Part 3 out of 5
footmarks leading back to the lawn, and over these Gimblet stooped with
With a tape measure, which he took from his pocket, he measured the
distances between the prints, entering the various figures in his
notebook, beside carefully drawn diagrams. Then he picked his way to the
edge of the lawn, and stood a moment considering.
Apparently he was not satisfied, for presently he retraced his steps
delicately to the middle of the bed, till he was once more just behind
the place where the earth was trodden down. After pausing there an
instant, he turned once more, and ran quickly back to the grass, without
this time troubling himself to step in the chain of footprints used
previously by the police. But he had not even yet finished; and was soon
crouching down again, with the tape measure in one hand and the notebook
in the other, poring over the evidence preserved so carefully by the
At last he got up, put his measure back in his pocket, and walked slowly
towards the hedge. He had nearly reached it when something at his feet
arrested his attention. He bent over it curiously.
Near the edge of the grass and parallel to it, there was an indentation a
little over an inch wide and about the same depth. It extended in a
straight line for perhaps nine inches, and what could have caused it was
a puzzle to Gimblet. The turf was unbroken, and it looked as if an
oblong, narrow, heavy object had rested there, sinking a little into the
ground so as to leave this strange mark. Gimblet rubbed his forehead
pensively, as he looked at it.
Suddenly as his introspective gaze wandered unconsciously over the ground
before him, his attention was arrested by a second mark of the same
perplexing shape, which he could see behind a rose-bush, more than
half-way across the bed. Stepping as near the hedge as he could, the
detective proceeded to examine this duplicate of the riddle. It seemed
absolutely the same, though deeper, as was natural on the soft mould, and
he found, by measuring, that it lay exactly parallel to the other. What
could it be, he asked himself. A moment later, still another and yet
stranger impression caught his eye. It was about the same width, but not
more than half as long, and rounded off at each end to an oval. It was
situated about a foot from the deep indentation and rather farther from
the holly hedge. A tall standard rose-tree, covered with blossoms of the
white Frau Karl Drouski rose, grew near it, interposing between it and
Gimblet measured it with painstaking precision; then with the help of
his measurements, he made a life-size diagram of it on the page of his
notebook, and studied it with an expression of annoyance. He had seldom
felt more at a loss to explain anything. At length he turned and went
back towards the grass.
"What a track I leave," he thought to himself, looking down ruefully at
his own footprints. "What I want is--" He stopped abruptly as a sudden
idea struck him; then a look of relief stole slowly over his face, and he
permitted himself a gratified smile, "To be sure!" he said, and seemed to
dismiss the subject from his mind.
Indeed, he turned his back upon the rose-bed, and strolled away by the
side of the hedge, which was of tall and wide proportions, providing a
spiky, impenetrable defence against observation, from the outside, of the
rectangular enclosed garden. Half-way along it he came upon an arched
opening. Passing through this, he found himself in an outer thicket, and
immediately upon his right hand beheld a small shed, which stood back,
modest and unassuming, in a leafy undergrowth of rhododendrons.
Gimblet pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The place was evidently a tool-house, used by the gardeners for storing
their implements. Rakes, spades, forks and hoes leant against the walls;
a shelf held a quantity of odds and ends: trowels, seedsmen's catalogues,
a pot of paint, a bundle of wooden labels, the rose of a watering-can,
and a dozen other small objects. On the floor were piled boxes and empty
cases; flowerpots stood beside a bag which bore the name of a patent
fertilizer; a small hand mowing-machine blocked the entrance; and a
plank, too long to lie flat on the ground, had been propped slantwise
between the floor and the roof. Bunches of bass hung from nails above the
shelf; and on the wall opposite, a coloured advertisement, representing
phloxes of so fierce an intensity of hue that nature was put to the
blush, had been tacked by some admirer of Art.
Five minutes later, when Gimblet emerged once more into the open, he
carried in one hand a garden rake. With this he proceeded to thread his
way through the shrubbery, keeping close to the line of the holly hedge.
When he thought he had gone about fifty yards, he lay down and peered
under the leaves. The hedge was rather thinner at the bottom; and, by
carefully pushing aside a little of the glossy, prickly foliage, he was
able to make out that the end of the rose-bed he had lately examined was
separated from him now only by the dividing barrier of the hedge. With
the rake still in his hand, he drew himself slowly forward, gingerly
introducing his head and arms under the holly, till he was prevented
from going farther by the close growing trunks of the trees that formed
It took some manoeuvring to insert the head of the rake through the
fence, but he did it at last, and found a gap which his arms would pass
also. Between, and under the lowest fringe of leaves on the farther side,
he could see the track of his own footsteps, where he had walked on the
bed. They were all, by an effort, within reach of his rake, and he
stealthily effaced them. He could not see whether the garden was still
untenanted, or whether the peculiar phenomenon of a rake moving without
human assistance was being observed by anyone from the castle. He
fervently hoped that it was not: he did not wish the attention of anyone
else to be called to the puzzling marks that had mystified him; and, as
the only window which looked into the garden was that of the library, he
thought there was a good chance that there was no one in sight.
Cautiously and almost silently he worked his way back, and replaced the
rake in the tool-house where he had found it. Then he took the small
oil-can used for oiling the mowing-machine, and concealing it under his
coat made towards the house. The little garden was still lonely and
deserted as he walked quickly over the lawn and in at the passage door.
The library was empty as he had left it, and his first act was to draw
back the curtains to their former positions on either side of the window.
Then he went to the door, and, with a glance to right and left along the
passage, and an ear bent for any approaching footstep, he quickly and
effectually oiled the hinges and lock, so that the door closed
noiselessly and without protest. When he was quite satisfied on this
point, he shut it gently, and took back the oil-can to the shed.
"Now," said he to himself, "for the gun-room."
He took up Sir David Southern's shooting-boots, which he had left in the
tool-house during his last proceedings, and made his way through the
billiard-room into the main corridor beyond. On his right, through an
open door, he peeped into a large room, obviously the drawing-room, and
saw that it looked on to the front of the house. The room wore a forlorn
aspect; no one, apparently, had taken the trouble to put it straight
since the night of the tragedy. The blinds had been drawn down, but the
furniture seemed awry as if chairs had been pushed back hastily, a little
card table still displayed a game of patience half set out, and even the
dead flowers in the glasses had not been thrown away.
The air was stuffy in the extreme, and Gimblet, with a disgusted sniff,
pulled aside one of the blinds and threw open the window. But all at once
a thought seemed to strike him. For a moment he stood irresolute, then he
slowly closed the casement again, but without latching it, and after
frowning at it thoughtfully walked away. He went back into the hall.
Opposite, across the corridor, rose the main staircase, wide and
imposing; on each side of it a smaller passage led away at right angles
to the entrance, the right-hand one giving access to rooms in the new
front of the castle, one of which he knew to be the dining-room. He
listened for a minute outside a door beyond it, and heard the sound of
rustling papers; the smell of tobacco came to him through the key-hole.
It was plain that here was the smoking-room, and that the new Lord Ashiel
was at that moment engaged in it, and deep in his uncle's papers.
The little detective, as he had said, preferred to work without an
audience when he could, so he left Mark to his search, and stole silently
away down the passage.
He passed two more rooms, and paused at the last door, opposite the foot
of a winding stair.
This, from what Juliet had said, must be the door of the gun-room.
The door opened readily at his touch, and he stepped inside and shut it
It was a small bare room, with one large deal table in the middle of it.
Gun-cases and wooden cartridge-boxes were ranged on the linoleum-covered
floor, and three glass-fronted gun-cabinets were hung upon the walls.
One, the smallest of these, was of a different wood from the others, and
bore in black letters the initials D. S.
Three or four guns were ranged in it: two 12-bore shot-guns, an air-gun,
and a little 20-bore. Another rack was empty; no doubt it had held the
Mannlicher rifle, which the police had carried away to use as evidence
in their case for the prosecution. The door was locked and there was no
sign of a key.
Gimblet turned to the other cupboards.
There were more weapons here, and a few minutes' examination showed him
that, as Mark had said, he and his uncle were less particular as to where
their guns were kept, for the first two that the detective glanced at
bore Lord Ashiel's initial, and the next was an old air-gun with M. McC.
engraved on a silver disk at the stock.
Side by side were the rifles used by the uncle and nephew for stalking,
Gimblet knew from Mark that the Mannlicher was his, while Lord Ashiel had
apparently used a Mauser or Ross sporting rifle, as there was one of each
in the case.
Gimblet lifted down the Mannlicher and laid it on the table. This, then,
was the kind of weapon with which the deed had been done. It was a .355
Mannlicher Schonauer sporting weapon of the latest pattern. He opened it
and examined the mechanism, which he soon grasped. He squinted down the
glistening tunnel of the barrel and even closely scrutinized the
workmanship of the exterior, repressing a shudder at the meretricious
design of the chasing on the lock, and passing his fingers caressingly
over the wood of which the stock was made. It shone with a rich bloom, as
smooth and even as polished marble, except at the butt end which was
criss-crossed roughly to prevent slipping; but wood in any shape has a
homely friendly feeling, as different from any the polisher can impart to
a piece of cold stone as the forests, where it once stood, upright and
lofty, are from the inhospitable rocks on the peaks above them.
These unpractical reflections flitted through the detective's mind,
together with others of a less fantastic nature, as he put the rifle back
in the rack he had taken it from. He closed the glass doors of the
cabinet, leaving them unlocked, as he had found them. Then, going back to
the table, he took an empty pill-box from his pocket, and with the utmost
care swept into it a trace of dust from off the bare deal top.
There was barely enough to darken the cardboard at the bottom of the box,
but he looked at it, before putting on the lid, with an expression of
Gimblet left the gun-room quietly; and after some more exploring
discovered the way to the back premises.
In the pantry he found Blanston, whom he invited to follow him to the
deserted billiard-room for a few minutes' conversation.
"You know," he told him, "Miss Byrne and your new young master want me to
examine the evidence that Sir David Southern is the author of this
"I'm sure I wish, sir," said the man, "that you could prove he never did
it. A very nice young gentleman, sir, Sir David has always been; it seems
dreadful to think of him lifting his hand against his uncle. I'm sure it
ought to be a warning to us all to keep our tempers, but of course it was
very hard on Sir David to have his dog shot before his very eyes."
