Part 3 out of 4
Sir Isaac, "and skill to play them, but I'm generally
pretty lucky at it."
"Does a big fish ever break the line and get
away?" inquired the politician, with respectful
"Not the sort of line I use," answered Hook, with
satisfaction. "I rather specialize in tackle, as a matter
of fact. If he were strong enough to do that, he'd be
strong enough to pull me into the river."
"A great loss to the community," said the Prime
Fisher had listened to all these futilities with
inward impatience, waiting for his own opportunity,
and when the host rose he sprang to his feet with an
alertness he rarely showed. He managed to catch
Lord Merivale before Sir Isaac bore him off for the
final interview. He had only a few words to say, but
he wanted to get them said.
He said, in a low voice as he opened the door for
the Premier, "I have seen Montmirail; he says that
unless we protest immediately on behalf of Denmark,
Sweden will certainly seize the ports."
Lord Merivale nodded. "I'm just going to hear
what Hook has to say about it," he said.
"I imagine," said Fisher, with a faint smile, "that
there is very little doubt what he will say about it."
Merivale did not answer, but lounged gracefully
toward the library, whither his host had already
preceded him. The rest drifted toward the billiard
room, Fisher merely remarking to the lawyer: "They
won't be long. We know they're practically in
"Hook entirely supports the Prime Minister,"
"Or the Prime Minister entirely supports Hook,"
said Horne Fisher, and began idly to knock the balls
about on the billiard table.
Horne Fisher came down next morning in a late
and leisurely fashion, as was his reprehensible habit;
he had evidently no appetite for catching worms. But
the other guests seemed to have felt a similar
indifference, and they helped themselves to breakfast
from the sideboard at intervals during the hours
verging upon lunch. So that it was not many hours
later when the first sensation of that strange day
came upon them. It came in the form of a young man
with light hair and a candid expression, who came
sculling down the river and disembarked at the
landing stage. It was, in fact, no other than Mr.
Harold March, whose journey had begun far away up
the river in the earliest hours of that day. He arrived
late in the afternoon, having stopped for tea in a
large riverside town, and he had a pink evening paper
sticking out of his pocket. He fell on the riverside
garden like a quiet and well-behaved thunderbolt, but
he was a thunderbolt without knowing it.
The first exchange of salutations and introductions
was commonplace enough, and consisted,
indeed, of the inevitable repetition of excuses for the
eccentric seclusion of the host. He had gone fishing
again, of course, and must not be disturbed till the
appointed hour, though he sat within a stone's throw
of where they stood.
"You see it's his only hobby," observed Harker,
apologetically, "and, after all, it's his own house; and
he's very hospitable in other ways."
"I'm rather afraid," said Fisher, in a lower voice,
"that it's becoming more of a mania than a hobby. I
know how it is when a man of that age begins to
collect things, if it's only collecting those rotten little
river fish. You remember Talbot's uncle with his
toothpicks, and poor old Buzzy and the waste of cigar
ashes. Hook has done a lot of big things in his time--the great
deal in the Swedish timber trade and the
Peace Conference at Chicago--but I doubt whether
he cares now for any of those big things as he cares
for those little fish."
"Oh, come, come," protested the Attorney-General.
"You'll make Mr. March think he has come to call
on a lunatic. Believe me, Hook only does it for fun,
like any other sport, only he's of the kind that takes
his fun sadly. But I bet if there were big news about
timber or shipping, he would drop his fun and his fish
"Well, I wonder," said Horne Fisher, looking
sleepily at the island in the river.
"By the way, is there any news of anything?" asked
Harker of Harold March. "I see you've got an
evening paper; one of those enterprising evening
papers that come out in the morning."
"The beginning of Lord Merivale's Birmingham
speech," replied March, handing him the paper. "It's
only a paragraph, but it seems to me rather good."
Harker took the paper, flapped and refolded it, and
looked at the "Stop Press" news. It was, as March
had said, only a paragraph. But it was a paragraph
that had a peculiar effect on Sir John Harker. His
lowering brows lifted with a flicker and his eyes
blinked, and for a moment his leathery jaw was
loosened. He looked in some odd fashion like a very
old man. Then, hardening his voice and handing the
paper to Fisher without a tremor, he simply said:
"Well, here's a chance for the bet. You've got
your big news to disturb the old man's fishing."
Horne Fisher was looking at the paper, and over
his more languid and less expressive features a
change also seemed to pass. Even that little
paragraph had two or three large headlines, and his
eye encountered, "Sensational Warning to Sweden,"
and, "We Shall Protest."
"What the devil--" he said, and his words softened
first to a whisper and then a whistle.
"We must tell old Hook at once, or he'll never
forgive us," said Harker. "He'll probably want to see
Number One instantly, though it may be too late
now. I'm going across to him at once. I bet I'll make
him forget his fish, anyhow." And, turning his back,
he made his way hurriedly along the riverside to the
causeway of flat stones.
March was staring at Fisher, in amazement at the
effect his pink paper had produced.
"What does it all mean?" he cried. "I always
supposed we should protest in defense of the
Danish ports, for their sakes and our own. What is
all this botheration about Sir Isaac and the rest of
you? Do you think it bad news?"
"Bad news!" repeated Fisher, with a sort of soft
emphasis beyond expression.
"Is it as bad as all that?" asked his friend, at last.
"As bad as all that?" repeated Fisher. "Why of
course it's as good as it can be. It's great news. It's
glorious news! That's where the devil of it comes in,
to knock us all silly. It's admirable. It's inestimable.
It is also quite incredible."
He gazed again at the gray and green colors of
the island and the river, and his rather dreary eye
traveled slowly round to the hedges and the lawns.
"I felt this garden was a sort of dream," he said,
"and I suppose I must be dreaming. But there is
grass growing and water moving; and something
impossible has happened."
Even as he spoke the dark figure with a stoop
like a vulture appeared in the gap of the hedge just
"You have won your bet," said Harker, in a harsh
and almost croaking voice. "The old fool cares for
nothing but fishing. He cursed me and told me he
would talk no politics."
"I thought it might be so," said Fisher, modestly.
"What are you going to do next?"
"I shall use the old idiot's telephone, anyhow,"
replied the lawyer. "I must find out exactly what has
happened. I've got to speak for the Government
myself to-morrow." And he hurried away toward
In the silence that followed, a very bewildeing
silence so far as March was concerned, they saw the
quaint figure of the Duke of Westmoreland, with his
white hat and whiskers, approaching them across the
garden. Fisher instantly stepped toward him with the
pink paper in his hand, and, with a few words,
pointed out the apocalyptic paragraph. The duke,
who had been walking slowly, stood quite still, and for some
seconds he looked like a tailor's dummy
standing and staring outside some antiquated shop.
Then March heard his voice, and it was high and
"But he must see it; he must be made to
understand. It cannot have been put to him properly." Then, with
a certain recovery of fullness and even pomposity in
the voice, "I shall go and tell him myself."
Among the queer incidents of that afternoon,
March always remembered something almost
comical about the clear picture of the old gentleman
in his wonderful white hat carefully stepping from
stone to stone across the river, like a figure crossing
the traffic in Piccadilly. Then he disappeared behind
the trees of the island, and March and Fisher turned
to meet the Attorney-General, who was coming out of
the house with a visage of grim assurance.
"Everybody is saying," he said, "that the Prime
Minister has made the greatest speech of his life.
Peroration and loud and prolonged cheers. Corrupt
financiers and heroic peasants. We will not desert
Fisher nodded and turned away toward the towing
path, where he saw the duke returning with a rather
dazed expression. In answer to question, he said, in a
husky and confidential voice:
"I really think our poor friend cannot be himself.
He refused to listen; he--ah--suggested that I might
frighten the fish."
A keen ear might have detected a murmur from
Mr. Fisher on the subject of a white hat, but Sir John
Harker struck it more decisively:
"Fisher was quite right. I didn't believe it myself,
but it's quite clear that the old fellow is fixed on this
fishing notion by now. If the house caught fire behind
him he would hardly move till sunset."
Fisher had continued his stroll toward the higher
embanked ground of the towing path, and he now
swept a long and searching gaze, not toward the
island, but toward the distant wooded heights that
were the walls of the valley. An evening sky as clear
as that of the previous day was settling down all over
the dim landscape, but toward the west it was now
red rather than gold; there was scarcely any sound
but the monotonous music of the river. Then came the
sound of a half-stifled exclamation from Horne Fisher,
and Harold March looked up at him in wonder.
"You spoke of bad news," said Fisher. "Well, there
is really bad news now. I am afraid this is a bad
"What bad news do you mean?" asked his friend,
conscious of something strange and sinister in his
"The sun has set," answered Fisher.
