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Title: The Bradmoor Murder Author: Melville Davisson Post * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1801131h.html Language: English Date first posted: December 2018 Most recent update: December 2018 This eBook was produced by: Ramesh Chakrapani Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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"His right hand shall be his enemy. And the son of another shall sit in his seat. I will encourage his right hand to destroy him. And I will bring the unborn through the Gate of Life. And they shall lean upon me. And I will enrich them, and guide their feet and strengthen their hearts. And they shall laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces."
We got some great men from England in the old day. They don't permit us to forget it...Well, we can counter on them. They got Robert Harmscourt, the present Duke of Bradmoor, from us. And he is to-day beyond question, the ablest man in the British Empire. They can say that this American family is only the English branch, and cite their court decision giving it the title, should the English line become extinct. But it won't do! The man's an American. And he would have remained an American but for the will of a god. No, the expression is correctly written: not the will of God as we are accustomed to say it—the will of a god! Keep the distinction in mind.
And it wasn't Lady Joan! True, she sent for him at once, after old Bradmoor's death, and assembled at her table the three remarkable men concerned with the mystery. But it wasn't Lady Joan that transformed this American into a peer of England. She'd have gone to America with Harmscourt—she'd already promised...You can't doubt it. It wasn't Lady Joan: it was the will of a god! You can read what Harmscourt says about it. It's the very strangest thing that was ever printed.
The very dining room was extraordinary.
The walls were of bare stone, and the floor had originally been the tamped earthen floor of the cottage. There was a wide, smoked fireplace, and an ancient beamed ceiling.
But the room had been made over by a deft hand.
It was a transformation with a slight expenditure of material; but it was that tremendous transformation which an excellent taste is able to accomplish with even primitive material. The ceiling had been permitted to remain; but the walls had been covered with a blue-gray wash—some dye, I imagine, with a calcimine. An iron grate had been set in the fireplace, and a board floor laid. It was a floor scarcely better than the wood platform of a tent; but one saw little of it, for it was covered with old rugs—ancient, priceless rugs.
There was an immense mahogany table, a long mahogany sideboard against the wall, with silver knobs, their exterior presenting laurel wreaths inclosing a coat-of-arms carved in relief. The chairs were carved rosewood. There was no cloth on this table; but there was a gorgeous piece of brocade laid right across it, in the center of which was an immense bowl filled with roses. The silver, the glass, every article on the table was exquisite. It was the contrast between these superb furnishings and the crude room that impressed one, as though one should find a jewel mounted in the hull of an acorn.
For a moment the small-talk drifted vaguely by me. I was looking at the empty chair beyond, across the table. It was drawn back, and half-turned away, precisely as the girl had left it when she got up and went out, leaving me to her extraordinary guests, and their strange mission. Extraordinary is not a word inapplicable to them. I think if one had looked over all England, he could not have selected three men to whom that word would more appropriately apply.
To my right was Henry Marquis, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard. When one says that long, awkward sentence—with "Scotland Yard" at the end of it—one brings up the image of a conventional character in the penny-dreadfuls, or the hatchet-faced detective of Baker Street, with his hypodermic needle; a thin, lemon-colored person, with dreamy eyes, and the like. But—one would not look to see Henry Marquis.
A middle-aged Englishman, with short-cropped gray hair, and the typical figure in the hunting field. There was nothing peculiar about him except his rather long, pale face, and the strong formation of the jaw. One felt that it would be difficult to prevent this man from carrying out any plan upon which he had once determined. But—one would not associate him with mysteries. If one had been selecting a character to illustrate a personality concerned with mysteries, he would have selected Sir Godfrey Simon, who was sitting farther along to the right of the chair now empty. He was a big, old man. His head was entirely bald; there was not even a faint suggestion of a fringe of hair around the bald head.
The head was immense.
He had a large, crooked nose; shaggy eyebrows; eyes that seemed never open—they were always slits—narrow, like a cat's eyes; and a big, firm-lipped mouth. He looked like a sphinx. He was the greatest alienist in England. He spoke just then:
"The man was under a curse," he said; "that's what killed him!"
I realized suddenly that the conversation had drifted into the thing that these men had been asked here to explain to me. It had begun, and I had missed a little of it. I moved in the chair, and brought my attention swiftly back from the girl who had gone out.
The third man, seated at my left, had half turned to the fire. He had poured out another glass of whisky. When I try to describe this man, I am always embarrassed. Nature took an unreasonable advantage of him. He was the Thirteenth Earl of Dunn, and he looked like a bookmaker at Ascot, in the paddock with the sporting set.
No clothes could disguise it.
He was in the best evening clothes that one could buy in Bond Street; but he was the bookmaker from Ascot, awkwardly put into them. He was one of the most charming men in England; but there he was, with his coarse shock of hair, his red face, his heavy jaw, his large, harsh voice, and his abrupt, physical vigor. He was a big-game hunter, and one of the most noted explorers in the world...He used to say: "There's six million square miles of the earth's surface that nobody knows anything about"—then would come his harsh laugh—"except me."
He was replying now to the oracular pronouncement of Sir Godfrey Simon.
"A curse, eh! What?" he said. "It was characteristic of you, Simon, to sit perfectly still, like a joss, blink your eyes, and say the man was killed by a curse, when the thing happened. It would have been reasonable if you had meant that the outraged divinity, or hell-factor, or whatever you wish to call it, that old Bradmoor looted, had found a way to turn on him; but that was not what you meant."
Sir Godfrey did blink his eyes. They batted an instant. He added another sentence:
"I meant, of course, precisely what I said."
Henry Marquis took the conversation up then. He realized that I did not understand it, that it would have to be presented from the beginning. He touched the polished mahogany table with his fingers, as though they were smoothing out a cloth.
"I think," he said, "that you will get a more accurate understanding of this thing if we give it to you precisely as it impressed us at the time it happened: the facts, and then what we thought about them—what we still think about them...You will probably have to imagine what Sir Godfrey Simon means, if he means anything."
He laughed, and his firm, capable hand continued to smooth out the invisible cloth on the table. There came a slight, facetious note in his voice.
"I suppose, in fact, it is not essential that an alienist should mean anything. It is the pose that counts in his profession. 'The man was killed by a curse!' Sir Godfrey does not need to mean anything, provided he goes no farther...It is a fine, creepy explanation, and it precisely suits the average Briton with the Early Victorian novel in his mind. The lord of the manor was always under a curse, when the beautiful milkmaid got into trouble, in those stories...Is there a family in England that has not a curse on it?"
The big man by the vacant chair spoke again:
"This family has a curse on it."
Lord Dunn turned toward me. He made an abrupt gesture, precisely like a bookmaker sweeping aside a betting offer:
"There you have it," he said. "Set a madman to catch a madman; Simon is in the right profession; old Bradmoor was killed by a curse!"
The massive face did not change, but the mouth opened as though worked by a wire: "He was," he said.
Henry Marquis made a vague, abrupt gesture:
"Before we go again into our old quarrel," he said, "our friend here must understand the thing. It is mysterious enough, God knows—the whole awful business—when you understand as much as there is to understand about it."
He turned toward me.
"This is what we found," he said. "It was in the afternoon. It had been very dry—that long, unprecedented drought in England. Then there had been rains in the north; the streams had come up. Fishermen were beginning to get out their tackle; the water would be 'right' that evening. So the thing that old Bradmoor had been concerned with at the moment of his death was precisely what one would have expected. He was a keen sportsman, and next to Dunn, he was the best all-round explorer in the world."
The Earl of Dunn made another of his abrupt, bookmaker gestures:
"Bar nobody," he said, "old Bradmoor was the best explorer in the world, and he was a good man with a rod, none better; but he could not ride a horse. He was a damned poor hunter; he had sense enough to give it up. And he was not a firstclass shot. He could handle a heavy gun—a big double express; but he was no good with a magazine rifle...I don't know what killed him, unless it was that damned Baal from the plateau of the Lybian Desert. It's like Dunsany's story of the Gods of the Mountain—green stone Johnnies who finally came in to avenge their imitators. It might be the explanation here. How do we know? A thing does not cease to exist because some one says it isn't so. Would the Old Bailey cease to exist because a little sneak thief in Margate did not believe in it?"
Henry Marquis came back to his narrative:
"What we found," he said, "was this: Old Bradmoor was dead. He had been shot through the chest. It was a shot at the heart, but it had missed it. It was four inches to the right, and a hand's-width high; but the bullet was so big that the man was instantly killed. The bullet had gone through the back of the chair and lodged in the wainscoting. We cut it out, of course; but it was too battered up to say much about the sort of firearm it came out of.
