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Chapter 6 THE HOLE IN THE WALL

  • TWO men, the one an architect and the other an archaeologist, met on the step_f the great house at Prior's Park; and their host, Lord Bulmer, in his breez_ay, thought it natural to introduce them. It must be confessed that he wa_azy as well as breezy, and had no very clear connection in his mind, beyon_he sense that an architect and an archaeologist begin with the same series o_etters. The world must remain in a reverent doubt as to whether he would, o_he same principles, have presented a diplomatist to a dipsomaniac or _atiocinator to a rat catcher. He was a big, fair, bull-necked young man, abounding in outward gestures, unconsciously flapping his gloves an_lourishing his stick.
  • "You two ought to have something to talk about," he said, cheerfully. "Ol_uildings and all that sort of thing; this is rather an old building, by th_ay, though I say it who shouldn't. I must ask you to excuse me a moment; I'v_ot to go and see about the cards for this Christmas romp my sister'_rranging. We hope to see you all there, of course. Juliet wants it to be _ancy-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; the_is rather rambling eye rolled round the ordered landscape in front of th_ouse; an artificial sheet of water ornamented with an antiquated nymph in th_enter 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 shal_ave some skating as well as dancing."
  • "If the crusaders come in full armor," said the other, "you must be carefu_ot to drown your ancestors."
  • "Oh, there's no fear of that," answered Bulmer; "this precious lake of ours i_ot two feet deep anywhere." And with one of his flourishing gestures he stuc_is stick into the water to demonstrate its shallowness. They could see th_hort end bent in the water, so that he seemed for a moment to lean his larg_eight on a breaking staff.
  • "The worst you can expect is to see an abbot sit down rather suddenly," h_dded, turning away. "Well, au revoir; I'll let you know about it later."
  • The archaeologist and the architect were left on the great stone steps smilin_t each other; but whatever their common interests, they presented _onsiderable personal contrast, and the fanciful might even have found som_ontradiction 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 h_imself was far from drowsy and seemed remarkably wide awake, with shrewd an_rominent 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 an_lmost 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 i_ery 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 shinin_leep that is called vision; and his yellow hair, while not affectedly long, was unaffectedly untidy. It was a manifest if melancholy truth that th_rchitect was an artist. But the artistic temperament was far from explainin_im; there was something else about him that was not definable, but which som_ven felt to be dangerous. Despite his dreaminess, he would sometimes surpris_is friends with arts and even sports apart from his ordinary life, lik_emories of some previous existence. On this occasion, nevertheless, h_astened to disclaim any authority on the other man's hobby.
  • "I mustn't appear on false pretences," he said, with a smile. "I hardly eve_now what an archaeologist is, except that a rather rusty remnant of Gree_uggests that he is a man who studies old things."
  • "Yes," replied Haddow, grimly. "An archaeologist is a man who studies ol_hings and finds they are new."
  • 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 talkin_bout 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 fac_as fainter as he replied, quietly:
  • "The wall round the park is really old. The one gate in it is Gothic, and _annot find any trace of destruction or restoration. But the house and th_state generally—well the romantic ideas read into these things are ofte_ather recent romances, things almost like fashionable novels. For instance, the very name of this place, Prior's Park, makes everybody think of it as _oonlit mediaeval abbey; I dare say the spiritualists by this time hav_iscovered the ghost of a monk there. But, according to the only authoritativ_tudy of the matter I can find, the place was simply called Prior's as an_ural 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 peopl_lurred the name and pronounced it Holliwell, many a minor poet indulged i_ancies about a Holy Well, with spells and fairies and all the rest of it, filling the suburban drawing-rooms with the Celtic twilight. Whereas anyon_cquainted with the facts knows that 'Hollinwall' simply means 'the hole i_he wall,' and probably referred to some quite trivial accident. That's what _ean 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 o_ntiquities and novelties, and the cause of his restlessness was soo_pparent, and indeed approaching. Lord Bulmer's sister, Juliet Bray, wa_oming slowly across the lawn, accompanied by one gentleman and followed b_wo others. The young architect was in the illogical condition of mind i_hich 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 th_nterests of what is called secret diplomacy. He had been paying a round o_isits at various English country houses, and exactly what he was doing fo_iplomacy at Prior's Park was as much a secret as any diplomatist coul_esire. The obvious thing to say of his appearance was that he would have bee_xtremely handsome if he had not been entirely bald. But, indeed, that woul_tself be a rather bald way of putting it. Fantastic as it sounds, it woul_it the case better to say that people would have been surprised to see hai_rowing on him; as surprised as if they had found hair growing on the bust o_ Roman emperor. His tall figure was buttoned up in a tight-waisted fashio_hat rather accentuated his potential bulk, and he wore a red flower in hi_uttonhole. Of the two men walking behind one was also bald, but in a mor_artial and also a more premature fashion, for his drooping mustache was stil_ellow, and if his eyes were somewhat heavy it was with languor and not wit_ge. It was Horne Fisher, and he was talking as easily and idly abou_verything as he always did. His companion was a more striking, and even mor_inister, figure, and he had the added importance of being Lord Bulmer'_ldest and most intimate friend. He was generally known with a sever_implicity as Mr. Brain; but it was understood that he had been a judge an_olice official in India, and that he had enemies, who had represented hi_easures against crime as themselves almost criminal. He was a brown skeleto_f a man with dark, deep, sunken eyes and a black mustache that hid th_eaning of his mouth. Though he had the look of one wasted by some tropica_isease, his movements were much more alert than those of his loungin_ompanion.
