The Door with Seven Locks

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Chapter 32

'THIS STATEMENT is written by Henry Colston Bertram, commonly called Bertram Cody, with the knowledge, approval, and agreement of those persons whose signatures appear hereunder. It was agreed on the night of March 4th in the year 1901 that such a statement should be put into writing, so that, in the event of discovery, no one of these signatories aforesaid should be regarded as being less implicated than the others, and further, to prevent any one of the said signatories from turning State evidence at the expense of the others.

'Gregory, Viscount Selford, died on the 14th November before the date this narrative was agreed upon. He was a man of extraordinary character, and it was his intention, as he confided to his lawyer, Mr Arthur Havelock, that his property should be converted into gold and should be laid in the tomb which was occupied by the founder of the Selford family, and in which Lord Selford designed that he should also be buried. And in order that his money should not come into the possession of his son until he was 25, he intended that this money should be placed in the vault with him, which was to be fastened by a door with seven locks, one key being given to each of seven executors. The old door with seven locks was accordingly taken down and a new door, a faithful copy of the first, was ordered from the firm of Rizini, of Milan. Lord Selford's scheme was obviously impossible of execution in view of the laws of succession, but although this fact was pointed out to him, he persisted in his design. He confided his plans, not only to Havelock, but also to Dr Antonio Stalletti, who was well liked by him, and a frequent visitor to Selford Manor.

'Three weeks before Lord Selford's death, when he was suffering from an attack of delirium tremens, and in a very nervous state, Mr Havelock went to him and told him that he was on the verge of bankruptcy, that he had used some of his clients' money, including Lord Selford's, and asked his lordship if he would save him from a prosecution. The sum involved was not a very large one - £27,000; but Lord Selford was not the kind of man who would forgive such a breach of trust.

'He fell into a rage, threatening Havelock that he would institute a prosecution, and, as a result of his fury, he suffered a stroke and was carried to bed unconscious. Dr Stalletti was immediately called in, and with the help of Elizabeth Cawler, the nurse of Lord Selford's young son, he recovered sufficiently to repeat, in the presence of Dr Stalletti, the accusation he had made against Havelock, the situation becoming further complicated by the fact that Silva, a Portuguese gardener, was in the room, having been called in with the idea of assisting the doctor to restrain his patient in his violence.

'Immediately afterwards Lord Selford had a collapse, from which he did not recover, and he died on November 14th, there being present at his death Dr Stalletti, Mrs Cawler, and Havelock. The writer of this note did not appear till a much later period, and at the time was ignorant of the circumstances, but he hereby agrees that he was equally guilty with all the other signatories.

'Lord Selford had not time to change his will, by which he left Havelock his sole executor. It was Dr Stalletti (who by his signature attests) who suggested that nothing should be said about the circumstances attending his lordship's death, or about the statements he made just prior. To this Mr Havelock agreed (as he testifies by his signature) and a plan was formed whereby Havelock should administer the estate, the bulk of the revenues being divided equally between the four people who were privy to his lordship's accusation. The gardener, Silva, was then called in to the conference, and as he was a poor man and hated his lordship, who was a ready man with his cane if anything annoyed him, Silva agreed.

'It was at that time the intention of the four conspirators to enrich themselves to a moderate extent from the estate during the period of Mr Havelock's administration, and to leave it to Havelock, when the time came that he would be compelled to hand over his trust to the new Lord Selford, to straighten matters out. Young Lord Selford, however, was a boy of delicate constitution and weak intellect; and very little time elapsed before it became clear that an unexpected danger would confront the four. Mr Havelock pointed out that, if this boy was noticeably deficient, the Commissioners in Lunacy might be notified and appoint another trustee to administer the estate; and it was then decided to find a private school where the boy could be kept out of sight.

'The choice fell upon the writer, who had had the misfortune to be punished by the laws of the country for obtaining money by misrepresentation. I was approached by Mr Havelock soon after I came out of prison, and was told by him that he was guardian of a boy of weak intellect, who, it was necessary, should be tutored in a school which had no other scholars. A very handsome sum was offered to me, and I gladly accepted the post and responsibility.

