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   Chapter 4 THE NAIL

The Deep Lake Mystery By Carolyn Wells Characters: 20578

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"My God!" Farrell exclaimed, stepping closer and pushing aside the gray hair, thus clearly revealing the awful truth.

A flat-headed nail, the head rather more than a quarter of an inch in diameter, had been driven into the skull with such force that it showed merely as a metal disk. Having been hidden by the dead man's hair, it had remained unnoticed until Moore's quick eyes espied it.

Farrell picked at it a little, but it was far too firmly fastened to be moved by his fingers.

"What shall we do?" the Inspector asked, helplessly. "Shall we try to get Doctor Rogers back?"

"No," returned the Coroner, "he's just starting on a long trip. Let him go. He could do nothing and it would be a pity to spoil his journey. His diagnosis of apoplexy was most natural in the circumstances, for the symptoms are the same. I, too, thought death was the result of an apoplectic stroke. But now we know it is black murder, the case comes directly within my jurisdiction, and there's no occasion to recall Doctor Rogers."

"You're right," Ames assented, "but who could have done this fearful thing? I can hardly believe a human being capable of such a horror! Mr. Moore, you simply must take up this case. It ought to be a problem after your own heart."

Every word the man uttered made me dislike him more. To refer to this terrible tragedy as a problem after Moore's own heart seemed to me to indicate a mind callous and almost ghoulish in its type.

I knew Kee well enough to feel sure that he would investigate the murder, but not at the behest of Harper Ames.

He only acknowledged Ames's speech by a noncommittal nod and turned to Detective March.

"We have our work cut out for us," he said, very gravely. "I have never seen a stranger case. The murderer must have been a man of brute passions and brute strength. That nail is almost imbedded in the bone, and, I fancy, needed more than one blow of the hammer that drove it in. But first, as to the doors and windows. You tell me they were locked this morning?"

"Yes, sir," answered Griscom, the butler, as Moore looked at him.

He was a smallish man, bald and with what are sometimes called pop-eyes. He stared in a frightened manner, but he controlled his voice as he went on to tell his story.

"Yes, sir, I brought the master's tea at nine o'clock, as always. The door was locked--"

"Is it usually locked in the morning?" Moore interrupted.

"Sometimes, not always. When it is locked, I knock and Mr. Tracy would get up and open the door. If unlocked, I walked right in."

"And this morning it was locked, and the key in the lock on the inside?"

"Yes, sir. So I knocked, but when there was no answer, I got scared--"

"Why were you scared?"

"Because Doctor Rogers had often told me that Mr. Tracy was in danger of an apoplectic stroke, and that I must do anything I could to make him eat less and take more exercise. I've been with the master a long time, sir, and I had the privilege of a bit of talk with him now and then. So I did try to persuade him to obey the doctor's orders, and he would laugh and promise to do so. But he forgot it as soon as he saw some dish he was fond of, and he'd eat his fill of it."

"Go on, Griscom," Moore said, "what happened next?"

"I went to Mr. Everett--"

"Yes, he went to Everett," broke in the aggrieved voice of Harper Ames. "Why did he do that, instead of coming to me, I'd like to know!"

"Go on," Moore instructed the butler.

"I went to Mr. Everett, sir, he was up and dressed, and he said, at once, to get Louis-that's the chauffeur-and tell him to bring some tools, I did that, and Louis first pushed the key out of the lock, and then poked around with a wire until he got the door open. Then we came in--"

"Who came in?"

"Mr. Everett and Mr. Ames and me, sir. And Mrs. Fenn-she's the housekeeper-she saw Louis running upstairs, so she came, too."

"And you saw--?"

"Mr. Tracy, just as he was when you first saw him, sir. Just as he is now, except for the things Doctor Rogers chucked out."

"Is that door, the one that was locked, the entrance to the whole suite?"

"Yes, sir, that door is the only one connecting these rooms with the house."

"I see. Now what about the windows?"

"They haven't been touched, sir."

Kee Moore turned his attention to the windows. There were many of them. The suite of Sampson Tracy's was a rectangular wing, built out from the main house, and having windows on three sides. But all of these windows overlooked the deep, black waters of the Sunless Sea. It had been the whim of the man to have his quarters thus, to be surrounded on all sides by the water of the lake that he loved, and he usually had all the windows wide open, doubtless enjoying the lake breezes that played through the rooms, and listening to the birds, whose notes broke the stillness of the night.

"What is below these rooms?" Moore asked.

"The big ballroom, sir. Nothing else."