  • "It's all settled," announced the lady, with great animation, when they cam_ithin hailing distance. "You've all got to put on masquerade things and ver_ikely skates as well, though the prince says they don't go with it; but w_on't care about that. It's freezing already, and we don't often get such _hance 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 mea_ith ice cream men. Most people in this country imagine that Italy is entirel_opulated with ice cream men and organ grinders. There certainly are a lot o_hem; perhaps they're an invading army in disguise."
  • "How do you know they are not the secret emissaries of our diplomacy?" aske_he prince, with a slightly scornful smile. "An army of organ grinders migh_ick 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'v_nown it pretty cold before now in Italy and even in India, up on th_imalayan slopes. The ice on our own little round pond will be quite cozy b_omparison."
  • Juliet Bray was an attractive lady with dark hair and eyebrows and dancin_yes, and there was a geniality and even generosity in her rather imperiou_ays. 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 whe_e was at bay. She could certainly command her guests, even to the extent o_ecking out the most respectable and reluctant of them with her mediaeva_asquerade. And it really seemed as if she could command the elements also, like a witch. For the weather steadily hardened and sharpened; that night th_ce of the lake, glimmering in the moonlight, was like a marble floor, an_hey had begun to dance and skate on it before it was dark.
  • Prior's Park, or, more properly, the surrounding district of Holinwall, was _ountry seat that had become a suburb; having once had only a dependen_illage at its doors, it now found outside all its doors the signals of th_xpansion of London. Mr. Haddow, who was engaged in historical researches bot_n the library and the locality, could find little assistance in the latter.
  • He had already realized, from the documents, that Prior's Park had originall_een something like Prior's Farm, named after some local figure, but the ne_ocial conditions were all against his tracing the story by its traditions.
  • Had any of the real rustics remained, he would probably have found som_ingering legend of Mr. Prior, however remote he might be. But the new nomadi_opulation of clerks and artisans, constantly shifting their homes from on_uburb to another, or their children from one school to another, could have n_orporate continuity. They had all that forgetfulness of history that goe_verywhere with the extension of education.
  • Nevertheless, when he came out of the library next morning and saw the wintr_rees standing round the frozen pond like a black forest, he felt he migh_ell have been far in the depths of the country. The old wall running roun_he park kept that inclosure itself still entirely rural and romantic, and on_ould easily imagine that the depths of that dark forest faded awa_ndefinitely into distant vales and hills. The gray and black and silver o_he wintry wood were all the more severe or somber as a contrast to th_olored carnival groups that already stood on and around the frozen pool. Fo_he house party had already flung themselves impatiently into fancy dress, an_he lawyer, with his neat black suit and red hair, was the only modern figur_mong them.
  • "Aren't you going to dress up?" asked Juliet, indignantly shaking at him _orned and towering blue headdress of the fourteenth century which framed he_ace very becomingly, fantastic as it was. "Everybody here has to be in th_iddle Ages. Even Mr. Brain has put on a sort of brown dressing gown and say_e's a monk; and Mr. Fisher got hold of some old potato sacks in the kitche_nd 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 i_e could poison everybody. You simply must be something."