'He was brought to me in January, 1902, and I saw at once that any attempt to instil education into this unpromising receptacle was foredoomed to failure. I had many consultations with Mr Havelock and Dr Stalletti, who was also in bad odour with the authorities, and it was at one of these conferences that Dr Stalletti put forward his theory - namely, that supposing he had a child in his care of sufficiently tender age, he could destroy its identity, not by any act of cruelty, but by suggestion or by some kind of hypnotism. Dr Stalletti's theory was that, if the vital forces are inhibited in one direction, they will find abnormal expression in another, and it was his desire to create what he called the perfect man, strong, obedient, having no will of his own, but subservient to the will of another. To this conclusion, he said, the biologists of the world were tending, and just as the bee delegated its reproductive functions to one queen bee, so the time would come when the world would be populated by unthinking workers, dominated by a number of select brains, reared and cultured for the purpose of exercising that authority. He promised that he would destroy the identity of the young Lord Selford so that, to all intents and purposes, he would cease to exist as a human unit, without actually endangering the life and safety of the conspirators, as would be the case if the child were made away with.

'I confess I was in favour of this scheme, but Mr Havelock was for a long time opposed, because, as he told us, he was not satisfied that the experiment would be a success. Dr Stalletti undertook, if he had a suitable subject, to prove it within three months; and after we had discussed the matter, Mrs Cawler said she would put at the doctor's disposal one of her two nephews. Mrs Cawler herself was childless, but she had the care of two children which had been put in her charge by her dead brother, who had also left a small sum for their maintenance. The child was transferred to Gallows Hill Cottage, and at the end. of three months, though I did not see the result of the experiment, Mr Havelock told me that it had been successful and he had agreed to Selford leaving my care.

'I had already begun to draw on the revenues of the estate, but thinking that my position might be a precarious one if the boy was taken away from me, and if I had no actual proof that others shared my guilty knowledge, I asked that a legal agreement should be drawn up and filed in some place where we could all see it at the same time, but to which nobody else had access. I further asked that a statement in which we all admitted our share of responsibility should be kept in a similar place. There were long discussions about this. Stalletti was indifferent, Havelock was worried, and it was Mrs Cawler who suggested the plan which we eventually followed.

I have told you that a tomb had been prepared for Lord Selford. It was that which had once been occupied by the founder of the house, and the door was ordered but was not in place when he died. He was, in point of fact, buried in Vault 6, the first on the left as you enter the tombs. Havelock immediately jumped at the idea. He had received the keys from the makers; the door had been hung; and there was, in the tomb itself, a place where such a document could be kept. We agreed eventually that it should take the shape which now appears.

'It was difficult to explain to Silva, who had a small knowledge of English but a great fund of low cunning, that we were not trying to incriminate him to save ourselves. But, fortunately, I had acquired in my student days a knowledge of the Portuguese language, and was able, as will be seen herewith, to make a literal translation of this statement, which will be found on the final ten pages of the book and which has been signed by us all.

'At the moment of writing. Lord Selford is "under tuition" at Gallows Hill, and from my own observation it seems that, both in the case of Mrs Cawler's nephew and in that of Lord Selford, the experiment has been highly successful. Already these boys come and go at the doctor's wish, make no complaint, and can endure even the rigours of a severe winter with the lightest clothes without any apparent discomfort. Since this first line was written, I have married Mrs Cawler, such an arrangement commending itself to Havelock and Stalletti… '

(The next few words were half obliterated by a savage black line that had been drawn through them, but Dick managed to decipher: '… although I had other plans for my future, I agreed.')

'It is extremely unlikely that our scheme will ever be detected. The Selfords are without relatives, the nearest heir to the property being a distant cousin; but he is a rich man and is unlikely to inquire too closely into the whereabouts of his lordship. Mr Havelock intends when the boy reaches a maturer age, to announce that he has gone abroad on an extensive tour.

'To the truth of the foregoing we, the undersigned, set our hands.'

Here followed the signatures, and on the next page began the Portuguese translation of the document.

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