"Old Bradmoor was sitting in the middle of the room.
"He was at least seven feet from the wall in any direction. He was facing a narrow window; in fact, it was a narrow slit cut in the wall. You know the sort of slit they made in the old days for archers. It is perhaps a yard high, and nine inches wide. The stone sloped on either side of the slit on the outside of the wall so that the archers could shoot to the right or left...You know how they are cut, and how the house stands out into the open sea."
He made a gesture toward the fireplace—toward the great house across the road to the south.
I nodded. I knew all about the house, and especially that wing of it. The sea had come sheer in against it. It had tunneled in a deep eddy, against the wall. The dead Duke of Bradmoor had been forced in his time to supplement the foundation by putting in another wall straight down to the rock bed of the shore. That stopped the sea current from chiseling out the foundation; but it bored in here against the wall, on its stone floor. There was a sheer wall of fifty feet from the room with the archer's slit, to the open sea.
I understood exactly the description Marquis was giving me. I could see precisely what they had found. He went on making every detail visible. "Bradmoor was facing this window; his chair was in the center of the room, almost precisely in the center of it. There was very little furniture in the room. It was more a sort of storage room where he kept the junk gathered up on his explorations. There were maps on the wall, and a lot of tin boxes about, a theodolite, a compass or two—in fact, the traps an explorer would carry about with him. Bradmoor kept his fishing gear in this room—all sorts of rods, flies and the like.
"As I have said, he was sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, facing this narrow slit in the wall; he was exactly ten feet away from it, and he was almost an equal distance from the door and the walls in every other direction. He had a fishing rod in his hand—in his right hand. It was tightly clutched in his hand. It was a long, heavy rod, fitted with a reel and line. He had some flies in his left hand; the thumb and finger of his left hand were closed on a particularly brightcolored fly. The man was in the act of attaching this fly to the line. His hat was on the floor beside him, with a number of flies hooked in it. There was a book of flies open on his knee.
"It was perfectly clear that the man had been killed suddenly, without warning, while he sat unconscious of any danger, engaged simply with the selection of a fly.
"The door to the room was locked, and it was bolted on the inside. All the windows in the room were closed, and had not been opened. No one of them had been opened. We were able to tell this on account of the metal fixtures. They had been turned to hold the windows firmly closed, and they had rusted in that position. The windows could not have been opened unless they were turned, and if they had been turned, the rust would have been disturbed.
"We sent an expert down to make sure.
"He went over it very carefully with a glass. It was certain the windows had not been opened. Besides, when we did open them, we were able to do it only with difficulty, because they had remained so long closed.
"The markedly strange thing about the situation, so far as Bradmoor was concerned, was that the door had been so carefully fastened on the inside. Of course, whatever it was that ejected Bradmoor out of life, may thus have fastened the door. But if so, how did it get out of the room? The bolt does not connect with the lock. It is at least two feet above the lock. It is a heavy oak door. The hinges were sound—the door had not been tampered with; the lock was right, and solid. The door had simply been strongly secured on the inside, and that was all there was about it. The key was in the lock on the inside.
"There was no way to get into this room, or to get out of it.
"The walls were all solid. It is true that the walls were wainscoted, paneled in heavy oak; but there was no chance of a secret exit; we took the panels all out, and went over every inch of the floor and ceiling. We could not have been mistaken—there was not any way to get into that room, or out of it, that we could conceive of; and yet here in the center of the room, on this hot afternoon, sat Bradmoor in a chair, shot through the chest—with a fishing rod in one hand, and a bright-colored fly in the other.
"Of course, we took the rod to pieces.
"But it was an absurd thing to do. It was the usual big fishing rod, about twelve feet long, and rather heavy. There were not any secret rigamajigs about the rod, nor about anything else connected with the dead man, that we could find. He had simply been preparing for an evening's sport, when something killed him!
"You will not have failed to notice that I keep saying 'something,' and I suppose we shall have to keep on saying 'some thing'—the curse of Sir Godfrey, over there, or Dunn's God of the Mountain out of the Dunsany story...I don't know what it was!
"We had no clue to any assassin. Bradmoor had been pretty hard up, at the end—no one realized how hard up, until the complete collapse after his death. The servants had gone into the village. Of course, we looked them up—the cook, to visit her daughter who was ill, and the old butler to do the marketing. There was no one about the place, except the butler's mother, in a little cottage in the garden—an old woman, practically unable to move from her chair.
"She was the only witness we had to anything; and her evidence included two features only: she had heard a sound, which she thought was the back-fire of a motor car—that, of course, was the sound of the shot that killed Bradmoor; and she had heard something leap into the water.
"Of course, she had a theory.
"All old women of her type have theories to explain mysterious happenings: the Devil did it! She heard him leap into the sea! Of course, she gradually supplied details, as such persons invariably do—details that could not possibly have had any basis in fact! The Devil climbed the wall, shot Bradmoor and leaped off into the sea. Well, no one but the Devil could have climbed it; it is a sheer, smooth wall, and descends fifty feet from the window to the water.
"Of course, we went over the wall. We scaffolded up from the bottom, and examined, carefully, every inch of it. There was not a mark on the wall! It is bare of vines, to begin with—and there is a thin green fungus over the whole of it. I do not mean a lichen. I mean the thin fungus that presently covers a damp stone. If there had been any attempt to scale this wall, we would have found the marks—and we did not find the marks; there was not a mark on it in any direction.
"We did not stop at the sill of the window. We went up to the roof. Nothing could have descended from above. There was a lot of dust on the roof—it had been long dry, and one could have made a mark on the tiles of the roof and on the gutters. We were minutely careful.
"There was not a mark or a scratch, either above or below that narrow slit of a window. No human creature could have climbed the wall and killed Bradmoor. The old woman's theory was as good as any—it must have been the Devil.
"But she was profoundly disappointed that we did not find seared hoofprints on the wall. They must be there. We had not looked close enough! She wished to be carried out in her chair, so that she could examine it herself. She stuck to her theory. Of course, she could be persuaded out of her details—her amplifications of the thing. But she held stoutly to one fact—she had heard the Devil leap off into the sea!
"I put some of the best men from the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard on it at once; and they gave it up. Of course, we tried to get at it by the usual method of elimination. One had to consider every theory and see how it fitted the facts. How could anyone have murdered Bradmoor when it was impossible to get out of the room after having done it, or to get into the room if Bradmoor had himself locked the door?
"And how could the man have taken his own life?
"There was no weapon to be found; his right hand was clutched around a fishing rod; and his left hand was full of flies—with a bright-colored one between the thumb and finger. These things must have been in his hand before his death, and at the time of his death, for they were still clutched in his convulsed fingers.
"The wound was hideous. The man must have died instantly. He could not have moved after the thing happened. Every nerve must have been paralyzed. It was clearly beyond reason to formulate any theory which would have depended upon any movement of the man after the wound was made. The surgeons simply laughed at the idea.
"He could not have moved after the bullet struck him; and there he sat with his fishing tackle gripped in his hands. There could not have been anything else in his hands; and as I have said, there was no weapon.
"I don't think we omitted anything in our efforts to get at a solution of the mystery.
"Everybody in the country about was put in inquisition. There had been no one in the neighborhood of the house on that afternoon. We knew the names of each person, and his mission, who traveled the road that afternoon. We knew every motor car that went over it, and every workman that walked along it. We knew where every man, woman and child in the community was that afternoon. There was simply no clew to an assassin...And there was no explanation."
Sir Godfrey Simon's eyes batted again.
"Except mine," he said.
Marquis laughed. "Or Dunn's—the Stone God stumping down out of the mountain; or the old woman's theory. The country accepted that. It was even more popular than the theory Sir Godfrey advances.
"We have had a variety of mysteries at Scotland Yard during my time as Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, and from Mayne's time down; but the Mystery of the Letts, the Rising Sun postcard, or the affair of the Chinese Embassy were nothing to this.
"In every other mystery with which we have been concerned, there was always some possible explanation. One could make a hypothesis that did not outrage the human understanding; but one could not form a hypothesis in this case that did not outrage it.
"Now, that is an appalling thing when you stop to think about it! The human mind is very clever, very ingenious. When you present a mysterious case, it will furnish you with some solution; but it can't furnish a solution for this case.
"Arrange the facts before you, and try it!
"A man is found dead in a locked room; there is no weapon; the fingers of both of his hands are gripped about objects that could have had nothing to do with his death. There is no way into, or out of, the room. There is a great, ragged hole in his chest. The sound of the shot is heard; and there you are.