After scrutinizing every window in the bedroom, dressing room, bathroom and sitting room, Moore said, slowly: "These windows seem to me to be inaccessible from below."

It was characteristic of the man that he didn't say they were inaccessible but merely that they seemed so to him.

As they certainly did to the rest of us. We all looked out, and in every instance, the sheer drop to the lake was about fifteen or more feet. The outer walls of marble presented no foothold for even the most daring of climbers. They were smooth, plain, and absolutely unscalable.

"It is certain no one entered by the windows," Moore said, at last, having looked out of every one. "I suppose the house is always carefully secured at night?"

"Yes, sir," Griscom assured him. "Mr. Tracy was very particular about that. He and all the household had latchkeys, and the front door-indeed, all the doors and windows were carefully seen to."

"Who has latchkeys?"

"Mr. Everett, Mr. Dean, myself and the housekeeper. Then there are others which are given to guests. Mr. Ames had one--"

"With so many latchkeys about, one may have been abstracted by some evil-minded person."

"Not likely, sir. We keep strict watch on them."

"Well, that would only give entrance to the house. How could anyone get into and out of Mr. Tracy's room, leaving the door locked on the inside?"

I knew Moore purposely voiced this problem himself, to head off those who would ask it of him. He had often said to me, "if you don't want a question asked of you, ask it yourself of somebody else." And so, as he flung this at them each felt derelict in not being able to reply.

But Ames's querulous voice volleyed the question back.

"That's why I want you to do up this business, Moore," he said. "That's what makes it such a pretty problem--"

Moore could stand this no longer.

"For an intimate friend of a martyred man, I should think you would see the matter in a more personal light than a pretty problem!"

"Oh, I do. I'm sad and sorry enough, but I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. And first of all, I'm keen to avenge my friend. And I know that what's to be done must be done quickly. So, get busy, I beg."

The more Ames said, the less I liked him, and I knew Kee felt the same way about it. But the man was right as to haste being advisable. The circumstances were so peculiar, the conditions so fantastic, that search for the criminal must be made quickly, or a man of such diabolical cleverness would put himself beyond our reach.

The Inspector, the police detective and Keeley Moore consulted a few moments and then Inspector Farrell said:

"The case is altered. Now that we know it is wilful murder, and not a stroke of illness, we must act accordingly. Coroner Hart will conduct an immediate inquiry, preliminary to his formal inquest. No one may leave the house; you, Griscom, will tell the servants this, and I shall call in more help from the police station to guard the place. We will go downstairs, and the Coroner will choose a suitable room, and begin his investigation."

Farrell was an efficient director, though in no way a detective. He locked the door that commanded the whole apartment after he had herded us all out.

We filed downstairs, and I could hear women's voices in a small reception room as we passed it.

The Coroner chose a room which was fitted up as a sort of writing room. It was of moderate size and contained several desks or writing tables, evidently a writing room for guests. There was a bookcase of books and a table of periodicals and newspapers.

Clearly, the house had every provision for comfort and pleasure. Save for the sinister atmosphere now pervading it, I felt I should have liked to visit there.

The Coroner settled himself at a table, and instructed Griscom to send in the house servants one at a time. He also told the butler to serve breakfast as usual, and advised Harper Ames to go to the dining room, as he would be called on later for testimony.

Hart's manner now was crisp and business-like. The realization of the awful facts of the case had spurred him to definite and immediate action.

Mrs. Fenn, the cook-housekeeper, threw no new light on the situation. She corroborated Griscom's story of the locked door and the subsequent opening of it by Louis, but she could add no new information.

"You were fond of Mr. Tracy?" asked Moore, kindly, for the poor woman was vainly trying to control her grief.

"Oh, yes, sir. He was a good master and a truly great man."

"You've never known, among the guests of the house, any one who was his enemy?"

"No, sir. But I almost never see the guests. I'm housekeeper, to be sure, but the maids do all the housework. I superintend the cooking."

"And you've heard no gossip about any one who had an enmity or a grudge toward Mr. Tracy?"

"Ah, who could have? He was a gentle, peaceable man, was Mr. Tracy. Who could wish him harm?"

"Yet somebody did," the Coroner put in, and then he dismissed Mrs. Fenn, feeling she could be of no use.

The other house servants were similarly ignorant of any guest or neighbour who was unfriendly to Mr. Tracy, and then Hart called for the chauffeur.

Louis, a Frenchman, was different in manner and disinclined to talk. In fact, he refused to do so

unless all members of the household were sent from the room.

