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   Chapter 3 AT THE ORIEL

The Grey Room By Eden Phillpotts Characters: 38268

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Chadlands sprang into existence when the manor houses of England-save for the persistence of occasional embattled parapets and other warlike survivals of unrestful days now past-had obeyed the laws of architectural evolution, and begun to approach a future of cleanliness and comfort, rising to luxury hitherto unknown. The development of this ancient mass was displayed in plan as much as in elevation, and, at its date, the great mansion had stood for the last word of perfection, when men thought on large lines and the conditions of labour made possible achievements now seldom within the power of a private purse. Much had since been done, but the main architectural features were preserved, though the interior of the great house was transformed.

The manor of Chadlands extended to some fifty thousand acres lying in a river valley between the heights of Haldon on the east and the frontiers of Dartmoor westerly. The little township was connected by a branch with the Great Western Railway, and the station lay five miles from the manor house. No more perfect parklands, albeit on a modest scale, existed in South Devon, and the views of the surrounding heights and great vale opening from the estate caused pleasure alike to those contented with obvious beauty and the small number of spectators who understood the significance of what constitutes really distinguished landscape.

Eastward, long slopes of herbage and drifts of azaleas-a glorious harmony of gold, scarlet, and orange in June-sloped upwards to larch woods; while the gardens of pleasure, watered by a little trout stream, spread beneath the manor house, and behind it rose hot-houses and the glass and walled gardens of fruit and vegetables. To the south and west opened park and vale, where receded forest and fallow lands, until the grey ramparts of the moor ascending beyond them hemmed in the picture.

Sir Walter Lennox had devoted himself to the sporting side of the estate and had made it famous in this respect. His father, less interested in shooting and hunting, had devoted time and means to the flower gardens, and rendered them as rich as was possible in his day; while earlier yet, Sir Walter's grandfather had been more concerned for the interior, and had done much to enrich and beautify it.

A great terrace stretched between the south front and a balustrade of granite, that separated it from the gardens spreading at a lower level. Here walked Henry Lennox and sought Tom May. It was now past eight o'clock on Sunday morning, and he found himself alone. The sun, breaking through heaviness of morning clouds, had risen clear of Haldon Hills and cast a radiance, still dimmed by vapour, over the glow of the autumn trees. Subdued sounds of birds came from the glades below, and far distant, from the scrub at the edge of the woods, pheasants were crowing. The morning sparkled, and, in a scene so fair, Henry found his spirits rise. Already the interview with Mary's husband on the preceding night seemed remote and unreal. He was, however, conscious that he had made an ass of himself, but he did not much mind, for it could not be said that May had shone, either.

He called him, and, for reply, an old spaniel emerged from beneath, climbed a flight of broad steps that ascended to the terrace, and paddled up to Henry, wagging his tail. He was a very ancient hero, whose record among the wild duck still remained a worthy memory and won him honour in his declining days. The age of "Prince" remained doubtful, but he was decrepit now-gone in the hams and suffering from cataract of both eyes-a disease to which it is impossible to minister in a dog. But his life was good to him; he still got about, slept in the sun, and shared the best his master's dish could offer. Sir Walter adored him, and immediately felt uneasy if the creature did not appear when summoned. Often, had he been invisible too long, his master would wander whistling round his haunts. Then he would find him, or be himself found, and feel easy again.

"Prince" went in to the open window of the breakfast-room, while Henry, moved by a thought, walked round the eastern angle of the house and looked up at the oriel window of the Grey Room, where it hung aloft on the side of the wall, like a brilliant bubble, and flashed with the sunshine that now irradiated the casement. To his surprise he saw the window was thrown open and that May, still in his pyjamas, knelt on the cushioned recess within and looked out at the morning.

"Good lord, old chap!" he cried, "Needn't ask you if you have slept. It's nearly nine o'clock."

But the other made no response whatever. He continued to gaze far away over Henry's head at the sunrise, while the morning breeze moved his dark hair.