"If you can formulate an explanation, you will be cleverer than the whole of England. There is nothing that the British public loves like a mystery; and when the details of one are given to them, every individual in the kingdom sits down to formulate an explanation. You can't stop him—it's an obsession. It's like a puzzle. He goes on doggedly until he gets a solution. That's the reason why, when Scotland Yard wishes to remove a mystery from public notice, it gives out a solution. The whole interest of the country lies in solving the mystery; once solved, it is forgotten.
"But even our best experts could not give out an explanation in this case; we wished to do so because we wished to keep the thing quietly in our hands until we could work it out. But we could not put out a solution; there wasn't any!" He paused in the narrative, and selected a cigarette from an open box on the table but did not at once light it.
"When it became certain," he went on, "that no assassin could be connected with this incomprehensible tragedy, we turned back upon the details of the only witness who was able to furnish us any fact whatsoever. But with every day's delay, and with each complication of the matter, the old woman's story had become more involved. It was so decked out with fanciful imaginings that it became difficult to realize that the whole extravaganza was pure fancy, outside of two evidences.
"These two evidences stood alone as the only concrete features in the case; one, that she had heard a sound, which could have been the explosion of a weapon; that she took it for the back-fire of a motor car at some distance away indicated that it was a loud explosive sound.
"This fact seemed to be unquestioned.
"Bradmoor had been killed by a shot, and the sound of the shot had been heard. Of this we were certain; but that something had leaped off into the water was an evidence more in doubt. We were convinced that the woman had heard the sound of the shot that killed the old Duke, but we were by no means convinced that she had heard a splash in the water. That element of her story seemed always too closely associated with her theory—that the whole tragedy was at the hand and instigation of the Devil. Around that idea she presently built up her fantastic explanation.
"With every interrogation of her, she became more elaborate, more profuse in her details, and more extravagant in her assurance. She had heard the Devil leap into the sea. It was not a heavy splash—such as the body of a man would make; it could not have been the body of a man. It was a thin, slight, sharp splash, precisely what the slender body of a Devil's imp would make as it leaped lightly from the edge of the window into the water—its pointed feet descending, its arm up." Henry Marquis laughed!
"She had every detail of it now. It must have given her an immense interest in life. Imagine that startling melodrama cutting into the monotony of uneventful days in a padded chair by a window. And from being a neglected and forgotten derelict, she was presently the heroine of a vivid romance, a person of importance to the countryside. The cottage was crowded, and she had the glory of a story-teller of Bagdad.
"The result was, of course, that she presently became useless so far as any further inquiry was concerned. That was clear. She was of value to us for two facts only—and one of them in doubt. That she had heard the shot was certain. We felt we could depend on that; but the splash was likely fancy. And the more we considered that element of the case, the more we were convinced that this was one of the colored details requisite to her theory.
"There was no ledge to the window. There was no way in which an assassin could have climbed there in order to leap off into the sea after the crime had been committed. There was no place beyond that window from which the shot could have been fired. There was only the open sea lying beyond it.
"Of course, there were improbabilities suggested—one of them was that the shot had been fired from the high mast of a sailing ship; but there had been no sailing ship on that afternoon. The officials of the Coast Service were able to assure us of that; they kept a record of everything. No sailing ship had been on the open sea on that afternoon inside of this point.
"Of course, we considered everything.
"Some crank sent us an anonymous letter, saying that the shot had been fired from an airplane, or a seaplane; and we looked into that. But there had been no such craft in the neighborhood on that afternoon. So those possibilities were excluded. They were so unlikely that it seemed almost absurd to inquire into them. But when you stop to think about it, they were the only theories that in any way indicated a rational solution of the matter; and that they were not the solution, there was, as it happened, conclusive evidence. There had been no sailing ship, and no aircraft, near the place on that afternoon."
Marquis paused again. He lighted his cigarette at one of the candles on the table, drew the smoke through it an instant, and then came back to his narrative.
"I have been giving you this case in extended detail," he said, "because I am trying to make you realize the difficulties that it presented, and how carefully those difficulties were considered. I wish you to understand, as we presently came to understand, how incapable the thing was of any solution. We returned again and again to it, as I have returned here in my narrative again and again to it, because we were constantly assailed with the belief that we had overlooked something. There must be some evidences that had escaped us—a way into that room, or a way out of it, by which an assassin could have encompassed Bradmoor's death. But we got no further. There was no way into that room, nor any way out of it, and there was no way from above it in which an assassin could have killed Bradmoor; and yet there he was, shot to death in his chair!"
Henry Marquis laughed. It was an ironical chuckle of a laugh.
"The butler's mother was the only person with a theory, and by Heaven, there were evidences to support it. She assembled them and fitted them together. She convinced the countryside. The very impossible things we found connected with the irrational explanations of the matter, were the strongest evidences of her theory.
"One had to consider them, no matter how practical one was.
"The very fact that we were able to show that old Bradmoor could not have been killed by any human agency of which we had any knowledge, proved, as she pointed out, that he could have been killed by a supernatural agency only. Certainly only a Devil's imp could leave no marks on a wall, and could leap off, disappearing into the sea. Besides, Bradmoor had been afraid of the Devil!"
Henry Marquis hesitated a moment. He broke the cigarette in his fingers into fragments, crumbling them on the table.
"Now, there," he said, "one came upon a series of evidences that had to be admitted. Bradmoor had been noticed to act queerly for some time. It was only after his death that the various trivial instances were precisely recalled, and fitted together. But they had been beyond doubt observed, and, now when they were connected up, they took on an unquestioned significance.
"The man had been afraid of something!
"He would lock himself into his room at night; he never sat long in one position; he would not stand before a window, nor sit with his back to an open door. It was recalled that he had been clever with an explanation of these idiosyncrasies—extremely clever. It was a draft he avoided before an open door. Or his eyes were sensitive to the strong light of a window; or he was nervous—too many pipes—he must find a milder tobacco, and so forth.
"The explanations covered the peculiarities while the man was living, and there was nothing to create a suspicion of some unusual motive; but after his death they became signboards that all pointed in one direction—the morale of the man had been gradually breaking down under an increasing monomania of fear!
"These evidences were all bright-colored threads for the Devil theory. Bradmoor had been afraid of the Devil! And he had not been afraid without a reason! The butler's mother had a fine, lurid theory that pleased the countryside."
Henry Marquis suddenly smote the table with his hand.
"But it could not be considered by us. There is only one thing of which I am absolutely certain, and that is that the supernatural does not exist. This is a physical world. Every problem in it has an explanation. The Devil is a myth.
"There was one thing only to do now," he pursued, "and that was to go back over the man's life to see if it contained any adventure that might be in any way connected with the tragedy. We began to investigate his life."
The face of Sir Godfrey Simon beyond him at the table lifted unmoving, like a mask:
"There is where you made a mistake," he said; "it was not enough to go back over Bradmoor's life; you had to go farther than that."
"Farther than Bradmoor's life?" Marquis interrogated. "How could we go farther than that? What was farther than his life?"
A faint smile appeared on Sir Godfrey Simon's face, but he made no reply.
Henry Marquis was annoyed.
"You mean the curse that killed Bradmoor!"
"Precisely that," replied Sir Godfrey, his face unmoving.
"If you had come to me, I could have predicted what would happen to Bradmoor. He could not escape it."
"Then you knew it was going to kill Bradmoor?"
"Surely," he said. "Had it not killed his father and his grandfather?"
"But his grandfather was drowned on the Northwest Coast," continued Marquis. "He was shooting brant, and the plug came out of the boat." "Some one pulled the plug out," replied Sir Godfrey.
"And his father fell from the steeple of the chapel here."
Again that vague smile, like a bit of sun on a painted image's face.
"Did he fall?"
Henry Marquis swore under his breath. "Damn it, man," he said, "you are a companion for the butler's mother, only the old woman is more satisfactory; she gives an explanation with her theory, and you never give an explanation. If you know what killed old Bradmoor, why don't you tell us how it killed him?"
Sir Godfrey Simon looked calmly across the table at the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard. The mask of his face had now the expression of a man of experience regarding the futile chatter of a child.
"Marquis," he said, "you sometimes profoundly annoy me. Because one understands one feature of a matter, does it also follow that one must understand equally every other feature of it? I have made this explanation until I am monotonously weary of it: I know what killed the old Duke; I do not know how it killed him. You do not see the interest in this case as I see it. The interest to me lies exclusively in the fact that it did kill him. I am not concerned about the means it took. I don't care. I am not interested. That is for you to find out, if you care."
