Before ten o’clock on the following
morning Peter Hardcastle, who had travelled by the
night train from Paddington, was at Chadlands.
A car had gone into Newton Abbot to meet him, as no
train ran on the branch line until a later hour.
The history of the detective was one
of hard work, crowned at last by a very remarkable
success. His opportunity had come, and he had
grasped it. The accident of the war and the immense
publicity given to his capture of a German secret
agent had brought him into fame, and raised him to
the heights of his profession. Moreover, the extraordinary
histrionic means taken to achieve his purpose, and
the picturesqueness of the details, captured that
latent love of romance common to all minds. Hardcastle
had become a lion; women were foolish about him; he
might have made a great match and retired into private
life had he desired to do so. At the present
time an American heiress ardently wished to wed the
But he was not fond of women, and
only in love with his business. A hard life in
the seamy places of the world had made him something
of a cynic. He had always appreciated his own
singular powers, and consciousness of ability, combined
with a steadfast patience and unconquerable devotion
to his “art,” as he called it, had brought
him through twenty years in the police force.
He began at the bottom and reached the top. He
was the son of a small shopkeeper, and now that his
father was dead his mother still ran a little eating-house
for her own satisfaction and occupation.
Peter Hardcastle was forty. He
had already made arrangements to leave Scotland Yard
and set up, single-handed, as a private inquiry agent.
The mystery of Chadlands would be the last case to
occupy him as a Government servant. In a measure
he regretted the fact, for the death of Captain Thomas
May, concerning which every known particular was now
in his possession, attracted him, and he knew the
incident had been widely published. It was a
popular mystery, and, as a man of business, he well
understood the professional value of such sensations
to the man who resolves the puzzle. His attitude
toward the case appeared at the outset, and Sir Walter,
who had been deeply impressed by the opinions of the
dead man’s father, and even unconsciously influenced
by them, now found himself in the presence of a very
different intellect. There was nothing in the
least superstitious about Peter Hardcastle. He
uttered the views of a remorseless realist, and at
the outset committed himself to certain definite assumptions.
The inhabitants of the manor house were informed that
a friend of Sir Walter’s had come to visit Chadlands,
and they saw nothing to make them doubt it. For
Peter was a great actor. He had mixed with all
classes, and the detective had the imitative cleverness
to adapt himself in speech and attire to every society.
He even claimed that he could think with the brains
of anybody and adapt his inner mind, as well as his
outer shape, to the changing environment of his activities.
He appreciated the histrionics that operate out of
sight, and would adopt the blank purview of the ignorant,
the deeper attitude of the cultured, or the solid
posture of that class whose education and inherent
opinions is based upon tradition. He had made
a study of the superficial etiquette and manners and
customs of what is called “the best” society,
and knew its ways as a naturalist patiently masters
the habits of a species.
Chadlands saw a small, fair man with
scanty hair, a clean-shaven face, a rather feminine
cast of features, a broad forehead, slate-grey eyes,
and a narrow, lipless mouth which revealed very fine
white teeth when he spoke. It was a colorless
face and challenged no attention; but it was a face
that served as an excellent canvas, and few professional
actors had ever surpassed Peter in the art of making
up their features.
Similarly he could disguise his voice,
the natural tones of which were low, monotonous, and
of no arrestive quality. Mr. Hardcastle surprised
Sir Walter by his commonplace appearance and seeming
youth, for he looked ten years younger than the forty
he had lived. A being so undistinguished rather
disappointed his elder, for the master of Chadlands
had imagined that any man of such wide celebrity must
offer superficial marks of greatness.
But here was one so insignificant
and so undersized that it seemed impossible to imagine
him a famous Englishman. His very voice, in its
level, matter-of-fact tones, added to the suggestion
Sir Walter found, however, that the
detective did not undervalue himself. He was
not arrogant, but revealed decision and immense will
power. From the first he imposed his personality,
and made people forget the accidents of his physical
constitution. He said very little during breakfast,
but listened with attention to the conversation.
He observed that Henry Lennox spoke
seldom, but studied him unobtrusively, as a man concerning
whom he specially desired to know more. Hardcastle
proved himself well educated; indeed, his reading,
studiously pursued, and his intellectual attainments,
developed by hard work and ambition, far exceeded
those of any present.
The clergyman returned to his own
ground, and expressed his former opinions, to which
Hardcastle listened without a shadow of the secret
surprise they awoke in him.
“The Witchcraft Act assumes
that there can be no possible communication between
living men and spirits,” he said in answer to
an assertion; whereon Septimus May instantly took
up the challenge.