"Tom! Wake up!" shouted Lennox again; but still the other did not move a muscle. Then Henry noticed that he was unusually pale, and something about his unwinking eyes also seemed foreign to an intelligent expression. They were set, and no movement of light played upon them. It seemed that the watcher was in a trance. Henry felt his heart jump, and a sensation of alarm sharpened his thought. For him the morning was suddenly transformed, and fearing an evil thing had indeed befallen the other, he turned to the terrace and entered the breakfast-room from it. The time was now five minutes to nine, and as unfailing punctuality had ever been a foible of Sir Walter, his guests usually respected it. Most of them were already assembled, and Mary May, who was just stepping into the garden, asked Henry if he had seen her husband.

"He's always the first to get up and the last to go to bed," she said.

Bidding her good-morning, but not answering her question, the young man hastened through the room and ascended to the corridor. Beneath, Ernest Travers, a being of fussy temperament with a heart of gold, spoke to Colonel Vane. Travers was clad in Sunday black, for he respected tradition.

"Forgive me, won't you, but this is your first visit, and you don't look much like church."

"Must we go to church, too?" asked the colonel blankly. He was still a year under forty, but had achieved distinction in the war. "There is no 'must' about it, but Sir Walter would appreciate the effort on your part. He likes his guests to go. He is one of those men who are a light to this generation-an ancient light, if you like, but a shining one. He loves sound maxims. You may say he runs his life on sound maxims. He lives charitably with all men and it puzzles him, as it puzzles me, to understand the growing doubt, the class prejudice-nay, class hatred the failure of trust and the increasing tension and uneasiness between employer and employed. He and I are agreed that the tribulations of the present time can be traced to two disasters only-the lack of goodwill-as shown in the proletariat, whose leaders teach them to respect nobody, and the weakening hold of religion as also revealed in the proletariat. Now, to combat these things and set a good example is our duty-nay, our privilege. Don't you think so?"

Such a lecture on an empty stomach depressed the colonel. He looked uneasy and anxious.

"I'll come, of course, if he'd like it; but I'm afraid I shared my men's dread of church parade, though our padre was a merciful being on the whole and fairly sensible."

Overhead, Henry had tried the door of the Grey Room, and found it locked. As he did so, the gong sounded for breakfast. Masters always performed upon it. First he woke a preliminary whisper of the great bronze disc, then deepened the note to a genial and mellow roar, and finally calmed it down again until it faded gently into silence. He spoke of the gong as a musical instrument, and declared the art of sounding it was a gift that few men could acquire.

Neither movement nor response rewarded the summons of Lennox, and now in genuine alarm, he went below again, stopped Fred Caunter, the footman, and asked him to call out Sir Walter.

Fred waited until his master had said a brief grace before meat; then he stepped to his side and explained, that his nephew desired to see him.

"Good patience! What's the matter?" asked the old man as he rose and joined Henry in the hall.

Then his nephew spoke, and indicated his alarm. He stammered a little, but strove to keep calm and state facts clearly.

"It's like this. I'm afraid you'll be rather savage, but I can't talk now. Tom and I had a yarn when you'd gone to bed, and he was awfully keen to spend the night in the Grey Room."

"I did not wish it."

"I know-we were wrong-but we were both death on it, and we tossed up, and he won."

"Where is he?"

"Up there now, looking out of the window. I've called him and made a row at the door, but he doesn't answer. He's locked himself in, apparently."

"What have you done, Henry? We must get to him instantly. Tell Caunter-no, I will. Don't breathe a syllable of this to anybody unless necessity arises. Don't tell Mary."

Sir Walter beckoned the footman, bade him get some tools and ascend quickly to the Grey Room. He then went up beside his nephew, while Fred, bristling with excitement, hastened to the toolroom. He was a handy man, had been at sea during the war, and now returned to his old employment. His slow brain moved backwards, and he remembered that this was a task he had already performed ten or more years before. Then the ill-omened chamber had revealed a dead woman. Who was in it now? Caunter guessed readily enough.