He took up the glass of whisky beside him, tasted it, and put it down again. He acted to me like an amused man, at a quarrel among children.
"If you find out how the old Duke was killed, you will see that I am right—if you ever find out."
Marquis shrugged his shoulders. He turned again to me and said: "We finally reached the dead point. There was no solution to the thing!"
Lord Dunn now took up the narrative. He had been silent in his chair, moved back from the table. He had lighted a cigar, and enjoyed it while Henry Marquis had been talking; but he enjoyed it like a bookmaker. It was tilted at a rakish angle in his mouth; and he blew the smoke about him like a stableboy. He now took the cigar out of his mouth, and threw it into the fireplace.
"But there was something in his life," he declared.
"It was the last exploration old Bradmoor undertook, the one that used up the remnant of his fortune. I mean that terrible push into the Lybian Desert. He was too old to undertake it, and he was too poor. It broke him down in every direction. The man came out a wreck—a worse wreck than we realized; one could see the physical evidences on him."
He made a big, awkward gesture with his hands, precisely like a bookmaker rejecting a bet.
"I don't ask anyone to believe it," he said. "I don't know that I believe it. I judge, in fact, that I don't believe it. Of course, it's a crazy notion; but this whole business is full of crazy notions—nothing but damned crazy notions."
He paused to light another big cigar.
"Anyway, I know the facts, and what happened. I know them better than any other living person, because I considered that expedition before Bradmoor did. The German came to me first; then he went to the old Duke. I was not interested in the Lybian Desert just then. Deserts don't amuse me. Women go through them and write books about it. I was going into Yucatan, so I sent the German to Bradmoor.
"I could not determine whether he was a liar, building on some facts, or whether he had been with Rohlfs' expedition. You know about that—or has everything that happened before the Great Mad War been forgotten? Rohlfs persuaded Kaiser Wilhelm to fit him out with an expedition to explore the plateau of the Lybian Desert. Rohlfs had a theory that the country now desert had been once well watered—the theater of an immense civilization, antedating the later civilizations of which we have any knowledge. He got the professors to back him up. They prepared a monograph for him, and it was published everywhere.
"Rohlfs persuaded the Kaiser to send him in.
"Of course, we don't know how much bluff the Germans were putting up. It is possible that the Kaiser was merely taking a look at Egypt, and the English possessions beyond it, and that the expedition was a scouting party. That would be an explanation of the wide publicity given to the monograph the professors put out, and the money the German Government spent on the expedition. But I don't believe that was Rohlfs' motive. I think Rohlfs was really on the trail of a civilization, and that he was sincere about it.
"Anyhow, the expedition went in, and everybody knows what happened to it, and where it broke down. Rholfs went on with a fragment of what he could get together, and he found some evidences of what he expected to find—not a civilization like that of the Egyptian Nile, but something more like what I found in Yucatan. At least, that's the story the German came to me with. I mean Slaggerman. He turned up here, a sort of roustabout on a North German Lloyd ship; and he hunted me up.
"I suppose he saw the name in the newspapers.
"I sent him to Bradmoor," Lord Dunn went on. "He had a drawing—very well done. He said Rohlfs made it. It showed a path along a stone ledge. There was one strange feature about the path that he pointed out. He would hold a glass over it, and then he would get excited, and fall into the German language. The path was sunk in the stone of the ledge, but it had not been cut there; it had been worn there. It must have been eight or ten inches deep, and wide enough for a man to pass along it.
"And it was worn into the ledge!
"'Ach,' he would say, 'it was feet, human feet that wore that path down. How long did it take—one thousand, two thousand, five thousand years? And how many feet—how many generations of feet—and why did they travel on that path, and where did they go?'
"He said that Rohlfs, after the expedition had gone to pieces, had escaped from the surveillance of the desert sheiks, and had gone on, with only Slaggerman, disguised as an Arab cook. They had pushed on for a fortnight before they were overtaken and brought back. He said they reached the peak of a mountain, ascending out of the sand to the southwest.
"It was not a range that extended like a geological formation across the whole plateau. It stood up abruptly out of it, as though a peak of mountain had thrust up suddenly from below. He said that it was possible to travel around it, that the native tribes did, in fact, travel around it. There was no reason for anyone undertaking to ascend it, in the opinion of the desert tribes.
"It was evidently a peak of barren rocks, without water or vegetation. The stone was hard, and rose-colored. The sharp peaks at a distance, the German said, with the sun on them, looked like a beautiful rose-colored cathedral. There was a certain harmony in the outline at a distance. Rohlfs thought it was a mirage. Neither of the two men had any other idea until they finally arrived at its base. They had time enough to go entirely around it before they were overtaken.
"There was no way to ascend it; in fact, they did not think of the possibility of anyone going up until by chance Rohlfs discovered this path. They were amazed, but they had no opportunity to follow the thing up. They were overtaken by the desert tribes and hurried out of the region. Rohlfs made a drawing of the path that night, while the memory of it was fresh in his mind. It was correct, Slaggerman said. He helped him with the details."
Lord Dunn put his cigar on the fruit plate before him. It was half burned out; the long ash crumbled, and a thin line of smoke ascended, rippling at the top like a fantastic flower. He seemed to reflect on the story he was telling. His voice was firmer, less harsh.
"When you come to think about it," he said, "there could have been nothing that would so pique the curiosity as that bit of drawing. There was just enough of it. One's imagination winged off at once with every sort of extravaganza. In the waste places of the earth two things have an unfailing fascination for the lone explorer—a human footprint, and a path. If one finds a human footprint, or a path, one can never turn aside from it; one must find out whither it leads.
"I remember the effect on me when the German got out his drawing.
"I was not much interested before that. I was considering a method to dismiss him. But that fragment of drawing attached my interest. The whole picture at once came up in vivid detail, with its absorbing enigma!
"Well, as I have said, I sent him on to old Bradmoor. We know what happened. The old Duke went bankrupt on an expedition to go in; and he did go in. It took a lot of time, and endless negotiations. He had to get the permits from the English Government, and from the Egyptian authorities, and the rights to pass, from the sheiks of the desert tribes. The English Government was willing to help him. They wished to verify Rohlfs' narrative. The report had not been translated into English; but it was in the German language, in the bulletins issued by the learned societies at Berlin.
"It took a lot of money.
"In fact, as we know, it cleaned old Bradmoor out, and encumbered his estate as it now stands—on the verge of the bankrupt court. But the old Duke had the patience of every great explorer; once on the way, once taken with the big idea, he stopped at nothing.
"Of course, everybody knows what he found. It's in the monograph he furnished the Royal Society; but everybody does not know all that he found. Bradmoor talked it over with me when he returned. He came to see me. He was very much perplexed. He asked me what he ought to do. I told him to make a conventional report to the Royal Society, covering what the exploration discovered, and omit the remainder of it—keep it to himself.
"My reason for urging Bradmoor to this decision was not only in the interest, as I pointed out, of his own reputation, but it was in the interest of the reputation of all persons engaged in exploration. It was necessary to retain the public confidence in the accuracy of our explorers. Anything taken to be incredible, or improbable, or fantastic, would not only injure Bradmoor before the great English reading public, but it would injure every other man who undertook a like exploration.
"We talked it over.
"The result was that the old Duke's monograph contained only the journal of the expedition, and the general verification of what Rohlfs had reported—that is to say, no evidence of any ancient civilization on the plateau.
"He found precisely what one would have expected him to find in the desert.
"The only unusual thing which his monograph indicated was the peak of rosecolored stone which stood up out of the plateau; and this, under my suggestion, he described from the unimaginative view of the geologist.
"He tells us that he found this stone formation precisely where Rohlfs said it was, and with the physical characteristics set out in the German report. He had the same difficulty that confronted Rohlfs; the desert tribes would not permit him to make any very careful examination of it. It was only with extreme difficulty that he was permitted to approach it. He was not able to learn why they objected to this inspection. He was impressed that it was merely the accumulated suspicion which would attach to any expedition going into that region—only one or two white men had ever entered it.
"He reported also the death of Slaggerman on the way out. He had strayed from the expedition, and been killed. And that was all!" Lord Dunn leaned over in his chair, got the half-burned cigar out of the plate, and relighted it.
"But that was not all: Rohlfs' drawing was genuine, and Slaggerman had told the truth. Bradmoor said that when the peak of stone began first to form itself before him, he was amazed beyond any words to express it. The thing did look like a cathedral, like an airy rose-colored Gothic thing in the sky. In spite of Slaggerman at his elbow, he was quite sure, as Rohlfs had been, that the thing was a mirage. It could not be anything else.