He went on with the air of one conscious of
having said something fatal. "We must get somebody
to go across whom he will really listen to. He may be
mad, but there's method in his madness. There nearly
always is method in madness.
It's what drives men mad, being methodical. And he
never goes on sitting there after sunset, with the
whole place getting dark. Where's his nephew? I
believe he's really fond of his nephew."
"Look!" cried March, abruptly. "Why, he's been
across already. There he is coming back."
And, looking up the river once more, they saw,
dark against the sunset reflections, the figure of
James Bullen stepping hastily and rather clumsily
from stone to stone. Once he slipped on a stone with
a slight splash. When he rejoined the group on the
bank his olive face was unnaturally pale.
The other four men had already gathered on the
same spot and almost simultaneously were calling out
to him, "What does he say now?"
"Nothing. He says--nothing."
Fisher looked at the young man steadily for a
moment; then he started from his immobility. and,
making a motion to March to follow him, himself
strode down to the river crossing. In a few moments
they were on the little beaten track that ran round the
wooded island, to the other side of it where the
fisherman sat. Then they stood and looked at him,
without a word.
Sir Isaac Hook was still sitting propped up against
the stump of the tree, and that for the best of
reasons. A length of his own infallible fishing line
was twisted and tightened twice round his throat and
then twice round the wooden prop behind him. The
leading investigator ran forward and touched the
fisherman's hand, and it was as cold as a fish.
"The sun has set," said Horne Fisher, in the same
terrible tones, "and he will never see it rise again."
Ten minutes afterward the five men, shaken by
such a shock, were again together in the garden,
looking at one another with white but watchful faces.
The lawyer seemed the most alert of the group; he
was articulate if somewhat abrupt.
"We must leave the body as it is and telephone for
the police," he said. "I think my own authority will
stretch to examining the servants and the poor
fellow's papers, to see if there is anything that
concerns them. Of course, none of you gentlemen
must leave this place."
Perhaps there was something in his rapid and
rigorous legality that suggested the closing of a net or
trap. Anyhow, young Bullen suddenly broke down, or
perhaps blew up, for his voice was like an explosion
in the silent garden.
"I never touched him," he cried. "I swear I had
nothing to do with it!"
"Who said you had?" demanded Harker, with a
hard eye. "Why do you cry out before you're hurt?"
"Because you all look at me like that," cried
the young man, angrily. "Do you think I don't know
you're always talking about my damned debts and
Rather to March's surprise, Fisher had drawn
away from this first collision, leading the duke with
him to another part of the garden. When he was out
of earshot of the others he said, with a curious
simplicity of manner:
"Westmoreland, I am going straight to the point."
"Well?" said the other, staring at him stolidly.
"You have a motive for killing him," said Fisher.
The duke continued to stare, but he seemed
unable to speak.
"I hope you had a motive for killing him," continued
Fisher, mildly. "You see, it's rather a curious situation.
If you have a motive for murdering, you probably
didn't murder. But if you hadn't any motive, why, then
perhaps, you did."
"What on earth are you talking about?" demanded
the duke, violently.
"It's quite simple," said Fisher. "When you went
across he was either alive or dead. If he was alive, it
might be you who killed him, or why should you have
held your tongue about his death? But if he was dead,
and you had a reason for killing him, you might have
held your tongue for fear of being accused." Then
after a silence he added, abstractedly: "Cyprus is a
beautiful place, I believe. Romantic scenery and
romantic people. Very intoxicating for a young man."
The duke suddenly clenched his hands and said,
thickly, "Well, I had a motive."
"Then you're all right," said Fisher, holding out his
hand with an air of huge relief. "I was pretty sure you
wouldn't really do it; you had a fright when you saw it
done, as was only natural. Like a bad dream come
true, wasn't it?"
While this curious conversation was passing,
Harker had gone into the house, disregarding the
demonstrations of the sulky nephew, and came back
presently with a new air of animation and a sheaf of
papers in his hand.
"I've telephoned for the police," he said, stopping
to speak to Fisher, "but I think I've done most of their
work for them. I believe I've found out the truth.
There's a paper here--" He stopped, for Fisher was
looking at him with a singular expression; and it was
Fisher who spoke next:
"Are there any papers that are not there, I
wonder? I mean that are not there now?" After a
pause he added: "Let us have the cards on the table.
When you went through his papers in such a hurry,
Harker, weren't you looking for something to--to make
sure it shouldn't be found?"
Harker did not turn a red hair on his hard head,
but he looked at the other out of the corners of his
"And I suppose," went on Fisher, smoothly, "that is
why you, too, told us lies about having found Hook
alive. You knew there was something to show that
you might have killed him, and you didn't dare tell us
he was killed. But, believe me, it's much better to be
Harker's haggard face suddenly lit up as if with
"Honest," he cried, "it's not so damned fine of you
fellows to be honest. You're all born with silver
spoons in your mouths, and then you swagger about
with everlasting virtue because you haven't got other
people's spoons in your pockets. But I was born in a
Pimlico lodging house and I had to make my spoon,
and there'd be plenty to say I only spoiled a horn or
an honest man. And if a struggling man staggers a bit
over the line in his youth, in the lower parts of the law
which are pretty dingy, anyhow, there's always some
old vampire to hang on to him all his life for it."
"Guatemalan Golcondas, wasn't it?" said Fisher,
Harker suddenly shuddered. Then he said, "I
believe you must know everything, like God Almighty."
"I know too much," said Horne Fisher, "and all the
The other three men were drawing nearer to them,
but before they came too near, Harker said, in a voice
that had recovered all its firmness:
"Yes, I did destroy a paper, but I really did find a
paper, too; and I believe that it clears us all."
"Very well," said Fisher, in a louder and more
cheerful tone; "let us all have the benefit of it."
"On the very top of Sir Isaac's papers," explained
Harker, "there was a threatening letter from a man
named Hugo. It threatens to kill our unfortunate
friend very much in the way that he was actually
killed. It is a wild letter, full of taunts; you can see it
for yourselves; but it makes a particular point of poor
Hook's habit of fishing from the island. Above all, the
man professes to be writing from a boat. And, since
we alone went across to him," and he smiled in a
rather ugly fashion, "the crime must have been
committed by a man passing in a boat."
"Why, dear me!" cried the duke, with something
almost amounting to animation. "Why, I remember
the man called Hugo quite well! He was a sort of
body servant and bodyguard of Sir Isaac. You see,
Sir Isaac was in some fear of assault. He was--he
was not very popular with several people. Hugo was
discharged after some row or other; but I remember him well.
He was a great big Hungarian fellow with great
mustaches that stood out on each side of his face."
A door opened in the darkness of Harold March's
memory, or, rather, oblivion, and showed a shining
landscape, like that of a lost dream. It was rather a
waterscape than a landscape, a thing of flooded
meadows and low trees and the dark archway of a
bridge. And for one instant he saw again the man
with mustaches like dark horns leap up on to the
bridge and disappear.
"Good heavens!" he cried. "Why, I met the
murderer this morning!"
Horne Fisher and Harold March had their day on
the river, after all, for the little group broke up when
the police arrived. They declared that the coincidence
of March's evidence had cleared the whole company,
and clinched the case against the flying Hugo.
Whether that Hungarian fugitive would ever be
caught appeared to Horne Fisher to be highly
doubtful; nor can it be pretended that he displayed
any very demoniac detective energy in the matter as
he leaned back in the boat cushions, smoking, and
watching the swaying reeds slide past.
"It was a very good notion to hop up on to the
bridge," he said. "An empty boat means very
little; he hasn't been seen to land on either bank, and
he's walked off the bridge without walking on to it, so
to speak. He's got twenty-four hours' start; his
mustaches will disappear, and then he will disappear.
I think there is every hope of his escape."
"Hope?" repeated March, and stopped sculling for
"Yes, hope," repeated the other. "To begin with,
I'm not going to be exactly consumed with Corsican
revenge because somebody has killed Hook. Perhaps
you may guess by this time what Hook was. A
damned blood-sucking blackmailer was that simple,
strenuous, self-made captain of industry. He had
secrets against nearly everybody; one against poor
old Westmoreland about an early marriage in Cyprus
that might have put the duchess in a queer position;
and one against Harker about some flutter with his
client's money when he was a young solicitor. That's
why they went to pieces when they found him
murdered, of course. They felt as if they'd done it in a
dream. But I admit I have another reason for not
wanting our Hungarian friend actually hanged for the
"And what is that?" asked his friend.