Lennox spoke to his uncle as they approached the locked door.

"It was only a lark, just to clear the room of its bad character and have a laugh at your expense this morning. But I'm afraid he's ill-fainted or something. He turned in about one o'clock. I was rather bothered, and couldn't explain to myself why, but-"

"Don't chatter!" answered the other. "You have both done a very wrong thing and should have respected my wishes."

At the door he called loudly.

"Let us in at once, Tom, please! I am much annoyed! If this is a jest, it has gone far enough-and too far! I blame you severely!"

But none replied. Absolute silence held the Grey Room.

Then came the footman with a frail of tools. The task could not be performed in a moment, and Sir Walter, desirous above all things to create no uneasiness at the breakfast-table, determined to go down again. But he was too late, for his daughter had already suspected something. She was not anxious but puzzled that her husband tarried. She came up the stairs with a letter.

"I'm going to find Tom," she said. "It's not like him to be so lazy. Here's a letter from the ship, and I'm awfully afraid he may have to go back."

"Mary," said her father, "come here a moment."

He drew her under a great window which threw light into the corridor.

"You must summon your nerve and pluck, my girl! I'm very much afraid that something has gone amiss with Tom. I know nothing yet, but last night, it seems, after we had gone to bed, he and Henry determined that one of them should sleep in the Grey Room."

"Father! Was he there, and I so near him-sleeping in the very next room?"

"He was there-and is there. He is not well. Henry saw him looking out of the window five minutes ago, but he was, I fear, unconscious."

"Let me go to him," she said.

"I will do so first. It will be wiser. Run down and ask Ernest to join me. Do not be alarmed; I dare say it is nothing at all."

Her habit of obedience prompted her to do as he desired instantly, but she descended like lightning, called Travers, and returned with him.

"I will ask you to come in with me, Ernest," explained Sir Walter. "My son-in-law slept in the Grey Room last night, and he does not respond to our calls this morning. The door is locked and we are breaking it open."

"But you expressly refused him permission to do so, Walter."

"I did-you heard me. Let sleeping dogs lie is a very good motto, but young men will be young men. I hope, however, nothing serious-"

He stopped, for Caunter had forced the door and burst it inward with a crash. During the moment's silence that followed they heard the key spring into the room and strike the wainscot. The place was flooded with sunshine, and seemed to welcome them with genial light and attractive art. The furniture revealed its rich grain and beautiful modelling; the cherubs carved on the great chairs seemed to dance where the light flashed on their little, rounded limbs. The silvery walls were bright, and the huge roses that tumbled over them appeared to revive and display their original color at the touch of the sun.

On a chair beside the bed stood an extinguished candle, Tom's watch, and Henry's revolver. The sailor's dressing-gown was still folded where he had placed it; his rug was at the foot of the bed. He himself knelt in the recess at the open window upon the settee that ran beneath. His position was natural; one arm held the window-ledge and steadied him, and his back was turned to Sir Walter and Travers, who first entered the room.

Henry held Mary back and implored her to wait a moment, but she shook off his hand and followed her father.

Sir Walter it was who approached Tom and grasped his arm. In so doing he disturbed the balance of the body, which fell back and was caught by the two men. Its weight bore Ernest Travers to the ground, but Henry was in time to save both the quick and the dead. For Tom May had expired many hours before. His face was of an ivory whiteness, his mouth closed. No sign of fear, but rather a profound astonishment sat upon his features. His eyes were opened and dim. In them, too, was frozen a sort of speechless amazement. How long he had been dead they knew not, but none were in doubt of the fact. His wife, too, perceived it. She went to where he now lay, put her arms around his neck, and fainted.

Others were moving outside, and the murmur of voices reached the Grey Room. It was one of those tragic situations when everybody desires to be of service, and when well-meaning and small-minded people are often hurt unintentionally and never forget it, putting fancied affronts before the incidents that caused them.