"No doubt," agreed Gimblet. "You weren't there when it happened, I
"No, sir, but I heard about it from one of the keepers, and Sir David was
very much put out about it, so he says; and I quite believe it, seeing
how fond he was of the poor creature. Always had it to sleep in his room,
he did, sir, though it was rather an offensive animal to the nose, to my
way of thinking. But these young gentlemen what are always smoking
cigarettes get to lose their sense of smell, I've often noticed that,
sir. Oh, I understand he was very angry indeed, sir, but I should hardly
have thought he would go so far as to take his uncle's life. Knowing him,
as I have done, from a child, I may say I shouldn't hardly have thought
it of him, sir."
"Life is full of surprises," said Gimblet, "and you never know for
certain what anyone may not do; but, tell me, you were the first on the
scene of the crime, weren't you?"
"Hardly that, sir. Miss Byrne was with his lordship at the time."
"Yes, yes, of course. But you saw him shortly after the shot was fired.
Did you hear the report?"
"No, sir. The hall is quite away from the tower, and so is the
housekeeper's room; and the walls are very thick. We were just finishing
supper, which was very late that night on account of the gentlemen coming
in late from stalking, and one thing and another. I'm rather surprised
none of us heard it, sir."
"I daresay there was a good deal of noise going on," said Gimblet. "How
many of you are there in the servants' quarters?"
"Counting the chauffeur and the hall boy," replied Blanston, "and
including the visitors' maids, who are gone now, we were sixteen servants
in the house that night. I am afraid there may have been rather a noise
"Were you all there?" asked Gimblet. "Had no one left since the beginning
"No one had gone out of the room or the hall since supper commenced,"
Blanston assured him. "We were all very glad of that afterwards, as it
prevented any of us being suspected, sir. Though in point of fact I was
saying only last night, when the second footman dropped the pudding just
as he was bringing it into the room, that we could really have spared him
better than what we could Sir David, sir; but of course it's natural for
the household to be feeling a bit jumpy till after the funeral to-morrow.
When that's over I shan't listen to no more excuses."
"Quite so," said Gimblet. "What was the first intimation you got that
there was anything wrong?"
"About half-past ten the billiard-room bell rang very loud, in the
passage outside the hall. Before it had stopped, and while I was calling
to George, the first footman, to hurry up and answer it, there came
another peal, and then another and another. I thought something must be
wrong, so I ran out of the room and upstairs with the others. When we got
to the billiard-room there was Miss Byrne fainting on a chair, and Mr.
McConachan beside her, looking very upset like. 'There's been an accident
or worse,' he says, 'to his lordship. Come on, Blanston, and let's see
what it is. And you others look after Miss Byrne. Fetch her maid; fetch
"And with that he makes for the library door, at a run, with me
following him close, though I was a bit puffed with coming upstairs so
fast. Just as we came to the library door, he turns and says to me, with
his hand on the knob, 'From what Miss Byrne says, Blanston, I'm afraid
it's murder.' And before I could more than gasp he had the door open,
and we were in the room.
"There was his poor lordship lying forward on the table, his head on the
blotting-book, and one arm hanging down beside him. Quite dead, he was,
sir, and his blood all on the floor, poor gentleman. We left him as we
found him, and went back.
"Mr. McConachan locked the door and put the key in his pocket. 'No one
must go in there till the police come,' he says. 'But in the meantime we
must get what men we can together, and see if the brute who did this
isn't lurking about the grounds. It will be something if we can catch
him, and avenge my poor uncle,' he said."
Gimblet considered for a moment.
"Are you sure you remember the position you found the body in?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," replied Blanston, in some surprise. "It was like I told you.
His head on the blotting-book and one arm with it. He must have fallen
straight forward on to the table."
"Thank you," said Gimblet. "One more question. I hear you witnessed a
will for Lord Ashiel a day or two before he died?"
"Yes, sir--I and Mrs. Parsons, the housekeeper."
"How did you know it was the will?"
"We didn't exactly know it was, sir, but afterwards, when it came out his
lordship had told Miss Byrne he had made one, we thought it must have
"I see," said Gimblet. "Thank you. That is all I wanted to know."
He sent for the other servants and interrogated them one by one, but
without adding anything fresh to what he had already learned.
He went thoughtfully away and sought out Mark in the smoking-room, where
he found him surrounded by packets of papers, which lay in heaps upon
the floor and tables.
"There's a frightful lot to look through," said the young man
despondently, looking up from his self-imposed task. "I haven't found
anything interesting yet. How did you get on? Do you think those
footmarks can possibly be anyone's but David's?"
"The boot you gave me fits them too well to admit of doubt, I'm afraid,"
said Gimblet. And as the other made a half-gesture of despair, "You must
give me more time," he said; "I may find some clue in the course of the
next two or three days. By the by, is your cousin a short man?"
"No," said Mark, "he's about my height. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I had an idea," said Gimblet evasively. "But if he's as tall as you,
I had better begin again. I think I'll take a little stroll through the
grounds," he added, "and then back to Lady Ruth Worsfold's house, and get
a bath and a change."
"I shall see you at dinner-time," said Ashiel. "I am dining at the
cottage. Au revoir till then."
Gimblet went out of the front door, and proceeded to make a tour of the
Turning to his left round the front of the house, he passed the gun-room
door, and went down a short path, which led to the level of the servants'
quarters. These were built on the slope of the hill, so that what was a
basement in the front of the house was level with the ground at the back.
Here more remains of the old fortress were to be seen. The various
outbuildings that straggled down towards the loch had all once formed
part of old block-houses or outlying towers; and, as the path descended
farther down the hill, the detective found himself walking round the
precipitous rock from which the single great tower still standing--the
one in whose massive shell the room had been cut which was now the
library--dominated the scene from every side.
It had been built at the very edge of the hill which here fell almost
sheer to the level of the lake, and the old McConachans had no doubt
chosen their site for its unscalable position. Indeed, the place must
always have been impregnable from that side, the rock offering no
foothold to a goat till within twenty feet of the base of the tower,
where the surface was broken and uneven, and had, in places, been built
up with solid masonry. In the crevices up there, seeds had germinated and
grown to tall plants and bushes. Ivy hung about the face of the
escarpment like a scarf, and in one place a good-sized tree, a beech, had
established itself firmly upon a ledge and leant forward over the path
below in a manner that turned the beholder giddy. Its great roots had not
been able to grow to their full girth within the cracks and crannies of
the rocks; some of them had pushed their way in through the gaps in the
masonry, and the others curled and twisted in mid air, twining and
interlacing in an outspread canopy.
Beyond the tower ran the battlemented wall of the enclosed garden, its
foundations draped in the thrifty vegetation of the rocks.
At Gimblet's feet, on the other side of the path, brawled a burn,
hurrying on its way to the loch, and he followed its course slowly down
to the place where it mingled with the deep waters. A little beyond he
saw the point of a fir-covered peninsula, and wandered on under the
trees till he came to the end of it; there he sat down to think over what
he had heard and seen that afternoon. The wild beauty of the place
soothed and delighted him, and he felt lazily in his pocket for a
Below him, grey lichen-grown rocks jutted into the loch in tumbled,
broken masses, piled heedlessly one on the other, as if some troll of
the mountain had begun in play to make a causeway for himself. The great
stones, so old, so fiercely strong, stood knee-deep in the waters, over
which they seemed to brood with so patient and indifferent a dignity
that human life and affairs took on an aspect very small and
inconsiderable. They were like monstrous philosophers, he thought,
oblivious alike to time and to the cold waves that lapped their feet;
their heads crowned here and there with pines as with scattered locks,
the little tufts of heather and fern and grasses, that clung to them
wherever root hold could be found, all the clothing they wore against
the bitter blasts of the winds.
While he sat there a breeze got up and ruffled the loch; the ripples
danced and sparkled like a cinematograph, and waves threw themselves
among the rocks with loud gurglings and splashings. The air was suddenly
full of the noise and hurry of the waters. He got up and went to the end
of the peninsula. In spite of the dancing light upon the surface and the
merry sounds of the ripples, the water, he could see, was deep and dark;
a little way out a pale smooth stone rose a few feet above the level of
it, its top draped in a velvet green shawl of moss. A fat sea-gull sat
there; nor did it move when he appeared.
A little bay ran in between the rocks, its shore spread with grey sand,
smooth and trackless. At least so Gimblet imagined it at first, as his
eye roved casually over the beach. Then suddenly, with a smothered
ejaculation, he leaped down from his perch of observation, and made his
way to the margin of the water.
There, scored in the sand, was a deep furrow, reaching to within a foot
of the waves, where it stopped as if it had been wiped out from a slate
with a damp sponge. Gimblet had no doubt what it was. A boat had been
beached here, and that lately. A glance at the stones surrounding the
bay showed him that the water was falling, for in quiet little pools,
within the outer breakwater of rocks, a damp line showed on the granite
a full quarter of an inch above the water. By a rapid calculation of the
time it would take for that watermark to dry, the detective was able to
form some idea of the rate at which the loch was falling, and he thought
he could judge the slope of the beach sufficiently well to calculate
about how long it was since the track in the sand had reached to the
brink of the waves.
It was a rough guess, but, if he were right, then a boat had landed in
that bay some forty-two hours ago. But there were other traces, besides,
the tracks of him who had brought the boat ashore. From where Gimblet
stood, a double row of footprints, going and returning, showed plainly
between the water and the stones to which the sand quickly gave place.
They were the tracks left by large boots with singularly pointed toes,
and with no nails on the soles. Emphatically not boots such as any of the
men of those parts would be likely to wear.
Gimblet bent over the sand.
When he rose once more and stood erect upon the beach, he saw under the
shadow of the pines the figure of a tall thin man with a lean face and
straggling reddish moustache, who was watching him with an eye plainly
suspicious. He was dressed in knickerbockers and coat of rough tweed of a
large checked pattern, and carried a spy-glass slung over his back. The
detective went to him at once.
"Are you employed on the Inverashiel estate?" he asked civilly.
"I'm Duncan McGregor, his lordship's head keeper," was the reply, given
in the cold tones of one accosted by an intruder.
Gimblet hastened to introduce himself and to explain his presence, and
McGregor condescended to thaw.
"I should be very much obliged," said Gimblet, "if you would take a look
at the sands where you saw me standing. I'd like to know your opinion on
some marks that are there."
The keeper strode down to the beach.
"A boat will have been here," he pronounced after a rapid scrutiny.
"Lately?" asked Gimblet.
He saw the man's eyes go, as his own had done, to the watermarks on
"No sae vary long ago," he said, "I'm thinkin' it will hae been the nicht
before lairst that she came here."