"Only that he didn't commit the murder," answered Fisher.
Harold March laid down the oars and let the boat
drift for a moment.
"Do you know, I was half expecting something
like that," he said. "It was quite irrational, but it was
hanging about in the atmosphere, like thunder in the
"On the contrary, it's finding Hugo guilty that's
irrational," replied Fisher. "Don't you see that they're
condemning him for the very reason for which they
acquit everybody else? Harker and Westmoreland
were silent because they found him murdered, and
knew there were papers that made them look like the
murderers. Well, so did Hugo find him murdered, and
so did Hugo know there was a paper that would
make him look like the murderer. He had written it
himself the day before."
"But in that case," said March, frowning, "at what
sort of unearthly hour in the morning was the murder
really committed? It was barely daylight when I met
him at the bridge, and that's some way above the
"The answer is very simple," replied Fisher. "The
crime was not committed in the morning. The crime
was not committed on the island."
March stared at the shining water without
replying, but Fisher resumed like one who had been
asked a question:
"Every intelligent murder involves taking
advantage of some one uncommon feature in a
common situation. The feature here was the fancy
of old Hook for being the first man up every morning,
his fixed routine as an angler, and his annoyance at
being disturbed. The murderer strangled him in his
own house after dinner on the night before, carried
his corpse, with all his fishing tackle, across the
stream in the dead of night, tied him to the tree, and
left him there under the stars. It was a dead man who
sat fishing there all day. Then the murderer went
back to the house, or, rather, to the garage, and went
off in his motor car. The murderer drove his own
Fisher glanced at his friend's face and went on.
"You look horrified, and the thing is horrible. But
other things are horrible, too. If some obscure man
had been hag-ridden by a blackmailer and had his
family life ruined, you wouldn't think the murder of
his persecutor the most inexcusable of murders. Is it
any worse when a whole great nation is set free as
well as a family? By this warning to Sweden we shall
probably prevent war and not precipitate it, and save
many thousand lives rather more valuable than the
life of that viper. Oh, I'm not talking sophistry or
seriously justifying the thing, but the slavery that held
him and his country was a thousand times less
justifiable. If I'd really been sharp I should have
guessed it from his smooth, deadly smiling at dinner
that night. Do you remember that silly talk about how
old Isaac could always play his fish? In a pretty hellish sense
he was a fisher of men."
Harold March took the oars and began to row again.
"I remember," he said, "and about how a big fish
might break the line and get away."
VI. THE HOLE IN THE WALL
Two men, the one an architect and the other an
archaeologist, met on the steps of the great
house at Prior's Park; and their host, Lord
Bulmer, in his breezy way, thought it natural to
introduce them. It must be confessed that he
was hazy as well as breezy, and had no very
clear connection in his mind, beyond the sense
that an architect and an archaeologist begin
with the same series of letters. The world must
remain in a reverent doubt as to whether he
would, on the same principles, have presented
a diplomatist to a dipsomaniac or a ratiocinator
to a rat catcher. He was a big, fair, bull-necked
young man, abounding in outward gestures,
unconsciously flapping his gloves and
flourishing his stick.
"You two ought to have something to talk about,"
he said, cheerfully. "Old buildings and all that sort of
thing; this is rather an old building, by the way, though
I say it who shouldn't. I must ask you to excuse me a
moment; I've got to go and see about the cards for
this Christmas romp my sister's arranging. We hope
to see you all there, of course. Juliet wants it to be a
fancy-dress affair--abbots and crusaders and all that.
My ancestors, I suppose, after all."
"I trust the abbot was not an ancestor," said the
archaeological gentleman, with a smile.
"Only a sort of great-uncle, I imagine," answered
the other, laughing; then his rather rambling eye rolled
round the ordered landscape in front of the house; an
artificial sheet of water ornamented with an
antiquated nymph in the center and surrounded by a
park of tall trees now gray and black and frosty, for it
was in the depth of a severe winter.
"It's getting jolly cold," his lordship continued. "My
sister hopes we shall have some skating as well as
"If the crusaders come in full armor," said the
other, "you must be careful not to drown your
"Oh, there's no fear of that," answered Bulmer;
"this precious lake of ours is not two feet deep
anywhere." And with one of his flourishing gestures
he stuck his stick into the water to demonstrate its
shallowness. They could see the short end bent in the
water, so that he seemed for a moment to lean his
large weight on a breaking staff.
"The worst you can expect is to see an abbot sit
down rather suddenly," he added, turning away.
"Well, au revoir; I'll let you know about it
The archaeologist and the architect were left
on the great stone steps smiling at each other;
but whatever their common interests, they presented
a considerable personal contrast, and the
fanciful might even have found some contradiction in
each considered individually. The former, a Mr.
James Haddow, came from a drowsy
den in the Inns of Court, full of leather and
parchment, for the law was his profession and
history only his hobby; he was indeed, among
other things, the solicitor and agent of the
Prior's Park estate. But he himself was far
from drowsy and seemed remarkably wide
awake, with shrewd and prominent blue eyes,
and red hair brushed as neatly as his very neat
costume. The latter, whose name was Leonard
Crane, came straight from a crude and almost
cockney office of builders and house agents in
the neighboring suburb, sunning itself at the end
of a new row of jerry-built houses with plans
in very bright colors and notices in very large
letters. But a serious observer, at a second
glance, might have seen in his eyes something of
that shining sleep that is called vision; and his
yellow hair, while not affectedly long, was unaffectedly untidy.
It was a manifest if melancholy truth that the architect was an
artist. But the artistic temperament was far from explaining
him; there was something else about him that was not
definable, but which some even felt to be dangerous.
Despite his dreaminess, he would sometimes surprise
his friends with arts and even sports apart from his
ordinary life, like memories of some previous
existence. On this occasion, nevertheless, he
hastened to disclaim any authority on the other man's
"I mustn't appear on false pretences," he said, with
a smile. "I hardly even know what an archaeologist
is, except that a rather rusty remnant of Greek
suggests that he is a man who studies old things."
"Yes," replied Haddow, grimly. "An archaeologist
is a man who studies old things and finds they are
Crane looked at him steadily for a moment and
then smiled again.
"Dare one suggest," he said, "that some of the
things we have been talking about are among the old
things that turn out not to be old?"
His companion also was silent for a moment, and
the smile on his rugged face was fainter as he
"The wall round the park is really old. The one
gate in it is Gothic, and I cannot find any trace of
destruction or restoration. But the house and the
estate generally--well the romantic ideas read into
these things are often rather recent romances, things
almost like fashionable novels. For instance, the
very name of this place, Prior's Park, makes
everybody think of it as a moonlit mediaeval abbey; I
dare say the spiritualists by this time have discovered
the ghost of a monk there. But, according to the only
authoritative study of the matter I can find, the place
was simply called Prior's as any rural place is called
Podger's. It was the house of a Mr. Prior, a
farmhouse, probably, that stood here at some time or
other and was a local landmark. Oh, there are a
great many examples of the same thing, here and
everywhere else. This suburb of ours used to be a
village, and because some of the people slurred the
name and pronounced it Holliwell, many a minor poet
indulged in fancies about a Holy Well, with spells and
fairies and all the rest of it, filling the suburban
drawing-rooms with the Celtic twilight. Whereas
anyone acquainted with the facts knows that
'Hollinwall' simply means 'the hole in the wall,' and
probably referred to some quite trivial accident.
That's what I mean when I say that we don't so
much find old things as we find new ones."
Crane seemed to have grown somewhat
inattentive to the little lecture on antiquities and
novelties, and the cause of his restlessness was soon
apparent, and indeed approaching. Lord Bulmer's
sister, Juliet Bray, was coming slowly across the
lawn, accompanied by one gentleman
and followed by two others. The young architect was
in the illogical condition of mind in which he preferred
three to one.
The man walking with the lady was no other than
the eminent Prince Borodino, who was at least as
famous as a distinguished diplomatist ought to be, in
the interests of what is called secret diplomacy. He
had been paying a round of visits at various English
country houses, and exactly what he was doing for
diplomacy at Prior's Park was as much a secret as
any diplomatist could desire. The obvious thing to say
of his appearance was that he would have been
extremely handsome if he had not been entirely bald.
But, indeed, that would itself be a rather bald way of
putting it. Fantastic as it sounds, it would fit the case
better to say that people would have been surprised
to see hair growing on him; as surprised as if they
had found hair growing on the bust of a Roman
emperor. His tall figure was buttoned up in a tight-waisted
fashion that rather accentuated his potential
bulk, and he wore a red flower in his buttonhole. Of
the two men walking behind one was also bald, but in
a more partial and also a more premature fashion, for
his drooping mustache was still yellow, and if his eyes
were somewhat heavy it was with languor and not
with age. It was Horne Fisher, and he was talking as
easily and idly about everything as he always did. His
always did. His companion was a more striking, and even more
companion was a more striking, and even more
sinister, figure, and he had the added importance of
being Lord Bulmer's oldest and most intimate friend.
