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Chapter I: A Summons in the Night


It all seemed so real that I could hardly imagine that it had ever
occurred before; and yet each episode came, not as a fresh step in the
logic of things, but as something expected.  It is in such a wise that
memory plays its pranks for good or ill; for pleasure or pain; for weal
or woe.  It is thus that life is bittersweet, and that which has been
done becomes eternal.
Again, the light skiff, ceasing to shoot through the lazy water as when
the oars flashed and dripped, glided out of the fierce July sunlight
into the cool shade of the great drooping willow branches--I standing up
in the swaying boat, she sitting still and with deft fingers guarding
herself from stray twigs or the freedom of the resilience of moving
boughs.  Again, the water looked golden-brown under the canopy of
translucent green; and the grassy bank was of emerald hue.  Again, we
sat in the cool shade, with the myriad noises of nature both without and
within our bower merging into that drowsy hum in whose sufficing
environment the great world with its disturbing trouble, and its more
disturbing joys, can be effectually forgotten.  Again, in that blissful
solitude the young girl lost the convention of her prim, narrow
upbringing, and told me in a natural, dreamy way of the loneliness of
her new life. With an undertone of sadness she made me feel how in that
spacious home each one of the household was isolated by the personal
magnificence of her father and herself; that there confidence had no
altar, and sympathy no shrine; and that there even her father's face was
as distant as the old country life seemed now.  Once more, the wisdom of
my manhood and the experience of my years laid themselves at the girl's
feet.  It was seemingly their own doing; for the individual "I" had no
say in the matter, but only just obeyed imperative orders.  And once
again the flying seconds multiplied themselves endlessly.  For it is in
the arcana of dreams that existences merge and renew themselves, change
and yet keep the same--like the soul of a musician in a fugue.  And so
memory swooned, again and again, in sleep.
It seems that there is never to be any perfect rest.  Even in Eden the
snake rears its head among the laden boughs of the Tree of Knowledge.
The silence of the dreamless night is broken by the roar of the
avalanche; the hissing of sudden floods; the clanging of the engine bell
marking its sweep through a sleeping American town; the clanking of
distant paddles over the sea....  Whatever it is, it is breaking the
charm of my Eden.  The canopy of greenery above us, starred with
diamond-points of light, seems to quiver in the ceaseless beat of
paddles; and the restless bell seems as though it would never cease....
All at once the gates of Sleep were thrown wide open, and my waking ears
took in the cause of the disturbing sounds.  Waking existence is prosaic
enough--there was somebody knocking and ringing at someone's street door.
I was pretty well accustomed in my Jermyn Street chambers to passing
sounds; usually I did not concern myself, sleeping or waking, with the
doings, however noisy, of my neighbours.  But this noise was too
continuous, too insistent, too imperative to be ignored.  There was some
active intelligence behind that ceaseless sound; and some stress or need
behind the intelligence.  I was not altogether selfish, and at the
thought of someone's need I was, without premeditation, out of bed.
Instinctively I looked at my watch.  It was just three o'clock; there
was a faint edging of grey round the green blind which darkened my room.
It was evident that the knocking and ringing were at the door of our own
house; and it was evident, too, that there was no one awake to answer
the call.  I slipped on my dressing-gown and slippers, and went down to
the hall door. When I opened it there stood a dapper groom, with one
hand pressed unflinchingly on the electric bell whilst with the other he
raised a ceaseless clangour with the knocker.  The instant he saw me the
noise ceased; one hand went up instinctively to the brim of his hat, and
the other produced a letter from his pocket.  A neat brougham was
opposite the door, the horses were breathing heavily as though they had
come fast.  A policeman, with his night lantern still alight at his
belt, stood by, attracted to the spot by the noise.
"Beg pardon, sir, I'm sorry for disturbing you, but my orders was
imperative; I was not to lose a moment, but to knock and ring till
someone came.  May I ask you, sir, if Mr. Malcolm Ross lives here?"
"I am Mr. Malcolm Ross."
"Then this letter is for you, sir, and the bro'am is for you too, sir!"
I took, with a strange curiosity, the letter which he handed to me.  As
a barrister I had had, of course, odd experiences now and then,
including sudden demands upon my time; but never anything like this.  I
stepped back into the hall, closing the door to, but leaving it ajar;
then I switched on the electric light.  The letter was directed in a
strange hand, a woman's.  It began at once without "dear sir" or any
such address:
"You said you would like to help me if I needed it; and I believe you
meant what you said.  The time has come sooner than I expected.  I am in
dreadful trouble, and do not know where to turn, or to whom to apply. An
attempt has, I fear, been made to murder my Father; though, thank God,
he still lives.  But he is quite unconscious. The doctors and police
have been sent for; but there is no one here whom I can depend on.  Come
at once if you are able to; and forgive me if you can.  I suppose I
shall realise later what I have done in asking such a favour; but at
present I cannot think.  Come!  Come at once! MARGARET TRELAWNY."