“A fatuous, archaic assumption,
and long since destroyed by actual, human experience,”
he replied. “It is time such blasphemous
folly should be banished from the Statute Book.
I say ‘blasphemous’ because such an Act
takes no cognizance of the Word of God. Outworn
Acts of Parliament are responsible for a great deal
of needless misery in this world, and it is high time
these ordinances of another generation were sent to
the dust heap.”
“In that last opinion I heartily
agree with you,” declared the detective.
Henry ventured a quotation. He
was much interested to learn whether Hardcastle had
any views on the ghost theory.
“Goethe says that matter cannot
exist without spirit, or spirit without matter.
Would you sub-scribe to that, Mr. Hardcastle?”
“Partially. Matter can
exist without spirit, which you may prove by getting
under an avalanche; but I do most emphatically agree
that spirit cannot exist without matter. ‘Divorced
from matter, where is life?’ asks Tyndall, and
nobody can answer him.”
“You misunderstand Goethe,”
declared Mr. May. “In metaphysics ”
“I have no use for metaphysics.
Believe me, the solemn humbug of metaphysics doesn’t
take in a policeman for a moment. Juggling with
words never advanced the world’s welfare or helped
the cause of truth. What, for any practical purpose,
does it matter how subjectively true a statement may
be if it is objectively false? Life is just as
real as I am myself no more and no less and
all the metaphysical jargon in the world won’t
prevent my shins from bleeding wet, red blood when
I bark them against a stone.”
“You don’t believe in
the supernatural then?” asked Mr. May.
“Most emphatically not.”
“How extraordinary! And
how, if I may ask, do you fill the terrible vacuum
in your life that such a denial must create?”
“I have never been conscious
of such a vacuum. I was a sceptic from my youth
up. No doubt those who were nurtured in superstition,
when reason at last conquers and they break away,
may experience a temporary blank; but the wonders
of nature and the achievements of man and the demands
of the suffering world these should be enough
to fill any blank for a reasonable creature.”
“If such are your opinions,
you will fail here,” declared the clergyman
“Why do you feel so sure of that?”
“Because you are faced with
facts that have no material explanation. They
are supernatural, or supernormal, if you prefer the
“‘One world at a time,’
is a very good motto in my judgment,” replied
Hardcastle. “We will exhaust the possibilities
of this world first, sir.”
“They have already been exhausted.
Only a simple, straightforward question awaits your
reply. Do you believe in another world or do you
“In the endless punishment or
the endless happiness of men and women after they
“If you like to confuse the
issue in that way you are at liberty, of course, to
do so. As a Christian, I cannot demur. The
problem for the rationalist is this: How does
he ignore the deeply rooted and universal conviction
that there is a life to come? Is such a sanguine
assurance planted in the mind of even the lowest savage
for nothing? Where did the aborigines win that
“My answer embraces the whole
question from my own point of view,” replied
Hardcastle. “The savages got their idea
of dual personality from phenomena of nature which
they were unable to explain from their
dreams, from their own shadows on the earth and reflections
in water, from the stroke of the lightning and the
crash of the thunder, from the echo of their own voices,
thrown back to them from crags and cliffs. These
things created their superstitions. Ignorance
bred terror, and terror bred gods and demons first
out of the forces of nature. That is the appalling
mental legacy handed down in varying shapes to all
the children of men. We labor under them to this
“You would dare to say our most
sacred verities have sprung from the dreams of savages?”
“It is true. And dreams,
we further know, are often the result of indigestion.
Early man didn’t understand the art of cookery,
and therefore no doubt his stomach had a great deal
to put up with. We have to thank his bear steaks
and wolf chops for a great deal of our cherished nonsense,
Sir Walter, marking the clergyman’s
flashing eyes, changed the subject, and Septimus May,
who observed his concern, restrained a bitter answer.
But he despaired of the detective from that moment,
and proposed to himself a future assault on such detested
modern opinions when opportunity occurred.
After breakfast Mr. Hardcastle begged
for a private interview with the master of Chadlands,
and for two hours sat in his study and took him through
the case from the beginning.
He put various questions concerning
the members of the recent house party, and presently
begged that Henry Lennox might join them.
“I should like to hear the account
of what passed on the night between him and Captain
May,” he said.
Henry joined them, and detailed his
experience. While he talked, Hardcastle appraised
him, and perceived that certain nebulous opinions,
which had begun to crystallize in his own mind, could
have no real foundation. The detective believed
that he was confronted with a common murder, and on
hearing Henry’s history, as part of Sir Walter’s
story with the rest, perceived that the old lover
of Mary Lennox had last seen her husband alive, had
drunk with him, and been the first to find him dead.