He was generally known with a severe simplicity as
Mr. Brain; but it was understood that he had been a
judge and police official in India, and that he had
enemies, who had represented his measures against
crime as themselves almost criminal. He was a
brown skeleton of a man with dark, deep, sunken
eyes and a black mustache that hid the meaning of
his mouth. Though he had the look of one wasted by
some tropical disease, his movements were much
more alert than those of his lounging companion.
"It's all settled," announced the lady, with great
animation, when they came within hailing distance.
"You've all got to put on masquerade things and very
likely skates as well, though the prince says they
don't go with it; but we don't care about that. It's
freezing already, and we don't often get such a
chance in England."
"Even in India we don't exactly skate all the year
round," observed Mr. Brain.
"And even Italy is not primarily associated with
ice," said the Italian.
"Italy is primarily associated with ices," remarked
Mr. Horne Fisher. "I mean with ice cream men.
Most people in this country imagine that Italy is
entirely populated with ice cream men and organ
grinders. There certainly are
a lot of them; perhaps they're an invading army in
"How do you know they are not the secret
emissaries of our diplomacy?" asked the prince, with
a slightly scornful smile. "An army of organ grinders
might pick up hints, and their monkeys might pick up
all sort of things."
"The organs are organized in fact," said the
flippant Mr. Fisher. "Well, I've known it pretty cold
before now in Italy and even in India, up on the
Himalayan slopes. The ice on our own little round
pond will be quite cozy by comparison."
Juliet Bray was an attractive lady with dark hair
and eyebrows and dancing eyes, and there was a
geniality and even generosity in her rather imperious
ways. In most matters she could command her
brother, though that nobleman, like many other men of
vague ideas, was not without a touch of the bully
when he was at bay. She could certainly command
her guests, even to the extent of decking out the most
respectable and reluctant of them with her mediaeval
masquerade. And it really seemed as if she could
command the elements also, like a witch. For the
weather steadily hardened and sharpened; that night
the ice of the lake, glimmering in the moonlight, was
like a marble floor, and they had begun to dance and
skate on it before it was dark.
Prior's Park, or, more properly, the surrounding
district of Holinwall, was a country seat that had
become a suburb; having once had only a dependent
village at its doors, it now found outside all its doors
the signals of the expansion of London. Mr. Haddow,
who was engaged in historical researches both in the
library and the locality, could find little assistance in
the latter. He had already realized, from the
documents, that Prior's Park had originally been
something like Prior's Farm, named after some local
figure, but the new social conditions were all against
his tracing the story by its traditions. Had any of the
real rustics remained, he would probably have found
some lingering legend of Mr. Prior, however remote
he might be. But the new nomadic population of
clerks and artisans, constantly shifting their homes
from one suburb to another, or their children from one
school to another, could have no corporate continuity.
They had all that forgetfulness of history that goes
everywhere with the extension of education.
Nevertheless, when he came out of the library
next morning and saw the wintry trees standing
round the frozen pond like a black forest, he felt he
might well have been far in the depths of the country.
The old wall running round the park kept that
inclosure itself still entirely rural and romantic, and
one could easily imagine that the depths of that dark
forest faded away
indefinitely into distant vales and hills. The gray and
black and silver of the wintry wood were all the more
severe or somber as a contrast to the colored
carnival groups that already stood on and around the
frozen pool. For the house party had already flung
themselves impatiently into fancy dress, and the
lawyer, with his neat black suit and red hair, was the
only modern figure among them.
"Aren't you going to dress up?" asked Juliet,
indignantly shaking at him a horned and towering blue
headdress of the fourteenth century which framed
her face very becomingly, fantastic as it was.
"Everybody here has to be in the Middle Ages. Even
Mr. Brain has put on a sort of brown dressing gown
and says he's a monk; and Mr. Fisher got hold of
some old potato sacks in the kitchen and sewed them
together; he's supposed to be a monk, too. As to the
prince, he's perfectly glorious, in great crimson robes
as a cardinal. He looks as if he could poison
everybody. You simply must be something."
"I will be something later in the day," he replied.
"At present I am nothing but an antiquary and an
attorney. I have to see your brother presently, about
some legal business and also some local
investigations he asked me to make. I must look a
little like a steward when I give an account of my stewardship."
"Oh, but my brother has dressed up!" cried the
girl. "Very much so. No end, if I may say so. Why
he's bearing down on you now in all his glory."
The noble lord was indeed marching toward them
in a magnificent sixteenth-century costume of purple
and gold, with a gold-hilted sword and a plumed cap,
and manners to match. Indeed, there was something
more than his usual expansiveness of bodily action in
his appearance at that moment. It almost seemed, so
to speak, that the plumes on his hat had gone to his
head. He flapped his great, gold-lined cloak like the
wings of a fairy king in a pantomime; he even drew
his sword with a flourish and waved it about as he did
his walking stick. In the light of after events there
seemed to be something monstrous and ominous
about that exuberance, something of the spirit that is
called fey. At the time it merely crossed a few people's
minds that he might possibly be drunk.
As he strode toward his sister the first figure he
passed was that of Leonard Crane, clad in Lincoln
green, with the horn and baldrick and sword
appropriate to Robin Hood; for he was standing
nearest to the lady, where, indeed, he might have
been found during a disproportionate part of the time.
He had displayed one of his buried talents in the
matter of skating, and now that the skating was
over seemed disposed to
prolong the partnership. The boisterous Bulmer
playfully made a pass at him with his drawn sword,
going forward with the lunge in the proper fencing
fashion, and making a somewhat too familiar
Shakespearean quotation about a rodent and a
Probably in Crane also there was a subdued
excitement just then; anyhow, in one flash he had
drawn his own sword and parried; and then suddenly,
to the surprise of everyone, Bulmer's weapon
seemed to spring out of his hand into the air and
rolled away on the ringing ice.
"Well, I never!" said the lady, as if with justifiable
indignation. "You never told me you could fence,
Bulmer put up his sword with an air rather
bewildered than annoyed, which increased the
impression of something irresponsible in his mood at
the moment; then he turned rather abruptly to his
"We can settle up about the estate after dinner;
I've missed nearly all the skating as it is, and I doubt
if the ice will hold till to-morrow night. I think I shall
get up early and have a spin by myself."
"You won't be disturbed with my company," said
Horne Fisher, in his weary fashion. "If I have to
begin the day with ice, in the American fashion, I
prefer it in smaller quantities. But no early hours for
me in December. The early bird catches the cold."
"Oh, I sha'n't die of catching a cold," answered
Bulmer, and laughed.
A considerable group of the skating party had
consisted of the guests staying at the house, and
the rest had tailed off in twos and threes some
time before most of the guests began to retire
for the night. Neighbors, always invited to
Prior's Park on such occasions, went back to
their own houses in motors or on foot; the legal
and archeoological gentleman had returned to the
Inns of Court by a late train, to get a paper called
for during his consultation with his client; and
most of the other guests were drifting and lingering at various
stages on their way up to bed. Horne Fisher, as if to deprive
himself of any excuse for his refusal of early rising, had been
the first to retire to his room; but, sleepy as he
looked, he could not sleep. He had picked up
from a table the book of antiquarian topography,
in which Haddow had found his first hints about
the origin of the local name, and, being a man
with a quiet and quaint capacity for being interested in
anything, he began to read it steadily,
making notes now and then of details on which
his previous reading left him with a certain doubt
about his present conclusions. His room was the
one nearest to the lake in the center of the woods,
and was therefore the quietest, and none of the last
echoes of the evening's festivity could reach him. He
had followed carefully the argument which
established the derivation from Mr. Prior's farm and
the hole in the wall, and disposed of any fashionable
fancy about monks and magic wells, when he began
to be conscious of a noise audible in the frozen
silence of the night. It was not a particularly loud
noise, but it seemed to consist of a series of thuds or
heavy blows, such as might be struck on a wooden
door by a man seeking to enter. They were followed
by something like a faint creak or crack, as if the
obstacle had either been opened or had given way.