"It was too delicate, too artistically perfect to be anything real.
"It was a fairy mosque, raised by some enchantment—like a Bagdad story; and as they traveled toward it, it grew more clearly outlined. It was only at the very base of the thing that one lost the illusion; then it became the peak of a mountain thrusting up through the desert sand, composed of some hard, reddish stone.
"Bradmoor said they had only a day; the sheik of the desert tribes treated him precisely as he had treated Rohlfs—he gave him a day. But he was luckier than Rohlfs. He did not put in the time traveling around this stone formation. He set out with Slaggerman alone, leaving a guard in his camp.
"Bradmoor said that the German went at once to the path he and Rohlfs had discovered. It was there precisely as the drawing showed it.
"They at once set out on this path.
"It was narrow, worn into the stone, as Rohlfs' drawing showed. The wearing was uneven, as though the rock had been softer in places; but the path was at no point worn in the stone to a less depth than eight or ten inches. Bradmoor was able to go along it, but the big German traveled with extreme difficulty.
"Bradmoor thought the path had been made by persons of a smaller stature than the modern European.
"The path wound about among the peaks of stone until it reached a beetling ledge at the top."
Lord Dunn paused, ground out the lighted end of the cigar on the plate, and put it down.
"I forget the precise details," he said. "Bradmoor had them minutely. I suppose by the very accuracy of his detail he hoped to make the story so realistic that it could not be doubted. Anyway, what he found was a small chamber, cut out in the highest peak of stone, and an image on a sort of stone bench.
"Bradmoor said this image was carved out of blue ivory. Of course, there isn't any such thing as blue ivory, and there could have been no piece of ivory in the world large enough. The image was about four feet high, and in proportion.
"He said the thing profoundly puzzled him. He could not understand where a piece of ivory that size could have been found in any age of the world. And then, when he began to examine it carefully with a magnifying glass, he found that it was made of a number of pieces, fitted together so that they interlocked.
"He thought the ivory had been dyed. But it was a dye of which we have no knowledge, for it had entered the grain of the ivory, and soaked through it. Bradmoor thought it was blue all the way through—at any rate so far as he could determine by scratching it with any implement that he had. He said that the image sat on a sort of bench cut out of the red stone, with its hands together, the palms up, extended between its knees. He said that the features, and the whole attitude of the figure, very closely resembled the Baal or Moloch of some of the early Sumerian tribes.
"There was an inscription cut on the face of the stone below the image. It was in the wedge characters of the old Sumerian priests; it was partly defaced—the opening lines had scaled. Bradmoor and I got his copy of the inscription deciphered. It ran like a verse of Isaiah.
"'His right hand shall be his enemy, and the son of another shall sit in his seat. I will encourage his right hand to destroy him. And I will bring the unborn through the Gate of Life. And they shall lean upon me. And I will enrich them, and guide their feet and strengthen their hearts. And they shall laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces.'
"You see," Lord Dunn went on, "it was a threat against anyone who should disturb the god.
"Bradmoor said the expression on the face of the image was one of inconceivable menace, an expression of eternal calm—a vast Satanic serenity—laid down over features exquisitely cruel. The menace in it struck one as with the impact of a blow.
"It stopped even old Bradmoor and Slaggerman when they came to the top of the path before it, and sent their hands to their pistol holsters. The old Duke said he had to compose himself a bit before he could go in.
"Now, that was a good deal for Bradmoor to say. He was a cold-blooded, hard-hearted man on an expedition—not a person to be affected by an image.
"The thing must have been pretty bad.
"They found nothing in the cell with the image. The bench on which it sat had been cut out of the red stone, and there was nothing about in the place, except the partly defaced inscription and a hole in the bench of stone directly under the extended, open hands of the image, between its knees. The hole was circular—about six inches in diameter, and smooth. It seemed to descend into the stone. Bradmoor said he was profoundly puzzled about what this opening could mean. They had nothing with which to explore it, and the whole chamber about them was entirely bare. He went outside where the path began to ascend, and with a small hammer broke off some fragments of stone, and dropped one into the opening. He heard it tumble against something at a short distance, as though it were a piece of parchment—there was a crackling as of paper.
"He bared his arm, and put it down into the opening.
"The hole was perfectly smooth, and descended for about two feet; then it made a slight turn toward the face of the image. Here his fingers came in contact with something that felt like a piece of parchment. He got hold of it with difficulty, and finally brought it up.
"It was a bladder, containing a handful of something that rattled like pebbles.
"It had been dropped into the opening, but had been too large to make the turn to the front as it descended. They cut the bladder open. It was partly full of rubies. They were magnificent rubies—big, pigeon-blood stones, such as are now only found in Burma; and there was a whole handful of them.
"The reason for the hole descending into the stone was now clear. It was a contribution box for the god. The position of the hands open between the knees of the image was also clear—anything placed in them dropped into his contribution box.
"Bradmoor tried it with fragments of stone. They fell out of the hand into the open hole below, and descended. He said he could hear the pieces of stone rattle for a long distance. He could not tell how far. He had no line, and no method of judging how far the hole descended; but it was evident that it was some sort of chute leading to a treasure house, and that it descended for a great distance.
"It had been only by accident that the rubies contained in the bladder had lodged at the turn where he had found them. There was nothing else to be found. The hole was as smooth as glass. Neither Bradmoor nor Slaggerman were able to make a drawing of anything. A rough map was the best the old Duke could ever do with a pencil, and the German knew nothing at all about drawing. They had no camera.
"They had experienced the same difficulty with respect to all implements that happens to every explorer in the desert—the natives always attach some sinister design to them, and they have to be abandoned. Rohlfs had to give up his implements, and Bradmoor had to cache his before he got very far in. A camera could not be used. Even the notebooks had to be written up at night in a tent. One was lucky to be able to take a modern weapon.
"The old Duke copied the inscription, and they put in the remainder of the day trying to get some clew to the treasure house. It must be somewhere below. He said that human understanding staggered when it began to think about what the treasure house might contain. It was evident that the cult of this god had been immense, covering a vast period of time.
"Slaggerman's conjecture was evidently correct. Human feet had worn down the path bringing offerings to this god; and these offerings had all descended into his contribution box beneath him. The enormous treasure thus assembled over an incredible period at the hands of innumerable worshipers was beyond any sane conjecture.
"Bradmoor said the conception was so overpowering that neither he nor Slaggerman thought very much of the handful of rubies at the time. He put them into his pocket, and the descending night found them hunting for the treasure house.
"But they never found it.
"In fact, they were never able to get out of the path by which they had ascended, and when night came they were compelled to return to their camp.
"There they found themselves practically prisoners. The desert sheik had followed with his retainers—their permit of a day was up. They were unable to move the sheik; their solicitations only made the tribes more determined, more suspicious. So they had to go back.
"Now, that's what Bradmoor found. He told me all about it, as I have said, when he came to make up his monograph for the Royal Society. He told it with accurate and elaborate detail—much of which I have omitted; and then he asked me my opinion.
"And I advised him to leave it out.
"I saw clearly what the result would be. The critics favorable to him would regard the story as the imaginings of a man broken down by fever, or overwrought at the end of an immense journey and great hardships; the unfavorable critics would merely say that it was a fantastic lie! In either event the man's reputation would suffer; and as I have said, the reputation of everybody else who undertook to make a serious exploration would suffer also.
"There was another thing Bradmoor told me that I advised him to leave out. It could do no good to give the correct report of it, and it might do a great deal of harm. When Slaggerman deserted the expedition on its return march, he took two things with him that the old Duke does not mention in his monograph—the big double express rifle, and the rubies.
"The German knew where the rubies were. In fact, Bradmoor had made no effort to conceal them from him. When they had leisure to examine them, they were amazed at the size and beauty of these jewels. Bradmoor had never seen anything like them. The German said that they were equal to the Crown jewels, both in size and luster.
"The two men frequently discussed them. It was a fascinating subject, and they speculated as to where the treasure house was under that peak of red stone, and what it contained—if these jewels were samples.
"As the two men were the only persons in the expedition who had any knowledge of the jewels, Bradmoor carried them in the medicine box, rolled up as though they were a package of bandages. The double express was the only rifle the expedition now possessed.
"When the German disappeared, Bradmoor stopped and endeavored to find him. He did not at the time think that Slaggerman had undertaken to make away with the treasure they had found. When he discovered the loss of the rifle, he imagined that the German had set out on some hunting expedition. Then he discovered that the German had taken his camping equipment with him, and some of the personnel of the expedition—evidently bribed to accompany him.