The man lay dead and his wife unconscious upon his body.

Sir Walter rose to the occasion as best he might, issued orders, and begged all who heard him to obey without question. He and his friend Travers lifted Mary and carried her to her room. It was her nursery of old. Here they put her on her bed, and sent Caunter for Mrs. Travers and Mary's old servant, Jane Bond. She had recovered consciousness before the women reached her. Then they returned to the dead, and the master of Chadlands urged those standing on the stairs and in the corridor to go back to their breakfast and their duties.

"You can do no good," he said. "I will only ask Vane to help us."

Fayre-Michell spoke, while the colonel came forward.

"Forgive me, Sir Walter, but if it is anything psychical, I ask, as a member-"

"For Heaven's sake do as I wish," returned the other. "My son-in-law is dead. What more there is to know, you'll hear later. I want Vane, because he is a powerful man and can help Henry and my butler. We have to carry-"

He broke off.

"Dead!" gasped the visitor.

Then he hastened downstairs. Presently they lifted the sailor among them, and got him to his own room. They could not dispose him in a comely position-a fact that specially troubled Sir Walter-and Masters doubted not that the doctor would be able to do it.

Henry Lennox started as swiftly as possible for the house of the physician, four miles off. He took a small motor-car, did the journey along empty roads in twelve minutes, and was back again with Dr. Mannering in less than half an hour.

The people, whose visit of pleasure was thus painfully brought to a close, moved about whispering on the terrace. They had as yet heard no details, and were considering whether it would be possible to get off at once, or necessary to wait until the morrow.

Their natural desire was to depart, since they could not be of any service to the stricken household; but no facilities existed on Sunday. They walked about in little groups. One or two, desiring to smoke but feeling that to do so would appear callous, descended into the seclusion of the garden. Then Ernest Travers joined them. He was important, but could only tell them that May had disobeyed his father-in-law, slept in the Grey Room, and died there. He gave them details and declared that in his opinion it would be unseemly to attempt to leave until the following day.

"Sir Walter would feel it," he said. "He is bearing up well. He will lunch with us. My wife tells me that Mary, Mrs. May, is very sadly. That is natural-an awful blow. I find myself incapable of grasping it. To think of so much boyish good spirits and such vitality extinguished in this way."

"Can we do anything on earth for them?" asked Millicent Fayre-Michell.

"Nothing-nothing. If I may advise, I think we had all better go to church. By so doing we get out of the way for a time and please dear Sir Walter. I shall certainly go."

They greeted the suggestion-indeed, clutched at it. Their bewildered minds welcomed action. They were hushed and perturbed. Death, crashing in upon them thus, left them more than uncomfortable. Some, at the bottom of their souls, felt almost indignant that an event so horrible should have disturbed the level tenor of their lives. They shared the most profound sympathy for the sufferers as well as for themselves. Some discovered that their own physical bodies were upset, too, and felt surprised at the depth of their emotions.

"It isn't as if it were natural," Felix Fayre-Michell persisted. "Don't imagine that for a moment."

"It's too creepy-I can't believe it," declared his niece. She was incapable of suffering much for anybody, and her excitement had a flavour not wholly bitter. She saw herself describing these events at other house parties. It would be unfair to say that she was enjoying herself; still she knew nobody at Chadlands very well, it was her first visit, and adventures are, after all, adventures. Her uncle discussed the psychic significance of the tragedy, and gave instances of similar events. One or two listened to him for lack of anything better to do. There was a general sensation of blankness. They were all thrown. Life had let them down. Under the circumstances, to most of them it seemed an excellent idea to go to church. Vane joined them presently. He was able to give them many details and excite their interest. They crowded round him, and he spoke nakedly. Death was nothing to him-he had seen so much. They heard the motor return with Dr. Mannering.

"We're so out of it," said Mr. Miles Handford, a stout man from Yorkshire-a wealthy landowner and sportsman.