He opened his own bedroom door and listened, but as
he heard talk and laughter all over the lower floors,
he had no reason to fear that a summons would be
neglected or the house left without protection. He
went to his open window, looking out over the frozen
pond and the moonlit statue in the middle of their
circle of darkling woods, and listened again. But
silence had returned to that silent place, and, after
straining his ears for a considerable time, he could
hear nothing but the solitary hoot of a distant
departing train. Then he reminded himself how many
nameless noises can be heard by the wakeful during
the most ordinary night, and shrugging his shoulders,
went wearily to bed.
He awoke suddenly and sat up in bed with his ears
filled, as with thunder, with the throbbing echoes of a
rending cry. He remained rigid for a moment, and
then sprang out of bed, throwing on the loose gown of
sacking he had worn all day. He went first to the
window, which was open, but covered with a thick
curtain, so that his room was still completely dark; but
when he tossed the curtain aside and put his head out,
he saw that a gray and silver daybreak had already
appeared behind the black woods that surrounded the
little lake, and that was all that he did see. Though the
sound had certainly come in through the open window
from this direction, the whole scene was still and
empty under the morning light as under the moonlight.
Then the long, rather lackadaisical hand he had laid on
a window sill gripped it tighter, as if to master a
tremor, and his peering blue eyes grew bleak with
fear. It may seem that his emotion was exaggerated
and needless, considering the effort of common sense
by which he had conquered his nervousness about the
noise on the previous night. But that had been a very
different sort of noise. It might have been made by
half a hundred things, from the chopping of wood to
the breaking of bottles. There was only one thing in
nature from which could come the sound that
echoed through the dark house at daybreak. It was
the awful articulate voice
of man; and it was something worse, for he knew
He knew also that it had been a shout for help. It
seemed to him that he had heard the very word; but
the word, short as it was, had been swallowed up, as
if the man had been stifled or snatched away even
as he spoke. Only the mocking reverberations of it
remained even in his memory, but he had no doubt of
the original voice. He had no doubt that the great
bull's voice of Francis Bray, Baron Bulmer, had been
heard for the last time between the darkness and the
How long he stood there he never knew, but he
was startled into life by the first living thing that he
saw stirring in that half-frozen landscape. Along the
path beside the lake, and immediately under his
window, a figure was walking slowly and softly, but
with great composure--a stately figure in robes of a
splendid scarlet; it was the Italian prince, still in his
cardinal's costume. Most of the company had indeed
lived in their costumes for the last day or two, and
Fisher himself had assumed his frock of sacking as a
convenient dressing gown; but there seemed,
nevertheless, something unusually finished and
formal, in the way of an early bird, about this
magnificent red cockatoo. It was as if the early
bird had been up all night.
"What is the matter?" he called, sharply, leaning out of the
window, and the Italian turned up his great yellow face like a
mask of brass.
"We had better discuss it downstairs," said Prince Borodino.
Fisher ran downstairs, and encountered the great,
red-robed figure entering the doorway and blocking
the entrance with his bulk.
"Did you hear that cry?" demanded Fisher.
"I heard a noise and I came out," answered the
diplomatist, and his face was too dark in the shadow
for its expression to be read.
"It was Bulmer's voice," insisted Fisher. "I'll swear
it was Bulmer's voice."
"Did you know him well?" asked the other.
The question seemed irrelevant, though it was not
illogical, and Fisher could only answer in a, random
fashion that he knew Lord Bulmer only slightly.
"Nobody seems to have known him well," continued
the Italian, in level tones. "Nobody except that man
Brain. Brain is rather older than Bulmer, but I fancy
they shared a good many secrets."
Fisher moved abruptly, as if waking from a
momentary trance, and said, in a new and more
vigorous voice, "But look here, hadn't we better get
outside and see if anything has happened."
"The ice seems to be thawing," said the other,
almost with indifference.
When they emerged from the house, dark
stains and stars in the gray field of ice did indeed
indicate that the frost was breaking up, as their host
had prophesied the day before, and the very memory
of yesterday brought back the mystery of to-day.
"He knew there would be a thaw," observed the
prince. "He went out skating quite early on purpose.
Did he call out because he landed in the water, do
Fisher looked puzzled. "Bulmer was the last man
to bellow like that because he got his boots wet. And
that's all he could do here; the water would hardly
come up to the calf of a man of his size. You can see
the flat weeds on the floor of the lake, as if it were
through a thin pane of glass. No, if Bulmer had only
broken the ice he wouldn't have said much at the
moment, though possibly a good deal afterward. We
should have found him stamping and damning up and
down this path, and calling for clean boots."
"Let us hope we shall find him as happily
employed," remarked the diplomatist. "In that case
the voice must have come out of the wood."
"I'll swear it didn't come out of the house," said
Fisher; and the two disappeared together into the
twilight of wintry trees.
The plantation stood dark against the fiery
colors of sunrise, a black fringe having that
feathery appearance which makes trees when
they are bare the very reverse of rugged. Hours and
hours afterward, when the same dense, but delicate,
margin was dark against the greenish colors opposite
the sunset, the search thus begun at sunrise had not
come to an end. By successive stages, and to slowly
gathering groups of the company, it became apparent
that the most extraordinary of all gaps had appeared
in the party; the guests could find no trace of their
host anywhere. The servants reported that his bed
had been slept in and his skates and his fancy
costume were gone, as if he had risen early for the
purpose he had himself avowed. But from the top of
the house to the bottom, from the walls round the
park to the pond in the center, there was no trace of
Lord Bulmer, dead or alive. Horne Fisher realized
that a chilling premonition had already prevented him
from expecting to find the man alive. But his bald
brow was wrinkled over an entirely new and
unnatural problem, in not finding the man at all.
He considered the possibility of Bulmer having
gone off of his own accord, for some reason; but
after fully weighing it he finally dismissed it. It was
inconsistent with the unmistakable voice heard at
daybreak, and with many other practical obstacles.
There was only one gateway in the ancient and lofty
wall round the small park; the lodge keeper kept it
locked till late in the morning, and the lodge keeper
had seen no one pass. Fisher was fairly sure that he had before
him a mathematical problem in an inclosed space. His
instinct had been from the first so attuned to the
tragedy that it would have been almost a relief to him
to find the corpse. He would have been grieved, but
not horrified, to come on the nobleman's body
dangling from one of his own trees as from a gibbet,
or floating in his own pool like a pallid weed. What
horrified him was to find nothing.
He soon become conscious that he was not alone
even in his most individual and isolated experiments.
He often found a figure following him like his
shadow, in silent and almost secret clearings in the
plantation or outlying nooks and corners of the old
wall. The dark-mustached mouth was as mute as the
deep eyes were mobile, darting incessantly hither and
thither, but it was clear that Brain of the Indian police
had taken up the trail like an old hunter after a tiger.
Seeing that he was the only personal friend of the
vanished man, this seemed natural enough, and Fisher
resolved to deal frankly with him.
"This silence is rather a social strain," he said.
"May I break the ice by talking about the weather?--which, by the
way, has already broken the ice. I know that breaking the ice
might be a rather melancholy metaphor in this case."
"I don't think so," replied Brain, shortly. "I don't
fancy the ice had much to do with it. I don't see how it could."
"What would you propose doing?" asked Fisher.
"Well, we've sent for the authorities, of course, but
I hope to find something out before they come,"
replied the Anglo-Indian. "I can't say I have much
hope from police methods in this country. Too much
red tape, habeas corpus and that sort of thing. What
we want is to see that nobody bolts; the nearest we
could get to it would be to collect the company and
count them, so to speak. Nobody's left lately, except
that lawyer who was poking about for antiquities."
"Oh, he's out of it; he left last night," answered the
other. "Eight hours after Bulmer's chauffeur saw his
lawyer off by the train I heard Bulmer's own voice
as plain as I hear yours now."
"I suppose you don't believe in spirits?" said the
man from India. After a pause he added: "There's
somebody else I should like to find, before we go
after a fellow with an alibi in the Inner Temple.
What's become of that fellow in green--the architect
dressed up as a forester? I haven't seem him about."
Mr. Brain managed to secure his assembly of all
the distracted company before the arrival of the
police. But when he first began to coment once more
on the young architect's delay in putting in an
appearance, he found himself in
the presence of a minor mystery, and a psychological
development of an entirely unexpected kind.
Juliet Bray had confronted the catastrophe of her
brother's disappearance with a somber stoicism in
which there was, perhaps, more paralysis than pain;
but when the other question came to the surface she
was both agitated and angry.
"We don't want to jump to any conclusions about
anybody," Brain was saying in his staccato style. "But
we should like to know a little more about Mr. Crane.