"Ah," said Gimblet, "I'm glad you agree with me. That's what I thought
myself. Do boats often come ashore on this beach?"
"It's the first time I ever h'ard of onybody doin' the like," he said at
last. "The landin' stage is awa' at the ether side o' the p'int; it's aye
there they land. There's nae a man in a' this glen would come in here,
unless it whar for some special reason. It's no' a vary grand place tae
bring a boat in. The rocks are narrow at the mouth."
"Do strangers often come to these parts?"
"There are no strangers come to Inverashiel," said the keeper. "The
high road runs at the ether side o' the loch through Crianan, and the
tramps and motors go over it, but never hae I known one o' that kind on
Gimblet observed with some amusement that the man spoke of motors and
tramps as of varieties of the same breed; but all he said was:
"Could you make inquiries as to whether anyone on the estate happens to
have brought a boat in here during the last week? I should be glad if you
could do so without mentioning my name, or letting anyone think it is
He felt he could trust the discretion of this taciturn Highlander.
"I'll that, sir," was the reply.
And Gimblet could see, in spite of the man's unchanging countenance, that
he was pleased at this mark of confidence in him.
"Could you take me to the head gardener's house?" he asked, abruptly
changing the subject. "I should rather like a talk with him."
McGregor conducted him down the road to the lodge.
"It's in here whar Angus Malcolm lives," he remarked laconically. "Good
He turned and strode away over the hillside, and Gimblet knocked at the
door. It was opened by the gardener, and he had a glimpse through the
open doorway of a family at tea.
"I'm sorry I disturbed you," he said. "I will look in again another day.
Lord Ashiel referred me to you for the name of a rose I asked about, but
it will do to-morrow."
The gardener assured him that his tea could wait, but Gimblet would not
"I shall no doubt see you up in the garden to-morrow," he said. "The roses
in that long bed outside the library are very fine, and I am interested
in their culture. I wonder they do so well in this peaty soil."
"Na fie, man, they get on splendid here," said Malcolm. He liked nothing
better than to talk about his flowers, but, being a Highlander, resented
any suggestion that his native earth was not the best possible for no
matter what purpose. "We just gie them a good dressin' doon wie manure
"Do you use any patent fertilizer?" Gimblet asked.
"Oh, just a clean oot wie a grain o' basic slag noo and than," said the
gardener. "And I just gie them some lime ilka time I think the ground is
"Well, the result is very good," said the detective. "By the way, have
you been working on that bed lately? I picked this up among the violas.
Did you happen to drop it?"
He took from his pocket a small paper notebook, and held it out
"Na, I hinna dropped it," answered the gardener. "It micht have been some
one fay the castel. I hinna been near that rose-bed for fower or five
days. And it couldna hae been lying there afore the rain."
Indeed, the little book showed no trace of damp on its green cover.
"I asked in the castle, but no one claimed it," said Gimblet. "Perhaps
it belongs to one of your men?"
"There's been naebody been workin' there this week. So it disna belong
tae neen o' the gair'ners, if it's there ye fund't," repeated Malcolm.
"There's been nae work deen on that bed for the last fortnicht or mair. I
was thinkin' o' sendin' a loon ower't wie a hoe in a day or twa. Ye see,
wie the murrder it's been impossible tae get ony work done; apairt fay
that we've been busy wie the fruit and ether things."
"I didn't notice any weeds," said Gimblet. "But I won't keep you any
longer, now. Perhaps to-morrow afternoon I may see you in the garden, and
if so I shall get you to tell me the name of that rose."
Juliet failed to extract much comfort from Gimblet when, about six
o'clock, she met him coming up through the garden to Inverashiel Cottage.
All the afternoon she had possessed her soul in what patience she could
muster, which was not a great deal. Still, by dint of repeating to
herself that she must give the detective time to study the facts, and
opportunity to verify them at his leisure and in his own way, she had
managed to get through the long inactive hours, and to force herself not
to dwell upon the vision of David in prison, which, do as she would, was
ever before her eyes.
Events had followed one another so fast during the last few days that her
mind was dulled, as by a succession of rapid blows, and she was hardly
conscious of anything beyond the unbearable pain caused by the cumulative
shocks she had undergone.
First had come the heart-rending knowledge that David loved her;
heart-rending only because he was bound to Miss Tarver, for, if it had
not been for that paralyzing obstacle, she knew she would have gladly
followed him to the ends of the earth. Indeed, in spite of everything,
his betrayal of his feelings towards her had filled her with a joy that
almost counterbalanced the hopeless misery to which, on her more
completely realizing the situation, it gradually gave place.
Then had come the swift physical disaster from which she had barely
escaped with her life. She had not had time to recover from this when, a
few hours later, she had been called upon to face the emotions and
agitations aroused by the news of her relationship to Lord Ashiel, and
the history of her birth and parentage. In the midst of this excitement
had come the sudden tragedy of which she had been a witness, and which
had overwhelmed and prostrated her with grief and horror. Next day she
had been obliged to undergo the ordeal of being cross-questioned by the
police, and close upon that had come the final catastrophe of David's
arrest and departure. This last shock so overshadowed all the rest of her
misfortunes that it stimulated her to action, and she had herself run
most of the way to the post office two miles down the road, to send the
telegram of appeal to Gimblet.
Once that was dispatched, hope revived a little in her heart.
Lord Ashiel, her father, had told her to send for the detective if she
were in trouble. Well, she was in trouble; she had sent for him; he would
come, and somehow he would find a way of putting straight this hideous
nightmare in which she found herself living. How happy, in comparison,
had been her life in Belgium, in the household of her adopted father and
stepmother! She could have found it in her heart to wish she had never
left their roof; but that would have involved never making the
acquaintance of David, a possibility she could not contemplate.
Even now the remembrance of the rapidity with which Miss Tarver had
packed her traps, renounced her betrothed and all his works, and fled
from the scene of disaster by the first available train, did much to
cheer her in the midst of all her depression.
It was not, however, until some time after Lady Ruth Worsfold had asked
her to stay with her for the present, and she had removed herself and her
belongings to the cottage, that she realized how impossible it was for
her to make good her position as Lord Ashlers daughter and heir. She had
his word for it, and that was enough for her; but she understood, as soon
as it occurred to her, that more would be required by the law before she
could claim either the name or the inheritance which should be hers.
In the meantime, though touched by the generosity of the new Lord Ashiel,
who offered to waive his rights in her favour, and indeed suggested other
plans for enabling her to remain at the castle as its owner, she felt
that what he proposed was absolutely impossible, and while she thanked
him, declined firmly to do anything of the sort.
At the back of her mind was the conviction that the will her father had
spoken of would come to light. It would surely be found, if not by
herself, then by Gimblet. She acceded to Mark's request that she should
join him in looking through his uncle's papers. They went over those in
the library together before she left the house.
Now that Gimblet had come back from the castle, where he had spent half
the day, he must have good news for her, she felt persuaded. But to all
her questions he would only reply that he had nothing definite to tell
her, and that she must wait till to-morrow or even longer. Indeed, she
thought he seemed anxious to get away from her, and asked at once if he
might see his room.
"I want a bath more than anything," he said. And then, taking pity on her
distress, "I wouldn't worry myself too much about Sir David's safety if I
were you," he added, looking at her with a very kind, friendly light in
his eyes. But as she exclaimed joyfully and pressed him to be more
explicit, his look changed to one of admonition, and he held a finger to
his lips. "Not a word to a living soul, whoever it may be," he cautioned
her, "and be careful not to show any hope you may be so optimistic as to
feel," he added, smiling, "or you may ruin the whole thing. This is a
very dark and dangerous affair, and the less it is spoken about, even
between friends, the better."
"Mayn't I even tell Lady Ruth?" she asked. "She is very anxious, I know."
"Better not," he warned her. "It may be better for Sir David in the
long-run, if his friends think him guilty a few days longer. It will be
wisest if you let it appear that even you can hardly continue to cling
to the idea of his innocence. You can be trusted to act a part where
such great issues are involved, can you not? More may depend on it than
"I'll be silent as the grave," she cried. "As the grave," she repeated
more soberly, and turned away, reproaching herself silently, since in her
anxiety for David her sorrow for her father had been a moment forgotten.
When Gimblet came down again, clean and refreshed, he found no one but
his hostess, Lady Ruth Worsfold.
Lady Ruth's hair was white, in appearance she was short and squat, and
she had a curiously disconnected habit of conversation, but for all that
she was a person of great discernment, and uncommonly wide awake. She
sided staunchly with Juliet in her belief in David's innocence.
"Never," she said, "will I credit such a thing of the lad. You may say
what you like, Mr. Gimblet, you can prove till you're black in the
face that he murdered every soul in the house, it won't make any
difference to me."
"Who do you think did do it, Lady Ruth?" Gimblet asked.
"What do I know? An escaped lunatic, one of the keepers, the under
housemaid, anyone you like. What does it matter? It wasn't David, even
though his namesake did kill Goliath, and I always disliked the name,
having suffered from a Biblical one myself. I said to his mother when he
was born. 'For goodness' sake give the poor child a name he won't be
expected to live up to. Just fancy how his friends will hate to be known
as Jonathans, let alone thingamy's wife. You're laying up a scandal for
your son,' I told her, and if my words haven't come true it's more thanks
to him than to his parents. A nice pink and white baby he was, poor boy.
There's just one good side to this dreadful affair," she went on without
a pause, "and that is that the young lady with the dollars whom he was to
have married, and hated the sight of, has thrown him over. The first
least little breath of suspicion was enough for her, and the moment he
was downright accused she was off. And he's well rid of her, dollars and
all An Englishman of his birth and looks doesn't need to go to Chicago
for a wife."
"Was Sir David in need of money?" asked Gimblet.
"He hasn't got a penny," said Lady Ruth. "Not a red cent, as that
terrible young woman put it. His father left everything to the
moneylenders, so to speak, and David couldn't bear to see his mother
poverty-stricken. He did it entirely for her sake--got engaged, I
mean--but I don't think he'd have been such a self-sacrificing son if
he'd met Miss Juliet Byrne a little earlier in the day."
"Indeed!" said Gimblet. "I thought Miss Byrne seemed very much worried
about his arrest."
"Worried? Poor child, she's the ghost of what she was a few days ago.
Half-drowned, too, when it happened, which made it worse for her."
"She must have had a narrow escape," Gimblet remarked. "What was the name
of the man who pulled her out of the river?"
"Andy Campbell. He had been stalking with Mark McConachan."