So the Coroner ordered everybody out except Farrell and Detective March, Moore and myself.

Then Louis waxed confidential and declared that Mr. Ames and Mr. Tracy were deadly enemies.

I thought the man was exaggerating, and that he had some grudge of his own against Ames. But Hart listened avidly to the chauffeur's arraignment, and I was forced to the conclusion that Louis knew a lot.

Yet it was all hints and innuendoes. He stated that the two men were continually quarrelling. Asked what about, he replied "Money matters."

"What sort of money matters?" Hart asked him.

"Stocks and bonds and mortgages. I think Mr. Ames owed Mr. Tracy a great deal of money and he couldn't or wouldn't pay it, and so they wrangled over it."

"There was no quarrelling on other subjects?"

"No, sir, except now and then about Mrs. Dallas."

"And what about her?"

"Well, Mr. Ames didn't want Mr. Tracy to marry her."

"Did Mr. Ames favour the lady himself?"

"Oh, no, sir. He's a woman hater. Or at least he says so. No, but he didn't want Mr. Tracy to marry anybody for fear he might cut him, Mr. Ames, out of his will."

"How do you know all these things?"

"Well, I drive the car, you see, and they talk these matters over, and I can't help hearing them. They make no bones of it, they talk right out. I never repeat anything I hear, in an ordinary way, but as you ask me, sir--"

"Yes, Louis, tell all you know. So Mr. Ames would suffer financially if Mr. Tracy married?"

"I don't know that, sir, but I know he thought he would. And I suppose he knew."

"It seems to me," Farrell said, "we ought to know the terms of Mr. Tracy's will as it might help us to get at the truth."

"We can't do that at the moment," Hart said, "and anyway, this is merely a preliminary inquiry to get the main facts of the situation."

But the other servants had no more information to impart than those hitherto questioned. A chambermaid, one Sally Bray, convinced us that all the queer decorations spread on the bed had been already in the room and were, therefore, not brought in by the murderer.

The red feather duster belonged in a small cupboard that held polishing cloths and dusters. The larkspur flowers had been in a vase on a side table, and the whole bunch had been removed from the vase and laid around the dead man. The orange and crackers had been on a plate on the bedside table, but where the plate was, Sally had no idea. The crucifix was Mr. Tracy's property and belonged on a small hook above the head of his bed.

"And the scarf," suggested Hart. "The red chiffon scarf, where did that come from?"

Sally blushed and looked down, but finally being urged to tell, said that she knew it to be a scarf belonging to Mrs. Dallas, and the lady had left it there one evening not long ago, when she had been there to dinner.

"Why had it not been returned to her?" Hart wanted to know.

"Because Mr. Tracy took a notion to it. It was a sort of keepsake of the lady, sir, and, too, Mr. Tracy was that fond of beautiful things. Any pretty piece of silk or brocade would please him tremenjous."

"Then, whoever arranged all those decorations round him knew of his love for beautiful things, and that would explain the flowers and the scarf. Is there anything missing from his room, Sally?"

"I don't know, sir. I've not been allowed in there this morning."

"Well, go up there now. Tell the guard he's to let you in. Here's the key."

"Oh, sir, I-I daren't! Don't make me go in there!"

The girl shivered with real fear, but Hart had to know.

"You must go," he said, not unkindly. "Get Griscom to go with you, or Mrs. Fenn, if you like. But it is important for me to know if anything has been taken away that you know of. I don't mean papers or letters from his desk. I mean any of his appointments or small belongings."

The girl went off, still shuddering, and Hart finished up the rest of the servants in short order.

Next he interviewed Charlie Everett. I had taken a fancy to Everett, and somehow, from the way Kee looked at him, I thought he liked him, too.

He was not a distinguished-looking man, but he seemed a well-balanced sort, and his eyes were alert and showed a sense of humour. Not that the occasion called for humour, but you can always tell by a man's eyes if he has that desirable trait.

Very quiet and self-possessed was Everett, his manner polite but a little detached. He was quite ready to answer questions but he gave only the answer, no additional information.

Yes, he said, he had spent an hour or so with Mr. Tracy the night before. They had played a game of billiards and had then sat for a short time over a cigar and a whisky and soda. Then, perhaps about ten o'clock, he had said good night to his employer and had gone to his own room. No, he could form no idea whatever as to who could have killed Sampson Tracy, or how he could have got into the room.

"That is," he amended his speech, "he could get in easy enough, but I don't see how he could get out and leave the door locked behind him."