Nobody seems to know much about him, or where he
comes from. And it seems a sort of coincidence that
yesterday he actually crossed swords with poor
Bulmer, and could have stuck him, too, since he
showed himself the better swordsman. Of course,
that may be an accident and couldn't possibly be
called a case against anybody; but then we haven't
the means to make a real case against anybody. Till
the police come we are only a pack of very amateur
"And I think you're a pack of snobs," said Juliet.
"Because Mr. Crane is a genius who's made his own
way, you try to suggest he's a murderer without
daring to say so. Because he wore a toy sword and
happened to know how to use it, you want us to
believe he used it like a bloodthirsty maniac for no
reason in the world. And because he could have hit
my brother and didn't, you deduce that he did. That's
the sort of way you argue. And as for his having
disappeared, you're wrong in that as you are in
everything else, for here he comes."
And, indeed, the green figure of the fictitious
Robin Hood slowly detached itself from the gray
background of the trees, and came toward them as
He approached the group slowly, but with
composure; but he was decidedly pale, and the eyes
of Brain and Fisher had already taken in one detail of
the green-clad figure more clearly than all the rest.
The horn still swung from his baldrick, but the sword
Rather to the surprise of the company, Brain did
not follow up the question thus suggested; but, while
retaining an air of leading the inquiry, had also an
appearance of changing the subject.
"Now we're all assembled," he observed, quietly,
"there is a question I want to ask to begin with. Did
anybody here actually see Lord Bulmer this
Leonard Crane turned his pale face round the
circle of faces till he came to Juliet's; then he
compressed his lips a little and said:
"Yes, I saw him."
"Was he alive and well?" asked Brain, quickly.
"How was he dressed?"
"He appeared exceedingly well," replied Crane,
with a curious intonation. "He was dressed as he was
yesterday, in that purple costume copied from the
portrait of his ancestor in the sixteenth century. He
had his skates in his hand."
"And his sword at his side, I suppose," added the
questioner. "Where is your own sword, Mr. Crane?"
"I threw it away."
In the singular silence that ensued, the train of
thought in many minds became involuntarily a series
of colored pictures.
They had grown used to their fanciful garments
looking more gay and gorgeous against the dark gray
and streaky silver of the forest, so that the moving
figures glowed like stained-glass saints walking. The
effect had been more fitting because so many of them
had idly parodied pontifical or monastic dress. But the
most arresting attitude that remained in their
memories had been anything but merely monastic;
that of the moment when the figure in bright green
and the other in vivid violet had for a moment made a
silver cross of their crossing swords. Even when it
was a jest it had been something of a drama; and it
was a strange and sinister thought that in the gray
daybreak the same figures in the same posture might
have been repeated as a tragedy.
"Did you quarrel with him?" asked Brain, suddenly.
"Yes," replied the immovable man in green. "Or he quarreled with
"Why did he quarrel with you?" asked the
investigator; and Leonard Crane made no reply.
Horne Fisher, curiously enough, had only given half
his attention to this crucial cross-examination. His
heavy-lidded eyes had languidly followed the figure
of Prince Borodino, who at this stage had strolled
away toward the fringe of the wood; and, after a
pause, as of meditation, had disappeared into the
darkness of the trees.
He was recalled from his irrelevance by the voice
of Juliet Bray, which rang out with an altogether new
note of decision:
"If that is the difficulty, it had best be cleared up.
I am engaged to Mr. Crane, and when we told my
brother he did not approve of it; that is all."
Neither Brain nor Fisher exhibited any surprise,
but the former added, quietly:
"Except, I suppose, that he and your brother went
off into the wood to discuss it, where Mr. Crane
mislaid his sword, not to mention his companion."
"And may I ask," inquired Crane, with a certain
flicker of mockery passing over his pallid features,
"what I am supposed to have done with
either of them? Let us adopt the cheerful thesis that I
am a murderer; it has yet to be shown that I am a
magician. If I ran your unfortunate friend through the
body, what did I do with the body? Did I have it
carried away by seven flying dragons, or was it
merely a trifling matter of turning it into a milk-white
"It is no occasion for sneering," said the Anglo-Indian judge,
with abrupt authority. "It doesn't make it
look better for you that you can joke about the loss."
Fisher's dreamy, and even dreary, eye was still on
the edge of the wood behind, and he became
conscious of masses of dark red, like a stormy sunset
cloud, glowing through the gray network of the thin
trees, and the prince in his cardinal's robes reemerged on to the
pathway. Brain had had half a
notion that the prince might have gone to look for the
lost rapier. But when he reappeared he was carrying
in his hand, not a sword, but an ax.
The incongruity between the masquerade and the
mystery had created a curious psychological
atmosphere. At first they had all felt horribly
ashamed at being caught in the foolish disguises of a
festival, by an event that had only too much the
character of a funeral. Many of them would have
already gone back and dressed in clothes that were
more funereal or at least more formal. But somehow
at the moment this seemed like a second
masquerade, more artificial and frivolous than the
first. And as they reconciled themselves to their
ridiculous trappings, a curious sensation had come
over some of them, notably over the more sensitive,
like Crane and Fisher and Juliet, but in some degree
over everybody except the practical Mr. Brain. It
was almost as if they were the ghosts of their own
ancestors haunting that dark wood and dismal lake,
and playing some old part that they only half
remembered. The movements of those colored
figures seemed to mean something that had been
settled long before, like a silent heraldry. Acts,
attitudes, external objects, were accepted as an
allegory even without the key; and they knew when a
crisis had come, when they did not know what it was.
And somehow they knew subconsciously that the
whole tale had taken a new and terrible turn, when
they saw the prince stand in the gap of the gaunt
trees, in his robes of angry crimson and with his
lowering face of bronze, bearing in his hand a new
shape of death. They could not have named a reason,
but the two swords seemed indeed to have become
toy swords and the whole tale of them broken and
tossed away like a toy. Borodino looked like the Old
World headsman, clad in terrible red, and carrying the
ax for the execution of the criminal. And the criminal
was not Crane.
Mr. Brain of the Indian police was glaring
at the new object, and it was a moment or two
before he spoke, harshly and almost hoarsely.
"What are you doing with that?" he asked. "Seems
to be a woodman's chopper."
"A natural association of ideas," observed Horne
Fisher. "If you meet a cat in a wood you think it's a
wildcat, though it may have just strolled from the
drawing-room sofa. As a matter of fact, I happen to
know that is not the woodman's chopper. It's the
kitchen chopper, or meat ax, or something like that,
that somebody has thrown away in the wood. I saw
it in the kitchen myself when I was getting the potato
sacks with which I reconstructed a mediaeval
"All the same, it is not without interest," remarked
the prince, holding out the instrument to Fisher, who
took it and examined it carefully. "A butcher's
cleaver that has done butcher's work."
"It was certainly the instrument of the crime,"
assented Fisher, in a low voice.
Brain was staring at the dull blue gleam of the ax
head with fierce and fascinated eyes. "I don't
understand you," he said. "There is no--there are no
marks on it."
"It has shed no blood," answered Fisher, "but for
all that it has committed a crime. This is as near as
the criminal came to the crime when he committed it."
"What do you mean?"
"He was not there when he did it," explained
Fisher. "It's a poor sort of murderer who can't
murder people when he isn't there."
"You seem to be talking merely for the sake of
mystification," said Brain. "If you have any practical
advice to give you might as well make it intelligible."
"The only practical advice I can suggest," said
Fisher, thoughtfully, "is a little research into local
topography and nomenclature. They say there used
to be a Mr. Prior, who had a farm in this
neighborhood. I think some details about the
domestic life of the late Mr. Prior would throw a light
on this terrible business."
"And you have nothing more immediate than your
topography to offer," said Brain, with a sneer, "to
help me avenge my friend?"
"Well," said Fisher, "I should find out the truth
about the Hole in the Wall."
That night, at the close of a stormy twilight and
under a strong west wind that followed the breaking
of the frost, Leonard Crane was wending his way in
a wild rotatory walk round and round the high,
continuous wall that inclosed the little wood. He was
driven by a desperate idea of solving for himself the
riddle that had clouded his reputation and already
even threatened his liberty. The police authorities,
charge of the inquiry, had not arrested him, but
he knew well enough that if he tried to move far
afield he would be instantly arrested. Horne
Fisher's fragmentary hints, though he had refused to expand them
as yet, had stirred the
artistic temperament of the architect to a sort of
wild analysis, and he was resolved to read the
hieroglyph upside down and every way until it
made sense. If it was something connected with
a hole in the wall he would find the hole in the
wall; but, as a matter of fact, he was unable to
find the faintest crack in the wall. His professional knowledge
told him that the masonry was
all of one workmanship and one date, and, except for the regular
entrance, which threw no
light on the mystery, he found nothing suggesting any sort of
hiding place or means of escape.