"Was young Lord Ashiel with him?"
"No, he was on ahead. He saw Juliet in the distance, just going up to the
waterfall, but he seems to have taken her for Miss Romaninov, which is
odd, because they aren't in the least like one another, one being tall
and the other short, in the first place, and one fair and the other dark
in the second. He can't have looked very carefully. However, he was very
positive about it till they both assured him that Julia Romaninov had
turned and gone home some time before she had reached the top pool. And I
certainly should have in her place. It doesn't amuse me scrambling over
rocks and scratching my legs in bramble bushes. The path Andy came by
goes along high above the water for half a mile. I hate walking on a
height myself. And for most of that distance the river is not in sight.
If he hadn't been thirsty and come down to the water-side for a drink at
a spring near by, he would never have seen Miss Byrne floating down the
stream, and she would have been in the loch pretty soon. It just shows
how much better it is to drink water than whisky."
"It was lucky he did," said Gimblet. "Does the path pass in sight of the
pool she fell into?"
"No. The banks are high there, and you can't see down into the pool
unless you go to the very edge of the precipice. I did it once, to look
at the waterfall, and I very nearly joined it. It's a nasty giddy place,
though why one should feel inclined to throw oneself down I can't
imagine; but it seems a natural instinct, and it's certainly easier to go
down than up."
"It appears almost miraculous that she wasn't drowned," said Gimblet.
"She certainly can have been in no fit state to bear the events that
"No, indeed. She has lost everything: father, family and lover at one
blow. You know Lord Ashiel said she was his daughter, and told her he'd
made a will leaving everything to her. For that matter the lawyers say he
didn't--not that I should ever believe anything a lawyer said. They
always mean something you wouldn't expect from their words. They do it, I
believe, to keep in practice for trials, you know, where they have to
make the witnesses say what they don't mean, poor things. And what I
shall have put into my mouth by them, if I'm called as a witness against
poor David, doesn't bear thinking of. But the Lord knows what Ashiel did
with the will, and, as I was saying, it can't be found."
"So I heard," said Gimblet "You talk of being called as a witness, Lady
Ruth. Do you know anything about the case? Where were you when the shot
"Oh no," she said, "I shouldn't have anything to tell, but I don't
suppose that will matter. They'll twist and turn my words till I find
myself saying I saw him do it with my own eyes. My poor dear husband,
when I first met him, was an eminent Q.C., as you may know, Mr. Gimblet,
so I have a very good idea what they're like. I refused him point-blank
when he proposed, but he proved to me in three minutes that I'd really
accepted him; and it was the same thing ever after. A wonderfully
brilliant man, though slightly trying at times, especially in church,
where he always snored so unnecessarily loud--or so it seemed to me. I
often think deafness has its compensations, though I'm sure I ought to be
thankful at my age that my hearing is still so acute. However, I didn't
hear the shot the other night, but the castle walls are thick even in
that detestable modern addition, and besides, Julia Romaninov has got
such a tremendously powerful voice,''
"Were you talking to her?"
"Oh dear no! I was playing patience, and she was singing, while Miss
Tarver murdered the accompaniment. We little thought at the time that
some one else was murdering poor Ashiel while we were sitting there in
peace. I must say that girl sings remarkably well, and it was a pity
there was no one who could play for her. Though it wasn't for want of
practice on Miss Tarver's part. The moment we were out of the
dining-room she would sit down at the piano, and they would neither of
them stop till bedtime."
"Had they both been playing and singing all that evening?"
"Yes, they hadn't ceased for a moment, and I found it prevented the Demon
from coming out, as I couldn't help counting in time with the music. It
was all right when it was one, two, three, but common time muddled it
dreadfully, though now I come to think of it, Julia was not actually in
the room when we heard the bad news. She'd gone upstairs to look for a
song or something. Of course there's no legal proof that Juliet really is
his child," Lady Ruth continued; "she admits that he was rather vague
about it, fancied a resemblance, in fact. Not that I or anyone else had
any notion he had been married as a young man, but that's a thing he
would be likely to be right about. I must say Mark has behaved extremely
well about it, even quixotically. He wanted her to take his inheritance,
and when she refused--and of course she couldn't decently do otherwise--
I'm blessed if he didn't ask her to marry him."
Gimblet looked up with more interest than he had yet shown.
"Do you mean to say he proposed that, merely as a way out of the
"Well, more or less. I don't say he isn't attracted by the pretty face of
her, as much as his cousin was; privately I think he is, but I don't
really know. Anyhow, it certainly would be a very good solution; but it
was tactless of him to suggest it with David at the foot of the gallows,
"She didn't tell me that," murmured Gimblet.
At that moment Juliet came into the room, and they talked of other
"I hear the post is gone," Gimblet said presently.
"I particularly wanted to catch it. I suppose there is no means of
posting a letter now?"
The last train had gone south by that time, however, so there was nothing
to be done till the next day.
He retired again to his room and gave himself up to his correspondence.
First a long letter to Macross in Glasgow, begging for the loan of prints
of the photographs taken by the police during their visit, together with
any details they might see fit to impart as to their observations and
conclusions. "I have arrived so late on the scene that you have left me
nothing to do," he wrote deceitfully. "But for the interest of the case I
should like to have a look at the photographs."
He did not expect to get much help from Macross.
Then he took from his pocket the pill-box in which he had stored the dust
so carefully collected in the gunroom. He wrapped it carefully in paper,
and addressed the small parcel to an expert analyst in Edinburgh. He
wrote one more letter, and then went downstairs again.
The dressing-bell sounded as he opened his door, and at the foot of the
staircase he met the two ladies on their way to dress.
"Dinner is at eight, Mr. Gimblet," Lady Ruth told him.
"I was just coming to find you," Gimblet answered her. "I want to ask if
you would mind my not coming down? I am subject to very bad headaches
after a long journey; and, as I want particularly to be up early
to-morrow, I think the best thing I can do is to go straight to bed and
sleep it off. It is poor sort of behaviour for a detective, I am aware,
but I hope you will forgive it."
"You must certainly go to bed if you feel inclined to," said Lady Ruth;
"but you will have some dinner in your room, will you not? They shall
bring you up the menu."
"No, really, thanks, I shall be better without anything. I know how to
treat these heads of mine by now, I assure you, and I won't have anything
to eat till to-morrow morning. The only thing I need is quiet and sleep.
If you will be so very kind as to give orders that I shall not be
"Of course, of course," said his hostess, full of concern. "And you must
let me give you an excellent remedy for headaches. It was given me years
ago by dear old Sir Ronald Tompkins, that famous specialist, you know,
who always ordered every one to roll on the floor after meals, and I
invariably keep a bottle by me."
And she hurried off to fetch it.
Gimblet accepted it gratefully, and as he passed a hand across his aching
brow said he felt sure it would do him good.
Once again within his own room, however, the detective's headache seemed
to have miraculously vanished, and he showed himself in no hurry to go to
bed. Instead, having locked the door and drawn down the blind, he sat
down in an arm-chair and gave himself up to reflection. Mentally he
rehearsed the facts of the case as far as they were known to him, and was
obliged to admit that he found several of them very puzzling.
There were other problems, too, not directly connected with the murder,
of which he could not at present make head or tail. For instance, where
was he to find the documents which he knew it was Lord Ashiel's wish he
should take charge of. He had promised that he would do so, and the
recollection of his failure to guard the first thing the dead peer had
entrusted him with made him the more determined that he would carry out
the remainder of his promise. But how was he to begin his search? He had
so little to go on, and he dared not hint to anyone what he wished to
find. Yet, if he delayed, it was possible that young Ashiel would come
across the papers in his hunt for his uncle's will, and Gimblet felt
there was danger in their falling into the hands of anyone but himself.
He took out his notebook and studied the dying words of his unfortunate
"Gimblet--the clock--eleven--steps." Or was it steppes?
Considering that he had lived in dread of a blow which should descend on
him out of Russia, the last seemed the more likely.
There was the strange circumstance of the body's being found by the
police in a position differing from that described by those who first saw
it. Young Ashiel, Juliet and the butler all agreed that it had fallen
forward on to the blotting-book in the middle of the table; but Mark had
told him that on his return with the police the attitude had been
changed. Had he been mistaken? Macross's photographs would show. But if
not, and the murdered man had really shifted his position, what did it
prove? That they had been wrong in thinking him dead? The doctor's
evidence was that the wound he had received must have been instantly
fatal, or almost instantly. Then some one must have moved the body, and
who but David knew where the key of the room had been put away? But why
should David have moved him?
Then there was the letter which had come two days after the murder; the
letter written in French and posted in Paris, but probably not written by
a Frenchman, and so timed as to reach its destination too late. Was it
intentionally delayed, or would Lord Ashiel's death come as an entire
surprise to the writer? It certainly would, if the police were right, and
Sir David Southern guilty of his uncle's death.
But was he guilty? Gimblet thought not.
These and other questions occupied the detective's mind so completely
that half an hour passed like a flash, and it was only when the noise of
the dinner-bell broke in upon his meditations that he roused himself and
pulled out his watch. Then he sat upright, and listened.
His room was above the drawing-room, and he could hear Lady Ruth's clear,
rather high voice mingling with the deep tones of a man's, in a confused,
murmuring duet which after a few moments died away and was followed by
the distant sound of a closing door.
It was not difficult to deduce from these sounds that Lord Ashiel had
arrived, and that the little party of three had gone in to dinner.
It was half an hour more before Gimblet rose, and walked quietly over to
the window. He drew the blind cautiously aside and looked out. Already
the days were growing shorter, and the little house, embowered in trees,
and shut in by a tall hill from the western sky, was nearly completely
engulfed in darkness. Below him, on the right, he could just discern the
top of the porch, and beyond it a faint glow of light rose from the
window of the dining-room.
It did not need a very remarkable degree of activity to clamber from the
window to the porch, and so down to the ground. To Gimblet it was as easy
as going downstairs. In two minutes he was stealing away under the trees
in the direction of Inverashiel Castle.
"The worst of this Highland air," he said to himself as he walked along,
"is that it makes one so fearfully hungry, even here on the West Coast. I
could have done very nicely with my dinner. But such is life. And it's
lucky I am not entirely without provisions."
So saying, he took a box of chocolates from his pocket and began to
demolish the contents.