  • "I will be something later in the day," he replied. "At present I am nothin_ut an antiquary and an attorney. I have to see your brother presently, abou_ome legal business and also some local investigations he asked me to make. _ust 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, 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 usua_xpansiveness of bodily action in his appearance at that moment. It almos_eemed, so to speak, that the plumes on his hat had gone to his head. H_lapped his great, gold-lined cloak like the wings of a fairy king in _antomime; he even drew his sword with a flourish and waved it about as he di_is walking stick. In the light of after events there seemed to be somethin_onstrous and ominous about that exuberance, something of the spirit that i_alled fey. At the time it merely crossed a few people's minds that he migh_ossibly be drunk.
  • As he strode toward his sister the first figure he passed was that of Leonar_rane, clad in Lincoln green, with the horn and baldrick and sword appropriat_o Robin Hood; for he was standing nearest to the lady, where, indeed, h_ight have been found during a disproportionate part of the time. He ha_isplayed one of his buried talents in the matter of skating, and now that th_kating was over seemed disposed to prolong the partnership. The boisterou_ulmer playfully made a pass at him with his drawn sword, going forward wit_he lunge in the proper fencing fashion, and making a somewhat too familia_hakespearean quotation about a rodent and a Venetian coin.
  • Probably in Crane also there was a subdued excitement just then; anyhow, i_ne flash he had drawn his own sword and parried; and then suddenly, to th_urprise of everyone, Bulmer's weapon seemed to spring out of his hand int_he air and rolled away on the ringing ice.
  • "Well, I never!" said the lady, as if with justifiable indignation. "You neve_old me you could fence, too."
  • Bulmer put up his sword with an air rather bewildered than annoyed, whic_ncreased the impression of something irresponsible in his mood at the moment; then he turned rather abruptly to his lawyer, saying:
  • "We can settle up about the estate after dinner; I've missed nearly all th_kating as it is, and I doubt if the ice will hold till to-morrow night. _hink I shall get up early and have a spin by myself."
  • "You won't be disturbed with my company," said Horne Fisher, in his wear_ashion. "If I have to begin the day with ice, in the American fashion, _refer it in smaller quantities. But no early hours for me in December. Th_arly bird catches the cold."
  • "Oh, I shan't die of catching a cold," answered Bulmer, and laughed.
  • * * *
  • A considerable group of the skating party had consisted of the guests stayin_t the house, and the rest had tailed off in twos and threes some time befor_ost of the guests began to retire for the night. Neighbors, always invited t_rior's Park on such occasions, went back to their own houses in motors or o_oot; the legal and archeological gentleman had returned to the Inns of Cour_y a late train, to get a paper called for during his consultation with hi_lient; and most of the other guests were drifting and lingering at variou_tages on their way up to bed. Horne Fisher, as if to deprive himself of an_xcuse for his refusal of early rising, had been the first to retire to hi_oom; but, sleepy as he looked, he could not sleep. He had picked up from _able the book of antiquarian topography, in which Haddow had found his firs_ints about the origin of the local name, and, being a man with a quiet an_uaint capacity for being interested in anything, he began to read i_teadily, making notes now and then of details on which his previous readin_eft him with a certain doubt about his present conclusions. His room was th_ne nearest to the lake in the center of the woods, and was therefore th_uietest, and none of the last echoes of the evening's festivity could reac_im. He had followed carefully the argument which established the derivatio_rom Mr. Prior's farm and the hole in the wall, and disposed of an_ashionable fancy about monks and magic wells, when he began to be consciou_f a noise audible in the frozen silence of the night. It was not _articularly loud noise, but it seemed to consist of a series of thuds o_eavy blows, such as might be struck on a wooden door by a man seeking t_nter. They were followed by something like a faint creak or crack, as if th_bstacle had either been opened or had given way. He opened his own bedroo_oor and listened, but as he heard talk and laughter all over the lowe_loors, he had no reason to fear that a summons would be neglected or th_ouse left without protection. He went to his open window, looking out ove_he frozen pond and the moonlit statue in the middle of their circle o_arkling woods, and listened again. But silence had returned to that silen_lace, and, after straining his ears for a considerable time, he could hea_othing but the solitary hoot of a distant departing train. Then he reminde_imself how many nameless noises can be heard by the wakeful during the mos_rdinary 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 wor_ll day. He went first to the window, which was open, but covered with a thic_urtain, so that his room was still completely dark; but when he tossed th_urtain aside and put his head out, he saw that a gray and silver daybreak ha_lready appeared behind the black woods that surrounded the little lake, an_hat was all that he did see. Though the sound had certainly come in throug_he open window from this direction, the whole scene was still and empty unde_he morning light as under the moonlight. Then the long, rather lackadaisica_and he had laid on a window sill gripped it tighter, as if to master _remor, and his peering blue eyes grew bleak with fear. It may seem that hi_motion was exaggerated and needless, considering the effort of common sens_y which he had conquered his nervousness about the noise on the previou_ight. But that had been a very different sort of noise. It might have bee_ade by half a hundred things, from the chopping of wood to the breaking o_ottles. There was only one thing in nature from which could come the soun_hat echoed through the dark house at daybreak. It was the awful articulat_oice of man; and it was something worse, for he knew what man.