Walking a narrow path between the winding
wall and the wild eastward bend and sweep of
the gray and feathery trees, seeing shifting
gleams of a lost sunset winking almost like
lightning as the clouds of tempest scudded
across the sky and mingling with the first faint
blue light from a slowly strengthened moon behind him, he began
to feel his head going round
as his heels were going round and round the
blind recurrent barrier. He had thoughts on the
border of thought; fancies about a fourth dimension which was
itself a hole to hide anything, of seeing everything from a new
angle out of a new window in the senses; or of some mystical
light and transparency, like the new rays of chemistry, in
which he could see Bulmer's body, horrible and
glaring, floating in a lurid halo over the woods and
the wall. He was haunted also with the hint, which
somehow seemed to be equally horrifying, that it all
had something to do with Mr. Prior. There seemed
even to be something creepy in the fact that he was
always respectfully referred to as Mr. Prior, and that
it was in the domestic life of the dead farmer that he
had been bidden to seek the seed of these dreadful
things. As a matter of fact, he had found that no local
inquiries had revealed anything at all about the Prior
The moonlight had broadened and brightened, the
wind had driven off the clouds and itself died fitfully
away, when he came round again to the artificial lake
in front of the house. For some reason it looked a
very artificial lake; indeed, the whole scene was like
a classical landscape with a touch of Watteau; the
Palladian facade of the house pale in the moon, and
the same silver touching the very pagan and naked
marble nymph in the middle of the pond. Rather to his
surprise, he found another figure there beside the
statue, sitting almost equally motionless; and the same
silver pencil traced the wrinkled brow and patient
face of Horne Fisher, still dressed as a hermit and
apparently practicing something of
the solitude of a hermit. Nevertheless, he looked up
at Leonard Crane and smiled, almost as if he had
"Look here," said Crane, planting himself in front
of him, "can you tell me anything about this
"I shall soon have to tell everybody everything
about it," replied Fisher, "but I've no objection to
telling you something first. But, to begin with, will you
tell me something? What really happened when you
met Bulmer this morning? You did throw away your
sword, but you didn't kill him."
"I didn't kill him because I threw away my sword,"
said the other. "I did it on purpose--or I'm not sure
what might have happened."
After a pause he went on, quietly: "The late Lord
Bulmer was a very breezy gentleman, extremely
breezy. He was very genial with his inferiors, and
would have his lawyer and his architect staying in his
house for all sorts of holidays and amusements. But
there was another side to him, which they found out
when they tried to be his equals. When I told him that
his sister and I were engaged, something happened
which I simply can't and won't describe. It seemed to
me like some monstrous upheaval of madness. But I
suppose the truth is painfully simple. There is such a
thing as the coarseness of a gentleman. And it is the
most horrible thing in humanity."
"I know," said Fisher. "The Renaissance nobles of
the Tudor time were like that."
"It is odd that you should say that," Crane went on.
"For while we were talking there came on me a
curious feeling that we were repeating some scene of
the past, and that I was really some outlaw, found in
the woods like Robin Hood, and that he had really
stepped in all his plumes and purple out of the picture
frame of the ancestral portrait. Anyhow, he was the
man in possession, and he neither feared God nor
regarded man. I defied him, of course, and walked
away. I might really have killed him if I had not
"Yes," said Fisher, nodding, "his ancestor was in
possession and he was in possession, and this is the
end of the story. It all fits in."
"Fits in with what?" cried his companion, with
sudden impatience. "I can't make head or tail of it.
You tell me to look for the secret in the hole in the
wall, but I can't find any hole in the wall."
"There isn't any," said Fisher. "That's the secret."
After reflecting a moment, he added: "Unless you
call it a hole in the wall of the world. Look here; I'll
tell you if you like, but I'm afraid it involves an
introduction. You've got to understand one of the
tricks of the modern mind, a
tendency that most people obey without noticing it. In
the village or suburb outside there's an inn with the
sign of St. George and the Dragon. Now suppose I
went about telling everybody that this was only a
corruption of King George and the Dragoon. Scores
of people would believe it, without any inquiry, from a
vague feeling that it's probable because it's prosaic. It
turns something romantic and legendary into
something recent and ordinary. And that somehow
makes it sound rational, though it is unsupported by
reason. Of course some people would have the sense
to remember having seen St. George in old Italian
pictures and French romances, but a good many
wouldn't think about it at all. They would just swallow
the skepticism because it was skepticism. Modern
intelligence won't accept anything on authority. But it
will accept anything without authority. That's exactly
what has happened here.
"When some critic or other chose to say that
Prior's Park was not a priory, but was named
after some quite modern man named Prior, nobody
really tested the theory at all. It never
occurred to anybody repeating the story to ask
if there WAS any Mr. Prior, if anybody had ever
seen him or heard of him. As a matter of fact,
it was a priory, and shared the fate of most
priories--that is, the Tudor gentleman with the
plumes simply stole it by brute force and turned
it into his own private house; he did worse things, as
you shall hear. But the point here is that this is how
the trick works, and the trick works in the same way
in the other part of the tale. The name of this district
is printed Holinwall in all the best maps produced by
the scholars; and they allude lightly, not without a
smile, to the fact that it was pronounced Holiwell by
the most ignorant and old-fashioned of the poor. But
it is spelled wrong and pronounced right."
"Do you mean to say," asked Crane, quickly, "that
there really was a well?"
"There is a well," said Fisher, "and the truth lies at
the bottom of it."
As he spoke he stretched out his hand and pointed
toward the sheet of water in front of him.
"The well is under that water somewhere,"
he said, "and this is not the first tragedy connected
with it. The founder of this house did
something which his fellow ruffians very seldom
did; something that had to be hushed up even
in the anarchy of the pillage of the monasteries.
The well was connected with the miracles of
some saint, and the last prior that guarded it
was something like a saint himself; certainly he
was something very like a martyr. He defied
the new owner and dared him to pollute the place,
till the noble, in a fury, stabbed him and flung
his body into the well, whither, after four hundred
years, it has been followed by an heir of the usurper,
clad in the same purple and walking the world with
the same pride."
"But how did it happen," demanded Crane, "that
for the first time Bulmer fell in at that particular
"Because the ice was only loosened at that
particular spot, by the only man who knew it,"
answered Horne Fisher. "It was cracked deliberately,
with the kitchen chopper, at that special place; and I
myself heard the hammering and did not understand
it. The place had been covered with an artificial lake,
if only because the whole truth had to be covered
with an artificial legend. But don't you see that it is
exactly what those pagan nobles would have done, to
desecrate it with a sort of heathen goddess, as the
Roman Emperor built a temple to Venus on the Holy
Sepulchre. But the truth could still be traced out, by
any scholarly man determined to trace it. And this
man was determined to trace it."
"What man?" asked the other, with a shadow of
the answer in his mind.
"The only man who has an alibi," replied Fisher.
"James Haddow, the antiquarian lawyer, left the night
before the fatality, but he left that black star of death
on the ice. He left abruptly, having previously
proposed to stay; probably, I think, after an ugly
scene with Bulmer, at their legal interview. As you
know yourself, Bulmer could make a man feel pretty
murderous, and I rather fancy the lawyer had himself
irregularities to confess, and was in danger of
exposure by his client. But it's my reading of human
nature that a man will cheat in his trade, but not in his
hobby. Haddow may have been a dishonest lawyer,
but he couldn't help being an honest antiquary. When
he got on the track of the truth about the Holy Well
he had to follow it up; he was not to be bamboozled
with newspaper anecdotes about Mr. Prior and a
hole in the wall; he found out everything, even to the
exact location of the well, and he was rewarded, if
being a successful assassin can be regarded as a
"And how did you get on the track of all this
hidden history?" asked the young architect.
A cloud came across the brow of Horne Fisher. "I
knew only too much about it already," he said, "and,
after all, it's shameful for me to be speaking lightly of
poor Bulmer, who has paid his penalty; but the rest of
us haven't. I dare say every cigar I smoke and every
liqueur I drink comes directly or indirectly from the
harrying of the holy places and the persecution of the
poor. After all, it needs very little poking about in the
past to find that hole in the wall, that great breach in
the defenses of English history. It lies just under the
surface of a
thin sheet of sham information and instruction, just as
the black and blood-stained well lies just under that
floor of shallow water and flat weeds. Oh, the ice is
thin, but it bears; it is strong enough to support us
when we dress up as monks and dance on it, in
mockery of the dear, quaint old Middle Ages. They
told me I must put on fancy dress; so I did put on
fancy dress, according to my own taste and fancy. I
put on the only costume I think fit for a man who has
inherited the position of a gentleman, and yet has not
entirely lost the feelings of one."