Might not Henry have found an eastern poison in Mesopotamia?
But his conversation with the young man, and the unconscious
revelation of Henry himself, shattered the idea.
Lennox was innocent enough.
For a moment, the information of uncle
and nephew exhausted, Hardcastle returned to the matter
of the breakfast discussion.
“You will, of course, understand
that I am quite satisfied a material and physical
explanation exists for this unfortunate event,”
he said. “I need hardly tell you that I
am unprepared to entertain any supernatural theory
of the business. I don’t believe myself
in ghosts, because in my experience, and it is pretty
wide, ghost stories break down badly under anything
like skilled and independent examination. There
is a natural reason for what has happened, as there
is a natural reason for everything that happens.
We talk of unnatural things happening, but that is
a contradiction in terms. Nothing can happen that
is not natural. What we call Nature embraces
every conceivable action or event or possibility.
We may fail to fathom a mystery, and we know that a
thousand things happen every day and night that seem
beyond the power of our wits to explain; but that
is only to say our wits are limited. I hold,
however, that very few things happen which do not yield
an explanation, sooner or later, if approached by
those best trained to examine them without predisposition
or prejudice. And I earnestly hope that this
tragic business will give up its secret.”
“May you prove the correctness
of your opinions, Mr. Hardcastle,” answered
Sir Walter. “Would you like to see the Grey
“I should; though I tell you
frankly it is not in the Grey Room that I shall find
what I seek. It does not particularly interest
me, and for this reason. I do not associate Captain
May’s death in any way with the earlier tragedy that
of the hospital nurse, Mrs. Forrester. It is a
coincidence, in my opinion, and probably, if physiology
were a more perfect science than, in my experience
of post-mortem examinations, it has proved to be,
the reason for the lady’s death would have appeared.
And, for that matter, the reason for Captain May’s
death also. To say there was no reason is, of
course, absurd. Nothing ever yet happened, or
could happen, without a reason. The springs of
action were arrested and the machine instantly ran
down. But a man is not a clock, which can be
stopped and reveal no sign of the thing that stopped
it. Life is a far more complex matter than a
watch-spring, and if we knew more we might not be
faced with so many worthless post-mortem reports.
But Sir Howard Fellowes is not often beaten.
I repeat, however, I do not associate the two deaths
in the Grey Room or connect them as the result of one
and the same cause. I do not state this as a
fact beyond dispute, but that, for the present, is
my assumption. The gap in time seems too considerable.
I suspect other causes, and shall have to make researches
into the dead man’s past life. I should
wish also to examine all his property. He has
been in foreign countries, and may have brought back
something concerning the nature of which he was ignorant.
He may possess enemies, of whom neither you nor Mrs.
May have heard anything. Your knowledge of him,
recollect, extends over only a short time eight
or ten months, I suppose. I shall visit his ship
and his cabin in H. M. S. Indomitable also, and learn
all that his fellow officers can tell me.”
Sir Walter looked at his watch.
“It is now nearly one o’clock,”
he said, “and at two we usually take luncheon.
What would you wish to do between now and then?
None here but ourselves and my butler an
old friend in all my secrets knows you have
come professionally. I concealed the fact and
called you ‘Forbes,’ at your wish, though
they cannot fail to suspect, I fear.”
“Thank you. I will see
the room, then, and look round the place. Perhaps
after luncheon, if she feels equal to the task, Mrs.
May will give me a private interview. I want
to learn everything possible concerning your late
son-in-law his career before Jutland, his
philosophy of life, his habits and his friends.”
“She will very gladly tell you everything she
They ascended to the Grey Room.
“Not the traditional haunt of
spooks, certainly,” said Peter Hardcastle as
they entered the bright and cheerful chamber.
The day was clear, and from the southern window unclouded
“Nothing is changed?” he asked.
“Nothing. The room remains as it has been
for many years.”
“Kindly describe exactly where
Captain May was found. Perhaps Mr. Lennox will
imitate his posture, if he remembers it?”
“Remember it! I shall never
forget it,” said Henry. “I first saw
him from below. He was looking out of the open
window and kneeling here on this seat.”
“Let us open the window then.”
The situation and attitude of the
dead on discovery were imitated, and Hardcastle examined
the spot. Then he himself occupied the position
and looked out.
“I will ask for a ladder presently,
and examine the face of the wall. Ivy, I see.
Ivy has told me some very interesting secrets before
to-day, Sir Walter.”
“I dare say it has.”
