, his head almost shaven.

Dick stared and felt his heart beating faster. For the first time in his life he was really afraid. Shading the candle with his huge hand, the first of the men moved stealthily along the panelled wall, the second, a taller figure, crouching behind him. The man with the candle was feeling the panelling.

And then something happened.

Dick found it hard to suppress a cry of astonishment as he saw one of the panels swing open, revealing the face of a small cupboard. The bearded thing took something out and showed it to the other, and their heads were almost together as they seemed to gloat over their discovery.

And then, even from when he was standing, he heard somebody rattle on the door of the room, and cursed the bungling man who had interrupted this amazing conference.

For, as the door shook, the light went out. Dick flew along the stone path into the hall, and saw Sneed, his hand on the door.

"Somebody's in there," said the fat man.

"If you'd only waited a second!" hissed Dick furiously, as he unlocked the door and flung it open.

The room was empty when they turned on the lights.

"Look!" said Sneed, pointing to the panelled door.

"I've already seen that."

Briefly and a little cantankerously, he described what he had seen.

He expected to find that the panel concealed a safe of some kind, and he was amazed when he discovered that it was no more than a big wooden cupboard filled with what seemed to be an accumulation of rubbish. He pulled out the contents and put them on the floor. There was an old wooden horse with a broken leg; a gaily painted indiarubber ball; a few children's skittles; and part of a clockwork train, the engine of which was missing.

With the assistance of Sneed, he tried to turn the hearthstone, but it was immovable.

"Stay here," said Dick, and ran out of the room through the hall into the grounds.

The dog yapped its fierce warnings as he crossed the farmyard, but a muttered word quietened him. He took a short - cut, vaulting the low wall, and reached the valley, stopping now and again to look round in search of something.

Then he began a wide circuit of the valley, keeping as far as possible from observation, and it was nearly an hour before he began the steep ascent to the wood in which the tombs were concealed. Dick moved cautiously, choosing every footfall, listening at every step; but it was not until he was nearly clear of the wood that he heard the sound of crooning voices.

There was a familiar lilt to the tune; a memory that took him back nearly thirty years - it was the sound of children singing.

Nearer and nearer he crept, slipping from tree to tree, his senses taut. The sweat was running down his face; he had to take out his handkerchief and wipe his eyes before he could see. He passed from one tree to another until at last he reached the cover of a giant elm, and from there he looked out upon the moonlit clearing.

The gate of the tomb was wide open, but this he did not see for some time. All his attention was concentrated upon the three men who, hand in hand, were moving round in a circle, two treble voices and a deep, unmusical bass, singing as they solemnly walked:

"Poor Jinny is a - weeping, Poor Jinny is a - weeping … "

His heart almost stopped beating at the sight. It was like a bad dream; and yet there was something so pathetic in the sight that he felt the tears rising to his eyes.

The two half - naked figures he recognized instantly. The third little man he could not immediately place, till he turned his unshaven face towards the moon. It was Tom Cawler!

Then of a sudden the song ceased, and they squatted down on the ground and passed something from hand to hand. Presently Dick saw what it was - a clockwork locomotive! The two half - nude men chuckled over it delightedly, uttering childish, unintelligible sounds, whilst Tom Cawler stared straight ahead, his face set, his eyes open wide, till it seemed to the watcher that he was the most terrible of the three.

The interruption which came was startling in its unexpectedness. A soft whistle came from the wood so close at hand that Dick jumped round. Its effect upon the group was extraordinary. The two giants came up to their feet, cringing away from the sound, and when Dick looked again, Tom Cawler had disappeared.

Again the whistle, and the two great shapes crouched down, and even from that distance Dick saw that they were trembling violently. The sound of a breaking twig, and a man stepped into the clearing.

It was Stalletti.

In one hand he held a whirling dog - whip, in the other the moon gleamed on something bright and sinister.

"Ah! so, my little children, I have found you, in what strange circumstances! Extraordinary and bizarre, is it not? Come, Beppo."

The lash curled above their heads as the bigger man crouched lower to the earth.

"Come, you!"

He said something in Greek, which Dick could not understand, and immediately the two huge shapes shuffled after him and passed into the wood. Still Dick did not move. Where was Cawler? He had vanished as into the ground. And then suddenly the detective saw him, moving swiftly in the shadow of the trees, following the course which Stalletti and his slaves had taken. In another instant Dick was on their heels.

For a moment he had been paralysed by the fantastic sight, but now the spell was broken. Whatever happened, Stalletti should not escape. He did not see Cawler, but knew that he was somewhere ahead in the darkness, moving, as Dick had moved, from tree to tree, silently, ominously, for the unconscious man who by some mischance had failed to see him.

They did not follow the steep path down to the valley, but went along the slope. The detective, who had not explored the wood, wondered where the chase would end. Once, as the trees thinned, he saw the two cowering figures following Stalletti, but they were lost to view again, and he did not sight them until he heard the harsh purr of a motor engine, and dashed forward. He was too late. There was some sort of road here, of which he knew nothing, and the car was moving along this. As he looked he saw a figure shoot out of the bushes and grip the back of the machine.

Now he located the road; it was that which ran over the top of Selford Quarry. He saw the white gash of the chalk cliff in the moonlight as he flew along in pursuit of the car. The road was bad, he guessed, and they could not make any great speed, and Dick Martin was something of a runner.

The rough roadway began to climb, and this gave him an additional advantage, for, heavily laden - more heavily than Stalletti at the wheel imagined - the machine slowed perceptibly, and he was gaining hand over hand, when he saw the man that was hanging on to the back suddenly pull himself over the hood.

What followed he could only guess. There was a scream from Stalletti, and suddenly the car lurched violently to the left and broke through a clump of bushes. For a second there was silence, and then a horrible crash. Dick ran to the edge of the quarry and saw the car tumbling over and over down the almost precipitous slope. Down, down, down it went, into the deep, still pool in which the moon was reflected.

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