* * * "That man is an arrogant ass," I said to Vail as the police-wagon trundled away. "I don't know how you kept civil. Had he spoken to me so, I fear I would have lost my temper." "Not at all, Pendleton," Vail said with an enigmatic smile. "Detective Claughton has been an excellent ally, and if my suspicions prove true he has made our work very much easier." I stared at him in disbelief. "Well, Mr. Vail," said Lambert after a moment, "I suppose you'll be wanting to see the house." "Not just yet, Inspector," said Vail. "I think I shall have a look around the grounds first. May I borrow your lantern?" "Surely," said Lambert, handing it over, "but Claughton and I already looked and neither of us found anything." "Still, there are one or two things I would like to see. If you wouldn't mind waiting here? I'll only be a moment." We watched the lantern disappear around the corner of the house. "Think he's on to something?" asked Lambert. I shrugged. "Perhaps. But why did you stand by and let that pompous detective put Addington under lock and key?" "Sorry, Colonel," he said. "It wasn't my decision to make. This area is beyond my jurisdiction. Claughton is insufferable, but he is king of his bailiwick." "The man is plainly an imbecile," I stated warmly, "and has the manners of a Borcan. I hope Vail puts him in his place." "Here he comes again now," said Lambert a moment later, as the lantern reappeared around the far side of the house. We waited a few minutes more. In the darkness it was difficult to see Vail himself, but we watched the progress of the lantern as it jerked and dipped, halted for a moment as Vail inspected something, and moved on. Eventually Vail's face appeared beneath it, looking slightly unearthly in the flickering light. He seemed pleased. "Just as I thought," he said, approaching. "Interesting, very interesting." "What have you found?" I asked. "Why," he answered, "nothing whatever. That is what is so interesting. But I have not yet examined the roadway." Lambert and I watched as he moved onto the muddy road. "Hmm," he murmured, stooping. "Yes. Here are the tracks of Addington's brougham, departing. Two horses. And here we see Claughton's wagon, arriving - see how it overlays the tracks of Addington's brougham here, and here." He spoke with certainty, but all I could make out were ruts in the thick mud. "And here, the brougham returns - two horses again - this time with you and I in it, Pendleton. And here, Claughton departs." He scanned the surrounding roadway. "No other fresh tracks. I think we may state with certainty that no other vehicles or horses have passed this way." "But surely that proves nothing," protested Lambert. "On the contrary, it is telling." Vail straightened. "And now, I believe it is time we saw the house." * * * We were met just inside the door by a tall man with a high forehead and youthful face. He had been sitting, but rose as we entered. "This is Hoskins, the manservant," said Lambert. "Ah," said Vail, "you are the man Addinton left in charge when he left to fetch us." The man nodded. "Yes, sir. Master Addington gave strict orders that nothing was to be disturbed." "And you saw that nothing was?" He nodded again. "And where is the rest of the household staff?" "I sent them back to their quarters, sir, thinking that the night's interviews were over. Shall I summon them?" "No," said Vail, "I don't think that will be necessary. Their quarters are all in the west wing?" "Yes, sir." "As are yours?" "Yes, sir." Vail nodded. "Good enough. If we are fortunate there will be no need to disturb them. Should I have further questions, where may I find you?" The man seemed surprised. "Why, right here, sir. They will return in an hour or so for the body, and I was to wait in the hall to let them in." "Very good," said Vail, stepping past him. * * * The main hall was dominated by a wide set of carpeted stairs which curved gracefully upwards. The walls and floor were wood-paneled, and a single flickering gaslight provided illumination. "If you'll just follow me," said Lambert, heading for the stairs. "One moment inspector," said Vail. "Let us first see the library." Vail led the way, still holding the lantern Lambert had given him. The library was just where Addington had said it was, the door half-open. Darkness lay beyond. "The lamps have been extinguished?" asked Vail. "Oh, no sir," said Lambert. "This room was dark when we arrived." "Hmm!" said Vail. "Things begin to look grim for Addington's story then. He said he had been reading in the library when he heard his father's cry. It is very difficult to read in the dark." "Perhaps he extinguished the lamp," I ventured. "Ah yes, as he was charging up the stairs he paused to turn off the light," Vail hefted the lantern and entered the darkned room. "An interesting theory, colonel, but I think we may find some better explanation." The library was a large room, lined on two walls with bookshelves. There was a sturdy oak table in the corner, surrounded by chairs, with a lamp and several books scattered across its surface. A pair of cushioned armchairs were stationed nearby, with a smaller table and second lamp between them. I remained at the door while Lambert followed Vail in. "Please don't touch that, inspector," snapped Vail as Lambert started to light the lamp on the table. Vail brushed past him, leaning forward