"Bradmoor did the only sensible thing possible. He offered a reward to the sheik of the district to bring the German in. Two days later he did bring him in, dead. He had been shot through the chest with the double express.
"The Arabs were not very definite about how the German came to be killed. It was clear, of course, that they had located his camp, crept in on him and shot him with his own gun. But they did not admit that. The sheik knew too much to be involved with the death of a white man.
"They had a very good story. They said they found Slaggerman dead, shot through the chest with his own gun. It was an accident, they supposed. They did not know. It was the will of Allah!
"They brought the gun, and every item of equipment which Slaggerman had taken, but they did not bring in the rubies. Bradmoor himself carefully searched the body, and through every part of the equipment, but he could not find them. He searched the camping place where they had found Slaggerman, and his other camping places; but there was no trace of them.
"Bradmoor said there was no use to ask the sheik or any of his people. If they had them, they would, of course, not give them up; and if they did not have them, it would make only useless complications to advise them now that he had found such a treasure.
"Nevertheless Bradmoor did not go on. He remained in camp for several days, and he continued to search through the clothes and equipment the German had taken away. He said the thing got on his nerves. He got to thinking about the German and the menacing blue image in its cell of rose-colored stone!
"And then he would put the Arabs to inquisition again on the manner of Slaggerman's death. But he learned nothing further. He never found any trace of the rubies; and presently he set out on his return trip."
Lord Dunn stopped in his narrative. He made his characteristic gesture, putting out his hands like a bookmaker dismissing a worthless bet.
"Now," he said, "that is what happened to Bradmoor. Marquis thinks there was no adventure in his life connected with the mysterious character of his death. When you come to think about it, wasn't this adventure connected with it? Wasn't the old Duke shot through the chest precisely as the German Slaggerman was shot, and apparently with the same sort of weapon?
"Bradmoor said that he recovered the double express rifle. I never thought to ask him what he did with it; but he evidently brought it back with him, and put it into the gun case in the room where he was killed. It is not in the gun case there; it's gone, and I believe it's the weapon with which Bradmoor was killed.
"Now, here is a coincidence, if you look at it in one direction. Of course, if you look at it in a direction equally convincing and probably more sensible, it isn't a coincidence. The Arabs shot Slaggerman; and we don't know who shot Bradmoor. But isn't there another side to it—the appalling menace in that ivory image, and its threat cut beneath it on the stone bench!
"It had guarded its treasure over an incredible period of time. Of course, it is easy to laugh at the notion; but we don't know what sinister influences were at one time abroad in the world, or what control they were enabled to enforce over events. All the religious legends of every race are crowded with stories of it.
"You can't dismiss them with a gesture.
"Bradmoor did not feel altogether at ease about it. He said he could not get the notion of the deadly menace of that strange blue image out of his head! There it sat in its eternal Satanic calm above its threat cut in the rose-colored stone: 'His right hand shall be his enemy. And the son of another shall sit in his seat. I will encourage his right hand to destroy him. And I will bring the unborn through the Gate of Life. And they shall lean upon me. And I will enrich them, and guide their feet and strengthen their hearts. And they shall laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces.'
"And what became of the rubies? The German was no fool. Everything he did was practical and well-planned. He got his counter-expedition together carefully and slowly, and he did not leave Bradmoor until he was sure he could get out. He took the only rifle the expedition had, and he took the rubies.
"Now, what became of the rubies?
"It was an immense treasure. Bradmoor said he and Slaggerman had estimated the value pretty carefully. The German knew what such stones were worth in Europe; they could not have had a less value than one hundred thousand pounds sterling.
"The German did not take any chance with such a treasure. Before he robbed Bradmoor's medicine chest, he had figured out how he intended to conceal these jewels, and where he intended to conceal them. There could have been no doubt about that. There was only one place where he could have concealed them, and that was somewhere about himself. He could not have cached them in the hope of returning for them; and he could not have risked them anywhere except near to his own hand. That is the reason Bradmoor had not found them when he searched the body.
"But there is another hypothesis: suppose the Arabs did not find them? And that touches upon another theory with respect to his death. How do we know that the sinister influence expressing itself so appallingly in the physical aspect of that blue ivory image and its deadly threat, did not, in some manner, concern itself with the death of this German, who had helped to outrage its treasure house?
"And when you get into that idea, does it not follow along to the death of Bradmoor? After all, he was the main offender. He instigated the outrage, and he carried it out. If the blue image got Slaggerman with the double express, may it not—let's venture on the idea, anyway—have got the old Duke with the double express?
"The gun is gone, and we find Bradmoor shot through the chest! Of course, I am not advancing any theory about it. My position is: I don't know. If I were as bold an adventurer into the fantastic as the butler's mother, I would say the blue image got Bradmoor, just as it got Slaggerman.
"Let's consider some of the evidences that the old woman attached to her theory, the items which we know to be correct. The old Duke was afraid of something, and that fear developed, and finally got to be a kind of monomania.
"Now, what was he afraid of?
"He was not the sort of man to be afraid. No one could have undertaken the things he undertook in explorations if he had been a timid person. Any natural menace would not have put old Bradmoor in fear.
"Was it an unnatural menace?
"I don't know. But when you can't think of anything else, when no other hypothesis gets us anywhere in any direction, are we not driven back against that sinister inscription?
"'His right hand shall be his enemy. And the son of another shall sit in his seat. And I will encourage his right hand to destroy him. And I will bring the unborn through the Gate of Life. And they shall lean upon me. And I will enrich them, and guide their feet and strengthen their hearts. And they shall laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces.'
"Only," he added, "I don't understand the promise in it."
Now, this is the story as Lady Joan's guests related it to me on that night. There was some desultory talk after Lord Dunn had concluded; and then the party broke up. Sir Godfrey Simon, at the step of his motor, handed me a folded paper: "Read that," he said, "not now—to-morrow, when your head's cool."
I had noticed him writing, on a tiny pad, with a thin silver pencil, while Lord Dunn was in the body of his story. I thrust the paper into my pocket, and Sir Godfrey Simon's motor turned out into the highroad.
I retained the memory of his big, inscrutable sphinxlike face.
We went outside, Joan and I, when the discussion of the mystery of Bradmoor's death had been given over for the evening, and Lord Dunn, Sir Godfrey and Marquis had gone.
Joan slipped a light opera cloak over her evening dress. It was a heavenly night. There was a great white moon over the sea.
We walked through the formal gardens from the cottage, passed the great stone house, to the sheer rock where the current of the Atlantic ran in under the window—where the mystery of Bradmoor's death had been enacted.
The ancient house was sinister, with the white moonlight on the walls. It stood on the rock, sheer over the sea. The grounds about it had been laid out by a king's gardener, but it had fallen by neglect into a wild beauty. The hedges were uncut, the walks overgrown with grass, the shrubbery sprawled in great clusters. With the moon on it, it was like the deserted gardens of some dead city in a Bagdad tale.
The house had been taken over by the old Duke's creditors, in the financial wreck after his death. Joan had gone to live in the lodge cottage at the land end of the place. The beautiful things from the house—her own possessions left to her by her mother at her death—had been transferred into it. It was the magnificence of these things that contrasted so markedly with the crudities of the cottage.
She was not the dead man's daughter. He had married, late in life, the widow of the Marquis of Westridge; he had no children. The girl was Westridge's daughter. But she had lived on here after her mother's death, and it was evident that a great love for the place was in her.
She had grown up in its magnificence—the magnificence of a fairy story—and in a belief that it would always remain...She spoke softly, gently, affectionately about it, as we stood there in the white moonlight above the sea, looking down into the dark water that moved in against the black, smooth-worn cliff below the tragic window.
The moving of the water stimulated a subconscious query in me, and I uttered it aloud.
"I wonder," I said, "what would become of anything that leaped into the water here; would it be carried out into the sea, or would it be cast up somewhere?"
The girl replied that long ago, when she was a little child, a fisherman had been drowned in the sea under the window, and his body had been discovered later in the sand of an inlet some quarter of a mile farther along the cliff. She pointed to it. We could see a patch of white where the sand extended, in a brief arc of beach, to the water.