  • He knew also that it had been a shout for help. It seemed to him that he ha_eard the very word; but the word, short as it was, had been swallowed up, a_f the man had been stifled or snatched away even as he spoke. Only th_ocking reverberations of it remained even in his memory, but he had no doub_f the original voice. He had no doubt that the great bull's voice of Franci_ray, Baron Bulmer, had been heard for the last time between the darkness an_he lifting dawn.
  • How long he stood there he never knew, but he was startled into life by th_irst living thing that he saw stirring in that half-frozen landscape. Alon_he path beside the lake, and immediately under his window, a figure wa_alking slowly and softly, but with great composure—a stately figure in robe_f a splendid scarlet; it was the Italian prince, still in his cardinal'_ostume. Most of the company had indeed lived in their costumes for the las_ay or two, and Fisher himself had assumed his frock of sacking as _onvenient dressing gown; but there seemed, nevertheless, something unusuall_inished and formal, in the way of an early bird, about this magnificent re_ockatoo. 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 th_talian 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 enterin_he 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 wa_oo 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 coul_nly 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 fanc_hey shared a good many secrets."
  • Fisher moved abruptly, as if waking from a momentary trance, and said, in _ew and more vigorous voice, "But look here, hadn't we better get outside an_ee 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 o_ce did indeed indicate that the frost was breaking up, as their host ha_rophesied the day before, and the very memory of yesterday brought back th_ystery of to-day.
  • "He knew there would be a thaw," observed the prince. "He went out skatin_uite early on purpose. Did he call out because he landed in the water, do yo_hink?"
  • Fisher looked puzzled. "Bulmer was the last man to bellow like that because h_ot his boots wet. And that's all he could do here; the water would hardl_ome up to the calf of a man of his size. You can see the flat weeds on th_loor of the lake, as if it were through a thin pane of glass. No, if Bulme_ad only broken the ice he wouldn't have said much at the moment, thoug_ossibly a good deal afterward. We should have found him stamping and damnin_p 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 tw_isappeared together into the twilight of wintry trees.
  • The plantation stood dark against the fiery colors of sunrise, a black fring_aving that feathery appearance which makes trees when they are bare the ver_everse of rugged. Hours and hours afterward, when the same dense, bu_elicate, margin was dark against the greenish colors opposite the sunset, th_earch thus begun at sunrise had not come to an end. By successive stages, an_o slowly gathering groups of the company, it became apparent that the mos_xtraordinary of all gaps had appeared in the party; the guests could find n_race of their host anywhere. The servants reported that his bed had bee_lept in and his skates and his fancy costume were gone, as if he had rise_arly for the purpose he had himself avowed. But from the top of the house t_he bottom, from the walls round the park to the pond in the center, there wa_o trace of Lord Bulmer, dead or alive. Horne Fisher realized that a chillin_remonition had already prevented him from expecting to find the man alive.
  • But his bald brow was wrinkled over an entirely new and unnatural problem, i_ot finding the man at all.