"It is one of those cases," Hart said, a little sententiously, "where there has been a murder committed in a sealed room."

Keeley Moore spoke up then.

"A murder cannot be committed in a sealed room," he said, "unless the murderer stays there. If the murderer left the room, the room was not a sealed room."

"How did he get out?" demanded Hart.

"That we have yet to learn. But he did get out, not through the door to the hall. Remains the possibility of a secret passage and the windows."

"I'm sure there is no secret passage," Everett said, with an unusual burst of unasked information. "I've been here three years and if there was such a thing I'm sure I'd know of it."

"You might and you might not," said Moore, looking at him. "If Mr. Tracy wanted a private entrance to his suite for any reason, he would have had it built and kept the matter quiet."

"Not Sampson Tracy," exclaimed Everett. "He was not a secretive man. I think I may say I knew all about his affairs, both business matters and private dealings, and he trusted me absolutely."

"Even so," Moore told him. "But in the lives of most men there is some secret, something that they don't talk over with anybody."

"Not Mr. Tracy," Everett reiterated. "Even his engagement to Mrs. Dallas was freely talked over with me, both before it occurred and since. I know all about his habits and his fads and whims. And in no case was there ever an occasion for a secret passage to or from his rooms."

"Yet it may be there," Kee insisted. "But if none can be found, then the murderer either escaped by the windows or--"

"Or what?" asked Hart.

"Or he had a steel wire contraption to turn the key from the outside. But this I don't think likely, for the door has a rather complicated lock, and is far from being an easy thing to manipulate."

"You know the terms of his will, then?" the Coroner inquired.

"Oh, yes," Everett said. "At present his niece, Miss Remsen, is his principal heir. There are many bequests to friends and to servants, but the bulk of the estate goes to Miss Remsen. Mr. Tracy knew that his marriage would invalidate this will, which was why he had not changed it. He said that after his wedding with Mrs. Dallas, he would revise the will to suite his changed estate."

"Then, under his existing will, Mrs. Dallas has no legacy?"

"Not unless Mr. Tracy made a change without telling me. He may have done that, but I think it very unlikely."

"You know of no one then, who had sufficient enmity toward Mr. Tracy to desire his death?"

"Absolutely no one. So far as I am aware, he hadn't an acquaintance in the world who was anything but friendly toward him."

Everett was dismissed and Billy Dean was called in.

He was a pleasant-faced chap of twenty-three or thereabouts. His work was far from being as important as Everett's. In fact he was really a high-class stenographer and office boy.

He was good looking with big brown eyes and a curly mop of brown hair. He too, scoffed at the idea of a secret passage in the house.

"Pleasure Dome has all the modern improvements," he said, "but nothing like that. If there was such a thing, I'd have been through it in no time. I can ferret out anything queer of that sort by instinct, and there's nothing doing. There's no way in and out of Mr. Tracy's suite but by that one hall door. I know that. And it has a special lock. He had that put on about six months ago."

"Why? Was he afraid of intruders?"

"Don't think so. But there had been some robberies down in the village and he said it was as well to be on the safe side."

"Then, Mr. Dean, in your opinion, how did the man who killed Mr. Tracy get out of his rooms?"

"That's where you get me. I'm positively kerflummixed. I can't see anybody twisting that peculiar key with a bit of wire. Though that's easier to swallow than to imagine any one jumping out of the window."

"Why? The windows are not so very high."

"No. But the lake there is mighty deep and dangerous."

"Why specially dangerous?"

"Because there are swirling undercurrents, you see, it's almost like a caldron. That Sunless Sea, as Mr. Tracy named it, is in a cove and the winds make the water eddy about, and-well, I'm a pretty fair diver, but I wouldn't dive out of a second story window into that cove!"

"Then, we have to look for either a clever mechanician or an expert diver," said Keeley Moore. "How about the chauffeur?"

"He's an expert mechanician all right, but he wouldn't harm a hair of Mr. Tracy's head. He loved him, as, indeed, we all did. Nobody could help loving that man. He was always genial, courteous and kindly to everybody."

"And his niece, Miss Remsen?" asked the Coroner. "She, too, is gentle and lovely?"

Young Dean blushed fiery red.

"Yes, she is," was all he said, but no clairvoyance was needed to read his thoughts of her.

"Is she here?" asked Moore, knowing we had seen her arrive.

"Yes," Billy Dean said. "We telephoned her so soon as we knew what had happened, and she came right over."

"You may go now," said the Coroner, "and please send Miss Remsen in here."

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