Pain and exultation struggled in my mind as I read; but the mastering
thought was that she was in trouble and had called on me--me!  My
dreaming of her, then, was not altogether without a cause.  I called out
to the groom:
"Wait!  I shall be with you in a minute!"  Then I flew upstairs.
A very few minutes sufficed to wash and dress; and we were soon driving
through the streets as fast as the horses could go.  It was market
morning, and when we got out on Piccadilly there was an endless stream of
carts coming from the west; but for the rest the roadway was clear, and
we went quickly.  I had told the groom to come into the brougham with me
so that he could tell me what had happened as we went along.  He sat
awkwardly, with his hat on his knees as he spoke.
"Miss Trelawny, sir, sent a man to tell us to get out a carriage at
once; and when we was ready she come herself and gave me the letter and
told Morgan--the coachman, sir--to fly.  She said as I was to lose not a
second, but to keep knocking till someone come."
"Yes, I know, I know--you told me!  What I want to know is, why she sent
for me. What happened in the house?"
"I don't quite know myself, sir; except that master was found in his
room senseless, with the sheets all bloody, and a wound on his head.
He couldn't be waked nohow. Twas Miss Trelawny herself as found him."
"How did she come to find him at such an hour?  It was late in the
night, I suppose?"
"I don't know, sir; I didn't hear nothing at all of the details."
As he could tell me no more, I stopped the carriage for a moment to let
him get out on the box; then I turned the matter over in my mind as I
sat alone.  There were many things which I could have asked the servant;
and for a few moments after he had gone I was angry with myself for not
having used my opportunity.  On second thought, however, I was glad the
temptation was gone.  I felt that it would be more delicate to learn
what I wanted to know of Miss Trelawny's surroundings from herself,
rather than from her servants.
We bowled swiftly along Knightsbridge, the small noise of our well-
appointed vehicle sounding hollowly in the morning air.  We turned up
the Kensington Palace Road and presently stopped opposite a great house
on the left-hand side, nearer, so far as I could judge, the Notting Hill
than the Kensington end of the avenue.  It was a truly fine house, not
only with regard to size but to architecture.  Even in the dim grey
light of the morning, which tends to diminish the size of things, it
looked big.
Miss Trelawny met me in the hall.  She was not in any way shy.  She
seemed to rule all around her with a sort of high-bred dominance, all
the more remarkable as she was greatly agitated and as pale as snow.  In
the great hall were several servants, the men standing together near the
hall door, and the women clinging together in the further corners and
doorways.  A police superintendent had been talking to Miss Trelawny;
two  men in uniform and one plain-clothes man stood near him.  As she
took my hand impulsively there was a look of relief in her eyes, and she
gave a gentle sigh of relief.  Her salutation was simple.
"I knew you would come!"
The clasp of the hand can mean a great deal, even when it is not
intended to mean anything especially.  Miss Trelawny's hand somehow
became lost in my own.  It was not that it was a small hand; it was fine
and flexible, with long delicate fingers--a rare and beautiful hand; it
was the unconscious self-surrender.  And though at the moment I could
not dwell on the cause of the thrill which swept me, it came back to me
She turned and said to the police superintendent:
"This is Mr. Malcolm Ross."  The police officer saluted as he answered:
"I know Mr. Malcolm Ross, miss.  Perhaps he will remember I had the
honour of working with him in the Brixton Coining case."  I had not at
first glance noticed who it was, my whole attention having been taken
with Miss Trelawny.
"Of course, Superintendent Dolan, I remember very well!" I said as we
shook hands. I could not but note that the acquaintanceship seemed a
relief to Miss Trelawny. There was a certain vague uneasiness in her
manner which took my attention; instinctively I felt that it would be
less embarrassing for her to speak with me alone. So I said to the
"Perhaps it will be better if Miss Trelawny will see me alone for a few
minutes.  You, of course, have already heard all she knows; and I shall
understand better how things are if I may ask some questions.  I will
then talk the matter over with you if I may."
"I shall be glad to be of what service I can, sir," he answered
Following Miss Trelawny, I moved over to a dainty room which opened from
the hall and looked out on the garden at the back of the house.  When we
had entered and I had closed the door she said:
"I will thank you later for your goodness in coming to me in my trouble;
but at present you can best help me when you know the facts."