By the time he reached the castle, the night was dark indeed. He
approached it by the path along the burn, and felt his way cautiously up
the steep zigzags of the hill, and past the servants' quarters, where a
dog barked and gave him an uneasy minute till he found that it was tied
up, and that the noise which issued from a brilliantly lighted
window--which he guessed to be the servants' hall--did not cease or
diminish on account of it.
There were no other lights to be seen, and he edged his way round to the
front of the house, which loomed very black and mysterious against the
liquid darkness of the moonless sky. A little wind had risen, and the
sound of a million leaves rustling gently on the trees of the woods
around was added to the distant murmur of the burn, so that the night
seemed full of noises, and every bush alive and watching.
Keeping on the grass, and with every precaution of silence, Gimblet crept
along till he thought he was outside the drawing-room.
It did not take him long to find the window he had left unlatched that
afternoon, but it was an anxious moment till he made sure that no one had
noticed it and that it was yet unfastened. If a careful housemaid had
discovered it and shut it, he would have to begin housebreaking in
earnest. Luckily it opened easily at his touch, and he lost no time in
climbing in, though it was rather a tight squeeze through the narrow
imitation Gothic mullions, and he was thankful there were no bars as in
He had more than once during his career found himself obliged to enter
other people's houses in this unceremonious, not to say burglarious
fashion. But it was always an exciting experience; and his heart beat a
trifle faster than usual as he stood motionless by the window, straining
his ears for the sound of any movement on the part of the household.
Nothing stirred, however, and by the help of an occasional gleam from his
pocket electric torch Gimblet made his way to the door, and through the
deserted house to the distant passage leading to the old tower. Once
inside the library he breathed more freely, and when, after holding his
breath for some minutes, he had made certain that the absolute silence of
the place continued unbroken by any suspicion of noise, he felt safer
still. His first act was to draw the curtains, and to fasten them
together in the middle with a large safety-pin he had brought for the
purpose. Then, secure from observation, he switched on his torch, placed
it on the table with its back to the window, and set about what he had
come to do.
As he had not failed to observe, earlier in the day, the book-lined walls
of the library were broken, opposite the window, by a panelled alcove
where a small table stood, beyond which, against the wall, was a very
large and tall grandfather's clock of black and gold lacquer, in
imitation of the Chinese designs so popular in the eighteenth century.
Among Lord Ashiel's last words, "The clock" had been uttered immediately
after the detective's own name. No doubt they formed part of a message he
wished to convey; and, though they might refer to any clock in or out of
the house, it seemed to Gimblet worth while to begin his investigations
with the one nearest at hand, and he turned his attention to it without
loss of time.
Gimblet was a connoisseur of the antique, and a few minutes' examination
proved to him that this was a genuine old clock, untouched by the
restorer's hand, and in an excellent state of preservation. The works
appeared all right as far as he could make out, but through the narrow
half-moon of glass, so often inserted in the cases of old clocks for the
purpose of displaying the pendulum, that article was not to be seen, and
he found that it was missing from inside the case, as were also the
weights, so that it was impossible to set it going. There was one odd
thing about it, which the detective had already remarked: it was firmly
fixed to the wall by large screws, and he thought that there must be some
opening through the back into a receptacle contrived in the panelling
behind it. The case was so large that he was able to get inside it, and
examine inch by inch the wood of the interior, which was lacquered a
But his most careful tappings and testings could discover no hidden
spring, nor, even by the help of the electric torch--which he passed all
over the smooth surfaces of the walls--could he discern the slightest
join or crack. Could there be a hiding place up among the wheels of the
motionless works? His utmost endeavours could discover none. The clock
was fully eight feet high, but with the help of a stool, which he put
inside on the floor of the case, he was able to explore even the topmost
corners. All to no purpose.
Presently he abandoned that field of research, replaced the stool whence
he had taken it, and gave his attention to the surrounding walls. He
examined each panel with the most painstaking care, but could find
nothing. There was no sign of secret drawer or cupboard anywhere.
It was disappointing, and he drew back, baffled for the moment
What was the connection between those broken words?
If eleven o'clock had anything to do with the answer to the riddle, it
could not refer to this particular clock, which pointed unwaveringly to
thirteen minutes past four. Could it be possible that at eleven there
appeared some change in its countenance? Was it controlled by some
invisible mechanism? Well, if so, he would witness the transformation,
but such a solution did not seem likely. Was there no other meaning
applicable to the words? He would try the last ones and assume that
eleven steps from somewhere, the clock, probably, would bring him to the
hiding-place where the precious papers had been deposited.
Placing his heel against the bottom of the black-and-gold case, he walked
forward for eleven paces, which brought him right into the bow of the
window. Here he bent down, and, with the torch in one hand, and a small
magnifying lens that he was never without in the other, searched the
floor eagerly for some join in the boards, which should denote the edge
of a trap-door or an opening of some sort.
He could find none.
Again and again he tried, till at last he had examined the whole flooring
of the embrasure of the window.
No other part of the room was wide enough to allow him to take eleven
steps, and he reluctantly came to the conclusion that he must be on the
There seemed no more to do but to wait till eleven should strike, in the
faint hope that something would happen then; and Gimblet sat down in one
of the large arm-chairs and prepared for an hour's lonely vigil. He put
his lamp in his pocket and sat in the dark, for he had an uneasy feeling
that Mark might return from the cottage and catch him pursuing his
investigations in a way which might not appeal to the average
householder. True, it seemed unlikely that anyone would come so late to
that side of the castle; but one never knew, and the thought of being
caught at his housebreaking added to the irritation produced by the
failure of his search.
"The clock--eleven--steppes." What had Lord Ashiel been trying to say?
Why in the world had he put off writing till so late? These and like
questions Gimblet asked himself fretfully, as he waited, curled in a deep
arm-chair among the black shapes of furniture which loomed around him,
indefinite and almost invisible, even to eyes accustomed to the darkness,
as his now were.
Suddenly he raised his head and listened, holding his breath in strained
attention. He had caught the sound of distant footsteps.
In an instant he was up and had leapt to the window, where his fingers
fumbled with the safety-pin that held the curtains together. No tell-tale
mark of his presence must be left.
But where should he hide? The sounds were becoming more distinct every
second; no escape seemed possible. There was no help for it, and he was
bound to be discovered; he must put as good a face on it as he could
contrive. The person approaching might, after all, not come into the
library, but go back again along the passage. It might only be some one
coming to see that the door to the garden was properly bolted.
These thoughts flashed through the detective's mind so quickly as to
be practically simultaneous, and then almost at the same moment he
realized that the footsteps did not come from the passage at all, but
from under the room he was waiting in. In a flash he had grasped the
full significance of this unexpected fact, and was tiptoeing across
to the door.
The handle turned noiselessly in his fingers, thanks to the precaution he
had taken of oiling it, and he slipped outside.
In the dark and empty passage he took to his heels and ran swiftly back
to the drawing-room, nor paused till he was outside on the lawn once
more. There he hung for an instant in the wind; bearings must be taken,
the nearest way to the enclosed garden decided on, any dangerous reefs
that lay on the way steered clear of. Then he was off again on the new
tack. This led him round to the back of the holly hedge, and the arched
opening by the gardeners' tool-shed.
He turned in under it and sped silently over the turf, till he found
himself outside the door to the old tower. From the library window a
narrow shaft of light was issuing out on to the flower-bed.
Gimblet took off his coat and threw it on to the bed. He put a foot upon
one sleeve, and, stooping down, spread the other out in front of him as
far as it would go. Then he stepped upon that one and twisted the coat
round under him to repeat the process. In this way he arrived under the
window without leaving any imprint of his boots upon the soft earth. Once
there he raised himself cautiously and peered into the room.
By the writing-table, and so close to him that he could almost have
touched her if they had not been separated by the glass, stood a
She held a little electric lantern, much like his own, in her left hand,
while with the other she turned over the leaves of a bundle of papers. An
open drawer in the writing-table betrayed whence they had been taken; and
she was so entirely engrossed in what she was about that the detective
felt little fear of being noticed by her, concealed as he was in the
He saw that she was short and slight, with a beautiful little head set
gracefully upon her upright slender figure. Her expression was proud and
self-contained, but the large dark eyes that glowed beneath long black
lashes were in themselves striking evidence of a passionate nature
sternly repressed, and an eloquent contradiction to the firm, tightly
compressed lips. Here, thought Gimblet, was a nature which might pursue
its object with cold and calculating tenacity, and then at the last
moment let the prize slip through its fingers at some sudden call upon
For the time being her thoughts were evidently fixed upon her present
purpose, to the exclusion of all considerations such as might have been
expected to obtrude themselves upon the mind of a young girl engaged in a
nocturnal raid. The dark solitude, the lateness of the hour, the
surreptitious manner of her entry into the room, all these, which might
well have occasioned some degree of nervousness in the coolest of
housebreakers, appeared to produce, in her, nothing of the sort. As
calmly as if she were sitting by her own bedside, she examined the
documents in Lord Ashiel's bureau, sorting and folding the contents of
one drawer after another as if it were the most commonplace thing in the
world to go over other people's private papers in the dead of night.
And what was she looking for?
Gimblet felt no doubt on that subject. This could surely be no other than
Julia, the adopted daughter of Countess Romaninov, whom Lord Ashiel had
for so long supposed to be his daughter. In some way or other she must
have discovered the problematic relationship, and now she was hunting for
proof of her birth, or perhaps for the will which should deprive her of
her inheritance. It was even possible that the dead peer had been
mistaken, and that Julia was indeed his daughter and not unaware of the
fact. But what was she doing here, and where did she come from? Surely
Juliet had told him that all the guests had left the castle.
Gimblet had never seen her before; but, as he watched her slow
deliberate movements and quick intelligent eyes, he had an odd feeling
that they were already acquainted. She reminded him of some one; how, he
couldn't say. Perhaps it was the features, perhaps merely the
expression, but if they had never previously met, at least he must have
seen some one she resembled. Rack his brains as he might, he could not
remember who it was. He put the thought aside. Sooner or later the
recollection would come to him.
The night was a warm one, and Gimblet felt no need for his coat, though
he was a little uneasy lest his white shirt should show up against the
dark background if she should chance to look out. Behind him the trees in
the wood stirred noisily and untiringly in the wind, and from time to
time an owl cried out of the gloom; but no sound from within the castle
reached his ears throughout the long hour during which he stood watching
while deftly and methodically the young lady in the library went about
her business. He wondered if this girl, who stealthily, in the night, by
the gleam of a pocket lantern, was engaged in such questionable
employment, were unwarrantably ransacking the belongings of her former
host, or believed herself to be exercising a daughter's right in going
over the papers of a dead parent.