In answer to a look of inquiry, he rose with a
sweeping and downward gesture.
"Sackcloth," he said; "and I would wear the ashes
as well if they would stay on my bald head."
VII. THE TEMPLE OF SILENCE
Harold March and the few who cultivated the
friendship of Horne Fisher, especially if they saw
something of him in his own social setting, were
conscious of a certain solitude in his very sociability.
They seemed to be always meeting his relations and
never meeting his family. Perhaps it would be truer to
say that they saw much of his family and nothing of
his home. His cousins and connections ramified like a
labyrinth all over the governing class of Great Britain,
and he seemed to be on good, or at least on good-
humored, terms with most of them. For Horne Fisher
was remarkable for a curious impersonal information
and interest touching all sorts of topics, so that one
could sometimes fancy that his culture, like his
colorless, fair mustache and pale, drooping features,
had the neutral nature of a chameleon. Anyhow, he
could always get on with viceroys and Cabinet
Ministers and all the great men responsible for great
departments, and talk to each of them on his own
subject, on the branch of study with which he was
most seriously concerned. Thus he could
converse with the Minister for War about
silkworms, with the Minister of Education about
detective stories, with the Minister of Labor about
Limoges enamel, and with the Minister of Missions
and Moral Progress (if that be his correct title)
about the pantomime boys of the last four decades.
And as the first was his first cousin, the second his
second cousin, the third his brother-in-law, and the fourth his
uncle by marriage, this conversational
versatility certainly served in one sense to create a
happy family. But March never seemed to get a
glimpse of that domestic interior to which men of the
middle classes are accustomed in their friendships,
and which is indeed the foundation of friendship and
love and everything else in any sane and stable
society. He wondered whether Horne Fisher was
both an orphan and an only child.
It was, therefore, with something like a start that
he found that Fisher had a brother, much more
prosperous and powerful than himself, though
hardly, March thought, so entertaining. Sir Henry
Harland Fisher, with half the alphabet after his
name, was something at the Foreign Office far more
tremendous than the Foreign Secretary. Apparently,
it ran in the family, after all; for it seemed there was
another brother, Ashton Fisher, in India, rather
more tremendous than the Viceroy. Sir Henry
Fisher was a heavier, but handsomer edition of his
brother, with a brow equally bald, but much more
smooth. He was very courteous, but a shade
patronizing, not only to March, but even, as March
fancied, to Horne Fisher as well. The latter
gentleman, who had many intuitions about the half-formed thoughts
of others, glanced at the topic
himself as they came away from the great house in
"Why, don't you know," he observed quietly,
"that I am the fool of the family?"
"It must be a clever family," said Harold March,
with a smile.
"Very gracefully expressed," replied Fisher; "that
is the best of having a literary training. Well, perhaps
it is an exaggeration to say I am the fool of the
family. It's enough to say I am the failure of the
"It seems queer to me that you should fail
especially," remarked the journalist. "As they say in
the examinations, what did you fail in?"
"Politics," replied his friend. "I stood for
Parliament when I was quite a young man and got in
by an enormous majority, with loud cheers and
chairing round the town. Since then, of course, I've
been rather under a cloud."
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand the 'of course,'" answered
"That part of it isn't worth understanding," said
Fisher. "But as a matter of fact, old chap, the other
part of it was rather odd and interesting.
Quite a detective story in its way, as well as the first
lesson I had in what modern politics are made of. If
you like, I'll tell you all about it." And the following,
recast in a less allusive and conversational manner, is
the story that he told.
Nobody privileged of late years to meet Sir Henry
Harland Fisher would believe that he had ever been
called Harry. But, indeed, he had been boyish enough
when a boy, and that serenity which shone on him
through life, and which now took the form of gravity,
had once taken the form of gayety. His friends would
have said that he was all the more ripe in his maturity
for having been young in his youth. His enemies
would have said that he was still light minded, but no
longer light hearted. But in any case, the whole of the
story Horne Fisher had to tell arose out of the
accident which had made young Harry Fisher private
secretary to Lord Saltoun. Hence his later connection
with the Foreign Office, which had, indeed, come to
him as a sort of legacy from his lordship when that
great man was the power behind the throne. This is
not the place to say much about Saltoun, little as was
known of him and much as there was worth knowing.
England has had at least three or four such secret
statesmen. An aristocratic polity produces every now
and then an aristocrat who is also an accident, a man
of intellectual independence and insight, a Napoleon
born in the purple. His vast work was mostly invisible,
and very little could be got out of him in private life
except a crusty and rather cynical sense of humor.
But it was certainly the accident of his presence at a
family dinner of the Fishers, and the unexpected
opinion he expressed, which turned what might have
been a dinner-table joke into a sort of small
Save for Lord Saltoun, it was a family party
of Fishers, for the only other distinguished
stranger had just departed after dinner, leaving the
rest to their coffee and cigars. This had
been a figure of some interest--a young Cambridge
man named Eric Hughes who was the
rising hope of the party of Reform, to which the
Fisher family, along with their friend Saltoun,
had long been at least formally attached. The
personality of Hughes was substantially summed
up in the fact that he talked eloquently and earnestly
through the whole dinner, but left immediately after to
be in time for an appointment. All his actions had something at
once ambitious and conscientious; he drank no wine, but was
slightly intoxicated with words. And his face and
phrases were on the front page of all the newspapers
just then, because he was contesting the
safe seat of Sir Francis Verner in the great by-election in the
west. Everybody was talking
about the powerful speech against squirarchy which
he had just delivered; even in the Fisher circle
everybody talked about it except Horne Fisher
himself who sat in a corner, lowering over the fire.
"We jolly well have to thank him for putting some
new life into the old party," Ashton Fisher was
saying. "This campaign against the old squires just
hits the degree of democracy there is in this county.
This act for extending county council control is
practically his bill; so you may say he's in the
government even before he's in the House."
"One's easier than the other," said Harry,
carelessly. "I bet the squire's a bigger pot than the
county council in that county. Verner is pretty well
rooted; all these rural places are what you call
reactionary. Damning aristocrats won't alter it."
"He damns them rather well," observed Ashton.
"We never had a better meeting than the one in
Barkington, which generally goes Constitutional. And
when he said, 'Sir Francis may boast of blue blood;
let us show we have red blood,' and went on to talk
about manhood and liberty, the room simply rose at
"Speaks very well," said Lord Saltoun, gruffly,
making his only contribution to the conversation so
Then the almost equally silent Horne Fisher
suddenly spoke, without, taking his brooding eyes
off the fire.
"What I can't understand," he said, "is why
nobody is ever slanged for the real reason."
"Hullo!" remarked Harry, humorously, "you
beginning to take notice?"
"Well, take Verner," continued Horne Fisher. "If
we want to attack Verner, why not attack him? Why
compliment him on being a romantic reactionary
aristocrat? Who is Verner? Where does he come
from? His name sounds old, but I never heard of it
before, as the man said of the Crucifixion. Why talk
about his blue blood? His blood may be gamboge
yellow with green spots, for all anybody knows. All
we know is that the old squire, Hawker, somehow
ran through his money (and his second wife's, I
suppose, for she was rich enough), and sold the
estate to a man named Verner. What did he make his
money in? Oil? Army contracts?"
"I don't know," said Saltoun, looking at him
"First thing I ever knew you didn't know," cried
the exuberant Harry.
"And there's more, besides," went on Horne
Fisher, who seemed to have suddenly found his
tongue. "If we want country people to vote for us,
why don't we get somebody with some notion about
the country? We don't talk to people in Threadneedle
Street about nothing but turnips
and pigsties. Why do we talk to people in Somerset
about nothing but slums and socialism? Why don't we
give the squire's land to the squire's tenants, instead
of dragging in the county council?"
"Three acres and a cow," cried Harry, emitting
what the Parliamentary reports call an ironical cheer.
"Yes," replied his brother, stubbornly. "Don't you
think agricultural laborers would rather have three
acres and a cow than three acres of printed forms
and a committee? Why doesn't somebody start a
yeoman party in politics, appealing to the old
traditions of the small landowner? And why don't
they attack men like Verner for what they are, which
is something about as old and traditional as an
American oil trust?"
"You'd better lead the yeoman party yourself,"
laughed Harry. "Don't you think it would be a joke,
Lord Saltoun, to see my brother and his merry men,
with their bows and bills, marching down to Somerset
all in Lincoln green instead of Lincoln and Bennet