I don't know that I mentioned actually in words the suggestion that moved vaguely in me—the nebulous idea that the thing that had accomplished Bradmoor's death might have drowned in the sea here, and its body gone ashore like that of the dead fisherman. I don't think I even undertook to imagine what the thing might be. Perhaps it was only the will to walk on with the girl in this mystic fairyland into which the witchery of the moon had changed the world. At any rate we went along the path through the neglected gardens, down the broken ledge, until we came out on the arc of sand. The girl sat down on a bit of wreckage, her hands clasped about her knees, looking at the sea; and I walked about in an indolent inspection of the inlet.
But the thing of particular and vital interest to me was this girl, silent here in the moonlight; her dark hair drawn back from the beautiful oval of her face, her great eyes fixed on the sea beyond her, her lips parted, her body motionless. I had not seen her for three years; and it seemed impossible that the thin, greateyed girl—who had laughingly promised to go with me to America, when I should come again for her—had grown into this magnificent creature! And my mind ran back to the one time I had kissed her. I recalled it as an hour out of a fairy day.
It had been three years ago, on my visit to England. Joan was only a slender slip of a girl then. We had ridden to a distant village along a highway bedeviled with motor cars, and we had determined to come back across the moors above the sea.
I remember the narrow sheep path that led up from the valley onto the plateau of the moors, and the long, almost sheer descent falling away a thousand feet into the valley below—not a ledge of stone, but a smooth slope grassed over with turf.
But it was as deadly dangerous as though it had been spikes of stone; there was barely width for a horse, and a misstep would have sent horse and rider rolling into eternity. We came at the top into a fairy cove, golden soft in the sun, and looking out over the sea. We stopped and got down and stood a moment by the horses.
Joan began to fondle the silky muzzle of her horse. And all at once I realized the heavenly creature she would presently become.
"Joan," I said, "will you go with me to America when I come again?"
She did not reply. She pressed her face against the horse and looked out shyly at me.
And I caught her up into my arms, and kissed her.
For a moment she was relaxed, soft like an armful of blossoms, and then she tore away, swung into her saddle and raced over the moor...And ten days later, in the middle of the Atlantic, I got a wireless message of three letters: "Yes."
No name, no address, only that single word materializing out of an Arctic fog.
For a long time there was no word between us now.
I stood looking down at the girl, flooded with the soft moonlight, the white sand stretching from her feet to the dark water, where the tide went slowly out. All the events in this complicated tragedy seemed to remove themselves, and to leave only the charm of this girl—alone here, as in an abandoned world.
Finally I spoke: "You will keep your promise to me now, Joan; you will go with me to America?"
Her voice, when she replied, was low, even, without emotion.
"No," she said, "that is precisely what I never can do, now."
I stood in a sort of hypnotic apathy, and she went on in that level, dead voice.
"You are not free," she said, "and so you cannot decide this. It is I, who am free, who must make the decision for us. It is not a pleasant thing to say, but the fact is, now, that you are not free to make a choice...A bankrupt peer of England would be an intolerable thing. You must find a wife, now, who can bring a fortune."
I made an impatient gesture.
"But I do not intend to take this title," I said. "I shall return to America, to my profession, and you shall go with me."
She cried out in sharp protest:
"Oh, no...England has desperate need of the sort of man you are, Robin. You are an Englishman; after all, you cannot abandon England. The curse of this land is an aristocracy that thinks only of amusing itself. It needs the energy, the vigor that men like you would bring to it. The law in America is not the narrow profession that it is in England. One goes to the head of affairs in it, in America, as you are going. One becomes there a directing intelligence of great affairs, a guiding factor in all the national events that enable a civilization to advance."
She paused a moment; then she went on in the same dead, even voice:
"You are going to the head of affairs in America; but you must give it up. You must come back to England. You must take the position which this title will give you, and you must bring your energy and vigor of intellect to the aid of the land that needs you. And—and you must marry some one with a fortune...Our dreams are ended, Robin."
She stood up with a whimsical smile.
"Besides, there is the promise of the Blue Image—the promise to you, included with a threat against the dead man."
And she repeated the strange words vaguely, as one repeats something in a distant memory:
"'His right hand shall be his enemy. And the son of another shall sit in his seat. I will encourage his right hand to destroy him. And I will bring the unborn through the Gate of Life. And they shall lean upon me. And I will enrich them, and guide their feet and strengthen their hearts. And they shall laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces.'"
She went on, a little quaver in her voice, hard-held, I thought, but with a courage that would not fail:
"You see, Robin, you are to sit in his seat, for you are the son of another. There is no common blood in the two branches of this house, as everybody knows. This line was the pretender, as your grandfather's suit made clear. But it had the right of possession, and the conservative English law would not put it out.
"And so, Robin," the hard-held voice went on, "you must get a rich wife, and 'laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces.'"
I came over a step nearer to her.
"Joan," I said, "this is all the veriest nonsense. I love you. Will you go with me to America?"
Her voice, when she replied, had returned to its vague, even note, to its quality of memory.
"You must sit in his seat," she said. "It has been foretold in this strange affair."
"Then," I cried, "I shall sit in his seat with you."
I laughed and went on: "I put the thing up to the Blue Image. If he wishes his prophecy carried out, let him see to it. If he enriches us, and guides our feet, and strengthens our hearts, then I will sit in the dead man's seat, and we shall laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces. If the great God of the Mountain is able to do this, let him do it, and if he is not able to do it, then you will go with me to America. Shall we declare it is a bargain with him?"
I stooped over, took her hands and drew her gently to her feet. But before I got her into my arms, she cried out, and pointed to the beach, where the water was creeping slowly out.
There was something emerging from the sand, like the end of an iron rod. We went down to it. In the clear moonlight I was able at once to see what it was. It was the heavy barrels of a rifle.
I drew it out of the sand. It was the double express that had disappeared on the afternoon of Bradmoor's death.
A surge of interest in the mystery returned. One phase of it, at least, was explained; whoever had assassinated Bradmoor had thrown the gun into the sea, and it had washed ashore here. We took it back with us to the lodge in a breathless interest, for we had a clew to this mystery; and incoherent explanations began to present themselves.
We took it into the dining room, and put it down on the great table. We lighted the candles, and sat down to examine it. It was rusted from the sea water. It was difficult to work the mechanism of the rifle in order to throw open the breech; and we searched among the articles brought into the cottage for oil, and implements to clean the barrels, and a screw driver. I had to take the rifle apart in order to find if it was loaded. The double barrels contained two cartridges, I found: one of them had been fired; the other remained loaded.
It was a heavy gun, with a big, hard rubber butt plate like that to be found on the modern shotgun. I made a discovery when I took the weapon apart:
The catch on the triggers had been filed.
Now, as a matter of fact, the pull on these heavy rifles is usually some ten pounds; but the catch on the triggers on this rifle had been filed until they were practically hair-triggers.
This rifle could be fired with the slightest touch on the triggers.
This seemed incomprehensible to me. A rifle like this with a hair-trigger would be an impracticable and dangerous weapon. No big game hunter would have ever thought of so filing the triggers. It must have been done with a deliberate intention—for some particular reason.
It was clear that this was the weapon with which the old Duke had been killed, for one barrel had been discharged. It was, therefore, more than probable—it was, in fact, certain—that the rifle had been made thus to fire at a touch, for the express purpose of this tragedy.
But who could have wished it to fire at a touch?
Who filed it, and for what definite purpose? I put the rifle together again, and we stood beside it where it lay across the table, the butt toward the stone fireplace. We were both aflame with the possibilities of this discovery. I winged out on the first suggestion that came into my mind.
The triggers had been thus filed for a phantom finger, a finger with no power of this world in the crook of it; and the threat of that old forgotten god—on his bench of rose-colored stone—cut in the wedge writing of the Sumerian priests, came up before me.
We could dismiss ancient religion with a gesture. These sinister gods were impotent images. How could they influence events? But after all, when we looked at the matter fairly, how did we know? The sacred books of every religion in the world were crowded with examples—especially the sacred books of the Jews, upon which our modern religions were all basically founded. What sinister power over events had the magicians of Pharaoh, the witch of Endor, the dead prophets of Yahveh!
And I could see this hideous idol of blue ivory moving about the doomed man, invisibly.
But I could not see it as Lord Dunn imagined, stumping heavily down from its seat of rose-colored stone to destroy the man who had outraged its dignity and looted it of its treasure. It seemed a nimble, insidious thing like that Devil's imp around which the butler's mother had built up her fantastic theory. I could see an avenging agent, of this sinister image, like that. Taking the doomed man at the moment of his unconcern—with a trigger filed to its phantom finger—and then slipping through that narrow slit in the wall to leap off into the sea, casting away the rifle as it descended!
And then the accident happened that unlocked the mystery of Bradmoor's death, like a key turned in the lock of a closed door.