  • He considered the possibility of Bulmer having gone off of his own accord, fo_ome reason; but after fully weighing it he finally dismissed it. It wa_nconsistent with the unmistakable voice heard at daybreak, and with man_ther practical obstacles. There was only one gateway in the ancient and loft_all round the small park; the lodge keeper kept it locked till late in th_orning, and the lodge keeper had seen no one pass. Fisher was fairly sur_hat he had before him a mathematical problem in an inclosed space. Hi_nstinct had been from the first so attuned to the tragedy that it would hav_een 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 ow_rees as from a gibbet, or floating in his own pool like a pallid weed. Wha_orrified him was to find nothing.
  • He soon become conscious that he was not alone even in his most individual an_solated experiments. He often found a figure following him like his shadow, in silent and almost secret clearings in the plantation or outlying nooks an_orners of the old wall. The dark-mustached mouth was as mute as the deep eye_ere mobile, darting incessantly hither and thither, but it was clear tha_rain of the Indian police had taken up the trail like an old hunter after _iger. Seeing that he was the only personal friend of the vanished man, thi_eemed natural enough, and Fisher resolved to deal frankly with him.
  • "This silence is rather a social strain," he said. "May I break the ice b_alking about the weather?—which, by the way, has already broken the ice. _now that breaking the ice might be a rather melancholy metaphor in thi_ase."
  • "I don't think so," replied Brain, shortly. "I don't fancy the ice had much t_o 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 somethin_ut before they come," replied the Anglo-Indian. "I can't say I have much hop_rom police methods in this country. Too much red tape, habeas corpus and tha_ort of thing. What we want is to see that nobody bolts; the nearest we coul_et 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 fo_ntiquities."
  • "Oh, he's out of it; he left last night," answered the other. "Eight hour_fter Bulmer's chauffeur saw his lawyer off by the train I heard Bulmer's ow_oice as plain as I hear yours now."
  • "I suppose you don't believe in spirits?" said the man from India. After _ause he added: "There's somebody else I should like to find, before we g_fter a fellow with an alibi in the Inner Temple. What's become of that fello_n 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 befor_he arrival of the police. But when he first began to comment once more on th_oung architect's delay in putting in an appearance, he found himself in th_resence of a minor mystery, and a psychological development of an entirel_nexpected kind.
  • Juliet Bray had confronted the catastrophe of her brother's disappearance wit_ somber stoicism in which there was, perhaps, more paralysis than pain; bu_hen 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 i_is 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 _ort of coincidence that yesterday he actually crossed swords with poo_ulmer, and could have stuck him, too, since he showed himself the bette_wordsman. Of course, that may be an accident and couldn't possibly be calle_ case against anybody; but then we haven't the means to make a real cas_gainst anybody. Till the police come we are only a pack of very amateu_leuthhounds."
  • "And I think you're a pack of snobs," said Juliet. "Because Mr. Crane is _enius who's made his own way, you try to suggest he's a murderer withou_aring to say so. Because he wore a toy sword and happened to know how to us_t, you want us to believe he used it like a bloodthirsty maniac for no reaso_n the world. And because he could have hit my brother and didn't, you deduc_hat he did. That's the sort of way you argue. And as for his havin_isappeared, you're wrong in that as you are in everything else, for here h_omes."
  • And, indeed, the green figure of the fictitious Robin Hood slowly detache_tself from the gray background of the trees, and came toward them as sh_poke.
  • 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 hi_aldrick, but the sword was gone.
  • Rather to the surprise of the company, Brain did not follow up the questio_hus suggested; but, while retaining an air of leading the inquiry, had als_n appearance of changing the subject.
  • "Now we're all assembled," he observed, quietly, "there is a question I wan_o ask to begin with. Did anybody here actually see Lord Bulmer this morning?"
  • Leonard Crane turned his pale face round the circle of faces till he came t_uliet'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. "H_as dressed as he was yesterday, in that purple costume copied from th_ortrait of his ancestor in the sixteenth century. He had his skates in hi_and."
  • "And his sword at his side, I suppose," added the questioner. "Where is you_wn sword, Mr. Crane?"
  • "I threw it away."
  • In the singular silence that ensued, the train of thought in many minds becam_nvoluntarily a series of colored pictures.
  • They had grown used to their fanciful garments looking more gay and gorgeou_gainst the dark gray and streaky silver of the forest, so that the movin_igures glowed like stained-glass saints walking. The effect had been mor_itting because so many of them had idly parodied pontifical or monasti_ress. But the most arresting attitude that remained in their memories ha_een anything but merely monastic; that of the moment when the figure i_right green and the other in vivid violet had for a moment made a silve_ross of their crossing swords. Even when it was a jest it had been somethin_f a drama; and it was a strange and sinister thought that in the gra_aybreak the same figures in the same posture might have been repeated as _ragedy.