“If you will remind me at luncheon,
I can tell you a truly amazing story about ivy a
story of life and death. A man could easily go
and come by this window.”
“Not easily I think,”
said Henry. “It is rather more than thirty-five
feet to the ground.”
“How do you know that?”
“The police, who made the original
inquiry and were stopped, as you will remember, from
Scotland Yard, measured it the second morning afterwards on
“But they did not examine the face of the wall?”
“I think not. They dropped a measure from
The other pursued his examination
of the room. “Old furniture,” he said;
“very old evidently.”
“It was collected in Spain by my grandfather
many years ago.”
“Valuable, no doubt?”
“I understand so.”
“Wonderful carving. And this door?”
“It is not a door, but a cupboard in the solid
Sir Walter opened the receptacle as
he spoke. The cupboard some six and
a half feet high was empty. At the
back of it appeared a row of pegs for clothes.
“I can finish with the room
for the present at any rate, in an hour, gentlemen,”
said Hardcastle. “I’ll spend the time
here till luncheon. Had your son-in-law any interest
in old furniture, Sir Walter?”
“None whatever to my knowledge.
He was interested, poor fellow, not in the contents,
but in the evil reputation of the room. Its bad
name dated back far beyond the occupation of my family.
Captain May laughed at my mistrust, and, as you know,
he came here, contrary to my express wishes, in order
that he might chaff me next morning over my superstition.
He wanted ‘to clear its character,’ as
Hardcastle was turning over the stack
of old oil-paintings in tarnished frames.
“You mistrusted the room yourself, Sir Walter?”
“After Nurse Forrester’s
death I did. Not before. But while attaching
no importance myself to the tradition, I respected
“Nobody else ever spent a night here after the
“Nobody. Of that I am quite certain.”
“Have you not left the house since?”
“Frequently. I generally
spend March, April, and May on the Continent in
France or Italy. But the house is never closed,
and my people are responsible to me. The room
is always locked, and when I am not in residence Abraham
Masters, my butler, keeps the key. He shares my
own feelings so far as the Grey Room is concerned.”
The detective nodded. He was
standing in the middle of the room with his hands
in his pockets.
“A strange fact the
force of superstition,” he said. “It
seems to feed on night, where ghosts are involved.
What, I suppose, credulous people call ‘the
powers of darkness.’ But have you ever asked
yourself why the spiritualists must work in the dark?”
“To simplify their operations,
no doubt, and make it easier for the spirits.”
“And themselves! But why
is the night sacred to apparitions and supernatural
“Tradition associates them with
those hours. Spiritualists say it is easier for
spectres to appear in the dark by reason of their material
composition. It is then that we find the most
authentic accounts of their manifestations.”
“Yes; because at that time human
vitality is lowest and human reason weakest.
Darkness itself has a curious and depressing effect
on the minds of many people. I have won my advantage
from that more than once. I once proved a very
notorious crime by the crude expedient of impersonating
the criminal’s victim a murdered woman and
appearing to him at night before a concealed witness.
But spirits are doomed. The present extraordinary
wave of superstition and the immense prosperity of
the dealers in the ‘occult’ is a direct
result of the war. They are profiteers every
one of them crystal gazers, mediums, fortune
tellers, and the rest. They are reaping a rare
harvest for the moment. We punish the humbler
rogues, but we don’t punish the fools who go
to see them. If I had my way, the man or woman
who visited the modern witch or wizard should get
six months in the second division. Fools should
be punished oftener for their folly. But education
will sweep these things into the limbo of man’s
ignorance and mental infancy. Ghosts cannot stand
the light of knowledge any better than they can operate
in the light of day.”
“You are very positive, Mr. Hardcastle.”
“Not often on this
subject yes, Sir Walter Lennox. I have
seen too much of the practitioners. Metaphysics
is largely to blame. Physics, the strong, you
will find far too merciful to metaphysics, the weak.”
Sir Walter found himself regarding
Hardcastle with dislike. He spoke quietly, yet
there was something mocking and annoying in his dogmatism.
“You must discuss the subject
with Mr. May, who breakfasted with us. He will,
I think, have no difficulty in maintaining the contrary
“They never have any difficulty clergymen
I mean and argument with them is vain,
because we cannot find common ground to start from.
What is the reverend gentleman’s theory?”
“He believes that the room holds
an invisible and conscious presence permitted to exercise
powers of a physical character antagonistic to human
life. He is guarded, you see, and will not go
so far as to say whether this being is working for
good or evil.”
“But it has done evil, surely?”
“Evil from our standpoint.