to examine it. He sniffed the wick first, then touched it gingerly with his fingers. "Cold," he muttered. "Hasn't been lit for some time. But... yes, of course. He would have been in the armchair..." Swiftly he crossed the room to the second lamp and bent over it. "Yes," he said a moment later, "recently lit, not less than an hour... Hallo, what's this?" He stooped to lift something from behind one of the armchairs. When he straightened, he was holding a book. "Vasli's 'Journeys in a Desolate Land'," he said. "A little light reading for young Addington, tossed aside at the sound of his father's cry. It seems his story has some weight after all." "It could have been planted afterwards to support his story," said Lambert. "Oh, yes, there is that possibility," said Vail. "But it is strange that he should take care to plant a book in just the right place to support his story, and then turn off the light, ruining the effect." "If Addington didn't extinguish the light, who did?" "Perhaps someone who wanted to make Addington's account appear false." Vail strode toward the door. "I think we have seen everything of interest here. Let us proceed." Vail went to the stairs. He crouched and examined the steps, peering at them. Painstakingly he inspected each one, then gave equal attention to each of the railings. "Useless," he muttered when he had finished. "The carpet is covered with mud from the boots of Claughton's men." He shook his head. "Very well, it was too much to hope for more. Let us go to the room." One of the gas lamps set into the wall had been lighted earlier, but the rest of the upper hall was left in darkness. It was cold and silent as we walked towards the murdered man's room, and none of us spoke, which added to the unease. Even Vail seemed somber. He led the way, still holding the lantern. Twice he halted, peering down at some scuff marks on the carpet, then just as quickly moved on. The door to Lord Addington's room stood open, a flickering light coming from within. Vail looked back at Lambert. "The door was open when you arrived?" The Inspector nodded, and Vail stepped to it, hardly glancing at the room. "A standard handle, with keyholes on both sides. And here is the key that Hoskins used to open the door, still in the outside hole. Mark that, gentlemen. It may prove of importance." He started into the room. I shall never forget the awful sight that greeted us as we entered. The room was large and well appointed. There was a solid-looking window set into the far wall, and a good-sized bed dominating the right side of the room. A writing desk lay to the left, with a study chair shoved a few feet to one side. A single lighted candle stood atop it, flickering weirdly and giving the room and unearthly aspect. Everywhere there were signs of some violent struggle. The papers atop the desk had been scattered, and several of them lay on the floor. In the far corner, a standing lamp had been toppled onto its side, smashed. The only place which appeared undisturbed was the corner on the far side of the bed, where an ornate bell pull hung down over a small bedside table. But what arrested our attention was the horrifying sight of Lord Addington's body. It lay stretched out on the floor in the center of the room. The arms and legs were sprawled akimbo and contorted in their final death throes, and the eyes were fixed horribly on where we stood. His face caused a thrill of horror to shoot through me. It was fixed in an attitude of dreadful fear which was most unsettling. But fearsome as the expression was, it was made more gruesome still by the coloration, for the entire face was mottled purple and black, as if the blood had pooled just beneath the surface of the skin. It gave the dead man a ghastly and unnatural aspect, and I confess I was shaken by the sight. Lambert gasped and started violently. "Great abyss!" he cried, "the man's face has gone black!" "I take it from your remark, Inspector, that this is a recent development?" asked Vail. Lambert nodded. "There was bruising about the neck, but nothing like this! I have seen nothing like it!" Vail bent over the corpse. "Mmmm," he said. "Have you not, Inspector? You are forgetting that business involving the Arden corpse. Before your time, Pendleton," he explained, seeing my confused look. "A body was discovered floating in the Arden, and Inspector Lambert called me in to help." "Yes," said Lambert, "I remember. We had some trouble identifying the victim, owing to the unnatural blackening of the face. It turned out to be due to some exotic poison." "Aura Ichyschalus, to be exact," said Vail, removing his gloves from his coat pocket and slipping them on, "a poison extracted from certain tropical plants in Valachan." "But Lord Addington was strangled, not poisoned," I said. "Oh, he was definitely poisoned." Vail sniffed at the dead man's lips and drew back. "Though not with Aura Ichyschalus. Would you be good enough to put on your gloves, Colonel? I have found something which might interest you." Quickly I obeyed. "Put your hand here, on his arm," instructed Vail. The flesh beneath my fingers was hard as stone. "Why, he's stiff as a board!" Vail nodded. "The muscles are in a state of extreme contraction. The other limbs are equally rigid. It is suggestive of some alkaloid poison, though I confess it is something I am unfamiliar with." "Then