He was unaccustomed to be out of anything in his environment, and he showed actual irritation.

"Thank Heaven we are, I should think!" answered another; and the first speaker frowned at him.

Ernest Travers joined them presently. He had pu

t on a black tie and wore black gloves and a silk hat.

"If you accompany me," he said, "I can show you the short way by a field path. It cuts off half a mile. I have told Sir Walter we all go to church, and he asked me if we would like the motors; but I felt, the day being fine, you would agree with me that we might walk. He is terribly crushed, but taking it like the man he is."

Miles Handford and Fayre-Michell followed the church party in the rear, and relieved their minds by criticizing Mr. Travers.

"Officious ass!" said the stout man. "A typical touch that black tie! A decent-minded person would have felt this appalling tragedy far too much to think of such a trifle. I hope I shall never see the brute again."

"It seems too grotesque marching to church like a lot of children, because he tells us to do so," murmured Fayre-Michell.

"I don't want to go. I only want distraction. In fact, I don't think I shall go," added Mr. Handford. But a woman urged him to do so.

"Sir Walter would like it," she said.

"It's all very sad and very exasperating indeed," declared the Yorkshireman; "and it shows, if that wanted showing, that there's far, far less consideration among young men for their elders than there used to be in my young days. If my father-in-law had told me not to do a thing, the very wish to do it would have disappeared at once."

"Sir Walter was as clear as need be," added Felix. "We all heard him. Then the young fool-Heaven forgive him-behind everybody's back goes and plays with fire in this insane way."

"The selfishness! Just look at the inconvenience-the upset-the suffering to his relations and the worry for all of us. All our plans must be altered-everything upset, life for the moment turned upside down-a woman's heart broken very likely-and all for a piece of disobedient folly. Such things make one out of tune with Providence. They oughtn't to happen. They don't happen in Yorkshire. Devonshire appears to be a slacker's county. It's the air, I shouldn't wonder."

"Education, and law and order, and the discipline inculcated in the Navy ought to have prevented this," continued Fayre-Michell. "Who ever heard of a sailor disobeying-except Nelson?"

"He's paid, poor fellow," said his niece, who walked beside him.

"We have all paid," declared the north countryman. "We have all paid the price; and the price has been a great deal of suffering and discomfort and stress of mind that we ought not have been called upon to endure. One resents such things in a stable world."

"Well, I'm not going to church, anyway. I must smoke for my nerves. I'm a psychic myself, and I react to a thing of this sort," replied Fayre-Michell.

From a distant stile between two fields Mr. Travers, some hundred yards ahead, was waving directions and pointing to the left.

"Go to Jericho!" snapped Mr. Handford, but not loud enough for Ernest Travers to hear him.

A little ring of bells throbbed thin music. It rose and fell on the easterly breeze and a squat grey tower, over which floated a white ensign on a flagstaff, appeared upon a little knoll of trees in the midst of the village of Chadlands.

Presently the bells stopped, and the flag was brought down to half-mast. Mr. Travers had reached the church.

"A maddening sort of man," said Miles Handford, who marked these phenomena. "Be sure Sir Walter never told him to do anything of that sort. He has taken it upon himself-a theatrical mind. If I were the vicar-"

Elsewhere Dr. Mannering heard what Henry Lennox could tell him as they returned to the manor house together. He displayed very deep concern combined with professional interest. He recalled the story that Sir Walter had related on the previous night.

"Not a shadow of evidence-a perfectly healthy little woman; and it will be the same here as sure as I'm alive," he said. "To think-we shot side by side yesterday, and I remarked his fine physique and wonderful high spirits-a big, tough fellow. How's poor Mary?"

"She is pretty bad, but keeping her nerve, as she would be sure to do," declared the other.