The time came when the last paper was examined, the last drawer quietly
pushed back into its place; then, with every sign of disappointment, she
slowly rose, and taking up her torch made the tour of the room as if
debating whether she had not left some corner unexplored. But the library
was scantily furnished, apart from the books that lined the walls, and
though she drew more than one volume from its place, and thrust a hand
into the back of the shelf, it was with a dispirited air. Soon, with a
glance at her watch, she abandoned the search, and slowly and
hesitatingly moved in the direction of the door and laid her fingers upon
She did not turn it, however, but stood irresolute, her eyes on the
floor. After a moment of indecision, the detective saw her mouth compress
firmly, and with a quick movement of the head, as if she were shaking
herself free from some persistent and troublesome thought, she turned
and walked deliberately towards the alcove at the end of the room.
"Now," thought Gimblet, "we shall see where the secret door is
Judge of his surprise and excitement, when the girl stopped before the
tall case of the lacquered clock and, opening it, stepped inside and drew
the door to behind her. For five minutes, with nose pressed to the pane
of the window, the detective waited, expecting her to reappear; then an
idea struck him, and he clapped his hand against his leg in his
exasperation at not having guessed before.
He turned immediately, and using the same precautions as before made
good his retreat, and returned by way of the drawing-room window to
All was silent there, and the empty room displayed no sign of its
nocturnal visitors. Gimblet did not hesitate. He went straight to the
clock and pulled open the door. The black interior was as empty and bare
as when he had previously examined it, but he betrayed neither
astonishment nor doubt as to his next action.
Stooping down he ran his hand over the painted wooden flooring. As he
expected, his fingers encountered a small knob in one of the corners,
and he had no sooner pressed it when the whole bottom of the case fell
suddenly away beneath his touch. As he stretched down the hand that held
the electric torch, the light fell upon an open trap-door and the
topmost step of a narrow flight of stairs, which descended into the
thickness of the wall.
Gimblet stepped into the case, and lowered himself quickly through the
hole at the bottom.
The stairs proved to be but a short flight, ending in a low passage,
which wound away through the wall of the ancient building. The
detective felt little doubt that it led to another concealed opening in
some distant part of the castle. But he had other things to think of
for the moment.
"The clock--eleven--steps." The meaning of Lord Ashiel's dying words was,
he thought, plain enough now.
Running up the stairs again, he descended more slowly, counting the
treads as he went.
There were fifteen.
Gimblet bent down and held his torch so that the light fell bright upon
the eleventh step.
It presented identically the same appearance as the rest, the rough-hewn
stone dipping slightly in the middle as if many feet had trodden it in
the course of the centuries which had elapsed since it was first placed
there, but in every respect the worn surface resembled those of the steps
above and below it, as far as Gimblet could see.
He tapped it, and it gave forth the same sound as its neighbours. Then he
lowered the torch and ran its beams along the front of the step; high up,
under the overhanging edge of the tread above it, it seemed as if there
were a flaw or crack in the stone. He knocked upon it, and it gave back a
different sound to the stone around it.
Clearly it was wood, not stone, though so cleverly painted to imitate its
surroundings that it was a thousand to one against anyone ever noticing
it; and yes, there was a little circular depression in the middle of it.
Gimblet's thumb pressed heavily against the place, and immediately there
was a click, and a long narrow drawer flew out.
In it lay a single sheet of paper, and Gimblet's fingers shook with
excitement as he drew it forth.
A moment's pause while he perused the writing upon it, and then the
exultation on his face dwindled away. He could perceive no meaning in
these apparently random sentences.
"Remember that where there's a way there's a will. Face curiosity and
take the bull by the horn."
Was this the cipher, of which he had never received the key? The papers
he had hoped to find must be hidden elsewhere. No doubt in some place
whose whereabouts was indicated, if he could only understand it, by the
incomprehensible message he held.
He stared at it for some minutes in an endeavour to find the translation;
then, reflecting that this was neither the time nor place for deciphering
cryptograms, he placed it carefully in an inner pocket, and after a hasty
exploration of the passage beyond which did not reveal anything
interesting except from an archaeological point of view, he thoughtfully
mounted to the room above.
Closing the trap-door, and making sure that everything in the library was
left as he had found it, Gimblet made his exit from the castle in the
same manner as he had entered it, and groped his silent way home through
A convenient creeper made it easy to climb on to the porch of Lady Ruth's
house, now wrapped in peaceful slumber; and so in at his own window once
more. The noise of the wind, which had now freshened to the strength of
half a gale, drowned any sound of his return, and he lost no time in
getting to bed and to sleep. The puzzle must keep till to-morrow. It was
one of Gimblet's rules to take proper rest when it was at all possible,
for he knew that his work suffered if he came to it physically exhausted.
Gimblet was up early next morning, refreshed by a sound and
For two hours before breakfast he wrestled with the cryptic message on
the sheet of paper, trying first one way and then another of solving the
riddle it presented, but still finding no solution. He was silent and
preoccupied during the morning meal, replying to inquiries as to his
headache, alternately, with obvious inattention and exaggerated
gratitude. Neither of the ladies spoke much, however, and his
absent-mindedness passed almost unnoticed.
Lord Ashiel was to be buried that day. Before they left the dining-room
sombre figures could be seen striding along the high road towards
Inverashiel: inhabitants of the scattered villages, and people from the
neighbouring estates, hurrying to show their respect to the dead peer for
the last time.
The tragic circumstances of the murder had aroused great excitement all
over the countryside, and a large gathering assembled at the little
island at the head of the loch, where the McConachans had left their
bones since the early days of the youth of the race.
From the surrounding glens, from distant hills and valleys, and even from
far-away Edinburgh and Oban, came McConachans, to render their final
tribute to the head of the clan. It was surprising to see how large was
the muster; for the most part a company of tall, thin men, with lean
faces and drooping wisps of moustache.
To a mournful dirge on the pipes, Ashiel was laid in his rocky grave, and
the throng of black-garmented people was ferried back the way it had
come. Gimblet, wrapped to the ears in a thick overcoat, and with a silk
scarf wound high round his neck, shivered in the cold air, for the wind
had veered to the north, and the first breath of the Arctic winter was
already carried on it. The waters of the loch had turned a slaty black;
little angry waves broke incessantly over its surface; and inky black
clouds were gathering slowly on the distant horizon. It looked as if the
fine weather were at an end; as if Nature herself were mourning angrily
at the wanton destruction of her child. The pity and regret Gimblet had
felt, as he stood by the murdered man's grave, suddenly turned to a
feeling of rage, both with himself and with the victim of the crime.
Why in the world had he not managed to guard against a danger of whose
imminence he had had full warning? And why in the name of everything that
was imbecile had Lord Ashiel, who knew much better than anyone else how
real the danger was, chosen to sit at a lighted window, and offer so
tempting a target to his enemy?
Suddenly, in the midst of his musings, a sound fell on the detective's
ear; a voice he had heard before, low and musical, and curiously
resonant. He looked in the direction from which it came and saw two
people standing together, a little apart, in the crowd of those waiting
at the water's edge for a craft to carry them ashore. There were only two
or three boats; and, though the ghillies bent to their oars with a will,
every one could not cross the narrow channel which divided the island
from the mainland at one and the same time. A group had already formed on
the beach of those who were not the first to get away, and among these
were the two figures that had attracted Gimblet's attention.
They were two ladies, who stood watching the boats, which had landed
their passengers and were now returning empty.
The nearest to him, a tall woman of ample proportions, was visibly
affected by the ceremony she had just witnessed, and dabbed from time to
time at her eyes with a handkerchief.
But it was her companion who interested him. She was short and slender;
her slightness accentuated by the long dress of black cloth and the small
plain hat of the same colour which she wore. A thick black veil hung down
over her face and obscured it from his view, but about her general
appearance there was something strangely familiar. In a moment Gimblet
knew what it was, and where he had seen her before. He had caught sight,
in her hand, of a little bag of striped black satin with purple pansies
embroidered at intervals upon it. Just such a bag had lain upon the table
of his flat in Whitehall a few weeks ago, on the day when its owner had
stolen the envelope entrusted to him by Lord Ashiel.
"It is she," breathed the detective, "the widow!"
And for one wild moment he was on the point of accosting her and
demanding his missing letter. Wiser counsels prevailed, however, and he
moved away to the other side of the small group of mourners gathered on
the stony beach.
When he ventured to look at her again, it was over the shoulder of a
stalwart Highlander, whose large frame effectually concealed all of the
little detective except his hat and eyes. A further surprise was in store
for him. The lady had lifted her veil and displayed the features of the
girl he had watched in the library on the preceding night.
Gimblet had seen enough. He turned away, and found Juliet at his elbow.
She would have passed him by, absorbed in her sorrow for the father she
had found and lost in the space of one short hour, but he laid her hand
upon her arm.
"Tell me," he begged, "who are those two ladies waiting for the boat?"
Juliet's eyes followed the direction of his own.
"Those," she said, "are Mrs. Clutsam and Miss Julia Romaninov."
"Ah," Gimblet murmured. "They were among your fellow-guests at the
castle, weren't they?"
Juliet's reply was short and a little cold. She could not understand why
the detective should choose this moment to question her on trivial
details. It showed, she considered, a lamentable lack of tact, and
involuntarily she resented it.
"But surely you told me that every one had left Inverashiel," persisted
He seemed absurdly eager for the information. No doubt, Juliet reflected
bitterly, he admired Julia. Most men would.
"Mrs. Clutsam lives in another small house of my father's, near here,"
she replied stiffly. "She asked Miss Romaninov to stay with her for a
few days till she could arrange where to go to. This disaster naturally
upset every one's plans."
"She has a beautiful face," said Gimblet. "Who would think--" he
murmured, and stopped abruptly.
"Perhaps you would like me to introduce you?"
Juliet spoke with lofty indifference, but the dismay in Gimblet's tone as
he answered disarmed her.
"On no account," he cried, "the last thing! Besides, for that matter," he
added truthfully, "we have met before."
"Then you will have the pleasure of renewing your acquaintance," Juliet
suggested mischievously. Gimblet had shown himself so genuinely aghast
that her resentful suspicions had vanished.
"I expect to have an opportunity of doing so," he agreed seriously. "That
young lady," he went on in a low, confidential tone, "played a trick on
me that I find it hard to forgive. I look forward, with some
satisfaction, to the day when the laugh will be on my side. I admit I
ought to be above such paltry considerations, but, what would you? I
don't think I am. But please don't mention my presence to her, or her
friend. I imagine she has not so far heard of it."