he wasn't strangled?" "On the contrary, Colonel, he was undoubtably strangled." Vail pulled back the collar and pointed to the markings on the neck. "Observe the discolored bruises. Do they suggest nothing to you?" There were five marks in all, four narrow blackened lines on the left side of the throat and a shorter, thicker mark on the right side. "Why, they look like the marks of fingers and a thumb. A handprint?" "Precisely," said Vail. "Is there nothing peculiar about it, though?" I confessed I could see nothing. Vail shook his head. "There are two very telling clues. Would you mind placing your own hand on the victim's throat, gently, and cover the bruises?" I did so, but no matter how I stretched my fingers, I could not cover them. "I cannot. The attacker must have had very large hands, with long fingers." "Precisely," said Vail. "The attacker leaves a large handprint. Incidentally, that would disqualify Beverly as a suspect; his hands are not nearly large enough. Now we come to the second point of interest: where are the marks from the attacker's other hand?" "There are no other marks," I answered, a little confused. "Exactly! Does that not strike you as peculiar? If you intended to strangle someone, would you use only one hand? And yet apparently that is what our attacker did. Why?" "Perhaps he clapped the other over Lord Addington's mouth to prevent him crying out," I suggested. "Ah, but we know from Beverly's account that his father did cry out, quite clearly and distinctly. And there are no bruises around the mouth, which there should be if your theory held true. What then could account for this?" "I have no idea," I said, "unless perhaps his attacker was a one-armed man, but that hardly seems likely." "Ah!" cried Vail, pleased, "a much better theory, Colonel! Likely or not, it is certainly plausible, so let us not discard it so quickly." I was confused. "I don't understand, Vail. Was he strangled or was he poisoned?" Vail gave me a strange look. "Why do you assume one outrules the other? He was strangled and he was poisoned, likely in that order." "Why would anyone want to kill a man twice?" mused Lambert, mystefied. "Poison a dead body? It makes no sense." I was as puzzled as he, but Vail seemed to have already dismissed the matter. He searched through the dead man's clothing, then stood. "Interesting." He looked at me. "Now Colonel, if you would just stand in the corner there for a moment so that your footprints will not complicate matters while I examine the rest of the room. Claughton and his men have already made my task difficult enough. Inspector, please keep your place outside the door." Lambert and I looked on as Vail continued his examination. He started first at the area surrounding the overturned lamp. "Here's a bit of luck!" he cried. "A puddle of oil has spilled, and somehow Claughton and his men have avoided trudging through it. Ah! Here is the footprint of Lord Addington. He stumbled through the spill in the struggle, and has left us all sorts of prints so that we may follow his progress through the room. But this is more interesting still..." His voice trailed off. "What is it?" I asked. "Nothing," replied Vail triumphantly. "There are no footprints in the spill other than Lord Addington's" "But why is that signifigant?" asked Lambert. "Where are the marks of his attacker?" Vail shot back pointedly. "We can see clearly that he was struggling, but with who?" Neither of us could answer. Vail seemed more and more sure of himself, but with each new revelation the mystery only became darker to me. Vail retraced the steps of the dead man. "Here he staggers back, after overturning the lamp. Ah, here he collides with the bed, then stumbles into the chair, which you can see has skidded several feet from the desk. Now he makes for the door... he stands here a moment - grasping at the handle, no doubt. He could hear his son calling on the other side, of course, and did not expect it to be locked. He then staggers back, falling to the ground. You can see plainly tat he flailed about and then lay still." Vail turned back toward the desk. "But there are no tracks here. And yet the papers have been disturbed, dashed to the floor. Therefore-" "He must have been there before he knocked over the lamp," I put in, following his reasoning. "Excellent, Pendleton, excellent! But wait..." Suddenly he crouched on hands and knees, studying the hardwood floor around the desk. "Ah! Just as I expected! Come and look!" "What is it?" I asked, peering over his shoulder. "Look here," he said, pointing to a small gash in the floor. "Observe the splinters." "What of it?" I asked, confused. "Why, it is of singular importance," exclaimed Vail. "Something heavy and wooden has fallen here - there, you see some of the splinters are of a darker hue than the floor beams. Addington said that the commotion started with a dull thud, as if a heavy chair had overturned, immediately followed by his father's cry. Notice that the chair is not overturned. No other object in the room suggests itself to make such a noise. Observe the cleared section on the desk. Something was swept off the edge and down to the floor, scattering the papers. But where is it?" "It must have been moved," I said. "Yes, but by who? And why?" He shook his head. "But this shows that Lord Addington was at his desk when he was first