  • "Did you quarrel with him?" asked Brain, suddenly.
  • "Yes," replied the immovable man in green. "Or he quarreled with me."
  • "Why did he quarrel with you?" asked the investigator; and Leonard Crane mad_o reply.
  • Horne Fisher, curiously enough, had only given half his attention to thi_rucial cross-examination. His heavy-lidded eyes had languidly followed th_igure of Prince Borodino, who at this stage had strolled away toward th_ringe of the wood; and, after a pause, as of meditation, had disappeared int_he darkness of the trees.
  • He was recalled from his irrelevance by the voice of Juliet Bray, which ran_ut 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 discus_t, where Mr. Crane mislaid his sword, not to mention his companion."
  • "And may I ask," inquired Crane, with a certain flicker of mockery passin_ver his pallid features, "what I am supposed to have done with either o_hem? Let us adopt the cheerful thesis that I am a murderer; it has yet to b_hown 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 flyin_ragons, or was it merely a trifling matter of turning it into a milk-whit_ind?"
  • "It is no occasion for sneering," said the Anglo-Indian judge, with abrup_uthority. "It doesn't make it look better for you that you can joke about th_oss."
  • Fisher's dreamy, and even dreary, eye was still on the edge of the woo_ehind, and he became conscious of masses of dark red, like a stormy sunse_loud, glowing through the gray network of the thin trees, and the prince i_is cardinal's robes reemerged on to the pathway. Brain had had half a notio_hat the prince might have gone to look for the lost rapier. But when h_eappeared he was carrying in his hand, not a sword, but an ax.
  • The incongruity between the masquerade and the mystery had created a curiou_sychological atmosphere. At first they had all felt horribly ashamed at bein_aught in the foolish disguises of a festival, by an event that had only to_uch the character of a funeral. Many of them would have already gone back an_ressed in clothes that were more funereal or at least more formal. Bu_omehow at the moment this seemed like a second masquerade, more artificia_nd frivolous than the first. And as they reconciled themselves to thei_idiculous trappings, a curious sensation had come over some of them, notabl_ver the more sensitive, like Crane and Fisher and Juliet, but in some degre_ver everybody except the practical Mr. Brain. It was almost as if they wer_he ghosts of their own ancestors haunting that dark wood and dismal lake, an_laying some old part that they only half remembered. The movements of thos_olored figures seemed to mean something that had been settled long before, like a silent heraldry. Acts, attitudes, external objects, were accepted as a_llegory even without the key; and they knew when a crisis had come, when the_id not know what it was. And somehow they knew subconsciously that the whol_ale had taken a new and terrible turn, when they saw the prince stand in th_ap of the gaunt trees, in his robes of angry crimson and with his lowerin_ace of bronze, bearing in his hand a new shape of death. They could not hav_amed a reason, but the two swords seemed indeed to have become toy swords an_he whole tale of them broken and tossed away like a toy. Borodino looked lik_he Old World headsman, clad in terrible red, and carrying the ax for th_xecution of the criminal. And the criminal was not Crane.
  • Mr. Brain of the Indian police was glaring at the new object, and it was _oment 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 i_ wood you think it's a wildcat, though it may have just strolled from th_rawing-room sofa. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that is not th_oodman's chopper. It's the kitchen chopper, or meat ax, or something lik_hat, that somebody has thrown away in the wood. I saw it in the kitche_yself when I was getting the potato sacks with which I reconstructed _ediaeval hermit."
  • "All the same, it is not without interest," remarked the prince, holding ou_he instrument to Fisher, who took it and examined it carefully. "A butcher'_leaver that has done butcher's work."
  • "It was certainly the instrument of the crime," assented Fisher, in a lo_oice.
  • Brain was staring at the dull blue gleam of the ax head with fierce an_ascinated eyes. "I don't understand you," he said. "There is no—there are n_arks on it."
  • "It has shed no blood," answered Fisher, "but for all that it has committed _rime. This is as near as the criminal came to the crime when he committe_t."
  • "What do you mean?"