So many involved suggestions were moving in my mind, that, I fancy, I failed to remember the change that had been made in the mechanism of the rifle, and I no longer thought about it. The old established knowledge of such weapons must have taken the place of what I had just discovered, for in resting my hand on the table beside the rifle, I touched one of the triggers with my finger.
I had forgotten that the opening of the breech had thrown back the hammers.
There was an explosion. The big lead bullet flattened against the stone of the opposite wall, and the gun leaped back from the table, the butt striking the stone corner of the chimney.
Joan cried out, and I stood for a moment astonished.
Then I realized another thing that threw a ray of light into this mystery. The heavy recoil of this gun would carry it backward; and it carried it backward with enough violence to cause it to be thrown entirely off the table. It was Joan who caught the meaning of this thing.
"Did you see that?" she cried. "How it leaped back of itself, without being touched?"
"Yes," I said. "These rifles all have a heavy recoil. They are apt to bruise the shoulder unless they are tightly held."
"But it leaped back," she cried. "It leaped back of itself!"
Then she came around the table to me.
"If that rifle had been lying in the narrow slit of the window, it would have leaped out into the sea—it would have leaped out of itself!"
She took hold of my arm.
"Think about it! What does it mean? What does it mean that the gun has been made to fire with a touch?"
What did it mean?
I began to think madly along the line her suggestion indicated—the gun in the loophole—in the slit in the window: it would leap out into the sea when it was fired—and it would have leaped out, as she said, without being touched, without the assistance of any human agency!
I caught at the suggestion.
"That is true," I said; "it would have leaped back out of the window of itself, without being touched by anybody."
"After it was fired," she said. "But it had to be fired first...Now, what did it mean that the mechanism was so filed that a touch would fire it? And what touch fired it? Who was it that wished the rifle to disappear after it was fired?"
She went on, her eyes wide, her face white, the tips of her fingers straining against the edge of the table:
"Not an assassin, for he could have thrown the rifle into the sea; it must have been someone who could not have thrown it in. Who after the shot was fired had to depend on the recoil of the rifle itself to cause it to disappear?"
Again I winged out into fantastic regions.
That old sinister god at his work of vengeance would require a slighter materialization than I had imagined. The heavy double express would itself leap into the sea if it lay in the slit of the wall and the triggers were touched by a phantom finger. But it would require to be placed there and trained on the doomed man seated in his chair, concerned with the preparation of his fishing tackle.
How had the Blue Image managed it?
Granted that it could move invisibly about Bradmoor on that afternoon, could it also move this heavy weapon invisibly about? And if it could also do that, why require that the triggers should be filed for a phantom finger? If it, or its invisible agents, could thus handle the heavy double express, would a ten-pound pull disturb them?
But had they handled it? And a line of that sinister threat cut in the rosecolored stone returned to me:
"I will encourage his right hand to destroy him."
The threat was not that this old, dread, mysterious, forgotten god would do the deed himself.
"His right hand shall be his enemy. I will encourage his right hand to destroy him."
It was thus that the threat ran.
It was the doomed man's own hand that the Blue Image would set about this deadly work. It was his own hand that should carry out all these material preparations.
And then I saw the answer to Joan's query.
"Bradmoor!" I cried. "But how could he have fired the rifle?"
Joan looked at me a moment, her face tense in its abstraction.
"There was the fishing rod in his hand; he could—he could——"
And then I saw the whole thing as the old Duke had so carefully planned it. He knew that the recoil of this heavy rifle would carry it out of this window into the sea after it was fired. He had filed the catch on the triggers until a touch would fire it; then he had placed the rifle carefully, adjusting its position so the bullet would strike him in the chest near the heart; and sitting down in the chair in the middle of the room, on that afternoon, he had touched the trigger with the end of the fishing rod. The great lead bullet had plowed its way into his chest; the gun had leaped into the sea; and Bradmoor's body had crumpled in its chair—some flies in his left hand, and the fishing rod gripped in the fingers of his other hand.
And he had left behind him a mystery that no man could solve!
The splash that the old woman had heard, sitting in her cottage, was caused by the heavy double express descending into the water!
And then I remembered the penciled note that old Sir Godfrey Simon had handed to me, when, after the dinner, he had got into his motor:
"To-morrow," he had said, "when your head is cool, read it." I brought it out of my pocket now, and tore it open. There were a few lines in a clear, fine hand like copperplate.
"Bradmoor killed himself, of course," the note ran. "I don't know how he did it, but in some clever way. They have all gone out like that—his grandfather, who left his death on the West Coast to look like an accident, and his father, who pretended to fall from the steeple of the chapel. There has always been a monomania of fear preceding the act. It is a common symptom. I said they were all under a curse. A streak of insanity is a curse. It is the worst form of curse, because it cannot be prayed off in a meeting-house."
I read the note and put it down on the table before the girl. She moved her head slowly, her eyes wide, her face still in its tense abstraction.
"The Blue Image carried out his threat," she murmured. "It was the dead man's right hand that destroyed him; it was his right hand that was his enemy! How awful!"
But the Blue Image, as a directing factor in this tragedy, seemed all at once a remote, fantastic notion, like the devil theory of the old paralytic helpless in her chair.
Sir Godfrey Simon had been right—alone of all the theorists right. The curse on this family had extended itself to Bradmoor. Sir Godfrey had seen it on the way. He had marked the evidential signs of it, the monomania of fear that preceded it, and the care to give the act the distinguishing features of a criminal agent.
Bradmoor's father and his grandfather had staged their self-directed act for accident, the tragedy of chance. But the old Duke had gone a step beyond them, and with a stroke of genius had put his exit beyond a conjecture of self-direction. It was the cunning of the unbalanced mind in a moment of inspiration.
And it had sent the keenest intelligence of England to fantastic theories. Henry Marquis and his hard-headed experts had stopped against a wall; the countryside had gone full cry after a devil theory; and men like the Earl of Dunn, accustomed to the somber realities of life, had seen no solution except through the supernatural agency of a Dunsany god on his bench of rose-colored stone.
And yet how snugly the whole thing ran in the grooves of this fantastic theory!
It held, it enveloped the girl, beyond me. And how lovely, how desirable a thing she was! And the bargain with the god, struck in that mood of half humor, on the arc of sand, under the moon, before the sea, returned to me.
If there was any virtue in the legend cut in the wedge characters of the ancient Sumerian priests on the bench of rose-colored stone below that sinister image, let it now appear. If it was the moving factor in this affair, let it go on. If it had, as its threat ran, encouraged Brad-moor's right hand to destroy him, let it carry out the remainder of that legend. And the words of it returned striding through my memory:
"His right hand shall be his enemy; and the son of another shall sit in his seat. I will encourage his right hand to destroy him. And I will bring the unborn through the Gate of Life. And they shall lean upon me. And I will enrich them, and guide their feet and strengthen their hearts. And they shall laugh in his gardens, and sit down in his pleasant palaces."
The thing was like the pronouncement of a fate. And Bradmoor's death awfully confirmed it.
But was that one fact merely a sinister coincidence—or would the thing go on? If it required faith, here was the faith of Joan, and here was the bargain I had struck.
But the beauty, the charm, the fascination of the girl overwhelmed me. She became in that moment above all things, in any world, desirable, and I said aloud what I had already determined in my heart:
"If the God of the Mountain is so great a god, then let him carry out the remainder of his prophecy, for I shall never give you up."
For a moment there was utter silence. The girl looked about her vaguely, like one in a dream, like one expecting a visitation; and the beauty and the charm of her seemed to extend itself, to fill the empty places of the room.
Then suddenly something on the stones by the hearth came within the sweep of my eye. It looked like a red bead.
I went over and picked up the heavy double express from the hearth. The hard rubber butt plate, striking against the stone corner of the fireplace, had been broken to pieces, and a stream of rubies poured out.
The explanation was clear.
Slaggerman, when he had robbed Bradmoor in the desert, had unscrewed the butt plate, hollowed out the stock, and concealed the treasure in it. As in a sort of dream I gathered up the handful of great gleaming rubies, and put them on the table.
Then I turned toward the girl, standing with her arms hanging, her lips parted, her eyes wide with wonder.
She came with a little cry into my arms.
"You shall sit in his seat," she said. "The God of the Mountain has carried out his prophecy."
I drew her in against my heart.
"But not all of it," I said. "I hold him to the letter of that contract. 'I will bring the unborn through the Gate of Life.'"
But her face crimson with blushes was bedded into my shoulder, and her hand creeping up, covered my mouth.
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