Sir Walter was with his daughter when Mannering arrived. The doctor had been a crony of the elder for many years. He was about the average of a country physician-a hard-bitten, practical man who loved his profession, loved sport, and professed conservative principles. Experience stood in place of high qualifications, but he kept in touch with medical progress, to the extent of reading about it and availing himself of improved methods and preparations when opportunity offered. He examined the dead man very carefully, indicated how his posture might be rendered more normal, and satisfied himself that human power was incapable of restoring the vanished life. He could discover no visible indication of violence and no apparent excuse for Tom May's sudden end. He listened with attention to the little that Henry Lennox could tell him, and then went to see Mary May and her father.

The young wife had grown more collected, but she was dazed rather than reconciled to her fate; her mind had not yet absorbed the full extent of her sorrow. She talked incessantly and dwelt on trivialities, as people will under a weight of events too large to measure or discuss.

"I am going to write to Tom's father," she said. "This will be an awful blow to him. He was wrapped up in Tom. And to think that I was troubling about his letter! He will never see the sea he loved so much again. He always hated that verse in the Bible that says there will be no more sea. I was asleep so near him last night. Yet I never heard him cry out or anything."

Mannering talked gently to her.

"Be sure he did not cry out. He felt no pain, no shock-I am sure of that. To die is no hardship to the dead, remember. He is at peace, Mary. You must come and see him presently. Your father will call you soon. There is just a look of wonder in his face-no fear, no suffering. Keep that in mind."

"He could not have felt fear. He knew of nothing that a brave man might fear, except doing wrong. Nobody knows how good he was but me. His father loved him fiercely, passionately; but he never knew how good he was, because Tom did not think quite like old Mr. May. I must write and say that Tom is dangerously ill, and cannot recover. That will break it to him. Tom was the only earthly affection he had. It will be terrible when he comes."

They left her, and, after they had gone, she rose, fell on her knees, and so remained, motionless and tearless, for a long time. Through her own desolation, as yet unrealized, there still persisted the thought of her husband's father. It seemed that her mind could dwell on his isolation, while powerless to present the truth of her husband's death to her. By some strange mental operation, not unbeneficent, she saw his grief more vividly than as yet she felt her own. She rose presently, quick-eared to wait the call, and went to her desk in the window. Then she wrote a letter to her father-in-law, and pictured his ministering at that moment to his church. Her inclination was to soften the blow, yet she knew that could only be a cruel kindness. She told him, therefore, that his son must die. Then she remembered that he was so near. A telegram must go rather than a letter, and he would be at Chadlands before nightfall. She destroyed her letter and set about a telegram. Jane Bond came in, and she asked her to dispatch the telegram as quickly as possible. Her old nurse, an elderly spinster, to whom Mary was the first consideration in existence, had brought her a cup of soup and some toast. It had seemed to Jane the right thing to do.

Mary thanked her and drank a little. She passed through a mental phase as of dreaming-a sensation familiar in sleep; but she knew that this was not a sleeping but a waking experience. She waited for her father, yet dreaded to hear him return. She thought of human footsteps and the difference between them. She remembered that she would never hear Tom's long stride again.

It often broke into a run, she remembered, as he approached her; and she would often run toward him, too-to banish the space that separated them. She blamed herself bitterly that she had decreed to sleep in her old nursery. She had loved it so, and the small bed that had held her from childhood; yet, if she had slept with him, this might not have happened.

"To think that only a wall separated us!" she kept saying to herself. "And I sleeping and dreaming of him, and he dying only a few yards away."

Death was no disaster for Tom, so the doctor had said. What worthless wisdom! And perhaps not even wisdom. Who knows what a disaster death may be? And who would ever know what he had felt at the end, or what his mind had suffered if time had been given him to understand that he was going to die? She worked herself into agony, lost self-control at last and wept, with Jane Bond's arms round her.

"And I was so troubled, because I thought he had been called back to his ship!" she said.

"He's called to a better place than a ship, dear love," sobbed Jane.

After they left her, Sir Walter and Dr. Mannering had entered the Grey Room for a moment and, standing there, spoke together.

"I have a strange consciousness that I am living over the past again," declared the physician. "Things were just so when that poor woman, Nurse Forrester-you remember."