But since the Supreme Creator made this creature as
well as He made us, therefore Mr. May holds that we
are not justified in declaring its operations are
evil save from a human standpoint.”
“How was he related to Captain Thomas May?”
Peter Hardcastle remained silent for a moment; then
he spoke again.
“Have you observed how many
of the sons of the clergy go into the Navy or Merchant
“I have not.”
“They do, however.”
Sir Walter began to dislike the detective more than
“We will leave you now,”
he said. “You will find me in my study if
you want me. That bell communicates with the
servants. The lock of the door was broken when
we forced our way in, and has not been mended; but
you can close the door if you wish to do so.
It has been kept open since and the electric light
always turned on at night.”
“Many thanks. I will consider
a point or two here and rejoin you. Was the chimney
“No. It would not admit a human being.”
Then Sir Walter and his nephew left
the room, and Hardcastle, waiting until they were
out of earshot, shut the door and thrust a heavy chair
They heard no more of him for an hour,
and joined Mary and Septimus May, who were walking
on the terrace together. The former was eager
to learn the detective’s opinions, but her husband’s
father had already warned her that Peter Hardcastle
was doomed to fail.
The four walked up and down together,
and Prince, Sir Walter’s ancient spaniel, went
Henry told his cousin the nature of
their conversation and the direction in which the
professional inquiry seemed to turn.
“He wants to see you and hear
everything you can tell him about dear Tom’s
past,” he said.
“Of course I will tell him everything;
and what I do not know, Mr. May will remember.”
“He is very quiet and very open-minded
about some things, but jolly positive about others.
Your father-in-law won’t get far with him.
He scoffs at any supernatural explanation of our terrible
Mr. May overheard this remark.
“As I have already told Mary,
his failure is assured. He is wasting his time,
and I knew he probably would do so before he came.
Not to such a man, however clever he may be, will
an explanation be vouchsafed. I would rather
trust an innocent child to discover these things than
such a person. He is lost in his own conceit
and harbors vain ideas.”
“There is something about him
I cordially dislike already,” confessed Sir
Walter. “And yet it is a most unreasonable
dislike on my part, for he is exceedingly well mannered,
speaks and conducts himself like a gentleman, and
does nothing that can offend the most sensitive.”
“A prejudice, Uncle Walter.”
“Perhaps it is, Henry; yet I rarely feel prejudice.”
“Call it rather an intuition,”
said the clergyman. “What your antipathetic
attitude means is that you already unconsciously know
this man is not going to avail, and that his assumption
of superiority in the matter of knowledge his
opinions and lack of faith will defeat him
if nothing else does. He approaches his problem
in an infidel spirit, and consequently the problem
will evade his skill; because such skill is not merely
futile in this matter, but actually destructive.”
Mary left them, and they discussed
the probable chances of the detective without convincing
each other. Henry, who had been much impressed
by Hardcastle, argued in his favor; but Septimus May
was obdurate, and Sir Walter evidently inclined to
agree with him.
“The young men think the old
men fools, and the old men know the young ones are,”
said Sir Walter.
“But he is not young, uncle; he’s forty.
He told me so.”
“I thought him ten years less,
and he spoke with the dogmatism of youth.”
“Only on that subject.”
“Which happens to be the one
subject of all others on which we have a right to
demand an open and reverent mind,” said the clergyman.
Henry noticed that Sir Walter spoke almost spitefully.
“Well, at any rate, he thought
rather small beer of the Grey Room. He felt quite
sure that the secret lay outside it. He was going
to exhaust the possibilities of the place in no time.”
As he spoke the gong sounded, and
Prince, pricking his ears, led the way to the open
French window of the dining-room.
“Call our friend, Henry,”
said his uncle. And young Lennox, glad of the
opportunity, entered the house. He desired a word
with Hardcastle in private, and ascended to join him.
The door of the Grey Room was still
closed, and Henry found some obstacle within that
prevented it from yielding to his hand. At once
disturbed by this incident, he did not stand upon ceremony.
He pushed the door, which gave before him, and he
perceived that a heavy chair had been thrust against
it. His noisy entrance challenged no response,
and, looking round, it appeared for an instant that
the room was empty; but, lowering his eyes, he saw
first the detective’s open notebook and stylograph
lying upon the ground, then he discovered Peter Hardcastle
himself upon his face with his arms stretched out before
him. He lay beside the hearth, motionless.
Lennox stooped, supported, and turned
him over. He was still warm and relaxed in every
limb, but quite unconscious and apparently dead.
An expression of surprise marked his face, and the
corner of each open eye had not yet lost its lustre,
but the pupil was much dilated.