"Go on," I said.  "Tell me all you know and spare no detail, however
trivial it may at the present time seem to be."  She went on at once:
"I was awakened by some sound; I do not know what.  I only know that it
came through my sleep; for all at once I found myself awake, with my
heart beating wildly, listening anxiously for some sound from my
Father's room.  My room is next Father's, and I can often hear him
moving about before I fall asleep.  He works late at night, sometimes
very late indeed; so that when I wake early, as I do occasionally, or in
the grey of the dawn, I hear him still moving.  I tried once to
remonstrate with him about staying up so late, as it cannot be good for
him; but I never ventured to repeat the experiment.  You know how stern
and cold he can be--at least you may remember what I told you about him;
and when he is polite in this mood he is dreadful.  When he is angry I
can bear it much better; but when he is slow and deliberate, and the
side of his mouth lifts up to show the sharp teeth, I think I feel--well,
I don't know how!  Last night I got up softly and stole to the door, for
I really feared to disturb him.  There was not any noise of moving, and
no kind of cry at all; but there was a queer kind of dragging sound, and
a slow, heavy breathing. Oh! it was dreadful, waiting there in the dark
and the silence, and fearing--fearing I did not know what!
"At last I took my courage a deux mains, and turning the handle as
softly as I could, I opened the door a tiny bit.  It was quite dark
within; I could just see the outline of the windows.  But in the
darkness the sound of breathing, becoming more distinct, was appalling.
As I listened, this continued; but there was no other sound.  I pushed
the door open all at once.  I was afraid to open it slowly; I felt as if
there might be some dreadful thing behind it ready to pounce out on me!
Then I switched on the electric light, and stepped into the room.  I
looked first at the bed.  The sheets were all crumpled up, so that I
knew Father had been in bed; but there was a great dark red patch in the
centre of the bed, and spreading to the edge of it, that made my heart
stand still.  As I was gazing at it the sound of the breathing came
across the room, and my eyes followed to it.  There was Father on his
right side with the other arm under him, just as if his dead body had
been thrown there all in a heap.  The track of blood went across the
room up to the bed, and there was a pool all around him which looked
terribly red and glittering as I bent over to examine him.  The place
where he lay was right in front of the big safe.  He was in his pyjamas.
The left sleeve was torn, showing his bare arm, and stretched out toward
the safe.  It looked--oh! so terrible, patched all with blood, and with
the flesh torn or cut all around a gold chain bangle on his wrist.  I
did not know he wore such a thing, and it seemed to give me a new shock
of surprise."
She paused a moment; and as I wished to relieve her by a moment's
divergence of thought, I said:
"Oh, that need not surprise you.  You will see the most unlikely men
wearing bangles.  I have seen a judge condemn a man to death, and the
wrist of the hand he held up had a gold bangle."  She did not seem to
heed much the words or the idea; the pause, however, relieved her
somewhat, and she went on in a steadier voice:
"I did not lose a moment in summoning aid, for I feared he might bleed
to death.  I rang the bell, and then went out and called for help as
loudly as I could.  In what must have been a very short time--though it
seemed an incredibly long one to me--some of the servants came running
up; and then others, till the room seemed full of staring eyes, and
dishevelled hair, and night clothes of all sorts.
"We lifted Father on a sofa; and the housekeeper, Mrs. Grant, who seemed
to have her wits about her more than any of us, began to look where the
flow of blood came from.  In a few seconds it became apparent that it
came from the arm which was bare.  There was a deep wound--not clean-cut
as with a knife, but like a jagged rent or tear--close to the wrist,
which seemed to have cut into the vein.  Mrs. Grant tied a handkerchief
round the cut, and screwed it up tight with a silver paper-cutter; and
the flow of blood seemed to be checked at once.  By this time I had come
to my senses--or such of them as remained; and I sent off one man for the
doctor and another for the police.  When they had gone, I felt that,
except for the servants, I was all alone in the house, and that I knew
nothing--of my Father or anything else; and a great longing came to me to
have someone with me who could help me. Then I thought of you and your
kind offer in the boat under the willow-tree; and, without waiting to
think, I told the men to get a carriage ready at once, and I scribbled a
note and sent it on to you."
She paused.  I did not like to say just then anything of how I felt.  I
looked at her; I think she understood, for her eyes were raised to mine
for a moment and then fell, leaving her cheeks as red as peony roses.
With a manifest effort she went on with her story:
"The Doctor was with us in an incredibly short time.  The groom had met
him letting himself into his house with his latchkey, and he came here
running.  He made a proper tourniquet for poor Father's arm, and then
went home to get some appliances.  I dare say he will be back almost
immediately.  Then a policeman came, and sent a message to the station;
and very soon the Superintendent was here.  Then you came."
There was a long pause, and I ventured to take her hand for an instant.