"I won't if you don't like," said Juliet. "I don't suppose I shall
see them to speak to. But why do you feel so sure she doesn't know
you are here?"
"Oh, how should she?" Gimblet returned evasively. "I don't suppose my
presence would appear worth commenting upon to anyone but yourself or
Lord Ashiel, unless Lady Ruth should mention it."
"I don't think she will," said Juliet. "She said she could not speak to
anyone to-day, and she and Mark have gone off together in his own boat.
I said I would walk home."
"Won't you drive with me?" Gimblet suggested.
He had hired a "machine" from the distant village of Inverlegan to carry
him to and from the funeral. But Juliet preferred to walk, finding in
physical exercise the only relief she could obtain from the aching
trouble that oppressed and sickened her.
Gimblet drove back alone to the cottage. He had much to occupy his
Once back in his room he turned his mind to the writing on the
sheet of paper.
"Remember that where there's a way there's a will. Face curiosity and
take the bull by the horn."
The message, as Gimblet read it, was as puzzling as if it had been
completely in cipher.
If certain of the words possessed some arbitrary meaning to which the key
promised by Lord Ashiel would have furnished the solution, there seemed
little hope of understanding the message until the key was found. The
word "way," for instance, might stand for another that had been
previously decided on, and if rightly construed probably indicated the
place where the papers were concealed. "Will," "face," "curiosity,"
"bull" and "horn" were likely to represent other very different words, or
perhaps even whole sentences.
Without the key it was hopeless to search along that line; such search
must end, as it would begin, in conjecture only. He would see if anything
more promising could be arrived at by taking the message as it was and
assuming that all the words bore the meaning usually attributed to them.
For more than an hour Gimblet racked his brains to read sense into the
senseless phrases, and at the end of that time was no wiser than at the
"Where there's a way there's a will." Was it by accident or design that
the order in which the words way and will were placed was different from
the one commonly assigned to them? Had Lord Ashiel made a mistake in
arranging the message? Or did the "will" refer to his will and testament?
If so, why should he take so roundabout a way of designating it?
Doubtless because something more important than the will was involved;
indeed, if anything was clear, from the ambiguous sentence and the
precaution that Ashiel had taken that though it fell into the hands of
his enemies it should convey nothing to them, it was that he considered
the mystification of the uninitiated a matter of transcendental
importance. It was plain he contemplated the possibility of the Nihilists
knowing where to look for his message; and at the thought Gimblet shifted
uneasily in his chair, remembering his first encounter with their
"Face curiosity and take the bull by the horn." Perhaps those words, as
they stood, contained some underlying sense, which at present it was hard
to read in them. What it was, seemed impossible to guess. To take the
bull by the horn, is a common enough expression, and might represent no
more than a piece of advice to act boldly; on the whole that was not
likely, for would anyone wind up such a carefully veiled communication
with so trite and everyday a saying, or finish such an obscure message
with so ordinary a sentiment?
"Face curiosity," however, was perhaps a direction how to proceed. The
only trouble was to know what in the world it meant!
Whose curiosity was to be faced? The behaviour of members of a Nihilist
society could hardly be said to be impelled by that motive. Gimblet could
not see that anyone else had shown any symptom of it. Had "curiosity,"
then, some other meaning?
The detective, as has been said, was an amateur of the antique. When not
at work, a great part of his time was passed in the neighbourhood of
curiosity shops, and the merchandise they dealt in immediately occurred
to him in connection with the word.
Did the dead man refer to some peculiarity of the ancient keep? Was
there, perhaps, the figure or picture of a bull within the castle whose
horn pointed to the ultimate place of concealment? It would have seemed,
Gimblet thought, that the hidden receptacle in the secret stair was
difficult enough to find; but the reason the papers were not placed in
there was plain to him after a minute's reflection. It was doubtless
because they were too bulky to be contained in the shallow drawer. At all
events, there was certainly another hiding-place; and, on the whole, the
best plan seemed to be to see if the castle could produce any curiosity
that would offer a solution of the problem.
To the castle, accordingly, he went, and asked to see Lord Ashiel. He was
shown into the smoking-room, where Mark was kneeling on the hearth-rug
surrounded by piles of folded and docketed papers. The door of a small
cupboard in the wall beside the fireplace stood open, revealing a row of
deep shelves stacked with the same neat packets.
"Still hunting for the will, you see," he said, looking up as Gimblet
entered, "I'm beginning to give up hope of finding it, but it's a mercy
to have something to do these days."
"Rather a tedious job, isn't it?" said the detective, looking down at the
musty tape-bound bundles.
"Well, it gives one rather a kink in the back after a time," Mark
admitted. "But I shan't feel easy in my mind till I've looked through
everything, and I'm getting a very useful idea of the estate accounts in
the meantime. It _is_ rather a long business, but I'm getting on with it,
slow but sure. There are such a fearful lot."
"Are all these cupboards full of papers?" Gimblet asked, looking round
him at the numerous little doors in the panelling.
"Stuffed with them, every blessed one of them," Mark replied rather
gloomily. "And the worst of it is, I'm pretty certain they're nothing but
these dusty old bills and letters. But there's nowhere else to look, and
I know he kept nearly everything here."
Gimblet sauntered round the room, pulling open the drawers and peeping in
at the piles of documents.
"What an accumulation!" he remarked. "None of these cupboards are locked,
I see," he added.
"No, he never locked anything up," said Mark. "I've heard him boast he
never used a key. Do you know, if one had time to read them, I believe
some of these old letters might be rather amusing. It looked as if my
grandfather and his fathers had kept every single one that ever was
written to them. I've just come across one from Raeburn, the painter, and
I saw another, a quarter of an hour ago, from Lord Clive."
"Really," said Gimblet eagerly, "which cupboard were they in? I should
like to see them immensely some time."
"They were in this one," said Mark, pointing to the shelves
Gimblet stood facing it, and looked hopefully round him in all directions
for anything like a bull. There was nothing, however, to suggest such an
animal, and he reflected that interesting though these old letters might
be it would be going rather far to refer to them as curiosities. Suddenly
an idea struck him.
"I suppose you haven't come across anything concerning a Papal Bull?"
"No," said Mark, looking up in surprise. "It's not very likely I should,
"No, I suppose not," said Gimblet. "Still, you old families did get hold
of all sorts of odd things sometimes, and your uncle was a bit of a
collector, wasn't he?"
"Uncle Douglas," said Mark, "not he! He didn't care a bit for that kind
of thing. You can see in the drawing-room the sort of horrors he used to
buy. He was thoroughly early Victorian in his tastes, and ought to have
been born fifty years sooner than he was."
"Dear me," said Gimblet. "I don't know why I thought he was rather by way
of being a connoisseur. Well, well, I mustn't waste any more time. I
wanted to ask you if you would mind my going all over the house. I may
see something suggestive. Who knows? At present I have only examined the
library and your uncle's bedroom."
"By all means," said Mark. "Blanston will show you anything you want to
see. Oh, by the by, you like to be alone, don't you? I was forgetting.
Well, go anywhere you like; and good luck to your hunting!"
On a writing-table in one of the bedrooms, Gimblet found a paper-weight
in the bronze shape of a Spanish toro, head down, tail brandishing, a
fine emblem of goaded rage. But there was nothing promising about the
round mahogany table on which it stood: no drawer, secret or otherwise
could all his measurings and tappings discover; the animal, when lifted
up by the horn and dangled before the detective's critical eye,
proclaimed itself modern and of no artistic merit. It was like a hundred
others to be had in any Spanish town, and by no expanding of terms could
it be considered a curiosity.
Except for this one more than doubtful find, he drew the whole house
absolutely blank. There were very few specimens of ancient work in the
castle, which like so many other old houses had been stripped of
everything interesting it contained in the middle of the nineteenth
century, and entirely refurnished and redecorated in the worst possible
taste. With the exception of some family portraits, the lacquered clock
in the library was the one genuine survival of the Victorian holocaust,
and though Gimblet passed nearly half an hour in contemplating it he
could not see any way of connecting it with a bull, nor was he a whit the
wiser when he finally turned his back on it than he had been at the
Blanston, to whom he appealed, could give no useful information. Yes,
some of the plate was old, but that was all at the bank in London. Mrs.
Haviland, his lordship's sister, had liked it on the table when his
lordship entertained in his London house, and it had not been carried
backwards and forwards to Scotland since her ladyship's death.
He knew of nothing resembling a bull in his lordship's possession, unless
it was the picture of cows that hung in the drawing-room opposite the one
of the dead stag.
Gimblet had already exhausted the possibilities of that highly varnished
oil-painting, and he went forth from the house in a state of deep
As he descended the drive he heard his name called, and looking back
perceived the short, sturdy figure of Lady Ruth hurrying down the road
"If you are going back to the cottage, Mr. Gimblet," she panted, "let us
walk together. I ran after you when I saw your hat go past the window,
for I couldn't stand those frowsty old papers of Mark's any longer."
Gimblet waited till she came up, still talking, although considerably out
"We will go by the road, if you don't mind," she said, "the lochside is
rather rough for me. I have been paying a visit of charity, and very hard
work it is paying visits in the country when you don't keep a conveyance
of any kind, and I really can't afford even a donkey. You see the
Judge's income died with him, poor dear, in spite of those foolish
sayings about not being able to take your money with you to the better
land, where I am sure one would want it just as much as anywhere else,
for the better life you lead, the more expensive it is. No one could be
generous, or charitable, or unselfish, with nothing to give up or to give
away. That's only common sense, and I always say that common sense is
such a help when called upon to face problems of a religious kind.
"My uncle was a bishop and a very learned theologian, I assure you; but
he always held that it was impious to apply plain common sense to matters
so far above us, and that is why he and my poor husband were never on
speaking terms; not from any fault of the Judge's, who had been trained
to think about logic and all that kind of thing which is so useful to
people at the Bar.
"But it takes all sorts to make a world, as he often used to say to
himself, and if every one was exactly alike one would feel almost as
solitary as if the whole earth was empty and void, while, as for virtues
and good qualities, they would automatically cease to exist, so that a
really good man would simply long to go to hell and have some opportunity
to show his goodness. That always seemed very reasonable to me, but I am
just telling you what my husband used to say, because I really don't know
much about these things, and he was such a clever man, and what he said
was always listened to with great interest and respect at the Old Bailey.