"Yes. I felt the same when Caunter was breaking open the door. I faced the worst from the beginning, for the moment I heard what he had done, I somehow knew that my unfortunate son-in-law was dead. I directly negatived his suggestion last night, and never dreamed that he would have gone on with it when he knew my wish."

"Doubtless he did not realize how much in earnest you were on the subject. This may well prove as impossible to understand as the nurse's death. I do not say it will; but I suspect it will. A perfectly healthy creature cut off in a moment and nothing to show us why-absolutely nothing."

"A death without a cause-a negation of science surely?"

"There is a cause, but I do not think this dreadful tragedy will reveal it," answered the doctor. "I pray it may, however, for all our sakes," he continued. "It is impossible to say how deeply I feel this for her, but also for you, and myself, too. He was one of the best, a good sportsman and a good man."

"And a great loss to the Service," added Sir Walter. "I have not considered all this means yet. My thoughts are centred on Mary."

"You must let me spare you all I can, my friend. There will be an inquest, of course, and an inquiry. Also a post-mortem. Shall I communicate with Dr. Mordred to-day, or would you prefer that somebody else-"

"Somebody else. The most famous man you know. From no disrespect to Dr. Mordred, or to you, Mannering. You understand that. But I should like an independent examination by some great authority, some one who knew nothing of the former case. This is an appalling thing to happen. I don't know where to begin thinking."

"Do not put too great a strain upon yourself. Leave it to those who will come to the matter with all their wits and without your personal sorrow. An independent inquirer is certainly best, one who, as you say, knows nothing about the former case."

"I don't know where to begin thinking," repeated the other. "Such a thing upsets one's preconceived opinions. I had always regarded my aversion to this room as a human weakness-a thing to be conquered. Look round you. Would it be possible to imagine an apartment with less of evil suggestion?"

The other made a perfunctory examination, went into every corner, tapped the walls and stared at the ceiling. The clean morning light showed its intricate pattern of interwoven circles converging from the walls to the centre, and so creating a sense of a lofty dome instead of a flat surface. In the centre was a boss of a conventional lily flower opening its petals.

"The room should not be touched till after the inquest, I think. Indeed, if I may advise, you will do well to leave it just as it is for the police to see."

"They will want to see it, I imagine?"

"Unless you communicate direct with Scotland Yard, ask for a special inquiry, and beg that the local men are not employed. There is reason in that, for it is quite certain that nobody here would be of any greater use to you than they were before."

"Act for me then, please. Explain that money is no object, and ask them to send the most accomplished and experienced men in the service. But they are only concerned with crime. This may be outside their scope."

"We cannot say as to that. We cannot even assert that this is not a crime. We know nothing."

"A crime needs a criminal, Mannering."

"That is so; but what would be criminal, if human agency were responsible for it, might, nevertheless, be the work of forces to which the word criminal cannot be applied."

Sir Walter stared at him.

"Is it possible you suggest a supernatural cause for this?"

The doctor shook his head.

"Emphatically not, though I am not a materialist, as you are aware. My generation of practitioners has little difficulty in reconciling our creed with our cult, though few of the younger men are able to do so, I admit. But science is science, and not for a moment do I imagine anything supernatural here. I think, however, there are unconscious forces at work, and those responsible for setting those forces in action would be criminals without a doubt, if they knew what they were doing. The man who fires a rifle at an animal, if he hits and kills it, is the destroyer, though he may operate from half a mile away. On the other hand, the agents may be unconscious of what they are doing."

"There is no human being in this house for whom I would not answer."

"I know it. We beat the wind. It will be time enough to consider presently. Indeed, I should rather that you strove to relieve your mind of the problem. You have enough to do without that. Leave it to those professionally trained in such mysteries. If a man is responsible for this atrocious thing, then it should be within the reach of man's wits to find him. We failed before; but this time no casual examination of this place, or the antecedents of your son-in-law's life, will serve the purpose. We must go to the bottom, or, rather, skilled minds, trained to do so, must go to the bottom. They will approach the subject from a different angle. They will come unprejudiced and unperturbed. If there has been foul play, they will find it out. In my opinion it is incredible that they will be baffled."