Without a word more we opened the door, and joined the Superintendent in
the hall.  He hurried up to us, saying as he came:
"I have been examining everything myself, and have sent off a message to
Scotland Yard.  You see, Mr. Ross, there seemed so much that was odd
about the case that I thought we had better have the best man of the
Criminal Investigation Department that we could get.  So I sent a note
asking to have Sergeant Daw sent at once.  You remember him, sir, in
that American poisoning case at Hoxton."
"Oh yes," I said, "I remember him well; in that and other cases, for I
have benefited several times by his skill and acumen.  He has a mind
that works as truly as any that I know.  When I have been for the
defence, and believed my man was innocent, I was glad to have him
against us!"
"That is high praise, sir!" said the Superintendent gratified:  "I am
glad you approve of my choice; that I did well in sending for him."
I answered heartily:
"Could not be better.  I do not doubt that between you we shall get at
the facts--and what lies behind them!"
We ascended to Mr. Trelawny's room, where we found everything exactly as
his daughter had described.
There came a ring at the house bell, and a minute later a man was shown
into the room.  A young man with aquiline features, keen grey eyes, and
a forehead that stood out square and broad as that of a thinker.  In his
hand he had a black bag which he at once opened.  Miss Trelawny
introduced us:  "Doctor Winchester, Mr. Ross, Superintendent Dolan."  We
bowed mutually, and he, without a moment's delay, began his work.  We
all waited, and eagerly watched him as he proceeded to dress the wound.
As he went on he turned now and again to call the Superintendent's
attention to some point about the wound, the latter proceeding to enter
the fact at once in his notebook.
"See! several parallel cuts or scratches beginning on the left side of
the wrist and in some places endangering the radial artery.
"These small wounds here, deep and jagged, seem as if made with a blunt
instrument.  This in particular would seem as if made with some kind of
sharp wedge; the flesh round it seems torn as if with lateral pressure."
Turning to Miss Trelawny he said presently:
"Do you think we might remove this bangle?  It is not absolutely
necessary, as it will fall lower on the wrist where it can hang loosely;
but it might add to the patient's comfort later on."  The poor girl
flushed deeply as she answered in a low voice:
"I do not know.  I--I have only recently come to live with my Father; and
I know so little of his life or his ideas that I fear I can hardly judge
in such a matter.  The Doctor, after a keen glance at her, said in a
very kindly way:
"Forgive me!  I did not know.  But in any case you need not be
distressed.  It is not required at present to move it.  Were it so I
should do so at once on my own responsibility.  If it be necessary later
on, we can easily remove it with a file.  Your Father doubtless has some
object in keeping it as it is.  See! there is a tiny key attached to it..."  As he was speaking he stopped and bent lower, taking from my
hand the candle which I held and lowering it till its light fell on the
bangle.  Then motioning me to hold the candle in the same position, he
took from his pocket a magnifying-glass which he adjusted.  When he had
made a careful examination he stood up and handed the magnifying-glass
to Dolan, saying as he did so:
"You had better examine it yourself.  That is no ordinary bangle.  The
gold is wrought over triple steel links; see where it is worn away.  It
is manifestly not meant to be removed lightly; and it would need more
than an ordinary file to do it."
The Superintendent bent his great body; but not getting close enough
that way knelt down by the sofa as the Doctor had done.  He examined the
bangle minutely, turning it slowly round so that no particle of it
escaped observation. Then he stood up and handed the magnifying-glass to
me.  "When you have examined it yourself," he said, "let the lady look
at it if she will," and he commenced to write at length in his
I made a simple alteration in his suggestion.  I held out the glass
toward Miss Trelawny, saying:
"Had you not better examine it first?"  She drew back, slightly raising
her hand in disclaimer, as she said impulsively:
"Oh no!  Father would doubtless have shown it to me had he wished me to
see it. I would not like to without his consent."  Then she added,
doubtless fearing lest her delicacy of view should give offence to the
rest of us:
"Of course it is right that you should see it.  You have to examine and
consider everything; and indeed--indeed I am grateful to you..."
She turned away; I could see that she was crying quietly.  It was
evident to me that even in the midst of her trouble and anxiety there
was a chagrin that she knew so little of her father; and that her
ignorance had to be shown at such a time and amongst so many strangers.
That they were all men did not make the shame more easy to bear, though
there was a certain relief in it.  Trying to interpret her feelings I
could not but think that she must have been glad that no woman's eyes--of
understanding greater than man's--were upon her in that hour.
When I stood up from my examination, which verified to me that of the
Doctor, the latter resumed his place beside the couch and went on with
his ministrations. Superintendent Dolan said to me in a whisper:
"I think we are fortunate in our doctor!" I nodded, and was about to add
something in praise of his acumen, when there came a low tapping at the