If it hadn't been, of course he would have cleared the court.
"But as I was telling you, his money went with him, though I know he
always meant to insure his life, which is such a boring thing to think of
when a man has many calls on his purse. And so, I live, as you see, in a
very quiet way up here, and sometimes get down to the South for a month
or six weeks in the winter, where I have many kind friends. But I find
the hills rather trying to my legs as time goes on, and I don't very
often walk as far as I have to-day. Still charity, as they say, covers a
multitude of miles, and I really thought it my duty to come and see how
poor Mark was bearing up all alone at Inverashiel. I was afraid he would
be terribly unhappy, poor boy, so soon after the funeral, and Juliet
Byrne having refused him, and everything. Though of course he can't be
pitied for inheriting Inverashiel, such a lovely place, is it not? And
quantities of property in the coal district, you know, besides. He is
really a very lucky young man."
"It is indeed a most beautiful country," Gimblet observed, as Lady
Ruth's breath gave out completely, and she stopped by the roadside to
regain it. He was deep in thought, and glad to escape the necessity of
"Yes," she said, as they moved slowly on, "I had a delightful walk here,
and found him much more cheerful than I had feared. It is such a good
thing he has all those papers to look over. It is everything, at a time
like this, to have an occupation. It is so dreadful to think of dear
David with absolutely nothing to do in that horrid cell. I wonder if they
allow him to smoke, or to keep a tame mouse, which I remember reading is
such a comfort to prisoners. I do hope, Mr. Gimblet, that you will soon
be able to get him out of it."
Before Gimblet could reply, the silence was broken by the rumble of
wheels; and a farmer's cart came up behind them, driven by a thin man
in a black coat, who had evidently attended the funeral earlier in the
day. The road, at the point they had reached, was beginning to ascend;
and the stout pony between the shafts slowed resolutely to a walk as he
leant against the collar. The man lifted his hat as Lady Ruth wished
him good day.
"I saw you at the funeral, Angus McConachan," she said. "A sad business.
A terrible business." And she shook her head mournfully.
The farmer stopped the willing pony.
"That it is, my leddy," he assented. "It's a black day indeed, when the
heed o' a clan is struck doon by are o' his ain bleed. It's a great peety
that the lad would ha' forgot what he owed to his salt. But I'm thinkin'
they'll be hangin' him afore the year's oot."
"Oh, Angus," cried Lady Ruth, in horrified tones, "don't talk in that
dreadful way. I'm quite, quite sure Sir David never had any part in the
thing. It's all a mistake, and this gentleman here is going to find out
who really fired the shot."
"Well, I hope ye'll be richt, my leddy," was all the farmer would commit
himself to, as he gathered up the reins. Then he hesitated, looking down
on the hot, flushed countenance of the lady in the road beneath him. "If
yer leddyship will be tackin' a seat in the machine," he hazarded, "it'll
maybe save ye the trail up the brae."
Lady Ruth accepted the suggestion with great content. She was getting
very tired, and was finding the walk more exhausting than she had
bargained for. She lost no time in climbing up beside Angus, and the fat
pony was induced to continue its reluctant progress.
Near the top of the hill the road forked into two branches, that which
led to the right continuing parallel with the loch, whilst the other
diverged over the hill towards Auchtermuchty, a town some fifteen miles
distant. The stout pony unhesitatingly took the turning to the left.
The farmer looked at Lady Ruth inquiringly.
"Will ye get doon here, my leddy?" he asked; "or will ye drive on as far
as the sheepfold? It will be shorter for ye tae walk doon fay there, by
the burn and the Green Way."
"I should like to do that;" said Lady Ruth, "if you don't mind taking me
so far. Perhaps you would give Mr. Gimblet a lift too, now that we're on
top of the hill?"
The man readily consented, and Gimblet, who was following on foot, was
called and informed of the proposed change of route. He scrambled into
the back of the cart and they rattled along the upper road, the stout
pony no doubt wearing a very aggrieved expression under its blinkers.
When another mile had been traversed, they were put down at a place where
a rough track led down across the moor by the side of an old stone
The cart jogged off to the sound of a chorus of thanks, and Lady Ruth and
Gimblet started down the heather-grown path. They rounded the corners of
the deserted fold, and walked on into the golden mist of sunset which
spread in front of them, enveloping and dazzling. The clouds of the
morning had rolled silently away to the horizon, the wind had dropped to
a mere capful; and the midges were abroad in their hosts, rejoicing in
the improvement in the weather.
"I don't believe it's going to rain after all," said Lady Ruth. "The sun
looks rather too red, perhaps, to be quite safe, though it _is_ supposed
to be the shepherd's delight. I can only say that, if he was delighted
with the result of some of the red sunsets we get up here, he'd be easily
pleased, and for my part I'm never surprised at anything. These midges
are past belief, aren't they?"
They were, Gimblet agreed heartily. He gathered a handful of fern and
tried to keep them at bay, but they were persevering and ubiquitous. Soon
the path led them away from the open moor, and into the wood of birches
and young oaks which clung to the side of the hill. A little farther, and
Gimblet heard the distant gurgling of a burn; presently they were picking
their way between moss-covered boulders on the edge of a rocky gully.
Great tufts of ferns dotted the steep pitch of the bank below; the stream
that clattered among the stones at the bottom shone very cool and shadowy
under the alders; and a clearing on the other side revealed, over the
receding woods, the broken hill-tops of a blue horizon.
The path wound gradually downward to the waterside, and in a little while
they crossed it by means of a row of stepping-stones over which Lady Ruth
passed as boldly as her companion.
Another hundred yards of shade, and they came out into a long narrow
glen, carpeted with short springy turf, and bordered, as by an avenue,
with trees knee-deep in bracken. The rectangular shape and enclosed
nature of the glade came as a surprise in the midst of the wild
woodlands. The place had more the air of forming part of pleasure grounds
near to the haunts of man, and the eye wandered instinctively in search
of a house. The effect of artificiality was increased by a large piece of
statuary representing a figure carved in stone and standing upon a high
oblong pediment, which stood a little distance down the glen.
Gimblet did not repress his feeling of astonishment.
"What a strange place!" he exclaimed. "Who would have expected to
find this lawn tucked away in the woods. Or is there a house
somewhere at hand?"
"No," Lady Ruth answered, "there is nothing nearer than my cottage half a
mile away; and this short grass and flat piece of ground are entirely
natural. Nothing has been touched, except here and there a tree cut out
to keep the borders straight. The late Lady Ashiel, the wife of my
unfortunate cousin, was very fond of this place. Although it is farther,
she always walked round by it when she came to see me at the cottage.
That absurd statue was put up last year as a sort of memorial to her--a
most unsuitable one to my mind, she being a chilly sort of woman, poor
dear, who always shivered if she saw so much as a hen moulting. I'm sure
it would distress her terribly if she knew that poor creature over there
had to stand in the glen in all weathers, year in and year out, with only
a rag to cover her. And a stone rag at that, which is a cold material at
the best. Yes, this is only the beginning of a track which runs for miles
across the hills to the South. It is so green that you can always make it
out from the heights, and there are all sorts of legends about it. It is
supposed to be the road over which the clans drove back the cattle they
captured in the old days when they were always raiding each other. They
have a name for it In the Gaelic, which means the Green Way."
"The Green Way," Gimblet repeated mechanically. For a moment his brain
revolved with wild imaginings.
"Yes," repeated Lady Ruth. "Sometimes they call it 'The Way,' for short.
It is a favourite place for picnics from Crianan. My cousin used to allow
them to come here, and the place is generally made hideous with
egg-shells and paper and old bottles. One of the gardeners comes and
tidies things up once a week in the summer. People are so absolutely
"Is there a bull here?" cried Gimblet. He was quivering with excitement.
"Goodness gracious, I hope not!" said Lady Ruth. "Do you see any cattle?
I can't bear those long-horned Highlanders!"
"No," said Gimblet. "I thought perhaps--But what is the statue? The
design, surely, is rather a strange one for the place."
"Most extraordinary," assented Lady Ruth. "He got it in Italy and had it
sent the whole way by sea. It took all the king's horses and all the
king's men to get it up here, I can tell you. And, as I say, nothing
less apropos can one possibly imagine. That poor thin female with such
very scanty clothing is hardly a cheerful object on a Scotch winter's
day, and as for those little naked imps they would make anyone shiver,
even in August."
They had drawn near the sculptured group. It consisted of the slightly
draped figure of a girl, bending over an open box, or casket, from which
a crowd of small creatures, apparently, as Lady Ruth had said, imps or
fairies, were scrambling and leaping forth.
Gimblet gazed at it intently, as if he had never seen a statue
before. In a moment his face cleared and he turned to Lady Ruth with
"It is Pandora," he cried. "Curiosity! Pandora and her box. Is it
Lady Ruth stared at him amazed.
"I believe it is," she said, "that or something of the sort. I'm not very
well up in mythology."
"Of course it is," cried Gimblet. "Face curiosity! And here's the bull,
or I'll eat my microscope," he added, advancing to the side of the group
and laying a hand upon the pedestal.
Lady Ruth followed his gaze with some concern. She was beginning to doubt
his sanity. But there, sure enough, beneath his pointing finger, she
perceived a row of carved heads: the heads of bulls, garlanded in the
Roman manner, and forming a kind of cornice round the top of the great
rectangular stone stand.
Gimblet glanced to right and left, up the glen and down it. There was no
one to be seen. The sun had fallen by this time beneath the rim of the
hills; a greyness of twilight was spread over the whole scene, and under
the trees the dusk of night was already silently ousting the day. He
turned once more to Lady Ruth.
"Lady Ruth," he said, "can you keep a secret?"
"My husband trusted me," she replied. "He was judicious as well as
"I am sure I may follow his example," Gimblet said, after looking at her
fixedly for a moment. "So I will tell you that I believe I am on the
point of discovering Lord Ashiel's missing will--and not that alone.
Somewhere, concealed probably within a few feet of where we are standing,
we may hope to find other and far more important documents, involving,
perhaps, not only the welfare of one or two individuals but that of
kings and nations. Apart from that, and to speak of what most immediately
concerns us at present, I am convinced that within this stone will be
found the true clue to the author of the murder."
"You don't say so," gasped Lady Ruth, her round eyes rounder than ever.
"I found some directions in the handwriting of the murdered man," went on
Gimblet, "which I could not understand at first. But their meaning is
plain enough now. 'Take the bull by the horn,' he says. Well, here are