  • "He was not there when he did it," explained Fisher. "It's a poor sort o_urderer who can't murder people when he isn't there."
  • "You seem to be talking merely for the sake of mystification," said Brain. "I_ou have any practical advice to give you might as well make it intelligible."
  • "The only practical advice I can suggest," said Fisher, thoughtfully, "is _ittle research into local topography and nomenclature. They say there used t_e a Mr. Prior, who had a farm in this neighborhood. I think some detail_bout the domestic life of the late Mr. Prior would throw a light on thi_errible business."
  • "And you have nothing more immediate than your topography to offer," sai_rain, 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 win_hat followed the breaking of the frost, Leonard Crane was wending his way i_ wild rotatory walk round and round the high, continuous wall that inclose_he little wood. He was driven by a desperate idea of solving for himself th_iddle that had clouded his reputation and already even threatened hi_iberty. The police authorities, now in charge of the inquiry, had no_rrested him, but he knew well enough that if he tried to move far afield h_ould be instantly arrested. Horne Fisher's fragmentary hints, though he ha_efused to expand them as yet, had stirred the artistic temperament of th_rchitect to a sort of wild analysis, and he was resolved to read th_ieroglyph upside down and every way until it made sense. If it was somethin_onnected with a hole in the wall he would find the hole in the wall; but, a_ matter of fact, he was unable to find the faintest crack in the wall. Hi_rofessional knowledge told him that the masonry was all of one workmanshi_nd one date, and, except for the regular entrance, which threw no light o_he mystery, he found nothing suggesting any sort of hiding place or means o_scape. Walking a narrow path between the winding wall and the wild eastwar_end and sweep of the gray and feathery trees, seeing shifting gleams of _ost sunset winking almost like lightning as the clouds of tempest scudde_cross the sky and mingling with the first faint blue light from a slowl_trengthened moon behind him, he began to feel his head going round as hi_eels were going round and round the blind recurrent barrier. He had thought_n the border of thought; fancies about a fourth dimension which was itself _ole to hide anything, of seeing everything from a new angle out of a ne_indow in the senses; or of some mystical light and transparency, like the ne_ays 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 wit_he hint, which somehow seemed to be equally horrifying, that it all ha_omething to do with Mr. Prior. There seemed even to be something creepy i_he fact that he was always respectfully referred to as Mr. Prior, and that i_as in the domestic life of the dead farmer that he had been bidden to see_he seed of these dreadful things. As a matter of fact, he had found that n_ocal inquiries had revealed anything at all about the Prior family.
  • The moonlight had broadened and brightened, the wind had driven off the cloud_nd itself died fitfully away, when he came round again to the artificial lak_n 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 o_atteau; the Palladian facade of the house pale in the moon, and the sam_ilver touching the very pagan and naked marble nymph in the middle of th_ond. Rather to his surprise, he found another figure there beside the statue, sitting almost equally motionless; and the same silver pencil traced th_rinkled brow and patient face of Horne Fisher, still dressed as a hermit an_pparently practicing something of the solitude of a hermit. Nevertheless, h_ooked up at Leonard Crane and smiled, almost as if he had expected him.
  • "Look here," said Crane, planting himself in front of him, "can you tell m_nything about this business?"
  • "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 thi_orning? 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 i_n purpose—or I'm not sure what might have happened."
  • After a pause he went on, quietly: "The late Lord Bulmer was a very breez_entleman, extremely breezy. He was very genial with his inferiors, and woul_ave his lawyer and his architect staying in his house for all sorts o_olidays and amusements. But there was another side to him, which they foun_ut when they tried to be his equals. When I told him that his sister and _ere engaged, something happened which I simply can't and won't describe. I_eemed to me like some monstrous upheaval of madness. But I suppose the trut_s 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 lik_hat."
  • "It is odd that you should say that," Crane went on. "For while we wer_alking there came on me a curious feeling that we were repeating some scen_f the past, and that I was really some outlaw, found in the woods like Robi_ood, and that he had really stepped in all his plumes and purple out of th_icture 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, an_alked away. I might really have killed him if I had not walked away."
  • "Yes," said Fisher, nodding, "his ancestor was in possession and he was i_ossession, and this is the end of the story. It all fits in."
  • "Fits in with what?" cried his companion, with sudden impatience. "I can'_ake head or tail of it. You tell me to look for the secret in the hole in th_all, but I can't find any hole in the wall."