"The best men engaged in such work must come to help us. I cannot bring myself to believe the room is haunted, and that this is the operation of an evil force outside Nature, yet permitted by the Creator to destroy human life. The idea is too horrible-it revolts me, Mannering."

"Well, it may do so. Banish any such irrational thought from your mind. It is not worthy of you. I must go now. I will telegraph to London-to Sir Howard Fellowes-also, I think to the State authorities on forensic medicine. A Government analyst must do his part. Shall I communicate with Scotland Yard to-day?"

"Leave that until the evening. You will come again to see Mary, please."

"Most certainly I shall. At three o'clock I should have a reply to my messages. I will go into Newton Abbot and telephone from there."

"I thank you, Mannering. I wish it were possible to do more myself. My mind is cruelly shaken. This awful experience has made an old man of me."

"Don't say that. It is awful enough, I admit. But life is full of awful things. Would that you might have escaped them!"

"Henry will help you, if it is in his power. It would be well if we could give him something to do. He feels guilty in a way. I have little time to observe other people; but-"

"He's all right. He can run into Newton with me now. It looks to me as though his own life had hung on the pitch of a coin. They tossed up! After that-so he tells me-he tried to dissuade your son-in-law, but failed. Lennox is rather cowed and dismayed-naturally. The young, however, survive mental and physical disasters and recover in the most amazing manner. Their mental recuperation is on a par with their bodily powers of recovery. Nature is on their side. Let me urge you to go down and take food. If you can even lunch with your party I should. It will distract your mind."

Sir Walter declared that he had intended to do so.

"I am an old soldier," he said. "It shall not be thought I evade my obligations for personal sorrow. As for this room, it is accursed and I am in a mind to destroy it utterly."

"Wait-wait. We shall see what our fellow-men can find out for us. Do not think, because I am practical and business-like, I am not feeling this. Seldom have I had such a shock in nearly forty years' work. You know, without my telling you, how deep and heartfelt is my sympathy. I feel for you both from my soul."

"I am sure of that. I will try and forget myself for the present. I must go to my guests. I am very sorry for them also. It is a fearful experience to crash upon their party of pleasure."

"I hope Travers may stay. He is a comfort to you, is he not?"

"Nobody can be a comfort just now. I shall not ask him to stay. Fortunately Henry is here. He will stop for the present. Mary is all that matters. I shall take her away as quickly as possible and devote my every thought to her."

"I'm sure you will. It is a sad duty, but may prove a very necessary one. Their devotion was absolute. It must go hard with her when she realizes the whole meaning of this."

He went his way, and Sir Walter returned to his child again. With her he visited the dead, when told that he could do so. She was now very self-controlled. She stopped a little while only beside her husband.

"How beautiful and happy he looks," she said. "But what I loved is gone; and, going, it has changed all the rest. This is not Tom-only the least part of him."

Her father bowed his head.

"I felt so when your mother died, my dearest child."

Then she knelt down and put her hand on the hand of the dead man and prayed. Her father knelt beside her, and it was he, not the young widow, who wept.

She rose presently.

"I can think of him better away from him now," she said. "I will not see him again."

They returned to her old nursery, and he told her that he was going to face life and take the head of his table at luncheon.

"How brave of you, dear father," she said. Sir Walter waited for the gong to sound, but it did not, and he rebuked himself for thinking that it would sound. Masters had a more correct sense of the fitness of things than he. He thought curiously upon this incident, and suspected that he must be unhinged a little. Then he remembered a thing that he had desired to say to Mary and returned to her.

"I do not wish you to sleep in this room to-night, my darling," he said.

"Jane has begged me not to. I am going to sleep with her," she answered.

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