attacked. Vail next moved to the window. "Locked from the inside," he murmured, studying the mechanism. A moment later he unlatched it, opening it to examine the outer part. "Shows no signs of being forced. No marks on the upper or lower sills, and a drop of twenty feet to the ground." He leaned out and peered upwards. "No sign that anyone has climbed up toward the roof either." He closed the window. "It seems clear the attacker neither entered nor exited through here." He strode towards us, then halted. "Hello," he murmured in surprise, glancing upwards, "what's this? A skylight? I had not anticipated this." I followed his gaze. There was an empty well set into the ceiling which extended upwards to a skylight. "We checked that," said Lambert. "It's latched closed from the inside." "Nevertheless I think we should have a look," said Vail. "Pendleton, would you help me move the desk? We shall slide it beneath, in order to reach it better." Together we managed to do so, though not without effort. After getting the desk into place, Vail placed the chair atop. Then, climbing up and balancing precariously on the it, he was able to reach the skylight. He examined the mechanism for a moment, then opened it, propping up the glass using the little metal arm. "What was it you said, Lambert?" he asked. "That it was latched from the inside?" He disengaged the arm and let the skylight fall shut. The latch clicked into place as the glass came down. "I think your objection is easily answered." He propped it open again and caught hold of the edges of the hole with his fingers. A moment later his legs swung free of the chair as he hoisted himself up onto the roof. "Vail!" I said. "What are you doing?" "Be down in a moment, Pendleton. I just want to check something." His face vanished into the darkness, and for several moments Lambert and I were left alone. Suddenly his legs reappeared. Nimbly he swung down, landing lightly on the seat of the chair. "Well, that gave me quite a turn!" he said with a laugh. "Why, what did you discover?" asked Lambert. "Nothing," replied Vail, "but for a moment I feared I had been on the wrong track. It was as well to be certain. Now Inspector, what of the key?" "Key?" "Yes, the key to this room." Lambert was confused. "Why, it is in the lock, as you yourself pointed out." "No, no," said Vail, "that is Hoskin's key. I speak of the one which Addington must have possessed. I have searched the body and the room, but have not found it." "Why, I know nothing of it," said Lambert. "We found no such key. But if he locked himself in, he must have had one." "Exactly," said Vail enigmatically. "I think you will both agree that this is a strange business. We have a corpse which was both strangled and poisoned. His attacker leaves no sign that he was ever here, and there is no apparent way he could have left. What do you think, Pendleton?" I was about to reply that I was baffled, when suddenly an idea hit me. "Vail!" I said, "what if there never was an attacker? Suppose Lord Addington was poisoned in some way, and the intense pain and muscle contractions caused him to grasp at his own neck? Might not he have strangeld himself?" "Wonderful, Pendleton!" cried Vail in delight. "A very worthy theory! It was, in fact, the first possibility that occurred to me. Unfortunately, Lord Addington's hands are no larger than his son's, and he coulde not possibly have left the bruises." My spirits sank. "Then the matter is still dark to me." "Do not be downcast, Pendleton. It is really very simple, if a bit disappointing." He sighed. "I fear that I have wasted your time, gentlemen. I think our work here is finished." "Finished?" I asked. "What do you mean?" "I mean," said Vail, leading us out of the room and down the hall, "that the mystery has been solved." He started down the stairs. Lambert and I exchanged puzzled glances. "Come along gentlemen," said Vail. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time so appallingly. It appears that Claughton was quite correct: Beveryly Addington was indeed the man responsible for his father's death. There is no other explanation." "But Vail," I protested, shocked at the sudden announcement, "are you saying he murdered his father after all. How can that be?" "Oh, it is very simple," he said bitterly. "It was I who tried to make it complicated. But now I see that the detective was quite correct. I shall explain it all once we are underway." By this time we had reached the bottom of the stairwell. Hoskins rose as we approached. "Please have the brougham brought around immediately," instructed Vail, "I wish to depart this place at once." The man nodded. "I'll fetch Jonathan at once, sir," he said smoothly, turning away. "Oh, yes, one thing more," said Vail, catching the man's sleeve. "Detective Claughton has decided that a thorough search shall be made of the house tomorrow. Addington mentioned seeing a wooden box in his father's room that isn't there now, and insists that someone must have taken it." He snorted. "Utter nonsense, of course, but Claughton is determined to leave no stone unturned. He asked me to inform the staff that he would be sending some constables over in the morning." Something flickered in the man's eyes at this news, but he nodded politely. "I will inform the rest of the staff." * * *

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