  • "There isn't any," said Fisher. "That's the secret." After reflecting _oment, he added: "Unless you call it a hole in the wall of the world. Loo_ere; 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 tha_ost people obey without noticing it. In the village or suburb outside there'_n inn with the sign of St. George and the Dragon. Now suppose I went abou_elling everybody that this was only a corruption of King George and th_ragoon. Scores of people would believe it, without any inquiry, from a vagu_eeling that it's probable because it's prosaic. It turns something romanti_nd legendary into something recent and ordinary. And that somehow makes i_ound rational, though it is unsupported by reason. Of course some peopl_ould have the sense to remember having seen St. George in old Italia_ictures and French romances, but a good many wouldn't think about it at all.
  • They would just swallow the skepticism because it was skepticism. Moder_ntelligence won't accept anything on authority. But it will accept anythin_ithout 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 teste_he theory at all. It never occurred to anybody repeating the story to ask i_here  _was_  any Mr. Prior, if anybody had ever seen him or heard of him. A_ matter of fact, it was a priory, and shared the fate of most priories—tha_s, the Tudor gentleman with the plumes simply stole it by brute force an_urned 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 i_he same way in the other part of the tale. The name of this district i_rinted Holinwall in all the best maps produced by the scholars; and the_llude lightly, not without a smile, to the fact that it was pronounce_oliwell by the most ignorant and old-fashioned of the poor. But it is spelle_rong 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 i_ront of him.
  • "The well is under that water somewhere," he said, "and this is not the firs_ragedy connected with it. The founder of this house did something which hi_ellow ruffians very seldom did; something that had to be hushed up even i_he anarchy of the pillage of the monasteries. The well was connected with th_iracles of some saint, and the last prior that guarded it was something lik_ saint himself; certainly he was something very like a martyr. He defied th_ew 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 hundre_ears, it has been followed by an heir of the usurper, clad in the same purpl_nd walking the world with the same pride."
  • "But how did it happen," demanded Crane, "that for the first time Bulmer fel_n at that particular spot?"
  • "Because the ice was only loosened at that particular spot, by the only ma_ho knew it," answered Horne Fisher. "It was cracked deliberately, with th_itchen chopper, at that special place; and I myself heard the hammering an_id not understand it. The place had been covered with an artificial lake, i_nly because the whole truth had to be covered with an artificial legend. Bu_on't you see that it is exactly what those pagan nobles would have done, t_esecrate it with a sort of heathen goddess, as the Roman Emperor built _emple to Venus on the Holy Sepulchre. But the truth could still be trace_ut, by any scholarly man determined to trace it. And this man was determine_o 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, th_ntiquarian lawyer, left the night before the fatality, but he left that blac_tar of death on the ice. He left abruptly, having previously proposed t_tay; probably, I think, after an ugly scene with Bulmer, at their lega_nterview. As you know yourself, Bulmer could make a man feel prett_urderous, and I rather fancy the lawyer had himself irregularities t_onfess, and was in danger of exposure by his client. But it's my reading o_uman nature that a man will cheat in his trade, but not in his hobby. Haddo_ay have been a dishonest lawyer, but he couldn't help being an hones_ntiquary. When he got on the track of the truth about the Holy Well he had t_ollow 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 exac_ocation of the well, and he was rewarded, if being a successful assassin ca_e regarded as a reward."
  • "And how did you get on the track of all this hidden history?" asked the youn_rchitect.
  • A cloud came across the brow of Horne Fisher. "I knew only too much about i_lready," he said, "and, after all, it's shameful for me to be speakin_ightly 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 o_ndirectly from the harrying of the holy places and the persecution of th_oor. After all, it needs very little poking about in the past to find tha_ole in the wall, that great breach in the defenses of English history. I_ies just under the surface of a thin sheet of sham information an_nstruction, just as the black and blood-stained well lies just under tha_loor of shallow water and flat weeds. Oh, the ice is thin, but it bears; i_s strong enough to support us when we dress up as monks and dance on it, i_ockery of the dear, quaint old Middle Ages. They told me I must put on fanc_ress; so I did put on fancy dress, according to my own taste and fancy. I pu_n the only costume I think fit for a man who has inherited the position of _entleman, 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 sta_n my bald head."